What Is It About Cupcakes & Summer?

We can’t help ourselves – we just keep making cupcakes this summer. Yesterday’s were Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting and chocolate sprinkles. The cake recipe came from the wonderful cookbook More From Magnolia: Recipes from the World-Famous Bakery and Allysa Torey’s Home Kitchen. We improvised the frosting recipe and it was sooooo good. Chilled, the frosting is like peanut butter cheesecake. (Recipe below.)

Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting

(makes enough for 24 cupcakes)

20 oz. cream cheese, softened

12 oz. unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 t. vanilla extract

approximately 12 oz. peanut butter (I use The Bee’s Knees Peanut Butter by Peanut Butter & Co.)

approximately 1 1/2 c. confectioner’s sugar

(1) Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla together until smooth and fluffy. Beat in peanut butter. Beat in sugar to taste.

(2) Decorate cupcakes (or other baked goods). Chill until serving.

Peach & Tomato Salsa

The other day I went to the downtown Farmer’s Market with one of my friends. (Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my camera. Oh, well, next trip!) When I got home I realized that I had the fixings for Peach & Tomato Salsa, so made a batch the next morning for breakfast. I love being able to use fresh ingredients!

Peach & Tomato Salsa

Combine the following ingredients and serve with chicken, fish, or eggs:

1 – 2 T. jalapeno or serrano pepper, finely diced (wear gloves when handling pepper)

2 lg. tomatoes, chopped

1 lg. peach, pitted and chopped (peeling is optional)

1 T. diced red onion, optional

1 T. fresh lemon or lime juice

pinch of salt

Bacon-Spinach Snacks … For Dogs

Our “girls” love getting treats, especially homemade ones. It’s a good life here!

Bacon-Spinach Doggie Treats

Makes about 50

1 c. oat flour

1 c. brown rice flour or corn flour

1 1/2 c. clean spinach leaves

2 strips cooked bacon, chopped

1 c. grated Parmesan cheese

1 lg. egg

1/2 c. cold water

(1) Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

(2) Combine the ingredients in a food processor until a dough forms. Scoop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls onto baking sheet.

(3) Bake for about 25 minutes or until cookies are cooked through and lightly browned on the bottom. Allow to cool before serving to your canine pals.

Abbey & Penny sitting prettily for treats. (Come on, Nicole!)

“Refreshing Minty Lemon Limeade” and “Baked Tomatoes with Mint Cream”

Having recently written in general terms about ways to use mint – see my post Mint: It Grows Like a Weed, but That’s Okay from 5/15/12 – I thought it appropriate to offer a few more mint recipes every now and then. Both of the recipes below contain mint ingredients employed to a subtle effect. Enjoy!

 Refreshing Minty Lemon Limeade

2 1/4 c. ice water

1/2 c. fresh lemon juice

1/2 c. fresh lime juice

3/4 c. mint simple syrup, or to taste

Stir ingredients together. Chill until serving. Serve over ice.  Garnish with mint leaves, or with lemon or lime slices.

Baked Tomatoes with Mint Cream

(based on a recipe from Scottish Heritage Food and Cooking, 2005, Lorenz Books of Anness Publishing, London)

5 large ripe tomatoes

1 c. heavy cream

2 mint leaves

1 T.  mint-infused vodka

1/3 c. crumbled cheese of a good melting variety, such as Monterey Jack

salt and pepper

1. Fill a large stock pot to about half full with water then add a dash of salt and bring to a boil.

2. Meanwhile wash and core tomatoes – a grapefruit knife works well for coring – and then cut an ‘x’ into the bottom of each tomato. Carefully drop tomatoes into boiling water. When the skins start to split, transfer tomatoes to a colander and give a quick rinse with cold water. Allow to cool.

3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. While the oven is heating, place the heavy cream in a non-stick pot, add mint leaves and vodka, and allow to simmer over low to medium-low heat. Simmer until the heavy cream is reduced to about 3/4 of a  cup.

4. While the cream simmers, brush a baking dish with olive oil. Slice tomatoes and arrange them in baking dish, allowing them to overlap slightly. Strain the thickened cream over tomatoes. Sprinkle with cheese and then with salt and pepper. Bake for 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Serve as a side dish or with a rustic bread for a small but rich meal.

Baked Tomatoes with Mint Cream

Shady Porch Cocktail

An original cocktail that calls to mind enjoying a shady porch on a hot summer’s evening.

Shady Porch Cocktail

1 1/2 oz. mint-infused vodka

1/2 oz. fresh lime juice

1/2 oz. mint simple syrup

3 to 4 oz. Ginger Ale

lime slice and mint sprig for garnish

Fill a cocktail glass with ice.  Stir together vodka, lime juice, and simple syrup. Pour over ice. Fill glass with Ginger Ale. Gently stir. Garnish with lime and mint.

(Thank you to Tim S. from NY for being my hand model and drink taster.)

Mint: It Grows Like a Weed, but That’s Okay

Herbs in the mint family are known to be so invasive that it is generally recommended that they be grown in pots rather than directly in the ground. A few years ago,  I started a couple of large pots of spearmint by the back steps. I still have those pots of mint. Kansas winters can’t kill them off, but grasshoppers can do some damage.  While the leaves are still pristine, having not yet been gnawed upon by the voracious grasshoppers that seem to plague my garden during the summer and are already appearing, I’ve decided to harvest some of the mint. So I have been thinking of its culinary uses. (In the post immediately following this I give a cocktail recipe that I created for using homemade mint products.)

Tip: To harvest mint, make sure that it has been well watered for several weeks prior to cutting. Cut mint in the morning before the heat of the day has started to set in and, preferably, cut only stems of mint that have not yet started to flower. Clean with cold water. Use only undamaged leaves.


(1) Mint Tea

Place a large quantity of leaves in a teapot. Pour fresh boiling water over leaves and let steep for about 5 minutes. Strain to serve. Variations: add lemon balm leaves, chamomile flowers, black or green tea leaves, orange or lemon peel, and so forth.

(2) Mint Simple Syrup

Add 1 cup cold water and 1 cup granulated white sugar to a non-stick pot. Heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar is dissolved. (No need to simmer.) Place 2 c. mint leaves in a large glass bowl. Carefully pour simple syrup over mint and allow to sit for 5 to 15 minutes. Squeeze juice from leaves into syrup. Stain into syrup into a glass jar.

Use in cocktails such as Mint Juleps or Mojitos.  Use to sweeten lemonade or  to sweeten black or herbal teas  (hot or iced). Toss a small amount with fresh fruit such as honeydew or grapefruit segments for a minty fruit salad.

(3) Mint-Infused Vodka or Rum/Mint Extract

Fill a glass jar with fresh mint and top off with vodka or white rum. Cover tightly and shake. To make infused-vodka, store in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Strain out mint leaves and pour vodka into a glass bottle. To make extract, allow the mint leaves to sit in the vodka for 2 weeks before straining. While the mixture is sitting for the 2 weeks, remove any leaves that float to the top and turn brown.

Use vodka or rum in cocktails. Use extract in brownies, cookies, or whipped cream.

(4) Dried Mint Leaves

Hang bunch of leaves on stems 4 – 5″ long and hang in a warm, dry place or dry leaves in an oven or food dehydrator.

Use for teas or  in middle Eastern and far Eastern dishes.

That’s all that I came up with for today. What are your favorite ways to use mint, whether spearmint or some other variety? I’d love to hear your suggestions.

Best Ever Gluten-free Blueberry Muffins

The first time I heard of gluten-intolerance was about fourteen years ago, back when we still had the B & B at our previous house. A guest who was staying with us for six weeks had Celiac’s disease and so I learned how to cook without wheat, barley or rye, and how to avoid cross contamination of  the gluten-free foods. After that, it was several more years before I had another guest ask for a gluten-free breakfast.  Now we receive that request every few weeks. Our gluten-sensitive and gluten-intolerant guests are always delighted to have these sweet and moist muffins. (Note, there are different degrees of gluten-sensitivity; but if you are cooking for someone who is truly gluten-intolerant, you will need to be extremely careful to avoid cross-contamination and even use cookware that has never has never had a gluten product in it. I always make a point to tell people on a gluten-free diet that we do not have a gluten-free kitchen, but that we take every possible precaution to avoid cross-contamination.)

Best Ever Gluten-free Blueberry Muffins

(Makes about 12)

2 c. white rice flour

1 c. granulated white sugar

1 T. baking powder

1 stick unsalted butter, melted

1 c. low-fat buttermilk

2 lg. eggs

2 c. blueberries (fresh or frozen)

confectioner’s sugar for serving

(1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Line muffin pans with muffin cups (using a foil cup inside a paper cup) or place muffin cups (using a foil cup inside a paper cup) on a large baking tray.

(2) In a large bowl, whisk together rice flour, sugar and baking powder. In a medium bowl, whisk together butter, buttermilk and eggs. Stir buttermilk mixture into dry ingredients. Fold in blueberries.

(3) Scoop batter into muffin cups. Bake for about 20 minutes or until muffins are firm to the touch and lightly golden brown around the edges.

(4) Place muffin pans or baking sheet on wire racks until muffins are cool enough to serve – about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar before serving.  Individually wrap any leftover muffins in plastic wrap and freeze.