Archive | February, 2012

Chocolate, Good. Espresso, Good. Chocolate Stout Espresso Cupcakes, Amazing!

21 Feb

As Chris mentioned in our post about our lamb dish, we went for a short, 10-mile day hike in O’Neill Regional Park earlier in the day.  I’m not sure what it is about hiking, but it always leaves Chris and I craving beer and comfort food.  While the hike served as inspiration for what to cook, Food52 provided guidance and recipes.  Since starting this blog, I stumbled upon the website Food52, and fell in love with the modern look, pristine photos, and unique recipes.  Within an hour of arriving home with the groceries, I began to throw together our dessert: Chocolate Stout Cupcakes.  While the recipe calls for Guinness, Chris suggested getting a more boutique stout.  He ran off to grab the stout, while I found the mint and ginger (ingredients for other items on the list this week).  When I found him, he had a bottle of Young’s Double Chocolate Stout in our basket.

I started by boiling the water to make espresso from the powder we had on hand (for camping).  Thinking that I was super smart, I skipped the step of warming the stout and mixed together the hot espresso and cold stout.  I then added the butter, only to discover that the liquid was no longer hot enough to melt the 1/2 cup block.  I transferred everything to a microwave safe bowl and heated it up to ease the melting process, melted a second 1/2 cup block of butter (yes there’s that much butter in cupcakes!), and poured it in with the stout and espresso.

Next, I added the dark, unsweetened cocoa powder and vanilla, stirring it all into a nice chocolate liquid to coat the flour and dry ingredients.  I found it curious that this recipe called for melting the butter, while others suggest cutting the butter with sugar.  At this point, I imagined that this cupcake wouldn’t be as light and fluffy as others.

Chris mixed together the dry ingredients while I diligently stirred the chocolate base.  He also blended the eggs and sour cream together into a nice cream mixture.  I then grabbed the hand mixer, and put it on low in the egg and cream mixture while Chris alternated between the chocolate liquid and dry ingredients.  I instructed him to wait until just a second after the last big of dry ingredient disappeared into the mixture before adding more.  We made the perfect team 🙂

We put the cupcakes in the oven at 350 for 20 minutes, rotating them half way through, and they came out just perfectly.  While they were baking I made the powdered sugar, espresso, chocolate glaze.  I accidentally added 1-2 extra tablespoons of water (it’s quite thick and difficult to mix), but overall this was a happy mistake.  The recipe instructs you to dip the cupcakes (and not ice them) in the glaze.  I jumped the gun and tried to do this right away, but failed miserably.  See the cupcakes are still pretty delicate when warm and the glaze is a bit heavy, and when you dip a warm cupcake in the glaze the top of the cupcake falls off into the glaze.  Chris took this opportunity to nab the broken cupcake top and sample my finished product.  He claimed that they were delicious, but I still had work to do.

I took a break, let the cupcakes cool, and then tried again.  This time, it worked.  I dipped each cupcake in the glaze, spooned a bit extra on top if there were gaps or holes, and then placed them on cookie sheets to catch any drips.  We also chose to use my silicone cupcake liners for half of the treats (I only have 12).  While these weren’t great for holding on to the cupcakes while dipping, I actually really liked the look and feel of them.  Note: Plan to make a little more glaze than the recipe recommends.  While I usually have more than enough frosting, I was left with 8 unglazed cupcakes.  We had just picked up some fresh whole bean coffee, so we topped each cupcake off with one bean in the middle.  They weren’t the prettiest cupcakes in the world, but they smelled fantastic.

After our feast of lamb, mash, and chard, I sampled a long-awaited chocolate stout cupcake.  Heavenly!  The texture was certainly different from that of my past cupcakes, but in a beyond delicious way.  The glaze was perfectly sweet, and the roasted bean on top was a pleasant crunch as I devoured the treat.  I usually find myself seeking professional cupcake tasters to finish off the batch that I tire of after 2-3, but this time I’m feeling a bit greedy.  You might just have to steal them from me to get a taste.


Delicious Seared Leg of Lamb, with a Promise Never to Make Colleen Squeeze Blood Oranges Again…

21 Feb

After a 10 mile hike in Irvine on a Sunday we were positively famished.  Valentine’s day had passed earlier in the week and we had agreed to cook during the weekend to celebrate the passing of another wonderful year.  The problem with hikes, is that after you finish them, you (or at least I) merely want to go home, take a shower and pass out.  We agreed to head over to Whole Foods to shop, under the assumption that if we had fresh ingredients on hand we would actually cook (versus resorting to Jack in the Box appetizers when we got hungry).  We were thinking that rabbit might be a good choice (we saw a couple cotton-tails on our hike), but didn’t really know what we were going to cook.  We decided to let Whole Foods inspire us.

We arrived and strolled through the produce section (which is magnificent if you’ve never been).  We decided to first choose a protein and then base the rest of the dish around it.  Colleen had found a recipe for pork tenderloin, but found that they didn’t have it in stock! No pork tenderloin? Whole Foods…you fail.  Regardless we chose a delicious (and slightly gigantic leg of lamb).  We found a recipe on for Mint and Feta Stuffed Leg of Lamb and decided to run with it.  For veggies, we grabbed rainbow chard, carrots, sweet potato, and regular potato.  I had a crazy idea for a starch/carbohydrate side dish that I wanted to just kind of go with and figure out as we went along.

I butterflied the leg to start the process.  If you’ve never done this before, it’s actually pretty hard to screw up.  Sharp knife? Check.  Leg of lamb? Check. Basically you just split it open and then hammer it down to thin it out.  The idea is that you want to try to make the leg as uniformly thin and flat as possible so that it is easily “rollable” and will thus cook evenly.  While I did the butchering, Colleen mixed together feta cheese and fresh organic mint leaves – accidentally leaving out the blood orange rind. We then collaboratively spread the mixture evenly over the top of the lamb.

I grabbed some cooking twine and after rolling the lamb up nicely proceeded to secure the roll with a number of strands.  Some of the Feta tried to escape, but a length-wise tie kept most of it in.  If you’re doing this, make sure your twine is nice and tight (when I seared the leg a bit later, some of the filling did melt out because I hadn’t really cinched it down).  After cinching the lamb, I seared it on all four sides, six minutes per side.

Meanwhile… Colleen was working on the reduction sauce.  Step one? Juice the blood oranges.  If you’ve never squeezed blood oranges, you’re in for a treat.  I didn’t know exactly how many we needed – just that we needed a cup of juice.  Since I’d never had the pleasure of juicing them before, I didn’t know how many we would actually needed.  I got lucky, because we bought about 12 of them and ended up with slightly more than 1/2 a cup.  I recommend that you buy lots of them.  More than you think you need.  You can always end up just eating them.

Blood oranges look like red-speckled mini oranges on the outside – but it’s the inside that is really unique.  When cutting them open, it’ll seem like the orange is alive.  Don’t worry, the ruby-red “blood” that comes out tastes tart and delicious – like any other fresh squeezed juice you’ve had.  Side note: if you squeeze them by hand, people may accuse you of murder.  Check out Colleen’s hands:

We then moved on to the side dish and sauce.  I washed and peeled the carrots, sweet potato and regular potato.  I had thought that a mash might go great with the lamb.  Especially one that was semi-sweet, but not sickly so.  Colleen found a great addition to grow the “seed” of my concept.  It was a delicious combination of cream, milk and butter infused with threads of scarlet colored saffron.  It perfectly complimented the sweetness of the mash while adding a savory complexity.

I deglazed the pan that we had used to sear the lamb with a cup of Westberg Cellar’s Turtle Rock 2008 “Willow’s Cuvet” Pinot Noir and started reducing it.  Westberg Cellar’s is a tiny, tiny, TINY winery that is open once a month in Paso Robles, CA.  We lucked upon it after a friend’s wedding in 2011.  When we stopped there it was an “off weekend” when they shouldn’t have been open.  The gentleman pouring informed us that they were waiting for a limo that had arranged for a private tasting.  The lightweights in the limo never showed, but we surely enjoyed the afternoon – and discovered the amazing varietals they create.  I’m not generally a fan of sweeter reds – but this Pinot is an absolute exception.  When you drink it delicious flavors of raspberry, strawberry, blackberry…and well…berries – lots and lots of berries dance on your tongue.  Divine!

Back to the sauce!  When it had simmered down by about half, Colleen added the blood orange juice, balsamic vinegar, and brown sugar, and the she let it simmer on low heat, stirring it often.  It started to thicken up to a nice consistency about 20 minutes later.

The leg of lamb finished up its 40 minute stint in the oven.  When I removed it, I discovered that we need a new oven mitt, because for the first time the Pyrex burned me through the mitt and I grabbed the other end of the pan with my bare hand in reflex.  This was painful.  Regardless, the lamb was perfectly cooked, and it sliced down nicely.  The mash ended up a fantastic orange color with a light, semi-sweet flavor that was the prefect background to the more intense flavor of the lamb (although the potatoes were slightly undercooked).  Colleen sautéed the rainbow chard with garlic, sherry, and sea salt.  We plated the chard as a bed for the mash and lamb.  Colleen drizzled the blood orange pinot reduction over the top as a final touch and voilà – gourmet cookin’ on a Sunday night.  As we plated the meal, Colleen exclaimed, “the gremolata!”  In all of the attention to detail that this dish required, it was forgotten along with the blood orange zest.

We sat down at our table and enjoyed our meal with the rest of the pinot.  Colleen really enjoyed the lamb, but was slightly dissatisfied with the veggies (both the mash and the chard) being slightly undercooked (which is mostly due to the timing aspect of cooking that we are still perfecting).  I raved about my meal most of the night.  “Love, this is the best lamb dish I’ve had a in a very long time.  It’s like restaurant quality!”  All in all, this meal was a success.  Future notes – don’t forget the rind, invest in a juicer, tie up the lamb a bit better, and start the veggies sooner, and remember the gremolata!

Bru With Two Dots

19 Feb

Today, amidst our errands, Chris and I decided to ring in the 3-day weekend by checking out Brü Grill & Market in Lake Forest, CA.  Chris’ friend, Anderson, recommended this restaurant to us a while back.  We had previously tried to go here one Saturday evening not too long ago, but the hour-long wait was too much for us.  We had tried to call in advance, but sorry no reservations during prime dinner hours.  We found the restaurant in an otherwise normal outdoor shopping area, as many are in orange county.  We were initially a bit skeptical, as the outside of the building matches the cookie cutter look of the surrounding shops, making it look more like a chain than a unique dining experience.  We arrived at 4 pm today for lunner (I assert that this is superior to dinner because it gives lunch a fair share of the word), figuring that we’d have a better shot at being sat immediately.  We were right!  The place was near empty and perfectly intimate at this time.

The menu and prices looked typical enough for Californian fresh fare in the area.  We were immediately greeted and directed to a chalkboard for the available hand-crafted beers.  Chris chose the Big Eye IPA (right) to go with his meal choice, and I chose Brother Thelonious by North Coast Brewing Company, a dark belgian style beer (left).  Both were quite delicious and unique, although I missed the spiced taste of my favorite beer, Schneider Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock.

While sipping on our beers, Chris ordered the Spicy Sausage Hoagie, and I ordered the Albacore entrée.  I ordered my Albacore medium, and they cooked it perfectly.  As I sampled my fish, greens, potatoes, as well as Chris’ french fries and hoagie, I thought everything is delicious but unfortunately just slightly too salty for me.  My salt-fiend friend, Hannie, would absolutely love this place.  Chris enjoyed the small bite of my dish that I forked over to him, and attempted to get more thrown his way by talking about how much he liked it, but I selfishly demolished my tasty plate.


Chris enjoyed his hoagie, but he complained that the bread was a bit soggy and cold and that the peppers and onions were just slightly two sweet.  That aside, the sausage on his sandwich was yummy and the mustard gave it a delightful kick.  All in all, we enjoyed our meals and would definitely consider coming back for more nibbles in the future.

Spicy Sausage Hoagie

Excited to try more, I asked the server for a dessert list.  The desserts were typical fare from the looks of the menu: bread pudding, gelato, doughnut cake pops…wait what?  Doughnut cake pops as a dessert at a restaurant – ok I have to check this out.  The 6 pops came out on a chalkboard like dish with three dipping sauces (grape, chocolate, and crème anglaise).  They wrote the names of the sauces in chalk on the board, and to Chris’ delight they served the pops on a bed of cotton candy.  In a moment, his eyes lit up like a kid at a county fair, and he quickly started noming on the dessert.  He and I giggled as we indulged in the sweets, and reminisced about the last time we ate cotton candy.  This was hands down the most whimsical, creative dessert I’ve had in a long while.

Chris and I enjoyed our experience at Brü, and loved that there was no sticker shock when the bill arrived.  Perhaps I’ll come back here on a weeknight for some friendship nurturing.  There’s a Napa chardonnay that caught my eye on their crü menu.

Making A Lover Out of A Brussels Sprouts Hater

6 Feb

I think we all have a brussels sprouts horror story from when we were kids.  I know I do.  I was in first grade.  My parents went out-of-town for the weekend, so I was left in the care of my best friend/neighbor’s family.  My midwestern parents never ate brussels sprouts, but my best friend’s Californian family did so regularly.  I recall her parents placing a plate of steamed, bitter, flavorless brussels sprouts in front of me and requiring me to eat them despite my protests.  Chris has a similar story of trying the bitter vegetable and vowing never to taste them again.  Over a decade later, a good friend of mine turned me on to them again as an adult.  Chris, however, continued to hold on to his vendetta against brussels sprouts into adulthood.

I often listen to NPR in my car, and one of my favorite shows is the Splendid Table.  If you haven’t yet listened to Lynne Rossetto Kasper talk about the many delights of food, you’re missing out.  She absolutely dazzles me with her knowledge and passion.  Anyway, back to brussels sprouts, I remember listening to this fabulous brussels sprouts with autumn fruits recipe in 2007.  Lynne, as usual, made the dish sound absolutely divine!  Since that day, I couldn’t see brussels sprouts without thinking of the recipe.  For years, I’d mention the forbidden vegetable to Chris, but he’d always quickly turn me down.  This weekend, I had a stroke of genius (sadly it took me 4 years to think of this)!  I made a deal with a Chris.  If he let me cook brussels sprouts for dinner, I’d include bacon in the recipe.  A former vegetarian, I’m generally not a fan of bacon and other fatty meats, but Chris practically lived off of bacon and cheese before we partook in cohabitation.  Longing for his beloved, long-forgotten bacon, Chris quickly agreed.

I searched for the recipe and found it on the website here: Oven-Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Autumn Fruits.  Okay, okay, so it’s winter not autumn, but it’s all the same in California, right?  We washed the Anjou pear, honeycrisp apple, and brussels sprouts, and started chopping.

Much to our pleasure, this recipe calls for everything to be chopped and then tossed in one big bowl.  Easy! We once again used kosher salt instead of sea salt, and we substituted cayenne pepper for the red pepper flakes.  I loved adding fresh herbs into the mix.  Hopefully one day soon we’ll have our own homegrown fresh herbs for cooking.

We then spread the mixture out into a single layer on a cookie sheet, and baked it at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 minutes in 10-minute increments, mixing everything a bit at each 10 minute mark to prevent burning.

Et Voila!  We had a delicious, fruity, bacon-spiked brussels sprouts dish.  The steamed version from my childhood pales in comparison.

We made the brussels sprouts the highlight of our dinner, pairing it with an artisan pasta in a walnut cream sauce.  I begged Chris for some good olive oil for the sprouts and sauce, so we saved some money by using Moscato as both cook’s juice and and an ingredient in the pasta sauce.

After making and tasting the sauce, we were a bit worried about the texture and flavor.  It’s an emulsification and we forgot to roast the walnuts before processing them.  Fears aside, we sat down to a colorful plate full of vitamins and good ingredients.  We both loved the sauce and pasta, but the true test of tonight came down to Chris’ response to the brussels sprouts.  I thought that his clean plate said it all, but he stated, “I guess I like brussels sprout DISHES, but I still hate brussels sprouts.”  Ah well, maybe I didn’t turn him in to a lover, but it’ll sure be easier to convince him to buy the vegetable the next time I have a craving.  I, however, plan to reinstate the ban on bacon.  Who knows when I’ll need it again for a worthwhile negotiation (shhh don’t tell Chris).

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