Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sweet Potato and Leek Soup

Boston Public Garden

Spring is a beautiful time to be in Boston. The flowers and trees are finally in bloom. The weather can range from 80F and sunny to 50F and rainy in April. Today was a rainy day. Perfect for soup.  I had some leeks and a sweet potato, so I decided to saute them up and make some potato and leek soup. I have always used russet or red potatoes. The sweetness of the sweet potato really gave this soup a whole new dimension. A very nice surprise!

I didn't think to write this post until after I tasted the soup and missed out on capturing some photos of the cooking process. Luckily the recipe is simple and easy to follow. The soup is great as is, but can also be adjusted accordingly. I may for example add a little bacon for a smokey flavor or maybe a little sriracha for a kick! A little cinnamon or nutmeg would also be a nice addition. Serve with a warm baguette and viola! A complete, hearty and comforting meal to be enjoyed any season.


1 sweet potato
2 large leeks
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I used chicken)
salt and pepper to taste


Rinse leeks, chop and rinse again in a large bowl. Strain. Peel and chop sweet potato. Heat the 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large, deep dish saute pan. Saute leeks and sweet potato over medium high heat  until the leeks are translucent and sweet potato is soft,  about 20-25min. Add in butter, followed by 2 cups of stock and simmer on medium for another 5-10 minutes. Puree with blender. Add 1/2 cup milk during this process. Place back in saute pan to mix thoroughly and season with salt and pepper. Serves about 4.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Dessert and Cocktail Party with VuQo Vodka

Continuing on the theme of desserts and cocktails from my previous post featuring mix master Todd Maul and pastry chef extraordinaire Chris Cordeiro from Clio, I recently hosted a desserts and cocktail party in my apartment. This will be the first of many to come. I am always looking ot try new dessert recipes and I very much enjoy sharing my creations. I also received a bottle of VuQo vodka to sample. Desserts and cocktails are a great way to bring people together.

Strawberry Burst Cake with Mascarpone Cream Topping
Candied Orange and Lemon Peel
Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting
VuQo Vodka mixed drinks 
Prosecco with Hibiscus Flower

I had a concert with the Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library earlier in the day and had three hours to prep for the party. It was a whirlwind of baking which took about three hours. I was a little behind and was just finishing up the peanut butter frosting when the first guest arrived. I was using a small bowl to whip up the frosting because my larger bowls were not clean from all of the baking. As a result, chunks were splattering all over the kitchen! Sometimes it helps guests to feel more relaxed if you are still busy in the kitchen allowing them to help (at least it helps me when I am a guest!).  Once the frosting was under control, everything was miraculously done by the time the remaining guests arrived around 8:00. The desserts were enjoyed by all along with the delicious, strong drinks. The VuQo vodka was a hit! I will definitely be hosting more of these parties in the future.


VuQo Vodka Drinks
I was sent a sample of VuQo vodka back in January. It is distilled from coconut water. "VuQo Premium Vodka is the only vodka distilled from coconut nectar by using a modernized version of the old world Filipino technique of distilling coconut nectar to make tequilas.  Only the best ingredients are used to make VuQo Premium Vodka. The sweet coconut liquid is extracted, fermented and then introduced to a thorough process of continuous distillation and multiple filtrations. The end product is vodka of exceptional smoothness and clarity at the affordable price of $24.99." - VuQo 


Add about 5oz. of VuQo vodka to 3oz. of freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice, some lemon simple syrup (from making the lemon citrus candy), and some sparkling water. I really guesstimated the measuring while going a little heavy on the vodka! 

Here is what everyone thought of the vodka:

-"A sweet, pleasant aftertaste"-"Left me with a heady buzz, without the foggy disorienting feeling"-"Paired well with the citrus"-"Even coconut haters will love this vodka"

Find more information on VuQo Vodka and where you can currently purchase a bottle or two: http://www.vuqo.com/locations.html

Prosecco with Hibiscus Flower

Simple, sweet and a beautiful drink for display! I purchased a small jar of hibiscus flowers in sugar syrup a few months ago and was happy to create this drink with some Prosecco that one of my friends had brought to the party! You can purchase hibiscus flowers online or in many specialty food stores. I found mine at Christina's spice and Specialty Store in Inman Square


Add one flower to a glass followed by prosecco and a little syrup from the hibiscus jar.

Strawberry Burst Cake

Kristen said "this looked like something you would see when walking by a fancy pastry shop"!
That makes me smile. :)

Nikki is having a moment with her slice of strawberry burst cake

I first saw this recipe posted on one of my favorite blogs, Pixelated Kitchen where she had adapted it from Smitten Kitchen. Maybe I am biased, but it seems to be getting prettier! This may be my favorite cake of all time. The batter is foolproof.  It tastes great every time. I replaced the orange zest with lemon to give it an extra zing. It worked out perfect with the citrus vodka drinks! I also added a mascarpone whipped topping with a little vanilla extract which was so good that a friend was eating it by the spoonful without the cake by the end of the night!


  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pie plate
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 10-inch pie pan or 9-inch deep-dish pie pan.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, beat the butter and 1 cup sugar with an electric mixer until the mixture is pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in the egg, milk, vanilla, and lemon zest until just combined. Add the dry mixture gradually, mixing until just smooth.
  3. Pour the batter into the prepared pie plate. Arrange the strawberries, cut side down, on top of batter, as closely as possible in a single layer. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over the berries.
  4. Bake the cake for 10 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 325°F and bake cake until golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter, about 50 minutes to 60 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack. Cut into wedges and serve with lightly mascarpone whipped topping, ice cream or any topping of your choice.

Mascarpone Whipped Topping


8 oz. Whipping Cream
8 oz (1 container) mascarpone cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
confectioner's sugar

Whip cream with hand mixer until soft peaks form. add mascarpone and vanilla. Next, add sugar until desired consistency. place a spoonful of topping on each cake slice. Can be used for almost any dessert. 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes

Julia describes these as "gaaaaaa...! drooool!"

What's a dessert party without chocolate?! I found a recipe for "The Absolute Best Chocolate Cake" and just had to try it! Paired with a peanut butter frosting, I created a cupcake that tasted like a giant peanut butter cup. In fact, I am eating one right now as I write this post and the frosting is just right. Creamy, and not too sweet with just enough peanut butter. Exactly what I was aiming for! This was my first time making peanut butter frosting and I now want to put it on everything. Well, maybe not eggs! ;)

Chocolate Cake


2 cups boiling water
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt


  1. Preheat the oven to 350F, and line cupcake pan with cupcake tins.
  2. In a medium bowl, pour the boiling water over the cocoa powder. Mix it until it's smooth. Set it aside and allow it to cool to room temperature.
    • You'll have an easier time avoiding lumps if you start by pouring just a bit of water over the cocoa, and stirring that to a thick paste. Once it's smooth, add the rest of the water and whisk.
  3. In a large bowl, cream the butter until it's soft enough to beat easily. Gradually add the sugar, beating the mixture between each addition until it's light and fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating the mixture thoroughly each time. Incorporate the vanilla.
  5. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  6. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in three steps, alternating with the cocoa mixture. Mix until the batter is just smooth.
  7. Spread the batter evenly between the two greased pans.
  8. Bake the cupcakes in the preheated oven for 25-30 mins, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  9. Let the cakes cool 5 minutes in their pans, then transfer them to a wire rack. Frost.

    Peanut Butter Frosting


    • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
    • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
    • confectioner's sugar
    • 1/3 cup cream


    Mix butter and peanut butter with electric mixer until smooth. Add two cups confectioner's sugar followed by  the cream. Add more sugar for desired consistency; smooth for spreading on a cake, a little more dense for piping the frosting onto cupcakes.

I made some citrus candies to compliment the vodka drinks. They were great for snacking, garnish for the strawberry burst cake, and I also used the lemon simple syrup from the candying process to make the VuQo vodka drinks. It really added a nice flavor without compromising the natural flavor of the vodka. You can find the recipe for my citrus candies in my chai cupcakes with cinnamon buttercream post.

A good time was had by all. My dog Pluto added to the fun by entertaining everyone with his silly, attention grabbing dances and squeeky serenades! Everyone left in a bubbly sugar coma which is a great way to end an evening. I was reminded of how much I enjoy hosting parties. Stay tuned for the next!

I am now in a bit of a sugar coma after eating that cupcake while writing this post...

Check out the latest release from The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library where I play some mean kalimba! We covered two songs by Golden Bloom and they cover two of our songs! Swap Meet! We also just came back from a week long East Coast tour with Golden Bloom and Neutral Uke Hotel

Monday, April 9, 2012

In the Lab with Todd Maul & Chris Cordeiro

A Vapo Conversation

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go behind the scenes with Todd Maul, bartender over at Clio restaurant in Back Bay.  Todd is one of the exceptional bartenders in Boston. His creative concoctions compliment the complexity of the dishes created by Clio’s executive chef and co-owner, Ken Oringer
How does Todd create these harmonious concoctions? In addition to having a keen sense and natural talent for creative mixing, Todd utilizes lab equipment that you might normally find in most chemistry labs across the Charles in Cambridge. Self taught, he uses a rotary evaporator, a large centrifuge, test tubes and liquid nitrogen to filter out the molecular components of a particular flavor he would like to add to a drink. I certainly learned a lot during the couple of hours I spent in the "lab"!

rotational evaporator
 The day I visited, Todd was using the rotary evaporator to extract some Gran Classico essence and to make a paint from the extracted flavors. I enjoyed observing the preparation, which involved pouring liquid nitrogen into a large column. The alcohol boils at a controlled temperature and the vapor collects, cools and drips into another flask. Different “notes” are collected at various boiling points. Todd keeps a close eye on the drip rate, which gives an indication. This is all done by eye and experience. Quite impressive. 

While all of this was going on, Chris Cordeiro, pastry chef extraordinaire, was hammering some butter in preparation for Kouign-amann. Chris and Todd collaborate and exchange ideas quite often, which adds to the creation of exceptional drinks and desserts at Clio! 

Much to my delight, I was able to sample a Kouign-amann while waiting for the Gran Classico to reach the right boiling point! It was delightfully buttery, crispy, and filled with layers of sweetness. With a little hazelnut gelato! A must try! 


It was also bread day and Chris had whipped up a couple of banana breads and a delicious fruit and nut bread that is served with Clio's cheese plate.  
The vibe is relaxed and enjoyable in the pastry kitchen. I could have easily hung out there all day talking shop and sampling!

Next, the Gran Classico paint was made and everything was brought up to the bar where further experimenting took place with the Gran Classico creations. 

Gran Classico Paint

Gran Classico paint lining the Vapo Conversation glass

Todd became very focused and started pulling various liquors from the liquor cabinet and the result was a new drink called A Vapo Conversation which consists of: 
½ oz. Bols
½ oz. lime
¾ orange clement
½ oz. Grand Classico
painted glass with clasico reduction
Drop of the Gran Classico essence... 
The amount of work that goes into the creation of one drink was truly eye opening. There are many other drinks on the menu that went through a similar process. 

This drink is made with smoky essence of a cinnamon stick! 

Dessert Menu 

Drop by Clio and enjoy a Vapo Conversation and a Kouign-amann! Todd is always enthusiastic about talking about his craft and has recently begun featuring a special drink every Monday. The week I was there he made a batch of his famous eggnog. I have to say that it was best I have ever had and quite a treat to enjoy out of season! Todd will be a guest speaker at a chemistry conference in June. You can find out more interesting tidbits about Todd and updates from Clio on Twitter and Facebook: @ItsToddMaul & @ClioBoston, https://www.facebook.com/ClioRestaurant
Todd Maul
Chris Cordeiro

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