@victoriamargaux
 
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Wall of Flame
Yesterday, my friend Jermaine attempted Pazza Bistro's Pizza Inferno. I say attempted because this beast of an entree has claimed many souls. Another friend of mine ending up vomiting and rolling on the floor uncontrollably after just a few slices.

Invented by the restaurant's co-owners brothers Marc and Yannick Perotti, the hellish dish is a mix of of some of the hottest ingredients in the world. Topping the personal-pan size pizza are Thai Chilies, Red Chilies, Habanera Peppers and Jalapenos. Oh, and don't forget the hottest type of chili in the world -- the Ghost Chili. After trying only one seed my entire throat was on fire.
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The Pizza Inferno plus the two alotted 8 oz cups of water.
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Jermaine all smiles before the heat sets in.
For just $10.77 you too can lose your dignity and develop a stomach ulcer while attempting this feat of epic proportions. By the way, if you win you get free soda for life.

Here are the official rules:
1. You have 20 minutes to eat the entire thing.
2. You are only allowed two 8 oz cups of water.
3. NO napkins allowed. (They're for wimps.)
4. You must lick your fingers clean afterward.
5. If you get up to go to the bathroom, go outside or vomit you lose.

Check out Jermaine about four minutes in:
Needless to say he didn't finish. After only about 6 1/2 minutes he gave in to the Pizza Inferno. Currently, there are two guys vying to have the dish permanently named after them. They have to win the challenge five times to stay in the running. One of them was able to devour his ENTIRE pizza in 4 1/2 minutes.

Sorry, but I won't be trying this dish anytime soon.
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FAIL.
 
 
This week was absolutely insane. Between school, work and my food adventures I haven't had time to breathe let alone blog or sleep.
On Tuesday, I took a cooking class as part of a Gotta Try It article for INsite Magazine. I can't give too much away, but here are some sneak peak photos and recipes from my almost three hour class with Dine By Design's Darleen Randall.
Here are Darleen's top five tips for cooking, no matter what the dish:
1. Always sharpen your knife.
2. Use a timer.
3. Get an oven thermometer, most of them cook unevenly.
4. Taste as you go.
5. You don't have to follow the recipe to the T.
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Fresh Veggie & Tortellini Pasta Salad
Servings: 3
Ingredients:
1 9 oz. tortellini, fresh packaged
1 cup(s) asparagus, 1" pieces
1 cup(s) broccoli floret
2 tablespoon(s) olive oil
2 tablespoon(s) garlic, miced
1 cup(s) red onion, 1" slices
1 8 oz. mushroom, fresh, sliced
1 cup(s) tomato, grape
1 6 oz. spinach, fresh
1/4 teaspoon(s) salt
1/4 teaspoon(s) black pepper
2 teaspoon(s) lemon juice, fresh
3 tablespoon(s) Parmesan cheese, hard, shaved
3 tablespoon(s) pine nuts, toasted

Prepare tortelloni according to package directions, omitting salt and fat.  Add asparagus and broccoli  during last 4 minutes of cooking.  Drain pasta and veggies; rinse with warm water. While pasta cooks, heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic; saute 1 minute.  Add red onion, saute 5 minutes.  Add mushrooms and grape tomatoes and saute for another 6-9 minutes.  Add spinach, salt & pepper; cook 2 minutes or until spinach wilts.
 
Combine pasta mixture and veggie mixture in a large bowl.  Add lemon juice; toss gently to coat.  Top servings evenly with cheese and nuts.
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Crunchy Pecan Bites
Servings: 72 
Ingredients:
3 cup(s) pecan halves, chopped
3/4 cup(s) sugar
3/4 cup(s) corn syrup, dark
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoon(s) butter, melted
1 teaspoon(s) vanilla
1/8 teaspoon(s) salt
72 Mini Fillo Shells

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake pecans in a single layer in a shallow pan 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted and fragrant. Stir together sugar and corn syrup in a medium bowl. Stir in pecans, eggs, and next 3 ingredients. Spoon about 1 heaping teaspoonful pecan mixture into each pastry shell, and place on 2 large baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 22 minutes or until set. Remove to wire racks, and let cool completely (about 30 minutes). Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
 
 
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Banana Cupcakes
As promised, here are the two cupcake recipes I tried over the weekend. They both may seem a bit daunting at first, but they are definitely worth it in the end. I found them in one of my favorite cookbooks, Favorite Brand Name's "100 Best Cupcake Recipes."

BANANA CUPCAKES
Makes 18 cupcakes
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tbs packed brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 medium mashed bananas (about 1 cup)
1 container (16 ounces) chocolate frosting

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F . Line 18 standard muffin cups with paper baking cups.
2. Combine flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and allspice in a large bowl. Add oil, eggs, milk and vanilla; beat with electric mixer at medium speed 2 minutes or until well blended. (I mixed it with a whisk. It has the same effect, but it takes longer.) Beat in bananas until well blended. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling three-fourths full.
3. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean. Cool cupcakes in pans on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove from pans; cool completely on wire racks.
4. Frost cupcakes.

CHOCOLATE-RASPBERRY CUPCAKES
Makes 24 cupcakes
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
2/3 vegetable shortening
1 cup cold water
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam
1 1/2 cups Semi-Sweet Dark Chocolate Mini Baking Bits
Preheat oven 350 degrees F. Lightly grease 24 muffin cups or line with paper or foil liners; set aside.
In large bowl combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt; stir in sugar. Beat in shortening until well combined. Gradually beat in water; stir in vanilla. Beat in eggs. Stir in raspberry jam.
Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle dark chocolate bit into batter.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool completely on wire racks.

TIP: Go light on the dark chocolate bits and heavy on the raspberry jam for more of a contrast in flavors.
 
 
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Eggs, pita & hummus for breakfast :)
Last weekend was full of pleasant surprises. New friends, new locations and best of all new recipes and foods that tantalized my palette and sent it into overdrive.
 
As I've shared before, in high school I was the pickiest eater in the entire world. If it was good for me, I wouldn't touch it. If it had a strange texture, I wouldn't look at it. If it was green and leafy? Oh no. Down right 'fahgettaboutit. This weekend, however, I tried it all from Kibbeh to Tabbouleh. I even tried making two new cupcake recipes-- from scratch!

My first night in town, my gracious Syrian hosts decided it would be perfect to treat me to a traditional Arabic style feast. Little did I know I would be getting a foreign language lesson while eating dinner. I still don't know all the names and pronunciations of everything off of the top of my head, but hey, that's what Google is for, right? Anywho, we each ordered a sample platter with different dishes so I could taste the differences in each. Here is what they included:
  • Hummus, a dip made of blended chickpeas, sesame tahini, lemon juice and garlic. I absolutely love hummus, so it was a treat to get to try some that was homemade. The kind you get in the grocery stores is mighty tasty, but nothing compared to the full, rich flavor you get when it's made from scratch.
  • Baba ghannouj, a grilled eggplant that is mixed with tahina, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic puree. Much like hummus, it's great for dipping pita bread into. I loved the rich texture and intensity yet simpleness of the flavors in the dip.
  • Kibbeh, a fried dish made of bulgur (basically a type of wheat) and chopped meat. They are commonly shaped much like a crouquette. It was delicious and reminded me of a potato ball, or something we have in Spanish culture called a moyette.
  • Tabbouleh, a diced parsley salad with burghul, tomato and mint. I think you're supposed to eat this much like an American salad, but I just mixed it with my hummus and ate in top of a pita. 
  • Dolma, or stuffed grape leaves. I had mine meatless and dipped them in yogurt. They were a bit too salty for my taste, but the flavors were interesting and I was surprised by how refreshing they could be when paired with the light yogurt.
The next morning I even had hummus with my breakfast! I must say making an egg sandwich with pita, eggs, hummus and a touch of pepper was quite satisfying.

The strangest, yet sweetest, dish came late Sunday afternoon.  Although I sat in the kitchen and watched them make it, I was still taken aback when I took my first bite. Kenafeh is one of the most popular Arabic sweets made of shredded pastry dough, sweet white cheese and syrup. Yes, I said cheese.

The dish was layered with cheese and dough and popped into the oven for just a short time. When it arrived at the table, the top dough was crisp and the cheese was melty and gooey like warm taffy. The texture of the dish was completely different than anything I have ever tasted. Crunchy yet doughy, sugary yet cheesy, this walking conundrum of a dish has found a sweet spot in my heart.

I forgot my cookbook at home, but check back later on tonight for the two cupcake recipes I tried this weekend. I whipped up some banana cupcakes, as well as dark chocolate raspberry cupcake confections. They're easy, delicious and you can make them at home, too!
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Shredding the cheese to make Kenafeh
 
 
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Falafel and hummus photo by: Andres G. Farfan
On Tuesday, I had such a great time on a restaurant review of Farah's on the Avenue for INsite Magazine. Photographer Andres G. Farfan and I enjoyed some delectable dishes and chatted with owner Nick Farah about the popular Hookah hangout.

Farah’s on the Avenue isn’t just a restaurant and hookah bar, it’s a family-run tradition. Open since 1980, Farah’s boasts a full menu with a wide variety of items that fuse Mediterranean style cooking with classic homestyle favorites.
From hot wings and burgers, to vegetarian and vegan dishes, Farah’s will please any taste palette. Owner Nick Farah recently renovated the space, bringing it back to its old roots, he said. Don’t miss the new $8 per person ‘Smoke Till You Choke Hookah Special,’ Fridays and Saturdays from 9pm to close.

NOT YOUR AVERAGE MENU
When Farah’s first opened thirty years ago, the menu only had eight pita bread sandwiches, fries and onion rings. Now, you can enjoy the classics while still satisfying your cultural tastes. Farah’s Famous Wings ($8.95) have just the right amount of spice and crunch without being the slightest bit greasy. The secret Nick says is that the wings are twice cooked and never breaded. Or, order the Falafel with Warm Pita ($7.95) and channel your inner Mediterranean as you dine on delicious ground chickpea rounds with parsley and special seasonings.

FOUR SEASONS ALL YEAR ROUND
Farah’s is the first location in Gainesville to have an open-air patio. They eventually closed-in the front patio to make a larger restaurant year-round, but Nick is putting the finishing touches on a new patio located in the rear. They plan to have everything ready for summer grilling, he says. “It’s one of the most unique atmospheres in Gainesville,” Nick says. “It’s developed into the type of restaurant locals want.” When the whether is cold, come relax in plush green seats as you sit by the glass fireplace in the middle of the atrium.

HOOKAH HANGOUT
With more than 14 flavors of tobacco, ranging from guava to their specialty mixes like black cherry bomb, Farah’s has hookah flavors to complement any drink on their special menu. Get a single or signature flavor hookah for just $15. Want to drink and still smoke at the same time? Try one of their specialty hookahs ($22) to have an alcohol-flavored filter. “We use better tobacco than the other places,” says Ryan McGrath, 28, who has been working at the restaurant for six years. What is hookah exactly? Ryan says, “It’s just flavored vapor that tastes and smells good.”

SPECIALS ALL WEEK LONG
Come in any day of the week and you’ll not only find satisfied customers, but you’ll find specials that won’t break the bank. All day every day come in for $1.50 Pabst pints, $2 well drinks and $5 Pabst pitchers. On Tuesdays, all of Farah’s Famous Gourmet Burgers are 2-for-1. Try their Awesome Burger ($8.95) for a tasty burger cooked to your liking and piled high with sautéed mushrooms, crisp bacon, onions and Swiss cheese. On Wednesdays, come in for 50-cent wings.

FAST FACTS
Phone Number: 352-378-5179
Address: 1120 W. University Ave.
Web site: www.farahsontheavenue.com
Hours: Mon, Tues 11am to 10pm; Wed, Thurs 11am to 12am; Fri, Sat 11am to 2 am; Closed Sundays
Server pick: Falafel with warm pita ($7.95)
Price Range: $-$$
Dress Code: Casual
Delivery: Carryout orders welcome; no delivery
Tips: Come hang out with your friends on a weeknight. Eat, drink and enjoy hookah!
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Farah's Famous Wings photo by: Andres G. Farfan
 
 
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Tuna Ceviche
Before my mother left me alone in the house for a week during spring break, she and I ventured out for some delicious eats in Key West. In our usual fashion, we chose a little hole in the wall tapas place every Key West local raves about-- Santiago's Bodega.
We tried to find the place once before and literally drove around one night for 30 minutes in the not-so-nice part of town. Luckily, we found it right away this time. Small and secluded, Santiago's is a great place to take a date or even to enjoy the company of a small group of friends. The restaurant's menu is vegetarian friendly, and they have more than 30 tapas-style dishes, soups and salads.
My mother had come once before without me, so she wasted no time ordering the Avocado and Pear Salad right away. Now as you all know I'm not a salad fan, but the mixed greens tossed in a creamy parmesan dressing and topped with toasted pine nuts didn't look half bad. Big chunks of avocado and thin slices of pair decorated the already scrumptious looking dish. According to my mother, her favorite thing about the salad was all of the varying textures. Between the softness of the avocado and the crunchiness of the pear her taste buds were having a field day.
We're both big fans of seafood, so naturally every dish we ordered had some type of ingredient from under the sea.  To start, we ordered one of the day's specials, Crab Empanadas. Light yet crisp, the empanadas weren't greasy and flaked away at the touch of my fork. The crab was warm and not too fishy tasting, mixing well with the flavor of the empanada dough.
Next came the
Seasoned Grouper, filets encrusted with fennel seed, coriander, and lemon pepper. I'm sad to say I was disappointed with this dish. The seasoning completely overpowered the taste of the fish. The grouper was tender and delicious, and the hard texture of the breading was not appealing. Call me simple, but sometimes less really is more.
My absolute favorite dish came next-- fresh Tuna Ceviche with mangos, avocados, lime juice and cilantro. Words can't even describe the tuna. Paired with the mangos and citrus, each bite had just the right amount of tanginess while still keeping the flavor of the fish. Each hunk of tuna was like heaven in my mouth. Needless to say, the dish was devoured in seconds flat.
Next time I'm home I can't wait to go back and try
the Spanakopita, spinach, feta, and onion baked in phyllo pastry and drizzled with hollandaise sauce.
The place is pretty small, so make sure to call in a reservation ahead of time for lunch or dinner. (305-296-7691) They're open from 11am to 10pm all week long.
The menu may seem somewhat pricey, but I promise you it's worth every penny.
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Avocado and Pear Salad
 
 
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Key lime pie ingredients
As Spring Break 2010 comes to a close, I know there are millions of college students across the country sad that all of the fun and partying is coming to a end. Well, for this week anyway.

Because I had a house full of people (I live in Key West, obviously my house is the best spring break destination for my friends.) I wasn't able to post this sooner. But, now you too can keep spring break going year round and channel your inner Key Wester by making a Key Lime Pie. Also, it's PI day! 

No, key lime pie is NOT green, and the recipe is simple and easy to follow. I found this one a few years back when I first decided to try making a key lime pie. Apparently it's Jimmy Buffett's recipe, but I'm not sure how much I really believe that. And don't worry if you aren't from a tropical climate, Publix usually carries key limes. Or, you can just by key lime juice if you're in a hurry and don't want to squeeze them yourself. Warning: Try not to eat the entire thing in one sitting, it will give you a stomach ache.. trust me.

Ingredients:
2/3 cup key lime juice
pie crust
16 oz condensed milk
6 egg yolks

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Squeeze out 2/3 cup of key lime juice. Make sure to get all of the seeds out either with a strainer or your fingers.
3. Mix condensed milk and 6 egg yolks together
4. Add in key lime juice. Personally, I adjust how much lime juice I put in according to taste. You want it to be sweet yet a little tart, but not too tangy.
5. Mix, mix, mix
6. Pour mix into crust, and heat in oven for 20 minutes.

If you would like to make your own crust:
1. Crush up Lorna Dune cookies
2. Add a little bit of melted butter and cinnamon
3. Press it into an empty pie pan
4. Follow all of the previous key lime pie making directions
 
 
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Broccoli Soup
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Foreground: The Nooner Burrito; Background: Citrus Pesto Tortellini
I've wanted to eat at The Jones ever since a menu was discreetly slid through the bottom crack in my front door. The food looked both yummy and affordable, but it wasn't exactly on the closest side of town. (I know Gainesville isn't that big. I admit it, I'm just lazy.)
Recently, I interviewed the restaurant's owner, Maya Garner, for a "Going Green" special section article for The Gainesville Sun. She is doing some pretty cool things in Gainesville, and she really piqued my interest with her sustainable, local and organic menu. Some of her ingredients are even picked mere hours before they make it to the plate, she said.
This harvest season she is using produce from the following local and organic farms: Comet, Swallowtail, Rosie's and Kumarie's.

Cool fact: Her to-go boxes are compostable!


I got lost on my way to the restaurant, as usual. Don't let its outside decor fool you. Even though it is located in a somewhat sketchy looking shopping strip, the inside is quite charming. With dim lighting and a chalkboard wall full of specials you will feel relaxed yet hip. I didn't waste anytime ordering one of their homemade-style soups and a pasta entree I had been eyeing.

The broccoli soup was warm, rich and creamy--yet surprisingly light. A few croutons were thrown on for good measure, and they added a nice salty crunch and texture I really enjoyed. Now I could eat broccoli anytime, anywhere, but I've never had broccoli so finely pureed. 

Next came the Citrus Pesto Tortellini ($11.25). Cheese-filled tortellini topped with asparagus, roasted red peppers and tossed in delectable homemade citrus-pesto. My warm crostini was a bit burnt, but I was too distracted to mind. I can't get over the rich flavors of The Joneses dishes! The citrus pesto had just the right amount of flavor that added just a touch of pizzaz to the cheese tortellini's. The pairing of asparagus, red peppers and mushrooms isn't one I've tried before, but I was pleasantly surprised. The different textures of each dish blended well together.

So stuffed, I almost passed on dessert. Thankfully, the friend I was with wanted to hear the menu. From vegan chocolate cake to peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, they have a little bit of everything. My cookie was a bit hard, but that didn't stop me from digging out the chocolate chunks. I was expecting a sugar cookie with peanut butter and chocolate chunks inside. Instead, the dough itself was peanut butter-- even better.

I almost went into a panic when I realized the restaurant only takes cash, but the waitress very kindly explained where I could find an ATM-- the skeezy pawnshop next door.

Luckily, I had my checkbook on me.
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Citrus Pesto Tortellini
 

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