Friday, May 29, 2009

Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Curd



We've been on a testing hunt for the ideal cupcake. I've tried a few and they were fine but I must admit, this one from Ina Garten's "Barefoot Contessa Parties" is remarkable. If you're looking for her recipe in the book, it's really her Lemon Cake recipe with Lemon Glaze. I just altered things a little to make them work. I also noticed, or rather Psychgrad pointed it out to me, that Anne from Cooking with Anne had a gorgeous looking curd filled cupcake on her blog. Hmmm...the wheels started moving. Anne really became the inspiration for the flavour and the filling.

Ingredients

1/2 pound unsalted butter (room temperature)
2 cups granulated sugar
4 extra-large eggs (room temperature)
1/3 cup grated lemon zest (6-8 lemons)(Note: I used 5 large lemons)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup buttermilk at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin cups (I used jumbo size)
2. Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for about 5 minutes (scraping sides frequently).
3. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, one at a time, and the lemon zest
4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the butter, beginning and ending with the flour.
5. Divide the batter evenly to muffin cups (my yeild was 27)
I used Dorie Greenspan's "Baking From My Home To Yours" recipe for the lemon curd.


Lemon Curd

1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
1 large egg
6 large egg yolks
Freshly squeezed juice of 4 lemons

Method

1. Put all the ingredients in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan and stir with a heatproof spatula to moisten the sugar.
2. Put the pan over medium-low heat and cook, stirring without stopping until the butter melts and the mixture thickens like custard, 4-6 minutes. (Keep your eyes on the pan because the curd can curdle quickly. It is cooked enough when you can run your finger along the spatula and the curd doesn't run into the track you've created)
Don't worry if the curd looks thin at this point - it will thicken more as it cools.
3. Remove the pan from the heat and scrape the curd into a heatproof jar or a bowl. (I sieved it through a strainer first and was glad I did).
4. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the curd to create an airtight seal and cool to room temperature before storing in the refrigerator.



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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Banana Oatmeal Muffins


Holy crap...The wedding is in less than 3 weeks!

I'm getting into details like -- will the shawl match the tie?


Verdict: No -- bought a new tie.

The food tester extraordinaire (a.k.a Giz...a.k.a Mom) has settled on recipes for the cake and cupcakes.

The larger vases of flowers will be a combination somewhat this (albeit different colours entirely)


I still have a list of things to do that is stressing me out. Plus, R has won a battle - which means that we're going to New York for the weekend (the battle was that I didn't want to go and he did). Not exactly the best timing, if you ask me. But it'll be fun.

In the meantime - here are some muffins I made. Cooking and baking has been pretty minimal for me lately.

The most exciting part of the recipe was that I got to use my new toy. Thanks Giz!


Banana Oatmeal Muffins
Yield: 1 dozen large muffins
source


* pure oat products

1 1⁄4 cup Rolled oats * 300 ml
1⁄2 cup Yogurt, plain 125 ml
1⁄2 cup Milk, low fat 125 ml
1⁄2 cup Brown sugar 125 ml
1⁄3 cup Oil, sunflower 75 ml
2 Bananas, large, ripe, mashed 2
1 Egg, large, lightly beaten 1
1 1⁄2 cup Oat flour * 375 ml
1⁄2 tsp Cinnamon 7 ml
1⁄2 tsp Nutmeg 7 ml
1⁄2 tsp Salt 7 ml
2 tsp Baking powder 10 ml
1 tsp Baking soda 5 ml

Instructions
In a bowl mix together rolled oats, yogurt and milk. Let soak for 10 minutes.


Mix oat flour, salt, spices, baking powder and baking soda in a bowl.

Add brown sugar, mashed banana, egg and oil to rolled oats mixture. Mix well.

Add dry ingredients to the rolled oats mixture. I also added raisins or chocolate chips to the muffins. Mix well. Fill greased or paper lined muffin cups 2⁄3 full. Bake for approximately 20 minutes.

Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Culinary Nirvana





For those of you who know Ruth from Once Upon a Feast and the never tiring Presto Pasta Nights , you may have read on her blog that she was visiting Toronto, or should I say ... eating her way through Toronto. It was a rare treat for me to meet up with Ruth and share an evening of ... yup....even more food and wine at a local culinary event. There's just something about food - looking at it, going to shop for it, touching it, preparing it and ultimately sharing it that brings people together. We talked, we laughed, we ate, we drank, we drank some more and then we ate some more. I'd say it was a night made in heaven, wouldn't you.

We attended a pot luck event sponsored by a ladies' group comprised of uber foodies, the culinary who's who of Toronto. Here's just a small sampling of some of the interesting combos. Needless to say, we waddled out of the event having met some incredible people and sampling some wonderful food and wine.










It's really hard not to love food wouldn't you say? We wish our American neighbours a fun filled Memorial Day Weekend. Can't wait to see what everybody cooked up. StumbleUpon

Monday, May 18, 2009

Wedding Update


With less than a month away, I'm trying to iron out many of the details for the wedding. Yesterday, we went and did a tasting of some menu options. Poor R had to remind me that I should be excited about the wedding because it's the first day of a marriage and not because of the food.

Here are the dishes we sampled - 2 salads, 2 mains and 2 desserts. In the end, I think the dishes we have at our wedding will be from another menu. But, I'm confident that any option will be good.

Both salads were good. The first one was a pear and candied walnut salad. Overall, the salad was pretty plain, but the candied walnuts were delicious. Unfortunately, one of our guests is deathly allergic to nuts - so that won't work.


The second salad has a nicer plating and a more flavourful dressing. I would have liked more cranberries in the salad. But, it's good none the less.


To taste, we tried a beef and chicken dish. Because I so rarely eat it at home, I'll order steak at a restaurant. This one was...just ok. Not bad, just not a tonne of flavour. The dollop of garlic butter on top didn't do much for the steak.

Surprisingly, the chicken was much more flavourful (I expected more of the steak than the chicken). The tomato coulis was a nice complement to the chicken.


The desserts were dangerous. Having stayed away from sweets lately, I was on a sugar high. Creme Brulee was good. The cream was so delicious, I had to hold back from hogging the whole thing.


The flourless cake was quite rich, as flourless cakes tend to be. I think with the cupcakes we're making, it might be an overload. But with the strawberry pairing, I wasn't complaining.


Saturday was a day full of shopping for everything I need to take to the seamstress tomorrow. I'm not much of a shopper, so any way I could get out of going to multiple malls to buy a pair of shoes was highly appealing to me. I ended up going with these shoes. They're not something I would typically wear -- but I think they're cute, will go with the dress and will be good to pair with a number of different outfits post-wedding.


The shawl is coming along. I'm now more than half way done. But I really need to pick up the pace. (Note: The shawl looks crappy at the moment - but will get better after blocking)



Speaking of which...back to the shawl. StumbleUpon

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ricotta Gnocchi - Daring Cooks May Challenge


And from the Daring Bakers an offspring is born. The inaugural May 2009 Daring Cooks' Challenge was brought to us by Ivonne of Creampuffs in Venice and Lis of La Mia Cucina



Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi


Source: From The Zuni Café Cookbook.

Yield: Makes 40 to 48 gnocchi (serves 4 to 6)

Prep time: Step 1 will take 24 hours. Steps 2 through 4 will take approximately 1 hour.




Equipment required:

- Sieve
- Cheesecloth or paper towels
- Large mixing bowl
- Rubber spatula
- Tablespoon
- Baking dish or baking sheet
- Wax or parchment paper
- Small pot
- Large skillet
- Large pan or pot (very wide in diameter and at least 2 inches deep)

For the gnocchi:

1 pound (454 grams/16 ounces) fresh ricotta (2 cups)
2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) unsalted butter
2 or 3 fresh sage leaves, or a few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg, or a few pinches of chopped lemon zest (all optional)
½ ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about ¼ cup very lightly packed)
about ¼ teaspoon salt (a little more if using kosher salt)
all-purpose flour for forming the gnocchi

For the gnocchi sauce:

8 tablespoons (227 grams/1/4 pound/4 ounces) butter, sliced
2 teaspoons water

Step 1 (the day before you make the gnocchi): Preparing the ricotta.

If the ricotta is too wet, your gnocchi will not form properly. In her cookbook, Judy Rodgers recommends checking the ricotta’s wetness. To test the ricotta, take a teaspoon or so and place it on a paper towel. If you notice a very large ring of dampness forming around the ricotta after a minute or so, then the ricotta is too wet. To remove some of the moisture, line a sieve with cheesecloth or paper towels and place the ricotta in the sieve. Cover it and let it drain for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can wrap the ricotta carefully in cheesecloth (2 layers) and suspend it in your refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours with a bowl underneath to catch the water that’s released. Either way, it’s recommended that you do this step the day before you plan on making the gnocchi.

Step 2 (the day you plan on eating the gnocchi): Making the gnocchi dough.

To make great gnocchi, the ricotta has to be fairly smooth. Place the drained ricotta in a large bowl and mash it as best as you can with a rubber spatula or a large spoon (it’s best to use a utensil with some flexibility here). As you mash the ricotta, if you noticed that you can still see curds, then press the ricotta through a strainer to smooth it out as much as possible.


Add the lightly beaten eggs to the mashed ricotta.





Melt the tablespoon of butter. As it melts, add in the sage if you’re using it. If not, just melt the butter and add it to the ricotta mixture.

Add in any flavouring that you’re using (i.e., nutmeg, lemon zest, etc.). If you’re not using any particular flavouring, that’s fine.

Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the salt.

Beat all the ingredients together very well. You should end up with a soft and fluffy batter with no streaks (everything should be mixed in very well).

Step 3: Forming the gnocchi.

Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. When it boils, salt the water generously and keep it at a simmer. You will use this water to test the first gnocchi that you make to ensure that it holds together and that your gnocchi batter isn’t too damp.

In a large, shallow baking dish or on a sheet pan, make a bed of all-purpose flour that’s ½ an inch deep.

With a spatula, scrape the ricotta mixture away from the sides of the bowl and form a large mass in the centre of your bowl.

Using a tablespoon, scoop up about 2 to 3 teaspoons of batter and then holding the spoon at an angle, use your finger tip to gently push the ball of dough from the spoon into the bed of flour.

At this point you can either shake the dish or pan gently to ensure that the flour covers the gnocchi or use your fingers to very gently dust the gnocchi with flour. Gently pick up the gnocchi and cradle it in your hand rolling it to form it in an oval as best as you can, at no point should you squeeze it. What you’re looking for is an oval lump of sorts that’s dusted in flour and plump.

Gently place your gnocchi in the simmering water. It will sink and then bob to the top. From the time that it bobs to the surface, you want to cook the gnocchi until it’s just firm. This could take 3 to 5 minutes.



If your gnocchi begins to fall apart, this means that the ricotta cheese was probably still too wet. You can remedy this by beating a teaspoon of egg white into your gnocchi batter. If your gnocchi batter was fluffy but the sample comes out heavy, add a teaspoon of beaten egg to the batter and beat that in. Test a second gnocchi to ensure success.

Form the rest of your gnocchi. You can put 4 to 6 gnocchi in the bed of flour at a time. But don’t overcrowd your bed of flour or you may damage your gnocchi as you coat them.

Have a sheet pan ready to rest the formed gnocchi on. Line the sheet pan with wax or parchment paper and dust it with flour.

You can cook the gnocchi right away, however, Judy Rodgers recommends storing them in the refrigerator for an hour prior to cooking to allow them to firm up.

Step 4: Cooking the gnocchi.

Have a large skillet ready to go. Place the butter and water for the sauce in the skillet and set aside.

In the largest pan or pot that you have (make sure it’s wide), bring at least 2 quarts of water to a boil (you can use as much as 3 quarts of water if your pot permits). You need a wide pot or pan so that your gnocchi won’t bump into each other and damage each other.

Once the water is boiling, salt it generously.

Drop the gnocchi into the water one by one. Once they float to the top, cook them for 3 to 5 minutes (as in the case with the test gnocchi).

Tips:

- If you can find it, use fresh ricotta. As Judy Rodgers advises in her recipe, there is no substitute for fresh ricotta. It may be a bit more expensive, but it's worth it.
- Do not skip the draining step. Even if the fresh ricotta doesn't look very wet, it is. Draining the ricotta will help your gnocchi tremendously.
- When shaping your gnocchi, resist the urge to over handle them. It's okay if they look a bit wrinkled or if they're not perfectly smooth.
- If you're not freezing the gnocchi for later, cook them as soon as you can. If you let them sit around too long they may become a bit sticky.
- For the variations to the challenge recipe, please see the end of the recipe.


Verdict: I've never made gnocci from scratch and had this fear that it was going to be a disaster. On the contrary, it wasn't even a big deal. If you want to make it even more fun, put on some upbeat Italian music and imagine yourself living the life in Tuscanny.
I wasn't very daring and only used the sage. Next time I'd add more flavour - the sage is a wonderful flavour addition and giving it some nutmeg was a good suggestion that I'll follow next time. StumbleUpon

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Peruvian Quinoa Stew




For those who have never been introduced to quinoa:

“Quinoa is a complete protein, which means that it has all nine essential amino acids, and can be prepared equally well as a savory or sweet dish. A variation of a breakfast cereal, for example, with honey and dried fruit, is delicious.” It's been called the "mother of all grains" when in reality, it's not a grain but rather a plant of the goosefoot family, which includes spinach, beets, and pigweed.

Quinoa is coated with a natural substance called saponin that protects the grain by repelling insects and birds. Rinsing the quinoa is important to avoid a raw or bitter taste. You can tell if there is saponin by the production of a soapy looking "suds" when the seeds are swished in water.

Good news! If you are using Ancient Harvest Quinoa you can skip this step. It's already rinsed!

Peruvian Quinoa Stew


Serves 4
Total time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup water
2 cups chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 carrot, cut on the diagonal into ¼-inch thick slices
1 bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup cubed zucchini
2 cups undrained chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
1 cup water or vegetable stock
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
Pinch of cayenne (or more to taste)
2 teaspoon fresh oregano (OR) 1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt to taste

Chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
Grated Cheddar (OR) Monterey Jack cheese (optional)

Instructions:


1. Rinse quinoa well with cold water. Use a fine mesh filter or coffee filter. If you're a klutz like me use the fine mesh filter or a lot of quinoa is going to wind up in the sink!



2. Place rinsed quinoa and water in pot (covered) and cook covered on medium-low heat for about 15 minutes until soft.

3. While the quinoa is cooking place the onions, garlic and vegetable oil in covered soup pot and saute on medium heat for 5 minutes

4. And celery and carrots to the soup pot and cook an additional 5 minutes, stirring often

5. Add the bell pepper, zucchini, tomatoes, and one cup water or vegetable stock to soup pot. Stir in cumin, chili powder, coriander, cayenne and oregano to soup pot simmer covered for 10 to 15 minutes until vegetables are tender.

6. Stir in cooked quinoa and salt to taste.



7. Top with grated cheese (and optionally chopped cilantro

8. Serve immediately.



Verdict: This is such a satisfying dish. It's definitely going to become a regular for me. StumbleUpon

Friday, May 8, 2009

Marinated Flank Steak with Horseradish Sauce





In search of a good flank steak recipe, I was thumbing through "The Bon Appetit Cookbook" and...voila - it just jumped off the page at me. Imagine! Like it read my mind.

Ingredients:

1 - 2 lb flank steak, trimmed
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce (regular works)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 onion chopped
3 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped

Sauce:

1/2 cup sour cream
2 green onions, chopped
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp prepared white horseradish

For Steak:
Whisk first 6 ingredients in 13x9x2 glass baking dish to blend. Add steak and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate overnight, turning occasionally.

For Sauce:
Mix sour cream, green onions, and horseradish in small bowl. Season to taste with coarsely ground black pepper. (Sauce can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate)

Prepare:
Barbecue (high heat) - I used an indoor bbq - worked like a charm. Drain steak. Pour marinade into small saucepan and boil 1 minute. Sprinkle steak generously with pepper.




Grill to desired doneness, basting occasionally with marinade, about 6 minutes per side for medium-rare.

Transfer steak to plate and let stand at least 15 minutes. Cut steak across the grain and on a slight diagonal into thin slices.
Line platter with romaine leaves. Top with steak. Serve warm or at room temperature with horseradish sauce.

Verdict: The tenderness of this flank steak is superb. I would reduce the soy sauce by half next time. Although extremely flavourful, I found it to be quite salty to the taste.
I would probably serve with red horseradish (if I would have found any in the fridge). StumbleUpon

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

An Omelet for Nuria




Nuria of Spanish Recipes is always the best sport when it comes to entering everybody's events. Can you believe this is her first time hosting? I'm definitely looking forward to the varieties of omelets and fritattas in the roundup. If you've never visited Nuria's blog, it's a must - she combines both great food with a sense of humour second to none.



Here are the rules:

* Post a new recipe in your blog with your omelet or fritata. Tell us the story of that recipe if you want, if there's no story behind, no problem.
* Please take some pictures and include them in the post. Mention the event: BlOg yOur Omelet and include a link to this post. You can also show the logo of the event if you wish (optional).
* Send me an email to: nuriafarregut@gmail.com with: Your post URL, Your blog tittle, your name and a picture of the omelet attached. The subject of the email should be BlOg yOur Omelet. Please send it before the 15th of May.
* The round up will be published the 18th of May.

Although this omelet really doesn't have a big story connected to it, being able to just relax on a Sunday morning with a hearty breakfast, a good cup of coffee and the weekend newspaper is one of those joys to savour in our insane world of never having enough time for anything. The best is that one doesn't even really need a recipe to make an omelet. I generally look in the fridge, see what's still around before a trip to the grocery store and use it up. This week's omelet was just a combination of pancetta, eggs (3), fresh tomatoes, red peppers and cheddar cheese. I added a little hot salsa on the top just to give it some interest. StumbleUpon

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Strawberry & Blueberry Upside Down Cake


Can someone PLEASE explain to Giz that the idea of a wedding registry is not so that my mother finally has a list of more kitchen items to go out and buy for me. I'm not trying to be ungrateful here. I just think other wedding guests should have a chance.

In other wedding news, vases have been ordered. Thank you for all of your suggestions! In the end, I delegated the task to my dad. Now we're just trying to figure out where to get reasonably priced flowers. We found one company, but it turns out it's a scam. Buyer beware - flower scam artists abound on the internet.

**************************************************
Now - on to the food portion...

You guys all know Bunny and Carol over at Bunny's Warm Oven, right? Bunny and Carol are friends who post together about their delicious cooked and baked goods. I'm certainly not hard done by, but when I see their posts, I start to daydream about dropping in for dinner (and dessert, of course).

I saw them post a Strawberry Upside Down Cake about a month and a half ago and knew I wanted to give a try with the addition of some lemon zest from my Meyer lemons.

This dish is being "sent" over to I'll Eat You's Blogiversary Bake Sale. Lauren's event is raising money for the World Food Program.



Here's the premise: Bloggers submit baked goods to the bake sale. It can be anything baked that you want since it doesn't have to travel well.

Readers (<--that's you, family, friends, co-workers, dogwalker, etc.) are then asked to donate to the WFP and mention your blog or recipe in the comments at the donation site. The donations are collected though this page (Firstgiving is a secure site that can be used to raise money for any nonprofit organization).

Whoever's baked good is associated with the most money raised by May 22 wins a prize package! Any contribution you can make (whether it is baking or donating) would be great.

For more information, visit I'll Eat You or the Bloggeraid: Changing the Face of Famine site.

Strawberry & Blueberry Upside Down Cake


Ingredients:

2 Tablespoons butter (for the topping)
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
1 Cup of Sliced Strawberries
1/3 Cup of blueberries
1 1/3 Cup All-Purpose Flour
2/3 Cup Sugar
zest of one lemon
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
2/3 Cup Milk
1/4 Soft Butter (for the cake)
1 Egg
1 Teaspoon Vanilla
9 inch round cake dish

Directions:

Topping –

In a 9 inch round cake dish, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter, mix in the brown sugar, add the strawberries and blueberries, and then set it to the side.

Cake Mix –

In a mixing bowl stir the flour, sugar, and baking powder together. Then add the milk, butter, egg, and vanilla and lemon zest. Mix with a mixer until smooth. Then gently pour over the fruit in the cake pan. You may want to use a larger spoon. The key is for the fruit to stay on the bottom, and not to mix with the batter.

Baking/Serving –

Pre-Heat the oven to 350. Bake in the oven at 350 for 30 to 35 minutes. Check the middle of the cake with a toothpick or knife to see if it’s done. When done remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Then flip it over on to a serving plate, and remove the pan.

Verdict: When the cake first came out, I thought....oh oh - did I include too much fruit? I could even see the cake portion.



But, after cutting into it - the final result was excellent!



I took half of the cake to a potluck breakfast. Everyone really liked it. It's great for a brunch or an afternoon tea.

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