Refrigerator Moments; Strawberry-Lemon Mini Cupcakes & Buttercream; Simple Basil Ice Cream

Weird or Flattering?
That moment when, upon pinning a dress to taken in, the seamstress at the cleaners pats your waist and exclaims, “Ooh, sexy body!” Has that ever happened to you? No? Just me? Well, I suppose it’s always nice to be noticed.

Refrigerator Moments
In discussing my running efforts with my good buddy Rick, I made mention of the current issue of Men’s Health featuring Joe Manganiello, which I bought because, well, the reason should be obvs. Why I brought it up, however, is that in the article, JM recounts a moment when he and a friend were moving a refrigerator upstairs, the refrigerator fell, and he caught it – in the air! – and put it back down. “Who does that?” I said. “Like, yeah, I caught a falling refrigerator. NBD.”

“If I did that, I’d find a way to work it into every conversation I had.” Rick said. “I’d catch the refrigerator, put it down, and be like, ‘Hold on, I have to tweet this.’”

“If you caught a refrigerator, I’d work it into every conversation I had. ‘So my friend Rick, the one who caught a refrigerator one time…”

This led to a conversation about “Refrigerator Moments,” those moments were you unexpectedly do something super athletic. Rick had that moment in college when a medicine ball rolled his way and he palmed it, handing it back to the guys who were throwing it. I experienced my own moment when I tripped running up the stairs to catch the el and, through the power of my abs alone, righted myself and kept on running. (Thank you, Pilates, no expensive dental work for me!) I had another mini-fridge moment when the Millennium Park Pilates instructor told us to do one-legged pushups and I totally did. Whatever the moment may be, it’s encouraging when you realize you’re much stronger than you thought you were.

“You and me, when we get fit, we’re just going to go out to a parking lot and toss some refrigerators back and forth,” Rick said.

“A game of refrigerator catch,” I mused. “I like it.”

It’s good to set goals.

Fruits of Summer

Strawberry-Lemon Cupcakes

This weekend we held another Bakers Anonymous meetup. This time the theme was “Fruits of Summer,” celebrating the bounty that these warmer months offer us. Here I tested out two recipes I’ve wanted to try for a long time: strawberry cupcakes and basil ice cream. What could be a better pairing? Because I love lemon, I decided to throw some lemon into the cupcakes for good measure and get a nice mix of flavors there.

I’m a little disappointed to say that I’m not all that thrilled with the way they turned out. Neither the strawberry nor the lemon is particularly pronounced in the cupcake (I really should have used lemon instead of vanilla extract) and the frosting is saved only by the fact that I added a few drops of pureed strawberry on top. Don’t get me wrong, they were perfectly fine, but “perfectly fine” is not what I strive for. That little bit of acidity from the strawberry puree on top of the frosting really elevated them to something beyond what they were, and for that I’m happy, but I’d like the cupcakes to be something delicious on their own, too.

Not that any of this stopped me from gorging on the leftovers after seeing Fast & Furious 6 later that weekend. Too much JM refrigeratorness, too much fastness and furiousness…must eat cake…

Strawberry-Lemon Mini Cupcakes
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract*
1 ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup milk
5 ounces strawberries, pureed
zest of 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 350º.

In a medium bowl, beat butter and sugar with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and vanilla; mix well.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Alternately add flour mixture and milk, mixing well after each addition. Fold in strawberries and lemon zest.

Scoop into mini cupcakes pans fitted with liners. Bake 8-10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Makes 36 mini cupcakes.

*To up the lemon flavor, use lemon extract instead. This is what I’ll do if I make these again.

Strawberry-Lemon Buttercream
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon water
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
½ teaspoon vanilla*
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
zest of 1 lemon
1-2 tablespoons strawberry puree plus more for decoration

Whisk together the egg whites, sugar, water, and cream of tartar in a large stainless steel bowl. Set the bowl in a wide deep skillet filled with about 1 inch of simmering water. Make sure the water level is at least as high as the depth of the egg whites in the bowl. Beat the whites on low speed until the mixture reaches 140°. Do not stop beating while the bowl is in the skillet, or the egg whites will overcook. If you cannot hold the thermometer stem in the egg whites while continuing to beat, remove the bowl from the skillet just to read the thermometer, then immediately return the bowl to the skillet. Beat on high speed just until the mixture reaches 160°, 2-4 minutes.

Remove the bowl from the skillet and add the vanilla. Beat on high speed for 3-5 more minutes, to cool. The meringue should hold glossy peaks.

Beat butter in another large bowl until creamy, about 30 seconds. Beat a large dollop of the meringue into the butter until well combined. Continue to beat in about half of the meringue in large dollops. Scrape the remaining meringue into the mixture and beat until smooth and fluffy. Add in 1-2 tablespoons of the strawberry puree, to taste.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a Wilton 1M open star tip and pipe swirls on top. In the center of the swirl, add a little dollop of the strawberry puree.

*Again, for a more pronounced lemon flavor, use lemon extract.

Simple Basil Ice Cream
I’m happier to say that my basil ice cream turned out positively smashing. Seriously, why is mint the only herb to get the ice cream treatment? Basil is fantastically fresh and plays so well with cream and sugar and vanilla, it should be a perennial ice cream flavor. Get on this, Haagen-Dazs!

Basil Ice Cream

I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with things to get done that week, so I opted for the simple version of ice cream that my Cuisinart book offers. This is basically cream, milk, and sugar whisked together with flavors added, no eggs. While I enjoyed not having to separate eggs, temper them, and watch, hawk-like, for the moment when the mixture coats the back of the spoon, I could really tell the difference. Ice cream made with eggs is so…creamy. Without them it’s more granular and icy. It’s fine, just not premium quality. That said, I’m still in love with what I churned out and will be experimenting with more herbed ice creams in the future.

1 cup whole milk
1 cup packed fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
¾ cup granulated sugar
pinch salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, bring the milk to just below a boil. Remove from the heat and add the basil leaves; let steep for 20-30 minutes. For a milder basil flavor, strain out the leaves; for a more intense flavor, blend them in a blender (I opted to blend).

Add the sugar and salt to the milk and basil mixture and whisk to combine until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the heavy cream and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate 1-2 hours or overnight. Follow the instructions for your ice cream maker to churn out a delightfully green and deliciously fresh iced treat.

Makes about 1 ½ quarts.

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