Vegan & Nut Free Pumpkin Spice Bread - Friday, October 16, 2015

Last week I was having a grumpy morning. I woke up overly tired and discovered I had run out of soymilk for my coffee. Sigh. I began household chores and breakfast for Pumpkin who didn't finish her home work the previous night. Ugh, home work. The lament of every parent of a school age child!

Pumpkin has recently grown lazy with her math corrections. Couple sloppy handwriting with a bad 8 multiplication table, and we had the perfect formula for silly mistakes. Add some whining to running late, and sour didn't begin to sum up my mood...or Pumpkin's.

I left the math situation at the table and opened the blinds in my kitchen. I forgot how each fall morning new bursts of red, yellow, and orange greet me. It was time. Time for the only thing that would lift my spirits this day and the next couple: a recipe filled with pumpkin perfection.

I have eaten a plethora of pumpkin breads, both homemade and professional, and I have yet to taste another that rivals mine. It is my top selling bread. It needs no topping. It stays moist for days. Under no circumstances should this bread be in the refrigerator. I repeat, it must remain on the counter top or in the freezer. Because it is a heavier bread, it needs time to rest in the pan before being removed and sliced. Enjoy, my friends...and, you are welcome. Bring on happier mornings, afternoons, and nights.

2/3 cup non-hydrogenated shortening
2 1/2 cups sugar
4 Tablespoons cold water
1 (15oz.) can pureed pumpkin
1/4 cup & 1 Tablespoon orange juice
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream shortening and sugar together on high and slowly add cold water until mixed thoroughly. Scrape bottom and sides of mixing bowl with a rubber spatula, and mix on high for an additional 10 seconds.

3. In a medium size mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Stir with wire whisk and set aside.

4. Add pureed pumpkin and orange juice to stand mixer with remaining wet ingredients on low speed. Once combined, scrape bottom and sides of mixing bowl with spatula and mix an additional minute.

5. Slowly add dry ingredients to mixer a cup at a time until all ingredients have been incorporated. Scrape bottom and sides of mixing bowl with spatula and mix on low speed another 30 seconds. Do not over mix.

6. Pour batter into two (2) greased and floured 9" bread pans and bake for 50-55 minutes or until tester comes out clean.

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Fresh Cherry Cupcakes, Vegan & Nut Free - Friday, May 22, 2015

My Grandparents have been married for 61 years. They could tell me what has kept them together, but instead they show me. One critical aspect of their successful six decades together is a meticulous, wide-variety garden my Grandpa spends countless hours in every spring, summer, and fall. He plants, tills the soil, weeds everything by hand.

There are grapevines that I used to run between as a child, an old apple tree, and my favorite, a cherry tree. It yielded the sweetest cherries I would stand and eat on the spot. They were tangy, but the higher up I reached, the sweeter they tasted, warm and ripe from the sunshine. I also never missed an opportunity to spit the pits out at my little brothers (or little bothers, as I saw it). A definite added bonus for my 7-year-old self.

This cupcake is an ode to my Grandpa and the summer I fell in love with cherries. My adoration for these sweet, red summer rounds has never left me. And I doubt it ever will.

Baker's Note: This cupcake recipe uses the reverse creaming method. It's a quicker and easier way to make a cupcake that eliminates the risk of overbeating the batter so you don't end up with a tough cupcake in the end. Step 4 in the cupcake instructions is critical to this process.

Cupcake Ingredients
5 Ener-G Egg Replacer "eggs"
3/4 cup soy/rice milk
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 Tablespoon & 1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 non-hydrogenated shortening (or dairy free butter)

Cupcake Instructions
1. Mix eggs, 1/4 cup rice or soy milk and vanilla. Set aside.

2. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Mix on low speed for 1 minute.

3. Add shortening and remaining 1/2 cup of milk to dry ingredients in mixer and set on low speed. Mix just until moist, about 30 seconds. Increase mixer to medium speed for 90 seconds. 

4. Add 1/3 of egg mixture into stand mixer and mix at med. speed for 20 seconds. Add second 1/3 of egg mixture. Incorporate for another 20 seconds. Then add final 1/3 of egg mixture and mix for the final 20 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape sides and bottom of mixing bowl with a rubber spatula. Mix at medium speed for 30 more seconds.

5. Fill cupcake liners half full and bake for 15-18 minutes. Let cool completely before filling or frosting.

Filling Ingredients
2 cups pitted cherries (fresh or frozen)
1/4 cup granulated sugar 
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Filling Instructions
1. In a medium size saucepan, add frozen dark cherries, granulated sugar and water. Bring to a boil and immediately turn heat to let simmer. Add cream of tartar and stir frequently with a wooden spoon. Let simmer for 5-7 min. on medium-low heat.

2. Remove pan from heat and add vanilla and cinnamon. Refrigerate when finished.

Frosting Ingredients
1/2 cup non-hydrogenated shortening
1/2 cup dairy free butter
3 1/2- cups powdered sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 cup soy/rice milk
1/8 cup cherry filling

Frosting Instructions
1. In a large mixing bowl, add shortening and dairy free butter and mix with a hand mixer until well blended.

2. Sift powdered sugar and mix with hand mixer on medium speed for 3 minutes.

3. In a small, separate bowl, combine vanilla, soy/rice milk and cherry filling. Blend together with a fork. Add to large bowl one tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is achieved. Blend on medium speed 5-7 minutes until light and fluffy.

These cupcakes must be refrigerated once they are filled and frosted.

If you are making them ahead of time, it is better to freeze the cupcakes over night, and refrigerate the filling and frosting, then assemble them the following day for maximum freshness instead of fully assembling them and placing them in the refrigerator overnight. Why? Refrigeration dehydrates freshly baked goods. Freezing locks moisture in.

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Heavenly Chocolate Cupcake Recipe, Vegan & Nut Free - Saturday, April 25, 2015

Every day after Sesame Street, I remained glued to the floor in front of the TV with my two little brothers and big sister. Immediately following Big Bird on WTTW was Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. Even now, I miss seeing the model set of what his neighboorhood looked like in the opening credits. I felt like I knew him, as though he helped me grow up. He looked right at the camera and talked to me, played make believe, told me he always wanted a neighbor just like me. I felt like I belonged.

I loved the reliability of his shoe toss and zip up, when he fed his fish or made a sandwich with popcorn inside. He included videos about things in a child's world, like a crayon manufacturing line or how stuffed bears are constructed. Mr. Rogers' specialty was the music. His kind, clear voice sang things about my world like pounding out clay or playing tag outside, things I could relate to as a 6 year old. 

The best thing about Mr. Rogers, though, was his truth: "People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don't find myself saying, 'Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner.' I don't try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds."

My little Pumpkin's favorite dessert is cupcakes, this chocolate cupcake to be exact. The fact that it exists is amazing. And then there's the frosting, or as she calls it, "Heaven! I like it just the way it is. Change nothing about it. It is already perfect. I love everything, Mom. I just want more of it in my life, please and thank you."

It's her Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood of desserts. And now it is yours. 

Cupcake Ingredients
1 1/4 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup warm water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 teaspoon vinegar

Frosting Ingredients
1/2 cup non-hydrogenated shortening
1/2 cup dairy free butter
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3-4 tablespoons soy/rice milk

Cupcake Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line 1 (12-cup) cupcake pan with 12 cupcake liners.

2. In a medium size mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir with a wire whisk until blended.

3. In a small mixing bowl combine water, vegetable oil, vanilla, and vinegar. Stir and pour wet mixture into dry mixture. Whisk until just combined. Do not over mix.

4. Bake for 15-17 min. or until tester comes out clean.

Frosting Instructions
1. In a small bowl, combine vanilla and soy or rice milk together and set aside.

2. In a medium size mixing bowl, blend shortening and dairy free butter together with a hand mixer until fluffy. With mixer running on low, slowly add powdered sugar and beat to incorporate. 

3. Slowly add vanilla/milk mixture one tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached. Beat on high for two more minutes until light and fluffy.

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Soft & Chewy Vanilla Bean Cookies, Vegan & Nut Free - Saturday, April 11, 2015

Soft Chewy Vanilla Bean Cookie Recipe, Leah PhilpotEvery Easter my parents let me eat as much or as little candy in my basket as I wanted. This led to what social psychologists call a "saturation point." I had so much candy that, after a certain point of almost being sick, I didn't want any. I didn't care what was in my basket. I wasn't interested.

Would you believe there is such a thing as too much chocolate?

I didn't touch it for a while after Easter weekend. I didn't even want the bits of chocolate in the chocolate chip cookies Mom sent with me to school. This made we wonder why nobody made them without it.

Because every once in a while, it's nice to have a break from chocolate. And other things.

For instance, it's nice to drive with the music off. It's relaxing to sit in the sunshine for a few minutes. It's refreshing to put my phone down, pick up my head, and look around.

These cookies will help you take those good, little moments.  

They are melt-in-your-mouth heavenly; it's hard to have only one. The added vanilla bean makes them the perfect counterpoint for a break from chocolate so you can fall in love with it all over again...after a time.

Wet Ingredients
2/3 cup non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup applesauce
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean*

Dry Ingredients
1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 375F.

2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine shortening, brown sugar, granulated sugar, applesauce, vanilla extract and vanilla bean* on medium speed until blended. Stop mixer, scrape sides and bottom with rubber spatula, and return to medium speed for 30 seconds.

3. In a medium size mixing bowl, add flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir with wire whisk. Once blended, pour into stand mixer with wet ingredients and mix until blended. Stop mixer, scrape sides and bottom with spatula, and return to medium speed for 30 seconds. Dough should be thoroughly blended.

4. Shape dough into 1/2 inch rounds and place on baking sheet covered with parchment paper 1 1/2-2 inches apart. Bake for 7 minutes, turning half way through baking time to ensure they bake evenly. Let cookies rest for 10 minutes on baking sheet before moving them to a wire rack to finish cooling.

*Vanilla bean should be split length wise into two halves. Holding the hooked side of the bean with one hand, run the unsharpened side of the knife down the inside of each bean half. Use firm pressure. Here is a video of Martha Stewart demonstrating how.

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