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Handsome Hugo!

Meet Hugo KitCarson Hensley, currently first in the running for Cutest Dog in the History of the World.

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Hugo, girl.

My friend Croque has finally convinced her husband to get a dawg.  They pick up the treasure tomorrow afternoon, and I want to be the first to welcome  him to his new and wonderful life with the loveliest of families!

I love you, Hugo! (Name pending husband approval.)

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A special day.

I granted myself permission to postpone an important day for a week so that I could give it its proper due, since I was out of town last week. Alas, I still have not gotten my act together enough to do anything beyond announcing to the blogosphere that a week ago today, Croquette celebrated her 29th birthday.

Annie, I wish I could’ve been there to celebrate with you!

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Last night, my brother and I went to see my high school friend Michael’s band, Stepanian, play at the Bitter End in Manhattan. Actually, the band’s bassist and I have been friends since we were babies; we used to carpool to preschool, and I have very distinct memories of climbing the stairs to his second-floor playroom. His mother was one of my gifted-and-talented teachers in middle school.

The band was awesome, and it was great to see Michael again. But get this. Another high school friend and her husband are in town from Seattle this weekend for a last-minute vacation. After having a late pizza lunch, Amy and Peter were wandering aimlessly around the Village. Peter stopped outside of a bar to look at the band posters taped to the front window and recognized a band called Stepanian. He looked inside, and there was Michael doing a sound check on stage!

So we ended up sitting with Amy and Peter for the show and then going to Rub for BBQ after. My brother got something called “burnt ends,” which were pretty much the most delicious thing any of us had ever tasted.

Only in New York, guys. Only in New York!

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There was a stabbing over the weekend at a party in my sophomore-year dorm.

I never understood why UMass students would come all the way to Amherst for a party (unless they were invited, that is). I would imagine UMass threw many more — and better — parties than we did. And it’s kind of a hike, unless you drive, and we all know how I feel about that. (I suppose there could be a designated driver, but in my experience, those don’t really exist.)

Of course, I only went to one UMass party, with Julie, because her friends from high school were visiting someone there. It was a frat party. As I remember it, we stayed for about five minutes and then walked home, probably stopping at Bertucci’s on the way because that place makes the most amazing bread I’ve ever eaten, served straight out of the oven.

photo by Plaid Ninja

photo by Plaid Ninja

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Pork on pork. On pork.

The Times wrote the other day about a blog-food phenomenon: the Bacon Explosion. Apparently, a bizarre recipe of pork sausage stuffed with and wrapped in bacon has been passed around the Internets, mostly because it’s just such a ludicrous thing to make or eat.

It reminds me of Pig Roast 2008, when the morning after roasting our pig:

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we prepared this breakfast:

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That is a plate of pork, pork skin, the tail of our pig, some bacon and pork sausage. It was delicious, I swear.

Oink! Oink!

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The Croquer beat me to it, and she’s going to be hard to beat. She’s already posted her results of our Super Bowl Cupcake Showdown, and so far, her performance, well, takes the cake.

Let’s see how I measure up.

I was nervous about these cupcakes. Peanut Butter and Julie won a recent Food Network Showdown with them, which Croque Madame had originally alerted me to. But upon reading the recipe reviews, a few issues came to light. It seemed some thought the cake not sweet enough, the frosting too sweet. Some complained that they couldn’t taste the malt. Croque Madame decided to make Paula Dean’s Red Velvets instead.

But, always up for a baking challenge (and somewhat convinced the Food Network reviewers just hadn’t used the right ingredients), I decided that I’d go for it anyway. After hunting for malted milk powder all over Brooklyn and Manhattan and quieting some of my worries over a lovely email exchange with Julie, the recipe’s author, who explained that she’d cut the sugar down on the cake so as to provide a contrast to the sweet frosting, I set to baking.

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These cupcakes are incredibly easy to make, and they baked up beautifully. I suspect that I added extra cream to the frosting, because I had set aside a bit (and used the rest to make polenta) the night before, then forgot to measure out the proper amount later and just dumped it all in. I was worried that this made the frosting too goopy, and I was concerned that it never set up and that the acid in the cherry preserves had curdled the buttercream a bit (causing a very slightly grainy texture and appearance), something Julie had warned me about. Repeated licks off my fingers as I frosted, though, revealed it to be delicious.  (Any baker knows that, no matter how many damp paper towels you keep on hand, the best way to stay unsticky during the frosting process is to lick.) The buttercream was sweet, yes, but the tart cherry preserves created such a marvelous contrast! And Julie was right: The contrast between the cake and the frosting was also lovely. (Contrary to some of the Food Network reviewers, I did not find the cake too bitter on its own; it was a refreshing change from the overly sweet cupcake one usually encounters.)  I could not taste the malt, really, but I didn’t miss it.  The hint was enough, along with the hint of espresso and the slight chewiness of the mini milk-chocolate chips (which one taster would later call a “toothsome addition”).

The cherry on top? The perfect finishing touch.

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I had my cupcakes taste-tested at two separate Super Bowl parties. I encouraged honesty in scores and comments, but overall the response was very positive. Perhaps I hadn’t provided a space in which my testers felt comfortable critiquing me; perhaps my ‘cakes were just that good. I ate three over the course of the weekend (and several cups of frosting along the way), but I suppose I’m biased.

Many remarked on the appearance of the cupcakes (“cute” was an oft-used adjective, and one taster said, merely, “wow”), which surprised me, because I found them a bit sloppy. (I’ve never taken a pastry decorating class and quickly abandoned my original idea of piping the frosting onto the cakes when I realized I didn’t have a frosting tip large enough for the chunks of cherry preserve to push through.) All seemed to enjoy the experience of eating the cupcakes, too, though some were more critical than others. The lowest score, both by an individual judge and by the group combined, was awarded to the cake texture, which also surprised me. I loved the cake, even more than the frosting, though I cannot discount the pure joy it was to encounter one of those tart cherry chunks among that creamy, sugary buttercream.

Other comments included that the cake was moist and dense at the same time, a “perfect texture.” One judge described the flavor of the cake as having a “mind-bending complexity,” but this judge (and I have my suspicions as to who it was, but in the spirit of anonymity, I won’t reveal) also thought that these cupcakes should put Magnolia (whose buttercream recipe is my usual go-to) out of business, so I suspect he (or she) was having a bit of fun with the hyperbole.

And so, the much-awaited scores:

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This was never about the competition, so I won’t even bother to compare my scores with Croque Madame’s. Make your own comparisons, and draw our own conclusions. My take on it is that we both made some pretty delicious ‘cakes.  I wish we could’ve tasted each other’s!

Note: My testers, too, were confused by the ballot.  In the future, 1 shall be low, and 5 shall be high.  My thinking behind 1 as high was No. 1, but I guess that doesn’t translate implicitly.

And as for Croque Madame’s comment that her ‘cakes were more Super Bowl-appropriate — I assume because of their color — I add that mine were pink, too, with a splash of red on top.  But that was just a happy accident.

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