Archive for March, 2011

Review from Southern Living’s Big Book of Cupcakes

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Who can tell?  What sets them apart?  Is it the paper wrapper?  No, sometimes muffins have papers.  Is is the flavor?  No they can both be sweet or savory.  Is it the texture?  No, both can be light and fluffy or dense.  Is it the ingredients?  Nope, pretty standard to have butter, sugar, eggs, flour, etc.  I think it comes down to frosting.

Many a time I’ve put a muffin in a paper cup and called it a cupcake when my kids were smaller.  But now they ask “where’s the frosting?”  I can still get away with making a healthy muffin (bran, fruit etc) in a cupcake paper and putting a bit of “frosting” such as cream cheese or plain fresh whipped cream.  However…a new  cookbook arrived at my house for review: Southern Living’s Big Book of Cupcakes by Jan Moon.  And things will change. 

My kids have poured over it page by page looking at beautiful cupcakes.  When I get a new cookbook, I start marking pages of recipes that look interesting and may try.  My kids have marked more than half the book and it won’t even close now.  I’m in trouble….

My mother-in-law is visiting and we happen to be celebrating her birthday, so it’s time to try the new cookbook.  After much deliberation, my mother-in-law chooses Lemon Ice Box.  Not only do these have a lovely whipped cream frosting, but also a filling.  I’ve never ventured into filled cupcakes.  Now we’re ruined.  This is definitely not a muffin.

bring on the filling

whipped cream frosting

The cupcakes took a bit of time, which was fine for another rainy weekend day.  My kids enjoyed helping the licking the beaters.  Funny thing was that I forgot the shortening.  I don’t ever buy shortening, so I guess I just glanced over when I read the instructions.  I didn’t even realize I fogot until I put the cupcakes in the oven.  Oops.  It didn’t matter.  The cupcakes were great – moist and fluffy and tasty.  It made me question why the recipe had it to begin with. Hmmm….

You’ll be reading more about this book and cupcakes from me soon, I’m sure.

My Review

Pros – there are many…appealing photos, yummy recipes, innovative ingredients and flavors (did I mention maple bacon?)  Really a bible for cupcake followers.

Cons – not many so far.  Although like many baking and cake books, there are some hard to find decorations (which if course you can substitute).  I question the use of shortening and butter.

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Sushi Surprise and Kids Cooking Classes

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

My kids like sushi.  Let me rephrase…my kids like some sushi.  The truth is my son loves seaweed (plain and otherwise) and tobiko (smelt roe, above).  My daughter likes california rolls and eel and often takes the seaweed apart.

 

When I received a sushi kit from my new friend Elaine at ChowBella kids cooking schools, I was excited.  I used to make sushi when it was just my husband and I.  Then I misplaced my bamboo mat and put my rice cooker on a high shelf and I just forgot.  With a new mat, great sushi rice recipe and my kids’ enthusiasm we made sushi.  We already had the seaweed (my son always gets from the farmer’s market) and I bought avocado, crab and veggies.  My daughter had a great time spreading the rice and helping me roll.  Yes, it was messy and they aren’t the neatest roll as you can see, but we had fun and ate lots.  Even my son who isn’t an avocado fan was pleased.

I suggest you try it.  There are so many things you can wrap up.  Whether it be fish, tofu, rice, veggies, even left-overs.  If you want your kids to learn some cooking skills outside your own kitchen during the summer, send them to a cooking camp.  I wish I could go myself.  Cooking camps build confidence as well as teaches a variety of other skills such as listening, cooperation, math, measuring and following directions.  If you live in the Bay Area, Elaine at ChowBella has a variety of dates and classes for those ages 7 and up in the East Bay (Lafayette). 

Here’s the sushi rice recipe Elaine gave me, which we will now make regularly at my house.

Master Sushi Rice (this makes a lot! I halved everything)

4 cups sushi rice (short grain brown or white)

water

1 cup rice wine vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

Wash rice at least three times or until water is clear. Cook rice in rice cooker with water about 1 inch over rice or on stove according to directions. While rice cooks slowly heat vinegar and sugar until very hot but not boiling.  Fold in vinegar and sugar with hot rice, add enough so that the rice has a tart/sweet taste. Rice should be shiny not mushy.

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

the green grub

My kids have been talking about wearing green and catching lephrechans all week.  My daughter is thrilled with fool’s gold (or anything shiny for that matter).  My son’s school has many a spirited child with green clothes, hats and even hair.  Who doesn’t wish for a little luck and belief in a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?  It’s just too cute to resist.

I always make corned beef and cabbage.  However we’re postponing our St. Pat’s meal, until the weekend when we have more time to make and more guests at the table to share it.  Here’s last year’s post for what I’ll be making. 

But I had to do a little something today.  So this morning I surprised my kids with a green breakfast.  I remember my grandfather making green pancakes and serving it to us with green milk.  Today was green yogurt (just plain with maple syrup, cinnamon and nutmeg), green milk (almond for my daughter and cow for my son) and sliced kiwi.  I wasn’t sure it looked too appetizing but the kids were surprised and amazed (and ate it, along with some non-green bagels and granola).  Who knew food coloring could give such a smile?  I think it was a novelty today because I rarely it. 

1. It kind of gives me the willies.  Very processed and nothing natural about it.

2.  It’s messy and I’m not well practiced. (see below).

note the shamrock sticker on cheek

a bit leary of the green stuff, at first

my green stained fingers

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Cookbook Review – Cooking Light Comfort Food

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

I like comfort food.  Mac and cheese, pot pies, apple crips, meatloaf etc.  But I don’t make these foods frequently, and when I do I usually make mine on the healthier side.  It’s just how I cook.  So sometimes I was a bit surprised when reading Cooking Light Comfort Foods: Home Cooked, Delicious Classics Made Light by the nutritional information and label of “light” for a recipe that still has 10 grams of fat and 50 grams of carbs.  But most recipes give a reason why it’s lighter than the classic version which is helpful to those who fry cook, use lots of oil, full fat dairy and fatter cuts of meat.  Suppose that’s why comfort foods are so flavorful  and hearty and well loved?.  That said, there are some tasty recipes in Cooking Light’s Comfort Foods, and it never claimed to be a diet book.  So if you don’t already make these foods on the lighter side or need a new version of your grandma’s strawberry shortcake, then this is a good guide to get you cooking lighter.  I made…

Creamy Tomato Balsamic Soup

I thought making this soup would wreck my oven.  The cooking is done in the oven rather than the stovetop like most soups.  I was quite worried the mixture would bubble and overflow on my oven bottom (I even put a pan under), but luckily it didn’t happen.  This was good as a soup with grilled cheese sandwich points, and I would even use it over pasta (and not use add milk, as shown above).  It was hearty and had a bit of a tang from the vinegar.  It was a bit spicy for my youngest.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

This was a classic chocolate chip cookie.  Of course best warm right out of the oven.  Nothing new here – sugar, butter, all purpose flour.  They came out nice and round and held shape rather than spreading (when using more buter).  Called for fewer chocolate chips than I’m used to, which my kids noticed, but still liked.

Buttermilk Pancakes

These were a hit.  These pancakes puffed up and cooked quite easily.  I substitute the usual syrup and butter topping with yogurt and fruit. Yum.

Overall Book Review

Pros: Foods that are classic and mainstream for all tastes.  Lighter versions of some classically guilt induced foods. Helpful nutritional information and comparisons to non light versions.  An appetizing color photo for just about every recipe.

Cons: Not as light as they could be.  Some of these recipes are pretty basic – you may feel like you’re competing with your family favorites (grandma’s secret recipes).

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Reward Offered….Missing Sugar Baby (Mardi Gras Wrap Up)

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Last night we did our final mardi gras meal and king cake for the season.  There was much build up after all the recipe testing and fanfare.  I even found these fun mardi gras masks.

After reading an article recently from the SF Chronicle about grits making a comeback in restaurants, I thought I’d try their Shrimp and Grits with Tomato-Bacon Relish for Fat Tuesday dinner.  This was great and did not dissappoint.  I wasn’t able to find yellow grits, so I made white.  I only used half the amount of Tabasco and substituted smoked red pepper powder for the cayenne in the shrimp, as my kids are not always excited about too much spice.  I ended up deconstructing theirs (shrimp without sauce, and grits on the side), as the sauce was still a bit hot for my daughter.  But they really loved the meal, especially the grits with cheddar cheese.  I will make this again and would even make it for guests as it was easy and very pretty, besides tasty.  (See entire recipe below)

The moment everyone was waiting for was the king cake.  I decided I had made the cresent version and the cupcake version and was time to try and compare a traditional version of someone else’s.  And sometimes I have to remind myself that I can’t make everything, all the time.  It was difficult to find a local king cake, but I  called around and ordered one from Arizmendi Bakery in San Rafael.  They were making them for Fat Tuesday only.  This was a good option because while it was still large it wasn’t giant like many of those online and most of the recipes (makes 2 cakes to serve 12 – 18 people).  This was mid-week, after school, Tae Kwon Do and doctor’s appointments, so I would be able to squeeze in a cake pick-up but not a make from scratch cake.

My first impression was “This is lovely and very reasonable at $15.”  While it had all the mardi gras colors, it was somehow not as tacky as many pictured online.  Plus everything from Arizmendi (pizzas, scones, muffins etc) is wonderful.  After out great dinner it was time to cut the cake.  I explained to my family what the baker had told me about the “baby”, and that it was “a baby made out of sugar”.  We were so anxious to see the sugar baby.  We each chose a piece and took a bite.  My next thought was “This cake is great”.  Sweet frosting on top of wonderful layers of brioch.  We found the occassional hole that we thought the baby was hiding, but no.  We only ate about 1/4 of the cake and no one found the baby.  My kids and I were very curious.  We decided to cut the remaining cake into slices. 

Still no baby.  We were still hopeful and not yet ready to wreck the yummy cake.  We waited…

Overnight.  Again after dinner, we each chose a slice.  No baby was found.  It was time to butcher the cake.  We cut the remaining slices into small pieces and we never did find the sugar baby.  However we did find a hole with about 1/8 teaspoon sugar.  Was this once the baby?  Did he melt?  Or was this just another sweet bite and the baby made an escape before baking?  We’ll never know.  This baby didn’t bring us luck, but lots of intrigue. 

Shrimp & Grits With Tomato-Bacon Relish

Serves 4

 From Brenda Vuenviaje, chef-owner of Brenda’s French Soul Food cafe in San Francisco. Prepare the grits – which should be soft and spoonable – with 4 parts salted water and 1 part grits.

  • Tomato-Bacon Relish
  • 1/4 pound smoked bacon
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 medium red onion, about 1/2 cup
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes, some juice reserved
  • 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons hot sauce like Tabasco or Crystal, to taste
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon dark brown sugar, or to taste
  • 3/4 teaspoon sherry vinegar, or to taste
  • — Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  • Shrimp & Grits
  • 2 cups prepared grits (Bob’s Red Mill yellow grits preferred)
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese, about 2 ounces
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 pound large shrimp, 26-30 count, peeled and deveined, tails on
  • — Kosher salt, to taste
  • — Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • — Cayenne pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • — Thinly sliced green onion, for garnish

For the relish: Thinly cut bacon crosswise into lardons about 1/4-inch thick. Cook bacon in a medium-size skillet over medium heat until crispy and fat has rendered. Move bacon to paper towels and reserve. Drain skillet and discard excess fat, while wiping away any burned bits. Add olive oil, onion and garlic. Cook – stirring frequently – until onion is a medium brown color, about three minutes.

Add tomatoes, hot sauce, brown sugar and sherry vinegar then bring to a simmer. Cook briefly until slightly thick, stir in bacon and add salt and pepper to taste. The relish can be made a day or two ahead and kept refrigerated. Makes about 1 cup.

For the shrimp & grits: Preheat oven to 350°. Portion hot grits into 4 large, oven-proof dinner bowls, sprinkle cheddar over and place in oven until melted, about 3 to 5 minutes. Or melt in the microwave, about 30 to 60 seconds per bowl.

Meanwhile, add 2 tablespoons oil to a hot saute pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and saute briefly until slightly brown. Add shrimp then season with salt, black pepper and cayenne to taste. Saute briefly until edges of shrimp start to turn pink.

Add 1 cup white wine, deglaze pan and cook until wine is reduced by half. Add the Tomato-Bacon Relish and 2 to 3 tablespoons butter. Cook for another minute until sauce is hot and slightly thickened and shrimp are cooked through.

Divide shrimp and sauce into the bowls and garnish with sliced scallion.

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More Mardi Gras Ideas – Mini Muffeltta

Monday, March 7th, 2011

 

Still looking for a king cake recipe?  Or wondering what to serve for tomorrow’s Fat Tuesday?  Check out this link from Southern Living to find some great New Orleans classics.   I’ve got a few masks and beads ready for my little revelers tomorrow.  I’ll be making the shrimp and sausage with grits and of course finishing up with my last (of the season) king cake. 

If you’re short on time these these easy and mini muffelttas from Southern Living look tasty.  I’m going to remember these to bring when invited to my next potluck.

Easy Mini Muffulettas

Prep: 15 min., Bake: 16 min.

Yield: Makes 12 servings
Ingredients
  • 1  (32-oz.) jar Italian olive salad
  • 12  small deli rolls, cut in half
  • 12  thin Swiss cheese slices
  • 12  thin deli ham slices
  • 12  thin provolone cheese slices
  • 12  Genoa salami slices

Preparation

1. Spread 1 Tbsp. olive salad evenly over each cut side of roll bottoms. Top each with 1 Swiss cheese slice, 1 ham slice, 1 Tbsp. olive salad, 1 provolone cheese slice, 1 salami slice, and 1 Tbsp. olive salad. Cover with roll tops, and wrap sandwiches together in a large piece of aluminum foil. Place on a baking sheet. 2. Bake at 350° for 14 to 16 minutes or until cheeses are melted.

 Note: For testing purposes only, we used Boscoli Italian Olive Salad.

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Peanut Butter and Hazelnut Recall

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Check your jars if you have Skippy Peanut Butter and Hazelnuts in your kitchen.  The peanut butter and nuts can cause food poisoning as they may have salmonella or E.colli.  See entire story here. 

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King Cake, Take 2 …Cupcakes

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

I was searching through more king cake recipes and found one for cupcakes on the king Arthur Flour website.  This was immediately exciting to my kids because they both realized everyone could get their own “baby” (walnut) and luck for the year.   

Since I haven’t tasted anyone else’s king cake version, I still can’t compare.   This cake had a few of the elements of the crescent version – including the cream cheese frosting and the decorative colors.  However these may be my new go to vanilla cupcakes.  The cake was moist and the cream cheese frosting very versatile.  The few unique ingredients that are in a classic brioch like king cake and not in a classic vanilla cupcake are the addition of Fiori di Sicilia (a combo citrus and vanilla flavor) and nutmeg.  I made a few tweaks to the recipe I found online, as there was too much sugar in the frosting, which was plenty sweet enough.  I used a mixture of lemon oil and vanilla extract as I did not have Fiori di Sicilia.

These are great for a mardi gras party with kids, so no one gets left out of the luck.  Just be sure of any potential nut allergies if you use the walnut “baby”.Also good for a small goup or family, rather than making a whole cake.  You can even freeze cooked, unfrosted cupcakes to enjoy another day.  Here’s how to make them…

  Mardi Gras King Cupcakes

Yield: 12 cupcakes.

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 2/3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons soft butter
  • 2/3 cup milk, at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia; OR 1 teaspoon vanilla + 1/8 teaspoon lemon oil
  • 2 large eggs

Icing

  • 3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon lemon oil
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • colored sugars, preferably purple, yellow, and green
1) Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the muffin tins with papers, and spray the insides of the papers.
2)In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt.
3) Cut butter into pieces and beat in with an electric mixer at low speed, until the mixture looks sandy.
4) Combine the milk and vanilla in a small bowl.  Add milk to butter mixture, all at once. Mix at low speed for 30 seconds, then increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds. Scrape the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl.
5) With the mixer running at low speed, add 1 egg. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds. Add the second egg, again beating for 30 seconds.
6) Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, and beat briefly, just till smooth.
7) Scoop the batter by heaping 1/4-cupfuls into the prepared muffin tin. A muffin scoop works well here.
8) Bake the cupcakes for 23 to 25 minutes, until they’ve domed, and are a light golden brown around the edges. They’ll spring back when pressed gently on top, and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.
9) Remove the cupcakes from the oven, and place on a rack to cool completely before icing.
10) To make the icing: Combine the butter, cream cheese, vanilla, and lemon oil in a medium-sized bowl, and beat them together until light and fluffy.
11) Add the sugar gradually, beating well.
12)optional – you can 1 – 2 tsp. add milk if frosting is too thick.
13) Spread each cake with icing, and immediately dip in gold, purple, and green sparkling sugars, covering about 1/3 of the cupcake with each color sugar.
14) Store at room temperature for several days. For longer storage, wrap well and freeze.
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