Sunday, March 21, 2010

Double Vanilla Cupcakes: Respect the Bean


Why does vanilla have such a poor reputation? People will often refer to the boring and mundane as "just vanilla," which leaves me with the distinct impression that these naysayers have never had anything outside the realm of artificial vanilla extract. Pure vanilla, REAL vanilla, with its over 150 aromatic and flavor compounds (versus the artificial stuff's whopping 1), is anything but boring. The bean deserves respect.


These cupcakes are anything but boring, and they don't include any ingredients that push the vanilla bean off its well-deserved pedestal. The cupcake flavor is perfect, leaving me with no desire to change it, thought I do want to experiment with the texture a wee bit by adjusting the recipe to use cake flour instead of all-purpose, and by whipping the egg whites and folding them into the batter to make a lighter cake. Change or no change, this recipe will probably make a regular appearance in my kitchen.


Double Vanilla Cupcakes
(adapted, with slight changes, from here)

Ingredients

Cupcake

1 ½ cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg plus 2 egg whites
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1/2 to 1 vanilla bean (I used a whole bean)

Frosting

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (I used closer to a cup of butter)
1 1/4 cups of powdered sugar
1 vanilla bean

Method

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. While the oven preheats cut open and scrape out the seeds of a vanilla bean. Place the seeds, empty bean, and the milk into a small saucepan. Heat to just under a simmer for a few minutes being careful not to scald the milk. Remove from heat and allow the milk to steep and cool. (Be sure to remove the bean after it cools. Wash it and then place it out to dry so it can be used again.)

2. Beat the butter for about 3 minutes on medium speed, then add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat for 30 seconds. Add the egg whites, one at a time, beating for 30 seconds each.

3. In one bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In another whisk together the vanilla steeped milk, vanilla extract, and sour cream.

4. Add the flour mixture and the milk mixture to the butter sugar egg mixture in alternating additions (dry-wet-dry method), starting and ending with the flour. Mix until just combined being sure to not overbeat.

5. Divide the batter into cupcake papers in a muffin tin and bake at 350F for 18-20 minutes or until slightly golden brown. Be sure to rotate the cupcakes after the first 15 minutes to ensure even baking. Be sure to keep a close eye as these can get overbaked quickly. Allow to cool on a wire rack. Frost when cooled.

Frosting

Beat the butter and slowly add in the powdered sugar. Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean and beat in.


Makes about 1 dozen cupcakes (I managed closer to 20 small cupcakes)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pan-Seared Sea Bass with Meyer Lemon and Blood Orange Sauce


Recently, I purchased more Meyer lemons than would probably be considered suitable for one person to own, and, not surprisingly, ended up having to zest and juice more lemons than one pair of pregnant hands should ever have to zest and juice; now, my freezer has its own Meyer lemon section (is this sentence still going?) and I've been coming up with all sorts of fun ways to incorporate the aforementioned zest and juice into my life.

Of all the different ways I've used these wonderfully sweet and tart lemons, this is probably my favorite so far. At its core, this sauce is a citrus butter sauce, but it is rounded out with lightly caramelized shallots and a bay leaf that keep it just outside of the realm of "overwhelmingly tropical." It's delicious over a wide variety of seafood (grilled shrimp or seared scallops, for a start) and vegetables (especially asparagus), but I swear the first time I drizzled this over a piece of pan-seared Chilean Sea Bass, I heard the fish whisper you complete me. I heartily agree.

Pan-Seared Chilean Sea Bass with Meyer Lemon and Blood Orange Sauce

I served mine over roasted asparagus and topped it with some caramelized shallots, but I imagine this would be good over a variety of other vegetables or grains.

For sauce:

1 tablespoon of butter
3-4 Tablespoons shallots, minced
Juice from 1 Meyer lemon
1/2 cup blood orange juice
1/2 bay leaf
6 Tablespoons of butter, cut into Tablespoon-sized bits,
Salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste

1. Melt 1 Tbsp. butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until tender and just beginning to color (do not brown them), about 3 minutes.

2. Add the lemon and orange juice and bay leaf and simmer on low until reduced by about half (about 5 minutes). Stirring constantly, add butter one tablespoon at a time, incorporating each piece fully before adding the next. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and serve over sea bass.

For Fish:

Olive oil
(2) 6 oz. portions of Chilean Sea Bass
Salt and pepper

1. In a medium saute pan, heat a couple tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Season sea bass with salt and pepper, then place in pan and saute on both sides, turning only once. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of your fish, but fish is done when it flakes easily in the center with a fork.

Friday, March 12, 2010

What I Eat When There's Nothing to Eat


Today's post will have to be short, because I'm pretty sure my coherence will fall apart after just a few minutes. My brain is losing its battle with mental fog that I blame partially on pregnancy hormones and partially on a sinus infection that just won't quit.


I haven't felt like venturing into new recipe territory over the last few weeks (with the exception of a wonderful vanilla bean pound cake that I want to tell you about sometime in the near future), but I've managed to scrape together good meals from pantry staples and reimagined leftovers. Any time I roast vegetables in the oven, I save the leftovers; I also follow this general recipe to clean out my leftover fresh veggies at the end of the week (just saute them in a bit of olive oil while the pasta boils). Tossed with pasta, a drizzle of olive oil, and your favorite soft cheese (I always have chevre on hand), leftover vegetables make for an insanely easy lunch on those days that you want something delicious but just don't feel like putting in a lot of effort.

Favorite Easy Pasta Dish


Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook a handful of your pasta of choice until al dente. While pasta boils, either reheat leftover roasted/grilled vegetables in a saute pan or saute fresh greens and vegetables in olive oil until just tender. Drain pasta, reserving some pasta water, and toss pasta in saute pan with vegetables. Add a bit of reserved pasta water and simmer just until you have a thin sauce, then add several chunks of soft cheese and stir into pasta.

In the photos, I used leftover roasted asparagus, an assortment of mushrooms, and yellow peppers, but you can use just shallots and garlic, or onions with cherry tomatoes and a pinch of red pepper flakes, or whatever else you have lurking in your kitchen.