Taking Flight at the Chocolate Expo

Alissa & Chris at The Chocolate Expo at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, NY in March 2017.

Once or twice a year, Nassau County’s Cradle of Aviation is home to The Chocolate Expo. The name “The Chocolate Expo” is rather misleading, as many of the treats Alissa and I encountered were far from chocolate. While there were many chocolatiers on site, there were many other specialties, including beef jerky, hot sauce, peanut butter, peanut brittle, wine, moonshine, hard cider, cheese, and baked goods. 

One of the most special parts about this Chocolate Expo is that it takes place in an aviation museum. The Cradle of Aviation is home to over 75 different air and space crafts, showcasing the history of flight. While Alissa and I didn’t pay too much attention to the exhibits in the museum, it was hard to avoid them as the event took place in the museum itself. You could be enjoying a bite of chocolate, turn around, and then see a lunar module.

Obviously, not a lunar module.

Something else that made this event even more special was the fact that there were many vendors with gluten free options, some being exclusively gluten free. Shortly after arriving at the event, Alissa and I came upon a table of gourmet nut butters from the company The Peanut Principle. I really wanted to try one of their nut butters, especially the Honey, I Roasted the Peanuts flavor, but I was afraid that I couldn’t eat the pretzels that they were using to sample the nut butters. I went out on a limb and asked if they served gluten free pretzels to use in order to sample their peanut butter. Not only did they have gluten free pretzels, but they shared with us that they exclusively use gluten free pretzels and that all their nut butters were gluten free! While peanut butter is generally gluten free, they had many flavors that you’d imagine would have wheat, like I Want S’more, a s’more flavored peanut butter, or Dashing Thru the Dough, a cookie dough flavored peanut butter. They found creative and tasty ways to get around using wheat in their peanut butters and were one of my favorite booths. 

Another booth we visited was Yankee Folly Cidery, a hard cider company located in New Paltz, New York. When one thinks of hard cider, they might think of brands like Angry Orchard or Redd’s Apple Ale. Yankee Folly is a different kind of hard cider, and instead of being bottled in the style of beer, it’s more of a wine. In fact, I’d say it was closer to a Riesling than to a hard cider. The apple flavor was there, as well as the buzz, but it didn’t have the heaviness of most hard ciders. One of the interesting parts about Yankee Folly Cidery is that I’ve driven past the eponymous road over a dozen times from which they derived their name. Yankee Folly Cidery is located on Yankee Folly Road, which is in between the small town of New Paltz and the Shawangunk Mountains. Many summer days were spent walking through those mountains after a few hours’ drive from Long Island. If you find yourself in New Paltz, either for the rock climbing, hiking, or small town charm, I highly recommend a trip to Yankee Folly Cidery for their fine fares.

Chris at The Chocolate Expo at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, NY in March 2017.

If you know Alissa, you know that she is very fond of tea. While I would come to know just how fond of tea Alissa was later on in our relationship, it was on our first date that Alissa and I first drank tea together, sitting on opposite sides of a table at the bowling alley in between frames. It was Lipton’s black tea, and while it was good, it paled in comparison to the company. So, why do I bring this up, besides sharing a moment I look back on fondly? Not only does Alissa like tea, but she really enjoys it with honey. She truly enjoyed when we met Sandy Abrams and got the chance to taste her product, Magnolia House Honey. Her booth was filled with so many different flavors of honey to try and buy, ranging from raspberry, blossom (orange), and even mesquite. My favorite part about this booth was the way their display melded with the museum exhibit. It was fitting that the table displaying their product was housed under a U.S. Air Mail tent. It really enhanced the “Magnolia House” feeling. 

I’m going to try to convey this next thought as kindly as possible. Everyone at the event had a gimmick. They had a characteristic about them to attract patrons. In a food event, one of the biggest attractions and gimmicks is bacon. I thought that the world lost its fascination with bacon back in 2014. I was wrong, so wrong. I kid you not, the line for Bacon Bites, chocolate covered bacon, was so long that it made me retract my previous notion. Bacon is still a gimmick that gets people’s attention. 

Another gimmick is bro-chef, aka DJ Chef, the “Only Entertainer Who Simultaneously Cooks & DJ’s For Special Events World Wide.” DJ Chef had a team with him to promote his brand, and even though we caught him during his down time eating, he took the time to talk to Alissa and me. He shared with us that he had been on the first season of Cutthroat Kitchen and that he has been DJing just as long as he’s been cooking. It was very cool to meet him and chat for a bit. 

The Bearded Baker not only specializes in French macarons, but also proves that you don’t have to start shaving come December. His gimmick is not only that he is a bearded man, but also that since studying chemistry, he has an advantage in bringing the best tasting French macarons to market. Scott, the bearded baker himself, was very cool and joyfully shared his wares. I must admit, there may be a bit of beard envy.

The next booth brought a tear to my eye, and it’s not only because it was for Eagle Rock and Wild Coyote Gourmet Sauces. Back in 2012, my life changed when Hurricane Sandy came through town and washed away most of my apartment’s contents. I came home the day after the hurricane to see everything in my apartment in complete disarray, including the fridge that had fallen over. Inside that fridge, I had a bottle of Eagle Rock and Wild Coyote Chipotle Hot Sauce that I had purchased at a street fair in Bethpage. I lost a lot that day back in 2012, but seeing a glimpse of my past at this event had me welling up. I made sure to bring home a bottle of that chipotle hot sauce, and I hope that I get to finish it this time. 

Dragon’s Nest Baked Goods was a fun booth, specializing in gluten free treats. In fact, their motto is “Gluten free. Guilt free.” Their booth featured many baked goods, including cookies, breads, brownies, muffins, cupcakes, and scones. Alissa and I both took home a scone, and the next morning, after a few seconds in the microwave, I dove into a bacon and cheddar scone. The day before the Expo, while in Bay Shore at Local Burger, I had a cheeseburger on a gluten free bun. It is only today as I write this, and after a little research, that I discovered the bun at Local Burger was a freshly baked and delivered Dragon’s Nest product.

Alissa at The Chocolate Expo at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, NY in March 2017.

I want to take this moment to remind you that while we were walking around this Chocolate Expo, it was in a museum. There was an exhibit that featured three female figures dressed in the garb of the 1940’s. What made this exhibit special is that when I think of women during the 1940’s, Rosie the Riveter and A League of Their Own come to mind. It was this day that I learned a little more about the role of women during World War II. Women were called upon to take up roles as Red Cross Workers, tending to wounded soldiers returning from war, Army Corps Privates, and Air Raid Wardens. It was a prime moment to take a step back and take in a bit of history. 

Alissa and I spent several hours at The Chocolate Expo and wished we could go into detail about the many booths we enjoyed. I’d like to thank some of our other favorite companies: Maiden + Liberty, The Cheese Guy, Chocolate Moonshine Co., Raw Chocolate Love, Chez Hedwige, Shrub & Co., and Lake George Distilling Company.

After the expo, Alissa and I took a time machine, back to the 90s. We visited the Nunley’s Carousel, housed adjacent to the museum. It should be noted that Nunley’s wasn’t the first home for this carousel. Having been constructed back in 1912, it first brought joy to world at Canarsie’s Golden City Park in Brooklyn, New York, until 1940 where it found a home at Nunley’s in Baldwin, New York. In 1995, Nunley’s closed their doors and in 2009, the carousel found its home on Museum Row, right next to the Cradle of Aviation. 

This was not my first time riding this carousel, having grown up in Nassau County, only a short drive to Baldwin. I have some great memories at Nunley’s. This would be my first time riding it in over 20 years. For $2 apiece, Alissa and I took a ride on that carousel, laughing and enjoying every minute of it. 

Alissa & Chris at Nunley’s Carousel on Museum Row in Garden City, NY in March 2017.

It was quite the great day, filled with tasty food, plenty of laughs, and we finished with a carousel ride. I would encourage everyone to take a trip to Garden City, New York the next time The Chocolate Expo rides into town. Make sure to check out their website for updates, as well as other locations where the expo appearing. I promise you that you will really make the most of the day if you come to the Cradle of Aviation. Don’t forget to visit the Nunley’s Carousel for some extra history and excitement. That’s all for me this week.

Alissa & Chris at The Chocolate Expo at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, NY in March 2017.

As always… stay kissing and stay cooking.

A Muse Bouche: Pesto Festivo

Alissa & Chris for Oscar night in Saint James, NY in February 2017.

Inspiration comes in so many forms, especially when considering what to write. For Kissing Cooks, my mind (and heart, of course) is surging with ideas about how Chris and I can spend our time together—mostly for when we’re in the kitchen right now because it’s still winter here on Long Island and outdoor activities are a bit limited (though hopefully not for long). For us, the cooking routine and dynamics are interesting and new to explore because neither of us have ever had such kitchen chemistry with past partners, nor was the frequency and desire as excitedly present as we’re discovering. This is only further driving how we swap our inspirations, especially about all things creative, beyond shared cuisine too.

Alissa & Chris meeting Clinton Kelly at the Book Revue in Huntington, NY in January 2017.

Let’s get back to the food… Last week, I was watching an episode of The Chew, absorbing all the food information I could (like a student who dutifully attends a lecture—I’m no longer in school, which prompts me to seek education in any form I possibly can. My mind is always hungry for knowledge.). This is when I came across a seemingly straightforward and fast recipe for arugula pesto farfalle with chicken, presented by cohost Clinton Kelly (someone with whom I have greatly admired for a long time when it comes to fashion, food, and words). Clinton Kelly has already had somewhat of an influence on my relationship with Chris (see our About page for those adorable details), which made me all the more eager to explore how Chris and I could adopt this recipe as our own gluten free version.

Before I get into the who-did-whats of our food preparation, I’d like to address the fact that the title of this post is “A Muse Bouche: Pesto Festivo.” I pride myself as someone who appreciates language, both foreign and domestic. This title is not only a mix of French and Italian (two languages that have largely impacted my life in how I look at the world, write, dress, and decorate my apartment), but also admittedly, it’s misleading. An “amuse bouche” literally translates in French as a “mouth amuser” (as per Wikipedia), which is typically served in bite-sized form, like an hors d’oeuvre. While our mouths are thoroughly amused by everything having to do with kissing, food, and conversation, there’s nothing about this particular pesto-centric meal that qualifies it as a true amuse bouche. I’m clarifying to ward off anyone reading who has identified any misrepresentation of this appetizer course, which dates back to the 1960s. If further argument is needed, may I refer you to the first paragraph about how Chris and I are each other’s muses. And yes, wordplay is always invited to dinner!

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Secondly, “festivo” is Italian for “holiday.” My relationship with Chris began right smack in the middle of the end-of-the-year holiday season, and this has only been amplified by the fact that the decadence of awards season (movies, television, and music) also feels like a celebration. We’re such movie nerds that preparing for Oscar night felt like getting ready for a holiday in itself. In total, we saw three of the Best Picture nominees together (La La Land, Arrival, and Lion), and two individually (Chris: Hell or High Water and Alissa: Hidden Figures).

Alissa & Chris with Mr. Oscar himself (in mere poster form) while at the movies in Stony Brook, NY in February 2017.

So… Chris and I made plans to watch the Academy Awards together, as a time-friendly meal was on the horizon for last Sunday night, especially since I’d be at work for most of the day and couldn’t meal prep like I usually preferred to do. That, in combination with the fact that I love pesto (a consequence of savoring much of it in many different green forms during my time studying and writing in Florence), readied me for the challenge to switch farfalle out for brown rice fusilli (Tinkyada—I couldn’t find any gluten free farfalle at my local Stop and Shop), chicken thighs for grilled chicken strips (Perdue Short Cuts), and leave out the golden raisins all together (though I’m not opposed to using them in the future).

When I moved into my first apartment, my parents very generously gifted me tons of used and small kitchen necessities and appliances that were perfect for just such a bachelorette who wasn’t always so food-savvy (not that I really am now, but I’ve come a long way, if I may say so myself). Among these appreciated donations was a small 1.5 cup-size food processor (Kitchen Gourmet) that was stored and ignored for well over three years in my cabinet. Whenever I looked at it, I heard the whispered word “pesto” in the air, like the ghost of Christmas past was lurking in the shadows of my stacks of Cheerios boxes, haunting and taunting me to take on the challenge. Making fresh pesto never really seemed impossible; it was just never terribly urgent for me to explore, what with balancing two jobs, grad school, finances, an ever-changing personal life, and the need for sleep. That is, until now.

When Clinton Kelly (yes, I’m always going to use his first and last name, though we’ve met and hugged and shared some memorable laughs) whipped up his meal in mere minutes, I was determined to produce just such an effortless dinner for Chris and I to enjoy before the big night. Because my food processor is so small, it took a few more steps than I anticipated for the arugula pesto to come together. This entailed emptying out the grated Parmesan, walnuts (Diamond), garlic, and arugula from the bowl and refilling it with another round of the same unpulsed ingredients. Then I emptied that second mixture into the first batch so that the pesto could form with extra virgin olive oil in all of its gastronomic green glory.

Chris kept a watchful eye on the fusilli as we microwaved the chicken (time was an issue since there was also some red carpet watching and cleaning up to do before the ceremony started), while serving up some Riesling (RELAX, a new favorite of ours). Once all was ready, I spooned some pesto into our bowls first (as per Clinton Kelly’s instructions), followed by our pasta. We mixed the multi colored fusilli until all of its corners and curls were covered in the peppery arugula mixture, followed by the strips of hot chicken and topping it all off with dollops of part skim ricotta. There’s no such thing as too much cheese for the Kissing Cooks.

I needn’t capture how the rest of the night went. If you saw the Oscars, then you know. However, our pesto dish was a tasty success. No envelope mix up could deny that victory. Congratulations to all the nominees who worked so hard to present relevant and moving stories on the silver screen to audiences across the world, and inspiring Chris and I to learn more movie trivia along the way. The highly praised modern-day musical La La Land is a particularly special film for us; it was the first movie we saw in theaters (on our 15th date—who’s counting?—just two days after attending a meet and greet with Clinton Kelly who was promoting his essay collection, I Hate Everyone Except You). In addition, the film’s signature love ballad “City of Stars” performed by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone was the first song we slow danced to (actually in the movie theater during the end credits—Chris’ idea!). The soundtrack and score to the movie is also often playing during our at-home meals, lending its magical musing to every step of our romance.

Alissa & Chris rehearsing their Kissing Cooks ways before seeing La La Land in Farmingdale, NY in January 2017.

For dessert, we each indulged in some vanilla frozen yogurt (Target’s ever-reliable Market Pantry brand) topped with chocolate syrup, dark chocolate sprinkles, mini chocolate chips (Nestlé), whipped cream, and maraschino cherries. Overall, it was an utterly enjoyable night of cooking, cleaning, couture, cuddling, commentary, and cinema. We couldn’t ask for more!

As always… stay kissing and stay cooking.

Zuppa di Amore

Indulgent.

Comforting.

Soothing.

Satisfying.

Healthy.

Delicious.

Joyful.

These are just some of the words that describe all the feels of food. Wouldn’t you know… the same adjectives apply to love too! Yeah, the love stuff is still on the brain—we are the Kissing Cooks, after all—so, it’s pretty important (and totes obvs) for us to share that every kitchen encounter (whether it be breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, or dessert) derives from a place of love. That’s perhaps the most precious ingredient that makes the process and finale all the more valuable with loved ones.

After last week’s adventure in gluten free lasagna, Chris and I decided to kick off our romantic Valentine’s weekend with what’s definitely the ultimate winter go-to meal: soup. Even though the weather here on Long Island has been more like spring in February than actual winter in February, after a long week of work and life, some soup making was definitely in order. Not only did we simmer up a creamy chicken and vegetable soup, but we paired the creation with soup’s best partner in culinary crime: grilled cheese.

However, when I write “Chris and I” regarding the let’s-make-soup idea, I should clarify that it was my stubborn determination that decided the fate of his leftover rotisserie lunch chicken that was stowed away in my fridge for a few days. When I get an idea in my head, especially when it comes to food, I must see it through. The same applies for an outfit combination too, but that belongs in a totally different blog (like Style Darling Daily).

I previously bought a bag of carrots, which came in very useful for a variety of past dinners, including side salads that Chris and I shared prior to the birth of Kissing Cooks. I was beginning to suspect that the fresh carrots were approaching their expiration, so I knew they’d be essential, and we’d be oh-so responsible grocery shopping adults, for this particular dish. It was a most exciting prospect at effective decision making (for me at least).

Alissa & Chris at Ragazzi in Lake Grove, NY in February 2017.

When all of our delicious ingredients were finally on hand (and the “hello” and “I’m so happy to see you” kisses were emphatically exchanged), the cooking began. Chris and I referenced this recipe, reducing our serving size in half, although we also omitted peas (Chris doesn’t like them—sad face) and noodles since our dish was accompanied by grilled cheese (Did you know that angels sing every time a grilled cheese is made?). This included our favorite whole grain gluten free bread (Udi’s) with thin-sliced Swiss cheese (Sargento) and turkey bacon (Oscar Mayer). For the bolder grilled cheese lovers, it should be noted that my sandwich included a slice of tomato and a dash of oregano because that’s how grilled cheese consumption was taught to me when I was growing up (it must be a north shore thing). For the soup, we used the entire container of mirepoix (that’s a fancy way of referring to carrots, onions, and celery) with plenty more carrots since I had the aforementioned extras available. Chris handled shredding the chicken, separating every last flavorful strip of protein to our already simmering, aromatic mixture of low-sodium chicken broth (College Inn), vegetables, freshly minced garlic (I even watched a YouTube video on how to do this because it was my first time not using the jar stuff), gluten free flour (Pillsbury), 1% milk, unsalted butter, and spices.

The warm soupy goodness thickened beautifully, especially as we giggled between more kisses and gasped at the sight of the melting Swiss cheese (and blackened-ish bread—sorry honey, I had to be truthful). Making the soup alone was a pretty efficient task though, only using a few handy pots and pans—that is, until the grilled cheese part happened and the cleanup seemed almost never ending (to no one’s fault, really). I’m certainly not going to crank on about doing the dishes (because nobody likes a whiner—though everybody likes a wino—wink wink) when a delightfully nourishing meal was the cause. Oh hello there segue… I should add that no meal is complete without a companion beverage, and this night was made all the more decadent and tasty with a bottle of crisp, sweet Riesling (Relax), a brand name true to its end-of-the-night-yielding state of mind.

One of my favorite parts of the night (as usual), and most cooking nights with Chris, is the charmingly pleasant conversation that we shared, dually feeding our hearts and minds. We discussed our brunch and shopping plans for the next two days, as well as times to see Lion (so many tears and sniffles, but worth the mascara streams down my face) and reservations for our fancy post-Valentine’s Day dinner out (at Ragazzi in Lake Grove [an Italian kitchen and bar], where there’s an abundance of gluten free menu items served daily).

Following our washing-drying duet at the sink, we contained the two generous leftover servings of soup for further consumption later in the week and finished off the rest of the wine, all before cuddling up on the couch and calling it a night of soup success. We definitely learned a lot about the balancing act that is cooking, relishing in every moment of its gluten free ecstasy.

As for next time, we have big turkey burger plans that’ll certainly make the cut of posts on Kissing Cooks. Thank you so much for taking the time to support our latest installment.

As always… stay kissing and stay cooking.