Tuesday, May 30, 2006

I Try Food From Other Bloggers

I tried another cupcake from Chockylit – the Samoa inspired cupcake. It was to die for, but never again!

I started in the kitchen around 11 a.m. and figured I’d be there at least until 3 p.m. I was there until 6 p.m. Some of this time was used to make Jell-O shots in orange wedges that I saw at NotMartha, but that task was cake, unlike the cupcakes.

I decided to make miniature cupcakes since the calorie count was out of this world for one regular size cupcake. Miniatures also worked well for the weekend cookout. The batter goes farther so more people can partake.

Working in miniature tries my patience. Instead of assembling twelve cupcakes, I had to assemble about fifty cupcakes – in miniature.

The recipe calls for four different components: cake batter, caramel, ganache, and coconut topping. All of the components turned out well, but save time by skipping the caramel.

You’re instructed to cut a cone from the cupcake – again, lots of fun in miniature! – and fill with caramel. By the time you eat the cupcake, the cake has absorbed the caramel. So, the cake is just a little sweeter. No gooey caramel center like I was hoping to bite into.

The coconut topping is similar to icing on a German chocolate cake, and ganache is ganache. Everyone loved the cupcakes, but never made the connection to Samoas® until I told them that the Girl Scout cookie was the inspiration.

The cupcakes were phenomenal; don’t get me wrong. The caramel and coconut topping were so yummy. I had tons left over, but immediately trashed them so as not to keep sticking my finger in the bowls.

The Jell-o® shots were a smashing hit. Every one loved how they could easily get the shot out of the orange wedge by popping the wedge in front of their teeth and chomping down. Apparently Jell-o shots don’t come out of the traditional paper cup too easily.

So, thank you food bloggers for sharing your ideas and experiences. You’re more creative than most cookbooks.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Avocado Shake

An avocado shake may sound gross, even if you like avocados, but it’s not. Trust me. I’m an upstanding and trustworthy individual.

I had never even seen an avocado shake until about two years ago when I was dining at Pho Ba Le, a Vietnamese restaurant on Washington Ave. This section of town, with lines of cars out the cluster of Vietnamese strip malls and the double-parked cars at the Italian Market, is a nightmare to drive in on the weekend. Can you say clusterfuck? Yet, the avocado shake and a stop in the Asian Markets is worth it.

The avocado shake is pale green in color, sweet, nutty, and has just a hint of avocado. The flavor is subtle and addictive. If you were handed the shake and not told what was in it, you would never guess avocado. You'd guess sweet nectar of God.

Pho Ba Le puts tapioca balls in the shake, so as you fiendishly suck up the shake you also get chewy, sweet tapioca pearls. With the addition of tapioca pearls, what I’m drinking is really a Boba, or bubble tea, but skip the tapioca and you have a shake / smoothie / frozen beverage / insert-name-here.

Avocado Shake

2 cups ice
2 peeled and pitted avocado
½ cup condensed sweetened milk

  • Blend ingredients in a blender.
  • Pour into glass.
  • Put mouth to glass edge.
  • Tip glass up while holding mouth open.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Sunday, May 21, 2006

In the Name of Science

The following stunts were performed by untrained amateurs. Do not attempt at home.

Strange ideas manifest themselves in my head. Sometimes I act upon them. If the following idea enters your head, do not act upon. Seriously.

My neighbors grill all the time and it makes me really hungry. I have a little grill on my back porch. I rarely use it. Last year I was dying to try grilled pizza. I did. It was good. I also wanted to grill all sorts of fruit. I didn’t.

It’s a new year, so I bought a new bag of charcoal a week ago and have been waiting to use it. Somehow the grilling of pizza and fruit came together, seemingly brilliantly, in my head. My idea was to grill a pizza with fruit toppings. This would not be a dessert, but, you know, a pizza!

I soaked strawberries in balsamic vinegar and sugar, and coated pineapple and bananas in a lime and honey mixture. I stuck these on improvised skewers made from chopsticks and grilled them. (I don’t always think things through thoroughly).

I then grilled two small rounds of pizza dough and put a pomegranate glaze on the pizza as a “sauce”. The lesson from last year was that pizza dough cooks quickly over the grill. You must cook one side, then flip to cook the other side. Pizza cooks so quickly that you must pre-cook the toppings and add the toppings and the cheese to the first cooked side as the second side cooks.

I experimented with different cheese toppings on the fruit pizza. I used Brie and cream cheese initially. The Brie melted beautifully. The cream cheese remained in little clumps. The cream cheese was too sweet. I removed the cream cheese from a piece of pizza and added some cheddar, since I had it in the fridge. My conclusion is that the sharper and stronger the cheese the better.

My conclusion overall is that I had a stupid idea.

There’s a reason that I couldn’t find a non-dessert fruit pizza when I googled it. This was too sweet and would have evoked a gag reflex if I weren’t a freak. Oh yeah, I ate it!

I was imagining crackers, fruit, and cheese, but in the form of pizza. Not so. Stick to crackers and cheese or a savory pizza with pineapple.

Let’s just say that I have an excellent imagination. Commit me now!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Papaya Salsa

What to do with half a papaya and left over BBQ tempeh?

Living by myself, I truly make some weird combos with leftovers. I’ll throw anything over pasta or put it in a wrap. I don’t have anyone’s taste buds to consider so all is fair game. I would be embarrassed to admit most of the combos I make when no one is around, but the one I made the other day can come out of the closet.

The vegetarian platter at La Cena in Downingtown, PA inspired me when looking into the fridge. La Cena is a great restaurant that serves Latin American food. The only problem is that I can eat only one dish and the restaurant is about an hour away in a podunk town. If cruising through Downingtown, La Cena is the place to stop. You can stop at Victory Brewing Company if you must, but don't eat there. Bring the beer to La Cena; it's BYOB.

Their vegetarian platter is a HUGE bowl of rice and beans topped with cheese, lots of lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, and plantains. Very simple, but sooo good. I like the “salad” and salsa on top of the rice. I don’t know why I’ve never really eaten a salad on rice elsewhere. Great idea!

I turned the leftover papaya into salsa. I topped a bowl of rice with the leftover BBQ tempeh, lettuce, and the papaya salsa. It was very good. The juice from the salsa and the BBQ sauce flavors the rice. I like to think of my creation as a Caribbean interpretation of La Cena’s vegetarian platter.

Papaya Salsa
enough for one person or two small eaters

2-3 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon honey
⅓ cup papaya, diced
1 plum tomato, diced
1 tablespoon sweet onion, finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
hot pepper to taste, finely chopped
pinch of salt

  • Combine lime juice and honey. Briefly heating this mixture in the microwave for 10-15 seconds will help incorporate the honey.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and mix.
  • Refrigerate until ready to use.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Ice Cream Hoarding

You know what goes really well with those papaya-coconut cupcakes?

Green Tea ice cream!

I picked up 5 pints this weekend from Trader Joes. No, I’m not a pig. I’m just hoarding.

I once read that if you like something at Trader Joes, you better stock up on it because it may disappear.

Pishaw! That won’t happen to me.

Then, it did!

A few weeks after posting about my addiction to Lucky Country Aussie Red Licorice, it went missing from the shelves and still has not appeared.

The ready to eat udon noodles and frozen gorgonzola and pear pizza have been missing since winter, the bite size cheesecakes (great for parties) make an appearance about twice a year, the gummi candies and frozen vegetarian bean burritos have been missing for a few months, and the Kashi cereal I get was gone last week.

Gelato Classico’s Green Tea flavored gelato is my favorite. They also make a ginger flavored gelato that’s neck and neck in the favorite race. These two can go missing for months before I see it again. I hadn’t seen either flavor in a few months and was afraid it wasn’t coming back, so I grabbed all that was left when it appeared this weekend.

Hopefully, with a little control, those pints will get me most of the way through summer.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Papaya-Coconut Cupcakes with Ginger-Lime Cream Cheese Frosting

Speaking of exotic flavors, I finally got around to making one of the scrumptious sounding and looking cupcakes at Cupcake Bakeshop by Chockylit, a blog devoted to the cupcake. If you haven’t been to the site, do go. I put it on my blogroll a few months ago.

Her cupcake darlings are creative and inspiring. They're not your standard flavors offered at bakeries. Here’s a sampling of the unusual-for-cupcake flavors: tarragon, basil, fennel, chili, tea, eggnog, persimmon, and lychee.

Some of the cupcakes are complex and amazing. I’m eyeing a cupcake inspired by the Samoas® Girl Scout cookie for an upcoming eating event – my second favorite Girl Scout cookie after Thin Mints.

I’m a sucker for pictures, and her pictures are gorgeous. I know my cupcakes will never look that good due to my chronic impatience and lack of a pastry bag, yet I still am not afraid to dive in and try to recreate the beauty.

The cupcakes all look good, but I decided to try the papaya-coconut cupcakes with ginger-lime cream cheese frosting.

I had everything already in the kitchen, expect for a papaya. The recipe calls for six ounces of papaya, but I don’t have a scale. I just threw some in; I’m not sure how much.

I substituted reduced-fat coconut milk and reduced-fat cream cheese because it was on hand. I would not recommend reduced-fat cream cheese if you were taking these to an event, only because the resulting icing is softer. If it’s warm outside, the icing could be a melting mess.

The result was very good. The cake was more like a fruit quick bread. The icing was my favorite part – tangy lime with spicy ginger. I put the full tablespoon of ginger in, but for my taste I could have put more in.

If only I had the time and metabolism to make and eat every one of her cupcakes!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Vosges Exotic Truffles

Well, I went with chocolate for Mother’s Day. Who doesn’t love chocolate? Chocolate truly makes me happy, and hopefully my mother, too.

I tell every one I date, that if you want to make me happy, give me a box of chocolate. It’s cliché, but being a non-cliché girl, you wouldn’t believe how few boxes of chocolate and bouquets of flowers I get. I’ve only gotten one bouquet of flowers in my 31 years of living!

This year I did something a little different than the standard Godiva Chocolate. I ordered my mom a box of Vosges Exotic Truffles. These truffles are supposed to have “worldly inspiration.” Chocolate is combined with spices and ingredients commonly associated with worldly cuisine, but not necessarily chocolate. For example: curry, paprika, fennel, and wasabi. It’s a trip around the world!

Along with my mother’s order, I had to order myself a small box (9 pieces for $23 before shipping) to taste them for myself. Plus, I do love myself even if I’m not a mother. Some will be happy about that fact. (Hi M_ _ _.)

How were they?

Chocolate rocks. Period.

I would love to get these as a gift. I found myself taking more time to savor the truffles than I would an ordinary box of truffles. It took me two whole days to eat the box, which is a looong time for me. The first day I ate two pieces. The second day I had two pieces for breakfast and five pieces with my Friday afternoon bottle of wine.

The instructions – yes, they came with instructions - say to first, read the story of the truffle to set the stage. Then, look at the truffle. Next, lick the top of the spice truffles as a teaser. Then, bite the truffle in two and savor the first bite. The second bite is for totally immersing yourself into the flavors and sensations.

Woo, that’s a lot to do. I did it, though.

My favorites were India influenced Naga with curry powder, Japanese influenced Black Pearl with ginger and wasabi, and Southern influenced Wink of the Rabbit with the classic combination of pecans, caramel, and chocolate.

Most of the truffles combined ingredients associated with countries that I found quite common and normally associated with chocolate. Italian influenced Gianduia used pralines, Australian influenced Wooloomooloo used macadamia nut, and Parisian influenced Chef Pascal used Kirsch.

It takes a lot to wow me flavor wise. That’s why I preferred the odder combinations. I wish they were a little wilder with their flavors, but I understand that many Americans think Chinese-American food is a little “out there.”

All in all, Vosges Chocolates makes a lovely gift. I hope Mom enjoyed it. I’ll call her Sunday.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Vegetarian Philly Cheesesteak

I’ve never actually eaten a real Philly Cheesesteak in Philly or elsewhere, since I don’t eat meat. Who makes the best one in Philly is an arguement that won't die no matter how much we don't give a crap.

All I know is that the sandwich consists of thinly sliced beef, onions, and Cheez Whiz® on an Italian roll. Common additions are mushrooms, sweet peppers, and ketchup. Cheese substitutions include provolone and American cheese.

I had my first vegetarian Cheesesteak almost two years ago at Gianna’s Grill, a punk meat/vegetarian/vegan sandwich shop in Philadelphia. I went on a whim one day when rain made it impossible to work. I was pumped and ready for Philadelphia’s namesake sandwich.

What a let down. The sandwich was browned TVP topped with vegan cheese on an Italian roll. The TVP smelled of dog food, like TVP does when it is not seasoned. I had to order a cup of BBQ sauce to make the sandwich edible.

Since then, I’ve been on a little mission to discover the vegetarian Philly Cheesesteak. This mission is not my waking and sleeping passion, but I try to order one when I’m in the right place and in the right frame of mind. I also have a veggie hot dog mission.

I had the idea of ordering a cheesesteak from many places in one day, and tasting them side by side. I nixed that idea when I thought it out a little farther. 1) It would take me half a day to go to six or more places to order a sandwich. 2) It would be expensive. 3) The sandwiches would get cold. 4) How in the hell would I eat all of them.

Soooo…I’ll just evaluate them at they come to me.

I’ve tried the above mention Gianna’s Grille. I’ve also tried the Cheesesteak at Sabrina’s and Govinda’s. Both of these were not bad, but no socks were blown off. I would review them more accurately, but my memory is weak. I’ll need to go back.

I recently tried the Cheesesteak at Copabanana’s, a somewhat Mardi Gras/Tropical themed American food restaurant on South Street. I would liken the restaurant to a burger bar at the beach. Not where I typically would go, but it was filling a need at the time.

I asked the waiter if the vegetarian Cheesesteak was good, and he shrugged, “It is what it is.”

He summed up my belief on Cheesesteaks. They are not some awesome, to-die-for sandwich, but just a mound of schlocky, greasy beef on a roll. It’s a crappy sandwich that satisfies your taste for meat and grease and fills the hole in your stomach. It is what it is.

I asked my meat-eating friend across the table what makes a Cheesesteak good, since he informed me that he has had a good one. He said that the good one’s have cheese in every bite. The cheese is layered or melts down into the beef so that each bite has integrated flavors.

Perhaps this is why Cheez Whiz® is the authentic cheese of the Philly Cheesesteak. Cheez Whiz® melts and oozes throughout the mound of beef. All of my Cheesesteaks have had cheese that melts and sits on the top since I opt out on Cheez Whiz.

Copabanana's Cheesesteak had a melted cheese shell on the top of a mound of seasoned soy. I had to order onions and mushrooms extra. The mushrooms were canned. I strangely love canned mushrooms, so this was a plus. The sandwich was not exciting, but filled the hole in my stomach. Next time I'm trying it with nasty Cheez Whiz® to be more authentic.

So, the mission continues half-heartedly.

Why half-heartedly?

Because it is what it is. A crappy sandwich.

Sunday, May 7, 2006

I Heart Mom

A package containing two jars of Duke's Light Mayonnaise appeared on my porch the other day. My mommy sent them to me. Gotta love Mom!

Now the pressure is on for what to get her for Mother’s Day. I always get her bath stuff, chocolate, or stationary. Oh, the pressure – and lack of ideas.

Thursday, May 4, 2006

Lemon Bars

I made lemon bars for my boyfriend’s birthday. That was his request.

Now, I love lemon bars, but I don’t recall ever making them before. I had researched recipes, and decided on one from the Epicurious files. When it came time to make them, the site was experiencing a lot of traffic and the pages were taking about five minutes to load.

I have no patience for such things, so pulled out The Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. This book has every standard recipe in it and is a excellent source of basic recipes. If you're hankering for your aunt's famous dish, she probably got it from this book.

Their recipe was good, but not up to my standards. I wanted a little thicker crust, twice as much gooey lemon top, and tangy-er lemon flavor.

Soooo... I made a second batch with my own recipe that I modified from theirs. Theirs are enjoyable and you can eat many. Mine are enjoyable, but you can only eat one. (Theirs is to the left in the picture. Mine is to the right.)

How were they received?

Well, upon arriving home drunk, he did not want any.

“What?” I said incredulously.

I force-fed him a bite. He better eat this, god damn it!

He said, “Mmmm. The real deal!” Then passed out. Zzzzzzzzzzzz.

Just the response I was hoping for!!!???

Lemon Bars

7 ½ tablespoons butter or margerine
⅓ cup sugar
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
4 eggs
1 ½ cup sugar
4 tablespoons flour
5 tablespoons finely shredded lemon peel
8 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon baking powder
powder sugar (optional)

  • Beat butter with an electric mixer for 30 seconds. Add the 1/3 cup sugar; beat until combined. Beat in the 1/2 cup flour till crumbly. Press the mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 8x8x2-inch pan. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until golden.
  • In another bowl, combine eggs, the 1 ½ cups sugar, 4 tablespoons flour, lemon peel, lemon juice, and baking powder. Beat until combined.
  • Pour the filling over the baked layer. Bake 35 minutes more or until lightly browned around the edges and the center is set.
  • Cool on a rack. Sift powdered sugar over top. Cut into bars. Best served chilled
Citrus Zester - I like the OXO lemon zester. OXO makes great tools
Lemon Juicer - I'm nostalgic, so won't give up my mother's glass lemon juicer. It's pretty and it's the one I used as a kid. The mexican lemon juicer is a sweet tool, though. It makes fast work of extracting juice and you don't have to pick the seeds out.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Hobo Huggy

I went camping this weekend as a birthday / bon voyage celebration for my boyfriend. This was not roughing it, but more like car camping since we spent the first half of the weekend moving his apartment into storage.

Even though I spend about ten hours a day communing with nature, I’ve never been a big camper. You can blame that on my parents and an encounter with a bear three years ago in upstate New York.

My first attempt at foil-wrapped veggies was quite a success. One friend called them Hobo Huggies and another called them Boy Scout Packets. I can find no reference to either of those exact names, but I like the sound of Hobo Huggy. So, Hobo Huggy it is!

The Huggies I made contained onion, carrots, potatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, portabella mushrooms, and marinated tempeh.

Since we were cleaning out the fridge in preparation for moving, I combined the remains of Asian sesame dressing and red pepper dressing to make a sauce. I also added soy sauce, mustard, ketchup, and honey into the sauce. I seriously was trying to use up every thing in the fridge.

I spread the uncooked veggies on two layers of tin foil so they were not piled high. Then I sprinkled the vegetables with salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, and chipotle pepper powder. Next I spooned about 4 or 5 tablespoons of sauce over the vegetables. I wrapped those babies up and then wrapped the whole packet one more time with tin foil.

We put the packets on hot coals, flipping them occasionally, and waited until they were done. (They're just sitting on the rack in the picture. They were on coals when cooking.) I’m not sure how long it took, but it was less than an hour. The first time we checked, they were done.

They were perfect! I don’t know what it is, but they tasted 100 times better than when I put the left over veggies in my kitchen oven to roast the next day.

Oh yeah, I made sure to bring stuff for s'mores. I'm a dessert whore! Plus, how often do you get to light marshmallows on fire?

‘Tis the season, so more camping recipes here, here, and here.