Monday, November 15, 2010

Chocolate Pink Cupcake Challenge

I am so happy to have finally found a warm, supportive niche in the Atlanta food blogging community, namely the newly created Atlanta Food Bloggers Alliance. This group was formed after we all met at the Food Blog Forum in September, and a few proactive members Mandy Lea Turchin, Self Trained Chef, Becky Smith, What's 4 Dinner Tonite, and Kristina Ackerman, Knuckle Salad, decided that it was silly to just let the experience end after the weekend was over and the AFBA was formed. We have had several fun meetings to date, including a cheese tasting and Sunday's Cupcake Challenge.

Chocolate Pink Pastry Cafe were so generous to host us for the Challenge, not only providing us with 8 tasty mini-cupcakes to sample and judge, but also sending us home with goodie boxes full of more cupcakes. They have an adorable, light-filled private event space above the shop, that would be perfect for a baby shower or bridal shower and that was where the event was held. As I walked up the stairs, my mouth started watering just looking at all the cupcakes on display.

We were served eight different flavors, four at a time. The first set consisted of chocolate peanut butter, which won three of the prizes, Best Flavor, Best Presentation, and Best Overall, Strawberry Poptart, Dulce de Leche and Cookies N' Cream, which won for Best Texture. Of that group, my surprise favorite was the Strawberry Poptart, I never liked the original toaster pastry, but these are a surprisingly grown-up and delicious version, I especially love the gooey strawberry jam layer and the housemade sable cookie garnish on top.

Then came the next four, Chocolate Nutella, Pumpkin Maple and Bacon, winner for Most Unique, Sweet Potato Brown Butter and Chocolate Fudge. I loved this group, from the souffle cake texture and ganache filling of the Chocolate Fudge, to the perfection of the applewood smoked bacon paired with maple buttercream on the Pumpkin Maple and Bacon. However, nothing compared to my overall favorite, the Sweet Potato Brown Butter. I could happily eat brown butter in just about anything, scratch that, I can't think of any exceptions to that and this was definitely not an exception. I especially liked the diced sweet potato in the cake that lended flavor and texture, and oh, that heavenly, nutty brown butter icing.

I would strongly recommend using the free cupcake coupon that Chocolate Pink Pastry Cafe was so kind to offer to our readers to try the Sweet Potato Brown Butter cupcake, but I'm sure no matter which one you try, you will not be disappointed.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Afternoon in the Country

Les Dames d'Escoffier Atlanta has an annual fundraiser that I have attended religiously. It has long been my favorite food event of the year, something I look forward to for the 364 days leading up to it. This year, though, was different. It was much more crowded than it has been in years past, to the point where you just stood there yelling "excuse me" to be heard over the din as you tried to squeeze through the throng of people standing around talking. I don't know if they sold more tickets than in years past, or if everyone just all showed up at one time, but it really took away a lot of the enjoyment for me. As a short person, this was basically my view the whole time.

One of the best things about this event is that so many of the best restaurants participate. It can be a useful tool for charting out where your dining dollars should be spent over the next year. This year I didn't have a favorite bite, which is odd, because there are things from last year or longer ago that I still remember and crave. Last year it was Tom Harvey of Murphy's insanely good pork and apple dumplings in this rich pork jus. Then there was the year that Park 75 had the mini pumpkin whoopie pies, that was years ago as they were made by David Jeffries who has moved onto bigger and better things. This year there were tasty things, but nothing that will haunt me for years to come.

One of the first bites I enjoyed was pulled pork on a corncake with sweet pickled green tomatoes from Gloriosa. It was simple, but well executed, and their set-up was my favorite in terms of design.

The next taste that hit all the right notes, was the African squash and pepitas bruschetta that had a bright mustardy vinaigrette to kick your tastebuds into high gear from Floataway Cafe.

Then I discovered the roast pork and collard green strudel, another tasty mouthful from Tom Harvey at Murphy's. It had perfectly flaky phyllo dough wrapped around the pork, collards, and root vegetables drizzled with a spicy mayo based sauce. It was great for an event like this because it was bite-sized and very easy to pop into your mouth.

Along the lines of sometimes the simplest things are the best things, I have to admit that I thought the falafel from Alon's was one of the best I've ever eaten, from the perfect house-made pita to the crunchy pickles, I wish I had had room to eat more of them. Another winner in that category were the beets from Farm Burger, perfect in season beets, a little goat cheese, a little bacon, you really can't go wrong.

The most whimsical item, the deconstructed sweet potato souffle skewers. These things were seriously cute and so clever! Chunks of roasted sweet potato and homemade rosemary flavored marshmallows that were toasted as you watched. If this is the kind of food that Jon Wolf will be bringing to the food at Terrace on Peachtree
in the Ellis Hotel when he takes over in December, I can't wait to see what he will come up with next.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Basic to Brilliant, Y'all

I really ought to know better than to plan to do something at 7:00PM on a week night in Atlanta. This was one of those days where it just grizzles all day long with the odd tornado warning, thus rendering the entire population incapable of driving. Even though I left work 15 minutes early, we were still almost 20 minutes late to class and there were times as I sat staring at the miles of unmoving tail lights that I considered throwing in the towel and going home. I'm so glad I persevered as this was one of the most enjoyable cooking classes I have ever taken.

This was my first class at the Salud at the old Harry's, now Whole Foods, in Alpharetta. It's a really great class atmosphere - I appreciated sitting at a table as I was able to take notes and enjoy my tasty samples without having to balance things on my knees, plus the raised seats in the back and big screens meant that everyone had a great view of the action.

The instructor for this particular class, and the reason we braved the traffic, was Virginia Willis. She is truly one of the nicest, most genuine people you will ever meet and it is truly worth braving any storm to see her. In this class we were especially lucky to be able to try some of the dishes from her next cookbook Basic to Brilliant, Y'all coming out in September '11 and taste some of the products from her new line called My Southern Pantry.

The class was called Entertaining Fall Flavors and featured a great line-up of recipes that I already have plans to recreate at home. The first course was a potato & celeriac soup with fennel that had us all scraping our cups clean. Then we moved onto the main course, a tender grass-fed skirt steak from White Oak Pastures rubbed with French Quarter Spice Rub from My Southern Pantry. I love that spice blend, it has powdered Tabasco peppers, Chickory coffee and all kinds of other flavors that complemented the meat to perfection. The steak was accompanied by a kale and butternut squash gratin that would have had me asking for seconds, except one pan didn't cook completely for some reason. I like that she blanched the kale, then sauteed it with garlic, so it added a great flavor to the gratin. It will definitely be making an appearance at my Thanksgiving table this year and most likely for years to come.

As if all of that weren't enough, we even got dessert, a bittersweet chocolate bread pudding served with homemade caramel sauce and creme fraiche, the perfect ending to a fun evening.

I know that Virginia Willis has several classes coming up at Cook's Warehouse, as well as doing a demo at the Peachtree Road Farmers Market on November 13, so there is no excuse not to go out and learn everything you can from her. Your friends and family will thank you.