Friday, April 18, 2014

Princess Cupcakes

Fellow millennials, you will feel me on this one: the day you log-on to your social media network (i.e. Facebook, Instagram) and wonder, "when the heck did everyone start having kids?" Yes, we're in the traditional time frame for weddings and starting families but goodness gracious! It's almost like people from my high school timed it! They're just pictures until it hits home and the next thing you know, you're making Princess Cupcakes for a 1-year birthday party.

Brave, new, wonderful world my friends.

The recipient of these cupcakes is an adorable cherub named Lhian. I've been homies with her father, Harvey, for over 10 years. Harvs was the quiet guy in the corner of the party, chuckling softly and egging things on safely from the sideline. He was my go-to-guy after college; we spent many a weekend carpooling in his awesome minivan to Richmond to visit our friend Heather. He loved putting me in awkward situations (the sushi chef incident, cough cough) and giggling (yes you giggle) at my brutually uncensored rants about life. Everyone teased him for not sharing details about his relationships- he's very discrete. Or sketchy. Take your pick. 

You can imagine my delight when a girlfriend became a partner which led to a bundle of joy. The real cherry to my sundae was to learn that they were having a little girl. Oh Harvey. In your own words, "Girls... a million and one lessons." Lhian is going to kick your butt suckah! In all seriousness, it's been a treat watching you grow as a father. You're going to do great with your subtle but firm nature. Much love and many blessings to your beautiful family.

All right. Back to the baking. 

These cupcakes were made with a lot of love, and a lot of patience. Harvs didn't give me much direction aside from making them girly. I couldn't think of anything more "girly" than a princess theme. The end result was a combination of crown-cupcake toppers, miniature flags, and elegant sugar pearls. Next time, I want to take a try at making tiaras!

A few lessons learned from this adventure:
  • When you go to apply the cupcake toppers- make sure that the base frosting is at room temperature so that the toppers go on smoothly
  • Apply the decorative sugar pearls while the frosting is still fresh to ensure maximum adhesion
  • Seal the crown fondant as soon as possible so it doesn't lose elasticity
  • Ribbon with a little metal wire is ideal because it keeps shape- getting those base cupcake bows was a pain

The crowns are made from white fondant with a few drops of concentrated purple food coloring mixed in. It took some trial and error, but we got it to work. Mike cut out a template from some card stock (similar to this style) and we got an assembly line going; he cut out the crown and then using a dab of water, I sealed the seam. The sooner you seal it, the better because the fondant quickly loses elasticity. Immediately place crowns on a parchment-lined plate in the freezer to solidify the form. 

To apply the pearl tips, wait until the crowns are hardened (over-night preferable) and then dab a complimentary colored frosting at the top of each peak. Apply the sugar pearl and return to freezer to harden. The base frosting shape is made with the ever beloved 1M tip for rose-like symmetry.

The flags were made from lollipop sticks (toothpicks work just as well) purchased at Michaels. Pick a sturdy ribbon and knot at the top; trim the excess on one end and cut a v-shaped tip on the other end. It's nothing terribly fancy. I've also made them with cut-out paper when adding text to the flag. If you plan ahead, you can find some super cute options on Etsy.

Special thanks to the hubby for helping out- this process takes forever if you're trying to do it solo. Bribe a friend to pitch in! Train your cat to hold a piping bag! Every bit helps!

If you have any questions about the toppers and/or cupcakes, feel free to leave a comment and I will do my best to answer. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Easy, Vegan Cinnamon Rolls

This past winter, Northern Virginia was hit with a couple of snow storms. I love working from home when the ground is covered in a blanket of white. It's soothing and gives the day a more organic pace. If there's a moment of calm, I can spend some quality time with Autumn, run a load of laundry, or become fixated on a recipe. 

Case in point... these vegan cinnamon rolls.

The lure of cinnamon rolls with only one hour of rising threw my brain for a loop. What devil trickery is this? That's at least half of the time of a regular cinnamon bun! That means they can be in my tummy in half the time! It's simply not possible. 

And, to a degree, I was right.

Fresh out of the oven, they are exactly how they should be; fluffy, light, and irresistible. The ingredient list is short and to the point (yeast, almond milk, flour, cinnamon, sugar, salt, and butter). They can be topped with the frosting of your choice. I stuck with a glaze of pure honey to keep things simple and light. Mike was ecstatic and tore in immediately.

One hour later, I kid you not, they were already getting hard. We're talking smack them with a knife and there was a thud sound kind of hard. In an earnest effort to hold onto that magic, I popped them into the microwave but they were a pale glimmer of their former beauty. Sigh. Give them a try and let me know if you had the same results. 

Make these cinnamon rolls when you have a few friends or family on deck to help destroy all nine cinnamon rolls in one fresh-out-of-the-oven blissful sitting. The recipe is from the Minimalist Baker's Easy Cinnamon Rolls. This site is filled with lovely goodies so check it out!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Smokey Sweet Potato Bánh Mì

Back in 2007, the college roomies and I decided to enjoy spring break West coast style. As luck would have it, Yen-Nei's sister lived in Orange County and graciously agreed to play tour guide/host. She mapped out almost every culinary detail of our visit. We enjoyed bubble tea daily, authentic Chinese food, plenty of sushi, and sweet treats galore. Oh how I will never forget thee, magical black sesame bubble tea. 

It was during this trip that my taste buds became acquainted with a Vietnamese staple: bánh mì.  It is a sandwich that marries the best of two culinary cultures with a French baguette and Vietnamese fillings. The most common version that I have seen is filled with an assortment of meats (thinly sliced pork, head cheese, liver pâté) and topped with cilantro, a splash of fish oil, and pickled carrots/radishes. What really blew our minds was how these incredibly delicious sandwiches were so affordable; they were being sold at $3.50 a pop. It was a college kids dream come true! 

Until recently, finding good bánh mì in Virginia had been a struggle. We have found two spots that serve them right, Bánh Mì DC and Caphe Bánh Mì. It was my pleasure to introduce Mike to this tasty samich and anything with good bread is a win for this guy. We make a lemon-grass tofu version on a regular basis at home (one day I'll get around to documenting it). This post for Smokey Sweet Potato bánh mì piqued my curiosity. I love sweet potato but really... in a sandwich? Isn't that kind of like starch on starch on starch?  Only one way to find out.

Much to my surprise, this is recipe is satisfying and tasty. The sweetness of the potato becomes slightly caramelized in the baking process.  I tried to make even, thin slices but ended up with a few chunky parts as well. We kept these bulky ones to the side and treated them like fries, dipping them into a side bowl of extra sriracha-canola oil mayo.

The fillings were easy to make and basic- just chop up some carrots and radish and let them soak in white vinegar. I love the vibrancy that the radish provides in any dish with its blazing pink exterior. We chopped these toppings rather than do the common match-stick variety. They feel like more of a side salad. It's a matter of preference.

The recommended sauce (a white-miso and soy base) failed. I'm not sure if the miso went bad, the expiration was fine, but we felt that combination was no good. It was super salty and went straight to the sink. Instead, we busted out our "old faithful" of sauces as mentioned above: sriracha-canola oil mayo. It's so easy to make, easy to customize, and easy on the taste buds. As far as garnish, the peanuts were a little out of place. When I think of peanuts in Asian cuisine, it's more Thai-based in curries and dipping sauce. Try a handful and adjust from there.

Thanks to Earthly Feast for this wonderful dinner! Follow the link below for original recipe; below is our minor tweeks.

Smokey Sweet Potato Bánh Mì
slightly modified from Earthly Feast
generously serves 2

Quick Pickle Carrots 
3 carrots, cut into matchsticks or thinly sliced
4 radishes, cut into matchsticks or thinly sliced
1 cup water
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup white vinegar

Smokey Sweet Potatoes 

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into strips about 1/4 inch thick
2 tablespoons high heat oil (i.e. olive oil)
Pinch of sea salt
Black pepper
Red pepper flakes
Dash of liquid smoke

Spicy Mayo 
2 tablespoons canola oil mayonaise
1 teaspoon srichacha or canned adobo pepper sauce

Sandwich Assembly 
1 baguette
1 jalapeño

Start by making the quick pickle. Bring water, vinegar, salt and sugar to a boil. Let cool for a minute. Pour liquid over the sliced carrots and radishes into a clean jar with a lid. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425F and line baking sheet with aluminum foil.  

In a medium bowl, toss the sweet potato with oil, salt, black pepper, red pepper, and a dash of liquid smoke to evenly coat. Spread evenly across the baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes and check the tenderness of the sweet potato. Depending on how thinly you sliced the potato will determine how long it needs in the oven. If they're still too hard, give it another 10 minutes and check again. 

For the spicy mayo, simply combine the canola oil mayo and hot sauce. Adjust to your heat preference.

To assemble, slice the baguette and spread a thin layer of mayo. Top with the carrots and radishes so that they stick to the samich. Top with sweet potatoes, add a splash of lime, and garnish with cilantro and jalepeno.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Berry Vanilla Chia Seed Pudding

Introducing the latest trend in our kitchen: chia seed pudding. It has proven to be the perfect everything. It can be made as a sensible dessert, a middle of the day snack, and even a light breakfast. So far we have tried two versions: Mexican chocolate and berry vanilla. Before you stands the winner of our taste contest. 

Disclaimer: don't discredit the Mexican chocolate version! As the hubs loves chocolate pie, I assumed that he would love any chocolate pudding. It became apparent that neither of our fans of adding spices to our chocolate. The pinch of cayenne was pleasant but threw off the dessert vibe. I would love to make this again, sans the pepper, and topped with cherries. If you're a fan of Mexican hot chocolate- give the original recipe a go! Plus, it's fun because of the mousse-like texture. 

This vanilla based chia seed pudding is made with vanilla flavored almond milk and low-fat Greek yogurt. Since I only buy unsweetened almond milk, I tried to compensate by adding a splash more of vanilla extract. I'd imagine vanilla bean would be absolutely yummy! 

Simply mix the wet ingredients with the chia seeds and a little maple syrup, pop it in the fridge over night, and enjoy the next day! Why the wait? The chias need time to expand. When wet, the seed can expand nine times its original size. Hence, they're great for conscious eaters because they're filling as well as full of nutrients. Even Autumn wants in on that action!

What really makes any chia seed pudding shine is the toppings. Berries are a must! They're naturally sweet and make everything better. Use toasted almonds, shredded coconut, or dark chocolate shavings. The possibilities are endless-ish! You can blend berries in soy milk as a base liquid or supplement with coconut milk. I'm excited to try them all, particularly this recipe that uses bananas and peanut butter. This is only the beginning of an obsession. 

If you're looking for a light and tasty snack, try chia seed pudding! For the Berry Vanilla recipe, check out the Food Network!

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