March 31, 2011

Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream

I volunteered to make mini cupcakes for a church activity. I made the cupcakes and stored them unfrosted in the freezer a few days before. Then the activity was postponed, to be rescheduled, weeks went by, and it seems that event will not be held. At least I hope so because my husband and I ate all the cupcakes! At least we ate most of them unfrosted because it took me several days before I got around to making the frosting.

These lemony cupcakes are so dreamy. The lemon frosting is fabulous. I ate one paired with a strawberry, and that was even more fabulous. I highly recommend topping these with berries for a perfect spring treat.

Note this recipe makes 24 regular-sized cupcakes. Feel free to halve the recipe.

Lemon Cupcakes
from Our Best Bites

1 1/2 c. (3 sticks) butter
3 c. cake flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 c. sugar
5 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Zest of 2 lemons (zest the lemons before juicing)
4 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 325. Line 2 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake liners. Or grease a mini-muffin pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 4-5 minutes. Don't go skimping here--you want the mixture to be almost white and super fluffy. This is absolutely essential to the outcome of the cake.

While butter and sugar are mixing, sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl. Set aside. After butter and sugar have mixed sufficiently, With the mixer running, add eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition. Beat in vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest.

With mixer on low speed, alternate adding flour mixture and buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture and beating until fully incorporated.

Using a standard cookie scoop, place about 2 scoops of batter into each muffin cup. Fill these almost to the top--due to the final texture, as these cupcakes won't have a curved crown.

Bake about 20-25 minutes (for mini cupcakes, bake 13-15 minutes)
or just until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the cupcakes comes out clean. Don't overbake these even a bit, or they'll start to lose their delicious moisture. Remove from oven and cool completely. Frost with lemon buttercream and garnish with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, or fresh mint leaves.

Lemon Buttercream

1 1/4 c. butter (2 1/2 sticks)
2 tsp. grated lemon zest
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
3 c. powdered sugar

Beat butter, lemon rind, and lemon juice in an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating to spreading consistency. Makes 2 3/4 c.

March 30, 2011

Light Whole Wheat Baguette

The bread journey's another Artisan recipe which turned out fabulous. The baguette is made with a mixture of whole wheat and white flour for a lighter texture. I'm still practicing my bread-shaping skills, but I'm getting better. I think one key is to not be afraid to use a lot of flour when shaping the dough. Having enough flour prevents the dough from sticking to hands or the work surface. I don't know if this is the proper method or not, but I stretched the dough into a cylinder and then flattened it slightly. Then I brought the two sides of the rectangle together and pinched the seam to form a better cylinder (the seam goes on the bottom).

Light Whole Wheat Baguette
adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Good Life Eats

makes four 1 lb. loaves

3 cups 110 degree F water
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 1/2 cups freshly ground hard white wheat flour
4 cups all-purpose flour

To prepare the dough:
Combine the water, yeast, and salt in a large 5-quart bowl or resealable, lidded (but not airtight) plastic food container. The yeast does not need to proof as in traditional recipes.

Mix the whole wheat and all-purpose flour together in a medium bowl, then add it to the large bowl containing the water. Stir the flour into the water mixture using a wooden spoon. You don't need to knead the bread, but if stirring becomes too hard you can reach your wet hands into the bowl and press the mixture together.

Cover the container with a lid (not airtight). Let the dough rise at room temperature for 2-5 hours - until it begins to collapse or flatten on top.

After this, you can take a portion of the dough to make a loaf at anytime - OR refrigerate the covered container 3 hours or overnight before shaping a loaf.

To shape the loaf:
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place a baking stone on the middle rack and an empty broiler tray on a lower shelf.

Sprinkle the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour, then cut off a 1 lb. piece for use and return the remaining dough to the refrigerator. A kitchen scale is helpful, or you can estimate by removing a piece about the size of a grapefruit.

Dust the piece with flour and shape it into a ball. Once it is cohesive, you can stretch and elongate the dough to form a cylinder approximately 2 inches in diameter. Dust a pizza peel (or sheet of parchment if you don't have one) with whole wheat flour. Place the loaf on the dusted surface and let rest for 20 minutes.

After resting, paint water over the surface of the loaf with a pastry brush. Then, using a serrated bread knife make longitudinal, diagonal slashes across the top of the loaf.

Slide the loaf onto the hot stone. Add 1 cup of hot water to the broiler tray and immediately shut the oven door. Bake for 25 minutes, or until deep brown and firm to the touch. Cool before eating.

March 29, 2011

Pan-toasted Kale with Balsamic Vinegar

Since last summer's farmer's markets, I have fallen in love with kale. Why? It's one of those magic super-vegetables with sky-high nutrient value. But mainly, it tastes great, even raw. Am I weird? Probably.

A friend at work loves kale too and mentioned that growing up her mother would cook it and drizzle it with vinegar. So I decided to try it. Lovely!

Pan-Toasted Kale with Balsamic Vinegar
1 bunch kale
1 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar

Wash and dry kale leaves and tear into bite-sized pieces. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add kale to skillet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute, stirring frequently, until kale is toasted and starting to get browned spots. Remove from skillet and toss with balsalmic vinegar. Taste, adjust seasoning by adding more salt, pepper, or vinegar.

March 28, 2011

Ham, Cheese and Egg Crepes

A friend made some dessert crepes which got me inspired. I had never made crepes before and thought it was about time to try. In researching, I found a great dinner crepe, a standard combination of ham, cheese, and egg, called "crêpe complete" in France.

This turned out to be pretty easy and very filling and tasty. I had no trouble flipping the crepe or getting it out of the pan. I also had no trouble eating it immediately, as the recipe suggests.

Ham, Cheese and Egg Crepes or Crêpe Complete
from Baking Bites

1 1/3 cups milk
2/3 cup water
1 1/2 cups + 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp vegetable oil

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and whisk until very smooth. This can also be done in a food processor. Set batter aside to rest for about 15 minutes before using. Batter can also be covered and refrigerated for up to two days.

For filling, per crepe:
1 large egg, beaten
approx. 2-oz Havarti or Swiss cheese
approx. 1 or 2-oz ham

Add some butter or nonstick spray to a large frying pan (about 12-inches) and heat over high heat. Pour about 1/3 cup crepe batter into the pan and tilt the pan to swirl it around and coat it with a single, even layer. Once the first side cooks, flip the crepe and pour the beaten egg on top.

Use a fork to gently spread the egg evenly all over the crepe. Allow crepe to continue cooking until egg is set. Season with pepper, if desired.

Spread a layer of cheese over half of the crepe. Allow it to melt for about 30-60 seconds.

Add a layer of ham on top of the cheese. You can use either a single layer of ham or pile up two thin layers.

Fold crepes in half, covering the ham and cheese side of the crepe with the side that only has egg on it. Fold crepe in half again, making a finished crepe that is 1/4 circle in area and packed with many layers of crepe, cheese, ham and egg.

Serve immediately, either on a plate or wrapped up in a couple of paper towels if you want to brave the hot cheese and eat it “street-style" and start on a second. Skillet heat may need to be lowered slightly for subsequent crepes, but crepes should be nicely browned when finished.

Makes 10 large crepes (14 if using a smaller pan).

March 25, 2011

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cookies

About a year ago at book club, I had some store-bought pumpkin cookies. They were super good with an extra dose of cardamom to give them a pop. I knew I had to try and find a recipe to copy them. But like most store-bought cookies, they had a texture that is very different from homemade. Every homemade pumpkin cookie I've eaten turns out very moist, almost cake-like, which is not what I wanted. So after a brief internet search, I found this pumpkin cookie recipe, which claimed to be crunchy. Their method was to use pumpkin butter instead of puree as the butter is cooked-down puree, reducing the liquid. Plus the recipe had cardamom, so I knew it was the one to try.

While I would not say these cookies are crunchy by any means, they are pretty similar in texture to regular cookies. And the cardamom? Definitely one of my favorite spices. Because it's not so popular, it may be hard to find or a little pricey. I've been stalking the spice shelf at Whole Foods for several months now. They have some harder to find spices at very decent prices (whole nutmeg and garam masala are some recent purchases).

Here's the pumpkin butter:

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cookies
from Guilty Kitchen

1 cup butter
1 1/4 cups brown sugar, packed
1 cup pumpkin butter**
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp orange zest
1 1/2 cups dark chocolate chips or chunks
fine grain sea salt, such as pink Himalayan (optional)

1. Cream butter and sugar in medium sized bowl.

2. Add egg, vanilla and pumpkin butter. Mix well.

3. In separate bowl, mix together dry ingredients. Add to wet and stir to combine.

4. Stir in orange zest and chocolate chips and set in refrigerator for 1 hour.

5. Scoop chunks of dough and loosely mold into cookie shapes. Sprinkle with sea salt before baking if desired.

6. Bake for 15-18 minutes in a 350°F oven.

Because these cookies are crisp and chewy fresh out of the oven, I recommend making them in smaller batches and freezing the dough for future use.

** To make the pumpkin butter:

Method #1. Dump one can of pure pumpkin purée (27-29 0z can) and one cup of brown sugar into a small saucepan. Heat on medium and continue to stir and reduce for 1 hour. When done, you should be left with about a cup + 2 Tbsp of very thick pumpkin butter.

Method #2. Halve three small sugar pumpkins, scoop out the seeds and discard. Cut side up on a greased baking tray, bake in a 375°F oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven, scoop out flesh and purée in food processor (there should be about 2 cups). Drain in cheese cloth by squeezing out the excess liquid. Add to small saucepan along with 1 cup of brown sugar. Cook down on medium heat for about one hour until very thick. Remove and set aside.

March 21, 2011


A version of this recipe was in some cookbook my mom had that I found growing up. I've made it off and on for years. While I don't have the original recipe, this is my version (though I only measured the ingredients so I could post them here). This is an easy way to spruce up oatmeal; the lemon juice - brown sugar contrast is so good.


1/2 cup oats
1 cup water
1 small or 1/2 large grated apple (skins on)
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. cream
2 tsp. brown sugar

Cook the oats and water according to package directions. Add remaining ingredients, taste and adjust flavor by adding more brown sugar or lemon juice.

March 17, 2011

Rustic Rosemary Bread

My rosemary tree is still alive, but it's not looking nearly as good as when I bought it. By some miracle, it will stay alive and I can enjoy its fragrant leaves for a long time to come.

This rosemary bread was fantastic!! The cast iron skillet really gave the bread a unique crust - hey I just realized what it reminded me of - pan pizza from Pizza Hut. Okay, that's probably not an appetizing analogy, but when we were younger, if we got straight As on our report card, our reward was a family dinner at Pizza Hut. And, of course, everyone likes pan crust best. And that pizza must have been delicious, because most of us earned all As each quarter...

I'm rambling. Does anyone read the lead-ins to recipes? I don't.

One more thing...I adore my cast iron skillet! I can now add cookies and bread to my list of things to do with a cast iron skillet.

Rustic Rosemary Bread
adapted from Cooking After Five

4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup warm water (115 degrees)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey
3 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for brushing dough
1 generous tablespoon finely minced fresh rosemary
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 tsp. kosher salt or coarse sea salt

Add flour and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. To the warm water, add the yeast and honey, and stir to combine. With the motor running, drizzle the water into the flour and knead for 5-10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. It shouldn't be sticky.

Turn out the dough into a large bowl coated lightly with oil. Turn the dough to coat, then cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft free place until doubled in size, about an hour.

In a small bowl, combine rosemary, garlic, salt, and enough olive oil to make a loose paste.

Preheat the oven to 450. Brush a cast iron pan generously with olive oil. Turn the dough out into a cast iron pan and shape into a round loaf. Flatten the loaf slightly to fill the pan and even out the thickness. Score the bread with an X shape, then brush with about half of the oil. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the crust is deep golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when tapped from the side.

Transfer to a cutting board and brush with the remaining oil. Let cool to room temperature before serving.

March 13, 2011

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie

I've been haunted by this skillet cookie I previously posted for a few weeks now. It's too easy to pull together ingredients and have a finished baked product (all in one pan!) in 20 minutes. So when I saw 101 Cookbooks recent post about a similar recipe, but with whole wheat flour, I was very intrigued. If I could make the skillet cookie and be healthy, all my problems would be solved (sort of).

So I made this WHOLE WHEAT skillet cookie, which does require a little more effort and time than the other one, and the verdict? While the cookie was very good, the texture wasn't as tempting. I could not taste the whole wheat flour at all. The only evidence was a slightly sandy texture. Also this recipe makes more dough than the other one, so the cookie rose during baking, but then sunk after cooling, leaving a thick edge, which was a little weird. Eating this warm is best, because the gooeyness is good no matter what. But after it cooled, I would rather eat a regular chocolate chip cookie. I feel the same way about the other skillet cookie as well.

Here's a photo of the cookie just out of the oven (see gooeyness). However, it did firm up after cooling off.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie

from 101 Cookbooks

3 cups / 13.5 oz whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

8 ounces (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, plus more for buttering the pan

1 cup / 5 oz dark brown sugar
1 cup / 7 oz sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped into 1/4- and 1/2-inch pieces

Preheat the oven to 350°F degree oven, with a rack in the middle. Butter a 10- or 11-inch ovenproof skillet, one that is at least 2-inches deep. If you're unsure, measure, because if you use a too small skillet, you'll have a messy overflow.

Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl.

In another large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the butter and the sugars. Mix just until the butter and sugars are blended, about 2 minutes using the mixer on low speed. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl along the way. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is combined. Mix in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the bowl and blend on low speed until the flour is barely combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

Add most of the chocolate to the batter. Mix just until the chocolate is evenly incorporated. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then scrape the batter out into the skillet, pressing it out into an even layer. Sprinkle any remaining chocolate across the top, and casually press it into the dough a bit, just enough that it isn't riding directly on top of the dough.

Bake the cookies for 35-45 minutes, or until until the dough is a deep golden brown along the edge, and the center has set. Remove from oven and let cool a bit before slicing into. Cute into wedges or small squares.

Makes one large skillet cookie, which you can cut into as many cookies as you like.

March 10, 2011

Asian Noodle Salad

My friend brought an amazing Asian noodle salad to book club the other day and I need to ask her for the recipe. Meanwhile, I was inspired to try my own. I made up my own recipe based on a combination of several I found.

This actually reminded me a lot of this salad. I love crunchy, raw vegetables with starch (noodles or rice), like sushi and summer rolls. Especially cucumbers add a super fresh, healthy feel.

Asian Noodle Salad

1 chicken breast, sauteed and cubed
1/2 cucumber, seeded if necessary, sliced thin
1 carrot, cut into matchsticks
1 cup cabbage, sliced thin
1 handful cilantro. chopped
3 green onions, sliced
1/2 cup lightly salted peanuts (unsalted works too)
3.5 oz. soba noodles, cooked according to package
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. sesame oil
1 garlic clove, minced

Mix soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil and garlic to create dressing. Assemble the other ingredients in a large bowl and toss with dressing.

March 6, 2011

Orange Sherbet

One of the standout foods I ate in Italy was mandarin oranges from the corner grocery store. Hands down the best oranges I have ever eaten. It makes me wonder why the only available mandarin oranges I've seen are in a can. So the other day when I saw a carton of mandarin oranges for sale in Whole Foods, I had to get them. They were pretty juicy and sweet, like the ones from Italy. There were only a few cartons of the oranges for sale; that was the only time I saw any.

I came across this recipe for orange sherbet using satsuma oranges. Satsuma oranges may or may not be the same thing as mandarin oranges. All I'm going on is internet research. But the author of the recipe also recommended navel oranges or tangerines.

Sherbet contains more juice than cream (as opposed to ice cream, where cream wins). The sherbet was a nice forecast of the spring and summer months to come. My husband did not like the zest - too tangy - and I think the recipe would work fine without it.

Orange Sherbet
adapted from Scoop Adventures

1 1/2 cups fresh orange juice (zest the fruits before juicing them)
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
Zest of 3 small or 2 large fruits
1/3 cup whole milk
1/3 cup heavy cream

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine 3/4 cup orange juice, sugar, and salt. Heat until sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and pour into a medium bowl. Add zest. Stir in remaining orange juice, milk, and cream. Whisk to combine.

Cover bowl and place sherbet base in refrigerator to fully chill. Once chilled, pour into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Place plastic or parchment over sherbet (to prevent ice crystals) and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours.