Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Marshmallow Fluff: The Cupcake Baker's Best Friend

I love a good cupcake.  But more than a good cupcake, I love a good frosting.  I spend a lot of time over at Cupcakes Take the Cake, admiring the professional decorating jobs, wishing I could get my frosting to pile on fluffy and thick like they do.  I have a couple of tried-and-true recipes, but while they taste good, they don't have much body to them, so big, puffy piles of piped-on frosting just don't happen for me.

Until now.  I think I've discovered a frosting hack.

And it's Marshmallow Fluff.

I had half of a container left over from Christmas fudge making and I needed to use it up, so I combined about 8 oz. of Fluff with about 3/4 c. softened butter and added powdered sugar and vanilla to taste (probably about 1/2 to 3/4 c. sugar and a 1/2 t. of vanilla) and mixed with my faithful KitchenAid stand mixer.  It was good!  Rich and not too sugary.  But more than that, it was really fluffy and I could spread and pipe to my heart's content.  I'd say it made enough to frost 18-24 cupcakes, depending on how generous you're feeling.

I think the Marshmallow Fluff brand of marshmallow creme is made in Massachusetts, so maybe it's more of a regional treat, because I had a tough time finding it here in North Carolina.  In Maine, I remember flavored Fluff -- raspberry and strawberry, I think.  I'd love to get my hands on that for frosting purposes.  In the meantime, I think I'll experiment with orange extract.

Let's hear it for Fluff, the baker's best friend.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Souped Up: Slow-Cooker Black Bean Soup

Buying canned soup makes me feel like a tiny, blue-haired lady with a walker and a fist full of coupons.  Why, you ask?  Because before I put it in my cart, I crook my finger at the soup shelf and say, usually in a very scratchy voice, "Two dollars for one can of soup?  Are you kidding me?  What is this world coming to?  Mwwahhh."

Maybe it's just me, but prepared soup is ridiculously expensive for what it is.  And that's why I'm working on my own black bean soup recipe.  You hear that, Progresso?  I'm done with you.

I like black beans for many reasons.  First, they are really healthy.  Second, they are really tasty.  Third, they are really cheap.

Now, let me preface this recipe by saying it is still a work in progress.  And let me also say that it makes about 80 gallons of soup.  So if you happen to be the only black bean soup eater in the house, be prepared to freeze.  A lot.

Slow-Cooker Black Bean Soup
  • 1 lb. dry black beans, soaked overnight and rinsed
  • 6-7 c. chicken or turkey stock
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 t. chile powder
  • 2 t. cumin
  • 2-3 t. hot sauce
  • 1 T. prepared mustard
  • 2 T. Worchestershire sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Sour cream, shredded cheese and green onions (optional for garnish)
Combine the beans, stock, onions, garlic and seasonings in a slow cooker.  Heat on high for 5-6 hours or low for 8 hours.  Allow to cool, then puree about one-third of the mixture.  For better flavor, refrigerate overnight and reheat before serving.

I'll be honest: This soup didn't have the zing I was hoping for.  But it's a good start.  I'll keep working on it.

The food: Black bean soup
The verdict: The blue-haired old lady in me approves

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Crab Cakes You'd Run Miles For (But, Thankfully, Don't Have To)

I like to watch cooking shows while I run on the treadmill.  You could look at this one of two ways.  First, "What a nice way to keep yourself entertained while you exercise."  Or, second, "Maybe if you quit watching cooking shows and making the food from them you wouldn't have to run as much."

But on my last run, I discovered a recipe that is both tasty and good for you.  So if you've resolved to start eating a little healthier -- or if you'd like to be able to spend less time on the treadmill -- these crab cakes might be for you.

I will also say that if another one of your resolutions is to scale back your spending a little, these little patties are just fine with krab (a much cheaper look-alike and close-enough taste-alike alternative to crab).

The recipe comes from Ellie Krieger, who, to keep things nutritional, doesn't use a whole lot of binder in the cakes--just a little egg, some breadcrumbs, and no mayo.  They're still tasty, but you may find they fall apart on you.  Some others who've tried the recipe suggest putting all of the bread crumbs into the mixture (rather than using part of them in the mixture and part as a coating).

Ellie also offers a recipe for "smarter tartar."  I'm generally against eating foods with rhyming names, but I made an exception in this case.  I gave it two crab claws up, although Ben would have preferred it with sweet pickles (which are traditional in tartar sauce, I think) rather than sour.  The sour were just fine by me.

Crab Cakes and Sour-Pickle Tartar Sauce (adapted from Ellie Krieger's recipe)

For the crab cakes:

  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten 
  • 5 teaspoons brown mustard
  • 3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 4 scallions, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 lbs. lump crab meat (real or imposter)
  • 1 3/4 dry breadcrumbs
For the tartar sauce:
  • 3/4 cup plain yogurt, drained of some liquid
  • 1/4 cup light mayo (we like Duke's -- it's zingy!)
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 1/3 cup chopped baby dill pickles
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • Pinch of salt
For the crab cakes, mix together the egg, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, crab boil seasoning, hot sauce, bell pepper and scallion. Gently fold in the crab and about 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs, salt and pepper.

Shape the crab mixture into 16 patties, then coat each patty in the remaining bread crumbs.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Spray a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray and bake patties for 10 minutes.  Flip, then cook another 10 minutes.  Serve with tartar sauce.

For the tartar sauce, drain some of the liquid from the yogurt by placing in in cheesecloth-lined bowl and refrigerating overnight.  Mix the thickened yogurt with the remaining ingredients.  Serve.

Makes 16 crab cakes and just over a cup of tartar sauce.

The food: Crab cakes and tartar sauce
The verdict: Grab some crab, it's fab