Friday, October 29, 2010

Chocolate-Nutella Cupcakes with Dulce de Leche Buttercream. For Real.

So today is the day to celebrate the lovelies in my office who happened to be born in this most festive of months, October.  While I would prefer to celebrate Oktoberfest-style with some deliciously cold-yet-warming brews, I'm at work.  So we'll have cupcakes instead.  Sometimes I take requests because it's nice to make your coworkers happy.  Requests for this month:  Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, and really chocolately cupcakes with frosting of some sort.
Admission:  While I love carrot cake, and I love cream cheese frosting, carrot cake is one of the most tedious of cakes to make.  I simply hate grating carrots, and I can't buy them grated to my satisfaction.  Solution:  boxed cake mix and store-bought frosting.  Don't hate.  I did add some personal touches by coloring the frosting orange and piping it!  Plus I got to use my extra-neato cow sprinkles.   Do I recommend these?  Not in good conscience due to artificial ingredients.  But definitely taste one of the other variety...

We're talking deep chocolately cupcakes filled with Nutella, and frosted with Dulce de Leche buttercream. 
I started out with a fairly simple chocolate cupcake recipe from Joy of
I hadn't ever made a chocolate cupcake using this method (basically making my own chocolate syrup minus the sugar) before, and it was kind of fun.  While the chocolate frosting that goes with this recipe looks amazing, I had to go with something a little more warm and autumn-like to cut the intensity of the chocolate cupcake.  Here's where my favorite blog comes in:  Joy the Baker.  (Not related to Joy of Baking, actually).  This girl is amazing.  She makes things I have wanted all my life but never knew about.  Plus, she is hilarious, and Joy if you're reading right now, which most assuredly you are not, let's be best friends forever.  I found this frosting recipe on her site, which I think she actually borrowed from The Pastry Queen.  Dulce de Leche is caramel usually made from goat's milk.  It's actually available in the ethnic foods section of most grocery stores and is fairly inexpensive.  I probably should have cut this recipe in half since I only made 12 cupcakes and had a lot left over.  If you have leftover batter after a dozen cupcakes, you may want to pile it in a ramekin and bake it with the rest for a delicious molten lava cake for the chef.  I was pretty happy with it.

The cupcakes are not as sweet as some (which I love), and the frosting is really sweet, so it strikes a nice balance.  I still had to mess with it.  I had visions of grandeur that involved piping a little suprise well of Nutella into the center of each cupcake before frosting them.  Those visions came to a disappointing end quickly.  (Picture me clutching pastry bag feverishly with chocolate all the way up my forearms, and aforementioned pastry bag exploding into giant supernova of chocolate and brokenness.)  Solution:  use butterknife to spread a thin layer of Nutella on the tops before frosting.  In the absence of a functioning pastry bag, a little Ziploc baggie with a snipped corner served just fine.  I couldn't resist decorating them seasonally with those disgusting little candy corns and somehow-delicious pumpkins made of the same stuff.  *These are not part of a healthy diet.
...And I'm spent.  Happy Friday!

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Veal Meatball Stew

Do I feel guilty about buying two pounds of ground veal this week?  Factoring in that this delicious meat in all its splendor only set me back a little over $6... Never!  If you have a particular aversion to eating tender baby cows, you could certainly use a different ground meat.  But let's be real:  veal is amazing.
I wasn't quite sure what its fate would be while purchasing the meat, but inspiration struck on my drive home from work, and I made this recipe up as I went. 

First, I set to work making the meatballs.  You don't need to use 2 lb of meat for your meatballs, but I did, and it made tons.  Believe me, you'll want leftovers. 
I combined my meat with half a cup of finely grated Parmesan Reggiano (it's worth the extra expense on this recipe), half a cup of bread crumbs, half a finely diced onion, 1 large egg, 2 large cloves of minced garlic, 2 Tbsp oregano, and salt and pepper to taste.  Get your hands in there and get squishy.  Mush, mash and mix everything until it's well combined.  Have your elves, Oompa Loompas or children get to work making 1" meatballs while you drag out your big soup pot.

Heat your pot on medium heat and coat the bottom with a thin layer of olive oil.  Carefully place a layer of meatballs in the pot and brown them slightly in batches.  You probably have lots of little loose onion pieces that popped out of your meatballs.  This is not a bad thing, so don't stress.  Hold on to those little morsels.

I got tired of this and quit after doing one layer.  I told you I was making this up as I went, so cut me some slack here.  I drained the excess fat from the pan, and poured in about 1/3 cup of the dry red wine I was drinking at the time to deglaze the pot and scrape up all those delicious brown bits, being careful not to break up the meatballs too much.  Dump in one large can of crushed tomatoes with basil, the rest of your meatballs (browned or not), and a couple canfuls of water or chicken stock if you have it.  Sadly, I have no chicken stock right now, so I used water.  Also go ahead and dump in those rogue onion pieces you saved from earlier.
If you like, feel free to add extras here like some more garlic (never hurts) or vegetables from your freezer.  I dumped in the rest of a bag of tricolor pepper pieces from my freezer.  Turn your mixture down to low heat and walk away, drink some wine, or watch a TV show.

Taste and season your stew at this point with a little salt and pepper if needed.  Not too long before you're ready to eat, stir in fresh baby spinach and a little less than half a pound of pasta.  I used gemelli pasta (which means "twins" because it's like two noodles twisted around eachother).  The longer you let this sit and simmer, the more swollen your noodles get.  Normally I would stop at al dente, but I started feeling bad and had to go lay down on the couch at this point in the recipe.

Turns out this wasn't a bad move for my soup-turned-hearty-stew.  A few ibuprofin and heating pads later, I sat down with my bowl of hearty stew topped with more parmesan cheese and some fresh parsely, and some cheese toast.  Perfect movie watching and blanket cuddling cuisine.
Flash forward one or two days!
Time for some leftover heaven.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Dump your swollen noodle stew into a casserole dish.  Top with shredded cheese if you had it.  (I had about a half cup of  shredded cheddar, so I used that).  Combine 1 Tbsp. melted butter with 1 cup panko bread crumbed, 1 tsp. garlic powder, 2 Tbsp parmesan cheese, and black pepper to taste.  Top casserole with bread crumb mixture and bake uncovered for 30 minutes.  Which is better?  Stew or casserole?  I'm torn!

Peace, Love and Meatballs,


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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Spice up your Breakfast, Baby.

This is just something I make.  Is it gorgeous?  No.  Fancy?  No.  It is easy, quick, scrumptious and satisfying.  A good way to start out this gorgeous day.  I like to call it a breakfast chalupa.
A great friend of mine is getting married today, and I am so excited for her and her husband-to-be.  If I plan on dancing my socks off tonight, I better eat hearty this morning.

I made my breakfast chalupa pretty substantial today since I slept in on this Saturday morning, but it would work just as well if not better with a smaller tortilla and just one egg instead of two.  We'll call that a weekday breakfast chalupa.

In a medium or large saute pan, melt a teaspoon or so of butter on medium heat before cracking two large eggs into the pan.  Cook the eggs until the whites turn opaque, then top the eggs with shredded cheese while they are still in the pan.  I used Seriously Sharp White Cheddar by Cabot.  Toss a tortilla on top of this mess and press gently.  Let it sit and cook this way until the whole thing adheres together, about one minute.
Here comes the tricky part.  With the biggest spatula you have, scoot the spatula under this conglomeration, trying the best you can to get it under any cheese or stray egg pieces that may be hiding under your tortilla.

Get ready...

FLIP!  It doesn't matter if it's ugly.  Now top your creation with a bit more cheese if you like, and a generous portion of salsa.  I like a spicier salsa with my eggs.  Sometimes I like just straight up hot sauce, especially if I am making a weekday version of this.  Salsa verde is a great choice with this, as would be a roasted tomato salsa.  But for our purposes this morning, ChiChi's medium salsa is what I had in the fridge.  This is Saturday morning, folks.  We're not fancy.  Let this cook awhile until the cheese between the eggs and tortilla gets all melty.  I don't like to cook mine terribly long because I like the yolks to still be a little runny.  Saucy!

Now you're ready to fold it like an omelet.  If you're lucky, little pieces of cheese or egg or salsa have escaped and smeared themselves onto the outside of your tortilla.  This makes for browned crusty goodness.  This is a good thing.

Let it brown a little (maybe half a minute) before flipping to the other side and doing the same.  Slide that baby out of the pan onto a plate.  If you have some sour cream or greek yogurt, now would be a good time to get that out and add a dollop to the top of this mess with some fresh cilantro.  I don't have either, so I ate mine straight up with black coffee.

Let's get this day started!
Get me my dancing shoes.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Autumn in a Pretty Little Package

This is my favorite time of year.
In the season where everything is dying or preparing to hibernate or go dormant for winter, there is somehow an exciting tinge of hope for renewal in the air.  Something that just stirs my soul about the crispness in the air, the vibrant colors that seem to explode out of nowhere in the trees, the faint smell of burning leaves.
When the nights turn cool again and I start to crave soup constantly, well that's about the time that I become obsessive about "seasonal" dinners and my beloved deep orange Le Creuset dutch oven.  And while my perfect little pot helped me crank out some hearty lamb stew last night, our focus at present is the stuffed acorn squash that sits happily digesting in my belly in its fall festive splendor as I type.  Hungry yet?  Let's get to it.  Here's what you do:

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2.  Split an acorn squash (carefully) end to end, scooping out the stringy flesh and seeds in the middle.
3.  Cut a small sliver off the outside skin of each half so it sits level on a surface before seasoning the fleshy side with salt and pepper.  Put half a tablespoon of butter in each half.
4.  Place squash flesh side up in a roasting dish or casserole, and fill the dish with hot water to about halfway up the squash.  Bake in the oven loosely covered with foil for about 40 minutes, or until tender.

5.  Treat a small to medium onion to a fine dice and saute in 2 T olive oil with some bell peppers (if you have them on hand).  I used frozen tricolor peppers from Trader Joe's.  Also at this time add whatever meat you choose to add (if you want to add meat).  This would be a great meatless dish.  I used chicken olive artichoke sausages, but this would be great with ground beef, lamb, or really any kind of ground meat or sausage.  Cook on medium until vegetables are soft and meat is cooked through.

6.  While your veggie-meat mixture is working, and your squash are still in the oven, cook up some rice, couscous or quinoa.  I am a sucker for those Near East seasoned couscous-in-a-box deals, so I highly recommend those.  High on flavor, low on fuss, cooks in 5 minutes.  I used the parmesan couscous, but if I had the wild mushroom kind, I DEFINITELY would have used that.  (The earthiness would go so nice with this stuff).
7.  Take your squash very carefully out of the oven so you don't scald yourself, for goodness sakes.  Put each half on a plate.
8.  Dump couscous/rice/what have you into the veggie-meat mixture and stir.  I like to throw in a few tablespoons of raisins here.  Toss in some spinach to wilt if you like.  I left out the spinach tonight.
9.  Scoop your stuffing into the hollowed out squash halves, using an ice cream scoop if you really want to be snobby about it.  I like topping mine with herbed goat cheese (because it was in the fridge and almost gone) and some fresh parsley.
10.  Stuff yourself with the stuffed awesomeness.

So that looks like a lot of steps.  (I admittedly might have even listed two steps combined as one step just to see if you're paying attention.)  Look.  It's not a lot of steps, and it's all in all a pretty impressive dinner for minimal effort.  On the table in 40 minutes (with downtime therein!), and depending on what you choose to include or omit, a pretty darn affordable meal.

On a personal note:
Thanks to everyone who encouraged me to continue with the blog.  There is something so wonderful and gratifying about cooking and sharing it with others.  It really means a lot to know there are people willing to endure listening to me pontificate and spew food-talk.  I love you guys, and am happy to be back!

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