Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Cupcake Diaries - Georgetown's Coconut Cupcakes

My daughter and I have twice tried to get into Georgetown Cupcakes in D.C.  We failed each visit.  The lines were just too long.

A couple of weeks ago we visited Georgetown on a wet, windy cold, late Summer weekend and guess what...?  No lines.

We zipped in immediately and breathed in deeply.  The smell of sugar, chocolate and all things sweet baking was heavenly.

And the store was just so reassuringly girly.

Pink boxes and exquisitely iced cupcakes lined the walls of the store.

We bought a box of six - we only intended to buy one each but just couldn't decide between the red velvet and the chocolate ganache or the coconut and oreo cookie cupcake.  There are just too many flavors from which to choose.

So what's a girl to do?

Buy the cookbook of course.

We did and have so far cooked the coconut cupcakes.

'Pon my word, my cupcakes were as good as the one I tasted in D.C.

The chocolate ganache didn't go so well.

I messed up because I mismeasured the flour (don't ask, it's too dumb.  Let's just say I really should wear my reading glasses when baking.)

Want to try your hand at baking one of these?  The recipe can be found here.Coconut Cupcakes

I learned a few things from the D.C. cupcake gals:

  1. Sift the flour onto parchment then put to one side.  Why you ask?  I don't know the answer, but I do know this step resulted in perfect fluffy cakes.
  2. Remember to leave the butter out of the fridge.  It's impossible to combine with the sugar if it's too hard and then you're left twiddling your thumbs, waiting for it to soften...
  3. Sift the powdered sugar.  Again I'd normally cheat and leave out this step, but it does make a difference -- especially if you are using organic powdered sugar, which seemed very dense to my eyes before sifting.
Go girls.  We love your recipes!

Can't get to D.C anytime soon?  Check out our other favorite bakers:  Flying Monkey Patisserie which sells its cupcakes at the Reading Terminal Market.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Coffee: The Magic Ingredient

Dirty Chai Latte - yes please!

Coffee, Coffea, Caffeine!  
by Mira Treatman, Old City Coffee, inc.

Coffee is many things to many people, it's a: 

  • pick me up in the morning, 
  • an after-dinner treat with frothy milk, 
  • a cultural icon, 
  • a millennium-old stimulant, 
  • a commodity, 
  • a status symbol, and, most significantly...
  •  an energy-bearing plant.              
Coffea Arabica is a species indigenous to the Red Sea region that includes modern day Yemen and Ethiopia. 

Legend has it that Ethiopian farmers discovered the plant’s powers after witnessing their livestock gain more energy after noshing on the Coffea Arabica leaves. The secret to this varietal is its soil content. Mountainous regions, such as the coffee-growing highlands of the Red Sea, tend to have high levels of volcanic soil rich in minerals that supply the bush with calcium, iron, and magnesium. 

Why Do We Love Coffee..?
Caffeine, the key chemical in coffee, evolved in Coffea because it acts as a poison to many herbivores.  This protects the plant from being eaten. The consumers of the plant who are not poisoned by this stimulant reap many benefits: 

Caffeine inhibits the sleep receptors in the brain. Essentially, this means that once caffeine enters the bloodstream it tells the happy energizer brain chemicals to be energetic and the sleepy relaxer brain chemicals to not act. 

Caffeine also increases adrenaline in the bloodstream as it’s metabolized, which tells the body to prepare for battle or a jog or even simply helps us face the work day. 

Through a transfer of energy from sunlight to leaves to beans to you, coffee has gained its status as an iconic, well-loved drink.  It's got a kick in every cup!
At Old City Coffee we think that Coffee is the perfect accompaniment to social gatherings.  So we've reinstated our popular Open Mic Night!  Old City Coffee at 221 Church Street will be open on First Friday, October 5th, for an open stage for musicians and spoken word artists. 

Interested in taking part?

Sign ups start at 5:30 pm with a 6:00 pm show. This is the perfect venue to sip on your favorite caffeinated beverages while enjoying the best local arts Philly has to offer.

If you can't make it on the night, then try this popular recipe at home.  And maybe we'll see you next time!

Old City Coffee Dirty Chai Latte
Now that you’ve learned a bit more about coffee culture and our obsession with caffeine, here's a well-loved recipe with a maximal amount of boosting energy in our delicious recipe. 

This latte combines espresso with another source of caffeine, black tea.

5 oz Old City Coffee house-made Chai (a secret mix of spices and black tea brewed to near perfection and sweetened with honey)
3 oz soy, whole, or skim milk
1 shot espresso
Ground cinnamon

  1. To serve hot, heat chai either in a stainless steal pitcher if at an espresso machine or in a saucepan on a stovetop. 
  2. Pour tea into mug and cover with a lid. 
  3. Froth milk until about an inch of foam forms. If using an espresso machine, use the same stainless pitcher and pour milk followed by the foam on top. Saucepans work just fine too. To enjoy cold, mix ingredients in a pitcher and pour over a glass of ice. 
  4. A dusting of ground cinnamon on top is always a nice finish. 
See you soon we hope either in Old City or at our cafe in Reading Terminal Market.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

High Holiday Dinner

The High Holiday Season has arrived, and that means some serious cooking. We started our Rosh Hashanah feast with the traditional Matzoh Ball Soup.....

Followed by a main course of tzimmes (potatoes and yams tossed in olive oil, salt, pepper and a drizzle of honey, roasted at 400 degrees for 45 minutes, stirred occasionally),

Cumin-dusted cauliflower and cherry tomatoes (tossed in oil with salt and a generous sprinkle of cumin seed, roasted at 400 degrees for 30 minutes),

and rack of lamb--slathered with mustard, chopped fresh herbs and garlic, then coated with panko, and roasted at 400 for 35 minutes.

Dessert was an apple tart topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

The year is off to a great start!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Cheeky Chocolate Mousse

Home made chocolate mousse

With a Labor Day dinner party fast approaching, I needed an easy cook, yet impressive, dessert recipe.

I followed this two part recipe for chocolate mousse from Brit chef Jamie Oliver's cookbook, "Happy Days with the Naked Chef."  As far as I know, he does wear clothes in the kitchen...I think what he's actually referring to is that his recipes are pared down and quite elementary. (There's even a whole section in the cookbook dedicated to cooking with kids.)

I loved the photo of the Cheeky Chocolate Mousse because it was accompanied by these golden Sesame Seed Toffee Snaps.  It looked scrumptious!

To save on time, I started with the Toffee Snaps: The recipe involved two ingredients (actually three if you include the 8-10tbsps of water).  You can't go wrong with this one, I thought.  Can you..?

I messed up.

When following the instructions, I was surprised by how unspecific they were.  The instructions included "carry on cooking until light golden brown."  For some reason my syrup never turned golden brown.  I kept cooking for around 5 minutes and nothing much happened.  Why couldn't the recipe state an approximate length of time to give me some indication of how long I should be standing over the pan watching my syrup change color?

I got bored so I moved on to the next stage in the recipe and waited for the sesame seeds themselves to turn deep golden brown.  They never did.

I'm still puzzled about what went wrong.

Can only say that they didn't turn out like this:

Instead I created this monstrous mess:


It was with some trepidation that I made the Cheeky Chocolate Mousse.  But I needn't have worried. This was a dream.

Light, fluffy and uber-chocolatey.

I switched out the Amaretto, because I didn't have any, and added a generous glug of whiskey instead, which gave the sweet mousse a nice kick.

Would highly recommend this one, although I'd agree with Jamie that it needs to be served with a cookie or something with a crunchy texture.

My next job today is to make "Grandma's Ginger Snaps." (I found a popular recipe on, one of my favorite recipe sites.)  I think the peppery ginger will provide a great contrast to the mousse.

Will let you know how I get on!

Cheeky Chocolate Mousse
(Recipe says it serves four.  It fed eight comfortably and I thought the portion size was very generous!)

8oz good quality bittersweet chocolate
5 tbsps butter
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon Amaretto
2 tablespoons honey

1. In a bowl over some gently simmering water, melt chocolate and butter
2. In another bowl semi-whip the cream.  You want to create soft peaks.  Don't over whip
3. In yet another bowl (yes, there's a lot of washing up involved here), whisk the eggs and the honey until air bubbles appear.
4. Gently fold the chocolate and the whipped cream into the egg and honey mixture.  Go gently.  You want to keep as much air in the mousse as possible, to ensure that it stays light and fluffy.

Refrigerate for 2-3 hours,  Overnight is even better.

If you'd like to try some of Jamie's other recipes, you can buy "Happy Days with the Naked Chef" from 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Chopped, the Final Round

Sour grapes aside, I did tell the judges that they shot themselves in the feet.  Let's face it, I'm a dessert girl, and I knew I would have rocked this round.  But, the nicer side of me said that by eliminating me and my liquid gold caramel (which I planned to make regardless of other ingredients) the judges leveled the playing field for the 2 remaining teams.   Both of them were captained by guys who were more grill masters than treatmakers.

Their desserts had to include:
Buttermilk; Imitation Bacon Bits; Cilantro; and Salt Water Taffy.

One team hit the ground running.  Two of the kids on their team knew how to make a butter crumble, so they got to it.  The captain began improvising immediately, and directed his other sous chef to start melting the taffy.  They had many fits and starts, and one minor burn--the team captain scalded his son, who cried out in pain, and the father said, "Get back to that crumble, we've only got 15 minutes left! Sorry, bud, I burned myself too."  They ended up with this:

Buttermilk pancake topped with strawberry and crumble,  banana and salt water taffy filling and a side of bacon-chocolate sauce.  The accompanying beverage was a buttermilk and condensed milk shake infused with cilantro.

 The other team sat at the table for quite some time.  They started with a riff on candy apples, attempting to melt the salt water taffy and drizzle it on the peeled Granny Smiths:

 This resulted in a burned, sticky mess, which they promptly discarded.

They eventually presented bacon chocolate fondue with bananas, strawberries and apples and a buttermilk/salt water taffy/cilantro drizzle.

The winner:  the pancake crumble.  Unfortunately for the fondue team, the salt water taffy they chose to melt into their buttermilk sauce was a very strong fruity one and it dominated the entire dish with an artificial flavor.  Had they selected a vanilla or more neutral taffy for the sauce, the round would have been closer.

For me?  I'd have made buttermilk donuts with three dipping sauces:  chocolate infused with bacon; caramel infused with salt water taffy; and strawberry cilantro.     Now THAT sounds like a winner, don't you think?

For the 11th Birthday, I think we'll stick some cash in a card.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Chopped, Part II

Our Chopped party carried on...and then we were 3.  The main course awaited us, along with 35 very short minutes to make an entree.  The mystery ingredients were:

Fennel (which I loathe and have no experience cooking)

Imitation Crab (ick)


and Farina

My plan from the get-go was to fry some potatoes up for the main course.  Everyone loves a roesti--grated potatoes pressed into a pancake and fried to a crisp.  I figured that no matter what else was thrown at me, that would carry my team a long way toward victory.  Integrating the plantain into that was child's play, and the farina could also be buried into that crisply fried potato.  I set C to work slicing the fennel, X grating the plantains and potatoes, and K making the Farina according the package directions.  

And I stared, trepidatiously at that imitation crab.  I didn't want to adulterate my beautiful potato pancake with that gross fake shellfish.  We had been told by the judges that we had to use the ingredients in a way that showcased them.  So I made a crab and fennel salad with watermelon, lime juice, onion, and chili pepper, and I arranged it in an artfully displayed Romaine lettuce leaf.  The potato-plantain-farina cake fried to a crisp perfection, we leaned it jauntily against the lettuce boat, quickly made a Sriracha Ketchup for dipping, and wrote the initials of the birthday girl in the sauce.  Nice touch, huh?

Our competitors concocted the following:

Farina breaded crabcakes with salsa and a ragout of sauteed plantains and fennel;

Crab tacos with fennel-beet slaw, chipotle farina and fried plantains.

Alas, the fried potato cake was not enough to carry the day.  We were "chopped", primarily on the grounds that our dish was more of an appetizer than a main course.  Later, my nephew, who advanced to the dessert round said, "Aunt Ker, when I saw you just standing there staring at that crab for a long time I knew that was good for us!"  He was right.  The crab flummoxed me.

With this basket of ingredients, what would you make?

Next post:  the dessert round.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Chopped, Part I

Chopped as a birthday party?  Yep, that's how my niece wanted to celebrate her 10th.    Since the birthday occurred on a late summer-at-the-beach weekend, the entire family was drafted to participate.  I was nominated as the Captain of Team 1, and was assigned 3 kids of varying ages as my sous chefs.

The procedure followed that of the show; 4 mystery ingredients were given to each team, we had 25 minutes to create an appetizer using all 4, and we had access to any of the pantry items made available to us but nothing more.

And if you are wondering if I was nervous about 16 people speeding around a kitchen, many of whom had limited experience with cooking, let alone hot stoves and sharp knives, the answer is yes.  Fortunately, the kitchen is large and there are minimal casualties to report.

The first round presented us with the following ingredients:

Spicy Chicken Sausage; Prunes; Chick Peas and Cola Champagne.  The last was a cloyingly sweet, fruity soft drink which was, to say the least, a challenge to use.

My team set right to work:  X sliced the sausages thinly and seared them in a skillet.  C cut the prunes into chunks.  K took the chick peas and made them into a salad with feta, prunes, onions, cilantro, and watermelon.  I chopped onions, dumped them into a saucepan with some prunes, poured in the revolting cola, a generous amount of red wine, and balsamic vinegar and made a reduction sauce.  When the sauce reduced, I strained it into the sausage skillet and further reduced it to meld the flavors.  Then we arranged the chick pea salad in a mound in the middle of a plate,  layered the sausages around the exterior, drizzled the sauce, and for added panache, made crostini cut into the number "10" as a nod to the birthday girl.

The other Teams' entries were:

Grilled sausages with a hummus of chick peas, goat cheese, prunes, and cola.

Chilled fruit soup made with the cola, accompanied by chick pea and prune spread and a grilled sausage.

Gnocchi with sausage, cola infused tomato sauce with chick peas, and prunes.

Guess who got "Chopped"?

Fruit Soup, of course.

What would you have made?

Next post:  The main course.

Monday, September 3, 2012

How to Make Asian Pork Lettuce Wraps

Pulled pork is one of my go-to dishes for a crowd.  It is economical, requires minimal effort, and is popular among kids and adults alike. Having recently served both the traditional barbecue version and Mexican pulled pork, I was ready for some variety. I also wanted to lighten it up a bit; the chunky rolls associated with the Southern sandwiches tend to make me chunky, and the Mexican version with the tortillas, cheese, guacamole, chips, well, you see my dilemma. Lettuce wraps and Asian spices beckoned me, and I heeded their call.

Here's what I did:

 5 lbs pork loin
1 inch piece ginger, grated
2 TBSP chopped garlic
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1 tsp Sriracha (more/less depending on your desire for heat)

Place pork in oven proof pot with cover.  Cover with remaining ingredients.  Place in 275 degree oven for 6 hours, or longer.  Baste and turn meat over once or twice during cooking.  Meat is done when it is easily pulled apart with forks.

Serve with thoroughly washed, large lettuce leaves and cooked sticky rice.  Pass a variety of Asian condiments.