Saturday, April 28, 2012

Pink Lemonade Cupcakes

Pink Lemonade Cupcakes

It seems that the cupcake craze hasn't gone anywhere and may not phase out like I thought it would, so I'm grasping an opportunity here to share a favorite cupcake. The first time I made these they were devoured in no time and it's been that way each time I make them.

I make them at home for the kids, I've made them at work for my consumers and co-workers and everyone loves them and wants to know how I make them. Prepare to be amazed. Well, or just enlightened. These are made the exact same way as my Lime Cupcakes ... with a boxed mix altered slightly and colored with food dye.

For the record, nobody is sure where pink lemonade originated, but it's nothing secretive, it's simply lemonade that's been dyed with food coloring or red fruit. These cupcakes and icing are dyed with red food coloring - the usual liquid drops. Depending on the type of dye you use, the color can vary widely, so experiment until you get the perfect shade of pink.

For the cupcakes pictured, I double icing recipe. If you're going to simply spread icing on top as usual, go with the amounts listed.

Pink Lemonade Cupcakes

Pink Lemonade Cupcakes
Makes 18 to 24
Printable Recipe

1 boxed white cake mix (most are 18.52 ounces)
2 whole eggs
1/3 cup oil 
1 1/4 cups water
zest of half a lemon
juice of half a lemon 
red food dye


3/4 cup butter - softened (1 1/2 sticks)
zest of half a lemon
juice of half a lemon

red food dye
powdered sugar (3 -4 cups depending on how much juice your lime holds)

Mix up the cake mix with the eggs, oil, water, zest and juice. Add dye a few drops at a time and mix well until the correct color is reached. Pour into muffin tins, lightly greased or set with cupcake wrappers. Bake at 350 degrees F for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown and springy when touched in the center. Let cool.

Beat the butter until fluffy and add zest.. Pour in juice and powdered sugar a cup at a time, and keep beating until icing forms and is of a nicely spreadable consistency. Add dye and blend until color is right. Frost cooled cupcakes and decorate as desired.

I bet you're wondering why I used a white cake mix and then adulterated the thing with whole eggs? Well, boxed yellow cake mix tastes different than white mix, which I like better, but I wanted a bit of color to these so I added the egg yolks as well. There you go - whip some up and enjoy!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Salsa Pork and Cheesy Polenta

Salsa Pork and Cheesy Polenta
Salsa Pork and Cheesy Polenta

In my house polenta is usually called cornmeal mush, but for this spicy-meets-creamy dish, polenta fits better. Using whichever heat level you like for the salsa, the cool cornmeal with cheese evens it out and the result is pure deliciousness.

Salsa Pork and Cheesy Polenta
Hands-On Time: 10 minutes
Ready In: 2 hours 30 minutes
Serves: 8
Printable Recipe

Salsa Pork

2 pounds pork loin, trimmed of visible fat
1 jar (16 ounces) - I like ShopRite Special Edition Pico de Gallo Syle Salsa for this
2 cloves garlic - minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 cup chicken stock
1 can (4 ounces) diced green chiles

Cheesy Polenta

4 cups chicken stock
1 cup finely ground corn meal
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese


1. In a large heavy-bottomed pot combine pork, cut in half to fit if necessary, with salsa, garlic, cumin, oregano, chicken stock and green chiles. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook for 2 hours, stirring occasionally and turning pork once or twice during cooking time.
2. Remove pork from sauce and turn heat to high. Cook for 5 - 10 minutes or until the sauce reduces and thickens slightly.
3. While sauce is reducing, shred pork well. Add back into sauce and lower heat to keep warm.
4. For the polenta, heat 3 cups of the chicken stock and salt to boiling. Stir together remaining cup of stock and cornmeal until smooth. Whisk into boiling stock and reduce heat to low.
5. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until polenta is thickened. Remove from heat and stir in shredded cheese.
6. Serve salsa pork on top of polenta.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Enduring Sun

Dried apricots have long been one of my favorite fruit snacks. Sweet-tart and chewy, I always have them on hand for a healthier alternative to sugar laden snacks. I was introduced recently to the Enduring Sun line of products, most of which is dried apricots. Not only does Enduring Sun carry a line of delicious sun-dried products, they're also local, which I love.

There are four varieties of apricots, each with a distinctive flavor, color and texture. I chose the Jelena, which is sweet and slightly tart with a slight flavor of clementine at the end. They were perfect for dessert risotto and were so naturally sweet that very little sugar was needed to round out the dish.

Dried Apricot Dessert Rissoto

They also sell sun-dried cherry tomatoes from Morocco, which were excellent in a Dried Tomato and Basil Risotto. Both recipes are below and anything and everything you want to know about Enduring Sun can be found at their website:

Sun-dried Cherry Tomato and Basil Risotto

Risotto is essentially the same recipe-by-recipe. They start with onion cooked briefly in oil and/or butter, Arborio rice stirred in and then hot stock, little by little and stirred constantly until done and finished with Parmesan cheese. This savory risotto is only marginally different and the dessert risotto quite different except in method.

Dessert risotto is perfect for dessert or a hearty and warm breakfast. It may take slightly longer to absorb the milk as it thickens faster and sometimes more liquid is necessary, but the result is very worth the time and effort.

Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil Risotto
Serves 4
1 medium shallot - minced
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons butter
1 cup Arborio rice
4 - 5 cups hot chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup Enduring Sun Mediterranean Sun-Dried Cherry Tomatoes
1/4 cup freshly snipped basil

Pour hot water over tomatoes and let stand for 30 minutes or until softened. 
Drain and chop finely - set aside.
In a heavy bottomed pot with straight sides, heat oil and butter over low heat until butter melts.
Add shallot and cook until translucent. Do not brown.
Add rice and stir until all rice is coated with oil.
Begin adding hot stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring very often until liquid is absorbed.
Repeat until rice is just tender but still holds its shape - about 20 minutes.
You may or may not need all 5 cups of stock - this can vary.
Remove from heat and add tomatoes, basil and Parmesan cheese. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary (salt and pepper). Serve immediately.

Dried Apricot Dessert Risotto
Serves 4
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup Enduring Sun Jelena Dried Apricots - chopped finely
1 cup Arborio rice
2 to 2 1/2 cups evaporated milk - warmed
2 to 2 1/2 cups sweet milk (this is regular milk - any fat content will do) - warmed
1/2 cup caster sugar (this will melt quicker and more evenly than regular sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
slivered almonds if desired for garnish

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed straight sided pot. Add chopped apricots and stir briefly.
Add rice and stir until rice is coated with butter.
Slowly add heated milks (combine first) 1/2 cup at a time, stirring very often, until milk is absorbed. Continue adding milk until rice is tender but still holds its shape - 25 to 35 minutes. Remove from heat and add in sugar and vanilla. Stir well to combine and serve immediately.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The National NYC

A.K.A. The Chef and The Movie Star ... explanation to come.

The National in beautiful NYC morning light

This week I was invited to attend a cookbook launch for Clare Crespo in partnership with Country Crock and my overnight stay led me to The Benjamin hotel in New York City. When I received word of where I'd be staying for the night, I immediately looked it up and the first thing I noticed was the photo of Geoffrey Zakarian.

Now, I'm not much of the starstruck type, but I appreciate public profiles as much as the next person and especially chefs, having my own culinary school time under my belt and the work I do being in the same vein. That being said, when I saw that photo and the realization that Mr. Zakarian's restaurant The National was housed in the same building hit, I had a moment. Well, it was a moment of wide-eyed WOW followed by telling my oldest daughter where I'd be staying and eating this time in NYC.

You see, Geoffrey Zakarian has been one of my favorite chef-personalities for some time and when The Next Iron Chef was aired this year, not only did we not miss an episode, Chef Zakarian was our favorite from the moment the commercials began running. Imagine our great excitement when he was crowned The Next Iron Chef.

But, I digress. On to the story.

The first evening the other bloggers, Toni, Caroline and Laura, and I arrived in NYC we made plans to have dinner at The National. Knowing I'd be there, I Tweeted Chef Zakarian and asked what he recommended we have. He suggested the risotto, the Ugly Burger or one of the specials for the night. So, I shared my knowledge with the other girls and we all ordered the burger and fries. I shared with them where the name for the burger came from and how impressed I was that Chef Zakarian took what seemed like a negative and turned it into a positive. (You can read about that here.)

We chatted while we waited for our burgers and I relayed a quick story about something that happened when I stepped out of the Port Authority that afternoon. As soon as I exited the doors and headed to the taxi line, a man stopped in front of me and said, "Hey! I know who you are! You're that movie star that's on TV." I glanced and him and said, "Not quite." and kept moving. The Benjamin is just over a mile from the PABT and it was a beautiful day for a walk.

The girls all laughed and said I should have given him my autograph. I wondered aloud what I would have signed and the consensus was, "Movie Star!" We continued talking about kids and blogging and bared our souls and told our most appalling secrets*. Ok, well, I probably was the only one telling appalling secrets, but I was in the middle of telling them something when, lo and behold, Chef Zakarian walked by our table. I stopped in mid-sentence, my jaw dropped and I barely whispered ... "That's Geoffrey Zakarian..." They all turned to look at him then back at me and I had the distinct feeling that I was either bright red or had suddenly sprouted an extra head because they started giggling. I thought I'd regained composure and then said something about it being hot in there and "wow I didn't expect him to actually BE here." They continued laughing and asking if I thought I might pass out, but the Chef walked away and I shook myself back into existence and tried to recall what I'd been saying.

The running joke then was that the Movie Star had been Chef-Struck. And I do mean running joke - I heard it the next day repeatedly and was even tattled about on Twitter.

Beyond all that silliness I must say: Our servers were attentive, professional and had our orders correct. The Ugly Burger is divinity - a seriously juicy burger topped with pickled red onion, pickled jalapenos, pickled Kirby cucumbers, Gruyere cheese,  tomato, Bibb lettuce and  NTL burger sauce all sandwiched between halves of what I'm reading is an onion roll, but seemed more like brioche to me. And the smoked paprika fries? Perfection. The atmosphere was busy, but not too loud, in fact, we were laughing rather loudly at times, but we were able to hear one another well without leaning in and asking for repeats. For a Tuesday evening, the joint was jumping, in other words. The decor and music were contemporary and soothing and the lighting was just right.

The next morning we all gathered with Country Crock and Unilever teams to discuss the launch we were attending that day and breakfast was just as good (though a couple of us really wished we could just have another burger - it was that delicious). I had the Roasted Pepper Omelet with Roasted Potatoes and we passed around Cheddar Grits (I wanted to keep those to myself). Everything was, once again, perfection.

Breakfast at The National

I wasn't disappointed in anything at The National except myself - for not breathing and saying "hello" to Chef Zakarian. That's OK, there will certainly be a next time - I can't see going the rest of my life without another Ugly Burger - and if the Chef walks by then, ... I'll stop him and sign an autograph.

*Line from Little Women in case you were wondering.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Very Veggie World and Country Crock

Fun decoration at the entrance.

Volcanoes with cranberry lava. Eggplant wagons with zucchini wheels. Pizza with mozzarella stars and tomato stripes. It sounds like a fantasy world. It's no fantasy, but it is A Very Veggie World, a book of 25 veggie-fun recipes by Clare Crespo in partnership with Country Crock.

I attended the launch of this wonderful little book yesterday in New York City with my fellow Crock Country Chronicle Correspondents. It was more than just the usual book launch, though - it included a hands-on cooking demonstration by Clare Crespo herself. We teamed up at 4 different stations and created 2 of Clare's recipes from the book, the Veggie Wagon and the Pizza Flag. Not only were both very simple to prepare (even for kids, there were several there as well) they were yummy, proving that veggies, in the spotlight and not hidden, can be delicious for grown-ups and kids alike.

Clare Crespo, the author of “The Secret Life of Food” and “Hey There, Cupcake!” is personable and sweet and her enthusiasm for all things veggie just shines. She walked us through each recipe step-by-step, stopping at each station to offer praise, encouragement and tips when needed. The children who were at the event had fun making, and especially eating, their creations as well. Each recipe used the freshest of vegetables prepared using Country Crock spread in a simple and easy-to-do manner and the results were picture perfect and palate pleasing at once. Get your own FREE copy of Clare's beautiful book at A Very Veggie World or at Country Crock.

Enjoy the photos below of some of the recipes from the book, the beautiful food served at the launch and the participants making their own versions of Clare's recipes.

One of the Asparagus Bouquets at the entryway.

Each table was decorated with these centerpieces.

Veggie Pets

Beautiful Butterflies

Fall for Them Leaves

Crocky the Caterpillar

Mt. Veggie Volcanoes

One of the framed photos of Clare's work: Veggie Stoplights and the display below

Clare Crespo greeting the crowd

The beginning of our Pizza Flag

My team, Toni, Caroline and Laura decorating the "flag"

Our finished Pizza Flag! Not only pretty, but delicious.

Hippo Dip

The main table filled with veggie goodies

Eggplant Wagons in the making

Adding sauce to the veggies that will fill our wagons

Filling veggie wagons

Eggplant Wagon train!

*Disclosure: My trip to NYC for the launch of A Verry Veggie World and my posts for Country Crock are sponsored, compensated and/or reimbursed by Country Crock and Unilever. As such, all content and opinions are required to be honest and belonging wholly to myself.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lime Tart with Coconut Crust

Lime Tart with Coconut Crust
Lime Tart with Coconut Crust

Wow, is this stuff ever good. I don't know how else to start this post because this tart turned out so well I wanted to eat the whole thing. I settled with a single fork-full and fed the rest to the kids, who liked it just as much.

The filling is nearly identical to my favorite Key Lime Pie, but the crust is the real star of the show here. Lime zest, flaked coconut and butter ... what's not to love? I think it's perfect from now until oh ... Christmas? Yeah, that would work.

Use Key limes if you can get them. They're sweeter and smaller and worth the effort to find.
Coconut Tart Crust
Close-up of the crust. Mmmmm.

Lime Tart with Coconut Crust
Makes on 9-inch pie
Printable Recipe

1  9-in pie shell
5 egg yolks
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup lime juice
Zest of 1 lime (about a teaspoon)

Preheat oven to 375. Make the tart crust first and reduce heat to 350.
Put the yolks in a large bowl and beat them with a whisk, just breaking them and mixing
them well. Slowly stir in the condensed milk. Mixing well, stir in the lime juice. Pour the filling into the
tart shell (below). Bake for about 12-to-15 minutes. Remove and cool completely before cutting.
Serve with freshly whipped cream if desired.

1 1/2 cups shredded sweetened coconut
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon lime zest
pinch of salt

Combine butter and coconut in a large bowl. Beat with a hand mixer until well combined. Add zest and beat just until incorporated. Stir in flour and sugar with a wooden spoon. This is a sticky dough - flour hands or coat with more confectioner's sugar.

Press into and up sides of a well-greased, fluted 9-inch pie pan with a removable bottom. Bake at  375 degrees F. for 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned. Set aside while making pie filling.