Thursday, June 24, 2010

Favorite Bakeries

We recently celebrated our fifth anniversary. I can hardly believe we've been married that long; it's just flown by! To celebrate, we took it easy. Earlier in the day, I picked up a mini cake from a local bakery, The Chocolate Dessert Cafe. When Jeff got home from work, we went out dinner at a great Italian restaurant and took a walk. Simple.

But it sparked this post. See, the bakery is just amazing. And we have several local bakeries that are just awesome. For being in little old Utah County, and not, say, in New York or Paris, we do pretty well for ourselves in the bakery department. So, without further ado, my favorites, in no particular order.

  • Kneaders. This is a Utah chain that has spread to Arizona. Aside from the customer service, which is less than stellar even in off-peak hours, everything I've had here has been great. They are a cafe, so they have sandwiches and salads, but they also offer all-you-can-eat cinnamon french toast with caramel syrup, strawberries, and whipped cream in the mornings for about $5. I can't eat more than a plate, and Jeff can only eat one extra slice, that's how big they are. But they are so yummy, especially when strawberries are in season. They also sell artisan-style bread, and they have the best baguettes I have found in Utah. That is actually how I started going here: a French professor I had once brought in baguettes and cheese for us, and said he had purchased them here. And my favorite treat is the lime tart. Yum.
  • Flour Girls and Dough Boys. This is another artisan bakery, and claims to be 100% artisanal (no yeast). It's located in Lehi, Utah, and is AMAZING. They have a little bit of everything, and are also a cafe. Their sandwiches are delicious, and I wish I lived closer. As it is, we only get to go when we're passing through Lehi. They have divine cream puffs and cream cheese brownies, not too mention the cookies. Oh, the cookies. Shortbread chocolate chip, and Oatmeal chocolate chip stuffed with coconut and pecans. Really, just yum.
  • Sweet Tooth Fairy. I have to admit, the first time I visited, I was not impressed. Their selection was, in my opinion, pathetic. I remember seeing only a handful of cupcake flavors and a few cookie flavors, in addition to a few boxes of cakeballs. And I couldn't fathom spending $2 on a cupcake, so I got a cookie, and it was okay. But. My sister-in-law, when visiting us, brought half a dozen cupcakes from her favorite cupcakery (which shall remain nameless to protect the not-so-innocent) and I thought they were pathetic. I didn't say this of can you tell someone that they paid $3 for a sorry cupcake? The thing is, they were really sweet and they fell in the middle. The bakery had piled on frosting (probably close to 3 inches, easy) which covered the fact that they had fallen in the middle, but also made them extraordinarily sweet. They tasted fine, if you could get past the toothache. When she came again, I picked up a half-dozen from the Sweet Tooth Fairy, and wasn't expecting much. I just did it because I thought she'd appreciate it. But they were astounding (this coming from someone who doesn't LOVE cake)! So much better. They weren't drenched in frosting, but were as perfectly balanced as possible. They did have more flavors than I remember seeing the first time I visited, and they had some really good ones. I tried (halves or quarters, of course) chocolate marble, German chocolate, toasted coconut (my favorite), cheesecake, dulce de leche (I only had a bite of those two) and chocolate peanut butter. They were all great. They were all moist. They weren't too airy. And not one of them had fallen in the middle. The first store is in Provo, but they have opened stores in Draper and St. George. The owner has also appeared on Rachel Ray with her cake bites. Next time I want $2 cupcakes, I'm so there.
  • The Chocolate. Last, but certainly not least. As mentioned, these are in no particular order. This is where I bought the mini cake for our anniversary. This is such a fun place; it's a cafe, but they just sell desserts and coffee. I visited once on a Friday night and the line was out the door. It was great to see it so busy, because that means it's doing well, right? The only thing I haven't loved has been the mint brownie. But guess what? I don't like mint brownies, so that's hardly fair to judge them based on that (Jeff picked it out and I didn't have the heart to tell him no). They have an amazing turtle tart, which happens to be gluten free. Yes. And you can't tell it's gluten free. They also sell an array of cupcakes and other sweet things (not all are chocolate...). Love it. They have the MOST amazing vanilla cake I've ever tasted. Whoever said vanilla is bland has not tried this cake. I'm telling you, I love chocolate. But the chocolate cake was a disappointment after the vanilla.
With all these great bakeries, it's almost hard to find motivation to bake anything myself. Almost. :-)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

My Favorite Appliances

There are SO many countertop kitchen appliances out there. And so many of them perform precisely ONE function. Which, to me, feels wasteful. They do take up a lot of room, after all. I got rid of our electric can opener a few years ago because I just thought it was a waste of space. Are we really opening so many cans that we need an appliance to do it for us so we don't get carpel tunnel? I don't think so. The manual can openers work just as well, and take about quarter of the space. While there are some that are useless (in my opinion), there are some I cannot live without. And it has surprised me; I didn't think I would own some (or most) of these. But I love them.
  1. Ice Cream Maker. I used to have this one, but "upgraded" because this bowl is slightly bigger and the machine is smaller. Always a plus. Plus, the first one had the dispenser, which I never used, and made it a pain to clean. It claims to be for soft serve ice cream, but what they don't tell you is that ALL homemade ice cream is basically soft serve ice cream and you need to freeze it for several hours before serving if you want it firmer.
  2. Rice Cooker. I have a really basic one, and it does the trick just fine, but, I don't make sushi or anything that requires specially prepared rice. It holds 7 cups, I think, so it's a good size, and we use it a lot. I have also used it for rice pilaf, and it works beautifully.
  3. Toaster Oven. I have a large cuisinart one, and it's been going strong for 5 years. It broils, toasts,'s amazing. I have never baked cookies or anything in it, but I have cooked with it (roasting vegetables, etc), and it's great. When you don't want to heat the whole house up but really need the oven, it's perfect. Also, I don't own a toaster. This works well for toasting and that's one less appliance I need!
  4. Food Processor. I thought this was the stupidest gadget ever. And then I had one of those mini food blender sticks, and I used the process attachment all the time, especially for hummus or falafel. And then I decided that I was burning out my blender when I puree food, especially for roasted potato leek soup. So I stole my mom's food processor, because it was sitting in her basement, completely forgotten, and I love it. Grating carrots has never gone so fast!
  5. Kitchenaid Stand Mixer. I have the Artisan tilt-head model, and I like it, but wish I had sprung for the more expensive, larger one.
  6. Just one more...Popcorn Popper. I grew up in a popcorn-eating family, and microwave is okay, but nothing beats home-popped (is that the right word?). Especially when it comes to making caramel corn, which just happens to be one of my favorite treats. This particular popper doesn't need a lot of oil and pops the corn wonderfully. There are rarely stray kernels, even with store brand popcorn. Stray kernels can really ruin caramel corn (chipped tooth, anyone?).
What appliances are your favorites? What can you just not live without? And what have you used a lot more than you thought you would?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Overnight Apple French Toast

When I was in college, I studied abroad in Paris for a semester. It was amazing. I loved it, and I wish I had been more adventurous or more experienced, because I wasted a lot of my time while I was there. I loved it just the same, and felt like I really grew a lot. I learned to know and love a city besides the one where I grew up, and I learned to find my way around. I became a lot more independent.

But I still missed home. A lot. I didn't live at home as a student, but I attended a university only about an hour away from home, so I saw my family really whenever I wanted. Being in Europe for four months really helped me gain independence from that, but I was really ready to see my family when I got home.

A few weeks before we came home, I asked my mom to make me apple French toast when I got back. It was something she often made for us on holidays, especially Thanksgiving or Christmas, and it was just special. I loved the warm caramel syrup on the bottom and crispy edges of the toast on top that concealed the moist, eggy interior. It seemed like a great welcome home.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Herbs in My Garden

When we moved into our new home two years ago, I threw caution to the wind and planted a vegetable garden. I didn't know what I was doing, but the previous owner had installed raised garden beds complete with soaker hoses hooked up to the sprinkling system, and so it was easy. Well, it seemed easy.

That's the thing: anyone can garden. But not everyone can do it well.

I don't do it well. But I still enjoy what we get. Using potting soil and having a sprinkling system really do a lot for someone without a green thumb.

Each year, I've tried some new things, and gone with old-standbys as well. And each year, I've incorporated some herbs into my plans.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Cherry, Chocolate, and Buttermilk Scones

I love when a recipe is both surprisingly easy and amazingly delicious. It's so rewarding. It makes you feel like a master chef, and you get to enjoy the fruits of your non-labor.

Such was the case with these scones. Which is why there was only one left to take a picture with. At least until I gave it to my sister a minute after taking this picture, at which point it was promptly devoured. This is why the picture is extraordinarily pathetic.

But, first we need to rewind.
Yesterday, I had to give a presentation in my graduate class. My project is on food writing and narrative, and I'll be using some of David Lebovitz's writings as a text to study. So, I thought it would be very appropriate to bake something written by him for my class. But--we all know David Lebovitz is the king of sweets. And my class is 8am. Somehow, I didn't think Chocolate Idiot Cake or Mint Chip Ice Cream would fly. But, I found a recipe for scones that sounded delicious in his Great Book of Chocolate. Scones are totally breakfast food, right? Plus, bonus--I still had buttermilk in my refrigerator, and the expiration date was quickly approaching (read: had passed two days earlier, but it still smelled like buttermilk, so we're good).

Yay! I found the one. But. I worried. Every scone I'd ever eaten had been rock hard. And, the recipe did say to serve warm...which suggested to me that these, too, might turn to rocks upon cooling and *gasp* overnight storage. But there was no way I was making these the morning of class--I don't get up that early. My only option was to bake them the night before. I also worried because the instructions said to cut in the butter--not something I'm very good at or do very often. Yet, it looked easy overall.

So, I did it. I was worried it would flop at 9pm the night before and I would be left without any time to prepare anything else, but that was a risk I was willing to take. But as I got into making them, my worries dissipated.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Bean to Bar

One thing I love about where I live is that even though it isn't exactly metro, I can get some really high quality treats. We have a few artisan bakeries and other fun dessert options. We have a local mill that (I've heard) mills great flour (I've been meaning to try it, okay?). Yes, despite being no where interesting, we have delicious food options.

That ability to get great treats locally is about to skyrocket. Amano is a bean to bar chocolate factory and it's located in Orem, Utah, which is near where I live. Since they began making chocolate, they have sold mostly on the internet and at some storefronts, although I've never actually seen any (I haven't ordered any either...I'm too lazy. Which I realize is amazing.) BUT, I saw on their website that they are opening a factory storefront sometime around June. Which is now! I cannot wait to try their chocolate (and yet I've never ordered any...suspicious, I grant you.)

Today, when I checked on when their store might be open, I was pleasantly greeted with a contest for a year's worth of chocolate. (Umm, yum!) And I had to enter. I think you should too. But I hope I win. Sorry! I could really use a year's worth of chocolate. Just imagine how much weight I would put on. And how much fun I would have doing it! Good luck, though...if it can't be me, I hope it's you. Is that better? I think once their store is open, I might have to have a giveaway with a bar or two of their fantastic chocolate. But it will also have to wait for winter...I'd hate to have it melt everywhere before it arrived.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Buttermilk Pound Cake

I love dessert. I have quite a sweet tooth. But I've never really gotten into cake. So many cakes are too fluffy, and I like dense desserts. So when I make cakes, I opt for molten cakes, quick breads, and pound cakes. Those...those are right up my alley. Desserts you can really sink your teeth into. Desserts that are substantial.

I love them. But I still don't make them very often. I guess that's partly because they're just not good for you. But mostly because it's just me and Jeff...eating the entire thing ourselves...which is fun, don't get me wrong, Having cake for a week is nice. But then you realize you consumed half a pound of butter and a whole cup of sugar by yourself...well, it starts to make you feel gross.

Sometimes I give in to temptation. Like last week. The problem is, Elissa of 17andbaking makes it Impossible not to! Her photography is delicious. Thus far, I've resisted.

But then, she made Buttermilk Pound Cake. Buttermilk, I thought. Ha! I never have buttermilk (even though she says you can make your own with the lemon juice trick). But then my in-laws visited. And I decided, since I needed to feed my sourdough starter anyway, I would make sourdough waffles. Which need buttermilk, apparently. So, I bought a quart and what do you know? I had 2 cups left. Perfect for making pound cake.

I didn't make it for my in-laws. I waited a couple of weeks and made it shortly after Jeff's birthday. I couldn't wait the two days Elissa suggests; we enjoyed it that night. And it was delicious. And heavy. And slightly sweet. The perfect end. Some desserts are far too rich. This one was perfect.

Resist. I dare you.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Does it feel like I'm slacking?

Because I am. I apologize. This time of year is hectic for everyone, I know. Within about 4 weeks, we have mother's day, memorial day, and father's day, and families with school-aged children deal with the last days of school. On top of that, I have Jeff's birthday and our anniversary, and I've been taking a graduate class, so we have our final projects and final exam coming up in about a week. Then I have a good friend from Paris coming to stay for a week (which I'm SUPER excited about; I haven't seen her in 3 years! It just means I'll be busy). Life is crazy.

I have things in queue for this blog...kind of. I have a post written about strawberry ice cream. But not pictures. I have pictures of a delicious bundt cake. But no post. And I have mango ice cream in the freezer waiting for a post and pictures.

I started this blog with the goal of posting 3 times a week. I thought that was very doable. Not quite daily, like blogging rockstars, but not terribly infrequent either, like blogging slackers. But then life happened.

Life always happens.

And you know, I wouldn't have it any other way. Because the truth is, this blog is fun. And that's all it's supposed to be. It's not supposed to be my life. I have a life. I have a dishwashing-rockstar of a husband and a little daughter and an MA program. Not to mention good friends, extended family, and a very social neighborhood.

This is not a goodbye, although I know it sounds like one.

It's a justification for my infrequent posting habits. I'll tell you what, though.

My final exam is on June 16th. After that, I'll get cooking and posting (before school starts again in the fall...).

I'll do more challenges, which is in part why I started this blog. To keep me honest, here are some self-imposed deadlines.

June 20th: I'll make ravioli from scratch (pasta and all)
July 15th: I'll bake bagels
August 4th: I'll make couscous (I'm sure this one is simple...but it's not something I have ever done)
August 20th: I'll bake lemon bars (ditto)

In addition to these, I'll continue posting other recipes, obviously...

I dunno. It sounds like a fun summer!