Sunday, June 28, 2009

Basil & Sun-Dried Tomato Orzo

It seemed impossible. But it has happened. I cooked something.

Yes, this phenomenon has occurred many times before, but I have never blogged about it. I'm not just a baker, you know. I'm multi-faceted. So here we go...

Last week, I got the urge to make some sort of food dish that would be tasty, quick, and easy to freeze. I happen to live in a hotel during the week, so if I make a large dish, I usually need to establish freezing capabilities.

Approximately one year ago, I stumbled across Adventures In Shaw's Fast Food blog post for Basil & Sun-Dried Tomato Orzo. The recipe has been sitting in the Bookmarks section of my Internet browser until I re-discovered it about 3 weeks ago. There were several reasons I chose to make this dish:

1. I love the combination of basil and tomato, so why not?
2. I have never cooked orzo before, so I decided to live on the wild side.
3. Adventures in Shaw promised that this would be a "fast food". Since I'm always pressed for time, I couldn't resist.

I wasn't too sure what to expect from this dish. I knew that orzo is a type of pasta, but that was pretty much the extent of it. One of the things I really like about this recipe is the ability to modify the ingredients and proportions at any stage. One of my "dislikes" about baking is that I have to stick to certain guidelines regarding what I can and cannot add to the recipe. Don't ask me about these guidelines. I'm still figuring them out, one cupcake at a time. But in the meantime, I cook.

Basil & Sun-Dried Tomato Orzo
(slightly adapted from Adventures In Shaw)
  • 2 cups basil leaves
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1/2 container sun-dried tomatoes, packed in herbed olive oil
  • Parmesan cheese, to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups cooked orzo
1) Cook the orzo according to the package, drain and set aside.

2) Chop the onion, basil and sun dried tomatoes, reserving some of the olive oil for the pan. (Note: Because I was lazy, I threw the sun-dried tomatoes in the food processor for chopping.)

3) Place the pan on the stove at medium heat, pour in the reserved olive oil. I used several teaspoons of the olive oil. Add the onion first.

4) Saute for a minute or two (until the onions start to go soft) and then toss in the tomatoes.

5) Continue to saute for another minute, adding the basil before tossing in the cooked orzo.

6) Reduce the heat to low and continue tossing the ingredients together until everything is evenly coated.

7) Stir in most of the Parmesan cheese.

8) Top orzo with the remaining Parmesan cheese.

The tomatoes turned the orzo a very faint, but pretty, orange color. The orzo itself tasted just like pasta! (I know that orzo is pasta, but since it looks like rice, I keep forgetting that fact. I'm a visual eater.) The basil/tomato/Parmesan combination was quite savory. Each time I took a bite, I smelled the basil, felt a little tang from the sun-dried tomato, and then experienced the creaminess of the melted Parmesan.

Overall, I love the recipe, but my original proportions would have been more accurate if I was cooking 1 cup of orzo. Since I actually made 2 cups of orzo, I would have adjusted the key ingredients. Still, the final recipe was great. It also freezes and thaws really well. You may need to add a teaspoon or two of olive oil when reheating the orzo, as it may be a bit dry.

A few detailed observations:
  • I typically don't like chunks of of sun-dried tomatoes, which was why I resorted to food processor power. Next time, though, I'll plan on using the entire container. Although I could still taste the sun-dried tomatoes, I could have used more.
  • The smell of fresh basil has to be one of the greatest pleasures on Earth. (Kimmy and I just purchased a potted basil plant today. His name is Frankie. He's Italian.) If I added more tomatoes, I would also suggest adding another cup or so of chopped basil, so that the scent/taste is still present. I julienned my basil, which means that I cut the leaves into long strips. However, I would suggest actually chopping them, as it will help the basil to spread more evenly throughout the dish.
  • The final step calls for shredded Parmesan cheese. Of course, I would have also added more cheese to the dish. I love cheese and can't ever have enough of it. Especially when it's melted.
If you are a remotely busy person, you should try this recipe. It lived up to it's promise to be quick and easy. It would probably be even faster for someone more adept at knife skills than myself. So here's my invisible toast to many more cooking blog posts in the future. You may have to wait a bit though. My next adventure is going to be cupcake-related again! Stay tuned...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Chocolate Fluffernutter Cupcakes

Hellooooo blog-followers! I have been super busy lately. But...I return with a bang! Let me tell you, I believe Chocolate Fluffernutter Cupcakes could be my most awesome-est cupcakes yet!

It all started with a potluck dinner last week hosted by amazing friends and cupcake tasters, Cindy and Chris. Marcia, Cindy's sister, organized this event for several friends in the NY area. When the invite was sent out, it appeared that my name was already conveniently marked under the Dessert category. Thus, I started to brainstorm about brownies, cupcakes, some sort of candy bar thing, etc. When the next reminder was sent out, I then saw that my name was marked next to "Cupcakes". Well, that took care of the "What kind of dessert do I bring?" question. I quickly accepted my fate and tried to determine the theme of the cupcakes. Nutella is always a winner in my book, so I asked Marcia if she was also a fan. The response: "Not really. I'm not really into 'nutty' things other than peanut butter. How about something PB or marshmallows?"

OK. The window of creativity is getting narrower and narrower. But I persevere...I began searching for peanut butter and marshmallow cupcake recipes. Eventually, I made it to the BakeSpace website. There, I hit the jackpot. I found both Peanut Butter Frosting and Marshmallow Frosting recipes. Talk about a one-stop shop! Since I know that Marcia also likes chocolate, the total package finally came together: Chocolate Fluffernutter Cupcakes.

While thinking about a chocolate cupcake recipe, I remembered that my sister makes a pretty good chocolate cake using the recipe on the back of the Hershey's Cocoa box. I decided that this recipe would be perfect. After the last cupcake disaster, I kind of wanted to play it safe on this one. I actually followed this recipe to the letter! I know. Shocking!

(Makes ~30 cupcakes)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water
1) Heat oven to 350°F. Line muffin cups (2-1/2 inches in diameter) with paper bake cups.

2) Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl.

3) Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla.

4) Beat on medium speed of mixer for 2 minutes.

5) Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin).

6) Pour batter into cupcake liners. Fill cups 2/3 full with batter.

7) Bake 22 to 25 minutes. Cool completely. Frost with Peanut Butter Frosting and Marshmallow Frosting (recipes below).

Peanut Butter Frosting
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
1) In large bowl of a mixer, cream the powdered sugar, peanut butter, butter, and vanilla until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

2) Add whipping cream. (Note: This is listed as optional in the BakeSpace recipe, but I found that I really needed it to make the frosting spreadable.)

Marshmallow Frosting
  • 1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 lb. powdered sugar
  • 1/2 Tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 jar Marshmallow Fluff (about 2 cups)
1) In large bowl of a mixer, cream the butter until soft.

2) Add powdered sugar and vanilla and whip until smooth.

3) Add marshmallow fluff and continue to mix until the frosting is fluffy, about 1 minute.

Chocolate Fluffernutter Cupcake Assembly:

1) On top of a cooled chocolate cupcake, pipe a thin layer of Peanut Butter Frosting.

2) Pipe Marshmallow Frosting on top of the Peanut Butter Frosting.

3) Top with crumbled roca. (This step is optional. I used Mocha Rocha and Cashew Roca from Starbucks because I had some lying around.)

My roommate Kimmy and I tried the final cupcakes first. Kimmy was a fan, which I thought was especially impressive because she doesn't really like the peanut butter/marshmallow combination. I enjoy the fluffernutter flavors, so the cupcake worked exceedingly well for me. The chocolate cake was pretty light and sweet and it had a very nice, even consistency. The saltiness of the Peanut Butter Frosting was nicely paired with the sweet of the Marshmallow Frosting. (Did I mention my obsession with just about any salty/sweet combination?) I ended up piping about twice as much Marshmallow Frosting on the cupcakes as Peanut Butter Frosting. However, since marshmallow is mostly air, the final flavors were balanced really well. I also enjoyed the roca, which provided a sporadic, yet satisfying, crunch throughout the cupcake-eating process.

I took some of the Chocolate Fluffernutter cupcakes to the pot luck dinner and everyone seemed to really enjoy it! They were even compared to Magnolia and Buttercup cupcakes! (Yes, I was really happy to hear this! My ego needed a boost...please refer to previous cupcake blog post to determine why.)

After this success, I figured I could take a chance and bring these cupcakes to my client site. Since I hadn't injured anybody at the potluck with my baking, and these cupcakes seemed to be kind of stellar, I figured I could take the chance. The cupcakes fared really well at the client site too! Maybe this can be factored into my annual review somehow. I will mark this as a massive win for these cuppies.

Take THAT, Iron Cupcake: Summer Berries. Who needs summer berries to have a great cupcake? Now that my project is no longer in high gear, I think it's time to begin the brainstorming sessions for next week's cupcakes. Hopefully they will have at least half the success that these cupcakes had!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Vanilla Strawberry Pomegranate Cupcakes - My Beautiful Disaster

I should have known this particular Iron Cupcake project was doomed the moment I saw June's theme: Summer Berries.

For those of you who don't know me, there are few fresh fruits that I will gladly eat. Of these, summer berries are not even within the vicinity. It's not that I don't like berry flavors. I actually love them, but we're talking about two different things. Berry flavors? Yes, please. Berry fruits? Next! At the very least the berries would need to be cooked/baked/fried/boiled/whatever...

But in the spirit of competition, I decided to let my creative juices flow and embrace the berries. I started thinking. What other fruits do I like? Well, I like pomegranates. That's a fresh fruit on my "nice" list. And I remembered my friend Katrin was grilling me about vanilla cupcakes last week, so it might be interesting to incorporate a vanilla flavor into the cupcake. Le voila! Witness the birth of the Vanilla Strawberry Pomegranate cupcakes!

I began to get super-excited. I found a Strawberry Banana recipe on one of my favorite blogs, Cupcake Project. Then I went out and bought the prettiest strawberries I could find, a container of real vanilla beans, and a super sweet bottle of pomegranate juice. Who knew it would be difficult to find real pomegranates in June? Nonetheless, I was armed and ready to go! (Disclaimer: My cooking adventure was not doomed due to the CP recipe. The reason(s) will become apparent in time. Keep reading.)

The recipe called for macerated strawberries, which I had absolutely no idea how to do. But with a few minutes of research on the web, Alton Brown quickly set me straight. Macerating fruit is pretty much the equivalent of marinating meat. And red wine was involved so how could I say no?

After a few hours of macerating the strawberries, I was ready to attack the cupcakes. I whipped up the batter according to the instructions, stopping short of adding the fruit. Then I went to work on personalizing the cupcakes. Sadly, it is at this point that things take a turn for the worse...

I added the strawberries, half of the leftover macerating liquid, 2 cups of pomegranate juice and the vanilla beans to the batter. I know, I must all be cringing at that sentence. I kept trying to taste more pomegranate flavor in the batter, and somewhere along the line I just went hog wild with the pom juice. Again, my cupcakes sank when they came out of the oven. And to add insult to injury, they were also a little gooey :(

Another attempt to save the cupcakes came in the form of Buttercream Icing. Even pumped up with the remainder of the macerating liquid and a few teaspoons of pomegranate juice, let's just say I still somehow missed the mark on this. The icing was too sweet and not stiff enough.

My friends were really nice and ate the test cupcakes without (much) complaint. KL agreed that the icing was very runny and too sweet, but she will still remain my roommate. Zoo attempted to eat the cupcake on Day 2, which she says was much better cold. SRJ took a cuppie for the road, as his high school band teacher duties required him to turn in earlier than most. We will place that review on hold.

As you have probably figured out by now, I am not going to post this customized recipe. Why? Because so much seemed to go wrong that I wouldn't wish this particular cupcake on anyone else.

So now you're most likely asking yourself why I'm posting this massive failure for the general population to read at all. Well, friends, let's just say that we all learn from our mistakes. I know there is someone out there reading this who has thought or will think about pouring 2 extra cups of liquid into cake or cupcake batter. I am here to tell you that this is probably not a good idea. Also, I did take what I believe to be some really pretty pictures (loved the macerated strawberries!) and I wanted to show them off. I'm still planning on making interesting creations in the near future, but maybe I'll try to stick a little closer to the actual recipe next time.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Buffalo Chicken Dip

I wish I could take the credit for discovering the amazing food item featured in this post, the Buffalo Chicken Dip aka the Buff Chick Dip aka the B.C.D....but I can't. Our neighbor, Stefan, introduced me and my roommate to this wonderful food item. Let me tell you, if you like buffalo wings, you will LOVE this post....keep reading!
Although I have delighted in eating this wonderful, calorie-laden dip for over a year now, I have never undertaken the task of creating it myself. But finally, an opportunity presented itself! My friend Phil's birthday party was last weekend and, instead of making cupcakes, as everyone thought I would, I decided to switch things up and bring the life of the party: the B.C.D. After all, this isn't JUST a cupcake blog, you know (regardless of the fact that only cupcakes and desserts have adorned these pages so far).

At any rate, this dip is ridiculously easy to make, which puts it up there on a pedestal for me! And honestly, anything that incorporates chicken and a spicy/salty/sweet flavor will get my vote anyday!

OK, time to get to the good stuff! Here's the recipe:

The B.C.D.
slightly adapted from the Buffalo Chicken Wing Dip recipe
  • 4 boneless chicken breasts, cooked, then ground or chopped in a food processor
  • 1 bottle Frank's RedHot Original Pepper Sauce
  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup Blue cheese dressing
  • 1 small package shredded cheddar cheese
1) Chop or grind cooked chicken breasts.

2) Blend sauce and cream cheese together.

3) Add chicken, Blue cheese, and cheddar cheese.

4) Top with additional cheddar cheese.

5) Place in a baking dish and bake at 350 for 25 minutes.

6) Serve warm with nachos.

This happens to be the first recipe posted to this blog which I haven't screwed up in some fashion! That's how you know this is truly an easy dish, people...

Another great thing about this dip is that you can make it ahead of time and serve it later. Personally, I prefer the dip warm and served with nacho chips. But since there's nothing raw in it, you could also stop at Step #4 and just serve it as is.

I happen to have a love affair with melted cheese, so I lugged the pre-made dip over to the Lower East Side of Manhattan (let me tell you, carrying this dip will help you build some muscles!). Once at Phil's place, I baked the B.C.D. according to the recipe and served with the nachos that I had also brought with me (don't judge me, it's expensive to buy food in the city!). Each bite contained several pieces of chicken and the cheese was plentiful. I love a good, spicy hot sauce and this sauce did not disappoint. And of course you get that satisfying, salty crunch from the nacho. I'm drooling as I write this.

So if you ask my neighbors, forget the Snapple. The B.C.D. might be the best stuff on Earth. (Please don't sue me, Snapple!) Although sometimes I think they might be delusional, this time I think they're pretty close. Try this recipe yourself and you will not be disappointed!