Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Quite a delayed reaction

I'm quite remiss not to mention this sooner.

As the world knows, Alexander McQueen passed away, or more accurately, committed suicide last Thursday. Not to get melodramatic, but I can't quite put into words what he has done for the industry. Very few designers are true artists, and even fewer continue to be artists as their careers blossom, but he truly did.

I greatly enjoy fashion, but don't write or reflect about it enough. [Even with my degree, I consider myself more the type of person that sits back and observes casually. I do want to change that now that I am creating on a daily basis.] But he was one creative mind that you couldn't ignore on the runway or the red carpet. (Thank you, Lady Gaga, among others.) I hope that whatever is developed under his name from here on out respects and represents the genius McQueen showed during his life.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Decadence in a bite: Elvis Cupcakes

For anyone living under a rock, last Sunday was the Super Bowl. Having received an invite to friend Pas' Super Bowl party (at his outright amazing apartment in downtown Manhattan), I knew almost immediately what I wanted to make.

Peanut butter. Banana. Bacon. Cupcakes.

Otherwise known as Elvis Cupcakes. Oh yes, baby, they are as delicious as they sound. Well, at least my recipe is. Surprise, surprise, these recipes came from inspiration and combination of a few Smitten Kitchen recipes. I went with mini cupcakes because these are decadent, and I recommend giving these miniatures a try. I also really really wanted to debunk the dry mini cupcake myth. Even day-old cake doesn't have to dry out! Thus, I packed the cake with tons of banana and the next day, before frosting, I brushed the tops of the cake with Jack Daniels. My goal was to create a moist, banana-rich, peanut buttery, salty bacon dessert bite, a worthy tribute to The King, and I think these are winners.

My frosting did not want to pipe out, so they were sloppily frosted with a knife. Ignore the ugly, embrace the tasty.

Elvis Mini Cupcakes

Banana cake
[This makes 54 mini cupcakes or probably around two dozen regular cupcakes.]

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3.5 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
2 large eggs
1.5 - 2 cups mashed very ripe bananas (4 large)
3 tablespoons greek yogurt or sour cream
1 tablespoon whiskey (Jack Daniels), plus 1/4 cup [for topping the baked cupcakes]
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Sift first 5 ingredients into bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter and both sugars in large bowl until creamed. Beat in eggs, mashed bananas, sour cream, rum, and vanilla. Beat in dry ingredients in 2 additions just until combined.

Line your mini cupcake with liners. Spoon no more than one tablespoon of batter into each liner, filling the cup 2/3 full max. Bake for 10-13 minutes max. [A toothpick may not come out "clean" because it's a very moist cake.] Remove cake from pan immediately and put on a cooling rack. Repeat process until batter is gone, it will take 2-3 batches of baking.

Directly before frosting, use a pastry brush (or new, clean paint brush) and brush the top of each cupcake with Jack Daniels.

Peanut Butter Frosting
Makes about 5 cups (which is more than you need for said cupcakes. Feel free to 3/4 the recipe, or give the frosting to a baker friend.)

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter, commercial brand

In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar 1/2-1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the peanut butter and beat until thoroughly blended.

The frosting will be quite thick and a bit difficult to pipe out because of the peanut butter. If possible, use a ziploc bag to frost the banana, Jack Daniels soaked cupcakes. If not, use a knife or small offset spatula and spread on.

Baked Bacon
10 slices high quality bacon

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a rimmed cookie sheet with aluminum foil and place the bacon in a single layer on the pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes, flipping 10 minutes into the process. You want the bacon crispy but not burnt, and it will continue to crisp as it cools.

Place cooked bacon on a paper towel lined plate, and once cooled, cut slices into fifths. Top each cupcake with a generous piece of bacon.

Put the cupcakes out on a nice platter and enjoy the questions. "Bacon? On a cupcake?" "Wait, what are these called?" And then enjoy the happy smiles and mouthgasms around the room.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Treats Truck: A Mid-Afternoon Adventure

The Backstory

A little while back, maybe a few months, I caught wind of something called 93 Plates. Without previously knowing of The Wandering Foodie, I found the idea intriguing on all parts. Doing what I often do when finding a new blog - added it to my Google Reader and also followed him on Twitter.

At some point, while still unemployed, I tweeted out that if he was ever looking for a fill-in, I might be up for it. Mainly because my schedule was flexible at that time and, still, curiosity about the project was there. Then, on the 29th of January, Hagan tweeted out an emergency cancellation at Treats Truck for lunch. That day, the truck was parked at 38th and 5th, and I happened to have time for a real lunch break so I offered to share in some small sampling.

And there I was, on a chilly January afternoon, getting fresh air and a full tummy and being a part of something I honestly think could only happen in NYC.

The Treats Truck
all photographs provided by Hagan Blount

I've been to the truck a few times when I was working at 34th st and 5th ave. I've met Kim Ima, the owner, then and also while volunteering at The Vendys back in August (fun times). She's a sweet lady, an easy business to support. She has a truly cute, vintage looking silver truck that is easy to spot amidst the crazy streets of Manhattan.

From the first bite, I truly believe her slogan is an extremely fair representation of her product. Simple, classic, American desserts. Often a bit rich and sweet, but there are some true stars in the bunch.

Sugar Dots

Incredibly classic, straightforward sugar cookies topped with a simple icing and sprinkles, these cookies acted practically as a palate cleanser between richer samples. I am a fan of the two sizes - the smaller "Dot" is a great little $0.50 snack. I can't complain nor rave about these - what you see is what you get.

Cran Almond Crispy

This was one of two items who I personally think don't fare well in the winter. The cold air doesn't do the best for Rice Krispy treats. And this was a marshmallow square amped up - with dried cranberries and almonds. More marshmallow would have been nice, and maybe in the summertime? But mainly it's a pass for me.

Chocolate Chip Cookie

Yet another classic American cookie, this is a solid but not spectacular cookie. It is also offered with pecans, which I might be willing to try. The cookie was dense, but without the nice combination of chewy toffee edges and moist center.

Raspberry Brownie

The brownies from the Treats Truck are rich, sweet, chocolatey bombs. Kim offers many different varieties, with caramel, raspberry, pecan, plain, spicy Mexican cocoa, and others (espresso, etc) available. With all her bars, she will ask if you prefer a corner, edge or center, which is a great little detail. The raspberry brownie was the second dessert damaged by the cold - the fruit swirl on the top had solidified  in the cold. Not very easy to bite into or chew up, the winter is not the best time for the raspberry brownie. [As a side note, I've tried a bit of one of these brownies in the summer and the texture and consistency of the fruit is far better and makes for a more complete flavor.]

 Peanut Butter Sandwich

Boy, if you like peanut butter, these are SO the cookies for you! It's the classic peanut butter cookie with a rich peanut butter filling. The small cookie is a bit decieving - there is a ton of peanutty flavor in a small package. She also offers the sandwich cookie with a jelly filling for some true nostalgia. And one other side note - as with most classic peanut butter cookie recipes, these are GLUTEN FREE.

The Truckers - Caramel Creme and Chocolate

Truckers, oh truckers, you both swooned me and turned me off in the same category. Yet another very rich option from The Treats Truck is the Caramel Creme Trucker. The cookie is buttery, a bit like a shortbread cookie, delicious with caramel flavor. The cream in the center is what I would classify as a standard cookie filling. The Caramel Creme Trucker falls into my top favorites from the Truck.

Unfortunately, the Chocolate Creme Trucker did not match up. Somehow, the chocolate cookie tasted chalkier, less chocolate-intense and just not quite on the money. If you're craving chocolate, go for a brownie.

Pumpkin Cake

Kim offers pumpkin and carrot cake, and Hagan told me that both received a strong endorsement from the ladies at Blondie & Brownie. After trying the pumpkin cake, I must agree. The cake had a nice balance of sweet, pumpkin and spice. Topped with a cream cheese frosting, I consider this one of the tastiest and best monetary values from The Treats Truck. Straightforward is the name of the game, and if you like pumpkin cake, I recommend this one.

 Pecan Butterscotch Bar

Winner, winner, chicken dinner! The pecan butterscotch bar is truly my favorite from the Treats Truck. Yes, it's sweet and rich, dense indeed, but the butterscotch flavor and spread of pecans? Truly delicious. I must must encourage you to get an edge or corner bar - the delicious toffee flavor gets more intense at the edges, as the texture gets firmer. For less than $3, I definitely say this bar is worth swinging by The Treats Truck when in the neighborhood.

The Verdict

So the verdict on my experiences? Well, when it comes to The Treats Truck, "Not too fancy, always delicious!" still sums up the baked goods pretty darn well. My experience eating at the truck with 93 Plates did not change my opinion on the truck - it's worth checking out for certain items, certain cravings, and most definitely worth visiting to meet and chat up the very sweet owner, Kim. I want to thank her (and obviously give full disclosure) for the food, and thank Hagan for the experience.

There has been various musings around the web about the purpose and drive behind 93 Plates. I just want to say I understand all opinions on the matter, and I'm not going to say anything more brash about it. I haven't had the time nor desire to "seriously analyze" it all. But I did comment on friend Amy's blog before finally getting to this write-up.)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Insane. Amazing. Juggle!


My life currently summed up in three words. (That last one is more like "Juggle, bitch, juggle!") But if you want a little bit more...
  • Three weeks into work and really is a juggle. I feel a bit in over my head (in terms of skills) but I'm trying to prove myself and make myself indispensable right now. Last week was especially insane and the company is trying to find the right balance with me as well.
  • Last week was "Social Media Week" in NYC. What does that mean, you ask?  Lots of open bars, interesting panels and good friends. Tried to balance attending the important to me stuff - a fashion panel or two - with the just-can't-miss fun stuff. Last night's closing party / Patrice's birthday party was pretty much perfection. An insane amount of dancing and free liquor made for a perfect end to my week.
  • Oh, and last night was also my one year anniversary in New York City.
  • Speaking of indispensable, I'm reading Linchpin by Seth Godin right now. Game changer. For real. Once I read Emily's review, I had to have it. If you're doing anything creative at all in your life, put it at the top of your reading list. Oh, and give yourself a D.
  • And, still rolling along with Babes Who Brunch. Lots of great meals, and truly happy to have met and continue to get closer to Melissa. Even when life feels like it's in the john, she has a great, great spirit to her. And knows and appreciates goooood food.
  • Oh, one more memorable note to my life. My friends. Seriously, I cannot even begin to express the awesomeness that surrounds my life right now. There was so much congratulatory joy from you all when I got this job, I was truly overwhelmed. Thank you. No really, you make my life so worth it on a daily basis.