You know what I'm craving? A little perspective. That's it. I'd like some fresh, clear, well seasoned perspective. Can you suggest a good wine to go with that? --Ratatouille (Pixar, 2007)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Tw/T Exclusive Review: MAD MEX, Wynnewood, PA

I'm going to keep this review semi-short because I'm still pretty burnt out from writing my lengthy last post on peach cake! This coming Monday (August 11th), famous tex-mex chain "Mad Mex" from Pittsburgh, PA, will officially open a brand new location in our very own Wynnewood shopping center. Last night, I was lucky enough to dine at the restaurant early at the soft opening with my good family friends the Russells (hi George!)!

Arguably the most exciting part of Mad Mex is the decor--the restaurant looks BEAUTIFUL. Decked out in not-too-cheesy Mexican dolls, masks, and pieces of artwork, the restaurant's colors are vibrant, the layout of the restaurant is physically appealing to walk through, and the central bar appeared well-stocked, showcasing colorful bottles and margarita machines extravagantly. Additionally, the restaurant is just spacious. Currently, it has seating for up to 300 people, including what appeared to be multiple sizes of private rooms set apart from the general dining room. Overall, the appearance of the restaurant was incredible; it just looked great.

Addressing drinks and the aforementioned bar, margaritas are churned out by the barrel they should be at any Mexican joint. The menu offers a plethora of flavors, like the three seen below that are (L to R) classic, mango, and peach. The drinks weren't exceptionally strong, but that may be a small issue to be worked out for future dinners. The salt rimmed onto my glass was stylishly dyed blue and the general flavor of the drinks was otherwise superior, disregarding liquor content.

Appetizers were, for the most part, tasty. Guacamole was a tad spicy for my liking, but the habanero-pineapple salsa was deliciously fierce and the tomatillo blend salsa was a perfectly cool medium. All three dips are below.

I also sampled the San Francisco Wings (below) and the Potato Taquitos. The sauce on the wings was sweet and spicy; I could've lapped it up by the bowlful. The wings themselves were fairly average--they had no fry on them (they were just seared/baked) the mark of a good--but not perfect-- wing. Sadly, the Taquitos were forgettable. The texture of the mashed potatoes, cheese, and the tortilla melded together in a less than ideal way.

EntreƩs came out looking great--plating was obviously stressed, with colorful purple radishes and milky white queso fresco galore. I had the Barbacoa Tacos, shown below. The tacos themselves were delicious: the meat was cooked well, the queso fresco blended nicely, and the tortilla was neither tough nor doughy. However, the sides lost me a little bit. Each plate came with a flat square of regular ol' rice and beans. My rice seemed a little overcooked and my beans were just kind of underwhelming. They had no frills, no "wow," they were just black beans. That being said, when I put both with my tacos they still played their parts adequately. Overall, the entreƩ was good--just good.

My mother ordered the Mole Enchilada seen below. The dish tasted fine, again, it was just missing a little bit of the strong flavor expected from a mole. A mole is generally a darker sauce than Mex's, packing a strong chocolate flavor but also hinting at the classic Mexican combination of spicy-sweet through some sort of pepper which counteracts the chocolate. Mex's mole was more of a one note feel--it didn't raise my eyebrows sweetly or spicily and I didn't get enough strong flavors. However, if you aren't expecting a classic mole, the dish is still worth ordering. All the flavors worked together even if they weren't strong enough and the meat was well cooked. Other dishes, like the steak fajitas (farther) below, were also hits with diners.

If you're curled up in a ball wondering if Wynnewood will ever get a good new restaurant at this point--stop worrying! To be clear, most of the problems I've recounted so far are small problems with easy fixes. Adding a few things here and there to jazz up plates, tossing another ounce of liquor into the drinks, etc. Mad Mex showed well for a restaurant still in its pre-opening stage. What's more, it still has some points to win in the dessert category...which it definitely won! Below is the dessert burrito, followed by the brownie sundae. The dessert burrito was as yummy as it was cute and definitely a nice way to end the meal.

As I said, Mad Mex only has a few kinks to work out for it to become a truly great spot. Hopefully all goes well when it opens on Monday. I wish all the best to Mad Mex and I'm sure I'll be back soon to see how things are coming along!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Scarfing Down Summer: Peach Loaf Cake with Brown Sugar Spice Filling

When I told my mom I was considering making devil's food cupcakes in our 80 degree household the other day, she basically barfed. I could hear the complaining coming a mile away. She pleaded with me, "Use the fruit in the fridge! Make cookies! Anything but chocolate cake!" I walked downstairs and caved--we had a few medium-fresh peaches from our CSA fruit-share we joined this summer that caught my eye. I started fishing through the internet for a recipe I could play with; adapt to my taste.

The recipe below is my own version of a recipe from "Taste of Home," an old magazine my mom used to get. I don't like to mess with baking (it really is a science) but I always have a hard time holding myself back...thus, a few changes were made to the batter and, of course, the filling was a creation of my own.


  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup cubed/diced peeled peaches (Peel them as thoroughly as you want and dice them into a quite small cube to ensure your batter can cook through--too many big chunks will make your cake impossible to cook. Obviously you must mostly peel them because you don't want skin floating around your cake, but you also may enjoy some of the tart flavor the skin of a peach gives, like I do!)
  • 1-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • A few shakes of cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts (Don't worry about this only being a small amount, you'll see walnuts again in the filling!) 

  • Heat your oven to 350 degrees. 

    In terms of the process, this isn't a difficult recipe. Simply cream the butter and sugar together, add in the eggs one by one, and then add in the other wet ingredients (water/vanilla/peaches). Next, combine the dry ingredients separately (everything except the nuts) and stir that into the wet ingredients. Incorporate it all together but try your best not to overmix. Finally, add in the walnuts and your batter is ready. Toss it into a greased/oiled loaf pan and let it settle for a few minutes while you prepare your filling! Doesn't that peachy color look delicious?

    The filling, like many culinary inventions, came to me by accident. What I really wanted was a delicious caramel-like topping...but my cooking process led me to a filling instead. Looking back, I'm glad this cake had a filling--it's what it really needed! The filling allows each bit of the cake to be moist, warm, and delicious. It adds a sweetness that the cake would've been disappointingly missing without it. 

    For the filling you'll need:

    2/3 cup of brown sugar (my blend wasn't too light, but you probably don't want the darkest of the dark)
    3.5 tablespoons of butter
    1/4 cup of your diced peaches (if you have some left over like I did...if not, not a huge deal)
    1/4 cup of chopped walnuts
    6 spiced wafer cookies, beaten to a rough grind in a Ziploc bag!

    I created the filling step by step--mistakes made followed with me trying to fix them! I first melted together the butter and brown sugar in a bowl in the microwave for only about 30 seconds (use a double boiler/stovetop if you want, you're just making it harder for yourself). Let everything just get soft and then stir it together, fully melting the butter. Then, before the sugary mixture solidifies, add the peaches and walnuts. 

    Finally, you get to use one of my favorite techniques. Place 6 spiced wafers in a sealed plastic bag and just smash them against the counter, beat them with your hand, etc, until you have a pretty solid grind of the cookie. A few pieces of wafer left in the mix aren't a problem, just as long as they aren't inedibly large. Dump this grind in with the wet brown sugar mix, stir together, and your filling is done! The spiced wafer will soak up all the delicious sugar mixture, making for a delicious center in your cake. 

    Here comes the last trick: place your loaf pan of batter in the oven WITHOUT the filling inside for about ten minutes. It's imperative that you let your batter get a head start on cooking or your filling might just fall out of the bottom of your cake. After ten minutes, open the oven and dump your filling atop the loaf batter that should start to be taking form. No need to push it into the batter, it will fall in on its own. 

    Cook the cake for about another 20-30 minutes, or until you can push a toothpick into the cake (the batter-filled part, not a filling filled area) and pull it out clean.

    At the end, hopefully your cake looks and tastes as good as mine did! This cake was refreshing and decadent at the same time--definitely a keeper in my recipe book. Happy baking!