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Archive for March, 2010

Spring, glorious spring!  I love the light, the breeze, the flowers and the new growth!  And I’m always amazed at how the new growth seems to glow from within under the spring sun…glory be!

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Now, there’s no recipe to follow this post, but just stay with me here.  I’ve got a funny story to tell.  And there is food involved… sort of…

There’s a girl who used to work at the restaurant with me.  She was a chatterbox.  She liked to gossip.  She often worked in the back corner of the kitchen.  Right next to the staff restroom.  She called that corner “the intersection of awkward and uncomfortable”.  That’s because she often found herself in deep gossip mode only to find that the person she was talking about was actually in the bathroom. And they’d just heard everything she was saying about them.  This girl found herself feeling awkward and uncomfortable a lot.  It was amusing.

One warm summer evening, she went outside to take in the breeze as the night slowed down.  There are apartments on the upper floors, next door to the restaurant.  It was probably 10:30 at night.  Somebody dumped a bowl of cornflakes out of their window.  The cornflakes (soggy with milk) landed squarely on this girl’s head.  Squarely.  She had really curly hair.  The cornflakes got stuck in her curly coils.  She had to stick her head in the sink to wash out the milky sogginess.  But soggy cornflakes are hard to extract from curly, coily, hair.  She had a hard time.  She just wanted to know who eats cornflakes at 10:30 pm?  And who dumps half-eaten bowls of soggy cornflakes out their windows?

I started singing, “I never was a cornflake girl”.  She wasn’t happy with me.  I kept singing it.  I mean, when something is really funny, sometimes you just have to go with it.  And as Scott is known to say, “funny trumps mean“.  How can one not see the humor in this?

I haven’t stopped laughing.

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For a first-birthday celebration, I found myself making 48 cupcakes.  I made 24 chocolate, and 24 vanilla.  For the chocolate, I used this recipe, doubling it.  And for the vanilla, I used this recipe, doubling it, and baking for about 5 minutes less.  Ever searching for new and fun frostings, I came across two wildly successful ones in Smitten Kitchen’s recipe list.  Here they are:

Fudge Frosting barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen
yeilds 4 cups

This frosting is fairly sweet, even though it calls for unsweetened chocolate.  Next time I may try using a little less sugar.  Also, Deb uses 3 sticks of butter (12 ounces) and no creme fraiche…a good alternative!

  • 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 4-1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 4 ounces creme fraiche or sour cream at room temperature
  • 6 Tablespoons whole milk at room temperature
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

Melt the chocolate in a bowl placed over a pot of barely simmering water.  Allow to cool slightly.  Place everything in the bowl of a food processor, and process until smooth.  Frost away!

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting from Smitten Kitchen
yields about 4 cups

I used Grade A Maple Syrup, which has a more “pure” flavor.  But I tend to think that a Grade B syrup might be better, as the flavor is a little stronger and won’t be so overpowered by the cream cheese. Also, I’ve tried using an artisinal cream cheese and it was an utter failure!! The resulting frosting was too thin, and curdy.  I think good ol’ Philadelphia is the way to go.

update 11/2010: I tried using Grade B syrup and the flavor of the icing was great, however it was a little looser because Grade B maple syrup is a little thinner… so really, the choice is yours!

  • 2 packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter until perfectly smooth.  Scrape down the bowl and add the sugar and maple syrup.  Mix until smooth.  Depending upon how thin your resulting frosting is, you may find that chilling it for about an hour helps it to thicken for easier frostibility.

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You complete me

I love eating meals consisting of beans and rice.  They’re wholesome, they’re hearty, and together, they become a complete protein, which is handy when meat has become altogether unappealing, as it has in the last few months for me.  So this is our version of the Cuban-inspired dish, which may not be perfectly authentic, but is (as my dad often says) “delish, nutrish, makes ya feel ambish!”

Black Beans and Rice

And for the record, sacrilegious and unconventional as it may be, I’ve discovered that a bowl of leftover black beans and rice topped with feta cheese will make me smile all afternoon!

For the Beans

  • 1 cup dried black beans
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 yellow onion
  • pinch chili flakes
  • salt
  • olive oil

The day before cooking, soak the dried beans by placing them in a bowl and covering them with a couple inches of water.  Leave on the counter to soak over night.

The next day, pour off the soaking water and give the beans a rinse.  Place the soaked beans in a heavy-bottomed pot and, again, cover with a couple inches of water.  Add the garlic, chili and onion.  Bring to a gentle simmer, skimming any scum that rises to the top.  Simmer until fully cooked.  Remove from the heat and season with salt and a drizzle of olive oil.  Set aside.

Finishing the Beans

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • healthy pinch of chili flake
  • 1/2 teaspoon mortared coriander seed
  • 1/2 of a 14-ounce can of whole, peeled, tomatoes plus 2 Tablespoons of the juice
  • 2 Tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • salt to taste

Using an 8 to 10-inch saute pan set over low heat, warm the olive oil.  Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook gently, covered,  until it is mostly translucent.  Add the garlic, chili flake, coriander seed, and tomato, breaking up the tomato with the back of a wooden spoon.  Continue to cook, covered until soft.

Using a slotted spoon, lift the black beans out of their cooking liquid and add them to the onion mixture.  Add a little bit of the cooking liquid if the onions have begun to dry out.  Pour in the vinegar and cook gently, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes.  Taste for salt.

For the Rice

Use the water to rice ratio that comes with the specific rice you are using.  The brown Basmati rice I use calls for 2 cups water per 1 cup of rice, however, I always use about a 1/4 cup less water than is called for because I like the firmer texture.  That being said, you can, of course, use white rice, so long as it’s a long-grain variety.  And while I’m at it- a couple notes about the rice…1) using a short-grain rice here will be utterly disappointing because short-grain rice cooks up fairly sticky.  You’ll want the rice grains in this dish to be dry and separate.  2) If you’d like to try to get more brown rice into your diet, I highly recommend trying long-grain brown rice.  I find the texture to be light and pleasant,  similar to that of it’s white counterpart.  The only brown rice I knew as a kid was the shorter-grained variety and I grew to detest that gummy mass that found it’s way to my plate!

  • 1/4 yellow onion, minced
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup long-grain brown rice (I use brown Basmati)
  • 1 Tablespoon butter, divided
  • 2 sprigs marjoram, chopped
  • 3 sprigs parsley, chopped
  • water
  • salt

In a small, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat, melt 1/2 Tablespoon of butter.  Add the onion and cook gently until it is translucent.  Stir in the tomato paste and continue to cook for about 2 minutes.  Pour in the rice and stir for about 2 minutes, coating it with the onion-tomato mixture.  Add the correct amount of water and bring to a simmer.  Add salt to the simmering mixture and taste the liquid to be sure that the amount of salt is correct.  Immediately turn the heat down to low, cover with a lid, and cook until the rice is done, based on the package instructions. When the rice is fully cooked (I always peek), turn off the heat and allow the rice to rest, covered for at least 10 minutes.  Stir in the remaining butter and chopped herbs.

Bringing it all together

Place a spoonful of rice on the plate and top with the beans!  We love to add avocado and sometimes I’ll cook up a batch of garlicky chard or spinach to serve along side.  And sometimes when we’re feeling bad, we’ll cook the whole thing in bacon fat instead of butter and olive oil- and that’s a treat!

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Flowers tend to the fall into the category of “things I don’t need to buy”.  I’d rather save my pennies for this or that…and then one day I decide to spend the $8 on a bunch of tulips, and I am reminded that flowers are wonderful for brightening the little corners of my life.  And if that ain’t worth the $8, then I don’t know what is!

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One thing I’ve learned about being pregnant…

Everybody likes to give their opinion…

…about labor…

…about eating right…

…about gaining weight…

…about what I should and shouldn’t lift…

And I find it a little funny.  For the most part, I don’t really mind.  But the other day, one of my co-workers was having a conversation with Scott about the diet and cravings of a pregnant woman.  And he adamantly told Scott that a pregnant woman should just eat what she craves, not worrying about “proper nutrition” since “the body knows best”.  And to that I’d like to point out that one of my most common (unresolved) cravings is for a gin martini.  Dirty.  Extra olives… sooo, umm, what d’ya say to that- huh?!

In other news, it seems that I have a hankerin’ for cake and frosting.  Now don’t worry.  I realize that it likely appears that I’ve been eating nothing but sugary sweets and gin martinis.  But fear no more.  This facade of a blog through which you see me doesn’t paint the whole picture!  My days have been filled with hummus, avocados, kiwis, salmon and whole grains.  But you see, those things just don’t look very cute with piped-frosting hearts and squiggles.  Alas…

I present to you my new standard in chocolate cuppy-cakes (as I like to call them).  I still can’t get over just how tender the crumb is.  And how moist.  And really, I think you’ll find yourself filled with glee to eat them.  Especially if you happen to be eating them while watching the scene in Mama Mia where all the women dance through the village singing Dancing Queen.…(just a suggestion).

Chocolate Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing barely adapted from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
yields 12 cupcakes

Molly uses plain, whole milk yogurt instead of buttermilk, which I’ve used with great success in many cake recipes.  I simply didn’t have any on hand!  Also, Molly states that this recipe can be baked into an 8″ or 9″ cake pan, greased and lined with parchment.  Bake for 50-60 minutes.

Chocolate Cupcakes

  • 1 ounce semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup hot brewed coffee
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • rounded 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place an oven rack in the center-most position and preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Line a standard-sized muffin pan with muffin papers and set aside.

Pour the semisweet chocolate into the hot coffee and let it sit, stirring every once in a while until dissolved.

In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Whisk to combine.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment,  beat the egg until frothy.  Add the canola oil, buttermilk and vanilla extract.  With the mixer running, add the coffee/chocolate mixture.  Add the dry ingredients all at once and mix until just combined.  Turn off the mixer and use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom to be sure that there aren’t any unmixed parts left.

Pour the batter into the lined muffin pan, taking care to distribute the batter evenly.  Place in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack for 20 minutes to cool.  Gently remove the cooled cupcakes from the pan (you may want to use a palette knife or butter knife to assist you), and place on the cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
  • tiny pinch of salt

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until completely smooth.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and add the butter and salt.  Beat again for about 30 seconds.  Scrape down the bowl again, and add the sugar.  Again, beat until smooth, scraping down the bowl as necessary.  Load into a pastry bag fitted with a fluted pastry tip and decorate!*

*Did you know that you can use a zip-top bag as a substitute pastry bag?  Simply load up the bag with the frosting, then cut one of the corners of the bag off.  A small cut will give you a small “pastry tip” and a larger cut will give you a larger “pastry tip”-ta da!

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