Monday, October 12, 2009

Peanut Butter Frosting

DSC_0008, originally uploaded by Tracy La Dolce Vita.

I made these cupcakes for my boyfriend's dad, who has the biggest sweet tooth ever (which I love!)

They were something I put together quickly, the base is just chocolate cake mix, doctored up with coffee instead of water in the mix, and the frosting is a delicious and simple recipe from Epicurious. I chopped peanuts and toasted them in a pan quickly and sprinkled on top.

Peanut Butter Frosting
1 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients. To decorate, I filled a large Ziploc bag with the frosting, cut a quarter size hole from the corner, and pipe a circle onto the cupcake. With a spatula, flatten it out. Sprinkle with toasted chopped peanuts.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Light Summer Wines

Okay, it's been a very long time since I've posted, I've been busy (relaxing at the beach, that is). I'm working on a post detailing a very exciting and beer-filled Saturday I recently spent in Brooklyn, but I wanted to get back to the blog and post about two new wines I've recently enjoyed.

Both are extremely light, crisp white wines, the perfect thing to enjoy with an outdoor lunch or dinner before the summer's over. The first is Bastianich Friulano (formerly Tocai Friulano), a personal favorite anytime I dine in a Bastianich/Batali restaurant. It's very drinkable, sort of plain but enjoyable.

Secondly, I suggest the Grooner Gruner Veltliner. This is a crisp, fruity white wine with just a touch of acidity. It's packaged with a screwcap in a bottle with hip, cartoony art- it's a fun, lighthearted, not so "serious" wine.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Brooklyn Beer, Part 1

So as promised, here's part 1 of a recap of a great day devoted to beer. My friends and I sampled a variety of beers at two different locations in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

We started out with a tour and tasting at the Brooklyn Brewery. If you live in one of the boroughs and are looking for something different to do, this is it. Plan to drink all day and hang out with your friends. Bring a deck of cards.

Walking in the brewery, your nose is assaulted with the smell of beer, in a good way, not in the stale frathouse sense. We purchased tokens to redeem for beer (6 tokens for $20, each beer is 1 token), and then made our way to the "bar" area. It was really just a large room set up with Italian restaurant-style red checkered tablecloths. We found a seat, and made our way up to the bar, where they had a variety of Brooklyn beers on tap. The classics, like the Brooklyn Lager, Pilsner, and Brown Ale were available, as were varieties not available in liquor stores.

I started with the Sorachi Ace, a Saison-style beer that was crisp and lemony, with hints of pepper- a very interesting, different beer. At first I didn't like it, but as I kept drinking I realized it was a very complex and interesting variety. We moved onto the Blast, an IPA with an incredibly floral, perfumy aroma. The taste was sharp and citrusy, and very drinkable, especially when compared to many other IPAs, though not my favorite of the day. It's very perfumey in aroma, which I find to be a little distracting. We also sampled the Brooklyn Local 1, a light, yeasty beer with fruit and hint of coriander (very similar to Hoegaarden). Enjoyable. We ordered Fratelli's pizza (a solid B, decent but if you're in NY you can do WAY better) to the brewery, and sat around our picnic table drinking until tour time.

Well, that's if you could call it a tour. It was really just an assembly; basically someone brings you into a room where the vats are filled with yeast and gives some information on the types of beer brewed, how it's brewed, and the history of the brewery (the building used to house a matzoh ball factory!) Informative and ideally short, after 30 minutes of talking about beer, you just want to drink it, right?
All in all, it was a very enjoyable stop, informative and fun to sample lots of beers. The highlight is tasting beers you can't ordinarily find in a grocery store (and you get them straight from the source! Yes, the taste is slightly better. The bottled stuff isn't even made in Brooklyn).

If you go:
  • Sample the more unusual beers; the Pilsner, Lager, Pennant, Brown, and EIPA are all readily available in liquor stores, and all taste like variations on the same formula, but the options in the brewery showcase a much wider range of flavors and styles.
  • Bring cash! There's lots of fun souvenir stuff to buy, including coasters, tees, and glasses, plus it's popular to order delivery to the brewery.
  • Tours run on the hour, starting at noon on weekends.
  • Located at 79 N 11th St. in Williamsburg.
  • Phone: (718) 486-7422
  • Website:

Monday, June 1, 2009

Jalapeno Cucumber Margarita

After about two straight months of rain, it finally feels like summer here in Jersey. It's hot out, the boardwalk is packed with New Yorkers, and I can't stop making tropical drinks. My go to is a classic margarita (a real one, no bottled mixes for me!), but during a recent backyard barbeque I decided to try this spicy twist on the classic.

The Jalapeno Cucumber margarita involves sugar muddled with jalapeno for heat and cucumber for a refreshing twist, topped off with tequila and orange liqueur. The taste is similar to a regular margarita, only with a bit of heat that lingers after you swallow. If you don't like it too hot, find a milder pepper, and if you're really into spiciness, well now's a great time to pull out the Scotch Bonnets.

Jalapeno Cucumber Margarita, adapted from Stephen Kittredge Cunningham's The Bartender's Black Book **

Makes 1 drink
2 tsp sugar
4 jalapeno slices, cut 1/8 in thick
4 cucumber slices, cut 1/8 in thick
1 1/2 oz tequila
1/2 oz orange liqueur (I used Triple Sec)
1/2 oz lime juice

Rim the edge of a margarita glass with a slice of lime and dip into kosher salt.
In a mixing glass, muddle the sugar, jalapeno, cucumber, and lime juice together.
Fill glass with ice.
Add tequila and orange liqueur.
Shake, and pour into margarita glass.
Garnish with additional cucumber and jalapeno slices, if desired.

If spice isn't your thing, for a great Classic Margarita mix 3 parts tequila with 2 parts lime juice and 1 part triple sec. Shake over ice and pour into salted glass!

I'm bringing this margarita to Louise's Online Picnic! What are you bringing?

**I highly, highly recommend this book!! It is packed with tons of drink recipes, categorized alphabetically and by spirit, along with information on mixing, wine, beer, and how to make common mix-ins like sour mix, grenadine, and syrups.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Hash Brown Skillet

Eggs are my specialty and one of my favorite things to make. I love coming up with ideas for new brunches, and I have perfected my eggs in all forms. My best friend Jenn always says I make the best scrambled eggs. This breakfast here is one of my favorites. It was inspired by the skillet, my favorite breakfast at a local breakfast restaurant. A skillet is hash browns, topped with eggs, and possibly cheese or vegetables.

My skillet today is the basics. I made my homemade hash browns, jazzed up with fresh chopped rosemary, bacon, and tomatoes, and topped with two fried eggs. It's great to add cheese too, although I didn't.
So I start with the potatoes. I find hash browns work best if you partially cook the potatoes before, otherwise when you try to fry them, if you haven't sliced or chopped them thinly enough,
they'll burn on the outside before cooking through. I use 2 red bliss or Yukon Gold potatoes, and I just steam them in the Reynolds steam bags for 3 minutes in the microwave. I let them cool for a minute or so, then I peel the skins off (very easy to do when they are hot, but don't burn yourself!) and then chop them up.

I then heat up a skillet and toss in about some red pepper flakes, 2 tbsp of butter and 2 tbsp of oil. You can use more or less, depending on taste and diet preferences. Also, the type of pan you use is critical for crispiness. If you prefer your hash browns softer, use a non-stick skillet. This kind of steams them, as the non-stick coating acts as a barrier to creating a real crust. If you like them crunchier, cast iron is the way to go.

Let the butter foam up a bit and toss them in (this is also where you could toss in other vegetables, like onions or peppers).

Leave the potatoes alone for about five minutes, then give the pan a good shake to crisp up the other sides. Add more oil/butter if needed, and season with salt and peper to taste, as well as any other herbs you like. Here I used fresh rosemary, since I had some extra hanging around.

I made some bacon as well. I could have thrown that in with the potatoes, but for calories' sake I put a wire rack on top of a baking sheet and cooked them in the oven, so the excess fat and grease could be thrown away, instead of absorbed into my potatoes (not that that's a bad thing!)

This will take about 10-15 minutes, but they are very forgiving. When they are done, just cover the pan. The residual heat will keep them warm.

While they cook, get your eggs ready. I like my eggs sunny side up, but I cook them in a pan with the cover on. That way, the top of the egg kind of steams to get cooked, but the yolk remains runny.

Here's what it will look like when finished. I chopped a tomato and added it in at the very end, just for a kind of fresh taste to break up the buttery starchiness.
Here's the finished dish! I mixed up the potato and bacon, then topped with my eggs and a little sprig of rosemary for a garnish. The runny yolk gets absorbed by the potatoes and it is soo delicious.

Here's a close up.
MMMM. So good.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Lemon Cream Tart

This was the dessert I made for a recent family event. I'd been dying to have a reason to try Dorie's Lemon Cream tart, and I thought it made a perfect springy dessert.

And I was right. Let me tell you, this is without a doubt the most delicious thing I've ever made. I suppose my love of lemon makes me slightly biased, but honestly, it was wonderful. My mom and I ate it two pieces at a time. (which I actually don't recommend because after we were both completely stuffed- it's very rich!)

Making the tart itself was fun. My shell came out a little imperfect as I have an 11" tart pan, and the recipe made a shell for an 9" pan. I managed to stretch it a bit, unfortunately it didn't have that perfect professional look on the sides, but we'll just call it rustic. And maybe next time I should check things before I rush into them.

Making the cream was unlike anything I've ever done for a dessert. It involved making a lemon curd over a double boiler and then mixing it up in a blender with TONS of butter. The result is an absolutely amazing, creamy, sweet lemon filling, that I could not stop spooning out of the bowl and eating.

I then candied slices of lemon to decorate the tart. This is an incredibly simple thing to do. I sliced lemon very, very thin, and boiled it with a cup of sugar and 1 and 1/2 cups of water until the lemon slices were translucent (that's how you know they're not bitter anymore). I laid them out on a paper towel, sprinkled with sugar for a sparklyish effect, and let them hang out until tart time.
In keeping with my "rustic" shell, I went for a rustic look on the filling. I spread it out into the shell, and used the back of a teaspoon to "lift" up the filling sporadically across the tart- that's those peaks you see. You use the back of the spoon to make a small circles all over the filling, and lift the spoon when you're done with each circle. I topped with my candied lemon, and then I ate a billion slices.

Sweet Tart Dough, from Dorie Greenspan, Baking From My Home to Yours

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick plus 1 tbsp very cold unsalted butter
1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, salt, confectioner's sugar in a food process and pulse to blend. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in. You will have pieces in all different sizes. Stir the yolk and add it a little at a time, pulsing to blend for about 10 seconds after each addition. The dough will form clumps and curds, and as you continue processing, the sound of the machine will change, indicating that it's done. Turn the dough out, and knead it to incorporate any dry ingredients.

Butter a 9" tart pan. Press the dough evenly on the bottom and up the sides, being careful not to overwork it, lest the dough lose its crumbly texture. Freeze the crust for 30 minutes before baking. (Or, if not baking immediately, freeze for up to 2 months).

To bake, butter the shiny side of tin foil and fit it, buttered side down, on the crust. Bake it for 25 minutes, and if anything puffs (it shouldn't, as you froze it) just press it down with a spoon.

Lemon Cream Filling (also Dorie Greenspan)

1 cup sugar
Grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 sticks plus 5 tbsp butter, cut into tbsp size pieces, at room temp

You will also need a blender, a pan of simmering water and bowl to set over it (ie a double boiler), and instant read thermometer. I suppose it's better to have a pastry or candy thermometer, but I just used the one we normally stick in a roast.

Rub the sugar and lemon zest together in your double boiler bowl until fragrant. Whisk in the four eggs and lemon juice.

Set the bowl over the pan of simmering water and place your thermometer in it. Begin whisking it when it feels tepid. Whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 180 degrees. It will be close to 180 when the whisk starts to leave track marks in the cream. Don't stop whisking yet, but be aware that you will be close to finishing.

As soon as it reaches 180, strain it into the blender. You can discard the zest. Let it stand until it reaches 140 degrees. You can stir it occasionally to let some air in and help speed the cooling process, but it will most likely take a good 10 minutes. (During this time feel free to enjoy licking the lemon/egg mix out of the sieve like I did).

Turn the blender on high and with the machine running, add the butter 5 pieces at a time. (If you're afraid of splattering lemon cream all over your kitchen it's okay to shut the machine off for a second to drop the butter in). Once all the butter is in, continue to let the machine run for 3 minutes. If your machine is as loud as mine, those 3 minutes will be excruciating, but deal with it.

Pour the cream into a container and press a piece of plastic wrap into the surface, then cover with container's lid and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. The cream will last in fridge for 4 days, or can be frozen for 2 months and thawed in fridge.

Assemble the tart shortly before you want to serve it. Just whisk the cream, pour it in, top with your candied lemon, and enjoy!! Everyone will LOVE it.

Mother's Day Brunch

The older I get, the more I realize how much my mom has done for me throughout my life. Sometimes I recognize the oddest things, like how she silently let me go through my “thug life” phase back in high school, even though she must have been totally cringing inside. Or sometimes it’s more obvious things, like how annoying it must be to be the one to organize and plan every holiday, event, do all the cooking, clean up every single time, with not enough help from the rest of us.
Anyway, so I started the day with a brunch. Originally I had planned eggs benedict with lump crab, but as I learned it’s really hard to find crab NOT in a can (and I find canned crab to be off putting). So I opted for toasted Italian bread with cheese, arugula, mushrooms, and fried eggs (I like to cook them in a covered pan so the yolk is slightly hard, that’s why they are white on top not yellow).

Recipe (adapted on the fly from a bunch of crap in the fridge)
Serves 2
2 slices of round Italian sesame loaf, toasted.
2 slices Swiss cheese
1/2 cup arugula (pretty much a big handful; enough to just cover the bread)
1/2 cup sliced white mushrooms
4 large eggs

Drizzle some olive oil in a skillet. Add in mushrooms and sprinkle with salt. Saute for about 5-7 minutes, until soft and browned. When done, add salt and pepper and set aside.

Meanwhile, top toast with slices of Swiss cheese and melt in oven under broiler. Top with arugula, then mushrooms.

Drizzle olive oil into skillet and crack four eggs. Cover pan and cook until desired doneness. (I like my yolks semi-set with a slightly runny center, so I flip them over at the end). Salt and pepper generously, and place two eggs on top of each piece of toast.

Serve with mimosas!