Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Creative Loafing’s Meet the Chefs 2015


Today marks the one year anniversary since I started Florida Food Lover!  It’s been a busy year and we’ve eaten a lot of tasty things…I’m excited to check out even more restaurants and try new recipes this year! 

Last week we attended Creative Loafing’s first ever Meet the Chefs event – the kickoff to Tampa Bay Restaurant Week.  It took place at Coppertail Brewing Co – and chefs from several local restaurants had samples from their prix fixe Restaurant Week menus. 

It was DOWNPOURING that night.  The streets were so flooded, I had to abandon my car in a shopping plaza on the drive home from work because Dale Mabry was 3 feet underwater – Lance came to rescue me in his Ford Explorer so we could head to the event.  We were thinking maybe there wouldn’t be a very good turnout because of the weather (and maybe we’d get extra food!), but it was already crowded when we arrived.  It actually sold out, so luckily we bought our tickets in advance.   

The main event took place upstairs.  Each restaurant had a booth set up to serve their featured dish.  We also got 3 drink tickets to sample Coppertail’s beers (each food had a suggested beer pairing). 

We started off with Chef Michael Buttacavoli’s dish from Cena – Red Wine Oxtail Arancini & Gorgonzola Fondue.  This actually ended up being my favorite one of the night (we went back for seconds…) Arancini are Sicilian rice balls coated with bread crumbs and fried. 

Next we had the Curried Deviled Ham, Toasted Rye & Pickled Peach from Chef Greg Baker of The Refinery/Fodder & Shine.  The topping was very good but I actually wasn’t as impressed with the bread. 

Chef Andy King of Datz served Green Curried Braised Beef Short Rib Tacos with Fresh Napa Cabbage, Pico de Gallo with Pistachio, and Fresh Cotija Cheese on a Homemade Corn Tortilla.  This dish was great – but pretty messy.  We found a bartop table to enjoy our tacos so we didn’t spill them everywhere. 

We washed them down with some lemonade cocktails from Tito’s booth – they let you customize your drink with your choice of mint, basil, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. 

Chef Tony Bruno from The Living Room on Main served Maple Leaf Farms Duck Duo: Star Anise Ginger Brined Duck Drumette & Fois Gras Deviled Egg with Charred Yellow Pepper Marmalade and Pea Tendril Salad.  This was another one of my favorites of the evening.  The presentation was great too – definitely looked gourmet. 

After that we had Chef Ferrell Alvarez’s dish from Rooster & The Till – Salmon Belly Crudo with Sprouted Lentils, Pickled Tomato, Green Harissa & Whey Almond Milk.  I really liked the flavors, but unfortunately it was a pretty small bite. 

Mise en Place’s Chef Marty Blitz prepared Smoked Pork Congee with Pig’s Ears & Pickled Shishoto Peppers.  It was a pretty hearty soup – it could easily be a meal.  The pig ears were a little chewy though, so we couldn’t eat them.  But we were pretty full at this point anyways. 

We finished with desserts by Chefs Rosa Rivera and Ricardo Castro from Piquant (actually, we grabbed dessert part way through, but we got one more at the end to finish!)  Their first dessert was a Chocolate Pot de Crème infused with Coppertail Brewing Co.’s Custom Porter: Habanero Peppers, Schezuan Peppers, Cocoa & Vanilla.  It was topped with a Passion Fruit Gelee and Meyer Lemon Chantilly.   It was more of a shooter to drink.  The other dessert was some sort of delicious chocolate pudding treat. 

It was a really fun event – definitely worth the tickets.  It would have been nice to have seen a few more restaurants represented (considering about 70 are participating in Restaurant Week this year and only 7 of them were there).  But we left with full bellies anyways – so it was plenty of food for us! 

Tampa Bay Restaurant Week goes from June 11th – 21st.  Select Tampa Bay restaurants will be offering special prix fixe menus for $30 (some are $30 for two people, some are $30 each…) You still have a few days left, so if you haven’t already – visit one of the restaurants to take advantage of the specials!

And thanks to all of you who have continued to read my blog this year.  I've had a lot of fun writing it!  If you ever have recommendations for me, don’t hesitate to use my contact form to send me recipe or restaurant suggestions. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Cupcakes & Cocktails at the Epicurean Theatre


Last week, my mom and I went to a baking class at the Epicurean Theatre called Cupcakes & Cocktails.  Chef Beth from Cloud 9 Confections hosted – demonstrating how to bake three different types of boozy cupcakes.  Plus, we enjoyed fancy cocktails prepared by a bartender from Élevage.  
The Epicurean has been open over a year now, and it’s definitely been a success.  It features a 137 room hotel (part of the Marriot’s Autograph Collection), Élevage Restaurant, Chocolate Pi Vintage Confectionery, Edge Social Drinkery, Bern’s Fine Wines & Spirits, Evangeline Spa, and finally the Epicurean Theatre.  
The theatre is pretty small – about 40 seats – so it’s perfect for cooking demonstrations.  There are big TVs overhead as well (although it would’ve been helpful if those could have zoomed in for more detail). 

The first flavor was a Mojito Cupcake with Rum Lime Buttercream – I’ll outline all the recipes below if you want to try them out yourselves.  While she demonstrated, we sipped on blueberry mojitos (which were very sweet – almost too sweet for me).  Throughout the class, she gave great tips – like using an ice cream scooper to portion batter into cupcake liners to fill each perfectly.  I liked that she didn’t seem snooty like some chefs – she was very down-to-earth.   

The next kind was a Hummingbird Cupcake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Roasted Pineapple Flowers.  This one was my favorite!  It tasted like a mix of banana bread and carrot cake.  It was a bit heartier – you could even just eat them as muffins if you didn’t frost them (although the frosting was so good!) We drank a cocktail called Barrel of Peaches while she made this flavor – which was a pretty strong drink, but I liked the flavor a lot. 

Finally, she explained how to make a Red Wine Red Velvet Cupcake with Red Wine Cream Cheese Frosting.  Even though she is a professional chef, she used boxed chocolate cake mix as the base for this recipe.  She said that if you’re short on time, it’s easy to dress up a boxed mix by adding your own twist to it and making your own fresh frosting.  The cocktail paired with this cupcake was a NY Sour – a layered drink with vodka, red wine, and egg whites.  It was a bit bitter – but nice to sip on. 

After the demonstrations, we each got to decorate 6 cupcakes of our own to take home!  The cupcakes were already baked, and the frosting was in pastry bags, so all we really did was ice them and put garnishes, but it was fun to have an interactive portion of the class.  Beth said she even does parties sometimes themed like the Cupcake Wars TV show – which could be really fun! 


If you want to check out a class at the Epicurean Theatre, Beth is hosting another class called Bakin’ with Bacon on June 23rd – which will feature Milk Chocolate Toffee with Candied Spiced Bacon & Roasted Peanuts, along with French Toast Cupcakes with Maple Frosting and Candied Spiced Bacon. 

The Epicurean Theatre is located at 1207 S Howard Ave, Tampa, FL 33606.  Visit http://www.epicureantheatre.com/ to find upcoming events!

Here are the recipes from the class we attended:
Mojito Cupcakes with Rum Lime Buttercream (from Cloud 9 Confections)

Cupcake Ingredients (makes 12):
  • ½ cup buttermilk (if you don’t have buttermilk, you can put a squirt of lemon juice or white vinegar in regular milk and let it sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes)
  • ½ cup mint leaves, bruised (when you smash the leaves, it releases oils so you really get the mint aroma & flavor)
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1½ t baking powder
  • ¼ t salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter (if you use salted, omit the salt above)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • Zest and juice of 1½ limes
  • 2 T white rum
  • ¼ t pure vanilla extract
Frosting Ingredients:
  • 1½ cups unsalted butter (you can do half shortening if you want the frosting to hold better)
  • 4½ cups powdered sugar
  • 1½ T lime juice
  • 3 T white rum
To Brush on the Cupcakes:
  • 2 T white rum
  • 2 springs fresh mint

1. Combined the buttermilk and the ½ cup mint leaves in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Warm until just starting to steam (do not simmer), then remove from the heat and cover.  Let steep 15 – 30 minutes.  Once finished, strain the milk into a bowl using a fine mesh sieve.  The milk may appear curdled or clumpy, but don’t worry, it will come back together.  Press any milk solids and mint leaves to extract all the liquid possible.  Give milk a quick stir to smooth it out and set aside.    

2. While mint is steeping in the milk, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Line a standard muffin tin with liners and set aside (the metal liners look nicer since the oils don’t seep through like the paper kind). 

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.   

4. In an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter and sugar together until pale, light, and fluffy (about 5 minutes). 

5. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and add the eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition (crack the eggs into a bowl first so you make sure you don’t get any shells in the batter). 

6. Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the lime zest, lime juice, vanilla extract, and rum.  Mix until combined (the mixture may start to look curdled at this point, but don’t worry, it will all come back together, power on!)  Reduce the mixture speed to low.  Add the dry ingredients in three batches, alternating with the buttermilk in two batches.  Mix only until just incorporated, using a rubber spatula to give it one last mix by hand. 

7. Divide the batter into muffin cups.  Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, or until just slightly golden and a skewer only shows moist crumbs attached.  Rotate once if needed. 

8. While the cupcakes are baking, combine the rum and mint sprigs in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat until rum is heated through (again, do not let it simmer).  Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let steep until ready for use. 

9. Allow cupcakes to cool for 5 – 10 minutes and then remove them to a cooling rack.  Brush the tops of the cupcakes with the mint-infused rum.  Set the cupcakes aside to cool completely before frosting them. 

10. To make the frosting, whip the butter on medium-high speed of an electric mixer for 5 minutes.  Reduce the speed to medium-low and gradually add the powdered sugar, mixing and scraping the sides of the bowl until all is incorporated.  Give it a mix on medium speed for about 30 seconds. 

11. Add the lime juice and rum and mix on medium-high speed until incorporated and fluffy.  If the frosting appears a bit too soft, add some additional sugar, one spoonful at a time until desired consistency is reached. 

12. Frost the cupcakes and garnish, if desired, with a lime wedge and a fresh sprig of mint.

Hummingbird Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting and Roasted Pineapple Flowers (from Cloud 9 Confections)

Cupcake Ingredients (makes 18):
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 t ground cinnamon
  • ½ t salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 t pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups mashed ripe banana (about 3 large)
  • 1 can (8 oz) crushed pineapple, drained
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1 cup flaked coconut
Frosting Ingredients:
  • 1 pound cream cheese, softened
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 4 cups sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 whole pineapple (for garnishing)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line cupcake pan with liners; set aside.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt; set aside. 

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter, vanilla, and sugar until combined, about 2 minutes.  Add one egg at a time, incorporating each before adding the next.  Meat at a medium speed until mixture is pale yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. 

3. In a medium bowl, stir together banana, pineapple, nuts, and coconut.  Add to egg mixture, mixing until combined.  Stir in flour mixture. 

4. Divide batter evenly among liners, filling about 2/3 full.  Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 – 28 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. 

5. For the frosting, beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in a large bowl until smooth.  Add the sugar and beat on low speed until incorporated.  Increase the speed to high and beat until light and fluffy.

6. For the pineapple flowers, slide off the top of the pineapple with a large knife.  Cut off the ring lengthwise in strips.  With a paring knife or measuring spoon, pop out any of the little eyes or seeds that remain.  Don’t worry about dinging the pineapple, the indentations will give your flowers lacy edges. 

7. Slice the pineapple very thinly – the slices should be almost translucent.  Pat them dry with a paper towel.  Lay the slices on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. 

8. Bake at 225 degrees F for about 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and flip the slices over, then pop back in the oven for another 30 minutes.  You may have to do this several times – timing will vary depending on the thickness of the slices. 

9. Once the slices have shrunken and almost completely dried out, transfer them to muffin tins so that the edges curve upwards in the shape of a flower. 

10. Once cupcakes have cooled, frost the tops and decorate with dried pineapple flowers. 

Red Wine Red Velvet Cupcakes with Red Wine Cream Cheese Frosting (from Cloud 9 Confections)

Cupcake Ingredients (makes 18):
  • 1 box chocolate cake mix
  • 2 cups red wine (use slightly more than twice the red wine that the mix says to add water…)
  • Remaining ingredients the box calls for
Frosting Ingredients:
  • 1 pound cream cheese, softened
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 t red wine reduction, more as needed
  • 4 cups sifted powdered sugar

1. Take the 2 cups of red wine and bring to a boil until reduced by a little more than half.  Allow to come back to room temperature. 

2. Line standard muffin tins with baking cups; set aside.  Mix the cake according to the box mix, but using the reduced wine instead of water.  Reserve additional red wine for the frosting. 

3. Bake according to instructions on the package and allow to cool completely. 

4. For the frosting, beat the cream cheese, butter, and wine in a large mixing bowl until smooth.  Add the sugar and on low speed, beat until incorporated. 

5. If frosting is too thick, add more wine in small increments.  Increase the speed to high and beat until light and fluffy. 

6. Frost cupcakes.  If desired, you can drizzle with some red wine reduction mixed with sugar. 

Blueberry Mojito (from Élevage)

  • 1.5 oz blueberry vodka
  • 1 oz blueberry syrup
  • ¾ oz lime juice
  • 4-6 mint leaves
  • ¼ of a lime
1. Muddle lime and mint, add vodka, blueberry syrup, and lime juice, then shake.  Top with club soda.

Barrel of Peaches (from Élevage)

  • 1.5 oz Cruzan aged rum
  • 1 oz peach puree
  • ¾ oz fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ oz Cointreau
1. Add all to shaker with ice, shake, then strain over fresh ice.  Garnish with an orange peel.

NY Sour (from Élevage)

  • 1.5 oz vodka
  • ½ oz simple syrup
  • 1 oz egg white
  • 1-2 oz red wine
1. Add all ingredients but wine to shaker, shake, then strain to glass over ice.  Slowly float wine over cocktail.