Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Birthday Cupcakes

I always take off work for my birthday because going in would be like adding insult to injury. This year, with my free day-time, I decided to try out yet another cupcake recipe with the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Adventure Contest in mind.

Because I like pumpkin, and we had a small amount of purée in the fridge, I thought to make pumpkin cupcakes. But of course Scharffen Berger is a chocolate company, so I had to find a way to work chocolate into the recipe. There are lots of recipes that combine those two flavors, but honestly, that's not a mix I particularly enjoy. So I challenged myself to come up with a combo that I did like.

I concocted a brownie batter (with the help of my new Fat Witch Brownie Cookbook, courtesy of my brother), put a tablespoon of it in the bottom of each cupcake liner and baked it for 7 minutes until it started to set. Then I topped it with the pumpkin batter and baked it an additional 25 minutes.

Leftover bacon grease ended up as a substitute for some of the butter in my new favorite frosting recipe. I also added some cocoa powder and spices, to pick up similar flavors in the cupcake. And I made a brittle with hazelnuts and bacon chunks, with the help of my new candy thermometer.

Cupcakes, unadorned.
Bacon hazelnut brittle. Oh yes, I said "bacon."
Cupcakes, frosted, garnished, and Photoshopped.
The verdict? The concoction needs a whole lot of tweaking. The brownie wasn't chocolate-y enough, and the texture was too similar to the pumpkin part. The bacon frosting also didn't deliver the chocolate flavor I needed, and I realized that the tips on my decorating set are just too damn small for cupcake icing (which I have remedied by ordering bigger tips) so the overall look was quite...sloppy. As for my first attempt at brittle? It was ok, maybe a little more burnt-tasting than I like my brittles but I think that was due to the base recipe I used. And it could have used a lot more nuts. The pumpkin part of the equation, however, was delicious - super rich and moist, nicely spicy and pumpkin-y, despite the relatively small amount of vegetable used. And the longer the cupcakes sat in the fridge (and I mean days) the better they got. Actually, the frosting got more flavorful, too.

I would make them again, with a simple cinnamon-flavored buttercream.

Pumpkin Cupcakes  

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 large eggs
1/2 cup canned pumpkin purée
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins with liners.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cardamom.

Stir in the eggs, pumpkin, ricotta, sugars, and oils. Mix until well combined.

Divide batter among prepared tins and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in a cupcake comes out clean. Cool completely.

Makes 10

Monday, November 29, 2010


On my birthday, Mr Minx and I had a lovely dinner at Langermann's in Canton. We had a Groupon (damn those things are addictive) and it was half-price wine night - how could it get any better?

With nice ambiance, great service, and good solid food, all of which Langermann's had in spades.

We started out with warm-from-the-oven cornbread that was very tender and somewhat sweet. As we dug in, our appetizers arrived. Mr Minx went for the Carolina gumbo, which was quite spicy. It didn't have quite the depth of flavor that I like in my gumbos, but it was good and hearty, and somehow the brown rice served with it wasn't overtly crunchy (a big plus).

I was torn between the Low Country Louie, and the whole belly clams; my mind was made up for me when our waitress announced that they were out of clams.

The generous portion of chilled seafood salad contained pieces of lobster, crabmeat, crawfish, and chunks of crispy sweet yellow corn in a mayonnaise-based sauce flavored strongly with mustard and cilantro. An odd combination that somehow worked really well.

We were both feeling rather pedestrian as far as entrées were concerned. Mr Minx chose the NY Strip with sautéed spinach and potato croquettes. I thought the steak was nicely seasoned and had a nice beefy flavor, but the sides were on the bland side.

My crab cakes, billed as "jumbo lump" on the menu, may have contained a lump or two, but were otherwise full of much smaller pieces of crab and a bit of filler. I didn't find this objectionable, however, and thought they had a nice flavor, as did the corn and black-eyed pea succotash. The crispy shreds of potato atop the dish were delicious, but their size and shape made eating rather awkward.

Although we had pumpkin cupcakes waiting for us at home, we were tempted by a huge slice of pumpkin cheesecake with a thick and buttery graham cracker crust. It was a perfectly lovely example of the genre - neither heavy nor light, nicely spiced, and filled with autumnal flavors. I'm glad we indulged.

Overall, I enjoyed our meal. The service was prompt and extremely friendly, the ambiance - despite the large room with very high ceilings - was cozy (we sat near the fireplace), and the food was pretty solid. If I find myself in the Canton area with a hankering for a nice seafood cocktail, I'd definitely make a return visit. Maybe they'll have the clams next time....

2400 Boston Street
Baltimore, MD 21224
(410) 534-3287

Langermann's on Urbanspoon


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm making duck. What are you having for dinner tonight?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Moroccan Chili and Pumpkin Cornbread

Mentally going through the contents of our small but over-stuffed freezer (Lap cheong, Mexican chorizo, chicken apple sausage, chicken stock, linguica, gumbo, precooked Italian sausage, salmon filet, ice cream, hot dogs, some weird Asian pork sausage, andouille...yes, I realize that is probably an abnormal amount of sausage to have at one time) I realized we had about a pound of ground lamb. At first I thought I'd make a meatloaf (that's a lie...my first thought was merguez, which of course is a type of sausage), but then I realized that chili would be a lot easier. And for some reason, "ground lamb" is now synonymous with "Moroccan" cuisine in my brain, so I wanted to make sure the chili had a nice North African touch. That was easy enough to achieve with some harissa and cinnamon.

I like to serve cornbread with my chili, and had recently seen a recipe for pumpkin cornbread on Photograzing. The recipe called for half a cup of brown sugar, plus molasses and spices, which I thought would make the dish more like a quickbread than a good accompaniment for a savory dish, so I cut back on the sugar and omitted the rest. The result was rather dry and crumbly, so I'm thinking the molasses helped a bit with the moisture content. It tasted fine, however, crumbled into the chili, which was pretty darn good.

Moroccan Chili

2 lb ground lamb
1 cup sliced onions
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons harissa
2 cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 roasted red pepper, diced
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups beef stock
1 Tablespoon honey, or to taste
1/4 cup green olives, chopped
3 scallions, white and green parts, chopped

Brown lamb in a dutch oven over medium-high heat, using a wooden spoon to break it into bits. When meat is cooked through and browned, remove to a bowl. Discard any excessive fat left in the pot, leaving behind about a tablespoon or so. Add onions and season with a pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat until onions turn translucent; return meat to pot. Stir in next six ingredients, cooking until the mixture becomes fragrant. Add tomatoes, red pepper, tomato paste, and stock. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for about an hour. At that point, raise the heat and reduce the liquid until it is no longer soupy. Taste for seasoning and add salt and honey.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with chopped olives, scallions, and cilantro. Serve with pumpkin cornbread.

Pumpkin Cornbread, adapted from Sweetpea's Kitchen

1 cup flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup cornmeal
2 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease an 8" square pan.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, brown sugar, and cornmeal. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the eggs, pumpkin, and oil. Stir until just combined. Pour batter into prepared pan, smoothing the top. Bake 25-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tacos with Korean Flavors

The third of three recipe contests that I entered (and did not win) this past September involved creating a family supper that could be prepared in 30 minutes or less, not including marinating time, using one Newman's Own pasta sauce, salsa, or salad dressing product. I chose to make a Korean-style taco with low fat Sesame Ginger Dressing.

Yes, I said "Korean taco." Apparently this SoCal treat is making its way East, according to the NY Times, and honestly, I don't see any problems with putting Asian flavors in a tortilla. Why the hell not? And I'm here to say that they taste terrific, even if one uses bottled salad dressing as a marinade. <g>

I included directions for soft corn tortillas, but you can use flour if you prefer.

Tacos with Korean Flavors

1.5 lb flank steak
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
1 cup Newman's Own Lighten Up Low Fat Sesame Ginger Dressing
½ cup Newman's Own Lighten Up Low Fat Sesame Ginger Dressing

Cabbage salad:
2 cups shredded cabbage
1 Tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon lime juice
½ teaspoon Korean red pepper flakes or 1/8 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
Salt to taste

Sesame Drizzle:
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
3 tablespoons Newman's Own Lighten Up Low Fat Sesame Ginger Dressing
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

12 Taco-sized soft corn tortillas
Shredded cheese – cheddar, taco blend, mozzarella are all good

Place meat, garlic, and 1 cup of dressing into a gallon-sized resealable plastic bag and marinate overnight until ready to use.

Preheat broiler. Place flank steak on a foil covered, rimmed sheet pan. Cook 3" away from heat source for about 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. Remove steak to a cutting board and allow to rest for about 10 minutes. Place any juices that came out of the steak while cooking into a large bowl.

While meat is cooking, prepare Cabbage Salad and Sesame Drizzle.

Cabbage salad:
Place cabbage in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine rice wine vinegar, sugar, lime juice and pepper flakes. Pour over cabbage. Toss and set aside.

Sesame Drizzle:
Combine mayonnaise, salad dressing, and sesame oil in a small bowl. The consistency should be drizzle-able. If not, thin it with a bit more dressing.

After meat has rested, cut it on the diagonal into thin slices. Place sliced meat into bowl of cooking juices; add remaining 1/2 cup of dressing.

To serve:

Toast tortillas by using tongs to place them directly over a gas flame for about 30 seconds per side until toasty-smelling and flexible. As they are toasted, stack them on a plate and keep warm with a piece of aluminum foil. It’s best to toast only 4 or so at a time so they don’t get hard.

On each tortilla, place a tablespoonful or so of cabbage, 2 or 3 strips of meat, a sprinkling of cheese. Drizzle on a teaspoonful of sesame sauce. Feel free to add any other of your favorite taco accompaniments - guacamole, salsa, sour cream.

Makes 12 tacos.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Kooper's Chowhound Burger Wagon

After several months of frustrating Tweets from @BRGRWagon stating their daily location just about everywhere in town except near the University of Maryland, Baltimore, I am pleased to announce that Kooper's Chowhound Burger Wagon finally made an appearance in my 'hood.

And their burgers were worth the wait.

$8 scores a burger with toppings of your choice. Both the beef and bison varieties are succulent, with a lightly grilled flavor; turkey and veggie burger options are also available. Skip breakfast, because these babies are HUGE.

Beef burger with roasted red peppers, sautéed mushrooms,
Maytag blue cheese, and mayo

Kooper's Chowhound Burger Wagon (Mobile Cart) on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Choice Bites 11.18.10

Chef Ferran Adria has been in the news for years, but maybe not as much as he has been recently. There's been speculation that he is closing his groundbreaking restaurant, El Bulli, but apparently he's just changing the concept. Read more about it in Eater's two part interview with Adria. Part one is here; part two can be found here.

More on Adria can be found in National Food Examiner Dara Bunjon's article, which includes a video, "An Evening with Ferran Adria," and a slideshow.

To purchase Coleman Andrew's book, Ferran: The Inside Story of El Bulli and the Man Who Reinvented Food, mentioned in the articles linked above, click here. (I got a copy for my birthday. Woot!)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me!

...but hopefully not too old to have some fun. I at least am off from work today. :)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rocco's Dinner Party

Aha! Finally...sounds like a delicious train wreck!


Casting Begins for Rocco DiSpirito’s New Culinary Series

NEW YORK, NY – November 15, 2010 — Bravo announced today the series pick up of “Rocco’s Dinner Party” with celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito. Casting for the series is currently underway, and production will begin in 2011. The announcement was made by Eli Lehrer, Vice President of Development, Bravo Media.

“Rocco’s Dinner Party” will be a self-contained competition series where a group of four highly skilled chefs will compete to put together the perfect evening for DiSpirito and his hand-picked celebrity guests each week. These chefs hail from all walks of lives – from restaurateurs to caterers to self-taught foodies – and the winner of each episode will be awarded with a cash prize. The chefs will be challenged to invent an appetizing menu and then execute it to perfection. But the food is only half the battle – they also will have to set the table and the mood to create an ambience that makes the dinner party guests want to stick around for seconds. Will it be a scrumptious soiree or a flavorless fiasco? DiSpirito will decide.

Chefs who think they have the expertise, creativity and stamina to join the dinner party should email casting@notional.com for more information.

Fumetto #12 - Get A Room With the Neelys

* I'm not making this up. She actually said that.