Makeover, Travels, and a Massive Storm

Well, first and foremost, do you like my new look?  I think this best reflects Charm Offensive Cooking’s real mission to share food and travel experiences.  It’s also bright too…yay!

Since I am done with raving over the new look, I guess I should tell you about my travels.  Recently, my boyfriend and I attended his friend’s wedding in Colorado Springs.  We had a great time visiting Colorado, even though there were a few snags with our airline and rental car.  Colorado was amazing, as we enjoyed great weather and beautiful scenery.  Between visiting Pike’s Peak and Garden of the Gods, we were certainly hungry and thirsty too.

Since Colorado has a lot of great breweries, we decided to visit Colorado Mountain Brewery in Colorado Springs.  This restaurant has some amazing brews on tap and great food.  However, it took forever for us to get a table (especially considering that we were not there during peak hours), and the waitress made an error with entering in our appetizer.  It was no big deal though, because the food and beer were worth the wait.

My boyfriend had the 7258 Blonde Ale.  It was a crisp tasting blonde ale that did not have a hoppy taste.  I had the UniBrau Hefeweissen.  This Hefeweissen was great and had citrus hints that made this stand out from the other hefeweizen beers that I have had in the past.  Little did I know that the beers we had selected would pair amazingly well with our food order.

For an appetizer, my boyfriend and I decided to order the Venison Eggrolls, which were filled with venison sausage, black beans, Monterey Jack cheese, peppers and onions.  They were amazing and were complimented by the two sauces served alongside of them.  They were so good that we ate them all before taking a picture.

Scenes before we ate dinner...soon there would be nothing left.

My boyfriend ordered an amazing burger, which was served with some awesome sweet potato waffle fries.  This burger was referred to as a Fourteener, and my boyfriend chose the Uncompaghre Peak, which was a ground angus burger with cotija cheese, sliced avocado, tomatillo, and charred Anaheim chili salsa.  It was probably the best burger that my boyfriend has ever had, and the quality of this burger far surpassed the ones here in the DC market.

I ordered the BBQ Bison Tacos, which were phenomenal.  You could tell that everything was freshly prepared.  The pulled BBQ Bison was combined with the brewery’s own black bean salsa.  They were topped with melted Pepper Jack cheese and charred tomato salsa.  Additionally, they were served with homemade guacamole, which was the best I have had, and tortilla chips.

The food was super yummy.  For dessert, we ordered their ice cream floats.  I ordered a coke float, while my boyfriend ordered a float with their Monumental Stout, which reminded me of Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, with coffee and chocolate hints.

The wedding was amazing.  The food was all homemade and consisted of a garbanzo bean salad, BBQ beef, chicken, and grilled fingerling potatoes.  It was simple, and this is something that I really liked about their reception.  Additionally, they had a bar that featured some of the many breweries throughout Colorado.  They had Fat Tire (and yes, Fat Tire has made its way East to Virginia), Shiner Bock (My boyfriend and his friend attended college together in Dallas), a Colorado Springs microbrew, and the traditional Coors Light.  I had a Fat Tire and a bottle of the microbrew, which was comparable to the Hefeweissen I had at the brewery the previous evening.

We had a great time in Colorado, and I look forward to making a return visit in the future.  Hopefully, the next time, my boyfriend and I will be able to tour Breckenridge Brewery and New Belgium Brewing Company.  Breckenridge has an awesome Vanilla Porter (made with real Vanilla Beans), and it has now become an inspiration for another cupcake recipe that will be featured here within the next few weeks.

After the celebrations, we headed to visit my boyfriend’s family in Texas.  I love Texas!  However, we had some snags with the airline again.  This caused us to be stranded overnight in Memphis.  It was too late to go downtown and visit some BBQ joints.  Since we were tired and cranky, we hung out at a restaurant near the airport.  The food was so-so, but I enjoyed my Chicken Lettuce Wraps.   The wraps featured Kung Pao chicken on a bed of cellophane noodles.  My boyfriend ordered a ham and cheese panini with onion soup.  It was okay, but we both thought my dish was a lot better.

The next morning, we headed straight to the airport early and boarded a flight to Dallas/Fort Worth.  I was looking forward to eating a great meal and hanging out with my boyfriend’s family.  We ate at the Baja Grill in Keller, and it was a great restaurant.  My boyfriend and I ate brisket tacos, as well as enjoying an awesome frozen margarita.  It was the first time I have ever had brisket tacos.  The brisket was fork tender and served on flour tortillas with a mild cheese.  The tacos were accompanied by refried beans and rice.

While we were in Fort Worth, we visited Rangers Ballpark, Kimball Art Gallery, the Omni theater, and visited with my boyfriend’s niece and nephew.  It was a great time.

Aside from the fun times, we also went to The Gingerman, which is a great pub in Fort Worth.  This pub has one of the best selections for craft beer.  I ordered a bottle of Wild Blue Blueberry Lager, which was a little sweet (Blue Point Blueberry Ale is one of my favorites) for my liking, and my boyfriend had Maredsous #6, which was a great Belgium ale that has some spicy hints with a caramel like sweetness.  Once we were finished with our beer, we decided to try some other ones.  I sampled 512 Pecan Porter, which had a smoky hint and rich taste, but I settled on a pint of Breckenridge’s Vanilla Porter.  My boyfriend ordered New Belgium Brewing Company’s Sunshine, which is a wheat beer with coriander and orange peel.

Later that afternoon, my boyfriend decided to spoil me with going to Razzoo’s, which is a local Cajun restaurant in downtown Fort Worth.   The only Cajun food that I have had was Zatarain’s Jambalaya, so it was great to finally have some really authentic cuisine.  My boyfriend insisted we order Gator Tail, which was a deep fried alligator tail.  It was really unique tasting, and it was served with a sweet/spicy cocktail sauce.  My boyfriend ordered Crawdaddies 2ways (crawfish etoufee and crawfish tails).  This dish also had dirty rice, fries and pups.  The etoufee was great, and the crawdads weren’t bad either.

I ordered the Oyster Po’Boy, which was deep fried oysters on top of french bread with a garlic spread, lettuce, tomato, and onion.  This Po’Boy came with fries and pups (jalapeno hush puppies).  The oysters were very good, and I really enjoyed the texture of the french bread.

Overall, I feel like I have picked up ten pounds from this trip, but the memories will last forever.

Last but not least, Hurricane Irene is coming for a visit.  Depending on whether or not power outages happen, I might make a super yummy treat that involves peanut butter, chocolate, and caramel.  However, I hope everyone is prepared for Irene and stay safe.

Giving cupcakes a special buzz…

I have hit my baking groove once again, and my oven must be either loving or hating me for the extensive use this week. This week was rough and stressful. When I got home at night, I either fell asleep on the couch or went into the kitchen to start on a list of recipes. Monday’s stress/boredom session brought about banana oat bread, which was okay…but nothing to write here about. I also made homemade tortilla chips seasoned with Penzey’s Spices Arizona Dreaming seasoning, which complemented the fresh salsa I had on hand well.

While I was looking through recipes yesterday, I found the one my boyfriend’s mom recently sent to me: Honey Lavender Cupcakes with Honey Vanilla Buttercream. Something about this recipe intrigued me, and soon before I knew it, I was whipping up these cupcakes. There was something I didn’t expect while baking…that I was going to have a lot of cupcakes leftover. Instead of jumping right into the recipe, I should have cut the ingredients in half for less cupcakes. However, they turned out being a hit and voila! people loved them.

You might be asking…where can I find lavender? Well, there are several places in Northern Virginia. First, you can pick your own at Seven Oaks Lavender Farm in Catlett, Va., which is located outside of Warrenton. The other place to find it would be Penzey’s Spices. You will have to ask for it. I bought mine at Penzey’s, since I did not have time to pick my own. However, I would be tempted to do so at a later time.

Also, you might be asking whether you should use local honey or store-bought honey. While I prefer the taste of locally harvested honey, the mere convenience of the store-bought variety sometimes wins over. Since I am out of my jar of local honey (thanks to my seasonal allergies), I used clover blossom honey from an organic grocery market. It yielded similar quality.

Honey Lavender Cupcakes with Honey Vanilla Buttercream

(Recipe adapted from Ohio Magazine, July 2011 edition)


5 c. all-purpose flour

2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. baking soda

2 tbsp. dried lavender (8 oz. fresh lavender…see note)

2-1/2 c. sugar

3 c. vegetable oil

2 c. buttermilk

2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

1 tbsp. bourbon vanilla extract (if you have Madagascar or Mexican vanilla, you could use either one as well)

4 eggs, at room temperature

3/4 c. honey

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, salt and baking soda by hand. Set aside.

Note: If using dried lavender that has been processed, mix with sugar. If using fresh lavender: pulse lavender in food processor. Transfer to a mixing bowl and combine with sugar. Mix the lavender sugar with the flour mixture.

In a mixer, combine the vegetable oil, buttermilk, apple cider vinegar, vanilla extract, eggs, and honey. Slowly add in the dry ingredients until thoroughly combined.

Portion batter by filling cupcake liners 3/4 full and bake for 20-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.

Yields 3-1/2 dozen cupcakes

Honey Vanilla Buttercream

1 lb. butter, softened

seeds of 2 Vanilla Beans

1/4 c. honey

2 tsp. dried lavender or 2 tbsp. fresh lavender (pulsed in food processor)

1 lb. powdered sugar

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the butter with the vanilla bean seeds. Add the honey and lavender and mix at medium speed until combined. Gradually add the powdered sugar until ingredients are thoroughly combined and a spreadable consistency.

Spread on cooled cupcakes.