Monday, June 27, 2016

Strawberry Cupcakes

 For years and years, I've looked for a go-to recipe for strawberry cupcakes. Many recipes contain strawberry gelatin as their main source of strawberry flavor, but I wanted something that uses FRESH strawberries. I'm not saying that the Jello cupcakes aren't good, and yes, I'll probably try them at some point, but I still wanted that fresh strawberry flavor that you just can't get in a box.
 So when my friend, Denise, asked me if I would bake strawberry cupcakes, I thought "ok, let's figure this out once and for all." I did some searching and found Sprinkles' recipe (which is the name of the first cupcake bakery, founded by Candace Nelson.) Actually, I googled to see if Martha Stewart had a good recipe and found that this is the recipe she uses. I figured if Sprinkles' recipe is good enough for Martha, then it's good enough for me. So I went with it. Turns out, they were a HUGE hit! I think "outstanding" was the word Denise used! They were really simple to make, and the icing that goes with it is absolutely amazing too.
 So I think it's safe to say this is now my go-to strawberry cupcake recipe. I can already tell I'll be getting many more requests for this one! You should definitely try 'em!

2/3 cup whole fresh strawberries
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp coarse salt
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg 
2 large egg whites

Strawberry Frosting

Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners; set aside.
Place strawberries in a small food processor; process until pureed. You should have about 1/3 cup of puree, add a few more strawberries if necessary or save any extra puree for frosting; set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
In a small bowl, mix together milk, vanilla, and strawberry puree; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until well combined and fluffy. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and slowly add egg and egg whites until just blended.
With the mixer on low, slowly add half the flour mixture; mix until just blended. Add the milk mixture; mix until just blended. Slowly add remaining flour mixture, scraping down sides of the bowl with a spatula, as necessary, until just blended. Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Transfer muffin tin to oven and bake until tops are just dry to the touch, 22 to 25 minutes. Transfer muffin tin to a wire rack and let cupcakes cool completely in tin before icing.

I usually like to tweak a recipe here and there to suit my own tastes, but this recipe needs absolutely no tweaking at all. It's perfect just as it is. For deliciously moist cupcakes, be sure not to overbake them.
I garnished each with a whole strawberry so there would be no question of what kind of cupcakes they are. Just sayin! They look awesome, don't they?
I wonder how this recipe would work with other berries. Maybe blueberry? Raspberry? I'll definitely give them a try and let you know how they turn out!
Yes, the strawberry frosting is fabulous, but you could also do cream cheese icing. That would be FABULOUS!

Strawberry Frosting

This is Sprinkles' strawberry frosting recipe that goes with their cupcake recipe. It's fabulous on strawberry cupcakes, of course, but it would also be amazing on a vanilla or lemon cake. I bet it would even be amazing on a chocolate cake. Sweet, and buttery, and pretty in pink. You should definitely add this to your repertoire!

1/2 cup whole strawberries
2 sticks butter
pinch of coarse salt
3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Place strawberries in the bowl of a small food processor; process until pureed. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and salt on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce mixer speed and slowly add confectioners' sugar; beat until well combined. Add vanilla and 3 tablespoons strawberry puree (save any remaining strawberry puree for another use); mix until just blended. Do not overmix or frosting will incorporate too much air. Frosting consistency should be dense and creamy, like ice cream.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Pierogi Lasagna

Do you like pierogis? Pasta stuffed with potatoes and cheese and served with sour cream and caramelized onions.. that has my name written ALL over it! And then I saw a video about a pierogi LASAGNA. My first thought was "OMG what a fabulous idea! Why have I never thought of this??" and then I quickly jumped to"YES I'll definitely be making this. Like, soon!"
 If you think about it, it's really kind of brilliant in its simplicity. It's all the same ingredients as pierogis, but they're just assembled differently. Cool, huh? I didn't even follow a recipe, tbh. I mean I know how to make mashed potatoes and caramelized onions. The rest is just assembling your layers and baking it until golden and bubbly. Easy! If this isn't comfort food, then I don't know what is. Or as my fabulous friend Casey would say "classic Joey Quaile shenanigans!"
 So if you like pierogis, you simply MUST try this.
I absolutely PROMISE you will love it!

4 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and roughly diced
2 sticks butter
1-2 cups milk
5 large Vidalia or other sweet onions, peeled
3-4 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 lb lasagna noodles
S&P to taste
Sour cream and chopped scallions for serving

Heat oven to 350ºF.
Place potatoes in a large pot of salted water over high heat. Bring the potatoes to a boil until they are fork tender. Drain and place back in the pot. Add one stick of butter, milk, and S&P. Hand mash until mostly smooth, but still a little chunky. Set aside.
While the potatoes are boiling, slice the onions pole to pole. Place the onion halves cut side down, then slice across the grain making half rings. Place the other stick of butter into a large pot over medium heat to melt. Add onion slices and slowly saute until they begin to caramelize. Take your time with this step. You really want this to go low and slow for a good 20 minutes or more.
Fill a large shallow pan with very HOT water, and place your lasagna noodles to soak for a bit until they begin to soften.
Now all of your components are ready and it's time to assemble.
Spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray. Place some of the onions on the bottom in an even layer.
Place 1/3 of the noodles over the onions making sure to overlap the edges, spread 1/3 of the mashed potatoes over the noodles, then a layer of onions, then a layer of cheese.
Do this two more times.
Spray the underside of a piece of foil with baking spray and cover the lasagna. Bake for 30-45 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Remove foil and bake another 10-15 minutes or until slightly golden brown on top. Remove from oven and let it rest for a good 15 minutes before you slice into squares. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of chopped chives or scallions.

Ok here's my best tip when it comes to making any lasagna: when you layer your noodles, don't always do the layers in the same direction. So, like, if your first layer of noodles is horizontal or longways in the pan, then place your second layer in opposite direction going crossways or vertically, and then go back to layering them horizontally again for the third layer. You'll probably have to cut the noodles in order to fit them vertically, but that's not a big deal. Why do I do this? Because it makes the layers lock together and then you'll wind up with squares of lasagna that hold their shape, instead of having the top half sliding off. Clever, right? And yes, that's correct, I never boil my noodles before assembling the lasagna. I just soak them in very hot water to soften for a bit. The baking will cook them the rest of the way, and then you won't wind up with mushy overcooked noodles.
This is a great do-ahead dish because it will set up nicely as it sits. It also reheats very well, and it freezes beautifully.
The best way to make sure your final product will be well seasoned is to taste and adjust each component as you go. When you mash the potatoes, be sure you use enough salt and pepper. (It will require more salt than you think it will!) Same with the onions, taste as you go to make sure they're properly seasoned.
And don't forget, when you caramelize the onions, let them go for a good long time until they cook down and become sweet and almost creamy in the melted butter.
I've seen some recipes where they say not to add any milk to the mashed potatoes. For me, not only do I like to add the milk, but I like to add a LOT of milk, just to make the potatoes light and fluffy. Otherwise the lasagna is just gonna be much too heavy. Add enough to reach your desired consistency. Then again, if you prefer your potatoes without milk, just omit it altogether!
Like a lot of onions or cheese? Add as much as you want! Want to vary the recipe a little? Add whatever you like! Maybe add some crisped bacon to each layer? Yes please!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Million Dollar Pound Cake

  One of my most favorite cakes in the whole wide world is just your basic pound cake. Well, not just ANY pound cake, but a rich, buttery, flavorful, moist pound cake. There's a reason this cake is still a classic. It's so good, it doesn't even need frosting. Just a little powdered sugar and you're good to go.
 So when my sister in law, Mare, posted this Southern Living recipe on Facebook, I immediately saved it so I could give it a try. One thing I noticed right off the bat was that there aren't any leavening ingredients in the recipe. No baking powder, no baking soda. Nothing. It's all in the technique! The thing that makes this cake rise is whipping the butter and sugar. Your batter becomes light and fluffy and bakes up beautifully. Cool, huh? I also love that it uses regular basic ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry. And it's not just any old boring pound cake either. It tastes AMAZING! It kinda tastes like a sugar cookie, only in the form of a cake. Absolutely delish! Perfect with some berries and whipped cream, or perfectly plain with just a cup of coffee.
 I think you'll agree that this is one of the best pound cakes you'll ever taste!

1 pound butter, softened
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

Heat oven to 300ºF.
Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. (The butter will become a lighter yellow color; this is an important step, as the job of the mixer is to incorporate air into the butter so the cake will rise. It will take 1 to 7 minutes, depending on the power of your mixer.) Gradually add sugar, beating at medium speed until light and fluffy. (Again, the times will vary, and butter will turn to a fluffy white.) Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until yellow yolk disappears.
Add flour to creamed mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition. (The batter should be smooth and bits of flour should be well incorporated; to rid batter of lumps, stir gently with a rubber spatula.) Stir in extracts.
Pour into a greased and floured 10-inch tube pan. (Use vegetable shortening or butter to grease the pan, getting every nook and cranny covered. Sprinkle a light coating of flour over the greased surface.)
Bake for 1 hour and 40 minutes or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from pan, and cool completely on a wire rack.

I recommend a bundt pan for this cake. Most times when I use a tube pan, I don't invert it for serving. But this cake doesn't really dome up very nicely, so I think it works better to flip the cake over.
 No, that's not a typo. Yes, you bake it for that long. Low and slow. 300ºF for 1 hour and 40 minutes. I know it's a long time, but I promise you it's worth it! 
Instead of greasing and flouring the pan, I just sprayed the hell out of it with baking spray (which is cooking spray with flour added).
Since the batter is very sweet, I added a pinch of salt to balance everything and to bring out the flavor a little. I also placed the cake pan on a sheet pan in the oven, just in case anything baked over. Turns out this was a very good idea!
Not a fan of almond? Use a different extract! How about orange or lemon? Any kind will work!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Orange Blueberry Marmalade

  As I was trying to think of new and different kinds of interesting jams and jellies, I figured a good place to start would be the recipes that I've already done. Maybe I could do a few variations and come up with something new! Awesome. So, one of my more popular jams was Sweet Orange Marmalade. Super bright and fresh, it's like sunshine in a jar. I thought, ok, how can I switch it up? Then I remembered Tyler's Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze that I posted a while back. I've made them using oranges instead of lemons, and the blueberry orange combination was absolutely DELISH! So I figured why not do that with the marmalade too? Brilliant idea, right? Apparently Bobby Flay thought so too because he had the same idea for his show, Brunch at Bobby's. (Hey, come to think of it, I don't think I've ever posted any of Bobby Flay's recipes. Well, that is until now!) Yes, this is his recipe, and he basically did just what I would've done. When making marmalade, I like to peel the orange zest with a peeler and then get rid of the white pith which makes it bitter. The result is fresh and sweet and bursting with HUGE orange flavor. And the blueberries add another layer of flavor, and a deep rich color. FABULOUS! When I made it, I preserved it in jars just because that's how I roll, but if you want to eat it right away, you can skip the canning and just store it in the fridge.
 I think I need to make another batch of scones to go with this new marmalade flavor combo! Maybe you should too! I PROMISE your friends and family will thank you for it!

8 medium oranges
4 lemons
2 cups fresh blueberries
6 cups sugar
2 pouches liquid fruit pectin

  Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest of the oranges and lemons. Cut the zest pieces into thin slices, then finely chop or grind and set aside.
Peel the remaining white part of the peel from the fruit and discard. Chop the fruit pulp, reserving any juice and set aside.
Place the zest and 1 1/2 cups water in a medium saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the reserved fruit pulp and juice, cover and simmer on low heat for an additional 7 minutes. Add the blueberries and simmer for 3 more minutes.
Stir the sugar into the fruit in the saucepan. Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil and cook exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in the pectin. Remove from the heat and skim off any foam with metal spoon.

If you'd like to do the canning, prep your jars before you make the marmalade:
Bring boiling-water canner, a little more than half-full with water, to simmer. Wash jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water. Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use. Drain well before filling.
Ladle hot jam immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/4 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with 2-piece lids. Screw bands tightly. Place jars on elevated rack in canner. Lower rack into canner. (Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Add boiling water, if necessary.) Cover; bring water to boil. Process 10 minutes. Remove jars and place upright on towel to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middle of lid with finger. (If lid springs back, lid is not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.)

Whenever I make jams or jellies, I like to add a small pat of butter to the pot. This helps to prevent it from creating too much foam on the surface of the marmalade as it boils. It's completely optional, though!
As I've said before, making the jam is easy. Preserving it in jars is the part that can seem a little daunting. (I PROMISE I'll do a how-to video about canning soon!) If you plan on eating the marmalade right away, then just keep it in a jar in the fridge. It'll keep for weeks (if it lasts that long!)