Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Banana Cupcakes with Plum Jam Frosting #OXOGoodCookies

Mmmmm. Cupcakes.

I love when I plan comes together. I had a banana that was past its eating best, and I had a new hand mixer I wanted to test. The mixer came from OXO, along with a decorating tool that's like a cookie press married to a pastry bag.

Oooooh. I love new toys!

This month is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and OXO usually sponsors Cookies for Kids Cancer events on blogs. I missed out on this year's official events, but I shoehorned my way in, got some gear, and decided that cupcakes are sort of like cookies.

Because that's how I am.

The Cookies for Kids Cancer is one of the blogger events I really like. Bloggers don't get anything except product, but OXO donates to charity. Plus, they donate for people who hold bake sales. All the details, straight from OXO, are at the end of this post.

Meanwhile, cupcakes and gadgets.

I had been curious about the kitchen electrics from OXO since they first announced them. My favorite OXO tool is probably my vegetable peeler, but I like a whole lot of other things, too, like their containers, and their mango splitter and their cherry pitter and their cookie press. What I like best about the cookie press is the extra plates you can buy for it. I think I have them all ... but I'm a little afraid to look!

Oh, and I totally LOVE the cold brew coffee maker (reviewed here; buy it on Amazon here). I use that coffee maker pretty exclusively for my everyday coffee.

But those particular gadgets aren't electric. I was curious if the OXOness of the electrics would match the thoughtful way they design their other products.

When the OXO hand mixer arrived, there were a number of things liked about it right off the bat. It stands up very steadily with no threat of tipping. It comes with both normal beaters and swirly beaters that are designed for heavy batters. And it has a headlight.

I wondered if the light was necessary. I mean, I've had plenty of hand beaters, and none of them lit up. It's not like I make cake in the dark, right?

But here's the thing.

I was really able to see what was going on in the bowl. I could see when things were fully mixed without stopping the mixer to look inside the bowl without the mixer casting a shado.

Is it essential? Well, obviously not, because we've lived without lighted mixers for a long time. But it really does make sense. I like it. A lot.

As far as the OXO decorating tool, I was a little confused by it until I put frosting into it and started using it. Then it made perfect sense. And nice cupcakes. I don't think I'd use the tool if I wanted to make one super-long unbroken line of frosting. But that's not something I see myself doing any time soon.

The tool comes with several tips, but the good news is that standard-sized tips fit, so if you've already got a collection of them, you can use them with this tool. Both the small and large tips fit, which is even better. And the whole thing can go in the dishwasher to be cleaned. After you disassemble it, obviously.

These banana cupcakes aren't similar in to a pound cake in consistency. Not as fluffy as a sponge cake, but not as dense as banana bread.

Banana Cupcakes with Plum Jam Frosting

To make the cupcakes:
1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
1 mashed ripe banana

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line one 12-cup muffin pan with cupcake liners.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt

In another medium mixing bowl, beat the butter, sugar, and brown sugar together. Scrape down the bowl and add the eggs and vanilla. Beat until well combined. Beat in the mashed banana

Add the flour mixture in three additions, alternately with two additions of the milk, beating until incorporated after each addition.

Fill each muffin cup about 3/4 full (these don't rise spectacularly, so they're fine at 3/4 full, even at high altitude). Bake, rotating the pans halfway through baking until the tops are firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean – about 18-20 minutes.

To make the frosting:
4 ounces cream cheese*
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons plum jam** (or to taste)
Powdered sugar, as needed (about a pound, depending on the thickness you're looking for)

Beat the cream cheese and butter until it's smooth, then add the vanilla extract and salt beat until incorporated.

Beat in the plum jam until it's incorporated.

Add the powdered sugar in increments until the consistency is what you're looking for. You can leave it softer if you're spreading the frosting on, but you'll need it firmer if you want piped designs to hold their shape. If you somehow manage to get it too thick, and more milk or jam.

*The cream cheese you choose does make a difference. I've tried making frosting with fat-free cream cheese, and I thought it tasted terrible. If you like it, go for it. BUT! The brand and type of cream cheese will affect the consistency of the frosting. You might need more or less sugar to get to a nice frosting-like consistency.

**You can use any any jam you like, or leave it out and make a vanilla frosting.

From OXO about Cookies for Kids Cancer:

September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and it's a very important time for us here at OXO. Childhood cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in the U.S. The reason, sadly, is simple: lack of funding for research specific to children. Even though pediatric cancer claims the lives of more children annually than any other disease, it receives less than 4 percent of the National Cancer Institute's budget.

In 2007, Liam Witt, the son of longtime OXOnians Gretchen and Larry Witt, was diagnosed cancer at the age of 2. OXOnians regard each other as family, and news of Liam's diagnosis hit all of
us hard. Motivated to help, Gretchen and Larry had the "crazy" idea to host a larger-than-life cookie
sale, gathering more than 250 volunteers (many of whom were fellow OXOnians,) to bake and sell
96,000 cookies. The larger-than-life cookie project raised more than $420,000 to fund childhood
cancer research.

Nine months later, Gretchen and Larry launched Cookies for Kids' Cancer as a national non-profit organization, inspiring grassroots bake sales and other events with the ultimate goal of funding research for new, improved, and less toxic treatments for children. Since then, the organization has granted more than $10 million, funding 80 research projects, 32 of which are therapies that children have access to today.

Everyone at OXO was profoundly impacted when Liam lost his 4-year battle. For years, Liam was a fixture in our office. He would visit frequently, riding his orange scooter, providing unsolicited (but always helpful) product feedback and sharing his vivacious energy with everyone. From a very young age he had a clear vision of what he wanted to do when he grew up: Become a chef and run OXO. We have no doubt he would have achieved both of his goals.

Through the years, OXOnians have devoted their personal time, energy and money to support Cookies, but the company wanted to play a larger role. In 2011, the year Liam lost his battle, OXO formalized its partnership with the organization, pledging to donate up to $100,000 per year through bake sale matches and other activities. Since then, we've helped inspire other "good cookies" to raise over $1 million and host more than 1,600 events in over 170 cities globally.

Awareness is one of the most important ways to create change, and we hope you'll support us in raising awareness around this very important cause. For more information and other ways to contribute - including hosting a bake sale of your own - visit Cookies For Kids' Cancer. If you register your bake sale and select "OXO" in the drop-down menu marked "How did you hear about Cookies for Kids' Cancer?", we'll match your proceeds for events held, before December 31st, 2016.

Thanks to OXO for sending the hand mixer and decorating tool for my use. The hashtag for this promotion is #OXOGoodCookies. Look for it on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Asparagus and Leek Soup with Poached Egg

I love soup, particularly when the cooler weather comes calling. From early fall though late spring, it seems like I've always got some kind of soup simmering on the stove or tucked away in the refrigerator for a quick meal.

Much of the time, soup is a spur-of-the moment creation, based on what leftovers are available and what vegetables aren't reserved for other uses.

It's not that often that I make deliberate soup, where I start with a recipe and end up with exactly what I had planned. Nope. Most soups here are pretty haphazard.

Which is why I was interested in the book Soup Swap by Kathy Gunst. With book in hand, I could shop for ingredients and make purposeful soups.

The one I chose for the online book tour I'm participating in was an asparagus and leek soup. It intrigued me. I love potato leek soup, and I adore asparagus. It seemed like the perfect transitional soup, with asparagus still very available while the weather was just starting to turn cooler.

This recipe uses asparagus in three different ways. And then, to add some richness, it's served with a poached egg on top.

I'll admit that I didn't make this recipe exactly as written. I didn't weigh the asparagus, for example. And I used fried egg rather than the poached egg that was called for. I think fried eggs are easier, and it was my dinner, so I was fine with that.

This was a lovely light soup that is also rich because of the addition of the egg. Quite tasty. And although the instructions seem long, it's pretty simple. Now that I've made it once, I could make it again with barely a glance at the instructions. Or just wing it.

Asparagus and Leek Soup with Poached Egg
Adapted from Soup Swap by Kathy Gunst

2 1/2 pounds asparagus (I had 2 bunches, unweighed)
1 large leek
7 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 scallions, trimmed, white and greed sections very thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest (I used lemon juice)
1 egg per serving

Cut the tips off the asparagus and set aside. Snap the stalks where they naturally break, or cut off the tough ends. Put the tough ends in a saucepan and set the tender part aside.

Cut off the tough green part of the leek and chop it roughly. Rinse off any dirt or grit. Put the dark green parts of the leek in the saucepan with the tough asparagus ends. Add the vegetable stock and bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cover the pan and cook for 15 minutes.

Halve the tender remaining leek lengthwise - this should be just the tender pale green section and the white. Rinse it under cold water to get rid of any dirt or grit. Slice the leek crosswise into thin pieces.

Cut the middle part of the asparagus into pieces about an inch long.

Put 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a stockpot over medium heat. Add the tender leek slices and the chives along with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Add the asparagus pieces (those middle parts you cut; not the tips) and cook for another 5 minutes. Turn the heat to high, add the wine, and bring to a boil.

Strain the stock from the saucepan into the stockpot. Discard the tough leek pieces and asparagus ends and bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low. Cover the pot and cook for 30 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool for 5 minutes before blending it in batches in a blender. You could also use a stick blender or food processor. Blend until you have a smooth puree, then return the soup to the pot.

Heat the remaining 1/2 tablespoon (1 1/2 teaspoons) of olive oil in a skillet. Add the scallions and cook for 4 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Add the asparagus tips and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, or until the asparagus tips are almost tender.

Poach or fry one egg per serving of soup.

Ladle the soup into bowls, top with the egg, and garnish with some of the asparagus tips and scallions. Serve hot.

As part of the book tour, I received a copy of the book, a Chef's Choice Pronto Pro Diamond Hone knife sharpener, a Zeroll ladle, and a Zeroll slotted spoon.


Friday, September 23, 2016

Cranapple Fizz Cocktail

It might be the season of the pumpkin spice latte, but I like cranberry flavors much better.

Cranberry might not be the best match for your coffee, but it makes a nice cocktail, and it can be used in pie, ice cream, jam, chutney ... so many things.

The perfect friend for cranberry is apple, and Smirnoff combined those two flavors in their new Smirnoff Sourced Cranberry Apple. It's pretty tasty stuff, so you don't need to do a lot with it to make a cocktail.

Which is great.

I like tasty cocktails, but I don't get excited about mixing a ton of different ingredients to make a single cocktail in the evening. Because that's what I usually have. Just one.

Life is just a bowl of ... frozen cranberries?
The clove in this cocktail adds that nice holiday flavor that is so familiar. If you're measuring out one or two cocktails the day before you'll be serving, it's simple enough to count the cloves.

On the other hand, if you're planning on flavoring a lot of cocktails or making drinks by the pitcher, you can just put 1/4 cup of whole cloves in the bottle and let it steep for a day or more. The flavor gets stronger the longer it sits, so it's a good idea to taste it occasionally and remove the cloves when you like the flavor.

I briefly considered using some whole cloves as part of a garnish - stuck into an apple slice, for example. But no one really wants to bite into a whole clove, so I nixed the idea. The cranberries on top are a pretty nice garnish, and they keep the cocktail cool.

If you like super-tart things, you can eat those fresh cranberries used for the garnish. But beware. They're crazy tart.

Cranapple Fizz Cocktail

1 ounce Smirnoff Sourced Cranberry Apple
2 whole cloves
Whole frozen cranberries
Sparking or plain lemonade, chilled, as needed

The night before (or at least a few hours before) you want to make your cocktail, measure out the amount of Smirnoff Sourced you will need and add 2 whole cloves per ounce of the Smirnoff.

You can also make this well in advance and just let it steep in a closed container. Strain the cloves out before using the Smirnoff Sourced.

Put a few frozen cranberries into a martini-sized glass or something similar. Or a few more cranberries. As many as you like. The cranberries make a nice garnish and also help keep the drink chilled.

Add the strained Smirnoff Sourced, then fill with the sparkling lemonade (or plain lemonade, if you prefer).

If you don't happen to have prepared lemonade, you can simply add lemon, to taste, along with plain or sparkling water.

Serve chilled.

This post was sponsored by Smirnoff.