Saturday, September 13, 2014

Not-So-Scrumptious Strawberry Cupcakes

These cupcakes look delicious, don't they?

overly sweet cupcakes of dismay

I used a recipe I'd been wanting to try for a year and a half--something about adapting Grandma's strawberry jello cupcakes to the healthy(er) modern age. I made the cupcakes, made the frosting, and even spread a layer of chocolate ganache between cake and frosting. What could be more delectable than a strawberry cupcake topped with chocolate and more strawberry? A whole lot of things! The topping was much too sweet, the ganache was lumpy, and the cake was a flavorless, dense calorie bomb. Even the Crumpet falls sometimes.

Smoky Poblano Mac and Cheese

A potluck was coming up. What to do? I like providing a veggie-filled option, but not too healthy. There's nothing worse than lugging home a barely touched vat of tofu surprise. At Whole Foods, I spied a gleaming heap of poblano peppers grown at my favorite pick-your-own orchard, Homestead Farm. "Oooooh!" I thought. I then poked around online and found this recipe. For more flavor magic, I upped the poblano content and added smoked pepper jack. The end result smelled like bacon on a skillet, with a garlic-infused roux and crunchy topping. I doubled the recipe and it was nearly gone, but with just enough leftovers for lunch the next day. Huzzah!

 serves 6-8 


3 poblano chiles
8 oz whole wheat elbow pasta
2 Tbsp butter
4 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 tsp mustard powder
1/2 tsp cayenne powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
zest of one lime
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups grated sharp cheddar
2 cups grated smoked pepper jack (or a smoked cheddar/pepper jack blend)
1 cup panko or breadcrumbs
cilantro for garnish (optional)



Set a pot of salted water to boiling and cook your pasta until it's al dente. Drain and set aside.

Set the oven to 425.

Lightly oil a baking sheet. Core the poblanos and place them on the sheet.

Roast for 15-20 minutes, or until peppers start to blister and soften. Flip them halfway through the process.

Remove peppers from oven. Most recipes advise you to peel the skin, but why? It's healthy, it does no harm, and you won't even know it's there. Allow your peppers to cool with dignity!

Lower the oven to 375.

As peppers are roasting, melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Use a garlic press to drizzle in the garlic. All of a sudden, your kitchen smells like hot garlic bread. Give the butter and garlic a minute to develop amity, then whisk in the flour. A golden-brown roux will form, at which point you whisk in the milk. Allow another two minutes for the flavors to meld and the sauce to thicken, whisking now and then.

Chop the cooled poblanos.

Remove pan from heat. Add mustard, cayenne, cumin, lime zest, salt, and ample ground pepper. Scoop in the poblanos. Stir.

Add 1 cup sharp cheddar and 1 cup pepper jack to the sauce, stirring so that the cheese melts. If cheese refuses to melt, heat the pan on low heat until it submits.

In a bowl, combine pasta and sauce. Pour into a baking pan or skillet.

Cover with the remainder of the cheese. Shake the panko evenly on top.

Bake for 25 minutes, then broil for 5. Remove from oven when sauce is bubbling and top is golden-brown.

Sprinkle with chopped cilantro.

Let cool 5 minutes, then serve.


  • When I made this, I scraped two ears of fresh corn into the sauce in a misguided bid to up the veggie content. Don't do this! The corn added a sweet note that has no place in this dish.
  • The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup of cilantro in the sauce. I forgot to add this, and so it became the garnish. I tried leftovers with cilantro mixed in, and actually prefer the mac without it. The peppers stand out more, and the flavor seems deeper and less Tex-Mex.
  • I used a block of white cheddar for the sauce, and block of sharp orange Tillamook for the topping, giving the crust that lusted-after cheddary appearance. 
  • Spice level: if you were eating the poblanos raw, they would be moderately spicy. The roasting gives this dish a gentle heat, but not the kick in the pants you might imagine. If you want a hotter mac, slice a fresh jalapeno into the sauce and up the cayenne content. I love smoked paprika (pimentón), but was afraid to add any for fear that it would throw the flavors out of whack. If you want to try some, I suggest sprinkling it on top after pulling the pan from the oven.
  • Don't forget the lime zest! This ingredient is what gives this mac its je ne sais quoi and was the reason I tried this recipe. 


Who doesn't love mac and cheese? Who doesn't love a smoky, mysterious potluck dish? 5 stars!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Oatmeal-Raisin Shortbread

I saw a recipe for raisin shortbread and couldn't resist packing in some oats. With an egg wash, this is a nutritious source of protein and fiber as well as a delicious breakfast cookie. If you use fancy, pasture-raised butter and a certified humane egg, you'll feel GREAT as you dig into these bars.

makes 18 biscotti-length or 36 short bars



2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups flour
1 1/4 cups quick oats
pinch salt
1 to 1 1/2 cups raisins
egg, beaten


Preheat oven to 350.

I like to do this kind of thing by hand, but you can use a mixer.

Blend butter, sugar, and vanilla. If you do this with your hands, you'll get a bonus: smooth, buffed hands! It's like a pre-cookie spa treatment. The recipients of your cookies will get some extra protein in the form of dead skin cells.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, oats, and salt. You may sift the flour, but I'm skeptical that this accomplishes much. Add the raisins. Fluff with your hands until raisins are coated with flour.

Combine wet and dry ingredients until just mixed, with no streaks.

Obtain a 9 x 13 pan.

Pat the batter into the pan until even. Run a fork along the top of the batter for crackly texture.

I refrigerated the pan for 30 minutes, then used a spatula to cut bars into the dough. You can do this at this point or after the shortbread is baked. I was afraid the oats would make the bars too crumbly after the shortbread was in its final form.

Using a pastry brush, apply the egg wash. If you hate waste as much as I do and use the whole egg, you'll end up with puddles of albumen on your shortbread. Do this at your peril!

Bake the shortbread for about 30 minutes. I baked it until it started to brown on top, but I would have preferred a gooier texture and a more pallid surface.

Let the pan cool on a rack. Cut into bars if you haven't already done so, and remove these from the pan.


  • These would be great with rum or rum extract instead of vanilla.
  • If you want to go for a strong rum flavor, soak the raisins in half a cup of rum for a day or so. The oats won't know what hit them!
  • I would like to experiment with a thicker bar and might use a 9 x 9 baking pan next time.


These snacks are the perfect blend of virtue and luxury.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Pie

This pie offers a spicy chocolate filling in a gingersnap crust with a cinnamon whipped-cream topping. I tweaked the recipe from Serious Eats to create a dessert that warms the palate, making you feel as if you're gliding down the Silk Road on a magic carpet.

one 9.5-inch pie




2 1/2 to 3 cups gingersnaps (I used Trader Joe's triple gingersnaps)
6 Tbsp melted butter
dash ground ginger
dash cinnamon
dash cayenne pepper




12 oz dark chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
dash ground ginger
dash cinnamon
dash cayenne pepper
pinch salt




1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch red pepper flakes
dark chocolate bar for shaving




Preheat the oven to 350.

Obtain a 9.5-inch pie pan. If you're going for a 10-inch, you may want to increase the quantity of gingersnaps to 3.5 cups. If you're going smaller, this is your lucky day!

Pulverize the gingersnaps in a food processor. You should have about 2 cups' worth of crumbs (2.5 for a 10-inch pan).

Pour the crumbs into a bowl, then add the melted butter and spices. Toss with your hands until you have a delightful and uniform mound of cookie fluff. Try not to accidentally tip the bowl into your mouth.

Pat the mixture into your pie pan, forming a crust around the bottom and edges. If it seems too thick, you may remove some of the crumbs and spoon them into your maw. Just like cereal!

Bake the crust for 10 minutes, or until it begins to brown. Set it aside to cool. It should achieve room temperature before you pour in the filling, but no one will suffer if you can't wait that long. It helps to pop it in the refrigerator after a minute or so.


Pour the chocolate chips into a large heatproof bowl.

Warm the heavy cream in a saucepan until it is just boiling. Pour over the chocolate and let stand for about one minute. You may stir. The chocolate chips will ribbon out into gooey strands that embrace one another before chocolate and cream become one.

To help unify the ingredients, gently whisk them until the mixture is smooth and glossy. If it's a little grainy, no one will suffer.

Add the egg. I like to crack the egg into a separate container first to make sure there are no bits of shell. If you do this, muddle the egg with a fork a bit and add to the chocolate.

Pour in the vanilla.

Add spices and salt.

Pour into pie crust and bake for 25 minutes. The filling should be slightly wobbly in the center.

Remove from oven and let cool on a rack.


Pour cream into a mixer. Add the sugar and cinnamon.

Whip until soft peaks form. I'm not sure what this means, so I usually over-whip and get tough hillocks of cream. No one will suffer.

Mound the topping over the cooled filling. What will happen if your filling isn't that cool? Not much. Sprinkle red pepper flakes on top and decorate your pie with chocolate shavings. I use a Swiss peeler that some guy sold me at the Eastern Market, but the large blades on your grater will do in a pinch.



  • Serious Eats' recipe called for a little more than half the chocolate used here. Try a slice and imagine it with half the chocolate missing! Too sad to contemplate.
  • I would love to try a chipotle version of this. The Hot Chocolatier, a gourmet chocolate shop in Chattanooga, sells a chipotle truffle (The Hottie) that I'd love to re-create in pie form.
  • This pie is wonderfully smooth. The cream and egg make it softer than a ganache, but firmer than a pudding. It's hard to beat when edged with a crunchy layer of snaps.
  • I served this after a meal comprising strawberry-spinach salad with smoky bleu cheese, chili, and cornbread. It stands up to assertive courses and would dominate skimpy ones.
  • As you savor the first bite, take a moment to thank the conquistadors, mercenaries, and shady characters who plundered exotic lands to make the ingredients accessible to all.


5 stars. This one is hard to beat.