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Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

Banana Chocolate Chip Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

As co-host for a baby shower this past weekend, one of my duties was to bring cupcakes.  I decided to make them, since they can be so expensive.  I found a few recipes and ran them past the mom-to-be, and she picked banana chocolate chip with cream cheese frosting.  The first recipe I tried was this one, except with plain cream cheese instead of strawberry. I was glad I did a trial run. The cupcakes were dense, like banana bread, and stained the cupcake liners. I researched cupcake liners and found that some places sell foil lined “fade proof” or “grease proof” liners. I picked some up at JoAnn. I also know, from making other recipes, that cake flour might be beneficial for a lighter texture, so I searched for a recipe with cake flour. I finally settled on this recipe for banana chocolate chip cupcakes, but without the peanut butter frosting. I doubled it, because we were expecting at least 26 guests, and I’d rather have too many than not enough.

I have had GREAT luck with all of the recipes from Simply Recipes, so I used her recipe for cream cheese frosting. This recipe was twice as big as the recipe from the first link with the strawberry cream cheese, which had been enough for 18 cupcakes, so I figured that a single batch of the Simply Recipes Cream Cheese Frosting would be enough for 36 cupcakes. It was plenty.

I found some woodland animal sugar decorations on EBay that I thought were just perfect!

All in all, these were good. They’re not my favorite, but the mom-to-be seemed to love them and my coworkers devoured the leftovers within an hour.

Winter Minestrone

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

I have made this Winter Minestrone recipe twice now, and both times it has been spectacular. I think I particularly like that the soup has a lot of spinach in it. It’s like soup and salad in one bowl. I don’t have a lot of experience with butternut squash, but in this soup it isn’t a strong flavor, just a nice addition. I use regular bacon instead of pancetta.

Chopping the vegetables is the most time consuming part of this recipe. It cooks surprisingly fast with very little fuss. The only ingredient that gave me a little trouble was 2 cups of cooked pasta. We purchased “large rings”, and it turns out that 1 cup of dry is about 2 cups cooked. The first time I made this soup, I thought 2 cups of cooked pasta couldn’t possibly be enough, and I put in 2 cups dry (4 cups cooked). It was more like pasta with watery sauce, but it still tasted great.

Sodastream Review

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

This year we bought ourselves a Sodastream Dynamo Deluxe from Costco for Christmas. We had been eyeing them for a while, and while we didn’t get the black Friday low low price, we still thought we got a good deal. We didn’t read or fully understand the instructions, but after watching a video online, we figured out that the machine has to “fart” 3+ times before the water is carbonated enough. The first time we threaded a bottle on the machine it was too loose or cross threaded or something and we sprayed water all over the kitchen! The cat really doesn’t like the noises that the sodastream makes :)

While I’m pleased with the carbonation and the ability to make my own soda, I have been disappointed by a few details. We have not personally seen a replacement 130 carbonator locally. We might be able to order one, but the only local choice seems to be 60L, which costs almost as much as 130L. Also, the flavors have been pretty bad.  We got sample flavor pack with our purchase. Of the 1 flavors, we have made 10, and I have personally tasted 8: regular orange, regular lemon lime, regular root beer, regular “Dr Pete”, diet root beer, diet cola, diet lemon lime, and diet “Dr Pete”.  Almost all (all?) oftheir flavors contain sucralose (Splenda) and acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), even the non-diet flavors! Sometimes I’m ok with this artificial sweetener taste, but sometimes I’m not. Regular orange, lemon lime, and Dr Pete were ok, but the others tasted pretty bad. I’m not a fan of Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi either. In addition to the sampler pack, we have also tried the natural root beer, natural ginger ale, and regular (unnatural) cherry cola. The natural flavors are made with sugar and whatever glucose syrup is. They come in bigger bottles, and each bottle only makes 6L compared to about 12L from the smaller (unnatural) flavors, they’re much more expensive (~3x), and there are fewer natural flavors. No doubt the reason the larger bottles make fewer liters of soda is because the artificial sweeteners are sweeter than sugar by volume. The cherry cola had an oddly bitter lettuce taste behind the sweetness, yuck.

So, I’m dissatisfied with the syrups. I’ll have to investigate making my own. Grenadine and Torani are other options, but not necessarily cheaper. I think making simple syrup and flavoring it with extracts, fruit concentrates, etc might be a better option.


Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

Monday, October 8th, 2012

I made these pumpkin cream cheese muffins yesterday. They are fabulous. I didn’t make the topping, because I didn’t feel it was needed. I don’t think they’re missing anything without it.  Calling these muffins feels disingenuous, though.  Let’s be honest, they’re cupcakes.  They may have pumpkin in them, but that doesn’t make them particularly healthy.

The cream cheese filling is softer than the black bottom cupcakes I have made before that have egg in the cream cheese mixture. I rolled the cream cheese and sugar filling into a tube in saran wrap and popped it in the freezer while I made guacamole and mixed up the pumpkin muffin base.  Still, the filling wasn’t frozen when I went back to it after an hour in the freezer.  I decided to use it anyway, and ended up scraping cream cheese off the saran wrap.  Next time, I’d skip that whole deal…. why  not just scoop it into the muffin batter from the bowl and skip the whole frozen log part?

Also, I have no idea what “pumpkin pie spice” amounts to, but I substituted 1/2 tsp of extra cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground ginger, and 1/4 tsp allspice.  My nutmeg grater doesn’t always give the finest shavings, but I sifted the dry stuff and most of the bigger shavings didn’t make it through.  The overall flavor is very much like pumpkin pie (I think it’s mostly the cinnamon and cloves), but still pretty mild.  With the cheese filling, it’s kind of like pumpkin cheesecake.

Chocolate Ice Cream Adventure

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

I’ve attempted chocolate ice cream before, and the recipe is basically add 1 c. cocoa powder to vanilla ice cream.  So tonight I decided to try to add chocolate to the new techniques with corn starch and cream cheese that I’ve been trying lately.  The base thickened up a lot more than the vanilla and mint, which I remember being true with the egg custard version too.  The base is also a bit lumpy, but I hope that will strain out.

I’m already thinking of some improvements for next time.  I think maybe melted chocolate would be better than cocoa powder.  The cocoa powder just tastes… like cocoa powder!  Maybe it’s a little too bitter.  I don’t know.  I’m considering doctoring the cold base with a little more corn syrup or thinning it with some milk.  I’m not sure yet if I will, and I may end up with too much base for my machine to freeze in one batch.

I scream, you scream…

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Hello, blog.  It’s been a while.  I’ve been focusing my creative energy in other places, but in the end I always end up feeling like a beacon in the fog.  I’m sending out signals, and rarely do I get anything back.  Well, I’ve decided that’s fine with me.  This blog is actually an easier medium for that experience (less noise).

In the past week or so I’ve made two batches of ice cream based on this article on Jeni’s artisan ice cream. It was a year or two ago when I first read about Jeni’s ice cream and using corn starch to thicken instead of eggs. Brian could tell you about a time (or two?) when I added too much corn starch to a soup we were making and we ended up eating paste. So these days, I’m cautious about telling Brian I’m using corn starch, and I’m also cautious about how much I use. I like frozen custard, but it always seems like an egg-stravagant use of eggs (sorry! couldn’t resist).

My first batch was vanilla. I had no whole milk or vanilla beans in the house, so I did a little improvisation. I had been planning on making ice cream with half and half and heavy cream, so I used some combination of those along with our standby household milk, 1%. I used vanilla extract for flavoring. It was “good” vanilla as the Barefoot Contessa would say.  The resulting ice cream was good, but it was still not as custard-like as I had hoped. Next, I tried mint. I didn’t really do much different (peppermint extract instead of vanilla), but somehow the ice cream base looked a bit thicker when I poured it in the machine. I added in some mini chocolate chips to the mint version at the end. Both ice creams have not had the unpleasant, “gritty”, fat coagulation on the spoon that I’ve had in the past with the heavy cream and half and half (without milk) mix. But they do have this quality I can only describe as “frozen milk”. Not very smooth and creamy. My theory is that I need to cook the base longer to thicken it more. In both cases I’ve had a hard time getting the base to boil without starting to burn the sugar, which has given both ice creams a hint of caramel (maybe not a bad thing).

Both of these ice creams were thinner after churning than what I remember from making ice cream from other recipes in past years. But after freezing, they seem fine, pretty scoop-able, not glacier hard. I want to try chocolate next. I loved the flavor of the chocolate custard I made last year, but the texture was off.  I’m hoping to pick up some whole milk so I can really follow the recipe.

Skillet Chicken Pot Pie

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Tonight we made the Skillet Chicken Pot Pie from the Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV cookbook (or whatever).  Brian isn’t a big fan of chicken pot pie, mostly because he’s horrified by the caloric content and cooking time for the small pies you can buy in the freezer section.  After he helped cook this version and also helped eat it, his mind has changed a little.  I approve of this recipe.  I think it will go in the permanent rotation with almost zero moderation.  I’m considering using pearl onions instead of minced onion.

Maryland Crab Cakes with Chipotle Mayo

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

We made the America’s Test Kitchen Maryland Crab Cakes for dinner last night. I thought they were really good. I followed the crab cake directions almost precisely – I just added a little extra Old Bay to the flour for dredging at the end. Since we live far from the coast and didn’t want to pay a fortune, we went for pasteurized crab. Costco had it in a 1lb tub near the deli meats and herring. I used panko for the crumbs (because I had it on hand). I only used 2Tb. The cakes barely held together. They were difficult to handle and flip, but we managed. I set the cakes on wax paper after dredging, and I lifted the cakes using the wax paper beneath them and sort of tipped them into my palm and put them in the oil quickly to fry. I could not pick them up with my fingers and keep them intact.

I was too lazy to mince garlic or chilis, and we didn’t have fresh cilantro or lime juice, so I mixed up some of the adobo from the can of chipotles with some mayo and sour cream and added lemon pepper, garlic salt, dried cilantro, and lemon juice. The result was probably not as spicy as it would have been with chopped chilis, but it was a very tasty sauce. We had leftover sauce, and I plan to use it on turkey and bacon roll ups. It would also be awesome on cheesesteak sandwiches if we happened to have those on hand.

I was more than pleased with the results. We will definitely do this again, although probably not often since it was a little labor intensive and more expensive than our usual dinners.

Smashed Potatoes

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

I’m finding that the Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2001-2011 (hereafter CATK Cookbook) has every recipe I want, even though I don’t know it yet. I searched for a smashed potato recipe online and wound up finding it in the CATK Cookbook.

I wasn’t 100% thrilled with the results, but I can’t judge too accurately because, as usual, I didn’t follow the recipe to the letter. I more than doubled it to feed the crew I had coming for Christmas and the grocery store was out of chives, so I subbed some green onions. I definitely think chives would be better. I found that the potatoes cooked in under 20min after boil. In fact, less, because mine were overdone. I chose large red potatoes (because they came in a 5lb bag), and they pretty much mashed themselves with the little bit of squishing and folding that I did. Since I doubled the recipe, I forgot to reserve as much cooking liquid as I was supposed to, but I was also hesitant to add it all because I didn’t want glue.

Next time I will look for the smaller red potatoes (new potatoes) and I will watch them carefully for doneness. Depending on the results, I may increase the butter and cream cheese quantity. I couldn’t really taste the butter or cream cheese. And I will find chives. Dried ones may have been a better choice than the green onions. I found the green onions a little overwhelming.

Spinach Pie

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

I tried the Weeknight Spinach Pie recipe from January 2011 Cook’s Illustrated for Christmas. They called for 20oz of spinach and 12oz feta. Spinach came in 16oz packages and feta came in 8oz packages, so I ended up using a pound of each. I do think my version suffered for that, but it was still really good. I like the result, and baking it on a sheet pan didn’t require figuring out what to do with the corners of the phyllo.

I do think I will leave the mint out next time. I’ve had spanakopita with mint before, and I don’t particularly like it. Maybe it’s authentic, but it tastes kind of bitter to me. The recipe made a LOT. If you cut it into 24 pieces as suggested, I think each person would only take 4 max. for a main dish and 2 as an appetizer.

It’s a little soggy for leftovers, but I feel like I have gourmet leftovers for lunch this week.