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Peanut Butter Cupcakes

Today is August’s birthday!  She told all her students that her favorite chocolate candy is peanut butter cups (non-chocolate is gummy peach rings).  With 147 students, she got lots of peanut butter cups!  Last year, one of them brought her a peanut butter cake, and she was hooked.  Likely a new tradition now, she asked Zach to make her a peanut butter cake for her birthday today.  This recipe and its proportions, even for the frosting, are appropriate for a triple layer 9″ cake or 24 cupcakes, and if you happen to have chocolate peanut butter cups around the house, this is a creative way to put them to use.

peanut butter cupcakes

peanut butter cupcakes

• For the cake:

2 1/4 cups of cake flour

1 1/4 cups of vanilla’d sugar

1 cup of buttermilk

1 cup of creamy natural peanut butter

1/2 cup of butter

2 eggs

2 tsp. of vanilla extract

1 1/4 tsp. of baking soda

1 tsp. of baking powder

Nonstick cooking spray (and paper muffin cups if making cupcakes)

batter ready to be baked (note the texture)

batter ready to be baked (note the texture)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  If making a cake, spray three 9″ round pans with nonstick spray; if making cupcakes, line two muffin tins with muffin cups and lightly spray with nonstick spray.  Sift together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder; set aside.  Mix together the sugar, peanut butter, and butter with a hand mixer until creamy and combined, about 2 minutes.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla extract, mixing for an additional 2 minutes.  While mixing, alternately add the flour mixture and the buttermilk as such: 1/3 of the flour, half of the buttermilk, 1/3 of the flour, the rest of the buttermilk, the rest of the flour; it is important not to over-mix during the phase, because you don’t want to end up with bread.  Pour the batter evenly into the three round pans, or with an ice cream scoop, portion out the batter into the 24 muffin cups.  Bake the large rounds for 22-25 minutes; cupcakes bake for 18-20 minutes.  Test for doneness by inserting a toothpick – if it comes out clean, it’s done.  Let cool before frosting.

• For the frosting:

3 cups of powdered sugar

1 cup of creamy natural peanut butter

8 oz. of cream cheese at room temperature

1/3 cup of heavy whipping cream

2 tsp. of vanilla extract

With a hand mixer, combine the peanut butter and cream cheese until fully blended.  Add the cream and vanilla, and mix for another minute.  Add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, blending well in between adding each cup.  Once the last cup is fully incorporated, mix for another 3 minutes.  For easy piping, fill a pastry bag fitted with whatever tip you want (but larger would be easier) and pipe to your heart’s content.

Optional garnish: cut several chocolate peanut butter cups into quarters and place on top of the frosting.

Second optional garnish: top with honey roasted peanuts.

Third optional garnish: stripe with dark chocolate.

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Banana Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

ripe indeed

ripe indeed

We live in a divided house.  Zach likes bananas, and August does not.  The sight of a very ripe banana makes August turn on her heels, but Zach promised that he could make something with them that she’d love.  Granted, he let three bananas sit out just to get them to the right ripeness, but if you have bananas laying around that are almost to the point of no return, try this recipe.  Banana bread is fairly standard, so appease the sweet tooth in your house with these crave-able cupcakes.

Makes 36 cupcakes

• For the cake:

3 cups of cake flour

2 1/4 cups of vanilla’d sugar (sugar that has been stored with a vanilla bean)

1 1/2 cups of buttermilk

1 1/2 cups of very ripe, mashed bananas

3/4 cup of butter

3 eggs

2 tbs. of vanilla extract

1 1/2 tsp. of baking soda

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Line 3 cupcake tins with paper cupcake cups and spray with non-stick spray.  Sift together the cake flour and baking soda.

creaming butter

creaming butter

Combine the butter, sugar, and vanilla extract with a paddle attachment in a KitchenAid stand mixer.  Cream the butter for 2 minutes on speed 3, stop the machine, scrape down the sides, turn the machine back on to speed 4, and add 1 egg at a time with about 10 seconds in between.  Once the mixture is light and fluffy, turn off the machine and alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk.  You have to turn the machine off when you add the flour or else powder will fly everywhere, but you can leave it running for the buttermilk.  The whole thing is that you cannot add all the flour nor all the buttermilk at once, hence alternating.

ice cream scoops with triggers are best

ice cream scoops with triggers are best

When the buttermilk and flour are fully combined, add the mashed bananas.  Mix on low and only until evenly dispersed, not excessively – you’re not making bread.  With an ice cream scoop for ease of portioning, fill each paper cup 2/3 full.  Bake for 20-22 minutes until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

the color of done

the color of done

• For the frosting (double the recipe if you really like frosting):

1 1/2 cups of super fine vanilla’d sugar

8 oz. of cream cheese at room temperature

4 oz. of softened butter

2 tsp. of vanilla extract

delicious cream cheese frosting

delicious cream cheese frosting

Combine all ingredients in a KitchenAid mixer with a paddle attachment.  Mix for about 3 minutes until well combined.  Transfer to a piping bag with a star tip and decorate the cupcakes once they’ve cooled.

pretty piping

pretty piping

• For the banana brûlée:

2 bananas, sliced in 1/4″-thick coins

2 tbs. of vanilla’d sugar

banana brûlée

banana brûlée

Lay the banana slices on a heat-proof surface, like a cookie sheet.  Sprinkle the sugar over the tops, and with a kitchen-safe blow torch, gently melt the sugar to caramelize it.  Make sure they’re cool before laying atop the cream cheese frosting.

banana cupcakes

banana cupcakes

Hayward Zucchini Festival 2013

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For 31 years now, the third weekend of August has been the time of the Hayward Zucchini Festival.  What we saw today was entertaining, and what we tasted was delicious.  It was a little tricky finding our way but once we got to the secured parking lot on Bohannon Middle School’s grass playing field, we spent hours wandering around Kennedy Park enjoying the festival.  From rides and carnival games with hermit crabs for prizes, to jewelry vendors and all kinds of foods, it was easy to spend the day here, especially when the weather was as beautiful as it was.

who's got the biggest?

who’s got the biggest?

As the zucchini capital of California, Hayward would be remiss not to honor the farmers in the community, rural and urban alike.  Entries are accepted through the second day for six different categories of competition, from weight to color variation.

zucchini quesadilla

zucchini quesadilla

We entered Kennedy Park on the far corner from all the hot food stands and trucks, so we got to walk around and tour the grounds before finding our way to Sweet Delights of Stockton.  They didn’t disappoint with this alternative quesadilla, as cheese and zucchini were all it took for a savory sensation.  The gooey cheese is the hallmark of a good quesadilla, but the fresh vegetables made all the difference.

From August’s neighborhood of her youth, California Corn Roast came from Grass Valley and got a big line forming for their  bacon-wrapped hot dogs with zucchini.  Hebrew National dogs and thick spears of zucchini sat in a lightly grilled bun piled with grilled onions.  Condiments were available if wanted, but we liked it just as it was.  The sweet onions juxtaposed the savory, salty kick of the meats, while the zucchini provided an earthiness that brought everything together.  There’s nothing too fancy about this, but if you like zucchini, this is sure to please.

zucchini muffins

zucchini muffins

Many groups came out today selling goods as fundraisers.  The Pentecostals of Hayward drew us in with their selection of muffins, all zucchini based but with variety among them.  Regular, with raisins, with raisins and nuts, and with chocolate, we didn’t think there could be so many types of zucchini breads!  Apparently this is a big deal for the church’s community, because they even put together a thick cookbook of zucchini dishes.  We bought a copy, and we’re curious to see how many tasty zucchini recipes fill the pages.

meet michelle and her delicious bread

meet michelle and her delicious bread

Michelle’s Golden Brown Breads can be found at the farmers’ market on Sundays at Jack London Square in Oakland.  Today Michelle came with a selection of zucchini bread loafs.  We chose the butterscotch version, with butterscotch visible on top and also marbled through the bread.  Dense, moist, and rich, it’s great by itself but we’re imagining it a la mode.

Right around when we thought there couldn’t be any more sweet zucchini goods, Bella’s House of Sweets came into view.  After trying four of the cupcakes and drooling over the mini macarons, we might have to visit the San Leandro bakery sooner than later.  We sampled red velvet, double chocolate, carrot cake, and zucchini cupcakes, all light in texture yet deeply flavorful.  The zucchini cupcake in particular was all we could hope for in zucchini bread: mildly sweet, spiced with earthy tones, topped with cream cheese frosting, and a light caramel drizzle.

fresh henna application

fresh henna application

Once we ordered two of four zucchini-based items at the Siva Indian Food Services truck, August sat down with one of the daughters of the family business for a henna tattoo.  It was rough keeping still for 30 minutes for it to dry, but let’s hope it’s worth it and the students at school approve!

zucchini pakoras

zucchini pakoras

There were so many stands with deep fried zucchini, but Siva’s zucchini pakoras ranked among the best.  A light but crunchy breading had surprisingly little grease, and it was seasoned well so that it didn’t need an extra sprinkling of salt out of the fryer.  A thin, dip-like hummus was a nice change from ranch, which was what every other food stand had to offer with their deep fried zucchini.

zucchini lamb curry

zucchini lamb curry

When we see lamb we get it, and Siva’s curry with lamb and zucchini was no exception.  We chatted with the matriarch and she said that zucchini was not something she normally used as the feature in a dish, but we thanked her for being one of the few out of dozens of food vendors that provided something more than deep fried zucchini – even while many vendors had no zucchini at all.  The entrees like this curry come with white rice, dhal (the yellow lentil and potato dish in the foreground of the picture), chapati (thin, flat wheat bread), and raita (a cooling yogurt condiment, hiding behind the chapati).   All exceptionally fresh ingredients tasted great with the lamb, which wasn’t gamey or too tough.

black tie caramel

black tie caramel

Technically food but not in the food area of the park, we found a few stands with edible goods ready to take home.  Since August can never have too much dessert, we picked up a small bag of Black Tie Caramel.  We tried a snippet of salted caramel on site, and it was super soft and perfectly salted.  The smooth kind without nuts, like we got, was recommended as a nice touch to stir into coffee.

primo's gourmet food co.

primo’s gourmet food co.

Primo’s Gourmet Food Co. showed mustards, fruit butters, and salsas at two tents.  Fruit butter is essentially jam without pectin or seeds, resulting in a smooth and almost syrup-like spread.  We tasted the berry pie butter and got a jar to use on toast and bagels for school morning breakfasts.

Tres Classique is going through a transition.  Due to suppliers discontinuing the balsamic vinegar that they use for their base, Tres Classique is refreshing their ingredients as well as their label.  We saw Tres Classique items as well as the new California Balsamic line, and after sampling several, Zach picked out a sweet balsamic that tasted like apple pie.  He’s looking forward to using it as a dessert pairing with fruit and ice cream.

by the time we got home...

by the time we got home…

The drying process is rough, trying to keep the skin still and not bump into anything.  But once the minimum time was up and all the bits of henna had flaked away, August was left with a beautiful design.  Hopefully this will last at least a week, although sometimes henna designs can last three weeks, so we’ll see!

We came home loaded with loot and stuffed with zucchini.  The festival was well organized with multiple bands scheduled to play, marauding trash patrol, and an efficient parking system.  Happy but not overwhelmed, we had a wonderful time and think that anyone who likes zucchini should make their way here if possible.  Although, even if you don’t like zucchini, there are tons of vendors with no zucchini on hand, so there’s no excuse not to come.