Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Gyros & Cupcakes: Two of Our Favorite Things

by Erin

Part One: GYROS!

Law school friends can attest to the fact that when it comes to lunch, I am usually - no, always - ready for a gyro. I'm not quite sure where this obsession started but gyros are definitely one of my favorite foods. I often get my gyro fix at a local Greek-American place near school called Kirby's. Their gyro is delicious and their fries must be sprinkled with crack because DAMN - they are good and addictive. (Actually I think it's Old Bay they are sprinkled with - potato, po-tah-to).

A few weekends ago, Xani and I were reviewing the Baltimore City Paper's special dining guide issue, "Eat", and we found a rave review of the gyros at the Hilltop Carry-Out, a small store-front about 2 blocks from Xani's house. "The [gyro] is massive to the point of impeding the eating process, always steaming hot and oozing with tzatziki and gyro meat grease, which is good for dripping onto the attendant hot and crisp fries." Does it surprise you that I asked Xani if we could get gyros pretty much every day from the time we read this to the time we sat down on Saturday to have one??

Neither of us had ever been to Hilltop so when we went in, we were very surprised at how quaint and clean the place was. For someplace with a greasy spoon reputation, it was a pleasant surprise. We ordered one gyro with everything (tzatziki, tomatoes, and hot sauce) except onions and some fries to share, and sat at one of the three booths. After a few minutes, our gyro and fries came up and I galloped - ahem, I mean, casually strolled - over to the counter to pick up our order.

The meat:tzatziki ratio was perfect

The verdict? Delicious! The gyro meat was juicy and a nicely sliced - not too thin like paper, not too thick that it was difficult to eat. The pita was fluffy, and the tzatziki was thick and had lots of flavor from the garlic. The hot sauce was an interesting addition to the traditional gyro accompaniments but it worked beautifully and gave it even more flavor. A very delicious, messy sandwich, indeed.

The fries were also good - crispy but not greasy. I would say that while the gyro at Hilltop was better than at Kirby's, the fries at Kirby's still reign supreme. We saw a lot of people getting pizza there, so next time we will be trying a slice for sure!


The same day of our gyro adventure, I had planned to do some baking for an engagement party I was going to in DC that night. (Congrats Melanie and Justin!). Since Xani has a KitchenAid, I went to her house to do it. We had our gyros and when we returned, we started making the Coconut Cupcakes. I chose these cupcakes because I thought they looked wedding-y, and it was an Ina Garten recipe I had always wanted to try.

As is typical with Ina recipes, the amount of butter this recipe uses is obscene. Three sticks in the batter, and three sticks in the icing!! We made the batter by combining butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and almond extracts, and then adding the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt) and buttermilk to the wet ingredients. Then we folded in some sweetened shredded coconut.

I wanted to try piping the batter into the lined baking tins, and to Xani's credit, she let me do my experiment, knowing all the while that I should just use two spoons. The problem with the piping was that you could make about two cupcakes before you had to refill the piping bag. I'm not sure how many of our lovely readers deal with piping bags often, but it's a pain in the ass to refill them, especially with sticky coconut cupcake batter.

So, I finished with the two-spoon method and it admittedly worked fine. Then we baked them in the oven until they were golden brown and a toothpick came out clean. Meanwhile, while they were cooling, I tried on dresses for the engagement party. :)

When they were cool, we made the icing by combining butter, cream cheese, vanilla and almond extracts, and confectioner's sugar. Then we did a mini-assembly line where Xani would ice the cupcakes with the delicious cream cheese frosting, and then I would dip the cupcake in more shredded coconut. After we were done, they looked beautiful! We realized, though, that we should have halved the icing recipe because we had a TON leftover.

Even with a gimp hand she is a master cook

I brought them to the party and they were a hit! Unfortunately, coconut is sort of a "love it or hate it" ingredient/flavor, so I understood when some people weren't eating them. Those who ate them, though, said they were delicious! And I concur - I found the cake to be firm but not dense, and the combination of the cake with the sweet and tangy cream cheese frosting, plus another hit of sweetened coconut on top was a wonderful bite. Ina's done it again, folks!

Thanks to Xani for letting me mess up her kitchen and for sharing a gyro with me! Love you! And thanks to Rachel for throwing an amazing engagement party - well done, my dear!

Happy gyro-eating and cupcake-baking,


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