Niagara Falls Anniversary Part 2: Wine tours and Italian dinner

In review, Friday night at the The Keg in Embassy Suites  we had a partial view of the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Afterwards we walked around the  tourist area filled with haunted houses, wax and world record museums, children amusement parks and arcades, and much more! Although we are not into these tourist traps they are pretty fun to walk by lit up at night. Here are some pictures:

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Saturday (our actual anniversary)  we packed up our things at the Best Western and checked out. The Best Western had given us a 15$ off card to use at IHOP and although we do not often go there we thought we’d save the money where we could. So we ordered one meal to split of whole wheat blueberry pancakes and an omelet.  The waitress came back and said the fine print on our coupon said we had to order two entrees to get the 15 off. We understand having to follow the rules of the coupon but it was a little frustrating and disappointing to find this out after we’d already eaten.

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We then chose to walk off the carbs (and our annoyance) down the hill to the Canadian view of the falls along the Niagara River Recreation Trail. It was another beautiful sunny day and there were plenty of pedestrians and tour buses alike taking in the view. We followed along from the American Falls down to Horseshoe falls. As we got closer to Horseshoe falls we needed to put our sunglasses on the mist reflecting light from the sun was creating quite a glare. At the end of the falls trail it felt like we were back on the Maid of the Mist standing in a thin rain cloud as we listened and watched gallons of water flow over the edge is seconds.

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After our walk, we got back to our car, found directions, and drove to Niagara-on-the-Lake to local wineries. We first went to Pellar Estates Winery. This large vineyard/winery is probably one of the oldest in this area known for it’s fertile ground and good weather. We brought our groupon vouchers to the front desk after wandering the tasting room and got set up for the winery tour. At 1:30pm we went with a large group to learn about the Pellar winery. The tour was extremely educational, out in the vineyard we got a change to hear about how the soil is conditioned differently for each type of grape, how the grape vines are kept and pruned, when the grapes are picked based on the varieties and how they use a eco-friendly pest control prevention system.

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Next we were  taken into their wine cellar were the wine barrels are kept. Our tour guide informed us about the different barrel types used, the varieties in woods/materials the wine is fermented in, and changes in fermenting times.  Last of all we were taken to a table to taste their wine. The tour guide explained the wine connoisseurs process of three tastings for each wine: one to clean the palate, one to taste the oxygen in the wine, and last to get the full flavor. We tried three varieties, a pinot noir, a chardonnay , and one of their regionally famous very sweet ice wines.

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Getting back in the car, we followed the wine trail to Trius Winery, another winery owned by the Pellar family. This tour was less formal or informative but we did get a chance to learn a little about Trius’ specialty which was sparkling wines and see where these wines are fermented in the bottle. We were then taken to a garden to taste another one of their ice wines, and their traditional white and red. This was my first day doing a wine tasting at an actual winery but I was grateful for having experienced tasting wine where we live in the Finger Lakes area (for more on this see 2300 degreeslocal food and winecabin fever ). We decided that the Niagara area wine was not for us, they were either too light and acidic or too sweet. It may be that we are becoming partial to our local region.

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We decided to not drive another half hour into the country to check out the last winery and instead headed back to the Falls area. We checked into the Sheraton hotel around 5:00pm; in time to relax a little before getting ready for dinner. In contrast from our previous hotel, this place was large, spacious, and connected to a casino, a Starbucks in the lobby,  several stores, restaurants, and even a water park! Dressing up for a wonderful dinner out we took the walk way to the Crowne Plaza Hotel and up to the 10th floor to Massimo’s Rainbow Room, a more formal Italian dinning room.

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We made reservations months ago when we got the groupon for $40 towards a dinner there to celebrate our anniversary night. We were ushered in low lighting to a white table clothed table for two right up against a glass window over looking the falls at sunset. It was beyond beautiful. Sadly we did not bring a phone or camera with us to dinner so we will just have to keep that dinner and moment in our memory. When the sunset we enjoyed watching the falls light up with varying colors as we ate a delicious dinner. Luke ordered the steak I ordered a rack of lamb but we shared. (for a more detailed description of the menu click here ).

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What the restaurant looks like in the daylight

After our wonderful dinner, we headed back down the elevator and on to see what our other vouchers for the evening would get us. We started at the Hard Rock Cafe  where we had two free cocktails at the bar. After enjoying our rum and cokes by lava lamp (seriously they had mini lava lamps all across the bar) we headed over to Hershey’s for a sweet finish.

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After standing in line at their candy store we turned in our voucher and out came a box that the cashier said contained two cupcakes. We walked back to our hotel room and opened our dessert to find one chocolate and one white cupcake with vanilla frosting topped each with a Hershey’s kiss. After dessert we cuddled up on our king size bed to watch our wedding video for the first time. It was great to look back and laugh at the small details or reactions from family and friends we were too nervous or preoccupied to notice the day-of.

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I didn’t get a picture of our actual goodies but here’s what they had in the store

Sunday we slept-in, Luke tried his luck at the casino for a brief hour  and then we checked out of the hotel. We hit the road back home in the middle of surprising noon traffic back over the bridge to America. After a long wait at the border we were on the road to Buffalo and eventually back home. It was one wonderful weekend to celebrate a crazy busy and challenging first year of marriage!

Mocha Oreo Cupcake Brownies

Luke sends me text or emails anytime there is an event at work in which I have the opportunity to provide some wonderful baked goodies. It is a great chance for me to try a new recipe but get rid of more than half of it before we are tempted to eat them all. A few weeks ago Luke’s department was having a retirement party. So I made up these delicious mocha Oreo cupcake brownies.

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Based on the very popular pintrest pin, where some ingenious person placed two double stuffed Oreos, stuck together with peanut butter in a cupcake tin, covered it in brownie batter, then baked it. But as you know, I like to put my own twist on things: and a healthier one at that if I have the chance. Using greek yogurt and only one Oreo (no peanut butter) one of these handheld chocolaty treats is only 160 calories.

Here’s what you need:

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Ingredients

-one box of dark chocolate brownie mix

-one package of oreos (your favorite kind)

– ¾ C-nonfat plain greek yogurt

-1 to 2 tsp vanilla extract

-2 tsp instant coffee

-¼ C water

Instructions

-Preheat oven to 325 F.

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-Pour brownie mix, yogurt, instant coffee, water and vanilla into large bowl and mix together.

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-Spray muffin tins with cooking spray.

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-Place small amount of brownie mix on bottom of tin about one spoonful; just enough to cover it.

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-Place whole oreo in bottom of each tin pressing it into the center of the cup. You can always do double stuffed oreos or more than one oreo for more crunch but it does add calories.

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– Fill each muffin tin the rest of the way (about 3/4 ths full); which should be another 2 spoonfuls each cup

-Bake for 15-20 minutes.

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Note: They will be very moist so if the tops are not shiny/liquidy they are probably done. You can always check with a toothpick and as long as it does not come back with runny batter. Remember no eggs means no problem with under cooking 🙂

One cake mix makes a batch of about 30 (not all pictured below).

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They are gooey chocolaty delicious with a hint of coffee and a great cookie crunch. The best thing is you can change it up.  There are so many different flavors of Oreos these days peanut butter, strawberry smoothie, mint, to birthday cake. Take out the coffee or change up the brownie mix flavor. The options are endless.

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Key Lime Chocolate Cupcakes

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You read the title right. A few months ago I made key lime chocolate cupcakes. Sounds like an odd combination right? That’s what I thought before I made them. Let me give you some background so you know how I ended up making such a interesting dessert.

As you probably know by now I love to bake, but without a rationale excuse (such as a function or group who will eat more than 3/4s of it so Luke and I don’t) I find it hard to make anything. Luke kept telling me anything I could baked would always be well received at his work. But I told him I didn’t have any fun new challenging recipes or a good enough excuse. Then one day Luke came home and told me, that’s right he didn’t asked he told me, I would be making key lime chocolate cupcake for his co-workers (no pressure).

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Here’s how his story went: Luke and some of his co-workers were watching some cooking or baking show on TV in the break room which highlighted odd combination desserts/foods that actually tasted great. One of which, as you can guess, was key lime chocolate cupcakes. Then apparently everyone was craving these odd combo cupcakes curious if they were any good. Luke, remembering hearing I’d love the excuse to bake something and knowing I loved new challenging baking experiences, decided to guarantee his co-workers that I could and would make these for them.

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After I heard this story, I began looking up elements for the cupcakes. In the end I decided on a base of  devil’s food cake mix. Yes, I prefer do all baking from scratch, but with so many experimental elements I wanted something to go predictably smooth. To make the cake mix I chose for the first time to use greek yogurt instead of eggs and oil. I had done this for years with brownies (see February is synonymous for chocolate right?) but following the trend on pinterest I decided to see how well it worked.

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While the cupcakes baked, I made my own key lime cream cheese icing using a combination of cream cheese, powdered sugar, lime juice, and key lime zest.

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After many adjustments and several taste test from Luke, I finally was satisfied.  I then colored the icing a light but bright green using the neon set of food dies.

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The chocolate cupcakes had a moist velvety texture (which I definitely give the greek yogurt credit for). This light soft texture balanced perfectly with the heavier cream cheese with a nice citrus kick of key lime. Since I had no sprinkles to decorate with I chose to dust the top of the cupcakes with a little lime zest.

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When Luke took the cupcakes to work people were a little skeptical. Since lime zest is not common, they were unsure thinking Luke was trying to feed them healthy bran/veggies muffin-like cupcakes. Once the confusion was cleared up and people felt safe to eat them, they went over very well.

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As the TV show indicated, this odd combination tasted amazing and the chocolate and lime worked together perfectly.