Sunday, August 22, 2010

Chocolate Cayenne Cupcakes

A few months ago, a coworker of mine brought in "Mexican Brownies" for our department's Food Day. Apparently, these brownies had a little cayenne surprise mixed into them. I was excited to try them and discovered that they were a spicy, sweet treat. Hey, I like spices and I like sweet stuff. And speaking of sweet stuff, why couldn't I convert these into a cupcake...

Chocolate Cayenne Cupcakes
slightly adapted from ICE Cupcake Workshop's Chocolate Cupcakes recipe
yields ~24 cupcakes
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream or buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2) Combine the eggs, sour cream and vanilla in a large bowl and set aside.

3) Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in another bowl. Set aside.

4) Combine the water, cocoa and butter in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.

5) Remove from heat and immediately whisk this into the egg mixture. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and mix until combined. (Don't worry...the eggs won't scramble.)

6) Add cayenne pepper to batter and whisk to incorporate. (Note: Add the cayenne pepper gradually and taste after each addition. Add more or less cayenne pepper based on your preference.)

7) Pour into cupcake liners and bake about 25 minutes or until the center springs back when touched.

I wasn't sure how I wanted to frost these at first. Then I recalled that we had learned how to make a ganache in ICE's Cupcake Workshop which I took a few weeks ago. In the spirit of being unique (and a little lazy, since I wouldn't have to pipe it), I decided to go with the ganache as a frosting for these cuppies.

Thin Chocolate Glaze
recipe from ICE Cupcake Workshop
  • 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
1) Place the chocolate in a bowl. Set aside.

2) In a medium saucepan, combine the cream and corn syrup. Bring to a boil.

3) Remove from heat and immediately pour on the chocolate. Allow to stand 1 minute.

4) Add in butter and stir until smooth and glossy.

5) Dip cupcakes into ganache. You may need to smooth the ganache over the top of the cupcake.

6) Optional: You can recreate this ganache with white chocolate instead of semi-sweet chocolate. I added red dye and drizzled over the ganache.

In my opinion, the cupcakes were tasty but a little dense. I usually like my cupcakes to be a little lighter. However, most of my taste testers didn't actually share my opinion and really liked the moist texture of the cupcakes. The chocolate flavor was pronounced and the cayenne pepper gives you a mild kick in the mouth a few seconds after you've finished chewing and swallowing the cupcake. Since I used semi-sweet chocolate for the ganache, the cupcake didn't end up being too sweet. Overall, there is a nice balance so that you don't get a complete sugar rush with each bite.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Green Chicken Curry

I somehow got sucked into The Next Food Network Star shows this season. I don't really know how it happened, but I guess it was inevitable since I watch Food Network about 75% of the time I turn on the television.

A few weeks ago, I was watching the Food Network Star hopefuls make a team dinner. One of my favorite contestants, Aarti Sequeira, made a Green Chicken Curry dish that looked amazing! It even had Bobby Flay (my close personal friend, as I have humbly mentioned in a previous post) raving about it. I had food envy.

So when my roommate wanted to go to the grocery store later that same day, I made a game time decision that this dish was going to make an appearance chez moi that evening. Oh yeah...

Green Chicken Curry
adapted from recipe by Aarti Sequeria
  • 1 large bunch cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped, ~1 1/2 cups
  • 1 bunch fresh mint, leaves, coarsely chopped, ~1 1/2 cup
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 1/2-inch piece ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • dash habanero sauce
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup water, plus 1 1/2 cups
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, about 1 3/4 pounds, halved
  • 1/2 teaspoon malt vinegar
  • 1/4 cup plain whole milk or yogurt
1) Blend the cilantro, mint, jalapeno, red onion, garlic, ginger, habanero sauce, salt, and pepper, to taste, in a blender. Puree on high until smooth.

2) With the processor running, add about 1/2 cup water, and blend until the mixture is the consistency of a thick paste, then set aside.
3) In a large pot or deep skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the shallot and cook, stirring often, until golden brown.

4) Add the spices and cook for 30 seconds.

5) Pour the blended cilantro mixture into skillet and cook, stirring often until it deepens in color and aroma, about 5 minutes.

6) Add the chicken, coating every piece in the cilantro mixture and stirring often. Continue to cook for 5 minutes.

7) Add about 1 1/2 cups water, just enough to cover the chicken, and the vinegar.

8) Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the chicken is tender and sauce has thickened slightly, about 20 to 25 minutes.

9) Remove the pan from heat and stir in the milk.
10) Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed.

Here are a few tips so that you won't run into the same troubles that I did:

1) the recipe calls for "boneless, skinless chicken thighs". I don't know about your grocery store, but we have an abundance of skinless chicken thighs in ours. Not so much of an abundance of boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Although I guess this is a moot point since I totally forgot I needed to look for boneless, skinless chicken thighs in the first place. I should work on that whole reading and comprehension thing. At any rate, I spent 15 minutes de-boning my skinless chicken thighs. Just buy the right protein to begin with and save yourself the hassle.

2) Again, I had reading issues. My roommate and I sat down to enjoy the meal and a commercial for dairy products came on the television. For some reason, this triggered the memory that I hadn't actually used the milk that the recipe called for. I ran back to the stove and added the milk. But never fear, the chicken tasted great even before the milk was added. After tasting it though, I could tell that it wasn't as spicy as before.

Let me tell you, making this dish is not a decision that I regret. I had some of this chicken curry over a serving of brown rice and it was delicious, but I'm sure it would taste just as great over a plate of white rice or with some naan. Mmmm naan...The chicken was tender and moist, since it was braised. The cilantro mixture was a bit spicy and smelled heavenly. Once it was boiled down with the chicken and spices, the result was a tangy, smoky chicken dish with a rich curry sauce.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Zucchini & Butternut Squash Bake

Walking through the grocery store a few weeks ago, I noticed that butternut squash is no longer being stashed in the back of the produce section. It's slowly but surely inching it's way into the spotlight. I love butternut squash and cannot believe that I have posted zero -- yep, zero -- blog posts which reference butternut squash. I love this squash variety and I just don't know how I've managed to overlook it for the past year and a half.

With this in mind, I greedily eyed the beautiful, large butternut squash as I continued on my way through the store. Since I was actually picking up ingredients for another recipe, I decided to stay the course and come back the following week for my coveted butternut squash.

One week later: I rolled into the grocery store, super excited to pick up the beautiful butternut squash that I had seen a week earlier. What I actually found were 3 small to medium sized butternut squash that appeared to be the sad leftovers of last week's gorgeous bounty. Of course by this time I had already committed (internally, at least) to making a dish with butternut squash, so I snagged two of the squash anyway. I also picked up a few zucchinis, because everything's better with zucchini.

A little bit later, I got back to our kitchen with no real idea of what I wanted to make with these vegetables. I was thinking of maybe throwing together another galette, similar to what I had seen on the Smitten Kitchen website, but since I made one of these recently I wanted to branch out. I eventually found a few recipes for something called a "bake".

Hmmm...what exactly is a bake? Non-technically (since this is the culinary language that I speak), it's very similar to a casserole. So I grabbed all the vegetables up and tossed them together for a unique bake.

Zucchini & Butternut Squash Bake
  • 2 small zucchini, sliced into rounds (or 1 medium to large zucchini)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2-4 tbsp butter
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • pinch of sugar
  • 3 lbs butternut squash, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 jalapeno, minced
  • 3 garlic scapes, diced finely
  • 1 clove garlic
  • handful basil leaves (~8-10 leaves), julienned
  • ~1 cup parmesan cheese
  • ~1/2 cup fontina cheese
  • additional salt and pepper to taste (if necessary)
1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2) Spread the zucchini out over several layers of paper towels.

3) Sprinkle with a tsp of salt and let drain for ~30 minutes. Gently pat the zucchini dry with paper towels before using.

4) Meanwhile, melt butter in a heavy skillet and cook the onion over medium heat with 1/2 tsp of salt and a pinch of sugar. Stir occasionally until soft and lightly golden brown The exact timing for this step will depend on the level of heat applied. It took about 30 minutes for my onions to be done, but it could take longer.

5) Saute the butternut squash and sweet potato in 2 tbsp butter (or olive oil). Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Note: I sauteed the vegetables using what I refer to as the "stir and steam" method. This is when I stir the vegetables, then place the cover over the pan for a few minutes. Then, guess what, I stir again and replace the cover for a few minutes. Repeat until vegetables are softened, but still a bit firm (I did this for ~20 mins, but I would suggest maybe only 15 mins).

6) Add the butternut squash, sweet potatoes, onions, zucchini, garlic scapes, jalapenos, garlic, and basil leaves together in a large bowl and toss to incorporate. Add more salt and pepper if you think it's necessary.

7) Pour into a buttered/greased 9 x 11 inch pan.

8) Sprinkle cheeses on top.

9) Bake for ~30 minutes, or until vegetables are at the desired consistency and cheese is melted.

8) Let cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

This could really be my new favorite vegetable combination. The smell was "warm" and "hearty". Are these real smells? I don't actually care. If you could bottle a whiff of fall in a dish, this would be it. The entire dish, when eaten together, was sweet and savory at the same time. The butternut squash and sweet potatoes were really the meat of the dish and provided a robust texture. The caramelized onions wrapped themselves around with the starches and gave them a sweeter taste. The zucchinis and garlic scapes added a little crunch and texture to the dish. I know that sage is usually the preferred herb when working with butternut squash but since we had fresh basil on hand, that's what I ended up using. The basil's scent and flavor really served to enhance this dish. The great thing about this dish is that I can add in or take away vegetables pretty easily, since the recipe is so adaptable. Try a unique version yourself and let me know how it turns out!