Sunday, March 25, 2012

Chocolate-Orange Pots de Creme

"My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate." - Thornton Wilder

Ice cream is all very well, but Pots de Creme is even better. A french dessert, this concoction is a chilled pudding in a small cup with whipped cream on top.

I followed a quick and easy recipe from the Pioneer Woman's cooking blog, which can be found here.

Teacups to hold the individual servings is a charming touch, but they can be made in any kind of small cup or dish (the Pioneer Woman uses old jam jars - a bit too Way Out West for my liking). These don't come out as well as normal Pots de Creme (just more proof that Quick-and-Easy comes with a high risk factor), but they are still tasty nonetheless.

You can garnish with a bit of orange zest (I didn't have any oranges available, sadly). There is some alcohol in this, but not so much that it overpowers. In fact, you're more likely to be overpowered by the coffee - I'd add more of the Grand Marnier than recommended to balance it out

Bon Appetit!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Creamed Spinach and Mint Chocolate Cupcakes

"The only time to eat diet food is while you're waiting for the steak to cook." - Julia Child

Diet food (or 'rabbit food' as my dad and brother like to call it) does have its place. Preferably at the side of a well-cooked, tasty steak.

For dinner tonight, the menu consisted of steaks, shoestring french fries, and creamed spinach gratin.

Cook the steaks in your preferred fashion until the favored level of pinkness (or lack thereof) is reached. My preferred method is to find an obliging man and arrange him in front of the nearest grill with the steaks, but using a broiler works in a pinch.

Shoestring fries are easily found in the frozen foods section, and go better when seasoned with salt n' pepper.

Not that it needs it, but creamed spinach can be livened up by making it au gratin, as Ezra Pound Cake does here.

Creamed Spinach Gratin

So much more exciting.

For dessert, I made Mint Chocolate filled cupcakes. I had quite a bit of the Mint Ganache left from the Mint Chocolate Macarons last weekend, so I made a statutory chocolate cupcake (with sour cream in the batter, because they're just better that way), and piped in the ganache. My mom topped half of them with a ready-made Peppermint Buttercream frosting from Williams-Sonoma. Very refreshing for a hot-weather dessert:

Mint Chocolate Cupcakes

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring Knitting Progress

"Knitting is very conducive to thought. It is nice to knit a while, put down the needles, write a while, then take up the sock again." - Dorothy Day

And now, to take a break from the kitchen and check on the knitting needles.

The Paris Mittens project "frogged" (a term for croaked). After finishing and blocking the first mitten, I came to the conclusion that it was just too tight, and ripped out the whole thing (an undertaking I don't recommend. Once blocked, a finished piece should not be unraveled if you hope to use the yarn for something else, as it can weaken the fibers. However, the yarn stood up well to the unraveling, so it should be reusable). I'll eventually start it again, with added stitches to help loosen the tension.

Currently on needles and occupying my attention are the following projects:

The "Frederick and Anne" Scarf:

This pattern is from the "Jane Austen Knits" magazine that came out last October (see my "What would Lizzie Knit" post). The center panel is a leaf that represents the heroine Anne from Austen's novel "Persuasion," and is flanked on either side by waves that represent Frederick, her love interest.

shawl, on circular needles

The "Wine and Roses" shawl is nearly done. I decided at the last minute not to make it really huge, but once blocked it will still be pretty big. I put all three sides on a circular needle and started the first round of the flowered edge.

What would life be without at least one sock project in progress? Just not as interesting, especially with a fun project like the Frivolous Sock. Also from the "Jane Austen Knits" magazine, this sock features a lattice pattern from the toe up to the cuff, with a fancy gusset design along the sides of the foot section. From the ankle up to the cuff, colored beads are strategically placed on the latticework, and the cuff is finished off with a Picot edge. A wide silk ribbon in the same color as the beads is laced through the top of the cuff just below the edge, to be tied in a loose bow. The frivolity on these is through the roof.

I'm using the yarn I dyed recently - "Eire" - for this project, with deep purple ribbon and beads:

To be continued...

Saturday, March 17, 2012

St. Patrick's Macarons

"Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over." - F. Scott Fitzgerald

If at first you don't succeed, wait for your Irish luck to kick in and try again. After my first disastrous experience with baking Macarons, I tried to figure out where I went wrong, and decided that the answer must lie in the fact that there was no prolonged beating involved in the baking process I followed (spare the rod, spoil the egg whites).

In fact, I've come to the conclusion that the woman who wrote this book has a deeply sadistic side to her personality. Suffice to say, if you get this book, any time she suggests an easier, more convenient alternative to the regular method, DON'T DO IT.

Just put the book down, walk away and pray for patience.

Then pick it up again and skip over the deadly snare in question.

I realize we're all busy individuals, but if you want these to be a success, you need to make time and put in the extra effort. Trust me, the result is worth it.

So, this weekend being St. Patrick's Day, themed desserts were the main focus.

Irish Car Bombs and Blarney Stones

The Irish Car Bomb cupcakes came out beautifully, as did the Mint Chocolate Macarons (which I christened "Blarney Stones"). My mom arranged a few of each on a platter, very beautifully.

The macarons came out well because, as I said, I went with one of the traditional baking processes instead of the Quick-and-Easy-Faster method. There are three traditional methods listed - French, Italian and Swiss - and I went with the French.

First, I made the Mint-Chocolate Ganache filling.

Mint-infused cream base

 I made a Mint-Cream base, which was then added to the chocolate pieces and mixed into a smooth, glossy mixture.

flour mixture for the shells

Then I made the shells. I blended almond flour, confectioner's sugar and salt in a food processor.


Then I whisked sugar, cream of tartar, aged egg whites and powdered egg whites until it was glossy and firm. I mixed the flour mix into the meringue, and added mint oil and food coloring.

And the result...

the baked shells
...Ta Da!!

shells - close up

Ah, sweet victory. After the shells cooled, I assembled them with the ganache in between.

A finished Blarney Stone

What I love about these macarons is the hint of fresh mint you get from the ganache, combined with the smooth chocolate and the minty, chewy shells.

A few tips for baking these:
  • use a copper bowl and an electric hand mixer to beat the meringue - the copper produces a better reaction when whipping egg whites than with other types of bowls.
  • don't make these on a day when there's thunderstorms or high humidity (it affects the meringue badly)
Happy Baking!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Fiery Cupcakes, Pt. 2

"We have always found the Irish a bit odd. They refuse to be English." - Winston Churchill

The Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes came out beautifully, and are now one of my favorite recipes.

Guinness-Chocolate concoction

First, I simmered the Guinness in a pot on the stove, and whisked in cocoa powder.

cupcake batter

The Guinness-Chocolate combo was mixed into the flour base, along with sour cream (which makes the cupcakes moist once baked).


Once the cupcakes were baked and cooling, I then made the Jameson's Chocolate Ganache.

Jameson's Ganache

Once mixed, I sat the Ganache aside to cool while I made the Bailey's Buttercream Frosting.

Bailey's Irish Cream-Flavored Frosting

When the cupcakes were cooled, I used an apple core-remover to remove the middles of the cupcakes, took piping bags and first filled the cupcakes with ganache, then topped the cupcakes with the frosting. A little green sugar sprinkled on top made a nice finishing touch.

The finished product

While there is alcohol in these cupcakes, it is very little and is not overpowering.


The Heirloom Tahoe Shawl

"It is difficult to see why lace should be so expensive - it is mostly holes." - Mary Wilson Little

What Mary Little fails to appreciate with lace is the artistic and very clever arrangement of those holes.

The Tahoe Shawl is finished. It's very exquisite, and would go well as part of a bridal outfit:

I can make this shawl to sell. Price is US$75, ships only within the U.S. Drop a comment if you're interested.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Fiery Irish Cupcakes

"The Irish seem to have more fire about them than the Scots" - Sean Connery

When I wrote my post about cooking with Guinness two posts ago, I had not yet been introduced to yet another wonderful recipe including Guinness: the Irish Car Bomb Cupcake.

Named after a famous adult beverage, which is also named after one of the best-known aspects of the Irish Republican Army, this cupcake is an Irishman's dream come true - Guinness chocolate batter, Irish Whiskey-flavored chocolate ganache filling, and Bailey's Irish Cream frosting.

image credit:

The recipe can be found here. While I am also preparing to make Macarons this weekend, I am going to squeeze a batch of these deadly concoctions in as well. Seeing as these are based on my brother's favorite drink (in the grand tradition of crazy Irishmen), I doubt they'll be around for long.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Salmon and Sweet Potatoes

"I'll love you, dear, I'll love you till China and Africa meet and the river jumps over the mountain and the salmon sing in the street." - W.H. Auden

image credit:

If you live in an area where fresh salmon is available, it is very simple to make into a delicious meal. A brown sugar and spice crust is especially tasty. Add sweet potato fries and a decent salad with a white wine vinaigrette, and dinner is served.

  • Ezra Pound Cake has a great recipe for Peppery Brown Sugar Salmon
  • Sweet potato fries are very simple - just peel and slice two or three sweet potatoes, toss with a teaspoon of olive oil and one or two teaspoons of salt and white sugar each, lay out on a baking sheet and bake in an oven at 450 degrees F for 15 minutes at a time, turning them over in the pan with a pair of tongs, until crispy and lightly browned. 
For a deliciously unusual dipping sauce to use with the fries, this Garlic Aioli works well with the salmon.
  •  1/4 cup mayo
  • 2 small cloves garlic, mashed to paste with salt or garlic powder
  • juice of half a lemon
  • dash of black pepper
  • 1 tsp. curry powder
  • dash cayenne pepper
  • sea salt to taste
Make garlic paste and mix all ingredients together. Serve on the side of the fries in a condiment dish.
And of course, white wine goes best with fish.

Bon Appetit!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Three Cheers for the Irish Stew

"Of all the money that e'er I spent, I spent it in good company; and all the harm that e'er I did, alas it was to none but me. And all I've done for want of wit, to memory now I can't recall; so fill to me the parting glass, good night and joy be with you all." - "The Parting Glass"

It's that time of year once again, when Irish folks wear green and become insufferable. The rest of the year, we're just insufferable (and only wear green occasionally). So, I will discuss a few very Irish pastimes: knitting, stew, and Guinness.

I recently discovered a beautiful knitting pattern for a Celtic Knot Stole:

image credit: maerchen

The pattern can be found through the Ravelry website. My mother wants me to use the dimensions and lace edging from this pattern to make her a shawl, but with little triangular, beaded eyelets all over it instead of the Celtic knot design (she's not Irish, so I'll forgive her).

Irish stew isn't Irish stew without Guinness. This hearty, dark stout is rich with minerals and other great stuff (the original ads used to exclaim 'Guinness is good for you!'), and is a wonderful addition to stew as well as breads:
  • Here is a straightforward recipe for Irish Guinness Stew
  • This is a simple recipe for a rich, hearty bread with Guinness included
  • This is a more complicated, authentic Guinness bread recipe.