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Zucchini Cupcakes with Avocado Buttercream Frosting (Vegan)

11 Mar

First of all, happy Sunday!

I hope daylight savings isn’t kicking your butt as much as I know it’s going to kick mine once my better senses kick in and realize I’ve lost a sweet, sweet, precious hour of sleep! Hoping this gorgeous, sunny, blue sky weather we’ve been having lasts and helps me through this…with a teeny bit of help from the most giant mug of coffee of all time! =)

Anyway, if this post doesn’t do it, I’d like to make it clear that I’ve taken it upon myself to use March as an excuse for baking with more green foods!  It’s a Leprechaun’s world and I’m just living in it, St. Patty’s Day style.

When you hear “green foods,” there’s a good chance your mind immediately snaps to thoughts and images of leafy greens, herbs, green peppers, and zucchini – rarely ingredients that you’d see featured in dessert foods – but stay with me here.  My biggest concern here was keeping things yummy, somewhat healthy, green-colored, and yet FREE from ARTIFICIAL COLORING!  So the wheels started turning…

At the risk of blog readership plummeting big time, I ruled out spinach brownies (though I’ve heard those are good!), avoided celery ice cream, and didn’t even let my mind wander to a place where I’m 100% sure I’d be spending my entire post trying to convince you to try green onion pie.  You’re welcome.  Also, there’s no possible way I could even convince myself of that, so I’ve also spared myself the guilt of lying my way through an entire post.  I’m welcome?  Nevermind.

Anyway, I did, however, wrap my head around the prospects of zucchini and avocado, and found the idea to be promising!  Afterall, I’ve featured zucchini prominently in several recipe posts like this  and this, waxing rather poetic about the versatility and ease with which it blends into sweet treats.  Avocados hold a special place in my heart, too, and though featured here  as a savory Super Bowl snack, it’s still a fruit, dangit!

Zucchini bread and coffee cake inspired zucchini cupcakes seemed like the perfect choice!  Avocado could have been more challenging, but thankfully its creamy smooth texture practically begs to be made into frosting.  Ideal.  I wouldn’t recommend the frosting if you don’t like avocados, but then again if that’s the case I’d recommend you start liking avocados because they’re super delish and healthy!

 

And so, zucchini spice cupcakes with avocado buttercream frosting were born – TA DA!

Somewhat healthy?  Let’s be real, these are still cupcakes, but made with nutrient-packed plant-based ingredients.

Since we’re talking avocados, I think it’s important to note just a few of the awesome health benefits these powerful little green guys boast.  Not only are they high in vitamins and minerals such as folate (for heart health and prevention of birth defects), B-6, and potassium (helps to regulate blood pressure), they are also host to nutrients that combat oxidative damage, cholesterol levels, inflammation, and even cancer.

So again, healthy?  Ya, check!

Green color without any artificial coloring?  Yessir – Check.

Yummy?  Duh.  I mean, check.

I’ll be the first to admit these aren’t the sexiest little cupcakes – they’re sorta more like the homey looking little sweethearts that have a great personality, ha!  No, really.  Love them!

Zucchini Cupcakes with Avocado Buttercream (Vegan)

(Makes 6)

 Lightly spiced, zucchini-laced cupcakes with a super tender crumb – you’d never guess they were vegan if I didn’t blatantly tell you – really!  Perfectly accompanied by an unexpectedly smooth, delicious buttercream frosting packed with healthy omega-3’s and vitamins.  Double the recipe if you want to make a dozen.

 Cupcakes-

 Ingredients:

*7/8 cup all-purpose flour

*½ tsp baking powder

*½ tsp baking soda

*½ tsp ground cinnamon

*½ tsp ground nutmeg

*¼ tsp salt

*¼ cup granulated sugar

*¼ cup brown sugar

*½ cup non-dairy milk of your choice

*¼ cup canola oil

*1 Tbsp vanilla extract

*½ Tbsp white vinegar

*½ cup grated zucchini

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350*F.  Line a cupcake pan with 6 cupcake liners.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a bowl.

In a separate bowl, stir together the granulated sugar, brown sugar, and canola oil.

In another bowl or cup, stir together the non-dairy milk, vinegar, and vanilla.

Pour the milk, vinegar, and vanilla mixture into the sugar and oil mixture.  Add grated zucchini and mix.  Gradually stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, until just combined.  You don’t want to over mix.

Fill lined cupcake wells to just about full.  Bake for 15-18 minutes, rotating the pan half way through, until tops slightly spring back when pressed on.  Remove pan from oven and allow to cool about 10 minutes before removing cupcakes and placing on a wire cooling rack to finish cooling.  Allow to cool COMPLETELY before frosting.

Frosting-

This frosting is thinner than a typical buttercream frosting because of the softer texture of avocados compared to margarine or butter, but has just the lightest, yummiest hint of avocado vanilla flavor!

Ingredients:

*2 small avocados

*½ stick non-dairy margarine

*3-4 cups confectioner’s sugar

*1 tsp vanilla

*Dash of salt, to taste

Directions:

Peel avocados and remove pits.  Cream together the avocado and non-dairy margarine in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add vanilla extract.  Slowly add confectioner’s sugar, ½ cup at a time until consistency is as desired.  Add salt to taste.   Frost your little heart out!  Go to it =)

Happy Spring!

Happy March!  Happy St. Patty’s month!

 

 

Super Bowl XLVI (aka Tom Brady Bowl) Guacamole & Baked Sweet Potato Fries

5 Feb


NOoooooOoooooOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

I think by now you can tell I’m a bit of a New England Patriots/Tom Brady fan, and by a “bit” of a fan, I mean I could care less about the team and feel like my heart is breaking right along with Tom’s.

I was so hopeful that history wouldn’t repeat itself and I wouldn’t end up once again typing on my computer as it short-circuits from the tears streaming from my eyes as I try to muster a congratulatory smirk in the general direction of all the Giants fans out there.  Hey, I never said I was a GOOD sport, per say…;p

Anyway, the one good thing that came out of the Super Bowl, and I mean aside from getting to stare at Tom Brady for several hours in tight, butt-hugging spandex, was the food!  I had some pretty awesome snacks lined up, and although they did nothing for the Patriots, at least I got to drown my anxiety in yummy treats like guacamole dip and baked sweet potato fries.  I know what you’re thinking, but game day snacks can be both delicious AND healthy, and you’ll never convince me that they have to be one or the other!  I know what you’re thinking again, and you’re about to throw this post in my face and say game day is over and you can’t use any of these recipes during the Super Bowl…but I assure you, you can eat this dip and these fries any dang time you want!  And also, there will be other games, duh!

Fresh Guacamole

Bursting with flavor and healthy ingredients, this guac is as perfect with veggies or crackers as it is with traditional tortilla chips!  I’m pretty heavy-handed with the garlic and lime juice because I love the bold flavors, but feel free to amp it up even more or tone it down if you prefer.

Ingredients:

* 3 avocados
* 1/4 cup salsa, or fresh-chopped tomato and jalapeno
* 1/8 finely chopped onion
* 2 cloves finely minced garlic
* 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro (optional)
* Juice from 1/4 of a lime
* Salt & pepper to taste
* Pinch of cumin

Directions:

Scoop out the “meat” of the avocado and mash into a bowl with a fork. Add in the salsa or fresh tomato and jalapeno, and onion. Stir in the garlic, cilantro, lime juice, salt, pepper, and cumin.

That’s it – simple! Enjoy with chips, crackers, veggies, whatever your little heart desires!

And now, on to the spuds!

 Martha Stewart’s Baked Sweet Potato Fries

These are slightly adapted from the baked fries on the Martha Stewart website here!  They’re more like a thick-cut steak fry than a thin, flimsy fry, in that they’re hunkier and  don’t get crispy all the way through.  Trust me, I don’t usually like fries, and won’t touch a regular potato “Jo-Jo”…and I think these are super delish!

Ingredients:

* 3 large sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2″ sections
* 3 egg whites
* salt, pepper, garlic, oregano, & basil to taste (I used Italian seasoning)

Directions:

Line a baking tray with parchment paper or a Silpat. Lay out cut sweet potatoes on a microwave safe plate, and microwave for 2 minutes. Flip and microwave another 2 minutes. Allow to cool while preparing the egg whites.

Separate 3 egg whites into a bowl and whisk until frothy. Once cool to the touch, dip each fry into the egg whites and allow to drain before arranging on lined pan in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, and basil. Bake for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and flip the fries. Bake another 10-15 minutes. Test for fork-tenderness, and crispiness, and bake an additional 5-10 minutes until brown and slightly crispy. Allow to cool before enjoying!

True, they’re not the most photogenic little fries around, but they sure are DELICIOUS!  They get the job done and are super healthy!

 

I snapped a few pics of the most important part of this whole Super Bowl thing.  Look at the concentration, the determination, the anxiety?! :

And of course for dessert, I suggest Tom Brady Martha Stewart’s coconut cupcakes & my awesome coconut buttercream frosting!!

Congratulations or whatever, I guess, New York Giants!…I still love you, Tom Brady!

Martha Stewart’s Coconut Cupcakes and the Frosting that Changed my Life

4 Feb

Over the past few years especially, coconut, and namely the type of fat it contains, has become overwhelmingly controversial in terms of health and nutritional value.  There is no disputing the impressive vitamin (most notably folate), and even more so, mineral (very high in manganese, with a good amount of copper and selenium) and amino acid profile of these fruits, known as “drupes,” hailing from the palm family, but the fact that they are comprised of a generous ratio of saturated fat to carbohydrate and protein is what concerns some health conscious individuals and experts.

True, saturated fat has been touted as the “evil” fat said to raise levels of “bad” cholesterol in the body known as LDL cholesterol, and contribute to obesity, and for the most part, that is accurate.  However, what is rarely mentioned is the presence of different types of saturated fats, which vary greatly based upon their size.  Saturated fatty acids, or triglycerides, appear in foods as short chain, medium chain, or long chain fatty acid chains.  The problem with the typical American diet is that it contains way too many long chain saturated fatty acids, found in meats, dairy, and even some plant sources of fat, which are tough for the body to break down and convert to energy.  Coconut, on the other hand, as well as palm kernel oil, contains medium chain saturated fatty acids, which are thought to be used by the body much differently.  According to some research, medium chain fatty acids are more easily oxidized by the liver to produce energy, causing less of the fat to be stored long term in the body.

The bottom line here is not that the saturated fat in coconut would be recommended over unsaturated fatty acids like those found in foods like avocado, olive oil, fatty fish, and various seeds which raise levels of “good” HDL cholesterol in the body, but that it serves as a better replacement for other saturated fats that are already in the diet.  So, don’t feel like you have to steer clear of coconut because of the fat content in order to feel “healthy”!  Some fat in the diet is absolutely necessary for a healthfully functioning body, and the satiety factor we need to feel full and nourished.

Make some healthy substitutions every once in awhile, like for instance, drink coconut milk occasionally instead of your usual 2% dairy milk, or bake with coconut milk rather than butter, and you could be doing yourself a favor with a little health boost!  Go ahead and make a batch of these coconut cupcakes and enjoy (*cough* Super Bowl Party!! *cough*)…I’m not claiming these cupcakes are health food by any stretch, but let’s face it, coconut tastes awesome, too – just don’t go overboard!

Or, if you prefer freshy, citrusy lemon, you might enjoy Martha Stewart’s Lemon Cupcakes instead!

Martha Stewart’s Coconut Cupcakes with Coconut Buttercream Frosting

These are dense, hearty little cupcakes.  My favorite part of the recipe is that it includes ground coconut in the batter, and can easily be made dairy-free!  Ok, that’s one of my favorite parts, the other is the frosting.   The cupcake recipe is from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes, but the frosting is all my own… it changed my life…it’s THAT good! 🙂  Sprinkle with sweetened shredded coconut, unsweetened shredded coconut, coconut flakes, or just leave them as is!  I used sweetened shredded coconut since that’s what I had on hand, but I gazed longingly at the photo of Martha’s version with its large, glorious, luxurious-looking flakes, and wished I could have used those instead!  I urge you to do so, if you get the chance…and then send me photos!

Ingredients:

Cupcakes:
* 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
* 2 tsp baking powder
* 1/2 cup packed sweetened shredded coconut
* 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, or dairy-free butter spread like Earth Balance
* 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
* 2 large eggs + 2 egg whites
* 1 1/2 tsps vanilla extract
* 3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk, from either a can or carton
* Coconut Buttercream Frosting (below)
* Sweetened or unsweetened shredded coconut or coconut flakes for topping

Frosting:
* 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or dairy-free butter spread
* 1/4 cup Coconut butter (the thick portion at the top of the coconut milk can, or pre-made coconut butter in a jar)
* About 2-3 cups confectioner’s sugar
* Dash of salt
* 1 tsp vanilla extract
* 1/2 tsp coconut extract

Directions:

To make the cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 350*, and line standard muffin tins with paper liners.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Grind sweetened coconut shreds in a coffee grinder or food processor until finely ground, and stir into flour mixture.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or by hand, cream butter or dairy-free butter spread and sugar until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the whole eggs, egg whites, and vanilla, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed. Reduce mixer speed to low and add flour mixture, alternating with additions of coconut milk until everything is combined. Don’t overmix!

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each just about full. Bake for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan half-way through cooking time, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Remove from oven and turn out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting:
Cream together the butter or dairy-free butter spread and coconut butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. Slowly add in the dash of salt and confectioner’s sugar by the spoonful until course, crumbly mixture forms. Add in the vanilla extract and coconut extract. Beat frosting until smooth, adding more confectioner’s sugar if the frosting is too thin, and more vanilla extract, coconut extract, or splash of milk of choice if it’s too thick.

Slather with frosting, and top with coconut shreds or flakes at your own discretion….

…I’m still finding coconut shreds in places I didn’t know existed, so fair warning – Coconut bombs are a very real situation!

Disclaimer:

I am NOT a licensed or certified nutritionist or registered dietician.  I am NOT currently, but am on my way to becoming, a certified personal trainer.  I do, however, hold a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences with an emphasis in neurobiology, physiology, and behavior, as well as a strong interest in holistic and medical nutrition, especially as it applies to the prevention of disease, but PLEASE consult your doctor or a registered dietician for more comprehensive and tailored diet, fitness, and health information if you have health concerns or questions regarding any of the topics I discuss.  I am simply expressing my knowledge and opinions based upon my own research, reading, and education within the health, fitness, and science fields.

That being said, I hope you enjoy what I write and maybe learn something interesting along the way.  Thank you!

Martha Stewart’s Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream Frosting

14 Jan

2012 is shaping up to be a busy year.  So far in January:

San Francisco.

Roadtrip – Sacramento –> LA.   LA –> Sacramento.

Engagement photoshoot for my brother & his fiancee in Santa Monica, CA.

Began a fitness certification course (more on that later!)

Was reunited with the most awesome lab group of all time.

Back on board the half-marathon training plan + gym routine.

Jumped on the winter citrus train & made these cupcakes!

Lemon cupcakes, to be exact!  They come from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes, a book that was gifted to me by a friend who truly understands just how much I love little cakes with pretty frosting ( a lot!).  The photos in this book are incredible – bright, vibrant, beautiful – everything I aspire to achieve when embarking on my own food photo endeavors.  Love you, Martha!

I’ll be the first to admit my cupcakes don’t look a thing like hers…mostly because she has awesome pro photographers – I mean, check out that photo!! – while I’m a photo rookie, but also because I topped mine with lemon pudding and lemon buttercream frosting rather than the lemon curd and meringue frosting in the recipe.

I know, I know.  Lemon meringue cupcakes without the meringue are like…..lemon cupcakes.  Mmhmm.  Profound!

I went for a more simple approach, but don’t hold that against these lemony little gems!  Lemons, limes, grapefruit & oranges are definitely in full-swing right now.  I love how bright and sunny these little cakes are, perfect for those of you who are talking about snow & freezing temps where you’re at!

PS: I feel for you, because even though it’s been uncharacteristically warm & sunny for January here in Nor Cal, I still find myself piling on the blankets, guzzling hot coffee, and dreaming of summer weather!

Martha Stewart’s Lemon Cupcakes (with Lemon pudding & Buttercream)

Slightly adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes

Ingredients:

Cupcakes:

* 3 Cups All-purpose flour
* 1 Tbsp Baking powder
* 1/2 tsp Salt
* 1 Cup (2 Sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
* 2 Cups Sugar
* 4 Large eggs, room temperature
* Finely grated zest of 3 lemons (3 Tbsp)
* 2 Tbsp Fresh lemon juice
* 1 tsp Pure vanilla extract
* 1 Cup Buttermilk (I didn’t have buttermilk, so I used plain milk)

Pudding:

* 1 Small Box Lemon flavored Jell-o Pudding
* 2 Cups Cold milk

Lemon Buttercream Frosting:

(I don’t have a set recipe for this, I adjust as I go – so here’s my best account of what I used!)
* 1 Stick Butter
* 3 Cups Confectioner’s sugar
* 1 Tbsp Vanilla extract
* Dash of Salt
* 1-2 Tbsp Fresh Lemon Juice
* 1-2 Tbsp Milk

Topping: 1 Tbsp lemon zest + clear sugar sprinkles

Directions:

For the cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 325*F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and the sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing to incorporate between each. Beat in zest and vanilla. Scrape down the bowl as needed.
Add the flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with 2 additions of milk and lemon juice, beating until just combined after each addition.
Just about fill each lined cup with batter. Bake until slightly golden brown on top, about 25 minutes. I slightly overbaked mine (not on purpose!) So don’t do that.
As soon as possible, remove cupcakes from tin and allow to cool on a cooling rack completely before frosting.

Once cool, core the cupcakes and fill with pudding if you wish.  I simple piled it on top and piped on the frosting.  Top with fresh lemon zest & sparkly sugar sprinkles.

For the Pudding:

Follow the directions on the box, stir pudding mix into cold milk, continuing to stir for about 5 minutes until set up.

For the Frosting:

Beat room temperature butter in the bowl of a stand mixer until fluffy. Add confectioner’s sugar a few Tbsp at a time to allow everything to combine. Add the dash of salt and vanilla extract. Continue adding confectioner’s sugar, alternating with additions of the milk and lemon juice until frosting comes together. Add more milk if you like thinner frosting, and less if you like thicker frosting. Simple!

Currently reading: The February 2012 issue of InStyle Magazine

Currently listening to: The Pretty Reckless – “Just Tonight”  Obsessed!  Anyone else??

Currently snacking on: Hazelnuts!

Currently cuddling with:  This little guy!

Eventually: A sunny jog =)

Happy Saturday!

Mint Chocolate Pudding Parfaits

28 Dec

If you’re anything like me, you love the holidays, but by the time the week before New Year’s Eve rolls around, you really just want a dessert that’s sweet, simple, and to the point. No messing around with mixers and ovens, and all those other complicated kitchen appliances. Enough already! Cookies have been done, pies were for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and don’t even get me started on cake. Puhleaseeee…

I don’t want to bake. I don’t want to sift. Love me some chocolate, but I don’t want to see a brownie right now. Brownies have got NYE’s number for sure.

Jell-o. Pudding, if you will. Now that’s something I can handle right now. Bowl, whisk, milk, stir. And I’m guessing you may have a few crumbly Christmas cookies leftover from last week that you just might be brave enough to crush & sprinkle on your creamy smooth pudding. Whipped cream on top. Don’t forget the sprig of mint, I think I can speak for everyone when I say it’s probably the only green thing any of us have seen in the last week and a half or more of holiday boozing, partying, and sugar coma inducing. You don’t have to eat it, it’s just there to look pretty. Or, you can eat it. I won’t tell!

Mint Chocolate Pudding Parfaits

Ingredients:
* 1 box Candy Cane Jell-o pudding
* 1 box Chocolate Jell-o pudding
* 4 Cups cold Milk
* Crumbly Christmas Cookies of choice (I used chocolate mountain top cookies)
* Whipped Cream (From a can…this is supposed to be simple, remember?!)
* Mint Sprig (Optional, but suggested)

Directions:
Make chocolate and candy cane pudding in separate bowls as directed on the box (2 cups cold milk for each, stir with a whisk until it sets up)

In a cute parfait glass or whatever you have on hand, layer candy cane and chocolate pudding.

Sprinkle with crumbled Christmas cookies. Dollop with whipped cream. Add sprig of mint.

Simple! Enjoy!
 

I’d never seen Jell-o brand (or any other brand for that matter) candy cane flavored pudding before, and the fact that it’s pink practically made me feel like it was calling my name. Is there a novel pink food that I can resist? That was a rhetorical question. Anyway, naturally mint pairs perfectly with chocolate. It was destiny really!

What’s that? Mint pudding isn’t being sold anymore? It’s flown off the shelves so quickly you couldn’t get your hands on any? You’re in luck since chocolate classically plays nice with both vanilla and butterscotch! You’re covered. Obviously it won’t be pink, but crisis mostly averted!

OMmmm NoMmm nommm….

Sometimes you really just want a dessert you can sink right in to! Jell-ooooooooo