Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Guinness Cupcakes & A Radio Show!

I have been looking for an opportunity to make Guinness cake, or cupcakes, or brownies for quite awhile, and I finally found it. On Thursday, March 1 at 1:30 eastern time, I am going to be talking about food blogs with Linda Gassenheimer and Joseph Cooper on WLRN, the NPR affiliate in South Florida. I wanted to come up with an easy recipe to share, and this is it!

You can listen in (and find out if they like the cupcakes) by going to and clicking on the live audio feed.

Now, back to the cupcakes. St. Patrick’s Day is right around the corner, and this is the perfect dessert to follow up corned beef and cabbage or any Irish feast you plan to serve. The cake is very light and moist, with a mellow stout flavor that is the perfect complement to the cocoa. They are not overly sweet, so the espresso buttercream is a perfect topper. This frosting has a light coffee scent, but is mild enough for anyone who is not a coffee lover. It is absolutely irresistible on the cupcakes and helps bring out the Guinness flavor.

I just got the name, “O’Hara,” by marriage, so if you don’t want to take my word for it, my Irish husband cannot stop eating these cupcakes.

Guinness Cupcakes with Espresso Cream Frosting
Cakes adapted from a recipe from The Detroit Free Press via Cupcakes Take the Cake and from a recipe by Dave Lieberman from Dave’s Dinners. Frosting adapted from The Betty Crocker Cookbook.
You can find the instant espresso powder for the frosting at specialty stores and many supermarkets. I ordered mine from the King Arthur Flour Baker's Catalogue.

Makes 24 cupcakes

For cupcakes:
1 stick unsalted butter
12 oz. Guinness
½ tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 c. granulated sugar
¾ c. natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. salt
1 ¼ tsp. baking soda
¾ c. sour cream
3 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fill two 12-count muffin pans with paper baking cups.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter, Guinness and vanilla. Stir occasionally until butter is melted. Pour into a large mixing bowl and set aside to cool for at least 10 minutes.

In another large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, gradually combine with the Guinness mixture in three additions. Beat in the sour cream, then beat in the eggs one by one.

Pour the batter into the prepared muffin pans, filling each cup about three-quarters full. Bake for 22 to 28 minutes (mine took 25) or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Leave in the pan to cool for 5 minutes, then finish cooling on a wire rack. Frost when cooled completely.

For frosting:
3 c. powdered sugar
1/3 c. butter (5 1/3 tbs.), cut into cubes and softened
1 ½ tsp. instant espresso powder dissolved in 3 tbs. water

In a large bowl, beat the sugar and butter with an electric mixer on low speed to combine. Pour in the espresso mixture and continue beating on medium-high until frosting is smooth and creamy. If frosting is too thick, add water a couple drops at a time to reach desired consistency. Makes enough for 24 cupcakes or an 8-9 inch two-layer cake.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Restaurant Review: Canyon, Fort Lauderdale

The fried oysters are crusted with blue corn meal and topped with cilantro cream.

We have whittled it down to a science: 6:30 – leave home. 6:45 – arrive and park.
6:50 – enter restaurant and speak to hostess. 6:55 to 7:35 – huddle into the cozy bar area and order the signature Prickly Pear Margaritas. 7:35 to 7:50 – get seated. And by approximately 8:00pm (a very agreeable dinner hour for us) - dig into a fabulous meal.

Canyon, a tiny, candlelit café on Sunrise Blvd. and US 1 in Fort Lauderdale is one of our favorite places to go for a special dinner. I always dress up, and we always order the Prickly Pear Margarita while we wait patiently for a table because Canyon does not take reservations. I don’t know why they make dining here such an unpredictable experience – Will it be a two hour wait? Will we ever get seated? – but I do know that it hasn’t hurt business.

That must be because the food is creative and consistently good. Canyon serves contemporary, gourmet Southwestern fare. This has never been our cuisine of choice, but nothing Canyon sends out of the kitchen is my idea of typical Southwestern food. The first meal I ever had there was the chef’s special of halibut with a puttanesca sauce and a sticky rice “tamale.” The fish was cooked to such a luscious firm-tender texture, and the tamale on the side was so original, I was won over straight away.

Although we always have to be careful not to eat too much at Canyon, appetizers are not to be missed. One of my favorite dishes ever is their take on chiles rellenos, a poblano pepper stuffed with goat cheese, coated in a cornmeal batter and served with a New Mexican red chile sauce and black bean salsa. The tangy, herb-inflected goat cheese is the perfect creamy accompaniment to the spicy sauce and toothsome black beans.

The tequila and jalapeno-smoked salmon tostada with goat cheese, grilled scallions and scotch bonnet tartar sauce is built like a pizza with a crispy fried tortilla as the crust. Big enough to be an entrée, the seemingly disparate flavors of the salmon, cheese and spicy tartar sauce marry flawlessly in every bite.

For a lighter appetizer option, go with the crispy blue corn fried oysters. The corn coating adds a firm crunch to the fat fresh oysters, and the spicy cilantro cream is a fresh alternative to tartar sauce.

Mike has ordered Canyon’s filet mignon a few times, and it always has a velvety rare center, as requested. It gets some Southwestern style with poblano pesto, goat cheese (they seem be fans of goat cheese in this kitchen, but I can't say I mind) and a zinfandel reduction. On our last visit, Mike tried the roast chicken with mole, instead of his usual order of steak. He enjoyed it and thought the mole was particularly good, but I found the meat a bit too dry. It is the only complaint I have ever had with the food here.

I often get the special at Canyon. There is usually some fresh fish on offer, and I like to think the chef puts special attention into these creations. The latest winning order was grilled trout with sautéed spinach and escarole and a port wine reduction. I balked at the combination of fish with port, but decided to see what the chef could do. It turned out that the trick was the bitter escarole that acted as a perfect foil for the intense oak and berry flavors of the port. It was a surprising and inspired choice to pair with the slightly oily fish. The citrus skirt steak with prickly pear-marinated onions is another lovely entrée that actually originated as a special. This kitchen has a way with both beef and fish that make it a particular pleasure to work your way through the entire menu.

I have eaten desserts at Canyon, but in our most recent visits, we have given up on the lofty goal of saving enough room to enjoy them. I seem to remember that the pecan pie was spectacular, but I’ll leave that territory for you to navigate on your own.

Not being able to reserve a table is a bit frustrating, but our timeline has never failed us (knock on wood). With that, and a menu that rarely disappoints, maybe Canyon is not so unpredictable after all.

The chicken's hidden under that lovely tangle of frites, I promise.

The special of fresh trout with spinach, escarole and a port wine reduction.


1818 E. Sunrise Blvd.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

2007 Food Network South Beach Food & Wine Festival Coming Up!

The 2007 Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival is being held on February 22-24. Located in what must be the sexiest town to ever host a foodie summit, the SoBe Fest sounds like a pretty good bet if you can score tickets and make it down for the fun.

I'm sure Donatella will give you a lift on her private plane if Jet Blue is all booked. Check out the website for tickets and more info.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Future of Wine Tasting

Welcome to the ultimate wine store for gadget-mavens, wine-swilling techies and boys who love toys. It's also pretty great if you are a wine lover who subscribes to the try-before-you-buy theory. Even if you have little interest in wine, 7th Street Wine Company is so cool, it could turn you into an amateur sommelier.

The best comparison is to a grown-up video arcade where you plunk down some cash that gets loaded onto a debit card by the cashier who hands you a glass and leaves you to run wild from machine to machine. However, instead of chances to earn a high score on Golden Tee, your little card buys you tastes from the store's selection of 1100 different wines. At any given time, about 100 bottles are "on tap." The sleek, futuristic enomatic wine dispensing machines are imported from Italy and calibrated to mete out a perfect tasting pour.

A taste of a priced bottle will be in the $1 to $3 range, while others, like a Canadian ice wine, will run you about $9 for a frosty swig. Mike and I tend to stick to the lower end of the price range and compare France to California or Riesling to Gewurztraminer. We usually load about $25 onto our debit card, and taste enough different wines to leave us feeling very content. If we did happen to be in the market for a special bottle, we might not mind spending $10 or so on a taste before we spend considerably more to bring it home with us.

The picture above shows Mike inserting our debit card into one of the enomatics that holds all the white wine selections in a temperature-controlled environment. I have to admit that we actually purchase almost all of our wine at our other favorite wine shop in Fort Lauderdale because they have phenomenal prices, a knowledgable staff and a great selection. Mike gets such a kick out of the enomatics at 7th Street however, that we keep coming back for the novelty, as well as the sleek atmosphere of this beautifully designed space.

7th Street has frequent free tastings, often hosted by one of their distributors. There are usually more than a few couples on dates or groups of friends enjoying the casual ambience, complete with jazzy mood music and low, blue-tinted lighting.

I do not think there are many set-ups like this yet in the United States, but it is bound to catch on quickly. Hopefully not too quickly, though. It's nice to be ahead of the curve down here in sunny Fort Lauderdale for a change.

7th Street Wine Company
701 S. Federal Highway
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Woodlands Vegetarian Indian Restaurant

I came to love Indian food when I spent my third year of college studying in London. Although I went to museums constantly and read wonderful British literature, I should probably have put the word studying in quotation marks. Mostly, what I did that year was get intimately acquainted with the city of London, travel as much as possible and enjoy British university life with my friends. This meant spending a lot of time in pubs and having countless dinners out at the Indian curry houses in our east London neighborhood.

The spicy tomato-based lamb curries were my favorites, but Chicken Saag, a spinach-based curry, was a close runner up. The naan bread, light and blistered from the tandoori ovens, was a revelation. For awhile, I would have named the sweet peshwari naan my favorite food in the world.

Having worked my way through much of a typical Indian menu since my time in London, I thought I knew quite a bit about Indian food for an American. It turns out that someone could fill a book, or at least a menu, with what I didn’t know. That is how I felt when I ate at Woodlands, a quiet little place in a strip mall on University Drive in Lauderhill.

Woodlands serves Southern Indian cuisine which caters to a vegetarian diet, whereas the more familiar Northern style is know for meat-based curries and succulent tandoori dishes. Woodlands is, in fact, a completely vegetarian restaurant which meant I had to work slightly harder to “sell it” to my husband. He loves Indian food and is happy to eat a vegetarian meal at home, but he wondered how interesting the food could possibly be with no meat involved. He has now completely reversed his opinion. Southern Indian cuisine is Ganesh’s gift to vegetarians and soon will become the latest obsession of adventurous food lovers.

The majority of the food we ordered at Woodlands consisted of things we have never seen before. Pictures in the menu and the helpful staff gave us some idea of what to expect. On our first visit, we were ready to order several items, but our waiter told us that the Royal Thali would likely be enough for two. A thali is a sort of sampler platter, complete with various curries, including chana masala (chickpea-tomato curry) and coconut-vegetable curry; rasam soup, basmati rice, yogurt and dessert; and a golden balloon of freshly made fried bread called batura (or a big puri). This giant, chewy puff of warm, slightly sweet bread crowning the lovely thalis is enough reason to eat at Woodlands. A selection of appetizers accompanied the thali, introducing us to medhu vada, a fried “lentil donut” that had a greaseless, mildly-spiced bread-like interior. Though lacking the novelty of the vada, a simple vegetable fritter was another favorite.

From left to right: vegetable fritter, vegetable samosa and medhu vada.

The menu also has a large selection of dosais, or thin rice flour crepes that can be ordered with sauces on the side or chutney and vegetable fillings. The Woodlands Special Dosai is the Indian version of a really great hot veggie wrap -- a crisp crepe stuffed with curried vegetables and fluffy potatoes, tinted yellow with turmeric. These crepes are about 20 inches long, so there is plenty for sharing. Uthappams are another staple of Southern Indian cooking. These thick pancakes made from a lentil and rice batter are served with a variety of toppings like tomatoes, onions, and peas.

A variety of Indian breads are available a la carte, including my beloved naan. Woodlands’ selection of vegetarian curries can also be ordered in entrée-sized portions, but for your introduction to Southern Indian food, one of the thalis is a must. If you can make it for lunch, the buffet promises an even wider array of Woodlands’ vegetarian creations. It is available 7 days a week. I would love to tell you why a off-dry reisling pairs beautifully with spicy Indian flavors, but Woodlands does not have a liquor license. Take comfort in knowing that my husband and I like our glass of wine with dinner, so we would not be driving out of our way to eat there at every opportunity unless the food was fantastic.

With a reference to its name, the restaurant is sparsely decorated with a whimsical wooded garland painted along the borders of the walls. With booths lining one side and long tables filling the sunny front half of the room, Woodlands does not exactly resemble a maharajah’s palace, but no matter. I do not know of another restaurant in South Florida where two people can dine on so much exotic, fresh, healthfully prepared food of this quality for no more than $25.00. I am thrilled that Woodlands has given me a whole new facet of Indian cuisine to explore. It makes me wonder what other culinary aspects of the mysterious subcontinent that I have yet to uncover.

Another South Florida strip mall gem...

4816 N. University Dr.
Lauderhill, FL 33351
(407) 854-3330