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Archive for May, 2011

It seems Portland has forgotten that it’s almost June. Mother Nature keeps teasing us with days of sunshine speckled here and there, but then it decides to rain for like 6 days straight. The first summer I was here for I remember summer coming quite quickly, but every year after that it takes longer and longer to get here… =(

So what do you do when it’s all gloomy outside? Create some sunshine! In the shape of a muffin, of course.

I really like muffins. It’s like eating a cupcake but without the guilt. But I don’t make them nearly as often as I should; I guess cupcakes are just so much more fun to make (oh well…).

These muffins are based off a recipe in Veganomicon, though I kind of turned it upside down and made it almost unrecognizable. That’s one thing I love about baking. There are sooooo many possibilities in every recipe that allow you to use your creative energies in any way you see fit. The only downside being, of course, that the finished product isn’t, well, edible, but you’ve got to learn somehow!

This photo reminds me of the Hawaiin Islands.

Strawberry Banana Muffins (vegan)

Preheat the oven to 350 and line a muffin pan with cupcake liners, or don’t and just spray with non-stick spray.

  • 1 C bread flour (AP flour will work too)
  • 1 C whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t baking powder
  • Pinch of nutmeg

Sift together the dry ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

  • 3 average size bananas (very ripe)
  • Strawberries

Peel the bananas and place them in a large mixing bowl. Mash them to smithereens. Hull and dice enough strawberries to make a cup, plus have a few extra pieces to put on top of the muffins. Set them aside for now.

  • 1/2 C soy yogurt, I used peach
  • 1/4 C agave
  • 1/4 C organic sugar
  • 2 T soy milk
  • 1 T canola oil
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • Extra sugar for sprinkling (raw, large granule preferably)

Add the wet ingredients to the smashed bananas and mix thoroughly. Add the dry ingredients and mix to incorporate. Fold in the cup of strawberries.

Transfer the batter to the lined muffin pan. Top each cup of batter with a few of the strawberries pieces, and sprinkle some raw sugar over each cupcake. Bake for about 18 – 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Transfer the muffins to a wire rack about 5 minutes after removing them from the oven.

I think the combination of strawberry, banana and peach (from the yogurt) give these muffins an almost tropical-summery feel. Like you can imagine sitting on a beach with the sunshine gleaming down on you while drinking a Mai Tai and listening to the waves rolling in. Or maybe they just taste good and I’m really ready for summer (probably the latter).

I honestly wasn’t very impressed with these the moment they came out of the oven, I thought they needed more sugar or less salt. But the next day they were delicious – likely because all the flavors had time to meld. I think they’d also be good with a little pineapple and some orange zest.

Are you a muffin fan? What’s your favorite muffin recipe?

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I never really tried to photograph food before a couple years ago. When I started cooking and baking I was proud of the fact that I could make stuff that tasted better than rocks or bits of moldy cardboard, so I wanted to show the world what I could do. Here’s the first photo I ever took of my food:

Not exactly breathtaking is it? =)

Food photography is a wee bit harder than I had anticipated. And it’s even harder to accomplish when you have a crappy point and shoot camera. I made a slight upgrade from my 5.0 megapixel Canon PowerShot last December to a 14.1 megapixel Sony Cyber shot with a 10x zoom, but it’s still a point and shoot. One of these days, when I’m all growed up and out of school and have a paying job (fingers crossed) I’ll bite the bullet and spend $500 – $1,000 for a decent camera, but I just can’t spend that kind of dough until I start making dough (bread that is).

Cookies & Cream Cupcakes, recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World

The Sony isn’t half bad, but it’s fairly pathetic in bad lighting situations, which occur quite often here in the awesome but frequently overcast city of Portland, OR. I’ve been meaning to make a light box since about last October but for some reason I can’t ever find time to get to the store and buy fabric and a lamp (i.e. I hate driving and haven’t forced myself to get in my car and go procure these items). So I fuss and fiddle with this half-ass cardboard background contraption I threw together and often find myself getting drizzled on outside on the roof of our apartment while trying to absorb enough natural light to get a good photo without photographing a shadow… I’m not the smartest of people sometimes. The photo above was taken using this “background” thing I speak of. While it’s not a bad photo, there’s this bluish-gray thing going on when in reality that backdrop is white. This becomes a fairly moot point, however, if you’re doing black and white photos.

But food doesn’t always look good in black and white, of course. Here are some other photos I’ve taken using the same camera and half-hazard roof and makeshift background combination.

Tiramisu Cupcakes, recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World

This photo isn’t bad, but the background has a blue tint and you can see the shadow on the right side of the main cupcake.

I really like this photo as it has good detailing of the frosting and chocolate rolls I made, but it’s blue and shadowy as well (which means FoodGawker will NOT accept it – I’ve given up on submitted stuff to them).

Here, again, you can see that black and white photos make the location of the sun less important.

Cake Balls made from vanilla cake, strawberry cream cheese icing and melted chocolate

This photo is proof that yes, we actually do get sunshine in Portland. You can see that the Sony does a decent job of focusing on some aspects of the items being photograph but tastefully blurs the rest. There is, however, still a shadow and it’s not really very photogenic because I was lazy and didn’t dress it up at all.

Brownie Pizza with cream cheese frosting and fresh strawberries

I thought this picture was pretty damn good but FoodGawker, again, rejected it – probably because of the blue tint. I think that’s my biggest problem, blueness. That and the fact that FoodGawker is too damn picky (they’ve rejected me, a lot).

It’s a lot of work photographing food. Even when a photo looks good there are so many little details that can make it not good, so you have to take like a gazillion pictures of everything. Every time I make something my husband’s like, “Can we eat it yet?” One of these days I’ll actually get my act together and go to the fabric store and a-l-l t-h-e w-a-y to Ikea to buy a cheap lamp to make my light box. But until then, I’ll keep fighting with the Portland sun.

Do you photograph food? What kind of camera do you have? Any special tips you’d like to share?

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I’ve been a little, oh I don’t know, swamped lately – as is totally obvious by the date of my last post (when was that again?…). Culinary school is nothing like Audrey Hepburn portrayed in Sabrina. It’s not all excitable French chef instructors and unbaked souffles. And I still don’t know the correct way to crack ze egg.  It is, however, full of reading, homework assignments, recipe analysis, quizzes and potato chopping, which has kept me less in the kitchen and more at my desk, except for the potato part of course (that would be messy). So instead of letting my poor little blog lay dormant any longer, I’m reaching into the not so distant archives to talk about a friend of mine: the coconut.

Personally, I’ve never been a fan of coconut. I was one of those kids who didn’t like anything growing up; though I also never tried any of the things I didn’t like… Coconut happened to be one of these things, though I did probably end up with some of it in my mouth from time to time, unbeknownst to me of course – the likely culprit being unmarked, heart shaped boxes of chocolate truffle candies.

I wasn’t alone in my non-coconutness though, it seems a lot of people have an aversion to coconut. I was turned the other way however when we were tasting cake for our wedding. We were at the Sweetpea Baking Co. here in Portland and one of the cupcakes Lisa brought out was Toasted Coconut. I immediately told myself I would not like that cupcake, but one bite of it had me hooked. Crunchy coconut flakes on top of creamy buttercream frosting on top of decadent coconutty cake? Freaking delicious!

We did end up getting coconut for one layer of our cake, but we got two other flavors for the other layers since, as I already said, a lot of people don’t like coconut. We sadly didn’t get to eat any of that layer though, so we indulged in a little toasted coconut when I made these cupcakes sometime last month. They’re really quite easy and your kitchen will smell fantastic when you toast the shredded coconut (provided you don’t burn it, of course).

Toasted Coconut Cupcakes (vegan)

Preheat the oven to 350. Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners.

Cupcake

  • 1 & 1/4 C organic AP flour
  • 2 T cornstarch
  • 3/4 t baking powder
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t salt

Sift the ingredients above into a small bowl and set aside.

  • 1 C coconut milk, canned (I used light)
  • 1/3 C canola oil (non-GMO preferably)
  • 3/4 C organic sugar (agave can be used to, but use less as it’s sweeter)
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 1 t coconut extract

Combine all the wet ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix thoroughly; you can use a hand blender or Kitchen Stand Mixer of course. Add the dry ingredients (feel free to sift again) and mix until there aren’t many lumps. Pour the batter to the lined muffin pan and bake for 20 – 22 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Transfer the baked cupcakes to a cooling rack about 5 minutes after removing them from the oven.

Coconut

  • About 1/2 C shredded coconut

Take a small sauce pot and put it on the stove over medium-low heat. Add the coconut and stir. You don’t need to stir it relentlessly, but you do need to hover over it quite closely. Frequently stir and move the coconut around. When it starts to brown it will do so quickly so keep an eye on it and remove, if necessary, those pieces already toasted if the others are taking too long. When in doubt, a little under-toasted coconut is better than charred coconut. Set it aside on a plate and make the frosting.

Frosting

  • 1/2 C vegan stick margarine
  • 1/2 C non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening (or more margarine)
  • 1 – 2 t coconut extract, depending on how coconutty you want it
  • 1/4 C coconut milk
  • 3 – 4 C powdered sugar (plus more if needed)

Cream the margarine and shortening together in a large mixing bowl. Add the milk, extract and some of the powdered sugar and start mixing. Add powdered sugar until you reach the desired consistency; I think I typically use at least 4 cups.

Now you can get all fancy and whip out the ole pastry bag here, or just plop a big dollop of frosting on top of the cupcakes and smooth it out a bit with a spoon or icing knife. Then grab the plate of coconut and spread it out a bit so it’s not in one big glob. Take the cupcake on its side and roll it in the coconut. Voila!

Even if you aren’t typically a fan of coconut, these cupcakes are quite tasty. They can also be made gluten-free simply by using a GF flour blend (and some agave instead of all sugar). If you’d like to do that and don’t already have a good flour mixture please contact me and I’ll give you some pointers.

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