Some More Cupcakes

Over the weekend we had a good friend celebrating a birthday!  We did several ‘birthday-themed’ things from dinners and drive-ins to drinks and cupcakes.
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I’ve had a gift card to William-Sonoma’s for years now so there was FINALLY parking in the Lincoln Park location to shop at that store.  My better-half is a kitchen gadget/knife junkie so he was in heaven.  I love baking and realized that in my moves I misplaced/lost my standard 9X13 cake pan.  I picked up one for $20 – which I thought was a great deal since the quality is much better than a cheaper glass version.

I was planning on making a cake, but then I spotted some special cupcake/cake mixes that WS makes.  They literally had $25 cake mixes….. I couldn’t even think about spending that much money on a cake mix so I saw their cupcake mixes were 20% off for $10.  The Dude suggested Red Velvet so we went for it.  

I loved the recipe – I think I’m going to incorporate the vinegar, buttermilk, and oil into my Boxed-Cupcake Cheat recipe.  It really made a difference in moisture and density.  

The Cake:
Box Mix
2/3 C Buttermilk
2 Eggs
3/4 C Vegetable Oil
1 tsp White Vinegar
 
Frosting:
8 oz. Cream Cheese
8 Tbs Butter 
1 3/4 C Confectioner Sugar
1 Tbs Vanilla Extract
 

The frosting was TO DIE FOR.  I did sub the butter for Earth Balance.  I’ve been trying to incorporate more vegan/vegetarian choices into my diet so not buying butter was a good place to start.  The Dude was concerned about the amount of frosting on each cupcake and usually I agree with this less-is-more frosting ratio, but with this batch I was not going to doubt the people at WS who proportioned the recipes.  People loved the cupcakes (even strangers at The Silver Palm)!  The frosting to cake ratio was just on the edge of being too much so maybe next time I would scale back just a small amount.  In the end the Dude abided and enjoyed a cupcake.
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Plus check out the awesome ‘eyeball’ satanic theme decorating job!

Fun Weekend 2.0

Well my weekends have really been great these past two weeks.  Last week obviously I was in Durango – which was a blast and this weekend I had a great time here in Denver. 

It all started off with making some amazing Pina Colada cupcakes – sadly I didn’t take a finished photo of mine for some weird reason I spaced out getting one.  But I have the recipe from Your Cup of Cake – an amazing blog for fun unique cupcakes.  

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This recipe needed a few special items, but none of them were expensive.  I used jam for the ‘strawberry puree’ because I wasn’t going to do that step.  I did however love the coconut milk brand I used.

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While I was shopping I saw this monstrosity though… Marketing/Materialism/Capital proof that the whole ‘baking thing’ has gone over-board.  Shake and pour? :-/

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I also made great leeway on my thesis – I re-outlined the 30ish pages I have and now it’s going to flow so much better.  Still a ways to go, but I have my deadlines in mind and am ready to rock it out!!!  Here is what my workspace looks like daily.

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I managed to get to Target as well and saw these amazing buys…. I wish I was a little kid so the shirt would fit.  I’m still debating if I should just start collecting the monster high girls… I probably should. 

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Then Saturday I attended the Evil Soul’s Car Club ‘Carnage’ Car show.  It was great.  There are always so many great vintage, collectible, and unique cars.  There was a Scion with Lambo doors – I guess I’m really lacking with my stock-edition of my xB. 

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Me and my partner in crime for the day.  I’m not sure why my top muffin-topped my arm but it was a cute vintage inspired outfit for the day. 

Then today I met up with a fabulous friend for some ‘suburbs-fun.’  Went shopping at quite a few places – I picked up a new denim dress, a HK bento box (photos later), and the BEST a geisha costume for Leopold.  He posed for the picture perfectly!

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A great weekend to prepare me for an entire week of thesis work (with a short break for a tattoo on tuesday!!!). 

 

Game of Thrones Food & Friends

It’s been a few days since my last post, but I have been so busy!  I have actually been working on my thesis (no really I have – I can’t believe it either!), started Crossfit, and it was my turn to host a weekly Game of Thrones viewing party.  Let me just say, the GoT party was by far the most enjoyable.  I was also lucky enough to have a friend take photos of the party you can check out Akane Photography and like her Facebook page here

Usually the menu we choose for the party is medieval inspired and the food is always beyond tasty – the bar had been set very high for me from the nature of the last parties I’ve been to.  I went to my old faithful for some recipes the goddess Martha Stewart.  Her website is beyond phenomenal and there are thousands of free recipes that will impress anyone.  

I decided to go for a hand pie for starters that is in Martha’s ‘Pies & Tarts‘ book.  I LOVE that book – never in my life have I used a cookbook so much even though it is only pies and tarts.  I don’t like being a ‘fan-boy’, but Martha really knows EVERYTHING about baking/cooking/cleaning/folding the list obviously goes on. 

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So the hand pies – this version included roasted cauliflower, menchango cheese, hazelnuts, olive oil, and garlic.  The crust came together nicely in my food processor and rolled out nicely with my Kuhn mini roller.  

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Mini Cauliflower/Mangeno Cheese Hand Pies. Photo from Akane Photography 

They were good, but I wish I had put more spices in the mixture itself. It also needed a sauce because the texture was all the same.  Next time I’ll leave the cauliflower in little pieces like Martha said instead of pureeing it all together- I don’t know what I was thinking defying her!  Plus this hand pie would be really easy to customize – I would try it with broccoli, squash, asparagus, zucchini … etc.  

I had an extra sheet of pastry puff left over from Easter in the freezer so I decided to use it up.  The Pepperidge Farm website has some cute, easy, and fun recipes for all their products (including Goldfish!).  This recipe included a small cube of smoked gouda, apple, scallions and some lemon juice. So easy! 

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Smoked Gouda Apple Puff Pastry. Photo from Akane Photography 

Next up – tea sandwiches!  I’ve been craving these little puppies since my family went to High Tea over the holidays.  I decided to try a Mango Chutney Egg Salad Sandwich and a Cucumber Onion Sandwich.  Both were super tasty and beyond easy.

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Assorted Tea Sandwiches. Photo from Akane Photography 

Look at those little carrot flowers! Since discovering the whole Bento world I have made a few small purchases.  I purchased a carrot cutter and some adorable mini cutters (I used those on the hand pies above).  I am sure I’ll be buying more small pieces, because Bento is so much fun.  If you’re interested, Happy Little Bento is my favorite Bento blog. Be warned though – it’s so cute you can’t look away. 

There were miscellaneous dips and cheeses as well – those are always a great standby, because all you have to do is set them out!  I finished, of course with some ‘box’ cupcakes and got fancy and made some delicious frosting from scratch if you can believe it.

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Dothraki Vanilla Cupcakes with Neufchâtel Frosting. Photo from Akane Photography 

The frosting was 3-4 cups powdered sugar, 1/2 a stick of softened butter, 4oz of Neufchâtel cheese and 1/4 Cup Milk.  The flavor was very good and a unique alternative to the ‘too sweet’ buttercream.  I had a few people ask me here how I get the frosting so smooth – I stopped and realized I use a huge spatula to ice cupcakes and it just naturally leaves large smooth marks. I topped the cakes off with some sliced almonds (dragon scales) and I used those mini cutters to cut out cherry blossoms from fruit leathers! 

All in all the food was very tasty, GoT was super good, and we finished the party off by doing a hilarious photo op. There are a ton of other funny photos on Akane Photography‘s Facebook page, but this was just too priceless not to share here.

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 “You can dress us up, but you can’t take us out.” Photo from Akane Photography 

Box-Cupcake Cheat!

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Let’s face it, the obsession with cupcakes has really raised the bar for anyone considering making cupcakes for a party or event.  Of course there are folks like me who think the over-frosted/over-sprinkled/over-developed cupcakes are seriously lacking.  I remember cupcakes from childhood to present as something ‘home-made.’  This whole bakery/cupcake maker version really peeves me, especially since it seems the cake/frosting is just not that good. Plus don’t even get me started about the $4-$8 a cupcake price factor.  Now I know there are some real gems out there in the cupcake industry, but unless I am craving that specific flavor or brand I am not going to try to recreate it home.  That being said,  I did feel a little self conscious bringing a dozen or so ‘box-cupcakes’ to a party simply because they weren’t those cupcakes on steroids that seem to be the ‘in’ thing.  

Well after playing around with the box recipe and lots of frosting brands I’ve found the best cheat.  Believe me NO ONE believes they are ‘box’ and it will almost hurt to admit they are because people start begging for the recipe.  Plus they are less than $8 for between 16-20 of them. 

So here it goes:

Step One:  Follow all the directions on the box as per ingredients – I’m sorry, but if you’re trying to add egg whites only or low-fat/cal oil – just stop – it won’t taste good no matter what. Add the full calorie/full content ingredients and just enjoy the damn thing. 

Step Two:  Get out your mixer/hand mixer and actually blend it like the box says.  For years I was just mixing with a spatula, but that is the worst mistake, you need to use the electric mixer to get the batter light and fluffy (almost mousse looking) and you need to mix for at minimum 2-3 minutes. This may seem like a no brainer, but this is why cupcakes turn out flat and dry instead of moist and with volume.  Again, if the batter is runny keep mixing! Look at that volume/rise below! Perfect!!

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MOST IMPORTANT – Step Three: I fill the cupcake liners with a 1/4 C measurer and fill them approximately 3/4 of the way.  You probably won’t get all the way to 24 since that amount of batter is more than the box suggests.  Cook according to temperature BUT only cook the cakes for 15 MIN!!!! Of course since ovens do vary please check with a toothpick/cake tester to ensure it comes out clean.  This will not only make the cakes moist from the start, but they will stay moist for days (if they last past the event).

So the cakes are done – I usually take them out of the muffin pan as soon as I won’t burn myself and wait for them to cool fully for the frosting.

That does lead us to the frosting process – Of course I LOVE frosting but those half-cup piles of frosting that are piled on-top of ‘professionally’ made cakes are obscene.  Not only will it waste so much butter/sugar, but it will make everyone sugar-sick and not want to eat more of your cakes. No joke!  (I have first-hand witnessed a 4 AND 38 year old take off the pile of frosting and just eat the cake.) 

I really enjoy Pillsbury Brand Frosting “Creamy Supreme.”  Obviously not the healthiest, but come on if you’re going to argue about natural frosting at this point either make your own or sit down. I generally use Vanilla so I can customize colors and flavors (Nutella/cinnamon flavor etc).  I’ve used professional food dyes before and those can make the frosting actually taste terrible.  I happened upon Betty Crocker Food Gels and they are the best and brightest in my opinion.  They carry standard primary colors and then neon which are a blast.  Using a gel food coloring will also add that shine that is on my cupcakes.

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Of course these are not the gourmet cupcakes, but I am not a gourmet pastry chef. These are a great version of an old stand-by and whether this is the limit to your baking skills or just a substitute for last minute treats, I hope you’ll have fun and remember what baking cupcakes at home was always about – LOVE! 

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