Sunday, October 28, 2007

That got the ol' heart pumping...

You know it's really good (or really bad) when a baked good actually makes your heart rate speed up dramatically. Today, after talking to my mom who made the above cupcakes I was inspired to give them a crack as well. Hey--I had all the goods on hand (which is a little scary considering I needed everything from buttermilk to sour cream to creamy peanut butter) and some free time so I gave another Ina recipe a shot.

And...whoa. They're tasty, but "rich" is not quite strong enough a modifier. These are intense little treats, so buyer (eater?) beware!

Stephen says: Needs more sugar. Kidding!
Stephen's rating: No...9.5...

Chocolate Cupcakes and Peanut Butter Icing
Courtesy Ina Garten

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, shaken, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
2 tablespoons brewed coffee
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup good cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Kathleen's Peanut Butter Icing, recipe follows
Chopped salted peanuts, to decorate, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and 2 sugars on high speed until light and fluffy, approximately 5 minutes. Lower the speed to medium, add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, sour cream, and coffee. In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. On low speed, add the buttermilk mixture and the flour mixture alternately in thirds to the mixer bowl, beginning with the buttermilk mixture and ending with the flour mixture. Mix only until blended. Fold the batter with a rubber spatula to be sure it's completely blended.
Divide the batter among the cupcake pans (1 rounded standard ice cream scoop per cup is the right amount). Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, remove from the pans, and allow to cool completely before frosting.
Frost each cupcake with Peanut Butter Icing and sprinkle with chopped peanuts, if desired.

Kathleen's Peanut Butter Icing:
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup heavy cream

Place the confectioners' sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work. Add the cream and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

No soup for you!

This (delicious) Mexican chicken soup would surely have been a favorite of the Soup Nazi. The flavors are complex, there's a nice level of spice and the texture is creamy and delightful from the liberal use of corn tortillas. It's also a fairly quick meal to pull together, once you chop all of your veggies (I still hate prep work!). Warning: it yields MUCH more than the stated 6-8 servings. My fairly large dutch oven was filled to capacity, so make sure to use a large pot or halve the recipe.

Stephen says: It's like a soft taco...but soup.
Stephen's rating: 8.5

Courtesy Ina Garten (as is photo)

4 split (2 whole) chicken breasts, bone in, skin on
Good olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chopped onions (2 onions)
1 cup chopped celery (2 stalks)
2 cups chopped carrots (4 carrots)
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
2 1/2 quarts chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes in puree, crushed
2 to 4 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin 1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves, optional
6 (6-inch) fresh white corn tortillas

For serving: sliced avocado, sour cream, grated Cheddar cheese, and tortilla chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the chicken breasts skin side up on a sheet pan. Rub with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until done. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, discard the skin and bones, and shred the meat. Cover and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the onions, celery, and carrots and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until the onions start to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock, tomatoes with their puree, jalapenos, cumin, coriander, 1 tablespoon salt (depending on the saltiness of the chicken stock), 1 teaspoon pepper, and the cilantro, if using. Cut the tortillas in 1/2, then cut them crosswise into 1/2-inch strips and add to the soup. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Add the shredded chicken and season to taste. Serve the soup hot topped with sliced avocado, a dollop of sour cream, grated Cheddar cheese, and broken tortilla chips.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I fought the cookie and the cookie won...

***picture forthcoming***

SO. For a while now, I have been having a little "cookie problem." I'm not sure from whence my dysfunction stems, but I can't seem to produce a normal-ish cookie. In the past few months, I've had cookies that hopelessly ran together, cookies that burned to a crisp and cookies that refused to spread out (but instead puffed straight up). What's the DEAL? I think my oven is functioning properly, so the problem must rely with the cook.

On Sunday I set out to change this unfortunate streak with a tried and true recipe (Cook's Illustrated--how could I go wrong?). I made their oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies and while I'm happy to report that 90% of them turned out just fine, I probably should mention that three of them caught fire. Yes. Really. I still have no idea what happened there.

All in all, the cookies were great (lots of nice butter flavor and a dense and chewy texture) and, Lord willing, if you try them they probably won't spontaneously combust.

Stephen says: Why is the kitchen filled with black smoke? Have you been making cookies again?
Stephen's rating (of the non-burnt cookies): 7.5

Courtesy Cook's Illustrated

If you prefer a less sweet cookie, you can reduce the white sugar by one-quarter cup, but you will lose some crispness. Do not overbake these cookies. The edges should be brown but the rest of the cookie should still be very light in color. Parchment makes for easy cookie removal and cleanup, but it’s not a necessity. If you don’t use parchment, let the cookies cool directly on the baking sheet for two minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.

2 sticks unsalted butter (1/2 pound), softened but still firm
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
3 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1. Adjust oven racks to low and middle positions; heat oven to 350 degrees. In bowl of electric mixer or by hand, beat butter until creamy. Add sugars; beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time.

2. Mix flour, salt, baking powder, and nutmeg together, then stir them into butter-sugar mixture with wooden spoon or large rubber spatula. Stir in oats and chocolate chips.

3. Form dough into sixteen to twenty 2-inch balls, placing each dough round onto one of two parchment paper–covered, large cookie sheets. Bake until cookie edges turn golden brown, 22 to 25 minutes. (Halfway during baking, turn cookie sheets from front to back and also switch them from top to bottom.) Slide cookies on parchment onto cooling rack. Let cool at least 30 minutes before serving.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

It may be 90 degrees outside, but it's fall dammit!

At least that was my attitude last weekend when I decided to make pumpkin bread. To me, nothing says "fall" like a house filled with the smell of cinnamon and cloves. The rain and cold weather will be here soon enough (boo!), so in the meantime we enjoyed an easy fall favorite. I used a recipe I found online and thought it was actually very good. I will probably reduce the amount of sugar next time, but otherwise will keep it as is.

As a firm butter devotee, it was a little strange baking with oil, but I found that it kept the bread incredibly moist so it all worked out in the end. If you don't eat this bread liberally with cream cheese, you'll be doing yourself a disservice. Who cares about heart health? Am I right?

Stephen says: This is healthy, yes? I mean...pumpkin's a vegetable, isn't it?
Stephen's rating: 9

Recipe for Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread
Courtesy Laurie Bennett (

1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup water
3 cups white sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour three 7x3 inch loaf pans.
In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger.

Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Pour into the prepared pans.

Bake for about 50 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A healthy meal! (sort of)

After chowing down on dinner last night, Stephen casually asks me, "So...what's in pea salad? You know...nutritionally." I was puzzled. Stephen never asks about the nutritional content of, well, anything. But, last night he was health-focused and happy to learn that our meal was (for the most part) pretty healthy.

I made honey-brushed chicken thighs and they were incredibly spicy, flavorful and so moist and juicy. I highly encourage "breast fans" to try a chicken thigh from time to time: dark meat isn't scary, people! Our pea salad was a perfect compliment to the spicy chicken: cool, creamy and mild in flavor. I used reduced fat sour cream and skipped the nuts and bacon to keep it more heart-friendly. It was still delish!

Stephen says: I wish the Mariners were this hot!
Stephen's rating: 8
Spicy Honey-Brushed Chicken Thighs
Courtesy Cooking Light
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons chili powder object
1 teaspoon salt object
1 teaspoon ground cumin object
1 teaspoon paprika object
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper object
8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
6 tablespoons honey object
2 teaspoons cider vinegar

Preheat broiler.
Combine first 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Add chicken to bowl; toss to coat. Place chicken on a broiler pan coated with cooking spray. Broil chicken 5 minutes on each side.

Combine honey and vinegar in a small bowl, stirring well. Remove chicken from oven; brush 1/4 cup honey mixture on chicken. Broil 1 minute. Remove chicken from oven and turn over. Brush chicken with remaining honey mixture. Broil 1 additional minute or until chicken is done.

Friday, September 7, 2007

An apology & a promise...

I have a confession: I have been avoiding our blog because of shame. Shame that we have been cooking delicious meals (hey! nachos are delicious!) and not taking photos and writing about them. I am most particularly apologetic to my grandparents, who are the inspiration for this blog.

So, grandma and grandpa: this is a promise that Stephen and I will add a minimum of three new entries each week. So, starting tomorrow look forward to reading all about our new culinary adventures! And keep us honest!

We love you!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Aloha! And welcome back to the blog...

We're back from Hawaii (and a really long break from cooking & the blog)! We had a great time, but it has been fabulous being home again and getting back into the normal swing of things.

Tonight's dish was a shrimp, baby spinach & basil risotto, adapted from Bon Appetit. There's not much wrong with risotto: it's creamy, carb-y and so satisfying. Plus, this one has spinach so it's obviously very healthy. After a couple of mishaps (I'm not naming names, but let's just say that someone came home with the wrong cooking stock...twice), all went well and we were both happy with the end result. I added a teaspoon of red pepper flakes to the recipe below and instead of poaching the shrimp, I sauteed them in the onions for more flavor.

Risotto has an unfortunate reputation for being "hard" and "time consuming" and that's too bad. While it does take a willingness to stir and hang out near the stove top for a half-hour or so, it's actually a pretty simple dish for such a great impact. But enough preaching!

Stephen says: Mmmmm...good jambalaya, honey!
Stephen's rating: 8

Shrimp Risotto with Baby Spinach and Basil
From Bon Appetit

6 cups (about) low-salt chicken broth
1 pound uncooked large shrimp, peeled, deveined
2 tablespoons olive oil
11/2 cups chopped onion
2 large garlic cloves, minced
11/2 cups arborio rice or medium-grain white rice (about 9 1/2 ounces)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 6-ounce package baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Additional grated Parmesan cheese

Bring 6 cups broth to simmer in medium saucepan. Add shrimp. Turn off heat, cover, and let stand until shrimp are just opaque in center, about 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer shrimp to small bowl; cover with foil to keep warm. Cover broth to keep warm.

Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add chopped onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add minced garlic and stir 1 minute. Add rice and stir until edge of rice is translucent but center is still opaque, about 2 minutes. Add wine and cook until wine is absorbed, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes. Add 3/4 cup chicken broth. Simmer until almost all broth is absorbed, stirring often, about 2 minutes. Continue to add broth, 3/4 cup at a time, until rice is just tender and mixture is creamy, stirring often and allowing almost all broth to be absorbed after each addition, about 25 minutes total. During last 5 minutes, add spinach in 4 batches, stirring and allowing spinach to wilt after each addition. Mix in shrimp, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, and basil. Season risotto to taste with salt and pepper.

Spoon risotto into shallow bowls and serve, passing additional cheese separately.