Maybe cooking is

August 27: Urbana, IL

The Urbana Sweetcorn Festival brought the 80s band Survivor to town!

I didn’t get any corn (for the second year in a row), but I did eat some funnel cake and rock out with my friend Natalie.  Carnival food is sometimes the best worst indulgence.

About to hear “Eye of the Tiger”!

September 2: Urbana, IL

Knowing that the Animal Sciences in the College of ACES at the University studies livestock, they have to do something with the livestock.  I had heard rumors of a meat sciences laboratory.  A lab where I could buy high-quality, local, and very fresh meat at competitive prices.  It became an adventure to find it, and buy some meat.

Well, apparently, the locals know all about it.  And they also know about the eggs sales in the meat sales room, too.  It pretty much looks like a butcher shop with cases of lamb, veal, beef, pork, and chicken you can buy.  It also has cases full of sausages and brats that you can buy.  Here’s what I got:

Hot and spicy polish sausage, smoked brats, rib eye filets, and sliced ham.  The best part is all the packaging says University of Illinois!

The shop also had some helpful posters about beef and pork:

Cuts of beef and where they’re from.
Pork parts labeled.

I cooked the rib eye and ham, but those recipes are in the next post.

How to find Farmer’s Markets in IL

Find a place in Illinois near you that offers fresh farm goods by using Illinois Farm Direct – the farmer-to-consumer directory of locally produced foods.  It’s an excellent source of consumer information.

Thought for the week: “A man loves the meat in his youth that he cannot endure in his age.” – William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

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July 8-9: Saint Louis, MO

My friend Erin and I visited the fourth largest metropolis in the Midwest: St. Louis.  We had a great time there, and made sure to snag a pulled pork sandwich at the famous Memphis-style BBQ hotspot, Pappy’s Smokehouse.

We didn’t know until we arrived, but Adam from Man vs. Food (Season 1, Episode 14) has had a challenge here; it was probably one of his tastiest.  The line is usually a long wait, so come prepared.  Here’s the episode (starts at 6:40):

We also toured the Anheuser-Busch Brewery (founded in 1852) at the company’s headquarters.

The historic six-story Brew House (built in 1891) originally served as a train depot.

To stay in business during Prohibition, Anheuser-Busch produced Bevo, a nonalcoholic, cereal-based beverage whose symbol is a fox, brewer’s yeast (the symbol for which was an elephant), ice cream, and refrigerated trucks. The Bevo packaging plant (built in 1917) is on site.  The name “Bevo” was coined from the word “beverage” and the Slavic language word for beer “pivo”, and was pronounced “Bee-vo.”  Read this great article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a year-by-year account of the company’s survival through Prohibition.

Erin and me in the Clydesdales' stables! The Budweiser Clydesdales tradition began in 1933 when August A. Busch Jr. presented his father with the first team of Clydesdales to celebrate the repeal of Prohibition.

The brewery’s sheer size was impressive, and the tasting room at the end was welcome on such a hot day.  The tour offers complimentary beer at its conclusion.  I had two glasses of Shock Top with a bag of pretzels.

In the gift shop, they had these two informative posters about ales and lager (so helpful for keeping track of beer types):

Ales from light to dark: Belgian style witbier, Hefeweizen, American wheat ale, Blonde ale, Pale ale, Porter, and Stout. Enlarge for the descriptions!

Lager from light to dark: American lager, American light lager, Pilsner, Amber lager, Marzen/ Oktoberfest, and Bock.

On Saturday morning, Erin and I hit the Soulard Market in the French Lafayette neighborhood.  Officially established since before the Civil War as a farmer’s market (and unofficially since as early as 1779), the Soulard Market is a great place to get exotic meats like ox tail and wood for smoking your BBQ, among the delicious pastries, produce, and non-food item vendors.  It’s in permanent buildings, so you can’t miss it if you go.

After spending hours exploring it, the City Museum yielded the most unexpected food finds in St. Louis.  On the third floor in a section called “Beatnik Bob’s,” I found some of the creepiest U.S. carnival and roadside attraction exhibits.

In this area, they have the “Corn Dogs Through The Ages” exhibit, where I happened to snap a picture of the seminal work below.  It depicts the importance of holding a corndog to assert authority in Indiana town halls during the Great Depression:

The text reads: "In rural Indiana, during the Great Depression, in order for a person to speak with authority at a town meeting, that individual was required to hold aloft a corndog in the right hand as a 'symbol of authority.' - H. Ploof, 1937"

A plaque next to it also read:

#9. RURAL SYMBOL OF AUTHORITY.  1937 HOMER PLOOFE, KOKOMO, INDIANA.  Little information exists about the artist, Mr. Ploofe.  Apparently a hobo who drifted about the rural Midwest during the Depression, he carved fancy bird houses, feeders, whirligigs, and a few works with political overtones, all owned by a woman in Kokomo, Leena Ginster who appears to have been a sweetheart of this restless soul.  The facts of his statement have been verified and one scholar notes: this custom evolved from rituals of the Kiowas Indians of the region.  They brandished corn husk wands and danced in a circle until one of their members was seized by a powerful vision (induced by the corn wand) and was led to speak prophetic utterances.

Among other artifacts found in construction digs from around the city was this curious pretzel flask.  It’s genius.

Pretzel flask from North St. Louis.

We also rode to the top of the arch!  Overall, the trip was a success.

August 12-14: Springfield, IL

My mom and I visited the state capitol during the Illinois State Fair.  We tried a bunch of different foods, including: jalapeno poppers, Kandy melons (company from Mississippi), 17th Street Bar & Grill Memphis-style barbecue (location in Murphysboro, IL), and FINALLY: a fried Twinkie from Fried What (established in 2002, company from Dallas, Texas).

I’m not sure how much of what we ate really embraced the state of the Illinois State Fair, but some of the things we saw sure did, including this cow sculpted of butter:

The butter cow has been an attraction at the Illinois State Fair since 1922.

Mom and I also explored a diner on Route 66 known for its corndogs (I guess the Midwest can’t get enough corndogs?).  The Cozy Dog Drive-In is worth a one-time, nostalgic meal to absorb the old America; then keep driving.

The founder's wife drew the characters of the Cozy-Dog emblem. So cute!

Thought for the week: “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.”President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969)

For this week, I was inspired by the humidity of the previous week to try out some truly Southern dishes.

Appetizer

It was necessary to fortify myself before simmering the main dish for an hour – I washed off some organic raspberries.  I also smeared some local Prairie Fruit Farm herb goat cheese I had picked up at the Urbana farmer’s market on some Carr’s table water crackers, topped off with some spicy, jalapeno-infused jelly that I bought at the Charleston Marion Square farmer’s market.  I had set them out all of these ingredients about 30 minutes earlier to make sure they were room temperature so that smearing was easier.

Jalapeno-jelly with goat cheese on table crackers. Excellent, rich appetizer.

If you want to make your own jalapeno or habanero jelly, just mix it in with either strawberry or grape jelly.  Here are some recipes: Habanero Pepper Jelly and Jalapeno Pepper Jelly with pectin.

Main Course

Meanwhile, I had my mama’s recipe of shrimp jambalaya in mind.  First, I had to cook the bacon (an entire pound!) and rice to get things going.

Basmati rice was all I had, and then some bacon, and in the background the vegetables to chop up - onion, green pepper and okra.

While the bacon cooked and the rice absorbed the water, I chopped vegetables and mixed together the spices.  Once the bacon was done, I put together the green peppers and onions in the bacon grease with the spices.  I added in the shredded bacon and frozen shrimp (there’s no fresh seafood in the Midwest) but no sausage (not my thing).  Then I put in the 2 cans of the tomatoes and okra.  Okra can get slimy if you put it into a dish too early, which is why most encounters with it are fried.  I added the rice and stirred it all together, then added about a cup of water to make it more saucy.  Here’s a similar recipe.

This is how it looked before it simmered for an hour.

It was a delicious meal, with plenty of freezer-ready leftovers.

Dessert

While the shrimp mixture was simmering, I shredded 2 cups worth of carrots and mixed together the batter for my Southern-style carrot cake.  I baked two layers of cake and let them cool overnight.  The icing, with coconut and walnuts instead of pecans, I made the next morning and put together the cake.

Two-layered carrot cake with coconut and cream cheese icing, infused with walnuts.

The cake was intended for sharing – it was huge!  And I made double the icing to make sure there was enough to cover the cake.

Recipe Search Engines

There are a lot of recipe search engines out there.  So which one should you turn to?

Recipe Puppy is one that is unsponsored.  It’s good for looking up what you have left in the fridge and figuring out what to make that night.  Another one is Recipe FinderCookzillas is one that is heavily photo-based.

Foodily is Google’s recipe search engine, and pulls recipes from all over the Internet using the ingredients you have.  The LA Times Technology blog did an extensive overview of the website, the latter of which launched this past February.  Will Google come to dominate the recipe-searches, too?

Not if Microsoft has anything to say about it.  It apparently has a cooking search function that allows you to search within a single website, not that I could find it.

For a great overview of the foodie search options, check out the NY Times article, “Can recipe search engines make you a better cook?” from this past May.

Separately, there are lots of food Wikis out there, too – of particular note is Goons With Spoons, which has tasty recipes.

I hope this search-launching point prepares you with a wealth of great recipes to try.  Happy cooking!

Thought for the week: “Anyway, like I was sayin’, shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. Dey’s uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That- that’s about it.”Bubba character from Forest Gump movie, 1994

Summer is a fantastic time for being unproductive.  And as such, I’ve been absorbing a lot of foodie culture news to now share with you!

ICE CREAM

I’m not sure if you’ve seen this Haagen Dazs commercial, but it’s worth 45 seconds of your life:

Filmed by an Australian advertising agency named The Sweet Shop, the company got its name from its location: an old candy factory.  It shot this high-end cinematography masterpiece in Fiji and New Zealand.  Pretty amazing: an advertising company that embraces its connection with dessert shoots a beautiful commercial about things other than ice cream to get you to buy a scoop.

READING

Meanwhile, the New York Times health blog Well reported on a research article supporting that shifts in the labor force during the past five decades have led to less activity (by 100 calories a day!) at the workplace, and could be a contributing factor to the national increase in obesity.  This factor, however, has been neglected in researchers’ work to find the causes of and stymy obesity because it requires the often difficult-to-obtain longitudinal data.  Instead, we’ve heard a lot about daily things to do: eat fruits and veggies and exercise.  The article is fascinating because it shifts attention from commuting habits or declining leisure-time physical activity to technological shifts and a systemic, environmental change in the workplace:

Dr. Church notes that because the research doesn’t factor in technological changes, like increasing reliance on the Internet and e-mail, many people in service and desk jobs that have always involved only light activity are now moving less than ever, meaning the findings probably understate how much physical activity has been lost during work hours.

Fascinating report.  Suggested food for thought.

While I was browsing at Chicago’s Lit Fest along Printer’s Row at Dearborn and Polk streets this past weekend, I ran into some very focused, food-related history books.  It’s called the Edible Series edited by Andrew F. Smith.  It features the global history of the human consumption of several foods, each with its own individual book featuring recipes and reference material.  You can read about: cake, caviar, cheese, chocolate, curry, hamburger, hot dog, milk, pancake, pie, pizza, potato, sandwich, soup, spices, tea and whiskey.

FOODIE BAND-AIDS

Back to fun stuff!  Foodie band-aids!  So this Seattle-based novelty/ counter-culture company named Archie McPhee started in 1983 and sells vintage-y looking gift items.  In 2002, the company got widespread notoriety for creating the Librarian Action Figure.  But I’m going to focus on something more important: foodie band-aids ($4.95 per box) in the following likenesses:

I’m not saying I’d go out and buy these and wear them.  But they do harken back to my childhood when wearing a Smurf or Mickey Mouse bandage was highly likely.  The company also sells a Bacon Collection of a variety of items that celebrate the smell and look of bacon, and kind of weirds me out in its quality of devotional thought to bacon.

DOUGHNUTS

The Salvation Army celebrated the first National Donut Day (June 3) in 1938 in downtown Chicago to recognize its women who gave doughnuts to U.S. soldiers during WWI.  They were known as “doughnut lassies.”  The tradition continued during WWII to give soldiers the feeling of “motherhood and home.”

From my experience digging through the American Red Cross photo archives, volunteers did similar food-related duties for soldiers overseas, though not with doughnuts exclusively.  More like coffee and snacks.

Salvation Army locations all over the country interact with their local communities around Donut Day with fundraisers or free doughnuts, and both are catching on with commercial franchises like Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts.  This is exciting because some are saying dougnuts could be the foodie trend that replaces cupcakes (though cupcakes will always trump doughnuts for me).  A local Chicago fav for doughnuts, with a limited supply and a line around the block every morning, is The Donut Vault located at 400 1/2 N. Franklin & Kinzie in River North.  I haven’t been there (something about mornings…), but this guest blog on NBC gives a pretty extensive overview.

PRETZELS, BEER & THE MARKET IN LANCASTER, PA

Pennsylvania prides itself on its pretzels.  According to my tour guide at the Intercourse Pretzel Factory, the majority (something like 80%) of the nation’s pretzels are made within 100 miles of Intercourse, PA.  In fact, Auntie Anne‘s headquarters moved from Gap (a town close to Intercourse) to Lancaster in 2008, to be in a bigger city and close to its Pretzel University where employees learn to roll pretzels.  In case you’re wondering, Anne sold the company in 2005 and opened up a family counseling center.  The company and its franchises are (as of 2010) now run by FOCUS Brands, the same conglomerate that owns Cinnabon, Carvel and Moe’s Southwest Grill.

Frank and I did stop into the Lancaster Brewery Company for lunch next to the huge brewing barrels and tried the 12 (ours had 13 because of seasonal varieties available) 4 oz. beer sampler tray.  On the tray were these varieties and my thoughts (read about some of them here and here):

  • Milk Stout – awful
  • Chocolate Covered Strawberry – not my taste
  • Gold Star Pilsner – okay
  • Strawberry Wheat – awful
  • Rumspringa – great
  • Celtic Rose Red Ale – okay
  • Cream Ale – good
  • Hop Hog IPA – good
  • Shoo-Fly Porter – okay
  • Lancaster Lager – not the best
  • Amish Four Grain Ale – tasteless
  • Hefe Weizen – great
  • Fest Beer – great

Weird that you can’t really buy what they have on the tray in the brewery’s store.  You would think they’d have what they serve, but we found otherwise.  I wanted some bottles of Rumspringa (when Amish 16 year olds venture into modern vices, according to NPR)!

The Lancaster Central Market, only open on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, is an awesome place.  It’s one of the oldest farmer’s markets in the country and a great place for good Amish or Mennonite foods, as well as quality meats and cheeses.  The third-generation run and fourth-generation operated S. Clyde Weaver stall cannot be missed.  We picked up some American white cheddar and habanero cheese (way spicy) that we should have bought more of – it was delicious.

Thought for the week: “Eating words has never given me indigestion.” – Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Murphysboro, IL

Last weekend, I visited Mitra and Brandon down in the So ILL.  We toured five wineries during my stay, including:

To say the least, we had a good time.

The following morning, we went out for a vegan breakfast at Longbranch Coffe House in downtown Carbondale.  I was surprised by tasty vegan sausage gravy biscuits.

Me and Mitra at breakfast in Carbondale!

Taliesin & Middleton, Wisconsin

Mom and I drove up to Taliesin (near Spring Green and about an hour drive from Madison) to visit a complex of Frank Lloyd Wright residence and farm buildings.  Wright’s ancestry was Welsh and he grew up in this area of farmland in WI; he named the community Taliesin, which means “shining brow” in Welsh and the name of which belonged to a Welsh poet.  He originally built the home for his mistress, Maymaw, during his first marriage.  It didn’t end well for her and her two small children (from her marriage) – the butler found out she was not married to Wright and went crazy, taking an axe to her, her children, and four other people, then poured gasoline on and torched the house, all while Wright was in Chicago working.  The home has also been burned down twice (the second time was because it was hit by lightening).

Mom and me in front of the Hillside School (studio and theater) at Taliesin.

I think the place is cursed.  To add to the drama, we toured on Friday the 13th, and our car battery died on the way up.  I’m glad we had the battery replaced so it wasn’t completely a scenario stolen from The Shining.

After our tours, we headed to the nearby town of Middleton.  We stepped into the National Mustard Museum, where pretzels are only $1 for taste-testing of hundreds of mustard types!  They have a deal of the week online, if you’re a mustard fanatic.

Life-size French's costume in the National Mustard Museum!

I’m not sure I’d trust every bit of research in the “museum,” especially since it said that the names of M&Ms represent the tradition of mustard making (actually the founders of Mars and Hershey).  Entertaining, but not true, according to Wikipedia.  It also reported that the red and yellow M&M characters represent ketchup and mustard… I also found a chocolate wiki for chocolate lovers.  🙂

We wandered next door to the Hubbard Avenue Diner to get a slice each of the four berry and cherry pie to go.  The cherry was a winner.

And our final to-go food choice from Wisconsin, on the advice of a friend, was yellow cheese curds.  I know it sounds gross, but cheese curds have been around a long time, even making a mention in the Little Miss Muffet nursery rhyme.  They are known as the most musical of cheeses because they squeak like a balloon when you bite into them.  I, of course, had to try them.

Philadelphia, PA

My sister, Susan, joined up with my Mom and I in Philly.  But we did get a chance to stop in at the Reading Market and I got some cinnamon ice cream at Bassetts Ice Cream (which has been around since 1861!).

The Reading Railroad (as in the one on Monopoly boards) built the market in 1892 as part of its downtown passenger terminal.  The market was on a downward spiral in the 1970s and fell into disrepair in the 80s when the trains were rerouted to bypass the terminal.  But it was revitalized in the early 1990s to the current state of awesomeness that it is today. 

There are tons of foodie must-taste stands at Reading Market.  The steak at Hershel’s deli has been featured on the Travel channel’s addicting show, Man vs. FoodWan’s Seafood had the largest shrimp I’ve ever seen!  About the size of my hand, fingers stretched out.  John Yi’s Fish Market offered customers octopus.  Stands that belonged to Amish merchants was closed off – they’re only there Wednesday through Saturday.

Susan also found this clever Joseph Joseph Chop 2 Pot cutting board at one of the market shops.  After chopping, you lift the handle and the sides angle inward, allowing a cleaner dump into a mixing bowl.

Colorful, clean, and easy cutting board!

Thought for the week: “I send you a kaffis of mustard seed, that you may taste and acknowledge the bitterness of my victory.” – Alexander The Great (356 BC-323 BC)

BAKING

Cookies

Natalie’s bake-off party on March 10 inspired a dig for some delicious cookie recipes.  I tried my hand at five batches of three types of cookies:

  1. Two batches of oatmeal raisin (which Williams-Sonoma says comes from their kiddie cookbook)
  2. Two batches of banana-oatmeal power cookies
  3. One batch of oatmeal-cherry and almond spice cookies (it made around 40 big cookies or so)

At first, I was working with my hand mixer, but since all of these cookies have oatmeal as a base, the dough gave the motor a hard time.  I switched to using a spoon and elbow grease.

I ditched the mixer after this photo opp for these oatmeal-based cookies.

The oatmeal raisin is perfect.  Loved it.  I made one batch with regular raisins and the second batch with golden raisins.  Either one is very good.

The banana-oatmeal power cookie packs a lot – walnuts, banana, coconut, cinnamon, golden raisins, and oatmeal.  It’s a tastier version of a granola bar.  The consistency is more banana-breadlike than oatmeal-cookie like.

My culinary change-up were the main ingredients of the last cookie.  Originally, the recipe calls for dates and walnuts as the main duo, but that’s more a fall cookie taste and I couldn’t find dates (or didn’t really care to find them).  Instead, I substituted in dried cherries and almonds.  I used uniform dried cherries, not dried cherries jubilee, which is a mixture of different type of cherries.  Health flash: Cherries are low in vitamins and minerals, but they’re great sources of antioxidants, act as an anti-inflammatory, and can ease you into sleep with their melatonin content.

Fun fact: Without the word “dried” in front of it, the phrase cherries jubilee refers to this flaming dessert popular in the 1960s.  Is anyone having a Mad Men-themed party?

Monkey Bread

Moving from cookies onto bread, over spring break I tried a new challenge of Monkey Bread.  Since I’m not a morning person, there was no way I was going to get up early enough to make this for breakfast, so I whipped it up before dinner.  It’s a pretty simple recipe, but I couldn’t resist modifying the dipping stage.  After you cut the biscuits into quarters, the recipe says to dip them in butter and then roll them in the brown sugar mixture.  I wanted the final baked good to retain moisture, so I whisked two eggs into the butter mixture.

These eggs and biscuits could be a meal on their own, but I have bigger plans for them.

I also had to make 1.5x the amount of brown sugar mixture because I ran out 3/4 of the way through dipping (or halfway into the second layer of biscuits).  I also used walnuts as opposed to the traditional pecans.  I poured butter-flavored, corn-syrup, bad for your entire well-being syrup on top.

Don't let the biscuit quarters soak too long - they'll return to a soppy dough consistency. Quick dip, then sugar them up!

I baked it at 325 degrees (not 350 as said in the recipe) for about 30 minutes, checking on it at the 15, 20, and 25 minute marks.  The baking pan I used was actually a stove-top pan used for pan-frying.  It doesn’t matter what you use as the container in the oven because once it’s done and has sat for about 5 minutes, you flip it over onto a plate.

Because it has a brown color to begin with, you have to watch it carefully in the oven to make sure it doesn't burn.

This is a great dessert or breakfast food, either warmed up or eaten room-temperature.  You can add more syrup, though it’s not really needed.  Yum!

COOKING

Chili

Racing legend Carroll Shelby developed a cheap, easy, stove-top chili mix in the 1970s – who knew?  Because packaged soups tend to have high sodium content, which is one reason they’re so great when you’re sick, I didn’t throw in the salt packet included in the box.  I sauteed an onion first and then added half the ground meat (turkey not beef).  I would recommend adding chili flakes for those that love spicy foods.

Cooked onions for about 5 minutes before adding meat to brown together.

In the last 5 minutes, I threw in a can of pinto beans.

With all ingredients, just about ready to serve.

For finishing touches, I added shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, and chopped chives.

Although it was good, I’m not sure if I’d make it again just because the high sodium content made my temperature rise – but I’m hyper-sensitive to the effects of food, anyway.

Pasta

Taking advantage of East-coast based gourmet grocery superstore Wegmen’s, I tried out some frozen pesto and five-cheese stuffed ravioli rounds with their vodka blush sauce.  I sauteed some mushrooms in virgin olive oil before adding the sauce to the stove top and then grinding in a lot of fresh pepper.

Wegmen’s, in addition to the recipes provided on its sites like most grocery stores now, even has videos of cooking demonstrations:

Chili-rubbed Pork

This recipe takes prep because it’s a rub.  Similar to a marinade, you have to let the meat sit 2-24 hours – the longer, the more strong the flavor.  I used light brown sugar instead of regular sugar because I didn’t want to disturb the neighbors for a cup.  Brown sugar is just regular sugar with added molasses, light containing less molasses than dark.  I figured molasses wouldn’t change the flavor too much and might add a crystalized component to the pork when it cooks.

STATE COLLEGE

During Spring Break, I visited Frank at State College.  While there, I cooked the above recipes, but we also went around town to a few local favorites. Including the Nittany Lion Shrine!

Frank and me at the Lion Shrine!

Since it was sunny, we walked to the PSU Bekey Creamery.  How cool is it that Pennsylvania’s (state) university has agricultural students that make its own ice cream?  They have over 100+ flavors, but never all at once.  I got a standard five scoops of cookie dough ice cream (they only have one size).  The Department of Food Science currently offers a 7-day short course for ice cream making in January – an extension of the course it originally offered in 1892.  I would totally take it if I was enrolled there!  Except that there’s a closed book final exam, and I don’t think auditing is an option.

Halfway through the week, it got cold and by the end, it was flurrying.  We warmed up at Herwig’s, an Austrian Bistro and one of the top ethnic restaurants in the area, and I tried to pronounce my authentic dish.  We bribed the cashier with a beer to avoid getting yelled at in Austrian fashion for not finishing my dinner.  True fact.  They list threats about it at the tables.

When strolling, I noticed a cupcake boutique – *ndulge cupcakes.  The woman that opened the bakery did so because bakeries make her happy – after spending almost 40 years in advertising, TV, and radio.  Much like Georgetown Cupcake, the bakery has cream-cheese based icing, but it also offers buttercream frosting.  Pretty delicious cupcakes – the peanut butter cup (cream cheese) won me over as opposed to the realli vanilli (buttercream).

Quote of the week: Vegetables are a must on a diet.  I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie.” – Jim Davis, cartoonist, (1965-)

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, Mattea finishing her dissertation, and Mitra visiting me this weekend, I attempted to bake a two-layer fresh strawberry cake.  But Mitra and I ran into two minor glitches.  Possibly because this was our first attempt as adults at a cake from scratch.

The first that the owner of this cake recipe (a self-proclaimed foodie bride) didn’t appear to have a frosting recipe listed, so we borrowed this one.  Then we found that she had hidden the icing recipe in her comments.  By that time, we had already committed to our back-up.  She also calls for almond extract in her frosting, which I don’t have.  Upon further evaluation, her icing is similar to wedding cake icings.  But I would recommend staying away from buttercream or cream cheese based frostings for this cake – it’d just simply be too rich with either of those.  Butter or shortening icings are great.

Foodie bride wanted us to wrap the cake pans in tin foil on the outside. I believe this was to prevent the edges and bottoms of the cakes from burning, but don't have that confirmed.

Mitra separating those eggs like a pro - only the creamy whites for our cake!

The second was a fail to plan, plan to fail moment.  Although foodie bride asks us to puree 24 oz. (2 lbs) of strawberries, she didn’t intend for us to use all of it in the cake batter.  Instead, just about 3/4 of a cup will do. Did I look back at the recipe to check this?  Nope.  In went 2 cups of strawberries.

Just before the moment of no return. I think they call this dramatic irony.

The fate of this cake is sealed: it will carry the burden of more than twice that amount of strawberries intended. And it will do it well. P.S. Check out my mom's old school mixer.

So our batter was a little more dense and took about 15 minutes longer to bake in the oven.

Two cakes will become one.

Thus, we didn’t have any strawberry puree to use between the layers of the cake (but I wonder would that have caused the layers to slip apart?).  We layered on the frosting between the cake layers instead.  Don’t worry, though.  Extra yummy with all that homemade love.  Especially with the sprinkle job.  Chocolate sprinkles patted onto the sides, pink sugar crystals on top.  Mitra, Mattea, Natalie and I dined like queens.

The whole cake.

Love the look of the double layer!

In our other time during the weekend, we explored.  Whoever says that the Midwest doesn’t have its moments is wrong.  Check out these snow kingdom relics.

A comfy snow lounge chair in the middle of downtown Champaign? Of course. It even had a back cushion!

The bikini snowman was an instant hit. We pulled over for a quick picture. (Edited with Instagram iPhone app!)

Overall, it was an awesome weekend.  Happy Valentines Day, everyone! ♥

Quote of the week: “I don’t believe in low-fat cooking.” – Nigella Lawson (1960-)

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