Banana Pudding Ice Cream

I love comfort.  Ok.. I know that’s a stupid thing to say.  Who doesn’t like comfort?  That’s like saying that kittens are cute.  Not so controversial right?

Well, this Banana Pudding Ice Cream is an exploration in comfort.  I absolutely love banana pudding.  It not just the pudding, it’s the fresh whipped cream and vanilla wafers that just make the dessert feel like ultimate comfort.

Banana Pudding reminds me of laughter- comfortable summertime, gather in the backyard after a big summer meal- laughter.

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Chocolate Brownie Cookies

I have birds.

Living in Los Angeles is like living in a jungle.  Instead of dense tropical trees and dangerous pumas, Los Angeles has obnoxious cars and… actors.  There is very little visible animal life besides dogs on leashes, squirrels rummaging through the trash bins and pigeons just walking around being pretty gross.

But I have birds.  I call them my Midnight Song Birds.  They live in the tree outside my bedroom window and sing to one another all night long.  All night!  Sometimes I’ll be up until 1 in the morning and the birds are still going at it.  They keep up the chatter all night long.

I’ve come to love sound of these birds chirping as I fall asleep.  It helps erase the occasional helicopter or  paramedic siren. My birds sound beautiful.  And though they sound completely out of place at 1 in the morning, they remind me to be thankful for the little things- like the simple joy of chirping birds, or chewy chocolate cookies.

How about some cookie adventures?  Follow me.

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Bright Red Velvet Cupcakes

I’m in the mood to reminisce.  This past weekend my Aunt Judy celebrated her 60th birthday.  I helped her celebrate her nostalgia-themed party with these Bright Red Velvet Cupcakes.  Before we get to the cake, let’s jump back some 20something years and visit Joy and Judy, circa 1985.

My Aunt Judy is gorgeous.  Know how I know?  Because in this picture she makes the mid 80’s look damn good.  And if you can rock the 80’s and still look classic and chic, you’re doing something right.

I’m feigning coy.  At 4, I knew darn well how cute I was.

Even from the tender age pictured above I marveled at how my Aunt could have a closet solely dedicated to shoes.

That deck that Judy and I are standing on would eventually collapse as my Dad walked across it one day.

Before that collapse, I would crawl under that deck exactly one time.  I thought I heard kittens. Turns out there were kittens under the deck, but there were also spiders.  I don’t function rationally around spiders.  I do ridiculous things to get away from them.  Yea… I only did that once.

The palm tree behind us.  I would grow up to think it a good idea to grab onto a large palm frawn and swing several feet off the ground like Tarzan.  Turns out that’s not a good idea, because those palm frawns break.  And as I lay on the ground after what felt like a tremendous fall, I thought, “Oh!  Tarzan swung from vines!”.   Good thing I didn’t grow up around any vines. I surely would have broken my body.

Happy Birthday Judy, and many more!

Now let’s talk cupcakes…

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Homemade Twinkies

This endeavour was in no way glamorous.  If nothing else, these Homemade Twinkies highlighted my ability to make something from nothing.  I knew I wanted to make Twinkies, which if you aren’t familiar with, are white cake like treats with a light marshmallow-ish cream center.   Amazon sells do-it-yourself-Twinkie-pans, but sometimes I prefer the uphill battle.

So when the need for a Homemade Twinkie strikes, I get out my roll of foil and spice bottle, and I make my own pan.  Well, I’m being generous in calling it a pan.  I essentially made foil boats for cake batter.  I know.  Kinda madness.  I didn’t dream this notion on my own- thank you YouTube.

I’m almost embarrassed to share this with you….  they were so tasty, but the road getting there wasn’t so glamorous.  Sometimes these things happen in my kitchen.

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Six Rules to Bake By

Preheat. Why? Because it says so! If a recipe asks you to preheat the oven to a certain temperature. Well… you should. What the recipe is trying to tell you is that your cupcakes, or loaf of zucchini bread, or blackberry muffins need to combine with a certain temperature to do their thing. And we all know, we want out baked goods to do their thing. Even if they don’t, we’ll probably still nibble on them on their way from the oven to the trash bin. But everything seems to work out like sunshine and roses if our baked goods do their thing. Right?

You Don’t Need Gadgets. You might want them… but you don’t need them. Is it just me or has baking become kind of trendy lately? I’ve noticed all sorts of intricate, multi layered whisks, and scrapers, and bumper stickers for your Kitchen Aid mixer. It turns out that you don’t really need any of that stuff to produce some killer cupcakes. You’ll need some stainless steel bowls and a fantastic candy thermometer but really, stick with the basics.

Yeast- You Can do It! I know, yeast is a little intimidating. But really- you can do it! There are a few things yeast needs to get going- warm water and sugar. Simple as that. You have live yeast. These cinnamon rolls were some of the first yeasted breads I mastered. They were more approachable to me because the dough has creamed butter, sugar and eggs. It starts off like and cake and finishes as a bread. If you’re scared of yeast, please give this recipe a go!

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The Best Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Please allow me this last party post. You won’t have to hear a word about it after this. Promise. But what’s a party without cupcakes? And what’s a chocolate cupcake without The Best Chocolate Buttercream Frosting? Tragedy, I suppose.

It should go without saying that these super soft chocolate cupcakes were a hit at the party. But there is one mystery. Around about 2 in the morning, as I was somehow making my way around the room collecting dirty plates, I ran across a plate with a discarded cupcake on it. The cupcake had one bite taken out of it, and then the remainder of the cupcake was smashed upside down onto the dirty paper plate. WHAT!? Who would do that!? Seriously… not cool.

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On Empanadas and Pinatas

Here is my question to you?  When exactly are you supposed to find time to take good pictures when you’re hosting a party of 35 in a one bedroom apartment?  I think the answer to that question is simple.  Take pictures before everyone shows up.  More importantly, take pictures before you’re 3 margaritas into the party because even auto focus can’t help you then.

What could be better than a party with margaritas, chocolate cupcakes and loads of friends and family?  Probably the same party, but with beautiful pictures as evidence.  Throw in some homemade,  16 avocado guacamole and wonton empanadas and why ever would anyone want to leave?

Let’s start with the guacamole-

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For My Dad

It seems that the further I get into adulthood the more I understand my parents.  I also seem to be turning into my parents, which is three things: frightening, seemingly inevitable, and a topic for another time.

Since we are approaching Father’s Day, let me tell you the thing I’ve come to understand about my Dad.  All he wants for Father’s Day is time.  Simple, right?  He wants time with the family eating fish tacos at Island’s.  Time in the kitchen helping make a sweet potato pie.  Time going to an old Hollywood theater to see a re-released Alfred Hitchcock movie.  A phone call.  A text message.  Just a thought that turns into time.

Maybe it’s because all of his kids are grown and out of the house, but my Dad doesn’t require a trip to the mall, a striped tie from JCrew or a new pair of slippers.  He just wants his kids to call and say “Hey Dad, let’s go out to dinner next Friday.  There’s a new Italian restaurant I want to try!”  It’s such a small thing and his voice always betrays the lift in his heart.

Happy Father’s Day Dad.  Thanks for teaching me how to bake in our tiny pea green kitchen.

Authors Note:  My father was such a great Dad because he had the love, support and unconditional partnership of his lovely wife, my Mom.  They’re a force.  And I love them so.

Are you baking for you Dad this Father’s Day?  I was thinking of re-releasing this Zucchini Sweet Potato Bread since my Dad devoured it last time he came to visit.

Brown Butter Cornbread Muffins with Fresh Blueberries and Apricots

There are moments in my life when I know that I’m a baker to the core.  I had one such moment today.  Why?  Well, I was thinking about cornbread all day.  Of all things!  Cornbread.  I was turning over cornbread formulas in my head, thinking of possibilities, researching recipes and jotting down notes.  That’s how I know I’m a baker, because I think about cornbread for hours on end.  And even if I were stuck in some random job as an accountant, I’d be the accountant that thought about cornbread all day.

It turns out that thinking about cornbread is like opening a can of worms.  There are so many styles! There’s the sweet style cornbread with sugar and honey.  There’s the dry unsweetened cornbread with fresh kernels mixed in.  There’s skillet corn bread.  There’s corn muffins.  I could go on and on… and I did, in my head, all day.  It had to be just right.  So I came up with Brown Butter Cornbread Muffins with Fresh Blueberries and Apricots.

Allow me a moment of self congratulation because frankly, I nailed it!

And now I’ll share.

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Summer Party Prep

I haven’t been baking much this week because I’m getting ready for a party I’m throwing this weekend.  Yes!  Joy the Baker is throwing a summer party!  I’m beside myself with excitement!  And it’s not just any party-  I feel like I’m in full Martha Stewart mode.  To kick off summer, I’m throwing a margarita and cupcake party.  It’s the only civilized thing to do.

To tell you the truth,  I’ve been a nearly consumed with the decorations for this weekend’s gathering.  Crazy.. I know.  But I’ve spent several hours for the past few nights with glue stick in hand making handmade drink umbrellas and colorful paper flowers.  I made drink umbrellas!  What kind of madness is that!?

When this craft kick slows to a halt, I’ll get cooking.  Get ready for beef empanadas, chunky guacamole and  red velvet buttermilk cupcakes with chocolate frosting.  Like the ones up top but with rich, dark chocolate frosting.  They’re on the to-do list, right after I finish these paper flowers.  I’ll be back in the kitchen cooking for you soon.  But don’t let me keep you from playing in the kitchen-  how about you randomly make some delicious oatmeal sandwich cookies!  They’re winners.

I remember first making  these flowers for Cinco de Mayo in grade school.  There was something about how fun and colorful they were, I just never forgot how to make them.  I’m revisiting the old tissue paper into flower trick as an economical but ultra hip way to decorate my margarita party. And keep in mind- in my world,  where there are margaritas, there is at least one stuffed pinata.   I’ll leave you with that pretty thought.

Baker’s Day Off- San Francisco

Has the Baker had too many days off recently?

Forgive me, but with such beautiful mild summer weather, I can’t bear to keep myself in the kitchen.

With the spirit of summer under my wings, I took an overnight trip up to San Francisco to visit my darling sister.  She’s a bartender at Citizen Cake in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley.

Citizen Cake is a great place to get a unique dish without staring at your plate, wondering what the the hell happened.  It’s a creative and still approachable culinary experience.

Powdered Sugar Dusted Donut Balls are served warm with a fresh raspberry and sugar glaze dipping sauce.

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Triple Berry Pancakes – Or – Everything but the Blueberry

Here are five important (read: random) things you should know about me.

1.  I have a very strong, well documented affection for pancakes.

2.  I’ve lived in all four corners of the United States, as proven by the following list:

Burlington, Vermont

Miami, Florida

Seattle, Washington

Los Angeles, California

3.  I’m sometimes (read: often) really awful about returning phone calls.  It’s nothing personal. I’m just not very good on the phone.  I’ll admit it- I’m kinda awkward on the phone.  I’m especially bad at goodbyes.  I always either say bye too soon or too late.  It’s laughable really, and awkward.

4.  I like to eat everything with a spoon, except spaghetti.  That’s just a losing battle. Spoons help me get larger amounts of food in my mouth faster.  Brilliant.

5.  I love old stoves.  Luckily I made friends with the owner of a bad-ass O’Keefe and Merritt stove.  In the middle of this beauty is the hottest griddle known to man!  I had the distinct honor of breaking in this fine griddle with these Triple Berry Pancakes.  Now that’s livin’!

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Homemade Almond Milk

It’s just an ordinary day, except for the fact that I made milk!  Not the yummy stuff that comes from the cow, but Almond Milk with a touch of honey.  It might just give Old Bessie a run for her money.

Let me tell you a little about me.  I’m part Irish, part African American, and A Little Bit of Hippie.  Today we’re only going to discuss the Hippie in me.  My parents raised me on, what seemed at the time to be, the gnarliest health food on the planet.  I remember sitting down to dinners of Tofu Potato Baker (which I did eventually come to love- thank you ketchup), loads of barely-steamed-mostly-raw broccoli, whole wheat fig bars and fresh squeezed carrot juice.  Granted, I love all that stuff now, but what I would have given for some Chips Ahoy and Kentucky Fried Chicken when I was 5.

I make my family’s dinner habits sound like abuse, don’t I?  That’s probably not fair.  In their choices, my parents instilled in me, what I call, A Little Bit Of Hippie.

As a person with A Little Bit of Hippie in her I am prone to do things like enjoy vegan food on Friday night and throw back a medium rare filet on Saturday night.  I also might ride my bike to work, but only twice a week.  It’s also the Little Bit of Hippie in me that lead me down the granola bar path and inspired me to make these Banana Blackberry Smoothies with Homemade Almond Milk.

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Southern Style Strawberry Cake

Praise the heavens!  I got a new cookbook!  I think I was in a cookbook rut.  I found myself relying on the same two cookbooks day after day for my baking indulgence.  Granted, they’re great cookbooks- charming, attractive and funny- but I had heard all their stories, seen all of their dress shirts, and laughed at all their jokes.  I needed something new.

Just when I was about to accept my circumstance, a charming new love came into my life. Sweets by Patty Pinner is my new darling.  This book is more than just a collection of recipes.  Sweets is a gathering of family memories.  In my life food is all about family and memories, so this book has quickly become so so dear to my heart.

Sweets is a southern style cookbook.  The recipes are extremely approachable.  Some of the cakes are made with (gasp!) cake mix, and then fancied up with additional ingredients.  The family pictures are utterly charming and the stories that go along with each recipe are really touching.  I read this book, cover to cover on an airplane, like a novel.  I just love it!

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