Friday, June 29, 2018

Restaurant Review: Thai Spice, Kansas City (Lee's Summit), MO

Restaurant Review: Thai Spice, Kansas City, MO (Lee's Summit location) - dinner on June 1, 2018
For our first night dinner in Kansas City, Mel chose a Thai restaurant in her neighborhood. It was an excellent choice. While not exactly a chain, she said the owners did so well with their first restaurant that they were able to open two more. After tasting their food, I can see why.
Pot Stickers
We started off with appetizers, crispy-wrappered dumplings, mini egg rolls and fresh spring rolls. The spring rolls had just slightly too much roughage for me but that’s mostly because I’m not a roughage person. The noodles inside were good though.

As always, when trying a new Thai restaurant, my go-to order is the pad thai. That’s my control base from which to assess how good the restaurant is. My standard order is “pad thai, no bean sprouts”. I dislike bean sprouts. They have very little flavor and their crunch gets in the way of the texture I want to enjoy in the noodles. Yes, I have bean sprout prejudice.

Pad Thai
The flavor on my pad thai was really good and I loved the noodles. Only drawback is I didn’t realize the cabbage strips would be mixed in with the noodles, as opposed to sitting primly on the side, there to be ignored by yours truly. Mixed in, they’re harder to ignore and required a little effort on my part to pick out. But I like to enjoy my food the way I like to enjoy my food so I have the patience of Job (not to mention the expertise) to pick out what I don’t want in any dish. Thus the cabbage strips painstakingly had to be separated and designated to a section on my plate that my chopsticks didn’t enter.
Drunk Noodles

Soy Sauce Noodles
The restaurant itself was a decent size, not too small but not that large. The staff was kept busy as the place was popular, despite the relatively late hour of 7 pm-ish when we arrived. Hallmark of a good restaurant when it has a lot of customers, right? Everyone was friendly and hustled to serve us. Thumbs up all around for Thai Spice.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Review: Chambers Cookies and Cakes: Red Velvet Cake, Kansas City, MO

Chambers Cookies and Cakes: Red Velvet Cake - June 1, 2018
I recently flew to Kansas City, MO for a girls’ weekend. Two of my friends live in the KC area, another flew in from San Antonio and the fourth flew in from New Orleans. My friend, Mel, who was hosting us, had been telling us about a local baker named Donnell Chambers whose cakes Mel is a fan of. Mel, who doesn’t really like sweets, liking the cakes from this baker. My Pavlovian response was “me wants”. So Mel graciously bought a red velvet cake from Chambers Cookies and Cakes as a treat for our weekend visit. You know we were going to eat.
The cake was elegant simplicity itself. As you know, I am a cake purist. Nothing but carrots in my carrot cake. Red velvet cake – all I expect is red velvet cake layers sandwiched and frosted with cream cheese frosting. Donnell was a little extra with a light garnish of pecans but Mel assured me that was the only way traditional Southern red velvet can be made and served. Fine.
Actually, I don’t mind pecans as long as they’re on top of the cake and not baked inside it. Nuts soften and steam when baked inside something and lose their crunch. Hence I am diametrically opposed to nuts in most desserts. But garnishing on top, okay, fine.
It was a good cake too – three layers of red velvet cake goodness. I use that sketchy term “moist” again to describe the texture. Turns out my friend Jen, also there for the weekend merriment, doesn’t like that word either. But honest to goodness, googling synonyms for “moist” only yields “damp”, “awash” and “moisture”. I’m not describing a perfectly good cake as “damp”. It might be awash with moisture but really, saying “moist” is faster. So y’all might just have to suck that one up.
Thank you, Mel, and thank you, Donnell Chambers, for an excellent cake. He does ship so now that I’m back from Kansas City, MO, I might have to look into ordering his coconut cake. I hope it’s moist.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Chocolate Bundt Cake

Chocolate Bundt Cake - made May 28, 2018 from Inquiring Chef
After sheet cakes, bundt cakes are the next easiest type of cake to make. They’re generally not very fussy, the batter can be mixed in one bowl and you just bake, invert and let cool. Added fancy if you want to frost or glaze it but it’s so down-home-y that you don’t have to fuss that much – or at all – on how smooth or even the frosting is, you don’t have to align it with any cake layers or worry about fillings. Most glazes or frostings for bundt cakes tend to be one-bowl mixing and easy pouring.
This was no exception. The only tricky thing sometimes with bundt cakes is getting them out of the pan intact. Some cakes come out smoothly, others cling to the sides and won’t let go like a 5-year-old being dropped off for the first day of kindergarten. Fortunately, this cake came out fine on its own.

With bundt cakes and pourable frostings, you don’t have to wait until it’s completely cool. Lukewarm is okay before you pour on the frosting. The frosting might melt a little but that just makes it better. This recipe made just a little too much frosting for my taste but that’s because I only like the bare minimum of frosting.
I liked the texture on this cake. Very moist. Yes, I know there are people out there who hate the word “moist” but there are no comparable synonyms to use as a description of cake texture that I can find (I really did look). Flavor and texture were on point. I could have only made or used half the frosting recipe as well and been just fine. The only cautionary note was the batter is a bit thin so when you add the dry ingredients, watch out for flour lumps that can form. I didn’t quite beat them all out so my finished cake had a few little flour lumps in it. How embarrassing.
1 1/4 cups + 1 tablespoon brewed coffee
3/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 1/4 cups + 1 tablespoon buttermilk
1 cup + 2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, sifted

Chocolate Glaze
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup sour cream
1/8 cup brewed coffee, at room temperature

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 10-inch Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray and sprinkle the inside with flour.
  2. Combine brewed coffee and cocoa powder in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, whisking frequently. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
  3. When the coffee mixture is nearly cool, combine sugar, salt, baking soda, eggs and egg yolk in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Mix on low until evenly combined, about 1 minute.
  4. Add buttermilk, oil and vanilla extract and mix on low for 1 minute. Add flour and mix on medium for 2 minutes. Add cooled coffee mixture and mix on medium for 3 minutes.
  5. Pour into bundt pan and bake until a toothpick inserted near the middle comes out clean, about 60 minutes.
  6. Cool cake in pan for 5-10 minutes before inverting onto a plate and letting cool completely.
  7. Make the glaze: melt chopped chocolate and butter in the top half of a double boiler set over hot water. Whisk until smooth and melted. Remove from heat.
  8. Sift in half the powdered sugar. Add sour cream and whisk to combine. Sift in the remaining powdered sugar and whisk until smooth. 
  9. Add coffee and whisk to create a glossy glaze. Thin with a little hot water if glaze is too thick. Pour glaze over cake, letting it drip down the sides and middle.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Brown Sugar Cookies

Brown Sugar Cookies - made dough May 28, 2918 from The Perfect Cookie from America's Test Kitchen
The base recipe for these brown sugar cookies is almost exactly the same as the one for the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies from the same book so I figured it would turn out equally well. I was right. Love when that happens (it doesn't happen often so I have to make the most of it when it does).

The technique is the same in that you brown some of the butter first then add the rest to melt into the hot, browned butter. Mix, portion into dough balls, freeze (if you’re me) and bake when ready. I really liked the flavor of the chocolate chip cookies from the same book so I fully expected to like these cookies since they were very similar in ingredients and methodology, just without the chocolate chips. I was right again.

The only thing I would change next time though is to not roll them in the brown sugar-granulated sugar mixture. They don’t need the added sweetness and the coating put them almost over the top on the sweetness scale. The cookies are perfectly fine baked without it.

14 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (10 2/3 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 3/4 cups packed (12 1/4 ounces) dark brown sugar, plus 1/4 cup for rolling
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg plus 1 large yolk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup granulated sugar, for rolling

  1. Melt 10 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Transfer browned butter to a large bowl and stir in remaining 4 tablespoons butter until melted; let cool for 15 minutes.
  2. Whisk flour, baking soda, and baking powder together in separate bowl.
  3. Whisk 1 3/4 cups brown sugar and salt into cooled brown butter until smooth. Whisk in egg, egg yolk and vanilla until combined. Using a rubber spatula, stir in flour mixture until just combined. Do not overmix. Portion dough into golf-ball-size dough balls, cover and chill or freeze for several hours or overnight.
  4. When ready to bake, combine 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup granulated sugar; this is optional, skip if you don't want the cookies to be as sweet.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll dough balls into sugar mixture, coating completely, and evenly space on prepared baking sheets. Bake until edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, puffy and cracked, 12 to 14 minutes. Let cookies cool on sheet for 5 minutes then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Fudgy Brownies

Fudgy Brownies - made May 27, 2018 from The Perfect Cookie from America's Test Kitchen
Sometimes you just need a good brownie. you go. If you’ve read any part of my blog for a little while, you’ll know how opposed I am to box mixes. Brownies from scratch are so easy and taste so much better that I can’t even consider using a boxed brownie mix. Yes, I’m a brownie snob and you can be too.
If time is an issue for you and that’s why you default to a mix, here’s an easy tip: when you have 2 minutes (literally, it doesn’t even take that long), measure out and combine the dry ingredients then pour and seal into a Ziploc bag until you’re ready to bake. If you have an extra minute, line your brownie pan with foil and set it aside with the bag of dry ingredients. Both can sit there until you’re ready to bake brownies.
Then when you’re ready to make your brownies, you can do all the measuring and mixing in the time it takes for your oven to preheat. Heck, you’d even have time to wash and dry your utensils and put them away before your oven is ready. I’ve tested out this scenario so I know of what I speak.
This is a good, basic, fudgy brownie recipe. My usual tips for brownies apply: don’t overbake it, take it out of the oven when the toothpick poked in a corner comes out clean AND a toothpick inserted near the middle comes out with a few moist crumbs but not raw batter. Let the brownies cool completely. Unless you like your brownies to be mush. I like mine cooled so that the fudgy texture is apparent. If it’s too warm, it’ll be mushy rather than fudgy. Oh, and as always, use the good chocolate. 
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Combine bittersweet chocolate, unsweetened chocolate and butter in the top half of a double boiler set over hot water over low heat. Whisk until melted and smooth. Whisk in cocoa and let mixture cool slightly.
  3. Whisk sugar, eggs, vanilla and salt in large bowl until combined. Whisk chocolate mixture into sugar mixture until smooth. Using a rubber spatula, stir in flour until just combined. Transfer batter to prepared pan and smooth top.
  4. Bake until toothpick inserted near the center comes out with a few moist crumbs, 35 to 40 minutes. Let brownies cool completely in pan on wire rack before removing from pan, cutting and serving.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies - made May 27, 2018 from The Perfect Cookie by America's Test Kitchen
I’m still using my baking book and I have to say I’m feeling rather self-congratulatory about it. Usually I have baking recipe ADD and am always trolling for new recipes on pinterest rather than looking to my own bookshelves and using what I have. I’ve made several recipes out of this book and here am I again *pat* *pat*.
So far this book has been a pretty good investment. Actually, it was a gift from a friend so….even better ROI. The snickerdoodlerecipe was good and the oatmeal cookie recipe turned out well with my chocolate chip variation. This recipe for chocolate chip cookies didn’t break the good-recipe streak.
I have both a high bar and a low bar for chocolate chip cookies. Honestly I don’t ask for much beyond that it has crisp edges, a chewy middle, and brown sugar caramel overtones in the flavor while also not being too sweet. Many chocolate chip cookie recipes I’ve tried have met this (fairly low) bar. The high bar comes in whether I like it well enough amongst the dozens/hundreds I’ve tried to both remember it and make it again.

I’m happy to report this recipe does meet that bar. At least for now. Whether it’ll stand the test of time or be knocked out by a new favorite remains to be seen but for now, this was a tasty addition to my ever-growing repertoire of chocolate chip cookies. The dough was easy to handle and shape, froze beautifully and baked “perfectly” as the title proclaims. I don’t know about whether it’s the perfect chocolate chip cookie since “perfect” is different for everyone but it was a pretty good cookie.

1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups (7 1/2 ounces) chocolate chips
  1. Melt 10 tablespoons butter in small or medium skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, swirling skillet constantly, until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Transfer browned butter to large bowl and stir in remaining 4 tablespoons butter until melted.
  2. Whisk in brown sugar, granulated sugar, vanilla and salt until incorporated. Whisk in egg and yolk until smooth and no lumps remain, about 30 seconds.
  3. Let mixture stand for 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth and shiny. Using rubber spatula, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips.
  4. Portion dough into golf-ball-size dough balls, cover and chill or freeze for several hours or overnight.
  5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and evenly space dough balls. Bake cookies until golden brown and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft and puffy, 10 to 14 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack and let cookies cool completely.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Bakery Review: Arsicault Bakery, San Francisco, CA

Arsicault Bakery, San Francisco, CA - visited May 24, 2018
One of my coworkers, sharing my love for all things butter and pastry sent me this link from Bon Appetit that named Arsicault Bakery the best in San Francisco. Now you know that’s just an invitation to me to try it, right? Especially since San Francisco is a mere Caltrain or BART ride away.

It was fortuitous that our annual user conference was in San Francisco shortly after she waved the article in front of me and even more fortuitous that, during a break in the day, several of us like-minded colleagues grabbed an Uber to make the 10-minute ride to Arsicault Bakery to load up on calories baked goods.
Kouign Amann on display
I had read the yelp reviews and heard from friends about the lines at Arsicault Bakery and that it was a good idea to get there when they first opened. Since they opened at 7 am and we had to be at the conference at 7:30 am, that wasn’t feasible. But fortunately, the break in our day coincided with a lull at the bakery so there was no line. We even managed to snag a table to enjoy our pastries and drinks. 

The bakery itself is small, certainly smaller than Jane the Bakery or b. patisserie. You walk in and there are two displays, bifurcated by the cash register. There isn’t a huge selection of pastries compared to larger bakeries or bread shops but they all looked mouth-wateringly amazing. I was there on a mission to try something from the croissant food group since the Bon Appetit article gushed about it so and I knew I wanted a kouign amann.
Anticipating the trip, I hadn’t had breakfast and I’d been up early to get to the city by 7:30 (40-minute drive to BART, 35-minute ride in, 5-minute walk – you do the math on how early I got up and went on my way) so I was ready to chew off my arm or leg by the time we got there. So I felt no compunction in ordering a ham and cheese croissant to eat there, a kouign amann to go and a chocolate almond croissant to go. Plus a Valrhona hot chocolate because you know, I had to wash down the croissant, right?
There’s a small eating section of Arsicault at the back that’s slightly elevated so you had to walk up a few steps. There are several tables and we were fortunate to be able to snag one. I think I inhaled the ham and cheese croissant. The croissant itself was delicious. So was the filling although I wished there had been a little more ham in there, probably because I was so hungry. I don’t have that high a bar for croissants other than they be buttery, flaky goodness. And buttery doesn’t mean “greasy”. Arsicault’s croissants were as good as advertised.

BUT – considering I was still a little hungry by the time I finished it, my good intentions to save the kouign amann for later went for naught. Yup, I broke into that thing with barely an internal struggle. OMG. It was fantastic. I liked the kouign amann from b. patisserie and I loved the one from Dominique Ansel Bakery in Soho. Arsicault’s kouign amann joined that hall of fame. It’s hard for me to pick one favorite of the three but it could be a case of I love the one I’m eating at the time the best. Arsicault’s was a little more buttery than b. patisserie and shaped a little differently than the traditional kouign amann but geez, it had me at the first caramelized, flaky bite. I admit to feeling a little sick after since I had it right after the croissant so that was a mighty amount of butter swimming in my bloodstream but hey, no regrets. It was that good.
Kouign Amann
I ended up buying another one to give to a coworker who hadn’t been able to come with us as well as a chocolate chip cookie to also partially try and partially give away to someone else who I knew had a weakness for chocolate chip cookies. And, okay, I’m not gonna lie. I bought another kouign amann for me to really have “later”.

I had half of the chocolate chip cookie later (much later) in the day. It was good but you know I’m a snob about chocolate chip cookies and am spoiled and uppity about it because very few things beat a chocolate chip cookie 10 minutes out of the oven. My bar is pretty high. This was good in that the edges still had some crunch and the caramelized brown sugar flavor was there. It was a little bit sweet for me but that could also be due to the fact that I’d already had a lot of pastries that day so I might’ve hit my sugar quotient.
Chocolate Chip Cookie

The chocolate almond croissant I didn’t have until the next day because I literally couldn’t fit it into my calorie count or waistband the same day I ate a croissant and a kouign amann. I’m normally so snobby about pastries that I don’t like to eat them a “day old” but I refreshed this in the microwave by heating it for 15 seconds and it was almost as good as the day of. I had run 3 miles before I ate  the croissant and it was a good thing as it made for quite the hearty breakfast. The croissant itself was just as good and flaky delicious as the one from the ham and cheese the day before. The chocolate almond filling was also good, if a bit rich. It was actually a bit larger than the norm but I love a challenge so yes, I ate the whole thing. Felt a little sick after because it was so rich but again, worth it. Even though I probably should’ve doubled my run to make up for it.
Chocolate Almond Croissant

Overall, Arsicault Bakery was amazing and their products were delicious. I definitely want to go back (after more running) and would definitely get the kouign amann again. Perhaps the chocolate almond croissant too.