The McGrady Family: Tyler, Cara, Hudson & Sadie

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Best. Cupcakes. Ever.

After tasting last week's root beer float cupcakes, my husband informed me that he simply wasn't "into them."  Ugh.  Seriously?  He claimed that the problem stemmed from the fact that the smell and the texture didn't match.  He even went as far to say somtehing to the effect of, "Okay, now, I don't really like these things... but you guys dig in,"  when I sent a dozen root beer float cupcakes to work with him to share with his co-workers.  He's swell, eh?
Seeing as I've never seen this guy turn down any baked good of any kind, I made it my mission to create a cupcake he would not be able to resist.  After much research and contemplation, I came up with it.
Caramel Latte Cupcakes.  Now, I must admit... Tyler *hates* coffee.  Hates it.  He's tried my beloved
Caramel Frappucinos on more than one occasion. & usually ends up gagging every time.  {What can I say?  He's a trooper.}  So when I decided to make a cupcake with a *lot* of coffee-based ingredients, I was a little concerned... but I kept the faith & made 'em anyhow. 

I found this recipe online.  It sounded like everything I was looking for.  Except... I had no idea where to find Vietnamese coffee, or what it even tasted like for that matter.  I decided that McGrady coffee would suit just fine.  {I don't drink a ton of coffee, so we don't even have a coffee pot in our kitchen.  I used the little "tea bag coffee singles for this entire recipe.  It called for strong coffee-- I added 3 tea bags coffee bags to 3/4 cup of water to get it nice & strong.  I also didn't use milk.  I wanted the cupcakes to have a little pizazz, so I substitued some International Delight- Fat Free French Vanilla that was hanging out in our fridge.  Best decision ever.  It *made* the recipe in my opinion.  I also did not add any coffee grounds to the mix.  There was just something about that that was unsettling to me.  Feel free to try it out... but I totally left them out.  I also added one caramel square to each cupcake before I baked them.  You know... these things:
I loved the idea of biting into chewy caramel inside, however, this part didn't work the way I thought it would.  {Hence, the *experimental* portion of the recipe!}  I put the caramels on the top of the batter, once they were in the baking cups... and by the time the cupcakes were done baking, the caramels had sunk to the bottom, creating a burnt smell.  They also hardened up once the cupcakes cooled & stuck to the wrapper.  Bah.  Next time, I'm going to use Smucker's Caramel Topping {in the jar, not the squeeze bottle} and use a pastry tip & a ziploc bag to squirt some caramel {the Smucker's Topping is a LOT softer and I don't think it will be as hard when it cools.}
Okay, without further's the version that I came up with:

Caramel Latte Cupcakes
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup strong brewed coffee
1/4 cup International Delight- French Vanilla
1 teaspoon coffee grounds
Smucker's Caramel Topping
1. Beat butter on high until soft, about 30 seconds.

2. Add sugar. Beat on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
3. Add eggs one at a time, beat for 30 seconds between each.
4. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.
5. Measure out coffee and milk together.
6. Add about a fourth of the flour to the butter/sugar mixture and beat to combine.
7. Add about one third the coffee/milk mixture and beat until combined.
Be careful when adding the coffee/milk mixture to the batter. If you add it too quickly the mixture will look curdled. Add small amounts and beat well to incorporate.
8. Repeat above, alternating flour and coffee and ending with the flour mixture.
9. Fold in the teaspoon of coffee grounds.
10. Scoop into cupcake papers about half to three-quarters full (depending on whether you want flat or domed cupcakes. Note that these cupcakes will shrink slightly when they cool).
11. Bake for 22-25 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean. 
12. Remove from pan & allow the cupcakes to cool for at least 10 minutes.
13. Add Smucker's Caramel Topping to a ziploc freezer bag & snip off one corner.  Add a metal pastry tip & coupler to the end.
14. Insert the metal pastry tip into the middle of each cupcake and squeeze some caramel into the center of each cupcake.

Okay.... now for the frosting.  Honestly, I think this is the *best* frosting recipe I've ever made.... or eaten for that matter.  It's based on this recipe-- but with a few tweaks to enhance the 'coffee-ness.'

Coffee Frosting
1/2 c. shortening
1 tbsp. butter, softened
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. flour
2 c. powdered sugar
1 tbsp. milk  (I used my International Delight again!)
2 tsp. vanilla (I used 1.5 tsp. of cold, strong coffee & .5 tsp of vanilla)
1 egg white

Beat all ingredients exactly 10 minutes.

Ho-ly cupcake.  That is some good frosting.  I love how the coffee gives it such a pretty warm color.  ♥  To ice the cupcakes, you can either do the ziploc bag frosting trick, or just scoop some on & then smooth it with a knife or rubber spatula.  Delicious either way.

When Tyler got home from work, I think he was pretty impressed  with the fact that I had cranked out an amazing dinner {check out the recipes page up top for how to make ranch mashed potatoes & spicy mustard chicken {coming soon}!} AND more cupcakes.  I think he was a little skeptical... but I assured him that they were just "Vanilla Caramel" cupcakes.  He believed me, took a bite & with eyes rolled back into his head, informed me that those were the Best.  Cupcakes.  Ever.  Of course, I admitted to there being quite a bit of coffee in the recipe... and he didn't seem to care.  He said he would be thrilled to take a batch of *these* cupcakes to work... and promised that he would even go so far as to shamelessly promote their deliciousness.  What a guy.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I always did love surveys...

I found this online somewhere and thought it was pretty interesting.  Thought it might be good for a too-early morning post...  I always did love those 'fill-in-the-blank' kinda surveys.

I Love: a lot of things.  Too many to list here.  {List toppers: my amazing family & awesome friends.}

I Know: a lot of random, mostly useless information.  Play Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit with me sometime & you'll see what I mean.

I Feel: ambivalent about not going back to teach this year.  Part of me is thrilled to stay at home & be a mom.... but there's also another part who is really going to miss having my own classroom & kids to share my love for learning with.

I Eat: root beer floats for breakfast sometimes.  Don't judge me.

I Worry: too much.  Especially about things over which I have absolutely no control. 

I Make: little here-&-there crafties.  It's my stress reliever.  I'm working on a Halloween Quiet Book for Hudson at the moment.  I'm hoping it turns out something like this.

I Laugh: loudly.  In public places.  Often.

I Crave: Frozen Caramel Mochas/Frappucinos... even when it's 20 degrees outside.

I Lose: every tube of chapstick I've ever owned.  I just can not keep track of those little buggers.

I Obsess: over details constantly.  {Gosh, you should have seen me when I was planning our wedding.  Everything had to be just so.  I don't *think* I was a bridezilla, but I definitely knew exactly what I wanted.}

I Wish: I would have just sucked it up & taken all the computer classes offered in high school.  I think I would have really enjoyed them. 

I Buy: good bargains.  Seriously, I rarely pay over $10 for an article of clothing for myself {unless it's something that I absolutely *have* to get}.  I pride myself in being a very frugal shopper.
I Sell: little things in my Etsy shop.  You should check 'em out.

I Fantasize: about redecorating every room in our entire house.  Lowes & Home Depot are magical places to me these days.

I Never: leave the house without make-up.  Never.

I Cook: and tweak the recipe to suit what I have on hand.  Sometimes I think my version is better.

I Sing: to Hudson a lot. Especially Raffi's Baby Beluga.  Sometimes he loves it... sometimes he screams.  {Am I really that bad?}

I Borrow: a lot of stuff from my sister.  I suppose sometimes 'borrow' isn't even really the right word.... hah.

I Can't: believe fall is almost here.  Don't get me wrong, I *love* autumn & all its glory, but... Summer 2010--where did you go?!?

I Want: a DSLR camera {& photography lessons!} in the very worst of ways.

I Miss: the stress-free days of high school & college.  Real Life is a lot more complicated than I ever imagined.

I Listen: to a really eclectic combination of music.  Lionel Richie, Alabama & Pitbull on the same playlist?  Yup, that would be this girl.

I Read: magazines in a record amount of time.  I'll also read anything by Robert Fulghum, Anita Shreve & Erma Bombeck.  They're my favies.

I Stress: when the house is cluttery & people are coming over.  Actually, I often tend to have a nervous breakdown.

I Like: surprises.  Always have... probably always will.  {Except if the surprise is that you're coming over... and my house is a wreck.}

I Always: have music playing in the background.

I Fear: bridges.  It's called Gephyrophobia.... and I most certainly have it.

I Watch: my favorite shows OnDemand or using my PVR.  I dunno what I'd do without those things.  {Probably get a ton more things done... hah.}

I Believe: in love at first sight.  ♥

I Hope: today is a good day.  {Fingers crossed!}

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Root Beer Float Cakes!

Lately, I've been on a bit of a root beer float kick.  I love 'em.  I'm rather picky about my floats, however... .  don't think I put just any kinda ice cream in my root beer.  First off, it must be vanilla.  Must.  No soft serve will do.  My preference is Hagan 'Homemade Vanilla."  Trust me--it's the best by far.  Once, I got some Target brand vanilla, thinking "This will do."  Nope.  Not at all. 
I've also been on a bit of a cupcake kick lately.  I attribute most of it to all the cake reality shows on TV this summer.  Cake Boss (saw Buddy at a bridal show a few months back), Ace of Cakes (I ♥ the employees at Charm City Cakes, but my husband says they're a bunch of pot-smoking-hippies) , DC Cupcakes (don't even get me started on how obviously scripted this show is....) & my absolute favorite, Cupcake Wars. 
From the Food Network website:
It’s cupcake vs. cupcake in Food Network’s tastiest competition yet! Each week on Cupcake Wars, four of the country’s top cupcake bakers face off in three elimination challenges until only one decorator remains. The sweet prize: $10,000 and the opportunity to showcase their cupcakes at the winning gig. Whether a special Ace of Cakes anniversary celebration, a star-studded magazine party or an A-list celebrity golf tournament, these Cupcakes Wars really heat up. Candace Nelson (owner of Sprinkles Cupcakes) and Florian Bellanger (chef and co-owner of online macaroon company MadMac) serve as permanent judges with a third rotating judge each week, and Justin Willman hosts.
Basically, the competetors must come up with recipes that go along with the theme & then build a presentation table to showcase the cupcakes.  Being a complete sucker for thematic schemes & cupcakes (of course!), I asked Tyler to present me with a cupcake challenge.  He suggested "Octoberfest."  Fantastic.  I had my cupcake idea all set.  Pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg... I was ready.  Until I realized there was a pumpkin shortage.  Who knew?  So, I decided to just do something fun.... which just happened to be combining root beer floats... and cupcakes!

Here's what you need to make these little sweeties:
1 box of white cake mix

root beer concentrate

vanilla extract

1 can/bottle of your favorite root beer (Tyler is an A&W fan)

1 container of vanilla icing (or use your favorite recipe)

1 box of Golden Oreo Fun Stix

1 bag of gum balls

cute cupcake liners

1 FREEZER Ziploc bag-- quart size or larger

An adorable little assistant who doesn't say much

Set your oven to 350 degrees.  In a large mixing bowl, dump in your box of cake mix. *Do not add eggs or oil as shown on box directions!*  In a glass measuring cup, pour in one TBSP of root beer concentrate.  After that, fill the measuring cup up to 1.5 cups with your favorite root beer (can or bottle... either one!).  Dump your root beer mixture right into the cake mix.  Add 1.5 TSP of vanilla extract.  Blend well.  (You can use a mixer, but I just used a rubber spatula.)
It will look a little something like this...

I dunno about this, Mom....

Reassure your adorable little assistant {and perhaps yourself} that even though it might not look good now {even though it might look downright awful now}, it will surely taste good later.  Continue on by placing cupcake liners in your cupcake pan & adding 1/4 cup of batter to each cup.

Place your pan in the pre-heated oven for 18-22 minutes.  Enjoy the fact that your kitchen smells like a soda shop while the cupcakes bake!
While you're waiting {& sniffing the root-beer-scented air}, start unwrapping the Oreo Fun Stix.  Cut each stick in half with a serrated knife.

Hope & pray that one of the little suckers breaks so you can perform a taste test. 
{I hate to break it to ya, but these do not taste one bit like a golden oreo.  They're more along the lines of those little icing filled wafer cookies.  Still good, nonetheless!}

When the cupcakes are done baking, remove them from the oven  & let them cool down {super important!} before you begin icing them.  Fold the top of a freezer ziploc bag down & fill the bag with vanilla icing.  Snip off the end & use it as a pastry bag to ice the cupcakes.  Do those little fun swirly-things if you must.  :o)
Next, place one Oreo Fun Stick into each iced cupcake {insert at a slight angle for a better "straw" effect}.

Pick out all of the red gum balls from the bag & place one gum ball in the center of each cupcake.

Sit back, relax & enjoy a root beer float cupcake! No glass or spoon required!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Keep Calm...

Lately, I've been seeing this "Keep Calm & Carry On" sign everywhere from TJ Maxx, to Etsy.  I thought it was cute (and usually very applicable!), but I didn't know where it came from... a movie perhaps?  A recent bestselling novel?  Being the nerdy gal I am, I needed to know.  I did some extensive research (umm... Wikipedia counts, right?) and discovered that the origins of this sign are actually pretty interesting... and very satisfying for my geeky side.

Propagana & Nazis & George VI.  Oh my.  Who knew this adorable little poster had so much historical relevance!?!  Of course, along with the cuteness, there will also come replicas... and spin offs.  Here are a few of my favorites:

I need this one.  Really, *need* to have it.

I think we all saw this one coming sooner or later....

Also a big fan of this one... I think it would look adorable in my kitchen.

Who doesn't love a good fake accent?

Definitely the wrong font, but clever nonetheless.

This one's for my sister.  Only her's would say "Keep Calm and Don't Wreck... Again"

Not for the landlubbers apparently...

There's even a calendar!  Sayngs for every season!

Yup, I guess that about sums it up.

I don't even care that there posters are everywhere.... I like 'em!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Gift Cards....

If I've learned anything over the past three months, it's this:  Having a baby = being on a budget.  A tight, tight, ouch-I-can't-breathe-anymore {yup, that tight} budget.  Diapers and formula are crazy expensive... and we go through both like mad.  Seriously, who knew something so small could consume & produce so much?

I've come to accept the fact that these are not the days for wild shopping sprees and retail therapy.  {Oh, how I do miss those retail therapy sessions....}  With all the back to school shopping commercials & ads, though, I was beginning to miss the mall & the thrill of purchasing a little something.

Luckily, I just happened upon a stray gift card floating in my purse this morning.  "Call for Balance Inquiry" it said.  So I did just that.  A whopping $4.23.  Woo.  Not exactly the fantastic balance I had hoped for.

But as I hung up the phone, I thought of something--my secret stash of left over gift cards & merchandise credits.  For some reason, I have a habit of saving all of my partially used gift cards.  I usually spent a significant chunk on something as soon as I get the gift card, then keep the rest for.... well, for days like this I suppose. 

I dug them out {all 11 of them...} & proceeded to call the balance inquiry phone number and then enter the card number for each and every one of them.  I found it a little depressing when the automated woman on the other end told me, "Your. balance. is. zero. dollars. and. zero. cents" for a few of the cards.  {Why did I keep them?}  However, as I kept track of each balance with a sharpie marker on the back of the cards & then added them all up, I was quite pleasantly surprised. 

$122.52?  Yes, please!
Looks like a {much needed} retail therapy is in my futute after all!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Absence makes the heart... want to blog.

Yeesh!  It's been over a month since my last blog post.  Hmm.  Guess I've been a little busy these days. 
I sat down last night to make a to-do list for this week and I filled up not one, but two pages.  Ick.  Thankfully I include fun things on my to-do lists as well as "must do" tasks.  This particular list features "get library card" and "find some cute digital scrapbook kits."  Yup, I like crossing those sorts of things off my lists.

Speaking of digital scrapbooking, I've decided to do a class this September.  So many people were asking me what programs I use and where to find the supplies... I figured that while the demand was there, I might as well try out a class or two.  I found that the Butler Library has meeting rooms that they let folks use & one of them just happens to be a computer lab.  Perfect.  There are ten computers--therefore ten spots in the class.  I'm thrilled that six of these spots are already filled!  {Woo!}

I'm still Etsy-ing & keeping pretty busy with that.  Lots of  unity candle orders.  Nothing makes me more nervous than shipping a unity candle in a card board box on a sweltering August day.  Hope these little guys make it there without becoming puddles of wax.

Hudson has been keeping us on our toes lately.  He's become "very vocal" as Tyler puts it.  He screeches, howls and downright yells now.  Sometimes I feel like I live with a little monkey.  He hates to be held "like a baby" anymore.  I keep trying to reason with him... informing him that, yes, he is still a baby.  He doesn't care.  This kid likes to sit up & see the world.  I can't believe he'll be three months old next week.  People were telling me he looked like a three month old when he was born.  The other day a lady in the check out line guessed that he was six months old.  Yep, he's a biggin.  He's not chubby... he's my Huddy.

Hud scared the crud out of us this past Saturday when he started breathing strangely {making a horrible gasping sound} & acting like he was struggling to take a full breath.  We {Tyler} ran two red lights just trying to get him to the FastER Care place to get him checked out.  The doctor there told us to take him straight to BMH's ER since they were just an urgent care facility.  As soon as we stepped through the doors, he was completely back to normal {not that I'm complaining about that!}.  He smiled at the doctor and grabbed the stethoscope from around the nurse's neck.  No more strange breathing.  No more gasping.  Apparently, Hudson hasn't changed much since his in-utero days.It took me back to the days of false you might recall from this post.  Oh, Hudson.  Several people came in to listen to Hud's heart & lungs.  They also did a chest x-ray, jus to be safe.  Thank goodness everything came back completely normal.  We're still not entirely sure what caused the whole ordeal.  They thought it might be the onset of bronchitis, but he hasn't had a single other symptom.  We're just keeping a close eye on him.

Hopefully the new blog header {♥ it!} will inspire me to blog more these days.