Monday, February 7, 2011

Snowed In and Rockabilly Birthday Cupcakes!

If you live in the Northeast of the US (or any region this winter!), then I'm sure you can easily relate to this cupcake.  I found the idea on one of my new favorite blogs - The Daily Mixer and I just had to make them!  Of course I ordered everything needed to decorate the cupcakes from  Do you think that was the intention when they posted the idea on their blog?  :)  Same with the Rockabilly cupcakes I made for a coworker's birthday.  I purchased a kit that contained various decor - nonpareils, cupcake toppers and papers.  I decided I'd just sprinkle the cupcakes with nonpareils and top each with one of the various toppers included in the kit.  They're very kitschy, which I love!

Oh, by the way - The cupcake is a gingerbread cupcake which is topped with a lemon cream cheese frosting.  Uh-may-zing!

For the Love of Red

A few weeks ago a friend of mine asked if I'd make a dessert for a fundraiser she would be attending.  I jumped at the chance and immediately began sifting through my recipes to find the perfect dessert.  The theme of the night was red, so what better choice is there than red velvet cake?  I thought cupcakes would be perfect since they're portable, portioned controlled (which makes it easier to serve) and just too cute!

I went to my go-to blog for cupcakes - Annie's Eats and found the perfect recipe for red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.  If you've never made red velvet before (this was my first time), you should know that it contains a lot (a LOT) of red food coloring.  After all, they're not called pink velvet cupcakes.  :)  I was concerned all of the red food coloring would make the cupcakes taste a bit off (as it tends to do), but I could barely taste it.  I baked these in red foil liners and frosted them using a large star tip.  I topped them off with cute little red paper heart picks.  I had originally planned on decorating the cupcakes using large red heart quins (sprinkles).  Unfortunately, due to a blizzard in the midwest, my package from Fancy Flours was held hostage in a Chicago FedEx warehouse!  They arrived today, so I suppose I could just bake these for Valentine's (twist my arm!).

The cupcakes were a hit, as was the fundraiser.  It was a great night and I felt proud of my little cupcakes for being eaten for such a good cause!  :)  Below is a picture of three of my friends, Alison, Christine and Lainey enjoying their evening.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
Yield: about 24 cupcakes
For the cake:
2½ cups cake flour
1½ cups sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tbsp. cocoa powder
1 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1½ cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
2 tbsp. (1 oz.) liquid red food coloring
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. distilled white vinegar
For the frosting:*
8 oz. cream cheese
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2½ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners.  In a medium bowl, combine the cake flour, sugar, baking soda, cocoa powder and salt; whisk to blend.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the eggs, vegetable oil, buttermilk, food coloring, vanilla and vinegar.  Beat on medium speed until well blended.  Mix in the dry ingredients on low speed and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared liners.  Bake, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 18 minutes.  Let cool in the pans 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the frosting, combine the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Beat on medium-high speed until well combined and smooth, about 2-3 minutes.  Mix in the vanilla extract.  Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar until totally incorporated, increase the speed and then beat until smooth.  Frost cooled cupcakes as desired. (I used a large, unlabeled star tip to frost these cupcakes.)

*If you are big on frosting as I am, you may want to increase the quantities by 50%.  That is what I typically do for a batch of 24 cupcakes.  I usually end up with some left over, but I would rather have too much frosting than not enough!

Source: Annie's Eats

Lightened Up Ricotta Pancakes

One of my all time favorite foods is buttermilk pancakes.  I tend to think of myself as a pancake snob.  I grew up with my mom making pancakes from scratch - No mix.  From scratch.  Fluffy, tender buttermilk pancakes.  From scratch.  I tend not to order them at a restaurant because 99.99999% of the time, I'm disappointed and really annoyed that I wasted my calories on bad pancakes!

Over the years I've tried different variations of pancakes - Sweet potato pecan and banana chocolate chip, to name a couple.  Lately I've been hearing or reading a lot about ricotta pancakes, so I felt it was a sign that I should finally make them (not to mention it was a great way to use up my almost expired ricotta cheese!).  :)  With all this snow and cold we've been having lately, I've been craving warm, hearty breakfasts during the week.  I usually try to have light breakfasts on weekdays and keep the pancakes for the weekends.  However, since ricotta pancakes are made with whipped egg whites they are lighter than most buttermilk pancakes.  Last Friday was the perfect time to make them.  They come together pretty quickly so I was able to make them before sitting down on my sofa to work from home.  :)

I modified the recipe I found on Williams Sonoma which called for ricotta cheese and milk.  I assumed both the cheese and milk were the full fat version, so I used fat free instead.  Also, this recipe makes 12 - 14 pancakes, but I stretched mine to make 20.  Topped with a blueberry sauce I made (about 25 calories for 1 T), these end up being around 300 calories per serving (3 pancakes and 2 T of blueberry sauce).

These pancakes are light and fluffy and the lemon zest adds a nice, clean flavor.  The blueberry sauce is sweet, without being overly-sweet, which compliments the tanginess of lemon in the pancakes.

Yield: about 20 pancakes
For the blueberry sauce:
6 oz blueberries, rinsed and drained
2 T sugar
1 1/2 t cornstarch
1 1/2 t cold water
For the pancakes:
1 cup fat free ricotta cheese
1 cup skim milk
3 large eggs, separated
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1½ cups cake flour*
1 tbsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
¼ cup sugar
*You can substitute ¾ cup all-purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons of cornstarch per 1 cup of cake flour.
To make the blueberry sauce, combine the blueberries and sugar in a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the berries begin to release some of their juices and the mixture is simmering.  Combine the cornstarch and water in a small bowl; whisk until smooth.  Add the cornstarch mixture to the blueberries and mix well.  Reduce the heat to medium and let cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes to a low boil and thickens slightly.  Remove from the heat and keep warm if desired.  The sauce will thicken slightly as it cools.
Unfortunately, this picture doesn't do the sauce justice.  It's a beautiful blue but you can't really tell against the red tablecloth background.  :(
To make the pancakes, combine the ricotta, milk, egg yolks, lemon zest and lemon juice in a large mixing bowl.  Whisk to combine.  Add in the cake flour, baking powder and salt and mix just until incorporated.  In another clean, dry mixing bowl, beat the egg whites on medium-low speed until foamy.  Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and continue to beat, adding the sugar gradually, until medium-soft peaks form.
Fold one third of the egg white mixture into the ricotta mixture with a spatula until completely incorporated.  Add in the remaining egg whites and fold in gently until the mixture is smooth and light.

Heat a griddle or skillet over medium heat.  Grease as needed.  Ladle a scant ½ cup of batter onto the cooking surface for each pancake.  Allow to cook until bubbles begin to form on the top surface.  Use a large spatula to carefully flip the pancake and cook the other side until light golden and cooked through.  Repeat with the remaining batter.  If desired, keep finished pancakes warm in a 200˚ F oven until all the batter is cooked.  Serve warm with fresh blueberry sauce.
Source: pancakes from Williams Sonoma, blueberry sauce is a CB (Cate's Bites) original
Nutrition info (per pancake): 77 calories, 2g fat, 3.6g protein.  2T of sauce: 52 calories, 0.1g fat, 1g fiber, 0.3g protein

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Post Run Snack: Sweet Potato Cupcakes with Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting

A few of my friends and I started a running club this winter and to reward ourselves we usually grab a bite or a beer post run.  Lately I've started trying new baking recipes and have had the girls be the taste testers.  The first recipe I tried was sweet potato cupcakes with a brown butter cream cheese frosting.  I figure since the cupcake is made with sweet potatoes, it can't be all that bad for you...  Right?  :)  Also, our metabolism is roaring after the run, so what better time to have a cupcake?
Two out of the three tasters loved the cupcakes.  One of the girls didn't care too much for the frosting - She felt it was a bit too sweet, but she did enjoy the cupcake.  I found this recipe on one of my new favorite blogs.  I started making the cupcakes and realized I didn't have enough white sugar.  So I added 1/4 cup of light brown sugar in place of the 1/4 cup of white sugar I was missing.  I think this added a nice caramel flavor to the cupcakes and I will definitely use brown sugar next time I make these.  I may even bake the sweet potato instead of steaming.  I think this will add great flavor.
The recipe is fairly easy.  The only part that could be tricky is the brown butter.  The recipe doesn't explain how to brown butter so here's a link which shows how to brown butter (it's really not very difficult, even for a beginner cook).  How to brown butter

Sweet Potato Cupcakes with Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
Yield: 12
For the cupcakes:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
6 ounces (or one small) sweet potato, peeled and diced
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
For the frosting:
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, browned and cooled
1 block (8 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 – 4 cups powdered sugar
Heat the oven to 350 F and line a 12 cup cupcake pan with paper liners
Steam the sweet potatoes until fork tender, about ten minutes.  Set aside to cool slightly then mash with a fork until smooth.  In a medium bowl cream together the butter and sugar until light in color, about three minutes.  Add the egg, sweet potato, buttermilk, and vanilla.  Mix until well combined.
In a large bowl sift the flour, spices, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.  Pour the wet mixture into the dry and whisk until no large lumps remain.  Do not over-mix.
Divide the batter evenly between the baking cups.  Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the cakes are golden brown and spring back when lightly pressed in the enter.  Cool for three minutes in the pan then remove the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cupcakes cool prepare the frosting.  In a medium bowl cream together the cream cheese and browned butter until well combined.  The mixture may look slightly curdled.  Add the vanilla, cinnamon and powdered sugar and mix until smooth.  Decorate the cupcakes as desired and enjoy.

One of the testers enjoying her cupcake post run!

Adapted from Evil Shenanigans

Shrimp Fried Rice for Under 500 Calories per Serving!

One of my favorite indulgences is Chinese food, but it's loaded with fat, calories and sodium.  I can't remember the last time I ate Chinese food but I was craving it the other night.  I decided to peruse my pantry, refrigerator and freezer and found all the makings for shrimp fried rice.  The good thing is I tend to have all the ingredients on hand at all times which is perfect to toss together this quick and healthy weeknight meal.  This one pot (well, skillet) wonder contains all the components of a well-balanced meal  - Vegetables, lean protein and whole grains.

Recipe (Serves 2 - 1.5 cups of rice and veggies and 4 oz shrimp)

1t canola oil (or any light oil)
8 oz raw, peeled shrimp
2 cups of cooked, brown rice (or whichever type of rice you prefer.  I used Stop & Shop's Steam Ready pre-cooked frozen brown rice)
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3/4 cup snow peas cut in half
1 T crushed garlic
1 t crushed ginger (fresh can be used but I always have jarred crushed ginger on hand)
1 - 2 T reduced sodium soy sauce
1 t teriyaki sauce
2 t dried red pepper flakes (adjust to taste.  I like mine on the spicier side)
1 whole egg and two egg whites, beaten
salt and pepper to taste

NOTE: Any veggies can be used.  I've used frozen corn and peas in the past.  Basically, use any combination of veggies you like.

Prepare rice according to package directions.  Salt and pepper the shrimp and set aside until ready to cook (not too much salt as both the soy sauce and teriyaki sauce are loaded with sodium).

Add oil to the skillet and preheat on a medium flame.  Begin preparing the veggies - cut the carrots, celery and onions into a small dice.  Cut the snow peas in half.  Once the oil is warm enough add the carrots, celery and onions.  Cook for about 3 minutes then add in the snow peas.  Cook until soft, about 3 - 4 minutes.

Add in the shrimp and cook until just pink, about 4 minutes (It's important not to cook the shrimp too long at this point as you still need to cook a few more minutes after adding the eggs).  Add in the cooked rice, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, garlic, red pepper flakes and ginger and combine.  NOTE: I added in 1 1/2 T of soy sauce but you may want more or less.

Make a well in the center of the skillet and pour in the eggs.  Let sit for about a minute then begin to scramble then combine the eggs with the rice, veggies and shrimp.  Cook for another minute or until the eggs are completely cooked.  Add salt and pepper to taste if necessary.

Nutrition info:

1 cup brown rice: 140 calories, 1g fat, 2g fiber, 3g protein
Veggies, 4 oz shrimp and seasonings: 265 calories, 6.5g fat, 4.8g fiber, 34.2g protein