Saturday, August 20, 2016

6th Annual Great St. Pete Cupcake Contest

I’m having a sugar crash right now writing this post because I just got back from the 6th Annual Great St. Pete Cupcake Contest.  I just ate enough sweets to last me a month…
My mom joined me along with my friends Thao, Crystal, Kate & Brent.  Here’s our amazing spread of cupcakes:
I attended for the 5th Annual Contest last year, which was held at the Morean Arts Center in downtown St. Pete.  I think that year they underestimated how much people like cupcakes because it was WAY too crowded and almost impossible to navigate.  This year, they moved to a larger venue just down the road – the Morean Center for Clay.  Lance and I had actually attended a Meet the Chefs event there last December. 

The contest is a mix of professional bakers and amateur cupcake enthusiasts.  This year I was especially impressed with the creativity in flavors and presentation.  There were Cookie Monsters, mini churros, a Ferris Wheel display, and dried pineapple "flowers" (I saw this technique at the "Cupcakes and Cocktails" event at the Epicurean Theatre last year...) 

You can try as many cupcakes as you’d like for free, but then it is $1 per ticket to vote for your favorites (the proceeds benefit the Morean Center).  Luckily most people bake mini cupcakes – although even with the small ones, it was impossible to try them all.  It’s best if you have someone that you can split them with so you can taste a wider variety. 

There were so many talented bakers, but a couple definitely stood out.  There was an apple cupcake that was so incredibly moist – that was one of the first I tried.  One cinnamon cupcake actually had a little liquor injector that let you squeeze Horchata into the center.   

There was a cupcake that had Earl Gray tea in the frosting embellished with an adorable fondant teacup! 

Probably my favorite of all though was the black forest cupcakes with chocolate dipped cherries and incredibly rich chocolate cupcakes. 

Judges select the best novice and professional bakers, then the tickets determine the People’s Choice awards.  Here are this year's winners:

Novice Category:
1st Place: Monica McLaughlin - Root Beer Float
2nd Place: Lauren Haught - Lime w/ Strawberry and Basil Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Professional Category:
1st Place: Diane Ratto - Peanut Butter Cream Banana Dream
2nd Place: Joyce King - Angry Orchard Apple Crumb

Specialty Category (Gluten or Vegan entries):
1st Place: Deborah Molise - Pumpkin Cheescake
2nd Place: Brittney Sherley - Vegan Double Mocha

People's Choice:
1st Place: Jen Jacobs - Chai Latte w/ Brown Butter Marscapone Buttercream
2nd Place: Michelle Saxton - Dark Chocolate Coffee w/ Cream Cheese Buttercream

Additional Awards:
Best Overall Frosting: Jen Jacobs - Chai Latte w/ Brown Butter Marscapone Buttercream
Best Chocolate of the Day: Michelle Garner - Junk Cupcake
Flavor Pop: Amy Turner - Bubble Gum Cupcake
Artistic Award: Melissa Howes - Honey w/ Strawberry & Earl Grey

Now time for a nap…

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Homemade Corn Chowder

Last week a Winn Dixie flyer came in the mail featuring a recipe by chef Curtis Stone for fresh corn chowder.  I don’t make soup all that often (maybe because it’s Florida and 90 degrees out most of the time…) but this one looked really tasty. 

Lance’s only critique of the original recipe was that it ONLY had 3 slices of bacon in the whole soup…so to make him happy I doubled it to 6 slices.  With the heavy cream and all that bacon, it isn’t the healthiest of soups, but it is hearty and filling. 

Homemade Corn Chowder (adapted from Curtis Stone)

  • 6 slices bacon, coarsely chopped
  • ½ yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 large sprigs fresh thyme
  • ¼ tsp red pepper
  • 3 celery ribs, chopped
  • 5 tsp whole wheat flour (that’s the only flour I have…)
  • 1-1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1-1/2 cups whole milk (I actually just had 2%, so I did a bit more cream and a bit less of the milk)
  • 4 ears corn, husked, kernels removed
  • 1 can corn
  • 2 t chopped parsley (I only had dried but fresh would be better)
  • 2 cups fresh spinach
  • Salt & pepper

1. Heat a large heavy pot over medium-high heat.  Add bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until crisp.

2. Add onions, garlic, thyme, and red pepper and cook, stirring often, for about 4 minutes or until onions start to become tender.

3. Add celery and cook, stirring often, until beginning to soften, about 4 minutes.  Sprinkle in flour and stir for about 2 minutes.

4. Stir in stock, cream, and milk and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Add spinach. 

5. Stir in corn and simmer 5-10 more minutes or until chowder begins to thicken.  Remove and discard thyme stems.  Season with salt & pepper. 

6. Stir in half the parsley.  Ladle chowder into bowls and sprinkle with remaining parsley.