Sunday, October 17, 2010

New Guest Recipe: Gluten Free Peanut Butter Cupcakes

With the second anniversary of the Cucina Domenico blog coming up, it is no secret that networking has played a major part in gathering my blog followers and readers. From my co-blogging project with Una Mamma Italiana and earning a spot on Lorraine Ranalli's Cucina Chatter radio broadcast, to forming Facebook friendships with Johnny "Meatballs" DeCarlo and many other food bloggers, I am very grateful for the opportunities that networking has brought.

This week I am very proud to introduce a new friend to the Cucina Domenico readers. Emma Caperelli Loerky is a South Philly native who I had the pleasure of becoming Facebook 'friends' with via this blog. I would often notice the fantastic recipes that Emma would post. Her recipes are always very creative and beautifully presented. They are also often gluten free. Being very impressed with her creativity and focus on gluten free recipes, I approached Emma about contributing some of her recipes to my blog, and am very happy that she has agreed to do so.

This week we are featuring Emma's Gluten Free Peanut Butter Cupcakes...just in time for all your Halloween parties! You will have the opportunity to read more of Emma's contributions in future Guest Recipe posts here at Cucina Domenico. You can also read more about Emma and her approach to gluten free cooking below.

Welcome to the Cucina, Emma!

Hello all,

I'd first like to thank Dominic for giving me the opportunity to contribute to his blog. I'm really excited and flattered and I hope to be able to bring you recipes that you find useful. My name is Emma, and, like Dominic, I was born and raised in South Philly. I also raised my son, Jake, there for the first 12 years of his life. In 2006, I moved to San Diego to marry my best friend, Karl.

Up until I met my husband, I had never thought I'd leave South Philly. I had also never heard of Celiac Disease, which is an autoimmune disease in which the lining of the small intestine is damaged from eating gluten and other proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats (I borrowed that definition from Google, people). Being Italian American and growing up in South Philly, where macaroni, meatballs, and sausage (aka Gravy) is the mandatory Sunday dinner, and the soft pretzel is a food group (seriously, as a child we were given soft pretzels in school along with milk at snack time), I was baffled.

Anyway, in the past 5 years, I've learned to read labels and I'm learning how to cook and bake for my husband. I should also mention that my husband cannot have milk products. Apparently, it's quite common for people with Celiac Disease to become intolerant to dairy products as well. Fortunately, my husband can still have eggs and butter. So, needless to say, I've had quite a few mishaps and I'm not always successful, but I have come across a few recipes that I think are worthy of sharing. I should point out that not everything I make is gluten free. My son and I still eat gluten, and, quite often, I will make two versions of the same dish. Even though it can be time-consuming, doing that allows me to freeze any extra gluten free portions, and it also cuts down on cost since gluten free products can be quite expensive.

One last tidbit about myself, I am a mother and housewife who, besides cooking and baking and having 2 dogs and 2 cats of my own, also fosters cats and dogs. Once a week, my family and I volunteer at our local animal shelter as well. Aside from having dinner together as a family each night, volunteering has become a family ritual and we look forward to it every week.

These are the things that bring my family together and I'm excited to share some of our favorite recipes with you. Hopefully, you will enjoy them as well and share them with your own families.


yields 24 cupcakes but can be halved to make 12

When Dominic first asked me to submit a recipe to his food blog, the first ingredient I thought about using was pumpkin. Of course since it's fall, pumpkin is one of the more obvious choices. But it's also Halloween, which happens to be my favorite time of year. That led me to think about candy and what I could come up with based on a popular candy bar. So, I thought it would be fun to make a chocolate peanut butter cupcake that would be similar to a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. I found tons of recipes and I was able to come up with a gluten free version on my first try. I actually halved the recipe because I was sure that it would take at least two attempts, so I was pleasantly surprised when they came out perfect on the first try. I was so pleased that I couldn't just stick to my initial plan of having a peanut butter cupcake with a chocolate icing. I knew I wanted to do something with fluff, so I made a fluff icing and used a peanut butter icing as a filling. Basically, they are a gluten free Fluffernutter cupcake. I used that same peanut butter icing to decorate my chocolate peanut butter cupcakes as well. Let me just add that I am aware that I am not going to win any prizes for my cupcake decorating skills, but I think they came out pretty cute considering that I have no clue what I'm doing. So, I have two different icings and a ganache to go with the gluten free peanut butter cupcake. I was tempted to fill some with raspberry jelly, but I didn't want to get too carried away, especially since I also planned on making a non-gluten free version. But you best believe that I will be making these again, and when I do, there will be jelly involved!

I'd also like to point out that I used this gluten free flour with excellent results. It is my new favorite gluten free flour and I recently discovered that I can find it at my local Whole Foods. I'd also like to mention that I adapted my recipe from one that I found on

2 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup peanut butter (not natural)
2 eggs at room temperature
1/4 cup milk (I used soy milk)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups King Arthur Flour Gluten Free Multi-Purpose Flour Blend
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 pinch of salt
1/2 tsp xanthan gum

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Beat brown sugar, shortening, and peanut butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time until well blended, then add vanilla and applesauce and beat until combined. In another bowl, combine gluten free flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt, and xanthan gum. Stir dry ingredients into the wet ingredients alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Spoon into lined muffin cups and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. The cupcakes are done when the tops spring back when touched.

Chocolate Ganache
8 oz chocolate chips
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk (I used soy milk)

Put all the ingredients into the bowl of a double boiler. If you don't have a double boiler, just place a bowl on top of a pan of simmering water. Make sure the water does not touch the bowl or you risk scorching the chocolate. Stir frequently until the chocolate is melted. Remove from heat and let cool slightly before using.

Peanut Butter Frosting
1/2 cup room temperature unsalted butter
1 cup peanut butter (not natural)
2 cups confectioners sugar
1/3 cup cream or milk (I used soy milk)

Beat the butter and peanut butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the sugar and slowly add enough milk or cream until it reaches a good consistency (you may not need all of the milk).

Assembling the Peanut Butter Cup Cupcakes:
After the cupcakes have cooled, dip the tops of them in the slightly cooled ganache and let them set in the fridge for about an hour. You can then make "webs" out of the peanut butter icing by drawing circles on top of the cupcake then dragging them outward using a toothpick. Or you can just pipe a dollop on top of the cupcake, or, better yet, you can fill the inside of each cupcake with the peanut butter icing, which is what I wished I would have done in the first place.

Fluffernutter Cupcakes with Fluff Icing
1/2 lb room temperature unsalted butter
7 1/2 oz jar Fluff
2 cups confectioners sugar

Beat butter until creamy. Add marshmallow fluff and slowly add sugar.

Assembling the cupcakes:
Using a cupcake plunger, remove a portion of the center of each cupcake. Pipe a small amount of the Peanut Butter Icing into the center of each cupcake. Pipe the tops of each cupcake with the Fluff Icing.

One last thing, those cute little bats you see are edible and I got them at

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pumpkin Amaretto Risotto

I was recently asked by a good friend of mine if I could come up with a recipe for Pumpkin Risotto. I won't mention any names, but this one Italian mamma said that she had fallen in love with this style of risotto when in Italy. I did some research and found a good amount of pumpkin risotto recipes, however most of them were very similar in taste and style. Pumpkin itself can be bland, so you need to add some spice to it to bring out its flavor. Most of the recipes that I found were heavy on the cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg, which are standard pumpkin pie spices. That didn't sound all that Italian to me, and I wasn't aiming for a pumpkin pie flavored risotto.

I finally came across a true Italian pumpkin risotto recipe which follows the traditional Lombard/Northern Italian method and used that as my launching pad, making a few other flavor/ingredient adjustments to my liking. Instead of cinnamon and nutmeg, this recipe called for crumbled up Italian amaretti macaroons. While I don't usually have amaretti macaroons on hand, I do always have a bottle of Disarona Amaretto in my liqueur cabinet. I decided to give that a try, and just one tablespoon added the perfect slightly sweet/slightly nutty taste that I was hoping for! The alcohol will burn off, but the Amaretto taste stays. There's no doubt, this dish will be a fall standard in my house!

A quick note on making risotto: Risotto is a demanding dish and requires the chef to stand next to the pot for the better part of 20 minutes. Turn the rice every 20 seconds or so in order for the liquid to bathe all of the pot. With the high heat your rice will dry out at the bottom and you'll need to move the rice with a wooden spoon so that the remaining stock on top goes to the bottom. Only when the rice is almost dry can you add your next laddleful of stock.

Click image on side to enlarge

5 cups hot chicken broth (you cannot use cold broth for proper risotto)
1 tbspn EVOO
4 tbspn butter
1 medium white onion, chopped
1 cup Arborio rice
1 small glass white wine
1-1/2 cups pumpkin puree (canned is fine, but be sure to use 100% pure pumpkin. Do not use pumpkin pie filling)
1 tbspn Amaretto
1 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese

In a medium pot, heat chicken broth (hot but not boiling), keep warm. In a large pot over medium heat, heat olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter. Add onions, saute until soft but not brown. Add rice, mix so all grains are coated, let cook for 2 minutes (it's ok if grains begin to slightly toast). Add wine, toss to coat all grains.

When wine has evaporated, add one ladle of the hot stock. DO NOT ADD MORE THAN 1 LADLE AT A TIME! Stir every 20 seconds or so until rice is almost dry. You'll continue to add one ladle at a time for about 20 minutes.

After the first ten minutes of ladling/stirring, add the pumpkin puree. Stir to mix completely. Continue with the ladling/stirring for another 10 minutes, or until you run out of broth. Add one tablespoon Amaretto, stir.

Cover and remove pot from heat, let sit for one minute. Cut up remaining 3 tablespoons of butter into small pieces. Add to pot, stir to mix completely. You want the risotto to be hot enough to incorporate the butter without actually melting it at contact. Add fresh grated parmesan cheese, stir to mix.

An optional dash of nutmeg to each serving adds a nice touch. Serve with a glass of white wine, or a nice pumpkin ale or Oktoberfest and enjoy!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Gravy Wars Revisited - My Review of the Winning Gravy!

A few weeks back, I went spoon-to-spoon with Una Mamma Italiana in a Sunday Gravy War. After all of the votes were tallied, Una Mamma ended up being top tomato. Today, I finally had the chance to make a pot of the winning gravy, step by step. The verdict is in.....and Una Mamma's Sunday Gravy is definitely a winner!

Rather than go over each step of the gravy making method (you can see the recipe first hand by clicking here), I thought it would be best to highlight was makes Una Mamma's gravy so different than mine.

While I start my gravy process with frying up some garlic in olive oil, this recipe calls for garlic AND two onions (I only use onion powder as a flavoring). So right out of the gate you're dealing with some great aromatics. This is also when the wild card ingredient comes in to play...the butter. Now I'm sure that some of you, as I, were stumped with the butter ingredient. Who puts butter in red gravy? You're actually using it to sauté the onions and garlic, so it makes total sense and adds nice flavor.

The next difference that I noticed was adding the tomato paste to the sautéed veggies BEFORE adding the tomato purée. This helps break down the paste into a flavorful brownish sauce that incorporates nicely with the tomatoes...and this is a nice trick that I think I will start to use with my own recipe.

And the final difference is adding the meat at an early stage. I like to first have all of the seasonings and tomatoes marry together for a good 45 minutes or so prior to adding the meats. This allows the sweetness of the tomatoes to really shine through, while allowing the meat flavors to add a tremendous accent to the meal. I call this the Clemenza method (all of you Godfather fans will relate). Una Mamma's recipe, on the other hand, gets the addition of the seared meats involved immediately. This really allows the fats and flavors of the meats to take over, which makes this a true, hands down, no denying, by-the-book MEAT GRAVY.

Final thoughts - my family and I give Una Mamma thumbs up all around! We did find the gravy to be a bit thinner than mine (my addition of a can of sauce thickens it up a bit), however it was very flavorful with an amazing aroma. The thinner gravy isn't a bad thing, it just means [to me] that I would know ahead of time that I would be aiming for this particular taste and texture. Of course I would never turn my back on my own gravy – this would be like turning my back on my own child. But, like all good parents, you are always ready to welcome your friends' children into your house to play as well. And I guarantee you that I will be serving up Una Mamma's Sunday Gravy again in my house.

Bravo, Una Mamma!