Friday, August 31, 2007

Vegan Anise Agave Cupcakes

Let me explain the inspiration for these cupcakes:

I am 10 years old and I've just walked into the local Italian bakery in East Boston, Massachusetts. The smell is of anise, sesame, rum, blueberries and sugar. I look at the strawberry cheesecakes, reserved only for birthdays in my family. These cheesecake are softer than the New York kind, almost fluffy, and covered in fresh strawberries and gooey strawberry glaze...pretty much the best thing about birthdays when you're 10 years old.

The girl behind the counter slices the scali bread in the big metal slicer, and then hands slices of room-temperature Sicilian pizza to the kids for lunch. The cheese is one solidified layer over a cooled tomato sauce. The Neapolitan pastries are so pretty, with their vanilla and chocolate ribbons intertwined over layers of flaky pastry and boiled custard cream. One of my favorites, the half-moons, beckon me from their case. Otherwise known as "black and whites", these soft, cake-like cookies are frosted with chocolate icing on one half and vanilla on the other, giving them their lunar name.

I'm probably in the bakery because we're buying pastry to take to my grandmother's house, or maybe my dad feels like treating us on a Sunday. At any rate, getting a pastry is a special occasion. Then, I see them, the bags of snowball-shaped cookies covered in thin white icing and rainbow sprinkles. Some are flavored with lemon or vanilla, but my favorite is anise. They sit next to towers of similarly flavored pizzelles: flat, waffle-like cookies that crumble to your touch.

I pick up the bag of anise snowball cookies and smell it. Inhaling the sweet, licorice aroma is pure heaven. My dad sees my joy and takes the bag from me, bringing it to the cash register. As we leave the shop I spring out into the sunshine and run through the parking lot. I can't wait to get home and eat my cookies. It's going to be a great day.

When you read my story, you understand my thoughts behind these cupcakes. The agave cupcakes in VCTOTW are golden and full-flavored, yet receptive to any additional flavors to be layered into them. Light agave nectar is a wonderful sugar alternative and is healthier than refined, white sugar. It's natural, but doesn't have the same effect on the body as white sugar, so it's better for diabetics and those on low-glycemic index diets like South Beach, the Zone, etc. I did use confectioner's sugar in the icing, but the amount of icing is so small, it is a much lower-calorie alternative than other frosted cupcakes, and to me, taste amazing.

For those who haven't tried anise, it comes from the seed of the star anise plant. Although it tastes similar to licorice, fennel or Zambuca, I believe it's taste is unique. I say this because I don't like licorice, fennel, or Zanbuca, but I love anise. Buy it in extract form. The only place I was able to find it on the west side is the Italian market inside the Bay Cities Italian Deli and Bakery. This is the only place that has the stuff I'm used to getting back home in East Boston and the North End: olives, parmigiana reggiano, frozen ravioli, Nutella, etc.

The recipe? You'll have to buy VCTOTW to get the agave nectar cupcake recipe. [Don't fret chicklets! You can make these adjustments to any vanilla cupcake recipe with awesome results!! ]Instead of 1.5 teaspoons of vanilla and .5 teaspoons of almond, I used .5 of vanilla extract and .5 of anise extract for 12 cupcakes. The MOST important part is the icing: Take a bunch of powdered sugar, add a little soy milk and a little anise extract. Stir it all up. It should be the texture of Elmers glue (my icing is too thin in the photo above). Drizzle in the middle of each cooled cupcake and let it spread out. While the icing is still wet, sprinkle on the rainbow sprinkles, the tiny round kind, not the jimmies. Prego!!!!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

This guy can really make cupcakes

I just learned about this guy, William Sledd, on Yahoo today. Apparently he has a very funny Youtube channel mostly about fashion.. so I checked it out. .. it's 9:30 am and I haven't started working yet (well, I could consider this work because I am an "Internet Professional" and this is kind of like research, anyway) because I just want to watch more of his videos! So funny!! He also has a couple of baking videos, so check out this one.. haha:

His Youtube channel is at:

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Watermelon Seed Quiz

I was just chopping up my favorite fruit, watermelon, and a bunch of questions about their seeds popped into my head. Watermelon juice by the way is probably one of the top three tastiest things to drink in the entire world. That and this other fruit juice from Barbados that I can't remember the name of.

So, the question is, DO YOU EAT WATERMELON SEEDS?

Respond with any or all of the following:

a) Most definitely not!

b) Only the tiny white ones that are in there even when the watermelon is labelled as "seedless"

c) Some of them, but not the black ones.

d) I'll eat them if I am at a place where it would be rude to start spitting them out, like a picnic with a lot of people or something.

e) hell, yeah!!! Bring 'em on!

So, let's share people, this is a safe space.

BTW I think I am switching to Brian Williams for my nightly news, Katie is getting sooo negative!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Vegan Cupcakes!!

Vegan cupcakes rock!! There are so many reasons for this. Here are six:

1 is that they don't affect animals in any way, which is pretty cool. Although I am not a vegan, I love animals, and I sometimes get vegan-envy.

2: they taste awesome. I've only tasted the vegan cupcakes I have made, but I can honestly say that they taste better than many of their non-vegan counterparts. So far they have been light yet moist enough, and flavorful. They don't give you that "wow, that was rich" feeling that some buttery cupcakes do. Although I like that feeling, it is nice to lighten things up, especially in the summer. While the frosting does have more of a bakery taste than a homemade taste because shortening is used instead of butter, it also has a guilty-pleasure feeling because it reminds you of a Twinkie or a birthday cake with oodles of white fluffy bakery frosting.
3: They are simple to make. Because most of the recipes don't require the creaming of butter, just mixing up the flour, oil, and other ingredients is a relatively simple task.

4: They are healthier than non-vegan cakes. In the recipes I have used, the cakes are made with healthy canola oil and the icing made with non-hydrogenated shortening, which are better fats than butter.

5: Vegans tend to be cool. For example, if you read the bible of vegan cupcakes: Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, you'll know what I mean. The authors, like their cupcakes, are full of flavor.
6. Vegan cupcakea are so loved, there is even a Flickr photo pool just for them.
These are my six reasons for loving vegan cupcakes. As I make more of these, you'll see this list grow. Above are two photos of vegan cupcakes I have made from the VCTOTW book. At the top is are the vanilla cupcakes with vanilla "buttercream" frosting. MMMMMMMM.....Next is a crimson velveteen cupcake, the vegan version of red velvet, with "cream cheese" frosting. I think this frosting, made with soy cream cheese actually tastes better than real cream cheese. So, get the book, try them out, and eat more vegan cupcakes : )

Inn of the Seventh Ray

I haven't written about many restaurants, mostly because of procrastination. But I'd like to tell you about the Inn of the Seventh Ray in Topanga Canyon. It's one of the most beautiful restaurants I've ever been to. Keep in mind it is fancy and expensive.. my boyfriend took me here for for my birthday. Beginning with the drive to the restaurant, it's an experience. Coming from the Pacific Coast Highway, you drive into the canyon between the mountains and into the cool, country-like serenity of Topanga. It's been called the most romantic restaurant in Los Angeles, and just from the website you can see why. It's almost all outside under canopies and trees. Tables are set in natural nooks along winding paths or next to the creek, said to give off "violet ray" energy from mother earth. Yes, that's right. The premise of the restaurant is its closeness to natural things, and the food reflects that. They try to stick to organic, locally grown, natural foods. The chickens are free-range, the grains whole, and nothing is refined. There are many vegan choices, including the bread served with the meal. I had the fillet mignon and my boyfriend had the lamb. It really was fantastic. The music playing in the background is serene and new-agey, and complements the sounds of water flowing from the creek. It's beautiful day or night, and it's especially nice to see both. We got there at sunset and as it got darker, the strings of lights through the garden added just enough light with the candles to create a lovely setting. I would definitely suggest going there to get your romance on!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Grocery Store for Thai Ingredients near the West side

It's not easy to find Thai groceries, so when I found this place, I thought, I have to tell you about it. It's called Simpang Asia and it's actually an Indonesian market that is connected to a cafe. It's small and has a lot of the items you might be able to find at the bigger Japanese markets or even the regular 'ol supermarket. But, the few special items they have are worth the trip. These include:

  • Lemongrass: Lemony and fibrous. It looks like a scallion and is in the refridgerated case with the veggies. It really adds that authentic Thai flavor to your dishes
  • Galanga: A special kind of Thai ginger. I found slices of it in the freezer
  • Curry Pastes: Red, green, yellow, panang or matsaman. In a can or tub.
  • Kaffir Lime Leaves: These leaves have a unique flavor.. I found them in freezer

They also have coriander seeds, cooking wine and lots of other things. When I couldn't find these things on my own, I peeked in the back and asked an employee to help. She was very nice about it and helped me find everything I needed. Next time, I will stay for lunch.

Simpang Asia
10433 National Blvd #2
Los Angeles, CA 90034

Across the street from the market are two Indonesian restaurants, so it appears to be a little microcommunity here. I've never had Indonesian food, so I am excited to go back to that area for lunch or dinner. Happy shopping!!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Thai Lettuce Cups = Crazy Delicious

These were, like da bomb (my nephew is insisting people use that expression). Now, I make lots of stuff all the time, and not all of it is blog-worthy. So, rest-assured you can believe what I say.

These cups are loaded with juicy ground animal seasoned with the most delectable of Thai flavors. I mean, the blending of coriander, ginger, garlic and cilantro just explodes in your mouth with flavorful goodness. That is, if you like cilantro. I suppose you could leave it out if you don't like cilantro, maybe substitute Thai basil or mint. But I love cilantro. People either love it or hate it. There is actually a whole community of peeps who hate it: check it: I hate

Anyway, the recipe is below. I substituted ground turkey for the ground pork and coriander seeds for coriander root. I also left out the chiles because I am a spicy-hot wimp. I credit this recipe to the appropriately named book: Thai by Lesley Mackley.

Not sure where to get Thai ingredients? Sampang Asia should have everything you need.

That Lettuce Cups

  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 fresh red chiles, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 T (tablespooon) chopped coriander root
  • 1 T grated fresh ginger
  • 3 T veggie oil
  • 1 T hot water
  • 1.2 lbs ground pork, chicken, or turkey
  • 2 fresh kaffir lime leaves, shredded finely
  • 2 T fish sauce
  • 1 T light brown sugar
  • 2 T coursely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 head of iceberg lettuce

  • More chopped fresh cilantro
  • Thin strips of red chile
  1. Place the garlic, chile, coriander root, ginger, oil and water in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Transfer to a wok or skillet.
  2. Heat and stir the paste for 4 minutes over medium heat, then increase the heat and add the ground meat. Stir-fry for 3 minutes, or until colored.
  3. Add the lime leaves, fish sauce, sugar and chopped cilantro. Continue to cook, stiring, until the pork is dry.
  4. Break up the head of lettuce into cups and serve with the meat mixture, garnished.

Friday, August 3, 2007

cupcakes go mobile!

Let's face it, cupcakes have always been mobile. Why else would you take a perfectly good cake, shrink it down to the site of your palm, and wrap a disposable, neat little jacket around it. To take it with you! I've been thinking about this lately (i know you just pictured some chick sitting on her couch pondering cupcakes all day long, but I have been doing this thinking in between lots of other stuff that I do), and why do they call it a "cup" cake? Because it fits in a cup? It doesn't look like a cup. Well, regardless, apparently someone named it a cup, and therefore it rightly should go in a cup HOLDER. Now, I tried this, and cupcakes do fit in my car's cup holder.

So, in a world of lunches grabbed at a drive-through window and eaten while talking on the phone going 70 miles per hour down the 405, I say, grab a cupcake. They are easy to eat on the run, hold up quite well in purses and work bags, and give you a quick burst of energy, not to mention a look on your face like you just did something naughty, which is always attractive.