Not your Mama’s Tacos!

Taco Mamacitas

My sister-in-law was the first to introduce me to Taco Mamacita in Chattanooga and I’m the kind of person that once I discover something as wonderful as this, I want to share it with everyone.  Three years consecutively I was able to persuade my staff to take them for team celebrations. (One staff member, went back the following three weekends in a row to introduce others to the Taco Mama glory!) We had many a ‘ladies nights out’ with some of my colleagues, several double dates, and numerous times where it was just the hubby and I escaping at the end of a stressful and tiring week. Not only did we want to visit Taco Mamacita this summer while in town because of the great food, but because it is now a place full of precious memories with friends and family.

Taco Mamacitas

Before you write this off as just another taco place, Taco Mamacita is NOT your average Tex Mex, lettuce-filled-soggy tortilla! Neither is it just the best version of the tastiest standard yummy taco out there (although it is that too). Mama is putting some of your favourite foods into taco form. Love Pulled Pork Sandwiches? Try The Memphis with dry rubbed slow braised pork, onions, pickles, jalapeno slaw and BBQ sauce. OR how about the Loaded Gyro with thinly sliced lamb gyro, baja white sauce, peppers and feta. My personal favourites are the California Club (exactly what you might think-a twist on the classic club sandwich) and the Vegetarian Jerk with sweet, fiery, jerk-seasoned plantains and Mango Salsa.

Taco Mamacitas

As well as offering a great regular menu, they have hidden items and chef’s specials on occasion. While we were visiting they were trying out a new taco with duck confit, goat cheese, and cherry pepper relish which was outstanding.

Taco Mamacitas

And then there’s the seasonal Mojitos (virgin available upon request) like blueberry, strawberry and my absolute favourite, blackberry. All made with fresh fruit and muddled mint leaves. Perfect for hot summer days on the patio.

I don’t know that we will find anywhere quite like Taco Mamacita round here in Texas so if you are reading this and get to pass through Chattanooga (or their Nashville, TN or Charleston, SC locations) stop by and order some Mango salsa on my behalf!

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The Best Moment Award

best-moment-award

Here are the rules:

1. Display the award logo

2. Link back to the person who nominated you

I was so chuffed to be nominated for the Best Moment Award by Mimi’s Getting Fit. She is truly an inspirational woman who has lost almost 70 lbs in the past year and a half, and has become a tower of physical strength. Her honest look at life, weight loss, food and body image has been such a joy to follow. I highly recommend checking out her story.

3. State 7 things about yourself

1- Although I am not a big Christmas movie person, every year I have to watch Love Actually, and The Muppet’s Christmas Carol!

2- I am in the process of starting up my own baking side business. Lots to still do but I am excited about the journey ahead.

3-I think of London every day. Even though I love my life here in the States and would probably never want to move back permanently, I will always be a Londoner at heart.

4- I am just under 5ft and my husband is 6ft 5! Yes, it’s a big difference but it means I get the best bear hugs! Also people remember us wherever we go and this has lead to all kinds of special regular-customer treatment at various eateries.

5- I have now visited more States than I have countries in Europe.

6- I love Zumba! In fact, I just love dancing in general. Wish I could find a fun night club where people actually go for the music and dancing instead of all the other stuff.

7- I still love McVities Jaffa Cakes after all these years! Despite the fact that I turn my nose up at Little Debbie and Hostess Cakes (sorry US friends!) there is just something so familiar and sentimental attached to those little round chocolate-covered-spongecake buggers! All my baking snobbery melts into a shameful entire-pack-eating binge!

4. Nominate 15 (or however many you can) other bloggers for this award. I have been so blessed to share in the lives of these people as I read about their food, or their stories, creativity, musing, ponderings etc. I hope you will click on the links below and be inspired.

Dreamstate Reality

Mitts and Measures

The Foodies

The Paddington Foodie

Penny’s Food Blog

Life in Golden Light

Pliable

The Payton Periodicals

Ninja Munchies

Boomtown Sisters

Bees C’s and D’s

An Afternoon Tea Party with English Scones

What better way to celebrate the upcoming arrival of your friend’s baby girl than to throw an afternoon tea party shower. Pretty flowers, little cups and saucers, small sandwiches and scones, great friends sitting around the table together laughing, and sharing in the wonder of new life. Some friends and I had the pleasure of arranging this intimate little gathering full of tiny pink frilly outfits and baby bows with bling. It was such great fun.

tea party

I absolutely love the collaborative efforts that go into this wonderful American tradition of helping to provide and prepare for a baby’s arrival. I am especially honoured to be surrounded by friends who go to such great lengths to take care of each other. This shower was just another example of how blessed John and I are to be here at Baylor.

Our tea party consisted of delicious fruit salad, classic cucumber sandwiches with the edges cut off

Cucumber Sandwiches

and English tea scones.

scones above

served with jam and lemon curd of course!

scones above with jam

(sadly I could not find any clotted cream but I have since found a recipe for homemade clotted cream that I will be trying very soon). This tea party made me rather homesick and triggered hours of nostalgically seeking out recipes for all the other British classic desserts like cherry bakewell tarts, hot cross buns, fondant fancies, and Eccles cakes. I am sure some of these will be turning up on The Grumbling Belly in the coming weeks and months!

English scones are not like the American ones you find at coffee shops. They lean slightly towards breakfast biscuits with some added sweetness.  Typically, scones are either plain or with raisins/currants. The ones I made for this shower are sort of an American-British marriage as I added dried cranberries with the raisins as well as a few other small modifications! If you want to make a classic recipe just omit the cranberries, zest and vanilla.

Tea Scones

English tea scones

1/2 cup of raisins

1/2 cup of dried cranberries

1 tsp orange zest

2 tbsp of sugar

4 cups of self-raising flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)

2 eggs

dash of vanilla extract (optional)

1/2 cup of milk (plus a little extra for brushing)

Preheat oven to 375 F. Sift flower, baking powder, salt and sugar together in a large bowl. Cut butter into cubes and the rub into the flour mix until you have a breadcrumb texture. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with the milk, then add orange zest, vanilla if using, raisins and cranberries. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the milk-egg mix. Gently work the wet mixture into the dry ingredients until just incorporated into a dough consistency. Roll out onto a floured surface and cut out scones circles. It is really important when cutting into the dough that you do not move the cutter around as this will prevent the scones from rising. Simply press straight down and release. Brush the top of the scones with milk and place on baking sheet with a little space between them. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until they are golden brown. You can freeze the scones as soon as they are cool in a ziplock bag to preserve their freshness. Or, serve them as soon as possible with jam, clotted cream or lemon curd.

scones close

(Thanks to Hannah King and Mike Trozzo for taking beautiful pictures)

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Bellini French Macaroons and Lemon-Berry Cake Balls

Bellini French Macaroons and Lemon-Berry Cake Balls

One of my absolute favourite things about our life in Waco is our great community. I don’t know how other PhD couples survive without a strong network of support from fellow students and spouses. It is such a unique experience and both John and I have been comforted and encouraged many times by the knowledge that we are not alone. The words “us too” have brought me so much relief when we are in the thick of the semester, exhausted, missing people far away, worried, and trying to remember why we are here!

Every year, all the families in John’s New Testament program do a fantastic job of welcoming the first years who begin arriving in June/July. This past week, just days after moving to Waco, we threw a surprise party for one of the new students at the request of her husband. He planned and commissioned the whole thing from miles away with people whom he had never met and we were all so excited to take part. I was particularly pleased to be asked to make the desserts and we collaborated on a menu of Bellini french macaroons and lemon-berry cake balls.

I have been wanting to learn how to make these for some time now so it seemed like the perfect opportunity. Recently, I published my top tips for any baking project and I can say hand on my heart, these tips truly made a huge difference to the success of this most recent venture. I researched, planned, prepped and practiced- several times- and I was ecstatic with the results.

French macaroons are apparently quite tricky (something I did not know beforehand!) and after a LOT of reading, and a LOT of less than adequate trial runs, I think I can say with confidence that there is no one perfect recipe to follow. This doesn’t mean none of the recipes are great, on the contrary the ingredient lists are all spot on. What I mean to say is that the key with making macaroons is learning the method and mastering this perfect balance in your particular kitchen and climate. Fortunately, there are numerous helpful bloggers out there offering expert advice and it’s just a matter of trying different strategies from different people when things don’t go according to plan. After thorough research, the fastest way to learn how to make perfect macaroons is through trial and error.

Bellini French Macaroons

Bellini French Macaroons

You can find the recipe I adapted  here from Brave Tart. I halved the mixture so I could make smaller batches with more controlled results when testing. The other main difference is that for the flavour I added a 1 tsp mix of peach jam and juice. (The jam is too think to incorporate well into the batter but juice adds too much moisture and not enough flavour so I decided to just mix the two).  You can also add a drop of peach food colouring- seeing as I was making several batches, and wasn’t confident about matching the colour perfectly for each batch, I chose to create an ombre colour scheme instead.

Top Tips:

  • Use almond flour instead of grinding your own almonds
  • Weigh all your ingredients for accuracy
  • Learn to mix your batter to the correct consistency- read read read and watch the experts to know what to look for
  • If you live in a humid climate, age your egg whites at least overnight and once you have piped your macaroon shells onto the baking sheet, allow to dry and harden well. This will give you the signature ‘feet’ (little bubbles along the bottom) and your shells will not crack or hollow.
  • Fill Macaroons and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before serving.
  • Google specific questions when things don’t go well. i.e. ‘why are my french macaroons cracking?’ There is so much info out there, it is helpful to narrow the search when trouble shooting so you don’t have to weed through pages of general advice.

These are just some of the helpful websites I used to master the french macaroon process.

Bellini Buttercream Filling

  • 1/2 cup salted butter at room temperature (if using unsalted butter, add 1/4 tsp of salt)
  • 3-4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup champagne (I suggest using a good one with a stronger flavour)
  • 1/2 cup peach jam (preferably one that is not watery)

Place all above ingredients into bowl and mix thoroughly until smooth. If the mixture is a little too runny, put it in the fridge for about an hour before piping onto macaroon shells or add a bit more powdered sugar. One your shells are filled, store in the fridge overnight. This will help the filling set and your macaroons will have a better texture.

Lemon Berry Cake Balls

Lemon-Berry Cake Balls

The cake balls were a lot less complicated but I recommend learning from the cake-ball/pop master Bakerella for the best instructions. You can use any yellow cake for this recipe (store bought or homemade) so I chose Victoria Sandwich Cake like the one I made here for my casserole cake last year with the addition of 1 tsp of lemon zest. I love this cake’s rich buttery flavour and think it helps balance the sweetness of the chocolate coating and the frosting.

Lemon-Berry Buttercream

Obviously you can use store bought frosting and add the flavourings below but I really dislike the texture and the mouth feel so I usually make my own buttercream.

  • 1/2 cup salted butter at room temperature (if using unsalted butter, add 1/4 tsp of salt)
  • 3-4 cups  powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup berry jam (I used raspberry and blackberry)
  • 1-2 tsp lemon curd

Mix all ingredients together until smooth. You will probably not need to add all of this buttercream to the cake crumbs. Refer to Bakerella’s instructions and quantities.

Pride and Prejudice Pasta!

Today, I am excited to share a story and delicious recipe from my dear friend Sodoulla in Cyprus. This story is actually about the both of us during my first stint on the island from 1993-1997  as a teenager. (I lived in Cyprus a second time from 2005-2007 after Grad school- yes it can be confusing!) We were both Greek- Cypriot kids who were born in London and whose parents had returned to live in Cyprus for various reasons. We were instant friends when we met in high school, sharing a common misunderstood dark British humour and dry wit as well as many other things. Needless to say she is still one of my best friends to this day even though there are so many miles between us and life is very different from those early days. I was absolutely thrilled when she wanted to contribute to The Grumbling Belly and I am sure you will enjoy this trip down memory lane with us.

Happy Mondays Pasta for Mr. Darcy

Pesto Garlic Cream Pasta

When Leia started her family and friends posts I couldn’t resist reminding her about our Monday night get togethers back in 1996. We were just out of school and I had moved from my parents house on the beach town of Larnaca to the central city of Nicosia for college. This meant I was closer to all my high school friends and in particular, Leia. Although she and I had our fair share of parties and going-out nights, Mondays were strictly reserved for our other two passions: English classics and food.

Much to mine and Leia’s delight the not-so-wonderful Cypriot Broadcast Corporation decided by some miracle (or perhaps someone on the board actually had good taste)  to show  the BBC’s six part series of Pride and Prejudice every Monday night, starring the original Mr. Darcy, Colin Firth, and the under acclaimed Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet.

So I’d get over to Leia’s house a good couple of hours before the show would start and we would raise havoc in her mum’s huge kitchen (has she ever mentioned that her parent’s house in Cyprus is a parsonage that used to be a school? Thus you can imagine the size of each room, not to mention there are separate guest toilets for men and women!) We would chop up the garlic, mushrooms and onions while telling each other our sad love-life updates (or lack thereof!) and of course we’ll never know if we cried because of the onions or because of our tales. Then we would get out the pots and pans  and cook up our amazing signature dish that we were so proud of at the time. For us back then, diets started on Tuesdays…

ingredients

Finally, we would sit glued to the television and eat until bursting point while watching the courageous Elizabeth sticking to her guns and the quiet Mr Darcy falling frustratingly in love with her. If I remember correctly, (I did say this was back in 1996) we would finish off the evening with a quick game of scrabble.

Needless to say the series finished after six weeks but we continued Monday evening pasta for quite a while. I can safely say that it was probably the only time in my life when I actually really looked forward to Mondays and I have my best friend Leia and, of course Mr Darcy, to thank for that.

Now to be totally honest, the recipe for our spinach pasta is a bit foggy (again, 1996) we were young and never really thought about writing it down. Being Cypriots we kind of just “played by ear” (my mum is an excellent Cypriot cook and she doesn’t have a single recipe written down, which I now find extremely frustrating, but I guess I’m like her in a lot of ways).

However the other day knowing I was going to write about it, I tested out our Monday Pasta and this is what I came up with:

Garlic Pesto Cream Pasta
(serves 2)
200g pasta (we used to use cheese tortellini or tagliatelle but use your favourite)
1 bunch of fresh spinach, chopped
1 medium onion (or half a Spanish one), chopped
chopped fresh mushrooms (optional but strongly recommended, quantity is up to you)
2 cloves garlic, chopped or mashed
2 (ok, maybe 3!) heaped tablespoons of good pesto (I now would use homemade as my husband does the best pesto but back then we used store bought)
a drizzle of good olive oil (please don’t substitute with another oil)
250ml fresh cream
half a glass of white wine
salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan to grate on top

Gently sweat the onion in a hot pan drizzled with olive oil and then add the mushrooms and garlic. Sauté for a couple of minutes, making sure the mushrooms don’t produce too much water.

spinach-going-in

Add the spinach and wine stir until all the spinach is hot and starts to cook down, cover the pan and let the spinach cook until its tender and reduced.

spinach-wilted

Add the pesto, season with salt and pepper; stir well so that everything is covered in pesto. Finally, when the wine is reduced to a thick sauce,

cream-going-in

add the fresh cream and stir again, let it cook and thicken.

finished-sauce

Cook the pasta to your desired tendency and mix well into the sauce, grate cheese on top and serve with garlic bread.

Pesto Garlic Cream Pasta

We strongly recommend sharing this pasta dish with your best friend for added comfort.

Copycat Starbucks Lemon Loaf

So you may have noticed that I missed Pinteresting Monday this week. Things were a little hectic over the weekend as I was making cupcakes for a baby shower so I didn’t get to have any other fun experiments in the kitchen. However, I am not leaving you hanging as one of my sweet new friends here in Waco, Carlee Payton, is sharing her review of a great recipe she recently tried. On her blog, The Payton Periodicals, Carlee not only writes about delicious food, and her fun adventures with husband Jared and hilarious little pup Wylee, but she offers helpful advice to her readers on all kinds of topics, and shares cute and easy craft projects. You should check her out!

Hi all! Thanks Leia for allowing me to do a guest blog post on The Grumbling Belly. The GB is one of my favorite blogs, especially because Leia reviews recipes found on Pinterest.; which is very appropriate because the recipe that I want to share with you is one I found on Pinterest. Because it’s not my original recipe, I can’t take credit for it but it really did turn out quite lovely. When I found the recipe several weeks ago, it pulled on my heart strings because at one time, I worked for Starbucks and this was one of my favorite treats. At the end of my night shifts there, I was allowed to take one pastry and one beverage…. 90% of the time, I took the Lemon Loaf. It always tasted so good with some sort of mocha-flavored drink; surprisingly enough. So this recipe brought back memories of my time as a barista.

Starbucks’ Iced Lemon Pound Cake Copycat Recipe 

(The original recipe can be found at Picky Palate)

starbucks copy cat lemon loaf

1 box yellow cake mix

4.3 ounce instant or cook and serve Lemon pudding mix

1/2 cup vegetable oil

4 large eggs

1/2 cup milk

8 oz sour cream

6 TBSP freshly squeezed lemon juice

Icing

2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

3-4 TBSP freshly squeezed lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and spray 2 loaf pans or (1 Bundt pan, in my case) generously with cooking spray.

2. Place all cake ingredients in no particular order into stand or electric mixer, beating until well combined, about 1 1/2 minutes. Divide cake batter between two prepared loaf pans (or 1 bundt) spreading evenly. Bake for 45-55 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through. Remove and let cool for 15 minutes before removing from pan(s).

3. To prepare icing, place powdered sugar into a large bowl. Drizzle in lemon juice stirring until smooth and thick. Should be a good drizzling consistency. Drizzle icing over cakes and let set for 20 minutes for a firm icing. Otherwise slice while still wet if desired.

**Note: You can make this same recipe into cupcakes, small loaves and even a layered cake. Adjust baking time accordingly.

Review:

It turned out to be one of the most beautiful cakes I had ever made. It reminded me of a sunrise with the different shades of yellow. The taste is very similar to the Lemon Loaf at Starbucks. I haven’t had the Starbuck’s Lemon Loaf in a while so I would need to do a side-by-side blind taste test to compare. Overall, it is a delicious dessert and would be a nice dessert to serve company.

It is probably best eaten the same day because the next day, the icing seeps in and is less pretty but still very delicious the next day. I stored my cake in a cake dome on the counter; not the fridge. It probably wouldn’t hurt to put it in the fridge. At Starbucks, we served the Lemon Loaf in the refrigerated dessert case.

Check out my blog over at www.carleejoy.blogspot.com for recipes, fashion tips, crafts, traveling, fitness and more.

-Carlee Joy

Kate’s Candy

Last week, I introduced a new series here at The Grumbling Belly called Family and Friends. I am inviting people from around the world and across the country who appreciate the connection food has with our lives and community to share their favourite recipes and stories. This week, I am excited to introduce you to Kate from North Carolina. We met while working as Hall Directors in Tennessee almost four years ago and, with our kindred passion for food and people (and other things of course), we soon became great friends. She is a talented cook and baker and this is a wonderful story that perfectly illustrates how food can be so meaningful as well as delicious.

 

My maternal Grandfather passed away a year before I was born.  He died far too early, when he was only 54.

I have heard stories about my Papa Mac nearly every day of my life.  I have been told how much he would’ve loved me, how much I look like him with my dark hair and eyes, how much of a gentleman he was, and how deeply he adored the women in his life (namely his wife and two daughters).

I grew up missing a man that I have never met.  I think about him often and look forward to the heavenly day when he and I will hug and smile at each other for the first time.  Oh, all that we have to look forward to!

My Papa Mac loved to cook.  He did most of the cooking and baking in the house, enjoying the act of spoiling his three ladies.  His specialties were meatloaf, beef stroganoff, fried fish (that he and his Brother-in-law caught on their beach trip the weekend before), and any food that provided comfort to friends and family.  We still use the recipes he left us, and my mouth waters each time we look through those cards.

Papa Mac had a bit of a sweet tooth as well.  He indulged those he loved (and himself) by making cakes, fudge, and candy.  There is a particular candy recipe that my Mother made often during my childhood.  The main ingredients were dates and rice krispies, which formed a bite-sized log.  Somehow, she lost the recipe and I hadn’t had this particular candy in many years.  A few years ago, I mentioned that this was my favorite “Papa Mac recipe” and I wondered what we could do to recreate an important-to-me childhood memory.  My Grandmother (Gran), Mom, and I started looking through an old tin box Gran kept with recipes from her early-adult life.  There were a few of Papa Mac’s mixed in, so we were hoping to find this particular one.

I’ll never forget the moment she held up the card with my favorite recipe scribbled on it, as all three of us were baffled by its title…

The top of the card read, “Kate’s Candy”.

My Papa Mac named his Granddaughter Kate’s favorite candy recipe after her – before he even knew of her existence!  We tried to explain it away at the time, figuring that there must have been a friend of the family he named it for.  But, I’ve decided to always believe that Papa Mac named it just for me, his Granddaughter that he’ll meet one day in Heaven.

And so, I share with you my favorite recipe, one that my family holds so incredibly dear:

Kate’s candy

1 cup chopped dates

1 cup sugar

1 stick butter

1 egg well beaten

before cooking

Combine all ingredients in a pan and cook for 10 minutes on medium heat, stirring constantly.
after cooking 10 minutes
Then add:
2 cups rice krispies
1 cup chopped pecans
When cool enough to handle, make into bite-sized logs and roll in flaked coconut. 

Take some butter and spread on your hands to form candy and roll in coconut.  This is helpful as the candy is very sticky.

Kate's Candy

Set on parchment paper until fully cooled and then serve.

finished product

Making Kate’s Candy with my grandmother and mother

Kate's Candy