Sunday, September 28, 2014

Food Truck Review: Fairy Cakes

Fairy Cakes - tried on September 15, 2014
A couple of weeks ago at work, during my second conference in two weeks, the pre-conference mixer included having four food trucks onsite to provide appetizers and dinner for the conference attendees. One truck had a South American theme, another an Asian theme and a third was American cuisine. The fourth, however, is what earned my slavish devotion: dessert in the form of cupcakes from Fairy Cakes.
Not being a regular patron of food trucks (I know they’re all the rage but I’m a creature of habit and food trucks don’t usually cross my path), I was unfamiliar with Fairy Cakes but it was dessert, it was a cupcake and it was literally right in front of me. Serendipity or what? When it comes to dinner, it’s very important to strategize when dessert is on the line. That means, I ate a small dinner that could fit in the palm of my hand (rice and Korean short ribs if you want to know or maybe a few kernels of rice and half a short rib because I really did keep the portion small). Therefore freeing my stomach and my daily allotment of calories so I could have a cupcake for dessert.
Most of the conference attendees were congregated around the bar area doing their mingling. I don’t drink and didn’t want to take up valuable near-the-bar space so I just happened to drift towards the cupcake truck (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). There was hardly anyone there yet so I could engage the girl in the truck in very important conversation. With questions like “what’s your best flavor? Which cupcake do you recommend?” They had a list of flavors available, including chocolate and vanilla versions of a salted caramel cupcake. Salted caramel. Tempting. But the cupcake lady recommended the cookie butter cupcake because “it was different”.
Cookie Butter Cupcake
I happen to be a fan of cookie butter so it didn’t take much to persuade me. It took me longer to talk myself out of getting a second cupcake. I did want to try one of the salted caramel cupcakes and it wasn’t like the cupcakes were that big. But I was experiencing a rare moment of virtue colliding with willpower so I went with one cookie butter cupcake and forced myself to walk away before I could weaken. I was chatting with a few other folks (back to the mingling) while I ate my cupcake. I think I had to step away for a minute after I took the first bite. I was having a moment, just me and the cupcake. It was too sacred to be shared, schmoozing be damned.
Okay, people, this was probably one of the best cupcakes I’ve ever had. I’m sorry, Candace Nelson of Sprinkles fame, I just cheated on you and enjoyed it. And I’d do it again. The Fairy Cakes cookie butter cupcake was amazing. And proof of that is I ate the whole thing, including the frosting (me! Non-frosting person!). The frosting was actually the best part. It tasted as good as it looked. The cupcake itself was a very delicious buttery vanilla cupcake and not cookie-butter-flavored but it was moist and had the perfect cake texture. It also served as a very handy backdrop and vehicle with which to deliver the frosting. There was a center dollop of straight cookie butter on top of the cupcake and then cookie butter frosting piped around it. Delicious. Amazing. OMG, I can’t believe I only got one. I almost went back for a second one but I made myself walk away and head back to my desk, regretting it every step of the way. Sometimes virtue and willpower really suck.
Fortunately, one of the event coordinators, who happened to hear me raving about the cookie butter cupcake, meaning I was telling anyone at the conference who would listen, “try the cookie butter cupcake, it’s amazing, you won’t regret it, you’ve GOT to try this cupcake”, told me the next day that dessert for lunch that day would be the cupcakes from Fairy Cakes. Wow, did she make my day. So you know what I had for dessert that day. I wanted another cookie butter cupcake but I still wanted to try the salted caramel cupcake so I ended up splitting a cookie butter cupcake with another person and took a whole chocolate salted caramel for tasting. As the lady I split the cupcake with said, “1 ½ cupcakes, that’s totally reasonable.” Absolutely.
Chocolate Salty Caramel Cupcake
The chocolate salted caramel cupcake was good but it didn’t match the cookie butter. The chocolate flavor could’ve been a tad bit more chocolatey and the salted caramel drizzled over the frosting was a bit too salty for me. Their frosting was really good though and, just like with Sift cupcakes, I loved the frosting. I don’t say that very often. But it’s the cookie butter cupcake that will make me seek out Fairy Cakes again. According to their website, they go out in their food truck in different locations a few times a week. Believe me, I’ll be showing up at one of those places sometime soon.
Half of a Cookie Butter Cupcake

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Pumpkin Snickerdoodle Bar Cookies

Pumpkin Snickerdoodle Bar Cookies - made September 20, 2014 from A Kitchen Addiction
For my dad's 75th birthday party, I had ordered a couple of bundt cakes from Nothing Bundt Cakes but with 60 guests, I also had to supplement the birthday cakes with an assortment of desserts. Okay, I also wanted to more than I actually had to.
This is where I'm in my element - lots to people to bake for and I get to indulge in coming up with an assortment of different flavors and different desserts. I knew this day was coming and I knew my time to bake was limited because of how much I was working so it meant a lot of prep work and planning. In the two weeks leading up to the party, I was making cookie doughs to freeze and bake later and a Texas Vanilla Cake to freeze ahead of time and cut right before serving.
These pumpkin snickerdoodle bars, however, were an impulsive, last-minute addition. I was baking other bars the night before and on the morning of the party, I was baking off the cookie doughs. But then I had an attack of insecurity that I hadn't made enough dessert. So I dived to my pinterest board and decided to try out this recipe. The allure of it was how easy it was to make. And they lived up to their name. The cinnamon, cream of tartar and texture represented the snickerdoodle part. The pumpkin flavor isn't too strong but was just enough to justify the "pumpkin" part of the title
I will admit when I made the frosting and tasted it, I wasn't all that thrilled with it. It seemed too pumpkin-y. But when I frosted the bars, sprinkled cinnamon sugar over the frosting and tried a piece, the whole package worked. I liked the texture of the bars and I liked the flavor combination. You don't want to overbake these (or anything else) or you won't get the soft, moist texture. If you bake them for too long, the bars will be cakey and dry. Not even the frosting can save them then. But when (under)baked properly, these make a nice fall dessert.
½ cup butter, room temperature
¾ cup sugar
3 tablespoons pumpkin puree, not pumpkin pie filling
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

½ cup butter, softened
2½ – 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
3 tablespoons pumpkin puree
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ginger
cinnamon sugar, for garnish
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly spray a 9×9 or 8×8 inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or with an electric hand mixer), cream together butter and sugar. Add in pumpkin, egg, and vanilla extract. Beat until creamy.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cream of tartar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  4. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and beat until combined. Press dough into the bottom of prepared baking dish.
  5. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
  6. While bars are cooling, prepare frosting. Beat together butter and confectioner’s sugar. Add in pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Beat until creamy. If more confectioner’s sugar is needed, add 2 tablespoons at a time up to another ½ cup.
  7. Spread over cooled bars. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Cut into pieces.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Averie's Snickerdoodles

Averie's Snickerdoodles - made dough September 6, 2014 from Averie Cooks
This is another good recipe from Averie's blog but also another one where mine didn't turn out looking like hers. Mine spread a little more. I didn't overbake them because they tasted great and had the perfect chewy texture of a moist cookie. But they spread uniformly even though I baked them from frozen dough balls and hadn't even flattened the dough. I think my butter should have been more chilled and less "room temperature" when I mixed up the dough. Still, this is a good snickerdoodle recipe, albeit it doesn't topple my favorite version.
My dad was a lot more enthusiastic about them and, for his 75th birthday party, requested these be served there for the dessert portion of the party. Done. And more party cookie recipes to follow in the coming days.
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt, optional 

1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, sugars, and beat on medium-high speed until creamed and well combined, about 3 minutes.
  2. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the egg, vanilla; beat on medium-high speed until well combined, light and fluffy.
  3. Add the add the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, optional salt, and beat on low speed until just combined.
  4. Using a medium 2-inch cookie scoop, form approximately 14 equal-sized mounds of dough (2 heaping tablespoons each) and roll into balls. Chill for several hours or overnight.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  6. In a small bowl, combine sugar, cinnamon, and stir to combine. Dredge each mound of dough through the cinnamon-sugar.
  7. Place dough mounds on baking sheet, spaced at least 2 inches apart and bake for about 9 minutes, or until edges have set and tops are just set, even if slightly undercooked, pale, and glossy in the center; don't overbake. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for about 10 minutes before serving. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Restaurant Review: The Patio

The Patio - appetizers on September 10, 2014
It's a misnomer to call this a "restaurant review" since The Patio is more like a sports bar than a restaurant. If sports bars can seem a bit more swanky than the usual dive that some sports bars want to be.
Still, it's a good place to go for group events and that's what I went there for as part of a 2-day company conference (the mingling, socializing and eating part). At the risk of showing my age, I remember when The Patio was long ago a bar called Fanny & Alexander's. In my business school days, it was a popular gathering for the weekly beer nights.
It has a similar vibe as F&A's in that there's plenty of room for mingling and schmoozing. In b-school, mingling and schmoozing was part of the curriculum. And The Patio served appetizers that are a cut above the norm.
Bacon-Wrapped, Deep-Fried Prawns
Case in point, my favorite calorie bombs of the night were the bacon-wrapped, deep-fried, breaded prawns. Honestly? There's nothing not to love in any of those words. I love prawns and these were prawns on steroids that did heavy lifting in the gym. Something you can sink your teeth into and die happy. I take my prawns seriously. And while I can take or leave bacon, wrapping bacon around each behemoth prawn, breading it, then deep frying it sent these into the stratosphere. There was some kind of marinade or sauce flavoring the prawns that really set it off and was quite tasty (says the plain eater who typically doesn't "do" sauces). I don't know what it was but if you ever go to The Patio, you've got to get this particular appetizer. Then run a marathon.

Veggie Kabobs

I ate two of the hefty prawns and those were a meal in and of themselves. But that didn't stop me from having a handful of fries and a chicken slider as well. I like sliders because of their small size but I rarely eat them because the typical slider comes with "stuff". You know, ketchup (ugh), pickles (no thanks) and any other stuff that to me ruins my love of plain bread and beef. Or in this case, chicken. But wonder of wonders, these sliders were served plain with the option for people to add their own condiments. Woot! So even though I didn't need to consume more breaded, deep-fried things, I had to have a plain chicken slider. Because it was there, after all.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Apple and Cream Cheese Bundt Cake

Apple and Cream Cheese Bundt Cake - made September 14, 2014 from Apple and Cream Cheese Bundt Cake
Are you getting cooler autumn weather where you live? Autumn is my favorite season of the year and I'm always more than ready to kick summer to the curb by the time September rolls around. Lately though, summer has been tightening its grip, out-staying its welcome, bringing more heat and keeping the rain at bay. Leave already.
But if it won't (thanks, global warming), then I simply switch my baking flavors to autumn anyway. Other than pumpkin, nothing says autumn to me more than apples. Yes, I know apples are available year round but every food snob knows they're best in the fall. This is an apple cake stuffed with cream cheese, covered in a brown sugar glaze and pecans. It was supposed to have pecans in the batter but I skipped that part.
This made more batter than I expected and I did have some overflow in the Bundt pan although thankfully, since I was afraid of just that, I put a sheet of foil underneath the pan during baking and it caught the few dribbles of batter overflow so I didn't have to scrub my oven clean....again. The pictures don't let me lie so I have to confess this turned out looking very homemade. You know what I mean. Part of the cake stuck in the pan when I inverted it so I had to do a Humpty Dumpty and patch it together before I poured the glaze over it. That was partly my fault because I was in a hurry and I didn't wait to let it cool just enough to be firm but still be warm enough to come out easily. But I'm also going to freely blame the cake because the cream cheese filling was particularly soft so it added to the delicacy of the cake that I hadn't counted on and it couldn't hold the apple cake part together. Okay, that was probably my fault too for not anticipating that.
The brown sugar glaze set pretty quickly, practically hardening before I could even get it out of the bowl so you're going to want to move quickly with it. Actually, I would recommend cutting back on the powdered sugar and increasing the milk slightly to keep it a bit softer and more glaze-y; otherwise it ends up being like penuche. I used whole pecans to put on top but you can do a rough chop and sprinkle it (fast) over the glaze before it sets. The toasted pecans do add a nice crunch and flavor so don't skip that part unless you absolutely don't like pecans, even on top of your cake. The apple cake part itself was delicious and paired well with the brown sugar frosting and the pecans. I was less enthused about the cream cheese filling, probably because there was so much of it. If you like cheesecake, you'll like this cake. If you're like me and don't like cheesecake, I would recommend you cut the cream cheese batter in half, swirl it more into the cake batter and bake as a cream cheese swirl apple cake. I did that with the taste test ramekin and it was much better than a regular slice of the Bundt cake.
Cream Cheese Filling
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla

Apple Cake
1 cup finely chopped pecans (optional in the batter, I left them out)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups peeled and finely chopped apples, about 1 1/2 pounds (I used Granny Smiths)

Caramel Pecan Frosting
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
3 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup pecan halves for garnish, toasted
  1. Prepare Filling: Beat first 3 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until blended and smooth. Add egg, flour, and vanilla; beat just until blended.
  2. Prepare Batter: Preheat oven to 350º. Bake pecans in a shallow pan 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted and fragrant, stirring halfway through. 
  3. Stir together 3 cups flour and next 7 ingredients in a large bowl; stir in eggs and next 3 ingredients, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in apples and pecans.
  4. Spoon two-thirds of apple mixture into a greased and floured 14-cup Bundt pan. Spoon Cream Cheese Filling over apple mixture, leaving a 1-inch border around edges of pan. Swirl filling through apple mixture using a paring knife. Spoon remaining apple mixture over Cream Cheese Filling.
  5. Bake at 350º for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack, and cool completely (about 2 hours).
  6. Prepare Frosting: Bring 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup butter, and 3 tablespoons milk to a boil in a 2-qt. saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly; boil 1 minute, whisking constantly. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Gradually whisk in powdered sugar until smooth; stir gently 3 to 5 minutes or until mixture begins to cool and thickens slightly. Pour immediately over cooled cake. Garnish with pecans.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Fudgy Banana Bars

Fudgy Banana Bars with Vanilla Bean Brown Butter Glaze - made September 13, 2014 from Averie Cooks
I had such high hopes for these bars. They looked so scrumptious on Averie's site and I thought they would be like the banana bread brownies I'd made before and just loved. Plus I've been a fan of almost every recipe I've made from her site and I didn't think these would be any different. Unfortunately they were. I don't know why I didn't like them. Were my expectations too high? Had my taste buds gone into the stratosphere in terms of what they needed to be hit with? Was I losing my edge in the baking or sweets department?
The batter was so promising too. For once, I worked with the white chocolate properly. Meaning I didn't burn them, they didn't seize up on me and they actually flowed smoothly with the melted butter and the rest of the ingredients when I mixed them all in. Score. I also had properly overripe bananas to use that were bursting with banana goodness, ready to impart flavor to whatever I added them to. I baked them for exactly 32 minutes, the toothpick came out clean, the texture looked similar to Averie's original, the glaze was easily made and poured over the still-warm bars, and I tried it when the whole thing was nearly cool. 

Usually when I taste test something, I only need a small piece and I can instantly make up my mind about it. I'm judgmental like that. For this one, I had to eat an entire normal-size piece before I could draw conclusions. I think my brain was insisting I had to like it because it was an Averie Cooks recipe and they're always fantastic. But my taste buds were telling my brain it was wrong; I didn't like it. I hate when my brain is wrong. I'm a thinker. Do thinkers like to be wrong? No. In this case, my taste buds won out and my brain capitulated....although it did try to give my taste buds the finger. My brain doesn't like to be wrong. 
Despite the bananas, there wasn't much flavor to these bars. The glaze was the best part and you know that's a bad sign, considering I'm not a frosting person. The texture was dense, too dense for me. If I'm eating something with the texture of fudge, I'd want it to be sweet and these weren't, except for the glaze. Maybe the white chocolate offset the banana flavor? Although you can't really taste the white chocolate, it might have been enough to mute the banana. I don't know. I'm bummed I didn't like these since I love so many of her other recipes but it just goes to show we all have different taste buds. And her site still has given me some of my favorite recipes. So there, says my brain to my taste buds. My taste buds still ignored my brain and suggested next time I should make the banana bread brownies instead.
3/4 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
1 large egg
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup mashed banana (about 2 large or 3 small/medium ripe bananas)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
pinch salt, optional and to taste
1/4 cup unsalted butter, browned
1 heaping cup confectioners' s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (1 tablespoon vanilla extract may be substituted)
pinch salt, optional and to taste
about 1/4 cup cream or milk, or as necessary for consistency
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8 x 8" baking pan with aluminum foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a large, microwave-safe bowl, combine the white chocolate and butter and heat to melt in 30-second intervals, stirring after each time until mixture can be whisked smooth. White chocolate burns and scorches easily so it's best to only heat enough for the butter to melt and whisk any remaining white chocolate bits smooth.
  3. Cool slightly before adding egg, sugar and vanilla. Whisk until combined. Stir in mashed banana and whisk until combined.
  4. Add flour and optional salt if using and stir until just combined. Don't overmix.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pan, smoothing the top. Bake for 32 to 33 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs but not raw batter. 
  6. Make the glaze: combine browned butter with confectioners' sugar, vanilla bean paste, and optional salt. Slowly add milk, whisking until smooth, or beat with a handheld mixer. Add additional milk or confectioners' sugar until desired consistency is reached.
  7. Pour glaze evenly over slightly cooled bars, smoothing the top. Cool bars completely.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Restaurant Review: Pacific Catch Fresh Fish Grill

Pacific Catch - dinner on September 5, 2014

I met my friend and former coworker, Michelle, at Pacific Catch one night for dinner. I'd never been there before and I think they're fairly new in the area. They're right next door to Paul Martin's American Grill.
Inside, they remind me of Paul Martin's as well, enough to make me wonder if they're owned by the same people. But I checked both websites and they're not. I think the similarities stem from the fact that they're in the same building built by the same developers.
Fish Tacos
Pacific Catch is fairly casual dining and as their name implies, seafood is the typical order of the day. They also offer "pan-Asian" rice bowls if you're more inclined towards that although those also lean towards seafood. But there are beef and chicken options as well. Michelle got the Mahi Mahi fish tacos with sweet potato fries while I opted for the fish and chips with the chips also being sweet potato fries. I love that sweet potato fries are becoming a more common option on restaurant menus.
Fish n Chips with Sweet Potato Fries
The fish 'n' chips were okay. They weren't bad but I don't know that I found them particularly memorable. The fish was a bit bland and I would've preferred the breading to be a bit more crisp. If I'm going the deep fried route in all its greasy glory, I'd like them to be really worthwhile deep-fried goodness; these just missed the mark although the sweet potato fries helped.
Macadamia Nut Brownie
Fortunately, though, we ordered dessert and the macadamia nut brownie that Michelle ordered made the whole visit completely worthwhile. Macadamias are one of the few nuts I'll tolerate in a brownie and this brownie was superb. Rich, moist, fudgy - everything I could want in a brownie. Enough to make me want to go home and bake my own version. Except I couldn't get up from the table until I'd had a few more spoonfuls.
Bread Pudding
My own dessert was bread pudding and while I adore bread pudding, again, this one hit just the "okay" mark with me. Which is surprising considering how much I love bread pudding and tend to look at most bread puddings with a friendly eye. Like the fish n chips, this wasn't bad but it could've been better. It just didn't have the flavor I love in bread puddings. I don't know if it was their bread being just okay or there not being much sugar in the custard. You'd think the caramel covering the top would've provided enough sweetness but I was looking for that in the bread pudding custard itself. I found myself eating more of Michelle's brownie dessert than my own. Fortunately, she was good about sharing.