Red, White, and Truly Delicious!

Cupcakes…one of life’s biggest little pleasures, no question about it.  Why have they become so wildly popular in recent years?  Well, for starters, cupcakes are always delicious and always comforting.  They’re easy to make, easy to serve, and just the right size for a snack or dessert – or even breakfast, depending on what flavor they are.  (Hey, there’s nothing wrong with a pumpkin spice cupcake for breakfast…pumpkin is a squash, you know.  And have we not all had a morning where we just needed the chocolate – and weren’t afraid to admit it?)
Cupcakes can be elegant enough to serve at a special occasion – like the Red Velvet Cupcakes with Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting I made for a wedding, above.  With just a few adjustments these cupcakes can be whimsical enough for a 5-year old boy’s birthday bash – like the Green Velvet Cupcakes with Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting I made, below.
Same cupcake recipe, same frosting…change the red food color to green, add some cookies and cream brownie crunch and top with a white chocolate candy melt lizard brushed with cool shades of pearl dust …and voila! Enough flavor and fun to send the excitement level through the roof. 
Red Velvet is hard to describe.  It’s not too sweet, it’s not too chocolate, or vanilla or spice, it just is…delicious.  Topped with its best buddy, Cream Cheese Frosting, it needs nothing else.  You might say that Red Velvet and Cream Cheese Frosting are to cupcakes what Batman and Robin are to superheroes – the Dynamic Duo who conquer all. 

It’s definitely okay to eat this cupcake – and have fun baking it, too.  Bon appetit!

Red Velvet Cupcakes* with (Whipped) Cream Cheese Frosting
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups canola oil 
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
3 eggs
2 Tbsp. (1 bottle) red food coloring – add a teaspoon or two more if you want a darker red
1 1/4 tsp. white vinegar
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/8 cup water
Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line two 12 cup muffin tins (or two 6 cup jumbo muffin tins) with paper liners.
In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder.  In a separate bowl, use a stand mixer or hand blender to mix together the oil, sugar and buttermilk.  Add the eggs, food coloring, vinegar, vanilla and water and blend well.  With your mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in three batches and mix just until combined-scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally.
Scoop the batter into the cupcake tins and bake 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcake comes our clean (I start checking them at about 18 minutes).  Remove from the oven and set for 5 minutes on a rack,then remove the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.
Make the frosting:
Cream together:
2 packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Add, a little at a time (so you don’t have lumpy frosting):
4-6 cups powdered sugar
Mix until smooth and creamy.  Frost the cupcakes using an offset spatula and decorate if you wish with sprinkles, edible confetti, etc…
Note: If you plan to pipe the frosting decoratively onto the cupcakes, here’s a cool tip: add
2 Tbsp. heavy whipping cream
Mix it in on low speed, then increase the mixer speed to high and whip until you can see that the frosting is lighter and holds its shape.  You may need to add a little more whipping cream.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes or so before piping onto the cupcakes.  (This is a great little trick that will lighten the frosting without changing the depth of the flavor-I’ve tried it with several frostings and it works wonders!)
*Cupcake recipe adapted from Terri Wahl, owner of Auntie Em’s Kitchen, as seen on an episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay several years ago; the recipe is no longer on the Food Network website.

It’s Okay to Follow Your Dreams!

One of my earliest childhood memories is of standing on a step stool in my grandmother’s kitchen as she helped me make “Smish Smash” (egg salad) for sandwiches.  With her hands over mine on the potato masher, she would say, in a sing song voice, “smish…smash…” with each mash of the eggs.  Being in her kitchen was my favorite place to be, with its comforting smell of brewed coffee acting as a background to the fragrance of whatever else was cooking at the time.  As with so many, my kitchen is a place not just for cooking and eating but also a place to talk, dream, argue a point, watch my kids play and grow, and provide a warm cozy place where I spend time with family and friends – usually over something yummy to eat.
Food brings comfort-the taste and smell of certain dishes can transport you to another time and place.  Food brings nourishment-wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables, delicious desserts and treats feed both body and soul.  Food brings inspiration-change of seasons and holidays bring opportunities (or in my case the compulsion) to alter our menus, making ordinary days special and celebrations memorable.  Food brings happiness-to the person who is eating it and to the person who made it – one of my greatest joys is hearing someone say they love what I’ve made, or that it reminds them of someone or something cherished in their life.
Coming from a family with many cooks, I’ve been cooking and baking for as long as I can remember, so it isn’t surprising that cooking is soothing to my soul.  Over the years it has become more so; the challenges of daily life, while they certainly offer opportunities to grow as a person, also leave us looking for simple things that bring a sense of comfort and peace to our respective worlds.  For me, that is cooking, especially baking.  
In today’s world there is no shortage of conflicting messages of excess and deprivation.  Huge restaurant portions and all you can eat buffets fight with diet books of every kind that tell you to what (and what not) to eat, when to eat it, and how much.  Magazines are filled with pictures of models that exemplify a standard of physical perfection that few can hope to attain; those same magazines tell us to be ourselves and be proud of who we are.  In our careers we are encouraged to have a healthy balance between work and life, but only over time do we realize how hard we have to fight to make that happen.  And we get so caught up in the every day routine of all that we have to do-that it’s easy to lose sight of our dreams and feel like we don’t have the time to pursue them.  It’s no wonder that we are tired and feel lost 
as to how to find balance and a sense of peace and well-being.  And how can we even begin to provide that for others if we don’t have it ourselves?
This is why I want to tell you that it’s okay to eat the cupcake!  Not the whole dozen at one sitting, but in moderation?  Of course!  And I’m not just talking about cupcakes, as I’m sure you’ve probably guessed.  That statement is just my metaphor for taking care of yourself.  And that’s what I will write about here-the many ways in which it is absolutely okay to take care of yourself.  In taking good care of yourself, you become happier and healthier-physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally-and when you are happier and healthier, so are the people in your life. 
In writing my blog, I’m excited to follow one of my dreams-sharing my thoughts and recipes (mostly for sweets, so be forewarned!), my experiences and cooking tips with others.  I hope that they will resonate with and inspire you-to cook and share with those you love, to take care of and find out about yourself 
as a person, to live life to the fullest, and to share your thoughts with me.
So here’s to learning from each other.  Don’t just eat the cupcake-savor it!  Bon appetit!