Saturday, July 31, 2010

Red Velvet Cupcakes

I have never made Red Velvet cupcakes, but I have tried them and I much prefer a regular chocolate cupcake. I was recently prompted by a friend for a recipe to make them and I was ashamed to say that I didn't have one because I haven't made them! (thus this photo is by Con Poulos and not mine like all of the others and I'll add mine when I've made them) In an attempt to limit the amount of red dye commonly used in these classic treats I decided on Martha Stewart's version. However if the fire truck red color is desired these would need a lot more dye! I also found that beets are a great way to get the color naturally and is how Red Velvet were originally made. Cream cheese frosting is the traditional topping, but I plan to experiment with both cream cheese and a creamy vanilla frosting I found in More from Magnolia by Allysa Torey that does not use cream cheese. As an after note I was in William Sonoma and they were giving samples of their red velvet box mix. I'm usually biased to cake mixes and veer as far a way from possible, but it was pretty good and would be quick and easy in a pinch!
Red Velvet Cake Recipe:
2 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising), sifted
2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon red gel paste (or a 1.5 oz. bottle of liquid coloring)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line muffin tins with paper liners
2. Whisk cake flour, cocoa powder, and salt together and set aside
3. With an electric mixer on medium- high speed whisk sugar and oil until combined. Add eggs one at a time mixing until blended after each addition. Mix in vanilla and food color.
4.  Reduce mixer speed to low. Add flour mixture in 3 batches alternating with 2 additions of buttermilk. Stir together the baking soda and vinegar seperately (it will foam!) and add to batter mixing for exactly 10 seconds.
5. Divide batter evenly among cups (3/4 full) and bake rotating half way through. Bake until tester comes out clean about 20 minutes. Cupcakes only keep at room temperature for a few days and will keep in a freezer for 2 weeks  (I recommend taking any that you don't use right away and freezing for later)
6. To finish use a small spatula to spread the frosting across the top. They will keep in frosted in the refrigerator for a few days. Serve room temperature.

Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter room temperature
12 ounces plain cream cheese room temperature
4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Beat butter and cream cheese together on an electric mixer until fluffy. (2-3 minutes)
2. Reduce speed to low and add confectioners' sugar a 1/2 cup at a time beating until combined after each addition. Stir in vanilla.

Creamy Vanilla Frosting Recipe:
(I cut this recipe in half because in full it makes enough for a 3 layer 9 inch cake) I recommend making the cake or cupcakes in advance as this frosting requires time and planning.
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat whisk flour and milk until smooth and stir over heat until it becomes thick and begins to bubble (10-15 minutes). Cover with wax paper and cool to room temperature for 30 minutes
2.  Beat butter in a large mixing bowl for 3 minutes at high speed gradually add sugar and beat for an additional 3 minutes. Add vanilla, beat well.
3. Add cooled milk mixture and beat on medium high for 5 minutes until very smooth. Mixture should be noticeably whiter in color. Cover and refrigerate for exactly 15 minutes. (No more, no less- set a timer!) Use immediately.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Candor by Pam Bachorz

Everything is perfect in the town of Candor, Florida. Teens respect their elders, do their chores, and enjoy their homework...because they're controlled by subliminal messages. 
Oscar Banks, the son of the town's founder, is the model of perfection: class president, top student, shining example. But it's only a disguise. Unlike the other Candor teens, he knows about the Messages, and he fights them with his own counterprogramming. 
Only Oscar knows how to get kids out of Candor- for a price. Nobody suspects that he smuggles the richest new kids out of town before they change. It's risky: if Oscar were caught, he'd be sent straight to the Listening Room, where the most resistant minds are wiped clean.
When Nia moves into town, Oscar is smitten by her tart attitude and ability to see through his perfect-boy front. He can't stand to see her changed by the Messages. Now he must decide to help Nia escape Candor and lose her forever, or keep her close and risk exposure. 
Candor by Pam Bachorz has a storyline that is very unique and is not at all tired or boring.  The town of Candor that Pam Bachorz creates is inhabited by citizens who are all alike because they are all following the Messages instructions.  The Messages tell them to be perfect model citizens like Oscar Banks is. Oscar Banks however has been able to counter his personal Messages to keep himself real.  I enjoyed reading Candor because the premise of the story and the idea of living in a town with mass brainwashing kept me intrigued and on the edge of my seat. I think if you can suspend your disbelief and accept that the Messages are possible the story is very real. Bachorz does a wonderful job of painting a vivid picture of the town of Candor and the drones that live there. Oscar's voice in the novel fits the story perfectly. I enjoyed reading about him as he tries to remain his perfect act and let Nia into his real self and personality. Oscar's relationship with Nia as he tries to save her from the messages is the closest thing to anything real in Candor. Nia is also a great character because she gives Oscar the chance to prove that he isn't selfish when he tries to save her from the Messages. Oscar's relationship with his dad however, is anything but real even if Oscar's dad thinks it is. Oscar's dad is the town creator and he thinks he has Oscar under his thumb, but Oscar knows better than to let him do this. I would have liked to see some advancement in their relationship throughout, especially with Oscar's dad who continues to use Messages and control Oscar. I realize that change would be difficult to achieve for Oscar's dad, but even to show that he has feelings and thoughts of his own and show his humanity would have sufficed. While I enjoyed reading the book and learning about life in Candor I also am left frustrated and unsatisfied by the way it ended. It isn't just about the way that it ended but that the story just stopped. I should have predicted this because as I read in the back of my mind I kept thinking of the impossibility of the predicament Oscar is faced with. I tried to think of possible ways for it to end and nothing seemed to do the story justice. 3 Cupcakes!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sweethearts by Sara Zarr

As children Jennifer Harris and Cameron Quick were both social outcasts. They were also one another's only friend. So when Cameron disappears without warning, Jennifer thinks she's lost the only person who will ever understand her. Now in high school, Jennifer has been transformed. Known as Jenna, she's popular, happy, and dating, everything that "Jennifer" couldn't be--- but she still can't shake the memory of her long-lost friend.
When Cameron suddenly reappears, they are both confronted with memories of their shared past and the drastically different paths their lives have taken.
From the National Book Award nominated author of Story of a Girl, Sweethearts is a story about the power of memory, the bond of friendship, and the quiet resilience of our childhood hearts. 
 Sara Zarr writes in Sweethearts expertly as I would expect after reading Story of a Girl another wonderful read. Sweethearts by Sara Zarr is darker and has more substance than a lot of other Young Adult Literature. Jenna is a great character that is very relatable.  Her problems are very real and not the typical angsty teen drama because her issues are not just skin deep.
As a child Jennifer was tormented because she was overweight so when her mom remarried and they moved to a new town she seized the opportunity to reinvent herself as pretty, popular Jenna Vaughn. Jenna Vaughn is in control of her life and has plenty of friends to support her who don't even know of her dark troubling past that has stayed with her. Jenna is a great character because she successfully recreated herself and put her past behind her. Jenna is so collected until Cameron reappears dredging up memories Jenna worked so hard to toss aside. A crack seems to appear on the surface for Jenna as she tries to reconnect with Cameron and remain her "Jenna" self  and she begins to unravel.
Jenna has been through things that although are not tragic, it is heartbreaking to read about her and Cameron's shared past. Jenna and Cameron's story slowly unfolds after they are reconnected. Sweethearts tugs at your heartstrings and I truly felt for Jenna as a little girl and then as a teenager haunts her still. It is a compelling read that is in one sense of moving on and letting go and in another how our pasts can shape us.  5 Cupcakes!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Peach Tart with Almond Crust

This peach tart has a delicious buttery almond crust topped with toasted almonds. It is easy to make and doesn't take too long but there is some planning ahead of time required. I learned that the best peaches to buy are Southern and not those from California when eating them plain, but this tart is perfect to use up any unwanted peaches. The almonds are used all over the tart, in the crust, with the peaches and on top. The almonds give the tart a unique flavor beyond sweet peaches and buttery crust as well as adding a bit of a crunch! When I served the tart I topped it off with a dollop of vanilla ice cream from my favorite place, Four Seas Ice Cream in Centerville, Cape Cod.  I baked this tart last night for a dinner party for my parents and it's so good they asked me to bake another for the World Cup barbecue tonight!
Peach Tart with Almond Crust Recipe:
Serves 6 to 8 people
Read through entire recipe and instructions before starting.
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and diced
3/4 cup sliced almonds
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons sugar
1 egg yolk, beaten
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons peach preserves
6 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 pounds ripe peaches, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch slices
3 tablespoons lemon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 table spoons unsalted butter, diced
1 pint vanilla ice cream (optional- but I definitely recommend it!)
1. Butter a 9 inch tart pan with a removable bottom (I used a spring form pan and it worked just as well)
2. Coarsely grind almonds in food processor, add flour and sugar and process until nuts are finely ground
3. Add butter and pulse until combined.
4. Pour egg yolk and vanilla and mix until large clumps are formed
5. Press dough evenly onto bottom and cover and freeze for 30 minutes
6. Bake at 375 degrees until golden brown about 15- 20 minutes and pierce bottom with a fork if crust bubbles. Remove from oven and cool crust 5- 10 minutes
1. Spread preserves evenly over bottom once crust has cooled for 5 minutes.
2. Coarsely chop 4 tablespoons of the almonds and sprinkle across bottom of tart
3. Arrange peaches in an overlapping spiral pattern in shell, and sprinkle them with sugar and then lemon zest
4. Dot with butter and sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons almonds over top
5. Bake until peaches are tender, about 35 minutes.
6. Tart is best served warm or room temperature (my preference is warm) with ice cream, if desired.
Recipe from The Big Book of Backyard Cooking by Betty Rosbottom

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Lemon Cupcakes with Buttercream and Fresh Raspberries

I baked lemon cupcakes with vanilla buttercream and topped them with fresh raspberries and blueberries, the perfect red white and blue! I made them for a Fourth of July celebration and they were a HUGE hit! Everyone loved them and they all got eaten. I love their lemony flavor and the cake is moist with a golden top. Raspberries are the perfect addition because they look cute and taste delicious with lemon cake. I used a simple vanilla buttercream that is nice and stiff so it's great for piping, but easy and quick to make. Everyone had one (or more) because they are simply too good to resist! I even tried baking in raspberries in two of them so that made for a fun (and yummy) surprise for the lucky ones who picked them!

The Lemon Cupcake Recipe
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp.
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temp.
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons (about 3 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and line standard muffin tins with papers
2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
3. With an electric mixer cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time. Beat in zest and vanilla.
4. Add flour mixture in 3 batches alternating with lemon juice and buttermilk until each is combined.
5. Divide batter evenly among cups.
6. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until golden brown and a tester comes out clean when inserted. About 25 minutes.
7. Cool cupcakes on wire rack and decorate them however you like!
Recipe from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes by Martha Stewart.- This book is a must for any lover of cupcake baking!

Vanilla Buttercream Recipe
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1. Cream butter and shortening with an electric hand mixer (or bowl with whisk attachment) and add vanilla.
2. Gradually add sugar one cup at a time while beating.
3. Add milk and beat until light and fluffy on medium speed.
4. Cover with a damp paper towel until used. Buttercream can be saved in a freezer for up to two weeks. is a great website for frosting recipes!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Privilege by Kate Brian

Most girls would die for a life of privilege.... Some would even kill for it. 
Ariana Osgood ruled exclusive Easton Academy- until she was arrested for murdering Thomas Pearson. She's spent the past two years at the Brenda T. Trumbull Correctional Facility for Women plotting her escape and is determined to get a second chance at the glamorous life she left behind. Ariana will do anything to get her way... 

Let me start off by saying that I have been a fan of Kate Brian's Private series for quite some time and I decided that the spinoff series Privilege must be just as good. Privilege starts out with Ariana escaping Brenda T. and appears to be just as exciting and dramatic as the Private. The storyline however only went downhill from after that. I continued to find that unlike Private which tends to be full of scandal and thrill Privilege is about Ariana who truly belongs in a correctional facility due to her immoral and for lack of a better word psychotic behavior. I could not justify Ariana escaping from the correctional facility because she proves that she still has the same issues and ways as she did when she first arrived. I was shocked to see this and Ariana's character, along with a large portion of the plot to be unrealistic. The  idea of an escapee of prison starting a new life is a really interesting plot and could have been really good if Ariana was more stable. Kate Brian took Ariana too far into really extreme scenarios that became disturbing.  I am very disappointed by Privilege because for years I have read and enjoyed Private novels! 1 Cupcake!