Friday, April 29, 2011

Banana Fluffer Nutter Cupcakes with Candied Bacon

Today is my dear friend Brian's birthday.  Happy Birthday Brian!  With all the hullabaloo about the royal wedding I wanted to make something befitting royalty for this special day.  Since Brian is a major fan of the King of Rock and Roll, I decided to go with something I know Elvis would have loved.  How can you go wrong with bananas, peanut butter and bacon?

These cupcakes are made with a banana muffin mix (they didn't have any over-ripe bananas at the grocery!) which saves a lot of time.  Feel free to substitute your favorite banana muffin recipe if you feel inclined to make them from scratch.  I just removed the walnuts and added a little extra cinnamon to the mix.  Then they are filled with marshmallow creme (more pre-fabricated goodness!)  And then they are topped with a sweet and salty peanut butter icing and finally garnished with candied bacon!  The King would be proud!

Banana Fluffer Nutter Cupcakes with Candied Bacon
makes 1 dozen

Candied Bacon
5 slices of bacon
1/4 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 250 F.  Combine bacon and brown sugar in a small bowl and toss until bacon is well-coated with brown sugar. Place bacon on a wire rack on top of a baking sheet.  Bake 30-45 minutes until caramelized and golden.  Bacon may seem limp, but will crisp up once cooled.  Remove bacon from rack while still hot, cool, and chop to small chunks.

Banana Cupcakes
1 box banana nut muffin mix, sifted to remove nuts
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 small jar marshmallow creme

Sift banana muffin mix to remove nuts,  add cinnamon and prepare according to package directions, cool completley.  Once cooled, pierce each cupake in the center with a sharp small knife. Using a piping bag fitted with a large round tip, fill each cupcake with marshmallow creme.  Frost with peanut butter icing and garnish with candied bacon and a pinch of coarse sea salt.

Peanut Butter Icing
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 tsp salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup half and half

In a large bowl combine butter, peanut butter, salt and vanilla and mix until smooth and well-blended.  Add powdered sugar and mix until well-combined.  Thin icing to desired consistency with milk.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Potato Gratin

Today is Easter and we decided to keep things simple.  Ham, potato gratin, steamed asparagus and deviled eggs.  This is my all time favorite way to eat potatoes!  It is one of those amazing dishes that tastes soooo much more complicated and amazing, than the sum of its parts would indicate.

This gratin is creamy and cheesey, fragrant with garlic and  really crunchy chewy crispy cheese top!  Yum.

Don't worry about the amount of cream in this dish.  DO NOT SUBSTITUTE IT FOR HALF AND HALF OR MILK.   Just use cream.  Its bad for you, so what.  Its delicious, and its not like you are eating this three times a week!  Go ahead.  Make it.  Eat it.  You will be happy.

Potato Gratin
serves 8

3 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled and sliced  very thinly
1 pound gruyere cheese (or Swiss cheese), grated
2 cloves garlic
freshly grated nutmeg
1 3/4 cups heavy cream

Pre heat oven to 350 F.

In a large ceramic baking dish, crush two colves of peeled garlic, then rub entire inside of dish with garlic, leaving crushed garlic fragments in the bottom of the dish.  Add one layer of sliced potatoes, salt generously, sprinkle with nutmeg and 1/3 of the cheese.  Repeat two more times until everything is used.  Slowly pour cream into center of gratin and let it percolate through the dish.  Bake, on foil, for one hour and 15 minutes until bubbling and potatoes are very tender.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Chocolate Chip Carrot Cake Cupcakes with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing

Happy Easter!   Nothing says Easter to me like carrot cake, and this is one of the best recipes I have ever tasted.  The cake itself is rich and moist and fragrant with cinnamon.  The original cake recipe comes from the Junior League of Milwaukee (thanks to Joyce Dekker for gifting me the 1987 cookbook Gatherings [now called An Occasion To Gather] which published the recipe).  I have added mini chocolate chips to the batter because I love the surprise hint of chocolate in this cake.  YUM.

But I really have to admit, that as good as the carrot cake is, it is merely a vehicle for the white chocolate cream cheese icing.  WOW.  Gone is the toothpaste-like graininess of the usual cloyingly sweet cream cheese icing made with confectioners sugar (eeew, nasty).  This icing is a three-ingredient wonder:  Cream cheese, unsalted butter and melted white chocolate.  The result is an icing that is light like a white chocolate mousse with the tang of cream cheese.  The icing is perfectly silky and smooth and is phenomenal against the dense moist carrot cake.

This is one of my most requested recipes, and I hope you will try them sometime.  They are incredibly easy and keep for days.  And best of all the recipe makes a generous 3 dozen cupcakes, so there are always plenty to go around!  Enjoy!

Chocolate Chip Carrot Cake Cupcakes with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing
makes 3 dozen

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
3 eggs
2 cups finely grated carrots
1 cup crushed, drained pineapple
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup mini chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Sift flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt into a large bowl, set aside.  In the bowl of a mixer combine sugar, vegetable oil and eggs, beat until well combined.  Gradually add flour mixture and mix until batter forms.  Fold in carrots, pineapple, coconut, walnuts and chocolate chips.  Fill paper-lined cupcake pans with scant 1/4 cup batter.  Bake 25 minutes.   Cool completely before icing.

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
2- 8 oz. packages cream cheese, room temperature
12 oz. chopped white chocolate.

In a large mixing bowl, combine butter and cream cheese and whip until mixed and light and fluffy.  In a glass bowl, melt the white chocolate in the microwave, on high, for  15-second intervals, always stirring between microwaving.  When chocolate is liquid, allow to cool for 5 minutes, then add to butter/cream cheese mixture.  Whip until blended and light.

Beignets with Chocolate Dipping Sauce

Happy Easter!   For breakfast this morning I am making these simple beignets.  Since Emma is with us this Easter I decided to make one of her favorite things from childhood.  These are a real treat and are very easy to make especially if you have a deep fryer.  These are not the doughy, salty beignets you get in New Orleans (which are tasty), but instead these are the real French beignets made from pate choux.  They are crispy and light as air, and not very sweet. I like to serve these with a warm ganache dipping sauce and hot coffee and mimosas!  Rise and shine!

Beignets with Chocolate Dipping Sauce
makes about 18

1/2 cup water
1/2 stick butter (1/4 cup)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup flour
2 eggs

Vegetable oil for frying

1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oil to 350 F.   In a medium sacue pan combine water, butter and salt, and bring to a boil.  Once boiling remover from heat and add flour  Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until mixture forms a ball.  Let cool 15 minutes.   Add eggs one at a time and beat into batter with wooden spoon until smooth.

Drop teaspoons of dough into hot oil and fry until puffed and golden.  Drain beignets on paper towels.  Dust with powdered sugar.  Serve with warm ganache.

Ganache:  In a small sauce pan, bring cream just to a boil. Remove from heat, add chocolate chips and stir until glossy and smooth.  Pour into small ramekins and serve with beignets.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Happy Birthday Doug!

Several weeks ago I asked Doug what he wanted to do for his birthday.  He replied that he wanted to have a party and that he has always wanted to try to make Timpano from the movie Big Night.  This is one of our favorite foodie movies.  If you haven't seen the movie, here is a clip featuring Timpano:

So we began to research recipes.  As it turns out, the original dish is called Timbalo and Timpano is a  variation from Calabria (the homeland of actor Stanley Tucci who stars in the film and whose grandmother's recipe was inspiration for the film!).  We quickly discovered that everyone who posted a Timpano recipe had their own variation... so we turned ourselves loose and decided to make our own variation.  FUN!

Timpano is a giant pastry-encrusted dome of pasta and meat and cheese and eggs.  It must be baked in a large 14-inch 6-quart enamel bowl which you can buy here.  Its not really a difficult dish, but it is very time consuming.  Luckily everything can be made ahead of time except for the Timpano itself.  We started cooking on Monday night for a party on Saturday.

The result was great!  It sliced easily and beautifully and was delicious.  Make sure you have a lot of hungry people around because this makes A LOT of food.

Mama Ozzy's Timpano
serves 24 hungry people

3 lb dried Penne Pasta, cooked 1/2 the recommended time, rinsed under cold water, and tossed with Olive oil (should be made ahead of time and stored in large ziploc bags)
Mama Ozzy's Tomato Ragu Sauce (recipe follows)
Italian Sausage and mushrooms (recipe follows)
Bechamel Sauce (recipe follows)
Mama Ozzy's Turkey Meatballs (recipe follows)
8 hard boiled eggs, peeled
1 pound aged sharp provolone (cut into cubes)
1 pound aged Fontina cheese (cut into cubes)
1 pound grated parmesan cheese
1 pound thinly-sliced Genoa Salami, coarsely chopped
1/2 pound thinly sliced prosciutto ham
1/4 cup room temperature butter
1 recipe olive oil pasta dough (recipe follows)

Mama Ozzy's Tomato Ragu Sauce
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb cubed beef chuck
1 lb boneless pork country ribs, cubed
1 cup diced onion
5 cloves garlic minced
1 cup red wine
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
70 oz. diced tomatoes (preferably San Marzano; two 28 oz. cans plus one 14 oz. can)
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp dried rosemary
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 1/2 cups water
salt to taste

In a large stock pot heat olive oil and heat over medium high heat.  Add 1/2 beef and brown well on all sides.  Remove beef and transfer to a large bowl.  Repeat with remaining beef and pork.  Add onion and garlic to meat drippings, reduce heat to medium and cook 5 minutes, scraping up any brown bits stuck to bottom of pan.  Add wine, tomato paste and canned tomatoes, oregano, rosemary and basil.  Cook until tomatoes come to a simmer.  Puree tomato mixture with an immersion blender.  Add water and return meat to sauce with any juice.  Reduce heat to low, cover and cook 3 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally.

Italian Sausage and Mushrooms
1lb Italian sausage (I used chicken italian sausage)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 oz. dried morel mushrooms
1 cup boiling water
1 lb button mushrooms, thickly sliced
1/4 tsp thyme
2 Tbsp Marsala
salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, soak dried mushrooms in boiling water.  Remove sausage from casings and fry in olive oil over medium high heat until well browned.  Remove sausage from pan, reserving drippings.  Drain morels and reserve liquid (after pouring through a double thickness of cheesecloth to remove any grit).  Fry button mushrooms in sausage drippings until golden, then add morels, reserved mushroom liquid, thyme and marsala.  Cook until liquid is reduced to a thick glaze.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add sausage to mushrooms and allow to cool before adding to Ragu.

Bechamel Sauce
1/2 cup (1 stick ) butter
1/2 cup flour
4 cups milk
pinch freshly ground nutmeg
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground white pepper
2 Tbsp freshly minced rosemary (or 1/2 Tbsp dried)

In a large saucepan melt the butter.  Add flour, stir and cook 1 minute on medium high heat.  Add milk and stir with a whisk until mixture thickens (about 5 minutes).  Add salt and white pepper and nutmeg and rosemary.  Season with additional salt if desired.

Turkey Meatballs
See Mama Ozzy's Turkey Meatball recipe, and form 2 dozen golf-ball sized meatballs.  Bake meatballs in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Cool completely

Olive oil pasta dough
4 cups flour
4 eggs
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp water + 1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp kosher salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, place eggs, olive oil, 3 Tbsp water and kosher salt.  Add flour and begin mixing.  Add water 1 Tbsp at a time, as needed, until the dough puls together into a ball (you will not add all the water).  Once a dough forms, remove from mixing bowl and knead by hand on a lightly floured surface until dough is smooth.  Wrap dough in plastic and let rest at room temp for 30 minutes.

Assembling and Baking the Timpano
Before doing anything, all pasta must be cooked, sauces prepared, meatballs made etc, and everything must be at room temperature.

1.  In a very large bowl, mix half the pasta with 7 cups of the tomato ragu sauce.  Add the mushrooms and sausage and stir until well combined.

2.  In a very large bowl, mix the remaining half of the pasta with the bechamel sauce, and add chopped genoa salami.

3.  On a very large, clean, lightly floured surface begin to roll out the pasta dough with a rolling pin.  Continue to roll the dough until it is very thin and measures 32 inches in diameter.  This is a LOT of work and will take quite a bit of time (about 20 minutes).

4. Butter the Timpano pan with 1/4 cup of room temp butter...this needs to be VERY generously coated.

5.  Fold the dough in half, then in half again to make a "wedge" 1/4 of the original circle.  Lift dough into bowl and gently unfold to line the bowl, gently pressing and stretching as you go.  Do not tear the gentle!

6.  Line the dough in the bowl with sliced prosciutto.

7.  Place 1/2 the bechamel pasta in the bowl.  Add 1/4 of the  provolone, fontina and parmesan.  Then cover with remaining bechamel Pasta.  Top with another 1/4 of the cheeses.

8.  Place meatballs and hardboiled eggs (eggs quartered lengthwise) atop the bechamel pasta.

9.  Place half of the tomato ragu pasta atop the meatballs and eggs, sprinkle with 1/4 of the cheeses.  Then place remaining tomato pasta in bowl, top with cheeses.

10.  Fold overhanging dough to cover pasta in bowl, trimming to avoid any double layers of pasta.  The bowl should be completely sealed.

Bake one hour at 350 F.  Cover top with foil and bake one additional hour at 350.  Remove Timpano from oven and allow to rest 30 minutes.

Invert Timpano carefully onto a platter, then allow to rest 30 minutes before removing bowl.

Finally the big moment.  carefully remove bowl, garnish with fresh basil leaves and serve with a great deal of fanfare!  when you cut the Timpano, cut a circle in the center of the dish, then cut wedges from the outer ring (this will give the Timpano more support while you are slicing).

P.S.  The Party was a major success despite the fact that on the day of the party (April 16, 2011) North Carolina was hit with a severe storm front that spawned around 60 different tornadoes and killed 42 people.  Our hearts and prayers go out to those who lost loved ones, or whose homes were damaged by the storm.

This is the storm front as it passed over the Raleigh-Durham area...  
A tornado made a direct hit on downtown Raleigh about 15 minutes after this radar image was captured.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tiramisu Cupcakes

This weekend is Doug's birthday party!  For a theme he decided we should do a party after the movie "Big Night", with the centerpiece being the mythical Timpano .  But since the food will all be Italian Doug decided he wanted a Tiramisu cupcake.  So here is my recipe! 

I will admit I borrowed heavily from Martha Stewart on this one, but made my own Mama Ozzy modifications (mainly to simplify Martha's crazy recipe).  This is still a bit of an advanced recipe, but the result is well-worth the effort!  Buon Appetito!

Tiramisu Cupcakes
makes 24

3 eggs plus three egg yolks room temperature (MUST be room temp!!!)
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups flour, sifted
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the eggs, egg yolks and sugar.  With the whisk attachment whip the eggs and sugar on high speed for 5 minutes until very light and fluffy.

While eggs are whipping, combine milk and butter in a glass bowl and microwave on high for one minute until butter is melted.  Add vanilla to milk.

Once the eggs are whipped, sift 1/3 of the flour over the eggs and gently fold in until no dry spots remain.  Repeat until all flour is added.

Scoop about 1 cup of the egg batter into the milk and gently mix until incorporated, then add milk mixture back to batter and fold until completely blended.  Scoop 1/4 batter into lined cupcake pans.  Bake 20 minutes.  Immediately upon removing cupcakes from oven, brush the cakes with Coffee Marsala Syrup until it is completely used.

Coffee Marsala Syrup
1/3 cup very strong coffee
1/4 sugar
1 oz (shot) of Marsala

Heat coffee and sugar in mcrowave until hot and sugar is dissolved.  Add Marsala and mix.

Mascarpone Cream
1 1/2 cups Mascarpone cheese
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar

In a mixing bowl combine mascarpone and powdered sugar and beat until smooth.  Add cream and whip until fluffy (do not over beat or this will become nasty and grainy).

1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chocolate chips

In a small sauce pan heat cream until boiling. Remove from heat and add chocolate, whisk until smooth.

Pierce each cupcake with a kinfe.  Pipe some mascarpone cream into the center of each cupcake using a piping bag and large round tip.

Dip the top of each cupcake in ganache.  Refrigerate one hour to set ganache.  Once ganache is set, pipe remaining mascarpone on each cupcake.  Garnish with chocolate shavings.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Strawberry Margarita Cupcakes with Tequila Buttercream

This weekend is our friend Kiki's birthday!  We are heading up to DC tomorrow for a fantastic party on her patio.  This year Kiki decided that she wanted a Mexican menu featuring dishes by renowned chef Rick Bayless, and she asked if would like to help with some of the cooking.  Of course the answer was YES!  I will be blogging the recipes over the next few days.  

Kiki decided she wanted a margarita cupcake, and gave me carte blanche to create a recipe so here it is.  I must say these cupcakes are AMAZING.  A moist tart lime cupcake, filled with strawberry buttercream, topped with a Tequila buttercream, garnished with lime zest and sea salt!   These really do taste like a strawberry margarita!

There are a lot of different steps to this recipe, so to save some time I started with a yellow cake mix.  I like cake mixes for projects like these because it is very easy to manipulate the ingredients to achieve the desired flavor profile.  I add both lime and orange oil to the batter.  You can find these citrus oils at finer grocery stores and you only need a very small amount since they are INTENSELY flavored.

A word of caution... go easy on the sea salt garnish... a little goes a long way!  And add the salt immediately before serving, otherwise it will melt in the humidity and you will lose the delightful crunch of the crystals.

Strawberry Margarita Cupcakes with Tequila Buttercream
makes 2 dozen

1 yellow cake mix
1/4 tsp lime oil
1/4 tsp orange oil
finely grated zest from two limes
1/3 cup Roses sweetened lime juice

1 cup finely chopped fresh strawberries
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur

Tequila Buttercream
3 egg whites
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup tequila
2 Tbsp Roses sweetened lime juice

Preheat oven to 350.  Prepare cake mix according to package directions but add lime oil, orange oil and lime zest to the batter.  Bake cupcakes.  Immediately when cupcakes are removed from oven, brush the hot cakes with Roses lime juice until the entire 1/3 cup is used.  Allow cupcakes to cool.

While cakes are cooling, prepare strawberry filling by combining chopped strawberries, sugar and orange liqueur in a small non stick pan and cook over medium high heat until mixture comes to a boil.  Continue to cook until mixture thickens to a jam-like consistency (about 10 minutes). Cool completely.

Make tequila buttercream by combining egg whites and 2 Tbsp sugar in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Whip egg whites gently on medium speed while preparing syrup.  Combine 1/2 cugar and 1/4 cup water in a small pan and heat over high heat until mixture boils.  Continue to boil mixture to soft ball stage (238 F; about 10 minutes).  With mixer still running, add hot syrup to egg whites.  gradually increase speed to high and continue to beat until mixture is like marshmallow fluff and room temperature.  Reduce speed to medium and add softened butter 1 Tbsp at a time, scraping down sides occasionally.  Once all butter is added and buttercream is smooth and fluffy, add tequila and lime juice.

Add 1/2 cup buttercream to cooled strawberries and mix together.  Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a large round tip.  Pierce each cupcake with a sharp knife, then push piping bag tip into the middle of each cupcake and fill with strawberry buttercream.  Pipe remaining tequila buttercream on cupcake tops.  Garnish with lime zest, sliced strawberries and coarse sea salt.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Stir-Fried Mushrooms and Bok Choy

 So yesterday Doug and I went to The Grand  Asia Market in Cary, NC.  I was looking for a Chinese BBQ duck for some duck tacos I am making next week, but was completely distracted by the glorious produce section.  Everything was incredibly fresh and the variety of vegetables was jaw dropping.  I was so enamored by the tiny baby bok choy, that we decided on the spot we would stir fry them for dinner with some funky mushrooms and serve this with the pork bao buns we picked up.

This dish was really simple and extremely flavorful.  I used meaty oyster mushrooms and tiny cute white beech mushrooms but you can use any kind of mushroom that strikes your fancy.  The entire dish came together in about 10 minutes!  It was light and hearty and because of the large amount of mushrooms really didn't taste like a vegetarian dish.   I hope you'll try this sometime as a side dish or as a main dish with some steamed white rice.  It's also remarkably healthy too!

Mushrooms, tiny baby bok choy, scallions, garlic and ginger ready to be stir- fried.

Stir-Fried Mushrooms and Bok Choy
serves 4

1 1/2 pounds mushrooms, cut into thick slices
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp dried red pepper flakes
3 cloves garlic finely minced
1 walnut-sized chunk of fresh ginger, finely minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1 lb bok choy, cut thickly
1 bunch scallions, cut into 1-inch lengths
3 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp Mirin (sweet rice wine)
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp corn starch

In a wok or large skillet heat oil over high heat until very hot. Add red pepper flakes and fry 10 seconds, then add mushrooms and stir fry until beginning to caramelize, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic, ginger and jalapeno and toss with mushrooms.  Add bok choy and scallions and stir fry 2-3 minutes until they turn bright green.  combine soy sauce, mirin, balsamic vinegar and sesame oil and corn starch in a small bowl, then add all at once to stir fry and toss to coat.  Remove from heat and serve with steamed white rice.