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Behold: a baking concoction I didn’t mess up from start to finish. I made these for the Super Bowl Sunday party Matthew and I attended oh, you know, a month ago. I’m a food blogger slacker, but at least I’m getting this recipe up now. And it’s not as though my memory of these cupcakes has diminished with time. Nope, these are too delicious for that.

The original recipe calls for using real cream cheese in the center of the cupcakes but since we’re a lactose intolerant(ish) household, I used Tofutti Cream Cheese for the middle section. It tasted great! I’m sure regular cream cheese would have tasted even better but my brain never once told me to stop shoving these cupcakes in my mouth.

And actually, my favorite part of this cupcake would have to be the cake part. It was so moist, with the exact amount of chocolate in it. It wasn’t heavy or dense, but fluffy and perfectly sweet without giving me a sugar headache. Yum! Loved it. In fact, I think this will be my go-to chocolate cupcake recipe from now on. Mmm, want some. Right now.

Anyway, I made only minor changes to the recipe I found online, which was to omit the chocolate chips in my cream cheese batter and use Tofutti Cream Cheese instead of regular. Regular works fine, of course.

Black Bottom Cupcakes
slightly adapted from Baking Bites
makes 24 cupcakes

Cream Cheese Filling:
16 oz. cream cheese (or Tofutti), room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 large egg whites, room temperature
2 Tbsp sour cream, room temperature

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup sour cream
1 1/3 cup water
1/2 cup butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place paper cupcake liners in two 12-cup muffin tins. In medium bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar and salt. Beat until smooth, then beat in egg whites and sour cream. Set aside.

In large bowl, mix together flour, cocoa powder, sugar, salt and baking soda. Make a well in the center and add sour cream, water, melted butter and vanilla extract. Stir until just combined, with no remaining bits of flour.

Pour cake batter evenly among the 24 lined muffin tins. Top each with one tablespoon of cream cheese mixture (some may be left over).

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the cake portion of each cupcake comes out clean. If using two racks, rotate pans halfway through baking to ensure even cooking. Remove and place on wire racks until completely cooled. Sink your teeth in and enjoy chocolaty, creamy bliss.

*Note: I find that these are very, very good straight out of the refrigerator once they have cooled all the way!



Typical reaction when hearing I made this dish: “Are you crazy?” “Prunes?! In pasta??!” and the eventual “Ewwww!” Matthew’s response was simply, “That’s just too bad that I’ll be away this week for travel. I’ll be so sorry to miss out.” I sensed sarcasm in there but you know what? He SHOULD be sorry! Because this recipe was amazing!

Delicious, nutritious and cheapalicious. This recipe came from the Poor Girl Gourmet cookbook that my sister got me for Christmas and it’s the first of many recipes I’ll be making from it. Estimated cost for this recipe, which serves four, was $8.75. So if you find your pantry full of prunes and pasta — and you find your family has not run away screaming — then go forth and make this. And if you do find yourself deserted by all the people you love, it just means more pasta for you!

The prunes in the dish end up tasting like little meaty morsels. The ricotta adds a creamy, salty complement to the pasta and the leeks also offset the prunes’ sweet taste. The only thing I adapted in this recipe was to add extra leeks. The recipe, which was inspired by a dish the author ate when in Italy, is quick, healthy and easy on the pocketbook. Also — it’s strangely awesome.

Pasta with Prunes and Ricotta
from Poor Girl Gourmet cookbook
serves 4

1 lb medium-length, thick pasta, such as gemelli
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 large leeks, washed and sliced, white and light green parts only
12 oz. pitted prunes, quartered
1/2 cup fresh ricotta, plus an additional 1/4 cup for serving
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper

Bring large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to its directions, or until the pasta is al dente.

In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat and add leeks, cooking until softened (roughly 5 minutes). Add the prunes and cook until softened and heated through (roughly 5-7 minutes).

Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of cooking water. Add cooked pasta and 1 cup of cooking water to skillet, stirring to combine. Simmer for one minute. Add 1/2 cup fresh ricotta and stir until melted. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and serve, topping each serving with a tablespoon or so of fresh ricotta. Now go ahead. Embrace your exotic side.

I love this recipe. Any recipe that allows the batter to sit in the fridge for up to two weeks is fanTASTIC by me. We’ve eaten these muffins dozens of times, and every time I switch it up with great success. The result, every time, has been perfect. The best part about this recipe is that you don’t have to make it all at once. Feels like a warm breakfast kind of morning? Heat up your oven, plop the batter into the desired number of muffin cups, and you’re set!

I discovered this recipe a while ago when reading King Arthur Flour’s awesome blog. My grandfather, who is a big baker, mentioned them to me and I’ve had great success with many of their recipes. This is one I continue coming back to, again and again. I scoured the comments on both the blog and the main recipe site for successful changes people made to the recipe. I wanted a healthier, slightly less sweet version than what they had, but not one that completely crossed over to the “superfood” side.

Feel free to add whatever dried fruits (or none at all!) you prefer to this recipe — I’ve added dried cherries, dried apricots, golden and regular raisins, dried cranberries and even dried figs on top. I’ve also fussed with the types of flour used — sometimes I use all white whole wheat, sometimes I split all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour, and sometimes I go with straight all-purpose. Again, up to you. In this version, I cut the sugar and oil down, and added applesauce.

Two Week Bran Muffins
adapted from King Arthur Flour

1 cup boiling water
1 cup bran cereal (buds or twigs); or 1 3/4 cups bran flakes
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup applesauce
2 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 to 1 1/2 cups cup dried fruit (I used golden raisins and dried cranberries this time)
2 large eggs
2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 cups bran cereal (buds or twigs); or 3 1/2 cups bran flakes

In heatproof bowl, pour boiling water over 1 cup bran cereal. Set aside until cool (roughly 30-45 minutes).

While cereal mixture cools, combine flour, baking soda and salt into a large mixing bowl. Stir in dried fruit.

Add vegetable oil and applesauce to cooled cereal mixture. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk and white/brown sugar. Add this to flour mixture and combine. Stir in remaining dried cereal and, finally, add water/bran/oil mixture to everything and combine well.

Place batter in large plastic container, cover, and let sit overnight.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly spray or grease muffin cups and fill in as many cups as desired. Batter can sit in fridge for up to two weeks. Fill cups with approximately 1/4 cup batter and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.

Remove muffins from oven and extract from cups, allowing them to cool on a wire rack for a few minutes. Try not to fit whole muffin in your mouth once you realize how delicious they are!

Look at those perfect little nooks and crannies!

A Valentines Day dinner to die for. Or just a regular dinner to die for, as we had this a week ago, but I think this is one of those dishes that should be reserved for a unique night. It’s elegant, decadent and relatively simple.

And kind of expensive. My eyes about bulged out of my head and my heart nearly gave out when I got to the register and I finally looked at the price tag on the salmon steaks — $30?! Oh, crapcrapcrap. Matthew is going to kill me! Not only was the salmon $10 a pound (I bought an extra one that is now sitting in the freezer, waiting to be eaten as another decadent dish), but the lamb stew meat I bought for another dish was $10/lb — making it $30 as well! Attack of an aneurysm. I’m sorry, but that kind of expensive meat buying does not normally happen in this household. Whoopsies. Thankfully Matthew did not kill me, but simply skewered me with one of those looks men perfect when their wives buy something that wasn’t, per se, in the budget.

HOW. EV. ER. This meal was absolutely mind-blowing. Which means I was forgiven! Whew. The salmon steaks were perfectly done, and the peppery, lemony, hint-of-mustardy lemon sauce that is drizzled on top is perfectly simple and utterly amazing. Put all of that on top of the wild mushroom risotto (which I had never made before and will definitely make again!) and you’ve got love on a plate.

I added these fantastic lemon/mustard Brussels sprouts to the dish (it is my favorite Brussels sprout recipe and always will be — for now) and the whole thing felt like we were at the classiest restaurant in Bloomington. Or New York City, for that matter! That’s right. It was that good. Make it for your special person tonight! Or on Valentines Day, whichever works.

Fresh Salmon with Tricolored Peppercorn Sauce
from “More Recipes from a Kitchen Garden”
serves 4

1/2 lemon
salmon steaks or fillets to serve 4
2 1/2 Tbsp butter (don’t substitute)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp finely crushed tricolored peppercorns

Squeeze juice from lemon half over salmon and barbecue or broil salmon until cooked all the way through (anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes, depending on thickness of salmon steak). Do not overcook!

Melt butter, then add mustard and lemon juice. Remove cooked salmon and top with finely crushed peppercorns. Drizzle melted butter sauce over salmon and serve immediately over top risotto.

Wild Mushroom Risotto
minimally adapted from Three Many Cooks
serves 6

1 cup dried mushrooms (I used chanterelle because that’s what I had but feel free to use any kind)
1 quart plus 2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth, more if needed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-large onion, diced
Kosher salt, to taste
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp tricolored peppercorns, ground
2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano (or up to 1 cup)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Put dried mushrooms in heatproof bowl and add 3 cups boiling water. Let steep until hydrated and soft (roughly 30 minutes). Drain mushrooms, reserving liquid, and roughly chop.

Heat broth and 2 cups mushroom liquid in pot over medium heat and simmer. Cover, reduce heat to low, and keep liquid simmering during risotto process.

Heat olive oil in Dutch oven, or heavy-bottomed pot, over medium high heat, then add onions. Sprinkle with salt and sauté until translucent (roughly 5-7 minutes). Add garlic, cook for one minute. Add pepper and rice, stirring often to toast the rice (roughly one minute). Add white wine and stir continuously until liquid is nearly absorbed.

Add ladleful of simmering stock to rice and stir until mostly absorbed, or when you drag your wooden spoon across bottom of pot, you see no excess liquid. Add another ladleful of stock and stir until absorbed, repeating the process until rice is tender and creamy (roughly 20-30 minutes). Make sure to stir continuously so that rice does not stick or burn on the bottom of the pan.

Most likely you will use all of the stock, though more or less may be needed. Stock added to the risotto must be hot for it to cook correctly.

When risotto has finished cooking, add chopped mushrooms, Parmigiano and butter, stirring to combine. Spoon onto plate, then place salmon on top and add butter sauce to top everything off. And try not to preen and prance about when said special person asks you to become their personal chef (because most likely you already are).

I’m going to keep this one short and sweet (except to say this post is for you, Patri!). The proof is in the pictures, after all. It’s closing in on 2 a.m. here and I am so wishing I had some of this dish leftover to eat right now. Eat at 2 a.m.?! Who does that! Oh, um, me. I’m not afraid to eat at this hour, oh no. A muffin held off most of my hunger but what I really wanted was Ma-Po Tofu.

Bits of beef and soft pieces of tofu have simmered in a salty, spicy red sauce that absolutely screams EAT ME!! And so we did. And it was good. I’m not sure what originally drew me to this recipe — probably the promise of a spicy kick on a cold night — but I’m so glad I made the effort.

Not that it takes much effort to make it. This recipe moves quickly, once you have everything chopped and combined in various bowls. Plate it over a bowl of hot rice and let the flavors scream in your ear (and mouth), too.

Ma-Po Tofu
slightly adapted from Epicurious
serves 4

1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns (I used regular, freshly-cracked pepper)
1 1/2 pounds soft (not silken) tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons Szechuan chili sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese black-bean paste
4 Tbsp Hoisin sauce, split
2 Tbsp Asian chili powder (I used 3/4 Tbsp red pepper flakes)
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup peanut oil
8 ounces ground beef
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 scallion (white and green parts), thinly sliced
1 medium leek (white and pale green parts only), washed, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1/2-inch slices (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup rice wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 Tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)
Hot rice

Bring large pot of water to a boil. Add tofu, remove from heat, and steep (uncovered) for five minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer tofu to a medium-sized bowl and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine chili sauce, black bean paste, 2 Tbsp Hoisin sauce and red pepper flakes. Set aside.

In another small bowl, combine cornstarch and 3 Tbsp water. Set aside.

Heat a large saute pan or wok over medium high heat, then add peanut oil until hot. Add beef, ginger, garlic, scallions and leeks, cooking until meat is fully browned (roughly 3-4 minutes). Add rice wine, cook until mostly evaporated (roughly 1-2 minutes). Add hot bean paste mixture and cook until mixture is incorporated (roughly 1 minute).

Add tofu, broth, soy sauce and remaining 2 Tbsp of Hoisin sauce and bring to a boil. Whisk cornstarch if it has begun to separate, and add to pan. Cook for roughly one minute, or until mixture thickens slightly.

Serve over hot rice, garnishing with chopped cilantro. Enjoy with unabashed ardor.

Whoa, a SIDE DISH, people! The first one on here (finally). The barrage of posts on soups, stews and other soup/stew-related dishes were getting a bit out of hand. This recipe has been lying in wait, patiently sitting on my camera’s memory card until it could be revealed in all its glory. Its delicious, healthy, addictive glory. Crisp green beans, sweet dried figs and crunchy pita chips tossed in a nutty tahini dressing. I need more now.

I bookmarked this recipe a while ago and cannot believe it took me so long to make it. Umm, yummm. It has been forever since I’ve eaten dried figs, ever since my addiction to fig newtons dwindled and died. What a yummy reintroduction to that delicious fruit! After I photographed the last bit of this dish, I tried to quietly and surreptitiously SCARF IT ALL DOWN. Then Matthew showed up and plopped down beside me with a fork. Thwarted!

But that’s OK, because sharing is a good thing. This recipe is very simple and, since I knew I wanted leftovers, I made sure to keep the green beans/figs separate from the pita chips and tahini dressing. You could easily make parts of this ahead (cook the green beans and make the dressing) and throw together when it’s time to serve.

Tahini Green Bean Salad with Figs
serves 3-4
from Honest Fare

1 cup pita chips (or pita bread, toasted in the oven and broken into pieces)
1/2- 3/4 lbs green beans
6 dried figs
handful curly parsley, roughly chopped
1 lemon, juiced
4 Tbsp tahini
salt and freshly cracked pepper
1 tsp honey
1 tsp vegetable oil
3-4 Tbsp water

Remove stems on green beans. Bring medium-large pot of water to boiling and add beans. Cook for 3-5 few minutes, checking to make sure beans remain crisp. Drain and place beans in prepared ice bath to prevent cooking further. Once chilled, remove from ice water and pat dry. Chop beans in half or thirds.

Slice figs and chop parsley; set aside with pita chips.

Create dressing by combining lemon, tahini, honey, vegetable oil, salt and pepper. Thin the dressing out to desired consistency with water and stir. In a bowl, combine figs, parsley, pita chips and green beans. Toss with desired amount of dressing, and serve. And try not to scarf it all before you share it, because this recipe improves with company (according to me).