Saturday, August 31, 2013

Restaurant Review: The Counter

The Counter - lunch on August 17, 2013
I can't remember how I heard of The Counter Burger Grill but when I looked up their website, their menu showed they had sweet potato fries and that was all I needed to decide to try them out.  I've been on a burger kick lately since I had the sweet potato fries at The Habit but found their burgers just on the thin side.  I had no immediate plans to go to St John's again so it seemed like a good time to try a new burger place.
I had expected The Counter to be similar to a fast food place but it was really more like a diner.  You could eat in or take out.  I opted for takeout as I had other things to do on an errand-running Saturday.  At The Counter, they give you a sheet of paper with the menu choices and you can mark up what kind of burger you want (beef, chicken, turkey or vegan veggie), what kind of bun, which type of cheese, any add-ons like tomatoes, mushrooms, fried egg, sauces and/or condiments (no thanks).  So it was easy for me to order a plain burger, hand my slip of paper to the takeout order person and not be judged that I just wanted a burger, bun and cheese.  Their lettuce was the shredded kind so I skipped the virtue since I only like leaf lettuce on my burgers.
You can also choose whether you want a 1/3 lb burger or a 2/3 lb burger.  You're going to laugh at me but after wanting a thicker burger than The Habit's, I decided to go all out and order the 2/3 lb burger.  I mean, really, how big could it be? (insert your laugh here) Uh, it turns out 2/3 of a lb of ground beef after cooking is quite a lot.  Like a behemoth burger on steroids. I don't know why but I hadn't expected it to be so sizable.  Silly me.  Nevertheless, it was a good problem to have.  The burger was quite tasty and very juicy.  It did take me 3 sittings over 2 days, however, to finish a 2/3-lb burger.  Next time, I'd better go with the 1/3. At least I got only a single serving of the sweet potato fries.
I liked The Counter and think it's a good place to meet friends for a casual lunch, especially if you want a burger and sweet potato fries and particularly if you're a Meg Ryan type from When Harry Met Sally and want what you want how you want it.  Because you fill out the order form yourself, checking off all the things you want, there's very little room for error in the order taking process.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Old-Fashioned Butter Cake

Old-Fashioned Butter Cake - made August 18, 2013 from Food for a Hungry Soul
When I was a kid, I used to be fascinated by those Betty Crocker cake mix boxes.  You know, the ones that pictured a luscious two-layer yellow cake with chocolate frosting.  We were new to the US, came from a tropical country where ovens are not the norm in a kitchen, and yellow layer cakes were not every day fare in our cultural culinary repertoire.  When my mom baked, it was things like bibingka or puto.  The Betty Crocker cakes were the stuff of birthday cakes that I only got a taste of when I went to a childhood friend's birthday party.

As I grew older and was learning how to bake, a cake mix was a safe bet to use, as was the can of ready-made frosting.  I look back now and shudder what I used to bake and eat but back then, that was all I knew and those box mixes and frosting cans look really, really good (and doable) when you're 10.  Flash forward a(n undisclosed) number of years and now I'm a bake-from-scratch snob whose culinary pride wouldn't be caught dead baking those mixes or using those ready-made tubs of frosting. But there's still some nostalgia whenever I think of a two-layer yellow cake with chocolate frosting.  So I made one from scratch.

This recipe is as easy as a cake mix but sadly, I managed to mess it up, not in the mixing but in the baking.  Meaning I was busy doing other stuff while the cake pans were in the oven, never use a timer and subsequently almost forgot I had these in the oven so I overbaked them a trifle.  So the texture came out a little dry for my picky taste buds.  Beyond that, I didn't get a really robust butter flavor from the cake.  I don't know if it's because I overbaked it or if  that's just the way the cake is supposed to taste. If you look at the picture from Food for a Hungry Soul's blog (click on the recipe title to take you to the direct page), you'll see how much better that one looks than mine.  I've got to think something that looks that good has to be taste much better than what I ended up with so I will have to put this in my "try again" file to see if I can get a better result when I bake it properly.

2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease and flour two 8 inch x 2 inch baking pans and set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  3. Add butter, milk, and vanilla.  With a hand mixer, beat for  2 minutes, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl. 
  4. Add eggs and beat for 2 minutes more.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pans, dividing equally between the pans.  Bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Remove from oven.
  6. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes and then turn cakes out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
  7. Frost with your favorite frosting.
Chocolate Frosting
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
2/3 cup cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk  (plus an additional few drops to make a nice consistency)
1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Melt butter.  Stir in cocoa.  Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating on medium speed to spreading consistency.  Add more milk if needed.  Stir in vanilla.  About 2 cups frosting

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

White Chocolate Lemon Streusel Bars

White Chocolate Lemon Streusel Bars - made August 15, 2013 from Alli n Sons
Sometimes the problem with some lemon-based recipes is they only use a tablespoon or two of lemon juice and/or zest.  Yet you have a whole bagful of lemons to use up or dozens of lemons hanging off your tree waiting to be used.  Fortunately, I've had this recipe on my pinboard for awhile and it uses a whole half cup of lemon juice.  That ought to be good for using up at least 4 lemons.
Unfortunately, this didn't turn out as well as I had hoped.  I think the main culprit is I didn't like the white chocolate chips I used.  I used a bag of Ghirardelli white chocolate chips and they're usually reliable but either they changed their formula to something far more inferior (and smaller!) or I got a bad bag or something.  The white chocolate had a weird taste that was nothing like white chocolate or even vanilla flavored.  It could've been that way on its own or had a bad reaction with the lemon juice in the recipe.  Either way, the flavors fought each other in this bar cookie and the white chocolate did not win.

Since white chocolate was meant to be a star in this bar cookie, that meant the cookie failed because the star was crippled.  I also would have done 2 things differently in this recipe if I could do it over, just from a personal preference.  I would have baked the bottom layer on its own for at least 10-15 minutes first to give it a little more crunch in the finished product.  It turned out too gooey when baking it all at once for the same time and I couldn't bake it longer without burning the white chocolate.  I would also have made the streusel into big chunks and clumps instead of scattering them in small crumbs on top. I think that would also have given them more crispness and texture instead of a breadcrumb-like layer.  Which is a shame because I think the concept of this cookie is a good one.  But it didn't execute well for me. I don't have a good source for white chocolate and since Ghirardelli's white chocolate chips are now off the table, I will have to hunt for the good stuff.
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 cups white chocolate chips, divided
2/3 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
  1. Using a paddle attachment in a stand mixer, mix together the butter, brown sugar, flour, oats, baking powder, and salt.
  2. Scoop out 1-2/3 cups of the mixture, and add 1/4 cup of white chocolate chips. Mix in with a fork. Set aside.
  3. Add an egg into the stand mixer and mix well. Scrape the batter into a well greased 9x9 baking dish.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sweetened condensed milk, lemon zest and the lemon juice. Mix in 2 1/2 cup of the white chocolate chips. Pour this mixture over the crust batter.
  5. Crumble the remaining dough over the top of the sweetened condensed milk mixture.
  6. Bake at 350º for 30 minutes. Let cool completely before serving

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Restaurant Review: Amber India

Amber India - dinner on August 13, 2013

Have you ever gone to a restaurant where, no matter how good the rest of the menu looks, you get the same thing every single time because that particular dish is so good and that's all you want?  Well, that's me, Amber India and their Butter Chicken.  The only reason I've even had anything different is I usually go with a group of friends and since we can't put in an order just for 6 Butter Chickens, they get something else and I get Butter Chicken.  We all share our entrees family-style so it works out. 
Butter Chicken
I recently went to Amber India with an old college roommate and while I got the Butter Chicken, she ordered the Lamb Roganjosh which is "stewed Colorado lamb chunks, fennel seeds, brown onion & yogurt".  It was well done and the lamb was tender. I tried it, approved, and went back to my Butter Chicken.
Lamb Roganjosh
Just like with the Butter Chicken, I also have to order naan every time as well.  I've made naan when I was in culinary school and I don't mind admitting I'm a wimp about sticking my hand in a 500-degree tandoor oven and trying to slap a round of naan dough hard enough and fast enough to stick to the sides of the hot oven and extracting my hand before my flesh gets burned in the process.  There's a knack to doing it and I don't have it.  So I appreciate naan made by anyone else and pay it proper homage.  Plus, the naan at Amber India is really good and it comes out warm to hot.
The drawback to Amber India is they're pricey for what you get.  According to their website, they have 7 locations in the Bay Area.  I've been to two of them: the restaurant in Mountain View, CA and the one at Santana Row in San Jose.  The one at Santana Row seems pricier but I've never done a menu comparison to check.  The dish of Butter Chicken which would probably serve 2-3 people, assuming they ordered something else, isn't overly large nor overflowing with chicken but it's $20.95 as was the Lamb Roganjosh which was the same size.  That's not including basmati rice which you have to order separately.  Naan is also a separate charge. So you can easily spend at least $30-$40 per person (no drinks) without over-ordering or overeating large portions.
Basmati Rice
I recommend going there for lunch instead as they serve a buffet lunch for a flat cost of $16.95 and you (or I) can eat all the Butter Chicken and naan you want.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Chocolate Popovers

Chocolate Popovers - made August 14, 2013 from Prepared Pantry
I don't have much to say about this recipe except I still have problems with popovers sinking in the middle because of the cooking spray that coats the muffin tin cavity.  This recipe even calls for putting a pat of butter in the middle and that would've made more of a crater.  Oh (I guess I do have more to say), also, watch the baking times on this one.  Popovers need to start off in a high heat oven to get the "spring" from the initial bake but in my oven, anything over 400 degrees seems to get hotter than it should be.  I turned down the heat sooner than the instructions said to because I could see and smell that the popovers were starting to burn.  If you look at the picture below, you can see the dark ring around it are just edging towards thinking about being burnt any minute yet the middles weren't done, as I discovered when I took them out a few minutes early because I was afraid of them getting scorched.
Appearance aside though, these were pretty good.  I liked the lightness of the texture and the taste of the popover itself.  Their ultimate purpose was to serve as a base for a hot fudge sundae (hold the whipped cream, skip the maraschino cherry) so you tear it open to spread it out, scoop vanilla ice cream on top, pour warm nutella over the ice cream and sprinkle with chopped, toasted nuts.  Fantastic.

3 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup high protein bread flour
3 tablespoons cocoa
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. In a medium bowl and with a whisk or whisk attachment, beat the eggs, milk, salt and sugar together.
  3. Change to the paddle attachment. Beat in the flour and cocoa until it is completely smooth. Continue mixing for several minutes to develop the gluten.
  4. Use a pastry brush to grease the insides of the popover cups with butter. If you are using a muffin pan, grease every other cup. Place about a teaspoon of butter in the bottom of each cup.
  5. Fill the cups two-thirds full. Bake at high heat for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and continue baking for 12 minutes. (Different ovens cool differently and may require different times.)
  6. Remove the popovers from the oven when they are golden brown. Quickly make a one-inch slit in the side of each popover to release the steam.  Lift the popovers from the pan by grasping the tops with an oven mitt. Serve them while still warm.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Restaurant Review: Mayfield Bakery & Cafe

Mayfield Bakery & Cafe - dinner on August 12, 2013
I meant to try out Mayfield Bakery & Cafe for brunch or lunch as I had heard good things about it from friends.  But my schedule didn't work out so I ended up meeting my cousin and her son Vanilla King for dinner here instead.  I arrived a little early and popped into the Mayfield bakery next to the cafe but since it was late in the day, they didn't have much left so I didn't buy anything. Someday I will have to come back in the morning so I can gauge them properly and sample their wares.
The cafe is set in a little strip mall just outside the Stanford University campus and it wasn't crowded at all which is a somewhat nice change of pace from the usual Palo Alto restaurants. Parking was no problem, also a bonus.  The menu is what I'd describe as somewhat upscale American fare, meaning entrees ranged from $20-$40 and they didn't give you mammoth portions but were still decent-sized.  Vanilla King opted for the pepperoni pizza and ate half of it so I'm going to assume it was pretty good.  Or he was hungry or both.
Pepperoni Pizza
My cousin ordered some artfully presented short ribs which she said was also tasty.  I always like pretty presentations and a decent-sized portion that makes you feel like you got reasonable value for your money but not so much that your plate seems like a feeding trough.
Braised Short Ribs
I opted for the night's special which was Fried Chicken (yum) with kale (pass), side salad with feta cheese (hold the dressing) and a little biscuit (cute size and tasty).  The fried chicken was very good, lightly breaded and fried crisp.  I can't eat that much chicken in one sitting so I ate the smallest piece and half a leg and took the rest home.  The accompanying gravy in the cute little container was a little too salty for me (remember I have bland taste buds) so I tried it but opted to eat the rest of the chicken plain. It tasted just fine on its own.
Although it's almost unthinkable that I would dine somewhere that has a bakery attached to it and not get dessert, we elected to skip it because the main reason we were eating at Mayfield was because it was walking distance to the Palo Alto location of Cream and my cousin wanted to try their ice cream sandwiches. I'm notorious for making my dinner companions walk after a meal, especially to where we would get dessert (need the calorie burn!), so that's what I did, shepherding my cousin and Vanilla King along with exhortations of "yup, we're almost there, just one more block."  Vanilla King was astute enough to catch on after the fifth block but fortunately by then, we were actually almost another 2-3 blocks.
Close up of the Fried Chicken
Our dessert from Cream - or at least a shot of mine: Turtle Cookie on one side (chocolate cookie with caramel and pecans), Chocolate Chip Cookie on the other side, sandwiching chocolate ice cream.  It was good although I will say I'm not sure I would get this flavor combination again.  The Turtle Cookie was a little too crisp rather than chewy, made more so by the ice cream hardening the caramel.  The chocolate chip cookie was just ordinary.  The chocolate ice cream was delicious though.  But it's hard not to like chocolate ice cream. 
Ice Cream Sandwich from Cream, Palo Alto

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Lemon Loaf Pound Cake

Lemon Loaf Pound Cake - made August 10, 2013 from Life Made Simple

Still using up the lemons from my aunts' lemon trees and still plowing through my pinterest board of recipes I mean to make someday.  So many recipes, so little room in my waistband.....
This is a simple but good lemon pound cake in loaf form.  Travels well, mails well and you can even get away with fully baking it (I don't advocate overbaking though) because you soak the baked product in a lemon soaking syrup that will add moistness to the cake.  Then it gets topped off by a glaze to provide a sweet contrast to the tartness of the lemon.  I included the vanilla bean glaze from Life Made Simple but I actually used a quick lemon frosting of a few tablespoons of softened butter creamed with powdered sugar and just enough freshly squeezed lemon juice to get the consistency I wanted.  Rather than a runny glaze, I opted for a slightly thicker consistency, more like a soft frosting.  Frosting is one of the few things I rarely measure when I mix it up since I go more by taste and consistency than actual proportions.

1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1¼ cups sugar
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
5 eggs
⅓ cup sour cream
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
Zest of 3 lemons
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon lemon extract (optional)
½ teaspoon vanilla 

Lemon simple syrup
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup fresh lemon juice

Vanilla bean glaze
½ cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
¼ teaspoon vanilla bean paste
pinch of salt
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place your rack in the middle of the oven. Lightly grease one 9x5 loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray and dust with flour; set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together butter, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, lemon oil, and vanilla for 3 minutes (on medium-high) or until light and fluffy. Add sour cream, beat until incorporated. Add eggs one at a time, mixing to incorporate after each addition. 
  3. In a small mixing bowl whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. With mixing speed on low, gradually add dry ingredients, mixing for an additional 45 seconds after all of the dry ingredients have been added.
  4. Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Place in oven and bake for 1 hour or until the top becomes golden brown in color. Remove from oven and allow to cool in pan for 20 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile in a small saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar and lemon juice to create a syrup. Once sugar has dissolved allow to gently simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
  6. Remove loaf from pan after 20 minutes of cooling. Using a toothpick or cake tester, poke holes into the top of the cake - lots of 'em! Brush the syrup over top and sides so that it seeps into the cake. Allow the loaf to cool for another 1½ hours before frosting with glaze.
  7. To prepare the glaze, in small mixing bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, milk, vanilla bean paste, and salt. Spread over the loaf and allow to drip over the edges and sides. Allow to sit for 20 minutes to harden before serving.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Eatery Review: Adamson's French Dip

Adamson's French Dip - visited August 10, 2013
I've labeled one of my coworkers The Queen of Cheap Eats because she knows all the good, cheap places to eat in the neighborhood.  And even beyond, in some cases.  She was the one who recommended Stan's Donuts, told me about Orenchi Ramen (I haven't written about that one yet), knew about Paris Baguette and Jang Su Jang (although this place isn't cheap), and she's the one who recommended I try Adamson's French Dip.  I've driven by Adamson's many times and hadn't yet tried them but based on her recommendation, I decided to test them out. What spurred me is we discovered neither one of us likes condiments in our burgers or sandwiches.  Ha, a kindred spirit.  So if she was recommending it, I knew I wouldn't have that condiment problem at Adamson's.
Actually, one of the reasons I like French dip sandwiches is because they're plain.  Usually, they're slices of beef piled high on a roll which you dip in au jus.  No worrying that someone's going to slather ketchup or mustard on it and if it normally comes with grilled onions, you can have them leave it out.  Easy.  Adamson's also meets my preferred criteria of being small, local and family-owned.  They started in 2009 so they haven't been around for very long but in the restaurant world with its high failure rate, being in business for over 4 years is a great accomplishment.
After having tried their prime rib French dip sandwich, I hope they remain in business for many more years to come. The beef was very tender and roasted to perfection.  You didn't even need to dip in the au jus because the meat was already moist.  But part of the fun of a French dip is DIPping into the au jus so don't skip it. The bread roll, sliced in half and lightly toasted, was also really good, not too soft or too hard or too "bread-y".  At $8.95 for the prime rib French dip sandwich plus $3.50 for fries and a soft drink, it's not as cheap as other places but I'd rather pay a few dollars more to get a good sandwich and support a small business at the same time. I also appreciate the fact that they're closed on Sundays.  Regardless of which day they pick, I applaud small businesses who take 1 day off for their employees and (hopefully) the owner.  In our 24/7 world, I think it's important that people get at least 1 day to themselves.
Prime Rib French Dip
Au Jus
The restaurant itself is rather small so you may not want to go with a large group but you can call ahead or order online for takeout or large orders.
French Fries

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Louisiana Crunch Cake

Louisiana Crunch Cake - made August 10, 2013 from Pia Recipes
I was having a bakefest one Saturday, partly because it was a rare day that I wasn't running around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off (did you ever wonder exactly how headless chickens are able to run??) or having to meet people somewhere or have to be in two places at once.  Also partly because I had an audio book I borrowed from the digital library and I can't just sit still and listen to a book.  Usually I'm on the treadmill while I'm listening to an audio book but I'd already worked out 6 days in a row so Saturday was my rest day.  But I had to do something.  Baking it was.

Great thing about this cake is it was delicious.  Not so great thing is it didn't come cleanly out of my Bundt pan so it looked like something Frankenstein put together as a self-portrait. I patched it together as best as I could, covered it with leftover frosting from the White Texas Sheet Cake and sprinkled it with toasted coconut in the hopes that no one would notice Frankenstein isn't a very good artist.

All I can say is, it's the taste that matters the most. Like when you're not supposed to comment on someone's appearance if it's not aesthetically pleasing so you say "he (or she) has a great personality".  Well, this is a delicious cake, let me tell you.  LOL. Fluffy texture but not too light or too dense (aka perfect pound cake texture), good buttery vanilla flavor and the sweetness of the frosting and the crunch from the toasted coconut were fantastic additions.  I misread the directions and thought you were supposed to grease and then sugar the pan.  They really say to grease and flour the pan then sprinkle sugar in it.  Oops, that was probably my problem with not getting the cake out intact. Live and learn.  And make again properly.

3 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup butter, softened
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Sift together cake flour, salt, baking powder and soda. Set aside.
  3. In a large separate bowl, beat butter until very fluffy (~5 minutes) then add 2 cups of sugar. Continue to beat until light and fluffy (~2 more minutes).
  4. Beat in eggs, one at a time, making sure that each egg is thoroughly blended before adding the next egg.
  5. Mix sour cream and vanilla extract together.
  6. Add flour mixture and sour cream mixture alternately, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Beat until batter is well blended and uniform but do not overmix.
  7. Grease and flour a bundt cake pan.  Add in 1/4 cup of sugar to the bottom of pan and about 3 inches up the sides, tapping the pan to ensure even distribution. Leave excess sugar in pan. Sprinkle coconut flakes to the bottom of the pan. Scrape batter into the bundt pan and spread evenly.
  8. Bake for about 50 minutes to an hour or until a wooden skewer inserted comes out clean.
  9. Let cake cool for about 10 minutes, then carefully remove from pan, making sure that the sugary coconut side is faced upward. Use a knife to scrape the sides if cake becomes stuck. (this step is very important otherwise your cake will continue to bake and will become very dry and completely stuck in the pan).
  10. Drizzle glaze over the crunchy top portion of cake. Top with toasted coconut if desired.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Restaurant Review: Webster House, Kansas City, MO

Webster House - visited for dinner on August 3, 2013
I was in Kansas City, MO earlier this month for a Hallmark ornament convention (why, yes, my freak flag did just hoist itself).  It's held every 2 years and I've gone to at least 6-7 of these events. Probably more but that's all I can remember to admit to.  Recently, they've been held in Kansas City which is Hallmark's headquarters.  I usually have a good time although my obsession interest in Hallmark ornaments has waned in the last few years.  This year though, the highlight of the trip for me ironically had nothing to do with ornaments.  Instead, I met two people I've gotten to know from my online fitness board but had previously interacted with just virtually.  One of them, Debbie, I had met two years earlier, the last time I was in Kansas City and the other, Mel, both Debbie and I finally met in person a few weeks ago.
Pretzel Rolls
Mel was able to get us reservations at Webster House in Kansas City and off we went.  Webster House is on the National Register of Historic Places so it was really cool to go somewhere a little different for dinner.  I wish I had thought to take pictures of the inside because I don't have the right words to describe it sufficiently.  The restaurant is located in a big brick building which also houses antique shops.  It's on the second floor and you go through rooms that look like they could be libraries or parlors of stately homes in times gone by.  Classy all the way and not your average eatery.
Fresh Basil and Tomato Campanelle Pasta with Shrimp
Our very nice wait person, Sarah, brought us a basket of pretzel rolls that were still warm and were delicious.  Despite a reasonable amount of menu selections, all three of us decided we wanted the pasta and added shrimp.  Being from a coastal state, I made a wisecrack about whether I could trust shrimp so far inland and Debbie came back with: "We do."  Ha, fair point.  Considering I once had great barramundi fish and chips in the Australian Outback many miles away from the ocean, shrimp in Kansas City at a good restaurant didn't seem like a big risk.  And it turned out to be a good choice because the pasta was amazing.  From the menu, the description read: "sliced garlic, white wine, pepperoncini and shaved Grana Padana."  What it didn't say it was the light broth the pasta came in had an excellent flavor and you can tell it was freshly made with quality ingredients.  The shrimp was also excellent and the pasta was cooked perfectly.
Chocolate Creme Brulee
Needless to say, you can't get together three women who exercise regularly and not have dessert.  I don't know about the other two but I know I workout as much as I do because I eat dessert.  Debbie and I went with the Chocolate Creme Brulee (Silky Chocolate Custard infused with Meyers Rum) and it was pure smooth creamy chocolate goodness.  Again, you can tell they used "the good chocolate". It's something meant to be savored slowly in small bites; otherwise it might be a little too rich to consume all at once.  I didn't finish all of it but I gave it my best shot and came close, except for the part under the whipped cream. At least the whipped cream gave me a reason not to lick the dish; otherwise, you never know how much I was willing to embarrass myself in pursuit of good chocolate.
Key Lime "Pie"
Mel, whose kryptonite is cheese rather than chocolate (we like her anyway), opted for the Key Lime "Pie" (menu decription: Semifreddo of Key Lime Curd, Vanilla Bean Mousse & Graham Cracker Crust, Served with a Raspberry Coulis & Candied Lime Slices).  I'm not a big fan of key lime but I had a taste of her dessert and had to admit it was quite good - perfect blend of tartness and sweetness.  But I was quite happy to stay focused on my chocolate creme brulee.
Speaking of chocolate, I have to give a shout out to Mel who also brought me a box of Christopher Elbow fancy artisanal chocolates: a sweet collection of uppity chocolate truffles with all sorts of exotic fillings. Christopher Elbow is a local Kansas City chocolatier so it was the perfect gift for this small-business chocoholic supporter. The chocolate creme brulee fulfilled my chocolate quotient that night but I will confess that I broke into the box of chocolates on my plane ride home the next day.  Two of them didn't land at the airport with me, at least not in their original form in the pretty little box. Mmmm, they were good, smooth, creamy, beautifully decorated and presented and, rest assured, they went down easy.  Now that's the good chocolate.

Monday, August 19, 2013

White Texas Sheet Cake

White Texas Sheet Cake - made August 10, 2013 from Frieda Loves Bread

Back again with another version of a Texas Vanilla Sheet Cake.  I'm really liking the simplicity and goodness of this type of cake, whether it's chocolate or vanilla.  I'd had this pinned to my baking pin board for awhile and it's been so long that (once again) I thought I had already made it.  But nope, I've made something very, very similar but not this exact cake.  Most of the difference from what I've made before is in the frosting but I had evaporated milk and sour cream to use up so it seemed like a good time to experiment with another recipe. Plus, let's be honest, I enjoy this type of cake so much that I look for the slightest excuse to make it.
Despite the name, I never bake it as a sheet cake since I don't want it to be too thin.  Instead I always make it in a 9 x 13 pan.  It does bake up thicker and I don't always remember to let it bake long enough so you can tell when it's underbaked because it's more dense than it should be.  But that doesn't detract from the flavor and it still comes out pretty well.  The frosting is a bit sweet so feel free to cut back on the sugar.  If you make it as a 9 x 13 cake, you'll end up with more frosting than you need...unless you're someone who likes a little cake with their frosting.  Otherwise, only spread enough frosting for the thickness you want and save the rest for another cake.

If you're a novice baker or someone who doesn't bake that much, this is an easy recipe to start out with because it's really easy to put together, it only uses one pan, the frosting is easy to make and you spread it directly on top of the warm cake and let it set.  No worrying about stacking layers, frosting top, sides and in between layers, crumb coating or finish coating.  Just mix, bake, frost and eat.
1 cup butter
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
2 cups + 4 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup butter
6 tablespoons evaporated milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
dash of salt
4-5 cups confectioners' sugar (I used less, just enough for the sweetness and consistency I wanted)
1 cup pecans, optional (I left them out)
  1. Put butter and water in a large bowl.  Heat in microwave for 2 minutes.  Stir until all the butter is melted.  Add sugar, flour, salt, and soda.  Stir with a wire whisk until smooth.  Add eggs and vanilla, beat well.  Stir in sour cream until all is blended. 
  2. Pour into a 9 x 13" baking pan, lined with foil and lightly sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. 
  3. Bake at 350º for 25-30 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched or toothpick inserted in center comes clean.
  4. Remove from the oven and make the frosting.
  5. Cook butter and milk for 3-4 minutes in microwave.  Add powdered sugar, vanilla, and a dash of salt.  Beat until smooth. Add nuts, if using, and gently spread on warm cake.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Bakery Review: Prolific Oven

Prolific Oven - visited July 31, 2013
I first heard of Prolific Oven over 15 years ago when I brought my Chocolate Caramel Brownies to work.  One of my coworkers said she brought one home to her husband and came back to me the next day with "he said he would divorce me and marry you for your brownies."  And that those brownies could put Prolific Oven out of business.  Huh.  Brushing aside the facetious marriage proposal, my ears only heard "Prolific Oven" which translated in my brain as "new bakery I must try".
Back then I only found them in Saratoga but, 30 years since their start, they're still a family-owned business and now in four locations.  The expansion is well deserved as the first thing I discovered about Prolific Oven is they make really good cakes.  I haven't tried a brownie in recent memory as I rarely buy anyone else's brownies since I prefer my own (okay, that sounded vain but I can't help it) but I couldn't beat Prolific Oven's cakes even if I tried.  Rest assured they're not going out of business due to my baking anytime soon.
I recently went there with one of my coworkers to get a dessert to go.  What I like about them is you can buy any individual-sized desserts, even a slice of cake.  The cakes in the display case always look so mouthwatering and unlike some other bakeries where I'm leery of having something that's been in a refrigerated display case for too long (which means they can be dry), I've never had a bad cake slice from Prolific Oven.
For this particular trip, I chose the Chocolate Mocha Cake.  The cashier took the partially sliced cake out of the display case, cut a piece for me and packaged it up in their plastic to-go container.
Unfortunately, the paper sleeve she used to situate the cake inside the container smushed the frosting so this isn't the best picture so in this case a picture might not say a thousand words but a forkful of this cake does and they all start with "yum......."  I love the soft texture of the cake and it was moist with a perfect mocha flavor enhancing the chocolate.  More importantly to me, it was just a simple, no-frills, all-goodness mocha cake: blend of coffee and chocolate with a reasonable amount of frosting.  That meant I didn't have to scrape off piles of frosting and waste it and there was no jam or jelly or fruit to interfere with my enjoyment of a good mocha cake.
Their bakery cafes also offer savory items and entrees for lunch but I'd rather save my calories for their cakes.