Saturday, March 27, 2010

Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes

This update is a little slow in coming, but I was proud of the results so here's my contribution to the St. Patrick's Day festivities: Guinness chocolate cupcakes with Bailey's Irish cream frosting.

Guinness Chocolate Cupcake

I have wanted to use Guinness in a baking recipe for a couple of years, so when I saw this post from Le Petit Pierogi, I knew I had found my opportunity. She gives a good recipe on her page, so I won't bother to copy it here.


For decorating, I must first ask a holiday riddle: what is Christmas without the red?

St. Paddy's Day

The answer is St. Patrick's Day! I received some Christmas-themed sprinkles around the holidays and I thought I could repurpose them. I plucked out the red sprinkles to make a topping appropriate for this holiday.

Guinness Cupcakes

The beer flavor mostly cooked out of the cupcakes. A couple people claimed they could taste it a bit, but for the most part the Guinness just accentuated the chocolate and kept the cakes moist. The frosting was a little more alcoholic. Even though only a few tablespoons of Irish cream go into the buttercream, the flavor is pretty intense. The pairing of chocolate and Irish cream, though, is marvelous. These little treats disappeared pretty quickly among my green-clad colleagues. So the next time you have a leftover stout, go ahead and throw it into a cake for a new Irish experience.

Shrimp & Pork Fried Rice

At Chinese restaurants, I have a love-hate relationship with fried rice. It is usually very tasty, but you can feel the fat from it moving from your mouth to your stomach, where it turns into extra adipose tissue and a sense of guilt. But when you make fried rice at home, you can control what goes into it, bending it to your will and your waistline. All stir-fries are a very quick process, so I could not take pictures of every step, but here are a good number of snaps to help you make your own delicious fried rice.

Mise en Place

The key to a lot of cooking is preparation. But mise en place is essential in stir-fry and fried rice. You are cooking over high heat so everything has to keep moving very quickly. You can't be caught cutting your meat while your garlic is burning. There is a little bit of leeway, so you don't need to work like a machine, but efficiency is a must.

Makes 4 servings
3 tbsp canola oil, divided
12 oz shrimp, shelled, deveined
3 eggs, beaten with salt and pepper
2 tsp ginger, minced
2 tsp garlic, minced
1 lb pork, cubed
3 cup rice, cooked, cooled
3 scallions, trimmed, cut into 1" pieces
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice wine
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1 pinch black pepper


1. Heat a large pan over high heat. Add 1 tbsp oil and heat until a whisp of smoke appears. Add shrimp and cook until just done, about 2 minutes. Be sure to keep everything moving when it is in the pan. You don't want to brown the ingredients, you just want to cook them very quickly. When cooked, remove shrimp from pan and wipe it out with a paper towel.


2. Heat another tablespoon of oil in the pan over high heat until a whisp of smoke appears. Add the egg mixture and scramble, stirring constantly, until it is just set. Remove eggs from pan and chop into small pieces. Wipe out pan.


Heat the last tablespoon of oil in the pan over high heat until a whisp of smoke appears. Add the ginger and garlic to the pan and cook until the garlic is light brown. Add the pork to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until the pork is cooked through.

Pork & Rice

Add the cooked rice to the pan with the pork. Mix the rice thoroughly, being sure to break up any clumps. There's nothing more annoying than a ball of white rice amid your fried rice.

Almost There

Return the shrimp to the pan and mix everything very well.

Rice A-frying

Turn heat down to medium-low. Add the sauce and scallions to the pan and mix everything thoroughly. Be sure the sauce is evenly distributed over all the rice. At this point, you can serve the rice, but I like to let it sit in the pan for a few minutes at a time, stirring occasionally, until some of the rice gets a little crispy. When done, place into a bowl and serve.

Fried Rice

It took me about twice as long to type this post than it did to make the fried rice. It is amazing how quickly stir-fry makes a good meal. The fried rice was delicious and it had a clean taste to it compared to restaurant varieties. I felt good after eating it. Most of the ingredients are pretty straightforward, but it is the complexity of the sauce ingredients that control the end result. It could easily be tweaked with other Asian staples (mirin, rice vinegar, fish sauce, sesame seeds, citrus juice, hoisin, etc.) to yield an endless variety of fried rice dishes that can be made by this same process. You may not want to eat the fried rice at your local Chinese restaurant again.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Vin Rouge Brunch

Continuing my goal to explore the Triangle's best bruncheries, we wandered over to 9th Street in Durham. Vin Rouge is already known for good dinners, but their brunch should not be underestimated.

First up are the eggs Mediterranean, which are scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, shallots and capers. These fillings make for fairly salty eggs, but the eggs made a nice vehicle for the salmon and capers. The side of pommes frites helped to balance out the flavors. Just so you feel a little healthier, there's also a simple side salad. A good breakfast, but it pales in comparison to our other entree.

Vin Rouge serves some unbelievable French toast. Their bread is baked as these large rounds, so they take one slice and cut it in half to make a huge portion of French toast. Crisp yet soft on the inside with cinnamon and maple syrup, this brunch staple is probably one of the best French toasts I've ever had, not to mention the bacon on the side.

A word of advice to the Sunday bruncher: be sure to make a reservation or be prepared to wait. While Elmo's next door may have a larger amount of traffic, Vin Rouge does get very busy shortly after they open. You can make reservations online, which would probably save a lot of time. Their electronic seating system seems confusing, even to the staff. In the end, we only waited 15 minutes for a table, but just keep this in mind when planning your lazy Sunday morning.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe

Recently, Sunday mornings have become one of the most relaxing times of my week. I sleep in as much as I can. After waking up, I putz around the web and the house, not trying to accomplish anything except not trying to accomplish anything. Then, once my stomach is fully awake, I begin to ponder what I want for breakfast. Sunday is a day that some restaurants in town take off, but there are many that open for breakfast and/or brunch. I'm usually a huge proponent for at least 3 meals a day, but starting with a rich meal around 11am or noon makes it difficult to justify two more meals before the day is over. So when it comes to Sunday brunch, I'm looking to go all out. And this past weekend, that is exactly what I got at Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe in Chapel Hill.

You have two options for going to Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe: get there early or wait. This restaurant is on the main street of Chapel Hill, Franklin Street, right across from UNC campus, so it is very popular, especially amongst the church-going crowd. The restaurant is very deep but not very wide. In the front are some bar seats that are first come-first serve and great if you're dining alone or if you are lucky enough to find a couple open seats. The remainder of the restaurant are smaller booths either next to the open kitchen or clustered in the back half of the building. There are some Old English decoration features in the back, but this eatery is a Southern diner through and through. We were extremely fortunate to arrive during a lull time and were seated in 5 minutes, just before a line 20-30 people deep formed.

Firstly, we had an omelet (I think it was called the Big Bird). Three eggs wrapped around sliced turkey, bacon and tomato, covered in cheese sauce. On the side were cheese-covered hash browns and a biscuit. The omelet tasted great. The cheese sauce seemed a little much at first, but it really brought the omelet together, especially since it had no cheese on the inside. The biscuit was good, though nothing special considering this is the South. Hash browns were classic and perfect: crunchy outside with tender inside.

The other meal we had was a pancake combo with scrambled eggs and bacon. But the most interesting feature is this: the pancakes were filled with M&M's! The candies melt into the pancake, giving it the taste of a chocolate chip pancake, but the candy coating gives it an indescribable quality that makes you want to order another stack of these rich beauties. The menu also claims they can use Reese's Pieces in the pancakes as well, so we might be going back to Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe soon to do a side-by-side comparison of these candy-filled griddle cakes.

Bagel Dogs

Perusing the blogosphere, I came across a food item that immediately threw me back to my childhood. All of a sudden, I was sitting on a barstool at the counter in my mom's kitchen, legs swinging, patiently waiting for one of my favorite treats to heat up. The chime on the microwave goes off to let me know that delightful deliciousness is imminent. My mom opens the microwave, retrieves my treat, turns around and presents me with a delicious, poppy seed-dusted bagel dog. Scientifically- or mathematically-speaking, the greatness of bagel does is not an additive effect of the ingredients, but rather the effect is exponential. In other words, hot dog = good, bagel = good, bagel dog = magnificent (instead of doubly good). The chewiness of the bagel adds far more interest to the dog than a mere bun ever could. Based on this attack of nostalgia, you can imagine how excited I was to find a recipe for these beauties fromFood People Want.

Instead of copying the recipe, I will outline the basic steps in making a bagel dog. Food People Want has all of the measurements and details just right, so no need to reinvent the wheel. First, you make the dough. My dough hook failed to help me knead the dough, so I got my hands dirty and finished the job. The dough rises and gets punched down (one of my favorite parts of making bread). You cut the dough into 12 strips and wrap them around the dogs. I would recommend keeping the wrapping a little tight, especially being sure to secure the ends. The dough rises again around the hot dogs. Then you put the dogs into simmering water for a minute so they'll puff up. Bagels are made in this way too. I'm assuming it's this step that makes sure the end product is especially chewy. Lastly, you sprinkle on your toppings and put the dogs into the oven for about a half hour.

I used Hebrew National hot dogs and some feta-spinach chicken sausages for my bagel dogs. On top are sesame seeds, herbs and dried garlic and, of course, poppy seeds. My bread-baking abilities are still at the novice stage, but this recipe came out perfectly. The bagel was the perfect texture, creating a cushiony blanket around the hot dogs. I would recommend using tubed meats without skin. It was not always a problem, but sometimes it was difficult to get through the bagel and the dog in one bite. The best part is this recipe made 12 bagel dogs that freeze and reheat exceedingly well. I will be eating these portable edibles for at least the next week, and my inner child can't stop smiling.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Immune Cell Cupcakes

This post will be brief in that it is more about making a treat look good than it is about the actual cooking.

Last week one of my classmates took her prelim, the exam that determines if you are a tried-and-true PhD candidate. She works on immunology, so a friend and I decided to make her some sciency cupcakes. The cakes themselves are Pillsbury Funfetti and the frosting is a basic buttercream with some lemon extract mixed in. After choosing our designs and colors, we went to town. We made T-cells, B-cells, follicular dendritic cells (the giant octopus-thing above), antibodies, and even a little mouse cartoon. I mostly wanted to share this picture because it shows that with a little thought you can impress your friends and family with simple pandering to their tastes. Mom will love a cake with her favorite flowers on it, even if they are a little roughly (read "rustically") done.

Fettuccine Carbonara

Did you ever eat noodles with butter as a kid? I adored noodles with butter, and will still occasionally make it to this day. Well, guess what? Italy (the home of noodles as America knows them) has a grown-up version that is just as satisfying.

Bon Appetit magazine published this recipe for fettuccine carbonara that the kid in me demanded to try. It is all very delicious and simple as a whole, but each ingredient in this recipe adds a layer of complexity that makes it altogether satisfying. Egg fettuccine are covered in a sauce of pancetta (fancy Italian bacon), eggs for body, two kinds of cheeses, garlic, salt, pepper, and a little broccoli rabe for a hint of healthiness. To add extra "unctuousness" (I looked it up in Wiktionary to find it means fatty, but in a good way), an egg fried in the pancetta grease is added on top of each serving.

There are times when a canned tomato sauce will not do and you don't want to go all the way for one of those ridiculously creamy sauces. That's where carbonara comes in. At it's heart, it is noodles with butter, except now it has been upgraded noodles with cheese and bacon. What inner child could say no?

Frozen Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt is the latest craze to happen to yogurt since fruit-on-the-bottom. It's not for the faint of heart. It's not sweetened up like American yogurts. It's tangy, but thick and luscious. What better base to use to make real frozen yogurt?

Frozen Greek Yogurt
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine. Yields 1 quart.

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/8 tsp salt
2 cup Greek yogurt (2% fat)
1 cup buttermilk
5 tsp lemon juice

Warm the first four ingredients in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Transfer to a large bowl to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally (or else a film will form on top).

Whisk in remaining ingredients and chill in the refrigerator until very cold, at least 3 hours.

Freeze yogurt in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Transfer to airtight container and put in freezer to firm up.

When serving, top with your choice of toppings. I used passionfruit and blackberries, but honey, strawberry jam, chocolate chips, sprinkles, etc. all would work just as well.

Frozen yogurt, like yogurt, has seen a new wave of innovation. All of a sudden, shops are appearing that are not serving frozen yogurt the ice cream substitute, but rather they are serving yogurt-based ice cream. I don't know how we ever lived on icy and flavorless frozen yogurt before this new creation came on the scene. Now you can make your own at home and enjoy the creamy tang. This version is a little sweeter than just straight yogurt, so even those who have not taken to Greek yogurt will enjoy this frozen treat. And if you don't, just douse it in chocolate sauce and still feel proud that you are getting a healthy(er) serving of dairy.

Mojo Pork with Plantains

Ever have one of those recipes where everything seems to go just perfectly? Well I found one in Food Network Magazine.

Mojo Pork Chops with Plantains
Yields 4 servings

Mix the juice of one orange and half of a grapefruit (I used the pomelo seen above because it's like a sweet grapefruit) with olive oil, white wine vinegar, oregano, cumin, salt and pepper. Immerse the pork chops in this mixture and let them marinate (I let them go for about an hour).

To make the mojo, juice another orange and the other half of the grapefruit and mix in the zests of your citrus, more vinegar, olive oil, oregano, garlic, and freshly chopped parsley.

Boil three skinned and quartered plantains in salted water until they are tender. Drain them and mash with some of the cooking liquid and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Pat pork dry and cook in a skillet over medium-high heat until they are golden on both sides. To plate, drizzle mojo on pork and add the side of mashed plantains.

The marinade tasted just okay when I made it. But after it sat for a little bit and was drizzled on the warm pork, the flavors came to life. The citrus and oregano and garlic stood out and zinged my tongue. I thought using plantains more or less like potatoes to make the plantain mash was just genius. Plantains have that inherent sweetness, even when they are still yellow, that keeps your tongue interested and wanting more. I would make this dish again in a heartbeat, especially if you want to wow someone with your culinary prowess without spending hours in the kitchen.

Roasted Cauliflower

Cauliflower. When most people hear that word, their brains (and tongues) shut down. Who cares about cauliflower? What's so great about it? Throw some ranch dressing on it as an appetizer, then make way for real food. Normally, I agree. Cauliflower just seems to lack a lot. It's light on flavor, calories and color. But, what you may not know is that cauliflower is not as blase as you once thought.

Magical things happen to this vegetable when it's roasted. You are merely one hour away from the best cauliflower you've ever had. Nothing watery and bland. How about sweet and addictive? Cut up your florets and toss them with some olive oil on a sheet pan. Sprinkle on a generous amount of salt, pepper, and whatever spices you want. I used herbs de Provence, but you could easily include some oregano, cayenne, or even curry powder if you are so inclined. Toss it all to make sure it is coated evenly. Then throw the tray into a 400 degree oven for 1 hour to 1 hour, 30 minutes. Be sure to stir it every 20 minutes or so. You are looking for the cauliflower to be browned nicely with most of the moisture gone. Let the cauliflower cool and eat...and eat and eat and eat. I used two heads of cauliflower on the above tray and the resulting roasted florets fit easily in a small casserole dish. I could eat it all too. The roasting brings out the sweeter qualities of this veggie. Roasting leaves behind more concentrated flavors, both from the spices as well as from the cauliflower itself. I'm half tempted to serve it en lieu of popcorn at my next movie night.

But cauliflower is not done with you yet. There's more...

Surprise! Purple cauliflower! I saw it in the store the other day and just had to give it a try. It tastes exactly the same as normal cauliflower, but it just has a purply-blue hue. Now we've solved all of cauliflower's problems. Low on calories is never a problem. By roasting it, it now has some awesome flavor. And with the advent of a purple varietal, the color can finally stand out in pastas, salads or even just on your plate. So please, give this mistreated and misjudged vegetable a second chance.