Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Gluten Free Banana Peanut Butter Cupcake Win!

When you look at this photo, you may think, "Hmm, it looks like that frosting was just slapped onto those poor cupcakes."

If you thought that you would be correct.  I don't believe in skimping on frosting, and these batches were especially thick and delicious.

Yesterday I posted about improv cooking, which is a show that frequently plays in my kitchen.  More often than not, it gets rave reviews.  Improv baking, on the other hand, is a much more dangerous game.  However, it is a game from which I will never back down.  You see, like most creative individuals, I often have a very specific picture in my head of what I want to achieve, but quite a nebulous plan to achieve my desired result. I'm rarely satisfied with any one recipe I can find, so I simply improvise.  I have been improvising more and more since going gluten free, and my successes are so very sweet.  Like this one:  Banana Peanut Butter Cupcakes!  There's chocolate cupcake in the picture too, but we won't mention those.  I actually followed a recipe for them and was not thrilled with the result.  Banana Peanut Butter though, OMG.  I could die right now.

I should mention that I did not make these cupcakes purely for my own pleasure.  My little sister turned 22 this weekend, and she decided to celebrate her birthday by running the Atlantic City Marathon.  She finished in just over four hours (4:02) and placed 19th in her age class.  A performance like that surely deserves some protein and potassium in the form of a delicious miniature cake.  Don't you agree?

Here's what I made for her (more or less)

Banana Peanut Butter Cupcakes
makes 12 cupcakes

2 cups all purpose gluten free flour (I like Bob's Red Mill)
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp guar gum
2/3 cup sugar
2 mashed bananas
1/4 cup applesauce
1/2 - 1 cup peanut butter (sorry, I did not measure.  It was probably closer to a cup)
1/2 cup hot water

Wisk together dry ingredients.  Mix in wet ingredients and beat until smooth.  Fill a lined cupcake tin and bake at 325 degrees for 22 minutes.  Perfection.

Oh, what's that?  You noticed that these cupcakes are vegan?  Yes, yes they are.

Hmm?  What did you say?  That's right.  The only fat comes from the peanut butter.

And yes, they have a fabulous moist crumb.  Honestly, if I did not know they were gluten free I would never have guessed.  My sweets-spurning boyfriend even ate two.

Now vegan frosting?  No,  no, that will not happen in my kitchen.  I have tried to make vegan buttercream with coconut oil, and it was a total bust.  I love coconut oil in other things, but not on top of my cupcakes.  I frosted half of these with a cinnamon honey buttercream and the other half with a dark chocolate buttercream.  Sorry, no real recipe for those.  Buttercream is stupidly simple:  beat a bit of confectioner's sugar and  your flavoring into a softened stick of butter.  Continue to beat and slowly add sugar until your mixture tastes like frosting instead of butter.  Done.  No excuses to ruin these babies with canned frosting.  Happy Birthday and Congratulations on your awesome marathon time, Sarah!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Improv Soup: Loaded Baked Potato

I am somewhat of an improvisational cook.  Sometimes this results in amazing, one-of-a-kind meals, and sometimes it results in somewhat of a failure.  Some soothsayers may say that nothing I cook is a fail, but case in point of a less than successful dish was last week's Sunday dinner.    I was pretty tired after my long day in the kitchen, and I may have made some shortcuts that didn't pay off when making cornmeal-breaded chicken tenders and buffalo dipping sauce.  My sweet boyfriend ate it anyway, but his confused tone when he asked, "So what is in this breading?" was a clear tip off that it was not tasty.
Anyway, this Sunday's foray in the kitchen was much more successful, and for once I remember what I did to construct such a lovely meal!

After two entire weeks of more acid reflux than anyone should ever experience (no more coffee for me!) I was craving simple yet tasty foods, so a potato soup came to mind.  However, my usual potato soup is pretty acidic with vinegar and mustard to spice it up.  Not feeling an acidic dish, I decided to try a loaded baked potato soup without making another trip to the store.  I threw all of this into my crock pot:

Loaded Baked Potato Soup
serves 6-8

5 Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups almond milk (any milk or milk substitute would work)
1 cup cheddar cheese
1/2 cup butter (had I used actual dairy or a milk with a higher fat content I would have reduced the amount of butter)
onion powder (an actual diced onion would be fab, but I didn't have one)
1 clove garlic, crushed
dried chives
black pepper
salt to taste

I set the slow cooker on low and left it for about 6 hours.  Then I used an immersion blender to blend most of the soup, leaving some chunks of potato.  Next I cooked about a half pound of bacon in the oven (425 degrees for 15 min--thank you pinterest!)  and diced it after it cooled.  Once I stirred in the diced bacon and a little bit of bacon fat, dinner was ready!  Instead of unconvincingly reassuring comments and quizzical looks, this time my boyfriend said something along the lines of "This soup is bangin'!  You nailed it!" (This was not a direct apology for threatening to put me back into the binder of women when dinner was not ready promptly at five, but I chose to take it as an indirect apology ;-)) With a nice texture and bacon in every bite of the soup, I had to agree--I nailed it.  Even my mostly vegetarian sister had some...although she had just run a marathon.

Albeit delicious, this is NOT shaping up to be a low fat week.  Tomorrow I'll tell you about the gluten free peanut butter banana cupcakes I engineered!  Perfect for marathon recovery, don't you think?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Revival Book Review: Fifty Shades Series

It has been a while since I posted here, and I've missed my little sounding board.  Most who know me are aware that little intrigues me as much as literature, pop culture, and human sexuality, so the popularity of the Fifty Shades of Grey series by E. L. James seems like the perfect opportunity for a blog revival.  Spoiler alert:  This post contains spoilers from Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed.

Back in January of February when I heard about how library patrons were clamoring to get this unavailable novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, I bought it for my Kobo reader without even reading reviews or a summary.  Needless to say, I was surprised that fanfiction erotica was what mainstream America was buzzing about.  I'll be honest--knowing that probably wouldn't have stopped me from buying the book, but I worked my way through my to be read pile before I finally read Fifty Shades.

Fifty Shades of Grey reads like fan fiction--simple, cliche, saturated with sweeping yet not engaging descriptive language, and predictable.  The sexy scenes are just that--sexy.  Not mindblowing and a little too full of spontaneous orgasms for my taste (seriously, I would like to meet a woman who orgasms that quickly that soon after losing her virginity.  If she exists she should submit to some sort of scientific study!), but just enough to pique one's interest.  Sure, this whole novel could have benefited from (a lot) more editing, but so would have its inspiration, the Twilight series.  What really bothered me was how the story line and characters were so exactly cast in the image of Twilight and its ilk.  I found Bella and Edward to be annoying at best and unhealthy role models at worst, and Ana Steele and Christian Grey aren't very different.  I would have thought that building upon Meyer's childish love story would have left James no where to go but up.  I was wrong.  Nevertheless, I slogged through the whole series.  It wasn't the writing, characters, or plot line that kept me going.  It was the sex.  I don't mean that in a salacious way.  As someone trying to promote a healthy sex-positive attitude in a culture that sometimes does exactly the opposite, I wanted to see what got so many normal American women reading a novel with more than a few elements of BDSM. 

After reading all three books, I realized that it was not the sex or  "forbidden" ideas of bondage and domination that kept these other women reading.  It was the fact that this innocent, "smart" girl manages to change a "damaged" man.  She takes him from only being capable of having relationships with women as his submissives to being a gentle, loving, vulnerable, albeit controlling boyfriend and eventually husband.  I have heard women who loved the Fifty Shades series say that it's about compromise, choosing your battles, and finding a middle ground.  This is partially true, but the changed habits and personalities in the book come about so quickly it's just not a healthy or realistic model.  Whether it was on the playground or just last week, every woman as at one point thought that she could change or heal a desirable yet flawed partner with her love.  In the vast majority, if not all cases, this simply does not happen, yet many delusional women continue to live the dream and end up hurt, under appreciated, and without her needs being met.  I have been one of those delusional women, so I'm not passing judgement, but I don't think we need any more sources of pop culture encouraging us to try and change our lovers.  It's not fair to either party.

Now onto the kink element of the series.  James presents male lead Christian Grey's propensities towards beating little brown-haired girls as a way to work out his anger over the neglect he suffered from his drug-addicted mother.  While I'm sure some people come into the BDSM lifestyle for reasons like those, that is just not a true or healthy representation of the BDSM or kink community.  I believe that any sexual act between two consenting adults not closely related by blood is good and healthy.  There are some (many) things I could never ever imagine myself doing, but that doesn't mean that it's wrong for others to have those experiences.  If you and your partner truly want to experience something, and you both feel better after that experience, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.  I am pretty sure that those are the philosophies held by those in the kink community.  Presenting a BDSM lifestyle as a symptom of or result of childhood abuse or trama is a gross and unfair misrepresentation.  Still, the love-everyone, sex-positive, education-promoting part of me wants to believe that any work that gets people reading and revitalizing their sex lives is a good thing.  Perhaps the kink lifestyle will never gain widestream acceptance or understanding, at least not in our culture.  And even if it did, it would be a pretty tall order to expect that kind of revelation from a fan fic inspired tome of weak erotica for the masses.