Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Grandma's Zucchini Bread

This is the time of year when everyone seems to have an inordinate amount of zucchini squash.  And you're forcing it on friends and family, or sneakily leaving it at work for coworkers.  "Please take some!"  There are lots of savory applications for zucchini, of course, but this classic baked good brings me back to my childhood in a wonderfully nostalgic way.

My grandma had a garden, and therefore ended up with LOTS of zucchini.  Each year she would make this bread and I would swipe as many pieces as possible.  It's a very straightforward Midwestern recipe that everyone can enjoy.

It also freezes VERY well, so feel free to bake many loaves and freeze a couple for the winter when you really are craving anything with produce in it.

Zucchini Bread
(My grandma's recipe!)
Makes 2 loaves

3 eggs, beaten
1 c. oil  (you can substitute half with unsweetened applesauce if you're trying to be a bit healthier)
2 c. sugar
2 c. grated zucchini
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 c. walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, oil, and sugar first, and then add in the zucchini.  Then mix in the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and fold in the walnuts.  Line 2 loaf pans with parchment paper.  Bake at 350 degrees about 1 hour, until a toothpick comes out clean.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Truffled Mac and Cheese

I have a confession.  The husband and I eat a lot of mac and cheese.  Kraft... mac and cheese.  As much as I enjoy home cooked meals, I haven't ever found a mac and cheese recipe that I like.  Until now.

To be fair, this recipe has been around the internet for quite awhile - it's a Martha Stewart recipe, after all.  But, I've put my own little spin on it by adding the truffle oil.  Truffle oil just makes everything a little bit better.  I recently had a truffled mac and cheese at a local restaurant and it was fantastic.  (And now I can save the $13 and just make my own!)  The truffle oil is optional, of course, if that's not quite your thing.

Also optional are all the veggies on the side.  Two different kinds of veggies make it healthy, right?  At least that's what I was telling myself when I was eating this meal.

The focus of this recipe is the cheese, obviously, so I would encourage you to splurge and get good stuff.  Not the yellow, rubbery block of preservatives that some companies call cheese.  But if all you have is some of that stuff, go for it, and get the good cheese the next time.

The original recipe calls for what is essentially croutons on top.  Which I think is weird.  I used panko bread crumbs instead, and I'm so glad I did.  It created a wonderful golden, crunchy crust that is the perfect foil for the gooey, creamy cheese inside.

Now, the original recipe also uses a 9 x 13 inch pan.  As much as we love mac and cheese, that was even a little extreme for us (but mostly our waistlines and wallets).  I halved the recipe which was perfect for us.  But if you need to feed a crowd, go ahead and make the full recipe.  Or if you want a lot of leftovers.  Bonus - this recipe reheats well!  As the husband says, "it's just awesome."

Truffled Mac and Cheese
(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
Makes 5-6 servings

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for casserole
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 3/4 cups milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for water
Pinch ground nutmeg
Pinch teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 1/4 cups (about 9 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar cheese
1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) grated Gruyère
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp (about 1.2 ounces) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 Tbsp white truffle oil
1/2 pound elbow macaroni

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 2-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place the panko breadcrumbs in a medium bowl. In the microwave, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Pour the melted butter into the bowl with the breadcrumbs, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside.

2. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.

3. While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, 8 to 12 minutes.

4. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, truffle oil, and about 3/4 of the cheese; set the cheese sauce aside.

5. Cover a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook the macaroni until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.  It will seem like there is too much cheese sauce, but I promise that there isn't!  All that extra sauce not only tastes great, but helps it reheat well.

6. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese, and the breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes (though we needed a bit more time to get it brown, but your oven may vary). Transfer the dish to a wire rack for 5 minutes; serve.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Basil Buttercream

Earlier this summer I was at my favorite chocolate factory perusing their delightful offerings and trying not to drool.

They had a smaller specialty bar that I hadn't seen before, the Basilico Pignoli.  A chocolate bar with basil pesto in it.  I was intrigued by this savory and sweet combination.  I purchased it and was pleasantly surprised at how well those flavors went together.  This cupcake was inspired by that chocolate bar.  Incidentally, that bar ended up being the chocolate sprinkles on top of the cupcakes.  A nice symmetry, no?  :-)

I should say, also, that I made this for a friend's birthday.  She happens to love basil pesto, so she seemed like the perfect recipient for these.  And, as I suspected, she loved these as well.

For the recipe, I combined a few different recipes to get the best balance of flavors.  I already had a fantastic dark chocolate cupcake recipe that I have paired with a tasty peanut butter frosting.  (Actually, I made those last year for this same friend!)  And then I found the perfect frosting from the awesome experimental Cupcake Project blog.

She infused the basil flavor into the frosting by first making a "basil sugar."  Then whipping it up in a normal buttercream.  The balance was perfect, and I was delighted that it worked so well.

Overall, it's a unique flavor combo that is divine.  I WILL be making these again.  And again.  And again...

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes
(Recipe adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)
Makes 12 cupcakes

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
½ cup (1.5 ounces) cocoa powder
¾ cup (3.75 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon table salt
½ cup (4 ounces) sour cream

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 350 degrees F. (If you are using a non-stick muffin pan, heat the oven to 325 degrees F.) Line standard-size muffin pan with baking cup liners.

Combine butter, chocolate, and cocoa in medium heatproof bowl. Set bowl over saucepan containing barely simmering water; heat mixture until butter and chocolate are melted and whisk until smooth and combined. (Alternately, you can microwave the mixture at 50% power, stirring every 30 seconds until completely melted.) Set aside to cool until just warm to the touch.

Whisk flour, baking soda, and baking powder in small bowl to combine.

Whisk eggs in second medium bowl to combine; add sugar, vanilla, and salt until fully incorporated. Add cooled chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Sift about one-third of flour mixture over chocolate mixture and whisk until combined; whisk in sour cream until combined, then sift remaining flour mixture over and whisk until batter is homogeneous and thick.

Divide the batter evenly among muffin pan cups. Bake until skewer inserted into center of cupcakes comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes.  Do not overbake, or they will be dry.

Cool cupcakes in muffin pan on wire rack until cool enough to handle, about 10-15 minutes. Carefully lift each cupcake from muffin pan and set on wire rack. Cool to room temperature before icing, about 30 minutes.

Basil Sugar
(from Cupcake Project)

1 large handful of fresh basil leaves
1 cup sugar (granulated or powdered sugar, depending on what you're going to use it for)

Rinse basil leaves and gently pat dry with a towel.
Pulse basil leaves in a food processor until they are as small as you can get them. Don't worry if there are still some big pieces since you'll process them further in a bit. You should end up with about one packed tablespoon of chopped up basil. Add more basil or remove some if you are too far off.
Place processed basil and sugar in a small bowl and use a spoon to mix well, pressing the basil into the sugar.
Place the basil sugar in the food processor and pulse to fully combine.
If not using within three days, store in the freezer until ready to use.
If basil sugar starts to get clumpy, pulse again in a food processor just before using.

Basil Buttercream
(from Cupcake Project)
Makes enough for 12 cupcakes (not piled high)

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup basil powdered sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes on high speed.
Mix in basil powdered sugar a little bit at a time.
Mix in powdered sugar a little bit at a time.
Mix in salt.
Pipe or spread onto cooled cupcakes.