Monday, March 30, 2009

Magnolia Cupcakes

Yesterday was Lucy's birthday. Lucy is my son's best friend (although once your 7 I don't know if it's cool for a boy to call his girl his 'best friend'). Our families are close and the kids are like siblings. When I asked what we could bring to her birthday dinner last night, she requested cupcakes. I was honored to be making her birthday cakes so, I got to work.

Years ago I copied down the recipe for Magnolia Bakery cupcakes. This small storefront on Bleeker Street in New York has been around for a long time. Thanks to Carrie Bradshaw and Saturday Night Live, they've become synonymous with the cupcake. They were, in fact, making them long before the $4 cupcake craze began. Their bakery is my favorite kind-old school baked goods from banana pudding to icebox cakes, and of course the window ledge brimming with cupcakes.

I have had this recipe for ages (can't remember where I got it) and wanted to try it so I got it out yesterday and went to work. It couldn't be easier! I played with the frosting a bit and, in the end, was very happy with the results. The cupcakes stayed nice and moist and the frosting was light, airy, and buttery without being sickeningly sweet. Next time you need your Magnolia fix, give 'em a try. I'll tell you after our meal last night, they go especially well with perfectly fried chicken!

Magnolia Bakery Cupcakes
2 3/4 cups flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup butter, room temp
1 3/4 cups sugar

4 eggs, room temp

1 cup milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line 2 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake papers.
In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter until very smooth. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well between each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk, one third of each at a time, mixing on low speed just until the ingredients are incorporated. Transfer the batter to the cupcake tins, filling each no more than three-quarters full. Bake for 18-22 minutes, just until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the pans on racks for 5 minutes then remove the cupcakes and cool completely before frosting.
1 cup butter, room temp

8 cups powdered sugar (yep, that's two full boxes)

1/2 cup milk

2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt

1 ounce melted unsweetened chocolate, optional for chocolate frosting

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat together the butter, powdered sugar, milk, vanilla, and salt. Mix until the frosting is very light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes. If white frosting is desired, use as is. For colored frosting, separate the frosting into smaller bowls and stir in very small amounts of food coloring (for the pink and blue above I used about 1/2 drop). For chocolate frosting, separate out 1/2 to 1/3 of the frosting into a bowl and mix in half of the melted chocolate to start-taste, adding more chocolate as needed plus an extra pinch of salt.

Frost the cupcakes and if using sprinkles for decoration, add them as soon as the frosting gets on the cupcake or it hardens up a bit and they won't stick.

Happy Birthday Lucy!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

It's a virtual throwdown at the NY Times today. Julia Moskin and Kim Severson get $50 to make dinner for six and Frank Bruni was the judge. Was it Kim's Mexican Feast (carnitas anyone?) or Julia's French Italian (I do like Gougeres especially when she adapted a recipe from my friend Tori)? I'll let you decide.

Turning your kitchen into a pizzeria will become a reality after reading today's LA Times. Whether you opt for a pizza stone or old fashioned bricks, they've got your oven design and a couple of great looking recipes too. My only advice? Make that dough into at least four pies (as the recipe suggests) for crisp and thin pizzas.

In today's Washington Post, Joe Yonan writes "Ask 10 cooks what they do with leftover wine, and, trust me, at least half will respond, "What's leftover wine?" A reasonable and true answer but, he does still manage to get some good recipes out of them. Mulled Wine Syrup over Greek Yogurt sounds great to me. But again, is there ever any leftover wine?

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Just for Fun

It's sick, it's wrong, but you can't stop looking...if this doesn't inspire you to start eating healthy, I don't know what will. Take a look and come back-I want to hear which was your favorite!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Grown Up Birthday Presents

Tonight we're going to a birthday dinner for a friend. It's not a particularly special number but, a birthday none the less and certainly a good reason to gather around the table for a meal. So, what to bring as a gift? "Grown-ups" don't want Legos, puzzles, Star Wars gear, or super-hero costumes so, taking a cue from my son wasn't going to help. Gifts for grown-ups should be more personal. Wine is always good but, who doesn't bring wine? Everyone knows I am cookie-crazy and any excuse to be baking in the kitchen is good. So I had my answer! I did a little fact finding and discovered our friend's favorite cookie-a jam filled thumbprint.

I shot to the Container Store for a great class cookie jar. Filled it with a sheet of multi-colored waxed tissue (perfect for packing cookies) and topped the lid with a big orange decal and a 'happy birthday'.

The cookies were a breeze. I adapted a recipe from Barefoot Contessa Family Style by Ina Garten. The girl makes a mean shortbread cookie so I knew her thumbprints would work. She coats hers in coconut, which looks fantastic. I wanted a nutty cookie so I 86'd the coconut and put a huge handful of toasted, chopped pecans in the dough. The dough is crumbly so be patient when you're making the dent in the center-they need a little love. I filled half of them with apricot jam (my fave) and the other half with raspberry. They look great (don't you think?) and taste even better. I'm waiting for them to cool then I'll pack that jar full and hand it off, along with a pound of our new favorite coffee from Four Barrel.

So next time you know a grown up with a birthday, turn on the oven and get to work. Every time he has coffee and cookie this week, I hope he'll remember that we are wishing him well.

Jam Filled Pecan Thumbprints (adapted from
Barefoot Contessa Family Style by Ina Garten).

3/4 cup butter, room temp

1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups flour
pinch kosher salt
3/4 cup toasted and coarsely chopped pecans
your favorite jam

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes (or use a hand mixer). Add the vanilla and mix to combine. Add the flour, salt, and pecans and mix until the dough begins to form large clumps and holds together when you gently squeeze it in your hand. Transfer the dough to a piece of plastic wrap, form it into a ball, flatten it into a disc, and wrap it tightly. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silpats.

Roll the dough into balls about 1 1/2-inches in diameter. Using your finger, gently poke a dent in the center and to make a cavity about 1/2-inches wide and deep. Place the cookies about 1-inch apart on the baking sheets. Fill each one with a small spoonful of jam, filling them just under the top of each cookie. Bake for 20-22 minutes, until lightly golden on the bottom. Transfer to a rack and cool completely (or the molten hot jam will burn your tongue off!)

Makes about 28 cookies

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

Happy Wednesday!

Mmm....Biscuits. To me that phrase is as good as Homer echoing about donuts. I LOVE biscuits, especially slathered with butter and honey. Thankfully I don't make them often. Today's LA Times has a recipe from Harris Ranch for their buttermilk biscuits. They look perfect to me!

Pork Loin Stuffed with Figs or marshmallow and chocolate Whoopie Pies? I'll let you decide because in today's NY Times they both look good. I'm not so into a cake disguised as a cookie so my vote's going to Mark Bittman's pork.

I've made my own mozzarella and ricotta but, that was in culinary school and I don't claim to be any kind of expert. I love ricotta and this recipe from today's Seattle Times (now the lone paper in that town) looks approachable and straight-forward. I think I may just try making it myself.

Thomas Keller reveals to today's Washington Post his method for a perfect roast chicken. You might be surprised at how easy it is, and there's not a sous vide bag in sight! While you're there, check out this recipe for Hush Piggies. Like their cousin the Hush Puppy, these lovelies are dotted with bits of sausage. Talk about over the top!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My Kind of Corned Beef

I've never been a fan of Irish style corned beef and cabbage. I know, it's St. Patrick's day and I'm probably commiting all kinds of Leprechaun sins by even saying that today but, it's the truth. The corned beef is always kind of bland and the cabbage seems to loose it's texture and crunch, to me the reason to eat cabbage in the first place. The concept of the dish is fine and I certainly eat it if it's in front of me but, I don't crave it like I do the other kind of corned beef and cabbage.

Yes...that one! Rich corned beef, thinly sliced and piled very high on a slice of fresh rye bread. The cabbage comes in the form of slaw, slathered on the beef and crowned with Russian dressing. Top it with another piece of bread and that's one of my favorite meals.

So Happy St. Pat's to all you Irish out there. I'll wear my green and probably even buy my son a green bagel (a traditional started by my mom), but, when it comes to corned beef and cabbage, I'll be eating it on rye.

(mouth watering photo courtesy of NYC Food Guy....thank you!)

Friday, March 13, 2009

You've Tried the Rest Now Try the Best

When the 18th Street Pizzeria Delfina opened, the owners (and my good friends), Craig and Annie, gave me a t-shirt that said 'You've Tried the Rest, Now Try the Best' on the back. After being propositioned by a smarmy guy at Whole Foods, I put the shirt into retirement. After dinner last night, I'm bringing it back out.

These days I find it tough to try a new restaurant when we go out. I have a handful of favorites and I know when I visit these places, I'm going to get amazing food that is worth the expense. I hate the thought of trying somewhere new, having it be just okay, and paying an arm and a leg.

For the past months, my very favorite restaurant has been Pizzeria Delfina on California Street. Maybe you've heard the latest Yelp-related stories about the place but, I'm over that and all about the food. The restaurant is in my hood and I started going there because I loved the idea of frequenting my friend's restaurant. I've kept going not for that reason but, because it really is some of the best food in SF. I can't imagine eating anywhere else and having such amazing food at such a good value. I'm not saying this is cheap food-you can go to Domino's for that. It is quality food made from the best products possible and cooked with care and love for very reasonable prices.

There were three of us last night and we ate plenty. We started with a Tricolore Salad of radicchio, arugula, and endive tossed in a simple, fresh vinaigrette and
topped with ribbons of quality Parmesan. Next it was the Broccoli di Ciccio, fried so light it was more like tempura than a thick batter. On to pizza-we had the Gricia, a special pie last night with house cured guanciale, spring onions, and panna (yep, cream)-it was decadent without being over the top. We also tried the Calzone, which I'd never ordered before. It was full of wild nettles and ricotta and had a nice acidic bite from, I think, a little lemon. Stuffed Escarole and Stuffed Shells were full of creamy cheese, well balanced red sauce and even a little kick from anchovies in the shells. Pretending we weren't stuffed to the brim we had two desserts! First it was the new to the menu Gelato sundae, made with vanilla gelato, Amarena cherries, pistachios, and whipped cream and topped at the table with hot fudge. We also tried the peanut straciatella gelato. Both were incredible! The gelato is made in house, infused with fresh flavors and not too sweet.

I love the vibe at the Pizzeria too. It's loud, busy, and casual but, the servers are efficient, they know the menu, and they don't rush you out even when there are 20 people waiting for your table. Mary had a great idea last night-open a gelateria next door and tables would turn a lot faster as diners walk over for a cup or a cone.

I will always go back to Pizzeria Delfina. In fact, l'll go before I try most four star restaurants in the city. I've tried a lot of the new and 'hip' restaurants in SF but, now that I have, I'm back to trying to the best.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

It's Wednesday's what I'm reading:

Taking a hint from Mark Bittman's '100 ways....' lists in past issues of the NY Times, the SF Chron has 33 ways to use leftover bread. I'm a huge fan of homemade breadcrumbs, which I make at home all the time. Try some of their other ideas like Croissant Bread pudding or Zucchini baked with Bread and Gruyere .

Just looking at this pictures of a Hot Fudge Brownie Sundae will satisfy your chocolate cravings. If it doesn't the recipe, from BLD restaurant, is today's LA Times. The ice cream is homemade so there are some steps here. Making the brownies and sauce from scratch would still be a great way to dress up your favorite store bought ice cream.

Michelle Obama opens the White House kitchen to the press and tells the NY Times why it's important for her girls to eat healthy, local, and fresh vegetable. You go girl! The Times also has a beautiful recipe for a Garlic and Thyme Roasted Chicken. Everyone should have a back pocket recipe for roasted chicken. If you don't have yours this looks like a good place to start.

Fregola is a small Italian pasta with great texture to it. In today's Washington Post there is a quick weeknight style recipes for Spiced Pork Tenderloin with Cranberry Fregola. Isn't it time to shake up your dinner table this week?

Happy Cooking and happy reading!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

From Italy to Arizona by way of Chicago

We just returned from a trip to AZ to visit my husband's family. This bunch, the Italian side, was born and raised in Chicago but have all migrated west to the sunshine of Arizona. A quick trip for us, not having seen them in years, so we spent a three day weekend visiting and, of course, eating.

This is no timid bunch when it comes to food. They love to cook and eat as a family and their cuisine is Italian-American. They don't cook like me-a simple entree, salad, side and dessert. This is food for a famiglia...of 30! I think they pulled out of lot of stops for us. They cooked like crazy and made all of Nana's old recipes so my husband was in heaven.

Night number one was at Cousin Ray's. He made Italian beef sandwiches-slow roasted and simply seasoned eye of the round sliced paper thin (on their grandpa's meat slicer) and kept in its own juices. We piled it on Italian bread with giardiniera, spicy pickled vegetables, and grated cheese. Next was sausage and peppers. This was sweet Italian sausage sauteed with red and yellow peppers and cooked together so their flavors all blended. On the side was a fresh tomato salad with jalapeno and gorgonzola (a Ray twist on a classic, and a very good one) and homemade potato salad. Lots of wine, food, and family plus a dozen kids running all over the place. It was a great night.

The next night was dinner at Auntie Ro's. The guys spent the day seeing the Cub's play a spring training game but, I was in the kitchen trying to learn the secrets to Nana's recipes. Ro cooks like a professional (she did, in fact). She isn't shy about seasoning her food, she uses salt in all the right places and tastes as she goes. She cooks a lot from memory, which I love. She'd already made two giant pans of eggplant parm and 3 pounds of meatballs when I arrived. I helped maked the breasole, pounded thin beef scattered with Italian parsley, shaved parm, salt, pepper, and garlic powder and rolled. We browned it well and added it to the famous family tomato sauce. The meatballs went in too and we cooked it all day long. Meanwhile, we made cavadelle (which I am sure I'm spelling wrong). They are a simple dumpling with flour and hot water, rolled with two fingers to look a bit like penne, and boiled and sauced like pasta. There was homemade frizelle, fresh homemade bread that was cut, toasted and topped with garlic, oregano, oil, and balsamic plus a salad, homemade roasted red peppers, and of course pasta. It was food for an army but, we loved it!

There is something about this food, and it's not just that it tastes delicious. It is food made with love and you can taste that when you eat it. There is tradition here and when the family eats these dishes, memories are evoked, conversations are started and people are happy. The same thing happened when my grandma cooked. The food brought us together and when we eat those dishes today we can't help but think of her with a smile on our faces.

Paisano is a pal or a friend, even a countryman. I saw this jug of wine (above) on Auntie Ro's counter and thought "this says it all".

Friday, March 6, 2009

Kickin' it Old School

Tonight I was making meatballs (or as my almost 7 year old son calls it, spaghetti and balls...'balls' being his new favorite word). I make my balls with beef and pork, sometimes veal thrown in there too. I try to get the best ground meat I can find and this means going to the butcher.

Back in the day grocery shopping meant making frequent trips to the local butcher for fresh meat, the fish monger for the daily catch, the green market for produce, and the bakery for bread. We've gotten away from this and are accustomed to one stop shopping. This conveinence makes sense in many ways-it certainly saves gas and time. But, in most large supermarkets there is no butcher. The meat is ground at a huge factory where its shrink-wrapped and shipped to the store. The same goes for fish, where it is broken down far from the store, preserved in ice or sometimes 'solutions', and wrapped for the consumer.

I make it a rule to try and buy all my meat and fish from a person who will wrap it for me and not from a shrink-wrapped package. I know I have the luxury of living somewhere that has butchers and fish markets and I'm incredibly thankful for it. I think most people are so used to their superstores, they don't even realize their town has a butcher. Look one up in your town-you might be surprised to find it right down the road. Or, if you have a smaller or high-end market in your town, you just might find the butcher or fish monger working behind the counter, ready and waiting for your special requests.

When you get to the butcher shop, take advantage of it! Butchers are experts on all cuts of meat. These days, when the gorgeous rib eye might be out of your price range, your butcher can recommend a cut that will stay nice and tender and cost a fraction of the price. He'll also grind meat to order, making your beef, pork, and veal perfect for that next batch of balls.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Funny Read

This article, written by Regina Schrambling yesterday on Slate, is a great read. For those of us (yes, I'm occasionally guilty as charged) who tout their children as perfect eaters, Regina will make you realize that kids are still kids. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

What I (finally) Read Today

Last night in cooking class I got hit with the flu like a ton of bricks. I was in bed all day and am finally coming up for air. Here's what I read when I got caught up on today's food sections.

Melissa Clark always writes great articles and delicious recipes. In today's NY Times, her recipe for Olive Oil Poached Halibut with mint looks so simple, fresh, and tasty. It's a quick week night dinner that is sure to please. The Times also has a great article by Kim Severson on organic food-is it safer than non-organic? A good read...

In today's LA Times, the Spring Soup of Greens and Pasta looks so satisfying. I love chard so it would probably be my green of choice but, the recipe suggests kale, dandelion, and beet greens as well. A perfect light and healthy soup that comes together in a snap.

Janet Fletcher wrote a great article in the SF Chronicle about Soul Food, California Style. The recipes look authentic and so yummy, especially that oven roasted chicken and the sweet potato pancakes.

Happy Cooking and Happy Reading

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Tipsy Pig

Lately my neighborhood has turned into a ghost town. Stores are closing on the main street down the hill and their are 'For Lease' signs everywhere. Walk a few more blocks north and you hit Chestnut Street. Sure, the Gap isn't as busy as it used to be but, it's hard to recognize the dire economic state if this is where you spend your time. New restaurants and shops are opening, lines wind around the corner for the late night bar scene, and stroller moms flood the sidewalks during the day. In addition to the opening of the Tipsy Pig last week, I was thrilled to see the awning go up for Miette Bakery, right next to Blue Barn no less (now I'm in real trouble-between my favorite burrata sandwich and a cookie at Miette-yikes!).

We went to the Tipsy Pig last night. Billed as a 'neighborhood gastrotavern', the place had a long dark (and busy) bar, brown leather banquettes, and a sparse few trinkets on the wall to resemble an English style pub. The decor looked like a work-in-progress but, it's new so it didn't really bother me. The place is owned by the Sustainable Restaurants Group, the guys behind Mamacita, Umami, and Blue Barn. Sam Josi, one of the partners, went to Tante Marie's, so I'm always thrilled when I hear of his new ventures.

We arrived early, 5:30, because we had my son in tow. There are two parts of the dining room, separated by the bar on one side and the kitchen on the other. The front dining room was full of families with kids and in the back were the child-free tables. Clearly I wasn't the only one excited about a new place opening with a kid's menu. You can see the menu here , it looks good, right? Peak at the drink menu. Clearly there was some thought behind the cocktails and the extensive beer list was certainly pub-worthy. Our server arrived promptly and took our drink orders. We tried two of the speciality drinks-a fresh squeezed Greyhound for me and a Blood Orange Collins for my husband. The took a while to arrive and we ordered our dinner in the meantime. When they did show up, the Collins was in a HUGE beer-like mug, heavy and a little awkward. Mine was more reasonable and both drinks were very tasty.

The kitchen was slow and the server was apologizing to us and everyone else in the dining room. Sadly it was SO loud you could barely hear him, or the person sitting next to you. I know restaurants like to gage their noise levels when they open before firing in for an expensive sound proofing system-my guess is this place will be making the investment.

Our first courses arrived along with, and this is a huge pet peeve, my son's dinner. If I don't ask for his dinner to come early I don't want it early. Clearly it was going to be a while before our entrees arrived and I knew that meant he'd be anxiously waiting for us to plow through our meals because he'd already be finished. In any case, his mac and cheese was perfect for my taste. He expected cheddar cheese but,liked it none the less. I had the Spinach Salad with kabocha squash, hard boiled eggs, and lardons of pancetta-it was delicious. Well balanced and the perfect bite from the squash. My husband had the Mixed Greens and Rocket with Asian Pear, Pomegranate Vinaigrette, and Goat Cheese Tart. This was a bit off. The dressing was too acidic and oddly, the delicious little triangles of tart were underneath the dressed greens. This made the tart damp and cold when I'm sure it could have been a nice addition had it been warm and crunchy. The salad has potential and I it gets worked out because I love the combination of ingredients.

It was another long, long stretch before we got our entrees. When they finally arrived, the all looked great. My mom-in-law had the maple brined pork chop with a potato brussels sprout hash, I had the chicken pot pie, and my husband had the 'tipsy burger'. The pork chop looked amazing and, I know that when you brine a chop it stays quite pink. This was beyond pink and into the translucent...probably medium rare. She ate around the sides but, knowing how long our entrees had taken, we didn't send it back for more cooking. The hash, however, was fantastic. The burger was fine. Loads of caramelized onions which you need to like as their flavor kind of took over. My pot pie was draped in a huge beautiful piece of puff pastry. Once I broke into it, steam bellowed out. The insides of this pie were SO hot! Tender chunks of chicken and lots of root veggies were bathed in a creamy herb filled sauce. It was tasty but, so incredibly hot it couldn't eat it until everyone else was already done with their food. I'm not complaining-better hot than cold but, I'd suggest peeling off most of that beautiful crust to create a little space for the filling to cool down. We skipped dessert as it was after 7 when we finished.

It's hard and totally unfair to make sweeping judgements about a restaurant the first week it's open. I am going to root for the Tipsy Pig. It's close to home and in these times, I would love to see another busy and successful business. There are kinks and most of them can probably be attributed to opening week jitters-no share plates, no coffee...these things will get better. Timing needs work but, again, I think a kitchen gets 'in the zone' after more practice. I will wait a while before I try it again. I didn't love Mamacita when it first opened but, the last two times I visited I had amazing meals.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed! Have you tried the Tipsy Pig yet? Would love to know what you thought.
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