Friday, June 29, 2012

400th Post! Banana Cupcakes with Nutella Frosting

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Holy moly! It's my 400th post!! What better way to celebrate than with more cupcakes? Right?? These cupcakes came together very organically, and were completely unplanned (meaning you can easily make them last minute and for no reason just like I did!). My sister had some very ripe bananas and asked me if I wanted to make something with them before they went to waste. Of course I did! I always do :)


She had also just purchased a jar of Nutella, so these cupcakes were a natural vehicle for all those amazing and complimentary flavors. Seriously, bananas and Nutella go together like ice cream and hot fudge, French fries and ketchup, macaroni and cheese... really, it's one of the best food combinations out there. It's also perpetually what people seem to crave when they want sweet crepes. Nothing quite like bananas and Nutella smushed inside a hot sugary crepe.


I can't imagine there is a person in the world who is unfamiliar with Nutella, but just in case let me shed some light. It's the chocolate and hazelnut equivalent of heroin*. Yup, it's seriously addictive stuff. It is absolutely amazing in everything. It's also fantastic eaten by the spoonful. There's really no wrong way to eat Nutella.


For the record, I highly recommend making frosting with Nutella. I also recommend eating that frosting by the spoonful. Another good idea would be to pipe it onto these super banana-packed cupcakes. They are extremely moist and very flavorful, and with the rich and creamy Nutella frosting they are perfect little bites of Heaven. Honestly, I can't even put into words how good these cupcakes are. I really shouldn't have to. I think the pictures speak for themselves. Enjoy!


*For the record, I have never tried heroin. I have, however, seen Trainspotting, so I consider myself an expert on heroin's addictive nature. Therefore, I can safely compare it to Nutella. Booyah!


Banana Cupcakes with Nutella Frosting
Makes 14

Cupcakes:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup sour cream or buttermilk

Frosting:
1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread)
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

Place the oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line muffin tins with 14 paper liners, spacing them out evenly.

Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together until smooth and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat between each addition until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the mashed bananas and vanilla extract and beat until smooth. Add half of the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Then add the sour cream, mix again, and then finish with the remaining dry ingredients, beating just until mixed.

Fill each liner 2/3 full with batter. Bake the cupcakes for about 18 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool cupcakes completely.

To make the frosting, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the butter and Nutella together until fluffy and smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the confectioners' sugar and beat until well-combined and fluffy. It should be silky and smooth. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large piping tip of your choice with the frosting and frost the cupcakes as desired. There should be just enough to frost all the cupcakes, but if you desire a more frosting-heavy cupcake, multiply the frosting recipe by 1 1/2.

Frosted cupcakes can be refrigerated up to 2 days in airtight containers; bring to room temperature before serving.





Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sweet Potato Pork Pie

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Have I mentioned recently that The Whole Hog Cookbook is one of my absolute favorites in my collection? And to think it was released less than a year ago, but still had ample time to fill my heart with even more love for pork. Although I used my own pie crust recipe (it's my favorite), the rest of the brilliance behind this recipe comes straight from the brain of Libbie Summers.




Encased in a flaky, buttery crust is a mixture of vibrant orange sweet potato and meaty ground pork. It is bound with a mixture of spices, some chopped onion, and a touch of applesauce. This perfect balance of savory and sweet makes my heart sing.




I strongly feel that this pie would be a great crowd-pleaser for your family (my 3 year old nephew loved it as much as we did), and also a very pretty centerpiece for a table surrounded by guests. It's a nice alternative to other savory pies, such as chicken, turkey, veggie, or even lobster pot pies. Both the crust and the filling can easily be prepped ahead of time and then assembled and baked just in time for dinner!


Sweet Potato Pork Pie
Serves 6
(Adapted from The Whole Hog Cookbook)

1 lb ground pork
1 large onion, chopped
1 T. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
3 sweet potatoes, boiled, peeled, and mashed
1/2 cup applesauce
2 T. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Flaky double pie crust (recipe follows)
1 large egg

In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the pork, onion, vinegar, salt, pepper, and 1/4 cup water. Simmer until the pork is no longer pink. Remove from the heat and stir in the cinnamon, cloves, sweet potatoes, applesauce, and parsley. Let the mixture cool while you roll out the pie dough.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out a round of the dough to a 12-inch circle. Drape it over a 9-inch pie plate, allowing it to fall naturally into the plate. Do not stretch the dough. Fill the pie with the pork mixture and set aside. Roll out the second round of dough to an 11-inch circle and drape it over the top of the pie. Trim the edges and decoratively crimp.

Make an egg wash by beating the egg together with 1 tablespoon water. Cut four vents in the top of the pie and brush the top with the egg wash. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Slice and serve.

Flaky Pie Crust 
Makes 2 (9-inch or 10-inch) pie crusts

1 tsp. kosher salt
2/3 cup very cold water
3 cups + 2 T. all-purpose flour
1 cup + 5 T. unsalted butter, very cold and cut into small cubes

In a small bowl add the salt to the water and stir to dissolve. Keep cold in the refrigerator.In a food processor, put the flour in the work bowl and add the small butter cubes, scattering all over. Pulse briefly until the mixture forms large crumbs and some of the butter is still the size of peas. Add the water-salt mixture and pulse for several seconds until the dough begins to come together in a ball. You should still be able to see some butter chunks.

On a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into two equal balls and shape each ball into a disk 1 inch thick. Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or up to overnight (this dough can now be frozen in a freezer bag and then defrosted in the refrigerator the day before it is to be used).

Monday, June 25, 2012

5 Star Makeover: Roasted Gazpacho with Cucumber Sorbet

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It has been seriously hot in New England. Seriously perfect whether for air conditioning and chilled soup. Seriously. This month's Five Star Makeover Challenge coincidentally is chilled soup! Believe it or not there are several classic chilled soups that come to mind immediately (gazpacho, borscht, and vichyssoise) but there are also many others. Each of these soups lend themselves well to adaptation. 




After trying to narrow down what I wanted to create this month, the idea of a roasted gazpacho won me over. Roasting completely transforms the vegetables that would normally be pureed raw into a gazpacho. They not only soften and become sweeter and milder in flavor, but also are enriched with a slightly charred flavor than adds another layer to this cool creation. I personally love a generous amount of vinegar in my gazpacho (I think without this acidity level it just isn't quite a gazpacho), but you can scale back if you feel like it. 




To compliment the gazpacho (and continue to cool down your palate), I added a scoop of icy and refreshing cucumber sorbet to each bowl of gazpacho. It screams cucumber flavor and with its vibrant green color (I left the skins on) is a really nice contrast to the vivid red gazpacho. Its delicate sweetness slightly offsets the acidity of the gazpacho, creating a wonderful balance. 




And to make it a complete meal, I made a simple grilled goat cheese sandwich to round it out. No recipe for that though. It's pretty self explanatory, but a great finishing touch and also a nice temperature contrast to the cold soup. Thanks so much as usual to Natasha of Five Star Foodie and Lazaro of Lazaro Cooks for hosting this event! Please check out the other posts for more delicious chilled soups :)


Roasted Gazpacho with Cucumber Sorbet
Makes 6 servings

Sorbet:
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 English cucumber (1 lb), skin-on, halved, seeded, and diced
1 T. vodka

Gazpacho:
2 lbs tomatoes, stemmed and halved
1 1/2 lbs red bell peppers (about 3), seeded and diced into 1-inch pieces
2 red onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
1 1/2 cups tomato or vegetable juice
1/2 cup red wine vinegar

To make the sorbet, heat the water and sugar together in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring continuously until the sugar is dissolved. Set the simple syrup aside to cool.

Add the diced cucumber to the jar of a blender along with the cooled simple syrup and the vodka. Puree until smooth. Chill the cucumber puree in the refrigerator until cold.

Freeze the cucumber puree in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Place the sorbet in a freezer-proof container and allow it to finish freezing in the freezer until firm. This will make about 3 cups sorbet.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Place the halved tomatoes cut-side up on one side of a large baking sheet and arrange the diced peppers and onions on the other side. Drizzle with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss the vegetables to evenly coat them with the oil and seasoning. Roast for 25 minutes, then remove from the oven, add the whole garlic cloves, and use a spatula to mix the veggies so they cook and char evenly. Roast for another 25 to 35 minutes (a total of 50 to 60 minutes) or until the vegetables are soft and slightly charred. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

Add the vegetables to the jar of a blender (if your blender is very small you may need to do a couple batches). Add 1 cup of the tomato juice and blend together with the roasted vegetables. You will want some texture and not a completely smooth puree. Pour the mixture into a large 2 quart container with a tight-fitting lid. Add the remaining tomato juice and the vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cool the gazpacho completely in the refrigerator (preferably overnight).

Remove the sorbet from the freezer a few minutes before you plan to serve it, to allow it to soften enough to scoop. Serve the gazpacho cold with a scoop of cucumber sorbet in the center. Any leftover sorbet can be enjoyed on its own for a light and refreshing treat.




Friday, June 22, 2012

The Great Shake 2012: Date-Buttermilk Shakes

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My first job ever when I was 15 years old was at a local ice cream shop called Newport Creamery. During my sophomore year of high school I scooped ice cream, I made sundaes, I blended milkshakes like it was my job. Because it was. When I was asked to participate in The Great Shake 2012, a virtual milkshake party, it definitely brought back memories! A group of bloggers all received copies of Adam Reid's book Thoroughly Modern Milkshakes. We had the opportunity to explore the book and test out recipes to share for the "party."


First of all, I must say that I really enjoyed checking out the book. Milkshakes are clearly a passion for Adam and I can see that through each tip that is shared, from tools to ingredients and techniques. I also love the historical and regional notes that were included in the book, pointing out different terminology for frozen drinks from different time periods and different parts of the country.


As a born and bred New Englander, I am very familiar with the term "frappe" which is used for milkshakes through parts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. In fact, during my training at Newport Creamery, this is what I was taught was an actual milkshake. If someone ordered a milkshake and not a frappe, I was supposed to just whip together milk and flavored syrup. I can promise there were disappointed customers who did not know the proper terminology for where they were :)


Also, I was very amused to not only read Adam's comments about another local term for milkshake, a "cabinet," but also see his recipe for a "coffee cabinet" a very traditional Rhode Island shake. I'd like to add that my very first customer ever at Newport Creamery ordered a coffee cabinet, and I was so nervous that I didn't properly blend all of the ice cream into the shake. When I went to serve it to her, she responded quite dryly, "You have to blend it!" Ooops! A memory I'll never forget that was freshened by a look at this deeply researched and thoughtful book.


Though I was tempted to make the coffee cabinet, for old times' sake, I elected to try something new. The date-buttermilk shake sounded really unique and refreshing. It was easy to make and the mild date flavor was very nice. I also really loved the tangy finish from the incorporation of the buttermilk. There are so many other yummy sounding shakes in this book and a whole summer ahead of me to try more of them! I hope you enjoy this milkshake party and check out the other blogs participating!

Date-Buttermilk Shakes... probably would have fit better in 2 glasses, but there were 3 of us :)

Date-Buttermilk Shake
Makes about 3 1/2 cups (28 oz)
(from Thoroughly Modern Milkshakes)

8 medium dried dates (about 4 1/2 oz) pitted and roughly chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup cold buttermilk
1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
7 medium scoops French vanilla ice cream (about 1 3/4 pints or 21 oz), softened until just melty around the edges

To soften the dates, place them in a small saucepan with water to cover over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Off the heat, cool the mixture to room temperature and drain the dates.

For the shake, place the buttermilk, vanilla extract, and dates in a blender to break down the dates completely, about 1 minute. Add the ice cream and pulse several times to begin breaking it up. The the blender motor off, use a flexible spatula to mash the mixture down into the blender blades. Continue pulsing, stopping and mashing until the mixture is well blended, thick, and moves easily in the blender jar, roughly 30 to 90 seconds. Pour into a chilled glass or glasses and serve at once.




Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Lemon-Buttermilk Ice Cream

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When most people "clean out" their fridge, the result usually resembles a pasta toss, casserole, soup, maybe an omelet. I truly hate letting food go to waste, and can attest to making all of the above with leftovers in the past. I recently found myself faced with several egg yolks after making pink lemonade cupcakes using just the whites. Ice cream seemed like the best idea to utilize them, especially with this incredible heat wave approaching in the Northeast.


Leftover heavy cream and buttermilk were the perfect components to turn these yolks into a rich custard-based ice cream. To brighten up this buttermilk base, I added some lemon zest and juice to yield a tart and tangy concoction that was even better in reality than in my imagination. This ice cream is truly a refreshing burst of citrus with a tangy finish. It's simple to make and a bit lighter than some other custard-based ice creams because of the buttermilk, which is naturally low fat.


Lemon-Buttermilk Ice Cream
Makes about 1 quart

4 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups cold buttermilk
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon

In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar and set aside.

Over medium-high heat, bring the heavy cream to a simmer in a saucepan. Gently whisk some of it into the egg yolk mixture (to temper it) and then return the cream/egg yolk mixture to the saucepan and continue to whisk constantly over medium heat until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, being careful not to scramble the eggs.

Strain the thickened custard through a fine mesh sieve (to remove any impurities or bits of egg). Whisk in the buttermilk, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Cool the mixture completely in the refrigerator before making the ice cream.

Freeze the custard according to your ice cream maker's instructions and then continue to freeze it in an airtight container in the freezer until the ice cream is firm. To ease scooping, allow ice cream to briefly soften at room temperature before serving.




Monday, June 18, 2012

Spaghetti with Red Clam Sauce

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The true Italian version of red clam sauce differs from its Italian-American counterpart. It contains the same key ingredients of a white clam sauce (garlic, olive oil, and parsley) but also features chunks of fresh tomato. The Italian-American version features more of a slow-cooked red sauce with wine and herbs, and usually canned clams.


Domenica Marchetti's version in The Glorious Pasta of Italy is a happy medium between the two, utilizing the convenience of canned tomatoes, but maintaining the respect for the clams and avoiding their canned versions.

Local littleneck clams from Narragansett Bay, RI

This pasta dish is especially simple to put together, with just enough foresight to prep and clean the clams. The sauce is very straightforward and packed with flavor, especially from the intense clam broth that results from cooking the clams in white wine. Be sure to remove each clam as it opens, otherwise they will overcook as their neighbors try to catch up. This will ensure the most tender clams.

My nephew, Alex, couldn't get enough clams!! He kept asking for more and picking the clams out of his pasta :)

I used local littleneck clams from Narragansett Bay (one of the perks of living in the Ocean State), but use whatever fresh small clams you can find. I assure you, this will blow any other clam sauce out of the water. It's slightly briny from the clams and the sauce clings to the spaghetti just beautifully, a lovely alternative for your latest carb craving.


Spaghetti with Red Clam Sauce
Serves 4
(from The Glorious Pasta of Italy)

4 dozen littleneck, manila, or other small clams
Kosher salt
6 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 large cloves garlic, lightly crushed
1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes, with their juice
1 (14.5 oz) can stewed tomatoes
Pinch red pepper flakes
1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 lb dried spaghetti

Check all of the clams to make sure they are tightly closed and that no shells are broken or cracked. Use a stiff brush to scrub the clams and then rinse them. Place the clams in a large bowl of cold water and add about 1 tbsp salt. Let the clams soak for about 30 minutes, then drain them in a colander set in the sink. Rinse out the bowl and return the clams to it. Strew a few ice cubes over the clams and put them in the refrigerator until 15 to 30 minutes before cooking time.

Pour 2 T. of the olive oil into a large, deep frying pan and place the pan over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the clams and stir to coat them with the oil. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the wine. Cover and cook at a lively simmer for 5 to 8 minutes, or just until the clams open (they will not all open at the same time, but be patient and just remove each one as it opens, allowing the remaining clams to continue cooking until they are done; this ensure that none of the clams are overcooked while waiting for the others).

Using tongs, remove the clams to a large bowl, discarding any that failed to open. Leave the liquid in the pan. Let the clams cool slightly, then set aside 12 clams in their shells (the prettiest ones are a good choice). Remove the remaining clam meats from their shells and discard the shells, leaving the meats in the bowl. Return the 12 clams to the bowl and cover the bowl. Set aside.

Line a fine-mesh sieve with a damp paper towel/absorbent paper and place the sieve over a bowl or measuring cup. Pour the liquid that remains in the frying pan through the sieve into the bowl or cup and set aside.

Wash and dry the frying pan. Pour the remaining 4 T. oil into the frying pan, place over medium heat, and add the garlic. When the garlic begins to sizzle and release its aroma, after about 2 minutes, add the diced and stewed tomatoes (beware, adding these directly to hot oil may cause some splatter, so have a lid handy just in case), red pepper flakes, and salt. Bring the sauce to a simmer and add the reserved clam liquid. Cook the sauce uncovered at a gentle simmer, reducing the heat if necessary, for 25 to 30 minutes, or until it has thickened. Stir in the parsley and turn off the heat. Cover and keep warm.

While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and salt generously. Add the pasta, stir to separate the noodles, and cook according to the manufacturer's instructions until not quite al dente; it should be slightly underdone. During the last few minutes of cooking, reheat the sauce to a very gentle simmer and add the clams, stirring to mix well.

Drain the pasta in a colander placed in the sink, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water. Transfer the pasta to the frying pan and toss gently with the sauce to combine. Continue to toss the pasta over low heat; the pasta with absorb the liquid as it finishes cooking. Add a splash or two of the cooking water if necessary to loosen the sauce. Transfer the dressed pasta to a warmed serving bowl and arrange the clams in their shells on top. Or, divide the dressed pasta among warmed shallow individual bowls, and top each serving with 3 clams in the shell. Serve immediately with additional red pepper flakes on the side for anyone who likes the pasta extra spicy.




Friday, June 15, 2012

My Favorite Potato Salad!

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In my last post, I mentioned that I had gone on my aunt's boat last weekend and took along some pink lemonade cupcakes as well as this buttermilk potato salad. I have always loved this potato salad, but was really impressed by how much the rest of my family loved it. They swooned over it, filling their plates with seconds and thirds and commenting all-the-while that it was the best potato salad they had ever had.


I figured if they all loved it as much as I do, then you would too! It really blows traditional (read: boring) potato salad out of the water. The addition of the tangy buttermilk and the pungent garlic really excites the potatoes into something extraordinary (at least in potato salad terms). I hope you will try this out at your next picnic or family reunion. It's also just in time for Father's Day!


Buttermilk Potato Salad
Serves 4 to 6

2 /3 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 T. red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 lbs red bliss potatoes, skin left on, boiled, cooled, and cubed
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 scallions, chopped

Make the dressing by stirring together the mayonnaise, buttermilk, vinegar, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper. Toss the dressing with the potatoes, celery, and scallions. Store the potato salad in a sealed container in the refrigerator until ready to serve. This salad benefits from being made at least an hour in advance, allowing the flavors to develop and soak into the potatoes.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pink Lemonade Cupcakes

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Lately my kitchen has been crazed with cupcake production. I haven't even been sharing all of the recipes as I fear it may be cupcake overload (although I plan to share others over the course of the summer). These individual treats are as popular as ever, and new fun flavor combinations are abound. Boards on Pinterest are devoted solely to the art of the cupcake. Cupcakes are flooding our senses from every direction and there is no denying they are fabulous.


It's summertime in the Northern Hemisphere and there seems no better time to enjoy cold, refreshing beverages. I have been brewing iced tea nonstop in my kitchen, alternating between different flavors and such, always from scratch using loose leaf tea. Its my favorite cool, summer, non-alcoholic drink. Another popular choice is lemonade, or even pink lemonade, it's ladylike cousin. Though these chilly drinks are great any time of year, they seem evermore popular when the sun is shining down and the air conditioners are heating up :-D


I decided to make some pink lemonade cupcakes for a trip on my aunt's boat last weekend. We would be spending the entire day on the boat, sailing to Newport, RI and enjoying ourselves and the scenery around us. A delicious spread of imported Italian cold cuts and cheeses, freshly baked breads, pasta with roasted vegetables, best-ever potato salad, and more were on the menu. For dessert I knew these cupcakes would be the perfect combination of a sweet treat and a refreshment.


They feature oil instead of butter which not only offers a more neutral flavor but instills some serious moistness. Also, instead of whole eggs I used egg whites to maintain as white a canvas I could to work with. The yolks would give the cupcakes a yellowish tint which would mar the perfect pink look I was going for.  This recipe is also very easy to halve (lots of even numbers, especially for eggs) so you can always make less if you desire.


The frosting begins as a straightforward American buttercream, but with the addition of more of the frozen pink lemonade concentrate and an extra shot of bright lemon flavor from some lemon juice, it transforms into a lemony treat that honors the cupcakes so perfectly. Individually, the cupcakes and frosting scream with the flavors of pink lemonade, but together, they are a perfect whole. One compliments the other in complete harmony.


The icing on the cake (literally) is piping the pink frosting to resemble a rose. This is done quite easily using a large closed star tip and piping a circle starting from the center of the cupcake and working your way out. With very little effort, the result is 24 blush roses screaming with the flavor of summer. These cupcakes would also be perfect for bridal showers, baby showers, Mother's day, your mom's birthday, your birthday, your daughter's birthday, or any breast cancer awareness function. They are just that dynamic. Please, make them soon. You'll thank me.


Pink Lemonade Cupcakes
Makes 24

Cupcakes:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup frozen pink lemonade concentrate, thawed
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 egg whites
1/2 cup buttermilk
Red food coloring, as needed

Frosting:
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups confectioners' sugar
3 T. frozen pink lemonade concentrate, thawed
1 T. lemon juice
Pinch kosher salt
Red food coloring, as needed

Adjust the oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line 24 standard muffin cups with paper liners and set aside.

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

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the sugar, pink lemonade concentrate, oil, and egg whites until well blended. Add half the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Then add the buttermilk and mix again, followed finally by the remaining dry ingredients. Do not over mix. Add red food coloring one drop at a time to achieve desired pink color. The color will fade slightly when baked.

Fill each liner 3/4 full with batter. Bake the cupcakes for about 18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool cupcakes completely.

To make the frosting, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the butter until nice and fluffy. Pause the mixer occasionally to add the confectioners' sugar 1/2 cup at a time and beat until combined and fluffy. Add the pink lemonade concentrate, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt and beat until smooth and fluffy. Add red food coloring one drop at a time to achieve desired pink color.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large piping tip (preferably a closed star tip to achieve a rose look) with the frosting and frost the cupcakes as desired. To achieve a rose look with the frosting, pipe in a circle from the center of the cupcake outward.

Frosted cupcakes can be refrigerated up to 2 days in airtight containers; bring to room temperature before serving.

*Note* If you can find frozen pink lemonade concentrate that is devoid of corn syrup, I recommend you use it. I believe most of them feature corn syrup of some kind, but the concentrate really is the most impactful way to cram all that lemonade flavor in there. If you'd like, you can easily use this Frozen Organic Lemonade Concentrate from Cascadian Farms or Trader Joe's Frozen Lemonade Stand Lemonade. These are for regular lemonade, not pink lemonade, but don't contain any corn syrup and will make very little difference in the final result (color-wise) since you'll be adding food coloring anyway. They can be found at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's respectively. If you're concerned about the corn syrup factor, then definitely go this route.




Monday, June 11, 2012

Pizza Chicken

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A while back, I had made some traditional Chicken Parmesan for my family. When my 3-year-old nephew asked me what it was I described it as pizza chicken. Immediately, we thought the name was clever, and thought of how it could be even more pizza-like. Memories of Mike Isabella's popular pepperoni sauce on Top Chef flooded my brain, and I decided that I should replace the tomato sauce component with pepperoni sauce to make real "pizza chicken" next time.


The sauce was incredibly easy to make and fully boasted the potent flavor of pepperoni. A mixture of salty and spicy, this was a really flavorful and full-bodied sauce... not to be approached lightly. A ladle of sauce atop each chicken breast is plenty, but not overwhelming whatsoever. This sauce would be fantastic served with mozzarella sticks, warm Italian bread, or even on a pizza! This was definitely a playful spin on Chicken Parm that would be welcome in any pizza-lover's kitchen.


Pizza Chicken
Serves 6
(Pepperoni sauce adapted from Mike Isabella from Top Chef)

Pepperoni Sauce:
3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 small onion or 1 shallot, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 lb pepperoni, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. fennel seed, toasted*
1/2 tsp. crushed red chili flakes
8 oz canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, crushed with their juices
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 fresh bay leaf

Chicken:
6 chicken breasts
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs beaten with 1 T. water
1 1/2 cups dry breadcrumbs
Vegetable, canola, or olive oil, as needed
8 oz fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced

For the sauce: Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, until the oil shimmers.

Add the onion and garlic; cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring often, until they are golden and fragrant.

Stir in the pepperoni; cook for about 5 minutes, until fragrant and evenly coated, then add the toasted fennel seed and crushed red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute, stirring.

Add the tomatoes and their juices, the broth and the bay leaf; stir to incorporate. Once the mixture starts to bubble at the edges, cover and cook for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. The pepperoni slices will be soft, with a deeper color. Remove from the heat.

Working in batches as needed, transfer to a food processor or a high-powered blender (including the bay leaf). Puree until smooth. The sauce is ready to use. Or cool, cover and refrigerate or freeze. The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Place the flour, beaten eggs, and bread crumbs in consecutive dishes for breading. Coat each chicken breast first in the flour, shaking off excess, then in the eggs, and finally in the bread crumbs until evenly coated. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat just enough oil to coat the bottom of a large saute pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot add a couple chicken breasts (or as many as will fit) and cook for about 5 or 6 minutes on each side until dark golden and cooked through. Cook the chicken in batches until they are all done, draining on a paper towel-lined baking sheet.

Arrange chicken breasts in a lightly greased baking dish. Top each breast with a ladle-full of pepperoni sauce. Do not use a heavy hand, as the sauce is somewhat salty and spicy. Top each breast with a slice or two of mozzarella. Bake until hot and bubbly, about 10 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

*Note* Toast the fennel seed in a small dry skillet over medium heat, shaking the skillet often to keep the seeds from burning. They will become fragrant and slightly darker in color.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

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Although I love the Clinton St. Baking Company pancakes (they're famous for them), having some additional pancake recipes in your arsenal doesn't hurt (although it might hurt your waistline). I loved having brunch recently at Five Points Restaurant in NYC and followed it up by borrowing their brunch cookbook from my local library (the book is currently out of print). There were lots of delicious brunch recipes within its pages, but I indeed gravitated toward the lemon ricotta pancakes. The addition of ricotta yields a very tender pancake, and the lemon zest really brightens it up as well. Overall I really enjoyed these pancakes! The batter was very thick and actually needed to be spread out a bit on the griddle (unlike other pancakes that pool into perfect rounds on their own), but other than this one additional challenge (if you can call it that), these are a lovely addition to any breakfast or brunch menu. Or you can do what I do, make breakfast for dinner :)


Lemon Ricotta Pancakes
Serves 4
(Adapted from Brunch: 100 Recipes From Five Points Restaurant)

2 cups ricotta (about 1 lb)
4 large eggs, separated
Zest of 1 lemon*
Pinch of kosher salt
Dash of pure vanilla extract
2 T. sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
7 T. unsalted butter, melted, plus additional butter as necessary to cook pancakes
Maple syrup, warmed

Set an ovenproof platter or a baking sheet with a cooling rack on top of it into the oven, and turn on the oven to 200 degrees F.

Beat the ricotta and egg yolks together in a large mixing bowl with the lemon zest, salt, vanilla, and sugar. Stir in the flour and melted butter, working the batter just until homogeneous and smooth.

Whip the egg whites with a whisk or handheld mixer until they hold a stiff peak. With a rubber spatula, gingerly fold half of the whites into the batter, then fold in the remaining half. Don't worry if the resulting batter is slightly striped with egg whites--they keep the pancakes light and airy.

Heat a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet or griddle over medium-low heat for a minute or two, then grease the pan with a teaspoon or more butter. When the butter starts to sizzle, turn the heat up a touch and ladle in 3 1/2-to-4-inch pancakes.

After a couple minutes, when the bottoms of the pancakes are somewhere between mottled and uniformly brown, flip them and cook another 2 minutes on the second side. Transfer finished pancakes to the platter in the oven and repeat with the remaining batter. Put your serving plates in the oven to warm before adding the last of the batter to the pan.

Serve the pancakes on the warmed plates, with warmed maple syrup on the side.

*If you like, you can substitute orange zest for the lemon (and add a splash of orange flower water if you have it on hand) to make Orange Ricotta Pancakes.

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