Friday, December 31, 2010

Banana Cupcakes with Vanilla Pastry Cream

Happy New Year!

I've had the most amazing 2010. I've traveled all over the country this year with trips to:
Raleigh, NC- New Years trip for 2010
New Orleans, LA- 30th Birthday Drunkfest
San Francisco, Monterrey, Big Sur and Wine Country: For Big Sur Marathon and Wine Tasting!
Utah- To pace a best friend in his first 50 mile race!
NYC- For 4th of July weekend!
North Carolina Mountains- For college friends 8th annual drinkfest!
Lexington, KY- Bourbon Chase Relay Race
Chicago, IL- Fun weekend trip with friend!
Playa Del Carmen, Mexico- Amazing Yoga Retreat!
Richmond and Charlottesville, VA- For NYE 2011.

Now, I’m one of those annoying shits that is “too cool” to do whatever everyone else does. Example A: I don’t have a facebook account. Example B: I don’t do New Years Resolutions until my birthday on February 1.

But incidentally… if I were to do New Years resolutions when everyone else does… one of my new years resolutions would be to stop being such an independent/individuality obsessed asshole.

I do have a fairly good argument against the whole idea of Resolutions anyway… I mean, why wait till some arbitrary day?? Jan 1 is just like Jan 4 or December 18. What the hell does it matter? When I wait till my birthday… it seems to mean a little more… like… with turning this XX age, I will become more mature in the following ways… (although, admittedly… some of my yearly resolutions are things that others surely think are LESS mature… like… date less! Drink more! Et al.).

Anyway… if I were to have new years resolutions (which, these aren't! I swear!) these would be them:

1. Drive less. Sure, I drive a lot less than the average person. I walk to work a lot, I walk to yoga when the weather's nice, etc… but… I have this annoying habit of driving to the grocery store 3-4 times a week. For whatever reason, I can’t buy 12 pounds of apples at one go, so I go every other day and buy enough to last me two days. THIS HAS TO STOP. So… my goal is cut this down to twice a week. ALSO… a new grocery store/health food store just opened up and the route there doesn’t require me to cross through any major intersections… so…

2. I’m going to buy a bike! Not a fancy lance Armstrong bike with shimano somethings and hydraulic something elses…. No, just a roam about town bike that I can ride to the grocery store and to the farmers markets this summer. And possibly the bar, or friends houses, etc.

3. Keep in touch with friends better.

4. Get up to date with the music scene. Seriously this is a big one… I used to be a music fanatic. And then I kinda fell off the wagon. Last week I made a new cd to listen to on itunes and I kid you not, half of the songs were like from 2008 or 2009. Ugh. I’m so behind!

5. Read more! I cancelled my cable subscription when college football season was over in the hopes of reading more. I really think that watching episode after episode of The Real Housewives of New York was hindering my ability to carry on a half-way intelligent conversation. A few years ago, I made a goal of reading 50 books for the year… and I got to around 30, which was still awesome. So, this year, I’m going to revive it. 50 books for 2011! (Now, I need to stock up mountaineering, sailing, and city history books!).

6. Set a new PR in the following distances: 5k, Half Marathon, and Marathon!

7. Drink less beer and less shots. It’s a problem when people know that you love tequila shots.

8. Get out of North America for 2011! Shouldn’t be a problem since I’m going to Scotland and Ireland with the family this spring… but… also trying to plan a trip to Israel for this year. Fingers crossed on that one. Jesus Trail or bust!!!! Or maybe I’ll just go to Peru.

9. Blog more often!

2010 was the best year of my life.. and I see no reason why anything has to change as we roll forward into 2011! And I'm hoping for all the best for your 2011s, as well!

And to start things off with a bang... here's a recipe that I made for my brother's birthday (back in June).
Banana Cupcakes with Vanilla Pastry Cream

from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

This recipe was super easy and the cupcakes turned out very moist! But... I have to say, pastry cream, as it turns out, isn't my favorite topping for a cupcake (a filling, perhaps). So, next time I make banana cupcakes, I will frost with a proper frosting... cream cheese, vanilla, chocolate... not too picky.
For the Cupcakes:
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup vegetable shortening at room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed very ripe bananas (about 4)
1/2 cup buttermilk

For the Vanilla Pastry Cream
3 cups half-and-half
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Make the pastry cream:

In a medium saucepan, bring the half-and-half to a simmer and keep warm. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt together until the mixture is pale, about one minute. Whisk half of the half-and-half into the egg yolk mixture, then pour the egg mixture back into the pot with the remaining half-and-half. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until thickened and boiling, about 6-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla. Strain the pastry cream through a fine-mesh sieve into a container. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming.

Chill at least one hour, overnight is better.

Make the cupcakes:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two 12-cup cupcake pans with paper liners.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a large bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening together on medium speed until creamy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl, add the eggs, and beat until just combined. Scrape down the bowl again and add the bananas, beating until just combined. Turn the mixer to low. Add the flour mixture, alternating with the buttermilk, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Remove the bowl from the mixer and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula, giving the mixture a final stir to ensure it's combined.

Fill the cupcake liners about 3/4 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Remove them from the pans and cool completely.

Assemble the cupcakes:

Place the vanilla pastry cream in a plastic disposable piping bag or a zip top gallon sized bag. Cut the end of the bag so that the opening is about a half inch in diameter. Pipe a dollop onto the cupcake (alternatively spoon a dollop onto the cupcake) and garnish with a dried banana slice.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

TWD Rewind: All American Apple Pie.

Last night I got to spend the evening with one of my best friends. She was only in town for a few days and between making time to see her family, Monday evening was the only spare time she had to squeeze me in. I was grateful to have the whole evening with her!

It's funny. You go through life having someone live down the road from you for several years... you go to dinner or lunch, you go to the museum, you go shopping... but you also go through some months where you don't really get together. You're busy, she's busy. It happens. But you still know what's going on in each others lives.

Last night I realized... I really had no idea what had been going on with her for MONTHS. And it made me very sad. Just because she's moved to the other side of the country, and just because I feel guilty that I've made trips to Montana, San Francisco, Mexico, etc and have yet to make it out to visit her in the Pacific Northwest is no excuse for allowing months to go by with little or no communication.

Luckily, things with her are great! She's enjoying her new town, making friends, and she absolutely loves her job. But, it definitely put things into perspective for me. I've slacked. I just assume that we'll always be great friends and we'll always pick up right where we left off when we do talk or get together... and while that's true. It's not fair. To either one of us.

Friendships are relationships, too. And just like anything in life... you have to give it attention for it to grow and bloom. And this year in particular, I've not kept my end of the friendship up very well.

I've taken our friendship for granted. We never fight or have arguments, so I know that we'll always be friends. But, that's not enough. This year I was the type of friend that called her maybe twice (once on her birthday), I was the type of friend who made plans to visit her and then bailed, I was the type of friend who only emailed or texted her a handful of times. I was, in a word: SHITTY.

So, as of today (or last night, really) I'm determined to be a better friend to her. Just because she's on the other end of the country, is no excuse. I miss her! I miss knowing whats going on in her life, I miss talking to her, I miss telling her whats going on in mine. And even if I can't go and see her as much as I'd like.. I can certainly call or email her!

In some ways... this recipe reminds me of my friend and I's friendship and how I've treated it this year. It's a recipe where you know what it's going to taste like. Who hasn't had apple pie, right? So, I never made it. In fact, I've never made any apple pie! There are so many other glamorous dessert recipes to be made, no?

But, I finally decided to make this pie for Thanksgiving. And oh my god... I had no idea an apple pie could be so good. I was reminded that the uncomplicated, familiar things in life are sometimes best. There's nothing flashy or unusual here. It's just good basic ingredients thrown together to make a most excellent pie.

All-American Apple Pie
Recipe by Dorie Greenspan
Chosen by Emily of Sandmuffin

Dead simple, folks. The hardest part is cutting up the apples, which I initially bought an apple corer/slicer for, but once I realized that it was still getting some of the core in the slices, I shoved the task off onto my mom to cut up (I highly suggest this step!)... so yeah... for me, this pie was a breeze!

Dorie's pie crust has definitely become my go to pie crust recipe. It's easy and so delicious. This coming from a girl who used to despise pie crust (and still despises all shortening based pre-packaged crusts).

If you have an apple pie lover in your life... this is the recipe to yes. This pie recipe might have just trumped my other favorite pies: pecan and cherry. It's that good.

Recipe found on Emily's Blog, HERE.