Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Review: Our Best Bites (Fresh-Squeezed Lemonade)


(Woohoo! Amateur photography skills + low light = blurry cover shots! Oy. But you get the idea.)


(Amazing lemonade recipe, clever layout with serving size, a note telling you this is a make-ahead kind of recipe and ideas for variations.)


(Ingredients for amazing lemonade recipe. The secret ingredient is missing from this picture though…)


Recently, I was at a church function where a bunch of ladies got together to learn how to put together hanging baskets. We wanted to make refreshments that would highlight herbs you could grow at home. I made these lavender brownies, and someone else made some scrumptious lemon bars. (Hey! You CAN grow lemons indoors!) The hostess told me she had found a great recipe for lemonade and asked me to mix it up while she was finishing the final prep work for the evening’s lesson. I was pretty tickled when she pulled out the new Our Best Bites cookbook, written by Kate Jones and Sara Wells. Both girls used to attend this congregation, and we all have fond memories of them and are INSANELY proud of them. (Their cookbook, by the way, ought to hit ALL the Costco warehouses nationwide sometime this week. Talk about awesome! The book is also on sale right now on, even lower than last week when I bought mine!)


I was excited to try the recipe, because I accidentally left my copy of the book at my sister’s house on Mother’s Day, and haven’t been able to really get into it yet. Boo. And this recipe? Did not disappoint.


The original recipe calls for making a simple syrup, and flavoring it with lemon and lime juices, then adding some mint. You let that steep, and then strain the mint out. The resulting syrup is then mixed with ice water to make lemonade. I didn’t have that much time, so we used super-fine bakers sugar mixed into cold water, plus lemon juice and lime juice. I washed the mint and threw it into the pitcher. When it was time to serve the lemonade, we put some ice into a pitcher and strained the lemonade into that.


It. Was. Amazing. I think I had four glasses. At first, people couldn’t pinpoint the mint in the mix. It was subtle, but gave it an extra little kick that was totally addicting.


If you see this cookbook at Costco this week, I highly recommend it! You can also find the cute girls blogging over at Our Best Bites.


PS – I was not paid, recompensed or otherwise acknowledged for writing this review. As I said, I know the girls who wrote this cookbook and want to try out their recipes and let you guys know about it. That is all. Thanks!

Lavender Brownies


Oh, I know they don’t look like much. Just some fudgy brownies, from a box. In fact, what makes these brownies so special is something so subtle, you could miss it completely if you’re not paying attention. You might think they taste a little different…just a smidge floral perhaps?

And you’d be right.

The lavender in these was so subtle, but so delicious. I was really surprised! The lavender I used was bought from a tea shop in China, so it is not as fresh as what I could gather from my own yard. These brownies were made as refreshments for a class at church on building your own hanging baskets, and meant to highlight what you could do with herbs from your own garden. (The surprise hit of the night was the Herb Hanging Basket. Brilliant, right? Stick seven of your favorite herbs in a hanging pot, hang it…and enjoy a slug-less and bunny-less herb garden all summer long!)

(Please note – I doubled the recipe and baked it in a Silpat-lined half-sheet jelly roll pan for about 30 minutes, and they were perfect. I probably should have stuck them in the freezer for about 10 minutes before cutting them, though, to help me get the edges prettier.)

(Also, this would absolutely work with a from-scratch brownie recipe. Brownies aren’t a favorite around here, so I don’t make them very often. That being the case, I haven’t tried to make them from-scratch since I was about 13. I didn’t want to experiment on my friends at church, so…a mix it was! I used a Milk Chocolate mix, and that was perfect.)

Lavender Brownies

1 boxed brownie mix (or your favorite brownie recipe)
(Ingredients required for your mix. Generally water, oil and eggs)
2 Tbsp. dried lavender flowers, plus extra for garnish

The night before, open your bag of brownie mix and add the lavender. Twist the top shut, shake to combine, and let sit overnight. This marinates the flavor of the lavender into your brownies. (If you are making brownies from scratch, the night before you bake them, measure out the required sugar and add your lavender to that. Let the sugar and lavender sit overnight and bake as usual the next day.)

On baking day, prepare your brownies and bake as directed. Before baking, sprinkle more lavender across the top of the brownies.

Serve sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Review: Cupcake Royale

A few months ago, the hubs and I purchased a coupon for cupcakes from a local bakery, Cupcake Royale. It took us several months to USE the coupon, because of the stipulation that cupcake orders be placed before noon, the day before you intend to pick up your cupcakes. (And I? Don’t think that far ahead, in general.)


The cakes came in an attractive, and clever, box. (Pink is always a hit around here, and the addition of a crown sealed the deal with the Princess set.)



Cupcake Royale boasts of local and seasonal ingredients, and lists their vendors on the side of the box as proof.


This side of the box made very little sense to me, as it seemed to be supporting the rights of home bakers to sell their own cupcakes, commercial-kitchen free. But I could be wrong about those sentiments.


Now…ready to meet the kids??! When I placed my order, I told them four or five cupcakes that I absolutely must have (vanilla with pink icing, lavender, cookies and crème and mint) and asked them to fill out the rest of the box with whatever looked best.





Overall, I really preferred the vanilla cupcakes. The chocolate ones crumbled to bits as soon as you bit into them. The vanilla ones, though, had a gorgeous tight crumb, like a light pound cake. My favorite icing was the lavender, which had just a hint of lavender flavor and was very refreshing! The icing on the Lemon Drop was also quite nice.


The shop was cozy and comfortable, and the staff very friendly. Overall, I wasn’t blown away by the cupcakes, though. They were beautiful, and tasty, but they were no Crumbs. (Crumbs is high on the list of things I miss from living on the East Coast. *sigh*)


PS – I can’t decide if my review is good or bad. I have spent so much time the past few months perfecting my favorite cupcake recipes…I was mostly just disappointed that boutique cupcakes weren’t as tasty as my homemade ones. When cupcakes first hit the scene, when I was in high school, I remember going to a shop and ordering a beautiful cupcake from the gleaming glass hutch. I took a bite…and was so disappointed. It was beautiful, and dry. Ick. It wasn’t until my cupcake buying adventures on the East Coast that I realized store-bought cupcakes could be drool-worthy. Perhaps my box had sat out too long? However, when I ordered my cupcakes, they preferred that I pick them up in the afternoon. Perhaps they had been sitting in that box since the evening before. I have no idea. When talking with other friends, they raved about Cupcake Royale, so perhaps going in and buying a cupcake a la carte is a different experience.)


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Big Girl Bakes A Soda Pop Cake

Please don’t hate me, but I’m about to show you a recipe that I would NEVER make myself. Never would I look at the calendar, see that I have guests coming, and say, “Oh! I know! I’ll make that thing I blogged about the other day!” Not this time.

But I would totally let my four year old make it, and if she did…I would serve it to you with a smile. Because sometimes, teaching culinary confidence to the pre-k set is more important than from-scratch and gourmet. (All that said, this cake is surprisingly tasty, and very addicting. It has the added benefit of being egg and dairy free, other than whatever is already present in your ingredients.)

(Oh, and if you’ve been reading Chow Review for a while, you will totally recognize this recipe. Last time, we used a yellow cake mix with a store-brand lemon-lime soda. This time, it was chocolate cake mix with 7Up. It was very good!)

Behold: Soda Pop Cake!
So, you take these two things…
…and give them to a child with a bowl and a spoon.

When she says, “Hey! Let’s add dried cranberries!”, just nod and say yes. It’s her cake, after all.


While she’s doing all her mixing and mastering, spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray and pre-heat your oven to 350.

Help her pour all the batter into the pan, and bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.



Soda Pop Cake
makes one 9x13 cake

1 boxed cake mix
1 can of soda pop

Preheat oven to 350 and spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a bowl, stir together the cake mix and soda pop.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.