Tag Archives: cooking

Dexter Themed Cupcakes: A Gig

5 Feb

Friends come to me with various food questions quite regularly. This project started in much the same way. One friend wanted Dexter themed cupcakes for a friend of hers that is a huge Dexter fan.  Her inspiration was from a picture of cupcakes that were made for Magnolia Bakery for the show’s premier.   I gave her some names of local bakeries I knew of that did custom and theme cupcakes, but as she called around, it became obvious that no bakeries would make it. One offered to make it without the “glass,” but that just took the drama out of it.

I looked at the picture, looked around for sugar glass recipes, and concluded that I could absolutely make these cupcakes.

And so my first “paid gig” for baking began.

Since this was my first “professional” assignment, I decided it was absolutely necessary to make a test batch first.  The cupcake recipient actually was not a fan of chocolate, so my red velvet idea went quickly out the window.

First, I found a Martha Stewart recipe for the sugar glass, but I long ago realized that Martha’s kitchen staff makes everything look a whole lot better than I could ever get out of my kitchen. So I went on a quest for a “normal person” recipes and once again, AllRecipes.com came to the rescue.

I combined them both (and the use of 2 different thermometers to check on the temperature) and made my attempt at sugar glass.

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I was really excited when it actually worked! It was ever so slightly yellow tinged, which was disappointing, but I deemed it good enough to work.

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And made a few batches of varying thickness.

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And just for fun, I dyed some blue and made some Breaking Bad Blue Sky (and put it all chopped up into a baggy for the friend who made the order, knowing she is a huge Breaking Bad fan.)

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It was a bit rippled when I made the thick one.

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But the thinner one was very clear and shattered just like glass.

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And cut like it!

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(Just kidding! Sort of…) It was definitely sharp, but it made for some great gag glass with just a bit of red food coloring.

For the cupcake itself, I decided to go with a very basic cupcake that I added some spices to (ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg) and then used the Bailey’s frosting that everyone loves.

Then it came time to figure out how to fill these bad boys. I wanted them to be filled with a blood colored jam of some kind that when cut into, would look like it was oozing blood.

First I tried a cherry pie filling (without the solids) in a squirt bottle.

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And while it looked a bit like it, the narrow amount just didn’t have the impact I wanted and it absorbed into the cake in a few minutes, so it didn’t really ooze all that well.

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So next I tried the “cone” method where you cut a cone out of the cupcake…

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… then remove the section…

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… fill the hollow with the filling…

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… then replace the very top of the circle to fill the hole. This proved to be a pretty good method and I declared the trial a success. (The hole also let me drop a cherry into each, which I hoped would add to the flavor a bit).

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And then it came time to assemble.  I used a pastry bag to pipe the frosting on, stuck the sugar glass on it, then splattered the top with red food coloring.  And then… we had a Dexter cupcake.

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We tried a few different “splatters.”  Red food coloring, red gel icing, cherry filling, jam… But the good ol’ red food coloring was really the best.

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And cutting into the inside wasn’t as oozy as I wanted, but the cherry inside was a really nice addition.

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And since I had a few extras from the trial, I filled a few with jam and topped them with peanut butter instead of frosting.

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Have I mentioned that I am a sucker for all things peanut butter and jelly?

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So then came the day of the actual party.  I had ordered some specialty accessories including blood spatter cupcake liners, bone sprinkles, and bloody cleaver toothpicks.  (More on those later)

While the cone cutting was working, I decided to look through my stock of random kitchen accessories to see if I had something better. Sure enough, an old fashioned apple corer was perfect.

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It pulled out a good well to add the cherry and cherry pie filling.

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And left the top circle intact for replacing on the top.

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All ready for frosting!

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We decided to go with a spread frosting instead of a piped frosting, and then put the shards of sugar glass in them.

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Then set up an elaborate blood spatter lab where we coated everything in saran warp, dropped the cap into the sink, and used pastry brushes to splatter the food coloring blood.

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Then put them into the cupcake holder (which is never stable enough… why don’t they make the sides of those things just a bit higher?)

Ready for delivery!

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But I figured I could get even more creative.  So I took a piece of sugar glass that looked like a knife, molded a chocolate handle, inserted a birthday candle and made an edible knife/candle holder.

Then I took a “naked” cupcake, strapped it down under plastic wrap, and stabbed it with the knife.  I hope Dexter fans will appreciate.

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I also wanted to create some different kinda of decoration, so I decided to use the meat cleavers and bones in red topped cupcakes.

This is where I caution you… it is just about impossible to make RED frosting. I wound up with a whole lot of very pink frosting.  I then proceeded to dump every red colored thing in my cabinet into this (which included just about every fruit jam in history) and yet… it was still pink.  So Mike popped out to the store and got an industrial sized bottle of red food coloring and I dumped it in. I was concerned that the high concentration of red food coloring would change the flavor, but as it turns out there was so much fruit in there from all the jams that you couldn’t taste it (though no promises it wouldn’t dye your teeth red!)

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The bar where they set up was dark, but I was told that they were the hit of the party.

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And I’m very glad to have done such a fun project and make a Dexter fan happy.

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Recipes with Homemade Bread: Grilled Cheese and French Toast

17 Apr

It was very exciting to have finally successfully made bread.  We gave one loaf away to friends, but that still left us with more bread that we could eat between the 2 of us.  So… it was time to come up with some meals that included bread.  Which led me directly to grilled cheese and French toast.

Grilled cheese was up first.  I browned some shallots in butter first.

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Then I sliced some apples very thin and layered it up with Gruyere and the shallots and placed each sandwich in a pan with hot butter to brown up.

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The bread was browning but the cheese wasn’t quite melting  yet… so I turned the heat down and let ’em melt.

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And melt they did.  

Boy were these good!  The sharp cheese combined with the sweet apples and shallots made for an incredible grilled cheese sammie.  The homemade bread browned up nicely and maintained a crunch on the outside with some fluff on the inside.

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Next morning it was French toast time.  I actually realized that I hadn’t made French toast in quite some time, and really didn’t remember exactly what to do.  One thing I always disliked about French toast at restaurants is when it is nicely browned on the outside  but still tastes like normal bread on the inside.  I decided that if I really buried these slices in the egg and cinnamon mixture and left it for a while to absorb, that should do the trick.  Problem is, the bread was so fresh and fluffy that it started to fall apart.  Damn.  Had to just make do.

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They browned up really nicely and tasted great… on the outside.

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The inside was still lacking in the flavor… so I vowed to learn a better way.

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It was just a few days later that I saw a perfect “How To” from America’s Test Kitchen. Turns out, if you bake the bread first to dry it out, that solves the problem that I saw and helps it absorb the right amount but not be soggy. (Here is their recipe)

Next time!

Anniversary Sausage Fest

19 Jan

I happen to live right near a New York Institution: Esposito’s Pork Shop/Sausages/Finest Quality.  I’m not sure what their real name is, but it doesn’t matter… all that matters is that they have meat and it is good. And cheap.

I stop by often after work and pick up a meal.  A few weeks ago, I stopped by to pick up some sausages to have a special breakfast on Mike and my 4 year anniversary.  I went in for just a couple sausages, but wound up walking out with 4 varities: Chicken Apple Sausage, Bratwurst, Breakfast Sausage, and Sage Sausage.

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I made some sunny side up eggs and we dove in.

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All the sausages were great, however, the sage sausage was especially delicious.

Best Recipes of 2011

29 Dec

As I reflected on the past year and searched for recipes, I realized a very important thing about 2011… we didn’t cook NEARLY as much as we did the years prior (2010 best recipes here) or at least didn’t post as many recipes.  And almost everything I cooked was of the dessert variety. Hmmm… Reflection is 20/20.

So without further ado… please enjoy my favorites of 2011:

Pancakes

Bailey’s Frosting

Fudged Fudge

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

The Famous Cider

Strawberry Shortcake

Salted Caramels

Grandma’s Plum Tart

Homemade Popovers

Drunk ‘N Nutty Pie

Happy Nomming!

Artichokes and Truffles Sauce: Gilt Taste

1 Aug

 

 

I have been shopping with Gilt for a while.  They have some great (and some not so great) deals on fashion and home goods.  They used to be a bit too pricey all the time, however, they have lowered prices and now have designers making (sometimes less quality) goods right for them.  You need to be smart in what you buy and do your research to make sure you’re really getting a good deal, but I have found some EXCELLENT items.

I was excited when they announced a new division: Gilt Taste.  It’s goal was to focus on foodie type items.  It reminds me of an upscale food market.  I love browsing through it, but I can’t say that many things have caught my eye to say “I need to buy this now!”  Impulse shopping for food items is not something I do in the same way that I do for, say, shoes.  (I will definitely be shopping there for my next dinner party, however!) But right in the beginning, one thing caught my eye.  I didn’t say anything, so imagine my surprise when Mike said he had a surprise for me and placed in my hand, this…

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Artichokes and Truffles sauce!  Two of my very favorite things, in one can.

We decided to make a scampi type dish with is with fresh pasta, scallops, and shrimp.

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It was delicious!   I was hoping for a bit more pop of truffle flavor, but it was delicious and such an easy way to make a gourmet style  meal.

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YUM!

If you want to sign up for Gilt Taste, check out this link.  I’m currently eyeing a cured meats sampler and a gourmet sea salt!

 

 

Zucchini Parm Tacos

25 Apr

The Number One question our friends and family ask Mike and I is “So does Sara do all the cooking?”  I guess since I write about it, the assumption is that Mike doesn’t participate.  What you fail to see is the side-by-side in our kitchen where he chops, sautees, preps, and melts… and then hand models, spreads sauce, and moves things around to aid the picture-taking process.  Frankly, I couldn’t do half the things I do without Mike’s help.  Then there are the days where he is off from work and he decides to get creative.  He likes to take the time he has to prepare a great meal for the two of us.

One day, we had leftover eggplant, mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, and tomatoes.  I came home from work to find that Mike had created “Eggplant Parm Tacos.”  He lightly breaded and fried the eggplant, then folded them up like tacos and stuffed them with the other items.  (I never would have thought of this!) 

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It was a great take on his last creation, the zucchini and eggplant parm stack.

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They tasted excellent and were a fun way to eat something you could never typically pick up. 

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Though they were so overloaded (in a very good way) that it was mostly a knife and fork meal. (He also made a few flat versions with some dill havarti cheese. YUM!)

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The great thing about anything “parm” is that it is SO easy to make.  It is actually the first thing I learned how to cook, all on my own, without a recipe.  You can basically take a few different items (chicken, veal, pork, eggplant, zucchini…) and dip it into egg and then into breadcrumbs (sometimes I flour it first… depends on my mood and if the breadcrumbs are sticking without it).  Then you pan sear it until it’s mostly cooked through.  Then you can basically throw it into a casserole pan, layer on the cheese and sauce, and stick it in the oven until it’s melty and warmed through.  Easy peasy!

Then you bring in Mike who gets all gourmet on it.  I love it.

Grape and Basil Crumble

30 Mar

I have yet to master shopping for fresh produce in NYC.  With only 2 of us and a NYC apartment, I try to shop in small batches to make sure things don’t go bad.  However, as many a day does not play out the way we expect, and we wind up eating out a LOT more than we should, I have the inevitable problem of having to throw too much food away. It makes me want to cry… wasting all that food.

So when I had a whole bushel of grapes that were a few days from being too soft, I had to ask myself “How do I use up a lot of grapes before they go bad?”  This is when I got creative…

First, there was mixing grapes with brown sugar.

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Then it was “what can I do that will make this unique?” and the spice cabinet was opened and basil was sprinkled and with a moment of both bravery and hope, I threw it all together.

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Then topped it with the leftover crumble I had from the Drunk ‘N Nutty Pie.

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And I popped it into the over and prayed.  I removed it when it was bubbling and starting to brown.

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And it was good.  BOY it was good. I actually wished I had added MORE basil.  The flavors were incredibly complimentary.

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So today’s lesson in baking: Don’t be afraid to mix in spices that wouldn’t ordinary be thought of as baking supplies.  Enjoy the creative spoils.

 

Pumpkin Raviolis & Eggplant Zucchini Stacks

14 Jan

We strolled through the Grand Central Market one day, letting it guide us to what we would have for dinner that night.  It started with a tasty looking tray of pumpkin raviolis.

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And a bag of mushrooms.

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Some zucchini.

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And eggplant.

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And a VERY creative Mike, who decided to make zucchini and eggplant parm STACKS (with smoked mozzarella!)

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And they were GOOD.

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DAMN GOOD!

And the raviolis?

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I think they were okay… but I’m not sure because I was too busy enjoying the stacks.

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And it was happy times.

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And I hope Mike makes them again soon (hint hint)

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Because I’m drooling just looking at these puppies.

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Delish!

 

Top Recipes of 2010

31 Dec

Before going into the Top Nom Restaurants of 2010, I wanted to share with you my favorite recipes that I discovered and came up with in 2010 (click on the links for the recipes):

Best Brunch Recipe: Crustless Ham & Egg Tarts

Best After Work Dinner: Chicken Stuffed with Grapes, Hazelnuts, and Parmesan Cheese

Best Weight Watchers Recipe: Weight Watchers – Chicken Tagine with Apricots

Best Seafood: Scallops Lime & Vine

Best Odd Protein: Ostrich Steak

Best Chicken Recipe: Zuni Chicken & Bread Salad

Best Side: Corn Fritters

Best Desserts (You know I couldn’t pick just ONE):

Homemade Crunchie Bars

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Meringue Minis

Banana Faux Ice Cream

This year has taught me, above else, that the best cooking comes from reckless abandon.  Throw caution to the wind and spices in your pot.

Happy Nomming!

Slow Cooker Pot Roast and Brussels Sprouts

29 Dec

I am really enjoying experimenting with my new slow cooker. I see why people start cooking this way. It’s all prep and then let it work its magic for a few hours… then when the timer is up, a hot meal is all done.  Fantastic.

So it seemed like the perfect place to make a pot roast.  I really had no idea what I was doing, so I decided to wing it.

I threw a roast in some chicken broth and Worcestershire sauce, added onions, and topped with ketchup.

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(Yes… I stirred it all together before turning it on)

It smelled AMAZING while it was cooking.

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We paired it with the brussels sprouts that we love to make (Recipe at the bottom of this post).  This would make the time that I learned that the brussels in brussels sprouts is actually plural.  Nearly 30 years and I never knew that.  Learn something new everyday!

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The onions with this were fantastic.  The meat itself was good, but no “Grandma’s Pot Roast.”  I may try to cook it a bit longer next time as it wasn’t as soft as I would have liked it to be.  But it sure was easy!

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