15 July 2010

Basil (Baby!) Pesto Turkey Burgers

"A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds." - St. Basil

When I was in college, I worked as a dishwasher/prep cook for a while to help pay my way. Typical story, I know. What was not typical, however, was one of our chefs. He was one of the most nondescript men I've ever met. If you saw him on the street, well-- you might see him, but you'd not pay any attention to him and you certainly wouldn't remember him. Unless he opened his mouth, that is. He was unbelievably energetic when he spoke-- and virtually everything that came out of his mouth was an exercise in alliteration. He punctuated his consonants like a staccato drumbeat and elongated vowel sounds like a comic strip character whose "owwwweeee" stretches across at least 2 or 3 frames. He was my favourite cook for so many reasons (he taught me the trick to making perfectly cooked bacon), but it's the one instance when his verbal alliteration and personality was transmitted into written form that has stuck with me all these years later-- the label he wrote on a container that used to perch on the corner of the shelf above his main stove/workstation: "Basil (Baby!)" Since that time in college, I cannot say "basil" without adding the "(Baby!)" after it.

I don't remember that cook's name anymore, but this Basil (Baby!) recipe is in honour of him. These burgers were discovered by my sister and have been lauded by her husband (who is very much a steak-and-potatoes guy), my in-laws (also more plain hamburger types), my cousins (who are fructose intolerant and can't eat beef), and by a handful of my Nestie message board ladies. They are quick and easy to make and take only 10 minutes to cook on the grill. And I'm thinking this would be an easy recipe to adjust for a meatloaf instead of burgers once the weather gets colder...

Basil (Baby!) Pesto Turkey Burgers
source: adapted from ELADOUSA, www.allrecipes.com
yield: 4 burgers (a little over 1/4 pound each)

1 lb. lean ground turkey
2 T basil pesto
1.5 - 2 tsp. minced garlic (1 large clove = 1 tsp; 1 sm clove = 1/2 tsp)
1/2 -3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1-1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 cup seasoned panko bread crumbs (I used plain panko bread crumbs and added a mixture of Greek herbs I had on hand)

Preheat (outdoor) grill to medium-high heat. Mix all ingredients together until evenly blended (using your hands is best). Form into 4 patties, about 3/4 of an inch thick. (I used my Typhoon scale to make each patty between 4-5 oz.) Grill burgers until no longer pink in the middle-- roughly 5 minutes each side. Sprinkle with seasoned salt halfway through, if desired (I didn't). Serve plain on bread/roll of your choice with a very little mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato if that's your taste (and times being what they are). I prefer Arnold's Sandwich Thins, myself, as they do not overwhelm or dominate the burger and have no HFCS (hooray!).

09 July 2010

The magic of pasta. And chocolate. Consecutively, not concurrently, that is.

"Life is a combination of magic and pasta." - Frederico Fellini

These past few (obscenely hot and muggy) days since the joint birthday cookout has seen our two refrigerators packed full of side salads. Some were made by me, but the pasta salad was made by my father-- following his aunt's recipe. It was so good, I had it for breakfast, lunch, and snacks until it was gone. It is so good, it was even worth some hives (I polished off the bit without scallions he had set aside for me and had moved on to the "regular" version; I'm deathly allergic to onions, but can get away with eating scallions for now as long as I'm okay with a few hours' worth of hives and scratching like a dog with fleas). Seriously, the pasta salad looks bland, perhaps, but it's packed full of a balanced, light flavour that is perfect for this hot weather.

As an interlude to my devouring of the pasta salad, I mixed it up a bit with some of the birthday cake I made for my husband. I make it every year for him because he loves chocolate a lot-- perhaps even more than he loves me!-- and this is a family favourite that my aunt has made every Thanksgiving and every Easter since I can remember. It's incredibly rich, but if you can keep it cool during these hot summer months, it is a very refreshing dessert and a little bit goes a long way. It's one of the few times my husband isn't willing to share his food with me and, if there are only two slices left, will go against his norm and give me the smallest piece!

Aunt Margie's Simple Pasta Salad
source: Margaret Bučar
yield: roughly a bit over 1 pound

1 lb elbow pasta (we prefer Barilla pasta; especially their elbows, which have grooves to help "catch" the flavour of the other ingredients)
2 bell peppers, chopped into 1/4" and 1/2" inch pieces (we use 1 red; 1/2 orange; 1/2 green)1 bunch scallions, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
1 bottle Good Seasons Italian Dressing fully mixed with oil, water, vinegar (or your preferred Italian dressing; I really like Newman's Own-- no HFCS!)
4 hardboiled eggs, chopped
mayonnaise (eyeball amount for correct texture/degree of moisture-- i.e. just enough to coat the pasta and bind all the ingredients together)
salt & pepper to taste

Cook elbows for minimum minutes (7), tossing in salt just before the water boils. Drain the pasta and return it to a cooled pot or large bowl; while pasta still hot, stir in Italian dressing and put the pasta in the fridge until cold (take care if fridge shelves are glass!) Do not skimp on the dressing! (Though for a double recipe, I add 1-1/2 bottles of dressing.) Chop up and mix peppers and scallions (can do ahead if you cover and refrigerate). Hard-boil eggs (put eggs in room temp water in pan until eggs and water are the same temperature. Bring to boil over med-high heat. Remove pan from heat, let sit for 10 minutes covered. Remove eggs, cool in ice water until room temp. Should be easy to peel.) Do not slice/dice yet.

When elbows cool, mix in peppers and scallions. Add salt and pepper. Mix in mayo until seems right (again: moist but not swimming in mayo.) Slice/dice hardboiled egg and mix in to pasta. (Add salt and/or pepper to taste if you feel the egg addition has changed the flavour balance.) Refrigerate, covering securely to avoid drying out. Wait at least 1 hour before serving cool so that flavours have a chance to meld and develop.

Chocolate Satin Cake

source: Nabisco via Lois Dawson (my aunt a.k.a. Tàtà)
yield: 1 round 14" x 2-1/2" cake


One package of chocolate wafer cookies, ground fine (some say these are hard to find, but I have always managed to find them in the cookie aisle of my local grocery store)

½ cup melted butter


1 lb. semi sweet chocolate - melted and cooled (I *love* the Lindt semisweet 10 oz. bars for this cake)

2 whole eggs

4 eggs separated

2 cups heavy cream

¼ cup confectioners sugar

For the crust: Combine the crushed cookies and butter and press into a spring form pan, being sure that the crust extends at least halfway up the side of the pan-- aside from giving the cake structure once it's out of the springform, this also ensures that you don't end up with a bottom crust so thick that you can't cut/chew through it. Refrigerate the crust while you make the filling.

Note: I tend to use the bigger spring form pan (about 14" diameter). The smaller one makes the cake too high/dense and much too rich-- this "shorter" cake is plenty rich as it is, believe me!-- but it is really a matter of personal preference.

For the filling: Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, stirring continuously. When the chocolate has cooled just a bit, add the chocolate to the 2 whole eggs and the 4 egg yolks. Combine until well blended (chocolate will look very "oily" at this point). In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold gently into the chocolate mixture. Whip the heavy cream with the sugar. Fold the cream into the chocolate mixture. Poor into the crust and refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving. Garnish with whipped cream just before serving, if so desired. This cake lends itself quite well to experimentation with flavoured whipped cream!

Note: the key to this cake is having the patience to take the time to gently fold the egg whites and whipped cream into the chocolate so that you end up with a light, fluffy, and well-blended chocolate mousse-like filling. This process is where the "satin" in the title comes from and is well-worth the extra effort!

07 July 2010

Salad is good for the complexion.

"Is there anything colder than ice?" - Me, to my sister, while about to order at the Dunkin Donut's drive-through.

Holy Moly Cow!
(to quote my 5 year old nephew.) It has been HOT these past 5 days. Hot and humid. I'm talking in the high 90s for both temperature and humidity; the air is like pea soup. This is the kind of heat where you sweat even during a cold shower. (That's Moxie in the photo at the top right: she's passed out on the floor in the hopes I may drop something but without the energy to be more active in her pursuit of food. Ever know a Lab not to actively beg for table scraps? Seriously, it was THAT hot!)

I know, I know-- all you folks who live in Louisiana, Alabama, Florida are saying "suck it up and get some A/C." But you're forgetting that this is MAINE! Aside from the fact that a lot of our houses are old and can't tolerate a ton of electrical appliances, I moved here because I like all 4 seasons, and I like them on the cool side. I mean, I don't even drink hot beverages! I like my tea and my coffee iced. I like my clothing dry and not sticking to me. It's one of the reasons I moved to Maine-- well, that and there are fewer people and more trees here. That combination makes me a much sweeter person than I was in Connecticut.

Anyhow, I digress: in the midst of this crazy heatwave, my husband and his mother had birthdays. So, as per usual, we did a joint birthday party-- my first event in the new house, so the pressure was on. We had a cookout because it's summer and it was the day after Independence Day and it seemed appropriate when I made the decision 10 days prior to the biggest heat wave in decades.

So yeah, what do you make for a cookout when it's "wicked freakin' hot" up here and we're all not used to it? The heat makes even me lose my appetite for food, and instead, start dreaming about IV fluids that have been chilled before administration. And though we are of tough New England stock, there is no reason to be stoic at times like these. My solution, then, was: SALADS!! Nothing says summer to me like cold salads. Bean salad, potato salad, pasta salad, cabbage salads-- whatever is in it, it just has to be flavourful, colourful, and above all: COLD! And to wash it all down? Sun-brewed iced tea! Preferably sipped whilst chilling in the kiddie pool. Ohhhh, yeah!

Since I am drinking it right now, shall we start with the Sun Tea? Yes? Very good, then:

Sun Tea
source: I have no idea but s/he should get a medal. Or at least a cupcake.
yield: 2 liters

12 tea bags of your choice (I highly recommend green tea for its healthy properties and light flavour)
2 liter glass jug with air-tight cover (I love this one-- from King Arthur Flour, of course)
Water to fill jug, preferably filtered

Drop your tea bags into the jug. Add the water. Put jug outside in a spot that gets good, direct sunlight. Leave for about 30 minutes-- more if you like stronger tea or plan on adding a fruity flavour to the final product, or if you want to eventually add lemonade to make an Arnold Palmer. (I think I left mine out for 2 hours while I was inside baking a cake. I know, I should probably have added gingko biloba to the tea, right?) Use a slotted spoon to scoop out the tea bags and then stir the tea briefly to ensure an even distribution of the tea's flavour. Add fruit if you desire or add to some lemonade, if that is your taste and times being what they are. Chill in the refrigerator and/or pour over ice when serving. Sip delightfully, preferably in your favourite shady spot with a good book.

Chickpea Salad
source: My husband and me!
yield: a lot (roughly 8-24 servings)

3 cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained
1 can green beans, cut into 1-inch lengths (or thereabouts)
1-2 red/orange/yellow bell peppers, chopped as you prefer
sugar snap peas, about as much as the palm of your hand, cut in halves or thirds
cherry/grape tomatoes (however much is aesthetically pleasing)
kalamata or black olives (optional)
8-16 oz. feta cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1-2 cans tuna fish in water, drained (optional)
cilantro to taste
salt & pepper to taste
balsamic vinaigrette, enough to get all the ingredients wet
olive oil

In a small bowl, add tuna fish and break up the pieces with a fork. Add just a drizzle of olive oil-- enough to moisten the tuna fish. Put in the refrigerator to chill while preparing vegetables. Put all the vegetables in a medium to large bowl. Add the cilantro, the cheese, and olives. Add salt & pepper, then the balsamic vinaigrette. Mix thoroughly. Add the chilled tuna fish to the vegetables. Mix gently. Put in refrigerator to chill. Serve cold as a side or as a main dish.

03 July 2010

You wanna piece of this? Hunh? HUNH? You wanna piece? of THIS?

I was always taught that it is good and right to show people you love and respect them by feeding them. I think, had Moses been Italian-American, he'd have scribbled that down somewhere in the Ten Commandments. But I digress. This is not a freedom of religion post-- it's a "bad-ass" post (grrr!). My friend has a group of buddies with whom he plays Texas Hold 'Em and watches the UFC fights. I'm not so much into the poker (I have a wretched poker face, so it's easier for me just to give my money away directly to a charity), but I am definitely into the UFC (particularly Georges Rush St. Pierre: rowr!) So any chance to hang out with good company and watch very athletic men kick, punch, and grapple the snot out of each other-- heck yeah, I'm absolutely there. With food!

Now football may have its chili. Baseball may have its hotdogs and popcorn. (What does basketball have? Hmm...) But something about the UFC just screams "banana chocolate chip bread" to me. That something could just be that I have three over-ripe bananas in a basket in my kitchen who seem to be starting to attract fruit flies, or I could wax poetic and say something about how the banana grapples with the chocolate chips in this bread to produce a championship flavour that is ultimately dominated by the little kick of cinnamon. Anyhow, this is what I've baked to help share my love and respect for a really awesome guy-- a Gulf War veteran (remember Kuwait? Did you know there's an IKEA in Kuwait?), Harley rider, cool-headed boss, devoted husband and dad, and a man who knows how to laugh at himself.
Now, enough of the warm, fuzzy stuff: here's hoping Brock Lesnar gets a huge piece of humble pie handed to him, preferably hard enough that it puts him to sleep in the Octagon!

"Never interrupt me when I'm eating a banana." - Ryan Stiles

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread
source: adapted by me! from James Beard, "Beard on Bread"
Yield: 1 loaf

Original recipe:
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour (King Arthur Flour is best)
1 teaspoon baking soda1/2 teaspoon salt1/2 cup butter or other shortening (I used butter)1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 cup mashed, very ripe bananas (usually 2-3 bananas)
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar
1/2 cup chopped nuts

My changes/additions:
I substituted 1/3 cup buttermilk for the milk and lemon juice/vinegar
I substituted 1 cup chocolate chips for the 1/2 cup chopped nuts
I added 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon oil
I added 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
I sprinkled raw sugar (brown, large crystals) on the top of the bread

Sift the flour with the baking soda and salt. Set aside. Cream the butter and gradually add the sugar. Mix well. Add the eggs and bananas and blend thoroughly. Add the cinnamon oil and almond extract. Combine the milk and lemon juice, which will curdle a bit. Or just use the buttermilk, like I did. Slowly and alternately, fold in the flour mixture and milk mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Blend well after each addition. Stir in the nuts (or chocolate chips!), then pour the batter into a lavishly buttered 9 x 5 x 3-inch pan and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour, or until the bread springs back when lightly touched in the center.

Serve however you like it! (My friend Sheryl likes it with peanut butter. Me, I prefer cream cheese...)

Some items of note in making this bread:
1. It is always best to sift the flour when baking, especially cakes. And with this bread, it is so easy to get a dense, thick, heavy bread. If that's what you want, however, by all means-- don't sift the flour. It's America and you can do what you want! Me? I wanted a light bread. So I sifted.

2. I used a glass pan, and only as I watched this bread rise and rise (and rise and rise) in the oven, did I begin to think I should have used my deeper-cornered, non-slanting walled silicone bread pan. Also, I should have decreased the temperature of the oven by about 25 degrees to compensate for the glass instead of baking it for only 55 minutes. So this is what happened to my bread:
At 25 minutes in: looking good! Hope it doesn't rise any higher, though!At 35 minutes in, I think it's time to take that top rack out-- "just in case."At 45 minutes in: yup! Time for the aluminum foil tent to keep the top from burning!

Now that, actually, doesn't look too bad! Phew!

Ooo! Sparkly top! So purdy!

30 June 2010

Compliments are a beautiful thing.

I have this awesome friend Sheryl whom I have known since I was 22. (That's Sheryl in the photo to the right with another one of our rugby buddies.) She's ten years older than me and doesn't mince words. Over the past 13 years, she has been known to tell me things like "You're being a b*tch and it's getting old," and "what are you thinking, Freak?" No, seriously, we're friends. Good friends. The kind of friends who tell each other things that only friends can tell you because you know they're telling you these things for your own good and because ultimately, you both know you need to hear it.

So when Sheryl takes a moment to be... sweet... I really listen. And bask in the love like a snake on a rock on the first sunny day of the year. Or like a teenager at the beach during summer vacation. Or like any other thing that basks a lot in warm weather. Whatever, the point is-- Sheryl gave me a compliment and it ROCKED!

Now that I've given it such a build-up, I have to share. This, by the way, came out on Facebook, so you know it's legit:
Sheryl Turse Love you Daniele...you're demonstrating the open mindedness that's so important in regards to religion.. mutual respect and open exchange... Lack of these two qualities are what make the topics of religion and politics" not polite conversation"... Proving it can be is a start to ending the gang-land mentality that divides the world..
Monday at 23:51 · ·
(See those time stamps and the "like" and "delete" buttons? See? It's legit. A bona fide compliment on a semi-public forum for others to read.)

Now, in Sheryl's defense, we normally reserve heavy conversations for the campfire or rugby tours or late night drives on the way to some rugby match (I bet you didn't know rugby players could be all deep and philosophical, eh? Stereotypes aren't always true.). But this was Facebook and it was, if you look at the time stamp, getting towards the witching-hour. And this is why I love Sheryl. We don't always agree, but we respect and listen to each other's perspectives. But seriously-- this was a great FB moment, when a few of my Facebook friends who don't know each other in the real world got to "talk" to each other about something as serious as religion. I like to start things, stir the pot a bit, rock the boat, you know? So I posted this:

Danièle Bucar Coté I think I just totally confounded two very sweet, young Mormon "Elders" (who came up with THAT title for 20 year old, doe-eyed youngsters?!?). Literally-- at a couple points in the discussion they were speechless, and just looked at each other for help on how to answer my question. Poor little dears. But it was a pleasant, good-natured discussion...

Monday at 18:59 Friends only · ·
And of course, a couple comments centered around how Mormons (or anyone who proselytizes door-to-door) are rude and knock on your door to tell you things you don't want to hear. I get it. I once dated a guy who answered the door and the knocker's question of "Did you know Jesus died for your sins?" with "I didn't know he was sick." And I laughed hard enough at that story that he didn't sit next to me for a few hours in case I got struck by lightning. But honestly, I'm glad these young boys came by-- they were earnest, and honest, and full of hope and a desire to change the world for what they thought was "the better." How much more different is that than a young 20-something who wants me to recycle more? Or stop buying clothes made in sweatshops? In some ways, it's not any different than the person who wants me to stop voting to support gay marriage-- that person thinks they're making the world a better place. Just because I disagree with passion, doesn't mean their intentions are any less honourable.

I think it's really important for us to listen to things we don't want to hear. It's the only way we can truly grow. And also the only way to truly make the world a better place. The Mormon boys (I know, they're young men, but I could be their mother and they were really doe-eyed and innocent) called what they were preaching The Truth. The capital "Ts" were audible, I kid you not. But there is an old Native American saying (I'm not sure which tribe) that says "there are three sides to every story: yours, his, and the truth." And while the Mormons-- and many other more organizedly-religious people-- may believe that THEIR truth is The Truth, I believe that if we don't listen to things we don't want to hear, we won't ever get closer to THE TRUTH (yes, I mean all those capital letters).

I love those little Mormon Elders for sticking it out. They listened to me. They did. I know it because they looked confounded and a bit at a loss at times. They tried to discuss points I had made, but they just couldn't answer any of my questions without opening up all sorts of new questions that made them a little unsteady. And I swear-- I didn't say anything to purposefully unnerve them-- I didn't talk about premarital sex or adult toys or anything designed to make them blush or to disrespect their beliefs. It was a really nice discussion and I hope they come by the house again some time. I'd like to see what kind of argument they can make after telling their mentors (elder Elders?) about the conversation we had. I'd like to see how they're enjoying Maine.

I'd also like to encourage my friends-- and strangers-- to just talk it out with folks, more often. Don't be afraid of a little healthy discussion. Just keep the argument as logical and respectful as you can. You want to talk to me about gay marriage? Bring it on! Immigrants? Bring it on! Drilling for oil in Alaska? Bring it on! Let's talk to each other about it. Let's listen to each other about it. It's about trying to see every side of someone else's Truth, not just about making them see-- and adopt-- your Truth.

Umberto Eco said in his book, The Name of the Rose, that "truth is indivisible. It shines with its own transparency and cannot be diminished by our interests or our shame." We may never know the Truth for real. Or completely. But it's there. Always. And until we recognize that it is there; until we really make a truly honest effort to look at It from all sides and angles; until we recognize that It looks different to other people-- only then can we actually start to make this world a better place for everyone. Because if you're not dealing with reality, it doesn't mean it goes away or changes. It's always there. It's indivisible and cannot be diminished by what we want it to be or not be. It's time to listen to one another. To discuss with one another. To be open-minded about things that don't appeal to you. Think of it like brussell sprouts. Or asparagus (eww!). Keep tasting the different preparations-- even if it's just to keep confirming that you don't like the taste!

And Sheryl-- you are a beautiful person and a fantabulous friend. Don't you ever change, Lady! I am very lucky to have you in my life. You're awesome-- I don't care what your parents say. : p

27 June 2010

Drink like you're Irish? How about a cupcake?

"An Irishman is the only man in the world who will step over the bodies of a dozen naked women to get to a bottle of stout." (Anonymous)

I got these off my friend's blog and had to try them for myself. To be able to fit into my clothes, however, I had to share. A lot. These are rich. These are VERY rich. Okay, if these were starring in a Hollywood film, they'd earn more than Daniel Radcliffe did last year. For those of you more inclined to watch NESN or SportsCenter: these are not quite as rich as Tiger Woods, (but they won't cheat on you with every bimbo who bats her eyes at them). I brought them to my friends' camp party where the adults enjoyed them no end and the teenagers' hands were slapped away vigorously. These also made an appearance or two at some late night cribbage games where they helped us all to feel like we won, even when we were outpegged.

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes:
source: Smitten Kitten via Sweet Cheeks In the Kitchen
Yield: 20-24 cupcakes

I made these using Ghiardelli cocoa powder (I was all out of my KAF favourite, dark Dutch-process cocoa powder), Baker's bittersweet chocolate (I was all out of my preferred Lindt bars), Guinness stout (of course), Tullamore Dew whiskey (I used to date a man from Tullamore, County Offaly, who drank like he had a hollow leg: Adrian, this one's for you, you B.I.F.F.O.), and Bailey's Irish Cream. And I upped the amount of whiskey and Bailey's, because my grandmother's maiden name is Murphy and I felt my heritage justified it. I'm glad I did, because I barely tasted the whiskey as it was and I really think the richness of the frosting requires that kick to keep it from getting too sweet...

For the Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes:
1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

Ganache Filling
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 to 2 teaspoons Irish whiskey (optional)

Baileys Frosting
3 to 4 cups confections sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperatue
3 to 4 tablespoons Baileys (or milk, or heavy cream, or a combination thereof)

Special equipment: 1-inch round cookie cutter or an apple corer and a piping bag (though a plastic bag with the corner snipped off will also work). Note: I used a knife and cookie decorating plunger thingy I had acquired somewhere. I think the plastic bag might be less messy.

Make the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them 2/3 to 3/4 of the way. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, rotating them once front to back if your oven bakes unevenly, about 17 minutes. Cool cupcakes on a rack completely. Note: I lightly spray/grease my liners or cups (I don't use liners with my silicone muffin pan) so I can release the cupcakes without a mess/crumbling. I'm very glad I did, because my cupcakes didn't rise a whole ton and I needed them to be intact to receive the ganache filling.

Make the filling: Chop the chocolate and transfer it to a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until simmering and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for one minute and then stir until smooth. (If this has not sufficiently melted the chocolate, you can return it to a double-boiler to gently melt what remains. 20 seconds in the microwave, watching carefully, will also work.) Add the butter and whiskey (if you're using it) and stir until combined.

Fill the cupcakes: Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped (the fridge will speed this along but you must stir it every 10 minutes). Meanwhile, using your 1-inch round cookie cutter or an apple corer, cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes. You want to go most of the way down the cupcake but not cut through the bottom - aim for 2/3 of the way. A slim spoon or grapefruit knife will help you get the center out. Those are your "tasters". Put the ganache into a piping bag with a wide tip and fill the holes in each cupcake to the top.

Make the frosting: Whip the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, for several minutes. You want to get it very light and fluffy. Slowly add the powdered sugar, a few tablespoons at a time.

Ice and decorate the cupcakes.

Ms. Moxie is an off-road kind of girl!

I'm from Away. Technically, so is my husband (he was born in CA, lived in Lawrence, MA until he was 15, then moved to Jay, Maine) but he blends in significantly better than I since he actually knows where a lot of places are. Or used to be (more on that in a different post). So, when we decided to get a dog, the choice was easy: a black lab or lab mix. It seems like the majority of Mainers have labs-- a practice sanctioned by L.L. Bean: black labs abound on a variety of their products (yes, so do lobsters, but those tricky crustaceans are much harder to hike with and you can never take them to the beach for fear of being boiled and then served up with butter).

Enter Moxie. Originally named Annie Mae (think either mint juleps on the front porch swing or a tough Japanese heroine who masquerades by day as a dutiful school girl with pink hair), we felt our precocious 1 year old pooch needed a name as spirited as she. And funnily enough, Moxie only goes after my drink if I'm drinking Moxie. It's like she knows it's technically her birthright. Or maybe she hated her original name as much as we did? Either way, she's embraced her name.

Three years later, we're thinking we should have named her Scout. She loves going hiking with us at Mount Apatite (named for the product of the quarry, not misspelled hunger pangs), but she rarely stays on the trail. In fact, even at the base of the trail, this is usually how we hike "with" our dog. That black spot in the distance is our Moxie Moops (yes, she has a lot of goofy nicknames. Don't judge us.):

She also can't stay out of the water, and the great thing about Mount Apatite is there is plenty of it-- some running, some "ponds"-- and since we are religious about getting Moxie's Lepto vaccine every year, we can let her romp around in almost all of it without worrying about her getting sick:

Per Maine State Park regulations, dogs at Mount Apatite are supposed to be on leash at all times, but almost nobody follows that rule and we've never seen it enforced or even mentioned by other park frequenters in the 3 years we've been hiking there. If you are in the area and looking for a good place to let your dog get some good exercise (without requiring a TON of fitness from you!), Mount Apatite is a great option and it even has ample parking.

Score one for the L/A area!

24 June 2010

Restaurant Review: Marché (Lewiston, ME)

I know of at least one friend of mine who does not agree with my opinion of Marché at all-- and normally we agree on lots of food-related topics (King Arthur Flour, chocolate as a food group, etc.). I think, however, that I just feel really strongly about Marché and its owners-- but I think that's more than obvious as you read along. This is the review I submitted to Google, so it's the same one you'll see if you Google the restaurant:

My husband and I were excited to try this place, despite our lukewarm experience at the same owner's upscale restaurant Fuel (located just across the street). We should have known better.

We ordered the "Frenchie" sandwich which allegedly consists of tomato compote, pulled pork, a burger, and brie cheese. The name and the cheese were the only thing French about this sandwich, but it sounded intriguing-- I wanted to know if it would work. It didn't. The tomato compote was simply some cherry tomatoes (2 of which were not fully ripe-- half yellow/green, half red) which had been barely mushed and sautéed. The pulled pork was bland. There were TWO thick (I mean over an inch thick each), bland, overcooked, dry burgers which overpowered the entire sandwich (and did not come close to filling the diameter of the bun-- why would you do that?). And the brie was a tiny piece perched on the top that was barely noticeable. I opted for the "fruit cup" instead of the potato chips and got 5 small chunks of what was probably canned pineapple. Thanks for the hint of fruit in my fruit 1/8-of-a-cup! My husband didn't even finish his half of the burger-- I think I've seen him leave behind only one other meal in our entire relationship because he abhores wasting money.

My husband ordered a crêpe dish-- chicken, spinach and béchamel sauce. This came unassembled with the mush of filling looking like it had been vomited up on top of the folded crêpes. Both crêpes were thick and had been overcooked, looking more like Indian nan bread than crêpes. And I can't tell you how lovely it was to spend half our lunch time scraping the filling off to the side so we could assemble our own crêpes. (Was this too hard for the chef to do? We saw employees darting back and forth between Marché and Fuel. Maybe our chef was on a break from his real job and that was why our crêpes were thrown on the plate in a disassembled heap?) This would have been forgivable, however, had it not been for the taste. We only noticed that there was spinach in the filling because of the green swirls deep within the sauce. And the chicken declared its presence only through its texture-- we sensed chewy chunks and figured (hoped?) they were chicken. Very bland béchamel sauce rounded out the unpleasant experience.

As two individuals who have lived in France, we can verify that these items would inflame any Frenchman or -woman into suing Marché for slander. As two individuals who have been fortunate to eat in some very fantastic restaurants around the country and even around the world-- we would assert that this food was not worth our trip around the corner. Save your money and your time-- whoever's running Marché certainly doesn't expend any on the food or the service! Why should you?

And off we go!

Yes, it's time. I'm no longer reserving my opinions for my top-secret group of FB friends, message board friends, and those unlucky strangers within hearing of my rather distinctive (muppetlike?) voice.

Originally, I figured I would only start a blog if it had a focused purpose: food recipes? restaurant reviews? movie reviews? reviews of current events? Well, I have this problem, see; I have a hard time narrowing things down. It's why my schedule is always full and yet I never seem to have time to do everything I want. It's why I can mostly play 4 instruments, own at least one piece of equipment for almost every kind of sport or outdoor activity, and it's probably also why I have a mixed breed dog. When people ask "this or that?" my only honest answer is "Both, please!"

So here it is: my blog of nothing in particular. Read it; don't read it; comment; don't comment; like it; don't like it-- it's all good. This is still a free country-- I can say what I like and you can agree or not.

And that is a beautiful thing...