Friday, November 19, 2010

lemon butter cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and candied lemon peel

I will preface this by saying I realize that lemon cupcakes and November are not a natural fit, but I made these awhile back and have just not gotten around to posting the recipe until now and really they are too scrumptous to wait any longer to share. For a perfect fall recipe, may I suggest apple cardamom cake with caramel frosting? which, ironically, I originally blogged in May.

These cupcakes were made for a friends birthday. Before I make someone a birthday treat, I like to ask what flavor of dessert they would like. A lot of people prefer chocolate (I can not blame them for that). When my friend mentioned that she really loves lemony things, I was excited to try something new.

I have to admit that I have not always loved lemon desserts. Where I grew up, lemons were not easy to come by and so I am afraid that most things were "lemon flavored"- ie the flavor was obtained from one of the small brown glass extract bottles in the cupboard. I always thought those bottles were magical. However, the first time I snuck a sip of vanilla extract (it smells so good! surely it must taste good!) I was sorely disappointed.

Where I live now has lots of lemons. The valley around me was once full of groves of lemons, oranges, and avocados. Neighbors, co-workers, and friends often have lemon trees in their yard. It is not unusual to arrive at work and find a large paper bag filled with lemons sitting out by the coffee. There is no note that accompanies these bags, people just know that their presence is an invitation to take. It is such a happy thing.

For this cupcake I wanted to capture that fresh lemon loveliness. I also love the voluptuous tang of cream cheese with sharper tang of lemon. The cupcake recipe is a variation of a Martha Stewart yellow butter cupcake. The cream cheese frosting is Ina Garten. The candied lemon peel provides that extra hit of concentrated lemon flavor at the end.

Lemon Butter Cupcakes

makes 36 cupcakes
(I almost never get as many cupcakes as a recipe indicates- I think this recipe yielded 30 cupcakes for me. But then I do tend to overfill cupcake tins.)

3 cups cake flour (not self-rising), sifted
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
9 ounces (2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups sugar
5 large eggs plus 3 large egg yolks, room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (rather than add the vanilla, this is where I substituted the zest of 2 small lemons)

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.

2) Whisk dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cream butter and sugar with a mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition.

3) Reduce speed to low. Mix remaining wet ingredients in a bowl (To make the these cupcakes lemony, this is where I mixed in the lemon zest and omitted the vanilla).

4) Add dry ingredients to butter mixture in 3 additions, alternating with wet ingredients and ending with dry. Scrape sides of bowl. Divide batter among muffin cups, filling each full.

5) Bake cupcakes until testers inserted into centers come out clean, about 20 minutes. Let cool in tins on wire racks.

6) To assemble the cupcakes: take a cooled cupcakes and slather with a generous portion of cream cheese frosting. Place a little pile of candied lemon peel on top. Enjoy! 

Cream Cheese Frosting
(If ever at a loss for what type of frosting to use, this is always the solution.)

1 pound cream cheese at room temperature
3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/ 2 teaspoon pure almond exract
1 1/2 pounds confectioners sugar, sifted

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on low speed, cream together the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and almond extracts (for these lemon cupcakes, I omitted the almond extract from the frosting). Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until smooth.

Candied Lemon Peel
makes 1/2 cup

4 lemons 
1 cup sugar

1) Using a citrus zester or vegetable peeler, shred long strips of lemon peel. (I found it helpful here to use a vegetable peeler to strip off the peel and then a small knife to julienne it.)

2) Place strips in a medium saucepan. Cover with cold water, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Drain; repeat two more times with fresh water.

3) Place sugar in a clean saucepan with 1 1/2 cups water; stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar has dissolved, about 3 minutes. Add the citrus strips to the boiling syrup; reduce heat and simmer until strips are translucent, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat; let strips cool in syrup, at least 1 hour. Remove from syrup when ready to use.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

curry chicken and potatoes

I love when I taste something for the first time and it feels like coming home: warm, inviting, comforting. That is how I feel about this curry.

I have no childhood memories of eating curry. My parents did a wonderful job of introducing my sisters and I to new foods but I do not believe that any type of curry was ever among them.
The summer I was 17, I spent three weeks in India. I was with other kids from all over the states on a short-term missions trip. I was this skinny, wide eyed kid from Alaska. I woke up the first morning saying over and over to myself, "I am in India, I am in India, I am in India." It was amazing.
I always remember my dinner the first night- my brain was still buzzing from the airplanes and the cacophony of sights and sounds during the drive from the airport to where we stayed. At dinner time, we sat down at tables in a dimly lit hall and were served curry potatoes and chipatis. I rolled the potatoes up in the chipati and ate it like a burrito. It was mildly spiced and the potatoes were a soft golden yellow. I felt it filling me up, nourishing me in a new way. For months when I returned back to the states, I dreamed of those curry potatoes.

I did initially made this dish in an attempt to capture some of that early curry love but ended up falling for it for it's own virtues: tender chicken and potatoes soaked through with aromatic broth.
 I have learned that curry powder is really just a mixture of other spices. This original recipe is from the cookbook "The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes" by Judith Finlayson. It does not call for any curry powder, just a blend of spices. However I, very uncharacteristically, did not read the full recipe beforehand. It was only when I started cooking that I realized it called for caradmom pods and not ground cardamom, cumin seeds and not ground cumin. I added what I had of ground spice and in an attempt to salvage the dish, added a few tablespoons of curry powder. It was such a relief when it turned out so well! I love happy mistakes. Below is my adaptation of the recipe and I really love it.

A note about crockpots: This recipe helped usher in a new era of successful crockpot cooking in my household. I say successful because early on in our marriage I had made several valiant attempts at various crockpot dishes but it all ended in such disaster that I gave it up for a few years. It was only after dinner at a friends home, with a delicious roast they made in the crockpot, that I felt sufficiently inspired to give it another try. It really is pretty fantastic at the end of a day to walk into my home and smell a completed dinner.

curry chicken and potatoes

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 1/2 lbs chicken pieces (this can be a whole cut up chicken, but I think it's best with bone-in, skin-on chicken breast)
6 medium potatoes (about 2 lbs- red potatoes work well)
3 yellow onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced gingerroot
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon tumeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon curry powder 
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 bay leaf
3 cups chicken stock

1) In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, until softened.

2) Add garlic, gingerroot, coriander, tumeric, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, salt and black pepper, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add lemon juice, bay leaf and 2 cups of chicken stock. Reduce heat to low.

3) While the sauce is on low, scrub and peel potatoes. Cut each potato into half length-wise and then each half into thirds. Place a layer of potatoes in the bottom of the crockpot and place chicken pieces on top of the potatoes. (You may certainly add more potatoes- it's a great way to stretch this dish for a crowd or for greedy potato eaters.)

4) Pour sauce over chicken, cover and cook on low for 5 to 6 hours or on high for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, until juices run clear when pierced with a fork.

5) Once the chicken is cooked through, remove the pieces from the crockpot and discard the skin and bones. Also, discard the bay leaf. Shred the chicken and add it back to the crockpot, submerging it in the sauce and potatoes. Enjoy!