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Archive for the ‘Cupcakes’ Category

BAKING

Cookies

Natalie’s bake-off party on March 10 inspired a dig for some delicious cookie recipes.  I tried my hand at five batches of three types of cookies:

  1. Two batches of oatmeal raisin (which Williams-Sonoma says comes from their kiddie cookbook)
  2. Two batches of banana-oatmeal power cookies
  3. One batch of oatmeal-cherry and almond spice cookies (it made around 40 big cookies or so)

At first, I was working with my hand mixer, but since all of these cookies have oatmeal as a base, the dough gave the motor a hard time.  I switched to using a spoon and elbow grease.

I ditched the mixer after this photo opp for these oatmeal-based cookies.

The oatmeal raisin is perfect.  Loved it.  I made one batch with regular raisins and the second batch with golden raisins.  Either one is very good.

The banana-oatmeal power cookie packs a lot – walnuts, banana, coconut, cinnamon, golden raisins, and oatmeal.  It’s a tastier version of a granola bar.  The consistency is more banana-breadlike than oatmeal-cookie like.

My culinary change-up were the main ingredients of the last cookie.  Originally, the recipe calls for dates and walnuts as the main duo, but that’s more a fall cookie taste and I couldn’t find dates (or didn’t really care to find them).  Instead, I substituted in dried cherries and almonds.  I used uniform dried cherries, not dried cherries jubilee, which is a mixture of different type of cherries.  Health flash: Cherries are low in vitamins and minerals, but they’re great sources of antioxidants, act as an anti-inflammatory, and can ease you into sleep with their melatonin content.

Fun fact: Without the word “dried” in front of it, the phrase cherries jubilee refers to this flaming dessert popular in the 1960s.  Is anyone having a Mad Men-themed party?

Monkey Bread

Moving from cookies onto bread, over spring break I tried a new challenge of Monkey Bread.  Since I’m not a morning person, there was no way I was going to get up early enough to make this for breakfast, so I whipped it up before dinner.  It’s a pretty simple recipe, but I couldn’t resist modifying the dipping stage.  After you cut the biscuits into quarters, the recipe says to dip them in butter and then roll them in the brown sugar mixture.  I wanted the final baked good to retain moisture, so I whisked two eggs into the butter mixture.

These eggs and biscuits could be a meal on their own, but I have bigger plans for them.

I also had to make 1.5x the amount of brown sugar mixture because I ran out 3/4 of the way through dipping (or halfway into the second layer of biscuits).  I also used walnuts as opposed to the traditional pecans.  I poured butter-flavored, corn-syrup, bad for your entire well-being syrup on top.

Don't let the biscuit quarters soak too long - they'll return to a soppy dough consistency. Quick dip, then sugar them up!

I baked it at 325 degrees (not 350 as said in the recipe) for about 30 minutes, checking on it at the 15, 20, and 25 minute marks.  The baking pan I used was actually a stove-top pan used for pan-frying.  It doesn’t matter what you use as the container in the oven because once it’s done and has sat for about 5 minutes, you flip it over onto a plate.

Because it has a brown color to begin with, you have to watch it carefully in the oven to make sure it doesn't burn.

This is a great dessert or breakfast food, either warmed up or eaten room-temperature.  You can add more syrup, though it’s not really needed.  Yum!

COOKING

Chili

Racing legend Carroll Shelby developed a cheap, easy, stove-top chili mix in the 1970s – who knew?  Because packaged soups tend to have high sodium content, which is one reason they’re so great when you’re sick, I didn’t throw in the salt packet included in the box.  I sauteed an onion first and then added half the ground meat (turkey not beef).  I would recommend adding chili flakes for those that love spicy foods.

Cooked onions for about 5 minutes before adding meat to brown together.

In the last 5 minutes, I threw in a can of pinto beans.

With all ingredients, just about ready to serve.

For finishing touches, I added shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, and chopped chives.

Although it was good, I’m not sure if I’d make it again just because the high sodium content made my temperature rise – but I’m hyper-sensitive to the effects of food, anyway.

Pasta

Taking advantage of East-coast based gourmet grocery superstore Wegmen’s, I tried out some frozen pesto and five-cheese stuffed ravioli rounds with their vodka blush sauce.  I sauteed some mushrooms in virgin olive oil before adding the sauce to the stove top and then grinding in a lot of fresh pepper.

Wegmen’s, in addition to the recipes provided on its sites like most grocery stores now, even has videos of cooking demonstrations:

Chili-rubbed Pork

This recipe takes prep because it’s a rub.  Similar to a marinade, you have to let the meat sit 2-24 hours – the longer, the more strong the flavor.  I used light brown sugar instead of regular sugar because I didn’t want to disturb the neighbors for a cup.  Brown sugar is just regular sugar with added molasses, light containing less molasses than dark.  I figured molasses wouldn’t change the flavor too much and might add a crystalized component to the pork when it cooks.

STATE COLLEGE

During Spring Break, I visited Frank at State College.  While there, I cooked the above recipes, but we also went around town to a few local favorites. Including the Nittany Lion Shrine!

Frank and me at the Lion Shrine!

Since it was sunny, we walked to the PSU Bekey Creamery.  How cool is it that Pennsylvania’s (state) university has agricultural students that make its own ice cream?  They have over 100+ flavors, but never all at once.  I got a standard five scoops of cookie dough ice cream (they only have one size).  The Department of Food Science currently offers a 7-day short course for ice cream making in January – an extension of the course it originally offered in 1892.  I would totally take it if I was enrolled there!  Except that there’s a closed book final exam, and I don’t think auditing is an option.

Halfway through the week, it got cold and by the end, it was flurrying.  We warmed up at Herwig’s, an Austrian Bistro and one of the top ethnic restaurants in the area, and I tried to pronounce my authentic dish.  We bribed the cashier with a beer to avoid getting yelled at in Austrian fashion for not finishing my dinner.  True fact.  They list threats about it at the tables.

When strolling, I noticed a cupcake boutique – *ndulge cupcakes.  The woman that opened the bakery did so because bakeries make her happy – after spending almost 40 years in advertising, TV, and radio.  Much like Georgetown Cupcake, the bakery has cream-cheese based icing, but it also offers buttercream frosting.  Pretty delicious cupcakes – the peanut butter cup (cream cheese) won me over as opposed to the realli vanilli (buttercream).

Quote of the week: Vegetables are a must on a diet.  I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie.” – Jim Davis, cartoonist, (1965-)

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A lot of food has happened since the last post.

Surprisingly, Martha Stewart disappointed me.  Her recipes, organized by season, in Everyday Food: Great Food Fast just didn’t resemble the pictures I took.  Mostly because the garnish turned out lime green.

The basics, according to Martha Stewart, take some serious time to cook.

Corn polenta with freshly grated parmesan cheese and melting unsalted butter.

I made the corn polenta (p. 381) with mushrooms and top sirloin with a parsley garnish (p. 46).

I also found it necessary to add some liquid to the mushrooms to keep them from burning.

Naturally, I chose red wine.

But good news came from this meal: the maiden voyage for my Oster blender impressed me – it can grind parsley leaves!

The final meal: polenta with mushrooms, top sirloin and parsley garnish, white wine.

Don't you want some?

Not sure if I’d make exactly this dish again, but I’d check back with Martha to try some more seasonal recipes.

San Francisco

San Fran is a long flight away from the Midwest, but worth the few hours of cramped leg space for the food, the shopping, and the nightlife.

Cako cupcake bakery in Union Square.

Natalie and me at Cako on O’Farrell Street (at Powell).

Check out the tats on the guy's arm serving the cupcakes; even the hardest can go soft for food.

I tried the red velvet (cheesecake-based icing) and a chocolate cupcake with white (buttercream) frosting for $3 each.  A tasty momentary indulgence, the cake wasn’t moist enough to touch the top spots on my cupcake list.

Another restaurant worth the venture was Masala Indian Cuisine in the cute neighborhood Inner Sunset near Golden Gate Park.  Very authentic, the place blasts Bollywood soundtracks and has great deals for large lunches (but no buffet).  An affordable authentic Italian place back near Union Square is L’Ottavo Ristorante on Sutter Street.  I had the delicious lobster ravioli in a shrimp and spinach cream sauce.

To fully take advantage of the amazing Asian cuisine available, friends and I also hit up a la carte dim sum at Hang Ah Tea Room.  In business since the 1920s and located off of one of Chinatown’s alleys, everything from Hang Ah’s kitchen was delicious.  In particular, I recommend the pork and shrimp shu mei and Chinese broccoli in brown sauce.  The Old Siam Thai Restaurant on the border of the Tenderloin district is worth visiting at any time for the freshness of ingredients and quality of meats.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from top of Buena Vista Park.

If you get a chance to visit San Fran on a nice night, consider spending time at the Rogue Ales Public House beer garden in North Beach.  If you play trivia there, you have the chance to win Rogue dollars!  Rye bar, created and owned by two graphic designers and tended by mixologists, captures the fashionable bar scene.  I couldn’t get enough of their basil vodka gimlets.  The bartender told me the trick is to clap the basil between your palms to open up the flavor.  You’re welcome.

I also tasted this yummy Lynchburg Lemonade:

  • 1 part Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey
  • 1 part triple sec
  • 1 part sour mix
  • 4 parts lemon-lime soda
  • lemon slice
  • cherries

Mix the first three ingredients, then add to the fourth and garnish with the lemon slice and cherries.  I’m finding my niche for cocktail flavors – lime is a big component of those that I find delectable.

Slow Cooker Thai Beef

There’s an Asian grocery a few steps from my door.  It looks like a crack house you’d find in a city from the exterior: no windows, a door bought self-installed with two locking door knobs, next to an alley.  Which is of course why I went in.

And characteristic of an Asian grocery in the Chinatown part of a city, it has an excellent array of products for Korean and Japanese cooking, but also for Indian and Thai cuisine as well.  It also isn’t organized well for outsiders.  I spent an especially long time searching for sliced bamboo shoots on my grocery list, but the workers are helpful and even pointed out when I was about to buy the wrong fish sauce.

This is an exact copy of the Red Thai Curry Beef recipe in Williams-Sonoma Slow Cooker cookbook.  First, sear the beef with salt and pepper to seal in the moisture and flavor; cut into 1.5 inch chunks and place in crockpot.  Second, sauté the onions and garlic, then add in coconut milk, brown sugar and lime juice and bring to a boil.  Third, pour the mixture into the crockpot on top of the beef and let it sit for 3 hours on high.  Start cooking jasmine rice about 30 minutes before it’s finished.  Add bamboo shoots to the crockpot about 15 minutes before it’s finished.  Pretty easy, in retrospect.

When finished, I removed the beef to a separate plate to cut it because I forgot to slice it before placing it into the crockpot. Separately, I also generally want to minimize grease intake in my meals.  So I spooned the orange-colored grease (which floats to the top) into an empty coconut milk can.

  • Main: Beef in a red curry sauce with onions and bamboo shoots
  • Side: Francine mangos from Haiti
  • Drink: Fat Tire and Blue Moon beer

Mango side + red Thai curry beef over jasmine rice and garnished with mint.

So good.

I was skeptical about the fresh mint, but the contrast accentuated the beef and curry flavors nicely in this meal.  Almost to the point that you can’t have it without the mint.  Something to consider for overall success.  Definitely recommended.

With that, I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving!

Thought for the week: “Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast.” – Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

In celebration of my birthday (today!), I will reveal all of the cupcake places I’ve searched out in the past few years.  Some have been in D.C., others with my Cupcake Girls (Vanessa, Mallory and Stephanie) in NYC, and others in random spots on my travels.

Although some argue that the cupcake bubble has popped, I’m still enjoying the boom.  In fact, I directed a corporate-sponsored cupcake-decorating event this past April!

Let me know which places you recommend, or flavors you love to devour!

The District

It seems appropriate to start with cupcakeries in my hometown, which the Washington Post cited as wellsprings of hope amidst the bleak recession of 2009.  Cupcakes were quickly incorporated into the belly of the beast: the House of Representatives’ cafeteria.

I think it all started with CakeLove (U Street), a D.C. bakery that began in 2002 by a Green Line native.  Although I stopped in first during summer 2007 (officially before the cupcake craze), the founder had already been featured on the Today Show, Oprah and had his own show on the Food Network (episode recipes online).  CakeLove has expanded to seven other D.C.-metro-area locations.

Needless to say, this is where I’ll be getting my birthday cake this year.  Any suggestions on flavor?

Other verified cupcakeries:

  • Hello Cupcake (Dupont Circle) – My favorite is the “You Tart!” lemon cupcake.
  • Georgetown Cupcake (M Street) – With its cream cheese-based frostings, this is my favorite cupcakery in D.C.  Any flavor, anytime.
  • Red Velvet Cupcakery (Chinatown) – Good for an after-Verizon-Center-concert pick-me-up, but not worthy of an out-of-the-way trip.
  • Something Sweet (Glover Park) – Sadly, this bakery gets two thumbs down because its frosting lives up to the bakery’s name all too well – it makes my teeth hurt.  Avoid unless you have kids along – it’s very child friendly.

The Empire State

The original congregating city of the Cupcake Girls (CG) since 2008, we have explored the big apple territory together far and wide.  There an endless number of bakeries still to explore on later trips.

  • Billy’s Bakery (Chelsea) – My favorite in NYC!  The gooey buttercream frostings balance the cake, which is on the drier side.  I get my standby favorite every time (vanilla frosting on chocolate cake), and often leave with other cupcake flavors in a box.
  • Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery (Lower East in the Village) – The sumptuous taste of fresh and homemade converge here.  Worth the trip to the colorful shop – plus their cupcake characters couldn’t be cuter!
  • Batch (West Village, CLOSED) – As an experimental aside of the chef of the Asian restaurant next door, this place was high fashion for cupcakes with highfalutin fillings and toppings.  R.I.P. Batch.
  • Crumbs (Union Square) – A chain with several locations on the East and West coasts (and one opening soon in D.C.), this place sucks the fun out of cupcakes due to lack of flavor.  A redeeming idea is the mini-cupcake taste package.
  • Eleni’s (Chelsea Market) – A gourmet’s favorite spot, these cupcakes are often sent as corporate gifts.  The flavor is acceptable, but not stellar.
  • Magnolia Bakery (West Village) – It’s been featured on the show Sex & The City because the cupcakes really are sugary indulgence, but good.  I admit that I own the Magnolia cupcake cookbook, despite the bakery’s torrid ownership history.
  • Big Booty Bread Co. (Chelsea) – I honestly can’t remember much about the cupcakes because I was so preoccupied with buying a t-shirt with the bakery’s logo with Mallory.  But I remember that after I returned the stale cupcake I got, it was good.
  • Butter Lane (East Village) – The latest cupcakery explored by the CG together, this bakery focuses on buttercream frosting and offers frosting shots for $1!

The CG strikes again! Stephanie, me, Mallory and Vanessa enjoy cupcakes and frosting shots at Butter Lane this past weekend.

Cupcakes U.S.A.

  • Chicago: More (Gold Coast) – This bakery is awesome.  Not only is it experimental in its gourmet combinations (salted caramel, key lime, feta strawberry, chocolate champagne, passion fruit meringue, white velvet, etc.), it also has a flavor of the day!
  • Annapolis: Nostalgia Cupcakes (Old Town) – Although way too sugary for me, these cupcakes are perfect for kiddos in town for parades and other frequent family-friendly events.
  • Wilmington: Hot Pink Cake Stand (Historic Old Town) – This cake decorator caters to vegans!  She also offers mini cupcakes, and her best recipe is the chocolate cupcake with peanut butter icing.

So that’s the summary of the cupcake expedition so far.  To be continued…

Thought for the week:The secret to staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.” – Lucille Ball, 1911-1981

I slipped up.  I don’t have any cooking stories for you today.  My weekend was filled with culinary delights, but it was more about travel and tasting.

With less than 48 hours in Manhattan, I was surrounded by good meals and good company.  A group of us started at Cucina di Pesce, an affordable Italian restaurant in East Village.  I had a fettuccine dish of shrimp, scallops, and crabmeat in light cream, paired with red wine (personal preference overrode the rule of white wine with seafood).   I don’t claim to be a wine expert, anyway.

Not all Italian restaurants are alike, some specializing in dishes based on geographical location and ingredients.  Cucina di Pesce ascribes to Northern Italian, my favorite.  The difference?  Cream sauces dominate Northern Italian recipes with butter, rice, corn and cheeses.  Southern Italian cuisine flavors pasta with olive oil, olives and tomato sauce.  Saracen influence is strong on the western side of Italy, where dishes contrast sweet and sour and infuse generous amounts of sugar in the sauces, while the east is rustic and restrained.  Refer to the book-soon-to-be-movie Eat, Pray, Love for a gluttonous account of Italian foods in Italy.

The night continued at Phebes – a bar at the corner of Bowery and East 4th.  It’s hardly morphed from the “Old Landmark Restaurant & Bar” established on the same spot over a hundred years ago.

Stephanie, Vanessa, and Ricardo at Cucina di Pesce

Me and Mallory

The kids at Phebes

In keeping the nostalgic theme, Mallory and I ventured to well-established Waverly Restaurant (really a diner) on Saturday.  A guy exiting said to us, “it’s the best-kept secret in the village.”  Cheap and fast, with a dark interior and waiters in black vests and bow ties, we stepped back in time.

Mallory and I couldn’t resist the Big Booty logo t-shirts on our cupcake run in Chelsea.  The bakery’s red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting has inspired me to attempt a cupcake recipe.  Stay tuned.

My Big Booty t-shirt

Back into East Village with the purpose of karaoke at Lonely Planet, we ended the night singing loudly at The Blind Pig.  We recovered the next morning with Stephanie over brunch at The Barking Dog.  (I was glad I didn’t see an establishment called The Dirty Rat.)

I’ll cook next week, I promise.

Quote of the week: “Why not seize the pleasure at once? How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation!” – Jane Austen


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