Seasonal desserts

Apple Streusel Cupcakes

I’ve been a bad blogger the last three weeks. I’d like to say it’s been an especially busy month, but that just isn’t true.

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The truth is, I’m no busier than usual, maybe even less busy. And I did continue baking and cooking while on hiatus. But for the last month or so, my focus has been on mind and body restoration.

My life has always been, Go, go, go. I’m a hard-wired, type-A girl. And then a couple months ago, I fell in love.

Or more precisely, I fell back in love. With BODYFLOW, that is.

I should back up a bit. For the better part of the last year, I’ve been in and out of pain in my hip and one side of my lower back. I finally broke down and went to see my ortho, which in turn led to about six weeks with a physical therapist. I discovered that my lower body was out of alignment, and some muscles were out of balance. I spent half the summer trying to realign, rebalance, and most importantly, relearn  — how to sit, how to sleep, how to get in a car…

As part of my journey, I started taking Les Mills BODYFLOW, a mind-body class that draws from the disciplines of Tai Chi, yoga, and Pilates, about twice per week. I used to be a regular BODYFLOW participant before becoming a group fitness instructor. As instructors, we’re taught to be member-centric. While I don’t speak for every instructor, I do know that the busier I am, the less time I take for myself.

Anyway, I quickly remembered what the class meant to me as a member — recovery for my body, calm for my mind. We work on strength, but also flexibility, balance, grace, and calm. Aside from strength, none of these comes naturally to me, and that’s exactly why I need it in my life. In other countries, BODYFLOW is called BODYBALANCE, and balance is exactly what it provides.

When I found myself with the opportunity to attend an instructor training for BODYFLOW, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and continue my journey.  I spent the last two weeks preparing for the training, which I attended this weekend, and for the next couple of months I’ll work toward finishing my certification.

This has absolutely nothing to do with apple cupcakes, except to say that I just haven’t had time in the last two weeks to post. I promise — there are more recipes in the queue!

Anyway, you are going to love these cupcakes. It’s almost like coffee cake, and I’d venture to say it would make an awesome breakfast or brunch cupcake, perhaps without the galze. If you’re going for true cupcake, keep the glaze — just know that it’s going to make the cupcakes a lot sweeter.

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Apple Streusel Cupcakes

Adapted from Cooking Light

Makes 1 dozen cupcakes

6.75 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup (2 ounces) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
3 tablespoons amaretto, or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1/4 cup 2% reduced-fat milk
3/4 cup finely chopped apple

Streusel:
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter, chilled
2 tablespoons sliced almonds

Optional Glaze:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons (or more) 2% reduced-fat milk
1 teaspoon almond liqueur

Preheat oven to 350°. Place muffin cup liners in 12 muffin cups.

Reserve one tablespoon of flour. In a small bowl, whisk together remaining flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. In a large bowl beat together sugar, cream cheese, and butter with an electric mixer until well-blended. Add liqueur, vanilla, and egg; beat at medium speed until well-blended. In a small bowl, combine sour cream and milk, stirring until well-blended. In a measuring cup or bowl, toss together apple and remaining 1 tablespoon flour.

Add flour mixture and sour cream mixture alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat just until blended. Fold in apple mixture. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. (Note: you’ll think you have too much batter, but these don’t really rise like regular cupcakes or muffins.)

For streusel: Combine 2 tablespoons flour, brown sugar, and ground cinnamon in a small bowl. Cut in 2 tablespoons butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal; stir in almonds. Sprinkle streusel evenly over cupcakes. Bake at 350° for 27 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 15 minutes on a wire rack, and remove the cupcakes from pan.

For glaze: Combine powdered sugar, milk, and liqueur in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Stir in additional milk if necessary. Drizzle glaze over cupcakes.

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Strawberry Fool

A few days ago, I read a great column in Buzzfeed about food blogging become a victim of its own success.

As food blogs have become more popular and more competitive, the author writes, successful food blogging “doesn’t have much to do with cooking food that tastes good, or writing a recipe that works. Instead, it’s about cute plates, perfect lighting, photography, and social media networking. In other words, as they say on the internet: It’s about building a brand.”

Well, s***.

That’s never going to be me.

Look, I get it. I really do. I don’t just accept or tolerate marketing, social media, or branding. I work in freaking market research for a public relations company. Part of my job is helping clients understand perceptions of their brand and how to improve them.

But let’s be real for a minute. I leave home between 7 and 8am and am pleased when I make it home before 8pm more nights than not — and that’s a slow week. I’m an amateur cook and a sub-amateur photographer. I own one set of dishes, plain white. My kitchen window is too small and faces the wrong direction to get the right natural lighting for food photography (d’oh! what was I thinking, buying this place?). I don’t own an SLR camera, and if I had an extra $700 sitting around, I certainly wouldn’t spend it on a food styling course.

(Sidebar: Seven HUNDRED dollars? Seriously?)

And even that is not the point. I love the fellowship of cooking and eating as much as the food itself. My dear friend Danielle and I, 800 miles apart, use Facebook to share everything from which Bon Appetit recipe we’re cooking first this month to what to a discussion about the best use for two extra stalks of rhubarb. My husband-wife friends Mike and Lisa not only are willing guinea pigs any time I’m looking to cook, I thought I might die from Mexi-Korean fusion food bliss at the Cinco de Mayo party I talked them into throwing. Then there’s the time my brother, around 23 at the time, called me and proudly declared that for the first time, he had eaten the piece of leaf lettuce on his cheeseburger. (When asked how it tasted, he replied, “Crunchy.” This was not a compliment.)

I started a blog because for me, food is about community — creating and sharing experiences together.

There aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything I’d like; I’m not going to go out of my way to make a pot roast at 6am so the lighting is just right, or find the perfect piece of parsley to garnish my plate. My pictures aren’t magazine-worthy. I don’t have hundreds of readers, let alone thousands. I’m okay with that.

I’m not digging on any food bloggers who do those things. To the contrary, I have a deep admiration for them — as artists, photographers, marketers, and especially as chefs, cooks and bakers. I draw as much inspiration from fellow bloggers as traditional food magazines and cookbooks.

And that’s also not to say I don’t hope to improve my skills. I’m just saying, that’s not my primary focus here. Yes, I want to share beautiful food accompanied by heartfelt and well-written prose. But choosing between getting a better picture of a cake or diving in and spending more time with the person I made it for? That’s not even a question.

Tonight, I’m not dwelling over an imperfect photograph. I’m capping off a near-perfect holiday weekend by savoring every last bite of a simple, delicious dessert: strawberries, whipped cream, and Ladyfingers. Pull up a bowl and join me.

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Strawberry Fool

From Bon Appetit

Yield: 6 Servings

2 cups chopped, hulled fresh strawberries (about 8 oz.) plus 6 whole berries for garnish
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
Seeds scraped from 1/2 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
3/4 cup homemade Strawberry Conserve (if using store-bought, use 1/2 cup, stirred to loosen)
3 crisp ladyfingers (savoiardi, Boudoirs, or Champagne biscuits), crushed (or substitute graham crackers)

Place chopped strawberries in a small bowl. Sprinkle sugar over; let sit, tossing occasionally, until juices are released and sugar is dissolved, about 20 minutes.

Beat cream and vanilla seeds in a large bowl until soft peaks form. Add conserve; fold to blend. Add berries with juices; fold almost to blend. Divide among bowls. Sprinkle crushed ladyfingers over. Garnish with whole berries.

International Pi(e) Day: Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

We’re just days away from International Pi(e) Day, March 14.

Get it? Pi? 3.14?

Oh stop rolling your eyes at me. Focus, people. On Pi(e) Day, we eat Pie.

PIE.

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My office is observing Pi(e) Day this Friday afternoon with a pie-themed happy hour. Presuming I can find rhubarb (which is in season starting in March), I’m planning to make one of my favorite pies, Strawberry Rhubarb Pie from Beantown Baker.

I love rhubarb. It’s a weird little vegetable that looks like pink or red celery, but is (usually) used like fruit. It’s great in desserts, from pie and tarts to sorbet, but it also works well in savory dishes, such as chutney for pork.

The tartness of rhubarb are a fantastic complement to the sweetness of strawberries, which is why they’re often paired together. Tossing the fruit in sugar draws out the excess liquid, keeping the pie crust from getting soggy.

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Lattice work is easier than it looks. Bon Appetit has a great primer here.

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Looking for a non-fruit option for Pi(e) Day? French Silk Pie is like dark chocolate pudding, but in pie form. Delicious. :)

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Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

From Beantown Baker

2 cups diced fresh rhubarb stalks
3 cups diced fresh hulled strawberries
1 cup sugar, divided
Choice of double-layer pie crust
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom or orange peel, if desired
1/4 cup cornstarch
very small pinch of salt
1 beaten egg

In large bowl, combine rhubarb, strawberries, and 1/2 c. sugar. Toss to combine well and set into colander over sink or bowl and let drain for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare pie plate. Roll out 1/2 recipe of dough and line bottom of pie plate.

In large clean bowl, combine strawberry and rhubarb that have been drained with remaining sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, pinch of salt and cornstarch. Toss to combine well and add to pie shell, smoothing out evenly.

Roll out remaining pie dough and lattice top the pie filling.

Brush lattice with beaten egg and place pie into oven. Let cook for 20 minutes, then place a piece of tinfoil loosely over the top. Continue cooking until filling is cooked through and bubbling, about 50 more minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack.