Restaurant Review: JG Domestic

Monday comes around so quickly, especially after a busy holiday weekend, filled with good food! Yesterday, we had a ridiculous Easter feast at my mom’s and I have all kinds of fun stuff to share about that in another post. Today, I went back in major detox mode, in preparation for our trip to France, which is just five weeks away. I figure that this will help me justify the ridiculous amount of cheese, chocolate, pastry, wine, butter, etc. that I plan to ingest for 14 days straight while I’m there.

Since the hubby was off from work last Friday, I made him come take me to lunch. Having visited most of the limited options around Drexel many times over, we decided to go to JG Domestic, the new Jose Garces restaurant in the lower level of the Cira Center, right near 30th Street Station. This spot was once home to Rae, which I always enjoyed for its happy hour drink specials and rabbit nachos. I also just randomly recalled an event planners’ luncheon I went to there when it first opened, in which one of the server’s spilled gazpacho all over one of the other guests. I’m not sure who I felt worse for—the server, or the woman who had to leave in a borrowed pair of chef’s pants.

Anyway, back to JG. We arrived at about 1 p.m. and it wasn’t crowded at all, which is a departure from the other Garces restaurants I’ve been to, where you either need a reservation way in advance, or have to brave a three hour wait. I’m not sure if this is because of a lot of people being off for the Easter holiday, or if this is just standard for its off-the-beaten path location. The concept of this restaurant is very…American, for lack of a better word. The menu changes seasonally, and many of the cheeses, meats, and produce come from local farms. The lunch menu offered a variety of salads, soups, and sandwiches, larger plates (like fish and chips and flatbread), and a different blue plate special for each day of the week (Crab Louie Salad and a Shrimp Po’ Boy combo on the day we visited).

We both opted for the burger.

Please don’t send me notes bashing me for eating meat on Good Friday. I told Jesus I was sorry, and we’re cool now.

I ordered mine with cheddar and truffled mushrooms, and the hubby had his with cheddar, bacon on caramelized onions. The bun was soft, with sesame seeds, and tasted slightly sweet (almost like a doughnut). It was good, but I thought there was too much of it and it kind of got in the way of the flavor. It also got really mushy and I ended up getting kind of messy (which is really nothing new when I eat. I should really wear those plastic smocks that they give to kindergarten kids for finger painting). So, I kind of deconstructed my burger and ate most of it without the bread, and this really let all the flavors come through. All in all, the burgers were simple, but they were a decent size, seasoned well, juicy, and cooked to a perfect medium rare.

After falling in love with duck fat fries at Adsum, we decided to split an order here. When our server brought out our food, he bought out the house fries instead. We brought this to his attention, and he promptly offered to bring out the correct item and let us keep the house fries, so we got to compare. Yay, free fries! In the end, I think I slightly preferred the house fries, actually. You could actually taste the potato and the pepper that they were seasoned with, without any greasiness. The duck-fat fries were not as crunchy or flavored as well as those we enjoyed at Adsum. To me, they also tasted a bit gamier. I’m not sure if our order was rushed, but I’m kind of glad we got to keep the other ones. Both fries were served with ketchup and an interesting sauce that was a combination of mayo and malt vinegar.

I would definitely recommend JG Domestic for a reasonably priced, satisfying lunch. It also scores points in my book because of the excellent customer service—in addition to being super cool about the fries, the servers has us in and out in 45 minutes, making it perfect for my allotted 59 minute or less lunch hour.

On a side note, the best lunch I’ve found in all of my years in University City is also a Garces restaurant—Distrito. $15 gets you the Blue Demon Express, a two course lunch and a drink (my favorite combo is the tortilla soup and huarache de hongos, which is a mushroom flatbread). Beats the food trucks on Ludlow Street any day.

Restaurant Review: Adsum (CLOSED)

It seems like the April showers never let up lately, but that didn’t stop us from venturing out into the city on Saturday night to see As You Like It at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre and to have a late dinner at Adsum. The restaurant opened last summer and has been on our list of places to try for a few months now, but it’s been fairly difficult to get a reservation. However, since we were looking to eat later than our standard 8:00 p.m., that made things easier (Hey, I have a bedtime to adhere to, okay? I like my sleep).

Our show let out later than anticipated, but we headed over anyway. After circling the neighborhood a few times, we found (free!) parking about a block away and made our way over to the restaurant. Although we were about 45 minutes behind our scheduled reservation time, we were seated without a problem. Good thing too, because it started moonsooning outside soon after.

The restaurant bills itself as a “refined neighborhood bistro,” But with all but two tables filled, the noise level rendered it anything but. Things did start to empty out pretty quickly, though, and by the end of our visit we were only one of two tables in the place. I kind of liked that, so maybe I should get used to eating late! With its tile floors, wooden fixtures, chalkboard menu, and slate tables, it reminded me of an old-fashioned pharmacy— the kind of place you would find in Paris. I’ve never been, but we’re going next month, so we will see if I’m right!

Lately, the restaurant has been in the news because of its Tastykake Sliders—beef brisket patties, sandwiched between two Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes. Some of the proceeds from the sale of the sliders are going towards helping out the financially strapped Tasty Baking Company, but as I want them to keep making Kandy Kakes and Krimpets, I don’t think that you could pay me to eat this concoction. The rest of the menu though, was filled with a mix of comfort foods (like mac-and-cheese, fried chicken, and perogies), upscale options (like foie gras and sweetbreads), and things that seem to be trendy right now (like pork belly). I like this kind of diversity, because you could probably bring a big group of people, with all different preferences there to eat, and they could each find at least one or two things that they’d enjoy. Except if one of those people was my brother, who basically likes angel hair pasta in red sauce when he goes out to eat, and that’s about it. That’s a story for another day, though.

I knew I wanted to mac-and-cheese for an entrée, so I decided to go with something lighter for the appetizer—the grilled romaine salad with roasted onion, polenta croutons, and parmesan dressing. I’ve never tried grilled romaine before, but now I’m hooked (I was describing my new discovery to my mom, and she said “Eww. That tastes like reefer.” First of all, who says “reefer?” And, second, I hope this doesn’t give you the wrong idea about me). The tips of the leaves were slightly wilted and charred, but the center of the leaves remained crispy. The whole thing had a slightly smoky flavor, which the salty Parmesan dressing complemented well. I’m not usually a fan of polenta because of its mushy texture, but the croutons were actually my favorite part of the salad. The cubes were smooth, warm and buttery, and practically melted in my mouth. If these were sold alongside the boxed croutons in my local grocery store, I would probably eat them straight from the box like they were potato chips.

The mac-and-cheese was very good, but not the best I’ve ever had. The elbow macaroni was perfectly al dente, and it was rich and very cheesy. But I think it only had one kind of cheese in it, and I prefer mine to have a little bit more…dimension. It also has a cornbread crumble on the top, which I wasn’t really a fan of. It was tasty, but I prefer the top of my mac-and-cheese to have a crunch on top and this was mushy.

The hubby tried two appetizers. The first, a chorizo huarache with grilled octopus, Oaxaca cheese, was just okay. The octopus was cut too thin which caused it to be pretty dry and the chorizo had a strong flavor that overwhelmed the dish. The pork belly tacos, radish, habanero, pineapple yeast tacos, were the better option. The meat was flavorful and slightly crunchy.

Of course, carnivore that he is, he had the Adsum burger for his entrée. He ranked it among his top  Philadelphia burger experiences (His rankings: 1) The Kobe Beef burger at the now defunct Deuce in Northern Liberties, 2) The Adsum Burger, 3) A tie between the Fat Boy Monster at PYT and the burger at Bobby’s Burger Palace, and 4) the Beneluxx Burger at Eulogy. (It should be noted here that we need to have a separate post about burgers, because he had quite a lot to say on the subject). The duck fat fries were amazing. They had the thick cut of Belgian French fries, with a nutty flavor and satisfying crunch.

Although I was full from consuming the entire portion of mac-and-cheese, I figured that, I had to have dessert, in order to provide a complete picture of our experience. My love of peanut butter has been well documented, so it should be no surprise that I chose the PB and J ice cream sandwiches from the list. Because I like to deconstruct all of my food, I took the cookie off of the top of the sandwich—it looked like a basic butter cookie with some specks of vanilla bean thrown in. Yum, I thought. I bit into the cookie, and learned that what I thought was vanilla was actually…black pepper. Um, what? In a word–gross. I ate a few more bites of the cookie—and even slathered on the creamy PB ice cream and strawberry jam sauce—to see if I could learn to like it, but it was definitely not for me. I get how they were trying to do a salty/sweet combination, but it just didn’t work for me (or for the table across from us either, evidently, as I heard them complaining to their server about it). I feel like maybe a cinnamon or ginger flavor could have worked just as well. And, maybe the black pepper cookie somewhere on the menu, so people aren’t taken aback when they bite into it. Luckily, the ice cream itself was delicious. It was creamy and not overly sweet. In fact, it tasted more like a dry roasted peanut than my beloved Jif. The homemade strawberry sauce was smeared on the plate, alongside the cookies, so the ice cream was it was able to stand alone and be fully appreciated, just as PB should.

Was it worth the wait for a reservation? No, I don’t think so. There are a few other restaurants in Philly with the same type of comfort food meets upscale bistro meets trendy menu), that are far better, in my opinion (Parc in Rittenhouse Square, or the Latest Dish, just around the corner come to mind). I wanted to love it, but came away thinking that it was just good, but not great.

I would go back for a plate of those duck fat fries though. There was an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show where he waxed poetic about the merits of duck fat—most of the time, he sounds like a lunatic when he gets into those fits, but this time around, I know exactly what he’s talking about.

I Cooked Dinner and No One Died

I know how to make exactly three meals:

  1. Chile
  2. Lasagna
  3. Grilled Chicken, which I usually serve pesto sauce, made from one of those Knorr packets, and a side of pasta, which I usually serve with a Parma Rosa sauce from one of those Knorr packets.

I’ve already mentioned how much I enjoy baking, but cooking is a whole different story. I’m just not good at it–I can’t even make scrambled eggs for God’s sake. I don’t have the knife skills needed for it. I don’t have the eye for adding a pinch of this or that. I don’t like how it takes what seems like hours to cook a meal, and then you eat it in ten minutes. At least you can make a batch of cookies or brownies last a couple of days (or at least a couple of hours in my case) and you feel like you got some kind of return on investment. Above all, I just don’t enjoy cooking for some reason.

My husband and I have been together for six years, and I’ve probably cooked the meals listed above a total of six times (that means I cook once per year, for those of you that need help with the math). He definitely does the bulk of the cooking. Lucky for both of us, because I’d have to resort the peanut butter and cereal to round out my culinary repertoire or else we’d both turn into chicken or pasta noodles. On the other hand, he doesn’t really like to bake, so at least we complement each other in that way. Just another example of why we’re so well matched (awww).

Lately, though, I’ve been thinking that I should work on improving my cooking skills. It would be nice for the hubby not to have to cook every night, and at some point, we’ll have kids and I’m probably going to need to cook for them. So, last night, I actually cooked followed a recipe from Martha Stewart’s “Everyday Food: Great Food Fast” Cookbook. I like this book because it’s divided into seasons, so you can get ideas for your comfort food in the Winter, your pumpkins and squash in the fall, and your fish with fruity salsas in the summer. And, best of all, we got it on a random trip to Home Goods, so it was pretty cheap! I like getting a good bargain even more than I like good food.

This might be a good time to mention that I heart Martha. I could never even hope to come up with half of the crap she comes up with (I always remember watching a holiday-themed episode of her show, where she was making ornaments to represent the objects in the 12 Days of Christmas and she made 12 drums out of old Quaker Oatmeal containers. Seriously), but I’m in awe of her business savvy and all the crafty ideas, recipes, organization tips, etc. that I read about in her magazine and never get around to implementing. Also, I’m insanely jealous that she has a whole room in her house just devoted to dishes, silverware, and centerpiece makings. The woman has shelves lined with dishes for every occasion, from Easter, to Kwanzaa, to summer luaus. I would love to be able to collect all the cute dishes that I come across, but I just don’t have the room to store them all. I’m already dreaming about the dish room I’ll have in my next house. I will be just like Martha when I grow up.

Anyway. Idol worship over.

So, I ended up making a dish from the Spring section—Linguine with Sausage and Peppers. When I was flipping through the book, the recipe jumped out at me, mostly because it required minimal chopping and didn’t require me to make a sauce, so I figured it couldn’t really be that difficult or time consuming.

So, how did I do? I was actually really proud of my knife usage. I think I did of good job of slicing the garlic and red peppers pretty thin. I only scraped my nail once or twice, but that’s what they’re there for right? And, I actually managed to finish cooking in about an hour and didn’t make a huge mess!

But of course, there were a couple of missteps. I managed to let a plastic bag get too close to the stove and it melted a bit. Then, I took the arugula out of the fridge to tear it, only to figure out mid-way through the process that it was the parsley for Thursday night’s pork chops. I as thrown off by the green I guess. Also, I never know how much pasta to cook for just two people (I’m used to my mom’s tendency to dump the whole box in, like she’s feeding a small nation) and I ended up making way too much. Instead of spooning the sausage and pepper mixture on top of the pasta after it was in the bowls, I dumped it into the pasta while it was still in the pot and it wasn’t very evenly distributed. Plus, because we only had angel hair on hand, the meat got lost in the thin strands of pasta and the ratio of pasta to meat was definitely off.

The end result, I think, was just okay. Don’t get me wrong, it tasted pretty good. I happen really like butter (or, in our house, Smart Balance) on my pasta, because I think it’s yummy with a ton of grated parmesan on top. And, the arugula gave it a spicy, almost nutty flavor (that the parsley definitely would not have). But, the presentation was kind of lacking and that made me sad. It definitely did not look like the pretty picture in the book If I made this again, I would definitely use a thicker pasta (it would probably be good with rigatoni or something) and maybe that would help.

All in all though, I’d give myself a passing grade. It tasted decent and both the hubby and I are still alive today. Maybe I’ll start to cook more than once a year…

Linguine with Sausage and Peppers

by Martha Stewart from “Everyday Food: Great Food Fast”

Ingredients:

- Course salt and fresh ground pepper

- 1 pound linguine

- 1 pound turkey sausage casings removed

- 6 garlic cloves thinly sliced

- 4 yellow or red bell peppers, ribs and seed removed, thinly sliced

- 4 tablespoons butter

- 4 cups of arugula torn

Preparation:

1. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the linguine until al dente according to the package directions. Drain, reserving 1 1/2 cups of pasta water; return the pasta to the pot.

2. Meanwhile, cook the sausage and 2 tablespoons water in a large covered nonstick skillet over medium until the fat renders., about 5 minutes. Uncover; raise the heat to medium-high. Brown the sausage, breaking it up with a spoon, about 7 minutes.

3. Add the garlic, bell peppers, and 1/4 cup of reserved pasta water; cook until the peppers soften, about 6 minutes. Add 3/4 cup of pasta water and the butter; swirl to combine.

4. Transfer to the pot. Add the arugula; season with coarse salt and ground pepper. Toss; add more pasta water as desired. Serve immediately.

My Drug of Choice

Hi. My name is Lauren and I’m addicted to Peanut Butter.

They say admitting it is the first step to recovery, or something like that. But, I like being a PB Addict. Also, it’s not my fault. It’s genetic. My mom says she ate a lot of it when she was pregnant with me. She also claims this is the reason that I have really thick hair. Who knows if this is the reason, but the fact is that I was exposed to it before birth and now here we are. It could have been something worse, right?

When I was little, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was my lunch of choice.  The peanut butter had to be Jif, the jelly had to be grape, and the bread had to be white and slightly mushy. Randomly, I just remembered the following commercial that Skippy (terrible stuff) used to air in the 80s. As soon as I saw it, I started making my grandmom or whoever was making my lunch draw a heart on my peanut butter sandwich before closing it.

Ahh. 80s commercials were amazing.

Anyway. Today, I usually just go for the butter by itself. On a spoon. Or, the tip of a knife. Or, on some other food item, like an apple or pretzel stick, Or, in desperate situations, my finger (again, don’t judge. You’ve done it too). Jif remains the only variety of PB for me. The plain old creamy variety is the best, but in my advanced age, I’ve started to opt either for Simply Jif (less sugar and sodium) or Jif Natural (less fat and sodium). It’s either that or the Smart Balance variety that my mom eats now. I’ve never had it, but I’m pretty sure that it’s disgusting.

So, when Chester and I went to NY a few weeks ago, I had to make a pilgrimage to Peanut Butter and Company in Soho (as if I hadn’t had enough junk food after the ice cream). The restaurant features a variety of classic PB and J sandwiches, like PB and Marshmallow Fluff, PB and bananas and honey (The Elvis) as well as gourmet varieties like Dark Chocolate Dreams (described on the menu as PB and J meets Black Forest Cake) and The Heat is On (spicy peanut butter and grilled chicken with pineapple jam. Ew.) This is my dream restaurant and I’m sorry that someone beat me to the concept!

Chester opted for The Cookie Dough Surprise, a combination of PB, vanilla cream cheese and chocolate chips. It tasted just like Cookie Dough! I went for the Jerry Seinfeld Comedy Special, a toasted bagel with PB, drizzled with honey and cinnamon. It’s my new favorite combination. I have always enjoyed the way a toasted bagel makes the PB melty, extra smooth, and drippy. But the honey and cinnamon paired with the natural PB that the company makes gave it an extra bit of sweetness. Paired with chocolate milk and potato chips, it brought me right back to being a little kid (no, I did not embarrass myself by asking them to draw a heart in the PB. But, I did use the chips to scoop up some PB).

So, this past weekend, we decided to try it at home. We ended up mixing the honey in with the peanut butter, instead of drizzling over it. And, we had a shortage of regular cinnamon, so we used cinnamon sugar, which made it slightly sweeter. It was still yummy.

The Jerry Seinfeld Comedy Special at Home

So, again, my name is Lauren, and I’m a PB addict. And, I don’t want to recover.

Restaurant Review: Race Street Cafe

The weather in Philly can be kind of manic this time of year—in the 80s and sunny one day, snowing and in the 30s the next—but springtime was definitely here over the weekend! So, the husband and I took advantage of the sun and warm weather on Saturday to hang out in the city for a bit. Even though we live in South Philly, we don’t always make time to go up into Center City just to hang out without a real destination in mind, so it was nice just to spend some time browsing the shops in Olde City, wandering through the historic district, and sitting on a bench in Franklin Square. Incidentally, Franklin Square was a really pleasant surprise to me; before it was renovated a couple of years ago, I don’t think you could have paid anyone to hang out in that sketchy area near the Vine Street Expressway. But now, it was filled with children and families playing mini golf, riding the carousel, and playing on the swings. We decided that we would definitely return to sample burgers and milkshakes (Butterscotch Krimpet flavor?!) at Square Burger, but the weather was starting to turn a little too chilly to sit outside.

We started to brainstorm indoor options for dinner—it came down to three: Continental, which is a sentimental favorite of ours since that’s where we had our very first date (and where I had my bridal shower and ended up more than three sheets to the wind at my bachelorette party), Panini’s, an Italian restaurant on Market Street where the hostess gave us the hard sell as we considered the menu, and the Race Street Café, which we had stumbled upon on our walk.

At some point, we eliminated the Continental and decided to save it for a time closer to our engagea-versery on May 1 (Yes, I made up that word. No, I don’t know if that’s how you would spell it. I enjoy made up observances, okay? Also on this list are our first-date-aversery on March 30 and my half birthday on May 10. Feel free to send a gift). So, it came down to the Italian place and Race Street. We decided to flip a coin—we make many of our important decisions this way. The Italian place won. As we started to walk there, I decided that I didn’t want to go there. I didn’t really feel like that much food and I kind of didn’t like the way that the hostess was trying to talk us into coming in. So, we turned around and went back to the Race Street. It was a good decision.

Image from Race Street Cafe website http://www.racestreetcafe.net

The Race Street Café is tucked near the corner of 2nd and Race, right near the Ben Franklin Bridge. It’s a bit off the beaten path, and seems to be more of a neighborhood haunt than a tourist destination like the restaurants that closer to Chestnut and Market can be. There was an interesting mix of people there—from young, college types, to older, well-dresses retirees. It was small inside, with maybe just over a dozen tables and the bar. At first glance, the dim lighting and dark furniture reminded me of a dive bar, but it definitely didn’t have the sticky floors, stale beer smell, and general grossness of one. This was definitely more of a gastropub, in terms of the menu selections, good service, and the noise level, which was not overwhelming at all.

We started off with the calamari for an appetizer. It was served with as well as two dipping sauces: one was sweet, and almost had an Asian flavor to it, and the other was a chipotle mayonnaise. It was fresh and tender and lightly fried (which always scores points with me). The rings were kind of small though, and without dipping them in the sauces they didn’t have a ton of flavor. It was just okay. The dish was served fried jalapenos and cauliflower. I would eat the latter everyday if I could always have it fried!

Hubby got the Spanish Burger, which featured a combination of ground beef and chorizo, with manchego cheese. His review? “The burger was really good, probably not the best burger ever, but unique because of the combination of meats and flavors.” It reminded us both of some of the food that we sampled during our honeymoon in Spain as opposed to Mexican food—in other words, a bit more garlicky, and lighter on the cumin and chili flavors. The hubby noted that it a little on the dry side, because the meat had to be cooked well done, instead of medium, like he prefers and that the flavor of the manchego was slightly over-powered by the chorizo and the chipotle sauce. The fries that accompanied the burger were smothered in cheese, jalapeno, sautéed onions and the combination of these flavors worked well together.

After debating on several menu items, including macaroni and cheese or grilled cheese (clearly, I have a thing for cheese), I chose the fish taco. The way in which Race Street prepared this dish was different from how I’ve had it before. The fish that was used was Pollack, which had been breaded in cornmeal and served in corn tortillas—I’m used to my fish just being grilled. At first I didn’t think I would like the breading, but it was delicious. It gave the dish a nice crunch, but didn’t make it too greasy. So, it held up well and the tortillas didn’t get soggy. The tacos were paired with standard toppings, like pico de gallo, shredded lettuce, and guacamole, as well as a yummy black bean spread, cheese (which you don’t usually find on fish tacos) and sour cream with the ever present chipotle flavor. The tacos came with fries, which I didn’t really have room for, after inhaling the three tacos. They were good and crunchy, but I think I would have preferred something like a salad or rice along with the tacos.

The verdict: Overall, we enjoyed our meal here—good food, nice atmosphere, and decent service, even though every table was full. Prices were also reasonable, at just under $50 for both of us, including two beers.

A warning: Chipotle seems to be the signature ingredient here, accompanying all three of the dishes that we ordered. It didn’t bother me as much as it usually does—I don’t like the smokiness of it—probably because it was tempered by creamier condiments like sour cream and mayo. The hubby wasn’t really a fan because it overpowered some of the food, and is just a “played out” flavor.

Still, we would definitely return to try some other things on the menu—they also have a nice brunch menu, which I would like to try. Second to dessert, brunch is my favorite meal. Maybe because it is like dessert, with its emphasis on sweets and carbs, and occasionally, ice cream and whipped cream. Hopefully, as the weather gets nicer, we’ll have the chance to wander around and discover more of what the city has to offer.

Love and Cupcakes


If you couldn’t already tell from my first two posts, I love dessert. Along with the bad habits of nail biting, procrastination, and worrying, I inherited a major sweet tooth from my dad. The man could polish off a bag of Oreos or a pint of Haagan Dazs in one sitting. When we went out to eat, he would always order dessert—usually something fruity, like a tart or key lime pie. In this way, he was quite unlike the rest of us in the family, who would always select the richest chocolate option on the dessert tray.

I’ve never really learned to cook—thank goodness I married a man who loves to—but I have always enjoyed baking. I like the preciseness of it. In cooking, you can kind of fudge measurements, add a pinch of this or that “to taste” or substitute ingredients. But baking is an exact science. Over the past few years, I’ve learned that freely pouring baking powder into cake batter will make a mess in the oven when the batter overflows from your pan. Leaving the mixer on for just a few seconds too long while whipping cream will leave you with butter. I still remember the time that my mom and I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies using baking soda instead of baking powder, and ended up with bitter, flat discs. Yuck.

I like knowing exactly how much of an ingredient I need to use and exactly how long a batch of brownies need to stay in the oven. I like seeing the ingredients go into the oven raw, and come out warm and sweet smelling. When we got married last year, visions of the deep fryer and pots and pans we had included on our registry danced in my husband’s head and I lusted after a (pink!) Kitchen Aid mixer, baking sheets, and a glass cake dome.

Now, this weekend, I have a wedding shower to attend in which we are supposed to share a favorite recipe with the bride. What to choose? I thought about maybe picking something Italian—like Sunday gravy or meatballs. But, none of that stuff has ever been written down in my family, so I wouldn’t know the first place to start!

Remembering how excited I was to receive my new baking gadgets, I opted to go with a sweet instead. For the bride’s gift, I chose a cupcake pan and display tree (from my idol’s kitchen gadget collection) from her registry and will be sharing the cupcake recipe that I used for Valentine’s Day this year.

I had never made cupcakes from scratch before, and the whole process took me about four hours in the kitchen, but the end result was worth it. The vanilla cake recipe, from the famous Magnolia Bakery, was perfect. The cake was springy and moist when you bit into it and a little vanilla went a long way. I am convinced that I will never find a better chocolate buttercream icing than this one from Williams-Sonoma. I piped it on to the cupcakes with a pastry bag, an activity which I found so relaxing. I still cannot believe all of the confectioners’ sugar that went into the recipe—I think 6 cups worked out to roughly a full box and a quarter of another. I won’t lie—I ate the leftovers by the spoonful after the cupcakes were all iced. My teeth felt like they were going to rot out and I had a sugar headache after that, but the sweetness is definitely minimized when it’s paired with the cake.

Hopefully, this recipe will set the newlyweds on a path to a sweet life together!

Magnolia’s Vanilla Cupcakes

Recipe posted on the Food Network website

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups self-rising flour

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Line 2 (1/2 cup-12 capacity) muffin tins with cupcake papers.

In a small bowl, combine the flours. Set aside.

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but do not over beat. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended. Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about 3/4 full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean.

Cool the cupcakes in tins for 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before icing

Quick Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Recipe from the Williams-Sonoma Kitchen

Ingredients

8 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped

6 cups confectioners’ sugar

16 Tbs. (2 sticks) unsalted butter

6 Tbs. milk, plus more, if needed

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 tsp. salt

Directions

Have all the ingredients at room temperature.

Put the chocolate in the top pan of a double boiler set over but not touching simmering water in the bottom pan. Stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Let cool to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, combine the confectioners’ sugar, butter, the 6 Tbs. milk, the vanilla and salt and beat on low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes, then reduce the speed to low. Add the chocolate and beat until combined, then increase the speed to medium and beat for 1 minute more.

If the frosting is dry, add more milk, 1 tsp. at a time, until it is creamy but still holds peaks. Makes about 4 1/2 cups.

Just Desserts

My mom. She will hurt you if you touch her cake.

So, in my last post, I discussed my love of ice cream, but I should probably clarify and say that I do not discriminate against any dessert. Cakes, cookies, pies, crème brulee, chocolate mousse, cannolis, and whatever else I can get that’s laden with sugar and butter are all fine by me as well—and if these treats are accompanied by ice cream, well, that’s even better.

Recently, my mom and aunt celebrated their birthdays and the three of us took the Two-Day Cake Baking and Decorating Workshop at Sur La Table in King of Prussia to mark the occasion. I figured no one could be said about getting older when distracted by baked goods.

When I first saw the title of the class, I figured we would be making your typical vanilla pound cake and practicing with pastry bags and tips to pipe buttercream icing or roll fondant (kind of like the Wilton classes at AC Moore, which I am still trying to make time to sign up for), but it was so much more than that. Over the course six hours over the two days, we made four different gourmet cakes, fillings, and glazes. These included a Sacher Torte, Black Forest Cake, Opera Torte (with the most amazing coffee buttercream I have ever tasted), and a Princess Cake (also known as that questionable yellow thing that you see in the Ikea cafeteria). Our teamwork skills were put to the test as we worked in groups to make the elements of each cake, sharing mixers and utensils, and taking turns making whipped cream and marzipan from scratch.

I wish I took more photos throughout the whole process, but this one of my group’s black forest cake was one of just a few I thought to snap. I had never realized how involved this particular cake is, with its layers of chocolate sponge cake, cherry syrup, whipped cream, and cherries. Piping out the whipped cream and decorating with chocolate shavings was great fun.

A little bit wonky, but good for a first attempt.

The course was instructed by John McKee, who recently joined the kitchen at Fork as a pastry chef. I definitely came away with a new appreciation for professionals like him who spend hours upon hours slaving away in the kitchen. The oven made the kitchen feel like a sauna and my feet were killing me by the end of the second day. Also, even though we didn’t taste any of our creations until the second day, I felt ridiculously full just from looking at everything for two days. I was sure I had no room in my stomach for samples.

But make room I did. Here’s a shot of the finished products before they were devoured.

Clockwise from the top of the plate: Opera Cake, Sacher Torte, Princess Cake, Black Forest Cake

All in all, I thought the workshop was a good value for the money. The instructor knew his stuff and was patient with even the “Baby Jesus” (random Catholic School reference) bakers among us, like on of my group mates who didn’t know what a spatula was on day one. The ingredients that we used were high quality, we got to dirty someone else’s kitchen, and I think we all really enjoyed stepping out of our comfort zone to learn some new techniques. I’ve never baked a cake in my life, and my mom is known as the “Box Cake Queen” in our house; my aunt bakes extensively but she hadn’t made any of these cakes prior to class. She actually got stuck with some of the hardest parts of the class, such as making the Sacher Torte and rolling the marzipan for the Princess Cake and did a great job.

And, I was able to give my mom and aunt the best birthday gift ever—the pleasure of my company.

We All Scream for Ice Cream!

Me, stuffing my face. It's what I do best.

Today, Google told me that today is the 119th Anniversary of the Ice Cream Sundae. Since ice cream is my favorite food, this seemed like an auspicious day to start the food blog that I’ve been talking about doing for months now.

I will eat ice cream anytime, anyplace, anywhere. In the summer, I have been known to have ice cream for dinner. If you put a dollop or three of peanut butter (my other weakness. I’ll be entering a twelve-step program soon), you’ve got a healthy protein and calcium packed meal. My favorite kitchen appliance (not that I have many) is my Kitchen-Aid ice cream maker.

Last week, the hubby and I had a weekend getaway to New York City, and I finally had a chance to check out Serendipity 3. I’ve been going to NYC since I was a little girl, but never got around to visiting. The restaurant does take reservations for lunch and dinner, so we were able to get around the hour-plus wait that those wanting dessert only had to deal with. We both had cheeseburgers, which were surprisingly good, but let’s face it, the desserts are the main attraction here.

The dessert menu boasts the restaurant’s signature Frozen Hot Chocolates, cakes, pies, and a fruit cup (why would you even bother?) but the husband and I both decided to go for sundaes. I ordered the Forbidden Broadway Sundae, which featured chocolate blackout cake, hot fudge, whipped cream, and ice cream. He went for the “Coward’s Portion” Banana Split (if what he got was for coward’s I can’t imagine what the real deal looks like).

Ridiculousness

I died and went to ice cream heaven. The hot fudge melted the vanilla ice cream perfectly, so that it soaked right into the moist chocolate cake. The whipped cream was buttery and not too sweet. I was only able to eat approximately one-quarter of the creation. A travesty. Next time, I’ll brave the wait and have dessert-as-dinner just so I can savor all of the sweetness. Maybe I’ll even have room for a frozen hot chocolate too.