Orange-Topped Black Bottom Cupcakes

Orange Black-Bottom Cupcakes

Orange Black-Bottom Cupcakes

Baseball fans are a highly superstitious bunch, and our household is no exception. Our San Francisco Giants won the pennant last night in a landslide victory against the Cardinals, and B and I are convinced that these cupcakes are part of the reason why. We were losing the series until I baked these beauties; after eating them, we’ve been unbeatable. When it comes to mystical game-winning powers, your mileage may vary, but if nothing else these cupcakes are guaranteed to be a magical eating experience.

Classic black-bottom cupcakes consist of a rich chocolate bottom and a cheesecake-like filling. I’ve modified the traditional recipe by using dark cocoa powder and adding a punch of orange to the cheesecake mixture, as well as using balsamic vinegar to bring out the bittersweet flavor of the dark chocolate and fruitiness of the citrus topping. The result is a beautifully balanced and surprisingly light dessert! The cake and filling are both moist and fluffy, while the richness of flavor means you can be satisfied with just one. And because these treats take advantage of a very simple cake recipe, they’re easy for anyone to make.

I was already thinking this recipe would be perfect for Halloween, but as you can see in the final result (top right), some of them turned out ghost-like, making them even more suited!

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Orange Black-Bottom Cupcake Recipe

Black Bottom Cupcakes (Before Baking)

Black Bottom Cupcakes (Before Baking)

Topping:

  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 8 oz cream cheese (full-fat, low-fat, or Neufchâtel)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp orange extract
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar

Cake:

  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup dark cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350° F and line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake papers.

To make your creamsicle filling, you first need to reduce the orange juice by about half. (This will concentrate the flavor without making the topping too runny in your final product.) Measure your 1/2 cup of juice and pour it into a shallow pan. Simmer over medium heat until you have about 1/4 cup. Set aside to cool off while you cream together the cheese, egg, and extracts, just until combined. Beat in juice and sugar, and set aside while you make the cake batter.

Finished Orange Black-Bottom Cupcakes

Orange Black Bottom Cupcakes

For cake batter, sift together dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix wet ingredients separately, then pour into the dry mixture and mix just until combined. Working quickly, distribute the batter evenly between the 12 muffin cups, then spoon the cheesecake topping to the center of the top of each cupcake. (Both mixtures should be fairly runny.) If you apply it to the center each time, the filling will naturally distribute both outwards and down into the cake itself.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the chocolate part of the cupcake comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Easy Homemade Pimento Cheese Recipe

Homemade Pimento Cheese

Homemade Pimento Cheese

This past weekend, I had the honor of witnessing my sister Claire receive an MBA from Yale School of Management, marking her secondpost-graduate degree. (Can you tell I’m proud?) It was a whirlwind of a weekend in New Haven, but one of my favorite experiences of the trip was a quiet, homemade afternoon snack on Claire’s balcony: pimento cheese and mint juleps.

Claire’s partner Mary Katherine is from the South, and monogrammed mint julep cups are a traditional graduation gift in her family. In need of a Southern snack to accompany our libations, they came up with the brilliant idea of making pimento cheese, which MK blushed to admit she usually buys in a jar. As it turns out, there’s no reason to eat the canned kind, since it’s pretty darn easy to assemble and pretty darn hard to mess up.

While some of these ingredients I tend to shy away from (mayonnaise, canned peppers), they are essential to the traditional recipe. Once combined, the whole is much, much greater than the sum of its parts. Spread on a thin slice of baguette, with an ice-cold beverage, on a sunny day? A little slice of Southern heaven.

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Easy Pimento Cheese Recipe

  • 10 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 7 oz jar of pimento (pimiento) peppers, finely diced
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or more, to taste)
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Combine mayo with cayenne and salt and pepper to taste. Stir together with diced peppers and grated cheese until evenly combined. Can be made ahead of time and kept in an airtight container (refrigerated), but keep in mind that it will become spicier the longer it sits.

dividerVariations

  • A low-fat pimento cheese could be made with reduced-fat mayonnaise and 2% sharp cheddar.
  • Also, if you prefer a more homogenous texture, simply grate your cheese more finely, or briefly run it through a food processor with the seasoned mayonnaise before mixing in the pimentos.
  • No pimentos? We made an equally-delicious version with roasted red peppers, which you can buy in a jar or make at home!
Mint Juleps and Pimento Cheese

Mint Juleps and Pimento Cheese

Quick Tip: More Flavorful Pasta

Want more flavorful pasta? Cook it in the same water you used to par-boil (precook) your sausages. Some of the richness of the sausage will seep into your noodles, for an extra flavor kick!

Not making sausage?Throw a slightly-crushed clove of garlic and a few sprigs of thyme in the pot as you bring it to a boil. Just remember to fish them out before tossing in your spaghetti!

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Irish Soda Bread with Currants and Flax

Irish soda bread

Irish soda bread

Almost every Friday, my partner’s architecture firm has a team breakfast, with a rotating schedule of responsibility.  When it’s B’s turn to provide, I try to bake something fresh (often in the wee hours the morning of).  I’ve made fresh popovers, muffins galore… and today, in honor of Saint Patty’s this weekend, Irish soda bread.

This recipe uses the traditional ingredients of black currants and flaxseed.  (Unfortunately, on this occasion there were no currants available at our local co-op, and so I substituted non-traditional raisins for similar sweetness.)

Flax has been grown in Ireland for hundreds of years.  I found a registry of Irish flax growers from 1796, and discovered 11 of my partner’s relatives on the list!  The plant fibers are used to make linen, leaving the seeds for human consumption.  Flax seeds are high in dietary fiber, micronutrients, and omega-3 fatty acids, making them a great (unobtrusive) addition to baked goods.  Just make sure to drink plenty of water, or you might find yourself a little… um… backed up, for want of a more polite term.

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Meatless Monday: Easy Mini Quiche Recipe

Stuffed Dates and Mini Quiches

Stuffed Dates and Mini Quiches

This weekend, I was privileged enough to celebrate Gabrielle’s upcoming nuptials with a fantastic group of ladies. Now, what happens at a bachelorette party stays at the party, but one thing I can speak to is the food — because I made it. Okay, not all of it. For dinner proper, we had a beautiful prix-fixe designed especially for us by the friendly folks at First Crush, but there was a good stretch of activity before dinner, for which we needed fuel. And I spent all day Friday (and Saturday morning) making sure we had that fuel, in the most delicious and convenient packages possible.

These mini quiches are ideal for party finger food, as I served them, or simply as a handy on-the-go breakfast, lunch, or dinner. (You all know from my passion for muffins how much I love food you can easily grab and go.) They’re also a great source of protein for those of us who choose to intentionally eat vegetarian regularly — whether it be Meatless Monday or not!

The fact that they’re incredible easy to make, as well as transport, is not to be undervalued either. When you’ve got several dishes to knock out, a simple but elegant appetizer like this is a godsend. Whereas I would normally make my own crust, cut out circles, prebake, and so on, I cut corners (but not flavor) by using the organic herbed ciabatta rolls found in my local co-op’s small frozen section. You can customize the recipe by using whatever rolls you prefer, along with your favorite vegetables and seasonings.

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Quick Mini Quiche Recipe

Makes 16 muffin-sized quiches.

  • 1 package small frozen rolls (at least 8 rolls)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/8 tsp fennel seeds
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 medium onion
  • small bunch rainbow chard, or other wilt-able greens
  • splash of balsamic vinegar
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 1 cup low-fat or skim milk
  • 4 large eggs (free range/organic, if possible!)
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp ground mustard
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Bake your frozen rolls according to the package’s instructions, and set aside to cool. Preheat your oven to 375°F for the baking of the finished quiches. Then, prep your veggie ingredients. Chop and lightly sauté the onion garlic in olive oil with fennel seeds. Add your greens and as they wilt, add a splash of balsamic vinegar and cook, stirring frequently, until all excess vinegar is evaporated. I also made fire-roasted bell peppers (click for how-to), but you could easily throw them (or almost anything else) into the sauté pan with your onion and greens.

Next, mix your quiche filling. Whisk together milk, eggs, paprika, mustard, salt, pepper, and thyme.

To assemble your quiches, spray two muffin tins with non-stick spray. (If you want to present your quiches in cupcake papers as I did, you will do that after baking, when they are already holding their shapes.) Cut your rolls in half and place one half in the bottom of each muffin cup. Sprinkle half of your Parmesan over each “crust,” then distribute your vegetables evenly over that. Pour egg mixture over each, and bake for 15 minutes, then sprinkle remaining Parmesan and bake an additional 5 minutes.

Let cool, then transfer each quiche into the festive cupcake papers of your choice!

dividerPretty easy for a fancy party appetizer, right? The best part of it all is, you can use whatever veggies you have on hand. No more excuses for letting that spinach go bad in the fridge. No more ordering in because you think you don’t have a vehicle for the ingredients on hand. I give you: the Quiche That Cures Many (If Not All) Ills.

Bachelorette fare: Lemon drop shots, stuffed dates, and mini quiches

Bachelorette fare: Lemon drop shots, stuffed dates, and mini quichesSpecial Preview...

 

Special Preview…

Coming this week on Foodies: Gourmet lemon drop jello shots in lemon rind wedges!  They look just like lemon slices, but taste just like your favorite citrus cocktail!

Green Tea Cupcakes with Pomegranate Foam

Green tea cupcakes topped with pomegranate foam

Green tea cupcakes topped with pomegranate foam

This weekend I was tasked with providing a non-chocolate dessert for an Oscars party. With a pomegranate languishing on my counter, I headed to Foodily, a website and smartphone app that makes it easy to find recipes by ingredient. A featured recipe from Cupcake Bakeshop caught my eye: Green Tea Pomegranate Cupcakes.

Gabrielle enjoys a cupcake

Gabrielle enjoys a cupcake

I love green tea desserts, and keep matcha powder in my pantry the way I do sugar, flour, and other baking staples. Green tea cake, green tea ice cream, green tea cocktails… you name it, I love it. I was slightly weirded out by the idea of putting pomegranate seeds into my batter the way the original recipe did, and was also low on useable pomegranate seeds, so I omitted that step. I also made changes to the recipe: using white whole wheat flour (reducing the amount to avoid changing the texture), adding vanilla, and making a more complex flavor profile for the foam topping. I also added cream of tartar to stabilize the egg whites. The result: a perfect pairing of fluffy, earthy green tea cake cut with an airy topping with the tangy sweetness of pomegranate and a hint of orange. These little numbers got rave reviews, not only from Gabrielle, but from the rest of the group as well. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did.

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The World’s Easiest Chocolate Peanut Butter Bark Recipe

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Bark

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Bark

I don’t really go in for the whole Valentine’s Day experience.  It’s what I call a Hallmark holiday, invented by card and candy companies to move product.  On the other hand, I’ll take any excuse to eat chocolate… not that I need one.  Whether you’re looking for a quick treat for yourself, your loved one, or want to give it away as gourmet gifts, this recipe for peanut butter bark is delicious and darn easy to boot.

Just how easy is it?  To give you an idea, I invented it this past Saturday, probably between 11 and midnight, in the middle of a [paused] movie.  What can I say?  B wanted something sweet and crunchy, and I wanted to deliver.  And in this case, it was easy: it only takes about 5 minutes of active work (plus time to set).

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Whole Wheat Chocolate-Orange Muffins with Raspberries

We’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But really, who has time to make scrambled eggs with whole grain toast and fresh fruit salad every morning? I return once more to the muffin, God’s gift to the working (wo)man. The challenge remains, to pack as much nutrition as possible into a handy grab-and-go package.

Healthy Chocolate-Orange Muffin

Healthy Chocolate-Orange Muffin

What you want at breakfast is something thats going to sustain you, body and mind, through the first big push of your day. From a nutritional standpoint, protein will keep you feeling full longer, but the mental aspect of satiation is just as important. Studies show that people who plan something sweet into their day are less likely to overindulge than those who restrict themselves. Whole wheat flour and fat-free cottage cheese provide the protein you need for fuel, while the richness of dark cocoa is sure to stave off your chocolate cravings, sprinkled with refreshing pockets of tart raspberry fruitiness. (more…)

Lemon-Chocolate Madeleine Cookies

Lemon-Chocolate Madeleine Cookies

Lemon-Chocolate Madeleine Cookies

It might surprise you to learn that until this past holiday season, I did not own the proper equipment to bake my own namesake cookie.  Thanks to the love of my life, that tragic situation has now been remedied.

I baked my first batch of Madeleines about a week ago, sticking pretty faithfully (for me, at least) to the Joy of Baking‘s recipe, and tried them out on my godmother Barbara, one of the founders of the now-ubiquitous Just Desserts.  (No, she’s no longer an owner, so no, I can’t get you free goodies.)  After receiving her thumbs-up and agreement that, as I suspected, I’d baked them about 30 seconds too long, I decided I was ready to… you guessed it… improvise.

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Cheese of the Week: Red Hawk

I think it was living in England that converted me to stinky cheese.  It’s not like I grew up eating plastic, tasteless American cheese; in fact, one of my favorite childhood snacks was toast with gjetost (a caramel-colored Norwegian goat’s milk whey cheese that I probably don’t need to tell you is pretty obscure in the States).  Nevertheless, I think Oxford was a turning point for me.  With cheese shops everywhere, France just across the channel, and the historic covered market (complete with its own special stink), it was impossible to resist for long.

Red Hawk cheese, by Cowgirl Creamery

Red Hawk cheese, image courtesy of Cowgirl Creamery

Red Hawk is just about as stinky as they come.  When Gabrielle asked me to cover the Cheese of the Week post for today, I thought of it immediately.  While many potent-smelling cheeses are imported from Europe, Red Hawk is made right here in California from locally-produced organic milk, by none other than — you guessed it! — the gals at Cowgirl Creamery.

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