Cupcakes:Classic, Not A Fad

Chocolate Graham S’more Cupcakes with Toasted Marshmallow Frosting

“Chocolate Graham S’more Cupcakes with Toasted Marshmallow Frosting” from Bakingdom

I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about how cupcakes are on their way out and that the newest food fad in DC is doughnuts. I seriously hope not because there is no way that a doughnut can stand up against a cupcake. I understand how macarons were popular there for like… a few months but this is one of those battles I don’t even think it’s worth discussing. Cupcakes are classic and will continue to be classic. Doughnuts are great but they aren’t classy. They’re doughnuts. Cupcakes are mini cakes. End of story.

Hail to the Cupcake!

On Throwing a Grazing Party and Staying Sexy

From Monica Eisenman

So, as some of you might have remembered, I had a party this weekend. And yes there were some road blocks in the plan (like the fact that it was supposed to be last week but we had to push it back a week because of a funeral) but since when are good parties supposed to be easy and peaceful? If someone in your family hasn’t yelled at you needlessly while helping you prepare crusts for mini quiches than your party is going to suck. Because stress breeds good food ON TIME.

The menu, inspired by this month’s Gastroporn Menu, was labeled as a “Tea Party” but with most of my parties turned into an extended grazing affair that was really more like three or four smaller parties all strung together throughout the afternoon and evening. I also made something new that I surprisingly enjoyed eating about an hour or two after all the guests had left because eating them in front of people just isn’t sexy and a hostess should always be sexy: Blue velvet Cupcakes.

Blue Velvet Cupcakes

“Blue Velvet Cupcakes” from Sprinkle Bakes

Now… I like making cupcakes. I don’t always like eating cupcakes but I do like making them. Why? Easy dispersal. Try giving away cake at the end of the party and tell me you didn’t wish you’d made cupcakes. And if you aren’t giving away cake at the end of a party then don’t complain to me about your expanding waistline. Take that cake to work and give it away. It will make you more friends and fewer pounds.

Note: Don’t use a tablespoon of blue dye for the cupcakes. That’s too much and cupcakes that turn tongues a funny color…not sexy.

But you know what is sexy? Eating chocolate mousse from a tiny cup with a mini spoon. The recipe I used  can be found in “The Great Disappointment (of 2012)” post. A friend gave me the recipe and I have no idea where it came from but probably the Internet.

Note: I also piped some fresh whipped cream (made with a little sugar and a splash of vanilla) on top and put my brother to work with a piece of 100% chocolate and a vegetable peeler to garnish the tops.

There were also things I really don’t have a recipe for but if you’ve played around in a kitchen long enough you’ll just know what to do. Like stuffed mushrooms and mini-quiches. Watching my caveman-neanderthal dad trying to press rounds of pie crust dough into a mini-muffin tin was absolutely priceless.

And, of course, there were the scones we always make (the recipe is in the “Tea Time, Nap Time, Fun Times” post from many moons ago) served with the remaining fresh cream from above and berries. I love me some berries. I brought the rest to work with me today along with the remaining 3 scones (to give away). Everybody is always asking for that recipe and it’s ridiculously easy so there is no reason NOT to try it. Unless you’ve got allergies, in which case I am so sorry.

Anyone who knows anything about me and my party style also knows that I like complicated. I like the idea of doing everything from scratch and if I had the ability to gather and make all the ingredients by hand on my mini plot of land out back I so would.

But beware of making things complicated to your guests. Try to make things they can just pass by, pick up with a couple fingers, and just put in their mouths (which is where your party food SHOULD be going). Otherwise they will pass by the stuff with a dip or the thing that goes on top of that other thing and go straight for that stuff that just ends up in their mouths.

Here’s a recipe that looks good:

tartelettes chèvre et confiture d'oignons

“Tartelettes Chèvre et Confiture D’oignons (Onion Tartelettes with Goat Cheese)” from Vaniglia

There’s often at least a couple people at a party known as “grazers”. These are the folks that don’t take a heaping plateful and then start denying food while patting their bellies. These are those smart party goers that pace themselves. A min-quiche here, a cupcake there, caprese salad on a stick? Why not! Oh and then maybe another deviled egg. So set things up nicely for these folks. They know what they’re about. And, as always, stay sexy, Foodie Nation!

 

Because There Isn’t Enough Meditation In the Universe

Omelette

What breakfast could have looked like but definitely didn’t. (Image from Jelanie)

Every week our department has a regularly scheduled staff meeting. Since we are a religious institution it would make sense that we would start off our day and meeting off with a devotional and prayer but sometimes it feels a bit odd to me.

I know that many of my friends grew up in homes where the family would sit every evening and do something like that together. I have family that does it every night with singing and also some family where the paternal figure presides over his family in a show of blatant I’m not sure what to call it and there is singing and praying and subjugation and all that sort of stuff just never really worked for me. My parents never did anything like that when I was growing up so I still find it a little weird sharing religious feelings so open and blatantly. I’m pretty sure I don’t believe in doing it too often in general. It’s all a little “Cave” like for my tastes.

So to be fair I’m the only on in the office who hasn’t yet led out in the prayer/Devotion bit so I figured I’d better just get it over with. I’ve done stuff like that before and I hate to say it this way but I know how to fake it and/or make it so obscure no one will bother asking me to do it again. I’ve already made some enemies down in the youth department when I didn’t proselytize correctly. I was all like “Be free!” and they were all like “No!”.

I said yes to doing the devotion and then promptly forgot about it until I work up this morning and was like “Oh crap!”. I had nothing and I was looking through my copy of “Lamb: or the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal” (my sort of religious reading). So….waking up was fun. And I decided that meant I should probably consider eating some breakfast. In true not-a-morning-person fashion I beat an egg to within an inch of its life and poured into a really warm pan and added feta cheese and made myself an omelette and toast sandwich. Not very exciting and I know I need to lay off the eggs or my stomach is seriously going to retaliate but it’s food and I needed some to deal with today. Luckily my dad found food gods-knows-where and lunch was covered. When I saw the omelette picture posted above I felt sad that mine was so measly and unfulfilling. I must try harder.

So I root around in my desk when I get to work and find my rather “ancient” iPod and load up my meditation track for the devotional. I know meditation is somewhat frowned upon by our church leaders but clearly they didn’t have to send out deficiency letters to 25% of their students.

At one point in my academic career I thought it would be fun to be a psychology major. I was all into it too. I had the classes and I hung out with the teachers. I even went to conferences and all that. I like the conferences part but not the rest so I switched to engineering. Clearly that didn’t last too much longer than the math classes but it was fun too. I encourage my students to be flexible because they say that our generation will go through an average of 2-5 career changes in our lifetime. If you aren’t prepared for that you are just in big trouble. And out universities aren’t doing a great job of preparing students these days either so… well yeah good luck folks!

Tuesdays are supposed to be fun. Sure only 5 students will show up to class but hey, a whopping 50% is fantastic around here! But it was when I attempted to go through my original routine of closing my door and having lunch that everything just went horribly horribly wrong. First there was one student who decided that last email with the word “probation” in large bold letters was a serious issue. Then, in the middle of meeting with that one there was a student interrupting. Then, there was a full waiting room of students who had missed the first meeting deadline but had apparently gotten the most threatening email and thought they might want to deal with that.

I don’t mind working with students who need help. I worked as a tutor for years and struggling students can be incredibly inspiring. But when they sit in your chair and proceed to tell you that they don’t go to class or turn in any work and what are you going to do about it…? Well you’re going to fail. Then they will kick you out of school. Then you will be angry but I tried to help you so really the question is what are YOU going to do about it?

And I was hungry on top of all that.

And then I was late for class (the one I faux-co-teach). It doesn’t look to good when the director of a program can’t even be on time for her own class.

Today got progressively worse and that’s when I gave up on life and started looking for something sweet. Thankfully I brought some Greek yogurt that I mixed with some homemade passion fruit curd and raspberry preserves I had at home and it seems to be doing the trick.

[And my independent study student just cancelled on me (she’s one of the good ones) which means I don’t have to stop eating my yogurt yet again!]

Here are some picture of cupcakes I wish I had to be bad with right now:

Tiramisu Cupcakes

“Tiramisu Cupcakes with Raspberries” from Cioccolato Gatto (A babelfish may be required)

Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes

“Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes” from The Fauxmartha

Chocolate Buttermilk Cupcakes with Earl Grey Buttercream & Salted Caramel

“Chocolate Buttermilk Cupcakes with Earl Grey Buttercream & Salted Caramel” from Raspberri Cupcakes

 

The Great Disappointment (of 2012)

Like the Millerites on the morning of October 23rd I realized that something was very very wrong with either my interpretation of my book or with the book itself. And, like the Millerites, I went back and tried again. And, after the second time around of “What the *$^@*#& is going on here!?!” it didn’t take a prophet to tell me that something had to go.

If you’ve been following the posts to far you’ll know that my summer project was supposed to be Chocolate (see “For The Love of Chocolate!“). I’d chosen “Chocolat”, by Stéphan Lagorce, as the book I was going to use as my guide through this vast field of options but I’ve officially changed my mind after this past weekend.

Now, I’m not above admitting that I’ve made mistakes before and that there is a slight possibility that I just messed up on the recipes I tried this weekend. But there are several key features to my failures that alert me to the failure of the recipe and not myself:

(1) Just because it looks bad doesn’t mean it should taste bad.

(2) Just because you mess up on one step doesn’t mean the whole recipe is shot.

(3) If something goes wrong with a recipe I can almost always pinpoint why and how to solve the problem the second time around.

(4) I may not be the  greatest cook but I know I’m not THIS bad.

So here’s what happened this weekend. My brother had a competition (he’s a champion Irish dancer) up in New Jersey this weekend and the whole family was going. Knowing this was going to be one of the last chances I was going to have with an empty house and the kitchen to myself I decided to stay behind and take full advantage of the situation. I love my family but they really do get in the way of gastronomical progress with all their regularly scheduled meal times and a blatant disregard for marked sanitized areas of food preparation.

I intended to make:

  • 2-3 different kinds of truffles
  • a new chocolate cupcake recipe
  • 2 different kinds of mousse
  • an asparagus tart
  • perogies
  • green beans (for me)
  • corn dogs (for a friend that stopped over to lend a hand)
  • baklava (the recipe found in June’s Gastroporn Menu)
  • Blueberry muffins
  • a new blueberry preserve cake
  • cold pressed coffee

I actually made:

  • 2 kinds of truffles and one too-liquid ganache
  • my new favorite chocolate cupcake recipe with icing
  • 1 kind of mousse (also known as Failure # 2)
  • an asparagus tart and an onion tart
  • TLC perogies (as in perogies that NEED a little more TLC)
  • the green beans (with a missing ingredient but still good)
  • corn dogs that turned out nothing like the last time I made them
  • baklava (which turned out fantastic except somehow I missed that the nuts were way past their expiration date)
  • BLUEBERRY muffins (I like them with about 3x the amount of blueberries called for)
  • no cake
  • my new favorite way of making iced coffee

Obviously, not all of these recipes come from “Chocolat”. I also used one of my old journal recipes, a recipe from my mom’s little blue box filled with index cards, the 2000 edition of Food & Wine, and some recipes I’d found online.

These are the two recipes that I tried from “Chocolat” before I decided I was done wasting good chocolate:

Chocolate Truffles – Not using this recipe again.

Whtie Chocolate Mousse – Not worth the work or money spent on ingredients or the space it will take up in your fridge

I managed to salvage the truffles in the end but it was not pretty. It calls for too much butter and the chocolate separated and all the butter came to the top. I had to soak up all the butter off the top of the “ganache” with several paper towels before chilling in the fridge.

The mousse was just a big fat “Never Again”. A similar thing happened with the butter separating during the melting process and when you mix in the heavy cream the whole thing just goes to  *&%@^#. The final product not only has the worst texture ever (even for not mousse) but it tastes oily.

I’m just so disappointed in this book I’m not sure what to do. I used a different truffle recipe which turned out so much better, if a little softer than I would have liked. This recipe makes delicious truffles. I love earl grey tea in dark chocolate. It’s one of the best combinations.

Chocolate Earl Grey Truffles

I tried to use this basic recipe to make a Mango-Ceylon White Chocolate truffle but I forgot how white chocolate reacts with the cream (you need to use a lot less or something) when you try to make a ganache so it’s too soft to be a ganache but it would make a decent sauce or spread.

As for the mousse I also have a better recipe for that from a friend which I will share here:

Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • zest of one lemon
  • 9 oz. of 70% chocolate chopped (60% is easier to find in the grocery stores near me and works just as good)
  • 1 1/3 cups of Mascarpone cheese
  • pinch of nutmeg 2 tablespoons of Grand Marnier or orange juice
Steps:
  1. Put 1/2 a cup of the heavy cream and the lemon zest in a saucepan over medium high heat.
  2. When the cream is warm, add the chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool.
  3. Put the Mascarpone, the remaining cream, and the nutmeg into a bowl and whip until the Mascarpone is loose.
  4. Add in the Grand Marnier (or orange juice) and whip of medium until it reaches soft peaks. {Note: Do not over whip!}
  5. Mix about 1/4 of the Mascarpone mixture into the chocolate to lighten it. Then fold in the remaining Mascarpone.
  6. Can be served immediately or chilled to be a little firmer.

Back in the day I took one of those “fun” courses in college on journaling. Never regretted it. After doing my journal for the class I decided to do one for the DC are which also ended up being partly a recipe journal. I’d just cut and paste (literally) recipes from various places into the journal. This is the age with the recipes for perogies I tried years ago and decided to give another try. Unfortunately I don’t think my hands are talented enough to get this right because mine come out looking rather unappealing, which is too bad because I really like perogies. The best ones I had, however, were in Poland, and that’s a little hard to beat.

Mustardy Perogies (Bonus Recipe: Flaky Pear Pie)

For breakfast on Sunday morning I made these for a friend and I:

Low-fat Blueberry Muffins

I’ve been using the recipe for these for some time now and I love them. They aren’t too sweet and I always put in way too many blueberries so it’s like a big pile of blueberries being held together by fluffy muffin. It comes from this book:

Muffins:
40 Tantalizing Recipes for Tasty Muffins

Here is the recipe:

Low-fat Blueberry Muffins – Recipe

We drank the cold pressed coffee with these while watching “Merlin” on Netflix and it was good. To make the coffee just use a french press with the grounds and cold water and leave it overnight. “Press” it in the morning and viola! I made ice cubes with half of it and we drank the rest with a little cream and sugar.

Making the Baklava was actually one of the easiest recipes on my List. The only thing that I need to change the next time I make it is to use fresh walnuts instead of what I found in the pantry. The recipe and “How To” video can be found on the June Gastroporn menu. I served it with a Moroccan mint tea.

I also made 2 savory tarts and I have to say that in this case it was an interesting result. I had intended to make this recipe:

Asparagus Tart

It took forever to make this between all the chilling of the dough (even though I almost never fully chill doughs according to the recipe and they turn out fine for the most part) and the hour and forty-five minutes of baking time. It turned out absolutely beautiful (just like in the photo) and it’s also pretty when you cut through it and can see the asparagus.

After making the asparagus tart there was some of the egg/milk filling left over so I added a couple more eggs and a bit more milk and used a store-bought pie crust I needed to use that was in the fridge and made an onion tart. All it takes is 4 onions halved and sliced sauteed with some oil, salt, pepper (I put in a good half teaspoon or more to give it a good kick), and a couple teaspoons of sugar to give it some caramelization. Put the onions in the crust, grate some good hard cheese (I have parmigiano reggiano) on top, pour in the egg mixture, and bake at 375 F for about 40 minutes.

I took both tarts over to someone’s house after making them and it was a tie between the asparagus tart that took almost 3 hours to make and the onion tart which took one hour (including baking time).

I served these with green beans which I sauteed with a couple cloves of garlic in oil, add some salt and a little pepper, the juice of a lemon and soy sauce for a couple minutes before adding in some chopped tomatoes and covering. Cook until the beans are just getting tender then stop. If you keep cooking them they’ll be mushy.

Even with all the issues in the kitchen this weekend there was one truly bright spot and it’s the cupcake recipe I tried. The link to this cupcake recipe takes you to a master page with several other cupcake recipes which I am now more interested in trying after the success of these. This recipe is both easier and more chocolaty (thanks to the Guinness) than the recipe I’ve been using.

Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing

Ever since Georgetown Cupcakes won the DC Cupcake Wars a few years back I’ve been using a recipe adapted from the winning chocolate cupcake which was printed in the Washington Post. I changed the chocolate ganache icing for a cream cheese icing which I usually flavored with Bailey’s Irish Cream.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Bailey’s Icing

Ingredients:

Cupcake:

  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder

Icing:

  • 12 oz. cream cheese
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 5 tablespoons Bailey’s
  • 5 1/2 powdered sugar

Steps:

  1. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt in a small mixing bowl.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar with a mixer in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Add in the eggs and continue to beat.
  4. Mix the milk and vanilla in a measuring cup.
  5. Alternate adding the milk mixture and flour mixture into the butter and sugar.
  6. Sift the cocoa powder and add. beat until combined.
  7. Fill cupcake tins and bake at 350 F for 18-20 minutes or until cooked through.
  8. To make the icing, combine the cream cheese and butter and beat until creamy.
  9. Add in half the Bailey’s and continue to beat.
  10. Add in the powdered sugar about a cup at a time and dribble in a little of the remaining Bailey’s into the mix between batches of the sugar. Be sure to end the process with the sugar.
  11. Continue to beat the whole mixture until fluffy.

While this weekend wasn’t as successful as I was hoping for I did end up with quite a few good things. The truffles were a good learning experience but I will stick to dark chocolate from now on I think. Seeing as