delicious discourse

Sprinkles Cupcake Mix

Posted in whim by delicious:discourse on March 25, 2008

Red Velvet

For Christmas one of my oldest friends and I exchanged exactly the same gift–accidentally. The parallel reasoning behind the gift was pick the flavor most expressing the other person. Apparently Red Velvet is the Sprinkles Cupcake Mix flavor of yours truly and I had picked Vanilla for my old old friend (By old, I mean in terms of my life. When you are 23 years old and you have known someone for 18 years, that is an OLD friend). Vanilla because she is a blond through and through, not just in hair color, but in personality–in that she is bubbly and fun, never dull and certainly bright. Anyway, this explains how moi ended up with a box of cupcake mix (any sort of mix is cooking sin) in my very strict made-from-scratch-only kitchen. This past Easter weekend the mix caught my eye and I was curious as to what sort of joy red velvet could bring to my life and see if I could recognize any of myself in its’ flavors. However, I will state right now, Sprinkles Cupcake Mix is NOT how one should be introduced to any new sort of flavor or to baking in general. Throughout the entire boxed process I did not feel like I was baking, everything was backwards and fake, from the red color oozing from the bowl, to the order of adding ingredients. In regards to the latter, my very scientific boyfriend suggested that the order of ingredients must be due to re-hydrating the dehydrated mix. Weird. The first step was to take room temperature butter and beat it until creamy and smooth and then add the ENTIRE bag of mix and beat for another three minutes. Then you add slowly the milk with a teaspoon of vinegar added to it. This “procedure” creates not a dough-like substance, but a clay-like goop oozing an artificial red you do not want to get on your clothes. The batter then goes into cupcake tins in a muffin pan and bakes for about 20-25 minutes. Surprisingly, the batter actually rises and creates nice maroon (Aggies would be pleased) little cupcake mounds, which look quite enticing accessorized by silver cupcake tins. However pretty they may look, the cake has teeny tiny little holes and the outside has a weird chemical crispness to it. The icing is by far the best part, and the only step that is homemade, consisting of various amounts of the tried-and-true cream cheese, butter, vanilla extract, and powdered sugar. Once the “cakes” have cooled you are to ice them generously, I assume by the amount of icing made, and to top them off with a large “sprinkle” that comes with the mix, one for each of your twelve cupcakes. The end result is quite pretty, but once you bite into the chocolaty cake, is much less than everything you thought it would be. The cake had no texture, and I know most cake is not supposed to have a ton of texture, but this cake doesn’t even have the texture of minimal textured cake. The boyfriend and I did find a satisfactory way to eat once cupcake—slice the cupcake top off just above the cupcake tin line and eat like a muffin top—you get just enough chocolate cakey-ness to feel like you are not eating just delicious cream cheese icing.

My advice, skip the mixes no matter how fancy or how good the real thing is (I am sure Sprinkles cupcakes are close to divine if their reputation is any indication). The mix also defeats the whole Sprinkles philosophy–I pulled this from their website:

My great grandmother was renowned for the distinctive desserts she made at her San Francisco restaurant during the 1930’s. She created pure, delicious, uncomplicated pastries–the result of her French culinary roots and her new American working life. These days, as I sift, whisk and frost at the bakery I began with my husband in Beverly Hills, I imagine our scratch-baked cupcakes as a natural extension of my great grandmother’s legacy. As we continue the tradition of simple and satisfying desserts handcrafted from the best ingredients–not too precious, always just right–our hope is that Sprinkles Cupcakes will conjure up lovely memories of your own childhood or family, or simply the pleasure of good taste.

Go the extra mile and the ten extra steps. Believe me, it is always worth it.

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A Night at Portabla

Posted in restaurants by delicious:discourse on March 15, 2008

Last weekend a co-worker and I put together a dinner party at Portabla, a small gourmet take-out place (delicious chicken and tuna salad) in Austin. Portabla recently started to do prix fixe dinners on Friday and Saturday nights and you can bring your own wine, etc. My co-worker and I decided it would be an adventure to get a group of friends together and rent out the whole thing (14 people is max capacity). The owner, Mark, a friend of Taylor (my co-worker), because of Taylor’s frequent patronage, was very accommodating to a) our group taking over the restaurant and b) working a menu around the variety of food allergies among the group (including shellfish, avocado, nuts, and especially peanuts). We also got to pick the time we wanted dinner to start. When we arrived, in order to create the illusion of long table, the little round tables were pushed together along the length of the shop with fresh flowers placed in the middle of each. While this works in theory, it creates a setting of very spaced out seating because two people sit at each table (across from each other) and no one can sit in the crease of where two tables meet. Mark and his helpers chilled our wine, but it was up to us to serve ourselves because they were in the kitchen preparing the food throughout the meal. The first course was my favorite, a roasted tomato soup (creamless, I might add) with a large grilled crouton skewered and stuffed with basil pesto. The soup was thick with a rough texture and a beautiful creamy burnt orange-red color. It was delicious but I was afraid to eat it all because I was unsure of what was to come, but after the meal I wish I could of returned to this first course to finish off my bowl. Following the soup was a much less impressive was a salad of two little fried egg-rolls atop a bed of cabbage and julienned carrots, tossed with a carrot viniagarette, and spiked with something with some serious kick. I ate the egg rolls  which were nothing special, and left the cabbage and carrots alone because the “kick” was out of place and a little overpowering. For the record, I love spicy foods. The entree course is what we had them build our menu around–a chipotle rubbed New York strip steak served on a grilled portobello mushroom with a sort of red pepper tapenade. My only complaint about this dish was the serving of steak was only three small strips. Feeling guilty, I gave one of mine to the boyfriend. I loved the portobello and I don’t even like mushrooms. But this one had a firm softness accented by seasonings and was perfect in its earthy taste. The dessert course was a simple serving of vanilla ice cream with a mango puree and a tuille cookies (a thin, crispy, ginger-like cookie). The flavors were all in place, but the puree had pieces of fresh mango which were tough due to it not being mango season. The only reason I know this is because I happen to eat a lot of mangoes when they are IN season,  May through September. M, desperately missing the sweet mango juice and crisp bite, purchased a few throughout the winter and they all had this rubbery texture as Portabla’s did. I don’t think anyone besides M and I noticed, but had I planned the dessert, I would have picked something more seasonal and not risked the presence of rubbery mangoes in my dessert. All in all, it was a wonderful evening of good food and flowing wine. The atmosphere was cozy and the service friendly and accommodating. I would recommend it once to anyone, but be prepared for a long meal with considerable time between courses. However, I think I will stick with Portabla’s excellent gourmet takeout, sandwiches, salads, entrees, and cookies.

For more information see portabla.com.

Giant Chocolate-Toffee Cookies

Posted in recipe by delicious:discourse on March 3, 2008

One of the jobs I daydream about at my current job is working in a test kitchen at Bon Appetit or Gourmet Magazine. One of the reasons is for recipes like their Giant Chocolate-Toffee cookies, which have rustic simplicity but are so delicious they almost stopped me in my tracks. I took some into work today and the general consensus was I should open a bakery…just what I want to hear. My boss said “your cookies taste like brownies”, and they do have the brownie chocolate-ness, but they are crispy on the outside with a soft middle full of walnuts and chopped up Heath Bar. The only word Jason in billing could get out of his mouth was “phenomenal” when he came back for more. I like to think they rendered him speechless. Oh, the power of food. I cannot help but think they would be even more mind-blowing, if that is even possible, warmed up with a scoop of gelato (my choice would be peanut butter and nutella) plopped on top. Here is a picture, courtesy of Bon Appetit. My food photography is not up to par and I would not want to deter you from making this recipe!

chocolatetoffeecookies.jpg

Giant Chocolate-Toffee Cookies (Bon Appetit)

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 lb. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
13/4 cups (packed) brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 T vanilla extract
5 1.4-ounce chocolate-covered English toffee bars (such as Heath), coarsely chopped
1 cup walnuts, chopped (you can toast them if you like)Notes: I bought one chunk of bittersweet chocolate from my local gourmet grocery store and chopped it into pieces small enough to put in the food processor and chopped it up that way. It makes for very quick melting too.

Also, I do not own a double broiler, so I brought a saucepan of water to a simmer and placed a heat safe bowl, big enough to rest on the edges of the pan, into the pan and stirred as the chocolate melted.
Directions: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment or butter the pans.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in small bowl to blend. Stir chocolate and butter in top of double boiler set (if you do not have a double broiler, look at notes) over simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Cool mixture to lukewarm.

Using a mixer, beat sugar and eggs in bowl until thick, about 5 minutes. Beat in chocolate mixture and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture. Then add toffee and nuts. Chill batter until firm, about 45 minutes.

Drop batter by 1/4 cupfuls (I used an ice cream scoop) onto sheets, spacing 2 1/2 inches apart. Bake just until tops are dry and cracked but cookies are still soft to touch, about 15 minutes.

Enjoy!!!!

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Feast

Posted in whim by delicious:discourse on March 3, 2008

Every Sunday morning somehow I end up at yoga. I always wake up thinking there is no way I am going to make it, and I always find myself sitting on my green yoga mat, cross legged, when the clock strikes 10:30am. Yoga is a challenge, one not always met with enthusiasm, but one that never fails to gets the better of me as I walk away from a practice. It is a great way to start the end of a weekend and prepare for the week ahead. I like to think it helps keep me sane just a little bit longer in this crazy crazy world. Today my yoga instructor, Zoe, brought to class some thoughts she had been thinking about in her own practice, word association, how you describe something can change the way you think about it. She started by explaining her association with the word feast—a plate piled high of veggies and grains with another plate towering with cheese, fruits, and nuts–all food substances not too far removed from from the earth. A Snickers commercial came on the radio on her drive to class, which was a clip from new FEAST campaign, “Snickers, Feast” or “Embark on a feast worthy journey”. Could this also mean that a Snickers takes you on a “journey” that always leaves you wanting more??? Freudian slip??? I think not.

Word association and how we each describe certain emotions, situations, activities, and objects is curious to look at across the board, but for me, particularly towards food. A Snickers is not a feast, it has never been one, nor will it ever be as feast, or even included in a feast. Lets take a look at the ingredients that make up a Snickers: milk chocolate(sugar, cocoa butter, cocolate, skim milk, lactose, milkfat, oylecithin, artificial flavor) peanuts, corn syrup, sugar, skim milk, butter, milkfat, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, lactose, salt, egg whites and artificial flavor. Sound tasty? When you break it down it is not so tempting now, is it?

A feast is always to be something special, something out of the everyday, celebrating or honoring a person, event, thing, idea, usually lasting for a lengthy period of time (more than your average meal). A feast is not only a thing of taste, but a visual experience as well. For many, feast has a religious affiliation because of certain times of year one may fast and then feast, or simply feast. A feast is as much about the people you share it with as it is about the food you eat. A Snickers could not be more unlike a feast as it has traditionally been defined. Visually, it is a little brown block, that takes about two seconds to eat, and you most likely eat it alone in your car or in front of the TV. Where is the feast?????

This got me thinking about other words we use to describe food that have been marketed away from their meaning. Some that come to mind are healthy, organic, meal, even the word food. Just by looking at the current associations of these words one can see how far we have gone astray. The question now is how do we get back?

Snickers

Feast or feast?

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