Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Red Velvet Cupcakes

I didn't always know this, but red velvet cake is controversial. Some recipes come out tasting like chocolate cake (but not as good), some don't turn red enough (with pink or unappealingly brown color) and some don't have much flavor at all. Your friend might swear up and down that their recipe is fantastic, but if it doesn't satisfy your personal taste, it's useless.

I went over a lot of recipes before I made this one. I have to give a huge thanks to Anna at Cookie Madness, who not only has many red velvet recipes on her site, but goes to the trouble to compare them. I settled on a recipe from her blog that was originally published in Bon Appetit in 2003 and is popular on; then I halved it and tweaked it ever so slightly. It made fabulous cupcakes, and I'm thrilled that I don't have to try any other recipes.

This recipe uses butter as the fat, while most red velvets use oil. Oil keeps cakes moist, but since red velvet doesn't have a ton of other flavoring, I wanted the flavor and texture (a little more dense than light and airy) butter provides. These not only turned out as moist as I could want, but they stayed that way for about 3 days.

These also use a moderate amount of cocoa powder--not the bare minimum (like 1/2 tsp), but not full on max-out cocoa either. So you taste some cocoa, but it doesn't hide the vanilla and buttermilk flavors. The color comes from red food dye (no chemical reaction can make it truly red). The color of the batter indicates the cake's color, so you can add more dye if you're worried about it being red enough. Then of course you're going to top it with cream cheese frosting. So even after fretting over the little details, you just can't fail.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
Adapted from Cookie Madness, who adapted it from

It's all in the details when it comes to red velvet cake. For those of you who appreciate intricate comparisons like these, I'll run down some additional minutiae of my recipe: Swan's Down brand cake flour, Ghiradelli cocoa powder, lowfat buttermilk because I can't remember ever seeing full fat in a grocery store, Morton's kosher salt. Yes, sifting--and weighing the flour if possible--are important. I think everything else is covered below. I kept these at room temperature in a plastic container, and they were still moist and very good on the third day.

Makes 11 to 12

1 cup plus 2 Tbs sifted cake flour (sift, then measure; 113 grams)
2 Tbs plus 1 tsp sifted natural unsweetened cocoa powder (sift, then measure; do not use Dutch or dark)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup lowfat buttermilk
1 generous Tbs red food coloring OR 1 generous tsp red gel food coloring
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 oz unsalted butter (1 stick), at cool room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 tsp cider vinegar
1/2 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 F and line a standard muffin pan with paper liners.

Sift together the cake flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt; set a side.

In a large glass liquid measure or small bowl, mix the buttermilk, food coloring and vanilla.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer (or with a handheld mixer), beat the sugar and butter on medium-high speed until light and creamy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the egg and blend on medium speed. Add one-third of the flour mixture and blend on low/stirring speed (or stir by hand if not using stand mixer) until just combined. On same speed (or  by hand), blend in half the buttermilk, another third of the flour, remaining buttermilk, and remaining flour. No lumps, or very few lumps, should remain.

In a small bowl, mix vinegar and baking soda. It will fizz up. Immediately stir into batter until combined. Immediately divide among prepared muffin cups, filling about 3/4 full (I got 11 cupcakes this way). Bake in the center of the oven until a toothpick comes out clean, 17 to 19 minutes (mine took exactly 18). Cool in pan 10 minutes, then transfer cupcakes to a rack and cool completely.

Favorite Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Gourmet magazine

Makes enough for 12 cupcakes with a bit leftover.

4 ounces Philadelphia reduced fat (neufchatel) cream cheese (regular is fine too), at room temp
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temp
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar

With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla on medium speed until smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the powdered sugar in 3 additions, beating on medium speed, until sugar is incorporated and frosting is lightly and fluffy. Immediately frost cupcakes, or refrigerate for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature to make spreading easier.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Guinness Mushroom Patty Melts with Ground Turkey

No time for a slow-simmered Guinness beef stew? Don't have the will to assemble a mashed-potato-topped shepherd's pie? Then here's your perfect St. Patrick's Day weeknight supper. I got this recipe out of a Cooking Light from several months ago. This was one of those times when the photograph was absolutely all I needed to convince me to make the recipe as soon as possible. My image above is nice, but the pros at CL really exploited this sandwich for all it's worth.

I've made it for dinner three times now. It's so good. It's not lightning fast. You have to cook the turkey patties, cook the mushrooms and then assemble and grill the sandwiches. It's definitely easy and fast enough for a weeknight though. The CL version uses ground sirloin, but I've always done it with turkey. They also call for "dark beer," such as porter, but I immediately thought Guinness. And of course, I've played around with seasoning to my own liking (strangely, the original recipe does not advise you to season the ground remember, recipes are merely advice). Also, if you don't have stout and would never ever buy it, you could substitute red wine or dry sherry. Both would be just great.

Need dessert? These sandwiches are actually quite healthy! Try Guinness Brownies.

Guinness Mushroom Patty Melts with Ground Turkey
Adapted from Cooking Light
Season the ground turkey with any spices and herbs you want. I kept it simple with salt, pepper and dried thyme because I like thyme with mushrooms. I really like Pepperidge Farm marble rye, so that's what I use.

Makes 4 (to make 2 sandwiches, halve the turkey, bread and cheese; but make do with leftover mushroom mixture)

1 lb. ground turkey breast
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch dried thyme
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced into half moons
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
1 1/2 tsp. all-purpose flour
1/3 cup Guinness stout
8 slices marble rye
4 (3/4-oz) slices reduced fat or regular provolone cheese

Season turkey with salt, pepper and dried thyme to taste (I recommend at least 1/4 tsp salt). Shape into 4 thin, oval patties. Heat 2 heavy skillets to medium-high and coat with cooking spray (or work in batches with one skillet, or use a griddle). Cook patties until both sides are golden brown and centers are no longer pink. Transfer to a plate.

Wipe out one of the skillets, add the oil and heat on medium. Add onion and mushrooms. Season with salt, pepper and thyme and cook until soft and golden brown. Sprinkle with flour and cook 1 minute. Add Guinness and simmer, stirring often, until thickened, about 1 minute.

Grab your bread and assemble sandwiches, topping each patty evenly with mushroom mixture and a slice of cheese. Wipe out the skillet you used for the mushrooms and heat both skillets on medium. Mist tops of sandwiches with cooking spray and add to skillets, cooking spray-side down. Cook until crisp and golden brown. Mist the bread that's facing you with cooking spray, then flip sandwiches and continue cooking until crisp and golden. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Turkey Chili with Butternut Squash, Black Beans, Guinness and Roasted Poblanos

This chili is great, and even though the image above doesn't really prove it, it's actually a really great-looking bowl of chili too. It's also exceedingly nutritious and healthy--ground turkey breast, butternut squash, homemade roasted poblanos and lots of healthy flavor additions. One of those additions is Guinness, which adds a little something extra to the mix and nicely deglazes your pot, although you won't be able to distinguish it in the finished product.

This is similar to a chili recipe I posted years ago, which used sweet potatoes instead of squash and no Guinness. Ingredients and method also vary, but the biggest difference is that this one makes a really big batch. I love that. Freeze some. Chili defrosts really well.

I have to mention one last thing: I bought a fairly large butternut squash and felt a heavy sense of dread when I thought about the work of peeling and chopping it. For some reason, I was unaware how easy it is to peel these gourds with a decent vegetable peeler. They are also easier to chop than sweet potatoes. Plus, I had plenty of squash for the chili AND was able to stash 2 to 3 cups in a freezer bag to use for risotto or pasta sometime in the future. I also love that.

Healthy Turkey Chili with Butternut Squash, Black Beans, Guinness and Roasted Poblanos
Chopping the squash and roasting the poblanos a day ahead made this dish very manageable. As far as the spices are concerned, you should taste as you go and adjust the quantities if you like. Instead of toasting and grinding the whole cumin seeds and cloves, you can substitute 2 Tbs of pre-ground cumin and 1/4 tsp pre-ground cloves. If you can’t find fresh poblanos or don’t have time to roast them, don’t substitute jarred red peppers (although freshly roasted red or green bell peppers would be okay); instead, add about a Tbs of ancho chile powder, or chipotle chile powder (to taste) if you like more heat.

Serves 10

2 Tbs canola or olive oil
2 white onions, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbs mild chile powder
2 1/2 Tbs cumin seeds plus 4 whole cloves, toasted and ground
2 tsp dried Mexican oregano
2 tsp ground allspice
2 Tbs double concentrated tomato paste
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 can or bottle Guinness stout
1/4 cup unsweetened natural (not Dutch) cocoa powder
1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
2 (14 oz.) cans fire-roasted tomatoes
1 small butternut squash, peeled and chopped (about 5 cups or 1 3/4 lbs)
2 lbs lean ground turkey
2 (14 oz) cans low-sodium black beans, rinsed
4 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled and chopped (some seeds removed)
8 oz V8 juice

For serving:
Minced chipotles in adobo sauce (a must for adding major heat plus smoky flavor to the relatively mild chili)
Chopped scallions
Grated cheese
Sour cream
Tortilla chips

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot (at least 6 quarts) on medium-high. Add onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until soft. Add chile powder, cumin/clove mixture, oregano and allspice; stir well and continue cooking until onion is very soft and lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes total. Add tomato paste and garlic; cook 2 minutes, stirring almost constantly. Add Guinness and bring to a simmer. Add cocoa and simmer until reduced by about half. Add crushed and fire-roasted tomatoes. Bring to a boil and add squash. Adjust heat to maintain a steady simmer and cook, covered, until squash is tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet on medium-high and coat with cooking spray. Add turkey, season with salt and pepper and cook, crumbling with your spatula, until no pink remains (you may need to do this in 2 batches). Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate, cover with another paper towel and press gently to remove any grease.

Add turkey, beans, poblanos and V8 to chili. Stir well, cover and cook just until warmed through. Check seasoning one last time and adjust as needed. Serve immediately with accompaniments. Or transfer to a crock pot set to warm for up to 4 hours. Or cool at room temperature, cover and refrigerate overnight; reheat gently on stove top.