Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sweet Potato Soup Alla Fred

My friend Laura, otherwise known as Fred, made this sweet potato soup for dinner. I LOVED it. We ate it with a strawberry spinach salad with homemade croutons. The soup came from a vegetarian recipe book. I can't remember the name, but I'll find out and post it here. I know that the soup had sweet potatoes, a can of tomatoes, and a little cinnamon and basil, but I'm not sure what else. I just know that I ate it all up, a humongous bowl of it. Sweet potatoes are versatile, cheap, unique, healthy, and yummy. Fred's motto is, "A sweet potato a day keeps the doctor away!"

Sweet Potato Bisque...
2 Tbsp light olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
vegetable broth or water
1 16-oz can diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp salt-free all-purpose seasoning (or, just sprinkle in a little of everything in your spice cabinet :-)
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp dried basil
1 12/3-oz package silken tofu
1 c soy milk

Heat oil on med-low, and saute onion until golden. Add carrots, potatoes, and broth or water to cover. Bring to a simmer, then add tomatoes, bay leaves, and seasonings. Cover and simmer until the veggies are tender, about 20 minutes.

Remove from heat and discard bay leaves. Add the silken tofu, then process the soup in a processor or with the immersion blender until smooth.

Stir in soy milk. You may not need the entire cup, just enough to make the soup creamy. Season with S&P, then simmer on low for 10 minutes longer.

Garnish with croutons, pumpkin seeds, herbs, scallions, or whatever you like.

Toasted Nori Burritos

The Kind Diet gave me the idea to use Nori Sheets (a type of seaweed) as a wrapper for a burrito. Nori is rich in calcium, iron, and protein, as well as Vitamins A, B, and C. When you toast the nori, it develops a nutty, salty smell and flavor that is delicious. If you like roasted fish - how the skin gets all crackly in the pan or oven - you'll like nori.

To toast the nori sheets (which you can buy online here) just put them on aluminum foil in a 350 degree oven for a couple minutes until you smell that salty, nutty smell that means they're done.

We used leftover pesto orzo and whatever random veggies we had in the fridge to make our burritos. That's cilantro, arugula, spinach, sprouts, tomatoes, toasted sesame seeds, and umeboshi plums (which you can buy here!). I just chop one up and put it in anything I want to have an intriguing pop of tangy flavor.

Arugula Pesto

I love the vibrant green color of pesto. But actually, if you have just about any vegetable, some nuts, and olive oil, you can make a pesto! For example, a red pesto made from sun dried tomatoes. This one is made from arugula and pine nuts, and I served it on orzo pasta with broccoli and peas. But I overcooked the orzo just a little, so I'll be more careful next time. The pesto was delicious. Here's the pesto recipe.

1/2 c roasted, unsalted pinenuts (or almonds, walnuts, pistachios...)
2 c arugula
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 Tbsp sweet white miso (Optional. But this extraordinarily healthy paste is an awesome parmesan substitute!)
4 Tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper

Grind the first three in the food processor. Scrape the edges of the bowl. Then add the olive oil slowly through the feeder as you continue to grind the mixture. Done! You can store this in the fridge, if you pour a layer of olive oil over the top to keep it.

You can stir this into fresh cooked pasta (with a little of the pasta water, which helps the pesto stick to the pasta and kinda pulls it all together). You can dip crackers in it, or put it on toast. You can even make pretty designs on top of soup with pesto. It's so, so simple, but will impress people (and you'll be impressed with yourself!).

Brown Rice Crispy Treats with Raisins

Another recipe from The Kind Diet. You need:
brown rice cereal
brown rice syrup
peanut butter
big pinch of salt
raisins or chocolate chips

All you do is heat a jar of brown rice syrup in a pan (with a handful of raisins if you like) until really liquid, then add a huge scoop of peanut butter and a pinch of salt and stir until combined. Pour mixture over the rice cereal and stir until coated. Once the mixture is completely cooled, add chocolate chips if you want. No butter required. :-)

**Want to hear the cool thing about these treats? If you look at the ingredients listed on the packaging of the rice cereal, rice syrup, and peanut butter that I bought, your total ingredients comes to..............
Brown Rice... and peanuts.**

Yep. That is literally it. Brown rice cereal is made from brown rice, nothing more. Unlike Rice Krispies, which are full of nasty fillers. Brown rice syrup is made from brown rice and water. And when buying peanut butter, check the labels. I look for a label that says "Ingredients: peanuts, salt." or even better, just "peanuts." You want to avoid additives like oils and high fructose corn syrup. These additives are ways for companies to give you less bang for your buck, while fattening you up and contributing to lifestyle diseases like diabetes.

Remember - you vote every time you make a purchase. So even though healthy products can be harder to find in small towns like the one where I grew up, you guys can now order almost any food product online! Plus, you lucky southerners already have the advantage of fresh, local veggies!

Take the time to educate yourselves, because the people making money off you being unhealthy sure aren't going to educate you.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Rainy Inman Park Festival & Warming Soup

My sister, brother-in-law, and niece Abby came to visit yesterday! They came for the famous Inman Park Festival, which is just about my favorite weekend in Atlanta.  Unfortunately, it stormed all day!  Still, we managed to make it down to the festival for a few hours.  We had fun, even though we got wet!
When we got back, though, we needed something warm and quick after our chilly walk.  So we made the California veggie burgers I wrote about, and vegetable soup.
I really liked this soup.  I meant for it to have a little longer to cook, so that the flavors melded. Yet, in the end what I liked about the soup is that the vegetables were cooked until just done, so the flavors remain pristine.

Fresh Vegetable Soup:
1 small onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 medium carrots, chopped
4 red potatoes, chopped
splash of wine (optional)
1 carton plum tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup dried lentils
3 ears corn, kernels removed from cob
2 bay leaves
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried thyme
2 Tbsp tomato paste (optional)
a few handfuls of spinach
1 cup frozen green peas
1 can navy beans, rinsed and drained
fresh cilantro & basil
juice from 1/2 juicy lime
salt & pepper

(Note: you can chop as you go with this soup.  So, while the oil heats, chop the onion & celery. While they cook, chop the carrots & potatoes. And so on.)

Heat a couple tbsps olive oil in a pot on medium.  Add the onion, celery, and a big pinch of salt, then slightly reduce heat.  Allow to sit, sauteing, until just about to burn. Stir and let sit again.  Do this until the veggies are soft.  Then, add the garlic and saute a bit longer, maybe a couple minutes. Add the carrots and potatoes and another pinch of salt.  If you'd like, add a splash of wine to deglaze the pan and deepen the flavor.  After a couple minutes, add the corn, dried lentils, plum tomatoes, garlic/onion/cumin powder, pepper, bay leaves, & dried thyme.  Add water to cover.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until vegetables are cooked. When the veggies are cooked, add the spinach, navy beans, frozen peas, fresh herbs, and lime juice, stirring until heated through.  Season with more S&P. Your soup is done!
This is my sister Mary making her veggie burger. That's Zach in the background on the sofa. He had his first veggie burger last night! :-)  Thanks for being so open-minded and eating my veggie burgers, Zach!!

We had a great Saturday!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Vegan Fare at the Baseball Game!

First of all, let's start with the essential beer.  I'm not much of a beer drinker, but I like to take swigs of other people's beer.

More importantly, the Braves stadium serves horrid little tofu hotdogs that make me soooo happy! Who doesn't love a hotdog loaded down with mustard and ketchup at the baseball game? The Braves make sure that vegans aren't left out.  We, too, can eat an atrocious hotdog and love every bite.
Of course, they also serve hotdogs made of pig parts.

We also had salted peanuts, another MUST! But I forgot to take a picture of those.  We had a blast!

The Food Photography Craze

A college friend who I'd not heard from in ages forwarded me this article, about foodies who bring their cameras to restaurants to photograph not each other having a good time, but the food itself.

I'm never one to sacrifice the experience for the sake of capturing it with a camera. Still, the article's author, and his subjects, take themselves so seriously. My opinion about the entire matter is that the corncob belongs on your plate... take that how you will!

Baby Butterbean Salad

It's been a while since I posted! I have plenty of material, but haven't made the time to post.  It's been a busy couple of weeks.

I love summer salads - light, colorful combinations you can make in advance, pack in tupperware, and take to the beach or a picnic.

Baby butterbean salad is easy, healthy, pretty, and flavorful.

You need:
1 bag frozen baby lima/butterbeans
2 ears fresh corn
1 container plum/cherry tomatoes
1 avocado
fresh cilantro
**one big juicy lime (or 100 stingy dry little limes)
**olive oil to taste
salt and pepper

Prepare the beans by defrosting in a covered pan on low with a little water, then draining. At the same time, prepare the corn by steaming the shucked ears for a few minutes, then cutting the kernels off the cob.  Halve each plum tomato.  Cut the avocado into chunks.  Chop the cilantro (use as much as you like). Toss the beans, corn, tomatoes, avocado, and cilantro with the lime juice and olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. You're done!

Many more summer salads to come. My favorite season is here (well, almost)!

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Quick Supper

We stood at the counter and dipped homemade bread in eggplant puree, oil and vinegar, and...
almond butter and raspberry jam.  It was a quick supper because Chris is working on this...
an art project for a street art exhibit coming up... I forced him to smile for this one.
And here he is being weird.
One more picture, because I wanted to show you the pretty colors of the vegetables I roasted for the eggplant puree.  The eggplant puree wasn't anything to write home about, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth making with a few tweaks.  If I get that sorted out, I'll let you know.  For now, look at the pretty colors!
Good night!

A Helen Story

The man in the wheelchair kept trying to talk to me.  We went to the same coffee shop every day.  But he slurred his words so I couldn’t understand him and I was embarrassed to cause a scene by trying to understand him, because what if the end result was that I couldn’t?  But today I was in line behind him and he backed up with his mixed berry oatmeal so we were side by side and looked up at me and said something undecipherable.  This time, I took a deep breath and looked him in the eyes and said, “What?” He said it again, and this time I understood.  He said, “Isn’t this weather beautiful?” And it was.

Vanilla Apricot-Manderin Cocktail

Pictured is the stuff you need, minus the club soda. That's:

2 oz mandarin orange vodka
2-3 oz apricot nectar
1 Tbsp vanilla-apricot simple syrup
big splash-glug of club soda
1 dried apricot, marinated 24 hours in mandarin vodka, OR fresh apricot slices, to float in cocktail glass

Shake first three ingredients with ice in shaker until cold.  Pour in glass.  Top with a splash of cold club soda.  Float a vodka-soaked apricot in the glass, or garnish with a fresh apricot slice.

Pics of cocktail to come. :-)

Vanilla-Apricot Simple Syrup

Bartenders use simple syrup instead of sugar to sweeten cocktails.  That way, you don't have anything grainy in your drink.

Simple syrup is easy as pie to make. It's just one part sugar, one part water, boiled until the sugar dissolves.  You can then store it in an airtight container and use it to sweeten margaritas, fruity martinis, or anything really where you'd normally use sugar.

But simple syrup is also easy to infuse with flavors like vanilla, lavender, cinnamon, ginger, or even chocolate.

Vanilla-apricot simple syrup:
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
5 dried apricots
1-2 tsp vanilla extract

Boil the water, sugar, and apricots, covered, for 5-10 minutes.  Stir in the vanilla.  Add immediately to a sterile glass container and seal.  Refrigerate after opening for use.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Banana Cupcakes with Peanut Buttercream Frosting

Man.  Don't know what else to say.   Moist banana cake... fluffy, creamy peanut butter frosting... salty, crunchy peanuts...

Y'all have to get this cupcake cookbook.

Because these are made with mashed banana, the texture is ever so slightly "muffin-y," meaning denser than a fine-crumb cupcake.  But that could be because I didn't use a ripe banana.  Either way, delicious.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Falafel & Tahini Sauce in a Bun

Normally, falafel goes in a wrap or in pita.  But I had these buns.

I LOVE Greekish-Middle Easternish food.  The first time I tried falafel was in a tiny, tucked-away Moroccan cafe in Granada, Spain.  The owners were cooking the falafel and shwarma.  They gave us a hookah (which I didn't partake in because I don't know how to smoke).  They were so friendly and let us try all the food.  I tried shwarma, falafel, and hummus.  I was hooked.

Normally, I make the falafel from the box, which is really good.  But I figured it'd be pretty easy to make my own from canned chickpeas, and I was right... except for the frying part, but I'll get to that.

To make falafel, here's what you do.  Use a food processor or your fork to blend:

1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/4 c diced onion
2 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley
1-2 tsp cumin
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
drizzle of olive oil
Form the mixture into patties and fry.  By fry, I mean, you figure it out.  Most people know how to fry a simple patty.  I couldn't fry a piece of okra if my life depended on it.  I got a big fat F in fry class.  If you know how to fry, give me a call.

Once you get those patties fried, you stuff them in a pita (or bun) with lettuce, tomato, onion, cucumber, and most important, tahini sauce!

Tahini Sauce:
1/2 tahini
juice of 1/2 - 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced
pinch of salt
warm water (add until sauce is thin or at desired consistency)

California Veggie Burger

The simplest things are so often the best. I cook alot of food.  Some of it is complicated.  I like to see if I can make ketchup from scratch, or make homemade pasta.  Other dishes are strange and exotic.  I like to try new things, taste vegetables I've never heard of.

But I usually know the foods that are going to make people happy.  They - the foods and the people - aren't that complicated.

So when I decided to make a California veggie burger, I knew it would be a welcome familiar food amid the seaweed and daikon root. :-)

I used Amy's frozen California patty, which I highly recommend because it's one of the few truly healthy and delicious frozen patties out there.

Then, I stirred cumin, onion and garlic powder, red pepper flakes, S&P, and fresh chopped cilantro into vegenaise.  Toast a bun, add some vegan "cheese," sliced tomato, onion, avocado, and bean sprouts, and you're done.

The result was alot of excited "ooooh" and "yummmm!" and I only ate half my burger and gave the other half to Chris because he liked them so much.  So much of the reason I cook is because I love to feed people things that make them happy.  So if Amy's frozen boxed burgers does the trick - and, they're healthy and good for you - then so be it.

Black Chickpea & Cantaloupe Salad

To make this refreshing salad, which I created to use up the last of the black garbanzos, simply follow this recipe from my previous post about chickpea salad.

Only, add 1/2 cup golden raisins and about half a cantaloupe chopped into small cubes (smaller than you see here).

Also, adjust vegenaise/mustard portion to your liking.

Serve on a bed of lettuce dressed with lemon juice.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Almond Butter Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Amaretto Fudge Frosting

These cupcakes, made with almond butter, and topped with dark chocolate fudge frosting, are decadent!

In a previous post, I mentioned the Vegan Cupcakes book Chris gave me for Easter.  I was planning to bake cupcakes this weekend, but I couldn't wait.

Actually, here's what happened.  It was rainy and gloomy today.  I was feeling a little blah.  Suddenly, I had the idea to make cupcakes and eat them for dinner.  My mood instantly lifted!

I based my cupcakes on the cookbook's recipes for peanut butter cupcakes and for thick chocolate fudgey frosting.  I tweaked them a little, substituting almond butter for peanut butter, agave nectar for sugar, and dark chocolate cocoa for regular cocoa.  I would like to give you the recipe, but I think the authors want you to buy the book... however, you can find tons of cupcake recipes online, and I can give you some tips to make them healthy without compromising decadence!  That post to come! :-)

The result tonight was a moist, rich, heavenly cupcake.  Not bad for my first cupcake!  I'm going to have fun with this cookbook.

Oh yeah - and I ate two cupcakes for dinner.  And one for dessert.

What I Did With the Chickpeas

I posted previously on black garbanzos. I couldn't figure out what to do with them. A couple days ago, I put them in a bowl of water to soak, with still no plan for a recipe.  Then it hit me.

The whole reason I bought the black variety was because they're so pretty. I could have bought the cheaper, white version most of us are familiar with.  Here I was, trying to come up with some kind of crazy concoction, when the best way to show off the color was a simple salad.

First though, let me tell you how I cooked the chickpeas last night.

Though I had no idea how I'd eat them, I did know they had to be cooked. I looked in the spice cabinet and selected the only two bottles I've never used. Cardamom and a Chinese Five Spice, which I bought for a dollar at the farmers market.  I simmered the beans in water, a bay leaf, and these spices for around an hour, since I didn't want them to get too soft and lose the pretty skins.  (By the way, simmering beans falls into that category with letting bread rise or making a vegetable broth, which requires no brain power, attention, focus, work, or any of that nonsense. Mindless productivity, I like to call it). The beans came out delicate and fragrant. Perfect.

And the salad:
2 handfuls of arugula and spinach
1 umeboshi plum, chopped
a handful of black chickpeas
a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds
a drizzle of hemp oil
fresh lemon juice

I know I need to eat something like this when I start to feel tired or draggy and my jeans get a little tight. This is usually after a few days of sugar abandon. Meaning, I abandon self-control in favor of sugar.

And in celebration of simplicity, something that tastes best when left well enough alone:

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Spaghetti Puttanesca

I'm not sure about the exact origin of spaghetti puttanesca, except that it's from Italy. But it feels Mediterranean to me, because the special ingredients are kalamata olives, capers, and anchovies - three ingredients I've eaten in excess in Italy, Spain and Greece.

I love these intense salty flavors in a tomato sauce.  I substituted anchovies with miso paste in this recipe.

1 lb dried whole wheat spaghetti
3 tbsp olive oil
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 dried chili, chopped
2 tsp fresh thyme
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup kalamata olives, chopped
2 tbsp capers
5-6 fresh tomatoes, chopped (or 1 big can)
1 tbsp sweet white miso paste
fresh parsley, chopped

1. Fill a big pot with water and turn the burner on high. This will be for the pasta later (you know how long big pots of water take to boil!).
2. Heat a large saucepan on medium low.
3. Add the olive oil and wait until it swirls in the pan.
4. Add the chili, thyme, salt and garlic and saute 1 minute until right before the garlic turns golden.
5. Add the tomatoes, olives, and capers and simmer for at least 20 minutes or as long as you want. I like to simmer mine on low for an hour or so sometimes.
6. Add the pasta to the pot of boiling water during the last 10 minutes of sauce-simmering.
5. Just before serving, stir the miso paste into the sauce until it dissolves like butter.  The miso paste gives the dish a salty, nutty depth; thus it's an excellent parmesan or anchovy paste substitute.
6. Stir the parsley into the sauce.
7. Drain the cooked pasta, leaving a tiny bit of the pasta water to add to the sauce.
8. Toss the pasta in with the sauce and let it sit for a couple minutes to absorb the flavor.

You're done!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Classic Italian Bread (Filoncino)

The first time I remember trying real Italian bread, I was 12 years old, and visiting my cousins in Munich for the first time.  I had been raised on Old Fashioned White Bread.  Always a health nut, I actually preferred whole wheat bread, which was the healthiest option I knew existed at the time.  But it was pretty hard to come by in rural Georgia.  And that was, of course, the soft, sliced, processed stuff in the plastic bag.

I liked peanut butter and banana between two slices of soft sandwich bread.  I liked grilled sandwiches with melting cheese oozing out of a fragile, buttery crust.  And I still do.

My cousins, on the other hand, found their bread hanging in a basket on their door every morning.  Their bread was an assortment of hard, crusty rolls, some square and some oblong, some seeded and some with fruit.

I remember clearly my first bite.  I couldn’t even break through my chorizo and cheese breakfast sandwich with my teeth!  It was so tough!  How and why did Germans eat this stuff?  Where was the soft bread?  I tried several rolls, in search of something soft.   By the end of my visit, I’d realized a few things about Europe in general.

One, I wouldn’t find soft bread.  They didn’t eat it.  Two, I wouldn’t find any Prego-like spaghetti sauces in Tuscany.  And three, I could give up on ice cubes, too.

At 12, these were problems, only because I was using what I’d known all my life as the standard for “ideal.”  But that’s what 12-year-olds, or people who have never been exposed to anything new or different, do.

Now, I rarely use ice because my ice-maker is a piece of crap.  I enjoy chopped tomatoes and basil with my pasta as much as I enjoy a rich sauce.  And as for bread, I think to compare Old Fashioned White Bread with a French baguette is to compare an apple with an orange.  So enough comparing.

On to European bread.  Specifically, filoncino, or classic Italian bread.  Some of my favorite breads – the French baguette, ciabatta, and filoncino – all have in common a crispy, crunchy crust with a light, chewy center and plenty of air pockets.

The texture is the thing I love about it.  And the simplicity.  It works so well as a sponge for pasta sauce or vinaigrette.  You can grill it and rub it with garlic and sea salt.  You can even bake it into caramel custard or make it into phenomenal French toast.  Or, you can eat it plain or with a spread of butter and it will be delicious.

I’ve always bought mine from the store, because, until yesterday, I didn’t realize that such an artful piece of food could be – and I’m dead serious here - easily made at home.

I had no idea!  And here I am, all proud of myself because I made Italian bread that tastes every bit as good as the bread in Italy, and I made it in my own kitchen in about 15 minutes of hands-on time.

I’ll provide the recipe here, however, for more detailed instructions I suggest you go right to this excellent source.

You’ll need:
3 1/2 c unbleached bread flour (plus more for dusting)
1 tsp instant yeast
2 tsps sea salt
cornmeal (for the baking peel)
a pizza stone

A food processor comes in handy too, but it isn’t essential.

1. Mix the first three in the food processor for 5 seconds. Continue blending while slowly adding 1 1/4 c just-warm water through the feeder.  Dump the dough onto a floured counter, shape quickly into a ball, put in a heavily floured bowl and cover to rise 2 hours or until doubled.  (Now, don't even start whining about 2 hours! Don't you have errands to run?  Anyway, if it rises an hour and a half, or three hours, it won't hurt anybody).
Here it is, pre-rise.
And here it is, post-rise.

2. Dump the risen dough out onto a floured counter and divide into three balls. Cover with a towel to rest 15 minutes. Preheat a pizza stone in a 475 degree oven.

3. Knead each ball of dough a few times, using the heel of your palm to push it down, then folding the dough over, turning 180 degrees, kneading, then folding, finally shaping each into a long roll, like a skinny Italian baguette should be.  Cover with a towel again and let rise 30 minutes or until doubled.

4. Slash little diagonal slits across each baguette to keep the bread from going all catawampus in the oven... uh oh.  I already ran into a little trouble here. You do need a razer blade to do this, because the dough is so stretchy a knife won't cut it without compromising the risey-ness!  My bread blew up a little in the oven because I couldn’t manage the slits, but no biggie. (See, bread really isn’t that hard. You can’t break it!)

5. Sprinkle a baking peel (or upside down baking sheet) with the cornmeal and dust with flour. Use it to slide the bread onto the stone in the oven.  Lower the temp to 450, and bake for 25 minutes, misting lightly with water three times during the first 10 minutes of baking to ensure a crispy crust! (I didn’t have a spray bottle, so I used a straw to fling water into the hot oven. Hey, it worked!)

6. Cool on racks and don’t you dare put this in a plastic bag/container.  You want the crust to stay crispy so leave it on the racks! J

It was so delicious and I couldn’t believe that I, an untrained average cook could make bread like the restaurants.  Anyone who wants to make bread can do this, no problem.  In fact, the bread was devoured by everyone and they loved it so much that I'm making more today, to have with spaghetti puttanesca tonight!

Black Garbanzos

I have no clue what to do with these.

Yeah, I know what chickpeas are and I eat them all the time. But these are special cause they're black. So I want to come up with a dish that showcases the unique color.  They have to stay whole though, because only the skin is black.

Maybe some kind of cool, exotic forbidden rice and bean salad.

Or maybe an Indian kala chana curry or sookha kala chana.


Monday, April 5, 2010

Cupcakes... It's Time

I have never made a cupcake in my life.  I know people love cupcakes, especially right now.  Cupcakes have been trendy for a while, so long that you'd think they'd be on their way out.  But people still adore cupcakes.

I have a confession to make.  The fact that it seems everyone is making cupcakes these days is one reason I haven't bothered to bake them myself.  When something gets so popular it's no longer fresh, I tend to avoid it.  But really, isn't that me just being snobby?  Maybe I should lighten up a little?  After all, of course people like cupcakes!  Cupcakes are cute, colorful, and yummy.

Plus, one of the best things about cooking or baking is feeding people things that they love, that make them happy. And people love miniature things, I've noticed. Bring a pie to the office and it'll be eaten. But bring mini tarts, and they're demolished before 9am.

And yesterday, I got THIS in my Easter basket.
I started looking through the recipes and getting really excited.  So many unique flavors and colors.  Like fun Margarita Cupcakes with real tequila and lime juice in them, a sea-salty tequila-lime glaze, and a rainbow sugar rim!  Or delicate Pistachio Rosewater Cupcakes.  Or, gooey Peanut Butter Cupcakes with chocolate ganache.

So... it's on!  Cupcakes to come, very soon!!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Spicy, Honey-Roasted Nuts

Addictive.  As proof, I gave Chris the entire batch on Thursday, and when I came back to Atlanta today (Sunday), the bag was pretty much gone.  Use whatever nuts, seeds, or dried fruits you like best.  Put these in a pretty jar for a great gift.

1/4 c honey
1 tsp ground cayenne pepper
4 c raw nuts and/or seeds
1/4 c turbinado sugar
1-2 tsp sea salt
dried fruit or candy

1. Preheat the over to 325 F. Line a large shallow pan with lightly oiled wax paper.
2. Melt the honey and cayenne pepper in a pan on the stove.  Add the nuts/seeds and toss until coated.
3. Spread the nuts on the baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes.
4. Cool the nuts for about a minute. Then toss them in a bowl with the sugar and salt, and add the dried fruit.  Spread it all out on the baking sheet again to cool completely.
I used about 2 cups of peanuts and two cups of mixed nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, and brazil nuts), dark chocolate-covered raisins, dried cranberries, and dried apricots.  Next time, I'll do the exact same thing except I'll omit the cranberries and use dried cherries instead.

The turbinado sugar is important. It adds crunch and looks pretty.

I bagged these and put them in this pitcher, but I think they'd be pretty in a clear jar.