Monthly Archives: February 2011

Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes Worthy of a Fighter

Who bakes cupcakes at 9pm on a Saturday night?  I do.  Because I’m cool like that.  And because I’m going to an Oscar potluck party tonight!

I love themes and after getting the invite for this potluck, knew that I wanted to bring something to fit along with one of the movies featured.  Unfortunately I haven’t seen too many of the nominees this year, so I was a little stumped.  😦 

At first, I thought about Inception and how what you see is not always what you get.  Ideas of creating something that looks like a certain food, but tastes completely different (playing on your senses of sight and taste) developed in my head, but seemed too ambitious to actually bring to fruition.   

I thought about Toy Story 3 and how I could make loaded potato skins with bacon and cheese to honor Mr. Potato Head and Hamm who have great scenes in the movie.  But that seemed a little…barbaric?  I like Mr. Potato Head and Hamm. 

I thought about The Social Network and how I could bring the ingredients for appletinis (you need to see the movie to understand the reference), but the hosts of the party are taking care of all libations.

I last thought about The Fighter.  I admit that I haven’t even seen the movie, but I know the general storyline of Mickey Ward’s path to a welterweight boxing title.  The movie showcases strong Irish-American families in Massachusetts, so I pondered the question of what people of Irish descent love to eat and drink.  One of the first things that popped into my head?  Guinness.  Thus, the idea of Guinness chocolate cupcakes was born. 

Guinness in a PBR glass...I probably just insulted thousands of Irish men and women.

This isn’t an extremely original flavor, but it was new to me.  Also, I’d never used beer in a dessert before (though I’ve used it in other baked goods) so this was a fun baking experiment that luckily turned out just fine.  I took a shortcut by using a box of Pillsbury cake mix, but made a few extra additions to make the cake more moist and flavorful.  So I’m not completely lazy.  🙂

Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing
Makes 24 cupcakes

 
1 box of Pillsbury devil’s food cake mix
3 eggs
⅓ cup vegetable oil
⅓ cup sour cream
⅓ packet of instant chocolate pudding mix
1 ¼ cups Guinness Extra Stout

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Place all ingredients except the beer in a large mixing bowl.

Pour beer into the bowl, get slightly distracted by watching the yeast activate, and stir until just combined.  Batter will be slightly lumpy. 

Line a cupcake pan with paper liners, or spray with non-stick cooking spray.  Fill cups 2/3 of the way with batter and bake for 16 to 20 minutes. My cupcakes were perfect at 17 minutes in my oven. 

Remove pan from oven and place cupcakes on a cooling rack.  Allow to cool for an hour, or overnight.

Once cool, top with cream cheese icing, recipe follows.

 

Cream Cheese Icing
Makes about 2 cups of icing

4 oz. cream cheese (DO NOT use low or non-fat)
¼ cup butter or margarine
1 cup powdered sugar
½ tsp. vanilla extract
Cream together the butter and cream cheese using a hand mixer to soften.  Add the powdered sugar in small batches and mix until all combined.  Lastly, mix in the vanilla extract. 

Notice only 22 cupcakes? Quality tests are always a necessary step in baking.

 

Enjoy on Oscar night or any night!  I think these babies give your mouth a good one-two punch, if I do say so myself.

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Bon! Ratatouille

You know the stereotype about American women loving foreign accents, particulary British or Australian?  While I’m sure that’s true, I am here to tell you that there is nothing American women find more irrisitible than a man with a French accent and a fabulous joie de vivre.

Meet J.M.

J.M. is a Quebeçois on-call cook where I work.  He used to be a sous chef, but decided he wanted to pursue more college degrees and teach philosophy at a local university.  He simply stays on-call because he loves to cook and enjoys mingling with the variety of people that come through the hotel.  Whenever I see J.M. at work, I immediately get a smile on my face because he is like a breath of fresh air.  He is incredibly bubbly, looks like a jolly Père Noël, and always gives excellent wine suggestions.  I never tire of hearing him say, “Ahh, bon!” after finishing off a fruit display or setting up a buffet.  Everyone could use a little more “Bon!” in their life.

The thing that gets me everytime about this friendly French Canadian is how J.M. attracts women.  It is like moths to a flame.  The chefs and I tend to make a sport of guessing how many women he can charm in the course of an hour while working the dinner buffet because it is so fun to watch.  J.M. is probably in his mid-50s, but females of all ages blush immediately when he says, “Bon soir, how are you tonight?  Now do not forget dessert, all women (pronounced wooo-man) must enjoy un petit chocolat today.”

I think he should record his voice and sell Podcasts on iTunes of him simply speaking nonsense.  He could make millions.  And he would make millions of women happier all over the world. 

Read on, there’s more!

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Cheesy Beer Bread

My last recipe for sweet potato chili may have left you wondering what to make to serve alongside it.  Well look no further because here is a simple and delicious bread recipe.  This cheesy loaf is perfect for dipping into chili (or any soup, or served plain, or with butter on top…).  I first made this back in November with a bottle of pumpkin beer, but feel free to use whatever brew you have available in your fridge.

Cheesy Beer Bread
Makes 1 Loaf

Pumpkin beer and a pumpkin candle...I obviously love fall a little too much.

1 cup diced onions
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground thyme
½ tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder
12 to 15oz. of bottled beer
1 ¼ cup shredded Colby-Jack cheese, separated

1.  Heat olive oil in a small pan over medium heat.  Add onion, reduce heat to medium-low, and caramelize for 20 to 30 minutes. 
2.  In a large bowl, combine the next 7 ingredients (whole wheat flour through garlic powder). 
3. Dig a small hole in the middle of the mixture, and add 1 cup grated cheese and caramelized onions. 
4.  Pour beer into bowl, and stir until combined.
5.  Pour batter into a greased loaf pan (or spray with non-stick cooking spray).  Top with remaining cheese if desired and bake at 375 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes. 

 

Extra, extra!

Wine of the WeekMain Street Merlot from California.  Like the description on their website suggests…

“It is family dinners on Sundays,
It is the heartbeat of a holiday,
It is the comfort of home,
Where familiar places line the streets and friendly faces welcome you every time,
This is your Main Street.”

 

 

…I did enjoy this with some friends over dinner on Sunday, and it was very smooth and fruity.  Another thing I like about their website is the Fact Sheet that describes exactly what goes into this varietal. 

 

Extra, extra!  Take 2:  Read Mark Bittman’s take on McDonald’s newest menu arrival:  oatmeal.  I pretty much agree with what he says and also ask the question, “Why?”

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Slow Down with Sweet Potato Chili

If you read yesterday’s post, you learned that I was the recipient of some bad luck in that ice cream exploded all over me twice before 8am.  How this came to happen makes me laugh because I think I only have myself to blame.  

I am a very curious person.  I tend to notice things that other people don’t, and then wonder why things are the way they are.  So, when I saw a milky substance leaking over the floor of the employee break room yesterday morning at work, my first thought was, “What is milk doing on the ground and how did it get here?  I’ll open up the cooler.” 

Turns out it wasn’t milk — it was ice cream.  That one of my employees left in the refrigerator overnight because it was too big to fit in the freezer.  **Shakes head** 

Well, you think I would learn.  Sadly, I did not.  Because 20 minutes later when I noticed a milky substance pooling underneath the ice cream machine in the dining room again my immediate thought was, “Why is this milk here?  I should open the ice cream machine and see what’s wrong.” 

Side note….but do you remember Gusher fruit candies and how the juice squirts out as soon as you bite into a piece?  Imagine that, but with ice cream rather than fruit juice; that’s exactly what happened when I opened the machine’s door.  Melted ice cream splattered everywhere and left a huge mess over me and the floor.  I just started laughing, went back into the kitchen and poured myself a third cup of coffee because I knew it would be “one of those days.” 

Read on…

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Eight Days a Week

  • Number of days worked in a row:  8
  • Number of hours per day:  10.8 on average
  • Number of people I’ve helped serve a meal to in the past 3 days:  996
  • Number of dishes I’ve broken:  0 (miraculously)
  • Number of times ice cream exploded all over my clothes and shoes this morning before 8am:  2
  • Number of glasses of wine and slices of pizza I will have tonight before falling into my bed:  Yet to be determined. 

I’ll be back with a recipe as soon as my brain can comprehend cooking again and my legs do not feel like mush.

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A New Celebration

One thing I’ve noticed through my work is that most, if not all, events I cater are celebrations.  Whether it is a wedding or a graduation, the first day of a training program or the last,  a championship ring ceremony or a holiday party.  The reason people gather together to eat, converse, and laugh is to celebrate.  Even the daily lunch visitor to the dining room on a break between classes or meetings is celebrating (and it is just that brief respite from work that he celebrates).   

Tomorrow marks a new type of celebration that I will cater, and that is a celebration of life.  A very well-respected woman passed away earlier this week, and her former employer and co-workers have planned a post-funeral repast.  I’m certain this will not be as joyous of an occassion as other celebrations, but have to remind myself that it is a celebration nonetheless.  It makes me smile that so many (200+ expected guests) cared about this woman enough to plan an impromptu event during the middle of the week.  I don’t think many people in the world have that effect; she was obviously special.

It will be interesting to see the dynamic in the meeting room tomorrow when all the guests gather.  I hope that there will be more smiles than tears.  But, we shall see.  It’s hard to judge a group until they actually come together, and to be honest, I’m nervous about the emotions that will be at bay tomorrow.

But, I’m off to bed for now.  It’s a new day tomorrow with many new experiences to be had.

Wine of the Week:  [yellow tail] Shiraz/Grenache blend from Austrailia.  I can find nothing wrong with this wine.  Not as heavy as a strong Cabernet, but definitely heavier than a Merlot, with lots of berry flavor.  If you have a glass of this, you’ll have a g’day mate!

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Baked Chocolate “Donuts”…Oh My

“How bad is it if my dinner consists only of chocolate donuts?”

After conducting a quality control test of the batter (always a necessary step) and then the final product of my experiment, I was so incredibly satisfied that I had to send the above text message right away.  Partly because I was ecstatic that I baked something that didn’t feel as hard as a brick when finished, and partly because I knew that if I didn’t keep my fingers busy with something besides these donuts, there wouldn’t be any left to take pictures of.  Oh my, my, these are fantastic. 

I have to warn you that these are not your typical donuts.  If you are envisioning steamy Krispy Kreme glazed beauties to pop out of the oven…stop.  These looked more like cupcakes (I don’t own a donut pan and didn’t really want to go buy one) but they taste just like cake donuts from Dunkin’.  Nutmeg is the key ingredient to this flavor, so don’t leave it out!

If you have a donut pan, go on and use it.  But by no means is it necessary.  Once topped with a quick and easy chocolate glaze, you will see the beauty in these giant, baked donut-holes and will probably wish to make them your dinner, as well.  Seeing as it’s Valentine’s Day, I think chocolate for dinner is perfectly acceptable.


Baked Chocolate Donuts
Makes 9 to 10 “donuts”

Adapted from King Arthur Flour recipe

7/8 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 ¼ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. nutmeg
¼ tsp. kosher salt
dash of ground cinnamon
3 Tbsp. plain non-fat yogurt 
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1. Whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, nutmeg, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl and set aside.
2.  Using a hand mixer (or just a whisk), mix yogurt, eggs, and oil in a small bowl until well combined and foamy.
3.  Add the wet ingredients into the dry, and mix until just combined.  Batter will be thick and very gooey.

4.  Heat oven to 375 F, and grease muffin pan (or donut pan) with butter or cooking spray.
5.  Fill cups half-way with dough.
6.  Bake for 7 to 10 minutes.  Check every minute once they reach the 7-minute mark (all ovens are different).  You know they’re ready when you gently touch the tops and the dough springs back without sinking. 
7.  Let rest for 5 minutes before gently removing from muffin cups and placing on a cooling rack.


Quick Chocolate Glaze
1 Tbsp. butter or margarine
¼ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ cup powdered sugar
3 Tbsp. milk

1.  In a small saucepan, heat butter and chocolate chips over medium-low until chips are melted.
2.  Beat in sugar and milk.  Until just combined.
3.  Drizzle glaze over donuts while still warm.  Let rest for 5 minutes to harden.

“All I need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” – Lucy van Pelt, from Peanuts by Charles Schulz

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Kale and White Bean Penne

In need of a good Valentine’s Day dinner recipe?  Then look no further than this one.  Sure, it may be a little garlicky, but that’s not an issue to me.  If I get married in the future, the hubs better be able to handle me smelling like onions and garlic or else it just won’t work.

This, on the other hand, works.  It’s easy, filling, and delicious.  Plus, Listerine was invented for a reason. 

Kale and White Bean Penne
Serves 4 to 6

12 to 15 leaves of kale
10 oz. whole wheat penne
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 Tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 Tbsp. capers
½ to 1 Tbsp. caper juice (to your preference)
½ cup dry white wine
15oz. can diced tomatoes (no salt added variety)
15oz. can great northern beans, rinsed
15oz. can cannelini beans, rinsed
Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

1. Rinse kale and remove tough stems from leaves.  Pile 3 to 4 leaves on top of each other at a time, roll them together into a log, and slice into 1/2″ strips (this is called chiffonade).  Place shreds into a bowl and save for later.
2. In a pot, boil water and cook pasta according to package directions.
3. While pasta cooks, heat oil over medium in a large pan. Cook onions for 5 minutes until translucent.  Add garlic, red pepper flakes, capers, and caper juice.  Cook for another minute stirring constantly.
4. Add drained tomatoes, beans, and wine to mixture.  Allow wine to boil and cook another 4 to 5 minutes.
5. Smash some of the beans to thicken the sauce.  Add a little water if desired (½ to 1 cup).
6. When pasta is done cooking, toss the kale into the hot water.  It will cook quickly, and as soon as the color turns a vibrant, bright green, it’s done (about 30 seconds).
7. Drain pasta and kale, return to pot.  Add sauce, and stir to coat.
8.  Grate cheese on top of pasta before serving.

**Note:  You probably will not need to add salt to the dish as both capers and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese have very salty flavors themselves.  Taste before adding any additional salt!

**Double Note:   If you’re really concerned about having garlic breath, just leave the capers and caper juice out.  It’s an easy fix, and the dish will still taste great.

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Dark Chocolate Dipping Sauce

Do you remember Terry’s Chocolate Covered Orange Balls

These were really popular candy items in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, but I haven’t seen them in stores as frequently for the past few years.  I remember when I first noticed them, the idea of a chocolate covered orange disgusted me.  But today, I had that exact treat on my mind because I remembered what I received as a gift from my parents last year for Valentine’s Day:

An amazing Edible Arrangement!

A lovely and delicious Edible Arrangement!  It was full of extremely fresh fruit flowers, many pieces of which were covered in dark chocolate.  Holy yum.  That arrangement did not last long, trust me.

So this morning, I thought about the “flowers”, and realized that I could make them myself.  Or at least the individual pieces.  I wasn’t about to attempt to shape honeydew into flowers. 

The funny thing is that this really isn’t a recipe.  It’s more of a tutorial, as it use very few ingredients and almost no cooking is involved.   A stove is necessary, but even that could be bypassed by melting the chocolate in the microwave.  If you’re looking for a quick and easy Valentine’s Day treat, this is a great idea.  The possibilities are endless with the types of fruits you use, so have fun with it.  I only used clementines today, but have a feeling that some pears in my fridge may receive a chocolate bath tomorrow.

 

Dark Chocolate Dipping Sauce

½ cup dark (60% cacao) chocolate chips (can also use semi-sweet)
1 tsp. butter (optional)
2 tsp. skim milk
Fruit of choice — such as 3 to 4 clementines

1. Prepare your fruits first:  peel, slice, do whatever needs to be done.  Also, line a cookie sheet with wax paper.
2.  In a double boiler, melt the chocolate over medium heat.  Stir constantly to make sure it does not burn.
3.  Add the butter or shortening if using, and once all chocolate is almost melted, add the milk and remove from the heat.
4.  Use toothpicks (or fingers…no shame here) to dip your fruit slices.
5. Lay carefully on the wax paper and allow to cool for 5 minutes.  Refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes so the chocolate hardens (if you can wait that long), and then enjoy your own homemade incredible edible.

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Just ERF

I’m a big fan of Mark Bittman.  For those that don’t know, he’s a quite famous food journalist/opinionist who wrote a column called “The Minimalist” in The New York Times for many years.  That column led to a variety of cookbooks  and books about his take on how to eat.  He believes a few main things when it comes to food:  eat less meat, more vegetables and fruits, and cook.    He keeps it simple, and I like that.

 

The reason I bring him up is that he now writes an opinion column for The New York Times, and I stumbled upon his most recent submission today.  It focuses on the newest set of U.S. dietary guidelines that the USDA just unveiled.  He takes note of how confusing the guidelines are to the everyday consumer because they have two different parties to satiate:  the eater (as in you) who wants to use the latest guidelines to improve his/her diet and also the distributors within the vast food industry who need to stay in the black. 

 This “health of the people vs. health of the business” is not a new conundrum in terms of food and the food industry, and it certainly will not go away anytime soon.  I don’t forsee Wal-Mart removing all processed foods from the shelves and replacing them with celery and apples.  Why should they when produce costs more money to bring in, is perishable, and also less favored than Pringles?  (On the flipside — one probable reason why Pringles and other processed foods are so popular is because they have been made so accessible to most consumers throughout the country, and so the arguments go on). 

I don’t have an answer on how to make both parties happy.  Wish I did.  To me, both groups have to share the blame for the mass proliferation of fake foods and the decrease in truly nutrious items. 

In his article, Bittman suggests that everyone just needs to ERF more.  No, ERF is not the cousin to ALF, if that’s what you’re thinking…



ALF says, "Just ERF!"

 

ERF means Eat Real Food.  He poses the question:  “Is ‘Eat Real Food’ Unthinkable?”  This one I do have an answer for…



 Nope.

It really is not difficult to make quick dishes that are healthy, delicious, and pretty darn satisfying.  In fact, it’s incredibly simple.  Hopefully I’ve shown you a few ways you can cook quick and tasty foods in the past month or so (and I plan on continuing to do so).  Whether it is fried eggs and tomato or blue cheese risotto, anyone can make the recipes I’ve posted.  You just have to decide to take the time to cook more and use as many real ingredients as possible.  In case you need some inspiration on where to start, here are some options:

 



 

I’ll get off my soap box now.  And go find a snack.

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