Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Guest Blogging Today At The Swell Life

Check out my guest blog post over at The Swell Life today. I'm so honored that she chose me and now you can finally see the reason I was making all of those German-themed treats for the past few weeks. To further tempt you to click on the link I'm going to throw two words out there for you: "Glühwein" and "cupcakes."

While you're there, I hope you check out her amazing blog full of envious photography, beautiful art, and brilliant ideas.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cupcake Hero Fail

Even though it's not quite the noon deadline I'm going to call this now since I'm getting ready to hit the road and return home from my Thanksgiving vacation. Looks like my little experiment in keeping Cupcake Hero alive and kicking failed miserably as I didn't get a single entry. I hope this doesn't mean the end of the competition for good because I personally like being challenged and given new cupcake ideas, but this doesn't bode well for the future of the competition. Oh well. At least this saves me the trouble of having to sew something for the winner when I should be making Christmas presents for my friends instead. Hopefully another worthy competition will crop up soon to take its place.

Monday, November 22, 2010

German Holiday Traditions: Glühwein

It is my dream to one day visit Germany during the Christmas season so I can experience the magic of and, let's face it, abundance of delicious food at the Weihnachtsmärkte. Yes, I would be sure to hit more than one of their festive holiday markets because I doubt just one would be enough to satisfy me. I can't even imagine how much weight I'd gain feasting on everything from the Gebrannte Mandeln (candied almonds) to the bratwurst, something I'd ordinarily turn my nose up at any other time of the year. Not to mention the pounds of marzipan I'd smuggle home in my suitcase. One trip could lead to a five-month-long eating binge if I play my cards right.

Glühwein is a hot mulled wine, perfect for warming one's bones while wandering through an outdoor market in Germany. I'd imagine it's also perfect for curling up in front of the fireplace while gearing up for Christmas. While it's a bit early for Christmas treats when we haven't even gotten through November, I figure a glass or two of this might help you survive Thanksgiving so you can live to see December. Especially if your family's anything like mine!

I'm not sure if the recipe I followed is anywhere close to authentic but, likely because of the addition of liberal amounts of sugar, I found it to be the first wine I could actually stand to drink. I found several different recipes out there that vary widely so if this one doesn't strike your fancy feel free to poke around the net yourself and experiment. Some recipes called for lemons instead of oranges and different proportions of spices. I quite like the strong orange flavor in this one and the sweetness from the orange juice and sugar.

Recipe adapted from Dreaming of Winter

2 cups red wine
1/4 cup granulated sugar
One orange, cut into slices
8 whole cloves
Juice from one orange, strained to remove pulp
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
4 whole allspice
Brandy (optional)

1) Stick the whole cloves into the orange slices and combine everything in a pot. For an extra kick add some brandy. (I didn't because I'm a lightweight.) Heat over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and being careful to not let it boil.
2) Taste and add more sugar if desired. Continue to heat over low temperature, again making sure it doesn't boil, for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3) Strain out the cloves, allspice, and cinnamon or ladle carefully and drink up! If you're feeling especially generous this holiday season you could even share with friends.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

German Holiday Traditions: Lebkuchen Hearts

I'm starting to get a little of my Christmas spirit back now that I've started thinking about all of the holiday foods that come with the season. Christmas is probably the time of year I'm most in touch with my German heritage as my mother made sure to include a lot of German holiday traditions as I grew up. I've chosen to keep most of those traditions now that I'm grown and live on my own, but the one tradition I refuse to uphold is waiting until December 24th to put up the Christmas tree. That's all good and well when you're a kid and believe that Santa sneaks into the house on Christmas Eve to deposit your presents and tree but now that I know better I want to enjoy my tree for longer than two weeks.

Of course, there are wonderful German traditions I'm only too happy to incorporate, namely the food. Christmas wouldn't be complete for me without a marzipan pig for good luck in the upcoming year and Gebrannte Mandeln (toasted sugar almonds) threatening to shatter my teeth. Another of my favorite treats is Lebkuchen, a soft, spiced cookie with citrus flavors.
My mom and I pay a pretty penny every year to buy some imported from the fatherland. Considering how frugal we both are the rest of the year this is a testament to our love for the stuff.

Lebkuchen is often sold in giant heart-shaped forms with little messages written across the middle. They're usually nice, sweet messages like, "I love you" but I made a few for my brother that are less than kind. I wouldn't want to miss out on an opportunity to insult him.

Dummkopf = stupid head
Ich liebe dich = I love you
Schatzi = darling
Frohe Weihnachten = Merry Christmas

The recipe below is a nice substitute when the real stuff can't be found but I have to say it's nowhere near as good. The flavors are all there but something is lacking. Must be that magical German air. Still, they herald the start of the holiday season for me and I'm happy to have them to tide me over until my international shipment arrives. Although similar to gingerbread cookies with the variety of spices, I prefer these because they're softer and the chewy bite from the mixed peel stands out. This is the reason I made that candied citrus peel and I think it was well worth it. I hope you give them a try to bring a little German spirit into your Christmas this year!

Lebkuchen Hearts
Recipe from Taste.com.au

60 grams unsalted butter
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp finely grated lemon rind
1/4 cup mixed peel, finely chopped
1/4 cup slivered almonds, slightly broken
1 egg
Dark chocolate, melted (optional)

1) Place the butter, honey and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until butter melts and mixture comes to the boil. Remove from heat and set aside for 10 minutes to cool slightly.

2) Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cloves, allspice, nutmeg and cardamom into a large bowl. Add the lemon rind, mixed peel and almonds and stir to combine. Add the egg and the honey mixture and stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 1 1/2 hours to rest.

3) Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead until smooth. Roll out to a 5mm-thick disc. Use a heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out shapes from dough and place on the lined trays, leaving space for spreading. Bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until cookies are lightly golden. Remove from oven and set aside on trays to cool completely.

4) When cool, if desired, spread melted chocolate on the bottom of each cookie.

Buttercream Frosting (For Decorating)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 heaping cup confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon heavy cream
Food coloring

1) Beat butter and sugar until combined. Add cream and beat until smooth.
2) Divide frosting and tint with food coloring. Pipe decoratively onto cookies.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Candied Citrus Peel

I'm gradually compiling and making the ingredients for a special German-inspired holiday cupcake to be revealed in a guest post on another blog after Thanksgiving. As some of those ingredients are delicious in their own right I'll start posting recipes for you now beginning with candied citrus peel. I'm assuming this is more or less what my final recipe means when it calls for "mixed peel." While I know I could just head to the store to buy some I'm feeling like a food snob today and decided to make my own. I'm sure it's much cheaper too.

It's a simple process involving more sugar than I care to think about boiled into a thick syrup and combined with strips of lemon and orange peel. While I plan to use mine for baking I think they'd make a delicious and attractive snack if dipped into melted chocolate and cooled. They remind me a little bit of those gummy orange and lemon slices you can get in the candy store, which I happen to adore.

Most recipes I found called for removal of the pith, which seemed very time consuming and detrimental to my fingernails. Always looking for the easy way out, I found one blogger who skipped that step and instead blanched his peels several times in fresh water to remove some of the bitterness. I tried breaking up the 20-minute cooking process called for in the original recipe to use three batches of water and while there's still plenty of citrus flavor in the finished product there's very little bite.

Candied Citrus Peel
Recipe adapted from allrecipes.com

3 lemon peels, cut into 1/4 inch strips
2 orange peels, cut into 1/4 inch strips
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1/8 - 1/4 cup granulated sugar for coating

1) Place lemon and orange peel in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil for five minutes. Drain and refill pot with water and add lemon and orange peels. Again bring to a boil and heat for another five minutes. Drain and refill with water, lemon and orange peels, and boil for eight minutes. Drain and set aside.

2) In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil and cook until mixture reaches thread stage, 230 degrees F (108 degrees C) on candy thermometer, or small amount dropped in cold water forms a soft thread. Stir in peel, reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Drain.

3) Place peel on a wire rack over a baking sheet and let dry for several hours. Put sugar in a bowl or airtight, lidded container and add small amounts of peel. Toss to coat. Repeat until all pieces are coated with sugar.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Harry Potter Treat: Treacle Tart

Even though I have no plans to rush out and see the newly released Harry Potter movie I am very excited about it. I'd rather be patient and wait than deal with those noisome creatures commonly known as "children." I sort of grew up with the series (as much as someone who was already 15 when the first book came out can claim) so the books and movies hold a special place in my heart. That and I have a total fangirl crush on Alan Rickman as Severus Snape complete with girly squeals when he shows up on screen. Rumor has it I might have every scene of his in the first three movies memorized to the point where I can fast forward straight to them without having to watch the screen.

Just check out that library and those smoldering good looks. Almost as delectable as a treacle tart!

I would be remiss if I let an occasion to celebrate pass without notice and without feasting on something unhealthy. While I wish I had the time to put together a full-fledged Harry Potter-themed party this will have to do for now. One of my favorite blogs, for obvious reasons, is The English Kitchen. When she featured treacle tart a few weeks ago I bookmarked the recipe for this specific occasion. Now that the big Harry Potter release day is here I'm going to celebrate in the privacy of my own home with a giant slice of this sugary goodness!

Wowza. Now that I've sampled this for myself I have to wonder at the wisdom of serving this to schoolchildren. I think I'll be on a sugar high for the next week straight just from eating one delicious slice. It's decidedly British in flavor, if such a thing can be defined, with plenty of fresh lemon flavor. I only wish I'd remembered to add ginger, which The English Kitchen listed as an optional ingredient. I would say "there's always next time" but as the golden syrup alone cost $5 I doubt this will become a regular dessert around our house. Perhaps one day if I can ever convince my husband and the government to let me move to England. While the cost of everything else might be astronomical at least my British groceries will cost less than they do here. That's reason enough to move, right?

Treacle Tart
Recipe adapted from The English Kitchen

Pie crust to line a 9 inch pie pan
1 454g can of golden syrup
3 tablespoons heavy cream
2 heaping cups of fresh breadcrumbs
Juice and zest of one lemon
2 large eggs
A pinch of sea salt
Ground ginger (optional)

1) Preheat the oven to 375F.
2) Roll the pie crust out and press into a 9" pie pan, crimping edges. Line with parchment paper and baking beans and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the pastry looks set and dried. Lift out the paper and baking beans. Return the pan to the oven for a few minutes to dry the pastry out further.
3) Remove from the oven and reduce the temperature to 325F.
4) Mix together the syrup, cream, breadcrumbs, lemon juice and eggs, along with a pinch of fine sea salt and optional ground ginger. Pour this mixture into the pie crust and bake for 50 minutes, until the filling has lightly set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before cutting into wedges to serve.

A Photo A Day [Day 82] - Eagerly waiting for my treacle tart to be done

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Photo A Day [81]

Theme: glass

I've got the travel bug again, desperately ready to start planning my next big trip. Half the fun for me is in the anticipation and planning so the trip doesn't even have to be anytime soon, I just need something extraordinary to look forward to to help me get through the ordinary, mundane days of my life.

"And I'm on the edge
Of an endless fall
Sure enough
He's come to call
Got to go now
Get on that bus
Me and the wanderlust"

German Apple Cake

Ignore the evidence of my gluttony that couldn't wait until after I took a picture. Even if it's not up to snuff it's still cake!

In her prime, my grandmother was one heck of a baker and one of her baking standards was her Apfelkuchen (apple cake). She seemed to always have one in the fridge or one in the works, and I know I took it for granted that there would forever be a never-ending supply of apple cake in my life. Of course that has turned out to not be true and with the advent of fall and apple season I was craving one something fierce. Unfortunately, I don't have my grandmother's recipe so I hunted around online until I found one that looked similar from the picture. And while mine turned out more or less looking right – aside from the somewhat deformed apples – that's where the similarities ended.

I guess it's time to revoke my German heritage membership card after this weekend's abysmal attempt at making my own German apple cake. How is that my grandmother was always able to effortlessly whip one up while I stood there and struggled with coring and slicing the darn apples for what felt like forever? Only to wind up with deformed-looking hunks of apple. Even worse is that I either overbaked the cake or the recipe I found wasn't close enough to her version because it's much dryer and less flavorful than what I'm used to. Huge disappointment for my first attempt at recreating one of my childhood favorites. Maybe I should stick to a simple marble cake instead since that's hard to screw up and I've been baking those since I was eight.

If any of you happens to know of a better recipe I could try please help a wayward German girl out and point me in the right direction. I don't want to give up on my dream of having apple cake like Oma used to make!

German Apple Cake

1 3/4 cup flour
2 teasp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 teasp. cinnamon
1 tip of a knife ground cloves
1 teasp. lemon zest
10 tablesp. butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 teasp. vanilla extract
4 tablesp. rum or milk (rum is recommended)
2 or 3 apples

1) Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease baking pan. (The recipe didn't specify so I used a springform pan.)

2) In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and lemon zest.

3) In a second bowl, beat butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla extract and mix. Stir in flour mixture, one tablespoon at a time. Add rum or milk and mix in. Pour batter into prepared baking pan.

4) Peel apples and cut them into quarters. Core apples and score the quarters lengthwise (see picture), cutting deeply. Place apple pieces cored side up on top of the batter. Sprinkle a little cinnamon and sugar on top.

5) Bake cake for 40-55 min. until golden brown and toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack ten minutes, remove from pan and continue to cool on rack.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Photo A Day [78, 79, & 80]

This week's theme is glass, which again I feel I could do lots of neat stuff with if I had time during daylight hours to hunt down some funky reflections or glass buildings. So for two of my pictures this week I've already gone off theme and just taken random pictures of my mundane life.

Some people are using the season as a reason to take pictures of things they're thankful for. For Monday's picture I took a picture of two of the things that make me happiest in the world: my cats. Well, two of our three cats. Here they are pretending to love each other while really huddling together for warmth.

A Photo A Day [Day 78]

Here's an entry for the glass theme:

A Photo A Day [Day 79]

Caught our third cat in silhouette in the front window this morning:

A Photo A Day [Day 80]

The Grinch Stole My Christmas Spirit

"I must stop this whole thing! Why, for fifty-three years I've put up with it now. I must stop Christmas from coming... but how?"

I usually have a hard and fast rule that nothing Christmas-related goes up in our house until after Thanksgiving. Which isn't to say that I don't love Christmas but I want every holiday to have its time in the spotlight and cringe when I hear stores playing Christmas music the day after Halloween. I do tend to drag the Christmas tree and ornaments out of storage the very day after Thanksgiving so it's not as if I'm not eager to deck the halls. Although in our case there are fewer boughs of holly and more skulls and purse-carrying sharks in hula skirts adorning our tree. Can you believe this beauty was still available at Target in the post-Christmas sales last year? What a lucky find!

However, as a crafter and someone who plans to make homemade gifts and decorations this year I know that time's a-ticking and now's the time to get started. This is the first Christmas that's rolled around since I started avidly crafting and sewing and I have a few ideas in the works, mostly for presents for friends. My problem is that I'm just not feeling the Christmas spirit in me. None of the projects I see others posting inspires me to want to rush out and buy the necessary supplies. As much as I typically love the sparkly, magical fun of the Christmas season everything feels like such a letdown compared to the great Halloween projects I was inundated with for the past two months.

On top of that, I struggle every year with being the only person in my house who cares about things like holiday decorations. My husband couldn't care less about the tree, twinkling lights, warm hot chocolate, annual viewing of Love Actually, etc. Alright, I can understand why a guy wouldn't be so keen on that last part but my point is that the responsibility of decorating falls on my shoulders. While I enjoy it to a degree it's always nice to have some help and to feel like my efforts are appreciated by someone other than me. Sure, the cats enjoy the month-long challenge of trying to knock the shiny baubles off the tree and strategically lie in wait under the tree for one of the other unsuspecting cats to wander by but I wouldn't exactly classify that as appreciation. This year the thought of wrestling the tree out of the basement, sorting out the tangled branches, and unwrapping every one of our numerous ornaments seems daunting and like the polar opposite of fun.

Anyone else in the same boat this year? I hope this is just a temporary funk and that some turkey and pumpkin pie next week will rejuvenate and restore me to my former self. Otherwise I'm just going to leave the decorating to the cats and you can only imagine what a mess they'll make of it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Christmas Gift Idea: Gathered Zippered Pouches

For those of us who plan to make homemade gifts this Christmas season now's the time to get started. Here's an easy project you can complete in about an hour with eye-catching results. As soon as I saw Noodlehead's tutorial for a gathered clutch I knew I'd wind up making at least one for myself and lots more for friends. The design's so simple in a "why didn't I think of that?" sort of way but it's unique enough to make an ordinary zippered pouch look snazzy and sophisticated. This was my first attempt at the pattern and I found it easy to follow and hard to mess up, two pluses in my book. It's nearly impossible to screw up when making the gathered front because there's no right or wrong in how the folds lie. It'll look interesting no matter what you do and no one will know you didn't place them that way on purpose.

This set is a birthday present for a friend. The smaller one is the size you get if you follow the pattern as printed. For variety I added two inches to the dimensions and made a larger one as well. I left out the optional divider and card holders as I see these being used as handy pouches inside her purse or suitcase when traveling, not as a clutch. With the interfacing on both outer pieces the pouches are definitely sturdy enough. I've seen people use this pattern to make wristlets by sewing in a little loop into the side with a longer strap attached. I like the look and might try one like that in the near future.

As always, half the fun is in choosing the right fabrics with the contrasting band across the front. Each gift can be customized to suit the recipient's hobbies, interests, or favorite colors. I plan to have lots of fun with the ones I make for Christmas presents! For myself I plan to whip up some using that cute novelty fabric I keep buying that's just a little too weird or cutesy for me to use on the outside of a purse for the world to see. This is the perfect way to feature those without letting everyone know just how weird I am.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Photo A Day [75, 76, & 77]

Abandoned the water theme to copy a fascinating closeup I'd seen earlier in the week of some nutmeg. Alas, my lens doesn't seem capable of that sort of detailed closeup but it's given me a good idea of what to ask for from Santa.

A Photo A Day [Day 75]

Finally got a chance to go near some water while it was still light out and take the sort of pictures I'd envisioned all week.

A Photo A Day [Day 76]

A Photo A Day [Day 77]

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Photo A Day [72, 73, & 74]

I was excited about the water theme when the week started but I'm struggling to come up with anything worth photographing. Maybe it's the time change making it dark by the time I get home from work that's sapping my creative energy. Time to go into hibernation for the winter. I'm loving everyone else's pictures, though.

This is a tea flower that was a gift from my best friend. Looks like a hard nut or seed until you add hot water and then it blossoms. Just like me when you add chocolate.

A Photo A Day [Day 72]

Weird-looking bubbles:

A Photo A Day [Day 73]

Washing away the evidence:

A Photo A Day [Day 74]

Remembrance Day

It's Veterans Day here in the US and Remembrance Day elsewhere in the world. I was lucky enough to be in London last year for their Remembrance Day ceremony. The two minutes of silence was eerie and wonderful to behold. Very moving even as I watched from the periphery.

I found this beautiful photograph on the Guardian's site.

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cupcake Shipping Success!

When my husband suggested shipping some homemade cupcakes to a friend as a birthday present I initially thought he was nuts. Most of my friends and family live elsewhere in the country so I've always wished I could ship cupcakes but figured they'd arrive there in a frosting-smeared mess looking anything but edible. But with this friend's birthday drawing near and nothing more than a few random geeky trinkets in storage for him I needed to come up with something suitable. Cupcakes it would be.

I saved him a few pumpkin dulce de leche cupcakes in the freezer from the previous weekend and slaved away in the kitchen all evening making him two more flavors: coffee cupcakes w/chocolate ganache filling and Baileys buttercream (recipe here) and banana chocolate chip cupcakes filled with Nutella and topped with peanut butter frosting. I was in too much of a rush to photograph those so no blog post about them, sorry.

They all went into the freezer as soon as they were frosted so they'd be as chilled as possible for their long journey from the East Coast to the West Coast. I decided to use our poor friend as a guinea pig and experiment with three different packaging methods to see which works best. Out of all of our friends I figured he's the one who'd least likely be put off of eating something just because it looks unsavory. He's like me in that regard. Just tell me it's dessert and I'll eat it regardless.

Method #1: I tightly packed seven cupcakes into a large rectangular Ziploc container with cardboard partitions between them. I stuck pieces of drinking straws into each to provide some buffer between the tops of the cupcakes and the lid. I snapped the lid in place and wrapped the entire thing in plastic wrap. Surprisingly, while this seemed to be the most secure before shipping (I gave them a little shake to see if they'd budge) these are apparently the ones that suffered the most damage en route in the form of some smooshed frosting. Not enough to put our guinea pig off of eating them but it wasn't the perfect cupcake I was hoping he'd receive. I forgot to get a pic of this method. Just use your imagination.

Method #2: I bought a few Hefty EZ Foil disposable loaf pans with lids at Wal-Mart. I was only able to fit two cupcakes into each since I wanted to leave room to invert a paper cup over each to keep it in place. I put a dollop of frosting on the bottom of the cupcake to hold it in place, then a cut straw to keep the cupcake from shifting and hitting the top of the paper cup, and then I set a paper cup on top of the cupcake. I filled in the empty spaces with crumpled newspaper, snapped the lids onto the loaf pans, and wrapped in plastic wrap. Not very neat and tidy and I wished I could have fit more into the pans, but it was worth at try.

Method #3: I bought some disposable muffin/cupcake baking trays at Wal-Mart (again Hefty EZ Foil brand). While they're designed to be used in the oven I didn't bake my cupcakes in them since I wanted them as intact as possible for the shipping process. I froze the frosted cupcakes in a separate container and once they were set I wrapped each individually in a generous amount of plastic wrap. I nestled each one into place in the tray and then inverted a second tray on top. The excess plastic wrap helped cushion the cupcakes and the wells in the tray kept them nicely in place, both at the base and on top. I taped around the sides of the pans to sandwich them together and wrapped the entire thing in more plastic wrap. I suspect it took a lot of patience to unwrap everything but I hope it was worth the trouble. This seemed to be the least messy method when packaging them up and from the lucky recipient's report the cupcakes were still intact upon arrival.

Other methods I considered were:
Packing the cupcakes unfrosted and providing the frosting in a separate container, requiring some DIY work by the recipient.

Cutting each cupcake horizontally into segments and layering the cake with frosting in a Mason jar. Unfortunately, I'm not into canning so didn't already own the necessary supplies. I wasn't in the mood to purchase the jars in bulk at Wal-Mart when I only needed two or three.

As for which shipping agent to use, I wound up picking the worst one due to a lack of proper research beforehand. With a few other assorted presents the package was nearly eight pounds and UPS wanted to charge over $60 for two-day shipping. After they revived me with the smelling salts I went with a cheaper option even though I felt bad about the cupcakes being less than fresh by the time they arrived. Once I was home I did some pricing online and discovered that not only is USPS cheaper, FedEx also has better options at better prices. Next time I'll make the effort to weigh the package at home and do some pricing before I leave the house. I'd also wanted to go with UPS because I figured the package would be manhandled less than USPS, but the woman at The UPS Store squashed those hopes by telling me point blank the delivery guys would throw the package around. Oh well, you live, you learn.

Our guinea pig has reported that the cupcakes arrived there safe and sound and mostly all intact. And definitely all tasty. As I mentioned, there was a little frosting smoosh-age with method #1 but the other two passed the test. For logistical reasons I'd go with method #3 again since I was able to fit six cupcakes into a relatively small space.

Of course, this now means that I have no excuse when my friends and family make comments about how nice it would be to taste some of the cupcakes they keep seeing me post online. What have I gotten myself into?!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pumpkin Bread Pudding Cupcakes w/Maple Buttercream

When I saw a recipe online for pumpkin bread pudding the wheels automatically started turning as I worked out how I could turn them into cupcakes. My white chocolate bread pudding cupcakes were so successful that I knew I could adapt that recipe for a tasty fall treat.

I fiddled with the proportions of some of the ingredients, added spices and diced ginger, and wound up with a yummy cupcake-sized morsel of pumpkin-infused bread pudding. The cake itself isn't too sweet but that's more than made up for with the addition of delicious maple buttercream. I used real maple syrup and a dash of artificial maple flavoring because I worried the maple syrup flavor wouldn't be strong enough. I don't mind that fake flavor in small quantities and kind of like that I keep catching whiffs of it in the air but if it's not your thing you can omit it.

A note about the frosting recipe below: it only makes enough to pipe a small dollop of frosting on each cupcake (see above picture). Because it's so sweet and strong I didn't want to pile on the frosting and overwhelm the pumpkin cake, but if you want to generously pipe it you'll need to make more.

I also think these would be quite good with the addition of cranberries. I wish I'd thought to throw 1/2 a cup of frozen berries in with the bread cubes before baking. I guess there's always next time!

Pumpkin Bread Pudding Cupcakes
Recipe adapted from Cupcake Bakeshop

1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 loaf of dense white bread, 1 or 2 days old
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
3 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 ground ginger
A pinch of ground cloves
1 tablespoon crystallized ginger, finely diced

1. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, whisk together the cream, milk, vanilla, and flour. Bring to a boil, stirring. Remove from heat, cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes.
2. Chop bread into 1/2″ cubes. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
3. Bring cream mixture back to boil and stir in pumpkin puree. Take off the heat and continue to stir until smooth and thoroughly combined.
4. Whisk together the egg yolks, egg, and sugars in a large bowl. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger, and ground cloves and whisk until combined. Add diced ginger and slowly add the warm pumpkin mixture, whisking constantly until combined.
5. Pour the mixture carefully over the bread cubes. Stir until all cubes are covered with pumpkin mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 15 minutes.
6. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 15 cupcake wells with paper liners (paper cup liners work best).
7. Scoop soaked bread cubes into cupcake papers until bread cubes are level with the top of the rim.
8. Carefully pour any remaining liquid into each cupcake filling until nearly full.
9. Bake at 350 degrees for 22-25 minutes until set.
10. Remove from oven and cool in pan 5-10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool cupcakes completely on a wire rack.

Maple Buttercream
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon maple flavoring
2 tablespoons maple syrup

1. Cream butter and sugar until smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
2. Add maple flavoring and maple syrup and beat until combined. You may have to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and continue to mix.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Photo A Day [71]

New theme this week is "water."

A Photo A Day [Day 71]

Poor Spock. Some mishap seems to have occurred. Will the culprit ever be caught?

Unofficial Cupcake Hero: November

We're already a week into November and still no word back from I Heart Cuppycakes as to whether or not Cupcake Hero will continue. As I mentioned last week, she replied to my initial email after October's results came in telling me to hold off on posting the next Cupcake Hero because she needed to reevaluate the competition due to her busy schedule and some complaints from bakers about how it's organized. Which is a shame because I know most of us don't take this so seriously that we'd complain but it seems that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Anyway, because November's such a short month I don't want it to slip by without some sort of cupcake challenge for those of us who enjoy these events not for the prizes but as a way to push ourselves and discover fun new recipes from others. I've also gotten a few comments and emails from other bakers who seem as eager as I am to see this challenge continue. For those reasons I'm disobeying orders here and am going ahead with posting November's challenge. Let's see how good of a turnout we can get to maybe help convince I Heart Cuppycakes that there's a lot of support for this great competition.

Since I don't have the official sanction I'm going to call this an unofficial Cupcake Hero. So don't count on the usual big prizes this time around. Instead bake for the glory of being the (unofficial) Cupcake Hero! That's reward enough, right? Because I'd hate to see you go without and because I like giving things away so much I will make some sort of cupcake-themed item for the winner and put together a prize pack. Hopefully we can keep this competition going!

And now on to this month's ingredient:

Yup, it's cranberries! Since it's nearly Thanksgiving here in the US I'm going with one of my favorite ingredients that's both in season and in keeping with the upcoming holiday. Cranberry sauce, berries, juice, whatever! It's your choice. Just get creative!

Even though this isn't official I'm sticking with the same guidelines as Cupcake Hero:
  • Anyone can enter.

  • Create a cupcake using CRANBERRIES in at least one component be it the cake itself, frosting, filling, garnish etc.

  • Post the recipe for your entry on your blog and then email your name, the link, the name of the cupcake and a brief description/promo blurb to me at sourkrautkrafts@gmail.com with Cupcake Hero in the subject.

  • Also join the Flickr group and upload 1-2 pictures per entry. I can't promise the administrator will actually post your pics since this is an unofficial competition but I want to stick as close to the Cupcake Hero rules as possible.

  • While you're there, consider leaving a comment in the discussion section letting I Heart Cuppycakes know how much you support Cupcake Hero and want it to continue.

  • Multiple entries welcome but separate email per entry.

  • Deadline will be November 29th at noon Eastern Time. I will post the roundup by the 30th, followed by voting until December 3rd.

  • Readers will pick finalist #1. I pick finalist #2.

  • I bake both finalist cupcakes and assemble a focus group to help me decide the winner to be announced on December 6th.

  • Any questions? Email sourkrautkrafts@gmail.com

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Photo A Day [69 & 70]

A Photo A Day [Day 69]
I am amused by the specificity of this sign and the weird Photoshop effect I fiddled with called "plastic wrap." Is Jesus' tour of the Eastern Seaboard next May and he's kindly scheduled a stop in southern New Jersey?

A Photo A Day [Day 70]
We discovered a nearby British restaurant today. Given the general design of my blog you can imagine that this thrills me to no end. Here I am getting cozy with my ginger beer. Yum! I tried the Cornish pasty with sticky toffee pudding for dessert. I was intrigued by the pumpkin pasty on the menu but they were all out by the time I got there. :( I did take a pumpkin scone to go and plan to go back and try the fried Mars bar one day.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Savory Stuffed Apples & Ranch Jalapeno Mac & Cheese

Not to shock y'all too much but I made some more "real" food today. As in, I skipped baking so I could instead feed my husband something resembling dinner. Of course, after I got my heart set on trying these savory stuffed apples he informed me that he doesn't actually like apples. You think I'd know that after four years of marriage but it's difficult to keep his many and varied quibbles with produce straight. So I had to scramble and find a more suitable recipe just for him: ranch jalapeno macaroni and cheese. My compromise was to make both and sample a little of each myself. I wasn't ready to give up on my dream of stuffed apples.

The stuffed apples were pretty darn good and the meat stuffing really did work with the sweetness of the apple. Only trouble is most of mine exploded in the oven. Not sure if there's some trick to preventing that but it obviously didn't affect the flavor. The recipe's a winner, perfect for this season.

The mac & cheese was also tasty enough. Not sure I'll make it again as I'm not big on using packaged mixes and such and my husband wasn't too impressed with it. He was my target audience, after all, and he's the mac & cheese gourmand around these parts. The sauce was also a little runny, which could have been due to some mistake on my part or the omission of crushed Ritz crackers from the original recipe. The chopped pickled jalapeno peppers was my addition because I've made some tasty mac & cheese in the past using some. Helped add a little extra kick, not that the ranch-infused sauce needed much help. I also garnished with some chopped parsley because, if it were up to me, all dishes would contain some sort of fresh herbs.

Jose Andres' Savory Stuffed Apples
Recipe from Jose Andres

For the filling:
3 slices bread, crust removed and torn into small pieces
3/4 cup milk
1 pound ground pork, beef, lamb, or veal, or a combination (I used lamb)
2 slices bacon, minced
1 small onion, minced
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Chopped parsley
Salt to taste

Stuffed apples:
6 large baking apples, like McIntosh or Empire, cored
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Meat filling
Olive oil
1 tablespoon oloroso sherry

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Using a paring knife, expand the opening in each apple. Rub cored apples with lemon juice to keep from browning. Soak the bread in milk until well saturated, about 10 minutes. Combine the soaked bread with the meat, onion, parsley, cinnamon and salt. Generously stuff each apple with the meat mixture. Drizzle with a little bit of olive oil and oloroso sherry. Sprinkle with salt. Bake for 35 minutes in an oven-safe baking dish.

Ranch Jalapeno Mac & Cheese
Recipe from Aunt Peg's Recipe Box

1 package (16 ounces) elbow macaroni
1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1 envelope ranch salad dressing mix
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Colby cheese
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
4 pickled jalapeno slices, finely chopped (use more if you're not a wuss like me)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Chopped parsley

1) Cook macaroni according to package directions.

2) Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, combine the milk, butter, dressing mix, garlic, and pepper; heat through. Stir in Monterey Jack and Colby cheeses until melted. Stir in sour cream and chopped jalapeno.

3) Drain macaroni; stir into cheese sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and parsley.

Yield: 8 servings.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Photo A Day [Day 68]

A Photo A Day [Day 68]

No idea what the heck happened with the focus there so don't even bother to ask. I'll have to get creative and think of something else tomorrow as this is the last of the purple flowers in my garden.

Turkey & Chocolate Mole Chili

For those of you starting to wonder if I live solely off of cupcakes, I bring you this unique chili recipe that I tried last night. I made some alterations to the original recipe found in October's issue of Fitness Magazine due to a lack of supplies. What I wound up with is a delightfully surprising combination of chili powder and cocoa, just like what you get in a mole sauce. Delicious with ground turkey and a variety of vegetables thrown in the mix. My only wish is that I'd had the cup of frozen corn called for in the original recipe as I think that would be a perfect addition. I've included it in the recipe below for your convenience.

Let me know if you give this one a try as I suspect it will become one of my winter evening staples.

Turkey & Black Bean Chili
Recipe adapted from Fitness Magazine
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 green or red bell pepper, diced
1 pound lean ground turkey
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with green chiles
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 10-ounce can enchilada sauce
1 cup frozen corn
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon oregano
1 ounce semisweet chocolate, cut into tiny pieces

1) In a soup pot, heat the canola oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, and bell pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes or until slightly softened.

2) Add the turkey and saute 5 minutes or until no longer pink, crumbling the meat with a spoon as it cooks. Add the beans, tomatoes, tomato sauce, enchilada sauce, corn, chili powder, cocoa powder, and oregano. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, stir in the chocolate, and simmer 15 minutes. Ladle into bowls and serve.

Prep time: 12 minutes
Cook time: 23 minutes

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Catching Up On A Photo A Day

I may eventually switch to uploading my pictures just once a week as it takes a lot of my free time to photograph, edit, and then blog each and every day. Plus I worry that some of my followers aren't that interested in the photography aspect of my blog so I don't want to bore you all with daily photo posts. We'll see. I'm still toying around with various ideas. I'm still dutifully taking my daily photographs so have no fear that I've failed in my endeavor.

This week's theme is "purple." I chose to ignore that on Monday since none of the photos I took were especially inspiring. Instead I spent the time editing one of my pics from my trip back home a few weeks ago and am counting that instead.

A Photo A Day [Day 64]

Found some purple flowers still clinging to life in my front garden:

A Photo A Day [Day 65]

A Photo A Day [Day 66]

Today's photo is of a birthday present from my bosses that I just now got around to assembling. This is unsettling evidence that they know me too well despite my best efforts to not reveal personal information that can be used against me. Either that or they think my house smells so bad I need any reed diffuser I can get to combat the stench. Ignore my battered and scorched nightstand surface. One of these days I'll get around to refinishing it.

A Photo A Day [Day 67]