Saturday, October 18, 2008

Fiddling Around In The Kitchen With Mac

I have had a hilarious week taking care of my seven-year-old nephew Mac while his parents are away, and the days have been just packed. Mac lost both of his front teeth this past week, so we went to Ben&Jerry’s to celebrate the new big gap in his mouth. There was an incident in which poor Mac accidentally took a trip to the district school bus yard, but it all turned out fine in the end and we have gotten a TON of mileage out of this misadventure. It has been a fabulous week of story-telling, and he has practiced reading aloud in different accents, which cracks me up. We have watched our favorite movie “What’s Up Doc?” twice (the wacky 1972 screwball comedy with Barbra Streisand, Ryan O’Neal, and Madeline Kahn), providing our own spirited commentary which makes me laugh just as much as the movie itself! And we have definitely been fiddling around in the kitchen together.

Mac and I have a history of being in the kitchen together. He insisted on helping me make his birthday cake the year he turned four, and from that time he has been my little helper on many an occasion. He loves the movie “Ratatouille” and proudly refers to himself as my “Little Chef”. Here are a few cooking tips from Mac:

A garlic press is an effective and fun way to grate cheese. This works well for a semi-hard cheese such as cheddar, making it ready to add to hot cooked noodles for a quick and yummy macaroni&cheese.

It’s really fun scrambling an egg with an old fashioned springy whisk. This whisk doubles as an excellent radio antenna when balanced carefully on top of a tower of Legos.

Celery with peanut butter tastes even yummier when you add peanut butter chips on top.

And making chocolate cupcakes together can be a real riot. They’re even better when you use great cocoa powder. (We found my favorite Valrhona cocoa on sale at Whole Foods, oh happy day!)

Mac likes to measure and then level off the dry ingredients with a knife.

It’s important to keep your hands far away from the beaters when the mixer is on, no matter how badly you want to taste the batter. But a measuring cup with a long handle makes a good hat.

One of the perks of being the Little Chef is that you get to lick the beaters.

And the bowl.

It was really difficult waiting for the cupcakes to bake, and THEN there was the indignity of having to wait even longer for them to cool. But it was worth it, because the cupcakes were absolutely delicious!

Makes about 12 cupcakes (or more if you can keep your fingers out of the batter)

Louise’s Excellent-Yet-Easy Chocolate Cupcakes
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ cup whole milk

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

Beat the butter with an electric mixer until soft. Add the sugar and continue to beat for 3 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and unsweetened cocoa powder till they are well combined. Add a third of the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture, beating just till combined. Scrape down the sides and beat in half the milk. Continue alternating the dry and wet ingredients, scraping down the sides after each addition, and ending with the last third of the dry ingredients.

Fill the muffin tins two-thirds of the way full and bake for 20 to 22 minutes. The cupcakes are done when the top springs back when lightly pressed in the center. Transfer the cupcakes onto a rack to cool. When they are completely cool, frost with Mac’s Very Vanilla Frosting.

Mac’s Very Vanilla Frosting
½ cup (1 stick) softened butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 to 4 tablespoons milk

Beat the butter and 1 cup of the sugar with an electric mixer till well-combined and very fluffy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the remaining cup of sugar, mixing at first on low and then increasing speed. Beat in the vanilla and add 3 to 4 tablespoons milk until the frosting is of a spreadable consistency.

Frost the cupcakes using a small knife or offset spatula. To pipe the frosting, you can make a quick piping bag by filling a small Ziploc bag 2/3 of the way with frosting, twisting it closed, and snipping off one corner of the bag with scissors to create a little hole for the frosting to come out.

Mac recommends topping these cupcakes with vanilla frosting and decorating them with peanut butter chips and/or chocolate eyeballs, available at Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven. Serve with a tall glass of milk.

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