Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Peppermint Patty Cupcakes

Happy Holidays! A little bit belatedly. But what the heck, let's still celebrate! And what better way to celebrate than making cupcakes with peppermint and chocolate, right? I had entertained the idea of making some sort of peppermint cupcake, but then I heard about this phenomenon where you can actually bake York Peppermint Patties into cupcakes. What? Of course, I had to try this.

Peppermint Patty Cupcakes

from The Busty Baker's blog
  • 8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • ¼ cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder, sifted
  • 12 small (1 ½-inch) chocolate-covered peppermint patties, such as York Peppermint Patties
1) Preheat oven to 350F and line a standard muffin tin with paper liners.

2) Place chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over (not in) a pan of simmering water. Stir occasionally just until melted, 4 to 5 minutes.

3) Remove bowl from heat. Whisk in sugar and salt until mixture is smooth. Whisk in eggs to combine. Gently whisk in flour and cocoa until just smooth, taking care not to overmix.

4) Spoon 1 heaping tablespoon of batter into each lined cup. Place one peppermint patty on top, gently pressing into batter. Top with 2 tablespoons batter, covering patty completely.

5) Bake, rotating tin halfway through, until a cake tester inserted halfway in centers (above mint patty) comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached, about 35 minutes. (Note: I baked my cupcakes for ~35 minutes, but found that they were a bit overdone. I would recommend baking the cupcakes for 25-30 minutes instead.)

6) Transfer tin to a wire rack to cool completely before removing cupcakes.

I've seen a lot of websites which recommend freezing the peppermint patties before placing them in the cupcake batter, since this is supposed to ensure that the patty doesn't break up or melt as quickly in the oven. I've actually tried making these cupcakes with and without freezing the patties and I don't think it makes a noticeable difference.

Mint Frosting
from the Guide
  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • dash salt
  • 2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk or cream
1) Cream butter, peppermint, and salt.

2) Gradually add 1 cup confectioners' sugar, creaming until light.

3) Add remaining confectioners' sugar and the milk. Beat until smooth.

4) Top the cupcakes with a thin layer of frosting.

I also drizzled the cupcakes with a thin layer of chocolate chips melted with a few teaspoons of mint extract. Mmmmmm. Chocolate!

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I don't usually bake cupcakes using the recipe from other people's sites, but this time I kind of felt obligated to. I was concerned about changing the cupcake batter composition and ending up with a peppermint patty stuck to the bottom of my cupcake liner. Because it could happen. And it would happen to me.

I love this recipe primarily because it's a "one-bowl wonder". Seriously. I don't even have to break out the mixer for this one. A whisk and some elbow grease will do the job just fine. Plus, it takes me less than an hour to make the batter and bake the cupcakes. This greatly reduces my raw-ingredients-to-baked-cupcake wait

The first time I made these cupcakes, I think they came out slightly dry (see the picture below) :( But I still wanted to include a picture showing a cross-section of the cupcakes because really, how often are you going to see a mint chocolate-y center in a cupcake. Love it!

I made these cupcakes again, one week after the first batch. The first time, although the cupcakes were a little overdone, I heard from reliable sources/taste-testers that the cupcake was still pretty moist and fudge-y around the peppermint patty center. The second batch of cupcakes were baked for less time (~25 minutes). This time, the cupcakes were moist and fudge-y throughout the entire cake, not just the center. If you enjoy chocolate and peppermint, you should definitely give these a shot!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Caramel Appletini Cupcakes

The cupcake bug bit me again this weekend. Initially, I was planning to make some sort of meal/dish that I could post here, but then I recalled that Iron Cupcake: Earth is back with a vengeance for Year 2. Since I've been seriously shirking my membership duties in the Iron Cupcake realm, I decided to check out this month's challenge.

"Apple". What? Apple? Seriously? If you've been reading my blog for a while, you probably already know that I'm not really a fruit person. In fact, my biggest cupcake FAIL occurred while creating a cupcake for the Iron Cupcake "Summer Fruit" challenge. Need I say more?

The only way I could justify creating this destined-to-fail cupcake was to add alcohol. I know what you're thinking. I just made Chocolate Red Wine Cupcakes last week. Isn't it too soon to make another alcohol-infused cupcake? It's never too soon. If you're even questioning this, then obviously you don't know me. I began thinking about how I could make this apple cupcake thing work out in my favor. And it hit me...Caramel Apple Martinis. Or rather, Caramel Appletinis. Yes. Yes. Yes. And then, I discovered some leftover apple vodka in the alcohol cabinet. Obviously, this cupcake was a part of my destiny.

After the usual perusal of blogs, I determined that Cupcake Rehab's Caramel Cake was a good "base recipe" to build on. Of course I made alterations. Why else would I even bother to take on the Iron Cupcake challenge?

Caramel Appletini Cupcakes
adapted from Cupcake Rehab's Caramel Cake
yields ~18 cupcakes
  • 1/2 cup chunky applesauce
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 Tablespoons Caramel Syrup (I used Smuckers Sundae Syrup instead of making my own. I love shortcuts!)
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • splash vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup apple cider
  • 3 Tablespoons apple vodka
1) Preheat oven to 350F.

2) Cream butter and applesauce for 20-30 seconds.

3) Add sugar and salt. Beat until light and fluffy.

4) Slowly pour caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed.

5) Add eggs & vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

6) Mix flour, baking powder and baking soda together in a separate bowl.

7) In another bowl, mix together the milk and apple cider. (It doesn't curdle!)

8) Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients.

9) When incorporated, add half of the milk/cider mixture, a little at a time.

10) Then add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk/cider mixture and finish with the dry ingredients.

(In theory I'm sure this works really well, but as I spent 10 minutes trying to determine whether or not the milk and cider would curdle when I mixed them together, I completely forgot to execute steps 8 and 9 and just dumped in the milk and cider all at once. So...if you're wondering whether or not this will kill the cupcakes, let me tell you that it won't!)

11) Once incorporated, add the apple vodka and beat for another 20-30 seconds.

12) Pour batter into cupcake liners, about 3/4 of the way to the top.

13) Bake at 350 degrees for ~25 minutes. (My second batch actually took 30-35 minutes to bake so make sure they're done before you take them out of the oven.)

Appletini Frosting
adapted from Cupcake Rehab's Vanilla Caramel Buttercream
  • 1 Cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 Cups confectioner's sugar
  • 1/4 Cup milk
  • 1/4 Cup apple vodka
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • a few drops green food coloring (optional)
  • green sugar crystals (optional)
  • Sugarbabies for topping the cupcakes (optional)
1) Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add 2 cups of the sugar and then the milk and and vanilla.

2) Beat until smooth and creamy, about 3-5 minutes.

3) Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition, until the icing is thick enough to be of good spreading consistency.

4) Add the green food coloring and mix thoroughly.

5) Before spreading on top of cupcakes, do the following:
  • Poke holes in the top of the cooled cupcakes
  • Pour 1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon apple vodka over cupcakes
  • Let soak for 5-10 minutes
  • Spread a thin layer of caramel over the cupcakes

6) Spread frosting on top of cupcakes. (I was too lazy to pipe the frosting, but there was definitely enough frosting to pipe onto the cupcakes.)

7) Top cupcakes with a sprinkle of green sugar and a single Sugarbaby.

Before anyone states the obvious, I know that I did not include caramel in the frosting for my Caramel Appletini Cupcakes, even though I used a Vanilla Caramel Buttercream as a base recipe. Caramel extract is pretty hard to find these days, ya know.

The cupcakes were pretty sweet and denser than most other cupcakes I've made. This probably had to do with using mostly applesauce instead of butter. But the cupcake was still pleasantly moist. I didn't use as much confectioner's sugar in the frosting as I typically would. I didn't want the frosting to overtake the cupcake flavor. The frosting ended up being slightly sweet and pretty light, so I really enjoyed it.

I pretty much got the same reactions all-around: "Tastes good, but definitely not a Caramel Appletini flavor." Ugh. The fruit-cupcake-curse has struck yet again! But I agree. It was difficult to pinpoint the apple flavor. My client said she could see there was some sort of fruit in it, but wasn't sure which fruit. I thought the applesauce, apple cider, and apple vodka would be enough, but apparently not. Maybe there's an apple extract available on the interweb somewhere...

The caramel flavor was also not very prominent. Kimmy thought I should rename the cupcakes Apple Cider Cupcakes, since the apple was more outstanding than the caramel and apple vodka. Yes, sadly, I couldn't taste the vodka! It just goes from bad to worse. The cupcake was denser than other cupcakes I've made, so it is probable that the apple vodka was lost in there somewhere. I purposefully added more vodka to the cupcakes and the frosting in order to recapture this flavor, but somehow it still eluded me. Katrin says the cupcakes were good, but not the best that she's ever had from TBK. I understand. The cupcakes didn't really live up to their name. But I will persevere and keep trying to come up with additional recipes to wow my blog-stalkers (I know you're out there somewhere!) and my friends to whom I force-feed my creations.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chocolate Red Wine Cupcakes

The crazy cupcake lady is back! Betcha missed her! The other day, I realized that I hadn't created or blogged about anything new lately in the world of cupcakes.

Enter my friend's "Wine Tasting Party". Hmmm...somehow I still feel like we're still too young to really appreciate wine, but I was inspired by the concept. Why couldn't I make red wine cupcakes? So off I went to research this great new idea on the internet. And lo and's already been done. Yep. There are countless recipes on the internet dedicated to creating red wine cake/cupcakes. Why am I just hearing about this?!

Of all the web sites and blogs that I stumbled upon, my favorite was a blog called We are Not Martha. There's nothing scientific about how I chose their recipe. Their blog looked fun and of course, there was a giant "cupcake" cake in one of the red wine cupcake photos. Obviously, this was going to be a winner.

Red Wine Cupcakes
yields 25-30 cupcakes

  • 1/2 C unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 5 oz. chocolate chips (about 1/2 a regular bag of chocolate chips)
  • 1/2 C boiling water
  • 2 sticks butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 C sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 C flour
  • 1 1/2 t baking powder
  • 1 t salt
  • 3/4 C red wine (I used a Shiraz, but you should use whichever wine you like to drink)
1) In a heatproof bowl combine cocoa powder and chocolate chips and pour in the boiling water.

2) Using a whisk, stir the chocolate until it’s all melted.

3) In a larger bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Then beat in each egg one at a time until they’re all mixed in.

4) In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Then slowly add this to the mixture, making sure it’s all combined.

5) Add some of the chocolate to the mixture, then some of the wine, alternating until all of it is blended.

6) Pour batter into cupcake liners, about 3/4 of the way to the top.

7) Bake at 350 degrees for ~20 minutes.

This cupcake adventure is a little unusual for TBK. I don't usually use the cupcake recipe "as-is" from another blog, which is what I did here. Here's the reasoning: 1) Chocolate & Red Wine: If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it. Really, what could I do to enhance this cupcake? Not much. Although.... 2) I did find some Ikea Lingonberry jam in my refrigerator. (Lingonberries are pretty similar to cranberries, which I love!) I figured if I was going to use this jam in my cupcake, it would be best to use it in the cupcake frosting. The new name? Chocolate Red Wine Cupcakes with Lingonberry Cream Cheese Frosting. Whew! That was a mouthful. Like I said, I didn't want to mess around with the cupcake any more than this.

As I started to create the frosting, I got a little anxious about the lingonberry cream cheese frosting. In the end, I decided it would be a good comparison project to frost half of the cupcakes with the regular cream cheese frosting and the other half with the lingonberry cream cheese frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting:
(adapted slightly from We Are Not Martha's Red Wine Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting)
  • 1 C butter, room temperature
  • Salt, pinch
  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 5-6 C confectioner sugar
  • 2 t vanilla
  • 3 t Lingonberry jam for every 4 oz. cream cheese*
Note: If spreading the frosting onto the cupcakes, you only need to make half the recipe above. I piped the frosting so I needed to make the entire recipe.

1) Beat the butter with the salt until it’s nice and fluffy.

2) Add the cream cheese and continue beating until it’s all combined.

3) Add the powdered sugar to the bowl about 1/2 C at at a time and beat to combine. Keep adding more until the frosting is at the consistency and sweetness-level that you desire.

*4) If making the Lingonberry Cream Cheese Frosting, whisk in the Lingonberry jam until combined.

5) Spread or pipe onto cupcakes.

This cupcake is a favorite. I think it may have been a bit under-done, so I would recommend leaving the cupcakes in the oven for a full 20 minutes instead of the 18 minutes that I left them in for (hey, the toothpicks came out clean!). My cupcakes sank a bit once they came out of the over, no matter how much batter I put in the cups. So the cupcakes ended up being flat instead of slightly domed. Can someone tell me where I went wrong? Thankfully, I don't believe the cupcake flavor suffered at all from this.

The chocolate was rich and I could definitely taste the red wine flavor, minus the red wine's alcoholic content. The cream cheese frosting was excellent. It was buttery and fluffy. One taste tester said she would just eat it by itself, minus the cupcake. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but I definitely understand! The lingonberry cream cheese frosting was sweet but also tart, which is to be expected. My roommate really enjoyed it with the cupcake. I don't have any pictures of the lingonberry frosting because it wasn't very photogenic. Imagine a red blobby mess and that was my lingonberry frosting. I used reduced fat cream cheese in my frosting, which I think led to the softer texture. There is a very important lesson to be learned here: Don't skimp on the fat!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Scallion Pancakes

In my quest to remain in the favor of Food Network magazine, I decided to test drive another recipe from their beautiful pages. When I ran across a page with a recipe for scallion pancakes, I knew this was the one for me.

Eating scallion pancakes take me back to the days of high school, where we would frequently order Chinese food for dinner. I would undoubtedly request Chicken and Broccoli with an appetizer of Scallion Pancakes. Yum! And to think I didn't even know what these things were until I came to the United States. Horrors!

To break it down: A scallion is a mild green onion. Scallion pancakes are fried dough with scallions. And by the way, there's this amazing dipping sauce to go along with it!

Scallion Pancakes (slightly adapted from Food Network Magazine)
yields 6 pancakes
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt (I used sea salt, but Kosher salt was recommended)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable shortening, at room temperature
  • 5 scallions, finely chopped
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
1) Combine the flour and salt into a large bowl.

2) Stir in 1/2 cup hot water until blended. My dough was dry, so I added an additional tablespoons of water, although only 2 additional tablespoons are recommended.

3) Knead on a lightly floured surface until elastic yet firm, about 5 minutes. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside for 30 minutes.
4) Divide the dough into 6 pieces and keep covered. One at a time, roll each piece into a 4-inch-long log, then stretch into a 14-inch-long rope. Brush with shortening and sprinkle with about 1 tablespoon scallion. Coil the dough into a circle, cover and set aside. Repeat with the remaining dough.
5) Flatten the coils with your hand on a floured surface, then roll with a floured rolling pin into a thin circle. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
6) Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 pancake and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and repeat with the remaining pancakes, adding more oil as needed. Cut into wedges to serve.
But wait, did I mention the delicious dipping sauce? I didn't use the dipping sauce recipe which was provided with the scallion pancakes recipe for one reason: the recipe calls for sesame oil and there is no sesame oil in my apartment. So I scoured the Internet and found another recipe which matched the existing ingredients in my kitchen.

Ginger Dipping Sauce (slightly adapted from Brown Eyed Baker)
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
1) Combine all ingredients and whisk to incorporate.

I really love this dipping sauce. It's salty and sweet, which is probably the greatest combination ever created. I can also drizzle the remaining sauce over white rice one day for a quick snack. I'm sure I can find other uses for it , but I haven't thought of them yet. Don't worry, I will.

I liked the final outcome of my scallion pancake endeavor, but I didn't love them. Here's why:

1. They were too dense. This might have been a result of me adding more water than recommended to the dough, but I think it was also due to the frying technique. You should probably add 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan before frying each scallion pancake. I definitely could have used more oil in the frying process.

2. The recipe was time consuming. Don't get me wrong, I'll be the first person to appreciate anything made from scratch, but in all honesty, I spent several hours creating these appetizers. Unfortunately for Food Network magazine, I can purchase these for $5 in Hoboken and have them delivered within an hour. But am I still glad I made the effort? Heck, yes!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sweet Potato & Crab Risotto

Right about now, you're probably thinking that I've fallen off my rocker.

Yep. I can't blame you. That's exactly what I thought about the person who posted this recipe on the Tastespotting website. The original recipe is actually a Pumpkin & Crab Risotto, but due to "IO Error" (for those of you who don't know, that stands for "Idiot Operator Error") it turned into my Sweet Potato & Crab Risotto. Seriously, who knew that canned pumpkin products are stashed in the grocery store's baking aisles? I posed this question to several friends and apparently everyone else knew except THIS blogger. Personally, I think this situation is quite misleading and something should be done about it. But I like sweet potatoes better than pumpkins anyway!

I also love risotto. If you've never made risotto before, know that it is a time-consuming dish to make, but it is so tasty once it's done. This recipe also yields several cups of risotto, so you can freeze leftovers to provide a quick meal later.

Sweet Potato & Crab Risotto
slightly adapted from Jennifer Adams' Pumpkin & Crab Risotto
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 cups Italian arborio rice
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 cup sweet potato puree**
  • 1 8 ounce container mascarpone cheese
  • 1 8 ounce package crab meat, shredded and cut into smaller lengths
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives (optional)
1) In a large pot, heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high, until butter foams.
2) Add minced garlic and stir for a few minutes, until slightly tan and fragrant.
3) In the microwave, warm broth for 2-3 minutes.
4) Add rice to the pot and stir for two minutes. (Keep stirring so it doesn't burn. I may have first-hand knowledge of this.)
5) Pour one cup of broth over the rice and stir until the broth is absorbed and the rice begins to thicken with creaminess.
6) For 25-30 minutes, continue attentive stirring of the rice, adding a cup of broth every few minutes once the previous broth addition is absorbed, until all of the liquid is soaked up and the rice is tender and plump. (The broth doesn't have to be completely absorbed by the rice each time. You can add more broth once you see that most of the previous broth addition has been absorbed. After the last cup of broth has been added, keep in mind that you don't want the rice to completely absorb all the liquid in the pot. This will make your risotto dry. If the rice looks creamy and not "soup-y", you can move on.)
7) Lower the heat to medium-low. Stir in the Parmesan cheese, sweet potato puree, crab meat, mascarpone cheese, maple syrup and sweet paprika.
8) Serve immediately with a sprinkle of chives. This is optional.
** To my knowledge, there is no such thing as canned sweet potato puree. But there is such a thing as canned sweet potatoes in syrup. Combine half a can of sweet potatoes with a tablespoon or two of the syrup and some water in a food processor. I used maybe a few tablespoons of water...I didn't measure but I made sure it had the consistency of a pureed vegetable. If you have spare sweet potatoes laying around, or you just want to do more work, you can use actual sweet potatoes to make this. Just dice them after they're peeled and boiled, then throw them in the food processor until pureed.
The result was a creamy, delicious transition between fall and summer. The color of the risotto turned a beautiful orange once the sweet potato puree was added. Surprisingly, the crab didn't seem out of place at all! It blends perfectly with the sweet potato flavor and makes the dish feel lighter than it actually is. The cheeses only enhanced the creaminess factor. (And as we all know now, I love cheese. Especially melted cheese.). The paprika added a little bit of spice. If you want more spice, you can add more to the risotto. Or you could experiment with adding a dash of chili powder, to really up the ante!

If you're planning on recreating this dish using pumpkin instead of sweet potato, let me know how it turns out! I'd love to hear reactions to the pumpkin, since I wasn't able to make it myself. This recipe is absolutely delicious and I think it would remain delicious, regardless of whether sweet potatoes or pumpkins are used. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Basil Pesto

In case you haven't figured it out yet, I'm a huge fan of basil. Give me basil any day of the week and I'm a happy camper. (If you really want to make me happy, throw a little cheese into the mix.)

This led to my discovery that I really needed some pesto in my life. After all, think of all the uses for basil pesto:

- Toss it with some pasta
- Use it as a topping for meats or vegetables
- Spread it on bruschetta
- Add it to a grilled cheese (or any sandwich)

I'm sure there are additional ways to use basil pesto that I don't even know about yet! The possibilities are endless...

Basil Pesto
slightly adapted from The Food Network
yields~ 2/3 cup

  • 2 cups loosely packed basil leaves, washed and dried thoroughly
  • 2 tablespoons (toasted) pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1) In a food processor, combine the basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, garlic, and salt and puree.

2) Add the oil in increments to the chopped ingredients until incorporated. (The original recipe calls for drizzling in the oil while the food processor motor is running, but the food processor I used doesn't have that feature.)

3) Season with pepper to taste. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator with a piece of plastic wrap placed right on the surface of the pesto to prevent discoloration, for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 1 month.

Since I enjoy cheese so much, I increased the amount I used in this recipe. I was also feeling lazy, so I also opted not to toast the pine nuts like the original recipe called for. It's your choice. The result still tastes great!

What I love about this recipe is that I don't have to worry about changing the proportions or adding more or less of any ingredient. This pesto is so forgiving! Well, I guess any pesto could be forgiving, but this is the best recipe, for obvious reasons.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Blue Moon Cupcakes

A few months ago, I entered a little competition called Iron Cupcake Earth. While checking out my cupcake entries as well as the other not-so-worthy competitors' cupcakes, my friend Maggie stumbled across a recipe for Blue Moon cupcakes. Thus began 3 months of Maggie badgering...i mean, persuading me to bake Blue Moon cupcakes.

When Labor Day finally rolled around, our friend Bobby graciously decided to host party at his snazzy new place. In honor of this (or really, just to appease Maggie) I decided to succumb to peer pressure and bring over the Blue Moon cupcakes. What's not to love about the combination of beer and food anyway? I also had these really pretty blue cupcake liners from that I was DYING to use! This may have influenced my decision a little bit. Just a little.

Blue Moon Cupcakes
(makes ~15 cupcakes)
  • 3/4 a stick/6 tbsp butter, melted
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 4 oz buttermilk*
  • 6 oz Blue Moon beer*
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • zest of one orange
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp baking soda
* Here's a very important tip that I wish I was someone had thrown out there prior to my diving into the cupcake-making process. Unfortunately, I ended up learning the hard way: 1 shot glass does NOT equal 1 ounce. 1 shot glass actually equals 1.5 ounces. Thankfully I had plenty of buttermilk and Blue Moon beer, so I didn't need to run to the grocery store when I had to restart my cupcake batter after Step 3.

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2) Melt butter and set aside to cool down.

3) Whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, beer, vanilla, and orange zest in one bowl, and mix together the sugar, flour, coriander, and baking soda in another. (Here's another tip: You can make buttermilk by combining 1 tbsp lemon juice and enough milk to add up to 1 cup. So easy!)

4) Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in two parts, using a mixer to combine. Add the melted butter and combine.

5) Pour batter into cupcake cups and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool.

I initially attempted to make the Blue Moon cream cheese frosting that was posted with the cupcake recipe. Somehow, I ended up with a huge clumpy cream cheese mess. I'm not sure what went wrong here (although I suspect there's a typo in the recipe). Prior to executing a mad dash to the grocery store for additional frosting supplies, I decided to change my frosting approach. Since the first attempt didn't pan out, I went online in a search of an orange-flavored cream cheese frosting replacement. Ten minutes later, I found...

Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
(adapted slightly)
  • 1 package(s) (8-ounce) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup(s) (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon(s) fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon(s) grated orange zest
  • 5 cup(s) confectioners' sugar
  • 1.5 oz Blue Moon beer
1) Blend the cream cheese, butter, orange juice, orange zest, and Blue Moon in a large bowl, using an electric mixer set at medium speed, until smooth.

2) Add the sugar and continue to beat until light and creamy -- about 3 more minutes.

The actual recipe calls for the frosting to be chilled until time for use. Since I was running late for the party, of course, I just used it right away. I don't think I've frosted cupcakes this quickly in my life! However, I think the frosting would have been significantly firmer (and probably prettier) if it had been chilled. I guess that mean I need to bake these again!

Both my roommate Kimmy and her coworker Rene thought the cupcake had a strong orange-y/wheat-y flavor. Rene thought it was a little dry, but he did get it two days after I had made it, so I'll let that slide...

Personally, I was surprised that the cupcakes came out as well as they did, since this recipe isn't officially tested by anyone other than the person who invented it. I make cupcakes all the time and they always have the potential to suck. Maybe some people just have a special knack for these things. One day that will be me!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Basil Gnocchi

I've been a horrible Food Network Magazine subscriber!
When the Food Network Magazine launched earlier this year, I was really excited so I promptly signed up for a subscription. I received my first issue a few weeks later and drooled over the contents for the next two months. My goal was to create at least one dish from the magazine. Somehow, while I was doing all this drooling, two months passed by and I had made absolutely nothing from the magazine's recipe pages! I then received my second issue of the magazine. Commence drooling again. This time, I was adamant that I had to cook, bake, or assemble something edible from Issue #2.
After taking some time to peruse the magazine's pages, I stumbled on to what I like to call a "shortcut recipe". It's exactly what it sounds like: a recipe with a shortcut. Still, it wasn't the shortcut part that sucked me in. It was the recipe. Basil Gnocchi. It's very difficult for me to go to a restaurant and not order gnocchi if it's on the menu. So of course I couldn't pass up the chance to make this dish at home. And if I needed yet another reason to start firing up the food processor, basil, my favorite herb, also plays a starring role. Need I say more?

Basil Gnocchi (adapted from Ashley's Basil Gnocchi)
Makes 4 servings


  • 1 1/2 cups instant mashed potatoes
  • 1 cup packed fresh basil, plus more for garnish
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
  • Dash of salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting


  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • Dash of salt
  • 3 shallots, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • Freshly ground pepper

For the gnocchi:
1) Mix the instant potatoes with 1 cup hot water in a bowl using a fork; set aside until the potatoes absorb the liquid, 3 minutes.
2) Meanwhile, puree the basil and 1/4 cup cold water in a blender until smooth. Stir the basil puree, egg, Parmesan and 1 tablespoon salt into the potato mixture.
3) Mound 3/4 cup flour on a surface; add the potato mixture and knead together until smooth, gradually adding the remaining 1/4 cup flour.
4) Divide the dough into 3 portions; roll each into a 1-inch-diameter log. Dust with flour, if needed. The dough will feel pretty soft at this point, but that's fine.
5) Cut each log into 1/2-inch pieces; place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate while making the sauce. (I pressed fork tongs into the gnocchi to make pretty striations, but that's optional.)
6) Once the sauce is created (see below), cook the gnocchi in a large pot of salted boiling water until tender, about 1 minute after they float to the surface.
7) Drain and toss with the sauce. Top with the toasted pine nuts and more basil and Parmesan.
For the sauce:
1) Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
2) Add the pine nuts; fry until toasted, swirling the pan.
3) Transfer the nuts with a slotted spoon to paper towels and season with salt.
4) Add the shallots and garlic to the pan and cook until soft, 3 minutes.
5) Add the wine and bring to a boil.
The original recipe actually called for tomatoes as well, but since I am rarely a fan of tomatoes, I nixed them. (Unless of course, the tomatoes are in a grilled cheese sandwich, with extra points if bacon is involved!) The next time I make these and there will be a next time), will definitely add another half cup of basil leaves. I think I would get a bigger punch from this herb and a deeper green color in the gnocchi, which are both very desirable things.
I'm not sure why, but I had a tough time taking a really good picture of the final product. No matter though, because the flavor made up for it. I could smell the earthiness of the basil. The smoothness of the mashed potatoes along with the slightly tart flavor the sauce was most satisfactory. And of course the melted cheese provided it's salty, savory taste. This is a definite thumbs-up meal!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Mocha Hazelnut Cupcakes

I have been waiting for this day for months. And it finally came. I baked mocha cupcakes. Or at least I started out with the idea of baking mocha cupcakes. Along the way, after a bit of intensive research, my arm was "twisted" into adding Nutella to this creation. The end result was a Mocha Hazelnut cupcake.

In my esteemed opinion, there's nothing better than the smell of coffee. I've noticed that even those who detest the taste of coffee still like to get a sniff or two when they can. Personally, I can drink a few cups a day. And the only thing better than coffee is chocolate. So of course, nothing's better than coffee in chocolate cupcakes!

I first thought about making mocha cupcakes earlier this summer, when I purchased my first Mocha cupcake from the Sweet cupcake bakery in Hoboken. The cupcake was really delicious, but there was no actual coffee flavor in the cupcake. The coffee was in the buttercream icing. I was curious how a cupcake would taste if coffee was actually incorporated in the cake as well as the icing.

After countless hours of dreaming about mocha cupcakes, it was time to "put up or shut up". How To Eat A Cupcake's blog provided me with the me the most interesting version of a mocha cupcake.

Mocha Cupcakes (slightly adapted)
Makes ~12 cupcakes
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup 2% milk
  • 1/2 cup strong brewed coffee, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
1) Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a standard 12-cup muffin pan with paper or foil liners.

2) Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a bowl.

3) In a measuring cup, combine the milk and brewed coffee.

4) In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.

5) Add the egg and beat until combined.

6) Add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the milk mixture in 2 additions, beating on low speed until just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

7) Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups, filling each about 3/4 full.

8) Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, ~16 minutes.

9) Let the cupcakes cool completely, about 1 hour.

Important! Remember to add the brown sugar when you add the granulated sugar. All I'm saying is that this step can be confusing and you wouldn't want to throw your cupcakes in the oven before asking yourself why you have brown sugar on the counter but didn't use it. I'm just saying...

And what better way to top these beautiful cupcakes, than to add some Nutella-Coffee Icing. The Cupcake Review blog provided me with a delicious recipe for this. Yum!

Nutella-Coffee Frosting (slightly adapted)
Frosts ~12 cupcakes
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons Nutella
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 heaping teaspoon instant coffee
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1) In a small bowl, combine 3 tablespoons milk with 1 heaping teaspoon instant coffee and stir until coffee is dissolved.

2) In a separate bowl, combine butter, Nutella, sugar, salt, vanilla, and the 3 tablespoons coffee-milk mixture. Mix well with electric mixer, adding more milk as needed to make a fluffy spreadable frosting.

This recipe makes enough icing to frost 12 cupcakes if just spreading it on with a knife. If you want to pipe it onto the cupcakes, I would suggest doubling the recipe.

The best part of this endeavor was the tasting afterward. The cupcake itself was moist inside and a little crumbly. The mocha flavor was there, but it was pretty mild. My roommate, Kimmy, and I thought the cupcake could have remained in the oven for another minute or two, but it depends on your preference. If you like a more fudgy consistency, then 16 minutes it is! When eating the cupcake with the icing, the pairing went very well. The icing had a lot more coffee flavor than the cupcake, which I loved, but Kimmy wasn't too keen on as she doesn't drink coffee. The Nutella wasn't as pronounced as I would have liked, so the hazelnut flavor in the cupcake was a wee bit lacking. Overall, the icing paired well with the cupcake to provide just the right amount of mocha flavor in my opinion.

Kimmy wa
s a trooper and carried a cupcake sample to her co-worker/"TBK Cupcake Taster" Rene. His thoughts: He really liked the icing and the flavoring proportions were perfect, no too sweet, not too overpowering. As for the cake, it was a little too dry and crumbly for his taste. He would have preferred to see a richer consistency throughout the cake.

In my defense, though, Rene didn't taste the cupcake until 2-3 days after I make it, so I think the cake issues should be rendered moot. But I'm glad the flavoring proportions were still "perfect" after a few days time!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Brooklyn Brewery: Tour & Tastings

This week, TBK decided to take a little field trip. Let's face it, all this cooking has left my freezer a little overstuffed, so I took a break and headed on over to Brooklyn. The main attraction? The Brooklyn Brewery.

I've been meaning to go to this brewery for a while. I almost made it earlier this year, but the key word there is "almost". In actuality, the Williamsburg, Brooklyn neighborhood in which the Brooklyn Brewery resides is not that far from Hoboken. I hopped on the PATH to 14th St in NYC, then transferred to the L and got off at the first stop in Brooklyn. It took me about an hour and a half to make it to my destination. And that includes the pit stop I made to the Cupcake Stop, which happened to be conveniently located in Union Square that afternoon. (Yummm...I need to blog about that place someday!) But seriously, an hour and a half is little to ask for when you consider the prize waiting at the end of your journey.

I jumped off the L train at the Bedford Avenue stop, which is the first stop after crossing the East River. I was met by the obligatory hipsters and a random girl in a silver sequined skirt. Yep, Williamsburg is a little quirky, but still cute. About 5 blocks later, I ended up in front of a large yellow brick building. I wasn't too sure at first that this was the actual location. Although their website,, provides an actual address, the street they directed me to is filled with warehouses. There were numerous false alarms before I found the actual brewery. The huge "B" label above the warehouse doors clinched the deal. Unfortunately, I didn't actually get a picture of this, but trust me, it's there. Another Brooklyn Brewery label greeted me as I stepped inside a pair of huge warehouse doors. See picture above.

Fun Fact: their label was designed by Milton Glaser, who designed those "I Love New York" t-shirts.

At this point, I would like to throw out a general disclaimer: I am not a beer connoisseur. Yes, I drink and enjoy beer, but by no means am I an expert on the beer brewing process or the subtle hints/notes that go along with beer tasting. I'm more of an "I like it" or "I don't like it" kind of person. OK, now that we've established that, let's move on...

On Saturdays, the Brooklyn Brewery holds tours on the hour from 1pm - 4pm. Maggie and I got there in time to catch the 4pm tour. I have to say that I was a little disappointed with the scope of the tour, but the tour itself was pretty interesting. Let me explain. The tour group meets near the front door at the top of the hour. Then they will be led into another room where the beer is brewed and fermented and all that good stuff. Sadly, this is both the beginning and end location of the tour. Yep, that one room is it. The information that was given during the tour was pretty interesting. We learned about the history of the brewery and little quirky stories that took me back to my tour-giving days at the Office of Admissions in college.

On a funny note, our tour guide resembled Seth Green. Just a little bit. I tried to sneak the picture below without seeming too creepy. It's a little blurry.

The tour lasted about 20 minutes. To be honest, Seth Green's talk was making me thirsty, so I headed over to the tasting room to begin the real work. I admit that I was a little overwhelmed by the number of people I had to beat back just in order to get to the bar. Due to this, it became a bit of a task to take pictures in the room. I'm used to taking pictures of inanimate food objects, so this was a bit much.

The task was made even more difficult by the fact that I needed to balance a beer and tokens at the same time. The brewery requires you to purchase $4 tokens at the front desk/gift shop. These tokens can be exchanged for a beer at the bar. The Brooklyn Local 1 and Brooklyn Local 2 beers are special reserves and require 3 tokens, but you do get to drink from (and keep) a crystal glass with your beer. I have to say that carrying around a breakable crystal glass for the rest of the afternoon did not sound very appealing to me. In fact, I can imagine several disastrous situations in which I could find myself and the aforementioned glass. No thanks.

The Brooklyn Brewery had several beers available:
- Blanche De Brooklyn
- Brooklyn Sorachi Ace
- Intensified Coffee Stout
- Brooklyn Brown Ale
- Brooklyn Lager
- East India Pale Ale
- Brooklyn Pilsner
- Brooklyn Local 1
- Brooklyn Local 2

I didn't try every one of them, but I can tell you about the ones I DID try! Please keep my disclaimer in mind as you read this. I'll keep it short and sweet...

Blanche de Brooklyn (or Brooklyn White Ale)
This was a nice, light summer beer. Basically, it's a wheat-style beer with a hint of fruit. If you enjoy Blue Moon or Hefeweizen, this is definitely a keeper. I enjoyed this a lot. That is, until I discovered the...

Brooklyn Sorachi Ace
My friend Mark was drinking the Sorachi Ace as I was finishing up my Blanche. Of course this means I had to try his beer before heading back to the bar. And I liked it. I liked it a lot. This beer is hoppier than most beers I typically drink, but there was also this spicy aftertaste that intrigued me. So I kept drinking it. Every once in a while, I tried another beer, such as the...

Intensified Coffee Stout
This beer is not a sleeper. It tastes exactly as it sounds. Just picture drinking a pint of Guinness with a shot of espresso, since that's pretty much what we have here. I love caffeine, so I would have liked this a lot more if I actually liked stout, which I don't. I will say that it is excellent in shot sizes though. It's a little bit like a shot of espresso, but better because it also contains alcohol. I just can't drink an entire pint of this. Unfortunately, I also was not a huge fan of the...

Brown Ale
Sorry Brooklyn Brewery. This was also not a fave. The Brown Ale has coffee and chocolate flavor undertones. As previously mentioned, I like coffee. It's also an unspoken rule that I like chocolate. However, this beer was doomed for me because it's also hoppy and malty. I'm not a big fan of that, Brooklyn. Not one to worry, I drowned my sorrows in another glass of Sorachi Ace.

I think Maggie liked them all. Mark ducked out of this picture. He's trying to stay anonymous, apparently.

One of the great things about going to the Brooklyn Brewery is that you don't have to leave for any reason. Patrons have the option to order food from local restaurants or pizza joints for delivery directly to the brewery. And, of course, you have beer on tap (or in a bottle) at your fingertips. If you're a real champ, you can stay for the entire afternoon. So plan to catch up with old friends or meet new ones, but don't rely entirely upon my review. Take a trip to the Brooklyn Brewery yourself.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Vegetable Curry

"I'm in the mood for curry." Well, I wasn't, really. But then i saw an amazing picture of a Chickpea and Cauliflower Curry dish on the Tastespotting website and I was sold. There were 3 reasons I really wanted to make this:

1. I do like curry. Although I don't really think about it all the time, whenever I do have curry, I really enjoy it.

2. I think this would be a great dish for all those vegetarians out there. At the same time, I think the result is also flavorful enough to satisfy any meat-lover.

3. It's so simple! I love simply, tasty recipes!

As I was perusing the produce section of our neighborhood ShopRite, I ran into some gorgeous green beans. I love green beans, but I hardly ever buy them since they can spoil before I return home from my travels. I figured since I was using chickpeas and cauliflower already, why not throw in green beans as well? This recipe is so flexible that you can feel free to add vegetables at will. However, keep in mind that the more vegetables you add, the thicker the entire dish will be.

Vegetable Curry
(slightly adapted from Carmen Cooks' Chickpea and Cauliflower Curry recipe)
  • 1 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 small head cauliflower, cut into florets (about 4 cups)
  • ~ 20 medium-sized green beans, halved
  • 1 15 1/2-ounce can of garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed
  • 1 10-ounce can of diced tomatoes with green chiles
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1) Heat oil in large skillet over high heat.

2) Add onions and sauté until golden brown, about 6 minutes.

3) Add curry powder and stir 20 seconds.

4) Add cauliflower and garbanzo beans. Stir 1 minute.

5) Add the diced tomatoes with chiles and the coconut milk. Bring to boil.

6) Reduce heat to medium-low and cover.

7) Add green beans.

8) Simmer gently until cauliflower is tender and liquid thickens slightly, stirring occasionally for about 16 minutes.

9) Season to taste with salt and pepper.

This dish can be served as a meal or as a side dish. I love the taste of the tender cauliflower and the soft crunch of the green beans. The coconut milk provided just a touch of creaminess that slightly offset the heat of the chiles.

I found that this dish is great served by itself, over white rice, or (gasp!) over ramen noodles! I think it could have been a little bit spicier, but that's just in my humble opinion. I would probably add a touch of cumin and turmeric to the recipe. The next time I make this, I'll have to figure out how to incorporate these. Mmmmmm...definitely can't wait to make this again!