Orange Soda Cupcakes

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Every year, I am very thankful for today. Because today is my brother’s birthday! Growing up, nearly all of my friends had sisters, but I was never jealous. Although I didn’t have a sister to share clothes and makeup with, I had something much better. I had Sean. We’ve gone through many phases in our sibling-hood. When we were children, he was my constant protector and guide, screaming “COLLEENIE!” whenever I would run away in the grocery store. Which was often, by the way. As teenagers he was there to force me into listening to good music and berate me when I was talking to a boy he didn’t like. Which was all of them, by the way. And now, he’s one of my best friends. But the great thing about having a best friend that is also your sibling is that they see you as clearly as possible. They know your strengths and weaknesses, your faults and your greatest attributes. They can recognize these things a bit clearer than so many other people in your lives, and they can definitely see you a bit clearer than you see yourself. To me, Sean is one of the strongest, smartest, kindest people I know. I’ve always been in awe of the way he can command the attention of any room he walks into, and the way he drops everything to help others…be it a complete stranger or his little sister. Happy Birthday Seanie!

I brought these cupcakes along to a birthday barbeque we had for Sean, and since he’s not really into sweets I brought him some beef jerky and beer. But all the cupcake lovers in our family gave rave reviews. The cupcakes are incredibly moist and decadent and truly taste like an Orange Creamsicle. The recipe and the picture are from one of my favorite blogs Sweet Tooth Sweet Life. Enjoy!

Orange Cream Soda Cupcakes: Recipe from Sweet Tooth Sweet Life, Makes 24 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:

  • 1 box white cake mix
  • 1 3-oz package sugar-free orange jell-o
  • 1 4-serving size package sugar-free cheesecake instant pudding & pie filling mix
  • 1-1/4 cup orange juice
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

For the frosting:

  • 1 8oz package of low fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon orange jello

Preparation:

  1. For the cupcakes, set aside 1- 1/2 teaspoons jello mix. In a large bowl, combine cake mix, instant pudding mix and remaining orange jello mix
  2. Add orange juice, eggs, applesauce and vanilla into dry ingredients and mix until well combined
  3. Line two muffin pans with muffin liners, and fill each 2/3 full with batter
  4. Bake cupcakes at 350 for 16-18 minutes
  5. To prepare frosting, place cream cheese and butter in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy
  6. Add vanilla extract  & remaining jello mixture until well combined
  7. Beat in sugar, one cup at a time until well combined
  8. After cupcakes have cooled, frost cupcakes

Double Chocolate Banana Muffins

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It always seems like summer is completely filled to the brim with fun events and outings. Whether it’s a quick vacation or local festival, I have something planned nearly every weekend through the end of August. But as much fun as beer festivals, vacations Up North and constant dinners with friends are, the summer habit of eating out more often has left me feeling a little less than healthy. So to make up for our weekend fun, I’ve been trying to eat as healthfully as possible during the week days. I find it gives me a lot more energy, and stops the awful stomach-aches I often get from too many meals away from home. But even in a healthy diet, I think it’s important to leave room for dessert. And it just so happens that I found a recipe that is both nutritious and decadent at the same time. These chocolate banana muffins taste more like fudge brownies than your run of the mill banana bread, yet they are healthy enough to eat for breakfast. They contain no butter, oil, eggs or added sugar, and with the use of gluten free oats, can be made completely gluten free. But again…they taste like fudge brownies. In my book, you can’t get much better than that.

Ingredients: Makes 12 muffins, recipe from Ambitious Kitchen

  • 1 cup gluten free oats
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 medium to large ripe bananas
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Preparation:

  1. Place oats in a food processor and pulse until oats are ground up and resemble flour, set aside
  2. Place oat “flour”, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda in a medium bowl
  3. In a large bowl, combine mashed bananas, vanilla extract and honey. Use an electric mixer to blend wet ingredients until just combined
  4. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips
  5. Place paper muffin liners in a muffin pan and lightly spray with cooking spray. Pour batter into 12 prepared muffin cups and bake at 350 for 10 minutes

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Fluffy Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

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Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you are spending the day with someone you love, whether that is a significant other, family member, or close friend. I will be spending it passing out candy grams at work (yes, Valentine’s Day does occur in some especially festive offices, including mine) and later Eric and I will be celebrating our 5th Valentine’s Day together with a dinner out. I remember the very first Valentine’s Day we spent together. We had only been dating a month but he managed to make it pretty special.The kid even made me cupcakes, so I knew he was a winner.

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Back in 2010

So this year I thought I would make a little Valentine’s Day treat for him. We happen to share a lot of interests, but one very important interest that we share is our devotion to Reese’s peanut butter cups. I don’t know what it is about that magical combination of chocolate and peanut butter, but anytime you combine the two, you are sure to have a pretty dynamite dessert. So I stuck with these two classic ingredients when whipping up a batch of cookies that we have been enjoying all week. The base is a classic peanut butter cookie, made extra light and fluffy with the addition of cornstarch into the mix. And with a sprinkle of chocolate and peanut butter chips, you have yourself one delicious cookie

Ingredients: Makes 24 cookies

  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter chips
  • Preparation:
    1. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy
    2. Beat in egg until just combined
    3. Beat in peanut butter and vanilla
    4. Add baking soda, cornstarch & flour and mix until just combined
    5. Place dough in the fridge for 30 minutes to chill
    6. Remove dough from fridge and stir in chocolate chips and peanut butter chips
    7. Place tablespoons of dough onto a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes

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Blueberry Bread

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One of my high school friends recently pointed out to me that it has been 10 years since we entered our first year of high school. It just seemed so odd to me that 10 years have already passed since we were those gawky 15 year olds stumbling our way through 9th grade. And this got me thinking…if 15 year old me could see where I am now, would she be happy with where I ended up? My immediate answer was yes. I have a very happy, full life, so of course the 15 year old version of myself would be happy to see that. But I also think she would be pretty surprised and perhaps a bit confused when learning about the career I chose. When I was fifteen I flip flopped back and forth about “what I wanted to be when I grew up.” Some days I wanted to be a chef and other days I wanted to go into musical theatre. But no matter how many times my “dream job” changed it always involved either food or music. If you’ve read this blog for a while, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that food always had a part in my future ambitions. But perhaps the music part is a bit of a surprise. Yet once upon a time, music was a huge part of my life. I started singing when I was 5 years old, and couldn’t really get enough of it.

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My high school days were spent in choir practice and voice lessons and there weren’t many things I loved more than singing in front of a big crowd. A pretty odd hobby for someone as shy as I always was, but somehow it just worked. Eventually I retired from my short lived singing career, but my love of music never went away. So I’m sure the fifteen year old me would be surprised that I ended up not as a singer or a chef…but a hotel sales manager. But even though I always scoffed at the idea of working in a hotel and even worse, working in sales, I truly love where I ended up. Because as strange as it may sound, my job actually allows me to be surrounded by both food and theatre. I get to spend half of my time planning catered events and creating menus for my clients. And because my hotel is located in the heart of Detroit’s theatre district, the other half of my time is spent working with the company managers of all of the Broadway musicals and plays that come into town. I even get to attend many of the new shows that visit the city. So I’m hoping fifteen year old Colleen wouldn’t be too disappointed with her 25 year old counterpart.

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And even though the “food” part of my job doesn’t exactly involve cooking, I think I make up for that on the weekends. Last weekend I whipped up this sweet blueberry bread, with a few simple ingredients I already had in my kitchen. The bread is cake-like and would be delicious drizzled with a simple lemon glaze. I kept mine simple, but feel free to add a glaze or frosting to sweeten things up a bit.

Ingredients: Makes 1 loaf, Adapted slightly from AllRecipes

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries, thawed and drained

Preparation:

  1. In a large bowl, beat eggs and sugar together until smooth
  2. Beat in milk and oil until well incorporated
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk flour, salt and baking powder together
  4. Gradually add flour mixture to egg mixture until well combined
  5. Fold in blueberries
  6. Pour batter into a greased loaf pan and bake at 350 for 50-65 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the loaf

Two Ingredient Pumpkin Cookies

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Happy First Day of Fall! Crisp mornings, cozy sweaters and baked goods filled with cinnamon and pumpkin easily make fall my favorite season. So I thought I would share a few of my favorite things about the best season of the year to go along with the easiest cookie recipe on earth.

1. Fall Running Weather. Once fall ushers in the slightly chilly temperatures, running becomes so much more enjoyable. And since I already love to run, fall running weather turns me into a running machine. This year I’m training for a half marathon, and I am absolutely loving the crisp morning air and the crunch of fallen leaves on my long runs.

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2. Tailgates at MSU. Ever since we graduated from Michigan State 2 1/2 years ago, my group of college friends try to pick at least one football game to have a big tailgate on our old stomping grounds. You can’t get much better than friends, tailgate food, beer and football. Even if I still don’t quite understand the rules of football just yet.

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3. Baseball Playoffs: This is a relatively new “fall favorite” of mine. Being from Detroit, our home baseball team wasn’t very good for most of my life. But over the last few years, the Tigers have not only become a team to watch, we even made it to the World Series last year. I work a block from the stadium so the excitement of playoff season is definitely infectious.

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4. Pumpkin Mania. Pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pancakes and pumpkin spice lattes. Come September, Pumpkin is everywhere and I can’t get enough. So that brings us to the easiest cookie recipe ever. These 2 ingredients cookies, made popular on Pinterest, come together in a flash. All you do is mix a box of cake mix with a can of pumpkin, and after a few minutes in the oven, you have yourself a decadent batch of fluffy, cakelike pumpkin cookies. I like to top them with cream cheese frosting for an especially decadent treat, but they are just as delicious without the topping. Enjoy!

Ingredients: Makes 2 dozen cookies

  • 1 box spice cake mix
  • 1 can of pumpkin
  • Cream Cheese Frosting (store bought or homemade)

Preparation:

  1. Place cake mix and pumpkin in a large bowl and and mix until just combined
  2. Drop batter by the tablespoon onto a greased cookie sheet
  3. Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes
  4. Let cookies cool and top with frosting if desired

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Pumpkin Muffins

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I’ve come to realize that my love of baking is very reflective of my personality. The process of baking is steady, quiet and requires quite a bit of patience. There is nothing more comforting than knowing that the addition of flour and baking soda will make bread rise, and the right amount of sugar will make it sweet. I think it is that steady dependability that has always made me consider myself more of a baker than a cook. Because much like the process of baking, I too am about as careful and calculated as one can get.  Cooking, on the other hand, is much more spontaneous, loud and full of adventure. When cooking, you can throw a bunch of ingredients together on a whim and it often results in a perfectly harmonious dish. Yet with baking, the measuring of ingredients is key, and one must be precise and careful.  And though I love the spontaneity of cooking, time spent baking is when I feel most at home in the kitchen. So when the weather starts to cool down, I jump at any chance to turn on the oven and spend the night whipping up some magic in the kitchen. And while many people my age spend every Friday nights out at the bars, I’m perfectly happy spending Friday evening in front of the oven. And that is just what I did last weekend. And starting off the weekend with a delicious batch of pumpkin muffins is about as good as it gets. I found this recipe over on SkinnyTaste.com and love how decadent these muffins taste despite its healthy ingredient list. They make for a perfect snack any time of day.
Ingredients: Makes 12 muffins, Adapted slightly from SkinnyTaste
  • 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  •  1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preparation:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine dry ingredients (flour though salt)
  2. In a large bowl, place pumpkin, vegetable oil, egg whites and vanilla; Beat with and electric mixer until just combined
  3. Slowly add dry ingredients into wet ingredients, beating until just combined
  4. Scoop batter into a muffin pan, lined with muffin liners
  5. Bat at 350 for 25-30 minutes

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Banana Split Cupcakes


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A few weeks ago, my best friend LT asked me to make her a few dozen cupcakes to bring to work. And rather than whip up a batch of standard chocolate or vanilla, I wracked my brain for a new flavor combination to try out. I skimmed through a few of my favorite cookbooks and stumbled upon this recipe for Banana Split Cupcakes. And just like that, I was hit with a flash of childhood memories spent at my Grandparents house. Because anytime I think about banana splits, I am instantly transported back to one of our many sleepovers at their little house on Littlestone. My brother, cousins and I looked forward to sleepovers on Littlestone more than anything else. Sleepovers meant later bedtimes, an endless array of board games and, because it was Grandma’s house, a night full of sweets.  And no sleepover was complete without homemade banana splits. I can still remember the pretty pink glass dishes that were perfectly shaped for those special ice cream sundaes. Grandpa would slice a banana right down the middle and place it in the dish. He would then plop three whole scoops of Neopolitan Ice Cream over the banana and cover it with chocolate syrup and sprinkles. How we ever fell asleep after all that sugar, I will never know. My cousins and I bragged about the banana splits to our friends so much that LT asked if she could come for a sleepover too. We were actually in high school by that time, but my grandparents didn’t mind. And Grandpa happily made LT the famous banana split she had always heard about. So it seemed fitting that I made LT a batch of cupcakes inspired by the dessert she so wanted to enjoy all those years. These cupcakes have a light banana flavor that pair wonderfully with the rich chocolate of Sander’s hot fudge. The perfect “throwback” dessert.

Ingredients: From the Cupcake Diaries, Makes 48 mini cupcakes

  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup mashed bananas (2-3 mashed bananas)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/3 cup water

Frosting:

  • 4 tablespoon butter, softened
  • 6 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Sander’s Chocolate Fudge Topping

Preparation:

  1. For the cupcakes: Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl (flour through nutmeg)
  2. In a separate bowl, beat softened butter and sugar together until light and fluffy
  3. Add eggs to butter mixture, one at a time
  4. Add the bananas and honey to the butter mixture and mix until just combined
  5. Alternate adding flour mixture and water to the butter mixture, beating after each addition
  6. Scoop batter into cupcake pans lined with cupcake liners
  7. Bake at 350 for 15-17 minutes
  8. For the frosting: Combine butter and cream cheese in a large bowl and beat until light and fluffy
  9. Add powdered sugar, one cup at a time, to the butter mixture, beating well after each addition
  10. Beat in vanilla extract
  11. To assemble the cupcakes: Use a piping bag to pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes. Drizzle with Sanders Hot Fudge, or chocolate syrup of your choice. Finish with sprinkles

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Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cookies

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Recently my dad has had to make some changes to his diet. His doctor let him know that steak dinners should be a rare occurrence and those high cholesterol snack cakes he loves may have to fall by the wayside. So far he has been a very good sport with his sudden diet overhaul. He didn’t cringe when I threw away his potato chips and he hasn’t complained about swapping red meat for fish. But one of the items I’m sure he’s been missing is his beloved Bumpy Cake. There was a time in his life that he would polish off an entire bumpy cake each week. By the way, he somehow managed to never put on a single pound during “The Bumpy Cake Diet” which my mom and I found extremely annoying. But nowadays, despite his speedy metabolism, the bumpy cakes are no longer a diet staple. But, since I hate to see the man go without dessert completely, I went searching for a sweet substitute. Initially I bought him a box of whole wheat chocolate chip cookies, but they turned out to be pretty dry and tasteless. So to the blogospehere I went. And I stumbled upon this recipe for Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cookies that is devoid of flour, butter, sugar and oil. The result was an incredibly soft cookie that tastes deceivingly decadent.  Chocolate cravings= satisfied. Now to somehow get him to eat kale….this might be a tough one.

Ingredients: Makes 18 cookies, from Ambitious Kitchen

  • 1 cup all natural creamy almond butter (or natural peanut butter, if desired)
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3.5 oz dark chocolate bar coarsely chopped
  • sea salt, for sprinkling

Preparation:

  1. In a large bowl, place almond butter, honey and egg and beat with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy
  2. Add vanilla, baking soda and sea salt and beat until well incorporated
  3. Chop up dark chocolate into coarse pieces and stir into batter
  4. Drop batter by the tablespoon onto a greased cookies sheet
  5. Sprinkle each unbaked cookie with a touch of sea salt
  6. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes

Lemon Blueberry Streusel Muffins

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I love the way food can induce so many different memories. Sometimes it’s an old cherished family recipe that will bring you back to a different time in your life. But sometimes it’s as simple as a childhood snack that can flood your mind with memories. This past weekend I had the urge to make some homemade blueberry muffins and I was suddenly reminded of one of my favorite childhood snacks. My mom used to always buy my brother and I those packaged blueberry mini muffins for an after school treat. Those 4 tiny muffins, studded with sweet blueberries always take me back to the days I spent in my Catholic school uniform chasing after my big brother. I remember being in Kindergarden and hating the time I had to spend without Sean. He was in the 3rd grade and went to school all day, whereas I was only in my Kindergarden class until noon. Since I couldn’t quite tell time, he would tell me he would be home right after Barney was on. And as soon as Barney ended I would run to the window  patiently waiting for my friend to return home. My mom recently told me that there were a few times Sean was set to go to a friend’s house after school, but would ask if his friends could come over to our house instead because he knew how sad I would get when he was gone. And here we are, 20 years later and I still absolutely love hanging out with my big brother. My best friend LT brought Sean as her date to our friend’s wedding this past weekend and we had a blast. It’s funny, because there were a few of my old friends there who had never met Sean and I’m sure they were surprised at how different we seem. I was always known for being a bit quiet and reserved, whereas Sean is the life of the party and pretty much captures the attention of every room he enters. And though we may be opposite in a number of ways, we do have one very important thing in common. We will always be each other’s first friend. And I think that is one of my favorite parts of growing up with a sibling. It teaches you early on to make friend’s with people who are different than you. Because those are the friendships that teach you more about yourself and really help you grow.

And these were the thoughts that came to mind as I was peacefully whipping up these classic blueberry muffins. They filled the kitchen with the delicious homey smell of butter and sugar reminding me of childhood afternoons spent at the kitchen counter. These muffins pair tangy lemon juice with sweet blueberries, and the contrasting flavors pair really well for a deliciously nostalgic treat.

Ingredients: Makes 14 muffins, adapted from Forget Those Calories 
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup yogurt(I used vanilla greek yogurt)
1 1/2 cup fresh blueberries

Streusel Topping:

  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar

Preparation:

  1. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy
  2. Beat in egg, vanilla and lemon zest and juice
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (baking soda through flour)
  4. Slowly beat dry ingredients into butter mixture until just combined (mixture will be crumbly)
  5. Beat yogurt into batter until just combined
  6. Stir in blueberries
  7. Using an ice cream scoop, scoop batter into greased muffin tins
  8. For the streusel topping, combine all streusel ingredients (melted butter through brown sugar) and sprinkle 1/2 tablespoonful of topping over unbaked muffins
  9. Place muffins in the oven and bake at 350 for 25 minutes

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Almond Bread

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Before I started my massive cookbook collection and before food blogs stormed the internet, my main source of recipes was Cooking Light Magazine. I used to carefully scour page after page of this monthly magazine and rip out recipes even when I was in grade school. I remember making their marshmallow peanut butter brownies for my 4th grade birthday treat (with a little help from my mom, of course). And here we are,15 years later and I am still a huge fan of Cooking Light. From easy dinner recipes to decadent (but healthy!) desserts, I am pretty much a lifelong fan. And this recipe for Almond Quick Bread is yet another Cooking Light Recipe. The bread tastes rich and decadent and is full of almond flavor, yet it is low in sugar, fat and calories. That’s a win-win in my book. I recently made this bread for “my big girlfriend” Alexandra, because she just had her adorable new baby, Alex…who by the way, is pretty much the cutest baby in the world. This recipe is great to give as a gift and a perfect feature at a Sunday Brunch. So next time, skip the decadent bakery bread and try out this recipe- you definitely will not regret it. Enjoy!

Ingredients: Makes 1 loaf, Recipe from Cooking Light

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 7oz package of almond paste
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup 2% milk
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds

Preparation:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine first 3 ingredients (flour through salt) and set aside
  2. In a large bowl, place cream sugar, butter and canola oil together until just combined
  3. Add almond paste to sugar mixture and beat until well combined (about 3 minutes)
  4. Beat in egg, one at a time
  5. Beat in vanilla extract
  6. Alternate adding flour mixture and milk into sugar mixture, beating well after each addition
  7. Pour batter into a greased loaf pan and sprinkle with slivered almonds
  8. Bake at 350 for 50 minutes

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