Saturday, December 13, 2008

It's a Green(Card) Christmas (now, with pictures)

My friends, Sid and Nancy (yes, you read that right), are having a holiday party tonight. Sid recently received his Green Card (hence the name of this post and their party theme) and to celebrate I decided to make some green food and bring it with us to the party. Although I recently learned that Green Cards are, in fact, no longer green. Thank you, Google.

What did we do before the Internet when we needed to know something IMMEDIATELY?

But I digress.

Most green foods are healthy and this was for a party. A holiday party. I wasn't going to bring grilled asparagus (although I did provide a recipe at the end of this post). I wanted to make something Festive. Fun. Delicious. Calorie-laden. So I made these:

These cupcakes are chocolate-y but not overpowering and, despite the two cups of sugar, not too sweet. They stand up nicely to almost any kind of icing - especially those that tend to be rich and/or sweet.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Peppermint Buttercream
Yields 24-28 standard sized cupcakes
Cupcake recipe adapted from Hershey's

For the cupcakes:
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 c cocoa powder (unsweetened)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup boiling water
  • Pre-heat oven to 350F. Line 2 twelve average capacity muffin tins with the liners of your choice.
  • Stir together the dry ingredients in a bowl that will accommodate the entire recipe.
  • Add in the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla and beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes.
  • Stir in boiling water (the batter will be very thin - so thin you'll think you ruined it).
  • Fill the cupcake liners 2/3 of the way.
  • Bake 22-25 minutes (it was exactly 22 minutes in my oven but times may vary).
  • Allow to cool before icing.

For the frosting:
3/4 c unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened
1 box (4 cups) confectioner's sugar
3-4 TBS milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
Green food coloring - optional (unless of course these are for a party where the theme is GREEN)*
8 standard candy canes, crushed (place in a Ziploc bag, pound with a rolling pin and voila)
  • Combine the butter and 1/2 of the sugar in a large bowl. Mix on medium to combine well.
  • Add in the remaining sugar, milk and extracts and mix on medium until combined.
  • Add in coloring if desired (or required)
  • To beat out any bubbles that might appear in the icing and prevent a smooth finish (if you care for one) take a wooden spoon and sort of "mash" the icing until there are no more air bubbles visible.
  • Icing keeps, covered in an air-tight container, 3-4 days.
To assemble:
  • Ice each cupcake with the icing building up a slight rim or lip at the edge.
  • Gently roll the edge in the crushed candy canes (spread them on a plate for easier access)

*Note: When it comes to food coloring I prefer the gels to the liquids. They are easier to deal with, more precise and produce more vivid colors (full disclosure - they're also more likely to stain as evidenced by my green fingernails -which are fine now). They are available in limited colors from Williams-Sonoma ( or a variety of colors from Wilton (

As promised:
Grilled Asparagus with Lemon and Parmesan
Yields 4-6 portions as side dish

This recipe is a family favorite and a great "go-to" for a quick side-dish on a busy weeknight. It's also elegant enough to serve at a dinner party (I vaguely remember attending those in another lifetime) or holiday dinner.

1 1/4 lb asparagus (a good sized bunch - think 5-6 stalks per person)
1-2 TBS olive oil
Zest of one lemon
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
A few TBS of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Preheat the oven to 400 F.
  • Wash asparagus and dry thoroughly (any excess water will result in steaming and we don't want that).
  • Trim off the tougher ends of the asparagus - you can either break them individually at the point where they bend or just line them up and chop off about an inch or so from the bottom (guess which method I use?).
  • Toss the asparagus with the olive oil, lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste (I like these salty but remember the Parmesan will add more salt at the end). This step is great for child involvement - they'll love the tactile experience of the oil.
  • Place the asparagus on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer, leaving room between the stalks so the air can circulate.
  • Roast for 20-25 minutes or until the asparagus starts to brown, shaking the pan once or twice during the process.
  • Remove from oven, place into a serving dish and sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese which will melt from the heat of the asparagus.
  • Leftovers (if there are any) are great on their own, served cold, chopped into a salad, mixed into cous cous or quinoa, tossed with pasta, as an addition in a quiche...

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