Monthly Archives: January 2015

Mini Chocolate Cupcakes

Someone once read me a quote that describes time as a whirlwind, swirling faster as you move away from the center out towards the edges.  Time moves slowest at the center of the whirlwind and this is full of people trying desperately to slow down or hold onto time, mostly young lovers and the parents of young children.  As Little Man turns four both Dave and I find ourselves manically flip-flopping between being excited for what this new year will bring (aka let’s please get out of the threes… please…) and sappy nostalgia for the baby that Little Man used to be.  Sob!

Right now the excitement for four is winning out, and I can’t wait to see what this new year will bring.  To start his fourth year out right we wanted Little Man to be able to bring a special dessert to his day care, but still have it be something we can feel good about him eating.  I haven’t written about it yet, but much of last year has been a struggle to figure out if Little Man is dairy/lactose intolerant or not.  Many of the recipes that I have been working on recently are dairy-free versions of family favorites.  In many cases I’ve been able to simply swap out cow’s milk for almond or coconut milk.  In a few examples, the transition hasn’t been that easy.  The main thing for this birthday treat, however, was that we wanted it to be something that Little Man would be hugely excited for and that he and his “classmates” would have no idea that the treat they were eating was good for them (or at least not as bad as the refined flour and white sugar versions can be).

These mini muffin/cup cakes are delicious treats on their own.

These mini muffin/cup cakes are delicious treats on their own.

Last year Little Man and I brought mini-muffin sized versions of my Banana Chocolate Muffins, which were also one of my first posted recipes for this site (more nostalgia…).  This year I wanted to bring it up a notch and make it more cupcakey.  The first step was to revamp my previous recipe making it nearly dairy-free.  I say “nearly dairy free” since it does have semisweet chocolate chips and those contain milk.  If you want truly dairy free you can simply omit the chocolate chips, or use a dairy-free/vegan alternative.  I haven’t found one that I’m happy with yet, so standard semi-sweet chocolate chips won out.  These muffins, mini or otherwise, are delicious on their own and are treats that I feel good about Little Man eating.

But what really sets these mini muffin/cupcakes apart is the frosting.  Oh, the frosting…  This frosting is the first thing that I’ve every come across that deserves the phrase “stupid good!”  It’s amazing.  Four ingredients.  30 second to whip it up.  The hardest thing is not devouring the entire bowl before frosting your cupcakes or cake.  Seriously… This stuff is ridiculous, and I cannot take a single iota of credit for it.  The frosting recipe comes from an amazing blog called Chocolate Covered Katie.  I’ve included a link to the Vegan Chocolate Frosting Shots here, as well as in the main recipe below.  For Dave and I, we were happy leaving it just barely sweetened with a little powdered sugar, but for the kiddos I added probably about 1/2 cup total of powdered sugar to take the edge off of the bittersweet chocolate goodness that this creates.  This “frosting” could be served as a chocolate mousse in a fancy coupe and no one would be the wiser.  Seriously, it’s that good.  I doubled the recipe to make enough frosting to cover these cupcakes.

My sous chef had a great time playing "baker," though it took a bit of persuasion to convince him that wearing an apron was a good idea.

My sous chef had a great time playing “baker,” though it took a bit of persuasion to convince him that wearing an apron was a good idea.

OK, back to the awesome cupcakes…  Since these cupcakes were for Little Man’s day care buddies, it only seemed fitting that he help me make them.  You’ll notice that in the pictures from this recipe are, shall we say… a bit more messy than usual.  They often have ingredients all over the counter, with Little Man’s grubby mits sticking out of the bowl at any given time.  We had a blast.  While I “controlled” the situation enough to make sure that the end product was delicious, I wanted this to be super fun for Little Man.  He got to taste the ingredients and saw that flour did not taste good good, while brown sugar was quite tasty.  I measured, he dumped, and a good time was had by all.  By the time we were spooning batter into the muffin cups, he was pretty done with the whole procedure, but that was fine since the motor skills of filling little muffin cups cleanly is still a bit beyond him.

In terms of planning, I made the cup cakes two days in advance, the frosting the night before, and then frosted and decorated the cakes in the morning before day care.  You can certainly frost them the night before, but you would need to either leave them uncovered in the refrigerator or keep them in a container that does not touch their tops.  The frosting stays soft to the touch, so plastic wrap won’t be an option.  Your hardest hurdle to clear will be not gobbling them up before sending them off to school.

Little Man got to help sprinkle the baby planets over the frosted cup cakes.

Little Man got to help sprinkle the baby planets over the frosted cup cakes.

Mini Chocolate Cupcakes (Dairy Free)
Ingredients
:
4 very ripe bananas
¼ cup canola oil
¼ cup silken tofu
2 eggs
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
3 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF and line a mini muffin pan with paper liners. A regular muffin pan can be used, but the cupcakes will spread out a bit rather than growing tall.

    I don't own a mini muffin pan, so we simply used a regular sized pan with mini muffin cup papers.  Little Man had a blast dropping single cups into each hole in the pan.  Of course this task was made more fun with a generous mug of Auntie Erin's Hot Cocoa, hence the straw in the photo.

    I don’t own a mini muffin pan, so we simply used a regular sized pan with mini muffin cup papers. Little Man had a blast dropping single cups into each hole in the pan. Of course this task was made more fun with a generous mug of Auntie Erin’s Hot Cocoa, hence the straw in the photo.

  2. In a large bowl add the bananas, oil, tofu, eggs and brown sugar. Beat them on medium high with electric beaters (or a stand mixer) until well combined. There may still be tiny flecks of tofu sprinkled throughout, but that’s fine. It will melt right in.
    Wet "more or less" ingredients.

    Wet “more or less” ingredients.

    Not the most photogenic image, but no matter how fast I whisked I couldn't get the tofu to incorporate like I wanted it to.  So I switched to the electric beaters, and they did the job.

    Not the most photogenic image, but no matter how fast I whisked I couldn’t get the tofu to incorporate like I wanted it to. So I switched to the electric beaters, and they did the job.

  3. In a medium bowl add the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda. Whisk the ingredients together to combine.

    Dry ingredients, mostly in the bowl.

    Dry ingredients, mostly in the bowl.

  4. Gently add the dry ingredients to the wet, being careful to not over mix the batter. Fold in the chocolate chips if using.

    The rich, chocolate batter.  Make it truly dairy free by omitting the chocolate chips or using a vegan substitute.

    The rich, chocolate batter. Make it truly dairy free by omitting the chocolate chips or using a vegan substitute.

  5. Spoon a couple of teaspoons of batter into the prepared muffin pans.

    This was Little Man's pan that he filled.  If I had a small cookie scoop for this, it might have been easier for him.  As it was, the two teaspoons were a fun, artistic adventure.

    This was Little Man’s pan that he filled. If I had a small cookie scoop for this, it might have been easier for him. As it was, the two teaspoons were a fun, artistic adventure.

  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

    Once on they were on the rack, it became difficult to to convince Little Man that they weren't there as immediate snack treats.

    Once on they were on the rack, it became difficult to to convince Little Man that they weren’t there as immediate snack treats.

  7. Decorations: Frost the cupcakes with Vegan Chocolate Frosting, then decorate as whimsy dictates. Sprinkles are always fun, or you could use sugared flowers for an upscale look. Little Man’s birthday party this year is space-themed, so he chose tiny sphere sprinkles since they look like “baby planets.”

Click here for a printable version of the Mini Chocolate Cupcakes (Dairy Free) recipe.

Now we're talking...

Now we’re talking…

 

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Hummus Update

We are still recovering from what was likely the worst hummus misfortune since recorded time, and for an archaeologist that is saying something.  Ugh!  Between the two of us and a typo in my online hummus recipe, we created a monstrosity that could not be fixed no matter how hard we tried, no matter what spices we threw at it, no matter how much encouragement Little Man gave us.  Hopeless, yet memorable.  Oh, how memorable…

So I’ve updated the online Marie’s Hummus recipe, and all should be good now.  If you tried it before and it didn’t taste right (sorry!), I’ve fixed the recipe.  As for our household, we’ll be giving the hummus another shot tomorrow after I replenish my lemon juice supply.  Also, as a note to anyone interested, if you run out of lemon juice do NOT try to replace it with cider vinegar.  Like I said, it was memorable…  😉

Hunting Dinosaurs on a Perfect Winter Morning

You are hiking in a cedar forest, the sun steaming the sodden ground where ever it breaks through the trees, periodically pausing to listen for a whistled tune.  The whistle leads you to your prey, because you are hunting dinosaurs.  One dinosaur in fact, a piccolodactyl.  Not familiar with that species?  Then you haven’t been watching Little Einsteins where in one episode the kids imagine dinosaur musical instruments, and a baby piccolodactyl gets separated from its mommy.  Thus began our dinosaur hunt through our neighbors forest.

Carving a path through the wilderness in the Enchanted Forest.

Carving a path through the wilderness in the Enchanted Forest.

This was one of those perfect Spring mornings (though it’s no where near Springtime yet, and I’m ever in wait for the snow dump that we’ll get before true Spring hits) when the sun was out and everything was steaming.  The road.  The trees.  The masses of sodden leaves and conifer needles covering the forest floor.  Our breath.  Little Man and I couldn’t stand the thought of staying inside one moment longer than absolutely necessary, so once we were ready for our public we dashed outside with his balance bike.  Then we coasted down to the original farm house on our street where the owners (they are relative newbies like ourselves, having lived here only 6 months longer than we have) have put in tremendous labor to create an accessible wilderness in their forest land.  Their grandson is Little Man’s age, and they miss the sound of little kids running around and have granted us access to their forest (aka Enchanted Forest) whenever we like.  They don’t know it yet, but there are some gooey cinnamon rolls coming their way soon as a partial “thank you.”

The dog leading Little Man on the dinosaur hunt.

The dog leading Little Man on the dinosaur hunt.

It was to their house and forest that we set out for on our steaming morning.  The dog trailed us contentedly, and Little Man constantly called to her to run with us down the paths of the steaming forest. We take turns whistling like a piccolodactyl and hiding behind mammoth cedars while the other searched for the missing dinosaur.  I should say that I was whistling while Little Man did more of a hooting call.  In the end likely more dinosaur-like than my whistling.

A pond that Little Man wills to be a river.

A pond that Little Man wills to be a river.

After much running, hiding and whistling/hooting, it was eventually time to coast back to our house for lunch.  Before lunch could happen, we needed to visit Little Man’s Ladies to gather eggs, and it was on the way to the chicken coop when Little Man and I noticed that once again the farm was living up to the name I gave this blog (see original post).  The sheep were out.  Although this time it was not “sheep” plural, but singular and tiny.  One of the smallest lambs had crawled out under the gate and could not get back under to get to his momma.  Little Man held the egg basket while I cornered and caught the little lamb, then he got to pet the soft black and white head, cooing “sweet little budgie.”

Pooh Bear under arm, ready to return home for lunch.

Pooh Bear under arm, ready to return home for lunch.

On the whole this has been a lovely farm and wilderness morning.  Hiking through the Enchanted Forest hunting for dinosaurs, snacking by the pond on a Lorax stump, rescuing and cuddling a lamb, gathering eggs and tossing food to “the ladies,” tossing a few winter garden scraps to the pigs, and finally lunching on the bounty of our labors (a couple of the eggs made their way into some fried rice for lunch).  All in all, a lovely winter/spring day.

Fluffy Wheat Bread and That Darn Cat

While I absolutely love my Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread, there are times when I want something that is a little lighter, a little fluffier.  That’s where this delicious, fluffy, whole wheat bread comes in.  This recipe is adapted from one that was taught to me by a friend.  It makes three loaves or rounds of bread, and I like to bake one off immediately while freezing two dough portions to thaw and bake later.  Ever since I started making the Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread and this Fluffy Whole Wheat Bread, I end up making a batch of dough every few weeks and haven’t bought bread from the store in about a year.  Yes, that means that every few weeks I go through the labor of making my own bread dough, but it’s something that I love to do and since Santa brought me a stand mixer last year, the active labor part is quite short.  It always has the feeling of play as I shape the loaves, and it makes the house smell great to boot.

I do have one word of warning… be careful where you put your shaped loaves to rise.  Just this New Years Eve I set a beautiful round of Fluffy Whole Wheat Bread dough in front of our wood burning stove to rise.  Dave was making an amazing surf and turf dinner that included mussels in a butter and white wine sauce, so I was making bread to soak up all of that delicious mussel broth.  When I went back downstairs an hour later to get the risen dough, I was greeted with the sight of a very comfortable and pleased-with-herself cat grinning at me as she lounged on top of my beautiful bread.  Doh!  She was not pleased when she was unceremoniously removed from her bready pillow, but at least the plastic wrap and towel covering kept the dough more or less safe.  It was a bit squished with a cat imprint on one side, however.  Dave found this amusing.  Lesson learned.

Fluffy Wheat Bread
A soft, fluffy, whole wheat loaf that is perfect for sandwiches, toast, or just fresh with butter. This recipe makes three loaves, so I like to bake one off immediately and freeze the other two portions to use later.
Yield: 3 loaves

Proofing Yeast Ingredients:
¾ cup water
1 tsp. honey
2 packages of yeast (or 4 ½ tsp.)
Bread Dough Ingredients:
8 cups whole wheat bread flour
1 tbsp. salt
2 cups water
1 egg
2 tbsp. honey
¼ cup canola oil

Directions:

  1. Combine the water and honey from the proofing yeast ingredients in a microwave safe bowl and heat in the microwave for 30 seconds. Stir in the yeast and set the mixture aside to proof for 10 minutes. The yeast should get nice and foamy. If it does not get foamy then you likely have a bad batch of yeast and need to start over.

    Happy, bubbly yeast.

  2. Combine the whole wheat bread flour and the salt in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and stir the salt into the flour briefly. Salt can inhibit yeast growth, but it also gives bread great flavor. So we want to distribute the salt so that it doesn’t hit the yeast in one big clump.
  3. Add the rest of the bread dough ingredients to the flour and salt mixture, and then add the proofed yeast. Stir to combine.  If using a stand mixer, once the ingredients are nearly combined (you may need to turn off the mixer and scrape down the bowl once or twice) switch to mixing speed 2 and “knead” the dough for 6 minutes. Be sure to follow manufacturer’s guidelines for processing dough in your mixer. If making the bread by hand, scrape the thoroughly mixed of the bowl out onto a lightly floured board and knead by hand for 15 minutes. Dough will likely be slightly sticky, but avoid adding extra flour as much as possible.
    Almost all of the ingredients...

    Almost all of the ingredients…

    Everything into the pool.

    Everything into the pool.

    Switching to Speed 2 to actually knead the dough.

    Switching to Speed 2 to actually knead the dough.

    While I like to knead dough by hand, when I'm making the dough regularly I really like the speed of my stand mixer.

    While I like to knead dough by hand, when I’m making the dough regularly I really like the speed of my stand mixer.

  4. Once the dough has been thoroughly kneaded, place it in a large, warm bowl that has been lightly coated with oil. Flip the dough ball over and cover the bowl lightly with plastic wrap. Then cover this with a clean towel and place it somewhere warm to proof. This should take 45 minutes to an hour, or as long as it takes for the dough to double in size.
    Lightly oil the bowl.  In cold weather I like to heat the bowl in warm water before oiling it and proofing the dough.

    In cold weather I like to heat the bowl in warm water before oiling it and proofing the dough.

    Place the dough in the oiled bowl and then flip it to keep the top moist during proofing.

    Place the dough in the oiled bowl and then flip it to keep the top moist during proofing.

    Tuck the dough in nicely with a loose layer of plastic wrap and then a clean kitchen towel.

    Tuck the dough in nicely with a loose layer of plastic wrap and then a clean kitchen towel.

    Happy, risen dough.

    Happy, risen dough.

  5. Once the dough has doubled, gently press down on it to release the built up gasses. There’s no need to punch it, just press it down and let it rest for 8 minutes before continuing.

    There's absolutely no reason to get violent with your dough.  Just give it a good bit of pressure to release some of the built up gasses, then let it rest again.

    There’s absolutely no reason to get violent with your dough. Just give it a good bit of pressure to release some of the built up gasses, then let it rest again.

  6. After the dough has rested divide it into three roughly equal pieces. On a lightly floured board shape one piece into a roughly 8×6 inch rectangle. Tightly roll the rectangle into a long cylinder, tucking the ends in as you go. Seal the cylinder along its base so that no seams are visible. Set the cylinder aside and repeat this step with the remaining two pieces of dough.
    No need to get fussy with exact measurements here.  Just divy it up and keep moving forward.

    No need to get fussy with exact measurements here. Just divy it up and keep moving forward.

    Shaping the dough.  Start with a rectangle, then roll it up into a cylinder.

    Shaping the dough. Start with a rectangle, then roll it up into a cylinder.

    Creating the loaves.

    Creating the loaves.

  7. To freeze for future use: Wrap each piece of dough in plastic wrap and then place them into large, resealable plastic bags. Seal the bag and place it on a flat surface in the freezer. The dough can be frozen for 2-3 months. Remove the dough from the freezer and thaw in a well-buttered loaf pan for a few hours or overnight and then proceed to baking instructions.
    Wrap the cylinders up loosely in plastic wrap.  They'll continue to expand as they freeze, so if you wrap them too tightly they will burst.

    Wrap the cylinders up loosely in plastic wrap. They’ll continue to expand as they freeze, so if you wrap them too tightly they will burst.

    Getting the dough ready to freeze.  When you are ready to bake them off, just let them defrost overnight to do their second rise.  Be patient and give them time.  The dough's cold, so needs some time get nice and fluffy.

    Getting the dough ready to freeze. When you are ready to bake them off, just let them defrost overnight to do their second rise. Be patient and give them time. The dough’s cold, so needs some time get nice and fluffy.

  8. To bake immediately: Place each piece of dough into its own oiled loaf pan. Cover the pan(s) loosely with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel. Set the pan(s) aside to let the dough rise for about 45 minutes to an hour. Proceed to baking instructions.
    IMG_3070

    Nicely risen dough, without any squished marks from being sat on by a cat.  Like I said, lesson learned.

    Nicely risen dough, without any squished marks from being sat on by a cat. Like I said, lesson learned.

    IMG_3076

  9. Baking Instructions: Preheat your oven to 350ºF and bake the bread for 20 minutes. The bread is done when it is brown on top and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. You can also check its internal temperature to ensure that it has reached 190ºF. Cool on wire racks and enjoy!
    This bread is just calling for butter and jam.

    This bread is just calling for butter and jam.

    This loaf was destined for a dinner of tuna and smashed avocado sandwiches.  They were perfect.

    This loaf was destined for a dinner of tuna and smashed avocado sandwiches. They were perfect.

Click here for a printable version of the Fluffy Wheat Bread recipe.