Chocolate Mint Cupcakes with Marzipan Shamrock Tops

I’m not one to make green or Shamrock-covered sweets in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. If anything I might end up with a loaf of Irish soda bread and be done with it. But this week I’ve been spending time with elementary-aged kids, and they wanted nothing more than a bright and cheerful dessert for what they were calling “Leprechaun Day.” So green cupcakes it was. What can I say: welcome to the USA, where the population has their own, only slightly vaguely Irish way of honoring St. Patrick.  2017_03_15_Bruah040

I went with a straightforward Mint Chocolate Cupcake recipe from the Food Network. It calls for chopped up Andes chocolate mints in the batter. This addition really makes an otherwise standard cupcake recipe shine. The frosting was not what I would usually make (as it calls for a cup and a half of marshmallow cream!), but it ended up being a soft and pleasantly tasty topping. Perfect for an after-school treat.

The only substitution I made was to use unsweetened dark chocolate cocoa instead of regular cocoa powder. It went nicely with the mint flavor.

The leaves were created by rolling out marzipan that I dyed green with gel. I used the tops of fluted round cookie cutters to help with the leaf shape. It’s not a perfect job, but it worked in a pinch.

Recipe Credit: Food Network 

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4 Stars. The messiest part is adding green gel to the marzipan.

Recommended For: Andes Mint Lovers, People Who Wear Green on Saint Patrick’s Day

Not Recommended For: St. Patrick Purists

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

Behold make-ahead cold weather goodness:

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I wanted lasagna. A homemade, gooey, bubbling-with-marinara, weighing 10 pounds-or-something-that-feels-like-a-brick lasagna. I didn’t care how long the prep time was as long as it yielded enough for lots of leftovers and/or the freezer.

Traditional lasagna wasn’t in the cards this time around. Although I usually like one slice of a lasagna bolognese with a bechamel sauce, having the rest for leftovers is like eating an entire French Silk pie to yourself. So I searched for the perfect marinara-based version out there, eventually deciding to go with a roasted vegetable recipe from Ina Garten.

Like most lasagna recipes, it has many steps. The vegetables, as you can imagine from the name, are indeed roasted before assembling the dish. There is also lots of cheese to grate, along with a separate ricotta/egg/goat cheese mixture to whip in the mixer. If you’re like me, you also might end up making everything more difficult by adding your own steps along the way. Since this recipe calls for a vague “marinara” sauce, offering the jarred brand Rao’s as an option (no way I’m spending over 10 dollars on grocery store sauce, gourmet of not), I decided to make a quick 30 minute marinara on my own from two 28oz jars of crushed tomatoes. I used this version from Martha. I also wanted to make my own homemade lasagna noodles, mainly because I had extra defrosted swiss chard that was the perfect amount for green pasta. I used Marcella Hazan’s spinach pasta recipe from her seminal cookbook Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. So both of these steps probably added another hour and a half of prep work. See how I create small complications for myself along the way?

My thoughts on tweaking the recipe:

-I erred on being very exact with the amount of eggplant and zucchini that were roasted, and the dish really could have used a bit more vegetables. I say add a little more to the roasting pan, and if you don’t use everything it will work with another lunch or dinner. If you don’t add a few additional slices of eggplant and zucchini, I wouldn’t use the entire 2/3 cup of olive oil suggested. I would go for a 1/2 cup, maybe a little more if you feel that the eggplant is too dry.

-If you want a little more vegetables, I would saute 1/2 a container of sliced button mushrooms and adding that to the mix here.

– When assembling the dish, it seems like the amount of ricotta mixture looks a little overkill. I used all of it and it was fine.

-If you use fresh pasta sheets, there is absolutely no need to boil the noodles before assembly.

-If your casserole dish is on the smaller side, you might want to turn this into two lasagnas. (especially if you have extra amounts of sauce and vegetables) I was able to put this into a 9 x 11 and a 8 x 6 dish.

-If you live with carnivores that cannot live without a little meat in their dinner, this also works with sausage crumbles. Take 2 sweet Italian sausage links out of their casing, cook until brown, and top on each marinara layer.

-The overall dish is salty, which my household likes so we were ok with it. If you want to tone the sodium conten down somewhat, make sure your marinara isn’t overly salted. Also hold back slightly with the vegetable seasoning.

Recipe Credit: Ina Garten via The Kitchn

Kitchen Mess: 4 out of 4 stars. You’ll liable to get flour and marinara on the floor with this one. Get help with the dishes and you’re good to go.

Recommended For: Dinner Parties, Easy-To-Freeze Meals, Sunday afternoon meal prep.

Not Recommended For: Anyone avoiding cheese and/or nightshades.

Banana Bread and Miso Butterscotch Trifle For 2

 

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I appreciate the casualness of a trifle. It is created by simply stacking 3, 4, or maybe even 5 elements in a glass bowl a few times over to create a pretty and tasty final product. Traditionally a British dessert, the internet is full of versions that transcend the normal custard/sponge cake/fruit/jam combination. You have lots of room for improvisation with a trifle- it allows you to have a certain freedom that isn’t always available when making more specific desserts. (As long as you have properly cooked your cake/bread, puddings/custards, and various other pieces in the first place, layer away however your heart desires). This is also THE dessert to make when you thought you were baking a cake for a dinner party but the cake fell or you don’t have time to frost and decorate the final product. Nothing makes for a better use of an ugly cake.

Enough about using cake as a base, as my version calls for quick bread instead. After making 2 loaves of banana bread the other day, I decided to use part of a loaf for my own individual-sized trifles. I also had a strong urge to bake with miso, mainly because I had purchased a rather large bag of shiro miso the other week. So this trifle is both banana-and-umami heavy, perhaps not for everyone but try it if it sounds like your sort of thing.

Banana and Miso Butterscotch Trifle for 2 

Note: this trifle does not contain a pudding or custard, making it slightly drier than other versions. (It shouldn’t be an issue with the whipped cream and butterscotch, though.) If you’d like to add a pudding layer, I say go for it!  

1/3 loaf banana bread, cooled to room temperature and cut into 1 1/2 inch slices (*recipe below)

8 teaspoons of Miso Butterscotch Topping (I used the recipe from Christina Tosi in Lucky Peach)

Homemade Whipped Cream (I like mind unsweetened, but feel free to add a bit of sweetener if you’d like)

1 banana, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

Preparation:

Start with 2 wide rimmed glasses (I used rocks glasses from my bar set). Cube the slices of banana bread. Take enough bread cubes to cover the bottom of one glass.

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Top this banana bread layer with a heaping teaspoon of miso butterscotch. Add a few slices of banana to rest above the butterscotch layer. Next add a heaping tablespoon of whipped cream and spread evenly over the bananas.

Start this process all over again with a layer of banana bread cubes, a teaspoon of miso butterscotch, banana slices, and a tablespoon of whipped cream. Repeat with one more layer if you have enough room. Finish off the trifle with a tablespoon of toasted chopped walnuts.

Repeat the same steps with the other glass. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

*Banana Bread (adapted from Epicurious) 

1 2/3 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup mashed ripe banana

3 tablespoons yogurt or sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (plus additional butter for greasing the pan)

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1 large egg, room temperature

1/4 cup shiro miso

Preparation:

Preheat the over to 350 degrees. Butter a 9×5 inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a medium bowl, combine the mashed banana, yogurt, miso, and vanilla.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat until fully incorporated, 1 minute.  Add the banana mixture and beat for 30 seconds. Add the flour mixture in 2 batches and stir on low until just mixed together.

Bake for about 50 minutes.

 

 

 

New Year, New Pineapple Cakes

I’m starting off 2017 by breaking open a special gift from the in-laws: a box of SunnyHills pineapple cakes from Taipei. If only I knew about this place when I visited Taiwan in ’14. (Or maybe it’s best that I didn’t, considering how many boxes I might have tried to bring back at once…)  Pineapple cakes aren’t for everyone, nor are they very consistent in quality, flavor, and texture across brands. You kind of have to do your own research to find out which versions you enjoy the most. To me, SunnyHills is one of the best I’ve tried so far. The cake is buttery and crumbly, the fruit filling not too sweet and fresh-tasting. Speaking of fresh-tasting: note that these cakes are preservative-free, making the shelf life extremely short. Works for me as I prefer my dessert not ready to last the ages, Twinkie-style.

SunnyHills ships stateside from Singapore and they even have a cute limited edition 2017 box adorned with chicks here.

Even More Cookie Time: Triple Ginger

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Sometimes you need to pose with a Poinsettia. (But careful, aren’t they slightly poisonous?) 

December doesn’t exist in my head until some kind of ginger spice cookie is ready for eating.

Last year I baked this recipe for Molasses Krinkles, which was enjoyable, but it didn’t seem to be the cookie I loved from previous years. I think I’ve finally located the version that I love. The difference? Lots and lots of ginger: the dough contains chopped crystallized ginger, minced fresh ginger, and a healthy dose of ground ginger to top it off. Just my style. I would even consider measuring out heaping teaspoonfuls (or 1/2 teaspoonfuls) of the spices listed, if you want an extra kick.  This cookie is pure heaven warm from the oven. It also stays softly chewy for a few days, especially if you only keep it in the oven no longer than the suggested 15 minutes.

One caveat: the previous Molasses Krinkle recipe that I made did have a nice texture thanks to the shortening. Maybe I need to combine the best of both worlds and adapt the recipe? Next year it is!

Recipe Credit: Epicurious

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4 stars.

Recommended For: Cookie Lovers and Their Friends

Not Recommended For: ?

Cookie Time Continues! Multigrain Chocolate Chip

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Helloooo buckwheat flour. Not everyone’s cup of tea but it works for me once in a while. Yes, the items shown in the image above are cookies- promise. Sugary ones, too. These will make sense when you want a cookie but feel really, really bad about it. I’m a complete sucker for anything that tries to infuse healthy elements into not-so-healthy foods. (ex: grated carrots in canned tomato soup, a scoop of barley flour in buttermilk pancakes) Does it work? Eh, probably not. Although maybe it’s better than snacking on wonder bread and processed cheese sandwiches on a daily basis?  I say yes to that.

Despite having a solid dose of whole grain (whole wheat flour, buckwheat flour, and kasha), these do have a normal amount of sugar. They have sugar, salt, and butter galore. No sense in making them pretend-health-food-cookies, right?

At first I thought the flavor was a little too hearty, but I grew to love them after the second cookie. (one must always try a new cookie twice, just to be sure.) Definitely make sure to sprinkle a little flaky sea salt on these babies- the added salt infusion really goes with the whole flavor.

Another tip would be to let the dough refrigerate for a day or so. I baked two batches: one the day of, another one 36 hours later. I thought the second batch mellowed out the crunchy kasha more to my liking.

Recipe Credit: Design Sponge (note that I used a newer Dorie Greenspan alteration, not on the internet, that has a few adjustments: 1. Reduce the amount of light brown sugar to 2/3 cup and 2. replace the 1/4 cup of cracked rye with a 1/4 cup of Kasha (buckwheat groats). She recommends Wolff’s medium granulation. Another substitute would be 1/4 cup of finely chopped toasted nuts.)

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4. A typical cookie mess.

Recommended For: Anyone Who Thinks Adding Whole Wheat Flour To Anything Makes It Healthy, Adventurous Types, Sweet and Salty Fans

Not Recommended For: Whole Grain Haters, Picky Eaters, Purists

 

Moroccan Almond Semolina Cookie Time!

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Dorie Greenspan’s new cookie book looks perfect. Everything I’ve tried so far from various magazine/internet articles has been a winner, so I think it’s time for me to go buy a physical copy. This Moroccan Almond Semolina cookie was the first recipe on my list. In my opinion, semolina desserts are the best. (but so are almond flavored sweets….and lemony scented dessert….and also anything with a splash of orange flower water….so here you have it, a cookie that combines all of these elements!)

If you’re not one for the specific texture of semolina, I’d definitely move on to another cookie. No sense in messing with that crucial element here. However, one item that can be omitted is the orange flower water. If you’d like you can try adding an equal amount of rose water instead, or perhaps a little extra lemon zest. It also says nothing at all is fine too. I’d really suggest trying it out first- it adds a lovely floral hint to the cookie.

This recipe seems to be both very specific and versatile all at once. What is specific is the flavor and texture. The versatility comes in when and where it can be used: I can see this working as part of a whole holiday cookie platter, as a teatime snack, or at a springtime or Easter brunch. Play around and see what makes the most sense!

Recipe Credit: Dorie Greenspan via NY Times

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4 stars. Not bad considering it involves a little powdered sugar

Recommended For: A Different Kind of Cookie Platter, Holiday Parties for Adults, Days When You Want To Bake Cookies But You Only Have Canola Oil, Not Butter

Not Recommended For: Kids Parties, People Who Dislike Orange Flower Water

Spicy Sausage and Swiss Chard Pasta

CSA season, which lasts from May to November, is my crazy challenge. A CSA, short for Community Supported Agriculture, is a way to buy into a local farm for the growing season. You pay for a yearly subscription upfront and, in turn, receive a share of produce from the farm on a set schedule (usually weekly). The produce is, of course, picked that week and so you receive whatever is in season right then, with no exceptions. Some CSAs give you other share options besides vegetables, such as fruit, eggs, or cheese. I’ve been doing this for 3 years now. The vegetables are exceptional and I enjoy being able to pitch in to support an area farm.

The one downfall? My weekly veggie share is a bit, well, aggressive for a 2-person household. So I have fun with it and take a certain perverse pride in using up whatever I can by the end of the week.

This can get daunting, especially when you weekly box has multiples of one item. How many meals can you eat with cucumbers? What about kohlrabi?  Should you just pickle everything? Freeze it into small portions for later meals?  So many options, and usually so little time.

For the rest of the July I’m going to share recipes that have been helpful in my own weekly conquest to finish up the veggie box.

Behold, recipe #1: Penne with Spicy Sausage and Chard, AKA a simple yet elegant meal that uses up an entire bunch of swiss chard.

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A cause for a celebration.

This recipe is everything to me. It’s the best weeknight meal you can throw together in a half hour. It’s budget friendly and calls for normal pantry staples (box of pasta, stock, garlic). It also has room for improvisation. Don’t have chard? Cook down some other greens instead. No ricotta salata AND no feta?  Maybe throw in a salty cheese like pecorino, or perhaps even try a sprinkle of goat cheese at the end (I say at the end because soft goat cheese won’t toss well.) Clearly from the picture I’ve gone ahead and used ziti instead of penne – all in the spirit of improvisation, right?  Ziti, penne, whatever – I’m not really a pasta purist so it’s all close enough to me.

What really makes this dish stand out is the cooking down of the chicken stock. Don’t skip this step!  It works as a sort of binder and slightly thickens the overall dish with a savory sauce. It feels more complete instead of simply throwing together the ingredients after the pasta is cooked. Think of it as a more savory version of leftover pasta water that cooks use when tossing linguine and red sauce.

There you have it, one bunch of greens down. If you happen to have TWO bunches of chard, you can always cut the other bunch, blanch it in boiling water for 2 minutes, dry thoroughly, and portion it out for the freezer…

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Mini bunch of frozen swiss chard to be put to use later. (really, I’m not eating that now.)

Recipe: Food and Wine

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4.

Recommended For:  After work, ways to use up a couple links of really good hot Italian sausage, a crisper overflowing with greens.

Not Recommended For: Show-offs.

The Best Bread Ever? Yeah, Maybe.

This one was intense.

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It is a homemade bread recipe for the slightly deranged. It is a homemade bread recipe that takes 3 days of your time, albeit with long gaps. It is, in a nutshell, the neverending homemade bread recipe.

Ok, maybe this is all a slight exaggeration. But I will warn you once more, you have to be really, really into baking for this one. Your entire weekend will be planned around the fermentation schedule. The whole process might feel a little excessive but the results, however, are magical. To make bread this good, this flavorful, this, well, artisanal tasting might just be worth all the long, patient suffering endured beforehand. It has brought me to the dark side of baking, or at least taken over any weekend when I decide I want a fresh loaf.

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Here is my most important suggestion to anyone that wants to try this recipe for the first time: read the directions first, maybe even twice. It might also help to watch the posted video to get a sense of the steps involved. Trust me, familiarizing yourself with the steps will be useful later. You’ll end up referencing the written recipe many times over, unless you are a pro at memorization.

Anyways. So you’re ready to do this. The only part of the recipe I felt was a little off, timing-wise, was how long the poolish, or yeast starter, took to properly ferment. It says the initial fermentation will take 12-18 hours, which from my experience is too short. In the 3 times I have baked this bread, it has taken 24 hours, 16 hours, and 22 hours respectively. Maybe the process is slowed because of the yeast I’m using combined with the temperature in my kitchen. The poolish is supposed to be ready when a tiny piece floats in a cup of water. The first time I was trying this “float test” the pieces kept sinking, making me think that the yeast was bad and the whole concoction was done for. Not true. Eventually it floated to the top, luckily before I gave up on the entire process. So don’t worry if this first step takes longer than 18 hours.

Another helpful suggestion is to diligently weigh out all the ingredients on a digital scale, including the water and salt. This step makes for more accurate measurements and a properly baked loaf. (apparently some people have questioned the salt content of the recipe overall. I had no problem with the saltiness when using the scale.)  Following the timings and steps for the kneading, mixing, and multiples rises is also a process in itself but all crucial to help you achieve the impressive final result.

The “slap and fold” step is the most hands-on and fun part once you get used to it. A more extreme version of normal kneading, this process is perfect to do with this stretchy, goopy dough. If you look over the written directions and want to cry from confusion, just watch the video linked to above. This step might feel a little messy and weird at first, but you’ll get used to it quickly, and it really goes help to develop the gluten strands.

After all the kneading, slapping, and various rises involved, the dough still always seems pretty soft to me.  The mass will spread out as far as it can after I invert it onto parchment paper in preparation for baking. None of this effects the end result. The loaf perfectly fits into my 5.5 quart Dutch Oven and bakes within the suggested times, usually closer to the low timing while in a 475 degree oven.

Waiting a few hours for the bread to cool is torturous. My last suggestion is to bake it at the very end of the night. Instead of hovering over the bread to cool you can simply wake up to a happy breakfast. The end product is outstanding, robust with an intense crust. Feels fancier than what you thought you could make at home.

Some other notes:

  • I do not have rice flour, so I used the suggested backup of cornstarch/flour. It was fine.
  • I also do not have a razor or lame on hand to slash the dough. A knife was my substitute, which barely works. No effect on the end flavor.
  • My marble slab was the perfect place to work on the “slap and fold” step of the recipe. This accessory along with a bench scraper makes for an easier process.
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Recipe: BA’s Best Bread Recipe

Kitchen Mess: 3 out of 4.

Recommended For: Masochists, Weekend Bakers, Things To Do During A Snowstorm, Bread Obsessives

Not Recommended For: Impatient Bakers, Busy Schedules, The Person Who Would Rather Buy A Loaf At The Bakery Down The Street And Be Done With It