Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Artistic Whisk – St. Petersburg, FL



 

Lance has left most of the wedding planning up to me since I’ve got more of an opinion about most of it – but one thing he was really excited to be part of was the cake tasting!

I went to a bridal show back in June and honestly, I wasn’t impressed by most of the cakes I tried.  I know fondant can make some really pretty designs, but I just don’t think it tastes good.  And surprisingly most of the cakes we sampled from the bridal show venders were pretty bland or dry. 

But luckily we stumbled upon Jovana’s booth for The Artistic Whisk while we were there.  The name sounded familiar because another engaged friend, Padma, had just done a tasting there a few weeks prior.  She had samples of her chocolate peanut butter cake and it was amazing!  (it’s actually not the cupcake pictured above…that was a competitor’s chocolate peanut butter that looked prettier than it tasted…) 

Jovana was just about to get married herself, so we arranged a cake tasting once she got back from her honeymoon to try her other flavors. 


Her bakery is in a warehouse strip in St. Pete – so luckily not too far from our venue.  She uses all natural flavors and has a pretty impressive background – graduating from Le Cordon Bleu and baking for Tampa’s Marriot Waterside, Clearwater’s Sandpearl Resort, the Ritz Carlton in Naples, and Innisbrook Golf and Spa Resort in Palm Harbor. 

My mom and dad joined Lance and me for the tasting.  She brought us all champagne while we walked through 21 different flavors and rated our favorites.  Luckily we can pick different flavors for each cake tier since it was really hard to narrow down which ones we liked best – they were ALL amazing.  And each had homemade fillings and different types of buttercreams to compliment the cake.   

My favorites were the orange creamsicle, almond raspberry, coconut with rum roasted pineapple, bananas foster, carrot cake, Bailey’s macadamia, Boston cream, chocolate chip cannoli, German chocolate, mint chocolate chip, mocha, and the chocolate peanut butter (I know, that’s a long list!) 

The four of us narrowed it down, and we decided on the coconut with rum roasted pineapple, chocolate peanut butter, and Bailey’s macadamia.  Plus she adds in a complimentary cake topper for us to enjoy on our 1 year anniversary, which will be the chocolate peanut butter.  We discussed designs and sketched up a plan based on the Pinterest ideas I’d sent her. 

I’m so excited that we found Jovana and I’d highly recommend her to any of you that need a cake for a special occasion.  Looking forward to the big day next April!

You can reach Jovana at theartisticwhisk@gmail.com or call her at (727) 560-5662 – her bakery is by appointment only.

The Ice Plant & Sea Oats Caffé – St. Augustine, FL



 

Last weekend was my friend Maddie’s bachelorette party in St. Augustine.  Her maid of honor Tessly’s family has a cute beach place up there, so we spent the weekend relaxing at the beach (and unfortunately getting very sunburned!) We enjoyed some pretty great food while we were there!

Tessly had the place all prepared with cute buckets of goodies for all of us and some incredible cupcakes from a local bakery (I need to find out which one…)

The forecast said it was going to pour all weekend, but we lucked out and got some nice perfect beach weather. 

Saturday night, we headed for an early dinner at The Ice Plant – a new local bar and restaurant.  Since they don’t take reservations and it’s such a popular spot, we decided we’d rather just eat early than chance waiting a few hours for a table.

The design reminds me of a blend of Ciro’s Speakeasy and the Oxford Exchange.  The building was adapted from an old ice plant (which is how it gets its name…)  Back in the 1920’s, the large crane that sits over the bar used to pick up enormous blocks of ice to be broken into small pieces and sold to shrimp boats.  They have managed to retain the vintage factory feel, but upgrading it to today’s popular industrial modern design. 

In keeping with the “ice plant” tradition, they hand carve their ice each day from large blocks of slow frozen filtered water into specific shapes depending on the drink you order.  The cocktails are a bit pricey, but impressive.  I would much rather spend $12 on a really fantastic drink than $6 on a rum and coke I could make myself.  You can tell that they take price in crafting their drinks just right – and the presentations were very pretty too. 

The waiters dress like they belong in the 1920’s – our waitress had a vintage looking apron with cats printed all over it.  She must have really liked cats because I got a cute kitty drawn on my receipt later. 

My Briar Rose cocktail was fantastic – with sherry, bonal, lemon, peach & blackberry jam, and mint.  I know most everyone enjoyed their drinks too, but the Kokomo cocktail was way too strong, even after the bartender watered it down with some club soda. 

For appetizers, we started with some soft pretzel bread, served with beer cheese fondue and dijonnaise dipping sauces.  The bread was actually a bit sweet and denser than a normal pretzel, coated with coarse salt. 

We also ordered a side of their hand-cut truffle fries for the table, served with a house ketchup and malt vinegar aioli.  They were topped with freshly grated parmesan and were delicious!  

For my meal, I had the valbreso feta gnocci – served with confit tomatoes, summer squash caponata, pine nuts, and wild oregano.  The most popular entrée that night was their half pound grass-fed Georgia beef burger with bacon-chive aioli, lettuce, tomato, onions, and their house curried pickle. 

My gnocci was really great – but I probably shouldn’t have eaten the whole plate.  It was a pretty generous serving. 

We made a stop afterwards down the street at Scarlett O’Hara’s bar – which I thought was a bit of a disappointment after having such incredible drinks at the Ice Plant.  We ended up heading back to the beach place since the long day in the sun had worn most of us out. 

The next day, a few of the girls had to head out early, but the rest of us went to brunch at a little hole-in-the-wall breakfast place called Sea Oats Caffé.  It was in a shopping plaza, and we lucked out that a table was just leaving as we walked in, because there weren’t a lot of seats. 

They had dozens of pancake flavors (some sounded really interesting like the chili chocolate lime and the jalapeño bacon cream cheese).  I ended up getting one of the specials, French Toast made with slices of angel food cake and topped with berries.  It was definitely more like dessert than breakfast, but it was really amazing. 

Our server was very friendly and the restaurant had a calm beachy atmosphere – it felt like we were down in the Keys.  Every time someone opened the front door, a pick strummed the guitar hanging above.  It was the perfect laid-back way to end our beach weekend.

The Ice Plant is located at 110 Riberia St, St. Augustine, FL 32084.  They are open 11:30am – 2pm Tuesday – Saturday and 11:30am – 12am on Sunday – Monday. 

Sea Oats Caffé is located at 1075 A1A Beach Blvd, St. Augustine, FL 32080.  They are open 7:30am – 2pm every day. 

Backfin Blue Cafe – Gulfport, FL



One of our Christmas presents this year from my parents was a stack of Creative Loafing deals to different local restaurants.  It was a really great gift idea because we’ve gotten a lot of free/cheap date nights out of them!  The only thing is you have to keep an eye on the expiration dates (usually you’ve got about a year until they expire, but some are only a few months…) 

Well last week we realized our Backfin Blue Cafe deal was set to expire, so we headed to Gulfport for dinner.  It’s a really laid-back town just west of St. Pete.  Usually when we go there, we’re by far the youngest people walking around (think most residents are retired…) 
The restaurant is in an old bungalow and the relaxed vibe makes it feel like you’re having dinner at somebody’s home.  Our table had reindeer salt and pepper shakers.  Being near the gulf, we decided to try out some seafood.  Lance ordered the Bacon Wrapped Basil Stuffed BBQ Shrimp and I had the Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi. 
Each was served with a simple house salad – then Lance had the mashed potatoes and I had the edamame salad with my entrée.  The coating on my fish was pretty generous – I definitely got my share of macadamias.  The edamame salad was pretty hearty – with chickpeas, corn, beans.  I couldn’t tell all the ingredients, but it was really tasty.  Lance’s mashed potatoes tasted homemade with some chunks and potato skins mixed in.  The shrimp was good, but the sweet BBQ sauce was a bit overpowering.  Overall, it was a great meal. 
We took a walk around town afterwards along the shore – most shops close up early, so there weren’t any open to wander through.  But we watched people fish off the pier and enjoyed the water views.  It’s not far from Tampa, but with the small-town atmosphere, it’s a nice getaway.    

Backfin Blue Cafe is located at 2913 Beach Blvd S, Gulfport, FL 33707.  They are open 4pm – 10pm Mondays, Wednedays – Saturdays, 4pm – 9pm on Sundays, and closed on Tuesdays. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Lemon Mustard Chicken with Asparagus and Potatoes



This is a really easy dinner to throw together – all goes in one skillet.  I followed the original recipe from Damn Delicious, but next time, I’d cut up the chicken more and quarter the potatoes instead of halving them to make sure it all gets cooked through evenly – we had to put it in the oven awhile longer to finish. 

Lemon Mustard Chicken with Asparagus and Potatoes (adapted from Damn Delicious)

Ingredients:
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 T Dijon mustard
  • 1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • ½ t dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • 6 bone-in, skin-on thicken thighs (we already had boneless in our fridge, but I think bone-in would have turned out better…)
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 12 baby red potatoes, quartered
  • 1 pound asparagus, trimmed

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.   

2. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, mustard, lemon juice, lemon zest, and thyme.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Rub onto both sides of the chicken. 

3. Melt butter in a large oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken, skin-side down, and sear both sides until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side.  Set aside. 

4. Add quartered potatoes to the skillet.  Season with salt and pepper.  Place skillet in oven and bake 20 – 25 minutes, or until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork.  Add asparagus and chicken to the skillet. 

5.  Place in oven and roast until chicken is completely cooked through (with an internal temperature of 175 degrees F), about 30 more minutes.  The cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of your chicken and size of your potatoes, so adjust accordingly.