Animals quote

"Animals give their lives to feed us, so it's on us to eat every part of them. It's a form of respect, and it's a better way to live than just treating meat as a disposable commodity." —Seamus Mullen, Chef


Everybody loves a cupcake

If you want to keep up to date on my baking and my goal to test the ever living crap out of a bunch of recipes/ideas rattling around in my brain, check out my latest endeavor, Cupcake Friday.

You won't regret it, I promise.


Baking Cupcakes for Amanda Hesser

Any time I have an excuse to bake cupcakes, I take it and run like the wind. You should know that by now.

Wednesday night, Ray and I attended The Essential New York Times Cookbook Philly Food Blogger Potluck and Book Signing, hosted by NYT food columnist and food52 founder Amanda Hesser, Audra Wolfe of Doris and Jilly Cook, Marisa McClellan of Food in Jars and Victory Brewing. Attendees were encouraged to bring their favorite dish from the NYT, whether it be the paper, a cookbook, or even the newest cookbook. 

I'll admit, I'm not much of a Times girl, or really any newspaper for that matter. I knew roughly what I wanted to bring (cupcakes!), so I scoured the online NYT in search for a wild and crazy cupcake recipe.

Unfortunately, my search only brought up approximately three recipes. One contained peanut butter, which I skipped because of Ray's allergy, another was a "Hostess" style cupcake (ew), and the final and acceptable recipe was for Devil's Food Cake cupcakes with chocolate ganache. Classic, yet a little boring for the likes of me.

My first thought was to take some of the lovely raspberry jam my friend Jen gave me this summer and fill the chocolatey delights with it. But being that it was 8:00 when the cupcakes came out of the oven AND the cake seemed very light, I nixed this idea. No need to massacre 30 cupcakes in an effort to fill them with jam and stay up until midnight. Not on a week night.

Instead I let them cool in my office, with the window thrown open. I took that time to shower and make the ganache, which was suspiciously simple. Then after an hour or so of cooling, I dipped each cupcake in the thick chocolate, gave it a twirl and voila! Cupcakes.

Ray and I had a great time at the potluck. There was a great variety of finger food-style dishes, including three pimento cheese dips (oh so good). I thoroughly enjoyed Marisa's broiled lemon and spinach salad, and my friend Derek's peanut-topped sesame noodles.

I enjoyed chatting with Amanda in between bites of the aforementioned noodles, discussing peanut allergies and the joys of homebrewing. She seemed intrigued by Ray and my beer-making hobby, and we were more than happy to talk about recipes, mishaps and the benefits of a good homebrew. The cupcakes were a hit, and I encouraged people to pair them with Victory's Storm King Imperial Stout, a beer that I spent a lot of time with that night.

Ray and I also chummed up with Dave from Victory Brewing, sharing some of our homebrews with him and some fellow potluckers. Definitely a fantastic night.


My Soup Obsession Part I — Sweet Potato Soup

I've been obsessed with soup lately. Even though I bring my lunch to work (sandwich, fruit, veggies), I almost always buy a cup of soup from the cafeteria. And I get supremely cranky when they don't have anything good.

Maybe it's the weather. The temperatures here in the Philly metro area have finally sunk below 40 and there's a chill in the air. Maybe it's because a pot of soup—when I make it at home—goes a long way, giving Ray and myself several nights of warm, comforting soup. Maybe it's both.

Recently, I made a luscious sweet potato soup. Velvety and thick, my first version had a half pound of cheddar grated into it. It was highly enjoyable, but I thought I should try it again, this time without so much dairy. This is the result:

Sweet Potato Soup
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup flour
1 3/4 cup water
1 1/2-2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1-2 tbsp half and half or light cream
Hot paprika
3 strips of duck bacon, or any kind of bacon (optional)
1-2 tbsp butter (if skipping bacon)

Render the fat out of the duck bacon in a large, nonstick stock pot. Once the bacon is done, drain it on paper towels and trim extra fat gristle. Set aside.

If not using bacon, heat 2 tablespoons of butter on medium high heat in the large, nonstick stock pot. Once melted (or once bacon has been removed), add onion and garlic, as well as a pinch of salt and some pepper. Cook until aromatic.

Add carrot and sweet potatoes. Stir to coat. You can also add a tablespoon of butter at this point if it looks like you need it for better coating. Turn the heat down to medium, put the lid on, and let the veggies cook down for approximately 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Once the sweet potatoes and carrots are tender, add the flour to the cup of water and whisk. Slowly add to the pot, stirring. Let simmer for 5 minutes. Add chicken broth (or vegetable broth if making this a vegetarian dish) and simmer for another 15-20 minutes.

Take the pot off the heat and let it cool a little. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup (if using a blender, let the soup come all the way down in temperature for safety reasons).

Once sufficiently pureed, put the pot back on the heat at medium. Add the half and half or light cream and stir to incorporate. Add hot paprika, salt and pepper to taste.

Crumble the bacon and add to the soup. Let the soup simmer for an additional 15-30 minutes on medium-low heat. If it seems a bit thick, add some room-temperature water until it's at your desired consistency.

I love this soup. It's comforting and satisfying. Writing the recipe was a bit difficult though, because I tend to cook off the cuff. I was inspired by the Cheddar Potato Soup with Bacon recipe I found using my handy Epicurious app, but obviously made a lot of changes.

I also did a lot of "add a little of this, a dash of that," especially when it came to seasoning the soup. I think that's great for cooking, but a pain in the neck for when you want to explain HOW you did it. Baking, however, requires a fairly strict adherence to the recipe—it's much more like chemistry.


Apple Pie Contest

Because we had so much fun at the Collingswood Farmers Market Peach Pie Contest back in August, when Betsy from the market emailed everyone about an Apple Pie Baking contest slated for Oct. 23, we jumped on coming up with a recipe. Who doesn't love a good pie contest?

Ray took the lead, incorporating the delicious pie crust recipe we used last time with a riff on the boozy apple pie recipe from The Boozy Baker. He decided whiskey would be our pie's vice, with nearly a cup in the filling and a little bit in the crust. I went with our signature pie look and cut apple shapes out of the dough for the top.

This time, the Collingswood Farm Market crew had the contest highly organized, which was a real pleasure to see, and kept things moving at a steady pace. There were three categories: apple-only, apples with other fruits, and presentation. Like last time, there were more apple-only pies, making up for about 67% of the entrants. There were some really lovely ones in the lineup, and I'm sure they tasted great. Due to health code regulations, the pies couldn't be sampled by market-goers, but there were apple dessert samples from a number of the vendors at the market, which I thought was a nice touch.

Unfortunately, we did not take home the prize, though we did get on the scoreboard with points for presentation, so boo-yah. Once the contest was complete, we snagged our pie and a fork to taste it. The apples were still pretty firm, and the juices were less juice and more solid. The flavor was good, but the spices could have come up a notch. All things we can do next time (as in, Thanksgiving at my parents house).

Cutting the judges' slice `o pie. Judges tasted each pie, taking a bite or two.

Local celebrity judge Jen Miller, journalist and author of The Jersey Shore: From Atlantic City to Cape May, tasting our pie.


On Burning Hands ...

I recently came across a recipe for homemade Sriracha, and because Ray loves the Southeast Asian condiment SO much, I knew I had to make some for him. And the recipe looked fairly easy.

We bought the peppers at the Collingswood Farmers Market on Saturday—I knew I wanted to do a mix of red bell peppers with whatever red hot peppers I could find. I procured 6 "long sweet" hot red peppers from one vendor for $1 and a pint of small red chiles (looked a lot like habaneros) for $2 from a different vendor. I picked up my bulb of garlic and was ready to go (there were already broken down red bell peppers waiting for me at home).

Yesterday I got to work. I roughly chopped the red bell slices, then began breaking down the chilis ... gloveless. I've worked with jalapenos a number of times (even accidentally touched my eyes once after working with them ... ow), and thought nothing of it. Just don't touch my eyes right?

I broke down all the chiles to come up with 12 oz of peppers...not the full pound the recipe called for, but good enough. And then the burning began. I thought it would go away after washing my hands with soap. No. The burning intensified, and left the back side of some of my fingers red and swollen. It sucked.

The pain would blossom anytime I got near the heat of the stove, which was often because I was also making Honey Lemon Apple Jam and Yellow Tomato Soup. Ugh.

Well, it's nearly 22 hours later. My hands feel "warm" and I don't dare bring them near my eyes to wipe away an errant eyelash. One test Ray suggested was to stick a finger in my mouth, under my tongue. If I feel the chili burn in my mouth, the capsaicin is still there. Because I was gloveless AND used my hands to pull out the seeds and ribs, I think my episode ended up being quite unpleasant. Here's hoping it improves (it's not fun wearing a glove to put in contacts.

And to add to your amusement, Ray took me up on the suggestion of comicking my peril. Pain doesn't hurt when it's funny.

Chili pepper image courtesy of flickr user huntz. Some rights reserved.


Baking for Parties

This past Saturday I had 45+ cupcakes in tow with me as Ray and I ventured over the river and through the woods to our very good friends' house for their daughter's first birthday. When I originally made the lavender honey nut cupcakes, I was texting back and forth with my friend, who seemed interested in the cupcakes. So I did what any sane (or maybe not so much) person would do and offered to bake the same recipe for her daughter's birthday.

I took Friday off 1) to recover from a nasty cold and 2) have more time to bake. I stuck with the original recipe, and purchased frosting pigment to make the cupcake frosting a lovely lavender. The recipe yields more than noted in the book, so 4 batches (which should have yielded 48) landed me with 55+ cupcakes. More than I planned for, but all the better to practice frosting.

I tinted the frosting and got to work making a rose design on each cupcake. I found out quickly that a firm hand and steady pressure was needed to make the lined crisp—otherwise the frosting looked a little droopy. By the end of my mega frosting session (making the buttercream 3 times to cover all the cupcakes), I had a steady hand and was able to knock out multiple cupcakes without stopping.

At the party everyone loved the cupcakes, which had me a little taken aback. Okay, wait, maybe that wasn't it. What surprised me was when people assumed I was a professional baker. They wanted to know where my shop was. My shop? You think I'm a professional? This was the first time I had ever colored frosting!

But it was great to hear. I'll be baking cupcakes for Ray's 30th birthday party in November, and I've made it clear to friends that I'm interested in cupcake-catering their parties as well. I'll be interested to see where this goes.

One thing to note: Strangely enough, a majority of the cupcakes' frosting paled to a light shade of blue-lavender.  I was very surprised, but they did ride in the back of the car in a clear container. My thought is that they were somehow light-struck. Has anyone had experience with this?


Carrot and Red Thai Curry Soup

Before heading out to Denver for vacation, I made an Indian Spiced Carrot Soup with Ginger, from Bon Appetit magazine. It was tasty enough, but I wasn't thrilled with it. I nearly tripled all the spices to get it to the level I wanted, and even then—after using an immersion blender—I just couldn't get it velvety smooth. But we ate it anyway.

Last weekend we had friends over, and I took another stab at the soup, this time channeling Denver's Root Down restaurant and its Organic Carrot & Red Thai Curry Soup. That soup was luscious, smooth as velvet and with the perfect pow! of curry. It was love at first sip.

Here is my version of the soup, using the original Indian Spiced Carrot Soup with Ginger recipe as a humble base and taking it from there. My one suggestion is to constantly taste and season the soup to your liking—that's the only way you'll get this to work for you.
The soup paired with my good friend Derek Lee's
recipe for Caramelized Onion Bread Pudding
• 2 teaspoons dried coriander or 2-3 teaspoons of coriander seeds
• 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
• 3 tablespoons sesame oil
• 1/2 teaspoon curry powder (preferably Madras)
• 1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
• 2 cups chopped onions
• 1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled, thinly sliced into rounds (about 4 cups)
• 1 lime, zested
• 1-2 tablespoons red curry paste; more to taste
• 4 cups Thai culinary stock (can be found at Wegmans) and 1 cup vegetable stock (if you can't find the Thai stock, use 5 cups of vegetable stock)
• 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
• 1 cup light cream

1. Grind coriander and mustard seeds in spice mill.
2. Heat sesame oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add ground seeds and curry powder; stir 1 minute.
3. Add ginger; stir 1 minute.
4. Add onions, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until onions begin to soften, about 3 minutes.
5. Add red curry paste, thoroughly incorporating it. Add the lime zest and carrots. Cook down for 5-10 minutes, until carrots are tender.
6. Add 5 cups total broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer uncovered until about 30 minutes. Cool slightly.
7. Working in batches, puree in blender until smooth. If you want the soup to be super smooth and light, then pass the soup through a mesh sieve, pressing all the liquid out of the solids. Discard the solids (or keep to make carrot ravioli) and put the liquid back into the pot.
8. Add lime juice, and more red curry paste to taste. Add 1 cup of cream if you'd like it a little creamy, more if you'd like the soup to be thicker. Finish with salt and pepper.