Sunday, December 6, 2009

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Meyer Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

Gingerbread Cupcakes

I have yet to write about our Thanksgiving feast with the Franks, but the big hit of the evening was the gingerbread pumpkin mousse trifle. This masterpiece of gingerbread inspired me to bake up another gingerbread creation. My coworker's birthday was the perfect occasion to test out some gingerbread cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. I found a neat idea for a lemon frosting on This recipe combines your basic cream cheese frosting with lemon zest and juice. I jazzed up the lemon factor by using meyer lemons. I absolutely adore meyer lemons. They have a slightly sweeter and brighter flavor.

Rich molasses batter.

The cupcake batter came together very easily. The recipe indicates that the mixture will look curdled after adding the boiling water to the molasses mixture. This could not be more accurate. It looks kind of gross, but once mixed into the flour the batter begins to look normal again. The molasses is so dark that the batter almost looks chocolate.

Fresh out of the oven - these smell like Christmas!

Dress them up with lemon cream cheese frosting!

Out of the oven, the gingerbread has an intense molasses flavor, which gingerbread lovers will appreciate. The ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves adds warmth and depth. The gingerbread is complemented by the tangy, sweet cream cheese frosting. The meyer lemon adds a slight tartness and brightness that lightens up the dark cake. Definitely be sure to refrigerate before frosting, as the juice makes the frosting a bit runny before refrigeration. The combination of flavors is really perfect for the holidays.

Sprinkle with crystallized ginger.

Hope you all enjoy!

Gingerbread Cupcakes:

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) plus 2 tbsp unsalted butter (softened)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
1 large egg
1 tsp baking soda
8 oz cream cheese (softened)
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp grated lemon zest
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp thinly sliced crystallized ginger

In a bowl sift together, the ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and salt. In another bowl, cream 1/2 stick of the butter, add the granulated sugar, and beat the mixture until fluffy. Beat in the molasses and the egg, beating until the mixture is smooth. In a measuring cup combine the baking soda with 1/2 c boiling water. Stir the mixture until dissolved and add to the molasses mixture (the mixture will appear curdled). Add molasses mixture to flour and stir until well combined. Line twelve muffin tins with paper liners and spoon batter into the liners, filling halfway. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool.

For lemon cream cheese frosting:

In a bowl cream together cream cheese and remaining 2 tbsp of butter. Add the confectioner's sugar and vanilla and beat until fluffy. Beat in zest and lemon juice. Chill frosting for 30 minutes and spread on cupcakes. Top with crystallized ginger.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Tis the season for Pumpkin Cornbread

Pumpkin Cornbread

Gosh it's been awhile since I last wrote. My oven has been broken for the past month or so, but I have been cooking (perhaps not as much as AJ would like). But now the oven is back and I can start whipping up some fall goodies.

I absolutely love fall, and eventhough the weather has been rather warm in Northern California, we have had hints of that lovely cool weather. I recently went for a walk one evening and could smell the lovely perfume of burning wood and damp leaves. This kind of weather inspires baking, especially with seasonal ingredients. My hands down favorite fall ingredient is squash. I love roasting acorn squash and eating it simply with a dab of maple syrup or pureering butternut squash and apples into a creamy soup. And of course you can't forget the pumpkin.

Mixing together pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, and oil.

I use pumpkin as most people do, pureed in muffins, quick breads, and pies. But last night I was looking for a different way to use pumpkin. I had thoughts of making cornbread and asked myself, "Would pumpkin cornbread be good?" Now, you may think I'm crazy, but apparently I am not the only has thought about this unique combination. Recipegirl has a nice recipe for pumpkin cornbread. I decided to give it a whirl!

Mmm pumpkin.

The recipe, like most quick breads is very simple. Sift your flours and spices together in one big bowl. Then mix your wet ingredients in a separate bowl. Then combine in a couple swift turns of a spoon. Pour into a greased pan and bake in the oven. Thirty minutes later you have a somewhat denser, moister, spicier corn bread. I am absolutely in love with this bread. I reduced the sugar by half to get a more savory bread. I think this reduction allows the pumpkin and spices to shine through a bit more. But you could easily add back the sugar if you are looking for more of a sweet treat. The bread is super moist and yet you still get that lovely nuttiness from the corn meal. This is a hearty bread, perfect for serving with a bowl of chili or eating it with a cup of coffee in the morning (as I am right now).

Bottom Line: How could you not make yourself this delicious cornbread?!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pro Bono - Palo Alto, CA

Merlot and candlelight - what a lovely ambience.

I have had trouble with Italian restaurants recently. I love pasta, but lately the meals I eat at Italian restaurants have fallen flat. Paying $12.95 for a plate of spaghetti, that I could make at home for a fraction of the cost, seems absurd. However, when my coworker recently raved about Pro Bono in Palo Alto, I decided to give Italian another shot.

Two friends, AJ, and I arrived for a late dinner on a Saturday night. This small, cozy restaurant was packed at 8:00pm. The candlelight tables evoked a warm and homey feeling. We were seated fairly quickly even without a reservation. Unfortunately it took quite a while for the waiter to bring by a basket of bread. Incidentally, the waiter tried to makeup for this inconveniecnce by continuing to bring baskets of bread to our table throughout the night. While I appreciated the gesture, it was a bit of overkill.

Penne with mushrooms, arugula and tomatoes.

We ordered some merlot to start off the evening. Sometimes I love a nice mellow merlot. It goes great with pasta. AJ ordered a penne dish with mushrooms, arugula, and tomatoes. Simply prepared with a little garlic and olive oil, the dish was tasty, but nothing extraordinary.

Susan's Downfall - ravioli in a cheese and toasted almond sauce.

Being a fan of appetizers for dinner (it allows you to sample more of the menu), I order an arugula salad and Susan's downfall. Susan's Downfall is aptly named for its rich gorgonzola and toasted almond sauce. This divinely creamy sauce drowns the cheese and herb raviolis it is paired with. I love how the dish was run under the broiler before presented at the table, giving the sauce a delicious golden top.

Most of the fair is good, but not great. However, a trip to Pro Bono is worth it, if just to sample Susan's downfall.

Stan's Donuts - Santa Clara, CA

I have been craving sweet, fried dough for the past couple weeks and had yet to find a proper outlet to satisfy this particular hunger. There is a Krispy Kreme somewhat close by, but after reading the Gastronomer's blog post on the Doughnut Plant, I yearned for a doughnut shop with a little more local flavor.

Freshly fried doughnuts.

I went to trusty old for some reviews of local doughnut shops. Stan's Donuts popped up with an average 4.5 stars (out of 5) from over 200 reviewers. The reviewers touted Stan's glazed donuts as some of the best they have ever tasted. I decided to check out what all the hype was about. A 15 minute drive down El Camino and we pulled up to a small shopping center. Stan's Donuts is a hole-in-the-wall joint, serving up fresh batches of yeast and cake doughnuts throughout the day. When we arrived, a small line had formed out the door. Stan's keeps the line moving, so you don't have to wait long for some fresh donuts.

Cake donut with vanilla frosting and peanuts.

AJ and I knew we were going to sample the yeast doughnuts, but we also wanted to try some of their cake varieties - we went with chocolate/sprinkles, peanut, and chocolate/coconut. The chocolate/coconut cake doughnut was nice and crisp on the outside, with a nice moist cake on the inside. The chocolate/coconut combination was just lovely.

Glaze yeast doughnut with Red Rock coffee

The real story is the glazed yeast doughnuts. They come out of the fryer warm and fluffy. Watch out Krispy Kreme, Stan's doughnuts will give you a run for your money! And don't forget, doughnuts are best eaten with a hot cup of coffee.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

September was the Month of Birthdays

September is one of the busiest birthday months. I celebrate my mom's birthday, my best friend, Jenny's, AJ's, Natalie's, and Cammy's. And let's not forget important blog birthdays - This Food is My JAM celebrates its 1st birthday, reaching 10,000 hits in under a year! We have had far more readers than I could have imagined, so thank you to everyone who continues to read. I would also like to give a shout out to my friends of Matzo and Rice who recently just celebrated their 1st birthday as well!

Being on the West Coast for the first september meant that I couldn't be there in person for everyone's bday. But luckily I was able to celebrate AJ's birthday during our first year living together! We had some friends over for a dinner party. I served a menu using mostly local and organic produce, per the birthday boy's request.

Mint chocolate chip ice cream Chocolate cupcakes with chocolate ganache.

Caprese salad, paninis, asparagus, watermelon, sweet corn, guacamole, salsa, and chips.

This meal was an amalgamation of fresh ingredients -which was great because it meant I didn't have to do much to make this meal tasty. For starters I made homemade salsa, guacamole, and chips. Chips and salsa are always crowd pleasers. AJ and I also made two great sangria - a risesling/pinot grigio with citrus, peaches and apples, and a cabernet sauvignon with raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, and apples. We added a touch of vodka, and sugar, which made the fruit quite potent (Note: the key to good sangria is to let it sit overnight.)

The remnants of our dinner.

For dinner I served sweet corn on the cob, asparagus with lemon juice, watermelon with mint, and roasted red pepper, portabello, and zucchini paninis with goat cheese and pesto. We took our plates and ate outside. It was a great way to savor the last warm summer nights.

Even the boys love Sangria.

For dessert I made Georgetown cupcakes' chocolate cupcakes. I froze them and then topped them with mint chocolate chip ice cream and chocolate ganache. They were amazingly messy and amazingly delicious. I need to figure out the timing for defrosting the ice cream, these were a little melty. But I don't think I heard any complaints. :)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Broccoli Cheddar Quiche and French Onion Soup

A couple of weeks ago I finally saw Julie and Julia. While the movie didn't blow me away, it was a fun movie about food. And let's be honest I love watching things involving food or cooking or baking. (Also, Meryl Streep is amazing in this movie! She totally captures the essence of Julia Child.)

For those of you who saw Julie and Juila, didn't it make you feel like making something a little challenging? I woke up the next morning with the intention of hunkering over the stove for a couple hours, perhaps even getting down and dirty with some dough. Luckily it was a Sunday, the perfect day to spend some serious hours in the kitchen. I know I am talking up the amount of work, but I was actually looking forward to spending my day cooking, a Sunday tradition that has been lost in the wake of prepackaged meals and the tendency to eat out. While Julia inspired us to cook, food television of late has had the opposite effect, so it seems. (Check out this article if you're interested in learning about how time spent in the kitchen has decreased considerable since the 1960s).

Alright, off of the soapbox and back to the kitchen. Julia inspired me to try out some french cooking. I had some beautiful vidalia onions that I needed to use, and decided they would be a lovely french onion soup. I got the most recent issue of Gourmet magazine celebrating seasonal recipes using produce from the lovely intersection of late summer and early fall harvest. I decided to try my hand at my first quiche - a broccoli cheddar recipe. Two simple yet classic french recipes - would I manage to cook both of these up in one day?

I began with the soup - slicing onions incredibly thin and then sauteeing them with butter and sugar to the point of caramelization. I continued to add wine, mushroom broth, a little balsamic vinegar, and thyme. The room filled with a wonderful aroma - there is something so comforting about making soup.

With the soup simmering on the stove, I began working on the pie crust for the quiche. Gourmet magazine features a rather traditional pie crust using butter. I love butter pie crusts -the flavor is so much better than one made with shortening.

The idea of making a pie crust can be quite daunting, but I think most people find it rather easy to pull together once they get started. A couple of tips: 1) Make sure your butter is very cold - this makes for a nice flaky crust and 2) don't use too much water - you want to use just enough to pull the dough together (too much yields a tough pie crust).

After making the dough you want to let it rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so (Gourmet says 1 hour, but 30 minutes works just fine). Once you roll the dough out, place it in a pie plate and prick the dough with a fork (to allow steam to escape during baking). At this stage, you will chill the dough again for 30 minutes. Take the pie crust out and bake for 20-25 minutes.

While the pie crust was bakin, I began to make the filling for the Broccoli Cheddar quiche. The filling is rather simple as well - a mixture of eggs, broccoli, half-and-half, cheese, garlic, and nutmeg. When the pie crust has cooled, pour the filling into the shell and bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. My quiche came out wonderfully -AJ loved it. The eggy custard was light yet creamy. The combination of broccoli, cheddar, and garlic was classic.

The soup was lighter with the use of mushroom broth, but still wonderful with the carmelized onions and salty swiss melted on top. Give French cooking a try, I do think you'll like it!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Picnic in September

Cheese plate (Manchego, cheddar, grapes), Sourdough, Prosecco, Riesling, and Caprese salad (mozarella, tomatoes, basil, balsamic vinegar)

I love early September - the air has cooled down, but it is still warm and sunny. Last weekend, AJ bought us a lovely Prosecco and some wonderful cheeses. We sat outside and enjoyed the weather and ate some simple yet delicious food. Wine, cheese, bread and good company - what more could I ask for?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Mom's Apple-Banana Cake

Apples and ba-nay-nays

Sometimes baking is an excuse to get rid of some fruit or milk that's about to expire. I know that statement isn't entirely logically (you're going to use flour, butter, and sugar just to make sure you don't waste one banana?) I know it's illogical, but sometimes inspiration comes in mysterious ways.

I had originally thought about making plain old banana bread, but it turned out I only had one banana sitting on top of my fridge. I realized that I had two gravestein apples (which are supposed to be great for baking) and a jar of applesauce. A-pples and Ba-nay-nays, I knew I could do something with that!

Apple Banana bread smells like cinammon, spice, and everything nice.

I searched the internet for some recipes involving apples and bananas and came across "Mom's Apple-Banana Bread". When I saw that the recipe involved adding caramelized apples to the batter, I knew it would be a winner. This recipe also appealed to me because it incorporates two treats that my mom and dad make really well - banana bread and apple cake respectively. My dad doesn't put on his baker's hat too often, but his apple cake has become a family staple. And my mom's banana bread just tastes better than any other banana bread I've tried. This recipe is essentially a combination of the two! The bananas and applesauce make for a very moist bread, and the caramelized apples add lovely bites of sweet and tart. The warm spices just scream fall. With the cooler weather approaching, I beg you to try this one.

I tweaked the recipe a little to accommodate the ingredients I had in my pantry (who uses that word?)

1 stick plus 2 tbsp unsalted butter (JAM Note: 1/2 stick butter, plus 2 tbsp, plus 1/4 c applesauce)
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
2 Granny Smith apples - peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2 in dice (JAM Note: used Gravestein apples)
1 tsp cinammon (JAM Note: used 1 1/2 tsp)
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (JAM Note: used 2 tsp)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cloves (JAM Note: used 1/2 tsp)
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (JAM Note: used 1/2 tsp allspice, 1/2 tsp pumpkin spice)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 ripe bananas, mashed (1 cup) (JAM Note: used 1 ripe banana, 1/2 c applesauce)
1/4 c orange juice (JAM Note: used 1/4 c applesauce)

In a large skillet, melt 2 tbsp butter with brown sugar. Add the apples and cook over moderate heat, stirring until tender and golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Add 1/2 tsp of the cinnamon and 1/2 of vanilla and transfer apples to a plate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9x5x4 in loaf pan. In medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, salt, cloves, nutmeg (JAM Note: allspice, pumpkin spice) and the remaining cinnamon.

In a large bowl, using the handheld electric mixer, beat the remaining butter (half stick) with the granulated sugar (JAM Note: beat in 1/2 c applesauce after). Beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time until smooth. Add in bananas (JAM Note: and applesauce), orange juice, and remaining vanilla. Beat until smooth. Add the dry ingredients and mix until smooth. Using a rubber spatula fold in apples.

Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake for 1 hr and 20 minutes (JAM Note: my bread was done in 50 minutes). Let the loaf cool and turn onto rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Flea Street Cafe - Menlo Park

Sweet corn soup with basil

So my biggest expense in life right now is food (oh yeah and health insurance, but I try not to think about that - come one healthcare reform!) When I splurge on something, its usually not a new dress or a fancy purse, but perhaps a delicious fillet of wild salmon or a local raw milk cheese. While some girls spend hours shopping for shoes (don't get me wrong, I love me a pair of these too) I prefer to spend hours in the market searching for that elusive red quinoa or purple asparagus. These are things I take great pleasure in. While I do tend to cook a lot of my own dinners, it is also fun to have someone else cook for you, especially when the produce is fresh and local.

Blue cornmeal crusted diver scallops with green and wax beans

I rarely venture into Menlo Park, but I had heard good things about Flea St. Cafe. Jesse Ziff Cool, the owner of Flea St Cafe and Cool Cafe, takes pride in her restaurants mission of serving local and sustainable food and wine. This strategy ensures quality produce, protects farm lands and the environment, promotes economic growth, and preserves traditions.

This all sounded good, but would the food taste good? For our appetizer, AJ and I decided to split the vegetarian tasting plate - corn and bean succotash, sauteed peppers and onions, roasted beets, and fried squash blossoms. While everything on our plate was fresh, the only thing that really wowed us were the fried squash blossoms. Stuffed with goat cheese and fresh herbs, served with a bright slightly acidic tomato sauce, these were divine. We were sad there were only two.

Ricotta gnocchi with heirloom tomatoes, guanciale, basil, and asiago.

For the main course I ordered two appetizers, the sweet corn soup and the cornmeal crusted scallops. I love ordering appetizers for dinner because it allows you to sample more items on the menu. Boy was I happy when my soup arrived. A sucker for soup, this creamy corn concoction was just divine. Let me tell you there is nothing better than fresh sweet summer corn. I scraped my bowl clean. The cornmeal crusted scallops were seared and cooked to perfection. Sweet with an excellent crust, these paired nicely with the sweet corn soup. However, for the price I wish there had been more than three of these!

AJ ordered the ricotta gnocchi. I am always tempted to order these soft potato pillows whenever they appear on a restaurant's menu, so I was delighted that I would be able to sample them. The gnocchi were light, topped with ripe heirloom tomatoes, basil drizzle, asiago cheese, and guanciale. AJ was a little disappointed to find meat in his dish. I think the salty bits were a nice pairing to the ricotta gnocchi, but not entirely necessary. I would have preferred more fresh basil, as opposed to the oil drizzle.

Rosemary angel food cake with rasberry sauce and creme fraiche ice cream.

Next to the corn soup, I think my favorite part of the meal was my rosemary angel food cake. I loved the use of this fragrant herb in a sweet dish. The angel food cake was light and airy, but still moist. A lot of angel food cakes end up being dry. The addition of raspberry sauce and creme fraiche ice cream sealed the deal. I think my angel food loving sister would enjoy this one.

AJ is a chocolate man, and went with Flea St's very own chocolate cupcake served with ice cream and pecan caramel sauce. The chocolate cake was dry and dense. I wasn't a fan. The ice cream was good, but even better was the pecan caramel sauce! Sweet, thick, buttery and loaded with pecans. I would serve just the sauce!

Chocolate cupcake with carmel sauce and pecans with vanilla ice cream.

Bottom Line: While a little overpriced, Flea St delivers on their promise of fresh, local ingredients.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Eggplant salad with toasted garlic pita chips

Eggplant salad.

"Salad? B-O-R-I-N-G." Like me, you may be a little tired of the usual leafy green salads. When it comes to salads, I often find myself in a rut. Baby spinach - been there. Arugula - done that. Don't get me wrong, I still find myself eating them, because they are an easy way to get in a lot of veggies, but I needed more inspiration.

That is when the wonderful Mark Bittman came to the rescue. You may have seen his NY Times article on "101 Simple Salads for the Season". Seriously, there are so many possibilities that I had never thought about.

Homemade tzatsiki verus storebought hummus (there's only so much a girl can do).

I found myself drawn to the "simple" mediterranean flavors of #27. Another great thing about these salad recipes - they are only a couple sentences in length. No stressing over minute details! I blackened a whole eggplant in a skillet and finished cooking it in the oven until it began to deflate. While the eggplant was in the oven, I chopped cucumber, tomatoes, and mint. I opened up a can of white cannelini beans and mixed all these together with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and salt. When the eggplant was super soft, I took it out of the oven and removed the charred skin. I chopped up the flesh and tossed it with the other ingredients.

I decided to toast up some pita chips to go with the salad. For the finale, I made my own tzatsiki - a simple mixture of greek yogurt, shredded cucumber, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and a drizzle of olive oil.

What can I say, this salad rocked my tastebuds. The eggplant was sooo smoky. You know that wonderful flavor you get from baba ganoush - finally I get how they do it! The mint added this amazing freshness. The tzasiki gave this extra creaminess in contrast to the acerbic lemon and garlic.

Bottom Line: Try this salad and you won't regret it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

BBQ Oysters - Point Reyes

Light House in Point Reyes.

There is never a dearth of things to do in California. A couple of weekends ago, we visited Point Reyes and explored the beautiful coast. The trip in the car was incredibly slow and twisty. I wasn't sure I was going to make it all the way there without forcing Justin to stop the vehicle. I was quite relieved when the ocean air finally hit my lungs.

We planned to visit the light house in Point Reyes, a monument that has kept many a ship from crashing into its steep cliffs. Little did we know that in order to reach the light house we would have to traverse 30 stories worth of steps. It certainly was a good way to work up an appetite.

BBQ Oysters

We stopped at a cute little restaurant by the water. I ate my first oyster a couple of years ago, and it has become one of my favorite treats. These briny treasures are like tasting the ocean, and I mean that in a good way. The menu highlighted bbq oysters, something I have always wanted to try. Anna and I split a dozen of the steaming beauties. The bbq sauce was simply cocktail sauce, which worked surprisingly well. The smokiness came through, and the sweet and sour flavors complemented the creamy, salty flesh. I had no problem polishing off my half dozen.

Blue cornmeal crusted oysters.

AJ ordered up some of the fried oysters. Crusted in blue cornmeal, the crunchy batter provided a nice contrast to the soft oysters. The cornmeal provided a light shell without overwhelming them. We paired our oysters with some wonderfully creamy tomato bisque soup.

Nothing like spending the afternoon taking in the ocean air, and dining on some of the ocean's gifts.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Domaine Carneros - Napa Valley

Napa Valley - ain't it grand.

California seems to have it all - beaches, mountains, great food, and oh yes great wine. I have been dying to check out the Napa Valley wineries since I got here. Luckily, our visitors from Boston gave us an excuse to visit a couple of weeks ago.

Nick graciously planned our entire day in Napa. We were going to start off with some sparkling wines and then move on to wineries that specialized in sauvignon blancs and cabernets.

Sippin' on some bubbly.

Our first stop - Domaine Carneros - vines covered the rolling green hills and valleys. We picked an absolutely perfect day - sunny, warm, and breezy. Domaine Carneros was opened in 1987 by Taittinger. Taittinger winery is one of the top producers of Champagne in France. Partnering with Kobrand Corporation, Taittinger declared that its future lay in American wine and established these vineyards.


The wine vats.

Nick arranged for us to tour the vineyard and chateau, sampling five wines along the way. For $25, this was a great bargain. Our tour guide, the charming Jean Claude, led us through the beautiful vines ripe with chardonnay and pinot noir grapes and poured us full glasses of their 2005 vintage Brut. The refreshing effervescent sip tasted of apple and melon, the perfect way to start our day.

Brut Rose.

Domaine Carneros makes three sparkling wines - Brut, Brute Rose, and Blanc de Blancs. The Blanc de Blancs is french for white wine made from white grapes. This luxurious wine made from 100% Chardonnay certainly had a more acidic, citrus flavor than the Brut. I preferred the Brut for its smoother flavor, but the Blanc de Blancs is consistently rated one of the top wines in the country.

Pinot Noir.

After sampling three of the sparkling wines (although I am not sure if drinking three full glasses can be called ) we moved on to the Pinot Noirs. Domaine Carneros makes three Pinot Noirs. You may remember the Pinot Noir, made insanely popular by the film Sideways. While, no one in our party ended up drinking straight from the spit barrel, we were feeling a bit lightheaded by the time we finished our fourth glass. I was a fan of the medium priced Pinot Noir, the 2006 Domaine-Carneros Estate. Tasting of cherries, with spicy notes of pepper, this wine was smooth to the finish.

While I enjoyed the other vineyards we visited that day, Domaine Carneros is level above all the rest. I would certainly recommend the wine tour for your next trip to Napa.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Gilroy Gaaarlick Festival

We're the garlic-teers, you can be one too! Eating lots of garlic is what we do!

I know not everyone is a fan of garlic (and I don't think I will understand those garlic-hating palettes) but I was thrilled to hear about the annual garlic festival in Gilroy, CA. Located about an hour away (or 45 minutes if your friend drives like a bat out of hell) from Mountain View, Gilroy is famous for its fields and fields of garlic. If you ever take the 101 down to LA, the smell of garlic will hit you far before you reach the city limits.

Garlic mushrooms + pesto + garlic bread + garlic fries = Garlic coma (and crazy delicious). ;)

Gilroy has held this annual 3-day summer festival in honor of this pungent member of the Alliacea family (aka the onion fam) for the past 31 years. Vendors serve up everything from the traditional garlic dishes like pesto and shrimp scampi to the highly unusual - garlic ice cream.

Garlic Fries.

I was particularly excited to try the pesto and the garlic fries. The place was packed and the lines were long, but they moved rather quickly. The vendors did a great job of feeding everyone, and quickly at that! The garlic fries smelled so wonderful and they were all that and more. The crisp fries are cooked to perfection. The minced garlic, oil, and parsely coated these potatoes packing a potent punch. I could have eaten just these and been satisfied.

The creamy pesto had the right basil to garlic ratio, with enough cream to mellow these flavors. The garlic bread served with the pesto overshadowed the pasta dish. The combination of bread, butter, and tons of slightly sweet yet spicy garlic left me yearning for another slice.

Garlic ice cream?!!!

After filling our bellies, we walked around to check out the crafts and music. Garlic paraphernalia was available in mug, key chain, and hat form (garlic bulb shaped caps). We stopped to take some pics with Garlic Man. While I enjoyed checking out the scene, I was still intrigued by the concept of garlic ice cream. Friends who had visited the festival in previous years had given conflicting reviews. "Stay away at all costs," said one friend warily. Another opined, "You have to try it!"

Curiosity got this cat, and I stood in line to check it out. The vendors were giving this treat away for free (maybe because no one would pay to eat it?) When I finally got to the front I was handed FOUR mini cones. The first lick was intense, an odd combination of spicy, pungent garlic and sweet cream. AJ gagged and refused to eat anymore. Me and my more adventurous friends continued licking. The more we tasted, the more the garlic mellowed in our mouths, leaving a mostly sweet creamy flavor. While I wouldn't necessarily order this, I was surprised at how well this worked.

We c-LOVE garlic!

The Gilroy Garlic festival combines amazing garlic cuisine with kitschy festival fare. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

What a Hoot!

As you all have probably learned by now, I love cupcakes. I love eating them, I love baking them, I love decorating them. I came across this cute idea for cupcakes from one of my favorite blogs: "How to Eat a Cupcake". Who doesn't enjoy a cupcake shaped like animals, especially owl mamas and babies. This recipe comes from the book, "Hello Cupcake" by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson.

The recipe requires a basic chocolate cupcake recipe. I went with Martha Stuart's one-bowl chocolate cupcakes. Malia and I made these for our bday, and they were a hit. They are also super easy to make. For this recipe you are going to need a regular cupcake tin, and a mini cupcake tin. I halved the recipe and ended up with 6 regular cupcakes, and around 16 minis.

Assembling the cupcakes, frosting starts first!

Let me tell you, assembling these cupcakes was NOT as easy as baking them. I recommend making these when you have a couple hours with nothing better to do than devote your life to making the perfectly shaped owl beak from an M&M. Okay, so they weren't easy, but I did enjoy myself for the most part. It was fun seeing these owls come alive.

These iris-devoid owls look a little creepy.

In order to decorate these owls you are going to need chocolate frosting, oreos, mini oreos, junior mints, mini M&Ms (I used regular sized M&Ms), and runts (I used yellow M&Ms for the beak). In essence you will need two halves of oreos (with creme) for the eyes of the mama owls. You will use two mini halves for the baby owls.

While I thought these came out pretty well, they certainly were nothing like the perfect owls shown in the first picture. I mean to get out all of the crumbs in the creme would take another two hours in and of itself! The mini M&Ms were hard to come by, so I ended up using regular M&Ms for the baby owls. The orange M&Ms certainly made for some interesting expressions. I do like how the regular M&Ms accentuate the large iris to white ratio.

All in all these cupcakes were pretty cute, and they were a hit with my friends and coworkers.