Sunday, September 29, 2013

Blueberry Oatmeal Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Buttercream

One cold January day last winter, I baked the most delicious oatmeal raisin muffins, full of raisins and brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla.  I was reminiscing about that recipe with someone at work, and suddenly, I was hungry.

She said to me, what if you made them with blueberries?

I needed no further encouragement to go home that weekend and bake a batch of these oatmeal muffins, bursting with plump, juicy blueberries.

And although with their heartier, more rustic texture, and not the light, delicate crumb you might think of when you hear cupcakes, I'm calling them cupcakes since I topped them with a pretty swirl of fluffy brown sugar buttercream.

Without the buttercream, I would have sprinkled the batter with coarse Turbinado sugar, for a little sparkle and crunch; instead, I sprinkled the sugar over the buttercream and topped each cupcake with a single blueberry.

And with the last of summer's blueberries and hearty, brown sugar and cinnamon sweetened oatmeal, they're a wonderful juxtaposition of summer and fall.

One Year Ago:   Croque Monsieur and Croque Madame for Breakfast
Two Years AgoSalade Nicoise

Blueberry Oatmeal Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Buttercream

·         2 cups oats
·         1 cup light brown sugar
·         1 teaspoon salt
·         2 teaspoons cinnamon
·         ½ teaspoon nutmeg
·         3 ½ cups whole milk
·         4 eggs, lightly beaten
·         2 teaspoons vanilla
·         ½ cup vegetable oil
·         1 cup all-purpose flour
·         1 cup whole wheat flour
·         3 teaspoons baking soda
·         1 ½ cups blueberries

Buttercream and Garnish:
·         1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
·         2 cups powdered sugar
·         1 cup light brown sugar
·         1 tablespoon meringue powder
·         1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
·         2-3 tablespoons milk or cream
·         4 tablespoons coarse Turbinado sugar
·         Blueberries, for garnish

Bake the Cupcakes:
Preheat the oven to 350 and line a muffin pan with 24 paper liners.

In a large saucepan, combine the oats, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Stir in the milk.  Over medium heat, bring to a boil while stirring often, then cook the oatmeal for 2-3 minutes until the oats have begun to thicken.  Spread the oatmeal out onto a plate and let cool for 10 minutes.

Scrape the oatmeal into a bowl and whisk in the eggs, vanilla and oil.  In a separate bowl, combine the flours and baking soda; sprinkle over the oat mixture and stir just until moistened.  Fold in the blueberries.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups; fill them full, all the way to the top.  Bake for 15-16 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool completely on a wire rack, covered loosely with a clean kitchen towel.

Make the Buttercream:
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter for 1 minute until smooth.  In a separate bowl, combine the powdered sugar, brown sugar (make sure it’s free of lumps) and meringue powder.  With the mixer on low, add the sugar mixture to the butter by spoonfuls until combined.  Add the vanilla and milk, then whip on medium high for 4-5 minutes until very light and fluffy, scraping the bowl as needed.

Pipe frosting onto the cooled cupcakes, and garnish with the blueberries and Turbinado sugar.

Yields 24 cupcakes.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Before the Rain Came Again, there was Carrot Cake Oatmeal...

After the rainiest of rainy weeks that led into blue skies Saturday morning followed by more thunderstorms and hail that afternoon, I made carrot cake oatmeal for breakfast.

Before the rain came again, I woke up thinking about oatmeal, and wishing that it were still raining that morning, even though Colorado really needed a break from all that rain.  So many areas were badly flooded, with severely damaged highways from Lyons up to Estes Park.

Oatmeal is one of the few cooked breakfasts I remember eating on a regular basis as a kid - as opposed to cold cereal, pop-tarts and frozen waffles - and I've always loved it.  There was no better way to warm up on chilly school mornings than with a bowl of steaming oatmeal with lots of brown sugar.  And although now I eat it three or four times a week with blueberries and no sugar for the nutritional aspect, every so often I have to make it the way I really enjoy it.

As I was getting all the ingredients ready, I thought about what it would taste like if I combined two of my favorite things - oatmeal and carrot cake.  Carrot cake is a close runner up to pumpkiny things this time of year, and I'm really not sure which I like better.

I often requested carrot cake for my birthday, and I'm a little bit of a purist, I suppose, when it comes to my recipe, with lots and lots of carrots, plenty of spices, and toasted pecans.  You won't find any coconut, raisins or pineapple in my carrot cake.

But for a perfectly delightful fall breakfast, though, the combination of all of those ingredients (except pineapple) in oatmeal, sounded simply fantastic, and so, out came the oats, carrots, raisins and coconut, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves, vanilla and milk, and to top it all off, a spoonful of cream cheese and a sprinkling of toasted pecans.

To say it tasted good would be an injustice to how wonderful it was.  Not your every day bowl of oatmeal, to be certain, but one that welcomes fall with open arms.

One Year Ago:   Orange Marmalade Muffins with Brown Sugar Streusel
Two Years AgoCookies 'n' Cream Cupcakes

Carrot Cake Oatmeal

  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely grated
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 2 tablespoons shredded coconut
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • pinch of cloves and nutmeg
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature, beaten until smooth
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted

In a saucepan, combine the oats, carrots, raisins, coconut, brown sugar and spices.  Stir in the milk and vanilla.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce heat to medium low and cook until thick and creamy, about 4-5 minutes.

Spoon into bowls and top with a spoonful of cream cheese and the pecans.

Yields 4 servings

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Champagne Engagement Cake

continued from...  the story of our romantic weekend at Insmont...

With another fire blazing and crackling in the stone fireplace, we relaxed on blankets and pillows just like the night before, sipping wine and enjoying the warmth of the fire.

Jamie pulled me closer and kissed me.  I could tell he was nervous, and he was fidgeting with his left pocket.  He kept giving me soft sweet kisses.

And then, at last, he whispered, "I have a question for you..."

What came next, when he asked if I would marry him, was the most thrilling moment of my life.  To get to marry my best friend, the person who loves me through my best and my worst, who is unconditionally supportive of me and my dreams, who I can be completely myself with, who makes me laugh and hope, who fills my heart with joy, who I respect and admire and appreciate more than any man I've ever known, is more than I deserve and everything I have ever wanted.

A few minutes later, he produced a bottle of chilled champagne, which I somehow had not seen, and pints of Haagen Daaz gelato in flavors of salted caramel and limoncello.  We sipped champagne and tasted spoonfuls of the creamy gelato, relaxing by the fire until it dwindled to embers and we were undeniably sleepy.

After spending Saturday night at the house, it was time to pack everything up and head home.  The house was so full of interesting things, books, paint brushes and trinkets, so before we left, we each hid something of ours in the house, and the next time we visit, it will be fun to look and see if they're still there.  We were sad to leave, but excited to call our families and friends with our news.

I have to admit, I've had a cake tucked away in the recipe repertoire in the back of my mind for this very moment, and I knew exactly what I wanted to bake as soon as we got home - a Champagne Cake to celebrate our engagement.

I chose an inexpensive, somewhat dry champagne, so that it wouldn't add too much additional sweetness to the cake.  With champagne in the cake batter as well as the buttercream, the flavor of the champagne was sure to shine through.

With the cakes cooling on the counter, the buttercream whipped and ready, and Jamie napping on the couch, I made some simple gum paste roses out of pink and champagne-tinted gum paste, which could just as easily be made with fondant.

This was an event deserving of a tiered cake, and so I stacked three 8-inch layers of cake, then two 6-inch layers on top.  A simple swirled finish and the pretty roses were all it needed to look really lovely.

After all the excitement of sharing the news with everyone, it was wonderful that in that quiet moment of sampling cake, it felt just like us.

The us we've always been - the us that will grow old together...

Champagne Engagement Cake

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon coarse Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2/3 cup champagne (I used a dry champagne, Korbel brand, so it wouldn't make the cake overly sweet)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup champagne
  • 2 1/2 (5 sticks) cups unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 2-3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

Bake the Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray the bottoms of your cake pans with non-stick spray.

Note:  For my tiered cake, I baked the batter in three 8-inch round pans and two 6-inch round pans, but you could also make just one tier, with thicker cake layers, divided between three to four 8 or 9-inch round pans.  Just watch the doneness of the cake, as it will differ based on the size of the pans and how much batter they contain.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, butter, and sugar for 4-5 minutes until light and fluffy, scraping the bowl occasionally.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.  Beat in the vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.  Add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl in three additions, alternating with the milk, then the champagne, starting and ending with the flour.  Mix just until combined.

Divide batter between the pans.  Bake just until a toothpick comes out clean, 15-20 minutes for the 6-inch pans and 20-25 minutes for the 8-inch pans.  Set cakes on wire racks, cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel, and cool completely.

Make the Buttercream:
First, make the champagne reduction so it can cool.  Pour the champagne into a small saucepan and simmer over medium low heat until reduced to 1/2 cup.  Cool completely in the refrigerator.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter until smooth, about 1 minute.  In a separate bowl, combine the powdered sugar and meringue powder.  With the mixer on low, add the powdered sugar by spoonfuls, until mostly incorporated.  Add the champagne reduction, a spoonful at a time (you may not need all of it), then the cream; increase speed to medium high and whip for 5 minutes until very light and fluffy.

Frost the cake and enjoy with a glass of champagne.

If you'd like to see how I made the simple fondant/gum paste roses, click here for a photo tutorial...

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Story of our Romantic Weekend at Insmont...

We turned off the highway onto a winding mountain road.  As the pavement gave way to dirt and gravel, the road narrowed and the trees grew more dense.  The forest seemed to close in on the road and the occasional cabin that could be spotted through the trees.  The quiet roar of the river could be heard in the distance.

And then, we arrived at the gate of the house.  I waited in the car while Jamie unlocked the gate and swung it open, and we drove up to the house, the dirt road muddy from recent rain.  The sun was just beginning to set, and the house and surrounding forest were bathed in the soft glow of early evening.  The autumn air was damp and chilly.

The gingerbread house, so charming with its hand-carved and painted doors, bright blue trim on the windows and the embellished heavy wooden beams, was snugly situated amidst a grove of pine trees.  Next to the house was a detached garage, with an awning covering a chopping block and a generous stack of firewood.  A stream trickled past the shed, flowing down to the river behind the house.

A black iron gate led into a small stone courtyard in front of the house and we walked up the stone steps to the intricately carved door.

It all felt so magical, almost medieval.  And utterly peaceful and secluded.  The most wonderful surprise.

The whole weekend was a surprise to me, Jamie having planned our weekend getaway at this unique house, The Retreat at Insmont, in Bailey, CO.

The house, built 115 years ago, has a history that dates back to the late 1800s, and was once the home of a famous painter, Frank Vavra, who carved and painted the doors and beams all throughout the house, added a copper ceiling and grand entrance for his studio, and built the additional rooms on the back of the house.

After Vavra's death, the house fell into disrepair, and was used as a fishing cottage by a fisherman who occasionally stayed there during his fishing trips.  But it was rescued and revived by its current owners who fell in love with the house in 2007, and determined to bring it back to life.  Fortunately for us, they rent it out as a lovely vacation house.

Before dinner, Jamie carried in armfuls of firewood and built a fire in the huge stone fireplace.  The house was chilly at night, and the warmth of the fire was welcome and comforting.  I attempted a hot bath in the claw-foot tub, but the cold porcelain quickly cooled the water to barely lukewarm, and I found the tub to be a little short for comfort and shaved my legs with my knees against my chest.

There were three bedrooms, two with queen-sized beds and a bunk bed room for kids, so it would be perfect for two families to spend the weekend together there.  We chose the bedroom at the front of the house, with a big bay window and bench.  On the wall next to the bed was an intricately painted door, locked with a padlock, which we think led down to the basement.

Jamie had packed a cooler full of food for the weekend...  There was steak, crab legs and lobster tails, corn on the cob, baby potatoes, brussel sprouts and mushrooms, as well as balsamic vinegar, olive oil, butter, spices and fresh herbs.  Bacon, prosciutto, eggs, milk, cheese, olives, crackers, French bread, and jars of pickled smoked okra and sweet peppers.  Coffee and English muffins.  Not to mention four bottles of wine.

Oh, how I love that man's thoughtfulness.

Even though the house was old, the kitchen had been renovated and updated, and on Friday night we cooked a dinner of steak with mushrooms and brussel sprouts decadently simmered with bacon and butter.  Bread and glasses of wine.

After dinner, we spread out blankets and pillows on the floor in front of the fireplace, sipping on wine, toasting marshmallows to make s'mores, and talking about our plans for Saturday.

The next morning, Jamie made eggs benedict for breakfast, complete with hollandaise sauce, of course, and hot coffee.  After breakfast, we walked around the house to look at all the unique features, such as the carved, painted trim along the eaves, the heavy exterior door to the basement, the old well, the wind chimes made out of rusty garden tools and even a bullet, an interesting sculpture inside a grotto on one of the exterior walls, and the old locks on the doors.

The sun was shining and the sky was blue so we went for a drive along a scenic loop through Bailey, Fairplay, Hartsel, Florissant, Woodland Park, and Pine, ending in Pine Grove at the Bucksnort Saloon, a little biker joint which sits atop a mountain, through a labyrinth of boulder-lined, twisty mountain roads.

After lunch, and with our fishing licenses purchased, we returned to Insmont and gathered up fishing poles and a tackle box to try a little fishing in the river.  After an hour of fishing, and several snags of my hook and line on bushes and rocks, it became apparent the fish were not biting that day.  Although the mosquitoes were, but only me, apparently.  I must taste pretty good to them.

While Jamie was building a fire outside in the fire pit (having learned it was legal to build an outdoor fire if we called in the permit), a fluffy white dog appeared out of nowhere to pay us a visit.  At least, he acted like a dog, but I suspect he was actually a polar bear.  Just as suddenly, he went on his way.

We watched the sunset by the campfire, and opened a bottle of wine, a special reserve wine that Jamie had bought in May, when we took a trip to San Diego for his birthday and did a little wine tasting in Temecula Valley.

He's full of sweet surprises, and he presented me with a packet of letters that he'd printed off, our first e-mails to each other during those first few months of getting to know each other four years ago.

We lingered outside by the fire until it was dark and getting cold, then headed inside to nibble on cheese, crackers, olives and pickled okra while we made dinner.  Saturday night's dinner was a special treat of butter and wine poached lobster tails and crab legs, drizzled with some of the hollandaise sauce left from breakfast, along with baby potatoes and corn on the cob.

With another fire blazing and crackling in the stone fireplace, we relaxed on blankets and pillows just like the night before, sipping wine and enjoying the warmth of the fire.

Jamie pulled me closer and kissed me.  I could tell he was nervous, and he was fidgeting with his left pocket.  He kept giving me soft sweet kisses.

And then, at last, he whispered, "I have a question for you..."

to be continued...