Cooking for two is boring -- I want to cook for the entire blogosphere!

Thursday, December 28

Magic-in-the-Middle Cupcakes

My step-dad is a peanut butter nut, so for his birthday yesterday I made magic-in-the-middle cupcakes. I was inspired by what I saw going on at Cupcake Bakeshop , which has some gorgeous-looking filled cupcakes and great how-to pictures , and also by the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion magic-in-the-middle cookies, which I have drooled over for some time without actually making. These are basically chocolate cupcakes with a sweet peanut butter center and rich chocolate ganache frosting. They are very rich, but one makes you feel perfectly content and deliciously satisfied. I like the cupcake format because it's easy not to over-indulge.

The basic idea here is to take a small sharp knife and cut a cone shape out of the center of the cupcake, reserving the cone. Fill the empty space with filling, then cut the excess cake off the cone and replace the top back on the cupcake. Once you've frosted them, no one can tell the difference!

We cheated and used a chocolate cake mix, but we picked up a nice one at the local gourmet grocery store. Instead of the usual partially-hydrogenated vegetable solids found in most cake mixes, this one had us add the fat in liquid butter form, with very tasty results. The picture doesn't really do it justice because it's a terrible cell phone picture - alas, my digital camera isn't around right now. In any case, this is a fun cake for a special occasion - especially one at which the birthday boy needs to feel like a kid again!

Use your own chocolate cake recipe or mix; here's what I did for filling and quick icing:

Peanut Butter Filling
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1-2 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix the peanut butter with 1 tablespoon water and beat with a hand-held mixer or a fork until shiny. You can add more to change the consistancy, but if you add too much, the mixture will seperate and turn grainy. Then beat in the sugar and vanilla. Feel free to add more peanut butter or more/less sugar to change the flavor.

Chocolate Ganache Frosting
8 oz bittersweet chocolate/chocolate chips
3/4 cup heavy cream

Put the chocolate in a small bowl. Heat the cream on low heat until it just begins to bubble around the edge of the pan. Then pour the hot cream over the chocolate and allow to sit for five minutes. Stir until the chocolate has melted and been fully incorporated. The frosting should be very shiny. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes to thicken the consistency; you can put it in the fridge to shorten the time a bit, but the ganache will lose some of its gleam.

Fill cupcakes, frost, and serve with a candle!

Sunday, December 10

Uber-Delicious Pumpkin Nut Loaf

'Tis the season for fall favorites, I guess... this is the second pumpkin recipe in the very short life of this blog. But when you get a jones for a flavor, you gotta stick with it until it's done. I guess the pumpkin passion sprung from a cookbook my mom got me in October, called, appropriately, the New Pumpkin Cookbook. It's not really new, though -- it was published in 1981 by the group that puts on the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival. It's a beautifully laid out cookbook, printed in burnt orange and chocolate brown, with lovely accompanying line drawings of pumpkins and pies and people. And, of course, it's filled with great recipes using pumpkin.
I made bourbon pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, and made some pumpkin muffins a few weeks ago, but the pumpkin nut loaf I made the other day was the most delicious and, therefore, blog-worthy. It's fragrant, moist, sweet, spicy, and very pumpkiny. The woman who submitted the recipe to the cookbook is Eunice, "the wife of Francis Collings of Petaluma, two times World Champion Pumpkin Grower," so I guess she should know from cooking pumpkins. I followed the recipe to the letter except I put some whole wheat flour in there, and I also added a cup of dried cranberries, because they always lend a nice spark to spice loaves.

Eunice's Pumpkin Nut Loaf

1 3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup oil
1/3 cup water
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup cooked mashed or canned pumpkin
1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans are good)
1 cup dried cranberries or raisins (optional)
  • Sift together the dry ingredients into a large bowl. In a seperate bowl, mix together the oil, water, eggs, and pumpkin. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the wet, folding in until well blended. Add the nuts and dried fruit. Pour into a greased and floured loaf pan and bake at 350 for 1 hour & 10 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Thursday, December 7

Brazilian-Style Collard Greens

I have to direct your attention to this recipe from Epicurious. Ever since I had hoppin' john and mustard greens at my Southern aunt's house on new year's day 2006, I've been kind of obsessed with cooked greens. I'm always surprised at how good they taste. This recipe, which appears in other cookbooks as well, is a great alternative to the traditional stewed greens. It's a bit labor heavy, as you have to de-rib and slice all the greens, but it's not difficult in any way. I find collard greens much easier to wash and dry than lettuce, for instance.

For this recipe, since I don't eat meat, I followed the suggestion of the first reviewer and cooked the greens in olive oil. When they were done -- literally 90 seconds was all it took -- I added salt, pepper, and a dash of vinegar (traditional in cooked collard greens). Another recipe I read suggested adding smashed garlic cloves to the oil, which would be a great flavor compliment, but take care the garlic doesn't burn, as the cooking temp on this one is medium-high.

All in all, this would be a delicious compliment to a corn or tomato dish or (if you must...) short ribs. I scarfed them up in about 30 seconds.

Monday, December 4

Cheese & Vegetable Chowder

More soup! This one's not just damn delicious - it's frickin' awesome.

I'm posting the original recipe, from my Soups cookbook, but I changed it a bit. I omitted the bay leaf, since I didn't have one; omitted the turnip; used half and half instead of cream; and only used half the amount of cheese called for (since that's all I had!). I think they were good changes, except more cheese would have been a good thing. In any case, this soup is really good with a slice of crunchy bread and a good lager. A great winter lunch!

Cheese & Vegetable Chowder

2 tbsp butter
1 large onion, diced
1 large leak, split lenghtwise and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, diced
6 tbsp flour
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
3 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 turnip, diced
1 large potato, diced
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 cups light cream
10 oz. sharp cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste
fresh parsley to garnish

  • Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion, garlic, and leek. Cover and cook about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the veggies start to soften.

  • Stir the flour into the vegetables and continue cooking for 2 minutes. Add a little of the stock and stir well, scraping the bottom of the pan to mix in the flour. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, and slowly stir in the rest of the stock.

  • Add the carrots, celery, turnip, potato, thyme, and bay leaf. Reduce the heat, cover and cook gently for about 35 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender. Remove the bay leaf and thyme sticks.
  • Stir in the cream and simmer over a very low heat for 5 minutes. Add the cheese a handful at a time, stirring constantly for 1 minute after each addition to make sure it is completely melted. Taste the soup and adjust the seasonings, adding salt if needed, and pepper to taste.

  • Serve with fresh chopped parsely.

Saturday, December 2

Beans 'n Greens Soup

We've had a really mild fall here in New York. Last week it was in the 60s! But then last night a cold wind blew in from the midwestern prairies, and the temperature plummeted. What goes best with a cold snap? Why, hot soup, of course! Nothing keeps out the chill better or makes a house seem cozier.

I was tempted by the fact that collard greens are in season to make this beans 'n greens soup. Having a bunch of carrots and celery in the fridge, left over from Thanksgiving stuffing, helped matters along, too. This soup is rather delicately flavored, as it doesn't require broth or stock, just water. It's satisfying without being rich, and high in lots of vitamins and fiber while being incredibly low in fat. That's what I like to hear, as cold weather also inspires me to bake delicious things like muffins and chocolate cake, and I've got to balance things out somehow!

This recipe is adapted from one in What's Cooking: Soups, by Carole Clements.

Beans 'n Greens Soup

1 tbsp olive oil
1 leek, white part only, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 carrots, chopped or sliced into coins
5 cups water
1 can white beans, drained & rinsed
1/4 tsp dried thyme or 1 tsp fresh
1 bay leaf
1/2 - 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
4 1/2 oz. collard greens or other leafy greens (about 8 big leaves)

  • Heat the oil in a large soup pan over medium heat. Add onion and cook about 3-4 minutes, until just soft, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, leeks, celery, and carrots, and continue cooking for 2 minutes.

  • Add the water, beans, thyme, and bay leaf. When the mixture begins to bubble, reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, about an hour. Season with salt and pepper (if you like, but not too much).

  • Lay the greens leaves on top of one another in a stack, then roll crossways like a cigar. Cut the roll into half-inch pieces; this will make little strips to add to the soup. Throw in the greens and simmer about 20 minutes for collards; 5-10 minutes if you use a more tender green, like spinach.

  • Serve and enjoy!

Monday, November 27

Bourbon Sugared Pecans

I wanted to make these for Thanksgiving but ran out of time. They're sweet and tasty and make a nice topping for pumpkin pie or a stand-alone snack food. I also think they'd be great chopped up and added to coffee cake or cinnamon rolls. The bourbon adds a little flavor depth without being strongly alcoholic. I used Knob Hill, which is pretty high quality; you could use brandy, too.

Bourbon Sugared Pecans

1 cup pecans (whole for a snack, chopped if using elsewhere)
4 tbsp butter
1/2 brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup bourbon
  • Lay out a piece of parchment paper on the counter or a cookie sheet.
  • Toast pecans in a dry pan over high heat, shaking the pan to keep them from burning, for about 3-5 minutes, until they smell toasty. Remove them to another bowl or plate.
  • Melt butter in a frying pan over medium-low heat. Add the pecans and toss to coat. Cook for a few minutes, then add the sugar. Cook until the sugar melts and begins to bubble. Add the bourbon and cook for another few minutes, until the sugar sauce begins to stick to the pecans.
  • Lay pecans out on the parchment paper to cool.

Sunday, November 26

Pumpkin Pie Wontons

Well, I saw everybody else doing this blog thing, and it looked like so much fun! I cook a lot of food that is, in fact, damn delicious, and I'm excited to share it!

My good friend over at On the Hob sent me a recipe for pumpkin pie wontons a while back, so I decided to give them a try (especially since I had leftover pumpkin from Thanksgiving!). I modified her recipe a little bit, given what I had in the cabinet. These are very crispy and not too sweet at all -- you could use them as a little finger food appetizer (for a more desserty-item, I'd add another tablespoon or two of brown sugar). They look like pot stickers but are baked instead of fried, shaving off a lot of calories. Aside from a little melted butter, these are virtually fat free!

Pumpkin Pie Wontons

1 cup pumpkin, canned or mashed fresh
1 tbsp corn syrup
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp vanilla extract
16 wonton wrappers (approx.)
granulated sugar & cinnamon for dusting
1-2 tbsp melted butter
  • Preheat oven to 400 deg. F. Mix first five ingredients together.
  • Spoon 1 tsp - 1 tbsp mixture into wonton wrapper, depending on the size and shape of the wrapper you're using. Moisen the wrapper's edge with a little water, fold over, and seal to create a triangle or half moon shape. Repeat with remaining mixture and wrappers.
  • Place wontons on an ungreased or parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Brush them with melted butter and sprinkle over sugar and cinnamon.
  • Bake for 16 minutes, then flip the wontons and bake for another 2 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool.