August 19, 2012

Spicy Grilled Tuna and Arugula Salad with Creamy Guacamole

Why does Trader Joe's have to sell a bag of four avocados for $3.29? (and why am I complaining about it?) The problem is that it's such a good deal that I can't pass it up, and then I spend my week thinking about avocados. I love guacamole and could eat it daily. But in the name of creativity, and since it would be a crime to allow an unused avocado to go bad, I try to think of new ways to incorporate avocado into a meal.

I was in a meeting at work when I started planning out this spicy tuna and and creamy guacamole salad. There were a few thought processes that went on while I dreamed of dinner at my meeting:

Non-meeting-related thought #1: I love spicy tuna rolls. I wondered how I could somehow pack that fiery flavor into my tuna steak.

Non-meeting-related-thought #2: Oooh, and what about that guacamole served at El Vez? (a restaurant on the street just behind my office). My favorite of their unique guacamole selections includes one with goat cheese and pistachios mixed in. It's unreal.

More non-meeting-related-thoughts ensued. I realized I had feta at home. The feta would add a salty, creamy zing to my creamy avocado topping. Then I secretly surfed recipes on my phone and started mentally concocting a marinade for my tuna steak based on a few different ones I found.

When the meeting ended I looked down at my notepad. What I'd written was....

Ingredients: serves 2
3 large cloves garlic, unpeeled
One jalapeño, stem removed
1/4 cup fresh lime juice + the zest of half a lime
2 tuna steaks
1/4 cup sliced red onion, divided
1 teaspoon chopped basil
1 teaspoon chopped mint
1 teaspoon chopped cilantro
1 ripe avocado
Sea salt

4 oz. arugula
2 oz. crumbled feta cheese
Half of the above red onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

Directions: In a dry skillet over medium heat, cook jalapeño and garlic cloves, turning occasionally until each is gently charred (a few minuted less for the jalapeño). Allow to cool, then purée in a blender with the lime juice, zest, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Pat tuna steaks dry and place in a shallow baking dish. Pour 1/8 cup of the purée over the fish and turn to coat both sides. Marinate 10 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, add to the remaining purée in the blender: half the red onions, basil, mint, cilantro, avocado, and a dash of salt. Purée until smooth, salt to taste. Set aside.

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the tuna steaks. Cook 4 minutes on each side for a medium steak, turning only once. Pile half of the arugula on each of two plates. Sprinkle the remaining red onion, and feta cheese, on each. Whisk together olive oil, balsamic, and a pinch of salt in a small bowl to make a dressing. Place one tuna steak atop each salad. Scoop half of the creamy guacamole on top of each tuna steak, then drizzle the olive oil and balsamic dressing on top of the salad. Serve immediately.

August 13, 2012

Lemon Vanilla Cupcakes with Raspberry Cream Cheese Frosting

Sorry I went MIA for a while. I was away on vacation on Martha's Vineyard, where I baked these lemon vanilla cupcakes with raspberry cream cheese frosting. I baked 30 cupcakes - one for each of the 30 family members there at our outdoor fried dough and grilled pizza party. I figured there would be plenty of leftovers since we also had my sister's amazing chocolate chip cookies to devour (more on those cookies later). There was barely a cupcake left by the end of the night.

I loved the dense, moist cake of this cupcake. It was substantial and satisfying to bite into and was truly luscious. The fresh lemon zest really brightened a basic vanilla batter with a summer citrus twist.

It was a addicting enough, then it got worse.

Cream cheese frosting is the best. Sorry to anyone who doesn't agree, but get me in front of a thick, perfectly tangy and sweet cream cheese frosting and I'm a goner.

Since it was a warm summer night, I wanted more than just any cream cheese frosting. I wanted each cupcake to feel like it was topped with summer berries.

 Sweet. Tart. Perfect.

Sorry -- these photos are from my phone. At dusk. It's hard to get worse conditions to do such injustice to such a yummy dessert.

Oh, and I know, the strawberry on the top of each is a little misleading, but when I finished baking and decorating I looked in the fridge to realize that the only fresh fruit I had left for garnish was a pint of strawberries. Doesn't it still look pretty?

At your next gathering consider these cupcakes. They're easy for guests to grab and devour in just a few bites, while still talking, drinking, and enjoying the evening. To me, that's what summer truly means.

Lemon Vanilla Cupcakes: makes 24 (I 1.5x the recipe to make 30)
2 1/2 cups flour 
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 stick (12 tbsp) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 3/4 cup sugar (I used 1 1/2 cup sugar)
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
zest of one large lemon
1 1/4 cup milk

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Lightly spray cupcake wrappers with non-stick spray. In a bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, salt together. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time so that each is well incorporated. Beat in vanilla and lemon zest. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with milk. Take care not to overbeat. Divide batter evenly into cupcake wrappers (should be about 2/3 the way high). Bake for 16 to 20 minutes and toothpick inserted into center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Cool on wire rack for at least 10 minutes then transfer cupcakes to cool completely. 

Raspberry Cream Cheese Frosting
1 stick butter, room temperature
1 block (8oz) cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar, plus more to adjust to taste and consistency
1/4 to 1/2 cup cup raspberry jam
2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice

Beat butter on medium-low speed until smooth and creamy. Add cream cheese and beat on medium-low speed until smooth and creamy (about 1 minute). Sift powdered sugar over creamed mixture and beat on medium low until the sugar is all incorporated. Add jam, and lemon juice to thin as desired, and continue beating. Do not overbeat. Refrigerate to set, then frost cupcakes.


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