Customising a Cupcake

As I had Transatlantic Kitchen to myself for a couple of days, I decided to make cupcakes. I had exactly the cupcake I wanted in mind – a basic vanilla or yellow cake base with coffee buttercream icing. What I didn’t want was a very sweet cake because icing is – by definition – very sweet and I wanted balance for that. So I was aiming for something moist, airy and cake-y but not cloying. Therefore I studied many recipes. Not just cupcake recipes but pound cake recipes, cornbread recipes, golden layer cake recipes, etc.

After much consideration, I went with Mary Berry’s Vanilla cupcakes ever so slightly influenced (re flour, using all purpose instead of self-raising and slightly more butter) by Mark Bittman’s Golden Layer cake recipe (on page 724 of How to Cook Everything).

We begin.

cupcake_liners
Cupcakes in progress – not as evenly distributed as they might be – but that’s OK. Decided to get some cardio in and skip the stand mixer. Did all the creaming and mixing the old fashioned way. With a wooden spoon. Therefore, these have now been dubbed vintage cupcakes.

cupcakes2

Now cooling while I numberswiki.com

make the coffee buttercream icing. Rather proud of the way they came out. Yes, some are taller than others but as I said, I went into this phase knowing I’d distributed less than evenly. The point is – they have cooked thoroughly and relatively evenly (rotating halfway through to balance the hot spot helped).

cupcakes3

Results: Taste/texture are good. Quite airy and on the ‘not so sweet side’, which was deliberate since the icing is quite sweet and I wanted to balance it. So it’s on the line between yellow cake and corn bread. Texture definitely more a corn bread. That might not thrill everyone but I’m pleased. I am not as thrilled with the frosting this time around. I think I made the fatal mistake of not waiting until butter was properly at room temp. Luckily, I made only a small batch for two “tester” cupcakes as I intend to store the rest sans icing (otherwise they get a bit mushy).

Will pick up more icing sugar tomorrow for icing once dungeekin is back and can share some. Next batch of icing will be better, more like yesterday.

final_cupcake

Weekend Kitchen Report: Jan 4-5

This weekend from the kitchen at Transatlantic Kitchen we started with bacon sandwiches – because it’s what we do on weekends and because we need the energy. We’re gonna be busy.

Saturday:

  • Things went slightly Ukrainian with @dungeekin giving vereniki (sp? varenyky?) a go. Based on various filling options, sounds like a dumplingi-zed kugel. Recipe calls for FAR too many so we’ll have to do something with the left over dough (essentially a pierogi dough) and filling (we’re doing cheese and onion). They tasted very good and I think with a bit of practice and adjustment to cooking time and method, the dumpling part will get even better. It was a bit – I don’t know, overworked perhaps.
  • Ragu in the slow cooker for dinner later in the week. Because prepping in advance means full on meal is only 20 minutes or so away even if both of us get home late. This is why there is also a chicken curry being advance prepped for dinner later in the week.
  • On the snacky/week day lunch front: Roasted chicken pieces for munching and lunching during the week. And I had a suddenly crushing need for a Summer time treat to brighten ONGOING DREARY weather. So ice cream sandwiches – Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra Ice Cream squished between oatmeal raisin cookies. F*ck off rain. I’m ignoring you.

Sunday:

donut

  • Breakfast experiment – donut holes dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon (because we had to use the left over dough from yesterday’s experiment for SOMETHING so why not another experiment. Delicious and we’ll do it again
  • Advance prep for later in the week continues with beef in red wine, currently in the oven cooking very slowly … it will have dumplings eventually.
  • We had to take a significant break from the kitchen to repair the back garden gate. We’d come home Friday to discover that the wind had finally smashed it one too many times against the frame and half of it was on the ground. You know – all this endless rain and cloudy and cold, the distinct lack of sun or heat of any kind means the gate (every single board) was warped beyond belief. But it’s back (ish) for now and we went back to the kitchen.
  • Sunday lunch: flash – cooked steak sandwiches.
  • Sunday dinner: roast chicken (with any left over chicken getting added to the chicken curry started yesterday)
  • Cheesy potato cakes – to use up the cheese mix from yesterday’s experiment

Transatlantic Kitchen Weekend Report

Transatlantic Weekend Summary: Christmas food shop largely done & in freezer, salt beef brine underway, found both an excellent new(ish) pie pub & fab Oriental supermarket in town.

Christmas food shop: Turkey crown this year, not whole turkey. Ridiculous to do a whole turkey when there is SO much other food sitting there as well

Salt Beef: really requires it’s own post but in brief – this is one of @dungeekin’s family traditions, passed from his grandmother to his mother to him. Whatever else is on the menu for Christmas, this is always included. Even the prep for making it infuses the house with the smells of the season. The process is – well, ever evolving is the best way to put it. As @dungeekin explains elsewhere:

“It’s an Indian recipe that my grandmother brought over in 1950. Trouble is she’d never actually made it herself so it was done from her memory and evolved over the years – first her, then my mother, and now me.

Over time in the pursuit of tenderness, it’s gone from a month of brining in a saltpetre mix (hand-studded with lemon and cloves) to two weeks in the spiced salt/sugar solution. I don’t think it’s ever been the same twice. This time I’m trying a more intense brine, marinating for just ten days and long cooking at just 60C in a spiced liquor to maximize moisture.

New Food Finds: We had several hours to kill while the Transatlantic Towers Transport Vehicle was being serviced – so we wandered about, looking at window treatments (because now that Transatlantic Towers is being painted, the current curtains are a bit shabby). But one cannot live by curtains alone so we also poked through the Oriental supermarkets (making a plan for a return visit with the car because we intend to make substantial purchases of spices and other dry food stuffs) and going out to lunch.

For lunch, we decided we would try a new place – new to us and relatively new in a general sense – Puddingface. It’s menu is pie past – of the ‘chicken pot’ or ‘steak and kidney’ variety. We’d walked past it a couple of times while walking around the town centre and once again, we paused to discuss whether to try it this time around or next time when suddenly a woman walking by said “They have the BEST pies. Be hungry because there’s a lot of it – but they are the best.”

Well, that decided it for us. We’d read some good things but how often do you get a spontaneous review just standing around on the street? If the food is good enough to inspire that sort of word of mouth, it’s got to be worth trying. Boy are we glad we did.

The place has been done up very nicely – colorful and spacious (so many places these days cram tables in fat too tightly). The menu isn’t VAST but has something bound to please no matter what you’re in the mood for pie-wise. The service was prompt and pleasant. The food delicious and plentiful – the pies are a very good size and they certainly don’t stint on portion size for the veg and chips either. After a lunch that size, we were fairly sure we wouldn’t be needing dinner and we were right.

All at what I consider to be an excellent price for a meal of that quality and size. Will definitely go back again. And as we went in about 1:15 or so, we were stuffed to the gills that evening (even with all that walking) and skipped dinner.

And that’s all I have to report at the moment. Today is a more “at home” day – a bit of cooking (there’s a sea bream in the fridge) and maybe some planning and discussion of culinary gardening and kitchen space. If anything notable or especially tasty occurs, I’ll let you know. 🙂

Sprog in the Kitchen

Sprog was very much in “kitchen helper” mode today. Which is delightful except that we had nothing scheduled for Transatlantic Kitchens today except dinner. He made sure we knew he was in that mood in a not very subtle manner – bringing his Roald Dahl Revolting Recipes cookbook downstairs every hour or so with “an idea of stuff we could – maybe – make.” Didn’t want to waste the enthusiasm so I grabbed the old standby – and we made brownie muffins.

brownie muffins

The whole house smells awesome

Transatlantic Towers Culinary Round Up

There’s been a lot happening here at Transatlantic Towers – much of it being of a culinary nature so I offer this round up of links, thoughts and passing fancies.

As regular readers will know, @dungeekin enjoys making bread but you may not know that he has been experimenting with various flavoured breads. Behold the latest in that effort:

garlic_bread

The crust is always an important aspect of bread results for him (and for me as the official Transatlantic Bread Tester). So it was with great interest that I read “Rustic White Bread from a Bread Cloche” over on The Kitchn (if you don’t know the Kitchn, do check it out. Useful and inspiring). I’ve never used a bread cloche and if the results are as reported, it might be interesting to give it a go. I like the DIY options discussed in the comments as well. After all, if I can do the same with a dutch oven and a pizza stone, no need to splash out the cash on a new gadget. New gadgets in the kitchen always make me think of that Alton Brown advice about ensuring everything in the kitchen can do at least double duty and shunning what he calls unitaskers (with the exception of the fire extinguisher).

Speaking of Alton Brown – I’ve been going back and re-watching a lot of Good Eats. Damn, that’s a good show.  Also, I have to say – I love his Best Thing I Ever Made segments. The one I think made my mouth water the most was the Mushroom Stroganoff (ah the joys of YouTube when you live far away from US cooking channels) Love mushrooms!

Still, one can’t sit in front of the TV or computer screen all day. One must get out and about once in a while so next weekend we’re off to the Thame Food Festival and the Shipston Food Festival. Going to those types of things is always interesting for food folks. A) You’re surrounded by other food folks and quite likely they are doing things or using ingredients you have not yet used so you can not only get ideas but pick the brains of other food folks.  Last weekend was also a bit of a culinary explore – stopped by Daylesford Farm Shop where we stared in amazement at the size of the meringues, stood in awe of the breads and considered ideas prompted by the many herbs and oils on display.

That evening, exhausted from our adventures we relaxed by – what else – puttering about the kitchen, re-orging the spice/herbs cabinet and then @dungeekin produced a Sunday dinner like this:

sunday

Another thing that will be happening soon is the transition of a few of the herbs from back garden to window sill for the winter. Space is the main issue so we won’t be moving all them. Just three key herbs that we use the most and which can reasonably be expected not to try and take over the kitchen windowsill.

We’re trying to be good about how we use the space in the kitchen (and we are lucky in that there are quite a few cabinets) so we cleared out and organized the herb/spices. The tinned, boxed and jar-stored staples also got a check but it really wasn’t until we started re-arranging the cookery equipment itself that Miss Thing decided we needed closer supervision:

cabinet cat

I don’t know that our work was up to her standards – she didn’t LOOK impressed. But then, she is a cat.

Herb Week – Looking Back, Moving Forward

Ah, the first week of May. I know what you’re thinking – May poles, collegiate types leaping off bridges (because that’s the kind of thing collegiate types do to mark special occasions).

herbsHere at Fabulous Foodie, dancing in circles and leaping off bridges isn’t quite our thing. For us, the first week of May means it’s Herb Week! We’ve touched on a number of herbs in the past. Here is a quick herbal round up to entertain you while I try and get “Organize Herbs and Spices” off that Spring Cleaning list.

And the winner is… on the announcement of ‘Herb of the Year for 2011’ – what? You didn’t know there was such a thing? Well, there is and there has been for some time. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Herbs of the Year 1995-2015:

1995 Fennel
1996 Monarda
1997 Thyme
1998 Mint
1999 Lavender
2000 Rosemary
2001 Sage
2002 Echinacea
2003 Basil
2004 Garlic
2005 Oregano & Marjoram
2006 Scented Geraniums
2007 Lemon Balm
2008 Calendula
2009 Bay Laurel
2010 Dill
2011 Horseradish
2012 Rose
2013 Elderberry
2014 Artemisias
2015 Savory

At the time, the choice of horseradish struck us as an odd one. We weren’t even sure if we considered it an herb per se. After much discussion, Patrick responded in the follow-up Herbal Umbrage.

Just two weeks ago, we touch upon one of my favorite kitchen staples of all time: Happy Garlic Day One and All!

Last year, I moved from New York City to the UK and in the process gained 1) a back garden, 2) a substantial kitchen window sill and 3) a spouse who cooks like a dream. This all came together in the form of an herb garden.

Well, I say herb garden but that sounds like an organized central space that has been planned and laid out according to that plan. What actually happened was this – we were at the grocery store and several small herb plants were on sale for less than a £/plant so we figured “Why not” and trundled home with basil, mint, thyme, rosemary, oregano, chives, tarragon, parsley, marjoram and sorrel.

windowsillThe basil and mint went like gangbusters on the window sill for some time (and we made excellent use of the airing cupboard to dry some mint as well). Everything else went outdoors and did really well except (initially) for the sorrel.

Interesting thing about the sorrel. After struggling to get it to perk up, we did what we should have done in the first place – we turned to the hive mind of Twitter and Facebook. Advice was given and notes were taken. Our sorrel went on an extreme watering diet and…. Voila! it survived and thrived. For a while. I think the slugs got to it later on and that may be why it suddenly took a turn for the worse. When the pot fell off the table during a re-potting exercise gone wrong, we decided it was time to say good bye to the sorrel and we chucked the whole thing into the side garden area on the pile of old potting soil and dirt we’d created when putting in new shrubs. And then we forgot about it over the winter.

Guess what’s come back better than ever with the coming of Spring, over there along the side of the house? You guessed it. The sorrel. It is green, gorgeous and lush. The rest of the herbs surprised us by surviving the winter as well. Despite – I must confess – our writing them off. I mean, we COULD have invested in a green house or “herb box” to keep them warm over the winter. We couldn’t bring them into the house – there really ISN’T any room. So we left the pots outside. We figured that the worst case (and most likely) scenario would be they would all die and we’d have to buy new ones come Spring. At less than a £/plant, we were OK with that.

Well, no need! The chives grew like the weeds they really ARE all winter and are still waving their emerald tube-like leaves. The rosemary is HUGE, the thyme, oregano and tarragon all looked dead as door nails two months ago but are coming back like the champs they are. And the marjoram… well, it’s hard to tell. But hey, it’s our first full year at this so I think we’ve done pretty well.

Once I get this herbs/spices cabinet sorted out (and I really AM going to do that today), I’m going to lay out the 2013 TransAtlantic Towers Herb Plan. We won’t follow it, of course. But it’s the least I can do to mark the occasion of Herb Week.

Ice Cream Experiment Day

I’ve decided to conduct an Ice Cream Experiment here at Transatlantic Kitchen. It is no churn vs churn. The results are, obviously, subjective but I don’t need objectivity for deliciousness. In fact, I’m not sure you can use objectivity for deliciousness. It’s purely – and literally – a matter of taste. Onward!

gelato

  • Ice Cream Experiment (2) Phase (A): complete. Mixture for Le Glacier Quick Vanilla blended and chilling in fridge. 30 minutes from now, the ice cream machine comes out.

Details, findings and results to follow.

  • Ice Cream Experiment (2) Phase (B): Mixture thickened in ice cream machine; pour into airtight containers and now in freezer for slight hardening and storage. Took slightly longer than recommended 20-30 minutes to reach what I would call “soft serve” consistency. I put this delay down, not to flawed directions or equipment failure but down to liberties I took with the recipe. Taste test (harder ice cream from side of freezing bowl) – very promising.
  • Ice Cream Experiment (1) Phase (B): Tasted the espresso which has now been in the freezer for 4 hours. The flavor is SPOT ON. It has frozen nicely. However – it’s a bit… TOO rich? Dense? A bit of both. I think I will try it with either single cream instead of double or add a bit of milk. Either way, it needs a bit more “air in there.”
  • Ice Cream Experiment (2) Phase (C): post-freezer taste test: now THAT is the taste and texture I want in my ice cream. Again, the espresso taste was quite good but the texture was a bit denser than I felt it should be. This – the Quick Vanilla using single cream instead of double cream and with a dash of whole milk added as well – was perfect. This leads me to believe the single cream/double cream swap may be the way to go with the espresso.

* Ice Cream Experiment, Process Note: In the great tradition of dessert making, I have done a pre-chill taste test via the time honored method of licking the bowl. Both mixtures have achieved the desire consistency and intensity of flavor. Testing by any other method would not have produced an accurate result.

Curious Gaps in the Culinary Calendar

Some things that have occur to me as I work diligently on my latest project:

  • So if the pepper in National Pepper Month is the spice (black pepper), what about the rest of the peppers? Why don’t they have their day, week or month. October is Pickled Pepper Month but that’s awfully specific. Why no love for the brightly colored bell, and the fiery cayenne or the infamous habanero? Surely this is an oversight on someone’s part.
  • Have discovered a small issue about National Papaya Month. Some places say it’s June. Some say September. Since it’s la largely made up thing – no one really CONTROLS most of these days/weeks/months – I have made an executive decision. For my purposes, it shall be June.
  • Oh for crying out loud – can we PLEASE get some consensus on when National (or International) Hamburger Day happens? It can’t be July 28, Dec 21 and May 28! Well, it could be – theoretically. But come on….
  • Why is there no “National Dumplings Day” or Celebrate Potstickers Week?”
  • Why is there BLT Month but nothing to encourage celebration of bacon sandwiches in general. Why is the no BACON MONTH?
  • September 22 is National White Chocolate Day. I may well have to campaign to have this stricken from the record. It isn’t chocolate. It’s a chocolate derivative. And I think we’ve all seen what happens when you deal in derivatives.
  • Do you have any idea how many pecan related observances there are during the year? No? Let me enlighten you. April is National Pecan Month while November is National Georgia Pecan Month. April 14 is National Pecan Day; June 23 is National Pecan Sandies Day; July 12 is National Pecan Pie Day; Aug 20 is National Chocolate Pecan Pie Day; August 22 is National Pecan Torte Day; Sept 21 is National Pecan Cookie Day. That’s NUTS!
  • Yesterday was ‘Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day’ and I missed it. it’s also – apparently ‘Split Pea Soup Week’ and I don’t care about that. But I am interested – or more accurately puzzled by the upcoming ‘Pizza with the Works Except Anchovies Day’ on Nov 12. Listen – The Works is The Works. You don’t order a ham and cheese with no ham. You don’t order a BLT hold the B. What is up with this “except anchovies” BS?

What is this latest project? Well, I can’t reveal all right now but I can tell you this – not a day goes by when there isn’t something worth celebrating in the world of food.

Stay tuned and stay hungry!

Culinary Change Afoot

It’s a whole new culinary scene here at Fabulous Foodie. I’ve moved to the UK (Banbury specifically) as most of you know but I’ve also embarked on a determined effort to expand my vegetable horizons and we’re actually growing things.

Exploring the Banbury Area: his weekend I’ll be attending the first ever Banbury Food Fair. This seems to be a natural expansion of the Banbury Flower and Produce Show (which is now part of the Food Fair). I love a good food gathering so this would make my weekend anyway but as Banbury is now my home, it’s a bonus in that it gives me another chance to get out and explore.

I’ve been really pleased with the food finds I’ve made in Banbury so far – Betts is a fantastic butcher. I’ve enjoyed several delicious (and substantial) brunches) at the Pinto Lounge and the mocha at Cafe Mocha is everything a mocha lover could want.

On the Home Front: Things have taken on a new culinary focus at home as well – this is partly because there is now room in the kitchen and garden to indulge that focus and partly because my husband adored cooking and has strong feelings on herbs. Our previous kitchen was so small and so badly located within the house that Dungeekin and I couldn’t be in the room at the same time while most cooking was happening. If he was grilling or cooking anything with higher heats, the door had to be firmly shut to avoid the incredibly sensitive fire alarm going off. Now we have a proper eat-in kitchen – with a spacious cooking and prep area, a dining area big enough to seat 4-6 easily and fantastic double doors opening out to the garden. The garden means another new culinary frontier has been established.

We’ve got a little herb garden going – split between the windowsill and outside. We’ve got basil, mint, thyme, rosemary, oregano, chives, tarragon, parsley, marjoram and sorrel. We also have a chili plant but I have some concerns about it. It was sort of ticking along OK on the windowsill but I wouldn’t have described it as thriving. It’s looking a bit more lively now that I’ve put outside with some room, air and sun. We shall see.

Behind the Scenes @ Fabulous Foodie

Have you ever found yourself wondering, “How does the Fabulous Foodie stay on top of what’s happening in the culinary world?” No? Ah. Hmm . . . well, listen. On the off chance that you do find yourself wondering that some day, I want to tell you a secret from the New York office.

iGoogle gadgets. Yup. I have cobbled together the perfect (for me, anyway) system of rss readers and tabbed home pages – enabling me to see what’s happening across a pretty wide spectrum of places without drowning in posts and headlines. I have my foodie blogs in one space, the food and dining sections of major papers in another, the magazines on their own, the culinary personalities in their own playpen. It also means I can keep all my Gotham feeds in their own (similarly organized) space without completely shifting into another gear.

feeds.jpg

It may not be the most streamlined process but it makes me more streamlined time-wise and that is (after all) the point. I tried Google reader but it just became a daunting, laundry list of headlines, the sheer volume of which made me turn and flee. Turning and fleeing is not very productive so I went back to my previous ways.

Why am I telling you this? Because, I am starting what I hope will be two new regular features here on Fabulous Foodie. The first is a ‘behind the scenes’ series (like a DVD extra, the blog version) and the second is a ‘Friday Food News Peruse‘.

So, that’s how we got here today. I had feeds on the brain.