Birthday Cupcakes.

I’ve said it before, but here I go again: I’m not super into baking.  Even though cooking is more my speed, I’ve recently found myself popping more and more items into the oven lately.  I even told Keith on his birthday this past Wednesday that I wanted to make something for him — though I was careful not to use the word bake.  I was semi-hoping he’d ask for a steak.

After some thought though, he said, “I like cupcakes.”

Of course, I didn’t just want to make — I mean bake — a prosaic sort of cupcake; since I know how much Keith likes cinnamon I decided I would try to figure out how to make one fashioned after a snickerdoodle cookie.  The thing was, I had no idea how to go about doing this, so I got on the phone.

“There are so many recipes for orange-cinnamon cupcakes, or strudel-y things,” I said to Marcella, “but nothing snickerdoodle-y.  I don’t want just a cinnamon cupcake.”

snickerdoodle-cupcake“You could try rolling an iced cupcake in cinnamon and sugar, or using a textured sugar,” she suggested, which got me thinking…

What if I were to butter my cupcake tin so that a cinnamon-sugar mixture would stick to the walls of each depression?  Or, better yet, what if I were to instead use individual foil cupcake liners, each sprayed and dusted with cinnamon-sugar?  I could whip up a vanilla cupcake batter in lieu of a sugar cookie dough, and still end up with exteriors marbled with cinnamon just like a snickerdoodle.  This way, I wouldn’t even need to make a frosting to top the cupcake; their cracked and swirled domes would be decoration enough.  I could even sprinkle a little cinnamon into the cupakes themselves for a little more pep…

You know what?  Not only did the cupcakes came out perfectly, but they were ridiculously easy to make.  Not as easy as a steak, but simple nevertheless.

Snickerdoodle Cupcakes, adapted from Everyday Food’s yellow cupcake recipe
Makes twelve cupcakes

1 ½ leveled cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
1 ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 stick salted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/8 cup plus one tablespoon ground cinnamon, separated
2 large eggs
Baking spray

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.  Arrange 12 foil cupcake liners on a baking sheet; spritz each liner with baking spray.  In a small bowl, combine 1/8 cup cinnamon and ¼ cup sugar.  Spoon mixture into foil liners, swirling to thoroughly cover entire interior of each one.  Tap out excess and return liners to baking sheet.
  2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and remaining cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside. In a liquid-measuring cup, mix milk and vanilla; set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. With mixer on low speed, add half of dry ingredients, followed by milk-vanilla mixture, then remaining dry ingredients. Take care not to overmix.  Divide batter evenly among prepared cupcake liners; bake until a toothpick inserted in center of a cupcake comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.
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My Kitchen in Malden.

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Where do you live?
Malden, Massachusetts.

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How often do you cook or bake?
It’s funny because I never really used to be into baking; cooking was always much more interesting to me, and frankly, baking always seemed so girly.  That said, I’ve recently taken up baking, though I don’t do it that often.  I definitely cook more, probably four to five times a week, depending on the leftovers situation.  I’ll bake when the mood strikes me, or when I’ve got a craving, which is something like twice a month.  I definitely bake more around the holidays — everyone gets cookies.  I also bake for Keith more than I bake for me.  I’m nice that way.

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What is your favorite kitchen utensil?
I’m easy, man.  It’s my wooden spoon.  I wish I had a few more of them.  I use it to mix just about anything, and I love the way it feels in my hand.  Actually, now that I’m thinking about it a bit, I think I would say my chef’s knife instead.  I’ve used some awful knives in my day, the kinds that coerce an onion apart as opposed to chop it, and having a good solid knife makes all the difference.  In fact, if you’ve got one good knife — one really good one — you don’t need any more.

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Which part of your kitchen do you like best and why?
Having lived in many an apartment without one, I’ve got to say my dishwasher.  You know, I used to buy glasses based solely on whether or not I could fit my hand and a sponge down its mouth?  Now I can purchase any style that catches my eye, and that feels great.  I like glasses.

I also like the area that I call “the in-between” or “the pass-through.”  It connects the kitchen to the dining room, and we have it cabinet-ed out.  The bottom portion functions as a snack pantry of sorts, as well as storage for platters and my massive stand mixer.  Half of the upper cabinetry is devoted to storing Keith’s whisky collection; the other half holds my cooking magazines and cookbooks.

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Come to think of it, this is a tricky question for me to answer; we renovated the kitchen to best suit our needs and our aesthetic (on a budget).  There are so many aspects of this room that I love, like the countertops that look like oxidized metal, the unusual color of our cabinets, the soffits, the ceiling fan, my knife strip…  It would be the equivalent of asking me to pick my favorite dog, if I had lots of dogs.  Or any dogs.  Or a dog.

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What was your biggest kitchen accomplishment?
I would have to say it was the dinner I made for something like sixteen people last spring; at that point, the largest crowd I had ever cooked for was closer to eight, including Keith and myself, so doubling the amount of diners was a vaguely terrifying Big Deal.  I had invited my parents not only to the meal but also for the weekend; they drove in with the dog from New York a day early to spend some more time with us.  My mother and Keith volunteered to help me chop, sauté, mix, etc.  Whenever I asked him to do something, Keith would shout, “Yes, chef!”  It caused a lot of giggly delays.  Even funnier was when my mother — very polite, proper and petite woman that she is — wasn’t able to open something (what was it?  I don’t remember) and so, said very seriously to the object in her hand, “I think you must be retarded.”

In the end, we served the following:

Hors d’œuvres

  • bocconcini that I had marinated in herbs and olive oil few days prior
  • a selection of cured meats that Keith had picked out at Formaggio Kitchen

Entrées

Sides

Desserts

The leftovers lasted for days.

CSA 2008, Week Fifteen.

I refuse to accept the fact that fall is around the corner, in spite of the fact that it happens to be my favorite season.  I simply can’t acknowledge it, even though I sat shivering in my bathrobe this morning.  Here’s why: it’s week fifteen of my CSA, and the produce box shows no sign of getting any smaller.  This is what was in the box this time around:

  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Dill
  • Eggplant
  • Garlic
  • Hakurei turnips
  • Hot peppers
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Scallions
  • Tomato
  • Tot soi

It pains me to admit it, but tonight I’m going to mash up those potatoes with the scallions — I know I’ll need something warm in my stomach to deal with the fact that I’m not only wearing a sweater, but also thinking of wrapping myself up in a blanket.  Was it really just a handful of days ago that I sat sweating in a friend’s apartment, wishing it was a few degrees cooler?  Well, as they say, I should be careful what I wish for…

That said, the temperature didn’t stop me from making this summery salad.  It really doesn’t get much easier than this.  What’s even more astonishing than the following simple recipe is the high impact of the flavors.  Sharp onion, zippy Dijon, bright tomato, green broccoli and nutty chickpea — fantastic.

Broccoli, Chickpea and Tomato Salad, from Everyday Food
Makes six portions

1 pound broccoli
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ small red onion, minced
Coarse salt and ground pepper for seasoning
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 15 ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

  1. Cut florets from broccoli (reserve stalks for another use). Steam until crisp-tender.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk mustard with vinegar, olive oil, and onion; season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add tomatoes, chickpeas, and broccoli; toss to coat. Serve chilled or at room temperature.