Sunday, June 26, 2011

Strawberry Basil Lime Cupcakes

I'd like to personally thank Bravo! Italian Cucina for inspiring my latest creation. Two weeks ago, PID and I went for dinner and I just had to try the cocktail of the day which was a Strawberry Basil Mojito. 

I made it my new personal goal to recreate this delicious summer treat at home, but I thought it might taste particularly good as a cupcake! It also finally gave me an excuse to use the fresh basil in the garden!

I'm going to give the abbreviated version of this cupcake recipe because a magician never reveals her secrets :)  So here's what you'll need for the cupcakes:

Your favorite yellow cake recipe
2/3 c. chopped strawberries, 3-4 whole strawberries (reserved)
1/2 c. chopped fresh basil leaves, 12 small whole basil leaves (reserved)
1/4 c. Bacardi Limon
1 tbs. sugar (in addition to the sugar you need for your cake recipe)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine your basil, strawberries, and sugar with the Bacardi Limon and let the flavors marry while you prepare your cake mix.

When making your cupcakes, remember to start by creaming the butter, then adding the sugar, then your eggs (one at a time) and the vanilla.  Before you begin adding your dry mixture, go back to your strawberries and basil and process it in a food processor until it's in liquid form.

Then add 1/2 of that mixture to your wet ingredients and alternate with the flour mixture until smooth.  Don't overmix!

Evenly divide your batter among 12 baking cups and bake for 20-23 minutes. (I used both aluminum and silicone today to compare the two and found that I like how the silicone bakes much nicer!)

While your cupcakes cool, you can start on your buttercream!  Here's what you'll need for that:

1.5 sticks (12 tbs) of unsalted butter at room temperature
4 c. confectioners sugar
1.5 tsp. vanilla
1 full lime

Cream your butter with a paddle mixer and gradually add the powdered sugar 1/4 c. at a time.  After you've added 2 cups, add your vanilla and the zest of one full lime. Then slice that same lime and add it's juice to the mix before adding the remaining 2 cups of sugar.

When your cupcakes have fully cooled, pipe or spread the lime buttercream on top. 

 Then thinly slice the strawberries in to 12 equal circles and place a small basil leave through the middle of each as a garnish. 

I'm so glad we went to Bravo! and I was inspired to give them a shot.  Though I had absolutely no occasion to make these for today, I'm excited to introduce them at my next "affair."  Give them a try! 
I hope you'll enjoy them as much as PID and I did!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Summer Time Means Apple Pie!

This past weekend, PID and I ventured to Papa PID's house to celebrate Father's Day.  Papa PID has a tendency to give us gifts on days we're supposed to be giving gifts to him, but this time I think he had an ulterior motive...

He gave us this thing:

If you guessed an apple corer/peeler/slicer, then you guessed right!  This thing is straight out of 1970...and straight out of heaven. It may look cumbersome, but this thing is the best invention. Ever.

PID and I are headed to a big BBQ tomorrow and I thought, since I've conveniently been recently blessed with this contraption, I might as well put it to good use and bake an apple pie!

Let me remind you (as I should have reminded myself) that I've never baked a pie before. No, not ever. Well, it was worth a shot!  I decided that since I make my cupcakes from scratch, I'd do the same with my pie. Here is my recipe:

For the Crust
2 1/4 c. flour
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 tbs. salt
1 tbs. sugar
4-5 tbs. cold water

For the Pie
4 medium Granny Smith apples
2 sticks unsalted butter
2-3 tbs. sugar
1-2 tbs. cinnamon

Preheat your oven to  375 degrees. 

Start by cubing the butter and chilling it in the freezer for about 20 minutes.  As it chills, combine the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor or a dough mixer. Then, add the butter and mix until you see pea size pellets.  Then, add the water one tbs. at a time until it's reached a favorable consistency. Remove half of the dough and reserve the other half.

Line your counter space with a pinch of flour and form your dough in to a ball. Flatten it with your hand and rotate it in to a flat circle to ensure that the edges are smooth. Keep flattening and rotating until your circle is just slightly smaller than the pie pan you're using. Drop in the dough and use your hands to form the dough to the pan.

"The device" (to which it shall henceforth be referred) was amazing!  With the simple turn of the uh....handle thingy... my granny smiths were peeled, cored and sliced perfectly in to 1/4 inch slices in less than 30 seconds! You'll want to make sure to get relatively thin (but not paper thin!) slices and half them covering the bottom of the pan. Then sprinkle a bit of sugar and cinnamon across the slices. Next, cover the apples with thin slices of butter -- and repeat! Apples, sugar, cinnamon butter. You can do anywhere from 2-3 layers, depending on the depth of your pie pan.

Next, take your reserve pie dough and form another flattened sphere, slightly flatter than the last and this time, exactly the size of the top of the pan. Make sure to cut holes in the dough (in whatever pattern you want) to let the pie breathe.

Bake your pie for 10 minutes then remove and cover the edges of the pie with tin foil (I took a 10 x 10 sheet of tin foil and cut a hole in the middle, placing it right on top of the pie). Continue baking for 25 minutes, then remove the tin foil. Bake for an additional 10 -15 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.

Let cool on a cooling rack for at least 10 minutes before will be hard, but do it anyway!

I was so proud of myself for ACTUALLY making a pie (or two)! (Special thanks to PID and my mom for their words of encouragement and Papa PID for "The Device")  We tried a slice tonight and it tastes ALMOST as good as grandma used to make.

So next time we head over to Papa PID's it looks like I'll be expected to bring a pie.  See? I told you he had ulterior motives.

My Daily Happy #3

When things finally go your way...

When I moved in to my house in June of 2008, I noticed it came with a beautiful Hydrangea bush that had yet to bloom at the time.  I watered it well and crossed my fingers that it would produce pink blossoms (in case you haven't noticed, I'm a fan of all things pink).

Now I know full well that Hydrangeas are fickle. Their color can change year after year dependent upon pH levels of the soil.  So when it bloomed a mysterious blue/gray color my first year on Stewart Avenue, I knew I'd have to try something different the following spring. I've heard many times that it's far easier to go from pink to blue than it is from blue to pink.  So when winter came, I snipped off the dead flowers and started to strategize.

For three years I switched up my plant feed, both brand and frequency, crossing my fingers every spring.  In 2009 my blue was much deeper. Very beautiful, but still not pink.  In 2010 I finally got purple blossoms -- it was a step in the right direction!  Today, I came home from work and spotted my very first bloom of the season....low and behold it was PINK!

I know it might seem trivial, but it was such a lovely thing to come home to!  I can't wait for it to fully bloom. 

Happy summer!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

My Daily Happy #2

When you realize you know someone who knows someone...

Today I was diligently working hard (still am.............sorta) when I got a Facebook notification that a friend of mine had posted this video on my wall

It made me happy  no matter what because I happen to have loved The Script since their album dropped in early 2008 in the UK and a friend of mine forwarded me an underground video of them performing "We Cry"  After listening to the beauty of their lyrics and melodies, I was immediately hooked.  I believe there was a time that I did nothing but listen to their LP over and over again for consecutive hours.

Then suddenly, they hit the mainstream. I don't recall when or how it happened exactly, but Breakeven broke out and I'm sad to say I'm no longer the cool girl who is obsessed with the foreign indy band.... but just like everyone else. 

It's been said they're "The Next U2."  I'm not sure anyone should ever be given that title.  U2 is U2.  There is no "next U2" -- instead I believe The Script should be called the biggest sound to successfully jump the puddle since U2 and simply continue to rock it.

But I digress....

When I read a bit closer, I noticed that the same friend who posted the Breakeven Live performance on my Facebook wall had also announced (as she works with a local concert venue) that the band was coming to Pittsburgh on September 4th and she was offering me her comp tickets since she knew how much I loved them.

AH-MAZE-ZING!  It's very infrequent that I have the money to splurge on big concerts (though I do admit to over-investing in a floor seat ticket to the upcoming NKOTBSB concert) so this was an OUTSTANDING surprise.  It made My Daily Happy of the day and I can no longer wait until September....which is a phrase I never though I'd hear myself say....

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Strawberry Shortcakes

I don't always actually eat my cupcakes.  Usually I reel PID in as a taste-tester and lick an empty bowl here and there to ensure everything's in order.  But with these, I simply couldn't say no.

Diet, I beseech thy forgiveness as I indulge in my own Light 'n' Fluffy Strawberry Shortcakes!

Here's what you'll need for the Cupcakes (12 yield)

3/4 c. powdered sugar

1/2 c. cake flour

3/4 c. egg whites (about 6)

1/2 c. granulated sugar

3/4 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 tsp. almond extract

1/2 tsp. cream of tartar

1/4 tsp. meringue powder (optional)

dash of salt

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees (note, this is hotter than for normal cupcakes which are typically baked at 350).  In a small bowl, combine your powdered sugar, flour and meringue powder and set aside.  Beat the egg whites at medium speed for 1 minute, then add in the tartar.  Beat at medium-high speed and gradually add in the granulated sugar, then the vanilla, then the almond extract, then the salt. Let this mixture beat at medium-high for about 5 minutes or until it starts looking like a meringue and begins to peak.  Gradually begin to mix in the flour/powdered sugar mixture until smooth.  It should look, feel and taste much lighter than your typical cupcake mix.

Spray cupcake tin with Baker's Joy (aka my best friend) and fill each tin to the very top with the mixture. Drag a knife through each tin to break up any air bubbles, then flatten the mixture so there are no peaks.

Bake 35-40 minutes or until golden brown.

Here's what you'll need for the Whipped Cream Icing:

1 c. heavy whipping cream

1/4 tsp. meringue powder

2/3 c. granulated sugar

Beat the cream on high and gradually sprinkle in the meringue powder. When it starts to peak, gradually add in the sugar. Continue beating on high for about 4-5 minutes and you're done! Easy peasy, lemon squeezey!

Here's what else you'll need:

1 container of fresh strawberries save 12 small berries whole, chop the rest

1 container of Breyers Strawberry Ice Cream (or your favorite brand -- just make sure it's got the delicious chunks in there)

After your cupcakes have cooled, use a cupcake corer (or a spoon, or knife, or whatever you've got handy...) to core a substantial chunk out of the center of the cake.

Then, take a few chunks of your chopped strawberries and set them in the bottom of the cored center. Take a spoonful of your strawberry ice cream and scoop it on top of the chopped strawberries, smoothing it out over the top of the cupcake.

If you'd like, drop a few more chopped strawberries on top of that. I didn't -- but after tasting it was thinking it might be good! Then, either with a piping bag or a spoon, ice your cupcake.  As a garnish, take one of your remaining full strawberries and slice it three times up the center, then twist it out in to a fan. Voila!

Now for the best part...... TAKE A BITE!  I assure you, you won't be sorry!

My Daily Happy #1

When the song that's stuck in your head reminds you of a particularly fond memory and you can't help but tap your toes and smile as you mind-sing along.

Today's example: Love is a Battlefield.

Back in college, my sorority sisters and I (likeitloveitADPi!) teamed up with the Pi Kappa Alpha boys to sing and dance our little hearts out at Greek Sing. We worked tirelessly (blood, sweat and tears), sometimes in to the wee hours of the morning to choreograph and mix all of the songs together in to 11 minutes of pure awesomeness... and we have never had more fun.

One of my favorite numbers was "Love is a Battlefield" where the boys and girls went head to head in their dancing skills.

Sisters, I miss every single one of you and PiKA boys -- you'll always have a special place in my heart after that year. And that song, being lodged in my head for hours upon hours, is today's daily happy.  No matter how many times I hear it, it will never get old.

There.  Now it's stuck in your head. Do you have "that song?" The one that can bring a smile to your face no matter the circumstances of your day? What is it?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Wine & Cheese Cupcakes

If you pinned me in a corner and asked me to name two of my favorite things, I don't think a breath would escape me before I claimed "WINE AND CUPCAKES!" So this past weekend as I was planning my menu to cup-cater a bridal shower in the suburbs, I decided to reach for the both the bottle and the baking soda.

The result? The perfect blend of light, fluffy chocolate with the bite of a delicious red wine and the sweet, smooth taste of Mascarpone cheese!  It's a perfect cupcake for a girls night, dinner party, bridal shower or Tuesday.

Maybe I'd had one glass too many, but I was pretty darn proud of my most recent cupcake adventure:

Chocolate-red wine cupcakes with a chocolate-red wine ganache filling and a mascarpone frosting.

Here's what you'll need for the cupcakes (24 of 'em):1/2 c. cocoa
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1/2 c. water
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 sticks (16 tbs) unsalted butter (room temp)
4 eggs
1 1/4 c. flour, sifted
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 c. of your favorite full bodied red wine
1/4 c. heavy cream

-Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees
-Line two cupcake trays with 24 of the cutest cupcake cups you can find
-Whisk together your flour, baking soda and salt
-Bring our water to a boil while putting your chocolate and your cocoa in a bowl together
-Begin creaming butter and sugar, then add your eggs one at a time
-When your water comes to a boil, pour it over your chocolate and cocoa and stir until smooth
-Gradually add your flour mix to your butter mixture 1/2 cup at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary until just combined
-Pour about a quarter of your wine in to the mix on medium speed and then about a quarter of your chocolate mix -- alternate until all combined
-Evenly distribute amongst your cupcake cups (I like to live by 1.5 hefty tablespoons per cup)
-Bake 17-19 minutes  or until a toothpick comes out clean (don't overbake!)
-Allow them to cool while getting started on your frosting and ganache
-When the cupcake is completely cool to the touch, use a cupcake corer (or spoon) to remove the center from the cupcakes

Here's what you'll need for the ganache:
1/2 c. water
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1/4 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. red wine
2 tbs. unsalted butter (room temp)

-Place a glass bowl on top of a small pot filled with the water, then break up the bittersweet chocolate and place it in bowl and place the pot on the stove at medium heat (editor's note: I use an electric stove. You'll probably want to put it on low or medium-low if you've got a gas stove)
-Simmer the heavy cream in one pan and wine in another pan on the stove
-When chocolate begins to melt, pour simmering cream on top and allow it to sit for about 30 seconds
-Stir in the simmering wine until the chocolate is smooth
-Drop in the butter and stir until smooth
-Remove the pot from the heat, but do not remove the bowl of chocolate from the pot
-When cupcakes are cooled and cored, spoon the ganache in to the center of the cupcakes until it's level with the top of the cupcake

Here's what you'll need for the frosting:

8 oz. Mascarpone cheese (room temp)
1 tbs heavy cream
+/- 4 cups powdered sugar
24 seedless red grapes

-Cream your Mascarpone cheese on medium speed
-Gradually add in your powdered sugar 1/4 cup at a time until it reaches the consistency and taste that you can't stop licking off of your fingers (and washing your hands after, of course)
-Add 1 tbs of heavy cream if desired amongst additions of powdered sugar
-Pipe or swirl the frosting on to the cupcake
-Garnish with a red grape

I love adding fillings to my cupcakes. It always winds up being a delicious surprise.  But this was absolutely the best ganache I've ever made!  I might be bias thanks to my obsession with wine, but I think you'll agree! Hopefully this cupcake will be a hit at your next gathering as it was at mine.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Discovering Life's Sweet Spots

Hello world.

As of tonight, I guess you could officially call me a bit of a blog-a-holic.  For the past year, I've been the somewhat sporadic voice behind Taste of Pittsburgh and I've loved every moment of it.  Particularly the parts where I was stuffing my face with food.

But I've quickly learned that blogging is like eating a potato chip or getting a tattoo:

...having one simply leads to wanting more. I'm not saying I want to be the queen of the blogosphere. But every now and again I have thoughts on my mind that I feel would be interesting to other (don't ask me how I justify that feeling) which don't particularly relate to Pittsburgh based eateries. Now, should that tiny thought in my odd little brain immediately have equated to me producing another blog? Certainly not.  But it has.

This new adventure was inspired by many things:

First and foremost, my recently discovered adoration of cupcake creation.

 I have my boyfriend (whom I call PID)'s older brother to thank for this new passion and to him, I will be forever grateful.

Second, is my constant struggle to find and focus on the good in life.  Don't get me wrong, I'm perfectly aware that it's there. PID is my favorite example of that.

 He is, by every definition, a perfectly amazing man. He happened to show up on his white horse at a time I was beginning to lose faith in love and truly made me believe. Then there are my friends, my family and -- god bless them -- my pets.

 All living proof that God is good and he is not, in fact, ignoring me.

But despite all of these things I -- like many other people in the world -- had previously been cursed with the unfortunate tendency to look past them.  This blog is more than a website.  It is a metaphor for the end of that negative thinking.

It is here that I hope to both discover and share the many things in that exist in this world that can make life sweet. I hope you'll take this journey with me and -- whether you try my cupcakes and concepts or not -- enjoy the ride.