Friday, May 8, 2015

Coconut Cupcakes

Last weekend I celebrated my 35th birthday. Every year, I get excited for my birthday. I am not too concerned (yet) about my age so I look forward to my birthday. It's nice to be spoiled and wished 'Happy Birthday' by everyone. It's also a great excuse for me to bake myself some cupcakes. Each year I choose exactly the kind I want. I don't worry if John or the kids don't like the flavor. They're MY birthday cupcakes, after all.

This year, my cupcake flavor of choice was coconut. In the fall, I was reminded of how much I like coconut when I had a slice of coconut icebox cake at Five Loaves CafĂ© in Charleston, SC. If you ever get a chance to eat there, do it. Everything my friend and I had was awesome and it has a real cute atmosphere.

Upon returning from my trip, I started looking for a coconut cake recipe. Most of them were just a white cake with coconut sprinkled on the frosting. Blah! Finally, I found a recipe in an old Cooks Illustrated I had been hanging on to. The recipe is actually for a layer cake, but I wanted to try translating it into a cupcake. You can find the original recipe here, but I altered it slightly, and halved the recipe to make a smaller batch of filled cupcakes. I definitely want to make the original layer cake at some point, but I don't need a whole coconut cake sitting around my house.

Coconut Cupcakes
3 egg whites + 1/2 egg yolk (separate eggs, reserve one yolk and spoon half of yolk into bowl)
1/4 C. + 2 Tbsp. cream of coconut (shake can and stir very well)
2 Tbsp. water
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. coconut extract
1 1/8 C. sifted cake flour
1/2 C. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/8 tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces, softened but still cool

Buttercream Frosting:
2 egg whites
1/2 sugar
Dash salt
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, each stick cut into 6 pieces, softened but still cool
2 Tbsp. cream of coconut
1/2 tsp. coconut extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

For cupcakes: Heat oven to 325. Put 12 cupcake liners in a muffin tin. Beat egg whites and yolk in a glass measuring cup with fork to combine. Add cream of coconut, water, vanilla, and coconut extract and beat with fork until thoroughly combined.
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. mix on lowest speed to combine, about 30 seconds. With mixer still running on lowest speed, add butter 1 piece at a time, then beat until mixture resembles coarse meal, with butter bits no larger than small peas, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes. With mixer running, add 1/2 cup of the liquid. Increase speed to medium high and beat until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds. With mixer still running, add remaining liquid in steady stream (this should take about 8 seconds). Stop mixer and scrape down bowl with rubber spatula, then beat at medium high speed to combine, about 15 seconds. (Batter will be thick.)
Fill cupcake liners 1/2 to 2/3 full using a ice cream scoop. Tap pan on counter to level off cupcakes and release air bubbles. Bake until deep golden brown, cupcakes begin to pull away from sides of pan, and toothpick inserted into center of cupcake comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove cupcakes from tin and cool completely on wire rack.

For frosting: Combine whites, sugar and salt in bowl of stand mixer; set bowl over saucepan containing 1 1/2 inches of barely simmering water. Whisk constantly until mixture is opaque and warm to the touch and registers about 120 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 2 minutes.
Transfer bowl to mixer and beat whites on high speed with whisk attachment until barely warm (about 80 degrees) and white are glossy and sticky, about 7 minutes. Reduce speed to medium high and beat in butter 1 piece at a time. Beat in cream of coconut, coconut and vanilla extracts. Stop mixer and scrape bottom and sides of bowl. Continue to beat at medium high speed until well combined, about 1 minute. Cut center of cupcake out using an apple corer (don't go all the way to the bottom of the cupcake). Fill space with frosting. Pipe frosting onto tops of cupcakes and top with shredded coconut.

If you're interested, you can check out my past birthday cupcakes:
-Vanilla Chai Cupcake
-Key Lime Cupcake

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Turkey Meatball Gyros

Before I moved to the Chicago area, I had never heard of a gyro. They are pretty common on restaurant menus here-at hot dog/Italian beef places and family-style restaurants. While you can purchase traditional gyro kits at the store, I started making a version at home using meatballs. It is a meal that pleases the whole family.

This is a meal that I make from scratch, but you could purchase any of the main ingredients premade if you'd like.

Turkey Meatballs
(you can also substitute hamburger, ground chicken, or venison)
1 1/2 lb. ground turkey
2 slices wheat bread
1 egg
1 Tbsp. dried minced onion
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. Garlic powder
1/4 tsp. pepper

Grind bread into bread crumbs in food processor or blender. Mix all ingredients and form into small meatballs. Bake in 375° oven for 30-40 minutes, turning once during baking. Alternately you can cook them in a pan on the stove top.

Easy Pita Bread
from (Carol's Easy Pita Bread)
3 to 3 1/2 C. flour (I use whole wheat, but all purpose or a combo is fine)
2 1/4 tsp. quick rising yeast (1 packet)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/4 C. hot water

Combine 2 C. of flour, yeast, salt, and water in a large bowl. Beat well about 1 min. Mix in remaining flour, using just enough to make a soft, sticky dough. Turn out on floured board and continue to knead for 5 min. Divide into 8 balls. Roll out each ball to about 1/4 in thick and six inches in diameter. Place on very lightly greased cookie sheet. Let rise in warm place for 25 to 35 minutes. Bake at 450 for 4 min, turn over, bake for 4 min more or until lightly browned. Wrap immediately in dish towel for 3 to 4 minutes.

Cucumber Sauce (aka Tzatziki Sauce)
1/2 C. plain Greek yogurt
1/2 C. cucumber, peeled, diced small
3 T. red onion, finely diced (or 1 tsp. onion powder)
1/2 tsp. lemon pepper
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
Optional: Fresh Dill (Traditional Tzatziki has dill, but we prefer it without dill)

Mix together all ingredients. Can be made ahead of time and chilled until ready to serve.

Serve your gyros with sliced tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers. I like to split the meatballs in half, but you could leave them whole. Sometimes the kids like to eat everything separate. Other times they make it into a "sandwich" too.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

A View From The Garden

This week, many of our thoughts turn to the events of nearly 2,000 years ago. We are reminded of the sacrifice Christ made, of the gift that God gave to each of us. For me, I am also reminded of that this sacrifice and gift should make a difference in my life.

The night before Jesus' crucifixion he went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray*. He knew the time of his death was nearing, and he knew that for that reason he had been sent to Earth. Still, he seemed to struggle with it. He prayed, "Father,...take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done." (Luke 22:43 NIV) We all know that things come our way in life that we don't like. We may find ourselves asking God to take 'this cup' from us, to save us the hurt of going through something hard. But just like Christ, we must realize that God has a bigger plan for our lives. It might not make sense to us, now or ever, but

I've been listening to a song about that very night in the garden. It's called "The Garden" by Needtobreathe. It's told from Jesus' perspective, what he might have been thinking and feeling based on what the Bible tells us. What I like is that the song then turns to us. It talks about how all we do should be a testimony to God's will for our lives. My life should tell a story of how God is working in me, it should be a demonstration of His love, and an offering back to him. And His will, not mine, should be done.

Let the songs I sing, bring joy to you
Let the words I say, profess my love
Let the notes I choose be your favorite tune
Father, let my heart be after you

You can see Bear and Bo Rinehart perform this song live here.

*You can read the full text in the Bible in Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 32:32-42, or Luke 22:39-46

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Six Years

Last week we celebrated Levi's sixth birthday. How time flies when you're having fun! I know all moms say it, but it doesn't seem like it was six years ago that I became a mom. We hadn't found out the gender so the moment he was born was a big moment of surprise. I ended up having a C-section and as the doctor pulled him out she asked John, "Dad, what is it." He hesitated and then announced, "It's a boy!" We were overjoyed! My little boy has turned into an easy-going sweetheart and I am so happy we can take some time to celebrate him.

Levi chose a pirate theme for his parties this year. We had a family/friend party and then a party with a few of his classmates.

These pirates were ready to party!
We made sure all our guests could join in the pirate fun too, with bandanas and eye patches.
Cake time! John's dad once again helped me create an amazing cake. This time it was a pirate ship. I have to say it was one of my favorite creations so far.
Levi was born on Spring Break, so his birthday usually falls during break. This makes it the perfect time for a little birthday playdate with some of his school friends. We played games and made pizzas.

For his friend party, we made a cookie cake since Levi's favorite treat is a chocolate chip cookie. He loved it!
It has been a joy to be Levi's mom. I have watched him grow and change over the past six years. He makes me laugh daily and surprises me with his knowledge and wit. He is loving and generous with his hugs and kisses. I can't wait to see what God has planned for the little boy he sent me six years ago.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Practical Place to Sew: My Sewing Storage

I dream of a craft room full of color, beautifully arranged fabrics, adorable vintage items repurposed into clever storage solutions, and oozing with inspiration. Don't we all? Well, at least all of the crafters/sewers/scrapbookers do. All the rest of you, maybe you dream of some other kinds of room. I wouldn't know.

I have a Pinterest board with lots of great eye candy, but the reality is, I don't currently have a craft room. The other reality is, I probably won't have a craft room in the near future. Or maybe ever. I highly doubt John would agree to transform our formal living room into a craft room for me like her husband did, but a girl can dream.

So, I make do with what I've got. Right now, I do most of my sewing at the dining room table and messier crafts at my kitchen counter. The good thing about this is that I'm right near all the action. My kids are often playing while I'm working and creating so they can be right by me if they want. I am free to step into the kitchen to get supper going or check on it. Part of me doesn't like the idea of crafting in an out-of-the-way corner of the house. I like being in the mix of things.

That being said, there are obvious downsides to my current set-up. First of all, most of my sewing supplies and fabric is stored in our second floor guest room/office. When I want to sew, I have to gather my materials and bring them down. Sometimes this means a little, but when I'm sewing for a craft sale or beefing up my inventory for my Etsy shop, this means I'm hauling down a lot. Second, it means that when I'm in the midst of sewing, we have a permanent mess in the dining room. This isn't always that big of a deal since we have an eat-in kitchen we use, but still, who likes a mess that never seems to end? And then there's the eventual clean-up. It's back to the first problem...just in reverse. After carrying all the stuff back up to the guest room/office, I often just let it sit on the floor or bed to be put away someday later. Not a good thing either.

I had previously read Callie's post about organizing for sewing at your kitchen table. More recently, I was inspired by Meg's craft cabinet in her dining room. See those sewing machines tucked inside her lovely green cabinet? I thought...why can't I do something like that?

Currently, I have a hulk of a buffet in my dining room which stores all the usual suspects. I decided to do some reorganizing to see if I could make space in there for my sewing machine, my sewing box, and thread. I knew I could easily tuck my cutting mats behind the buffet. That way, I would only have to bring down my fabric when it was time to sew. It would also make it easier when I wanted to do a quick alteration or fix to a piece of clothing.

Lo and behold, with not much effort, I accomplished just that! Don't you love it when organizing/reorganizing is quick and easy and oh-so-satisfying? Makes me want to keep going, finding new ways to organize things so our house functions in a way that works for how we live.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Eat Your Veggies...For Breakfast

Last May I wanted to lose a little extra weight so I decided to step it up with my workouts and put more effort into eating right. The first thing I had to do was just start eating LESS. Portion size definitely matters when you are trying to manage your weight. Then I started focusing on healthier breakfasts that would leave me fuller longer and getting in plenty of veggies during the day. Eggs became my new best friend for breakfast. I didn't do anything fancy, just cooked up two eggs each morning. I ate more salads for lunch and chose fruits and veggies as snacks over carbs. I will say, my taste buds are evolving and I am trying foods that I thought I didn't like only to find that they are very good.

In the fall, I did a few clean eating challenges. This made me search for even more healthy recipes for my daily meals. One recipe I tried during my challenge was for sausage egg cups. Basically, you just cook scrambled eggs in muffin tins, adding in turkey breakfast sausage, red peppers, and onion. They were great and got me thinking about adding vegetables to my eggs in the morning.

Throughout the process I have tracked my eating with the My Fitness Pal app. This recipe popped up on my feed and I had to try it. It is a winner! It will be in my regular rotation of breakfasts.

Brussels Sprouts and Bacon Hash with Eggs

1 slice of bacon, chopped small
7-9 Brussels sprouts (trim off bottoms, discard), chopped small
1 Tbsp. chopped nuts, optional (I used pecans because I have them on hand)
1 to 2 eggs
Olive oil to coat pan
Salt/Pepper to taste

In a small pan, cook bacon. When edges begin to crisp and brown, add Brussels sprouts. Stir to mix and sauté until some of Brussels sprouts begin to brown. (This will leave you with a nice mix-some of them will be softer and others will still be a bit crunchy.) Stir in chopped nuts and then place "hash" on your plate. Coat your pan with olive oil, as needed and add egg(s). Cook to your liking. I prefer to cook it medium so the yolk is still a little runny. Place egg on top of "hash". Enjoy and give yourself a pat on the back for already getting in a serving of vegetables!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Crowd-Pleasing Treat

It's that time of year again...Super Bowl time. Do you watch the game or the commercials? I like some of both, though it usually becomes a time for me to catch up with friends. Super Bowl parties usually mean lots of yummy food. I made an easy treat that is always a hit--caramel puff corn. It has been a family favorite for a long time. We usually make it at Christmas and it never lasts long. It also makes a great treat to fill goody bags.

My kids love puff corn so adding caramel to it only makes it even better. It's an easy recipe and is gluten free (just double check your the labels on your ingredients).

Caramel Puff Corn
1 8 oz. bag of puffcorn (plain or butter flavor)
1 C. butter (not margarine)
1 C. brown sugar
1/2 C. light corn syrup
1 tsp. baking soda
Pinch of salt

Put puff corn into a large roaster pan or large aluminum bowl. In a 2 qt. sauce pan melt together butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and a pinch of salt. Immediately after melted, cook for exactly 2 min. Add baking soda (it will foam up). Pour caramel mixture over puff corn and stir until mixed well. Place in 250 degree oven for 45 min. Stir well, ever 10 minutes. Remove from oven, pour onto wax paper and break apart. Allow to cool. You can save the puff corn bag and store caramel puff corn in it or store it in an airtight container.

Do not double, rather make multiple batches.