Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Atlanta Eats: The Varsity, Flip Burger Boutique, and CamiCakes

This past week I had a reprieve from the cool spring air in Boston. I headed south to Atlanta for a work conference. The conference was held at Georgia Tech and we stayed right by campus in Midtown. My day job is spent doing marketing and admissions for an executive MBA program. The conference brought together marketing and admissions professionals from schools across the world to learn about current trends, share best practices, and do a lot of networking. Even though the conference schedule was packed, there was still time to check out some Atlanta eateries. To make room for the less-than-healthy eats I spent my lunch breaks walking around the Georgia Tech campus.

With limited time available, I had to pare down my list of suggested restaurants. @JustinCanCook and @25Lifestyle had tweeted me some fantastic looking culinary options. Now I'll have a list for the next time!

I was fully prepared to venture out on my own for these dining adventures. Luckily I found like-minded conference attendees and had dining companions during the trip.

One spot that I've had on my list for a long time is an old Atlanta stand-by - The Varsity!

The "world's largest drive-in" has been serving hungry visitors for the past 83 years. You've probably seen them on the Food Network or heard about their long-standing presence in Atlanta. The can fit 600 cars in the parking lot and 800 people inside. Now that is a big place! According to their website they make a lot of food too:

"Two miles of hot dogs, a ton of onions, 2500 pounds of potatoes, 5000 fried pies and 300 gallons of chili are made from scratch daily."

When dining out with new people, I find that it's helpful to explain up front that there will be excess ordering (to make sure to try everything) and picture taking before eating. My dining companion was understanding and I snapped a shot of her food first so she could eat a hot meal. After deciding on our orders, we approached a cashier calling out "What'll ya have? What'll ya have", and ordered up what we thought was a reasonable amount of food.

I picked out a chili slaw dog, a grilled pimento cheese sandwich on white bread, and a frosted Varsity Orange to wash it all down.

When I went back up to order a fried apple pie, I found out that we ordered a lot less food than everyone else. The man in front of me (clearly alone) ordered 5 chili dogs, fries and rings. The family to my right ordered almost two register screens worth of food.  Even though we didn't sample as much as them we still had a great time. I picked up two cans of chili to take home along with some magnets and postcards.  

We took a walk past the GA Tech Football Stadium and tried to burn off a few calories from our meal.

The next night we had an opportunity to try another Atlanta hot spot after a long day of conference sessions. If you are a Top Chef watcher, you'll know that Richard Blais is the culinary director for Flip Burger Boutique in Atlanta. Since I've been on a streak of visiting Top Chef related restaurants on vacation, I knew I needed to try this out.

The menu offered a variety of burgers, sides, drinks, and liquid nitrogen milkshakes. We all picked a shake (that's frappe if you are a native New Englander) flavor pretty immediately. No one was adventurous enough to order the foie gras shake, but we were all very happy with our choices.

Strawberry short shake, Krispy Kreme,
Turtle, and Toasted Marshmallow Nutella.

I ordered the toasted marshmallow, of course!
There were a lot of great burger choices for dinner. My dining companions were nice enough to let me snap a shot of their burgers before digging in. We each ordered a different side dish to be able to taste them all.  All of the burgers were 5.5 ounces of brisket, short rib, and hanger steak. The burger was cooked perfectly and juicy and flavorful.

On the top left below is the Butcher's Cut, blue cheese and caramelized onions, with fries. Top right, the bacon cheeseburger with vodka onion rings and beer honey mustard. Bottom right (my choice), the Local with smoked mayo, grilled onions, house made pickles and yellow tomato. You can see the fried bread & butter pickles in the background. Bottom left is the d'Lux burger. This all out treat was 2 patties, truffle butter, roasted mushrooms, French onions, and cheese). On the side are deliciously crispy fried zucchini.

My favorite side dish was the fried pickles and the fried zucchini. Hard to go wrong with either of those!

One of the more adventurous in our group ordered up buffalo sweetbreads (definition here). Yep, buffalo flavored sweetbreads served with blue cheese and ranch foam. I was a little hesitant, but decided to go for it. You could still taste the sweetbreads through the buffalo sauce and the foam was a nice creamy contrast to the tang of the sauce. I can't say I'd order these again, but they were fun to try!

After dinner, we decided to take a scenic ride down Peachtree through Buckhead and back to Midtown. One of the women had been telling us about a great cupcake shop and even though we were completely stuffed we made a stop. CamiCakes offers a huge case of creative cupcakes. Everything from classic vanilla to sweet potato to my choice, The Elvis. The Elvis is a rich chocolate cupcake topped with banana frosting, peanut butter, and a sprinkle of sea salt. It was delightful. Rich, sweet, salty, and wonderful.  With cupcakes in hand we headed back to the hotel to sleep off our food comas.

Thanks to the women who joined me in the dining fun! I'm looking forward to another trip to Atlanta to sample more Southern delights.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mouthwatering Monday: Mix Bakery

I met Kelly from Mix Bakery last year and have been dreaming about the buttercream frosting since then. I am a frosting lover (not everyone is!) and her creations were rich, decadent, and just the right amount of sweet. When the hubby asked me what I wanted for my birthday dessert this year, I didn't hesitate with my answer. Cupcakes from Mix Bakery! He ordered my favorite flavor combinations and scheduled delivery for the day of my birthday dinner. Kelly makes all of her cupcakes to order and deliver the delicious treats right to your home or office.

Words can't describe how great these cupcakes are. I may have eaten 1-2 per day for the last week... My friend who is known for eating around frosting on cakes called me the day after dinner to tell me how much she liked the frosting. And the hubby told me I should spread the peanut butter frosting on toast for breakfast. It's that good.

You really need to taste the cupcakes for the full experience, but here is a photographic essay of cupcake deliciousness. I used the cupcakes as a subject to explore all the settings on my  new camera.I did not edit these photos after I took them.

If your mouth isn't watering by the end of this, I don't know what to tell you!

Cupcake delivery!
Mini-chocolate and mini-banana cupcakes with peanut butter buttercream.
Four mini cupcakes = 1 regular cupcakes.

S'mores cupcake with graham cracker bottom
and incredible marshmallow buttercream.

Close up - graham cracker crust and chocolate cake.

Here's where things get a little silly - a good twenty minutes of cupcake photography. I'll show you the highlights.

Graham cracker crust with chocolate chips.

Banana mini cupcake with peanut butter buttercream. Enough said.

Next time you need cupcakes, skip the store and check out Mix Bakery. You won't be disappointed. I'm going to start making up holidays so that I have reasons to order more!  

P.S. We ordered & paid for these cupcakes and were not in any way asked to write about them. They were so wonderful that I chose to write about and photograph them.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Poppin' Munch Madness!

Besides being my birthday month, March is also host to other fun food-friendly activities! With a full month of March Madness basketball, you'll need to to pace your game-time snacking. Keeping that in mind, here's a budget and healthy snack!

The friendly folks at popchips contacted me about a Boston Blogger recipe challenge for their "Munch Madness"  celebration. I had a blast creating a poppin' recipe for my Healthy Snack Wednesday series, so I knew I was was on board for this challenge! The winner gets to take home $250 to Roche Brothers, a $100 AMEX gift card, and a one-year supply of popchips! As an entrant in the recipe challenge, popchips provided me with a snack pack of popchips, coupons to pick up popchips, and a handy recipe notebook. 

A quick note about the contest. All entries will be posted on the popchips Facebook page in the Munch Madness photo album. The two bloggers with the most 'likes' on March 21 will be pop into the 'champion-chip' round! The final round will be an taste test event at Roche Brothers where the winner will be selected by a panel of expert snackers. If you like my poppin' creation, I hope you'll vote and 'like' my photo and spread the word! You can get to the album and vote by clicking here! You also have to 'like' Popchips on Facebook.

With my snack packs ready and assorted ingredients in the pantry, I put on my thinking cap and started brainstorming.

Chicken fingers...too easy. Mini-quiches...already done. What would show off the flavor of the popchips, be delicious, and still be healthy? The idea struck and I got to work - baked falafel!

In order to please fans of multiple teams, I decided to make a few pieces of falafel in each flavor. First step is  creating the popchips crumbs. Start with one flavor at a time and give them a whirl in the food processor. Be careful to label your flavors (I scribble when I write recipes, don't mind my spelling error)! 

Your popchips crumbs should be light and fluffy, and small enough to substitute for breadcrumbs. Each snack sized bag of popchips yielded approximately 1/2 cup of crumbs.

The next step is to make your falafel mixture. Using the food processor, blend garbanzo beans, parsley, scallions, a dash of olive oil and eggs until well combined. The texture should be like a chunky hummus. Split the mixture into five even portions for mixing. Starting with one portion of falafel mixture, add in half of one of the flavors of crumbs. Mix and continue to add crumbs until the mixture comes together, but is not completely dry. The first picture below is the falafel mix. The second picture is after mixing in the popchips crumbs.

Score each combined falafel and crumb mixture into four equal parts. Form balls and flatten slightly. Add the patties to a labeled baking sheet (you don't want to mix up the flavors!) and continue the process until all flavors are completed. I used a pencil to write the flavors on parchment paper, you can see it at the top of the rows below.

Bake for 10 minutes and then flip and continue baking for 10 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through. I served these with low-fat plain sour cream. To spice up the celebration, you could make flavored sour cream or yogurt dip to match the flavors. Another great idea would be to use your favorite hot sauce and mix it with sour cream for a spicy dip. Really, there is no limit to what you can add! The patties themselves are healthy and leave room to add more decadent toppings!

Here's a look at each of the flavors, topped with a garnish representing the popchips flavor. Cheddar for cheddar, salt for salt and vinegar, barbecue crumbs for barbecue, peppercorns for salt and pepper, and scallions for sour cream and onion! The flavor of the chips came through and really worked with the falafel!

An interior look at the patties:

Here's hoping that  my bracket picks will be as successful as my poppin' recipe! And remember, if you have  minute to vote, head over to the popchips Facebook page and 'like' my photo in the Munch Madness photo album! You also have to 'like' Popchips on Facebook.

Poppin' Munch Madness Baked Falafel

5 snack sized bags of popchips (Salt & Pepper, Sea Salt & Vinegar, Cheddar Potato, Barbecue, and Sour Cream & Onion)
2 15-ounce cans of no-salt added garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 scallion (whites and greens), cut into 1 inch pieces
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and label 5 rows with your selected flavors
Working with one flavor at a time, process popchips until the consistency of breadcrumbs and set aside
Add garbanzo beans, eggs, parsley, scallion, oil, and salt & pepper to the food processor
Pulse until the consistency of chunky hummus
Pour equal amounts of the garbanzo mixture into five separate bowls
Using one flavor of crumbs at a time, mix into a bowl of garbanzo mixture until well combined (you may not need all of the crumbs)
Form four equal sized patties and place on the parchment paper lined baking sheet
Continue until all flavors are used
Bake for 10 minutes and then flip and continue baking for 10 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through
Serve with sour cream, greek yogurt, or hot sauce

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Food processor, cutting board and knife, bowls, spatula, baking sheet, parchment paper, serving plates and utensils

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Restaurant Week, Hard Hats, and Frites, Oh my!

Thanks to everyone for their birthday wishes! I had a great week celebrating with everyone. The celebration stretched out all week with delicious eats across the city! While I'm eating healthy snacks today (it is Healthy Snack Wednesday!), here's a look at some of the treats from last week.

A big thanks to the hubby for my new camera! These shots were all taken with my new Canon G12!

Birthday Lunch @ Marliave
These pictures are courtesy of Renee and her fancy new camera!

We went back forth on a list of potential restaurant week lunch spots and ended on Marliave. Neither us had been there and they had a large list of options on the menu. The dining room was bright and lovely, the server was delightful, and the portions were plentiful! Oh yeah, the blueberry crumble was so good it turned our teeth blue!

Giant bowl of French onion soup with short ribs
underneath that cheesy piece of in-house baked bread

Scrambled eggs with black truffle and farmhouse cheeses,
served with in-house baked bread & delicious fries

So good we turned blue

Del Frisco's Hard Hat Tour
Renee worked her social media magic and we got a personal hard hat tour of the new Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House down at Liberty Wharf. The kitchen construction was almost done (look at those ovens!) and the beautiful mahogany wood was going up on all the walls. The general manager gave us 45 minute tour of every nook and cranny of the restaurant, including the newly tiled bathrooms. It will be fun to see how the finished space looks compared the pre-completion photos we shot.

KO Catering and Pies 
Whenever you are in the neighborhood, there is no excuse to miss a stop for pie at KO Catering and Pies. We stopped in to chat with Sam and order pies for lunch and pies for later. I enjoyed a delicious pie of the month (shepherd's pie) for lunch and took home Irish beef stew pies for dinner. This is my favorite photo that I've taken with my new camera. It was shot on my desk at work with natural light from the window streaming in.

Inaugural Trip to Saus Boston for Frites & Waffles!
I've been tweeting with Renee of Saus & her crew for the past year as they put together their business. It was great to stop in to see the results of their hard work! We enjoyed poutine, frites and sauces, and an incredible waffle with salted caramel sauce. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Poutine with deliciously tangy cheese curds
and fun mini-forks!

Frites & a fried egg.
Saus: Homemade mayo, green monster, ranch,
 truffle ketchup, and cheddar duvel.
Thanks to everyone who helped make my birthday celebration a blast!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Daring Cooks Challenge:¡Me Encanta Peru! Ceviche and Papas Rellenas

After a great challenge last month (tempura and soba noodle salad), I was excited for another Daring Cooks adventure.

This month our challenge took us south, to Peru! Kathlyn of Bake Like a Ninja was our Daring Cooks’ March 2011 hostess. Kathlyn challenged us to make two classic Peruvian dishes: Ceviche de Pescado from “Peruvian Cooking – Basic Recipes” by Annik Franco Barreau. And Papas Rellenas adapted from a home recipe by Kathlyn’s Spanish teacher, Mayra. For a full recap of the challenge, visit the Daring Cooks challenge description.

I was thrilled about the papas rellenas! Fried mashed potatoes are a little excessive, but so delicious. For our wedding we served what was essentially fried mashed potato patties (they had a much fancier name, of course). Needless to say, we really enjoyed the results of this challenge.

Tackling this challenge for one meal required a lot of organization. It was important to map out all the steps and organize the ingredients before starting. I tackled the potato preparation first. There were two papas rellenas recipes provided - one with meat and one vegan. I created my own combination using ingredients in the refrigerator and pantry. I paired a tofu and vegetable filling with the 'dough' from the meat papas.

While the potatoes boiled, I prepared the filling. First step, cutting up a block of extra firm tofu. I placed it under a towel and a weighted plate to remove excess moisture. Using a mixture of leftover vegetables, I sauteed onions, mushrooms, garlic, a diced hot pepper, and some spinach. I can't remember what spices I used, probably some paprika, salt and pepper. After the tofu dried out, I crumbled it and added it to the pan. I didn't take any notes as I went along, I was just giving everything an eyeball measure. I ended up with a lot of extra filling to add to lunches for the rest of the week.

Next step, assembling and frying! I made six giant papas rellenas, but found that the first one fell apart when I tried to flip it over in the frying oil. I cut the remaining five in half and reshaped them into smaller balls. This made them much easier to fry and a more manageable serving size. They were crispy, delicious, and very filling. I'll refer you to the Daring Cooks recipes, since I didn't follow them very closely.

Before I started frying, I prepared all of the components needed for the ceviche. Once I started frying I put it all together and into the refrigerator to 'cook' for about 15 minutes. I cut the ceviche recipe in half knowing that we were having papas rellenas on the side.  I used a Wild Alaskan Halibut steak and plenty of fresh lime juice and cilantro.

I used a red fresno pepper to add a little kick to the dish. One thing I learned the hard way is that hot pepper oil on your fingers does not mix well with contact lenses. No matter how much you wash your hands, you will still scream when you take your contacts out at the end of the night. Thankfully, I found a solution to the problem - a finger guard! It seems silly, but it is completely worth it. It keeps your fingers off of the pepper and lets you slice and dice without any painful side effects.

I let our fish cook for about 10 minutes, until just opaque. Here's the fish in the 'cooking' liquid:

When the potatoes were all fried and the fish was ready, we sat down to a delicious dinner! Thanks Daring Cooks for the opportunity to try out another new cuisine and technique!

Ceviche de Pescado (Fish Ceviche):
Adapted from recipe by Annik Franco Barreau
1 lb. Wild Alaskan Halibut steak
1 garlic clove, mashed
1 red fresno chili pepper, minced
1/2 - 3/4 cup  freshly squeezed lime juice (enough to cover fish)
1 tablespoon  fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
Salt and pepper (to taste)

Rinse fish and pat dry
Cut into 1 inch cubes (anywhere from 1/2 inch - 2 inches, depending on your preference)
Place fish in a thin layer in a non-reactive dish
Combine lime juice, chili pepper, garlic and cilantro in a dish
Pour marinade over the fish and lay sliced onion on top
After 10 minutes (approximately) fish will be 'cooked'
Remove from the liquid and serve

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Time to Celebrate 31!

Last year we celebrated my birthday in the beautiful city of Seville, Spain. We had a wonderful trip and ate a lot of delicious food. 

For today's 31st birthday post, I'm sharing some of my favorite food pictures that I took during our trip. Enjoy! And don't view on an empty stomach. 

Churros con chocolate y cafe con leche

Plato variados por tres euros

Al dia siguiente, plato variados por cuatro euros.
Te gusta mucho aceitunas.

Cervaceria 100 Montaditos

Cheers to another great year! 


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