Chocolate Cupcakes with Easy Vanilla Buttercream Frosting


Please excuse my novice cake decorating skills!

HAPPY SPRING EVERYONE!!!

After making the Jelly Beans Nests for my niece and my little cousins, I was in the mood to bake. So I decided to bake cupcakes for Carlo’s co-workers. I like baking chocolate-y things, and these cupcakes, thanks to a recipe at Allrecipes.com, were PERFECT for testing! The Easy Vanilla Buttercream frosting recipe I found on the blog The Way the Cookie Crumbles. The cupcakes and the frosting were an amazing combination (yeah I snuck 1 or 2 for myself)!

CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES RECIPE

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup milk

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line a muffin pan with paper or foil liners. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa and salt. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well with each addition, then stir in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk; beat well. Fill the muffin cups 3/4 full.
  3. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Frost with your favorite frosting when cool.

EASY VANILLA BUTTERCREAM (from Cooks Illustrated April 2007)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 20 tablespoons (2½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2½ cups Confectioners’ sugar (10 ounces)
  • 1/8 tablespoons table salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream

DIRECTIONS:

In standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat butter at medium-high speed until smooth, about 20 seconds. Add confectioners’ sugar and salt; beat at medium-low speed until most of the sugar is moistened, about 45 seconds. Scrape down bowl and beat at medium speed until mixture is fully combined, about 15 seconds; scrape bowl, add vanilla and heavy cream, and beat at medium speed until incorporated, about 10 seconds, then increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down bowl once or twice.

YUMMY!!

– Carmella

Pizza with Pizazz

Pizza making is a trade that has been in my family for generations. My grandfather, Carlo Giardina, immigrated from Ragusa, Sicily in the 1930s, and was one of the first people to open a pizzeria in New York City called LaBella’s. My parents took up trade in the 1980s with a very successful pizzeria/restaurant in Wayne, NJ called Bachagaloop’s. Although I have no desire to start up my own pizza joint, I felt it was only natural for me to try to make a homemade pizza for Carmella and me. Although we LOVE toppings, I figured they should be avoided when making pizza for the first time. As it turns out the pizza was pretty easy to make, and tasted damned good. Carmella gave me one suggestion that I agree with; the dough needed a little more salt.

Below is a link for the dough recipe. I’ve also typed out the sauce recipe that my father concocted. Enjoy and tell us how yours comes out.

– Carlo

INGREDIENTS FOR PIZZA:

  • Homemade pizza dough (see link below)
  • Fresh pizza sauce (see sauce recipe below)
  • Sliced whole milk or buffalo milk (bufala) mozarella cheese
  • Chopped fresh basil


DOUGH LINK:
http://www.annamariavolpi.com/pizza_recipe.html

INGREDIENTS FOR FRESH PIZZA SAUCE:

  • 1 can (28 oz) of imported crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 3-4 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
  • tbsp of oregano
  • 1 clove of garlic finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp of chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tbsp of organic sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of freshly ground pepper

DIRECTIONS FOR SAUCE:

Combine all ingredients listed above and chill for 30 minutes.

DIRECTIONS FOR PIZZA:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450F.
  2. With a small ladle spread the sauce evenly around the dough leaving about 1/2 an inch along the edge for a crust.
  3. Bake the pizza for about 12-14 minutes before adding fresh mozzarella.
  4. Place pizza back in the oven and cook until mozzarella is melted and the crust crispy and golden brown.
  5. Upon removing the pie sprinkle a generous amount of freshly chopped basil.

Jelly Beans Nests

Being new to food blogging, I’ve become really interested in challenges. For March, the blog Masterbaker’s Weblog, the challenge surrounded Easter candy. My favorite are gourmet jelly beans (i.e. Jelly Belly). So I embarked on my first challenge.

After looking at various recipes, I actually came across a quick and easy non-bake dessert from Recipezaar that was just too cute. Who would of thought of making a totally edible Easter basket?!?! I just had to make these as little gifts for my niece and younger cousins for Easter.

Here’s the recipe:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 4 cups crunchy chow mein noodles
  • cooking spray
  • jelly beans(or any egg shaped candy)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Over medium heat, combine marshmallows and butter in a large saucepan.
  2. Stir until melted.
  3. Add noodles and stir to completely coat the noodles.
  4. Spray 12 cup muffin pan with cooking spray.
  5. With buttered hands place about 1 tablespoon of mixture into muffin cups and shape with hands to form”nests”. THIS IS A MUST!!! I cut a tbsp of butter and kept greasing my hands after making each nests. The mixture was really sticky. So much fun.
  6. Refrigerate til set.
  7. Fill nests with jelly beans.

NOTE: I mixed about 1.5 tbsp of shredded coconut with 1 to 2 drops of green food coloring to make the “grass.”


I just tried one a few minutes ago. They are sooooooo good! The marshmallow with the chow mein noodles came out even better than a Rice Krispies treat. I had a lot fun eating each jelly bean and guessing the flavor. I’m in Easter bunny ecstacy right now.

These may become my annual Easter treat for friends and family.

We Got Some TCHO!

Today, a package arrived for Carmella from BlakeMakes.com (THANKS, BLAKE!). Inside the odd silvery bubble package was 2 pieces of pungent dark chocolate squares also known as TCHO from Silicone Valley, CA. Carm got all giddy and couldn’t stop sniffing the package. So you know, we had to try it!

After a dinner of Carmella’s turkey meatloaf and cheesy mashed potatoes with corn and green peas, we treated ourselves to some TCHO and coffee. Carmella melted a square of chocolate (well Carm put 2 in hers) down into the each cup of yummy “Danish Pastry” flavored coffee that she brewed in our French press.

Though the scent of TCHO was strong (it was coming right through the package), the chocolate wasn’t overbearing. It brought about a nice, sweet addition. Once melted by the hot coffee, the chocolate blended well with the cream and the Splenda to turn a simple drink into a great dessert on its own. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give TCHO a solid 7!

After I iced my tasty drink, I sipped it as I took on the Scrabulous.com Robot and won, while Carm danced around to Daft Punk with our cat Socks. I guess good chocolate makes her a dancing fool.

– Carlo

Italian Stuffed Shrooms


Disclaimer: This stuff will get you high!!

At the end of January, Carlo and I went to Portland, OR to see some friends. On our second night there, our friend Danica made some stuffed mushrooms for us. They were good, but they didn’t come out as she intended. It was mostly cheese with mushrooms topped with breadcrumbs.

Using what she created, I got inspired to do my own take on stuffed mushrooms by creating this recipe. I don’t like to brag, but I’m rather proud of how it turned out. They were really good. Carlo doesn’t even care for mushrooms, but he liked this dish. He’s even taking some for lunch tomorrow.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 portabello mushroom caps
  • 1 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1/2 c. of Italian breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 c. of chopped red pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 4 slices of Daiya provolone cheese
  • 1/2 c. of marinara sauce
  • 1/2 tbsp of oregano
  • 1/2 tbsp of crushed red pepper
  • 1 to 1 1/2 c. of shredded vegan mozzarella cheese
  • 1 tbsp of vegan grated cheese or nutritional yeast.  I used Pecorino Romano cheese tonight, since we have a good size wedge of it. If you don’t have that, Parmesean will work fine.

DIRECTION:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
  2. Brush mushroom caps with olive oil and sprinkle with salt & pepper
  3. Roast in oven for 10 minutes
  4. Mix together bread crumbs, chopped red pepper and garlic
  5. Remove caps from oven and flip them over
  6. Evenly top caps with bread crumb mixture
  7. Place 1 slice of provolone cheese on top of mushroom
  8. Spoon 2 tablespoons of marinara sauce on top of provolone slice
  9. Sprinkle oregano and crushed red pepper over sauce
  10. Add shredded mozzarella, then grated cheese or nutritional yeast
  11. Place mushrooms back in oven for 10 minutes

With each bite, both Carlo and I thought that there was a good balance with the spices I used. The combination of the cheeses also really complemented the flavor of the mushroom.

I served this dish with some whole wheat pasta. However, I’m thinking this can be plated with some roasted asparagus with pine nuts. I’m going to do that next time.

Buon appetito!

– Carmella