Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes

I want there to be 30 hours in a day, even if it's just to get a full night's sleep. And while I'm excited about hosting Thanksgiving, you know what I think my favorite part of the night will be? It'll be the cup of coffee at the end. Believe me, it'll be a cup well earned.

I always start out planning a modest dinner, after all, my family is small, but one thing leads to another, one blog post with amazing pictures and recipes leads to more and more items on my must try list. Before I know it, I'm planning three main entrees and at least a half dozen side dishes, not including soup and salad and a dessert or two. The big day will still be days away and you'll find me huddled in a pile of cookbooks rocking back and forth mumbling something about time and only one oven. Inevitably on the big day something will be forgotten or I will simply run out of time and scrap a dish or two, but there will still be a ton of food on the table and not a single person will walk away hungry, and I know that, but I still can't help scheming and planning.

Pumpkin Pie Cupcake

The point of this is that while I'd love to share with you my Thanksgiving recipes, I still haven't quite decided what I'll be making and I try not to repeat dishes from year to year. So the recipes for the dishes I'll make won't really go up here until after the big day, right about the time when even the sight of turkey will have you running for the hills. And yet I feel like I need to contribute something to your menu plans, and so I give you these: Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes.

I won't take the credit for the idea, it wasn't mine. I was inspired by this post from Cupcake Project, and while I didn't use her recipes, the spark, that bit of genius, was entirely hers.

The first thing you'll need to do is go here and make this pumpkin pie, sans crust. Just pour the mess into a pie dish and bake as instructed. Go on, I'll wait. This, by the way, is my all time favorite pumpkin pie recipe. It has the perfect blend of spices and the dark rum adds just the right kick. I usually add a dash of nutmeg and cardamom to round things out too, but other then the one time I accidentally doubled the amount of rum, I make it as is. As a side note, the double rum version took a bit longer to bake, but tasted amazing, even if it was fantastically boozy. Once the pie is baked, let it cool completely, or even toss it into the fridge overnight.

Next you'll want to bake the pumpkin cupcakes. For this I went with the best source there is, Martha Stewart. Believe me when I tell you that these cupcakes are to die for. They bake up with those perfect little mounds on top and are amazingly moist. I added a few of the pumpkin pie spices to the cupcakes too, so that they match up to the "frosting" a bit better, otherwise I used this recipe as is as well. These days I have too many things going on to try and experiment or innovate, so I just went with what I know would work.

Once the cupcakes are cool, whisk the cooled pumpkin pie filling from before a bit to make sure the mix is uniform, scoop into a pastry bag fitted with your favorite tip, and pipe on top of the cupcakes. Feel free to squirt some filling directly into your mouth, it's kind of like a no-carb slice of pie. Plus a pumpkin is a vegetable, so that makes it healthy, right?

Place a perfect pecan half on top and marvel at your creation. Thanksgiving dessert in a cupcake! Something to be thankful for, no?

Monday, November 15, 2010

NY and Momofuku

You know what has been the single most ubiquitous cookbook in my world for over a year now? Momofuku. I have seen the sneaky peach from that book's cover peek at me from shelves at numerous book stores, from the counters of a dozen different food stands and restaurants, and list upon list of this year's best cookbooks in magazines and blogs all over. That peach is literally everywhere, but unfortunately, the restaurant is in NY and I'm in Chicago. I was talking to my friend Joy a few weeks ago when the book popped up prominently displayed right by the register of Saigon Sisters inside the French Market, and her exasperated response was: "Momofuku! Momofuku! I'll give YOU Momofuku!" There may have been some swear words in there too, but I like to keep my blog PC. I'm getting a little bit ahead of myself here, let's start at the beginning.

Last weekend, the opportunity to go to NY for a family friend's wedding came up, and this being our first visit to the Big Apple, my sister and I decided to pack as much as was humanly possible into our two short days there. We ran through Times Square, packed with tourists and giant billboards all lit up. The Naked Cowboy was nowhere to be seen, but then it was kinda chilly.


We did make a brief impression on the city via a live video cam on top of Forever 21. Just look for the goof doing the funky dance and me taking her picture:


My sister barely survived an attempt on her life by the Cookie Monster. I'm telling you, that guy is vicious. He probably thought she had a cookie in her pocket:


We zoomed past Rockefeller Center where my sister pretended she was a cast member from 30 Rock, past the giant Lego store, taking a short detour to split a Rockette Red Velvet cupcake and a glass of milk at Magnolia's:



We made a point of grabbing a couple of hot dogs from a street vendor as well as a bag of piping hot roasted chestnuts, singing "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire" at the top of our lungs (no one paid us any attention):


We popped into MoMA for a bit of culture, and stayed long enough to become part of the art:




I mean really, what ARE those black canvases supposed to say?

And in a completely sober moment, I kissed a goat. That's right. There's proof and everything.


We drooled over the dozens of amazing shops at Chelsea Market. I'm telling you, I wanted to buy a tent and a sleeping bag and move in there permanently. A dozen bakeries I'm sure you've all heard about were represented, including Fat Witch Brownies and Jacques Torres Chocolates. There was also a small but extremely packed shop called Buon Italia which had row after row of amazing european sundries, including this ginormous jar of Nutella that my sister wanted to smuggle back home and dedicate the rest of her life trying to slowly consume:


My sister's friend met up with us at Buddakan in Chelsea for dinner and while I don't have pictures of the food, I have to say that stopping there is an absolute must. Pop into this gorgeous place, order up a glass of Fate (a lovely cocktail with St. Germain liquor, pineapple juice and a splash of Prosecco), and pull up the menu. The tuna tartare spring roll was a crispy shell that gave way to delicate tuna flesh, lightly soaked in ponzu sauce. The roast duck noodles and the Asian stir fry were pretty good, but the Glazed Alaskan Black Cod was the softest and most delicious piece of fish I've ever had. We finished things off with another round of drinks and the Honey Jasmine Cheesecake, which was almost mousse-like, but if you pile a bit of the moscato sorbet and carmelized pears on a bit of cake and stuff the whole thing in your mouth, the combination of textures and flavors taste just like fall. The interior was dark and elegant, so I couldn't get very many pictures, but if I find myself back in NY, I'll definitely be back for more.


We ended the first day (yeah, that's all day one) with Avenue Q. The muppets were unexpected, neither of us knew what to expect, but we laughed nonstop from the time the curtains opened till the last of the actors were taking their bows. Amazing show, but not exactly kid friendly. Let's just say that muppet porn was an unexpected element and leave it at that.

The next day, we took our breakfast to go and spent the morning running randomly down trail after trail in our attempt to cover the southern half of Central Park. Did you know there was a castle in the middle there?


This beautiful bridge has been featured in countless different romantic comedies set in NY so it was fun to walk across and pose for pictures on it:


Skimming around the outskirts of the Central Park zoo, we were lured by the smells coming from this Belgian Waffle vendor:


Do you remember this spread I told you all to run out and get a few months ago? Well, they had it, and spread over their freshly baked yeasted waffles, or Dinges as they called them, it was amazing. Lucky dinges indeed.


Taking a quick jaunt through FAO Schwartz, past the Toy soldier made out of jelly bellys, past bin after bin of various candies, past a whole department full of muppets, and the famous giant piano, we headed south to Ssam Bar, Momofuku.




Finally, I was going to see what all the fuss is about. We settled at the bar and right in front of us, nestled next to the row of wine glasses was "the book", as if it's been waiting for us to join it for lunch all along.


All the talk and all the hype was definitely not for nothing. The meal was fantastic and this time I made sure to take pictures of everything. We started with a pair of mattaki oysters. I'm a huge huge huge oyster fan and these didn't disappoint. They arrived inside of a bowl of ice and tasted fresh and salty like the ocean. The cranberry halves were interesting, but I could have done without them.


Next up were the hot open faced steamed pork buns. Each bun was soft and fluffy and brimming with tender pork slices that practically melted in my mouth. If I didn't have more food coming I would have definitely asked for seconds.


My sister ordered the cotechino, which is a spicy sausage served with maitake mushrooms, tiny buttery brussel sprouts (which were almost good enough for me to start liking brussel sprouts...almost), and a green apple puree for a tart contrast. Each element complimented the others and we scraped that bowl clean with our forks, wishing we had some bread to mop up the juices.


The roasted blackfish that I ordered was very good as well, but we were already slightly jaded by the cod we had at Buddakan the night before. Nonetheless, the soft sweet fish paired with tiny cubes of squash and peekytoe crab was delicious.


At this point we were full and toying with the idea of skipping dessert, but in the end we decided that since we were finally there we may as well go all out and picked the light sounding apricot sorbet. It was very light and not too sweet, which is something I love in desserts. The crunch shortbread cookie, sage mousse and a tart tapioca provided a variety of textures and we kept trying to build spoonfuls with all the components until the plate was scraped clean.


The rest of the trip made me happy to be a Chicagoan and I'll skip the drama, but I'm glad I was able to finally taste the wonder that is Momofuku and if I ever find myself in this great city again, I'll make sure to spend more time in Chelsea...I may need to bring an extra suitcase for all the loot I'm already planning to acquire.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Apple Pie Caramel Apples

Cinnamon Caramel Apple 2

Sometimes I feel like I'm really missing out on something. The whole world, it seems, is full of people dreaming lush complicated, strange, and insightful dreams every night, but most nights when I finally sink into my pillows, it's like the light switch is flipped and no one bothers to come back and switch it back on until the alarm jars me awake in the morning.

Every once in a while, on those rare mornings when I can sleep in a little, I'll wake up with the vague feeling of having interrupted someone who was telling me a story. A complicated one, with many plot twists. And I'll wake up wanting to stay in bed, if only to find out how things ended, but finding the threads of the dream unwinding and disappearing even as I desperately clutch at them, trying to weave them back. I'll pretend that I never woke up, lying to myself and hoping that if I can really fool my brain, the story reel will sputter back to life and play till the end. It never works, and by the time I've washed my face and brushed my teeth, I can't even remember what I was dreaming about in the first place.

It's strange, but it's only when I'm sick (or sleeping off a night of drinking, to be completely honest) that I end up remembering my dreams. Probably because I don't sleep as deeply when plagued with coughing fits or when my head is throbbing. But if I do remember them, I remember them forever.

There are a few regulars that replay in my head like a worn movie, with only minor variations, like puzzles that I try to solve in different ways, but without seeing the big picture, the great plan, I always get the same results. There is the occasional "why didn't I put on my pants before I left the house this morning?" dream that everyone gets. But once every few years I'll get a completely new dream. One that is strange and disturbs me on a whole new, previously unimaginable, level. And then I'm thankful for missing out in the first place.

Cinnamon Caramel Apple

I ran across this post over at How Does She, and white chocolate and caramel enrobed apples sprinkled with cinnamon sugar looked so beautiful and sounded so dreamy that I had to give them a try. Plus, I got to pose them with one of my favorite tea cups. It's pearly white and delicate, with golden spider webs and spiders that manage to look elegant and not creepy. In the middle of the saucer is a spider who just finished spinning the name Hazel into the center. While I don't know who she was, I can dream up quite a character for what she might have been like, and I think she and I would have gotten along quite nicely.

I didn't really follow the recipe on that site, just used the idea, and the apples came out great. I'm still looking for that perfect caramel recipe though, so until I'm happy, I'll just tell you to head over there and give her recipe a try. It looks and tastes just like an apple pie. Yummy.