Cupcake Confessional

I bought this yesterday.

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And then I used it to make cupcakes and I pretended I had done it all by myself.  And I’m not sorry.

Sometimes you just realize you need birthday cupcakes ASAP, and you have reading to do, and you’re not feeling creative, and all of your measuring cups are dirty.  When these things happen to me, I sometimes put aside my anti-processed-food principles and reach out to accept a helping hand from my girl Betty Crocker (or Duncan Hines, whoever’s on sale that day).

But!  Just because you may occasionally use a cake mix, that doesn’t mean you can’t fancy it up with a few touches that allow you to pretend you didn’t use a cake mix.  You just need to add a little love to what comes in the box, and when I say “love,” I mean cheesecake filling, ganache, and sprinkles.

Mix up the cake batter following Betty’s instructions, and then mix an 8 oz. package of cream cheese with 1 egg, a splash of vanilla extract, and 1/4 cup sugar.  Stir in half a cup of chocolate chips once it’s smooth.

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Fill the cupcake liners about half full, and then spoon a bit of the cheesecake filling into each one.  When the cupcakes bake, the batter will cover the cream cheese mixture, giving the whole thing a very birthday-appropriate element of surprise.

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Bake according to the package directions, and let them cool completely.  Now it’s ganache time!  For those of you not fluent in food-related Frenchie words, ganache = chocolate + heavy cream, melted slowly until shiny and wonderful.  You need a double boiler, which you can rig up using a saucepan with about an inch of water in it and a heat-proof bowl sitting on top.  Put the chocolate and heavy cream in the bowl.  Bring the water underneath it to a simmer and stir, stir, stir the chocolate mixture.  Just make sure the bottom of the bowl is not sitting in the water.  You want to melt the chocolate gently and sloooowly for maximum shininess.

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When all the chocolate is melted, take the bowl off the saucepan, and move it to your cupcake décor station.  (I assume you have one of these set up permanently in your kitchen?)  I would recommend flipping the cupcake upside down and swirling it around in the ganache instead of trying to glop in on with a knife.  They seem to turn out prettier that way.  Then, you should add sprinkles (duh).  You’ll probably have a little extra ganache.  Excuse me if I don’t feel sorry for you there.

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How cute are those??!  Here’s the rundown of what you need, measurements, and so forth:

Cheater Cupcakes (makes just over 2 dozen)

One chocolate cake mix—prepare the batter according to package directions

Cheesecake filling:

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 c. chocolate chips

Ganache topping:

  • 1 c. chocolate chips (I like semi-sweet)
  • 1/4 c. heavy cream

Fill 2 muffin pans with 24 cupcake liners, mix up the cake batter according to the package instructions, and preheat your oven to the specified temperature.  Combine the cream cheese with the egg, 1/4 c. sugar, and vanilla extract.  When the mixture is smooth, stir in 1/2 c. chocolate chips.  Fill each cupcake liner between half and 2/3 full with cake batter, and drop a spoonful of the cream cheese mixture into each one.  Bake according to the package instructions and let cool.

For the ganache: place a heat-proof bowl over a saucepan with about one inch of water in it.  Put 1 cup of chocolate chips and 1/4 c. heavy cream in the bowl, and turn the burner on to medium-low.  Bring the water under the bowl to a simmer, but don’t let it boil.  Stir the chocolate/cream mixture and melt it slowly.  When it’s completely smooth, take the bowl off the saucepan.  Dip each cupcake in the ganache, swirling the top around for even coverage.  Add sprinkles before the chocolate sets.

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Moral of the story: next time you reach for the box, try adding a few little extra touches.  The birthday lady or gentleman will appreciate them!

Perhaps next time I’ll recap the 21-day cleanse, because it’ll be over on Sunday.  It’s going really well, except for a few minor ganache-related indiscretions.  Have a good weekend!

Ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry prom

I’m all tuckered out from Law Prom last night.  But, there are people out there that need baked goods, and when I bake things that turn out well I feel the need to share them with you….so….look at these!

OMGdelicious!  But first—prom!  Yesterday was what we’ll call a “break” from the 21-day cleanse.  There is nothing “cleansing” about bargain basement sparkling wine from a red Solo cup.  Or 2:00 a.m. pizza with macaroni and cheese on top.

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However, I think we could say that fun and frivolity is…mentally cleansing.  So, I maintain that the day was, in fact, yet another step in my journey to health and vibrancy.

Today I made scones for a delivery later this week.  And, because the recipe worked so well (and because sometimes I’m lazy), I’m just going to give you the link and then tell you how I adapted the recipe instead of writing it all out.

Why say things over again when Ina has already said them so well?

Instead of orange-cranberry, I decided to make these cherry-almond.  Here’s all you need to know about scones: keep the butter cold, people!  Cold butter = flakiness = deliciousness.  Get everything ready to go before you take the butter out of the fridge and dice it up to put it in the dough.  If you want to be really on the ball, put your flour in the freezer ahead of time.

Roll, cut, egg wash, and get ‘em in the oven as fast as you can.  Time is of the essence!

(I don’t have a 3-inch round biscuit cutter like Ina suggests, so I used a cherry pie filling can.  Always on-theme around here.)

Here are the changes I made to the original recipe linked above:

  • Omitted the orange zest
  • Replaced the dried cranberries with dried cherries
  • Omitted the orange juice
  • Added 1/2 c. sliced almonds to the dough with the dried cherries
  • Added 1/2 tsp almond extract to the heavy cream and eggs before adding them to the dough

I’m going to freeze these and deliver them to someone later this week, but before I do I’ll let them thaw and glaze them with a mixture of almond milk, confectioner’s sugar, and almond extract. Then I’ll sprinkle each one with more sliced almonds, because baked goods need garnishes (much like cocktail dresses need accessories).

I hope you all have a marvelous week!

Chili for Justice

Today was the annual Equal Justice Foundation Chili Cook-off at my home-away-from-home, the Boyd Law Building.  Because I am an ardent supporter of law students doing public interest work, as well as any event that allows me to bring a kitchen appliance to school, I made a batch of chili.

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Alas, it was not the winning entry, but it’s still good, I promise!  See—these ladies thought so:

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There was some excellent competition–check out this line-up:

When looking for a recipe to start from, I went straight to the ultimate online emporium of deliciousness, the Whole Foods website.  I used one of their veggie chili recipes for inspiration, but modified it because it involved eggplant, and I thought eggplant in chili sounded a little sketchy.  I used acorn squash instead—roasted at 400 for about 30 minutes.

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I drizzled it with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, put a bit of water in the bottom of the pan, and covered with foil before roasting.  Because that’s what my mom does, and that’s a good enough reason for anything, I think.

Saute  the onion, garlic, corn kernels, and jalapeno in a tablespoon or so of olive oil for about 5 minutes, and then add the spices.

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Then add the beans, tomatoes, and veggie stock and simmer until your chili intuition tells you you’re on the home stretch.  (I’d say I let it go for about 20 minutes.)  Add the acorn squash (just scrape it out of the skin and break it up in the chili as you stir) for the last 5-10 minutes of cooking.  Finally, add the lime zest and juice just before serving and stir.

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Acorn Chili

  • 1 c. frozen corn kernels, defrosted
  • 1 acorn squash, cut in half, seeds scraped out, and roasted until tender
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 of a large onion, diced (or one small)
  • 1/2 jalapeno pepper, diced (seeds and ribs included for spice)
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 15 oz. can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 15 oz. can tomatoes (the fire-roasted kind are the best, I think)
  • 2 cups veggie stock/broth (add more towards the end if you’d like thinner chili)
  • zest and juice of one lime

Saute the onion, corn kernels, minced garlic, and jalapeno until softened and fragrant (5 minutes or so).  Add the spices and stir.  Next, add the beans, tomatoes, and veggie stock and simmer for 20-25 minutes.  Scoop the flesh of the roasted acorn squash into the chili and simmer for another 10 minutes, breaking up the squash as you stir.  Add the lime zest and juice just before serving.

Crazy Sexy Cookery

Last week I got this book in the mail:

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I love Kris Carr’s blog, Crazy Sexy Life (“a super disco of health, spiritual wealth, and happiness!”), and I simply could not pass on the book when I saw the subtitle (I love both veggies AND living like I mean it).  I read most of it during the snow event of last week, and am currently on day 4 of the “21-Day Adventure Cleanse.”

Here’s the gist: avoid meat, dairy, sugar, caffeine, and gluten.  Aim for mostly alkalizing foods, exercise, and meditate.  Yeah, it sounds hard…but she made the brilliant decision to call it an “adventure cleanse”–who wants to pass up an adventure?  And I must say—after 4 days I feel pretty fantastic.  I am practically high on vegetables.  The worst part, however, has been giving up my beloved Diet Coke.

My nephew painted this for me, if that’s any indication of my long-standing devotion to this particular beverage.  But…I’ve heard plenty of not-so-nice things about aspartame, so I think it’s good for me to cut it out for awhile.

The best part is that you’re supposed to meditate every morning.  I wake up, brush my teeth, sit on the floor, and think happy thoughts for 15 minutes.  The second-best part: lots of experimenting with weird stuff in the kitchen!

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On the top left: collard greens.  I had never seen these in their natural form before…just chopped up and stewed with a ham hock or something.  As it turns out, you can make wraps out of them—see this link to Choosing Raw for a nifty tutorial!  My first attempt tasted a little….leafy for my liking, but on the second try I steamed the leaf for just a couple of minutes (my cheap-o steamer apparatus is top right), and it was much more palatable and pliable.

Today, in an effort to jazz up the giant bowl of vegetables I was supposed to eat for lunch, I made some crazy sexy cauliflower salad.  I made it into a sort of “cauliflower rice” using my beloved food processor, added some other finely chopped veggies, and then made the most DELISH dressing from raw cashews in my blender.  If you’re not sold on the cauliflower concept, at least try the dressing—I kind of wanted to do a cartwheel when I tasted it.  (But that might just be my salad high talking.)

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Cauliflower “Rice” Salad

1 small head of cauliflower, cut into florets and pulsed in a food processor until it resembles rice

1 red bell pepper, finely diced

2 scallions, halved lengthwise and sliced thin

Dressing: 1/2 c. raw cashews, juice of 1/2 a lemon, 1 clove of garlic, 1/4 c. warm water, 2 tbsp olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste

Combine the vegetables in a large mixing bowl.  Add all of the dressing ingredients except the olive oil to your blender.  Turn on the blender and slowly stream in the olive oil through the hole in the lid.  Check for consistency and add more oil or warm water if you’d like it to be thinner.  Add the dressing to the veggies and stir to coat.

Note: I would probably just go ahead and make a double batch of the dressing—it would be great as a dip or on lots of other salad combos.

Finally, perhaps you were a little confused by this photo above:

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Well, last night I wanted some chocolate.  Correction—I might have gone into a murderous rage if I had to eat one more vegetable and I wanted chocolate RIGHT THEN AND THERE.  Fortunately, there’s a recipe in the back of the book for “Chocomole.”  I know, I know, it sounds weird, but don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it, people!  Scoop the flesh of one avocado into your food processor (or blender), add a couple tablespoons of cocoa powder and a healthy drizzle of agave nectar, and turn it on.  You may want a little water to thin it out, and you’ll need to taste to see if you want more sweetener.  It tastes just like chocolate pudding!  OK, maybe not just like chocolate pudding, but it’s not bad.

Must go read for class now.  I have to get up early and meditate.  Until next time, fair friends!

Goddess of Granola

Sure, you can buy plenty of varieties of granola at your average grocery store, many of which are perfectly tasty.  But why buy when you can make, huh?  Here’s a basic blueprint for making your own granola—try it once and then you can get creative with different ingredients and mix-ins!

Dry ingredients:

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Wet ingredients:

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Mix it all up and spread it out evenly on a sheet pan.

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Then, bake at 250 for an hour and a half, stirring every fifteen minutes.  (I know this sounds like a hassle, but it’s actually an opportunity for some serious productivity.  You can set the timer for each fifteen-minute increment and make yourself complete some task before it beeps, and when you’re done you’ve done six tasks and made granola.)

Store in an airtight container (I keep it in the freezer) and enjoy with yogurt, fruit, etc.

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Basic Granola (makes about 6 cups)

3 c. rolled oats

1 c. sliced almonds

1 c. miscellaneous nuts/seeds (I used half pumpkin seeds and half walnuts this time, and didn’t put the walnuts in until the last half hour of baking because I thought they might brown faster than everything else.)

3/4 c. coconut flakes

scant 1/4 c. brown sugar

1/4 c. honey

1/4 c. vegetable oil

3/4 tsp. salt

Whisk together the brown sugar, honey, oil, and salt, and pour over the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Stir to coat, and then spread the mixture evenly on a large sheet pan.  (You may have to use two sheet pans.)  Bake at 250 for about an hour and a half, stirring every 15 minutes.  (Baking time may vary depending on your oven and what type of pan you use.  Just keep an eye on how fast the granola is browning.)

After I made the granola (in my parents’ lovely and spacious kitchen, because I went to Des Moines for the day), I tried to make some goddess dressing, using whatever I could find in their fridge/pantry.

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I blended, tasted, re-seasoned, tried it on some salad, but…..

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It was pretty lackluster.  So, instead of giving you the measurements I used, I’ll just keep trying and tell you to try Annie’s Naturals Goddess Dressing instead.

Although I failed miserably at goddess dressing, later in the evening I went to an understated toga gathering where we all succeeded at dressing like goddesses.

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There were a lot of excellent contenders, but I’m going to have to give the “Best Toga” award to my friend Lisa, pictured here in the wolf-themed ensemble she found at Hobby Lobby.

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And now—the Super Bowl is upon us!  I must admit that I actually don’t have any idea who is playing who this evening…but I’m going to head to a party with some dip (recipe in the post linked here) and just cheer for whoever appears to be winning.  Have a lovely week, everyone!

(P.S. I used Windows Live Writer for the first time to do this post, so it looks kind of weird and I can’t quite figure out why because I lack any sort of techno-sense.  I’ll probably just have to get my niece to explain it to me :) )

Soup for the snowpocalypse

As you probably know, Mother Nature had a giant snow-tantrum recently that resulted in some class cancellations (WOO!).  Consequently, I had a little staycation at my apartment.  I got some reading done, cleaned, de-cluttered, and worked out.  But, of course, it wasn’t all business.  I also figured out how to make a stylish toga out of a twin bed sheet (for an upcoming social event) and made a mess in my kitchen!

Snow events call for soup, obviously.  I have a newfound love for parsnips, and a friend of mine recently shared a recipe for parsnip soup on my facebook wall.  I don’t have internet access at home, so I couldn’t check the exact ingredients and measurements, but I did have a bag of the aforementioned root vegetables, a Dutch oven, and my lively imagination.

Chopping first: I diced half an onion, minced some garlic, peeled and diced the parsnips, and diced some carrots.  It’s good to get all the ingredients ready to party before you turn on the heat.

I sautéed the onion and garlic for a few minutes, until softened and almost translucent, and then added curry powder, pepper, and a little salt.  (Careful with the salt when you’re going to be using boxed stock/broth—they can be salty, so go easy to start and taste as you go.)  Then I added vegetable stock, brought it to a boil, and dropped in the parsnips and carrots.

Reduce the heat as needed so the veggies are simmering, not boiling like crazy, and stir occasionally until they’re tender.  Mine took 8-10 minutes, but it’ll just depend on how large or small your pieces are.  Next up: puree-ing.  (Is that a verb?  I just made it one.)  I had never pureed a soup before, so I consulted the almighty Bittman Bible of Vegetarianism:

This is a wonderful book that I got as a gift from a wonderful friend, and I look stuff up in it all the time.  I don’t use it for the recipes so much as for the charts, ideas, and exhaustive explanations of everything you need to know about cooking veggie-ful feasts.  The tofu tutorial is a tour de force, let me tell you.  Anyway, Mr. Bittman had some words about pureed veggie soups…

I took his warning to heart and let the soup cool down a bit.  In the meantime, I went outside to attempt to remove my car from its snowy parking lot prison.  Never one for winter-weather preparedness, I don’t actually own a shovel.  Luckily, a nice fellow saw me trying to move a knee-high pile of snow with a cookie sheet and let me borrow his.  After some serious shoveling, I come back inside and put a few ladles of soup into my retro-fab blender.

I think the towel on top is a good idea.  I pureed the soup in 3 batches—here’s what it looked like:

Rave, rave, rave reviews on this stuff!  I loved it.  It looks kind of like baby food, which I suppose might turn some people off, but it tastes like a big potholder hug in a bowl and it’s super-duper nutritious to boot.  I had a bowl (with some chickpeas and scallions on top) while watching Singin’ in the Rain and basking in my spontaneous day of vacation, and it was just the best.  Picture and recipe below…farewell for now and happy shoveling!

Curried Parsnip and Carrot Soup

  • ½ large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • About 5 medium to large parsnips, peeled and diced
  • About 2 cups baby carrots, diced the same size as the parsnips
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 4 cups vegetable stock

Sautee the onion and garlic in a large pot or Dutch oven in about 1 tbsp of your preferred oil.  Cook until softened and nearly translucent.  Add 1 tablespoon of curry powder, plus salt and pepper to taste.  Stir into the onions and garlic, and then add the vegetable stock.  Bring the stock to a boil, add the carrots and parsnips, and reduce heat to a simmer.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are tender (test them with a fork or taste one).  Remove the soup from the heat and allow it to cool a bit.  Puree the soup in several batches in a blender* and then return it to the pot to heat it through again if you’re going to serve it right away.  If needed, add a bit more stock to thin it out.  Taste and add more seasoning if you wish.

*If you have a fancy-schmancy immersion blender, you can certainly use that and puree the soup right in the pot you cooked it in.

P.S. Here’s the link to the recipe that inspired my little soup project.