Monday, September 29, 2008

Something to Bark About - Product Alert

One of my favorite things to eat over the Christmas holiday time is peppermint bark. Well, as if commercialization hadn't gone far enough, what with decorator "trees" for nearly every holiday, they now make bark for the funnest holiday of the year -- Halloween! Stonewall Kitchen makes a Pumpkin Bark that I can't wait to get my hot little hands on. I'm weak for anything pumpkin-esque. I love the rich depth of its flavors, along with the wonderful spices that accompany it; it is the essence of fall flavors to me.

If bark isn't your thing, maybe their Maple Pumpkin Butter
or Pumpkin Pesto will get you into the festive fall flavor mood instead.

If you ask me, the pumpkin bark is more than if I need another excuse to enjoy my favorite time of year.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pineapple Upside Down Yum

The recent purchase of a fresh pineapple inspired a flurry of dish ideas. Soon after the ideas started to fly, a favorite was recommended by Jeffrey: pineapple upside-down cake. Why the heck not?! I think the last, and only, one of these I made was in home economics class in seventh grade. I’m thinking we very likely used a box cake mix, canned pineapple, and it definitely did not include rum. For Jeffrey, this cake harkens back to the comforts of childhood so we decided to seal the deal and revisit this odd little cake topped with one of my favorite fruits.

After searching for some recipes, I came upon a good looking recipe for pineapple upside down cake which gets baked in a cast iron skillet. Oh how we love the skillets at our house. There will be more about skillets later when I delve into cookies for all of you readers. Actually, for all I know there could be just one reader. However, I am optimistic for all you potential-non-readers out there that you know what’s good for you and you’ll stay tuned for my mouthwatering treatises on cookies and skillets. Don’t worry, I don’t mean you, since you are reading this.

I digress back to this recipe. Now, the two things that caught my eye on this particular iteration: the usage of rum and cardamom. How flavorful does that all sound? Plus, I have been just looking for a reason to bust out that cardamom. In the three years I’ve had it in the cupboard, I’ve only used it once, maybe twice. Immediately upon choosing this recipe, I pictured my dear friend J quizzically looking at me in the Penzey’s store with an inquisition; “what do you need cardamom pods for?” Mind you, she doesn’t really care what spices I choose, but her wonderment was obvious. And now you have it. Pineapple cake is what it’s for. Yum.

Ok, so I’m Miss Smarty Pants prepared with exotic spices for making uniquely wonderful cake, right? Yeah, not so much…because now I’m going to explain in detail that I believe I have the wrong kind of cardamom pods for baking sweet treats. I quickly notice the very strong aromatic quality of my fancy green pods as I start popping them open and grinding them down with my mortar and pestle. I also note that the innards of the pods look somewhat like bird turds! At this point, I had to regroup on my brainiac decision to use this “fancy” cardamom business. I begin to think I’m not going to be using the recommended 2-3 teaspoons on this. Not only would my arm surely break off from all this manual labor, but the overwhelming flavor of multiple teaspoons of this stuff would stifle the rest of the cake. I scan the spice jar details…this is apparently for Turkish cuisine, no mention of baking. I rapidly commit to my decision to only use the one teaspoon.

[Note to readers: I believe there is a white ground variety of cardamom that is used in baked goods. If you follow this recipe, I suggest this in the recommended dosage of 2 tsp….and yes, spices can be considered a dosage, especially cardamom.]

So I admitted my cardamom-folly but don’t think for a minute that my cake was wrecked. [Which reminds me of one of my favorite funny blogs] Cardamom definitely adds a certain je ne seis quois to the overall yumminess of this cake and it simply wouldn’t be the same without it. The problem with my type of cardamom is that it’s very potent and I was not able to grind it down to the appropriate powdery level as would be desired in this type of recipe. Thus, I had some visible carda-chunks in my cake. Yet it was delicious, chunks or no, so I’m over it. See for yourself how tasty it must have been in the pic below.

Serve this up with some whipped cream or rum sauce for a bonus prize. I’d like to thank my sous chef, Jeffrey (in this case the tables have turned) for perfectly slicing the pineapple. We successfully remade an oldy-but-goody with a unique flavor slant…and learned a little spice lesson along the way!

Monday, September 15, 2008

OMG...We Went to Binkley's

Saturday was Jeffrey's birthday. As a surpirse gift, I trekked us up to Binkley's for a nice dinner. Wow. Nice is an underestimation. I wish I could adequately review this place. I think we will have to make another trip up there, perhaps armed with a camera (if they let us) before I can fully take it in and do the experience justice.

According to the Phoenix New Times, Binkley's is the winner of the "Lives up to the Hype" award. It certainly does. If you appreciate creative food expression, a fantastic dining value, and just darned great food, make sure to pay Kevin Binkley and crew a visit on your next trip to the Phoenix-area. In fact, I suggest you COME to Phoenix in order to go to Binkley's if the aforementioned attributes excite you.

I really can't even begin to review this place just yet. More on Binkley's later. Be certain when Jeffrey starts in with making his own food-flavored powders and gelees, I will harken back to the Binkley's moment of inspiration.

Bon Appetit and thank you Kevin Binkley.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Tacos Pescado

The blogging has slowed a bit recently due to our recent trip to the Baja of Mexico. I thought I’d include a review of the fabulous fish taco from Ensenada – the birthplace of fish tacos according to local lore. Unfortunately for Jeffrey, he was down and out from some sort of bug and couldn’t be there for this. I know he’d have wanted me to execute with photo and all, so I set off our cruise ship on my own to see what I could find.

There were probably 10 different places to get a fish taco in my short stint around only a small part of Ensenada. The hilly seaside town has nothing extravagant compared to the scenic tourist haven of Cabo San Lucas; but there is a certain charm and a feeling of a true Mexican city. If you can get past the depressing site of children pedalling Chiclets, Ensenada is not a bad place to visit. Especially when you consider what kind of meal you can get for $1! I might add, I did not find the most rustic, “locals only” establishment, where no-doubt the fish tacos are cheaper and maybe even tastier.

I ordered up my fish taco at the window and for just a $1 I received a cooked-to-order fish taco in a soft corn tortilla, my favorite! It was delivered without any fixings so I was instructed to go inside and prepare it with my choice of toppings. The result included fresh cabbage, tomatillo salsa, jalapenos, and some taco sauce. I realize some folks out there may find this redundant…salsa, jalapenos and then some more sauce containing peppers. However, each of these flavors is unique and really, there weren’t many other choices. I quickly considered, and thinking of Jeffrey sick on the ship, I decided against the mayonnaise option.

The end result made a very nice meal. The taste was rich from the lightly fried fish with the fresh crunch of cabbage and the spicy tang of pickled jalapenos and sauces finished off the flavors nicely. I also find corn tortillas sweet, so really I was getting a full rounded flavor punch in this neatly packaged, bargain of a meal.

If you find yourself in Ensenada, do what the locals all recommend and be sure to get the fish tacos. Of course, they’re impossible to avoid if you enjoy authentic Mexican faire. Even if fish tacos weren’t really invented in Ensenada, it certainly makes a nice story while appreciating this simple and delicious treat.