Over the last few years, I’ve developed a sort of mania for baking; most especially cakes and cupcakes. The past several months have brought many delicious creations to the table:
One of the partners at my office is slowly retiring (its a process) and we wanted to make a little celebration for him, as he requested no big party. In the end, I was asked to make a cake. I knew he loved licorice flavor, and had a feeling Sambuca was a tipple he enjoyed. Sambuca is this Italian anise-licorice liqueur that I can’t stand but anyone who loves these flavors thinks is absolutely amazing (case in point, my husband). The best way to enjoy this, according to tradition, is with three espresso beans in the glass, for luck. So, after several days of brain storming, recipe combining, and a test cake. I ended up with a dark chocolate cake with a Sambuca-aniseed glaze and espresso butter cream. Even coming from MY palate, which cannot enjoy even so much as a Good N Plenty, I knew this was a winner. I wanted to inhale the espresso frosting.
Luckily, the partner LOVED it! He even took the small amount left over home to share with his wife. Woo hoo!
I also made a chocolate cake with peanut butter butter cream (always popular) for my sister-in-law Mandy’s visit:
For Super Bowl Sunday, I got a hankering to make something with an orange flavor. Ended up finding this brown butter cake, and knew it was fate. Result: a perfectly crumbly brown butter and vanilla cake, orange cream cheese frosting, and pineapple ‘flowers’.
Over the three day President’s Day holiday, I told Marco we could do any fun thing he wanted to do. He said, “Mama, me make a cake!” I couldn’t really argue with that. After sorting through my To Do list of recipes on Pinterest, Marco picked the ‘funfetti’ style cake. It was sweet and tasty and fluffy. I went with the marshmallow creme (no gelatin!) buttercream, but used less sugar than the recipe called for, because it is already a sweet frosting.
On Monday, a giant music, wine and foodie festival was announced…one that takes place in my very own town of Napa!!! Not only is it local, but the festival dates coincide with the epic 10 year dating anniversary (Tim and I will have been together an entire decade – WHOA), and Mother’s Day, which you know is the best holiday ever. I am basically dying of happiness.
The promoters are announcing just a few acts each day, with the full line up available (supposedly) this weekend. So far, the list includes:
The Black Keys
The Flaming Lips
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite
Iron and Wine
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
Rodrigo y Gabriela
Michael Franti & Spearhead
Please God don’t let this be a dream.
Banana Oatmeal Cups
3 C old fashioned rolled oats
1 tbsp baking powder
3 large bananas, mashed
1 C vanilla almond milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 C light brown sugar (it sounded good to me so I threw it in, but it is not included in the original recipe)
3 tbsp mini chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin tin with paper cups, or spray pan cups with baking spray if you prefer.
In a small bowl, whisk together the oats, brown sugar, and baking powder.
In a separate bowl, stir together the almond milk and bananas, then lightly mix in the eggs. Stir in the dry ingredients and add vanilla extract. Add in the chocolate chips, 1 tbsp at a time, stir until just combined.
Divide the batter among the muffin cups (I ended up with 14), filling the cups to the top. Bake for about 21 minutes, until the edges begin to brown.
It was just like having a serving of oatmeal! I think next time I’ll leave out the chocolate chips, and add a few dashes of cinnamon.
Our family was invited to share a New Year’s Eve dinner with Marco’s best friend and his parents, and I was put in charge of desserts – my favorite course!
Seeing as how it was NYE, I knew a champagne cupcake was in order, and winter is a wonderful time for pomegranate. But, in case there were guests who did not enjoy cake as much as I do, I thought a fruit and cheese coupling would do nicely. I had found a recipe that contained brie and apples in a puff pastry, and thought I’d easily duplicate it with different pairings.
Champagne cupcakes (I actually used a Prosecco, as it is sweet, dry, and inexpensive) – based on the recipe from Homemade by Holman
2 3/4 C all purpose flour (I used 2 3/4 C + 2 tbsp whole wheat cake flour)
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2/3 C unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 3/4 C caster sugar or Baker’s Sugar
3/4 C champagne
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
6 egg whites
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and prepare your muffin/cupcake pan with paper liners. Combine the champagne and vanilla together in a small bowl. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar on a medium speed until light and fluffy (approx 3 minutes). Add the flour in three separate batches, alternating with the champagne mixture (ex flour mix, champagne mix, flour, etc) until combined. Set bowl aside.
In a clean mixing bowl, beat egg whites on high speed until they hold stiff peaks. Fold in about 1/3 of the egg whites to lighten the batter then gently fold in the remaining egg whites. Spoon batter into cups until each is about 2/3 full. Bake approximately twenty minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool about five minutes in the pan, then transfer to a cooling rack until cool enough to frost.
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 cup pomegranate puree (I use Perfect Puree pomegranate concentrate)
cornstarch, as needed
Let butter sit for about 30 minutes at room temperature, then cut into cubes. Using an electric mixer, beat on high until the butter if fluffy. Add sugar, 1 cup a time, until combined. Add the puree concentrate 1 tbsp at a time, checking for your flavor preference – I wanted a lot of the tartness to come through. Because so much liquid is added to the buttercream, but I still wanted a thick frosting, I added two tablespoons of cornstarch to the frosting to help keep it thick. You can also add more sugar, if that is your preference. Cornstarch is good because it has virtually no flavor, and will not over-sweeten your frosting.
Frost your cupcakes as you wish! I used the Wilton 1M star tip and disposable bags, and made a basic cupcake swirl, then sprinkled edible decorating pearls for a little pizzazz :-)
Fruit and cheese puff pastry envelopes (makes 8) – similar recipe HERE
2 D’Anjou pears
Pear butter (Whole Foods carries many varieties)
small block of Point Reyes bleu cheese
8 whole dried black mission figs, cut in half
1/2 wheel of Rouge et Noir triple creme brie
2 sheets of frozen puff pastry (or, if you have more time, make your own!)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Unfold 1 sheet of puff pastry onto a lightly floured board and roll it slightly with a floured rolling pin until it’s a 10 by 10-inch square. Cut the sheet into quarters with a sharp knife. Using a pastry brush or spatula, spread a light layer of the pear butter onto each quarter of puff pastry.
Add 3 or 4 pear slices and some good sized crumbles of Point Reyes blue cheese.
Brush the border of each pastry with egg wash and fold the corners in to look like envelopes. Place the pastries on a prepared sheet pan.
Repeat process with the second sheet of puff pastry, only this time use the fig butter and sliced dry figs, and two or three small slices of brie.
Brush the tops of each with egg wash. Bake the pastries for about 24 minutes, rotating the pans once during baking, until puffed and brown. Serve warm.
Both desserts were a hit! The best part about the puff pastry envelopes is that they are easily adaptable to suit palettes. Any fruit and cheese combinations can be used – aged cheddar and apple would do nicely!
Over my birthday week, we tried a new breakfast spot in Downtown Napa called Biscuits, and it was so good we went back last weekend. We’re officially addicted.
Tasty iced coffee
Also, umm yeah. Chicken and waffles. So flipping good. This fried chicken was so good, Tim finished his biscuits and gravy breakfast, and ate a chicken wing and a waffle. THIEF.
Marco was smart and ordered his own waffle.
I’ve started eating chicken once a week to increase my protein intake (doc says I must), but now that I’ll basically be eating fried chicken once a week, the health benefits are probably nil. OH WELL DON’T CARE. NOM NOM NOM.
Read part 1 HERE
This part is a little rambling.
After much dancing/bouncing, our group practically ran over to the mainstage to snag a good spot for Mumford & Sons. Unfortunately, because we got there a bit early, we were forced to stand through Gogol Bordello’s ridiculous set. There was nowhere to run. It was the worst junk I’ve heard in a very long time. All I could do was stand there, with a tall, large gentlemen’s backpack smashed into my face (seriously – one of the many drawbacks to being short). All we could do was wait.
In the interim, we played ‘I’m going to the picnic and I’m bringing…’ all the way through the alphabet, took silly pictures, and took turns getting smashed, pushed, grabbed at, and elbowed by every drunk person in the 100 yard radius.
But then… the delicious sounds of Mumford & Sons…
They were beautiful, and I might or might not have teared up during “Lover of the Light”.
After, we headed to Denny’s for horrible late night food. Adan ordered a coconut flavor drink that looked like Windex. We were so achy, cold, and tired (the walking, dancing, sitting, standing, and then more standing for three hours with no room to move AND a full bladder will DEFINITELY do that) that everything was funny, so anything goes! And it did.
After trying to win stuffed animals from the Claw machine (RIGGED, DAMN IT!). we hugged it out and parted ways. Tim and I were not ready to go back to the hotel, so we hit up Cannery Row to check out the after parties and see if we spotted anyone (I saw Este again, getting out of a cab. I did not see Marcus Mumford, but we did spot Ben Lovett!). Cannery Row at night is so beautiful. After listening to the Mumford & Sons brass section play for awhile, we decided to go back to the hotel to rest.
The next morning, we slept in again (!), packed up, and headed right for Cannery Row. Our hunger brought us straight to the Trailside Cafe, where we feasted on beignets, coffee, and omelettes. The biegnets were served with a fresh side of jam, and SO FLIPPING TASTY. A musician played guitar and sang tunes I knew, and the morning was so bright, warm, and beautiful. I imagined a life spent here and now, sipping lattes, reading the paper, not picking up food crumbs and wiping up spilled milk, and never needing to be anything to anyone. And then, I thought of Marco’s perfect little baby feet, and how I would wiggle his tiny infant legs in time to Mumford & Sons songs, and how THAT is precisely when the music meant something to me. Yes, I love the Shakespeare and the Steinbeck, I love the banjos and the kick drum keeping time, but I also love that feeling…knowing here is nothing more than that moment, and you and me and baby makes three because this is my life, and together we can see what we will find, and goddamn it, I will wait for you.
and that’s why I listen.
The things I think about over a good donut, am I right?
After breakfast, we snagged bags of saltwater taffy from a candy store, and a stack of used books from BookBuyers (<3! discovered a few years ago when we were in town for a wedding, and I’ve been dying to go back ever since).
Of course, we still had the drive home and the boy to pick up. It was lovely to enjoy some grown-up time, and even lovelier to see Marco’s face light up when he saw Tim and I. He came back to us a little tired (Tim’s parents watched him the 1st night and 1st day, my mom had him on the 2nd night and day, and didn’t make him take a nap), but, if possible, even more handsome.
Play me out, Marcus…
The past month, my kitchen has seen a lot of action. Get your mind out of the gutter…I actually mean food. Dirty girl. Luckily, I always have the iPhone nearby for snaps…
Peach cupcake with brown sugar cream cheese frosting. Practiced more flowers, stars and swirls! I made these for a work luncheon.
Same combination as above, and also some dark chocolate spice cake with cinnamon buttercream – all to celebrate my husband’s 30th birthday!
Maple Spice muffins – modified from Jessica Seinfeld’s recipe in Double Delicious! I used currants instead of raisins, whole-wheat all-purpose flour, and 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice instead of 1 tsp allspice and 1/2 tsp clove (which I didn’t have on hand)
Banana Bread, adapted from recipe I found on Pinterest (original links HERE). I used raw honey (my favorite) instead of pasteurized honey. Also subbed in 1 C almond meal and 1 C whole-wheat flour (recipe called for 2 C whole-wheat flour).
Blueberry scones with Lemon Glaze – Tyler Florence’s recipe, with my healthy mods (whole-wheat pastry flour and almond meal) and blueberries from our garden. These were for a sweet co-worker (a few leftovers made it into Marco’s belly – he loves mommy’s pastries). Side note: can I live on lemon glaze? Yep.
Momofuku Milk Bar Compost Cookies – good flavor, but the texture is more chewy-crunchy than chewy-gooey, which is what I generally prefer.
Lemon Cake with Black Tea frosting – found on Pinterest (original link HERE). My second layer of tea frosting (I was stingy at first, fearing I didn’t have enough for the outer layer) did a disappearing act into the lemon glaze, but other than that just as I’d hoped it would be. I used Zhena’s Gypsy Tea in Gypsy Rose flavor (a favorite in our house, both for its scent and its flavor), and it was PERFECT for this frosting, which is almost marshmallow-y in texture. I ended up making this twice in the same weekend: Saturday for a girl’s night and Sunday for a family visit.
Why, yes, I did make dark chocolate peanut butter cups.
So delicious! Tim and I took bites, and we both almost passed out. I knew it was going to be a problem, so I immediately packed up five of them and took them to work so that I wouldn’t shove them down. My co-workers begged me to make them again.
Tim, meanwhile, is smitten with them. Since it’s his birthday week (MY HUSBAND IS 30! OMG!), I promised to whip some more up. This time I’m making them with milk chocolate.
It’s a good thing I go to the gym.
I like carrots, but, really, the only time I enjoy grating them is when it’s for carrot cake. It’s one of my favorite cakes, and here in the Dickson home, we’re big fans of cream cheese frosting.
For Adrienne’s birthday, I thought it’d be a nice surprise to bake one for her (I’ve heard tell she’s a fan). It was my first time making a layer cake - usually I’ll do cupcakes or a single layer cake that barely makes it out of the oven before I slather it in frosting and shove into my mouth like you’ve never
But, all midnight noshing aside, I was excited to make this as a round layer. I started small, with just two layers.
Practicing drop stars, flowers, and swirls
Belle trying not to blow out the candles before Mommy
Let’s get layered ohh you dirty
And then we ate it and delicious cake was in my tummy. And I was so happy.
Last week, Tim and I celebrated our 7 year wedding anniversary with a celebratory dinner at Auberge du Soleil.
He’s just so handsome!
We opted for a four-course meal, and, luckily, they had some vegetarian options for me!
I didn’t remember to snap pictures of each course, but I did manage to get a few.
Umm, yeah. Tim ate this:
My courses were a little less…tentacle-y
A delicious end to the meal (one of three desserts served to us!)…
Just in case you wanted to see, here’s the one pic of my full outfit that I snapped (yep, in the bathroom. you know you do it too, quit judging).
I love date nights! Also, food.