Briny bay pickled beans

I’ve been canning off and on for a few years now. Not super seriously, to be honest. I have a pressure canner that I inherited from my mother, but I’m terrified of using it. So I’ve just done a few boiling water canning projects: a marmalade that I thickened too much, a few jams that I never really used, a mustard that turned out completely inedible.

Then I made a batch of hot pickled asparagus the other month.

Holy. Shit.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, pickles are the hipster stereotype of home preserving. It’s the food counterpart to homebrewing (which, for the record, is my mister’s thang). But you know why they’re so popular? Because they’re delicious, and hard to fuck up.

One thing that kills me about canning in general is the fear of botulism preventing me from experimenting. But with pickling, as long as you keep your brine at the correct acidity and use the recommended vegetables and processing times? You can play around a bit with your seasonings without paralyzing anyone’s face. I mean, isn’t that everyone’s goal?

So, these Old Bay infused green bean pickles. They’re spicy-sour, and because they only need to be processed for five minutes, they stay very crisp. I may have eaten an entire jar for lunch one day. When my mister whined that he had tried to find the jar in the fridge for his lunch but they were all gone, I reminded him that six of the jars are destined for my Homemade Trade club and not to eat them. But, I added: I’ll put up another batch while green beans are still in season… if he helped me trim them all up.

He agreed with no hesitation.

briny bay pickled beans

Briny Bay Pickled Beans
Adapted from Pickled Dilled Beans by National Center for Home Food Preservation

Makes 8 pint jars

4 pounds fresh green beans
2 1/4 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
2 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar (5% acidity)
4 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon pickling salt
8 cloves garlic
16 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning

Equipment
8 pint jars, rings, and unused canning lids
boiling water canner with rack
jar lifting tongs
jar funnel (optional, but recommended)
clean dish towels

Important Note: If you’ve never canned before, you will probably want to study up on some basics before you get started. And use common sense when eating home-canned goods — leaking, compromised seals, weird growths, bad smells? Play it safe and throw that shit out.

Wash your green beans and lay out to dry on a dish towel. Trim ends off beans so you’re left with uniform 4-inch lengths. Peel and rinse garlic cloves.

Fill your canner so the water is at least two inches above the jars, and bring to a boil. (You might want to do this earlier depending on how long it takes your canner to come to a boil — I get mine started while I am prepping my beans.)

Wash your jars, lids, rings, and tools by washing in warm soapy water. Then sanitize by boiling in water. Alternatively, use the sanitize setting on your dishwasher, if desired.
In a large saucepan, bring water, vinegar, and pickling salt to a boil.

Remove jars from boiling water.

Add a garlic clove and 2 teaspoons Old Bay to each jar, then tightly pack with as many upright green beans as will fit. Ladle hot brine into each jar — a jar funnel makes this much easier, but if you don’t have one, just be careful. Leave 1/2″ headroom in each jar.

Wipe each rim with a clean, damp cloth. Center an unused, sterilized lid on each jar. Screw the rings over each lid until “fingertip tight” — that is, screwed on until you just start to get resistance.

Use your jar tongs to carefully place each packed jar in the canner. Bring back to a boil, then process for 5 minutes (up to 15 depending on altitude — see chart).

Remove jars from canner with tongs without tilting. Place on a folded dish towel, away from drafts and not touching each other. Let sit undisturbed for at least 12 hours.

Check each jar for a good seal (press on the middle or the lid — it shouldn’t move or make noise). Any that didn’t seal can be refrigerated immediately and still used.

Store sealed jars in pantry for up to 1 year. Then, refrigerate once opened for up to one month.

Fig and honeyed mascarpone galette

Fig season! Who can complain? Well obviously I can, because you know what sucks about figs? Because of their delicate nature, they’re so often in those horrible plastic clamshell packages to protect them during shipping. If you buy prepackaged figs, you’re going to end up with at least a couple that were picked too early. It’s my understanding that when you pick a fig too early, it will “ripen” on the counter in the sense that it will get softer. But that complex, oozy, honey-sweet taste? Not gonna happen.

So when my friend Laura told me that there’s a fruit bearing fig-tree in a park near my house? Shut the front door!

At the earliest opportunity, I rode my bike over there with a grocery-bag lined backpack, a vision of fig-filled galette running through my head. And then? I couldn’t find the damn tree if my life had depended on it. I texted Laura for further clarification of the location (what I actually asked was “uhhh, can you send me the Google Maps coordinates?”). I rode around for a bit waiting for a reply, and then remembered, oh yeah. She’s in Tanzania.

She hopped on the internet that weekend to email me a screenshot of the Google Map (and presumably do other things). But for this galette I had already filled my cart at the grocery store. It was still delicious, and, I must warn you, almost tooth-achingly sweet. It’s perfect for a brunch spread, especially since it can be made ahead of time and will hold in the fridge for several days. If you wanted it to, it could function as a dessert — seriously, all those figs make it fit for the most hardcore sweet tooth.

fig and honeyed mascarpone galette

Fig and Honeyed Mascarpone Galette
Crust from Sweet Galette Dough by David Lebovitz for Fine Cooking

Serves 6-8

Crust
11 1/4 ounces (2-1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
5 ounces very cold water

Galette
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon orange blossom water
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds fresh, ripe figs
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
super flaky sea salt, to garnish

Stir flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add chilled butter and pulse until crumbly, but distinct chunks of butter remain — really, big chunks are good!Add ice water, then process just until dough comes together, no more than 30 seconds. Turn dough onto work surface and gather and knead together just slightly. If is fine if you see streaks of butter on the surface, as this is what will give you delightful flakiness. Divide into two equal pieces and shape into discs. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour. (This galette only requires one disc of dough. Wrap the other very well and freeze for later use, thawing in the fridge for one day before using.)

While dough is chilling, stir honey and orange blossom water into mascarpone until fully combined. Then slice figs into quarters.

Preheat oven with baking sheet or pizza pan in it to 400 degrees.

On a floured surface, roll one disc of chilled dough out into an approximate circle about 13 inches in diameter. Transfer to a piece of parchment paper.

Spread mascarpone mixture on the dough, leaving a 2-inch border. Layer fig quarters in concentric circles on top of the mascarpone. Don’t worry about being perfect — it’s rustic! Fold the excess dough over the edge of the filling, pleating as you go. Brush the melted butter along the exposed crust with a pastry brush.

Slide the galette, parchment paper and all, onto preheated baking sheet. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes. When edges are browned, remove pan from oven. Slide the parchment paper and galette onto a wire cooling rack to prevent it from getting soggy while it cools.

Enjoy while slightly warm or at room temperature. Or, store covered in the fridge for up to 4 days and let come to room temperature before serving. Sprinkle with a bit of super flaky sea salt just before eating for added flavor and crunch.

Guest post: strawberry honey ricotta muffins

The other week I wrote a guest post for my friend Ann Marie at her blog Let’s Give Peas a Chance. As a fellow Baltimorean vegetarian I was happy to share a recipe with her. She was kind enough to return the gesture and use her CSA bounty to whip up a little somethin’ for me. Someone is jealous that she’s not getting any.


I want to preface this guest post by letting you know two things about me: I love low-energy, high-taste cooking and I am terribly good at procrastinating. As you may know, Martine was so kind to do an amazing guest post for me over at my blog. I told her, “yeah, I will totally write one for you too and I’ll get it to you right away.” So, naturally, here we are, two weeks later and I am only now sitting down to write this. Luckily, I will be sharing these strawberry honey ricotta muffins with Martine, so she can’t be too mad. [Ed. note: Aww yee, muffins!]

strawberry honey ricotta muffins by Ann Marie

The whole thing about the low-energy, high-taste is totally relevant to this recipe, by the way. First off, I made a variation of this recipe about a year ago (you can see my ricotta basil muffins here), so I didn’t have to search too hard for a base recipe. I am part of a CSA with Baltimore’s own One Straw Farm, and we’ve been receiving strawberries because it’s that magical time of year. (Side note: if you didn’t know that you can only get fresh strawberries for a short period of time throughout the year, step away from the grocery store and head down to your lovely local farmers’ market. Trust me.)

strawberry honey ricotta muffins by Ann Marie

Strawberry Honey Ricotta Muffins

Makes about 12 fluffy muffins

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 small handfuls fresh strawberries, halved
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup milk (I used almond milk)
1 large egg
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Preheat your oven to 275F degrees. Toss the strawberries in there for about 45 minutes to dehydrate them. If you decide to skip this step, add less liquid to the overall mix because the strawberries will leak. Once the strawberries are mostly dried, remove them and preheat your oven to 375F degrees for the muffins.

In a large mixing bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, dried strawberries). Use a whisk to sift and mix everything.

In a smaller mixing bowl, mix all of your wet ingredients (ricotta, milk, egg, oil, and honey). Once they are blended, slowly stir the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients.

Once everything is blended, pour the batter into a lined muffin pan. Bake for 25 minutes or until done.

If you want, top with cinnamon sugar or butter when they come out of the oven. Let cool and enjoy!


annmariebrok
Ann Marie is a Baltimore-based blogger, freelance writer, and social media addict. She regularly blogs meatless recipes at Let’s Give Peas a Chance and tweets at @annmariebrok. When she’s not online, you can find her with a book in one hand and a beer in the other.

Pride rainbow flag cookies

It’s almost Baltimore Pride!

My friends Liz and Kendall are tailgating in the Lesbian Lot tomorrow, and sometimes I think I am physically incapable of going somewhere without making something to eat or drink. I wanted to make something properly festive and queer, and I figured Pride is as good of an excuse as any to ingest a bunch of no-good-for-you but oh-so-cute artificial food coloring.

Hello rainbow flag cookies!

pride rainbow flag cookies

Layered cookies are nothing new — I’d be impressed if you haven’t yet seen the Cinco de Mayo piñata cookies that took the internet by storm a few years ago. Luckily, a flag shape doesn’t require any special cookie cutters. All you need is a sharp knife and a rainbow of gel food colors to transform these basic, buttery cookies into pride flags.

In order to make perfect little flags, you have to trim some dough off the edges. Don’t toss it! Pinch off equal sized portions of the scraps, then roll into balls and flatten for little tie-dye cookies.

tie-dye scrap cookies

Please note: it’s hot outside right now, so pretty much every other step in this recipe is “put it in the freezer!” If it is cold in your kitchen while you are making these, you may not have to do as much chilling. But for me, the slightly warm kitchen combined with the pound of butter (yep) and I had to chill a lot.

Happy Pride!

Pride Rainbow Flag Cookies
Adapted from Slice and Bake Cookies by smitten kitchen

Makes 30 – 35 cookies

4 sticks (1 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cup powdered sugar, sifted
4 large egg yolks, at room temperature
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons almond extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
gel food color — red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth. Add powdered sugar and beat again until combined. Add egg yolks, extracts, and salt and beat again until smooth. Add the flour, then beat on low until almost combined. Fold the rest of the way with a spatula and work into a rough ball. Put dough into a storage container and freeze for 10 to 15 minutes.

Turn dough onto counter and divide into 6 equal portions. I used my food scale to make sure everything was pretty darn close. Put one ball on a parchment-lined surface, and wear powder-free latex gloves if you don’t want to potentially stain your hands. Use a toothpick to transfer a small amount of one gel food color from the container to the piece of dough. Knead dough in your hands until the color is fully integrated and no longer streaky. Add more color as desired to increase saturation, but start small and move up. A little goes a long way!

Once dough has achieved desired color, roll into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap, then place in the fridge. Repeat the process with the remaining colors. Chill dough balls for at least 30 minutes, longer if you can stand it.

Prep a small baking sheet (I use a quarter size baking sheet) with a piece of plastic wrap to build up your cookie loaf on.

Remove the purple dough ball from the fridge and place on a piece of parchment paper or Silpat. I also use a piece of plastic wrap on top to prevent sticking to the rolling pin. Roll out and shape into a roughly 4″ x 10″ rectangle. Place on plastic wrap covered baking sheet and carefully peel back Silpat/parchment to remove.

Place the whole pan in the freezer while you prepare the blue rectangle. Then repeat, centering the blue one over the purple one. Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat with green, yellow, orange, and red, keeping the pan in the freezer whenever you’re not using it.

Once your loaf is complete, wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap, then in a freezer bag, and freeze for at least 2 hours and up to 1 month.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.

Remove dough loaf from fridge or freezer. Using a very sharp knife, trim about 1/3 of an inch on each side to even up the edges.

Cut 1/4-inch slices from the loaf, then place on baking sheets with about 2 inches between each cookie. (I was able to fit 10 cookies per half-size baking sheet. While I was waiting for one of my baking sheets to free up, I put the loaf — surprise — back in the freezer.)

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until they are firm but not yet brown. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire cooling rack.

Store baked cookies in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Old Bay cheese crackers at Let’s Give Peas a Chance

Today I wrote a guest post for my friend Ann Marie, another Baltimore-based vegetarian food blogger, at her blog Let’s Give Peas a Chance. As a fellow Baltimorean, I knew Ann Marie would appreciate a snack highlighting everyone’s favorite Chesapeake-region seasoning. Hop on over today to find my recipe for Old Bay Cheese Crackers and say hello to Ann Marie!

Old Bay cheese crackers

Summertime drinkin’ with the Leland Palmer

If there’s one thing I like to do in the summer, it’s going to the park to drink outside and play cornhole. Of course everybody brings loads of beer. But I like to make a big jug of something liquory, but not too liquory; because let’s be real, you’re going to be drinking all day.

My friend Laura posted this recipe on my Facebook wall recently. An adult version of an Arnold Palmer with jasmine tea and gin, with a Twin Peaks-inspired name to boot? Sign me up. She said that she had made it, and that it was delicious! Oh but by the way she substituted Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong for the jasmine, agave for the honey, and homemade kaffir lime liqueur for the limoncello.

So yeah, she totally made a different drink. Which also sounds amazing! But as a fan of jasmine tea and honey, I wanted to make this drink.

However, like Laura, I am a little incapable of trying a recipe without futzing with it in some way. One of my favorite gin cocktails involves lemon juice, honey, and peppercorns; I found myself drifting to peppercorns again when thinking of this drink. That said, I don’t want to rehash the same thing over and over. And pickled peppercorns or black pepper both seem not quite right. Black peppercorns are too bold, pickled green peppercorns are too… pickled. But what about pink peppercorns? Fruity, citrusy, with just a hint of spice?

the Leland Palmer

Aww yeah.

The Leland Palmer
Adapted from The Leland Palmer by Damon Boelte for Bon Appétit

Serves 6

3 cups freshly brewed jasmine green tea (I used 4 teaspoons of DAVID’sTEA Dragon Pearls in 3 cups water) *
1/3 cup honey (or agave nectar for a vegan drink)
3/4 cup gin
1/2 teaspoon pink peppercorns
3/4 cup limoncello
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
1 12-oz can seltzer, chilled
ice cubes, for serving
lemon slices, for garnish
pink peppercorns, for garnish

Stir pink peppercorns into gin and set aside to infuse for at least an hour.

Brew jasmine tea, then stir in honey until fully dissolved. Set aside to cool completely.

In a large pitcher combine cooled sweetened tea, infused gin (including peppercorns), limoncello, lemon juice, and grapefruit juice. Chill until ready to drink.

Just before serving, stir in seltzer. Pour over ice, then garnish with lemon slice and/or a few additional pink peppercorns sprinkled on top if desired (they’ll float).

* If you are using high quality tea, consider making two half-batches of tea with the same leaves (or making a double batch of the cocktail and making two 3-cup batches of tea with the same leaves, which is what I did).

Fun with coconut bacon: warm and smoky spinach salad

So, coconut bacon. Have you tried it? It’s one of those vegan foods you can buy pre-packaged or make from scratch, and I went the former route mostly because… well, because I saw an IndieGoGo campaign for Phoney Baloney’s Coconut Bacon, thought, “hm, sounds interesting,” and pledged a few bucks. I then promptly forgot about it until three bags of the stuff ended up on my doorstep.

I didn’t really know what to expect. How much could coconut taste like bacon, after all? Well, if you ignore the fact that I am probably the worst person to ask about what bacon tastes like, the answer is that it varies. It’s crispy baked coconut, which works really well as a bacon bit sort of deal as long as it is in a situation that allows it to remain crispy. It also is, you know, coconut, so there is a light coconut flavor lurking behind the intense salty/smoky coating. It strikes me as the kind of thing that would work in certain sandwiches, salads, and definitely breakfast or baked goods.

The mister, on the other hand, used it in a stir fry. And he added it kind of early on. While I don’t remember the specifics, I do remember that it tasted like an overall pretty decent dish except for the inexplicable pockets of soggy smoked coconut pieces. :| When I was cleaning up after dinner that night, I said, “If I save this will you eat it?” He laughed and replied, “I guess that means you won’t?” (We did not save it.)

On the other hand, sprinkled on this salad at the very last minute and enjoyed immediately, the bacon stays crisp. The light coconut flavor that shines through under the smokiness complements the salad rather than competing. It is good, and you should eat it. The end.

warm and smoky spinach salad

Warm and Smoky Spinach Salad
Adapted from Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette by Smitten Kitchen

Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side

5 ounces baby spinach
2 large white button mushrooms
1 large egg, hard cooked
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon smooth Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 small shallots
1/2 cup coconut bacon (I used Phoney Baloney’s)
freshly ground black pepper to taste

First, prep your stuff. Slice your mushrooms very thinly. Slice the hard cooked eggs into slightly thicker medallions. Cut the shallot into thin slices. Then put the spinach in a large bowl, and top evenly with mushrooms and egg. Reserve shallots.

In a small skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Whisk in vinegar, honey, dijon, and smoked paprika. Add shallots and cook for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and immediately pour over the salad. Toss to combine, then evenly sprinkle coconut bacon over the top and toss again. Serve immediately.

Hot pickled asparagus for an easy and delicious spring canning project

Have you ever had one of those days when you find yourself at the grocery store with $40 worth of pickles in your cart?

No? Just me?

Not only did this happen, but when I posted about it on Facebook it got more “Likes” than anything else I’ve ever posted about in my entire Facebook career. I don’t even know what to think about this.

To be fair, I didn’t even have that many pickles to add up to that $40. What made it so ridiculous was two jars of rick’s picks. I don’t care. Worth it. I got home and promptly ate an entire jar of the mean beans for dinner. Salty, sour, crisp, and spicy. Almost a little too spicy, but not quite. Just perfect.

Except, uh, they’re $10 a jar.

So I’ve been thinking of making some of my own homemade hot pickled green beans, you know, to try to save some cash while still managing to accidentally pickle my internal organs from over-consumption of salt and vinegar.

But then I thought, waitwaitwait, it’s SPRING. And I kept seeing beautiful asparagus of all colors (green! purple! white!) show up in the farmer’s market and grocery stores. Why not pickle that?

I brought a jar to share with some lovely ladies after a group bike ride the other weekend. None of them had ever tried pickled asparagus before. One of them said: “I’d never even heard of pickled asparagus, but now I can’t imagine a world without it.”

In a word: YEP.

hot pickled asparagus

Hot Pickled Asparagus
Adapted from Pickled Asparagus by National Center for Home Food Preservation and Pickled Asparagus with Hot Peppers and Garlic by Dad Cooks Dinner

Makes 6 pint jars

7 1/2 to 8 pounds asparagus
4 1/2 cups water
4 1/2 cups white vinegar (5% acidity) *
1/2 cup pickling salt
6 cloves garlic
18 dried chili peppers
6 sprigs fresh dill
1.5 teaspoons black peppercorns
1.5 teaspoons whole coriander

* You can substitute some or all of the white vinegar with apple cider vinegar to your tastes. I went for all white vinegar in part because I was using my lovely blue glass canning jars, but using half apple cider vinegar gives delightful flavor. The important thing is to make sure it’s 5% acidity.

Equipment
6 pint jars, rings, and unused canning lids
boiling water canner with rack
jar lifting tongs
jar funnel (optional, but recommended)
clean dish towels

An important note: canning is one of those things where if you fool with established ratios you can die from botulism. Spices/seasonings can generally be changed around without worry, which is where you can get a little creative. You just don’t want to change types of vegetables or levels of brine acidity willy-nilly unless you are a food scientist with access to lab-grade pH testing equipment or something. If you’ve never canned before, you will probably want to study up on some basics before you get started. And use common sense when eating home-canned goods — leaking, compromised seals, weird growths, bad smells? Play it safe and throw that shit out.

To begin, prep your asparagus: wash and lay out on a dish towel to dry. Trim the stalks off so your spears fit upright in your jar — around 4 inches long.

(There will likely be some usable stalk left after you trim to size — cut that off and save for later use in stir fry, risotto, soup, etc.)

Peel and rinse garlic cloves. Rinse chili peppers. Rinse dill sprigs. Lay all out on a dish towel to dry.

Fill your canner so the water is at least an inch above the jars, and bring to a boil. (You might want to do this earlier depending on how long it takes your canner to come to a boil — I get mine started while I am prepping my asparagus.)

Sanitize your jars, lids, rings, and tools by boiling in water (or by using the sanitize setting on your dishwasher, if desired).

When you’re ready to pack, remove jars from boiling water. Put 1/4 teaspoon peppercorns, 1/4 teaspoon whole coriander, a clove of garlic, 3 chili peppers, and 1 sprig of dill in each jar. Then pack with as much asparagus as will fit, tips pointing up. You may not be able to fit all your asparagus into the jars, but better to have some leftover than not have enough to fill your jars, right?

In a large saucepan, bring water, vinegar, and pickling salt to a boil. Remove from heat, then ladle hot brine into each jar — a jar funnel makes this much easier, but if you don’t have one, just be careful. Leave 1/2″ headroom in each jar — it is okay if the tips of the asparagus are a little bit above the brine.

Wipe each rim with a clean, damp cloth. Center an unused, sterilized lid on each jar. Screw the rings over each lid until “fingertip tight” — that is, screwed on until you just start to get resistance, no tighter.

Using your jar tongs, place the jars on the rack in the canner. Wait for the water to come back to a boil, then process for 10 minutes (or up to 20 minutes depending on altitude — see this chart). Remove jars from canner, then place on a dish towel on the counter, not touching each other.

Leave undisturbed for at least 12 hours. Stay close by if you want to hear the satisfying “pop! pop! pop!” that lets you know you’ve succeeded.

Check that all jars have properly sealed by pressing down on the middle of the lid — if it moves and you hear a noise, put them in the fridge immediately and you can still eat them, but they will not be shelf-stable.

Remove the rings before storing if desired (they can sometimes rust or get stuck). Do not open for 3 to 5 days before eating to allow the asparagus to fully pickle. Store in the pantry for up to one year (hahaha yeah right, you’re eating these all within a month!). Then refrigerate upon opening, for up to one month.

A mouthful in more ways than one: Thai-incense smoked chocolate cheesecake cupcakes with coconut cream frosting

So, it’s been a really long time since I’ve posted. There’s not a real good reason, just a lot of little, shitty reasons. At least I’ve got something amazing to come back with. May I present to you:

Some marginally complicated but incredibly delicious cupcakes!

A major component of these cupcakes is the Thai incense candle, which you may be able to find locally if you’re lucky. I had to order mine online. I first read about these little guys in a recipe from Saveur — in fact, the flavor profile inspired these cupcakes. These candles are used to smoke sweets, usually cookies, with  an essence of  “various aromatic ingredients” such as ylang-ylang and frankincense. It’s kind of spicy, kind of smoky, kind of floral… it’s hard to explain without tasting it. But Saveur’s move of smoking a cheesecake with it was absolute genius.

Because I’m into the portability of cupcakes, I decided to see if I could transfer the experience of the cheesecake to something I could easily cart along to a board game night. And you know what? It worked. It really, really worked.

Thai-incense smoked black bottom cupcakes with coconut cream frosting

The chocolate cupcake was far more satisfying than the slip of a cookie crumb base in the cheesecake version. The smokiness of the cheesecake is still there, but not overwhelmingly so. When I made the cheesecake, I got some complaints of “too smoky” (not that I agreed with them). The cupcakes? No complaints whatsoever.

And the coconut frosting I devised is a little more aggressive than the coconut cream used on top of the cheesecake. I personally like to pipe just a little squirt of frosting on each cupcake instead of doing sky-scraping swirls — too much and it overwhelms the smokiness of the cheesecake into nothing. (This recipe will have a bit left-over if you also go the less-is-more route — the leftovers are great to add to an Oreo or Joe-Joe, for those times when eating a sandwich cookie isn’t unhealthy enough.)

After I made these cupcakes, my friend told her trainer that she ate two cupcakes which prompted her trainer to say, “I hope it was worth it.” Her response? “Oh god, yes. I cannot explain to you how worth it it was.”

I can’t think of a better endorsement.

Thai-incense smoked black bottom cupcakes with coconut cream frosting

Incense-Smoked Chocolate Cheesecake Cupcakes
Adapted from Black-Bottom Cupcakes by David Lebovitz from The Great Book of Chocolate
Inspired by Smoked Coconut Cheesecake by Saveur

Filling
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature and cut into 1″ cubes
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
Thai fragrant incense candle

Cake
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Frosting
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened
6 tablespoons unrefined coconut oil (chilled if needed to solidify)
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
3 tablespoons coconut cream
3 tablespoons heavy cream

Put a small, heatproof bowl inside of the bowl of your stand mixer. Put the cream cheese cubes in the mixer bowl around the smaller bowl. Light the incense candle, then put in the smaller bowl. Cover the mixer bowl tightly with a piece of aluminum foil. Let cream cheese smoke for 30 to 40 minutes, then remove the small bowl with the incense candle.

With the paddle attachment, beat smoked cream cheese and sugar until combined. Add egg and beat again until smooth. Refrigerate until needed.

Line 2 muffin tins with 16 paper liners and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Add brown sugar and stir to combine.

In a separate bowl, combine water, oil, vinegar and vanilla. Make a well in the center of your dry ingredients bowl and add the wet ingredients. Stir gently until just smooth — do not over mix.

Divide the batter evenly throughout the muffin tin — cups will be 2/3 full. Then divide the cheesecake filling among the cupcakes, about 2 tablespoons added to the center of each. (I used one of those cookie dough scoops with the spring loaded getter-outter part, which made things go a lot more smoothly.) You may have a little bit of cheesecake filling leftover.

Bake for about 25 minutes, until the cupcakes spring back if you lightly touch them. Set aside to cool completely before frosting — you can also refrigerate them for 2-3 days or freeze before frosting if desired.

To make the frosting:

Put butter and coconut oil in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whip until fully combined.

Add powdered sugar about 1/2 cup at a time, beating to combine between each addition. Whip on medium speed until fully combined.

Add coconut cream and heavy cream, and whip again on high until frosting is light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.

Spread or pipe frosting onto each cupcake. I prefer a little squirt so as not to overwhelm the cake, but you can pipe on more as desired.

Refrigerate in a tightly covered container until ready to serve.

Spicy pineapple seitan, for the mystery pineapple in your cupboards

Last year for my birthday, I had a hot dog party.

It was awesome.

Basically, we grilled up a bunch of Field Roast Frankfurters for me and the other veg*ns, Hebrew Nationals for the omnis, and provided a mountain of buns.

Then all the guests brought a different topping, potluck style. Toppings ranged from fancy-pants mustard to grilled onions to baked macaroni and cheese to guacamole. There were so many delicious toppings that I cut my hot dogs into pieces so I could do different toppings on each bite, and even then still ate way too many hot dogs.

So like I said, a lot of creative toppings, and surprisingly few repeats. But the one thing that showed up over and over was pineapple. People just brought can upon can of the stuff, crushed and tidbits alike. I’m assuming it was to make Hawaiiany hot dogs. But for some reason, none of the cans were actually opened at the party. And they, of course, all got left behind.

I rarely use canned pineapple, so I kind of forgot about it until recently when I was reorganizing the cupboard. My birthday is in April, so uh, they’d been sitting there for a while. Something needed to be done.

I used my favorite tender seitan, Companion Cha’i-Pow-Yu, which you can usually find at Asian markets. It doesn’t look very appetizing right out of the can, but trust me when I say it cooks up nice — just make sure you drain and rinse it. If you can’t get your hands on it, just use your favorite seitan.

Anyway, if you find some cans of mystery pineapple in your cupboard, this is what you’ve gotta do with it. If you don’t have any, this is worth buying some. Trust me.

spicy pineapple seitan

Spicy Pineapple Seitan
Adapted from Pineapple Marinade by Derrick Riches at About.com

Serves 3 to 4

1/2 cup crushed pineapple with juice
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons honey *
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch ground cloves
1 can Companion Cha’i-Pow-Yu (or 10 ounces of your favorite seitan)
1 small green bell pepper, cut into bite size chunks
1 small onion, cut into wedges
heaping 1/2 cup pineapple pieces (canned is fine)
1 serrano pepper, thinly sliced into rounds (remove some seeds/ribs as desired to dial down the heat)
1 teaspoon unrefined coconut oil
2 teaspoons cornstarch

Mix crushed pineapple, soy sauce, honey, vinegar, garlic, ginger, and cloves in a freezer bag or storage container and stir until combined.

Drain and rinse Cha’i-Pow-Yu, then add to marinade and stir to coat. Refrigerate and marinate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 8 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix seitan and marinade with bell pepper, onion, pineapple, and serrano pepper. Set aside.

Grease a small baking pan with the coconut oil, then pour mixture into it. Bake for 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and take a small amount of liquid from the pan. Stir it into a small bowl with the cornstarch until there are no lumps. Pour the slurry back into the pan, stir to combine, then bake for an additional 5 minutes, until slightly thickened. Let cool for a few minutes.

Serve with rice that has been lightly coated with melted coconut oil.

* Vegan substitution: Use an equal amount of agave nectar for a vegan dish.