Monday, November 21, 2011

Seeing Red

Moist and Delicious Red Velvet Cupcakes for Emily's Birthday
I am far, far away from my home and in St. Louis directing a charming holiday comedy called My Three Angels. It's been a fast and furious rehearsal process full of wonderful discoveries and challenges. I am extremely lucky to have this opportunity to work in such a great city with such talented people. Among them is a lovely actor named Emily. She is portraying the role of the ingenue, Marie-Louise, a stubborn and romantically-minded young woman in love with a good-looking douche bag. On one of the first nights of rehearsal, Emily told us that her birthday was today. When I asked her favorite variety of cupcake, she replied without missing a beat: "Red velvet." My mom had been raving about some Red Velvet Cupcakes she had whipped up a few months ago, so I took this as the perfect opportunity to get myself back into the kitchen and try out the recipe. I made a couple of changes to my mom's recipe based on what was on hand in Dan's kitchen. They came out great. Fingers crossed that Emily will like eating this birthday surprise as much as we liked baking them!
- 2 1/2 c. flour
- 1 1/2 c. sugar
- 1 1/2 c. vegetable oil
- 1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 Tbsp. red food coloring
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
- 1 c. room temperature buttermilk
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 2 Tsp. vanilla, divided
- 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
- 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
- 4 c. or so of powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350˚ F. Line muffin tins with 24 paper liners and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.

In another bowl combine vegetable oil, buttermilk, eggs, 1 Tbsp. vanilla, food coloring, and vinegar. Blend until thoroughly combined with a hand mixer. Batter should be smooth, thick, and bright red. In two of three batches, add the dry ingredients to the buttermilk mixture. Blend thoroughly after each addition. Using a tablespoon, fill each cupcake liner with batter to 2/3 of the way full.

Bake cupcakes in oven for about 20-30 minutes until they are cooked through and slightly raised. Remove from oven and cool in pan for about 5 minutes before turning out onto a rack. Allow cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.

In the meantime, go ahead . . . taste the batter. You know you want to.

When the cupcakes have cooled completely prepare the cream cheese frosting. Blend together room temperature butter and cream cheese with a hand mixer. Add remaining Tbsp. of vanilla. Slowly add powdered sugar to the mixture about a cup at a time and blend after each addition until the frosting has reached the desired consistency. Carefully frost each cupcake with a butter knife or off-set spatula. Yum. Enjoy eating and sharing these tasty little treats!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

November Rain

Hot and Smoky Pumpkin Soup With Garlic Croutons
Somewhere between the morning mist and the hours of cold November rain, I ventured outside to walk the dog. What have I found strewn in the aftermath of my neighbors' drunken violent post-Halloween outbursts? The scattered remains of last week's Jack-o-Lanterns smashed upon the asphalt in some sort of macabre massacre of used gourds. What a waste. We had two perfectly edible pumpkins sitting in our living room. While we had every intention of carving them and setting them out on the front step, the traditional practice of wasting perfectly good food never materialized. What am I going to do with those pumpkins? Not wanting to take the route of utter pumpkin destruction, it occurred to me that I could actually eat them. So, on this cold and rainy November night I threw together this smoky (and satisfying) soup recipe. Please try it! And remember, think of the pumpkins.

- 1 whole pumpkin (about 2-4 lbs.)
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 2 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 onion, peeled and diced
- 4-6 ancho chili peppers in adobo sauce, diced
- 1 c. milk
- 2 c. grated white cheddar cheese
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- chives
- crumbled feta cheese for garnish
- 4 c. vegetable broth
- 4 c. old bread, cut into 1" cubes

Preheat oven to 350˚F and line a heavy baking sheet with foil. Arrange bread cubes on the foil in an even layer. In a small bowl mash together garlic with 4 Tbsp. olive oil, whisk in 1 tsp. salt. Drizzle olive oil mixture over the bread cubes and toss together to coat evenly. Toast in oven for about 20-30 minutes until bread begins to dry out and turn golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside.

Turn oven up to 425˚F. Slice pumpkin in half and scoop the seeds and stringy pulp. Discard innards. Slice the pumpkin into 1" thick pieces and arrange in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and oregano and drizzle with olive oil. Roast pumpkin slices until they soften and begin to turn golden brown. It will take about an hour since pumpkin can be tough. Flip slices over about half way through to make sure both sides are browned.

Once the pumpkin has been roasted, allow it to cool for about 10-15 minutes so that it is easier to handle. Scoop the meat away from the skin. Discard the browned rinds and set the pumpkin aside.

In a large, heavy stock pot heat 2 Tbsp. of olive oil. Cook onion over medium until it softens and begins to turns translucent. Season with salt and pepper. Add vegetable broth, chili peppers in their sauce, and pumpkin and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer about 20 minutes until everything is softened. Remove from heat and blend with an immersion blender. Return soup to a low heat and whisk in milk and grated cheddar cheese.

Season to taste with additional salt and pepper. And heat until soup is warmed through. Ladle into bowls and garnish with croutons, crumbled feta, and chopped fresh chives. It will warm you from the inside out!