Last night I baked these cupcakes to celebrate a special occasion. You see, three years ago today I did this:
I know it's cliche to say, but I really can't believe it's already been three years!! It seems like just yesterday we were planning the wedding. Happy Anniversary to my wonderful husband - hope we have many more! I thought it would be fun today to share photos of our wedding cakes, since this is a food blog and all :) We actually had three cakes - a traditional wedding cake, a groom's cake and a kransekake, which is a traditional Norwegian cake (you can read a bit more about it here on Wikipedia). I wish I could remember what flavors the cakes were, but my memory fails me. I'm sure chocolate was involved somewhere though! I really wasn't a baker before our wedding, and for that I am grateful. I probably would have convinced myself it'd be a great idea to make my own cake and for me personally, that would not have been wise, given my tendency to procrastinate...
This photo was taken by Shane's cousin, Kieran - not only does he take amazing photos, but he designed my site!
Kieran's brother, Brian, generously made our kransekake and transported it to the wedding - on top of being a great baker, he builds custom bike frames!
Shane loves comic books and super heroes so this groom's cake fit him to a T
Thanks for taking a little jaunt down memory lane with me! And now, on to the cupcakes! These dark chocolate cupcakes have been on my to-do list for a while now and when I saw that there was also a recipe for an easy peanut butter buttercream, I knew they'd be a good choice for Shane. Though we have a go-to chocolate and peanut butter cupcake combo, it never hurts to try another, right?
The cupcake recipe was developed by Cook's Illustrated as an alternative to a boxed mix - they hoped to make it almost as quick and easy but with a more rich chocolate flavor. I'd say they were successful! Once you melt the butter and chocolate, the recipe is as simple as whisking together the components - no mixer required. The cupcakes bake beautifully, rising just enough to give them a small dome perfect for frosting. The buttercream also comes together easily, though you'll probably want to use a stand mixer here if you hope to achieve light and fluffy frosting. I thought the buttercream was delicious - not too buttery as they can sometimes be - and a perfect consistency for piping! I sent the majority of the cupcakes to work with Shane today and his coworkers have been raving about them. I can't say whether they're better than our go-to recipe yet though - I think a side by side comparison will be necessary (and soon)!
Dark Chocolate Cupcakes
adapted from Cook's Illustrated
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup (1 1/2 oz) Dutch-processed cocoa
3/4 cup (3 3/4 oz) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup (4 oz) Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
With a rack in the bottom third of the oven, preheat to 350 F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
Place butter, chocolate and cocoa powder in a medium heatproof bowl. Microwave in 30 second spurts on 50% power, stirring in between, until the butter and chocolate are melted and the mixture is smooth. (Alternatively, you could do this step in a double boiler.) Set the mixture aside to cool until just warm to the touch.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Whisk the eggs in a medium bowl to combine, then add the sugar, vanilla and salt and continue whisking until fully incorporated. Add the cooled chocolate mixture to the bowl and whisk to combine. Sift one-third of the flour mixture into the bowl and whisk gently to combine. Add the yogurt (or sour cream), whisk to combine and finally, sift the the rest of the flour mixture into the bowl and whisk until everything is well combined - the batter will be thick.
Divide the batter evenly among the muffin tins, filling each about 2/3 full. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcakes comes out clean, about 18-20 minutes. Cool the cupcakes in the pan on a cooling rack for about 15 minutes and then remove each cupcake from the pan and place directly on the rack to cool completely before frosting.
Makes 12 cupcakes
Peanut Butter Buttercream
from Cook's Illustrated
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (don't use old-fashioned or natural brand)
3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
pinch table salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon heavy cream
In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter and peanut butter at medium-high speed until smooth, about 20 seconds. Add the confectioners' sugar and salt and beat at medium-low speed until most of the sugar is moistened, about 45 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat at medium speed until mixture is fully combined, about 15 seconds. Scrape the bowl again, then add vanilla and heavy cream, and beat at medium speed until incorporated, about 10 seconds. Finally, increase speed to medium-high and beat until the buttercream is light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, stopping to scrape down the bowl once or twice.
Makes 1 1/2 cups of frosting (will frost 12 cupcakes)
In the past week I've had a string of unfortunate incidents which have resulted in either a huge mess or minor injury to myself. For example, last week I dropped a gallon of milk as I was pulling it from the top shelf of the fridge. It crashed to the floor, the cap flew off and milk splattered several feet in every direction. That was fun to clean up :) I've also dropped an open bag of popcorn kernels on my kitchen floor and spilled an entire container of powder in the bathroom. I'm not usually such a klutz, I swear. When I set out to make this week's Tuesdays with Dorie selection, coconut tea cake, Sunday night at about 10:30 pm (good things rarely happen when I start baking that late at night), I kept the streak alive by injuring myself within the first 10 minutes. Despite shaking my can of coconut milk before opening it, I lifted the lid only to find that it was completely separated. I grabbed a spoon in one hand to stir it up and something in me decided it would be a good idea to grab the sharp edge of the lid in the other hand to secure the can. Ouch! I wound up with a nice slice in my middle finger and while it wasn't terribly painful, I did have to find a way to stop the bleeding before I could continue with the cake. This isn't the first time I've sliced my finger open (rewind to an incident with a mandoline a few months ago) so I've learned that if I wrap a paper towel around my finger and then a little sandwich bag, I can secure the contraption with a rubber band and continue on my way. It's cumbersome, but it works! Anyway, I hope this is the last in my string of accidents and that it'll be smooth sailing going forward...
This recipe makes a full size bundt cake and as usual, I scaled back. I love when a recipe is easy to scale, and this one was a breeze! No messy fractions or partial eggs necessary. I made only 1/4 of the recipe and divided the batter among the tins of my mini bundt pan. Dorie provided a lot of flavor variations this week to go along with the coconut and I went with orange, though I'd like to try lime another time too. I also added the optional dark rum. The batter includes shredded coconut and mine was both sweetened and toasted, which are the dark bits you can see in the cake in the photo below. The quarter recipe yielded three mini bundts for me and my baking time was about 18 minutes. I greased the pan well, but I still had a bit of trouble getting the bundts to release from the pan. I did eventually get them out without incident (by gently prying them with a toothpick), but I'll be curious to hear if folks have trouble with the full size bundts.
I topped one of my minis with some of the leftover raspberry sauce from the pavlova I made on Sunday and left the others plain. I tried a bite of the cake on Monday morning and I wasn't all that impressed. Though they were moist, the cakes were also dense. The coconut flavor was pretty subtle and even the bits of shredded coconut didn't add much coconut flavor - they were more of a textural addition. I went back to the cake on Monday evening and tried a second bite and wow, had it ever improved for me texturally! It was still moist, but now instead of a dense cake, I found a fluffy one! I'll definitely enjoy eating the remainder of that mini and I've tucked the other 2 in my freezer for another day. Many thanks to Carmen of Carmen Cooks, who selected the coconut tea cake this week. You can find the recipe on her blog or on page 194 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.
I had my first mango less than a year ago when Tuesdays with Dorie made fresh mango bread and I loved it! The mangoes' beautiful color, wonderful fragrance and sweet flavor are all so alluring and they're now easily one of my favorite fruits. I keep my eyes peeled for mango recipes all the time and hopefully now that we're entering mango season, there will be more and more fabulous recipes popping up.
These mango tartlets appeared in the most recent issue of Everyday Food, along with a few savory recipes that I also hope to try. The best part about the recipe, like most of Everyday Food's recipes, is how easy it is to put together - you combine brown sugar and rum in a saucepan and let the mixture boil briefly before adding butter and pouring it into the muffin tins, topping with the mango pieces and a circle of puff pastry and baking. The original recipe called for 2 mangoes but I found that I had plenty of fruit from just one to divide among the 6 muffin tins. I also used homemade puff pastry for my tartlets and with any luck I'll get my act together enough to share that recipe later this week :) No worries, though, you could easily use puff pastry from the freezer section at your grocery store if you want to make things easier on yourself.
I was almost certain I was going to love the tartlets; my only slight concern was that the rum might be overpowering but since there were so few ingredients in the recipe, I was hesitant to leave it out. Upon taking my first bite, I realized I'd worried needlessly. These tartlets were fantastic! The fruit softens in the oven (but it's not at all mushy) and when combined with the sweet caramel-like sauce and the flaky puff pastry, it's a dessert that is sure to please. These are definitely best served warm from the oven, but if you don't plan to serve them all immediately, I reheated leftovers in the microwave up to 2 days later (about 30-45 seconds on 60% power) and they were still really good!
Upside-Down Mango Tartlets
adapted from Everyday Food, April 2010
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted and cut into 1/2-inch dice
Preheat oven to 400 F. Cut six 3-inch circles from your sheet of puff pastry and place them in the refrigerator. You'll need a jumbo muffin pan (with 6 wells) to make the tartlets but no need to grease it.
In a small saucepan, combine the brown sugar, rum and a pinch of salt. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and let boil for 1 minute. Add the butter and stir until it melts completely. Divide this sugar mixture evenly among the jumbo muffin tins, placing about 4 teaspoons in the bottom of each. Divide the diced mango among the cups and finally, top each with one of the puff pastry circles.
Bake until the pastry is golden brown and puffed and the juices are bubbling, about 20-25 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Then, run a small knife around the edges of the pastries to loosen them. Invert a rimmed baking sheet and put it on top of the pan and then quickly flip both pans to release the tartlets onto the baking sheet. Serve warm.
This week's SMS was chosen by Patty of Birding Blossoms and Baking: pavlova peach melba. A pavlova is basically a meringue-based dessert with a delicate, crisp crust and a sweet, almost marshmallow-like center (it was tough to capture this contrast in photo, but I tried below). Typically a pavlova is served with whipped cream and fresh fruit; here, the recipe called for peaches with a fresh raspberry sauce. The dessert is simplicity at its best - you start by whipping egg whites, slowly add superfine sugar and beat until stiff peaks form and finally, fold in just a bit of cornstarch, white vinegar and vanilla extract. Then the pavlova is baked at a fairly low temperature (250 F here) for over an hour before turning off the oven and letting the pavlova cool completely in there.
I almost didn't bake this one because I wasn't sure it would be eaten, but I scaled back and made a tiny version as I so often do. I baked 1/4 of the recipe, which means I used only 1 egg white to make this entire dessert, along with just 1/4 cup of sugar and less than a teaspoon each of the cornstarch, vinegar and vanilla. It's pretty amazing to me what an elegant desert can be created with so few ingredients! Also, relative to most of the desserts I make, this one is fairly healthy :) I wish I'd been able to find better fruit at the store, but since I couldn't I used both frozen peaches and raspberries and both worked well here. Frozen peaches were actually a great find - I've never bought them before, but they held their shape very well when defrosted, and it saved me the hassle of having to peel and cut up peaches. I skipped the whipped cream (even though I absolutely love the stuff) just because I was already making this at the last minute and it was an extra step. The baking time for my mini was only about 10 minutes less than the full size dessert and I used my largest cookie cutter (about 3.5 inches in diameter) to draw the circle that acted as the guide for my pavlova.
Even without the whipped cream, I really enjoyed this dessert! The contrast between the crisp exterior and the soft marshmallowy interior was wonderful and the combination of peaches and raspberries was a successful one. Lots of thanks to Patty for hosting this week! You can find the recipe on her blog or in the Sweet Melissa Baking Book.
Recently I borrowed Marcus Samuelsson's New American Table from my library and I finally got around to flipping through it the other night. I found several recipes that I hoped to try before it was time to return the book, especially the root vegetable mash which had my mouth watering as I glanced down the ingredient list (potatoes, carrots, parsnips, cream, milk, cinnamon, garlic, onion, butter, maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, nutmeg - YUM!). What really grabbed me about the book though were the photos - tons of gorgeous, dazzling color photos. The photos are more than just shots of the food; there are families and neighborhoods and landmarks and so much more. I later learned that this book had been nominated for a James Beard award in the photography category and it's definitely well deserved.
These madeleines were the first thing I tried from the book and they were wonderful. I bought my madeleine pan almost 2 years ago to make madeleines for Tuesdays with Dorie and I haven't used it since so I thought it was about time to break it out again. Madeleines are so easy to make and they look really adorable. You've probably noticed that mine look a bit dark, and they are. The recipe called for a baking time of 15 minutes and when I went to check them at 10 minutes, they were already a bit overdone. Regardless, they were still delicious! The lemon is subtle, but it's there and the texture was perfect. The recipe goes one step further and dips the madeleines in chocolate ganache so that's an option too if you're looking to jazz these up even more!
from New American Table by Marcus Samuelsson
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 1/2 teaspoons honey
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces (plus more for greasing the pans)
1 vanilla bean
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for the pans)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat over to 400 F. Using melted or very soft butter, grease the madeleine tins and then flour them, tapping out any excess flour. Place the greased and floured pans in the refrigerator while you make the batter.
In a small saucepan, bring the lemon juice to a boil over medium heat. Add the lemon zest and simmer for 2 minutes then add the honey and simmer for another 3 minutes. Add the butter and stir with a heatproof spatula until melted. Use a sharp knife to slice the vanilla bean lengthwise and use the back of the knife to scrape the seeds into the pan. Set this mixture aside to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and both sugars. Add half of the butter mixture to the bowl and stir to combine. Add the flour, baking powder and salt to the bowl and mix. Finally, add the remaining butter mixture and fold until combined.
Fill each of the madeleine molds about 2/3-3/4 full with the batter (slightly less than 2 tablespoons per mold). Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the madeleines are golden brown around the edges. Remove them from the oven and turn the madeleines out onto a wire rack to cool.
Makes 25-30 madeleines
I am already counting down the days until blueberry season returns and sadly there are a lot of them left. Though I suppose since their season is short, it makes me appreciate them more. Fresh blueberries are so delicious on their but often times even better baked into a pie, muffin, scone or other treat! When fresh berries aren't in season, I pick up a giant bag of Wyman's frozen wild blueberries from our local warehouse club. Unfortunately, I haven't had much luck baking with frozen blueberries. I've tried most, if not all, of the well-known tricks that are supposed to stop the berries from bleeding, but nevertheless I always seem to wind up with purplish-blue baked goods and even if they taste fine, I can't get past their appearance. Needless to say, it's been a challenge to use up that huge bag of berries. So I felt like I'd hit the jackpot when Kristin posted this recipe for blueberry-oat bars that called for 2 1/2 cups of frozen berries!
This recipe was a cinch to throw together and depending on how large you cut the squares, the recipe yields quite a few bars. I spread the love around by sharing some with my neighbor and some with my family. Though Kristin warned that the bars were just barely sweet, I was still a bit surprised when I took my first bite. I knew immediately that these bars fell squarely in the breakfast category because they weren't remotely sweet enough for me to consider them dessert. In fact, I'll probably increase the sugar just a bit when I make them again, even if I plan to have them for breakfast. As I've mentioned before, I like everything super sweet so don't be deterred from giving the bars a shot - they are quite tasty with lots of blueberry goodness! You definitely won't feel guilty about enjoying one for breakfast and that's a very good thing in my book.
2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
1 cup milk (I used 1%)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
2 tablespoons brown sugar
In a measuring cup, whisk together the milk, lemon juice and vanilla. Pour the milk mixture over the dry ingredients and, using a fork, stir until everything is just combined.
I know a lot of people who plan all of their meals for the week out in advance and then grocery shop according to that plan. Some folks even prep some of the meals over the weekend so there's less to do after work during the week. I'm definitely not one of those people :) I did it a few times many months ago, but it took me so long to choose the recipes I wanted to make that it just didn't seem like it was saving me a whole lot of time or stress. Plus, I struggled to figure out what we'd be in the mood for on any given night so far in advance. Sometimes I do wish I'd stuck with it, though, especially on the days where I look at the clock, discover it's 5 pm and realize I don't have any idea what we're having for dinner that night.
Earlier this week, it was precisely one of those nights. I headed into the kitchen, reached into the depths of our freezer for a pound of ground turkey, began defrosting it (we buy most of our meat in bulk so if I don't plan dinner in advance, I have to defrost the meat in the microwave at the last minute) and got to work looking for something I could make. I remembered a chili recipe I'd starred in my Google Reader and when I dug through the posts and found the recipe, it was an easy decision to make it that night. I don't have a go-to chili - in fact, I rarely make it - but this one appealed to me because it was thick and hearty, with lots of ground turkey and, most importantly, no beans! Plus, it couldn't be easier to make - you brown the turkey with some onions and garlic, then season the mixture and add tomatoes and vinegar and let it all simmer - probably not more than 15 minutes of hands-on time in all.
Shane looked a bit skeptical when he walked in the door and saw what we were having for dinner but this chili won him over easily. We both really enjoyed it and I know it'll be a repeat around here frequently, especially when winter rolls around again! If you like your chili very spicy, you'll definitely want to up the quantities of chili powder, cumin and/or hot sauce (you can check out Shawnda's site to see how she likes to increase the heat in this dish), but for me (a big wimp when it comes to spicy food), this dish was perfect!
Oh, and if anyone has tips for meal planning, I'm all ears and would love to hear what works for you!
adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride
1lb ground turkey
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Add the ground turkey to a large Dutch oven or 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Toss the onion and garlic in to the pan as well, and cook stirring frequently until the turkey is evenly browned. Drain off the excess grease, if desired.
Season the turkey mixture with the chili powder, oregano, cumin and hot sauce. Stir in the tomatoes and vinegar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, and simmer for about 1 hour - or longer if you have time - stirring occasionally to prevent burning on the bottom.
After simmering, try the chili and add additional chili powder, cumin and/or hot sauce to taste, if necessary. Garnish with sour cream, cheese, jalapenos, red onions or any other toppings you'd like before serving!
This week's TWD was chosen by Jodie of Beansy Loves Cake: dulce de leche duos! Dulce de leche has seriously been on my list of things to try for ages so I'm grateful that Jodie's selection forced me to finally check that one off the list this week. Not only have I never made dulce de leche, but I've never even tasted it. Dorie's recipe calls for it in both the cookie dough as well as the filling to these sandwich cookies so the first order of business was making the dulce de leche. I probably could have found it in one of my local grocery stores, but I figured if I didn't try making it now, it would likely be months (or worse, years!) before I got around to it.
Luckily, this week's P&Q's offered a ton of options for making the dulce de leche. I decided to try making it in my crockpot since the method was incredibly low maintenance. You start with a can of sweetened condensed milk. Peel the label from the can and place it in your slow cooker then cover the can completely with water. I filled my slow cooker all the way to the top with water. Place the cover on the slow cooker, set it to low for 8 hours and when you come back, you've got dulce de leche! So simple! I started mine before I went to bed on Sunday night and woke up Monday morning to a can of dulce de leche. My dulce de leche wasn't completely smooth when I opened the can, but I put it in a bowl and whisked it briefly and it was just fine.
This was one heck of a messy recipe! I clearly need more practice when it comes to sandwich cookies because I kept overfilling them so the dulce de leche was leaking out everywhere - the counters, my hands, the plate I stacked the cookies on.... I made half of the recipe and the only change I made was to double the amount of salt based on some of the early reviews on the TWD site. I really liked the cookies themselves. They had the perfect soft and chewy texture and wonderful flavor! When the dulce de leche was sandwiched in between them though, it was too sweet for me. That's saying a lot because generally the sweeter the better in my book. Since I've never had dulce de leche before, I have zero basis for comparison. Maybe my homemade dulce de leche was sweeter than store bought would have been? Who knows :) I'm sending the cookies to work with Shane today so we'll see what the coworkers think. I know at least one of them has had and loves dulce de leche so I'll be very interested to hear her review.
Many thanks to Jodie for her selection this week! You can find the recipe on her blog or on page 161 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.
We love Mexican food but for some reason, it's actually pretty rare that we make it at home. Occasionally we'll have tacos and I think I made enchiladas once (they received a chilly reception from Shane) but that's about the extent of it. I'd like to start trying more Mexican dishes though since they're usually such favorites for us when we're out. This Mexican rice was the first recipe that caught my eye as I flipped through my copy of More Best Recipes looking for ideas. The recipe purees tomatoes and onions and adds the mixture to a pot of rice that's been fried in some vegetable oil. Garlic and jalapenos add flavor and just a touch of heat. The rice is baked in the oven so it's pretty low maintenance. The only issue I ran into was that my rice was slightly overcooked after 30 minutes in the oven (the suggested minimum cooking time). Next time I'll pull the Dutch oven out and check on it at about 27 minutes instead. We both loved the rice so it was definitely a good first choice! This recipe makes a fairly large batch so we had leftovers and we thought the rice was still tasty reheated in the microwave the next day. I'm a wimp when it comes to heat in dishes but I didn't find this one too spicy. If you like heat, you'll probably want to add that entire third jalapeno (see recipe below) along with its seeds and ribs. I only used about 1/4 of that third chile and like I said, the dish was mild. There's also a brown rice version of the recipe that I'm going to try next so I'll report back on how that turns out as I know a lot of people prefer brown rice to white.
I like to keep things mostly food-related here on the blog, but during the summer months I will be occasionally sharing results from Shane's triathlons and road races. Yesterday was the first race of the season, a half-marathon that served as a sort of warm-up for the marathon (his first ever!) that he's running in May. I'd like to think the Mexican rice, which we had for dinner the night before the race, had something to do with his success, but I'm pretty sure the months of training may also have played a role :)
We hopped in our car and headed down to New Bedford, MA yesterday morning for the race. New Bedford is nicknamed "the whaling city" because it was a famous whaling port during the 19th century. They've even got a Whaling Museum and though I've never been, I hear it's great!
There were close to 2500 runners and lots of friends and family came to support them. Shane's parents came to watch, which was really nice. I was glad they were there to keep me company!
The starting line was a madhouse and we had a hard time picking Shane out of the crowd (though I think his dad did eventually find him and get a picture). You can see the whaling statue in the left half of this shot.
After the runners were off, we walked over to the 5-mile point of the race, hoping to catch a glimpse of Shane as he went by. Lots of other people had the same idea though, and since I'm just barely 5 feet tall, it was a challenge. Crowds are not my friend :) Luckily, I did nab a shot of him, waving nonetheless!
I wasn't quite as lucky at the finish. He raced by before I noticed so all I got was this shot of his back and the finish line in sight. This was only his second half-marathon, but he beat his time from the last race, finishing in just over 1:46!
Afterward, we celebrated with lunch at the Rose Alley Ale House, which Shane had selected for its extensive beer selection. Watching a race is hard work so I enjoyed this huge burger and sweet potato fries. It was a great day and I'm definitely looking forward to May's big marathon in Providence!
from More Best Recipes by the editors of Cook's Illustrated
2 medium ripe tomatoes (about 12 oz), cored and quartered
1 medium white onion, peeled and quartered
3 jalapeno chiles
2 cups long grain white rice
1/3 cup vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, minced (about 4 teaspoons)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro (optional)
Lime wedges for serving (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 F. Process tomatoes and onions in the food processor until smooth and thoroughly pureed, about 15 seconds, scraping down the bowl if necessary. Transfer the mixture to a liquid measuring cup; you should have 2 cups (if necessary, spoon off excess). Remove the ribs and seeds from 2 of the jalapenos and mince the flesh. Mince the remaining jalapeno, including the ribs and seeds this time, and reserve separately.
Place the rice in a large fine mesh strainer and rinse under cold running water until the water runs clear, about 1 1/2 minutes. Shake rice vigorously in strainer to remove all excess water.
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or 12-inch heavy-bottomed ovensafe straight-sided sauté pan with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the rice and fry, stirring frequently, until it is golden and translucent, 6 to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic and the minced jalapenos (the two without the ribs and seeds); cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 1/2 minutes. Stir in the pureed tomato and onion mixture, chicken broth, tomato paste and salt. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and transfer to the oven; bake until the liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, 30 to 35 minutes, stirring well after 15 minutes.
Stir in the cilantro (if using) and the reserved minced jalapeno (the one with the seeds and ribs) to taste. Serve with lime wedges, if desired.
This week's SMS was chosen by Susan of Baking with Susan: double crusted caramel apple pie. I adore apple pie but I almost never make it so this was a real treat! That said, I had to figure out a way to scale this one back - it's hard to give away treats on the weekend with no one going to work and I certainly did not need a full size pie tempting me. I'm almost positive I bought a mini pie plate at Crate & Barrel last fall (it was adorable - a ceramic green mini!) but I can't find the darn thing anywhere. Ok, I guess I haven't looked that hard, but hopefully once I do, it'll turn up.
There were a lot of ideas thrown around on the P&Q's this week for scaling the recipe back, but in the end I decided to try to make mini pies in a muffin tin. I wanted to make all 3 components of the recipe - the crust, caramel sauce and apple filling - so it seemed like a good solution. I took a lot of pictures as I made this recipe not only to share on the blog, but also so I'd remember what I did in case I try the minis again.
I made 1/2 of the recipe for Melissa's all butter pie dough for the crust. I haven't had a lot of luck with pie crusts in the past, but this one came together nicely in my food processor. The recipe called for baking powder, which I don't think I've ever added to a pie crust before - some quick Google research indicates it might help the dough stay flaky even if its overworked, so it may have contributed to my success. After letting the crust rest in the fridge, I rolled it out and got to work on figuring out how big to cut the rounds for my mini pies. I tried my largest biscuit cutter first (I forgot to measure it but it's probably between 3 and 3 1/2 inches in diameter), but it was too small. Instead, I wound up using the edge of a huge plastic cup - it was one of the biggest circular items I could find! It measured 4 1/2 inches in diameter and was almost perfect! Next time I'd like to make the circles just a tad bigger though. At 4 1/2 inches, I could press the dough into the muffin tin and up the sides, but there wasn't any overhang, which made it tricky to attach a top crust. I chilled the crusts in the fridge while I made the other components of the recipe.
I'd just made a wonderful caramel sauce the other day for these brownies and I was tempted to make that one again since it had worked out so well but in the spirit of the group, I tried Melissa's recipe instead. I did use the Cook's Illustrated tip of putting a lid on the pan at the beginning of the process though, a neat trick which uses condensation to dissolve any sugar crystals that end up on the sides of the pan. Unfortunately, some of my sugar hardened after I added the cream and despite attempting to reheat and melt the sugar on low heat, I couldn't resolve the problem. The caramel was tasty, but the texture wasn't pleasant at all. As for the filling, I cut up only one Granny Smith apple (I made the pieces small since I figured the baking time wouldn't be very long and I wanted them to cook completely) and scaled the remainder of the recipe back accordingly. I resisted the strong urge to add cinnamon. I had more than enough filling for my 3 mini pies.
I went with a lattice top on my pies since I figured it would make it easy for me to check the tenderness of the apples when they were in the oven. Also, as I mentioned, I didn't have any overhang from the bottom crust, which made it nearly impossible to attach a top crust as I typically would. I kept a close eye on the pies when they were in the oven and my baking time was about 25-27 minutes. The filling was bubbling and the apples were perfect! After they'd cooled, I was able to remove my pies easily by sticking a paring knife between the crust and the side of the muffin tin and lifting.
I absolutely loved the way these little guys looked, but how about the flavor? The crust was awesome - flaky, tender and delicious! I liked the filling too - the tart Granny Smith apples worked well with the super sweet caramel. Still, I missed the cinnamon and felt the filling could have used just a little spice to up the flavor. This is definitely a recipe I'll fiddle with because I think it could be amazing. I'll probably make the Cook's Illustrated caramel sauce next time and adjust the filling to include cinnamon and/or nutmeg. Many thanks to Susan for hosting this week - I had a blast with this one! You can find the recipe on her blog or in the book.
Sometimes great things result from less than stellar beginnings. Take, for example, these brownies. I didn't intend to make them yesterday. Sure, I've had my eye on them for a while but I wasn't planning to try them for a few weeks. Rather, my intention had been to make baked sweet potato doughnuts yesterday afternoon. I dedicated a fair amount of time to the recipe and everything seemed to be going well up until I tried to bake them. Without boring you with the details, they didn't turn out and I had no idea why. I'm alright with baking mistakes when I can pinpoint what went wrong but when a recipe fails and I'm confident I've followed the instructions to a T, I get pretty frustrated. I moped about my failed doughnuts for a bit but I didn't want the day to end on that sour note so I got back into the kitchen. If anything could make me feel better, it was chocolate and caramel!
These turtle brownies only require a bit more effort than regular brownies and they're so worth it! The recipe starts with a caramel sauce, and while I typically fear caramel, the instructions here were so clear that it was almost impossible not to succeed. Some of this caramel is combined with the brownie batter and swirled before going into the oven to bake. The remainder of the caramel is poured over the fully baked and cooled brownies creating a rich, gooey and chewy topping. Straight from the fridge the brownies were deliciously fudgy and chocolately, but I actually preferred them as they warmed to room temperature. The brownie base softened just a bit as did the caramel and I was powerless against the combination. In fact, I may or may not have had one for breakfast today...
I didn't realize it until Clara tweeted about it this morning, but today is National Chocolate Caramel Day - one of many food holidays no one really knows about :) I can think of no better offering than these brownies! Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!
Ultimate Turtle Brownies
from Cook's Illustrated
1/4 cup heavy cream plus 2 additional tablespoons
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/4 cups sugar (8 3/4 ounces)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into 8 pieces
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (3 3/4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sugar (7 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup chopped pecans (about 2 3/4 ounces) (I omitted)
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips (optional)
pecan halves, toasted
To make the caramel: Combine the cream and salt in a measuring cup; stir well to dissolve salt. Combine the water and corn syrup in a heavy-bottomed 2- to 3-quart saucepan. Pour the sugar into the center of the pan, being careful not to let the sugar granules touch the sides of the pan. Use a rubber spatula to very gently stir the mixture to moisten the sugar thoroughly. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat; cook, covered and without stirring, until the sugar is completely dissolved and the liquid is clear, about 3 to 5 minutes. Uncover the pan and continue to cook the mixture, without stirring, until the bubbles have a faint golden color, 3 to 5 minutes more. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook (swirling occasionally) until the caramel is light amber and registers about 360 F on a candy thermometer, about 1 to 3 minutes longer. Remove the saucepan from the heat and carefully add the cream to the center of the pan (the mixture will bubble vigorously); stir with a rubber spatula until the cream is fully incorporated and the bubbling subsides. Stir in the butter and vanilla until combined. Transfer the caramel to a large microwave-safe measuring cup and set aside.
To make the brownies: With a rack in the lower middle position, preheat oven to 325 F. Spray a 9-inch-square baking pan with cooking spray. Cut a piece of heavy-duty foil to a length of about 14 inches. Fold the edges back to form an 8 1/2-inch width. With the folded sides facing down, fit the foil securely into the bottom and up the sides of the prepared baking pan, allowing the excess to overhang the sides of the pan. Spray the foil with cooking spray.
Place the butter, bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl. Microwave for 1 minute at 50% power. Remove the bowl from the microwave and stir. Continue to microwave for 30 second bursts until the butter and chocolates are melted and smooth. Stir the mixture after each 30-second burst. Set aside to cool slightly. In a small bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder and set aside. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl to combine, then add the sugar, salt and vanilla and whisk until incorporated. When the chocolate has cooled slightly, add it to the egg mixture and whisk to combine. Add the flour mixture and fold it in with a rubber spatula until almost combined. Add the chopped pecans and chocolate chips (if using); fold until incorporated and no flour streaks remain.
Pour half of the brownie batter in the prepared baking pan and use an offset spatula to spread it in an even layer covering the bottom of the pan. Using a measured cup that has been sprayed with cooking spray, drizzle 1/4 cup of caramel over the batter. Drop the remaining brownie batter over the caramel and spread evenly into the corners of the pan with your offset spatula. Drizzle an additional scant 1/4 cup caramel over the top of the brownie batter. Using the tip of a butter knife, swirl the caramel and brownie batter. Bake the brownies until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool brownies in the pan on wire rack to room temperature, about 1 1/2 hours.
Heat the remaining caramel (you should have about 3/4 cup) in the microwave until warm and pourable but still thick (do not boil), about 45 to 60 seconds, stopping to stir once or twice. Pour all of the caramel over the brownies. Use a spatula to spread the caramel to cover the surface. Refrigerate brownies, uncovered, for at least 2 hours.
Using the foil sling, lift the brownies from the baking pan, loosening the sides with paring knife, if needed. Peel away and discard foil. Using a chef's knife, cut the brownies into 20 evenly sized squares. Press a pecan half onto surface of each brownie. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Happy St Patrick's Day! It's going to be an absolutely gorgeous day here - sunny and 60! - hopefully spring weather is here to stay :) We don't celebrate St Patrick's Day in a big way (no parades, parties, etc.) but I did whip up this Irish soda bread and tonight we'll have corned beef and cabbage for dinner. Last year I made Irish soda bread for the first time and it was a big hit with my family so I wanted to try another recipe this year. I came upon this recipe while browsing Cook's Illustrated and thought it would be interesting with its combination of all-purpose, whole wheat and cake flours as well as toasted wheat germ.
The best thing about Irish soda breads is how easy they are to whip up - the leavening is provided by the baking soda and buttermilk so there are no long rising times or kneads. I took a few liberties with this recipe, mainly because I discovered I didn't have enough cream of tartar after I'd started to combine the dry ingredients. A quick Google search indicated I could substitute 1/2 teaspoon of white vinegar for the cream of tartar so that's exactly what I did. I was also using powdered buttermilk as I've found it always works in recipes and keeps much longer than the quarts I used to buy for baking. The dough was quite sticky and looked very ragged when I put it in the cast iron skillet to bake (wish I'd taken a photo) so don't be concerned if you run into a similar situation. Although the recipe calls for baking the bread in a cast iron skillet, you could also use a baking sheet but you may get a slightly less crunchy crust on the bread. My baking time was only about 38 minutes so you probably want to check the bread earlier than the 40-45 minute suggested baking period.
I was surprised when I cut into this bread by its moist and soft texture; it was a wonderful contrast to the crisp crust. I slathered a slice with butter and thought it was completely delicious - slightly nutty and hearty. I passed most of my loaf onto my mom and step-dad and they gave it some of the most rave reviews I've heard and since I share a ton of my baked goods with them, that's saying something! If you're looking for a last minute recipe this St Patrick's Day, this is definitely one worth considering!
Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread
adapted just slightly from Cook's Illustrated
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Whisk together the flours, wheat germ, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter to the bowl and rub it into the flour using your fingers or a pastry cutter until it is completely incorporated and the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center and add the buttermilk. Using a fork, incorporate the buttermilk into the dry ingredients just until the dough comes together in large clumps. Turn the dough onto a well-floured work surface and knead very briefly until any loose flour is just moistened - the dough will be very sticky so you might need to add a small amount of flour so you can handle it. The dough will look scrappy and uneven.
Form the dough into a round about 6 to 7 inches in diameter and place in a cast iron skillet. Use a knife to score a deep cross into the top of the loaf. Bake until the bread is nicely browned and a tester comes out clean when inserted into the center of the loaf, about 40 to 45 minutes. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing.