Barefoot in my kitchen

Cupcakes

I think I’m happiest when baking.

Though I’ve spent plenty of time in the kitchen post-college (when I realized I’d eventually be responsible for feeding myself), homeownership — and our new kitchen — have inspired me to really get serious and creative about meals. On a budget.

When we can get our act together ahead of time, Spencer and I love making big pots of soup in the slow cooker (this one is simmering right now!) for leftovers throughout the week. We have our containers dutifully stacked in the fridge — and I’ve gotten really good about adding fresh fruit and veggies into the mix, too. Our obsession with the farmers’ market continues, and I can often be found at a cutting board slicing cantaloupe or strawberries.

That’s all great, of course . . . and healthy. But my real passion? Baking. The eternal struggle. Last night I was in the kitchen until 8:30 — three whole hours after getting home from work — cutting up steak for the aforementioned soup today, creating another batch of the cucumber dill salad, shucking corn, cleaning counters. And we made dinner before all that, so we had some serious dirty dish action going on.

But it was fine. Good, even. Now that the house is coming together, I’m working on tackling the residual boxes we have hanging around — and that meant finally unloading my “baking” box. Said box is full of my cake mixes, sprinkles, baking soda, powdered sugar. So many cupcake liners for every conceivable occasion it’s insane (side note, me: don’t ever buy them again).

I’m someone who craves organization, and having each room of the house in a state of disarray was definitely not good for my anxiety. You’d think I would have, you know, done more by now, then, but . . . well, I guess I’ve just felt overwhelmed. I know people move and unpack every single day, but they’re apparently stronger of will than I am. I’ve found the whole process scary, but everything seems to be settling down — and settling into place.

So I baked last night. Blueberry muffins. I made birthday cupcakes two weeks ago, so it wasn’t my inaugural baked-good-new-kitchen moment — but it was the first time I had my supplies organized in their own cupboard. The first time I felt calm and totally relaxed in the new place.

I was barefoot — in my own kitchen. White T-shirt, Ingrid Michaelson playing softly, answering the door to a kind neighbor who came by with a beautiful plant for us. Spatula in one hand, eggs in the other. Mixing. Folding. Filling.

The golden sun sank beyond our trees.

And I was . . . home.


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Glazed lemon olive oil muffins: tart, sweet, addictive

Lemon olive oil muffins


Though I was never much of a breakfast eater until I joined Weight Watchers (and came to understand the morning meal really is important), I’ve always been a fan of the humble muffin. And, you know, baked goods in general, but especially before work . . . when I’m hungry and really need a boost.

Like so many, I’ve been working to integrate healthier versions of favorite foods into our diet. Typical muffins and pastries are too much of a splurge for yours truly, but I love scouring the Internet for tasty, lower-calorie baked goods so I can continue bumbling around in the kitchen and make my husband super glad he married me.

Enter Nosh My Way’s Lemon-scented Olive Oil Muffins, a dense and almost cake-like treat that can operate as both dessert and/or coffee accompaniment. With a fresh citrus punch in the batter and the glaze, these muffins are a delicious way to say “good morning.”

Or “good evening.” Or just, um, “hello.” Whatever works for you.

The glaze is the real highlight — don’t skimp on the good stuff. You could even poke holes in the cooling muffins to allow even more of that delicious sugary mixture to infiltrate, just like I do with the Key lime cupcakes.

Apparently I have a thing for fruit-flavored treats?

Eh, there are worse things.


Lemon muffins


Lemon Olive Oil Muffins

Recipe from Nosh My Way

Ingredients for muffin:
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vanilla-flavored Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 Tablespoons 2% milk
Fresh juice of half a lemon (or about two tablespoons)
1 egg
1 egg white

Ingredients for glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Grated lemon rind (optional)

Directions:
Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk. Make a well in center of mixture.

In a separate bowl, combine yogurt, lemon rind, olive oil, milk, lemon juice, egg and egg white in a small bowl; stir with a whisk until well combined.

Add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist.

Spoon batter evenly into 10 muffin cups coated with cooking spray or cupcake liners.

Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Remove from pans immediately. Cool completely on a wire rack.

To prepare glaze, combine powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon rind and 3 tablespoons juice in a small bowl; stir with a whisk until smooth. Spread about 1 teaspoon glaze over each muffin; let stand 5 minutes or until set. Garnish with lemon rind, if desired.

Yield: 8-10 muffins.
Weight Watchers PointsPlus value without glaze: 3; with glaze: 4


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Crunchy peanut butter cookies

Peanut butter cookies 1

After spending a few hours watching cooking shows while snowed in last week, I knew it would only be a matter of time until I attached myself to my oven.

I mean, you can’t watch delicious baked goods being prepared all afternoon and not have a serious craving for some. And because our home is a mostly-healthy-food-only zone, I knew if I wanted something buttery and sugary? Well, I’d have to make it myself.

In one of my weaker moments, I’d printed a recipe for Fifteen Spatulas’ crazy good peanut butter M&M cookies — but lacked the crucial candy component. I decided to just bake the cookies themselves because OMG peanut butter and ignore the candy completely . . . and then I remembered the Heath toffee pieces hiding in the pantry.

If you like peanut butter (yes) and love cookies (double yes), these are the treat for you. I had to distract myself to avoid getting seconds or thirds after they came out of the oven, especially because we were sequestered in our tiny apartment where everything smelled like cookies.

And it was all my fault.

My final version looked nothing like Joanne’s beauties, and . . . I’m not sure why. Maybe because I made them too large? And they spread too thin, getting extra crunchy? I don’t know. But regardless of appearances, they were delicious. And that’s all that really matters, right?


Crunchy peanut butter cookies

Recipe adapted from Fifteen Spatulas

Cookies 3


Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 large egg
1 cup Heath toffee pieces (optional)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and sea salt. Set aside.

Place the butter, sugar and brown sugar in a large bowl and cream together with a hand mixer for approximately two minutes, until the mixture looks fluffy. Add the peanut butter and egg, mixing until incorporated. Add in the dry ingredients and mix until the flour has almost disappeared. Fold in the Heath toffee pieces, if using, with a spatula.

Using a large cookie scoop, portion out mounds of the cookie dough on your prepared baking sheet, leaving 2 inches between each cookie. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until cookies are golden brown. Cool and dig in!


Peanut butter dough

Cookies 2


Glazed eggnog scones — keeping Christmas alive

Glazed scones 2


So. It’s late January.

I guess now isn’t the best time to start chatting about eggnog . . . but if you’re anything like me, you’ll happily have a glass any time of year.

Although, well, maybe not in summer. Because . . . well, for obvious reasons.

But it’s still cold, we have snow on the ground, Christmas isn’t quite a distant memory — so why not whip up a baked treat calling forth the great flavors of the season?

Or, you know, just pin this recipe for later. It’s cool.

If you’ll allow me for just a moment, I’d like to toot my own horn — because I made scones. By myself. For the first time ever . . . and with my new Kitchen Aid.

My grandma and I share a love of the crumbly, delicious, buttery goodness that is a fresh-baked scone. We visit a local tea room every fall for her birthday, and the cap to our wonderful meal? Well, you guessed it.

Gram and I have often talked about making our own at home, but I’ve been intimidated. I’m not sure why, exactly; I mean, I love to bake, and I generally find that if you follow the directions in a recipe to a T, well . . . you’ll get pretty positive results.

Spence and I bought a half gallon of eggnog in December because ’twas the season, but I knew I couldn’t be left alone with that much fatty, awesomeness just taunting me from the fridge. Coming across a recipe for eggnog scones seemed like destiny, and I set to work on Christmas Eve.

I’ll admit it wasn’t looking good at first, friends. The dough from the bowl of the mixer (also, eh, had to learn to use the mixer) was sticky, clumpy, weird. Decidedly not scone-like. I couldn’t visualize how this wet mess was going to become a tender, flaky pastry, but . . .

It did.

Like a miracle.

A Christmas miracle.


Baked scones 1


The trick? Pre-cutting the dough on the cookie sheet so you can deepen those triangle cuts later. Once I saw the whole thing coming together, I clapped my hands with glee . . . and was so, so incredibly proud. Like, more proud than I’ve ever been of a baked good in my life.

I shared a bunch with Gram to commemorate my accomplishment, then saved four to share with my husband and mom- and pop-in-law on Christmas Day with our coffee.

Whether you go with eggnog or another of the many fantastic varieties floating around online, I’d recommend giving scones a try.

You may just surprise yourself.


Glazed scones 1


Glazed eggnog scones

Recipe from Shugary Sweets

Ingredients:
For the scones:
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp baking powder
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, cubed, softened
1 large egg
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup eggnog
1 tsp rum extract
1/2 tsp nutmeg

For the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
2-3 Tbsp eggnog
1/4 tsp nutmeg


Directions:
1. For the scones, combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Using the beater blade of an electric mixer, add in butter and mix until it resembles coarse crumbs.

2. Add in egg, greek yogurt, eggnog, rum extract and nutmeg. Combine completely.

3. On a large baking sheet with parchment paper, shape dough into a large rectangle using your hands. Dust hands and dough with flour to help with sticking.

4. Press your rectangle to 8 1/2 inch x 6 1/2 inch – 1/2inch thick. Using a pizza cutter, slice in half horizontally. Then cut it into thirds vertically (you will have 6 rectangles). Cut each rectangle in half to make 2 triangles. You will be left with a total of 12 triangles. Don’t separate them on the baking sheet yet.

5. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and re-cut your triangles. Separate carefully and return to oven for an additional 10 minutes. Remove and cool completely before applying glaze.

6. For the glaze, whisk together sugar, eggnog and nutmeg. Add more/less eggnog for desired consistency. Spoon glaze over each scone and allow to set, about 20 minutes. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.


Baked scones 2


Two ingredients. One delicious (pumpkin) cupcake.

photo


So.

Sometimes I’m all about crazy ingredient combinations. I relish creating something delicious from scratch; I become utterly absorbed in the hours-long process of sifting, combining, stirring and frosting. I wait by the oven. I allow things to cool. I pace around, reading and watching the timer, peeking into illuminated ovens and waiting. Waiting.

And sometimes, I just want to eat a cupcake.

I found this recipe by accident on Monday (thanks, Pinterest!), and it turned out to be perfect timing. I’d just moved the day before, meaning most of what I owned was still in trash bags or boxes in the living room. I was tired, grumpy; I was still feeling all kinds of out of sorts. I wasn’t used to baking anywhere than in my parents’ kitchen, which is always well-stocked and overflowing.

And ours, well . . . we’re working on it.

But never fear! I only needed two ingredients — yes, seriously, two ingredients — for these chocolate pumpkin cupcakes.

You ready?

Okay.

A boxed chocolate cake mix. (I used devil’s food.)

And a can of pumpkin.

No oil. No eggs.

Just chocolate cake mix and a can of pumpkin.

Pre-heat oven to 350. Beat pumpkin and cake mix until very well combined; batter will be super-duper thick. Fill cupcake liners about 2/3 full (batter will rise significantly). Bake for 20-25 minutes (I only needed 20), until toothpick inserted in center of a cupcake comes out clean.

Allow to cool. Frost as desired (I used store-bought cream cheese frosting). Garnish with pumpkin spice or sprinkles or whatever your heart desires. Rake in the compliments, feel like a total rock star.


Cupcakes cooling


And if you want to get fancy, follow The Picky Palate’s additional recipe for pumpkin spice brown butter frosting, which sounds amazing.

Or don’t, because you’re busy frolicking in fall leaves and drinking apple cider and listening to praise for your chocolate pumpkin cupcakes — all without mentioning how insanely easy they are to make.

Totally your call.

Also, I wound up bringing these to a “work potluck” yesterday that actually turned out to be . . . a surprise bridal shower for yours truly! And I may or may not have received a KitchenAid stand mixer from my coworkers. Um. I’m still kind of in shock.

And they totally have ulterior motives with that present, as they pointed out themselves . . . like bringing in more cupcakes like these.

Done and done.


A traditional ‘five day cake’

5 Day Cake


This cake.

I didn’t make it — I merely sampled its delicious, coconut-y awesomeness at a friend’s recent bridal shower. Her groom-to-be has an insanely sweet grandma from North Carolina (by way of England), and she brought this beauty with her from the south. (Along with the remnants of her British accent. Which was awesome.)

Before I’d taken a bite, Colleen promised I would adore this cake. I hemmed and hawed about eating sweets because, you know, weight loss and such, and dessert — any dessert — is a gateway drug. But in the end . . . I just couldn’t resist. And after she finished telling me about this cake’s prominent role in their family, to push a piece away felt like an insult.

And this cake got me thinking about traditions. Food plays such a prominent role in my own family memories — and is integral to our holidays. While one grandmother is famous for her amazing cookies and homemade peanut butter cups, the other is well-known for her pies and birthday cakes. I can close my eyes and taste them all.

While we favor certain dishes, Bethany and Mike’s families have their own coveted, longed-for dishes. Called “Five Day Cake” because it actually sits in your fridge for five days (!), I found a similar recipe online . . . but I had the foresight to ask Colleen about hers before we left. Her lovely daughter-in-law hosted the shower, and she pulled her treasured recipe collection off a shelf. A copy of this one was right on top — which means it was fate.

So if you’d like to start your own family tradition (or just make a delicious dessert), this one’s for you. Just hope you can wait five days before sampling it.


Five Day Cake

Recipe from Colleen G.

Cake

Ingredients for frosting:
• 2 cups sugar
• 2 8 oz. sour cream
• 2 9 oz. frozen coconut

Ingredients for cake:
• 1 Duncan Hines Butter Golden cake mix
• 4 eggs
• 1/8 cup sugar
• 1 cup water

Mix sugar, sour cream and frozen coconut together for frosting. Put in airtight container. Refrigerate overnight.

Combine dry cake mix with 4 eggs, 1/8 cup sugar and 1 cup water, mixing until well blended. Pour into two 9-inch baking pans and bake according to package instructions. (Cake should be lightly browned, and toothpick inserted in center should come out clean.)

When cool, slice each layer in half. Frost the four individual layers with refrigerated coconut mixture, then stack and frost with remaining coconut mixture. Keep in fridge for five days, using toothpicks to support layers, if necessary. Serve and enjoy!


Pumpkin pie cupcakes: like the pie. But a cupcake.


Hi, I’m Megan. Have we met?

No?

Well, do you follow me on Twitter? I’m not self-promoting, friends; I’m asking out of real curiosity. Because if you do, you already know everything I’m about to tell you. In which case you’d probably prefer to skip down to the recipe or otherwise disembark from write meg! for the weekend. I’ll miss you, but I understand.

I have a thing about pumpkin. I love it, I want it, I need it. As soon as September arrives, I’m in line at Starbucks to buy a $5 drink neither my wallet or waistline need — and I don’t care. Repeat throughout the fall.

Lattes aren’t enough for me, though. I need to have pumpkin candles, pumpkin scones, pumpkin bread. I want pumpkins embroidered on tea towels in my bathroom and sitting in my boyfriend’s apartment window, where he will stare at them and scorn me for “girly-ing” his manly, masculine, rough-and-tumble bachelor pad.

If he thinks my minimalist fall decorations are bad? Oh, the fun he has in store. (Don’t tell him.)

In the pumpkin vein, I decided to do some baking last weekend — and I spotted this recipe on my fall-themed Pinterest board (yep, totally have one of those). It’s simple, delicious and — yes — tastes exactly like pumpkin pie. Just in convenient cupcake form.

It’s best consumed chilled and with a huge dollop of whipped cream. I sprinkled cinnamon on mine because, well . . . everything is better with cinnamon. Hope you agree.


Pumpkin pie cupcakes

Recipe adapted from Baking Bites

Ingredients:
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 15-oz can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup half and half (or evaporated milk)

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a baking tins with paper or silicone liners.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin puree, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla and half and half until well combined. Add in dry ingredients and whisk until no streaks of flour remain and batter is smooth.
4. Fill each muffin cup approximately 2/3 full.
5. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool cupcakes in pan. They will sink as they cool.
6. Chill cupcakes before serving. Top with whipped cream and cinnamon. Yield: 12-16 cupcakes.



For more fun cooking- and food-themed posts, don’t miss Beth Fish Reads’ Weekend Cooking!