A Blog Party

>> Friday, April 30, 2010

4 - Four Fridays of CONNECTIONS (forging friendships)

So, I haven't really taken part in any of these blog link ups, giveaway, Fun Fact Friday, Silent Wednesday, you name it craziness. I guess cause I thought, I have a blog about cooking, and it doesn't really mesh. Well, I couldn't resist this time! :) My friend Carissa posted about this blog party on her website, and I checked it out, and the giveaways are to DIE for! I really want the pillows for my bedroom makeover - they will go perfectly!!!

So if you want to get involved, you can go to Hanna's website and get linked in. But in the meantime here are my four random facts - I made mine at least about cooking:

1. When my husband and I first got married, I didn't have much experience in the actual cooking arena (I mostly had done just baking). Well, let's just say I used WAY too much salt. He refers to it as the "salty year", just like PIcasso had the blue period.

2. When I was little, I used to bake a lot - according to my mom I never ate it, but I don't really think that's true! :) I used to pretend that I had my own cooking show. I would put on an apron and heels, walk around the kitchen doing each step and talking to the pretend camera! :)

3. In another life I would love to go to culinary/pastry school, but don't like all the science that's involved. I really don't care what needs to go in a cake to make it leavened! I just want to make it and eat it! :)

4. My love of cooking has also enhanced my love of photography! I'm definitely NOT professional at it, but I love coming up with shots, designs, backgrounds for the finished product, and even what plates to put it on and how the lighting will look with all of it! :)

Enjoy, and hope you play too!!


Strawberries with Balsamic Chocolate Reduction

>> Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My mom went home... boo!

We had such a great visit though!

I'll definitely post some pictures soon. We did a LOT of stuff in 2 1/2 weeks. We packed it all in. She has been out to see me before, so she's done a lot of the normal touristy stuff, so this time we did more unique things. We hiked in half moon bay, spent the weekend being girly in Santa Cruz (including massages in a place overlooking a Japanese tea garden), and perused every thrift store in the entire Bay Area looking for items to redecorate my bedroom.

It's going to be Vintage Romantic - I reinvented a new decorating style! :) I've found a few things already, I'll post before and after's when it's done.

My mom's just as much of a dessert fiend as me, but she also does really well trying to watch what she eats! So, I made this as a way for all of us to have dessert, and stick to being healthy too! Strawberries, balsamic vinegar, dark chocolate! Good to go.

I had some vanilla bean infused balsamic a good friend got for me from a fancy little store, and couldn't wait to try it out! You could really taste the vanilla after it was reduced! Super yummy with a hint of sweetness.

Strawberries with Balsamic Chocolate Reduction: (Adapted From: Dr. Gourmet)

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (vanilla bean infused or any other flavor if desired)
1 oz. dark chocolate chips or pieces
1 pint fresh strawberries (sliced)
1 tsp sugar (I used stevia - an all natural, no calorie sweetener)
- Depending on your healthiness factor - you can serve with vanilla ice cream or vanilla bean whipped cream

1. Slice the strawberries, place in a bowl and sprinkle sugar on top. Refrigerate for at least one hour.

This is my handy dandy egg slicer from Pampered Chef that slices my strawberries in about 2 seconds flat!! LOVE IT! totally worth the few bucks it costs. You might even be able to find it at Target.
This is how pretty the slices of strawberries turn out from my egg slicer - great for topping a dessert, cake, mousse, etc.
2. Place balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan (stainless steel or non-reactive)
3. Bring the vinegar to a boil, then reduce the heat, and allow to simmer. Continue to cook until the vinegar is reduced to about 1/4 cup - careful not to allow to burn or cook too long, because it will cook to a candy state and harden. This took about 15 min. on my stove (but I have a gas range), but it may vary - watch carefully.

4. Remove vinegar from stove and allow to cool slightly.

5. Add chocolate and whisk until smooth, and chocolate pieces are melted. Allow to cool completely, stirring often so it does not harden.

5. Drizzle sauce over sliced strawberries or serve on the side. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream if desired.


Gooey Chocolate Cupcakes with Ganache Truffle Filling

>> Thursday, April 1, 2010

You all must think I'm a serious fatty!

Please don't think I eat ALL the stuff I make (i.e. an entire chocolate avocado cake!) . I might try it, or have one of something, but I always pass it along, make it for something we are going to, take it to work, or make my husband take it to his office. I always at least taste it to at least make sure it's something I would recommend.

Another blogger I like to read; Cake, Batter, and Bowl, once said that she makes her husband try all her creations and rate it, if it isn't at least an 8 out of 10, she won't put it on her blog. I thought that was a really good rule of thumb, so I at least have some line of judgement to base on. Lucky for me, so far he hasn't told me that anything is less than an 8. I think my Vegan Bread Pudding with Strawberry Sauce was the closest any recipe got to a 7! :) His favorite statement is, "I would pay money for this!"

I know I just posted a recipe last night, and this is like record timing for a new one, but my mom is coming in ONE WEEK!! and I'm not sure how much I'll be blogging while she's here. On top of that, this weekend is one of the busiest weekends for us in the Jackson household - Easter weekend, The Hunt (a giant Easter egg hunt our church hosts for the city where over 2,000 people attend to participate in the egg hunt), and church services at Southbay Church.

Let's talk chocolate.... and coffee.... and cupcakes....

What more could you ask for! These cupcakes are ooey gooey! Yummy! Have an amazing little ganache truffle filling, and have the slightest hint of coffee taste. And we all know how I feel about coffee! Covered in a simple creamy chocolate swiss meringue buttercream frosting that's a little lighter than a traditional buttercream. You could also make it vanilla swiss buttercream (increase sugar in frosting recipe to 1/2 cup and omit chocolate), or Dulce De Leche Buttercream (with chocolate cupcakes - oh me, oh my!!! I've made this frosting before, and let's just say you can't stop licking the spoon!)

** Note: you will need a candy or instant read thermometer for the frosting recipe
***Extra Note: There are a LOT of pictures for this recipe, don't worry, it's okay to drool!

Gooey Chocolate Cupcakes with Ganache Truffle Filling (Recipe from: Cooks Illustrated) Makes 12 cupcakes

Ganache Truffle Filling:
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 Tbs. confectioner's sugar

Chocolate Cupcakes:
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1/3 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup hot coffee
3/4 cup bread flour (yes, this totally makes a difference in how moist - hence the gooey part of the title)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
6 Tbs. vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 tsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Creamy Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup sugar
2 large egg whites
pinch salt
12 Tbs. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1-tablespoon pieces
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled (between 85 and 100 degrees)
1/2 tsp. vanilla

For Ganache Filling:
1. Place chocolate, cream and confectioner's sugar in medium microwave-safe bowl. Heat in microwave on high until mixture is warm to touch, 20-30 seconds. Whisk until smooth; transfer bowl to refrigerator and let stand until just chilled, no longer than 30 minutes.
For Cupcakes:
1. Place rack in middle of oven and heat to 350 degrees. Place cupcake liners in a standard size muffin pan or generously butter bottom and sides of each opening.

2. Place chocolate and cocoa in medium bowl. Pour hot coffee over mixture and whisk until smooth. Set in freezer to cool while making next part.
3. Whisk flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.
4. Whisk oil, eggs, vinegar, and vanilla in a small bowl, then mix into cooled chocolate-cocoa mixture until smooth. Add flour mixture and whisk until smooth.

5. Divide batter evenly among muffin pan cups. Place one teaspoon ganache filling on top of each cupcake.
6. Bake until cupcakes are set and just firm to touch 17-19 minutes. Cool cupcakes in pan for 10 minutes.
7. Carefully lift each cupcake from pan and sent on wire rack. Cool to room temperature before frosting, about 1 hour.
For Frosting:
1. Combine sugar, egg whites, and salt in bowl of stand mixer; place bowl over pan of simmering water. Whisking gently but constantly, heat mixture until slightly thickened, foamy, and registers 150 degrees on candy or instant read thermometer.
2. Place bowl in stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment (or use hand mixer). Beat mixture on medium speed until consistency of shaving cream and slightly cooled, 1-2 minutes.

3. Add butter, 1 piece at a time, until smooth and creamy (It will look curdled when all butter is added, but keep beating, and it will eventually become smooth and creamy, don't freak out like I did! :) )

4. Once all butter is added, add cooled melted chocolate and vanilla, mix until combined.

5. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, and thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds, scraping beater and sides of bowl with spatula if necessary.

To Frost:
Mound 2-3 tablespoons frosting on center of each cupcake. using small spatula or butter knife, spread frosting to edge of cupcake, leaving slight mound in center.