.to KILL a Cheesesteak.

this is how I felt eating this market cheesesteak

Have you ever eaten something and it just makes you sad?  The flavors empty. The mouthfeel lacking any type of passion. I have. And most recently, it was this past Saturday at the market . I was starving! I know better than to leave without eating at least one of my granola bars or a protein shake – but I didn’t this day. I had 2 cups of coffee and was out the door, after a night of mediocre drinking. My herbal vitamins helped with what was at one point a severe headache. I was now hungry on the bus heading to downtown Portland. I was meeting my best friend and I knew we’d eat soon, besides the noises my stomach was making made me feel more thin 🙂

We met up and decided to go ahead and get some lunch & decided to be daring & try the vendors that are not directly on the waterfront. I wish I had stuck to good ‘ol reliable & gotten a vegetarian burrito across from the soap vendor I love!

😥

So, here’s the sandwich and sure it looks like it is going to be an decent ‘steak and then after the performance… I mean, when we were watching the girl make the sandwich for the prior customers,  It was when I saw this huge cloud of luscious’ness coming from the grill. I was sold. The bun was soft in her gloved hand – a light bit of steam escaped from the container which it was being held, and it was set aside on the clean slick side of the hot plate. The meat was lean & pre-portioned in its paper container and sizzled loudly when introduced with the heat. When the sliced onions hit the same griddle they danced together in harmony and the aroma was definitely a score of 10. When I thought it couldn’t get any better, she laid TWO slices of cheese down and covered the concoction with a metal lid – like you get at the hospital or cafeteria. I was drooling. Seriously, my friend pointed it out. My chubby cheeks blushed & I blamed it on the prior evenings IPA’s that left me a hungry grizzly bear, ready to attack the first food cart I saw. The girl takes the almost forgotten bun in one hand, lifts & sets asides the lid with other. The luscious steam cloud escapes and from the corner of my eye I see the next customer now stuck in the ‘Cheesesteak Headlights’. She now take spatula and flips the now perfectly melted meat mound onto the soft hoagie roll. Does a quick wrap of a sheet of foil and hands it too me. I bet I looked like a power puff girl when she handed it to me & part of me wished we weren’t splitting one.

My friend and I looked so happy. We found the perfect spot to enjoy our mid afternoon lunch and enjoy some more of this gorgeous sunshine while munching on an East Coast lovers favorite treat. After a few moment, I took the first bite – the bread was exactly as it looked. Soft, steamy and dry (not gloped with a lot of butter or grease), clean and needed on my empty stomach. The first bite was mostly bread and I was okay with that under the circumstances, another bite and this time the cheese did a rodeo show and roped my chin in a thick white mozzarella cheese circle, we giggled. The onion was perfect texture and would have made the world’s best onion ring with that crisp bite, and a tad of sweetness at the end. However, I only felt the texture of the onion. The taste was. Gone. I assumed it was my palette from being hung over. Again, I take a bite the meat is just meat. It’s lifeless. (I understand the irony of this statement, but being in culinary school & the industry for more than a few years now – I know what this statement truly means.)  sigh. Even typing about it is making me ‘sad’. I look at my friend and she looks just as disappointed as I do. By now, there is one bite each left and we look down see three, that’s 3, green peppers. On this classic ‘original’ sandwich, there is only 3 peppers, never enough going on the grill to catch my detail oriented eyes. The “cheese” I am now convinced is imitation cheese melt. The meat is I don’t know what, and even though its Portland, I should have realized when the plastic banner that displayed the menu was generic and lacking any type of personality, that this was the ‘no go’ cart. Nothing about it showed any love. We throw away the rest of the sandwich. I felt so guilty, but I had to save those calories for ice cream.

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I don’t want none, if you ain’t got BUNS hun’ …

I love food. I love brunch. Both have been discussed here on Street Eats & Sweets 🙂 This week I’m typing about my newest Cinnamon Roll love at Stepping Stone Cafe in NW Portland.  So along with my love for French Toast, is the Cinnamon Roll. Many of us have fond memories of those special rolls. Their sweet, gooey, sugary, cinnamon’y flavors all dancing together in the same dish, baking and carmalizing away. Some of my favorite types of cinnamon rolls are when they’re a tad bit crunchy from the caramalization of sugars on the outside, with that ‘sound’ when you bite in & then just so soft & warm on the inside.  Joyful is the melted  sugared spices & butter that spill out of the cared for baked confectionery.  My mom was of course, was a little different and ‘our family rolls’ consisted of me hearing a ”Pop” and knowing there would be a little cup of icing tucked aside on our countertop …. nothing fancy, but it was ours & I wouldn’t change it.  Ah, Sunday cinnamon rolls with the family.

Admittedly, cinnamon rolls are not that easy to make. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll want to perfume your kitchen on a regular basis with those wonderful rolls baking in the oven. And it’s not so bad if you make the rolls the night before and refrigerate them. When the dough cycle has finished, turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a 17×10 inch rectangle, or whatever pan you’re using. Spread with softened butter. In a small bowl, stir together brown sugar, cinnamon and pecans. Of course, you can use any flavor combo that inspires you!! The sky is the limit on this popular classic.  Sprinkle brown sugar mixture over dough. This construction method is used because it would be impossible to mix in cinnamon flavor into the dough, as it would kill the yeast.

Stepping Stone Cafe is known as a delicious neighborhood cafe and non pretentious waitstaff is located at 2390 NW Quimby in Portland and I love their motto,  “You eat here because we let you”.  This is also the place that is known for the show on Food Network, “Man vs. Food” for eating a stack of their famous ‘ManCakes’, their version of a pancake.  Im holding up a ManCake and about to eat one of the best EGGS BENEDICT Ive had in a LONG time, but yes, thats another post 🙂   And Yes this place has so much great food to choose from! Vegan/GF/DF options are always on the chalk board and the coffee is great! These mancakes are HUGE and they gave me total love for disc all over again! Butter & syrup on the side? YES PLEASE!  and remember you can always just take the HUGE Cinnamon Roll home for later!  Thanks Stepping Stone for a wonderful Brunch!

Let’s thank Europe again for another great  petite mort creation: The Cinnamon Roll!

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if you can’t stand the heat

I treated myself to Thai today on the way to school. I was finally not late to class & able to partake in a Pad Thai lunch special. When asked how spicy I wanted it, I answered the same way I usually do with asked about how spicy to make something – a big smile and  “Spicy please”.  I’ve learned a thing or two ordering spicy food over the years, and if I’m not asked again, then ‘they’ usually do a great job of balancing the flavors out for my American palette. I’ll get the dish and they’ll be juuuust enough heat to it, but then the flavors of the other side of the world come through.

Then there’s days like today. Where they ask again. Even after I repeat it. Never good. I tend to get ‘artificial’ tasting dishes after this questing is asked. What do I mean by that, you wonder… Well. It’s that flavor of spicy, that when you taste it – it’s just one flavor of heat. Just one level or layer of intensity. Today’s dish was completely overpowered by the use of chili flake and pepper. I didn’t taste any of the cooks love for his/her country in the cooking.  No use of lemongrass, turmeric, or light hints of ginger.  No red Thai chili peppers or curries. No galangal or holy basil. Just black pepper. I was disappointed on the spice factor today. Generic.

The texture was amazing and ‘al dente’ just as I usually enjoy it.  I am not sure if that is the proper Thai noodles should be cooked or not, however, I always enjoy a noodle that still has a bit of a ‘chew’ to it. My chopsticks grabbed the first bite and my excitement caused the noodles to sway from side to side, and while my mouth welcomed the first bite of Pad Thai the spiced noodles hit my left cheek and then did a disappearing act into my hungry mouth. So,  don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t so awful that I didn’t finish the lunch,  and I would probably try this location again. I would just be more careful with my spice ordering techniques.

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Why does the caged French Toast sing ?

Sunday.
Sunday Fundays.
Ah, rainy Sundays.

This past Sunday was the FIRST really rainy Sunday in a long time!

Really. Like 4 or 5 months. No Rain. It’s been amazing.The wintertime is near with its steady sounds of ‘squishes’ from damp pant cuffs or a shoelace gone astray in the afternoon downpour that is the Pacific NW. Wintery days are accompanied by my hat that houses raindrops until its time for a bus ride or my shift in the bakery – the scarf that protects & warms my core the most, the bag that will dry the fastest once inside. Yes. Winter is coming, and yes so is my French Toast review.

One of the reasons I love Portland is the rain. I love that feeling of having the weekend off (no matter how rare) and stretching in bed and listening to the raindrops outside. I have a few avenues of ‘rain listening’ from my house. I can hear the pitter patter from the water trail hitting tree branches outside my front window; or I can listen to the steady overflowing stream of water from the obstructed gutters that line my home & meet at the outside corners of my room, or the small wind-chime that gently dances to its own music while the water hits from the hanging rose bush out back.  Any & all are relaxing points for me – I’m definitely not opposed to liquid sunshine! : )

This is also the season when I start looking forward to Brunch!  I find myself getting out of bed a bit later on those wintery days. When those cold mornings keep me in my caccoon of blankets & npr lightly informing me in the background, when the shower is way hotter than any part of my day will ever be! When I know I’ll be drinking too many winter ales & cider that will more than likely keep me up a bit later on those weekends, and let’s get real,  ‘tis the season to snuggle the morning away – body pillow, snuggle partner, or not – it’s such a great time of year to just relax! That perfect lighting, favorite book, a blissful comfy spot, music that takes you to your own special place, & that ‘me’ time we forget… Life slows down in the winter.

I have been on a quest in Portland to find the best French Toast. I adore French Toast! I’ve never been that great at making it, it is a current endeavor for sure. It’s better than a doughnut and more complex than a baguette. I have found my FAVORITE FRENCH TOAST IN PORTLAND as of yet.  It’s also, coincidentally at the first bar I ever went to in Portland. Where the warm lights, laid back tunes, & amazing small plates for those 11pm munchies are seriously some of the best on the NW side that I’ve found in the almost 2 years I’ve been here.

Muu-Muu’s

Located @ 612 NW 21st. It’s a bar, it’s a restaurant  it’s small, cozy, perfect amount of noise, meets a great cocktail or an amazing beer on tap. That’s BEFORE the food is even thought about. The laid back bartenders are there asking you what you’d like before you know it.  I knew Muu-Muu’s was a favorite bar of mine, but now one morning, I would find out they are one of my very favorite places for brunch.

My best friend & I went walking for a delicious Bloody Mary from Muu-Muu’s on a late Sunday morning.  We turned the corner from Gilsan having walked an extremely  short distance from 23rd and my mouth watered at the thought of hydration of ANY kind. Even though it felt like a monstrous hike through Mt. Tabor, after the night we had, I knew that the effort of walking would pay off and I’d be ”chasing the hair of the dog” with one of best bloody mary’s I’ve had in a long time before I knew it.   We sat down. The bartender was smart & quick to hand us a large glass water. We ordered our drinks and started discussing the evening prior, and with the laughs & lightening headaches – we started to notice a wonderful aroma buzzing through Muu-Muu’s. Just then the barkeep offers us a menu and we happily accept & see the brunch menu. I knew I wanted French Toast and I knew I wanted it quick!

It arrived way before I was expecting. By first glance it’s 2 hearty slices of oh-so-thick French Toast, one placed on top the other, just askew. A dollop of Chantilly (whipped cream, for you common folk 😉 just kidding!) & asstd berries or fruits in season. It is not fancy. It is not accompanied by any unnecessary frill. It’s seriously a beautiful dish of a really traditional breakfast treat. French Toast.  Ah.   The toasted to perfection crispy outside leading to a soft, warm, sweet & spiced inside. When I pull it apart with my fingers, it is effortless. When I dip it in the rich yet light maple syrup, that simple touch of cinnamon comes through, and then finished with a light dusting of powdered sugar on the tongue. It is really amazing. I have never been disappointed when I have had the French Toast at Muu-Muu’s. The bread is baked local from Gabriel’s Bread in downtown Portland.   I obviously recommend it and hope you can tell me some other great places in Portland I can find some kick ass Brunch?  🙂

blahblah

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Gabriels-Bakery/153444154695563

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.Components.

So, I explained a little about my family life and growing up in a home of cooks but not bakers.  I feel I can explain my attention to detail that translates to my PASSION for cake decorating – that’s because of my mother, probably a little of my grandfather as well. Now, that I think about it…

The memory of him & his attention to his garden & how he took care of it. How he made the nutrients in the soil richer, more complex for certain times of year, or for the vegetables and/or fruits he was mapping out for the shade or morning sun. He was the neighborhood gardener whose front yard beauty took over passer by’s and the morning jogger or two, to actually RING  the doorbell and ask, “What do you do to your roses, poppies, geraniums, cherry blossom tree…”,  insert ANY plant or flower here for the season. My grandfather’s attention to detail in the garden, to which I assisted with as much as possible, is more than likely a factor of how I am the same way.

My mother is okay letting the gardeners come in and take care of the flowers and shrubs. The dirt isn’t enriched by my her own hands nearly as much as it should be, but who I am to judge.  Her house is huge and she’s thirty years older than me. I get it. Funny, up until right now, I always assumed it was just my mother’s ‘crazy’ ways and too many issues to Better Homes & Garden magazines.  I think I realize now that within some chaos, the control of keeping things in order, probably made her feel better. I know that’s how I feel when I’m making something really intricate & beautiful. I guess sometimes we, as people, want to model the perfect home for the sometimes non perfect family.

Passion for PERFECTION! 🙂

So, this attention to detail isn’t so bad. It IS after all how and why I got involved it cake decorating and baking. To a baker cake decorating is the LAST thing thought about – for a decorator it’s all we dream about!

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14months.

I packed up everything I owned in about 6 weeks. I already had half my stuff in my mom’s garage packed from the last time I made a major move change, which was the summer of 2007.

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta – tempered chocolate garnish jc2012

I am finally graduating with my AAS Degree in Baking & Pastry Management from, Oregon Culinary Institute.  I feel that I have learned so much from this school in the past 14 months and have realized that this is a path I am glad that I embarked on.Ive always believed in, Do What I Love & Love What I Do. It’s why I now have 3 degrees, but then again it runs in the family with my dad as well. Mine aren’t in phsyics or mechinal enigneering, but hey… thats okay 😉

Chocolate Sweet Cups jc2012

apricot pistachio / white Nougat truffles / strawberry blood orange jellies jc2012

Dobos (dough-boash) cake w a spun sugar ball jc2012

Part of a final Exam – drop lace & boarder were required

I’ve decided instead of words, I’ll let my pictures show what I learned and how many techniques I was able to master!

A KITCHEN NINJA! ❤ Thank you OCI !!!

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that one girl

Happy Food = Happy Face

Jaime. aka LadyCakes.  Im 35. Cool. Not so hip. Funny & creative. I like dark cosmic skies & flickering stars.  I find beauty in most things I see. I am a visual and adore looking at things that make me think, feel, and use every sense I have, +1 .

I grew up in a 2nd generation American-Italian household in southern California. My cheeks are plump, my marinara skills are a family art, I’ll feed you till you can’t breathe & my grandfather never did give me his famous lasagna recipe. I’ll keep practicing that one tho’.

I adore food. I cherish those memories in the kitchen with my family. Where laughs & great news required milk & Anginetti (Italian Lemon Drop Cookies) and a bad day or breakup had mom spooning out Spumoni (Italian ice cream made with layers of different colors/flavors, usually containing fruits & nuts) in my favorite ice cream dish that my mother made when she was 11. If the special dessert we shared wasn’t made by her hands, at least the container that held it did.

Italians ‘go-to’ ice cream

Whats ironic is none of these sweetest of sweet memories I have with my family are made from scratch. No artesian appreciation, and no direct contact with the same hands that cared for me.  There are no ”must have” pages from an old family cookbook, passed down from generations. No worn corners or smudges of candied sugar or apple jam.  There was never any baking going on at our house. We made pasta from scratch, but that was it. I asked for sugar pasta once, but Papa simply said, “Too many hands in the kitchen spoil the pot.” I knew that meant to sit down and get out of the way. I went outside to play.

I remember my grandmother rolling the dough over special roller’s to make manicotti, and the special machine Papa owned that NO ONE touched, to ‘pop’ out rotini’s. Pasta yes. Savory is how we did it. I love eggplant & veggies, all of which were pretty much available all year, being in California and with Papa’s garden. We liked experimenting with food & flavors and trying differnt fusions into classic Italian dishes. So yes, our our savory family cookbook, that’s a COMPLETELY different story, but baking. There is no bread in that oven. Just lasagna.

I work on a 5 tier wedding cake or take 2 days to carve the perfect sphere out of poppy seed cake & marscapone filling for a city kickball team, I wonder, why baking?  I just smile while my hands knead the pastry flour for a perfect pie crust or while I create a flower made from gum paste that looks real enough that you have to look twice at.  Yet, the thought of why baking, why cake decorating, sugar pulling, piping & filigree, and why making this edible visual art  appeals to me so much more instead of attempting to be a great Italian cook/chef. These are the things Im continuing to learn while I explore myself at Oregon Culinary Institute, but for now. Im totally okay contining to make pretty cakes & just being happy : )

Thanks for reading!  <3, LadyCakes

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