Monday, March 29, 2010

Whoopie Pies

I've been promising my friend Emily for a while that we'd have a baking date, and today the stars finally aligned. After much debate ("What should we make?" "I don't care." "How about Whoopie Pies?" "What the hell is a Whoopie Pie?" "Great, it's settled then."), we decided to make some Whoopie Pies.

It's been a while since I've used brown sugar in a recipe. Which is a shame, since brown sugar adds such great sweetness and depth of flavor to food. Sometimes granulated sugar just doesn't cut it, you know?

The recipe I found called for marshmallow fluff in the frosting, but the Safeway near my apartment didn't have any, so I just said "screw it" and made a batch of cream cheese frosting instead. Then I divvy'd up the frosting between three bowls and colored them pink, blue, and green. Pastel shades, of course. It's almost Easter, y'all!

The colors turned out pretty well, if I must say so myself. I just wish I had remembered to make a batch of yellow frosting. Yellow is such an Easter-y color. Fuzzy baby chickens...marshmallow Peeps...Easter eggs, and uh...mostly just chicken-related things, I guess.

Somehow Emily and I missed the part of the recipe that said to "mix one large egg into the batter." Guess we were a little too engrossed in our debate of the origin of the whoopie pie (See: "History of the Whoopie Pie"). Fortunately, the pies seemed to be unaffected by their lack of egg -- they rose to puffy mounds as they were supposed to, and were soft, cake-y and delicious. Also, while I can't attest to the tastiness of the original filling, I can tell you that these cakes were great with cream cheese frosting. Marshmallows vs. cream cheese? Can't really lose either way.

For the recipe, visit the good people at Epicurious. For an explanation of what the heck a Whoopie Pie is, check out Wikipedia.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bridal Shower!

My good friend Charlene is engaged, and this past weekend a few of us threw her a bridal shower in NYC. We were all in charge of different parts of the shower, and my friend Michelle and I were responsible for food/drinks.

What does one serve at a bridal shower? Dainty things! Like chocolate covered strawberries, for example.

And cupcakes. Michelle and I couldn't find red food coloring, so these are "brown velvet" cupcakes. Really, they're just plain ol' chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.

Cucumber sandwiches. These weren't as dainty as the ones I envisioned -- we used peasant bread, and that stuff is huge and hearty. We improvised the filling a little bit, but it turned out to be very tasty. These sandwiches were a hit!

Champagne and strawberries. We're pretty classy.

And just to keep things interesting...jello shots! Strawberry, lime, and peach flavored. Recipe can be found here.

Happy Shower, Charlene! We love you!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The "Ultimate" Lasagna

I cook so much more when Dan comes to visit me. (He's getting his masters in Boston while I finish up law school in DC). Most of the time I eat sandwiches or salads for lunch, and when dinner rolls around I just throw some taquitos in the microwave and call it a day. It's just too much effort to cook for one person, you know? But I still like to read food blogs everyday and bookmark interesting recipes for later. This means that by the time Dan comes down, I'm bursting with energy to try all the recipes I've stockpiled in the intervening month. The most recent visit's project = lasagna.

(Oh hello!)

This is a Tyler Florence recipe, and boy does it live up to its "ultimate" moniker. There is so much stuff in there! 2 lbs of noodles, 2 lbs each of ground beef and ground sausage, 1 lb of mozzarella, 2 quarts of ricotta, etc etc. I was in a bit of a time crunch, so I actually left out a lot of the ingredients to save cooking time. Even so the resulting lasagna was epic in its massiveness.

Lasagnas are way more involved than I envisioned. There are so many alternating layers! But doesn't that look delicious? 

I was a little confused by the wording of the directions for this recipe. The top layer was supposed to just be ricotta cheese, sauce, and mozzarella cheese, but for some reason I thought that there should also be another layer of noodles on top of everything to close out the dish. I was mistaken. The noodles on top dried out in the oven and were hard and chewy, even with some extra cheese sprinkled over it. Next time I'm definitely leaving off the extra noodle layer.

Tyler claims that this recipe feeds 8 -- this is a lie. I swear the lasagna actually rose like yeast in the oven. I would estimate that there is actually enough food to feed 15 hungry people, and I cut out nearly 50% of the ingredients! I will definitely be eating leftovers for a while.

The recipe can be found here on the Food Network's website.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Grilled Sirloin, Roasted Potatoes and Tomato Mozzarella Salad

I have the best roommate in the world -- she's fun, she loves reality TV, she washes the dishes, and she has no problem being my culinary guinea pig. She also happened to give me a $100 gift certificate to Williams-Sonoma for Christmas, which I immediately used to buy an indoor electric grill. This little grill has opened up a whole new world of home cooking options for me. Good bye ugly, dry pan-seared meats.  Helloooo grilled pork chops, hamburgers, and juicy charred steaks!

Dan and I had big plans to make pasta from scratch, but then 5 o'clock rolled around and we were both feeling super lazy and under-motivated. So what could we make for dinner that's fast and delicious? Steak! Potatoes! Salad!

On the rare occasions that we cook together, Dan is always in charge of all the grilling.  Asian people don't really barbeque much, so grilling is a little out of my comfort zone. But this steak is so easy I think even I could handle it -- rub the meat with olive oil, season it with salt and pepper, and then slap it on the grill.

When you have steak, you need to eat it with potatoes. Need to. End of story. Mashed, baked, roasted, whatever -- it's all good!

I'm sick of lettuce salads.  I eat so much lettuce everyday that I'm bound to turn into a rabbit any day now. Caesar salads, garden salads -- they're all so boring. So today I decided to get really crazy and make a tomato and mozzarella salad. It's simple to make, has a lot of interesting flavors and textures, and  looks so pretty with its contrasting colors. It's also light, healthy, and nicely balances out the richer steak and potatoes.

I'll be honest, I didn't follow any sort of recipe for today's meal. I just kind of seasoned at will and winged it.  Luckily everything turned out well, but the measurements and steps below are sort of vague.  Sorry!

Grilled Sirloin Steaks


- 1lb Top Sirloin Filets
- Salt
- Pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil

(1) Rub filets all over with oil
(2) Season both sides with salt and pepper to taste.
(3) Place steaks on hot grill.  For medium rare, cook each side for about 7-10 minutes depending on how thick they are.

Roasted Potatoes


- 5 to 6 baby potatoes of choice
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Salt
- 2 tsp rosemary


(1) Preheat oven to 400.
(2) Wash and dry potatoes. Cut in halves or fourths depending on how large the potato is.
(3) Toss wedges in a medium sized bowl with olive oil, salt (to taste), and rosemary.
(4) Spread potatoes evenly on a greased pan and place inside oven.
(5) Cook for about 30 minutes (leave them in there longer if still hard).  Flip wedges over at the halfway mark.

Tomato and Mozzarella Salad


- 1 tbsp fresh basil, chopped.
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 2 medium sized tomatoes
- As much mozzarella as you want. (I used about 3 oz)
- Salt


(1) Chop tomatoes and mozzarella into small pieces.
(2) Toss with olive oil, salt, and basil in a small bowl. Serve!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Chocolate Gooey Butter Cake With Peanut Butter Chips

"Some fellow asked me the other day, 'Paula, do you make any low calorie dishes?' I turned to him and said 'Honey, I’m not your nurse – I’m your cook!' Then for good measure I probably added some more butter!"  (Paula Deen)

I was going to a potluck today and needed to make a something that was delicious and could feed tons of people. This dish immediately came to mind -- Paula Deen recipes are always popular, and the portions tend to be very generous.

According to Wikipedia, a real St. Louis gooey butter cake has a bottom layer made up of butter and yellow cake. I don't actually like yellow cake, so I always go with chocolate instead. Yellow cake is just so boring, you know?

Mmm, look at all that powdered sugar. Powdered sugar, eggs, cream cheese, and butter -- is it any wonder that this cake is divine?

After the cake comes out of the oven, the middle is still jiggly, and it only solidifies a little bit during cooling. When you bite into a piece, the center is all hot and melty, and before you know it you've made a mess all over your face and hands in your haste to shovel every last delicious morsel into your mouth. In the words of Julia Child: "Mmm...BUTTER."

Chocolate Gooey Butter Cake With Peanut Butter Chips
 (A very slightly modified Paula Deen recipe)


(Bottom layer)
- 1 pack of cake mix (CHOCOLATE.)
- 1 stick of butter, melted
- 1 egg

(Top layer)
- 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature.
- 1 stick of butter, melted
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 bag of powdered sugar (16 oz)
- 1 cup peanut butter chips (or whatever kind you like -- toffee is always great too)


(1) Preheat oven to 350.
(2) Combine cake mix, melted butter and egg. Press dough into bottom of a 13x9 pan.
(3) In a large bowl, cream the cream cheese until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla.
(4) Gradually stir in powdered sugar until well mixed.
(5) Pour cream cheese batter into the pan on top of the chocolate cake layer.
(6) Sprinkle peanut butter chips on top of the batter.

(7) Bake for 40-50 minutes. Don't overbake -- the center of the cake is supposed to still be jiggly and gooey when it comes out of the oven.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Godiva Chocolate Cupcakes with Mint Buttercream Frosting

Happy St. Patty's Day, everyone! Hope you're all having fun getting fantastically sloshed.  I would be out and about with the rest of the city, but my Trusts & Estates professor decided to schedule a make-up class for 9 am tomorrow.  My body no longer bounces back from late nights as quickly as it used to, so instead I am quietly celebrating at home.  Baking.  Seriously guys, my life is out of control.

Using liqueur in cake is basically the same as drinking, right?  Right.  I would have actually preferred to use Bailey's Irish Cream to keep up the whole St. Patty's Day theme, but I didn't have any on hand. It was either Kahlua or Godiva, and I just didn't think coffee would taste as good with mint.

After my carrot cake cupcake debacle, I made sure not to overfill the baking cups this time, and the cupcakes turned out beautifully.  They looked adorable, and smelled glorious -- you could actually smell the liqueur quite a bit, but the whole chocolate-liqueur thing really works.

The most important part of this particular cupcake was the frosting. I mean, I can make chocolate cupcakes any day, but it's St. Patty's Day, so clearly the frosting had to be green. And since the frosting was green, that obviously meant it had to be mint-flavored.  This recipe made about 3 cups of frosting -- way more than I needed for the cupcakes, so now I have a ziplock baggy fully of mint buttercream chilling in the freezer.

These pictures really don't do the cupcake justice -- the frosting was actually a little more green, not quite so pale and pastel-y.  Very holiday appropriate.  The only thing missing from the picture is a nice four leaf clover decoration.  Do they make four leaf clover sprinkles?

All I have to say about these cupcakes is...chocolate + liqueur + mint = yum.  The cake itself wasn't very sweet, so it was perfectly balanced by the minty sweetness of the frosting.  Each bite was moist and fluffy, and accompanied by surprising whiffs of alcohol.  Definitely a good St. Patty's Day treat.

Godiva Chocolate Cupcakes (Adapted from's Chocolate Cupcake recipe)

- 3 tbsp butter
- 1 cup sugar, softened
- 1-1/3 cups flour
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
- 2/3 cup milk
- 1/3 cup Godiva Chocolate Liqueur

(1) Preheat oven to 350.
(2) In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla.
(3) In a medium bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Add to the wet mixture gradually, alternating with the milk and liqueur. Beat well.
(4) Fill muffin cups a little over 1/2 full.
(5) Bake for 15 to 17 minutes.

Mint Buttercream Frosting

- 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
- 1 stick butter or margarine (I actually prefer "I can't believe it's not butter!")
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp mint extract
- 3 cups powdered sugar

(1) Cream together shortening and butter.
(2) Add vanilla and mint extracts.
(3) Gradually stir in powdered sugar. Mix until smooth.
(4) For a nice green color, add about 10 drops of green food coloring.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Thumbprint Cookies

Mmm, thumbprint cookies.  All the Tuesdays With Dorie people were making these last week (Thumbprints for Us Big Guys), and it reminded me that I have a pretty sweet thumbprint cookie recipe of my own, courtesy of The Boxcar Children: Mystery on the Ice.  These bite-sized treats are always a hit, and I make them all the time -- for holiday parties, potlucks, and basically any other social event that calls for food.

This recipe is similar to the TWD one, but a little less involved.  Just mix together butter, sugar, eggs, and flour, roll into balls, press down the center of each ball, fill the indent with jam, and bake. Boom, done in less than 40 minutes.

These may be called "thumbprint" cookies, but I never use my thumb to make the indents.  It's so much prettier and more uniform when I press the dough down with my pointer finger.  Should these be called..."pointer finger print cookies" instead?  Doesn't really have the same ring to it.

My mom asks me to make these cookies every Christmas when we have guests over, because not only are they delicious, but they're also pretty and festive-looking.  I like to use strawberry jam, but other flavors work just as well.  Sometimes, if I'm feeling really wild, I'll go with apricot or blackberry jam for some color contrast.

These cookies are so easy to eat (just pop a whole cookie in your mouth!) and melt-in-your mouth delicious -- it's impossible to stop at just one!

Thumbprint Cookies (Adapted from Boxcar Children recipe)

- 1-1/2 sticks butter

- 1 cup sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1-1/2 cups flour (The original recipe calls for 3 cups of flour, but I found the resulting cookies to be too hard and powdery. After playing around with the recipe, I found 1-1/2 cups to 1-3/4 to be the perfect amount of flour for soft and melty cookies)
- Jam of choice


(1) Preheat oven to 350.

(2) Cream butter until smooth. (I've also used melted butter for this recipe, but creamed butter produces cookies with a better consistency for some reason.)

(3) Mix sugar with butter. Add egg.

(4) Gradually stir in flour. (Consistency of dough should be almost like Play-Doh -- if it's still sticky to the touch, add up to 1/4 cup of flour.)

(5) Roll dough into 1 inch balls.

(6) Make indents in the center of each ball. Fill with jam.

(7) Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until jam is bubbly and the edges of the cookies are golden brown.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

I'm constantly looking for reasons to bake, and friends' birthdays are the best excuse to do it.  Yesterday was my good friend Smriti's special day, and she put in a request for carrot cake cupcakes.  I love carrot cake and have a great recipe for it, so I was more than happy to oblige.

Note to self: when grating carrots for carrot cake, don't use baby carrots -- it takes forever to grate 2 cups' worth, and when you're in a time crunch like I was, it's easy to get scraped fingers/knuckles.

No nuts. No raisins. These two things have no place in carrot cake, and you'll never get me to admit otherwise!  The best kind of carrot cake is dense, moist, and is all about the spices.  As you can tell from the picture above, I like cinnamon and I use it a lot -- it's definitely a crucial ingredient for carrot cake.  Cardamom, nutmeg and ginger, on the other hand, are pretty overpowering flavors, so when it comes to utilizing these particular spices, less is definitely more.

These cupcakes are great because they're dense and chewy, but the tops have a slight crustiness that, combined with the silky/sticky frosting, adds interesting (and delicious) texture to the whole experience.  Even the most anti-putting-vegetables-in-cake of my friends had to admit that these cupcakes are pretty fantastic.

Carrot Cake Cupcakes


- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 4 large eggs
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp cardamom
- 1/2 tsp ginger
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 2 cups grated carrots

(1) Preheat oven to 350.

(2) Mix sugar, oil and eggs in a large bowl. Set aside.

(3) Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and spices in a medium bowl.  Add to wet mixture and combine.

(4) Add carrots and mix well.

(5) Spoon batter into lined cupcake tins. (The cake rises a lot, so I would suggest filling cups a little over 1/2 full to avoid cupcakes that overflow their paper liners.)

(6) Bake for 25, or until toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean.

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting


- 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 stick of butter (I actually prefer margarine because it's easier to mash)
- 1 1/3 cups powdered sugar (Rough estimate -- I usually add by taste)
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon

(1) Cream together butter and cream cheese in a medium sized bowl.

(2) Gradually mix in powdered sugar.

(3) Add vanilla and ground cinnamon. Mix until smooth.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Eggs Florentine with Avocado

I woke up this morning with the worst craving for eggs.  Probably because it's the weekend, and I've got brunch on the brain.  Alas, going out for brunch was out of the question -- I just got back from a spring break cruise and can't afford to be spending any more $$$.  Fortunately, eggs and spinach are cheap, so one short trip to Safeway later, I was ready for breakfast.

This was my first time poaching an egg.  I've scrambled, boiled, fried, deviled and omelette'd the suckers, but poaching always seemed beyond my culinary powers.  When I finally worked up the courage to google "how to poach an egg," I was surprised by how fast and simple it actually was.

Technically Eggs Florentine = poached eggs with spinach on an English muffin, but I had some avocados getting too ripe in the fridge, so I decided to slice them up and eat them with my eggs. Hence, Eggs Florentine with Avocado.  Fact: avocados taste great with everything.

Mmm, look all that avocado. A feast for the eyes and mouth -- definitely a hearty and healthy breakfast.

Every recipe I found for Hollandaise sauce called for 4 egg yolks and a stick of butter.  I didn't want to eat an entire stick of butter for breakfast or die from high cholesterol, so I cut the recipe down to 2 egg yolks and half a stick of butter.  Unfortunately, I forgot to also reduce the amount of lemon juice, so my sauce turned out a little tangier than I expected.  But mainly it was buttery and delicious.

I got a little carried away with taking pictures, so by the time I got around to eating, my eggs were cold. Still tasty, but note to self for next time: less picture taking, more eating.

Eggs Benedict with Avocados

- 2 eggs
- pinch of salt
- 1 tbsp white vinegar
- 1 cup spinach
- 1/2 large avocado, sliced
- 1 English muffin, toasted
- 1/2 stick of butter
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/2 tbsp hot water

(1) Fill pot with about 2 to 3 inches of water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat until water has tiny bubbles, but is no longer boiling.

(2) Add vinegar and salt to the water and stir to create a funnel in the water.

(3) One at a time, crack eggs into a plate or shallow bowl. Gently ease the eggs into the funnel in the water. Use a slotted spoon to gently wrap egg whites around the yolks, if necessary.

(4) Cook for 2-3 minutes, then use slotted spoon to lift eggs out onto paper towels. Gently pat eggs dry.

(5) Stir fry spinach with a little oil and salt to taste.  Cover each half of a toasted English muffin with the cooked spinach, and sliced avocados. Top with poached eggs.

(6) Melt butter in saucepan on medium heat until butter is foamy. Lower heat.

(7) In a small bowl, mix lemon juice, egg yolks, and salt.  Gradually add melted butter to mixture, whisking constantly (or else eggs will scramble) until thick.

(8) Add water and whisk -- this will thin out the sauce.

(9) Return mixture to saucepan on low heat, and stir until sauce gets thick again. Serve immediately.