Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache and Peanut Butter Frosting

This month I signed up for Taste and Create and my partner is Stef at the Cupcake Project. Taste and Create pairs up food bloggers to select a recipe from their partners blog, make the recipe and then blog about it. I am one of those people who doesn't like frosting so I don't usually make cupcakes. Stef does have recipes for other things on her site, often from her Taste and Create partners, however that seemed like cheating to me. I was paired with a cupcake blog and made naan, then I went to a seafood restaurant where I ordered a steak.

Luckily Stef mostly uses frosting that is whipped cream, cream cheese or marscapone based. I decided to treat her blog like a palate of cupcake and frosting recipes. I decided to make her gingerbread cupcake with her ginger lemon frosting. I would have gone ahead with that plan if Lewis hadn't innocently asked me to try to recreate a cupcake he had tasted. It was a spice cupcake with chocolate ganache and peanut butter frosting. I decided to do make the gingerbread cupcakes with the chocolate and peanut butter toppings. Lewis seldom makes special requests in the kitchen so I would even overlook the fact he did not bring me a bite of that cupcake.

This recipe was fraught with peril for me. The first time I made it I could not get the cupcakes out of the pan in one piece. Not exactly appropriate for photographing. So I started over again, this time using cupcake liners in the pan. The cupcakes came out perfectly while my boys got up to no good.

While the first batch was baking I walked through the playroom and saw Julian using his screwdriver (yes, my 4 year old has his own screwdriver) to take the window out of his toy stove. Julian is always trying to take apart or build something. He has a whole collection of wires that used to connect computers and he has them strung up all over. So I did not really pay attention.

So while I was mixing the second batch Sebastian came in to the kitchen with Julian's screwdriver in his hand and asked me which direction to turn a screwdriver to screw something in. I was baking and distracted, and I thought they were just putting the window back. Imagine my surprise when later they showed me the "spy window" they had attached to the bottom of their bunk beds and the "rubber band shooter" on the top. The rubber band shooter was the door closer for the toy stove, and for both items they attached them to the bed by making new holes, sigh.

All the elements of these cupcakes were great. Next time I have a craving for a peanut butter dessert I may just make a batch of this frosting and eat it with a spoon. Not bad for someone who hates frosting. The gingerbread cupcakes are wonderful on their own as well, before I made the frosting we were eating them like muffins. Chocolate ganache shouldn't require me to tell you how wonderful it is, I mean it's chocolate and heavy cream. The combination of the 3 elements was also wonderful. Silky richness from the chocolate, salty and sweet peanut butter frosting and the spicy flavor from the cupcake. All of us really loved the combination, as did everyone I gave one to. Each bite is different, with the flavors first being layered and then combining.

I made some full sized and some mini cupcakes. The mini's are my favorite, I just really enjoyed the more personal size, the ability to eat it all in 1 or 2 bites. Plus I feel the size of the cupcakes worked better at not overpowering the other layers. Many of my tasters seemed to prefer the larger size, but I think they were just worried I would say they could not have more then one.

Before we get to the recipe I want to talk a moment about ingredients. I made these with quail eggs, and no I absolutely do not expect you will. Furthermore I do not think it will have a negative effect on the flavor. I used quail eggs because I was given some by a neighbor. But aren't they cute?

Gingerbread Cupcakes

5 Tbsp unsalted butter softened
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
4 quail eggs (or 1 large chicken egg)
4 quail yolks (or 1 large chicken egg yolk)
1 Tbsp cocoa powder (the recipe calls for dutch process cocoa powder but I just used a good quality regular one)
1 1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup hot milk
1 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour (trust me, with all the other flavors you won't notice the whole wheat, or you could use white flour)

Preheat the oven to 350° and place cupcake liners in a 12 cup muffin tin. (Stef says you can just butter the tin, I tried that the first time and none of them came out of the pan neatly, I suggest just using liners).

Cream the butter and white sugar, add molasses, egg and egg yolk and beat in. Add cocoa powder, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and salt and mix until fully incorporated. Dissolve the baking soda in the hot milk. Add the flour to the batter and stir until just combined. Stir in the hot milk mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared tins, filling the liners about halfway (the first batch I overfilled and they did not dome up but rather spread out to form a solid top).

Bake at 350° for 20 to 25 minutes until the center of the cupcakes is slightly springy to the touch. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

When cool spread an even layer of the chocolate ganache on the top of each cupcake and allow to set. After the ganache has set pipe on some peanut butter frosting.

Chocolate Ganache

3 oz's bittersweet chocolate broken up
1 Tbsp white sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over low heat while stirring until the chocolate is melted and smooth.

Peanut Butter Frosting
adapted from Ina Garten's recipe

1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (I used natural peanut butter, before proceeding with the recipe I put the peanut butter in a quart jar and stirred it really well so the oil was not separated)
2 1/2 tsp unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 - 1/4 tsp Kosher salt (I like the frosting on the salty side but some of my tasters wanted it less salty. Start with 1/8 of a tsp and taste before deciding)
3 Tbsp heavy whipping cream

Place the sugar, peanut butter, butte, vanilla extract and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on low speed with the paddle attachment until smooth, scraping down as needed. If you have one of these beater blades you won't need to scrape the bowl. Add the heavy cream and beat on high until light and smooth.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Pineapple Watermelon Avocado and Feta Salad with Basil

I spent a lot of time since I discovered the featured ingredients in this weeks battle pondering the flavor options. I decided not to do any of the standard dishes with basil and pineapple, so no pizza, fried rice, South East Asian or salsa. I briefly flirted with the idea of a basil ice cream with pineapple chunks mixed in. My boys originally loved the ice cream idea until they really heard that I said basil ice cream. Then they encouraged me to go with another idea. Even though both boys will happily eat basil right off the plant.

When my mother was still alive she used to make an excellent flank steak marinated with soy sauce, sherry and dried herbs. I have no clue what cook book that recipe was from nor do I know what the ratios are that she used. However I have been making my own variations for over 20 years now. Mine is an ever changing recipe which can change based on my current mood and what goodies I find in the fridge (there was a memorable version where I included jam that was taking up room in my fridge). When I make it I often include orange juice as one of the ingredients.

So for the first dish in battle pineapple basil I decided to make a marinated flank steak with fresh pineapple juice and basil. The only trick would be actually paying attention to and recording the ingredients and their quantities.

As an accompaniment to the steak I thought about making a green papaya salad with pineapple. However that was clearly a South East Asian inspired recipe and perhaps it is not in good form to use a blog post from a judge as a spring board. However I still liked the idea of a salad that nudges the pineapple into the savory side. So I decided on a grilled pineapple salad with feta and basil. My inspiration for this salad came from a watermelon feta salad recipe from last summers Edible Boston. I have never made it but it has been on my to try list for a while and I have really enjoyed the other recipes I have tried by its creator.

I decided to grill the pineapple to sweeten it and mellow the acidity. The original salad called for mint so I decided I would include mint with the basil in my pineapple version. When I was still talking out my ideas with another foodie friend she said I should use purple basil in the salad for looks and then let me raid her garden for the basil.

So how did the pineapple and basil dishes turn out? The flank steak was excellent, as it always is through all the permutations I have made over the years. The interesting thing was the marinade did not taste right until I added the basil. Usually I don't use either pineapple or basil in this dish but the pineapple really needed the basil to balance its acidity and sharp flavor. However I don't think the steak was any better then the other versions. Just another example of delicious flank steak.

The pineapple salad I ended up with however was just what I wanted. Although there was a small problem where I grilled the pineapple, dressed the salad and discovered that the grilled pineapple did not have the clean flavor that I wanted. To be honest I hated the taste. Happily I had not added/wasted the feta cheese yet. So at 5:30 p.m. I ran out to the store to get another pineapple, a watermelon and avocado. My neighbors who were coming over for dinner at 6 were only slightly confused to see me running off.

The end result was worth the second trip to the store and the running around crazily to get dinner on the table. The watermelon, feta and avocado all melt in your mouth but they still have different textures and ways of melting. The pineapple, the star ingredient, retains its bite and gives you something to chew and the basil really brought all the flavors together. In the final salad I did not use the mint as its inclusion also seemed off in the grilled version. The flavor was really clean and light, partially because I realized when making the grilled version that I did not want any olive oil in the dressing, only lime juice. Everyone who tried the salad loved it. For the record nobody under the age of 8 had any. But our neighbor Ada, who is 8 loved it. My children and her brother refused to even try it, that's okay, Ada ate their share.

The salad and the steak worked really wonderfully together. A nice combination of textures and flavors. I also made a potato salad that I was tempted to add basil and pineapple to. I decided that would have been overkill. My neighbors also brought over kid friendly potatoes with butter and parsley and zucchini and squash sauteed with onions. Thomas is founder and co-owner of Arethusa collective farm in the Intervale, so I consider myself lucky that they brought over a modest bowl full of zucchini instead of filling my car with 500 pounds of it. Maybe it is still early in the season for that, I must remember to keep my car locked though.

Pineapple Watermelon Avocado and Feta Salad with Basil

2 cups fresh pineapple chopped into bite sized pieces, about 1/2 to 3/4 inches
2 cups watermelon chopped into cubes about the same size as the pineapple
1 ripe Haas avocado pitted, peeled and cut into bite sized pieces
1 scallion chopped (assuming the scallion is fresh use all of it, pale and dark green)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh basil or more to taste (use purple basil if you can get it)
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup feta crumbled

Combine all the ingredients except the feta in a serving bowl. Crumble the feta on top and serve. This salad should be served right away.

Pineapple Basil Marinated Flank Steak

1 1/2 cups fresh pineapple juice (although I am sure it would be good with frozen, but this was a competition)
1/2 cup soy sauce
3/4 cup dry sherry
1/4 cup real maple syrup
1 Tbsp crushed garlic
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
1/4 tsp tabasco (optional, or use more if their will be no kids dining with you)
1 tsp deli mustard (dijon would also be good)
1 Tbsp packed basil
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste
1 flank steak

Combine all the marinade ingredients in a blender and blend until the basil is chopped fine. You can also use a mini food processor and the basil, oil and some of the other liquids if like me you hate cleaning your blender. Place the steak and enough marinade to cover in a non reactive dish and marinate for 2 hours. Do not marinate for too long as the pineapple juice will start to break down the meat. Preheat your grill until hot, place the meat on the grill and turn it to medium high. Grill on the first side for 3 to 5 minutes, turn over and grill until the internal temperature is 120 ° to 135 °, about 3 to 5 minutes longer. Allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing thinly on the bias.

Extra marinade can be used to marinate chicken, pork or more steak. It can also be frozen for later use. Now if you will excuse me I am off to read Twilight. I borrowed it last week but I decided that a book that all my friends could not put down would have to wait until after Foodie Fights.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Foodie Fights or What Was I Thinking?

So far I have been really enjoying my summer with the boys. We are tending a community garden plot and really enjoying growing food in a higgledy piggdly dash of this little of that fashion. For example 2 of our broccoli plants in the middle of our row of 7 plants died. No problem, just plant the 2 okra plants that someone offers in the middle of the row of broccoli. We have tomatoes mixed with onions, eggplant in with the cucumbers, 3 cantaloupe plants in a little hill together and watermelons between the rows. The days we don't garden we have gotten together with friends, gone to the beach, visited our local science center or played in the backyard. It has been fun and relaxed, but at the end of every day I am exhausted and needing some down time.

In the midst of this I signed up for a virtual version of the Iron Chefs called Foodie Fights. There are 6 food blogs competing and we all have until Monday night to blog about a dish or meal that uses pineapple and basil. On Tuesday the 6 entries will be posted on Foodie Fights and voting opens. So somehow I have to fit this in while running around with the boys and falling down in my tracks at the end of the day.

Since I found out I was taking part all I can think of is pineapple and basil. Julian woke us up in the night because he "overflowed the banks." That means his bed was wet because he overflowed his diaper. After he was back in bed I lay awake thinking of dishes with pineapple and basil. So check in here on Monday and I will have posted and then on Tuesday go and vote for the best entry. I hope you think I have a winner.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Traditional Strawberry Jam

This morning the boys and I went strawberry picking for what I guess will be the last time this summer. We went to a farm in Monkton which we were introduced to earlier in the season by friends. They have lambs, chickens, currants, strawberries etc and are really nice. The first time we went the owner told me to make sure the boys tried some of the berries in the field. Not a problem, my boys regularly eat Julian's birth weight when picking berries (Julian was 8 pounds 14 ounces when he was born, Sebastian was 6 weeks premature and only 5 pounds 10 ounces).

That first time we went we visited the bottle fed lambs and the chickens and the boys ran around pretending to play basketball in the court with friends. Everyone had a great time, although I got a shock on the electric fence around the baby lambs as I did not know about disabling it and I was happily taking photos. Today it was only me and the boys and they played together and grazed while I picked. Like that first time at the beginning of the season it was hard work picking. The boys are also a little "picked out" after being dragged out to the fields on several occasions. I'm hoping that in a week when we can start picking black currants they will rally. I tried one at the farm today and now my brain is buzzing with jam ideas.

As for the strawberries, I think I picked enough for the last batch of freezer jam I need as well as some to chop, measure and freeze for strawberry ice cream this year. However I have received several requests for my no pectin (or really no commercial pectin) traditional strawberry jam recipe. Many folks don't have enough freezer space for jam and so the traditional one is easier to store.

Strawberries are a low pectin fruit which makes it difficult to get jam to set. One trick is to have about 1/4 of the fruit you use be underripe. Unripe strawberries contain more pectin because as strawberries ripen they lose their pectin. Many folks just use commercial pectin to make strawberry jam. However with most types of commercial pectin you have to use more sugar then fruit. Which is why so many strawberry jams taste "red" and not of berries. While I am fine with using white sugar I would not feel good about feeding that much of it to my family. There is Pomona's pectin that does not require any sugar to set, many people love and swear by it. I however noticed a chalky texture when I tried Pomona's pectin. Some of my jam making friends also commented on a chalky texture when they tried it.

The other reason I don't like to use commercial pectin is how finicky it is. Commercial pectin often does not set correctly. Then you are left with runny jam. The runny jam can be "remade" by adding more pectin and cooking again. My understanding is often this results in a rubbery texture. Personally I would either label runny jam as syrup and use it on ice cream, pancakes, waffles etc or I would add the orange I use in this recipe and cook it again that way.

Because strawberries are so low in pectin and I did not want to use commercial pectin I decided to add some setting insurance in the form of an orange, peel and all to this recipe. Citrus fruits are very high in pectin, especially in the peels and pits. The tiny pieces of cooked peel ended up being really tasty, and the jam sets reliably.

As a note on safety, this jam should be processed in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes, or 5 if the jars had already been sterilized in boiling water for 10 minutes. Many folks don't water bath can their jams, insisting that they have always done it that way and been safe. Personally I have never been in a car accident but I still wear my seat belt. While botulism is not an issue for jam because it is high in acid the boiling water bath gives a tighter seal and kills mold spores. After all that work picking the fruit and making the jam I am not interested in losing the results to a seal failure or mold.

Traditional Strawberry Jam with Cointreau and Drambuie

6 cups roughly chopped strawberries (measure the 6 cups after chopping), About 1/4 not fully ripe
Juice from 1 juice orange, peels, pits and pulp reserved (chop half the peels and all the pulp finely and reserve, the other half and the pits should be placed in a tea ball or cheesecloth bag
3 cups white sugar
3 Tbsp Drambuie (optional)
1 Tbsp Cointreau (optional)

Place 2 small plates or saucers in the freezer to test the jam later. Put the chopped strawberries and all the other ingredients (including the bag or tea ball of pits and peel) in a 5 - 6 qt heavy saucepan at least 9 inches in diameter (a Maslin pan would be ideal. If you get one please send me one as well). Bring to a boil stirring constantly, if any foam forms on the top skim it off and either discard or place in a small bowl as a treat later. Cook until the jam is set, knowing when the jam is set is an art form. I use both temperature and the cold plate test to determine when my jam is done. When the jam reaches a temperature of 218° - 222° I take a dollop and place it on one of the plates in the freezer. Allow the jam to sit n the plate for 30 seconds to cool. If the jam on the plate has formed a skin that wrinkles when you push it the jam is set. If you don't have a candy thermometer you will have to test more often.

Ladle the hot jam into hot jars leaving 1/4 inch of space at the top of the jar. Wipe the lids clean with a damp paper towel, use a plastic spatula or bubble remover to remove any air bubbles and screw on the lids and bands. Process the jam in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes for unsterilized jars and for 5 minutes for jars that have been sterilized in the boiling water bath empty for 10 minutes. After the jam has been boiling for the correct length of time turn off the heat and remove the lid, wait 5 minutes before removing the jars from the canner.

If this is your first time making jam, welcome to a new addiction, um... hobby. Also check out the processing guidelines here. Now that you are happily making jam and want more recipes check out the jam swap on Under the Highchair. I am sure there will be enough there for all of us to be chained to our stoves next summer.