Monday, April 26, 2010

On Craziness, Laziness, Comfort, and Blueberries

The last week or two have been absolutely crazy. I mean chock full of running around, but it wasn't all work. Quite a bit of it was a lot of fun, but now I'm tired and sore and the todo list has only been growing in my absence. Sometimes it's nice to just relax for a bit before taking a deep sigh and getting started on the chores and today, my moment was sponsored by my mother. There was an old joke I read a long long time ago on the differences between an average mother and a Jewish mother and one of the differences were the concept of tea time. An average mother, the joke said, would invite her daughter over for tea and serve tea and maybe some cookies. A Jewish mother on the other hand would invite her daughter over for tea and serve cookies, then pull out some beet soup, a bit of potato salad, a piece of roasted chicken, some cheese blintzes, a slice of cake, well you get the picture. While I'd like to say that this is a stereotype, I can't. I did learn to bring Tupperware with me when I visit though and this weekend part of the loot was my mom's split pea soup. I had a lot to do today, but it was nice to just heat up a bowl and take a quick 20 minute zen moment with the comfort of home.

Split Pea Soup

After work and my zen moment I made a few sewing alterations, a quick trip to grandma's and in the middle of two loads of laundry I decided to make some blueberry cupcakes with the last of the blueberries I picked at Michigan over the summer. Sort of a spring cleaning effort. A while back I found this recipe and dog eared it for future use, but somehow never got back to it. But I had everything on hand and 40 minutes before I could get my clothes from the dryer, and instead of sitting still I started pulling out the ingredients. Believe me, you're going to want to make these too, they were fantastic and greatly received.


Blueberry Cupcakes
adapted from Seattle Pi
Makes about 18 cupcakes

2 Cups + 2 tablespoons sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup of unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 1/2 cups of Sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup of whole milk
1/2 cup of blueberry puree
1/2 tsp Vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F and line cupcake pan with paper liners

Blueberry Puree:
- Bring one pound of blueberries (fresh or frozen) to a boil in a sauce pan. I used the berries I picked last summer and froze, and I must say organic berries will give you a much richer flavor, just look at that color! Everything was stained blue.
- Reduce heat to low and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated (about 1/2 hour) and the mixture is thick, making sure to stir often.
- Cool the blueberries slightly and place in a food processor. Mix until smooth. For an
extra smooth puree pass mixture through a fine sieve before using, but I didn't really bother and it was fine.
- Makes about 1 1/4 cups.

Blueberry Jam

- Cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.
- Add one egg at a time, beating until incorporated after each one.
- Sift dry ingredients into a separate bowl.
- Mix milk with 1/2 cup of blueberry puree and vanilla.
- Add wet and dry ingredients alternately to butter/sugar mixture starting and ending with the dry ingredients in three additions.
- Mix until just incorporated after each addition. Do not overbeat batter.
- The batter will puff up when baking, but then settle again once it cools, so you want to make sure that you fill each liner at least 3/4 full of batter. If you want an extra punch of flavor you can mix in a little of the blueberry puree into each cupcake and swirl slightly with a wooden skewer or small spoon. Or you can be lazy like me and skip this step. It will be fantastic without it.

Blueberry Batter

- Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until cake springs back to the touch.
- Cool for 10-15 minutes in the pan then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely before frosting.
- Whip up a batch of Swiss Meringue Buttercream using your favorite recipe or use mine and whip in the remainder of the blueberry puree. Frost the cupcakes and top fresh blueberry...or not. They're good on the first day, but they're even better on the 2nd, so don't hesitate to make them ahead of time. Don't forget to share.

Blueberry Cupcake

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sunny Marmalade

I was still bleary eyed and half asleep as I got off the train, and while I was moving on autopilot and not paying any attention to where I was going, I could not miss that crate. The sign said "Sunny Lemons - 10/$1" and the huge box was filled with fat round lemons, all shiny and bright. They seemed to be saying: "It's okay, you go to work, but be sure to stop by on your way back and take some of us home with you". The sight of those lemons stayed with me all day. I mean, what's so special about "sunny" lemons and what the heck would I make with that many? Were they anything like Meyer Lemons? They were definitely smaller and rounder then the regular variety. I thought about it all day and by the time I was heading back to the train, I had a plan. I spoke to the grocer and he confirmed my suspicions, while they weren't exactly Meyer Lemons, they were sweeter then the regular variety, and therefore would be close enough for me. I grabbed 20 of the prettiest and raced up the stairs, barely making my train.

Once home I spread the loot and got to work. I sliced and diced and seeded 16 of the lemons. Let me stop and give you a bit of advice here: Don't do this if you have any cuts on your fingers! Boy oh boy will you feel the burning stinging pain of the acid burrowing into your flesh. What was I thinking? I bought flesh-eating lemons! Come to think of it, that would be a pretty good name for a band. Flesh Eating Lemons, coming soon to the local pizza joint near you.

Back to the recipe. I measured (I was a bit over, but oh well), dumped everything into a pot, poured in the water...and read the step that said to leave it overnight. Sigh. So much for getting things done in one day. I guess I'll be able to catch up on some of those "30 Rock" episodes.

The next day I went out with some friends and came home kind of late. Would I be able to leave the jam for yet another day? I didn't think so, so I added the rest of the ingredients and cranked up the heat. Another note, make sure that you have lots and lots of space in the pot because as the mixture begins to boil, it will rise. A lot. I doubled the recipe and overestimated the size of my pot, so I was up late into the night watching the simmering pot, but once it was done I had eleven and a half fragrant, slightly bitter, not-too-sweet marmalade. Just look at those tiny flecks of vanilla seeds! It set beautifully and I'm sure it'll be great on a waffle. But for now, it's bed time.

Vanilla Lemon Marmalade

Lemon and Vanilla Bean Marmalade
via Epicurious

1 1/4 pounds Meyer lemons (or whatever you can get your hands on)
5 cups water
5 1/2 cups (about) sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Pinch of salt

- Working on large plate to catch juice, cut lemons in half lengthwise, then very thinly crosswise. Discard seeds. This will take some time, but do be careful, no one likes to find seeds in their jam, plus it can make things very bitter.
- Pack enough lemons and any juice to measure 2 1/2 cups. Transfer to large nonreactive pot, add 5 cups water and bring to boil.
- Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand uncovered overnight.

- The next day measure lemon mixture (there should be about 5 1/2 cups). Return to same pot. Add equal amount of sugar (about 5 1/2 cups).
- Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean and add the bean with a pinch of salt.
- Bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Attach clip-on candy thermometer and maintaining active boil and adjusting heat to prevent boiling over, cook until temperature reaches 220°F, stirring occasionally, at least 30 minutes. I doubled the recipe and underestimated the extra room it would need to properly boil and therefore it took a lot longer to reach the necessary temperature (about 2 hours), but it worked out great in the end.
- Pour into sterilized jars, seal and let cool. The lemons are very high in acid so you should not need to process the jars, but you can if you want to be on the safe side. If you don't want to seal them, the jars will keep refrigerated for a few weeks, just be sure to bring to room temperature before using. Oh, and don't forget to share.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Rice Krispie Treats Galore

This has come as a great shock to a lot of people I know, but I have never before made rice krispie treats (RKT for short). I've never even thought about them. I've never been a huge fan of store bought marshmallows or Rice Krispies in general, so I never even considered that the combination would be worthwhile. That is until about a month ago. I was visiting a friend and while we were chatting, she offered me a piece of butterscotch RKT. Now this woman has never failed me on any recipe so there was no way I would refuse anything offered at her house. I took a bite and swooned. I have definitely been missing out. I may have stolen one more piece that day, but try them yourself and then try to judge me.

Rice Krispy Treats

Late last week I went on a coffee run with some coworkers and when one of them began contemplating the plastic wrapped block on a tray under glass, I offered her a deal. She'll skip the block and I'll make something special. So on Sunday, I picked up some ingredients, whipped up a batch of butterscotch RKT and brought them to work. I've never seen anything disappear so fast. The container was shaken to see if any crumbs remained, and then brought to me with sad faces. I was on to something. So on Monday, I tried it again. I whipped up two different batches this time. The butterscotch again, since it was such a hit, and a cappuccino version. One box went to my sister's coworkers and the other will come with me tomorrow. I have a feeling they will be well received.

So whether or not you've ever made RKTs before, give these a try. The flavor is deeper and the treat is just as good as you remember, plus the possibilities to mess with the recipe are endless. Think of all the flavor and color possibilities!

Rice Krispy Treats

Butterscotch and Cappuccino Rice Krispies Treats
I started with a standard recipe and I looked around the web for ideas, but in the end I simplified and made enough tweaks to say that this recipe is mine, but I give credit to my friend for getting me started and obviously to Kellogg's for the original inspiration.

2 cups butterscotch chips (or cappuccino chips)
1 regular box of butterscotch pudding mix (or chocolate pudding and a Tbsp espresso powder)
1 stick of unsalted butter
1 10.5 oz bag of mini marshmallows (about 9 cups)
1 12oz box of Rice Krispies (I used a generic brand and it worked fine)

Spray a rectangular pan with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.

Melt the butter in a very large pot, stir in the marshmallows and when they start to soften, toss in the chips. Stir vigorously until everything is melted and even, then quickly stir in the pudding mix (and espresso, if using).

Quickly stir in the cereal and stir to evenly distribute. Dump everything into the prepared pan and press firmly to spread mixture evenly. Let it cool for about 20 min, then flip onto a cutting surface and using a sharp knife, cut into squares. Enjoy!