Carrot cupcakes with cream cheese frosting


A few ladies at work planned a surprise baby shower for my colleague and friend, Nicky. I decided to bake something in the unknown cupcake genre territory, which I normally leave up to Jacquie, the cupcake queen. I didn’t want to make ordinary chocolate or vanilla cupcakes, but rather a flavor I had never attempted before. So, I perused Pink Parsley for one of Josie’s recipes, and found her carrot cupcakes, which she adapted from Annie’s eats who adapted her cream cheese frosting recipe from Confections of a Food Bride. Perfect! I absolutely love carrot cake but have never baked it myself, because for some reason it seems daunting, with its double layered carroty goodness in between thick layers of sweet, buttery, smooth cream cheese frosting. However, mini carrot cakes seemed more feasible and less scary, so I went for it. I decided not to deviate from the recipe at all this time and meticulously followed every measurement and every step.

The raw batter and freshly beaten frosting were so delicious that Ty and I couldn’t stop ourselves from taking spoonful after spoonful. And more importantly, I impressed the cupcake queen, who mmm’ed the entire time as she ate her cupcake and then licked every last bit of frosting from the tray I brought them to work on and nearly half the frosting off of Daren’s cupcake before it even got to him.

Good thing I made cupcakes, because I froze in the baby store and had absolutely no idea what to get Nicky. I was overwhelmed by the multi-coloured teething toys, pacifier clips, car clips, noise makers, squeaky giraffes (which Nicky later told me was totally the rage must-have), mobiles, and finger puppets gallore. I indecisively settled for African beats baby music and hoped that Nicky wouldn’t think it was cliche but rather a tribute to the little bit of Africa flowing through her soon-to-be British baby’s veins. I am not so sure I want to have little jingly, jangly, multi-coloured, squeaky creatures walking around my lounge…

Carrot cupcakes (makes 24 cupcakes)

Carrot cupcakes

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 cups peeled, shredded carrots
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sunflower oil
  • 24 cupcake liners

Cream cheese frosting

Cream cheese frostingIngredients

  • 340g cold cream cheese
  • 7 1/2 tbl softened butter
  • 1 tbl vanilla extract
  • about 600g sifted confectioners sugar

Directions

  1. move the oven rack to the middle slot and preheat to 180F
  2. in a medium bowl mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt
  3. in a large bowl beat together the sugar and eggs until frothy, then add the oil and beat for another 20 seconds or so
  4. stir the carrots and dry ingredients into the wet ingredients
  5. add cupcake liners to a cupcake pan and pour the mixture into the cupcake liners until 3/4 full
  6. bake for 20-22 minutes or until you get a clean toothpick
  7. let the cupcakes cool before frosting
  1. for the frosting, in a large bowl, beat together the butter and cream cheese until soft
  2. add the vanilla and continue to beat
  3. slowly add the confectioners sugar and beat until the frosting is the desired consistency. I ended up adding more than the recipe called for (3 3/4 cups) and I could have probably added even a bit more to get the frosting more stiff
  4. add the frosting to a sturdy ziploc bag (or else it will burst – I speak from experience) and cut the tip of the bag. squeeze out the frosting in the desired pattern. The more frosting the better!
  5. enjoy!
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Foolproof Banana Bread


Growing up, whenever we had over-ripe bananas in the house, my stepmom and I would make banana bread with the beautiful and coveted Kitchen Aid mixer, which I can only hope that I have in my kitchen one day. My job was to measure out the ingredients and help pour them into the mixer and I remember watching with excitement as they swirled and blended together to make heaven.  The best part was and still is licking (or taking entire spoonfuls of) batter from the bowl and wooden spoon, even if it meant getting a tummy ache. Why does batter on a wooden spoon taste so incredible?

The spicy sweet aromas that float from the oven through the house during the excruciating hour of baking banana bread makes my mouth salivate and my tummy grumble.  Once the bread is done, I have no self-control and am unable to prevent myself from cutting a piping hot piece and tossing it back and forth in my hand as I take my first of many bites.

Last weekend I clumsily whipped up my stepmom’s famous banana bread in a matter of minutes and popped it into the oven an hour before having to leave the house.  An hour later, when we were getting ready to go, I stuck a fork into the middle of my bread and was strangely greeted by goo.  I stalled for as long as I could but finally took the bread out of the oven so that we would not be late and it proceeded to collapse on itself. I sadly accepted the fact that this banana bread was a dud but there were too many confounders to identify where I went wrong.

This week I was determined to get back on that horse and bake a successful banana bread.  I decided to try a different recipe and chose Smitten Kitchen’s Jacked Up Banana Bread.  I meticulously measured every ingredient and followed every direction to the T, which is not my MO, but I figured I needed a guarenteed win after last weeks failure.  The batter looked and tasted amazing (check), the smells coming from the oven were salivating (check), the bread was rising, browning, and cracking down the middle (check), and lastly my fork came back clean (check).

Foolproof Banana Bread 

Ingredients

  • 3 over-ripe mashed bananas
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 cup wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Directions

  1. preheat the oven to 350F (176C)
  2. melt the butter in the microwave for about 30 seconds and mash the bananas
  3. mix together the butter, mashed bananas, sugar, egg, vanilla, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove
  4. slowly add the flour and mix thoroughly
  5. stir in the chopped walnuts
  6. pour the batter into a buttered bread pan and bake for about 1 hour or until your fork comes out clean
  7. if you have self-control and are able to wait for the bread to cool, it will easily slide out of the pan

End-of-Block Foodie-Fiesta


The Public Health Master’s program at UCT accommodates working professionals by holding what is called “Block” scheduling, AKA HELL.  For each of your courses, you sit in lectures for 2.5 consecutive days and cover approximately 50% of the course material.  Although this dramatically reduces lecture time for the remainder of the semester and enables working professionals, like myself, to do an MPH while working full-time, it is incredibly non-conducive to learning and is an exhaustive exercise.

This year, Block was even more hellish than usual, because I had two courses back to back, which equated to an entire week of 8:30AM-4:00PM classes. So you can imagine that by Friday my brain was absolutely FRIED. To celebrate the end of Block, Ty and I had a garden party at our house and invited MPHers from my cohort and this year’s new cohort to unwind and get to know one another.

The party was a success – great people, great vibes, great drinks, and great food=the best way to spend a Saturday afternoon.  Everyone brought something to munch on and here are some of the highlights…

I am not such a big fan of cocktails but rather am more of a wine/beer girl, so when I say Whitney’s Pimm’s Cocktails were totally awesome, you know they are worth it.  But beware, they are deliciously deadly!

Ingredients

  • Pimm’s
  • Dry Gin
  • Fresh Lemonade (Which we couldn’t find but carbonated lemonade did the trick)
  • Cucumber
  • Lemon
  • Mint

Instructions

Mix together 1 part Pimm’s, 1 part Gin, and 3-4 parts Lemonade.  Add a few slices of cucumber and lemon, a few leaves of mint, and mash it all together to release the flavors.

Kirsty’s Chocolate Fudge Squares are a delicious traditional South African dessert with smooth chocolate and soft biscuits in every bite.

Ingredients

  • 250g butter
  • 1 packet (500g) icing sugar
  • 40g (100ml) cocoa
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 packets Marie biscuits

Instructions

Place the butter in a bowl and microwave for about 1 minute until melted.  Sift together the icing sugar and cocoa to remove the lumps and stir into the butter until fully blended.  Beat the eggs and stir into the chocolate mixture. Microwave the mixture, uncovered, for about 2 minutes and stir.  Break up the biscuits and stir into the mixture. Transfer to a small deep dish, smooth with spatula, and allow to cool. Then place the mixture in the fridge to harden and cut into squares.

Kirsty’s Bruschetta, adapted from Jamie Oliver, is a simple yet delicious hor d’oeuvre for a dinner party and was gobbled up within minutes.

Ingredients

  • 1 french loaf cut into slices
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Lots of chopped garlic
  • 2 finely chopped and seeded tomatoes
  • 1 cup of fresh finely chopped basil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 packet of mozzarella thinly sliced

 Instructions

Preheat the oven to 200C.  Spread the sliced bread on a pan.  Mix together the garlic and olive oil and then spread onto the bread. Bake the bread in the oven for about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, mix together the tomatoes, basil, salt, and pepper.  When the bread is getting crusty, remove from the oven, spread the tomato mix onto each slice, and top with a slice of mozzarella. Put the bruschetta back into the oven until the cheese has fully melted and serve while still warm.  If you are feeling lazy, you can substitute the tomato-mix for ready-made basil pesto or tomato tapenade.

For my contribution, I made a variety of home-made gourmet Pizzas throughout the evening.  At one point, I had 5 excited girls standing around me asking questions as I built my pizzas, which was a truly blissful moment for me.

I don’t remember where I got this full-proof Pizza Dough recipe but I am completely against buying pre-made bases because of how easy it is to make and the fun-factor of rolling it out to my desired thickness, depending on my mood.

Ingredients (yields 4 big pizzas)

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (white, wheat, or a mixture)
  • 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 heaped tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)

Instructions

Combine flour, salt, sugar, and yeast in a large bowl. Add the oil and warm water, stir a bit, and then remove from the bowl and go wild kneading the dough with your hands.  No need to wait for the dough to rise.  Roll the dough out, place in a greased pizza pan, and add toppings.  Bake at 180C for about 25 minutes until desired brownness.

I found the Barbeque Chicken Pizza recipe on The Pioneer Woman’s blog, which was modeled from the California Pizza Kitchen version but even better.

Ingredients (for 1 pizza)

  • About 1 cup of rotisserie chicken cut into bite size pieces (or 2 raw chicken breasts)
  • About 1 cup of your favorite barbeque sauce
  • About 1 tbl of honey
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 1 thinly sliced purple onion
  • 1/2 thinly julienned red pepper
  • a dash of dried basil
  • a dash of salt
  • a handful of chopped coriander

Instructions

Note: You can bake your own chicken directly in BBQ sauce but I used already cooked rotisserie chicken for convenience-sake.

Preheat the oven to about 180C.  In a bowl, mix together the BBQ sauce and honey.  In a separate bowl, mix together the chicken and half the sauce.  Lightly grease your pizza pan, roll out the dough to your desired thickness, and gently place the base in the pan.  Drizzle the remainder of the sauce all over the pizza base, then add a layer of mozzerella cheese, chicken, purple onion, red pepper, and a dash of salt.  Bake the pizza for about 25 minutes or until your desired brownness.  Remove the pizza from the oven and sprinkle a generous amount of fresh coriander all over the pizza and serve while still hot, or cold because nothin’s better than cold pizza for breakfast.

I also got a few ideas for Mushroom Garlic Pizza from Jamie Oliver and Rachel Ray but created a culmination of the two using my own personal pazazz.

Ingredients (for 1 pizza)

  • 3 tbl Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped garlic
  • a dash of red chili flakes
  • a dash of salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 250g assorted mushrooms
  • 1 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
  • a handful of fresh rocket

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 180C.  In a pan, mix together the EVO, garlic, chili flakes, salt, and pepper and saute on medium heat for about 3 to release the flavors.  Add the mushrooms and paprika and cook until the mushrooms are brown and tender.  Lightly grease your pizza pan, roll out the dough to your desired thickness, and gently place the base in the pan.  Add a layer of mozzarella, mushrooms, and drizzle the remaining garlic sauce on top (but do not add too much oil or else the pizza will become oily).  Cook for about 25 minutes or until your desired brownness and top with rocket.

My dearest friend Renee introduced the Grape Pizza to me many years ago during University and it completely changed my perception that pizza is strictly a savory meal.  When I visited the US in August, Renee, Kate, and I had a reunion and of course made Grape Pizza and devoured every last piece.

The Grape Pizza Original with Renee and Kate

I wished to spread the love of Grape Pizza internationally, so made it for my garden party guests, and everyone was pleasantly surprised by the unique combination of sweet and  savory flavors that produced an almost dessert-like pizza.

Ingredients (for 1 pizza)

  • 1 cup halved purple seeded grapes
  • 1 small block of gorgonzola cheese
  • 1 small packet of fresh rosemary
  • honey to drizzle
  • A small handful of mozzarella (optional)

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 180C.  Lightly grease a baking sheet or pizza pan, roll out the dough to your desired thickness, and gently place the base in the pan.  Push the grapes gently into the dough facing downward and bake for about 10 minutes.  Pull the pizza out and sprinkle gorgonzola, mozzarella (optional), and rosemary all over the pizza. Lastly, lightly drizzle honey all over.  Place back in the oven for another 10-15 or until desired brownness.

Enjoy!

Chewy Thug Bars


At 11:00PM I got a slowly creeping then suddenly spiking craving for something sweet, which bolstered my motivation to bake for Ty’s last day of work before his final year of Architecture begins.  However, the challenge was to bake something yummy yet not so labor intensive, and with whatever ingredients I could find in the house, which was not much.

So, I perused through my recipes and remembered one from a work colleague called Ian’s Thug Crunchies (strange, I know), which I had most of the necessary ingredients to make. The first time I made these I followed the unhealthy recipe plus added even more unhealthy ingredients and they came out super sweet, crumbly, delicious, and unashamedly unhealthy.  However, this time around I decided to go the slightly healthier route and experimented with the recipe, which produced a more soft, subtle, seedy bar that satisfied Ty and his colleagues’ sweet tooths without overdoing it. The fun thing about this recipe is that it is quick, simple, and forgiving.  I completely encourage experimentation; you can make flour substitutions, sugar substitutions, saturated fat substitutions, and add all sorts of nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and chocolate.

Chewy Thug Bars

Ingredients

  • 200g margarine
  • 1 tbl golden syrup or honey
  • 1 tbl vanilla
  • 1 heaped tsp baking powder
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup mixed seeds (linseed, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin)
  • 1/2 cup dried coconut and/or fig
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • (1 bar roughly chopped dark chocolate – optional)


Directions

Preheat the oven to 180C (356F).  In a pot, melt the margarine on low heat and add the syrup and vanilla.  Add the baking powder, which will foam up, so remove from the heat and mix.  In a large bowl, mix together the oats, salt, sugar, cinnamon, seeds, and dried fruit.  Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients and mix until fully coated.  Mix in the flour (and chocolate). Press the mixture firmly into a deepdish ungreased pan and bake for 25 minutes.  Cut into rectangles while still warm and eat when cooled oooor, if you are impatient and too excited like me, you can eat a bar right away and risk burning your tongue, which may be a worthwhile trade-off to please your tastebuds.