Sunday, September 27, 2009

Halfway up the hill...

This week is Aaron's 25th birthday, as in halfway to fifty, quarter of a life gone just like that. To celebrate this momentous occasion we decided to have a party (although in our terms party is more like, have a few people over, serve them some diet coke, kick them out at 10:00pm when we get tired). I figured I could do a little better than that for this birthday or at least serve some delicious food since I heard somewhere that your tastebuds decay with age so its only a matter of time before Aaron won't be able to taste anything at all...

I rounded up a menu of soups, cornbread and desserts and invited some friends and we had a wonderful gathering of friends to celebrate the end of Aaron's youth. Some of his med school friends even dressed up in suits for the occasion.

Here is the dinner lineup:

Carrot Ginger Soup
Matzo Ball Soup
Black Bean Sweet Potato Chili
Cornbread (x3!)

For dessert, I may have gone just a tiny bit overboard. There may have been a few moments last week when I thought to myself, is three kinds of cake too much? but then rationalized in my head why every 25th birthday party needs  AT LEAST three kinds of cake (I mean, what if someone doesn't like one kind of cake and also doesn't like one of the icings on another cake, they need a third option). Plus, I have all these recipes I've been wanting to try and as the semester wears on I have less and less time to bake. I also wanted to recreate my gingersnap ice cream from a few weeks ago because it was a huge success the first time around.

Here is the dessert lineup:
Lemon cupcakes with lemon cream cheese icing (Aaron's request)
Carrot cake cupcakes with maple cream cheese icing
Yellow cake with chocolate icing
Gingersnap ice cream

To compensate for the fact that my eyes were clearly bigger than my stomach, I decided to make mini cupcakes and abbreviate the cake recipe to fit 6-inch pans rather than 9-inch pans. As a result, I had about 24 mini carrot cake cupcakes, 24 mini lemon cupcakes and a three-tier 6-inch yellow cake. (Plus two batches of ginger ice cream, but who is counting?). Personally, I was really happy with the mini cupcakes because they are bite-size and great for a party.

All in all, it was a gigantic success. There were some things that turned out better than others (the cornbread was not my favorite recipe ever) and people seemed to like some things better than others (the carrot cake cupcakes went FAST), but nothing was a total disaster.

Of the recipes, I think my favorite were the carrot cake and the carrot ginger soup (theme, anyone?) so I will share those here. The carrot ginger soup is an old recipe that I cut out of the Omaha World Herald a couple of years ago so I don't even have an attribution, but the carrot cake is from good ol' smittenkitchen (it never steers me wrong). Any of the recipes online recipes have hyperlinks above.

Carrot Ginger Soup

8 servings
1 leek
2 T. unsalted butter
2 pounds carrots
1 sweet potato
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 T. ginger root, grated
½ t. curry powder or nutmeg
5 cups vegetable stock or chicken
1 cup cooked rice
1 cup soy milk

Cook rice first. In small saucepan bring 1 ¼ c. water to boil. Add ½ c. of dry, white rice. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until graints are tenfder and water is mostly brown. Trim off the tough green end of the leek, then slice leek lengthwise and rinse out. Slice leek halves into ¼ inch slices. Trim carrots, wash, and slice diagonally. Peely sweet potato and cut in 1 inch cubes. Melt butter in the soup pot and sauté the leek until translucent, but not brown. Add carrots and sweet potatos and toss for 2 minutes on medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger, stock, and rice. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cover and cook gently for 20 minutes or until the carrots are soft. Puree the soup in a food processors or with a hand held whisk. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add soy milk or cream when serving.

Carrot Cake Mini Cupcakes

1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup sugar
  2/3 cups canola oil
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups grated peeled carrots
1/2 cups well chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F
Line 24 mini cupcake pans with liners.
Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger in medium bowl to blend. Whisk sugar and oil in a separate large bowl until mixed. Whisk in eggs 1 at a time until well blended. Add flour mixture to the wet ingredients and stir until blended. Stir in carrots and walnuts if using them. Divide batter among cupcake molds, filling 3/4 of each.
Bake cupcakes 10 to 15 minutes. Let them cool in the pans for five minutes or so, then transfer cakes to a cooling rack. Let cool completely before icing them.

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz. packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
In a stand mixer beat all the ingredients on medium until fluffy. Add more maple syrup if needed, to taste. Chill the frosting for 10 to 20 minutes, until it has set up enough to spread smoothly.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

If only the new year wasn't only once a year....

Oh man did we have a delicious dinner! If Rosh Hashanah means eating this well then I wish it was every day (except maybe with Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter too, I like the food on those holidays too, oh and my birthday-i do love cake!). Even though we started preparations for the meal on Wednesday (baking a challah and making honey ice cream) we still did not eat until 9:00pm on Friday night because the brisket took so long! But Augustus, Atia, and Apollo was it ever worth it!

Here is a lineup of the menu:
Brisket braised in porter with carrots and mushrooms
German style fried potatoes
Sauteed Kale
Apple Tart
Honey Ice cream

I made the challah on Wednesday and was planning to use my mom's recipe, but realized at the last minute that I didn't have enough yeast! So, I had to use a backup recipe from After I had braided one normal loaf Aaron told me that it should be a round loaf for Rosh Hashanah so I braided one into a circle only to find out that it wasn't supposed to be braided just a circle, but oh well, too little too late. The bread turned out okay, but slightly disappointing. I prefer my mom's recipe so I think I will stick with that one--since I make bread so often :).

The tart and ice cream I made on Thursday since the ice cream needs to harden over night and the tart just takes a while to bake. I've included the recipes for both of these below (since this blog is primarily devoted to baking and desserts) but let me just say that this ice cream was AMAZING! I think it may have been my favorite so far. It uses honey rather than sugar for sweetener, which makes it rich, but not too rich and super creamy. Its also really easy, if you have an ice cream maker I suggest you make it as soon as possible.

Everything else we saved for Friday, which in hindsight may not have been the smartest plan, but oh well! The brisket took several hours to finish with various steps of braising and browning and roasting, but the potatoes and kale were super quick and easy. All three recipes came from the October issue of Bon Appetit (follow the links above for recipes). This was my first time making a brisket other than my mom's recipe and it was slightly more involved than what I am used to (it required me to brown and braise and all other sorts of things), but in the end it was really good and moist. The kale was also a surprise since I had pretty low expectations, I mean, who thinks "kale, delicious!"? It was an incredibly easy recipe with only four or so ingredients and a good way to use kale. As far as the potatoes go, are potatoes ever bad? This was a delicious meal and we are lucky to have leftovers for the next few days. After this cooking marathon, I will probably be taking a break for a while. Luckily, we stockpiled frozen veggie burgers in our freezer when they were on sale a few weeks ago. Stay tuned for next weekend though, its Aaron's birthday so there is sure to be at least some cake on the horizon....

Honey Ice Creamadapted from 101Cookbooks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup honey
Combine the vanilla, cream, milk and honey in a large saucepan.  Stir to dissolve the honey and heat over moderate heat, stirring occasionally just until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan, 3 to 4 minutes.
Remove from the heat and let steep, covered, for 1 hour.
Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.
Freeze according to ice cream maker's instructions.

Apple Tart
from smittenkitchen

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, just softened, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
3 1/2 tablespoons chilled water
2 pounds apples (Golden Delicious or another tart, firm variety), peeled, cored (save peels and cores), and sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
5 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup sugar

For the crust: Combine flour, sugar and salt in large bowl. Add 2 T of butter blending with a mixer until only small lumps remains. Add the rest of the butter and mix until small lumps remain. Slowly add some of the water and stir, adding more water until the dough begins to hold together. Continue this process until you are able to roll the dough without dry or sticky patches. Flatten it into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  Remove the cooled crust from the refrigerator and roll out on a lightly floured surface. Roll into a 14 inch circle and place this into a lightly greased 9 inch tart pan. At this point, heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

For Filling: place peeled and sliced apples in a double ring inside the prepared crust. Fold any of the excess dough back onto itself and crimp the edges. Brush melted butter over the crust and the apples and sprinkle 2 Tablespoons sugar over the entire tart. Bake the tart on a flat baking sheet in the oven for about 45 minutes, rotating every 15 minutes. The crust will be a rich brown and the center filling will bubble.

For the glaze: Put the peels and cores in a large saucepan and add the sugar. Cover with water and simmer on medium heat for 25 minutes. Strain through a mesh strainer. Remove the tart from the oven and cool for fifteen minutes. Brush the glaze over the tart and serve.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Get Ready...

This is just a post to whet your let you know to stay tuned....there are good things on the horizon. At least it had better be good. I have been cooking for three days straight in preparation for dinner tonight so it had better be delicious. This weekend is Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and since Aaron can't go home this year we decided to cook our own meal. I figured it was a fair deal since he made me Easter dinner plus its rare to eat an actual meal around this place (can you say Lean Cuisine or pasta?) The only problem is we don't exactly have time just growing on trees either so we had to space the cooking out a few days in able to have everything ready to eat tonight.

So, I will keep you posted...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Peanut Butter Cups

I have to have dessert everyday. Every. Single. Day. And I honestly do not see anything wrong with that. I'm not talking three layer cakes or complicated pastries or anything, but something sweet like a cookie or a piece of chocolate or a little ice cream. I like to tell myself that it brings closure to my meals (whether or not that's true, I'm not sure, but I'll stick to that story). For the past five days, count them FIVE, we have not had any sort of dessert of sweets in our house! At first it was okay and I was surviving, but by this weekend it had become ridiculous and I could not handle it anymore (keep in mind we were also out of most other things like milk and bread). I broke down and ordered a brownie from a local restaurant and went to pick it up at 10:00pm last night because I was so desperate for dessert in my life.
Today, I was determined to solve this problem for good--or at least the next week. Someone gave me a mini-Reese's peanut butter cup the other day and I decided to try to replicate those flavors in cupcake form. I used chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting and put a mini-Reese's inside each cupcake. These were quite delicious if I may say so myself! The peanut butter cup inside the cake is a delicious surprise and the peanut butter icing is really light and fluffy, complimenting the chocolate cake very nicely. With chocolate and peanut butter you can never go wrong.

For the cake:
Rich Chocolate Cupcakes (I made them Vegan by using soy milk, but you can substitute regular milk)
Adapted from
1 cup soy milk/milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder, Dutch processed or regular
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 miniature Reese's peanut butter cups

 Whisk together the soy milk and vinegar in a large bowl and set aside to curdle for several minutes. Beat the oil, vanilla, almond extract and sugar into the milk mixture until foamy. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Beat the flour mixture into the milk mixture in two parts. Pour the batter into twelve cupcake tins and place one peanut butter cup in each cupcake. Bake at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes.

For the icing:
Peanut Butter Icing
5 oz. cream cheese
4 Tablespoons butter
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter (commercial brand)
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Beat together the softened cream cheese and butter until soft and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar, slowly, about 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until each addition is fully incorporated. Add the peanut butter and beat until smooth.

As delicious as these are, I'm sending most of them with Aaron to his lab because I will eat them all in one day (just as I must have dessert every day, I also must eat all dessert that is present at all times). However, I am adding this recipe to my "repeat" list.

Monday, September 7, 2009

New Uses for Ginger

Certain ingredients always remind me of certain types of food or certain times of year and it seems strange to even think of using them in other ways. Pumpkin, of course, reminds me of the entire fall season; tomatoes equal Italy in the summer and sweet potatoes remind me of October.

When I think of ginger, I normally think of either Asian inspired dishes or wintery desserts (aka gingersnaps, or gingerbread men, you get the picture). I've really started to like working with ginger lately, however, so when I came across this recipe for fresh ginger ice cream in David Lebovitz's most recent book, The Perfect Scoop, I was itching to try it while the summer ice cream season was still in full swing. Since this was Labor Day Weekend and the last official summer weekend, I figured: what better occasion? (although our school does NOT give us the day off....)

The recipe itself is a bit on the complicated side as far as ice creams go, which is not saying much. Its a custard base so you actually have to complete several steps including steeping the fresh ginger in a milk and cream mixture, cooling the mixture and making a custard base before actually churning the ice cream. This being said, it was remarkably easy, mostly because of David Lebovitz's great instructions.

After I had finished part of the recipe and was letting it cool in the refrigerator, I became a bit worried that it would be too rich--I generally don't like custard based ice creams, I feel they're too rich--and decided to add some crumbled up, store-bought gingersnaps. Man, was this a good decision! It turns out that the ice cream was actually really delicious and would have been fine on its own, but the gingersnaps added a wonderful change of texture and added spiciness to the otherwise cool and perfectly gingery ice cream. All in all, I think this was another great success in the world of homemade ice cream and will definitely make it again. Since I personally associate ginger with the holiday season, I think it would be great for that time of year as well.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Crazy about Vegan

Several posts ago I wrote about some vegan chai latte cupcakes that I made for my friend Elizabeth. That was my first experience baking a vegan cupcake and it went remarkably well so I was eager to try again with something different and entirely vegan (the frosting on those cakes was not vegan). Luckily, I have a class this semester that meets late in the afternoon for 2 1/2 hours so we are all very hungry and ready for a snack during the middle. I decided that vegan cupcakes would make an excellent snack for weary art historians this week.

I started with a recipe again from loveandoliveoil and it was remarkably successful. Since it uses no butter or even margarine the cakes are very light as opposed to cupcakes that use butter, which are denser and richer, but definitely have their own place and time (basically anytime). I don't think I prefer one over the other its just a matter of occasion. With the frosting I was eager to try swirling two colors, something I haven't tried before, but I think is a nice change. I did not leave enough plain white so blue seems to predominate and my piping is a bit sub-par because I was trying to figure out the best way to highlight both colors, but overall I am happy with this first effort. I think they look pretty nice and will be a sufficient mid-afternoon snack.

Here is the recipe:
1 cup soy milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder, Dutch processed or regular
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Vanilla Bean Frosting:
1/4 cup margarine (or butter), softened
1/4 cup tofutti (or regular) cream cheese, softened
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped out, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin pan with paper liners.
Whisk together the soymilk and vinegar in a large bowl, and set aside for a few minutes to curdle. Add the sugar, oil, and vanilla extract to the soy milk mixture and beat till foamy. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add in two batches to wet ingredients and beat until there are no longer any lumps in the batter. 
Pour into liners, filling each about 2/3 full. Bake 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely.
For frosting, cream together margarine and cream cheese until just combined. Add confectioners’ sugar 1/2 cup at a time, mixing each addition until smooth. Add vanilla, and beat until fluffy.