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Easter Cupcakes

Thursday, April 21, 2011

My affair with cupcakes began when a coworker brought miniature carrot cupcakes to someone's going away party at a place where I was working at the time. They were from a local bakery. Any cupcakes I've had before were always overly sweet, stale, gooey and altogether unappetizing. But these were like nothing I've ever tasted. And as soon as I bit into one, that, my friends, was it. Freshly baked just hours before, it was a perfect combination of tart and sweet. The delicate softness of the cake combined with the freshly whipped cream cheese with sugar dust and lemon zest was perhaps one the most memorable moments from my entire time at that job. That day a new world was opened up to me. A world I did not know existed, and a world which after that first bite I couldn't imagine leaving. There was simply no going back.

However, the effect of that first bite was not that I wanted to eat more of these cupcakes, but that I wanted to learn how to make them. My goal then became to recreate that perfect texture of the cupcakes with tiny carrot threads and dark sprinkles of nutmeg, and the almost cloud-like lightness of the cream cheese frosting with shredded bits of lemon skin.

Several months and a few dozen baked cupcakes later, I had accomplished that task when I made miniature carrot cupcakes for my stepfather's birthday party. They were an instant success. Shortly after that, satisfied to have accomplished my mission, I was in a bakery buying some danishes. Then I saw something. Behind the glass were cupcakes, in blue fluted cups, with swirls of white frosting. And on top of each swirl were tiny, delicate hand-crafted fondant daisies, white and blue and pink with pastel-green leaflets. (This was when the cupcake craze was just beginning). This sight was another revelation: you can use these teacup-sized cakes as your own personal canvas. The rest, as they say, was history. I had discovered my life's calling.

Here are the cupcakes that I made for this Easter week. This post is instructional rather than a recipe-based post, as my focus was not to arrive at the perfect-tasting cupcake, but rather to practice cupcake decoration. I used a simple vanilla cupcake recipe, and butter-cream icing for piping. I made cream-cheese lemon frosting similar to what I posted here to use as my main base. Decorative tidbits were made with marzipan.

The cupcakes below, inspired by this Easter cupcake design, remind me of a falcon's nest.

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Falcons typically nest on cliff tops. The shards of chocolate - which was melted, frozen as a thin layer on wax paper, and then broken into shards - remind me of cliff edges or sharp rocks. The nesting material is made with toasted coconut shavings.

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The white base is the butter-cream icing to secure the chocolate pieces (butter-cream hardens when it cools).

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The eggs are marzipan with food coloring, which I hand-molded into egg shapes.

Pictured below is my "Spring Bunny" cupcake.

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When we had a rabbit, his relaxed or sleepy posture would be sitting on all legs in an egg-like shape, with his head pressed back, and the ears resting on top of his back. We also have some some of the cutest wild rabbits in our yard who love to sit that way in the grass among the flowers.

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The base is cream-cheese frosting.

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The rabbit was hand-molded using marzipan. The eyes were painted with melted chocolate, the nose is marzipan. The flowers were made with rolled marzipan and a flower fondant cutter, using yellow sugar crystals in the center.

Below is just for fun - I also made cheerful floral cupcakes with marzipan snails.

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Foundation is pink butter-cream frosting piped (using a petal tip) on top of the cake, sprinkled with yellow sugar. My husband is fond of snails, so these ones were for him. I'm not sure what to call this one, perhaps "Spring Snail"?

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Duck Liver Pâté

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Duck liver pâté does not have be complicated, or be made from unnaturally enlarged duck livers. Instead of discarding the duck liver from a whole duck you use for roasting, you can make this delicious, quick and easy pâté (same goes for turkey or chicken liver if you're roasting them instead). It works well with rice crackers. Make it right before you're ready to serve it to retain its freshness. Recipe source: my mom.

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Duck Liver Pâté
(Makes about 1/2 cup)

You will need:
1 tbsp olive oil
Liver from 1 duck
1 carrot, chopped
1/4 onion or 1 medium shallot, chopped
1 tbsp port or a splash of red wine (optional)
1-2 tbsp butter
a few sprigs of fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Heat olive oil in a pan on medium-low heat. Add liver, carrot and onion and cook, covered until the liver is fully cooked through, and carrots are soft, about 15-20 minutes. Add port, and increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes. Turn off the heat and let cool slightly. Then place the liver mixture into a food processor, add butter, parsley, salt and pepper, and process until pureed. Spoon pâté into a serving bowl and serve with crackers.

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Roasted Duck with Herbs and Orange Sauce

Monday, April 18, 2011

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"And if I don't like duck?"

"Then I'm afraid you're rather stuck!" (Fawlty Towers)
How do I go about selecting recipes to write up for this blog? Mainly it's based on what I or my husband want to eat. Sometimes it's a spur of the moment kind of thing (like the chocolate cake, or the shrimp bisque). Sometimes I find things at the food store that draw my attention or that I find intriguing, which help inspire a meal. Yesterday we stumbled upon whole ducklings that our food store has decided to put out in anticipation of Easter. I noticed my husband wouldn't move and just kept staring at them.
"You want duck?" I asked.

"Yes I want duck."

"Alright. Put it in the cart then."
Who am I to deny this man life's little pleasures? Duck he shall have! I quickly ran through a list of ingredients one would possibly need for duck: meat thermometer that previously got lost in the transcontinental move, sage, parsley, thyme, navel oranges, Granny Smith apples, shallots, and since the recipe is somewhat French in origin, naturally, also distilled wine derivatives.

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The following recipe is a spin on the classic Canard à l'Orange. It is effectively three different recipes in one. First is the duck roast, second is duck stock, and third is the sauce. If you're feeling adventurous, or have a hungry spouse on your hands, you can also make pâté out of the liver at the same time and serve it as an appetizer (recipe will be posted tomorrow). No part of duck should be wasted. Neck and gizzards should go in the stock, liver should go in the pâté. Once you have roasted and carved the duck, do not throw away the carcass, but freeze in a Ziploc bag and when you're ready, make soup from it.

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A note on the sauce. The orange sauce uses duck fat. A lot. Also with butter. I am not big on fatty foods, but the sauce is something otherworldly and the taste is, simply put, heavenly. So make an exception and say yes to natural, wholesome homemade cooking and, more importantly, say yes to duck fat. Or, if not, please refer back to the opening quote.

Roasted Duck
(serves 4 to 6)

You will need:
3-4 lb whole duckling, gizzards and all
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
5-7 sprigs of thyme, stems removed (run your fingers backwards along the stem to remove the leaves)
1/4 tsp coarse salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and chopped into wedges
2 navel oranges, 1 chopped into wedges (for stuffing), 1 cut into round slices (for decoration)
2-3 shallots or 1/2 onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
Equipment: meat thermometer, roasting pan or deep ceramic dish (oven-proof) large enough to fit the duck

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 425, position rack in middle of the oven. Rinse the duck under cold water, remove neck, gizzards and liver from the cavity; save them for stock and pâté (if making). Rinse the inside of the duck. Pat dry with paper towels.

2. In a small bowl mix together parsley, sage, thyme, salt and pepper. In another bowl mix together apple and orange wedges with chopped shallots. Rub the duck, inside and out with herb and seasoning mixture. Stuff the duck with apple, orange and shallot wedges (discard anything extra). Secure the wings behind the bird's back, tie legs together with twine or make two small incisions next to the legs and use them to secure the drumsticks. Put the duck in the roasting pan and place in the oven. Cover the round orange slices and refrigerate.

3. Roast the duck at 425 for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 350. Roast the duck at 350 for about 1 hour and 25 minutes, longer if needed. The duck is done when the meat thermometer inserted into the duck's thigh reaches 170-175 Fahrenheit (otherwise the duck will be too dry). Then, increase the temperature to 400 and roast the duck for 5 to 10 minutes more for the skin to crispen. Turn off the heat and prop the oven door ajar until duck is ready to serve. While the duck is roasting, make stock and sauce.

Duck Stock

You will need:
Duck neck and gizzards
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1/4 onion, peeled and chopped
Salt, pepper to taste
Bay leaf, and or other herbs such as dried parsley, oregano or herb mix

Directions:
While the duck is roasting, place the duck parts into a medium saucepan or small pot and fill with 3-4 cups water. On medium-low heat, bring to a boil. Add carrot, celery and onion and stir. Once the stock begins to boil again season with salt and pepper and herbs, stir and let simmer covered on low heat until vegetables are done, about 30 minutes. Strain the stock, reserving the liquid and discard the solids. You will need 1 1/2 cup for the duck sauce. You can save and refrigerate the rest for later use.

Orange Sauce for Duck

(Sauce recipe adapted from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking)

You will need
3 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (about 1 medium orange)
2 tbsp white vinegar
1 1/2 cup duck stock (recipe above)
A splash of port or Madeira, plus about 1/2 cup more
1 tsp freshly grated orange zest
Duck fat from the roasting pan (about 1 cup)
1-2 tbsp Triple Sec
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
Equipment: 3 separate small saucepans, a wooden spoon, a whisk

Directions
1. In a small saucepan, on medium heat, mix together sugar, orange juice and vinegar with a wooden spoon and bring to a simmer. Cook until the mixture is reduced in volume and becomes thick and syrupy. Slowly add 3/4 cup duck stock and stir with the wooden spoon until the syrup is dissolved. Add the rest of the stock, a splash of port or Madeira, orange zest, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

2. Once the duck is almost done, carefully spoon out the duck juices into a separate saucepan. Add 1/2 cup port or Madeira, and bring to a boil on moderately high heat, stirring constantly, until the liquid is greatly reduced (to about 1/4 cup) and fat starts to coagulate. Carefully strain the duck fat into the orange sauce mixture and bring everything to a simmer, stirring. Add Triple Sec and simmer for 1-2 minutes more.

3. In a yet separate saucepan, on low heat, melt butter and mix together with flour until homogeneous. Quickly pour the orange duck sauce into this saucepan, whisking constantly to prevent lumps from forming. You will see an emulsion form (fat and water substances combine together with the help of the flour). Continue whisking the sauce for 3-5 minutes until lightly thickened. Turn off the heat, and pour the sauce into a gravy boat.

Assembling the Duck
Carve the duck and serve, decorated with round orange slices, with the orange duck sauce. Serve it together with potatoes or other vegetables (we had chopped boiled potatoes drizzled with olive oil, mixed with fresh chopped parsley, sage, and scallion, and seasoned with salt and pepper).

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Vinaigrette Beet Salad

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

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The following is a recipe for a classic Russian beet and potato salad called "Vinaigrette." It calls for cooked beets, potatoes, carrots, and pickled cucumbers and cabbage as main ingredients and as a result has a very earthy, sweet but tangy taste. The beets release their juices and color the salad a rich mauve. The root vegetables are boiled ahead of time.

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Don't be afraid to use beets in your dishes.

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Cooked beets are soft, buttery, and earthy. The most notable thing about them is their magnificent color - toss them against some greens and add some brightness to a salad, add them to a potato salad to get an interesting hue, or simply serve them as a side, cut in round slices, seasoned with salt and pepper and drizzled with olive oil.

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To prepare the beets for this or any other salad calling for cooked beets, simply cut off the long whiskers at the bottom and stems and leaves at the top. Put the beet roots in a pot, cover with water, and bring it to boil, whole and unpeeled. Let them simmer for about 30-40 minutes (if medium; larger beets can take up to 50 minutes; always test with a knife - if they are not yet done you will feel resistance, if they are done it will go through like butter). Drain and let them cool. Then simply peel, chop and serve.

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Note on pickled cabbage (similar to sour kraut): you can get pickled cabbage at a Russian or Polish food store. However, if you do not live in proximity to Brooklyn's Brighton Beach or do not have a trusted supplier of pickled cabbage like one of my two readers (my mom), try a deli with a good pickled vegetable selection.

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In a pinch, bagged sour kraut you see in a supermarket next to bratwursts (e.g. Boar's Head) will do, however commercial sour kraut tends to be quite soft and soggy. Good pickled cabbage should be crunchy, and will complement the soft texture of the root vegetables in this recipe.

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Vinaigrette Beet Salad
(serves 6)

You will need:
2 medium beet roots
3 medium carrots
4 medium all-purpose potatoes
2-3 kosher dill pickles
1/4 cup pickled cabbage (sour kraut)
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Place carrots and potatoes, whole with skin on, in a pot large enough to fit them. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer covered, until cooked, 20-30 minutes. At the same time, remove the whiskers and the stems and leaves from beets. Place beets in a separate pot, cover with water and bring to a boil, then simmer covered, 30-40 minutes or until done. When the vegetables are done, drain them and let cool. Once cooled, peel them (peeling them after cooking helps retain their flavor, and for beets - their juices). Use a pairing knife rather than a vegetable peeler (the latter will take off a greater amount of the flesh than when vegetables are raw).

2. Chop potatoes, beets, carrots, and pickles into 1/4 inch cubes and place into a bowl. Add cabbage and chopped dill. Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar, and dollop the mustard into the bowl. Toss well. Season with salt and pepper. Let stand for about 10 minutes to let the beets color the salad mauve. Toss again before serving.

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Triple-Layer Chocolate Cake

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Do you ever experience a sudden desire to make chocolate cake? I do.

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I wanted to use up the rest of the buttermilk left over from my chocolate velvet cupcakes, but it curdled. By then my husband got all worked up about my saying how I was going to make chocolate cake. He even volunteered to help. So, we made cake.

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Adapted from: Bake It! Good Housekeeping Favorite Recipes.

Triple-Layer Chocolate Cake
(serves about 12)

You will need:
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened baker's cocoa
1 1/2 tsp double acting baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 large eggs
3/4 cup milk

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two round non-stick cake pans (8 inch diameter). In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside. In a separate large bowl beat together butter, sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer until well-blended, 3-4 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. With mixer at low speed, add in 1/3 of the flour mixture followed by half of the milk, beat, then add half of the remaining flour mixture and the rest of the milk, followed by remaining flour. Beat well, scraping the bowl with a wooden spoon, until the batter is homogeneous.

2. Divide the batter between two cake pans. Bake the cakes 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cakes in pans for about 5 minutes. Go around the sides of the cakes with a knife to loosen them from the pan, then remove the cakes from pans by inverting each one onto a plate and then place right side up onto a wire rack to cool. While the cakes cool prepare the frosting.

Milk Chocolate Filling/Frosting:

You will need:
2 oz unsweetened baker's chocolate
4 oz milk chocolate
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), softened
1 cup confectioner's sugar
3-4 tbsp half-and-half or milk

Directions:
1. In a small saucepan, on low heat, melt together unsweetened and milk chocolate, stirring until the chocolate is completely melted. Turn off the heat and let cool for about five minutes.

2. With an electric mixer, in a medium bowl, beat butter and the melted chocolate until well-mixed. Add confectioner's sugar and 2-3 tbsp half and half. Beat at medium speed until ripples form and frosting becomes thick and creamy, 3-4 minutes, adding more half-and-half if necessary for desired consistency. Cover and set aside.

Assemble the cake:
With a serrated knife, cut each cake in half, lengthwise. You will have four cake layers. Place one cake layer into a bowl and crumble completely with your fingers; the crumbs will be used to decorate the cake. Place one cake layer onto the serving platter, spread the frosting with a silicone spatula on top of the layer. Place the second layer on top and repeat. Place the third and final layer and spread frosting on top and around the cake. Sprinkle with crumbs on top of the cake, and press the crumbs with your hand around the cake's sides. Serve or refrigerate.

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Shrimp Bisque

Monday, April 11, 2011

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We recently got some wild Key West pink shrimp from Whole Foods, so I decided to make something interesting and settled on a shrimp bisque.

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A bisque is a shellfish based thick, creamy soup. French in origin, it is typically made with lobster, crab or shrimp base, along with vegetables like shallots or onion, leeks, carrots and celery which are cooked and then pureed together with the shellfish to make the soup thick; alternatively the bisque is thickened with a thickener like flour or actual ground up bits of shell. The bisque also uses cream and can be cooked with wine or sherry.

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We had some left-over white wine, along with some shallots and leeks which I ended up using in my recipe.

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I found that at the end the soup was just begging for some acidity, so I added a splash of lemon juice.

Shrimp bisque
(Serves 4)

You will need:
4 tbsp of butter, divided
1 pound of raw unpeeled shrimp, thawed if frozen (36-40 per lb)
32 oz (4 cups) seafood stock
2 medium shallots, chopped
1-2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2-3 leeks, washed thoroughly and chopped
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley, plus more sprigs for garnish
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp paprika
1/2 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup milk or half-and-half
Splash of freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 tbsp, optional)

Directions:
1. Peel and devein shrimp, remove tails. Reserve the shells, refrigerate the shrimp. Heat 1 tbsp butter in a large sauté pan. Add shells and sauté until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add seafood stock and bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain, reserving the stock. Discard the shells.

2. In a stock pot, melt the remaining 3 tbsp butter over medium heat. Add shallots and carrots and sauté until shallots are translucent, 2-3 minutes. Add leeks, cover and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are soft. Add shrimp, garlic and parsley and cook, stirring frequently until the shrimp are cooked through, 3-5 minutes. Mix in tomato paste and paprika. Then add the wine, and stir for 1 minute. Add the reserved stock to the pot and bring to a boil. Simmer covered for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let cool for about 10 minutes.

3. Strain the solids reserving both the solids and the stock. Puree just the solids in a food processor, in batches if necessary, reserving a few whole shrimp for garnish. Then add the puree back to the pot and ladle the reserved stock to desired thickness over low heat. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the milk. Add a splash of lemon juice. When the soup begins to boil, turn off the heat. Serve immediately with sprigs of parsley and the reserved shrimp for garnish.

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No-Dye Red Velvet Cupcakes (Chocolate Velvet)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

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A red velvet cake uses cocoa-based cake batter, typically with red food coloring added. It is the dye that gives the cake its red color, which together with its velvety texture gives the cake its name. The amount of red dye can vary, depending on desired hue, usually from 1 to 4 tablespoons. As a result the color will vary from baker to baker from stop-sign red to dark burgundy. I have heard somewhere that the acidity from the buttermilk and vinegar which is used in the recipe, combined with baking soda, gives the cake a reddish-brown color. In my experience, without some hint of red dye, the color of the cake comes out light-chocolate or russet-brown.

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I generally don't like to use food dyes. In light of some reports that food coloring may cause hyperactivity, here is a version of the red velvet cupcake recipe without the dye, measured for 24 cupcakes. The absence of dye does not take away from integrity or texture of the cupcakes; in my opinion it improves them. The recipe is followed by a tasty lemony frosting.

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No-Dye Red Velvet Cupcakes (Chocolate Velvet)
(Makes 24 cupcakes)

You will need:
2 1/2 cups cake flour*
3 oz unsweetened cocoa (regular, not Dutch-process)
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups canola oil
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large brown eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp white vinegar

*If you do not have cake flour, you can substitute it by using all-purpose flour and cornstarch. For each cup of cake flour, use 2 tbsp of cornstarch and about ¾ cup all-purpose flour (or just add 2 tbsp cornstarch into a measuring cup and then top with all-purpose flour to measure 1 cup). Therefore, for the amount of cake flour in this recipe you will need 5 tbsp of cornstarch and slightly less than 2 cups of all-purpose flour.

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two regular-sized twelve-cup muffin pans with fluted paper liners.

2. Whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a medium bowl until well-blended. In a separate large bowl, mix canola oil and granulated sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined, 2-3 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until combined. Add vanilla. Then, with the mixer on low speed, add alternating, half of the flour mixture and half of the buttermilk, then add the remaining flour mixture and remaining buttermilk. Beat, scraping as necessary with a wooden spoon, until just combined.

3. In a separate small bowl, mix baking soda and vinegar. The resulting mixture will fizz. Add to the batter and mix with an electric mixer until just combined.

4. Divide the batter between the 24 lined cups (fill each cup 2/3 full). Bake cupcakes for 20 to 22 minutes, until toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Remove from oven and let stand for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. While the cakes cool, prepare the frosting.

Lemon Cream-Cheese Frosting
(frosts 24 cupcakes if spreading with a rubber spatula, double the recipe to pipe it)

You will need:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons unsweetened butter, softened (not melted)
1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 tsp freshly grated lemon peel

Directions:
Mash softened cream cheese and butter with a fork until combined. Stir in confectioner’s sugar and grated lemon peel (this will prevent a large poof of sugar dust when you turn on the electric mixer). Turn on the electric mixer and at medium speed mix until the frosting is smooth, creamy, and slightly increased in volume, about 3 minutes. Spread with a rubber spatula, or pipe using a bag and a tip, onto the cooled cupcakes (rounded tip was used in the photos). Serve or refrigerate.

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Korean Style BBQ Lettuce Wraps

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

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I love Korean food, especially kimchee, as I love both spicy food and anything pickled. I also like Korean barbecue. If you order Korean barbecue at a restaurant, you may have the chance to cook the meat yourself over a hot plate right on the table, which is a lot of fun.

I've tried to recreate this process in my kitchen. Some of the recipes I have seen call for throwing a whole steak on a grill, and then cutting it into slices once it is done. I live in an apartment so I don't own a grill, and if you grill an entire steak, the resulting meat slices will not be cooked evenly. I usually chop up the meat into thin slices with the knife held at an angle, and marinate it for about half an hour.

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I then saute the meat on high heat in a non-stick pan. I cook the meat in small batches, flipping each slice with tongs, for a minute or two per side (just until browned).

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Cooking it in small batches in a pan will prevent the meat from stewing in its own juices. The juices should be drained from the pan before the next batch. Once the meat is done, it is mixed together with raw vegetables, cut into matchsticks.

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I love the texture the raw vegetables provide combined with the meat. You can use what you have on hand: carrot, onion, cucumber, celery, sugar snap peas, bell or poblano peppers (even jalapeno or serrano if you're a spicy fiend like me). Toss them together with meat and sauce.

Adapted from: Eating Well, June/July 2005

Korean Style BBQ Lettuce Wraps
(serves 4)

You will need:
4 oz soy sauce
4 tbsp and 1 tsp brown sugar
4 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice (about 2 limes)
2 tsp chili garlic sauce (or to taste)
1 lb steak (such as London broil or flank)
1 cup sugar snap peas, thinly sliced length-wise
1 medium carrot, peeled and julienned (cut into matchsticks)
½ English cucumber, peeled and julienned
1/4 medium red onion, julienned
2 tsp cilantro, finely chopped
1 tbsp canola oil
Leaves of Boston lettuce

Directions:
1. Whisk soy sauce, brown sugar, lime juice and chili garlic sauce in a measuring cup, until combined.

2. Slice steak into thin slices, against the grain (hint: hold knife at a low angle, away from yourself or your hand; slices should be about 1/4 to 1/8 inch thick). Place sliced steak into a medium bowl and pour ½ of the soy sauce mixture into the bowl and mix well. Cover marinated steak and refrigerate for half an hour to up to two hours. Refrigerate the remaining soy sauce mixture. As the steak marinates, prepare your vegetables and place them into a large bowl.

3.  Heat canola oil in a pan on medium high heat. With tongs, sauté the meat slices in small batches, until browned on both sides, about 2 to 3 minutes total. Once all of the meat is done, combine it with the vegetables in the large bowl. Add cilantro. Pour the remaining soy sauce mixture and mix well. Place a small portion on individual lettuce leaves and serve. As an option, add cooked jasmine rice on the side to make it a meal.

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Shrimp Cocktail

Monday, April 4, 2011

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Weeknights can be tiresome, both in terms of general sentiment and the food variety. On such nights, I like to make one or two appetizers and relax and snack before dinner. I love cold appetizers because they're quick to make and don't require cooking - sometimes it's just a matter of putting together what's lying around in the fridge in a pleasing arrangement.

One night we had some leftover lobster spread and some shrimp. I decided to use them to make the following snack. Instead of using crackers or pita chips for the spread, I used cucumber slices for a low-fat snack. They also make a fun garnish.

Shrimp cocktail
(serves two)

You will need:
A margarita or martini glass
1/4 cup lobster spread (or another spread or dip)
1/2 lb cooked shrimp (25/30 per lb), chilled
1/2 English cucumber, cut into 1/4 inch thick round slices
One slice of lemon
Shrimp cocktail sauce

Directions:
Spoon the lobster spread into the margarita glass. Cut each cucumber slice halfway from the center to the edge to secure it on the glass, repeat with the lemon slice. Arrange, alternating, shrimp and cucumber slices around the edge of the glass. Top with the lemon slice. Spoon cocktail sauce into a small glass bowl. Serve immediately or refrigerate until serving.
 

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