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Every year at Christmastime, David turns our kitchen for the month of December into a factory and makes quite literally hundreds and hundreds of these cupcakes to give away as gifts. People usually start demanding mid-November, “Where are my cupcakes?” They’re that good.

He always uses the silver foil cupcake liners–David says one cannot use the paper ones for this and he isn’t here to ask why, so just take my word for it.

Edit: David says the paper ones stick to the cupcakes which is why you can’t use that kind.

My personal preference is to freeze some, and eat them directly out of the freezer.


Chocolate Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip Filling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and set up 36 cupcake liners so they’re ready to go. (David puts the liners into cupcake pans, but evidently those liners can be set up on a cookie sheet, instead.)

CREAM CHEESE FILLING
Beat together until smooth:
16 oz softened cream cheese (do not used whipped cream cheese)
3/4 cup white sugar
1 egg

Stir in a 12 oz. bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips. Set aside.

CHOCOLATE BATTER
Mix together in giant bowl:
3 cups flour
2 cups brown sugar (packed)
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup Hershey’s baking cocoa

To the combined dry ingredients, add:
2 cups vegetable oil
2 1/3 cups water
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract.

Using an electric mixer, or a whisk if you’re exceptionally determined, beat until well combined and smooth.

Pour chocolate batter into the cupcake liner cups about 2/3 full. Place a good sized dollop (a heaping teaspoon) of filling into the center of each cupcake. Bake for 35-40 minutes and cool on a wire rack.

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Alton Brown’s Pancakes

Alton Brown is a genius, regardless of whether or not you think he’s a dork. These are, without a doubt, the best pancakes ever. Seriously. I always have this ‘mix’ in my pantry. We frequently have these for dinner.

Good to know:
If you don’t have buttermilk, just take 2 tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice and put it in your measuring cup, and then add enough milk to make 2 cups of milk. Let stand for about 5 minutes. Voila, buttermilk substitute that works just as well as buttermilk.

The trick to light fluffy pancakes is to not create a lot of gluten. Gluten is the protein in flour that one develops in a process like kneading bread. It makes for nice chewy bread, but really tough flat pancakes. So, one of the secrets to tender fluffy pancakes is to just stir the batter enough to mix the wet with the dry, but that’s it. I know it’s really hard to see lumps in your batter and not keep stirring. But trust me on this–there will no longer be lumps in your cooked pancakes.

Don’t add your wet ingredients to your dry ingredients until right before you’re going to cook them. The chemical reaction of the leaveners (baking soda and baking powder) will start as soon as you get them wet and you want them going full blast for the fluffiest pancakes.

Ingredients for Pancake mix:

* 6 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda (check expiration date first)
* 3 teaspoons baking powder
* 1 tablespoon kosher salt
* 2 tablespoons sugar

Directions

Combine all of the ingredients in a lidded container. Shake to mix.

Use the mix within 3 months. It makes 3 batches of pancakes.

“INSTANT” PANCAKES:

* 2 eggs, separated
* 2 cups buttermilk
* 4 tablespoons melted butter
* 2 cups “Instant” Pancake Mix, recipe above
* 1 stick butter, for greasing the pan
* 2 cups fresh fruit such as blueberries, if desired

Heat an electric griddle or frying pan to 350 degrees F. Heat oven to 200 degrees F.

Whisk together the egg whites and the buttermilk in a small bowl. In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the melted butter.

Combine the buttermilk mixture with the egg yolk mixture in a large mixing bowl and whisk together until thoroughly combined. Pour the liquid ingredients on top of the pancake mix. Using a whisk, mix the batter just enough to bring it together. Don’t try to work all the lumps out.

Check to see that the griddle is hot by placing a few drops of water onto to the griddle. The griddle is ready if the water dances across the surface.

Lightly butter the griddle. Wipe off thoroughly with a paper towel. (No butter should be visible.)

Gently ladle the pancake batter onto the griddle and sprinkle on fruit if desired. When bubbles begin to set around the edges of the pancake and the griddle-side of the cake is golden, gently flip the pancakes. Continue to cook 2 to 3 minutes or until the pancake is set.

Serve immediately or remove to a towel-lined baking sheet and cover with a towel. Hold in a warm place for 20 to 30 minutes.

Yield: 12 pancakes

Chili Lime Flank Steak

I’ll continue the roast chicken meals tomorrow–it’s time for beef.

I got this recipe a few years ago from Tyler Florence. It’s very easy, fast, tasty and works on the grill, too. It’s key to make sure you let the cooked steak rest for at least 10 minutes before you slice into it. Cut it against the grain in thin slices. The reason you do that is to cut the fibers of the steak short–makes it tender.

You can use the rub on any steak–it’s really nice on rib eyes and cheap london broil, too.

Chili Lime Flank Steak

* 1 flank steak (about 1 3/4 pound)
* 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
* 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
* 2 tablespoon light brown sugar
* 1 tablespoons kosher salt
* 2 teaspoons chili powder
* 1 lime, zested

Preheat a broiler to high. Bring the steak to room temperature about 20 minutes before cooking.

Mix the olive oil, paprika, sugar, chili powder, salt, chili powder, and zest in a bowl to make a paste. Rub the spice mixture all over the steak. Broil until just charred and crispy on top, about 6 minutes on 1 side. Flip the steak and cook until beginning to char, about 6 minutes more or until rare and temperature registers 115 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. Place the steak on a cutting board and let rest, tented with foil for about 10 minutes. Slice across the grain and serve.

Or, Meal #2 from your roast chicken leftovers

Chicken quesadillas are great if you’re in a rush and want to be sitting down and eating something delicious in less than 10 minutes. Also, you don’t need to use very much chicken at all, so it’s terrific way to stretch leftovers. The apple slices are the trick in this simple recipe, adding a nice texture and sweet tart contrast. You could do this with flour tortillas instead, but try it with the corn because they really are yummier that way. If you have more time, make the rice recipe too.

Chicken Quesadillas

Leftover chicken, sliced or shredded
Corn tortillas
Butter, softened
Monteray Jack cheese, shredded
Granny Smith apple, sliced
Salsa, sour cream, guacamole or avocado, chopped cilantro, lime –whatever combo of flavorful and ‘wet’ you like

Heat up a skillet over med-high heat. Briefly warm up your leftover chicken, remove from pan and set aside. For each quesadilla: Take one tortilla, spread a little butter on it, and put it in the pan. Add a little handful of cheese to the tortilla and spread it out. When the cheese is melted and the tortilla is lightly browned, put another lightly buttered corn tortilla on it, and flip it over. (Or you can take the lightly browned single tortilla out of the pan and fold it in half. Your choice.) After about 30 seconds or so, remove from pan to a cutting board. Open it up, and add a little chicken, some apple slices, and your condiments. Put it back together, cut into wedges and serve.

Yellow Rice with Corn

I was watching Daisy Martinez on PBS one day with Anne, and we saw her make this rice. She went on and on about how tasty it is, so Anne wanted me to make it. It is *really* good, and once you buy the stuff you probably don’t already have on hand, you’re all set to make many more batches in the future. Prior to making the rice, David thought he didn’t like green olives. I made it anyway, and he scarfed it down. I didn’t point out he just ate green olives until he’d finished his second helping. (Now I am allowed to put green olives in whatever I want. Score!)

Good to know:

1) Annatto seeds, known as achiote in Spanish, are small irregularly shaped, deep reddish colored seeds about the size of a lentil. They grow in pods but are sold loose in jars in the spice aisle. I found them with the Goya products. Steeping annatto (achiote) seeds in hot olive oil for a few minutes gives the the oil a brilliant orange-gold color and it infuses it with a nutty, delicate aroma and add a quick kick to whatever you use it in.

2) Sofrito is also found in the Goya section in tall jars. It’s a combination of tomato, peppers, onion and herbs and spices which have been sauteed together and pureed. If you’re ambitious, you can make your own from scratch and keep it in the freezer.

3) Alcaparrado is also in the Goya section. It’s just a combination of green olives, pimentos and capers. The last jar of it I bought had unpitted olives in it, and I was mad when I got home and realized that I grabbed the wrong jar.

4) This recipe makes a ton. It freezes marvelously, though. So I usually make the full amount, and freeze the leftovers. You can heat up the frozen leftover rice in the microwave and it’ll be just as good as the day you made it.

Yellow Rice with Corn (adapted from a Daisy Martinez recipe)

1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon of annatto seeds
1/2 cup sofrito
2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
1/2 cup alcaparrado or coarsely chopped pimiento-stuffed olives
2 to 3 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
3 cups long grain white rice
Homemade or boxed chicken broth as needed (about 4 cups)
Cilantro, chopped (optional, but suggested)

1) Heat the oil and annatto seeds in a small skillet over medium heat just until the seeds give off a lively, steady sizzle. Don’t overheat the mixture or the seeds will turn black and the oil a nasty green. This only takes a minute or two. Once they’re sizzling away, pull the pan from the heat and let stand until the sizzling stops. Strain out the seeds and put the pretty red oil into a big dutch oven, or large 4 to 5 quart saucepan with a tight fitting lid.

2) Turn the heat on medium. Stir in the sofrito and cook until most of the water is absorbed. Add the alcaparrado or olives, salt, cumin, pepper and bay leaves and stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute.

3) Add the rice, and stir to coat the rice with the oil and other ingredients. Cook and and stir until the rice changes color–you are shooting for a chalky opaque color.

4) Pour in enough chicken broth to cover the rice by about 2 fingers width–this should be about 4 cups.

5) Add the corn. Bring to a boil, and let cook, uncovered until the broth reaches the level of the rice.

6) Stir the rice once (just once!) and cover. Reduce the heat to low, and cook for exactly 20 minutes. While it is cooking, don’t stir and don’t even open the pot. After the 20 minutes, let rest for 5 minutes before opening the pot. Gently fluff the rice from the bottom to the top, and sprinkle on some chopped cilantro if using and serve.

Easy Easy Chicken Stock

Or…what you do after Meal #1 to prepare for more meals

One thing I forgot to mention about Thomas Keller chicken–Unless you have a scrupulously clean oven (which I do not), you may wish to remove the batteries from your kitchen smoke detector and or/open a window or two. Expect some smoke because it’s a spattery process roasting a chicken at a high temp. (Note to Santa: EZ Off Oven Cleaner will fit in my Christmas stocking.)

One of my least favorite cooking tasks is dealing with removing meat from bird bones. I think this might be from childhood– Sarah often waving a chicken leg around in my face, with all the unappetizing looking bits hanging off, gobbling it down like it was no big deal while I squirmed. For a long time, I was a boneless breast sort of girl. So the idea of cooking the bones to make stock didn’t appeal to me at all.

I got over it when I realized just how often I use chicken stock in recipes. A cup here, a half a cup there–buying it is so expensive and I’d end up throwing away half used packages. And god only knows how some factory is making their stock. And just what are those strange chemicals they’re putting in?

These days after we have a whole chicken, I steel myself up and take as much meat off the bird as I can and put it aside for later and make stock with carcass. It’s easy, it makes my house smell great, makes me feel like I am recycling, and tastes way better than anything you can find in a can or box. It lasts about 4 days in the fridge or about 3 weeks in the freezer. (Not that it ever stays in my freezer that long.)

Here’s how I do it:

You can cook this in either a big pot, or a big crockpot.

Take your chicken carcass and sort of crack it up a bit–that allows the marrow to seep out of the bones for a tastier result. Put the bones in your pot. Grab a couple of carrots and a couple of stalks of celery (with the leaves). If you have a parsnip or turnip laying around, great. If not, no stress. Grab a good sized onion and a couple of cloves of garlic. Give your veggies a chop or two so they fit in the pan. I don’t bother peeling anything–not even the onions. (The skins give your stock a prettier yellow color.) Just whack the garlic with the side of your knife so it’s a little crushed. Throw all this into the pot with the bones. If you have them, throw in a sprig of thyme, a sprig of rosemary, a bay leaf, a few peppercorns and a small handful of fresh parsley–if you don’t, don’t worry about it. Add just enough cold water to cover the bones by two fingers–any more than that and you’ll end up with watery stock. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat until you’ve got a really low simmer. Skim off any foam. Go back every now and then and skim off any more foam that forms. Let it simmer gently for 3-4 hours (or overnight if you’re using a crockpot). Strain your stock, and throw away all the bones and veggies. Let it cool for at least a half an hour or so, and refrigerate. Later, after it’s cold, all the fat will have risen to the top and can easily be scraped off and discarded. You’ll note your stock looks like jelly. That’s good! It’ll turn liquid again when you heat it up.

And now you’re ready to make chicken pot pie, or my version of Anne’s chicken fricassee, or chicken soup, or any number of yummy things.

Sublime Roast Chicken

Or…how to get three meals out of one bird.

Meal #1
A long time ago I found Thomas Keller’s ‘recipe’ for making roast chicken. I basically dismissed it at first because it seemed just too simple to be anything special. A chicken, kosher salt and pepper–really? But I kept seeing references to it all over the web, with people raving on and on about just how good the method is, so I made it. And yes, it’s shockingly good–gorgeous crispy skin, incredibly juicy meat and no need for gravy (and I adore gravy, so that’s saying a lot). I usually serve it with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable.

Good to know:
1) The recipe calls for a 2-3 lb chicken. However, you can do this with any size chicken, you just have to cook it longer. I generally buy a larger one than that so it’ll feed us 3 times. Until you get comfortable roasting chickens, it’s alright to get the kind with the pop out indicator thingamajig to tell you when it’s done.

2) The trick to this chicken is high, high heat and drying off the skin and inside the cavity really, really well. You’ll use a lot of paper towels. It’s ok. When you think it’s dry enough, dry it some more.

3) Trussing a bird is not hard. You have to truss the bird.

4) You can not substitute regular salt for kosher salt. You’ll think a tablespoon is a crazy amount to throw on your bird. Just do it. Throw a little inside the cavity of the bird, too.

5) It’s still amazing even if you skip the thyme. And mustard.

Here’s a printable version of the recipe: Print recipe

My Favorite Simple Roast Chicken by Thomas Keller

One 2- to 3-pound farm-raised chicken
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons minced thyme (optional)
Unsalted butter
Dijon mustard

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Rinse the chicken, then dry it very well with paper towels, inside and out. The less it steams, the drier the heat, the better.

Salt and pepper the cavity, then truss the bird. Trussing is not difficult, and if you roast chicken often, it’s a good technique to feel comfortable with. When you truss a bird, the wings and legs stay close to the body; the ends of the drumsticks cover the top of the breast and keep it from drying out. Trussing helps the chicken to cook evenly, and it also makes for a more beautiful roasted bird.

Now, salt the chicken—I like to rain the salt over the bird so that it has a nice uniform coating that will result in a crisp, salty, flavorful skin (about 1 tablespoon). When it’s cooked, you should still be able to make out the salt baked onto the crisp skin. Season to taste with pepper.

Place the chicken in a sauté pan or roasting pan and, when the oven is up to temperature, put the chicken in the oven. I leave it alone—I don’t baste it, I don’t add butter; you can if you wish, but I feel this creates steam, which I don’t want. Roast it until it’s done, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove it from the oven and add the thyme, if using, to the pan. Baste the chicken with the juices and thyme and let it rest for 15 minutes on a cutting board.

Remove the twine. Separate the middle wing joint and eat that immediately. Remove the legs and thighs. I like to take off the backbone and eat one of the oysters, the two succulent morsels of meat embedded here, and give the other to the person I’m cooking with. But I take the chicken butt for myself. I could never understand why my brothers always fought over that triangular tip—until one day I got the crispy, juicy fat myself. These are the cook’s rewards. Cut the breast down the middle and serve it on the bone, with one wing joint still attached to each. The preparation is not meant to be superelegant. Slather the meat with fresh butter. Serve with mustard on the side and, if you wish, a simple green salad. You’ll start using a knife and fork, but finish with your fingers, because it’s so good.

Here is an explanation of how to carve a chicken:

Macaroni and Cheese

Some time ago, my sister Ashley indicated that she’d like it if I’d make her a cookbook of my favorite recipes.  My initial intention was to do just that–gather, print out and put together a physical book and send it to her.  And then I thought—how old fashioned.  It would be far more fun to have an ongoing project together.

So here’s the plan–which I haven’t mentioned to Ashley yet.  Surprise, kiddo!  Instead of gathering and printing and putting together a binder of recipes, I’ll gather and post recipes here. Ash is a new cook (and newly married with a baby on the way, to boot!), so I’ll include various maybe useful tips with the recipes.   I pledge at least 2 new posts a week for a year.  Ash will have the ability to post too, so she can share with me as well if she feels like it.  The only criteria for the recipes will be that they are tried and true and damn good.

So here we go…

I’m going to start off with the best world’s best Macaroni and Cheese.  This recipe was given to me by the best cook I know and it puts all other Mac and Cheese to shame.

Good to know:

1) You MUST use the panko for the topping.  Don’t think you can cheat and just use normal bread crumbs for the topping.  Trust me–the wow factor of this dish will just disappear.  Panko isn’t hard to find these days in normal supermarkets.  They usually have it in the Asian food aisle.

2) As far as the cheese goes, while I’ve used all sorts of combinations of leftover cheese with really good results, the easiest thing to do is just grab two 10 oz blocks of Cracker Barrel Extra Sharp–also conveniently in the dairy case of most normal supermarkets.  It’s exactly the right amount.  Grate it up with a box grater if you don’t happen to have a food processor with a grater disk.

3) You have to put in the mustard.  Even if you don’t like mustard, put it in.  I promise your sauce won’t taste like mustard.

4) The pasta cooking water is going to make your cheese sauce really watery.  You’ll think when you put it in, “Oh my god, what have I done?!”  But, since you’ve purposely cooked your pasta just to the al dente stage, all that extra water gets absorbed back into your pasta and the consistency of both your pasta and sauce will be perfect when you take it out of the oven.  This pasta water is the trick that elevates this recipe.

5) I bake mine in a 9×13 inch pan.  If you use a big enough pan to make your cheese sauce in, you can skip making another bowl dirty to combine the sauce, pasta water and macaroni–just do it in the cheese sauce pan.  Also, the part where it says to put wax paper over your sauce–I admit I’ve never once done this.  I just give it a stir every couple minutes and it’s always been perfectly skinless.

6) Don’t make this once a week like you’ll want to.  Your ass and your arteries won’t appreciate it.

Here’s a printable version of the recipe: Print Recipe

Macaroni and Cheese from Gourmet Cookbook, Ruth Reichl

FOR TOPPING

  • ¼ stick (two tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
  • 1 cup coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar (about 4 ounces)

FOR CHEESE SAUCE AND MACARONI

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 ¾ cups whole milk
  • ¾ cups heavy cream
  • 4 cups coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar (about 1 pound)
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¾ pound elbow macaroni

Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 3-quart shallow baking dish.

MAKE THE TOPPING: Stir together butter, panko, and cheese in a bowl until well combined.

MAKE THE SAUCE: Melt butter in a 5-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat. Whisk in flour and red pepper flakes and cook, whisking, for 3 minutes to make a roux. Whisk in milk in a slow stream, then bring sauce to a boil, whisking constantly. Simmer, whisking occasionally, for 3 minutes. Stir in cream, Cheddar, mustard, salt, and pepper. Remove pot from heat and cover surface of sauce with wax paper to prevent a skin from forming.

COOK THE MACARONI AND ASSEMBLE THE DISH: Cook macaroni in a 6-quart pot of boiling salted water (1 tablespoon salt per every 4 quarts of water) until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta cooking water and drain macaroni.

Stir together macaroni, reserved cooking water, and sauce in a large bowl, the transfer to baking dish (mixture will be loose).

Sprinkle topping evenly over macaroni. Bake until top is golden and bubbling, 25 to 35 minutes.

COOK’S NOTE: The topping can be made up to 1 day ahead and refrigerated, covered.