Wednesday, April 27, 2011

So Last Season? Yeah, Right. -- Graham Cracker Cupcakes with Key Lime Frosting

Guys, I have a cupcake addiction.


It's getting bad.


Um, I'm taking them for walks outside apparently.
This is true addiction.
I'm currently kicking myself for not truly appreciating the wonder that is Sweet when I lived in Boston. Wonderful, moist, fluffy cupcakes topped with sweet creamy frosting only a short T ride away? Why was I not there every. single. day? For the price of my twice-weekly Iced Grande Caramel Macciato with Soy Milk and Extra Caramel I could get a cupcake AND a mini cupcake! My priorities! Where were they??



Out here in the sticks, we don't have those fancy pastry shoppes. We have to make do with our own. So that's what I've been doing. And doing. And doing.

First the rum cupcakes. Then I baked up a batch of yellow buttercake cupcakes for a friend's birthday. Then the carrot cakes with white chocolate cream cheese frosting.* And now these, which have the tastiest batter you'll ever lick off a spoon, and a wonderfully indulgent finished product with a lovely citrusy frosting.

By the way, apparently I'm behind on the times. Cupcakes are sooo out, artisan homemade doughnuts are sooo in, and even bacon is chilling out and making way for whatever salted meat product will be next. 


I don't care. Gimme a napkin and a glass of milk and I will gladly eat all your so-last-season cupcakes kthanksbye.

Um, but, hey, if you wanna get me that doughnut pan at Williams Sonoma I mean, I totally won't take it back. Just sayin'.


*All forthcoming blog posts!

Graham Cupcakes with Key Lime Cream Cheese Frosting
(From, where else?, Ming Makes Cupcakes)


For the Cupcakes:
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 stick butter, room temp.
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup milk

Mix flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder, and salt.  Beat in butter gradually.  Beat in sugar and mix thoroughly. Beat in eggs, then vanilla and milk until just mixed.  Pour into lined cupcake tins.  Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes, or until toothpick comes out almost clean.


For the Frosting:
  •  4 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/2 stick butter, room temp.
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 T key lime juice

I put extra frosting on it
 Mix together ingredients with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy. Frost using a pastry bag if you wish.

Macaron Fail -- True Beauty is in the Taste

I knew it was too good to be true. My first attempt at French Macarons made these, beautiful little masterpieces:



My second attempt? ... Not so much.



It was probably my own fault for waiting until 10 pm to make, then rushing so as not to make noise in the kitchen. The poor little Macarons had so much potential! Pink, strawberry flavored cookies sandwiched with milk chocolate ganache. Sadly, it was not to be. They came out cracked, brittle, and with no foot.

But they tasted okay, so I decided not to trash them.

I brought them into work and set out on a plate for people to pick over. "Ugly But Tasty!" said the post-it I placed next to them. I expected a brave soul or two to take a bite, but not the empty plate that I met when I went to take that picture up there--that little strawberry monster was the only one left!

Two days later people are still telling me how good they were. "Mouth-gasm" and "like crack" were choice phrases.

With all the emphasis I'm putting on teaching myself plating aesthetics and saving up my pennies for a DSLR, I forget that looks are only about 10% of the judges final decision*, it's the taste that matters.

*Top Chef reference of course.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Gluten-Free Me?--Spaghetti Squash with Bolognese and Smashed Potatoes


I love pasta.

It's quick, it's easy, it's versatile, and the perfect vehicle for any variety of creative sauces.

However, at one point in my life, I had to part with my beloved pasta in order to figure out some crazy stomach issues I was having. You see, gluten intolerance runs in my family--Celiac's to be specific. About a year ago I thought that I might have it, as occasionally and seemingly without reason my stomach decides to wage war on me. So, as an experiment, I decided to go cold-turkey on the gluten and see if it made the problem go away.

Honestly, all week I was hoping it wouldn't. A life without pasta was not something I wanted to consider.

Rice pasta you say? Well yes, there are other options. But that dang college-student budget did not allow me to buy a $6 box. I did get some gluten-free waffles though, they were lovely. Rice bread though, not so much.

Fortunately (or, really, unfortunately) after two weeks of nothing changing, I caved and devoured a Shrimp Rossini after my shift at Bertucci's. A blood test confirmed that I did not have Celiac's, and it's becoming more and more clear that dairy may be the culpret, though not all dairy and not all the time.

Ahhh I don't even know. The stomach issue hasn't reared its ugly head in months now, so hopefully it won't show up again any time soon.

But it does run in my family. My cousins didn't even know they had it for a long time, and had to get three different blood tests before it showed up. Also a friend of mine discovered she had a gluten intolerance in her mid-30s, so bad that she was passing out and had no idea why. So it is a very real possibility that in the future I may have to bid adeiu to my dear pasta and bread and all that. Not to mention that, even if I'm not officially gluten-free, I do notice a sort of uncomfortable bloaty feeling after too much bread and pasta.

If that happens, it's good to know the wonders of the Spaghetti Squash.

I'd heard of this magical gourd before, but never tried it. If you have the time to wait for it to bake, it's extremely easy to do.

How to Cook a Spaghetti Squash

1. Cut squash in half length-wise


2. Scoop out seeds and pulp (you can toast the seeds as you would pumpkin seeds!)


3. Bake at 350 degrees F for 40 minutes, cut side down.

4. Turn over and bake an additional 10 minutes or until a fork pierces the skin easily


5. Use a fork to pull the squash strands from the squash

6. Dress as you would pasta!

Now, the consistency of the squash will be crisp. If you don't like it to be so very al dente, you can do what I did and microwave it in a covered glass bowl with 1/4 cup water in the bottom. I also added a lot of butter.

For the Bolognese I used this recipe for homemade marinara sauce, plus mushrooms and some roasted red peppers, and added it to cooked, drained hamburger. Not sure how authentic it is, but it sure was good!

I accompanied it with these amazing smashed potatoes!--I understand there is too much starch here, but I'd been wanting to try this recipe foreverr... They're a variety pack of Trader Joe's fingerling potatoes (LOVE the blue ones!), and a recipe I jotted down but entirely lost the website it was from. If you know please tell me so I can make the appropriate link :)

Smashed Potatoes

  • 1 bag tiny potatoes
  • Drizzles of olive oil
  • Seasonings of your Choosing! (I did half with just fresh garlic and salt and pepper, and half with a combination of cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and freshly ground pepper)

-Rinse potatoes and put in a large saucepan and cover with water so that there is at least an inch of water above them.

-Bring pot to a boil, then simmer until potatoes are tender. Once tender, drain and rinse with cold water.

-Allow potatoes to cool to room temperature, then arrange on a greased cookie sheet. Use the flat side of a large knife to gently crush the potatoes to 1/2" thick.


-Sprinkle with olive oil and salt, then seasonings. Bake at 450 degrees F for about 30 minutes, or until crisp.

This was a lovely, gluten-free meal, and one I know I could repeat on a regular basis if need be :)

Salad: cukes, cherry tomatoes, carrot shreds
topped with caprese dressing

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Forthcoming!

Sorry I've been a bit busy to post, but no worries, I have been cooking! Expect to see some things coming up :)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

College Kid Cuisine -- Spaghetti Carbonara

I got sick of the College Student Diet pretty quickly.


Grilled cheese, Mac and Cheese, Ramen, More Things With Cheese--these got old really fast. Cheap and Cheesy, that seems to be what we live on for the 4 years we're on our own and hitting the books and possibly also working 30-40 hour weeks.

So what could I create that was cheap, tasty, and would last a while via leftovers?

Enter, Spaghetti Carbonara. 

Do not let the fancy name fool you, this dish is easy peasy-lemon-squeezy... though it doesn't include lemon at all really, but hey, that sounds like it might taste good... hmmm...

Anyways. This was my go-to dish. With the exception of the fresh parsley, I usually had everything I needed on hand. And if I took the long way home and passed by Trader Joe's, I could pick some up for less than a dollar. If I was feeling fancy, I could opt for scallions over onions, fresh parmesan over room-temp-tube-kind, thick-sliced maple smoked bacon or procuitto over whatevers-on-sale-brand, or I could make the entire meal for $6 buying regular stuff.
Good, hearty meal if you're in a fix. Pair with whatever veggies you have in the freezer. Impress your friends that you can cook something with a foreign language name!

Spaghetti Carbonara
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 box pasta of choice
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 4 slices bacon, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup parmsean
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • salt and pepper



-Cook one box pasta according to directions. (I like pastas with holes or twirls as they catch the sauce best).
-Cook bacon over medium-high heat. When bacon is nearly done, add onions and cook until they begin to soften.* Add garlic and cook until fragrant.

-Add pasta to the pan and toss until well coated with bacon grease.



-In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, parsely, parm, and salt and pepper until well blended. Pour over pasta.
-Remove from heat immediately and toss pasta mixture with egg mixture until well blended.


*You can drain the bacon fat here too, but I stopped doing this because it helps add to the overall flavor of this dish. Hey, I never said it was healthy!


**The heat from the pasta and bacon mix should be enough to cook the egg. If you feel a little ooky about potentially eating raw egg, feel free to stir pasta over low heat for a few minutes, being careful not to scramble the egg. However, I make it exactly this way and I ate it about twice a week for the two years I lived off-campus and never had a problem. So be aware of the risks involved in undercooked eggs, but don't worry too much!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Culinary Goal Number One Achieved -- Chocolate French Macarons

Back when I visited Paris, that wonderful, magical food heaven, I made a dire mistake.


I did not try a French Macaron.

I know, I KNOW! But I was on a budget, both financially and with how much time I had there, and it just didn't happen. I'm sorry.

So I returned to the states, realized my mistake, and vowed to track down a pastry shop that would provide me with these gorgeous little pastries that I had failed to sample overseas. Unfortunately, French pastry shops are hard to come by here in the sticks. Very hard to come by. The closest thing I found was a large, dry, hamburger-sized THING that tasted like chalk. I knew this couldn't be it.


If I couldn't find a true French macaron, I was going to have to make one myself.

At this point, it was fall, and I'd yet to hit my culinary stride. I was deterred by forums and comments warning that these little beauties were quite difficult. They had to be whipped and folded just-so, and the feet (or "pieds" the foamy bottom part) would not appear on a first try. I let myself be scared, and I shelved the idea. But now, with all my blog hopping and recipe gathering, the little pastries are popping up in beautiful photos all over the internet.

And then I found this book for $3.
Won't let me rotate, dang.

I took it as a sign from fate.

So I decided to try. With my hopes low, I followed the directions, using the recipe provided in the book and Dave Lebovits' recipe. I Youtubed various techniques, and found a great tutorial here. Very helpful. I filled them with leftover chocolate ganache I had in the fridge. I did not take pictures of the process, since I was so sure they'd come out flat or feetless.

Lo and behold, the macarons developed pieds.



They were BEAUTIFUL, and delicious, and everything I'd hoped they'd be. I took them outside and took pictures of them. Do not judge me for my madness.

Chocolate French Macarons
(Adapted from recipe in "Macaroons" by Paragon, and French Chocolate Macarons by David Lebovitz.)
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened powdered baking chocolate
  • 1/4 cup bakers sugar, or granulated sugar that has been processed as fine as you can get it in a food processor
  • 2 egg whites, aged 24 hours or at least until room temperature

-Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Use water to seal down any curling edges. Prepare your pastry bag and set it open in a tall glass for easy filling.

-Blend almond meal with confectioners sugar and cocoa in a food processor until well combined and ground fine. Set aside.

-In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Slowly add the bakers sugar until stiff and glossy.



-Slowly fold in the dry mixture, in thirds. Once fully combined, it should be of a "lava-like" consistency (Youtube lady calls it that, loved it). Carefully pour into pastry bag.

-Pipe inch-wide circles onto parchment paper. Let sit for about 10-20 minutes, until the discs are tacky but do not leave behind batter when touched lightly. Bake for 12 minutes, checking frequently. Macarons are done when the top is shiny and crusty and the discs do not jiggle when moved. Let cool slightly, then remove from the paper. Let cool entirely, then sandwich with filling of choice.



Filling
  • 1 bag chocolate chips
  • 1 cup heavy cream

-Heat cream over medium-low heat until boiling. Immediately pour over chocolate chips (in a heat-safe bowl). Stir until chips are melted.

-Chill in refrigerator until at a spreadable consistency.



Sunday, April 17, 2011

MACARON SUCCESS! -- Longer Entry Later.

Guys. Seriously. I have successfully made chocolate French macarons. I am beyond excited. This has been a goal of mine FOREVER, so I felt the need to share even though I don't have a proper blog post drafted yet.


Can you please just marvel at how BEAUTIFUL these are? THEY HAVE PIEDS. NOT ALL FIRST ATTEMPTS AT MACARONS EVEN GET PIEDS.

The tops aren't as perfectly domed as they could be, but I was most concerned about the feet/pieds, so I don't even care. I'm just so happy.

I just needed to share my excitement with you all. Blog post forthcoming! :)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Aloha Friday -- Chocolate Coconut Rum Cupcakes

Iiiiit's Friday!

I mean, kind of. It's not really tomorrow until I go to sleep and wake up in the morning/early afternoon, but yeah sure technically it's Saturday morning.

Let's have a cocktail and celebrate another work week completed. Make mine a double. Maybe a triple. Kick it to the side with a tall cold glass of milk if you please.

I prefer my cocktails in cupcake form--don't you?

I'm totally getting into the whole liquor-infused-dessert idea, and I hope I can try more recipes like this in the future. I kind of combined two recipes together, one from Ming Makes Cupcakes and one from Epicurious. Ming's version didn't include the chocolate, so I found the second one. I suggest choosing one or another though, since these came out a touch dry. The decadent coconut rum frosting made up for it, but a naked cupcake sans frosting would not have been able to stand on its own.

I used Bacardi Rock Coconut as my liquor of choice. Didn't realize it was technically a coconut-melon combined rum. Next time I'll go for a full coconut one I think as well, though I'm loving the new Rock Coconut flavor in my future weekend un-baked cocktails.

Without further ado, I bring you: Chocolate Coconut Rum Cupcakes. Happy Friday!

Chocolate Coconut Rum Cupcakes
Not even adapted at all (with exception of sprinkles subbed for shredded coconut) from Epicurious.


  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 1/3 cup coconut rum


Frosting:

  • 1 8 oz. package cream cheese
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons coconut rum
  • Chocolate sprinkles (garnish)


-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder.

-In a separate bowl, combine melted butter, buttermilk, vinegar, and coconut rum. Slowly add the dry ingredients and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Fill cupcake liners 3/4 of the way full and bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool.

Frosting: With an electric mixer, beat cream cheese, butter, sugar, and coconut rum in a bowl until there are no lumps. Apply to cupcakes (I got fancy and used a pastry bag).


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Gnocchi Fever! -- Sweet Potato Gnocchi and Maple Brown Butter Sauce


So, remember when I made Roasted Beet Gnocchi? The ones that looked like chunks of raw meat but tasted delicious? Well, here's a secret: that night, I actually made TWO batches of gnocchi! It was a busy, pasta-rolling night. I also made a batch of chocolate coconut rum cupcakes that I'll post about some other time. 

Totally had the gnocchi scheduled for tonight's post--as I've found it's much easier to do a few recipes over the weekend and spread out blog posts during the week, also this works better for natural light for the pictures--and I believe Gnocchi Fever had somehow struck over the weekend. Sweet Potato Gnocchi Fever, to be precise. All over Twitter and my Google Reader (am I a dinosaur for using that? heh...) people were making gnocchi! At least three other blogs!

I hesitated to compose this entry, lest I appear to be a copycat.
But my other potential posts were dessert-themed, or all from Can You Stay For Dinner? and I need to space those out a bit. I just did two desserts in one week's time, we need some meals!

I only wish We Are Not Martha had posted their recipe sooner, then I would have known that the secret to less-fleshy gnocchi is to pan-sear them. Notes for next time!

So I decided to go with the flow and post the gnocchi recipe I used. Again, they did come out rather fleshy and bloaty, but they were delicious nonetheless. I doubled the Maple Brown Butter sauce since I felt the portion was too small for the amount of gnocchi produced. I forgot to double the maple when I did it though, but that's fine, I just poured extra over the gnocchi itself. Mmm...


Sweet Potato Gnocchi With Maple Brown Butter Sauce
(Very subtly adapted from Foodnetwork.com's recipe)

For the Gnocchi:
2 pounds sweet potatoes (about three potatoes)
2/3 cup fat free ricotta cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
Dash of nutmeg
For the Maple Sage Brown Butter:
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
5 fresh sage leaves
A Dash of cinnamon
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

-Pierce potatoes and cook via your method of choice (I used microwave) until done: a fork should go through them with little to no resistance. Let cool.

-Cut potatoes in half and scoop the flesh into a large bowl. Mash the sweet potatoes and make sure that you have at least two cups of mashed potato. Add the ricotta cheese, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and pepper and blend until well mixed. Add the flour, 1/2 cup at a time until a soft dough forms (you may need a little more for it not to be so sticky). 



-Lightly flour a work surface and place the dough in a ball on the work surface. Roll out dough into about five 1-inch wide ropes. Cut each rope into 1-inch pieces. Roll the gnocchi over the tines of a fork if you want to be super fancy. Continue until all dough is used.



-Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the gnocchi in batches and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 5 to 6 minutes. Drain the gnocchi using a slotted spoon.



For the Brown Butter sauce

-Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. When the butter has melted add the sage leaves. Continue to cook, swirling the butter occasionally, until the foam subsides and the butter is caramel in color and fragrant (will smell sweet and nutty). Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the cinnamon, maple syrup, salt, and pepper. Stir until well combined and serve over gnocchi.

Scallions make everything look classier, amiright?