Pumpkin Chai Cupcakes

We all know pumpkin is a fall flavor.  Sure, you can buy cans of it year round, but eating pumpkin in summer is like eating a strawberry in January.  You can do it, but it just feels weird…unless you’re my daughter. 

The kids wanted cupcakes instead of layer cake for the wedding, and there’s a local cupcake shop that makes them gluten-free once a week.  For a while, Codi was a Bella Cupcake Wednesday regular.  When it came time to place the wedding order, the one flavor she was absolutely sure about was pumpkin chai.  Thankfully, Bella was accommodating and agreed, even though it wasn’t pumpkin season for them.  Out of the four flavors, it ended up being the most popular.  Well, being the experimenter that I am, I decided to attempt my own version.

Pumpkin Chai Cupcakes - Crafty Staci 1

First of all, let me say I cannot compete with Bella Cupcake.  I didn’t get a chance to try one of theirs (like I said, popular) but I already know these don’t taste the same.  However, for an amateur, starting-with-boxed-mix version, these are delicious. 

I made these gluten-free, but you could certainly use a regular cake mix.  Just adjust the amount of eggs and water to reflect what’s required on the box.

Pumpkin Chai Cupcakes

  • 1 box of vanilla cake mix
  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup instant black tea
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 3/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • 3/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper

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Dissolve the instant tea in the water.  Mix all of the dry spices into the cake mix.  Add the butter, eggs, pumpkin and tea/water.  Continue with the mixing and baking instructions on your box for cupcakes.

I had to try this recipe three times before I had one with the flavor I was looking for.  For the first attempt I replaced some of the water with liquid chai concentrate, and they were very pumpkinish and had very little chai coming through.  It was all we could do to scarf down the whole batch.

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The second time, I referred to my Spiced Chai drink mix for the spices to add.  I went a little light because I didn’t want them to be too overpowering.  They were good, but it was still hard to taste anything but pumpkin.  When I read the drink recipe a second time, I realized the number of servings was nearly the same as my cake mix, so I went all-out and added the same measurements for the spices.  You can even see the difference in color between the two batches.

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Bingo!  These are definitely spicy, but a good dose of cream cheese frosting on top tones them down just enough.  I’m pretty sure nothing has ever said fall quite as loudly as these do.

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Pineapple Carrot Upside-Down Cake

The recipe I’m about to share with you is not fat-free.  It isn’t gluten-free, dairy-free or egg-free.  It will not fit into a paleo diet, nor one based on avoiding canned food.  It is not vegan or sugarless.  However, it is delicious, and as long as you’re not restricted by any of the above, I highly recommend you indulge in it at least once.

This cake is dense and sweet, so a little goes a long way.  The carrots and pineapple are tasty together.  When you taste it hot out of the oven and think it can’t get any better, let it sit for a few hours and think again.  I think this will be repeated as our Easter dessert.  I just need to find a can with 11 pineapple rings in it.

Pineapple Carrot Upside Down Cake - Crafty Staci 1

Pineapple Carrot Upside-Down Cake

  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 20-ounce can pineapple slices
  • 10 – 12 maraschino cherries
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup pineapple juice
  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 cups finely shredded carrots

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Melt the 1/3 cup of butter in a 12” oven-safe skillet.  Sprinkle the 3/4 cup of brown sugar over the butter.  Drain the pineapple, reserving the juice.  Arrange the pineapple slices on top of the brown sugar, adding a cherry to the center of each.

Pineapple Carrot Upside Down Cake - Crafty Staci 2

Combine the remaining butter and sugars in a mixing bowl.  Add milk, pineapple juice and egg.  Mix well.  Add the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Mix on low for 30 seconds to combine, then on high for one minute.  Fold in the shredded carrots.  Pour into the skillet over the pineapple.

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Bake 45 – 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Immediately flip the skillet over onto a heat-proof plate.  Strong muscles help for this step.

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Leave the skillet in place for a few minutes.

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Remove the skillet, slice and serve.

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I think some coconut would make this even better, but not everyone in my house agrees.  It wasn’t exactly difficult to get anyone to eat it just the way it is.

Greek Yogurt and Berries Parfait

I find it a little difficult to find healthy snacks when I’m away from home.  It’s even worse that I often end up in the coffee shop, full of cookies and other fat-laden baked goods.  I’ve given up a lot of things for this diet, but I still budget in the occasional Starbucks drink now and then.  Recently, I discovered their yogurt parfaits in the refrigerated section.  The berry version is only 220 calories and it’s delicious.  It didn’t take long before I was wondering if it was something I could replicate at home.  Oh, yes I can.

Greek Yogurt and Berries Parfait - Crafty Staci 1

This actually doesn’t take a ton of different ingredients, and one batch can make 4 – 8 servings, so you’re set for breakfast for at least a few days. 

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Start the granola first, so it can bake while you whip up the fruit compote.

Granola

  • 3/4 cup oats (gluten-free, if that’s how you roll)
  • 2 teaspoons packed brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons coconut oil, melted
  • 1 teaspoon molasses
  • dash of salt

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl.  Spread on an ungreased baking sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes, then stir.  Bake for 15 minutes longer, stirring every 5 minutes, or until golden brown.  Pour onto wax paper to cool.  Once it has cooled, break up some of the larger pieces.  Makes about 1 1/4 cups.

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Once the granola is in the oven, you can start the fruit compote. 

Strawberry Blueberry Compote

  • 1 cup sliced strawberries (5 – 6 large)
  • 1/2 cup blueberries (frozen is fine)
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons water

Combine the strawberries, sugar, lemon juice and water in a small saucepan.  Cook over medium low heat until bubbly.  Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture starts to thicken, around 5 minutes.  Add the blueberries and cook just until they’re heated.  Remove from heat and cool.  Makes about 1 cup.

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You can also cook both berries together from the beginning, just be aware that while the flavor is there, your blueberries will not be recognizable in the final product.

To assemble the parfait, start with 2 tablespoons of the berry compote on the bottom for 8 servings, or 1/4 cup for 4 servings.

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Add 1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt for either number of servings.  I like Zoi.

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Top with 1/4 cup granola for 4 servings or 2 tablespoons for 8.  You should have a little granola left over.

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After you’re done looking at how pretty it is, mix it all together and enjoy.  Oh, and it’s still pretty.

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One thing I really love about the Starbucks parfait is that the granola is in its own container so it doesn’t mix with the yogurt and get soggy.  You can just dump it in when you’re ready.  After a little brainstorming I solved that problem with my homemade version too.

Save and wash an empty applesauce container.

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Fill it with the granola and top it with a piece of foil.  Put it upside down on top of the wide-mouth jar lid and twist on the ring.  The foil keeps it in place!  I shook this and it didn’t budge.

Greek Yogurt and Berries Parfait - Reuse applesauce container to hold the granola - Crafty Staci

Here’s the REALLY good news.  If you make this recipe into four servings (as shown in the first photo above), each one will have 206 calories, which is 14 fewer than Starbucks’.  If you make it into eight servings, as shown in my awesome travel container here, it’s only 125 calories!

Greek Yogurt and Berries Parfait - Reuse applesauce container to hold the granola - Crafty Staci 2

Healthy on-the-go snack problem?  Solved.

Buffalo Chex Mix

I love you guys.  I asked for help yesterday to make a decision, and you jumped in to give your opinions.  I can’t begin to tell you what that means to me.  Thank you!  By the way, the winner of the one-way trip to Japan can be found on yesterday’s post.  It was very close for a while there!

Now, on to today’s recipe.  I discovered Frank’s Red Hot Sauce about a year ago.  Why had I never tried this stuff before?  I am seriously hooked. (I also just had my first taste of Sriracha a few days ago – don’t even get me started.)  Frank’s is good on everything, so I decided to give it a go as the star of this Chex mix.  Of course, then I learned Chex already had a version, but mine differs in a few areas.

Buffalo Chex Mix - Crafty Staci 1

Do you like my non-committal colors?  A little Seahawks, a little Broncos?  That’s me – Go Team!

Buffalo Chex Mix

9 cups Rice Chex cereal (one 12.8 ounce box)

2 cups Bugles

2 cups pretzels

1 cup cashews

1/2 cup butter

3 tablespoons Frank’s Red Hot Sauce

1 packet ranch dressing mix

1 teaspoon celery seed

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

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Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine the cereal, Bugles, pretzels and cashews.  Of course, you can use combine different flavors of Chex if you’d prefer, I just like using up one whole box. 

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Melt the butter in the microwave.  Add the hot sauce, ranch and celery seed.  Mix well with a whisk.  This is very mild on the hotness, so feel free to add more sauce if you’d like.

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Pour over the cereal mixture and stir until the pieces are evenly coated.  Sprinkle the parmesan over the top and gently stir.

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Spread on two large cookie sheets. 

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Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.  Cool.

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If I wasn’t on what I’m affectionately calling The Mother of the Bride Diet, I’d spend Sunday with a big bowl of this waiting to find out what the Budweiser Clydesdales and that E-Trade baby have been up to.  Oh, I mean who wins the game.  Yeah, that.

Peppermint Vanilla Chex Mix

Just in case you’re looking for one last sweet treat to add to your holiday, I thought I’d share with you a recipe I made last week, which was inspired by recipes at A Pumpkin and a Princess and Daily Dish Recipes.  Even my son, who isn’t a big peppermint fan, loved it.  The big batch I made did NOT last long at all. 

Peppermint Vanilla Chex Mix - Crafty Staci 1

Peppermint Vanilla Chex Mix

7 cups rice and corn Chex cereal

1 1/2 cups vanilla chips or melts

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

6 large candy canes

1 cup white peppermint M & M’s

Peppermint Vanilla Chex Mix - Crafty Staci 2

Using a food processor, crush the candy canes to a powder.  Who thinks this is going to sound like a bag of hammers in a garbage disposal?  That doesn’t even cover it.  I should have worn ear protection.

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Combine the candy canes and powdered sugar in a large ziplock bag and set aside.

Melt the vanilla chips in the microwave or a double boiler.  Stir in the peppermint extract.  Pour over the cereal in a large bowl and gently stir until coated.  Add to the ziplock bag and shake until coated.  Stir in the M & M’s.

Peppermint Vanilla Chex Mix - Crafty Staci 4

Are you done with your Christmas baking?  Yeah, not me!

Salted Caramel Drink Mix

I spent the day out shopping with my husband yesterday.  We visited a mall, Costco and, my favorite, Crafty Wonderland.  Between the three, we were able to wrap up the last of our Christmas shopping, which I’m pretty happy about.  Once that’s done, I usually move on to the next holiday task – making delicious treats.  This year I decided to try a new take on a favorite from last year and make Salted Caramel Drink Mix.  Notice the word “cocoa” does not appear there.  Nothing here but milky, caramel goodness.

Salted Caramel Drink Mix - Crafty Staci 1

Salted Caramel Drink Mix

2 cups dry milk powder

1/2 cup dry plain creamer

1/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 1/4 cup caramel-flavored dry creamer

1 tablespoon coarse sea salt

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Combine all ingredients in a food processor.  Process until the salt is a fine texture.  To serve, add 1/4 cup mix to a mug full of hot water or milk.

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If you want a chocolate version (or spiced chai) you can find those here.  Put any of these in a decorated jar and it would make a tasty gift for someone you really like a lot.  I mean, a lot.

Vanilla Brown Sugar Coffee Syrup

I live about 7 miles from the nearest store.  Not that far, I know, but when I only need one thing it’s impossible to motivate myself to make the half-hour round trip drive.  I’d rather spend that thirty minutes in the kitchen trying to make an acceptable substitute for whatever it was I thought I needed.  This time, it was coffee syrup.

I try to confine myself to two cups of coffee in the morning.  Most days I stick to it, but sometimes I cheat my own system.  Rather than having a third cup of hot coffee, I switch to iced instant espresso.  I know, it’s really no different, but I feel a little less like I’ve fallen off the wagon because it’s in a different cup. 

Vanilla Brown Sugar Coffee Syrup - Crafty Staci 1

Last week, on a particularly tiring day, I was headed for that third cup of denial when I realized we were out of both caramel and vanilla coffee syrup.  How does that happen and I don’t notice?  Anyway, I did a quick search for a caramel syrup recipe, but every one I found listed caramel sauce as an ingredient.  Huh?

I decided to aim for a caramel flavor on my own, so I whipped up this syrup.  And I wouldn’t really say it tastes like caramel, but it is oh-so delicious.

To make this, you’ll need:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

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Combine the water, brown sugar and salt in a saucepan.

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Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently but gently, until the mixture just starts to come to a boil and all of the sugar has dissolved.

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Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.  Cool, then pour into a bottle.  Add a tag or label and this would make a great gift.

Vanilla Brown Sugar Coffee Syrup - Crafty Staci 5

This would also be tasty with some other spices, like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves.  I think I would try brewing them in the water  (the way the Chai Tea Concentrate is made), then using that water to make the syrup.

In case you’re wondering, the way I make my iced espresso is I fill the 20 ounce glass half full of water, add about 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons powdered espresso, fill to about 3/4 with coconut almond milk, sweeten to taste with the syrup, then finish filling the glass with ice.  Zero drive time.

Vanilla Brown Sugar Coffee Syrup - Crafty Staci 6

Speaking of my glass, these are in my Zibbet shop now, along with that stainless steel straw, which I completely love and is available straight or with that little bend at the top.  Also, that coaster?  It’s made from leather and a mason jar ring and you’ll find those in my shop as well.  I haven’t listed the wraps yet, but if you’re interested just let me know.  It’s been a busy couple of weeks around here!

Gluten-Free Fried Cheese Curds

In your head, right now, you’re either saying “Eww, what’s a cheese curd?” or “Yum!  Squeaky cheese!”  If you’re with me, living close enough to Tillamook Cheese Factory for an occasional visit, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  We drive there once in a while just to buy a couple of bags of Squeaky Cheese, which is their unofficial name for cheese curds, thanks to the squeaking feel when you bite them.  I know that only makes sense if you’ve ever eaten one, but if you haven’t you’re really missing something.

Tillmook Cheese Curds

Every year when we go camping, we stop at A & W in Estacada for lunch.  They serve Fried Cheese Curds, which is every bit as healthy as it sounds.  But oh, so good.  Now that my daughter has gone gluten-free, she can no longer indulge in those little bits of deep-fried deliciousness.

Codi and her fiancé took a trip to Tillamook for her birthday and brought back two bags of squeaky cheese.  Her dad was determined to find a way for them to enjoy this little treat without the gluten, and he pulled it off in a big way.

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I don’t have measurements, but it’s easy to add more if necessary as you go.  To start, he dipped the cheese curds in a couple of lightly beaten eggs.  Next, he tossed them into a bag with a bit of Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour to coat.  After that, he arranged them in a layer on a baking sheet and placed them into the freezer for 30 minutes.  The final step was carefully lowering them into 375 degree oil and cooking until they turned brown, which took about 45 to 60 seconds.  These were almost too good.

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Tillamook only sells cheese curds at their factory in Tillamook, which is reason enough to visit Oregon.  But if you don’t have any vacation plans for the west coast and want to give squeaky cheese a try, keep an eye out next February.  Apparently Tillamook sold them online for one day only this year, so I’m guessing it might happen again in 2014.  I’ll be waiting patiently to find out.

Edit 8/6/14:

My husband was going to make these last week, but we were nearly out of gluten-free flour.  I had some gluten-free pie crust mix he used to make up the difference and they were even better.  They tasted like a cheesy pastry!

Pulled Pork

I’m not going to pretend I know anything about authentic pulled pork.  I’ve made a barbeque version before, which basically consisted of cooking a pork shoulder covered in barbeque sauce in a crockpot all day.  Probably something a chef capable of making actual pulled pork would laugh at.  But we like it, so it worked…until now.

Pulled Pork - Crafty Staci 1

We bought some pork sirloin tip roast at Costco last week.  I didn’t have a plan for it, I just liked the nutrition stats.  I wasn’t sure if it had enough fat to use as pulled pork, but we had a bunch of burger buns left over from a party we were trying to use up, so I went for it.  As usual, no recipe I could find made me completely happy, so I made my own.

Pulled Pork - Crafty Staci 2

Pulled Pork

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  My roasts were about 2 pounds each, which I didn’t think would be enough, so I used two.  Rinse the roasts and pat dry.  Place in a Dutch oven.

Combine:

  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder

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Rub the mixture into the meat on all sides.

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Combine 12 ounces of beer (gluten-free if that’s your thing) and 1 tablespoon liquid smoke.  Pour down the side, not over, the meat.

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Cover tightly with a lid or foil.  Place on the bottom rack inside the oven and cook for 3 hours.  Since I was cooking two small roasts, you might need to cook it longer if you’re working with one larger roast.  Cook until it reaches a safe temperature on your meat thermometer.

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Remove from the pan and shred by pulling apart with two large forks.

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We served this on pub-style hamburger buns, generously drizzled with barbeque sauce and topped with pickle slices.  My girl had hers on a toasted gluten-free bun.

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This was a winner with the entire family, but my daughter liked it so much we’re having it for her birthday dinner later this month with a side of coleslaw.  I’m going to try making it with hard cider (still gluten-free) instead of the beer.  It can’t come soon enough – just revisiting these photos is making my mouth water.

Skip To My Lou

Espresso Brownies

When I was a kid I loved chocolate, and pretty much any chocolate would do.  I even loved the cheapo stuff that was mostly brown wax and left that awful coating on the inside of my mouth.  These days I’m a little more picky.  Ok, maybe a lot.  I’m willing to hold out for good, dark chocolate and it often comes in the form of a brownie.

Espresso Brownies single - Crafty Staci

This recipe was a result of my effort to make a brownie that was a little lower in calories.  I like the No Pudge Cappuccino mix, but I didn’t have any on hand and when you need a brownie, you need a brownie.  This is the nutrition info if these are made exactly according to this recipe:

Nutrition info for Espresso Brownies

Espresso Brownies

· 1 cup all-purpose flour

· 1/2 cup cocoa powder

· 1 (1.4 oz) package chocolate fudge sugar-free pudding mix

· 3 tablespoons instant espresso powder

· 1 teaspoon baking powder

· 1/2 cup granulated sugar

· 1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar

· 2 egg whites (or 1/3 cup egg whites from carton)

· 1 egg

· 3 tablespoons butter – melted

· 1/4 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt

· 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Espresso Brownies Ingredients - Crafty Staci

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 by 8 inch baking pan.
Stir together flour, cocoa powder, pudding mix, espresso powder and baking powder in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, combine sugars, egg whites, egg, butter, yogurt and vanilla. Mix well.
Stir the wet ingredients into the dry until just combined. Don’t over stir.

Espresso Brownies batter - Crafty Staci

The batter is very thick, and will need to be spread, rather than poured, into the prepared baking pan. Bake 20 – 25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. These are at their best as soon as they’re cool enough to eat.  Makes 16 brownies.

Espresso Brownies full pan - Crafty Staci

There are lots of ways you can play around with this recipe:

  • use pureed prunes or applesauce in place of half or all of the butter
  • replace the egg with chia seeds or egg substitute
  • if you avoid artificial sugar, use regular pudding mix, or leave it out entirely
  • use some wheat flour instead of all white
  • sour cream works as well as Greek yogurt
  • add chocolate or other flavor chips
  • for regular brownies, just leave out the espresso powder
  • you can even make blondies – just leave out the cocoa and espresso powders and use vanilla pudding mix
  • make your own mix by combining all the dry ingredients and store until you’re ready to add the wet ingredients

I think it’s time for another batch!