Thursday, October 29, 2009

Again and Again

Contrary to what you might be thinking right now, I don't sit on at home all day and eat cupcakes and cookies. I know, judging by the way I run this blog, that it probably seems like my diet consists of butter, sugar, and flour, but the honest to goodness truth is that I RARELY eat sweets. Really, it's true. I do love to bake. It takes my mind off things and whatever is created always brightens someone's day. Basically, before we get started I just want to say, don't loose me here. I don't have a mouth full of sweet teeth. I love to cook savory, hearty, wholesome, healthy meals. I promise, after this post, I'll post things like soups and stews and salads. Just bare with me a little longer!
But today, I want to pay a homage to Martha, again. I've been breaking out Cupcakes like no tomorrow and each time I get wonderful results. If you like cupcakes, go out and buy this cookbook ASAP! Just imagine... cupcakes for ALL occasions... yup, it's as good as it sounds!
Anyway, this week marked the birthday of one of my good friends. We met in grade 8 Humanities class where she befriended my lonely self. She is smart and funny and one of the most genuinely nice people I have ever met. Friends like those are hard to find. We worked together after high school at the same cupcake store, where we took it upon ourselves to "accidentally" drop the cupcakes on the ground so that we could eat them (it really was a smart tactic! I'm not serving a customer a cupcake that's been on the floor, but I sure as heck don't mind eating it!) The cupcake that most commonly make it's way from fridge to floor was the same for both of us: Pumpkin Spice with Cream Cheese Icing. That sweet-spicy, light and airy cake was complimented perfectly by the billowy, slightly tangy cream cheese icing that was piled on the top. I've never attempted to make my own pumpkin cupcakes but a birthday this week gave me a perfect excuse to give it a go.
And so, naturally, I reached for Cupcakes by Martha Stewart. I quickly found what I was looking for: Pumpkin Patch Cupcakes. So the baking commenced. Because I was baking for someone else, someone who undoubtedly prefers real butter and milk to margarine and almond milk, I opted not to use any dairy-free products for this recipe. I figured I'd let my family do the taste testing, and I could just be the lowly baker. This didn't exactly work out...
I sifted. I whisked. I stirred. And what resulted was a big 'ol bowl of batter that tasted far too delicious to be just any type of cupcake batter. It was just so good I could hardly stop dipping my fingers into the bowl. This was a good sign, I decided, and I right then and there declared that these pumpkin cupcakes would be the best pumpkin cupcakes ever. The baking cakes filled the whole house with a spicy sweet aroma, like a fresh baked pie, that was absolutely intoxicating.
As the cakes were cooling, I made my cream cheese icing, which was rich, creamy, and smooth. I tried some of it too. And then once the cupcakes were iced, I may have tried a cupcake or two. My stomach was telling me NO, but my heart was telling me YES, and what's a lactose girl to do? I gave in. Really guys, that's how good they were. I suffered through a minor tummy ache, but it hardly even mattered. And I wouldn't take it back for anything.

So, I suggest baking these. Probably today because it's Halloween and all. And your friends and family will love you for it.
Well, goodbye sweets! I'm so done with the sweet talk for a while. At least until Christmas comes around...

Pumpkin Patch Cupcakes
Adapted from Cupcakes by Martha Stewart

As I mentioned above, I didn't used dairy-free products for this recipe. However, I am nearly positive that you could swap out the milk, butter and cream cheese for dairy-free products and the cupcakes would still turn out wonderfully! Also, I baked both regular-size and baby-size cupcakes. I found that the babycakes took about 6-7 minutes to bake, so if you do choose to make some little ones, make sure you watch them closely.

For Cupcakes:
4 cups cake flour (not self-rising), sifted
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2½ cups packed light-brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1½ cups canned pumpkin puree (not pie filling)

For Cream Cheese Icing:
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
12 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 pound (4 cups) confectioners' sugar, sifted
¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

To prepare cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.
Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices.

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and brown sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of buttermilk, and beating until just combined. Add pumpkin puree; beat until just combined.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool 10 minutes; turn out cupcakes onto rack and let cool completely.

Prepare cream cheese icing:

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and cream cheese until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Add sugar, ½ cup at a time, and then vanilla, and mix until smooth and combined, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.

To finish cupcakes:

Use an offset spatula to spread cupcakes with frosting. Martha suggests topping the cupcakes with a marzipan pumpkin but because I could not find any and did not have the time to make them from scratch, I bought some other festive candies to put on top as garnish.

Yield: Makes 32 standard size cupcakes

Cupcakes can be refrigerated up to 3 days in an airtight container.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I'm in love...

It's Autumn people! Aren't you excited? The leaves have turned all sorts of crazy colours and air now packs a brisk punch. It's the time for turkey and pumpkins and big mugs full of rooibus tea. We lit the pilot light in our fireplace a few days ago, which has been a long time coming (I don't know what is wrong with the people in my family but our air conditioner is STILL on. It's not even warm outside anymore!)! Besides all the usual Fall comforts, the food at this time of year- goodness gracious, the food really gets me. It's still colourful, but in a more earthy way. And it's hearty and warm. What can I say, I'm in love...
Autumn always leaves me feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Even in the midst of a plethora of assignments and midterms. Autumn is like the calm before the winter storm and is an absolute breath of fresh air after a stifling summer.
Even as a child I remember looking forward to back to school time far more than the average person would. I remember stomping through piles of leave in my new doc martins with a smile as big as a crescent moon plastered on my face. Back then, fall meant a new wardrobe, new pencils, and pristine white erasers.
Nowadays I can't really afford a whole new wardrobe (dang you tuition, you do not leave me room to indulge in my horrendously expensive tastes!), or really new anything (unless you count new textbooks, but lets not go there) so I settle for something else. Something like Snow Flurry rooibos tea that I get from a sweet little store in West Van for $6.95/100g. Oh and with that tea, I like some cookies. Some spicy, hearty, healthy cookies that I can dunk into my Snow Flurry tea and the slowly slip into euphoria... Mmm yes please.
Oatmeal Harvest Cookies
Adapted (roughly) from Whole Foods Market

These lightly spiced cookies are the perfect fall treat. They are toothsome and loaded with all kinds of super healthy ingredients. Sometimes, if I'm feeling high spirited, I will add about 1/2 a cup of ground flax meal, just to add a bit of extra substance. Hellooooo not-so-guilty pleasures...
Also, the only complaint I ever get about these cookies is that the recipe doesn't make enough! Depending on the size you make the cookies, you should get about one dozen out of the recipe. If that's not enough to keep you happy, double the recipe and all will be well!

1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
¾ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ sticks (3/4 cup) Earth Balance Margarine (or butter)
¾ cup packed brown sugar*
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup almonds chopped
2 cups rolled oats
grated rind of one orange
¾ cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two baking trays with parchment.
In a small medium bowl, combine whole wheat flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and soda. Whisk to combine.

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, cream the margarine and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg, vanilla, and orange zest, until just combined. With a wooden spoon, stir in the dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in the almonds, oats and cranberries. Drop by heaping tablespoon onto baking trays.

Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown and firm on top. The cookies don't spread very much; so don't worry about crowding them.

* These cookies are not overtly sweet- perfect to enjoy along a mug of hot chocolate, coffee, or tea! If you have a larger sweet tooth, please be advised the the original recipe called for an additional ½ cup of granulated sugar.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Most Important

We've all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but for the first 16 years of my life I refused to have anything to do with it. There was something so unappealing about food first thing in the morning. After all, I hardly had enough time to get myself ready, let alone make an effort to find something to eat at 7:30 a.m. My first year of high school was the worst and my eating habits were horrendous. I would skip breakfast every single day. And as if that's not bad enough, I never brought a lunch. For some reason at that age I never wanted to be seen eating. (Strange? Yes. But would you expect anything differently from a hormone crazed teenager?) Somehow I managed to pull myself through the day running on little to no energy, unless you count a bag of Miss Vickies chips and a root beer slushie a means of sustainable energy.

This goes to say that when I finally made it home at 3pm, I was weak and weary. I was also positively starving. I would rampantly dig through the cupboards and the fridge and consume whatever crossed my path. After that I was always left with one of those horrible way-too-full stomach aches that made me want to curl up in a little ball for a whole afternoon. This is all in part because of my loathe for breakfast. Goodness gracious.
Then one day something changed. Somewhere within the last few years of high school I began to notice a correlation between how I felt when I ate breakfast and when I didn't. The difference was remarkable! Breakfast=ENERGY. It was a miracle! It was like a light switched on in my head and I had finally solved the puzzle. My conversion wasn't immediate. It took some time and started off small. I forced myself to eat a few bits of an apple or a small bowl of Frosted Mini Wheats, and somehow this effort grew into something much, much larger. Sure, it only took me most of my teenage years to learn what my mother had constantly nagged me about ("Jacqueline! You NEED to eat breakfast! It's the most important meal of the day!") and what most people consider common sense, but finally I got it! I felt like a new woman.

Breakfast is now my favorite meal of the day. I love it. In fact, I look forward to it. Most mornings you will find me in the kitchen happily mixing eggs with fresh herbs and green grape tomatoes, creating the most astounding scrambled eggs (I'm telling you people, the secret is black truffle oil, but I'll save that for another day...)! I'm not even fancy-shmacey ALL the time. I've also been known to grab a bowl homemade granola, yogurt and fresh fruit. Sometimes I even reach for a piece of toast with almond butter and jam.
However, one of my favorite things to eat as of lately is baked oatmeal, and baked oatmeal is what I long to share with you! Okay, okay, I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, "Gee, that sound gross." Or, "How incredibly dull!" or something along those lines. But I am here to tell you that, on the contrary, this baked oatmeal is really something else. It will have quite an effect on you, even you who claim to never need breakfast. That is quite the claim but I'm standing by it. I think the secret to this recipe is the eggs. They give the oatmeal an enchantingly light texture with a deep, rich flavor. It is chewy, in a pleasant way, and stick-to-your-bones hearty. The flavor is subtly sweet and slightly spicy. And when topped with a little bit of fruit and yogurt, it positively weak-in-the-knees delicious. Did you hear that? I am willing to bet that this recipe will make you weak in the knees. Yes, even you breakfast haters. Consider yourself warned, you are going to be hooked.

Baked Oatmeal

Typically, oatmeal makes me cringe. If I could describe it in one word it would be gloopy. Or soggy. Or gross. However, with a few slight alterations, and the addition of an oven, traditional oatmeal becomes something else. Something wonderful. Something with a delicate flavour and alluring texture. I am quite positive that even if you don't like oatmeal, you will like this. Feel free to play around with the flavours. If you want a little more spice, you could up the cinnamon or add some nutmeg. I prefer this recipe as is, but don't hesitate to experiment!

6 eggs
2/3 cup oil
1 cup sugar
3 2/3 cups oatmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk (almond, soy, or regular!)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon Cinnamon

Mix all the ingredients together and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 and bake in a greased 9 x 13 inch pan for 30 minutes.

There are many ways in which you can enjoy baked oatmeal. My personal favorite is when served slightly warm with fresh fruit, chopped walnuts, and So Delicious Coconut Milk Yogurt! However, feel free to play around with your toppings! Here are just a few other ideas: dried fruit, brown sugar, chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts, etc.), a sprinkle of cinnamon, yogurt, fresh fruit...