5

Pamplemousse Royale: Grapefruit Champagne Cocktail

Friday, March 30, 2012

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As mentioned in the previous post, we wanted to make good use of the box of grapefruits we received from my husband's parents. As a result, for this Friday's Happy Hour we decided to make a champagne cocktail of sorts. Fascinated as we are by extraction ever since our gløgg recipe was a raving success (at least in our household), we decided to combine a bubbly with our own makeshift grapefruit liqueur.

Pamplemousse means grapefruit in French. We wanted to make something similar to a kir royale, but with a grapefruit liqueur instead of crème de cassis, which we made using grapefruit rind extracted in vodka with the added sweetness of agave syrup. As the idea for this drink was simmering in my mind, I fully employed my husband's knowledge of chemistry to work his magic in order to obtain the essence of grapefruit flavor. He did not disappoint. The flavor is fresh, infused with citrus and the requisite bitterness of grapefruit. As with kir royale, we added a little of this "liqueur" on the bottom before filling the rest of the glass with rosé sparkling wine.

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I'm always hesitant to use champagne unless there is something worthwhile to celebrate. On the other hand prosecco, which is an Italian sparkling wine, and ranges from a mild fizziness to matching that of actual champagne (for trademark reasons, the word champagne is now exclusively reserved of sparkling wines of the Champagne region) is a favorite around here. But tonight we decided to try an Argentinian sparkling rosé, somehow approriately named "Curioso."

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The fresh flavor of the sparkling rosé together with a juicy ruby red grapefruit seemed fitting.

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Extraction is a technique long used by natural products chemists to separate interesting molecules from bulk organic matter. You can also use the process at home for more practical matters, like making a cup of tea, or preparing the grapefruit-infused cocktail we describe here. Extraction and alcohol go hand-in-hand, since the alcohol readily absorbs all the good natural oils that give many spices and fruits their flavor and aroma. In this recipe, you can use the grapefruit liqueur to flavor champagne, prosecco, or sparking wine.

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Pamplemousse Royale

You will need:
1 bottle pink bubbly
Red grapefruit
3 oz vodka
1 oz agave syrup

Directions:
1. To prepare the liqueur: Remove the peel from the grapefruit. With a sharp knife, carefully slice off and discard the white layer, saving only the outer rind. Slice the rind into short and narrow strips, and place these in a large measuring cup. Add the vodka, and muddle thoroughly with a wooden pestle. For best results, let the mixture stand for 5-10 minutes. Decant (pour off) the liquid into another cup and then add the agave syrup. (Adjust the amount of agave syrup to account for the sweetness of the grapefruit.) Stir well, and cover until ready to use.
2. To prepare the drink: Pour a small amount of liqueur into an appropriate glass. Fill the remainder with pink bubbly. Cheers.

9

Grapefruit Avocado Salsa

Monday, March 26, 2012

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Spring is in full swing here. Cherry trees are abloom. Last week the weather being upwards of 70's, it was starting to feel more like summer. (As my husband says: never trust a rodent with important life decisions). With the summer-like breeze coming through an open window, I couldn't help but be reminded of summer meals from last year, going picnicking, and eating freshly grilled dinner on a weekend summer night in my mom's back yard. The weather was making me crave something fruity, fresh and flavorful.

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Last week we also received a box of grapefruit as part of Harry and David's fruit of the month club (courtesy of my husband's parents), which I always look forward to. And when this box arrived, the smell of fresh, ripe grapefruit was almost too tempting. Every time I passed the bowl with the fruit emanating its citrusy, slightly bitter smell I kept thinking up different recipes. A day or so later I was making an avocado salsa, and a grapefruit somehow found its way in.

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Although I usually don't like dishes that mix sweet or fruity flavors with piquant or salty flavors, the recipe uses avocados and tomatoes, which are technically classified as "fruits." As a result, even my skeptical palate found that the interloping grapefruit actually complemented the other ingredients.

To prepare the grapefruit for the salsa, cut it in half crosswise. Then with a knife carefully separate the pulpy flesh from the white membrane.

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Then simply lift each section with a spoon and place into a bowl.

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This salsa is bursting with both flavor and color. I especially love how the individual flavors combine together: the sweet, pungent taste of cherry tomatoes, the crunchy, juicy sweetness of the yellow bell pepper, the gentle buttery taste of the avocado along with the slight bitterness and the tangy flavor of the grapefruit, all drizzled with a tad of lime juice.

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We had the salsa as a snack with chips. It would also go really well with lemon-marinaded chicken breast or white fish fillets, or you can use it as a topping for tacos.

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Grapefruit Avocado Salsa
(Serves 4-6)

You will need
1 red grapefruit
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and finely chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, cored and finely chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro
Juice of 1/2 lime
A dash of white pepper
Salt, to taste

Directions
1. Cut the grapefruit in half crosswise, then carefully slice to separate each grapefruit section from its surrounding membrane. Spoon out the sections and place in a large bowl. Repeat with the other grapefruit half and discard the remaining peel.
2. Add avocado, bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, and cilantro to the bowl with the grapefruit. Drizzle with lime juice and season with salt and pepper. Gently toss to combine. Spoon out into a serving bowl. Serve as an appetizer with tortilla chips, or as a topping for fish or chicken.

12

Pirozhki or Russian Savory Stuffed Pastries

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A former colleague once made a very interesting observation. She was born to parents of Puerto Rican and Eastern European descent and later married to an Anglo-Saxon, and as a result was exposed to a variety of different cuisines from an early age, which she continued to explore further into adulthood. She said that almost every cuisine around the world that she's tried has a dish where something is stuffed inside some form of dough. Be it a mince pie, an empanada, gyoza, or sambosa, it all involves some sort of savory (usually meat) filling, wrapped in dough, and baked, steamed or fried. I thought her observation was spot-on, and something I hadn't thought of. She then asked me about the Russian or Ukrainian version and whether it wasn't pierogi, which on my part provoked a response longer and more impassioned than was probably called for in making intra-office chitchat. So, reader, brace yourself. At the end I'll reward you with a delicious recipe for pirozhki (just as babushka used to make) with a vegetarian filling of mushrooms and rice.

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There have been several instances, like the one above, where I've heard a Russian or even any kind of Eastern European dumpling or stuffed pastry referred to as "pierogi." As in, "isn't it all just pierogi"?

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It's a lot more complicated. So before we get to the recipe, let's talk about some of the different Eastern European dumplings, savory stuffed pastries and pies (although this will not be by any means exhaustive).

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First, the dumplings.

Pierogi. Pierogi (pe-ROH-gee) are Polish. Therefore, what is commonly referred to as pierogi here in the U.S., are actually Polish fried dumplings that are made from unleavened dough (flour, water, eggs), stuffed with a filling (such as meat, potatoes or cabbage), usually boiled and then pan-fried. Similar types of dumplings exist in Ukraine and Russia but they have a slightly different method of preparation and different names.

Vareniki. Vareniki (vah-REH-nee-kee) are Ukrainian. In Ukraine, dumplings made with unleavened dough and stuffed with a filling such as meat, potatoes or sour cherries, folded into a half-moon shape, and then boiled in water, are called vareniki.

Pelmeni. Pelmeni (pel-MYE-nee) are Russian. They are similar to vareniki, made with unleavened dough and stuffed with meat (but sometimes also with other fillings) and folded into a saucer shape. I've made them before here.

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Now onto baked goods.

Piroghi. A Russian word pirog, plural piroghi (pronounced pee-roh-GEE; not pe-ROH-gee) means pie. Pirog or pie can be made from puff pastry dough or pie dough and be either sweet or savory (for the holidays it is fairly common to make a sort of mince pie by filling it with ground meat and rice).

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Pirozhki (pee-roh-zhh-KIE; singular: pirozhok) is a Russian diminutive word for pies. These are palm-sized and oval shaped and made with puff pastry or yeast-based dough, stuffed with meat or vegetables, and usually baked or fried. Sometimes in English, pirozhki are incorrectly referred to as pierogi. But even if there is little discernible semantic difference to a native English speaker between the two words, it might make a difference if depending on which word you use at a Russian restaurant, you get served these delicious, meaty, savory stuffed pastries or two or three full-sized cream pies.

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In this recipe, I use a vegetarian filling consisting of mushrooms and rice. As always, feel free to adjust or use other fillings. The recipe for the dough includes yeast, however this is a nonrising recipe. I also included the egg wash in the recipe which can be used to give the pirozhki (or other pastries) a deeper golden color when baked; it is optional.

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Are there similar dishes with dumplings and/or savory stuffed pastries in your country of origin (or that of your parents/grandparents)? If so, what are they?

Pirozhki or Russian Savory Stuffed Pastries
(Makes about 35-50 pirozhki)

Start with the dough:
(Recipe for dough adapted from: Please to the Table, by Anya von Brenzen and John Welchman; 
according to same, this recipe is "well known to every working Russian woman.")

3 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp salt
1/4 oz packet of active dry yeast (2 1/2 tsp)
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 egg
2/3 cup milk, slightly warmed
1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened

In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and active dry yeast. In a measuring cup, whisk together sugar and egg until the sugar is dissolved, top off with milk to measure one cup and whisk to combine. Add butter to the flour mixture and mix until crumbly with a wooden spoon or your hand. Gradually add the milk mixture. Mix well until dough starts to form. Knead the dough a few times. If it is too sticky, add a bit more flour, if it is too dry, add a few drops of milk. Form the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap or a towel and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. While the dough rests, make the filling. (Note: this is a non-rising recipe).

Then prepare the filling:
1 1/2 cup cooked white rice (1/2 cup uncooked)
1 tsp canola oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/2 lb baby bella or crimini mushrooms, finely chopped
1/8 cup dry white wine (optional)
1 tbsp freshly chopped parsley
2 tbsp sour cream
Salt & pepper to taste

1. To cook the rice: bring 1 cup of water to a boil, add 1/2 cup rice. Stir, cover, and simmer on low heat until all of the water is evaporated, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork and let cool.
2. In the mean time, heat canola oil in a pan on medium heat. Add the shallot and sauté, stirring frequently until translucent, 1-2 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the mushrooms. Cook, until mushrooms are done, about 5-8 minutes. Pour off any excess liquid. If using, stir in the wine and sauté quickly until the wine is almost evaporated, 1-2 minutes. Stir in parsley and remove from heat. Let cool slightly. In a large bowl, combine the cooked rice, the mushroom mixture, sour cream and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Egg wash is optional:
2 egg yolks
1/8 tsp salt
2 tsp milk

Whisk all of the ingredients together in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

Make the Pastries:
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line two cookie sheets with foil and grease with canola oil.
2. Divide the dough in half. On a dusted surface, roll out half of the dough to 1/8 inch thickness with a dusted rolling pin. With a round cookie cutter of about 3 inch diameter, make as many round shapes as you can, rerolling the scraps to make more round shapes. Repeat with the remaining dough.
3. To form the pastries, take a round shape, stretch slightly and place two to three teaspoons of the filling in the middle. Fold the piece in half and press the edges together to seal them. Pat the seam down slightly and place on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining pastries, placing them on the baking sheet about 1/2 inch apart. If using, brush each pastry with the egg wash. Bake, until golden (or in Russian, "until blushing"), about 25-30 minutes. Serve warm, with sour cream.

16

Crispy Root Vegetable Chips

Saturday, March 17, 2012

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The first potato chip I've ever tried as a child was homemade. One day my friend, who was a few years older, decided to make potato chips. She heated some oil in a small pot and I watched as tiny potato circles sizzled into crispy, crunchy goodness. She made them in small batches, two or three at a time, carefully supervising each one as it cooked to perfection. Sprinkled with sea salt, they were a perfect combination of salty and crispy, fresh and delicious. Somehow we ended up eating all of the chips as soon as they were done, so that by the time our parents came into the kitchen attracted by the smell and by an earlier promise of a tasty snack, all that was left was an empty plate with a few crumbs.

Though this experience was many years ago, I still remember the salty and starchy taste of the chips, the smell of the oil, which was sunflower, and the look of the tiny crispened sliver of the potato skin on each chip. Recently, as I was brainstorming for recipes, these smells and images emerged from some dusty cobwebbed corner of my memory. To make this snack even better, I decided to use a variety of different root vegetables. As a result, this post is about getting back to my roots in more ways than one.

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Have you gotten in touch with your roots recently? If not, pull up a chair, grab a tea or a tart cherry martini, and let's get back to our roots. In this recipe I use red and gold beets, rutabaga and celery root. As a result, each tasty morsel stands out in both taste and color.

Beets are always a favorite around these parts. They taste earthy and buttery, and I've always loved the vivid burgundy color of red beets. The deep color of the roots seems to gush upward into their red stems, coursing outward through the blood-red capillaries and into the green, edible leaves.

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Gold beets taste similarly to red beets, but I find their flavor to be more subtle. So if red beets are a bit too overwhelming for your palate, you just might become good friends with their golden cousins.

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Rutabaga is an extremely flavorful root vegetable. Recently we've made a rutabaga, zucchini and leek soup as a spin on the classic potato and leek soup, which was absolutely delicious. As I've mentioned earlier, they are a cross between cabbage and turnip. Interestingly, rutabaga chips taste more like cooked cabbage than anything else. If you like cabbage, then you will love rutabaga chips.

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Celery root is also intriguing. It is grotesque looking at its best, and it might frighten small children at its worst. If you're just getting to know this wonderful, flavorful root, start small. Their sizes range from a tennis ball to a monster just under the size of a soccer ball. I once got one that weighed eight pounds, and it was the smallest one in the store. This time I opted for something roughly the size of a baseball, which was much more manageable and a lot more flavorful. I lovingly call it Le Petit Monstre.

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All of these root vegetables make delicious, healthy chips. In this recipe they are pan fried in canola oil. With essentially no trans fat, low in saturated fat, and rich in omega-3, canola oil can be really good for your heart. Its high smoking point makes it ideal for frying (another alternative would be peanut oil). You can add a sprinkle of sea salt once the chips are done, or have them as they are; they are delicious with or without seasoning.

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Crispy Root Vegetable Chips
(Makes about 2 1/2 cups chips)

You will need:
Canola oil
1 tsp salt, plus more for seasoning
6-7 root vegetables (such as: rutabaga, gold beets, red beets, small celery root)

Directions:
1. Wash, peel and thinly slice the root vegetables. For best results, the slices should be almost paper thin, about 1/16 inch. Sprinkle the slices with about 1 tsp salt, mix and let stand for 15 minutes to extract water. The less water they contain, the better they will fry. Then rinse, and pat dry thoroughly.
2. Pour enough canola oil into a tall-sided pan to cover the bottom surface; the oil should be about 1/4 inch deep. Heat the oil on medium heat to about 350ºF (the oil will be sufficiently hot when a test slice dropped into the oil sizzles satisfyingly). With tongs and working in batches, carefully place the slices in a single layer in the pan. Fry the chips until crisp, about 3 minutes per batch, flipping with tongs occasionally. The chips are ready when slightly darkened in color and they begin to resemble wilted petals. Remove with tongs immediately and let dry completely on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Serve and enjoy.

11

Pan-Seared Salmon Burgers

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

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Burgers often get a bad name. No matter the origin - hipster burger joints in NYC passing themselves off as gourmet, family-run diners, or various nameless franchises - they are either enormous and dry, or sloppily served in a squashed soggy bun smelling of grease and something sour. Sure, you feel full afterwards, but like a hastily arranged paramouristic encounter with a faceless stranger in a dark and empty parking lot, one emerges feeling dirty and weighed down with inevitable regret.

Enter the salmon burger:

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It is leaner, lighter, and healthier as it contains essential nutrients (omega-3 and vitamin D). In this recipe we use an egg white to bind it together and no bread or starch. With lemon juice, scallion, and a hint of garlic, it is both delicious and deliciously simple to make.

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We often prefer slider-sized burgers as they seem somehow more manageable (the long lens makes them look deceivingly larger in the photographs). Or maybe I just never got past the child-like trait of preferring smaller things because they are more fun. Or maybe it's to compensate for the fact that burgers used to be much smaller than they are today. In any event, in this recipe we used whole wheat potato rolls to go with the salmon patties which were topped with an avocado spread, jalapeño slices, campari tomatoes, and onion. (We use shallot slices, since they are more appropriately sized for sliders, and their gentle flavor complements the salmon.)

Salmon Burgers with Avocado Spread
(Makes 4 burger patties or 8 slider patties)

You will need:
1 lb skinless salmon fillet
1 scallion, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
white of 1 egg
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground white pepper
a pinch of cayenne pepper
2 tsp lemon juice, divided
2 tbsp canola oil for frying
1 avocado

Directions:
1. Rinse the salmon and pat dry with paper towels. Slice into large pieces and place in a food processor: pulse until salmon is coarsely ground for a chunky consistency. Place in a bowl, add scallion, garlic, dill, egg white, salt, white and cayenne pepper, and 1 tsp lemon juice. Mix well to combine.
2. Heat canola oil in a large pan on medium heat. Form the salmon mixture into four flattened patties about 1/4 inch thick (or 8 smaller patties if making sliders) and place in the pan. Cook until done and the patties are a pinkish gold, about 2-3 minutes per side.
3. Make the avocado spread: mash the avocado with a fork in a small bowl, add the remaining 1 tsp lemon juice and mix well. To make the burgers, serve salmon patties on a whole wheat roll, topped with the avocado spread and your choice of toppings (such as baby arugula and thinly sliced tomato, jalapeño and onion).

7

Tart Cherry Berry Martini

Friday, March 9, 2012

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It's about time we reintroduced our Friday Happy Hour around these parts, wouldn't you say? For this Friday's happy hour on our drink menu we have vodka martinis with fresh raspberries and sour cherry juice.

Lately I've been seeing sour cherry juice popping up in stores. I've seen it at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. I absolutely love the taste as I love sour cherries. My favorite is pure sour cherry juice (not from concentrate, no sugar). It is great as an anti-oxidant, and tastes much less pucker-face sour than a fresh sour cherry. Nevertheless, due to the acidity it is not recommended to have more than one shot of the juice per day.

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As a result, we decided to try it in drinks. In this cocktail, we use crème de cassis (sweet, black currant liqueur) to counteract the tartness of the cherry juice and to complement the raspberries.

Tart Cherry Berry Martini
(Serves 2)

You will need:
2 shots sour cherry juice
1/2 cup fresh raspberries
2 shots vodka
1 shot crème de cassis
ice

Directions:
In a blender, blend cherry juice and raspberries. Add the mixture to a shaker, followed by vodka, crème de cassis, and ice. Shake well. Strain into two martini glasses. Top with cherries for fun. Enjoy.

10

Mini Mojito Cupcakes

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How do you make a mojito cupcake? Rum cake-based cupcakes and lime and mint buttercream frosting with a splash of Triple Sec. It's even more fun when they are miniature.

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Miniature cupcakes provide a wonderful chance to sample dessert without having to commit to a full size cupcake. They may also give the unfortunate illusion that, because they're miniature, you're getting away with eating less. I say illusion, because their size makes it convenient to forget how many you've actually gulped down. For example, in the course of writing the two previous sentences I just consumed two of them. I say unfortunate, because you may end up eating a lot more of these than your normal limit of full-sized cupcakes. But who's counting?

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I made these little ones on a whim. I've been playing around with a mojito-inspired frosting idea, and decided to make rum-cake type batter for the cakes at the last minute. It just seemed fitting.

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I made buttercream frosting as I wanted to play around with piping. As a result, I made two separate designs, a white floral design by piping the frosting with the petal-leaf tip into a flower, and a less flamboyant option to make them more hubs-friendly (with flamboyant fluted cups, so the level of flamboyance is actually similar).

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Whether floral or festive, these minis are sure to satisfy any sweet-tooth, big or small.

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Mini Mojito Cupcakes
(Makes 24 minis or 12 regular cupcakes)

Rum Cupcakes

You will need:
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick butter (1/2 cup), softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lime zest
1/4 cup dark rum
1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line two miniature 12-muffin pans with fluted cups.
2. In a bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside. In a separate large bowl, beat together butter and sugar until creamy and the mixture forms ripples, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Add the lime zest and rum and beat until combined. Then, with mixer on low speed add in alternate batches the flour mixture and apple sauce, beginning and ending with the flour. Mix until just combined.
3. Divide the batter between the muffin cups. Bake until a rich golden brown, 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean. Remove from oven, let cool in the pan slightly then place the cupcakes onto a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

Mint and Lime Buttercream Frosting

You will need:
2 sticks butter (1 cup), softened
4 cups confectioner's sugar
2 tbsp lime juice (about 1 lime), or to taste
1 tbsp freshly grated lime zest
1/2 cup loosely packed mint leaves
1 1/2 tsp Triple Sec (optional)

Directions:
1. Beat butter in a bowl with an electric mixer until creamy, about 1 minute. In batches, gradually add confectioner's sugar, and beat until well blended and the consistency is smooth and somewhat stiff, about 3 minutes. Add lime juice and beat well to combine. In a food processor, combine lime zest and mint leaves and pulse a few times until the mint leaves are very finely chopped. Add to the frosting and beat until combined.
2. Spread or pipe onto cooled cupcakes (rounded and petal tips were used in the photos). If not using immediately, cover the frosting with a damp paper towel and plastic wrap, and refrigerate until needed.

4

Turkey Meatball Soup

Saturday, March 3, 2012

If you find yourself craving something filling, but low on fat and easy to make, try this turkey meatball soup. Altogether from start to finish this soup takes about forty minutes.

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I find soups to be very useful for emergency lunches. This recipe actually arose from such an occasion: we wanted to have lunch before heading out somewhere, the fridge was nearly empty by the week's end and all I could find was ground turkey, onion and some carrots and parsnips in the fridge's drawer.

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As a result I made this soup, which as with so many things I make, I learned by watching my mom.

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As I mentioned somewhere before, none of my recipes are ever the same. I often cook from memory. Sometimes when I'm shopping for food, I'll forget something, or sometimes, as today I make something from a few odds and ends that are left over in the fridge. As a result, you can make your own substitutions: have a lone potato? Throw it in. Don't have parsley? Use a different herb. Follow your instincts, chances are they'll lead you to the right things.

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Turkey Meatball Soup
(Serves 4-6)

You will need:

For the stock:
1/4 cup long-grain white rice
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 parsnips, peeled and chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
1/4 medium onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
salt & pepper to taste
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp chopped dill
1 chopped scallion (for garnish, optional)

For the meatballs:
1 lb ground turkey
1/4 onion, chopped
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp paprika

Directions:

1. In a medium stock pot, bring about 8-10 cups water to a boil. Stir in the rice, and simmer, covered, about 10 minutes. Add carrots, parsnip, celery, onion and bay leaf. Cook until vegetables are tender, 15-20 minutes.
2. As the vegetables cook, make the meatballs: in a bowl, mix ground turkey, onion, salt, pepper, and paprika. If the meat is too dry, add a tablespoon or two of water for desired consistency. Form the meat into 1 1/2 inch wide meatballs. Carefully drop them into the pot. Simmer for 10-15 minutes more, until the meatballs are fully cooked. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir in parsley and dill. Serve and enjoy. As an option when serving, sprinkle each soup bowl with chopped scallion.
 

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