vanilla cupcakes

vanilla cupcakes

vanilla cupcakes for my brother’s wedding (2015)

When I was on maternity leave for the first time 5 years ago, I started playing around with cupcake recipes and had a very small “for fun” home cupcake business.  Finding the perfect vanilla cupcake recipe took awhile (I tried a lot! Too dense, too crumbly, too dry, etc). I finally came across a recipe by Smitten Kitchen (called Mom’s Apple Cake) and thought the cake-base of the recipe might just do the trick for cupcakes.  Turns out, it is one of the easiest methods to make a moist, delicious and tasty cupcake!  I have made these cupcakes at least a dozen times – for birthdays, baby showers, family events, even for Easter one year and I filled them with lemon curd (yum!).  If you ever want a full sized cake, use her full Mom’s Apple Cake recipe because it’s also a delicious crowd pleaser.

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vanilla cupcakes (left) for a friend’s baby shower

This is the perfect cupcake recipe if you’re new to baking or have no time for trial and error.  The steps are easy and there’s no finicky measurements. You probably also likely have most of these ingredients in your pantry and fridge already! If you don’t have orange juice, you can easily substitute apple juice or even milk.  I always top these cupcakes with some sort of homemade icing (try Basic Buttercream Icing or Heavenly Icing), but you can always get store-bought if you prefer.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s recipe “Mom’s Apple Cake” 

prep: 20 min   bake:  15-18 min    yield: 20 cupcakes

what you need:

  • 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil (use something like grape-seed oil or canola oil – do not use olive oil, as it has a strong taste)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • Buttercream Icing (click for recipe)

what to do:

  1. Line 2 muffin tins with paper cups.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  3. Combine APF, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.
  4. In a larger separate bowl, whisk oil, sugar, orange juice, vanilla and eggs together. (You can use stand mixer or electric hand mixer).
  5. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, mix to combine, scraping sides of bowl to be sure everything is evenly mixed. Do not over beat the batter, as this produces dense cakes.
  6. Fill each muffin cup 3/4 – going shy is better than going over because the cakes will rise and you want to have nice even tops on your cupcakes so that you can top them with icing (pretty!!!).
  7. Bake in the middle rack for 15-18 minutes – I have a convection oven so it tends to bake a lot faster – use a toothpick to check – once it is almost clean (crumbly on toothpick but not wet) you can remove them because they continue baking in the tins a little bit once you take them out.
  8. Once they are cool enough to handle, transfer to cooling rack to cool completely.
  9. Finish with icing of choice. Enjoy!

*If you are not serving them that day, store them in an airtight container and put them in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before serving. You can also wait until the day you are serving them to ice them.

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classic taiwanese meat sauce

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comfort food – asian style!

Growing up with a mom who cooks lots of traditional and delicious taiwanese foods has really influenced how I make meals for my family at home.  This is one of those dishes that we had once in awhile growing up and we never got tired of it.  The combo of shiitake mushrooms, soy sauce, and shallots is pretty classic for taiwanese cuisine.  Just the aromas of the sauce simmering away brings me comfort. I would equate this meat sauce to a bolognese; slowly simmered to marry all the flavours and then it’s good to go on top of noodles, rice, or a bed of thinly chopped up raw veggies if you’re carb free. It’s super easy and it freezes well – make extra so that you can store it in your freezer and pull it out anytime for a quick meal.

This sauce does well in our house because piepie and boss don’t eat anything tomato (not even ketchup!), and my husband isn’t too keen on marinara sauce (I know…crazy). I think it goes particularly well tossed with noodles (e.g. ramen or egg noodles). You can go to your local Asian grocer and find a variety of dried noodles – my favourites are Japanese Ramen Noodles (Hime brand) or Taiwanese dry noodles (Wu-Mu brand). A lot of the ingredients for the sauce are also found in the Asian food aisle or your local Asian grocer, however you can easily substitute with what you already have in your pantry.IMG_0430.JPG

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prep time: 15 min   cook time: 30 min    yield: 4-6 servings

what you need:

  • 1 lb (~450 g) package lean ground pork
  • 1/2 cup naturally brewed soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 large shallots (or 1 small cooking onion)
  • 4 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • rock sugar (about 4 small pieces) or you can use 1 tbsp regular sugar
  • 2 tbsp dried fried shallots (*optional, if you can’t find this ingredient don’t worry!)
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp grape seed oil (or other cooking oil)

what to do:

  1. Rehydrate shiitake mushrooms with boiling water in a small bowl (about 15 minutes). When softened and cool enough to handle, chop finely.
  2. Chop shallots finely.
  3. In a bowl, combine the liquids: water, soy sauce, and Worcestershire sauce.
  4. In a pot over medium heat, add about 1 tsp cooking oil. Lightly brown shallots (add in dried ones if you have them as well) – then add in ground pork, breaking up loosely with a wooden spoon, about 2 minutes.
  5. Add liquids carefully to deglaze, then add in sugar and stir. Cover and bring to gentle boil, then turn the heat as low as possible but keep a slow simmer, for about 20 more minutes.
  6. Cook noodles (see package for instructions), then toss with desired amount of meat sauce. Optional to garnish with chopped green onions and cilantro. Enjoy!

pumpkin biscuits

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If you haven’t thrown out all your pumpkins…try these! Super simple, fun to make with the kids and tasty. A perfect pairing alongside soup, stew or chilli!

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It seemed like a waste to throw out this perfectly perfect little pumpkin!

what you need:

  • 3 cups of mashed roasted pumpkin (about 1 small-medium pumpkin)
  • 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour, plus another extra 3/4 cup or so to set aside.
  • 1 tbsp cane sugar or sugar
  • 3 1/2 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup room temperature butter

what to do:

  1. Wash pumpkin and cut in half – remove seeds (save them for roasting if you wish!) and stringy insides.
  2. Place facedown on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and roast in a 425 F oven for about 15-20 minutes, until fork tender.IMG_8988.JPG
  3. Remove skin once cool enough to handle (the skin will peel right off easily!) and then roughly mash with fork.
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    skin easily peels off

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    boss at work

  4. In a large bowl, use a large fork to mix dry ingredients together (1 cup flour, salt, sugar, baking powder). Add the warm mashed pumpkin and butter, mix with the fork just until incorporated. It’s important not to over-mix as they will become dense. The mixture will seem a bit wet – don’t worry.
  5. Flour your work surface generously with half of the left over flour. Gently work the pumpkin mixture with your hands on to the surface and dust with the rest of the flour. Using your hands, gingerly form it into a disc shape about 1″ or less thick.
  6.  Cut into desired biscuit sizes – it will be a bit sticky and wet! Transfer gingery onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. (*Optional at this point to brush the tops with melted butter if you want! I didn’t do it this time, which is why you can see a little bit of flour dust on the tops)
  7. Bake at 425 F in the centre rack for about 15-20 minutes – it really depends on your oven. I have a convection oven which tends to bake quite a bit faster.
  8. Serve warm and enjoy!

two-bite banana chocolate brownies

 

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rich and dark, but not heavy

Remember how I said we go through banana bread quite often…well it recently came to a point when we needed a change (when you find yourself saying to your kids “don’t you want banana bread? there’s chocolate chiiiips!” and they say no thanks…and ask for graham crackers instead? yup it’s time for a baking change!). But I still had all these bananas in my freezer!  Not to mention I love using bananas as the sweetness in baking…so I tried making two bite brownies with bananas (you know those ones that are so good from the grocery store that you can’t resist eating one…or two when they are around). This version is made with coconut oil so has a slight hint of coconut flavour, has more of a cake-like texture and are definitely much healthier than the store-bought ones! But they totally hit the chocolate spot if you’re having a craving! And they don’t have any flour in them – making them pretty much gluten free.  Also school-safe to bring as a snack.  The kids really enjoyed them today after their swim lessons, and even Ryan liked them (he normally doesn’t like coconut-ish things).

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chocolate chocolate chocolate

prep time:   10 min    bake time: 15 min    yield: 24 mini muffin sized brownies

what you need:

  • 2 eggs
  • 3 large super ripe bananas
  • 1 cup dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips (semisweet) – melted
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips (semisweet)
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • extra coconut oil (about 1 tbsp melted) to grease muffin tin

what to do:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F and lightly oil mini muffin tray with a brush.
  2. In a large bowl, use a large fork to mash bananas really really well (you can also use a stand mixer or electric beaters).
  3. Add eggs and vanilla, mix in well.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix ingredients together. (not the chocolate chips)
  5. Stir honey into melted coconut oil, then add to banana mixture and mix well.
  6. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix well. Add in melted chocolate (best way to melt chocolate is with a double broiler to ensure it doesn’t burn. You can also melt it 20 seconds at a time in a microwave, stirring after each 20 seconds).
  7. Stir in remaining chocolate chips.
  8. Fill muffin tins and bake in the centre rack for 12-15 minutes, once toothpick comes out almost clean take the tray out! You can slightly under-bake them so that they are soft in the centre and don’t dry out. They do continue to bake when they are in the pan out of the oven, and since they are small they can over-bake quickly.
  9. Once cool enough to handle, place them on a cooling rack to cool completely. Enjoy!

almond & apricot granola

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crunchy, chewy, filling and good for you

We were getting in a rut of eating toast and eggs for breakfast. Don’t get me wrong I love toast and eggs (especially because we get local fresh eggs from a dedicated amazing 12 year old egg farmer!). To change things up a bit, I recently purchased some granola from Farm Boy – a small little package on sale for $4.99.  $4.99 is better than $5.99 but that is still really quite expensive when you think about what it in the store-bought stuff…a few cranberries, tiny tiny slivers of almonds (maybe 2 tbsp!) and a whole lot of oats and brown rice syrup (the first two ingredients listed on the back of the package).

I actually really enjoy making my own granola but just haven’t done so in awhile. You get to put whatever you feel like in it and you can control the sweetness.  This time I used what I had in the pantry and I loved the combo – apricots and almonds (and I had to use up about 10 pecans so if you’re eyeing my pictures carefully that’s the other nut you see!). The apricots are super dark because I bought the unsulfured kind. They are actually really soft, sweet and really delicious.

Homemade granola is a great snack on its own, over yogurt, or can act as cereal with any kind of milk (2%, almond, soy, etc).  You can play around with the ratios a bit but you need the fat (I used coconut oil but you could use melted butter) and you need some liquid sweetness (like honey or maple syrup) so that your granola forms some clusters.  I like loading mine with mostly nuts and fruit, unlike the packaged stuff which is mostly oats. It’s definitely a better bang for your buck, and super easy and quick to make. It stores really well for at least 2 weeks in an airtight container (and even longer if you have it in the fridge).  It’s also a much more guilt-less snack when you’re craving something to munch on later in the evening once the kiddos are in bed!

what you need:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 2 cups of whole raw almonds
  • 1 generous cup of dried apricots (I used organic unsulfured)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt

what to do:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F and line cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Place almonds in a large ziplock bag and roughly crush them with a rolling pin.IMG_8048.JPG
  3. Place almonds and oats in a large bowl. Add cinnamon, salt, honey and melted coconut oil. Stir to coat and mix evenly.
  4. Spread mixture out on parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for about 10-15 minutes – carefully stirring once halfway into cooking time – until golden brown (I have a convection oven which bakes faster).
  5. While almonds are baking roughly chop apricots into small pieces.
  6. Remove from oven and allow to cool – combine apricots and almond mixture, & enjoy!
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store in an airtight container

 

sweet potato bits dusted with cinnamon & sugar

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a little sweet bite after school

Piepie comes home from school starving! It’s always so close to dinner time that I hate having her snack on too much but making her wait an hour and a half or two for dinner to be ready is just unfair and mean. I’m always trying to think of healthier fun snacks (other than quick grabs like fishies or crackers). Today’s little sweet potato bits dusted with cinnamon & sugar were a hit.

what you need:

  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp oil (I use grape seed oil)
  • 1 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar (I used organic cane sugar)

what to do:

  1. Wash sweet potato well. I left the skin on so I made sure to really scrub the outside!
  2. Preheat oven to 425 F. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Cut into small little cubes (mine were about 1 cm x 1cm).
  4. In a large bowl, toss together cubed sweet potatoes, oil and salt.
  5. Bake in the middle rack for about 5 – 8 minutes (I used convection so it was faster) – then use a wooden spoon to move them around / flip them so that all sides get browned.
  6. Bake for another 5 – 8 minutes, until golden brown on the outsides and tender.
  7. Remove sheet from oven and brush hot sweet potato bits with melted butter, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar mixture. Fold up the parchment paper at all corners to lightly toss. IMG_7869.JPG
  8. Spread them back out into one layer on the sheet to cool with their new cinnamon and sugar coat. It’s important not to pile them onto a plate / bowl when warm or it will become soggy and you lose the sugar crunch.
  9. Serve and enjoy!

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    once cooled you can pile them up!

banana mini muffins

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cute, fun and school safe

I think I’ve mentioned this before; banana bread is a staple in our house and I make it probably almost biweekly (sometimes even weekly!). It’s one of those recipes that I can make with my eyes closed and it’s always a hit with the kids. Especially when there are some chocolate chips in it!  I always buy extra bananas (and even the bananas that are for quick sale at the grocery store because they are very spotty – just pop them in the freezer!) so that I always have them on hand at home.

I have 2 or 3 versions that are my go to’s but today as boss and I mixed the batter I decided to switch it up from a loaf pan to mini muffins. My mini muffin pan has been at the bottom of my cupboard and quite neglected. The kids loved the look of mini muffins and a bonus is that they take way less baking time (good for the gas bill!). They make for easy storage and pack nicely for lunches.

Be sure to butter or spray your muffin tray really well (or you can line the tray with mini muffin cups) or else your batter will stick and then it’s annoying to clean.

prep: 10 min   bake:  15 min     yield: 24 mini muffins

what you need:

  • 3 large very ripe bananas
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 tbsp or more of melted butter (to grease muffin tray)

what to do:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. In a large bowl, mash bananas with a large fork until mushy. Add egg and mix well into the bananas (using the fork is fine).
  3. Add vanilla, maple syrup and butter and mix well with fork again.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine salt, flour, oats and baking soda.
  5. Add dry ingredients to banana mixture. Mix with fork until just incorporated – do not over mix or you will have dense muffins.
  6. Fold in greek yogurt, just until incorporated.
  7. Fold in chocolate chips.
  8. Grease muffin tray with melted butter, using a brush, making sure to grease the bottom and sides.
  9. Fill each muffin cup to the top. They will rise as they bake, making the classic muffin top.
  10. Bake in the centre rack for ~15 minutes. I used convection so if you have a regular oven it may take a bit longer. For the last 2 minutes I turned the oven to broil high to get a golden brown top (if you’re doing this keep a close eye because depending on how hot your oven gets they can burn quickly!). They are done when a toothpick comes out just clean (not wet but little bits of batter can be present).
  11. Remove from oven, and then after a few minutes when they are cool enough to handle, transfer each individual muffin to cooling rack to cool completely. Enjoy!
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hot out of the oven

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broil for a minute or two for golden brown tops