Thursday, October 27, 2011

north carolina state fair: raleigh, nc

I couldn't resist sharing all the fair food I saw and ate at the NC State fair last week with my friend Julie. I didn't go to the fair last year when the famous Krispy Kreme hamburger made its debut so that was the one thing I was on the search for this year. I wish I could happily say I devoured the Krispy Kreme bacon cheeseburger (bottom right pic), topped with bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and bacon but I'm relieved to say I didn't go for it. I don't think I would have been able to move much less drive back to Charlotte after eating that thing. The other Krispy Kreme burger (top left pic) offered was topped with peanut butter and jelly, a healthier alternative to the bacon cheeseburger!

No matter how many times I go to the fair, I am always amazed with the food creations and the thousands of people eating them. I mean fried Kool-Aid? How is that even possible? Besides the usual fried candy bars and turkey legs, I saw fried honey buns, red velvet cake funnel cakes and even fried Smucker's Uncrustables! Two years ago, I had my first fried Snickers bar and it was so good. There's something about melting (ok, frying) a candy bar and eating it while it's warm and gooey that makes it so much better than eating it from the wrapper.

So after doing a quick loop to check out our options we had to actually decide what we wanted to eat. We had heard the fried cheese was the best thing at the fair and decided to go for it. We ordered the fried Wisconsin cheddar cheese and... it was super disappointing. But I couldn't resist posting the picture of Julie below because I made her take this picture at least 10 times so I could get the full cheese effect. It was really cheesy but somehow only tasted like fried batter. The only reason I would ever try these again is if they were made with Velveeta or Cotswold cheese, mmmm. I wasn't in the mood for any more fried food after the first failed snack so I decided to grab a butter dipped ear of corn to keep me happy. You can never go wrong with fair corn because the amount of butter that's on it is only acceptable at the fair.

I always pass on fair rides but fair food makes pushing through the crowds so worth it and I love wandering around the produce and livestock sections to find the biggest and best. We even got a picture with the largest pumpkin, weighing in at 522 pounds (bottom left pic). Oh and I'm already trying to talk myself into trying the Krispy Kreme bacon cheeseburger next year. I think I would be more inclined to try it if the hamburger booth had a sign like Krispy Kreme that lit up the word 'HOT' for when the donuts are fresh from the doughnut line. Ok maybe I'm just making excuses. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

mummy cupcakes

Halloween is only four days away! 

I remember all the anticipation that came with Halloween. What costume to wear? What pillowcase to carry? What part of the neighborhood to start at? My brother and I would wait until all the houses in the neighborhood turned off their front lights to head back home. Once we got home, we would pour out our candy stuffed pillowcases and count each piece of candy to see who won the candy battle. I don't actually remember who won because I was always so anxious to start trading candy with him so I could stock up on my favorites like Snickers and Reese's in exchange for my Sour Patch Kids. 

I live in an apartment complex so I don't get any adorable trick or treaters at my door on Halloween. Last year was my first year in my building and I bought (my favorite) candy just in case any kids stopped by but surprise surprise none did. With no trick or treaters or party plans my Halloween excitement is the boo bash bake-off at work. I won last years bake-off with spider cupcakes and wanted to find something equally boo-tiful for this years competition. I loved these mummy cupcakes when I first saw them but didn't want to use fondant or rolled marshmallows for the wrapping. Instead, I went with vanilla buttercream frosting and used Wilton tip #47 to pipe the mummy wrapping. I rarely make cupcakes because I'm such a perfectionist when it comes to frosting them that I'm never happy with the results. After frosting each one of these mummies I would think 'oh this one is ugly' but these cupcakes aren't supposed to be perfect and the inconsistency is the reason these mummies are so cute!

Mummy Cupcakes

for the cupcakes:
1 box of funfetti cake mix 
1/3 c. oil
1/2 c. water
3 eggs
food coloring

for the frosting:
1/2 c. butter flavored shortening
1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp clear vanilla
4 c. powdered sugar
2 tbsp milk
2 tbsp cocoa  

for the eyes:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. 

For the cupcakes, blend together the funfetti cake mix with oil, water and eggs on low speed for 2 minutes. For orange cupcakes, add 2 drops of yellow and 1 drop of red food coloring to the cake batter. Add more yellow if the batter is too dark and more red if the batter is too light. Bake cupcakes for 18 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cupcakes cool completely before frosting. 

For the frosting, cream together the shortening and butter. Blend in vanilla. Add 1 cup of 10x sugar at a time and mix until combined. Once all 4 cups of sugar have been added, blend in 2 tbsp of milk. Measure out 1/2 c. of the frosting and place it in a separate bowl, add the cocoa to this frosting. This is the frosting that will go behind the mummy eyes. Lightly frost the center of each cupcake with this chocolate frosting. Stick on the M&M eyes. Place vanilla frosting in pastry bag and start piping imperfectly!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

vacation: atlanta, ga

If you are looking for a recipe...this post isn't for you, sorry!

This past weekend my boyfriend and I drove down to Atlanta to see two of our very good friends, Ashkan and Cindy. Atlanta reminds me of a bigger version of Charlotte that has really bad traffic, tons of great restaurants and never ending activities. It seems like every time we visit Atlanta, there is always some type of fun event going on. During our trip to Atlanta last spring, the four of us went to Baconfest at Inman Park. I was thinking the festival would have random bacon creations like bacon ice cream, chocolate covered bacon and bacon beer...ok just kidding about that last one. But I was a little disappointed when we arrived and realized it wasn't exactly the bacon food festival I had expected. Instead it was unlimited make your own BLT sandwiches, PBR and Terrapin beer and very random entertainment (wheelchair obstacle course) that turned out to be a blast!
This past weekend we decided to go to the Decatur craft beer festival after obsessively checking craigslist to find tickets. Apparently they sold all 4,000 beer fest tickets in 2 hours. Two weekends ago I went to the Charlotte Oktoberfest and was impressed with the 100+ breweries that were there and had so much fun that I couldn't wait to do it all over again. Pre beer fest we went to Highland Bakery and had a delicious brunch. I ordered the Cowboy Benedict (top left picture) which was two white cheddar quesadillas topped with two poached eggs, homemade hollandaise and a spicy corn relish served with a side of spicy corn relish. If you are in Atlanta, Highland Bakery is worth a stop... it was one of the best brunch dishes I think I've ever had.

Then came the the 5+ hours of drinking. I went in with the 'if I don't like it then I'm not drinking it' motto so I could actually attempt to try a beer from every one of the breweries without passing out on the sidewalk before the event was over. I didn't try them all but I think I managed to find every single pumpkin or Oktoberfest beer that was there plus my two favorites, Purple Haze and Sweetwater Blue. Oh and I discovered people wear pretzel/snack necklaces to beer festivals! This one guy at the beer fest (bottom left picture) took pretzel necklaces to the extreme. He had one huge pretzel necklace and then another necklace lined with slim jims, crackers and cheese. He told me that the pretzels are for 'cleansing' your palate in between beers and the slim jims, cracker and cheese are a drunk snack. And if you forgot your pretzel necklace at home like we did, you could buy a pretzel necklace at the beer fest for $2 but they sold out. Next beer fest, I think I might be wearing a pretzel necklace...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

pumpkin pecan muffins

The weather is finally cooling down in NC and that means it's finally pumpkin season! I've never been a huge fan of pumpkin pie but I can't resist pumpkin breakfast sweets like pumpkin donuts, muffins, oatmeal and scones. Oh and I love love love pumpkin beer. I went to a bar a few weeks ago and they served their pumpkin beer with a cinnamon sugar rim, seriously best idea ever. All pumpkin desserts (and beers) are healthy right? It's a fruit... and it has vitamin A, iron, fiber, vitamin C and potassium.  All the more reason I can easily justify an extra muffin or or a few more beers with all that healthiness. These muffins are super moist, loaded with pumpkin and topped with a crumb crust.  These don't even need a crumb topping they are so good but a little extra butter, sugar and nuts never hurts anything. I'm always on a mission to find or create a recipe better than the last and I don't think that a basic pumpkin muffin gets much better than this. 

Pumpkin Pecan Muffins
makes 28 muffins 

for the pumpkin muffins:
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 1/2 c. sugar
15 oz can of pumpkin
3 eggs
2 1/2 c. all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt

for the streusel topping:
1/2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. light brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
5 tbsp butter, melted
2/3 c. pecans, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350°F. 

In a large bowl, blend the butter and sugar together with a mixer until smooth and creamy. Add in the pumpkin puree and the eggs, blend on medium speed. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add the flour mixture to the pumpkin/butter mixture and mix on low speed until combined. Spoon mixture into greased or lined muffin tins. 

To make the streusel, combine the flour, both sugars, cinnamon and butter until it comes together. Stir in chopped pecans. Add mixture to the top of the muffins before placing the muffins in the oven. Bake muffins for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out of the center clean. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

grapefruit mojito

My DVR is so backed up after being on vacation last week. I really hate how all the good shows come on in the fall so I feel overwhelmed with the amount of shows I want to catch up on if I miss a week. Some of my favorites right now are The Good Wife, The Lying Game, The Playboy Club and Law & Order: SVU (I miss Stabler). My sister-in-law just introduced me to the show Suits on USA and it's moving up on my list of favorite TV shows. And there were so many pilots that aired last week that I want to watch but there's definitely not enough time in the day. I always find new shows mid season and usually wait for them to show up on Netflix to watch the entire season.

While sitting on the couch today trying to catch up on my shows I was craving a grapefruit mojito after having one last week. I don't usually drink mid-day unless I'm watching football and drinking beer but this grapefruit mojito was super refreshing and not sickly sweet like so many mojitos. I'm a huge fan of grapefruit cocktails because it pairs perfectly with vodka, rum or tequila. And I've decided these mason jar drinks are perfect for tailgates because you can make the drinks at home (without ice), seal them and store them in your cooler. If you want to move to a different tailgate but don't want to have an open container, you can re-seal it and carry it with you.

Grapefruit Mojito
makes 1 drink

about 12 large mint leaves
1/8 c. crushed ice
1 tsp sugar
juice of 1 lime
1/4 c. fresh grapefruit juice
1.5 oz simple syrup
1.5 oz rum or caracha
1/8 c. soda water
ice cubes

Muddle the mint leaves, sugar and crushed ice together. Add the lime juice, grapefruit juice and simple syrup and muddle one more time. Add rum and shake. Add ice and soda water to the top of the drink and enjoy!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

vacation: los angeles, california

My sister in law, Morgane, took these two pictures. I took the same pictures and hers were 10x prettier.
Check out her website.
I'm back from vacation! I managed to eat my way around LA without seeing one single celebrity, just my luck. But the celebrity homes tour we took was almost as good as seeing a star considering we got to see the houses of Sandra Bullock, Katy Perry, Jennifer Aniston and another two dozen stars. I asked our tour driver to show us where the Housewives of Beverly Hills ladies lived and he replied 'this isn't a D list tour.' Maybe next time...

I made a list of all the food stops we made in the five days I was in LA and I would go back to any one of them. I don't have a favorite because honestly all the food was great but if I had to choose one food day to repeat it would be Friday. At Joan's on Third, I ordered the short rib grilled cheese sandwich that was stacked with tender meat, melted jack cheese, arugula and red onions on grilled white bread...seriously, delicious! Then we went to the famous New York based bakery, Magnolia's, right down the street and ordered the best banana pudding. It was extra fluffy, rich and creamy because it's made with sweet condensed milk and homemade whipped cream. For dinner we went to Akasha in Culver City and the fig and prosciutto pizza hit the spot, I can never find figs in Charlotte so it was such a treat. After dinner we stopped by Diddy Riese and waited in a line of 50 plus people for one of their famous cookie sandwiches, it was well worth the wait. They let you design your own cookie sandwich so I picked vanilla ice cream sandwiched between a freshly baked chocolate chip walnut cookie and a chewy peanut butter cookie.

Joan's on Third: short rib grilled cheese sandwich
Magnolia's Bakery: banana pudding
Akasha: grapefruit mojito and a fig & prosciutto pizza
Diddy Riese: $1.50 ice cream cookie sandwich

Uncle Bill's Pancake House: sourdough bread french toast
Al Hamra Halal Cafe: chicken tikka masala

Lemonade in Abbot Kenney: rosemary watermelon lemonade
Urth Caffe: the 'New Yorker' pastrami sandwich
Bay Cities Italian Deli: pastrami sandwich
Sweet Lady Jane Bakery: slice of apple pie (voted best of LA)
Tender Greens: grilled prawns salad

Umami Burger: manly burger, umami burger & onion rings
Pink's Hot Dogs: chili cheese dog
Millions of Milkshakes: justin shake with snickers and bananas

Tea exchange: mango coconut tea
Cupcakes Couture: apple pie cupcake
Cafe Rio: mahi-mahi fish tacos
Simmzy's: bacon & blue cheese burger
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