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


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.