Lemon Cupcakes

 

How many people out there want to leave their house? [silence]

I am under the impression its cold, rainy, snowy or some mix of the three everywhere right now causing many of us to want to hibernate. Hibernation makes me think of cupcakes. I wanted something bright and yellow and cheery to make my lazy drabby day improve and so I decided to bake lemon cupcakes- always cheery. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy lemons on a winter day seeing as how lemonade sounds ridiculous. But lemon-y cake with homemade lemon curd infused frosting and a little dollop of the lip-puckering stuff…that sounds delicious. And exactly what can turn a dismal day around.

The first step is the curd, which is somthing creamy, sweet, and citrusy. Just like clementine curd its very versatile – you need not feel you aren’t going to use it for other things. It’s not difficult to make, but can also be found in the stores where you find jelly and jam. The cupcakes are simple. I make them a smidgen more difficult by making a graham cracker bottom layer.  Please please please try baking them before making another cake by box mix. There is no reason to unless you want funfetti cake, which I have yet to figure out a homemade version of. Frosting is as easy as making a cake so I’m not going to go there. Get out your mixer and oven mitts. 

Lemon Cupcakes

for the curd

Ingredients:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • pinch salt

How To:

In a medium bowl, beat egg yolks and eggs.

In a saucepan, combine butter,sugar, juice, zest and salt. Cook on medium-high for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring occasionally until slightly thickened. Whisking eggs vigourously, add a small amount of the butter-lemon mixture. Add remaining butter-lemon mixutre in small increments until combined. Return to saucepan and reduce heat to low. Whisk until thickened and coats back of spoon. Transfer to a bowl or tupperware making sure curd is covered tightly. Refrigerate overnight. 

for the cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (smash graham crackers in a ziploc – voila, crumbs!)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 1 1/2 tablspoons granulated sugar, divided
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • zest of 3 lemons, grated finely
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons lemon curd
  • 6 tablespoons buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

How To:

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pan with paper liners.

Combine graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter. Stir until well combined, then press about 1 tablespoon on the bottom of each cupcake liner.

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time and the lemon zest.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine the lemon juice, lemon curd, buttermilk and vanilla. Add the flour and the buttermilk alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Pour batter into cupcake tins, about 2/3 full. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.

for the frosting

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons lemon curd
  • 3 to 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • lemon curd for garnish

How To:

Combine butter, 1 1/2 cups of the confectioners’ sugar, milk, vanilla and lemon curd and mix on low speed gradually moving up to medium speed. Add confectioners’ sugar by 1/2 cups until spreading consistency is reached. Frost each cupcake and place a small dollop – about a teaspoon of lemon curd atop. Pucker up!

* You can also save the lemon curd until the cupcakes are done, and place curd into a piping bag. With a small/medium round tip attachement, insert tip into baked (cooled) cupcake and squeeze about 1 teaspoon into cupcake. Repeat with remaining cupcakes, then frost.

Quiche 101

Quiche is so….adaptable, and who doesn’t like something adaptable to fit one’s every desire? It can be made into a dish with all your favorite flavors from bacon to sweet peppers, perhaps not in the same pie. The crust can be anything from spelt to whole wheat to good old white and flaky. You can use just about any cheese a) in your fridge or b) you can’t get enough of (gruyere). To top off my love of quiche, I really enjoy things that come in odd packages. All things considered, quiche is one of them.  Its eggs in a pie or tart shell- not the sweet little pie I’m used to. It’s ridiculously versatile. Its fun to say (“quiche!”), simple to create, exciting to eat…if exciting to you is savoring a fluffy egg-y cheese-y vegetable morsel that comes in a pie slice.

Adding colorful vegetables perks up the mellow egg mixture.  Stoplight peppers and glistening onions…and maybe a sprinkling of tiny peas or corn.

And the finished result is nothing short of awesome.

So there is my plea for you to try quiche, whether it is morning, noon, or night. The basic recipe is below, thus the “101” title. Hop to it.

Quiche

Ingredients:

  • 1 8″ or 9″ pie crust
  • 4 to 5 eggs, depending on if they are large, extra large or jumbo, beaten
  • 1 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups grated cheese (I use gruyere, swiss, or white cheddar)
  • 2/3 cup thawed frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup fresh or thawed frozen spinach
  • 1/2 cup peppers (red, yellow, orange or green, or a mix)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • couple pinches freshly ground black pepper

How To:

Bake pie shell at 450 degrees for 7 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly. Lower oven heat to 325 degrees.

Combine beaten eggs, milk, salt, pepper, cheese and vegetables. Whatever ingredients you are using, add those in (be it bacon or green onions). Pour into pie shell and bake for 30 minutes or until eggs are set. Let sit for 15 minutes out of oven. Cut into slices and serve with a small side salad.

 

Chicken Noodle Casserole

After days and days of overcast skies that turn dark at 3:30pm, comfort food again topped my list of things to make me happy…er second to family…third to friends. But it’s up there on the list. 

I set out to make tuna noodle casserole only to find I had no tuna. What I did have in the pantry was canned chicken. It’s simply chicken breast diced and in a can, much like tuna. I cringe when I say chicken from a can because I am well aware the idea of canned chicken is not palatable (to put it nicely). But, if you have not tried it I recommend you do and get back to me. It is very tasty and makes a great buffalo sauce dip and chicken salad. I had some cans in waiting and this was their opportunity because I was not going to haul my cookies out to get tuna.

It took me about 30 minutes to whip this together and another 30 until it was on the table, hot and bubbly out of the oven.

 

 

 

 

 

Chicken Noodle Casserole

Ingredients:

  • 4 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup Sherry
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large can (12-ounce) chicken, drained
  • 6 ounces dried curly egg noodles or whole wheat pasta, or regular pasta
  • 1 1/2 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs (I used the canister kind…)
  • 4 ounces coarsely grated cheddar (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

How To:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a shallow 2-quart baking dish.

Cook onion in 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with a pinch of salt in a large skillet  over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally until softened, about 5 minutes. Increase heat to moderately high, cooking until slightly carmelized but take care to not burn.  Add frozen peas and soy sauce. Add Sherry and boil mixture, stirring occasionally until liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat.

Melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a 2 to 3 quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat and whisk in flour, creating a roux. Whisk for about 2 minutes. Add broth in a stream, whisking and bring to a boil. Whisk in milk and simmer sauce, whisking occasionally for 5 minutes. Stir in onioin and pea mixture, lemon juice, and salt. Flake chicken into sauce and stir gently. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook noodles in about 4 -5 quarts of boiling, salted water until al dente (or the noodles have barely a bite). Drain noodles and return them to the pot. Add sauce and stire gently to combine. Transfer mixture to baking dish, spreading evenly.  

Toss bread crumbs and cheese together in a bowl. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over crumbs and cheese and toss again.  Sprinkle evenly over casserole. Bake until topping is crisp and sauce is bubbling, 20 to 30 minutes.

Clementine Cake with Clementine Buttercream

I can’t get enough of clementines apparently. I recently whipped up a batch of Clementine Cream (or Curd) and needed to experiement a bit more. The lovely Kitchen Butterfly inspired me to create a cake with dreamy, creamy layers using the clementine cream. She recommends mixing the clementine cream with whipped cream or cream fraiche, but since I need my cake to stand at room temperature for a bit I decided a more-able-to-withstand-room-temperature topping was necessary (buttercream).  All I needed was a cake recipe.

Sadly, I can’t say the next part was hard. I really want to say it was a challenging cake, making it seem like I created a masterful dessert. Instead, I simply looked up lemon cake recipes, and exchanged the lemon juice for clementine juice and used the zest of an orange instead of a clementine. I made mini-cakes with pans 6″ in diameter. The result was a lovely little cake, making it easier for me to take piece after piece after piece because they were after all, mini-pieces. And the look of the cake? I’d say it looks pretty cute…and I’ll take the credit if you think its of a masterful quality.

I thought an icing-like frosting was the way to go, as most citrus-flavored cakes have a glaze. Icing to me tastes like a heavy glaze. However, next time I make this cake I will try other frostings because I like more fluff and I think this cake deserves more. The frosting recipe below is a bit heavy, so please offer up frosting suggestions to make this cake better!

Clementine Cake with Clementine Buttercream

Ingredients:

for the cake

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons fresh clementine juice
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

for the frosting

  • about 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons clementine curd, divided
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 to 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup clementine juice
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • How To:

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

    Spray or grease 2 6″ round cake pans. Line the bottom with parchment paper, if desired.

    Cream the butter and  sugar until light and fluffy about 4 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the lemon zest.

    Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine 2 tablespoons clementine juice, the buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Divide the batter evenly between the pans and bake for 30 to 45 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

    When the cakes are done, remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and set them on a wire rack. Allow the cakes to cool completely.

    To prepare frosting, combine 2 tablespoons clementine curd with the butter. Add 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, clementine juice, and vanilla extract. Add more powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time until desired consistency is reached.

    Frost cakes by topping first layer with a thin coating of the clementine curd, about 1/3 cup. Top with buttercream frosting, forming a layer over the curd. Top with other cake. Frost both layers with buttercream frosting. Put clementine slices around the cake for garnish.

    This cake will stay “good” for one day out, up to a week in the fridge.

    Polenta Cakes with Roasted Tomatoes

    As I studied the menu at one of my favorite breakfast spots in Chicago this past weekend, I noticed polenta cakes advertised as pancakes. To give you a look into how my mind works, that reminded me of the polenta in my cabinet, which led to a sudden urge to make polenta…into little cakes. I have no idea what the polenta cakes on the menu looked like because I go with eggs in the morning, but I am sure they would have been spectacular. You know when you don’t get something you may have wanted and that causes you to obsess over it? That is where I was. Obsessing over polenta cakes.

    I opened my fridge a day later (polenta cakes creeping to the extreme forefront of my mind) to see a quart of grape tomatoes starting to wrinkle. I immediately pulled them out, attempting to rescue them. I’d never roasted tomatoes, but knew it was not hard and could possibly make a perfect addition to a polenta cake. Halved, doused in olive oil, salted and peppered and into the oven they went at 325 degrees for 2 1/2 hours (they were small grape tomatoes and didn’t need a full 3 hours to roast).

       

    Since obsession was the theme, I remembered my summer-into-fall love affair with ricotta. I had found tubs of the fresh kind at Whole Foods and used it in several recipes. They became another ingredient for the polenta cakes. Basil was an easy last addition since it goes with the flavors. Together, all these pieces create polenta cakes with roasted tomatoes, perfect as an appetizer…when the need to make polenta comes about.

    Polenta Cakes with Roasted Tomatoes

    Ingredients:

    • 3/4 cup roasted grape or cherry tomatoes
    • 1 cup polenta
    • 3 cups chicken stock
    • 3 tablespoons parmesan cheese
    • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
    • kosher salt
    • pepper
    • 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
    • 10 fresh basil leaves

    How To:

    Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray or grease an 8″ or 9″ round cake pan. If desired, line with parchement paper.

    Bring chicken broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Add pinch of salt and polenta. Stir gently until polenta begins to come away from sides of pan. Add parmesan cheese and garlic powder, stir to mix. Remove from heat.

    Pour polenta into cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until top is set. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Turn polenta cake onto a plate, remove parchement from bottom. Using a 1 inch diameter biscuit cutter, cut polenta cake into mini cakes.

    While polenta cake is baking, mix ricotta with salt and pepper to taste. I use about 1 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Top cooled polenta cakes with about 1 or 2 teaspoons ricotta. Top with a basil leaf and three or four tomato halves. Alternatively, top ricotta with three or four roasted tomato halves and basil chiffonade (when the basil is cut into long thin strips), or as I like to call it “basil confetti”. Season with salt and pepper again if desired. I prefer these bites at room temperature, but chilled is delicious as well.

    This recipe can be played with and I want to try topping the polenta cakes with mozzerella chunks then the tomatoes, or fresh tomatoes, maybe some fresh salmon and dill, perhaps some roasted vegetable layers…I’m getting too many ideas and I’ll have to post them once they finally take shape! In polenta cake form of course.

    Clementine Curd (or Cream)

    I could use a little sunshine at the moment and the only manifestation I can think of is to stare at a bowl of clementines.

    In all seriousness, in the winter I crave juicy fruits and citrus. Clementines fall into this category and my mouth waters when I see them appear in their sweet little boxes. I’m a sucker for “cute” marketing. They are in season and I have a whole pile of them waiting for me to test out. The first experiment: clementine curd, which I like to call clementine cream.

    Clementines are very sweet and resemble mini oranges or mandarins. I hadn’t used them in a recipe before this and I’m not sure what I was waiting for. They are seedless and very easy to juice by hand. I did, however, have difficulty grating the zest. Whether they are hard to zest in general (anyone, anyone?) or it was just my clementines… I would use lemon or orange zest instead.

                  

    I’m trying to think of all the many ways to use clementine cream. Here is a list to start: on pancakes, waffles, ice cream, frozen yogurt, freeze to make popsicles, use in tarts, cakes and cupcakes, in frosting, as a filling, as a garnish to a pound cake, even on oatmeal, which I tried this morning with mangos. The smoothness of the clementine cream, mixed with the mango and oatmeal…a good way to start off a less-than-stellar winter day. It tasted blissfully tropical.

    There are so many options! What would you use it in?

    Clementine Cream

    Ingredients:

    • 2 large eggs
    • 2 large egg yolks
    • 2/3 cup fresh clementine juice (about 5 to 6 clementines)
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
    • pinch salt
    • 1 teaspoon grated clementine zest (orange or lemon will work too)

    How To:

    In a small heat-proof bowl (tempered glass bowl like pyrex), whisk eggs and egg yolks. Set aside.

    In a small saucepan combine juice, sugar, butter, and salt. Heat over medium high until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

    Whisk a few tablespoons of the juice mixture into eggs. Continue whisking eggs and add juice mixture in small increments until combined. Pour back into saucepan and heat on low until mixture thickens. Do not boil. Once thickened, it will leave a path on the back of the spoon and a candy thermometer will read 170 degrees F.

    Remove saucepan from heat and stir in the zest. Transfer to a bowl or glass tupperware. Seal tightly and place in the refrigerator overnight. The curd will thicken more as it cools. It will keep for a week in the refrigerator or up to 2 months in the freezer (though I’ve not tried freezing, yet).

    Amazing Chicken Tenders

    I formerly thought of chicken tenders as the deep-fried type found only in bars and on children’s menus that come with a side of ranch or bbq sauce. I was so so wrong. After this latest experiment insprired by the National Championship BCS game, I now think of chicken tenders as an awesome dinner with a light, flaky crust and a juicy chicken tender underneath. See, it was a blizzard out and there was no way I was going to a bar to watch two teams I can’t even claim as one of my own.

    I recommend baking these tenders to keep the crust intact, but you can most definitely fry or even fry first quickly then bake to add some oil to the crunchy outside. When I first made a batch, I was literally throwing in whatever seasonings sounded good. You can do the same or use Italian breadcrumbs that have a lot of the seasonings listed below. If you prefer to use measurements to the tee and follow the below instructions, you’ll have an amazing batch of chicken tenders. Which is why I named them so.

    Dip these in your bar bbq sauce and see if you like them more. You’ll definitely feel better after eating a plate-full, unless its a hangover situation, in which case grease could possibly win. But the chances aren’t good. These are after all, amazing.

    Amazing Chicken Tenders

    Ingredients:

    • 3 boneless, skinless chicken  breasts, cut into strips to create tenders
    • 1 1/2 cups bread crumbs (can use whole wheat)
    • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
    • 2 teaspoons oregano
    • 1 teaspoon dried basil
    • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon dried minced onion
    • pinch dry mustard
    • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon lawry salt
    • ground black pepper to taste
    • 1 tablespoon parmesan cheese
    • 3 eggs
    • 1/2 cup milk
    • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
    • sauces for dipping such as honey, ranch, honey mustard, sweet and sour, bbq sauce, hot wing sauce…the list is virtually endless… 

    How To:

    Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

    In a medium bowl, combine bread crumbs and all dry seasonings. Set aside.

    In a small bowl, whisk eggs. Add milk and dijon, mix well.

    Line a large baking sheet with parchement paper. Dump crumbs onto a large plate. Create an assembly line – first chicken tenders, followed by egg bowl, crumb plate, and baking sheet. Dunk several chicken tenders in egg mixture. One tender at a time, roll in crumb mixture. Set on baking sheet and proceed with the rest of the tenders. Once all tenders are breaded, bake in oven for 15 minutes or until opaque througout. While tenders are baking, pour sauces into separate ramekins or small bowls.

    Serve immediately with sauces. *

    *Chicken tenders are best made and immmediately eaten, but you can save them (place in refrigerator in a sealed containter) and reheat in 350 degree oven until warm/hot.