Tuesday, November 03, 2009

November 3rd Bento Lunch

I love Chinatown.

It's definitely in my top five favorite things about living in Toronto.

BF and I went there this weekend and bought homemade dumplings from a dumpling shop, homemade barbecue pork pastries from a Chinese bakery and all kinds of yummy produce.

So, I figured that calls for a bento!
My lunch today consisted of one barbecue pork pastry (my favorite food in the world) cut in half, three gyoza, fried then steamed, and veggies consisting of steamed broccoli, asparagus and lotus root slices (boiled with a little water, sugar and vinegar). For some fruit, I packed pomegranate seeds, raspberries and persimmons. I also included a little sauce bottle filled half and half with soy sauce and rice vinegar for the gyoza.

This lunch was a little heavy on the fried foods and a little light on protein, but it's what I was in the mood for, so it's all good. It was probably one of the most delicious bento lunches I've made. There were lots of great textures with the crunch of the lotus root and pomegranate seeds, the softness of the pork and dumplings and the smooth sweetness of the persimmons. I'm tempted to have the same thing for supper!

Edited on November 4th to Add:

Hello again!

I enjoyed yesterday's lunch so much that I decided to make it again today. I guess that practice makes perfect because I thought it turned out much cuter than yesterday's. So much so that I decided to show it to you.

Here it is:
The only changes I made were to add a few carrot flowers and I switched out the sauce bottle for a panda one because my other bottle developed a leak.

Much better!

Friday, October 09, 2009

And The Winner Is.......


BentoBeginner of http://bentoforbeginners.blogspot.com/, lover of cute shaped onigiri, picked the same number as the random generator so she is the recipient of the free book!

Congratulations BentoBeginner! If you could please email me your mailing address (my email is jackisbentoATgmail.com), I will see that it gets to you.

Thank you, everyone, for your participation. I truly enjoyed reading all of your wonderful comments

I have to say that I was really touched by how many of you said you were happy to see me back. I want to apologize for not posting more frequently. This has been a year full of changes for me and making bento lunches kind of fell off my radar for a bit, mainly because I took quite a bit of time of work so there was no need to pack lunches. BF and I decided we needed a fresh start so we tossed all of our stuff in a U-haul and drove for two days until we hit Toronto. That was two months ago, and for the first month I barely had a kitchen to cook in! I seriously suffered from cute food withdrawl, although it was a good opportunity to explore the cupcake shops in my new neighbourhood.

I'm back at work now, and while I do expect I will pack a lunch sometimes, I'm in a fortunate position where I'm able to come home for lunch, so I'm not sure yet whether I will be able to update as often as I used to. But on the plus side, there are much better resources where I'm living now for different ethnic foods, which I find so exciting! Although I'm still trying to locate a place to buy bento supplies in Toronto. If you have any leads, let me know!

So that's where I'm at right now. This weekend I'm hosting Thanksgiving dinner (My first turkey! Eep!) so I will be putting together a batch of turkey cupcakes. On one of his many travels, BF found me a bottle of root beer extract, so I'm going to try to make root beer cupcakes! I'm pretty excited by this prospect. If they turn out any good, I will share the recipe for sure!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Book Review + Free Give Away! Book Title: Cute Yummy Time

La Carmina, author of the new book Cute Yummy Time, offered to send me a copy of her book to review. I love any opportunity to check out some new, cute foods so I was happy to oblige, but I couldn't forget about you guys! So I asked if she would send a copy to one of you as well and she said sure!

Here is my review, and at the bottom of this post are the instructions for what you need to do to enter the very first giveaway contest here at Jacki's Bento Blog.

I love that the art of the bento lunch is becoming more and more popular here in North America because as anything grows in popularity, more information becomes available on the subject. When I started making bento lunches about two years ago, it felt like although there were great English books available about Japanese cooking, and even specifically with bento recipes, all of the kawaii bento books were in Japanese. To find the really cute stuff, I resorted to attempting to mimic things I saw on Japanese language blogs.

But it seems that over the past few years, more and more books have been entering the North American market that specifically focus on the cute, artistic elements of bento lunches. While this is a good thing, most of the ones I have read have had lots of great artwork, but not the clear instruction I was looking for, this is the niche that Cute Yummy Time attempts to fill.

The book contains 70 recipes for cute foods. Each has its own two page spread that contains an ingredient list, detailed instructions and coloured photographs. Although the pictures only show the end result (there are no step by step pictures), after reading through this book I feel confident that I can recreate any of the recipes and designs. They all seem really straight forward and use ingredients that I can pick up at my regular chain grocery store, no trip to the Asian grocery store is necessary.

I believe the author is a very creative person as there are ideas in here that I've never seen before, and I spend a lot of time looking at people's pictures of bento lunches! There are little things I never thought of, like using my nori punches to make shapes out of spinach, and there are lots of foods I've never thought of trying to make cute before (I can't wait to try her recipe for piggy bread!). Some of the recipes are very clever, like her Puffin Sushi, a maki sushi roll where the slices look like puffin heads.

The healthiness of all of the recipes really impressed me. She uses whole grains, high antioxidant foods, low fat dairy products, natural sweeteners and lots of fresh produce in her recipes. The recipes are all from scratch, right down to things like doughs and soups. The meals are smartly balanced, for example her recipe for Panda Tofu Soba. It has lots of lean protein in the tofu, soba noodles for carbs and lots of brightly coloured, fresh vegetables. It's perfectly healthy and balanced meal, and it's just adorable.

That said, half of the book, called the "To Go" section, contains recipes that are not portable and therefore not suitable for bento lunches, although you will find lots of great ways to make a cute breakfast. Many of them also require special bento equipment such as animal shaped cutters, and ice cream sandwich molds. A lot of people have these already, but I know there are also those who have a hard time getting ahold of these things.

My only criticism of the book is that for a few of the recipes, it's difficult to identify exactly what animal I'm looking at. I was excited to see a recipe for Hedge Pork Loin because I adore hedgehogs. When I saw the picture, however, it didn't really look like a hedgehog to me, so I won't be making it. But some of them, like the Polar Bear meringues, are spot on.

All in all, I like the book and will definitely be trying some recipes from it. It's well put together, easy to understand and none of the recipes appear to be overly complicated or time consuming. Everything looks yummy and they will definitely add some cuteness to our meals.

Book Giveaway Contest Rules: To enter, leave a comment on this post that tells me your favorite cute food to pack in your lunch. Mine? Checkerboard cut apple slices.

The cutoff is Midnight (Eastern Time) on Thursday, October 8th. On Friday, I will select a winner using a random number generator. So if the random number generator picks 6 and your comment is the sixth one, you win! I suggest that you include a way for me to contact you in your comment (for example, through your blogger account if you have one or by posting your email address). Otherwise, I will post the name of the winner on my blog next Friday and they can contact me through my email address which I will post at that time as well.

Limit of one entry per person.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

My Picks for UFC 100. In Cupcake Form of Course!

Is anyone else excited for UFC 100?? I have been anticipating the rematch between Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir for months and months and months!!!

BF is rooting for Mir. I'm a diehard Lesnar fanatic. So I decided this time to let the cupcakes do the talking!! As always, just click on the picture for a closer look.

They turned out awesome, but it was a long time getting here. First I made a batch of Chocolate Raspberry cupcakes, using the recipe from the book Crazy About Cupcakes.

They were by far the worst cupcakes I've ever made. I was so disappointed. Usually the recipes in this book are really good, but this one was the exception I guess. While I was mixing the batter I fell in love. There were so many fabulous ingredients, like cocoa, raspberries, sour cream and toasted almonds. The batter was so soft and luxurious, I had never made anything like it.

Into the oven they went and when they came out, they had hardly risen at all. As they cooled, the centers sunk into the middles of the cupcakes and the cupcakes pulled away from the liners. The taste was awful. They were gritty, and tasted like unsweetened cocoa despite the 1 1/2 cups of sugar in them. I was so sad. I almost gave up.

Then BF brought me a brand new stick of butter, a bag of sugar and a carton of eggs, gave me a kiss and asked me to try again. I found a jar of cherries in the fridge and made a batch of my tried and true cherry cupcakes. Perfect. I topped them with swirls of chocolate buttercream and popped my fondant decorations on top.

I'm especially pleased with how my fondant rendition of Mir turned out. This was the first time I've ever made a face out of fondant, I'm more of a flower person to be sure. Here he is in real life and in beaten up fondant form:
I cut out all of the pieces (except the letters) freehand. I was a little stumped with how to make his hair look textured, and ended up using the rough edges that occur naturally when you roll out the fondant. I think they turned out great.

BF was very unhappy with this cupcake.

So we've got cupcakes and I made a batch of pulled pork for sandwiches for the party tonight.

Lesnar, GSP, Henderson, don't let me down!!!

Post Fight Thoughts: Hey, all three of my guys won! Maybe my cupcakes are lucky? Now if only the Atlantic Lotto Commission would extend their sports betting to include the UFC, lol.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Spaghetti and Meatball Cupcakes! With Recipes!

Oh, these were too much fun to make!!

I know I'm a couple weeks late, but these were actually Father's Day cupcakes, I just wasn't able to get together with my dad on the actual holiday (his work sent him to Australia, how awesome is that?). My Dad has a definite silly side, so I thought he would appreciate some cupcakes in disguise. When I saw this idea for spaghetti and meatball cupcakes in the book Hello, Cupcake! I knew it would be perfect!

They really look like spaghetti, don't they?

I loved the concept of these cupcakes, but the actual recipe in the book includes more premade ingredients than I am comfortable using in my baking, so I made everything (except for the meatballs!) from scratch. I made peach cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting, strawberry sauce and Ferrero Rocher chocolates. If you've never had a Ferrero Rocher, I have to say they are probably my favorite chocolate that you can buy at the drugstore. Starting from the center and working out, they consist of a hazelnut in the core, surrounded by chocolate hazelnut cream, a thin chocolate wafer shell, and a chocolate and crushed hazelnut coating on the outside. Just the perfect combination of crunchy and smooth. So decadent! Their size, colour and outer texture make them perfect fake meatballs.

Here are my recipes and the assembly instructions.

Recipe: Peach Cupcakes

Makes about 2 dozen cupcakes


  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 large can of peach slices
Drain peaches. Cut slices in half lengthwise and then into small pieces crosswise until you have 1 1/2 cups of peach pieces. Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating for a full minute after each addition. Add vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add flour mixture to the cream mixture, alternating with the milk and mixing after each addition. Mix for an additional two minutes after all the dry ingredients and milk have been added so that the batter is nice and fluffy. Gently fold in peaches.

Bake at 350 degrees for 22 to 25 minutes until cupcakes test done with a toothpick. Allow to cool completely before decorating.

Recipe: Vanilla Buttercream frosting (Spaghetti colour)

  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 to 3 Tbsp milk
  • 4 cups icing sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cocoa
  • small amount of yellow icing colour (only use a tiny bit, we want the frosting to be more of an off-white than a bright yellow)
Beat butter and shortening together for about 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and mix. Add icing sugar about 1 cup at a time, mixing until combined after each addition. Add cocoa and icing colour and mix until colour is uniform. Add milk 1 Tbsp at a time until the frosting reaches the proper consistency.

Recipe: Strawberry sauce


  • 1 pint of fresh strawberries, halved
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 Tbsp water
Combine the first four ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until sauce has thickened somewhat.

Allow the sauce to cool and then puree in a blender or food processor. Return the sauce to the saucepan and return to a gentle boil. Combine cornstarch and remaining water in a separate bowl. Slowly pour into the strawberry mixture, stirring the sauce as you pour. Continue to cook the sauce for another minute or two until it has thickened. Allow to cool completely before using it on the cupcakes.

Now, time to put it all together! (this is the easy part)

Recipe: Spaghetti and Meatball Cupcakes

  • 24 cupcakes
  • 1 batch of vanilla buttercream frosting, spaghetti colour
  • 1 batch of strawberry sauce
  • 24 Ferrero Rocher chocolates
  • 1/2 ounce white chocolate, finely grated
Using a spatula, spread a thin layer of frosting on each cupcake. Arrange cupcakes in a rectangle on the dish you want to serve them on.

Place remaining frosting in an icing bag with a #5 tip (alternately you can just cut 1/8" off of the tip of a disposable bag. I don't use this method because I find it puts a seam in the icing from the seam in the bag).

Squeeze out the icing on to the cupcakes sort of randomly, making sure to cover all of the areas (including the gaps between the cupcakes), so that there is spaghetti icing mounded on top of each cupcake and draping down the sides a little bit.

Coat each chocolate with strawberry sauce. The thinner the coat of sauce, the better because it allows you to see the texture of the meatball better. Set aside.

Take the remaining sauce and gently spoon it onto each cupcake, making sure not to deform the 'noodles'. Again, a thinner coat is better. I recommend putting a little bit of sauce in the center of each cupcake and gently working it over to connect to the other cupcakes using the back of a spoon, adding more sauce where required.

Place a chocolate in the center of each cupcake and sprinkle some of the white chocolate on top of each cupcake. You're all done!

Here are a dozen packed in a foil tray ready to be taken to my Dad's house.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

New Bento Book! And my bento lunches are in it!!!

I'm too excited!!

The photos and recipes for some of my bento lunches have been included in this brand new book called 501 Bento Box Lunches. I've known about it for a while, but I was waiting until I actually had the book in my hand before I was ready to tell everyone.

When I first sent my photos and recipes to the publisher (twenty of which have been included in the book) and she told me she was compiling a collection of 500, I couldn't even begin to imagine the work that would go into organizing all of that information. But somehow, she pulled it off! There are pages and pages of recipes, and pictures of each and every bento lunch. It's all compacted into a neat little package. Like many of the bento boxes I've ordered online, the book was smaller than I expected but it's exactly the size it needs to be to include all of the information.

If you want to check it out, I've included links to some sample pages below (with the publisher's permission of course). I've also included it in the list of my favorite bento cookbooks in the left column of this blog so that you can link to its listing on Amazon.

I love this book and I'm not just saying that because I'm affiliated. I think it is an amazing source of inspiration and I can only turn a few pages before I see something new I want to try. I don't think it's a great beginner book, as it doesn't cover off a lot of the basics of bento making (like how to make onigiri, ratios of rice to meat to veg content, speed tips, etc.) but if you ever need a place to go for new ideas, this book is the best one I've seen.

Here are the links to the sample pages:

Pages 18 - 19
Pages 80 - 81
Pages 94 -95
Pages 126 to 127

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Butterfly Fondant Cupcake Toppers

After the rose cake I made earlier this week, I had all kinds of marshmallow fondant left over. My grandmother said that she had never had a fondant covered cake before, so I decided to make some fondant cupcakes just for her.

This is my first foray into the world of fondant cupcake toppers and I am really pleased with how they turned out (although there is always room for improvement of course!).

The cupcakes are plain chocolate with chocolate buttercream and marshmallow fondant toppers. The recipe for the fondant can be found here and the recipe for the cake is here (it's the one on the side of a can of Hershey's cocoa. Such an amazing cake recipe! And great when you don't have any butter on hand). The design for the toppers was based on some cupcakes I had seen on Flickr earlier this week, so I can't take the credit for that.
I already had lots of blue and white fondant left over from the cake, so I just needed to make some pink by kneading in some colour (I used Wilton Aster Mauve icing colour) with some of the white fondant.

I made the butterflies and the flowers ahead of time, using three different sized blossom cutters and a butterfly cutter (all Wilton) and allowed them to dry overnight so that they would hold their shape. For the butterflies, I left them to dry in folded pieces of cardboard lined with wax paper, laying the center of the butterfly in the crease of the cardboard so that it would dry in the correct shape with its wings angled up. For the larger flowers (although they're all quite small), I first used a small ball tool to made a round dent in each of the petals and then a large ball tool quickly pressed in the center of the flower to give the blossom an overall rounded shape. For each of the two smaller flowers, I used the small ball tool in the center of the flowers. I dried the flowers in Wilton flower formers.

This morning when I made the cupcakes, I assembled the toppers as the cupcakes cooled after coming out of the oven. The first step was to roll out the blue fondant to a little less than a quarter inch thickness and punch out circles the size of the cupcakes. Next I piped on the most of the green frosting, starting with a dot in the center to anchor the butterfly (using tip #12) followed by the vines piped with tip #3. Then I placed the butterflies and flowers on the cupcakes, secured by the buttercream and finished off the vines by piping some leaves on them using tip #352 (I love this tip!! It makes gorgeous leaves of all sizes so easily). The last step was to pipe little yellow dots in the center of each of the flowers and then the body of the butterfly, all using a #2 tip.

Once I got going, I was able to make thirty toppers fairly quickly. I think they look quite nice for how little work they were. After the toppers were complete, I frosted the cupcakes and gently placed a topper on each one. The frosting holds it in place.

I brought some over to my mother's house for Nanny to try and she liked them, so I call that a success. Most of the rest of them will be accompanying BF to his scuba class tomorrow. As of tomorrow afternoon he will be a certified rescue diver! I am so proud of him (not to mention happy that if I get in trouble when I'm learning to dive this summer, he will be able to rescue me, lol)

I can't wait to try this technique again. I think I need to work on getting the edges of the toppers to line up properly with the edges of the cupcakes as you can still see parts of the wrapper when you look at the cupcakes top-down. Suggestions welcome as always!

And here is another picture of my army of butterflies

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Earth Day Cupcakes

Today BF and I connected with a bunch of his scuba diving buddies and celebrated Earth Day with a good old fashioned beach cleanup. Of course, I made cupcakes.

I thought they turned out pretty cute. The cupcakes are cherry flavoured with almond buttercream (The recipes are on one of my previous posts, here). As usual, when baking for people I don't know well, I went with a tried and true recipe that has gotten good reviews in the past.

To keep with the Earth Day theme, I swirled the icing by colouring half of it leaf green and the other half sky blue (nice nature colours!) and filling the pastry bag with half of each (one on each side of the bag). In the center of each, I placed a foil-covered chocolate planet Earth. I picked these up at a local candy store (Sweet Janes near Spring Garden Road for all of you Haligonians out there) and did my best to match the frosting colours to them. The frosting was piped with a 1M tip as usual.

Everyone really liked them and there were none left to bring home, so I think that counts as a success!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter Bunny Mango and Coconut Cupcakes Recipe

It's BF's birthday tomorrow!!!

And it just so happened that his birthday fell on Easter weekend this year, so that means Easter themed cupcakes!

Since it's his birthday, I let BF pick the flavour of the cupcakes and he decided on mango. I saw this idea for Easter bunny cupcakes on the Kraft website and I thought they were too cute so I decided to do something similar. Instead of marshmallow bunnies I used these adorable belgian chocolate bunnies that I found. They are wonderfully detailed with cute little faces. I fell in love as soon as I saw them. Each bunny sits on a bed of grass (just mix 1 tsp water with some green food colouring, throw it in a ziplock bag with some shredded coconut and shake!) and is watching over a couple of the tiniest Easter eggs I've ever seen (Cadbury Micro Mini Eggs).

When they were finished I thought they looked like a little army of bunnies. BF approved.

Here's the recipe:

Mango Cupcakes


1 cup butter (2 sticks), room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs, separated and at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup mango puree (it comes in a can)
1 mango, peeled and diced finely

Recipe makes about 3 dozen cupcakes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or line muffin tins.

In a large bowl, cream butter on medium speed for about a minute. Slowly pour in sugar and beat for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and mix to combine. Add yolks, two at a time, beating for a full minute after each addition.

In a second bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the creamed mixture in three additions, alternating with the mango puree.

In a third bowl, beat egg whites with an electric mixer on high until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into the batter.

Fold in diced mango pieces. Fill cupcake cups 2/3 full and bake for 22 to 25 minutes until tests done with a toothpick. Allow to cool before frosting.

I topped these cupcakes with coconut buttercream, the recipe for which I previously posted here.

Easter Basket Cheesecake Cupcakes

These cupcakes were also inspired by the Kraft website. I had never made cheesecake cupcakes before and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to try it. Because the cheesecake doesn't rise and puff up like a regular cake, they don't quite reach the top of the cupcake cup, leaving ample room to fill them with Easter goodies.

I think that no cheesecake is complete without a crust, so I started with a vanilla wafer crumb crust topped with vanilla cheesecake. Once that had was finished baking, I allowed the cakes to cool completely and then refrigerated them. I finished them off with a chocolate topping and basket decorations made from shredded coconut, green shoelace licorice and jelly beans. They turned out wonderfully rich and decadent, I can't wait to serve them at BF's birthday party tomorrow!

Here are the recipes. Makes approximately 20 cupcakes.

Recipe: Vanilla Wafer Crumb Crust

1/3 cup butter
1 1/2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs

Melt butter. Mix with crumbs until fully combined. Spoon 1 Tbsp of the crumb mixture in each muffin cup. Firmly press the crumbs into the base of the cups using the back of a spoon. Be sure the crust reaches out to the edges of the bottom of the cup.

Recipe: Vanilla Cheesecake

3/4 cup sour cream
2 8oz packages of cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp flour
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place sour cream in mixing bowl and beat for a few seconds until fluffy. Add cream cheese and continue to beat until evenly combined and fluffy. Add sugar, vanilla and flour and mix until combined. Add eggs one at a time, mixing on low speed just until combined.

Spoon into muffin cups on top of the vanilla wafer crumb crust, so that muffin cups are 3/4 full. Bake for 22 -25 minutes or until centers are almost set. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for about an hour.

Recipe: Chocolate Topping

5 oz semisweet chocolate (5 squares)
1/2 cup sour cream

Melt chocolate over a double boiler. Remove from heat and stir in sour cream. Place a thin layer of the chocolate on top of each cupcake using the back of a spoon (to avoid getting chocolate on the paper wrapper).

Take a 4" length of shoelace licorice and press each end through the cheese cake about 2mm from the edge of the cake, forming the handle of the basket. Sprinkle the cupcake with coconut and place a few candies in the center of the cupcake.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Coconut Cupcakes Recipe

Once in a while, something will come out of my kitchen that truly amazes me.

These coconut cupcakes definitely qualify.

I was inspired to make these by an episode of Good Eats. The talented Alton Brown was on a quest to make the perfect coconut cake, and I was so intrigued by his recipe, that I had to try it out.

There were two reasons I wanted to try out this recipe.

  • It uses not one, not two, not three but four different forms of coconut
  • I get so excited when I see a recipe that uses a fresh ingredient where I've always been using ready made ingredients, in this case shredded coconut. I've always used the dessicated kind that you buy in a bag so I was stoked to try to take a whole coconut and make it into a bowl full of perfect shreds of fresh coconut.
Lastly, I'll say that I was extremely tempted to add pineapple flavour to these. It took all of my self control to just allow them to be plain coconut flavoured, without so much as a hint of vanilla. And am I ever glad! They turned out light and fluffy with the most exquisite coconut flavour I've ever experienced. The light, airy texture of the cupcakes meant that too much frosting could overpower them, so rather than pipe a big swirl, I just spread the frosting with a spatula and then flipped them upside down and dipped them in a bowl of the fresh, shredded coconut.

To make the shredded coconut, first drain the coconut by using a hammer to poke holes into its three 'eyes' with a screwdriver and then placing over a bowl until all of the coconut water drains out. Place the coconut on its side and hit with a hammer a few times until it cracks and you can split it in half. Separate the meat from the shell by sliding a dull knife (I used a butter knife) between them, and then cut the brown rind from the meat using a paring knife. Wash the white parts of the coconut to remove any bits of fibre and place pieces in a food processor using the grater disk.

Here is the recipe, which is Alton Brown's with the following changes:
  • Adapted from a cake recipe to a cupcake recipe
  • Used buttercream frosting rather than 7-minute frosting (I ran out of eggs)
Recipe: Coconut Cupcakes with Coconut Buttercream frosting

  • 14 1/4 oz cake flour,approximately 3 cups
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup coconut cream
  • 8 oz butter, room temperature
  • 16 oz sugar, approximately 2 1/4 cups
  • 1 tsp coconut extract
  • 4 egg whites

  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 shortening
  • 1 tsp coconut extract
  • 4 cups icing sugar
  • 5 Tbsp coconut milk
  • Grated coconut from 1 coconut, approximately 8 to 10 ounces

For the Cupcakes:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin tins with paper liners. Makes about 30 cupcakes.

Place the flour, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine.

Combine the coconut milk and coconut cream in small bowl and set aside.

Place the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer and using the paddle attachment, cream on medium speed until fluffy, approximately 1 minute. Decrease the speed to low and gradually add the sugar slowly over 1 to 2 minutes. Once all of the sugar has been added, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides. Turn the mixer back on to medium speed and continue creaming until the mixture noticeably lightens in texture and increases slightly in volume, approximately 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the coconut extract.

With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture alternately with the milk mixture to the butter and sugar in 3 batches, ending with the milk mixture. Do not over mix.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the batter, just until combined. Fill cupcake cups about 2/3 full. Place in the oven on the middle rack. Bake for 25 minutes or until cupcakes start to become golden brown around the edges and a toothpick pressed in the center comes out clean.

Cool the cupcakes in the pans for 10 minutes then remove and transfer to a cooling rack.

For the Frosting:
Cream butter and shortening together until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes on medium speed.Add coconut extract and mix to combine.

Gradually add icing sugar until combined. Add coconut milk, 1 Tbsp at a time until the frosting reaches desired consistency.

Spread frosting on top of each cupcake and then dip cupcakes in shredded coconut to coat the tops.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Feb 24th Snack Bento

Most of my time this morning was spent making breakfast (four-grain strawberry and banana pancakes. Yum!), so I just threw together the quickest of snack bentos as BF was getting ready to leave.
The dumplings are gyoza from a batch I made this weekend (recipe: here). I couldn't get my hands on round gyoza wrappers so I ended up buying square wonton wrappers instead. Originally I had planned to cut them into circles, but when I discovered that you can fold the square ones into these adorable pyramids, I left them the way they were.

To fold dumplings this way, first brush the outer perimeter of the square with water and then place about a teaspoon of filling in the middle. Fold in two diagonally opposite corners and pinch the tip to connect them together. Fold up the remaining two corners and press together the seams to seal them. Pinch the tip once more.

I like the way these look so much that I might start doing them this way on a regular basis. I cooked them by frying them until the bottoms were brown and then steaming for an additional 7 minutes. Wonton wrappers are thicker than round gyoza wrappers so they hold up really well when frying.

To add some colour and to stabilize the gyoza, I included a few pieces of steamed broccoli and some blackberries. The sauce bottle contains a mixture of rice vinegar and soy sauce.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

February 19th Bento Lunch

The honest truth is that I've been making more bento lunches than I've been posting.

The thing is though, because we're in the middle of winter (There's a blizzard raging outside as I type this!) I've been using the thermal bento sets almost exclusively. I am so in love with these bento boxes! I packed hot yakiudon in them this past weekend for a ski trip. The lunch boxes sat in a freezing cold car for 4 hours while we skiied and by some miracle, they were still warm at lunch time. I was amazed.

When I first purchased these, my intention was to pretty much live off Thai curries for the winter, and although I've definitely had my share of curries, I've expanded into soups, stews and chili as well.

And the thing is, those kinds of foods are...well...ugly.

So, given the fact that I already find it challenging to make the thermal bento lunches look cute just due to the size/shape of them, and then compound that with the fact that most of the foods I've been using have been inherently not cute, I've been a bit reluctant to post most of the lunches I've been making.

On the positive side though, the lunches have been incredibly delicious! Here is today's:
In the main container, there is some home made lamb stew (the recipe is here, on my other blog). Although hideous, it's an incredibly hearty and flavourful mix of carrots, potatoes, onions and the softest bites of lamb you can imagine.

In the container on the right, I first placed a sweet potato biscuit in the bottom. The recipe is from Paula Deen's website and they are heavenly. I've made two batches in one week! For the bento, I've sliced it in half, buttered it, and then cut it into bite sized pieces. On top of that are some cheddar cheese flowers to go with it. I've also included a Valentine's heart shaped truffle for dessert.

The container on the left contains simple apple pieces (rubbed with lemon so that they don't brown) and some blueberries.

I would love to hear any ideas that you have to make these types of lunches cuter!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My Biggest Baking Project Ever! Valentine's Day Cupcakes with Sugar Cookies

I love any excuse to bake. I especially love any excuse to bake cupcakes.

BF knows this, so he will often volunteer me to provide the baked goods for events we go to, and then he lets me know later.

Last week he came home from work and said "I may have mentioned to my boss that you would make Valentine's cupcakes for everyone in the office."

Me: "How many are we talking?"

BF: "No more than 70 I think."

I mulled that over in my mind for a moment. I had never made 70 cupcakes at once before. It seemed like a whole lot of work, so why stop there?

I said "What if you brought me a list of everyone you work with and I'll make everyone a special sugar cookie with their name on it and then put the cookies on top of cupcakes?"

BF said that sounded like a great idea, and that's how I dug myself a huge hole.

Oh my.

What a lot of work it was.

In total I made 85 cupcakes. 81 were personalized and I included 4 extras in case I missed anyone and because if there's one thing I know, it's that a batch of cupcakes will always attract more people than you expected.

Making treats for such a large group of strangers presented some new considerations from my usual cupcake making. I had to be careful to choose flavours that were widely appealing and to accomodate any allergies. As it turned out, only one person had an allergy and that was to wheat, so I made her marzipan covered cherries since they are quick and easy to make and anything with flour was out of the question. I chose to do plain vanilla cupcakes with a dollop of chocolate batter on top of each one for a sort of marble cupcake. Knowing that the cupcakes were plainly flavoured and that the cookies would be plainly flavoured, I kicked up the frosting a notch, using a pomegranate buttercream rather than something plain.

I made the cookies using the same method and recipes as the snowflake cookies I made at Christmas, sugar cookies with royal icing. Where I was baking such a huge quantity, I decided to use only recipes and techniques that I've used before and loved rather than trying something new and risking making a mistake or an inferior product. I love to experiment, but not when people are counting on me.

The pomegranate molasses in the frosting lent itself best to making the frosting a pale pink, so I chose colours for the cookies that would go well with pale pink and keep with the Valentines theme. I went with purple, white and a bright pink. I reserved about 1/4 cup of each colour of icing to do the lettering.

At first I was a little shaky with the writing (and daunted by the thought of fitting some of the longer names on the small cookies. It took me three tries to fit "Anastasia" on a cookie) but as I progressed, the letters became neater and the spacing of the letters became more consistent. This project definitely increased my confidence in my piped lettering. I used a Wilton #1 tip. The end result was absolutely adorable cookies that sort of resembled Love Hearts candies. I was so thrilled when they were done and they were all perfect.

Once the cookies were done, I started on the cupcakes. I made two batches of vanilla cupcake batter and one batch of chocolate and then combined them in each cupcake. The last step was to frost them and place a cookie on each one.

Here is a close-up of some of the cupcakes so you can see how they looked. Click on the picture to enlarge it.

I didn't have a big enough cupcake carrier to hold so many, so BF brought home some lids from paper boxes and we filled them up. It completely filled three of them.

To make distribution easier for BF, I ordered them by the seating arrangement at his work, separating the cupcakes by team, and then indicating where a team ends by placing a manager's cupcake which had a larger cookie. That way he could easily scan the cupcakes to determine which section of cupcakes went to which section of his office floor.

Amazingly, the whole thing went off without a hitch. There were enough cupcakes for everyone and by the end of the day, there were none left for BF to bring home. I'm so proud of myself for pulling this off and it's reaffirmed for me that I would like to be a baker as a profession. Spending an eight hour day in the kitchen flies by for me. I just love to bake! BF said that everyone loved them and was excited that they were personalized. It was definitely worth the effort.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Bailey's Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting Recipe

My friend had a birthday celebration this past weekend (his champagne birthday, no less!), so of course I made cupcakes. He asked for Bailey's flavoured, so that's what I made!
I was worried that these would come out boozy, with that unmistakenable alcohol taste because there is so much Baileys in them, but they actually turned out really nice. The Irish cream flavour of the Bailey's is definitely present and bold, but they don't have an alcohol aftertaste. I was really pleased with them.

I went with chocolate buttercream for the frosting because it seemed like a natural pairing, inspired by one of my favorite winter drinks, Bailey's and hot chocolate. My friend appreciates silly things, so I went with a traditional kid's birthday cake sort of look, with purple polka dotted cupcake wrappers and dinosaur sprinkles (both Wilton). He loved them!

Recipe: Baileys Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting


Cupcakes (Makes approx. 30 cupcakes)

1 cup of butter, room temperature
2 cups of sugar
4 eggs, separated and at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup of Bailey's liqueur

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy (about 3 or 4 minutes). Add egg yolks one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Add vanilla and mix until combined.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add to creamed mixture, alternating with Baileys and mixing well after each addition. Batter should be thick, but if it comes out dry, add a splash of milk.

In another bowl, beat egg whites with clean beaters until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into the cupcake batter until the colour of the batter is uniform.Fill lined cupcake cups half full. Bake 22 to 25 minutes or until they test done with a toothpick.



1 stick of butter (1/2 cup) at room temperature
1/2 cup shortening
3 1/2 cups icing sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp vanilla
3-4 Tbsp milk

Cream together butter and shortening. Add vanilla and milk and mix well. Combine icing sugar and cocoa and gradually add to the creamed mixture. Add more milk if necessary.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

February 4th Bento Lunch

I broke out the thermal bento box today. Please excuse the condensation on the lids. I keep the lids on until I'm ready to take the picture to keep the heat in the thermal container and to keep the other two containers from drying out.
The main component of the lunch is a delectable Thai red curry soup (the recipe is here) that is full of noodles and veggies in a yummy coconut milk broth.

In the container on the left, I also threw in a heart shaped bonito onigiri for some additional carbs. I had some yummy honey mustard chicken I wanted to put in this bento, but BF said he would rather have more pulled pork so that I what I used. There are a few pea sprouts for colour and crunch in there as well.

In the second container there are three stalks of steamed asparagus along with some tangerine wedges and a few honey dates. Once everything was packed up, I put a little individually wrapped After Eight mint for a sweet bite.

In hindsight, I realize that I forgot to pack a spoon for the soup! Hopefully BF can snag one while he's at work.

Monday, February 02, 2009

February 2nd Bento Lunch

I was determined to get back into the bento lunch making habit this week, but I ended up not having much time this morning, so this is what I managed to pull together.

There are two onigiri filled with a mixture of bonito flakes and soy sauce. One is upset that he is going to be eaten for lunch while the other is happy to see that I'm making bento lunches again! I decided to cut out the nori by hand rather than with punches because these are quite large onigiri and I think the punches would have made eyes that were too small. It's actually not to hard to hand cut the eyes if you start with a small square of nori. For the mad eyes, I cut two small triangles from the square and cut off the outer corner. For the happy eyes, I just cut out an even smaller square from the original nori square.

For protein, there is some pulled pork leftover from the weekend (the recipe for it is here). For veggies we have zucchini, carrots and bean sprouts that have been steamed as well as some raw red pepper strips. For fruit there are some peeled blood orange segments (the colours aren't as bright if you don't peel them) and I included a little green tea flavoured tea cake for dessert.

Quick and simple!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

New Year's Cupcakes

A little late....

BF was supposed to go scuba diving on New Years day, but it got cancelled because we had a blizzard (I have no idea how he can hang out underwater when we have snow on the ground, but he swears he doesn't get cold). It got rescheduled for tomorrow morning, so I decided to make New Year's themed cupcakes anyway, even if we're four days in.
These are pretty simple. Chocolate and beer cupcakes with vanilla buttercream, as per BF's request. I used a wheat ale this time (Rickards White) and it really toned down the beer taste. At some point, I'd like to try these with Guinness to see how they turn out.

To decorate them, I did a mound of blue frosting using a Wilton 2D tip, and then a white swirl around it using a 1M. The year is piped with a #3 tip.

I think they turned out pretty cute for how simple they were. Just a tiny bit of extra work, but I think they get the message across.