Teaching myself to cook, one recipe at a time.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Black-Bottom Cupcakes

This is one of those desserts I make extremely infrequently, yet I still consider it in my inner circle of favorite desserts. Until recently, I can’t remember the last time I made these cupcakes myself, but I do remember each instance in which I got to taste someone else’s rendition over the past few years. Most recently, my little brother made them for our big brothers’ 30th birthday party. I’ve been dreaming of them ever since. I meant to make them for a birthday at work, but I was dumb and mixed up the days. I ended up purchasing a dozen florescent frosted cupcakes from the grocery store at 6am instead. Not cool.


But then hubby and I decided to entertain recently, and it was the perfect opportunity to finally make them.

The best part of these cupcakes, by far, is the cream cheese filling. I sure love cream cheese. Just start off with some cream cheese, an egg, some sugar, and just a hint of salt.


And beat it until it’s creamy.


The recipe calls for 6 ounces of chocolate chips. I just squeeze a 12-ounce bag in half and play it by ear.


And stir them in the cream cheese mixture.


Now for the chocolate batter!


See that? It’s about 3/4 cup of flour. I was so angry at myself for having run out. I thought there was another pound of flour in a bag at the back of my cabinet, but turns out I had 2 pounds of bread flour and 1 pound of whole wheat flour waiting to be opened, but no more all-purpose flour. This is the first time I’ve EVER run out of flour. Grr.

I’d already made 2 trips out that day – once to the grocery store, and once to the beer/ wine store. And it was raining. I really, really, really didn’t want to go out again for another 3/4 cup of flour, so I worked on the nerve to knock on my neighbor’s door (I can’t wait until I live somewhere that I can do that comfortably). No one answered, though. So, cautiously, I filled the rest of that measuring cup with whole wheat flour.


And for the last 1/2 cup of flour, I couldn’t decide which would be worse, whole wheat (grainy) or bread flour (doughy), so I used a mixture of the two.


Also, some more sugar (not pictured because I wasn’t thinking) and unsweetened cocoa powder.


Plus, some salt


And baking soda.


Blend these together, and then add some water, oil (I used vegetable oil), vanilla extract, and vinegar. And if you’re like me, have some dyslexia issues and get the amounts of vanilla and vinegar mixed up because the words look the same. Ah well. At least I did too much vanilla, not too much vinegar. Not a bad thing in the long run.


Spoon the batter into your muffin cups. I was really glad that I sprung for the fancy foil liners, since the batter was pretty runny. I’m used to creamier, thicker batters, so I wasn’t too sure about this. I remember thinking to myself that I’d be tempted to add more flour if I had any. Ah well. It was an experiment. For all I knew, it was supposed to be like this.


Finally, revisit that cream cheese filling and just plop it on top of the chocolate. I was trying to keep it from touching the foil, but I don’t know if there’s a legitimate reason for that.


And then bake! I’m not a big chocolate lover, but even I had to admit that they smelled pretty amazing.



Hubby had the foresight to stick these back in a warm oven for a few minutes before serving them. This left the the cupcakes warm, fudgey, and scrumptious.


Scrumptious, I tell you.


When I can I make these again?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Spicy Chicken Breasts and Garlic Spinach

I guess I don’t really have a special story to go with this one, though yesterday I did think about how I could have started a blog called “100 Things to do with Chicken Breasts,” and this dish could be featured in it. Except that I don’t have a blog called that.


It’s just a simple spices rub. It’s written for chicken breasts, but I see no problem using it with any cut that you want.

Here’s a breakdown of what goes into it:

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves


Sprinkle it on both sides of the chicken breasts (there will be plenty leftover to save for next time),


and sauté in oil in a skillet.




Now for the garlic spinach. I always have massive quantities of fresh baby spinach on hand since I eat it with salads almost every day at lunchtime, so this was a nice change from my usual.

Though I didn’t follow the directions exactly. It wanted me to slice up some whole garlic cloves. I didn’t have whole cloves, so I just took minced garlic from a jar in the fridge. In retrospect, far too much of it.


Sauté the garlic in butter for a few minutes.


Add a bunch of spinach. It said “2 bags” worth. I didn’t know how much that was so I just guessed at a good amount. It’s hard to judge spinach since it cooks down so much, but I added it a handful at a time and just went until it looked right.


When it’s wilted, sprinkle it with some salt and lemon juice. In retrospect, too much lemon juice!




The chicken was pretty good. Not fabulous, nothing earth-shattering, but it was flavorful and I guess that’s all you can really hope for when it comes to chicken breasts.


The spinach was a bit disappointing. The texture of the minced garlic wasn’t super pleasant, and I just plain put too much lemon juice in. I made it again a few nights later (sans pictures), and scaled back on both, and it was much better.

And that was that.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Manna Asparagus & Rice

I never realized before I took my current job how difficult getting enough food for the family can be when you struggle with mental illness and are unable to hold a job. Luckily, there are many resources out there for low-income families. The resource I use most often is called Manna, a reference to a story in the Bible. It provides families with pantry items and canned goods, as well as some fresh produce and pastries, once every 30 days. From what I understand, it’s all donated, and an astounding number of volunteers help out. There are a lot of really good people out there.

I go to Manna frequently, probably about once a week, in order to pick up food for my income-eligible clients. Sometimes, the Manna nutrition expert is there demonstrating how to make a simple dish from the items in today’s box. In the fall, she was making things like pumpkin pancakes, whereas now, springtime, she uses a lot more fresh produce.

Last week I helped myself to a sample of the dish that she had prepared to use rice, chickpeas, and asparagus. It was so delicious that I took a copy of the recipe. It had a dumb name, though, so I changed it. We’ll get to that.


The secret to this recipe, the one that rescues it from blandness, is the honey mustard dressing, which you make first.

Start with some lemon juice.


Add extra virgin olive oil.


Next, a plop of Dijon mustard to give it some tang,


and some honey to give it sweetness.


It said “1 clove garlic, grated (optional).” I interpreted this to mean garlic powder (especially since I don’t have whole cloves) and definitely didn’t omit that. Never omit garlic.


And a healthy amount of salt and pepper, as well.


Whisked together, this is what it looked like. The recipe could probably do with store-bought honey-mustard, but this one seems as good as any. I might redo that dressing for salad at some point, now that I think about it.


And now, for the substance of the dish. I spread out some almond slices to be toasted in my toaster oven.


That was easy.


One of the main ingredients, and one that makes this dish so healthy, is the asparagus. It’s easy to get this time of year and is just so wonderful. It’s very versatile, but I only know a few ways to make it, so I’m happy to learn new ways.


Here it is, cut into 1-inch pieces (more or less).


And one onion, chopped. I had intended to only use part of the onion, but once I started, I thought, “What the hell.” It’s a sweet onion and I remembered the onions in that sample being a welcome addition.


Now for the actual cooking part. Drain a can of chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans), and then dump them in a pan with a few tablespoons of oil. The recipe said to use vegetable oil, but I stuck with olive oil. Yummier and fancier.


Sprinkle them with a healthy dose of salt, then stir them around on medium-high heat for a few minutes while they hiss and pop.


Once the chickpeas have a bit of color, add garlic and onion. The recipe said to let them cook for “a minute,” but I let them go for a few minutes. They didn’t need to be overly soft, but they certainly shouldn’t be raw.


Finally, add the asparagus, cover, and let steam. Again, the recipe said “a minute or two,” but I let them go a bit longer because the asparagus still seemed tough after that. I waited until they were bright green and more tender.


Finally, add cooked rice. I would have used brown rice, as the recipe called for, but we happened to have plenty of white rice from ordering Chinese takeout the night before. I also added water, since it seemed to need it.


And add the toasted almonds from earlier. I should have added more. They were wonderful.


Finally, the last step. Add that honey mustard vinaigrette from earlier!


Stir and enjoy.


This dish is very hearty. With the exception of a bit of oil, it’s also very healthy. It has protein and vegetables and the perfect combination of strong flavor and warm, soft texture. Plus, it reheats well. I even had some for breakfast the other day.

My only complaint is that this was originally called “Ten Minute Tasty Asparagus and Brown Rice.” Okay. Ten minutes? I don’t know what planet the author was from. It took me that long to cut up my veggies alone. When you consider that you’d normally have to make rice (brown rice, at that), plus all that stove time, I think you’re looking at a lot more than 10 minutes. Unless, of course, you are a host on the Food Network and everything’s already pre-cut, pre-measured, and half-way prepared when you start.

But maybe that’s what Jenna from Manna had in mind. :-p

I’ll have the recipe in my Tastebook eventually. In the meantime, feel free to email me for it.