Friday, March 30, 2012

Cupcake Flags - free printable

Happy Friday! I hope you've had a good week and have a fun and relaxing weekend ahead of you. In case you're celebrating something, I'm linking you over to Lovely Design today for these festive cupcake flags. Even if you don't have a party to bring cupcakes to, these will make any batch more fun!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Parmesan Muffins

I am lucky in that while I do have to stay away from cow milk and cow milk products, I've found that my body can handle the cheeses and yogurt made from sheep and goat milk. It's true of several members of my family as well - the theory being that it's the different proteins that our bodies react to, and different animal milk has different proteins and we're only sensitive to cows' unique protein. I don't know if that's completely scientifically accurate or not, but I'm glad of the result. And the result is that I can eat these muffins when I make them with nondairy milk and Romano cheese, which is made of sheeps' milk.

They are savory and light and a great side at dinner. Also, oh-so-easy and snackable.

Parmesan Romano Muffins
adapted from Gourmet (sniffle), January 2005

These could handle slightly increased amounts of the garlic and herbs, if you'd like, but they are quite good as is.

2 oz fresh grated parmesan (I used Romano), about 1 C
1 1/2 C (7 oz) flour
2 Tbsp (1 oz) sugar
2 tsp (.33 oz) baking powder
1/4 tsp (.12 oz) baking soda
1 tsp finely chopped garlic (about 1 clove)
1 tsp (.25 oz) finely chopped fresh rosemary
3/4 tsp (.19 oz) salt
1/2 tsp (.1 oz) black pepper
2 large eggs
3/4 C (12 oz) milk or nondairy milk
1/2 C (8 oz) extra virgin olive oil

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350F.

Whisk together three-quarters of the cheese, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, garlic, rosemary, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Whisk together eggs, milk, and olive oil in a small bowl or measuring cup. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and whisk until combined.

Divide among 12 greased or paper-lined muffin cups. Sprinkle with remaining quarter of cheese and bake until tester comes out clean, 18-20 minutes. Cool in pan for 5-10 minutes, remove from pan, and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

No Knead Whole Wheat Bread - vegan

The weather in the Bay Area has been incredibly variable lately - one day will be dismally rainy and windy and the next will be sunshine and blue skies as far as the eye can see. Besides never knowing what footwear I'll need, it's also playing havoc on my food cravings. Cold weather makes me want good bread and hearty pasta, while the summertime tease pushes me towards salads and sorbet

This delicious loaf is a great addition to any repertoire. It's super easy, with only about 15 minutes of hands-on time, and it makes our apartment smell heavenly. I like it at breakfast with some jam, but it will also work for sandwiches or as an accompaniment to dinner.

No Knead Whole Wheat Bread - vegan
adapted from King Arthur Flour

1 C lukewarm nondairy milk
2 tsp active dry yeast
1/4 C orange juice
1/4 C vegetable oil (I used olive)
3 Tbsp molasses, honey, or maple syrup*
1 1/4 tsp salt
3 C whole wheat flour (or white whole wheat, or a blend of the two)

Dissolve yeast in milk. Generously grease a 8 1/2- x 4 1/2-inch or 9- x 5-inch loaf pan. Make sure you grease all the way to the top.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and milk+yeast. I used a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, but in the comments on the KAF blog, it looks like people also make this with a hand mixer. Beat mixture vigorously for about 3 minutes (I use medium high-high speed). The dough will not be pourable, but it will be too sticky for hand kneading. Scoop dough into your greased loaf pan and even out top. Cover with greased plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place (I use a slightly warmed oven) for 60-90 minutes. Your dough should be just about the height of the pan, though in the larger 9- x 5-inch size it might be lower. 

Preheat oven to 350F. Uncover the bread and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until an internal temperature of 190F-195F is reached. Top should have a golden brown crust. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool 5-10 minutes on a rack. Invert pan to remove loaf and allow to cool completely (I know it's hard!) on wire rack before slicing.  

*I really liked the loaf that I made using 1 Tbsp local honey and 2 Tbsp molasses. Play around with these flavors, and you can make lots of different loaves from the same basic, easy recipe. The same is true of the milk - almond milk will impart a slightly different taste than soy milk, which will taste slightly different than rice milk. Ditto with the oil and the flour.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Grow Green Onions on Your Windowsill

This is the easiest DIY ever. 
1. Buy green onions for cooking something tasty, like these.
2. Use green parts for recipe. 
3. Stick the remaining onion in a glass of water somewhere sunny or bright.
4. Change the water every few days and add more onion as you use your original purchase up.
5. The ones in the glass will grow big and strong. Cut off pieces as needed. The onions will keep regrowing.

That's it. I started these at the beginning of March, and they are going strong. The new shoots taste just as good as the originals and didn't cost me anything. I suppose eventually they will run out of steam, but by then I will have certainly gotten my money's worth!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Planting Tomatoes in Buckets

The second unconventional planter I'm using on our balcony this summer is the humble 5-gallon bucket. I purchased two varieties of tomato plants that are container specific- two "Better Bush" and one "Patio." I picked up three buckets to plant them in, each for under $3. Since they were bright orange and advertisey, I also got some white spray paint to make them a little prettier. Later, I learned that Home Depot also sells plain white 5-gallon buckets for $1 more. Next time.

I spray painted the buckets in several nice and even and thin coats and drilled drainage holes in the bottom. Then I simply filled them with layers of potting soil and compost (our city gives it away free. If your municipality picks up compost along with trash and recycling, they may have a similar program) and planted my baby plants.

Et voila, three tomato plants that will hopefully produce some summertime deliciousness, and planters that are reusable and cost way less moolah than pots specifically sold as planters.

How's your garden looking?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Bricks by the Bay

clockwise from left: Lord of the Rings' Mordor, Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, and Princess Bride's Cliffs of Insanity (if you squint, you can see Dread Pirate Roberts ascending) 
Last weekend my cousin and his family, Mr Official Taster, and I all attended an event called Bricks by the Bay. Those bricks were legos, and the participants were a group of very creative people.

clockwise, from top: an airport and neighboring city, a purple octopus that can move, and a classic stand mixer
I didn't really know what to expect, but the B family went last year and had a good time. Unfortunately, I didn't bring my camera, so these are all cell phone photos. Apologies. 

The Colosseum
We had a good time, and I bet we'll go again next year. If you live in the Bay Area, I recommend it; the 5-year-old had a good time, as did the adults the rest of us. They already have plans for next year!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Hyacinth Botanical Art - free printable

Happy Friday! In honor of the official beginning of Spring, today I'm linking you over to The Graphics Fairy for this free printable. Karen scanned in an antique print from an 1870's gardening book and has made the high resolution pdf available to all. Daffodils have first place in my heart, but the seductive and enchanting scent of hyacinths makes me stop and smell them every time I see some flowering.

What are your favorite spring flowers?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Growing Spinach and Lettuce in an Upcycled Storage Container

When Mr Official Taster and I created our balcony container garden last week, I also wanted to figure out an efficient way of growing some spinach and salad greens. It didn't make sense to grow them in regular, deep planters because they don't need that much space or soil. As we walked through the hardware store, I mentioned to Mr OT that a kiddie pool would be a good solution, except that we don't have room for something that big. As I chatted with a nice guy about paint, Mr OT wandered off and returned a few minutes later with a plastic under-the-bed container.

It's shallow and even has wheels. He has some good ideas.

I drilled holes all over the bottom for drainage and added dirt. I chose spinach and baby romaine seeds and planted one row of each. I marked each row with pieces of different colored straws. My plan is to plant a new row of each seed type every couple weeks so that we will have waves of salad greens rather than a bumper crop all at once. Hopefully, we'll be able to eat our own lettuce for most of the summer and maybe even into the fall. 

Obviously, I don't know how well this will work yet, but I will keep you updated.

Have you gotten the spring planting bug? What have you started?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring Herb Quinoa Pancakes - gluten free

After two days of blabbing on and on, today I bring you a beautifully simple and healthy recipe. I was able to use green onions, mint, and parsley from my own little herb collection, which I'm positive makes it tastier and healthier somehow.

Pro tip: chocolate mint might not be the best choice for this dish. It's the only kind I have on hand, though, mainly because Mr Official Taster picked it up at the nursery. When I pointed out that plain might be more practical, he responded, "But we have an ice cream maker now," and I was sold. Pushover.

Spring Herb Quinoa Pancakes - gluten free
adapted from Two Tarts

These are quite good. I've been making the full batch and cooking a few at a time for lunches. The mixture saves well in the fridge for up to 5 days or so. I think they would pair well with some sort of yogurt concoction, like raita or even plain Greek yogurt. If you're new to quinoa, this is a good how-to.

Yield: 8-10 patties
2 C cooked quinoa (approx 3/4 C dry)
2 eggs
2 Tbsp chopped green onion
2 Tbsp chopped mint (optional. I liked it better without)
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
1/2 C grated strong cheese (I used Romano)
1/2 C gluten free (or regular) bread crumbs*
1/4 tsp salt

In a small/medium bowl, mix together everything but the quinoa. Fold in the quinoa until the mixture is evenly moist.

Heat a frying pan over medium high heat and add a drizzle of olive oil. While the pan is heating, form patties using a spoon and your hand. Try to make them all a similar size for even cooking, and aim for 1/2-1-inch thick. Place in frying pan and cook, turning halfway through, about 3 minutes on each side. Don't disturb them right at the beginning, or you might encourage them to fall apart. Garnish with additional fresh herbs and/or cheese.

*I imagine that if gluten free bread crumbs are commercially available, they are super expensive. The easier and better solution is to make your own. Break up some stale bread into the bowl of your food processor. Pulse until you reach your desired texture. Store in an airtight jar. Maybe up to a month? Mine have never lasted that long.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Refresh & Rethink

Happy Spring! I hope it was a beautiful day in your neighborhood. Spring is often seen and felt as a time for resolutions, cleaning out, and starting anew. While Earth Day isn't for another month, some people use the first day of Spring to celebrate too.

As I've said before, I think you are all smart people and you know this stuff. But maybe, just maybe, seeing it again will inspire you to green your routines a little more. Obviously, this list is a minuscule piece of the puzzle, but then again, every little bit helps, right? Here's some of what Mr Official Taster and I do to keep ourselves, the puppies, our bank account, and the planet a little healthier.
  • I would estimate that 90% of our laundry is air dried, on a drying rack, sans dryer, either on our balcony or tucked into a corner of the living room. While this means all of our household laundry cannot get done in one day (because it wouldn't all fit on the rack), we use way less energy. Shower rods also work great, as would a suspension rod somewhere out of the way (you could either leave it in place, or take it down when there's nothing to dry).
  • In that same vein, almost all laundry here at Chez Sweets is washed in cold water. Bedding, both human and canine, gets hot water because it helps eliminate allergens. I don't notice a difference in cleanliness, and I know that it both keeps our energy bill down and helps extend the life of some fabrics.
  • Our soaps, detergents, and other cleaning products tend to be Seventh Generation, Mrs Meyers, or in-house, weird-chemical-free brands from places like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. The less chemicals, the better, for us and the puppies. I've never used bleach, fabric softener, or dryer sheets as part of my laundry routine, so "giving them up" isn't so hard for me.
  • As many dishes as possible go in the dishwasher, which is more efficient than I will ever be. They get air dried - I think all dishwashers let you choose whether to heat or air dry. Only wine glasses (they don't fit) and our pots & pans get hand washed. 
  • We don't use air fresheners or candles, so that's less chemicals in our indoor air. We also have a few houseplants that help clean our air (ours were chosen for looks, but there are specific varieties that work best).
  • Recycle, recycle, recycle. Whether it's tomato cans (how-to coming soon!) or wine boxes turned planters, printing on the backs of old paper (only Important stuff gets new, unadulterated printer paper), or storing bulk foods like chocolate chips or quinoa in old glass jars, we really try to get the most use out of everyday items. If we're done with something and it's in reasonable condition, it goes to a local thrift store. Of course, we also put everything our county lets us into the recycling bin.
  • One of the items I looked forward to registering for the most when we got hitched last year was a set of glass storage containers. It's a weird wish, I know, but I love them! We don't have a microwave in this current home, but we have elsewhere and at work, so glass eliminates the dreaded heated plastic. Pro tip: you can write on glass with sharpie and it rises off quite easily in the normal course of washing. I often date our containers so I know what leftovers should be eaten first. It could also come in handy if you send leftovers home with a friend or take a food offering to a neighbor.
  • Our cookware also got greened as a result of us getting married. We bought our set, and it was a big investment, but I'm happy we did. We use Scanpan Professional Nonstick, which I've liked getting to know. The biggest downside is it's weight, which can be a pain while (hand)washing some of the bigger pots. The pros outweigh (ha!) the con, though, and I like that they are truly nonstick without added oil and are made PFOA (perfluoraoctanoic acid) and Teflon-free.
  • Farmers' Markets. Local, organic, sustainably grown food is a priority for us. Real Food as much as possible and an nearly-vegan diet. Sometimes the organic version of food is more expensive, but I think it's worth the price both now and down the line.
  • Reuseable shopping totes. Considering how often I shop for food, I can't even begin to estimate how many plastic or paper trees I've saved and how many bags I've kept from cluttering our homes just by remembering my bag(s). Many stores will give you a refund (anywhere from 3-10 cents per bag) on your total bill, which totally adds up. 
PHEW. That's kind of long, huh? Well, I hope it helps to inspire. What suggestions do you have? What are the top three things do in your home?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Food Bloggers of the World, Unite!

Last night, I came across this thought-provoking article via Running to the Kitchen. In her article, Jamie Schler articulates thoughts that I've had, but haven't done much to share.

Schler is 100% right:

Beautifully photographed recipes, which I tend to consider not so much recipes as arts & crafts' instructions, are rampant: meals made from cans and prepackaged sauces, desserts based on boxed cake and brownie mixes, canned frosting, jars of marshmallow fluff and then stuffed or topped with industrial marshmallows and chopped candy bars. Layers of gaudy, day-glo snacks and desserts on more than one high-trafficked, well-known blog feature Twinkies or Oreos as the main ingredient, seemingly now a widespread trend. Call me a food snob, if you will, but I don't get it. Haven't we moved on? Don't we in the food blogging world have the desire and the goal to achieve something healthier, tastier, slightly more elevated than what my own parents made 40 years ago when all of this boxed and packaged stuff was new and exciting? We have knowledge and information at our fingertips, we have time and all the necessary technology so why not use it all towards something a tad more noble?

She's also correct that these so-called recipes are oh-so-alluring. Let's face it: if you browse sites like Tastespotting or FoodGawker, the photos that jump out to catch your eye are often cupcakes and cookies. I click on a lot of dessert submissions, and even though I've admitted to occasionally succumbing to the ease of boxed cake or brownie mix, I always close the tab disgustedly when Cake Batter Truffles turn out to be made from a box of cake mix. I look to cookbooks and food blogs for Real Food. 

Real Food, to me, is created by a person with ingredients that are actually food, rather than modified corn or soy stuff, and, ideally, with foods that are both local and seasonal. Some of the recipes you find here do stretch this definition- these are generally dessert recipes that use vegan butter. I understand there's a trade off for dairy-free butter, so I try not to use it all the time. Cakes made with olive oil are just as good.

As a food blogger, however, and now one that has ads (sorry, folks, I need some income to help support this baking habit!), one goal is to get a lot of visitors, or hits, to my blog. And desserts do that. The recipe posts that got the most traffic last week were Chocolate Stout Cupcakes, Chewy Brownies, and Chocolate Avocado Cupcakes. If I look at the past month, Romesco Sauce breaks into position #2, but all-time stats are right back to sugar: Gingerbread Ice Cream, Valentine Red Velvet Cupcakes, and Applesauce Cookies. What I (humbly) think are some of the best recipes here, like Oatmeal Bread and Avocado Sandwiches, don't even produce a blip.

So the moral of the story, I suppose, is that one of the harder aspects of food blogging, and one that is talked about the least, is the balance between producing simply popular content and producing truly good content. 

So fellow food bloggers, I challenge you to publish more photographs and more recipes for Real Food. Recently, I've been talking more about savory dinners, salads, and bread. I've found it both challenging and satisfying, and I urge you to do the same. 

Readers, what do you think? How do you respond to faux "recipes"? Do you like blogs that have a balanced collection of recipes? Or am I just making a mountain of a molehill? 

(*Like me, do you see "Food Bloggers of the World, Unite" and think of that tshirt with "Bad Spellers of the World, Untie"?)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Eat Cake for Breakfast - free printable art

Happy Friday! Today I'm sending you over to Wild Olive for this adorable printable. I believe they are Words to Live By, and if you're looking to spruce up your kitchen this weekend, why not try adding this cheery little guy?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Creating a Small Space Balcony Container Garden

I mentioned on Tuesday that Mr Official Taster and I created a little balcony garden for ourselves over the weekend. We wanted it to be simple, efficient, and not cost and arm and a leg. I'm happy to say that we succeeded. (Roomba was impossible to keep out of this photo, sorry. She was way too interested in a) staying in the warm sun b) all the new smells and c) all the new tastes. she loves eating dirt. sigh)

We basically created a staircase out of planks of wood and cinderblocks. There are three steps. The lowest is set on top of sideways cinderblocks and the middle step is set on top of vertical cinderblocks. The third and highest shelf is set on top of "legs" made of three cinderblocks stacked sideways. Each step has three supports - one on each end and one in the middle. So for those of you counting at home, that's 15 total cinderblocks. Each plank is 4 ft long and 1 ft wide. We got everything at Home Depot, and those folks are nice and will cut wood for customers, so we picked a 12 foot long piece of wood and had them cut it in three pieces. That's it. We have a good sized balcony on our apartment, so this tight configuration means we still have room for more plants (tomatoes coming soon!) and for sitting outside and enjoying it all.

Have you caught the Spring Fever bug? What are you doing about it?

psst: I also started some spinach seeds- see how here

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Baked Lemon Risotto - vegan & gluten free

Loyal readers know that risotto is a staple here at Chez Sweets. So when I came across this recipe on Joy the Baker, I was definitely intrigued by the lack of stirring required. Creamy deliciousness with 10 minutes of work? Yes, please.

The options for variations are endless. Try adding some fresh veggies, wine, lemon juice, or a different set of herbs and spices. This risotto pairs well with a green salad or fresh (and now coming into season!!) asparagus. 

Baked Lemon Risotto - vegan & gluten free
adapted from Joy the Baker

I halved this recipe and baked it in a 7x10-inch baking pan, baked at the same temperature and for the same time, and it turned out beautifully.  I also increased the lemon zest and added caramelized onions (see my how-to here) to Joy's version. 

1 onion, diced
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon zest
2 tsp dried or fresh thyme
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 C Arborio rice
32 ounces vegetable broth
1 1/4 C water
1/2 C caramelized onions (optional)
1 C grated Parmesan or Romano cheese (optional)
salt to taste
more cheese, lemon zest, parsley and/or thyme leaves for garnish

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×13-inch baking pan and set aside.

In a medium skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent - about 5 minutes. Turn off heat, add lemon zest, thyme leaves, chili flakes, and black pepper. Toss together and set aside.

In a medium bowl, toss together uncooked rice, cheese if using, and the onion mixture. Spread evenly in your prepared baking pan. Add vegetable stock and water and stir gently to ensure even cooking.

Place in the oven and allow to cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Stir briefly, and cook for another 17-20 minutes. Rice is done when liquid is absorbed and mixture is cooked through and creamy. If rice mixture is still crunchy, add more hot water or hot chicken stock about 1/3 cup at a time.

When completely cooked, remove pan from the oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes. If you'd like, add salt to taste and top with lemon zest, fresh thyme, black pepper, parsley and/or cheese.

To reheat leftovers, I put a couple teaspoons of water in a small saucepan, added risotto, and cooked on medium until heated through. Stir frequently.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Chocolate & Vanilla Frosting - dairy free

Even though we lost an hour of sleep Saturday night, I am so glad the clocks are pushed back. It's still (somewhat) light at 7pm! To celebrate the extra daylight, Mr Official Taster and I put in some thought and heavy lifting and created a little garden on our balcony over the weekend (more on that here). Unfortunately, our ten day forecast looks like it did when we lived in Seattle. But soon, I hope, it will be both warm and dry, and we can have dinner outside and enjoy our baby garden. Eventually, we might even be able to eat from our garden. Here's hoping.

As soon as I came across this recipe, I knew I had to try it, and Mr OT welcomes any excuse to finish off a bottle of beer. Since this recipe only uses a little, I waited until the weekend so he would be around to drink chivalrously help. As wonderful as chocolate cakes are, I didn't have a party to bring one to, and cupcakes are, well, easier and cuter, so they won. But if you have something or someone to celebrate, go forth and make the cake. It will be both impressive and delicious.

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Chocolate & Vanilla Frosting - dairy free
inspired by Bon Appetit

Especially with the chocolate frosting, these cupcakes are for serious chocolate lovers. The frosting is super intense, and I think I actually like the cupcakes with vanilla frosting better. Using milk chocolate rather than dark would make it sweeter.

The recipe works with the same quantities of real salted butter and milk. Instead of cupcakes, you can make a cake! Line two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper and then grease and flour over the parchment. Baking time is approximately 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Double the frosting recipe.

Cupcakes (yields 24)
I used Rogue Brewery's Chocolate Stout, but several other breweries also make versions. Guinness is probably the next best thing. 

3 large eggs, separated
2 1/4 C all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
14 Tbsp (1 3/4 sticks) vegan butter, room temperature
1 1/4 C plus 3 Tbsp sugar
3/4 C chocolate stout, regular stout, or porter
2/3 C freshly brewed strong coffee or espresso

Preheat oven to 350F and line muffin tin with cupcake papers. 

Separate the eggs- the whites should go in a medium bowl and the yolks can just go into a small bowl or measuring cup. Separate them when you first take them out of the fridge, and they can come to room temperature while you prepare the rest of the recipe.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Place chopped chocolate in small metal or glass bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of barely simmering water and stir until chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over water and set aside.

Meanwhile, cream butter and 1 1/4 C sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until fluffy and pale. Add egg yolks, one at a time, and beat well after each addition. Add lukewarm chocolate and combine. Then add stout and coffee. Beat in flour mixture in two additions until just incorporated.

With clean, dry beaters, beat egg whites and remaining 3 Tbsp sugar in a medium bowl until stiff but not dry (I interpreted that as stiff and still shiny) - approximately 8 minutes. Fold egg whites into chocolate batter in three parts.

Spoon into cupcake papers. Fill each mold 2/3 full. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the cupcake tops spring back after pressing lightly with your fingertip (or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean). Allow to cool in pan for about 10 minutes, then turn out and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. 

Chocolate Frosting (covers about 12 cupcakes)
1/2 pound bittersweet or dark chocolate (54% to 60% cacao), chopped
1 C nondairy milk (I used almond)
1-2 tsp vanilla

Combine chocolate, milk, and vanilla in a glass or metal bowl (you can reuse the one from the batter. one less to wash!) and set bowl over saucepan of barely simmering water and stir until melted and smooth. Chill chocolate frosting until slightly thickened and spreadable, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours. If you're impatient like me, place frosting in freezer until thickened and spreadable, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Spread frosting over about half the cupcakes. 

*This is too thick to pipe, but if you want to be able to make those pretty piped tops, try adding some butter at the beginning so it's more of a buttercream. Maybe 1/4-1/2 stick??*

Vanilla Frosting (covers about 12 cupcakes)
1/4 C (1/2 stick) vegan butter at room temperature
1 C (~100g) confectioners' sugar 
1 tsp vanilla extract
non dairy milk (I used almond)

Cream the butter and mix in vanilla. Add sugar, a little at a time, beating well after each addition. If frosting is too stiff, add milk 1 tsp at a time and beat until well combined. Spread or pipe frosting over the remaining cupcakes.

Friday, March 9, 2012

St. Patrick's Day Art - free printable

Hello and happy Friday! I don't know about you, but I am looking forward to gaining that extra hour of daylight this weekend (pssst, it's Daylight Savings on Saturday night). The weather here has been gorgeous all week, and I've been antsy for it to be light late enough to try eating dinner outside. Today I'm sending you over to Poppies at Play (I love the name) for this free St. Patrick's Day printable. Andy also has a slightly different one with a green background and white print. I'm not big into St. Patrick's Day, but I do heart Kermit.

What do you want to do with the extra daylight?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Chewy Brownies - vegan

If you follow me on Pinterest, you may have noticed lots of chocolate recipes lately- cupcakes, cakes, cookies, pancakes, more cupcakes. I've been itching to take on two specific recipes since last week that each require a different kind of beer. I'm not a big beer drinker, but it is Mr Official Taster's drink of choice. Unfortunately for my chocolate craving him, he's been fighting a cold, also since last week, which means he hasn't been in a beer-drinking-frame-of-mind. My recipes only use partial bottles, and I'm not willing to waste the rest, so no stout flavored chocolate for me. sigh

On the bright side, I was pushed to try out this brownie recipe that I've had my eye on for, oh, two years or so. Man do I need to speed up my timeline. These are good.

Chewy Brownies - vegan
adapted from Whisk Kid

1/3 C flour
1 C water
1/2 C vegan butter (1 stick)
4 oz chocolate (or a heaping 1/2 C of chips)*
2 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 C sugar
1 C brown sugar (you can use all granulated, but the brown sugar contributes to a chewier and denser texture.)
1 tsp vanilla
1 C chocolate chips
1/2 C (handful or so) cocoa nibs, optional

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9"x13" baking pan. If you like to remove your brownies from pans, line with parchment and grease the parchment. (I usually just cut and serve directly from my pan)

In the microwave or in a double boiler, melt the butter and chocolate in a large bowl. Stir to combine. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a small saucepan, combine 1/3 C flour and 1 C water over medium heat. Stir constantly, until thick and gummy (it only takes a couple minutes). Set aside to cool slightly. 

In a small bowl, combine remaning 2 C flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Add the sugars and the vanilla to the chocolate mixture. Stir in the cooked flour mixture thoroughly. Sift the dry flour mix over the bowl, then fold in to combine. Before it's all the way combined, add the chocolate chips and cocoa nibs, if using, and finish mixing. Do not over mix.

Spread batter in pan, sprinkle with more chocolate chips/nibs if desired (and why wouldn't you?), and bake for 20-25 minutes**, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean. Remove from oven, and allow to cool completely before removing from pan and slicing.

*milk, unsweetened, and semisweet all work
**I baked mine in a ceramic pan this time, so it took more like 30-35 minutes.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

English Muffin Bread - vegan

Since moving into our new digs, I've been trying to be more conscious of spending less on food, keeping track of what's in the fridge, and minimizing food waste. Remember I saved all my lemon zest? Well, I used some of it last night for paella, which meant I didn't have to use a whole new lemon. The stale bread from last week? Got whirred in the food processor for bread crumbs. And when I realized the only reason I was thinking of going to the grocery store was for bread, well, I decided it was just as easy, and a lot more satisfying to make my own. (If you, like me, don't really want to do the math, King Arthur lays out proof that it's also significantly less expensive).  

I made Oatmeal Bread on Monday, which was a good reminder of just how easy and delicious homemade bread is. That loaf was just about gone by mid-day Tuesday (we heart carbs), so I went with this English Muffin Bread I had seen a few weeks ago. I'm really glad I did! It's moist and tasty, and if we had a toaster this bread would be delightful warm. If you're starting to see strawberries at your farmers' market too, it might be a good idea to make some freezer jam to slather on.

English Muffin Bread - vegan
adapted from King Arthur Flour, which you should check out if you like step by step photos. Their  blog is generally great. As bread goes, this is pretty no-fuss. You don't even knead it!

3 C flour*
1 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp instant or active dry yeast
1 C nondairy milk (I used almond)
1/4 C water
2 Tbsp vegetable oil or olive oil
cornmeal, to sprinkle in pan

In a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and yeast. 

In a microwave safe bowl or a small saucepan, heat the milk, water, and oil to between 120F and 130F. King Arthur notes that if you don't have a thermometer, the liquid should feel hotter than lukewarm but not uncomfortable. If you are using active dry yeast, do not proof the yeast in this liquid. It's too hot, but when the yeast is mixed with the dry ingredients, they provide enough of a buffer for the yeast to do its thing.

Pour the hot liquid into the dry mixture and mix with either a hand mixer or a stand mixer until just combined. Beat on high for an additional minute or two. The dough will be very soft, and quite sticky. You cannot knead this bread by hand- in fact, check out KAF's blog post for a picture of how your dough should look. I had to add a couple extra tablespoons of water. 

Grease an 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pan, and sprinkle the bottom and sides with cornmeal.** Pour/scrape dough into the pan and level as much as possible. Cover the pan (I used greased plastic wrap) and let rise 45-60 minutes. The dough should have risen to just above the rim of the pan. If your kitchen is chilly, turn your oven on for a minute or two, turn it off, and let your bread rise in there. 

Preheat oven to 400F. Remove cover and bake bread for 22-27 minutes (check it first at 22 min). Bread will be golden brown and internal temperature should be 190F. Remove from oven and cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes. Turn the loaf out of the pan and allow to cool completely on a wire rack before slicing. 

*as usual, I used white whole wheat, and it worked beautifully
**I used a 9" x 5" loaf pan. It worked just fine, but it would have made a prettier shape in the smaller pan because it would be taller and less flat on the top.

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