Monday, August 30, 2010

Birthday Cake

This is just for fun...

I love the fact that I am a cake designer 364 days out of the year.  Come time for my birthday though, I usually get stuck making my own cake.  At least I get full control over the outcome! ;) Being a fanatic of the TV show FRIENDS as well as an avid coffee drinker, I figured this would be the perfect cake design for me: 
 
I made the central perk logo with my own little twist!  The "22" is sadly representative of my age.  I am officially old and decrepit :(.  Maybe I should just think of this as my second annual 21st birthday!?

For the inside, the cake is a homemade marble cake frosted with homemade chocolate sauce.  The decorations are made of vanilla flavored Satin Ice Fondant. Yum! I cannot wait to eat it later tonight with my friends and family. 

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Irish Breakfast

Since it is officially the weekend and there is more time to relax and go out to eat, I am going to divulge into one of my most favorite meals - the Irish breakfast! Aside from my love of Parisian crêpes, I am extremely guilty of splurging on Irish food, especially when it comes to their breakfast.  The dish is comprised of eggs, sausages (or bangers as the Irish like to say), bacon, a tomato, beans (usually), mushrooms (sometimes), and black and white pudding! If you do not know what black and white pudding is, I suggest eating it before googling :).  I promise, absolutely promise, it is not as bad as it sounds.  Maybe I should tell you anyway... Are you ready? It is congealed pigs blood! Yum! Sometimes other animals blood such as cows and sheep is used, but pig's blood is the most common.  Okay, so maybe that does sound a little grosser than I let on, but I cannot even begin to emphasize how delicious it really tastes! Not to worry though, the white pudding is not as bad as the black pudding.  White pudding is usually a mixture of pork meat and fat, oatmeal, and bread.  Earlier versions also included sheep brains.  But fear not, it is no longer included - unless of course you want it to be...

Even though you know the ingredients, and cooking them is extremely easy (just cook in a pan with a little oil), it is finding the ingredients that poses the challenge.  Eggs, tomatoes, beans, mushrooms, and even the Irish breakfast sausage are usually easy to get a hold of; however, the black and white pudding is not so easy.  If you are living abroad where the dish is more common than you could go to your local market to find the puddings.  In the states though, you will most likely have to call your local market or butcher shop and special order them.  It will be worth it though!


However, if you do not feel like waiting and are antsy to eat, then I suggest taking a drive down to Cambridge, MA on any given Sunday.  There, on Massachusetts Avenue between MIT and Central Square, you will find an Irish Pub and Restaurant - The Asgard.  The Asgard offers a Sunday brunch where they serve one of the best local Irish breakfasts I have ever had! It is a large restaurant, but still comfortable.  The restaurant even has couches around some of its tables.  Although it can get a little noisy if a sports game is on the TV, the food makes up for it all! The Irish breakfast dish is an extremely large portion and on top of the ingredients I listed above, they also add home fries and toast to the plate.  Trust me, you will be full for the rest of the day!


Although the Asgard is a personal favorite of mine, there are other local Irish restaurants that are closer by that  serve the famous dish. They include but are not limited to:


The Irish Cottage - Methuen, MA
Ri Ra - Portsmouth, NH
*J.P McBride's - Haverhill, MA
*The Peddler's Daughter - Haverhill, MA & Nashua, NH


*Please note: The last two restaurants named do not always serve the Irish breakfast.  Usually around St. Patrick's Day they will open for breakfast, but call ahead to be sure.


Lastly, just for fun (because I am absolutely in love with Ireland and have been a couple of times), I figured I would share some of my photos with you.  Hopefully it will inspire you to take a trip over, stay at a B&B, and have a fresh, homemade, Irish breakfast!



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Monday, August 23, 2010

Parisian Crêpes


Although considered a national dish of France, crêpes are becoming ever more popular in the United States... you just have to know where to look! If you have ever been to Paris, France, Montreal, or even the Paris hotel in Las Vegas, then you understand what it feels like to wake up every morning knowing that there will be numerous crêpe stands at your disposal.  Sadly, unless you live in those locations, you have to actually search in order to find the savory dish.  Fortunately for you though, I have quite an obsession with crêpes, so once I returned home from my trip overseas, I had to embark on a journey to not only find an amazing French restaurant that served crêpes, but to also learn how to create them myself!

Thanks to Julia Child's, the process of making crêpes is fairly simple and they taste just as delicious as if they came straight off the boat from France! There are two versions of the recipe below that are just slightly different.  I have tried both and love both.  It is merely about how many crêpes you want to make. 

Recipe 1 Ingredients: Makes about 15-20 Crêpes

-1 cup flour
-2/3 cup cold milk
-2/3 cup cold water
-3 large eggs
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-3 tablespoons melted butter
-Butter or oil for greasing pan
Recipe 2 Ingredients: Makes about 25-30 Crêpes
-1 1/2 cups flour
-1 cup cold milk
-1 cup cold water
-4 eggs
-1/2 tsp salt
-4 tbsp butter
-Butter or oil for greasing pan
Place all ingredients into a large mixing bowl or blender.  Blend until all ingredients are completely mixed.  If flour sticks to the sides of the bowl then scrape it back down and blend again.  If you are in a rush, you could make them right away, but it is best to cover the batter and let it sit in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours.  The batter will be very thin but should still lightly coat the outside of a spoon.  If your batter it too thick, then just simply keep adding a little water until it reaches the right consistency. 
To cook, lightly... very lightly... grease your pan and let it simmer on medium heat.  Take a large spoon or about 1/4 of a cup to scoop out batter portions.  Pour the batter in the middle of the pan and then immediately tilt the pan around until the batter has completely spread over the bottom.  You have to move fast because the batter will begin to cook as soon as it hits the pan. 
Once the batter has spread over the surface of the pan, begin to shake the pan forward and back and side-to-side. This allows the crêpe to loosen up and slide around the pan.  After about 60 seconds, the crêpe will be ready to flip.  If you do not have butterfingers like me, then you can toss the crêpe with a swift flip of the pan.  However, since I always manage to make a mess out of nothing, I prefer to flip my crêpes with a spatula. Once the crêpe has been flipped, the other side will only take about 15-20 seconds to cook.
This is what the crêpe will look like immediately after coating the pan.  Your first few crêpes will mostly likely be trash worthy, but do not get discouraged.  You will grasp the technique very quickly. 


Once you flip the crêpe, make sure it is a light brown as shown in the photo to the right.  After cooking the other side for about 15 seconds, slide the crêpe off of the pan and onto a dish to cool.  They will cool quickly. Depending on how long you wait, you may want to warm them up again before eating.  It only takes 5-10 seconds to warm them. 
Once the crêpes are all made, it is time to dress them how you like and eat up! Not only can Crêpes be served at any time in a given day, but they can also be served in numerous ways, such as cinnamon and sugar, ham and cheese... and of course my favorite - Nutella.  Because I was in the mood for the unhealthiest breakfast, I decided the other morning that I was going to create a "loaded" crêpe for myself.  I smothered on the nutella, a handful of strawberries and bananas, and coconut.  Once I folded up my crêpe, I topped it off with whipped cream. Yum! Okay, so maybe it is not the unhealthiest breakfast in the world, but it would certainly cut years off my life if I ate that every morning. 

Now that you know how to make the mouth-watering French pancake, you can explore some of the crêperie's that are in the New England area.  I was so pleased to be able to find these eateries, because like most people, sometimes I just want someone else to do the cooking for me! 

The most notable restaurant that I have to highlight is the Café Mirabelle in Portsmouth, NH.  Located in the beautiful and historic downtown Portsmouth, Café Mirabelle promises to prepare you a most luscious French meal.  The chef and owner, Stephen Mayeux, originally a Parisian man himself, opened up the restaurant with his wife, Christine.  They live above their restaurant and devote themselves to making sure that customers experience with them are both welcoming and satisfying.  

The atmosphere and decor of the restaurant will make you feel cozy and warm.  It is like a home away from home.  Perfect for couples, you will be sure to make it beyond your first date if you dine here.  If you are not looking for a "couples" place, fear not, because Café Mirabelle offers a little something for everyone.  They have a liquor license and offer a "young" wine and drink list, as they like to say.  The owners will also accommodate parties up to 40 people.  So if you are looking for a quaint place to host your rehearsal dinner or shower, this is the restaurant to call upon. 

As for the food, words cannot describe how tasteful and beautifully prepared the dishes are at Café Mirabelle.  Since this particular post is focusing on crêpes though, be sure to eat breakfast here.  Their entire breakfast menu is comprised strictly of crêpes! There are so many choices that I usually have to order a few different ones so I can sample them all.  Their nutella filled crêpes are of course my personal favorite since I have an intensely large sweet tooth.  Sadly though, they are not always open for breakfast so you will have to call ahead of time.  However, even if they are not open for breakfast, they do still offer a smaller selection of crêpes on their dinner menu. 

For any more information about dining or cooking classes that Café Mirabelle has to offer, visit their website: http://www.cafemirabelle.com/index.html

For some other local crêperies, you can also visit: 

Paris Crêperie - Brookline, MA
La Crêperie Arrow Street Crêpes - Cambridge, MA
Mr. Crêpe - Somerville, MA
Gimmie Crêpes - Peabody, MA

These are also just a few photos from my most recent trip to Paris! 









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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Just for Fun: America's Obsession with Dunkin' Donuts

Warning: This post may not be suitable for Starbucks lovers.

If you travel outside of the country in search of a Dunkin' Donuts, then you will be making a futile attempt.  Dunkin' Donuts is mostly confined to being an American obsession.  Other countries may have their coffee shops, but the fact that most American's need coffee in order to even function is astonishing to me.  Of course, being a coffee addict myself, I can more than understand the need for a good cup of coffee - or a medium regular to be exact! Compared to its other major competitor Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts is simple. It's comforting. It's home.  Granted, I sometimes do have an urge to order a Grande Iced Soy Latte with one Pump Raspberry, but usually I just want to be able to order a cup of coffee with no strings attached. 

Although I understand the appeal of Starbucks, it is undeniable that Dunkin' Donuts is still number one, especially in New England.  New Englanders love their Dunkies! In Haverhill, MA alone there are eight Dunkin' Donuts (and nine if you count the one in Bradford, MA).  If you do not feel like waiting in all the lines though at Dunkin' Donuts, then here is a simple home solution: 



1.) Buy a bag of Dunkin' Donuts coffee grain
2.) Buy cinnamon
3.) Fill coffee pot with water and coffee grain 
4.) Sprinkle a light layer of cinnamon on top of coffee grain before brewing
5.) Brew coffee and get your coffee mug ready! 

Not many people are aware of this little cinnamon trick.  Just by simply adding that layer of cinnamon to the coffee before brewing will bring the flavor of the coffee out even more. It is every coffee lovers dream come true!

Aside from America's obsession with actually drinking coffee, people love to eat it as well. Yes, you read correctly. I said eat.  One of my more recent cake orders from a customer was to create a Dunkin' Donuts box filled with large donuts.  Here was the end result: 

Now go make yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy the rest of your day!
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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

First Post: Sushi Time!

For those daring enough to try it, Sushi is a Japanese dish most commonly composed of raw fish, rice, and other ingredients, such as avocado or cream cheese. It is not scary, it is not slimy, it does not smell horrid, and it will not kill you to try it. Just think of it as an alternative way to eat your seafood! I must admit though, years ago when I first heard about Sushi and learned that it was mostly made using raw fish, I was utterly disgusted.  In fact, there is even a video of me spitting out sushi at a restaurant.  Thankfully, I no longer feel the need to spit up any of my food and have become an absolute sushi fanatic.  As a result of my "becoming of age" experience with sushi, I am able to sample all sorts of foods, and am very willing to expose my pallet to any other food the world has to offer! My "maturing" experience so to speak is also the reason why I am dedicating my first post to the flavorful meal that is sushi.


If you have traveled the world recently, I am sure you have noticed the abundance of sushi restaurants that have sprung up.  In Paris alone I was shocked by the number of sushi eateries I saw.  Every street I turned down there was a promise of finding sushi.  Maybe it is just me, but for some reason I found it quite ironic that even though I was in Paris, I was having a much easier time finding Japanese food than a simple Crepe. It was then that it occurred to me, that even back here in New England, there are several different options for eating Sushi alone. Its popularity is undeniable. In fact, it is so popular that a customer of mine requested a Sushi Cake for a party.  This was the end result:
Now that you know where to get a cake that looks like a plate of sushi, lets get back to the topic of where to find an actual plate of Sushi.  There are numerous restaurants serving sushi in New England.  No need to travel to Japan to find a well prepared sushi dish.  In Massachusetts alone I have sampled numerous restaurants - some good, some bad, some horrible, and some that were absolutely amazing!  If you are living in the Boston and north of Boston area, I suggest trying out these places:


Yoshi Sushi (Somerville, MA) - If you are looking for a small, quaint, and quiet dining experience than Yoshi is the place for you.  It can get a little rowdier when it is full, but luckily the restaurant is small enough that it is never too noisy to enjoy a conversation.  Yoshi's sushi is very filling and the restaurant runs on a BYOB policy.


Koreana (Cambridge, MA) - Koreana is a little more upscale and larger than Yoshi.  The prices are a little higher, but you are also paying for the more elegant atmosphere.  They serve an array of sushi and many other hot meals, but I suggest just trying the sushi.  During dinnertime and on the weekends you will most likely have to wait if you do not call ahead.


Inaka Japanese & Korean Cuisine (Lawrence, MA) - A family owned restaurant conveniently located in the same plaza as the movie theatre, so if you are in need of dinner and a movie, then Inaka is the place for you.  Like Yoshi, the atmosphere is a little more quiet, nothing too fancy, but they are larger in size. The service is excellent and the way the food is prepared and presented is unbeatable.


Wang's Table (Haverhill, MA) - Wang's table is somewhere in between Yoshi and Koreana in terms of size and atmosphere.  It is not an exceptionally large place, nor a noisy place, but they do offer an extensive drink list that enables restaurant goers to loosen up.  Try their lychee martini or everyone's favorite, the Scorpion bowl! Although I have been going here for years, I must admit they have turned me off recently.  There food is delicious, but the service is mediocre at best.  For the past year I have noticed that every time I go in there, the wait staff all act as though they rather be somewhere else and you are inconveniencing them by eating there.  Usually I just ignore it and enjoy my meal since the restaurant is closest to my home.  However, I recently decided to venture elsewhere, which leads me to my featured restaurant - Sushi Time!


*Sushi Time (Plaistow, NH) - If you are from the area then you will understand what I mean when I say, "A sushi place in Plaistow!?!?" When I first heard about Sushi Time, I will admit I shied away.  After all, Plaistow, NH does not exactly scream delicious, well prepared, sushi.  In fact, it makes me think the complete opposite.  Since I stereotyped Sushi Time as the place one goes to die from food poisoning, I continued my relationship with Wang's Table.  About a month ago though I was craving Sushi - absolutely craving it! But alas, Wang's Table was closed due to a power outage.  I decided it was time to cave and give Sushi Time a try.  After all, I had not actually heard any negative reviews about the restaurant.


When I first walked in I was pleasantly surprised.  Not only was it a cozy little room, but it was also packed for a Sunday night.  To me, if places like that are full on a Sunday evening, then that is more than a good sign! The atmosphere is nothing too fancy, but the service is great - very friendly and helpful.  Unlike Wang's Table, I felt as though the employees of Sushi Time actually wanted my business.  That alone is an excellent start to a dining experience.  Then, the sushi came... and wow! Just as good, if not better than Wang's Table.  If you are a tuna fan, then I very highly recommend the Spicy Tuna Roll.  They also offer pages and pages of specialty rolls.  Try the Red Sox Roll - it is absolutely superb!


Additionally, Sushi Time is extremely well priced.  They are definitely one of the less expensive sushi restaurants I have ever been to, but trust me, their quality of food is that of a four star restaurant.  Oh, and one more thing... if you are looking for a place to drink and have fun, then Sushi Time may or may not be the place for you.  They only serve beer, wine, and saki.  However, on the weekends and sometimes on busy weeknights, the wait staff will come around to all the tables with a bottle of saki to squirt into your mouth.  This does make quite a lot of sense when you consider their motto: "More Saki... More Happy!"


*(Please note: These are not the only Sushi restaurants nearby, there are plenty more in the area.  These are simply just the top places that I have been to several times and can accurately critique from experience).  Pin It