Red Velvet Cake Mix Cookies!

So whenever I see cake mix for like a buck a pop, I generally stock up. Cake mix doesn’t exactly sit around and collect dust. Well, for me it doesn’t at least. And it’s not that I even make all that many cakes. I’ll totally jump at an opportunity to whip up something for someone’s birthday, mind you. However, up until rather recently it was just me living on my lonesome, which is no way to make an entire cake go away.

However, I am totally addicted to using cake mix to make cookies. I’m pretty sure I use cake mix for cookies more than I do for actual cake. Once you get beyond the whole “hey, these cookies taste a whole lot like cake” part (which I personally think is pretty freaking awesome), cake mix cookies are fast, easy (I’ll refrain from any “like your mom” comments, as it is Mother’s Day), and almost guaranteed to be soft in the middle (much like your, uh, nevermind!).

Red velvet cookies in dramatic lighting

I’d never tried making cookies using red velvet cake, and as I had a friend’s birthday coming up, I decided that would be the perfect opportunity. There’s variations on the recipe, and I don’t have any set one I’ve been using, so I just googled “cake mix cookie recipe” and ended up going with this Duncan Hines one.

Ironically, I wasn’t even using a Duncan Hines mix (I believe I was going with Pillsbury), but I doubt brand really matters as the size of the mix itself was the same. So, the recipe called for two eggs and a half cup of oil. The batter ended up seeming really oily, so I’m not so sure about that entire half cup.

cake batter

I added in some tiny chocolate chips for good measure. Rolled them into balls, baked at 360 degrees at 11 minutes, and they spread out accordingly. They totally did that cookie thing where you take them out of the oven and at first you’re all like “Wow, they’re so thick and fluffy!” and then you come back 5 minutes later and feel that teeny twinge of disappointment when they’re not nearly as tall anymore. They didn’t get flat, mind you, I’m just a sucker for a fluffy cookie.

Red velvet cookies
(Yeah, those white bits? This is why I need to use an actual mixer more often, rather than using hands and a spoon.)

The oiliness of the batter didn’t impact the cookies as much as I was afraid it might. They were still a little heavy, but not significantly so. I think the moistness from the chocolate chips might have helped to balance out any excessive greasiness the cookies had. Anyhow, these were pretty darn tasty. I really liked how the final product had a crackle-like surface to them, with deeper red showing through the cracks. Next time I might add pecans or walnuts as well. Anyhow, cookie success!

Deliciousness from Hamburger Mary’s! Also, I am a bad bad poster.

No, really. Around the time I started working 70+ hours a week (and had to pack for a move), I suddenly had a lack of time to post here. Plus a lack of content as well – feeding off of Chinese food for several days in a row does not a good post make, even if it does many delicious meals make. Work’s gotten a bit better (and the aforementioned move is over) so things should improve a bit for the three of you sitting on the edge of your seats awaiting my awful writing!

So anyhow, there’s this restaurant here in Denver called Hamburger Mary’s, which I just learned actually has 12 locations scattered around the country. I am a big fan of any establishment that supports drag queens, which Hamburger Mary’s does, though we were not lucky enough to visit on a night when they were having a show. They did have a game room in the back, complete with a few sets of Giant Jenga (I’m a big fan). And they as well had delightful beverages!

Margaritas

I went for a blueberry margarita, and my dining companion Alysia went for some sort of strawberry margarita, if I remember correctly. It was delicious, though I’m always a little discombobulated whenever a margarita is served in a glass that isn’t giant and vatlike. Maybe I’ve had a little too much experience eating at the sort of Mexican restaurants that do margarita specials, where you look like the odd one out if you aren’t sucking down a 32oz salt rimmed monster. (Not that there’s anything wrong with 32oz salt-rimmed monsters, mind you)

Anyhow, their menu is fairly extensive (with some pretty cute names for some of the entrees). Though I was tempted by other things, I figured I ought to get a burger, given the name of the restaurant. So I went for the “The Big ‘O'”. If you are slathered in guacamole, it is pretty much guaranteed that I am incapable of saying “no” to you.

guac burger

This sucker was pretty big. And, at $10.95, I’m glad it was. I’m a pretty cheap bastard, so it always seems a bit painful to pay that much for a burger, but it helps to keep in mind the portion size. Either split it with a friend, or plan on it being your lunch the next day too (get a to-go box ahead of time and chop the burger in half if you have to) and you’re good to go. Anyhow, it was delightful. Burgertastic, guactastic even. I would totally put this in my mouth again were it to magically appear in front of me at this very moment. And I totally need to get back to Hamburger Mary’s, as nothing makes a great evening quite like drag queens and fried food!

So Much Salsa!

Salsa is a beautiful thing. I will dump it on pretty much anything I’d also use ketchup, tomato, or marinara sauce with. How convenient, indeed, that Chris is a master of generating incredibly large volumes of salsa.

First, the ingredients:

ingredients

So when I make pretty much anything involving peppers, I usually stick to green, as I am a cheap ho. I am baffled by whatever higher-up degreed that yellow, orange, and red peppers should cost more than green peppers. Are they that much more difficult to grow? They are certainly much more festive, but I hardly think festiveness earns anything a surcharge.

So Chris has this magical plastic device from his days of shilling kitchenware, whereupon you put a bunch of salsa ingredients into said device, twist a handle for awhile, and find yourself with delightful salsa or pico de gallo (depending on how soon your arms gets tired from cranking). Also included in this magical plastic set is a little dealio (and yes, that is the technical term) that you can shove into a lemon or lime to easily juice it. And, here’s a shot of that dealio in action!

juicing action shot!

Post-grinding, the salsa looked like this (and I’d seriously love a bathtub full of this stuff on a hot day….to, uh, dip all of my chips in…yeah…):

chopped salsa

Ended up with about three lbs of salsa total. And trust me, this is not a bad thing at all. The lemon and lime totally agree!

salsa

So, since one cannot live on salsa alone, I ended up making a great deal of chicken quesadillas to eat with the salsa. So first, here’s my new favorite way to cut avocados (because avocado goes with pretty much anything that I’d eat salsa with):

avocado

The quesadilla itself was pretty basic – tortilla, then a few types of shredded cheese, a few chunks of pre-baked chicken, another tortilla on top, bake at 360 for 12 minutes.

quesadilla

It’s weird – I used to be a big proponent of shoving as many things as possible into a quesadilla. Then, at some point I realized this made the quesadilla highly prone to falling apart on it’s way to my mouth, as well as causing unnecessary sliminess. So these days, for the most part I stick to just putting meat and cheese inside my quesadilla. Most vegetables are better fresh anyhow when paired with a quesadilla, so I just pile everything I want on top. Which of course still leads to it falling apart on the way to my mouth. Oops!

City O City for all of your delightful vegetarian needs

City O City is one of those places that I’ve walked by a bunch of times but never fully recognized was a restaurant until recently. It’s about a four block walk from where I live, and for some reason the giant painting on the side of the building always suggested a tattoo parlor. Nonetheless, I recently found myself there on a Saturday evening with a few friends.

It was about a 20 minute wait and holy cow I really wanted dessert the entire time. There’s a counter up front with a large display of desserts, and I spent most of that time eyeballing the cupcakes. I swore I’d save myself room for something that was chock full of sugar.

Figured I better get some vegetables, so I started with some minestrone soup.

soup!

The soup was magical in my mouth and my belly. I’m a sucker for minestrone soup, and would totally get it again.

City O City is all-vegetarian, and as my dining companion Chris was feeling squeamish regarding the lack of available meaty familiar items, we went for a safe and always delightful option – pizza!

fromage a trois pizza

We went with the three cheese pizza, AKA “Fromage a Trois”. I’m not completely sure which three cheeses were involved in said fromage a trois, but one was mozzarella and at least one of the other two was delightful and sharp.

winter margherita pizza

Alysia went with the Winter Margherita pizza, made with fresh mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes. I stole a slice, and found it delightful. Not quite as delightful as the 3 cheese one, but I do have a weakness for some sharp cheese on pizza. Add that sharp cheese to the winter margherita and we’d have a winner!

Troy, the full-fledged vegan in our group, went with some mac & cheese and ribs. Or rather, mac & “cheese” and “ribs”.

Vegan ribs and mac and cheese

I didn’t try the ribs, but I did get a chance to sample the mac & cheese. And, I suppose I’m a poor person to properly rate the mac & cheese, not being vegan myself. An omnivore at heart, I enjoy vegetarian food, even vegan food on occasion, but I’ve never been too big on fake versions of things. I’ll shovel down cheese-based and bean-based things all day long, but, as a meat and cheese eater, faux meat and faux cheese will always taste like a lesser version of the same thing. So, the mac & cheese tasted like “hey, I bet this is pretty good to those that don’t eat cheese, but it makes me want to put cheese all over it.” D’oh!

And that dessert? Of course that didn’t happen. Despite splitting a personal pizza, it filled me right up and, of course, left me no room for dessert. On the bright side, City O City is only 4 blocks away, so the next time I pass by, I might just swing in for a delightful cupcake.

Cinnamon Sugar Biscuit Donuts (AKA Naughty Donuts)!

So a little while back, I came across this recipe for what looked like the Easiest Donuts Ever. Dubbed “Naughty Donuts”, they’re basically deep fried biscuits. Considering how amazing non deep-fried biscuits are, I had to try deep-fried ones.

So I got a roll of whatever the off-brand version of Pillsbury butter biscuits is. I needed to get those holes in there somehow, so I went with the only thing I could find in my kitchen that was close to a donut hole shape.

Uncooked donuts with holes

I don’t own a deep fryer, so I just filled a pot with a gratuitous amount of vegetable oil, and let these babies fry away, flipping them after a minute or so.

frying donuts

I made some vague attempts to blot the excess oil off, but let’s face it, if you’re already deep frying something, blotting extra oil really isn’t going to do that much. Besides, the coating’s gotta stick to something, right?

fried donuts

I mixed together some sugar and cinnamon in a bowl, and rolled the donuts and holes around until appropriately coated.

pile o donuts

These things were pretty awesome, and I’d totally make them again. They’re best if they’re going to be eaten right away, though. Still good when room temperature, but reheating in the microwave makes you very aware of how much oil soaked into them when deep-fried.

Anyhow, I totally wanna try experimenting with this recipe. My current idea is to not strip the holes out of the middle, and to get some chocolate chips in there somehow. Deep fry that, and coat it with powdered sugar. Mmm magical!

Improv Vegetarian Corn Empanadas!

So empanadas are pretty sweet. Well, I guess they’re more savory than sweet, unless we’re talking dessert empanadas here. Empanadas are sweet in the “awesome” sense. Or badass sense, even. Yes, empanadas = badass. Unfortunately, as I’ve determined, empanadas = a big ole pain in the patootey to make. It’s the dough. I have little patience for wheat-based dough. You’ve got to get the flour and the water and the whatever else kneaded together in the appropriate consistency, killing your hand muscles in the process. And then you have to roll it out, but not too much or it’ll get too thin or tough. And you’ve got to slather everything with flour so it doesn’t stick to every surface in your kitchen. However, the flip side of this is that everything is now slathered in flour rather than dough. Boo. Delicious results if you do it right, but a big pain either way.

So, I’ve got this maseca, corn flour if you will. I got it for corn tortillas, which are really easy to make. You just dump some water into some flour, squish it all together, roll it out (using wax paper! No flour needed!) and fry away! Delightful results, too. So, I started thinking that I could use corn flour for empanadas. Now, I’m sure there’s actual recipes for these out there somehow, but that would make too much sense to actually follow a recipe, right?

So first, the filling.

Empanada Ingredients

I decided to go the vegetarian route for this one, as it gave me an excuse to use an inordinately large amount of ricotta cheese. Cheese is very important to my lifestyle, as you know. Anyhow, I chopped up all of the vegetables (minus the cheese and green onion) and let them simmer in the pan for awhile along with some olive oil and these seasonings:

Empanada Seasonings

Yeah, you know how some people have a complete matching set of seasonings? Not I! I own possibly every brand of seasoning imaginable, and to top it off I have a weakness for buying seasonings in little plastic pouches, which ultimately end up in containers I have to relabel. Thus, I have the trashiest looking set of seasonings possible. But hey, whatever works, right? Anyhow, if you can’t read thanks to my poor penmanship, from left to right we have garlic, pepper, salt (please don’t ask why I keep my salt in an old oregano container), cumin, and oregano (gotten on sale, as you can tell!). On a mildly related note, I freaking love cumin. It’s great for anything that you want to have a savory, earthy flavor.

Anyhow, I added in the cheese and green onion near the end, as they don’t really require the simmer time as the rest of the vegetables. I mixed up some dough (maseca plus water to the point of “hey, this looks like dough!”), rolled the dough into balls and rolled out the balls between two pieces of wax paper. I let the filling cool a little bit first, then plopped it with a tablespoon into circles, folding them in half. Had to peel these rather delicately from the wax paper, but aside from that, this was a pretty smooth process. So I put these on a sheet pan, brushed some egg on top, and baked for about…12 minutes or so, I think?

Empanadas

I’m not sure I’d do the egg on top next time. Didn’t really add the shine like it would have on wheat-based flour dough. Aside from that, these were pretty good! A bit plain by themselves, but really decent with some salsa on top, and would probably work well with sour cream and guacamole. Actually, what I’d like to try doing is making these with some different filling ingredients. Keep the potatoes, cheese, and tomato, add in beans and some hot sauce for spice. As much as my stomach churns thinking of it, I bet you can stuff some breakfast burrito ingredients inside these guys and it would taste great to people who actually enjoy eating scrambled eggs (myself not included). Or, skip the Mexican angle entirely and fill these with some barbecued pork and a bit of onion for a delicious meat pie!

And here’s some cupcakes just in time for the MLS First Kick!

OK, so even if these cupcakes weren’t soccer-themed, they’d still be delicious. However, I take any opportunity I can to play around with decorating things. I went with a box cake for these, a combination of homemade frostings, and some really cheesy plastic decorations. More details after the giant cupcake photo!

Soccer cupcakes

I’ve been wanting to make filled cupcakes for a little while, and assumed I’d have to concoct my own frosting up until I had the luck of running across a box of Betty Crocker “FUN da-Middles” at the grocery store.

Fun damiddles

The mix technically was supposed to make about 12 cupcakes. However, I was making these for a friend’s birthday party where, at the time, 24 people had already RSVPd “yes”. And, I’d bought this mix ahead of time and hadn’t bothered to read the quantity on the box. So, when it came time to make the cupcakes, my first reaction to said quantity was something along the lines of “NOOO SAD PEOPLE NO GET CUPCAAAKES!!!” My second, much more reasonable reaction was to try to make 2 cupcakes stretch into 18 and hope that the other 6 people wouldn’t feel left out. Or wouldn’t like cupcakes. Or would be too drunk to care by that point. Anyhow, turning 12 cupcakes into 18 worked. Mind you, they’re “flat on top” cupcakes rather than “poofy on top” cupcakes. As for the cream filling? Not too shabby! It came in a plastic pouch, so I’m pretty sure it was pumped fill of enough preservatives to last forever in said pouch. I’d still like to try making homemade filling at some point. However, I’d totally use this mix again.

So I had fun with the frosting. The burgundy frosting is a “white mountain cream” frosting that I got from a Fannie Farmer cookbook. It uses:

1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
1/8 tsp salt
2 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla

So you mix the sugar, water, cream of tartar, and salt together in a pan, and boil without stirring until it reaches 240F. Woo for candy thermometers! In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. I recommend getting a machine friend to do this for you. I tried doing it by hand at first, but then my muscles started atrophying, so I reverted to the ole hand mixer. Pour your sugary mix over the egg whites slowly while still beating, until thick enough to spread. Stir in vanilla. And whatever tacky color you plan on making it.

Actually, I failed at some point in this process, and my frosting was waaay too thin. So I just mixed in powdered sugar until it thickened up. Worked quite well, too! So I spread this on the cupcakes, then rolled the edges in some clear sprinkles. This was one task that would have worked a bit better had the cupcakes been a bit more full at the top, admittedly.

So I also added little globs of light blue frosting in the center of each cupcakes. Part of this was the “Oh crap, the stabby parts of my plastic toppers are taller than the cupcakes!” so I needed more volume. I just poured a little milk, slight bit of vanilla and some Crisco into a bowl, and added powdered sugar until frosting-like. This is pretty much the Easiest Way Ever to make frosting (and feel free to use butter instead of Crisco, for that matter).

Oh, and the toppers? If you’re in Denver and like making cakes, you have to go to Cake Crafts, over on South Broadway. They have everything and anything you’d ever need for cake making and decorating, including a gazillion shades of food coloring along with a huge section of ridiculous plastic thingies you can stick into cupcakes! I am definitely a fan.

TBMLS Time! (AKA The Official Sandwich of the MLS)

So as you all know (or rather, as some of you will know upon completing the reading of this sentence), we are barely more than a week away from the beginning of the 2012 Major League Soccer season, which starts on March 10. And, what better way to celebrate this fact than by eating a TBLMS! The TBMLS is the official sandwich of the MLS after all (as declared by me about a month ago at least). It’s a pretty basic sandwich really – each letter stands for something! (Yeah, totally ripped off the idea from BLTs here…)

So…

T: Turkey
B: Bacon
M: Mayonnaise
L: Lettuce
S: Salsa

First, the bacon. As I am lazy and dislike standing over a stove pushing meat around for long periods of time, I just shove all my bacon in the oven and let it bake.

Yay bacon!

Deli turkey is the easiest thing to use for the T in this sandwich, though I’m sure you could make some delicious post-Thanksgiving TBMLSs to celebrate the end of soccer season as well. I am in no way a mayonnaise purist, and actively prefer using Miracle Whip. Conveniently for me, both begin with an ‘M’. I suppose that if you wanted to get really nutty, you could substitute mustard. Or mackerel. Or marshmallow even. The possibilities are only limited to your imagination and what you are capable of swallowing without throwing up! And, I got the privilege of using the Best Salsa Ever in this recipe, made by Chris and generously donated to the TBMLS cause.

TBMLS sandwich

A delightful sandwich indeed! I’ve become a big fan of using salsa instead of tomato in sandwiches. Storebought tomatoes have too much of a tendency to not break apart as cleanly as I’d like, so unless I’ve got a big juicy slab of beefsteak straight from my non-existant garden, chances are that when I bite into that sandwich, half the tomato’s gonna come out with that bite. Salsa also has Bonus Kick, for those of us who are fans of flavor. And do I even need to mention the fact that any MLS-themed sandwich needs a bit of a kick to it?

TBMLS overview

I was looking forward to more TBMLSs after this initial round, but alas, rarely do sandwich ingredients last that long. The turkey went first – I compulsively eat deli meat, so I knew that wasn’t gonna stick around. And the salsa ultimately got sacrificed to the Taco Gods, as is the way of salsa. Bizarrely enough, the bacon lasted the longest. Albeit, when it’s just me versus a pound of bacon, sometimes the bacon wins!

Delicious Sushi at Japoix in Denver

So I used to get a Groupon email every day. Not just Groupon, but every single Groupon spinoff there was as well. There was just something so alluring about all of those half-price deals. After awhile, though, I realized it’s not necessarily the value you perceive it to be. It’s half-off of the full-price version, no other coupons involved, sometimes spending more than you otherwise might to meet the requirements of the Groupon. And so it was when I finally used my Groupon for Japoix – I was not able to take advantage of their Happy Hour prices at all. Nonetheless, the Groupon did give me the excuse to finally experience the absolute deliciousness that is Japoix, so I should really be thankful.

It was a Sunday, early afternoon. Being a single lady with writing to do, I decided to take my laptop on a date to Japoix to enjoy a leisurely lunch. There’s two sides – a lounge and a restaurant side, and I chose the latter in favor of solitude. Both sides have excellent ambiance; this was the view from my seat (with bonus Instragram effects!):

Japoix dining area

I started off with the house salad. Definitely better than your average restaurant salad, with fresh greenery lightly drenched in a delicious layer of house dressing. Wait, is “lightly drenched” an oxymoron? Perhaps “thinly veiled” would work better? Is there a proper and efficient phrasing for “it had dressing all over it, but not in a sickening nauseating ‘too much dressing’ way, more in the ‘right amount of dressing’ way.” Yeah, that!

house salad

Next up, I got sushi! When encountering a menu with things I’m not familiar with, my tendency is to pick whatever sounds the least familiar and go with that. So, I ordered the hamachi new style (which consisted of fresno, kaiware, ponzu, truffle oil, and chive) and got this:

hamachi

Mmmm fishes! Maybe not $14 at full menu price good, but definitely “yay I have a Groupon for this!” good. These guys definitely had a kick, and my wuss self started removing the peppers on the top near the end in order to cope with said kick.

hamachi closeup!

Japoix has a rather unique ingredient they use in a few of their dishes called an electric button. It’s a part of a plant (I’m thinking lotus, but I’m not really sure) that has an incredibly tart burst of flavor when you bite into it. Among other things, Japoix offers a drink featuring the electric button (which I totally neglected to photograph but was quite tasty), as well as the Electric Eel roll featuring a button on each end.

Electric Eel roll

So I bite into the end piece of sushi, and it’s tasting like you’d expect a really good eel & crab roll to taste, and then I bite into that button. My mouth is flooded with a sharp, tangy flavor. I’d almost say it’s akin to numbing your mouth, except rather than removing your ability to taste or feel, it thinly veils (or lightly drenches, perhaps) everything in your mouth with a tingly sensation and causes your next several bites of food to have the residual tanginess of the button. It’s definitely a strange experience, but I rather enjoyed it!

Electric Eel roll closeup

All of this was enough food to happily satiate me but not leave me feeling full and bloated. And, I successfully used up my Groupon. Japoix is awesome, but a bit pricier than what I generally like to pay for eating out. I’ve been back once since, during happy hour. The menu selection is a bit more limited, but the drinks are awesome and the prices are much more reasonable. And, being a half a block from where I live, Japoix has the potential to become one of my New Favorite Happy Hour Locations.

Aventures in Repulsion – the Bacon Shake from Jack in the Box

So, or those of you in the Eastern Time zone and that strange land of afar called Euroasiafricustralia (err, something like that), it’s already Valentine’s Day. Meaning, of course, that it’s high time I wrote about something that’s completely repulsive. And, quite tragically, it involves bacon.

Bacon Milkshake

I’ve never been to a Jack in the Box before. I still haven’t, in fact. But my coworker Erin has. As stoically as a vegetarian can, she brought into work a bacon milkshake from Jack in the Box for all of us to try. And, holy crap, it tastes like bacon. Not in a good way, however. More in the “wow I want to make my mouth into a giant faucet” kind of manner. I tried to be openminded about the whole thing. I mean, I’ve heard the rumors of how delicious dark chocolate with bacon and sea salt can be. Ingredients that can seem strange sometimes have a magic way of becoming harmonious. I mean, I used to think green tea and red bean ice cream sounded awfully gross until I actually tried them. And I like to think that, somewhere out there, is a person with the ability to combine bacon and ice cream into something that is delectable. This person does not work at Jack in the Box.

I took a sip. The texture was satisfying and cold and creamy, and I almost liked it but BACON. Like, really weird aftertaste bacon. Like, if I didn’t know this milkshake was made with artificial bacon (all vegetarian, hah!), I’d be convinced they used bacon grease to make it. And the aftertaste, the gross gross aftertaste. But, the texture. So creamy. I kept trying to drink it. Partly, because I hate to waste food. Partly, because I *wanted* to like it, no matter what level of repulsion it had. So I’d shudder and take another sip. My stomach started turning. So I’d wait 5 minutes for the nausea to pass, then take another sip. Eventually I got a coworker to take it away, and I spent the rest of the day in various states of nausea. So, yeah. Don’t get the bacon shake unless you really enjoy a good old fashion stomach sickness.