Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Refried Bean Vegetarian Slow Cooker Chili

This chili is a mystery to me, although I use all mild ingredients it still turns out pretty spicy. I love spicy, but adding some heat on top of this stuff almost makes it too hot. Maybe you can figure out what happens, as I don’t have a clue. By the next day this stuff loses its spice, and I end up dousing it in hot sauce. I thought things were supposed to get hotter the next day! Go figure.

I love to dump this healthy chili on top of greasy french fries and then top it all off with diced onions and a mound of shredded cheese. I'm a pro at turning something healthy into a pile of tasty junk. I suppose this could be served with a side salad instead, but that never captures my interest. I'd rather eat the fries and cheese.


1 medium sized onion

1 (15 ounce) can dark red kidney beans

1 (15 ounce) can black beans

2 (15 ounce) cans chili beans in chili sauce

1 (16 ounce) can vegetarian refried beans

1 (7 ounce) can fire roasted mild diced green chilies

1 (16 ounce) jar chunky salsa, mild

1 (4 ounce) jar diced pimentos

1 cup beer, amber or darker

1/3 cup brewed coffee

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 ½ Tablespoons chili powder

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon onion powder

Olive oil for brushing slow cooker

At the end of cooking time add:

1 teaspoon white vinegar or a few diced up Mezzetta tamed jalapeno slices.

Salt & freshly cracked pepper to taste


  1. Brush a large slow cooker crock with olive oil. Dice the onion and place it in the crock.
  2. Place the kidney beans and black beans in a strainer over the sink. Rinse the beans in cold water until foam is gone. Do not strain the chili beans. Add all the beans to the crock.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients, placing the refried beans on top and stir together. Cook on low for 5 to 7 hours stirring every couple hours so the refried beans do not stick to the bottom of the pot.
  4. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar or diced tamed jalapenos and salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve with desired toppings.

Serves 6

Recipe by Laura Flowers

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mom’s Chocolate Waffle Cookies

I had a dream about a month ago. Clear as day I had a vision of my mother in a hospital after surgery and I was taking care of her. I woke Jesse to tell him about my dream. Unlike normal dreams, this is one I refer to as a preparation dream. During the dream I felt strong and calm. As if I understood this is supposed to be, or planned rather.

A week later my mother called telling me about a mouse-sized growth in her throat, and that she was making an appointment to get it checked out. The biopsy was benign, and a five-hour surgery took place yesterday. Everything turned out well, but she has some recovery ahead of her.

As I sit in the hospital keeping vigil, these cookies remind me of her and of my own childhood. Every Christmas she would pull out the waffle iron as far back as I can remember, and make these magical cookies. Magical to me at least. To a little foodie, cookies in a waffle iron were something special, and much different than the Toll House Chocolate Chip ones she would make on other occasions.

These cookies provide me with visual reminders of our kitchen in our split-level orange home in College Place, Washington. There was a chocolate brown refrigerator that I often yanked open to peer inside for snacks when I was bored or hungry. Attached to the kitchen was the main dining area where Mom kept a bookcase stuffed full of her many cookbooks. I would pull them down, rummaging through 1960s and 1970s Better Homes and Gardens looking at the pictures even before I could read. Maybe this is where my passion for food and photography began now that I think about it.

In college I realized that I wanted to someday be good enough to copy historical images. I needed to understand the concepts of art as well as master the technical side of photography before I could even think of trying. I also realized that I would have to work differently with light, composition, and Photoshop to come close to producing the same qualities that certain films created. I wasn’t sure I could do this, but I did try.

Somehow, the top shot has the qualities of a dying Andy Warholesque time; ridged, uncomfortable, structured. Too shiny, and not screaming out that this is food. More art than not, it needs a macramé plant holder to accompany it. Or maybe a few random figurines! The bottom shot is a more modern look; warm, casual, unstructured, and much like you wouldn’t disrupt the scene if you snatched a cookie for yourself.

I remember my mother always used canned frosting. She loves canned frosting. I myself am not so fond of the stuff, unless it’s on these cookies, as the canned version somehow magically stays soft, probably from all the chemicals in it. Although, I have been known to make my own chocolate frosting to smear over the top.

My mom will get better, and I realize there are moments where she will need me, as I needed her when I was younger and will likely need her again. It’s all part of this pretty darn wonderful life, and I feel strong, protective, and brave enough to face forward.

Mom’s Chocolate Waffle Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, melted

1 ½ cups sugar

½ teaspoon salt

4 eggs

¾ cup cocoa powder

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups all purpose flour

1 to 2 containers of canned chocolate frosting

1. Preheat Belgian waffle maker.

2. In a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, cream together butter, sugar and salt. Then beat in eggs until well incorporated. Mix in cocoa powder and vanilla extract. Then add the flour and mix until just combined.

3. With a standard (size 50) cookie scoop, scoop the dough and drop onto the hot waffle iron onto the sections. Cook 90 seconds per waffle. Carefully remove the hot waffle from the iron with a spatula to a cooling rack.

4. Once cooled, frost with chocolate frosting as desired. Or as I do, eat them sans frosting.

Recipe from Linda Komberec. Pictures by Laura Flowers.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Rolled Gingerbread Cookies, A Very Old Recipe.

My poor husband has had enough, again. Our library looks like a book vomitorium, and I’m the guilty party. Books are everywhere, floor to ceiling, as my cookbook collecting habit strangles the room. There are books old and new all over the floor, seeping out into the hallway. Jesse spent much of the weekend trying to organize the chaos, but with little luck.

I cannot help this though. Each book is a time stamp, holding history still while I absorb information, much of which has been lost to today’s cooks and bakers. Jesse will hopefully forgive me, as my collection grows into other rooms.

I purchased a 1948 copy of Brer Rabbit’s New Orleans Molasses Recipes this past weekend at an antique store, but instead of baking from it, I found a more appealing recipe online and used that instead! Yeah, I am in so much trouble.

Looking at the ingredients, I realized this recipe has very old roots. A good amount of vinegar is used to tenderize the dough, so that it can be rerolled quite a few times if needed. It may have been made with lard originally, because it needed an extra egg to get to gingerbread consistency with shortening. These cookies are real gingerbread, well ginger cookies really, leaving me to wonder why and when “bread” was eventually added.

The cookie stamp comes in a kit from Williams Sonoma. We had a lot of fun making up sayings and putting in the letters. Of course not all of our words where um, holiday appropriate, but they made me burst into evil giggles. We ate all these though, and only the happy cheerful ones remain in my freezer.

Rolled Gingerbread Cookies

1 cup shortening

1 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 cup molasses, warm in microwave if difficult to pour

2 Tablespoons white vinegar, (Don't worry there will be no taste of vinegar.)

1/2 teaspoons salt

2 to 3 teaspoons ground ginger, to taste

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

5 cups all purpose flour

In a stand mixer, cream shortening and sugar. Beat in eggs, molasses, and vinegar. Add the salt, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves and mix to combine. Add the baking soda and mix in. Add the flour about 1/3 at a time and mix until combined.

Spoon the dough about equally onto three pieces of wax paper. Wrap up, press into a 1 inch disk, and store in a gallon size bag. Chill dough for several hours or overnight.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and sit on the counter for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile preheat them oven to 375 degrees and cover cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Place a disk between two sheets of new wax paper. Roll 1/8 to ¼ inch thick. *If dough sticks to wax paper, flour lightly until it stops sticking* Cut out shapes and place on parchment 2 inches apart. Bake for 6 to 9 minutes depending on the size thickness of your cookies, or until no longer wet looking.

Cool on cookie sheets for a few minutes, then move to wire cooling racks. Once cooled, decorate as desired.

Royal Icing

Want to fancy up your gingerbread? This is a fantastic royal icing recipe. If you have a kitchen scale, use it. You’ll get much more accurate results.

2 3/8 cups (315 grams) powdered sugar

¼ cup (60 ML) All Whites 100% Liquid Egg Whites (The pasteurized stuff in a carton)

2 ¼ teaspoons cream of tartar

A very small dash of lemon, vanilla, almond, or other extract or oil of your choice.

In a stand mixer fluff up the powdered sugar to break up any clumps. Add the egg white, cream of tarter, and extract. Beat on low spend until mixed, then on high speed for 5 minutes.

Cover the extra icing with a damp towel while using, or store in an airtight container right away as the icing will harden immediately.

To thin the icing, add a half teaspoon of water at a time until desired constancy.

Ginger Cookie recipe adapted from COOKS.COM. Royal icing recipe adapted from “Gingerbread House Book” by Ella Harris. Book is in her Bake and Build Gingerbread House Book & Kit.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Black Bean Spinach Enchiladas in Green Chile Cream Sauce

It seems like everything requires so much of my attention lately that I haven’t had time to sit back and smell the Christmas tree. I figure you’re likely going through much of the same, and I hope to throw a few easy to prepare meals on here over the next couple weeks.

The prep work on these enchiladas is simple and can be thrown together in just a few minutes. They’re healthy and tasty, and even better the next day.

10 to 12 small flour or corn tortillas
10 oz package chopped spinach, thawed (I do this in the microwave)
15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with green chiles and spices, drained
¾ cup scallions, chopped
19 oz can green chile enchilada sauce
8 oz sour cream
3 cups shredded Pepper Jack cheese
Garlic powder and onion powder
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and get out a 9x13 inch Pyrex baking dish.

2. In a colander, squeeze out as much water from the spinach as you can by pressing the spinach with the back of a spoon. Place the spinach in a large bowl. Add the rinsed beans, drained tomatoes, most of the scallions, and dash of garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

3. Mix together the sour cream and green chile enchilada sauce. Spread about 1/3 of the sauce mixture into the 9x13 inch dish.

4. On a plate, place a tortilla and top with some of the spinach mixture and a small amount of pepper jack cheese. Roll into cigar shape and place into the baking dish seam side down. Repeat until the dish is full.

5. Spread the rest of the sauce on top of the enchiladas and top with the remaining cheese and scallions. Bake for about 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Wait a few minutes and serve.

Recipe by Laura Flowers

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Rolled Sugar Cookies

Breathe. Are you ready for this? It’s time to prepare for Hanuxmasnyearkwanzavtines Day again. And no matter what you celebrate you need an irresistible rolled sugar cookie dough, and this is it!

At first this dough scared me. I thought it was too soft of a mess to ever work, but something magical happened upon refrigerating. It turned into the most wonderful to work with sugar cookie dough ever.

The best part about this dough is that you can roll it as thick or as thin as you want and it will bake beautifully, just keep and eye on them and adjust the time a bit. I enjoy these cookies plain and often choose not to frost them at all like this Scotty dog. My mother-in-law Diane gifted me with two antique Scotty dog cookie cutters a few years back and they’ve been my favorite ever since.

The Scotty dog’s leash is made with inexpensive craft cord. I cut the cords about nine inches long, tied a small loop around one end, and then tied the other end around the cookie to look like a collar. Then I trimmed off the extra ends, and melted them together with a lighter so they wouldn’t fray.

It was using this recipe I found that I could melt buttercream frosting in the microwave and it would turn into great cookie icing. If you have any lying around, try it out. Then of course there is always real cookie icing. Or none at all, as I enjoy biting the heads off my Scotty dogs just plain.


1 1/2 cups butter, very softened and nearly melted
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
2 teaspoons baking powder
5 cups all-purpose flour
Powdered sugar for rolling
Wax paper
Parchment paper

1. In a mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, and salt. Add the eggs, vanilla extract, and almond extract and beat to combine. Add the baking powder and mix to incorporate. Then add the flour and mix just until the flour is mixed in. Be careful not to over mix the flour.

The dough will be very sticky, but spoon into about evenly onto three sections of wax paper the best you can. Wrap the wax paper around the dough sections and pat them to about an inch thick. Store all three of them in a gallon sized bag in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

3. After chilling, take the dough out of the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

4. Dust a clean surface and the top of the dough with a good amount of powdered sugar. Roll to desired thickness, anywhere from 1/8 inch to almost ½ inch. Cut out with cutters, and reroll scraps. Try to cut close together to prevent too much rerolling.

5. Place cookies on the cookie sheets about an inch apart and bake for anywhere from 6 to 10 minutes depending on size and thickness. Cookies will be done with the edges just begin to turn golden.

6. Let the cookies rest on the sheets until they harden enough to transfer to a cooling rack to finish cooling.

By Laura Flowers

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Food Photography Interview

As my work gains momentum sometimes it’s interesting enough to get an interview. So far all have been with bigger outlets; a work of mine was on the Martha Stewart Show last year, this year the Houston Chronicle picked up one of my creations, and then there is local media on rare occasions and other such showing of my works that I am grateful for.

The free boost of my photographs and recipes being passed around is nice, but something struck my heart cords in an interview I just had with a young woman for her college class. It swept me back in time to being a 19-year-old college student myself, working for my university newspaper. I was young, lost, and had no idea where my first camera and I were headed together. It would take another 10 years of grasping before I realized it was food photography which was closest to my heart, and that I wanted to share my work with as many new friends as I could. So, I answered her questions honestly, but in a way that I hope helps her as she comes across some of these bridges.

Here are my answers to her questions. If you are on the same path, I would love to know what your’s would be.


1. How long did it take you to accomplish becoming a food photographer? (I mean in the terms of time and energy and time spent including school time to become one)

It took me 4 years of college and about 8 years after that figuring out that I really wanted to focus on food instead of people. Then it took another year of learning how to shoot food well by practicing almost daily, attending food photography conferences, studying food photography books, and learning from the work of pros.

2. What exactly inspired you to become a food photographer? (What was the idea that made you realize that you were meant to become a food photographer?

I wanted to first capture human emotion. A split second of time where a burst of energy was recorded through my subjective view, I worked for newspapers early on and started to shoot food there. When the newspaper work didn't pay the bills, I worked in kitchens and after a few years I realized I wanted to shoot my own food and share it with others.

3. What techniques harbor the most success for the majority of your target audiences?

Don't follow trends. Make trends. For me, if napkins are all the rage, and everything has to be shot on them, I will refuse. Instead I might focus on something different, like textured placemats, natural light, or low-key shots.

4. What do look for when taking a picture?

Food is difficult. I am constantly aware of composition, light, texture, what the food itself looks like, food design and styling, keeping it as real as possible, and then there is the magic quality. Magic is when everything comes together to make a beautiful shot, and more often than not cannot be forced. I will sometimes have to give up a shot and try it again in different light or with a new design. If it's not working close to right away, don't waste too much time forcing magic.

5. Where did you study photography?

At the University of Idaho. My degree is a B.S. in Visual Communication.

6. How much more did you improve your career after attending the school?

Without school, I would not have any of this skill base. School was just the start, but a very important one.

7. Do you alter any of the photos with Photoshop?

All my photos are edited with Photoshop. Much of my schooling was in digital editing as well, and those minor enhancements are very important. A good photo editor can tweak a good shot into one that is simply amazing.

8. How do you make the food look so delicious (mouthwatering) to your audience, making them want more?

I produce what I love, maybe that heart is what makes my images work. Then again, I've had years of practice. So maybe its practice and passion together.

9. Do you enjoy your work? Why?

Yes. I love my work. I still get excited over almost every shot just like I did 14 years ago when I started shooting (Ok truthfully, I hate photographing big round flat pizzas, but that's pretty much it). Maybe I even get more excited now because I know how to transfer the images and ideas in my brain into my photography exactly as I imagine them.

10. What determines the need to add gloss to a fruit or a plate of food?

I'm really careful about glossing food. I try to keep my food as real as possible, even with my Photoshop edits. I will only gloss when something has lost its luster from cooling down too much. I brush a small amount of olive oil onto items like vegetables or meats when they start to lose their luster from me taking too long.

11. If there are any pointers that you could give an aspiring food photographer what would they be?

Follow your heart, not trends. Go to the International Food Photography Convention in Boston that happens every two years. Practice, practice, practice, and shoot one meal a day if possible either at home or while eating out. Don't give up, I'm still learning like crazy and that's normal. Read food photography and food styling books. Shadow other food photographers and food stylists if possible. Read food blogs and food styling blogs. Start a food blog of your own and watch what makes people get excited, then go with it. Be real, never ever let ego get the best of you. Ego is the enemy to listening and learning. Cook yourself and get to know your subject inside and out. Treat everyone with kindness; it goes a long way in this field. Don't forget to thank everyone who has helped you, this has paid me back over and over.

12. Any additional information that you would like people to know please feel free to add below:

Most importantly, work to find your drive and passion. When you obtain that, most days will be creative and interesting because they are part of who you are.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Idaho Baked Potato Soup with Bacon

Did you miss me? Did you notice I was gone? No? Well that’s good I suppose. My computer kicked the bucket for the last time and refused to be rebuilt again. Jesse had had enough of my computer abuse, and replaced my laptop with a Mac-top hoping it will be stronger than my super destructive computer Karma.

So far the Mac has the best of me. I’m still trying to get around Steve Job’s left handed world. Oh, and my image calibration tool doesn’t work here, but that’s fine, it didn’t work on my last jalopy. You're probably used to funny colored pictures by now anyway!

This soup recipe is from a postcard I bought a few years back, it isn’t “health food” by any means, but it’s so rich and comforting that I don’t care.

I didn’t have a lot of time, so I scrubbed the potatoes, pierced them all over with a fork, and microwaved them. I think this soup works great with the skins on the potatoes as well as off. I'll leave that up to you to decide.

2/3 cup butter or margarine
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
7 cups milk
4 large baking potatoes, baked, peeled an cubed (about 4 cups)
4 green onions, sliced (Or one diced and sautéed onion)
12 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
1 ¼ cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
¾ teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
½ teaspoon pepper, plus more for seasoning
Garlic powder
Onion powder


In a large soup kettle or Dutch oven, melt the butter. Stir in flour; heat and stir until smooth. Gradually add milk, stirring until thickened. Add milk, stirring constantly until thickened. Add potatoes and onions, Bring to a boil; stirring constantly. Reduce heat; simmer for 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients; stir until cheese is melted. Season to taste with salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder and serve immediately.

Serves 8 to 10

Recipe from an Idaho postcard. Picture by Laura Flowers.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Crockpot Meatballs and Peppers in Cranberry Chili Sauce

Its crazy busy around here! With birthdays, parties, friends, school events, traveling, being a parent, kid homework, and baking for my husband I'm running from one place to the next. I’ve been opting to take some shortcuts in the kitchen lately rather than hauling the family off to McDonald’s for dinner, much to my 8-year-old’s chagrin.

The cranberry flavor in these sweet and sour meatballs makes for a nice fall meal. Everything went into the slow cooker in just a couple minutes, enabling me to carry on with my insane schedule. These meatballs were served over rice for my family, but they’re nice as an easy appetizer on their own for parties and potlucks.

1 (2 pound) bag frozen Rosina Homestyle Meatballs
1 (10 ounce) bag frozen organic tri-colored sweet peppers
1 (14 ounce) can jellied cranberry sauce
1 (12 ounce) jar Chili Sauce
Freshly ground pepper
Red pepper flakes, optional but recommended
Cooked rice

1. Add the cranberry sauce, chili sauce, a pinch of salt, some pepper, and a dash of red pepper flakes to taste to a pot and bring to a simmer. Stir often and turn off heat when the two sauces combine.

2. Place the frozen meatballs, frozen peppers, and sauce mixture into a slow cooker and cook over low heat for about 6 to 7 hours or on high heat for about 4 to 5 hours.

3. Serve over rice if desired.

Recipe by Laura Flowers

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sherried Tomato Soup from "The Pioneer Woman Cooks"

Ree Drummond’s book finally made it to our bookstore! I was so excited I grabbed it and ran to the checkout all the while stuffing my nose in it even as I walked to my car. I stayed up late into the night enjoying every single page. About 2A.M. I had an epiphany. I want to live on a ranch with photogenic cows, and I want to cook every single darn recipe in this book! Seriously. I’ve never had feelings like this before.

I have cookbook lust. I have it so badly that I’m even following all her directions. I don’t think this has ever happened to me. I haven’t been taking pictures of everything since this work is hers, but this soup made me stop and grab a shot.

You have to try this one. It is better than divine. It makes me not care so much about photogenic cows. Or not quite as much. Ree has me doing things I’ve never done before. Like buying cooking sherry and chicken base. I must not be in my right mind because these are two items I’ve sworn never to purchase!

Its lust I tell you. Cookbook, beautiful country food, photogenic cow lust. Plus the book has an all-American wild mustang pageant. I have to admit, Bernadette is awfully pretty, even if Ree is pulling for the super intellectual Ginger.

1 medium white or yellow onion
6 Tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
Two 14 ounce cans diced tomatoes
46-ounce can of tomato juice
3 to 6 Tablespoons sugar
1 to 2 Tablespoons chicken base, or 3 chicken bouillon cubes
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup cooking sherry
1 ½ cups heavy cream
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh basil

Ree’s Instructions and Hilarious Ramblings
1. To begin, dice the onion.

2. Melt the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven.

3. Throw in the onion and cook until translucent.

4. Now dump in the diced tomatoes and stir to combine.

5. Add the tomato juice. I used organic juice because I wanted people to think, she’s cool because she uses organics.

6. Next-and this is important-in order to combat the acidity of the tomatoes, add 3 to 6 tablespoons sugar. Now, you’ll want to start on the low side, then taste and add more as needed. Some tomatoes and juice have more of an acid bite than others. (For what its worth and I realize it’s not worth much, I use 6 tablespoons of sugar. But I like a little sweetness to my tomato soup. So don’t listen to me.)

7. Next, add 1 or 2 tablespoons chicken base to the pot. I added 3, and it wound up being a little too much. But it’s a middle child thing… I’m always adding more, more, more!

8. Now you can add lots of freshly ground black pepper. Stir to combine, then heat almost to a boil. Then turn off the heat.

9. Now! Here’s the nice little flavor that sets this soup apart. Add in the sherry, if desired. It’ll keep you honest-I promise!

10. And now, people. It’s time to get serious. And it’s time to examine yourselves, and I mean that figuratively, for Pete’s sake: when it comes to heavy cream, are you a man or a mouse? I need an answer now, because we’re about to add 1 ½ cups of the stuff into our soup. And mmm… stir it together.

11. Now chop up a handful of flat-leaf parsley. And really, I’m not opposed to that curly parsley. And actually, blind taste tests have shown that there’s really not much difference in taste. But flat-leaf is a little more texturally palatable, so if you can find it, it’s best.

“Texturally palatable.” You know, I just throw these phrases out into the atmosphere and I have no idea where they come from. Or where they are going. Or where they have been.

12. Next, chop up a few leaves of fresh basil. (Well, “chiffonade” is the proper term… but that’s way too complicated a topic to inject into this simple soup.)

13. Now go ahead and throw in the parsley and the basil, and stir together. Next, take a whiff of this heavenly delight. Then faint. Then pick yourself up off the ground and grab your pepper mill again.

14. I always set it to fine for this soup, and I really let ‘er loose. I love freshly ground black pepper.

15. Keep the soup warm and serve it on a cold day to people you love. The flavor will knock your socks off.

Recipe from Ree Drummond's book, "The Pioneer Woman Cooks, Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl". Visit her award winning blog. Picture by the unworthy Laura Flowers who now wants to live on a ranch with photogenic cows someplace where it doesn’t snow.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes or Any Berry Cupcakes

Baking and cooking in season is all the rage. This always makes me shake my head because as far North as I live we’ve always eaten seasonally. Maybe it’s different in a city where they have access to more variety. However, eating locally in the winter is a whole different ball game here where nothing grows for nine months of the year. I’ll always welcome oranges from New Zealand, but that’s another story.

When we started plotting out my sister-in-law Dorian’s baby shower months ago I knew I wanted to use strawberries. I picked fresh ripe ones from Knapp’s Farm in Green Bluff, Washington late last June and froze them for cupcakes. For me strawberries are a sign of birth and renewal. Hope for the months and harvests to come. As a symbol of anticipation and excitement for new life, these cupcakes work well at baby showers. Even fall ones.

You don’t have to pick your own berries certainly, but use the best you can get. Frozen organic is always a more flavorful choice. Also, you can use blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, huckleberries, marionberries, or any berry of your choice.

Dorian had a great baby shower with many friends, family, and well wishers there to support her. I’m happy I got to be part of it and am super excited to greet my new niece Rowan in January!

Strawberry or Any Berry Cupcakes

Use the best quality berries you can get. They are the stars in these moist cupcakes. By letting the berry puree macerate for a day, the sugars will release making these cupcakes much better.

2/3 cup whole fresh or frozen strawberry puree, or any berry of choice pureed with juices
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup half & half or whole milk
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1. Gather enough thawed or fresh berries to make the puree plus more for the frosting (below). Then completely process the berries in a food processor and store in a covered bowl in the refrigerator for a day to let the sugars release. If using berries with seeds like raspberries or blackberries, strain the puree through a fine mesh sieve before refrigerating.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with 12 muffin liners, or lightly butter and flour the tin.

3. In a stand mixer, or with a hand mixer and a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar, and salt together until mixed well. Then add the eggs, vanilla extract, and almond extract and beat until mixed well. Add the half & half or milk and berry puree and beat until mixed. Add the cornstarch and baking powder and mix to incorporate. Then add the flour and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds.

4. With an ice-cream scoop, divide the batter among the muffin tins. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes or until no longer wet looking and comes free of crumbs when tested with a toothpick.

5. Cool completely before frosting.

Strawberry or Any Berry Frosting
Frosting can be as thick and dense or as fluffy and light as you like by adding more or less powdered sugar. Play around with the amount and see what works for you.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
¼ cup cream cheese, very soft
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 to 1/2 cup of the strawberry/berry puree to taste
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon strawberry extract (Use only if your frosting needs a little more flavor, hopefully you won’t need it)
Powdered sugar, between 1 and 3 pounds depending on consistency preferences

1. With a stand mixer or a hand mixer, beat all the ingredients together adding the powdered sugar a few cups at a time until desired consistency is reached. Berry flavor will come out even more after sitting for a bit. Flavor with strawberry extract only if needed. Use immediately and store extra covered in the refrigerator.

2. I piped the frosting on with a Wilton tip 1A by pressing lightly over the top into a fluffy ball. (I used less dense frosting this time). Then I gently tilted the cupcakes so the frosting would move to the edges. I topped them with Wilton Royal Icing Roses I found at Michael’s and sprinkled them with white nonpareils.

3. If you have a few days to dry them, you can make your own royal icing roses. Wilton recipe for royal icing and rose instructions.

"Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did." (Dr. William Butler, 17th Century English Writer) Dr. Butler is referring to the strawberry. Strawberries are the best of the berries. “The delicate heart-shaped berry has always connoted purity, passion and healing. It has been used in stories, literature and paintings through the ages.” From the University of Illinois Extension page, please visit them for more fun and interesting strawberry symbolism.

Recipe and pictures by Laura Flowers

Friday, November 13, 2009

Homemade Flour Tortillas, Cook's Illustrated Ground Beef Taco Filling, and Crispy Corn Taco Shells

Have you ever used a tortilla maker? Not a tortilla press, but a tortilla maker that presses and cooks tortillas to perfection? I bought a Sachi tortilla maker off of EBay a couple months back and haven’t purchased a single package of tortillas since. If you’ve never had a warm homemade flour tortilla before, you’ve got to try this.

I find myself stuffing tortillas with all kinds of strange leftovers these days. Like left-over cheesy scalloped potatoes, tri-tip, and hot pepper sauce. Or a mixture of potatoes, peppers, onions, sausage, and eggs for breakfast. Then there is always the quick quesadilla lunch I can press right in the tortilla maker.

When we make tacos I have a fantastic new go to recipe from Cook’s Illustrated for taco meat. Cook’s also has a recipe for frying up your own crispy corn taco shells which I’ve included for you.

If you use shortening in the tortillas instead of the olive oil I used, you may not need to press a second time. I wrote the instructions for two pressings, which removes the excess liquid. You’ll have to play around and see what you like best.

If you buy a tortilla maker, make sure you get one with temperature control. You’ll need to cook the tortillas on a lower setting during the first press so that the pressure from the heated liquid in the dough doesn’t blow the tortilla into pieces. Trust me on this one. I wasted many a tortilla before I got the hang of it. You won't have to go through that with these instructions.

Soon you will know what it feels like to turn up your nose at grocery store tortillas and save a bundle of money all at the same time.

Flour Tortillas
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil or shortening (I used extra light olive oil)
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup warm water

Whole Wheat Tortillas
1 cup whole wheat flour (I use white whole wheat flour)
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil or shortening (I use extra light olive oil)
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup warm water

1. Pick either the flour tortilla or whole wheat tortilla recipe.

2. In a food processor add the flour, oil or shortening, and salt. Process for several seconds. Then add the warm water and process until a ball forms.

3. Remove the dough from the food processor and knead in your hands several times. Place the dough in a small bowl and cover with foil. Let the dough rest on the counter for at least 30 minutes.

4. Turn the Sachi tortilla maker ¾ of the way into medium heat and brush lightly with oil (Don't use non-stick spray). Knead the dough a couple times and divide into 10 or 12 balls and press slightly to flatten.

5. Place the dough balls one at a time into the back middle of the iron. Press for about 20 seconds and check for doneness, flip if needed. Remove the tortillas when they are no longer wet looking, but not browned at all. Repeat with the remaining tortillas brushing the plates with oil as needed; place the cooked ones on a plate.

6. Turn the tortilla press to the middle of high heat. Take a cooked tortilla and repress until no longer wet looking and the steam nearly stops coming out of the sides. Be careful not to brown or your tortillas will be crispy instead of soft. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.

7. Let the tortillas cool for a few minutes on a plate and then pull apart and restack to make sure they stay separated. Store extras wrapped in foil in the refrigerator.

Makes 10 to 12 tortillas.

Cook's Illustrated Ground Beef Tacos

Cook's Illustrated Note:
Tomato sauce is sold in cans in the same aisle that carries canned whole tomatoes. Do not use jarred pasta sauce in its place. We prefer to let diners top their own tacos with whatever fillings they prefer. There’s no need to prepare all of the toppings listed below, but cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes are, in our opinion, essential.

Beef Filling
2 teaspoons corn or vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped small (about 2/3 cup)
3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Table salt
1 pound 90 percent lean (or leaner) ground beef
½ cup plain tomato sauce (see note)
½ cup low-sodium chicken broth *Please go MSG free here! ~Laura*
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons vinegar, preferably cider vinegar
Ground black pepper

Shells and Toppings
8 Home-Friend Taco Shells or store bought shells (warmed according to package instructions)
4 ounces shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese (1 cup)
2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
2 small tomatoes, chopped small
½ cup sour cream
1 avocado, diced medium
1 small onion, chopped small
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Hot pepper sauce

1. Heat oil in medium skillet over medium heat until hot and shimmering but not smoking. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, spices, and ½ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add ground beef and cook, breaking meat up with wooden spoon and scraping pan bottom to prevent scorching, until beef is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce, chicken broth, brown sugar, and vinegar; bring to simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently and breaking meat up so that no chunks remain, until liquid has reduced and thickened (mixture should not be completely dry), about 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

2. Using a wide, shallow spoon, divide filling evenly among prepared taco shells; place 2 tacos on individual plates. Serve immediately, passing toppings separately.

Home-Fried (Corn) Taco Shells
The taco shells can be fried before you make the filling and rewarmed in a 200-degree oven for about 10 minutes before serving.

¾ cup corn, vegetable, or canola oil
8 (6 inch) corn tortillas

1. Heat oil in 8-inch heavy-bottomed skilled over medium heat to 350 degrees, about 5 minutes (oil should bubble when small piece of tortilla is dropped in; tortilla piece should rise to surface in 2 seconds and be light golden brown in about 1 ½ minutes). Meanwhile, line rimmed baking sheet with double thickness paper towels.

2. Using tongs to hold tortilla, slip half of tortilla into hot oil. With metal spatula in other hand, keep half of tortilla submerged in oil. Fry until set but not brown, about 30 seconds. (You’re setting the shape here to make a folded crunchy corn tortilla.)

3. Flip tortilla; hold tortilla open about 2 inches while keeping bottom submerged in oil. Fry until golden brown, about 1 ½ minutes. Flip again and fry other side until golden brown, about 30 seconds. (You’re finishing the crispy taco shape here.)

4. Transfer shell upside down to prepared baking sheet to drain. Repeat with remaining tortillas, adjusting heat as necessary to keep oil between 350 and 375 degrees. (Stand them up with the bottom facing upwards like they have little legs.)

Ground beef taco filling and fried corn taco recipes from "Cook's Illustrated Special Collector's Edition All-Time Best Recipes 2009". Tortilla recipes from the Sachi booklet with rewritten instructions by Laura Flowers. Pictures by Laura Flowers.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Caramel Stuffed Apple Cider Cookies

Last weekend I visited a ginourmous Wal-Mart in the big town of Post Falls, Idaho. There I proceeded to hunt down bags of Kraft Caramels, because where I live caramels are seasonal and have already vanished from store shelves.

After squealing with excitement upon finding said caramels, I quickly snatched up five bags and headed miles away to pay. Finally arriving, and feeling like I actually exercised racing through that ridiculously large store, I spotted a box of powdered apple cider on the end cap of the checkout. It was there my brain started to wake up.

Here’s the internal conversation with myself:
“Oooo apple cider. What could I do with apple cider? Why not make it into cookies? How the heck am I going into put it in cookies? (Stares at caramels). Well, I don’t know but I’m going to stuff caramels into it.”

That’s how these cookies were born. Created from total randomness from a crazy wife who makes cookies once a week for people she doesn’t even know. This however, does make my husband and his coworkers very happy, and so I will continue this nuttiness.

Caramel Stuffed Apple Cider Cookies

These cookies are best after sitting over a warm drink for a few minutes. The caramel softens up and they turn into warm caramel apple cider heaven. Print Recipe.

1 cup unsalted butter, nearly melted
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (7.4 ounce) box Alpine Spiced Apple Cider Instant Original Drink Mix *Not sugar free*
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 (14 ounce) bag Kraft Caramels

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (190 degrees C). Line rimless cookie sheets with parchment paper. It has to be parchment this time.

2. In a stand mixer, cream together butter, sugar, salt, and all 10 packets of apple cider mix until smooth and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla extract, then mix in the baking soda and baking powder. Add the flour and mix until just combined.

3. With a standard (size 50) cookie scoop, scoop the dough scrapping off the excess as you go up the bowl. Flatten the dough slightly in your hand and place a caramel in the center. Work the dough around the caramel sealing well. Place the cookies two inches apart on the sheets.

4. Bake 12 to 14 minutes or until golden brown around the edges. After baking, carefully slide the parchment with the cookies onto the counter. Let cool until they are no longer soft but still slightly warm. Twist gently to remove, and cool the rest of the way upside down on the parchment or on a cooling rack.

Makes 51 cookies.

Notes: If cookies get too cool before you twist them off, freeze the whole sheet for a few minutes and they’ll come right off.

Recipe and photograph Copyright 2009 Laura Flowers.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Homemade Chili Mac

Why buy the MSG loaded boxed garbage when it’s nearly as simple to make your own healthy version? It always scares me a bit when I read the back of ready to assemble meal boxes. I spend hours in my grocery store scanning ingredient lists giggling and freaking myself out for fun. Do it sometime and watch the funny looks people give you!

I can’t even pronounce some of the ingredients, if you can call them that. I don’t know where they’re from, what they really are, and if they should even be considered food.

Seriously though, make your own versions of those boxed meals whenever possible. They’ll taste better and you won’t have to tell your family you fed them sodium hexametaphosphate, calcium lactate, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, and monosodium glutamate for dinner.

Crazy chemical-laden cheap food products might cost less, but in exchange we pay with our health. No thanks. I’ll cut costs somewhere else.

Homemade Chili Mac
Printer Version
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ¼ pounds ground beef (organic if possible)
Salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder for seasoning beef
1 onion, diced
1 Tablespoons chili powder
1 Tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon salt
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes with roasted garlic
1 (4.5 ounce) can chopped mild green chiles
8 ounces (2 cups) elbow macaroni
2 cups water
2 to 4 Tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro to taste
1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
½ cup Tillamook Vintage White cheddar or other favorite cheddar
Freshly ground pepper
Sour cream & parsley for garnish (optional)

1. Heat oil in a 12-inch non-stick skillet over medium heat and add ground beef and diced onion. Season with a dash of salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder. Once the meat is no longer pink, strain off the grease in a colander and place the meat mixture back in the pan.

2. Add chili powder, cumin, onion powder, coriander, 1 teaspoon salt, minced garlic and brown sugar and cook over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes until fragrant.

3. Stir in tomato sauce, diced tomatoes with roasted garlic, can of green chiles, elbow macaroni, and 2 cups water. Stir to combine, cover and keep at a high simmer for about 14 minutes or until juices are absorbed and macaroni is tender.

4. Stir in pepper jack, vintage cheddar, and cilantro and season with freshly ground pepper. Taste for salt and add if needed. Garnish with sour cream and parsley if desired.

Recipe and photograph by Laura Flowers.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Oatmeal Caramel Squares with Salted Cashews and M&M’s

I want to get rid of the excess Halloween candy around here before the next round of holiday treats hits. Who wants to celebrate Hallogivingxmasvtines Day? Ok honestly, it might be fun to throw a crazy party in March with all the accumulated garbage. I could start a new tradition!

Here I topped plain oatmeal blondies with melted caramels, salted cashews and M&M’s and sent them to work with my husband. Salted cashews and oatmeal must have justified them as healthy enough for consumption, because they disappeared in a hurry.

2/3 cup butter, melted
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats, uncooked
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 (14 ounce) bag Kraft Caramels, unwrapped
2 Tablespoons water
1 Tablespoon butter
1 cup salted cashews, divided
3/4 cup M&M’s Milk Chocolate Candies

1. Line a 9x9 inch pan with foil and preheat the oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the center position.

2. In a bowl or stand mixer mix together the butter and brown sugar. Then add baking soda and salt and stir in. Add the oatmeal and mix to combine. Lastly, add the flour and mix until just combined.

3. Spread the mixture into the pan and even out.

4. Bake for 22 minutes. While the bars are baking, microwave the caramels with 2 Tablespoons water and 1 Tablespoon butter stirring every minute or two until melted.

5. When the bars come out of the oven immediately top with melted caramel, salted cashews, and M&M’s.

6. Bake for 5 more minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely in the pan placed on a cooling rack.

Recipe by Laura Flowers

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