Winter is Dead

She turned to the sunlight
                And shook her yellow head,
She whispered to her neighbor:
“Winter is dead.”

A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young

Although it might still be a little chilly to eat outdoors on the deck or patio, you can bring all the color and blossoms inside for an springtime buffet.

Watch my e-How video on how to pull this off and welcome your guests to your botanical buffet. For table decorations, re-purpose some of your garden implements and decorate with the colors of spring. Your food will also be inspired by the season. Some of my favorite spring-time menu items are:

Click here for my video here on How to Decorate a Serving Table for a Spring Party. (Be sure to press the “CC” button is you would like to view it with captions.)

Take Time to Smell the Flowers…and, Eat Them While You’re At It

Flower cupcakes by Barbara. Fondant butterflies by Cindy. Photo by Cindy Dyer.

Maybe you’ve noticed the country has been in a cupcake craze for a few years now. The passion is real – all flavors, cool decorations — because we love our cupcakes.

Here are some cupcakes I designed with the help of Cindy Dyer who fashioned the butterflies. These are made to look like flowers where upon a little butterfly has perched. Flowers and cupcakes, both my weaknesses.

Flower Cakes

  • Purchase flower-petal cupcake papers made by Wilton. I found a variety of flower papers in Michaels.
  • Make Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes (This is my all-time favorite recipe, click here for recipe from one of my previous blogs, scroll to the bottom for recipe. Although, any box mix will do.) Bake cupcakes in petal papers.
  • Tint frosting with a small amount of yellow food coloring.
  • Pipe frosting on tops of cupcakes in concentric circles or in stippled fashion. Both simulate a flower’s center.
  • Top random cupcakes with fondant butterflies (After all, butterflies wouldn’t land on all the flowers, right?).

Fondant Butterflies
[Method told to me by Cindy Dyer.]

Buy ready-made fondant (Michael’s, A.C. Moore, or other craft/baking supply store). Roll out fondant with rolling pan. Lightly dust with powdered sugar to keep from sticking to the small cookie cutters or aspic cutters. Cut out shapes. When making butterflies, use a knife or fondant tool. Bend butterfly in center and tuck the butterfly-shaped fondant into a piece of bent cardboard so the butterflies will hold their shape while they harden. Use an edible marker to put butterfly markings on the insects.

Foolin’ Around…Cupcake Love

Husband and son are out for baseball practice getting ready for a double header. Me, I’m home alone with some Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes I made, frosting, and a pastry tube.

Some say it was the Magnolia Bakery that started the cupcake trend. In 2011, cupcakes were named by The Food Channel to be one of the top ten dessert trends. Some reports say cupcakes are on the bubble and that bubble will soon burst. Others say the cupcake trend is going strong and will not die out.

I say it doesn’t matter….if cupcakes stop being popular and the long lines to buy them disappear along with the shops, make them yourself.  Whether these cute confections are boom or bust, I’ve been making them since age ten and eating them long before that. I have no plans to stop now.

And, just a note, Red Velvet Cake, a popular recipe for current trendy cupcakes, has been around a long time too. I’ve been making that since 1971 when my older sister’s boyfriend’s mother gave us the recipe (now that’s a mouthful!). A Google search revealed varied accounts of its history, but it goes way back. In my opinion, the recipe is best left to cakes – the Red Velvet recipe made into cupcakes tends to run dry having such a small space to gather and hold moisture.

Hands down, the very best homemade cupcake is the Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcake. It holds its moisture in the small cup and the frosting is perfectly sweet and yummy without overkill. I featured the recipe in an earlier blog in “Steaks and Cakes.

Easy designs with a simple small round tip.

About 25 years ago a friend gave me a pastry tube, professional quality. He knew I liked to bake and made the leap that I should own a pastry tube. I’ve moved that pastry tube six times since then to various cities, apartments and homes. Now, home alone with the cupcakes, I was finally ready to fool around with the pastry tube.

Playing with a pastry tube is a lot of fun but messy when you keep changing the tips like I did. However, I’ve just taken my cupcake decorating to a new level. Get yourself a pastry tube and spiff up anything you make.

Call of Duty, Part II: Steaks and Cakes

Corpsman "Mac" Maculenicz and CPT Mark Brogan, U.S. Army, Ret.

Sometimes hospitality has to be delivered, in this case to Captain Mark Brogan, U.S. Army, Ret. He is a wounded warrior at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. I introduced him in a previous blog. He is 31, married to Sunny, was wounded in Iraq in 2005 and sustained traumatic brain injury. My colleague and friend at the Hearing Loss Association of America, Nancy Macklin, and I went to see Mark. We learned that when they reconstructed Mark’s skull after the accident, something to do with his temporal lobe affected his sense of taste. Sometimes he can’t taste food at all or it tastes weird. We found out, however, that he does like spicy foods and can actually taste them.

We also learned that Mark, being from Knoxville, Tennessee, has never had a Philly cheesesteak. How did the topic of cheesesteaks come up? Corpsman Stanley “Mac” Maculenicz (21), originally from south Philadelphia, told Mark all about the famous Philly cheesesteak. Mac accompanies Mark wherever he goes in the hospital. So when we visit Mark, Mac is usually nearby.

Mark, having sustained a hearing loss from his injury, at first thought we were talking about cheese cake. After we got that straightened out, Nancy and I left that day vowing to return with Philly cheesesteaks. After all, Mark had never had one, and Mac could use a taste of home.

Minced Steak But Not Minced Words

"Mac" and Mark Brogan display the hot sauces we brought for Mark to share on the TBI floor.

We picked up the cheesesteaks from a local establishment and went to Bethesda Naval, as it is commonly referred to. You need a GPS just to find your way to the right building let alone the wing, the floor, then the room. We navigated our way to Mark and Mac suggested an outdoor eating area near the “mess.” Mark hadn’t been outside in days and drew a big breath of fresh air.

Mark seemed really pleased when we presented him with a variety of hot sauces to put on his cheesesteaks. (Remember, he can sometimes taste spicy.) Mac looked skeptical. Nancy announced we got a variety of toppings on the cheesesteaks — one with onions and mushrooms, one with green peppers, etc. Take your pick.

Corpsman Mac said, “Cheese steaks never have green peppers.” But since Mark doesn’t like green peppers, he took that one (that’s the military for you, always sacrificing for the good of another!). Looking suspicious as he unwrapped the cheesesteak, Mac took a bite and began his critique:

“No, it’s all about the roll and this one is horrible!…too soft, not crunchy. It’s supposed to be an Amaroso roll; it should be somewhat crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Rubbing some meat between his fingers he said, “The meat shouldn’t be minced up like this, it should be sliced very thin, slivers. And, never this kind of cheese, it should be provolone or Cheez Whiz.”

“Cheez Whiz?” Now, Nancy is skeptical.

“Yes, and the whole thing should be about this big.” (He gestures.)

The sailor from South Philly hath spoken.

Mac shows us how big a Philly Cheesesteak should be. The one we brought paled in comparison.

Mac is right, actually. A little digging on my part found out that any reputable cheesesteak purveyor will tell you the bread is paramount to a properly-made sandwich. And, any old roll won’t do it. No wonder Mac gave us a good tongue lashing about the roll. And about that Amaroso roll, Mac is right again. Amaroso’s Bakery is often considered the first name in cheesesteak rolls. And how about that Cheez Whiz? Yep! Mac has it all down and why should we have doubted him? He is from South Philly!

The Cakes

Nancy's rendition of the Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes

Nancy Macklin doesn’t let any occasion, large or small, go by without one of her homemade goods.This time she brought cupcakes for Mark and everyone on the TBI floor. She suggested that Mark quickly squirrel away a few for him and Sunny as they were going fast. (Sunny took the opportunity to go have her hair done. She is with Mark nearly all the time and stays in Fisher House while they are here.)

In my humble opinion, cupcakes can often be dry. A theory is that there is not enough space to hold the moisture in that little cup. In a whole cake, the moisture has a lot of room to stay and hang out.

Not so with Nancy’s cupcakes. She executes perfectly a cupcake that defies my unscientific theory. She makes the Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes. From cake to frosting, these little cakes are melt-in-your-mouth goodness. And she lays the frosting on thick because it is not a goo of confection, it is perfectly sweet and light and you want a lot of it! The recipe is simple, but follow it to a T. And, unsalted butter is essential, don’t substitute. Your result will be perfection.

I’m thinking about using this recipe for the basis of a margarita or key lime cupcake. That will take some experimenting at a later date. For now, I give you Nancy’s recipe:

Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp of vanilla

Grease lightly and line muffin pans with liners. Cream butter until smooth; add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Combine flours and add in 4 parts alternating with milk and vanilla. Spoon into cups, ¾ full and bake at 350 degrees for 20-22 minutes or until top springs back. Makes 24 cupcakes.

Frosting:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 8 cups confectioners’ sugar (2 boxes)
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla

Combine butter, 4 cups confectioners’ sugar, milk and vanilla; beat until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the remaining sugar one cup at a time until spreading consistency. Use and store at room temperature. You can store icing in airtight container for three days.

*******

Nancy and I left (again needing a GPS to get out). We talked about Mac and how he and his wife Kelly are expecting their first baby soon. We talked about Mark and how brave and upbeat he is in light of the injury that changed his life — and how lucky we are to know him. And we talked about all those who give their lives so we can live in peace. I think we will be going back soon.

Mark and Nancy