Saturday, April 30, 2011

iheartfaces - Soft and Sweet

Soft and Sweet is the perfect theme for Ella.  The youngest of four, Ella has always been my sweet dessert.  She takes her time. She enjoys life.  She observes intelligently.  She loves wholeheartedly. This week she came home from kindergarten and said, "Mom, every day is a great day, isn't it?"  When I look at life through Ella's eyes, each day always is.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Banana-Pecan (Muffin) Cupcakes

When my freezer looks like THIS (see below!), I am thankful that I am assigned to baked goods for the spring Bible Study brunch!  Another moment of gratitude comes after realizing that, in my quest to bake through Martha Stewart's Cupcakes book, I have yet to try the Banana-Pecan Cupcakes!

For this purpose, however, we are not going to call them cupcakes.  What self-respecting southern lady would eat a cupcake for breakfast -  in public, no less?  Instead, we shall call them muffins!  

In an attempt to make these dainty little cakes a little more muffin-like, I made a few changes to the recipe.  I substituted white whole wheat flour for Cake flour, canola oil for butter and reduced the sugar by half.

To half of the batter, I added Trader Joe's Sweet and Spicy Pecans.  I started chopping them with my knife, but ended up running them through my parmesan cheese grater for a finer chop. 

These pecans happened to be much more spicy than sweet.  If you've ever had a Mexican chocolate cake with a slight hint of cinnamon and cayenne, the effect would be similar.  The flavor is mild with the initial bite, but the heat grows gradually on your palate.  Fortunately, the nut lovers seemed to also be spice lovers!  If you're not a spice lover, use plain toasted pecans or leave them out all together.

The batter came together beautifully - 

- and baked to a tender golden brown.

Even a muffin can have a little dollop of cream cheese frosting, can't it?

Fruit, Nuts and Cheese..... The breakfast of champions!

Banana-Pecan (Muffin) Cupcakes
Loosely Adapted by Simple Girl from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes

3 cups white whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 very ripe large bananas, mashed (about 2 cups)
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup agave nectar
3 large eggs
1 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped (plain or spicy) - optional

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.  Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.  In another bowl, beat bananas until smooth.  Add buttermilk and vanilla.  Add oil and brown sugar.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
2.  Reduce speed to low.  Gradually add flour mixture, beating until just combined.  Stir in pecans by hand.
3.  Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each 3/4 full.  Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the centers comes out clean, about 16 minutes.  Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes.
4.  To finish, pipe a small dollop of cream cheese frosting on top.

Cream Cheese Frosting

12 ounces cream cheese
1 stick butter
1 pound confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt

With a mixer, cream the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla and salt.  Continue to mix.  Gradually add the sugar and beat until fluffy.  MMMMM!!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

iheartfaces | Pets

Perhaps one of the most challenging things I have ever tried to photograph -  a Winter White Dwarf Hamster named Fuzzy.  Only three inches long and perpetual motion, she was exactly what Anna wanted for her 10th birthday.  When we went to the pet store, Fuzzy crawled right out of her tightly knit litter and into Anna's hands.  It's been love ever since.  Can you feel it?  Fuzzy, don't be offended that Grandpa thinks of you like your kinfolk that ate the crackers out of his pantry.  Although it's your lot in life to be misunderstood, you'll always have a friend in Anna.

Do I need to play Michael Jackson's 1972 hit song?  OK, here it is........

Ben, the two of us need look no more
We both found what we were looking for  
With my friend to call my own I'll never be alone 
And you my friend will see, you've got a friend in me

Ben, you're always running here and there
You feel you're not wanted anywhere
If you ever look behind and don't like what you find
There's something you should know, you've got a place to go

Ben, most people would turn you away
I don't listen to a word they say
They don't see you as I do I wish they would try to
I'm sure they'd think again if they had a friend like Ben
Like Ben, like Ben

Easter Egg Cupcakes {MSC}

These decorated cupcakes, from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes Book make a beautiful addition to traditional dyed Easter eggs!  Made with Royal Icing, the cupcake designs are fun and simple to create.

  • Make Royal Icing and divide among bowls.  Tint each a different color using gel-paste food color, like Wiltons.
  • For wavy line cupcakes, outline the top of a cupcake with one color of icing, and then pipe more icing to flood (or fill) the inside.   Working quickly, pipe, four or five parallel lines in a different color.  Use a toothpick to draw lines perpendicular to the piped ones, alternating between dragging downward and upward.

  • For a swirled effect, Outline cupcake with one color, and pipe squiggly lines inside the outline.  Fill in spaces with another color icing to completely cover.  Use a toothpick to swirl the colors.
  • Allow icing to set.

Try different colors and use this same technique for any season or even cookies!  
The applications are limitless!

Royal Icing

1 pound (4 cups) powdered sugar
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon meringue powder
Scant 1/2 cup water

With an electric mixer on low speed, beat all ingredients until smooth.  If icing is too thick, add more water, a little at a time, beating until icing holds a ribbon on the surface for a few seconds when the beater is lifted.  If the icing is too thin, continue mixing 2 to 3 minutes more.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bunny Cupcakes at Gigi's

I was doing a little cupcake shopping today at  Gigi's Cupcakes when I ran across these adorable Bunnies!  
Little pink and white fondant ears top yellow cupcakes with pink frosting swirls.

Turn them around and you can see the cute mini-marshmallow cotton tail!

Not in the mood for bunnies?  How about Key Lime?

Or Hunka Chunka Banana Love?  
Their menu changes daily.

What's not to love about a cupcake?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Clyde Butcher: Photographer of the Everglades

The great thing about being on vacation is that you can be driving through the middle of nowhere, like through the Everglades in Florida - a place where there is nothing but a two-lane road and swamps and alligators and not even a McDonald's - and out of nowhere, and I mean nowhere, there is a sanctuary filled with art.  As a parent, you can decide that even though the kids think that this is just a mindless beach vacation, you will take this moment to engage their imagination and expand their repertoire of creativity by stopping and viewing the timeless photographs of Clyde Butcher, Photographer of the Everglades.

Like Ansel Adams, Clyde Butcher uses his art form of photography as "inspiration for others to work together to save nature's places of spiritual sanctuary for future generations."

"Like the work of Ansel Adams, Clyde Butcher's remarkable photographs give us an access to nature we rarely see or experience.  They not only reveal the intimate and majestic beauty of the Everglades - and the need to save the fragile environment - they also remind us of the abiding kinship we mortals share when we work together to preserve these magnificent places.  Butcher's art is a national treasure."  Ken Burns, Emmy-Winning filmmaker.

Now, here is a man passionate about his work.  If you look at the photo above, you will notice that Mr. Butcher is standing waist deep in the swamp.

Now, look below.  OK, now look more closely.  Can you see the alligator in the upper left hand corner?

This is the swamp in which he chooses to stand.  Call me crazy, but I am just not willing to dedicate myself THAT much to my art!

After viewing Mr. Butcher's photos in his middle-of-nowhere gallery, you can exit out the back, take a swamp walk, and try a few photos of your own!

Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore!

If the view ahead doesn't please you.....

Just look up!

Clyde Butcher's images are truly stunning.

One can't help but admire not only the photographer, but the work of The Creator, Himself.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

iheartfaces | Wind

Sometimes wind speaks fiercely, sending us cowering in our basements, 
like the tornadoes that swept through the south last night.  
Sometimes, however, wind whispers softly like a light spring breeze -
 a still, small voice that refreshes our soul.  

Oh, what a difference a day makes.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Peep Cupcakes

Are these too cute or what?  I posted these adorable Peep Cupcakes last year, but thought they were so cute, they deserved an encore.  They are easy to make and the perfect crowd pleaser for any Easter celebration or class party.

Simply bake your favorite cupcake in some festive liners.  Buy Peeps in your favorite colors and color some frosting to match.  Canned frosting is fine, but a homemade cream cheese or buttercream is soooooo much better!

Put the frosting in a gallon Ziploc bag.  Snip a hole in a lower corner approximately 3/8 inch across.  Pipe the frosting onto the cupcake in swirls.  Sprinkle with matching colored sprinkles for a sparkly, but uniform look.

Set the Peeps on top for a festive cupcake that will garner Oohs and Ahhs from both the young and young at heart!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Chai-Tea Mini Cupcakes {MSC}

I have to admit, I'm partial to chocolate.  There's something about spring, however, that lures me to something lighter.  A change of season gives rise to a change of palate.  These Chai Tea Mini Cupcakes were a surprising mix of comfort and delight.

The recipe starts by steeping tea bags in milk.  I veered from the recipe slightly and used two bags of Tazo Chai.  (**Note to self:  Buy Plain Black Tea before Dad comes to visit!)  To a fairly standard cake batter, came a mix of flavorful and fragrant spices:  cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom.  Opening up the jar of cardamom brought back instant memories of my Norwegian grandma.  Norwegians don't use many spices, but cardamom is frequently one of them!  I omitted the ground black pepper (don't really like it) as well as the ground ginger (MIA).  I figured I was basically covered in both areas with the spicy Tazo Chai tea that I used.

The Condensed Milk Icing was an intriguing alternative to a standard glaze.  I had to sit and let the flavor linger on my tongue for a moment to absorb the unexpected taste.

I tried both spreading the icing - 

And piping little berets.

Either way, this is a cupcake that I will definitely make again!

To check out the other bakers, visit The Martha Stewart Cupcakes Club

Chai-Tea Mini Cupcakes
Martha Stewart's Cupcakes

3/4 cup milk
2 bags black tea (such as Ceylon)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon course salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground crdamom
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of freshly grated nutment
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup packed dark-brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line mini muffin tins with paper liners.  Bring milk to a simmer over medium heat.  Remove from heat; add tea bags, and let steep, covered, 15 minutes.  Remove tea bags, squeezing the bags over the pan, and discard.  Allow milk to cool completely.  Whisk together both flours, baking powder, salt, pepper and spices.
  2. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and brown sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping sides of bowl as needed.  Reduce speed to low.  Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of tea-infused milk, and beating until just combined after each.
  3. Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full.  Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until tops spring back when lightly touched and are pale golden, 10 - 12 minutes.  Turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.  Cupcakes can be frozen up to 1 month in airtight containers.
  4. To finish, dip top of each cupcake in icing, then turn over quickly, and let set.  Cupcakes are best eaten the day they are glazed;  keep at room temperature until ready to serve.

Condensed-Milk Icing

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk (7 ounces)
Pinch of coarse salt
3/4 cup confectioners sugar, sifted

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, whisk together butter, condensed milk, and salt until smooth.  Whisk in confectioners' sugar 1/4 cup at a time until combined, then whisk on high speed until thick and smooth.  Use immediately.

I'm also linking up with Tidy Mom!