Monday, January 25, 2010

Everything's Coming Up Cupcakes

Cupcakes. They were too trendy, too eye-catching, too artificial for my tastes. The hipster of baked goods. Not enough oatmeal, or substance, or something. But, I'm coming around. In part because I discovered 1) meringue buttercream icing, 2) banana cupcakes, and 3) I can be kind of an ornery crank sometimes. (The recipes below were borrowed from Martha Stewart, and changed be less fussy/more fun)

Orange cupcakes with orange meringue buttercream. Moping the day I made these, the texture of the frosting and the flavor of the cake turned my frown upside down.

Orange-Vanilla Cupcakes

1 stick butter, softened
2 vanilla beans, split and scraped (I also used ground vanilla)
1 T finely grated orange zest (I threw in extra)
2 lg eggs
3/4 c heavy cream
1/4 c freshly squeezed orange juice
1 T vanilla (I split this vanilla/almond extract)
2 c all-purp flour
1/4 teas baking soda
1/4 teas baking powder
1/4 teas salt

Oven at 350. Line muffin pan with paper liners or grease with shortening.

1) Cream butter, sugar, vanilla seeds, and orange zest until pale, fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape the sides of the bowl.

2) Combine cream, OJ, and extract into a small bowl. In separate bowl, sift together dry ingredients* (*I never sift, it seems too fussy and high maintenance. Like hipsters).

3) Add flour to butter mixture in 3 batches, alternating with cream mixture. End with flour; beat til just combined.

4) Fill each muffin cup to 3/4 full. Bake about 25 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean or until cupcake tops spring back when pressed. Cool on wire racks.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream Icing
Once, I made a roast chicken dinner for a gentleman. As we sat in a candlelit kitchen, I slobbered up the juices, licked my fingers, and lost the capacity for language. It was so succulent and tender, like sex on a platter. Swiss Meringue Buttercream inspired a similarly orgiastic response. In my reverie, I may have told my friend Andrew (who took the photo above) that I wanted to be buried alive in it. It's the frosty peaks of meringue with the grounding silkiness of softened butter. Like the best things, it can't be described in mere words. Here's the recipe, in any case (did I mention that it has a pound of butter? *swoon*):

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
5 large egg whites, room temperature
Pinch of salt
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (I added orange extract too)

1) Place sugar, whites, and salt in a glass, or mixing, bowl. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water. Whisk until sugar dissolves (about 160 degrees, if you have a candy thermometer).
2) Remove from heat. Whisk on medium speed for 5 minutes. Increase speed to medium-high and whisk 6 minutes more, until stiff, glossy peaks form. In the meantime, cut up softened butter (each about the size of a sugar cube).
3) Reduce speed to medium, and add butter, 1 piece at a time, whisking well after each addition. The texture will change as you add more butter. If the butter hesitates to incorporate itself, whisk it into submission before adding the vanilla. It'll come around. Whisk in vanilla. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Banana Cupcakes with Cinna-Honey Icing

1 1/2 c all-purp flour
3/4 c sugar
1 teas baking powder
1/2 teas baking soda
1/4 teas salt
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 c mashed bananas (about 4 ripe bananas)
2 lg eggs
1/2 teas vanilla

Oven at 350. Line muffin cups with paper liners or shortening.

1) In medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center.
2) Pour butter, mashed bananas, eggs and vanilla into the well. Mix in dry ingredients until just combined.
3) Spoon into pan, diving batter evenly. Bake for 25-30 minutes until tester comes out clean or cupcake tops bounce back when pressed.
4) Let cool completely before icing with Cinnamon-Honey Frosting

Cinna-Honey Icing
This may be the easiest icing ever!
1 1/4 c powdered sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 T honey
1/8 teas ground cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in bowl. Beat until smooth (about 5 minutes). Spread on cooled cupcakes. I topped with coarsely-crushed walnuts. These cupcakes are best ever: dense, flavorful, full of sustenance!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mommy and Me!

As the daylight wanes, so too does my residency at the domestic violence shelter. Over the last few months, many recipes and hypotheses have been tested. The results are as follows:

*Parents and children benefit from time spent together, interacting with one another, creating cupcakes and memories to be shared. Kitchens/food help nourish the soul and the stomach.*#*

*Baking makes the world better. And, it makes me better. Through the Mommy and Me cupcake workshops, I'm reminded that social change and community activism are of primary importance. These activities are often enhanced, like most things, with a spoonful of sugar.

*Kids don't like chocolate cupcakes with orange icing. Kids like double chocolate, or chocolate and vanilla, or chocolate cherry.

*Rainbow sprinkles are like magical unicorns of glee!

*The bigger the mess, the more fun was had.

*#*This bears mentioning, some of the families were unable to transition to more permanent housing within the 90-days normally allotted, so I had an opportunity to see them over a longer period of time. In early sessions, parents would often critique their children's behavior or cupcake decorating. By the end, however, parents encouraged free creativity, using positive feedback and supportive language. Smiles seemed less strained and more joyous. It was delightful to take part. :)

It is with icing on my nose that I approach 2010.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Team Catserole: Hooray!

When my friend Andrew asked if I would collaborate with him on a casserole cook-off, I was reticent. My culinary skills are best served in a cake pan or with frosting. I relented because it was, after all, casserole and I'll do just about anything for cheese.

The guidelines were simple. A casserole was defined as anything consisting of at least two ingredients, one being a starch, and baked in a casserole-type pan. Because I'd never really thought about it before, my brain started reeling with the possibilities. What kind of starch? If I were to develop a casserole recipe from scratch, a dream-casserole, what would it taste like? What textures would be most pleasing?

Andrew had his mother's King Ranch Chicken in mind. Growing up in Wisco means that I wouldn't have considered using chiles for flavor or corn tortillas for starch. We hosted a tasting party to perfect the recipe; the alterations appear in Italics below.

Andrew's Mom's Recipe for King Ranch Chicken

1 boiled, boned, chicken: cut into bite size pieces (we used boneless chicken thighs and 2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size chunks)

Cumin and Chili powder

1 dozen corn tortillas, cut into bite size pieces

2 large yellow onions, chopped fine

1-2 bell peppers: we used red, orange, and green for additional color

2 cups grated cheese (cheddar and pepperjack)

1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can Ro-Tel tomatoes with chiles
1 can chicken broth (or that reserved from boiling chicken)

Preheat oven - 350. We prepped everything in advance so assembly would be easy. To enhance the flavor, after chicken had been cut into bite-size pieces we coated it with a dusting of cumin and chili powder.

Saute onion and pepper with a clove or two of garlic.

Mix sauce ingredients in glass bowl. Like most other delicious things, it starts out looking pretty gross:

Grease casserole dish, put layer of chicken, tortillas, cheese, and sauteed pepper and onion. Mix tortillas into sauce and pour on sauce. We deviated from the original recipe in that we assembled the casserole like a lasagna, layering sauce between tortillas and cheese. We topped the casserole with crushed Fritos, blue and yellow tortilla chips, roasted jalapenos, and finely shredded cheese. Bake for 35 minutes or until hot and cheese is melted.

We didn't win, but we were one of few casseroles that included any amount of spice or heat. We lost to a casserole with duck confit, which had you tasted it, would make sense. The rich duck fat melted on your tongue.

Also, I made us team-aprons, for awesome:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Last Supper Festival: Nearly Here

If you're in New York (or the area) on September 26th, check out The Last Supper Festival at 3rd Ward (195 Morgan Avenue, Brooklyn), from 6pm to 2am. It's a multimedia, multisensory feast, nourishing your visceral and intellectual appetites! Proceeds from the Festival go to the Food Bank for New York.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Last Supper Festival: Get your Tix

13 Short Films, 13 Artworks, 13 Dishes, 7 Bands & DJs

The Last Supper Film Festival is an indoor-outdoor film, food, music and art festival occuring in Williamsburg, Brooklyn during the crux of seasonal change at the end of September. Referencing the celebratory nature of the feast, and the symposium of genres, the festival kindles the creative miasma sparked by NY’s peppery fall and inventive community. The last exposure to outdoor interaction before the shearing winter, The Last Supper uncovers the cornucopia of creative genres in our backyard, and creates an atmosphere for open dialogue and collaboration between the mediums. 13 short films from emerging directors, 13 artworks from budding artists, 13 dishes from brilliant culinarians, and Music from several local bands and djs will grace the dinner table at a venue in Brooklyn.

Proceeds go to Food Bank for New York.

September 26, 2009 / 6p-2a
3rd Ward / 195 Morgan Ave, Bushwick, Bklyn
Admission $10 with donation of 3 canned goods OR $15 (sans cans)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Black Beans, Bacon, and Bartering

This Black Bean Soup recipe actually reminds me of two things, both delightful: one past, one present. Cynda, my sister, and I used to be obsessed with bean and bacon soup, I think mostly because we liked to say "bean and bacon" loudly. We'd also get the giggle fits so hard I would pee my pants playing Star Wars Monopoly: word. Remembering that made this chili-alternative even more fun to make.

Secondly, last weekend's Domestic Labor Dinner got me thinking about bartering. We begged, borrowed, and bartered for just about everything for the event, from the space itself to the produce we served. So, when I needed someone to hook up my roommate's telly, I thought: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." My friend Andrew is excellent at A/V-itude; whereas my time is better spent in the kitchen. By night's end, my A/V is such that we can watch VHS tapes and listen to CDs (stuck in circa 1995, when Cynda and I were having our best giggle parties) and our tummies were stuffed. Yay!

On the menu: Black Bean Soup (with Bacon), grilled cheese sandwiches, and apple galette.

Black Bean Soup
Taste the Rainbow
1 lb dried black beans (2 c): rinsed, soaked in 4 quarts water overnight or for 6 hours
1 lb smoked ham hock or shank (I used 1 lb bacon)
2 bay leaves
5 c water
1/8 teas baking soda (helps the beans retain the color)
1/2 teas salt
4 Tbls olive oil
1 lg onion (chopped)
1 med sweet potato, chopped into 1/2 pieces
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
1/2 teas salt
4 med garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbls ground cumin
1 teas chili powder
2 c chicken stock
1 Tbls molasses
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3-4 Tbls fresh lime juice (or lemon)

Garnish: chopped fresh cilantro, sour cream, avocado (peeled and chopped)

Cook bacon, drain bacon fat. Add 1/4 lb of cooked bacon to beans in 4-qt, thick-bottomed pot. Add 5 c water, bay leaves, salt and baking soda. Bring to boil, reduce heat to low simmer. Cover and let cook 75-90 min, til beans are tender. Remove bay leaves. Bacon will be black (ignore this).

Heat olive oil in large 8-qt, thick bottomed pot on med-high until the oil is hot, but not smoking. Add onions, celery, sweet potato, carrot and 1/2 teas salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned (about 10-15 min). Reduce heat to medium, add the cumin, chili powder, and garlic. Cook for 2 min, stirring constantly.

Add the beans, their cooking liquid, chicken stock, molasses, and bell pepper. I threw some green pepper too. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally for 20-30 min.

Remove 4 cups of soup (about half) to a blender. Puree til smooth and return to the pot of soup. Add the remainder of the 1 lb of bacon. I also added corn sliced fresh from the cob. Add 3-4 Tbls lime juice. Let cook long enough for the corn to be tender.

Apple Galette

I've said it before and I'll say it again: sometimes fancy French titles make something simple seem (needlessly) fancier and more complicated. I prefer to think of galette as peasant pie, because it's so simple and rustically wholesome.

Preheat oven to 400. Prepare the apples. I prefer tart (granny smith, cortland, mcintosh, paula red). You can peel or leave the skins on. Most importantly, quarter them, remove the seeds and slice them evenly. I think I did this to 5-6 apples. I didn't measure the resulting quantity. Place sliced apples in bowl. Add a 3-4 Tbls all-purpose flour, 1/4 c sugar, and cinnamon to taste. Stir to coat.

Galette Pastry:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 t. salt
1/2 cup chilled butter, cut into pieces (one stick)
3 tablespoons ice water

Whisk to combine flour and salt in bowl. Add chunks of butter. Use your hands to incorporate until it resembles a coarse meal, wherein the largest butter pieces are the size of peas. Add the water one Tbls at a time; mix with wooden spoon. It will start to clump together.

Dump the flour mixture onto a floured table. Gather it together and form a disk. You can refrigerate (wrap the dough in plastic) or roll out immediately.

Roll dough in large circle, until about 1/8" thick. Add flour underneath dough and to the rolling pin, whenever needed.

Wrap dough around rolling pin and transfer to sheet pan. Dump apple mixture into the center; spread them evenly around the center of the dough. Fold dough over the apples, making sure it overlaps itself, but doesn't cover the apples entirely. Seal any holes and cracks so the juices don't escape while baking.

Using an egg wash (one beaten egg, plus some water), brush the surface of the pastry.
Bake at 400 degrees for 35 minutes. It will be amazing. Uncooked version below. Please see first photo (top) for finished--and delicious--product.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Good Food: What does love taste like?

Baking makes the world better; so does my friend Dave*. Yesterday, I made double chocolate cupcakes (chocolate, with chocolate chips) for today's 'Mommy and Me' workshop at a domestic violence shelter that serves women with disabilities (some caused by trauma and domestic violence) and their children. Around the table, women sat next to their children, all smiles, as they smelled the buttercream icing, which had been divided evenly among the bowls before them. We began with a story Dave wrote. Each of us, kids included, read a short section. When we finished, the kids dyed the icing and we began decorating. Lovingly, mothers presented cupcakes to their children and vice versa. Sticky fingers embraced. We joyfully finished with sprinkles, smiles, and cupcake moustaches.

Here's the story, with Dave's permission:

Once there was a little girl. She had the loveliest singing voice. She would sing and people would smile and relax, and every day she sang would be like a holiday. On her 8th birthday, she caught a cold and her singing voice was never the same again. This made everyone in her town sad. The townspeople didn't know what to do without their happy voice. The girl became very sad because she would love being able to cheer up the people with her talented voice. She started crying one day and when her mother heard her, her mother started crying. Then the whole village started crying. Everyone except for her grandma. Her grandma took her to the side and told her that she was going to teach her the secret to making everyone happy again. The grandma told the little girl to go to sleep early and sneak out to the kitchen after midnight. The little girl choked back her tears and agreed.

The little girl came to the kitchen in her pajamas and her grandma wrapped her up in an apron. The little girl asked what they were going to do. The grandma told her to stop asking questions and get to work. The grandma put the little girl's hands to work sifting flour, pouring sugar, cracking eggs, shredding lemon peels. Before the little girl could realize what she was doing, she was covered; her face was white with flour and her hands were sticky with eggs. Then her grandma turned on the oven and gave the girl cream cheese and milk and colored food dyes, sprinkles and colored sugar crystals, even gummy dinosaurs. The grandma filled trays with the batter, and as the oven was opening one hundred beautiful cupcakes were in the little girl's sight. The grandma told the girl that she had to go and that the girl needed to get to work. The little girl said, "No. I don't know what to do." Her grandmother said, "Yes, you do, sweetheart, you always did."

The little girl cried and banged on the table. She knocked over some frosting and sprinkles and looked down. All of the cupcake decorations made the top of a cupcake look just like a sunflower. The little girl stopped crying and said, "That can't happen again." She hit the table and BAM! another cupcake was decorated; this time it looked like the face of clock. She started working harder; the cupcakes looked like panda bears, roses, eyes, jewels, the sun, rainbows, even little baby faces.

Soon the sun started coming up and the little girl ran down the hall to her mother's room, screaming "Mommy! Mommy! Look what I made for you!" carrying the most beautiful red rose cupcake. Her mother wasn't in her bed. She wasn't anywhere to be found. The little girl heard a stir from the bathroom. Her mother came out wearing a bathrobe, her eyes were drawn and blue she looked so tired. The little girl passed the cupcake to her mother whose face brightened up when she saw the cupcake; her smile turned bright red, her eyes opened and she hugged the little girl who had a gigantic smile on her face.

The little girl put the cupcakes in the front window for all to see. The townspeople cheered and she even heard one man say "Those cupcakes smell like a a beautiful song." The little girl saw her mother's bathrobe and saw a little white powder and asked, "Mommy, what's that spot?" The mother pulled the robe to the side and said, "Nothing, sweetheart, I think we both know a very sweet way to say 'I love you.'"

The story, and today's session, remind me of why I love baking. Homemade sweets, especially colorful cupcakes, bring smiles like April showers bring May flowers. I dare you to give a cupcake the stink-eye. When I bake, I don't think or worry. I just love...and stir. It's magic.

*My friend Dave is admirable and awesome and - he would say - ordinary. Please see photo below. Even when I'm at my very best (caring, thoughtful, generous of spirit/time/energy, and kind), I approximate Dave at what I imagine to be his worst. He lives to make others' lives better, and he regularly--without fuss or attention--succeeds.