Well, I did it again.
It has been two weeks since my last post, but that's because it was a busy two weeks. I did have some rather lofty and laughable aspirations of posting a new recipe within 3 or 4 days of the Tate's Bake Shop giveaway (congratulations to the winner, Donna!), so I missed the mark by just a tad. Note: In this case, "a tad" is defined as 11 days.
So here's a rundown of past two weeks:
First, some exciting news! Well, it's exciting for me at least. Eric's kind of excited too, since there's a potential substantial cash prize involved. Those two words always seem to get his attention. Last week, after submitting a video entry, I learned that I am one of four finalists who will be vying for the title of Sterling Vineyards Ultimate Host! Now, I don't know all of the details yet, but I do know that I will head to NYC in December to compete against the three other finalists for not only this prestigious title, but for $40,000 and a trip for four to Napa!! AND, as if that basket of goodies isn't enough, we will be judged by none other than Padma "Please pack your knives and go!" Lakshmi of Top Chef fame. No, I'm not at all intimidated. Not one teensy-weensy bit. At least that's what I keep telling myself.
You can bet that I will be praying to the Hosting Gods every night for divine hosting inspiration between now and December.
I also had the opportunity to serve as a judge for Mix 94.1's Bite of Las Vegas, our largest local food and music festival, which was loads of fun. Basically, my job (and I use that term loosely) was to visit the 40 food vendors at the festival, sample their best menu items, and then choose the winners in about 10 different categories. Yeah, it was rough.
My co-judges for the event were my friend, local food critic Al Mancini, and my new friends, chef Sammy D. from First Food & Bar at the Venetian, and our reigning Miss Nevada, the beautiful Alana Lee, who is doing one heckuva job representing our state. At 21-years-old, she has 100 times more charisma in her little toe I than ever had at that age..........but that's probably why she's Miss Nevada at 21, whereas I was waiting tables at The Outback.
The big winner of the day was a relatively unknown mom & pop barbecue joint called H&H BBQ. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it was the best barbecue that I have ever had. I say this as a girl who lived in Texas for 6 years and who went to graduate school in North Carolina, where BBQ is a religion. Seriously, give H&H a try. You won't regret it.
Right after my brutal judging gig, my mom arrived for a quick visit. Between you and me, I think that she really came to visit her beloved grand-dogs, who have the Pavlovian response of rolling over onto their backs and sticking their stomachs upwards whenever she (a.k.a. Chief Belly Scratcher) enters the room.
In between belly-scratch sessions, Eric and I took her to see the Cirque du Soleil show, The Beatles LOVE, which is by far my favorite of all their Las Vegas shows. To be honest, I'm not quite deep enough to really understand all of the symbolism that occurs during the show. I think that the creator might have had some, ahem, herbal assistance when he was coming up with his ideas, if you get my drift. It was still extremely entertaining, and I will definitely see it again.
And then, right after my mom departed, Eric came down with the flu over the weekend. No offense, but you men are such babies when you are sick. As a result, we missed our dinner out to celebrate our 8-year anniversary. On the bright side, as Eric put it, "At least I was able to go back to work on Monday and maintain my 16-year streak of no missed work days." Such a hopeless romantic, that Eric.
So in addition to all of the above and my work obligations, I have two big fat recipe flops to blame on this delayed post. Occasionally I'll have one idea that works really well in my head, but it is either a complete failure in the taste or the appearance department (or both.) Most food bloggers out there know that, even if your creation tastes extraordinarily yummy, it is extraordinarily tough to sell it to your readers if the picture doesn't do it justice. So, recipe #1 was a mess in the photo department.
Recipe #2 was just a mess. Period.
Fortunately, the third time was a charm. I had been experimenting with butternut squash puree in desserts instead of pumpkin, inspired by this year's rumored pumpkin shortage. The butternut puree has a higher water content, and the flavor is not quite as bold as pumpkin, so there was a bit of trial and error involved with the ingredient ratios. That said, when you roast the butternut squash before pureeing it, it becomes extra sweet and caramel-ly, which sets it apart. These butternut cupcakes are super moist and basically interchangeable with pumpkin cupcakes in the event of a pumpkin stock-out.
Now, onto the really important stuff: Let's discuss the buttercream.
If you've never had anything with brown butter in it or on it, I'm really, really sorry. Nutty, rich brown butter is not only one of the best aromas in the world, it transforms everyday recipes from ho-hum to woo-hoo! The idea occurred to me to take my simple vanilla buttercream recipe and replace the regular butter with brown butter. What resulted was one of the best, if not the best, simple buttercreams that I have every made. Addictive. I could not stop taking little samples here and there.....and there. See the little flecks of the brown butter in the photo above? I'm kicking myself for not making a triple batch (suggestion: make a triple batch).
- The brown butter buttercream can be prepared up to five days in advance and chilled, covered, until ready to use. Allow it to come to room temperature before proceeding.
- Make some extra brown butter and chill it separately. Use it for spreading on toast or warm rolls, topping pancakes and waffles, or on a baked sweet potato!
- Butternut squash puree: Preheat the oven to 425F degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Spray the foil/parchment with nonstick baking spray. Using a sharp chef's knife, halve a large butternut squash lengthwise and place the halves, cut sides down, on the baking sheet. Pierce the halves several times with the tip of the knife. Bake the squash until it feels soft to the touch and the skin has browned, about 40-50 minutes (depending on the size.) When the squash is cool enough to handle, remove the seeds and the pulp with a large spoon. Remove the peel and transfer the flesh to the work bowl of a food processor. Puree the squash until smooth.
- If you have any leftover squash puree, save it for a healthy side dish! Mix it with some cinnamon and maple syrup -- yummy!
Makes about 28 cupcakes
For the cupcakes
1 cup canola or safflower oil
1 cup sugar
1 cup golden brown sugar, lightly packed
4 large eggs
2 cups butternut squash puree (see tips above)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the Brown Butter Buttercream
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
4 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3-5 tablespoons heavy cream
Prepare the cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Line 2 cupcake tins with paper liners and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the oil with both sugars until well combined and smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the butternut squash puree and the vanilla.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the dry ingredients to the butternut mixture, beating until smooth and well combined.
Using an ice cream scoop (or a spoon) transfer the batter into the prepared cupcake liners, filling each about 2/3 full. Bake the cupcakes until the tops are firm and a toothpick inserted into the center emerges clean, 16-18 minutes. Allow the cupcakes to cool in their tins for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Prepare the buttercream: Place the butter in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Melt the butter, stirring occasionally, and continue to cook until the butter has turned deep brown in color and it has a nutty aroma. Allow the butter to cool for 10 minutes, then transfer it to a bowl. Chill the butter until it has firmed up but is still soft enough to stir.
Place the butter, confectioner's sugar, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat the mixture on low speed until well incorporated, then increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and beat until combined. Add the cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well for 30 seconds after each addition, until your desired buttercream texture is achieved.
Decorate the cooled cupcakes with the buttercream, either by spreading with a knife or by using a piping bag.