Archive | July, 2011

Back to baking {Pistachio Cupcakes with Rose Water Buttercream}

23 Jul

Ever since Valentine’s Day two years ago when I had rose water ice cream at Cashion’s Eat Place in Adams Morgan, I have been wishing there were more opportunities to have desserts with this delightfully romantic scent/flavor. Then, while thumbing through an Indian cookbook last weekend, I decided that I should just find a recipe and try it myself.  And, while I’m not opposed to other types of dessert, I decided to turn to cupcakes yet again.

After a little searching, I found a recipe online for pistachio-cardamom cake with rose water frosting from food52, and it sounded like a delicious bite of so many of my favorite things.  From grade school days of instant pudding to hot summer nights at Boccato Gelato, pistachio has always been one of my favorites!


The only change I made to the original recipe was to double it, as 8 cupcakes didn’t seem like nearly enough, and to add a little more cardamom {shocking, I know!}.  The following is the original recipe with just a few changes and in the proportions I used.

{Pistachio-Cardamom Cupcakes with Rose Water Frosting}


(makes about 24 full-sized or 48 mini cupcakes)

  • 1/2 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios
  • 1  1/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom {I added about another 1/4 tsp after tasting the batter}
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup milk, room temperture
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Grinding the pistachios ...

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place cupcake liners in your muffin tin of choice.  Put the pistachios in a food processor and pulse until very finely ground, but be careful not to turn it into a paste!  Transfer the ground nuts into a small bowl and set aside 3-4 tablespoons for topping the cupcakes. 

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, and cardamom into a medium bowl and set aside.

Add the butter and sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream on medium speed until very light and fluffy, about three minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs, and beat on medium speed until the mixture is uniformly smooth, about 30 seconds.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add half of the flour mixture.  Mix on low speed until just combined.  Add the milk, vanilla extract, and almond extract and mix on medium-low speed until the mixture is uniformly smooth, about 15 seconds.  Add the remaining flour mixture and mix on low speed until barely combined.

Almost done!

Add the ground pistachios {except for the amount reserved for topping} and gently mix to combine.  Divide the batter evenly among the lined muffin cups {about 2/3 full}.  Bake until the tops spring back lightly when pressed and a toothpick comes out clean, about 16 minutes. Let the cupcakes cool a few minutes in the pan, and then transfer them to a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.

Rose Water Buttercream Frosting:

  • 6 large egg whites
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 sticks unsalted butter, slightly cooler than room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon rose water {I found it in the baking aisle at Whole Foods}
  • A few drops food coloring of your choice {I used green}

Egg whites and sugar over simmering water.

Bring 1-2″ of water to a simmer in a saucepan that is wide enough for the bowl of your mixer to sit on top of it without falling in.  Add the egg whites and sugar to the mixer bowl and whisk well to combine.  Place the bowl over the pot of simmering water, whisking constantly until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is opaque and thick, about 3 minutes.

Transfer the bowl to the mixer and attach the whisk attachment.  Start mixing on low and gradually bring up to high speed over the course of 30 seconds.  Whip on high speed until the whites are thick and glossy and the bowl is cool to the touch, about 7 minutes.

While the whites are whipping, cut the butter into tablespoon-sized chunks. It’s important that the butter is not too warm, so if it’s squishy, put it in the fridge for a while so that it’s somewhat firm but still pliant. 

That's a lot of butter!

When the whites are cool, scrape down the sides of the bowl and lower the speed medium-high. Add 2 tablespoons of the butter and whip until combined, about 10 seconds. Continue with the remaining butter, waiting 10 seconds between each addition.

When all the butter has been added, turn the speed to high and whip until the mixture comes together to form a thick frosting, a few minutes.  Continue to mix on medium-high speed for another minute.

Rose Water

Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the rose water and food coloring and whip on high speed for 10 seconds to combine.

Transfer the frosting to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip.  Pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes once they are completely cooled and top each one with a sprinkling of ground pistachios.

The frosting for these was a little more involved than I’m used to, but it was worth it in the end!  It was so light and airy, and had just the right amount of subtle rose flavor.  The cupcakes were quite good as well, and had a nice moist texture.  The cardamom didn’t really come through for me the way I would have liked, but the pistachios did, and were a nice balance to the airy sweetness of the frosting.  Here are the finished cupcakes … they are minis, so they’re going quickly!  Enjoy!

It's hard to have just one of these little treats!


Adding some depth to your stamps {Masking}

20 Jul

Now that we’re all a little more familiar with some of the inks commonly used in rubber stamping projects, it’s time to learn a specific technique: masking! When using this technique, you basically stamp one image, cover it, and then stamp another image “behind” it.  This is a great way to add depth to your design by layering colors and images.

I used this effect on my wedding invitations to layer branches of a tree in different colors so that it appeared that one was behind the other.  Here’s a look, just before they were ready to be assembled.

Wedding invitations - almost finished!

Now, if masking seems like something you’d like to try, here are step-by-step instructions.

Step One: Plan your design

Start thinking of what kind of image you’d like to make, and pick out your stamps and paper.  Keep in mind that you will need to cut out a mask of the image that will be “in front”, so the more complex it is, the more difficult this task will be.  I decided to go with wood grain stamp as the background, and a very basic circle as the image in the foreground.  I also picked an A2 notecard in khaki.

Plan out your design by choosing rubber stamps and paper.

It’s also a good time to start thinking about your color scheme.  Remember, since you will be applying multiple layers of ink, quick-drying chalk ink is an excellent choice.  I used pigment-based ink for the burgundy branches on my wedding invitations, but allowed them to dry for a couple of days before I added the brown branches in.  This time, I decided to use all chalk ink so I can do it quickly {I also just picked up Charcoal and Prussian Blue inks last night, and I’m dying to try them out!}.  Everything so far is from Paper Source {I know … big surprise!}.

Choose your color scheme.

Step Two: Create a mask

This is the step that gets a little tricky if you’ve picked a complex image for the foreground.  I chose a circle this time so that my cutting skills wouldn’t be tested too much!  In order to make the a mask for your foreground image, stamp it directly onto a post-it note.  Try to position your stamp over the sticky edge as much as possible, as that will help hold your mask in place later on.

Then carefully cut around the image getting as close to the edge as possible.  If you leave space around the image, you will end up with a kind of “halo” effect in your finished product, which may or may not be what you’re going for.  This part can be a little tedious, especially if you have something with small details like the branches I used on the invitations; but keep in mind, you can keep using the same mask over and over again.  The ink will start bleeding through your mask over time as it gets heavy with ink, so it’s best to have a couple on hand if you’re planning on making a lot of copies.  I made close to one hundred wedding invitations, and only had to create a handful of masks.

In this case, I decided to have two circles in the foreground, so I will need to make two masks.

Create a mask.

Step Three: Stamp your images

First stamp your foreground images on the notecard.  It’s always best to apply firm, even pressure from above without rocking the stamp back and forth.  I used the Charcoal ink for my circles.  Once dry, place the masks directly over your stamped images using the stickiness of the post-it to hold it in place. Then, carefully stamp your background image on top of your masked images so that this design will only be seen around your original images.  I used Prussian Blue on the wood grain stamp.

Step Three: Stamp your foreground images.

Stamp your foreground images.

Place your masks directly over the stamped images {Obviously not the first time I've used these masks!}

And, voila!  When you remove the stamp and pull away your masks, you should find a design that looks like it has some depth to it.  This is a pretty simple example, but should give you the basics so that you can start imagining all of the possibilities!  Happy stamping!

Finished product!

Decisions, decisions {Picking the right ink}

13 Jul

This post may seem a little out of left field after all the baking posts, but as I mentioned in the {About me} section, I like crafting … and I especially like embellishing things with rubber stamps.  So, I am working out some ideas that I hope to have ready to share very soon!  In the meantime, I thought it might be helpful to write a quick summary of the things to consider when buying ink for rubber stamping projects.

When you’re staring at all of the options in the ink aisle of your local craft store, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, or to just go with the color you like best; but there actually are some differences that really matter depending on the project.  There are three main types of ink that I have worked with: pigment-based ink, chalk ink, and watermark ink.

Moss - Pigment-based ink {}

Pigment-based ink:

Pigment-based ink is great because it offers thick, vibrant color.  You will probably be drawn to these in the store because of the many bold colors available.  It also tends to be color-fast and acid-free, so it’s great for many projects.  The most important thing to keep in mind when deciding if pigment-based ink is the way to go, is that it is typically very slow to dry.  This is great if you are planning to heat emboss your stamped image because it will give you ample time to apply embossing powder before it dries.  However, if you are working on a project to which you will be adding other embellishments or handling a lot after your stamped image is down, keep in mind that pigment-based ink is very easy to smear.  Once you accidentally drag your hand through it once, you can end up with a mess pretty quickly!  If you really have your heart set on using a particular color that is only available in pigment-based ink, you can still use it.  Just remember to be VERY careful or heat-set the ink before moving on, if possible.

Charcoal chalk ink {}

Chalk ink:

The look of chalk ink tends to be much more muted and flat, especially when compared to pigment-based ink.  It’s also fade resistant and non-toxic, so once it’s dry it’s fine for all kinds of projects.  The biggest advantage to using chalk ink from my perspective is the quick drying time.  That makes it great for projects that involve a variety of techniques such as layering and masking.  I used masking {more on that technique later} on my wedding invitations, and chalk ink made it possible to keep working without waiting forever for the ink to dry.  Chalk ink is also great if you’re a beginner because you can play around without worrying about your hands becoming an inky mess!

VersaMark - Watermark ink {}

Watermark ink:

I learned about watermark ink not too long ago at a Paper Source workshop {I know, I’m a big dork and I’m okay with that!}.  This ink is fun because it looks clear, but the stamped image it produces is a little darker than the paper it’s on – hence the name!  It’s great for background images or any other subtle effects you’re going for.  Like pigment-based ink, watermark ink is slow to dry; but since it’s also colorless, it’s perfect for most heat embossing projects!  I’m glad I found out about watermark ink before the wedding, because I ended up using it on our programs and was very pleased with the result!

Wedding programs - watermark effect {Rebekah Girvan Photography}

Anyway, thanks for bearing with me while I nerd out about rubber stamping ink!  Hopefully, this will make the ink aisle a little less overwhelming when you tackle your next project!

mmmmm {Chicken Shawarma with Garlic Sauce}

10 Jul

At some point I stumbled upon Simply Scratch, a great blog about trying to cook more with fresh, natural ingredients instead of boxed or frozen.  I have tried a handful of her recipes so far, and each one has been great!  I love her simple take on honey mustard chicken mostly because it’s delicious, but also because I usually already have everything I need to make it in the pantry.  A quick stop for chicken is all that’s needed!  I’ve also tried her flank steak tacos, and they turned out great as well!

Each time I checked the blog for ideas, one recipe in particular always caught my eye: Chicken Shawarma with Garlic Sauce.  I really wanted to try it out, but one instruction in the recipe stopped me every time: Seal and place in a bowl to refrigerate for the next 3 days!!  I hardly ever plan dinner three hours in advance, much less three days!  Curiosity finally got the better of me, and I decided Thursday was the day!  I told Adam that I was putting the chicken in the fridge to marinate on Monday evening, and at that point we were locked in for dinner at home on Thursday.

Well, if you recall, Monday ended up being a pretty busy day of baking, and I didn’t quite get the chicken in the marinade.  So, the first major change I made to the recipe was to only marinate it for two days instead of three.  I also couldn’t find star anise at the local Giant, so I substituted with 1/2 teaspoon of anise seeds.  Finally, I omitted the mayonnaise from the garlic sauce, and just used light sour cream.

Here’s the delicious-looking finished product that might entice you to read on:

Grilled chicken ... can't wait to dig in!

{Chicken Shawarma with Garlic Sauce}

Serves 6


  • 3-4 pound Chicken Thighs
  • 10 Cloves of Garlic
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
  • 6 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 tablespoons Vinegar
  • 1/2 Lemon, juiced
  • 2 teaspoons ground Cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground White Pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground Cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg, freshly grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground Clove
  • 4 Bay Leaves
  • 2 3-inch sticks of Cinnamon, crushed
  • 1 Star Anise {1/2 teaspoon anise seeds}

Press or mince the 10 garlic cloves and combine with salt. Smash them until they make a paste.  In a small bowl combine the spices, garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, and olive oil.  Place the chicken thighs in a gallon size plastic bag and add the crushed cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and star anise {anise seeds}.  Pour in the marinade, zip, and press on the bag to evenly distribute the marinade.  Place bag in a bowl and marinate in the fridge for up to 3 days.

After marinating, grill on low {200-250 degrees} for about 10 to 12 minutes, {if bone in} per side or until a meat thermometer reads at 165-170 degrees. 

Ready for the marinade!

Chilling out for two days! So hard to leave it in there!

Garlic Sauce:

  • 8 small cloves of Garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt
  • 1/2 Lemon, juiced and strained
  • 4 tablespoons Olive Oil
  • Mayonnaise, to taste {I skipped this one}
  • Sour Cream or Greek Yogurt, to taste

Mince or press 8 garlic cloves and make into a paste with the kosher salt.  Add in the lemon juice and while whisking add the olive oil. Add mayo, sour cream or Greek yogurt to taste adding it gradually until desired taste and texture {or just sour cream}.

Let me just say, this chicken was sooo worth the wait!  The skin crisped up so nicely and all of the spices worked amazingly well.  Even the garlic sauce, albeit pretty simple, was finger-licking good.  We ate it with some naan and roasted cauliflower, and it was one of the best meals I’ve had in a while.  I reminded myself of Bill Murray in the dinner scene from What About Bob? {that reference is for you, Dad!}.

Anyway, I highly recommend trying this recipe.  You will NOT be disappointed!

Hoping for a green thumb {Jade Plant}

9 Jul

A little over a year ago, I picked up a small jade plant while on a weekend shopping trip to Ikea.  I figured that since I spend 40 plus hours a week in my office, it wouldn’t hurt to have some homey touches around.  I’m generally not very good with plants, but I thought maybe I could manage to keep a plant alive if were sitting about three feet from me for eight hours a day.  Here’s a picture of the cute little guy from March 2010:

Jade Plant - March 2010

My office window faces east and gets a ton of morning sunlight, which apparently is just what this little guy needs – because my jade plant started really taking off.  I suppose I should have been pruning it or something, but again, I’m not that great with plants and I was afraid anything I did might kill it.  Finally, it got to the point that I thought it wouldn’t be able to really thrive in such a small pot, so I decided to swing by my office today to pick it up.  Here’s the plant today:

Jade plant {and an awesome wolf} - July 2011

So it was finally time to swallow my self-doubts and pull apart a healthy and thriving plant.  Jade plants are supposed to be very easy to grow and propagate, so hopefully even I can’t kill it!  The pieces of my plant were enough to fill two additional small flower pots for our house, and Adam even planted some in our back patio area.  Here are some pictures:

Two new plants!

One in the ground!

Hopefully these little branches take root in the whiskey barrel!

Hopefully, I can report back to you soon that all new plants are thriving – it would be nice to have so much more green around!  Either way, I’ll let you know!

Yes, more cupcakes {Spicy Dark Chocolate Cupcakes}

8 Jul

As promised, here is another cupcake recipe – Spicy Dark Chocolate with Cardamom Buttercream!  This is the second time I’ve used this recipe, and it’s one of my favorites!  I know spicy chocolate can be very divisive; but *IF* you are in the pro-spicy-chocolate camp, I think you will really enjoy these cupcakes!

Finished product!

I found this recipe while I was on a quest to find a good cupcake recipe that uses cardamom.  My husband and I took an Indian cooking class months ago, and I totally fell in love with cardamom.  I love the way it makes our whole spice cabinet smell warm and inviting every time I open it!  I love the way its soothing flavor compliments sweet and savory dishes alike.  Love it.  {Side note – please go try the cardamom gelato at Pitango if you live in the DC/Baltimore area!}

It is worth mentioning, just in case you’ve never cooked with cardamom, a little goes a long way.  It’s pretty strong, and can definitely overpower a dish; but in moderation, it can be such a comforting flavor that kind of subtly plays in the background.  I digress …

This recipe comes from Sugar Crafter, and was apparently developed for a contest in which contestants had to pair chocolate with “adventure ingredients”.  The only slight changes I made to the original recipe, which follows, were to use instant espresso instead of ground coffee beans and to use just a little more cardamom in the frosting (maybe 1/2 teaspoon).

{Spicy Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Cardamom Buttercream}


(makes about 12 cupcakes, or 24 mini-cupcakes)

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 2 ounces 99% cacao dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp crushed chili pepper flakes
  • 1 Tbsp ground coffee beans
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sour cream {I used fat free}

Cardamom buttercream frosting:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp ground cardamom {2 1/2 tsp}

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line a non-stick muffin pan with cupcake liners.  Combine the butter and chocolate in double boiler and melt, or place in a microwave-safe bowl and heat at 50% power for 30 second increments until melted.  In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, pepper flakes, and coffee grounds {instant espresso}.  In another small bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar.  Stir in the vanilla extract and sour cream.  Add the chocolate mixture, stir until combined, and then add in the flour mixture half at a time until well-combined.  Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.  Bake 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Move to a wire rack to cool before frosting.  

Red pepper flakes in cupcakes??

To make the frosting, beat the butter, vanilla extract, and cardamom until smooth.  Add in the powdered sugar gradually until all of it has been incorporated.  Beat until fluffy and then decorate the cupcakes as desired.

One more side note: thanks to my new mini-muffin tins provided by my mother-in-law {thanks, Mom!}, I made mini-cupcakes for the first time!  I will definitely be doing this more, as you can tell people are much more inclined to take a cupcake {or two, or three…} if it’s miniature.

If you are feeling a little adventurous yourself, definitely give this recipe a try!  We only took a handful home from the July 4th party, and they had mysteriously disappeared by the time I got home from work the next day!

Satisfying the Sweet Tooth {Berry-Lemonade Cupcakes}

8 Jul

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent a lot of July 4th in the kitchen doing one of my favorite things … baking cupcakes!  I, for one, am still amazed at how long this whole cupcake craze has lasted – new cupcakeries are still popping up all over the DC area – but I would be lying if I said they aren’t a frequent output of my kitchen.  Maybe it’s because they’re fun to decorate, and less daunting than a full-sized cake … or maybe it’s because a cupcake seems more guiltless than a big slice of cake … or maybe it’s because deep down, we all long for the simpler days of grade school birthdays when our moms treated our classmates to sprinkle-topped cupcakes.  Whatever the reason, I think cupcakes might be here to stay, and I’m going to enjoy trying out as many new recipes as I can!

I decided to make two kinds of cupcakes for the Fourth: Berry-Lemonade, because it sounded like a good summer treat; and Spicy Dark Chocolate, because I think you always need a chocolate option (see Cupcakes – part two).

First up, the Berry-Lemonade Cupcakes.  I spotted this recipe on Sunshine and Carousels awhile back, and this was my second time making it.  The only change I made this time was adding a little lemon zest to the cream cheese frosting, as I thought it could use a little more fresh lemon flavor.  The thing I love about this recipe, is the fresh fruit and jam baked right into the batter.  It really keeps the cupcakes nice and moist, and is a great surprise when you bite into it!

Yep - fresh berries and raspberry jam, right in the batter!

{Berry-Lemonade Cupcakes}

(makes about 24 cupcakes)

  • 1 stick of softened butter (1/2 a cup)
  • 2  cups sugar
  • 4 extra-large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons grated lemon zest
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1 cup of cake flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup of milk (whole) or buttermilk (make buttermilk by adding 1 teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice to one cup of milk)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup of raspberry jam
  • 1 cup of blackberries (extra for topping)
  • 2/3 cup of blueberries (extra for topping)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth.  Add one egg at a time and then your lemon zest.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.  In another bowl, mix 3/4 cup lemon juice, the milk or buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixture alternating each addition, beginning and ending with the flour. Once your batter is made, gently fold in your raspberry jam, blackberries and blueberries.  Scoop into your cupcake liners, 2/3 of the way full.  Bake for 20-22 minutes.  Let cupcakes cool before icing.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 2 packages softened cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 – 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Fresh lemon zest to taste

Cream the butter and cream cheese.  Slowly add the powdered sugar until your desired consistency is reached.  Then add the vanilla and lemon zest.

And here’s the finished product!  See the next post for the spicy dark chocolate cupcakes.

Berry-Lemonade Cupcakes ... yum!