Homemade Dulce de Leche

During this quarantine time, many of us have taken to cooking to keep busy. I am not much of a cook, however, I do enjoy baking.  I decided to try and make homemade dulce de leche.  Dulce de leche is one of the most popular desserts originated in Latin America. However, its name varies greatly from country to country. In Argentina, Uruguay, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica it goes by the name of dulce de leche. In Ecuador, Chile, and Panama it is referred to as manjar. Peruvians and Colombians prefer arequipe, while Mexicans and Nicaraguans use the name cajeta. I am Cuban, and ever since I could remember, before dulce de leche became a thing, most Cubans simply called it leche condensada cocinada (cooked condensed milk). Dulce de leche for us was actually another dessert made from curdled milk and sugar (also delicious).

Dulce de leche can be eaten by itself with a spoon straight out of the can (my favorite way), or it can be spread on toast or crackers, as a topping for ice cream, on pancakes or crepes, etc. Many of you have probably seen dulce de leche cookie, cheesecakes and ice cream recipes all over Pinterest.  It’s all very yummy (my entire family loves alfajores!)

Most folks make dulce de leche in the pressure cooker or in a crock pot. However, I have always been scared (actually terrified) of the pressure cooker and after hearing how the cans may explode and such, I finally decided to make it a much simpler way, using a water bath.

Take a look at all of the delicious desserts you make with dulce de leche:

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Directions:

1) Preheat your oven to 425°F.

2) Pour the contents of the sweetened condensed milk can into an 8×8 pie pan and cover the pan tightly with foil.

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3) Fill a larger roasting pan with enough water so that it goes halfway up the sides of the 8×8 pan, which will go inside the larger roasting pan.

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4) Bake for 1.5 – 2.5 hours, or until you reach your desired caramel color. Check to make sure that the water is still halfway up the side of the pie pan, checking every 45 minutes or so to add more boiling water if too much has evaporated. Take the pans out of the oven and uncover the pie pan. Stir the dulce de leche until smooth. It’ll thicken a bit while cooling. Cover and store in the fridge.

It should look like this:

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Have you made dulce de leche?  How do you enjoy eating it?

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Palm Trees in the Snow

Many of us find ourselves indoors right now working remotely and/or with children home from school. What better time to pickup a good book. Here is another one of my book recommendations that I think you will definitely enjoy (also available as a movie on Netflix). I watched the film a few years ago and then recently discussed the book with my book club last month. It’s truly a beautiful love story.

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Palm Trees in the Snow by Luz Gabás  (synopsis)

When Clarence of Rabaltué discovers a series of old letters from her father’s past, she begins to doubt everything she thought she knew about her once-noble family. Her father and his brother worked in the colony of Fernando Po, but these letters tell a different story than the tales of life in Africa that made it to the dinner table. Clarence has no idea what really went on during their time at the cocoa plantations—or why no one in her family has ever returned to the island in all the years since. But the letters suggest that a great love story is buried beneath the years of silence.

Setting out from her home in Spain’s snowy mountains, Clarence makes the same journey across the sea that her uncle and father traveled before her. There, she unlocks the painful secrets her family has hidden in the rich African soil. But what she discovers may also be the key to awakening her own listless heart.

Pickup a copy or download it to your e-reader and enjoy a great read or movie if you decide to watch it on Netflix. Either way you will truly enjoy this story.

Have you read any good books lately?  I love suggestions!

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Gifts for Teen Girls

Our sweet daughter was born in January.  Coincidentally, most of my family was (except me).  What to gift her for her birthday, 2 weeks after Christmas?  This is my dilemma every year, and as she gets older, the choices become more difficult. This past January was extremely hard, as all she desires anymore are gift cards to her favorite stores.  While there is nothing wrong with gift cards, I prefer to buy her gifts, as I feel it’s more of the thought that usually counts. So here is a list I put together for anyone out there experiencing this issue with their teen daughter, niece, goddaughter or friend:

Barrington personalized bags & accessories Barrington Gifts offers high quality leather bags, totes, duffle bags, wallets, cabin bags, writing instruments, crossbody bags, passport and laptop cases. Customizable in many colors and prints.

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A subscription to Disney+  Our daughter just recently asked us if she could subscribe to this service, so I think any teenager would enjoy it.

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A relaxing spa set Any young lady would enjoy a relaxing spa set, which may include scented candles, bath bombs and face masks.

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A pink Echo Dot Who doesn’t love Alexa??

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Alex and Ani Flying Butterfly Duo Charm Bangle Set Alex and Ani have so many options of adorable bracelets, rings and necklaces.  Tons of options to choose from, wherever your young lady’s interests may lie.

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Adidas Originals Women’s Gazelle Sneaker Adidas sneakers are so popular nowadays, and there is a large variety to choose from.

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Urban Decay Naked Cherry Eyeshadow Palette  This is a very nice palette for any make-up loving teen.

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Pink Colorblock Felt Letter Board These boards have become very popular for room decor and even at parties and gatherings.  They come in a variety of colors as well.

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HP Sprocket Portable Photo Printer Since no one uses cameras anymore, especially the younger generations, these little photo printers allow them to print photos directly from their cell phones.

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Sunrise Alarm Clark We know teens have a very hard time waking up in the mornings.  Sunrise clocks are designed to mimic the sun rising by slowly filling your room with light. When the alarm finally rings, your room is bright, which makes waking up less abrupt. It also includes an FM radio and USB charging port. (This may be a huge hit for college freshman).

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And of course you can never go wrong with Apple AirPods.

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Shopping for teens can be very difficult at times, I hope this list gives you some ideas.  I would love to hear what you have gifted teens?

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Root & Bone Miami

A few months ago, we tried out a new restaurant, Root & Bone, located in South Miami. I must admit I was a bit skeptical at first, as unfortunately restaurants (event some really good ones) do not bode well in this area.  However, I was intrigued and decided it to give it a try after seeing the crowds on a few occasions. The restaurant was created by Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth, owners of several other amazing eateries, including Root & Bone in NYC.  Root & Bone boasts a delectable southern-inspired menu, serving options such as tea brined fried chicken, shrimp and grits, lobster pappardelle, and cast iron seared yellowtail snapper. The restaurant also offers a weekend brunch (I have yet to try) which includes banana cream pie waffles, shrimp and grits, savory “everything bagel” waffle, the avocado toast and short rib meatloaf and eggs, just to name a few. A children’s menu is also offered for the kiddies, as well as, a full bar, craft cocktails and beers, a Bloody Mary cart during brunch and a Whiskey/Bourbon cart at dinner. I also love the décor, full of southern influences (drinks served in mason jars), makes you feel as if you’re dining in a modern, yet cozy farmhouse.  The restaurant also offers outside seating.  Take a look:

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Here are some of the dishes that we had for dinner (we had a tough time deciding):

Gooey Sweet Corn Spoon Bread – Cast iron baked spoon bread, cheddar & buttermilk cream, heavenly, but I love cornbread so I am a bit biased!

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Sticky Pork Belly Bacon – Spicy bourbon maple, benne seeds & sea salt

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Mac & Cheese – Big pasta, crunchy cheese & biscuit herb crust, this was my favorite dish!

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Barbecue Bruleed Spare Ribs – Smoky & burnt brown sugar crusted ribs, pickled fresno chilies & tangy barbecue, this was my husband’s favorite dish.

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 Have you eaten at Root & Bone?  I would love to hear what you enjoyed most.

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Root and Bone
5958 S. Dixie Highway
South Miami, FL 33143
786-785-1001
rootnbonemia.com

LUNCH
Mon-Fri | 11:30am to 4:00pm

SUPPER
Mon-Thu | 4:00pm to 10:00pm
Fri & Sat | 4:00pm to 11:00pm
Sunday 4:00pm to 10:00pm

WEEKEND BRUNCH
Sat & Sun | 10:00am to 4:00pm

Fabulous Florence

Florence is one of Italy’s most visited cities. Delectable food, magnificent shopping and some of the most beautiful works of art in the world. I have visited Florence a few times but always on very short trips so I still feel the need to experience more of it. Florence does not disappoint, plenty to see and do. I would also love the opportunity to explore more of the Tuscan towns, which make great day trips from Florence. I have been to Pisa, Siena and San Gimignano, which are all breathtakingly beautiful as well.  On our last trip we were fortunate to stay within the pedestrian area of Florence in the beautiful Hotel Calzaiuoli. Our room was spacious and very comfortable, not to mention it had a magnificent view of the Duomo from our window.  Staying in this area was wonderful as we were a very short walk from all of the sights.

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Lobby of Hotel Calzaiuoli

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View of the Duomo from our room window

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Our room

Piazzale Michelangelo
Piazzale Michelangelo is my favorite place to visit in the city.  Not only can you catch a perfect sunset here, but the 19th century piazza has the absolute best panoramic view of Florence. The square is decorated with copies of Michelangelo’s sculptures, but it’s truly the view people come here to see. 

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Enjoying this view!

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Views of this amazing city from Piazzale Michelangelo

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View of Ponte Vecchio

Duomo & Giotto’s Campanile
The Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore (The Virgin of the Flower), nicknamed the Duomo after the enormous octagonal dome on its east end, is the cathedral of Florence and considered by many as the birthplace of the Renaissance. There are many other Catholic churches in Florence, many of them associated with the Renaissance, including Santa Maria Novella, Santa Croce, and the Brancacci Chapel. However, the Duomo is the home church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Florence and the third largest church in the world (after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London).

The Duomo dominates the Florentine landscape and can be easily spotted throughout the city.  Whether you are seeing it from the outside or inside, it is truly a beautiful piece of architecture not to be missed. Now I will warn you that if you are visiting during the peak of the summer months, the lines to enter the Duomo can stretch for hours in the summer heat.  I strongly recommend you purchase tickets in advance.

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The front of the Cathedral

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Artwork inside of the dome.

Once at the Duomo you must also visit Giotto’s Campanile, a free-standing campanile that is part of the complex of buildings that make up the Florence Cathedral.  If you are brave enough (and in shape) to climb the 144 steps to reach the very top (there are no elevators), then you will most definitely find incredible panoramic views of the city, not to mention a totally unique perspective from which you can admire the Cathedral and the Cupola of Brunelleschi (the dome).

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Galleria dell’Accademia
The Galleria dell’Accademia, usually referred to as the Accademia, is without a doubt most famous for its sculptures by the great Renaissance artist, Michelangelo, primarily the magnificent statue of David within the Tribune. No doubt, most everyone visits David before leaving Florence. Again, if your time is limited, make sure you purchase advance tickets, as the wait times can be pretty long, especially during the summer.

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The amazing sculpture of David.

But don’t get confused, as there is another statue of David situated right within the heart of Piazza della Signoria, however this is a replica that was placed here to protect the original. If you really want to see the original David you must visit the Accademia.

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Entrance to Palazzo Vecchio on the Piazza della Signoria.

Ponte Vecchio
I love the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge).  It is the oldest bridge in Florence and possibly the most recognizable bridge in Italy. The Ponte Vecchio is full of tiny little shops and stalls mostly selling gold jewelry and it’s always pretty busy with visitors. Make sure to wander the banks of the river Arno, as you can also find beautiful views of the bridge from there as well.

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On my visit in 1992.

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The beautiful Ponte Vecchio bridge.

And after you are finished seeing all the sights and museums, feel free to enjoy getting lost in this amazingly gorgeous city. There are so many beautiful little streets and open piazzas in Florence, with great restaurants, top designer stores, coffee shops and gelato places. Here are a few more photos from my trips:

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The Church of Ognissanti (All-Saints Church)

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Gelateria Perche no!…   An amazing little gelato shop around the corner from our hotel selling many flavors including lavender gelato, which I loved!

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Basilica of Santa Croce, another one of my favorite sights in Florence.

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Views along the Arno River.

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Our daughter posing by the Leaning Tower.

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Duomo di Siena

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Piazza del Campo in Siena, regarded as one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares.

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Typical shop in Siena

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View of Siena from outside the city.

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Walls outside of San Gimignano.

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Typical ceramic shop in San Gimignano.

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Duomo di San Gimignano

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Hilltop views from a side street in San Gimignano

Have you been to Florence or Tuscany?  I would love to hear what some of your favorite spots are.

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Leap Year Fun Facts

February 29th only comes around every 4 years, but this leap year is a little special, as evidenced below:

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I’ve always found Leap Day fascinating, especially for those who were born on that day.  Here are a few fun facts I would like to share about Leap Years:

  • Every leap year features an extra day added to the end of February, giving February 29 days instead of the usual 28. This bonus day happens because there aren’t actually 365 days in a year, but rather 365.242190 days. To compensate for this extra time, an extra day needs to be added approximately every four years.
  • If you’re born on February 29, you’re known as a “leaper” or a “leapling.” Around 4 million people in the world have been born on February 29.
  • Leap year babies celebrate their original birthday only once every four years.
  • The chances of having a leap birthday are one in 1,461.
  • The Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies is a club for people born on February 29. More than 10,000 people worldwide are members.
  • February 29 became the official leap day because of the ancient Romans, who added this extra day to the Roman calendar used during the Roman Empire. Roman emperor Julius Caesar also incorporated the leap year into the calendar he created, known as the Julian calendar.
  • In Hong Kong the legal birthday of a leapling is March 1 and in New Zealand it is February 28.
  • In Taiwan, married daughters return home on leap month because it is believed that lunar month can bring bad health to parents.
  • Greeks believe getting married on a leap year will only bring bad luck. However, other cultures like Great Britain and Ireland believe a leap year is the time when women should ask men to get married instead of the usual custom of men asking women.
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  • The frog is the symbol associated with February 29.
  • Leap year is also called known as St. Oswald’s Day, named after the Archbishop of York who died on February 29.
  • Head to Anthony, Texas, or Anthony, New Mexico. Both claim the title of “Leap Year Capital of the World.” To celebrate the leap year, the town in Texas holds a large festival that features square dancing, fun events, and activities on a nearby farm, and it even offers a tour through an Aztec cave.
  • Astrologers believed children born on leap year have unusual talent, unique personalities and even special powers.

So, what are your thoughts on Leap Day, do you celebrate this day in any special way? Were you born on February 29?  I’d love to hear.

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Pie Oh My…

I have always had a sweet tooth. Well, truthfully, everyone in my family does.  I love cake, cookies, cake pops, cupcakes and of course a great slice of pie.  A few years ago I was introduced to Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop, a family owned and operated South Florida based bakery specializing in handcrafted pies, cakes, cheesecakes, cookies and decadent one-of-a-kind desserts. The bake shop was established by retired Miami fireman Derek Kaplan, who created his vision through a love of baking at a very young age.  Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop in Wynwood opened up in July 2014 and instantly became a hit.  By 2016, after years of juggling two careers, Kaplan retired from the fire department to pursue his baking career full time. In March 2019, Kaplan opened the Coconut Grove location located right on Main Highway (here’s the amazing backstory).

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Wynwood location.  All photos courtesy of Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop.

I have yet to visit the original Wynwood  shop, as I live very close to the Coconut Grove store. Needless to say my family has visited numerous times, as they offer a variety of amazing pies, cakes, brownies, cookies, bread pudding, etc.  Here are my Top 5, although you really cannot go wrong with any of them:

  • Stuffed Guava White Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie.  Imagine a soft, chewy white chocolate cookie cheesecake pie stuffed with gobs of guava.  Melts in your mouth!

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  • Guava Cheesecake.  Graham cracker crust signature guava cheesecake filling and guava and white chocolate sauce (can you tell I am slightly obsessed with guava).

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  • Key Lime Pie. Kaplan’s classic Key Lime made with condensed milk, egg yolks and freshly squeezed juice from nearly two pounds of local key limes.

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  • Cookies & Cream Pie. Chocolate cookie crust, layer of chocolate ganache, cookies and cream mousse with crushed cookies and white chocolate drizzle. My daughter’s favorite!

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  • Salty Monkey Pie. Chocolate cookie crust, bananas in chocolate ganache, white chocolate and peanut butter mousse, with pretzels and chocolate drizzle. My husband loves this one!

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As you can see they all look heavenly.  If you cannot decide on just one, you can always sample a few different ones, as they are also sold by the slice. Below is the menu, although I believe they also offer unique creations for holidays and special occasions.

Menu

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Have you stopped by Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop?  If you live in South Florida or are visiting, make sure to check them out.  I would love to know which pies/cakes are your favorites.

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