Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chocolate Banana Cupcakes

I just wrapped up my last order. There are no other mandatory projects on the horizon and everything coming out of my kitchen from now on will be entirely done for fun. Not that orders aren't fun, I just think that I can experiment more and try cool stuff when it's just for me (or rather just for my friends and coworkers who end up eating my creations). The funny thing is that even though I haven't "had" to do anything this week, so far it's been so crazy busy that I'm reaching for a morning cup of coffee with much more urgency then usual.

But back to the order. There were three kinds of cupcakes and a small smush cake for the birthday boy (who was turning 1). And while the chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting were good, as were the pear spice cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, today I'm going to tell you about the uber moist, super flavorful, chocolate banana cakes with banana frosting.

Chocolate Banana Cupcake

Banana Chocolate Cupcakes
Cake recipe from Joy of Baking and the frosting is my own concoction.

2 cups (400 grams) granulated white sugar
1 3/4 cups (245 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (75 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder (regular or Dutch-processed)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 medium sized bananas)
1 cup (240 ml) warm water
1/2 cup (120 ml) milk
1/2 cup (120 ml) canola or corn oil
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Banana Frosting:
2 8oz packages of cream cheese at room temperature
1/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
2 pureed bananas (pick out any black spots to get a nice consistency)
4 Tablespoons instant banana pudding
4 Tablespoons heavy whipping cream
Powdered sugar to taste
A few drops of yellow food color

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and place rack in the center of the oven. Line 24 regular-sized muffin cups with paper liners. I found these awesome monkey cups at Woodman's. They are made out of nonstick foil magic stuff and look just as lovely in the box as they do when filled with yummy cupcakes.

In a large bowl whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In another large bowl, whisk together the eggs, mashed bananas, water, milk, oil, and vanilla extract. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir, or whisk, until combined. Pour or scoop the batter into the muffin cups, about 3/4 full, and bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Check the cupcakes at about 17 minutes. I don't know if it's my oven, but mine were done a bit earlier. They bake up beautifully with a nice dome on top that doesn't collapse as they cool. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack.

In a clean bowl, whip the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the banana mush and whip to incorporate. Add the pudding and the whipping cream and whip on high for another 3 minutes or so. Taste the frosting. I thought the pudding mix and the bananas provided enough sugar, but if you like your frosting sweeter, add some powdered sugar. If you want it a LOT sweeter, also add some more heavy cream to maintain the right consistency.

Pipe the frosting onto completely cooled cupcakes and stuff your face. They're even better the next day...and the next...and the one after that. There are bananas here, so it's perfect breakfast food :D

And this cute little guy was made with the same stuff as the cupcakes and a bit of chocolate frosting for the decorations:

Lion Cake

I still have to work on my piping, but I think I'm getting better :D

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Morel Hunting and Morel Onion Quiche

Despite the dismal rainy weather, the Bake Sale was a success, so I'd like to say a great big Thank You to any of you that made it out there and picked up a treat or two. I believe all in all we ended up raising $1040 for Share Our Strength, which is pretty great (at least I think so, but then this was also my first bake sale).

mounds of morels

It's funny that on the one day we wanted it to be sunny it rained and the previous weekend when we could have used a bit of rain, except for a few rogue rain clouds that snuck through the area in the night, we had nothing but sunshine. You see, last weekend I went hunting. No no no, no one gave me a gun, don't you worry. I was mushroom hunting for Morels. You see, when I was little, sometime around my 8th birthday my family went on a trip. We rented a cabin somewhere in the woods of Georgia (the country, not the state) and explored the area. I was pretty young and don't remember too much about that trip. I remember that the people at the cabin next to ours gave me a chocolate bar when they found out it was my birthday, I remember the black squirrels with white tummies and little tufts of fur on their ears, and I remember that when a group was heading out to go mushroom picking early one morning, my parents forbid me to go. I begged and pleaded and stomped my feet and in the end I stayed at the cabin and sulked. Thinking back I understand why they said no: unless you know exactly what you're looking for, it's easy to pick a poisonous fungus and die. That's right mushroom picking is not for the feint of heart, but the 8 year old me didn't care. I remembered that slight and I've waited for an opportunity to present itself for over 20 years (turns out I'm tenacious).

A few weeks ago, a friend on his way through the flat and boring outer reaches of Illinois noticed a billboard advertising a Morel Fest in a little town of Ottawa, IL. And in case the town name calls out to the history buff in you, apparently this was the site of the Lincoln vs. Douglas debates back in 1858. But more importantly then that, they were going to have guided mushroom hunts followed by a mushroom picking contest, and there was no way I'd be missing out again. I make my own decisions these days :D

After a brief review of all things morel, and after a nice dodge on all "where are the best spots to find them" questions, they drove us around until we were thoroughly disoriented and then dropped us of at the edge of a forest and set us loose with a few guides.

Hunting mushrooms is hard work! You fight your way through the brambles, trudge through dirt and down ravines, fight your way past snapping branches all the while keeping your eyes on the ground looking for the tell tale mushroom caps and ignoring the ones that that just look cool, like these:

'rooms on a log

Occasionally you look up and see the forest:

pretty poseys

And every once in a while you remember, that there are real animals in the woods, not just flora. By the end of the weekend it started to feel a bit like an episode of Bones:

dangerous woods

Even the trees looked sinister:

grasping leaves

And then you find one. And you squeal and you take a picture and you carefully put it into your net:

I found it

And then you find another and you're hooked:

and another one

At the end of the first day we had a handful of mushrooms to take home and plan our return the next morning.

handful of goodness

So this is where the excitement winds down a bit. We spent hours scouring the forest the next day, risking life and limb (I'm not kidding, there was a Girl Scout camp near by and we were warned that if we wander into their turf we might get shanked...I guess there's a badge for that?) and in the end I found only two mushrooms. Some people had better luck, but I'm convinced they cheated.


And look at this guy! That mushroom was close to seven inches tall!


Me? I slunk home with my haul and made a quiche for Mother's Day. My dad said that I tried to poison them all with my magic mushrooms, but he ate two slices and we're all still kicking, so I'm calling it a success.

Morel and Onion Quiche

Onion and Morel Quiche
adapted from the recipe by Southern Saturdays with Virginia
Makes one 9-inch quiche

Onion Confit:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
5 onions, she suggests Vidalia but I just used sweet white onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon firmly packed dark brown sugar
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, plus small sprigs for garnish

To make the confit, heat the butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sugar, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, 15 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook another 5 minutes.

Increase the heat to medium-high. Add the wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine is reduced and the onions are a deep golden brown, about 15 minutes more. Add the thyme; taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl to cool completely for continuing with the quiche.

French Pie Pastry (go to her site, trust me the recipe is worth it)

2 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
Small heap of fresh or dried morels, about a dozen depending on the size
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper (she suggested white pepper, but I find the flavor weird and don't mind the specks, but you can do as you like)

Prepare the pastry shell and let cool slightly. I'm assuming that by now you already made the confit listed above.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. To make the custard, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, milk, cream, and cayenne pepper in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

If you have fresh morels, cut them in half and soak them in salted water for 30 min to make get any dirt or bugs out of them. If you're working with dried, then soak in clean water. Pat dry with paper towels and sautee lightly in a bit of olive oil with a touch of salt. Set aside.

Spread the cooled onion confit in the pastry shell. Arrange the morel halves on top of the onions in a circle, or however you want. Pour the custard over everything and bake until the custard is lightly browned and set, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

2011 Chicago Food Blogger Great American Bake Sale

Strawberry Love

There are no recipes in this post, but I'd like to take a quick moment and invite all the folks in the Chicagoland area to come out to 2011 Chicago Food Blogger Share Our Strength’s Great American Bake Sale! Food bloggers from across the country will unite to support the Share Our Strength’s efforts to end childhood hunger in America by holding bake sales in their states. Proceeds from the sale will support the 17 million children (almost one in four) who face hunger in America. More information on SOS can be found at

Where: The Poison Cup Wine & Art Boutique at 1128 W. Armitage Ave (between Clifton and Seminary)
When: This Saturday, May 14 from 12pm – 3pm
Who: The lovely Maris Callahan of In Good Taste is organizing this event and there will be over 20 local bloggers contributing their amazing baked goods (I'll be there too). Here are just a few of the amazing folks participating:

What’s Cookin’ Chicago
West of the Loop
EZ Bake Oven
Not a Crazy Vegan
Joy’s Misadventures
Engineer and an Oven
Chefdruck Musings
NBC Feast
The Pink Apron
and many more!

So grab your wallet and your sweet tooth and come buy treats for a great cause! I hope to see you all there.