Celebrating birthday with food

For Cliff’s birthday today, he requested osso bucco.  I also decided to make him chocolate bacon cupcakes.  Both items were rich and delicious…and I am sitting here feeling a little like a turkey stuffed with osso bucco and cupcakes!  I just need someone to truss my arms and legs together so I don’t burst open.

My brother introduced us to osso bucco last year, and Cliff and I both loved it.  We since then found a nearby butcher that carries milk-fed osso bucco on a daily basis, so when we indulge in osso bucco that’s where we always go (Market Meats on W. 4th).  I’ve tried a few different recipes of osso bucco, and I like this one the best (originally from http://www.cookstr.com, but tweaked a little with my preferences):

  • Four 1½ in (4cm) thick veal shanks (milk-fed if you can get your hands on them…so worth it) 
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup all purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/3 cup beef stock
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 3 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 2 anchovy fillets in oil, minced
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon

1. Season the veal with salt and pepper. Dredge in the flour and shake off any excess.

2. Melt the butter with the oil in a large flameproof casserole over medium-high heat. Add the veal and cook, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes, or until browned all over. Transfer to a plate. Add the onion and garlic to the casserole and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until softened but not colored.

3. Stir in the stock and white wine and tomato paste, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Return the veal to the casserole. Reduce the heat to low and cover. Simmer for 1½ hours or until the veal is tender. Check the stew occasionally, and if the cooking liquid has reduced too much, add more stock or wine. The finished cooking liquid should be quite thick.

4. Stir the parsley, anchovies, and lemon zest into the casserole, Adjust the seasoning and serve immediately.

I served the osso bucco with some polenta, and Cliff gave it the two-thumbs-up.  Joshua enjoyed the meat, but he enjoyed the sauce even more.  Osso bucco is quite rich.  With my appetite of a lion, I couldn’t finish the entire piece.  Or maybe that’s because I already had 2 cupcakes in my stomach before commencing the meal.  Either way, I would plan on not having a lot of rich side dishes when you make osso bucco.

 

As for dessert, I set out to make chocolate bacon cupcakes for Cliff, hoping to impress him with something a little different.  But when I asked him to “bring home some bacon”, he bought these really thickly sliced ones that are really hard to crisp up when frying.  So I knew that even though the bacon would taste good, it’s just not the right texture to add to the cupcakes.  I ended up making mostly basic chocolate cupcakes and just a few cupcakes with bacon added just to try it out.

As it turns out, the basic chocolate cupcake recipe was AMAZING.  Even without a sweet tooth, I ate FOUR CUPCAKES!  They were very moist.  The ones with bacon bits added were ok.  The bacon bits gave the cupcakes an new dimension which I really appreciate, but I just wish I had very crispy bacon bits to make it better.  I think if I had very thinly sliced bacon that I can fry to a crisp, I would have liked the cupcakes with bacon more.

The frosting was a chocolate buttercream frosting.  It was easy and quite good.  I think you can use whatever chocolate frosting you like.

If you don’t like bacon, I would encourage you to try the recipe and simply leave out the bacon.  It’s actually super easy, and REALLY GOOD!  The batter is a little runny, so I used a soup ladle to pour the batter into the muffin cups.

I promised to save my brother a few cupcakes.  They are currently sitting the fridge, waiting for him to pick them up tomorrow.  I’m not really sure if I have enough self-control to make sure there’s enough left by tomorrow!

Here’s the cupcake recipe (to make 24 cupcakes):

  • 12 thin slices bacon
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup cold, strong, brewed coffee (I used Artigiano’s private reserve espresso)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until evenly brown and very crispy. Drain, crumble and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, 3/4 cup cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the eggs, coffee, buttermilk and oil. Stir just until blended. Mix in 3/4 of the bacon, reserving the rest for garnish. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins with paper liner, dividing evenly.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven until the tops spring back when lightly pressed, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in the pan set over a wire rack. When cool, arrange the cupcakes on a serving platter. Frost with your favorite chocolate frosting and sprinkle reserved bacon crumbles on top.

Here’s the chocolate buttercream frosting recipe:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks or 1/2 pound), softened (but not melted!)
  • 3 1/2 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons milk

Cream butter for a few minutes in a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed. Turn off the mixer. Sift 3 cups powdered sugar and cocoa into the mixing bowl. Turn your mixer on the lowest speed (so the dry ingredients do not blow everywhere) until the sugar and cocoa are absorbed by the butter. Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and milk and beat for 3 minutes. If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add a little more sugar. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add additional milk 1 tablespoon at a time.

With bacon (you can’t see the bits of bacon in the cupcake from this picture, but they are there):

 

 

Without bacon:

 

 

 

A weekend full of food

I started feeling sick on Friday, so we made no set plans for the weekend in case I get too sick to do anything. It turns out that it was just a head cold, and not some nasty flu that hit me hard around Christmas time.  We figured that as long as I don’t sneeze on people’s faces, I might get away with pretending to look normal.  So on Saturday we went out for lunch.  Cliff suggested a place called Meat & Bread.  The name of the place didn’t quite get me interested.  I mean, really?  Meat & Bread?  It didn’t seem very creative to me.

But from the moment we walked in, I was sold.  First, the decor was simple, with a vintage feel to it.  The entire place was open, with a big communal table to share.  The blackboard menu only had a handful of items on it.  To order, you first talk to the person who’s cutting up their main attraction–the porcheta.  It’s a large piece of pork with crackling on it, roasted (I assume) until the crackling is crispy and flavorful.  If you’re ordering the porcheta (and most people do), this person will slice off your portion of the pork, top it up with some crunchy skin, and serve it on a chiabeta bun.  The next guy gives you a squirt of homemade mustard on a wooden board, and drizzle on some salsa verde on your sandwich.

I loved the idea of the sandwich being served on a wooden board.  How original!  And how cool!

Yes, it is just a sandwich, but man, it was one of the best I’ve ever had.  It is truly just meat and bread.  The meat is super tender and juicy, and the salsa verde makes it oh so flavorful.  I ordered mine with the bun to share with Joshua, and Cliff ordered his without a bun so his portion of the meat was served in a little dish.  All three of us devour our food and smacked our lips with happiness afterwards.

After filling our bellies with delicious meat and bread, we walked across the street to Revolver.  I’ve never heard of the place, but apparently Cliff has a secret life here.  This place makes your coffee using an exact amount of water (they weigh the water!) so that your coffee is the exact same strength every time.

I am not a coffee connoisseur, so places like this intimidate me.  I have no idea what I can even order, so Cliff ordered their featured coffee.  And just based on past experience at snobby coffee shops, I’d better not ask any stupid questions or they’ll deem me unworthy of smelling their roast.  So, I did the sensible thing and kept my mouth shut.  However, I couldn’t help but snap some pictures when the barista was making the coffee.  He looked up at me when he heard my shutter click, and I was just about to apologize when he said, “take as many pictures as you want.”  Hmm, ok!  I took that as a hint that I am allowed to ask questions, so I asked, why did you weigh the water, why do you make it with a metal filter, why did you cover it with a lid, is this scientific or tradition, blah blah blah.  The barista was very nice and actually explained to me why they do things a certain way.

The coffee was delicious, and I didn’t have to feel stupid asking all those questions.  It probably isn’t my all-time-favorite coffee, but it was a very neat experience with quite a good coffee.

We took it easy in the afternoon, and didn’t do much for the rest of the day.  I had been struggling with trying something new to cook this week.  When I saw the package of wholewheat tortillas shells out of the corner of my eyes, I had an idea.  A while ago I was at a party and someone brought some tortillas chips they baked.  So I found a Christmas cookie cutter and proceeded to cut up some tortillas shells, and baked the pieces in the oven at 350F for 10 minutes.  They turned out crunchy and went really well with some store-bought hummus.  Yes, store-bought hummus.  Come on, I can’t do everything!

 

Then Sunday was a day of experimenting with a recipe a friend gave me.  She posted a recipe for making her version of the Larabar, and I used the recipe as inspiration for this peanut butter and jelly bar:

It’s just dried pitted dates, dried apricot, and Adams crunchy peanut butter.  I got the dried fruits from Parthenon in Kitsilano.  I have to say, the bar was totally delicious and so easy to make!  All the ingredients are natural, with no added sugar or preservatives.  Joshua loved it!  I think I’ll just make these from now on, rather than paying an arm and a leg for the Larabar.

I didn’t have anything all that exciting planned for dinner.  Cliff said he felt like having osso buco, so I just gladly complied.  A while ago my brother made us osso buco and it was the first time we had it, and we’ve been hooked since.  Joshua loves osso buco too, so that’s always a bonus when he is willing to eat some iron-rich food.

Food is such a big part of our lives, and bonds us together with great memories.