Baking with Bourbon

Before all my friends and family start hating me for my weird tirade on their children, I thought I’d take a step back and talk about this week’s culinary adventures. Last week, I tried my hand at a truly Mexican-American combination dish: Fried Chicken Mole and Waffles. This week, I went a little more traditional Americana.

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One of my coworkers is what I consider the definition of Southern sweetheart…with an edge. As I’ve made something of a habit of bringing baked treats in to work for notable (and some not-so-notable) occasions, when I found out her birthday was coming up, I couldn’t help myself.

I decided to make a cupcake that reminds me of her–something Southern, sweet, but definitely edgy. That’s how I came up with my recipe for Pecan Pie Cupcakes w/ Bourbon Cream Cheese Frosting. I’ll warn you, when I say Bourbon, I mean mean Bourbon with a capital B!

The sweet, sticky pecan pie mixture caramelizes on the top, while simultaneously seeping into the airy, pillowy brown sugar cupcake. Then it hits you, the unmistakeable warming tingle of bourbon. Between the sugar and the booze, you may feel a little woozy for just a second. That’s to be expected.

All good food should make you take a moment. It should transport you from where you stand to another place, another time, another memory, or somewhere you’ve never been before. Good food should make you feel something–joy, love, nostalgia, whimsy, even fear or anger. In many ways, good food is a lot like a good book. If you close your eyes, and bite into this cupcake, here’s where you might go:

It’s Thanksgiving in the American South. It’s a joyful, wholesome family celebration. You’re a child, running around in a post-dessert sugar rush. In an effort to calm you, your grandfather sneaks you your first taste of bourbon. His hearty chuckle booms through the air. The drink stings a bit, but the warmth feels nice juxtaposed to the chilly winter air. You play for a bit longer, but as the night gets darker and the warmth continues to spread, you find yourself yearning for your bed. You climb into bed, feeling cozy and safe in a way that only children can. You nod off…

Then you open your eyes and you’re standing in your work kitchen, realizing that you actually grew up in Los Angeles, and were far more likely to be slipped a margarita than bourbon. But that’s the magic of it….

Pecan Pie Cupcakes w Bourbon Frosting

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Not Yo Abuelita’s Mole

Every once in a while I get an insatiable craving for Mexican food. Unfortunately, Washington D.C. and the surrounding areas aren’t known for their ability to really satisfy a California girl’s needs when it comes to South-of-the-border classics. When times get tough, sometimes a girl has to take her destiny into her own hands. But being the adventurous eater I am, I couldn’t help but put a twist on one of my childhood favorites, chicken mole.

Chicken mole is a classic Mexican dish–some even call it the national dish of Mexico–known for its symbolic representation of the mixing of European and Indigenous cultures.  In fact, mole may be one of the first international dishes of the Americas, mixing ingredients from the local land, Europe, and Africa. The base of the dish, however, is deeply rooted in the history of Mexico. According to legend, during the early colonial period, the archbishop was scheduled to visit the Convent of Santa Rosa in Puebla. Upon hearing of his arrival, the nuns of the convent went into a panic knowing that in their destitute state they had nothing to serve him. And so, as nuns often do, they prayed. They brought together what they did have: chili peppers, spices, old bread, nuts, and a bit of chocolate. They mixed it together and poured the sauce over an old turkey they killed for the occasion. It was well-worth the sacrifice, because the archbishop was smitten with the dish. Why wouldn’t he be? The deep, complex, spicy, sweet, nutty, smooth flavor of mole could win just about anyone’s heart.

So what’s the twist? In order to make my chicken mole suitable for the star-spangled table, I decided to combine it with a classic American dish–chicken and waffles! That’s right, I made Fried Chicken Mole & Waffles.

The crispy fried chicken, buttermilk-cinnamon waffles, and the rich mole paired perfectly with Mexican corn cake, plantain chips, and guacamole made in the mortar and pestle Anthony bought for our 1-year anniversary.

Fried Chicken Mole and Waffles

To top it all off, Anthony and I decided to have a plate-off to see who could make the food look completely and utterly irresistible. I think the results really speak to our personalities. Whose is whose? Let’s see if you can figure it out.

Plate #1

fried chicken

Plate #2

photo

Did you know: Mole is so synonymous with celebration that in Mexico, to say “to go to a mole” (ir a un mole) means to go to a wedding.

Happy Birthday America! (Now Eat This)

Happy Fourth of July!

It’s strange, I suppose to leave the most American place in America (our nation’s capitol) during the most American holiday. Who am I kidding? The most American place in America is Texas and the most American holiday is Thanksgiving, with National Donut Day in a close second.

That said, I can’t imagine a better place to spend this Fourth of July than with my family in Los Angeles. This year, I’m happy to announce that my boyfriend will join the Weissenberger-Venti festivities, God bless his soul…and America. I have a rule- I try not to write about my relationships. Turns out, makes it kind of awkward if things don’t work out. Also, as I’ve said before, people don’t necessarily like to have their business put out on the Internet. But as Anthony has happily agreed to contribute to my blogging-across-the-country-challenge, I figure I can make this exception.

What’s on the agenda for America’s birthday? Let’s answer the real question: What’s on the menu?

To celebrate being American on this most sacred of holidays, I’m going to share one of my mother’s famous recipes. By famous recipes, I mean a recipe that she got from someone/somewhere else and has “made her own” by adding too much or too little of some ingredient by accident and pretending it was totally on purpose.


Momma Weissenberger’s Peach Crumble

6 peaches, cut 1/2 in
1/2 lemon, zested, juiced
2 tbsp maple syrup

Mix the peaches, lemon zest and juice, and syrup together

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp nutmeg
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter

Mix sugar, spices, and butter together

Place peaches into 9×13 pan and pour crumble over
Bake 15 min covered at 350 degrees
Uncover and cook an additional 30 minutes

Enjoy!

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I’ve Had Some Work Done…

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In case you haven’t noticed, your favorite star-spangled girl’s had a bit of work done. While she’s now LA beautiful, she’s also DC smart. Check out the new features and functions, including:

  • The Star-Spangled Table: Recipes from my table to yours – grill to goodies!
  • Everywhere in between: Since 2011, the SSG charge has been to conquer LA, DC and everywhere in between. Until now, there’s been a lack of adventures in the “in between” places. Thats about to change! Keep an eye on this section for updates from my upcoming trek across the country, plus news from SSG’s friends.

What do you think of the new layout? What features would you like to see?

Holiday Cheer to my Rear (O Tannenbaum)

Part 2 – O Tannenbaum

My father was born in Germany, but to be quite honest, I know very little about my German heritage. Much of what I do know comes from the holiday dishes that my Oma artfully puts together every year. While duck, potato dumplings, and warm red cabbage make me a very happy girl, the true stars of the holiday season are Oma’s cookies. Every year for as long as I can remember, my grandmother has  baked cookies for Christmas. When I was a little girl, my Oma lived in New Jersey and each year when the package would come in the mail, my dad would gracefully cradle the package, open it up and give my brothers and I each one cookie–then hide the tin. I wish I was kidding. He would either hide it or place it so high up that we couldn’t reach it. Cookies were then used to reinforce positive behavior–like dog treats.

I remember staring up at the cookie tin with my brothers, drooling with desire and intent on finding a way to reach that treasure chest of sweet goodness. After painstaking planning and acute execution only a Weissenberger child could pull off, we’d manage to snag a couple from the tin. I’d take the tiniest bites possible, savoring every morsel, careful not to drop a single crumb. Then I’d wait, tummy full of sugar and guilt, for my dad to come home. He’d sneak into the kitchen, fully aware that being caught with the tin might mean he would have to share. We held our breath as he opened the sacred tin, hoping just this once he wouldn’t have a mental count of the remaining cookies. He always did.

“Who touched my precious….”
(Yes, this is a picture of my dad morphed with Gollum. I really need to work on my Photoshop skills.)

My mom, using skills learned only through year after year of working with small children, would calmly and patiently intervene: “They are just kids/It’s Christmas/Those cookies aren’t just yours/Learn to share.” Every year, it was the same thing until, finally, my mom explained the situation to my Oma. Graciously, she offered to make us each our own bag of cookies for Christmas. None of us are very good about sharing them.


This year when Oma asked me what I wanted  for my birthday, I could think of nothing I wanted more than some Almond Crescents–my absolute favorite of all the Christmas cookies. I cannot express the joy that came when I opened that tin to see the familiar crescents nestled in their neat bed of parchment paper. The crescent shape, according the research I did while writing this blog, is very common in German baking. Legend has it that when the Austrians defeated the Ottomans, they celebrated by making the crescent shape which adorned the Ottoman flag. If war had a referee, I’d call that “excessive celebration” – Unsportsmanlike Conduct. If you can’t spike a ball while staring down a defender, you shouldn’t be able to make such utterly taunting cookies.

 I imagine the flavor of these cookies to be similar to that of angel poop (angel poop would taste delicious since they only eat clouds and love). So if you ever wondered what angel poop tastes like, here is a recipe that I found online for these cookies. Note: This is NOT the recipe used by my Oma. Sorry, but I am my father’s daughter and I just can’t share that.

Ingredients:

1 c butter
3/4 c sugar
1 t vanilla extract
1 1/2 t almond extract
2 1/2 c flour
1 c almonds; ground
confectioners’ sugar

Instructions:
Beat together butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Blend in extracts. Mix in flour and almonds. Using about 1 T of dough for each, shape into logs and bend into crescents. Place on greased cookie sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees F until light brown. While warm, roll crescents in confectioners’ sugar. Cool on racks and store in a tightly sealed container. Makes 3 dozen cookies.

A toast, to traditions that keep the soul fortified in this tumultuous world.

“Because of our traditions every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”
~Tevye (Fiddler on the Roof) 

Holiday Cheer to my Rear (Feliz Navidad)

New Years’ Resolution: Post more updates on Star Spangled Girl.

The holidays are about two things: food & family.

My family is moderately insane–in the best way possible?–so I’m going to call a majority of the most interesting stories of the holiday season off-limits. What a violation of the spirit of truthful, open blogging, you exclaim! I commiserate. If nothing else, I believe in that one, true blogging philosophy and I truly wish I could post the gut-busting, tear-jerking, utterly scandalous details of my time back in LA. Unfortunately, not everyone feels as comfortable having their private lives publicized for all eternity on the big, bad Internet. While I don’t quite understand it, I respect it. Kinda.

As a result, you will get an overly detailed account of the traditional foods of my Germexitalian holidays. Yes, I know I just wrote a blog about food. Yes, I know this makes me sound like a total fatty. But when my future robot companion (see #3) is reading my blog to me, I want to be able to cherish the memories of being able to stuff my face with insanely high caloric foods. In the four months I was in DC, I gained 5 pounds; In the two weeks I’ve been home, I’ve gained 2.5 pounds. Call it water weight, call it what you will–thats Holiday Cheer to my Rear.

Part 1- Feliz Navidad

A couple videos to get you in the mood. Hint: It’s not a Mexican-American Christmas without the second one!!!


Tamales

(If your life is sad and you don’t know what a tamale is, click here)

Every year in mid-December, my mother’s enormous family [enormous number of people, not enormous people] migrate from all over Los Angeles, San Bernadino and Orange Counties to East Los Angeles (technically Monterey Park, but it’s right next to East LA college so I argue its an accurate description) for a tamale-making extravaganza. Four generations line up at the counter, aprons in tow, ready to spread & stuff 300 tamales for Christmas eve. It’s a mix of assembly line and gossip circle, which normally isn’t much of a problem, but this year my grandpa decided we needed to take steps to preserve the process and wanted to video the entire event. At the corner of the kitchen, in the most cumbersome and awkward place possible, he put up his video camera on its tripod and hits record. Unfortunately, he didn’t quite make it clear enough to us that our every word was being immortalized via DVD. Almost immediately, in true Venti fashion, a rather racy conversation began as people began to trickle through the front door. Suddenly, we were hit with the stark realization that the little red light on the camera was illuminated–judging us, mocking us…knowing all.  Evidence of the questionable exchange needed to be quickly destroyed from existence. Wouldn’t you know it was grandpa’s last DVD? After a quick trip to the supermarket, we were back on track and on film. In the end we got most of the day on tape–and only about 46.27% would be problematic for the Motion Picture Association of America (They do movie ratings).

Our little tamale army make red (pork/beef mixture) and green (chile) tamales. Just like Italians with pasta sauce, most people (of Central or South American descent) believe that their grandma makes the best tamales. When I say that, though, I’ve got some legitimate back up. My family’s tamales are so badass they were even featured in the LA Times food section! In case you are wondering, we do make a couple sweet tamales but I find the idea of them to be absolutely disgusting, so let’s not even go there. Personally, I prefer the red tamales. This tends to work out for me because for some inexplicable reason more and more of my family members are becoming vegetarian and that means more meaty goodness for me.

Cheers, a toast to meaty goodness.

“I’ve got cousins galore. Mexicans just spread all their seeds. And the women just pop them out.”
~Jessica Alba 

Stay Tuned for Chapter 24.2: Holiday Cheer to my Rear (O Tannenbaum).

Sustenance

My dad always used to say, “I don’t eat to live, I live to eat.” I’m not sure he was the first person to ever say that, but he sure does live up to its standards. An undeniable daddy’s girl, I’ve proudly adopted this mantra and everything that goes with it.One of my earliest food memories was my father calling me over to the table and telling me to eat what I thought looked like a pink and white worm. Initially I squirmed and cried and refused, but my dad–in typical stubborn Weissenberger fashion–refused to give up. Finally, seeking approval (in a way that hasn’t changed much since) I relented. It was like something happened inside me. Shrimp, huh? I could handle that. From that moment on, there really wasn’t any food I wouldn’t try.
Goat cheek? I can handle that.
Black pudding/blood sausage? Bring it!
Turtle? Yes, please.
Cow Brain? Why not!?
Eel? What a treat..
Alligator? Of course.
Intestines? Got it.
Shark Fin Soup? Two bowls please.
Fish eggs–hell, that’s kid stuff.

95% of the pictures on my phone are of food–meals I’ve cooked, meals I’ve enjoyed, meals I’ve shared. The other 5% are of Isis, my cat. She’s fat, probably because, like me, she has an affinity for food…

Food was part of the initial allure of Washington DC. People out here love to eat the way people in Los Angeles love to not eat. As winter (and the inevitable pant size increase that goes with it) slowly creeps toward us, I thought I’d take an opportunity to share one of the highlights of my DC culinary adventures–Food Trucks!

Los Angeles has food trucks, sure. Not just the roach coach kind either. I know the Korean BBQ truck that parks across from the fraternity houses at UCLA was supposed to be one of the best in the country, but I never went there. I never went to any food truck out there other than when I went to the taping of The Next Food Network Star. Los Angeles is too large and spread out and there’s traffic…food trucks didn’t make sense for my lifestyle.

Washington is the perfect city for food trucks! There are a ton of people in a number of hubs throughout the city, none of which are too far apart, and many of those people can afford to spend $10 on lunch from a truck.

How do the trucks work? Everyday, the colorful wheeled gastronomists move to different parts of the city tweeting their locations to hungry foodies throughout the city. It turns into a delightful culinary treasure hunt. I’m currently challenging myself to try 2-3 food trucks a week, so far some of the best include:

@hulagirltruck  — Hula Girl Truck
Style: Hawaiian
Favorite: Kalua Pork & Spam Musubi


@takorean — Takorean Truck
Style: Korean Tacos/Bowls
Favorite: Tofu Taco

@fojolbrothers — Fojol Brothers Truck
Style: Indian
Favorite: Chicken Curry w/ Lentils

@tastykabob — Tasty Kabob Truck
Style: Kabob
Favorite: Lamb over Rice

@feelincrabby — Feelin’ Crabby Truck
Style: Crab Sandwiches
Favorite: Crab Sandwich

@yellowvendor — Yellow Truck
Style: Korean BBQ
Favorite: Spicy Combo (Kimchi, Salad, Spicy Chicken, Spicy Bulgogi)

A toast, “To living to eat not eating to live”

There is no love  sincerer than the love of food.
~George Bernard Shaw