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.

Screen Shot 2013-08-16 at 11.31.00 AM

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

Advertisements

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.

BBQ Baby

Although not nearly as cool as Middle Earth, exploring Middle America has been an experience. Turns out there’s a Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and/or Franklin just about everywhere in this country. There’s also a Kansas City, Kansas; Kansas City, Missouri; Kansas, Illinois. You think Americans could be a bit more creative. After 9 hours of staring out at endless plains and fields, Anthony and I took reprieve at Arthur Bryant’s BBQ in Kansas City, Missouri before stopping for the night in Jefferson City.

20130711-213310.jpg
On the border between Kansas and Missouri, Kansas City is known for many things, but perhaps most of all, it’s known for BBQ. Travel Channel’s Man v Food showcased two of Kansas City’s finest: Gates and Arthur Bryant’s. We chose to stop at the latter and we weren’t disappointed.

20130711-213212.jpg
For just $12.20 you could choose a pound of any combination of their mouthwatering smoked, pulled, juicy, delicious meats. (If you’re reading this, Nick, you’d be in HEAVEN) For my poor pork-hating body, Anthony and I split a half pound of burnt ends and a half pound of beef brisket. On the side we had baked beans and coleslaw. Magnificent would be an understatement. The sides were even so good that Anthony went back up to order another one of each. Meanwhile, I sneakily slopped up the saucey, greasy, fatty remnants of our beef feast from the plate with a slice of white bread.

20130711-213414.jpg
Properly protein’d up, we returned to the road…ready for Missouri’s capital, Jefferson City, to meet the future President of the United States.

Mile High Munchies

It was a gamble leaving Cedar City, Utah for Denver at 8pm on Monday. There was a chance we wouldn’t make it, but my instincts told me to take the gamble. I’m happy to report we safely made it to the Mile High city at 4:30am on Tuesday.

We dropped the car off at the VW dealership in Lakewood, and were able to pick it up 4 hours and $1000 later. That’s fun.

But the car trouble didn’t stop us from enjoying the full splendor of the city of Denver, Colorado. To be honest, I didn’t have high expectations for the city. In fact, I thought it was going to be full of hipsters and mountain men. I was right…but it turns out that’s not a terrible thing. In fact, Denver is extraordinarily cool. Anthony and I met up with his college buddy who works as a bar manager (as well as a number of other jobs). Adam graciously led us around the city, showing us a little peek into the everyday world of Denver.

Denver speaks to me. In particular, Denver speaks to my tummy. If you know me, you know I like some crazy food. Denver didn’t disappoint. First, we stopped off for lunch at an exotic sausage place called Biker Jim’s.

20130711-184440.jpg

20130711-184556.jpg
There’s a similar style place by where I live in Clarendon, but NOWHERE near as good. Anthony and I split:

Alaskan Reindeer Sausage w/ Cream Cheese & Caramelized Onions
Rattlesnake & Pheasant Sausage w/ Harissa Roasted Cactus, Malaysian Jam, Scallions, Cilantro & Onions (two ways)
Charred Tahini Cauliflower
Good Juju, a beer brewed with Ginger

20130711-184712.jpg

20130711-184814.jpg

20130711-184833.jpg
It was refreshing drink, delicious food, and outstanding company. But the food and drink adventure didn’t stop there!

20130711-185022.jpg
After a stop off at the Great Divide tap house for some of the best IPAs and stouts I’ve ever tasted (don’t worry, Guinness, your place is safe in my heart), our wonderful host took us to one of the most highly-rated bars in the whole US of A, Falling Rock Tap House. For a mere $7 I had the opportunity to taste a world renowned IPA on tap, Russian River Pliny the Elder.

20130711-190550.jpg

20130711-190655.jpg
After taking an afternoon nap fueled by early mornings and strong beer, I fulfilled a long-time dream…trying Rocky Mountain Oysters. In a moment of vacation brain, Anthony protested to eating them because he’s “allergic to oysters.” After a beat, a wave of embarrassment washed over his face as he realized that Rocky Mountain Oysters are actually bull testicles.

20130711-185553.jpg

20130711-185523.jpg
So what do balls taste like? Actually, not much different than veal! I’m going to have to look for a place close by to D.C. to try them because boy-oh-boy those things were good.

We hopped over to a pizza place in downtown Denver for dinner. After devouring a charcuterie plate and an entire pizza, we headed back to Adam’s place to crash and prepare for our journey to Jefferson City, MO.