Sunday, July 31, 2011

Audra's Margarita Cupcakes

A huge thank you to Audra of the Baker Chick for this recipe. After a full day of packing and moving heavy boxes, I wanted to provide all of the friends who helped us move with a summertime "adult" sweet. Truth be told...I sort of planned the house warming around the thought of making these alcoholic cupcakes.

In an ideal world, these tequila filled and frosted gems would have been coupled with Audra's mojito cupcakes. Unfortunately, the kitchen became so beastly hot with all of the other cooking going on that I could only tolerate keeping the oven on for one batch of cupcakes.

Perhaps next time....

Adapted from Audra's recipe at The Baker Chick

The Ingredients:
The cupcake:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
3 limes, zested and juiced
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

The Filling
1/2 lb fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
1 lime, zested and juiced
1/2 cup tequila
2 Tbsp sugar

The Frosting:
1 cup non-hydrogenated shortening
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly chilled
4 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup strawberry tequila filling

The Process:
For the cupcakes:
Preheat the oven to 325˚ F. Line two cupcake pans with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt; whisk to blend. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the lime zest, lime juice and vanilla. Slowly mix in the dry ingredient a third at a time, alternating with the buttermilk. Beat each addition just until incorporated.

Divide the batter between the prepared cupcake liners, filling each about three quarters full. Bake 20-24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the filling:
In a blender or a food processor, add the strawberries, lime juice, tequila and sugar. Puree the mixture until there are no chunks of strawberry. Set aside.

Once the cupcakes have completely cooled, use a small paring knife to cut a cone out of the top of each cupcake. Remove the cut-out cake and spoon a tablespoon of strawberry puree into each cupcake. Replace the top part of the cone, cutting the tip to leave room for the filling. For alternative filling methods, check out the photo laden tutorials on Annie's Eats.

Prepare the frosting
in a large mixing bowl: cream together the shortening and butter on high until well mixed and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar one cup at a time alternating with a tablespoon at a time of the Strawberry puree. Mix until the frosting is thick and creamy, like the consistency of ice cream. Spread or pipe on cupcakes With a teaspoon, sprinkle some coarse sugar around the edge of the cupcake and top with a lime wedge.

My Modifications:
Were nearly non-existent...I was so excited to try these cupcakes out as is. My cupcakes lacked the sugar rim and were not nearly as photogenic as Audra's; however, they all disappeared in a heartbeat.

The Review:
I think these were the biggest hit of our house warming, and well worth reheating the entire kitchen to prepare. The tequila packed quite a punch when the cupcakes were freshly filled and frosted, but after chilling about 30 minutes, the booze was much more subdued and the strawberry flavor truly shown through. I loved the citrus-y hint of lime in the cake.

I had wanted to accompany these cupcakes with Audra' mojito ones as well, for a truly relaxing and booze end to a long day of move heavy boxes. However, one batch of cupcakes heated up our kitchen almost more the I could bear. Of course it doesn't help that our moving day was a balmy 90+ degrees...

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Swedish Meatballs with Mushroom Gravy

One of the challenges of feeding a crowd over the course of several hours is coming up with a hearty finger food that can endure sitting in a warm crock pot without simmering into a mush. These meatballs fit the bill. And the recipe I used was loosely based, providing more of a guide line of ratios and suggestions for seasonings than hard and fast rules and measures. These are my favorite sorts of recipes...

adapted from an article in Mens Health, Dec 2010

makes about 2 dozen meatballs

The Ingredients:
The Meatballs
1 1/2 lbs ground meat (equal parts pork and beef)
2 large eggs
2 slices white bread, torn into small pieces
2 Tbsp milk
1/4 tsp nutmeg

The Gravy:
1/2 lb sliced white or cremini mushrooms
2 Tbsp flour
2 cups beef broth
1/4 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

The Process:
In a large bowl combine ground meat, eggs, onion and nutmeg. In a small bowl, soak the torn bread in milk for 5 minutes. Squeeze out the excess milk and add the bread to the meat. Mix (preferably with clean hands, or a wooden spoon for the squeamish) until well combined.

Form the mixture into 1-inch diameter balls. In a large skillet over medium heat, brown the meatballs in batches until they are cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove them and prepare the sauce in the skillet.

For the sauce, add the mushrooms to the skillet. Saute until browned, 5 minutes. Stir in the flour. Slowly pour in the beef broth, whisking to prevent lumps. Then stir in heavy cream; simmer until the gravy has thickened, about 3 minutes. Serve the meatballs with the gravy.

My modifications:
I doubled the recipe and kept the meatballs and sauce warmed in a slow cooker for the duration of our house warming and moving party.

The Review:
These meatballs were a huge hit among those who tried them...even the friends who were not fans of fungi. A double batch was way more than was needed. However, the meatballs withstood the fridge well for several future meals, and even froze pretty well.

The basic meatball ratio outlined in the article I referenced was 1 1/2 lbs meat, 2 eggs, 3/4 cup bread crumbs and seasonings of your choice (onion , garlic, ginger, jalepeno, herbs, etc etc to your liking). Bake at 450 for 12 minutes, or pan fry...its an easy enough guide to remember without having to dig out the cookbook or track down a recipe online. Spicy lamb with feta or Asian pork meatballs may be next!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Ina Garten's Potato Salad

I apologize for the lack of posts. The repose certainly isn't for lack of cooking, but more from a lack of internet access. We have finally relocated into our new house, where I proceeded to break in the kitchen with an abundance to feed the wonderful friends helping us move.

The recipe is the first of several from our housewarming that you will see in the coming days.

photo forthcoming...

adapted from Ina Garten's recipe at

serves 6-8

The Ingredients:
3 lbs small white potatoes
kosher salt
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp whole grain mustard
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion

The Directions:
Place the potatoes and 2 tablespoons of salt (salt omitted) in a large pot of water. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the potatoes are barely tender when pierced with a knife. Drain the potatoes in a colander, then place the colander with the potatoes over the empty pot and cover with a clean, dry kitchen towel. Allow the potatoes to steam for 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, buttermilk, Dijon mustard, whole grain mustard, dill, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Set aside.

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them in quarters or in half, depending on their size. Place the cut potatoes in a large bowl. While the potatoes are still warm, pour enough dressing over them to moisten. Add the celery and red onions, 2 teaspoons of salt (salt omitted) and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Toss well, cover, and refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to blend. Serve cold or at room temperature

My Modifications:
For the love of God, if you care about your blood pressure, do NOT add as much salt as this woman does! After a brief read through of the recipe I noted about 1 Tbsp of salt stirred into the dressing, and this does not include the 2 Tbsp she added to her cooking water. Instead, withhold the salt shaker to the end and season to taste. I think I used a whopping 1/2 tsp to help enhance the other flavors.

The potatoes of choice were baby reds for their pretty, pretty skins. And I only used one mustard...the Dijon, using 3 Tbsp instead of the 2 listed. After tasting the salad, I could have gotten away with the whole grain mustard as well. With only 3 Tbsp of Dijon the mustard flavor was present, but incredibly subtle. The mustard-phobes didn't even notice it.

The Review:
Everyone who tried the potato salad loved. The cooking method of boiling and steaming yielded tender and silken bites firm enough to hold up to the dressing. Unlike many a deli counter salad this was not swimming in dressing and no one flavor over powered the rest. The dill was pure summer. Indeed, this classic potato salad could be July's poster child. If you have a fondness for sides, like I do anyway....

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lentil Quinoa Salad

Nothing beats a muggy hot, day like a like cool salad...too bad this lentil quinoa salad requires you to heat up the stove. But once made, this dish--which makes both a tasty side and filling entree--holds up quite well in the fridge for a few days.

adapted from Melissa d'Arabian's recipe at the Food Network

serves 4

The Ingredients:
1/2 cup quinoa
1 1/4 cups water, plus 2 cups
1/2 cup lentils
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 lime, zested
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves

The Process:
Put the quinoa in a sieve and rinse in cold water. In a large microwave-proof bowl with a cover, add the rinsed quinoa and 1 1/4 cups water. Cover and microwave on high for 9 minutes. Let it sit for 2 minutes then stir. Quinoa should be tender enough to eat, but with a little "pop" upon biting.

Put the lentils in a sieve and rinse in cold water. In a saucepan, simmer the lentils in 2 cups water until the lentils are tender, but not mushy, about 30 minutes. Drain and cool.

In a small bowl, whisk the mustard and vinegar together, and drizzle in the oil to make an emulsion. Add the garlic powder, lime zest, and salt, and pepper, to taste.

To assemble the salad: In a medium salad bowl, mix the quinoa, lentils, green onions, and chopped cilantro. Top the salad with the dressing, toss to coat and serve.

My Modifications:
Vegetable oil for a dressing? Really? I am a prude about somethings. what oil to use in a dressing is one of them. I opted for olive oil. Using a microwave to cook anything is another. Quinoa is not hard to do on the stove top and in the end will only add about 6 or 7 more minutes to the recipe....

After rinsing, place the quinoa and water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Cover and let simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, uncover and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and continue with the recipe...

You can certainly multitask by cooking the lentils or prepping the dressing while you wait those tedious extra minutes the stove top directions take.

As tot he seasoning, I omitted the cilantro. Fresh garlic was used instead of large clove, minced to start. And since I had a lime bereft of its zest, I squeezed it of its juice as well and added that to the dressing to taste.

The Review:
Fresh and still slightly warm, this salad was "meh." I do love the fresh garlic and green onion notes alongside the citrus-y lime and bit of salt. However, the red wine vinegar seems to overpower much of the flavor. I still found this quinoa recipe a vast improvement over the last one I tried...though that dill/zucchini version did create some killer quinoa patties...

We'll see how it tastes for lunch tomorrow after all of the flavors have had a chance to mellow and meld.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Penuche Fudge

If you haven't visited the blog Good Graces, what ever is keeping you? Mary Catherine's blog is everything a food blog should be...wit, whimsy, sarcasm and sweetness all playing supporting roles to some of the richest recipes and most touching bits of storytelling you may ever encounter. Her posts are always a treat to read. And her food insights...heavenly.

Traditional penuche, as well as Mary Catherine's recipe, call for brown sugar. With our pending move, my pantry is absent this usual staple...but never fear, molasses and granulated sugar make a fair substitute, as the recipe below reflects.

Thank you for this marvelous idea!

adapted from her penuche frosting recipe at Good Graces.

The Ingredients:
1 stick of butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2-3 Tbsp molasses
1/4 cup milk
2-3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup toasted pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped

The Process:
Melt the butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Stir in the sugar and molasses (or one cup of brown sugar) until well combined. Boil gently for a minute or two and slowly stir in the milk. Return the mixture to a boil and remove from heat to cool slightly. Once cool and no longer bubbling (about 10-15 minutes) whisk in the powdered sugar until you reach a desired consistency. Stop here for an amazing frosting.

For a decedent fudge, butter an 8 x 12 inch pan (or 9 x 13 pan for a thinner fudge) and sprinkle with about half of the chopped nuts. Whisk a little more powdered sugar into the penuche to create a slightly thicker consistency. Spoon the penuche into your pan. Sprinkle with the remaining nuts, gently pressing them into the fudge with a spatula. Swirl the top with a bit of a flourish and chill until set, about 1 hour.

I dare you to wait that long...

My Modifications:
You truly must read Mary Catherine's original post.

Have you yet? Good.

My major modification as I mentioned above was substituting granulated sugar and molasses for brown sugar. Sacrilege to the traditionalist, I know!

A plethora of penuche fudge and frosting recipes exist if this one doesn't tickle your fancy. Some add vanilla and corn syrup, some use sweetened condensed milk, some follow a more traditional fudge format, some are sheer blasphemy. All I'm sure are a delight.

The Review:
Unlike most powdered sugar based frosting I've tried, this did not have the same cloyingly sweet quality. Oh, never fear. It will certainly sate your sweet tooth. But the almost artificial and slightly taste I've come to associate with powdered sugar was thankfully absent.

The fudge was smooth and rich, perhaps a bit grainy where the sugar had not fully dissolved. And completely and uttering decadent.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Asian Lettuce Cups with Ground Turkey and Apple

Sorry P.F. Chang's. I adore the lettuce wraps on your menu, but sometimes it is just far more fun (not to mention healthier) to try some dishes at home. And for a touch of nostalgia, the assembly line quality was very reminiscent of family taco nights...everyone seems to layer everything just a little differently!

Adapted from Jaden Hair's recipe at Steamy Kitchen

serves 4

The Ingredients:

The Sauce:

1 1/2 Tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp Sriracha hot sauce

1 tsp finely minced garlic
1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 stalks scallions
1 lb ground turkey or chicken
2 cups mixed vegetables (frozen pea/carrots, finely diced bell peppers, etc.)
1/2 green apple, finely diced

1 head Boston bibb lettuce, leaves washed and separated
2 skeins, mung bean noodles
2 medium carrots, finely shredded

The Process:

To fry the mung bean noodles, heat a wok or small sauce pan with about 2 inches of cooking oil. While oil is heating to 375F, use your hands to separate the strands of the mung bean noodle into small clumps. When oil hot, fry one batch at a time. It should only take 10 seconds to fry. Remove, drain on paper towels.

Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

To make the filling, heat wok on high heat with cooking oil. When oil is hot, add scallions, ginger and garlic and fry a few seconds until fragrant. Add turkey or chicken and fry until almost cooked through. Add the vegetables and cook 1 minute. Add sauce ingredients. Let simmer for 1 minute to thicken slightly.

Add the apples. Toss to coat. Immediately remove from heat. You don’t want to “cook” the apples – keep them nice and crunchy. Serve with lettuce cups, carrot shavings and fried mung bean noodles.

My Modifications:

I omitted the shredded carrots for garnish, but otherwise followed the recipe as written.

The Review:
These cups were fun! Frying the mung beans was a little bit of magic. In a mere seconds upon hitting the oil they sizzled and doubled in size. You'll need to watch these noodles very carefully as you prepare them.

The cups were fun to assemble. Ross opted to place the noodles on the lettuce leaves first, and then top them with the filling. The sizzle and pop of the mung bean noodles really amused him! I opted to sprinkle the noodles on top of the filling...keeping them a little crunchier longer.

Overall the dish was a great blend of flavors and textures, with just enough heat to warm the lips without leaving you clutching you're throat. I tend to be a bit stingy with Srirachi, though. If you like it hot, pile on the hot sauce.

Keep a paper towel or two handy though. Unless you find very sturdy lettuce leaves, the cup have a tendency to fall apart!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Cranberry Phyllo Baskets

A friend hosted a bonfire on balmy July evening and requested we bring items to pass. I'm not typically one to make finger foods (though I adore sampling them), as they tend to be fussy and time consuming. However, once in a blue moon something as elegant and deceptively simple as these cranberry phyllo baskets are a nice change of pace.

adpated from The Italian Dish blog post

makes 24 baskets

The Ingredients:
Phyllo Baskets

8 sheets phyllo dough
1 stick unsalted butter
3 tablespoons fine dry breadcrumbs
(or use premade frozen phyllo baskets)

Cranberry Topping
6 ounces fresh cranberries (1/2 bag)
3 tablespoons water
3/4 cup sugar

Cream Cheese Filling
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons powdered confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice

3 tablespoons chopped toasted husked hazelnuts*

You will need a miniature muffin pan for this recipe, if you are making your own phyllo baskets.

The Process:

For baskets: Place 1 phyllo sheet on work surface. (Cover remaining sheets with damp towel to prevent drying). Brush with melted butter. Sprinkle lightly with some breadcrumbs. Repeat with 3 more sheets - do not sprinkle breadcrumbs on fourth sheet. Repeat entire process 1 more time for total of 2 stacks of 4 sheets each. Mark off twelve 3-inch squares on each stack using ruler. Cut into squares using pizza cutter.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Brush 24 miniature muffin cups with remaining butter. Press 1 stacked phyllo square into each muffin cup, forming basket. Bake until lightly browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool 5 minutes in pan. Transfer baskets to a rack and cool to room temperature (can be prepared 2 weeks ahead. Store at room temperature).

For Topping: Cook cranberries, sugar and water in small medium saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves, swirling pan occasionally. Increase heat and bring to boil. Reduce heat and cook until berries pop, about 10 minutes. Refrigerate until cool. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead).

For filling: Blend cream cheese and sugar with electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Add zest and juice and blend.

To assemble: Divide cream cheese filling among the phyllo baskets. Spoon a little cranberry topping over filling. Sprinkle with hazelnuts. (Can be prepared 4 hours ahead and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before serving).

* To toast hazelnuts, spread whole hazelnuts on a baking pan and toast in a 425 F. oven for about 4-5 minutes. Immediately wrap them in a clean towel and roll them around in the towel vigorously - this will remove most of the skins

My Modifications:
I doubled the recipe to cater to a large mid-July gathering. I found that one stick of butter more than sufficed for 48 phyllo cups, plus a few extra. And I suspect my oven may be running a touch hot as well, as I only needed to bake the baskets for about 7 minutes.

To ease the filling of the baskets I spooned the cream cheese into a sandwich bag, snipped up off the corner and piped the filling into the baskets. Not only was this less messy and more convenient; the technique made for a prettier presentation.

The Review:
Thanksgiving in a little basket! These were a touch time consuming to create, lest you opt to use pre-made phyllo cups. The amount of flavors and textures in such a tiny package is what makes these true gems. Tart, sweet, fruity, nutty and tangy. Crispy, crunchy and creamy.

Here's hoping tonight's crowd is as big a fan of them as I was!

*update* This evening these were dubbed little f*ers by the general public for their addictive quality. I would call that a major success.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Sweet Potatoes with Warm Black Bean Salad

A huge thank you to my husband for helping out on this dish by baking the sweet potatoes ahead of time. Few foods exist that I abhor more than microwaved "baked" potatoes, convenience be damned. I almost skipped over this recipe completely due to its dependance on the modern kitchen appliance. I'm glad I didn't.

adapted from Eating Well Magazine, Dec 2005/Jan 2006

serves 4

The Ingredients:

4 medium sweet potatoes
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream*
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
The Process:

I'm ignoring all microwaveable directions on principle. Below is my process. For microwave instructions, visit the original recipe at

Prick sweet potatoes with a fork in several places. Alternatively, place in a baking dish and bake at 425 degrees F until tender all the way to the center, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine beans, tomatoes, oil, cumin, coriander and salt; heat over medium heat until just heated through.

When just cool enough to handle, slash each sweet potato lengthwise, press open to make a well in the center and spoon the bean mixture into the well. Top each with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of cilantro.

My Modifications:
I prepared this dish in the oven and stove top, foregoing the deplorable microwaveable option. Microwaves never seem to yield the same creamy interior that an oven baked potato offers. For want of fresh tomatoes (most in the store and even, sadly, at the farmers market appeared more like pink Styrofoam than juicy, pulpy produce) I opened a can of diced tomatoes. The substitution wasn't ideal, but passable. Canned tomatoes still supersede flavorless genetic monsters. We also skipped the cilantro.

The Review:
I am a huge fan of sweet potatoes. They are capable of dishes far superior and nuanced than the overly sweetened marshmallow-y concoction most people familiarize with the tuber. I've eaten sweet potatoes baked before, but the Tex-Mex dressing was a new twist well worth trying out. The coriander and cumin, a pairing I am becoming quite fond of, played very well off of the sweet meat of the potato. The sour cream added a wonderful tart edge, with a creamy finish. With large enough potatoes and a generous spoonful of the filling, these could easily pass for a vegetarian entree (*or vegan if you omit the sour cream).

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Pork Medallions with Cherry Sauce

I frequently come across recipes pairing pork with sweet sauces or sides. Pork chops with applesauce. Orange glazes on ham. Brown sugar and brandy sauce with a tenderloin. The sweet and savory is a winning combination. Cherries offered an interesting new twist.

adapted from a Better Homes and Gardens recipe

serves 4

The Ingredients:
1 lb pork tenderloin
nonstick cooking spray
3/4 cup cranberry juice or apple juice
2 tsp spice brown mustard
1 tsp cornstarch
1 cup sweet cherries, pitted and halved or 1 cup frozen pitted dark sweet cherries, thawed

The Process:
Trim fat from pork. Cut pork crosswise into 1-inch-thick slices. Place each slice between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. With the heel of your hand, press each slice into a 1/2-inch-thick medallion. Remove plastic wrap. Sprinkle lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Coat an unheated large nonstick skillet with cooking spray. Heat skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork; cook for 6 minutes or until pork is slightly pink in center and juices run clear, turning once. Transfer to a serving platter; keep warm.

Combine cranberry juice, mustard, and cornstarch; add to skillet. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Stir cherries into mixture in skillet. Serve over pork.

My Modifications:
We opted for apple cider in the sauce and frozen cherries in lieu of fresh. The frozen cherries may be a small time saver, however I doubt the dish made with frozen fruits can hold a candle to a sauce made with fresh cherries. I also diminished the amount of mustard by half, for the sake of the mustard-phobe in the house.

The Review:
Simple and fast are two key qualities that ensure a recipe will find a place in our regular repertoire. This recipe has the advantage of adaptability as well. In a pinch I was able to throw this together from the contents of our freezer with a side of couscous and some frozen veggies. Sun ripened cherries, a cut of pork from a local farm and a simple seasonal salad easily push this meal into the realm of simple gourmet.