Homemade Chocolate Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting

I did it again! I managed to somehow make great cupcakes without following an actual recipe, for a great cause- my Mama’s birthday! 😀 We’re kind of best friends. ANYWAY. She requested chocolate cupcakes, so I obliged.10690149_10205874357163199_588961454879716748_n

Ingredients Cupcakes:

1 stick of room temperature butter

1/2 granulated sugar

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 cup HOT coffee (if you do not like coffee, this can be substituted by hot water, hot milk….it just has to be a hot liquid)

3/4 cup heavy whipping cream (milk is ok too)

1/3 cup sour cream

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup cocoa powder

1 1/2 teaspoon baking POWDER

1 1/2 teaspoon baking SODA

1 3/4 cup flour

1. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and baking powder. In a mixer, cream your butter and sugar. Add in your eggs, heavy whipping cream, vegetable oil and sour cream. It will be smooth and creamy!

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2. Pre-heat your oven to 350. Slowly add in the sifted dry ingredients and coffee alternately. You will get a nice light and fluffy batter.

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3. I used a large ice cream scoop to fill my liners, but about a 1/4 of a cup is perfect.

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4. Bake 18-22 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean. For my oven, these guys were perfect after 18. Remove to a cooling rack and let COMPLETELY cool BEFORE icing!

Ingredients Buttercream

2 sticks room temperature butter

1 1lb bag of powdered sugar

1 1/2 teaspoon on vanilla extract (almond, peppermint or orange could be good here as well)

Milk (heavy whipping cream or flavored creamer can also be used)

Food dye (optional)

1. In a mixer with the whip attachment, cream the butter until it starts getting nice and fluffy.

2. Slowly begin adding the powdered sugar on the LOWEST SETTING or you will have sugar flying everywhere. It will start to stiffen up. Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup, slowly add milk a splash at a time. DO NOT add the whole 1/4 cup at one shot or you will have gooze. Add in food dye to desired color.

*The thing about buttercream is that it is not an exact science. You may need to go back and forth adding little bits of milk and powdered sugar until you get the amount of frosting that you are looking for and the consistency that you need.*

3. I like my frosting nice and whipped/fluffy so I let mine go for a few minutes once the powdered sugar is incorporated.

TO FROST- I wish I would have taken more/better pictures. I saw this method a few weeks ago, and I can’t even remember where, but it is brilliant.

Tear off a good sized piece of surran wrap and place it on the counter. Dump the majority of your frosting on the wrap. Wrap the frosting and twist the ends like a Tootsie Roll. Feed one of the twisted ends through your piping tip. I used a simple round. Get a medium zip-lock bag and snip the corner just enough that the piping tip sticks out. Feed the tip and the twisted surran wrap through the sniped hole of the bag. It’s going to look something like this.

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Cut off the twisted tail of surran wrap, make sure the bag is zipped shut, and you can now pipe your frosting relatively mess free without fear of frosting coming out of the top and getting everywhere!

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The (Book) Struggle is Real

It’s mid February. I’ve gotten close to 30 new books since New Years. My wall-length bookshelves that house both my books and my mug collection are laden. The books are progressively kicking the mugs out-of-the-way. That is a problem all unto itself. But there’s another issue. I. Have. A. Major. Problem.

10407758_10205732124367468_4671440219716674028_nThis is what happens when I find a cart of free books. It might have been below zero out, I may not have been able to feel my toes or hands and I may have had slobber rolling down my face because I had a Bridge Street Chocolate espresso marshmallow stuffed in my face.

The fact that my local gently used book store has $1 book carts, by 2 get 1 free does NOT help my cause any either. I just keep telling myself….”They’re for my classroom. They’ll help my students. They are helping to build my future.” And by building my “future” I mean, building my future library room…and one day my future office at a university somewhere.

But I have this problem. I have all of these books, and well…thank goodness I’m not blowing my bank account to get them because well….none of them are grabbing my attention.

I’ve been a book-worm for as long as I can remember. I had to start wearing glasses in middle school because as a child I hid under blankets with small, dim, key chain flash lights to read Magic Tree House. My parents were always encouraging my reading habits, reading to me as a child, always getting me at least one book from the cool Scholastic Book Fair at school even though money was tight, and still getting me books for Christmas now as a 22-year-old. To be fair, many of my obnoxious reading habits have come from my father, he’s just a bit better at hiding them. I have a whole pin board that is nothing but books, book lists, and book sayings.

I created a Net Galley account last summer and I LOVE IT! Free books and all I had to do was read them and review them; but so many of them were so bad I couldn’t even finish them. Obviously they didn’t get the best reviews in return. I have made great connections with a few of the authors that I did review and enjoy like Brielle Skye, author of Solitude of a Birdcage. But those connections with both the literature and the authors are so very few and far between.

In the past 2 months, with my massive literary additions I have read 3 of them to completion and even those were a struggle. Why?

For a while I thought, well it’s got to just be the literature. Comparatively to even 10 or 20 years ago, it is SO much easier to have a book published and put out there. eBooks have made becoming an author easier than ever before. This can be a good thing and a bad thing…for obvious reasons. It’s kind of like American Idol. For years friends and family tell someone they are an amazing singer in order to avoid hurt feelings, and these poor people stand up on stage and sound like they are dying, wailing cows. The same happens with writing. People are told that they are great writers, some may have even gone to school for English or writing…but that doesn’t mean that they are good.

My other thought-standards are low. With books like Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey and a multitude of other books being PUBLISHED no wonder there is so much crap out there. I’m not just talking content wise either. Anyone with any kind of English grammar/writing sense can tell you that some of the best-selling books in the last 10 years are some of the most poorly written books they have read in their life. People are not only reading this stuff and enjoying it, but asking for more like there is no problem with any of it. They have no idea that they are reading poor “literature.” The term is being used quite loosely here. They make money, so they continue to be published because people aren’t standing up and saying “STOP WE WANT THE GOOD STUFF!”

Maybe I’m just all read out. I’ve read so many books over the years that it is rare that a book ends differently than I expect. I usually have a solid guess of what is going to happen and how the characters are going to get there about 20 pages in. The excitement of “what is going to happen next,” seems to have disappeared for me. Is this my fault? Have authors gotten together, come up with a story equation, plugged in their own “details” and continue to write the same story with different names? My favorite- Nicholas Sparks. The same story over and over with a few variations, like names, diseases, and occupations. Here is a chart that has been floating around as an example-

summary_imageThis makes me feel better, that maybe I’m not as crazy as I thought I was about this theory.

I think that somewhere in my heart, I know that all of the above reasons are reasons why I am struggling. I also think that they are all contributing factors to what I am now calling “book depression.” This is very different from a Book Hangover– symptoms and other info are included in the linked post. Book depression is a deep sadness, a fear that it is going to be a very long time before you read a good book again. It’s longing for a book that you’re not sure even exists. I want to read something inspiring, something hopeful, something unexpected, something relatable, something real. I want a story with dynamic characters, with a strong plot, with antagonists and protagonists. I want something that doesn’t involve werewolves or vampires or dystopian society. I want a book with proper sentence structure, lacking comma splices, and with bright, vibrant language.

I want to fall in love with words on the pages of the book in my hand. I want to yearn for more and hope there is at least a sequel. I want to read again.

Baked Chicken Legs and Marinade

We are hard-core grillers, and by “we” I mean my mom. She loves to grill and does it just about anytime of year. Well, it’s been just a wee bit cold up here in Pennsylvania and she’s given up until it gets a bit better. But we had chicken legs, and I love chicken legs. We normally reserve them for grilling, but I needed something to break up the monotony of winter dinners. So I decided I was going to bake my chicken legs.

Ingredients:

Chicken legs

1/2 cup EVOO

1/2 onion

2 lemons

1/4 orange juice

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

3 garlic cloves

1/2 teaspoon Rosemary

1/2 teaspoon Thyme

1/2 tablespoon brown sugar

Salt/Pepper

1. In a large container combine: the juice of 2 lemons, olive oil, chopped onion, orange juice, Worcestershire sauce, 3 minced garlic cloves, rosemary, thyme, brown sugar, salt and pepper. With a fork, mix everything together to distribute the ingredients.

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2. Place your thawed (or mostly thawed) chicken legs into the container, put the lid on and shake around to distribute the marinade over the legs. Let marinade for at least 3 hours, or over night. I would re-shake every so often to redistribute the goods.

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3. Pre-heat your oven to 350. Place your chicken legs and marinade into a large baking dish, skin side up, and cover with foil. Place in the oven while it is still pre-heating. Bake for at least an hour and a half, or until the meat reaches 160 degrees using a meat thermometer. For the last half hour, remove the foil to crisp the skins.

4. Optional, remove foil and turn on your broiler. Everyone likes that awesome crunch skin and this is the best way to get it when you’re not grilling. Broil until the skins are turning golden brown and crunchy!

5. Remove from the oven, and let rest. Serve with sides and enjoy! We had rice and a veggie! 🙂

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Homemade Chicken Pot Pie (Actual Pie)

It was just within the last few years that I had learned that there are two versions of “chicken pot pie.” One is the literal pie version, with flakey crust stuffed with chicken and vegetable goodness. The other is the “Pennsylvania Dutch” version that is a thick and creamy chicken soup with big egg noodles. Some of you may be scratching your heads, I live about 30 minutes from Lancaster, home of relatively large Amish and Mennonite communities. Being so close, some of the recipes and cultural norms have wiggled themselves in…anyway. This recipe is a classic, actual pie version. In true Anna fashion, my mother asked me if I had  recipe, I said yes. “Yes” actually means “I’ve got a plan but I’m totally making this up.” 9 times out of 10 it works for me.

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Pennsylvania Dutch CPP

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“Classic” CPP

 

Ingredients for filling:

2-3 thawed boneless/skinless chicken breasts

1/4 cup carrots

1/4 cup green beans

1/4 cup corn

Any other vegetables you’d like- peas, lima beans etc.

3 potatoes

2-3 chicken bullion cubes

1/2 stick of butter

1/2 cup flour

1 cup milk

Salt/Pepper

Pie Crust:

You can use 2 store bought crusts (top and bottom) or you can use this tried and true, my personal favorite, recipe HERE!

*Pre-heat your oven to 350*

1. In a medium-large pot boil chicken bullion cubes in about 6 cups of water.

2. Chop your chicken breasts into small bite sized pieces/cubes. Throw them into the water to cook. This flavors both the chicken and the stock. You will use this for the gravy filling later.

2. While the chicken is going, make your pie crust. Roll out and place your bottom crust into the pie dish. I made the bottom pretty thick because we like crust! Poke holes into the bottom to keep it from puffing up. Place in the oven at 350 until it is just turning golden brown. Mine happened to time perfectly for when I was ready to fill, about 30 minutes since it was thick.

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3. Peal and chop the potatoes into small bite sized chunks. Throw them in the pot with the chicken to boil until tender. I also threw in the carrots since they can take a bit longer.

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4. In a medium sauce pan, melt half a stick of butter over medium heat. Once the butter has melted and started boiling it will start to kinda bubble. Whisk in your flour continuously. It will bubble, thicken and start to turn brown. When it is a toasted almond color and smells nutty, remove from heat, slowly add in the milk to temper. Continue whisking. It will continue to thicken. This is a rue!

5. Using a ladle, ladle in as much of the stock from the pot with the chicken and potatoes as possible and put back on medium heat. Continue to whisk together. Add in salt and pepper to taste. This will be the “gravy” in your pie.

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6. Dump the rue/stock mixture back in the pot with the chicken and potatoes. Dump in the green beans, corn and other veggies in at this time. I used fresh-frozen veggies so they’d already been pre-cooked, they just needed “heated up.”

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7. Pull your bottom crust out of the oven if you have not already. Fill with your filling! You will probably have some left over filling.

8. Roll out your top crust, place on top, poke holes in the top to release steam. Put the pie glass/tin on a baking sheet to catch potential drips and replace back into the oven until the top crust is golden brown. This will take about a half hour. I used the broiler to then add a bit more color to the top crust.

Serve HOT! If you have any extra pie crust or filling, roll out the extra dough, cut circles, place in muffin tins and fill with the extra filling for mini-pies that you can freeze and eat later! YUM!

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My dad chalked this up to “another success.” Not too bad for not quite having a recipe! This recipe took a little over an hour start to finish, but for a CPP with HOMEMADE crust and gravy, I think that’s pretty good. This was perfect for the blustery cold winter we’ve been having up here in the North East!

Homemade Valentines Day Donuts

I’d like to take credit for my Martha Stewart tendencies, but I must admit, they totally come from my mother. In preparation for Valentines Day, I wanted to bring a treat to my boyfriend’s. I was going to go with classic strawberries, but my mom in her infinite wisdom suggested I make donuts. We have a “Babycakes” mini donut maker and it’s awesome. And this was a brilliant idea. I used the recipe in the little book that it came with, but I’m sure it would be just as good in a donut pan.

Ingredients Donuts:

1 1/3 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 vegetable oil

1/4 milk

1/4 sour cream

*I added a sprinkle of cinnamon because I love the combo with chocolate!*

Chocolate topping:

1/2 cup melting chocolate (I used Ghiradelli dark chocolate melting wafers)

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1 tablespoon light corn syrup

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

SPRINKLES/JIMMIES! (optional)

Donuts

1. Whisk all wet ingredients in a bowl.

2. Slowly add the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. It is going to look a lot like a pancake batter.

3. If you are using donut maker, plug it in. If you are using a pan, turn your oven on!

4. Bake at 350 until golden brown, or as per the donut maker instructions (about 4 minutes)

5. When done, remove from forms, place on a wire cooling rack.

Topping:

1. In a double boiler, or metal bowl over a simmering pot of water, add in your chocolate, corn syrup and whipping cream.

2. Use a spatula and mix intermittently until all of the chocolate is melted, think gnache. Turn the burner OFF but leave the bowl over the pot.

3. Carefully dip the tops of your donuts into the melted chocolate and replace back onto the wire cooling rack.

4. Before the chocolate sets, top with any of your favorite donut toppings- sprinkles, jimmies, nuts, marshmallows…what ever floats your boat! I suggest putting a cookie sheet under the wire cooling rack to catch rouge sprinkles to make cleaning a breeze!

Let set or eat warm!

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Valentines, Sugar Cookies and Babysitting

I wouldn’t be seeing the kids that I babysit on Valentines Day, so I decided to do it a bit early. The idea started at Target, and really, don’t most great ideas start there? In their Dollar Spot, they had these cute scratch ‘n’ sniff puzzles for Valentines day. The kids love puzzles so I grabbed one!

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As I walked around, part II came to mind- “I should make sugar cookies with the kids!” So heart-shaped cookie cutters, hot pink vanilla frosting and some Valentines Day themed sprinkles were all juggled to the counter. After purchasing everything I asked Mom if this activity was pre-approved. She was ALL FOR IT!

The kids had all had their Valentines Day parties at school on Wednesday since they don’t have school Thursday/Friday this week so they were all hyped up on the holiday spirit! After Mom left for class, I dumped the puzzle out on the island. Because I am evil, I would not let them look at the box, it would have given away the surprise! They had to complete the puzzle to know what the surprise activity for the night was!!!

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By the end of the puzzle we’d lost one….he was hiding near by!

While the kids ate dinner, I pre-measured out all of the ingredients so that they could help me dump!

Sugar Cookie Ingredients:

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon of salt

1 cup sugar

2 sticks room temp/softened butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

1/2 cold water

*Pre-heat the oven to 350

1. In a mixer, cream butter and sugar. I had one of the kids sift the flour/salt/baking powder at this time.

2. Add in 1 egg and vanilla until well mixed.

3. Slowly add in the dry ingredients. This is a very dry/crumbly dough and it will be in lots of little crumbly pieces.

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4. Slowly add some water until it starts to form a better ball.

5. Dump on a lightly floured surface, you might want to wet your hands to knead/work the dough a bit. I split the dough into 4 small balls, lightly floured the surface for the kids, rolled out the dough and let them go to down with the cookie cutters.

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6. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 6-8 minutes. I found that 7 minutes was perfect.

While the cookies were baking/cooling I prepped our decorating area. Using their kiddie divided dinner plates, I poured in the different sprinkles for them. Each kid also got a small bowl of hot pink frosting and baby spoon to frost their creations.

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We had a great evening of (early) Valentines Day fun, food and decorating! Because nothing says I Love You like a giant heart cookie smothered in frosting with half a pound of sprinkles and candy hearts! ❤

“I DID IT!” Chocolate Chip Cookies

The original recipe came from Host the Toast. I was quietly minding my own business the other day when my friend Emily messaged me, “ANNA I swear to God the best chocolate chip recipe I’ve ever made. They are aamaaazinggggg!” It is a running joke in my life that I can’t make chocolate chip cookies, hence her sending me this recipe. I’ve had a few solid batches here and there but they just never work. I can make really hard recipes perfectly the first time but can’t make a basic batch of chocolate chip cookies. I was skeptical, but promised her that I would try them. This is what convinced me to make them-

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Ingredients:

2 cups + 2 tablespoons all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons cornstarch

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ sticks (6 oz) butter, melted and cooled

1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed (I used dark brown sugar, but either will work)

½ cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1½ cups dark chocolate chips

1. Soften butter, add in sugars and mix until combined and fluffy.

2. Add in the eggs and vanilla until incorporated.

3. Sift together flour, salt, cornstarch, and baking soda. Slowly add it into the bowl until JUST combined, do not over mix.

4. Fold in chocolate chips by hand to help keep from over mixing.

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5. Cover and refrigerate for at least a half hour. I put mine in for 20 minutes, then turned my oven on to pre-heat to 325 and let them stay in the fridge until the oven was pre-heated.

6. The original recipe says to use 1/4 cup dough per cookie, I just used the larger ice cream scoop to make them uniform. I fit 9 per cookie sheet.

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7. Cook for about 12 minutes or until just golden brown. I put the dough back in the fridge between batches.

8. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transporting them to a cooling rack.

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9. Enjoy with a large class of milk, like my dad likes to do.

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Oh yeah, check out that beard 😉

The cookies are awesome too. Emily was right. However, we both discussed and decided that we would probably add just a little bit more flour to give them a bit more body, more like 2 1/2 cups of flour.