Sunday, April 23, 2017

Where Have You Been All My Life, Carrot Cake?

A few weeks ago I was perusing the grocery store for some brunch eats. I stumbled upon a mix of half a dozen cranberry mini muffins mixed with half a dozen mini carrot cake muffins. I bought them because I'm absolutely obsessed with cranberry muffins and figured I'd just feed the carrot cake muffins to my husband. He instead got sent on a TDY, so there I was, face to face with half a dozen muffins that I couldn't bring myself to throw away. To me, carrot cake has always been a large joke that I feel like other people didn't realize was being played on them--there's vegetables in your dessert, people!! But since I'm on this whole kick where I try things I used to hate as a child (I believe this is called "adulthood," but not 100% certain), I decided to eat a damn mini carrot cake muffin. I figured if it was as terrible as I remembered, it could at least be finished in one bite. Flash forward to me eating them by the handful and wondering why my childhood taste buds hated me so much. I mean, McDonald's for every meal, tiny Kate? Intense hatred of avocado? Refusal to eat hibachi? I had issues, man. And now I try to make up for lost time by piling avocado on everything, munching on salads with ginger dressing at least once a week, and, apparently, eating carrot cake like it's going out of style. It has only been two weeks since the mini carrot cake muffins changed my life, but like any grown woman with a bank account and no one to enforce rules about boundaries (I believe these are called "parents," but not 100% certain), I decided it was time to make my own. A twist on a traditional carrot cake muffin, these are filled with Craisins instead of raisins because like I said, hugely obsessed with cranberries, and, naturally, super low cal and delish.
But they don't look it, and that's what matters.
This recipe makes a baker's dozen (that's thirteen muffins for those of you who somehow managed not to become a foodie as an adult), and they're each only 110 calories a pop...and that's with some extra toppings!! I thought perhaps my head was imploding after I did the math, but it turns out I was just on day four of a sinus headache and my brain was responding to the pain of slowly turning into a balloon too large for my cranium. I rechecked my math to be certain (thankfully calculators are still a technology not too advanced for a thirty-something to use). Number crunching aside, I recommend making these due to the sheer fact that they make your home smell like a maple-cinnamon wonderland. And they taste like one, too! I had originally intended for these to be cupcakes, but honestly, they are perfect for brunch. They're not too sweet, but with the addition of crushed pineapple, maple syrup, and Craisins, they just scream breakfast decadence. I topped them with Cool Whip Free, cinnamon, and a caramel-covered raisin. I've never been more eager to get up in the morning as I am now that these are waiting for me to eat (trying not to do that by the handful).
It's a large line up.
I've yet to make any claims about low ingredient numbers because it's rather obvious this is an "everything but the kitchen sink" kind of recipe...which is totally fine because you can add or adapt these to fit your taste preferences. As long as the carrot is still in there, it's technically a carrot cake muffin, so have a little fun breaking the rules for once (this is more a reminder for me than you. Breaking the rules makes me twitchy). To make these round up:
  • 1 1/2 cups All Purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon*
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup cinnamon applesauce*
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup sugar free Hungry Jack maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup crushed pineapple
  • 1/4 cup reduced sugar Craisins (can replace with regular raisins)
  • 2 cups shredded carrots 
*If you only have regular applesauce on hand, use a tablespoon of cinnamon.

Start off by preheating your oven to 350. Line a muffin tin with liners and spritz with Pam. Applesauce makes for a dense muffin/cupcake, so if you're not using foil liners, the cooking spray will be needed unless you enjoy ingesting tiny scraps of cupcake liner that won't peel off the muffin. I'm not judging...maybe you just really like fiber. Mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl and set aside.
I'm still getting used to carrots mingling freely with pineapple and cranberries.
 In a stand mixing bowl, blend the applesauce, eggs, syrup, and vanilla until you've got a nice sloshy mixture. Add in the Craisins, pineapple, and carrots. Blend well in short bursts so the Craisins stay...craisiny. Dump half the dry mix in with the wet and blend well, scraping the bowl before you add in the rest of the dry mix. Don't over mix, but make sure your ingredients have all be incorporated nicely.
Things will be chunky, and that's okay.
 I'm still getting used to experimenting with textures and food. This was why I hated avocado, mashed potatoes, and carrot cakes until recent years. Foods that look lumpy but taste smooth in texture really freaked out my childhood sense of reasoning, apparently. I used a cookie scoop to plop my muffin mix into the cups so they were 3/4 full:
Pay no mind to my disgraceful muffin tin on the right.
 I smoothed out the tops of these muffins with a spoon so they would at least look pretty and not lumpy. I baked until a toothpick came out clean, and this hit at the 20 minute mark. Let them cool on a rack in the tin for 10 minutes before you remove them and allow them to finish cooling.
This will be tricky. Because they will smell like an absolute dream.
 My house has never smelled more distinctly Canadian than the moment these cinnamon and maple-syrup infused muffins came out of the oven...and this is coming from a woman who regularly uses maple syrup wax melts. I really love maple, okay? And Canada. I'm obsessed with Canada. From its beautiful landscape to its equally beautiful people and prime minister, it's a fine place to be. Both literally and figuratively, eh.
I hear Justin Trudeau's smile can cure cancer, just sayin'.
Let these muffins cool in the fridge for a half hour before frosting. You could call it a day here and have a muffin distinctly for breakfast, but since I'm trying to blur the lines between brunch and dessert so that I can have more of both, I went with a simple cinnamon whipped topping. Added sweetness appropriate for a.m. or p.m. time frames! Bless the versatility of the carrot cake and my overarching desire to always be full of cake.
Cake and Kate go together. Just ask the name of the blog.
 To frost, I used half a large tub of Cool Whip free, a dusting of cinnamon, and single Sun-Maid caramel salted yogurt raisin. I don't care who you are or how much you hate raisins (which I assume would be most people between age 5 and 75), these yogurt-covered raisins are literally the best thing to ever happen to raisins since someone figured out how to turn them into wine. Buy them; love them.
Along with this giant French decorating tip.
 My tub of Cool Whip was somehow partially frozen even after sitting out for like two hours. This meant the not frozen part had gotten a little soupy, so my French tip decorating ideas didn't really hold up well (literally). Things started to get a little soggy and melty, but thankfully the cinnamon covered most of that up. I used a large Ateco French tip and piped a large mound in the middle of the muffin-cupcake. When I had a substantial puff of Cool Whip, I pushed my tip down into the mound and pulled away quickly to create a little pillow puff lined with greatness:
And finished off with said life-changing raisin on top and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
 Had my Cool Whip been less temperamental than me after not eating for more than three hours, this would've looked prettier, but still, I couldn't wait to get my hands on one or five. Seriously--I'm probably turning my skin orange by sheer amount of carrot products consumed. I absolutely adore the flavor mix between the pineapple and the Craisins. It's a great, soft texture that bursts with flavor. And when you finish eating one, your hands will smell like maple and cinnamon. I defy you to be in a bad mood when your fingers smell like Cinnamon Toast Crunch. It simply isn't possible. This is probably why Canadians are so damned friendly. If I always smelled of maple syrup, cinnamon, and could eat poutine whenever the hell I wanted, it might not cause me physical pain to smile daily or even hourly. Lofty goals, but with carrot cake, all things are possible. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
I'm only smiling now to practice unhinging my jaw to eat these in one bite...

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Peanut Butter is My Life Force

I eat an abnormally large amount of peanut butter for a grown woman. Seriously, I eat an average of three and a half PB&J's a week (I share with my dogs). Is it healthy? Sorta. Better than nachos every day. Do I have issues coming up with creative lunches? Obviously. But I eat lunch at work and hate drive-thru's. My peanut butter consumption tends to skyrocket to epic, dare I say, nutty proportions during Lent. It's my go-to Friday protein. I had peanut butter on graham crackers for dinner last Friday (in my defense, my husband was gone, and I clearly need adult supervision). I divulge all this not because I think I have a problem (I know I do) but because I was hit with a massive craving for a peanut butter and chocolate dessert last weekend. And when you eat several gallons of Jif in a week, a craving like that is both insane and insatiable. I've been seeing far too many Reese's chocolate egg commercials and Tasty videos using them lately, and apparently I'm susceptible to advertisements. Who knew? ...I ask as I sit wearing Adidas track pants, a new Fitbit adorning my wrist, drinking Coke Zero, eating only the finest of name-brand cheesy crackers (Cheezits, clearly, because Cheese Nips are for plebeians). I needed to make a dessert that was dripping with peanut butter and drenched in chocolate yet also kind on the hips. While most would say this is an impossible feat, I saw it as a challenge. And as literally the most competitive person on the planet (I dare you to say otherwise), I knew I had to come up with the perfect treat. And like any Type-A person, I did, and then I even rubbed my own face in it. Told competitive I even mock myself. Good thing I had these peanut butter cheesecake bars with chocolate crunch crust to soothe my self-inflicted jeering.
Shut myself right up, I did.
I know in no way does it seem remotely possible by looking at them, but at 158 calories a bar, these are completely guilt free. I even used incredibly limited amounts of sugar because now I'm watching my sugar intake since apparently I was enjoying life too much so I had to find some other habit to cut back on. Catholic guilt is real, y'all. Just ask all those poor fish I've been consuming the past five Fridays. I wasn't sure how cutting back on the sugar was going to impact the cheesecake layer, but thankfully it turned out okay. And by okay, I mean these are literally the best dessert bars I've ever eaten in my entire life. I love Nestle Crunch bars. I feel like they're extremely underrated. So if you're like me, the chocolate crunch crust is going to make your taste buds quite happy. And if you also inhale peanut butter at a rate some people might find "mildly startling," you're going to be pleased with the cheesecake layer, too. Oh, and these are no-bake and can be thrown together in ten minutes. Did I mention I'm the laziest Type-A person ever? Because I am.
What? You don't buy your peanut butter by the pound?
I'm fairly certain that Rice Krispies hasn't changed their cereal box since the year I was born. I'm as classic as a box of Kellogg's, baby. These bars are quick to make and require only a short list of ingredients. If you buy Jif in ten-pound jars and always have Cool Whip handy for those moments when a spoonful of sweetness means the difference between utter meltdown and total sanity, you're already there (and my kind of person). To make, gather up:
  • 1 cup of semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 TBS skim milk
  • 3 TBS honey
  • 1 cup of creamy Jif, divided
  • 3 cups Rice Krispies
  • 1 8-ounce tub of fat free cream cheese spread at room temp
  • 1 8-ounce tub of Cool Whip Free
  • 2 TBS sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
Start by lining a 9x13 pan with Parchment paper and lightly misting with cooking spray. Honey and peanut butter are about sticky as a standard four year old, so don't skimp on the cooking spray or these bars will be glued to the paper. Then prepare yourself for a crappy photo montage!
So many spoons were used in the making of this dessert.
In a bowl, dump the chocolate chips and milk and heat in 30 second bursts at 50% power in the microwave. Stir each time to avoid scorching. Burnt chocolate is my mortal enemy. Once completely melted and no chunks remain, add in the 3 TBS of honey and 1/4 cup of Jif. Blend well!
This is the only way I'm eating Rice Kripsies ever again.
 Dump 3 cups of Rice Krispies in a large bowl, and then pour the chocolate mix on top. You'll get a nice bicep workout blending this thoroughly.
Worth it.
 Turn into the prepared pan. I highly advise also spraying your hands with cooking spray at this point to keep the crust from sticking to you. Not that that's a bad thing considering you then get to eat it off of your hands, but you want the majority of the crust to end up in the 9x13 pan:
Like so.
 You will need to press and smooth out the crust to evenly distribute it across the pan. Hold off on eating the crumbs off your finger until you're done with this part.
Hmmpphhhyum. No English words accurately describe this photo.
Set aside and avoid the temptation to just eat all the crust. To make the filling, mix together 1/2 a cup of Jif and the tub of fat free cream cheese in a stand mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl and then add the 2 TBS sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, and tub of Cool Whip Free. Blend until well incorporated.
Sweet dreams are made of cheese(cake).
 Take this delicious blob of peanut butter wonder and dump on top of the crust. I'd like to tell you the crust lust and desire to eat it gets covered up by this cheesecake layer, but that would mean my pants would burst into flame.
And I really like these Adidas track pants.
 Smooth out the cheesecake layer, and then take the final 1/4 cup of Jif and melt it in the microwave for 30 seconds. Literally the only way peanut butter tastes any better is when its melted (see apple nachos).
I'm the Jackson Pollock of peanut butter paintings.
 By the spoonful, plop the melted peanut butter randomly on top of the cheesecake layer.
And also the Salvador Dali, apparently.
 Take a butter knife and slowly drag in back and forth lines to create pretty swirls with the peanut butter in the cheesecake. To avoid diving mouth first into the pan, cover and place into the freezer. Let these set overnight if possible. If you're in an extreme PB&C emergency, check to see if they're set around the 5 hour mark. Waiting, always the hardest part.
And yet always so, so worth it in the peanut buttery end.
 Once these are set, you can either lift the whole slab out by the Parchment paper or cut in the pan. I divvied these up into 20 squares to equate to 158 calories a square.
And clearly, size was not skimpy.
 Only way to make these even better? A drizzle of sugar free chocolate sauce and half a square of insanely rich Lindt dark chocolate with sea salt affixed to the middle. I happened to have these Lindt chocolates on hand because my husband loves me and even though I begged for a Fitbit for our anniversary on the 7th, he still felt it was weird to give his wife a fitness tracker for an anniversary. So to remind me I asked for the Fitbit and he thinks I am in no way out of shape, said chocolate bar was found along with my present. Smart man. I've been eating the bar one square at a time, but when I wanted a square AND a peanut butter cheesecake bar for dessert (dream big), I checked with my Fitbit to make sure such luxuries were affordable, and they so were. I realize one day when Google Skynet takes over, I'll be the first in line to welcome our new robot overlords because they make my life easier and less guilt-ridden. And I won't have to share my dessert with them which is great because an entire pan of these bars simply isn't enough. They're so good I'd like to be buried with the recipe and embalmed with peanut butter. Although, if I keep eating the stuff at this rate, I'll do that on my own. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
I'm probably 40 percent peanut butter at this point anyway.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Lemon and Blueberry Bliss

Nothing says "Springtime!" quite like constant tornado watches and getting hit in the face with ten pounds of pollen every time you leave your house. I will say that I was pleasantly surprised what with this being our inaugural spring in Florida that it bears a remarkable resemblance to springtime in West Texas. I've yet to see how locals react to a tornado warning though. If I walk outside to find several neighbors also looking for said tornado instead of seeking shelter, I'll really feel like I'm home! What? We don't have basements in Texas...if a tornado is going to take us out, we at least want to witness the awe of its indestructible force in action. Sheltering in place is for the timid! We can huddle in the closet for safety later. And when we do, I've found the perfect cake to encompass the feeling of spring exuberance, but with minimal guilt for those of us that also realize the month of April is on the precipice of swimsuit season. Behold--the skinny lemon blueberry poke cake!
You can also witness the awe of my sheer force of will to eat dessert and stay thin.
 Say goodbye to simple lemon poke cakes--layer them all with blueberries! I took a more is more approach with this cake; what can I say, I relish the opportunity to outdo myself culinarily. At only 204 calories per 12 slices, I've also outdone myself in the flavor to calorie ratio. I'd let you congratulate me, but clearly I'm still too busy patting myself on the back for coming up with this idea. I did, however, fail epically at remembering to take photos while making parts of this cake. I was trying to clean the house, do laundry, make dinner, and prepare for my in-laws to visit all in one evening. Even I have my moments. I will say it was totally worth all the effort and slight delirium. Not only did my husband's parents get treated like they were in the finest of cozy hotels, they even got cake. When was the last time Hilton did that for anyone? Exactly.
Yes, there are people in this world that drink Fresca.
To make the low cal cake, grab a box of vanilla or white cake, two egg whites, and 10 ounces of diet lemon-lime soda; I used Fresca because I'm 87 years old and enjoy drinking Fresca, but Diet Sprite would work just fine as well. Mix all three ingredients together for 2 minutes, preheat your oven to 350, and grease a 9x13 cake pan. Pour your batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 23-25 minutes (remember, cakes baked with soda cook faster than the times on the box).
After the cake has cooled about 20-30 minutes, take the end of a wooden spatula and poke holes in your cake.
This part always hurts me a little...I hate ruining a smooth cake, but in the end, all that delicious lemony blueberry goodness has to go somewhere!
 At this point, you can make both the lemon and blueberry fillings. Totally remembered to take photos of the lemon filling ingredients, but I did not remember to take photos of the blueberry sauce ingredients, so bear with my're actually going to have to read and not just look to figure it out. I apologize for causing your brain any undue trauma. 
I always feel like it should say "Real" Lemon.
To make the lemon filling, you're gonna need to do some Googling. Sugar free lemon Jello is surprisingly not stocked at every grocery store in the land. The Jello website can tell you where to find it though. Trust in Publix--they saved me all the calories by having this in stock. Publix is probably my favorite thing in Florida. It's like the Floridian equivalent to an H-E-B. Granted, no grocery store (except maybe Meijer's, bless you, Michigan) could ever come close to rivaling the greatness that is H-E-B, but Publix doesn't make me feel sad inside like Walmart, so it's got that going for it. I digress. To make the lemon filling you need:
  • 1 package of sugar free lemon Jello
  • 1 package of sugar free instant vanilla pudding
  • 2 1/3 cup water
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
To make, mix all ingredients together in a medium sauce pan. Cook while continually stirring until the mix comes to a boil. Continue to stir and cook for an additional minute before removing from heat. Allow about ten minutes to cool and thicken up. This is a thinner consistency, but you also need to have room for the blueberry portion of the poke cake, so this works well for that.
And you get to lick the whisk with no calorie guilt!
 Once cooled off a bit, slowly and carefully pour the mix into all the holes you poked in your cake earlier.
Inset Homer Simpson drooling noises here.
 So messy, yet so perfect. Place into the freezer while you make your blueberry mix. For this, feel slight annoyance there's no photo and gather:
  • 1 1/2-2 cups of blueberries (I used 1 1/2 cups or 12 ounces, and it was plenty)
  • 3 tbs sugar
  • 1 tbs water
  • 1 tbs flour
Dump all ingredients into a small or medium saucepan and stir well. Bring to a boil and continue to occasionally stir and cook the sauce for 20 minutes. Things will be mushy and delightful. Allow the mix to cool for 10 minutes, and then grab your cake out of the freezer.
Even the colors complement each other. As a Vikings fan, purple and yellow just feel right together.
 Carefully pour the blueberry mix a little at a time on top of the pudding layer. Use a spatula to help you spread it out evenly. Some of it will spread into the poked holes while the rest creates a thin layer on top of the cake. Either way, it's going to amount to a perfect forkful with each bite. Now, place into the freezer for at least two hours to set.
I've become addicted to Cool Whip Free.
 I used to HATE Cool Whip. It was a poor substitution for real frosting in my greedy, sweet-toothed opinion. As I've adjusted my eating habits, I find Cool Whip honestly adds the right amount of sweetness to certain desserts. With all the fruit in this cake, a standard buttercream would simply be way too much sugar. Once your cake has set, top it off with about 8 ounces of Cool Whip Free. I can only ever find these in the large tubs, so I had plenty leftover for future late night snacking.
Also, I can get Cool Whip to make these wicked awesome peaks. So it's got that going for it, too.
I just used a spoon and the swirl and lift method to make my peaks. Then I placed my glorious creation into the fridge to allow the cake to set overnight, and, mostly, so that I wouldn't eat it before my in-laws arrived. People like you more when you don't eat cake without them. 
Worth the wait.
 So this cake has a lot of filling and getting slices onto the plate without a mess simply wasn't possible. But I really didn't care because look at it. It's beautiful. Full of bright lemony goodness and deep blueberry amazingness.
It's even more drool-worthy up close.
 This was a big winner. It's a light and fluffy cake, but the addition of both the tart lemon and sweet blueberry fillings were a perfect balance in decadence and flavor. The airy addition of Cool Whip was, literally, the icing on the cake. I love an accurate metaphor! We just finished the last two slices with lunch today, and I already can't wait to make this again. It has so many elements to it that you don't even realize you're eating a cake with minimal calories. I already have designs on a lemon raspberry or a strawberry lemon skinny cake for the summer. But this lemon and blueberry bliss is a perfect springtime cake. Great for those moments when the pollen count is too high and the tornado watches are driving you inside. Grab a slice of this, and it feels like you can actually be at peace with the season that tries its damnedest to kill you. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
I miss you already, cake.