Monthly Archives: April 2012

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes with Grand Marnier Mocha Frosting

I got an email in the middle of Saturday afternoon from a grad student in the lab declaring that one of these cupcakes saved his Saturday afternoon. Such things make me smile. In fact, that was precisely the reason why I woke up extra early in the morning to make just this batch of cupcakes earlier this week – to save afternoons.

With the arrival of spring and my bicycle brake cables replaced, I started biking into work again. It’s six miles, one direction, and thanks to the greenway and the general lack of topography in Minneapolis, not all that difficult. But it is six miles and five months since I commuted by bike. So a chocolate cupcake at 4 pm can be a lifesaver. For some reason, it needed to be chocolate + orange + coffee. And a little boozy … Kahlúa in the cupcakes and Grand Marnier in the frosting, which is an added bonus.

 Chocolate Orange Cupcakes with Grand Marnier Mocha Frosting 
Makes 12 cupcakes
Chocolate Orange Cupcakes
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup milk + 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/4 cup orange juice
zest from 1 orange
 1/4 cup Kahlúa
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Grand Marnier Mocha Frosting
1/2 cup butter
3 cups powdered sugar
5 tablespoons mocha sauce
1 tablespoon orange juice
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier

For the cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 375º. Line muffin pan. Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together milk, oil, egg, orange juice, zest, Kahlúa and vanilla. While mixing the dry ingredients, slowly add the wet ingredients until just combined. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool completely before frosting.

For the Grand Marnier Mocha Frosting:

Beat butter, powdered sugar, mocha sauce, orange juice and Grand Marnier together until light and fluffy. This frosting will be a little loose at room temperature (I think it might have to do with the amount of mocha sauce) but a quick chill (10 – 15 minutes) in the refrigerator makes it perfectly suitable to frost.

The Return of Rhubarb

How I’ve been longing for this day. Desperately anticipating the return of my food crush.

Fresh from the community garden of a co-worker. The most wonderful surprise on a otherwise unremarkable Thursday.

Which lucky recipe will be the first of the season? Juice? Tart? Crisp? Cake? Ice cream – alone or sandwiched? Semifreddo? Savory? AppetizerSoup? The possibilities are nearly overwhelming.

I’ll be having sweet dreams tonight : )

Coffee Ice Cream + Mocha Sauce (and some thoughts on life on the internet)

It’s not a secret that I love coffee. And ice cream. It was only a matter of time before I made a batch of coffee ice cream. Rich, bold whole coffee beans steeped in cream and sugar and churned until frozen. It’s about all I can do to not eat it morning, noon and night, which isn’t all that surprising given those are the hours that I drink coffee. (Note: I thought I would try a kitchen experiment and rinse and dry the coffee beans after they steeped and brew them in a pot of coffee. Result: something akin to swamp water. I figured it at least meant that all that coffee essence was trapped in my ice cream.) I announced my intentions for this ice cream last weekend on Twitter, giving a shout-out to David Lebovitz (@davidlebovitz) whose recipe I was following.

To which he replied:

Enjoy the coffee ice cream – don’t forget the chocolate sauce! : )

The power of the internet and social networking sites. It astounds me that we live in an age where somebody like me, a purple-haired fungal biologist can interact with world-class pastry chef. I figured I had better heed his advice – this man literally wrote the book on ice cream. But, because of my long standing coffee obsession, I made mocha sauce instead. David Lebovitz did not steer me wrong  – coffee and chocolate go hand in hand.

I sometimes forget that this blog is in a public space. I understand that when I hit the Publish button that my words, my thoughts and my food appear on the internet, for anybody to to view and read. But it’s all in a very abstract sense. It astonishes me when somebody decides to reach across cyberspace and write to me about what I’ve presented here. It’s a technological hug. And it’s lovely.

I am a lot of things. And my relationships with the people who read this blog vary tremendously. I am family; daughter, sister, niece, cousin. I am a friend; from grade school, high school, college and grad school. I am a co-worker; from the dental office and from the lab and the larger scientific community. I am a former dancer. I’ve made friends with the family and friends of the people closest in my life. And I am a stranger to some. All of these people are welcome to participate in these slices of my life that I decide to put on the internet. 

I forget how wide of a net life casts. It’s an easy thing to brush off, to slide past, but it really is astonishing how many intersections there are. Like my obsession with coffee and ice cream, it’s no secret that this time in my life has been difficult. It’s oddly comforting, and simultaneously very scary, knowing that so many people have access to many of my innermost thoughts and emotions. It gives me the opportunity to share without actually having to speak the words aloud. It gives my readers the opportunity, whether in a public comment or a private message, to give me a hug. And it makes me feel not quite as lonely.

Thank you for the hugs.

(Have some coffee ice cream and mocha sauce).

Coffee Ice Cream and Mocha Sauce
from The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz
Coffee Ice Cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups whole coffee beans
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon finely ground coffee
Mocha Sauce
1 cup strongly brewed coffee
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
4 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces

For the ice cream:

Warm the milk, sugar whole coffee beans, salt and 1/2 cup of the cream in a medium saucepan. Once warm, cover and remove from heat. Let steep for at least an hour (or longer if you have to deal with your towed car…). Pour the remaining 1 cup cream into a large batter bowl and set a mesh strainer on top. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Rewarm the coffee-milk mixture. Slowly pour the warm coffee-milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then return to the saucepan and cook over medium heat. Cook custard until thick, stirring constantly. Pour through the mesh strainer and stir into the cream. Mix in the vanilla and the ground coffee. Chill thoroughly. Churn in your ice cream maker.

For the mocha sauce:

Whisk brewed coffee, sugar and cocoa powder in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Let boil for 30 seconds without stirring. Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate and butter, stirring until melted and smooth. Let the sauce stand for at least an hour (it will thicken slightly).

Sweet and Spicy Pineapple Galette with Pina Colada Sherbet

I had a moment of panic this morning. I went to run some errands this morning but couldn’t find my car. Immediately three things came to mind. 1) I am officially old and can no longer remember such details like where I park my car (in my defense – I park on the street and the last time I drove my car was 8 days ago). 2) My car was stolen or 3) my car was towed. What’s a girl to do? I circled the block and the adjacent block and the other adjacent block approximately three times before heading back home and looking up to see if my car was being held hostage at the impound lot while calmly convincing myself that having my car towed would be much preferable to having it stolen. And impounded it was. I was the unlucky victim of street sweeping. I guess that’s what I get when I don’t park on my block and don’t drive often enough to see the street signs declaring temporary ‘No parking.’

At least it wasn’t stolen.

A quick phone call, a ride to the impound lot and $200 later, I was back in possession of my car. Whew. The whole thing took about two hours. A more stressed-out version of myself would have seriously freaked out over this turn of events. But not post-vacation me. A few weeks back I left town and spent a week with some lovely ladies in my family. Sunny skies, azure waters, drinks during the day … a fantastic escape from everyday realities like street sweeping and work.

In moments of dire reality, I try hard to remember the low-key, go-with-the-flow mentality of vacation. A tropical dessert doesn’t hurt either. I recently found myself with a pineapple and decided I wanted to bake with it. Sweet and spicy roasted pineapple galette with pina colada sherbet. Pineapple roasted with cayenne spiced caramel sauce, sliced and laid flat on a flaky sweet pie dough. It’s got kick for sure, but when paired with pina colada sherbet it just bursts with sweet pineapple-ness.

Pineapple, banana, ginger, coconut, rum … can you get any more tropical and sunny than that? A welcome escape for a Sunday afternoon following a hectic week at work. I have to be honest – making this particular dessert was rather involved. Making the caramel sauce, roasting the pineapple, rolling the dough, baking the galette, churning the ice cream – note that I said it was a welcome escape and not an instant escape from reality… but an escape nonetheless.

Sweet and Spicy Pineapple Galette
adapted from Bon Appetit
Sweet and Spicy Roasted Pineapple
1 2/3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/4 cup dark rum
1 large banana
2 tablespoons chopped peeled fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 large pineapple, trimmed, peeled, cored and halved
Sweet Tart Dough
3/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
10 tablespoons cold butter
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons cold water
For the roasted pineapple:

Mix sugar and 1/2 cup water in heavy medium saucepan. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves, occasionally brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush. Increase heat; boil until syrup is deep amber color, swirling pan occasionally, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Add 1 cup water (Beware – the sugar will be on the edge of violent!), then rum. Stir over very low heat until caramel bits dissolve. Simmer 2 minutes. Cool syrup 15 minutes. Add banana, ginger, and cayenne pepper; puree with an immersion blender (or a stand alone blender) until sauce is smooth.

Preheat oven to 350°. Place pineapple halves in 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Pour sauce over; turn pineapple to coat. Roast until tender, basting often with sauce (about every 15 minuets), about 1 hour 15 minutes. Remove pineapple from sauce (but keep sauce for later), let cool completely and slice into 1/4 inch pieces.

For sweet tart dough:

Combine flours, salt and sugar in a food processor. Blend until combined. Add butter and pulse until butter is processed into pea-sized bits. Add egg yolk and pulse until incorporated. Add water and process until dough begins to come together. Gather dough loosely, wrap in plastic and chill at least an hour. Once chilled, roll dough out to ~1/8 thickness in some semblance of a rectangle. This is the beauty of the galette – no precise measurements needed! Lay pineapple slices on top of dough, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges. Drizzle reserved caramel sauce over fruit (you will have plenty leftover for ice cream sundaes). Fold edge over and bake at 425º for 25 minutes.

Pina Colada Sherbet
from The Perfect Scoop, by David Leibovitz
1 pineapple, peeled, cored and cubed
1 cup sugar
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 teaspoon lime juice

Puree pineapple in blender until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and blend until well incorporated. Chill thoroughly and freeze in your ice cream maker.

Me, the single academic

I’m giving fair warning … I’ve had two glasses of wine and a productive and lovely evening with my advisor. I am about to pontificate wildly.

I am heartbroken. Nothing has changed. Except for the passage of time and that only makes my current state all the more sad. I’ve stopped talking about it, I’ve learned to cover it up better. I actually smile now. But, at the end of the day I am still the girl who cries herself to sleep. I don’t know how to fix that.

At work, I am totally coming into my own. I feel differently about myself. I am in charge. I am, in fear of giving up what generation I grew up in, psyched. For the first time in a very long time, I feel as though I can make a meaningful contribution to my field. I want to talk about what I study. I want to be known in my academic community. For the most part, it’s the project, the new insights, the unanswered questions of biology that have me working on the weekend, early in the morning or late into the night.

But there is another part to it. A part that I don’t ever really want to nod my head to. The part that knows, deep down, that I am able to, beyond willing even, to devote this much time to work, because I am single. That, this drive to be somebody doesn’t in some part stem from the feelings of rejection in my personal life. And simply because I have the time and space in my brain to think about it. That it isn’t otherwise occupied with another being. I feel guilty. I was willing to, happy even, at the prospect of compromising my academic life in the name of love. And, I would have been happy. I know that. I don’t doubt that. But it didn’t work out. Now, I have the potential to reclaim my academic confidence. And I am happy to do that too. No doubt, they are completely different entitities, but is one really better than the other?

So, this is my question: Are the two always mutually exclusive? Will I have to choose the academic, single life, where I can give my intellectual and career needs the time and attention they deserve? Or, will I choose the balanced life, one where life beyond the academic demands time center stage? Nobody ever dies wishing they spent more time at the office. But I have to believe that being an academic is not the same as being a corporate drone (because, certainly, no academic is in it for the money).

Will the stars ever align so that both are feasible? Or is it just an impossible dream that I am deluding myself with?