Monday, August 27, 2012

Famous Sprinkles Cupcakes & An Afternoon in La Jolla

Since I started working from home a little over a year ago, I've become a little antsy about needing to get out and about on the weekends. While many people (including my hubby) enjoy relaxing on the couch or patio after a long week of work, I feel the need to get out and have a change of scenery. So, I usually try to come up with at least one afternoon trip each week - whether it be walking the beach, going out to dinner, wine tasting, or, in the case of this weekend - cupcake hunting!

I know that cupcakes have been all the rage for several years now, but I honestly haven't jumped on the bandwagon. I think I've had 2 cupcakes from "cupcakeries" in 3 or 4 years, maybe? But, when I heard the famous, "original" cupcakery "Sprinkles" had a location nearby us in La Jolla - I had to go. According to celebrities and blogs, these high-quality, uniquely-flavored cupcakes are the cupcakes to end all cupcakes.

So, off we went to La Jolla. The store isn't too fancy - just a small shop in a shopping plaza near the University of California-San Diego:

I didn't spy any celebrities in line, but I did spy a whole lotta cupcakes:

They had a few of the classic flavors you'd expect to see, like red velvet, chocolate marshmallow (like a Hostess®) and vanilla. But many of their flavors were things I'd personally never seen before in a cupcake - s'mores, vanilla hazelnut, peanut butter chocolate, cinnamon sugar. While they all looked good, we narrowed it down to 4 with a little help from the friendly servers:
 Clockwise, from the top left: Banana, Coconut, Chocolate Marshmallow, S'mores.

I'm a sucker for s'mores, so I dug into that right away. It had an amazingly rich semi-sweet chocolate ganache in the center of light, fluffy chocolate cake, with a graham cracker bottom and that ooey-gooey toasted marshmallow on top. It was delicious! If it was warm, it would've spot on tasted like a s'more to me - well, perhaps a refined version with that luxurious ganache. (Sorry but "America's favorite chocolate" can't hold a candle to that...)

Hubby had the coconut then, which had a denser cake, but still very good flavor. We saved the other 2 for the next day, and they were still nice and moist. The thing I think I liked most about all of the Sprinkles cupcakes is that they weren't rot-your-teeth-out sweet. You know how sometimes frosting can get that way? Not Sprinkles frosting. It had a great balance between being sweet enough to be a dessert but still really letting the flavor (dark chocolate, coconut, vanilla, etc.) shine through. The only cupcake I wouldn't order again was the banana. It was really just banana bread with frosting on top, which is something I can easily make at home - not worth $3.50 in my opinion.

But, I assure you that La Jolla, CA is much more than just gourmet cupcakes! One of our favorite places to visit is the cove and Children's Pool Beach. I love walking on the rocks and listening to the waves:
And when we're lucky, getting to see the seals sunning themselves and playing in the water:

There's also a nice main street you can walk around. Definitely a fun little town!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Grilled Chicken Quesadillas

The hot, humid weather that has plagued the rest of the country this summer has finally hit southern California. Not to rub it in, but we're usually pretty steady around 75°F for most of the summer months, with about 50% or less humidity. The last two weeks, though, we've seen temps in the 90s and higher, with humidity getting up to 70-80%.

Needless to say, those aren't exactly the conditions you want to be baking or roasting up a storm in, so we've been having a lot of grilled meals around here. Most times I go pretty simple - grilled chicken or pork with a side salad, turkey burgers, shrimp kabobs, etc. But I had a hankering for Mexican food (and 2 avocados that needed to be made into guacamole stat!), so I decided to try making quesadillas on the grill. Turns out - it's super easy, and super delicious!

Grilled Chicken Quesadillas
(Makes 4 6" quesadillas)

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. onion powder
salt & pepper
1 green pepper
1 jalapeno pepper, diced
8 6" corn tortillas
2-3 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
1.5 c. shredded cheese (I used a "Mexican" blend)
olive oil spray (if you don't have an oil sprayer yet, I highly recommend getting one! you'll never need "non-stick spray in a can" again!)

sour cream, salsa and/or guacamole for dipping, if desired

Preheat grill to medium heat (about 350-400°F). Spray chicken breasts lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with garlic powder, onion powder, salt & pepper. Place on grill for about 10 minutes. Turn, then grill another 10 minutes or until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165°F.
Remove chicken from grill and let rest 10-15 minutes.
While the chicken is resting, cut your green pepper in half and place it skin-side down on the hot grill. Grill 5-10 minutes until it starts to char and soften. Remove and let cool.
Once chicken and green pepper are cool enough to touch, cut them into thin strips. Assemble a tray with cut chicken, green pepper, diced jalapenos, chopped cilantro and shredded cheese.
Lay out 8 tortillas on a baking sheet. Generously spray 1 side of each tortillas with olive oil.
Bring everything out to the grill. Reduce the heat slightly - to about 300°F.
Carefully place all 8 tortillas on the grill with the oiled side facing down (on the grill plates). Let cook about 3-4 minutes until the bottoms start to brown.
Then, evenly distribute chicken, green pepper, jalapeno and cilantro across 4 (ONLY 4!) of the tortillas. Sprinkle the shredded cheese over the top. Place the remaining 4 tortillas on top of the "loaded" ones and press down to flatten. Close the grill cover and cook another 3-4 minutes until cheese is melted and tortillas have nice brown grill marks on both sides.
Cool 2-3 minutes before cutting & serving.

  Cast Party Wednesday

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Classic Lemon Bars

Going back through my archives, I was surprised to see I hadn't posted this recipe yet. When we bought this house and inherited the over-achieving lemon tree, it was one of the first recipes I perfected. I combined a few different recipes to get to what I think is the perfect ratio of buttery shortbread crust to creamy, lemony custard. These bars are surprisingly simple to make and always a big hit at potlucks and get-togethers. The deep lemony flavor makes for a great summer dessert. But it's also a nice unexpected treat around Christmas, too. If you like lemon, give these a try. You won't be disappointed!

Classic Lemon Bars
(Makes about 12 bars)

1/2 c. cold butter
1 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. confectioner's (powdered) sugar
1 Tbsp. lemon zest

2 eggs
1 c. granulated sugar
juice and remaining zest of 2 lemons
2 Tbsp. flour
pinch of salt

1/4-1/2 c. confectioner's sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line an 8x8 pan with parchment paper, or aluminum foil sprayed with oil (do not skip this! it's key to getting the bars out of the pan in one piece).

Zest 2 fresh lemons. Measure out 1 Tbsp. for the crust. Set the remaining zest aside for the filling.
To make the crust, cut the butter into flour and confectioner's sugar until crumbly. Stir in 1 Tbsp. lemon zest. (If you have a food processor, pulse the butter, flour, confectioner's sugar and lemon zest together for 10-15 seconds until crumbly and sand-like.) Press mixture into parchment- or foil-lined pan. Bake at 350°F for 20 minutes until light brown.

Meanwhile, juice your previously-zested lemons. Combine lemon juice, remaining zest, eggs, granulated sugar, 2 Tbsp. flour and pinch of salt. Whisk until smooth.

As soon as the crust comes out of the oven, pour the topping over the top. Return the pan to the oven and bake another 25 minutes until lemon topping is set. (Don't worry if it gets brown in some areas - the confectioner's sugar you add before serving will cover this up.)

Let sit 15 minutes. Remove the entire "cake" by lifting up on the sides of the parchment paper or foil. Set on a wire rack or cool counter to finish cooling.
Cool completely before cutting.

Just before serving, dust generously with confectioner's sugar. (A small sifter works well for this. One warning: don't add the confectioner's sugar too early, or it will just get absorbed by the lemon layer.)

Enjoy the lemony goodness!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Summer Vacation - Cape Cod, MA

Sorry I've been MIA for a while, but I have a good excuse - I was on vacation! This year, we decided to rent a house on Cape Cod with my parents, my in-laws and my husband's brothers & their families. It was a really fun time - and we got to see a lot of the Cape, from Falmouth to Hyannis to Provincetown. We also managed a visit to Martha's Vineyard, which is a small island just off the Cape.
Along the way, we of course enjoyed some great treats - like lobster rolls (to die for!), soft-serve ice cream (oh how I missed you! we only seem to have fro-yo in SoCal) and even locally made wine (Truro Vineyards is a must stop if you're on the outer Cape!).
Here are some of the highlights of our trip, in pics:

We ducked into the JFK museum in Hyannis during a surpise thunderstorm. The exhibits were very well done.

See that fishy in the kitty's mouth? Too cute! Given my love for black cats, I had to pop in here for a snack. Great french fries!
Beach Day! The water was so calm, I had to keep reminding myself it was the Atlantic Ocean and not a lake!
Another beach day - flying kites with my niece.
The famous Black Dog Tavern on Martha's Vineyard
Martha's Vineyard Lighthouse

 The Pilgrim Memorial in Provincetown. The Pilgrims actually landed here first before making it to Plymouth.

 We climbed all the way to the top of the Pilgrim Memorial - lots of steps & ramps! (Worked off some of that ice cream, though!)

 Wine tasting & vineyard tour at Truro Vineyards in Cape Cod. Some of the best New England wine I've had!

So that's what I did on my summer vacation. How about you? Been anywhere fun - or have any plans to go somewhere soon? If so, safe travels!