Friday, September 24, 2010

Lemon Cupcakes Make Even the First Day of School Bearable

School: we're two weeks in - how's it going for you?  Frankly, I'm happy to be back on a schedule again - Every spring I'm thrilled that school is over thinking that my summer will stretch into long lazy days, reading down the pile of books on my nightstand, taking my children to amusement parks and beaches, wandering the halls of cool museums - the reality?  Driving.  I spend my summer driving.  I drive the girls to camps, and summer classes, and pick up their friends, and drive for take out food and driving to the mall and when I'm not doing those things, I'm doing my usual errands, groceries, dry cleaners, dog food.  This year I was hired as an adjunct at the very last minute by Temple, which is "yay" but also "holy #@% I have to prepare!"  So, it's been hectic.  Good hectic, but, you know.

Anyway - to deal with the anxiety of the start of school, Mads and I made a batch of yummy lemony cupcakes with vanilla pudding in the middle.

 I admit, I used a boxed pudding which I had kicking around in my pantry (I intended to use it for a cake which I never made..) but the cupcakes we made from scratch.

They were so good - I didn't frost them - we thought that it would be overkill what with the pudding inside and all, so we made a little glaze with lemon juice, confectioners sugar and a teaspoon of heavy cream.  Spectacular, if Mad's and I may brag a bit.

We doctored a basic yellow cupcake recipe from a sweet little book called Cupcakes! by Elinor Klivans - you can get it from Amazon here

Lemon and Pudding Cupcakes

3/4 cup of unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup of unbleached cake flour
1/2 tsp of baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter at room temp (if you haven't taken the butter out of the fridge in time - which Mad's and I hadn't - shred your butter on a box grater, spread it out on a plate and let it sit out while you get everything else together - it will come to room temp fairly quickly.
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp of lemon zest
1 Tblsp lemon juice (or to taste)
1/2 cup milk

Lemon Glaze:
3 TBLSP of Lemon juice
3 TBLSP of confectioners sugar
1 TBLSP of heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350

Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a small bowl and set aside.  In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together.  Beat in the eggs.  Stop mixer and scrape down the sides.  Add the  lemon juice, zest, vanilla and beat for a bit.
Add the flour and milk
alternating between the 2
and finishing with the flour.  Mix until just incorporated.

Fill your muffin tin with paper cups, and then, using a 2 inch ice cream scoop, scoop your batter into each cup.  Lick the bowl - it's worth it.

Bake your cupcakes on the middle rack of your oven for 20 - 23 min - or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the middle cupcake comes out clean.

Let the cupcakes cool on a rack - while you make the pudding and the glaze.

I made pudding from a box - but this is how I made the glaze:
sift the confectioners sugar into a shallow bowl,  using a whisk - whisk in the lemon juice until the glaze is runny.  Then add just a small amount of heavy cream - up to 1 TBLSP- which cuts the acidity of the lemon a bit (you can leave this out if you want).  
Once the pudding is made, and cooled and your cupcakes are cooled, 
dip the tops of your cupcakes in the glaze.  Wait a few minuets for the glaze 
to set - then carefully cut the top off the cupcake, dig out a little well for the pudding and spoon about a teaspoon of the pudding into your well before replacing the top. 

You have to store these in the fridge where they will last about 3-4 days.  Or, you and your family can greedily eat them up all at once for the back-to-school comfort only a sweetly tart cupcake like this can bring...

Sunday, September 12, 2010


I have planter of basil in my yard.  One.  And even though I have an enormous amount of pesto in my fridge, and the plant still looks like this:

You can see how dry it's been - I watered this this morning

I cut it back almost every day, and over night it grows back to frightening heights, and I just want to say that plants like this scare me.  It's all a little alien - like if we don't pay close attention they might just take over.  Grass is like this; grass grows through blacktop.  Freaky.  Let's just say I'm looking forward to the winter months when things are dormant.  In the meantime, I'm making pesto as fast as I can.  Since my daughter can't eat pine nuts, I usually mash the basil up with garlic and oil and call it a day.  Sometimes I add cheese, sometimes I don't - however the other day, I added lemon and it was a revelation.

I've been using my little crock of lemon/basil pesto on EVERYTHING - from turkey sandwiches to scrambled eggs.

But the best thing, so far was slathering a tablespoon or so on these beautiful pork chops I picked up at the Farmer's Market and marinated.  Then I grilled them and heavens they were good!

Look at em:

I just ate lunch, and these still make me hungry

Aren't they beautiful?

Lemon Basil Pesto

Start with a fistful of basil from your yard (or the farmer's market) and strip all the leaves from the stems. Jam it all in your blender or food processor, or if you have one in the bowl of a stone mortar.  Add at least one clove of raw garlic, and about a tablespoon of lemon zest (I used one large lemon).  Blend, pulse or pound all this together until it makes a paste.  Then squeeze the lemon into the basil paste and blend, pulse or stir.  Finally add about 1/4 cup of very very good extra virgin olive oil to the whole thing.  If you are blending or pulsing, add it slowly through the feed tube.  If you used a mortar then whisk it in until combined.  Taste the whole thing.  You can add some parmesan here if you like, about 1/4 cup grated, or, just sea salt.  Both are good.  Sometimes I just like just to add the salt - especially if I'm going to let it sit in the fridge for a while because the parmesan can kind of take over.  Always add a bit of pepper.  If you like a little zing - add about a 1/4 tsp of red pepper flakes to the mixture before you blend, pulse or pound.  This keeps in the fridge for about 3 weeks or so.  You can also freeze this: put tablespoons of the pesto into ice cube trays, freeze for a couple of hours, then pop them out and put the cubes of pesto in a freezer bag.  Very yummy in the dead of winter when all you want is a shot of something really really green.

Pork Chops and Basil Pesto

So go get yourself some pork chops or lamb chops - they're good too with this. (Although I always feel like I have to sell a kidney or something to afford enough lamb for the 4 of us.)  Slather them with the pesto at least 2 hours before you grill them, or over night.

Heat the grill - I have a new charcoal grill that I'm in love with - I like to pile all the hot coals on one side of the grill so I have a really hot side (for searing) and a cooler side for the cooking.

By the way - if you make a small slit in the fat around the outer edge of the chop, your pork chops won't curl up when you grill them.  (I stole this tip from Cook's Illustrated).