Saturday, December 3, 2011

Cold Weather Beef Stew

Beef stew

It's really been a while, I know. I didn't mean to leave you guys for so long. But our days here have a different rhythm now, with nursery rhymes, playdates and little shoes, sticky kisses and bedtime stories and all the magic that a little cheeky monkey has brought to our little family. I haven't wanted to miss a second, and to be honest, cooking for us has taken a backseat. Instead of dreaming up new recipes, I've been dreaming up purple elephants, orange penguins, or just plain dreaming. Lately, though, with the weather inevitably turning frosty and the farmers' markets being denuded of their summertime produce, the kitchen has been calling me, pulling me like a magnet, urging me to fill the house with warmth and lovely smells. I first answered the call with this beef stew and once we mmmm-ed over it, I knew I had to come here and tell you about it.

Usually, I don't like recipes with "old-time" in the title because, well, it seems to promise so much, doesn't it? Like, here is a recipe that your grandmother probably made, that will connect you heart and soul to generations of the past, that won't overwhelm you with fancy ingredients or techniques, that will be simple, and hearty, and most of all, really really good. I'm happy to tell you that this recipe does not disappoint. It's exactly what it looks like on paper, but oh, oh the taste is so much more complex that you would expect by just looking at the ingredient list. Yes, there is the old time quality, and there is the beautiful simplicity, and there are layers of smells and flavors and textures. It's like a warm, comfortable sweater that you put on while sipping a glass of wine by the fireplace on a chilly night. I like that and I will be making this stew again throughout the winter months.

Old-Time Beef Stew
Paula Dean

2 pounds stew beef
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups water
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 or 2 bay leaves
1 medium onion, sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Dash ground allspice or ground cloves
1 lb potatoes (my own addition, but really good)
3 large carrots, sliced
3 ribs celery, chopped
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Brown meat in hot oil. Add water, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, bay leaves, onion, salt, sugar, pepper, paprika, and allspice. Cover and simmer 1 1/2 hours. Remove bay leaves and garlic clove. Add carrots, celery and potatoes chopped into chunks. Cover and cook 30 to 40 minutes longer (mine took another hour until the carrots and the potatoes were fully cooked through). To thicken gravy, remove 2 cups hot liquid. Using a separate bowl, combine 1/4 cup water and cornstarch until smooth. Mix with a little hot liquid and return mixture to pot. Stir and cook until bubbly.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Cream-Filled Vanilla Cupcakes With Strawberry Buttercream


The flu hit our house like a ton of bricks this week and it hasn't been fun. Lily turned into a snot-machine (a cute snot machine, but still!) and all mama and daddy could do was pass each other some Kleenex and Theraflu and snuggle in bed all day long singing her favorite songs off-key.

Cups getting ready to be filled with sweet cupcaky batter
Lovely domes

Oh, and during those magic times when the drugs kicked in, we baked cupcakes. The cupcakes weren't actually for us, though. They went to a bridal shower for my sister's best friend, whom I've known since she was four years old. Sometimes, when I look at her, all grown up, engaged, almost married, I still see the four year old who helped me tease my sister mercilessly. (Well, she still does that. Good to know that some things don't change, huh!) So when I promised to bake her some cupcakes, I knew that these had to be special. I picked a simple Martha Stewart recipe for cupcakes, but then -- oh, then! -- I filled them with rich pastry cream and topped them with even richer strawberry buttercream made with fresh strawberries and the best butter I could find. Oh YEAH.

Guess who gets to eat the doughnut holes... :)

What can I tell you? These were really good! Actually, people at the bridal shower were asking my sister (I couldn't go - damn flu!) whether I had quit my job at the law firm to open a cupcake shop. Hehehe. The cupcakes had a nice, light crumb, and weren't too sweet - which is exactly what I was looking for. It's a great basic cupcake recipe that lets you play with fillings and toppings. I definitely recommend it!

Vanilla Cupcakes
(Makes 24 cupcakes) [made about 27 for me, but I didn't overfill]
(Martha Stewart)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups milk
Pastry Cream (I used the Tartine recipe for light pastry cream)
Strawberry Buttercream (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two standard 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners; set aside. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Cream butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing well after each egg. Add vanilla. Reduce speed to medium. Mix in 3 batches of flour mixture, alternating with 2 batches of milk. Raise speed to medium-high; mix until thoroughly blended, 10 to 20 seconds.

Fill each muffin cup about 3/4 full with batter. Bake until a cake tester inserted into centers comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Let cool in tin on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove cupcakes from tin and decorate.

If filling with cream, use a small spoon or the tip of a knife to make a small hole in the center of each cupcake, going about half way through the cupcake. Fill the hole with cream and then pipe buttercream on top.

Strawberry Buttercream
2 sticks (16 tbsp) of butter, room temperature
1 cup strawberries, pureed (I measured out the strawberries first and then pureed them)
3-4 cups powdered sugar

Cream the butter in the mixer on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes. On slow speed, gradually add about 2 cups of powdered sugar and turn back up to high for a few minutes to really incorporate the sugar. Turn to slow speed again and fold in the strawberries. Add more sugar until desired consistency is achieved. Once all the sugar is incorporated, turn to medium-high for a few minutes to mix well.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Kahlua Chocolate Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake


So it turns out that babies are kind of needy (who knew?!) and it took this mama a whole five and a half months to get back into the kitchen. I assure you, nothing less than the promise of alcohol and chocolate could have done it, both alcohol and chocolate being essential parts of the unofficial "Mommy Survival Pack." Earplugs and grandparents are also part of that pack, in case you were wondering. (haha, hi Mom and Dad!)


I have to warn you right off the bat - this cake uses *sounds of horror* the Dreaded Cake Mix of Dread. So, if you are a cake purist, avert your eyes now! Before I had a kid, I swore that I'd never use cake mix, but when your little helper insists on eating your utensils, it's either that or no cake at all, and believe me when I tell you that this cake is so worth it. The recipe comes courtesy of a fancy restaurant in LA which my mom and I went to on one of my "leave the baby to fend for herself with Daddy" excursions. I generally don't ask for recipes from chefs, especially at nice restaurants, because it feels somehow very personal, like asking to see someone's diary. Yet, this cake was so deliciously rich, with just the right undertones of coffee and liqueur enveloping your taste buds in moist, silky, slightly bitter chocolaty heaven, that I braved my own shyness and asked. The pastry chef actually came out to us and we chatted for a while, and she hand wrote this recipe for me. Frankly, I was amazed at her graciousness and warmth as she talked about the recipe, the restaurant and herself to two total strangers. I guess that experience adds a special richness to this cake, because being given something as a gift elevates it from a merely excellent cake to a lovely memory.


Kahlua Chocolate Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake
(makes 1 bundt cake, 2 9" round cakes or 24 cupcakes)

1 box Duncan Hines Devil's Food Cake mix (or any other chocolate cake mix)
3 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup (8 oz) full fat sour cream
1 cup Kahlua
8 oz bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F and butter a bundt cake pan really well.

In a large mixer bowl, combine cake mix, eggs, vegetable oil, sour cream and Kahlua. Mix on slow speed for 30 seconds and then on medium-fast for 2 minutes.

Stir in chocolate chips.

Bake for 45-60 min for bundt cake; 25-35 min for 9" cakes; 20-25 min for cupcakes. Check that a tester comes out clean or with only a few crumbs attached. It's ok to slightly underbake this cake, but do not overbake.

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

5 months and a promise


Hello, dear readers! Have you given up on me yet? If no, then thank you!

My little girl turns 5 months old today. These have been the roughest, busiest and most wonderful five months of my life, but then anyone who has kids could have told me that, right? We are becoming pretty good friends, and this weekend, I asked her to help me make a Kahlua chocolate Bundt cake for you all. She said "agugu," which I think means "Ok, as long as you feed me." HM.

But we're still going to make the chocolate cake, so look out for it next week!

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Lily sunhat

We hope your holidays are warm, bright and filled with joy and happiness!

Irene, Arkady & Lily.

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

In the pink

In the pink

As you can tell, I am a complete sucker for pink, bows and frills. I think she is too. :)

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Rookie Mistake


Dear Diary,

Grandma incautiously left me without a diaper for 10 seconds yesterday. HAHAHA! Rookie mistake, Grandma!

Guess what I did... ;)


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Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Sweetest Thing I've Ever Baked


You may have noticed how quiet it's been around these parts, and here is the small but very sweet reason. Lily arrived on Wednesday, September 8th at 12:24 pm, wide-eyed and screaming to announce her presence to the world.

I will get back to the kitchen, I promise, but not just yet. I want to take some time to enjoy our little Rosh Hashanah blessing.

In the meantime, lots of love to you all from me, A. and little L.

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes


I think some of the best gifts I've ever gotten were food. Cocoa powder from Belgium, boxes of golden raisins, freshly baked bread. I love it all. And it's not because I consider myself a "foodie" or a connoisseur of the finer things in life. It's because I'm picky and also practical, and food is something I can always find use for and appreciate. In turn, I love giving food because I've seen people's faces light up at the sight of a chocolate tart or a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread. There is something personal about food, something very primal that speaks to our inner humanity. It's no wonder that the first thing guests are offered in many cultures as soon as they cross the threshold is something to eat. Well, a martini is good too, but you get my point.


So when I'm asked to create party favors, I immediately think of food because hey, we can all use a cupcake once in a while, right? I was a tad skeptical about making chocolate cupcakes with only cocoa powder, but these turned out just lovely. Valhrona cocoa powder gives them a perfectly dark, indulgently chocolaty flavor, and the soft crumb and flat heads are just waiting to be topped with rich buttercream and devoured on the spot. Which is what we did with a few "test" cupcakes ("Oh, look, this one isn't perfect enough to go in the box - now, we have to eat it! Darn!"). Also, magic words: ONE BOWL. There's really no downside to these cupcakes and the biggest upside is that the guests truly loved them and almost everyone asked to take more than one so they could share with their spouses, kids and grandkids. It's the biggest compliment a cook/baker could get!


One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes
(from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook)
Yields 24 cupcakes

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups dutch-process cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs, plus 1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus 2 tablespoons
1 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups warm water

Preheat oven to 350F and line or spray two standard 12-cup muffin pans.

Sift into the mixer bowl: flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add the eggs, yolk, milk, oil, vanilla and warm water.

Beat with a paddle attachment on low speed until smooth and combined, about 3 minutes; scrape down the sides of the bowl if needed.

Divide batter evenly among the muffin cups (my batter was pretty liquid, so I used a measuring cup to pour it out into the muffin cups).

Bake, rotating pans halfway through the baking time, until a cake tester inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in the pan for a little bit and then transfer onto a wire rack or board to cool completely. Frost with swiss meringue buttercream!

Cupcakes can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days (or frozen for a few months).

*I ordered the cupcake boxes from here.
*Labels: I adapted the sign and the labels from the amazingly creative and talented Amy from the Eat Drink Chic blog. I printed them out on full sheet shipping labels and cut them out. If anyone wants the template, send me an email and I can make it available.

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