Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sasha's Kitchen: Mom's Mandarin Orange Salad With Caramelized Almonds

The following salad is one of my "famous" family recipes. The origins of this salad are unknown, but it first came into my family via my Aunt who allegedly enjoyed it at a 1977 Pittsburgh Steelers Superbowl Party. If that's true, it might just be the best food ever served at a Superbowl Party. Everyone I have ever made this for has loved it, even the pickiest eaters out there. The way I make it is a little different from the original recipe, but it's good just the same.

Lettuce (I use either romaine or Boston butter lettuce)
1 small can of mandarin oranges juice drained
1/3 cup almond slivers
1/4 cup sugar (approximate)
celery (which I sometimes forget)
balsamic vinegar, parsley and oil for the dressing

Caramelize the almonds in sugar. When they are caramelized, allow them to cool and then either break them apart with your hands or chop in a nut chopper. Note: we use the famous "slap-chop" now to chop apart the almonds. My mom breaks them apart with her hands, but my husband and I both find the process to be unpleasant. Plus, my husband prefers to have the almonds chopped into smaller pieces because he worries that otherwise someone might chip a tooth (this shouldn't really be a problem as the nuts are not that hard, but he is a dentist's son).

Top the salad with the almonds, mandarin oranges, celery and dressing and serve. The original dressing that my mom makes uses both parsley and sugar. I always forget the parsley, and purposefully leave out the sugar because it doesn't need it as there is plenty of sugar already in the caramelized almonds.

This makes a great salad for any occasion, but is also perfect if you are planning to throw a Super Bowl party in January.

Note: if you want the salad to last for two days, you should save the extra caramelized almonds in a Ziploc bag as they will un-caramelize if you leave them into the salad in your refrigerator for many hours.

Salad on Foodista


Gilly's Kitchen in Queens - Vegan Chocolate Mousse Pie

Vegan chocolate mousse is perfect for dark chocolate lovers, who find themselves drawn to the bitter side of the spectrum. This is rather obvious, given that dairy milk and dairy chocolate are clearly missing from the equation.

This recipe only requires 4 ingredients, 5 if you count the crust, and takes a matter of minutes from start to finish. No baking is actually required, and this is therefore the perfect recipe for when you need a fabulous dessert but you have no time to make one (but please note that the mousse must set in the fridge for at least an hour before serving).

I made this vegan chocolate mousse for our kosher Thanksgiving dinner. Every single guest tried one, and every single guest finished it. My stepson declared the mousse one of the best parts of Thanksgiving. If you have guests that are tofu-phobic, you might want to refrain from mentioning the ingredients until after they devour it.

For elegant presentation, do not put the mousse into the crust, but rather put the mousse into clear glasses (such as small wine or champagne glasses, as they typically do in restaurants). For beyond elegant presentation, put some berries on top.

This recipe comes from Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's "The Joy of Vegan Baking."

You will need:
1 cup nondairy chocolate chips
12 ounces silken tofu (soft or firm -- I generally use firm)
1/2 cup nondairy milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
optional - for a chocolate mousse pie, I use a chocolate graham cracker crust. Berries can also be added on top of the pie or the mousse in cups.

1. Put the chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl, and heat for 1 minute, stir, and then heat for another minute (until melted). If you feel like doing this the slow way, melt via double broiler.
2. Put the tofu, milk, vanilla and melted chocolate into a blender or food processor, and watch as chocolate mousse is created in seconds right before your eyes. You may need to scrape chocolate from the side of the bowl and process some more. Process until entirely smooth (this should only take a minute, if that).
3. Pour the mousse into the crust, or put into individual cups, and place in the fridge for at least an hour.

Dessert is served.

Mousse on Foodista

Sasha's Kitchen: Carrot Papaya Coconut Cupcakes

Carrots, a perfect winter-themed vegetable are one of the December ingredients on this site that our writers are working on incorporating into their recipes. I wanted to include carrots in my next cupcake recipe, while mixing up some tropical flavors. So, I decided to create a recipe for carrot papaya cupcakes, and wound up throwing in some coconut, which mixed nicely with the other flavors.

I enjoyed decorating these cupcakes as well. This time, I made a pretty matching buttercream, dyed to the perfect shade of peachy orange. I created miniature carrots out of marzipan to decorate each cupcake and used an unused watercolor brush (I like to do a lot of painting - acrylic, watercolor and oil)to paint the carrots using water-based food coloring. More complex marzipan (and fondant) painting projects, which I plan to do in the future, will require investing in some professional food colorings, which I plan to purchase at my local store that sells cooking and baking equipment when I go out tomorrow. This will be perfect for upcoming projects including fondant-marshmallow Santa peeps and dreidel/Christmas tree cookies with Royal icing.

At any rate, these cupcakes really are not difficult to make, so don't be intimidated by the photos. It is worth giving a try at home, even if you have never worked with marzipan before.

If you cannot find fresh papaya to make your puree, (it's not exactly in season but you should still be able to get it, since it's not like papayas are ever grown in New York anyhow) you can substitute mango or pineapple.

Sasha's Carrot Papaya Coconut Cupcakes

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup sweetened coconut
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup milk
3/4 cup papaya chunks, pureed in a mini-prep or food processor
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
2/3 cup grated carrots
1/4 cup canola oil

I discovered that I only had organic baby carrots, which are quite difficult to grate with a peeler, unsurprisingly. To make the mix, combine the flour, coconut, baking powder and salt in one bowl. In a second bowl, combine the carrots, papaya puree, milk, sugar and melted butter. Combine all ingredients and fill your cupcake trays 2/4 to the top. I suggest using silicon cupcake trays with paper liners. This recipe should make about a dozen cupcakes.

I baked the cupcakes at an oven preheated to 350 F for about 28 minutes (took a little longer than I thought it would). You should test them with a toothpick or fork to make sure they are done on the inside.

While the cupcakes were baking, I molded little carrots with a top out of marzipan. I used a 50-50 mix of several drops of food coloring with several drops of water (slightly diluted) to create orange and green colors. I painted the carrots with a watercolor brush (one that had never been used in painting with watercolors!) I plan on experimenting in the future with more professional grade food colorings, but for this project, the grocery store standard food coloring did the trick.

After taking the cupcakes out of the oven they should be allowed to cool for at least 30 minutes. If you frost too soon, the frosting will melt on the cupcakes.
For my frosting, I decided to do a plain buttercream, which is the most common type of cupcake frosting. It is also exactly what the name implies - butter and sugar, and lots of both. So let's not confuse these cupcakes with anything too healthy just because I made them with fresh fruits and veggies. They are quite tasty and a great treat to serve at a party.

Simple Buttercream

2 sticks of butter
3 cups of confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
several drops of food coloring

First, beat the butter in an artisan stand mixer. You really cannot make buttercream without a stand mixer. Some people can do this using a hand mixer, but I never could because 1) I could not beat the butter to the right consistency and 2) food flies everywhere and it makes a colossal mess in the kitchen (literally - butter on the walls). You should beat the butter well on a high speed. Then add the three cups of confectioners sugar, which is loose powdered sugar. Don't press it in the cups, but keep it light and airy when measuring. Beat the two together until they form a frosting and keep beating beyond that for a minute or two at a high speed. It will take a couple minutes for the two to mix properly, as in the beginning it just looks like you added too much sugar. Then beat in the vanilla and add a few drops of food coloring. I chose to add three drops of yellow and 1 drop of red to make an orange colored buttercream.

To decorate the cupcakes, frost with a frosting bag fitted with either a plain or fluted tip, which will allow the cupcakes to have a really professional look to them. It's actually very easy to do and the frosting bags are inexpensive and surprisingly painless to clean when you are done.

Top with the marzipan carrot and enjoy! Next up: apple sorbet with poached quince shortcakes, so stay tuned. is doing a roundtable on carrots for the month of December. For additional carrot recipes, click here for Amasea's carroty latkes or here for Amasea's sweet gingery carrots.

Carrot Cake - Cupcakes on Foodista

Carrot on Foodista


Friday, December 18, 2009

Sasha's Kitchen: California Burgers

After a long week, grilling burgers on a grill pan is the perfect way to quickly prepare a simple meal without having to spend hours in the kitchen. The following burger recipe, I refer to simply as a California burger, even though it does not contain any avacado like the burgers at most restaurants with the same name.

1 1/4 lb fresh ground beef
hamburger rolls
1/3 cup dijon mustard
2 T honey
juice of 2 meyer lemons
lemon goat cheese

To make this burger, prepare the sauce by mixing the dijon mustard, meyer lemon juice, and honey. You can substitute regular lemons or lemon juice if you cannot find meyer lemons. Meyer lemons are native of California and have a sweeter, distinctive taste compared with regular lemons. I was able to buy them both at Whole Foods and a wonderful market here in Park Slope called Union Market (only a few blocks from my condo and they also sell quince, papaya, key limes and at least 12 kinds of mushrooms).

Grill the burgers on the grill pan and top with the goat cheeese for the last minute of grilling, covering with aluminum foil. Season with pepper, toast the buns and your California burger is read to eat.



Hamburgers on Foodista

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sasha's Kitchen: A Restaurant Review of New York's Blue Hill

Last night, for my birthday dinner, my husband took me out to the Restaurant Blue Hilll. It is worth mentioning that in ten years of living in New York, I had somehow never been to Blue Hill, despite having been to numerous and sundry Manhattan restaurants in all price ranges. After having the food and wine tasting menu at Blue Hill, I would rate it among the top 5 New York restaurants.

The Chef at Blue Hill incorporates my favorite type of cuisine and cooking techniques into his ingredients. He uses all fresh, organic, farm-grown ingredients. As noted on their website, Blue Hill takes the motto "great cooking starts with great ingredients" seriously, as the majority of the ingredients used in the dishes served at the restaurant come from Blue Hill's own farms, in Great Barrington, MA and just outside of NYC at Stone Barns. In fact, Blue Hill has a second restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico, New York, on the Stone Barns Property. Although quite expensive, I have heard stellar reviews from my foodie friends who have dined at Stone Barns. In addition, if you go in the spring, summer or fall, you can take a full tour of the property, including greenhouses, gardens and livestock. I have heard that it is a lovely day experience, which I hope to try in the spring.

Upon arrival at the Manhattan Blue Hill, we were quickly seated by a friendly server with a wonderful Australian accent. Shortly thereafter, we received two glasses of champagne to celebrate my birthday as a surprise gift from two very thoughtful, wonderful friends of mine from college. I am actually not sure which champagne it was off of the wine list, but it was very enjoyable and a great birthday surprise.

At this point, we decided to leave our experience in the Chef's hands and try both the food and wine tasting menus.

First, they brought out various artfully presented fresh vegetables - radishes and broccoli. They were crunch, organic and tasty (even though I have never loved radishes).

Next they brought two delicious creations that looked like mini-hamburgers. These were, in fact warm mini-burgers made with beets and goat cheese, one of my favorite food combinations of all time. Knowing that my husband would refuse to eat this if he knew it was beets (which he claims to hate even though he has no idea how much he would love them if they were prepared in an interesting way), I didn't tell him what it was and urged him to try it. He did, and of course, he loved it. We enjoyed it so much that our wonderful waitress actually brought us seconds, which were devoured instantly by myself and my new beet-fan husband.

Next, our waitress brought us our first glass of wine, a 2007 Mayacamas Sauvignon Blanc from my favorite place in the United States (as you must know by now if you have been reading my posts regularly), Napa Valley, California. I love Napa Sauvignon Blancs – I personally prefer them to New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, which are generally much more acidic. The one that we were served was fantastic and paired nicely with the local big eye tuna course that was soon to follow.

Once the wine was poured, we were served a variety of homemade butters and spreads with bread, which we enjoyed, followed by a small meat course.

We enjoyed the rest of the wine with the local big eye tuna course that I mentioned before, which was prepared New England style with Maine shellfish (tasted like scallops). It was mouth watering delicious.

The next wine that arrived was the 2006 Emmanuel Giboulet Bourgogne Blanc, from France, which was another wonderful wine. This wine was paired with Blue Hill’s version of mushroom risotto. I enjoyed this, since we had just made our own mushroom risotto the night before. This risotto used various types of organic mushrooms (I think I tasted chanterelles and shitakes), creamy rice, braised cipollini onions and chicory root. Most wonderfully, the risotto was seasoned with star anise, one of my favorite spices, which made the flavor combination complete. Next time I make my own mushroom risotto, I will be sure to include star anise.

Our next course was a rare veal which was known at Blue Hill as “Rabbi Bob’s Veal.” Out of curiosity, I asked who Rabbi Bob, the dish’s namesake, was. Our waitress told us that Rabbi Bob is apparently a supplier of quality kosher meats to a variety of restaurants in New York, and that he is actually non a Rabbi at all, but is quite scholarly looking, complete with a white beard. His veal was delicious, although a bit on the rare side. However, we enjoyed the course, nicely served with chestnuts, cranberries and brussels sprouts, all of which added a very seasonal flavor to the dish. It was paired with a Malbec Wine from Napa Valley, called Pax Americana, which we enjoyed (I like the less tannic red wines like Sangiovese, Pinot Noir and Malbec, and tend to stay away from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon).

Our next course was a green apple sorbet which was served in a lemon thyme soup. I have long been a fan of green apple sorbet and this one was no exception. It was actually one of my favorites because it was made with Honeycrisp apples (which are actually a combination of green and red in color when I buy them at the local farmer’s market in Park Slope), my favorite type of apple. I have actually developed my own recipe for apple sorbet that I hope to test out this weekend, so stay tuned. Blue Hill’s sorbet was refreshing and delicious and the thyme-lemon soup that it was served in had a very apple cider kind of flavor to it that enhanced the sorbet.

Finally, it was time for dessert, which was a course of poached quince with caramelized white chocolate and lemon sponge cake with fromage blanc sorbet. This was amazing and might have been my husband’s favorite dish of the night. Who says you need to eat chocolate cake all the time? I love quince when prepared properly, and actually just found the perfect organic market here in Park Slope near our condo where I was able to buy some. It was delicious as part of the desert and paired nicely with the Albert Seltz Sylvander dessert wine from Alsace.

It is an expensive meal at a nice restaurant, but well worth it.

In addition, about halfway through dinner we noticed that the actor who plays the Sicilian in Rob Reiner's 1987 classic, The Princess Bride, which is one of my all-time favorite movies. This was actually a great birthday gift, since I have such wonderful memories associated with watching that movie growing up and especially in college. Thus, the experience was “inconceivable!”

This restaurant review is one of the first for this site, and will be an occasional (perhaps monthly) feature on since a wonderful dining out experience can often serve as an inspiration for our own culinary adventures.

Sasha's Kitchen: Vegetarian Cauliflower Casserole

As I mentioned in a previous post, I ate at a wonderful organic vegetable and fruit centered restaurant last fall when my husband and I visited Napa Valley, Ubuntu. Since that delicious meal, I have been inspired by head Chef Jeremy Fox's Michelin-starred cuisine to create my own vegetarian dishes using the best organic fruits and vegetables that I can fine (which obviously pale in comparison to the fruits and vegetables he harvest from his organic garden in Napa).

Tonight, I was inspired to create my own casserole using cauliflower based on a cauliflower casserole that is one of the signature dishes on his menu. I did take a look at his recipe for the basic outline (the cauliflour, butter, curry and whole milk), but from that point on, created my own recipe. Below is the recipe I created and adapted. Tonight was a test-run on the dish for a vegetarian dinner I will be hosting for some vegetarian friends in early January and it was a success according to my taste buds.

2 heads of plain cauliflower
3 T extra virgin olive oil (I used Round Pond's Blood Orange Olive Oil, another treat form the Napa trip)
2 T curry powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cardamom
2 star anise
4 oz of butter (1 stick)
2/3 cup whole milk
1/2 cup non-dairy almond milk
1/8 tsp almond extract
parsley for decoration
salt and pepper to taste
toasted french bread
small amount of colored cauliflower for decoration

First, cut up the white cauliflower into small pieces and mix well with the olive oil and a little salt. Roast at 350 F until slightly charred and tender.

Melt the butter on medium heat until foamy and then take off the heat and add all of the various spices (this was my improvised spice mix which was delicious, as the flavors mix nicely). Let sit for about 30 minutes so the flavors absorb into the butter. Add this mix to a pot with the cauliflower from the oven and add both the whole milk, the almond milk and the almond extract (sparingly). Cook on medium until completely soft.

Then, bake at 350 F for about 15 minutes. The mixture should not change too much and should look almost kind of soup like when you take it out. It will have a beautiful texture. Before you bake, sprinkle some of the colored cauliflower on top.

I served in bowls because I only have large souffle/casserole dishes. Ideally you would want to bake in individual casserole dishes.

Put a little parsley and pepper on top and it should be delicious.

To learn more about cooking with cauliflower, click here for a dish from Amasea's kitchen in Sun Valley.

Cauliflower on Foodista

Eric's Kitchen in Jersey City: Strawberry Salad

This is actually my Mom's recipe but I like it so much that I make it all the time. She tries really hard to make healthy food taste great and I think this is her most successful recipe in that regard. It's also a very quick and simple recipe that you can pull together very quickly.
  1. Spring mix salad greens
  2. Fresh Strawberries
  3. Gorgonzola or Blue cheese crumbles
  4. Sweet and Spicy Pecans (Trader Joe's has some great ones)
  5. Brianna's Strawberry vinegrette salad dressing

My only recommendation with this one is to break the pecans up into more bite-sized pieces as they are pretty strongly flavored and to cut the strawberries into bite-sized pieces as well. Put on dressing as you see fit and enjoy!


Sasha's Kitchen: Triple-Mushroom Risotto And Food Sociology

I wasn't planning on posting anything today, 12/16, give that it is my birthday (I'm 26 again, for the 5th year in a row). However, now that it is after midnight, I couldn't resist sharing this recipe that my husband and I prepared last night.

I do most of the cooking (and the grocery shopping) in our house. However, my husband does his part as well - laundry and cleaning up messes (mostly mine). However, there are certain foods that Brad cooks and prepares extremely well, including any variety of risotto, Marsala, and boeuf borugignon.

I asked Brad to prepare a mushroom risotto last night, and bought enough mushrooms so that he would have quality ingredients to work with. The end result, a triple-mushroom risotto was excellent, and one of the best that I have had. It was only after tasting Blue Hill's mushroom risotto tonight that I have a couple of suggestions on how to improve the recipe.

According to my husband, the first step of the risotto is to saute the chopped onions (use 1 medium sized onion) in 2 tablespoons of canola oil and 2 tablespoons of butter. An additional note is that you could add a tablespoon of pure Truffle Oil if you are fortunate enough to have some (I am not, sadly). At that point, add a1 cup arborio/risotto rice and stir for 2 minutes. After that, add chicken stock, one cup at a time, until you have added a total of three cups, but only adding in one cup increments only when the stock has reduced. Continue stirring every couple minutes while it cooks so the rice does not get stuck to the bottom of the pot.

Another point to note is that we intended to prepare a homemade mushroom stock, in lieu of chicken stock, but did not have time to do this after a long work day so instead we substituted organic chicken stock. The end result was delicious, but I would highly recommend substituting a homemade mushroom stock if you have the time. A sample recipe for homemade mushroom stock can be found here. I suspect that this would have an excellent and rewarding result and plan to do this next time I prepare the dish and get started before 8 PM.

While performing the above, saute the assorted mushrooms in canola oil in another pan. With respect to the mushrooms - you can use any variety that is locally available (the more organic and unusual, the better, in my opinion). I selected Shitaki, portabello and cremeni. You should start with about twice the volume of mushroom that you need in the end (much to my husband's surprise), as they typically get reduce by about 50% as they cook and the mushroom juices come out. Midway through the third cup of chicken stock reducing, combine the sauteed mushrooms with the risotto and keep stirring until the third cup of stock has fully reduced. The last step is to add shredded or grated Parmesan or other cheese of your preference. It's also good to add some salt & pepper to taste.

Here's the recipe we used:

Sasha's Triple Mushroom Risotto

3 cups organic lowfat chicken stock or homemade mushroom stock
1 onion, diced
2 T butter
2 T canola oil
1 T truffle oil (if you are luckier than me and have truffle oil in your kitchen)
1 cup arborio/risotto rice
package of diced portabello mushrooms (stems removed)
package of diced cremeni mushrooms (stems removed)
package of diced shitaki mushrooms (stems removed)
salt to taste
pepper to taste
I would suggest adding 1 tsp star anise

I should add that tonight at my birthday dinner at Blue Hill we tasted a combination mushroom risotto that was strikingly similar to this dish. The main difference is that they had access to some super-fresh, delicious organic mushrooms from Stone Barns, and the mushrooms had a wonderful natural sweetness to them. I immediately (and correctly, after discussing with the waitstaff) identified this taste as the incorporation of star anise in the dish (Brad initially thought it was cinnamon). It was a great addition and one that I will surely incorporate next time I make the dish. I suggest that you do the same.

This is a dish my husband and I enjoy cooking together, even though we have different styles. I am a very experimental chef - I am not afraid to try new things, even though form time to time, they backfire. However, my food "experiments" have led me to a lot of great discoveries that I would not have learned any other way (i.e. like making tangerine salad dressing because I ran out of orange juice and needed to improvise, and actually discovering I liked it better because it was less acidic). My husband is more of a conventional cook - he likes to know what he is going to do before he does it and plan accordingly. Because this recipe was so improvised, I had to convince him that I knew what we were doing and just to do his thing with the rice and the mushrooms would work their way into the recipe.

In addition, I am a very messy chef. I am much better than I used to be, but I generally make a large mess when I cook, which Brad is usually patient and sweet enough to clean up without complaining. Brad is the opposite - he prefers to clean up as he goes along, even if it gets in the way of cooking. I have often joked that he reminds me of the "anal-retentive chef" skit from SNL, with the beloved Phil Hartman. (If you have not already noticed, I am a huge SNL fan, expecially of the old classics and also linked a great skit to my recent Iceland post).

As noted above, tonight was my birthday dinner, which, my husband and I celebrated at Blue Hill. I will complete a full review of Blue Hill tomorrow night. For tonight, my comments are mainly reserved for a discourse on food-sociology. One of the many reasons I started the blog was to explore the psychology and sociology behind cooking and eating, as this is something that fascinates me.

Since tonight was my birthday, I couldn't help but thinking about how special occaisons (holidays, both secular and religious, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries etc. . ) are always celebrated with food. The only special events we mark without food tend to be sad occasions (funerals and fast/mourning holidays). We give thanks for food at special occasions (harvest, holidays like thanksgiving and Sukkot). We pray for rain (i.e. Native American and Jewish prayers) so it will cause crops to grow so we will have enough food.

Whenever we choose to socialize with friends, it is almost always with our centered around food (dinner,drinks, holidays etc). The few occasions that are not centered around food that we do socialize for - i.e. sporting events - usually wind up involving food in the end (have you ever been to a super bowl party or baseball game where you didn't eat?). Every society that I have read about from the ancient Egyptians to the Romans to modern societies incorporates food, and plenty of it, into their religious and social rituals and practices.

The bottom line is that food is central to our celebration of special moments and to our social discourse. Humans simply cannot socialize without food. I truly believe that eating different varieties of food, and eating with others makes people happier and that food play a central role in our happiness. My birthday was a really good one this year, for a variety of reasons, but the good food certainly played a role in making that happen. I guess this is just some food for thought (pun intended). This concept of "food sociology" and why and how people eat, and the role it plays in human socialization, emotion and happiness is a topic I plan to explore in the future on this blog.

Risotto is a one of the "roundtable" ingrediants at for the month of December. For another risotto recipe, click here for Eric's Mussels Risotto.

Mushroom Risotto on Foodista


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Amasea's Kitchen in Sun Valley: Carroty Latkes

With a big bag of awesome organic carrots in the fridge, I couldn't stop with just one carrot recipe (by the way, in case you don't know, carrots should never be put near apples in the refrigerator -- it'll make the carrots hairy and bitter, just like Robin Williams' career).

It being Hanukkah time, I was inspired to make something vaguely latke-ish.
Into a bowl went half a diced white onion, two very large diced roasted garlic cloves, four small grated red potatoes, and a large grated carrot, and that got mixed. In went a couple tablespoons of almond flour and a couple of white flour, salt and pepper. It honestly could have used a little smoked paprika or hot pepper powder, a little zing to balance the flavor profile, but I didn't think of it.

Then we got to the eggs. Because it's utterly cold here, the chickens aren't laying, so I haven't been able to get eggs from our local growers' co-op, Idaho's Bounty. I got my usual backup store brand, Eggland's Best, but stupidly didn't open the carton until tonight. You can see what's coming.

I removed the eggs that weren't egg-white-glued to the walls of the carton, then used a knife to halve open the eggs that weren't broken but couldn't be removed, and used a spoon to scoop out what egg interiors I could before throwing the rest away. In total, I think approximately 4 and a half eggs got into my latke mix.

I started with a medium-heat fry pan, with a tablespoon or two of olive oil, and added my first batch. After some experimentation, I ended up on the higher end of medium-high by the last batch, with about half a tablespoon of olive oil per batch.

Being kind of a salt junkie (though don't think that means I'm absent a sweet tooth -- the fiance brought home white, dark and milk chocolate Lindor truffles on Saturday, and I've been having a really hard time staying out of them!), I topped the latkes with sour cream and sauerkraut. Which was absolutely perfect. The chilled pickled cabbage was utterly delicious atop the hot, crispy latkes.

So there you go, my carroty Hanukkah experiment. Now I need to figure out what to make for Kwanzaa!

For another latke recipe using sweet potato and lingonberry, click here. is doing a roundtable on carrots for the month of December. For additional carrot recipes, click here for my Sweet Gingery Carrots.

Latkes on Foodista

Mixueer's Kitchen in Toronto: Party Goodness!

Often, the joys in our lives are marked by special occasions. This weekend was my father's 60th birthday party, and what a party it was! There was much joy and laughter accompanied by great food - much of which I created. As I have written before, I'm trying to eat as healthfully as I can and planned the menu accordingly.
My first recipe for Mini Chocolate Chip Cookies turned out perfectly the first time! I ended up making five times the recipe as we were feeding thirty people. Beware that it's a bit fiddly to drop such small bits of dough on the cookie sheets. Given that I made five batches, it felt as though it took forever but it was an easy recipe and everyone gobbled them up!
My next recipe was a delicious take on Egg Salad. I smeared it on low fat bread and made finger sandwiches. These also went very quickly, with guests going back for more! The only difference was that I used green onions finely chopped instead of the chives, and I used fat free Miracle Whip instead of the mayo.
Next I decided that we needed another sandwich, seeing as I only had enough to feed half an army and needed to feed ALL the troops. My parents had some tins of salmon, so salmon salad sandwiches were in order. I made this up on the fly:
Curry Salmon Sandwiches
1 tin salmon in water
1 tbsp fat free Miracle Whip
1/2 tbsp chutney (I love Mrs. Balls chutney)
1/2 - 1 tsp turmeric (to taste)
salt (to taste)
I just mashed everything together in a bowl with a fork, spread the mix on white bread and sliced with a bread knife into finger sandwiches.
Next, I made some lovely rainbow trout fillets with my famous mustard sauce. I got this recipe on a one of the early Food Network shows from the '90's called "Taste" with David Rosengarten, sadly since cancelled. (Rosengarten is my pick for food expert that Food Network should bring back). I can't seem to get onto Rosengarten's site to post his link, so see the recipe below:
Grandma Hitchcock’s Mustard Sauce
Recipe By: David Rosegarten’s grandmother-in-law
1/4 cup dry mustard
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 cups heavy cream
4 whole egg yolks — beaten (if using small eggs, use 5)
1. Combine the dry ingredients in a saucepan.
2. Whisk in the vinegar, cream and egg yolks (beaten), blending well to combine. Place over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and smooth. Serve warm if possible.
I personally use 1% lactose-free milk for my sad lactose intolerance. This sauce takes some minding and some time to reduce properly, but is well worth the wait and effort! This sauce goes beautifully over fish, chicken or pork; I’ve even put it on lamb to great success. I make extra and freeze it so I have it for a quick meal. I spread it on some rainbow trout fillets with some salt and a sprinkling of Bolthouse Farms' amazing Salad Herb mix and bake on a cookie sheet at 375 F for 20 minutes. Serve the sauce on the side so guests can add extra.


Christina's Kitchen in Budapest: Chicken Paprikas

Before I moved to Budapest, I knew very little about Hungarian food. Goulash? Had it once. Chicken paprikas? Wasn't that from a scene in "When Harry Met Sally"?
I did a little research before coming here to join my boyfriend on his Fulbright Teacher Exchange, and what I'd learned was 1) I might be eating a lot of paprika 2) I'd definitely being eating a lot of pastries. Not sure what to expect, I arrived open-minded, but still I packed a gallon-sized baggie full of my favorite spices (garam masala, anise seed, cardamom pods) just in case.
I needn't have worried. For my first dinner in Hungary, my boyfriend cooked me chicken paprikas, and I loved it. It's the first Hungarian dish either of us has learned to make, and we've been making it every week or two ever since. The recipe we use for our chicken paprikas (pronounced "POP-ree-kosh") was adapted from this one on the BBC Web site.
(BTW, "paprika" in Hungarian refers to any kind of pepper, hot or bell.)
While you can serve chicken paprikas alone or over rice or noodles, it's traditially (and deliciously) served here in Hungary over nokedli, which are small noodles or dumplings sometimes referred to as spaetzle. It's easy to find nokedli in the supermarket here, but making them is easy, too, especially if you have a spaetzle maker. It doesn't get much simpler than this nokedli recipe, which I've also included below.

For the chicken paprikas:
1 chicken, skinned and jointed, or about two pounds of skinless, boneless chicken breast or thighs
oil and/or butter for the pan
1 onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1-2 tablespoons sweet powdered paprika
1 tablespoon hot powdered paprika (you can substitute this with a finely-chopped fresh hot pepper, using the seeds depending on how much heat you like)
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup chicken stock
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 red or yellow peppers, de-seeded and cut into 1/2 inch strips
4 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/2 to 1 cup sour cream, to taste

1. Salt the chicken pieces, heat the oil in a large frying pan and brown the chicken pieces, then set the chicken aside.
2. Using the same pan, add the onions and garlic and stir on medium heat about 5 minutes.
3. Then, stirring frequently, mix in the powdered paprika and flour, then the stock, chicken, half the parsley and the fresh peppers. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer about 10 minutes.
4. Now, add the tomatoes and simmer for about an hour. You can add another tablespoon of sweet paprika about 15 minutes before the hour is up if you like a lot of pepper flavor; otherwise, just simmer for sixty minutes or until the chicken is nice and tender.
5. In the meantime, prepare the nokedli (recipe below).
6. When the chicken is done, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sour cream and remaining parsley. You can either add the nokedli to the pan and stir to combine it with the chicken paprikas, or you can pour the chicken and sauce over nokedli in bowls or plates.

For the nokedli:
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup water
2 cups flour

1. Whisk together the eggs, salt and water.
2. Gradually add the flour until you have a sticky dough.
3. Let the mixture sit 10 minutes, and boil a pot of salted water.
4. Beat the mixture again, then form the nokedli: If you have a spaetzle maker, use it to form small pieces of dough and drop them directly in the water. Otherwise, use a teaspoon to form tiny balls of dough, or push the dough through a coarse cheese grater, colander or slotted spoon and drop them in the boiling water. When the nokedli rise to the surface of the water, they're cooked. You'll probably want to work in batches.
5. Scoop the nokedli out of the pot and rinse in a colander under cold water, then serve with the paprikas.

If you make enough for leftovers, and you give the flavors a chance to mingle overnight in the fridge, a little reheated chicken paprikas topped with a fried egg makes a spicy, satisfying breakfast.

(Bottom photo by Jay Dater)

Chicken Paprika on Foodista


Monday, December 14, 2009

Sasha's Kitchen On The Road: Iceland

In the end of May, my husband Brad and I took a five day whirlwind trip to, of all places, Iceland. Iceland is actually a "hot" travel destination right now, given the reasonable prices (in part due to the collapse of the country's economy and significant unemployment). One of my good friends from college, Christina, wrote an article for the Travel Section of the Washington Post, which I have linked here. This article provided part of the inspiration for my trip. In addition to the food - Iceland is well known for its fish as well as an eclectic mix of traditional Nordic delicacies - we enjoyed our time there hiking, exploring glaciers and waterfalls, and of course the Blue Lagoon.

Iceland has many excellent restaurants, cafes and bars. The city apparently has quite the nightlife and most weekend nights people in their 20s and 30s stay out until well past 4 AM. Because Iceland is so far north, and given the time of year we went, it is light outside for virtually all 24 hours of the day. I would actually think that Iceland would make a great site for an offbeat bachelorette party.

Upon our arrival in Iceland, we went to one of Iceland's best known seafood restaurants for our first meal. Prior to checking into the hotel we made sure to exchange currency at an ATM at the airport by taking out Krona, Iceland's currency (the ATM machine provided four options: US Dollar, Euro, Pound and Krona). We later discovered that we had mistakenly taken out the equivalent of approximately $800 US Dollars in DANISH Krona, despite the fact that we were nowhere near Denmark. This mistake was actually salvageable, since we were able to actually use the Danish Krona in Iceland, anyhow. I don't think we fooled anyone as Danish tourists, however.

Our first lunch stop was the upscale and trendy Fismarkadurin (Fish Market). This restaurant had a very nice setting. We had the lobster bisque which I enjoyed, followed by sushi, which was reasonably priced. The fish quality was excellent, but I was by no means blow away. However the meal was enjoyable.

My favorite restaurant of the trip, and the site of my husband's birthday dinner, was the beautiful Sjavarkjallarinn. If you have no idea how to pronounce that, you can just call the restaurant "Seafood Cellar," its English Translation. Seafood Cellar is known as Rekjavik's (the Icelandic capitol) best restaurant.

We were not disappointed. The food at Seafood Cellar was some of the best fish I had ever had. We had the tasting menu, which was incredible. We had a lobster Thai coconut concoction, presented in a jar, that was stellar. In addition, we enjoyed the tasting selection of several (if I remember correctly - Salmon, Tuna and Monkfish) each prepared a different way. In addition, we were provided with Icelandic lamb. Apparently Iceland has a lot of sheep (like many other countries I have visited - Ireland, Australia, New Zealand) and has some of the best lamb in the world. The lamb at Seafood Cellar might be the best lamb I have ever had. Our meal included some wonderful Icelandic sushi (also pictured). Finally, our desert was spectacularly presented on a bed of dry ice for a dramatic effect.

Another Iceland food tip is to stop by the local famous hotdog stand, Baejarins Betzu. This hotdog is great after a night of drinking. Order it with all of the toppings, no questions asked and it will satisfy any late night food craving. Apparently many famous people have visited this hot dog stand according to the photos by the stand, including the President Bill Clinton, a well known connoisseur of fast food.

On our last night in Iceland, we ate at a traditional Icelandic restaurant, called Three Frakkar, which provided us with the opportunity to try some - weird food. I ate what basically were speckled blue hard boiled eggs form an Icelandic seabird. In addition, we tried puffin - an acquired taste, which was not for me, and whale sashimi from non-endangered Icelandic whale. This was a one time thing for me - normally the environmental activist /animal rights type person - and something I feel guilty about (it tasted like tuna), so I can't really recommend this activity. I actually still feel bad about this, although I mist admit it was pretty mouth watering. In addition, reindeer was also on the menu, although we did not try it as well as many delicious varieties of locally caught fish.

Iceland was a great whirlwind trip - and provided an interesting culinary experience, especially if you like fish.

Sasha's Kitchen: Raisin Chicken Tacos

I am actually not the biggest Mexican food fan in the world. I really don't eat enchiladas or burritos, and I detest baked beans. But I do enjoy a good taco. My mom has made the following chicken taco recipe for years, and is a very simple, easy to make recipe. It is probably not the most traditionally Mexican recipe in the world, but it is a dish that my husband and I both enjoy. This is not a spicy dish in the slightest - it is actually a tad sweet because of the presence of the raisins. I have made a few modifications to my mom's original recipe (mainly in that I do not put in black olives), and that I serve the tacos in blue corn tortillas because I have a fascination with blue and purple food. In fact, I have read that there is such a thing as purple (and also green and orange) cauliflower, so one of my goals going forward is to find these cauliflower for sale somewhere in the New York area and hopefully either myself or one of the local guest writers will snap some photos of the purple vegetables.

To make the tacos:

1 package of chicken (use either Empire or Bell & Evans)
1 can mild enchilada sauce (I prefer the red variety, although I made with the green variety tonight)
1 small can mild green chiles (please note that there are not spicy)
1/4 cup raisins

You can boil the chicken and once it cools shred into small pieces. Mix with the other ingredients and cook about 10 minutes.

To prepare the shells you should purchase blue corn tortillas (or regular corn tortillas) and fry the shells in oil to make them into tacos.

Another note on some upcoming features I have in the works: I am working on two chef profiles - one of a 31 year old chef who owns a Michelin starred vegetarian restaurant in Napa and another of a chef here in New York with interesting ethnic influences, who has a new cookbook out.

In addition, please stay tuned for some upcoming roundtable features on this blog, including a series of posts on risotto, (more) dishes made using carrots and a Virtual Valentines Day Dinner hosted right here on

Taco on Foodista

Eric's Kitchen in Jersey City: Matzoh Ball Soup

While I might not be Jewish, I quickly realized the healing power of good, homemade Matzoh Ball soup while I was in college in Philly. Whenever I was sick, I'd order in from this Jewish Deli, Izzy & Zoe's on 40th street and get this nice big container of soup made with extra TLC and I'd always seem to feel a little bit better. It always had lots of spices and bits of deliciousness floating around which is what I strive for in my own version. My girlfriend Jenn moved in at the end of the summer and this flu season she got both the swine flu and the regular flu so I ended up making a couple of pots of matzoh ball soup to make her feel better and I feel like I'm honing in on a pretty solid recipe.

I make mine with:
1 Whole roasting chicken with the skin and giblets
1 bag of baby carrots (sliced)
1 Large vidalia onion, chopped
1 bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
1 bunch of leeks, chopped (or you can substitute celery which I don't like)
- salt, pepper and various other spices you have lying around
3-4 bay leaves
1 box of matzoh ball mix (you need a couple of eggs and oil for this which the box will tell you)
- extra chicken stock. I use either chicken broth or 'better than bouillon'
- a large soup pot filled with maybe a gallon of water? (I eyeball most things, apologies to people who measure things out precisely)

I personally think the key to any good soup is the stock and I like mine to taste homemade but I don't have the patience to sit around for the 4-6 hours that most recipes say it takes to make a stock. My shortcut involves chopping the chicken with a cleaver to split the bones and create small, manageable pieces (roughly half the size of a clenched fist). This is important as a lot of the flavor comes from the marrow of the bones. You season the meat and sauté it with a little olive oil for 5 minutes or so until it's slightly browned. You don't need it to be fully cooked as the next step is adding it to boiling water with all your veggies and spices. My girlfriend's mom taught me that fresh parsley has healing powers and is an important factor of the matzoh ball soup equation. I also add the giblets and the bay leaves which I remove later.

I let it cook for a couple of hours as it still does take a while and I taste the stock and add broth or bouillon until it tastes good. While that is cooking, start a second pot of boiling water to cook your matzoh balls. Matzoh balls are pretty simple to make and you can follow the recipe on the box for these. You just combine the mix with some oil and eggs and then let them cool in the fridge for 15 minutes or so. Then you lay out some foil or wax paper and roll them up. My girlfriend taught me that the most important thing to keep in mind is to not roll them too tightly! They are going to expand as well so they only need to be about the size of a chestnut (roughly 1-1.5 inches in diameter). Another thing to keep in mind is that you do not need to salt the water if you are adding them to your homemade chicken broth as they will be very salty... I've made this mistake before!

Keep them separate and add them when you heat up a bowl or small portion. When the chicken has cooked for a couple of hours and you've added enough bouillon or more chicken broth to make it delicious, you remove the meat and giblets. Let them cool for a few minutes and pull the meat off the bone and cut it or pull it into bite size pieces. Discard the bones, skin and giblets and add the pulled meat back to your soup. This should help you cope with any ailment or just keep you warm when it's chilly.

Matzo Ball Soup on Foodista

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Amasea's Kitchen in Sun Valley: Sweet Gingery Carrots (as a side)

So I tried four new things tonight -- two mostly from a recipe, and two from my head.

The two from a recipe were basic white/wheat bread and mashed potatoes, out of Joy of Cooking. The two without were what I'm calling Sweet Ginger Carrots with Leeks, and Cream of Squash Soup. More about those last two later.


Unfortunately, I decided to use my Cuisinart instead of a masher to make the potatoes, and they ended up being potato puree. I did originally try a ricer, but it was going so slowly that I gave up. I really need to learn how to properly use a ricer.
I should have gotten out my manual masher, but just didn't think about it, so into the Cuisinart the potatoes went. The flavor (check out that Joy of Cooking recipe -- it has garlic, celery, bay leaf, etc) was awesome, but the texture left much to be desired. I'll definitely remember that for the future.

The bread is currently in the oven, but there were two major issues. The first is that it is very possible that I was using old yeast. And that, I've heard, is not a good thing -- your bread just doesn't rise. When I set the bread aside in a warm spot, it basically just didn't expand at all.
The second problem was that when I opened my white flour bag, it was full of gross bugs that looked to have been breeding there for a while *ICK!* Fortunately, I hadn't used it in a while, so I'm not too worried I've been downing, um, extra protein.
I sent the fiance to the store for some more white and threw the nasty flour in the trash, but my understanding is that timing is important when adding yeast to the dough, and I'd already done that with the wheat flour. So I had to leave the dough sitting for 20 minutes until he came back with more white flour. I'm blaming these two things for my imminent bread failure, and hoping to more successfuly explore baking further in the near future.
(P.S.: At the end of baking, the bread has good flavor, but is, as I expected, extremely dense -- if you end up with this problem someday, use as large a bread pan as you can, because the middle of the bread is good, but the crust is too thick. The small individual-loaf pans I used left too little good middle and too much thick crust.)

And now for the successes. W00t!

The carrots:
I sliced two large carrots to a medium thickness, and added them to a medium nonstick saute pan with about three tablespoons of butter, salt, pepper, half a diced white onion, a tablespoon or so of pinot noir, and about 2/3 tablespoon of pre-minced ginger. That pan got a lid, and about halfway through the cooking process I added about a tablespoon and a half of brown sugar -- late enough so it didn't caramelize too much and make everything too sticky/overbrowned.
In a separate pan I sauteed some leeks in Trader Joe's (OMG I miss Trader Joe's) black truffle oil and a little white wine, though I got distracted and let them go a mite too long, so a few sides of the leeks were a bit blackened (I threw out the worst pieces).

The soup:
Early in the day, I baked a squash (I think it was acorn, but I'm not certain, as I got a variety bag full of squash from our local growers' membership food co-op, Idaho's Bounty, and forgot what was in the bag). Halving the squash and removing the seeds, I put in the empty cavities about two or three tablespoons of butter, a heavy sprinkle of brown sugar, and a medium sprinkle of powdered red pepper, and baked that whole business until it was soft to a fork, probably a couple hours at 350. This is the easiest thing in the world, and there's so much you can do with the finished squash, I highly recommend it.
Later in the day, I sauteed a half-dozen diced raw garlic cloves, two large roasted garlic cloves, two large celery stems, a few slices of white onion, and salt and pepper. I put that and the scooped-out squash innards into the Cuisinart and pureed the whole mess with a tiny carton of heavy cream until smooth.
The puree was put in a medium pan on very low heat, and tasted as I was working on the other parts of the plate. It was tasting kinda meh, not complex enough, so I added some white wine and the juice from some canned chipotle peppers (probably half a tablespoon of chipotle juice total, for I'm guessing eight cups of soup). And that gave it the perfect heat -- enough to give it zing, but not so much that it overwhelmed the beautiful creamy squash flavor. I ended up topping it with some dried chives, which wasn't the right choice. Thinking back, I'd float a little citrus oil and some grated citrus peel, probably lemon, on top. Or perhaps some grated hard cheese of some kind, like an asiago, Jarlsberg or manchego (though that would be just for me, as the fiance isn't so fond of cheese). Or maybe fresh julienned Italian parsley. Mmmm...

Overall, the meal was a success: the soup and carrots definitely starred the show, enough that the weird potato texture almost got lost. Fortunately, there's some soup left, now waiting for another meal in the freezer. There were also left-over potatoes, which I'm eager to reinterpret in other contexts, perhaps as the plate base for some of the Lava Lake lamb sirloin tips I'll be getting from Idaho's Bounty on Wednesday. If I find something good to do with pureed potatoes, I'll let you know. is doing a roundtable on carrots for the month of December. For additional carrot recipes, click here for my Carroty Latkes.

Carrot on Foodista


Gilly's Kitchen in Queens: Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

First, my introduction. I will mainly be posting vegan recipes (generally of the baked goods variety), many geared at a person who doesn't cook often, doesn't have much time to cook (hello, gigantic international law firm), and may have a kid running about (for me, a 5 year old stepson on weekends). But anyone who knows me may be very confused, as I am not vegan! I eat steak, salmon, and oysters much too frequently. I eat entire blocks of cheese. The more ice cream, the merrier. But a few months ago I was finally diagnosed with a food allergy, after years of living unhappily with no understanding of why. I was.... allergic to eggs. This was totally unexpected. Add in the fact that my stepson is being raised to keep kosher by his biological mom, and I decided that it was easier to keep my cooking pareve (simply put, dairy-free) rather than try to figure out who could have dairy products and when. Because my stepson has an interest in food, I try to also incorporate recipes in which a child can assist. They may not be very complicated, but they definitely taste great and keep a kid entertained.

The first recipe -- the delicious chocolate chip cookie. Simple and pure. But without dairy and eggs? Without milk chocolate chips? Yes, yes and yes, and as my stepson said today, "These are REALLY delicious." He is the ultimate judge of my baking, and in the coming weeks I will be posting my pumkpin pie, chocolate mousse and Mexican wedding cookie recipes.

This chocolate chip cookie recipe comes from Robin Robertson's "1,000 Vegan Recipes." It is quick to make, can be mixed entirely by hand (a/k/a safe for kids), and tastes incredibly sweet.

You will need:
1/2 cup vegan margarine, softened (my own note -- be careful when buying margarine because not all margarine is actually dairy free)
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup (my own note -- invest in PURE maple syrup, not the generic type you put on waffles. The taste difference is worth the extra money)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegan chocolate chips (you can find these in Whole Foods, specialty organic-y type of stores, etc.)

1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and sugar until light and fluffy (my own note -- I just mixed it with a spoon, and the result wasn't necessary light and fluffy but it didn't matter in the end). Then stir in the maple syrup and vanilla and mix until smooth.
3. In another large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Then add these dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Stir to combine (my own note -- I was surprised to see that the resulting mix was very dry and cumbly, as we are all probably used to having wetter mixes. This is probably due to the lack of liquid ingredients, such as milk. Again, it didn't matter in the end). Fold in the chocolate chips. (And let your kid chef help you out with all of the mixing, and perhaps some chocolate chip taste testing.)
4. Drop the dough by tablespoonful onto an ungreased cookie sheet (my own note -- little kid's hands are a pefect measuring substitution, and any little kid will love to squish together the mix for you to put on the sheet. This particular mix is very dry, so you will need to actually squeeze the mix in your palm into a circle so it all holds together). Bake for about 15 minutes or until slightly brown on the edges. Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes (or if you are impatient, cool just long enough until you can pick it up without burning yourself, because this is obviously how chocolate chip cookies taste the best).

The picture at the top of this post is our actual result. These cookies don't look fancy, totally circular, or overly professional, but they will satisfy any sweet tooth (I personally ate three for breakfast this morning before going to the gym, as ironic as that sounds).

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies on Foodista

Sasha's Kitchen: Chocolate Stout Honey-Vanilla Frosted Cupcakes

I love making cupcakes. I have made dozens and dozens of cupcakes since receiving my artisan stand mixer as an engagement gift. I have experimented with different flavors of cupcakes and icings, as well as different colors for the icings (from mango to chocolate cherry to coconut to mexican chocolate to vanilla). If there's any food I like, I will put it in a cupcake.

I have always been fascinated with cupcakes since I was a kid - they're cute, sweet and oh so pretty - a little girl's favorite dessert. I have studied various recipes from different cupcake chefs over the last few years (Martha Stewart Julie Hasson and Magnolia Bake Shop in particular).

The problem with many cupcakes is that often times the cupcake itself is overpoweringly rich (especially the case with chocolate cupcakes) or that the frosting is overly sweet so that you can't have more than a bite. What I am striving for is a cupcake that you can eat and enjoy without feeling overpowered by the flavors in the cupcake (note: this does not mean that the cupcake doesn't contain tremendous amounts of butter and sugar).

Who would have thought that the very best cupcake I ever made would involve pouring an entire beer into the cupcake mix? If I told you I made something that required mixing beer, eggs and butter, you would probably laugh at me and tell me how disgusting that sounded. But the truth is, it is the perfect combination for an amazing chocolate cupcake.

With respect to the icing, I always make my own icing recipes at the last minute on the fly - most of the time they work out and this one was a success. For tonight's recipe, I decided to incorporate some honey in the cupcake icing. I read about a different, but really great cupcake recipe on the white house food blog (which I plan on making at some point). What caught my eye was that they have been using a lot of honey in their baking by utilizing the White House beehive. This made be consider incorporating honey into my vanilla icing for the cupcakes.

Just an aside here - the White House Beehive must be a new thing under the Obama administration (along with the well reported on vegetable garden), as I keep getting this image of George Bush accidentally stumbling into the beehive and getting chased by a swarm of angry yellow jackets. I'm sorry, I can't help it. To read more about backyard beekeeping at the White House as a culinary adventure, click here. The foodie focus of the current White House is a current interest of mine that may periodically appear in my articles.

At any rate, below is the recipe for the Chocolate Stout Cupcakes that I prepared today, which makes two dozen of my favorite cupcakes:

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes

3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa (use Droste Dutch chocolate, which is the best on the market)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1 bottle or can of chocolate stout or regular stout (I used Guinness in tonight's batch)
1 stick butter (melted)
3 large eggs
3/4 cup non-fat sour cream (because we want to keep our cupcakes healthy. . . yeah right)
1 T vanilla extract

Honey Vanilla Icing
1 pound box confectioners sugar
1 8 oz package of cream cheese (I used Temptee cream cheese)
about 1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 T honey
1 stick of unsalted butter

To make the cupcakes, I first combined the dry ingredients (the cocoa, flour, baking soda and salt). Then in a separate bowl, I combined the beer with the stick of butter that I had melted first in the microwave. After you do this, the mixture will look absolutely disgusting and may even curdle (mine did). Persevere and don't worry about this, as it will turn out all right in the end. Then add the vanilla and the three eggs, one at a time. Next mix in the sour cream until fully combined. Next, slowly add the dry ingredients and mix well. At this point the batter should look and taste delicious.

Bake the cupcakes about 25 minutes at 350 degrees F after filling about 24 cups 3/4 of the way to the top. I love using silicon cupcake trays, which I line with cupcake liners. These can be purchased almost anywhere, these days, and are an essential addition to the kitchen if any aspiring baker. I registered for both silicon cupcake trays and silicon loaf pans when I got married a few years ago and it has made baking a wonderful experience.

The cupcakes should rise nicely and you can test the inside with a fork or toothpick to make sure they are done. Then allow them to cool completely before frosting them.

The icing recipe is something I whipped up tonight on the spot that worked beautifully with these cupcakes. First I whipped the cream cheese and butter in the mixer until combined. Then I added the entire box (yes, you really do need to use the entire 1 LB box, which I why I don't eat or make cupcakes every day) of confectioner's sugar. Then to thin the cupcakes to make a better tasting, smoother frosting slowly add heavy cream while the mixer is running. I added somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 a cup of heavy cream. Next add about 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla, and finally 2 tablespoons of honey.

Just a word of caution, while it is generally a lot of fun to use food colorings to dye your cupcake frosting, I chose to leave this one white. First, I think it accents the chocolate cupcakes nicely. Further, if you are using heavy cream, you cannot use conventional food colorings because it will curdle and ruin your icing (I had a bad experience once with curdling purple cream icing). If you must color this particular frosting, you will need to experiment with various oil-based frostings. I tend to limit my use of colors to a more conventional buttercream and cream cheese icings.

These cupcakes were great - the Guinness in the chocolate cupcake is nice but subtle (it won't get you or your kids drunk, as the alcohol is lost in the baking process). The chocolate flavor is therefore less overpowering, which is what I had sought. And it accents nicely with the honey-vanilla icing.

Chocolate Cupcakes on Foodista

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