Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Chocolate Cupcake with Peppermint Buttercream

These cupcakes are my new favorite holiday treat, and they're perfect for sharing.

Last Tuesday night in the midst of paper writing season, I came to a point where I couldn't read or write another word about Thoreau or feminist theory. I needed a productive excuse to escape to my kitchen for a few hours. I knew I couldn't call my mother for suggestions because she would have told me that what I really should have been doing was writing not baking, which was the truth, but I've always been a little stubborn. Without my normal mom-sultation, I considered a couple of different holiday treats and possible flavor combinations, and I decided to try my hand at creating cupcakes that combine two of my favorite sweets. I adapted this cupcake recipe from a chocolate cake recipe, changing the butter to oil and tweaking a few small things, and I simply substituted peppermint extract for vanilla in our regular buttercream recipe and added crushed candy canes to the top for taste and decoration.

Chocolate Cupcakes (yield: 24)
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2  eggs
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fill 24 muffin tins with cupcake papers.

Whisk dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

Add wet ingredients to the dry and mix thoroughly.

Fill cupcake papers in tins 2/3 full. Bake for 15 minutes or until a toothpick/fork comes out clean from the center of a cupcake.

Remove cupcakes from tins and let them cool completely before frosting.

Peppermint Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons half and half (could substitute milk)
3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
crushed candy canes for topping (optional)

I love frosting, but I think a little goes a long way with the sweetness of buttercream. Therefore, this buttercream recipe makes just enough to frost 24 cupcakes by spreading a layer of frosting on each rather than using a piping bag, so if you like to pipe on your icing, I suggest doubling the recipe.

After the butter has softened, cream butter in a mixing bowl until fluffy. I use a handheld mixer when I'm at school, and this takes me a good five minutes of mixing. So if you're using a handheld, don't give up on your butter; just switch hands.

When the butter is fluffy, add the powdered sugar a cup at a time, mixing on a low setting to keep from decorating your counter tops with lovely, but sticky sugar. When all 4 cups have been thoroughly incorporated, add the half and half a tablespoon at a time until the consistency is spreadable (or preferred consistency for the method of frosting you desire). Then, add the peppermint extract, mixing thoroughly to incorporate the flavor evenly throughout the frosting.

Frost cupcakes and sprinkle crushed candy canes on top of each cupcake.

I took these cupcakes to choir practice the next night as a treat after our last practice before Lessons and Carols, and when we arrived I realized that some of the candy cane color had bled onto the white icing. This did not affect the taste, only the appearance, but because of this color transfer, I suggest that you serve the cupcakes the same day that you make them.Overall, I think the few hours of writing that were sacrificed proved well worth it to my sanity and the taste buds of St. Paul's choir members.

If you try this recipe over the holidays, please drop back by and let me know how it went.

Happy baking and Merry Christmas!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

One Simple Goal Accomplished: Two Wheel Traveling

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about 4 Simple Goals {Before 2013}
The third goal on my list reads: Ride my bicycle to campus more often than I take my car.
 I can gladly report that I've succeeded at this goal.
And I love it. 

 Breathing fresh air and getting my heart pumping is a much better start to the day compared to sitting in traffic and trying to find a parking spot, and it's actually faster to take my bike.

I pack simply and lightly. My little basket holds a small notebook, a few books, my phone and wallet, a collapsable tote, and even a strategically placed coffee cup. (Although I might be pushing the 17 pound weight limit now that we're into the very large second volume of the Norton Early American Literature anthology, but that's yet to be seen.)

Bicycling makes me more confident, y'all. Those hills aren't as steep and those cars aren't as intimidating as they used to be. I grew up in the completely flat Mississippi Delta, never having to change a gear to pedal up hill, so I am weary of even the smallest of hills and plan routes around them. (Ask Steve about the first time he made me pedal up a hill in Columbus.) But one day I got the courage to go a faster route up a small hill, and now it's a breeze. I'm also more comfortable in street traffic. A lot of students at UA ride their bikes on the sidewalks, but I'd rather not run the risk of hitting someone who is walking or getting in the way of someone who needs full access of the sidewalk. So it's out into the street for me. Thankfully, drivers around Tuscaloosa seem to be pretty aware and considerate of us folks on two wheels.

Riding while wearing a skirt is much easier than I imagined. I had horrible {possibly illogical} visions of my skirt blowing up over my head or getting caught and ruined in the chain, but after seeing the women on Call the Midwife ride on cobblestones in nurse's uniform skirts and finally deciding I couldn't keep saving my favorite skirts for the rainy days of driving, I mustered up the courage to try it out, and much to my surprise, it was no big deal. 

Here's a photo of my second successful skirt/Schwinn combo:

thanks to Collyn for snapping this one

Happy pedaling! 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffin

In our little half of the duplex, we currently have pumpkin beer, pumpkin spice coffee syrup, and now pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. You might say that Collyn and I have a little bit of an obsession. But, who doesn't love pumpkin goodness, especially in October? 

pumpkin chocolate chip muffins

A few days ago while I was working on the paper that has kept me from blogging for the past couple of weeks (I turned it in yesterday, hooray!), I ordered a pumpkin chocolate chip muffin at one of our lovely local coffee shops, so today, when I decided I was in the mood for some baking, I thought back to those delicious muffins. I looked online for a recipe but didn't find one that sounded right to me. I wanted to use multiple spices rather than the pre-mixed spices in a cake mix, oil rather than butter, and pure pumpkin rather than pumpkin pie filling. So I, of course, called Lulu for consultation, and she had a plain pumpkin muffin recipe that we spruced up to make the recipe for these muffins. 

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
yield: 24-30 muffins 

2 cups AP flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger 
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 15 ounce can pure pumpkin
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

How To:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

 Whisk dry ingredients together.

Add vanilla eggs, oil, and pumpkin. Mix until evenly incorporated. 

Add chocolate chips and stir. 

Spray muffin tins with cooking spray or line them with cupcake paper. Fill the tins 3/4 of the way full (I discovered that filling them not quite as full makes the tops pop rather than spread and flatten).

Bake for 20-25 minutes. Enjoy. 

Why not have a little chocolate with your breakfast?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

4 Simple Goals

After reading about Kitty and Buck's 4 Simple Goals,  I spent some time mulling over what my 4 goals might be, and I think these 4 are a nice place to start.

1. I am intrigued by the design of Colette Patterns. I've ordered a few of her patterns, planned projects, and even bought fabric for one, but I have yet to trace and cut the first pattern piece. Whether I go ahead with one of these projects or plan a new one, I will use one of the Colette patterns that I already have to make a new garment by Christmas.

2. Steve and I like to go on bike rides (some leisurely, some not), and our Sunday afternoon rides always make me wish I'd thought to roll up an old quilt and pack us a picnic lunch. One Sunday before it gets too cold we'll do just that.

3. Now that I live close enough to campus to bike in for classes, I plan to do this more often than driving. The past few weeks I have chosen my car most of the time because I am either running late or wearing a non-bicycle friendly outfit, so from now on I must to plan for enough time to get to campus on my bike and learn how to make my teaching attire bike friendly. On the days that I've ridden to class thus far, I have avoided my skirts and dresses, but my closet and love of dresses won't allow for an all-pants attire much longer. I guess this number 3 could also be: Learn to ride a bicycle in a skirt.

4. More often than not, letters that I intend to write either end up unchecked on a lost to do list or in a pile of good intentions on my desk. I love to write and receive them, but I easily talk myself out of taking the time to sit down and write. I will try to write at least one {handwritten} letter a week.

This is my first try at a blog challenge of sorts, but I think this will prove to be a productive and meaningful one.

Read more about the origin of "4 Simple Goals" at A Beautiful Mess.

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Refurbished Dresser

When I moved across town to a new apartment at the first of August, mom and I decided that we'd take my Aunt Patty up on her very kind offer to let me use a dresser and mirror that were being stored in her garage.


Even though I have suspect wall painting skills, I thought painting a dresser couldn't be too hard. I mean, after all, Pinterest does makes it look oh so very easy. Well I am here to tell you that it's not easy, but it's also not impossible. Patience and letting go of my perfectionist tendencies helped me through painting the round edges and bottom rods and obsessing over the brushstrokes showing even after the paint dried. They give character, right? At least that is what I am telling myself.

Dad and Steve took care of most of the sanding for me, which I greatly appreciated since it was August in Alabama and hot as the dickens standing still much less working. We discovered that there were in fact two coats of paint already on the dresser, so the sanding took the good bit of an afternoon. We didn't get all the paint off, but the bottom layer seemed to not peel like the top. on the 6 long drawers, I covered the holes for the knobs with wood putty and sanded those spots down after they dried over night.

I started painting the next day, and it took me the better part of a morning to get the first coat applied. It went on well, and I wasn't too worried about brush strokes since I was going to put another coat on the next day. The paint went on the flat surfaces quickly, but the rods and legs proved to be quite time consuming, leaving me to conclude that no one was going to scrutinize the paint job on those parts because they are way below eye level.

The next day, Steve came over, and we painted the second coat. This is when I realized that the brush strokes were not going to dry smooth and tried to make the strokes less obvious by working in small sections and paying attention to paint in only one direction. That worked marginally better except for when I tried to touch up places that I had already painted, which caused a big grainy mess on the top, so I sanded and painted a third coat on the top that night.

On day 3, I installed the knobs for the center drawers, and Steve drilled the new holes for the pulls. After a few times marking and drilling from the front of the drawer, he decided that it would be easier to drill from the inside. I don't suggest this move; it made for splintered wood and necessary paint touch ups.  But after much sweat on Steve's part, angst on mine, and super glue for a broken glass pull, the knobs and pulls were all installed.

All in all, I love everything about my new-to-me dresser and am proud to have succeeded at a non-sewing DIY project.

Here's a photo taken right after we put the dresser together for the first time after painting. I love the color and hardware.
Thanks for the help, Mom, Dad, and Steve-O!

A Homemade Pizza and Some Wings

To celebrate the start of college football season and Alabama playing beating Michigan, I made mom's homemade pizza and tried making baked hot wings for the first time. Both were quite successful and perfect game day food.


This homemade pizza was a Friday night favorite at our house when I was growing up. The recipe makes enough for two pizzas, so there's no worry over toppings even with choosy pizza eaters in the house. At home this often meant a pretty standard mushroom and pepperoni pizza and an every-vegetable-in-the-house pizza.

Pizza Crust:
1 1/4 cup water 
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon yeast 
3 cups flour
1/2 cup cornmeal 

The pizza crust is made with the dough cycle of a bread machine. It's so easy, y'all. You measure out  all of these ingredients into your bread machine bowl, choose the right setting, and press start. In a little under two hours, you are ready to roll out and bake 2 pizza crusts. This crust is the thickness of a hand-tossed crust at most restaurants. 

Mom bakes her pizzas on a pizza brick that is so heavy that it stays in the oven all the time. She rolls out the dough on a wooden bat and transfers the pizza to the brick by way of the bat. I don't have a pizza brick or even a round pizza pan, so I used cookies sheets with a sprinkling of cornmeal to bake my rectangular pizzas. 

After the dough came out of the bread machine, I cut the dough in half, rolled out one of the pizza crust into a freeform rectangle using my wooden cutting board, and transferred it to the cookie sheets to rise. Then I repeated this step with the second crust.

After rising for about 10 minutes, the first pizza crust is ready to go in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes. Baking the crust before adding toppings gives this thicker crust a crispier texture and keeps it from getting soggy. 

When the first crust is done, the next is ready to go in the oven. This staggering is necessary when you are using one pizza stone or have a tiny kitchen like I do.

After baking for ten minutes, the first pizza is now ready for toppings, and then back into the oven for 15 minutes. This step is repeated with the second pizza.

Both pizzas need to cool at least 5 minutes before cutting them. No one wants all those toppings to go sliding off a too-hot-to-cut pizza. I discovered that I don't have a pizza cutter, but a long fancy knife worked just fine for us. 

A few comments about pizza toppings:
Like I said before, toppings varied in my mother's kitchen, changed as we grew up, and depended on who was over for dinner.  She frequently cut up/prepped whatever she had in the kitchen, arranged it on the cutting board and let us decorate the pizzas we desired. I warmed canned tomato sauce with dried basil and oregano for the sauce. Mom adds fresh basil from her garden.

my attempt at mom's pizza bar

Steve and I have come to a toppings compromise, thanks to many trips to the Mellow Mushroom.  I'm a veggie/white pizza fan. Steve is an all out meat kinda guy, but we both agree on our love for black olives. So our compromise is a pepperoni, mushroom, and black olive pizza. Not fancy or terribly exciting, but it is quite yummy with a beer in hand. For this homemade pizza, I switched to turkey pepperonis because they have 70% less fat than regular pepperonis, sauteed some button mushrooms in olive oil, and used canned black olives and a mix of grated part-skim mozzarella, grated 2% percent cheddar, and fresh mozzarella. 

Collyn and Chris topped the second pizza with Bocca crumples sauteed with green bell peppers, fresh mozz, and black olives. It looked quite amazing, but sadly, I did not get a picture of that one. 


This baked hot wing recipe comes from combining my godmother's recipe and a recipe from Hannah. Thanks to both of you for your help! 

For the Wings:
3 pounds of chicken wings 
olive oil 
Buffalo wing sauce (I used Texas Pete)
2 tablespoons of butter

Optional Fixing:
ranch or blue cheese dressing

I had never paid much attention to the anatomy of a chicken wing until I started cutting them up. There are 3 parts: the little drumette-like piece, the wing piece with two small bones, and then the tips. I cut and chopped these three pieces apart, and discarded the tips. (Mom says to use the tips for stock, but I'll try that some other time. Sorry for being wasteful, Lulu.) Now this hacking apart of the chicken wings is a little on the gross side of cooking for me, but I tried to remind myself of the story that my mother tells about how her grandmother killed and plucked the chickens they ate for dinner on their Tennessee farm. At least cutting apart a chicken wing does not involve feathers.

After the chicken wings are cut apart, I arranged them in a roasting pan, drizzled olive oil over them, and added salt and pepper. I rubbed the oil, salt, and pepper all over the wings, and flipped them once, adding more salt and pepper to parts that needed it. 

In a 425 degree oven, the wings baked for 15 minutes. 

After 15 minutes, I took them out and flipped them to the other side, and because I was afraid that the amount of juice in the roasting pan would keep the skin from crisping up, I poured out most of it. (Neither Joan nor Hannah suggested this so I cannot say if this is sound chicken wing practice.) 

I put them back in the oven to bake for another 18 minutes. 

After those last 18 minutes, I poured 1/3 of the bottle of Buffalo wing sauce over them and flipped them again to cover them completely in the sauce. I let them sit for 5 minutes.

Because the sauce looked a like it wasn't really sticking to the wings and butter makes everything better, I melted 2 tablespoons of butter and mixed it with 1/4 cup of the sauce and tossed them in this mixture. After this last coating they were ready to be served. 

I highly recommend these wings if you don't mind the little bit of mess. Steve even said that he didn't miss the wings being fried. If you know Steve or have read about his love for fried chicken, you understand that is a shocking statement and also quite a high endorsement for these wings. 

I also made The Pioneer Woman's caesar salad and homemade croutons with a few changes like using anchovy paste instead of whole anchovies in the dressing and cutting/tearing up the romaine instead of serving the entire heart of lettuce. I was also able to use only half of the dressing and save some for salad the next night. If you're a caesar salad fan like Steve and I are, give this recipe a try. 

Hope y'all have a happy weekend! Hotty Toddy and Roll Tide Roll! 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

An Eggplant and Tomato Pasta

I bought some lovely Japanese eggplants at one of our local farmers markets, Homegrown Alabama last week and made this tasty and healthy pasta with them last night. This recipe is riff off of a pasta dish that I've seen mom make but with a few changes of my own, mainly because I couldn't remember exactly how she made it and didn't want to bother her with constant phone calls during suppertime.

3 eggplants
3 tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic
2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 box of whole wheat rotini pasta (less can be used)
parmesan cheese to be grated
salt to taste

Warm the oil olive and chopped garlic in a pan over low heat.

Chop the eggplant into roughly bite-sized chunks. The eggplant will draw up some as it cooks, too, so no worries about too terribly precise chopping skills. We're going for a rustic look anyway, right?

Add the eggplant to the olive oil and garlic, and saute for 15 minutes over medium heat. I salted the eggplant at this stage and again at the end after adding the tomatoes.

Chop the tomatoes into slightly smaller chunks. This size will keep the tomato skins from being too large and overwhelming in one bite. I am just not into the peeling tomatoes, but I guess you could, if you don't like the skins.

After 15 minutes of cooking the eggplant, add the tomatoes, reduce the heat to low/medium, and let the tomatoes simmer and mix with the eggplant for 10-15 minutes. In the last few minutes of cooking the eggplant and tomatoes, grate as much parmesan as desired over the dish and stir.

After adding the tomatoes, begin heating the pasta water to a rolling boil. I always add a touch of salt to the water.

Add the pasta and boil for 8-9 minutes or until you get the consistency that you prefer.

Drain the pasta and mix with eggplant and tomatoes. More parmesan can be added here if desired.

The pasta to veggie ratio was a littler higher than I would usually prefer, but this dish made for a healthy dinner that satisfied my desire to incorporate more whole grains with my love for fresh, local vegetables. The eggplant brings a hearty texture and tangy bite to the dish, while the tomatoes lend taste and help bind the dish together. Choosing the rotini rather than my regular angel hair pasta seemed to work well with the size of the the eggplant and tomatoes.

Even Steve, a fried-anything, more-calories-the-better meat-eater, enjoyed this dish, so the next time you find yourself wondering what to do with a few eggplants, try this out and let me know how it works for you.

Enjoy, y'all!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Peach Pie

Peach pies are one of my favorite summer desserts. The combination of fresh, sweet peaches and a buttery crust could make anyone smile, but in my family that taste takes us back to long summer days by the water at the lake house in Chilton County, Alabama, the home of the best peaches in the South.

A few years ago, I came home from the farmers market delighted that I had found Chilton County peaches and ready to make a pie, but I quickly realized that I had only ever made crust in a food processor, a kitchen appliance that my tiny grad school kitchen does not include. I immediately called mom, and she reassured that this was not an impossible task and crust had been made long before the food processor was invented. With her ingredients list and over-the-phone guidance I learned how to make crust with two knives and a fork. It works surprisingly well and makes quite a crispy, buttery crust.

The Crust:
2 cups of AP flour
1/4 teaspoon of salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) of cold butter
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) of cold margarine
5 tablespoons of ice water

Combine the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl.

Cut the butter and margarine into single serving sized pats. It is important that the butter and margarine have just come out of the fridge because chilled butter holds its consistency when cut into the flour.

Take two knives and cut the butter and margarine into the flour, starting with the knives crossed and pulling towards the edge of the bowl. This action cuts the butter into smaller pieces and binds the flour to all sides of the butter.

After about 5 minutes of cutting when the butter looks like large pebbles in the flour, take the fork and mash the butter and flour through the tines to further incorporate the mixture. This will also cause butter to build on the fork. Use a knife to scrape off the build up and keep mashing. In between mashing, move the fork around the wall of the bowl, making sure that all of the flour is incorporated. The mashing step is complete when the mixture looks like coarsely ground corn meal (see photo below).

Now add the water a tablespoon at a time, first mixing with the fork and then kneading with your hands. The ice water helps the mixture come together without completely incorporating. 

You should be able to see swirls of butter in the kneaded crust. These swirls make the crust flakey and buttery without density, so don't over knead.

If you are using a round pie plate, separate the crust into two equal sections, wrap them separately in plastic wrap, and put them in the fridge for at least 1 hour. There is no need to separate the crust if you are making a larger cobbler that will only have a top crust. 

Side note: I use this pie crust for most of the pies that I make, and if I am making a pie that only requires the bottom crust, I put the other crust in the freezer and save it for the next pie or quiche.

The Peach Filling:
7 to 8 peaches peeled and sliced
1/2 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons of cornstarch
2 tablespoons of butter

Slice the peaches, and mix in the sugar and cornstarch.

Roll out the bottom crust.

I use this folding technique to move the pie crust to the pie plate without stretching or tearing the crust.

Place the crust in the pie plate, pour in the peaches, and slice the butter on top of the peaches.

Roll out the top crust and arrange it on the pie. The look of the top crust is completely up to you. I normally cut strips and make a lattice top, but a one piece top crust works just as well as long as you cut slits for the steam to escape.

Place the pie plate on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until bubbly. Keep on eye on the crust, and if it is taking longer for the filing to bubble cover the edges of the crust with tin foil to keep them from burning.

Steve and I celebrated the first day of classes with peach pie. It was a nice way to end the summer. Hope y'all enjoy the recipe!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Baby Boy Daygown

I have quite a few friends who are expecting babies in the upcoming months, so I have focused the little bit of sewing that I've been able to do this summer on baby gifts. In June, Steve and I headed out on a long road trip. Since I wasn't doing any of the driving on our trip, I had Mom pleat me a few daygowns and bonnets, so I could get some smocking done during our long hours in the car. Smocking is perfect for road trips because it is handwork that requires only a few supplies that can be thrown in a small bag (DMC thread, a few needles, a pair of scissors, the garment, and instructions).

The first project to be finished was this baby boy daygown for a family friend who is expecting her first child. I smocked simple baby waves in the front of this daygown. The sleeves are also smocked, which gathers fabric to create a cuff and works much like elastic does but with a cleaner look. After I finished smocking, mom put the daygown together for me, and I took it to the baby shower this past Sunday.

I recently rediscovered Instragram and couldn't resist posting this
one of the daygown,

The pattern used is a The Smocked Baby Daygown pattern by Collars, Ect. Pattern Company.  See the pattern here.

Mom also hemstitched, crocheted, and monogrammed a matching blanket.

A note about learning to smock: Mom designs smocking plates, so I grew up watching her smock and wearing smocked dresses almost every day, but with Mom being so talented with smocking and much faster at it than I could ever be, I had little motivation to learn until family and friends my own age started having children. I then realized that I wanted to be able to share the handsmocked clothing that I grew up loving with this next generation. Starting out, I found that being lefthanded posed a little problem with learning stitches and following the instruction on the plates, but I sat across from mom (who smocks righthanded) and mirrored her stitches and now know how to read plates by starting on the opposite side from directed. I smocked my first daygown on a 2 day bus trip with 30 other college students, so I quickly discovered that smocking is much like knitting when it comes to getting into a rhythm that leaves you able to participate in the chaos around you most of the time. Maybe that's how mom managed to get some much smocking done when we were all little.

I have been working on my mother's smocking plate Molly's Collar and Bonnet for the bonnets. I will post about these bonnets and a few other smocking projects as I finish them.

Most of mom's smocking plates can be seen here. We're in the process of setting her up an Etsy store since she closed her store a little over a year ago, so check back for updates on that.