Tuesday, July 27, 2010

S'mores Cupcakes

A couple months ago Mary and I decided to have a cupcake bash. We holed up at her house the night before, baking about a gazillion cupcakes (seriously, I counted) way into the wee hours of the night and were pretty delirious by the end of it. It was a marathon of creaming butter and sugar, washing the same mixing bowl over and over, and exhausting ourselves with some intensive cupcake baking. We had been baking for several hours without stopping when I turned to Mary and said "I need to tell you something." I then paused for dramatic effect, probably wiped some cocoa powder or flour off my face or my arms or wherever else I was covered in it, and then I matter of factly said: "I don't really like cupcakes."
In our state of delirium and exhaustion this was pretty hilarious statement considering the fact that we were both knee deep in cupcakes. But unfortunately it's true, I'm just not really a fan. I mean don't get me wrong, I won't turn down a cupcake if it's offered to me (nor any other dessert for that matter), but I just don't really get the appeal. Part of it is probably the fact that I'm not a huge frosting fan and most cupcakes seemed to be slathered in large amounts of the stuff. Or perhaps it has something to do with always feeling a little awkward and clumsy while trying to eat one. Or maybe it's that there seem to be a lot of inferior cupcakes running around out there, that are not even worth a second bite. Whatever the reasons may be, I'm just not all that into them.
I realize that some may find this crazy or blasphemous, and that cupcakes are one of the most popular desserts out there these days. Up until a couple years ago I had never seen a store devoted entirely to cupcakes and now 4 such stores exist in my neighborhood. There's definitely a cupcake revolution going on, and I won't deny that it's contagious. Even though they might not be my favorite, I enjoy baking them and making them for others. I like the creative aspect to them, and the endless possibilities in frostings, fillings, and tastes. Each one is its own unique creation, and finding the perfect combination in a personal hand-held cake is very satisfying.
So I guess I can understand the appeal a little bit, and I've definitely eaten some cupcakes that are undeniably tasty. But I never seem to find myself craving one, and when I bake up a batch I'm always trying to give them away rather than save a few for myself. At least that's the way it used to be, until these cupcakes came along.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer Dinner Party

Photo from FoodNetwork.com

Saturday was one of those perfect summer days, where it's warm but not too hot, the day seems to go on forever, and you check every box on your to-do list.  John and I took our engagement photos with the obscenely talented Avi Rothman.  While I can't share them yet, I can say that the proofs are everything I hoped they would be.  Oh, and there may or may not have been a lot of blue and yellow frosting.  Everywhere.
Camera phone photo by Avi Rothman

On Saturday night, we hosted Avi and the neighbors for a quintessential summer dinner on the patio.  Fried chicken, potato salad, and heirloom tomatoes with homemade ranch dressing.  Do you ever have a meal that's so tasty you miss it when it's gone?  It was like that.  We followed it up with a nectarine and blackberry pie, a scoop of ice cream, and some gooooood sleep.  We're right smack in the middle of summer, so if you want to make your own patio dinner from heaven, here are the recipes.  I also threw in our beer and wines for the evening.  I realized that I do my fair share of wine drinking, and that you might want to know what's in my glass...  Now you know!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Piesignment #3- Cream Pie!

Sometimes, when you write your own blog and run your own pie spectacular, you get to do things that are completely self-serving.  Now is one of those times.

On a recent trip to San Francisco, John and I went hog wild in Tartine.  Croque monsieur, almond frangiapane croissants, eclairs, quiche, and lattes in big bowl-sized mugs.  Our plan was to taste a few bites of everything, and take the rest on our road trip.  Unfortunately, our eyes were a bit too big for our stomachs, and we had a pastry casualty along the way.
The pie that got away.  Photo from http://www.theamericanchef.com/

We had grand plans for a mini coconut cream pie, but it melted in the car before we had a chance to taste it. Bummer.  It was beautiful, with a big fluffy pile of whipped cream and toasted coconut shavings on top.  I would've eaten it anyway, but we were on vacation and I didn't want to risk any gastrointestinal distress by eating cream that had gone south.  That was two months ago, and I'm still thinking about the pie that got away. It's time for cream pie redemption.

Which brings us to the piesignment!  This week, we want you to make a cream pie.  The classic cream pies that come to mind are chocolate, banana, and coconut, but don't be afraid to think outside the box.  Imagine a velvety smooth butterscotch cream pie, a sweet and tangy lemon cream pie, or a rich caramel cream pie.  Or beat a sweltering summer day with ice cream pie!  I guarantee you will be the belle of the ball when you bring one of these creamy dreams to your next get together.
Ok this is getting ridiculous.  I'm hungry.  Let's do this.  Photo from http://www.epicurious.com/

To join in the pie spectacular, just bake a cream pie, blog it, and send your link to butterpluscream@gmail.com.  If you don't blog, send us your photos and we'll give you a shoutout!

We want to see your mad pie skills by Wednesday, July 28, 2010.  Happy baking!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Grilled Stuffed Bell Peppers

I have a confession I need to make. You see, I have been doing a lot of cooking over the past month or so, and not a whole lot of blogging about it. And I feel bad, because there has been a lot of good food happening. There have been BBQ's with kebabs, coleslaws, and bacon wrapped jalapenos. There was a party for 30 or so people which involved lots and lots of massive amounts of tri tip and chicken and salads. Then there have been desserts, from massive hummingbird cakes, to blackberry bars topped with a delicious crumble, to one of my most favorite cupcake recipes ever (I'll give you a hint, it's one of the cupcakes mentioned in this post). There has also been my new found obsession/hobby with canning, which has so far resulted in 3 types of jam, brandied vanilla peaches, and spicy dill pickles.
All this food has been made and consumed and here I have barely said a peep about it. There are all the typical excuses: my job has been busy, photos either are forgotten to be taken, or turn out awful, writer's block, and the fact that even though the sun is out late, summer days have a nasty habit of slipping by faster than you can catch them. I also have a tendency to cram as many activities as possible into each day, which means I'm not actually getting to relax and enjoy the magic that is summer. I need to chill out a bit, read some books, lay in a hammock and drink iced tea, take a nap or two, and spend some quality time in my vegetable garden, which is where these beauties came from.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Plum Blueberry Upside Down Cake

After two crazy weeks filled with engagement and 4th of July festivities, John and I were very excited to spend this weekend putzing around the house putting photos in frames and clearing out the DVR.  The best part of the weekend was when I got to cozy up in my chair with this beauty, freshly plucked from my library's shelves...
If you don't read David Lebovitz's blog, go give it a looksee.  Mr. Lebovitz is an incredible pastry chef and writer.  I want him to move next door and be my sassy gay man-friend.  However, seeing that he lives in Paris, I don't think he'll be packing up and moving to Culver City any time soon.  Ready for Dessert is his "greatest hits" of sorts, a collection of the most popular recipes from his early cookbooks that are now out of print.  Many are very European and complicated and fancy, but on a lazy Sunday after a trip to the farmers' market, this simple upside down cake was the perfect way to end the weekend.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Piesignment #2 - Allison's Three Berry Pie

I have something I need to say about pies. They don't scare me. Never have, never will. I know this may sound a little cocky, or maybe a little silly to those of you who are also unafraid of pies, but I just had to put that out there. See, I hear all the time about the fear that pie crust instills in people, and I just don't get it. I guess I can see how it would be daunting; all that talk about keeping things super cold you think you'd have to live in Alaska to make an ok crust. Or how about the very specific instruction that the butter must be pea-sized before mixing in the liquid? I still don't know if I've ever achieved the perfect pea-sized piece of butter. And then there's the rolling out, and the horror stories of pie crust sticking and tearing, and ok this does sound a little terrifying.
But here's the thing, the most important thing about pie crust: homemade pie crust always taste better than store-bought, always! At least, that's what has been my experience. And so even if you mess something up, or it looks a little funky, you're still way ahead of the game in the taste department. When I began to bake about ten years ago, one of the very first things I ever made was pie, and since then I have continued to bake pies probably more than any other dessert. There usually is a pie of mine at every family gathering, every summer BBQ, and don’t get me started on Thanksgiving when the baking starts two days before the event and usually ends in 5 or 6 different pies.

Why so much pie? Part of it I think is because pie is just so darn simple to make, and anything that’s simple appeals to the lazy side of me. That’s right, pie is simple! Especially fruit pies. Because most pie crust recipes use the same method (cut cold fats into flour until it looks like coarsemeal, drizzle with a cold liquid and mix until it just comes together), the only part you really have to memorize are the ingredients. So once you’ve got the method down, and the ingredient portions memorized, you will never need a recipe again! Trust me, you'll love the feeling of having a pie crust recipe under your belt; it's like having a secret dessert weapon in your arsenal at all times.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Piesignment #2 - Mary's 4th of July Peach Pie

Peach pie on a retro tablecloth.  I'm not sure if it gets much more summery than this.  It kinda makes me feel like the blonde mom on the Wonder Years.

If I'm giving an honest holiday recap, the weather did not show up in So Cal this year.  I think the high temperature of the day may have reached a blistering 65 degrees, and our Malibu-soaked watermelon, while delicious, was not exactly needed to beat the heat.  Instead of packing the car and heading for the beach, we had a good old fashioned backyard party with family.  Jill, Nicole, and I were secretly a little bit happy with this outcome, as it gave us a chance to get down to business and do what we do best:  cook one handed (while the other hand holds a margarita).  Our missions:  Nicole went to town on breakfast, salsas, carnitas, and side dishes.  Jill threw down some killer guac and a big stack of homemade tortillas.  I took it upon myself to make pie happen.  And oh did pie happen.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Why Allison is an Incredible Best Friend

Happy "Day After the 4th of July"!  After making a champion comeback from that summer head cold that's been going around, my weekend was filled with family and dogs and fireworks and some cooking revelations that I cannot wait to share with you.  One is Allison's corn tortillas.  Do yourself a favor and make these.  They're easy, and packed with delicious flavor.  My future sister-in-law Nicole also whipped up some salsas that made me vow to never buy the bottled stuff again.  They are restaurant quality, and don't require much more than a whiz in the blender.  Stay tuned, they're coming later this week.  

Now speaking of vows...  You might recall that I recently got engaged.  While I promise you that I won't turn Butter + Cream into a wedding blog and annoy you with questions about the merits of peonies vs. lilies in a bouquet, I do think there will be a few gems along the way worth sharing with y'all.  My engagement party happens to be one of those gems.

When I asked Allison to be my maid of honor, one of the first questions she asked was, "When can we have a party?".  John and I are planning our Napa Valley wedding from Los Angeles, so we decided to take a weekend to drive up and check out some potential venues, and then celebrate our engagement with our local friends and family.  After finding the picture perfect location and setting a date(!), we were giddy at the thought of spending an evening celebrating with our near and dears.  There aren't many words to describe the way we felt walking up the driveway that night.  The party Allison threw for us took my breath away.

Please check out the multitude of pictures after the jump.

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