Monday, August 11, 2014

I'm back! (and lavender simple syrup)


Friends, friends, friends. I am back from the depths of conferences and wedding planning to bring you a recipe that is entirely summer: simple and fresh. Things have been super crazy here at S&C, as I've gone to two conferences, spent a weekend back in PA, gone on a mini-vacation to Portland and run two 10Ks and an 8K. Phew! This weekend was very low-key, and I'm grateful for the chance to take it easy!

One of my favorite parts of summer is growing herbs on our back porch. Andy and I are really lucky that we are able to have a little bit of our own outdoor space in the middle of a city. We can eat outside at our patio table and enjoy our garden and a nice breeze.

This year, we are growing cherry tomatoes (bruschetta!), basil (pesto!), peppermint (flavored water!), Thai basil (stir frys!), rosemary (everything!), lemon thyme (cake!), and lavender (?!). Lavender is totally new to me, but I figured it would be a fun challenge to use it in my cooking. So far, I have made lemon-lavender tea cakes that were devoured by my labmates as well as lavender simple syrup, which I am going to share with you.


Why was I not aware that simple syrups are so...simple? And that you can flavor them with WHATEVER you want! We have a SodaStream, and I can't wait to make my own lavender soda. And lavender lemonade. And lavender everything.


Lavender Simple Syrup

Science & Cupcakes OriginalMakes 1.5 cups


Ingredients


1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1.5 tablespoon fresh lavender flowers/buds (you could also use dried lavender if you don't have fresh)

Instructions

Combine water, sugar, and lavender in a small saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil. Lower heat and let simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and let cool slightly. Using a fine strainer, remove the lavender leaves from the syrup. Let syrup cool completely, and store in an airtight vessel.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Less Than 1 Week to My 10K Race!

I don't think I have talked about this at all on my blog, but over the past few months, I've been following a 10K training plan. I have run two official 5Ks in my life, and I wanted to up my game to a challenging but doable new level. When I started my training for the 10K, I had no expectations and didn't even sign up for a race. I have never run more than 3.5 miles at a time in my entire life. I didn't know how my body was going to respond to the increased mileage, so I didn't want to set an unreasonable goal until I knew a bit more about my capabilities. I didn't really start running at all until graduate school when I really decided to take control of my fitness and wanted something where I could easily measure my progress and set goals. Running fit the bill.

At first, I hated running. It was painful, and I couldn't even run for more than a few minutes without getting winded. I completed the Couch to 5K program to run my first 5K in summer of 2011. I followed the program again during summer 2013 to run my second 5K. At this point, I didn't feel like I wanted to die after the race and was even starting to enjoy running. Thus, I challenged myself to a 10K. I need structure, so having a plan to follow was key. I found one that matched my abilities and went to town.

Our Graduate Student Association at Northwestern does a 5K/10K every year, and the timing fortuitously lined up with my training schedule. The race is this Saturday (eep!). I'm feeling mostly ready. A bunch of MatScis are signed up for the race, so I'll be in good company. I even convinced my friend Ricardo to do the 5K, which will be his first race. Also, Andy will be running with me, so I'll have someone to cheer me on/make me keep running. :)

The plan I'm following started with a 1.5 mile run. The plan is nominally 8 weeks, but I have been following it more casually, so it has taken me a little bit longer. I completed a 5 mile run last week and felt awesome afterward. I even took a gym selfie to mark the occasion.

I probably looked like a weirdo in the gym, but whatev.

This week is my tapering week, so I'm only doing a 3 mile and a 2 mile run in addition to IM soccer and some stationary bike cross training. I'm really excited for the race on Saturday. I think it's safe to say that I (gasp) even enjoy running now. It clears my head and gives me some time all to myself without distraction. When the weather is nice, running is a great way to see new parts of Chicago. I think that it's true what they say about runner's high. After pushing through one race and vowing never to do it again, you just go right back and sign up for your next race. :)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Coffee Hour: Department Domination Edition

If you've read my blog at all, you know that I go all out for my department's coffee hour when it is my group's turn to host. There is sort of an unofficial ranking of the best coffee hours in the department. The Barnett Group/Bedzyk/Chung coffee hour is usually somewhere near the top. However, it is generally accepted that Mason/Faber is one of the best. 

However, the Mason/Faber contingent is disbanding.

Professors are moving and retiring, and the Mason/Faber coffee hour will be no more. That leaves room for a new reigning coffee hour champion.

Enter: Barnett

The normal recipe: hummingbird cupcakes pre-cream cheese frosting

My labmate Ann and I decided that we were going to pour all of our confectionery efforts into totally bringing it this past coffee hour. I had a normal recipe in mind (these delicious and somewhat healthy hummingbird cupcakes). However, I also wanted to find the most insane recipe I could find to put our coffee hour over-the-top.

I present to you: Man-Whore Bars.


These bars are so intense that they put their predecessor of Slutty Brownies to shame. They look fairly innocuous when you look at them from the top view. But then you look at them from the side...

Holy moly.

I had to take a picture of the cross-section of these beauties because it is just so insane. And then you cut into them....

Edible geology!

I was actually laughing hysterically as I cut these bars because I had to put my entire weight on top of the knife to get it to cut through.



We said we were going to bring it this coffee hour, and ooohhhh, boy did we bring it.

Man-Whore Bars

From Baker's Royale


Ingredients


1 16oz. package of ready made cookie dough, or one batch of homemade (I made the cookie recipe on the back of the Nestle morsels bag, which is the best, duh)
1 batch of chocolate ganache (recipe below)
16 regular size Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
16 Oreos
10 oz bag marshmallows (mini ones work best)
5 cups Rice Krispies cereal
3 tablespoons butter

Directions


  1. Create a foil sling by lining a 9x9 pan with foil with a two inch overhang on each side, using two criss crossed foil pieces. Spray sling with non-stick bake spray.
  2. Spread cookie dough evenly in the bottom of the pan so that it is about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick (this will use about 2/3 of the cookie dough). Place pan in oven and bake for approximately 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
  3. Place excess cookie dough on a cookie sheet and bake according to recipe directions. (I actually made more cookies and chose a few of them to break up for the topping.) Remove from oven and set aside to cool. Once cooled, crush 1-2 cookies to a fine crumb and set aside.
  4. Once cookie crust in pan has cooled, spread half of ganache on top.
  5. Melt butter in a large pot over low heat. Add marshmallows, and stir until completely melted. Add in Rice Krispies, and stir until well-combined. Spread half of the Rice Krispies mixture over ganache.
  6. Place a layer of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups on top of Rice Krispies layer. Next, place an Oreo on top of each Reese's cup. From there, spread remaining Rice Krispies mixture on top.
  7. Spread remaining ganache on top, and sprinkle with crushed cookies.


Chocolate Ganache
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter

Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Place cream in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Pour boiling cream over chocolate. Gently stir until chocolate is completely melted and shiny, about 2 minutes. Set aside to cool and thicken at room temperature about 1-2 hours.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I hope everyone had a great St. Patrick's Day weekend and is out there wearing green today! I celebrated by going to a potluck brunch with friends and then heading downtown to see the Chicago River in all of its green glory. The river is really as neon green as it appears in the photos (check out this nifty time lapse of the river being dyed green if you don't believe me).

I went a little nuts with the St. Patty's Day baked goods this weekend, but I think my favorite recipe out of all of them was this one for Bailey's Chocolate Chip Cookies. Unlike some recipes that say they contain an ingredient but don't actually taste anything like said ingredient, these cookies are chock full o' Irish creamy goodness. The smell of Bailey's will absolutely permeate your house while the cookies are baking. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!


Bailey's Chocolate Chip Cookies

From Gimme Some Oven

Makes about 6 dozen cookies


Ingredients

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 2/3 cups flour (I used 2 cups all purpose and 2/3 cup whole wheat)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
8 Tbsp. Bailey's Irish Cream
1 cup white chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt until well combined.
3. Using an electric mixer, cream together butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla until fluffy. Add in the Bailey's one tablespoon at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl to be sure that everything is well combined.
4. Gradually add the dry ingredient mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, and continue mixing until well-mixed. Fold in white chocolate chips.
5. Drop the dough by the tablespoon onto a greased baking sheet, spacing the cookies 2 inches apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes (center will still be slightly soft but will set as the cookies cool). Let sit 3 minutes on cookie sheet before transferring to a cooling rack.

I enjoyed them so much that I could barely keep it together for the photo shoot.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Two Year Blogging Anniversary!

I just wanted to take a moment to celebrate something that almost went completely unnoticed.

Today is the two year anniversary of the Science & Cupcakes blog!

I can't believe it has been that long already. Two years ago, I was still taking classes, Andy and I were living in Evanston, and I was in a frenzy getting ready for my summer away in New Mexico/California to work at Sandia National Laboratories. Now, the end of grad school is coming into view, we've moved into a great apartment in Lakeview, and Andy and I are in the midst of planning our wedding. So much has happened in these past few years!

Thank you to everyone who follows my posts. I hope you enjoy reading about my adventures in baking and grad school as much as I enjoy writing about them. Nothing makes me feel more warm and fuzzy than hearing that people make and enjoy the recipes I post here and that my words can make their day a little brighter.

Here's to many more posts in the years to come!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Black Forest Cupcakes

Happy Thursday, everyone!

I can tell it's going to be one of those days that just sort of drags on. I basically started counting down to my department's weekly 4 PM coffee hour as soon as I got to my desk this morning. Usually, I can tell what kind of day it will be by how early in the day I realize that it's Thursday and therefore, coffee hour day. On a good day, I make it to 3:45 and then remember "oh man! Thursday! Awesome!." On the less-than-great days, I realize that it is Thursday immediately and begin the 6 hour countdown. Ooof.

In honor of coffee hour, I'm bringing out another recipe that I made for one of our department functions - in this case, the MatSci holiday party. As much as I like making complicated, homemade recipes, sometimes I really just want to make things from a box. There's no better way to handle dessert if you're cooking for a crowd, especially a not-very-discerning crowd (aka a department of people who will eat just about anything) than dumping a bag of mix into a bowl and throwing in some eggs and water. There is no shame in this, as boxed cakes and brownies are almost as good as the real thing with a fraction of the effort. Fancied up cake mixes (e.g. adding pudding, chocolate chips, and the like) are one of the easiest ways to take something simple and give it a little bit of oomph.

This black forest cupcake recipe comes from my first foray into making filled cupcakes. I really wanted to make a simple, cherry-filled cupcake. Most every recipe on the interwebs seemed to have a compote component, unnecessary chopping, or nonsense like this involved. That sort of defeats the whole purpose of making something easy, no?

I decided to go semi-homemade here, and the resulting recipe is as easy as it gets. Cake mix. Pie filling. A little mixing to make a super simple whipped cream frosting. The results are amazing for how easy it is. You can say you made it from scratch. I won't tell. :)



Black Forest Cupcakes

Cupcake recipe/filling: S&C original
Frosting from Hoosier Homemade


Cupcakes
1 package devil's food cake mix (preferably with pudding in the mix or if not, add a small box (~3.4 oz) of chocolate pudding yourself)
20 oz can of cherry pie filling

Frosting
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, cold
6 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Red sprinkles and cocoa powder (optional, but awesome)

Instructions

Cupcakes

1. Line a regular-sized cupcake tin with baking cups. Prepare cake mix as recommended on the box. Pour into cupcake liners, and bake as directed. Let cool completely.
2. Using a knife or a cupcake corer, remove the center of each cupcake. (See my tutorial if you need help) KEEP THE REMOVED CUPCAKE CENTERS. You will put them on top of the cherries to prevent the filling and frosting from mixing and turning pink.
3. Fill each cupcake with about 1 tablespoon of cherry pie filling (2-3 cherries worth of filling). Gently press down on the filling to get it further into the cupcake.
4. Place the cupcake center removed in step 2 on top of the filling, and press it gently into place. It is okay if it sticks up a little bit.


Frosting

1. Pour whipping cream into a large mixing bowl, and beat on medium until it starts to thicken.
2. With the mixer running, add powdered sugar 1 tbsp at a time. Once all the powdered sugar has been added, beat on high until stiff peaks form, being careful not to overbeat the mixture.
3. Fold in vanilla extract.
4. Using a piping bag with a large tip (2A or 1A) or a gallon-sized ziploc bag with the corner cut off, pipe the frosting into a swirl on top of each cupcake. Top with red sprinkles and cocoa powder. Keep cold until ready to use to maintain integrity of the frosting.

Note: I would recommend making these at most one day prior to their consumption, as the cake will absorb some of the cherry filling overnight. You don't want them to get soggy!


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Kale Alfredo?!

No amount of punctuation can really express how excited I am about this recipe. This creamy, delicious alfredo sauce features an unlikely vegetable hero instead of the usual suspects of butter and cream: cauliflower!

I've got veggies for days

I was skeptical of the glowing reviews when I first read this recipe, but the cauliflower really makes a velvety sauce that satisfied my craving for creamy, buttery pasta. I would say this recipe was infinitely more successful than my attempt at cauliflower pizza, which is all the rage on Pinterest, that basically turned out like eating a weird potato-like pancake with some marinara sauce and cheese on top.

When I looked at the pictures of this dish online, it seemed a little...boring. Where is the color? The excitement? The vitamins? Since I love spinach alfredo, and we had a bunch (literally, an entire bunch) of kale left over from making my favorite pasta dish earlier in the week, I was inspired to modify the dish and add a pop of green. Behold, kale alfredo was born!


This recipe makes three generous dinner-sized servings. When I reheated the pasta, I added a little bit of water to reconstitute the sauce, as it dried out a bit upon cooling and refrigerating. You can also use a bit of milk if you prefer.


Kale Alfredo

Sauce based on Healthy Fettuccine Alfredo from Pinch of Yum
Addition of kale by necessity

Ingredients

6 oz uncooked pasta (I used Barilla Veggie Pasta)
1 small head cauliflower
2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 large handfuls of kale, torn into bite-sized pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon butter
1/3 teaspoon salt
dash of nutmeg
dash of black pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoon heavy cream
1/3 cup starchy boiling water from pasta pot (reserve more for thinning sauce)

Instructions

1. Remove outer green leaves and woody portions, and chop the cauliflower (florets and stems) into bite-sized pieces. In a medium saucepan, bring the broth to a boil over medium high heat, and add cauliflower. Cover and cook until cauliflower is soft, about 15 minutes. (The longer you cook it, the easier it will be to blend, and the smoother the sauce will be.)
2. Spray a non-stick skillet with cooking spray. Heat to medium, and add kale. Add about a 1/4 cup of water to the pan to prevent burning and to aid in cooking/steaming the kale. Saute until bright green and limp, about 5 minutes, adding additional water if necessary. Remove kale to plate, and set aside.
3. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, and saute for 3-4 minutes or until soft and fragrant (but not brown).
4. As the garlic and cauliflower are cooking, bring a large pot of water to boil, and cook the pasta according to directions on package, reserving some of the starchy water to add to the sauce later.
5. Transfer cauliflower to a blender with about 1/2 cup of the broth. Add the sauteed garlic, salt, nutmeg, and black pepper and puree until very smooth, about 3 minutes, adding additional broth if needed (I used almost all of the broth I had to get it to blend smoothly). Once the mixture is moving, stream the olive oil into the blender. Add more broth or water if the mixture is too thick to move through the blender easily.
6. Wipe out the butter/garlic skillet to remove any burnt bits, but leave a bit of browned butter on the bottom of the pan to add a nutty flavor to the sauce. Transfer cauliflower puree back to the butter/garlic skillet.
7. Stir in the heavy cream, and cook over low heat. Add the starchy pasta water and the kale, and cook until warmed through. Add more pasta water, if needed, to get the consistency you prefer. Drain noodles and add them to the skillet, stirring to coat the pasta evenly. Enjoy!