Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel Sauce

Yesterday I related a sad tale in which our heroine, age 5, learns an important lesson about biology but stops enjoying the taste of caramel anyway.

But fear not, gentle readers. This story ends on a happy note. Last Saturday night, after dinner at Salvation Cafe, I tried their chocolate cake with caramel sauce. I figured I was safe because I was sharing it and if my caramel aversion reared its ugly head, my friend would leap into the breach and finish the dessert. He's a giver like that.

It turns out that salted caramel is the nectar of the gods. Who knew that the addition of a little salt would take caramel from something I didn't really like to something I could eat a five-gallon bucket of, if one were available?

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Sad Tale

I haven't been a fan of caramel ever since I came down with a stomach bug shortly after licking some caramel frosting out of the bowl when my mother was making a cake. My mother, being a former nursing student and a woman of science, tried to explain to me that the illness had been caused by a virus and not the frosting. I think she was afraid I'd turn out like my father, who hasn't eaten chicken since he got an undercooked piece when he was in the army back in the 1950s.

I was five years old. My mother's scientific explanation, while correct, did not make me feel any better. Maybe the dizziness and pounding headache were to blame. Maybe I was just the tiniest bit of a drama queen.

Since that day I've never really enjoyed caramel's cloying sweetness. I'll eat something with a small amount of caramel (like a Snickers bar) but in general, caramel and I have never really gotten along. Until the other night.

Tune in tomorrow for the happy ending.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Guest Blogger: Katie

The cutest lunch EVER!

My beautiful, smart, talented, and super-creative niece Katie has been making bentos lately for her daughter Elizabeth (age 7). What is a bento? I didn't know either, but apparently it is a Japanese word meaning "lunch on the go." It's like takeout here in the US, except healthier and WAY cuter. Katie says it's a good way to get a variety of foods into a meal, and to control portions. Her daughter loves them.

Katie's description of the bento above:

*green grapes
*mandarin orange slices
*white sticky rice
*chinese fried chicken style 2... (dipped chicken chunks in General Tso's bottled sauce then dipped in flour and deep fried) I will shallow fry them next time!

Another cute bento by Katie:

*cheddar cheese flowers
*cucumber wheels
*apple clouds
*star fruit
*chinese fried chicken (dipped chicken chunks in flour, then General Tso's bottled sauce, then panko, then deep fried)
Boo was too hungry for me to make rice, I rushed this one!

Katie's inspiration has been Susan Yuen's blog Hawaii's Bento Box Cookbook -- which is worth a look for the gorgeous pictures of Hawaiian scenery in addition to the seriously cute food. I guess her bentos are supposed to be for kids, but I want to learn how to make some for myself. Because cute is always better.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

This Kid Scares Me

I can't imagine why anyone ever thought this would be a good way to sell bread... or jam... or whatever they were trying to sell. That child is not right in the head, I'm telling you. She's got "future creepy neighbor" written all over her.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Army Dude's Birthday Dinner

This is the special tablescape I created for the Army Dude's birthday dinner. It's a good thing that Sandra Lee isn't dead yet, because if she were, she'd be rolling over in her grave right now.

Each place setting has a mess tent with a different daily special. This one is the classic army dinner for our friend Joe. The Army Dude's place has "MREs -- Moose Food Ready To Eat;" mine has "Nuts & Acorns." You probably need to know that we call each other Moose and Squirrel to understand those.

Every army dude needs to practice his shootin', amirite?

I don't know much about army ordnance, but I'm pretty sure these guys have enough fire power to get the job done. By the way, I paid top dollar for them at The Dollar Tree.

In case you want to try this at home (and why wouldn't you?), I put down a layer of wax paper under the brown paper to protect the tabletop from my Sharpie. This also eliminates the need for coasters.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Fine Dining At The Madonna Inn

The Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo, CA

Until my friend Annie sent me the link to the Madonna Inn, I didn't think anything could be awesome enough to compare to the now-defunct Gobbler Inn & Supper Club. Gentle readers, I was so wrong. I deeply, deeply love this hotel. The Madonna Inn has 110 rooms, two restaurants, banquet facilities, a cocktail lounge, and shops, each decorated in a different theme. It appears that the owner's wife does a lot of the decorating.

It also appears that her favorite color is pink. The inn has a lot of it. It seems as if, when decorating the Gold Rush Steak House, the owners looked at each other and said "if less is more, just think how much more more would be." No expense was spared. The "pink rose" carpet -- which features blooms that are bigger than your head even if you're related to me -- was custom designed. I think the pink banquettes might be a custom job, too.

The restaurant has won several awards including the "Best Meal Where Someone Else Pays" award in 2008. That's because it's pretty pricey: the Surf & Turf features Australian lobster and costs $91.95. I'm guessing that the overnight shipping fees from Down Under cost a few gold nuggets.

Not in the mood for a fancy meal? Why not try the Copper Cafe? It boasts a Continental atmosphere -- which, if "continental" means "looks like a bar crossed with a merry-go-round," I can totally see.

Before you turn in, why not stop by the Classic Gourmet & Wine Shop? It's classic. It's gourmet. It has wine.

You can admire the faux-rock decor while you shop for treats to take back to your room.
And what a room it is! This one is called "Lucky Rock" because -- like many of the rooms at the Madonna Inn -- it features rock walls. It also features embossed walls and a tiger-print carpet. It's just the place to get a good night's rest before heading out to your private limousine tour of the wine country.

What's that? You say this room doesn't have enough pink? Tune into my Third Floor With Water View blog this weekend, where I'll discuss some of the many, many room themes available.

All Images: www.madonnainn.com

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Monday, January 10, 2011

Back By Popular Demand

It's a sad state of affairs in every old maid's life when she realizes that the only way she can get a young hottie to have dinner with her is by promising him a brush with immortality and posting his picture on her blog.

Actually, I promised him a brush with immortality and a spot in my entourage when I achieve global domination. He knows how to build stuff and I am definitely going to need a Stuff Builder. Because for one thing, I am totally going to need a treehouse.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Makes Me Want To Primal Scream

Gentle readers, this has been bugging me ever since I came across The Primal Blueprint one afternoon at Barnes & Noble, so you are going to have to humor me while I rant.

The premise of the book is that for optimal health, we should go back to eating the way our hunter-gatherer ancestors did. The author talks about how Paleolithic people ate a wider variety of foods than we do now, and so lived longer, healthier lives.

Now I am no expert in Paleolithic history, but even I know that while our ancestors would have foraged a wide variety of plants and fruits in the warm months, they would have subsisted on very little over the winter and gone hungry during times of drought. They ate a great deal of something like large game when it was available, and a lot of something else like berries when they were available. They did not necessarily have much day-to-day variety. And they certainly did not buy expensive dietary supplements over the internet.

Here's another thing I know: I've lived quite a bit longer than the average person in the Paleolithic, and I've subsisted mostly on chocolate.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tasty Winter Treat

One of the benefits of being unemployed is that I have time to bake muffins on a random Monday afternoon, simply because I have a craving.

After checking my cookbooks and coming up empty, I searched online and found a recipe by Alton Brown which involves shredded fresh pumpkin. (Seriously, Alton? The stuff in the can isn't good enough for you? If I wanted that kind of needless complication, I'd check Martha Stewart's website.) I was not going there.

Then I found a recipe for Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread on Allrecipes.com. The muffins came out great, but I put too much batter in the loaf pan. Next time I'll either use enough muffin tins to make 24 muffins plus the loaf pan, or make 12 muffins plus a 13x9 baking dish. In case you want to try this at home, the muffins were done perfectly in 40 minutes.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Not My Best Idea

If you were me, and you'd been invited to a New Year's Eve party about which your friend -- who is a faithful blog reader -- expressly said "For the love of God, don't bring any of that Betty Crocker stuff you've been posting," would you:

A) Bring a lovely side dish
B) Bring Creamy Fruit Salad as a joke
C) All of the above

If you guessed C, you are correct. Thank goodness I also brought Spinach Borek from my Armenian Cookbook (which was great), because the fruit salad went over like the proverbial lead balloon. I got the same quizzical looks that I got last year when I said "I brought bundt cake!"

Tough room.