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Friday, April 27, 2012

Put the Lime in the Coconut and Eat 'em All Up...

I'm going to hear poetry readings Saturday at Paragraph's On Padre Blvd.... one of the events in the Rio Grande Valley International Poetry Festival.  I went last year and really enjoyed the readings.  The teen and I will be on the island anyway getting him a haircut from Sharla at Venus Nails and Spa...and ordering wrist corsages (yes, that is plural) for his dates to Prom (it's a long story for another time - they're going as friends).  Anyway, he's into poetry, because when he hears or reads poetry...he tends to want to put it to music.  I told him I wanted to go over to Paragraphs for their second session, and he said he wouldn't mind joining me.  Sounds like a nice afternoon.

Now, when I go visit Joni and Griff, the most awesome booksellers on the planet, I feel an unremitting urge to take treats with me.  I've been staying out of the kitchen this week due to my abundant baking last week, so I really wasn't prepared nor in a planning state of mind.  I'd been idly catching up on my food magazines this afternoon after finishing work and I recalled I'd seen an interesting and simple cake called a French Yogurt Cake.  I grabbed the Bon Appetit that I'd been perusing and flipped through until I found it.  It was a recipe with lemon...and I had one lemon....and I had Greek yogurt and I had everything else required...pretty basic cake.  It called for a tablespoon of fine lemon zest and I only had one lemon...but I had a lime.  I figured I could add the two together and that would work.  I, of course, wanted petite bites for the bookstore visitors, so I decided I could do mini cupcakes with this batter.  I wasn't sure what to do for a topping - the cake in the magazine was just a loaf cake - no glaze or anything.  Huh, well, I could figure that out later.  It was 7:30 on a Friday night and I wanted to get these baked off so I headed to the kitchen.

Now, I have to tell you, I have not made a cake by hand in quite a while.  I use a stand mixer most all the time!  This recipe, however, called for hand whisking of the wet stuff and folding in of the dry stuff.  It was rather relaxing I must say.

I also substituted 1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste instead of the 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract called for...and my Greek yogurt turned out to be fat free, which I didn't notice until I was throwing the container away and the cupcakes were in the oven.  *Shrug* - nothing to be done about it at this point.  Hoped they'd be okay.

Here's the recipe, slightly modified as described.  The article was written by Andrew Knowlton and he said "it was often the first dessert French children learn to prepare".  It sounds delicious so thanks for sharing that recipe Bon Appetit!

French Yogurt Mini Cupcakes
Adapted from Bon Appetit's French Yogurt Cake
May 2012 Issue, Page 30

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup white granulated sugar
Zest from one lemon and one lime (1 Tbsp approx.)
   using a micro plane for a very fine zest

3/4 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Line mini cupcake pans with paper liners (I got about 32 cupcakes from the recipe)

In a 2 cup mixing cup, measure the flour, baking powder, and kosher salt together.
Whisk until well blended.  Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine sugar and zest from both lemon and lime.  With fingers of both hands, rub the sugar and zest together until sugar is moist and you can see flecks of zest evenly distributed throughout the sugar.

To the sugar mixture, add Greek yogurt, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla bean paste.  Manually whisk to blend.

Fold in dry ingredients just to blend.  The batter will be quite thick.

I used a small cookie dough scoop and loaded one scoop into each cupcake liner.
Bake until top of cupcakes are golden and a tester inserted into center comes out clean.  This took 21-22 minutes for me.  I started checking at 20 minutes and they were almost perfect - and I let them go just a couple minutes longer to get a bit more golden.  The toothpick came out clean. 

While I typed this I found myself singing Put the Lime in the Coconut and thought - HEY, maybe a lemon/lime fluffy frosting (using the juice from the nekkid lemon and lime) and some coconut added in?  Or on top?  I don't know.  I guess you will have figured out the answer to that question when you looked at the blog because I know there will be a photo on top!

I also sampled a hot-out-of-the-oven cupcake.  Oh MY!  These could indeed be eaten plain.  They are not overly citrusy - but I can taste both the lime and the lemon.  These are awesome!!!  I do believe they would have been even more awesome with whole milk yogurt...but these are none to shabby that's for sure.

Here's what I finally did for the frosting...

Lime in the Coconut Frosting

Ingredients:

4 ounces butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
16 ounces powdered sugar (confectioners sugar)
2 tablespoons juice from one lime and one lemon squeezed
   into a bowl over a strainer  - there will be leftover juice.
6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
1 drop Wilton Leaf Green gel paste

Method:

Beat butter and cream cheese until incorporated and fluffy.  Add vanilla bean paste and mix until incorporated.  Add 1/2 of the powdered sugar, mix well, and add the remaining powdered sugar and mix until you have a lumpy mixture.
Add juice one tablespoon at a time and mix thoroughly after each addition.  Frosting will have smoothed out at this point - if not, add juice a tiny bit at a time until "just right".
Add coconut and whip for 30 seconds on medium high.
I added a drop of leaf green gel paste - to get the "lime" concept obvious to the oblivious :-)
Whip to incorporate color evenly.

I chose to pipe the frosting - but it was not easy with the coconut in the frosting.  It was difficult to get the frosting to exit the tip smoothly from start to finish.  I couldn't get the center point to release because the coconut was stringy in the tip...and I was quite off kilter in my piping as I struggled for even coverage.  If I do this again, I'd probably just frost them with an offset spatula.

I did, of course, have one as a quality control check.  Pretty darn delicious I must say.  The slight tartness of the cream cheese and citrus juices balanced out the sweetness of the confectioner's sugar.  The cupcakes themselves were mildly citrus and it really worked nicely together.

Those cupcakes would also be good with a lemon or lime glaze...guess I'll have to make them again sometime and give that a whirl!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Windy City - Delightful Outdoor Dining!

UPDATE:  OUT OF BUSINESS AS OF FALL 2012

Last week we were at the Light It Up Blue night for the Port Isabel Lighthouse in honor of Autism Awareness Month.  It was after 8:00 by the time we were finished and the teen was starving.  I, too was nearly gnawing nails as I had been so busy baking all day I had neglected to eat - literally - no food except for a snack package of peanut butter crackers mid-morning.  We had planned to drive across the causeway and hit up Pier 19 at the teen's request.  Then, he spotted Windy City and noted they were still open.  He begged for a Chicago-style hot dog.  I scrunched up my face and said "you don't like anything but mustard on your hot dog...do you know what they have on a Chicago Hot Dog???"  He said he didn't care, he wanted to try it.  Far be it from me to discourage a picky eater wanting to try something new!

I'd seen on their Facebook page that they were open for dinner now so we walked over and sure enough, they were open until 9:00!  It was a gorgeous evening...not overly breezy, pleasant cool temperature, and the sidewalk seating was just perfect.

We went in and ordered - he eventually opted for the Bacon Cheddar Hot Dog which was covered in onions and tomatoes (he doesn't eat tomatoes, but said he wanted to try it just the way they made it).  He got a side of fries and a soft drink and was contentedly sitting at "the sidewalk cafe", admiring the blue lighthouse.

I ordered (bad me) a Chicken-fried Chicken Breast.  They said all their sides were made fresh - homemade mashed potatoes, cream gravy, and grilled veggies with Texas Toast.  I knew I would likely be sorry I ate that rich of a meal so late at night, but I also knew I was going to be up for hours frosting 250 cupcakes...so, I figured if it might not be too bad.  I selected a freshly made lemonade with lime added.  Awesome I must say!

The teen and I chatted and waited for our food.  It was a really REALLY nice evening.  The teen ate every single bite of his hot dog...he said the tomatoes and onion were the perfect match for the dog, the bacon, and the cheddar.  He added a bit of mustard and gobbled it all down!  Wow, I was shocked.  He ate all of his fries next...then he helped me with my plate.

The first thing I tried were the grilled zucchini slices.  OMG - they were so flavorful and garlicky - with a smoky flavor from the grill.  Just incredibly delicious.  The teen tried one when I ooohed and ahhhed over them (uh, he also doesn't like zucchini).  He said they were very tasty...and had another bite.  Who is this person in my son's body???

I next cut a nice bite of the chicken-fry... oh my!  I am an admitted Chicken-fried ANYTHING snob.  I make pretty good chicken-fry myself and this was definitely up to my snobby standards.  Light coating, moist inside.  Yum.  The gravy was good, the potatoes were good...between the teen and myself, we cleaned the plate, sopping up the gravy with the Texas Toast.

Damn fine dinner!

I took these few crappy cell phone photos because my camera had been dropped off at the car enroute and I was too, too tired to go get it.  Still, you get the picture.

Fast forward a week... I'm out running errands, it's a gorgeous day in Port Isabel and I think I'll swing by Windy City and try a hot dog since Ian said they were so good.  I was disappointed to find the umbrellas down (the sun was straight overhead and I needed an umbrella if I was going to sit outdoors).  I went ahead in, thinking I might get something to go.  The server asked if I wanted to sit out back.  I didn't know there was an out back, so sure, I said.  Sounds great.

She lead me through to a veritable little oasis off the Lighthouse Square.  Who knew?  She said "why don't you sit under the tree?"  I walked out the door and stopped in my tracks when she pointed at my table underneath the most gorgeous hibiscus tree I had ever seen.  I've seen some braided trunk hibiscus plants in some big pots, and the hibiscus bushes in our complex get really big, but I have never seen an Hibiscus TREE - in full pink bloom!  I sighed in happiness and started snapping photos.  As I was gushing over the beauty, she mentioned it was THIRTY YEARS OLD!  Unbelievable.

A hibiscus blossom - I just stuck my camera up in the tree
My lunch choices were, the lemonade again...because it's awesome... and a Chili Cheese Dog with a side of pasta salad...also made fresh.  I think they use Nathan's hot dogs...that's what it tasted like, a quality beef dog...with soft poppy seed buns.  Not the traditional Texas Chili taste, but a wonderful chili that almost tasted New Mexican and didn't leave that chili after-taste.  It was really delicious. 

One of the gentlemen I had spoken to the other night came out and said "welcome back" so we chatted about my meal and I asked him about the pasta salad.  He said it was his Mom's recipe and she used to take it to potlucks, etc.  It was simple, yet delicious.  I could have eaten a huge bowl of it...probably good that I didn't.  It was, however, a generous portion.

I was pleasantly full, but not over-stuffed...just right.  For $8.48 with tax, I couldn't ask for a better lunch in such a lovely environment.  The teen is hoping we will eat there again one night this week...we'll see...but there's a good chance!


SPI FLIP FLOP FOODIE RATING:
4 – Lip smackin’ - good quality – flip flops will definitely be parked under their table again!


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Friday, April 20, 2012

Lighting It Up Blue - in my kitchen!



I really don't have time to post today...but thought I'd share the 250 mini cupcakes I made for after our community's Autism Awareness Walk.  Nothing special - used a cake mix for expediency - fudgy dark chocolate so they would stay moist...and a delicious buttercream that I needed to "crust" so I could cover them for transport to the after-walk event area.  When you have that many, you don't want your frosting sticking to the plastic wrap!  There are 200 in the photo below...the rest are in my kitchen...and you really don't want a picture of that right now!  It looks like something blew up in there!

I made 3 batches of the buttercream frosting and tinted it blue with Americolor's Sky Blue.  Did a simple swirl piping using Wilton tip #1M with a large coupler.  Here's the frosting recipe I ended up with...took a little from the Wilton website and a little from here and a little from there.  This turned out just right and tastes pretty darn good too (albeit very sweet).


Blue Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients:

1 cup salted butter, softened to room temperature
(if you use unsalted, add a pinch of salt to the mix)
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
(I use the Crisco sticks - 1/2 stick)
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 drops Sky Blue Americolor gel paste
2 pounds confectioner's sugar
4-5 tablespoons Half and Half

Method:

You really need a stand mixer for this....if you use a hand mixer, need to halve the batch.

Add butter, cream cheese, and shortening to bowl of a stand mixer.  Using paddle attachment, beat until creamy.  On low speed, add the vanilla extract.  Mix until totally incorporated.

Add 1 pound of confectioner's sugar and beat well.
Add 2 tablespoons Half and Half and beat well
Add second pound of confectioner's sugar and beat well...your mixer might be groaning - so add the rest of the Half and Half.  Mix until well integrated.

Add 3 drops of gel food coloring and mix on medium until combined.  Kick it up to medium high and beat until fluffy.  I used a large piping bag with a large tip - I put half of the batch at a time into the bag so it was manageable for my small hands.  While I was piping, I covered the mixer bowl with a damp cloth so the remaining frosting didn't start crusting before I was ready.  This was very easy to pipe.

So, what's the blue all about?  Autism Speaks, an organization supporting Autism Awareness, has held the Light It Up Blue initiative for 3 years now.  Their web site says it "is a unique global initiative by Autism Speaks to help raise awareness about the growing public health concern that is autism. Iconic landmarks around the world will Light It Up Blue to show their support on April 2, 2012 - World Autism Awareness Day."  We didn't quite make it by April 2nd...but our community did join the initiative by lighting up the Port Isabel Texas lighthouse with some fabulous blue lights.   Isn't it pretty?  Thanks Mayor Vega...we love the effort by you and your city staff...awesome job!

Photo Credit:  Silvia Cesenes
The walk is tomorrow - and I'm a tired little camper...Saturday night I'll be putting my feet up and hoping that I'm looking back on a successful walk with fond memories!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Autism Awareness Treats

OK, I'll apologize in advance because I'm mounting my soap box....no wait, I don't apologize.  This is part of my life and I do not apologize for supporting it.  I do eventually wind around to a food-related item...so stick with me if you can!

My son is deaf - which I've talked about before.  He is also diagnosed with several other "things"...I refuse to call them disabilities.  He doesn't see himself as disabled, and he is slowly becoming comfortable with being identified as autistic.  It has been a long row to hoe my friends!  He is an awesome human being and has taught me much.  However, he did not equate Asperger's Syndrome with Autism...and when he did...yikes, the fur flew!

So, anyway, April is Autism Awareness Month.  The newest Centers for Disease Control study indicate 1 in 88 children in the United States are being identified as autistic.  Something is freaking wrong with our world for this to be happening.  Five times more of these kiddos are boys.  Is it better identification?  Is there something in the chemicals we use or our food?  Vaccines?  I really don't pretend to know.  I don't get on a bandwagon against anything specifically...because we really don't know.  It's a true puzzle.  Hence, the puzzle piece as Autism's logo.  Since 1963, the interlocking, multi-colored puzzle piece has been the international symbol of Autism. 

I am working with a fabulous group of parents of autistic children (and young adults) and administrators in our community to bring some awareness to the autism issue.  These little guys and gals are growing up to be autistic adults.  It's a problem - and we need to address it.  Three of our town councils as well as our school board have announced proclamations that April is Autism Awareness Month in our area.  The teen has gone to one city council meeting and to the school board meeting.  He's taking Government in school, but going to a meeting where governing bodies "do their thing" is quite the learning experience.  He seemed particularly pleased that the Superintendent of our district called out his name and asked him to stand up....mostly was surprised she remembered his name I think.  It's the benefit of living in a small town...one of the reasons we moved here!

So, Saturday is the culmination of our hard work - the first Autism Awareness Walk down Highway 100 from our high school to a park near the center of town.  It's a 2.2 mile walk and we thought we MIGHT have 50 people show up.  We've had over 200 pre-register...we've got water stations, police escort, banners, posters, ribbons, 50 high school students volunteering along the way, drum line members from the high school band, teachers from all the schools helping, town folk joining in, mayors speaking... it's so much more than we ever imagined.

That's just the walk...then we get to the park where it ends and we have hot dogs, more water, snacks, face painting, coloring table, service providers distributing info, posters of historically famous people thought to have had autism or currently famous people who admit to being on the Autism Spectrum.  We're having more speakers there and drawings for some incredible prizes donated by community businesses....and I mean GOOD stuff!

So, as part of the snack table, I decided I would make puzzle shaped Marshmallow Krispy Treats.  It sounded like a fairly simple thing when I started (she laughs maniacally).  How many things could go wrong in one long 6 hours?  A LOT.  I didn't measure correctly, it's humid, I accidentally used spray olive oil instead of vegetable spray (caught that quickly), and the white chocolate I melted and colored to outline the puzzle pieces - every single one of them seized and clogged my tips.  It was just one of those days.  Used the same procedure and product I used for making pastel chocolate chips for my Easter cookies...but this time - opposite reaction.  Very frustrating.

Nonetheless, I finished about 4 dozen of these - I'll wrap them individually and tie with the blue ribbon I bought to coordinate with the Light it up Blue of this year's Autism Awareness theme.  I need to hurry and finish writing this because I'm heading to the Port Isabel Lighthouse to see the new blue lights the city got to Light It Up Blue for Autism Awareness.  Yay!  More good stuff in our community!

Here's how I did this labor of love.

Autism Awareness Treats

Ingredients

3 tbsp butter
4 cups miniature marshmallows
3 cups crisped rice cereal (I used Rice Krispies)
3 cups fruity crisped rice cereal (I used Fruity Pebbles)

Method:

Melt the butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over low heat.  In a separate bowl, combine the plain crisped rice cereal and the fruity crisped rice cereal.  Stir until evenly distributed.  Set aside.
Add marshmallows to melted butter and stir until marshmallows are coated in butter.  Continue stirring until completely melted.  Remove from heat.
Add the combined cereals to the marshmallow pan and stir until all cereal is coated in melted marshmallow mixture.

Pour out onto 9x13 pan which has been pre-sprayed with vegetable spray. (I used a sheet pan because I made double recipes and didn't want really thick treats)

Use a buttered spatula or waxed paper to push the treats down into the pan.  Be firm with it.
I buttered my hands and smoothed the surface making sure they were compressed as I knew I would be using a cookie cutter to cut out shapes.

Allow to cool completely. 

Using a cookie cutter dipped into melted butter, firmly press into krispy treats, wiggle a bit and lift out - removing to wax paper or other lightly sprayed baking sheets. 

Gather the bits and re-compress them or you'll be throwing away a lot of treats!  I rolled the remains that couldn't support another cutting session into a ball, thinking I will dip them into chocolate coating for Krispy Treat Balls!

Yeah, that's probably not going to happen at this point.  My luck with chocolate today has been really bad.  Something for the teen to snack on I guess.

I then melted and colored white chocolate chips into red, green, blue, and yellow - the 4 colors associated with the autism logo.  Place into piping bag with tip of your choice.  Well, some were fat, some were skinny, all clogged every tip I tried - regardless of size.  My hands hurt so bad after struggling with this part for two hours that I just gave up.  They are not consistent...but they taste good!

I'm glad I heeded the suggestion of a blogger somewhere (sorry I can't find it again) who recommended mixing half and half on the two cereals because the Fruity Pebbles are so sweet.  They gave the color I wanted but not so sweet that it hurts your teeth to eat them!

If you've stuck with me...well, bless your heart.  I can only say...


Wish us luck on a successful walk - we'll be walking into the sun, but we should have pleasant temperatures and maybe the wind will be at our backs :-) We can only hope!


Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!

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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter Eggs - of the Cookie Variety!

Whew, I'm finished.  By the time you are reading this, I'll have had a long drive, hugged grandbabies, seen lots of family, and be ready to put my feet up and rest!  All of our Easter activities are actually before Easter due to family juggling.  I, for one, don't care what day we do the celebrating... I just want to see my family and enjoy my grandbabies, whichever day(s) I can get my hands on them.  Multi-parent families have always been our way, so we are all used to it.  It makes flexible holiday planning a necessity!

Today's photos are the final ta da of the Easter baking.  We're talking Easter Egg cookies here - big ones, small ones, simple ones, marginally fancy ones...I can say I had fun!  I didn't, because of time constraints due to humidity levels, get to do the wet on top of dry decorating I had planned on...it had to be the thing I let go...just too much on my plate.  I did have leftover flower and butterfly sugar cookies, so I've frozen them and will use them later...and at that time, will try the "layered look" instead of wet on wet that I had to do for these egg shaped cookies.  Still, it was all good.   Very "Eastery"! 

I've also baked off the Easter pastel chocolate chip cookies I froze last week-end...you've hopefully seen the Easter Chicks and the Easter Bunnies I posted ....now everyone is enjoying all the goodies.

So, here they are, my last batch of decorated sugar cookies for Easter!











Happiest of Easters my friends.  May your day be blessed and filled with family, good weather, and happiness!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!


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