Archive for the ‘Sweets’ Category

Culinary Clash #4: Red Velvet Cupcakes

February 1, 2011 1 comment

Bless the south!  Fried chicken.  BBQ.  Biscuits and Gravy.  I could almost hoist the confederate flag outside of my house.  Almost.  If it had a cast iron skillet on it instead of the blue X, then it would be very possible.  Yeah, I loves me some southern food.

Rooted in southern tradition, the Red Velvet cupcake has become the darling of the cupcake craze.  Invented in the early 1900s, its red hue was originally the product of a chemical reaction between natural cocoa powder and buttermilk.  Somewhere along the way, bakers started adding food coloring to the batter to create a more stunning red.  Nowadays, it’s too easy to waste money on a sorry imitation that is simply a red dyed yellow or white cake.  It may catch the eye, but there’s no distinctive Red Velvet flavor and texture.

I think its “flavor charm” comes from a little bit of sensory trickery.  Our eyes see the red and signals are sent to the taste buds to expect a fruity flavor.  Then we actually partake and the flavor profile is so unique.  It’s that surprise (almost confusion) that is part of the pleasure.  A real Red Velvet cupcake will have a slight hint of cocoa, without being chocolatey.  Add to that a gentle tanginess from the buttermilk and flavor compounds not generally found in nature are created!  It should be moist without being oily and have a delicate crumb that still feels substantial in the mouth.  These final two characteristics are also a chemical reaction attained by using natural cocoa powder, not dutch processed.  Lastly, the cream cheese frosting better not be too sweet!

Upscale cupcakeries dot the southland with their cutesy names and decor.  Among the most popular are Sprinkles, the Beverly Hills hero that started it all, and SusieCakes, the retro bakery that also happens to be one of Martha Stewart’s favorites.  And so we clash….

Red Velvet from SusieCakes.

I really dig the dollop of frosting in the middle of the cupcake, a SusieCakes signature.

Red Velvet by Sprinkles.

As you can see, there’s a big difference in color.  SusieCakes’s is an almost neon red, no brownish tinge, meaning not enough cocoa powder (if any).  It’s very moist, and the frosting surprise in the middle is nice, but the flavor just wasn’t there.  I walked into Sprinkles a bit of a skeptic.  But it lives up to the hype.  The cupcakes are presented beautifully and the service is excellent.  Despite my blurry picture, you can see that it definitely has sufficient cocoa powder.  It’s everything a Red Velvet cupcake should be.  Maybe more.

Throw the towel in!  Sprinkles wins this clash in an easy first round knock out.

Sprinkles Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

Susiecakes on Urbanspoon


P.B. & J. Cinnamon Rolls

January 15, 2011 Leave a comment

How fun is experimental baking?  No test tubes, beakers, or hydrochloric acid needed.  A generous heaping of creativity, tempered by a dash of common sense can yield inventive family favorites.  The Fun Family loves them some cinnamon rolls!  The gooey classic is always a crowd pleaser, but we also like to mix it up with blueberries or chocolate (check out our recipe here).  At Christmas time, I tested out my Peanut Butter and Jelly creation on a sort of “focus group” of teens.  The feedback ranged from good to really good.  I think they’re pretty stinkin’ good, myself.

You be the judge.

The standard dough and cinnamon/brown sugar filling was used. A couple good handfuls of Reese's peanut butter chips were added to make up the "P.B." part.

The "J" is as simple as adding 1/2 cup of strawberry preserves to the cream cheese icing and using 1/4 cup less powdered sugar.

Categories: Recipes, Sweets Tags:

Nickel Diner (Part 2)

January 13, 2011 Leave a comment
Yes, research is ongoing for The Fun Foodie.  Just wanted to share the latest findings at the downtown L.A. gem, Nickel Diner (read my original review here).  We didn’t sit down this time.  They are very gracious to pack up their sweet treats to go.  I think they do it often.

Red Velvet Donuts. A very enjoyable pastry cream, but not any legit "red velvetiness" going on (more on the Red Velvet craze in a coming cupcake clash). Still, a great donut!

The Maple Bacon and Nutella donuts were as awesome as I remembered. The Strawberry Crumble was a bit too fake tasting for me.

Their apple-filled house-made Pop Tart is many times better than what we all thought was so wonderful as kids!

Fancy French Toast

June 5, 2010 2 comments

Strawberry cream cheese stuffed french toast.

French toast is one of those fancy-named items that are really a cinch to prepare and quite the crowd pleaser.  Bad French toast is nothing more than stale grocery store bread enrobbed in scrambled eggs.  It’s simple to do it right.  Just make sure you have a generous amount of dairy (I prefer half and half) as part of the egg mixture, a scant bit of sugar, cinnamon, and maybe some vanilla extract for those wild days.  I never measure, but my guess is that my concoction would be something close to this: 3 eggs, 1/3 cup of half and half, 2 tsp sugar, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp vanilla.  Something like that.  

Don't pulverize the cereal to smitherines. Leaving some variety in the crumb sizes will add to the texture and crunch.

Today, The Fun Wife attended a Ladies’ Conference in San Diego, thus leaving The Fun Foodie with “Mr. Mom” duties.  First order of business: BREAKFAST.  I beheld the day old (okay, a couple days old) whole loaves of Panera bread on the counter and immediately began my battle plan for some fancy French toast.  I scoured  the pantry for more ammo and found the broken, crumbly remnants of the last of the Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal.  Waste not, want not!  I combined them with some Cheerios and crushed them even more to create the pièce de résistance of French toast:  Cheerio and Cinnamon Toast Crunch Enrusted French Toast!

If you want to be a true hero to your kids and try this out, be careful to maintain a medium low flame under your well buttered griddle and keep a close eye on your toast.  The cereal has a tendency to burn pretty quick and in no time it’ll be … toast.  Don’t be afraid of a nice deep brown caramelization, though.  That color is just bringing more flavor to the party!  Speaking of party, our French toast madness also included stuffing a couple super-sized slices of afore-mentioned Panera bread with cream cheese goodness (pictured above).  I jazzed up some cream cheese with strawberry jam and a bit of sugar and cut a pocket into the bread.  I used the standard egg batter and it brought raves from my budding food critics.  One problem, though.  I may have raised the bar too high with this morning’s effort.

They might not ever be satisfied with regular French toast again.

Categories: Recipes, Sweets Tags:

Free Krispy Kreme!

June 4, 2010 2 comments

In celebration of “National Donut Day”, participating Krispy Kremes are giving away free donuts!  Not to be outdone, Dunkin Donuts will give you a free one with the purchase of a beverage.  Sorry Dunkin Donuts, but you’ve been outdone.  Now, if only Krispy Kreme would come up with a low carb formula….

Anyone have a recipe using Krispy Kreme donuts?  I’ve seen Paula Deen make a bread pudding with a grip load of glazed ones and sweetened condensed milk!  Doesn’t that give you a headache just thinking about it?

Eat (X 6)

April 24, 2010 8 comments


We had a big ol’ food festival for The Fun Son #1’s birthday with the The Fun Extended Family.  Aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents all descended upon “America’s Finest City”, San Diego, for the celebration.  Though we all live fairly close to each other, we don’t get together as much as we would like.  When we do, food is usually central to the fellowship.  This day may have been just a tad over-the-top as we made SIX different food stops! 

STOP #1: Coffee Klatch (San Dimas).  This was where we initially met to form our convoy for the southward trek.  “The Klatch” is one of the most decorated and lauded micro-roasters in the world.  Their coffees and espressos (espressi?) are always impeccably fresh, complimented by high quality cocoa for their mochas.  Everything they offer is head and shoulders above the mass-produced mediocrity of Star-yucks (unless you’re into that acrid, burnt plastic flavor).  If you’re willing to splurge a bit, give their “World’s Best Espresso” blend a try ($16 for a 12 oz bag of beans).  This isn’t a “self-gloss” as this blend actually was named best espresso in the world at the 2007 World Barista Championship.  It is amazingly tasty and complex and even makes for an incredible cup of french pressed coffee.
Coffee Klatch on Urbanspoon 

STOP #2: Famous Dave’s BBQ (Vista).  Our family get-togethers rarely involve visits to big national chains.  BBQ is one of a handful of cuisine choices that’s unanimously enjoyed by the entire Fun Extended Family.  In spite of growing to 177 restaurants in 38 states, Famous Dave’s has found a way to keep quality, down-home BBQ coming out of their Southern Pride Smokers.  Last year, The Fun Foodie was crowned “The Best Famous Fan in America” and won free Famous Dave’s for a year.  It was nice to be able to lavish some of my winnings on the family.  Two All-American BBQ Feasts adorned our table with pork spare ribs, Texas beef brisket, Georgia chopped pork, country roast chicken, fries, slaw, beans, garlic mashed potatoes, potato salad and corn muffins.  Excellent all around! 

That's one beast of a feast!

STOP #3: Point Loma Seafoods (San Diego).  This San Diego institution is easily The Fun Foodie’s top choice for seafood in all of SoCal (read my original review here).  One of the “The Fun Bro-In-Laws” is almost as big a foodie as I am, and we have a great time experimenting.  We went halfers on a couple sandwiches: squid and clam.  I’ve only known squid to be rubbery and bland and have never really been a fan of shell-fish.  But both of these sammies were surprisingly enjoyable.  Served on sourdough with their house-made tartar sauce, both were fried perfectly crisp, but were somehow still wonderfully tender.  Very lightly seasoned because it’s all about freshness at Point Loma Seafoods.  So glad I left my seafood comfort zone for these treats! 

Squid Sandwich ... so good!

Clam Sandwich ... even gooder!

STOP #4: Coronado Cupcakery (Coronado).  I took the bait.  The Fun Wife noticed a sign for a one dollar cup of coffee, which got us into the store.  She was content to leave with her bargain coffee, but I can really be a sucker sometimes.  They had about six or so varieties of cupcakes and they looked great.  So I bought four (chocolate chip, mocha, vanilla and chocolate).  They were very good, moist and not headache-inducing sweet.  But they’re not supplanting Porto’s by any stretch of the imagination.  I wouldn’t make a special trip to Coronado Cupcakery, but will probably return when we’re in the area. 

How could I resist?

Coronad Cupcakery on Urbanspoon 

STOP #5: Tioli’s Crazee Burger (San Diego).  I saw Tioli’s on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive Ins and Dives and was most intrigued by their “crazee” burger alternatives.  I really wanted to try alligator, kangaroo, and buffalo and talked The Fun Extended Family into experimenting with me.  We caused quite a scene as we moved around tables to accomodate all 19 of us.  Turned out they were out of alligator and kangaroo so we settled on buffalo and ostrich (which is aptly named “Big Bird Burger”).  We ordered fries for the kids (which were your standard freezer shoestrings with parmesan cheese; pretty good but they didn’t live up to all the Yelp hype) while eight adults split two burgers.  Ghetto, I know, but this was just research, not a legitimate meal.  The buffalo burger was awesome!  Juicy and beefy.  In fact, it had a more robust beefiness than beef itself.  Weird.  Speaking of weird, I won’t ever order an ostrich burger again.  It was strangely mushy (kinda like ground turkey) and pretty gamey (almost fishy).  Not pleasant.  But, hey, at least I can say I’ve had ostrich!  I’ll eventually be back for gator and kangaroo, but I’ll be sure to call first.
Tioli's Crazee Burger on Urbanspoon

STOP #6: Bronx Pizza (San Diego).  “The Fun Mother-In-Law” (oxymoron?) grew up in New York and we’ve had the chance to visit the Big Apple and fall in love with New York pizza.  The absolute best “pie” in SoCal is found here in the funky Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego.  The most distinctive characteristic of a New York pizza is its thin, floppy crust that mysteriously combines chewiness and crispness, which Bronx Pizza nails!  They use a simple, yet bright and savory marinara and a creamy and milky mozzarella (I’m guessing it’s made from whole milk).  Our favorite of their specialty pies is the Whitestone, which is mozzarella, ricotta, parmesan and garlic (no marinara).  So simple, yet so good.  Worth the wait, worth the New York attitude, and worth the fact that they only take cash.  Bronx Pizza is easily one of my top five places to eat anywhere!

Doesn't look like much, but Bronx's Whitestone is too legit to quit!

Bronx Pizza on Urbanspoon

Baking Adventures

April 17, 2010 3 comments

The Fun Foodie can eat with the best of them, and I also happen to be a decent cook (some would even say I’m very good).  But baking has never been my specialty.  Luckily, The Fun Wife is an awesome baker so I get to be the recipient of many delectable home-baked treats.  Recently, our oldest offspring (we’ll call him The Fun Son #1) celebrated a birthday.  He’s a fan of Sesame Street’s Oscar the Grouch so, naturally, The Fun Wife came up with this:

It’s a chocolate cake topped with a food-dyed buttercream (both scratch-made, of course).  Okay, so the marshmallows and gummi worm were store-bought.  She’s not Martha Stewart.  Thank heavens.

When I’m not low-carbing, one of my guilty pleasures is cinnamon rolls.  As hard-core chocolate-lovers, we had to find a way to bring these two together in holy matrimony.  Recently, we experimented using Callebaut semi-sweet chocolate.  Callebaut is a high-end European chocolate that is the choice of gourmet pastry chefs world-wide.  We buy ours at Whole Foods and it is amazing!  If it’s not readily available to you, Ghirardelli is an excellent choice, especially for the price.  If you can’t find Ghirardelli where you live, move!

Anyhizzle, the experiment was a smashing success!  Seriously, if I could only find an investor, I think we could be rich.  It was as simple as adding a generous heaping of grated chocolate to a fairly standard cinnamon roll filling.  We used dark brown sugar, which has a stronger caramel-like flavor.  It’s a great compliment to the chocolate.  Topped ’em off with more grated chocolate and they looked like a million bucks!  Tasted like a billion!

Yeah, that’s how we roll.

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 ounce package active dry yeast
1 cup warm milk (105-110 degrees)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 tsp salt
2 eggs

1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 1/2 TBS cinnamon
1/3 cup butter, softened
Grated chocolate

8 TBS butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup cream cheese
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
Grated chocolate (garnish)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk.  Add sugar, butter, salt, eggs and flour and mix well.  Knead the dough into a large ball.  Cover and let rise in a warm place for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.  Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface.  It should roll out to about 21″ x 16″ and be about 1/4 inch thick.  Mix the filling ingredients together.  Spread softened butter over the surface of the dough and sprinkle filling mixture evenly.  Working carefully from the longer side, roll the dough down to the bottom edge.  Cut the rolled dough into 12 even pieces and place, evenly spaced, onto a lightly greased baking pan.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until lightly browned.