Gone To Carolina


My innate love for living in the Carolinas is no big secret. I grieved for the Queen City for the entire 6 years that I was away in that other nearly forgotten state and even though I've been back home now for over 2 years, there's still not a day that goes by that I don't stop and think about how great it is living here. I was so fortunate to reconnect with some of the friends I had before I left, and after becoming involved with the Good Eats and Meets social group, I amassed more good friends and acquaintances than imaginable.  Even though my career is no longer in the catering/food business, I'll always have a love for doing that kind of work so being an assistant organizer for this group helps fills the void. 

And while it looks like all fun and games when we get together (and rest assured there is plenty of that!), there's alot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes to pull off each event.  We brainstorm, plan, test, organize, solicit and promote and we are constantly looking for new and fun things to bring to the membership.  I'm so pleased to be a small part of the newly established "Carolina's Eat Local Farm to Fork Restaurant Month," the brainchild of Richard Gruica, the founder of Good Eats and Meets.

During the month of May, local participating restaurants will create delicious three-course prix fixe menus for both lunch and dinner, composed almost entirely of Carolina grown farm-fresh ingredients such as artisanal cheeses, micro-greens, and meats from local farms.   With over 30 restaurants participating, this event will go a long way toward raising awareness of North Carolina’s presence on the culinary scene and will also create an opportunity to give back to area farmers by establishing the NC Farmer’s Fund. A portion of the proceeds from the event will create a subsidy to benefit small, family-owned farms in the event of a natural disaster.

It has been my job with the Farm to Fork project to focus on, sample and promote NC based beverages, one of which is Uncle Scott's Root Beer. Certifiably made from all natural ingredients, Uncle Scott's is the creation of Scott and Suzanne Ramsey of Mooresville, NC and has been on the market for nearly 4 years now. Available in over 57 stores in the Carolinas, Uncle Scott's Root Beer has received an excellent response in the marketplace and I understand why.  I'll admit to being a bit leery of tasting the concoction because I've long ago kicked my carbonated soda habit and I'm just not fond of anything having to do with licorice, which is the prominent flavor in most mass produced brands of sugary carbonated root beer sodas.

The verdict?  Not only am I proud as punch to live in North Carolina, I'm equally as pleased to say that Uncle Scott's Root Beer hails from home.  My palate detected hints of vanilla long before the ever-so-subtle taste of licorice and the sweetness of the organic sugar was just enough.  It tasted real and natural, not sugary and commercial.  I was impressed, too, that the carbonation was still intact on a half-used bottle the day after it had been opened.  I used the root beer to test cocktail recipes which will be featured soon on the Charlotte Cocktails Examiner site, but in the meantime, please enjoy these fabulously cute Root Beer Float Cupcakes from Smitten Kitchen.

Root Beer Float Cupcakes

Cake adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking
Recipe and idea taken from smittenkitchen.com

Cupcakes

2 cups root beer (of course I used Uncle Scott's Root Beer)
1 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs

Toppings

1 1/2 cups heavy or whipping cream
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pint of vanilla ice cream
Maraschino cherries (optional)

Make the root beer cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 22 cupcake cups with paper liners. In a small saucepan, heat the root beer, cocoa powder and butter over medium heat until the butter is melted. Add the sugars and whisk until dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs until just beaten then whisk them into the cooled cocoa mixture until combined. Fold the liquid and flour mixtures together in the large bowl. The batter will be slightly lumpy; this is okay. If you overbeat it, it will get tough.

Fill cupcake liners about 2/3 to 3/4 full (a 1/4 cup scoop or measuring cup will filled mine perfectly) and bake cupcakes, rotating trays back to front and top to bottom halfway through, until a tester inserted into the center of each comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool completely.

Assemble cupcakes: Whip heavy or whipping cream with powdered sugar and vanilla until it holds soft peaks. You can do this with an electric mixer, but if you do it by hand, not only will you get a killer arm workout (which you can trade in for a cupcake, very soon), it will be nearly impossible to overbeat the cream. (Which I almost always do with a mixer.)

Use the tip of a knife to cut a small cone of cake out of the top center of each cupcake; feel free to snack on these, I won’t tell anyone. Using a spoon or a small cookie scoop, nest a scoop of ice cream in each indent. Surround ice cream with dollops of whipped cream. Top with a cherry, if using. To keep cupcakes in a holding pattern while you assemble the remaining ones, you can put them in the freezer, but try to do so for no more than 5 minutes or the whipped cream will harden.

Eat immediately.

Chef's note: While the root beer flavor is present in the cakes, it’s not the loudest root beer flavor (unsurprising as most root beers today are pretty subtle). One way to make it more pronounced, as suggested in Baked, is to swap out half a cup of root beer for root beer schnapps, which looks like it is available from a few places online.

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