Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Farm Musings

Grandma turned 80 this year. She's been the cornerstone of the farm since she married my gramps in 1948. Prior to that she was raised on her own family farm down the road. Running a farm is her identity.

She's a simple gal; we wanted to throw a big polka party, but all she wanted was to go to the casino. My aunt will testify that she had to drag Gramma away from the slots kicking and screaming. It runs in the blood; isn't farming all a gamble?

As Grams celebrated her entrance into octogenarian-ism and warned us all that "she wouldn't live forever" (I beg to differ) we all started to think: what will happen to the farm? One thing was clear: we still want it to be our farm. The process began to place a conservation easement on the property.

We're currently in the middle of this interesting process that requires many banal things such as tax documents, etc. I won't bore you with any of it. But at one point I was asked to write a very short pursuasive essay to support this easement. It was the most gratifying thing I'd written in a long time, and I wanted to share it with you.

We’re a farm family. We’ve been sustainable before “sustainable” was a buzzword and organic before “oraganic” implied a certain social status. In a day and age where obesity is an epidemic, we have a healthy relationship with food and manual labor. We’re American. We’re middle-class.

None of us are full-time farmers. We have careers: a chemical engineer, a research biologist, a project manager. We shop at large grocery stores, drive non fuel-efficient cars, and live in 1970’s-era subdivisions. You wouldn’t call us environmentalists, but our farm is our world.

We divide our year by the season: June is for strawberries, July is pea and pickle season. August is for cauliflower and tomatos. April is spent in the greenhouse, November finds us winterizing the chicken house.

We practice farming because we know we have an incredible gift of land to which a decreasing amount of people have access. We do it because we always have. We do it because it is our heritage and because it is immensely satisfying. We do it because we believe its incredibly inportant to pass it on.

Of course this farm is special for one thousand or more snapshots in time: for the myriad summer evenings the pond has given up its sunfish to ecstatic grandchildren; for the 40+ years that the woods have sheltered bands of campers and ordinary families singing like a world-class choir around a campfire; for the simple mystery of filling a plastic milk jug with crisp spring water straight from a hillside spigot; for the grove of pines that have provided years and years of Christmas Trees, for the sugar maples and the sugar shack and a rich warm maple perfume that cuts through cold spring air. For innumerable nights of catching fireflies in mason jars. For teaching brothers and cousins how to work together to get the ATV out of a mudhole or to construct cauliflower boxes at a rapid pace or to move an entire irrigation system in the 30 minutes after ice cream cones and before sunset. For teaching three generations how to be good stewards of our earth.

It’s not that you can’t encounter these attributes elsewhere. This type of tradition binds families and generations across the US; its our American heritage. Organic peas, berries and pumpkins can be grown anywhere. Instead, whats makes this farm unique is the people it has produced. Two married farmers built a system that produced four generous, hardworking individuals who will testify that their moral fabric is a direct result of their farm upbringing. Those four adults have in turn produced ten principled, productive members of society who choose to spend their summer vacations taking part in the familial-bound food production process. We, the human products of the Zenner Road Farm are instilled with sense of unique tradition, responsibility and a tie to the earth that we are determined to pass on to generations in perpetuity.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ravioli with Dueling Fillings

I’ve been saving this nugget for a rainy day. And by golly, that’s today. After a week of 70 degree-sunshine, rainbows and Picasso, we’re back to reality. Fortunately, ravioli is a proven remedy for any damp spirits out there.

Eric and I were inspired to make these pasta pockets after we found the most adorable and intriguing mushrooms at Ellwood Thompsons: Lobster Mushrooms. Aside from the fact that they look like little gingerbread men in their dried form, it’s entirely way too fun to discuss the mushrooms. “The lob-stahs are enjoying their hot soak”. “The lob-stahs are ready for sautéing”. I suppose they get their name from their reddish hue because they neither taste, look nor smell like lobsters. Still, they are meaty and delicious.

We went all out and made a ravioli packed with 3 types of dried mushrooms enhanced with regular white button mushrooms (because those dried suckers are expensive). Even after all that we STILL had more dough than filling. Eric got creative with a kale, walnut, and ricotta salata filling to use up the rest of the dough. I was, by all accounts, impressed.

These ravioli are especially good on a cold night with a light white wine and lemon sauce with a dash of cream and smattering of chopped parsley. Bonus points if you eat them while watching a Hawaii episode of Dog, The Bounty Hunter. Just sayin.

For the Dough and Ravioli Method

The general rule of thumb is one egg per 3/4 cup flour, which I follow closely. If my eggs are really small, I'll add an extra yolk at the end.

Lots of people like to make a pile of flour on the counter and put a well in it and dump the beaten eggs into the well. Rather than make a big mess and have the eggs spill out of the well and form a slimy waterfall off the counter and onto the floor, I put the flour in a bowl and make the well in there.

Also, it seems to me that Italian Grandmothers always have the exact perfect ratio of egg to dough to make a silky noodle. I generally have shaggy dough that requires a little water. Go ahead and add it. We did 6 eggs for this recipe which made an enormous batch.

After incorporating the egg into the dough, flip it onto the counter and knead for about 8 to 10 minutes until silky and smooth. Wrap whatever dough you aren't immedietly using with plastic wrap.

We used our pasta roller to roll out thin ravioli sheets one or two at a time. We then used a ravioli cutter (you can use a biscuit or cookie cutter) to identify where the filling would be dropped by lightly cutting into the dough, but not all the way through. We dropped a little spoonful of filling on the assigned parking space, lightly moistened the dough around the edge of the inside of the ravioli with water, and dropped a second pasta sheet on top and pressed it down around each mountain of filling. Then, we used the ravioli cutter to fully press through the dough.

We coated the raviolis in flour and let them sit out awhile to dry up. When its time to cook, drop them into boiling, salted water and let cook five minutes after they float. Generally you let them cook just until floating but for some reason these needed more time.

To freeze your extra ravioli, coat with flour and let them sit on a cooling rack for at least 1.5 hours to dry out a bit. Lay flat in a freezer bag or Tupperware. If you must stack, place sheets of parchment or plastic wrap between layers.

For the fillings:

Mushroom filling

1/3 ounce each dried lobster, porcini, and shiitake mushrooms
2 tablespoons butter
1 large shallot, finely chopped
½ cup white mushrooms, finely chopped
3 tablspoons chopped fresh roma tomato
¼ cup white wine
2 tablespoons bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

For mushroom filling:
Put the three types of mushrooms in separate bowls. Add hot water to soak your dried mushrooms for at least 30 minutes. Reserve two tablespoons of the porcini soaking liquid. Chop cooled mushrooms finely. Melt butter in a non-stick pan and sautee shallot until soft. Add white mushrooms and sautee until soft. Add your other mushrooms and sautee together over high heat for 1.5 minutes. Add the wine and porcini soaking liquid and chopped tomatoes and simmer until the liquid evaporates. Add the bread crumbs until the mixture comes together. Only add more bread crumbs if you really need it. Season with salt and pepper and let cool a bit. When cooled, toss the mixture with the grated parmigiano. Let it cool to room temp before filling the raviolis.

Kale Filling
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup finely chopped roasted walnuts (to roast, put in 300 degree oven for 8 minutes)
2 large bunches kale, finely chopped and pre-steamed in the microwave (and drained)
½ cup ricotta salata, broken by hand or grated into tiny pieces

For the kale filling:

Wash and chop the kale. Put it in a microwave-safe bowl and add a sprinkling of water. Cover with plastic wrap or a plate and microwave for two minutes to wilt the kale. Toast your walnuts in the meantime.

Heat the olive oil and add the chopped garlic to sautee until fragrant and translucent. Add the chopped kale and sautee until all the water is evaporated. Remove from heat and toss with the chopped walnuts. We added the ricotta directly to the dough and put the filling asa layer on top of the cheese. HOWEVER. If we did this again, I would definitely use regular ricotta and mix it right into the filling. I suggest doing that, I just don't know how the ratio would work out. You'd most likely want about 3/4 cup.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I swear I still cook

I'm sorry, but I'm a little rusty. It's like going back to the gym after months of laying on the couch. Or going back to school after years of using a lesser portion of your brain. I don't really have a good excuse. I moved, changed jobs, experienced a major (but happy!) transition in my relationship. And I caught writer's block. I'm sorry I haven't written. But you should know that I've cooked.

Goodness, have I cooked. When you live in a new place with significantly less friends and obligations, you turn to what comforts you. I was reminded that for me, cooking equals comfort.
It's good to be back.

Speaking of comfort...

Immedietly prior to leaving DC I was the guest at a fabulous party hosted by my friends at Social Epicurean in honor of Chef Joan Nathan and to benefit Martha's Table, a DC-based non-profit with the mission of breaking the cycle of poverty by providing family-strengthening programs. What a party! I bought Joan's new book "Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France" and sampled food from the book. I fell head over heels for Babka a la Francaise (a rich brioche-type bread stuffed with olive tapenade) and had to make them as soon as possible.

This was the first thing I baked in our new kitchen in Richmond. It's beyond fragrant and delicious slathered with butter and when the two of us couldn't finish all that bread we turned them into really gorgeous croutons.

Babka a la Francaise
This is taken directly from Joan Nathan's book, but I've made a few parenthetic notes where I made some intuitive changes. I really had a hard time incorporating the butter into the dough like they describe in the recipe in my Kitchen-aid. In the end, I took it out of the mixer and kneaded it by (greasy, messy) hand.

2.5 to 3 cups all purpose flour (I used closer to 2.5)
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 tsp yeast
1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature
1 large egg plus 3 to 4 yolks- enough to make 1/2 cup egg mixture total
1/2 cup unsalted butter cut in small chunks plus 2 tbsp melted butter
1 1/4 cups pitted black pincholine olives ( I don't know what pincholine is: I used a mixture of kalamata and oil cured)
2 canned anchovies, drained ( I used 1 tsp anchovy paste)
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, pulverized ( I would have reduced this to 1/2 tbsp)
1 to 2 tablespoon olive oil

Put 2.5 cups flour, salt, and all but 1 tbsp sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with dough hook attachment.

Put yeast and 1 tablespoon warm water (110-115 degrees) and the reserved sugar in a small bowl and let dissolve. With the mixer, using the dough hook on low speed, pour the yeast mix the milk and egg mixture in and mix into the bowl and mix on low speed. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 min, adding more flour if needed.

Add the pieces of butter one at a time until incorporated, then knead on low speed about 5 minutes until silken and rich ( I couldn't get there in the mixer and used my hands).

Transfer to a clean, greased bowl, cover with plastic and let rise about 2 hours. When doubled in size, punch down and press into plastice and refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.

To make filling: put olives, half anchovies and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a food processor (a mini one works best). Process until smooth and taste to correct for salt.

To assemble: grease two 9 inch round pans (HA! I didn't trust this part of the recipe and I should have. I used one 10" round pan which is why my photographs look like Dr. Suess Whoville Babkas- they were really overcrowded).

Take dough from refrigerator and divide in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each piece into 12x16 inch rectangle. Spread half of the filling over the dough leaving a 1/2 inch border. Tuck in the ends of the long side and roll it on up tightly. Cut, or use dental floss to divide into 12 equal pieces and place with cut sides up in each pan. There will be lots of extra room...that's ok.

Let them rise again while you pre-heat to 350. When they're ready for the oven, brush them with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden. When cool, pull apart into babkas. PS: they are even better with more butter if you can believe it!

Even if you don't like anchovies, I'd suggest giving this a try.

So I hope you're ready: I've a few months of pent up postings. In the meantime, check out my baby brother's blog! He's taking after his big sis with his own blog and is doing some impressive writing about some of our down-home family recipes from Buffalo while he learns the traditions for himself. I was going to write about our family tradition of Wigilia, but he beat me to it.

And ladies: he's single.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mexican Thanksgiving, and I didn't even cook a thing!

I have the Best, Friends. Ever.


Anyone who knows me understands that my favorite day of the year is the day that I get to throw a monster-sized dinner party that is an ethnic interpretation of Thanksgiving Dinner. It's always the sunday before Thanksgiving. This year, with having a kitchen that's torn apart, less furniture than normal, and a cross-state move to Richmond just five days later, I couldn't pull it off. Being a realist is hard.

I was really devastated about this. Tradition is tradition. And while I'm always up for change, some things, like "Thanksgiving with Friends" remains sacred.

Luckily, my kind-hearted and thoughtful besties in DC knew this and made sure Thanksgiving with Friends happened in spite of the circumstances. They told me to arrive at 4:00 p.m. ready for a walking tour and suggested I bring a camera. "Sweet!! A scavenger hunt!!" is what I thought.

However, when I walked into Nancy's apartment an entire Mexican thanksgiving spread awaited. There were appetizers (an herbed goat cheese, guacamole, homemade pita chips, crudites, veggie quesadillas), Sangria, and a beautiful table complete with menus and chili pepper floral display. I was beyond touched.

We ate:

Ensalada Yucatan (greens with avocado, grapefruit and a ginger/coriander dressing that I implore Meredith to post here)

A Jalepeno Cornbread Pudding

Roasted Turkey Enchiladas

Slow-cooked black beans over corn and cilantro rice

Shrimp Gazpacho

Spicy Chipotle Sweet Potatoes


Not only did I roll out the door warm, glowing and satisfied; I was inspired. And as a group we decided that Thanksgiving with Friends would go on next year. Perhaps it would happen another weekend, but it will always happen.

Ladies, thank you for making my last week in DC so special and memorable. I love you dearly.

I can take not one ounce of credit for these sweet potatoes. But major props to La Nance for turning out a miracle of texture and flavor for even people who don't generally like sweet potatoes (me, included).
Chipotle Sweet Potato Potatoes

2 cups heavy cream (oohhh, so THAT's how they were so delish)
2 red jalapeno peppers
1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 tablespoon tomato sauce
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced 1/8-inch thick
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In small bowl, mix finely diced jalapenos, chili powder, vinegar and tomato sauceWhisk together cream and chipotle mixture until smooth. In a 9 by 9-inch casserole dish, arrange the potatoes in even layers. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the cream mixture and season with salt and pepper. Repeat with the remaining potatoes, cream, and salt and pepper to form 10 layers.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hortopita- For Sober People Only

Saveur's August/September issue was all about Greece and it's diverse regional culinary heritage. I read it cover to cover for a month straight as a bed time story. The articles read like fairytales: exciting, exotic, heart-warming. They didn't just feature recipes. They featured someone's YaYa collecting wild nettles in the springtime and fisherman chasing giant octupuses on cerulean sea. I was inspired to empty my piggy bank to see if there was enough for a plane ticket to Lemnos immedietly. Alas, I would have to settle for bringing Greece to me.

One recipe in particular caught my eye as a challenge: a pie of greens with phyllo dough made from scratch! You can make phyllo from scratch? And the recipe calls for VODKA and SODA? I was so giddy with the prospect of my new project that I went out, bought all of the necessary furnishments for hortopita and chopped my way through the afternoon in anticipation of a Sunday full of culinary domination. I was going to rule that phyllo dough. I was going to whip it into shape. To celebrate, I poured myself a little vodka/soda cocktail and headed out with friends for a Saturday night.

The next morning found me asking “What. The. Hell. Happened?” Is that pizza crust from me? Did I make macaroni and cheese at some point? Did I DRUNK TWEET? I wanted an aspirin and a bagel. And my mommy. And there was just no way I was about to embark on a Greek journey of making paper-thin sheets of pastry in a manner that required me to open the vodka bottle. I hightailed it (ok, maybe I walked very slowly) to Whole Foods and purchased a large Vitamin Water and frozen phyllo. Had I not chopped and prepped everything the day before, I would have spent the rest of the day on the couch watching the entire Batman series.

Here's a link to Saveur's instructions for making homemade phyllo, you sober show-off, you.

If you enjoy the bittersweet chew of kale or chard, you'll love this recipe. It's essentially the same as spinach spanakopita, but with a deeper, earthier flavor and more fibrous texture. It's a lovely autumn counterpart to the springy bright spinach version. I left the ribs on the chard to impart a surprising crunch in a few of the pockets. Oh, and I didn't have the correct pan for hortopita, so I wrapped them up just like spanakopita.

A word on the fat: Saveur's version calls for only olive oil. But I doubted the ability of the olive oil to gloss the outside of the pastry with that caramel-brown buttery crunch. Plus, I love butter. So I used olive oil on the first three sheets of phyllo and butter on the outside of the wrapped-up pastry. They browned beautifully, but the filling seemed lighter.

2 tablespoons olive oil plus approximately 1/2 cup for brushing on the dough
2 tablespoons melted non-salted butter
8 scallions, minced
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs. mixture of swiss chard and/or rainbow kale
12 ounces greek feta, crumbled
salt and pepper
1 cup each:
  • fresh dill
  • fresh mint
  • fresh parsley

Give the phyllo several hours to thaw. Keep it in the box until you are ready to use it. When you take it out, carefully unroll and cover it with a damp towel at all times you aren't using it.

Mince garlic and scallions and set aside. Wash, drain and chop chard/kale. I put about a cup of the chard/kale into a food processor for a fine texture and left the rest roughly chopped. Wash drain and food process the dill, mint and parsley together.

Heat the 2 tablesoons of olive oil in a large skillet until hot. Saute the garlic and scallions until transluscent, then turn down the heat. Add all of the chard/kale and saute until completely wilted (you might have to add a few tablespoons water now and then and cover the skillet). Shut off the heat. Add in the fresh herbs, salt and fresh ground pepper and stir it all together to let the ambient heat of the greens invite the herbs to mingle their flavors. Let cool for 15 minutes, then add the crumbled feta. Let it cool to room temperature.

Lay one sheet of phyllo on the counter and brush it with olive oil. Lay another sheet on that and brush again with olive oil. Repeat until you have 4 sheets of phyllo. Brush the top of the final sheet with butter and cut into 4 strips. At the top of each strip, place about 1.5 tablespoons filling. Take the outermost corner of the strip and fold it diagonally over the dollop of filling. Continue folding diagonally. Here's an excellent illustration. When done folding, brush the outside of the triangle with melted butter.

At this point, you can put the pockets on a cookie sheet so they aren't touching and put them in the freezer. When they're totally frozen through, layer them in a tupperware and separate the layers with wax paper. They freeze beautifully and I take them out 2 or three at a time to stick in the oven for dinner.

If you're ready to make them, heat the oven to 350. Lay them on a cookie sheet and let them bake for about 15 minutes. Flip them over and let them bake another 10 or until nicely browned on each side. They will be HOT in the take care (and patience) when biting in.

Someday, I'll be sure to make phyllo from scratch. Obviously, I'll celebrate with the vodka and soda after the deed is done. Oops.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Oh! Hi!Geesh, where did the month go to? I'm mystified by the date on my calendar. October 28 you say? Did I sleep through October?
NO! I've been busy planning a big life change. Nay, a HUGE life change. People: I'm moving out of DC.

Two months ago I fell into an interview for a position at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond (yes! That's where Eric lives!) Last week they offered me the job. I'm over the moon about this transition....except the whole part about leaving DC. Leave my friends?! Leave my Whole Foods? Leave my YOGA STUDIO?? I'm really panicking about that one. Leave the familiarity of a home you've had for 5+ years?

Everyone seems to be doing it. Macheesmo is going to Denver. Iflipforfood just moved to LA. Those DC Food Blogger Happy Hours are shrinking.
Happily, there's lots of advantages in moving to a smaller city. Richmond is going to support a ton of interests I've got that I can't cultivate in DC. I've had an extremely challenging time getting into a community garden in DC and participating in the DC "Fair". And the farmer's markets are gorgeous, but ghastly expensive. In Richmond I plan to buy a bike (with a basket!), take part in community gardening, join a CSA, follow this truck regularly, and join in on a whole new food blogging community.

I'm so pleased that I got the call for the job when I was home in Buffalo with family. In our family, there's always a bottle of champagne chilling in the fridge so its never to early to mix it with OJ and have a mimosa. What do you eat with mimosas? Why, eggs of course.
The Polish hens have just started laying. Actually, I was around to witness Daisy's First Egg on October 24, 2010. Have you ever heard the old adage about the chicken not knowing where to lay their egg in reference to a restless person? Well Daisy (the white one in the photos) had the same problem. She woke up Sunday morning in a panic. She ran back and forth across the yard, crowed and cackled, balked and brooded, ran up to us as if to say "help!! Something's happening to me! I don't know what it is!!" She got in an out of her roost about 43 times until, magically, Daisy became a woman. She laid an egg. More champagne.

Now, I know how she felt. My completely comfortable nest is about to be taken apart. My feathers are going to get a little ruffled. My life is going to feel a little panick-y, a little strange in the midst of transition. But soon I'll have a nest somewhere else that I get to share with someone else...even if that means flying my DC coop. Because birds of a feather flock together. But I wonder whose going to rule the roost? HA! OK! I'm done.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Little Debbie, Little Debbie

Since I was in 7th grade I've had a vision of opening a bakery. The concept has evolved through the years but I think I've finally shed light on the right idea: a kitschy, campy coffee shop filled with board games and 70's-era knick-knacks with homemade versions of Little Debbie snacks behind the counter. Obviously there might be a few IP issues to work out between Debbie and I, but I couldn't imagine a better job than one where I get to wear 70's aprons to work EVERY DAY. It would be a fabulous excuse to get a pair of cat-eye glasses, wear a beehive and shamlessly play Joni Mitchell and Curtis Mayfield over the sound system. That sounds like the Best. Job. Ever.

Do you know how many people in the world just LOVE Little Debbie Snacks? My favorite as a kid was the Strawberry Jelly Roll. I had a boyfriend in college who could eat Christmas Tree Cakes morning, noon and night (and he sang a little song that went with his method of eating them branch by branch). Our favorite older backyard neighbors would slyly slip us treats of Nutty Bars when we raked their leaves. And who doesn't love a Swiss Cake Roll? Deb's motto is "Unwrap a Smile". I cannot argue with such a positive slogan about the power of baked goods.

But I've got a score to settle with Debbie.

Before I was actually aware of "high fructose corn syrup" or other red dye #42-type ingredients, I never had a problem eating one of those big marshmallow coconut Snowballs, or an Oatmeal Creme Pie, or a Ding-Dong for crying out loud! Those things were GOOD. But now we are all more conscious about the risks of putting preservative-laced, mass-produced packaged foods in our mouths. I understand that those ingredients are necessary for any type of factory-made, processed snack that has to travel umpteen miles from the factory floor to your grocery shelf. It isn't her fault. But in the process Little Debbie loses a lot of of innocence.

Still, I love the all-American image she represents. So why not recreate Little Debbie at home where I can control what goes into the dessert?

I decided to start with the iconic Chocolate Cupcake with the white piping on top in honor of my colleague Helen who was leaving our office for a new, awesome job in the historic house of her dreams. In thinking about the perfect dessert to honor Helen, who loves chocolate, I wanted something that would represent a down-home, midwestern picture of simplistic joy. This is what Helen exudes and thus, her departing dessert had to be representative of her sparkling personality.

Before I get to the actual recipe, I must admit that this is a bit of an undertaking. But I promise its a LOT of fun to get into the process and the techniques are pretty simple and versitile. Above you see a sharp knife going into the center of a cupcake. I made an "x" cut all the way down into each cake so the cream filling met less resistance when piped in (below).

This cake is from Smitten Kitchen's Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake, which she adapted from Sky High: Irresistable Triple-Layer Cakes. The batter may give you pause because its so liquidy. I put it into a plastic water pitcher so I could pour it into the cups evenly.

Cake: yield about 26 cupcakes
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup neutral vegetable oil, such as canola, soybean or vegetable blend
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine them well. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well mixed. Pour into cupcake liners. Bake for about 19-22 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let them cool completely.

While the cakes are baking, make your ganache. This is an AWESOME recipe and very versitile. As you let it cool it comes to a bunch of different textures.

Ganache: yield about 3 cups ganache
12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp corn syrup
*You can double this recipe if you intend to fill and frost a layer cake.

Into a heavy 2 quart saucepan measure the chocolate chips and heavy cream. Stir constantly while the chips melt and the mixture becomes homogenous. Let it come to a mild simmer and continue stirring for about 5-7 minutes to let it thicken, scraping the bottom consistantly. When thick, pour it into a mixing bowl and stir in 1 tsp. corn syrup. Let it cool, giving it a stir every 10 minutes or so in the beginning, and every 30 minutes or so after awhile. The stiring part is key. If you forget, it will cool into a BRICK. Stiring it keeps it light.

For this recipe I used the ganache for a glaze on top (at about the 2.5 hour cooling mark) and then put the fully cooled ganache (about 5 to 6 hours cooled) into a pastry bag to make the swirls you can see on top of some of the cupcakes. You can also use this fully cooled ganache as a smooth frosting that makes great glossy swoops on a birthday cake by letting it cool the full 6 hours and then giving it a good beating with a wooden spoon to put a little air in it before spreading onto a cake.

Filling: yield about 2 cups filling
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar

Put all ingredients into a clean, dry mixing bowl. Use electric beaters (handheld works best) to whip the cream. When it is VERY stiff, like almost to the point you think it might turn to butter- stop. It has to be very thick to hold up in the cupcake.

*If you can find Rich's non-dairy RichWhip topping at your grocery store ( I couldn't) I recommend trying that. It's already sweetened and holds up well in the cupcake.

White frosting for piping: yield about 1/3 cup
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablspoon butter, soft and at room temperature

Whip these ingredients with handheld beaters until they come together. You might need a little more or a little less milk to get it to a place where it feels very stable. Put into pastry bag with standard lettering tip.

For assembly:
So after your cupcakes have cooled, stick them in the fridge for an hour or freezer for 30 minutes to firm up because they are soft and fudgy and will fall apart otherwise. Take out of the freezer and use a super sharp knife to make an "X" all the way to the bottom in the center. Wipe the knife clean after each cupcake. Fill with the cream filling by gently inserting a pastry bag with the cream as far down into the cupcake as possible without creating a giant crater. Fill it further than you think is necessary. It WILL plump up the cupcake.

Dip the tops into the cooled ganache that is still liquid-y. I actually gave them two dips into the ganache and refrigerated between dips. The second dip is optional.

Refrigerate again so the ganache cools and smooths. Some of your cupcakes might still have a crater impression in the center. It's ok: just put more chocolate on them! Decorate as you see fit (see my photos below). I put the completely cooled ganache into a pastry bag with a large tip to make swirls of chocolate over the craters. Pipe the Little Debbie squiggley onto any cupcake that is smooth enough to do so.

I'm completely inspired by the classic, kitschy snacks out there that I want to modernize and purify. I've got BIG PLANS people. There are grand Twinkie dreams in our near future :)

Anybody out there want to invest in my 70's bake shop? You'll get to wear an apron too. Pinkie swear.