Friday, September 28, 2012

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting and the Unyoung

Old people are a gift.  Seriously they are.  I know I have said this before, but I like to remind myself every once in a while because I forget.  They have so much wisdom and insight to share with us, if only we took the time to listen.

I don't know why, but for some reason I have been thinking about my Papa a lot these last few weeks.  Maybe it is because I have been craving pancakes for dinner all the time, or maybe it is because people keep randomly bringing up how good Community brand coffee is, or maybe it is because I have never gone this long without seeing my grandpa.  Irregardless of the reason, I miss him much.

An awesome photo my sister took of my Papa teaching my brother Gunnar and my brother in law how to correctly make a pancake about 3 years ago.  
"You have to wait for the bubbles to form on top before flipping the pancake over - be patient" - Papa

This month seems to be filled with encounters with elderly people, and also the passing of 2 elderly people who played a special role in my life.

First, I want to tell you about the sweet little 85 yr old woman I came across at Target the other day.

I was wandering the aisles aimlessly looking for a serving tray when this tiny little old lady asked me if I knew where the pie pans were.  I told her they were just 2 aisles down, and did she want me to show her where they were.  She said no, and that she could manage and walked away.  A few minutes later when I admitted defeat against the finding of the serving trays I saw her still circling the aisles.  So I went and pointed her in the right direction again.  

We got to talking about what kind of pies she was making...always an awesome topic with the ones of the gray hair.  She was making pies for her 24 year old grandson's birthday.  She said at every family gathering they always request her apple and also chocolate cream pies.  I asked her what she used for the apple filling thinking she was going to say the canned my delight she said she peeled every apple herself, and has been doing it that way for 85 years!  I can't even imagine how many pies she has made!  What a labor of love!  Then she said her grandson comes over every Sunday and makes pancakes with her.  My heart was happy as I told her that is what I used to do with my grandpa, and now I always think of him when I make pancakes.  She was so happy to hear this and said that when she dies she hopes her grandson will remember her with such fondness when he makes pancakes.  I assured her he would. : )

Now...obviously the perfect ending to this story would be her incredibly handsome and single grandson walked up and swept me off my feet.  We would get married and most definitely serve pancakes and pie at the wedding. : )  Instead she picked out her pie pan, I wished her luck with her baking adventures and she wished me luck with the life ahead of me.  It twas a happy encounter!

Now I really want to tell you about the 2 elderly people I know who recently passed away - but I feel as if they each deserve their own post - so I will save that for another day.

Until then you know what time of the year it is right?  Pumpkin time!  Oh yes, suddenly everything has that slight orange tint to it, that nice spicy bite, that fabulous fragrant smell of Fall goodness.  Show me a person who doesn't love pumpkin and I will do a back flip...wait no, that would be a bad about a somersault instead? : )

I made these cupcakes for an office party, and was delighted with the results.  This cupcake was moist, spicy, and a nice not too sweet maple frosting topped it off.  Sometimes when you eat a pumpkin cupcake the frosting is just so sweet that it hurts your teeth.  This frosting has a subtle sweetness to it, that really allows the cream cheese flavor to shine through.

Pumpkin Cupcakes With Maple Cream Cheese 


Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Yield: 17 to 18 cupcakes

Preheat the oven to 350°  Line a cupcake pan with 18 liners.

Beat the following in a large bowl until smooth and creamy about 5 minutes:

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 TBS molasses
Scrape down bowl - mix again.  Then add the following:

2 large eggs

Mix until smooth.  At this point the batter might be a little broken looking - no worries, carry on.  Slowly add the following until combined.  Scrape down bowl and mix again:

1/2 cup buttermilk mixed 

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/4 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin

In a separate medium bowl whisk together the following until combined:

2 cups cake flour (or 2 cups all purpose flour minus 2 TBS - and replace it with 2 TBS of cornstarch)

2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Add dry ingredients to the wet and mix just until combined.
Pour into muffin tins.  Bake the cupcakes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool completely. 

Make the frosting

In a stand mixer beat all the following ingredients on medium until fluffy. 

Two (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup

Fill a piping bag with icing and pipe a nice swirl on each cupcake.  Leave as it, or dip in orange sugar or sprinkle with a little bit of cinnamon or nutmeg. 

Make these cupcakes, share them with a person over the age of 65, listen to this song, and remember - we are all young at heart!

Eat your heart out!


Monday, September 24, 2012

Compliments and a bowl of Chicken Buckwheat Noodle Soup

Is it just me or do compliments mean so much more coming from a man?  My Mom, my sisters, my cousins, my aunts, and my girlfriends could sit there all day telling me I was beautiful and I still wouldn't believe it.  On the other hand, my Dad, my brothers, my uncles, my cousins, or my guy friends could tell me I am beautiful once and I completely believe them and immediately sign up for a beauty pageant.  Why is it that as women the words men say mean so much to us?  The kind and genuine compliments that men have paid me over the years have always stayed in my mind, and I treasure them all.

One of my favorite compliments was when I arrived at a formal dance in college, and one of my guy friends looked at me in awe and said, "Precious, seriously precious - that is the only word to describe how you look."  Aww, come on...what girl wouldn't remember that compliment.  Of course when he first said it all I could imagine was Gollum from Lord of the Rings speaking about his ring - so I was slightly confused, but quickly got over it when I realized he was not being sarcastic.

Or my Papa, God bless his amazing soul, every time I would see him he would make sure to tell me I was beautiful and such a dear soul...and people wondered at why women loved him so much : )  Just saying, when he passed on he was surrounded by 6 women and one man.  Things were as they should be, and he left this world surrounded by women!  Nice job Papa!

Or just today when I met an older gentlemen who has been in business with my Dad for a while.  I told him I was my Dad's daughter, and couldn't he tell because I looked like him?  And he said "well you don't have to shave your face that's for sure! You are far too beautiful and perfect just the way you are!" sweet...and not creepy.  Seriously, sometimes guys really do cross the line and just become creepy.  Let me tell you, for every 1 sincere and appreciated comment I get from men, I get 1 creepy comment.  Don't guys know that when you say nice things like "You are such a sweet heart and will make some man a very happy husband one day" is soooooooo much better then hearing "You are a pretty little must keep real busy on the weekends."  Really?  On what planet does a woman want to hear that?  I have also found that for the most part the men who pay the nice compliments are the ones that are happily married...seems like they have figured out the secret to making women happy!

I wonder if we take to heart what men say about us more seriously then what fellow women say because women understand this weird sense of insecurity we all have about things in our life.  So since they can understand where we are coming from we feel like they are just saying all these "empty sounding" words in an attempt to set at ease all these insecurities they can relate to.  On the other hand, when a man tells us something and we know that he has no idea how insecure we feel - he is just saying it from a somehow more honest, straight forward, and believable place - then somehow we believe it is true too.

Oh how fickle we are!  I wonder if men feel the same way about this as women do.  Like if a man tells another man "you sure are good at grilling man" it doesn't mean as much compared to if a woman told him the exact same thing. : )

Some feminist thinking women might think that by saying these things I am giving men too much power over my life, but really it isn't that complex and twisted.  By taking a compliment to heart I don't feel as if we are giving men power - we are instead allowing them to be the protectors and guardians of our hearts that they were meant to be.

So if you are one of those few and rare men that read my blog go ahead and pay a woman in your life a genuine compliment today.  You don't have to necessarily tell her she is beautiful - because trust me telling a not so beautiful feeling woman she is beautiful might cause more pain than happiness - don't ask - it will never make sense.  Instead compliment her on something else - maybe her attitude, her care for others, her willingness to help someone, her laughter, her talent, or even her ability to keep the kitchen table clean...seriously!  When you notice the little things, it makes our hearts so much more full!

Ladies - you in turn should compliment the men in your life on something.  Maybe they always hold the door for you, or maybe they help out with household chores without being asked, or maybe they are just really good listeners.  Tell them.  Then go make this soup, listen to this song and eat your heart out!


Chicken and Buckwheat Noodle Soup

There is something to be said for the power of a good bowl of chicken soup.  It is such a perfect meal, and so soothing to my weary soul.

In large stockpot stir together the following and partially cook through over medium high heat about 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally:

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken cubed
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground oregano
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 TBS Lemon juice
1TBS Olive Oil

Remove chicken pieces from the pan and set aside.  Add to the pan:

1 large onion sliced
4 large carrots chopped large

Saute 4-5 minutes.  Return the chicken to the pan and add the following:

6-8 cups chicken broth
1 box frozen spinach
1 handful buckwheat soba noodles, broken in half
pinch of chili pepper flakes

Bring to a boil and cook just until noodles are tender.  Add more salt if you like or more chili pepper flakes.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bourbon Cake and a Family Wedding

One of the nice things about having a blog is that sometimes you meet random strangers who are your fans and stalkers.  They know about you, yet you know nothing about them.  It really is quite flattering whenever I do meet a new fan!  This past weekend I traveled to a family wedding and met quite a few people who knew who I was and followed my blog.  So this is a big shout out to my Front Royal stalkers!  Hey-yo!  It was nice meeting you all! : )

Me and my cousin on the farm - best.cousin.ever. : )

Now I have to tell you about this wedding I went to - it was off the hook crazy awesome!  It was so personalized, unique, and special that I don't even know where to begin.  Of course it was a family wedding, so those are always awesome in my opinion. : )

I guess I should start with the couple that got married.  The bride was my cousin who is slightly younger than me.  Growing up we were penpals, and it was awesome.  I vaguely remember trying to get her to like the bands Hanson and Sister Hazel - even back then she had good taste and wasn't interested....good call.  Anyway, she found her ideal match.  Their story was so funny and perfect for them.  They technically didn't even date - they were long time friends and they just skipped all that and got was epic.  Her new husband is a genuine person with a heart of gold, and I have no doubt that he will love her all of his days...couldn't of asked for a better addition to the family!  It is always so nice to see couples who are good for each other getting married, makes the wedding sooo much better!

So the ceremony and wedding Mass were lovely, nice music, awesome church, beautiful bride, great homily, happy guests, happy family, teary eyed bride and groom...and then rain.  Yes, rain.  Pretty sure as soon as they said their vows thunder and lighting struck down all around us and the sky went dark.  Fine for an indoor wedding, but the reception was scheduled to be outdoors under a canopy of trees.  Oh boy.  Everyone handled this kind of expected down pour with calmness and ease and the reception was postponed a hour.  No worries....this too shall pass...please.

the path to the reception one day after the wedding

The guests made their way down a muddy path to the water's edge and were pleasantly surprised to find a beautiful clearing with a dance floor and tables set up in a Celtic Cross formation (this family is Irish FYI - the die hard kind).  Even though the ground was wet and muddy the site was still so enchanting.  The lights in the trees, and the sunset were simply magical!  The Bride and Groom made a fashionable entrance on a river boat - it was epic.  Many people commented that they felt like they were characters in Lord of the Rings and that they were just waiting for the Hobbits to arrive. : )

making an entrance!

The guests all took their seats and feasted on a scrumptious meal of many courses!    Scallops and curried lentils, Leafy greens with balsamic dressing and candied walnuts (actually the walnuts didn't even make it on the plates - but rumor has it they were delicious), Lamb and red pepper kebabs, Portobello and tomato skewers, grilled chicken, a fabulous fruit and cheese tray, wine and more wine, and a scrumptious cake made by my little cousin.  The food was even more enjoyable knowing that so many of the friends and family of the bride helped prepare all the dishes.  I was even able to contribute 4 cakes to the feast!  I flew in Thursday night and then Friday morning I made cakes for about 2 hours - still don't know how I made them all so quickly!

Such a quaint farm!  I always love visiting this place : )

"Eat, drink, and be merry"  would pretty much sum up the evening!  The Beatles cover band was perfectly suited for a river's edge wedding, and all the guests danced late into the night.  I even saw a few people fall off the dance floor they were having so much fun. : )

This picture does not do the setting justice - but you get the idea.

Now don't get me wrong, this wedding was not perfect - only the boring ones are - many things went wrong - it rained, the table candles were forgotten, the favor candles were lit instead and some of the table clothes caught on fire...but it didn't matter.  At the end of the day a wedding is such a beautiful celebration of love, that even though all the details might not work out it doesn't matter.  A wedding is such a rare occasion where all the people the bride and groom have loved or been loved by all congregate together before God to show their love and support of 2 wonderful people as they start to share their lives together.  So even though the cake might fall over, or the bride might rip her dress -  no one cares because the space is filled with so much love and happiness all other things become meaningless.

One of the cakes I made for the cake table was a Bourbon Cake.  This cake is my Mom's go-to cake for special occasions and she often made it for our birthdays when we were kids.  It was also the cake that we served at my older sister's wedding.  Now traditionally this recipe uses a box mix and instant pudding - which was great when I ate boxed things, but since I now like to cook boxless my Mom and I played around with the recipe and came up with our own 100% from scratch recipe.  All I can say, is that I am super proud of how this recipe turned out, and predict making it very often

Why is the cake in the shape of the number 1...I have no idea...that is the pattern in which it was eaten.

Bourbon Cake from scratch
(original recipe from Teresa and Dagny Syversen) 

whisk the following dry ingredients together: 

4 1/2 cups flour

3 cups granulated sugar 
4 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. salt (not kosher)

Then add the following to the above dry ingredients and mix until combined:   

3 sticks butter (room temp)  
1 cup sour cream (room temp)
1/3 cup bourbon
3 eggs
6 yolks
4 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Once combined scrape down bowl and mix a few more seconds.  Pour into 2 13x9 greased and parchment lined cake pans or 2 greased bunt pans.

Sprinkle pans with 3 cups chopped pecan pieces
bake 350 for about 25 - 30 min until golden and toothpick comes out clean when inserted into middle of cake. (if in bunt pan it will take about an hour)

Once cake is cooked removed from oven and allow to cool 5-10 minutes in pan.  Carefully remove from pan and flip onto a platter.  Using a sharp knife stab cake with lots of slits being careful not to make large holes or to let the cake fall apart.

In medium saucepan combine the following and bring to a boil, once it boils and the sugar is dissolved, and the butter is melted - remove from heat and add 4 TBSP Bourbon (or rum)

1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water

Slowly pour glaze all over cake, being sure to spread it out and coat the whole cake evenly. 

Make this cake, go to a wedding, listen to this song, and eat your heart out.


What cake looks like after being attacked by a wedding

The wedding reception site morning after - isn't it lovely?

Wedding accomplished.  Now time for a nap on this perfect hammock.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Diva moments and Oatmeal Raisin Bars

I totally just walked out on an Ultimate Frisbee game.  Yes, I am that girl.  I was trying my hardest to play and be in the game...but as usual the boys outnumbered the girls and the girls were not included in most (any) of the plays.  After playing for 20 minutes and calling for the Frisbee, blocking people, and trying to get in the game - and still never being passed too...yeah, I just had it and did the obvious Diva thing and left.  Yeah, I am that awesome.

I had to laugh at myself on the way home as I remembered doing the exact thing numerous times in High school   Some things never change do they?  Boys are still uber competitive.  Girls are still drama queens.  Boys don't remember the important little things.  Girls remember every little detail.  Oh how our pea sized brains work!  

I also decided it was a good time to have a cry as I drove with the windows down and my music blaring.  Really folks, nothing beats having a good cry with the wind in your face...really.  Well... now that I think about it - it really is quite next time you want to call me "boring" or "unadventurous" just remember I cry with the windows down. : )  I highly recommend having a crying session at least every few months.  I thing it is good for the eyes, and I am pretty sure on some level it is detoxing your mind of all those little things that cause you stress and build up in the back of your head.  Pretty sure a scientist somewhere has a proof for this theory.  I think he has an  "a" in his name that should narrow it down.

So after I cried I went home and made myself a not the normal reaction to a diva moment, but we were out of salad was my next obvious choice.  It was an insane salad with cranberries, feta, paprika chicken, and a homemade balsamic dressing.  Yum.  Don't worry though, I finished my meal off with a nice oatmeal raisin bar.  It was perfect.  So perfect I that I want to share the recipe with you.  Go have a cry and then make these bars, it really is comforting to the soul.  : )  In case you forgot how to cry here are some good tips that taught me a lot about good crying.

1.  Listen to this song.  It is the ultimate crying song...because let's be honest - everyone's biggest fear is being alone and unloved.  Listen to this.

P.S. Pretty sure every girl that ever existed has sung this song at the top of their lungs at some point in their lives : )  Come on, admit it.

2.  Listen to this song...more importantly watch this ridiculously cheesy music video.

3. If you forgot how to cry or maybe you never learned watch this lady - she is a professional.  It starts around the 2:30 mark.

4. Then listen to this song and make these oatmeal will feel better, I promise. : )  

Remember, have faith - there is always hope, there is always love, be still and know that you are indeed loved.

P.S.  These bars are wicked easy to make.  No mixer they keep well for a few days, and ship rather nicely.

Oatmeal Raisin Bars
adapted slightly from her Majesty, Martha Stewart

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut (optional)
  • 1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan.  Line with Parchment paper.  

In a large bowl, whisk together butter, sugars, egg, salt, and cinnamon until smooth. Add flour, oats, and raisins; fold in just until combined.

Spread batter in prepared pan, and bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely in pan.  Cut into bars.