Saturday, August 28, 2010

Holy Cupcake!


Cupcakes are all the rage now.  Everywhere you look, there are cupcake shops, cupcake wars on TV, and even Cinnabon cupcakes, yes, Cinnabon cupcakes!  Who could even wonder why cupcakes are so popular?  Perfectly portioned bites of sweetness!  Not only that, they come in a HUGE variety of flavors and looks.  You can find your traditional chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting, or you can find a really funky flavor, like maple syrup and bacon (which I am planning on trying at some point!)

Last week, I decided to try my hand at making some of these yummy little treats.  Aside from being a teacher, I also work at a restaurant called Dogfish Head Alehouse.  One of the hostesses had to work on her birthday, so we decided to make her some cupcakes!  I wanted to make sure there was enough for everyone, and I like variety, so I made a few different flavors.

Normally, I like baking sweets from scratch, but this time, I decided to cheat.  I didn't have too much time to bake all of the cupcakes because I wanted them to be fresh, so I opted for a twist on the simple.

Safeway was having a sale on pre-packaged cake mixes and frostings - PERFECT!  In my own typical way, I just prepared the different cake mixes and added my own twist.  It was difficult to decide which flavors I wanted to try, so I definitely had to narrow it down a bit.  I had thought about a pina colada cupcake, a smore cupcake, a banana nut maple cupcake, and a rocky road cupcake, just to name a few.  I decided on a banana pineapple cupcake with coconut frosting, a chocolate cupcake with peanut butter chips and peanut butter frosting, and an espresso cupcake with hazelnut frosting. 

Again, I don't have any recipes, I just eyeballed everything.  For the Banana Pineapple cupcakes, I used the yellow cake mix.  To give it that real banana flavor (I loathe almost anything that's made with artificial banana, except for those Banana Runt Candies!) I added 2 mushed up, super ripe bananas.  I also added some pineapple juice, instead of using all of the water the recipe called for.  I think I used about half pineapple juice and half water.  This gave them just a hint of pineapple flavor.

I also decided to use those mini-cupcake pans.  I love variety and wanted everyone to be able to taste a few different flavors, rather than just 1.  Here's one of the cupcake tins, ready to go with the Banana Pineapple cupcakes.  You can also see my peanut butter chip cupcakes cooling on the racks.

For the Espresso Hazelnut cupcakes, I used Devil's Food chocolate cake mix, but added in some instant espresso powder.  I thought I added a lot to the mix, but when they were baked, they didn't have that rich coffee flavor that I wanted.  So I added a bit of flair! I made a cream filling with mascarpone cheese, some sugar, and some Kahlua :) I mixed it all together in the stand mixer, filled a pastry bag, and just piped it in!  It worked pretty well, but some of the cupcakes came pretty close to exploding with all of the yummy stuff inside.

The first picture is what they looked like after the hazelnut chocolate frosting and the second picture is what they looked like when they were stuffed, but sans frosting.  I just used a plain white frosting and added yummy gobs of nutella.  I love the combination of hazelnt and coffee... there's just something warm and comforting about it.  So here they are!  I had messed up a couple of them, so I just covered them in sprinkles so you couldn't see the mess ups!

Here's my setup for the Banana Pineapple Cupcakes.  I used white frosting and added coconut milk to it.  I couldn't add too much without making the frosting too runny, so to give it extra coconut taste, I dipped them in sweetened, flaked coconut too.  This was a delicious trick I had used before!  It makes the cupcakes look pretty and it's easy!

Here I am, dipping the cupcakes in frosting and then covering them in coconut!  They were so delicious and reminded me of little snowy hills.

For the Peanut Butter Chocolate cupcakes, I used chocolate cake mix and just added in some peanut butter chips... pretty simple, huh?  To make the frosting, I added peanut butter to the pre-made white frosting.  They tasted absolutely fantastic!  The combination really worked well together.  Also, the peanut butter was really rich, so making them in the small size worked well.  If something is too rich, I always have to take small bites.

(Hazelnut Latte Cupcakes!)

Overall, the cupcakes turned out really well.  They didn't look like Georgetown Cupcake, but they tasted delicious and they were cute!  Everyone from work seemed to like them, and they disappeared pretty quickly.
( Banana Pineapple Cupcakes with Coconut Frosting)

I only prepared 3 boxes worth of cupcakes, but look how many it made!  That's after I had tasted number of "samples" too :)


Cupcakes, cupcakes everywhere!  These attempts have inspired me to create more cupcakes at some point! Keep on the lookout for some smores cupcakes!

Here's the trifecta! 

 I managed to snap one more shot before completely devouring them!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Stracoto With Porcini Mushrooms

In an effort to be a "smart shopper," whenever I see a good deal, I try to buy extra and freeze it.  Thus, when cleaning out my freezer the other day, I found a huge chunk of beef.  I usually throw it into a slow cooker with some veggies and turn it into pot roast.  I wanted to try a little something different this time though.  I searched the recipes on  I found this recipe from Giada De Laurentiis and decided to give it a try!

Stracoto with Porcini Mushrooms 

 *1 (4-pound) boneless beef chuck roast
*Salt and freshly ground black pepper
*3 tablespoons olive oil
*2 onions, sliced
*6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
*1 cup dry red wine
*1 3/4 cups canned beef broth
*1/2-ounce dried porcini mushrooms

The recipe was pretty simple.  I had most of the ingredients... I had to run out and pick up the porcini mushrooms, but Curt and I almost always have a bottle of wine at the house somewhere. :)  I had intended to make this for dinner one night, but I didn't read the recipe thoroughly because it takes 3 hours to bake!

The first thing you do is season the beef with salt and pepper and then brown it on all sides in a bit of olive oil.
(Kylie wanted to help too)

While the meat was browning, I set to slicing the onions and garlic.  I used 1 GIANT onion instead of 2 regular ones.  Once the meat was browned on all sides, I took it out of the pan to rest for a bit. I then threw in the onions and garlic.  I also added a bit more oil, just to keep everything from burning. 

After the onions and garlic were softened and smelling delicious, I added in the wine and let it come to a boil.  While I was waiting for the concoction to boil, I decided to figure out what to do with the porcini mushrooms.  I've never used them in cooking before, so I wasn't sure how they would taste.
I didn't soak them or anything, just left them dried and threw them in with the beef broth.

I waited a few minutes for the mushrooms to soften up and get used to being in the little beef broth bath. 

After a few minutes, I returned the big hunk of meat to the pan.  You are supposed to use a big roasting pan to cook all of this, but I don't have one.  I decided to just cook everything in a pan and when I came time to "cover and bake," I just transferred everything to a casserole dish and covered it tightly with aluminum foil.

I braised the beef in the oven at 350 for 3, yes, 3 hours.  By this time, the house was smelling absolutely fabulous.  I took the dish out of the oven and carefully removed the beef from the dish and set it on a separate plate for a bit. Look at how delicious it looks!!!

Now, it's time to make the dish even more Curtman friendly.  I took all of the pan juices, onions, mushrooms, and garlic, and poured them into a little container.  Then, I grabbed one of my favorite tools: the immersion blender!  I whirled everything together until there was not one little piece that resembled a veggie.  Instead, it looked and smelled like a delcious gravy!

I served the stracoto with some roasted garlic mashed potatoes.  The dish was absolutely delicious! I'm definitely going to have to make this one again sometime.  Next time, I'll try adding some green beans, or some non-starchy form of veggie to go with it.  Altogether though, I'm definitely going to add this recipe to my Favorite Recipe Box.


Beef Chuck Steak on Foodista