Saturday, July 31, 2010

Cupcake Tester Extraordinaire

Electrician Son and girlfriend brought over their nephew Damarian for Sunday dinner. His only request: cupcakes. I was happy to oblige.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Intersection of Two Grandmothers

I had two wonderful grandmothers, both of whom provided me with very different outlooks on life. They were like night and day in most respects but they shared one thing other than their love for me: they gave freely of themselves, providing both life skills and memories that I cherish and carry deep inside. Today, I was reminded of this as I plated a simple jam tart on a fancy Fitz & Floyd dessert dish.

Both women had suffered through the Great Depression, my Granny on a farm in rural Nebraska, my Nana in the middle of urban San Francisco. Both ended up living in the same California suburb.

Granny (of rural Nebraska) had married 3 times, was independent, loved fancy antique furnishings, nice jewelry, and beautiful silk blouses and wool suits (which took up the whole of a 2nd bedroom). She ran her own tax business, frequented the horse races, and regularly threw little soirees for her gal pals. In the kitchen she was a whiz with a pressure cooker, made her own noodles, and was best known for her crab potato salad.

Nana was married to the same man for 52 years (and when my Papa died it was the first time she had ever lived on her own), always thought of others before herself, and lived a spartan existence, primarily in a small 35-foot trailer that she kept immaculately clean inside and out. Her clothes did not fill one whole closet, she worked odd jobs in between raising first her own two children and then helping with my brother and me. She cooked simply, dishes like pot roast, liver and onions, poached fish.

When each had to move out of their home, it took me less than one day to clear out my Nana’s small one-bedroom apartment, even though she had lived there for 20 years. It took me the better part of 6 months to clear my Granny’s two bedroom house (along with several other relatives), where she had lived for 35 years. I had long suspected my Granny was a hoarder, a common result of living through the Depression, but I had no idea the extent. A painful experience.

Both of my grandmothers had a hand in shaping my culinary talents, for which I am immensely grateful. They also had a significant hand in my development into an adult. My degree in social work, my constant need to “mother,” to help, to provide love and guidance comes straight from my Nana, probably the most selfless person I have ever known or ever will know. My love of shoes and good clothes is courtesy of my Granny, along with my penchant for antiques and the joy of serving food on beautiful china. Which brings me full circle….

Today I was making fruit tarts for Sunday dinner. I had extra pie dough left and immediately rolled it out and stamped out big scalloped circles, filled them with a dollop of my homemade plum jam and made little jam tarts, just like my nana would do for me when I was a child. After they had baked, I pulled out a china dish to serve them upon and realized that both my grandmothers were represented there, right in front of me, evoking a smile, a tear and a flood of memories. A simple tart served on a fancy plate, my Nana and Granny side by side.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Calendar Notation: Pickling Time!

When I flipped over my large 12x18 monthly calendar to July I saw a notation in the upper left corner that said “Pickle Time.” I must have marked the calendar when I transferred all the birthdays and anniversaries from last year’s calendar. Pretty smart idea, if I do say so myself.

Last July Brilliant Daughter and I went on a canning frenzy last July after trips to LJB Farms in San Martin. In addition to jams, salsa and barbecue sauce, we put up 24 quarts of pickles. We have been generous with our crunchy dill spears and consequently Mrs. B’s cupboard is just about bare of pickles, hence a need to haul out the canning equipment.

We made a quick trip down to LJB Farms on July 3rd and picked up a lug of the full-flavored Blenheims—since they have such a short season—and I made about 20 half-pints of jam on the 4th of July. I didn’t have time to go to the farm the following weekend, so I made a trip down to our local farmer’s market and bought 10 pounds of pickling cucumbers and some fresh dill, an investment of $12. I went across the street to Safeway and picked up a gallon of white vinegar and made my way home to begin pickling.

Pickling is a very simple process and really takes very little time. While I put the canning kettle on to boil, I washed out my jars and put them in a 250-degree oven to bring them up to temperature.

I washed and quartered all the cucumbers into spears and put them in an ice bath to stay cold and crispy.

Then I set got the pickling liquid on to boil*.

While I waited, I trimmed and cut the dill, peeled garlic (I do love my pickles with garlic), and found the peppercorns. (I even added some chili pepper flakes to a few jars to add some kick.)

Once the canning pot was ready I pulled out 6 jars, added my dill, 3 garlic cloves, 5 peppercorns and then stuffed the spears in tight. I filled them up with the vinegar mixture, sealed them and put them into the bath for 20 minutes. I repeated the process and second time and after 1 ½ hours—start to finish—I had 12 quarts of pickles ready for the pantry. (Not near enough to last the year, unless I decide not to share.)

Now comes the waiting…..

*Ratio of pickling liquid is 3 cups vinegar, 3 cups of water, 1/3 cup salt. For 12 quarts of pickles I used 4x this recipe.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bake Sale: Vietnamese Coffee Cupcakes

Brilliant Daughter was participating in a bake sale at her place of employment to raise funds for local schools. I thought it would be a good idea to contribute, being as I work as a contractor…at home…with no co-workers to feed. Since I had been hankering to make some cupcakes, I dug around for something a little unique. I finally settled on Vietnamese Coffee Cupcakes, cobbling together recipes from various sites to come up with something that would work for me and utilize ingredients I had on hand.

The cupcakes turned out rather well, light and tasty, reminiscent of a sweetly fragrant Vietnamese coffee. They are a bit of work, as they are made from scratch and have a filling, but I think they were worth it.

Cupcake Batter

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup strong brewed coffee (preferably espresso)
1/4 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon finely ground coffee (espresso grind works best)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare 24 cupcake pans.

Beat butter on high until soft, about 30 seconds. Add sugar and beat on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beat for 30 seconds between each.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Put coffee and cream into a measuring cup together.

Add a quarter of the flour to the butter/sugar mixture and beat to combine. Then add one-third cup of liquid mixture beat until combined. Repeat the process two more times and end with last addition of the flour mixture. Fold in ground coffee.

Fill cupcake liners two-thirds full and bake 25 minutes. Let cool completely

Make filling (below).


1 teaspoon unflavored (Knox) gelatin

1/4 cup cold water
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk

Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let sit for 5 minutes. In a small pan over medium heat, heat the sweetened condensed milk until warm. Prepare ice bath by putting ice cubes and water into a bowl that will accommodate the pan. Add the gelatin to the heated milk and stir over heat until the gelatin melts, about 2 minutes. Transfer mixture to water bath set. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens. Once mixture has cooled put into pastry bag with medium round tip. (Alternately a Ziploc bag with corner cut or even baby spoon will work to fill cupcakes.)

Using a large pastry tip, core out the center of each cupcake. Carefully pull out any crumbs and remove the cake round from the tip using a toothpick. Fill each whole three-quarters full with filling and replace cake round on top.


1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
¾ cup heavy cream

¼ cup very strong coffee (preferably espresso)

3 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
1 ½ pounds confectioners sugar

Beat the cream cheese in a bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the heavy cream, coffee, and sweetened condensed milk. Slowly mix in the confectioners’ sugar. If you like a thicker frosting that will stand up to fancy piping tips, you might want to add more sugar.

Finish each cupcake with a heap of frosting (piped or spread), dust with a bit of finely ground coffee and a chocolate espresso bean.

P.S. The bake sale raised over $300 for local schools. My cupcakes sold out. : )