Review from Southern Living’s Big Book of Cupcakes

Who can tell?  What sets them apart?  Is it the paper wrapper?  No, sometimes muffins have papers.  Is is the flavor?  No they can both be sweet or savory.  Is it the texture?  No, both can be light and fluffy or dense.  Is it the ingredients?  Nope, pretty standard to have butter, sugar, eggs, flour, etc.  I think it comes down to frosting.

Many a time I’ve put a muffin in a paper cup and called it a cupcake when my kids were smaller.  But now they ask “where’s the frosting?”  I can still get away with making a healthy muffin (bran, fruit etc) in a cupcake paper and putting a bit of “frosting” such as cream cheese or plain fresh whipped cream.  However…a new  cookbook arrived at my house for review: Southern Living’s Big Book of Cupcakes by Jan Moon.  And things will change. 

My kids have poured over it page by page looking at beautiful cupcakes.  When I get a new cookbook, I start marking pages of recipes that look interesting and may try.  My kids have marked more than half the book and it won’t even close now.  I’m in trouble….

My mother-in-law is visiting and we happen to be celebrating her birthday, so it’s time to try the new cookbook.  After much deliberation, my mother-in-law chooses Lemon Ice Box.  Not only do these have a lovely whipped cream frosting, but also a filling.  I’ve never ventured into filled cupcakes.  Now we’re ruined.  This is definitely not a muffin.

bring on the filling
whipped cream frosting

The cupcakes took a bit of time, which was fine for another rainy weekend day.  My kids enjoyed helping the licking the beaters.  Funny thing was that I forgot the shortening.  I don’t ever buy shortening, so I guess I just glanced over when I read the instructions.  I didn’t even realize I fogot until I put the cupcakes in the oven.  Oops.  It didn’t matter.  The cupcakes were great – moist and fluffy and tasty.  It made me question why the recipe had it to begin with. Hmmm….

You’ll be reading more about this book and cupcakes from me soon, I’m sure.

My Review

Pros – there are many…appealing photos, yummy recipes, innovative ingredients and flavors (did I mention maple bacon?)  Really a bible for cupcake followers.

Cons – not many so far.  Although like many baking and cake books, there are some hard to find decorations (which if course you can substitute).  I question the use of shortening and butter.


The Dish on …Dish (restaurant review)

When my husband and I lived in San Francisco we loved going to all the restaurant hot spots.  I still like to read about what’s new and up and coming, but we get to those places later and less often (not as many date nights as a family of four).

Now when I hear about a new restaurant or food spot closer to home that may be kid friendly, my radar is peaked.  I felt so current this weekend.  I had seen signs for a new local eatery in Mill Valley called Dish, which was opening to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I was thinking of where to go before the Memorial Day Parade and thought we’d check out the new place.  I even went online and saw the menu.  I was excited about the local, sustainable, organic ingredients and the reasonable prices.  However it was by complete accident that we were the first paying customers to order and sit down.

When we walked in we noticed the chic, yet comfotable urban decor, yummy looking baked goods and bottles of wine above the bar/counter.  My husband and I thought this looked promising and asked how long they’d been open.  The answer was “about 2 hours.  People have been in for coffee and muffins to go, but you are the first to order and sit”.  Wow.  We scooped everyone! 

The menu was limited for the first day, but we all found favorites and sat down to wait for our order with a berry, bran scone.  It was funny how much it tasted like the ones I make at home (perhaps the use of butermilk?).  The kids loved the look of my cappucino with foam “feather”.  Yes, with each bite and look around the room, we were more and more pleased.  Dish is built and operates quite green too.  As we waited for our food and played “eye spy” we noticed reclaimed wood and recycled items everywhere.  So the kids got a bit impatient, but I had to explain this was the first time (well almost) people were cooking in the kitchen, taking orders and bringing food in this space.  I equated it to the first day of school where everyone and everything is new and you have to get used to things.  They understood.  They thought it was pretty cool they were the first people to sit at our table.  I also explained that we liked everything so far and that this could be a favorite spot for us, so we needed to give it a chance and wait.

When we did get our order (with big apologies from the owner), the food was just as we’d hoped – great.  Homemade granola and yogurt with berries for my daughter (notice she got her’s before her brother).  French toast with fruit for my son.  Huevos Rancheros for my husband.  And a leek tart for me.  So while I’m happy to spread the word, and did to all our friends at the parade that day;  I fear my next meal at Dish will begin with waiting in line to get in and I’ll have to explain to my children that someone else is sitting at “our table”.


Get Cooking Light…New Cookbook

So funny, that when you write about food and recipes and cooking people from all over contact you to try their product (food, book, sandwich wrap).  Most of these requests and things that people want to send me just don’t apply.  There’s way too many offeres for alcohol related recipes and products – obviously not in touch that I write about kids and family foods.  (or maybe they are and know parents sometimes need a drink).  Anyways when I was offered a chance to review a Cooking Light cookbook, I was quite pleased. 

Cooking Light, Cooking Through the Seasons is really how I like to cook.  Simple recipes with key ingredients and seasons in mind.  Choosing what to prepare is easy as you go to your season, in this case spring and list your ingredients to be able to buy at the local farmer’s market.  Not that I didn’t jump ahead and see some great summer and winter recipes too.  The book may replace my Better Homes and Garden Cookbook as a true cookbook staple and my new go to guide for making fresh seasonal food.  There’s easy steps of cooking methods for those unfamiliar (braising, blanching, etc).  The book also highlights ingredients from the seasons that may or may not be familiar.  Never being one to do much with rhubarb, I jumped right in, learned how to choose and made a refreshing sorbet.  Fava beans are also something I don’t use very often, but embraced a wonderful warm salad.  (And when I tired of peeling fava beans and didn’t buy enough, I substituted with spring peas.)

This book gives enough information and great photos for a novice cook, but also enough interesting ingredients, inspiration and delicious recipes for those more comfortable in the kitchen.

Here’s a few of the yummy foods I’ve made so far…

asparagus with brown butter sauce
chicken, edaname (sub for spring pea) and potato salad
rhubarb sorbet
vegetable fetuccini