Thursday, August 28, 2008

Santorini Sensation Cupcakes

closeup of cupcake

[skip to cupcake recipe]
[skip to roasted garlic recipe]

When A. and I were on our honeymoon in Greece, one of our goals was to eat as many different types of food as possible. There was one dish, though, that we had to order twice at the same restaurant, because it was so unique and delicious. It was called the Santorini Sensation, and it was a block of manouri cheese topped with honey, sesame seeds, garlic and hot pepper.

Santorini Sensation

The first time we had it, we were kind of surprised at how good it was, but then the second time, A. dubbed it "General Tso's cheese". Although it was missing the soy sauce flavor, it definitely had a lot in common with General Tso's -- spicy, sweet, and aromatic. We really loved it!

When I got back from the trip, I stumbled across Iron Cupcake:Earth's first challenge... chile pepper cupcakes! I remembered the Santorini Sensation, and I knew I would have to enter.

Iron Cupcake:Earth is a new cupcake contest that has some awesome prize donors!
ETSY artist CAKESPY - super talented artist
Jessie Steele Aprons - adorable aprons
Cupcake Courier - cute cupcake transport
Taste of Home - food magazine publisher
Fiesta Products - unique kitchen tools
Hello, Cupcake! - great cupcake decorating book

I already have a Cupcake Courier (wedding present!), and I can tell you that it is pretty great!

cupcake courier

So, faced with all of these tantalizing prizes, I got down to work. I don't know all that much about chiles, so decided to see what the store had to offer. I ended up picking up some ancho chile powder. As I discovered, this mild dried pepper has a smoky flavor and might not have been quite what I was looking for... but I forged ahead with the recipe anyway ;)

powdered chile

They actually ended up tasting very yummy! I ran with the flavor of the ancho chile and made a fluffy spice cake with a slightly sweet, spicy and garlicky frosting. Definitely not your everyday cupcake, but good for the more adventurous palate ;)

cupcake with sesame seeds in the background

[ recipe ]
Santorini Sensation Cupcakes
makes 15 cupcakes with a #16 disher

Cake batter:
110g cake flour
90g all-purpose flour
100g sugar
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
2 t ancho chile powder
1/2 t ground cloves
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 stick butter, room temperature, cut into tablespoons
180g honey
2 eggs
1/2 c milk

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and line your muffin tins with cupcake liners. (I used red liners from Confectionery House.)

Combine the flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, chile powder, cloves and cinnamon in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Turn the mixer on to a low speed to combine the dry ingredients.

Add the butter and mix on low just to coat.

Whisk together the eggs, honey and milk in a separate bowl. Turn the mixer on to medium speed and add in three separate batches, adding the next batch as soon as the previous one is incorporated. Try not to overmix.

empty bowl of batter

Divide the batter among the cupcake liners and fill around 2/3 full (I got 15 cupcakes using a #16 disher.)

Bake for 18-20 minutes, and test for doneness with a toothpick.

baked cupcakes

1 stick butter
16 oz (450 g) confectioners' sugar
4 T heavy cream
chile paste (1 T chile powder mixed with 1 T water)
1 T sesame seeds
1 t roasted garlic (around 2 cloves -- recipe below)

Mash the sesame seeds and garlic to a paste (I used a small mortar and pestle).

sesame seeds in mortar and pestle

Beat the butter in a stand mixer at medium speed for about 5 minutes. Turn the mixer down to low and slowly add in the sugar (it will probably be pretty dry after it is all in).

Turn the mixer back to medium and add in the cream a tablespoon at a time until you reach the consistency you want. Then, add in the chile, sesame and garlic pastes and beat to combine.

three flavors

Pipe or spread the frosting on the cupcakes and decorate with black sesame seeds.
[ end of recipe ]

I wanted to use roasted garlic in the frosting because it takes the bite out of the garlic flavor and caramelizes it, but still retains the garlicky awesomeness. There are so many ways to use this stuff, it is pretty amazing. My favorite is to spread it on warm toasted pita chips with a little salt, which is what we did with the extra :)

roasted garlic

[ recipe ]
Roasted Garlic

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Take a whole head of garlic and cut off the top (pointy end) to expose the insides of the cloves. Place the head on a piece of aluminum foil and drizzle it with olive oil, making sure the oil covers each of the cloves (you can use your fingers to spread it around).

Wrap the foil around the clove and pinch the top so it is completely covered. Do this for each head that you want to roast. You can bake the foil pouches on a sheet pan, or put them in a cupcake tin to keep the garlic upright during baking.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the cloves are soft and browned. Let them cool for a while until you can stand to handle them, and squeeze out the pulp of all of the cloves. Eat immediately, or put in a ramekin and cover with olive oil to keep for a day or two in the fridge.

Notes on storing garlic here.

References: the recipes found here (with helpful pics) and here.
[ end of recipe ]

In all, even though it wasn't a traditional cupcake flavor, it tasted great! Check out the blogroll on Iron Cupcake:Earth to see all of the other creative entries. If you like my cupcake, you can vote for it starting on August 31st at the No One Puts Cupcake in a Corner blog!


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Chocolate-Banded Ice Cream Torte

slice of torte

[recipe here]

Man, doesn't that just scream decadence?! A 5-layer torte, with alternating layers of rich ganache and premium ice cream. Amy of Food, Family and Fun chose this ridiculously awesome recipe for this week's TWD, and my tastebuds really want to thank her, but my waistline is kind of pissed ;)

The recipe wasn't all that difficult, since after the ganache was made, it was an assembly job rather than a baking job. The tough part, though, was the WAITING... each layer had to be frozen for a length of time before adding the next layer, so the layers didn't blend together at all. Makes sense... but it was definitely a patience-tester!

That's why I needed (more than) one of these to get through :)

tasty white wine

A few TWD'ers did express concern about the ganache in this recipe. There were raw eggs added to the melted chocolate/butter mixture, which was cooler than 140 degrees Fahrenheit (I checked). I don't really have a problem with it (considering my constant batter-eating habit), but I know it is a definite concern for a lot of people, so I would recommend using pasteurized-in-shell eggs if you are worried. I didn't look around for them, but I know they exist in some stores.

melted choc and butter

ganache after eggs are added

Dorie's recipe calls for raspberries frozen in syrup to be mixed in to the ice cream. I couldn't find any of these at my local store, so I got the not-in-syrup frozen berries, and added a squeeze of golden syrup to the mix. I also got some Chambord, since I couldn't find the framboise.

chambord and raspberries

I also used Haagen-Dazs light vanilla ice cream. I know, I know, what's the point of light ice cream when you are already eating all that ganache? ;) But it was actually really good, very creamy, and I wouldn't have known it was light at all.

haagen dazs

We really loved this recipe, and now I just wish that I either had more people to share it with, or a smaller springform pan ;)

ice cream layer in pan

Don't forget to check out the TWD blogroll for the 250+ (!) weekly bakers. The recipe can be found in Dorie's book or on Amy's blog!


Monday, August 25, 2008

My fellow bloggers

limbo guy with fire

(Can you believe this guy?? He is the King of Limbo! Taken at a work party last week... food photos at the end :) )

Over the past few months, I've gotten some recognition from fellow bloggers, so it's time (finally) for me to post about it and pass along these bloggy awards! I thought it was only appropriate to celebrate with you all and share the love, as this is my 100th post! Woo hoo :) The King of Limbo wants to party!

I've gotten 3 blog awards and a meme tag from my fellow TWD'ers, so without further ado...

First up is the You Make My Day award from Danielle Kathleen of Make no Little Meals.

Thanks Danielle! Check out Danielle's beautiful photography and cool background graphics. So, it's been a while since she gave this to me (it was in May!)... I never claimed to be punctual. This one should be passed on to blogs that bring happiness and inspiration, which definitely applies to these two bloggers...

Lynnylu of Cafe LynnyLu - love her gorgeous photos and styling!
rainbowbrown of Brown Interior - always entertaining, with great photos!

The next award is an E for Exellent award from Mari of Mevrouw Cupcake!

I love Mari's blog, she is so nice and her pictures are wonderful! I'm passing this one on to:

CB of iheartfood4thought - I love all of her entries and her adorable bunnies!
Caitlin of Engineer Baker - super inventive and funny!

The third award, the Yum Yum Blog Award, comes from Holly of Phe/MOM/enon:

Holly has an awesome blog, full of unique recipes and more beautiful photos! Definitely check it out. I want to pass this one on to the following blogs...

Anne Strawberry - lovely pics and decorating skills!
Prudy of Prudence Pennywise - great pics and recipes!

Finally, Melissa from Life in a Peanut Shell tagged me with a meme. Here goes!

1. Last movie I saw in a movie theater?
The Dark Knight! It was awesome.

2. What book are you reading?
Just finished reading The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde

3. Favorite Board Game?

4. Favorite Magazine, People or US?
The only magazine I have a subscription to is Food & Wine :)

5. Favorite Smells?
French bread in the oven, cupcakes in the oven, and the Lemon Cream Shea Butter hand cream that I have at work

6. Favorite Sounds?
Waves crashing on the beach

7. Worst Feeling in the world?
Waking up in the morning to go to work. I am most emphatically NOT a morning person.

8. First thing you think of when you wake?
"Hit Snooze"

9. Favorite Food Place?
This is a toughie. I kind of don't want to admit this, living in Manhattan amongs so many awesome (albeit expensive) restaurants, but we eat a lot at Chevy's. What can I say... I'm a sucker for a huge margarita.

10.Do you drive fast?
Yes, although A. doesn't let me drive (road rage), and there isn't any reason to drive in Manhattan.

11. Favorite Sport to watch?
Although I play rugby, I'm not a huge fan of watching sports... but I do like watching the Olympics and the finals of big sporting events. I'm also really enjoying Keith Hernandez's Mets commentary.

12. Morning person or night owl?

13. Favorite Ice Cream Flavor?
There is a Pinkberry knock-off near me called Flurt, and I love the plain tangy yogurt flavor. If we're talking gelato, then either Hazelnut (Nocciola) or Caramel.

14. Favorite Drink?
Vodka pineapple!

15. Favorite place to relax?
It's a toss up between the beach and my own comfy bed.


I could go on forever tagging blogs (at last count, I have 340 in my Google Reader!!), but I kind of want to tag EVERYONE with this meme ;) So, if you are reading this, consider it a tag!!

Thanks everyone for the recognition! :) Of course, I couldn't let my 100th post through without a few Scrumptious Photos, so here you go!

brightly colored fruit

tropical drink with starfish decoration

strawberry cream cake

They were all as tasty as they looked... (well, the margarita is gone in that picture, so it was obviously tasty ;) )


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Trip to Greece, Part I: Crete

Read Part II: Santorini
Read Part III: Athens
View all images in my gallery

After being back in the real world for a week or so, it seems like it's high time to start reminiscing about our wedding and honeymoon :) They were really amazing and better than I could have hoped for. We had such a great time! So, I wanted to share some of the (mostly food) photos from our trip (and hopefully some pics from our wedding once we get them back from the photographer!)

(Warning: extremely long-winded post ahead.)

Neither of us had been to Greece before, but we heard so many great things about it before the trip -- and it definitely lived up to every word. It was so beautiful, and the pace of life there was so much more relaxed (although compared to NYC, most places are relaxed!) Also, the food was some of the best we had ever tasted!

The first stop of our trip was the island of Crete. We decided to stay at a resort-y place because I needed some time to veg out and relax after the wedding, so we picked the Grecotel Amirandes. It was a really nice hotel, although the only places to eat there were their overpriced restaurants (they were good, but definitely much more expensive than anywhere else we ate during the vacation).

Here is the view from our hotel room:

The main lobby and bar are in the center of this photo, and one of the best restaurants in the resort, the Lago di Candia, is on the right.

OK, the picture on their website is better, but I was always eating dinner during sunset ;)

Speaking of dinner, here are some shots of one of our Lago di Candia dinners. (Disclaimer: a lot of the food photos on this trip were taken with my small point and shoot camera, in order to minimize A.'s embarrassment.)

They always served an amuse bouche, and this one was a fried olive stuffed with cheese:

We also had guinea fowl with pappardelle (in an AWESOME sauce), asparagus risotto and roasted chicken:

And for dessert, the spectacular looking and tasting sesame ice cream:

It was all very tasty, but not what we were thinking of as traditional Greek food, so we tried some more traditional Greek dishes at our next meal.

First up, the "Traditional Greek Salad", which always has feta, tomatoes and cucumbers in an olive oil dressing, and is always delicious:

And then is some pork souvlaki with grilled pita, tzatziki and french fries:

On one of our days in Crete, we decided to ditch the resort and go touring around the main tourist attractions. First, we headed to the Boutari winery, which is one of the major wine makers in Greece. They have wineries scattered all across the country, and this one in Crete is one of their newest.

The main building felt more like an art gallery than a winery. They showed us this strange introductory video about the history of Crete from the perspective of some sort alien who came down to Earth in a Phaistos disk. I wish I had a picture of the video room... it was a strange experience. We think they were trying to hypnotize us. But at least they gave us a glass of wine at the end of the video :)

We took a tour of the winery and they took us to the barrel room, which smelled delicious.

Of course, we did a wine tasting:

I think this guy hated me a little bit for taking so many pictures:

Our favorite turned out to be a dessert wine, the Moschato Spinas, which is an experimental wine only available at the winery. We took a bottle home with us (and it's already gone ;) )

We also got a snack at the winery after our wine tasting. This is a Cretan dakos, which is a rusk (barley flour bread that is twice baked) covered in tomato, olive oil and feta cheese.

We then said good bye to the winery and headed down the road to Knossos. Knossos is the ruins of an ancient Minoan city, reputed to be the home of the mythical Minotaur and its Labyrinth. It's a bit of a controversial site because the original archaeologist took a few liberties in the reconstruction, but it was interesting nevertheless.

From there, we headed into the largest Cretan city, Iraklio. We ended up having a snack when we arrived, since ancient ruins make me hungry. In Greece, they always serve you a basket of bread and charge you a small amount for it, sort of as a service charge.

Our "snack", a gyro platter:

After eating, we walked around the city for a little while. We walked by the colorful harbor:

And then we walked up the main street:

We toured around for a little while, got lost several times, and finally ended up at an ouzeria for dinner. An ouzeria is a restaurant that serves mostly mezedes, small dishes similar to tapas, along with ouzo. Like everything else, the meals in Greece are meant to be taken at a slow pace and enjoyed.

The menu was interesting -- we had to mark off what we wanted in pencil.

A. got some ouzo, of course:

He really liked it and is now an ouzo convert. I am totally not a black licorice fan, so I got some retsina, which is white wine flavored with pine resin. Sounds weird, but it was only a light flavoring and ended up being interesting and tasty.

The rest of our meal consisted of some of the most delicious meatballs we've ever had, eggplant dip, and grilled cheese and tomato in a pita.

A. had a really good time trying all of the Greek beer. There were two main types, Alfa and Mythos. A. said that they were both pretty much like Heineken, with the Alfa having a slight edge because of a pleasant bitter flavor.

Can you tell that one of A.'s favorite shows is Three Sheets?

We had a great time in Crete, but the highlight of our time there was definitely the degustation we experienced at the Xasteria restaurant at our hotel. It was a 3-hour meal and had what seemed like 100 different courses, and enough food for about 12 people. Everything was delicious!

We started off with an olive plate, bread basket and several other dips and tapenades.

Then some dakos:

And a giant block of feta cheese:

At this point, there were too many dishes to bother taking pictures of, so I threw down my camera and took up my fork. From what I remember, there was a salad (to go along with the feta), boiled vegetables, grilled vegetables stuffed with rice (eggplant, zucchini and bell pepper), and chicken in a clay pot. I'm sure I am forgetting some courses because there were just so many.

Then, dessert. I mean, come on. We just had this gigantic, stomach-bursting meal, and this is what they put in front of us:

Are you kidding me? That fruit plate is bigger than my head. The bowl has Greek yogurt, walnuts and honey. And no, that's not all! There was also a crepe, filled with cheese and covered in a honey sauce with pine nuts and grapes.

After that, they gave us some esophagus-burning raki. "For the digestion."

And THEN, some Greek coffee, which is very thick and still has the grounds in the bottom (which you aren't supposed to drink).

This little guy wanted in on the action!

We spent the last day lounging... I miss the beach :(

As you can see, we had a wonderful time in Crete! But our trip was not over yet -- stay tuned for our pics from Santorini and Athens!