Thursday, March 31, 2011

Cherry Cupcakes Topped with Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream

*I'm gonna apologize in advance for the picture quality. My DSLR battery had died, so I had to pull out the old point and shoot for these.

My girls are little "foodies-in-training" if you will, and enjoy watching the occasional Food Network show with me. Their favorites, Chopped and Cupcake Wars, have a similar premise: cook/bake your hearts out with mystery ingredients, get judged on flavor and appearance, and one person gets eliminated, or "chopped".

Lately, they've gone a step further and have actually pretended they are my panel of judges and have given their commentary on dinner. It was pretty cute until I got chopped. ;) Something about how the flavor of the ketchup overpowered their hamburger.. Sheesh.

Another unexpected byproduct of watching these shows is that they have come up with flavors and cooking ideas that they want to try. My oldest is all about trying a kiwi muffin/cupcake (still working on this one), while my youngest decided she wanted a cherry cupcake. We talked through the concept and she had some very strong ideas about what she wanted: Vanilla cupcake with cherry filling? No. It had to be a vanilla cupcake with pieces of cherry in it. Cherries in the buttercream? No, it had to have a cherry on top with a vanilla frosting.

We set to work. I found a recipe that said it worked for both fresh, frozen, or jarred cherries. We used a jar of Morello cherries we picked up from Trader Joe's, but I would love to try this with fresh cherries... My youngest set to work chopping them.

My peekie-peekerton. She was so excited to find her reflection on the side on the mixing bowl.

We made the batter and stirred in the chopped cherries. 

After scooping them into cupcake liners, they were baked at 350° for about 18 minutes.

They didn't rise too much (probably courtesy of the buttermilk in the batter and the extra weight of the cherries), so next time I may add more batter to each cup and just have fewer cupcakes. We ended up with 18 cupcakes.

I decided to try the Swiss Meringue Buttercream because I thought with such a sweet cupcake, a velvety smooth, rich, subtly sweet frosting would be a nice counter balance. Couple that with the shortage of powdered sugar in our house (this recipe uses granulated sugar), and this was an obvious choice. It was definitely the smoothest, creamiest homemade frosting I have ever had, and one I will make again.

I can't wait to see where our next Cupcake War adventure takes us. ;)

Fresh Cherry Cupcakes
Yield: 16 - 18 cupcakes
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup finely chopped fresh pitted cherries
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 16 muffin cups with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Blend in the egg, vanilla extract and almond extract until smooth. Working in two or three additions, gradually mix in the dry ingredients, alternating with additions of buttermilk and ending with an addition of the last of the flour mixture. Stir in chopped cherries.

Bake for 16-19 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool cupcakes on a wire rack completely before frosting.

Source: Baking Bites

Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Yield: 5 cups
  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 lb. (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
To make the frosting, combine the egg whites, sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water.  Heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture reaches 160° F and the sugar has dissolved.
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes.

Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated.  If the frosting looks soupy or curdled, continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth again, about 3-5 minutes more (don’t worry, it will come together!)  Stir in the vanilla extract and mix just until incorporated.  Tint with gel icing color as desired.

Keep buttercream at room temperature if using the same day, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month. Before using, bring to room temperature and beat with paddle attachment on low speed until smooth again, about 5 minutes.

Source: Annie's Eats, originally adapted from Martha Stewart

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tiramisu Sandwich Cookies

If there is a way to further my love of tiramisu, the cookies pictured above would have to be it: Hand-held, portable morsels of mascarpone cheese-laden deliciousness.

It starts with a cookie that by itself is really nothing to speak of, but once they surround the sugary mascarpone cream cheese layer and a coffee spiked chocolate layer, they become something so very good.
Don't be put off by the number of steps or components. I baked the cookies one night, then made the fillings the next. Assembly took about 20 minutes from start to finish.

We also found that they tasted even better after an overnight in the refrigerator. The cookies softened, the mascarpone cheese hardened, and their flavors really developed.

Peabody (whose blog I discovered these on) did not include the chocolate layer, but having tried it both with and without it, my husband and I both preferred the cookies with the chocolate layer on it. But, if you're feeling lazy or want to remove a step, these still are quite tasty without it. We ended up with a lot of the chocolate filling leftover, so I've adjusted the original recipe below.

Tiramisu Sandwich Cookies
Yield: 16 Sandwiched Cookies
Cookie Ingredients:
  • ¾ cup plus 1 Tbsp. sugar, divided
  • ½ tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 oz mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • ½ tsp. powdered espresso powder
  • 2 tsp. coffee liqueur
  • 1 ¼ cups plus 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. cream of tartar
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ¼  tsp. salt
Cheese Filling Ingredients:
  • 4 oz. mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
  • 3 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. coffee liqueur 
Chocolate Filling:
  • ½ c. confectioners (powdered) sugar (plus more to thicken it as needed)
  • 1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbsp. coffee
  • ½ Tbsp. coffee liqueur

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Combine 1 tablespoon sugar and cocoa in small bowl; set aside. Beat cheese and remaining sugar until fluffy. Add egg, espresso powder and coffee liqueur. Stir together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt in small bowl; gradually add to cheese mixture; beat until well mixed.

Drop by teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets (I used my cookie scoop to keep the size consistent). Sprinkle with sugar/cocoa topping. Bake 8-10 minutes (I only went 9 on mine) minutes until lightly browned. Remove from cookie sheets while warm. Cool on wire rack.

For the cheese filling:
Using a stand mixer, or a bowl and electric beaters, beat together the mascarpone and cream cheeses, about 3 minutes. Add sugar and coffee liqueur, and beat for an additional 2 minutes.

For the chocolate filling:
Mix the ingredients together in a small bowl, adding powdered sugar to get it to a consistency where it will spread, but is not too stiff.

Match the cookies together by size. Spread cheese filling on the bottom half of cookies (I used a piping bag). Spread the chocolate filling on the top half of the cookie. Press together to make sandwiches. Store in refrigerator.

Source: Culinary Concoctions by Peabody and the Domino Sugar website

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mixed Greens with Berries and Sugared Almonds

I've shared some great salads in the past (remember the beautiful fall salad, the pear and pecan salad with mustard vinaigrette, or the yummy greek/house dressing), but this one is really something special. The fruit balances perfectly with the blue cheese and the vinaigrette, and the crunch from the sugared almonds gives it some extra texture while adding so much to the overall flavor. It really is as beautiful as it is delicious.

It's a little bit of spring on a plate and I love everything about it.

Orange and Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette:
  • 2 Tablespoons honey
  • 1 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed Meyer or regular lemon juice
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
Put all of the ingredients in a jar and shake until combined. Or, blend ingredients together using an immersion blender, food processor, or blender. Taste for balance and seasoning.  This dressing will keep for a week in the fridge if there are leftovers.

Mixed Greens with Berries and Sugared Almonds

  • Mixed greens
  • Raspberries
  • Blueberries
  • Sugared almonds (recipe below)
  • Blue cheese crumbles
  • Salt and pepper
Assemble the salad and toss with some of the dressing.  Top with raspberries, blueberries, sugared almonds, and blue cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

Sugared Almonds
  • 1/2 c. raw, sliced almonds
  • 1/4 c. granulated sugar
In a medium saucepan over medium low heat, cook and stir the almonds and sugar until the sugar is melted and the almonds are coated. Remove from heat, cool, and break apart. Store at room temperature until ready to serve salad. 

Adapted from: Baked Bree

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Irish Soda Bread

I am a total sucker for just about any holiday. It's a great excuse to try something new, make something tasty, and just plain celebrate.

Irish Soda Bread has been on my list of things to make for St. Patrick's Day for a couple years and it was so easy to make that I am kicking myself that I *had* to wait to before the holiday to make it. There is just something so rewarding about pulling a loaf of hot bread out of the oven and knowing you made it, especially one so rustic and beautiful.

Sadly, none of the pictures of the whole bread round even remotely turned out and we (along with some good friends) ate the rest at dinner last night, so I can only show you about a 10th of it's beauty. Thanks to the buttermilk, it was really moist, and the currants and orange zest added a really nice flavor to the mildly sweet bread.

Want to make the recipe but don't have any buttermilk? No worries! Make your own by adding 1 tablespoon of lemon juice (not the fake stuff from the bottle) or white vinegar to a one cup measuring cup, then add milk to reach the 1 c. line. Let it sit for 5 minutes and you have a perfect substitute.

Don't have currants? Use raisins or dried cranberries. Both would be perfectly delicious in this bread.

My oldest daughter created her own little glaze for the recipe with the juice of the leftover orange and some powdered sugar. It was a hit with the kids (and a couple of us adults). Have fun with this, make and eat it with people you love, and pinch all those that you find green-less tomorrow. I can't think of a better way to celebrate. Well, maybe with some Irish Cream, or an ice cold Smithwick's.

How are you celebrating St. Patrick's Day?
Irish Soda Bread
Yield: 1 loaf
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for currants
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk, shaken
  • 1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1 cup dried currants
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour.

With a fork, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg, and orange zest together in a measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture. Combine the currants with 1 tablespoon of flour and mix into the dough. It will be very wet.

Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and knead it a few times into a round loaf. Place the loaf on the prepared sheet pan and lightly cut an X into the top of the bread with a serrated knife. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it will have a hollow sound.

Cool on a baking rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Source: Ina Garten Barefoot Contessa at Home

Monday, March 14, 2011

Baked Potato Soup

This recipe also isn't new to us, but it's definitely a favorite around here and I thought I should share it with you.

When making baked potatoes for dinner, throw a couple extra in the oven to save for this soup, and you'll be able to make a creamy, comforting bowl of potato soup from scratch in about 30 minutes. Topped with some shredded cheddar, scallions, bacon, or even a dollop of sour cream, then served with a salad and dinner is ready.

And did I mention that the total cost of making this soup is under $10 for a double batch? It's so good in so many ways.

Baked Potato Soup
Serves 4
  • 3 bacon strips, diced
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 2 large baked potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 cup half-and-half cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
  • Optional: Shredded Cheddar cheese, minced fresh parsley, scallions, sour cream
*Potatoes can be baked and cooled enough that they can be peeled and diced just before making the soup by baking them at 400° for about an hour.

In a large saucepan, cook bacon until crisp. Drain, reserving 1 tablespoon drippings. Set bacon aside. Saute onion and garlic in the drippings until tender. Stir in flour, salt, basil and pepper; mix well. Gradually add broth. Bring to boil; boil and stir for 2 minutes. Add the potatoes, cream and hot pepper sauce; heat through but do not boil. Garnish with any of the following: bacon, cheese, parsley, scallions, sour cream.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Better than Bailey's Homemade Irish Cream

It's almost St. Patrick's Day, so for us, that means it's time to make some homemade Irish Cream. I first made this recipe a couple years ago when looking for something to bring to a St. Patty's Day party, and it's become a bit of a tradition ever since.

It's very simple to make, really delicious, and easily adjustable. Enjoy whiskey? Make it as written (it's nice and strong). Don't like whiskey as much? Cut it back and add to taste. Watching your weight? Substitute half-and-half in place of the heavy cream.

We enjoy it on the rocks, but it also makes a delicious Irish coffee, White Russian, or Baby Guinness. Or, you can be a saint and give it as a gift. I am not that nice, but it's still an option. ;)

Homemade Irish Cream
Yields: Approx. 4 cups
  • 1 cup heavy cream (or half-and-half)
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 2/3 cups Irish whiskey (I used Jameson)
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso or instant coffee granules
  • 2 tablespoons chocolate syrup (Hershey's, or store-bought works fine as well)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
In a blender, combine the heavy cream (or half-and-half), sweetened condensed milk, Irish whiskey, instant coffee, chocolate syrup, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Blend on high for 20 to 30 seconds. Store in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator. Shake well before serving. 


Friday, March 11, 2011

The Best Chocolate Sauce

You know the chocolate sauce is good when you find yourself randomly walking past the fridge and thinking about just grabbing a little spoonful. I have done this more times than I care to admit since making this a couple days ago. I also confess that I have forced this chocolate sauce on just about every friend or family member that has stopped by since I made it (not that they seemed to mind).

What makes this sauce even better is that it has no butter or cream. It's chocolaty and rich all on it's own. And the aftertaste it leaves isn't bitter in the least, so one spoon can tide you over till the next time you walk past the refrigerator.

My favorite way to eat this delicious sauce happens to be drizzled over a bowl of bananas. If I'm feeling fancy, I will sometimes add whipped cream and a maraschino cherry (or two) to make it a little more like a sundae.

It can also be added to milk to make a decadent chocolate milk or hot chocolate. (Not pictured, but I can attest to its deliciousness.)

Or, you can be a traditionalist and add it to your favorite ice cream. One of my faves is Breyers Coffee Ice Cream, and I must say that the chocolate/coffee combination is truly a thing of beauty. What are you waiting for? Get yourself into the kitchen and whip up some chocolaty goodness! Then force spoonfuls of it on unsuspecting (but soon-to-be grateful) friends.
The Best Chocolate Sauce
Yield: About 2½ cups
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-processed)
  • 2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
In a medium saucepan, whisk together the water, sugar, corn syrup, and cocoa powder.

Bring to a boil over medium heat. Once it’s just begun to simmer and boil, remove from heat and stir in the chopped chocolate until melted.

Serving: You should let the chocolate sauce stand for a few hours before serving, which will give it time to thicken a bit. Refrigerating it thickens the sauce to what is seen in the photos above.

Storage: Store the chocolate sauce in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. Rewarm before serving, if desired.

Source: David Lebovitz

Monday, March 7, 2011

Chewy, Fudgy Triple Chocolate Brownies

If there is one sweet I am a total sucker for, it's brownies. There's something about the intense chocolate flavor, shiny crusty crackly top, and versatility (icing/no icing; nuts/no nuts; chocolate chunks/no chunks) that I cannot resist. But finding a "from scratch" recipe that tasted and looked as good as my boxed mix standby proved to be a challenge.

Some recipes tasted good, but didn't have the shiny-crusty top that I love. Some were too crumbly and dry. Some were too chewy, verging on fudge rather than brownie. But in my effort to continue to reduce our processed food intake, I searched on.

Enter the fine people at Cook's Illustrated and their chewy, fudgy, triple chocolate brownies. These brownies are pretty much perfect. As the name suggests, they are chewy and fudgy, but still have a great brownie consistency. Using good quality chocolate is the key to this recipe, so don't skimp out by using Nestle chocolate chips. Chocolate chips contain about a third-less cocoa butter than chocolate bars, which allows them to keep their shape in cookies, but makes them thicker and less than ideal for melting. If that's all you have and are dying for some homemade brownies, by all means try it. But spring for a nice bar of Ghirardelli bittersweet or semisweet chocolate the next time.

Another really important note when working with chocolate in a double boiler: Do not allow that chocolate to come in contact with water. All your utensils/cookware should be dry when starting and be sure to use really dry hands when working with the chocolate. Water is to chocolate as kryptonite is to Superman. There are times when it's okay to add chocolate to water (and I have a stellar recipe I'll be sharing soon), but it doesn't happen often.

Click on the photo below for a closer view of the steps:

I ended up using a 4 oz. bar of Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate, 2 oz. of a semi-sweet chocolate bar,  1 oz. of unsweetened chocolate, with the cocoa powder and it worked out beautifully. I guess mine were really Chewy, Fudgy Quadruple Chocolate brownies. Whatever you call them, they are divine  and about 100x better than a box. Enjoy!

Chewy, Fudgy Triple Chocolate Brownies
Yield: One 8"x8" pan
5 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into quarters
3 tbsp. cocoa powder
3 large eggs
1¼ cups (8¾ oz.) sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. salt
1 cup (5 oz.) all-purpose flour

Place an oven rack in lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 350° F.  Line an 8-inch square baking dish with foil and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth.  Whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth.  Set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt; whisk until combined, about 15 seconds. Whisk in the warm chocolate mixture until incorporated.  Then stir in the flour with a wooden spoon until just combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread with a spatula to make an even layer.  Bake until slightly puffed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a small amount of sticky crumbs clinging to it, 35-40 minutes.  Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.

Remove the brownies from the pan using the foil and transfer to a cutting board.  Cut into squares as desired.  Store in an air-tight container.

Source: Annie's Eats, adapted from Baking Illustrated

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mexican Rice

Of all the foods I had thought of making from scratch, Mexican rice wasn't even on the radar. The yummy cilantro-lime rice from Chipotle, yes. But a replacement for the Lipton packets of Mexican rice, no. Hadn't even considered it.

But I am now a changed (and enlightened, even) woman. This rice is flavorful, without being spicy or overpowering. It involves a bit of prep (pureeing and chopping), but as I have been craving it since I first made it two weeks ago, it's totally worth it in my opinion. The rice is consistently moist and perfectly cooked with a complex, though not spicy, delicious flavor.

Don't forget that little squeeze of lime juice when serving it. It really elevates this dish from great to amazing.

Click on the below image to view the steps more clearly:

In true unplanned form, dinner was served with some fresh pineapple, sliced red peppers, and homemade NACHOS! Reason #452 I love Mexican food for dinner. :) (Not pictured are the chopped tomatoes and salsa we had with it.)

Mexican Rice
Serves 8-10
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered
  • 1 medium white onion, peeled, trimmed and quartered
  • 2 cups long grain white rice
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
  • 3 medium jalapenos, ribbed, seeded and minced
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro (optional)
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges for serving
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and move a rack to the middle position.  Process tomatoes and onions in the food processor until smooth and thoroughly pureed, about 15 seconds, scraping down the bowl if necessary.  Transfer the mixture a liquid measuring cup; you should have 2 cups (if necessary, spoon off excess or add water so that the volume equals 2 cups).

Place the rice in a large fine mesh strainer and rinse under cold running water until the water runs clear, about 1 1/2 minutes.  Shake rice vigorously in strainer to remove all excess water.

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed oven-safe Dutch oven or straight-sided sauté pan with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat, 1 to 2 minutes.  Add the rice and fry, stirring frequently, until it is golden and translucent, 6 to 8 minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium; add the garlic and minced jalapenos; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 1/2 minutes.  Stir in pureed tomatoes and onions, chicken broth, tomato paste and salt; increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.  Cover the pan an transfer to the oven; bake until the liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, 30 to 35 minutes, stirring well after 15 minutes.

Stir in cilantro (if desired) and serve with lime wedges. 

Source: Annie's Eats, originally (and adapted) from Cooks Illustrated, Sept. 2004