Seeing Double with Gigi

Gigi's Cupcake, Chocolate Salted Caramel
Gigi’s Cupcake, Chocolate Salted Caramel

I’m not the person that goes to a cupcake shop. Because a) I might go bananas and eat myself into a sugar coma, and b) I imagine the cupcake store patrons wear a lot more makeup than I do and get mani/pedis done regularly.

But I was ambushed at work by a box of Gigi’s cupcakes. Caught unawares, I saw myself reaching for a chocolate salted caramel creation with an afro of whipped butter icing topped with a liberal bath of chocolate ganache. It was a blur after that. Once I figured out how to get that huge thing into my mouth (hehe that’s what she said).

Ten minutes later the sugar entered my blood and my eyeballs started to vibrate in my skull. There was a lingering taste of chocolate and salt and maybe some caramel. I was smelling the number mauve. I could see the walls breathing.

For a franchise, these things were pretty dang good. I’m not going to be judgy about baked goods if they’re actually fairly decent. That said, I’ve heard other people complain, so I guess you can give a recipe to a franchisee, but you can’t make them bakers.

I would eat the hell out of another one of these any day.

Gigi’s Cupcakes
Gainesville on Archer Road:
3524 SW Archer RD, Suite 130,
Gainesville, FL 32608
352.240.6122
Gigiscupcakesusa.com

[Girl21]

Just Chickpea Salad

Chickpea Salad
Chickpea Salad

My mom used to make something like this and she called it Happy Tuna Salad. I’ve never had tuna salad, and I don’t like connecting my tasty food to something fishy, so I just call it chickpea salad. Just Chickpea Salad.

And since I don’t know what tuna salad tastes like, let’s forget there’s even a connection. This is just a nice stuffing for a sandwich. Great source of protein. Tasty. And requires very little actual effort. All good things during the summer.

SUMMER? What? It’s March 14th! Sorry, rest of the country. I was sweating in my car today, and have contemplated the air conditioner several times this week. I realize the rest of the country is still having that winter stuff, but here in the 352, it’s starting to look a bit like bikini season.

The less I have to spend over a hot stove, the happier I am. And I can make a batch of this up that will last a few days. Er… well, The Man makes it disappear quicker than that. So maybe I should just do double batches.

Smooshed chickpeas

With very little fanfare, here you go:

Just Chickpea Salad
1 can garbanzos
3 huge tbsp plain Greek yogurt
2 stalks finely diced celery
1/4 cup finely diced green olives
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 – 3/4 tsp garlic powder
1/3 tsp pepper (or 1/4 tsp fresh ground)
1/4 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp cayenne

1) This is the only actual work you’re going to do. Drain the garbanzons (yes, chickpeas), and smash them. Don’t puree, blend, or food process them. Just loosely shatter their little souls. I like to pour them into a shallow plate and smash them with a fork. They get a little dry and turn into a pile of chickpea shards. Which is fine and perfect.

2) Toss shattered chickpeas and finely diced celery in a bowl. I’m not telling you how to dice celery. I like it really chopped down so there’s crunch but not clunkers. But that’s up to you. Add in three heaping tablespoons of Greek yogurt. I mean heaping. Like I make it a game how much I can goop onto a tablespoon and get into the bowl. If I had a gun to my head, I would guess it’s a little over 1/2 cup. You can leave off the green olives. I go either way. They definitely add a pop of flavor. If you’re in the mood, toss them in.

3) Seasonings. Again, I’ve never had tuna salad, so you could probably make this taste like that if you were feeling wild. I like this flavor profile. Salt and pepper are a given. A touch of cumin and cayenne round out the garlic powder. But really, have fun with this. It’s a great base for whatever flavors you want to bring in.

4) Mix it up and let it sit. No really, this needs a good stir to combine everything because of the texture of the smooshed garbanzos. And you can certainly dig in right away. I’m not judging. The flavors do marinate well if you leave it for an hour, or over night.

But if I have some fresh beer bread on hand, The Man will physically push me out of the way to get dug in right out of the mixing bowl. Like tonight. I was trying to take a picture and I almost had to wrestle him out of the kitchen for the three minutes it took to get a good angle.

I’ve had this straight out of the container when I was starving. Slathered thick on a sandwich with some swiss cheese is my preference. I’ve even mixed it in with some pasta for a quick salad. It’s fairly versatile, and a nice punch of protein. And frankly, kind of cheap to make a lot of for the summer when the stove is not your friend.

[Girl21]

S.Pellegrino In My Mouth

Pellegrino, Blood Orange

This is what’s in my mouth right now. No, really. Right now. This is what I’m drinking these days because it’s tasty.

Sanpellegrino blood orange is my momentary addiction, and it goes fabulously with vodka, which is boss. I’m not going to go all poetic. Not this time. Just try it.

[Irrelevant note – I’m drinking Rain right now, but I’ve been falling madly in love with Reyka vodka.]

It’s great to have a six pack around. Drink it plain. Mix it with a decent liquor. I like vodka, but it would hold its own against a little gin even. I like spiced rum with a citrus mixer, too.

S. Pellegrino has been a snooty mineral water for a very long time. No, a looooong time. The town of San Pellegrino has been marketing the water for over 600 years. Leonardo da Vinci himself went to the town to check out the water.

In 1997, S. Pellegrino was bought out by Nestlé, which proceeded to market the water in a broader variety and packaging. Thus bringing us these fun cans of different tasty flavored Pellegrino. (The lemon is quite tasty, too!)

[Girl21]

Hong Kong Deli-ghtful

Hong Kong Deli, Gainesville FL

Better late than never on this one, since we’ve been fans of Hong Kong Deli for a while now. And I promise you that if you find the place, you shouldn’t get nervous. It doesn’t look like a bright and shiny chain restaurant because it isn’t. It’s an old building painted a color I like to call “My Retinas are Screaming” yellow.

Let’s be honest. Whoever you are, however much of a food snob you have pushed yourself to being, you get a craving for Chinese take-out once in a while. I grew up completely devoid of Chinese take-out and I now know what that persistent hankering was all of those years.

So why settle for –let’s be honest—shitty food? Most of the Chinese places I’ve eaten at were highly suspect when it comes to food quality and source. I always imagine stuff coming out of 50 gallon drums and giant tubs, thrown into the hot buffet trays, and left to simmer for hours in chemical-enhanced gunk. Well, yum!

Several friends had ranted (maybe a little spit flying in their excitement) about Hong Kong Deli for a while before we took the hint and tried them out. This is an odd Chinese and American couple who run the show. This is one of those places that are funky as hell, a family business, and a source of odd stories. I’m not going to lie to you.

But please overlook the cosmetic issues and focus on the food. This is definitely one of those places where you place your order and they turn around and start cutting the veggies fresh. You can’t walk in and walk out with your order. It’s going to take them 20 minutes to actually cook your real food.

We usually order some variation of a veggie and tofu stir-fry, but if they have it, always always always get the fried green beans with tofu. We haven’t explored the entire menu yet (mostly because I am a giant baby when it comes to spicy things), but overall, the food is always delish. The usual white rice, and sauce packets are included. Spring rolls, dumplings, etc. are always tasty.

Our carnivore friends swear by the duck and the pork. I have actually seen someone check themselves for drool when talking about the duck. No comment.

I cannot put enough stars next to the statement that you should try out Hong Kong Deli. It’s in a funny location, and it’s a funky building (behind the Indian store on north 13th, near Adam’s Rib). Go there. Except Tuesdays. They’re closed Tuesdays.

Hong Kong Deli & Market
1236 NW 21 Ave,
Gainesville, FL 32609
(352) 505-0454

[Girl21]

No Drama Trail Mix

 No Drama Trail Mix

There’s no sheltering you from the truth. I turn into a drama queen when I get low blood sugar. Hard to believe, right? I start shoving food into my mouth to stop the tummy rumblings, and often grab no-so-healthy snacks in desperation.

To stave off the hunger, and the lingering food guilt later, I like to keep something simple and quick on hand. My mom used to mix raisins, peanuts, and sesame sticks, and send that to work or school with us. It always reminded me of a PB&J. I took my mom’s original and modified it over the years, always trying to keep the sweet and savory balance, but adding some more complex nutrition for variety.

I highly recommend experimenting by adding or subtracting ingredients. Most of these things I buy in the bulk section at Ward’s and just estimate the quantities needed, so don’t get too exact with measuring. It’s always fun to make adjustments and try new variations.

Some of these bulk nuts are naked and unsalted (because you don’t need all of that extra salt in your face), and they benefit from a quick roast in the oven before you mix them in.

No Drama Trail Mix
Serves ‘a lot’

5 c. Cheddar sesame sticks
1 1/2 c. Dry roasted unsalted peanuts
1 1/2 c. Dried cranberries (Craisins)
1/2 c. Sunflower seeds
1 c. Pumpkin seeds
1/2 c. Walnuts
1 c. Date pieces / golden raisins

1. Roast the walnuts and pumpkin seeds in the oven first. Spread them on a tray and bake at about 350 for only a few minutes. You’ll see them start to toast or the pumpkin seeds will start to pop. This just brings out the flavor a little better. Let them cool off for a minute. *I’m picky about ‘bite size’, so I like to break up the larger walnut chunks before toasting them.

2. Combine all of the ingredients in a large sealable container. I use one that’s somewhat bigger than I need because it makes mixing easier. You can shake and roll the container to mix everything up. Otherwise, have fun mixing these goodies all up with a spoon (or your hands!).

3. You can of course start eating this right away, but if you let it sit overnight, it gets all friendly and marinated.

Not only do I send a jar of this to work with The Man so he can snack during the day, I pre-pack some into smaller containers so I can grab one as I run out on errands. If I’m hungry during the day, and mooching round in the kitchen for something to eat, I drop the chips or cookies and reach for a handful of this instead. Not claiming it’s the answer to all of your problems, but it’s better than being cranky because your tumbly is rumbly.

[Girl21]

Shiner Ruby Redbird

Shiner Ruby Redbird

Shiner Ruby Redbird

I was trying to get into the mood to write this while drinking one of these, but the darn thing just sploodged foam all over. Something about that first sip gets some beer so excited that is just foams up and starts erupting all over your hand. Awkward!

You have to be living under a rock or in a third world country to not at least recognize the Shiner Bock name, since the Spoetzl brewery in Texas has been making that since 1913 (minus a few years for Prohibition, I assume). It always makes me think of my dad for some reason, but I guess if they’re bringing Old Spice back, they can bring some of these older breweries.

But Ruby Redbird? Hm. I’m willing try any beer once, but I’ve had a few barf-tastic experiences with these mixed concoctions. Grapefruit juice and ginger? I would not have asked for one of these unless a trusted bartender hadn’t waggled her eyebrows at me a told me I would like it.

I did like it, and in turn passed along the joy to a few friends and my whole wine-loving book club. And The Man even.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a BEER. Not a real beer. But it’s pretty dang good for a flavored beer. On a hot Florida summer’s day, you’re going to want one of these instead of a fancy flavorful IPA or stout. It’s like a gateway beer for your friends who drink Bud Light.

So, flavor? No it doesn’t taste like a public restroom air freshener like some of these citrus beers do. It’s got some bready, malty beer flavor at the base, and round, ruby red grapefruit at the top. And just popping in the middle are hints of candied ginger. Nothing crazy. Nothing to get the hardcore beer fanatics all up in arms. A nice light, crisp beer that at 4% ABV, is not going to get you running around the pool twirling your bathing suit over your head.

[I originally had this at Loosey’s in a can, but have found it both canned and bottled at a lot of grocery stores and liquor stores.]

Shiner Ruby Redbird
6-pack cans or bottles
Shiner.com

Southern Charm Kitchen

Southern Charm Kitchen

Southern Charm Kitchen

We’ve been trying to get ourselves to Southern Charm since we heard about it months ago. How could you not want to try a place opened up by the folks that gave us Reggae Shack? And if you’ve never been to Reggae Shack, you can just slap yourself in your big, pasty white face.

Southern Charm Kitchen is out on the east side, where Hawthorne Road branches off of University. This may be crossing the tracks for a lot of you, but don’t act like it’s the ghetto. Spoiler alert: it’s worth the drive across town.

We popped in a little late (let’s face it, The Man and I always run about 15 minutes behind), and our dinner pals had scored a table and ordered wine. The wine turned out to be a Cremaschi Syrah from Chile, a label I loved since a nice bottle of carménère. Tasty without being knock-out sweet. It seemed an odd combination to have very elegant wine glasses rubbing elbows with mason jars of water on our table, both alongside the Tabasco and Sriracha.

Anyhow, the building was great and the interior was clean and trendy looking, so feel free to bring your cool friends. There’s not a lot of seating and I can see it can get crowded at times. A great bonus is that it’s not wall-to-wall white people and students. Here’s the real Gainesville, folks!

Anyhow, the food… where to start. SCK doesn’t have a website yet, but they are on Facebook and in their photos are a few pics of the menu, so you can get an idea of what’s there. Since we were at dinner, we got a few nibbles and then did entrée-plus-sides. They’ve got the menu clearly marked for vegetarian and/or vegan items.

I ordered the Country Fried Seitan with mac & cheese and cornbread. The Man opted for the Country Fried Tofu with pickled greens and the sweet-n-cajun fries. Our dinner pals went all out carnivore and seemed pleased with the sea of plates and food that arrived not too long later.

Southern Charm Kitchen

The Man was taken aback by the small portion of the tofu he received, but it was eclipsed by the ginormous size of my seitan. It took effort to tackle the seitan, even with the proper flatware we were provided. It was somehow fluffier than the traditional dense seitan, but the breaded crust added a challenge (and probably prevented The Man from stealing more off my plate than he did).

My mac & cheese felt very homemade, without even the slightest glimmer of orange cheese in most restaurant versions. The corn bread sat somewhat timidly next to the huge seitan steak. It was sweet and bready, almost like cake, rather than savory and mealy like I’m used to. But it was delish with the salty mac & cheese. Even though it was clssic southern style food, it never felt greasy or heavy.

Despite the small size of The Man’s tofu, he nommed it up (possibly a little more seasoning, please?). The sweet-n-cajun fries are basically a skinnier version of the dutty fries at Reggae Shack (which are awesome, topped with a sweet/spicy/salty sprinkle). And best for last, I am not normally crazy for greens, but these were fantastic. I did barter off some of my seitan for his greens, and then stole more off his plate while he was busy talking.

There’s all kinds of other things on the menu we want to try, so we’re definitely going back. The two servers we had were super nice and helpful. And on the way out, I drooled over the cake on display even though I was hugely full.

Even if it wasn’t delicious, I would still urge you to head out east and support local business. Skip the Archer Rd / Newberry Rd clusterfuck of chain restaurants. Push past the Main St boundary and try out something new on the other side of Gainesville. I get the feeling that Southern Charm hasn’t quite nailed down their menu (that’s not a bad thing), but they do have a strong sense of their food culture and the story they want to tell you with it.

After it was all said and done, and the wine was emptied, we paid less than $35, and our dinner pals paid about the same. Vegetarian note: they clearly state that all of their vegetarian food is cooked and served on designated dishes, so there’s no cross-over issues. (Considering the amount of ‘other’ material allowed on most processed food, I’m not sure that’s a comfort. And by ‘other’, I mean bugs, rodents, hair, dirt, and other traditionally non-food materials. But that’s another tangent.)

So, seriously, go there. Eat. I’m not kidding. You might actually enjoy yourself.

Buy local, spend local, support local. It’s your community. And your community is delicious!

Southern Charm Kitchen
1714 SE Hawthorne Rd
Gainesville, FL 32641
352.505.5553

On Facebook

Open:
Tues-Sat | 11:00AM-10:00PM

[Girl21]

“Chicken” and Rice Casserole

'Chicken' and Rice Casserole

I love one-pot meals and casseroles, but I’ve heard people really flip out when faced with even the word ‘casserole’. I can only assume that someone made a bunch of bad casseroles and turned some of my friends against casseroles for life.

Be that as it may (I love saying that), casseroles are great because I am short on time and big on odd ingredients. As much as The Man would be happy with a sandwich or pizza for dinner, I kind of like to serve a meal that’s relatively healthy, tasty, and balanced. He just cares about the tasty part.

The tricky part always is protein, and because you never really know, I try to vary our protein source. Enter Quorn (sounds like ‘corn’), a fake meat-like product based on mycoprotein. Um, yes, that’s a filament fungus, like what’s growing in the ground that produces mushrooms. I like the ‘Chik’n Tenders’ because they’re basically big chunks of blank slate. You can do whatever you want to them and they take it.

You can do this quick and easy, or you can take some time to put the bells and whistles on. I’m doing it quick and easy here today because I need to work out while it’s baking. Also, I have leftover brown rice, so one less thing to actually make.

And please totally note that I’m not being paid anything to endorse Quorn. I just like the stuff.

“Chicken” and Rice Casserole
Serves 4-6

3 cups cooked brown rice
1 package Quorn Chik’n Tenders (340g)
1 jar pasta sauce (24 oz.)
1 cup grated cheddar
½ cup grated mozzarella
1 medium onion

1. Dice up the onion and toss it in a medium sauce pot with the Quorn, a little olive oil, and about ¾ of the pasta sauce. Yes, jarred pasta sauce. I only buy the fancy stuff that actually tastes good and keep it handy for these kinds of meals.

2. Heat this on medium heat, stirring regularly until it’s bubbling a bit. The Quorn needs to thaw out and soak up some of the sauce, and the onions need to do that thing that onions do.

3. While that’s bubbling, mix half of your cheddar and some salt and pepper (and maybe some garlic powder and Italian seasonings) in with your rice and settle it in the bottom of a casserole dish. I have a 1.4L one that I like because it’s deeper and keeps things moister.

4. Mix up your remaining cheese and spread half of this over the rice. Pour your Quorn/sauce mix over this and spread it evenly, then sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top of this.

5. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes or until it’s bubbling and the cheese looks fabulous. It needs to set up for a few minutes because it’s freaking hot.

The best brown rice recipe is Alton Brown’s baked version which I swear by and always works. Again, no effort and great result. If you need to make the rice for this, it’s simple to make it in your casserole dish, do your thing, and put everything back into your casserole dish. One less thing to wash is always WIN for me.

As a side note, I also do this with barbecue sauce instead of pasta sauce and that’s super tasty too. I don’t know why people have to be hating on casseroles. Especially those of us with 40 hour days to fit into a normal 24 hours.

[Girl21]

Uppercrust Pretzels

Uppercrust Pretzels
Uppercrust Pretzels

I realize there are many, many food blogs out there. Some better than others. Some quite terrible. I stumbled on to one that was just basically a blow-by-blow retelling of Bourdain’s TV show episodes by a woman who obviously got very hot and bothered by the surly guy.

This is just another food blog in the great sea of food blogs. What makes ours special? Most likely that you know us. Or that you live in the area and are kind of interested in recommendations for things to eat around here.

If you haven’t been to Uppercrust (I keep running into people that have never been *aroooogah!* what?!) then take yourself up there immediately. Well, make sure you go early in the day because the place sells out quick. If you can make it past the pastry displays and get to the checkout without breaking your bank, then have a look on the counter there near the registers. They sometimes have baskets of the freakishly large pretzels up there.

You may have picked up that The Man lacks some impulse control when it comes to food. So of course he always attempts to buy at least a dozen of these things. I act as the sanity in this arrangement and cap him at something reasonable. One is enough to make me burst at the seams. We usually get a regular salted one and a cheese one. Flavors available vary apparently on the whim of the bakers. They sometimes even have chocolate ones.

You’re not going to find something like this very often. This is not a state fair or gas station pretzel. This is not one of those glossy jobs that look like they’ve been closed from some impossibly pretty but flavorless bread product. Those mall pretzels with the big zits of hard salt scattered over them? Nope. This is the real article, my friends.

I personally like to tear these into chunks and eat them straight out of the bag while we’re driving. Confession: I like it this way because I can stuff the big chunks into The Man’s face and save the little knobs at the bottom for myself. The Man likes to bring them home and pop them back in the oven so they get hot and crispy. I chop them up with sheers so they’re easier to dip into some spicy mustard.

And the last thing I can say about these pretzels is that at about $2.50 a pop, you can’t go wrong. Even if you’re one of our more thrifty friends, once you get your chompers around one of these, you won’t complain about the price.

Uppercrust
4116 NW 16th Blvd
Gainesville, FL 32605
Phone: 352.376.7187
uppercrust@uppercrustproductions.com
UppercrustProductions.com

Hours: Monday – Saturday | 8AM-7PM

[Girl21]

Ummmm…. Yume Ume?

Yume Ume Review

[Edit: Yume Ume has been closed for a while and there doesn’t seem to be any news on opening again. Boo!]

Since The Man and I have been together, he’s been trying to get me to Rolls ‘n Bowls, but alas, they closed before that could happen. Frankly, they were too close to Falafel King, and I love me some Falafel King. So when friends posted online that Rolls ‘n Bowls was closed, I got a bit of guilt from The Man for always voting for FK over R’nB.

We’d been hearing the rumblings about the place that took the Rolls ‘n Bowls spot and kismet (also known as we were both recovering from the flu and didn’t want to cook) brought us to try take-out from Yume Ume. Totally. Worth. It.

So hands-down most fun was the wanton nori chips, which reminded me of the Dutty Fries at Reggae Shack because of the sweet / salty / spicy seasoning on them. Plus these have little threads of nori (yes, seaweed) for extra texture.

Yume Ume, Steamed BunsThe miso soup was acceptable, with wakame, mushrooms, and tofu. And the edamame was tasty but expected. He got a side of the ume guac to test drive it and loved it. (I’m not a fan of guac. Don’t ask.)

As for the main attraction, we had steamed buns with crispy tofu, red miso glaze, and savoy cabbage slaw. We also had the baked buns with pretty much the same innards but with garlic-tofu mayo instead of red miso glaze.

It wasn’t so much food that we achieved a full food coma, but it was enough that we definitely extended our lazy stay on the couch. And all of that for around $28.

From what we gather, this place was opened by the folks at Dragonfly Sushi & Sake, and it looks like they’re set to launch this as a franchise (mostly because there’s a big button for ‘Franchise’ on their website. Fortunately, despite the drive to pop out a bunch more of these, their efforts to locally and ethically source their ingredients set a good mood for the food.

The general idea is to work down the simple menu and pick what you want and how you want I, with the extra things to make a happy mouth. Their menu is actually marked for the items that are NOT gluten free. The steamed buns are those fun flat breads like small, bloated tortillas. The baked rolls have a nice crust that contrasts with the slightly squishy tofu.

Besides all of that, I want to revisit the wanton nori chips because I can eat the hell out of these, despite how terrible they likely are for my body. I mean, seriously, it’s just wanton wrappers, deep fried and doused in salt, sugar, and spice. Oh, and a festive confetti of sea weed. It jumps the food-theme tracks, but next time, I will eat a whole bag of these with crumbled gorgonzola.

2 X Steamed Buns
2 X Baked Buns
2 X Miso Soup
2 X Wanton Nori Chips
1 X Edamame
Bonus extras
Total: about $28

Yume Ume
3117 SW 34th St
Gainesville, FL 32608
352.271.1011
YumeUme.com

[Girl21]