Sunday, August 31, 2008

Iron Cupcake Voting

The ballot for Iron Cupcake is up! Pop on over and check out the lovely and creative entries, and, of course, vote!
Voting is open until noon (central time) on September 4, so don't hesitate!
Allez Cupcake!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Aida's Eggs

Have any of you seen Food Network's new show, "Ask Aida"? In case you haven't, it features a pretty (and really skinny) young woman named Aida who cooks while her friend (?) Noah checks her e-mail for her and reads questions from viewers. (Sarah Molton used to have a show with a similar concept- viewers called in and asked her questions, but without the tech-geek...)
I watched it this weekend, and I'll be honest- didn't really care for it. I sometimes felt like Aida was just making stuff up as she went. (At one point she was poaching eggs, and was cracking eggs into individual bowls. Noah asked her what the bowls were for, and her response was something along the lines of "I think they're so beautiful!"... Uh, what? I think you're doing it because that way you can slip the eggs into the poaching water without breaking the egg apart.)
She also never ate anything she made, which bothered me. I might not have noticed, except that Noah ate, and she just stood there watching him weirdly as he ate. It was strange.

Kyle did suggest, however, that we try her baked eggs with Canadian bacon and spinach from the episode. We were at the grocery store when he suggested it, so I bought what I remembered her using, and kind of made it up from there. To see how close I was, I looked up her version on Food Network's website. I was almost dead on. I did use different baking temps and times- I've included mine. Hers are available here.

Baked Eggs with Canadian Bacon and Spinach
From Aida Mollenkamp
Serves 4

2T minced onion (I omitted this)
6oz fresh spinach (I used 10oz, and would probably use more in the future)
4slices Canadian bacon
4 eggs
1/4c heavy cream (I used 4T Silk soy creamer)
1oz grated sharp cheddar (I forgot what cheese she used, and used grated Parmesan)

Preheat oven to 375F. Butter four ramekins and lay one slice of Canadian bacon in each. In a saute pan, cook onions until soft, but not brown (if using.) Add spinach to the pan and cook until wilted. Top each slice of bacon with 1/4 of the spinach. Crack one egg into each cup, drizzle with 1T cream. Sprinkle each cup with cheese.
Bake for 10min. Turn on broiler and broil for 2min.

We ate ours with whole wheat toast. (You'll want toast- the spinach is very...juicy, and the toast is excellent for sopping it up.) These cooking times yielded "over medium" eggs- the yolks just barely runny, which is how I like mine. You can adjust times based on your preference. The egg cups were very good, and made for an excellent (and fast) weeknight supper- including prep time, it took about 15min. The leftover cups microwaved well for breakfast the next day, too.

As much as I didn't care for the show, I really did like the egg idea. I may play around with the veggies in it for variety (maybe mushrooms or sauteed peppers) as it makes for a perfect "I don't feel like cooking and I'm hungry NOW" dinner.

I may have to watch a few more episodes to develop a final opinion... maybe she'll find her groove. And maybe I'll get a few more dinner ideas!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Iron Cupcake: Chili

Well, it's time for me to unveil my submission for Iron Cupcake: Earth. This month is the inaugural challenge, and the "secret" ingredient really put my creative cogs into motion. Chili peppers were the ingredient, and with so many types of chillies, and so many different cuisines that utilize them, there was a wealth of places to draw inspiration.
My original idea was sort of a Southwest/Tex-Mex inspired cupcake- a jalapeno-peach cupcake. I even went so far as to actually make them. Sadly, the whole thing really lacked flavor... the cake, the frosting, everything. I had imagined something with the bright, grassy flavor of fresh jalapenos and the sweetness of peaches, but it was very bland and disappointing. So, I went back to the drawing board...
I really love Thai food, and how so many Thai dished combine nutty flavors with spiciness and a hint of sweetness. This is what gave me the inspiration for my second cupcake- a spicy sesame cupcake with chocolate cayenne buttercream.
The cake is a chiffon cake made with toasted sesame oil and studded with red chili flakes. The icing is a chocolate French-style buttercream spiked with just a hint of Cayenne. The cake is light and spongy with a toasty nuttiness that segways into a pretty decent burn in the back of the throat. The buttercream was freaking awesome! French buttercream is made with egg yolks whipped with a hot sugar syrup, combined with butter- It's sweet and rich, but very light in texture. I added cocoa powder and melted dark chocolate, as well as a tiny pinch of Cayenne. (The icing got many compliments!) The nuttiness of the cake was nicely complimented by the sweet chocolate.
The cupcakes were enjoyable, but not omigod!igottahaveone! I think, while I appreciate the spicy/sweet flavor combo, I like it better applied to savory foods rather than desserts. However, for the spice-junkie (especially ones that appreciate Asian cuisine) these would be the perfect cupcakes!

Toasted Sesame Cupcakes
Makes about 14 cupcakes

1 1/4 cups cake flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 T baking powder
1/2 T red chili flakes
1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
1 t vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
4 egg whites
pinch salt
Preheat oven to 300F. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and chili flakes. In a different bowl, mix oil, vanilla and yolks. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture a little at a time, mixing to make a smooth batter. In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites and salt until they form med-firm peaks. Fold half the whites into the batter. Once mostly incorporated, fold in the other half. Be careful to not deflate the whites too much, but be sure there are no streaks of white.
Line a muffin tin with cupcake wrappers. Fill each cup about 2/3 full. Bake for 10min, then turn and bake about 10min more, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle cupcake comes out clean. Cool before icing.

Chocolate Cayenne Buttercream
Makes enough for 14 cupcakes (at least)

5 egg yolks
2 T cocoa
pinch Cayenne pepper
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
10 oz room temperature butter, cut into chunks
2oz melted dark chocolate (I like Green and Black)
Whip yolks, Cayenne and cocoa powder until light and foamy. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, heat sugar and water to 240F. Once at temperature, carefully drizzle hot sugar into yolks, whipping constantly. Continue to whip the yolk/sugar mixture until the sides of the bowl no longer feel warm. The mixture should be body temperature or just below. While whipping, add the butter chunks one at a time. As one incorporates, add the next. Once the butter is all in, add the melted chocolate. If the icing is too loose, set the mixing bowl in an ice bath and continue whipping until it thickens. Pipe onto cupcakes, and sprinkle with chili flakes, if desired.
You can view the contenders and vote for your favorites (*cough*mine*cough*) starting tomorrow. I'll post the links once the voting begins.

We Iron Cupcake Bakers are competing to win bragging rights, as well as fabulous prizes from Jessie Steele Aprons, Cupcake Courier, Taste of Home, Fiesta Head Chefs as well as Etsy artist Cakespy (check out her artwork- it's soooo cute!)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sips and Nibbles

As minor as we all thought Tropical Storm Fay would be, she certainly proved to be a pain in the butt. It started raining Monday night, and then continued to rain until Friday. Daily rain isn't that unusual here in the summer, but it generally comes at about 4pm and lasts about half an hour, and then it's all sunshine again. This was all day, all night relentless rain. To illustrate, here's a picture of our parking lot from this week. You'll note that the water is high enough that you can't see the curb in some areas. (That little yellow car in the background is mine!)

As a result of the rain and flooding, we've been a little stir crazy. Frankly both Kyle and I were happy when the flooded roads cleared and we were able to go back to work. So, Friday night, we decided we'd celebrate that the rain had (mostly) stopped. We went to our favorite wine shop, WineStyles with a friend for the wine tasting. It's a great little shop- it's a franchise, and is owned by a nice couple that are passionate about good wine. If you're intimidated by wines and wine shopping, this is a perfect shop- all the wines are organized by "style" (ie. bold, mellow, fruity, &c) and every single wine has a card next to it that tells you what flavors it has, if its dry or sweet, what kind of food it's best with. And if that isn't enough help, the owners and employees are very friendly and knowledgeable, and don't mind helping you find the right wine. (Oh, and most of the wines are priced under $25, which is a bonus!) I'd highly recommend taking a look at the website to see if there's a franchise in your area.

We tasted some wines, and picked up our wines of the month, then headed over to the World Beat Cafe, a local tapas restaurant. Recently, they've been offering an all-you-can-eat tapas menu for only $25 per person. They have a special menu for the offer, with about 20 selections, plus the offer includes a bottle of wine, pitcher of sangria or three cocktails per person. (I had a chardonnay, but didn't finish it- we corked it and brought it home.)

It was especially fun with the three of us, because we shared all the little plates of food. I can't remember exactly everything we had, but I took pictures of the tandoori chicken with peanut sauce, the Mediterranean calamari and the five cheese flat bread.
I love tapas, because I like not having to commit to one entree. You get the chance to try small amounts of several things, plus they really encourage a very fun, social dining experience.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Rainy Day Picnic

Kyle and I had planned a picnic this weekend. We have a cute picnic basket with plastic wine glasses, and matching plates and everything. We were going to go to the beach in the evening, and have a romantic movie-style beach picnic...
But it rained. And rained. And rained.

So we moved our picnic indoors to our living room. We did lay out a plaid blanket and ate our food on the floor. We went for simple, cold foods- it was very continental.
This was our spread-

The pictures were going to be beautiful and scenic and jealousy-inspiring: us lounging on a beach at sunset, sipping wine and relaxing... but, since we were just in our boring living room, you just get the food.
We had a loaf of soft french bread, apples and grapes, prosciutto, chorizo, some Irish cheddar, pesto and olive oil to dip the bread in. We also had a bottle of L'Orval Merlot. It was very casual and rustic- we just tore off bits of bread and ate it with our meats and cheeses. The wine was nice- round and fruity, but nothing too fancy (I happened to see it at Publix the other day for $6.99- I can't remember if I bought it at the grocery store or the wine shop or if it was a gift...)

The whole thing was delish, and an easy, stress-free weekend dinner. Even without the beach, it was a pleasant (and gave us a chance to watch some DVR'd episodes of Mad Men.) Maybe next time the weather will be more co-operative.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Velveeta Trilogy- Part II

My second foray into the world of "Velveeta: Recipes for People who Eat Food" come from the chapter entitled "Mexican Madness". The chapter info:
"Your self control slowly diminishes, your eyes widen and your taste buds begin to pulsate... you have been diagnosed with Mexican Madness. This condition may sound a little scary and intimidating, but once you expose yourself and others to these recipes you will discover that being absolutely mad is a blessing and should be cherished and spread to others." Uhhh... what?

One plus side to the Velveeta recipes is that they've been turning out well. They're easy and so far, have been consistently good. Certainly not five star gourmet cuisine, but it is nice to have a recipe that you know you'd have to do something really awful to screw up.

This go-'round I made Tex Mex Chicken and Rice. It says it serves four, but you wind up with a huge quantity of the rice. I made five chicken breasts, and we still had extra rice. I would go so far as to say you could get six to seven servings of rice, so buy extra chicken. I also seasoned my chicken, because the recipe left them plain (no salt, even). My changes are marked with an asterisk.

Tex Mex Chicken and Rice
From Velveeta: Recipes for People Who Eat Food
Original serves 4; Modified serves 6

4 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts (*I'd recommend at least 6)
*kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder, to taste
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 can chicken broth
1 cup salsa
2 cups instant rice (*I used instant brown, which increased my cooking time)
8oz Velveeta, cut into cubes

Spray a large skillet with non-stick cooking spray. *Season chicken breasts on both sides with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Add chicken to skillet, cover. Cook on med-high heat for about 4min on each side or until cooked through. Set cooked chicken aside on a clean plate.
Add broth, beans and salsa to skillet. Bring to a boil.
Stir in rice and Velveeta chunks. Lay chicken on top, cover. Cook on low heat for 5 minutes, or until rice absorbs liquid. (*Mine took closer to 15min.)

I topped mine with a little bit of shredded Velveeta (you have no idea how hard it is to shred Velveeta!) and some extra salsa. Because you don't stir the rice while cooking, you get little melty pockets of cheese, which is pretty yummy. Kyle was enthusiastic about it. I liked the rice, but thought the chicken was a little boring. I wound up cutting mine up and mixing it into the rice. Next time I might marinate the chicken in something simple, like salsa. All in all, it was good and very easy, plus it uses stuff that's easy to keep in the pantry or freezer, which would make it great for a mid-week meal when you're too tired for anything that requires extensive prep work.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Hunker Down

Everyone gets jealous of us Floridians. I think people imagine that we spend our whole days surfing, lounging on the beach, drinking frou-frou drinks out of a pineapple and listening to Jimmy Buffet. The reality is that we have jobs and school and bills just like everyone else, and that it's super-crazy-miserable humid/hot about 70% of the year. Not to say that beaches, Disney World and sunny, balmy Decembers aren't nice, but I think people forget that it's not a tropical paradise all of the time. Case in point, Hurricane Fay, who blew through the Keys and is heading towards central Florida.

Floridians are pretty good at "hunkering down" during hurricanes. Obviously, we evacuate if necessary, but if it's safe to stay home, it's important to get the supplies you need. It's a good idea to get to the store as early as possible, because as soon as the storm starts getting close, the shelves empty of the vital supplies- bottled water, batteries, and of course, canned food. I got to the store just in time to grab all the canned food we'd need for the storm...

Canned frosting counts as canned food, right?
In all seriousness, it looks like it shouldn't be too bad a storm, and it looks like here on the east coast, we'll just get some nasty thunderstorms. Oooh, plus school is cancelled tomorrow! It's like a Florida snow day!
Edit (08-19)- It's pretty rainy out, but no thunder or lightning. It's a little windy, but nothing too bad. In fact, it's not a hurricane anymore- Fay's been downgraded to Tropical Storm.
I grew up in the Midwest, and was scared for my first hurricane several years ago, but having been through several, I can say that tornadoes are WAY scarier. They're less predictable, and while the affected swath is narrower than a hurricane's, with a hurricane you know they're coming days in advance and can prepare/evacuate as necessary.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Showing Off a Little

I just finished my very last kitchen class of pastry school! I'm obviously excited, as it means I'm almost done with school, but it's a little bittersweet because the kitchen classes are the best part of school. All I have left are some classroom classes- cost control, computers, a wine class amongst others. I do have a three week break from classes in September, as some of my credits from my BFA transferred and I don't have to take English.
I thought in honor of my final kitchen class I'd post a little retrospective of some of my favorite pictures and projects that haven't yet appeared on the blog.
This was a project from a cake class. We had to make a cake with our choice of cake flavor, filling and icing. Mine was based on an Arnold Palmer- a beverage named after the golfer consisting of half iced tea and half lemonade. This is an iced tea chiffon cake with lemon curd filling, sweet tea syrup and lemon-tea italian butter cream. The lemon/mint garnish is supposed to recall a glass of iced tea. It was delish, and very summery.
This was a project from custard class. We had to make a bavarian or mousse in some sort of sponge-type cake. Mine was called a Mocha Char-latte Russe. (A Charlotte Russe is a bavarian custard lined with ladyfingers.) It was a layer of chocolate bavarian, a layer of coffee bavarian, ladyfingers (yes, I made the ladyfingers), topped with whipped cream and cocoa powder. (Like a mocha!) I clearly find a lot of inspiration in beverages...
This is a Dobos torte. It's a traditional fancy-pants Hungarian cake made with seven layers of almond sponge brushed with rum syrup, filled with chocolate buttercream and topped with hard caramel glazed sponge cake.
This was a final project from petit fours class. It's an assortment of petit fours, including mini fruit tarts, French macaroons, cream puffs, eclairs, mini strawberry mousse and hazelnut truffles.
There are obviously dozens of things we've made, and I have pictures galore, but these are a few of my favorites.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Velveeta Trilogy- Part One

One year in my Christmas stocking I got a small, paperback cookbook (2000, according to the publishing info inside). It's one of those "brand name food item" cookbooks that you find at the grocery store checkout with the National Enquirer and People magazine. It's called "Velveeta: Recipes for People Who Eat Food."
I think Santa gave it as a joke, because while everyone needs more Velveeta recipes, this is one strange little cookbook. The recipes are exactly what you'd expect, but the actual copy in the book is a little... quirky. I don't know who wrote it (no author is credited), but the chapter intros are so weird that I have to assume they locked the guy in a windowless room and told him he couldn't see his wife or kids until he wrote about "Quick Fixin' Dinners". I'll provide an example in a moment.

Recently, the little book resurfaced, and I realized I never really gave it a chance as a cookbook. I try to avoid overly processed foods, but I decided, in the spirit of fairness, to give this book a shot. Over the next couple weeks, I'll feature three recipes, along with reviews from three different chapters (to give a taste of diversity!) For all my recipes, I bought Velveeta made with 2% milk (I guess they no longer call it Velveeta Light). I was going to be super-faithful to the book and buy Minute rice, Taco Bell salsa (odd that they sell Taco Bell salsa, given that they don't have salsa at Taco Bell...), Breakstone sour cream, but bottom line, those brands all ran about 50-75 cents more expensive than my beloved Publix-brand equivalents. (I did shell out for real Velveeta, though.)

Our first recipe comes from the "Super Duper Soups and Sandwiches" chapter. From the book:
"Since achieving the title 'Super Duper', our soups and sandwiches have not been acting quite the same way as they once did. Unfortunately, the title of 'Super Duper' has gone to their heads. They have alienated all other soups and sandwiches, refusing to associate with lesser forms of nourishment. We do, however, feel somewhat responsible since we were the ones who made these recipes so good."
I can't make this stuff up, people.

Cheesy Baked Potato Soup
from Velveeta: Recipes for People Who Like Food
Makes 4 servings

3/4cup chopped onion
2 Tbsp butter (I used canola oil)
2cups water
1can chicken broth (I used vegetable broth)
2-3 large baked potatoes, cut into cubes
3/4lb (12 oz) Velveeta, cubed
*I also added one box frozen chopped broccoli, thawed

In a large saucepan, cook onion in butter (or oil) until soft. Stir in broth and water potatoes and broccoli, if using, heat thoroughly. Add Velveeta, stir on low heat until melted. Serve with sour cream and bacon bits.

It was really a pretty good soup. As I said, I added broccoli to boost the nutrition. If I made it again, I might replace one cup of water with milk for added richness, and I would probably use red potatoes. The baked potatoes are a good way to use leftovers (which I had), but baked potatoes are kind of grainy, which made the soup less smooth. This would be easily remedied with a waxy potato (such as reds.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Is it Fall Yet?

I love pumpkins. I mean really love pumpkins. I like the way they look, I like eating them (in pie, ravioli, soup, baked goods, ice cream... ) and I like everything about them (okay, except maybe the stringy stuff inside- that makes my skin crawl.) Of course, since they're a pretty seasonal food, I really only get to enjoy them in autumn. Autumn also happens to be my favorite season, and I honestly spend most of the summer wishing September would hurry up and get here already. (Not that autumn in Florida means anything- leaves don't change, and it doesn't cool down until late October... But I can finally stop feeling like a weirdo for having a pumpkin cookie jar on my counter year-round.)

So, needless to say, when I saw Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale at the grocery store, I almost wept for joy! It was like seeing the first golden orange leaf of the season, or having to put on a jacket on the first crisp, cool day... It was beautiful- the closest thing I'll get here in the tropics to a harbinger of the season to come.
Harvest Moon is brewed by Blue Moon Brewing Company in Canada and is imported by Coors. (If you've never had Blue Moon, I highly recommend it- it's quite good.) The website lists the "season" for Harvest Moon as early September-late November, so we must be getting a sneak peak? I'm not complainin'.

I've never had Harvest Moon before, so I was excited to try it. I was also a little leary, as I have had some very... squash-y pumpkin beers in the past. There is definately an art to balancing the perfect amount of pumpkin sweetness and earthiness without making it taste like a fermented can of Libby's pumpkin puree.

The label is very pretty- it's in the same folksy woodcut-style as regular Blue Moon, but with a pumpkin patch and a more autumnal color palate. The label says the ale is infused with pumpkin, cloves, nutmeg and allspice and brewed using traditional crystal malt. When poured, the beer has a rich coppery color, but really no smell of pumpkin or spice- it just smells like an ale. The flavor at first was very like a nice, malty ale, with just a slight sweetness... it wasn't until I'd swallowed that I really got the faintest aftertaste of the spices and pumpkin. It was good- not overpowering, very refreshing and quite enjoyable. I liked it, but I could have dealt with a slightly more pronounced pumpkin spice flavor, however, I'm glad they erred on the side of restraint. I'd rather have a subtle, pleasantly drinkable pumpkin ale than something overwhelming and vile.
I'd definately buy it again, especially as it's a reasonably priced, easy-to-find brand. I'm sure Harvest Moon will find its way into regular rotation in our fridge this fall.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Surfers, Omelets and Stickies

There are a lot of restaurants that Kyle and I drive by and remark, "We should go there sometime." There are a lot of reasons we don't go- it's out of the way, we forget... I'm sure everyone experiences this.
For Kyle and I, The Omelet Station is one of these places. Located in the middle of touristy Cocoa Beach on Highway A1A, it's not in an area we really frequent. It always seemed when we were driving by we were on our way to meet friends for dinner, or we'd just eaten. This weekend, however, we came across an ad, and decided we'd put off trying it for far too long. We headed to charmingly touristy Cocoa Beach to have ourselves a late weekend breakfast.
A1A runs along the ocean, and the Cocoa Beach area is home to hotels, souvenir shops and the world famous surfer mecca, Ron John's Surf Shop. The Omelet Station is tucked between hotels, and is maybe 50 yards from the ocean. There's a hotel behind the restaurant, so you can't see the water from inside, but the windows look out to the street, and passing clusters of beach-bound surfers reminds you of its proximity.
And to prove this point, while I was taking a picture of the sign, a passing surfer (who probably thought I was a weird tourist) stopped and posed next to the sign for me. Thanks, friendly surfer!

As the name suggests, The Omelet Station is mostly a breakfast place, and it's nothing fancy- just a casual local breakfast joint. They do have a lunch menu, but I'm a sucker for breakfast at places like this, and honestly, mostly ignored the non-breakfast menu. They have lots of omelets, including build-your-own and specialities (currently one of the specials is the Barack "Obama-let"- an egg white omelet with spinach and feta.)

I was torn between several options, including the gingerbread waffles, the sweet potato pancakes, the beach-style eggs benedict (crab, sauteed with spinach and garlic, on top of a toasted english muffin with poached eggs and topped with hollandaise sauce.) There was also an intriguing side item called "grilled stickies", which we assume was grilled cinnamon buns. I wanted to get some based on the name alone. (I didn't wind up getting one, but there's always next time!)

I ultimately settled on the Southern Risin', a cornmeal dusted tilapia fillet, served with grits, eggs and toast. I chose rye toast and eggs over easy. I'll admit, it wasn't very photogenic, but it was sure good! I like to cut up my eggs and mix them with the grits, then sprinkle the whole thing with a fair amount of hot sauce. An ideal bite was a bit of fish, a bit of egg and a bit of grits all together.The fish was nicely seasoned and not over-cooked or dry, and the grits were soft, but not mushy and gluey, and still had individual grains. The toast was nice and crisp at the edges, and was very buttery. (I don't often butter my toast at home, but it sure is hard to beat toast with crispy edges and a soft, buttery middle... yum.)
I also got a cup of coffee, which was nice and strong- just like I like it, and tasted freshly brewed. (I worked at a coffee-shop, and have become a bit of a coffee snob, I'll admit.) i was very pleased that it was served with a small carafe of half and half, not a little dish of plastic containers of non-dairy creamer.

Kyle ordered banana and peanut butter stuffed french toast, which took a much prettier picture than my fish 'n' grits. It was a huge serving! He let me taste it, and it was rich- almost like dessert. It looked like they made a peanut butter and banana sandwich on thick Texas toast, dipped the whole thing in french toast custard, then cooked it. Kyle only got part-way through it, but was happy to take home the extra toast and my leftover grits to have for lunch this week.

As for the restaurant itself, it's housed in an old Perkins, and still retains that sort of bland atmosphere. There were paintings on the wall by local artists, as well as some beautiful surfboards, but the interior really just looked like a re-decorated Perkins. The Omelet Station is still young, though (just over a year old), so it may gather character as it ages. It was very clean, and the staff was pleasant.
Kyle and I agreed that the Omelet Station was worth the short drive to Cocoa Beach, and will definitely be back.

If you happen to take a beach vacation, and find yourself needing a post-surf nosh, be sure to hit The Omelet Station. Let me know how you like the grilled stickies!
You can find the Omelet Station at 5590 N Atlantic Ave, Cocoa Beach, FL 32931.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Poseidon Adventure

Since Kyle and I don't see each other much Monday through Friday, given that he works during the day and I work and go to school and don't get home until midnight or so, Saturdays are usually our "date night". We generally go out to dinner, but this weekend, I was in the mood for seafood and we couldn't decide on a local seafood place, so I decided I'd cook. We couldn't really decide on anything in particular, but decided to go to our favorite seafood market to see what they had.
As we looked around the market, Kyle caught sight of some pretty soft shell crabs in the case, and suggested them for dinner. I commented that yeah, they looked good, but I had no idea what to do with them once I got them home. One of the guys working overheard me and asked to what I was referring. I pointed to the crabs, and he responded, "Oh, you just clean 'em, bread 'em and fry 'em." He then pulled one out of the case and gave me a quick tutorial on cleaning a soft shell crab. He offered to clean our for us, but added that it was best to clean them right before cooking. I decided that it looked easy enough for me to handle, and we bought two, packed them in our cooler and took them home.

Soft shell crabs are blue crabs that have molted their hard exterior shell. They must be harvested immediately after molting, as they begin to grow a new, hard shell. Molting season is generally May- late July, which means we caught probably some of the last soft shells of the season. Since the shells are so soft, after a quick cleaning the crabs can be eaten whole, shell and all. Soft shell crabs generally arrive to market "fresh", meaning they are no longer alive. They should smell clean and "ocean-y", not like ammonia or stinky rotting fish.

Cleaning them is very simple. I was intimidated at first, but it's not hard at all. (And really not very messy- cutting up a chicken is a messier ordeal.) First, with the crab "right side up", lift the shell up (kind of like the crab's shoulder... if crabs had shoulders...) There are grey gills there (my fishmonger called them "dead man's fingers"). With a small knife, cut them out. Repeat on the other side.

Flip the crab onto its back. There is a small flap on the crab's belly. Use the tip of the knife to pull it down and trim it off.

Flip the crab back over. Using kitchen shears trim off the eyes and mouth about 1/2" back.

You're done cleaning! Since I'd never cooked soft shell crabs before, I decided to keep my preparation simple. I sprinkled the cleaned crabs with Old Bay Seasoning and dredged them in flour, then dipped them in beaten eggs. I let the excess egg drip off, then coated them in cornmeal. I set them on a rack to allow the crust to set while I heated some canola oil in a heavy bottomed skillet. I filled it about 3/4" and using a fry thermometer, brought the temperature to 350F. Once it was hot, I fried the crab for about 3-4min on each side. I removed them to a clean rack with paper towels under it to drain, and sprinkled them with some more Old Bay while they were hot.

Many seafood joints will serve a whole fried soft shell crab on a bun as a sandwich, often with a remoulade or tartar sauce. Since, in addition to never cooking one, I'd also never eaten one, I decided to skip the bun and sauce and just eat it plain. I also kept the sides simple, just a nice fluffy baked potato and some corn on the cob.
They were quite good, and surprisingly easy to prepare. The meat was juicy and sweet, and the cornmeal crust (and shell) gave it a pleasant crunch.

It was a fun experience, stepping a bit out of my comfort zone to try cooking something new. It has definitely made me a bit more confident to venture deeper into the weird world of seafood cookery... although I don't think I'll ever cook a live lobster. I just don't like lobster meat enough for all that work... and guilt.

Friday, August 8, 2008

A Florida Classic

I love citrusy desserts, especially when they retain a bit of that tart citrus bite. Lemon meringue pie, lemon curd, lemon-poppyseed muffins, and of course, Key lime pie.
Key lime pie is everywhere here in Florida, and (as of 2006) is actually our official state pie. (I guess it was a slow week in Tallahassee.)
Key limes differ slightly from regular limes. They are significantly smaller (a little smaller than a walnut), have a thinner skin, and are slightly more sour. They grow on bushy, thorny trees, which means they aren't widely farmed, and outside of Florida, are hard to find. (Heck, they're hard to find even in Florida- here your best bet is to befriend someone with a tree in their yard.)
If you don't have access to Key limes, regular limes are perfectly acceptable. However, that juice that comes from those little plastic limes is not! Juice your own limes- it builds character!

A good Key lime pie has a silky, creamy texture that is perfectly complimented by its bright tartness. It tastes like summertime- you can take a bite, close your eyes and imagine you've just gotten back from the beach. As delicious and decedant as it is, Key lime pie is remarkably easy to make- there's no baking (except the crust, and honestly, graham cracker crust is just about the easiest thing in the world to make) and only a few simple ingredients- egg yolks, condensed milk and lime juice. (Some recipes use lime zest, too, but I like my pie filling to be silky smooth.) The pie is rested overnight, and during that time, the egg yolks are actually cooked by the acid from the lime juice. I like mine topped with whipped cream, but meringue is equally authentic, though somewhat less common.
Key lime pie is naturally yellow- Key limes have yellow juice and the egg yolks boost the color. Traditionally, the pie is left yellow. Sometimes, depending on my mood, I'll add a few drops food color (as the purists cringe).

Being that there are only three ingredients, Key lime pie recipes don't really vary much. Oh, and one more note- the acid in citrus juice will eat away at aluminum pans, bowls and utensils, making your pie taste like metal. Be sure to use stainless steel, glass or plastic.

Key Lime Pie
Makes one 9" pie

4oz crushed graham crackers (about 16-17 crackers)
2oz melted butter

4 egg yolks
1 can (14oz) sweetened condensed milk
2/3c fresh squeezed lime juice
Few drops green food color (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter. Press into a 9" pie pan, bringing crust up the sides (I like to use glass for citrus pies). Bake for about 10-15 minutes, until just lightly golden.
In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks to break. Add the condensed milk and whisk to combine. Add the lime juice a little at a time (if you dump it in all at once, it's hard to mix in, since the milk and egg mixture is so thick). Add food color, if using. Pour filling into the pie crust. Refrigerate overnight.
To serve, top with whipped cream and decorate with lime slices.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Whose Cupcake Will Reign Supreme?

The Milwaukee Cupcake Queen organizes an Iron Cupcake: Milwaukee competition in which Wisconsinite (is that what someone from Wisconsin is called?) bakers compete to create the ultimate cupcake using a unique challenge ingredient. Each contest is documented and recorded in her blog, complete with beautiful photos. It's been such a popular feature that she is starting Iron Cupcake: Earth, a monthly challenge allowing bakers across the Internet to compete for cupcake supremacy.
August marks the inaugural month of the challenge. At the end of the month, bloggers across the Internet will post their photos and recipes for their cupcake submission. Cupcake fans will be able to vote for their favorites at the Iron Cupcake site. The winner will get fame, glory, bragging rights and fabulous prizes from talented Etsy artists.
I love baking, cupcakes and a little healthy competition, so of course I signed up. Keep your eyes peeled in a couple weeks for my cupcake submission (and go vote for me, too!)
If you're not content to just be a spectator, and wanna join the Iron Cupcakers it's not too late!
All you have to do is pop an e-mail to with the following info:
Your Name
City, State, Country
Blog Address
Flickr Name
Referral: Pumpkin and Spice

I'll see you guys in Bakeshop Stadium!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Hey, You Got Peanut Butter in My Chocolate Cookies!

I'm going to get a bit mushy for a second. My "little" brother (he's 24 years old- not so little anymore) is in the Army and is stationed in Iraq. He's a good guy, and I'm super-proud of him. We're only two years apart, and have always been close and I feel like the older we've gotten, the better friends we've become. (He was my "maid of honor" at my wedding- way before that turd of a Patrick Dempsey movie, I might add.)

Here we are, waiting in line at the Haunted Mansion and at my wedding. He cleans up pretty well.

The real point of bringing up my brother is that last week was his birthday, and I wanted to bake him a birthday treat. However, my oven was broken, and I wasn't able to bake him anything. These cookies are his belated birthday gift. (So on the off chance he's reading this, I guess I spoiled the surprise.)
Two of his favorite foods are chocolate and peanut butter, so it only made sense to engineer a cookie to fit his favorite flavor profile. These are very chocolate-y, with a slight peanut butter nuance. If you wanted a stronger peanut butter flavor, you could go half and half with chocolate chips and peanut butter chips, or you could totally replace the chocolate chips with peanut butter chips.
Peanut Butter Double Chocolate Cookies
Makes about 2 1/2 dozen 1.5oz cookies
1 stick (4oz) butter, softened
3/4c creamy peanut butter
1oz dark baking chocolate, melted (I like Green & Black)
1/3c sugar
1c brown sugar, lightly packed
1tsp vanilla
2 eggs
3Tbsp milk
3/4tsp salt
1tsp baking powder
1/4c cocoa powder
2c flour
1 bag (11-12oz) chocolate chips (or half chocolate chip. half peanut butter chip)
Preheat oven to 350F.
Cream together the butter, peanut butter and melted chocolate. Add the sugars and vanilla and mix to combine. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing just until combined. Mix in the milk.
Sift together the salt, baking powder, cocoa and flour. Add to the wet ingredients and blend until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips.
Using a 1.5oz scoop (or a spoon) plop dough onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. The cookies won't spread much, so if you prefer your cookies flatter, press down with a fork. Bake for about 12-15minutes. Enjoy with a big glass of milk!