Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Year, New Look

So I'm thinking with the onset of 2013 and considering my goals for the upcoming year, it was time for the Tipsy Cupcake to get a mini makeover.  Page designs are far from finalized and I'd love any feedback anyone is open to sharing (promise, you won't hurt my feelings).

Along with the new look, I'm committing myself to writing 100 thought provoking, inspired posts in 2013 and creating sub pages for reading lists, links, equipment reviews and the like.  While I'm not trying to take the culinary approach of my blog in a new direction, you can expect 2013 to bring on some more health conscious options (along with the occasional indulgence), as I have become bound and determined to take off the final 30 pounds of the "Not Your Average" 50 I've accumulated since moving home to Boston in 2008.  Three years of eating full-fat restaurant food ten meals a week does take its toll and unfortunately, it's twice as hard to get rid of it as it is to put it on.

I can proudly say that six months into my endeavor, I'm down 20 pounds and getting close to the physical strength I had back when I played rugby.  I do see the upcoming year as an opportunity to complete my journey and have resolved to do so - no excuses.

That aside, my cooking philosophies are still rooted in using fantastic ingredients in innovative and exciting ways as to "reinvent" them so to speak and I can assure you that that will continue.  I'm also hoping that my restaurant reviews will be just as thought provoking and inspiring as James and I have resolved to be more discriminating with our eating out practices in 2013 - thus fewer engagements but hopefully a higher caliber of dining to share with you all.  

Ideally, I'd like to see the photography element of my blog improve by the end of the coming year as well.  I know my photos aren't always the most inspiring and I'm hoping to work on changing that.

That being said, I would like to wish all of my readers a happy and healthy new year!  Here's a preview of the dinner I'm preparing for James and I... paying homage to a few of my favorite chefs who truly do inspire me everyday.

- Truffled Egg Custards with Procuitto Chips (adapted from Thomas Keller)
- Caramelized Carrot Soup (adapted from Nathan Myrhvold)
- Scallops Two Ways - Blood Orange Ceviche & with Jalapeño Lime Harissa (adapted from Ken Oringer and Rick Bayless)
- Roasted Oysters (adapted from Amanda Freitag)
- Branzini with Coconut Milk, Kaffir Lime & Lemon Grass (adapted from Michelle Bernstein)
- Calimyrna Figs with fresh Ricotta, Hazelnuts and Blood Orange (adapted from Melissa Kelly)

Recipes coming after the new year.  Stay safe, eat well and drink good booze.

Happy 2013!

Maple Bacon Jam

Yes, you read that correctly - Maple. Bacon. Jam.  It's one of those culinary concoctions I'm really not sure how I lived without for 30+ years of existence.  Yes, this is a culinary endeavor that takes about 6 hours all in (heck, five of them are in a slow cooker) but your time and effort will most certainly be rewarded with gooey, delicious, bacon-y goodness.

First and foremost, I need to give credit where credit it due.  The inspiration and initial recipe (along with a few suggested modifications) were shared with me by Kayte Eckels, someone who's Facebook updates frequently challenge my culinary creativity and inspire some fabulous collaborative creations.  You get some serious props for this one...

Maple Bacon Jam

1 1/2 pounds of applewood smoked thick- cut bacon, sliced into 1" pieces
1/2 of a medium yellow onion
1 shallot
1 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
1 small Braeburn or Honeycrisp apple
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup pure grade B maple syrup
3/4 cup brewed coffee (I used a Kenya AA)

- Begin by crisping bacon in a large skillet over medium heat (you want to render out as much fat as possible so give it 15-20 minutes)
- Transfer bacon to a paper towel to drain
- Remove all but 1 tablespoon of bacon fat from the pan and return to medium heat
- Add diced onion, shallot, garlic and apple and sweat for about 7-8 minutes
- Add brown sugar, vinegar, syrup and coffee to the pan to deglaze and bring to a slow boil
- Add the bacon back to the mixture and transfer to a slow cooker (I highly recommend using a liner)
- Cook uncovered on high for five hours or until the mixture has reduced to a syrupy consistency
- Transfer to a food processor and pulse on high until coarsely chopped
- Store the jam in airtight jars, refrigerated for up to four weeks
- Warm the jam in a saucepan before serving with crackers, toast or as an accompaniment to sandwiches

Adventures in Holiday Baking - Part 5

I was hoping to postpone this final holiday themed treat post until after I could deliver Miss Jillian Pine her box of holiday goodies, seeing that her love of honeycomb candy inspired this final confection, but alas, my surprise will have to be ruined.  [Thank you snowstorms and stomach bugs.]

Have you ever had a Crunchie bar?  It's a chocolate coated version of my honeycomb brittle - a light, air bubble infused sweet confection that literally melts in your mouth and well, resembles a honeycomb.

Honeycomb Brittle

Nonstick cooking spray
1 1/2 cups of raw cane sugar
1/2 cup honey or Lyle's Golden Syrup (depending on preference - Lyle's will yield a buttery taste)
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon baking soda

- Spray a rimed baking sheet with your nonstick cooking spray
- Combine sugar, honey (or syrup) and water to a boil in a large sauce pan (use a pan larger than you think you need)
- Stir the mixture constantly and reduce the heat to a high simmer.  Bring the mixture up to 300 degrees (using a candy thermometer to track).
- Remove from the heat and whisk in the baking soda.  The mixture will bubble up and expand to about 4 times it's original volume.
- Pour onto your greased baking sheet and allow to cool 2-3 hours before breaking.
- Gently tap the brittle with a hammer to break it into pieces and serve or package.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Adventures in Holiday Baking - Part 4

In this installment of my "Adventures in Holiday Baking" mini series, I'm sharing a recipe that I've worked for quite some time to adapt and perfect.  In the quest for my perfect biscotti, there's been a lot of trial and error.  I did take a page out of my good friend, Jenny Morrison's baking book and strive for a slightly cake-ier biscotti as opposed to the typical tooth breaking texture that leaves no choice but to dip it into a cup of coffee.

On a side note, Jenny writes an incredible blog and is a phenomenal baker.  Check her out here.

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

1/4 cup light olive oil
3/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 1/2 cups pistachio nuts

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- In a large bowl, combine the oil, sugar, vanilla and almond extracts
- Whip the eggs and add to the oil mixture
- In a smaller bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder
- Whisk your dry ingredients into the wet until they form a thick dough
- Gently fold in pistachios and cranberries
- Form the dough into two logs, the dough may be a bit sticky and it helps to wet your hands before you work with it
- Bake the logs for 35 minutes
- Remove from the oven and allow them to cool for a minimum of 10 minutes
- Slice your biscotti into 3/4 inch cookies and arrange in a single layer on your baking sheet
- Bake for an additional 10-15 minutes (shorter for a cake-ier consistency, longer to crisp)

*You can replace the cranberries and pistachios with any fruits or nuts you prefer.  I like the "holiday" look of the red and green and the flavor profile works well together.
**For an more traditional Italian flavored biscotti, substitute the almond extract for anise. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Adventures in Holiday Baking - Part 3

This next recipe that I want to share with you holds a nostalgic place in my heart.  It's one of those recipes that I'm pretty sure originated in a 1960's Betty Crocker cookbook - you know, the one's where every ingredient comes with a brand name.  Along with a cool, retro vibe however, comes an opportunity to add some really interesting and modern twists.  Heck, all else aside, this stuff just tastes really good.

Saltine Toffee Brittle

1 sleeve of Saltine crackers (salted tops)
1 stick of unsalted butter
1 cup of dark brown sugar, loosely packed
1 1/2 cups of semi sweet chocolate chips
1 cup of your choice of toppings, finely chopped/crushed (suggestions below)
Nonstick cooking spray

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Line a 1 inch deep baking sheet with tinfoil, completely covering the edges
- Spray your baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray
- Cover the sheet with the Saltine crackers in a single layer
- In a heavy bottom saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar until they begin to boil and are well incorporated
- Pour the butter mixture over the crackers and spread evenly with a rubber spatula to distribute
- Bake for 10 minutes
- Sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly across the top and allow 5-6 minutes for the chocolate to begin to melt
- Spread the chocolate with a rubber spatula to evenly distribute and sprinkle the with your toppings
- Allow to cool in the refrigerator for a minimum of 1 hour
- Break into chunks like peanut brittle and serve

Topping Suggestions:
- Peanuts (you can also substitute 1/2 of the chocolate chips with peanut butter chips)
- Almonds & Cranberries
- Pecans & Gogi Berries
- Candied Ginger, Cashews and Toasted Sesame Seeds
- Candy Cane pieces
- Candied Citrus Peels

Get creative!  The toffee really lends itself to a variety of flavor combinations.  My only suggestion is to make sure your breaking, crushing or chopping your toppings finely so that they stick to the chocolate well when your breaking the brittle.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Adventures in Holiday Baking - Part 2

Okay, so this recipe isn't really "baking" per se.  It's still quite delicious and adds a nice savory element to our holiday gift boxes each year.  I always feel with all the sweet selections, it's nice to have a touch of salty every now and then.

Roasted Garlic & White Truffle Popcorn

yields 4 cups of popped corn

1/2 cup white popcorn kernels
1/4 cup of corn oil
2 tablespoons of cultured butter
2 tablespoons of la tourangelle white truffle oil (other brands will work as well, but this is my favorite)
2 cloves of roasted garlic (directions below)
2 teaspoons of kosher salt
1 teaspoon of Penzey's Italian seasoning blend (I've used Good Seasons in the past and it's work well)
1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper

- In a large covered saucepan, heat the corn oil and the kernels until fully popped (about 2-3 seconds between pops)
- In a small, heavy bottomed saucepan, melt the cultured butter and add truffle oil, salt, pepper and seasoning
- Smash the garlic cloves with a fork until they form a chunky paste and add to the melted butter mixture
- Allow the butter mixture to simmer for 10 minutes on low heat to infuse the flavors
- Transfer the popcorn 1/2 cup at a time into a bowl, drizzling the butter mixture over each layer and gently shaking to evenly distribute

Roasting the Garlic:
- Take a full head and slice off the stalk end (the pointy top part) to expose the top of each clove
- Pour 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil over the head, fully coating the top
- Roast for 30-45 minutes at 325 degrees until each clove is tender
- Allow to cool for 15 minutes before removing the cloves from the peel - they should squish right out

Adventures in Holiday Baking - Part 1

Having recently begun our holiday baking, I wanted to take a moment to share some of the recipes I've developed over the past few months.  I love this time of year and truly take it as an opportunity to share something I'm truly passionate about with the people I love.  Being able to create something delicious to give to the people I care about, gives  me a much truer feel for the art of gifting.

2011 was a lot of trail and error with regard to baking.  While the majority of the final products were quite delicious, far too many of my confections didn't quite turn out as planned.  This year, I took a much more strategic approach.  Each of my recipes was developed and and adapted using some the new techniques I've learned recently (thank you James and my wonderful birthday gift of Modernist Cuisine for helping me understand the science and the why behind cooking) and I'm more than pleased with the outcome.  

The first recipe I want to share is my buttery, crumbly, not too sweet Lavender Shortbread.  The following will yield about 20 cookies, but can easily be increased to up to 4 times in a standard Kitchen Aid Mixer.  

Lavender Shortbread

1 stick of room temperature, unsalted butter
1/4 cup demerara sugar (white sugar will also work)
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
1 cup of whole wheat all purpose flour
1/4 cup of corn starch
1/2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons dried lavender flowers, divided
2 tablespoons sanding sugar (white sugar will also work) 

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees 
- Cream your butter in a stand mixer for 3 minutes to incorporate air pockets and add demerara sugar
- In a small mixing bowl, combine flour, corn starch and salt
- Add 2 tablespoons of lavender into the butter and sugar mixture and continue to mix on low speed
- Add vanilla bean paste and combine well
- Slowly incorporate your dry ingredients 1/4 cup at a time until well combined into a sticky dough
- Turn out the dough onto a silicone pastry mat and gently kneed to incorporate any dry pockets 
- Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and form 1 1/2 inch balls, smoothing the surface of each
- Press each ball to about 1/4 inch thick and sprinkle with remaining lavender and sanding sugar 
- Bake for 18 minutes or until cookies are lightly golden brown at the feet (all ovens differ to watch your first batch carefully)

The packaging is a Ziploc bag with scrapbook paper and a printed name label stapled over the top.  I think it makes a clean presentation and keeps the cookies fresh and delicious.  

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Happy Birthday to Me!

For my 31st birthday celebration, James brought me to Ken Oringer's Clio in Boston.  The ten-table restaurant is located in the Elliot Hotel and truly achieves a fine dining atmosphere without being remotely stuffy.  We began our evening by perusing the overwhelming cocktail menu at the bar; even with several spirits certifications and an innate passion for vintage mixology, I found the list to be impressive.  Our bartender took the art of handcrafting a cocktail incredibly seriously, treating it with the culinary respect so many people in our industry neglect.  Unable to make a decision after perusing the 25-page menu, we both left our selection in what we [correctly] presumed to be his capable hands.  I enjoyed a slightly bitter concoction of Plymouth Gin, Lillet Blanc, housemade bitters and lime while James had a Torched Cherrywood Old Fashioned: cherrywood barrel-aged bourbon, burnt housemade demerara sugar cubes, orange bitters, Luxardo cherries and a torched orange slice.  Both were fantastic aperitifs, making an exceptional start to our dinner.  

We selected the 10-course Chef's tasting menu (actually, it's 12 courses) with wine pairing accompaniments, rather than selecting a single bottle to carry though the meal.  Ken Oringer is knowns for creating complete, balanced flavors and after seeing the attention to detail his restaurant put into their bar service, I had full confidence in their wine pairings.  

Our meal began with an amuse bouche Financier Cake topped with fois gras threads over a salted lycée puree.  The dense consistency of the cake created a rich mouthfeel paired with the creamy fois gras definitely did its intended job of waking up the palate.  

Nexted, the "awakening of the palate" theme continued with a bright Tomato Water, basil oil emulsion, jicama, caper berry and pulp "popsicle" martini.  Think of taking a tomato puree and spinning it incredibly fast to separate the "water" of the fruit from the pulp (which was used to make a popsicle).  The result is a bright, refreshing concentration of flavor in a crisp, watery liquid.  Think of literally drinking a freshly picked garden tomato drizzled with a touch of fresh basil.   

Our third course was a Hamachi Sashimi prepared ceviche-style in a kumquat vinaigrette, topped with a negi (sea celery) salad and a puffed rice "roe" meant to mimic the popping texture of caviar.  The fish was incredibly fresh tasting and the buttery texture played well with the acid of the vinaigrette without either overwhelming the dish.  The course was paired with Tozai Living Jewel Junmai Sake which played into the creaminess of the fish and was sharply brightened by the acid and mild sweetness.  

As an interlude to our next course, we were poured a tasting of Lucien Albrect Pinot Gris from Alsace. If I were blind tasting, I would have quickly concluded it was a riesling, only lacking the distinct floral notes that are typically present.  The characteristic minerality of Alsatian wines was easily recognizable on the forefront of the wine with a distinct lycée note.  All in, it was quite enjoyable - sweet, but not cloyingly so and well balanced with the classic earthiness of a European wine.  

Our fourth course was a Nantucket Bay Scallop served in its shell with a pomegranate yuzu, shallot and osetra caviar paired with a chenin blanc heavy sparkling Vouvray blend.  There was a slight [intentional] fishiness to the scallop that complimented the sweetness in the pomegranate.  It was comical watching the guests dining at the table next to us trying to eat them with a fork and knife; I'm an advocate of shooting back any shellfish served on the half shell.  

Course number five brought us back to fresh, garden note with a Red & Golden Beet Salad over a spicy Thai peanut sauce, crispy chicken skin and dehydrated black onions paired with a bright Albarino.  My first reaction when we were presented the course was quite skeptical.  I eat a lot of beets and would never think of peanuts being a strong pairing.  Oddly, it worked rather well.  The rich chicken skin chips and intense flavor of the dehydrated onions stood up well to the boldness of the peanut as well.  The wine pairing, although both independently delicious, was my least favorite combination of the night.   I really just felt the salad was too bold for the crisp, light wine and when paired, it faded into the background behind the peanuts and onions.  

Our sixth course, which was one of my favorites of the evening, was a Lobster and Sea Urchin Milk Foam with green onions and pulled chili threads.  Texturally, the dish was spectacular and the heat of the chili offset the sweetness of the seafood beautifully.  The dish was paired with Punkt Sparkling Gruner Veltliner, a delicious and incredibly unusual wine that provided the perfect balance to the heat. Although this is my first time tasting a sparkling Gruner, the Austrian specialty is a classic pairing with spicy, southeast Asian influenced flavors.  

The seventh course continued along the pescatarian theme with a Black Lime and Butter Basted Swordfish, fava and lima beans, salsify puree, black garlic sauce and turmeric gelee paired with Aia dei Colombi Falanghina from Piedmont.  The wine was lightly aged in French oak (I'm guessing about 3 months) and then transferred to steel barrels which gave it a crisp, yet still buttery quality.  Think about taking the best aspects from a big California chardonnay and marrying them with the best aspects of an unoaked chard.  The balance of the wine complimented the heaviness of the fish and the puree incredibly well, creating another one of our favorite courses. 

The eighth course, and my personal favorite of the evening, offered some personalization for each of us.  I had a Seared Fois Gras Medallion with quince jam, milk and honey puree, cornichons and a pulled honey chip.  James, not being a fan of organ meat, received a seared pork belly with the same preparation.  Both dishes were paired with a Sotimatto Mate, an unusual red wine, similar to a Brachetto.  The course was silky, balanced and decadent bringing together elements of sweet, savory and acid in perfect harmony.  

Course nine, while conceptually good, was undoubtedly our least favorite course of the evening.  A Black Cherry-Braised Short Rib with bok choy and pearl onion sounded incredible but fell short of expectations.  The short rib wasn't as tender as expected and was ribboned with unmelted fat, making it a bit rubbery.  I did however enjoy the Langhe Nebbiolo pairing.  

We then moved on to our cheese course, once again individualized due to James' dislike of goat cheese.  I enjoyed a Tomme de Feremac semisoft goat's milk cheese paired with a preserved fig and Armagnac vermouth.  I found it to be mild for a goat's milk cheese but it still brought a nice after bite that was complimented by the sweetness of the fig.  The pairing was a Le Clos de Paulilles Banyuls Rimage dessert wine which played off the notes in the vermouth beautifully.  It was a great marriage of sweet and salty with the candied fruit notes in the wine bringing out the boldness of the cheese. 

Course number eleven was a palate cleanser consisting of a white chocolate coconut sphere with kafir lime sorbet, cashew and pinenut crumble and a spicy Thai basil grenada paired with a La Caliera Moscao di Asti.  Both the dish and the wine were refreshing with a bit of aggression (mostly from the Thai basil) that woke  up our palates fabulously after three very rich, heavy courses.  It made a beautiful prelude to dessert.  

Finally, our evening concluded with a Deconstructed Apple Crumble with Buttermilk Ice Cream and a Yamamomo Mountain Peach.  The caramel dotted on the sides of the dish may have been both of our favorite single components in any dish.  When eaten together, you really did get each of the delicious flavors that are so familiar in an apple crisp.  The Yamamomo mountain peach was an interested "berry" that balanced sweetness and acidity that concluded the dish with a refreshing note.  

The meal was capped off with a glass of Thienot Champagne and a goat's milk rosemary caramel.  It was such an amazing dinner and I feel so blessed to have been able to share it with someone who I care  about.