Monday, October 31, 2011

Spiced Pumpkin Cupcakes with Whipped Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting

As the days have (finally!) taken on a distinctly Autumn chill, I've found myself craving spicy pumpkin goodness.  I found a recipe for pumpkin layer-cake a few days ago, and with a few tweaks, I was eating some rather delicious pumpkin cupcakes a few hours later.

Pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese vanilla bean frosting

And to make myself feel better about the indulgence, I made them with half whole wheat flour.  I'm sure you could take it further by substituting half (or more) of the oil for applesauce, and since it's a moist spice cake batter, you could probably play around with substitutions of agave nectar or honey to replace some of the sugar, but...well, I didn't want to go TOO crazy.  These ARE cupcakes after all (although I will not reveal whether or not I counted them as breakfast for one morning.  Or two mornings.)  I also switched out the ground ginger for fresh grated ginger for a little more punch.  (Also, I happened to be out of dry ground ginger, but had a fresh root on hand.  Perfect!)

Pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese vanilla bean frosting

Spiced Pumpkin Cupcakes with Whipped Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting
Modified from this recipe on Epicurious

To make these you will need: a KitchenAid stand mixer or strong hand-held beater or strong biceps, 2-12 cup cupcake pans, cupcake papers (optional), and a frosting/decorating bag with large star-tip (optional)

1-1/2 cups All purpose flour
1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour (I like to use "White Whole Wheat" King Arthur brand for it's milder taste)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1-1/2 teaspoons allspice
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup full-flavor molasses
1 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1-15oz can pure pumpkin
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger (I used my microplane)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

8 oz cream cheese (room temperature)
1-1/2 sticks butter/12 tablespoons (room temperature)
1 cup confectioner sugar (or to taste -- I don't like it very sweet)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1 tablespoon dark rum (I didn't use this because I didn't think my children would like it, and one of my best friends has an aversion to rum -- but it would be SUPER DELICIOUS if you like that sort of thing!)

To make cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 350(F).  Position rack in the middle of the oven and grease 2 dozen cupcake cups, or use paper cupcake liners.

Combine dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl bowl and whisk together (or just put it all in a sifter and sift it together).

In a large bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the sugar, molasses and oil (the mixture will look weird and grainy -- don't worry!).  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add pumpkin, vanilla and grated fresh ginger.  Beat until well blended.

Add flour mixture and stir until just combined.  If using, add walnuts or pecans.

Spoon mixture into muffin cups and bake for 18-22 minutes.  Cupcakes are done when a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

To make frosting:
Beat together all of the ingredients for at least 5 minutes, until well combined, airy and light.

Spoon mixture into a decorating bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe swirls of frosting on the tops of the cupcakes.

Pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese vanilla bean frosting

Well, what are you waiting for?  Go make some pumpkin cupcakes!!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Photo Booth

Way back at the beginning of August, my friend Alicia had a birthday party.  I had been wanting to make a photo booth setup ever since I saw this tutorial/free printables over at Oh Happy Day (also some fun ideas at Givers Log!), so I decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to create one.

I made the props by printing them out on computer paper, using spray adhesive to stick them to cardstock, then cutting them out and hot-gluing a thin dowel to the back of each (making sure to alternate sides so that it would be easier to hold multiple props!)  Alicia's children threw in some extra props they had on hand (plastic helmut, swords, wigs, etc.)  The speech bubbles were made out of black cardstock with black chalkboard contact paper stuck to it.  Easy!  All of the cutting was a little tedious, but for a party of that size, it was completely worth it for all of the combinations and characters we were able to create.

The backdrop was created by tying various colors of purple and blue crepe paper streamers to a rope (550 cord, to be exact, for all of those Army guys out there).  We then strung it across a bookshelf.  All of the photos were shot by our friend Jason, and edited for that "old-time photo booth" feel in iPhoto by our friend Alison.

It was a super fun addition to the party, and I have no idea why it's taken me this long to blog about it!  For smaller parties at my house, I'd love to set up a simpler version of this in my dining room with "photo frames" and speech bubbles.

Here are some of my favorite shots from the party (sorry these are all a little small -- we had some technical stop-start action when transferring files):

Yoder Photobooth
Chris and Becca

Yoder Photobooth
Josh and Angela

Yoder Photobooth
Sparky and "F"

Yoder Photobooth
Greg and I (wow, it's hard for me to be serious)

Yoder Photobooth

Yoder Photobooth
Me, Jenny, Becca

Yoder Photobooth
Mike and "A"

Yoder Photobooth
Josh and Alison

Yoder Photobooth
Alicia and Jason (the birthday girl/our hosts)

I loved capturing memories of my friends at party this way!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Oven-Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Maple Syrup

Brussels sprouts.  Among American children (and many adults), this vegetable has come to be regarded more as a punishment than as nourishment.  I, however, have always loved them.  I don't know if it was because I was charmed by their looks (adorable miniature cabbages!), or if it is just because my mom is a rockstar with vegetables (because she is), but I think they're great.  Greg has always been firmly in the other camp, but, as with many other foods, I have worked hard in the kitchen to find a way that he can enjoy them.  When I started roasting them in the oven, then drizzling them with maple syrup and butter, he finally started eating them.  But last week, when I tried out a modified version of a Cook's Illustrated recipe and added bacon to the maple syrup....the children loved them too!  Billy couldn't get enough.  In fact, that's all he wanted, and didn't have much use for the rest of his dinner.  Success!!

What makes this recipe different: when sprouts are simply oven roasted, they have the tendency to dry out a bit, which makes them a little chewy.  Here, the sprouts are oven roasted, but for the first 10 minutes they have foil over the top, so they steam and start to become tender and a little bit sweet.  Once the foil is taken off, they are able to get nicely browned and flavorful.

Oven-roasted Brussels Sprouts with bacon and maple syrup
Pictured here over white rice

Oven-Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Maple Syrup

Source: Cook's Illustrated magazine, slightly modified

2 lbs Brussels Sprouts (ends trimmed off and sliced vertically in half)
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon water
1/4 lb bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup real, pure maple syrup (more or less to taste)  (I'm sure you could also substitute honey or agave nectar -- just use what you have!)

Preheat oven to 500(F), and put oven rack to mid-top position.  Toss Brussels sprouts, olive oil and water together and sprinkle with a bit of salt.  Arrange brussels sprouts, cut side down, on a rimmed baking sheet.  Cover tightly with aluminum foil.

Roast sprouts for 10 minutes.  Remove foil (carefully!  Steam will billow out, so use oven mitts if you have them).  Return to oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until tender and nicely browned.

While the sprouts are roasting, heat a pan on the stove over medium-high heat, and cook bacon pieces until crisp.  Remove bacon, allow it to cool somewhat, then chop or break into shards.  Reserve 1 tablespoon of bacon fat drippings.

Place sprouts in a bowl.  Add the reserved bacon fat, crisp bacon pieces, and maple syrup.  Toss to coat.


Oven-roasted Brussels Sprouts with bacon and maple syrup

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Great Big Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

I'm pretty picky about cookies.  I mean, if something is going to have that much sugar and butter in it, it have better be worth the calories.  I'm a thoughtful calorie consumer, what can I say?  Of all of the cookies in the world, chocolate chip cookies have remained a lifelong favorite of mine, although there are just so many ways that they can go wrong.  (The following will probably offend some -- please know that this is my interpretation of the perfect cookie.  And I respect your right to differ.  Sort of.)

In a chocolate chip cookie, I want it to be thin, but not so thin that it flops before I can bite into it.  There should be no puff.  It must have a bit of chew, and the tiniest bit of crunch.  They should always be made with dark brown sugar, or at least a splash of molasses to bump up the flavor -- but not enough to make it taste like it should be a spice cookie.  It mustn't have too many chocolate chips in it -- if the batter is made properly, it should have enough flavor to stand up on it's own, so that even a bite without the chips is heaven on the tastebuds.  I also prefer the chips to be dark, although semi-sweet is an OK compromise if need be.  Also, I probably don't even need to mention it, but for real -- the chocolate needs to be good chocolate.  Or at least something other than Hershey.  Because that's just wrong, and tasteless, and probably not even chocolate.  (Now I've really offended someone.)

One day I found such a recipe, and I've been making it ever since.  

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

I can no longer find the link to it, so I'm posting it here with my deepest thanks to the anonymous person who came up with it in the first place.  These cookies have a good amount of oatmeal in them, but they are not at all a "typical" oatmeal cookie.  They are not soft and fat and faintly spiced.  (I happen to hate oatmeal cookies, actually.  Although the dough? I'll eat it by the spoonful!)  These are like a classic chocolate chip cookie...but even better, because the chewiness of the oatmeal gives them an extra texture that is just perfection itself.  Or at least our family thinks so.  

These are the cookies that I make for my children on their first day of school as a welcome-home snack.  These are the cookies I crave when I'm feeling like having a naughty little snack that doesn't take too much work.  This is comfort food in a palm-sized serving.  This is butter, sugar and chocolate, married together into something beautiful.

Giant Chocolate Chip Cookies make the day suddenly better

But I'm not super opinionated or anything.  Nope.  Not me.  I would never, ever force my views on anyone.  But I would force-feed them one of these cookies.  Nicely, and with great respect to their feelings.  Cause that's the kind of girl I am.

Great Big Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
Source: anonymous (my deepest thanks, you amazing person who I do not know!!)
Adapted slightly by Faith

Yield: depends on how big you scoop them, but this is a sizable batch, so I bake what I need/want that day, then scoop the rest onto a wax-lined cookie sheet, freeze them, then pop them off into a Ziploc bag for future instant warm-cookie-happiness.  The dough keeps for at least 2 months in the freezer.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1-1/2 cups dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips (or just add by eye until you think it's enough -- I pretty much never measure, so this is actually a guess, but I don't add the entire 12 oz bag)
2 cups old fashioned oats (important NOT to use quick oats, which do not add enough texture -- although if it's all you've got, use it!  And then try old fashioned oats next time.)

Let's make some cookies!
Preheat oven to 350F.  (Because as soon as this dough comes together, you're going to want to get it baked and in your face as soon as possible.)

Beat butter, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla in a small bowl until creamy. 

Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. 

Measure the flour, baking soda and salt into a sifter, and sift into the butter mixture.

Add chocolate chips and oats.  Taste the dough.  Several times.  Set aside some of the dough to eat as a snack later.  (What?!!  Why are you looking at me like that?  You wouldn't want to ruin ALL of the dough by baking it now, would you?!)   

Take two large spoons and scoop great big spoonfuls onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper (or ungreased baking sheets.  But then you'd have to wash them, and who wants to do that?). 

Bake in oven for 8 to 11 minutes or until lightly golden and just barely baked through.  (If you are baking more than one pan at a time, switch the pans top to bottom and rotate half-way through baking for even baking/browning.)  

Slide the parchment paper with cookies off of baking sheets and onto cooling racks and allow them to cool for at least 5 minutes, or until you can easily slip them off with a spatula.  Place them on the cooling rack to finish setting up...or eat them immediately.  Actually, screw the whole "let it cool" part.  Just eat them, right now, standing over the oven to catch the cookie crumbles.  (But don't come to me crying if you burn your tongue.  It probably wasn't a good idea to start with, but sometimes that just can't be helped.  You understand.)


Daisy eating Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A avalanche of thoughts

Note: I've changed the format of the blog to a "dynamic" view.  Let me know what you think.  I can switch it back to a more classic look if this is too difficult to navigate, but I thought this looked kind of fun.  Also, I've optimized this blog for easy viewing on a mobile device.

Lately, I've felt like I'm drowning.  Drowning in thought.  Drowning in care.  My studio is a mess so I feel unable to create.  Billy has still not adjusted to being the only child in the house on school days and is impossibly unhappy.  My lack of recent blogging has brought about a train wreck of thoughts inside of my head -- piling up until it's hard to articulate what it is exactly that I want to say.  Writing is a release for me.  Getting it out on paper or the screen brings my thoughts into order, and when I don't make time for it, I feel like everything just gets jammed.  On top of all of that, Daisy broke her arm while we were camping two weekends ago, and on Monday this week, I came down with a nasty case of food poisoning just as Greg was leaving for a week's trip to Wisconsin (thank you US Army).

Mercifully, Greg managed to carve out time that morning to bring the older three children to school and Billy to his Mother's Day Out program before he left for the airport, which was amazing (getting into a moving vehicle at that point? Not a smart option for me.)  Later that day, my friend Lisa brought Billy back home, and bottles of Gatorade to help me survive.  Another friend, Rachel, picked up all 4 children for the afternoon to play and have dinner (for a total of 7 children at her house.  That woman should get a medal).  The only thing I managed to accomplish that day was to rest and consume liquids, but I definitely went to bed that night feeling loved and well cared for.

The upside of all of this is that, now that I've recovered, the stark contrast of sickness and health has made me feel like today I CAN FLY.  This week I'm setting in motion several things to bring about some needed change: Billy will now be attending the Mother's Day Out program twice a week instead of just one day, giving me a break, and giving him the socialization that he is apparently desperate for (as it turns out, God did not make that child to be alone.  His only options for happiness are as follows: 1) the other children are home  2) we have a playdate  3) I hold him in my arms all day like a newborn.  None viable for the everyday/all-day.)  The other is that I am reorganizing my studio tomorrow -- Thursday is usually Cleaning Day, but I got ahead of the game yesterday when I gave my house a good scrub-down, so I will be taking full advantage of naptime tomorrow and set my creative space to order.  I am behind on birthday gifts, and I'm not even thinking about Christmas yet, but it's all about the first step.

After dropping Billy off at "school" this morning, I grabbed my laptop and headed for Starbucks to write this blog.  I feel like such a poser, but in this moment, I'm just luxuriating in the freedom, no mater how unoriginal.

Blogging at a coffee shop:I feel like such a poser this morning
Blogging at Starbucks with my MacBook -- it's never felt so good to look so lame!

Greg will blog all about our camping trip since the whole weekend was just all sorts of traumatic for me (getting stuck at the campsite rained in/flooded roads with Daisy suffering from a broken arm, tree branches falling in the night nearly on my brother Jonathan's tent/head, our tents leaking ON MY FACE and on Sparky, etc.), but here's a mosaic of all of the food I made for our camping trip:

Camp Food

We've had such terrible drought here in Texas, so with constant threat of wildfire, we have been shut down into a full-out burn ban.  That means: not campfire (obvs), no grilling, no campstove, and not even any lanterns.  What this translated for me and Heather (we went with our friends from Germany/San Antonio again) was that we needed to create complete meals that could be eaten cold.  Of course we weren't about to just eat cold hot-dogs, beans out of a can, or peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches.  We put together our creative powers and spent two days baking and cooking up all sorts of cold grain salads, roast meats, etc.  My brother Jonathan flew in to camp with us, so the night before we went to the campsite, he also marinated and broiled a skirt steak to serve over Romaine lettuce.  He was afraid that all of the Vegetarian Bean Salad options might bring about a crunchy-hippie-revival.

Daisy's arm (which was injured on our first afternoon of camping) was broken just under the shoulder.  Since she is so young, the Dr. says that her body will know how to put the bones back together, and since it is so awkward/impossible to put a cast up that high on her arm, he says that just the sling should suffice.  This means she is not allowed to jump/run/climb for at least two months.  She's 4, so she TOTALLY understands this.  And by that, I mean that YES, she has already fallen on top of her broken arm at least 5 times (the child doesn't even have to be running.  So far she's managed to fall over backwards in her little chair at school, fall off of the stool in the lunch room, and trip in a non-existent hole in our backyard.)  I am now an expert at checking for shifted broken bones.  If I don't have a heart attack or a stress melt-down before she heals, it will be a miracle.


Wow, I feel better now that I've gotten all of that out of my head. And yes, that was a lot of words. But if you've reached the end and you're still reading this now, thanks for sticking around. I'll be writing more often. It feels good to be back.


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