Archive for the ‘Ingredients’ Category

Vanilla bean buttermilk cupcakes with rich chocolate frosting

Since I am currently reading Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life – and writing her food blogger fan mail – I decided it was only appropriate that I also try one of her recipes. Kenny and I finished our six-week childbirth class on Sunday, and I wanted to make a dessert to celebrate. With this also being the week that the baby hit 37 weeks (full term!), as well as the end of the WordCount Blogathon, there were quite a few other reasons to celebrate too.

Flipping through the A Homemade Life, I came across an easy recipe for vanilla bean buttermilk cake. Served with glazed oranges and creme fraiche, Molly’s cake is a bit sophisticated, the type of dessert you’d serve at a proper dinner party. It sounded delicious, but I wanted a cake that was more sloppy and decadent.

So I made the vanilla bean buttermilk cake into cupcakes, and whipped together a deep chocolate frosting to top them off. This frosting is closer to a ganache than a buttercream with a deep chocolate flavor. It’s thick and runny too, a glossy icing that I spooned over the top of the cupcakes and let run down the sides and onto a cookie sheet in messy brown waves.

These cupcakes are kind of like pregnancy, I think – a bit messy along the way, but with an end result that’s worth it.

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Family photos

About once a year I get the urge to write about my brother, who was killed six years ago today. I’ve posted about his love for protein shakes and about the time he told a girl he had a pot roast in the oven so he could get off of the phone.

I thought these were the only connections I could make between my brother and food, so this year I planned to post only a picture of us as kids. I love this shot for its 80s references (Rainbow Brite, Ms. Piggy, headbands, Reebox), for our dress-up clothes, and for the fact that Pat is laughing and I am smiling and we are having a good bit of fun. Together.

Then I remembered that we had most of our fun together at the beach in Ocean City. Other than hot dogs and peanut butter crackers made with Sociables, there was one meal we always had at the beach: Maryland crab soup.

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Chocolate chip cookies from Cook's Illustrated

I love chocolate chip cookies, but making them can be a boring task. The steps – softening the butter, measuring the sugar and flours – are incredibly standard. Most of the time they feel like a chore.

That’s why I like this chocolate chip cookie recipe from Cook’s Illustrated. Instead of softening the butter, you melt it in a saucepan or Dutch oven on the stove, then stir it constantly until brown flakes slowly form and the butter begins to smell nutty and fragrant.

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Homemade vanilla ice cream

There is a secret to making ice cream, and it took me a very long time to learn what it is. It’s going to sound obvious when I say it, but here it is: You have to use heavy cream.

If you’re resistant to using heavy cream, I understand why. It packs a whopping five grams of fat per tablespoon, and you’ll probably be using a cup or two in your ice cream.

But you’re results won’t be the same if you try to substitute half-and-half or milk or Greek yogurt or any other lighter, more figure-friendly dairy or dairy substitute you can think of.

I have tried to make many less-fattening ice creams in my Cuisinart, using soy milk, 1% milk, and half-and-half. They are always a disappointment because of their texture.

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Raspberry and lemon coffee cake with lemon crumb topping

When Kenny and I were dating and I was spending time in his Queens apartment for the first time, I would often look inside his refrigerator and freezer for a snack. Many times this ended in disappointment.

At first, it seemed that he had an adequate amount of junk food. In his freezer were a couple of pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in flavors like Chubby Hubby and Phish food; in his refrigerator were cans of Sprite and Coke. This is a surprise I always hope to find when staying over at other people’s homes.

I suppose this goes back to childhood, when my mom, who has a sweet tooth, would always keep sugary foods around. At the very least – and because my mom is lactose-intolerant – we had tofu ice cream in mint ripple or chocolate, the best soy ice cream I’ve ever tasted to this day.

Now if I’m not staying in my own home or my childhood home, it comforts me to know that these same foods I grew up with are close by.

So in Kenny’s kitchen I remember opening the freezer one day, spoon already in hand, and grabbing a comforting pint of Chubby Hubby (which, in an interesting aside, has now been renamed Hubby Hubby in support of marriage equality). I expected the container to be sturdy, thanks to the frozen ice cream inside. But my fingertips pushed through the cardboard. There wasn’t much ice cream left.

No matter, I thought. I only wanted to taste a little bit anyway.

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Pancakes with blueberry maple syrup

Heidi Swanson of 101 cookbooks calls this recipe for pancakes with blueberry maple syrup her “favorite pancake recipe.” So I had to try them. I made them for my mom (and dad and Kenny) on Mother’s Day.

Made with buttermilk and melted butter, the pancakes were fluffy, light, and lovely. But while the blueberry syrup, a combination of maple syrup, sugar, and blueberries, sounded fancy and special, it didn’t have a rich blueberry flavor. I think the sugar mellowed out the maple flavor and made the whole sauce taste overly sweet.

But I would definitely make the pancakes again. I’d just find a different way to incorporate the blueberries. Using the 101 cookbooks pancake recipe, here are a few tips for making warm pancakes that pack a punch of blueberry flavor.

“Pancakes with blueberry maple syrup (and 3 tips for making better blueberry pancakes)”

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Chewy coconut chocolate chip bars with a graham cracker crust

Sometimes I make food that does not stem from a great story. This food comes from another place – and more often than not, that place is procrastination.

I’m a writer who needs to take a lot of breaks to think through a story. If I get stuck on a lead or a transition or I don’t know where a story is going, I need to get up and do something physical to figure out my next move. So I often break for a mid-day walk or a cooking break.

And that is how these chewy chocolate coconut bars came to be: a walk to the grocery store then a break in the kitchen, all in the name of thinking through a story.

“Chewy chocolate chip coconut bars with a graham cracker crust”

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The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn “I want to try to understand what could motivate people to cook more often,” writer Kathleen Flinn tells her husband in her memoir, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School. “I want to give people different cooking lessons and see which of the things they learn might stick with them.”

Flinn does just that after finding a group of 9 women, all of varying ages and from a range of economic backgrounds, who want to learn more about cooking. The students lack confidence in the kitchen, but Flinn thinks that a few basic hands-on cooking lessons could change their eating habits, save them money and time, and help them feel more comfortable – and even have fun – making food.

The cooking lessons in The Kitchen Counter Cooking School are basic – cutting up a whole chicken, baking bread, scrambling eggs – but I still enjoyed being reminded of what I already know (I really could make my own salad dressing more…) and learning new skills too (So that’s how you cook without a recipe…).

Here are four lessons I took from Flinn’s book that could help you gain more confidence in the kitchen too.

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Lasanga with chard, ricotta, and walnuts

When I think of meals to make for others in times of need (sickness or recovery, busy schedule, etc.), lasanga is the only one that comes to mind. It keeps well in the freezer and usually provides enough food for several meals, depending on the size of the family. So, thinking that they wouldn’t have much time to cook, I made a big pan last week for my brother- and sister-in-law, who just had a new baby, their second child.

Kenny and I have our own pressing commitment these days that keeps our kitchen time limited: watching 24, Season 5 as quickly as possible. On Sunday we drove back from New Jersey, went to our childbirth class, had a lovely dinner at Kenny’s co-worker’s house, then came home and watched three episodes of 24. Have you ever tried to watch one episode and call it a night? With every show ending in a cliffhanger, it’s much too hard. 

But that means that as I write this, I’d much rather lay my head on the computer and go to sleep.

Thankfully, I made an extra mini-lasanga for us, so there’s no need to cook dinner tonight.

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There was a time when I only ate Tums at my grandmother’s house. She keeps a bottle on her kitchen table, and, soon after arriving, I always grabbed it and ate two. I like their fruity taste. It’s like eating chalky candy wafers.

Now I have my own bottle of Tums. I’ve even moved on to my third bottle in the last few months, thanks to that acid-in-the-throat feeling that comes with pregnancy heartburn.

You’d think eliminating trigger foods would be the easiest solution to curing heartburn. But I can’t identify the foods that are constant triggers for me. Sometimes tomatoes, chocolate, and spicy foods are a problem; other times they digest just fine. So I munch on Tums.

But recently they’ve stopped working. I’m not sure they ever did work. I just liked eating them.

Kenny and I recently started childbirth class, and our doula Emily told our group that some people believe there is a natural heartburn cure: papaya, in fruit or supplement form.

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