Monday, May 31, 2010

Ruen Pair: L.A.'s Thai Town

Anyone who has ever glanced at my blog knows I love cake, but it is probably less evident that my go-to comfort food is Thai food. A pile of noodles is always less photogenic than a cute cupcake, so somehow the photos don't make it to the blog world. But regardless of appearances, something about the combination of sweet and spicy just makes me happy...perhaps not shocking since sugar obviously has an attraction for me, and doesn't spicy food have a sort of mood-altering affect on people?* In any case, Thai food is my first thought on a rough day, so given the proximity of finals at this time, it was an easy choice for dinner tonight.

Coconut soup (above) has had an increasing hold on my attention since I discovered the way each spoonful could feed the burn on my tongue and throat (which is a good thing!) and satisfy with its creamy texture.

Noodles always help me get to a good place, whether it be pad thai, as pictured here, or pad see yew, which always reminds me of my favorite childhood Chinese dish of beef chow fun. Smoky, sweet, mmmmm.

And at least one other spicy dish - cashew chicken, garlic pepper shrimp, panang curry - gotta keep nourishing the happy.

I do go for inauthentic Thai in a pinch, but my favorite for years has been Ruen Pair (can I just say, love that it sounds kind of like "ruined pear" as if a dramatic line in a tragic poem) on Hollywood Boulevard in L.A.'s Thai Town. The same strip mall boasts Thai Patio, which is also quite good and was very welcoming for my birthday dinner of 17 people, but I prefer the food at Ruen Pair (RP is cash only and does not serve alcohol). The restaurants in this area are open and bustling until the wee hours of the morning, so the next time you're out in Hollywood and crave a bite at 3 am, you know you can find something good here.

*According to Wikipedia: "It is common for people to experience pleasurable and even euphoriant effects from eating capsaicin-flavored foods. Folklore among self-described "pepperheads" attributes this to pain-stimulated release of endorphins, a different mechanism from the local receptor overload that makes capsaicin effective as a topical analgesic. In support of this theory, there is some evidence that the effect can be blocked by naloxone and other compounds that compete for receptor sites with endorphins and opiates."
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Cookies-n-Cream Cupcakes and The Amazing Scoop

There once was a little girl who was very attached to cookies-n-cream ice cream. She had her occasional moments with butter pecan and mint chip, bubble gum and rocky road, but if she followed her heart, it always led back to cookies-n-cream. It wasn't just that there were Oreos to be dug out of the sweet treat, but that alchemy of chocolate cookie chunks, their creamy centers, the ice cream melding it all into one - the cookies and the cream were magic together.

This same little girl loved receiving gifts. Not because she loved things, but because she could tell with a gift whether or not someone really knew her; whether or not they paid attention to her loves; whether or not they wanted to show her that they cared for her by sharing in that same love.

Over the course of her short years, she began to realize that most gifts did not live up to these expectations, and tempered them accordingly. Other people weren't mind readers, after all. Why live with disappointment when she could live with moderate satisfaction?

Little did she know that one day, her jaded 12-year-old mind would be revived. That she would in one moment glimpse that ideal of gift-giving and decide to never let it go again. That ideal showed up in the form of a cookies-n-cream cake.

In the midst of a week of Nutcracker ballet performances, with the excitement of her first solo role and Christmas looming two weeks later, her birthday was an afterthought. A brief meal to be followed by another performance. But at that meal, that cake - the cookies-n-cream cake - appeared without presumption nor guile in the hands of her grandfather.

She was amazed and starry-eyed before the Oreo-studded, buttercream-coated wonder. Its loveliness would please her tongue, but its taste would fade away before the knowledge that it was a gift. Her grandfather knew that she loved cookies-n-cream, remembered that fact on her birthday, made the effort to buy the cake, and presented it to her as a complete surprise. This was love.


This post is dedicated to my grandfather, who passed away 8 years ago today, for showing me the closest thing to unconditional love on earth, and for reminding me that I should not ever give up on my ideals. I love you and miss you, Gung Gung.

I really cannot think of a better introduction for these cookies-n-cream cupcakes; while not love incarnate, they are the closest thing to cookies-n-cream in cake form that I have been able to produce. I have posted previously on Oreo cupcakes with 7-minute icing, or buttercream icing, but these are the latest rendition. I added crushed Oreos to the buttercream, which gives them a bit of the feel that the ice cream creates. I also confirmed my theory that Reduced-Fat Oreos actually work the best in this recipe, since they grow soft when pushed into the middle of the cake (yes, there's a whole Oreo in the middle of the cupcake!), unlike regular Oreos, which stay crunchy after baking.

So, here's how to do it:
1. Make a Devil's Food chocolate cake mix from Duncan Hines. After you scoop* the batter into each cupcake mold, press a whole Oreo into the batter so that the batter squooshes over the top of the cookie's edges. Smooth the batter over the cookie and bake according to the instructions for the cake mix.

(If possible, use one of these scoops - it will make your life so much easier! See my notes below)

2. After cooling the cupcakes, cream together the buttercream, slowly adding the powdered sugar to the butter and vanilla, followed by the milk/cream:
1 C (2 sticks) salted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 C (1 lb) powdered sugar
1-2 T milk or cream

Add 10 crushed Oreos (crush in a heavy-duty freezer bag) and mix in well.

3. Spread the cookies-n-cream buttercream generously on each cupcake. Top with a fourth of an Oreo. This whole recipe should require one whole package of Reduced-Fat Oreos and should make about 24 cupcakes.

*I used to feel that a scoop like this one from Pampered Chef was unnecessary in my kitchen for anything other than ice cream, but have realized through trying to replace it with measuring cups, ladles, and spoons, that nothing does the job in baking nearly as efficiently. Not only does the scoop measure out exact amounts each time, but it has the all-important scraping mechanism to push the batter or dough out of the scoop. Runny batter pours out well without dripping too much, and stiffer dough packs in nicely and comes out cleanly with the scraper. These are the scoops I used for my compost cookies.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Friday, May 7, 2010

Salted Chocolate Chocolate Cookies

Remember those compost cookies I posted on not long ago? Well, since I made them the first time (and loved them) I messed with the recipe a little bit to make a yummy chocolate version. I swapped out some of the flour for cocoa powder, used chocolate chips for all of the candy component (although white chocolate chips would be great!), and used baked potato chips and pretzel sticks for the salty elements. The result was a fabulous salty-sweet chocolate combo that really works with these buttery cookies. So go for your own spin on these treats - it's bound to be successful if you don't change the ratio of wet to dry.

I also tried freezing the dough in scooped-out portions for a week; they took a little longer to bake when I put them directly into the oven, but turned out just fine.

Here's my salted chocolate version:

1 C unsalted butter
1 C granulated sugar
3/4 C light brown sugar
1 T corn syrup (optional, if used will make the batter shiner)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 C all purpose flour
1/4 C Dutch process cocoa powder
2 tsps baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsps Kosher salt
1 1/2 C chocolate candies (chocolate chips, M&Ms, etc.)
1 1/2 C salty snack foods (crushed potato chips, pretzels, etc.)

1. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. Cream the butter, sugars, and corn syrup together in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (the whip attachment or a hand mixer would whip in too much air). Beat them at medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes until fluffy and pale yellow. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber scraper.
3. At a lower speed, add the eggs and vanilla. Beat at a medium-high speed for 10 minutes. The mixture will become pale in color and almost double in size.
4. After the 10 minutes, at a low speed add the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, mixing just for 45-60 seconds until all the dry ingredients are just incorporated.
5. Add your chocolate candies for 30-45 seconds, followed by your salty snacks, all at a low speed. Do not overmix, just mix until these ingredients are evenly distributed in the batter.
6. Portion the dough onto the cookie sheets (as you can see, they will run together if you put 12 on a pan!). Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of one hour, maximum 1 week.
7. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. When the oven is ready, remove one cookie sheet at a time from the refrigerator and bake for 9 to 11 minutes. Check them at 9 minutes to see if the middle of the cookie is browned to the same color as the edge of the cookie; if the middle is still pale and doughy, leave in the oven for the additional minutes.
8. Cool the cookies completely on the pan. Store in air-tight containers.