Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Buttercream

While vanilla is not my usual go-to decadent treat, Naomi’s request for vanilla cupcakes for her birthday party was the perfect opportunity for me to try out some more classic recipes.  The kids seemed to like these, and the parents loved them. And even though they weren’t chocolate-y, I still thought they were deliciously decadent vanilla treats.

The buttercream uses a vanilla bean for maximum vanilla flavor, and adds the lovely specks to mark true vanilla flavor.  The cake had a great crumb, and a strong vanilla flavor that can stand up to the intense buttercream.

Vanilla CupcakesVanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Buttercream

Makes 24 cupcakes

Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 4 large egg yolks, room temperature
  • 2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line two muffin pans with 24 liners, or grease with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, beat together butter, sour cream, egg, egg yolks, and vanilla.  Sift in the dry ingredients and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds, or until smooth and satiny.  Scrape down the sides with a spatula and make sure there are no flour pockets left.

Divide batter among the 24 cupcakes and bake for 18-22 minutes, until lightly golden on top.  Remove cupcakes to a wire rack to cool.

Vanilla Bean ButtercreamVanilla cupcakes with vanilla bean buttercream

  • 1 3/4 cup (3 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • paste from 1 vanilla bean
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 Tbsp heavy cream

Using the whisk attachment to a stand mixer or an electric mixer, whip the butter on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Reduce speed to low and gradually add the powdered sugar.  Once incorporated, increase the speed and add vanilla extract, then heavy cream.  Whipping until fully incorporated and has reached your desired consistency.  Frost completely cooled cupcakes.

Razzleberry Pie

Yesterday was my cousin’s 9th birthday!  She had a wonderful party and to help in the celebration, I made Razzleberry Pie (Naomi doesn’t like cake, so pie it is!), and Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Buttercream (recipe coming soon).

I’m so glad Naomi wanted birthday pie, because it was a great excuse to make this delicious pie!  Razzleberry is just a mixture of raspberries and blackberries, that meld into a delicious, slightly tart filling between two buttery pie crusts and are just divine served with vanilla ice cream.  It’s definitely the perfect way to start off one’s 9th year.  You’re already making good choices, Naomi!  Keep it up!

This pie tastes like summer, but is easily made with frozen berries, so you can enjoy the taste of summer all year.

Razzleberry PieRazzleberry Pie

Serves 8

Adapted from Rebecca Kolls

  • 2 pie crusts (I like Pillsbury’s)
  • 1 1/2 (12oz) bags frozen raspberries, thawed
  • 1 1/2 (18 oz) bags frozen blackberries, thawed
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp orange juice (optional)

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Spread one of your pie crusts over a 91/2″ pie dish.

In a large bowl, mix together thawed and drained berries, with sugar, flour and orange juice (if using).  Pour berries into prepared pie dish.  Cover with remaining pie crust and crimp the edges between your thumb and index finger to seal the pie.  Using a sharp knife, cut small slits into the top pie crust.  Cover the edges with foil (or a handy pie crust shield), and place in the oven.  If pie seems particularly full, you might place a cookie sheet or some foil under the pie to catch any drips.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown.  Allow to cool completely before serving.  Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Blueberry Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce

So blueberries are back in the stores!  Yippee!  I adore fresh blueberries, and couldn’t resist the temptation to buy some on a whim when I saw them last week.  So glad I did.  They’re fresh and bright, sweet and delicious, and the perfect taste of spring to keep me going through these ridiculously cold weeks we’ve been having.

In addition to eating them fresh from the carton, I whipped up a batch of blueberry pancakes, to really indulge with this fruity delight.

I also made a blueberry sauce with frozen berries to serve on top.

Blueberry Pancakes with Blueberry SauceBlueberry Pancakes

Serves 4-6

Adapted from Crepes of Wrath

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 3 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 1 cup (or more) fresh blueberries
  • 1 Tbsp flour, for the blueberries

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and set aside.  Separate the eggs, placing egg whites in a medium bowl, and egg yolks in a large bowl.  Add milk, vanilla, olive oil, and lemon zest to the bowl with the egg yolks, and whisk until well mixed.  Mix into the dry ingredients until just combined.  Then beat the egg whites with an electric whisk until stiff peaks form (it’ll look like whipped cream).  In a small bowl, toss blueberries with flour and fold into the batter.  Carefully fold the egg whites into the batter, leaving it kind of chunky from the egg whites, which will make super soft and fluffy pancakes.

Preheat griddle to 350°, or heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Lightly grease with cooking spray.  Scoop batter (about 1/3 cup each) onto hot griddle.  When bubble start to form on top, flip the pancakes and allow to cook for another minute or two.  Remove from pan and add next batch.  Serve with blueberry sauce and/or maple syrup.

Blueberry SauceBlueberry Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce

  • 2/3 cup water
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup sugar (or more to taste)
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen blueberries

In a small saucepan, bring water and cornstarch to a simmer, mixing well until cornstarch dissolves.  Add sugar and blueberries and bring to a boil.  Press blueberries against the side of the pot with a spatula to help them burst as they heat up.  Let simmer for 10-15 minutes, until thickened.

Raspberry Cheesecake Brownies

This has been a sweet-filled month!  To keep the treats rolling, these Raspberry Cheesecake Brownies were something I made a few weeks ago for Carroll Cafe, the monthly concert hosted at my church.  These fudgy brownies are topped with a creamy, sweet raspberry cheesecake.  These add a fun new twist on the classic brownie.

Raspberry Cheesecake BrowniesRaspberry Cheesecake Brownies

Makes one 9×13″ pan

Adapted from Baker’s Royale

Raspberry Cheesecake:

  • 8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup raspberry puree (thaw frozen raspberries, blend and strain)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp flour

With an electric mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth.  Beat in the sugar, then slowly add the raspberry puree and the remaining ingredients, beating until smooth.  Set aside while making the brownie batter.

Brownies:Raspberry Cheesecake Brownie

  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line a 9×13″ pan with aluminum foil and grease with cooking spray, set aside.

In a large bowl, beat eggs with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.  Add in the vanilla and both sugars.  Add in butter, mixing well.  Sift together the dry ingredients and fold into the wet mixture.

Pour batter into prepared baking sheet, then top with raspberry cheesecake mixture.  Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Remove from oven and allow to cool on rack.

Spaghetti Squash with Chicken Sausage Ratatouille

It’s always exciting when winging it in the kitchen works out well.  This dish was created for brunch with a friend who had warned me she was attempting the South Beach Diet.  Normally my go-to brunch items include pancakes, or waffles, or Dutch babies…clearly carbs are brunch’s best friends.  So as I spent a few days pondering non-carb brunch ideas and how to use the other random ingredients in my fridge because I didn’t have time to go grocery shopping, this dish was born.  The chicken sausage was an impulse buy from Wegmans, it was delicious, but you could also use ground turkey, Italian sausage, or omit it altogether for a vegetarian version and add a fried egg on top.  I had originally planned on adding a fried egg…because obviously if you add eggs it can totally pass for a breakfast food.  But I decided it didn’t need it, and with brunch at 11, skipping to lunch items totally works, right?

So skipping to the end of the story, what started off as kind of a random “little bit of this, little bit of that” plan, turned into a delicious dish.  I decided to roast some cabbage to go on the side just for fun (just cut cabbage into rings, drizzle with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, and bake with the squashes), which was yummy.  All in all this was a great, flavorful, veggie-packed meal that I would definitely make again for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Spaghetti Squash with Chicken Sausage RatatouilleSpaghetti Squash Stuffed with Chicken Sausage Ratatouille

Serves 4

Squash:

  • 2 small spaghetti squashes, cut in half length-wise and seeds scooped out
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Line a baking sheet with foil.  Drizzle cut side of squashes lightly with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper and rub 1/2 a garlic clove into each half.  Place cut side down on prepared baking sheet and bake for 30-40 minutes, until fork tender.

Chicken Sausage Ratatouille:

  • 1 lb chicken sausage (I used an herb and garlic kind), casing removed
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 1/2 large green pepper, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large zucchini, diced
  • 1 (15oz) can diced tomatoesStuffed Spaghetti Squash with Roasted Cabbage copy
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • feta for garnish

In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add chicken sausage and break it up with a spatula as it cooks.  Once the sausage has cooked through and begins to brown, remove to a separate plate.  Add onion and green pepper to the pan, sauté until they begin to soften.  Add garlic and zucchini, salt and pepper to taste, and sauté for a few more minutes.  Add diced tomatoes, and if squashes are almost ready, return chicken sausage to the pan as well and cook for a few more minutes, reducing heat to medium-low.

Once the squashes are fork tender, plate them, cut side up and fill with the ratatouille mixture, then top with crumbled feta cheese.

Decadent Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache Frosting

My adorable cousin turned 3 yesterday, and to celebrate, I made her this decadently chocolatey cake.  As my uncle said, “This is the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had!”  And indeed it is.  The cake is super moist and tender, the frosting is rich and creamy and thick and decadent.  Truly awesome.  This is not a cake for the faint of heart.  If you are not a chocolate lover, this might be way over the top for you.  Or if you have the chocolate-sweet tooth of this 3 year old, you’ll want to eat the frosting with a spoon.Natalie's Decadent Chocolate Cake

This cake is also a patience practice test.  It’s best if it sits for a day or two to develop its flavor.  Great for making ahead for a birthday party, not so great since you have to wait with this beauty tempting you.  Fortunately I had some extra frosting to tide me over until cake time.

Decadent Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache Frosting

Makes 1 9-inch layer cake

Adapted from The Kitchn

Frosting:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 lb semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup double-strength brewed coffee (I used decaf)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, heat cream, butter, sugar and salt over low heat until butter is melted, stirring occasionally.  Turn off the heat and add the chocolate.  Let sit for about 30 seconds, then whisk the chocolate into the cream mixture until smooth.  Whisk in the coffee and vanilla.  Let sit until the mixture comes to room temperature and is a good spreadable consistency (about 2 hours).  Meanwhile, make the cake.

Cake:Decadent Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache Frosting

  • 1 3/4  cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup hot double-strength brewed coffee
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature (if you forget to set them out, set eggs in a bowl of hot tap water for about 10 minutes)
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325°F.  Generously grease 2 9-inch cake pans with cooking spray, then line the bottoms with parchment paper and spray again.  Set pans aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together sugar, flour, baking soda, and salt and set aside.  In a large measuring cup, whisk the chocolate into the hot coffee until smooth.  In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, oil, sour cream and vanilla.  Slowly whisk the chocolate-coffee mixture into the egg mixture.  Lastly, fold in the flour mixture 1/3 at a time, mixing until just combined and no lumps remain.

Divide batter into prepared baking pans and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Allow cakes to cool in pans for about 30 minutes.  Remove cakes from pans and allow to cool on a wire rack until completely cool and then remove parchment paper.

Spread a thick layer of frosting over the cake and then top with the second layer, and cover top and sides with more frosting.  Allow cake to sit at room temperature  covered by a cake dome or large glass bowl for at least two hours or overnight before serving.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Red velvet cupcakes are so pretty.  These cupcakes are vibrant and fluffy and topped with a delicious cream cheese frosting.  These colorful cupcakes are great for Valentine’s day, but they’re also pretty enough to glam up any other day too.

While I am still struggling to learn how to pipe frosting properly, if you don’t have piping bags or all those fancy things (which really are just too complicated for me), I recommend using a handy ziploc bag and just snipping the corner and piping your frosting on with that.  Easy, no mess to clean up, and in my attempts at piping it turns out just as nice…

On the other hand, if you have any tips for learning how to pipe frosting, I’m all ears!

Red Velvet CupcakesRed Velvet Cupcakes

Adapted from Joy the Baker

Makes 20 cupcakes or 2 9-inch cakes

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 Tbsp (2oz) red food coloring
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp white vinegar

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease muffin tins or cake pans well with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition.

In a separate bowl, mix cocoa, vanilla and red food coloring to make a thick paste.  Add to the batter and mix thoroughly.

Slowly add half of the buttermilk, then half of the flour and salt, mixing well on low (or by hand) after each addition, then repeat with remaining buttermilk and flour.

Add baking soda and white vinegar and beat until well combined.

Spoon batter into prepared baking tins.  Reduce heat and bake at 325° for 18-23 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let rest in the pan for 10 minutes, then place one a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.

My Favorite Cream Cheese FrostingRed Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

makes enough to frost 20 cupcakes

  • 2 pkgs (16oz) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese until smooth, then beat in the butter.  Add powdered sugar and then add in the vanilla extract.

Oatmeal Toffee Cookies

These cookies were awesome.  They’re buttery-delicious with a nice crunch from the toffee and pecans, and a chewy base from the oatmeal.  Upon first bite, Mom declared them her new favorite cookie.  They’re awesome, a little something different and super easy to whip up.  I’d definitely recommend these!!

Oatmeal Toffee CookiesOatmeal Toffee Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen large cookies

Adapted from All Recipes

  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (I think white whole wheat would be great in this and add a nice nuttiness)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup toasted pecans, chopped
  • 3 cups toffee baking bits

Preheat oven to 300°F.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, then beat in the vanilla.  Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt and mix into the wet ingredients.  Add oats, pecans and toffee and mix until just combined.

Scoop large (3oz) portions onto prepared baking sheet, flatten slightly, and bake for 20-23 minutes, until golden and center is set.

Moroccan Chickpea, Squash and Sweet Potato Tagine

This is a great vegetarian dish.  It was a great vegetarian option to go with the Moroccan Chicken recipe.  The spices are a bit more subtle in this, but I thought it was a great dish that highlights the flavors of the sweet potatoes and the butternut squash.  I love when a dish brings out the natural flavors in vegetables.  I recommend serving this with couscous with golden raisins and/or dried apricots.  If this feels to starch heavy to you, I think cauliflower would be awesome in this too.

Moroccan Chickpea, Squash and Sweet Potato TagineMoroccan Chickpea, Squash and Sweet Potato Tagine

Serves 12

Adapted from The Roasted Root

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 yellow onions, diced
  • 2 large sweet potato, peeled and diced in 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped in 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 heaping Tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes (more if you like it spicy)
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 2 large (28oz) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Grease a large baking sheet with cooking spray and toss diced sweet potatoes and butternut squash with a little olive oil and salt and spread out on the baking sheet (it’s ok if it’s kind of piled on, they don’t have to roast, steaming is just fine).  Bake for about 25 minutes, until tender.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat and then sauté onion until tender and beginning to brown.  Add  cooked sweet potato and butternut squash.  Add spices, vegetable broth, chickpeas and lemon juice, mix well.  Cover and let simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes.  Serve with couscous, rice or pita.

Trail Mix Cookies

These cookies are a fun way of using up lingering supplies in a super tasty and creative way.  They’re the best reward for a little kitchen cleaning.  So go through your cupboards and your secret stash of candy and combine your sweet, salty, crunchy, chewy treats to form these awesome cookies.  I tried adding pretzels to the mix because I was making these for a catering event and didn’t want to use salted peanuts.  Unfortunately the pretzels weren’t as crisp as I was hoping, but they were a fun experiment.  Next time I might try chocolate covered pretzels or pretzel/peanut M&Ms.  So many possibilities!

Trail Mix CookiesTrail Mix Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen

Adapted from Joy the Baker’s super awesome cookbook (page 197)

  • 2 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped pretzels
  • 1 cup M&Ms
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup salted roasted sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.  Set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat together butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in vanilla until well mixed.

Add wet ingredients to the dry and mix until just combined.  Fold in the remaining ingredients.

Using a 1 oz cookie scoop, scoop the batter onto prepared baking sheets.  Bake for 12-15 minutes until just beginning to turn golden at the edges.  Allow to cool for a few minutes before removing the cookies to a wire baking sheet to cool.