Friday, October 24, 2014

The smells of autumn: Maple sweet potato cupcakes with whipped cream cheese frosting

Pumpkin is everywhere right now. I've seen pumpkin toaster pastries, pumpkin coffee drinks, pumpkin cakes and cookies and crisps... now don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of pumpkin, but these are a nice change of pace. Sweet potato and spices give these a perfectly autumn taste and the dollops of so-light-you-can't-believe-it frosting sit on top like little clouds. I made these for Halloween topped with candy corn, but they'd be equally well-suited for Thanksgiving or Christmas, too.

Maple sweet potato cupcakes with whipped cream cheese icing (makes 2 dozen)

  • 2 cups of cooked sweet potato, mashed smooth
  • 1 cup vegetable oil (you can substitute applesauce to make these lower fat)
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 325 degrees and grease muffin pans or use liners.

Blend together sweet potato, oil, sugar, syrup, eggs and vanilla in a large bowl. If the sweet potato doesn't seem quite smooth, use an immersion blender for this step.

Sift together flours, spices, leaveners and salt and fold into the wet ingredients.

This recipe rises high, so fill cups half full. Bake for 20 minutes or until cake springs back when pressed.

Whipped cream cheese frosting (makes enough for 1.5 to 2 dozen cupcakes, depending on  how much you use)
Note: Instead of vanilla, you can use cinnamon, caramel, or any other flavoring that sounds good to you.
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a chilled bowl, whip cream until soft peaks form. Add in sifted sugar and  continue beating until peaks hold. Put the whipped cream into the refrigerator to keep it chilled.

In another bowl, beat the cream cheese, salt and vanilla until soft and fluffy. Very gently fold in the whipped cream and then blend together with the mixer until completely blended. Pipe onto cupcakes as desired.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Fluffy Sunday Morning Scones

The past year has taught me -- again and again and again but let's not ruminate, yes? -- that food is about more than nourishment. Food can be a ritual, a tradition, a comfort. And for me, one of the most cherished routines has often been Sunday morning breakfasts. 

Saturday mornings in our household are for rushing headlong into the weekend... tackling all the tasks that have built up over the week, and jumping straight into special kind of chaos that only having two littles around the house can bring.

But Sundays... Sundays are different. After a whole day of rushing here and there with two children in tow, Sundays are more about slowing down a little bit and getting ready for the coming week. Sunday mornings are about enjoying your cup of coffee instead of gulping it down, and maybe getting a little indulgent with breakfast with things that could stand in for dessert.

Enter... scones. Sweet but not cloyingly so, rich, crumbly and practically melting on your tongue, scones are easy to whip up first thing in the morning but are just as good made the night before so you can hopefully eke out a few more minutes of sleep. 

This recipe is endlessly customizable with whatever flavors strike your fancy. I've made them with vanilla and chocolate chips, almond flour and almond extract topped with sliced almonds, and sweet cinnamon. But how about dried blueberries with some lemon zest and juice in the dough? Or bits of chopped apple and some caramel extract? Or perhaps a drizzle of simple glaze to take it over the top?

Fluffy Sunday Morning Scones
  • ½ cup butter
  • 2 cups flour - I usually use a blend of whole wheat and all-purpose
  • ½ cup sugar with a little extra for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup yogurt (preferably full-fat)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking pan with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, use your hands, a pastry cutter or a food processor to blend the butter in with your flour, sugar, leaveners, and salt until it looks like coarse crumbs.

In a separate bowl, blend together the egg, yogurt and vanilla. Add to butter + flour mixture and gently press until dough holds together; add a bit of milk if needed to help it hold together. Add in chocolate chips if using them, or any other stir-ins. Scoop the dough onto your pan, sprinkle with sugar to prevent it from sticking to your hands, and gently pat it into a disc. Don't worry about making it perfect, as a bit of imperfection will make for a wonderful rustic texture! Cut into 8 wedges; pull them apart a bit and bake for approximately 15 minutes.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Chocolate cupcakes with fluffy marshmallow frosting

As much as we'd all like to deny it as we savor our kale salads and homemade yogurt, there's a part of our brains that occasionally lingers on those oh-so-unspeakable treats from our childhoods. You know, the kind that came in boxes on grocery store endcaps, with a shelf life of at least 2 years.

But you can't actually go back there. It's like going back to a childhood home... it's never quite the same way you remembered it.

So you recreate what you remember, but you make it better. No shortening. No chemicals. No artificial ingredients. Nothing that could sit forgotten for a few years in the back of the pantry, and still look exactly the same as the day you picked it up for 2/$1.

So today, I bring you the recipe for light, spongy chocolate cupcakes with a fluffy marshmallow frosting that melts in your mouth. The cake is springy, moist and flavorful; the frosting is dense enough to be sinful but light enough that it doesn't overwhelm the cake.

Here is the recipe, and a picture of them topped with a single chocolate wafer:

and as an alternative, sprinkled with mini chocolate chips instead:

Chocolate cupcakes with marshmallow frosting
(this recipe makes 2 dozen with a few extra for placating your hungry family, who apparently cannot wait all of one day until the party)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder; I used Ghirardelli
2 cups white sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup hot coffee
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

For marshmallow frosting:
1.5 cups butter 
3 cups confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tubs of marshmallow fluff

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease your muffin tins, or use liners.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa and sugar. 

Mix in oil, coffee, buttermilk, eggs and vanilla. Mix just until blended. Batter will be thin, and rise high, so fill cupcake tins halfway only. With this recipe, I would recommend filling and baking your pans ASAP - don't pre-make this batter and let it sit out on the counter.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, rotating pans halfway through if necessary, and just until cupcakes spring back when pressed with a finger. Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then remove from pans to cool completely.

At this stage, I usually vacuum seal the cakes and then freeze them in our chest freezer until the day of the event. I believe they are actually better after a freeze and thaw than they are fresh out of the oven... but that's just me. They do have to be fresh when you put them in the freezer though... no freezing is going to bring back stale cupcakes! If you do freeze them ahead of time, unwrap them completely and let them thaw before you decorate. It won't take long... never takes mine more than an hour.

To decorate these, I used a marshmallow buttercream frosting that tastes of marshmallow but is sturdy and pipeable like a buttercream. Simply whip together 1.5 cups (3 sticks) of butter, 3 cups of sifted confectioner's sugar, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract on medium-high speed. When it's fluffy, add in 2 tubs of marsmallow fluff and gently whip on low speed until completely blended together and no large air bubbles remain.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Finding beauty

Irish Boxer Husband claims that for the longest time, I wasn't much of a fan of cut flowers... he might be right, as I have no doubt his memory may occasionally be more reliable than mine, but I have decided that I love flowers and can't have too many of them around the house. Attached to a plant and living or in a vase, I see their glowing colors their delicacy, and that subtle iridiscence... and it makes me happy.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

There's crazy, and then there's crazy. But then there are chickens.

It's been a long time. Things have been crazy. Well, things are always crazy, but recently they have been exceptionally crazy. I'm just going to leave it at that.

Whenever things get bad, I always crave normalcy. So in the face of everything, we outsourced the chicken run so we could get it finished...

 ...the guy went a little crazy...

 ...and then had six chickens delivered over the weekend (after the crazy rainstorm).

3 - 4-week Easter Eggers
2 - 4-week Black Australorps
1 - 6-week Rhode Island Red

Some of them are a bit tattered due to being beat up on a little before they got here. Yikes. But so far, all but the RIR are doing well and settling in just fine. They sleep in a big pile in the corner of the coop and are getting along.
Unfortunately, the RIR is causing issues... dare I say, she might be a little crazy? I've caught her picking feathers off the others, and last night she pecked at my shoes before flying at my face and then repeatedly flying against the walls of the run. We're going to keep an eye on her and make a call by tonight if she's going to stay or go. Any advice on dealing with an aggressive chicken is appreciated. :-)

And so begins a new adventure!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The growing that will happen at the end of the tunnel

Today is day 9 in the hospital, and the walls are definitely starting to cave in on me.

The incessant beeping, fluorescent lighting, doctors and nurses at all times, needles, tubes, endless medications... It all wears a person down. Not to mention I have never been away from the Irish Boxer Husband (who visits everyday), Monkey (who has been brought by once) and Lion Cub (who charms all the nurses) for this long. And the garden, too! Thank goodness for my wonderful friends who do all they can to keep me sane and fighting.

So to try and stay positive, I figured I would start planning out my 2014 growing. In a fit of just-because-I-am-stuck-here-doesn't-mean-I-can't-do-some-damage, I ordered a mess load of fruit trees. I also have all the seeds I ordered and also saved from last year's crops. So in a nutshell, here is what I am setting myself up for, existing and new:


  • Low Chill Apple, 3 on 1 
  • Flavor Grenade Zaiger Pluot
  • Gold Kist Apricot 
  • Burgundy Japanese Plum 
  • Saturn Peach Tree 
  • Black Beauty Fruiting Mulberry 
  • Snow Queen Nectarine 
  • Hachiya Persimmon 
  • Fuyu persimmon
  • Desert Gold Peach
  • Babcock Peach
  • Garden Prince Almond
  • Spice Zee Nectaplum
  • Meyer lemon
  • Mexican lime
  • Nagami kumquat
  • Black Mission fig
  • Hass avocado (he needs a friend!)
  • Raspberries (Heritage, Fall Gold) and Blackberry (Triple Crown)
  • Southern low-chill blueberries, I forget the exact types
  • Sequoia strawberries

  • Tomatillos, green and purple
  • Tomato: Amish Paste, rainbow cherry mix
  • Green Globe artichoke
  • "Summer Melody" squash mix
  • Kabocha squash
  • "Mixed fingers" eggplant mix
  • Bush beans: Contender, Tendergreen
  • Pole beans: yard long, Rattlesnake
  • Buttercrunch lettuce
  • Cucumber: lemon and straight eight
  • Peppers: Chinese Giant and Tam's JalapeƱo
  • Red orach -- very curious about this one!
  • Garlic: Music, Russian Red, Elephant, CA Early have all been planted along with shallots

  • Basil basil basil!
  • Cilantro, slow bolt
  • Garlic chives
  • Chives
  • Thyme
  • Maybe a few others... IBH got me a pack of seeds and many I am not even familiar with


  • Sunflowers
  • Nasturtium
  • Cosmos (no choice here -- they are volunteering all over the place)
  • Calendula
  • Wild flowers

I don't know where I am actually going to *put* all of these... But it should be an exciting summer!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Yellow and green - Korean side dishes

If you've ever had an authentic Korean meal, you know that any entree you order will be accompanied by a variety of side dishes, or "banchan." Having a tiny bit of this, and a bit of that... you're guaranteed a well-rounded meal. I love the way that the dark green and light yellow of these two dishes look together, so often will plate them side by side.

"Spinach" and soybean sprout side dishes (banchan)

The "green" is typically made with spinach, but I had a messload of tatsoi (a type of mustard green) in the garden that needed to be cut and it worked out just fine. You could probably use swiss chard, collard greens, or just about anything in that family. I picked up organic soybean sprouts at the Korean market but you can also sprout your own.

First, wash your greens. You want them clean. :-)

Bring some salted water to a boil, and drop your greens in; spinach wilts very quickly, but tatsoi took just a minute or two longer... you want it all well-wilted but not completely disintegrated so keep a close eye. It shouldn't take long.

Then you drain the greens and squeeze out the water.

In the spirit of efficiency, I used the same salted boiling water to cook my "yellow" -- the soybean sprouts -- for about 5 minutes.You want them to no longer be crunchy but definitely not mushy.

I then drained the sprouts as well.

The same seasoning was used for both. Sorry this isn't very precise, but I totally took a pinch-of-this-and-dusting-of-that approach.
  • Splash of soy sauce
  • Just a few drops of sesame oil
  • Dusting of red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste

 Two friends, made to be together!