Thursday, April 24, 2008

Country Buffet

Despite its title, this post will not be about that infamous restaurant bearing the name Country Buffet. Instead I am going to talk about the second celebrity chef restaurant I've ever visited - The Lady and Sons (owned by Paula Deen) in Savannah.

If I had to describe the dinner buffet in one word, I'd have to say it was succulent. I don't even remember many of the options from the regular menu because I was so set on helping myself to mounds of fried and buttery food. Luckily one of the servers brought us warm cheddar biscuits and hoecakes before we had even ordered, and they were not disappointing in the least.

The three entrees featured that night were fried chicken, country fried steak, and low country boil, which involved shrimp, corn, potatoes and sausage. Having indulged in copious amounts of seafood the night before, I limited myself to two shrimp, and they were tasty. The corn, however, was extraordinary, and I'm not sure if it's because it was that good or if I'm just excited about summer being near. Nevertheless, I had two pieces of corn, which amounted to two-thirds or so of an ear.

I eat fried chicken about once a year, and I'm thrilled that I was able to experience it The Lady and Sons. My first piece was a breast with part of a wing attached, and it was amazing, but for round two I tried a drumstick and it was truly unbelievable. The skin was perfectly crisp with just a hint of flavor, and the meat melted in my mouth.

Another highlight of the meal was the luscious macaroni and cheese. It was casserole style, and had a nice amount of creaminess without being too rich. I don't think it would have been humanly possible for me to sample all of the side dishes, but everything I tried was delicious: collard greens, black-eyed peas, green beans with potatoes and ham, candied sweet potatoes and short ribs. Some of the other options included grits, succotash, and cabbage.

The sweet potatoes were worthy of ending the meal, the buffet included a choice of three desserts: banana pudding, peach cobbler, and chocolate chip gooey butter cake. The choice wasn't a hard one for me, and I am wondering how I can perfectly replicate both wonderful layers in the gooey butter cake. The bottom was chocolate and almost like cookie crumbs, and the top lived up to its gooey description with mini chocolate chips mixed in.

I also had a few bites of the peach cobbler, but I was pretty full by that time and it didn't taste like anything special. All of the other food made such an impression on me that I couldn't be bothered with mediocre cobbler. I wasn't even disappointed that I didn't get to see the lady, or her sons, except that I want to ask them for some recipes...

Friday, April 04, 2008

Cookie Dough Heaven

It's not often that I bake something with a boxed mix (Kahlua vodka cake may be the only exception), but there was no way to avoid the recipe for Cookie Dough Cupcakes after I laid eyes on it. Between the instant pudding in the cake and the chocolate butter cream frosting, I knew these cupcakes would be something special.

They were, as promised, relatively simple to make: combine all of the (six) ingredients, blend well, and scoop into a cupcake pan; drop a chunk of cookie dough in the middle of each one, and bake. My only trouble was an issue I've had regularly with cupcakes, which is that I put too much batter in the cups and they overflow a little. As a result
I only got 22 cupcakes from the recipe, but if I followed the instructions to only fill each cup two-thirds of the way, I probably would have had more than 24.

The chocolate butter cream frosting turned out to be exceptional, and I'm definitely going to keep it in mind for other recipes. However, the instructions were slightly off again with respect to amounts and proportions. Each cupcake was supposed to get a heaping tablespoon of frosting, which would have been just enough to cover the tops of each, but not necessarily enough if I'd had the full two dozen. I think I might make one and a half of the chocolate butter cream next time.

Regardless of the minor shortcomings with the cupcakes, they were decadent and wonderful. The cake itself was moist and light, and the hunk of cookie dough was just the right balance. Chocolate icing on top was almost a bonus, but it tied all of the components together and made the cupcakes exceptional. The recipe recommends serving them right away so the cookie dough is still soft, but I found that a quick zap in the microwave did the trick.

Before I made the Cookie Dough Cupcakes I was considering using my own cookie dough, but I decided to wait until I'd made them once to tinker with the recipe. While I may still try that at some point, I think the artificial ingredients and mixes were a big part of the cupcakes' charm - I know because I ate at least six of them.

Cookie Dough Cupcakes

For cupcakes:

24 paper liners for cupcake pans (2 ½ inch size)
1 package plain yellow cake mix
1 package vanilla instant pudding mix
1 cup whole milk
1 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 package (1 lb) frozen cookie dough – you can use the logs as long as you cut it and it’s frozen; I found a package with 24 cookies

  1. Place an oven rack in center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Fill pan with cupcake liners.
  2. Place cake ingredients, minus cookie dough, in an electric mixer bowl and blend on low speed for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, increase mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes more. When the batter looks well blended, scoop ¼ cup batter into each cup (about 2/3 of the way full). Place a frozen cookie dough piece on top of each cupcake and place pans in the oven.
  3. Bake until cupcakes are lightly golden and spring back when pressed – 23 to 27 minutes. Remove pans from the oven and place them on wire racks to cool for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the cupcake liners to help remove the cupcakes. Allow them to cool for 15 minutes before frosting.

For frosting:

8 Tablespoons (1 stick) butter, room temperature
½ cup unsweetened cocoa
3 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
3 to 5 Tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Place butter and cocoa in a large mixing bowl. Blend on low speed until mixture is well combined – 30 seconds. Stop the machine and add the sugar, 3 tablespoons of the milk, and the vanilla. Blend with the mixer on low speed until the sugar is incorporated – 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy – 1 more minute. Add 1-2 tablespoons milk if the frosting is too stiff.

Use about 1 tablespoon of frosting for each cupcake. Serve while warm, or fresh out of the microwave.