February 21, 2010

Lemon Coconut Cupcakes

I was planning on making Mardi Gras themed meringues last week but never got around to it. Nevertheless, I bought Lemon Extract (which is kinda pricey) in preparation. Today, I was hungry and in the mood to bake, and I wanted to make use of my latest baking purchase. I also had a box of Angel Food cake mix and a box of Lemon Cake mix in my pantry. I also always try to keep some coconut on hand for my Chocolate Almond Macaroons, which I will blog about the next time I make them and can photograph them. Lemon coconut it was, a delicious combination. I opted for the Angel Food cake mix, because I was in the mood for its marshmallowey goodness and it would also require the use of the Lemon Extract. I'm incredibly lazy and impatient and should really just invest in a second cupcake pan, so I overfilled my pan and only had a little batter left over; there was no way I was waiting for one batch to cook AND cool before baking a second batch. I was looking for an ovenproof bowl to bake off the rest of my batter, and came across a microwave safe over-sized mug. My aforementioned hunger led me to decide that microwaving the extra batter was a good idea. It wasn't pretty, or golden brown, but I ate it. The end product was very lightly colored (the outer cupcakes browned more than the inner ones) but the coconut gives the crusty parts a perfect chewy crispiness. I don't know if baking them in cupcake cups and not overfilling the pan would maximize crusty surface area, but it would be worth trying.

Sidebar Political Stance: Ok, maybe not really political, but a huge issue of contention in baking is to Cake Mix or not to Cake Mix? I love using Cake Mix in other applications, or just to (stealing Pillsbury's tag line) "Plus it up". I like cake mix cookies, I like taking cake and cookie mixes and adding to them. I also really like cake made from cake mix, but I fully admit that that is not really baking. Cake Mix is just a bunch of ingredients already mixed together for you. Yeah, there's all sorts of preservatives and crap in it; but it's yummy so I'm going to use it.

Sidebar Olympics Stance: I may as well use this platform to rant, let's face it the over/under on my (our? Becca? Bueller?) readership is somewhere around 5. I'm a religious follower of the Olympics and I need to say it: Johnny Weir was ROBBED!!! I'm not saying he was better than Lysacek or even Plushenko. But both his short program AND his free skate were underscored. I don't know if he was being judged on his off-ice personality or what, but there is absolutely no good reason for him to have ended the competition in 6th place. Takahashi FELL, doesn't that lower your score or something? And he just barely beat Oda (the Japanese guy with the most compelling shoelace tie ever). I and the commentators (Scott Hamilton knows his stuff!) were seriously expecting a Bronze Medal (or at least 4th) after Weir's free skate. I'm no expert, but someone please make me less mad about this. I know, I know, the 5 of you are here for the food, here's the recipe:

1 box Angel Food Cake mix
7+ oz coconut flakes
1 1/4 cups water
1 1/2 tsp lemon extract

Mix together cake mix, water and extract. Use a hand mixer on medium for 1 minute or just mix very well. Fold in coconut. Pour into cupcake liners or an ungreased cupcake pan so each cup is 2/3 to 3/4 full. I filled my ungreased cupcake pan to the top, but I think your product will be prettier if you don't do this. Bake at 350 F for 35 minutes, but start checking every 5 minutes or so after about 25 minutes. Cupcakes are done when edges are lightly browned and tops are dry.

Team USA > Canada Minestrone Soup

Absolutely AMAZING Hockey Game!

I am deep in the Olympic spirit this week. But I'm still managing to cook a little in between events or when Team USA is not playing in any non-ice dancing events. I know vegetable soups are super easy to make, but I always seem to forget this; so I decided to take a stab at it during my lazy Olympics Sunday afternoon. Also, of some inspiration, one of our moms left 2 bagged Manischewitz Minestrone soup mixes, a super-jewy product, when we moved in. My childhood memories are filled of my mom's awesome Split Pea Soup, which I'm pretty sure was made from (or at least with the help of) one of these mixes, as well as the nasty, watery failures resulting from attempts to use the other flavored soup mixes. I knew I would have to improve upon the instructions, and luckily I had the supplies I needed to add actual taste to the water. I've always liked tomato based Minestrones and Vegetable Soups; I may or may not have frequently added ketchup to my canned vegetable soups in the past. I even think that the addition of a few more spices and a higher broth:water ratio would have eliminated the need for the soup mix altogether. But now I only have one tube o' "soup" hiding in the back of my pantry. And if I do say so myself this soup is hearty and pastalicious enough for Team USA Hockey, I'll cook for you boys any day.

1 small onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2-3 ribs celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
olive oil
2 cups broth
5-6 cups water
1 Tube Minestrone Soup mix
3/4-1 jar marinara sauce
1-1 1/2 cups (dry) small shells pasta
Parmesan cheese

Saute carrots in oil for 2 minutes, then add celery, saute for 1 minute, add onion and garlic and continue to cook for 3 minutes until vegetables start to brown and onions are at least translucent. Add broth and water and bring to a boil. Add soup mix to boiling mixture (it's what the soup mix packet said to do). Lower the heat and cover the pot and let the soup simmer for about 25 minutes. Add the sauce, and return to a simmer for another 20-25 minutes. Puree about half of the soup; I just took an immersion blender to it and didn't puree the whole thing. Add the pasta and continue to simmer/low boil until the pasta is al dente, maybe even a bit firmer. Remove from heat and cool so you don't burn your tongue like I did. Top each serving with Parmesan cheese. It's a pretty thick soup, so you may need to add a little water when reheating leftovers. I also tried my hand at Hasselback potatoes with garlic and smoked paprika; they didn't taste particularly special, but they looked cool.

February 16, 2010

Pesto Mac

I got the idea to make this "Fancy Mac and Cheese" over a month ago, but have not found the time to make it since then. But alas, I was in the mood to cook dinner tonight, and this was really one of only a few things I had the food to make. This was also my first time making bechamel/cheese sauce, and I must say (even though, I'm not sure I did it right) it wasn't nearly as scary as I thought it would be, thanks to the basic recipe I followed. I had also bought a very interesting cheese called Mediterranean Jack, it had olives, basil, garlic, and sun-dried tomatoes in it; this very flavorful cheese combined with a little of my homemade pesto was a great cheesy combination.

1.5-2 TBSP Butter
1.5-2 TBSP Flour
1.5-2 Cups Milk (I did a combo of Skim Milk and Half and Half, it's what I had)
~2 TBSP Homemade Pesto
Cheese: Mediterranean Jack and Shredded Pizza Blend
Cooked, chopped Spinach
2/3 lb cooked pasta (I used Mezze Penne)
Breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan
Optional: Sundried Tomato Garnish

Melt butter in a small saucepan, add flour and whisk together and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add Milk and S+P and cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes until sauce bubbles and thickens at least a little (mine didn't thicken very much). Stir in the pesto then add cheese gradually and whisk in to melt, add as much cheese as you want until it looks and tastes like you want it to. Mix in the spinach then mix in with pasta. I felt like I had more sauce than pasta so I added sauce to pasta in smallish increments; if you feel you have more pasta than sauce add pasta to sauce bit by bit. This is all very subjective, your food should look and taste like YOU want it to. Put sauced pasta into a baking dish and top with breadcrumbs and parmesan (and a little melted butter if you want to go even more decadent), bake for 10-20 min at 350 degrees F until lightly browned.

Also, I made this for dinner last night, just without the arugula. It was amazing and I can't wait to make it again. Here is my less pretty picture.