June 26, 2007


I may never play the piano again. Tonight I burned my fingers on a 500º oven rack while trying to save my house from being engulfed in flames. I was roasting marshmallows with the broiler, and apparently there is just no reason to put marshmallows within two inches of an oven element. They kind of caught fire. Those marshmallows look suspiciously like the cookies I burned a few months ago. It's a shame that I grew up to be such a dingbat, what with my good breeding and all that potential I showed back in kindergarten.

Charred Marshmallows and Fingers

Stand's Marshmallow Shake Recipe
from Francis Lam

3 scoops vanilla ice cream (they use Laboratorio del Gelato)
1 tablespoon whole milk
1 large dollop Woodstock Water Buffalo Milk yogurt (or I used
Greek Gods Yogurt, nonfat variety)
5 Kraft Jumbo Jet-Puffed marshmallows
Whipped cream

1) Toast marshmallows under a broiler, or, if you're frisky, over a flame until they just start to blacken evenly (the trick is to make sure it's evenly toasted and dark, but not turned to charcoal).

2) Put the milk, yogurt, and then ice cream in the blender. Blend carefully, just until you get a "doughnut"--when you see the shake holding to the sides of the blender with a hollow core.

3) Add three of the toasted marshmallows to the blender, and whirl it just until they're all broken up and distributed evenly. Be careful not to overblend it, making it too melty.

4) Pour shake into a glass, top with a dollop of whipped cream, break the last two marshmallows on top, and serve with an extra-wide straw.

5) Repeat if necessary. And it will probably be necessary.

Marshmallow ShakeYeah, the shake is good. I'd like to make it again. As you can see in the picture, the marshmallows aren't very dark - they look more like Nilla Wafers than toasted marshmallows. I wasn't taking any chances roasting the second batch, and I'm sure the flavor suffered as a result. I needed some fluff to distract me tonight from my research methods class. As usual, I'm spending the semester trying to get into back-to-school mode. I should be in the swing of things just in time for finals. Or not.

June 21, 2007

The State of Dining out in Lubbock

Lean Cuisine Sesame Chicken - not badTonight for dinner I'm eating a Lean Cuisine Sesame Chicken dinner. Surprisingly, it's not awful. I bought a little passel of Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice frozen dinners, because I don't have time to cook except on the weekends, and for dinner I always choose one of those frozen dinners or cereal to offset whatever gastronimic monstrosity I happened to have for lunch. Also, it would be nice if I would reduce a little bit. I am a diehard foodie, and I like to tell people so, obviously. But I fear it's become unnecessary to announce my love of food. It seems my reputation, in the form of a rotund tummy, precedes me, or rather, the rest of me. It's just not cute to be such a diehard foodie that you can't fit through the restaurant doors. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Fortunately or unfortunately, there just aren't that many restaurant doors in Lubbock I'd care to pass through anyway. Today for lunch, I went to Stella's, which passes itself as an Italian-themed, New York style restaurant with pizza, pasta, sandwiches, seafood, and some other stuff. The quality of the fare was somewhere between average and gross. I hadn't eaten at Stella's in awhile, and though I have never eaten anything Stellar there, I thought I'd give it another try when a co-worker suggested it. How do you mess up a balsamic vinaigrette? Pauline's pork was salty and smelly. Jacqueline and Steve got the Soho Spaghetti, and they both thought it was awful.

We were talking about the mediocrity of the food, as well as the slow and unspectacular service, post-lunch. Although we were approached by two restaurant employees in addition to our waiter, all of which asked us how the food was, no one in the party spoke up. We probably all left a decent tip. I know I felt gypped by a too high bill for what I was served. I confess that I'm a little afraid to be high maintenance at a restaurant. I don't want some Hell's Kitchen chef throwing me out of the restaurant or some evil waiter doing something nasty to my food, beverage, or silverware.

Last week I went to Twain's, which is on the cusp of having something going for it. Cute place. Good theme. Great feel-good story behind its beginnings. Still, the food is just very unremarkable. I would love to find a place that serves wonderful food that I can't get anywhere else, but I have yet to find it in this town.

How to Be a Better FoodieI try very hard to find the decent eateries in Lubbock. I try to reign in my critical diehard foodieness. It would be fun to start up a blog or wiki about the restaurants in Lubbock, but there are only so many synonyms for mediocre. How exciting is it to write about a chain restaurant that you could find in any other mid-sized town in the US? Or to write about the Chinese buffets that are multiplying like rabbits? Or "Don't eat at any of the Little Panda Restaurants except for the one on 74th & University. Eating at the others is at best, unwise, and at worst, deadly."

Is it a good idea to speak up when you're disappointed with the service or food at a restaurant? How do you react?

June 19, 2007

All Shook Up

Elvis Reese's Peanut Butter & Banana Cup in 'The King Size'I read that Reese's is coming out with an Elvis Reese's Peanut Butter and Banana Cup. Peanut butter pairs wonderfully with anything, in my opinion, and bananas are no exception. As I child, I liked peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches, but I have luckily grown out of that. I am definitely sending one of these Elvis PB & Nanner Cups to Katie, the family Elvis fanatic, in Taiwan.

The cake I made for Father's Day was a hit. I saved the last piece of cake in the freezer for Wendy. There are many wonderful flavors that synergize in this cake, among them: various chocolates, toffee, coconut, pepper. That's right. I put chipotle chile powder in the cake batter before baking it. I've always thought chocolate and chiles go together, as in Dagoba Xocolatl, and spicy works well with ice cream, too. Here are before and after photos of the Chocolate Blackout Cake with Coconut Buttercream.

Chocolate Blackout Cake with Coconut Buttercream Chocolate Blackout Cake with Coconut Buttercream

It's been about 100º here the last couple of days, so I'm putting my ambition of being The Cake Lady on hold for awhile. It's just too hot to bake. I'm thinking of channeling my efforts into some amazing ice cream flavors. Today I came across a recipe for David Lebovitz's Malted Milk Ice Cream. Most people don't know that there's actually a difference between a shake and a malt, because wannabe ice cream shops only put a sprinkling of malt powder in their malts. I'm happy to report that this ice cream recipe calls for 2/3 cup of malt powder. How many ice cream flavors have their own song anyway? (Check out the link and you'll see what I mean.) So The Perfect Scoop is now in my shopping cart.

June 7, 2007

I'm a hopeless romantic. You're just hopeless.

There's something very romantic for me about the Summer season. Not that I'm expecting anything different this summer than my status quo singlehood. I am not really sure if I don't date because I think dating is awful, or if I think dating is awful because I don't date. That stupidism sounded really good in my head.

People try to set me up sometimes, which is always amusing. Some people even put some thought into it and come up with an effort better than "You're both single." I don't realize how much people worry for me. Like every time I said I went to Dallas & Natchitoches with Matt I got some excited "Ooh! Matt! What's going on there?" or "You should bring him around so we can meet him."

My plan is to catch a boyfriend with my amazing baking. After all, at Christmas, Granddaddy was eating a cake I baked and said, "You could catch yourself a boyfriend with this cake." I think he said it more than once. This guy is going to have to have an unbelievable sweet tooth, though. I'll have to analyze my recipes and decide just what kind of guy I want to catch.

Peanut Butter & Jelly CupcakesLike Tuesday, I made some Peanut Butter & Jelly Cupcakes. Now with those, I would probably catch a man very in touch with his inner child. A man of simple tastes, perhaps.

Then there's the whole elimination process accompanying making a dessert with coconut or nuts. I'm surprised that people exist who do not like either of those; sick, sick people. I always think of George Bailey's line in It's a Wonderful Life: You don't like coconuts? Say brainless, don't you know where coconuts come from?

Feeding him dark chocolate would really be bringing out the big guns. Dagoba Xocolatl is actually supposed to have aphrodisiacal properties. Then there are my other favorites, like cheesecake, Key Lime Pie, various ice creams.

Tonight I'm trying to decide between making Spice Cake with Sea Foam Frosting and Alton's Tres Leche Cake. I watched Good Eats and was a little scared by a Southern boy like Alton calling it "Traays Leche" instead of "Tres Leches" like we Texans do. Since June is Dairy Month, I think the Tres Leche Cake is going to win out. Sure to catch a guy who likes Mexican food and salsa dancing.

June 2, 2007

Soul Food

You might not have known that June is National Soul Food Month. Common mistake. Most of you didn't know that today was National Rocky Road Ice Cream Day, either. (I accidentally jumped the gun and made Rocky Road on Monday instead. Then I made another batch Wednesday with pecans instead of almonds. Totally different flavor.) I am a person willing to celebrate for almost any reason, so I am geared up for Soul Food Month.

Cane River CuisineEven though I was there in May, not June, we're going to say that my Natchitoches trip kick started my celebration. I tried the famous Natchitoches Meat Pies, along with Chicken & Alligator Sausage Gumbo. Matt was nice enough to give me a cookbook, Cane River Cuisine, that has some recipes I plan to try now that I'm back from the plantation. We had a fun time laughing at the recipes for various molded salads and "Sally's Armadillo Something or Other...Armadillo is cleaned similarly to turtle." Of course it is!

Beaufort Plantation (1790)On tomorrow's Sunday dinner menu: Natchitoches Meat Pies, Beans & Rice, and something for dessert. Usually when I plan a menu, I choose a dessert to make first, but I'm not sure what would be great with those courses. I could do a Cajun favorite like Bread Pudding or Beignets, but I think I'm going to try a Sour Cream Pound Cake recipe that Matt said was fabulous.

I was scouring the cookbook and the Net for a good Red Beans and Rice recipe, but I might just make Alton Brown's Once and Future Beans. Recipe reviewer Thomas from Alpharetta, Georgia wrote, "I've looked high and low for a great baked bean recipe, and this one is the best I found." Spoken like a true Georgian. Anything cooked with a pound of bacon would taste pretty good to me. Those beans are the reason I invested in a dutch oven.

And now a little Foodie for Dummies before signing off. Check restaurant menus and advertisements carefully for misspellings. Don't ever catch yourself eating "Chili Rellenos" or "Chile Reanos" or anything with a name beginning with "Mc."

Ace of Cakes

Pride goeth before a fall.

Chocolate Cream Cake, henceforth known as the Earthquake Cake

I am the friend or family member that always offers to make a cake when someone is having a birthday or party. I am the one who obsessively photographs her baking creations. I am the one who hounds and interrogates those who sample said baked goods. "Would you like a piece of cake?" "What do you think?" "Why are you making that face?"

It is only fitting that I should fall flat on my face with some regularity, right? Last week it was Molly's eighth birthday, so I offered to make some sort of chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. I decided to try a recipe for Chocolate Cream Cake: three devil's food cake layers with whipped cream between, frosted with a chocolate buttercream.

I got home from my Natchitoches trip with not a moment to spare before starting the cake that was needed the same night. All seemed to be going well. The cakes came out of the oven and were so moist that it was difficult to move them. The whipped cream was made with a little gelatin to stabilize it. I began assembling the cake with the first cake layer, then a whipped cream layer, &c. Let me add that at this point, unfrosted, the cake looked really wonderful. I applauded myself and predicted that this would really be the best, most impressive cake that I had made to date.

I made the chocolate buttercream and began to frost the cake. I frosted the top of the cake and then moved to the sides. It was very difficult to frost the sides, as the whipped cream kept seeping into my frosting, along with some chocolate cake crumbs, and worst of all, the cake was beginning to bulge out a bit on the sides. Wendy was watching me, and we both started laughing, but as I kept frosting, the laughter died and the cursing started. By the time I'd finished frosting the cake, I kept repeating aloud, "Oh my goodness. This is so ugly. There is no way I can take this cake to the party." It was really nightmarish, but nothing else could be done, and we were already late for the party.

Wendy hopped behind the wheel of my truck, and I sat in the passenger seat with the cake stand on my lap. Then we pulled out of the driveway, and I saw a couple of small cracks appear in the frosting on top of the cake. "Oh no, Wendy! Look!" Every jostle only widened the cracks, and by the time we reached the end of my block, we had the beginnings of what would be a full-blown fault line right down the center of the cake.

It was at this point that I began to take pictures of the cake, holding the camera with one hand, and the Mariana Trench Cake with the other. I was in slight shock and yelled to Wendy that she'd better step on it, because I believed the cake was about to split in two and crumble into my lap.

The ending is somewhat happier. I shared my sob story, over-emphasizing that moving the cake in the car was the cause of the cake's ugly demise. Lacy was good-natured about it, setting the cake on the table and announcing, "When Molly was born the earth shook, and so we're having an earthquake cake." Aunt Sue really thought the cake was supposed to look like that. The big 8 candle sank ever so nicely into the whipped cream. Everyone said they liked the cake, and Aunt Sue asked for the recipe. Granddaddy said that ugly cakes taste better, and he is never wrong.

Happy Birthday, Molly!

It was Wendy who started calling me Ace. I will at least acknowledge that I learned something from the experience. Next time I will do a better job of leveling the cake layers, since I didn't do that at all this time. Stacking cake layers with rounded tops probably contributed to the top layer splitting. It might also have worked better to divide the cake batter into two pans instead of three and then halve the two cakes into four layers. I actually only have two identical 9" cake pans, and the third cake pan always produces a cake with a slightly different shape and requires a different baking time than the two matching pans. Unwise to mix and match when it comes to cake pans. The cake recipe actually called for a packaged mix to be used for the cake batter. I gasped in horror at the thought, but a cake made from a mix does have a more uniform crumb and would be less prone to splitting. I think I'll also try sticking the cake in the freezer after it's assembled but before frosting it. I don't know what it would hurt to have some extra firmness in both the cake and the frosting.

Mostly I was reminded that one should never never never try a new recipe for the first time when it's to be shared or taken somewhere. I hate that I always choose to debut new recipes in front of a mass audience, like at Thanksgiving dinner. Church potlucks are an exception. You can always expect an unintentionally-purple-colored chicken salad to be lost amongst an array of equally untantalizing dishes. "Looks like Ina Joe Smith brought her Bisquick sausage balls again! Some poor fool must have raved to her about those awful things." What was I saying about pride?

Molly's Birthday flickr slideshow