Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunflower Cupcakes

Yesterday was my husband's birthday, as well as a semi regular gathering of the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers and the theme of the event was "Summer in January". I wanted to make cupcakes for my dear husband's birthday, so I figured I'd try decorating them as sunflowers as featured in this month's Martha Stewart Living.

I used to be a huge devotee of MSL, but when she went into the slammer for her little problem with the SEC, I felt the magazine lost whatever it was I liked. I let my subscription lapse. Lately, I have found myself actually buying her magazine at the grocery checkout - the content has me intrigued again. I guess I should start a new subscription. I am a certified food magazine junkie.

I am not a great cake decorator, but thought I might be able to make these sunflowers. The centers are actually supposed to be made of chocolate covered sunflower seeds, but I couldn't find them anywhere in this town. So I used chocolate sprinkles instead. The frosting is a Swiss meringue buttercream, which is my absolute favorite type of from scratch frosting. This one is a vanilla one and it's not too sweet and tastes really light. Don't be fooled, however, because it has one whole pound of butter in it. I don't even want to calculate the Weight Watchers points one of these cupcakes are. Probably a days worth, no doubt. I based my Swiss buttercream on the cupcake recipes featured in MSL this month, and my white cake from my trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.

White Cupcakes

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 cups water
6 T. buttermilk powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter at room temp.
1 tsp. vanilla
4 egg whites


1. In large mixing bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda . Add buttermilk powder and water, butter, and vanilla; beat on low until combined. Beat on medium 2 minutes more, scraping bowl. Add egg whites; beat 2 minutes more.

2. Place 30 paper cup cake liners in cup cake pans. Fill each half full with batter. Bake 18-23 minutes or until tops spring back when lightly touched and wooden pick inserted near centers comes out clean.

3. Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pans; cool completely.

Makes 30 cup cakes

Swiss Meringue Icing

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
5 large egg whites, room temperature
Pinch of salt
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, cut into pats about 1/4 inch thick.
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1. Whisk sugar, whites, and salt in a heatproof mixer bowl. Set over a pot of simmering water. Heat mixture registers 160 degrees on a candy thermometer, whisking occasionally.

2. Using the whisk attachment on your stand mixer, whisk on medium speed for 5 minutes. Increase speed to medium-high, and whisk until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 6 minutes. It should look like marshmallow cream at this point when you lift the whisk out of the bowl - and the peaks should stay standing and not collapse.

3. At medium speed, and add butter, 1 piece at a time, whisking well after each addition. Add vanilla.

4. Add yellow gel food coloring until you have a sunflower yellow color. Fill an icing bag with the frosting, and attach a leaf tip, which looks like like a dunce cap with a v taken out of the top. When making the petals, make sure the v notch is perpendicular to the cupcake top.

5. Start at the center of the cupcake and pipe petals to the outer diameter, rotating the cake as you go. Then add another row (or more, depending on how much time you have) of shorter petals on top of it.

6. Make a funnel with a piece of paper that has a diameter at the narrow end of about 1/4 inch and point that end at the center of the cake. Pour chocolate sprinkles through the funnel to make the center.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hedges CMS Red

Today, I bought a case of wine from one of my favorite purveyors of wine in this town, Morgan & York. I have been out of wine for several weeks, which is a real bummer. Especially when you are on Weight Watchers, as I am, because when you spend your bonus points, you can't waste them on flavorless alcohol. Wine is a great choice - 2 points for a 4 oz. pour, which is smaller than what I'd usually do, but I put it in a small wine glass and savor it.

Tonight, I am sampling Hedges CMS Red, which is from the Columbia Valley in Washington. I have fond memories of wine tasting in Washington many moons ago. It's where I figured out I liked red wine. It was in the early 90s and Seattle was the coolest city ever. I loved visiting Washington.

So this wine is a blend:

42% Cabernet Sauvignon
51% Merlot
7% Syrah

So, I supposed that I should describe the taste of the wine - this is how the good people at Hedges describe it:

Excellent garnet-purple in color; this wine has a nice, sweet vanilla toast with creamy raspberry, black cherry, blackberry, and dried blueberry fruit, along with just a hint of herbs, clove, spice, and earthiness. Black cherry and blackberry fruit continue on the palate with the sweet vanilla toast rounding out mid-palate. The finish is long with just enough acid and tannin to let one know this is a bit more serious and longer-lived wine.

I agree with most of their description, but what I will say that there's not so much tannin flavor to scare off the red wine neophyte. Also while they say the finish is "long", I'd have to say it's "fair to middlin'". In winespeak, the finish is the taste that remains in your mouth after the wine is gone. And for that alleged "sweet vanilla toast that is rounding out the mid-palate", my mid-palate felt a bit deprived.

That being said, this wine costs $11.20 per bottle at M&Y during their wine sale. I'd buy it's a great value. I'm a thrifty wine drinker. This wine is better than the typical < $20 bottle. If you think you don't like red wine, this one could be your "gateway drug". I usually prescribe a good pinot noir for that, but good pinor noirs in this price range are hard to find. Give it a swig.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Winter fun

Yesterday, we had a snowstorm, and my snow shoveling husband, who I can count on for a snow depth assessment, has determined we had a foot of snow fall. My old man and I met while going to college in the U.P. (pronounced "You-Pee", a.k.a the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, for my non Michigander readers) and he is not prone to weather exaggeration. We don't often see snowfall like this in Ann Arbor, but it was a weekly event in the Keweenaw Peninsula where we went to school. (average snowfall, Houghton, MI in the 300 inch range, Ann Arbor, 50 inch range), so when my man says it was a foot, it was a foot.

My son invited his class to go sledding at our neighborhood sledding hill, which has been dubbed "Cardiac Hill" by generations of neighborhood kids. Most of his class made it, and it was a wonderful time with the snow falling heavily throughout the day. I pronounced to the other moms that were hanging with me that I planned on going cross country skiing on Sunday. The last time I went cross country skiing, 25 years ago, was on a date that didn't go so well. Nordic skiing in the U.P. can be quite a challenge - I had envisioned a romantic time, complete with a bouda bag full of wine and a fabulous winter picnic. Instead, it involved me falling down so many times my date had to push my rear end up several times with his shoulder to make me mobile again. I also managed to fall into a creek and got totally soaked. We went back to my place and I made tacos from an Old El Paso taco kit. Evidently my date didn't find it very romantic either, because while I can't remember his name, I do remember that a) he didn't kiss me good night or b) he never asked me out again and the ratio of men to women was 7:1 when I went to Michigan Tech. I have never XC skied again, and I sold my skis at a neighborhood garage sale.

Since I told the other middle school moms I was going to XC, I figured I needed to make good on my commitment. After all, I have had some substantial ankle surgery since I was 20, so maybe it would work out better. I took my son with me - he's got my bad ankles, too, but he and I are the more athletic members of the family - dad and daughter to sleep in. We went to Hudson Mills Metropark and rented ski, boots and poles for $10 each and had a terrific time! The weather was beautiful - I crammed myself into my downhill ski pants (good thing I am back on Weight Watchers) and wore a turtle neck, wool sweater, fleece jacket and windbreaker and found myself taking some layers off midway. We brought some hot cocoa in a thermos. It was really beautiful with the snow on the trees and the sun out. I can't wait to do it again.

What a great workout! Start by having a good breakfast. Yesterday, I tried another steamed bread in my crockpot, based on a recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks of late "Not Your Mothers Slow Cooker Cookbook". I love cooking in a crock pot because it saves the energy of heating up the whole oven. (note that stoves and ovens don't use too much energy anyway, but every little bit helps!) To make this recipe, you need a fairly large crockpot (round or oval) and something to cook it in. A heat proof bowl will work, but I have been using a proper British pudding mold. It's metal and has a lid that clamps on, and it looks like the picture I've included above. Here's my interpretation of Bran Muffin Bread....

Michigan Bran Muffin Bread
5 T. buttermilk powder
1 1/4 c. water
1 egg
1/2 c. dark molasses
1/4 c. vegetable oil
2 c. All Bran cereal
1 c. whole wheat flout
1 c. all purpose flour
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
3/4 c. chopped dried apricots
3/4 c. dried cherries

Grease and flour 2 qt. pudding mold, or a heat proof bowl that fits in your crock pot with at least an inch or so clearance all around. In a large bowl, stir together buttermilk, water, egg, molasses and oil. Add cereal and let stand for 15 minutes to soften. Add the remaining ingredients, and pour into mold or bowl. Cover mold - if you are using a bowl, cover tightly with 2 layers of aluminium foil and tie a string around it to hold the foil in place.

Put the mold or bowl in the slow cooker and add enough hot water to insure the vessel is 2 inches deep. Cover and cook on high for 3 - 3 1/2 hours. I shut off the cooker after 3 hours and went sledding at this point, and took it out later, but you could open the vessel on the inside and see if it is done by pushing your finger in it and look for it to spring back. If it doesn't, cover and cook it in additional 30 minute increments until it is finished.

When the bread is done, transfer the mold or bowl to a rack and let it cool for 10 minutes. Invert it on a rack to remove the mold, and then turn it right side up to cool. Cut into wedges and serve with applesauce you canned last fall.

Friday, January 09, 2009


For those that haven't yet found the blog "Mennonite Girls Can Cook", you might not have been tempted by their recipes, but I sure have. Their domestic prose appeals to me every day - they post at least one a day and I am usually reading it when I am at work on my lunch hour and everything sounds delicious! While I don't personally know any Mennonites, I have no doubt they can cook. Some day I have to start a "Catholic Girls Can Cook" blog....but I digress.

Today the Mennonite sisters have posted a recipe for meatloaf. I'm on the quest for a great meatloaf recipe. I don't like anything fancy - no ground turkey or sun dried tomatoes or anything, just straight up meatloaf. Meatloaf perfection, for me, is one like I had at the M&M Diner in Dearborn, back when it was on the other side of Michigan Ave and had worn down linoleum and no one knew it was there. It had an "alternative" feel to it and served things like meatloaf and lentil soup, and it only had a limited menu. It moved across the street and now it's called the M&M "Cafe" and has the ambiance of a Big Boy, and the food is just okay. I've had a few lunches there and was underwhelmed in this latest incarnation. But back in the early 90s, it had great meatloaf.

Another great meatloaf can be found at Seitz's Tavern in Chelsea, MI. If you haven't ever been there, I highly recommend it. It's an old timey bar like my grandpa used to hang out in, complete with beer offerings like Blatz or Black Label, and plenty of taxidermy hanging on the wall. Every day at lunch they offer some homemade sandwiches like Limburger cheese, liverwurst or hamburgers, plus one entree that varies each day. I can't remember what day featured meatloaf, but I got it there once when I was playing hooky from the office and it's been on my mind ever since. The bartender proudly told me that his secret ingredient was ground cabbage. I have tried to duplicate it but haven't succeeded. I once tried to make Alton Brown's meatloaf - I even ground my own meat. It was just okay.

Can you help me? What is your favorite meatloaf recipe? Blog about it, and then please link back to this post. Call it the meatloaf meme!