Cocoa Cupcakes

Spring gatherings always necessitate a wow! dessert and the bigger the crowd, the more obvious it becomes that the perfect solution is cupcakes.  Cupcakes are easy to make, can be decorated in a variety of ways (or not at all), and allow the eaters to remain mobile (and social).

This particular cupcake is rich and dense, chocolaty, and has a tight crumb.  It strikes the perfect balance of sea salt, cocoa, vanilla and coffee.  If you ever ate Drake’s Cakes Devil Dogs as a kid, these cupcakes will take you right back to that special place in your memories (hopefully you eat it a little slower though, and savor it with a cup of coffee or a nice glass of red wine).

The options for toppings are endless, but primary candidates include fresh whipped heavy cream, whipped coconut cream, or a light buttercream.  You could also get really crazy and go for a peanut butter frosting for over-the-top decadence.  For my latest function I topped about half of the batch with coconut cream and left half plain.

Ingredients

1 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose gluten-free flour

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup vegetable shortening

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon finely ground coffee

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup flax milk

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350° and line a 12-cup muffin pan with baking cups.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt and baking soda into a medium sized bowl.

In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), beat the shortening and sugar until light and fluffy, then sprinkle in the coffee granules. With the mixer on a medium speed add the eggs one at a time, beating until each  is fully incorporated before adding the next. Add the vanilla. At low speed, alternately beat in the dry ingredients and the flax milk.

Use a number 2 scoop to transfer the batter into the baking cups. Bake the cupcakes for 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool for five minutes, then remove them from the muffin tin and transfer to a cooling rack.

Lemon-lavender muffins

From the edge of winter, my mind is already on the brink of spring (which officially kicks off in 16 days- not that I’m counting or anything) and all of its sunshine, happy flowers, and fabulous flavor trends.  Top of my thoughts this week has been lavender and creating these refreshing floral muffins that pop with the brightness of lemon in the background.  They are moist, and just sweet enough to soothe a craving without being over-the-top.  I hope that you enjoy them as much as I do!

Because the baked muffins take a dip into a butter bath, cupcake liners may be tough to use, especially if they peek above the crown of the muffin.

Ingredients
Muffins
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons lavender buds (rolled between your hands to release their flavor)
Zest of one lemon
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Juice of one lemon
1/2 cup whole milk
½ cup plain kefir (or plain yogurt or sour cream)
Topping
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon lavender buds (rolled between your hands to release their flavor and break up some of the buds)
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter, melted (in a small rice bowl)

Alternate Topping
½ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon lavender buds (rolled between your hands to release their flavor and break up some of the buds)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

 

Directions
Muffins
Preheat oven to 375° and spritz the cups of a standard 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick spray. In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and lemon zest and set aside. Measure the milk and kefir together in a measuring cup meant for liquids and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar, and 2t lavender buds in a large bowl until they are light and fluffy. Using a low mixer speed, beat in egg, then add the vanilla and lemon juice. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with milk/kefir.

Divide the batter evenly among muffin cups (I found that a number 2 scoop worked perfectly for this) and bake, rotating the pan halfway through, until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Let the muffins cool for five minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack.

Topping
Mix the sugar and 1t lavender buds in a small rice bowl. Working one at a time, dip the tops of muffins in melted butter, then roll them in lavender sugar.

Alternate Topping
Mix the sugar and lemon juice in a small rice bowl until it forms a thick but pourable/dippable consistency. Working one at a time, dip the tops of muffins in the glaze, then sprinkle lavender bits over them.

Store the finished muffins in a tightly sealed container at room temperature. Depending on room temperature and humidity levels these will keep for 4-5 days (if you manage not to consume them all before then).

How to soak, cook and freeze dried red kidney beans

I work a 9-5 type of job so Saturday & Sunday are my days off and I tend to use them for food prep.  This includes the soaking and cooking of dried beans which tend to take more time than I have to spend on dinner on any given week day.  I like to buy more beans than are called for in whatever recipe I’m tackling, cook them all, and freeze the unused portion for another meal the following week.  This way I get twice the bang for my single buck of time.

For kidney beans I buy about a pound of dried beans, put them in a container twice as big as the bean content, cover them with water, put the lid on, and pop them in the fridge overnight.  When it’s time to cook, strain the beans out of the soaking water (as it has oligosaccharides in it which were released by the beans during soaking and can lead to digestive discomfort).  Place the strained beans into a pan at least twice the volume of the beans and add about ten cups of water.  Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer and put on a timer for 40 minutes.  At that point try one bean for doneness.  If there’s still a tiny bit of crunch to it, let them continue to cook for a minute or two (or five- whatever it takes).

When the beans are cooked to my liking I shut the heat off and add about 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt, give them a stir, and let them sit for just a couple more minutes to absorb some of that flavor.  Next, strain out the cooking water (make sure to check your recipe to see if you need to reserve that flavorful H2O) and place the cooked beans in storage containers in the fridge or freezer.  This method results in a firm (I hate mushy beans!) bean with a hint of salt that is great in soups or stews or even just to snack on.

If you are going to eat the beans as a side dish where they are the star of the show, rather than in a soup or stew where there are lots of other flavors coming together, consider cooking them in stock rather than in water.

Miso-ginger wild rice with carrots, cabbage, daikon and turnip

New Year’s Day provided us with a freebie day off in the middle of the week.  Besides random household chores, I decided that the best use of this time would be to cook a few dishes that we planned to eat in the coming week so that we buy ourselves time in the evenings for the next few days by having dinner already prepared.  The bigger benefit being that these dishes are ones that get better with time- the kind that soak up dressings, and age with grace.  A soup, some roasted vegetables, a dressed rice dish….

Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 cups uncooked wild rice
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 4 medium carrots, quartered and sliced thin
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced thin
  • 1 leek, sliced thin
  • 1 3-inch piece daikon, halved and cut into thin strips
  • 1 small purple-top turnip, peeled, halved, and cut into thin half-circles
  • 1 cup thinly cut cabbage
  • 4 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower (or other mild) oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
  • 1 tablespoon barley miso (we found a great 3-year dark handcrafted right in Conway, MA by South River.  Organic too!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Directions

  • Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a medium pot, add the rice and return it to a boil
  • Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid is absorbed and rice is cooked through, about 50 minutes
  • Meanwhile, bring a large fry pan up to a medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of sunflower oil and all of the sesame oil, then toss in the carrots, celery, leek, daikon and turnip and get a nice brown on them.  If they begin to get too dark, turn down the heat and cook them until they’re al dente
  • When the veggies are cooked, add in the cabbage.  It’s cut nice and thin so it should soften up quickly
  • While that’s cooking, in a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, garlic, remaining tablespoon of sunflower oil, ginger, miso and crushed red pepper until blended
  • When the rice is cooked, add it to the pan with the vegetables (or, if you’re out of space in the pan you can do this in a large serving or mixing bowl) and pour in the dressing, stirring to incorporate all ingredients
Miso-ginger wild rice with carrots, cabbage, daikon and turnip

Miso-ginger wild rice with carrots, cabbage, daikon and turnip

Carrot Cake Cookies

One recent weekend Neil and I were invited to a small gathering where the theme of the night was soup.  The basic idea being that the hostess makes two or three varieties of soup to choose from, someone brings bread, someone else brings handheld nibbles, and we eat, drink, and are merry, then run outside into the cold New England evening to watch the annual Torchlight Parade (several towns trim their fire trucks out in Christmas lights and parade down the main thoroughfare).

Since bread had been accounted for, as had corn muffins, southern style red beans & rice, and three varieties of soup, I decided to bring cookies.  While at lunch that afternoon Neil commented “I wish that there were such a thing as carrot cake cookies.” and it was decided that was what we’d make.  What I did to create this recipe was look at existing carrot cake cookie recipes, then cross some of my favorite elements with our family recipe for carrot cake which includes the likes of shredded coconut and fresh pineapple.  The result was a chewy cookie with a creamy and not-too-sweet filling that was very well received by party-goers.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup coarsely grated carrots (2 medium)
  • 1/2 cup raisins (I like to use a variety: Thompson, red flame, and golden)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/4 cup fresh pineapple, diced (see note if using canned pineapple)
  • 1/8 cup coconut flour
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • zest of 1/2 a lemon

Directions

  • Preheat your oven to 375°F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper
  • Whisk together flour, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, baking soda, and salt in a bowl
  • Beat together butter, sugars, egg, and vanilla until pale and fluffy
  • Mix in carrots, and raisins, shredded coconut and pineapple at a low speed, then add the flour mixture and beat until just combined
  • At this point the dough will be a little too wet to scoop, so add in the 1/8 cup of coconut flour a little at a time until the dough just tightens up
  • Drop walnut-sized balls of dough for each cookie cookie 2 inches apart on baking sheets and bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, about 12 minutes
  • Pull the baking sheets out and flatten each cookie with a fork in a manner similar to that performed on a peanut butter cookie, then pop them back in the oven for 1 minute to finish
  • Cool cookie sheets on racks for a  minute, then transfer the cookies to racks to cool completely
  • While the cookies are baking, blend the cream cheese, honey and lemon zest until smooth
  • Sandwich the flat sides of the cookies together with a generous helping of cream cheese filling

*Note: if using canned pineapple, your dough will be more wet.  To offset this, add up to 1/4 cup coconut flour at the end to tighten it up to the appropriate consistency.

You could also add walnuts to the cookie dough for depth of flavor.  A great alternative to cream cheese would be a soft goat cheese.  Feel free to omit the lemon zest if it’s not to your liking.

 

Carrot Cake Cookie

Carrot Cake Cookie