The Luck of the Irish

Green Velvet Cupcakes

I have been keeping a long list of things I should write about but nothing has sent me back to this blog until a baking experiment this week. I watch The Great British Bake-Off the second a new season is available on Netflix. The combination of Britishness, tea and the fact that these “competitors” are willing to help their fellow contestants whenever they need help make this a refreshing, and delicious, show to dig into. It also usually inspires me to attempt baking again. But, lacking a new season, another event inspired me. I was invited to a wine & dine with a St. Patrick’s Day theme. I chose to tackle Green Velvet Cupcakes and it’s the first thing I’ve cooked or baked in a long time that really made me feel like I’d made something delicious worth sharing.

I was expecting this recipe to just be red velvet cake but green. I was happy to find myself surprised. I’m not actually a big fan of red velvet cake. The idea always appeals more than the cake itself and I usually end up just eating as much of the cream cheese frosting around the cake itself as I can. So, green velvet cake was a pleasant surprise. It is tasty; nice and springy with a hint of chocolate. Plus, it’s green. Not a vivid green; more like a spring green. Novel enough to please but not so green I thought was I eating something alien.

The frosting though…that is what I am most proud of. I think it’s a type of buttercream frosting or at least that is what I’m calling it. I think I might be most proud of the fact I managed to make it without a stand mixer or killing my arm. Standing and running a hand mixer for 12 minutes doesn’t sound like a workout but it. is. This frosting is delicious (and so pretty). Nice and light with the right hint of sugar and vanilla but not feeling like I’m getting cavities by eating it (in fact, eating it with a spoon may have been something I did…without feeling sick afterwards. More like I’d ate whipped cream with a bit more oomph).

Yum! A bowl full of frosting.

Plus, it was just so nice to make something I liked again! I’ve enjoyed the few dishes I’ve made lately but nothing I felt like bragging about or sharing. It’s all been kind of…eh. Was this complicated and difficult to make? Yes but totally worth it. It tasted better than anything I’ve made in a long time. Happy St. Pat’s Day everyone from someone who was lucky enough to find some fun in the kitchen again this weekend.

Green Velvet Cupcakes
(can also be used to make a layer cake; I did cupcakes since I didn’t have the right pans to try a layered cake – maybe next challenge!)

Cupcakes: 
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk, well shaken
1 tablespoon green liquid food coloring
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 large eggs, lightly beaten

Frosting:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Pinch fine salt
Green liquid or gel food coloring, optional
Green candies and sanding sugar for decorating, optional

Directions:
1) For the cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. BPut cupcake liners in the pan and set. aside.
2) Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.
3) Whisk the buttermilk, food coloring and vanilla in a spouted measuring cup; set aside.
4) Beat the granulated sugar and butter in a stand mixer (or a large bowl if using a hand mixer) on medium speed until very light in color and fluffy, about 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
5) With the mixer still running, slowly add the eggs and beat until fully incorporated. Reduce the mixer speed to the lowest speed; with it running, add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then 1/2 of the buttermilk mixture, then 1/2 of the remaining flour mixture, then the remaining buttermilk mixture, then the remaining flour mixture. Scrape down the sides and beat until well mixed.
6) Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake tins. Bake until slightly puffed and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool entirely before frosting.

For the Frosting:
1) Put the flour in a small saucepan. Vigorously whisk in about 1/2 cup of the milk, making sure to get the whisk into the edges of the pan, until you have a smooth, thick paste. (This step keeps the flour from clumping.) Slowly whisk in the remaining milk until fully incorporated and the mixture is smooth.
2) Cook over medium heat, whisking continuously, until the mixture is very thick, about 5 minutes. (Toward the end of the process, the mixture will become a thick paste; it may seem to be forming lumps, but whisk vigorously and the lumps will disappear.)
3) Scrape the frosting into a bowl, press plastic wrap onto the surface and refrigerate until cool, about 45 minutes.
4) Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a hand mixer), beat the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
5) Add the cooled flour mixture a tablespoon at a time and beat until smooth.
6) Switch to the whisk attachment (or continue with the hand mixer), add the vanilla, salt and 3 to 5 drops food coloring if using and whip until very light and fluffy, like thick whipped cream, up to 10 minutes with a stand mixer or 12 minutes with a hand mixer.
7) Frost and decorate the cupcakes (be generous with the frosting!)

To assemble (if making a layer cake):
1) Place one layer on a cake plate, spread frosting on top and repeat with the 2 remaining layers.
3) Frost the sides and decorate with candies and sanding sugar if using.

Cook’s Note
This recipe can instead be baked in three 8-inch layers or two 9-inch layers.

[Thanks to my P.E.O. sister Sue Colombo for the recipe which I believe came from the Food Network originally!]

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Making It Work (when you didn’t buy the right stuff)

I am usually meticulous in checking the recipe I mean to make vs. what I have in my cupboards vs. what goes on my shopping list. But, every once in a while, my brain fills in the gaps in a less than perfect way. This week’s recipe is tasty though a pain to make, to be honest, and won’t go into the keep pile any time soon. However, it was a success in that I had to make the recipe work when I didn’t actually have all the right ingredients or the right amount of ingredients.

I’m a stickler for recipes. I have no instincts in the kitchen, I freely admit that. If the recipe doesn’t tell me to do something or measure something, it isn’t getting done. One of my favorite lines from a book is about this. In discussing learning to cook the character is using a beginner’s cookbook and she notes, “It was just the thing; the writer assumes you know nothing about cookery and writes useful hints – “When adding eggs, break the shells first.” I have progressed beyond that level but I’ve never gotten to a point where I can just whip something up without a recipe telling me useful things.

So, I panic when I’m in the middle of making something and realize I don’t have the thing I’m supposed to have. That happened multiple times with this recipe. One, I bought chicken breasts and not ground chicken. This mostly worked out and I would argue I probably like the recipe better because of it. I’m not the biggest ground chicken fan. Two, I thought I had more soy sauce and honey in my cupboards so I did fancy math to re-portion all the ingredients to make the sauce. Three, in my quest to never chop anything, I bought the wrong kind of peas because I wanted the peas already portioned out and didn’t get fresh ginger so I needed to do the fun math to figure out the dried to fresh ratio when it comes to herbs (is there an app for this yet? Because I do it all the time and it’s not something I think I do right at all).

All of this worked out in the end and the dish is tasty but it stressed me out while cooking. I would also argue this recipe, in its efforts to be a healthier alternative, is overly complicated. I am sure you could buy ready made sauce that would be fine to use and I’m not convinced baking the mixture after cooking it added much to the dish itself and made me turn my oven on in August in Florida. So, lesson learned. Double check the recipe, its ingredients versus what I have and what’s on the shopping list to avoid stress in the kitchen for this cook who likes to actually weigh ingredients for accuracy.

Chicken Teriyaki Bake (Original recipe: SkinnyMs)

Ingredients:

For the Sauce:
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup honey
3/4 cup cold water
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons cornstarch

For the Bake:
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 pound ground chicken (or as I do, 1 pound diced chicken breasts)
1/2 cup yellow onion, diced large
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced (or 1/2 tsp ground ginger)
1 cup broccoli, chopped small
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1 cup snow peas, cut in half
3 cups cooked brown rice

Directions:

For the Sauce:

  1. In a small sauce pot, combine the soy sauce, honey, 1/2 cup of the water, ginger, and garlic powder. Bring to a boil.
  2. While the sauce is boiling, combine the last 1/4 cup of water and cornstarch in a small bowl (Krystal’s note: Try and do this in a liquid measuring cup. The bowl I used got more of this on the stove than in the sauce…). Whisk well and gradually pour into the boiling sauce, stirring the sauce constantly.
  3. Reduce to a simmer, and continue to stir the sauce until thickened. Remove from heat and set aside.

For the Bake:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 9X13 inch casserole dish with non-stick spray and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet, heat the sesame oil on medium heat. Once hot add the ground chicken, breaking up into smaller pieces as it cooks.
  3. When no pink remains in the chicken, add onion, garlic, ginger, broccoli, carrot, and snow peas. Cook until onions soften.
  4. Add the rice and mix well to combine.
  5. Stir in the sauce, until all ingredients are coated well.
  6. Pour into prepared baking dish. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

 

Lazy Summer Reading

I am happy to report I seem to have finally shrugged off my spring reading slump and am enjoying some lovely lazy days reading. I think it helps I’ve been sticking to books about food, romantic comedies and only one “serious” read (but it was so good, it was worth the few tears!). Here are the titles that helped me get back to reading more like myself:

Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books by Cara Nicoletti

This was a fun read; as someone who often finds herself hungry for what the characters in her latest book are eating, I enjoyed Nicoletti’s deep dive into literary food. Also, as a book to help one out of a reading slump, this reads fast and easy. But does make you really hungry so maybe avoid if also on a diet. I also found the recipes to be quite complex – nothing I couldn’t do if I tried but during the summer…who really wants to be cooking and baking all that much?

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

This was the book Anne Bogel (aka Modern Mrs. Darcy) recommended to me (well, the third book since the first two were already out of stock). But it did not disappoint. This book is delightful. A bit You’ve Got Mail meets Clueless, it’s fairly predictable but that’s the beauty of it. It has characters you’re rooting for the whole time even when they are in the dark about what is going to happen next but you definitely know. And you just need books like that sometimes; they are comforting and wonderful to devour in one seating. This would be a perfect beach read if you’re in need of one. (and I gushed on this at book club so much it’s the first book we’re reading in the fall!)

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

After easing myself back on the reading train, I hit up this title which I picked up at the local indie bookstore on sale a few months back. This was such a bittersweet and beautiful book to read. I took it slow; it was a story I both wanted to savor and also slightly dreaded what would happen next. June is such a fantastic and heartwarming character – both still so young and naive while being an old soul at the same time. She’s a teenager so she also has her annoying moments but her relationships are fascinating to watch develop, crumble and rebuild over the course of the novel. The book also made me tear up, which not many books achieve, so kudos to the author for that. Seriously though, one of the best I’ve read in a long time. Highly recommend.

Girls Who Travel by Nicole Trilivas

Really quick (re: one sitting) book to read. Fun, cute (but predictable) rom-com read that just really makes me miss traveling and England…a lot. The main character manages to be less annoying than some in this genre can be so kudos for that. It did take be a bit to get into the book though – I almost DNF’d before it really caught my attention and then I flew through the rest.

Tackling seafood in the kitchen

I am always apprehensive to take on seafood in my kitchen. One, because I haven’t much experience cooking with it and two, living in an apartment, the smell is a bit of a deterrent as well. But I really like a lot of seafood (I’ve successfully made crab cakes before)and it’s one of my goals this year to try to get brave and cook more seafood at home. So, this weekend I tackled shrimp.

Shrimp was on sale at Publix which is why it was the one I decided to try this weekend. The guy at the seafood counter enjoyed trying to help me figure out what I needed (he was very patient with me since I didn’t have a clue what I needed really). I bought it deveined but not peeled so I did have to take the tails off and peel them all before cooking. It was my favorite task I’ve done in the kitchen but it wasn’t awful and went better than I expected actually.

What actually failed is I tried to use frozen zucchini noodles for this recipe and I didn’t have them thawed enough which caused some issues. In the future, I’ll cook the noodles as the package notes and then integrate into the recipe. I think that would work fine and still saves me from the spiralizer (which isn’t hard to use but is a pain in the butt to clean afterward). This recipe had a bit more of a kick than I expected but it’s still tasty and the shrimp cooked up so easily. I was impressed by how quickly they turn that shrimp pink! While I don’t think I’ll be hanging onto this recipe, I have got over the fear of shrimp in the kitchen so I have some other recipes I hope to try this year!

[no picture this week as 1) I forgot to take one and 2) Mine did not look as good as the site I got the recipe at so go there and see their pretty dish!]

Zucchini Pasta with Shrimp & Tomatoes (original recipe here)
Servings: 6 (which…I disagree with. Mine came out to more like 4)

Ingredients
3 medium zucchini, remove most of the peeling (or zucchini noodles already made)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice (I used the kind in a bottle – it was fine)
1 cup halved grape tomatoes, cut into quarters
1 pound raw shrimp (thawed if frozen), peeled and deveined

Directions

  1. To make pasta, attach zucchini, one at a time, to a vegetable spiralizer. Use the smaller holes for spaghetti.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Add shrimp and cook until opaque and pink, 2-3 minutes. Place shrimp on a plate and cover.
  3. Add the garlic to the pan and sauté 1 minute. Add remaining olive oil, zucchini pasta, salt, black pepper, red pepper, and lemon juice, and tomatoes, toss to combine. Continue cooking until pasta is tender, about 5 – 7 minutes.
  4. Place shrimp on top of pasta, cover skillet and remove from heat. Allow to set for 1 minute, ensuring shrimp is hot.

Getting a healthy(ish) Cheeseburger Fix

I adore cheeseburgers. It’s one of those dishes that I am always in the mood for, no matter what. I will never say no to getting a cheeseburger. It may be a bit of a downfall though when trying to eat healthier. So, I have collected LOTS of “healthy” cheeseburger recipes over the years. Most are just deconstructed salads than never really satisfy a craving for a big old burger. But, I tried a new recipe out last week that did a pretty good job finally!

First of all, I love a dish that comes portion controlled out of the gate. I am hit or miss about measuring out portions as well as I should be these days. I am trying to get back into my good habits but it’s not going well. So, this recipe immediately wins because it uses a handy muffin tin to portion out the correct amounts for me! I also like that the serving for this is two “muffins” so basically you get two cheeseburger sliders for dinner. I also liked the meat mixture to create the “burgers” – adding the mustard into the meat mixture really adds a nice little kick and then the ketchup and pickle on top make this an excellent cheeseburger substitute. It also comes together really easily with a fairly small amount of chopping for once. This one went onto the keeper pile for sure!

Cheeseburger Mini Loaves

Mine aren’t very neat but they were tasty!

Cheeseburger Mini Loaves (original recipe here)
Makes 6 servings (2 loaves per serving)

Ingredients
1 lb. raw extra-lean ground beef (4% fat or less)
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1/4 cup whole-wheat panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup (about 2 large) egg whites or fat-free liquid egg substitute
3 tbsp. ketchup
2 tsp. yellow mustard
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
3/4 cup shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick spray (use a paper towel to make sure the spray is spread all over the inside of the cups).
  2. In a large bowl, thoroughly mix all ingredients except cheese. Evenly fill muffin pan, and smooth out the tops.
  3. Bake until firm with lightly browned edges, about 35 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake until melted, about 3 minutes.
  5. Optional: Serve with a dollop of ketchup or mustard and a dill pickle chip on top

Not hitting the spot (but it’s me, not the recipe)

There is nothing wrong with this recipe really. Other than it really should have told me to “half-moon” cut all the vegetables, and not just the zucchini, it’s very cool looking and easy to make. Lots of chopping but let’s face it, all recipes have lots of chopping. But, it’s just not hitting the spot for me this week. Also, and I find this very rarely, it’s a recipe that is not holding up as leftovers. I may make this again when I have company and it will all get eaten at one sitting as it was really best right out of the oven. I will also serve it with a side of spaghetti and sauce. It is a dish that needs some sauce to really make it sing.

Primavera Stuffed Chicken (original recipe on Delish.com)
4 servings

Primavera Stuffed Chicken

There is chicken there among the giant pieces of veggies (fixed the recipe to deal with that next time around!)

Ingredients:

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
salt
ground black pepper
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 zucchini, halved and thinly sliced into half moons
3 medium tomatoes, halved and thinly sliced into half moons
1 yellow bell peppers, thinly sliced and halved
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced into half moons
1 c. shredded mozzarella

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400º. Place chicken on a cutting board and make 5 slits in each breast, being careful not to cut through completely. Place on sheet pan.
  2. Drizzle oil over chicken and season with salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning.
  3. Stuff each chicken breast with zucchini, tomato, bell pepper, and red onion.
  4. Sprinkle each chicken breast with mozzarella.
  5. Bake until chicken is cooked through and no longer pink, 25 minutes.
  6. Serve with a side of pasta and sauce.

A Slow Reading Season

I will admit, I have not been living up to my reading fiend reputation this spring. See my post over the weekend in which I admit to a major reading slump. But, there may be light at the end of the tunnel!

I have been doing what I call the Romance Weed of 2018 this spring where I am re-reading (and getting rid of a lot) of my romance books. I am a sucker for a historical romance but I find I re-read the same ones a lot so no reason to hang onto all of them. I am less in love with most of the contemporary romances I still had – most of them have been sent on their way to make room for ones I actually enjoy reading.

But what else have I managed to read this spring? I finished up the Annotated Northanger Abbey, a birthday gift this year. Jane is always a good read and the annotated editions are my favorites. I am a nerd when it comes to Austen and context! I next read John Green’s latest title, Turtles All The Way Down for book club. I really enjoyed this, if that’s the right wording. I found the character study of a teenager dealing with her first relationship while suffering from severe OCD and anxiety fascinating. The mystery plot and the fun best friends and their drama that surrounds the main character were engaging but sort of beside the point. The book shines as a character study and as a way to glimpse into a brain that just cannot shut off once it gets started down a thought path.

I have also been trying to read the “oldest” books on my Kindle. I read two of those this spring, Confessions of a Public Speaker (which was interesting with some good tips for someone like me, who does public speaking only when it’s absolutely necessary and still loathes it) and Georgeanne Brennan’s memoir, A Pig in Provence: Good Food and Simple Pleasures in the South of France. This wasn’t quite what I was expecting; it’s more a series of essays around a recipe rather than a linear memoir. Beautifully written, Brennan has a talent for evoking the time and place in Provence that she is writing about and making me want to give the south of France a second chance someday (I was not impressed my first visit in high school).

Lastly, I’ve already finished my book club book for June. I wanted to send the club off with a nice fluffy beach read (we will be on hiatus until September after this meeting) so I went to a current favorite, Jenny Colgan. Despite a slump, Colgan’s books were ones I devoured this winter and into spring whenever a new one fell in my lap. Every time I read one of her books, I want to run off and start some business that will improbably somehow be a success and lead me to meet a delightful cast of characters. Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe did not disappoint. If someday I suddenly buy a book truck or bakery in the middle of nowhere, you can blame Jenny Colgan.

I also finished a book I picked up at a reading last summer (don’t judge me). A bit Southern gothic, a bit just odd but delightful, Gradle Bird has a cast of characters that are all damaged and just looking for someone, anyone, to love them. That love, however, comes at a cost for some of the characters. While there are tragic elements to this story, it is ultimately uplifting and a perfect summer read. You can practically feel the humidity coming off these pages as J.C. Sasser evokes the typical summer weather of Georgia perfectly to compliment her story.

I am, in the spirit of my newfound reading zeal, DNF’ing my current read. It was my second time trying to read The Golem and the Jinni and clearly, this book and I are just not meant to be. I made it further into the book this time but it’s just not grabbing me and nothing really seems to be happening. I mean, things are happening, but they just don’t seem to be moving anything ahead in the story so I’m moving on to the next titles in my stack and hope for better success as I go!