International Food & Wine Fest

I’m going to be that annoying relative who shows you a bunch of photos from vacation you probably don’t care about, but at least it’s not a two-hour slideshow with crawling commentary and a clicker only I can control.

Last weekend, I attended Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival. For anyone who’s been to the park, you know Epcot does an incredible job of recreating the look and feel of countries all over the world — from the United States to Greece, Japan to Morocco. During the festival, each stop serves up a beer and/or wine from each country and an assortment of local fare.

UPDATE: It appears I can’t get a slideshow plugin with this WordPress account, so my layout here is a mess. I don’t know how the photos will appear in your browser, but I’m sure you’ll be able to place the captions beneath the photos with the correct subject — like a fun little game!

Epcot “golf ball” with IF&WF decor; my first taste of international cuisine, I indulged in some spicy tuna maki from “Japan”; killing time outside the Fish & Chips station, I got distracted by the malt vinegar packets; potato pierogies and kielbasa from Poland were a fantastic main course; treated myself to a glass of Riesling from Canada to celebrate the “wine” portion of the festival; capped off the feasting with amaaazing chocolate crème brulée from “France.”

chai me!

Got my obligatory pun out of the way early. You’re welcome.

It’s finally starting to feel like fall on the east coast, and I couldn’t be happier about it. In order to celebrate the onset of cold-weather months before it actually feels cold, I give you vanilla chai cupcakes, courtesy of The Novice Chef. Nothing I’ve made thus far has made the house smell more incredible than these babies, and eating one was just like drinking cup of my favorite hot tea beverage — except, ya know, in solid form.

chai spice mix, pre-mix

The only downside you might encounter in making these is the cost. If you don’t own a spice rack, you’re in trouble; and if you do have one, you might still end up dropping a few. I threw a hissy fit when I realized the rack in our kitchen didn’t have nutmeg. Seriously? How does this thing come with tumeric and coriander seeds, but not nutmeg?! And cardamom? Yeah, okay…

Chai spice mix
1 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

Believe me: I considered the dollar store, but after my last experience with their products, I reconsidered. The good news is that if you invest in quality spices, your flavors will be intensified, thus justifying the purchase. (Check out this Spices101 post by TheFoodInMyBeard for a more sound explanation than I could give you.) Plus, having an abundance of cardamom means I’m going to get myself into all sorts of chai experiments, so that should be…fun.

For cakes:
♦1/2 c. butter
1 c. sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 quantity chai spice mix
1 1/4 c. flour
1/2 c. buttermilk
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

Mix spices together in a bowl. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add the vanilla and beat in one egg at a time. Stir in half the quantity of chai spice mix. Fold in the flour and buttermilk alternately. Stir until well combined. In another bowl, mix together vinegar and baking soda. Add that to batter. Spoon batter into cups, about 3/4 full. Bake at 325 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into middle of cupcake comes out clean. Wait until completely cooled to frost.

For chai buttercream frosting
1 c. butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 quantity chai spice mix
1-2 tbs. cold milk, if necessary

In a stand mixer, beat butter until creamy. Mix in vanilla and rest of chai spice mix. Carefully beat in powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time until desired consistency. If icing is too thick, add cold mix until it’s to your liking.

Total time? 45-ish minutes (including frosting-making).
Cost? More expensive than most, considering spices runs between $6-12. Apple cider vinegar ($2) isn’t the most common cabinet dweller, but I was fortunate enough to have some. The rest is pretty standard.
Overall success relative to expectations? 9 out of 10. I made these as part of National Cupcake Week 2010, and they were a hit amongst friends, family and co-workers (as they should have been; I took a vote to determine which variety of cupcakes to make, and these won out big time.) The flavor and aroma were amazing, and this time around, I used a professional piping tool and cutesy liners (at left), so the presentation was improved. Though the frosting was the star here, I deducted a point because the cake consistency bordered more on muffin. Definitely recommend giving them a chai, though! (Sorry, couldn’t resist [tea-hehe].) Yes, I’m ashamed; eyerolls encouraged.

National Cupcake Week 2010

No one informed me until today that this week (Sept. 13-19) is National Cupcake Week. To celebrate, I’ll be baking a batch of cupcakes Thursday night (TBD variety), but in the meantime, I wanted to get up a post about some delicious cupcakes I baked up a few weeks ago: Fluffer-Oreo Cupcakes, courtesy of Picky Palate — one of my new favorite food blogs.

These were the most involved cupcakes I’ve made to date, but that’s not really saying too much, considering I’ve only ever made Funfetti‘ cupcakes out of a box. (Then again, Funfetti is always a crowd pleaser…). I dubbed myself The Cupcake Fairy after I made these, as I brought a dozen to the office, a bunch to a barbecue and had a handful of visitors pop over for a taste. The overwhelming response? Success!

For more photos, click here!

A full Oreo inside!

For cakes:
♦1 box yellow cake mix
♦1/2 c. water
♦1/2 c. canola oil
♦4 eggs
♦1 box vanilla instant pudding
♦4 oz. softened cream cheese (non-fat works!)
♦1 package Oreo cookies
♦1 c. marshmallow cream (half for batter, half for layers)

For cream cheese icing:
♦8 oz. softened cream cheese (non-fat works here, too!)
♦1 stick softened butter
♦3 c. powdered sugar

Beat cake mix, water, oil, eggs, pudding mix, cream cheese, five crushed Oreos and 1/2 cup marshmallow cream with a stand-up mixer until well combined (about 1 minute).

In lined cupcake tin, drop about 2 tablespoons of batter into each cup. Press one Oreo into each cup, plop on a dollop of marshmallow cream and add 2 more tablespoons of batter to fill the cup about 3/4 of the way.

Bake for 25-27 minutes at 350 degrees. Tops should be golden brown. Let cakes cool completely before frosting. Use remaining Oreos (crumbled) to top. Yields 24 large cupcakes.

FROSTING: Place cream cheese and butter in mixer and beat until well combined. Slowly add in powdered sugar until frosting is desired consistency. (For this recipe, the cupcakes were so sweet that I used less sugar in the frosting to avoid my friends’  teeth falling out of their heads.)

Total time? 75-ish minutes (including frosting-making).
Cost? On the cheaper side: $1 cake mix, $1 cream cheese, Oreos on sale for $1.99, generic brand instant vanilla pudding for 79¢, marshmallow cream for about $2, powdered sugar about $2.
Overall success relative to expectations? 9 out of 10. People loved these things; I just wished I had invested in a nice icing piper to make them look stellar.

More photos!