Monday, May 31, 2010

Ice Cream Cupcake Roundup: Raspberry Lemonade Ice Cream Cupcake Cones!

About a month ago, one of the other food-blogs I read, The Cupcake Project, posted something that I found extremely exciting: they were having the third annual ice cream cupcake roundup! It's a contest that they do in conjunction with Scoopalicious, an ice cream blog that I was unaware of until I read the post on Cupcake Project. They also posted the contest, of course. And, well, ice cream and cupcakes are both delicious, but I'd never thought much before about how to combine the two. After a little thinking and some sketching, I had a plan--a layout, at least--but no idea about flavors.

I thought. And I thought some more. At first I was thinking, flowers? Lavender? But that didn't work; I wanted something fruity and summery and refreshing, and after almost a whole month of thinking, I finally figured it out: everyone likes raspberry lemonade in the summer, right? So if I could somehow capture that in ice-cream-cupcake-form, it would be delicious! I went about looking for recipes, but wasn't too pleased with any until Patricia of Technicolor Kitchen posted a recipe for Sour Lime Cakes, and I thought, well, how hard can it be to adapt that to lemon? (After thinking about this for a little while and getting excited, I read in her post that she actually adapted a lemon recipe to make the lime one, which made my idea seem even better, if slightly less original.) I then started searching my usual recipe haunts--Recipezaar in particular--for a delicious-looking raspberry frosting. When Recipezaar didn't come up with anything that seemed right for my vision, I went back to the Cupcake Project, but while there were lots of raspberry-related posts, nothing seemed to be frosting. I then returned to Technicolor Kitchen and was very glad I did, because back in November (before I started blogging and reading other blogs) she'd posted a cupcake with Raspberry Cream, which looked like the perfect consistency for my plan.

I found all this maybe two days ago, which gave me very little time to actually execute my plan. Originally, I'd hoped to try out a few recipes so I could change one if I didn't like it, but as the contest ends tomorrow (!) I was now in a hurry. Luckily, I've used recipes from Technicolor Kitchen before, and they've come out wonderfully--I was not afraid of the recipes turning out badly, just that my plan may go horribly wrong. Luckily for me, it didn't, and I would now like to give you another picture-heavy post (recipes included, of course) and make sure I've done everything else to enter the contest successfully.

I'm starting with the final product: each cone contained a raspberry at the bottom (inspired by those novelty ice cream cone things you could get at an ice cream truck when you were a kid, with the gumball at the bottom--Screwballs, they were called). On top of that was a layer of vanilla ice cream, which was scooped in very carefully with a very small spoon--I was terrified of breaking the cone! Two more raspberries, crushed this time, went on top of that, and then another layer of ice cream. On top of that went a nice layer of the raspberry cream frosting and two mini-cupcakes complete coated in the frosting, held together with a toothpick, and they actually came out looking like scoops of nice cream! YAY! (That was, of course, my goal.) I'll be honest here, though: I meant to top them with another raspberry. I forgot, though, because by the time the whole thing was assembled the ice cream was starting to melt and drip out of the cone and I wanted to be able to eat it like a cone of ice cream instead of dropping it in a bowl and eating it with a spoon. It was messy, yes, but it definitely worked--I ate mine over a bowl but didn't have to put it down. (Mike volunteered to eat the cross-section, and he ate his in a bowl. He seemed equally satisfied, so form probably wasn't particularly important. And yes, we did have to cut an ice cream cone in half to do this.)

This is Mia, my favorite little kid. She got to be our guinea pig (notice I remembered the raspberry on hers). She seemed quite happy with her special dessert (everyone else just had normal cupcakes), so these cones are great for both kids and grown-ups alike! (I've been babysitting Mia since she was two--she's almost eight now! Boy, do I feel old.)

So, if you want to make some of these yourself, here are the recipes! Don't double them! (I doubled them. I don't know why I always do this. I ended up with 55 cupcakes. Unless you want 55 cupcakes [granted 24 of them were mini] then don't double the recipes.)

Sour Lemon Cupcakes
Adapted from Technicolor Kitchen, link above!

-1 cup unsalted butter, melted (not softened! actually melted!)
-1 1/2 cups plus 2 1/2 tbsp sugar
-2 eggs
-1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
-1/4 cup lemon juice
-Zest of one giant lemon (or two normal-sized lemons, I don't know if giant lemons are a normal thing to have but my grocery store had them for some reason)
-2 cups plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
-2 tsp baking powder

1. Preheat the oven 325 degrees F.
2. Get all your ingredients out and in one place. Put the flour and baking powder into a bowl and sift together (or stir with a fork for a while). You'll want everything prepared because everything has to be sort of speedy once the butter is melted.
3. Cut the butter into small pieces (along the tablespoon lines) and toss it into a large microwave-safe bowl (everything else will be added to this, so large is important!). Cover with wax paper and microwave in 30-second increments, taking it out and stirring after each one. (I think it took me four or five 30-second cycles for the butter to be completely melted, and as I said, I doubled this so was melting two cups of butter--the point here is that it won't take all that long.)
4. Add the eggs, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest and yogurt to the melted butter and stir until everything is combined. Add the flour and baking powder mixture in small amounts, stirring each pile until smooth before adding more (it probably isn't necessary to do it in bits, but I find it much easier--I'm not sure if it affects how the cupcakes come out, but mine came out fine). The batter will be thick and sticky and smell like lemonade.
5. If you forgot to preheat the oven, then heat the oven now. It's probably fine; the oven should heat in the amount of time it takes to fill the cupcake pan.
6. If you're using cupcake liners, put them in the cupcake pan. If you're using butter and flour, then butter and flour the cupcake pan. If you're using a baking spray (such as Baker's Joy, which works wonders) then spray the pan. Fill each cupcake-hole (is there a name for these?) to about 2/3 full with the batter.
7. For mini-cupcakes, bake for 12-15 minutes. For full-sized cupcakes, bake for 18-20 minutes.
8. Remove from the oven and let cool. (I let mine cool overnight--partially because I didn't want the frosting to melt when I put it on, and partially because by the time all the batches came out of the oven it was 1am and I wanted to go to bed, not make frosting.)

Step 3. I would love to tell you that this is a delicious hollandaise sauce or something. I really would. But in reality, it's four sticks of butter, melted in the microwave. I'm almost disgusted at the idea, but the end result makes it completely okay.

Step 4. Batter! Yet again, I didn't remember to take a picture until I'd already put one batch (consisting of 12 mini cupcakes and 12 normal-sized cupcakes) in the oven, so this isn't the full amount, but since I doubled the recipe you probably still won't have this much. Also, I know you're not supposed to eat batter due to it having raw eggs in it and stuff, but this is some delicious cupcake batter.

Step 6. I used Baker's Joy for the mini-cupcakes (since they would be going in the ice cream cone and the wrapper would be a kind of gross thing to bite into) and cupcake liners for the normal-sized ones. I don't think I got a great picture of the liners, but they're PLAID! If you don't know me then you don't know how much I love plaid, but it's pretty much the best thing ever. And I found it on cupcake liners. AWESOME.

Raspberry Cream Frosting
Also adapted from Technicolor Kitchen, also with a link above.

-8 oz plain frozen raspberries
-2 cup heavy or whipping cream
-1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp confectioner's sugar
-1 1/2 tsp almond extract
-A small container (mine was 6oz) of fresh raspberries

1. At least a few hours before you want to make the frosting, place the frozen raspberries in a bowl and let sit at room temperature to thaw. (I let them sit out for a while, and then refrigerated them overnight.) Don't strain them or anything; you want the juices.
2. Pour the thawed raspberries (with their juices!) into a small saucepan. Place on the stove on medium heat. Cook the raspberries until they release the rest of their juices, mashing them as you go (I used a slotted spoon and it worked wonderfully). This will take about 6-8 minutes.
3. Now the cooked raspberries have to cool, so if you're in a hurry, put the pan in an icewater bath--just make sure none of the water gets into the raspberries. The icewater will cool them in about 15 minutes.
4. Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl (I used the same bowl I thawed the raspberries in) and pour the raspberry-mush into it. Using a rubber spatula or a spoon or whatever suits your fancy, press the raspberry-mush against the mesh, stir it around, scrape the edges, etc. until most of the juice has left the mush and is in the bowl. You won't get all of it; I ended up with a soft squishy ball of raspberry seeds and skin and a little juice after playing with it for 15-20 minutes, and a lot of my efforts were pretty pointless, giving me only very small amounts of liquid. So I guess the point here is: don't obsess over this! Just get as much of the juice out as you can and it's okay if there's still some in the strainer.
5. Add the confectioner's sugar and almond extract to the raspberry juice and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
6. Make whipped cream! I use my KitchenAid (with the whisk attachment) for this. I'm not sure how to do it without an electric mixer of some sort--if you have a handheld electric one that will work fine too, but I think if you used an egg beater or just a whisk it would take forever. The end result should be pretty stiff peaks of whipped cream.
7. Fold the raspberry juice/sugar/almond extract mixture into the whipped cream. I did this in small amounts too, but I think that would be unnecessary if you don't double the recipe. How long you spend folding it will affect how uniform the color is, but probably not the taste--I tried to keep some slightly darker pink areas and a few white streaks, but once I frosted things with it everything sort of blended together.
8. Chill until ready to frost the cupcakes. I recommend frosting them as close to serving time as possible, since whipped cream can lose its form if left alone for too long, but unless you're keeping them around for days you're probably okay. BUT! Do NOT frost the cupcakes until they're completely cool! Otherwise the frosting will just melt off of them, and that would be really sad.
9. When you frost the cupcakes, top each with a fresh raspberry. (This seems completely unnecessary, and it probably is, but it takes the cupcakes from looking like normal cupcakes to ADORABLE cupcakes. And it's so easy! So it's worth it.)

Step 2: After probably 2 minutes of cooking and a little mashing. There's already a lot of juice there!

Step 3: In the icewater bath, all mashed up. I was actually sort of surprised to see how many seeds there were--I think that is why I don't eat raspberries more often.

Step 7: This is after I'd folded a tiny bit of the raspberry juice into the whipped cream and poured a little more in to keep going. I only took this picture because it looked like my whipped cream was bleeding profusely and I found that amusing. I have a sort of sick sense of humor.

Also step 7: Yeah okay it still sort of looks bloody, but there's plenty of folding left to do. Don't worry, it came out a nice pretty pink color.

Step 9: You saw the Raspberry Lemonade Ice Cream Cupcake Cones up at the top, but this is what happened to the rest of them (well, okay, the rest of them are on my kitchen counters without frosting because I made way too many cupcakes and I'll have to give them to people). While Mia enjoyed her cone, all the grown-ups ate these "normal" cupcakes instead.

So, if you want to make the cones, the only extra things you'll need are the cone and the ice cream! The vanilla was perfect--I got it at a local farmstand-type ice cream place. It would be easy to play around with the flavors, but you don't want anything too strong--the raspberry and lemon flavors are the important part. As for the normal cupcakes: they were SUCH a great summer dessert. The raspberry cream is light and airy and complements the fairly dense cake perfectly. Each has a little bit of sweet and a little bit of sour--I made the frosting a little bit sweeter than the original recipe called for because they'd be going on a sour cake, and it came out wonderfully. And seriously--don't the little raspberries on top make them look so adorable?

Okay, so: if my creation comes out in the top three of the contest, I will be (a) thrilled because I'll win an Oxo gift pack and (b) begging all of you to go vote in the public-voting part so I can win the ice cream maker. I have no idea what my chances are of getting that far, but I'm warning you in advance that it might happen.

Now, go make some cupcakes and enjoy the wonderful weather!

UPDATE: It turns out that while doubling the cupcake recipe was a little on the silly side, doubling the frosting didn't make nearly enough to cover all of them--it seems that keeping the cupcake recipe as is and doubling the frosting would be the way to go. I have therefore EDITED THE FROSTING RECIPE to show an amount that will cover all the cupcakes (and probably leave you with a little left over, but that's not really something to complain about).

Saturday, May 29, 2010

"You have a pasty at Mabel's for me, you hear?"

For those of you who aren't on Twitter, for the first time, I think I can sincerely say that you're missing out. There's a new phenomenon called "One Book One Twitter" (or #1b1t) where, during the summer, everyone on Twitter has the option to participate in a twitter-wide book club. It's not exclusive, there's a schedule but you can read at your own pace if you want to, and this year--the FIRST year--one of my all-time favorite books was selected: American Gods by Neil Gaiman. The coolest part of this is that Gaiman uses twitter himself, so occasionally he does an hour of "Ask Neil" and he'll answer anyone's questions, which is AWESOME. If you're not familiar with Gaiman's work and don't mind a little fantasy, surrealism and existentialism in your literature, check out his books--he is a master of the English language. His books pull you in and immerse you in a surreal adventure, pressing you to question the world around you and the validity of pretty much everything. At least, that's how I feel.

I just finished reading this morning, but according to the schedule, this week everyone's on chapters 9-11, in which the main character discovers a delicious meal at a local diner-type restaurant called Mabel's.

"Breakfast for me," said Shadow. "What's good?"
"Everything's good," said Mabel. "I make it But this is the farthest south and east of the yoopie you can get pasites, and they are particularly good. Warm and filling too. My specialty."
Shadow had no idea what a pasty was, but he said that would be fine, and in a few moments Mabel returned with a plate with what looked like a folded-over pie on it. The lower half was wrapped in a paper napkin. Shadow picked it up with the napkin and bit into it: it was warm and filled with meat, potatoes, carrots, onions. "First pasty I've ever had," he said. "It's real good."
-American Gods, p. 266-267 in my edition (chapter 10)

Now, in honor of One Book One Twitter, and because I've read American Gods a million times and always wanted to try these out, I of course searched for a recipe and made them and they are, just as Gaiman says, "a savory delight wrapped in a hot pastry." Ideally, for this recipe, you have minced beef. I didn't have minced beef, nor did I have the patience to mince my own beef, so I used ground beef instead--but if you can get your hands on some good minced beef, then do.

RECIPE: Pasties
Adapted from Recipezaar
-1 lb minced (or ground) beef
-1 tbsp olive oil
-2 white onions
-3 cloves garlic
-1 15-oz can whole tomatoes
-1 tbsp tomato paste
-1/2 lb carrots
-1 tbsp soy sauce
-1/2 pint beef stock (from bullion cubes)
-1 lb white potato
-a splash of milk
-2 tbsp butter
-a dollop of Worcestershire sauce (I didn't really measure out my additions, so add stuff until it tastes good!)
-Herbs and seasonings (I used marjoram, tarragon, basil, oregano, a little bit of italian seasoning, cinnamon, cumin and cocoa--yeah, it's a lot, but it was tasty. Use your discretion here.)
-pie crust or puff pastry*
-1 egg

0: Cut everything up ('everything' being defined as potatoes, onions, and carrots).
1. Using the potatoes, milk, and butter, make some mashed potatoes. Don't whip them--leave plenty of chunks of potato. Alternatively, you could just boil the potatoes and cut them up into very small pieces--I think this would be the more authentic way to do it.
2. In a very large frying pan or wok, heat the oil and sauté the onion until it softens. Move the onion into a bowl.
3. Add the beef to the frying pan with a little more oil if necessary. Stir constantly as it browns to ensure that all the clumps are broken up (not sure if this is a problem with minced beef but ground beef, especially the leaner varieties, is very sticky).
4. Once the beef is fully cooked, add the canned tomatoes (break them up as you stir them), carrots, soy sauce, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce and some herbs. (You'll be adding more herbs to taste as it cooks, so don't overdo it here.)
5. Add the beef stock and allow to simmer for a few minutes, then add the onions and potatoes. Stir thoroughly and simmer until it's not really liquid anymore (about 20 minutes?) and you'll be able to scoop it out and it will stay in a lump instead of spreading into a big mess. You want it to have the consistency of slightly watery mashed potatoes. As it's simmering, taste it occasionally and add more seasoning as desired.
6. NOW IS TIME TO PREHEAT THE OVEN! Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, 220 C. Then prepare the pie crusts: I traced a small plate (7-8 inches) in each rolled-out crust with a knife so that I had 7-8 inch discs of crust to fill.
7. Lay a crust circle on a cookie sheet. Scoop about a cup of the beef mixture (or as much as it seems will fit into the crust when you fold it over, though I overshot a few times and had difficulty folding the crust over) onto one side of the pie crust, then fold the other side over and press all around it to seal it. Continue doing this with each crust circle. (You'll probably fit 2-3 on a cookie sheet.)
8. In a small bowl, beat the egg. Using a pastry brush, brush the beaten egg over each of the pasties. Put them in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and shiny.
9. When you remove them from the oven, allow them to cool a bit before eating them--the inside will scald your mouth if you bite into it immediately. After about 10 minutes, they'll still be nice and hot but more edible and you can enjoy your creation!

Step 4.5: after the beef stock is added, before the potatoes and onions.

Once everything was added and simmered down completely. (Actually, this is what we had leftover after filling the crusts--I'd forgotten to photograph it first! But the picture is still accurate.)

Right out of the oven--they looked so pretty! I was quite happy with myself, despite the holes.

Despite the fact that Shadow eats his with his hands, I thought a fork would be more appropriate--I was worried about them falling apart and making a huge mess if I picked them up. Plus, this way I could blow on each forkful to cool it a little more.

Yet again, Mike made a "special" one for himself. He covered it in cinnamon sugar before I put them in the oven. It stuck to the pan more than the others (probably because of the burnt sugar) and therefore fell apart more, but he said it was delicious nonetheless. (Then again, Mike does weird things with food. He just ate a bowl of cereal with coffee grounds on top. So I don't necessarily trust his judgement.)

I doubled this recipe so I'd have plenty to freeze (and because my brother was home and his friends might be around) and ended up with 10 pasties and some leftover filling (also in the freezer, so I can whip up some pie crust and make more). The amount you end up with will depend on the size of your pies and how full you want them.

I expected these to be super filling and heavy--one of those "okay maybe I shouldn't have eaten that whole thing" foods. Surprisingly, they were the perfect amount of food: we were all full, but not completely stuffed. And, if you think about it, each one only has a little bit of meat, a tiny bit of mashed potato, some carrots, etc--it's a pretty well-rounded food! I can't wait to play with this concept a bit more and always have some delicious meal-in-a-pie-crust frozen for emergencies (or nights that I just don't feel like cooking).

*I used my normal pie crust recipe and it came out wonderfully, but it is a post in and of itself--I'll have my pie crust up here soon, keep an eye out for it! **EDIT: Pie crust recipe is up and linked to!**

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Remember way back when I wrote about my pasta adventure? You probably don't, since that was only my second post and I have a lot more followers now! Welcome to those of you I don't know, it's so great to know people are reading my blog! Anyway, at some point in that post I mentioned that maybe eventually Mike would let me document/blog about his sauce recipe, and today is that day! (Well, documented a while ago, finally had the time to resize all the pictures and post today.) I apologize in advance for the picture-heavy post: this sauce takes five hours to cook and has a lot of steps! It's a family recipe passed down from his great grandmother, who moved here from Italy, so he likes to think it's pretty authentic but we don't know for sure. (I'm pretty sure my Italian professor told us that spaghetti and meatballs is an American thing.)

Okay! Since this is so picture-heavy, I'm going to try to ease off the irrelevant writing and stick to the recipe. It's sort of complicated, so bear with me.

RECIPE: Five Hour, Multi-Meat Pasta Sauce

-2-3 medium white or yellow onions
-1 whole bulb of garlic
-A tablespoon or two of extra virgin olive oil
-1 6oz can tomato paste
-1 8oz can tomato sauce
-1 29oz can tomato puree (We highly recommend using Contadina for all of these.)
-1 package sweet Italian sausage (5 or 6 sausages, not one of those giant packages) (You could use hot Italian sausage if you wanted to. We wouldn't be upset. Mike just isn't a fan of spicy. You could also use one of those herb-y or garlic-y sausages. Seriously. It's up to you.)
-1 lb lean ground beef or buffalo (surprisingly buffalo is available in most grocery stores and doesn't really cost all that much!)
-1 cup Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs (we haven't gotten quite ambitious enough to make our own yet, but if you want to, by all means go for it--just add some Italian seasoning!)
-1 cup finely grated Romano cheese (Parmesan would work just as well; we use Romano because Mike prefers it)
-1 egg
-Copious amounts of Basil, Italian seasoning, and Rosemary
-Frozen leftover pieces of steak and/or pork chops and/or chicken (make sure it's all boneless)

Special Equipment
-8-quart stockpot (6 would work, but you'd have to let everything simmer down for a few hours before adding the meat so it doesn't overflow, and having all the meat in the whole time makes it more awesome)
-A roasting pan with a wire rack that allows grease to drip under the meatballs instead of letting them absorb it (I mean, you could probably use a cookie sheet if you wanted, but this is healthier and they cook more evenly)
-A tiny rubber spatula that will fit into the tomato paste can

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (don't forget to do this first because forming the meatballs doesn't take very long).
2. In a large bowl, combine the ground beef/buffalo, breadcrumbs, grated cheese and egg. Mix thoroughly. Divide and form into about 12 balls, or whatever amount of balls you think makes a good size. We like this size.
3. Spray the roasting pan (with wire rack in it) with cooking spray (Pam makes an olive oil spray that I prefer over most others) and place the meatballs on top of the wire rack, evenly spaced. Put the meatballs in the oven and bake for 1 hour.
4. Peel and chop the onions and garlic (yes, the whole bulb) and put them in the stockpot with a few tablespoons of olive oil. Turn the heat on medium-high and sauté until the onions become clear and soft.
5. Ideally at this point the meatballs have been in the oven for about half an hour.
6. Add the tomato paste, sauce and puree. Make sure to get all the tomato-y goodness out of the cans! (This is why you have the tiny rubber spatula.) Fill the tomato puree can (the largest one) with water and pour it into the stockpot. Repeat two more times so you have three cans of water in there.
7. Grab your seasonings. Sprinkle enough basil on top of the sauce to cover the entire surface, then stir it in. Repeat with italian seasoning, then cover only half the top with rosemary. (This was the first time we'd used rosemary, so we didn't want to add too much, especially considering it's a fairly strong herb. Mike couldn't really taste the amount that we put in, I could detect a hint--next time we'll probably coat completely like with the other spices.)
8. Stirring frequently, bring the mixture to a soft boil, then reduce heat so that it reaches a low simmer. Put the lid on the pot slightly ajar.
9. Put the sausages in a medium frying pan and put enough water in with them such that the sausages are about 2/3 submerged. Stab them all over with a knife. TRUST ME. (See picture for explanation.) Put on medium heat. Flipping the sausages occasionally, allow the water to boil off completely, then increase the heat and brown the sausages on both sides. Turn off the heat.
10. When the sauce has been simmering for half an hour, add the sausages, meatballs (which, ideally, have just come out of the oven) and any frozen leftover meats that you have (we had two small steaks and two pork chops). TIP: If you enjoy making sauce, make and save leftovers. If you're cooking for two, make three steaks/pork chops/chicken breasts, toss them in plastic bags, and toss those in the freezer. Label them if you think you'll be confused. They are excellent in the sauce and that way, if you want them, you don't have to cook them while you're also doing everything else--they're ready to just drop in.
11. Stir. Let the sauce continue to simmer, stirring at least every half hour. When you're not stirring it, keep the lid ajar.
12. When the sauce has been simmering for about two and a half hours, get the herbs out again. Sprinkle the basil and Italian seasoning over the top just as you did before (so that it covers the surface), and the rosemary again to cover half of it (and next time we make sauce, we'll know whether we should completely cover with rosemary both times, but for now I'd say stick with half). Stir, cover (ajar) and resume stirring every half hour. (If you're making fresh pasta or gnocchi, this is a good time to start it!)
13. When the sauce has been simmering for five hours, it should be reduced to the perfect consistency (if you like a really thick sauce, though, you might want to simmer it a little more). Taste the sauce--it's probably pretty acidic. If it is, add a tablespoon or two of butter (I think we used two) to reduce the acidity (so you don't end up with awful heartburn after eating the sauce because that would be bad). Once the butter is melted and stirred in, the sauce is ready to eat!

Step 2! This seems to be a good size for the meatballs. And also this is what I mean about the roasting pan.

Step 4: It looks like so much garlic, but we couldn't really taste it--next time we'll probably add two (possibly three) bulbs, and throw it in halfway through the simmering with the second round of spices, instead of at the beginning. That might give it a stronger garlic-y taste. (This was the first time we'd added garlic, though--we're learning!)

Also step 4: the onions and garlic (and olive oil) ready to start. Yay!

Step 6: after adding all the cans of tomato, but before adding the water. It can be hard to incorporate the tomato paste well!

Step 7: Now you've added the water and the seasoning and your entire house should start to smell REALLY GOOD.

Step 9: I was so skeptical when Mike first showed me how to do this and he boiled the sausages, but it gets a lot of the unnecessary fat out of them--just make sure to prick them in a bunch of places with a knife. Otherwise they develop large pockets of grease and you stab them and they sort of explode and you're covered in hot grease. NOT COOL.

Also step 9: When they look roughly like this, they're done and ready to go in the sauce.

Step 10(ish): meatballs right out of the oven. If you can tell me why the meatballs are nice and round and pretty when they go into the oven and come out all deformed like this, you'll win a prize. (Not a good prize. Probably just gratitude and the knowledge that I'm slightly less confused. But I'm calling it a prize. Maybe that guy who does the show about food and science on the food network should answer this for me.)

Also step 10: Mike drops a little frozen steak into the sauce.

Step 13: yay butter!

This time, we had the sauce with freshly made whole wheat pasta. I always hated whole wheat pasta when I was a kid because the texture was too grainy, but when you make it yourself it comes out way better. That could, however, be due to the fact that I used half whole wheat flour and half pasta flour. To replicate this pasta (which was delicious and will probably be how I make pasta from now on), combine two cups whole wheat flour and two cups of pasta flour. Make a mound with a dip in the middle like a volcano and put four eggs into the hole. Stir the eggs, slowly incorporating more and more flour. When you're out of egg and need to get the rest of the flour in, add a little bit of water at a time. An important thing to keep in mind is that the whole wheat for some reason becomes a stickier dough, so when you're rolling it out later you'll want to keep flouring the surfaces with the pasta flour.

Once it's all rolled out and cut, hang the noodles on something and let them dry a little. My dad uses a ski pole; we used a hockey stick. Whatever you use, just make sure it's clean! This amount of pasta gives you lots of leftovers--to keep them, nest them in ziploc bags and toss them in the freezer. (If you don't have a pasta maker and want uniform noodles, flour the rolled-out pasta sheets well and them roll them up. Then, with a sharp knife, cut at the width you want your noodles! This way they're a uniform width the whole way through without you having to be really obsessive about cutting straight lines.)

Boil the pasta for a few minutes (fresh pasta cooks so fast!) and toss it with some sauce to coat. Then let everyone add more sauce to their liking and pick the pieces of meat they want out of the pot. (I keep wanting to call it a bucket because it's so huge.) Sprinkle with cheese, mix everything up, cut the meat into bite-size pieces, whatever you want--just enjoy your meal, you've been working on it all day!

UPDATE: When I first posted this I'd totally forgotten where I read the tip about rolling up the pasta sheets, but I googled it and found it! If you're making pasta without a machine, whether it's whole wheat or not, go here for some more great tips and an overall lovely blog. :)

Thank you so much, Mike, for letting me share your awesome family recipe here!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I promised garden updates.

This is rather unfortunate.

I spent a whole day planning a garden. I researched all sorts of vegetables and thought about what I would want to grow, and then I made a plan for how I would lay out my garden. The next day I went outside and dug the outline of a rectangle and waited for my mom to tell me if that was a good place to put a garden. You probably won't be all that surprised to find that it wasn't--while the area was sunny in the mid-afternoon, it was really only sunny for a few hours during the day, and that wouldn't work well for actually growing plants that didn't die.

My mom suggested a new spot, on the side of the house, where there wasn't really much room but plenty for the small amount of garden that I needed. Unfortunately, digging my garden in this new spot was put off until after finals were over, because by the time I realized that I needed a new spot and where to put it, I was sort of overloaded with writing papers. Write write write write write. (Next semester will be so much worse--four English classes! AHHHH!)

Well, since my finals finished, I went outside the other day. I'd like to say that I was going outside to finally dig my garden and get it all ready for planting, even though it's sort of late in the season, but really I was going outside to sit under a tree and read and enjoy the weather. I did, however, glance over at the area that my mom said would be a good garden place--it was COMPLETELY shaded, and it stayed that way until it started getting dark out.

I glanced wistfully at the shovel and rake I've kept by my back door and realized that, well, this is just not the year for me to start a garden. There isn't a single area in my yard that gets more than a few hours of sun a day--or, if there is, I haven't found it yet. I'll be looking out for it, though. Maybe this summer I'll notice a sunny patch somewhere random that I wouldn't have thought to look and my garden will happen next year. I'd like that.

For now, though, I think it's time to buy some potted tomato plants and maybe some herbs. They can live on the big brick patio that, sadly, takes up all the sunny yard-space. And now, some Langston Hughes to capture my mood:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Should I be this sad about not having a garden? And, more importantly, will my lack of garden explode?

I mean, it's not like I'm ever home to take care of it anyway.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Stir-Fry, part 2

I've finally finished my finals! Now I only have three semesters left...ugh. Oh well.

I feel bad. I haven't been posting at all, but I have an explanation. (Not an excuse, but maybe you'll be sympathetic.) This past week was Finals. Even though my finals weren't all that stressful in and of themselves, the concept of Finals is pretty terrifying and makes me want to do nothing except hide and read, so while I have some...ahh...interesting book recommendations, there wasn't really much time to cook involved. Add to that the fact that my mom's been in Florida for a week and then she packed off to some sort of retreat, and Mike also had some tests (that he actually had to care about), I was on my own. And, actually, for the six weeks before this week, Mike was off on the other fricken' side of the state, leaving only me and my mom. I don't know why I have such a mental block about cooking for just me and my mom--I cook for just me and Mike all the time, right? So I'm not entirely sure why. But a lot of time time I've just been home alone, and that means heating up some Trader Joe's frozen foods in a microwave (or, if I'm feeling energetic, a frying pan). I know I'm not the only one with this problem. I think it's depressing to put a lot of time and effort into something and not be able to share it. (I'm feeling this way right this second, actually. Glad I still have some frozen gyoza left.)

Anyway, I did manage to get some cooking in during the past six weeks, even if it wasn't nearly as much as I would have liked. (I tend to eat much healthier food when I make it myself. Going out is bad for me.) One morning during the last few weeks of the semester, I woke up and did my homework that was due for class that day and checked my school email and class was canceled and for some reason, my first thought was: MARINADE CHICKEN! (Okay, that was my third thought. My first thought was, Dammit, I like that class. My second thought was, WOO DAY OFF! Then I had the chicken thought.) I think there is nothing that pulls together a bunch of somewhat random ingredients better than a good marinade. In this case, I had a roasted garlic marinade waiting in my cabinet. I threw some chicken in and went back to sleep. (Yeah, so what if I went back to sleep at 11? I'm in college. I'm practically nocturnal. Or an insomniac. Or both. Any sleep I can get is precious.)

When I threw the chicken in the marinade, I had no plans for the actual meal. I just hoped to have some delicious chicken with some other also-delicious things for dinner that night. When it came time to actually throw dinner together, I was thrilled to realize that I'd stocked up on vegetables and was able to make this without going to the store at ALL! That's a big deal for me. A softball-sized onion and a bundle of asparagus caught my eye and I just went to town, tossing in whatever seemed like a good idea. The unfortunate thing is that this was probably a month ago and I didn't write anything down, so I'll be re-making-up this recipe as I write it here. On the plus side, it follows the basic rules of electrostirfrydynamics: if you see something that you think would be good in it, toss it in. If you're not sure (especially with spices), hold the potential meal component next to what is, so far, part of the meal. Inhale. (Through your nose.) Do the smells work? Congratulations. Now, for a recipe that I hope tastes as good as the memories in my head.

Roasted Garlic Stir-Fry
An Original Creation

-About a pound of chicken strips
-A bottle of roasted garlic marinade (I used Hannaford-brand. Well, Hannaford "Taste of Inspirations" brand. Hannaford is a grocery store near me. I was surprised at how delicious it was. Next time I'm there, I'm stocking up on this.)
-A bundle of asparagus
-A really big onion (I used yellow, but I feel like red would have worked better. I'm not really sure what the differences between onions are, but after eating this and thinking a bit, red makes more sense with the flavors.)
-Cumin seeds
-Salt and pepper
-Soy sauce or Tamari
-I might have used a little bit of Worcestershire sauce too but I can't remember.
-1 cup uncooked brown rice

1. Wake up at a reasonable hour in the morning (by which I mean, in the morning. As long as it's before noon, you're good. Unless you eat dinner at, like, 3. Then wake up early.) In a gallon-sized Ziploc-style bag, combine the chicken and marinade. Let sit in the refrigerator all day, until you're ready to cook. (I always squeeze the bag and stir around the contents a little bit a few times during the day. There's always some chicken poking out of the top or something, and I don't want that bite to be less flavorful.)
2. About an hour before you want to eat, start your brown rice. Make it however the directions on the package tell you to. (I usually eat white rice because it cooks so much faster, but I've been trying to get whole grains into my diet more regularly, and the flavors of this dish were PERFECT for brown rice. Use white if you must, but I don't recommend it.)
3. Take the chicken-bag out of the fridge. On a plastic cutting board, cut the strips into cubes. DON'T TOSS THE BAG WITH THE MARINADE. Okay. Throw the chicken and some shakes of cumin seeds into a frying pan on medium-high heat and let it cook for a while, until the chicken is mostly white.
4. As the chicken is cooking, begin to cut your onions and asparagus. Cut them to whatever size you like--I usually keep the onions between 1 square inch and 1/2 square inch. Most people say to cut asparagus into 1-inch segments, but I like them longer than that. Maybe two or three inches.
4.5 You're sort of doing this as you're cutting the vegetables. As the chicken cooks, slowly add small amounts of the marinade from the bag. I hear sometimes that you're not supposed to do this, that it's contaminated from having the chicken in it all day. I don't understand this. If the chicken is okay to cook and eat, then it doesn't make any sense not to cook and eat the marinade, but you have to make sure it stays at a pretty high heat for a while.
5. Throw in the vegetables, along with any remaining marinade and a little bit of water (no more than half a cup). Stir everything together. Add a couple dashes of soy sauce (probably about a tablespoon) and possibly some worcestershire sauce (and like I said, I can't remember if I did this, but I know that if I did it was only a tiny bit), along with a little bit of salt and pepper. (I don't usually add salt while I'm cooking--I like to let people salt to their own tastes, and I don't really do pepper 'in moderation' so I leave that up to everyone else, too.)
6. Let everything simmer until the sauce has thickened at least back to its previous consistency. If the stir-fry is done before the rice, cover it on very low heat, stirring occasionally, until the rice is finished.
7. Scoop some rice into a bowl. Or onto a plate. Cover with your stir-fry. Enjoy.

Cumin seeds, yum! I'm not sure what that thing that looks like bacon on the bottom is. This was definitely just chicken.

This was wonderful. I was rather proud of myself--it's something really simple to throw together and yet extremely delicious. As I was cooking, I was just opening my fridge and cabinets and seeing if anything caught my eye to toss in--that's how the soy sauce and cumin came about. It's always nice to know that I can just throw something together out of what's already in the house--unfortunately, that means keeping food in the house. I'm not very good at that part.

I love how cameras capture the steam coming out of a pan. I also don't. I need a better camera.

So--woo! I have a few more things to post, and now that it's Summer (according to school), I have time to cook! I'm super excited to start grilling, and I want to take advantage of summer fruits for delicious pies. What are you guys planning on making this summer? Are you excited for any particular aspect of summer cooking?

Monday, May 3, 2010

What does Asian Fusion even mean?

I love stir-fry. It's possibly my favorite way to cook--you don't really need a recipe or even much of a plan, just a stocked refrigerator and some sort of sauce or marinade. When there's no food in the house and I have no idea what to cook, I tend to go to the store and stare at the sauces or marinades until something seems like a good idea, and I build from there--what meat makes sense with this? vegetables? Awesome. Dinner is planned. And, when I get home and start actually cooking, I always end up finding more little things to toss in. It's so much fun.

This dinner was inspired by my favorite restaurant (or, one of them): Fire and Ice. It has six locations over the country--two in Massachusetts, one in Rhode Island, one in New York and two in California. If you live near one, you should definitely try it out. They call it an improvisational grill. Every meal is completely personalized because you pretty much make it yourself. You get a table and order drinks, then you go up to the bars. At the bars, you grab a bowl and fill it with whatever you think sounds good--one bar has bunches of fresh vegetables and different kinds of noodles (from bowties to udon noodles), another has the raw meat (pretty much any kind you'd want). There's a hamburger bar, with bacon and sliced tomatoes and pieces of lettuce and anything else you'd put on a burger; there's also a salad bar (which I usually use as a vegetable bar part 2). You put everything into a bowl, pick a sauce, and bring it to this HUGE circular grill where they cook it right in front of you. Sometimes the chefs try to entertain the hordes of people standing around waiting for their food--it's great (but busy!) on weekends. Then you get to go back to your table. Your drinks are there, along with plain white rice and some tortillas, and you eat your creation. It's also all-you-can-eat, so if you want to try a few different things, you can make as many trips up as possible.

ANYWAY. I love that place. If you live near one, join their email list--they send out coupons with great deals sometimes, and you get free dinner on your birthday!

So when Mike and I went to make a stir fry a while back, I thought of Fire and Ice for inspiration. We got an orange ginger sauce/glaze, some chicken, three(?) red peppers, two onions, and a pound of green beans. By random luck, we found udon noodles in the grocery store--I learned to love Udon from Fire and Ice, so it seemed appropriate. And, honestly? I'm not sure I can write a recipe for a stir-fry, because I'm not sure I want other people following the recipe exactly--the whole point is to play around with it and add things that you think would be great.

I chopped up the vegetables while Mike chopped up the chicken and got it cooking. There were so many vegetables we had to use two huge frying pans, but that means it's HEALTHY! Yay! We mixed up the sauce in another bowl with some lime juice and soy sauce. I like to think it added to the flavor, but I didn't taste it without them, so I don't know--I just know it tasted good! When everything was almost done cooking I noticed we had a few mandarin oranges left. And I don't mean the canned ones in juice. I mean legit you-have-to-peel-this mandarin oranges. We saw them in the store and bought them once and haven't found them again (or if we see something that claims to be mandarin oranges, they usually look much bigger than what we got that time so we assume they're mislabeled clementines).

Once everything cooked and the vegetables had shrunken a bit, we condensed everything into one pan, making sure there was still some sauce in the other one, and fried the udon noodles for a few minutes until they were nice and soft.

Now...I think this is Asian Fusion food. (I'm not going to call it 'cuisine' even though I think that's what people usually say with 'Asian Fusion' because it seems pretentious to call a stir-fry that you cooked yourself cuisine.) I'm not entirely sure, though, because I don't really know what it means. I think it means something along the lines of "uses ingredients that remind you of things you might order at an Asian restaurant," which this definitely did--the orange ginger sauce seemed like a typical "Chinese" food ingredient, and I'm pretty sure Udon noodles are a Japanese invention (though I could be completely making that up) and, well, there was soy sauce. Oh! We also cooked (half of) it in a wok! That must count for something.

Believe it or not, we froze this and just ate the remains last night (with new Udon because we'd only bought enough for about three servings). It had never occurred to me to freeze stir fry before, but it was just as delicious the next time! We re-fried it in the pan again, and this time we added the little spice packets that came with the Udon noodles ("Oriental" flavor--even more Asian Fusion!) and some teriyaki sauce. (Side note--why does my spell check not know the word 'teriyaki' but suggests 'sukiyaki'?)

I'm not going to call this a recipe, because it's not. The most I'm hoping for is inspiration. Maybe you'll read this and one or two things will stick out at you and you'll think, wow, that sounds like it would be really good with this other thing. And maybe you'll try to recreate this exactly, but you'll have a hard time as I didn't include amounts for ANYTHING. Because I don't know. I just tossed some of one thing in, a dash of another, probably some cumin. The whole point was to have fun and eat something delicious, and it worked out perfectly.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


It''s the WEEKEND! And I don't have four papers due next week! (, I think? Maybe two.) Which means I finally have time to update this thing. Can I just express for a moment how frustrating it is when all your professors decide to make finals week easier for you by giving you your big "final" paper/take-home test/whatever two weeks before finals? I mean, it would be cool if one or two professors did this. A little bit of a lighter workload during actual finals week. But instead, I just had two-ish weeks of three to four hours of sleep a night and zero free time and I think I cooked once. Finals week will involve students standing at the front of the class saying "I wrote my paper about this topic and this is some of the research." I have to drive about an hour to talk for five minutes about a paper I wrote two weeks ago. AHHHHHHHHH. End rant.

Anyway, I promised you guys this really long time ago. I had to go to my dad's house and look in the Indian food cookbooks there to remember what it was called, and that's why it took so long (between my school schedule and his work schedule, we don't really see each other all that much). It's from one of the Madhur Jaffrey cookbooks, but I can't remember which one. And, without further ado:

RECIPE: Lentils with Cumin and Asafetida OR Mili Dal OR (as I usually refer to it) LENTILS. (Just...just Lentils. I know what I mean. And if you make this, you will too.)

-1/2 cup split red lentils
-1/2 cup split yellow lentils
-2 1/2 cups water
-1/2 tsp turmeric
-3/4 tsp salt
-3 tbsp vegetable oil
-generous pinch of ground asafetida powder (I use more than it calls for, but I also love asafetida.)
-1/2 tsp cumin seeds (I probably use a little more here)
-2-5 dried hot red chili peppers

1. Wash the lentils in a wire mesh strainer. Place the lentils, turmeric and water in a small pot, turn on to medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, and DON'T let the water boil over!
2. Cover with the lid slightly ajar and turn the heat to low. Simmer until tender, around 40 minutes.
3. Add salt, stir. Continue cooking on low heat.
4. Put the vegetable oil into a shallow frying pan on high heat. Let the oil get really really hot (if you're not sure, dip your hand in some water and flick it at the oil. If it sizzles and boils away immediately, your oil is hot enough.)
5. This is where it becomes INTENSE. Rapid-fire Indian cooking. Toss the asafetida into the pan with the oil. Swirl it around for about two seconds (literally). Then add the cumin seeds. Let them sizzle for about ten seconds. Add the hot peppers (more is spicier, but it doesn't get all that hot, really) and they'll puff up pretty much immediately. Once they're puffed (if you're not sure, turn one over--it'll be really dark on the bottom) take the pan off the heat and pour everything into the pot with the lentils. This whole step takes about 30 seconds.
6. Cover the pot immediately. Let sit, without stirring, for 10-15 minutes. If you still have water to boil off (you don't want any left, the lentils absorb it all and get nice and mushy sort of like mashed potatoes) then let it cook until it's gone.
7. Serve. Enjoy.

After half an hour or so. The colors kind of blend, with the help of the turmeric. Oh, also, you can see that I sorta messed up here and let it boil over. Whoops. Still came out okay, but it makes a mess.

Right after pouring the pan's contents into the pot. See, with the five chili peppers, it wasn't that bad. Mike isn't big on spicy food and he still loved it. Also, you can't really get a picture of the stuff in the frying pan. I mean, you could, if you had someone else taking pictures for you, but it's so fast!

Why I love this dish: Well, for one, it's really easy. Sure it takes an hour or so to cook, but there's very little actual work involved--the hardest part is that 30-second span where you're tossing everything into the frying pan and, well, it's only 30 seconds of paying attention (well, I mean, you should always pay attention to the stove when you're cooking something, especially if you don't want it to boil over, but you get what I mean). Second, it's DELICIOUS. Asafetida smells...well...if the smell were a relationship on facebook it would say "It's Complicated." Some people (myself included) absolutely love the smell. I'll grab my bottle of it and just sniff it and be happy (I do this with cumin too--no wonder I love this dish so much). However, as much as I love the smell, a lot of people don't. At all. Mike thinks it smells like feet. I don't like the smell of feet, so obviously I disagree, but it's a fairly common opinion. (His roommate called it 'fetid' but I think that was just because the word 'asafetida' contains the word 'fetid.') BUT. When you cook it, it tastes AMAZING. Especially in this dish. With the cumin. Okay, honestly, I've never had another dish with it but I intend to find one and make it and think it's amazing. (Especially if it also involves cumin.) Okay, so the third reason I love this is that it's really versatile. It's Indian food, but you could make some as a side with a steak or something if you wanted. It would go well with pretty much any basic meal. It's filling--way more filling than you'd expect--and it's really healthy. (Why don't I just keep a bunch of this in my refrigerator? I DON'T KNOW.)

Can you tell my brain is kind of fried and I don't really feel like writing coherent sentences or paragraphs right now? I'm sorry. Two more weeks before freedom. (Crap, was that decaf coffee I had a lie? I'm all twitchy. Oh no.)