Saturday, March 26, 2011

Birthday Cupcakes.

Today's post, loosely related to birthdays, is dedicated to the fabulous Alexandra Whitney, who celebrated a birthday this week AND is the reason this blog exists. You should check out her blog for a photo of the cupcakes I talk about below.

I have always had the best jobs in the world. How often does one get assigned "make cupcakes"? The correct answer is twice--and I'm not even including the number of times I've been asked to make muffins.

On this occassion we were celebrating two birthdays. I find that when I make birthday anything for anyone I always appreciate specifics. Jordan, for example, requested peanut butter and chocolate. It was easy for me to go above and beyond with a chocolate drizzle and some crunchy peanuts (see top image). My friends, those were some bangin' cupcakes.

The other cupcakes were a lackluster vanilla with chocolate ganache. I hadn't yet discovered my favorite vanilla cupcake recipe, which I will now share with you.

I have been making these vanilla cupcakes all the ever-lovin' time. They are my go-to, my signature simple dessert. They tow the line between light and airy and rich and dense, living in some kind of perfect cupcake utopia. I often use this recipe for mini-cupcakes, and if I make the larger version, they almost always get some kind of filling (jam, pastry cream, etc). I suspect most of you have a favorite frosting, but the Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Buttercream is to die for (thank God for Martha Stewart).

I still haven't found the perfect chocolate cupcake recipe. Any suggestions?

Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes
Makes about 2 dozen

  • 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners; set aside. In a small bowl, combine flours; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth and creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla, and scraping down sides of bowl in between each addition; beat until ingredients are incorporated but do not overbeat.

  2. Divide batter evenly among liners, filling about three-quarters full. Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.

  3. Transfer to a wire rack to cool in tins for 15 minutes. Remove cupcakes from tins, and cool completely on rack. Once cupcakes have cooled, use a small offset spatula to frost tops of each cupcake. Serve at room temperature.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


I know, I'm being cruel.

This is a summer salad. It's from the June 2009 issue of Gourmet. I probably made it for the first time sometime around June of this past year. It has, however, been a mainstay in my limited salad repertoire.

It made it's most notable appearance at a dinner party themed around the musical "Oklahoma". This dish, coupled with a bowl of hearty beef chili, made up the main course called "The Farmer and Cowman", named for the second act opener. More on that meal later.

Even though it snowed today, I don't hesitate posting this salad. Is it optimism? Is spring really coming? No. I just know avocados are available in supermarkets, this dressing is great, and one could easily replace the corn. Grilled pineapple, roasted red peppers and tomatoes would all be viable options.

Also, I don't have a grill. I have a grill pan. I use it all the time; it was a great investment (and only $16 or so, if I remember correctly!). You'll be shocked how grilling the avocado elevates their buttery texture and creaminess.

Romaine, Grilled Avocado and Smoky Corn Salad with Chipotle Caesar Dressing
Serves 4-6
Gourmet, June 2009

1/4 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced canned chipotle chiles in adobo
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 ears of corn, shucked
2 firm-ripe 6-to 8-ounces avocados, halved and pitted but not peeled
1 head romaine (1 pound), tough outer leaves discarded and head quartered lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1-inch strips

Put parmesan in a medium bowl and add olive oil in a slow stream, whisking. Whisk in lime juice, garlic, chipotles, and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

Rub vegetable oil on corn and cut sides of avocados, then season with 1/8 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Grill avocados, cut sides down, and corn, turning corn occasionally, until golden-brown, 3 to 4 minutes.

Peel avocados and thinly slice. Cut corn kernels from cobs.

Toss romaine with dressing and serve topped with avocado and corn.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Seriously, spring.

I'm wearing a wool scarf today. It is not okay.

Granted, I'm almost done with a cotton version of the same over-sized, kerchief-style cowl I've been sporting all winter. I was anticipated warmer weather. I was anticipating a change in the grocery store's produce.

Alas, it is the same sad, wilted collection week and after week. Not to say I haven't been buying up citrus and all manner of root vegetables, but I need a little more green in my life. The unfortunate thing is that what green there is available at the ironically titled "Fresh Grocer" is not only desperate looking, it's also ridiculously overpriced.

I kid you not when I say $5 for a bunch of asparagus. It's probably imported from South America or something. My locavore heart breaks every time.

But since it's almost April, I have faith we'll see reasonably priced, locally grown asparagus soon (aside: can I grow asparagus in my apartment? Or outside it? Who wants to tackle this one?). And when we do, you'll be ready.

I love how the way the vegetable is cut colors the entire dish. If you've eaten dinner at our house in spring time, you're more than likely to be served asparagus that's simply been thrown under the broiler for ten or so minutes with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. But even that (delicious at is. And believe me, it is) gets old. This is asparagus, only MORE FUN! It's on pizza, for Christ's sake (and mean that)!

Shaved Asparagus Pizza

from Smitten Kitchen, of course

Makes 1 thin crust 12-inch pizza

Pizza dough: we always use this one from Mario Batali with white wine and honey
1/2 pound asparagus
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 pound mozzarella, shredded or cut into small cubes
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Several grinds black pepper
1 scallion, thinly sliced

Sprinkle of red pepper flakes, squeeze of lemon, optional

Preheat your oven to the hottest temperature it goes, or about 500 in most cases. If you use a pizza stone, have it in there.

Prepare asparagus: No need to snap off ends; they can be your “handles” as you peel the asparagus. Holding a single asparagus spear by its tough end, lay it flat on a cutting board and using a vegetable peeler (a Y shaped peeler works best here, ours is from Ikea), create long shavings of asparagus by drawing the peeler from the base to the top of the stalk. Repeat with remaining stalks and don’t fret some pieces are unevenly thick (such as the end of the stalk, which might be too thin to peel); the mixed textures give a great character to the pizza. Discard tough ends. Toss peelings with olive oil, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes (if using) in a bowl and be sure to try one — I bet you can hardly believe how good raw asparagus can taste.

Assemble and bake pizza: Roll or stretch out your pizza dough to a 12-inch round. Either transfer to a floured or cornmeal-dusted pizza peel (if using a pizza stone in the oven) or to a floured or cornmeal-dusted tray to bake it on. Sprinkle pizza dough with Parmesan, then mozzarella. Pile asparagus on top. Bake pizza for 10 to 15 minutes, or until edges are browned, the cheese is bubbly and the asparagus might be lightly charred. Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle with scallions and squeeze with lemon juice, then slice and eat.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

American As.

So a long, long time ago, Laura went to Morocco. Upon her return we threw her an epic America-themed homecoming party (I believe the theme was, "Can we welcome Laura back to the States? Amer...I can!"). We had American flag tablecloths and a full menu of American desserts: mini apple pies, ice cream sandwiches (oatmeal cookies sandwiches with peach, Dulce de Leche and vanilla ice creams), chocolate chip cookies and s'mores brownies.

S'mores are distinctly American. I think about campfires and summertime, and despite these brownies being fairly rich fare, they were seasonally appropriate for a June party.

I loved the way the whole marshmallow melted and roasted itself in the oven--a sweet toping for a cakey brownie with spattered with graham cracker pieces (the texture they create is not as jarring as I thought it would be--it was rather delightful).

S'mores Brownies
makes a full 9x13 pan

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
5 large eggs
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup graham cracker, roughly crushed with your hands
12 big marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 9×13-inch baking pan with 2-inch-high sides. Combine first 3 ingredients in small bowl. Stir butter and chocolate in a medium sized bowl over a heavy saucepan of simmering water. Stir chocolate and butter in this double boiler until melted and smooth.

Beat eggs, sugar and vanilla in large bowl to blend. Stir in warm chocolate mixture, then dry ingredients. Fold in graham crackers. Pour batter into prepared pan. Dot with 12 large marshmallows. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 30- 40 minutes minutes.

Marshmallows will be browned and puffy but will deflate as the brownies cool. Cool for at least 20 minutes than slice with a sharp knife, cleaning the knife with hot water if it gets too messy and sticky. Serve or wrap individually in wax paper for storing.