Saturday, September 1, 2012

Vanilla Cupcakes w/ Lemon Curd Filling & Blackberry Frosting

I'm back!  Sorry for the lag (OK, it was more like an eon) between posts, but life events were a bit crazy there for awhile. Now back to business as usual, starting with these gorgeous cupcakes.

Seriously, who wouldn't want to bite into one? The combination came about when I got a great deal on a these beautiful berries. Blackberry and lemon is one of my favorite flavor combinations and turning them into cupcakes just seemed natural.

Here's the rundown:
  • Flavor/Texture: Airy cake, silky lemon curd and sweet/tart frosting. What's not to love?
  • Difficulty: Multiple steps involved, but nothing arduous.
  • Pros: Gorgeous and super tasty. Seriously, they taste like summer to me. To save time, you could substitute a boxed cake mix and store bought lemon curd, if you desire. Just please do me a solid and make the frosting yourself. 
  • Cons: You will eat about 3 of these before you even know it. 
  • Misc: Let the cupcakes cool thoroughly before filling them. Otherwise, the lemon curd will get watery and make the cake mushy. 
  • Repeat Performance: These gems will definitely be coming back for an encore!

Vanilla Cupcakes
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Line muffin cups with papers.
Cream butter and sugar till light and fluffy. B
eat in eggs one at a time.
Add flour (mixed with baking powder and salt) alternating with milk beat well; stir in vanilla.
Divide evenly among pans and bake for 20 minutes.
Cool completely on a wire rack.

Lemon Curd (From Suzanne Goin's "Sunday Suppers at Lucques)
4 extra-large eggs
3 extra-large egg yolks
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 cup Meyer lemon juice
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
A pinch of kosher salt

Whisk the eggs, yolks, sugar, and lemon juice together in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring continuously, until the lemon curd has thickened to the consistency of pastry cream and coats the back of the spatula.
Remove the lemon curd from the heat. Add the butter a little at a time, stirring to incorporate completely. Season with the salt. Let the curd cool about 8 minutes, and then strain it through a fine sieve.

Blackberry Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
1/2 cup fresh blackberries, pureed in blender or food processor
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Pinch of kosher salt
4-5 cups powdered sugar

Cream the butter in a stand mixer until light in color and fluffy.
Add berries, vanilla, lemon zest and salt.
Add in powdered sugar, a little at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition.
*You can add more or less powdered sugar, depending on the frosting consistency that you desire. I prefer a stiff frosting so that it holds it shape when I pipe it.

After the cupcakes have cooled, you can put everything together.
Fit a pastry bag with a medium plain tip and fill it with the lemon curd. Insert the tip directly down into the middle of the cupcake and squeeze in a tablespoon or two of the filling.
Fit another pastry bag with a large star tip (or use any other design you like) and fill the bag with frosting. Pipe onto your cupcakes. Garnish with a whole berry and serve.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Do you ever see a food item on TV, in a movie or flipping through a magazine and it looks so good that you just HAVE to make it? I was watching Julie & Julia a few nights ago and the scene where Julie is making bruschetta instantly started my stomach rumbling. Aside from the luscious looking tomatoes, what really interested me was the way she was preparing the bread. Instead of toasting it in the oven, she was browning it in a pan with oil. I probably wouldn't have thought of that on my own, but wow, did it ever look amazing!

I headed to the kitchen to gather my ingredients and get down to business. Over the years, I have perfected my tomato and shallot bruschetta recipe, so I decided used that for the topping and just wing it with the bread. It's bread, so it can't be that hard, right? Lucky for me, I joined a CSA this year, which meant that I received massive quantities of amazing heirloom tomatoes. Tomatoes are my favorite summer food, hands down. Anything that brings out the bright acidic and fruity flavors of a perfectly ripe tomato is heaven to me. And really, is there any better use for tomatoes than a good bruschetta?

Here's the rundown:
  • Flavor/Texture: A-MAZ-ING, if I do say so myself. The juicy sweetness of the tomato topping paired really nicely with the crunchy, garlicky bread. The bread soaked up the tomato liquid without being soggy. Perfection!
  • Difficulty: Very easy and looks impressive.
  • Pros: No fancy ingredients or techniques necessary. Everything comes together quickly. The tomato mixture is even better the next day. Since everything is fresh and there are very few ingredients, it's also a healthy dish.
  • Cons: The bread does not keep well, so if you have tomatoes left over, just do a new batch of bread each day.
  • Misc: Make sure you seed the tomatoes, otherwise you'll end up with far too much liquid and things will get soggy. You can substitute red onion for the shallot, if necessary. The bruschetta is good enough to eat on its own for dinner, but if you want to beef it up a bit, add a smear of ricotta cheese to the bread before putting the tomato mixture on. Any kind of tomatoes will work, but a mix of different varieties and colors looks pretty and adds some depth to the flavor.
  • Repeat Performance: In my kitchen, it's already in heavy rotation during the summer months.
Jami's Tomato and Shallot Bruschetta

3 large heirloom tomatoes - seeded and chopped (about 2 cups)
1/3 cup finely chopped shallots
1/4 to 1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 loaf of chewy, crusty bread (sourdough, baguette, ciabatta or focaccia all work well)

Combine tomatoes, shallots, 1 TBSP olive oil, basil and vinegar in a medium bowl. Stir to combine and season with salt to taste. Cover and let stand at room temp for at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours.

Over medium heat, add 2 TBSP olive oil to a pan. While pan is heating up, cut your bread into 1/2 inch thick slices. When the oil is shimmering, add the bread to the pan. Brown on each side for 1-2 minutes, or until deep golden brown. Add more oil to the pan between batches, if necessary. Remove bread to plate lined with paper towels to drain. While the bread is still hot, rub the cloves of garlic over it.

Top each slice of bread with a generous amount of the tomato mixture, including the juices. Serve immediately.


Friday, September 2, 2011

White Beer Cookies

Anyone who knows me can vouch for the fact that I love beer. I also love food, which is unsurprising, seeing that I write this blog, spend time writing local restaurant reviews (shameless plug: check us out at and am working on starting my own personal chef business. So when the opportunity comes up for me to combine two of my passions, I jump on it. 

These cookies are a perfect mash-up of food and beer. I got a message from my friend, Shelley, one night, saying that she was watching a cooking show and they were making beer cookies. I was intrigued. So I searched out a recipe and resolved to try them out. A couple of weeks later, I was looking for inspiration for my dish to pass at a birthday party for another beer fanatic friend. Beer cookies to the rescue!  I have no great love of baking, but the process for these cookies was relatively simple and I was pleased with how they turned out. Even better, they were a huge hit at the party. My only regret is that I didn't make more of them. The birthday gal's father even cracked a joke about whether or not I'd laced the cookies with some "herbal refreshment" because they were addictive! Rest assured, the only ingredients in the cookies are legal ones.

The rundown:
  • Flavor/texture: The cookies were more cake-y than crunchy, but they were very good. They were a bit like fancy sugar cookies, without being overly sweet. I loved how I could definitely taste the beer, but it didn't overpower the other ingredients.
  • Difficulty: Pretty easy and straightforward.  I was a little impatient while waiting for the beer to reduce. Taking two bottles down to 1/3 cup takes awhile.
  • Pros: It's an unusual twist for both beer and cookies. They turned out great and even friends who aren't beer-centric enjoyed them.
  • Cons: The recipe yields two dozen cookies, which isn't much. If you're making them for a group, I highly recommend making more than one batch. The recipe would not be well suited for just doubling up, since reducing four bottles of beer would take forever. Make separate batches instead.
  • Misc.: The one caveat about this recipe is that you must choose a white beer. Don't substitute for another style, or it won't work. I went with Bell's Brewery Winter White. In this method, the beer is brewed with coriander and orange. Those flavors are echoed in the dough and icing, which pulls everything together. Reducing the beer intensely concentrates the flavors. If you use something that is too dark or has heavy hops, it will turn into a bitter mess. Use orange blossom honey if you can. It's a great complement to the orange base in the beer and frosting. Also, I omitted the milk in the frosting and just used orange juice instead.
  • Repeat Performance: I can see myself making these for other special occasions.
White Beer Cookies
Food Network, Sean LaFond

2 bottles (12 oz. each) Belgian White style beer
5 tbsp honey
1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temp
1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 large egg
1/2 vanilla extract
1 large orange, zested
2 tbsp ground coriander
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp orange juice
1 tbsp milk
1 orange (peel off strips of zest with a bar zester for garnish)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Put the beer and honey to a medium saucepan and reduce over medium heat until you have about 1/3 cup of liquid. You may occasionally have to skim the foam off the top of the beer. You will know you have hit 1/3 of a cup of liquid as the liquid will suddenly begin to aggressively foam due to the high concentration of sugar (This looks different from foaming due to carbon dioxide, the bubbles are much larger with the sugar foaming). Let this reduction cool to room temperature.

In a mixer, cream the butter and sugar together. Add the egg and blend thoroughly. Then add the vanilla, orange zest, coriander and beer reduction and blend again. Mix the flour and baking soda together then slowly add to the batter. The batter will be somewhat more loose than regular cookie dough.
Scoop mounds of cookies onto an aluminum cookie sheet lined with parchment. Make sure you do not overcrowd the cookies; you should be able to fit about 12 cookies on a half sheet pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden.
Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheet until they are cool enough (about 10 minutes) to transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Using the icing ingredients, whisk the vanilla into the sugar. Mix the orange juice and milk together. Add milk and orange juice mixture to the sugar, a little bit at a time, until you reach the consistency of a thick paste. Put a dollop of icing on each cool cookie and spread it over the top. Put a small piece of orange zest on the top, if desired. Let the icing harden to desired hardness and serve.

Bottoms up!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Grilled Pierogi and Kielbasa

During the first weekend of October, Grand Rapids celebrates all things Polish during Pulaski Days. Everyone wear red, watches parades, dances to polka bands and gets down with some great Polish food. The most popular items are always homemade kielbasa and pierogi. I love them, but I never seem to eat them outside of that one weekend in October. When Food Network's July issue came out with a new spin on the classic, I jumped all over it.

As a warning, the recipe as written contains a whopping 36 grams of fat. There are many versions of kielbasa that are made with turkey and they taste just as good as their pork counterparts. So instead of making the trip over to Frank's Butcher Shop to get kielbasa that all the Polish halls in town swear by, I headed to the local grocery store for the Hillshire Farms turkey variety. I know it's a bit sacrilegious, but I'll save the real indulgence for Polaski Days. Plus, I figured ditching the extra fat and calories justified eating some home made ice cream later. It's summer, after all!

The rundown:
  • Flavor texture: The smoky flavor added to the pierogi paired very well with the kielbasa. I loved the mustard dressing as well. It really brought everything together and the grilled onions added a nice sweetness.
  • Difficulty: Quick and easy. I put my sausage and the pierogi/onion on the grill at the same time, so that saved a few minutes.
  • Pros: An easy summer dinner that won't heat up your kitchen. The flavors were great and I think this recipe would please just about anyone. It's also nice to introduce people to Eastern European food that doesn't revolve around sauerkraut. You could also stretch the recipe a bit and double the pierogi and dressing, while leaving the kielbasa quantity the same. There would still be more than enough meat.
  • Cons: The fat content in traditional kielbasa is high. If that bothers you, do like I did and swap it out for the turkey version. Make sure you oil your grill grate and brush the pierogi with olive oil, or they will stick and tear apart.
  • Misc: Although I loved this dish hot off the grill, it was actually even better the next day, once the flavors had melded a bit more and the pierogi absorbed some of the mustard dressing. Seeing that I'm not a huge fan of leftovers, that is quite an endorsement.
  • Repeat Performance: Definitely a keeper!
Grilled Pierogi and Kielbasa
Food Network Magazine, July 2011
Serves 4

1 pound kielbasa or smoked sausage, cut into 4 pieces
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large white onion, peeled and cut into 6 wedges
1 pound frozen potato-and-cheddar pierogi (do not thaw)
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup roughly chopped parsley

Preheat a grill to medium. Grill the kielbasa,  turning once, until marked, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a baking sheet or platter.

Meanwhile, whisk the mustard and vinegar in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in 2 tablespoons olive oil until smooth.

Toss the onion and pierogi with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill, until the pierogi thaw and the onion begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Turn the pierogi and onion and continue to grill, until the pierogi are cooked through and the onion is tender, 4 to 6 more minutes. Transfer to the baking sheet or platter.

Slice the kielbasa into pieces and add to the bowl with the mustard dressing. Roughly chop the onion and add to the bowl along with the pierogi and parsley. Season with salt and pepper and toss. Divide among shallow bowls.

Smacznego! (The Polish version of "bon appetit")

Friday, July 15, 2011

Barbecue - Glazed Turkey Burgers

I like turkey burgers. Actually, I like burgers in general. Turkey burgers seem to be the easiest to experiment with, since they can take on a huge array of seasoning and flavorings. My only frustration is that the leanness of the meat can be tricky when you're trying to reach the correct temp for poultry and skill keep the meat moist. When I received Gwyneth Paltrow's cookbook, My Father's Daughter: Delicious, Easy Recipes Celebrating Family & Togetherness, she claimed that her turkey burgers always stayed moist and juicy. I was intrigued. I was skeptical. I was hooked.

In the "serious food community" (which sometimes equals a lot of elitist snobbery, in my opinion), this cookbook has been mostly panned or laughed at by the critics.  I happen to love Gwyneth. I find her funny (sometimes unintentionally), self-deprecating and whether or not she wrote most of the recipes in the book, the recipes are solid. This isn't the first of her recipes I've made and it won't be the last to appear on my blog. I like how she includes child-friendly or vegetarian options for many of the dishes.  The turkey burger recipe is nothing fancy. In fact, it's downright simple. And it's very good. Even a kid can't object to barbecue sauce and cheese, right? Yet it's still easy enough to dress the recipe up to grown-up standards as well.

The rundown:
  • Flavor/Texture: These burgers were exactly what they claimed to be, and they were definitely the juiciest turkey burgers that I have ever made. I especially liked the glazed barbecue sauce on the outside of the patties. I dislike both jalapenos and pickles, so I skipped that topping.
  • Difficulty: A handful of ingredients and a few minutes on the grill.  Doesn't get easier than that, folks.
  • Pros: A winner all around. East, great tasting, friendly for kids and adults alike. 
  • Cons: The recipe calls for seasoning the meat with salt and pepper only. Next time, I'd add a little bit of garlic powder and perhaps some hot sauce.
  • Misc.: I actually made this recipe twice, because the ingredient list called for "ground turkey". Did that mean the ground all white meat or the mix of white and dark? I bought one package of each and went turkey vs. turkey. The lean white meat came out the best.  The light/dark mix ended up being a very squishy mixture and I actually ended up adding some breadcrumbs to help hold it together so that I could shape it into patties. Definitely go with the all white meat for this one. It's healthier anyway.  I forgot to look for brioche buns, so I just went with regular wheat hamburger buns. I served the burgers with parsnip fries.
  • Repeat Performance: I definitely see myself making this one again.
Barbecue-Glazed Turkey Burgers
by Gwyneth Paltrow
makes 4 servings

1 lb ground turkey
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp jarred barbecue sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray's Sweet Vidalia Onion)
Canola or vegetable oil, for brushing
4 brioche buns, split and toasted
Pickled jalapeno slices, Swiss cheese and pickle chips, for serving

Light a grill or preheat a grill pan.

In a bowl, season the turkey with salt and pepper and gently knead in 1/4 cup of the barbecue sauce. Shape the meat into four 4-inch patties, about 3/4 inch thick. Brush with oil and grill over moderate heat, turning once, until nearly cooked through, 7 minutes. Brush with the remaining 2 tablespoons of barbecue sauce and cook for 1 minute longer, until cooked through and lightly glazed.

Transfer the burgers to the buns and top with pickled jalapeƱos, Swiss cheese and pickle chips and serve.

Roasted Parsnip Fries
makes 4 servings

3 medium parsnips
2 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Wash parsnips and cut into sticks (1/2 inch wide at the most). Smash garlic cloves and discard skins. In a medium bowl, toss parsnips, garlic and olive oil until the parsnips are coated.  Spread into a single layer on a large baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake for 25 minutes and then turn the fries. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until nicely browned.  Serve hot.
*I like mine with some malt vinegar sprinkled on them.