Chemistry is important. I’ve written about this before here. I like to watch whipped butter lighten or sugar transform. But this year, around M’s birthday, I was busy. I found one cupcake recipe that sounded good but called for three sticks of butter for twelve cupcakes. Uh… and it took an hour of prep.
So I turned to Cooks Illustrated, where after “much testing,” they dumped all the ingredients (and just 1 stick of butter) into a kitchen aid and mixed for 30 seconds. Voila! as they say. Then I doubled the recipe (again) and made another twenty-four.
I had picked out this lovely butterfly pattern for decorating but M overruled me (she’s about to be 6). She wanted Backyardigans and Backyardigans only, which meant a Backyardigans ring set in the middle of green (like a backyard) frosting. I got to add the dark green sugar and purple sprinkles. And that’s what it was.
I’ll post the recipe shortly. And here’s the frosting (minus the lemon zest) + food coloring.
I like surprises. I’m not gaga crazy for them, but I do seem to have a thing for a little something something in my cake batter. Today we weren’t making the big birthday cake (more on that later) but just some cupcake bites for the kids at school. M wanted vanilla so we went simple, except for a little chocolate surprise in the center. We added Guittard semi-sweet chocolate chips (these are currently my favorite chocolate chips) in the middle of each.
Actually, I wanted it to be more like a chocolately pudding bite, so I probably needed a hunk of chocolate for that (or pudding). Chips weren’t really right, but they’ll still be a little surprise for the kids, and that is always fun.
Into cold storage they went until Thursday when they’ll receive their Meyer lemon icing. M seems to be fixated on that flavor … also rainbows. We’re going to add a little candy rainbow. I talked her out of the blue sky, white clouds (that we saw on Martha Stewart’s website–too big for our “bites,” but we’ll approximate. I’ve been looking up candy stores (I may have to go south for this…) and baking stores in SF.
Apparently, Sugar and Spice in Daly City is good, but I haven’t been there yet. I’ve been looking for silver frosting (Sur la Table didn’t have it) for the big cake, but I may just give up and go with pink(s). And, yes, that cake will have a little surprise as well…
Here’s the cupcake recipe–it’s Amy Sedaris’s recipe:
2 In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add in the eggs, two teaspoons vanilla, salt and baking powder. Add flour and milk in batches, starting and ending with flour. Stir until batter is smooth and satiny.
3 Fill paper-lined muffin tins with batter. Bake at 375° for 18- 20 minutes.
As a kid, chocolate chip mint ice cream was my favorite flavor. In this, I was not alone. However, I was alone in thinking chocolate chip mint pares perfectly with caramel, and pare it I did, when I had the opportunity to have an ice cream sunday which was usually once a year with my grandparents, on the way to the Berkshires from New York City.
Askew glances from waitresses aside, I stuck to my guns. Glowing accounts of fudge sauce could not dissuade me. Nor could the sight of the stuff itself. I always preferred the golden tendrils off caramel cooling against soft minty mounds.
And so it has come to pass that I, on occasion, make my own ice cream. I try not to make it too much because it is so delicious.
But with a small but significant peppermint bush growing in my garden, and an excess of cream in my fridge, I decided to make some. The only sugar I had in the house was brown sugar and I decided to use it.
And so it was that I found myself back to the minty caramel marriage of my youth. Not quite caramel, but just an absolutely addictive undercurrent of caramel taste. Teasing in that way, so that you must take another bite just to make sure it’s really there. And another. Combined with the freshest, brightest mint (from garden to pot in 10 minutes), it’s a real delight.
Put lots (2-3 cups) of mint leaves in a pot with 1 cup of whole milk and 1 cup of cream. Heat until just boiling, cover, turn off heat and let sit for 30 minutes. Repeat, but you can let it sit for less time. Strain out leaves, mashing milk out of them and put back mixture back into the pot.
Mix in 1/2 cup of brown sugar and a pinch of salt until dissolved.
Pour 1/3 or so of the milk mixture into 4 egg yolks, stirring constantly (you don’t want to scramble the eggs). Then pour the egg/milk mixture back in pot on the stove, turn up the heat to medium, stir constantly and make a custard. It’s done when the mixture thickly coats the back of a wooden spoon. Don’t let it boil.
Strain into 1 cup of cream. Let cool. Sometimes I do this overnight. Sometimes I put this mixture in a bowl surrounded by ice first.
Once it’s cold, put into ice cream maker. I add a little bit of alcohol or vanilla, and chopped up chocolate. I like it chopped finely. I actually chop the chocolate first and put it in the freeze prior to the whole process.
After it comes out of the ice cream maker, it’s this beautifully soft and creamy ambrosia. You can eat it now. Or, if you put it in a container and let it freeze, it will harden a lot. Both forms are irresistible. It’s food that brings on the quiet and completely focussed concentration of my four year old. Bliss.
I have now made a chocolate ice cream with chocolate hunks and caramelized pecans and a Meyer lemon with slivers of dark chocolate. Uh… both delicious. It’s kind of ridiculous how good this stuff–too good. And so now, left with a huge number of egg whites left over I forge into new egg white-related domains…
Since I just wrote the blog post that cannot yet be published, I thought I’d share, instead, an excellent and easy way to prepare veggies, although I mostly do it with French green beans, broccoli, or asparagus.
Shallots are small onions that carmelize easily and delisiously.
Slice several shallots. Cut up veggies in the size you want. I usually cut the ends off the beans and cut them once or twice.
Put olive oil (or butter) in a 12 inch skillet (and let me just confess now, that once I got the 12 incher, I stopped using the 10 or 8, even to cook small things. 12 is my go to skillet.)
Throw in shallots, medium heat, let them cook until they are brown. Put in vegetables and cook until it tastes good and they get very green. Add salt.
The crazy thing is, the next day, there are good to the third power–like candy–and never enough left over.
When I finally purchased my iphone, I felt, and I say this without irony, that I had acquired a new best friend. And while that may reflect a bit (just a bit) on my current life situation, I think many of us have a long history of deep love and admiration for our tools. Good design cannot be underrated in its affect on quality of life. I touch, countless times, that little iphone and enjoy in the doing the task much more than I might.
All this is to say that the immersion blender makes the lentil soup and most soups for that matter. Ah, and the joy of the blend…
However, needing or having to buy an immersion blender flies in the face of the concept for Dude Fude and the ease of making. I assume most people do not, and should not, have this tool.
AND you can wait for your lentil soup to cool and dump it into your regular blender (in stages) or you can eat lentil soup unblended, in which case chop everything very small.
In any case, Lentil soup is easy and delicious. I do these steps fairly casually with imperfect measurements and it always works.
In a big pot, saute 1 large onion with chopped fresh parsley and thyme (or dried if you don’t have fresh) in olive oil or butter.
After about 7 minutes (stirring occasionally), add 1 or 2 chopped carrot (s) and 1 chopped stalk of celery (chop finely if you won’t be blending), and 3 cloves of garlic.
Add 15 oz (1 can of diced tomatoes)
Cook for another 5 or so minutes, scrap up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan
Add 5 cups of water (or chicken broth) and 1 1/2 cups of French (smaller and browner) lentils (wash and check for stones), 1 teaspoon of salt, a couple of bay leaves if you have them.
Cover partially and let cook for 30-35 minutes, until lentils are cooked.
If you’ve got the immersion blender, you can just put that in the hot soup blend (if you are using your regular blender, you’ll need to let the soup cool. I let mine cool, only barely, but hot soup can jump up, so be careful.
Then add more salt to taste and pepper. You can add a 1 tablespoon of sherry (or red wine) vinegar and 1 tablespoon of dijon mustard for kick (although often I leave this last step out.
I freeze what I don’t eat in small batches, because it reheats beautifully.
Shakespeare poses this question in As You Like It (Act IV, Scene I ) through Rosalind and the idea come very much into our vernacular. I couldn’t resist the google search.
It’s one of the those questions that has an obvious, knee jerk first answer and then a deeper second one.
Thinking I had answered–for myself, anyway–the chocolate chip cookie question, I was forced the other day, due to an absence of brown sugar, to deviate from my tried and true method and improvise. A few days later I served the cookies, straight from the freeze, for dessert to my brother and his girlfriend.
Brother’s girlfriend: These are possibly the best cookies I’ve ever eaten. I love the texture of them frozen. But, I generally like burnt cookies so, maybe that’s it… There’s something a little…
Me: …bitter about them?
Brother: But I don’t like burnt cookies at all, and I love the deliciousy goodness of these. (Digression to the time I accidentally caramelized ghee, making the world’s most delicious butter spread.)
Brother’s girlfriend: Finally, a cookie we can agree on.
They clasp hands.
Spurred on by such enthusiastic eaters, I decided to make another variation of the cookies.
This time, I omitted brown sugar again, and added an equal amount of raw honey as white sugar. I also used two kind of chocolate (Callebaut 60% and Scharffenberger 70%) for the “chips” part.
The molasses variation uses 1/4 cup of molasses and 1 cup of white sugar. I used the Guittard chocolate chips for this batch.
Because: can you really desire too much of good thing?