Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Perfect Cupcake Liner

When you think about cupcake liners, what would you change? Make them cuter! Yes, yes.. Make them smaller? But they do have mini cupcake liners. But those are too small. You're right, that's true. What else? Make them peel off the cupcake better? Good one!!

Well, you can image my delight to find a cupcake liner that has it all! They are a perfect size and and even a perfect shape, cooking up into a nice, medium-sized wedge. They are also super cute! Check out the cute colors and pictures. They also just POP right off the cakes when you're eating them, leaving a perfectly formed dessert to enjoy sans liner.

"Where can I get them?" Good question. I am still looking for them online, but I bought mine at the Japanese dollar store in Little Tokyo. So, next time you're in that area.. pop on in and pick some up for yourself!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

There's a New Kid in Town: Vanilla Cupcakes

Let's all give a warm welcome to the newest cupcake shop on the block: Vanilla Bakeshop. For the past couple of months I have driven by their gorgeous brown and white, French toile inspired, awning framing their "Opening Soon" sign. They finally opened a couple of weeks ago, and I dropped in today. The first thing I noticed was their smorgasbord of tiny, beautiful cakes. Their wide variety of mini cupcakes is perfect for a nibbling, cuppy commitment phobe such as myself. With the 3 minis for 5 bucks deal, the menu pretty much decides for you. I got the (clock-wise from the top) Old Fashioned (dark chocolate cake, whip cream center, vanilla bean frosting, white chocolate sprinkles, cherry on top, Mom's Birthday Cake (yellow butter cake, milk chocolate frosting) and the Fudgy Brownie (fudgy brownie cake, vanilla bean frosting, Valrhona cocoa dust)

Sooo.. how do they taste? Good. I realized what I should probably do is have reviews all of the cupcake places in the area so you have some kind of comparison. If it were not for those places, I would say Vanilla was great. Alas, in Los Angeles we are spoiled. For me, a cupcake is only as good as it's frosting. Vanilla's frosting is light and airy, without a distinct butter taste. The cake is good, with a nice medium texture: not to dense and not too light. But frosting is king, and I prefer the heavier, more buttery versions from Sprinkles and Le Cupcake. Still, the cakes were quite tasty and the brownie itself, quite divine. Bake on!

Vanilla Bake Shop
512 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Cupcake Tower!!!

I have been inundated with emails about my tower, peeps are just waiting with bated breath to find out what happened. Just kidding, I've just gotten one blog comment from my friend Katharine.

The story is I made about 90 cupcakes for a friend's birthday party a few weeks ago. It was a much bigger effort than I anticipated. And, not everything went smoothly. The two main recipes, vanilla and chocolate cupcakes, literally flopped. I think it was because I used my KitchenAid Mixer to mix in the dry ingredients which over-beat them, because many of the cupcakes were both burnt around the edges and totally sunk in the middle. In the end, I threw out a bunch and frosted the rest to hide the imperfections. I won't recommend either`of those recipes for now. I will recommend the third recipe I made: coffee cupcakes!!! I used Chockylit's Vietnamese Coffee Cupcakes. This recipe is awesome!! I did not make the pudding/filling or the whip cream, but instead I frosted some with the Chocolate Ganache Frosting (found half-way down the linked page, my new favorite chocolate frosting) and some with cream cheese frosting. I also did not make real Vietnamese coffee, but rather just brewed regular 'ol Folgers with double the coffee. Seriously, these were so good.

Icing the cupcakes was my favorite part. I used some diferent piping tips, colors, and homemade gumpaste flowers in a white/brown/teal palette. I also made some mini cakes and some larger ones. Peeps really digged the mini's, probably because it feels less like you're pigging out, even if you eat 5 of them : )

Mini chocolate with chocolate ganache frosting.

Chocolate with buttercream frosting

Aren't they so cute?? There was one guy at the party that was just oggling them all night. Kind of weird actually. Would I do it again? Maybe. But if I do, I will definitely test the recipes out ahead of time. : )

Monday, July 23, 2007

Fresh Summer Rolls

Introducing the Fresh Summer Roll! Sound familiar? That's because it's pretty much the same thing as the Fresh Spring Roll except it is summer-time when you eat it. I referred to these tasty delights in a previous blog entry about Pho-Reign, a Vietnamese restaurant nearby. That is where I was I first inspired to make this version.

Fresh Summer Rolls

See, for years I have been making fresh spring rolls with this recipe. (Something to note about the recipe in that link: the second list of ingredients is for a sauce I have never made, but I always serve it with the Hoisin sauce which is the third list of ingredients. Check out the recipe and then come on back.)

At Pho-reign, instead of just using boring cocktail shrimp, they mix things up with BBQ beef or pork. So, I decided to make a Thai chicken version with a peanut dipping sauce. I took the main recipe you just checked out, and eliminated the cilantro, mostly because I didn't have any, and the shrimp. Then, I broiled two boneless chicken breasts dousing both sides with a sauce made of:

  • Soy Sauce
  • Fish Sauce (Optional, use sparingly!!)
  • Teryiaki Sauce (a thick version used for BBQing)
  • Drop of Sesame Oil
  • Peanut Butter

(I am really sorry about not having measurements but you're just going to have to use your own judgement and taste.)

When the chicken was done, I cut it into 1/2 inch strips and started my assembly line with the other ingredients. Instead of the shrimp, I used the chicken strips, and wrapped everything in the wet rice papers. For a dipping sauce, I mixed up:

  • 3 parts Hoisin Sauce
  • 1 part Peanut Butter

Sprinkle the combined sauces with chopped peanuts

These are really soooo good. But at the same time, kind of an acquired taste. The moist rice papers are kind of.. chewy, and they look transparent. If you are entertaining, however, it is nice to put whole fresh herbs on the wrapper first, so they end up showing through and looking very pretty. The exciting thing to note here, I know you can hardly contain yourself, is that you can really use any kind of meat or even tofu if you are vegetarian or vegan. This is a very healthy recipe as well and great on a hot day because it is so light and the herbs always make everything taste so fresh.

You may be thinking: what are all these crazy ingredients and where can I get them?? Well, the good news is you can probably get most of them in the ethnic sections of your larger supermarkets. If you live near an Asian supermarket that carries Thai and/or Vietnamese groceries, even better, and cheaper. If you live in LA, I did find a place for Thai and Indonesian ingredients.. you can read about it here.

Here are some links and info for some items so you'll know what to look for:

  • Rice Spring Roll Wrappers: These are round, the size of a dinner plate, and very brittle until they are dipped in the hot water. They are made with the same kind of rice flour as rice noodles (Pad Thai is made with rice noodles).
  • Fish Sauce: A very popular sauce that goes into a lot of Thai cooking, you just didn't know it. Don't ask what's in it.
  • Hoisin Sauce: Very tasty right out of the jar, albeit salty. Made from soy, sweet potato, and other things.

    Well, that's it kids, happy rolling!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Lots of Happs

Hello, kids. Lots has been happening food-wise, I just have not a moment to sit down and write about it. Let this whet your whistle. Fresh summer rolls, cupcake towers and my favorite Japanse restaurant. Stay tuned!!!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Hot Diggity Dog!

Perry's Cafe Bike & Skate on UrbanspoonIt's been a long day and I've had a lot of sun. Fat kitty (Albert) sits beside me rolling himself onto his back and breathing heavily as he cools off next to the fan. Today was a LESS than optimal day at the beach. I mean, there were just a million people there. After sitting in traffic for 20 minutes waiting for the privilege to pay $8.00 to park at a public beach, I thought I found a good spot in the sand. I kept a decent, polite amount of space between me and my neighbors, kind of like when you're driving and you keep a good distance between you and the car in front of you, but peeps STILL squeeze in. Every time I looked up, someone and their whole family and their 3 course meal and umbrella were plunking down next to me. Then, they proceeded to act like they were the only people on the beach just YELLing to one another, tossing footballs, playing heavy-metal music, pick your side, they were there. When my butt was so full of sand I needed to shower off, no one would give me my turn at the showers. People around here just act like the don't see the other millions of people, it is so rude!! Just when I had enough and was moving all my stuff in a huff, I was stung by a bee.

So, what might you ask made this a good trip to the beach? I did get some color, so that was nice, but overall it was my deeeeelicious hot dog from Perry's Cafe on the Pacific Coast Highway. Just a short walk on the paved bike/walking path north from the Santa Monica Pier is my favorite hot dog. I am from the east coast (Boston, New York, had 'em all) and I can honestly say this. I tried to take a picture but my phone was dying. Let me describe it then: a big fat juicy grilled dog on a big toasty bun loaded up with everything. Soo, good, man!! Their burgers are also excellent. So, next time you are at a Santa Monica beach, grab all your stuff in a huff and head on over to Perry's. It will save the day.

Perry's Cafe

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Camping in Idyllwild

Happy Fourth of July!!
There have been many foody delights since I last wrote, but I'll focus on this one: last weekend we took off to go camping in Idyllwild, a small, rustic, artsy town in the San Jacinto Mountains close to Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley. It's not one of those MANY places that everyone and their mother heads out to from L.A. The people are down-home and regular and the scenery is beautiful. We even thought we heard a mountain lion growl at us, but we were running too fast after that to know for sure.

Camping can be a pain in the butt if you let it, but with the right preparations, things go quite smoothly. The easiest and tastiest thing to make is steak. No buns, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, etc required! We bought the best steak we could get: fillet mignon. You really can't beat $15 for two huge, soft steaks compared to $60 for the same thing in a restaurant.

Just take the steaks out of the cooler and sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. Throw them on a hot grill with corn on the cob (still in the husks). It doesn't get easier than that. Then, leave everything alone for a while! Only turn the steaks once. When the corn husks turn brownish and the steaks are the way you like them, serve with your favorite single-serving salad from Trader Joe's (I like Country Italian) which are the perfect size for a side salad for two. Add some potato salad to the mix if you like, and VOILA!

Idyllwild also has some fun little galleries and shops. We found this very sweet place called the Idyllwild Soda Pop and Sweet Shop. The woman who owns this place has every kind of vintage soda you can think of in the original glass bottles. Pick any kind and she'll give it to you chilled or you can bring home some warm 6 packs. She also has candy that totally takes you back in time. Picture every flavor of pop-rocks ever made and you get the picture. Oh, and you can make a float out of any soda with a little vanilla ice cream float kit. I had an orange cream float and a double vanilla moon pie! She gets her glass bottles of Pepsi and Coke from Mexico where they use recycled bottles (each one is a little different and the glass is twice as thick as our bottles). They also use real cane sugar which makes it taste better.

Finally, in the morning, we opted out of firing up the grill again. See, there were signs all over town that there would be a pancake breakfast to raise money for the Idyllwild Mountain Community Patrol over at the town hall. So, we hit that up. It was nice to sit and eat with some regular folk : ))

So, there you have it: tasty treats, chill while you grill, breakfast with the locals. What more could you ask for?