Lemon Cupcakes & Silicone Baking Cups

La-la-la! LEMON! I’m feeling bright and cheery today, so a bright and cheery lemon cupcake fits in just perfectly. 
You probably remember me saying in the past how citrus-y desserts rarely catch my attention. Vanilla, chocolate, caramel, cinnamon, red velvet…all top picks above anything citrus like lemon or lime. But more often than not, I am pleasantly surprised by them. They’re refreshing and offer a balance of sweet and tart that you can’t get anywhere else. 

The kind people at The New York Baking Co. sent me these silicone cups (don’t worry – they’re BPA free!), giving me all the more reason to bake something special. The baked cupcakes pulled away ever so slightly from the cups while baking, making them pop right out without even hardly trying. No falling apart and no leaving half of the cupcake behind in the liner (not that I would ever let that happen anyway). 
Not only do reusable cups like this save on paper and waste, but they’re also dishwasher safe. Laundry and kitchen cleaning are the two household chores I dislike most, so anything to make kitchen clean-up easier gets an extra thumbs up in my book.

Enough about the baking cups. The cupcakes themselves did not disappoint. Although, it did take me a day to fully appreciate them. See, I have a problem where I never like what I bake right away. Whenever I try something right out of the oven, or even an hour later, I don’t think it tastes good. When I let some time pass and try it again later on, I will want to eat every last bite. So what changes in that time period?

One theory I have is that while I’m baking, I’m usually taking tastes of the batter here and tastes of the frosting there, which may be suppressing my appetite. By the time the real thing is ready to go, I’m not as into it.

Or, maybe it’s the idea that things simply taste better when other people make them for you. PB&J, Kraft Mac and Cheese…the simple childhood classics are always best when made by Mom or Dad, am I right? But I usually don’t have this problem when it comes to my own cooking. I’m almost always pleased with what I cook (as opposed to bake) straight off the bat.

Whatever the case may be, in the end I loved these little citrus treats and I know you will too.

I followed Jessica’s recipe for Fluffy Lemon Cupcakes, only subbed homemade sugar frosting for the whipped coconut cream (only because I didn’t have the right kind of coconut milk on hand, but I look forward to trying it next time). 
  

If you’re interested in the silicone baking cups, you can purchase a 12-pack on Amazon for $11.95*.

*I updated this post on 8/7/14 to reflect the increased price I was recently made aware of.

Sunday Blessings – The Blog’s 3rd Birthday

THREE YEARS! This little baby blog just turned 3 this past Thursday and to be honest I had completely lost track of time. It was my devoted and loyal reader, my grandma (GG), who commented on my Facebook page about the birthday. She’s the best 🙂 Who else could have I counted on to pay attention the date for me? 🙂 Love you, G!

With the short notice, I wasn’t able to get the celebratory post up in time. It’s all for the best though because now I can tell you in a traditional Sunday Blessings post about how blessed I am to have this outlet and readers like you. I realize some of you may be long-time, loyal readers, and some of you may be reading for the first time. Some of you have stuck with me through the consistent posting times, and got bored with my lack of posting for quite awhile as well. However it makes no difference to me. I am so grateful for each and every reader taking time out of their busy lives to read what I have to say.

It’s also a bittersweet time, because as I’ve mentioned every year, August 1st is the anniversary of my good friend, college roommate, and teammate’s passing three years ago as well. That was by far the hardest loss I’ve ever had to endure and my heart still breaks when I think of Morgan losing her life so, so young. But I also have peace knowing our beautiful angel is in heaven.

such babies we were!

On a happier note, this third year in the blogosphere was a fun one. Since last July 31st:

We bought a house, celebrated our first Thanksgiving as a married couple in said house.
I started a new job and was able to take two mini vacations in between. I went to Orlando to visit Brooke where we celebrated our birthdays by getting up close and personal with beluga whales. Then I went to Breckenridge, CO with Greg to ski in the winter wonderland.

I competed with other local bloggers in the Food Lion Frugal Cook Off. With the help of Val, our Mexican style dish won!

When springtime rolled around, Greg and I planted a garden in our backyard and were thrilled when our mixed greens were ready to harvest! We’ve also grown tomatoes galore, jalapeños, bell peppers, cucumbers, onions.

Some of my favorite recipes from the blog’s third year include:

(funny to see that all of those recipes were created right around the time I had off between jobs. I was staying quite productive in the kitchen during that transition!)

Again, I hope you all know how much I appreciate you and love sharing my thoughts on faith, food and daily life in general with you. Here’s to year #4!

See also:
2nd Blog Birthday
1st Blog Birthday
1st Post Ever!

Charleston Culinary Tour – Upper King Street

I was recently contacted by Charleston Culinary Tours and invited to participate in one of their many tour options. Despite feeling like I’m relatively in-the-know when it comes to Charleston food and restaurants, I had never heard of these tours. I jumped at the opportunity and signed Greg and I up for the Upper King Street tour.

“The Upper King Street Culinary Tour visits 3-4 different restaurants and combines elements of a historical tour with a culinary adventure! The food on your tour will provide a broad range of samples which will provide insight into Lowcountry cuisine.”

Our tour visited HoM, Sugar Bakeshop, 39 Rue de Jean and Prohibition.

All of the spots were pretty new to me. I’d been to HoM once a year or two ago while bar hopping late at night and only spent time in the back with the ping pong tables. I’d had a cupcake from Sugar one day at work as an intern for a PR agency during college. I’ve eaten lunch at Rue de Jean once. And I had no prior experience with Prohibition.

We met our group at HoM. There were nine of us total, plus the tour guide Guilds. We were the only locals, which was to be expected since most tours are for…tourists. However I think any local wanting to test a few restaurants at once, like we were, would be happy.

At HoM we were given samples of the Calamari, the Dixie Flatbread, and the Green Gobble’n Burger.

Dixie Flatbread – pimento cheese, pork confit, caramelized onions, maple bacon greens
Green Gobble’n Burger – turkey, melted leeks & spinach, brie, green goddess aioli, green apple

Next, we walked a few blocks to Sugar Bake Shop, where we were each given a mini Lemon Curd Cupcake with sugared blueberries. The lemon was super refreshing on the hot Charleston summer day. Simply delicious. I will definitely be back to Sugar.

We had a bit of a longer walk back to King Street. We followed Guilds at a slow pace as he talked about some of the history of Charleston and the surrounding buildings. We even stopped to visit a Jewish cemetery. We probably strolled for at least 30 minutes and by this point I was losing interest. I’m not sure if the tourists appreciated it any more than I did, but I was more than ready to get back to the FOOD. I realize my prior knowledge and experiences living in the city gave me a different perspective than most in the group though.

We made it to Rue de Jean and were relieved to be back in the air conditioning with a glass of ice water. On the menu for us: Mussels and Pommes Frites. Only since this past spring have I grown to like oysters – oyster roasts being a very popular Charleston tradition. However I had still never tried mussels, which are very similar (at least to my untrained palate). Guilds told us Rue de Jean’s mussels are the best in the city, so I knew this would be the right place to try them first. Sure enough, they hit the spot.

Mussels in a white wine broth (although I can’t remember exactly which of their various broth options we were given)

I ate half of the pommes frites without one regret. It’s hard to go wrong with fries, and these were no exception.

Pomme Frites – if you’re not feeling fancy, just call them french fries, I won’t mind. Although the chef might. 

Next brings us to the last stop of the day. Prohibition is primarily a bar, so I wasn’t expecting to be overly impressed by the food. Boy was I wrong.

Moscow Mule

Chef Stephen Thompson came out from behind the kitchen to talk to us about the dishes – a cheese plate, but not just any old cheese plate, and a mini cast iron skillet of shrimp and grits, again, not just any old shrimp and grits.

Cheese and veggie plate (not on the menu) – assorted cheeses, candied onion, candied pecans, roasted cherry tomatoes, pickled cauliflower, berries and toast

Smokey Shrimp and Grits – smoked shrimp over local ‘adluh’ smoked gouda grits finished with a 
duck creole sauce, served with a sweet roll + crispy golden egg

That EGG!!! This was the most unique spin on traditional shrimp and grits I’ve ever had. I loved it so, so much.

Now that it’s all said and done, and I can honestly say I would go back to every one of those restaurants again for the full dining experience. Thanks so much to Charleston Culinary Tours and all of the restaurants for having us!

The tours aren’t cheap, ranging from about $40-75 per person, however you can expect to walk away full (depending on which tour you choose since some are more focused on meeting the chefs, learning about how the kitchen operates, etc.). There also isn’t another way I know of to be able to try so many different restaurants and foods in one day for a price like that. If you’re interested in the history of Charleston, this tour also gives you a good bit of that as well.

Locals – have you been to any of these restaurants? Which would you try first?
Everyone else – do they have culinary tours in your city? 

I love the concept and would be interested to try something similar in other places.

Check out Charleston Culinary Tours’ website here.
Like them on Facebook here.
Follow them on Twitter here.

*Disclaimer: While I received admission to the tour for free, all thoughts and opinions are my own.*

Two-Bite Chocolate Chip Cookies

Sometimes I wonder if my blog should have been named, Counting My Cookies. Of course I loooveeeee cupcakes, but cookies? I love a good cookie just as much. I have my dad to thank for that. He’s a chocolate chip cookie king. 

This is the other cookie recipe I was referring to last week when I posed the Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisinet Cookies. You know, another one of the cookie recipes that didn’t turn out quite like I expected?

Have no fear. While I had a slightly different outcome in my head, these tiny, chewy treats still brought their A-game.

The best part? The recipe contains no added sugars and no butter. That’s a big handful of bonus points if you ask me.

Speaking of handfuls. Making these into two-bite portions will allow you to eat a handful without the guilt.

They almost remind me of chewy Chips Ahoy cookies, but homemade. This calls for even more bonus points! It seems like we’re on par for an A+ in baking class today.

In other news, our vegetable garden is just barely starting to show signs of life. The mixed greens are beginning to sprout leaves above the dirt, but that’s it for now. Hopefully we haven’t killed anything yet. Assuming we haven’t, we should be seeing the rest of the veggies growing above ground this week.

If nothing else, the garden is teaching me patience. Most of the plants will be ready to harvest within 60-80 days. That sounds so long to me, but it falls in mid/late May. Saying it that way feels a little better. I can’t wait to have tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and more in my own backyard. My bank account is going to thank me for the decreased grocery bill as well.

Now if only I could grow a two-bite chocolate chip cookie tree…

Two-Bite Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes one dozen small cookies

Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
1 large egg
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons coconut milk
1/4 cup chocolate chips

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with Silpat mats or coat with non-stick spray. Set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. Whisk and set aside.
3. In a separate medium bowl, combine melted coconut oil, egg, honey, vanilla extract and coconut milk. Whisk well. Slowly add dry ingredient to wet ingredients until well combined. Stir in chocolate chips with a wooden spoon.
4. Use a spoon or small scoop to drop about one tablespoon of dough onto cookie sheets. Gently press down with your hand or a spatula (cookies will not spread while baking).
5. Bake 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to cooling rack. Let cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisinet Cookies

Cookies!

This past weekend when I was being especially productive, I made a lot of cookies. Baking cookies is the definition of productivity if you didn’t know.

Of the two varieties I made, this being one and the other coming to the blog soon, neither turned out quite the way I expected, but I can’t complain. Expectations are a funny thing. It’s nice to have something to look forward to – a vacation, seeing someone for the first time in awhile, and the important things like eating a homemade cookie… – but when expectations aren’t met, what happens? Disappointment can ensue.

Let me clarify. The cookies were not bad, and I really shouldn’t say I was disappointed, but they were different than what I was originally hoping.

The good: They were full of texture, not overly sweet, and the warm cinnamony flavor (from both ground cinnamon and cinnamon chips) made them perfect to be called a “breakfast cookie” if you so desire.

The bad: What they were lacking were enough Raisinets. I had a box (about 1/2 cup total) of dark chocolate Raisinets and was giddy over the idea of incorporating them into the cookie dough. But I needed MORE! One box was simply not enough to live up to my expectations.

The solution(s): A. From the beginning, expect a cinnamon oatmeal cookie with an occasional dark chocolate raisin surprise or B. Double the amount of Raisinets.

If you chose option B, please let me know how it is.

Once I took a second bite and got over the initial feeling of these not living up to my expectations, I quickly realized what I created was just as good as my original idea.

The moral of the story: let go of expectations and take one step in life (or one bite of cookie) at a time.

…Easier said than done, right?

One day, I’m sure I’ll get around to meeting those Raisinet overload cookies that formed in my head, but until then I have other cookie recipes to tackle. I have a difficult time repeating or trying to re-do a recipe when I have hundreds of others catching my eye.

Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisinet Cookies
(Adapted from Annie’s Eats)

Makes about 1 1/2 dozen small, or 1 dozen large, cookies

Ingredients:
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
5 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup oats
1/2 cup dark chocolate Raisinets, or other chocolate covered raisins
1/4 cup mini cinnamon chips

Directions:
1. In a medium bowl combine flour, cinnamon and baking soda.
2. In a separate bowl add the butter and beat with a handheld mixer until creamy. Add sugars and beat again until creamy. Add egg and vanilla extract and beat until well combined. Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in two batches, beating on medium-low speed until just incorporated. Add oats and beat again until just combined. Fold in Raisinets and cinnamon chips. Chill in fridge for 20-30 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Scoop dough into golf ball size balls and place about two inches apart on a cookie sheet (use silpat mats or spray cookie sheets with nonstick spray).
4. Bake for 16-18 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool 5-10 minutes before moving to cooling rack. Enjoy!

Cookie Butter Snickerdoodle Bars

Hi.
Are you ready for this? You’re Wednesday is about to get all kinds of delicious.
Speculoos, as in Speculoos Cookie Butter from Trader Joe’s, takes these Thick and Chewy Snickerdoodle Bars to another level. Those old bars are one of my most popular recipes on the site, and I can’t even take credit for the recipe. But these. These Cookie Butter Snickerdoodle Bars are a game-changer.
The texture is almost scone-like. Moist and soft, yet just a tad bit dry and crumbly, in a good way. If you know me, (I’m talking to you Hannah, and Brooke…and GG!) you know how much I love a good scone. Especially when there’s cinnamon involved. In fact, cinnamon might be my favorite spice. On a daily basis, you can find me either stirring it into oatmeal and ice cream/frozen yogurt, shaking it on top of baked sweet potatoes, and of course mixing it into manymany baked goods

So it’s no surprise I like snickerdoodles, where cinnamon sugar takes center stage. I’m not sure what exactly qualifies a snickerdoodle as such. Whether or not replacing some of the regular dairy butter with cookie butter takes away from their “snickerdoodleness,” I’m not sure, but I doubt it. I’m standing by the name. You’ll still find brown sugar and butter in the dough, and you’ll still sprinkle the top with cinnamon sugar. Cookie butter contains cinnamon as well, so you get an added punch by its incorporation.

Some other notable ways I changed the original recipe: I cut back on the brown sugar and I replaced some of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour. This is me trying to be better to my body.

As easy as it is to eat the cookie butter straight from the jar, think about these next time you have a jar (which hopefully is right now). It doesn’t take too much, only half a cup, to turn already amazing cookie bars into even more amazing cookie bars.

**P.S. It’s not too late to enter the GIVEAWAY for a $250 Food Lion gift card!!**



Cookie Butter Snickerdoodle Bars
(Adapted from these Thick and Chewy Snickerdoodle Bars)

Makes 16 bars

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/4 all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup Speculoos Cookie Butter
1 1/4 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9×9 inch baking pan with nonstick spray and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, combine flours, baking powder and salt. Whisk well and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, combine butter, cookie butter and brown sugar. Use a hand mixer to cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla extract. Continue to blend on medium speed until everything is well-incorporated.
4. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing between additions. Use hand mixer to blend until all ingredients are just incorporated. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl as you go along.
5. Add batter to the 9×9 pan. Use your fingers to press down to fill the entire pan.
6. In a small bowl, combine white sugar and cinnamon. Stir together. Sprinkle evenly across the top of the batter in the pan.
7. Bake 18-20 minutes, or until edges just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. It is better to undercook then overcook! These will set up a bit after rooming from the oven, so you want to pull them out when then are just barely done.
8. Let cool 5-10 minutes before slicing into square and serve.

For best taste, bars can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3-5 days.

Blackberry Peach Crumble Bars

My inspiration for today’s recipe: “Fake it ’til you make it.”

As freezing temperatures sweep through Charleston this week, I am going to pretend it’s actually summer until it comes true.

Can’t. handle. the. cold.

Crumbly fruit bars are just one way to pretend it’s summertime. If you’ve never tried the blackberry-peach combination, get on it. Besides the pretty colors, the flavor can’t be beat. With these bars, the juicy fruits are pressed between two layers of crisp, buttery oats. Warm, summery smiles all around, guaranteed.

What are “summery smiles” you ask? I don’t know exactly. I made it up. But I imagine we smile a whole lot more in the summer than in the winter. An easy-going kind of smile that just comes naturally in the warm and sunny weather. Not the forced ouch-this-hurts-my-dry-crackling-skin kind of wintertime smile.

Anyway.
I’m keeping things short and sweet (no pun intended) around here today, because the pictures speak for themselves. 
In full disclosure, I actually did make these bars last summer, hence all of the lively greenery in the background. However I’m sure they will be equally as wonderful with a backdrop of snow (or freezing rain in my case…). 
Like I said, FAKE IT ’til you make it. 
Blackberry Peach Crumble Bars
Makes about 12 bars
Ingredients:
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons milk
3 large peaches, peeled and chopped
1 cup blackberries, roughly chopped
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9×9 inch pan and set aside. 
2. In a medium bowl, combine 3/4 cup of the sugar, baking powder, flour and salt. Cut in the butter pieces and egg until butter chunks become size of peas. Spread half of this mixture in the bottom of the pan. Press down to form the crust. 
3. In a separate bowl, combine remaining 1/2 cup of sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Mix in the chopped blackberries and peaches and stir to combine. Spread this fruit mixture over the crust in the pan. Crumble the rest of the flour mixture evenly over top of the fruit. 
4. Bake 40-45 minutes or until the crumble on top is golden brown. Cool completely, cut into squares and serve. 
Refrigerate any remaining bars in an airtight container for up to five days.