Sunday, January 23, 2011

Game Day Cupcakes

For those of you not living in the United States, (i parenti italiani!), and those of you dropping in from the UK, Canada, Russia, China and Slovenia (hopefully not by accident), I'd like to inform you that this is a very important time in America. Not because of the Healthcare Bill, debilitating winter storms, or new episodes of 30 Rock, but because of something more down to earth...or down to turf as it were...AMERICAN FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS.
While the Superbowl may not be as world renowned as the World Cup (which we also enjoy) it's nationally known as a time to pig-out. Surprise surprise. In fact, in between screaming, shouting and the occasional leap in the air for a touchdown or interception, every Sunday all season long you can find football fans lounging on couches dipping chips in dips, inhaling wings, nachos, pizza, chili and washing it all down with copious amounts of beer. Today, Chris and I are heading to his parents house to watch the New York J-E-T-S Jets! Jets! Jets! Jets! beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. (I'm pretty sure I just lost at least 2 readers). Wait! The following recipe is for cupcakes that will brighten your game day table and give you a jolt of chocolate and sugar just when you thought you had too many beers. The cakes is based on a recipe from Food & Wine. It's moist and light with a delicate milk-chocolate flavor. The frosting is sprinkled with toasted coconut (snow!) as a hint to the flavor and an almond football finishes the festive confection.

Change the frosting color if you must, but after dealing with all this snow in the East, I wouldn't want to bite into something that started off as white but is now yellow.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Coconut Buttercream Frosting
Makes 24 frosted cupcakes


1 1/4 cups cake flour

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 sticks unsalted butter
pinch of salt

1/2 cup whole milk
6 large eggs, separated

3/4 cup sugar
3 oz shaved dark and/or milk chocolate

  • Preheat oven to 325 F. Place paper or foil wrappers in muffin tin.
  • In a bowl, whisk flour, cocoa and baking powder. Set aside.
  • In a saucepan, melt the butter in the milk over low heat. Transfer to a bowl and let cool slightly. Whisk in the egg yolks and 1/2 of the sugar.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the butter and egg mixture. Add chocolate shavings. Whisk together until smooth.
  • In large bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt until soft peaks form. You need a large bowl so the air can lift and set the whites. Gradually add the remaining sugar and beat at medium-high speed until stiff and glossy. 
  • Fold the whites into the chocolate batter gently until no streaks or puffs of egg white remain.

starting to mix whites

 Ladle the batter into prepared muffin tins and bake in center of oven until a toothpick comes out clean and tops are springy to the touch. Place on racks to cool completely.

Coconut Buttercream Frosting

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
3 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp coconut extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp milk
1/2 cup coconut chips
24 almonds (optional)

Food coloring of your choice (optional)

In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle, whip butter until creamy and light. Add confectioner's sugar 1 cup at a time and mix slowly, then at medium speed until combined. Scrape down sides of bowl with spatula. When all the sugar is incorporated, add salt, extracts and milk, mixing at low speed. Add food coloring until you reach the desired hue, scraping the sides to ensure a uniform color. Scoop the frosting into a large plastic bag and snip 1 corner to pipe onto cupcakes; or use a butter knife to frost. Preheat oven to 275. Sprinkle coconut onto a small baking sheet and toast in the oven for 5-7 minutes. Let coconut cool, then crush with your fingers and sprinkle over frosted cupcakes. Add an almond to each.


Friday, January 21, 2011

I-ah like-ah the spah-icy meat-a-ball-ah!

If only my friend Jason could read the title of this posting for you, it would make more sense. Say it out loud with a ridiculous Italian accent. Channel your inner Tony Shaloub as Primo in Big Night and you've got it!

I made these meatballs last weekend and they came out light and tasty. My sister gave me a spice mix from Spain that is meant for salads, but had lovely lemony coriander so I added a teaspoon to the mix.

1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs
1/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp Herbes per Amanides or dried coriander
3 eggs, beaten
1 lb ground beef or turkey (I prefer local, organic and grass-fed!)
2 Tbsp chopped red onion
2 Tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
3 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup dry red wine to deglaze the pan

Beat eggs in a large bowl. Add parsley, onion, salt and pepper. Combine dried herbs, cheese, and breadcrumbs in a separate bowl and set aside. Add beef to egg mixture begin to mix with your hands. Add breadcrumb mixture and gently combine until just mixed. Do not over squeeze or work the meat.
Scoop 1 Tbsp of meat into your palms and roll gently to form a ball. Place on a sheet pan and repeat until all of the meat is rolled.

Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Place meatballs in pan without crowding, turning often to brown each side, until fully cooked. Place them on a separate sheet pan in a warm oven. Repeat until all meatballs are cooked through. Deglaze the meatball pan with wine and reduce by 1/2. Scrape up browned bits with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat and reserve.
Simple Tomato Sauce
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small fennel bulb, finely chopped*
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 12 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp evoo
pinch of red chile flakes
salt, fresh ground pepper

Saute onions and fennel together with a pinch of salt over medium heat until translucent. Do not brown. Add garlic and chili flakes, stir for 1 minute until fragrant. Add tomatoes, stir and bring to a lively simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes or longer for a thicker sauce. Add reserved wine, add meatballs and cook until they're warmed through. Enjoy over pasta or on garlic bread with melted cheese!

* I happened to have fresh fennel, but if you're not a fan, substitute a stalk of celery and a carrot. This would be a mirepoix (FR) or soffritto (IT).

Friday, January 14, 2011

Fettucine al Caffe

No, this is not some weird modern spin on pasta meant to be enjoyed as a dessert. In fact, the coffee doesn't flavor the pasta much at all. But it does give it a pretty color and texture that is best enjoyed with a hearty mushroom ragu on a chilly afternoon. Take a look how my Mom and I made this dish!

Prepare your favorite pasta dough and add approximately 1 Tablespoon of very finely ground espresso coffee. Don't have a favorite pasta dough recipe? Check out the following:

Mangia Bene Blog at
The Second Pancake at

Basically, 3 eggs per 2 cups of flour used. No salt. Knead, Rest, Roll. Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy.

Here is what the dough should look like after kneading and resting:

It should feel elastic and pull back if you stretch a piece away from the ball. Cut it into double fist size portions to roll. Roll each portion through one width at a time on your machine. Two people help the process go smoothly and quickly to keep the dough from drying out.

Lay the dough on tablecloths dusted with flour and cornmeal to keep them from sticking. Cornmeal is especially important when you're working with cut pasta because if the strands stick together, they're very hard and messy to pull apart!

Rolling the dough portions with Imperia machine

It's easier as a 2 person job!

Beautiful fettucine with specks of ground coffee.

Let them dry overnight before storing in plastic ziplock bags.
Fettucine al Caffe con sugo di funghi
Buon Appetito!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year!

Welcome 2011! Chris and I had a wonderful celebration with some dear friends on New Years. We found good use for the pile of snow on our balcony after receiving 2 feet the day after Christmas.

We enjoyed many snacks that included:

Baked Cheese Crisps two ways: cardamom and cayenne and also saffron and black pepper.
Popcorn with Truffle Butter
Dolmas with and without ground lamb
Goat cheese and Gorgonzola Crostini
Red Grapes (for good luck in the New Year)
Vegetarian Lentil Soup (for money in the New Year)

and for dessert, a Sundae Bar courtesy of my boss who thoughtfully sent us 6 pints of Jeni's Ice Cream from Columbus, Ohio!

The Cheese Crisps I had made before and is a variation on a recipe from Food and Wine called Cheddar and Cayenne Crackers. I used a different recipe for a previous dinner party but couldn't remember what I did with it, so I based my dough on this version.

1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
1 lb sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely shredded
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp cardamom
1 1/2 cups ap flour plus more for rolling

For black pepper and saffron variety, add 1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper and a generous pinch of saffron threads. I happened to have quite a bit of these expensive crocus stigmas since they were given to me by a close friend whose in-laws brought them back from a Mediterranean vacation.

In a standing electric mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter with the cheese, salt, and spices. Beat at medium speed until blended. Add the 1 1/2 cups of flour and beat at low speed, scraping the side and bottom of the bowl, until a soft dough forms. Pat the dough into 2 disks, wrap in plastic and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Work with 1 disk of dough at a time and keep the other one refrigerated: On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a basic rectangle shape about 1/4 inch thick. Cut the dough into 1/2 inch wide strips of varying lengths. Transfer the strips to the baking sheets. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the straws are lightly browned, shifting the baking sheets halfway through. Slide the paper onto racks and let the crackers cool. Repeat with the remaining dough. You can make these cheese straws 2 days in advance and recrisp them in a hot oven before serving. They look appealing in a short water glass as a snack with cocktails.

It's never too cold for ice cream, and our party agreed!! We had 6 different flavors and everyone was so impressed with the variety:

Queen City Cayenne
Rich chocolate reveals back-of-the-throat spice. Finish is tingly and complex.

Askinosie Dark Milk Chocolate
Full and fruity cocoa mellowed by sweet, milky cream. Burst of pure chocolate as flecks melt on your palate and finish with the flavor and scent of Snowville Creamery's cold-condensed milk and cream.

Black Coffee
True strong coffee flavor with absolutely no bitterness; captures and translates the aroma of coffee perfectly.

Brown Butter Almond Brittle
Based on the traditional Norwegian dessert krokan. Browned butter gives depth to salty, sweet almond brittle.

Sweet Potato with Torched Marshmallows
Baked sweet potatoes scented with Saigon cinnamon in Ohio sweet cream, studded with hand-toasted, handmade marshmallows. A holiday classic for your cone.

Gravel Road
Savory and smoky hits of almonds first, rounded out with salty notes for a satisfying finish.

Since the sundaes were dessert, and by that time our snow cooler was looking quite empty, I have no pictures of sundaes from that evening. However, here is one I created last night for Chris and I to share. It's got one scoop of Gravel Road, caramel sauce and crushed ginger cookies, then a scoop of Brown Butter Almond, homemade whipped cream, more caramel and toasted almonds on top.

It tasted amazing!!