Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Cookie Monster Cupcake How-To

My son turned two years old a few weeks ago and we celebrated with a cookie-monster themed birthday party. Him and I were both sick, but I wanted to shower him with as much love as possible before his baby brother turns his life upside down in a few weeks. So, I made this cookie-monster cupcake in his honor. It may have been my last attempt at doing something I'm very proud of, because I'm pretty tired these days.

Trust me when I say, if I can make this, you can make this. I am very artistically-challenged. I think that part of my brain never developed properly. I can't draw stick figures any better than my 2-year-old, and I remember I couldn't draw a heart until 1st grade.

Because of my condition and the fact I was also throwing a party the next day, I decided to use a cake mix for the cup cake. I made the icing from scratch because I needed it to be a particular texture to create Cookie Monster. The taste of the cake was absolutely disgusting. I am so used to baking my own desserts that I can't stand boxed cake mix at all! The icing was great. I used a standard American buttercream recipe and food coloring to turn it blue.

My son's reaction: he kissed it, told me to kiss it, took one bite, told me it was good, and promptly demanded a bowl of fruit. He is so my kid.

I'm now 38 weeks pregnant and looking huge! I've gained about 20 pounds, which is ten pounds less than I gained my first pregnancy. Something to be happy about! I was teaching Body Attack pretty well up until last week when what seemed to be out of nowhere, I was experiencing tons of pain during the impact. So I started team-teaching a few days ago and doing much of the class low-impact. Because I'm so far along, it still feels like a workout, but I feel safe about it.

My son got peanut butter on my already crappy camera, so we are still using our iPhones to take pictures. Unacceptable for when the baby comes... please... if you have a camera you love (other than the Canon Powershot), let me know what it is! Here is what I look like at 38 weeks pregnant. Is it just me, or does this baby look like he's sitting in a chair in my stomach?! Believe it or not, his head is down. I can't wait to meet this pointy butt!!!

The Cookie Monster Cupcake How-To

Technique adapted by NicolaBakes on this video
American Buttercream recipe from Savory Sweet Life

This makes a ton of cake and icing. If you don't want any leftovers, reduce the recipe, especially for the icing.

Chocolate cake batter or chocolate cake mix, follow directions to create the batter
Chocolate chip cookies - anything will do
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature. Let it sit for a few hours to be sure.
3-4 cups sifted confectioners sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
approximately 2 tablespoons of milk or heavy cream (I used heavy cream)
blue food coloring
4-6 jumbo marshmallows
4-6 chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli for the wide shape)

You'll need a standard cupcake tin AND a jumbo cupcake tin. You could opt for a standard cupcake tin and a mini one, but I think that would make a really small monster and may be harder to work with. You'll also need a pastry bag with a wide, star-like tip, but you could easily just pipe the icing with a plastic ziplock bag with a corner cut off. It just won't work as well.

Watch the video before attempting this project! I simplified their method and ended up with the same result, so I recommend my adaptations for time-saving.

Bake the cupcakes in both the jumbo and standard cupcake tins. To give yourself some room to mess up, make at least four jumbo cupcakes. Let them cool completely, and then remove the muffin tops with a knife so the cakes are flat on top. Set them aside. I made mine two days before I made Cookie Monster.

To make the buttercream, beat the butter on medium speed with a paddle attachment (hand mixer will work just fine) for about 3 minutes until fluffy and soft. Slowly add the sugar on the lowest possible speed so it doesn't blow everywhere. I added 4 cups. When it's fully incorporated  add the salt, vanilla, and milk/heavy cream. You can add more milk/cream if you want your icing thinner, but you will be thinning it with food coloring and you will need this to be a formidable frosting. After the frosting is made, you can add your food coloring until it's your desired color.

Take the jumbo marshmallows, place them on a plate, and use a small amount of icing to "glue" a chocolate chip in the corner of each "eye". Place the plate in the fridge to set.

Place the buttercream in an icing bag with a wide, star-like tip. Use the frosting to glue the bottom of one small cupcake to the center of a large one. Then, pipe it around the entire cake until the smaller cupcake is completely covered. Using an offset spatula (or a butter-knife), smooth the frosting as much as you can and remove any spaces.

Take a small knife, cut a portion of the cupcake/icing towards the bottom of the icing where you want Cookie Monster's mouth to be. Remove the excess cake and icing. Place the cupcake in the fridge for 15 minutes to set. After it sets, cover the cupcake in more frosting by dotting it around the entire cake. Don't forget to do it around the mouth, and don't miss any spaces! Then, using a fork, fluff the icing further to create a more wild-haired look. Place the marshmallows on the top of the cupcake and gently push them into the frosting. Then take a cookie and place it in the mouth of cookie monster. If it doesn't fit, don't force it. Just cut it to size and keep the rounded portion of it on the outside. Put Cookie Monster back in the fridge for another 15 minutes to totally set! Then enjoy watching your little one's excitement!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Crispy Kale Goat Cheese Pizza

Oh. My. God. I just made something so fantastic that I am actually mad at myself for not having thought of it before. Feast your eyes on this.

I try not to eat much pizza because of the whole bread-makes-me-fat thing, but at this juncture in my life, I don't have reasons to cut corners. Besides, kale is super good for you. We love kale at our house and eat a ton of it on a regular basis. Everything from kale chips to kale frittatas, and I'm happy with it just steamed on a plate and drizzled with olive oil.

I was inspired by the idea for this pizza a few days ago by another recipe, which did not involve kale, and I had my heart set on making it for dinner tonight. I couldn't stop thinking about it. I'm entering my ninth month of pregnancy and some days I'm not sure if I'm going into labor because everything hurts so bad. I was literally bending over the stove meditating through contractions while making this pizza. All I could think was, "Even if this baby is coming tonight, I really want to finish making this pizza". I may be crazy but it was so worth it.

I know people are very afraid of kale. I guess it does look scary, being that it is very green and curly. It screams "HEALTHY" and it seems like many people equate that with gross. But kale is such a versatile vegetable, and I encourage you all to incorporate into your diet. Famous for being the second healthiest vegetable on the planet - topped only by collard greens - kale is how your kids should be getting their calcium, not milk, as rumor may have it. Calcium (and other vitamins and minerals) in kale are much more easily absorbed by the digestive tract than through milk. Get your kids into kale. I don't know if this pizza is the trick to that, because of the goat cheese. But my almost-2-year-old is a huge fan of goat cheese and I know he's going to be shoving this down his throat for lunch tomorrow like there will be no more.

His fears may be accurate though, because I'm not sure how long I will be able to knowingly keep this pizza in the fridge when it could also be in my mouth.

So, here are the conclusions of this post. Eat kale. Lots of it. Make this pizza. Even if you're in labor.

Oh, and Happy New Year!

Crispy Kale Goat Cheese Pizza

Dough and recipe inspired by How Sweet Eats Meyer Lemon Pizza

For the dough
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 and 1/8 cup very warm water (I run my tap until it gets as hot as possible)
1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 and 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt

For the pizza
3/4 cup chopped onion
4-5 cups of kale, washed, stems removed, torn into small pieces
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
Salt to taste
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, plus a little more for sprinkling
1/3 cup goat cheese, crumbled (or about 4 oz)

To make the dough: Mix the first four ingredients together in a large bowl and set it in a warm place for about 10 minutes until the yeast mixture is very bubbly. Either using a mixer or a wooden spoon, add the flours and salt, and mix until dough forms and can be made into a sticky ball. Remove the dough, knead it on a floured surface and roll it into a ball. Oil the bowl with non-stick cooking spray or olive oil and place the ball in the bowl, covering it in the oil. Cover with a warm, wet towel or saran wrap, and place it in a warm place to rise for 1.5-2 hours (I heat my oven to 170, then turn it off, and then place the bowl in the oven).

When you're ready to use the dough, roll it out on a well-floured surface and then place it in a pizza pan or a rimmed-baking sheet sprayed with non-stick spray, then let it rise in a warm place again for about 10 minutes.

For the pizza: Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet. Add the chopped onions and cook them until they're amber brown (about 15 minutes), then add the kale and continue to cook on medium-low heat. Let the kale wilt, and keep stirring the onions around to caramelize them. When they turn a dark-amber color they're sweet. Keep cooking the kale until it starts to get a little crispy, about 10 minutes. It will get crispier in the oven, don't worry.

While the kale is cooking, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Add the minced garlic, then the mascarpone cheese, and when that's melted add the parmesan cheese. Add a dash or two of salt to taste. Turn off the heat, add the caramelized onions and kale, and mix everything until incorporated  Spread the mixture on the pizza, then top it with the sun-dried tomatoes. Sprinkle a bit more parmesan cheese, and then the crumbled goat cheese. Bake the pizza on 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until the dough is soft but cooked through.