Sunday, July 22, 2012

Cupcake Nirvana

This weekend, I was lucky enough to have a few extra days off of work.  When that happens, I try to carve out more time in the kitchen to bake.  Since I grew up in a meat and potatoes house, I never really learned how to bake. My mom and dad weren't sweets people, so we just never had any around the house.  I was always jealous of the other kids when they'd bring pretty things to bake sales, and my mom would pick up a package of cookies or something. As a child, I vowed that I would learn to bake.  This became especially important because my "new" family is filled with sugar-a-holics!

Now, as an adult, I see why my momma didn't like to bake!  I think the baking gene skipped my family.  I had to work hard to learn how to bake and to decorate. I even went to my local Michael's store to take a Wilton course.  After lots of practice, I think I'm pretty good, but there are still plenty of things that I haven't been exposed to in the baking world--like CURD!

This weekend, I set out to find a recipe that utilized curd.  I knew that the household request was something lemon, and lemon curd inside of lemon seemed a bit much, so I settled on raspberry curd.  Oh-- what is curd, you ask?  I'm not sure exactly how to define it. It's a jelly like or creamy substance made with lemon, egg, and butter, and some people spread it on things and some people pipe it into things. Whatever it is, it's tangy deliciousness that dances nicely on the tongue. Just when you notice the tartness, the flavor pulls back and you experience the sweet.  It's yummy!

Okay-- so lemon curd was out, and raspberry curd was in!

A few tips--this recipe does take a few hours. It's labor intensive between juicing and zesting lemons as well as piping and frosting. Also, buy a bag of lemons. I probably went through 7 or 8 lemons due to juice and zesting.  Finally, make the curd first.  It has to chill.  Here's how to do it:

1 generous cup frozen raspberries
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg beaten lightly
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (don't skimp!)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/8 teaspoon salt

Stir raspberries, sugar, beaten egg, lemon juice, butter, and salt in a saucepan over medium to low heat until it bubbles. Using a small strainer, strain the mixture into a small bowl.  Make sure to press the solids in the strainer to get all the clear liquid out. Discard the solids.  Put in the refrigerator until chilled-- at least 3 hours.

Lemon Poppyseed Cupcakes
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
1/2 cup oil (canola preferred)
2 cup white sugar
4 large room temperature eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 c milk
1/4 c  fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. grated lemon zest
1 Tbsp poppyseeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter for about 2-3 minutes. Add the oil and sugar slowly. Beat three minutes until light and fluffy.  One at a time, add the eggs, beating between, until blended.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking powder. Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, alternating the milk, lemon juice and zest in about three batches total. Beat well after each addition. (this is a bit time consuming as you add, blend, add, blend, add, blend, repeat forever.....) Gently mix in the poppyseeds. If you've done it right, the batter will be nice and fluffy!

Fill  24 lined cupcake tins about 1/4 to 1/2 inch from the top, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. The edges will be just slightly golden brown.  If using a convection oven, start testing at about 15-18 minutes.

After slightly cooled, remove from pans and cool completely.  Once completely cooled, pipe the raspberry curd into each cupcake using a pastry bag and tip.  I injected a healthy tablespoon into the top of each one, and I still had a ton of curd left over.  (Note: this was very messy for me! The curd was not like a gel, so be careful!)

Now, for the frosting. If you're not a lemon fan, a simple buttercreme frosting will do. These are lemony and tart enough, but we made lemon buttercreme frosting and LOVED it! It really complemented the curd well.

Lemon Buttercreme Frosting
1 cups softened unsalted butter
2-3 cups powered sugar
3 Tbsps fresh lemon juice (have extra in case your frosting is too thick)
1 tsp grated lemon zest

Combine the butter, 2 cups of the sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest with a mixer until blended.  Depending of the consistency, you may need to add more sugar or more lemon juice.  (I actually added a bit more water at one point since I was worried about too much lemon)

Now, using a pastry bag and decorative tip, pipe the frosting on top of the cupcakes.  Have fun!  Be creative! 

So, after all was said and done, the family agreed-- this was CUPCAKE NIRVANA!

So, now everyone is asking me "what's next?"  I'm not sure.  I would love to know your favorite cupcake recipes!  Leave me a comment and let me know what you think I should try next. I have a three day weekend coming up again, and I'm feeling mighty adventurous now that I've conquered the curd!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sunday- A Time for Family

Remember back when all the stores shut down on Sundays?  My partner and I were just reminiscing about that a few weeks ago.  You needed to make sure that you had all of your supplies early in the day (or by Saturday night) otherwise you just had to do without until Monday morning.  It didn't kill us.  We managed.  You just make due with what you have in the house.  The kids played outside.  The adults chatted and tried to beat each other at a hand of cards.  (cribbage was the game of choice in my household) 

Then there was Sunday Supper.  Sunday was the time where the family would come together for a slow cooked meal and a delicious dessert.  In our house, we've made Sunday Supper a tradition again.  Each Sunday or Monday, I'll post about our Sunday menu.  In our house, we have some challenges as some folks eat meat and others don't.  Thankfully, there's usually enough food so that everyone is satisfied!  This weeks menu was:
  • Baby Back Ribs
  • Homemade Potato Salad
  • Fresh Green Beans
  • Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches

So how much time did all of this take?  Not long!  Remember, you're talking to a former Fast Food addict.  I'm all about blending Old Fashioned Goodness with Convenience!  So, let's take the Baby Back Ribs.  Instead of smoking them or grilling them from start, I have the simplest recipe ever.  Fill a stock pot with half water, half beef broth.  Drop in the ribs.  Boil until tender. (usually an hour or more)  Remove carefully as the meat may want to fall apart.  Brush with the BBQ sauce of your choice. (I use a homemade sauce that I cook in large batches, freeze in portions, and thaw as needed) Then, finish them up by browning on a hot grill. The grilling process only takes about 5-10 minutes.  Simple! People will think you've slaved all day, and I promise that you won't be able to tell that they were boiled.

The potato salad was also easy.  Start with about 5 pounds of local red potatoes.  Clean and boil with the skins on.  Cook until tender.  Then, drain and cool.  While cooling, hard boil 6 eggs.  Peel and slice. Combine about 1 and 1/2 cups of mayo, 1 tbsp of mustard, 2 finely chopped stalks of celery, and about 4-6 sliced green onions.  (if you like bacon, you can even add crumbled bacon, but we don't) Gently mix in the sliced eggs to the mayo mixture.  Then, slice the cooled potatoes.  Gently combine the mayo/egg mixture with the sliced potatoes.  Pepper to taste.  This will make a lot of potato salad! 

The green beans are simple.  Just buy local, wash and trim the ends, and boil until they have reached the desired tenderness.

And the best part?  The Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches.  Here is my favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe in the world!

Preheat the Oven to 350 degrees.  Cream 1/2 C of butter, 1/4 C white sugar, 3/4 C packed brown sugar, 1 egg and 1 tsp vanilla in a bowl.  In another bowl, combine 1 and 1/4 C of flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp baking power and 1/2 tsp baking soda.  Mix well with the creamed butter mixture.  Add 1 generous cup of chocolate chips.  Roll dough into golf ball sized portions and place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet.  With the palm of your (clean) hand, flatten the dough balls to about 1/4 inch thick.  Bake about 12-14 minutes until golden brown.

These cookies are delicious on their own, but they also make the best ice cream sandwiches when filled with your favorite homemade or store bought ice cream and drizzled with some chocolate sauce.

So, that was our Sunday Supper.  Overall cooking and prep time?  Less than 2 hours. (and a lot of that was unattended boil time)  To me, that is worth it.  It's a time for me to create, socialize, and nourish my family.  When looking back on my week, I don't regret these few hours, and I suspect that you won't either.  What are you having next Sunday?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

It Begins Today

Like many families our there, my family is addicted to Fast Food. There. I said it. The first step is admitting it, right? The allure of something quick is often too much to resist. The price-- the convenience-- and the taste? Okay, that's where you lost me. Processed food lacks a few things, and the two biggest elements are taste and community.

Taste is something that not many folks can argue about rationally. Do a blind taste test of something processed and something homemade, and there's going to be no comparison. And community? No longer do we have the days where the family gathers while dinner is being cooked. It's hard for the kids to recap the day at school over a McProcessed Meal. And many people eat their meals in front of the TV, which I think is easier to justify when it only takes 20 minutes to cook.

So, what are we going to do about it? We're going to start being mindful TODAY about what we buy and what we put into our mouth. In this household, we've been doing that for about a year now. With the rise of Social Media sites, Food Blogs, and websites that have great recipes and recipe reviews, it's even easier to plan out menus and eat well. I've been an "active pacifist" for the past few months (figure that one out!), and now it's time to jump in the deep end with the other Bloggers. I'm hoping that this Blog will keep me mindful about our journal, but I also think it might help a few others realize just how easy eating well can be for you and your community. If done right, it's not that time consuming. It's also not that hard on the wallet. Will you join me?