Saturday, December 12, 2009

Once Upon a Cookie...

I've got the bug. The Christmas cookie bug.

Actually, I take that back. I have the anything-flavored-peppermint bug.

I forced my sweetheart to go to the store and fetch me Peppermint Mocha Coffee-Mate (since we all know Peppermint Mochas are the most amazing, most-worth-$4 coffee beverage on the face of the earth but I'm still unwilling to pay Starbucks $4 for them) for my coffee every morning. I'm in love with peppermint. Last year I made Cooking Light's peppermint-cheesecake brownies for a party - what a hit!

This year I started with a classic molasses cookie - a recipe I gleaned from a college roommate. It was delicious and they look gorgeous. Hint: get the awesome cracked sugar topping by dipping the 1-inch dough balls in halfway in water first and then coating with granulated sugar. Bake with the sugarside up.

They're moist, chewy and absolutely one of the most addictive cookies ever.

I was just on my way to make some horseshoe-shaped cookies spiked with my favorite spice (hint - it starts with a Card- and ends with an -amom)that I know are amazing when my sweetheart said, "will you please make some cookies that I like?"

Sure, my sweetheart, I said. After he engaged in a few minutes of deliberating (which looked mostly like doing the potty dance), he blurted "white chocolate macadamia."

Okay. So, I've had this bag of white chocolate chips in the freezer since last Christmas (don't tell!) and I was dying to use them anyway. I didn't have any macadamia nuts, but I did have a half-bag of blanched, halved almonds from an Arabic grocery. Perfect.

They came out lovely. Not quite as flat and chewy as I'd hoped, but hey, they're chock-full-of-nuts. :) I iced half of them with my go-to candy cane icing. Aren't they pretty!?

I'm still waiting on a less humid day to make those chocolate-dipped-almond-meringues. But it's 78-degrees and about 80% humid, so I'll have to keep waiting. Hopefully the dry chill arrives before Santa does.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Most Delicious Time of the Year

It's officially December (though it's still 75 degrees in sunny, ever-so-sunny Orlando)!

This, of course, means that it's time to up the baking ante and turn on that oven. I mean, it's not hot enough outside, clearly.

After spending a year as a pastry chef, I still return to baking as a retreat from daily stress. Somehow all that measuring, worrying if the butter is properly creamed, whipping meringue—all that concentrating on perfection is a great way to get out of your head and into the season. Turn on some Vince Guaraldi and Natalie Cole and get baking.

My first cookies—these beautiful little meringues from my "friends" at "the largest food magazine in the world" (whose name starts with a Cooking and ends with a Light). Their magazine might be falling into unpopularity, but the recipes are top-notch.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Beeter the Next Day

No, that's not a typo. Oh, how it's not a typo.

After a mildly disappointing Thanksgiving rendered my culinary faculties too tuckered out to produce anything worth talking about, I came home today (to do the laundry, mostly) and had to figure out what to make for dinner.

UPDATE: I'm still on my "foodie" diet. I log my calories every day on's The Daily Plate website and have to watch my fat intake like a hawk watches a bunny traipsing innocuously below. Or something. Take that into account when you're reading this.

Pretty much all the protein in the house was frozen, so that was out. No tilapia, no chicken, no turkey (GOD, NO) and no ground beef. I scored some lovely beets, though, from my favorite produce purveyor, Clemons Produce on Curry Ford Rd in Orlando. While there, also stocked up on new crop of BEAUTIFUL McIntosh apples, my favorite winter Delicata squash and Bosc pears for dessert at some point this week.

So, I roasted the beets. I also had some lovely red navel oranges my mom gave me. Those are wintery and go so well with beets. Something creamy....YES...1 ounce of that gritty, amazing cave-aged Roquefort (below, second from the left, next to that oozy Brie de Paris).

My thoughts at this point: Hm. Oranges, beets and cheese do not a salad make. Also, thank God my sweet Cliff isn't here. He'd "where's the meat" me all the way to Kingdom Come. Back to the salad - I need something bind it all together. By the way, I don't usually use these plastic cutting boards - but for beets, they're pretty much the best choice if you don't want your bamboo board stained purple.

Sage browned butter it is. A tsp of butter in a non stick pan on high heat for a few seconds and dump a bunch of chopped sage in. DELICIOUS! SEASONAL! NUTTY! SANS NUTS!

Okay, I know I'm not supposed to have butter, technically - but it was such a tiny amount and I had only had 6 grams of the stuff earlier in the day - so butter was totally admissible in my book. Besides, what else was I supposed to use...Smart Balance? To me, I'd rather have churned cream any day over processed oils - no matter how much of a 'smart' choice they may be.

I've had a roll of polenta in my fridge for a few months now (don't worry - unopened it won't go bad), so I sliced a few pieces off and sauteed them in the pan with the sage butter.

Holy awesome.

I put it all together and had a raspberry-hued glass of the 2009 Beaujolais Nouveau* I didn't get to drink at our Mormonized Thanksgiving. Oh man, this was true winter heaven.

Eat it, summer. You're OVER.

*Wine Note: This year's Beaujolais Nouveau is very, very good and opens up nicely AFTER DECANTING. You need a decanter. I like this one.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving of Convenience

It’s impossible for me to undergo an ordeal as epic as Thanksgiving without writing something about it. Most gourmands plan for weeks their Thanksgiving meal. Most are expected to cook for large numbers of people and most take their game plan unbelievably seriously, as if the exclamations of “Oh my God, this turkey is amazing!” are directed at them, not at the Almighty.

Usually, I’m one of these people. When I lived in Chicago as a young culinary student, I invited my parents and brother to Thanksgiving with a seven-course feast mapped out. I had intricate grocery lists planned, a carte of what items would be found in which aisles. I had a game plan. Nevermind that I spent the day stressing in the kitchen, as most cooks do, nipping into the bottom cabinet for the handle of cheap Popov vodka to add to my innocuous orange juice.

Last year, I cooked for my in-laws – my boyfriend, his parents and his brother – voracious and picky eaters who rarely step outside their Peruvian arroz chaufa and anticuchos for some traditional holiday fare. That's me in the photo below, with my mom-in-law, Carmen, behind me, sizing up our collection of dry spices. At the time, I was working as an intern at Cooking Light, constantly surrounded by recipes and impulsively picking the ones I knew were popular among staffers and readers alike. The meal was zeitgeist; an event to be remembered for years.

This year, a combination of settling into a new job and being completely worn out by dieting and worrying about my waistline rendered our holiday feast an unimaginative gathering of convenient food. I’d had planned, of course, to sit down with my sea of past holiday Gourmet issues (god rest it) around me and plan a beautiful meal – a pumpkin flan to end the evening would be the crowned jewel.

It didn’t happen that way. Being exhausted at the end of the day, the last thing I wanted to do was haul out my magazines and then have to clean them all up a few hours later, or watch as they scattered further and further from their point of origin as the days past and they still lay fallow.

Instead of the challah I’d planned to make, I chose Sister Schubert’s yeast rolls – frozen, my God. I hacked open acorn squashes and put them under the broiler for a virtually work-free side. My dad made the sad dressing (not enough moisture, too much salt). My mom, never a baker, made a too-dark pumpkin pie (forget the flan) and a pile of mashed potatoes spiked with canned black pepper that stuck between our teeth. The only real work I did this year was the brining of the turkey breast – which was a brilliant move – and streuseled sweet potato casserole. A total of maybe two hours. Maybe.

It all went well – well enough, I suppose – to be called a Thanksgiving. The apathy was palpable. Next year – I can only hope for next year – we’ll all be together, and I can care more. I’ll even make a pumpkin flan.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

T for Totally Disgusted

Apparently, this is how I feel about Japanese Steakhouses.

I have no clue why I'm making this face. It looks like I just found a turd on my plate. That didn't happen, btw.

In other news, I was totally underwhelmed by dinner at Benihana at the Disney Hilton. Go to one of the Kobe locations instead.

Thanks, Ms. Rochelle, for capturing this priceless moment on your iPhone. I didn't even know my face moved that way.

This newsbrief brought to you by the letter "T," which actually stood for "Tupperware." :)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Ode to the Pig

My life-long friend Rachelle (whose beautiful daughter is the princess you see below)tipped me off to this page she ran across in Departures magazine, the travelers mag brought to us by American Express. It's a great ode to the pig, a fabulous animal.

I will say, though, that I have grown more socially-conscious about where my food comes from after having read the book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. So I try to buy pork as often as possible from places I know treat their animals well. Pigs are smarter than dogs, and I wouldn't want to eat a dog who'd been beaten before death. Would you? I'd prefer a more humanely killed pig - one who was perhaps listening to Mozart before the final blow.

Regardless. I love pork. Eating it. Here's the page. It's awesome.

I realize you can't see the writing too well (click on the image to read the copy), but LOOK AT THAT CHARCUTERIE!!! I love paté. It's probably one of the most misunderstood foods. But wow, is it good. Also cured pork sausages, prosciutto - what's not to love in a pig?

Thanks, Rachelle. I love you even though when you see the word "pig" you think of me.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Testing, Testing, One, Two, CAKE...

One of my best girlfriends has an adorable child who is turning 1 in January.

Rachelle picked out this adorable cake for her daughter's birthday and asked if I would duplicate it and show a step-by-step for her. Luckily, it was my mom's birthday last week, so I had a great excuse to try out the cake. Here is the photo she showed me:

Cute, huh? Butterflies are always a good choice for tiny, beautiful children.

So, here's how you do it.

First, gather your ingredients. You can use any white/yellow cake mix. The point here, (Rachelle and I both agree) is the decorating. No one's going to care that you used a mix once they see how adorable this cake is.

In reality, you'll need only one can of frosting. The other one I got for snacking. Don't worry, it was the Reduced Sugar one.

Pour the batter into two greased 9x9 square cake pans. I only had one, so I repeated the process twice. Follow the time instructions on the boxed mix. I think mine took about 25 minutes.

Flip both cakes out onto cooling racks. Once they're both cool, CAREFULLY move them onto a flat serving surface - I used a wood cutting board, but a cookie sheet would work well. Or a doily. I was told once, 'never underestimate the elegance of a doily.' Good advice.

Next, you're going to cut out the shape of the butterfly. It's hard for me to explain in words, so here's the pictures. I did the top first and then the bottom and then rounded the wings. It's easiest to do this with a small paring knife. SHARP. Don't use a dull knife. Ever.

Divide the frosting into five bowls. I found three-four drops of food coloring for each color - green, pink, yellow and blue - worked really well for the pastel colors. For the purple, use five drops of each red and blue food coloring. Preeeetty. I don't remember the last time I used food coloring. I'll be using it more often.

I found that the easiest way to ice this cake (and believe me, it's harder than it looks), is to start from the inside out. The green "body" of the butterfly should get iced first.
Then, the pink parts of the wings. To frost the cake, I used a small silicone spatula. I think that works the best for detailing and smoothness.

Then, the blue sections.

Then, the yellow and purple edges. Don't forget to ice the edges of the cake, too. The best way to do this without getting crumbs in the icing is to use a LOT of icing at first. this will make sure the crumbs stay put.

I'm not a huge fan of these "spray" frostings, but it seemed to work pretty well for the edging. The original photo shows the little dot tip, but I like the stars much better, don't you? I think it turned out rather well, don't you? If you really hate those spray icings, a pastry bag with a #26 or #30 tip (#6 for the little pearls) will work just as well or better. The star edging is really what transforms this cake into something really cute and special.

Here's the finished product. Remember, it's humid and disgusting in Florida in October, so that's why it looks a little melty. The only things I forgot were the pipe cleaner antennae. But those are pretty intuitive.

My mom loved it! Happy birthday, Mom! Have fun, Shell!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I Like That Boom Boom COW!

Okay, Summer, you and I need to have a little talk.

It's September, alright, but it's about time to start getting chilly. Now, don't mistake me, I love the afternoon thunderstorms and never having a good hair day as much as the next girl. But as the conversation at the water cooler turns from beach days and grilling to cinnammon brooms and chili, I start to get antsy.

It's okay, Summer, I realize you're going to steal September away in a wash of 90% humidity and possible tropical storm force winds, but at this time of year, I just can't help trying to force Fall. I have wants, too, you know.

I want to wear a sweater somewhere other than my office. I want to empty the stale potpourri from my coffee table centerpiece and fill it with gourds, squash and pumpkins. I want silk autumn wreaths on my door and the smell of rosemary from my shrub outside. I want my nose to freeze and an excuse to wear a scarf and a velvet blazer. I want Fall!

As much as I love grilling and light fish dishes and salads, I've been yearning for that comfort food we all adore. Stews thick with root vegetables, meat loaf, creamy chowders, stone-fruit pies. A co-worker mentioned that she loves to roast in the Fall, a thick cut of tough meat, rubbed with aromatic spices or braised long and slow in the Dutch Oven. "I like pork," she said. "But in the Fall, cow is King.' I couldn't agree more.

All of these things say Fall, and, I admit it, I forced it on an 85-degree evening.

Monday night, I braised short ribs in stock and wine, root veggies and onions, sun-dried tomatoes and thyme. I can't imagine a bowl of Fall any better than that, especially processing the braised vegetables in the Tupperware Quick Chef into a velvety sauce, topped with sauteed kale and garlic. It didn't exactly look like the photo (because I snatched the photo from a food mag), but short ribs are nearly impossible to mess up, and they look like this every time.

Some of my coworkers claim that their local Publix's are already carrying the cinnamon brooms I'm yearning for. I just can't enjoy them until it dips below 80outside. And, for that, I'll most likely have to wait until October.

Come on, Fall. Let's braise something.

*photo credit: Bon Appetit magazine

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Why I Learned To Start Eating and Love Norman Van Aken

Here's my review of Norman's for Orlando Style Magazine.

The Aji Amarillo Butter-poached Lobster made me cry. It's that good.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Fast Food...Fancy?

I was just tipped off to this blog by a friend who writes for Health magazine.

Hello, irony. It seems you're well, today.

You have to see this. The blog accepts photos from people who have taken fast food to the haute level. The rules:

1. Buy a fast food meal.
2. Reconfigure it, using no additional ingredients.
3. Take photos and send it in!

This is a great challenge. I can't wait to try it and see what I come up with.

Check this out. Tortellini made from a Taco Bell Burrito Supreme. The tortellini are made from the flour tortilla and stuffed with the burrito stuffing. The red sauce - well, you know what kind of packets that came from. Brilliant.

Monday, June 22, 2009

By far, the best blogpost on Peruvian food. And it's not mine.

My friend Jenn just clued me into this blog by one of her favorite artists. Apparently, she just spent two weeks in Peru, studying art and eating.

This is one of the best blog posts on Peruvian food I've seen, and it makes me want to hop a flight.

Beware - the photos on this blog may cause involuntary and excessive drooling.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Chiffon Cake, Part II

My father loves orange-flavored desserts, due to his Italian upbringing. Put a little orange extract or a little almond extract (or both!) in a batter and he'll demolish every little crumb. Biscotti, amaretti cookies, pignolis, cannoli (is the singular of cannoli "cannolus?), any scented Italian pastry or cookie is fair game.

Instead of trying the mocha cake again, I decided to make the orange version in honor of Father's Day. I love you, Dad!

Well, after my first chiffon cake disaster, I decided to try it again with the Joy of Baking recipe. What a difference the extra cup of flour makes! The batter was much more viscous, the meringue more stable (from the addition of cream of tartar and three tablespoons of sugar), which made everything fold together so much nicer.

Here's the cake as it was coming out of the oven. See how tall it got? Tall like the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, and other masterpieces. Also, I have a kick-ass Top Chef oven mitt. I know you want one.

After 55 minutes of baking, I used my extremely technical and advanced tool to check the middle of the cake. It's a bamboo skewer. It's all-powerful. It's the iPhone of kitchen appliances.

You have cool the cake upside down, which is why the pan has the little prongs. There are two reasons for this, I think. First, if you cool the cake right-side-up, it will fall like a souffle - keeping the cake upside-down sets the proteins in the meringue and keeps them from collapsing.

Second, the air needs to cool the bottom, the sides, and the top evenly and completely (for about 2-3 hours).

Here's the finished product. I glazed the top of the cake before serving, and it was delightfully moist and tender, even three days after baking!


1 cup confectioner's sugar
3-4 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 teaspoons orange zest

Mix ingredients together and pour over cake.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Chiffon Cake Catastrophe

For the longest time, about four months, I've been hankering to make a tall, fluffy chiffon cake like the one I made in Birmingham while I lived with Donna Florio (Senior Food Writer for Southern Living, and a good friend). The one I made there, as you can see, was nearly perfect. Tall, lemon-scented, and very moist.

Chiffon cakes are pretty close to angel food cakes, which you've probably seen/heard of/tasted at some point. Angel food cakes are basically whipped egg whites (meringue) combined with dry ingredients like flour, baking soda, etc. The only difference for chiffon cakes is that instead of dry ingredients being folded into the meringue, it's a batter (usually flavored) being folded gently into the egg whites. It's a fun, versatile cake that generally yields gorgeous results.

Not last night.

I finally found a pan that would work at Jo-Ann, Etc.

Do you like the kittens in the background? I do.

The thing about the cake is that it needs to creep up the sides of the baking vessel and stick to something to achieve that height. Non-stick pans just don't do the trick. I'm not sure why the only kind of pans I found for angel food cake/chiffon cakes were non-stick, because that totally defeats the purpose. I finally found a non-non-stick pan, and set to work.

The book I used is called Baking Illustrated, by the magazine Cook's Illustrated, a generally reliable magazine for extremely...well...we'll say "picky" cooks. Cook's Illustrated tests and retests their recipes over and over and over again using different methods and different varieties of ingredients to eventually end up with the flagship recipe for brownies, grilled steaks, banana bread, or other classic recipes. I figured this would be a good starting place. For the cake I made in Birmingham, I used Rose Levy Berenbaum's The Cake Bible, another go-to favorite for bakers.

There were several variations listed for the Chiffon Cake. Banana nut, Chocolate marble, Date-Spice, Lemon/Lemon-Coconut, Mocha-Nut, and Orange/Orange-Cranberry. I'd just bought some new T-discs for my Tassimo, so I settled on the Mocha-Nut, which calls for 3/4 C espresso instead of water, and some shaved chocolate, and ground toasted walnuts. YUM!

While mixing up the batter, it felt extremely loose to me. Not like a cake batter at all, more like a crepe batter, or...just not a cake batter.

Here is the result.


The cake didn't rise, and for some reason, the batter just sunk to the bottom of the pan and made this rubbery, eggy layer on the bottom. Gross.

I pored over the recipe for about an hour, trying to figure out what went wrong. Then I went to the Joy of Baking website to compare. There's an obvious typo in the Baker's Illustrated book. It calls for 1 1/3 C cake flour, and every other formula I looked at called for 2 1/4 or 2 1/3 C of cake flour. That extra cup sure does make a difference.

I'll be trying again tonight; I'm just mildly pissed that I wasted 7 eggs and 4 Tassimo Espresso T-discs. But that's cooking, right?

Here's the recipe from the Joy of Baking that I'll be using this evening for the Orange Chiffon Cake.

Monday, June 15, 2009

"Top Chef: Masters" Episode 1

Before I begin with my thoughts on the mini-season of Top Chef:Masters, I have to say, I'm starting to think that Top Chef really jumped the shark last season when they name Hosea (mediocrity) Top Chef instead of Stefan (perfection), mostly due to the fact that Stefan was completely unlikable as a character. They compromised skill for character, and that's not what cooking is all about. Cooking is about skill, technique, and inspiration. Hosea made some of the most boring food I'd ever seen (but not tasted, to be fair). Boring food does not a Top Chef make.

On to the show, though. I am excited for Top Chef: Masters, because it's a complete departure from the up-and-coming young punks and a focus on seasoned chefs making well-seasoned food, although I have a feeling that I'll eventually refer to Lefebvre (later in the season) as a "young punk." I really wasn't expecting the layout for the show, pitting only four chefs against each other to win a spot in the final challenge, but I suppose asking 24 master chefs from all over the country to leave their restaurants for 6 weeks for filming was probably too much. The layout makes sense.

In this episode, Chefs Hubert Keller (of Fleur de Lys, a former Top Chef judge), Christopher Lee (of Aureole), Tim Love (of Lonesome Dove), and Michael Schlow (of 606 Congress) went head to head to, first create a dessert to be judged by four Girl Scouts, and second, cook a three-course meal in a college dorm room using only a microwave, a hot plate, and a toaster oven. The elimination challenges are judged by Gael Greene, Gail Simmons, James Oseland (my future boss), and Jay Rayner.

The host, Kelly Choi, is adorable; more polished than Katie Lee Joel, but still approachable like Padma Lakshmi. I miss Padma, though. She wears skinny jeans like no one can.

Note: When the show was introducing Tim Love, they showed his little Texas flags on top of his dishes as they went out to the dining room. TEXAS TOOTHPICK FLAGS. Anyone who knows me knows how irritated I get when there are inedible things on my plate. This includes sprigs of rosemary or gratuitous branches of thyme. Wow. If I ordered a twenty-dollar steak and a tiny Texas flag was skewered in it, I'd probably walk out. Sorry. The kitsch isn't worth it.

The Dessert Challenge was fun. As one chef who has actually had dessert/pastry experience, I can see how trying to make an exciting dessert without any experience would be extremely difficult. I loved the red-haired Girl Scout and her brutal critiques that made the chefs cringe. She was so honest and unafraid.

Also, as soon as I saw Keller's little whipped cream quenelle mouse on the plate, with the cute little almond ears and chocolate tail, I almost squealed with glee. I would have voted for that immediately. I must have more whipped cream quenelle mice in my life. It's no wonder they gave him 5 stars.

Elimination Challenge: I think it's sad that executive chefs forget how to grocery shop. I love grocery shopping. I also think it's sad that they don't generally make pork chops. Bone-in pork chops are one of life's pleasures.

Surprise! The master chefs will not only be cooking dorm-room style, they'll be cooking in an ACTUAL dorm room, complete with students!

One note about the pasta showering thing Hubert Keller did. That's gross. I have to agree with James Oseland on that one. TMI. I remember how the showers were at BYU when I shared a shower hall with 25 girls. It wasn't completely clean all the time, and wow. I wouldn't have set the colander on that shower seat. No way.

I was impressed with those students at the judging table. When I was in college, I really had no idea about gourmet food, and the idea of a scallop carpaccio or salmon crudo (with popcorn!) probably would have scared the pants off me.

Critics Table: I miss Ted Allen and Colicchio. It seems like the fun is totally gone from the Table. The seems like a total departure from the original Top Chef, a great example of how the right combination of personality can really change the dynamic of the show.

The great thing about these chefs is that they're not afraid to take risks. The risotto made by Christopher Lee was really an issue. To do risotto on a hot plate in a dorm room and then serve it to the likes of the critics is pretty ballsy. If this was a usual Top Chef episode. We'd probably see a lot of maple-seared salmon and microwaved, instant rice tossed with dried fruit, chervil, and walnuts. That's probably what I would have done. Boring.

I was glad Keller won. Lee just seems a little too cocky for me, and Schlow didn't translate well to camers (a little sluggish for my taste), and man, Tim Lee, please get rid of those stupid toothpick flags.

Learn to make Hubert Keller's Shrimp Macaroni and Cheese dish HERE!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Victims: Strollos, Beluga, What-a-Burger

Time for some unfortunate news. Three decent (not fabulous, decent) restaurants have gone the way of the economy and shut their doors: Strollo's Cucina Due in Winter Park, Beluga in Winter Park, and all of the Central Florida What-A-Burger restaurants (3, I think). I'll offer eulogies for these establishments now.

I only went to Strollo's once, but I was so impressed with their array of artisan dry pastas. I now regret not buying several boxes of bucatini (thick spaghetti with holes through the center, perfect for carbonara), and about a case of Orangina. The goat-cheese/portobello panini I had for lunch was divine, and they didn't scrimp on the goat cheese, an error too many places make. Strollo's had a gorgeous case of cheeses, olives, and salumis, perfect for organizing a cocktail platter, and they offered cooking classes in their fully-equipped cooking class kitchen, located in the far corner of the restaurant. It's really too bad this place is gone. Really.

My theory: too many things going on at once. Either do a case of deli food, bread baking, pastries, be an ethnic food store, have a cafe, and do cooking classes SEPARATELY, or don't do them at all. If you try too many things at once, you'll most likely implode.

As for Beluga, I read several articles online talking about why Beluga closed, and there was no conclusive evidence until I actually went to the location, in the Winter Park Village, and saw the property lien tacked to the glass doors. Non-payment of taxes can be a bitch - ask Wesley Snipes. I never went to Beluga, but it always looked swanky and fun, with potentially good signature cocktails. I guess I'll never know. I always imagined delicate caviar served on ice with shots of smooth vodka on the side. Probably unrealistic, but I'll just leave my dreams where they are.

My theory:
Pay your taxes.

To me, the real tragedy is the What-A-Burger. Orlando has such a hard restaurant market to crack, but these guys really knew how to make a burger. I would choose a What-A-Burger over most of the fancier burger joints (did I just say 'fancy burger joints'?) like Graffiti or Hue. The fact that I could order pickled jalapenos on my burger was such a plus. Their fries were amazing. I miss the breakfast burrito.
Sure, Five Guys does burgers better than almost everyone, but I held a special spot in my heart for What-A-Burger. During the early days of my relationship with my current boyfriend, after a long night of watching horror movies or "studying," What-A-Burger would often be the only thing still open, and we'd frequent the place as a midnight love snack. You'll be missed, What-A-Burger. You can read the full What-A-Burger story here, from the Sentinel.

My theory:
No one will take down McDonalds, Burger King, and Wendy's. To be honest, I'm surprised Sonic is still in business. But they have the girls-on-roller-skates thing going for them.

My sources tell me that the Drunken Monkey coffee bar on Bumby might be in trouble as well. They've cut down their menu severely (only 3 fabulous soups now, instead of the usual 6 or 7), as well as recently raised their prices. All signs of a nervous captain and crew.

My theory:
Dunkin' Donuts. Also, I love the Drunken Monkey, but their service is horribly slow and they closed down briefly last year for health code violations. Pick your poison. Doomed from the start, in my opinion. Unfortunately.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Making of a Chef

For my post today, I thought I'd let you all in on a little secret. As a chef in Paris, it wasn't all wine and les fleurs.

Oh no. In fact, I had some pretty serious disasters.

For this installment, I'll copy some of my writing from my journal I kept while I worked as a personal chef for Mme. Lavigne. I think it'll give some greater insight into where I have been in my career, and even into my thinking on food and work as a whole. Here goes:

"Jardin des Tuileries 25.08.2006

"Apparently all chefs, even me, have off nights. I catered a dinner party for Mme. Lavigne's friend, Michelle, and her cousins from Belgium. What a disaster.

"Well, plates came back clean (except for dessert, which was a CLEAR disaster), so I guess it wasn't all inedible. I really just didn't have enough time, I don't think. Or I just sucked at executing it all, which was likely the case.

- the apricot risotto was fabulous. I could eat it every day for the rest of my life.
- the quail wasn't overdone,

- everything else.

"It wasn't that it was horrible. Everything was just "eh," which, to me, is worse than horrible. It's like how the opposite of love is indifference. It works with food, too. I would much rather have someone absolutely hate something and know WHY, and be absolutley certain WHY they hate it than to feel, "Eh. It's nothing special."

"The Nutella souffle was what really crowned the mediocre meal. If I hadn't whipped in the Nutella, it probably would have turned out better. Just a straight meringue. As soon as I touched the Nutella to the meringue, it fell like a 2-year-old on monkey bars. That was a bad simile, but if I had seen a 2-year-old fall from monkey bars, I would have said, "That 2-year-old just fell like a bad souffle."

"Oh well. I'll make up for it on Saturday when I do another dinner party for Michelle.

"I wish I had business cards. I might have to invest in them. I would hand them out to everyone and anyone here basking in the gorgeous day here around the duck fountain at the Tuileries gardens.

"Holly Kapherr
Chef de Cuisine Personnel"

In retrospect, I wish I'd kept all the recipes for the stuff I made for those dinner parties. That apricot risotto sounds fabulous.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Catch-up...not Ketchup. No, no.

It's about time I got back in the blogosphere, and I have some pretty exciting things to talk about.

First off, I picked up a new freelance gig at MyCityEats and Entertainment magazine here in Orlando. I am very excited to be their new restaurant reviewer, excited to get paid to eat and to share my opinions on the burgeoning food scene here in Orlando, and hope that this is just another stepping stone to the day when I actually get to have a full-time job doing this. Visit their website for coupons and to see my work in the Summer issue (out in June).

MyCityEats - Orlando

Also, I've become newly obsessed with the Asian markets around here, since I no longer have a produce market within walking distance, and because I'm pretty much obsessed with Asian food. At the Dong-A supermarket the other day, picking up some things. It was a gray day, and I was in the mood for a smooth, relaxing green curry with shrimp and chicken. All I needed was some Thai eggplants, some lemon grass, and some sweet Thai Basil. See below:

I got to the check out counter, and the sweet Viet man behind the counter smiled and said, "Oh...someone is making curry tonight!" Yes, Viet man, yes I did. And it was delicious. Green curry and mango margarita nights are my favorite.

Also, I was privileged to meet and interview Chef Norman Van Aken, one of the greatest stars in the culinary world.

He is such a sweet, thoughtful, and interested man, who shares a passion for New World Cuisine. His restaurant in Orlando, Norman's, is highest-rated in Orlando by ZAGAT, and I will be reviewing it for Orlando Style magazine in the near future. What an honor! We had a great time discussing everything from the celebrity chef movement to the relationship between ceviche and sashimi. Look for my review in the July/August issue of Orlando Style.

Other than that, I have made a goal to cook much more this summer and to develop the recipes I'll be including in my thesis. Hold me to it!