Guinness Cupcakes With Bourbon Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

Oh, Guinness.  How I miss you these days!  Your smooth, chocolaty, coffee-y richness is so complex, and yet, so light.  There is truly no one like you in the entire world of beverages.  Guinness has long been my favorite night cap, and when comfort is needed, Guinness and fish and chips has always been there for me.  It really does "cure what ails ya."

Maybe, just maybe, you have one lonely Guinness left over in your fridge from St Patrick's Day.  If so, you need to do better next time, my friend.  But for now, crack it open and use it to make a batch of these lovely treats!

You might have noticed I'm doing a bit of baking these days, and St Patrick's Day was no exception.  Pin this for next year, because you are going to want to make these moist, not-too-sweet cupcakes for your celebration.  I have it on good authority that they go perfectly with Bailey's and coffee, or there's always the obvious pairing... a nice, frothy pint of stout.

Guinness Cupcakes With Bourbon Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from The Repressed Pastry Chef

4 oz unsalted butter
1 1/2 c dark brown sugar
2 medium eggs, beaten
1 1/8 c flour
1/4 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
7 oz Guinness
1/3 c dark cocoa powder (I used Hershey's Special Dark)

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup Ellie Bluebell's Kitchen Bourbon Vanilla Bean Sugar

Preheat oven to 350.  Use butter wrapper to grease a standard sized 12-muffin tin as well as a mini muffin tin (optional).  In stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together, then add in eggs.  Sift flour, baking powder and soda into a separate bowl.  Measure Guinness in a liquid measuring cup and stir in cocoa powder.  Add half the dry ingredients to the butter and sugar, then half the chocolate mixture, etc, and combine.

Pour batter into muffin tin, filling nearly full.  I made 12 regular cupcakes and six minis.  Bake for 20 minutes for regular sized.  Add the minis after 5 minutes have elapsed (if making minis).

For frosting, stir cream cheese with fork in a medium bowl until smooth.  Add Bourbon Vanilla Bean Sugar, stir to combine.  Spread onto cooled cupcakes.  Try to share.

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The Fisherman and the Pescetarian

Presenting our first guest blogger, and it's none other than my husband, Casey!  He is the reason we have frequently have freshly caught salmon, steelhead, crab, and many other ocean creatures on our table.  I came home from working to find this meal on the table, hot and ready to eat.  I'm thankful for him for many reasons, but his fishing skill is one of the biggies.

A fisherman and a pescetarian: match made in heaven (or the Pacific Northwest)!

I'll let him tell you about the amazing treats he made with his latest catch: steelhead.

A nice 7-12lb steelhead can feed our family of 3 for a few nights, maybe even a week if we go sparingly (though that is never really the case).  We have to get a little creative on presenting new dishes that Natalie will continue to enjoy.  Enter that perennial favorite, crispy, crunchy fish and chips.  But isn't steelhead too oily?  Doesn't the flavor overwhelm?  After tasting these Steelhead Nugget, your answers will be no and no.

I didn't use a recipe, just plain lucked out I suppose.  Plus I've had my share of good and bad fish and chips in my day to give me a general concept and basic understanding of how to get started.  Call it intuition (or hunger), but I think that I tried a few tricks that helped to create the perfect Nugget.  I truly believe the milk/brown sugar/salt and pepper marinade is the key to these not coming out oily.  It helps the fry mixture to adhere, and the panko crumbs add the perfect texture. 

Fresh Steelhead or Salmon Nuggets

1 lb fresh salmon or steelhead
1/2 c milk (I used fat free actually)
salt & pepper
1 T brown sugar
1 egg
Fry Batter (I used a pre-made Old Bay version, save yourself time & energy by using a tried and true)
1/2 c panko bread crumbs
Canola oil for frying

Start by removing the salmon/steelhead fillet from the skin and removing the pin bones.  Cut into 1 1/2-2 inch cubes and place in a Ziploc bag and add milk, brown sugar, a good pinch of high quality sea salt, and pepper.  Squeeze the air out of the bag and place into the refrigerator for 30 mins. and while you prepare the "station".  Place the dry fry batter mixture into a shallow bowl.  In another dish, beat the egg.  Add a splash of milk to the egg and mix, add salt and pepper to taste.  In the last dish place panko bread crumbs. 

Get your oil nice and hot (look for a sheen to appear on the surface) in a deep, heavy pan.  Cover a plate with a paper towels for cooked fish to drain.  Take your pieces of fish and dredge them in the fry mixture.  Once they are coated evenly, shake off excess and transfer to eggwash, and then roll them well in the panko crumbs until completely covered.  

Carefully lower the fish into the hot oil to fry, being careful not to overcrowd.  After about 3-4 minutes (they will be golden brown on the bottom) flip over, and finish until the other side is the same color (about another 3-4 minutes).  Transfer to the paper towel covered plate to drip.  

That's it.  Easy.  Delicious.

Crack open an ice cold brew, Alaskan Amber would be an excellent choice, plate with some fries and set out the condiments.  

Give it a try!  Make them for children, or impress your friends.  And the next time the kids want chicken nuggets, think about all of the beneficial omega 3's you will get from eating freshly caught salmon or steelhead. If you don't have a fisherman, you can get fresh caught in any of the fish markets or farmer's markets.  

Everyone at our house loved Steelhead Nuggets... just look at that clean plate and smile.

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Beautiful Blueberry Muffins

There is just nothing like a muffin.  It's an easy, ready-made breakfast, which can be as healthy or sinful as you want it to be.  

Perfect for grabbing on your way out the door in the morning (they fit nicely in the car's or stroller's cupholders, don't you think?), and if you make them at home instead of swinging by the coffee shop for one, you'll save yourself about $2.50 a day.  Add that one up over a year!

After having some amazing warm blueberry muffins while on a playdate with my daughter at a friend's house, I knew I needed to make some of my own.  And I wasn't planning on worrying about healthying them up this time, either.  Light, sweet, and fluffy is what I was after, and I was even willing to buy buttermilk to achieve it.

I went straight to my new favorite baking authority, Leslie Mackie's Macrina Bakery and Cafe Cookbook.  Have I mentioned how much I love this book?  Well, I love it.  And of course it had just the recipe I needed.

A few friends and I were discussing what exactly is the trick to achieving a light and fluffy muffin.  Here are the scientific findings of a group of semi-amateurs on facebook.  The key, we think, is twofold:

1.  New baking powder.  My pie guru and foodie friend Mari says that it should be tossed after 3-4 months.  My idea is you should just try baking more so that you go through a full can of baking powder before 4 months is up.  I'll help with the surplus baked goods.

2.  Be very, very gentle with the batter.  Fold it together with a large, silicone spatula until just uniformly wet.  There might be a few lumps, and that's okay!  If you mix till it's smooth and perfect, your light and fluffy muffins become dense death cookies in the oven.  Do not use an electric mixer.  By hand.  By gentle hand.

Fresh Fruit Muffins 

2 c whole wheat pastry flour (okay, okay, I couldn't resist.  I healthied them up a little)
1 c flour
3/4 c sugar
3/4 c brown sugar
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 1/2 t salt
4 eggs
1 T pure vanilla extract
1 t freshly grated lemon zest
1 1/2 c whole milk
8 T (1 whole lovely, delightful, full-fat stick!) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 c ripe fruit (I used fresh blueberries, a small container and a bit of a second, and supplemented the rest of the measurement with frozen)
1/2 c coarse raw sugar

Oven to 375.  Brush insides of a regular sized muffin tin with oil (or use the reserved butter wrapper).

Sift flour, sugars, brown sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.  Mix with wooden spoon.

In another bowl, combine eggs, vanilla, lemon zest, and milk with a whisk until combined.  Add to the bowl of dry ingredients, combining gently with your wooden spoon until the dry ingredients are just moistened.  Slowly add melted butter.  Gently fold fruit into batter.

Scoop batter into muffin tin, filling cups to the top.  Sprinkle a bit of coarse, raw sugar on tops of muffins and baked for 30 minutes.  For minis, 25 minutes.  After the regular size have been in the oven 5 minutes, add the pans of minis so you can bake them all at once.  Makes 16 regular size and 12 minis.

Don't you love how the raw sugar makes the tops of the muffins sparkle a bit?  If there's anything that could improve upon delicious, fruity, fluffy muffins it is definitely a little bit of edible bling.  

What are your best tricks for light and fluffy muffins?

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Morning Glory Muffins

I have been wanting nothing but baked goods lately, and I figured that if I'm going to eat baked goods, I should attempt to make them healthy ones and got out the Kitchen Aid.

Enter Morning Glory Muffins.

In December, I polled friends for the best pumpkin bread recipe, and was directed to a recipe for Squash Bread from the Macrina Bakery and Cafe Cookbook.  Squash Bread was a revelation, and I prompty purchased the cookbook.  It's one of the best cookbooks I've owned, the kind where every recipe is amazing.  Not a dud in there that I've tried so far!

This is where I found the recipe for today's muffins.  Chock full of fruit and nuts, and they really do live up to their name (ahem), a connection I didn't even make until someone asked me, "well, do they work?"

I guess my first thought at the name was of the flower, but just look at the healthy cast of characters.  You make the call.

I couldn't help but tweak the original recipe to make it even healthier, since I was planning on eating a lot of these muffins.  I subbed whole wheat pastry flour for half the white flour.  More fiber, are you crazy?  Maybe.  Probably.

Morning Glory Muffins

Makes 18 regular size muffins or 12 regular plus some minis (great for little hands and, let's face it, soo much cuter)

Oven to 350

1/2 cup seedless organic raisins
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted in the oven at 350 for 10 minutes, then cooled and chopped
1 cup flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (plain ol' whole wheat flour would be great, too)
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/4 t cinnamon (just eyeball it)
1 1/2 t baking soda (don't eyeball this one)
1/4 t salt
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
1 organic Granny Smith, peeled and grated
3/4 c chopped pineapple (canned is ok, fresh is better)
3 eggs
1/4 c canola oil (next time I'm using coconut oil for sure)
6 T unsalted butter, melted
1 t freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 c shredded, unsweetened coconut (look for this in the bulk section!)
1/3 c coarse raw sugar

Don't skip toasting the walnuts - it brings out their flavor and makes your kitchen smell heavenly.

Put raisins in a small bowl and fill with hot tap water.  Drain after 10 minutes or so of soaking.

Sift flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt into a big bowl.  In another, combine raisins, walnuts, carrot, apple, pineapple, eggs, oil, melted butter, lemon juice, vanilla, and coconut.  Mix with a wooden spoon.  Add dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

Don't overmix or you'll have hard little death cookies instead of muffins.

Spoon batter into oiled or papered muffin tins, filling them quite full since they don't rise much.  I could have filled them more full (see picture).  

Sprinkle coarse, raw sugar (like Sugar in the Raw) atop each muffin.  It doesn't take much, but don't skip this step.  It gives a sweet little crunch and a bit of a glaze to the top of your Glories.

Bake until lightly browned: 35 minutes for regular sized muffins, and 20 minutes for minis in silicone mini muffin pans.

Have some right out of the oven.  Why wait?  It's practically a fruit salad it's so healthy (I get great joy from being a baked-goods-enabler).  Don't think about the almost-a-whole-stick-a-buttah.  In fact, a little salted butter on these muffins is really good. 

These little muffins are quite sturdy, and stay fresh for about a day loosely covered on the counter.  The minis are a great addition to your little one's lunchbox, too.

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Organic On A Budget

You may have noticed that I only sometimes specify 'organic' in my recipes.  This is because I only specify organic where I believe it to be essential, even though I try to buy and use as much organic food as possible, and always choose it if the price is reasonable.

My standard for 'essential' when it comes to fruit and vegetables is the "Dirty Dozen."  There's a handy wallet guide you can print out from The Environmental Working Group which also includes "the Clean Fifteen."

The Dirty Dozen are:
  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Grapes (Imported)
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Potatoes

I keep this in my wallet so I can refer to it when in the produce section.  It's hard to remember anything when one's child is repeating "cheese?  Cheese?  Cheese?" with escalating frenzy and backbending from the child seat into the cart basket in an attempt to snag the bag of Veggie Booty.  But I nearly have them memorized.  


I also buy only organic milk.  With the amount of milk (and food in general) children consume compared to their body size, it's important to make sure that their food is as pure as possible.  Pesticides can build up in children's rapidly developing bodies at much higher and faster rates than adults.  

Another reason I strive for organic food is because I find genetically modified foods very, very scary.  They are so scary that many countries around the world are banning genetically modified crops and even destroying crops and seeds that are found to be GM.  If a product is certified organic, it does not contain genetically modified ingredients.  However, there are some non-organic foods, like Silk soy milk for example, that are certified non-GMO.  

Even with the tight grocery budget from which I operate, organic is a very high priority.  Here are my tricks for getting the best prices for organic stuff:

  • Comb Grocery Outlet first (or seek out your local grocery liquidator).  I often find organic milk, children's snacks, cereal, jam, peanut butter, and natural household goods for a fraction of their regular store prices.  These places don't generally take manufacturer's coupons, but at mine, if you ask someone who works there if they take coupons, sometimes they'll slip you one for $3 off.  There are also coupons for $3 or $5 off your total bill in the Community Shopper booklet that comes in the junk mail, as well as in the Chinook Book.

  • Speaking of the Chinook Book, there are a bunch of organic and natural manufacturer's coupons in it, especially on dairy and meats.  Get together with a friend and swap the coupons you don't use in your books.  A Chinook Book is $20.  Bargain.  I keep the grocery store coupons in a little pocket in my purse so I don't have to lug the thing around, but they also have a $10 smart phone version of the book.  I'll get to that level of technology next year.  Maybe.

  • Look for manufacturer's coupons at Mambo Sprouts and OrganicDeals.com.  There are Mambo Sprouts booklets and sometimes other manufacturer's coupon books laying around near the front of PCC where their product info and weekly shopping newsletters are kept.

  • Become a member at PCC (or seek out your local food co-operative if you are lucky enough to have one in your area).  You'll get a 10% off coupon each month in their mailed newspaper. I save up my other coupons and really put that 10% off to work once a month.  You can use your 10% to buy next year's Chinook Book!

  • Buy in bulk.  A well-stocked bulk section that has organic staples can save you a ton of money, especially for things that don't shelve well (like expensive spices) because you can buy only what you need.  Plus, you get bonus karma points for saving the world from unnecessary packaging (bring your own bags).

  • If your favorite store doesn't have many organics, or is missing them in the bulk section, ask for them.  Ask over and over again! 

  • Work the farmer's markets.  They have the freshest and most amazing produce and it's as close to the farm as you can get without actually owning a plow.  Often the prices are lower than grocery stores (no, really!  You may have seen this article in the Seattle Times) especially on less glamorous items like cabbage and onions.  You can often buy in bulk and get a deal, then split the bounty with a friend or can it all up to eat throughout the year. 

With these tips, I'm able to get organic on our table much of the time.  And even if I have to shell out a little bit more for the good stuff, I am happy to do it because I believe that good food should cost something.  A twenty-five cent box of processed macaroni and cheese is a little scary if you stop to think about it. 

What are your best tips for saving money on "the good stuff"?

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Weekly Menu 2.19.12 Two Experiments

Here's what's been cooking at Ellie Bluebell's House this last week.

A few experiments this week, with mixed results:


Our pal Kishin was in town, so we went out for some grilled fish tacos at the always tasty La Carta de Oaxaca.  We had to take him somewhere good as he lives in the Land of Many Amazing Restaurants, also known as Manhattan.  He seemed happy.


Chipotle-Lime Tempeh Tacos from Peas and Thank You.  Luckily I made them on a night Casey would be gone because they were terrible.  Sorry, Peas.  Is there any good use for tempeh?  Please comment if you know of one, because I really, really want to like it.  But, man.  That stuff is gnarly.  I may not be hippie enough.


Turkey meatballs, tomato-basil pizza veggie burger for me, secret ingredient marinara, and polenta.  Happy Meatball, everyone!


Black Bean Chilaquile, spicy slaw


working on the copious amounts of leftovers this week's menu generated


The only hit of this week's two experiments.  Cheese Ravioli with Browned Butter, Sage and Walnut Pesto.  So good we are having it again in the near future, like tonight.  One outta two ain't bad...


in honor of my darling daddy's birthday, we made oven-roasted salmon, scalloped potatoes, spinach salad, and carrot cake.  I ended up switching the apple tart to carrot cake at the last moment since I made apple pie for Casey's birthday earlier this month.  Plus, I had a ton of carrots to use up!

What have you been cooking this week?  Any successful (or unsuccessful) experiments?

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