April 24, 2009

ooh la la

Now what I really want to tell you about is the dinner that Jason and I went to last Friday night. Once a month, Tea Bar & Bites puts on a prix-fixe "theme" dinner with food from different countries or cultures. I've attended their theme dinners ranging from Peruvian to Irish and I'm never disappointed.

For April, the dinner was Parisian-themed, so of course I was excited. I really love French food, but it's hard to pin point exactly why. I think it's the simplicity of it. The French make a meal of meat and potatoes into something gourmet. But more than that, it's that they truly appreciate the experience of food. When I lived there, I attended dinners that lasted for five hours. Seriously. I would be exhausted after those dinners, trying to follow the conversations and pretend like I knew what everyone was talking about. But I loved it, too, because it was totally un-American.

Our dinner last Friday consisted of five or so delicious, well-thought-out courses, starting with a goat cheese crostata with asparagus and roasted red pepper; there was a mushroom soup with homemade pastry, celery and fennel salad, followed by a really really good salmon with potatoes and some braised red cabbage. But the coup de grace, as they say, was the dessert. Take chocolate cinnamon mousse sandwiched between two chocolate discs and topped with a chocolate covered cherry, and you have this:

Chef John Ruff, you're my hero.

happy earth day

To celebrate Earth Week, why not eat a lemon basil cupcake?

Now go recycle something.

April 14, 2009


I've been on sort of a citrus kick lately. I think it's my way of rebelling against winter, which thankfully, is over. I have a serious weakness for anything lemon or lime, and in particular, my mom's lemon bars. They're the best I've ever had, hands down. But you have to be serious about liking lemon. They're not those sissy lemon bars that mostly taste like sugar and butter with a hint of lemon. These are in-your-face lemon bars. And that's how I like them.

In keeping with my citrus kick, I decided to try creating an orange cupcake. This was Jason's idea, actually. I wanted it to taste like a creamsicle, or something like an Orange Julius (remember those?). I have a good basic vanilla cupcake recipe, so I did a little experimenting with fresh orange zest and juice, and topped them with an orange cream-cheese buttercream. I think they turned out pretty well. I sat in Tea Bar one day for lunch and watched six of them disappear in a matter of about 15 minutes. That's a good sign, right?

Then last weekend, I was flipping through my Baked cookbook. Baked is a funky little bakery with locations in Brooklyn and Charleston, and they make modern versions of old favorites, like seven-layer bars and malted blondies. I also like they way they use the color orange in their decor. Anyway, they happen to have a lemonlime bar recipe. I was intrigued. And a little shocked when I read the quantity of eggs needed: 13. Seriously?

Oh, they were being serious, alright. Instead of making them into bars, I used a springform pan to create more of a lemon tart. The recipe is a little time consuming, but I promise you won't be disappointed. The crust is an interesting graham cracker and coconut mixture. I served a little fresh whipped cream alongside, which helped cut the acidity a little bit.

The end result was like summer in your mouth; bright, creamy, refreshing. And that makes me very happy. Go buy a copy of Baked's cookbook right now.
Fresh Orange Cupcakes
Adapted from a recipe in "The Modern Baker" by Nick Malgieri
1 1/2 sticks of butter at room temperature
1 cup of sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp pure orange extract
zest and juice of 1/2 large orange
1 3/4 cup unbleached, all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, or 300 degrees if you are using a convection oven.
Cream butter and sugar together and beat on medium speed. Add eggs, one at a time, making sure to scrape bowl in between each addition. Add extracts and orange zest/juice. Beat until well combined, about 3-4 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients. Add half of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Scrape bowl, then add the buttermilk. Once combined, add the remaining dry ingredients. Scrape the bowl to make sure everything is well mixed.
Turn mixer speed up to medium-high, and beat for 3 minutes. It should look smooth and fluffy.
Scoop batter into a standard cupcake pan with liners. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until tops are lightly golden. Top with orange buttercream (recipe follows).
Orange Buttercream
2 sticks of butter
4 oz. cream cheese
zest and juice of 1/2 orange
1 tsp vanilla
5 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
Cream butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add orange zest/juice and vanilla and beat until combined. Turn mixer to low, and in one-cup increments, add the powdered sugar. Alternate with the milk to keep the icing smooth. Spread on cooled cupcakes.