Any Holiday Cupcakes

I originally made these cupcakes for St. Patty’s day and planned on publishing this article in March. However, everyone loved them so much I wanted to make them again. I few minor changes and this recipe can adapt to any holiday. The base recipe is very “Irish” but just change the color of the sprinkles and you can bring them almost anywhere! These cupcakes are perfectly moist and light enough to save room for plenty of holiday cocktails.

Ingredients

Cupcakes:

  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, plus more for dusting finished cupcakes
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch fine salt
  • 1 bottle stout beer room temperature (recommended: Guinness)
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sour cream

Frosting

  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Baily’s Irish Cream

How to Make Them

The cupcakes:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (for mini cupcakes preheat at 325 degrees F)
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the cocoa, sugar, flour, baking soda, and salt
  3. In large mixing bowl, combine the stout, melted butter, and vanilla (if the stout isn’t room temperature stick it in the microwave for 30 seconds)
  4. Beat in eggs, 1 at time
  5. Mix in sour cream until thoroughly combined (some lumps okay)
  6. Gradually mix the dry ingredients into the wet mixture.
  7. Lightly grease 24 muffin tins or line with cupcake wrappers (or about 60 mini cupcakes)
  8. Divide the batter equally between muffin tins, filling each 3/4 full. Bake for about 12 minutes and then rotate the pans. Bake another 12 to 13 minutes until risen, nicely domed, and set in the middle but still soft and tender (bake mini cupcakes for 6 minutes and rotate pans for another 6)
  9. Cool slightly and turn out of cupcake tin

The frosting:

  1. Put all ingredients in a bowl and whip with a hand mixer until the whipped cream has stiff peaks  (when you stop mixing and lift the beaters straight up there are two peaks left in the bowl)
  2. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting
  3. Garnish with holiday appropriate sprinkles!

Helpful Hints

  1. I recommend making the mini cupcakes over the normal sized ones. They’re a nice little treat and you won’t feel as guilty. Plus they are just cute!
  2. The color from the sprinkles will leach out into the frosting making them look moldy (perfect for Halloween)! To prevent this add the sprinkles just before serving.

Cupcake recipe courtesy of FoodNetwork.com and frosting recipes courtesy of cupcakeproject.com.

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The Best Apples for Eating and Baking

There are so many varieties of apples, sometimes it is hard to know what you should buy. Personally, the McIntosh apple is my all around favorite. I grew up eating these in upstate New York and every other apple pales in comparison to their crisp and juicy but not too sweet flavor. Check out my recommendations for eating and baking with apples.

For Eating:

If you want a great apple to eat as a snack or to slice up with some peanut butter – I will always recommend the McIntosh. It is a New England and Canadian favorite and I have spent more time (and money) then I would like to admit hunting them down in San Francisco. They are not very popular on the west coast but you can find them if you look. Sometimes if you ask your local grocer they can order them for you.

For Baking:

If you haven’t caught on yet – I love McIntosh apples – but if you are baking a pie, cake or bread, I would recommend a few alternatives. McIntosh apples tend to be more expensive so if you are adding a lot of spices and other ingredients I would recommend less expensive varieties. The Fuji, Pink Lady or Gala apples are great for baking. I like to mix them together with some Granny Smith apples for some tartness and textural differences (one Granny Smith for every two Fuji, Pink Lady or Gala).  If you live in New England and can get McIntosh for a good price, buy nothing else!

Good For Nothing:

If there is one apple that is better for a decoration on your kitchen table it is the Red Delicious. This variety is very sweet and grainy and lacks the quintessential sweet/tart flavor that I love about apples. Better yet, don’t waste your money on this decoration. Buy something that you can actually enjoy – a McIntosh!

What’s your favorite apple?

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Pumped up Gin and Tonic

The classic gin and tonic is an earthy, botanical drink and one of my favorites. It works really well with other earthy flavors like basil, grapefruit, cucumber or even berries. Try these combinations at your next event by setting up a “Create Your Own G&T Bar”. Provide two or three types of gin, regular and diet tonic, freshly squeezed lime juice and a bunch of your favorite “extras”. Everyone will love experimenting and tasting thier creations.

Ingredients

  • 3 oz Gin
  • 4 oz tonic water (I usually use diet – you will save 100 calories per serving!)
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime

Optional Extras:

  • 3-4 of your favorite berries
  • 3-4 leaves of basil
  • Slice of orange
  • 4 slices of cucumber
  • Subsitute the lime juice for grapefruit juice

How to Make it

  1. If you are adding berries, basil or cucumber add them first with the lime juice and mash them with a muddler or the handle of a spoon.
  2. Pour all other ingredients over ice and stir.
  3. If you are adding orange, add the slices to the top of the drink.
  4. Enjoy!

Helpful Hints

  1. If you are adding berries you can mash them up, keep them whole or even freeze them and use them instead of ice!
  2. If you are planning a “Create Your Own G&T Bar” make sure to provide the basic recipe to get your guests started. You will also need a bucket of ice and a muddler.
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Great Alternatives to Burgers and Dogs

Summer is here and everyone is planning their barbeque for the 4th! If you are tired of the same old hamburgers and hotdogs try one of these crock pot recipes. They are quick and easy to prepare and you can leave them in the warm crock pot throughout the day.

Surprisingly Healthy Shredded Buffalo Chicken

BBQ Pulled Pork

Mexican Style Shredded Chicken

Need something to drink? These are great for a big crowd.

Sangria!

Refreshing Fruit Water

Spiked Sweet Tea

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Strawberry Cupcake Bites

I’ve started making mini cupcakes recently (smaller = fewer calories), and I love them! These light little bites are perfect for large parties, kids and are great now that strawberries are in season.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes: (makes 34 regular or about 70 mini cupcakes)

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 large whole eggs plus 1 egg white
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups finely chopped fresh strawberries (about 20)

For the frosting:

  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons of ultrafine granulated sugar
  • 2 cups finely chopped fresh strawberries (about 20)

How to Make Them

The cupcakes:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°C (325°C for mini cupcakes). Line muffin tin with paper liners.
  2. Sift together both flours, baking powder and salt.
  3. Cream butter, sugar and vanilla on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy.
  4. Add whole eggs one at a time, beating until each one is incorporated.
  5. Add the egg white and beat until incorporated.
  6. Reduce mixing speed to low and add the flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the milk and beating until well combined.
  7. Fold in chopped strawberries by hand.
  8. Divide batter into cupcake tin filling three-quarters full (fill just below the top for mini cupcakes).
  9. Bake rotating half way until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes (about 9 minutes for mini cupcakes).
  10. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

The frosting:

  1. While the cupcakes are cooling, add heavy whipping cream and sugar to a bowl and whip with a hand mixer until the whipped cream has stiff peaks (when you stop mixing and lift the beaters straight up there are two peaks left in the bowl).
  2. Stir in the chopped strawberries by hand.
  3. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.
  4. Store in the refrigerator but allow them to come to room temperature for about 2 hours before serving.

Helpful Hints

  • I recommend making the mini cupcakes (hence the “bites” title) because they are a nice little treat without all the guilt.
  • 70 mini cupcakes sounds like a lot but these are so light and fluffy your guests will have two or three.

Cupcake recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes page 146.

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Spiked Sweet Tea

Photography by Whitebox Weddings via Elizabeth Anne Designs

Spiked sweet tea is a great pitcher drink to serve at your next summer barbeque. Clearly label it though (and keep it away from the kids) it tastes like the real thing.

Ingredients

  • 4 Cups of your favorite instant lemonade (I like crystal light – 4 cups cold water and 1 packet mix)
  • 1 1/2 cups Sweet Tea Vodka
  • 2 lemons
  • How to make it

    1. Mix your favorite lemonade in a pitcher (4 cups total).
    2. Add 1 1/2 cups Sweet Tea Vodka.
    3. Add the juice of one lemon.
    4. Garnish with remaining lemon.

    Special thanks to Grace for introducing me to Sweet Tea Vodka!

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    Mexican Style Shredded Chicken

    The crock-pot is great for Mexican food that needs to be cooked at a low temperature for a long time. This shredded chicken is great for burritos, tacos, nachos or sandwiches. Try it this weekend for Cinco de Mayo!

    Ingredients

    • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    • 2 tablespoons chili powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
    • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
    • 1 onion finely chopped
    • 1/2 cup chicken broth

    How to make it

    1. In a small bowl combine chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper and mix well.
    2. Rub the mixture into the chicken breasts and place them into a crock pot.
    3. Add the onions and pour the chicken broth over everything.
    4. Cover and cook on low for at least 6 hours.
    5. Shred chicken in crock pot with forks and serve (Serves 8-10).

    Helpful Hints

    • If you don’t have chicken broth you can make some with a cup of hot water and a chicken bouillon cube.
    • If you forget to defrost your chicken, throw it in frozen! Just give it a couple more hours to cook.
    • Prepare the seasoning mix the night before and place it in a ziploc bag overnight to marinate with the chicken and chopped onion. In the morning, you can just dump the contents of the bag into the crock pot and add the chicken broth.

    Recipe courtesy of The Everything Tex-Mex Cookbook by Linda Larsen (recipe pg 150).

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    6 Low Calorie Drinks

    With spring just around the corner we are all trying to shed some pounds. Keep these drinks in mind and you can still meet up for happy hour and have a good time. Remember: the higher the proof, the greater the calories.

    1. Champagne

    Champagne is usually stereotyped as a celebratory drink but can be enjoyed anytime (for real!)! Pop open a bottle at your next gathering to get the evening started.  Only 100 calories in a 5 oz glass. My favorite is Martini and Rossi Asti.

    2. Gin and Diet Tonic

    This classic drink has a nice bite to it and is very refreshing when made with fresh lime juice and only has 130 calories.  Add 2oz of Gin, 4oz of diet tonic water and 1 tablespoon of fresh lime juice to a glass of ice and stir.

    3. Rum/Whiskey and Diet

    Mix anything with a diet drink and you are saving TONS of calories.  However, don’t be fooled. Some alcohols pack a big punch to the gut. Add 2 oz of Bacardi Rum, Jack Daniels Tennesee Whiskey or Malibu rum to diet coke and you will sacrifice only 138 calories.

    4. Vodka and Light Cranberry Juice

    If you are drinking juice for anything but its natural properties (vitamins, minerals etc.) go light. Juice contains a surprising amount of calories and choosing the light version will save you hundreds of calories over an entire evening.  Word of Warning: Diet juices tend to taste like chemicals. If you actually want to enjoy your drink, I would go with the light version with 2oz of vodka at 140 calories per serving.

    5. Mojito

    Not only are you reducing your calorie intake with a mojito but you will get a free arm work out while you are crushing the mint. This minty refresher will only set you back 150 calories. GET MASHING! If you order one while you are out, ask for half the sugar or Splenda instead.

    6. Beer or Wine

    An average 12oz light beer is about 110 calories and a 4oz glass of wine is about 85 calories. Just like liquor, the higher the alcohol content the higher the calories.

    7. Drinks to Avoid

    • Long Island Ice Tea: At around 800 calories this drink has 5 different alcohols and 2 different mixers.
    • Pina Colada: Coconut milk sends this drink up to around 650 calories.
    • Mai Tai: Lots of alcohol and mixers will set you back 350 calories
    • Avoid anything with cream (white Russian ~425 calories) or off the shelf mixers

    The most important thing about drinking smart? Always measure. I love OXO Good Grips Liquid Measuring Cup.

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    Apple Crisp for Two

    I love apple crisp but I can never convince myself that I need a whole pan of it. This recipe will make three mini apple crisps so you can enjoy with out going over board.

    Ingredients

    • 2 Granny Smith Apples – peeled and cored
    • 1 sweeter apple (like pink lady or fuji) – peeled and cored
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1 tablespoon flour

    For the topping:

    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 1/3 cup flour
    • 3 teaspoons butter

    How to Make Them

    1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
    2. Slice apples into uniform pieces
    3. Mix together the sugar, cinnamon and flour
    4. Pour mixture over cut apples and toss to coat
    5. Let sit for 10 minutes
    6. Put apple mixture into 4 inch ramekins – don’t worry about over filling
    7. Mix together the sugar and flour
    8. Cut in butter until it is about the size of peas
    9. Add butter mixture to the top of each ramekin (you might have to pat it down a little)
    10. Place ramekins on a baking sheet and cook for 35 minutes or until apples are tender and the top is golden brown.
    11. Cool slightly and top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

    Helpful Hints

    • Apples always shrink when they are cooked so over fill the ramekin when preparing the dish.
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    A Reuben with a twist

    One of my favorite sandwiches – born in the early 1900’s – is the Reuben. Traditionally, Reubens are made with 1000 Island Dressing and I don’t really care for it – but I LOVE mustard (the Dijon kind – keep that yellow stuff away from me!). With St. Patty’s Day coming up tomorrow a Reuben will be perfect for your left over corned beef.

    Ingredients

    • 3/4 lb corned beef
    • 1-15 oz can of sauerkraut
    • 8 slices Swiss cheese
    • Spicy Dijon mustard
    • 8 slices Rye bread
    • Butter

    How to Make Them

    1. Brown sauerkraut in a saute pan until dry
    2. Butter one side of each slice of rye bread
    3. Lay one piece of bread in a cold frying pan butter side down and spread Dijon mustard over the top
    4. Add three slices of corned beef
    5. Pile high with the browned sauerkraut
    6. Add two slices of Swiss Cheese
    7. Top the sandwich with the other piece of buttered bread, buttered side up
    8. Cover with a lid and turn burner on low
    9. Cook until golden brown and then flip to cook the other side
    10. Keep covered until cheese is melted
    11. Makes 4 sandwiches

    Helpful Hints

    • I like to start off with a cold frying pan because it allows you to get a nice golden brown on the bread without burning it AND it gives the cheese enough time to melt. If you are making more then one sandwich check out the next hint below.
    • If you are making these for your whole family, saute the sauerkraut and warm the corned beef in the microwave or oven (be careful not to dry it out). Lightly toast the bread in the toaster and make the sandwiches on a baking sheet. Before adding the sauerkraut place the sandwiches under the broiler to melt the cheese. Add the sauerkraut and the top slice of lightly toasted bread.
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