Teach me to Bake… Vanilla Cupcakes

Hi guys,

I’m really excited to share this recipe with you guys because this will be the first original cupcake recipe of my own. I’ve been cooking up recipes from my own creativity for a while now, but baking is another story. Baking is a complex subject of study. I feel like it mainly gets complicated because so many of the ingredients do multiple things and they all have to work together harmoniously. Butter and oil gives a cupcake tenderness, but so does sugar and milk. Eggs give structure, but so does flour. Yet, eggs also help batter rise like a leavening agent does. Baking powder needs heat to activation, but baking soda needs an acidic component. See where I’m going with this? It gets dicey pretty quickly without a guide. I’m setting out with a goal though to find the perfect cupcake flavor concoctions and bring them to you guys, starting with vanilla!

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This recipe is a little more in depth than most cupcake recipes. As I was making them, I thought of how I would teach one of my younger siblings to bake, what tips and important things they’d need to know to make a cupcake right. I’ve added all those tips in here to give you guys not only a new recipe to try, but a baking lesson in the process to help you as you continue on to other recipes in the future.

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The Vanilla Cupcake

  • Ingredients:
    2 cups all purpose flour
    1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
    2 tsp baking soda
    1 tsp baking powder
    1 tsp kosher salt
    2 tsp vanilla extract
    4 eggs @ room temperature
    1 cup milk + 1 teaspoon of vinegar (or buttermilk)
    1/4 cup softened butter

    Directions:

  • Preheat you oven to 350 degrees. This is an important step because the oven needs to be at the proper temperature before the cupcakes go in in order to bake evenly.
  • In a Kitchen Aid mixer or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream your butter and sugar until fluffy.

Tip: to soften your butter quickly (because who remembers to set out butter??), put it in the microwave for 20 seconds on 30% power. This will make it soften but not melt like it normally does!

  • Add your eggs one at a time, mixing the first in completely before adding another. Once those are combined, scrape down the sides of your bowl and add in your vanilla. Mix until combined.
  • In a separate bowl combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder). This will evenly disperse your leavening agents into the flour so that your cupcakes all get the same amount of rising.

Tip: Make sure you measure your flour correctly so that you don’t get cupcakes that are too dense. Spoon flour into your measuring cup until full, and level off with a knife. Don’t shake the cup or it will make the flour settle and you’ll get more in the recipe than you want.

  • Add half the dry ingredients to the creamed butter and sugar mix, then half buttermilk, and repeat until all ingredients have been added to the mixer.

Tip: I use milk/vinegar mix instead of buttermilk because I almost never have it on hand. Add the vinegar to your pre-measured milk to curdle it. That will replicate the buttermilk flavor. You may use either one you have on hand.

  • Make sure to scrape down your bowl a final time and check to see that all the ingredients are totally combined. Use a scoop to fill 24 cupcake liners evenly. For me, that is filling my liners to be about half full. You may have a couple extra cupcakes over 24. I had 26. We’ll just call them bonus points for all your hard work.
  • Bake those little cakes for 13-15 minutes or until you can insert a toothpick and it comes out clean and clear of batter.

For my frosting I used 1 cup of heavy whipping cream and 1/4 cup of powdered sugar. Simple as that. Top with sprinkles, drizzles, toppers, or fruit. The possibilities are endless!

Please post pictures of your cupcakes and results! I hope you guys enjoyed maybe learning a few new things, and eating your delicious cupcakes. Catch you soon,

The Navy Wife xoxo

Discovering Cities: Norfolk

Hello my friends,

Quick update, the hole in my floor is finally fixed, I’ve been learning a lot about catering and food at my new job, and I’m going to a Citizens and Saints/Kings Kalidoscope concert on Valentine’s Day that I am so psyched about! If you haven’t heard of them before, go check them out.

As much as Luke and I are getting settled in and making a home here, I miss Norfolk! I love that city and we can’t wait to move back. So if you decide to visit, I wanted to give you my top hits! The places you absolutely have to visit.

Top Food Hits:

  1. The Handsome Biscuit: In-house made sweet potato biscuits sandwiching fried chicken in a variety of combinations, such as red cabbage slaw, or whole grain mustard and honey. Mmm… I get hungry just thinking about it. The place is tiny yet popular so if you plan on going have a back up plan on places to sit. They have nice outdoor area though if it is warm enough.
  2. Belmonts House of Smoke: Heck to the yes, this place is amazing. Every Wednesday they have .39 cent wings in tasty flavors. Get there early because it gets busy, totally worth it though. They have rooftop seating as well and lots of local craft beers.
  3. 80/20 Burger Bar: I have dreams about this place. Whenever I want a good burger here in Jacksonville I always go to their menu to replicate their combos. Not easy to do because they have some special burger talent there. Stop in for a heaping pile of fries and a juicy burger. Also, lots of local craft beers. Notice a theme here?
  4. Cogans: Norfolk is a college town, and every college town needs a good pizza place. This pizza place is it. It just happens to be exceptionally tasty and perfect for all stages of life. They have delicious combos of toppings. The margherita pizza is my fave. Whole cloves of garlic and fresh tomatoes. Oh my, I could eat the whole thing. Foodies unite!
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Botanical Gardens. So peaceful

Best Coffee Shop:

Stella’s Cafe: We named our dog after this place. That’s how much we love it. You know McClarens in How I Met Your Mother? This is coffee shop is the McClarens of my life. We were here a lot. Try their mocha latte with a homemade marshmallow, yum! Don’t forget to bring a book to cozy up with on one of their window benches.

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Botanical Gardens

Things to do:

  1. Chrysler Museum of Art: This place is free to visit and on Saturdays they have an glass blowing exhibit. It’s a fascinating, historical place to spend the afternoon in.
  2. The Botanical Gardens: It’s a little pricey to get in. If you buy a year pass it’s a lot more affordable to go. Of course you’d only want to do this if you were living in the area or planned to go multiple times. The area is beautiful in the spring and summer months.
  3. Virginia Zoological Park: It’s a zoo! Maybe it’s just the kid in me but I always love going to the zoo. They have a petting area with goats that is my favorite. With all the other traditional animals of course. It makes for a fun day.
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Virginia Zoo. Those little kiddos count as monkeys.

I hope you guys choose to visit Norfolk and all of Hampton roads area. It’s really an entertaining area that is near and dear to my heart. See ya next time,

The Navy Wife xoxo

Healthy Eating Series: Breakfasts

Hello there blog followers, today I want to talk about eating healthy. Don’t roll your eyes yet! Healthy eating can make you feel so much better, have more energy, help you lose weight and build muscle naturally. I thought about doing a whole day of meals in one post, but I wanted to break nutrition down to the basics and give you a lot of different options for breakfasts before we move on to other recipes and ideas. After all, it is the most important meal of the day. Eating a healthy breakfast can help motivate you to make good food choices for the rest of the day. Here’s my list of typical breakfasts I eat throughout the week

Breakfasts

Yogurt with fruit and granola – my first tip for this one is to use full fat yogurt. It sounds backwards, but I sincerely believe that a food in it’s natural state is the best way to eat it. Low fat foods can have a lot of preservatives and high sugar content. Plus, fat is good! Healthy fats help prevent artery disease and some recent studies have shown that fats aid in weight loss.

Eggs with veggies and cheese – Eggs have gotten quite a bad rap in the past few years. Lots of people have switched over to egg whites because they’ve heard that yolks are bad for your health. Unless your doctor has recommended that you give up egg yolks (like if you have high cholesterol), in moderation, they are good for you. Egg yolks have practically all the nutrition of an egg. With veggies and a small amount of full fat cheese (see note above!), this is a great healthy breakfast choice.

Oatmeal with bananas and nuts – Oatmeal has lots of fiber which is so important to lose weight. It’s great for reducing bloating as well so it’s an ideal breakfast to have after a day of unhealthy eating. Bananas give the oatmeal some natural sweetness. Throw in some walnuts for healthy fat.

Cereal (or granola) with milk – Granola. It can be so healthy, or so bad for you. A lot of commercial granolas have so much sugar! So make sure you check labels carefully or make your own using small amounts of natural sugars. This goes for cereals as well (I’ve really been into Purely Elizabeth’s Blueberry Hemp cereal lately if you guys want a recommendation). Now, this breakfast has a lot of the same health benefits as oatmeal but the milk is a good boost of protein and fat.

Smoothies – Smoothies can be tricky. Fruit is basically just carbs and sugar, albeit natural. However, if you add some veggies(like spinach)* or some protein powder it can give it a new dimension. Adding small amounts of ingredients like lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, or ginger that boost metabolism are also great options.

*Tip: If you are going to use a vegetable such as spinach, make sure to drink your smoothie right away. If you let it sit you will be able to taste the spinach as it becomes much stronger after a while.

One thing I want to stress before signing off. Don’t consider unhealthy meals “bad”. They’re are just less healthy than other choices. Everything in moderation. One unhealthy meal won’t kill you, just like one healthy meal won’t solve all your problems. If a piece of chocolate every once in a while puts you in a more peaceful state of mind, then indulge. Just don’t let it turn into a whole bar. I hope this helps you guys out, and as always if you have questions feel free to comment. We’re all in this together!

The Navy Wife xoxo

 

 

 

Cinnamon Sweet Potato Bread

Hey guys! Happy Hump Day. I hope that you are geared up to get through the rest of this work week. I unfortunately came home earlier today to find that my puppy chewed a lovely hole in my flooring. So yay for that. I called the maintenance team here with no answer. Oh my… I’ll keep you guys updated on the status of this disaster.

Meanwhile I needed something to bake to get me in a good mindset again. So I made this sweet potato bread that I’ve been meaning to try. This is the original recipe. In my quest to cut more sugar out of my diet though (and eat healthier all around), I decide to alter it a little bit to my own liking. Side note, did you know guys know that The American Heart Association only recommends consuming 24 grams of sugar a day for women? Although most Americans consume 120 grams on average! Just my little health plug for today.

To adjust this recipe I first took out all processed sugars and added natural ones like dates and real maple syrup. Then I took out all the white flour and added whole wheat. I also cut the size of the recipe down, because even natural sugar is still sugar and I didn’t want a lot of sweets lying around. Added some pecans for a little texture and healthy fats, and just like that you have a healthier alternative to this delicious recipe!

Cinnamon Sweet Potato Bread

1 medium sweet potato, cubed and cooked
2 teaspoons of water from your dates (I’ll explain)
2 large eggs
1/4 cup canola oil
2 Tablespoons of yogurt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup of dried dates (about 6 pieces)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon of baking soda
2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
pinch salt, optional
1/4 cup of chopped pecans

 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 8×4 loaf pan.
  2. Fill a cup of hot water and put your dates in it to soften them. Leave them in for about 5 minutes.
  3. Put your cooked sweet potatoes, your oil, and your softened dates, and 2 teaspoons of the water from soaking your dates into a food processor. If you forget to use the water from your dates or your cat knocked over the cup or something, no big deal. I just used it because I like not to waste and I can get more of that date sweetness in there. Process that up until it’s nice and smooth. You may still have some small pieces of dates. No worries. They’re cool.
  4. Put your sweet potato/date mixture into your mixing bowl, and make sure it has cooled down so that your eggs don’t cook when you add them (hint hint as to what the next step will be).
  5. Add your eggs to the mix! Mix at a medium speed and scrape the sides down until the eggs are fully incorporated.
  6. In a separate bowl mix together your flour, baking soda, and spices. Add this dry mix to the egg/sweet potato in the bowl and mix to incorporate.
  7. Finally, once your batter is fully blended add your pecans in and give it one more stir. You can add more or less pecans based on however your feeling that day about it.
  8. Pour batter into your already greased loaf pan and place in the oven
  9. Bake bread for about 15 minutes or until you can insert a toothpick and there’s no sign of batter.
  10. Eat with a little butter or all on it’s own. You could even spread cream cheese over it or a little frosting if you weren’t concerned about sugar and wanted to make it more like a cake. Enjoy!

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Blue Cow approves of this. See you guys next time!

The Navy Wife xoxo

Fried Gnocchi with a Marsala Wine Sauce

Happy MLK day everyone! It’s a cold day here in North Carolina. I just can’t seem to figure out the weather here. It has a mind of it’s own. During the cold, wintery months I love to cook up warm pasta dishes for Luke and myself. This meal brings to the table (literally) a little bit of my heritage. My grandmother is full blooded Italian, therefore the culture of Italy has always interested me. I learned how to make gnocchi about a year ago and it’s been a favorite of mine since. This recipe combines fresh gnocchi with marsala wine, parmesan, and garlic for flavors that are perfetto!

P.S. I apologize for the blurry pictures. I started this post about a month ago or I would go back and take better photos for you all!

Fried Gnocchi in Marsala Wine Sauce:

Serves 2 large portions.

Ingredients:

  • Gnocchi (1 package or your own personal homemade batch, whichever you prefer)
  • 4 Tablespoons of Butter, separated
  • 8 oz of Mushrooms (white or cremini will do)
  • 1 Tablespoon of Onion, finely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of Garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup Marsala Wine
  • 1 teaspoon of Basil
  • 1 teaspoon of Parsley
  • 1/2 a cup of Chicken Stock
  • Pinch of Salt
  • Pinch of Pepper
  • Green Onions (optional)
  • Fresh Parmesan (as much as you wish to grate on top)

First, take your gnocchi and cook it according to the package or as your gnocchi recipe calls for. Usually this is just a few minutes in a pot of boiling water until the gnocchi float to the top.

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Prep your work station by measuring out your wine and stock and chopping up your onions, garlic, and and mushrooms. Chop the mushrooms into thin slices. In case some of you cooks are interested, a fancy cooking term for getting all of your ingredients together like this is called mise en place. Fun fact of the day!

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Next heat a pan and add 2 tablespoons of butter. When the butter is melted and sizzling add the cooked gnocchi to the pan. Gently shift the gnocchi around the pan until there is a nice golden crust on either side. Then set the gnocchi aside.

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To make our sauce, take another pan and on medium heat add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Add to the butter your mushrooms, onion, and garlic. Stir and allow to cook until the mushrooms have softened and the onions are translucent. At this time, add to the onion/mushroom mix the rest of the ingredients except for those green onions and the parmesan. Allow the sauce to reduce and thicken for 3 to 4 minutes.

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Remove the sauce from the heat, plate your gnocchi, and pour the sauce over it. Voila! Top with slivers of green onion and parmesan as desired, and serve.

Thanks for stopping by today! If you guys make this, please let me know what your think. Until next time,

The Navy Wife xoxo

 

Cracking the “Organic” Code

Hey Everyone! First, I want to say thanks to everyone who completed the survey I put out there on Wednesday. Your feedback really helps me to blog on more specific topics that you guys are interested in. If you haven’t taken the survey yet, there is still time! Just click here to share your thoughts. A surprising number of you answered that you were interested in health and fitness, so definitely more of that to come. In the mean time, I think you could probably file this under health, organic foods! Some people swear by them, some people curse them, some people still don’t have any idea what organic really means. If you fall under that category, follow me. It’s going to be an opinionated ride.

Organic foods have been around for a fairly long time but in past few years they’ve really gotten their time in the limelight. Celebrities and health nuts everywhere swear by organic food as the only choice if you want to take care of yourself and your family properly. Now I like to do my research before making an investment, and that’s what food is! It’s an investment into your health and future. So let’s get the facts first.

The Organic Haters:

For the sake of time, I’m going to stick strictly to the health benefits of choosing or not choosing organics. We could discuss forever the effect pesticides have on the environment and the treatment of animals but that’s a discussion for another time. Today we’ll just be looking at health. Most people who disagree with buying organic say it’s really no healthier for you than foods grown with conventional methods. They are somewhat right. Here are some facts:

  • A recent study found that organic foods are no more nutritional than organic foods. In the same study, they found that people who eat only organic foods were no healthier than those who ate food grown conventionally.
  • Second, although people most associate organic foods as being grown without chemicals, this is also untrue. There is relatively small, but still existent list of chemicals and substances that are permitted in organic farming.
  • Third, farmers who report sales of less than $5,000 a year can claim their foods as organic with no certification or verification necessary.

The Organic Lovers:

Unsurprisingly, most of the articles I found about why organic foods were nutritionally better had no scientific evidence to back it up. That’s not to say definitely that they are not better, but organic food is a trend. People tend to believe what everyone is saying, even if there may be no evidence. Organic foods being better for you may not completely be a lie though. Fact check time!

  • An unbiased article from Web MD wrote about how researchers found that organic produce had 30% less pesticide residue than foods grown conventionally. Although they do contain less pesticides, the FDA monitors pesticide levels of all produce so it is very unlike that both organic or non-organic foods would go beyond the limits of what is safe to consume.
  • The same article found that organic meat does in fact contain less bacteria resistant to antibiotics. This may be enough to convince some people to switch but consumers should know that most antibiotic resistant infections in people come from a misuse of antibiotics, an error on the part of the consumer not the food.
  • To make matters more confusing, a British study found opposite results to the former nutritional study. Their research revealed that organic fruits and vegetables contained 12% more nutrients than their non-organic counterparts.
  • Another point on the organic lover’s side, foods grown by non-organic methods by the FDA are permitted to come in contact with a fairly lengthy list of synthetic chemicals and even sewage sludge as long as they still fall under the FDA’s limit for pesticide safety.
  • Finally, some people swear by organic foods simply tasting better.

All in all, it is the choice of each individual consumer to decide what is best for their family, their health, and their budget. If consumers eat more fresh produce and home cooked meals and less processed packaged fast food, I call that a win regardless of wether or not it’s organic. Thanks for stopping by! Until next time,

The Navy Wife xoxo

Where I got my info:

  1. http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/20120904/organic-foods-not-necessarily-better?page=1
  2. http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/08/the-low-down-on-organic-foods/#.VpejdMArLR0
  3. http://organic.lovetoknow.com/Permitted_Chemicals_List_for_Organic_Farming
  4. http://www.earthfuture.com/earth/Organic%20-%2010%20Reasons.pdf

Review of “How to Make Burger Buns”

Summer time for me is burgers, pool time, burgers, lying in the sun, burgers, and maybe eating some watermelon. That’s why I was so excited to try these burger buns! I have been working on trying more bread recipes to perfect my technique, and these were relatively easy to make. Alright, on to some of the pros and cons I found making these burger buns.

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The thing I love the most about these buns is the smell! They’re all yeast-y and delicious smelling. My favorite! They’re also very fluffy and soft, but hold up well when eating your grilled masterpieces. As I said before they are also, relatively easy to make. If you’ve never made homemade bread products before this might be a bit of a challenge for you. However, if you have a moderate amount of experience these will be basic for you.

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The downside of these buns I found though is that they don’t seem to turn out quite like the blogger’s picture says they will. Her’s seem to be very tall and fluffy, while mine flattened out to be wide and thin. Both times I’ve tried the recipe they have always expanded out instead of up. How did she get hers so tall? Sorcery? A fairy Godmother? It’s a mystery to me. Second, you need bread flour for this recipe. I’m generally against fussy recipes, and I don’t keep bread flour around all the time. I did try them with regular white flour. To my dismay, they turned out rather hard and crumbly. The bread flour is definitely necessary for the consistency of the roll.

The only other thing I have to add is that I did not use the egg wash on the top of the rolls so they weren’t as dark as they could have been. I didn’t want any sesame seeds on mine so the egg wash wasn’t important to me. Try them for yourself though and tell me about your results! Sincerely,

The Navy Wife xoxo

Link to try out this recipe! (www.handletheheat.com/how-to-make-burger-buns/)