The Great Cupcake Adventure

Two weeks ago it was David’s co-worker’s birthday.  In the time that we’ve spent all hanging out together, I’ve learned that he loves salted caramel things and other desserts despite his claims to not really be that into sweets.  Yeah…..right!!  So in honor of the occasion, I decided to try making salted caramel and salted caramel frosting to top chocolate cupcakes.  I scoured the internet for recipes for everything since I’ve never made frosting or caramel before.

I started by making the salted caramel, using this recipe.  Can I just say how amazing this was??  I knew in my head that I had just put a stick of butter, a cup of heavy cream, and a bunch of sugar and salt to make this jar of deliciousness, but I couldn’t help myself — I was seriously eating it straight up by the (clean) spoonful.  Sooooo good.  It was the perfect consistency for drizzling too.

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Anyways, after making the salted caramel sauce, I baked the cupcakes.  Since I was already in experimental mode with the caramel and the frosting, I cheated and used my favorite boxed cake recipe to make the cupcakes, so I knew that I would have a sure thing even if the everything else didn’t go well.  Once the cupcakes were cool, I cored out a small piece in the center, filled each cupcake with caramel and sprinkled with extra sea salt for even more salty caramely gooey deliciousness.  I expected there to be a pocket of caramel, but it actually soaked into the cake (which was also really tasty).

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Then came time to make the frosting, which to me was the most labor intensive part.  I pretty much followed this recipe for the frosting.  Confession: I usually don’t even LIKE frosting.  I’m the one who always scrapes it off the cake.  This one was actually pretty good I think because the saltiness helped cut through some of the sweetness.

While doing more research afterwards, I found out that the frosting with just sugar and butter as a base is the American buttercream.  The frosting that I will actually eat is the European style buttercream which has an egg white and butter base with much less sugar (like Swiss meringue, Italian, etc.).  Next time I have an occasion to make cupcakes I’ll have to try that kind instead 🙂  I also happened to have piping bags and tips (from a previous baking experiment) so I dug those out of a box and played around a bit.  Yes, we still have packed boxes which will probably stay that way until we move again.

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The lighting is no good, but here is the finished product!  I found that chopsticks were easier for drizzling caramel than a piping bag.  Plus it’s less wasteful, so there’s more caramel left over to eat with a spoon!

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At the end of this 2-day process, all I could think was, HOW do those professional bakers out there do this all day long??  It makes me really appreciate the local Cupcake Wars-winning bakery, which happens to be 5 minutes down the road.  Score for me and my tummy! 🙂

Questions about the Vineyard church

Finding a good church whenever I’ve had to move is always a difficult thing.  The plus side about living in different parts of the country is that I have gotten to experience many different types of churches and have met amazing Christ-followers in all of them.  The down side is that it takes so long to feel at home someplace – at least a year in my experience.  Husband and I only have a year here, so we have been doing a lot of church hopping for the past several months.  It almost feels frantic, because we know that our time is so limited here.

Just recently, we decided to settle at a Vineyard church.  This movement (denomination? I’m still not clear) was pretty much an unknown entity to us, although I had heard of the music before.  We initially really liked the simple sincerity of the worship, the solid and practical biblical preaching, and the family atmosphere.  Once small groups started for the year, we joined one and have been having some great conversations with people so far.  We still do like all those things.  We have found nothing amiss in the statement of beliefs or values of the church or in the preaching, as we are careful to compare it against scripture.  In fact, the openness to the Holy Spirit is refreshing, and comes on the heels of reading Francis Chan’s book The Forgotten God and also attending a week-long seminar in England through Ellel Ministries.

But there are a couple issues that bother me a bit.  Having never encountered anything like this before, I don’t know if I should be more bothered or not at all.  Also, these things may be unique to our church, so I don’t want to paint all Vineyard churches with the same brush either.

1. Why does everyone talk about Vineyard values and Vineyard ways and the Vineyard movement?
There seems to be such an emphasis on the Vineyard “brand” instead of on Jesus and becoming more like him.  It doesn’t happen during the sermons, but I have noticed this when just talking with people.  In conversations at church or in small group, people name drop Vineyard more than God.

I will admit that I’m probably being judgmental or maybe just feeling uncomfortable with a new thing. Please feel free to offer any words of wisdom if you have them.

2. Why can’t we all just pray together instead of having it always be about ministry?
One thing that David and I miss is just praying together with people — worshiping and praising God, being thankful, praying together for needs.  This could just be our church, but at small group, we don’t pray together unless it’s laying on hands and ministering specifically to someone and their needs.  This bothers me.  While I do appreciate prayer as a direct ministrt, I feel that there is something powerful about the prayers of the church, interceding for each other and for the world, together.  What do you think?

Three Pounds of Apples

Fall has always been my favorite season since leaving California for so many reasons – crisp cool weather, apple picking, pumpkin spice lattes, leaves changing color, scented candles (since we don’t have a fireplace)

Apples happened to be on sale at the store last week (3 pounds for only $2.50!).   I was excited to not only eat them straight up, but also to try using them in ways other than apple pie or apple crisp (not that there’s anything wrong with those things).  Fresh produce used to always get spoiled before we could finish it all, so I was determined to not let that happen.

I think my biggest triumph last week was this:  Herb-apple turkey burgers topped with Brie, onion apple relish, and arugula.  Baked sweet potato chips on the side.Image

I grated a whole apple into the ground turkey along with fresh sage and thyme, S&P and mixed it all together.  The apple makes the burger incredibly juicy and tender and delicious.  The whole combination was just….so good.  Really, really good.  My mouth is actually watering looking at this picture.  Now I want another burger…. mmmmm….

The apple onion relish by itself was really tasty too.  It’s simple to make but takes time because you have to babysit the stove for a good 45 minutes.  I adapted the recipe from here.  I used olive oil instead of butter, and left out the onion powder.  I also added a splash of apple cider vinegar because I prefer it a little more tangy.

Other things that ended up on the apple menu:  chicken salad, spiced apple bread with cinnamon streusel topping, and apple/onion pork roast slow cooked in beer and chicken stock.

All in all, a successful use of the apples!

And now, I have a bunch of leftover sage and thyme to inspire my cooking for the rest of the week 🙂  Ideas are welcome!