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.
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!
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.
Another baby, another batch of cupcakes for the office baby luncheon!
This time, the food was mostly Italian (gnocci, pizza, lots o’ garlic), and I wanted something to go with the theme. I came up with a Cannoli cupcake! I figured if I went a little Sicilian with my offering, no one would really notice (LOL)
I did not have the time, energy, or equipment to make proper cannoli shells, so instead I substituted the shells for a cupcake base. I found THIS great cannoli cupcake recipe after a quick google search, and with just a few teensy tweaks, I produced what my husband has deemed “the best cupcakes I’ve ever eaten”.
Pardon, all of these are taken with my iPhone
First, I started with my ricotta. I didn’t make my own this time, but I’m thinking I will for the next batch!
To strain, you need to wrap the cheese up in cheesecloth, set in the strainer over a bowl, and cover with a towel. Place heavy cans on top of the cheese to help it drain better. This was placed in the fridge for three hours.
While the ricotta strained in the fridge, I whipped up yellow cake cupcakes (yes I cheated with a box mix yellow cake!), and let them cool.
Then, I hollowed out a small section of each cupcake, so I could add the filling
Next, I made a chocolate ganache
Then dipped my cupcakes and swirled in the batter
I let these sit tight while I kneaded the ricotta to make sure it was ready to mix.
Orange zest – I added 2 1/2 Tbsp instead of 2 ( i like oranges )
I used 1 1/3 C powdered sugar, instead of the 1 2/3 C recommended, because I didn’t want it to be too sweet. Cinnamon and vanilla rounded it all out with a hint of warmth and spice
Then I piped the filling into the cupcakes, used the same filling as the topping, and dropped mini chocolate chips to give it the official Cannoli look
My coworkers seemed to enjoy them, and Tim is begging me to make them again – so, I definitely consider these a success!
I set myself a goal for the week: to cook dinner every night – not just heating things up, but to actually prepare something each night.
So, how did I do?? Pretty well, I think! (All pictures taken with the iPhone)
Garbanzo beans, garlic and sundried tomatoes, pureed to create a delicious hummus. served warm with whole wheat pita bread
‘Mexican’ kale chips! Kale that I tossed with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of Trader Joe’s taco seasoning mix, then baked. Perfectly crispy yet not too crunchy
Three tablespoons of Olivier’s Tandoori Curry sauce with firm tofu that I’d seared in olive oil until it turned golden, served over Trader Joe’s Thai Jasmine rice and Trader Joe’s naan – DELICIOUS!
Mini-frittatas! Modified from a recipe in Food & Wine Magazine – instead of baking in the saute pan like the recipe suggested, I put the egg, garlic, and broccoli mixture into a muffin tin and baked them that way. I don’t eat scrambled/fried/boiled eggs (only baked into cakes and cookies, lol), so this was a Timmy specific meal. He REALLY liked these – I thought there’d be enough for his breakfast, but he ate all of them.
Same night: yogurt pops for dessert! low-fat all organic strawberry yogurt, to which i added sliced strawberries, then poured into popsicle molds and stuck in the freezer. It was a good texture, and super tasty! Marco loved it
Vegetarian enchiladas, ole! Bell peppers, onions, garlic and mushrooms inside those tasty tortillas. I made Marco a vegetarian refried bean and cheese burrito – after spreading the beans on the tortilla and adding the cheese, I pan seared it for a minute on each side to hold it together and lightly crisp the outside.
Avocado fries – modified from this recipe, which I found on Pinterest. I used whole wheat flour instead of white, and did not sprinkle with parmesan; I sprinkled the panko’d avocados with sea salt prior to placing in the oven. Served with Trader Joe’s Chickenless Mandarin Orange (just like their mandarin orange chicken, but with soy nuggets) and barley rice.
grilled cheese with white truffle oil – fontina cheese, arugula, caramelized onions and sourdough brushed with white truffle oil. I figured chips would be good, so I made more kale chips, this time with garlic and sea salt.
For Marco’s palate, I had to make concessions, so he had an aged-cheddar panini sans truffle oil.
What should I make tonight!?
P.S. Just because I HAVE to share this, these are the cupcakes I made last week for a company baby shower/bridal shower luncheon in honor of two of our employees (one having a baby and one getting married, duh). It was a Mexican themed potluck, so these were my contributions:
Margarita and Spicy Chocolate cupcakes!
Dark chocolate cake with cayenne pepper, dark chocolate buttercream, chili pepper and spicy chocolate bar for garnish
Jose Cuervo margarita mix cupcake with lime buttercream and a freshly sliced lime
Splendid in my tummy.
My delicious and nutritious, super hearty pasta dish. Easy to make, just a little time-consuming. Serves 6 (or 4 with leftovers for lunch
2 zucchini, sliced
1/2 red onion, sliced
1 garlic bulb
3 cups chopped tomatoes
2 cans of artichoke hearts (optional)
2 large chicken breasts, thinly sliced into strips (optional, I made without)
1 box of whole-wheat spaghetti noodles (or fresh noodles)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Shaved Parmegiano Reggiano
First, slice your zucchini, onions, peel your garlic cloves (I used one whole bulb, but this is a LOT), and chop your tomatoes. I used Pearl and Roma tomatoes for this sauce, as they were the only tomatoes that looked good. Timesaver: you can use two cans of unsalted canned tomatoes; especially helpful if you don’t live in an area that has easy access to fresh tomatoes year-round.
Pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a heavy pan over medium heat, and saute your onions and garlic together, just until they start to become transluscent. Remove from the pan, and place into a bowl for use later on. Do not rinse the pan, but add 1 tablespoon of EVOO.
If you’d like to add some meat to this dish, this is when I would add the chicken to the pan, cooking just until no longer pink in the center.
Toss the zucchini into the pan over medium heat, and saute just until starting to turn golden. Remove, and place in the same bowl as the onions and garlic.
Now, add a smidge more EVOO, and place your tomatoes in the pan. Cover and stew over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes.
Then, add the zucchini, onions, garlic, and now is a good time to add artichoke hearts, if you decided against the chicken.
Stir occasionally, and simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes.
While this is simmering, go ahead and start the water boiling in a large pot for your noodles. Salt the water well. When boiling, add your noodles and cook until you’ve reached the desired level of tenderness. Strain the noodles, and toss the noodles into the pan of sauce. Mix well and cook for 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle with shaved parmegiano, serve and enjoy!
Umm, also, last night I made butter!! Seriously…look:
Yep. I MADE BUTTER, which basically makes me a cooking ninja. Not really, it is flipping easy, but go with me on this.
I made my own butter and I cannot wait to smear it on some croissants for breakfast! Also, am going to make honey butter and cheddar biscuits.
Lately, I’ve been a bit of a mad scientist in the kitchen (working on new recipes, messing with old ones, and sometimes making things up on the fly). Here’s a few tidbits to nibble on (heh heh)
A special chicken pasta dish that was such a huge hit I will be posting the recipe here soon (as well as whipping up a vegetarian version so that I can eat it!):
Rice balls – based on the recipe from Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious, but with slight modifications. Instead of just brown rice, I used a mixture of brown, red, and barley; the recipe also calls for chicken or turkey, which I left out, and I used crushed whole wheat garlic croutons instead of wheat breadcrumbs.
SO FLIPPING GOOD. Basically arancini, but healthier. It contains sweet potato and broccoli purees, which give an awesome flavor to the cheese.
For Valentine’s Day, I made Rice Krispy treats dipped in vanilla candy coating for my coworkers; I used food coloring to make it pink. Then I shook some candy sprinkles to make them cute. They disappeared very quickly from the break room!
I made the Rice Krispy treats with a jar Marshmallow Creme, instead of regular marshmallows, as there is no gelatin included (making it vegetarian-friendly). The texture of the bars was perfect, and even the next day were perfectly chewy. I also recently found a recipe on Pinterest for homemade marshmallow fluff, which I can’t wait to try!
I had plenty of candy dip left over, so I dipped a basket full of strawberries for Tim. We had these as our special Valentine’s dessert
We’d been hoarding a block of Bellavitano Espresso cheese, and I finally experimented with it by making a quick panini. Baguette with genovese pesto, Robusto gouda and the Bellavitano, grilled. OMG DELICIOUS. Also had mixed greens tossed with gorgonzola, tomatoes, garlic EVOO and my favorite Olivier barrel aged Balsamic Vinegar.
For Thanksgiving, we spent the day and evening with Micaela and her family. I racked my brain (and perused Pinterest) to find some good ideas for appetizers. I decided that cheese is always good. So, I made some goat cheese ‘truffles’, inspired by an appetizer i’d tried at 1313 Main, a wonderful wine bar in Downtown Napa. It’s very simple, and so tasty!
Note: all pics were snapped with my iPhone. I should’ve used my regular camera, but I hate to get food hands on it! LOL
Ingredients: Holiday grapes, Chevre cheese, pistachios (I bought pistachios, and used the tenderizer to smash ‘em good) I spread out a piece of wax paper to keep the cleanup to a minimum.
It’s time consuming, but you have to cover the grapes with the Chevre cheese. I used a spoon to apply the initial bit, then rolled them around to make them even.
epic, tasty win.
For my 2nd appetizer, I found a pretty treat on Pinterest.
Ingredients: Water crackers, brie, cranberries, sugar, maple syrup (I used Grade A amber), and honey (mint was used for garnish, I forgot it whoops) Follow the recipe as given HERE, but I used honey instead of chutney
stirring the fresh cranberries with the warmed maple syrup
After sitting overnight in the fridge, I sugared them, and let them dry for an hour.
so tasty on their own, BTW.
Assembled as follows: cracker, brie, drizzle of honey, 3-4 cranberries.
Finito, and I might have eaten like 5 of these. Whuuut.
What delectables made it to your Thanksgiving table? Any treats you want to make for the December holidays?
A couple of weeks ago, my office had a baby shower luncheon for a few employees that are expecting babies in the next month. It was a potluck luncheon, so I offered to make cupcakes (I’m known in the office for good desserts).
I ended up making two flavors: my chocolate covered strawberry (seen HERE), and a lemon-lime variation I made up as I went along. It turned out to be the BEST lemon butter cream I’ve ever had (and I am saying a lot there – I love lemon desserts!). I was so happy, and am sorry
but not really to say that I ate quite a bit of butter cream with a spoon.
The cake batter was a basic white cake, but instead of adding the full amount of water, I substituted a smidgen of Odwalla Summertime Lime, and then a squeeze of fresh lime juice. It turned out light, with just the right amount of sweetness.
Anyway, the butter cream is pretty basic; all ingredients that I already had on hand: unsalted butter (some say full salt butter, but i really don’t like it – all preference), 2 lemons (zest and juice), powdered sugar.
Soften 1 stick of unsalted butter, and whip it in your mixer (beat it up, don’t be afraid). Slowly add the powdered sugar in (i ended up using about 3 1/2 cups). Add 2 tablespoons hot water (1 at a time) and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. I then added in 2 tablespoons of lemon zest to round out the flavor. If you like it creamier, you can add in a teaspoon of whole milk.
Now I want to make another batch.
The holidays are beginning (anyone else totally freaked out that Thanksgiving is the day after tomorrow?! Where the heck did November GO?), which means it’s time to start compiling the recipe list for Christmas treats. I’ve been spending a lot of time on Pinterest (internet crack), and have found so many great ideas for appetizers and desserts! I can’t wait to try them out.