No birthday is complete without cake! I’ve gotten back into baking over the past few months, and John’s birthday was the perfect excuse to indulge in chocolate and caramel. Chocolate cake, caramel frosting, caramel sauce, chocolate cake, caramel frosting, more caramel sauce, then finally a generous sprinkling of toasted pecans! This is the recipe I used, but I used vanilla soy milk instead of fat-free milk and substituted the boiling water in the cake batter with freshly brewed coffee to enhance the chocolate. Also, every time I’ve used coffee in a chocolate cake, it comes out wonderfully moist! The pecans were toasted for about 8-10 minutes at 350F. So fragrant! Instead of store bought caramel, I made my own sauce with this easy recipe. I made two batches: one with light brown sugar, one with dark brown sugar. The latter has a stronger flavor, but I preferred the color of the other batch. We have so much caramel leftover!
Last Saturday, we celebrated John’s birthday with a fantastic Mexican dinner at Dos Caminos Soho. We walk by this place all the time, and it’s always very crowded. It’s first come, first serve for outdoor seating even if you have a reservation. Lucky us — an outdoor table for two was available right when we showed up!
You cannot visit a Mexican restaurant and pass on the guacamole. We ordered the mango & papaya-habernero guacamole ($14). Comes with a trio of salsas. The salsa verde, the mildest of three, was my favorite. The spiciest salsa was delicious, but it was too much heat for me. Thank goodness for the creamy guacamole to soothe my taste buds. Dos Caminos has a very extensive cocktail selection, especially if you are a tequila fan. I had the grilled grapefruit margarita. The subtle grilled flavor was quite nice and went well with the salt. John is not a tequila man, so he tried the “Queen of the Night” pale ale. The empanadas de platano ($10) are a good option for vegetarians. Roasted plantain masa, black beans, poblano chiles, and queso anejo. Nicely plated, extremely rich and filling. By the time we finished our guacamole and empanadas, I was already stuffed……and there were still veggie tacos ($15) on the way! Warm tortillas with grilled avocado and veggies, white beans, cucumber pico de gallo, and queso fresco. I’m not sure why it comes with an odd number of tacos, but I overheard a waiter telling an adjacent table that you can add on an extra taco if you like. The veggie tacos were very good, and I loved the large slices of grilled avocado. The tacos also come with a good portion of rice and beans on the side. Guacamole and chips, empanadas, and tacos… that was a lot of food for two people. Food coma soon kicked in as you can see from the blank expression on the birthday boy’s face, haha! A successful birthday dinner, and I’d love to come back for brunch!
I was lucky enough to get a window seat on our short flight from Chicago to Madison. The end of summer weather was amazing, and the views from the plane were stunning. I’ve visited Madison several times, but it has always been in the middle of winter when everything is covered in a thick layer of ice and snow. Look at all that green!
As soon as we arrived, we went straight to the mini golf course with John’s family. John was not shy about trying out the playground equipment at the mini golf course. Mini golf is really fun, but watch out for golf balls! My ankle was hit by one, and even though it didn’t hurt at the time, it slowly developed into a horrible bruise over the next week.
This was an extra special family reunion as John’s parents were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. A major anniversary calls for a fabulous spread of desserts, am I right?! Almond cake, raspberry cheesecake, brownies, swiss chocolate torte, and cupcakes. That photo with the yellow plate is just my first plate of desserts.
I never would have guessed that this teddy bear sitting in the study is a phone! Sadly, it is not quite as portable as a smartphone. Another fun find was this teensy tiny rocking chair. I could sit in it, but I was worried my butt might get stuck. Heheh.
Spending time in the beautiful backyard was another highlight from that weekend. The neighborhood kids decided to play elsewhere that afternoon, giving us a chance to enjoy the swings. Oh Madison… so pretty this time of the year. A lovely weekend escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.
After an afternoon of mini golf on our first day in Madison, we were relieved to settle down for an early dinner at Bonfyre Grille. The exterior was kind of blah, while the interior was quite nice. Think classic American grill house with lots of wood grilled dishes.
Our table of nine shared two appetizers, which was plenty of food to go around. You can’t go wrong with truffle fries ($8)! Crispy shoestring fries topped with asiago and truffle oil. There’s aioli for dipping, but you really don’t need it. The fries were nicely seasoned, and the truffle oil was flavorful, but not overwhelming. It’s basically a party in your mouth!
Our other appetizer was the maytag bleu potato chips ($9). Potato chips topped with maytag bleu, pepperjack, tomatoes and scallions. I’m not sure how I feel about the combination of blue cheese and pepperjack… seemed mismatched, but then again, I’m not the biggest fan of blue cheese. The chips were tasty though. Too bad most of it was drowned in cheese. You just need a teensy bit of cheese as it’s really rich.
John and I shared a side of the grilled caesar salad. The dressing was a bit much for me, and I should have asked for it on the side. However, the grilled romaine was good. John’s angel hair pasta ($14) was tossed in infused chili oil, onions, pine nuts, mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, garlic, basil, with parmesan and goat cheese for toppings. This normally comes with eggplant, but John asked them not to include it. The chef substituted with mushrooms, which is, unfortunately, another thing he won’t eat. More mushrooms for me! I wouldn’t think to use chili oil with pasta, but it works. The kitchen must have had a surplus of mushrooms because my spring risotto ($16) also came with mushrooms even though it’s not mentioned on the menu. Creamy lemon zest risotto with asparagus, mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, spinach, onions, parmesan, and asiago cheese. It almost looks like it’s missing a spoonful of risotto, doesn’t it? I rarely have risotto, so this was a real treat, especially with some extra black pepper. It was very kind of John’s parents to treat us all to dinner. Everyone was too stuffed for dessert as the entrees, including the kids’ meals, had good sized portions. The meat eaters indulged in marinated steak, baby back ribs, and even rotisserie chicken. Everything seemed reasonably priced, and John’s parents were surprised by the total when the waiter brought out the bill. Good spot for dinner if you’re ever in Madison!
I’ve been a little slow at transferring photos off my iPhone lately, but here are a couple from our recent trip to Madison when we visited Blue Spoon Cafe in a quaint little town called Prairie du Sac. A casual little cafe with a tiered patio in the back with views of the Wisconsin River. I’ve visited Madison before, but this was my first visit not in the middle of winter. Green and peaceful. It’s so charming this time of the year.
Blue Spoon Cafe has a great selection of burgers, wraps, sandwiches, and the like. The ingredients were fresh and oh so colorful. I was tempted by the veggie quesadilla, but I opted for something lighter instead. Half a veggie sandwich with a side salad topped with avocado vinaigrette. The sandwich was packed with hummus, baby spinach, avocado, red onion, kalamata olives, cucumber, and artichoke hearts on cracked wheat bread. Not bad for a quick outdoor lunch overlooking the river on a sunny day.
Introducing the newest toy in our kitchen: the vegetable spiral slicer! There are several similar models on Amazon, and ours was just $20 with free shipping. I love noodles and have been wanting to make zucchini noodles for some time, but there was no way I could do this by hand. I’ve heard about people who try to slice noodles by hand — so tedious! I was worried that the spiral slicer wouldn’t work very well, but that was not the case at all. Gently turn the handle, and it all goes very smoothly. In fact, it was so fun to use that I had to stop John from spiraling so I could try it before we were all out of zucchini!
Zucchini noodles with marinara sauce, sauteed mushrooms, and asparagus. A simple veggie focused meal with a little help from the spiral slicer. I’d love to do something with potato ribbons… maybe fry them up so they’re nice and crispy. Any other ideas?
Whenever we watch MasterChef, we always make sure we have something good to snack on or else watching that show would be torture! Last week, a ripe avocado in the kitchen inspired us to make ramen burgers. All the ramen burger places in NYC don’t offer a vegetarian option, so we make our own! This is the second time we’ve made these. A nice juicy Gardein burger patty, sauteed mushrooms, sliced avocado, and sriracha sauce. This time around, we reduced it to 1/2 egg for each burger bun. The egg acts as the glue to hold the noodles together. I really like that the noodles held together, but were still loose and bouncy in along the edges of the bun. Tasty, but messy to eat!