Tuesday, May 17, 2011

S'morecakes, Please

Somebody's getting married! I was absolutely obsessed with my own wedding, so I am always jazzed to provide inspiration/assistance/support/ psychotherapy/valium to brides and grooms to be. Whether you plan to run to the court house and celebrate with an intimate dinner in the company of only your closest friends and family, or you want to have a throwdown the likes of the newest Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, I dig it (so long as you invite me to all royal throwdowns).

The number one tip I can give to those newly betrothed is to take some time and savor the decision itself. Deciding to get married or committed is a wonderful feeling. And before you let 6 months (or more) of your engagement become overshadowed by the stress of planning a wedding, it's really nice to just appreciate the thought of your union. Which is why Travis and I volunteered ASAP to host an engagement soiree for two of our good friends. And luckily these two lovebirds made party-planning a snap (more about that in the upcoming Don't Mind if "I Do" Lemon Cupcakes post).
S'mores are one of my all-time favorite desserts and I've been wanting to try a cupcake version for awhile (spoiler alert: I was wildly successful). So I decided to serve them as one of the desserts at the engagement party. When I think of s'mores, I can't help but recall being in fourth grade on a Junior Girl Scouts overnight camping trip. It was bonfire time and I was foaming at the mouth for some melty marshmallow satisfaction. I wolfed down s'more number one and was ready to continue . . . but like a knife in my heart, the troop leader told me that each girl was getting only one s'more. ONE S'MORE. That's like giving a kid four cheerios and saying bon appetit. "S'MORE," lady - they're meant to be served in multiples!!! She was clearly missing the very essence of the campfire staple.
If you don't have a mini-muffin pan, you can certainly try these with a regular-sized muffin pan. The reason I prefer minis is that you can get a better graham/chocolate/marshmallow ratio.

*Stay tuned for two more perfect engagement party recipes: Don't Mind if "I Do" Lemon Cupcakes and Mint-Lamb Sliders with Apricot Curry Aioli.


Makes 30+ mini cupcakes

8 graham crackers (the large rectangles, like from a Honeymaid box)
3 tbs. sugar
4 tbs. melted butter
1/4 tsp. salt

1 box of devil's food cake mix
1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips

Marshmallow frosting:
4 egg whites, room temperature
1 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Recommended: mini-muffin tin


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare crust by pulsing graham crackers, sugar and salt in a food processor or blender until crumbly. Mix with melted butter. Grease muffin cups with butter or cooking spray. Put 2 teaspoons of graham mix into each muffin cup (if using regular-sized muffin cups, use a heaping tablespoon). Press down using your fingers or a small flat item (shot glass works great). Bake crusts for 5 minutes.

Prepare boxed cake mix according to directions. Fold in chocolate chips. Scoop 1 to 2 tablespoons of batter into each muffin cup. Cups should be 2/3 to 3/4 full (stick to 2/3 if using regular muffin cups). If you are not using a non-stick pan, give the sides of the muffin cups another grease or spray; non-stick should be fine without. Or feel free to use paper liners; I just liked making the s'more theme visible.

Bake cupcakes for 14-17 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean (add a few minutes for regular-sized cupcakes). Let cupcakes cool before frosting.


Combine egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar over a double boiler. If you don't have a double boiler: fill a medium pot with 1 inch of water and place on the stove; mix ingredients in a bowl that will rest on top of the pot; heat water to a simmer. Whisk the mixture over medium-high heat until the sugar and cream of tarter have completely dissolved - this should not take long, be careful not to cook the eggs (for those using a thermometer, shoot for 140-150 degrees).

Pour egg mixture into a new bowl or stand mixer. Mix at medium speed for 7 minutes or until stiff, glossy peaks form. Add in the vanilla and mix until just combined. Transfer frosting to a piping bag (optional: using a large star tip) or large ziplock bag and frost as desired. Or just spoon the frosting on in large dollops and use spoon to make swirls or peaks. Be sure to remove cupcakes from tin before frosting.

To toast the marshmallow, you can either use the broiler setting in your oven or a kitchen torch. To use the broiler, set oven on the low broil setting and place frosted cupcakes on a pan, on the highest oven rack. Remove after 1 minute. Ovens are all different, so I would check after 30 seconds to make sure there's no burning. If more time is needed, check every 10 seconds or so.

Prepare no fewer than 2 s'morecakes per person to avoid brawling and angry storm-outs.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Carrot Ginger Soup in Summer

Some people refuse to eat soup in the summer. In the sickly humid summer months in DC, you might hear "I'm so sweeeaaaaaaty. If I have to eat something warm I'm gonna diiiiiiieeeee." Or maybe they limit their intake to gazpacho (because we're also pretentious here in DC). I've always felt like eating gazpacho is like slurping up pureed salsa or melty Italian ice - it's just not my thing. But when it comes to warm vegetable soup, steam and all, I'm up for it all 365. Soup is tasty, healthy and filling. And I refuse to avoid it just because Mother Nature is being a jerkface with her humidity levels. Besides, all of the offices and restaurants downtown keep their thermostat at negative 15 degrees to counter the summer heat. I need soup to regulate my core temperature.

When my local lunch haunt, Devon & Blakely, stopped serving my favorite carrot ginger soup in March, I may or may not have gone through the five stages of grief (lingering on denial and expecting the soup to reappear every day for the next month). It was smooth and gingery and satiated my lunchtime hunger without weighing me down (unlike the 3-bean chili and lentil soup, oy). The good news is that I've finally reached acceptance . . . and a solution. I've perfected my own version of carrot ginger soup. The base ingredients for carrot ginger soup floating around the internet are basically all the same, so I just tinkered with the ratios until I reached that perfect level of gingery sweetness that Devon & Blakely had mastered. Now I don't feel so bitter when I walk in there.
I like a really gingery soup, so consider halving the ginger if you want a milder ginger flavor. Also, as I mentioned with the sweet onion & broccoli soup, if you're using a standard blender, don't try to double this recipe. It's too much for the blender to handle (unless you want to blend in sections - though I still caution against it because it's difficult to manage pouring with such a large pot). If you're using an immersion blender, feel free to make as much soup as your pot will hold. My birthday just happens to be tomorrow and I'm hoping that the immersion blender of my dreams finds its way into my kitchen!

Carrot Ginger Soup

Serves 4

2 tbs. olive oil 
1 small/medium onion, diced
2.5 cups vegetable broth
1.5 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced (roughly 10 large carrots or 1.5 bags baby carrots)
4 tsp. freshly grated ginger
2/3 cups whole milk or cream
salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a medium pot over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook for 5 to 10 minutes or until onions are tender, stirring often. Add broth, carrots and ginger. Turn heat up to medium-high and bring liquid to a boil. Return heat to low and let the soup simmer for 25-30 minutes or until you can break the carrot pieces with a spoon.

Remove pot from the stove and pour the contents into your blender (or just proceed with blending if using an immersion blender).* Let stand for 5 minutes. With the lid on the blender, blend the mixture until pureed, pausing occasionally to let steam out of the top of the blender. Pour soup back into the pot and place over medium heat. Stir in milk/cream, salt and pepper and let cook for another 10 minutes.

This soup freezes well and is good in the refrigerator for up to four days.

Garnish with a slice of toasty sourdough bread, brushed lightly with olive oil. Serve in an air conditioned room.

*If you're feeling fancy, prior to blending, remove 1 or 2 spoonfuls of carrots using a large, slotted spoon. Add carrots back to the soup along with the milk and spices. This gives the soup some added texture and a really professional touch.
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