2008-04-29

Roast Chicken... and Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes

So what do Roast Chicken and Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes have in common, you ask?

Nada. Not. A. Thing. Unless you count the fact that I made both tonight :)


This afternoon I discovered that the sweet girl over at Musings of a Disillusioned Grad Student (love the title! LOL!) had included me on her blogroll. Woohoo :) Her post for yesterday concluded with the question "What's your favorite roast chicken recipe?". I had to think about... and I realized I didn't have one. But I posted a comment about how I **would** do it if I **were** to do it :) And in my thinking and writing about it, my tummy started grumbling... and after work I hit the market on the way home and picked up a whole chicken and decided I was gonna roast it :)

Now realize, this is something I've never done before. Never ever ever never have I bought a whole chicken. But I figured it can't be all that hard to make since other people do it all the time. Recall that way of thinking tends to get me in over my head, but hey, I bit the bullet, bought the chicken, brought it home and roasted it. And it was delish :)

I just removed the innards (I'm sure there's a technical name but "innards" works for me... does it work for you? good, I'm glad we agree {grin}), washed and dried the bird, rubbed it with olive oil, stuffed the cavity with sliced lemons, minced garlic, rosemary and capers... and then rubbed the outside with more rosemary and dusted with garlic powder, seasoning salt and fresh ground pepper. I took my Lodge Enamel on Cast Iron 5.5qt Dutch Oven, placed a small round rack inside, poured some water in the bottom, tossed in a slice of lemon then placed the bird in and put it in the oven. I let it cook for 40 minutes at 500F and then turned the temp down to 450 and cooked until the meat thermometer registered at least 170F (I did have to put an aluminum foil "tent" over it to prevent it from burning too quickly... and I did turn the bird after a while to ensure the other side browned as well).

And that was it... the result was an incredibly tasty roasted chicken :)



Tomorrow is DJ's daughter's b'day. I thought of some fancy, elaborate, gourmet cupcakes to make but that's not something she's into. She likes the "basic" stuff, nothing frou-frou or fancy. The easy solution was to bake Chocolate cupcakes and top them with chocolate fudge icing... that's about as basic as it gets if you ask me! LOL Just to dress them up a little bit, I cut out some letters from rolled fondant icing and added a few royal icing flowers for good measure. Pretty basic and pretty tasty.... uhm... well... I mean... not that I had any of course ;-)


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2008-04-27

Cheesecake Pops - Daring Bakers April Challenge


{channeling my best Homer Simpson voice} M'mmmmm.... cheesecake.... nom nom nom.


I love cheesecake. Do you love cheesecake? More importantly, do you love cheesecake as much as **I** love cheesecake? I dunnnnnooooo.... might be hard cuz boy do I love cheesecake :) In this one week I've had to make not one but two cheesecakes... two completely different recipes. One was for a friend's birthday... and the other was for this month's Daring Bakers Challenge.

Truth be told, making a cheesecake isn't really hard. It's pretty much just cream cheese, sugar, flour, salt, eggs, vanilla and heavy cream. And all ya gotta do is pretty much combine em together and bake.... right? I mean, how hard could it be... right? HA! Making cheesecake is easy - - - but making **goooood** cheesecake? That's not so easy.

For a smooth cheesecake you need all your ingredients at room temperature. And you don't want to overbeat... overbeating will cause the cheesecake to crack as it's cooking. And you don't want it to cool too quickly... cooling too quickly will cause it to crack. Cheesecake is rather finicky wouldn'tcha say?

As part of the Daring Bakers, we take an oath... and pinky swear... that we'll make the same recipe, following the directions as they're given. This month it was a good thing, too, cuz if left to my own devices this would have never come together.

After getting all the ingredients into the prepared pan, this recipe requires you to bake the cheesecake in a water bath... this is also known as "bain marie" style (hey, I dunno, I don't speak French, I barely can get things right in English, but it's called bain marie... and if ya can't pronounce it right then just say "water bath" and folks will understandja {wink}. I only have a small tea kettle so I filled it with water and timed things pretty well so that once I got the batter into the pan, the tea kettle started whistling not a minute later. I thought I was doin goooooood :) Until I discovered that my tea kettle full of boiling water barely, and I do mean **barely**, covered the bottom of my roasting pan. ACK!! I had to boil more water! It was almost like a scene from a movie where a lady's getting ready to have a baby and everyone's running around yelling "BOIL SOME WATER!!! BOIL SOME WATER!!!" cuz yes indeedy Ricky Bobby I was in my kitchen just yammerin away in disbelief "water!!! I need more boiling water!!!!!" .... as if anyone was around to take care of that task for me.... HA! As if! I mean, sure, there's three of us in the kitchen but they're "me"... "myself"... and let's not forget "I".... and we were all busy shakin our heads in disbelief that we didn't have enough boiling water and well, ya know when ya NEED boiling water, the water takes FOR-EV-ER to boil. {sigh}

Okay so we (all three of us, recall) got the pan in enough boiling water to call it a water bath (yeah, yeah, I know... bahn mah-rie... that's what I said... water bath). And then.... we let it bake. It took about an hour for this baby to finish baking but it looked beautiful if I must say so myself. After chilling the cheesecake for a few hours, you scoop out some balls, insert lollipop sticks and let em freeze for a good long time.

Finally comes the fun part... dipping them in melted chocolate and decorating :)




Now that you've heard my story and seen my pictures, why not check out the results of the other Daring Bakers to see their handiwork too :)

Thanks to this month's hosts Deborah (Taste and Tell) and Elle (Feeding My Enthusiasms)

RECIPE AND INSTRUCTIONS

Cheesecake Pops
Makes 30 – 40 Pops

5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature

2 cups sugar

¼ cup all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

5 large eggs

2 egg yolks

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

¼ cup heavy cream

Boiling water as needed

Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks

1 pound chocolate, finely chopped – you can use all one kind or half and half of dark, milk, or white (Alternately, you can use 1 pound of flavored coatings, also known as summer coating, confectionary coating or wafer chocolate – candy supply stores carry colors, as well as the three kinds of chocolate.)

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

(Note: White chocolate is harder to use this way, but not impossible)


Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees) - Optional

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.

Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.

Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.

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Basic Breakfast Potatoes


As I mentioned earlier... I'm busy today.  Real busy.  Very, very busy.  But as I was waiting for something to finish cooking in the oven, I started perusing the blogroll and came across something I just had to make.  Right. Now.  I had to.  It was calling out my name.


Last night DJ made a special dinner for DD's birthday.  She turns 15 on Wednesday but there's not enough time on a weeknight for him to make a full on dinner so he did it last night.  We had an enormous (like dinner-plate sized) baked potato leftover that no one touched.  DS and I split one so that's why there was an extra.  Anyway... I just put it in the fridge with no idea of what to do with it thinking... er hoping and praying... I'd find some inspiration somewhere for this lone gigantaur potato.

As I was cruisin the blogroll I read one of my faves... The Pioneer Woman.  She has a section with food and recipes and truth be told I just love love love LOVE her blog!  I clicked on the link figuring "heck, Ree never updates on weekends so what am I wasting my time for"... but today, Sunday, Ree did update... and I'm surely most definitely certain she updated just for moi :)

Get thee to her blog... and make this recipe.  I added some garlic, green onions and red pepper just cuz I have em and I like em... a lot.  Other than that, I followed her directions... and then... and then... and then... I had to write about it... quickly... because it was just that good!!!

I'm busy... very very busy... but I had to do a quick write up and post these pics because... uhm... well.... errrr.... uuuhhhh... I just had to!!!  And now just as much as I had to write this post... I have to get back to the other busy-ness of my day.  

Happy Happy!

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Sunday Morning Review - Violet's Cakes


I have a lot to do today so I wanted to get this cupcake review off my "to do" list :) Aside from my normal family activities for the day, there's the Daring Bakers Challenge to finish off and write up... dance shoes to find... dance class to take... and it's going to be a steamy 100F today in my part of southern California :( Now that I'm taking honest-to-goodness classes, I've decided it's time to buy some real, honest-to-goodness shoes that are made for dancing.... so I can look all professional-like. Or... at least not look like some newb who's taking her first class ever ;-) LOL!!


Yes, with all I have going on today I still have cupcakes on the brain! I don't think they've actually left my brain for the past couple of weeks. This morning's review is of Violet's Cakes in Pasadena, California. I picked up four cupcakes to try out... Vanilla, Strawberry, Raspberry Lemonade and Red Velvet.




When I arrived it was rather late in the day and the selection looked rather picked over. The designers were busily assembling cakes and thankfully there was only one customer ahead of me in line. I looked thru the display case and saw there were no Raspberry Lemonade cupcakes behind their little sign. ACK! I experienced a moment of panic and had to regroup my thoughts to come up with a "plan B" which turned out to be "okay so I suppose we'll just buy three cupcakes instead of four". Yeah, I'm all over that complicated plan-B stuff, as you can tell... and let's not discuss how long it took for my brain to make that decision {wink}.


The customer in front of me had been there for quite a while before I walked in... and we both waited quite a while before someone came to help us. Now see, in my brain I'm thinking about what I want before the sales person comes to ask "Can I help you?". Isn't that how most people handle this kind of thing? I always thought they did. Apparently this is not how it goes for the customer who was in front of me. Despite the fact that she'd been waiting and waiting for someone to come help her, she'd put absolutely no thought into what she wanted before she was asked. ACK! And of course, she wanted a dozen cupcakes and had to decide, on-the-fly, which ones to choose. Took. Her. For. Ever. Yes indeedy it did. And there were only three Strawberry cupcakes left when I got there and as slowly as she was making up her mind and then changing it and then adding more of certain flavors, well, I started to panic there'd be no Strawberry cupcakes by the time she was finally done. Okay... so she finally, finally, finishes her dozen and I think "oh yay, I'm home free, there's one strawberry cupcake left for me". The sales girl is closing up the box and the customer say "Yanno... that might not be enough, let me get another half-dozen too". {insert screeching tire sound here}. OMG OMG OMG I think I'm gonna die. She wants to add more cupcakes? OMG OMG OMG surely she's going to take her sweet blessed time AND take the last Strawberry cupcake. I'm sure of it. Thank God she got an assortment of Chocolate cupcakes and left my Strawberry alone! whew! Lucky for her because otherwise, well, I don't even wanna share with you what mighta happened ;-) hehehehe


They had more of the Raspberry Lemonade in the back so I was able to get one. YAY! And doesn't it just look so purdy? =) I was really excited to try this flavor in particular. It was actually not bad! I was so relieved because after what I'd gone thru to get my precious bundles of delight, the last thing I wanted was to have some dried-out, leftovers from yesterday ;-) This cupcake had a lot of lemon zest in the cake itself but surprisingly it had very little lemon flavor. The icing had a definite raspberry flavor... and there might have been some raspberry puree under the crown of the cake. I say "might" because I'm honestly not sure. It was very very dark purple-ish in this area of the cupcake, all the way thru it, and it was either a God-awful huge patch of mold... or... it was raspberry puree. I'm goin with "raspberry puree" thankyouverymuch {wink}. I think most of the lemon flavor in this cupcake came from the little lemon-ball candies sprinkled on top because I really got very little flavor in the cake itself, despite the big chunks of lemon zest.

One thing I'll say about Violet's Cakes, the cupcakes (while rather rustic looking) are gorgeous sitting in the display case. Really, they are sooooo purdy sitting there all nicely lined up screaming "choose me!! choose me!!". Wait. You mean you don't hear those screams when you look at a case full of cupcakes? Hmmmm.... Uhmmm.... well, I do. That doesn't make me weird or anything, does it? Okay, no matter, cuz I do hear it :) Anyway, cupcakes from Violet's Cakes are very pretty in the case... but... it would be nice if they took some pride in the packaging of them because they did not survive the trip home very well. In fact, these cupcakes look the worst for the wear of all the different bakeries I've purchased from lately. Now, I realize a divided box would be expensive but a strip of parchment paper between the cupcakes wouldn't add a huge cost and would keep them from sliding around in the box and becoming joined-at-the-frosted-crown with the next. See this post here for an example of some good packaging. Also, is it really necessary to frost all down the wrapper? I'm all for having enough frosting to cover the whole cake but when it's all over and halfway down the wrapper, it's messy... it's messy for packing/unpacking, it's messy for eating and it's certainly messy for photographing. I tried in vain to find a good side of each cupcake to shoot. Either it had a boatload of another cupcake's frosting on it... or... it had a boatload of buttercream sliding down the wrapper.

I have come to love and appreciate Red Velvet cupcakes. I came to them late in life, having never tasted one until earlier this year. Done right, Red Velvet is very good. But at Violet's Cakes they commit what I consider to be the cardinal sin of Red Velvet. They make a definitively chocolate cake... {insert screeching tires sound here} and add a touch of red food coloring to it. Red Velvet cake is not meant to be a chocolate cake. Red Velvet is meant to be a brightly red colored cake with a hint of chocolate flavor. "Hint of" being the important words. I took a slice shot of this cupcake so you could see what I mean. Now, if you're a lover of chocolate, Violet's red velvet might be right up your alley since it's chocolate cake and it's topped with chocolate shavings. It most definitely was not my cup of tea. The cake itself was bordering on being dry... dry to the point that the crown fell off of one half when it was sliced. That was probably caused in part by the heaviness of the cream cheese icing which was very smooth but very very sweet.


The Vanilla cupcake. Okay before we go any further let's talk about the elephant in the room. See that picture of the Vanilla cupcake? I'm sure the very first thing you notice is my big ol thumb print on the left side of the icing. Big apologies for that. Big ol apologies coupled with some crocodile tears for good measure. Had there been just a teensy bit of care applied when packaging I might have been able to get the cupcakes out of the box without messing them up. Them's the breaks, I guess. But the taste of this cupcake was rather good. The cake texture was very much like angel-food cake... very much so. The icing was tasty too. But neither had an actual vanilla flavor. It was more like "plain" cake and "plain" icing cuz yanno how vanilla has an actual flavor to it? Well, this did not. The texture was good but the flavor was extremely non-existent.

The Strawberry cupcake was also like plain angel food cake... but the buttercream frosting had a hit of strawberry flavor. This cupcake was surprisingly good especially since it sat on my kitchen counter overnight in the box. It was still extremely fresh and had a good, though very subtle, flavor.

If you're in Pasadena, California and jonesin for cupcakes I'd recommend Violet's Cakes over Dots Cupcakes in a heart beat. While Violet's may not look as pretty as Dots, they taste a whole lot better. But, if you want "pretty pretty" to impress friends at a party, then perhaps Dots is more your style. Either way, in Pasadena you'll have a choice :)

Happy Sunday!
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2008-04-26

Saturday Morning Review - Dots Cupcakes


{{yawn}}

It's a little early here. I like mornings - I'm definitely a morning person. The sun comes up and that's it... I'm up!... I'm awake!... I'm ready to go!... I don't know to where... and I don't know for what... but I'm up!... I'm awake!... I'm ready! woohoo!!! Of course, by about 2pm I'm petering out and ready for a nap which like 95% of the time I never get :( And while I rise with the sun, ready to greet the day, DJ on the other hand participates in sleeping as if it's an actual sport and he's practicing to make the Olympic Team.

groan!!!

I. Just. Do. Not. Get. It.

ugh!!!

I mean, when it comes to sleeping, I just don't get him... {sigh}... but I love him just the same :) And he loves me... even though he doesn't get my desire for, appreciation of, fascination-bordering-on-obsession-with cupcakes :) But he loves me... and with that, all is right with my world :)



Last night I had to run an errand in Pasadena. It's about 35 miles from my house and is a really neat place... especially Old Town Pasadena. Shopping! Lots and lots and lots of shopping! Sur la Table... Abercrombie... LUSH... Tiffany... Crate-and-Barrel... The Container Store.... did you know they have a Container Store in Pasadena? I did not! How did I not know!?!?! I love that store... and that store loves to bleed my wallet dry and leave it mournfully crying out "WHY???"... but... I had no time for The Container Store or Sur la Table... I had no time for things such as leisurely shopping or upscale nor casual dining or people watching... for I was on a mission... I had to get to Dots Cupcakes!!!





Why..., you ask? Well, let's review, my lovies... it's all in the name of RESEARCH dear hearts. My willingness to sacrifice my time (though hopefully not my waistline) and go to great lengths to bring you pictures... and, of course, my opinion of... cupcakes in southern California :)


Dots Cupcakes is a cute little place... and I do mean little. Luckily I was the only customer because I seriously think 2-3 of us would have been very cramped inside. But no matter. It's not about the size of the store, it's about the cupcakes :) The salesgirl was extremely helpful and friendly... and even late late in the day they had an excellent selection.


As you know... I'm partial to the mini-sized cupcake. Hey, when you do as much cupcake eatin as I do, size definitely matters. And if it's a mini, well, I don't have to share! LOL!!! :)


I ended up with 4 minis (Lemon Drop, Strawberry Shortcake, Pina Colada and Red Velvet) and one regular size (Vanilla - they were out of the mini size in this flavor). Here is their website description of each flavor:
Lemon Drop - “tart lemon cupcake with creamy crushed vanilla bean frosting adorned with crystalized lemon rind
Pina Colada - "pineapple cupcake with creamy crushed vanilla bean icing adorned with toasted coconut"
Strawberry Shortcake - "strawberry cupcake layered with whipped cream frosting"
Red Velvet - "light chocolate with pure Mexican cocoa with a touch of red and cream cheese frosting"
Vanilla - well, they had no description but it's vanilla cake and vanilla frosting.

Don't they just sound sooooo sooooo good!!?!?!! I know, they do, huh??? OMG - I just knew I was in for a real treat when I got home. Ooooohhh yeaaaaahhhh :)


Well, lovies, let me tell you... at the risk of sounding harsh, though in my opinion I'm just keepin it real, either their descriptions are full of false advertising... OR... the mini cupcakes are not the same as their full sized counterparts. Either way, their descriptions differ greatly from the reality of the cupcakes I received. And this did not make me happy. Not in the least :(

The cakes are fresh and moist. No denying that. But the Lemon Drop? This was straight up vanilla cake with lemony flavored icing. Nothing special at all. Certainly it was not a "tart lemon cupcake" and didja see even a single piece of "crystalized lemon rind" on top in my photo? Nope, it was a lemony swirl. It wasn't a bad cupcake... it was fine. But that's it. Fine.

Pina Colada also tasted like straight up vanilla cake with vanilla icing and coconut on top. Not sure how they figure this is "pineapple cupcake" when there wasn't even the faintest nor slightest hint of pineapple flavor in the cake itself. It wasn't a bad cupcake... it was fine. But that's it. Fine.

Strawberry Shortcake was very reminiscent of vanilla pound cake with a slice of strawberry on the very bottom and buttercream frosting on top. There was nothing about this that was even close to perhaps maybe kinda sorta like "strawberry cupcake layered with whipped cream frosting". The texture was different, like pound cake, and it was tasty... but nothing drool-worthy that's for sure.

Red Velvet was again, fine. Nothing to write home about. The "cream cheese frosting" had no twang in it... if you ask me it was regular buttercream... and the cake itself was unremarkable.

Vanilla was also, fine (notice a theme here?) and unremarkable overall.

I can't say there was a single bad cupcake in the bunch. But I also can't say any one of the 5 made me want to return. The cakes were fresh and moist... no "yesterday's leftovers" as I've questioned about other places. The icings were tasty. But in general there was nothing stand-out about these cupcakes. They're definitely pretty, though. And photograph beautifully, if I must say so myself ;-) Oh... in the store, by the register, they do have a magazine-spread posted of how Jerry O'Connell and Rebecca Romijn had Dots Cupcakes for their recent wedding. That's nice! It's really nice! But that doesn't make their cupcakes any more remarkable or memorable for me.

Happy Saturday!!!

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2008-04-23

Apple Spice Loaf



I admit it... I bake a lot. In fact, rarely does a week go by that I haven't pulled out the KitchenAid Professional Stand Mixer (which I've named Lola, thankyouverymuch) probably 5-6 times to whip up something special. Usually, I bake it... DJ and I have one piece each... and the rest of it gets taken to work where my colleagues enjoy it. This actually works out quite well for us since otherwise we'd consume the whole thing no matter what it was.

I've learned not to bake certain things if I'm not going to work the next day. Things like cupcakes... cream puffs... layer cakes... etc... things I have trouble resisting. I once made creampuffs on a Friday evening and boy do I love creampuffs. I told myself I'd show restraint. I told myself I wouldn't eat all of them. I told myself they'd last until Monday and I'd take them to work. But, as I posted about here, wrong-o Marylou... those creampuffs didn't make it until Sunday. I devoured them. Yes, I'm w-e-a-k... weak when it comes to certain things. So I've smartened up (or at least I like to think so) and only bake my personal irresistables when I'm going to work the next day and can share :)




Lately, as you've seen in my posts, I've been somewhat consumed with cupcakes. Not baking, but rather checking out the cupcake bakeries, sampling a few in the name of research and reviewing them for you... you... my adoring fans and loyal readers. Hmmm... let's see... did I go to far there? Yeah, I did huh? Well, just know that I crack me up too so it's all good :) But my coworker Noushin told me the other day "you haven't baked anything for us in so long" and I realized she was right. I've been so caught up in what I wanted... in what was making me happy (and Lord knows a good cupcake makes me very happy!!!) ... that I forgot about other people in the process. Sure, I've been cooking... I've been cooking a lot... but I don't bring that kind of stuff to work. It gets served up to the family, we enjoy it and it's gone. But Noushin was very right... I haven't baked very much lately. So tonight I changed that.

Tonight I was doing the daily review of some of my favorite foodie blogs and on BakingBites came across a recipe for Applesauce Nut Bread and it sounded really good. I made a few tweaks to the recipe, baked it up, tasted it, prounced it very good and voila.... I share it with you :)


Apple Spice Loaf
(adapted from BakingBites)

INGREDIENTS
6 tbsp butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups chunky applesauce
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup raisins
DIRECTIONS
Do not preheat the oven!
Generously coat a 9"x5" loaf pan with baking spray (the kind with oil and flour)
Cream butter and sugar... add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each. Add in the applesauce and combine well. In a separate bowl combine both kinds of flour, the baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add the dry mixture to the wet about 1/3 at a time, combining well after each addition, until all the dry mixture has been incorporated. Add in the nuts and raisins and mix until distributed rather evenly.

Pour into prepared loaf pan and place in the cold oven and then turn the oven on to 350F (if using a dark, non-stick pan, reduce temp to 325F)

Bake for 75 minutes, or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool for 5 minutes in pan, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Enjoy!!
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2008-04-21

Cupcake Review - SusieCakes (Incredible!!!)



As I often say "tomorrow's another day"... and today (being yesterday's "tomorrow") was the day to try Susie Cakes. I love cupcakes... really and truly... I do! I do!! I do!!! I checked their website yesterday and considered going by there today but just as quickly I talked myself out of it. Uhm... for a while :) You see, I had to leave work early for a doctor's appointment... and then, after that, I had a hair appointment with Nick, my hair god who is absolutely amazing... laughs at my stupid jokes... tosses in his own cute jokes... makes me feel beautiful... and whips my hair into shape... oh, but I digress... uhm... back to cupcakes! LOL!! but THEN, after my appointment with Nick, yup, I was still on that side of town so I hit Susie Cakes in Calabasas. And boy am I EVER glad that I did!!!




These cupcakes might just be the best I've ever had in my life... and Lord knows I've tried a LOT of cupcakes. The cakes were fresh and moist... not too sweet and definitely not bland. The cream cheese icing was so smooth and creamy with a very nice balance of flavors. The buttercream icing was flavorful and surprisingly not excessively sweet.



The vanilla was delicately flavored... clean and light but definitely "vanilla". The cake and icing were matched beautifully.

The red velvet was heavenly... just a hint of cocoa (unlike other places that mistakenly want to make this a chocolate cake which Red Velvet is definitely not meant to be) with a wonderful cream cheese icing that was darn near perfect. I can't believe how incredibly difficult I find it to take even a moderately decent picture of the inside of a red velvet cupcake! LOL! LOL! LOL!



The lemon? O-M-G! Now THIS is how a lemon cupcake is meant to taste. Not too tart... not to sweet... fresh... citrus-y... really I can't imagine how this could be improved upon.


The coconut was delicious... the coconut was very fresh and not at all chewy - I'm not a huge coconut lover but dang this was really delicious!


All in all, Susie Cakes knocked the ball straight outta the park... they blow those "famous" Sprinkles Cupcakes out of the water by a long shot. I only tasted these specific four flavors but there are so many others I must try (hey... it's research, folks, remember???) that I will simply have to go back... soon!!!

Definitely visit their website http://susiecakesla.com/ They've got three locations so if you're ever in Southern California, you absolutely MUST visit Susie Cakes.

Wow... this was heaven!


UPDATE::: 
04/27/08 
Since I originally wrote this post, I've been back to SusieCakes a few times and tried more flavors (no pics, sorry).  It's 3 miles from my office so I'm worried I'll be in trouble since I find them to be (so far) the absolute best cupcakes I've ever tried (and Lord knows I have tried plenty... all in the name of research, my lovies).  I've also sampled their strawberry, mint chocolate (so subtle, so clean, so flavorful) and pineapple upside down cupcakes (omg - I made some new happy noises eating this one... heaven in a cupcake!!).  My friend Rich... actually my dear dear wonderfully fantastic friend Rich (he'll read this... hehehe... I know he will! LOL) went with me one day last week and he agreed these cupcakes really are all that and a bag of chips!  He especially raved about the Chocolate/Chocolate cupcake saying (and I quote) "this chocolate cupcake ROCKS!!!"  Now I'm not a fan of chocolate but I know if Rich said it rocks, then it definitely rocks.  I can tell ya the strawberry was the very best strawberry cupcake I've had.  In particular, the strawberry flavor in the icing just leaps out and when paired with the delicious cake you know there's one heckuva party goin on in your mouth... your taste buds are doin the rhumba in all their happiness... they're shoutin oh yeah, now that's what I'm talkin about!!!... they're yellin WOOHOO THAAAAANK YOU!!

Yeah... SusieCakes remains on top.  Get thee to SusieCakes if you want some fantabulous cupcakes!
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2008-04-20

Sunday Cupcake Review - Sprinkles


This morning I decided to venture over to Beverly Hills and check out Sprinkles. They're famous... very very famous... so my expectations were high.




As I drove by in my first attempt to find a parking spot, I saw a line. Well, not just a line but a VERY LONG LINE. What? Huh? There's something wrong with this picture because I've never waited in a line to buy cupcakes before! I mean I've heard of people waiting in line at Magnolia Bakery in NYC because, well, that's Magnolia Bakery which was featured on Sex and the City and basically ignited the cupcake craze a few years back. This isn't New York City... this is Southern California... Beverly Hills... and we don't wait in line for cupcakes here. Or, wait... do we?


Luckily, after I parked and walked back I discovered what I thought to be a very long line was just a large group of people who'd already gotten their cupcakes and were just milling around outside. whew! But there was a full house inside and a short line of 2 people waiting outside... so I joined them. Trust me, when I first saw that "long line" I seriously, for about 30 seconds, considered just driving right home... but I'd come 35 miles... spent about half an hour in the car... and let's not think about how much money I'd spent in gas. No way could I go home empty handed!

Sprinkles does not do mini-cupcakes... they only have full sized cupcakes so knowing I'd have to eat everything I bought... hey, it's in the name of RESEARCH, uhmkay?? (see what I endure just so you guys can know my opinion! alright... call me a martyr if you wish - LOL) ... I had to limit myself to just three.

The cupcakes are VERY fresh... very moist and tasty. The vanilla had a lot of really good vanilla flavor but sadly the lemon was **lacking** in flavor. Hardly any real "lemon" taste to it. The cake itself was regular vanilla cake and the icing had a very slight hint of lemon. That was disappointing on two levels... 1) their website description of this cupcake was a lot better than the cupcake itself... and... 2) lemon is my absolute most favorite flavor so I wanted this cupcake to knock the ball outta the park (a moment of silence please in honor of the deep despair I felt when it did not). The red velvet was so-so... the cake was great but the cream cheese icing was very bland w/truly just a minimal "twang" of cream cheese flavor :( When eating a regular sized cupcake I will typically quarter it so that I'm left with somewhat bite-sized pieces. This worked fine for the Vanilla and Lemon... but the Red-Velvet simply didn't cooperate... it just fell apart. Sure, it tasted the same but I couldn't get one whole piece to keep itself together well enough for me to photograph it. Eh, such is life.

All in all, I was pleased with Sprinkles. The cupcakes were fresh and moist and in no way did I think they were sellin me yesterday's leftovers. They did a fantastic job of packaging up my three bundles of goodness which made me very happy since as I was prepping to take pictures I knocked the box completely over on it's side and the cupcakes looked no worse for it.

Would I go back to Sprinkles? Sure. The cupcakes are fresh and very tasty (though I do feel they slather on more frosting than necessary) and the sales staff was very efficient. Out of the past three days in a row that I had cupcakes, Sprinkles was the best. But I'll be brutally honest and say they can't hold a candle to Vanilla Bake Shop (which I posted about here) - a place that most definitely knows how to make one helluva tasty cupcake!

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2008-04-19

Saturday Cupcake Review - Mrs. Beasley's


Friday was a rather disappointing day. I got a big run around on something that just didn't have to be such a pain. Really. I often think if people just did what they're supposed to do... in the way they're supposed to do it... the world would be a much simpler place. In this situation, someone dropped the ball and I ended up driving close to 80 miles round trip for no good reason... on a totally empty stomach. Grrrrr! But in my low-glycemic state of utter ticked-off'ed-ness (yup, it's a word! okay it's not but it should be) I ended up making a quick little detour and paying an unplanned visit to a cupcake bakery in Burbank (hint hint hint) that I'd tried before and wasn't even impressed with. See, that's what happens when my blood sugar drops... I make bad decisions, especially about food. I'd been there before... I knew it wasn't all that good... but I went anyway. I bought a few mini cupcakes and (gawd I'm ashamed to admit this) I ate one in the car. Vanilla cake with chocolate icing.
The cake was dry... bordering on stale... and the icing was crunchy. But... it raised my blood sugar and soon I was feeling better about why I as still so far away from home in the first place. And yes, I know, when my blood sugar is low a cupcake is a very poor food choice. Yup... I know... and I knew... and I did it just the same... and the cupcakes were not good at all. They were so not good that I didn't even bother to photograph them... and Lord knows I love to photograph food. One cupcake was called Margarita (basically just lime), one was red-velvet (too much chocolate) and one was Happy Day (way way way too much crunchy icing on a really stale cake). I made the mistake of paying them a 2nd visit... there won't be a 3rd.





Today was another day. The crud of yesterday was in the past and I decided I wanted to try a different cupcake bakery. Today's pick was Mrs. Beasley's in Encino, California. Years ago I used to go there to pick up a Miss Grace Lemon Cake if I was having a dinner party. I still think this is among the best lemon cakes of all time :) Based on my love of that lemon cake, I figured the cupcakes must be good too. Well, sad to say I was terribly disappointed. I was not impressed at all especially in comparison to last week's visit to Vanilla Bake Shop which I posted about here. At Vanilla Bake Shop the cakes were fresh and delicious... at Mrs. Beasley's the cakes were dried out and going stale. Something I really can't understand is why a half-hour after opening the cupcakes were already hard? Did they sell me yesterday's leftovers?!?!?!

Anyway, The lemon had very little lemon flavor... the plop of lemon curd on the top was it. I did get a *piece* of lemon zest in the dried out cake itself but there was no lemon curd filling. False advertising IMO.

The blueberry was weak. Perhaps they accidentally dropped 2-3 blueberries in the milk, fished them out immediately, used the milk when making vanilla batter and said "hey, if we add some pale blue icing on this I bet we could call it BLUEBERRY". At least this one wasn't hard and stale so that's a positive :)



The red-velvet tasted like a **chocolate** cupcake with regular buttercreme icing. Uhm... hullooo... that's NOT red velvet, folks... that's just a chocolate cupcake with tons of red food coloring and vanilla icing. Red velvet should have a HINT of cocoa... and it should have cream cheese icing.

The strawberry and the vanilla were both disappointing as well. I'll admit the strawberry cake wasn't dried out or stale... but it had no real flavor. The icing was pretty much just "essence of strawberry" and not impressive. The vanilla was a real let down. Again, dried out cake and icing that was ho-hum at best.

I hesitate to say negative things about a bakery's cupcakes but this is no start-up place here. They've been in business for such a long time that I expected better. But sadly, it was disappointment all around. After seeing the pics, my friends... and even DJ... thought the presentation at this bakery left much to be desired. More than one person said these cupcakes look pretty much like what you'd see in a grocery store.

So there ya have it... my thoughts on the cupcakes at the Encino location of Mrs. Beasley's. In a word... disappointing. So far, my favorite is still Vanilla Bake Shop in Santa Monica :) And tomorrow is another day!



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2008-04-16

Beth's Orange Poppy Seed Bread


I received an email from my dear friend Beth yesterday. She lives in Tennessee and tells me her dogwood's are in full bloom and turning very white. I'm jealous. Living in southern California, our climate is not right for gorgeous trees such as the dogwood... or even the weeping cherry. Those are two of my favorite trees. When I lived in Virginia I took great pride in my dogwoods and weeping cherries. After all, the dogwood is the state flower of Virginia :) The pink dogwood is my favorite but the white dogwood is beautiful too!







In April 1995 when I moved from California to Virginia, my flight from LAX was not a direct one - I had a connection in Nashville. I'd never been to Tennessee before but I'll never forget my first impression as we were making our final approach into the airport. In a word... trees! Lots and lots and lots of beautiful, gorgeous, green trees!!! Now to some of you that might sound ridiculous... but if you live in Southern California and/or have ever landed at LAX, you will know that you see buildings... lots and lots of buildings... and cars... and freeways... and well, here and there you'll see a dotting of small trees and some palm trees. But landing in Nashville I was struck by how there were so many trees it was like a rolling blanket of ~~green~~. I was worried we were going to land in a "forest" because I didn't see the airport or runway until the last minute.




One of the things I miss most about living in Northern Virginia is my foliage. About a year or two before I left I embarked on a very ambitious landscaping project and hired a contractor to renovate my entire front yard. He did a fantastic job and everything looked beautiful. He planted a young weeping cherry tree in a prime location which complemented the existing mature dogwood trees that framed the yard. I miss looking out my window and gazing at that weeping cherry each spring and delighting in the the bright red buds as they transformed into delicate pink blooms that, en masse, looked billowy soft. I miss my home in Virginia very much. I especially miss the trees. And 13 years ago when I saw all the beautiful trees as we were landing in Nashville, I knew Tennessee had to be a really nice place. And now all these years later I know I was right because nice people like my dear friend Beth live in Tennessee :)



When Beth first told me about her Orange Poppy Seed Bread, it sounded fantastic. Of course I wanted to eat it but I also started thinking about how much I wanted to make it! Last weekend Beth was gracious enough to share her recipe with me. I was hesitant to ask since I whole-heartedly respect any cook's desire to protect their secret weapons! LOL!!! But Beth was totally excited to share it! I could hear the excitement in the words of her email :) Since the recipe calls for fresh oranges or orange juice... and I'm allergic to oranges... I initially fully intended to make a lemon version instead. I thought on this for quite a while and in the end I decided to make the first go-round true to Beth's recipe and go with the orange. As I've gotten older my ability to tolerate oranges comes and goes and I was super pleased this recipe caused me no trouble at all. Next time... I'm gonna try lemon because I love pretty much anything lemon. But I'm glad I stayed true to the original and made the orange this time because it is soooooo ridiculously good! I can't wait to make it again! I hope you make it too. And I hope you are fortunate enough to have a "dear friend Beth"... someone who opens your eyes to all sorts of things you would have missed otherwise... things like Orange Poppy Seed Bread :)



Orange Poppy Seed Bread
adapted from my dear friend Beth's recipe :)

INGREDIENTS
... for the bread...
1½ cups flour
1¼ cups sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoons baking powder
1 Tablespoon Poppy Seeds
¾ cup milk
½ cup + 2 Tablespoons oil
2 eggs
1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
1 Tablespoon Almond Extract
1 Tablespoon Butter Flavoring
zest of one large orange

... for the glaze...
¼ cup fresh squeezed orange juice with lots of the pulp!
¾ cup confectioners sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon butter flavoring





DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350F
Mix all bread ingredients together for two minutes in a mixer on medium high speed.
Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake for 50 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.
Remove from oven and do not remove from pan. Poke several holes in the bread while its still warm (I used a meat grilling fork with long tines) and spoon glaze over it.
Let cool completely then remove from pan.

Slice... eat... enjoy... and make lots of happy noises like "nom nom nom!!!" =)


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