Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Oh, Gurrrl--Cupcake Vodka

And here you were, getting all excited about the approach of summer so you could while it away on trendy patios everywhere, seeing and being seen, with a glass of Firefly Iced Tea Vodka swirling in your glass...Well, I'm here to tell you that those other flavored vodkas are SO 2010--because cupcake vodka has arrived.

That's right--the moment you didn't even know you were waiting for is here.  Somewhere at the corner of Gluttony Street and Sloshed Avenue is the intersection of guilty pleasures, captured in one bottle.      

From the same people that bring you Cupcake Vineyards--wines that, while delicious and the fastest-growing brand in 2010, don't taste like cupcakes--Cupcake Vodka is now hitting the streets in full-flavored cupcake fashion with Chiffon, Frosting, Devil's Food and Original flavors.  A grain and grape, six-times-distilled, 70-80 proof vodka with the "velvet silkiness, distinctive texture and a smooth finish" that you look for in vodka (and cupcakes...) cupcake vodka fills a niche in the flavored vodka market without using any artificial ingredients or sweeteners.

So what do you think? Is this a great idea, or just one more sign that cupcakes have jumped the shark?  Is this the chance manly men everywhere have been waiting for to indulge in their cupcake cravings without the fear of being seen with frou-frou frosting? Merely the latest incarnation of a cupcake trend that will one day consume the globe? :)  For me, the verdict is still out, but with cocktail creations like these, I know they won't keep me away for long...

Apple Crumb Cupcake
1.5 oz Cupcake Vodka Original
1.5 oz Apple Cider
One Very Small Piece of Fresh Skinned Ginger
1.5 oz Ginger Ale Lime Wedge & Green Apple Slice
Muddle the ginger and Cupcake Original vodka in a mixing glass. Add the cider and shake with ice; strain over ice into a rocks glass and top with ginger ale. Garnish with a squeeze from the lime wedge and a green apple slice.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Cherry-Almond Crème Brûlée

After the rousing success of last month's inaugural Mardi Gras-themed supper club, it was recently my turn to host our rotating dinner just in time to coincide with DC's annual Cherry Blossom Festival, and we welcomed April with a cherry and Japanese-themed dinner inspired by DC's ubiquitous spring flower.

In addition to providing the main course of prosciutto-wrapped pork loin with cherry glaze, I obviously couldn't help but jump in with some cherry blossom-inspired desserts as well.  I decided on cherry-almond crème brûlée and--inspired by the cherry blossom festival menu at my fave DC restaurant Adour--cherry macarons.  Big mistake.

Because macarons are the cookie with possibly the most finicky reputation on the planet, I don't know what made me think I could crank some out like it was no big thing. "Oh, cherry macarons? The cookie to which you could devote an entire career of culinary study? No prob!" Suffice it to say that my macarons played along until the moment of no return, when they decided, at the last minute, to come out flat and crinkly.  While any number of things could have gone wrong (under beating the eggs, over beating the batter) I'm convinced that it's the cruel sting of baking karma.  As you may remember, Parisian Spring and I recently attempted our first batch of macarons and they came out PERFECTLY.  Like, omg-these-look-just-like-a-picture perfect.  So, because the baking gods blessed me the first time around, I know they're somewhere laughing with schadenfreude at my total macaron fail.

Macaron batter pretending to cooperate   

But on to the crème brûlée.

Fortunately, the crème brûlée came out excellently despite a little recipe mishmash and I was really pleased with the natural cherry flavor that comes from the addition of the cherry juice.  I think you could choose to leave the whole cherries in or out for this dish, depending on your preference.  Alternately I thought about puréeing the cherries first, so let me know if you try out that technique and how you like it.  Obviously the best part of crème brûlée is frightening your friends by wielding a kitchen torch after a few glasses of wine but, if you don't have one, you can always just pop your ramekins under the broiler of a few seconds to achieve the perfect sugar crust.

In honor of the Japanese gift of cherry blossoms, there was much hibachi to be had

I think Sandra Lee would be proud of my tablescape
Cherry-Almond Crème Brûlée
1 can sweet dark cherries, drained with syrup reserved
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons almond extract
5 large egg yolks
4 tablespoons sugar, for brulée topping

1.  Preheat oven to 325°F. Place six ramekins in a large roasting pan and arrange 5 cherries in the bottom of each.

2.  In a saucepan over medium heat, combine cream, 3/4 cup reserved cherry syrup, 1/2 cup sugar and almond extract. Stir until sugar dissolves, then bring to a simmer. Simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

3.  In a mixing bowl, whisk egg yolks until well blended. Gradually add hot cream mixture and whisk to combine.

4.  Divide custard among ramekins. Pour hot water into the roasting pan until it’s halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Carefully transfer pan to oven.

5.  Bake 35 minutes or until almost set (the center of each custard should wiggle when gently shaken). Using a large slotted spoon or tongs, carefully lift custards out of the water. Cool 30 minutes, then refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.

6.  When ready to serve, sprinkle 2 teaspoons of  sugar over each custard, turning and tapping the ramekin to evenly coat. Using a small kitchen torch, carefully move the flame across each until the sugar melts and browns, about 2 minutes. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes and up to 2 hours, then serve.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Blackberry-Lemon Pie

I think my recent trip to the Dangerously Delicious pie truck may have subliminally influenced me more than I realized, because I was definitely craving pie last week.  And even though "easy as pie" may be one of those overused clichés, this seriously has to be one of the easiest pies I've ever made.  And, more importantly, it is by far the best pie I've ever made...if I do say so myself : ) I can't take too much credit though, because it was mostly due to the secret ingredient...

Blackberry is always my go-to pie because, well, it's my favorite.  But it's also an easy option because the fruit doesn't really take much prep work before going straight into the pie.  I know blackberries aren't exactly in season right now, but rhubarb is really the only pie-worthy ingredient in season right now, and I have to confess that I'm not a fan (don't hate me because I'm anti-rhubarb).  Anyways, I know a lot of us are often too busy to even cook dinner after work, let alone bake, but just pair a few pints of blackberries with a couple of refrigerated or frozen pre-made crusts and you've got a recipe for a super quick and delicious homecooked pie on a weeknight.

As for that secret ingredient...this was my first time using quick-cook tapioca in a pie.  I know, I know, it's nothing revolutionary, but I've never used anything other than flour or cornstarch to thicken a pie and this made all the difference.  The tapioca helps the fruit juices to congeal, forming a pie with more structure and, thus, seemingly more satisfying slices.  That being said, be careful not to go overboard on the tapioca, you don't want to end up with Jell-o pie. Or maybe you do, but that's up to you.

Blackberry Lemon Pie
2 store bought crusts, or your favorite recipe
4 cups blackberries
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp almond extract
1 Tbs lemon zest
1 Tbs lemon juice
1/4 cup Quick-cook Tapioca

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large bowl, toss berries with sugar, cinnamon, almond extract, lemon juice, zest and tapioca in a large bowl and set aside for 15 minutes.

2.  Line a 9-inch pie plate with one of the pie crusts and fill with fruit mixture.  Cover with the remaining pie crust, flute and crimp edges to seal, and cut slits in top crust for steam to escape. If desired, place pie plate on a baking sheet to catch any juices that may overflow.

3.  Bake for 45-50 minutes or until browned and juices for bubbles that burst slowly.