Wednesday, May 22, 2013

German chocolate cupcakes

A dear friend of mine wanted me to make some cupcakes.  While I was happy to do it, I wasn't sure where to begin.  I am by NO means a baker!  If I could make it to graduate school, I'm pretty sure I could manage some cupcakes though, right?

He said he preferred German Chocolate, so I immediately headed to Pinterest for some motivation.  One of my favorite ideas is found HERE.

I decided to keep the cake-mix basic, and focus on making the toppings special.  My favorite part was making the chocolate garnish.  We melted chocolate chips on a glass plate over a pot filled with boiling water, put the melted chocolate in a Ziploc bag and wrapped with a towel.  I cut a whole at the corner and squeezed the melted chocolate on to wax paper in designs.  In to the refrigerator to harden then on top of the cupcakes they go!

I opted for the almond coconut topping and chocolate garnish.  It took so much time with all of the trial and error but we did get there... and he loved them!

Plant Growth!!

Perhaps one of the most exciting things that have happened lately are the quickly sprouting jalapeno plants.  Much like a science experiment I found that different containers had an amazing impact on the growth of the pepper plants.  As I LOVE jalapenos, I want to grow as many healthy plants as possible!  In order for this to happen I have been forced to replant about half of them in other containers.  The plants on the left were shooting up early and steady.  The few in the middle did slightly better in the big tomato can from an earlier post.  The sad plants on the right were in smaller containers.  They struggled a lot as they didn't retain much moisture and did not give room for the roots to spread.  Consequently, they are now all improving in better conditions.  I have chosen to put them all into re-purposed plastic containers that once held spinach.  They are ideal for these pepper plants to grow!

Started from the bottom now we HERE!

Shopping/Banana Nut Bread

The struggle in my home around food is usually surrounding the idea of wasting food.  In an effort to better utilize our blessings, and in the sentiment of my loving father and grandmother growing up, 'to clean my plate', these are the plans to stop wasting food (and money) by using what we have before it spoils.

1.  Shop often.
    There are two kinds of grocery shoppers.  The ones who go to Walmart and buy everything in sight, and the ones who buy what they need as they need it often from the neighborhood butcher etc.  We go to grocery shopping at least three times a week now, often walking.  We get a workout in while getting just what we need for the day.
2.  Buy less.
    Instead of buying food to feed an army, we are buying lesser amounts of food that does not last long or will not be eaten in time.  If we buy less, there is less to eat.  Easy stuff...
3.  Use lists
    I like to use the app on my phone to track online coupons and make my grocery list.  Makes life pretty simple.
4.  Stick to the lists.
    We are working on buying groceries that we sought out to buy only.  It is so easy to get distracted by in store advertisements, candy, and other products that we did not intend to purchase at that time.  This takes some effort on everyone's part.  My son and I remind each other-that's not why we came here! :)
5.  Re-Purpose.
    We like bananas... but NEVER eat them before they spoil.  I decided to figure out what we already had at home to best utilize some browning bananas.  Although my son was completely uninterested in those brown bananas who could not get enough of the banana nut bread I created from them.

6.  Freeze.
    A lot of foods can be frozen in Ziploc bags.  Not rocket science but in a busy household like ours, it often simply gets passed by us before we (I) know it.  I love freezing any veggies I can use for soups or stir-fry.
7.  Use what you have.
    When I grocery shop, I often buy things that are on sale (if they can be easily stored) even though I do not need them right this minute.  Therefore, I often need to remind myself that I have lots of unique ingredients to use and should find a new way to incorporate them instead of being another kitchen decoration.
8.  Eat in season.
    The most unique, natural, fresh, and often-cost friendly produce is that which is in season.  Switch it up and store whatever is leftover for later use if possible.
9.  Only buy on sale.
    I used to buy whatever looked appetizing... until I realized how much money I was wasting.  I'm not a coupon lady.  Never will be.  But... I have a new rule-never buy food unless it is on sale.  Obviously there will be times this rule must be broken when there is a need for something special.  Most of the time, however, I have found this rule is not that hard to keep.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Lemon Pound Cake-Starbucks Copycat

One lovely afternoon hanging out with my supervisor, I fell in love with Starbucks lemon loaf.  It was a pure lemony perfection.  It was then my mission to find the recipe and recreate it at home.  $2.50 a slice is simply too heavy on my pockets.  I need to be able to make this at home any time!

The first recipe I tried is not really worth mentioning.  It was dry and not very... lemony.

The recipe I used for my second try can be found HERE.  Thank you!! 180 degrees different.  It was moist, lemony, and 100% addictive.

 The third go round, I had a vision around 2:00 a.m. to incorporate lemon heads somehow.  I went to a few different stores, only to find that they were much more difficult to find in Chicago grocery stores than once thought.  Four stores later, Walgreen's had a bag.  I threw them in the blender with the icing for a crunchy, lemony, sugary topping-maybe TOO sugary.
The fourth, and hopefully final go round, I incorporated hard candy-lemon rounds from Target.  I put them in the blender with the icing ingredients to make a saucy yellow lemon icing.  This time it was smooth, instead of crunchy.
I also gave it a chance to soak into the top of the cake itself.  I heard that this is the best one so far...  All but one particular person who shall go unnamed, may be upset that there weren't actual lemon heads on top this time.  ...Maybe just go eat a bag of lemon heads instead?

A few variations.. to each their own.  Personally, I have come to enjoy this recipe much more than the original Starbucks version, as have a few of my coworkers.  The only downside is that now they are requesting it a LOT.  I don't mind though, because I enjoy doing something nice for the great people I work with.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

One of my greatest memories of my childhood is of working in my grandmother's garden.  It was an urban oasis encompassing the entire backyard.  Peach tree, cherry tree, collard greens, tomatoes, banana peppers, onions, grape vines, roses, marigolds, and plethora of other goodies.  There was always so much work to be done, yet some of the most rewarding fruits were found there.

Knowing exactly where your food comes from may be one of the obvious benefits, particularly in our generation where organic thinking seems to be the trend on everyone's mind.  While this is important, the benefits of growing some of my own goodies goes a little further.  Remembering the life lessons learned in those long conversations with my grandmother are being passed on to my son now.

Patience. Love. Hard work. Value.  Purpose. Rewards.

It has been a long time since I've tried my hand at gardening, and now that I'm in an apartment on the third floor with no patio I have even more restrictions.  What I heard though, is that where there is a will there is a way.  So... Here goes... everything.  Genovese basil, garden sage, slow bolt cilantro, Italian flat leaf parsley, jalapenos, and chives.  I imagine there will be lots of trial and error... I welcome the challenges.  With challenges come wisdom.

The past couple days my seedlings have started to sprout.  It has been an adventure watching life show through some of the most basic components of life that we often take for granted, especially living in an urban area.  Soil, water, sunlight, water.  We used a mix of peat pots, re-purposed old vegetable cans, and re-purposed plastic vegetable containers for planting.

After relocating within the apartment four or five times, finally found the best home in the kitchen window.  This morning I rushed to check on their overnight progress.  My jalapenos have started sprouting.  I couldn't be more excited.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A constant aroma of freshly baked cornbread, homemade peach cobbler, smothered pork chops, and a plethora of what I thought were exotic foods, always seemed to be my salvage from the chaos of the world.  Peer expectations, teenage love, and the daily struggles of life as a young person, would leave me drained by 3:00pm.  But somehow, my grandmother Alean May would always provide enough love for me that it made up for all the bad in my day.  A little scripture, a few hugs, and some really good soul food are what have left the deepest of impressions on me.  She was and still has a huge place in my heart, that twelve years after her death has not left me.  It has not swayed; if anything my appreciation for her love and commitment to family has been instilled in me in ways I am only now recognizing as her doing. 

“Ebony, anything can taste good.  You just have to know how to cook it the right way,” she would remind me.  I spent my afternoons in the kitchen listening to her explain the ways of the world, while picking up on many of her tips and tricks in the kitchen.  I wish I had spent more time as her apprentice, because I now know that her expertise was abundant.  They say hindsight is 20/20.  Somehow, I believe that what she left me with was deeper than the surface, which highlights cooking techniques.  She left me with an appreciation for content and quality of life and love, faith, health, hard work, and cooking with love.

My long-awaited food blog is most certainly a dedication to her and the love she taught me to have unconditionally, often expressed through food. 

I have so many ideas and adventures surrounding food-love.  More to come…

·      Cooking with love
·      Gardening in the City
·      Cooking in Season
·      Cast Iron Skillets are for Cooking too
·      Slow Cookers & Cooking Slow
·      Measuring Cups & Intuition
·      Cooking with Kids
·      Natural Foods
·      Farmers Market
·      Real Tomatoes
·      Freezing and Canning Everything
·      Fasting/Praying/Detox
·      Miss Jalapeño/Miss Hot & Spicy, Myself