Monday, March 14, 2011

Thai Spice Cupcakes

So, the second cupcake flavor we're planning for my sister's shower is a Thai Spice cupcake.  I wanted to make something unique that would go with the Thai menu theme... something more interesting that boring plain white or chocolate, and something that was more about the flavor than about doing something outrageous for the frosting decoration.  So far, I've settled on a Lemongrass Vanilla Cupcake (see "find it" section for recipe), and a this one which we did a test run of today and boy oh boy are these Thai Spice Cupcakes good!  The unexpected savory-sweet flavor profile of curry, mango, vanilla, mint, and jalapeno, upon first bite inspires a raised eyebrow, and an "oh wow!", the tangy mango curry filling sends you over the top and into a moment of ecstacy and the mango butter cream?  To diiiiie for.  Really.  You'll want to sit and savor this extraordinary treat for as long as you can stretch it out.  But enough of the foreplay, here's the recipe for making one dozen!  I suggest making the mango curd the day before so that it's already done and ready to use. 


1 tablespoons curry powder
2 tablespoons minced jalapeno
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
1 cup finely diced mango
1 recipe Vanilla Bean Cupcakes (see "cupcakes" in the "find it" section to the right)

To Assemble:
2 cups Mango Curd (see Lemon Curd recipe with alternate instructions to make it Mango)

1 cup Mango Curd (see Lemon Curd recipe with alternate instructions to make it Mango)
1 recipe Vanilla Buttercream (American Style)

Make your Vanilla Bean Cupcake batter according to the recipe instructions then add the curry.
Fold in Jalapeno, mint, cilantro, and minced mango gently. 
Bake according to directions.  They will not be golden brown.  They're done when a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the middle of a cupcake. 

Allow to cool completely. 
Make the mango curd.  
Make the Vanilla American Buttercream.  
Fold 1 cup of mango curd into the buttercream.  If it's too thin, you'll have to add more sifted powdered sugar until it's thick enough to hold shape when frosting your cupcakes.
When the cupcakes are cooled completely, push a finger down into each one leaving a hole.
Using a turkey baster, fill each hole with some of the remaining mango curd.
Then frost the cupcakes with the mango buttercream frosting.  
Garnish with mint or cilantro sprigs.


Lemon Curd

Here's a quick lemon curd recipe.  You will use it in some of my other recipes but it's also really tasty on toast, biscuits, pancakes, home-baked gingerbread,  etc... You will need a double boiler or a metal bowl that can sit on the rim of a large sauce pan.

1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup lemon zest
4 eggs
1 cup butter cut into 1 inch cubes

Fill a large saucepan with a few inches of water and boil.
Set a metal bowl or double boiler on top.

Add sugar and lemon juice to the bowl/double boiler and combine until well mixed.
Add the lemon zest and eggs, wisking well as you add them.
Continue to whisk while the mixture cooks.  You cannot let this cook undisturbed the eggs will coddle up on you.  So just keep on stirring/whisking until your curd is thick sort of like a thick creamy soup chowder.
Run the mixture through a sieve and discard any solids and zest.
Stir in butter then chill.

TO MAKE MANGO CURD:  Substitute mango puree for the lemon juice, keep lemon zest in.
TO MAKE IT GRAPEFRUIT:  Substitute grapefruit juice for lemon juice and eliminate the lemon zest.

You get the idea... you can make many kinds of fruit curd this way!!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lemongrass Cupcakes

These cupcakes are part of the plans for my baby sister's bridal shower coming up in a couple of months.  We are doing a Thai themed menu, so it was important to me that we don't just have some generic flavor cupcakes that don't fit in with the distinct flavors of the Thai food that will be served on that day.  This is the first of 3 different flavors planned for the cupcakes for that party. 
The subtle exotic flavor of lemongrass infuses these cupcakes for just a hint of something different.... lending a bit of a tea-like flavor with a hint of citrus.  I think I am in love.  My first run of these was a bit too sweet but I think I'm happy with the alterations I've made and that you will love these as much as I do.  For this recipe you will need to look up my recipes for Vanilla Bean Cupcakes and Buttercream Frosting (American Style).  You can find them both in the Find It directory in the column to the right under several obvious categories, or perhaps if you're lucky the links at the end of this post! xoxo

For the cupcakes you'll need:
1 recipe of Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups of Lemongrass Simple Syrup

For the Lemongrass Simple Syrup:
4 stalks of lemongrass
5 cups of water
4 cups sugar

For the Frosting you'll need:
1 recipe of Buttercream Frosting (American Style)
1/2 cup of Lemongrass Simple Syrup (see below)

Start by getting your Lemongrass Simple Syrup going...
Chop up your lemongrass into half inch bits and bring with the water to a boil in a large pot.
Once boiling, add the sugar, reduce the heat, and simmer for at least an hour.

While that's going, make your cupcakes just according to the recipe directions and get them in the oven at 350 degrees to bake.

While your cupcakes are baking and your syrup is cooking down, make your buttercream frosting and set aside.

When your cupcakes are done baking, remove them from the oven, and while they are still hot, dip each one, for about 3 seconds into the lemongrass syrup so that it soaks a bit into the top, then set aside to cool.

Return the remaining syrup back to the stove and cook again for another hour or more, then cool completely.  You can speed this by placing in the freezer for a while.
When the syrup has cooled it should be a loose honey-like consistency.  Strain off the lemongrass and set aside
Once cooled you can fold 1/2 cup of this syrup in to your frosting til thoroughly mixed, beating again if you need to in order to properly incorporate it.
Frost your cooled cupcakes and they're ready to go!!! I garnished mine with a bits of the cooked lemongrass that I strained out of the syrup. Enjoy! 

Buttercream Frosting (American Style)

In our country, Buttercream is, for the most part, at bakeries, not at all made with butter.  It's usually vegetable shortening.  Although that may be a bit more healthy, I can't condone buttercream frosting without butter in it, so I have gone back to the roots of the matter and come up with my own comprimise... You can find the palm shortening used in this recipe in your grocery's organic foods section.  It may be labeled vegetable shortening, just check the ingredients to confirm it's palm oil that's used to make it.
Other than that?  What can I say... when enjoying cupcakes for a special occasion, there's really no need to fuss around about things such as whether or not something is more healthy or not.   So just enjoy and move on!!

You have to make this the same day you intend to use it because of the butter and milk in it.  If you want to make it vegan then use vegan margarine and soymilk in place of butter and milk in the recipe... if you insist! :) It can be made in advance in that case.
Makes enough frosting for a dozen or more cupcakes.

1 cup palm shortening
1/2 cup unsweetened butter
5 cups organic powdered sugar sifted (5 cups measured before sifting)
1/4 cup milk
2 tbsp pure madagascar or bourbon vanilla extract

Mix the shortneing and butter in the bown of a stand mixer on high until smooth and fluffy.
Slowly add the powdered sugar with the mixer speed turned down low or you'll get it back in the face!
Then add the vanilla
Then add the milk last.
Scrape down and mix on high for about 15 minutes til your frosting is smooth and fluffy.  If it seems like it's not thick enough, go ahead and add more sifted powdered sugar and mix until smooth.
Make sure your cake is completely cooled before frosting!

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes Recipe

Today I was testing out a recipe I plan to use for lemongrass cupcakes for my sister's bridal shower.  In order to share that recipe I have to first share the basic Vanilla Bean Cupcake recipe I use because from time to time I will share the unique ways I alter it to create interesting flavor profiles. 
So here is that recipe.  It is better than most typical white cake recipes.  The technique used in mixing the ingredients is also different and makes for a more moist and tender cupcake... a goal that is very difficult in cupcake baking because of the size of each cake.  I learned this technique from a book called Who You Callin' Cupcake, which, if you want to be able to make something different from your average cupcake, is the book to have.  Anyway, here is my version of their Vanilla Bean Cupcakes recipe.  Enjoy it as is, or use it as a base as instructed in some of my other cupcake recipes.

Makes 1 Dozen

1/2 cup organic sugar or organic cane juice
1 2/3 cups of organic all purpose unbleached flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter (unsalted)
1/2 cup skim milk
2 eggs
1 tablespoon of pure madagascar or bourbon vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean (run a knife down the length and split open then scrape the seeds out to be used for this recipe... you can put the scraped out hull in a container of sugar to make vanilla sugar)
 **if you don't have a vanilla bean just use 1 additional tablespoon of vanilla extract***

Preheat your oven to 350 and line your traditional size cupcake pan with cupcake liners.
In a stand mixer bowl, combine first four ingredients (dry stuff)
Add butter to the bowl and mix on low til a grainy meal is formed
Add 1/4 of the milk slowly til the mixture looks like a paste
In a separate bowl, combine eggs with remaining 1/4 cup of milk, vanillas.
Slowly pour the wet mixture into the stand mixer bowl til it is incorporated into the paste and forms a batter.
Scrape down the sides and mix on high for a few seconds until smooth.

Fill the cups in the pan to within about 1/2 inch from their top edges.
Bake for 10-20 minutes.  Tops will not be brown... but will be softly golden around the edges and a toothpick will come out clean when they are done.  They will also feel stable to the touch of your fingertip on their tops.

Cool completely before frosting! Voila!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Pyrate's Soupe L'Ognion (French Onion Soup)

Yesterday the Pyrate made the BEST FRENCH ONION SOUP I HAVE EVER HAD!  I will never crave it again from elsewhere... not even that French bistro at the Grove promenade.  If you are a fan of French Onion Soup, you will fall in love all over again when you learn to make it at home from scratch.  It is truly a beautiful thing.
You'll need oven proof dishes, either porcelain, ceramic or stoneware individual crocks, ramekins, or bowls.  We used porcelain ramekins, which worked fine except they are a pain to get clean again... you have to soak them in baking soda and hot water overnight to get the baked-on brown stains off.  The picture below is not mine.  Just wanted to give you something to look at.  We forgot to take pics before we ate ours!  Ha!  Sorry!

This recipe was inspired by one we saw Alton Brown (the food scientist dude) make on the Food Network with some slight alterations because his ended up with not enough onions and even the entire recipe was a bit scant to truly feed 6 people like he said it would.  

7 large sweet onions (red or sweet maui or a combination of both as we did for ours)
4 tbsps butter
sea salt
1 cups of white wine (we used a chardonnay)
32 oz of beef broth (or vegetable if you prefer)
12 oz of chicken broth (or more vegetable if you prefer)
2 cups of apple cider
1 bouquet garni (thyme sprig, bay leaf, and parsley sprig tied together with kitchen twine)
1 loaf of country style bread
sea salt and fresh ground pepper
2 cups of grated Gruyere

Cut onions in half then thinly cut into half-moon slices, mix together if using two kinds.  
Melt the butter in the bottom of a dutch oven or large soup pot over medium low heat. 
Spread a layer of onions over melted butter and sprinkle layer with a pinch of salt.
Repeat layering onions and sprinkling with a pinch of salt til all onions are layered in the pot.  Do not stir.
Leave to cook down over medium low heat for 15-20 minutes then stir. 
Continue cooking and occasionally stirring til onions are carmelized to a dark mahogany and reduced to about 2 cups.  This will take about 45 min. to an hour, and don't worry if it seems it's burning.
Add the wine and cook over high heat until liquid is reduced and is syrupy. (We had a chuckle-worthy moment when we got to this part because the Pyrate imitated Julia Childs as he sloshed the wine into the pot without a measuring cup. )
Add broths, cider, and herbs, turn down fire, cover, and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Place oven rack on top notches of oven and heat your broiler.
Cut bread in rounds large enough to fit soup bowls.
Place the slices on a baking sheet and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.
Broil in the oven til nice and toasty, turn and repeat on the other side.
Season soup mixture with salt, pepper.
Add a splash of cognac. We used about 1/4 cup.
Remove herbs and ladle soup into crocks leaving one inch from the top.
Place bread round on top of soup and top with grated cheese.
Broil until cheese is bubbly and golden.
Be sure to watch it so that it doesn't burn.

's Been A Long Time, I Shouldn't-a Left You....

Well, well, well, look who's decided it's time to get these squeaky gears turning again over here!!!!  It's been at least 8 months since I last wrote you.  There's been much under foot.  I decided in the late spring of last year that I was completely over trying to make traditional schooling work for the Pyrate.  Between bullies, peers out of control, over populated classrooms, not up to par gifted student programs, and a complete lack of concern about any of these issues by school officials and staff, I'd had enough.  But what was most hurtful was the fact that I am raising a exceptionally gifted child who has the potential to be a prodigy and nobody seemed to care about what that means.  The Pyrate, bless his heart, has textbook characteristics for what is known about children who are highly gifted.  School work was easy and therefore frustrating, socializing was precarious because his mind works faster than most kids his age, and he needed special attention in the area of keeping organized.  He needed academic attention and consideration that he didn't get in public school OR previously the private schools he was in. He needed to be able to work at his own pace, doing curriculum that was both entertaining and challenging, he needed peers on his level so that he didn't feel the need to diminish himself to fit in, he needed more intensive guidance with organizational and study habits.  He was never going to discover his potential in a normal school.  So I signed him up to attend the California Virtual Academy.  It's an online California charter school based on the K12 virtual educational system.  K12 is a program built by the top scholars and researchers in the fields of cognitive learning and child development.   We started in September when the Pyrate started 8th grade.  I am happy to say that this was the best decision I have ever made as this child's mother.  It has changed his life tremendously.  At the end of the first semester, not only did he have straight A's, he'd finished an entire year of school... his entire 8th grade curriculum in one semester.  The school approved his early advancement to 9th grade, so he's now taking 9th grade classes and one 10th grade honors english because he took the 9th grade one in his 8th grade curriculum.  I have never seen him happier, and part of that is because he has been allowed a set of circumstances that give him the opportunity to truly see what he is capable of.  Instead of diminishing himself to fit in, he and his new friends challenge each other and goad each other to keep up with whoever is ahead.  I am able to work more intensively with him on issues regarding organization, and just as importantly he gets more direct guidance from me in regards to values I believe are necessary in becoming a young man.  It's a profound difference from what he got out of his former life where my only influence was in the evening hours and weekends.  Some are of the mind that he's missing something be not having the influence of a normal school.  Well, we tried that and he was miserable, bored, frustrated, exposed to things no child should be exposed to, and worse of all, had no idea how smart he was.  Now he knows and just that one thing has been enough to make him a happier teenager.  He'll be applying to join Mensa at some point this year, and the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, both whose members are children of phenomenal talent and academic ability.
That's what I've been up to.  It's been like a boot camp of sorts for both of us, getting used to how homeschooling works, learning to be his learning coach,  him learning to be more active in the planning and execution of his education.  It's been challenging and exciting and nowhere near as difficult as most people think it would be.  If you find that your child is having trouble in any way in normal school and you have the ability to school them at home, this program is available free of charge, as a charter in most larger cities in the US and the program is also available as a teach-on-your-own curriculum for purchase wherever you are.  They also have an international school as well .  Some US cities even have coops or flex facilities so your kid actually goes to a live facility to do their schooling through this same program.  If you think your child is too unruly for you to want to deal with them at home, I think you'll find that they behave much better at home than they do when you're not there... the one person who really cares, to keep them in check for real, like no teacher will ever do.  Check it out!
Other than homeschool, there's not much else to tell.  LOL  I've been deep in it for a good while.  My next blog is going to be about this doggone soup the Pyrate made for dinner last night.  Then the first part in a series on how to plan a special event party.  I will share step by step planning for my sister's wedding shower that takes place in May.  If you like to host guests in your home, you will like that a lot.
Music is on hold in the moment, perhaps some new stuff on the horizon soon... I'll keep that close to the vest til there's something substantial to tell.... xoxo
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