Sunday, August 31, 2008
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
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!
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
"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.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Canned frosting counts as canned food, right?
Friday, August 15, 2008
Thursday, August 14, 2008
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.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
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
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
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.
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
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
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 IronCupcakeEarth@wi.rr.com with the following info:
City, State, Country
Referral: Pumpkin and Spice
I'll see you guys in Bakeshop Stadium!