Friday, May 30, 2008

Cupcake Hero - cocoa OR Ugliest Cupcake Ever!

This was a challenge. I prefer to bake with chocolate, not cocoa powder. I am comfortable it - the way it melts, combines, and tastes. My past attempts to use cocoa powder have been disappointing. Admittedly, I have only used Hershey's in past, and I have not used recommended recipes, but recipes found on boxes and cans, etc., but I really have been disappointed with past results. So... I try again!

I started by investing in some good cocoa. I didn't go with the recommended Askinosie Cocoa Powder. I have no good excuse other than fear of their shipping charges. Instead, I bought a kilo (which, may have been a little overboard) of Valrhona cocoa powder. I fell in love as soon as I took it out of the box. There is actually something erotic about the feel of a bag of good cocoa on your hand. I feels so fine, even through the bag. Seriously. This is almost the same high that I get from wandering aisles of books (in a library or a bookstore). Yeah, it's that good.

As some of you may have noticed, I'm on a banana kick. I love them. I love them more when they are combined with chocolate. So I opted for a banana chocolate cupcake for this challenge. I used 2 recipes from one of my so-far-unused cookbooks, Cupcakes!

I used the chocolate portion of the Neapolitan cupcake recipe to make the chocolate batter, and the banana cupcake recipe for the banana portion. I halved the banana recipe and did some impressive math (at least for me) and halved the whole recipe for the Neapolitan cupcakes but tripled, then halved the cocoa/milk addition to the recipe to make it all chocolate.

I was surprised at just how liquid the banana batter was and how un-liquid the chocolate was. I had to revise my original plan of piping them into the tin to get the same effect as a soft-serve swirl cone. Instead, I just dumped in the banana and then piped in a chocolate center. Right? Right!

Baked at 350 for about 15-20 minutes.

I had visions of filling this with whipped ganache from the Junior's cookbook, then topping it with normal ganache and a candied banana slice. What a disaster.

The cupcake center (the chocolate part) was way to dense to even poke through, much less fill. So, no filling.
I went ahead with the ganache topping. That was fine.
Then I thought to pipe the whipped ganache on top to make it prettier. It probably would have been glorious, if I'd waited until everything had cooled. Oops. Instead, it started out beautiful but has since turned into a gooey, drippy mess.
Oh yeah! The bananas! Basically, they were way to gooey and buttery to be considered a topping. Why did I go ahead and sit them on top? Because I make bad decisions.

So tonight (after a night out with the girls, and before embarking on a 5.5 hour early morning drive), I plan to try to cover it all up with some banana buttercream. It'll hide all the messiness, right?

Update later, hopefully with something presentable.

I'm a follower, a sheep, a groupie... a foodie.

I joined the foodie blogroll!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

VtV - spinach

Another one of my favorite veggies! I do not like iceburg lettuce. I think it is a silly veggie (although I am loathe even to elevate it to the level of veggie), and should not be tolerated, much less allowed to be passed off as a 'salad' in restaurants across the country. It makes me sad.

Because of this, I became close friends with caesar salads early on in life (because at least there was some green in romaine lettuce), but thankfully, sometime in my early twenties, I discovered that you can have a salad with a non-lettuce base! This was truly a glorious day! It's sad that I can't remember the exact date, so that I can celebrate this glorious anniversary. :( I discovered the spinach (and more often, baby spinach) salad. Glorious! There were months of law school in which the healthiest thing I consumed was a salad of baby spinach, craisins, and raspberry vinegarette. Occassionally, I would add a hard-boiled egg, a bit of grilled chicken, and/or some cheese. Basically, I was addicted (and I still believe that dried fruit and spinach is a combination ordained by God).

Now, after all that, I wanted to make a cooked spinach dish for VtV this week. And another kind blogger (The Picky Apple) inspired me by cooking chicken and spinach stuffed shells. Yummm! It was meant to be. So, thanks to The Sisters' Cafe, here's this weeks VtV -I'll let you get the recipe from them.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Ice Cream Cupcakes

I was inspired by Cupcake Project's ice cream cupcake challenge. I had a huge bag of strawberries in my freezer, and had thought that they'd make a good ice cream. Then, I found vanilla ice cream in a 1/2 gallon jug from the local creamery in my grocery store. It seemed like the universe was suggesting that I make strawberry ice cream, and of course that meant that the cake had to be chocolate!

I used a star-shaped pan to bake the cupcake in, and then used the same pan to freeze the soft ice cream in. I cut the cupcake in half, and placed the moulded ice cream in there, and then froze it all together. I served it covered in hot fudge with a strawberry. :)

As it turned out, the ice cream didn't come together perfectly, and I'm not sure why. So, no more trying ice cream in a bottle. It did freeze solidly in the freezer, but I think the end result was closer to ice milk than ice cream... and that doesn't make me happy! However, the cake froze much better than I hoped, and was actually quite good, even right out of the freezer. The combination was definitely a good decision, and the ice cream, while not amazing, still tasted OK.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Kitchen Garden

I finally gave in and bought a kitchen herb garden kit. I set it up today, and I am looking forward to having fresh cilantro, basil, chives, parsley and thyme. That means a few more fresh herbs without having to depend on providence to find them at the local store. It also means no more fresh herbs in my fridge, lasting until about a week before I want them. It also means another chance for me to try my hand at keeping something green alive. Wish me luck!

TWD - Pecan Honey Sticky Buns

This week's TWD was chosen by Madam Chow of Madam Chow’s Kitchen, and is the Pecan Honey Sticky Buns on pages 51-53.

I'm a little slow on posting, since I spent the weekend away and only began making the brioche last night. It spent the night rising, and I made them this afternoon. (Yes, I did have big plans of getting up early this morning and making them for breakfast, but I am just not a morning person.)

So, now they are out of the oven, and I can finally post. It was fun to try something new, and get out of my comfort zone. I tend to avoid recipes that require this kind of planning, but some of my favorite recipes are those that do take a little more time. I do still have trouble rolling dough. It was also fun to try a yeast recipe. AND, I got to break in my dough hook! My KA danced! See!

All in all, I'm not sure I'd make this again. Others complained that it was too sweet and had too much butter. I don't believe in too much butter, and I didn't think that this was overly-sweet. In fact, I thought it might should have been a little sweeter.

My changes: I used 2 8x8 Pyrex's instead of one larger, just because I didn't have on large enough. I followed others' suggestions and barely warmed the oven and then let the dough do its final rise in there - it was a great warm spot! It didn't seem to take nearly 10 minutes of beating for the dough to pull away from the sides, so I probably stopped around 10 minutes. I also took another suggestion from another blogger and chilled the dough a bit more before cutting. It seemed to make it a little easier. Also, because I suck so badly at rolling (and I think I just plain sprinkled too much cinnamon sugar), I re-rolled a few of the buns after cutting to get them tighter.

Mix Dough (Yay for appliances that do all the work for me!). Let rise and slap down a lot! :)

Make glaze and pour into the bottom of the pyrex. Put in pecans.

Roll out dough (half of brioche recipe) and cover in butter and cinnamon sugar. Roll, and cut.

Place rolls in pan over the topping, let rise, and then bake.

See! Done! Flip immediately and devour.

Monday, May 26, 2008


I like things. I like this thing more than most:

VtV - Carrots (late again)

I've been having a lot of trouble keeping deadlines. I'd like to say that it is unusual, but really, a review of my life would not bear that out. I'm just not good with deadlines! I'm working on it, I swear.

I wanted to make a basic, sweet carrot recipe for VtV. I wanted to try another cookbook. I've used this one before (in fact, I suspect it was the first cookbook I ever used as a child), but I hadn't picked it up for a while. It's good for basic recipes, so it seemed like the right fit for this. I used the recipe on pg. 397 of the spiral-bound 1991 edition for

Brown-Sugar-Glazed Carrots

3/4 lbs. small or medium carrots, parsnips, or turnips, peeled (I used a 1lb bag of sliced and peeled carrots, but I bet mixing carrots and parsnips would be delicious!)
1 tbsp butter (I used closer to 1.5)
1 tbsp brown sugar (I used almost 1/2 cup)
(I also added a bit - maybe 1 tbsp? of cinnamon)

Cut carrots or parsnips in half both cross-wise and length-wise (or cut turnips in 1/2 in cubes). (I obviously skipped this step because I bought pre-cut carrots)
In medium saucepan, cook root of choice, covered in just enough boiling water for 7-9 minutes (longer for turnips) or until crisp-tender.
Drain veggies and remove from pan.
Saute butter and brown sugar in the same pan with a dash of salt.
Add veggies (and cinnamon) and cook, uncovered, for about 2 minutes, or until glazed, stirring frequently.

I love carrots. They are one of the few veggies that I have always enjoyed. But like the southerner that I am, I particularly love them cooked to death. Part of the experiment for me was to resist cooking the carrots to the point that they fell apart. And I did! Still, I do love butter and sugar more than I should. Yummm.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday Sugar High: Citrus

True to my word, I tried a recipe from a new cookbook, Noses and Tails. I bought it from the Rockbridge County SPCA, and the recipes all looked to be fairly easy contributions from friends of the SPCA.

This seemed like a good month to start playing along with Friday Sugar High, and tartlette chose citrus as this month's theme! Orange is citrus, right?

Orange Cake

1.5 cups sugar
1 cup room-temp butter
zest of one orange (My zester disappeared, and I actually don't own a grater, so I literally peeled the orange. I haven't tasted it yet, but I have hope that the pieces weren't too big)
1/2 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts)
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup sour cream
3 eggs, separated

Preheat oven to 350.
Cream together sugar and butter.
Add egg yolks.
Sift together baking soda, baking powder, and flour. (I obviously didn't bother with this step)
Add dry mixture and sour cream (alternating) to creamed mixture.
Stir in nuts and orange zest.
In a seperate bowl, whip egg whites until firm, but not dry.
Fold egg whites into batter.
Pour into tube pan - bake at 350 for 50 min, or until done.


1/2 cup orange juice
1/3 cup triple sec (orange liquor)
2 tbsp almond slivers (I went ahead and used all of a 1/4 cup bag)

Stir together orange juice and triple sec.
Pour over hot cake.
Add almond slivers.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


I have an addiction. I can't help but be attracted to cookbooks and cooking magazines and cooking blogs. I love looking at recipes and pictures of wonderful food. In fact, I have begun picking up local cookbooks as souvenirs when I travel. The collection is getting a little out of control.

Clearly, giving this up is not an option, so instead, I am resolved to actually use them! I have a bad habit of using the same recipes over and over, because I know I can rely on those recipes. blogging events like TWD and VtV, but I feel I need to force myself to branch out. So, I'm challenging myself. I am going to make a point to use a recipe from a different cookbook (one that I already own - no using this as an excuse to buy more!) each week.
And now, since you've been so kind as to read a post without a picture - a picture from the new ice cream place in Staunton, VA - The Split Banana: This is a scoop each of Murder Mango Sorbet(seriously, this is deadly! I don't know what they added, but it has a kick), mint mocha gelato(surprisingly light amount of mocha, which I appreciated), and chocolate hazelnut gelato(mmmmm.).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Chicken and Broccoli Casserole

I know I missed VtV's deadline for the week. I was bad. Well, I was travelling. But I love broccoli, so I went ahead and made chicken and broccoli casserole, even though I missed the deadline. Mostly because it sounded wonderful.

This is my mom's recipe, and one of those comfort foods that I grew up with, and will always like.

Mom's Chicken and Broccoli Casserole

1 bunch of broccoli, steamed in microwave, and chopped down to florets I cheated, and used steam-in-bag broccoli florets from Target
1 box of stuffing
1-1.5 lbs chicken breast, boiled (about 20 min, or until done) and shredded a little
2 cups of shredded cheddar
1 large can of cream of mushroom

Preheat oven to 350.
Layer chicken, broccoli, soup, cheese and stuffing in a casserole dish.
Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, or until heated through.

New York was amazing!!!

As a graduation gift from my mom, she and I went to New York for a couple of days and saw a few shows. It was a whirlwind tour, but a great one. It even included what must be the best cheesecake in NYC - Junior's! So, as a welcome back gift, I give you not my own baked goods, but Junior's Cheesecake:

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

TWD: Florida Pie

Diane of Diane's Dishes chose the Florida pie for this week's recipe. It was a fantastic combination of coconut and lime! I enjoyed it, but definitely had some bumps along the way, and I'm pretty sure I'd make changes next time.
The recipe itself was pretty straight-forward. There's a graham cracker crust, topped with a layer of reduced coconut cream. This smells like coconut milk while it's cooking, and I think I might try substituting some coconut milk for some of the coconut flakes in this step in the future. I love coconut milk. It's an unhealthy obsession, I know.
You top the layer of coconut goodness with the key lime pie part. I couldn't get my hands on key limes, and I always prefer the real, fresh thing to bottled juices, so I used regular lime juice here. I am torn on this substitution. I might try it with the bottled key lime juice next time, as some people out there in internet land seem to suggest. It just feels wrong to use juice from a bottle... and I happen to find juicing citus incredibly theraputic. Still, great pie. I loved this part.
Next, it's on to the merengue. This was new territory to me. I understand the concept, and I've whipped egg whites for other purposes before, but I have never actually made merengue. I was conflicted about this topping. This is mostly because my results were less than amazing. First, I found that the egg whites deflated significantly, and just plain weren't as pretty, when I folded in the coconut. I imagine that this has something to do with my inability to fold perfectly, but I think I'll save myself the heartache in the future and just put the coconut in an extra layer, either on the top or between the lime pie and the merengue, rather than try to fold it in. It was ugly.
Then I managed to burn it trying to toast the top in the oven. This didn't affect the taste of the pie in any noticable way, but it wasn't pretty. I like my food to be pretty.
I blame the oven. I think this means that I need to buy a kitchen torch! And as long as I'm buying the torch, I might as well buy the entire creme brulee set, right? (And this line of thought it what finally let to my creation of an Amazon wish list. I feel better about avoiding these impulse purchases when I create a list that reminds me that I can buy them later.)

Monday, May 12, 2008

My delay

I actually have a good reason! I graduated from Law School on Saturday! And I have been traveling since. I should really be back toward the end of the week, but this is definitely going to be a slow week. Sorry guys!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

VtV - Eggplant!!!!

I was uncertain about this one, but I wanted to embrace the spirit of Vindicate the Vegetable. I jumped right in, and found a recipe that didn't involve deep frying anything, and prominently featured eggplant.

I am pretty sure that I've only had eggplant once - in eggplant parm that I was not impressed with. I was left unexcited about ever trying it again. I was afraid of this rubbery, icky purple veggie.

But I'm converted! I absolutely loved this recipe. The only reason I didn't devour every last bit and then lick the dish was that this is an amazingly filling dish! The recipe said that it served 4, and I was having 3 dinner guests. I was a little worried about serving a meatless main dish and having enough, so I also made some basil potatoes. The potatoes were completely unnecessary. We only nibbled the potatoes, but still had half of the eggplant (and more than that of the potatoes) left over. Seriously, this is a filling meat-substitute. I can understand how people use this as a sub in lasagne.
As for the recipe itself (aside from my conversion to eggplant-love), it is definitely a keeper! The goat cheese adds a little more salt than I would normally have (making it again, I'd leave out the rest of the salt to make up for it), but the goat cheese is amazing. It is certainly a large part of the appeal of the dish (although it certainly isn't overpowering).
And the dish smells amazing. I love any dish that starts with sauteing onion and garlic, because guests are certain to get excited about dinner, based purely on the smell. The Italian spices in this and the mint certainly smell amazing together (unexpected, right?!). They do work. I couldn't pick out the mint taste in the finished product, but the spices just seemed... right.
The true test of the recipe - all of my guests begged for the recipe!

Eggplant with tomato-mint sauce and goat cheese
Nonstick olive oil spray
2 1-pound eggplants, trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch-thick crosswise rounds
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 28-ounce can Italian-style tomatoes
3-6 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup crumbled soft fresh goat cheese
8 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
Preheat oven to 500°F.

Spray and heat oil in medium nonstick skillet over medium heat.
Add onion; sauté until tender, about 5 minutes.
Add garlic and stir 1 minute.
Add tomatoes with their juices, mint and oregano and simmer until sauce thickens and is reduced to 1 3/4 cups, breaking up tomatoes with back of spoon, about 20 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper.
While sauce is simmering,
Spray 2 large baking sheets with oil spray.
Arrange eggplant rounds on prepared sheets; spray tops with more oil.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Bake 10 minutes.
Turn rounds over and bake until tender and golden, about 10 minutes longer.
Remove from oven. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.
Spoon half of tomato sauce into shallow 2-quart baking dish.
Arrange eggplant rounds atop sauce, overlapping slightly (mine overlapped more than slightly).
Spoon remaining sauce over.
Sprinkle cheese over.
Bake until heated through, about 20 minutes.
Sprinkle with basil.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie!

I stumbled on Tuesdays with Dorie while in class one day perusing other baking blogs. The recipes and pictures were incredibly tempting, so of course, I ordered a copy of the requisite Baking, from My Home to Yours cookbook. Now that I have it in my possession, I'm even more blown away.

This week is my first chance to participate, and they picked a positively irresistible recipe!

Peanut Butter Torte on pages 282-283

Of course, I was still suffering from exam-time brain mush when I made it, so there were some unplanned modifications. I love the way it turned out though! I accidentally added an additional 1/2 cup of cream in the beginning, and I think the end result was lighter and a little less rich. Still it was plenty rich and delicious. The sad effect of this is that it is a bit too mushy when it has been out of the fridge for a bit, so if you do this, definitely cut right out ofthe fridge.

I also made the crust with chocolate-filled oreos, and it is wonderful. I could eat just the crust and be incredibly happy.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Asparagus Pesto with potatoes and pasta!

I finally found a somewhat healthy challenge, and I'm jumping in! Vindicate the Vegetable picks a veggie each week to try out. This week was asparagus, and I found an unexpected recipe for asparagus pesto, which was a nice change from my default, which would be roasted asparagus (which I love). This came from a Food Network recipe, but I ended up changing the pasta and potatoes because I couldn't find those called for in the recipe. I think it worked out well, and ended up being a fun, colorful change.

I also just melted the lid to my food processor, and it absolutely will not turn on without the lid locked in place. So, this pesto is a miracle magic bullet creation!

Asparagus Pesto with Potatoes and Pasta

1 bunch asparagus, about 1 pound, trimmed and cooked for 5 minutes in boiling, salted water (reserve water for pasta)
1/2 cup packed coarsely chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
8 cloves minced garlic
Gray salt and freshly ground pepper
About 1 cup pure olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 pound fingerling potatoes, chopped to about 1/2-1 inch pieces
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups uncut fresh basil leaves
Gray salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound dried veggie rigatoni
About 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Cut the cooked asparagus spears into thirds.
Put in a food processor with the basil, pine nuts, garlic, and salt and pepper, to taste.
With the machine running, slowly add the cup of olive oil.
When the sauce is about the consistency of mayonnaise, it has enough oil.
Pulse in the Parmesan.
Thin with water if necessary to achieve a slick, saucy pesto.
Scrape into a bowl or jar, cover, and refrigerate until needed.
You should have about 3 cups of very bright green goo
(Keeps about 2 to 3 days, refrigerated.)

Put the potatoes in a pan of salted cold water to cover and bring to a boil.
Cook until tender, about 10 minutes.
Drain and let cool for a few minutes.
Heat the olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium-high heat until hot.
Add the potatoes and cook until browned and crispy all over, about 5 minutes.
Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.
Keep warm.
Add basil, toss with potatoes and set aside.
While the potatoes are browning, return the water used for cooking the asparagus, if reserved, to a boil or bring a new pot of water to a boil.
Add more salt and the pasta and cook until al dente, about 12 minutes.
Drain through a colander, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.
Pour the pasta into a warm serving bowl, add the potatoes, about 1 cup of the asparagus pesto, several twists of pepper, and 1/4 cup of the Parmesan.
Toss well, thinning with the pasta cooking water as necessary.

Dust with a light grating of Parmesan (a microplane grater works well for this) before serving and pass the remaining cheese and a bowl of pesto at the table.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

I'm a mess.

I thought it would be a good idea to go ahead and make the peanut butter torte for this week's TWD so that it would be done tomorrow when people come over. I'll be done with exams forever, so it'll be a good excuse to celebrate and have a piece. It'll also be a good way to get rid of most of it, so that I don't eat it all by myself!

However, during exams, my brain totally shuts off. I accidentally put in an extra 1/2 cup of cream, but I choose to think that will make it more light and fluffy. Then, I accidentally started sifting the powdered sugar over the stove without anything under it. I covered the coils in powdered sugar, and ended up having to clean much more than I intended. Sigh. I can be smart next week.

Fruity Chicken Salad

I've been feeling particularly savory of late (this is indeed a rare occurance)! Today I made yet another exam staple, fruity chicken salad. This is the perfect chicken salad for plopping down for an afternoon with the giant bowl of chicken salad and a sleeve of Ritz. I recommend only pulling one sleeve out at a time for portion control. ;)

Fruity Chicken Salad

4 chicken breasts, boiled and shredded
1 (-2) cups sliced grapes (I cut a large grape into 6 pieces)
1 medium apple (the original recipe calls for peeling, but I've never thought it needed it), sliced (I dice it fairly finely)
1 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts)
1 Tbsp dijon mustard
1 tsp celery salt
1 cup (or more, to taste) of mayo (I use light miracle whip)

Mix everything together and add more mayo as needed, to moisten.