Pretty In Pink Strawberry Cupcakes

Happy Fall Y’all!

I totally just stole that from Jujube and her nifty diy-ed yard sign. But how fitting, right? October is closing and we are right smack dab in the middle of pumpkin season. Being in Florida for my first Autumn, I am seriously missing my North Carolina  colorful wonder from the changing of the leaves. It is hard for me to really embrace Fall without those majestic leaves dancing across city streets.

Instead, I get Palm trees. Palm trees in the summer, Palm trees in Autumn and I’m pretty sure they’ll still be here for Winter. So as we move into the season together, there will definitely be more season inspired cupcakes to come along. It is Friday folks and you know what that means. As promised in Halloween Spooktacular Disaster, I’m here to deliver you another scrumptious recipe from my kitchen to yours.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, as I’m sure you’ve noticed across social media with all things pink. Sticking with the theme of the month, these Pretty In Pink Strawberry Cupcakes will be a tasty addition. I know it is the end of October but that doesn’t change their sweet taste nor the importance of the cause. Please make sure you are getting that mammogram done or encouraging your significant others to do so. They really are one of the best ways for early detection.

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Now that the important stuff is out of the way, let’s get down to the fun stuff. The recipe is similar to generic strawberry cupcake recipes but with a few additions they quickly turn into the embodiment of female empowerment. By the way, they aren’t for women because they are pink. They just happen to be pink and can really be for anyone. I have to add a dash of my Feminism in there. However, after I made this batch, it was brought to my attention that the strawberry on top slightly (or more than slightly) resembles a piece of female anatomy. Don’t let that stop you from adding them though because I really feel the fresh strawberry adds to the sweet and strawberry tartness of this cake.

Before the oven
Before the oven
After the oven
After the oven

Pretty In Pink Strawberry Cupcakes
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
24 cupcakes 20 minutes
Cook Time
15-20 minutes
Servings Prep Time
24 cupcakes 20 minutes
Cook Time
15-20 minutes
Pretty In Pink Strawberry Cupcakes
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
24 cupcakes 20 minutes
Cook Time
15-20 minutes
Servings Prep Time
24 cupcakes 20 minutes
Cook Time
15-20 minutes
Ingredients
Pretty In Pink Strawberry Cupcakes
Simple Cream Cheese Frosting
Servings: cupcakes
Instructions
Pretty In Pink Strawberry Cupcakes
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl whisk together dry ingredients of flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  2. In a separate mixing bowl combine wet ingredients of butter, frozen strawberries, eggs and almond milk.
  3. Mixing on medium slow speed, gradually add dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Batter should be thick and wet. Add drops of food coloring to make batter the desired pink shade.
  4. Line cupcake tins with liners and spray with cooking spray for easy cupcake removal from wrappers. Fill each cup 3/4 of the way full.
  5. Add half a strawberry (inside facing up) to the top of each cake. Bake for 15-20. Toothpick should come out clean when done.
Simple Cream Cheese Frosting
  1. whip on high the cream cheese and evaporated milk until fluffy.
  2. Gradually add in powdered sugar about a cup at a time. Icing should thicken.
  3. Mix in salt and vanilla until well blended. If runny, add more powdered sugar as needed.
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Reminiscent of Strawberry shortcake because in Fall we often long for those primarily Summer treats, I used Cream Cheese frosting but even whipped cream would work great. It is super easy and super delicious.

 

You can always dress these up with a fresh strawberry on top and really bump up that presentation. I hope you enjoy these as much as my family did. Strawberry is always such a classic flavor that so many enjoy.

Tomorrow, while you are out celebrating or not celebrating, remember to be safe and have fun. I am sure there will be plenty of Elsas and Jedis out there getting their Trick or Treating on. What is my Little Cupcakeasaurus Rex going as? Well, a Daryl-esque zombie hunter/survivor of course. That means Captain and I get the fun task of being awesomely disgusting zombies for the hunting.

 

Let me know how your batch comes out and I would love to hear what fun costumes your little goblins are going as this year. Trick or Treating is a great way to make life taste sweeter (or maybe it is just that big bag of candy ;)).

 

Halloween Spooktacular Disaster

Hey guys!

This weekend is Halloween and all the ghosts and goblins are going to be out Trick or Treating. Since it falls on a Saturday this year I imagine many of you will be headed out to parties as well. Here is where I have to get really honest with you. I had planned to make some truly Halloween inspired treats for you guys so you had something fun to bring to all of those Halloween parties this weekend. Well, I had some techniques in mind to share but the cupcakes I made were lacking the most important ingredient of all: Love. In a rush, I used a box mix (what?! I know. I know.) and by the time I got to icing them, I was just depressed with the whole mess.

I had every intention of not sharing my failure with you and just sweeping everything under the rug. But, part of my charm is my ability to screw things up. 🙂 No, really, I am constantly telling Captain Cupcakeasaurus that I’m The Ruiner. It sounds like a pretty awesome arch nemesis or villain name, doesn’t it?

So with included disclaimer, I’m going to show you the monstrosity that were my Halloween Cupcakes. Compared to the Cinnamon Caramel Apple Pie Cupcakes last week, these sad little puppies looked like the bargain bin ones that the new cake decorator screwed up on at the grocery store. Okay, that may be cruel but I don’t mean it to be cruel toward the new cake decorator as much as I mean it as cruelty to myself. I’m ashamed but I’m going to share anyway. Why? Because I promised to be honest and maybe my failures can be someone else’s successes or maybe we can find solidarity in cake failure together.

Since these cupcakes did not come out as planned, I will still be sharing a cupcake recipe tomorrow with you but it is not a batch I made this week. They are a family favorite that I think you will enjoy regardless.

On previous Halloweens, I have made cupcakes and tried to be creative with different spook inspired decorating. One of my favorites is the Vampire Bite Cupcake. You can use any of your favorite flavors of cake and still make them into Vampire Bites. Like I mentioned above, I used a basic white cake mix this time around.

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Then using the Wilton 230 tip, I inject “blood” into two parallel holes like a vampire bite. The blood is a mix of strawberry preserves (raspberry works too), chocolate syrup and 2-3 drops of food coloring. The ratio is about two parts preserves to one part chocolate syrup. I like using the preserves because it even adds a little chunkiness to the blood which I think is disgustingly awesome.

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The Wilton 230 tip is also great for injecting other types of fillings into your cupcakes. I also injected a few with green “slime”. I used the Wilton Slime Green Sparkling Decorator’s Gel for the slime both in and on top of the cupcakes.

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Another fun technique for Halloween is to make brain cupcakes. They can be filled with blood too for extra gross factor. Using a brain colored frosting —Wait! What color are brains anyway? This is kind of artist’s choice because fresh living brains are pink but the formaldehyde brains look more gray. Anyway, first you’ll do a flat base icing on top of the cupcake.

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Then, using Wilton size 10 tip draw a straight line slightly right of center and moving out to the right edge curl the icing around and make a zigzag motion all the way back to your starting point. Using the same technique, you will do the left side of the brain. For added depth and icing, I like to add another swivel of icing on top of the zigzags on both sides. It gives your brain more of a 3D effect as well.

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While you are creatively making ghoulish cupcakes, you may also want to throw in some monsters as well. A few candy eyeballs can go along way. My color of icing here is not ideal but the possibilities are endless. I used the Wilton 233 tip to make the monsters look furry. Just squeeze the piping bag with the tip on the cupcake and then pull upwards to create those long stringy hair looking pieces.

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While I was playing with slime and blood and whatnot I got the idea to try something else out too. Peeps learned awhile ago that Peeps didn’t just have to be a treat for Easter. They are now sold in the shape of pumpkins and ghosts for Halloween. Peeps aren’t the only ones to catch on to this marketing potential. Cadbury eggs aren’t just for Easter now either. Cadbury makes a Screme Egg that is a Cadbury Egg with green slimy insides. Still just as sweet and delicious as ever, just green.

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Well, I wondered what would happen if I baked a Screme Egg into a cupcake. My hopes were that you could bite into a cupcake and get a mouthful of chocolate and green Cadbury goo. As it so happens, things didn’t quite go as planned. The Screme Egg was still relatively intact but the ooze had oozed itself out of the cupcake made the wrapper difficult to remove. It also didn’t do much for the flavor of the cupcake so I will mark this down as a failure and a lesson learned.

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There are so many fun things out there now to help with decorating Halloween party cupcakes. They are candy bones, candy knives and candy tombstones. You can turn Oreos into bats or licorice into spiders or melted white chocolate into spider webs. With all the different options out there, try not to get overwhelmed. Getting overwhelmed leads you to where I was last night: burnt out and not feeling the love. If you don’t love the food you’re making, it shows in the taste and presentation of that food.

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Towards the end, I realized what was wrong and had to call time of death on my cupcaking debacle. I let Little Cupcakeasaurus Rex take over and he enjoyed decorating them with bones and blood. There’s no harm in letting the little ones do their thing especially for Halloween cupcakes. I’m pretty sure kids know more about what is scary than we do. Go wild! If there is ever a holiday to make not so pretty cupcakes, I think Halloween would be it. 

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Life isn’t perfect. Things don’t always go as planned. Cadbury Eggs should really not be baked into a cake. Have fun and be safe this Halloween. Make life taste sweeter by not forgetting the most important ingredient of baking : LOVE.

Comfort Food: Chicken and Dumplings

Hey guys!

I mentioned before in How To Start A Meal Plan how I labeled each day of the week to make it easier to plan out meals. Well, Tuesdays is Home Cooking Tuesday or Comfort Food Tuesday, or…. I really need a good alliteration for this day of the week. If you think of one, please leave it in the comments so I can stop going mad over here.

Tuesday is the day that I am able to pull together 4 generations of knowledge and love and make meals that have been passed down through my family. If you have ever sat on the counter and watched your grammaw cook, you know what I mean. All the measurements are eyeballed and you can tell by looking at it if it is the right consistency and you won’t know it is done until it smells right. These can be some of the hardest recipes to master but they are by far my favorite.

My grammaw is the matriarch of my mother’s side of the family and her food has brought our family together year after year, holiday after holiday. Many of my comfort foods were first experienced in her kitchen. One bite reminds me of home and that’s all that matters.

Comfort_Food_Chicken_and_Dumplings

Yesterday I made Chicken and Dumplings. I don’t think you can have a food more comforting than that. I’ll warn you now that I do not make Chicken and Dumplings the way many people do. I do not roll out my dough and cut out dumplings. I like big, fluffy balls of dumplings. An upside is that my dumpling dough is easily convertible to the roll out (“roll out!” in my best Ludacris voice) method if you so desire.

In true home cooking fashion, we won’t even bother with recipe cards. No worries folks, there are literally five ingredients to these Chicken and Dumplings. There are seven if you include salt and pepper as ingredients.

Step One: Get large pot and fill half way with water. Place pot on stove set for high heat. Place 4-5 frozen chicken breasts (I told you I use frozen chicken for almost everything) in the pot. That is going to be doing its cooking and eventually boiling thing while you are busy making dumplings.

Comfort_Food_Chicken_and_Dumplings

Step Two: I bet you can’t guess what step two is. I’d lose that bet, you guys are pretty smart cookies. It is dumpling making time! In a large bowl pour about 2 cups of Self Rising flour. I know almost all of my other recipes say All Purpose but PLEASE make sure to use Self Rising flour for this one. Dumplings just wouldn’t be the same. I’ll be honest I am completely guessing at measurements right now though. Bare with me because it is definitely going to be based on consistency. You will add a little milk at a time mixing it into the flour until it feels like a firm dough.  Don’t pour too much because then it will be like doing eye makeup and trying to make them even and everything spiraling down from there. The dough, however, should be a bit dryer than bread dough and you should be able to easily pick it up like a softball without it being sticky.

Step Three: Check on your chicken. If the meat looks like it is getting pretty close to cooked, I take the pieces out and cut them into bite size pieces. This is a personal preference. You can have big chicken if you want it (no judgement). Once returning the meat to the pot, you can now turn down the heat to medium low. Now pinch off quarter sized balls from your dough and just plop them into the pot. My family absolutely loves these things so I make a ton of dumplings.

Comfort_Food_Chicken_and_Dumplings

Step Four: As your dumplings cook, you’ll notice they float to the top. Cut one stick of butter into Tablespoons and add the whole stick to the pot. Before you go thinking I’m some sort of Paula Dean wannabe, please remember the no judgement above. Comfort food isn’t meant to be extremely healthy. No one ever wanted to curl up with a salad when they didn’t feel good.

Step Five: Add salt and pepper to taste. I also will mix flour with cold water in a small bowl until all the lumps are out and then add that to the pot to thicken the broth.

Comfort_Food_Chicken_and_Dumplings

That’s it! Wasn’t that super easy? Five ingredients folks. That’s it! So as the weather starts cooling off (everywhere but here in Florida), you’ll want to have meals that will stick to your bones and keep all those wind chilled faces warm and smiling. Homemade Chicken and Dumplings is just the meal to bring the family together and make life taste a little sweeter.

Festive Favorite: Rum Soaked Chocolate Covered Cherries

Hey guys!

I am so excited to be finally sharing this recipe with you guys! As Halloween approaches, it means it is officially the holiday season. Soooo much is going to be coming through my kitchen the next couple of months it isn’t even funny. As much as we hate the Christmas merchandise going up in stores before Halloween, I still feel it necessary to share this recipe as far in advance as possible.

       Several years ago there was a little segment in a magazine (I don’t remember which) about easy gifts for people. The gift that caught my attention was a can of Coke, a travel bottle of rum and a little bag of Chocolate Rum Soaked Cherries.

       Let me say that again to let it really marinate…. Chocolate Rum Soaked Cherries.

      If your mouth didn’t just salivate then you have not yet been gifted with this miraculous holiday pleaser. But make no mistake, they do not just have to be for the holidays. You’ve probably realized by now that I rarely make anything straight by the recipe. So the original recipe had everything you can easily glean from the name. I added a few extras to make them truly remarkable. I know, I’m humble too. 🙂

       Last year I brought them to the family gathering for Christmas. This ordeal is usually dramatic and has someone yelling and someone crying and someone storming out.  I don’t know about your family but I suspect this is a pretty universal phenomenon. Not this year. I handed these miracle cherries out and everyone was content to keep their mouths shut and relax. The added chili powder and just pinch of cayenne bring out the flavors in the chocolate. The Kosher salt adds a bit of savoriness to counter the sweetness of the chocolate cherries. The rum, well, I think the rum does all the work. If you let these buggers really marinate (a few months in the frig), five cherries in you may want to pick out a designated driver.

      So without further ado, you are going to need cherries with stems. I know you’ll find the ones at the dollar store without stems but that makes everything else a pain in the butt. I promise, you want the stems. You will also need melting chocolate. You can get the baker’s melting chocolate from craft stores but the baking aisle at the grocery store or Wal-Mart even has the quick melting chocolate that comes in a tray. The tray is handy because it saves you from having to scrub hardened chocolate off your good bowls. You will also need rum. I like using dark spiced rum but I suppose your preference on rum will work just fine. You just want those cherries really drunk.

      The extras that you will need that are not included in the name of the recipe (I wish all recipes had a section like this). You will need a bit of shortening to add to your chocolate so that it is wet enough for dipping. You will also want to grab that chili powder, cayenne pepper and Kosher salt. For ease of drying, I also recommend pulling off a few sheets of wax paper so everything can harden nicely before creating your treat bags. And I suppose you will also want to get treat bags. If I’m trying to be fancy (pinkies out ladies), I’ll get mini muffin liners in festive colors and small treat boxes from either the dollar store or the craft store. Presentation really comes down to who you will be giving them to and for what purpose. Alas, you’ll want something to put them in regardless and I suggest a container that doesn’t require them to be stacked on top of each other.

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First things first, take the cherries and dump out all the juice. You can save it if you want to and use it like Grenadines. Add a little to your Coke and now you have Cherry Coke. I just leave my cherries in their container. I don’t take them out to drain them or move them to another bowl or anything. Then pour in your rum to completely fill the container. I buy my stemmed cherries from Sam’s club because I make a ton of these cherries and they always disappear so freaking fast. The Sam’s club cherries come in a large plastic jug and I end up using a ton of rum to fill it. It will make you feel like you are wasting alcohol but I promise it is not wasted once you’ve enjoyed these cherries. Also, afterward you then have remaining cherry flavored rum. Add a little (or a lot) to your Coke and now you have a Cherry Rum and Coke. Yum, recycled rum!

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Let those sit and marinate in the refrigerator for days. I mean it, the longer you let them marinate the better. I’m sharing this recipe with you in October so you can have well marinated cherries for Christmas (or whichever preferred holiday you wish to celebrate). These don’t need a holiday but you will want that chocolate-y rum warmth once the chill of winter sets in. These are also fantastic for Valentine’s day. I do make a few additions to make them more uniquely festive for the holiday.

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When you are ready for the chocolating, which should be days, weeks, months from when you first touched the cherries, go ahead and drain your cherries. Again, you can keep the cherry flavored rum if you want but this time I go ahead and pour the cherries out on to a plate with a couple of paper towels to absorb the extra liquid.

Remember when I mentioned the melting chocolate that comes in a tray? If you have the tray, follow the melting directions on package and add a teaspoon or so of shortening to make the consistency wetter. If you do not have a tray, grab a microwave safe bowl, break the chocolate up into ice-cube size pieces and add the teaspoon of shortening to melt the chocolate. Be careful not to over cook your chocolate. I melt mine in 15-30 second increments, stirring in between.

When the chocolate is melted thoroughly, add a half teaspoon of chili powder and a pinch of cayenne to the chocolate and stir. Then add a half teaspoon of kosher salt and stir. Taste test the chocolate and add additional salt if needed.

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Now for the fun part: the dipping! This can be time-consuming depending on how many cherries you are making. Take a cherry by the stem (see you do need those stems) and dip into the melted chocolate making sure to cover the entire cherry. Place coated cherry on wax paper to dry. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. If your chocolate starts to become thick and hard to dip, return to microwave for 5-10 seconds. You may also need to add a bit more shortening too in order to return it to the best consistency.

The cherries are ready to eat as soon as the chocolate dries. I would suggest resisting temptation until after all of the cherries are chocolated so as not to have to keep warming your chocolate. Once dry, place them in your desired treat box and they are ready for gifting. Enjoy!

Caramel Cinnamon Apple Pie Cupcakes

Hey guys!

It is fall and most importantly October. As much as I wanted to share all sorts of Halloween inspired cupcake ideas with you the Cupcakeasaurus household just wasn’t having it. So, I thought maybe we could still stay in at least the autumn theme of things by having a caramel apple inspired cupcake.

 

There are several of these recipes floating around the internet and I figured I would try one out and see how it goes. Well folks, I’m sad to say that the recipe I found didn’t exactly make me think of caramel apples at first bite. No worries though, because the result was still delicious and still falls in line with the apples of autumn. I just can’t in good conscience name and label it Caramel Apple Cupcakes (even if there are both caramel and apples in the mix) knowing full well you’d expect it to taste like the sticky mess of apples you almost break your teeth on at the fair. Instead of inciting disappointment with mislabeling, I’ll just call this Caramel Cinnamon Apple Pie Cupcakes.

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      So the words “caramel” and “apple” are still in the name but I think this new name definitely better portrays the true flavors. Since cinnamon is such a distinct flavor I think it is essential to include in the name to let folks know what they are getting into before their first bite.

     Remember our Apple Bacon Cupcakes and how they could easily be mistaken for a muffin if not iced appropriately? Well, the same could easily be said for these too. At first glance you’d think these are Cinnamon Apple muffins. Don’t let their breakfasty look fool you though; these are full on delicious dessert cupcakes. Without that sticky caramel layer topped with a fluffy cinnamon butter cream, someone could very easily fall into the muffin trap. The whole house smells of apples and cinnamon. Who needs candles when you are a baker? Who needs perfume either for that matter? While lying in bed Captain Cupcakeasaurus leaned in to kiss my forehead and couldn’t help but notice that my hair smelled of baked goods. Of all the things a woman (or dinosaur for that matter) could smell like, I’m pretty sure tasty deliciousness is among one of the best.

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      I have to let you know up front this is another one of those recipes that has a few more steps than the average Joe recipe. It doesn’t require anything too fancy or complicated but it is more than just mix the ingredients together and pop in an oven.

       First things first though. The first majorly important step is to make the base cupcake. Well, there isn’t much we can do without that, is there? 

Caramel Cinnamon Apple Pie Cupcakes
Print Recipe
Cinnamon Apple Pie Cupcake filled with cinnamon apple compote, dripping with sweet caramel sauce and topped with Fluffy Cinnamon Butter Cream Icing
Servings Prep Time
24 cupcakes 40 minutes
Cook Time
18-20 minutes
Servings Prep Time
24 cupcakes 40 minutes
Cook Time
18-20 minutes
Caramel Cinnamon Apple Pie Cupcakes
Print Recipe
Cinnamon Apple Pie Cupcake filled with cinnamon apple compote, dripping with sweet caramel sauce and topped with Fluffy Cinnamon Butter Cream Icing
Servings Prep Time
24 cupcakes 40 minutes
Cook Time
18-20 minutes
Servings Prep Time
24 cupcakes 40 minutes
Cook Time
18-20 minutes
Ingredients
Cinnamon Apple Pie Cupcake base
Cinnamon Apple Compote
Caramel Topping
Fluffy Cinnamon Butter Cream Icing
Servings: cupcakes
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, brown sugar and granulated sugar).
  2. If using a stand mixer, keep on low setting while adding in ingredients. If not, add each ingredient and then mix thoroughly before adding the next. Mix in butter, eggs, milk, and vanilla until batter is well mixed.
  3. Add in the chopped apples last. The batter will be slightly runny and lumpy.
  4. Line 24 cupcake tins with liners of choice. Quick spray with cooking spray to make removal of liners easier. Fill cups 3/4 of the way and bake at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
Cinnamon Apple Compote
  1. Chop apples very small. Place apples and all other ingredients into sauce pan and cook over medium heat. Apples will become tender and the sugar will become like syrup.
Caramel Topping
  1. Combine full bag of caramels with 2 Tablespoons of milk in a sauce pan. Cook on medium heat stirring constantly until caramels are thoroughly melted.
Fluffy Cinnamon Butter Cream Icing
  1. Butter will need to be extra soft so let warm on counter top before starting. Place butter in mixing bowl and whisk on medium until fluffy. Add in sugar, flour, vanilla and cinnamon. Whip on medium until smooth. The icing will appear to be light and fluffy.
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Next comes the extra steps. One of the extra steps is to create this delicious apple compote. That sounds fancy, right? Well, the apple compote is pretty much apple pie filling and adds to the apple-y goodness of these little cakes. This is also the step that really makes your house smell like it was baked in Martha Stewart’s oven. Apple compote just makes you sound like you are a professional pastry chef, never mind the homework clutter on the table or the sink full  of dishes beside your work station. Maybe that’s just my work station. And by work station, I mean this little corner of counter space I’ve managed to clear off for myself and put down a cutting board.

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Once your cupcakes are nice and cool, using a melon baller, or eyeball scooper (see I can still be Halloweeny), or a knife like I did, scoop out a hole in the middle of the cupcakes. Similar to the Kahlua Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes, make sure not to dig too deep. Apple pie filling on the floor isn’t going to be good for anyone.

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Once holes are scooped, just spoon the compote into the holes. No special tools are required. I simply used a regular dining spoon for this part. Even though there are extra steps, it doesn’t mean they all have to be hard.

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Alright, so now we have all our cinnamon and apples. Where does the caramel come in? Well, that is another one of those extra steps but it too isn’t that difficult and completely worth the time and effort.

 

Just melt your caramels with a little bit of milk to get them all melted and smooth. The package says to use water for caramel apples but I felt the milk better suited our needs. Stir constantly because this stuff is super sticky and we definitely don’t want it to burn. And similar to the Apple Compote, just spoon the caramel over the top of each cupcake. I try to aim and cover the Compote holes first and then work my way out to the edge. Warning: the caramel may run off the sides and down the side of your cupcake. Make sure to have the cupcakes on an easy to clean surface just in case you have some caramel spillage.

 

The final step that really puts the finishing touch on these is the rich buttery Fluffy Cinnamon Butter Cream Icing. It is essential for the butter to be soft because it really allows it to be whipped into shape. This icing is so creamy that I didn’t even use a decorator tip to ice the tops. I just snipped the end off of a disposable pastry bag and swirled it on top of the Caramel Topping. I personally prefer to do a smaller amount of icing on the top so the Caramel Topping is still visible.

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These cupcakes may not have been what I was aiming for as far as being a caramel apple on a stick but they certainly delivered on flavor. Little Cupcakeasaurus Rex had one for snack today and even he approves of this delicious Caramel Cinnamon Apple Pie Cupcake treat.

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Comfort Food: Easy Chicken and Rice

       Hey Guys!

I was meaning to post yesterday but life happened. So, in honor of not having time to do the things we really want to do, today I am sharing the easiest and fastest meal I know.

       Let’s face it, not every night do we feel like going to the store and getting fresh ingredients and making some beautifully delicious meal. I may be a stay at home mom now, but I wasn’t for a good six years. I would work a nine-hour day with a 45 min drive time each way. When I got home, I barely wanted to stand let alone cook.

      This is one of my son’s favorite dishes and is considered comfort food in our home. It is easy and relatively fast. It also doesn’t require many ingredients so it is also inexpensive and I usually have all of these ingredients on hand anyway. I’m sure there are plenty of ways to make this meal healthier and I’d love to read your variations of this dish in the comments.

      For easy meals, I usually always pick up a bag of frozen chicken. There are just so many dishes you can whip up quickly with chicken. Some may use breasts and I do on occasion but I am a dark meat fan. I get a bag of thighs and find that the meat stays juiciest that way.

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Is that really a pot of frozen chicken? Yep.

      Another staple is boil in bag rice. I have many talents but one of those talents is recognizing when I don’t have a particular talent like boiling rice. I’ve tried doing regular rice because it is cheaper but it doesn’t pay off if it turns to mush or burns on the bottom so I spend the little bit extra to have it in little easy to boil bags. I guess that is considered cheating but again as a busy parent or just an overworked exhausted adult, it makes putting dinner on the table so much easier. Life is hard enough without having to worry about burning the rice. Also, for this recipe, there will be enough liquid from the chicken broth and cream of mushroom soup that a little overcooked rice could easily turn into mush if not careful. Don’t worry, I’m not going to let your meal turn to mush!

Comfort_Food_Chicken_and_Rice
“Life is hard enough without having to worry about burning the rice.”

     Start by putting three to four pieces of your frozen chicken in a pot and cover in water. You’ll want to bring it to a boil until your chicken is cooked completely through. Pull out your chicken and set aside to cut into bite size pieces. Set aside a little bit of the chicken stock as well. Now you can either dump the rest, save it or, do what I do and boil your rice in it. I boil two bags of rice for 3-4 pieces of chicken. While that is boiling, get a large mixing bowl to put your chicken in. I like to grab the one with a lid because it will be the same container the leftovers stay in after dinner. Once cooked (it only takes a few minutes), add the rice to the chicken and pour can of cream of mushroom soup over. It will be a bit globby at first but as you mix, it will cream up. Add salt and pepper to taste and if the mixture seems dry add some of that saved chicken stock. 

That is it folks. Three ingredients and you have yourself a meal in about 15-20 minutes and that’s only because of the chicken. It is inexpensive, so easy to prepare and a meal I don’t have to bribe the little one to eat.

This is not a “pretty” meal. This is not one that you present to your in-laws the first time you have them over. Chicken and Rice is a comfort food. It is what you want when you are sick and achy or when your cramps are getting you down. It reminds you of home and fills your tummy with familiar warmth. Even without Grandma’s presentation, this meal is still able to make life a bit more enjoyable. You could even say that it makes life taste sweeter. 😉

3 Tips To Make Your Monthly Meal Plan Work

Three tips to make your monthly meal plan work for you and your busy family.

Hey guys!

Before we dive head first into my recipe book (like I actually use one of those ;)), I wanted to share a few more tips I’ve learned along the way in making this monthly meal plan work. There is a lot of information out there and sometimes we get sucked into believing things that may be true for some but don’t typically work for the average Joe. For example, I have always lived on some sort of budget. I don’t mean this nice and neat pie chart thing that tells me I have x amount of dollars to spend on groceries that month. I mean the type of budget that I think many Americans live on these days; the type of budget where you aren’t a hundred percent sure you will be able to pay your electric bill and your car payment and go grocery shopping all in the same week. We aren’t exactly poor but we still have that looming worry over our heads that prevents us from making financial decisions without considerable thought. Not to mention if any unexpected expenses arise along the way and put a huge hiccup in our plans.

I’ll be the first to tell you that monthly meal planning is not for everyone. I, by no means, want to persuade you to do something that you have no interest in doing or feel isn’t right for your family. I only recently discovered monthly meal planning myself and I am always looking for new ways to provide for my family and save money.

 

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1. What’s Important

Decide what is most important to you and your family. Are you looking to save money or are you looking to create your meals from all organic material? Do you have the space to buy in bulk or are you willing to travel in order to get specific ingredients?

In my family, I look for the best deal. However, I hate the stress of the store and being in a new town, I don’t like to travel outside of a 15-20 mile radius from home. I also can’t stand to go to too many stores so you will not find me sale chasing. In fact, I don’t even look at sale papers or coupons anymore. What?! I know.  I know. But here’s the thing, I did do that for a while. I had six sales papers laid out in front of me and I used to find solace in the actual cutting of the coupons. I get it. I love the rush of getting a “deal” or “bargain”. But unless you are an extreme couponer and have the space to store all of it, coupons typically only save you about 25% off of your regular grocery bill. I didn’t grab those statistics from the internet. I went on grocery trips and calculated it each time. I even used coupons at the dollar store and the result was still the same.

I shop at Aldi and will sing their praises all day long. I do not get the excitement of finding an unbelievable price in a sales ad or opting into a buy one get one at Publix. I don’t clip the coupons and try out products I never knew I wanted until I had a coupon for them. I just shop at a store that has exactly what I need at a minimal price. Could Wal-Mart have better prices? Maybe, but the change I might be spending at Aldi is far less than the impulse purchases I would make at Wal-Mart. I have to know myself. I have to know that I don’t like stress and I don’t like temptation. If you have the will power for it, more power to you.

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Though Aldi is my primary store it is not my only store. I also shop at Sam’s Club for meat and tortillas. Aldi has both of these but not exactly what I am looking for. Both breakfast burritos and lunch burritos are made in the monthly meal plan and regular old flour tortillas just weren’t good enough for me. Sam’s Club has a pack of tortillas that have added fiber and protein and make me feel like those breakfast and lunch burritos are more like meals.

Sam’s Club also has fantastic prices on meat. Since I have a monthly meal plan and know that if I need the meat for this month, I will also need the same type and portion next month, there is never a question of how or when it will get used. A large skinless salmon purchased at Sam’s Club is enough to make four full dinners. That is potentially four months worth of salmon. However, buying in bulk like this does require a place to store it, which brings us to number two.

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2. Where To Store It

Find a way to store your food. Obviously making food last for a month in a place as hot as Florida is not always an easy task. Your deep freezer will be your best friend. All the meat goes in the deep freezer almost immediately except for the hamburger meat. The hamburger I will portion off into one pound increments or make into patties as needed for the month’s recipes. Fresh vegetables like onions and green peppers get diced and put into one cup increments in Ziploc baggies. These I keep in my kitchen freezer for easy use while cooking. Now, in our family, sometimes milk doesn’t get used quite as frequently as expected either so I will portion that off into recycled plastic jugs (mayonnaise and peanut butter jars work great) and freeze that as well.

The freezer isn’t just good for the raw materials. I also freeze leftovers or go ahead and marinate some meat and veggies and freeze those too. Like I said, your deep freezer will be your best friend.

What to do with all the non-freezable stuff? I am very grateful that Captain Cupcakeasaurus built me a large shelving space in the hallway that we call our pantry. I hope you have a large pantry or shelving space or hallway (though pantry is preferred) as well. Remember that thrill you got when finding a sale in the ad paper? Well, a similar thrill rolls through you when you see your pantry at the beginning of the month. All the shelves fully stocked and awaiting my use remind me of the pantries they show on Top Chef or Chopped.

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Whether you are buying in bulk, monthly meal planning, or couponing, you will definitely need a place to store it. There is nothing worse than buying a month’s worth of food and then not having room to fit it all in your refrigerator or have half of it left out on your counters.

3. When To Shop

Make your shopping day and your prep day two different days.  Some may think this is a no-brainer. Well, I didn’t. I thought that if I could get all my shopping done in one day, then I could also get all my prep done in the same day. Voila, I would have everything done in one day and not have to worry about it for another month. I must be delusional. Trust me, you will want these to be separate days. The idea is to reduce stress. You save money to reduce financial stress. You only shop once a month to reduce social anxiety stress. You prep on the second day to reduce… well, I’m not sure what that stress would be called but we are reducing it, dang it!

Also, prep day can be fun if you make it so. I have had prep days where I laugh with my fiancé while chopping onions. I have had prep days laughing with my bestie on speakerphone while chopping green peppers. I have had prep days watching Netflix on my phone and drinking Moscato while precooking ground beef. Please notice that my prep days include laughter with those I love, Netflix and wine. What could be less stressful than that?

Those are my tips to help you stay sane as you start out on your monthly meal planning journey. Let me know if there are any other hurdles you’ve faced while meal planning or any additional tips you’d offer to others starting. Thanks for reading and helping make life taste sweeter.

 

Why I Monthly Meal Plan

The reason why I monthly meal plan and how it can pay off for your family too.

Why I Monthly Meal Plan, Meal plan guide for busy family, Cost of monthly meal planning

In How To Start A Monthly Meal Plan, I shared that my family and I use a monthly meal plan system to feed our family healthy, delicious meals each month. However, I didn’t really get into the reasons why we chose to go this route.

Life Changes

I used to be a full-time working single mom who completed online classes and managed my household all on my own. This meant I was familiar with living on a budget and barely making ends meet. Being the only adult in the house also meant I was very comfortable making all the decisions without consideration for anyone but my son and me.

Things change, as they often do, and now I am a stay at home mom with a breadwinner partner and I must make considerations for the entire family. The new role was difficult for me to adjust to at first. I couldn’t help but feel controlled and I hated the idea of being “taken care of”.

The Job of Being a SAHM

So I approached being a stay at home mom like a job. The title of Home Manager was now my new position. I created a household binder and developed a family budget and monthly meal plan. My duties included taking over keeping track of schedules and bills and knowing the ins and outs of our household. Making what I do a job was the only way I could get my mind wrapped around my new role and really embrace it.

Captain Cupcakeasaurus was used to living the bachelor life and spending what he wanted when he wanted. Must be nice, right? Well, he now had a partner and child to think about and we were more expensive than I think he realized. We have some debt we want to pay off and a wedding to plan so we developed a budget that would allow us to do just that. Our monthly grocery/food budget is $400. I will warn you, the first month this will be hard to match. There will be things you don’t currently have in your pantry or your primary store won’t have all the ingredients you thought they would. It is inevitable so don’t beat yourself up too bad if you go over. The next month will be easier, I promise.

Why I Monthly Meal Plan, Meal plan guide for busy family, Cost of monthly meal planning

Month of Meals Math

I was developing our plan over the summer so I was figuring three meals a day for three people. Now, that my son is in school and eating breakfast and lunch at school, I don’t have to account for nearly as much. As mentioned in How To Start A Monthly Meal Plan,  we accounted for dinners six nights a week and the ability to eat out at least two times per month. The way I separate the budget for groceries is $325.00 for groceries and $75.00 for eating out. Of the grocery portion, $300 is used at the beginning of the month and $25 is saved for the mid-month milk and bread run.

Are these numbers exact? No. Will the cost of eating out and groceries be the same for your area? Probably not. Can you manipulate the budget to fit your family’s needs and the prices for your area? Absolutely. If you need help doing so, please just ask. It isn’t easy managing a home or staying on budget or trying a new system out without helpful resources. I read a ton of information online and then tweaked their suggestions to meet my own needs and still had some adjusting to do once put into practice.

Why I Monthly Meal Plan, Meal plan guide for busy family, Cost of monthly meal planning

Calculations Are In

Now we can all whip out our handy-dandy calculators to really show the benefits of monthly meal planning. $325 divided by 3 people equals $108.33 per person for the month. To estimate on the larger months, we will say a month has 31 days and that would leave $3.49 per person per day. Three meals a day would then give each person $1.16.

What? No way! I can’t feed someone a delicious and nutritious meal for $1.16! The vending machine costs more than that! Yes, you can feed your family for that amount and I’m going to show you how. But, just for giggles even if your monthly grocery budget was $500 straight for groceries, you’d still only be spending $1.79 per meal per person for a family of three. It can be done and once you start, you won’t ever want to eat out again.

Where can you feed a family of three for $3.50? That trip to McDonald’s will seem ridiculous because you’ll be buying junkie food that doesn’t even really taste good and paying nearly ten times as much for it.

But, just for giggles even if your monthly grocery budget was $500 straight for groceries, you’d still only be spending $1.79 per meal per person for a family of three. It can be done and once you start, you won’t ever want to eat out again. Where can you feed a family of three for $3.50? That trip to McDonald’s will seem ridiculous because you’ll be buying junkie food that doesn’t even really taste good and paying nearly ten times as much for it.

What To Exclude

I do feel like I should add a disclaimer. My family, in an effort to live healthier, decided to primarily drink water. So we do not spend money on soft drinks. Some juices are purchased but not many. We also do not include alcoholic beverages in our grocery budget. A decent rule of thumb is if food stamps don’t cover it, our grocery budget probably doesn’t cover it. Groceries also do not include any paper products, cleaning products, or our cats’ food.

Why I Monthly Meal Plan, Meal plan guide for busy family, Cost of monthly meal planning

Why I Monthly Meal Plan

So the real reason why I monthly meal plan is all in the numbers. I take pride in knowing I can feed my family for less than $5 a meal for everyone to have a tasty and nutritious dinner at home. Family is created at the dinner table. Take a look at the history of holidays and cultures around the world. People celebrate the people they love with food.

Every night I can bring my family around the dinner table and listen to their day, I know I am blessed. I know that I am doing my job as home manager and making the system work. We are saving our money to provide for our future, I am feeding them meals that will nourish them and comfort them. Hopefully, my son will one day tell his children about these dinners and think of me. That is why I monthly meal plan.

How To Start A Monthly Meal Plan

An easy guide on how to start planning a monthly meal plan to feed your busy and hungry family on a budget.

How To Start A Monthly Meal Plan, Grocery Planning, Family Meal Prep

My best friend is also a stay at home mom and I consider her one of the smartest women I know. She and I have similar views on parenting and homesteading and it is nice to have someone to play ideas off of and to complain to when those ideas don’t quite work out the way we planned. When I get discouraged I remember that she has two kiddos at home versus my one and if she can do it, then surely I can too.

Our friendship is not a one-way street. So when she told me about her weekly meal planning, I considered giving it a shot. I had never meal planned before in my life. You mean people know what they are going to eat before dinner time the day of?!? I had no idea.

So I spent some time online and discovered that the monthly meal plan sounded like something I could possibly manage. I hate shopping. I mean I hate the going to a store and spending more money and time than I intended and being exhausted and ready for pizza at the end of it. For me, there is a  narrow line between thrifty and comfort. I could easily see the benefit of having my groceries delivered to me, but, frankly, I’m not going to pay more for something I can do myself. A once a month trip sounded like it could work though so I set out to start.

If you are thinking about starting a monthly meal plan, here are a few things to consider first. The monthly meal plan is not for everyone. Whether it be because of the budget, food preferences, or produce availability or just that you and your family don’t like it, there may be some reason that monthly planning doesn’t work for you. That is okay. I don’t suggest it for everyone but it works for us. Since I spent some time on it and the bestie was inspired to try her own version, I figured I’d share my experience.

How To Start A Monthly Meal Plan, Grocery Planning, Family Meal Prep

When To Shop

First, you will want to figure out when you want to do your monthly shop. The beginning of the month is when people get paid and receive food stamps, so often the stores are more crowded at that time. This doesn’t stop me from going at the beginning of the month, I just choose to go in the morning on a weekday to avoid the crowds.

 

Where To Shop

Second, I strongly suggest choosing one primary store to do your shopping. Multiple stores mean multiple receipts, which usually also means more money spent and who wants to travel around to different stores all day? I chose Aldi as my store of choice. If you have one near you, I strongly recommend going there just to try it out. They do not take coupons and some of their products are off brand but if you are not brand specific and would prefer a lower base cost than trying to do the math on coupons and sales then it is well worth it. Also, if you are a couponer, then you already know that the sales are weekly and not monthly and this meal plan may not be for you… or maybe, just maybe couponing isn’t for you.

Flexibility

Third, even though it is called a monthly meal plan, it doesn’t mean that I can’t pick up things if I need them at the two-week mark. This is usually my bread and milk run. I just include this mid month trip in the budget and account for it accordingly. This monthly meal plan does take patience and it takes about a month or two to really get the hang of it. I’m going into my fourth month now and I am still finding ways to improve the “system”.

Making It Work

Alright, now that you have the basics and you’ve decided to proceed with this crazy monthly meal plan idea, let’s get planning. For my family, I first came up with theme nights. I find this helps with answering the “What’s for dinner?” question. You can use the ones I do or create your own that fit with your family and your schedule.

How To Start A Monthly Meal Plan, Grocery Planning, Family Meal Prep

 

Daily Food Themes

Mondays

We have Meatless Mondays which are our one night a week to eat vegetarian.

Tuesdays

Home Cooking Tuesday doesn’t quite have the nice alliteration ring to it but this is the night I make the comfort food I grew up on and know by heart without a recipe. (Edit: I have since named this night Tried and True Tuesdays. Now, that alliteration I can get behind.)

Wednesdays

My fiancé (Captain Cupcakeasaurus) and I are gamers and have a weekly game night hosted at our house. I realize this isn’t considered normal for most families but almost everyone has some sort of activity that prevents them from being able to cook that night. Crockpot Wednesday is perfect for when someone is at dance class or soccer practice or whatever else your busy family is getting into that night.

Thursdays

We have Culture Night Thursday, again I need help with catchy alliterations for these days of the week. (Edit: This is now Taste the World Thursday) Culture Night is an attempt to expose my family to dishes from other countries. They may not be authentic but it mixes up the menu a bit and lets us explore new cuisine.

Fridays

Fish Friday is pretty self-explanatory but I include all seafood in this fish definition. Shrimp even qualifies for Fish Friday.

Saturdays

Pasta Night is Saturday (Edit: Noodle Night! Gotta love that alliteration again.) and includes almost anything with noodles. We are a carb friendly family and I’m not sure I could go without my pasta again. I have previously done the Atkins diet and though I lost weight for a while, I really missed my oodles of noodles.

Sundays

Sunday is set aside for leftovers or eating out. We don’t eat out often nor do we need to, but I allow a day for it so we can budget the eating out as well. 

 

Recipe Collecting

If you are a Pinterest user, go ahead and create a board for each day of the week minus Sunday of course. When I see recipes I want to try or something that just looks too delicious to pass up, I’ll pin it to the appropriate board. (Edit: My Pinterest now has a board for each night so you are welcome to steal ideas from there.) At the end of the month, we sit as a family and discuss what we want to eat the next month. My son has some of his favorites that he loves and definitely wants to have them on the menu during the month.

How To Start A Monthly Meal Plan, Grocery Planning, Family Meal Prep

The Math

I try to choose five recipes for each day of the week. If you notice that comes out to 30 recipes and ta da you have a month worth of meals! Now you are ready to make that monthly meal plan work!

As we continue, I hope to share with you all the recipes I have personally tried on my own family. We will discuss more about the monthly meal plan process, creating the grocery list, and that dreaded first grocery trip when the cashier asks if you are feeding an army. I will also then go meal by meal, sharing all my successes and failures with you. It will be fun, I promise!

Of course, I’ll add in some more cupcake recipes along the way because after all I aim to make life taste sweeter and you’ll want one to reward yourself after all your meal planning. Feel free to ask questions along the way and share your own experiences with monthly meal planning. We are in this together.