Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Begining of my Cupcake Days

As a kid I never really liked candy. I would not touch tootsie rolls or sugar cereal. Onions and brussel sprouts and sushi were great, but one honey-nut cheerio in my bowl of plains was a big bummer. While sugar has grown on me in recent years, a lot of the time I’d rather have another appetizer for dessert.

Cupcakes. They look cute but I was not a fan until some salted caramel and spicy Mexican chocolate ones from a food truck changed my mind last week. At the CupKates truck at Berkeley’s Off the Grid I was changed. These cupcakes were freakishly good. I might even choose them over pie- which is a big deal.

Cupkates at Off the Grid Berkeley

Spicy Mexican Cocolate and Salted Caramel

For Grants 2nd birthday, I felt inspired to make cupcakes. Since the little bug is obsessed with trains, I cut out some marshmallow fondant trains for each one. While I made rich dark chocolate cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting for the adults, he is gluten and nut free so I made some vanilla bean cupcakes with coconut flour (my favorite GF ingredient).

This 2-year-old has creepy some friends

It’s really fun to be an aunt.

Oh and I also had a coffee-toffee cupcake from Cako Bakery in SF a week later. I’m hooked.

Dark Chocolate Cupcake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes
Makes 24 cupcakes.

1 3/4 c. unbleached flour
2 c. cane sugar
3/4 c. cocoa powder (I used Scharffen Berger)
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 c. buttermilk
1/2 c. light olive oil (NOT extra virgin)
2 room temperature eggs (run cold eggs under hot water for a minute to warm)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. hot coffee (I didn’t have any freshly brewed coffee on hand, so I made a hot cup of instant VIA from Sbucks that I had in the junk drawer with all my horded taco bell hot sauces)

Set oven to 350 degrees F and line muffin tin with unbleached paper liners.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and powder, and salt twice to mix thoroughly. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla.

With a paddle spoon, fold the wet ingredients into dry and stir until there are no lumps. Add hot coffee slowly and stir just to combine.

Fill each liner 3/4 full and bake for 15-23 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Adapted from Ina Garten

GF Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
Make sure you put your empty vanilla bean pods in some sugar! They are too expensive to waste.
Makes 12 cupcakes

1/2 c. coconut flour
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
6 eggs at room temperature
1/2 c. light olive oil
1/2 c. honey
1/2 vanilla bean pod, scraped.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin tin with unbleached paper liners.

In a large bowl, sift together the coconut flour, salt, and baking soda twice to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, oil, honey, and the scraped vanilla beans.

Whisk wet ingredients into dry until they are smooth.

Fill each liner 3/4 full and bake for 20 minutes (don’t overcook!)

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
Frosts 36 cupcakes

24 oz. cream cheese (three 8oz. packages)
3/4 c. butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1/4 c. + 2 Tbs. real maple syrup
3 c. powdered sugar

In a standing mixer, cream together the cream cheese,butter, and syrup until smooth. Turn the mixer on low and add the powdered sugar a little at a time until all incorporated. Spoon into a pastry or ziplock bag and chill for 1 hour. Frost each cupcake with a dolop by using the pastry bag or by snipping the corner off the ziplock.


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Filed under Food Adventures, Sweet Things

Planes and Trains and PotPies

I’m currently sitting on Amtrak heading towards the mountains, my family, and Joey. I have lost count of the amount of time I’ve spent on one of these trains to see him. We have been together for over three years now and seem to always be cities, countries, and continents apart.

How do you do long distance?
I guess it was never something that we planned. It was more like- why not? We love each other, why would we break up?
And in many ways I think it has made us independent. I study abroad and Joey goes on tour without it ever being “Us vs. The Adventure”.

But the distance is not easy. There are many plane, train, and automobile rides. He stayed up to Skype me on London time and I became a regular at the Ghanaian post office.
There is a kind of language I began to learn, words like: how long, come here, don’t go, and now sometimes express more than I miss you.  You lose you your breath at hello and take a deep one at goodbye.

Long distance is not for everyone. Maybe it’s not supposed to be for anyone. But as my dear friend once told me in high school:
“Just because love isn’t all that matters doesn’t mean it’s not the most important thing.”

So here I am, on the train again. I have learned a few tricks:
The expensive beer is always worth it- unless you brought your own.
Look outside- for peeling old barns and little kids waving through windows
Amtrak Guest Rewards points are cheaper to buy and use on few routes, like Fresno to Santa Barbara or Fresno to the Bay Area.

Portabella PotPie

I always tend to over-plan our time together- being a chronic over-planner since I was five. However, when Joey came last weekend (I’m seeing him two weekends in a row!) I baked the frozen Portabella Potpies I had slaved over the week before and got some fresh mozzarella from Cowgirl Creamery for caprice salad with reduced balsamic. The recipe was inspired by this one.



Portabella Pot Pies with Porcini Gravy
This recipe is for a big batch- just freeze the extra pies overnight and slip into zipock bags the next day. Cook frozen pies at 350 for 45-50 minutes.

Makes 8 individual pies or 5 individual and one 9 inch

3 sticks cold unsalted butter
4 1/4 cups unbleached flour
3/4 tsp kosher salt
12-14 Tbs ice water
1 beaten egg

Porcini gravy
1 oz. dried Porcini mushrooms, rinsed
2 cups. Red wine
2 carrots, cubed
4 celery sticks, chopped
2 bay leaves, torn
few sprigs fresh parsley and thyme
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
2 Tbs flour
Salt to taste

4 large portabella caps cut into 1” chunks
3 large peeled carrots cut into 1” chunks
2 lb young creamy potatoes (like red or fingerling) cut into 1”chunks*
1 lb asparagus cut into 1” pieces
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
Olive oil

Simmer porcini mushrooms in 4 cups water over low heat for 30 minutes until tender and fragrant.

In the meantime, assemble the crust. Mix together salt and flour in large bowl and cut in cold butter. Work with a fork or pastry cutter until it is the consistency of rough cornmeal. Work in just enough water to hold pastry together and wrap and chill.

Strain out porcini mushrooms from broth and keep for your own use. Return broth to stove and add wine, carrots, celery, bay, and herbs. Simmer for another 30 minutes until everything is tender.

Strain out all solids and compost. Set broth aside and melt the butter in the stockpan. Add flour and cook the roux until it smells like pancakes and the raw flavor is gone.

Wisk in broth and cook 10 minutes or until it coats the back of a spoon. Taste and season with salt.

Heat a large pot with a drizzle of olive oil and brown portabellas. Remove and set aside. Use the same pot to cook carrots and potatoes with a drizzle of oil until tender.  Add mushroom gravy, asparagus, and peas and cook for 5 minutes. Taste and Season. Remove from stove to cool.

While the filling cools, assemble the pie shells and brush all sides that touch filling with beaten egg (this is so it doesn’t get soggy).

Fill and bake fresh pies for 25 minutes at 375.

* The young potatoes are important to use because regular ones will become mealy in the freezer.



Filed under Entrées, Food Adventures

Familiarity and French Toast

I found an old piece of writing. It was before Berkeley, Ghana, London and even UCSB. I was a junior in high school, living in a small town, and wanting to see the world.

“I love to watch people maneuver their way through their own kitchen. The grace they have when they don’t even have to look at where they are taking cups, sugar, and spices from. In fact, that is one of the reasons I enjoy cooking so much, that I can fly around and not think about anything in particular.

I guess I find beauty in familiarity.

Maybe I’m strange, but I just love knowing that people KNOW places so well. It makes places special. Like the reason you love your room so much. It’s your place.

I used to think that I wanted to get out of Oakhurst forever. To get far away and see as many places as possible. Not that that dream has faded completely- but I’m seeing the beauty of a hometown.
Of knowing secret places like water towers and hidden trails.
Being able to know what you want from a local restaurant without looking at the menu.

I still want to go places. God knows how much I want to see the world.
But more then that- I want to experience the world.
To KNOW places.
I don’t want snapshots of Greece and London; I want to know where the best local market is….from experience. I want to know the texture of countries and the flavor of their cities.

It’s not a revolutionary idea…but I guess I just want to express the fascination I have with little details like being able to tell your mom on the phone what drawer and what side of the drawer the socks you want her to grab for you are.”

May 10, 2007

It’s a funny thing the way this worked- and didn’t work- its way into my life. I ended up sprawled between countries and continents with no more than a year in each place. In some ways, I feel transitory. Restless. Mobile.

But even though I was in some of these places for only a short time, I think I soaked them into my skin, if only on a small, local level.

When in London, I didn’t get to Germany, Italy, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, or Greece. I went to Borough Market every weekend and talked with my favorite tea stand.

Borough Market Bratwurst


Millenium Bridge, London

In Accra, Ghana I didn’t ride buses to Togo or Benin. I went to Medina market and bought groundnuts and Shea butter. I explored Accra’s old colonial buildings. I watched rainstorms from my window and washed clothes with my hands.

Rainstorm coming

I was often homesick even though I wasn’t sure what home I was sick for. I missed my family and my boyfriend. I missed friends-but  it felt like my transitory nature left them few and far between back “home”.

I grew up a lot. People think we go on these adventures to find ourselves. But we really just leave pieces everywhere we go.

Colonial jail in Accra

Here is a recipe for French Toast I used when I felt homesick.

French Toast Ghana Style
measurements are approximate

1/2 loaf sugar bread (make sure you say “sugar” and not “sweet”, or you will get wheat bread) in thick slices
3 brown eggs
2 Tablespoons evaporated milk powder
2 Tablespoons condensed milk
2 Tablespoons sugar
dash of vanilla
dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg
coconut oil

Mango, margarine, and unfiltered honey (in sketchy old water bottle) for toppings

Beat all ingredients except bread and oil in 1/4th cup water.  Heat hot plate and pan with coconut oil on highest setting (or, whatever you can guess the setting is since its not marked…). Dip sliced bread in egg mixture and pat to soak. Fry slices one at a time, but take care to do slowly to cook through (you might have to take the pan on and off the hotplate seeing as you cannot change the settings).
Enjoy with your mango and honey! (but go easy on the honey because it tastes like molasses…..)

My Ghana kitchen


Filed under Breakfast, Food Adventures, Sweet Things