March 28, 2009

"Whatta Man" Peanut Butter Muffins

Man. Man, oh man, oh man. Words cannot express how utterly exciting it is to find the bold (yet sensitive) flavor of peanut butter in something as normal, as Plain Shane, as a muffin. I know what you're thinking: Dude, peanut butter is normal, too. Yes, this is true. (It's also true that you're a downer who always makes me feel stupid.) But, when peanut butter arrives on your tongue out of nowhere like some sort of mystical, tongue-kissing Zeus, the sensation is one that could change your day--no, your life. Eat this muffin and, I guarantee, something sexy and magical will happen to you soon thereafter. Do you need evidence with which to support this claim? I thought you'd ask. Here's your (weak & imaginary) evidence, Sherlock.

Imagine this: You are in your car. A cat darts out in front of you. To avoid hitting the cat, you swerve slightly to the right and drive onto the curb. Rattled and out of breath, you decide to wait for the wave of adrenaline to hush. This might take a while. So, you exhale, unbuckle your seatbelt and turn on the radio. "Whatta Man," by Salt 'N' Pepa (featuring En Vogue), just happens to be playing on your favorite station. The familiar lyrics and beats allow you to relax, and even dance a little, in your seat.

It's then you see him walking down the sidewalk. A supernova of a man. A whole galaxy, even. Something about the shape of his head and the curve of his neck tells you, without a doubt, that the two of you are supposed to spend the rest of your lives together. He seems to be heading in the direction of your car
with much urgency. His eyes dart from left to right to left to right and even up a few times. He must be looking for something, so you roll down the window and ask him if he needs some help. ("Whatta Man" is still bellowing out of your speakers, in case you were wondering.) "Is everything OK?" you ask.

"No," he says, "I've lost my cat. She ran out of my apartment 5 minutes ago. Have you seen a cat roaming around? She's, uh, brown."

"Yes--yes I have," you say with all the confidence of Hillary Clinton. It's like she's living in your throat, power suit and all.

"I think I saved your cat's life," you say to this crab nebula in cargo pants. "Look, there she is."

The two of you gaze across the street and see Tina--your soon-to-be lover's cat, the cat you almost killed--rolling in a bed of purple flowers. Sunshine rays down on Tina, and in that collage of an instant, her fur appears to be emitting sparks of electricity. Tina is a collection of electrons, and the two of you--you and the man--whisper in unison, "She's alive."

Some of Tina's magical electrons must have made their way into the air and into your nose and into your brain cells and heart cells because before you know what you're doing you get out of your car and approach the man and the two of you embrace and before you even know his name and before he knows yours you kiss each other and know then that this is it. This is the electron in which you have been destined to live. This is the moment Tina had been directing you towards when she darted across the street and sent you swerving, safely, onto the curb. Tina, precious Tina, gave you this man. Tina changed your life.

[Cough, cough. Ready to transition back to reality, folks?]

Remember the peanut butter muffin from paragraph 1? Remember when I said that that muffin "could change your day--no, your life?" That muffin is Tina. (OK, so the story about the cat and the hot dude isn't really evidence, per se, as I suggested earlier; it is only an allegory. Once again, you have spotted one of my "pervasive and asinine" logical fallacies, as you like to call them. Aren't you a brilliant downer?)

Despite this alleged rhetorical weakness, I'm going to stick to the promise I made to you in paragraph 1: eat this muffin and hot things will happen. Just as Tina led the hypothetical you to the love of your life, this muffin just might be able to lead the real you to something sexy and special--maybe to a man with a soft spot for brown cats made of magical electrons? Who knows. If nothing else, the silky surprise of peanut butter in these muffins might be all the surprising love you need in this world. Go ahead--open your car door! Something, or someone, might be there waiting for you...

*Disclaimer 1: Author is not responsible for any mixed, weak, or corny metaphors in this post.

*Disclaimer 2: Remember "Whatta Man"? I love that song.

"Whatta Man" Peanut Butter Muffins
(makes 12)
The images above are from my first batch of "Whatta Man" muffins. In this batch I forgot to add the chocolate chips to the batter before spooning them into the muffin tins, so I merely sprinkled a few on top before baking. In the second batch, I stirred about 1/2 cup of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips into the batter before baking. I also used whole wheat flour instead of white flour the second time around. The second batch was far more desirable in my opinion. However, are mini chocolate chips manly? Is wheat flour manly? I say "yes," but I'm not a downer like you.

1 3/4 cup flour (white or wheat)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tbs. agave or honey
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 cup rice milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. In a small bowl, mix rice milk with cider vinegar. Allow mixture to sit for at least 5 minutes.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, agave, and oil. Whisk until well combined. Add your peanut butter, rice milk, and vanilla extract to the whipped sugar. Whisk wet ingredients until well combined.

3. Pour your wet ingredients into your dry ingredients, and with a wooden spoon stir just until combined. Fold in your chocolate chips.

4. Spoon dough into greased muffin tins, and bake for 12-15 minutes at 350. When a toothpick comes out clean, pull these babies out of the oven and indulge!

March 24, 2009

B(re)aking Bread with Friends

Let me first begin by saying that I am VERY proud of my title for this post. I guess I did learn something from all the feminist theory essays I had to read in college; these essays encouraged me to "(re-)create my inn(her) voice--a voice that is w(holy) womyn." Or sometimes they just wanted me to "de-/re-construct my post-9/11 gendered identity." Are you confused? Because I am--and so is one of my "inn(her)" selves. I'm not sure which of my selves is confused, but as soon as I identify that zone of instability, I'll let you know. If you're still reading, that is...


OK. Welcome to this post, everyone. This entry will happily skip across a meadow filled with bread, friends, and Spring Break cheer. Try and find a better combination of topics--I dare you! (And while I'm at it, I'll dare all of your fragmented inn(her) selves, too!)

My Spring Break was spent baking and breaking bread with two lovely ladies: Bridget from Perpetually Creating and Jaime from Chicago. Lovely Bridget and I got together early on in the break to engage in some yeast bread action. She invited me to her home, fed me, let me pet her dogs, and sat me in front of piles of awesome raw food books while our dough was rising. Let the music commence: These are a few of my faavooriite thiiiings... (Thanks, Bridget!)

I had a great time baking bread with Bridget. I'm new to the yeast bread scene, and as a beginner, I approach yeast bread recipes with care--so many things can go wrong! My brain floods with hundreds of questions and doubts: Is the yeast any good? Why isn't the yeast proofing? Did I add too much salt? Will my bread rise in this temperature? Why isn't it rising?! Why am I an imperfect womyn?! Bridget has way more experience with yeast breads than I, and I took plenty of mental notes as we waited for our ingredients to work their magic.

Bridget's wheat buns (and a bun in the oven!)

Our yeast was a little cranky, indignantly refusing to rise to its full baby-bum potential. However, when it was all said and done, we ended up with some tasty bread! Bridget made whole wheat rolls, and I made two loaves of spelt/whole wheat bread.
Me (re-)negotiating the feminist identity of my spelt bread (robbed from Bridget's blog)

Bridget has some special dough rising in her womb, and it made me happy to know that the little peanut got to feast on our yeasty efforts! It's never too early to introduce a baby to the intoxicating splendors of spelt flour. Sadly, this last sentence will probably never make it into a parenting manual. People jus' don' know...

Then, later in the week, my beautiful & bejeweled friend, Jaime, came to visit from the windy hinterlands of Chicago.
Feather-eared, widgeting womyn

Jaime had a birthday this month, so I bought her Molly Wizenberg's new food memoir, A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table. Isn't the cover pretty?Visits from Jaime are always inspiring, and it seems that no matter how much time has passed, she and I find new and magical ways to gel together--like water to flour. Jaime doesn't cook or bake as much as some, but I had to--just HAD to--give her Molly's dream-of-a-book. (Some of you might be familiar with Molly's blog, Orangette. It's a delight!) Jaime's voice and style remind me so much of Molly's: dreamy, poetic, and infused with clouds and cream. Both of them have such a way of making little things--like crystallized ginger, or feather earrings--into the ecstatic monumental, and I admire them for that.

Jaime and I ended up baking Molly's Ginger, Banana & Chocolate Quick Bread together. Bananas? Ginger? Chocolate? How could a womyn resist? We certaintly couldn't. It was fun getting into the quick bread baking zone with a close friend. Quick breads don't elevate your neuroses in the same way that yeast breads do; they're not as sensitive as their yeasty brethren, and thus demand less of your attention. The process of measuring, stirring, whisking, and combining can be rather calming and meditative.

Jaime whisking the dry ingredients--with rad purple nails!

After popping our silky, ginger-studded dough into the oven, we laid back and admired Mr. Mushroom and Bella, a married troll couple from the village of Trolldom.

We bought these creatures from U.S. Trolls, a magical troll boutique in the heart of Wilmington. The Finnish woman who runs this troll operation out of the front room of her home sprinkled magic dust on our heads and everything! If you ever visit Southeastern North Carolina, please make U.S. Trolls your #1 stop.

A visit from Jaime was just what I needed to re-energize myself for the final stretch of the semester. No matter how many piles of essays I find myself treading through these last couple of weeks, I can rest assured knowing that I am protected by Finnish magic dust. And Molly's magic bread. And the love of new friends and old friends.
Molly's Amazing Banana Bread
(if I wouldn't have taken it out of the oven a few minutes too soon)

I wouldn't leave you without a recipe, dear souls. Before Jaime arrived, I baked her this 3-way lavender infused quick bread. This bread is SURE to get your innards ready for all the troll-inspired joy this new season has to offer!

Lavender Tea Bread
(1 loaf)

See this post for directions on how to make lavender sugar, lavender milk, and lavender extract. This recipe calls for all three. However, if you are stretched for time and need this bread NOW, you can still get a flowery bread by using only lavender milk. Lavender milk only takes about 30-45 minutes for the flavors to really take hold.

2 cups unbleached white flour
1 tsp. salt
1.5 tsp. baking powder
1 cup lavender sugar
1 cup lavender rice milk
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tsp. lavender extract
1 tsp. dried culinary lavender buds

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. In a small bowl, add the vinegar to the lavender rice milk, and let sit for 5 minutes.

2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients until combined. Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and stir just until combined. Fold in the dried lavender buds.

3. Pour dough into a greased bread loaf, and bake at 350 for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. After 10 minutes, remove from the bread pan, and allow to cool until you can't wait any longer!

March 20, 2009

Apple Butter Scones for Bertha

Every brawny woman has a little softness at her core, a little feather from which all the bones and muscles and metals spring forth. Some might even call that soft spot a "heart." For Bertha, this feather was revealed through the magic of apple butter. Apple butter?! Yes, apple butter--creamy, meditative, and sexy (in a 19th century, woodsy way) apple butter.

But, let me back up a bit. I have not yet properly introduced you to steely-and-stoic Bertha, and here I am speaking already of her "soft core." Bertha (or "Bertha Butts," as my brother and I referred to her), was our summertime babysitter. Every summer morning before work, my mother would drop me and my brother off at Bertha's back door. As soon as our car wove its way around her gravel driveway, Bertha's shadow-of-a-dog would race out of his doggy door like a deranged mop and greet us with a few snotty sniffs and growls. I was sure he was a gremlin disguised in a suit of black curls.

Slowly but surely, Bertha would arrive at the screen door, unsmiling. Her thighs were thick tree trunks made of living steel; they rooted firmly out of her home-sewn shorts like whole, muscular bodies of NFL players."Well, guys...I'll see you in a few hours," mom would say nervously, trying to act as though all of this--Bertha, the rat-dog, Bertha's garrison-like legs--were normal. Mom's eyes darted back and forth between my worried face and the stern woman at the door. Eventually, Bertha would welcome me and my brother indoors with a hushed and indifferent "hello" that sounded more like a breath, a sigh, than a greeting.

Bertha's home was just as inviting as her daily "hello" through the screen door. The stench of fermenting cabbage was the first thing one would notice upon entering her house. You see, Bertha was obsessed with sauerkraut, and she would stir excessive piles of it into almost every dish. To fuel her obsession, Bertha fermented her own sauerkraut in not one, but two wooden barrels; as a result, the acidic, nose-burning scent of vinegar was ever-present in her home. In Bertha's kitchen, macaroni-and-cheese became macaroni-and-cheese-with-pickled-cabbage casserole. Likewise, a simple grilled cheese sandwich--a kid's dream lunch, right?--became so heavily doused with sauerkraut that it transformed from dream to dirty sock right before our eyes. And, come on--we were too young to witness first-hand the dissolution of sandwichy dreams!

If Bertha was in a good mood, and if the weather was just right, some days we'd be able to go run around in her backyard--or, better yet, in her garden! Even though I was too scared of spiders at that age to journey into the heart of this living feast, I was at least brave enough to graze around its perimeters. And, oh--the joys that could be found there! On one edge of the garden Bertha and her husband planted raspberry bushes, and when the berries had finally plumped to their full potential near the end of the summer, my brother and I would do battle with the bees and butterflies for our own juicy sector. Even though Bertha Butts limited our serving to "just a handful," we sometimes (er, always) pilfered just a few (er, many) berries more. If we were to return to the Queen of Vinegar, we needed to arm our stomachs with as much berry-sweetness as possible!

Upon returning indoors from playing in her backyard one afternoon, I remember a smell that seemed to mellow out, if only a tiny bit, the bitterness emitted by the vats of sauerkraut. Looking for the source of this new smell, I saw Bertha hovering over a large pot on the stove. She was stirring something with much concentration, her wooden spoon moving methodically around and around and around the circumference of the pot. The light above the stove shone down on her creation, and for a millisecond--I didn't just eat a poisonous berry, did I?--I saw Bertha smile. Just then she heard me approach, and even though I don't think she liked me that much, she asked me if I wanted a "taste of something sweet." Something sweet? Say wha'?

"Hold your finger out," she said.

Since I was never brave enough to disobey Bertha's orders, I gave her my index finger. She took the wooden spoon and smudged a dab of warm, brown sludge onto my finger. Thinking that the substance on my finger was probably one of Bertha's new sauerkraut experiments--maybe sauerkraut pudding?--I prepared for the worst.

"Go ahead, try it!"

The smile was back on her face. Who the hell was this new woman wearing Bertha's homemade shorts?! Was this Bertha before me, or was it a gremlin disguised as Bertha?

Gremlin or not, I knew I had no choice: I closed my eyes and licked the mud off my finger...and liked it. No, loved it! Bertha Butts--Purveyor of Drab, Duchess of All Things Fermented--had somehow made something sweet! This sweet sludge was apple butter, a combination of stewed apples and apple cider....and no sauerkraut. Thank our German-God in Heaven!

Having grown up in the Midwest, apple butter was a spread I would not be made to do without. After this first encounter, apple butter seemed to be everywhere. However, as time passed and my homes changed in latitude and longitude, I admit that I almost forgot about apple butter. A month ago, however, I ran into an unsweetened variety, and, being driven forcefully by nostalgia, I bought it. And, you know what? It wasn't a gremlin disguised as apple butter...this spread was the real deal: sweet, creamy, and lusciously Midwestern. One whif, and I was brought back to Bertha's stove where, if only for a second, I saw the feather behind the steel.
Apple Butter Scones
(makes 6)

1 cup spelt flour (or other whole grain flour)
1 Tbs. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 cup olive oil
1/2 cup apple butter (preferably unsweetened)
1/2 cup milk (I used rice milk)
1 tsp. almond extract
1 dried date, chopped (or raisins)
1/4 cup almonds, chopped
2 Tbs. brown sugar

1. In a large bowl, mix together your dry ingredients. In a small bowl, whisk your oil, apple butter, milk, and almond extract.

2. Pour your wet ingredients into your dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon just until combined. Fold in your chopped date and almonds.

3. Drop 1/4 cup spoonfuls of your dough onto a greased baking sheet, and sprinkle the tops with brown sugar. Bake scones for 10-12 minutes, or until the bottom edges begin to brown.
My gremlin (disguised as a cat) praying over the fallen scones. RIP.

March 14, 2009

3-Way Lavender Infusion and a Love Letter

Dear Lavender,

Let there be a god as large as the purple moon so he can reflect his love onto you.

Let there be a banjo that plays purple Appalachian chords.

Let all women wear purple tights and all men walk their purple poodles to the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Let the girl who just lost her first tooth sprout a purple one in the empty place.

Let there be a garrison of purple tutus pirouetting erratically in your direction.

Let there be a drought that ends with purple floods.

Let your arm be coated in naked lady tattoos. Let holy purple spray from their ribs.

Let gray winter end and purple spring begin.

Let us spring perpetually into purple fountains like muskrats made of liquid silver.

Let every supermodel in my country wear purple lipstick on the pages of fashion magazines. Let them kiss us in purple.

Let us be thankful that your love is purple and that my love is purple. Let it spread thick and iridescent into this future like a Pacific oil spill. Let it give back a million moons.


J. Violet Shadows
********** ********** **********

3-Way Lavender Infusion

Below you will find three magical ways to infuse shadows of lavender into everyday baking ingredients: vodka, sugar, and milk. (I know vodka isn't necessarily an "everyday baking ingredient," but once infused with lavender it becomes lavender extract--a supersonic baking necessity.) Once married with the flavor of lavender, these ingredients can be used in many traditional recipes that call for extract, sugar and milk. A regular quick bread can become a spectacular quick bread when infused with this lovely floral flavor! What's even better is that mastering the art of infusion is a cheap way to make the same-ol'-recipe taste like a different princess entirely! My bag of culinary lavender buds--nearly 6 cups!--cost me a mere $4. That's one cheap princess!

While not all grocery stores carry culinary lavender buds, some apothecaries, aromatherapy joints, tea shops, natural food stores, and flower shops do. If it is not readily available in your area, you can order it online for super-cheap. Or, consider other edible & infusible delights: vanilla beans, jasmine, ginger root, loose tea, etc. The possibilities are endless when it comes to infusion! When hunting for lavender buds, however, make sure they were grown pesticide-free.

1. Lavender ExtractSummary: While extracts take only seconds to blend, you will have to wait at least a month for them to reach their full flavors. An extract is created by combining alcohol (usually whiskey, rum or vodka) with another substance--namely, a substance whose flavors you want to "extract." Nuts, fruits, and flowers are common items used in culinary extractions. When building a lavender extract, I use 2 tsp. lavender buds for every cup of alcohol. So far I have only used vodka, but I imagine rum would give the extract a sweet & yummy base.

Process: Using a jar or other airtight container, combine your dried lavender buds with your alcohol of choice. Shake the container for a couple of minutes, and then set aside. Make sure to shake the container once every couple of days to strengthen the flavor of your extract. Once a month has passed, strain the lavender buds from the liquid. Your extract can now be used to add a punch of purple to any sweet!

Suggestions: Often I use lavender extract in place of vanilla extract. Consider using a tsp. of lavender extract in pancakes, quick breads, lemonades, sorbets, cupcakes, whipped cream, cheesecakes, scones, etc.

2. Lavender SugarSummary: Lavender sugar is a fabulous ingredient to have on hand! As lavender infuses with sugar, its flavor becomes subtle, gentle, and light--the perfect addition to spring and summer desserts!

Process: Depending on how strong you'd like your lavender flavor to be, you can use 2-4 Tbs. of lavender buds per 1 cup of sugar. Layer your sugar and lavender, and then set aside for future use. After about 2 weeks, the lavender oils will have lovingly anointed the sugar crystals. If you are wanting a stronger flavor, then let the flavors meld for up to a month. If you are looking for a quick floral fix, however, you can flavor your sugar much more quickly. Simply combine your buds and sugar in a bowl, and macerate with the backside of a spoon for 5 minutes. This method will not result in as strong of a flavor, but it will still be noticeable.

Suggestions: This sugar works great in berry- and citrus-based desserts, such as sorbets, pie fillings, and muffins. Imagine using lavender sugar in your next creme brulee recipe!

3. Lavender MilkSummary: Milks and creams are a wonderful base for the flavor of lavender, as they tame the sometimes bitter & perfumey taste of lavender. Milk is like a thick fog that settles over the glassy terrain of lavender, making the landscape appear softer and less threatening. (Not to mention delicious!)

Process: I use 2 tsp. of lavender to flavor 1 cup of milk. Bring milk to a boil, and then quickly remove from heat. Add the lavender buds and stir. Allow mixture to cool for 30-45 minutes. The longer you let the milk sit, the stronger the flavor! Strain buds from milk before using. Use instantly, as the lavender flavor can become a little bitter if you allow it to sit for more than a couple of hours.

Suggestions: Can you imagine using lavender milk as the base for your next ice cream recipe?! It tastes fantastic in cupcake recipes, quick breads, milkshakes, and pancakes.

Have you ever used lavender in a recipe? How did you like it? Where would you use this extract, sugar or milk?!

March 6, 2009

Cowgirl Cupcakes

"Sometimes the best cowboys ain't cowboys at all."
from "American Cowgirl"

I want to be a cowgirl. I want to be a cowgirl so badly, in fact, that not a day has gone by this semester when I have NOT worn my cowboy boots to work. Last week one of my students actually said to me, "Miss Jada, you need some new shoes!" Fashion faux pas aside, I can't help my obsession. Nor do I want to. These boots are staying right where they belong: on my gnarled and tired feet!

I love to daydream about my life as a cowgirl. These daydreams usually consist of pretty sunsets, encounters with rugged men on horseback, scandalous fireside tales, rambling brooks, and spectacular views of Moenave formations from the cliff's edge. I even daydream about the nightly can of beans. I mean, I love beans! (And so does the rugged man with whom I would share my nightly can.) Ah, daydreams...

"Cowgirl" has not always been at the top of my career list, and probably for good reason:

1. I have no ranching experience.
2. I don't like riding horses.
3. I like regular showers--sometimes two a day.
4. I am easily scared by spiders
5. And wolves
6. And bears
7. And mountain lions.
8. I don't eat meat. (Although, I might make an exception for mountain lion meat.)
9. I become paralyzed with fear when in the presence of guns.
10. I like cupcakes (which are probably hard to transport via horse).
11. And on a final note, it is not yet clear to me what a real cowgirl actually does on a daily basis. I know a horse is involved, but beyond that things get a little cloudy. Whatever she does, I'm sure it's cool.

Even though I might be a little out of touch with real cowgirl values, I still hold onto my leathery dream of a fenceless world where the desert perpetually unfurls into limitless galaxies of sand. Granted, I'm sure cowboy/cowgirl freedom goes hand-in-hand with a little prairie-induced lunacy, but whatevs: "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." I'm sure there's a good cowgirl fireside song out there that ruminates mighty fine on this adage in a much cooler way than I could ever express--after all, the cowgirl song would (of course!) be sung in a badass cowgirl dialect. Which reminds me...I guess I should add a #12 to my list above: I don't speak (or sing) in the cowgirl dialect.

Since I might not become a real cowgirl in this lifetime, I can at least make these cowgirl inspired cupcakes to satisfy my need for leather, horse manes, and sand. Don't worry--you will not find leather, hair, or sand in this cupcake; what you will find, however, is the essence of cowgirl. These cupcakes are sturdy (like a cowgirl's thighs), brown (like dirt, horse poop, or leather boots), and cute (in a rugged, Annie Oakley sort of way).They are also full of flavor. Taste them and you will become free and courageous, ready to enter the wild, open spaces of your local park. (These cupcakes are vegan, too. Shhhh! It might be wise to keep this a secret when in the presence of real cowgirls. Cowgirls don't take too kindly to veganized pastries!)

Cowgirl cupcake dominating my backyard fence: "Don't fence me in!"

Cowgirl Cupcakes
(makes 1 dozen--adapted from Taste Buddies)

1 cup of unsweetened rice milk
1 tsp of apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup of turbinado sugar
1/3 cup of olive oil
1 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
1 cup of all-purpose flour
1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. powdered ginger
3/4 tsp of baking soda
1/2 tsp of baking powder
1/4 tsp of salt

1. Combine rice milk and vinegar in a small bowl, and set aside for 5 minutes. This mixture will act as a binder since no egg is called for in this recipe.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Once you have given your milk and vinegar the chance to activate, add the sugar, olive oil, and vanilla extract. Whisk until sugar is noticeably dissolved.

3. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients in two batches. Whisk until well combined, and then pour into prepared baking cups. No more than 3/4 of the cup should be filled.

4. Bake at 350 for 15-18 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool before topping with frosting.

Peanut Butter Frosting
(enough for spreading generously on 12 cupcakes)

1/2 cup peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup margarine (I used Earth Balance)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1-2 tbs. rice milk

Whisk ingredients together until they well combined. If frosting is too wet, add more sugar. If it appears to be more dry, add more rice milk.

March 1, 2009

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

What's better than a potato fry?

If your answer is "100 potato fries," or "a new car," or "a date with Kirk Cameron in 1988," then you are clearly putting too much thought into my question.

Let me bring you back to earth--and to the year 2009, you Growing Pains junkies!--by answering my question in clear and simple terms: the only thing better than a potato fry is a sweet potato fry. (Obviously!)

Luckily, I live in Sweet Potato Country! In the U.S., North Carolina leads all other states in sweet potato production. In 2007, nearly 40% of the nation's sweet potatoes were grown in this fair state. California, often considered the country's agricultural nexus, came in a distant second with 23%. Eat it, California! (No, really--eat a North Carolina sweet potato, California. It's sure to be tasty!)

Ugly, but delicious, local sweet potato

I was lucky enough to snag some ugly spuds over the weekend, and as a person who is usually turned off by sweet potatoes in their candied form (but not Bridget's yummy quick bread form), I found these spuds to be irresistible when prepared as a savory dish. Sweet potato fries are the perfect blend of salty and sweet. Their texture reminds me more of fried cassava than a fried potato. These fries are a little fluffier, creamier and less dense than their Russet brothers.

And, boy, are these fries easy to make! They are so easy, in fact, that this dish could become dangerous for the ol' waistline. I have one more sweetie in my kitchen waiting to be peeled, chopped, spiced and baked. Its chirpy little voice, which sounds oddly similar to Kirk Cameron's voice circa 1988, fills my ears with pink clouds of desire each time I spy into its cabinety lair. This spud, with a flesh that's marbled like some ancient salmon goddess, is damn seductive.

How do you like your sweet potatoes? What spices do you add when baking/roasting them?

Baked Sweet Potato Fries


2 sweet potatoes
1 tsp. salt
2 tbs. olive oil
1/4 tsp. ginger powder
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Preheat oven at 400. Wash and peel potatoes, and then cut into strips. Toss potatoes on a cookie sheet, and coat with the oil and spices. When potatoes are evenly coated, roast for 30-35 minutes. In the middle of cooking, flip potatoes so that both sides get evenly roasted. They should have lovely caramelized edges when ready!