A product review

So, remember that gluten-free cupcake mix I got from Williams Sonoma? I’ve been less than impressed with gluten-free mixes in the past, but knowing the W-S quality, thought I’d at least give it a try.

Tonight it was red velvet cupcakes…. and I learned a few valuable things. First off, contrary to normal baking, when baking gluten free you must have all ingredients at room temperature. Eggs, butter, milk…. ROOM TEMPERATURE. Then blend those ingredients well. Very well. As in 3 minutes or more well…you want a completely homogeneous mixture before you start adding the dry ingredients. The dry stuff should be added in small batches, scraping down the bowl periodically. Once it’s all combined, beat again THOROUGHLY for 3+ minutes. You wouldn’t do this with regular flour because you don’t want the gluten to develop…it makes the cake TOUGH. But gluten free flour doesn’t have that problem, and benefits from the prolonged mixing period.

So, that’s what I did and I ended up with a thickened, silky smooth batter that I spooned into twelve paper lined cupcake cups. Honestly, it looked more like ketchup than any cake batter I’d ever made.

Into a pre-heated oven (don’t cheat on this step…make SURE your oven is pre-heated)

and 22 minutes later, I had cupcakes that had risen, and were PRETTY! I let the pan cool on a rack for five minutes, then pulled the cupcakes out and let them cool individually on the rack while the spouse and I ran some errands. Once the cupcakes were completely cool, I mixed up some cream cheese frosting to top them off.

Here’s my cream cheese frosting recipe:
One 8 ounce block of cream cheese at room temperature
One stick of butter at room temperature
Powdered sugar – 1 3/4 cup
One teaspoon good vanilla extract

Beat the cream cheese on medium until smooth and fluffy (about three minutes). Add the butter and beat another 3 minutes until smooth and fluffy. Add the sugar in stages, stopping to scrape down the bowl periodically… until all sugar is incorporated and there are no lumps. Finally add the teaspoon of vanilla and beat on medium until completely combined and the texture is smooth and slightly shiny. You will end up with a cream cheese frosting that is light as a cloud and not too sweet. Spread on completely cooled cupcakes.

Aren’t they pretty? But the final test was yet to come….

Heavens to Betsy (whoever she is) these cupcakes are DELICIOUS. The crumb is tender, the texture absolutely perfect, and the taste is richly cocoa without being overpowering. The rich taste is balanced beautifully by that light as air frosting, and I swear, this is the BEST gluten-free baked good I’ve ever made during an entire year of experimenting.

These cupcakes got thumbs up from the ENTIRE family. YAY! We may actually get to experience things like birthday cake, cupcakes, and the occasional dessert now. I can’t wait.

And for the record, Williams Sonoma has NO idea who I even am…I am not paid for this review, the only thing I got was delicious red velvet cupcakes after paying for my mix like anyone else. So for all you other normal folks who have to eat gluten free…. try the cupcake mix. It’s awesome!

Major cuteness

So, Mads has her final soccer match on Friday night. She wanted to give something special to each of her teammates. Stretch has a bake sale for her sorority, and she wanted something easy and portable. I sent a care package, and needed something gluten free and delicious to help fill it.

I have one magical petite treat that fills the bill and it’s SO DANGED CUTE!

Say hello to my little friend… marshmallow pops!

Aren’t they adorable? And incredibly super duper easy.

Here’s what you need:
Large marshmallows
Chocolate or white chocolate
Sanding sugar/sprinkles
Small bamboo skewers
Small cupcake liners

Jar filled with dried beans

Poke the skewer through the cupcake liner and into the marshmallow. Make sure you pull the paper liner down away from the marshmallow though, because when you dip, you don’t want to get the paper all gross. Now, dip the top of the marshmallow into the chocolate, and swirl slightly as you lift up. Stick the skewer into the jar of beans to hold it upright, and before the chocolate sets completely, sprinkle with sanding sugar/sprinkles. Once the chocolate sets, push the cupcake liner up around the marshmallow and VOILA! Major cuteness, easy to make, and deliciously yummy.

Mads’ school colors are blue, white, and silver… to color the marshmallows I made a colored confectioner’s sugar and shook the marshmallows in that before dipping into the white chocolate. Pretty isn’t it? I told Stretch that she should dip hers in regular chocolate and then sprinkle with crushed graham crumbs. S’mores on a stick!

There are about 45 marshmallows in a bag, and these would make great treats for Halloween, birthdays, Christmas, or anytime. And did I mention the cuteness? MAJOR cuteness.

A night off…

Means I actually MADE DINNER tonight. Man it felt GOOD to cook something again. I know that sounds weird, but I had really missed getting creative in the kitchen.

I had a ham steak in the freezer from one of our local pork producers. I also had those cute baby sweet potatoes and fresh green beans that I bought on Friday. The spouse had gotten some pearl onions for beef stew, and I had two Roma tomatoes that I needed to use. There’s that cheapskate gene again! I scrubbed up a bunch of those little taters and popped them in a 400 degree oven. I peeled and halved the onions, dropping them in a skillet with some olive oil. While they browned, I diced up the two tomatoes, and then added them to the skillet. Finally, my green beans went in along with a splash of chicken stock and sea salt. I let them steam a bit, then uncovered to cook off some of the juice from the tomatoes. I ended up with a nice medley there, and the tomato pulp added to the caramelized onion made a nice coating on those crisp-tender green beans. The ham steak went into a grill pan just to get warmed up and get a few grill marks. With good protein, all I want to apply is simple seasonings and HEAT.

I ended up with ham that had crispy skin and charred grill marks, potatoes that were perfectly creamy and sweet without any kind of seasoning, and savory green beans seasoned with tomato and those pearl onions. Completely satisfying. It was so satisfying in fact, that I concentrated more on eating than in remembering to take a photo for the blog tonight.

I wanted dessert, and I had four pears in the fridge. I also had two half bottles of Moscato wine. I’d never poached pears before, but I was in the mood to be adventurous. So, I poured the wine into a saucepan, added some organic raw honey, candied ginger, lemon peel, a vanilla bean, and a teeny bit of simple syrup. I let that mixture come to a boil, and then a simmer while I peeled the pears. I left the stems on and cored them from the bottom and then dropped them into the simmering poaching liquid. It took 30 minutes or so before the pears were soft (but not mushy) and I pulled them from the liquid, standing them in a bowl. I then turned the heat up slightly and let the poaching liquid reduce to a syrup. Into the fridge it went until cool and thick. I drizzled that syrup all over one of those pears and OH MY HEAVEN was it good. The pear was sweet, the reduced wine syrup still had a nice light acidic bite to it and the ginger came singing through clearly while not overpowering.

Some nights it’s so so GOOD to just have a night off to play with my food.

On another note, one of my Facebook friends suggested a mini feature within the blog called “Hey Stacy, look what I made!” He sent me a photo of his dinner tonight, and MAN did it look good. So I think I’d LOVE that. Since sometimes I end up eating instead of taking pictures, you all can send me photos of what YOU make for dinner.

Here’s what Ernie made:

Doesn’t that look good? Now he needs to give me the recipe!

So what have YOU made lately? Post here, or hit me up on Facebook. I’d love to know what’s cooking in YOUR kitchen!

Cucumber Lime Mint Granita

This icy treat makes the most of the cooling combination of cucumber and mint

1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and coarse-chopped
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup loosely packed mint leaves
1 lime, zested, and juiced

First, make a simple syrup by combining the water, sugar, and mint leaves. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to simmer. Simmer until sugar is dissolved. Allow mint to steep in the syrup for at least 30 minutes.

Place peeled, seeded, and chopped cucumber into blender. Zest one lime and add zest to cucumber. Squeeze lime juice into cucumber-zest mixture. Pour mint simple syrup through strainer onto cucumbers. Press the mint while in the strainer to obtain maximum mint flavor. Replace blender lid and process until smooth.

Pour into flat glass baking dish and put in freezer. After 30 minutes or so, use a fork to rake the freezing ice crystals, disturbing their place. Close the door and allow to sit for another 30. Repeat fork raking of granita every 30 minutes or so until all the liquid in the dish is frozen. Scoop and serve in a pretty dish with a sprig of mint.

As an alternative, add 2 scoops of granita to a glass along with a shot of rum. Finish off with club soda. You’ve just made the perfect cucumber mojito.

Grilled Peaches

Grilled peaches drizzled with local honey and topped with some chopped organic mint.

Today’s food tip: Don’t shy away from grilling fruit. I got some peaches at the local farmer’s market over the weekend (it’s Buy Local Challenge week!) and they were a little under-ripe. My grill to the rescue! I halved and pitted the peaches, brushing the halves with a little coconut oil. Coconut oil is light in flavor, has a high smoke point, and is better for us than vegetable oils. I placed the peaches cut side down on the grill over low heat, allowing the fruit to develop those gorgeous grill marks. I finished the fruit off by setting them cut side up on the upper rack of my grill while the rest of my dinner cooked. The fruit ends up tender, juicy, and the sugars develop beautifully. Pull them when they are fork tender and top with caramel sauce, honey and mint, a squeeze of lemon, or even some aged balsamic vinegar.