The Manhattan Cupcake

Rich chocolate cupcakes with a hint of orange bitters, topped with a smooth, velvety, bourbon-infused buttercream frosting and a maraschino cherry – these cupcakes are a take on the classic Manhattan cocktail and are perfect for a celebration. My partner’s favorite drink is the Manhattan, so I made these cupcakes for his birthday last month, but these are also really great for a rich post-dinner dessert, the holidays, or any kind of celebration. You can add a few more dashes of bitters to the batter if you want something to cut the richness of the cake and the frosting, but the frosting has a strong and distinct bourbon flavor already, which will be very hard to miss. I’d also suggest whipping up a Manhattan for yourself as you are baking this, so you know what sort of flavor profile to aim for.

These are best eaten the day of so that the cake does not dry out. But if you want to serve them later, I would recommend making the frosting later so that it still has the right consistency when you serve it. Or you could do what I did, which is whip an entire batch, and then use the leftovers for some much-needed energy boost, which was pretty useful as we packed furniture as part of our move from Charlottesville to New Haven (more soon on some of the lovely places that I will miss eating at in Charlottesville). For now, here’s the recipe to convert a classic cocktail into a beloved dessert.

The Manhattan Cupcake | Who Needs a Diet

Ingredients (makes 10-11 cupcakes)

Chocolate cupcake:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup cold brewed coffee
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 2 tsp bitters (optional)

Frosting:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter at room temperature
  • 2 cups confectioner sugar
  • 2 tbsp good Bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Maraschino cherries

Directions

For the cupcake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a muffin pan or put cupcake liners into the pan.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the eggs, coffee, buttermilk and oil. Mix until smooth; the batter will be thin. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool.

For the topping:

  1. In a large bowl, beat the butter and the confectioner sugar together until light and fluffy – about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the bourbon and vanilla and beat until icing is thick and smooth.
  3. If the icing seems too thick, add in more bourbon, a tablespoon at a time until it is the right consistency.
  4. If it is too thin, add in more confectioner sugar, 1/4 cup at a time until it is the right consistency.
  5. Transfer the icing to a piping bag fitted with a star tip. Once the cupcakes are out of the oven and have cooled, ice the cupcakes (the icing will start melting if you try to top hot cupcakes). Top each cupcake with a maraschino cherry.

Rosé Sangria

Some of my favorite summer foods are fruits – and the sweet and juicy berries and peaches that I’ve been finding in Virginia are almost enough to make me not miss Indian mangoes. But a few weeks ago, I finally gave in and decided to buy some mangoes, knowing full well that it would not measure up to the mangoes I was used to. And while that was true, it did help me fulfill my craving, and I barely missed their usual lack of juiciness when mixed in with some sangria. And speaking of favorites, sangria is one of my favorite summer drinks – it’s not only delicious, but also incredibly easy to throw together. When making sangria, do not bother using fancy wine – any mediocre bottle of wine will do. The only trick is to let the fruits rest in the wine for at least a few hours so that the wine can acquire some of the sweetness and acidity from the fruits. I use a combination of blackberries, raspberries and mangoes in this recipe, but feel free to substitute peaches, blueberries and nectarines.

For this sangria, I decided to go with some rosé wine. I am usually not a huge fan of rosé – they can sometimes be a little too dry for me and I usually prefer sweeter and floral whites. But lately, in tasting several wines for our wedding, I’m hooked to the 2014 Norton Rosé from Keswick Vineyards and so I feel underwhelmed by most other rosés. And fortunately, we always have the option to make sangria with underwhelming wines!

Rosé Sangria

Ingredients

  • 1 bottle (750 ml) dry rosé wine
  • 1/3 cup triple sec
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (if desired)
  • 1 cup blackberries
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1 large mango, diced into cubes
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1 and 1/2 cups seltzer water (I used peach-flavored seltzer water)

Directions

  1. Pour the Rosé into a pitcher. Stir in the triple sec and lemon juice.  Add the fruits.
  2. Chill for a few hours (preferably at least 3-4 hours). Taste, and add sugar if desired.
  3. Right before serving, add the seltzer water to the pitcher, then pour the sangria into glasses.

Warm Farro Salad with Roasted Vegetables & Goat Cheese

After a few months of hearty, filling, and warming soups and stews, I’m looking forward to the freshness that Spring ingredients are bringing to the table. Having spotted some farro, I decided to give it a try – a lot nuttier and chewier than rice, farro is also a higher-protein alternative (even to brown rice), that goes along well in an otherwise vegetarian meal. The nuttiness also adds a great texture to the softer, roasted veggies and overall, the dish keeps you feeling full for hours. I found that the salad tasted even better the next day once the dish had time to absorb some of the flavors, so it makes for a great portable and healthy lunch as well. And in my next post, I’ll explore farro’s colder-weather counterpart, wheatberries, which is the star of some great dishes that I’ve now had at Caseus and August in New Haven.

Before cooking this recipe, it is important to keep in mind the kind of farro you’re using. As Deb Perelman from Smitten Kitchen points out,  “Farro comes whole/unpearled, semi-pearled (semi-perlato) and pearled (perlato); pearling describes how much of the exterior bran is removed, but packages are not always labeled. If your package says it will cook in less than 15 minutes, it’s probably pearled; if it takes around 30 minutes, it’s probably semi-pearled. And if it takes 60 to 80 minutes, it is whole or unpearled.” Just as a reference, I got pearled farro from Trader Joe’s which took between 10-12 minutes to cook.

Warm Farro Salad with Roasted Vegetables & Goat Cheese

Recipe adapted from The Kitchn

Ingredients

  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into small chunks
  • 1 and 1/2 cups grape tomatoes
  • 8-10 cremini mushrooms, cut into small chunks
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 1 cup zucchini, sliced
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 1 cup diced eggplant
  • 2 cups farro
  • 3-4 ounces goat cheese
  • Handful of cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (I used blood orange balsamic vinegar)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Combine the carrots, tomatoes, mushrooms, garlic, zucchini, and onion in a large bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, crushed red pepper and lemon pepper, and toss to coat. Spread the vegetables on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper, and roast for 15 minutes, stirring once.
  3. Cut eggplant into slices. Spread slices onto a paper towel and lightly salt. Let sit for 15 minutes to absorb excess water. Blot dry. Grill them on the electric griddle until slightly browned or roast in a separate pan with the rest of the vegetables.
  4. Meanwhile, rinse and drain the farro. Bring 2 cups of water to boil, season with salt, and add the farro. Cook according to instructions.
  5. Combine the cooked farro and vegetables, then add the goat cheese. Whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil with the balsamic vinegar, seasoning with salt and pepper, and drizzle over the farro mixture.

Liked this dish? Click here for more farro recipes!

Biweekly Food News Roundup

Every now and then I come across some exciting news in the food world that I want to share with people – so I’ve decided to synthesize this and start a bi-monthly/fortnightly round-up of some of the most interesting food news, unusual recipes, and food-related research that I’ve read in the last couple of weeks. Hope you all like it!

PepsiCo announced that Diet Pepsi will no longer contain aspartame starting in August, after consumer surveys found great concern about its negative effects. This is despite the fact that many studies have largely dismissed the link between aspartame and cancer, but like the relationship between economic development and democratization, the jury is still out on the various mechanisms that link aspartame and weight gain. Given the obsession with diet sodas among my academic colleagues, I would not have guessed that sales of low calories drinks have actually dropped 20% in the last 5 years.

James Beard announces its 2015 Book, Broadcast and Journalism Awards and one of my favorite food blogs, The Kitchn, won in the General Cookbook category! I can’t wait to get my hands on this book, or wait until someone gifts it to me from my wedding registry :)

Have you ever wondered what The White House kitchen looks like? Now get a sneak peek, courtesy of Apartment Therapy. I’m very delighted to discover that I, too, own the same rice cooker as the Obamas! Next step – to obtain a red/maroon stand mixer.

Even though 30% of Americans are trying to be on a gluten-free diet, only 1% actually have Celiac disease. An economist at Yale explains the gluten-free bubble that we’re currently in the midst of, with higher prices leading to higher demand.

Finally, a thought-provoking piece on the relationship between the accessibility of healthy food and structural inequalities in society, and Whole Food’s inability to address these issues in Detroit.

Chocolate Donuts with a Chocolate Glaze

The best donuts I’ve ever had are from The Spudnut Shop in Charlottesville – made with potato flour, the blueberry spudnut is my favorite flavor. Originally started as a franchise in 1940, the parent company is no longer functioning, but a few dozen shops across a few states still remain. And I have the good fortune of eating these spudnuts every Friday now and then, when they are leftover from the American Politics workshop. As I was munching on a spudnut a few weeks ago, I decided to go ahead and buy a donut pan. I am not a huge fan of frying desserts at home – we’ve made beignets in the past, and while they turned out great, I wanted something slightly (well, comparatively!) healthier and decided to bake some donuts. The chocolate donuts by themselves are not too sweet and they are great with a chocolate-glaze that I topped with some toasted almonds and sprinkles.

Chocolate Donuts with Chocolate Glaze

Recipe adapted from Cherry Tea Cakes

Ingredients

For the donuts

  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1/2 cup dutch process cocoa
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

For the chocolate glaze

  • 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 425. Spray donut pan with cooking spray.

2. In a large bowl (or stand mixer), sift together flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

3. Add buttermilk. Stir. Add butter and vanilla. Stir.  Add eggs one at a time, stirring in between each egg. Beat until just combined.

4. Fill each donut mold about 2/3 full.

5. Bake for roughly seven minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Chocolate Donuts

6. In a bowl combine chocolate chips, butter and honey. Microwave in 30 second increments, stirring between each time until smooth. Do not overcook. When the donuts have cooled a little bit, dip them in the chocolate glaze and top with nuts, sprinkles or other toppings of your preference.

 

Cheddar Biscuits & Pancetta Roasted Root Vegetables

Guest post by Kenneth Lowande

I have found that next to smoking, the most detrimental, habit-forming act a person can do is to memorize a biscuit recipe they like. For that reason, it is with great apprehension that I share the recipe below. At first, roasted root vegetables do not sound like a comfort food. They aren’t, unless you add pancetta (or “salty pork fat”), spice them up with some cayenne, and compliment them with a plate of cheddar biscuits. The cayenne provides just enough “kick” to balance the sweetness of the vegetables, and the cheddar biscuits remind you that there is a loving God. All told, this meal takes about an hour – though if you wanted to skip the veggies and go straight for the biscuits, 30 minutes will suffice.

Cheddar Biscuits

Cheddar Biscuits

Ingredients

Pancetta Roasted Root Vegetables:

  • 3 large parsnips, peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 leeks, cleaned and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces (only use the white parts)
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Black pepper
  • Cayenne
  • Seasoning salt
  • 4 oz. pancetta

Cheddar Biscuits (makes around 12 biscuits, or 8 large biscuits):

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2+ cups heavy whipping cream
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tsp sugar
  • 1.5 tsp Lawry’s seasoning salt (or sea salt + smoked paprika)
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

Directions:

veggies

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.  Add the potatoes and parsnips to roasting pan.  Coat veggies with 2 tbsp olive oil and season with seasoning salt and cayenne as desired. It’s important that the veggies are coated evenly.
  2. Put the parsnips and sweet potatoes in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
  3. While they are in the oven, chop the leeks and the garlic and add to a small bowl.
  4. Combine with 1 tbsp olive oil. Add black pepper, cayenne, and seasoning salt to taste. Put the bowl in the refrigerator until later when we add it to the roasting pan. 
  5. Now start prepping the biscuits. Mix the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
  6. Combine dry ingredients and cream until you have a moist dough. Be careful not to over-mix.
  7. Distribute the dough into biscuit sized gobs on a greased cookie sheet. Set cookie sheet aside.
  8. After the parsnips and sweet potatoes have cooked for 20+ minutes, pull the roasting pan out of the oven and add the garlic-leeks mixture and pancetta. Distribute evenly in pan and mix to spread seasoning.
  9. Put the pan back in oven. Put biscuits in the oven. Set timer for 20 minutes.
  10. After 15 minutes in the oven, remove the biscuits, sprinkle graded cheese over the tops, return to oven until brown on the edges.

    Sprinkle grated cheese on top of the biscuits and put back in the oven.

    Sprinkle grated cheese on top of the biscuits and put back in the oven.

  11. The biscuits are done when the edges start to barely brown and the veggies are ready when the pancetta gets crispy. And the roasted pancetta root vegetables are ready!
  12. Generally, I let the biscuits set for 3-5 minutes. At this point, they are at the greatest risk of being snatched by a dog who is the devil.

Pasta Fagioli

January’s finally here – which means that two of my favorite shows are back on TV with new seasons – Worst Cooks in America and MasterChef Junior. While one leaves my speechless at the ability of 8-13 year olds  (some of whom can barely look above a prep table without the help of a stool) to whip up delicious, and in some cases, highly technical, restaurant-quality dishes in short periods of time, the other leaves me speechless about how bad some people can actually be at cooking. Watching Anne Burrell on Worst Cooks in America is a real treat – she is one of my favorite celebrity chefs and there is nothing more entertaining than seeing her trying to teach cooking to someone who only cooks meatloaf in the shape of animals, someone who always burns meats because that means at least it’s cooked, and someone who made a pot roast and ended up….poisoning her dog. Suffice to say, people who are nominated on this show by their friends and family are nominated not just for their lack of cooking skills, but because they have also actually succeeded in making their loved ones fall quite ill with their food.

In between gaping disbelievingly at  one of the episodes this week, I  was reminded that I owned one of Burrell’s cookbooks (Cook Like a Rock Star) and I decided to flip through it to get some ideas for weekly lunches. I settled on pasta fagioli, a traditional Italian dish consisting of pasta and beans – it turned out to be a delicious, filling and an inexpensive and easily portable lunch. This particular version recommended using chives, but in my opinion, they didn’t add much to the dish, so for next time, I will prefer using basil.

Pasta Fagioli

Recipe adapted from Anne Burrell’s Cook Like a Rock Star

Directions

  • 1/4 pound pancetta, cut into quarter inch dice
  • 1 onion, diced finely
  • 2 gloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 28-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes, mostly pureed with a few chunks (or according to your preference)
  • 2 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 12 oz ditalini pasta
  • Freshly grated parmesan
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Basil, chopped, for garnishing
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Crushed red pepper

Directions

  • Heat olive oil in a wide pot and add pancetta. Over medium heat, cook the pancetta until it’s crisp (4-5 minutes).
  • Toss in the onion and season with salt, red pepper, oregano, and cook for another 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes and 1 and 1/4 cup water. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook for 15 minutes
  • Add the cannellini beans and chickpeas to the pot and cook for 20 minutes more.
  • Boil water in a well-salted large pot to cook the ditalini, which should be cooked only two-thirds of the way, being fairly hard in the middle.
  • Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta and the water to the pot with the tomatoes and beans. Cook until pasta is done, for about another 3 to 4 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning if need be.
  • Serve sprinkled with Parmesan and chopped basil.