October 21, 2011

an open letter to Portland Brew, maker of the best chocolate chip cookie I've ever had

Dear brilliant person(s) at Portland Brew,

So there's this cookie.  You know the one.  It's your chocolate chip cookie and it's the best I've ever had.  It's the size of a small plate, yet it's never quite enough.  I'm sad when it's gone.  It's crispy and caramelized and barely salty and perfectly sweet.  The chocolate-chip-to-cookie ratio is spot on.  The edges have a sort of ripple effect that I like to imagine are waves of butter & love. I'm not the only one who thinks so, you know.  I've told lots of folks about this cookie in hopes that it will rise to fame and be readily available to me at all times.  But that's not the way this cookie operates.  It has to be freshly made.  No day old cookie will do.  However, sometimes I need this cookie, like, immediately.  I don't make it to your store(s) often enough.  I know that's my problem, not yours.  I should and will visit more often. 

You owe me nothing, I realize.  You've already given me a great gift: the best chocolate chip cookie in the history of the world.  But if you would be so kind as to share the secret recipe of the cookie, I'd be forever grateful.  I'd sign infinite confidentiality waivers agreeing never to share your cookie secrets, for the chance to bake this cookie myself.  I've tried many times to recreate it using a variety of tactics, ingredients (do you know how much cash I've dropped on butter?) and forms of prayer.  I've come close, but never have I been able to match your level of cookie brilliance. I've made other pleas in the past, yet still, ye makers of the finest cookie, you remain mysterious (wo)men behind the curtain.  I've tried to coerce the barista with no luck.  I've asked local publications to ask for me.  I've even tried this.

For those who haven't yet tasted the cookie, don't let my poor photography fool you.  This is a serious cookie.  If you have indeed had one before, here's my virtual nod of acknowledgement.  We've been there.  We know.

So there you have it.  My heartfelt plea for a cookie recipe.  I wrote this while eating one.  There are crumbs on my keyboard and a chocolate smudge on the "e" character. 

chocolate chip cookie devotee

October 18, 2011

so what if i'm bossy? these desserts are boss.

I’m rather fond of telling people what to do.  I’m even fonder of telling people what to eat.  Today’s dose of bossy is all about dessert. 

Tangent: When folks say they’re not “dessert people,” my mind shuts down as if I’ve heard a language I don’t understand.  No judgment here – to each his/her own and all – but I just can’t wrap my brain around it.  A world without dessert is no world for me.  Sadly for my waistline, I’m equally a “salty snacks person,” a “pasta person,” a “cheese person,” a big time “nachos person,” and basically a “food person.”  It would be easier to list the few things I don’t like.  It’s a short list and includes things like celery, cilantro (controversial, I know), green peas and beets.
Back to dessert.  Sometimes I’m asked things like, “what’s your favorite place for dessert in town?”  My answer is “all of them.”  Claiming just one favorite bakery or dessert = amateur hour.  I discriminate against no baked good, at least not the first go 'round.

Here is a roundup of just a few of my most favorite sweet treats in Nashville.  If I listed all of them, this would be a novel, not a blog post.  Dig in.
The Sweet Stash – The first time I visited Whitney at the Nashville Farmers' Market, I tried the vanilla almond cupcakes.  Oh, my. This here is proof that cupcakes are not a trend.  They're moist & delicate and the almond flavor is just barely there.  It’s my most favorite ‘wedding cake’ flavor ever.  And then, there’s the oatmeal cookie sandwich.  I hesitated to share this morsel with you.  It's so popular that I've engaged in (faux) Twitter-wars over who gets the last one.  It’s a humble dessert, and it's perfection is stealth.  Whitney takes two chewy oatmeal cookies and sandwiches cinnamon buttercream between them.  It’s not over-the-top beautiful and easily overlooked among the piles of gorgeous confections she creates, but it is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.  Like, ever.  Just make sure you save one for me.
Don't let this unassuming cookie fool you. It will change your life.
The Painted Cupcake – Tracey at The Painted Cupcake is a fondant rock star.  She can sculpt anything out of fondant, and what I love is that she places the decorations atop the cupcakes so they can be admired and easily plucked off before enjoying the eating part of it, which is of most importance.  We've had two of my daughter's birthday parties in her shop, which is stunning.  She does many things well, but her coconut cupcakes are the best.  They're fan-freaking-tastic.  Like, ‘I ate the first one so fast that I need a second one’ fantastic.  The cake is flecked with vanilla beans, and the frosting is covered with freshly shaved pieces of coconut that she toasts herself.  None of that bagged coconut stuff.  There are no words, really. 

Poof. Gone. Like magic.

Porta Via Italian Kitchen – If you’ve ever had gelato in Italy, it seems that all American attempts at creating it are subpar.  Gelato is creamy, silky, pudding-y.  It’s somehow decadent and rich while also light and airy.  Great news for Nashville: Porta Via makes you think you’re in Italy.  The machinery, recipes, flavors all come from Italy.  The gelateria in the store was trained by an Italian.  It’s the real deal. 

Amerigo – For years, I couldn’t bring myself to order any dessert here other than their unique twist on Tiramisu.  And it’s good – really good.  But then one day someone told me to get the Crème Brûlée Cheesecake.  Damn, the dessert is phenomenal.  It’s exactly what it sounds like – creamy, delicious cheesecake (they use Tennessee Cheesecakes) with a perfectly crunchy crust of brûléed sugar.  Then, THEN they pour Chambord over the top and serve it with fresh raspberries. 
Bongo Hot & Cold – Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams are in a word: incredible.  I could blather on forever about all the flavors.  Just try them all.  There’s a Jeni’s store in Nashville, so why not feature that, you ask?  Four words: Olive & Sinclair Magic Shell.  Bongo covers already brilliant ice cream with the best freaking chocolate topping in the history of the world.  Period.
I actually managed to scrape every bit of hardened chocolate off the bowl.
The Turnip Truck – Speaking of the best things in the world, I was pleasantly surprised by an easily overlooked little dessert on the lunch salad bar at The Turnip Truck in the Gulch.  There was a pan of chocolate mousse that looked like it would satisfy my sweet tooth, so I took a small scoop.  Um, it’s life changing good.  It’s the best chocolate mousse I’ve ever had.  Shocker: it’s made with Olive & Sinclair chocolate.  In fact, there’s little bits of chocolate throughout.  I may have gone back for seconds.
See it there in the corner, looking all innocent? Watch out. That's the best mousse in these here parts.
Rae’s – This little sandwich shop is one of those ‘best kept secrets’ places.  Their sandwiches are really, really good, and they have this little (big) thing I like to call ‘crack brownies.’  When you eat this brownie, you start thinking about how you can get another one before the first one is gone.  They’re addictive.  And, adding evidence to my theory, they start with a box mix and build from there.  In my opinion, there’s not a single from-scratch recipe that’s better than a box mix.  Disagree with me?  I’ll gladly taste test your homemade versions. 
I’ll stop there, though this is probably only 10% on my list of best desserts in Nashville (related: I make up statistics). 
Want to do your own ‘research?’  I’ve got delicious news.  I was having coffee with one of my most favorite editors in town awhile back, and naturally the conversation turned to desserts.  We briefly discussed the idea of a dessert event, and well, her affection for confections led to Sugar Rush, a ‘candy coated competition’ among some of the city’s best makers of sweet treats.  Tickets are just $10, and they include two drink tickets and – are you ready for this – ALL YOU CAN EAT DESSERTS.  You’re welcome.  Now go buy tickets 

Full disclosure: I do PR for a living and some of my favorites just happen to be desserts my clients make.  That said, my opinions are my own and I'd never post here about something I don't personally endorse.  I take my desserts seriously.

October 7, 2011

power is hot. so were the wings.

It's not a secret that I love entering amateur food contests.  But, people, I have sat on the other side of the table and it felt good.  The chair on the other side = throne.  The feeling on the other side = power.  Being a judge of a food contest = awesome. 

Did it go to my head?  Little bit.  Let's face it.  I'm not a mega blogger.  I'm not a celebrity, other than in the eyes of my near-three-year-old (who thinks I'm a princess, bless her heart).  I'm not anyone of importance, but slap the 'judge' label on me and I felt preeeetty danged good.  Put a couple or three beers in me in the middle of a Saturday afternoon, and well, it's hard to reign in that ego.

In all seriousness, judging a contest was a fun experience.  The inaugural Music City Southern Hot Wing Festival took place on a gorgeous Saturday in October, and I was among the dozen or so folks tasked with judging the hot wing contest. 

Chris is a connector of people, a walking, talking food encyclopedia, a soon-to-be bestselling book author & one of the nicest all-around people I know.  Unrelated: he asked me to be a judge.

I was only slightly excited.  My friend Brad was only slightly ready for me to pass the wings. 

This guy knows his protein.  Vivek is one of a few hundred in the world doing a charchuterie project. 
How cool is that?

Look, it's Tabitha, baker of amazing macarons & my unofficial style guide.

I'm happiest when I'm among food and friends.  Throw in gorgeous weather, an outdoor venue in downtown Nashville and hot wings, and I'm a happy lady.  Give me a little power and well, I'm ecstatic.  I should note that my darling husband was on the other side of the camera.  If I had to judge companions for the day, I have to say he pulled head of the pack.

October 3, 2011

cake. wrecked.

On Sunday, I lovingly baked a cake for our neighborhood’s annual picnic.  It was a rare, picture perfect day in my home.  The little guy napped when he was supposed to and my toddler girl, well, toddled around the kitchen while ‘helping’ me cook.  On the same day I made potato soup.  Seriously, two home-cooked things in one day?  This never happens.  Beautiful smells filled the home and I was feeling like a rock star. 

What's more, I decorated the cake.  I don’t decorate, like, ever.  Decoration takes patience and precision.  I have neither.   But this was for the neighborhood, which translates to “a bunch of near strangers who are quietly judging your potluck offering, whether your kids are cute (mine are) and if your lawn needs mowing.”  So I decorated.  I baked the cake in a 9x13 pan, because layer cakes and potlucks just don’t mix.  But still, I must say the cake was really pretty.  Sadly, I don’t have a photo of the ‘before’ because I planned to photograph it on the table at the picnic, in the natural light and along with all the other communal foods.  I’m sure you’re guessing by now that that didn’t happen.  So picture a creamy white frosting smoothed across the top, bordered with rosettes around the perimeter and larger rosettes dotting the cake. 

It was a gorgeous day.  My family & I walked the four blocks to the lawn where it was being held, and I placed my offering on the table before getting our chairs and whatnot settled.  Priorities in mind, I stood in line with my near three-year-old to get a fancy balloon from the balloon man.  Afterward, I walked over to the cake table.  

It had become a murder scene.  A cake murder.

This is what I saw:

Seriously, people.  This used to be a really pretty cake.  And someone did this to it.  I have several theories based on evidence at the scene of the cake crime:   
  1. Someone tried to ‘slice’ it and upon finding no knife, used his/her thumbs. 
  2. A little kid thought there was a buried treasure somewhere inside. 
  3. A dog chewed up the entire cake and spit it back out into the pan.
I mean, who does this to a cake?  Nobody was going near it, even though a good 75% of the offerings were store-bought, because my cake looked like someone already chewed it.  Doesn’t matter that it was delicious (it was).

I spent the rest of the event pouting.  This is where my husband would say, “Amanda, you pout about something daily.”  And, erm, he’s a little bit right, but this was a pout-worthy event.  In fact, I might even have cried a little (a lot) (okay, I sobbed) on the way home. 

I mean, I never have time to bake any more.  And here’s a whole cake, ruined. 

In case you were wondering, the cake was a carrot pineapple spice cake with cream cheese butter cream frosting.  It’s amazing.  The cake recipe comes from this fine lady.  The frosting recipe is my own: one package cream cheese, two sticks butter, 1 cup confectioner’s sugar, zest & a little juice of whatever’s around.  I used lemon this time.

side note: it’s impossible to mess up a cake mix, which is why I love this book.  Don’t hate.  I make things from scratch all the time, but this is legitimately the best carrot cake I’ve ever had/made.  I think it’s the prunes.  Yes, prunes.

This post was originally going to be about the cake itself, as in, the recipe and why it’s delicious and why I make it often and how it’s usually a crowd pleaser.  But now it’s a eulogy for my cake.  RIP, cake.