Sunday, May 30, 2010

Brown Butter Blondies

Sheer bliss.

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That's all I have to say.

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I don't know why I ever even bothered with all those other brownie recipes.  And brownies from a box?  Bite your tongue.

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These were so, so, very good that I almost passed out on the floor in sheer bliss when I tasted them..... but then I pulled myself together and ate two.  Immediately.  And I wasn't sorry.  Not one bit.

Brown Butter Blondies
Recipe from Williams-Sonoma 'Essentials of Baking'

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup clarified unsalted butter (see Notes)
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
confectioners sugar for dusting (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Butter an 8 inch by 8 inch baking dish or pan.  Line dish with parchment paper for easy removal and cooling, once blondies are done baking.

Add flour, baking powder and salt to a large bowl.  Mix to combine.

In a small saute or frying pan, over low heat, heat the clarified butter until light brown and fragrant, about 6 minutes.  Remove pan from the heat, pour butter into a bowl, and let cool.

In a second bowl, combine brown sugar, granulated sugar and butter when cooled.  Stir to combine with a wooden spoon.  Add eggs, vanilla, and lemon juice and stir until smooth.  Add dry ingredients in 2 batches and stir until just incorporated.

Pour batter into prepared baking dish or pan.  Bake for about 35-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out either clean or with crumbs...not batter.  If using parchment paper, gently lift blondies out of baking dish or pan and let cool on a wire rack.

If desired, dust with confectioners sugar after blondies have cooled.  Then cut them and eat them right away for heavens sake!!!

To make clarified butter:  Slowly melt at least 1 cup (or 2 sticks) of unsalted butter in a small pan over low heat until it is foamy on the surface.  Tranfer butter to a bowl to cool.  Once butter has cooled, using a spoon, carefully scoop foam off of the surface of the melted butter.  Once foam is removed pour butter back into pan, being careful to leave solid particles that have settled to the bottom, in the bowl.  Heat now clarified butter in a small pan over low heat until light brown and fragrant.  Immediately remove from heat.  If this whole 'clarification' process is not necessary, please, someone let me know..... cause I am not sure. 

2 sticks of butter made just a little over 2/3 cup of clarified butter for me.  Perfect.

Orange-Cranberry Scones

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Can I introduce you to one of my absolute favorite desserts, hands down?

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And this is one of the best recipes that I've tried so far.  Light and flaky scones with just the right amount of sweetness provided by both the craisins, raisins and light lemony glaze.  What could be more perfect?

Orange-Cranberry Scones
Recipe adapted from Food and Wine Magazine

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup quick-cooking oats
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons turbinado sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and chilled (see Notes)
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup golden raisins
2 teaspoons orange zest
1/2 cup buttermilk, plus more for brushing over scones  (see Notes)
2 cups confectioners sugar
1 lemon, juiced

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Into a food processor, add the flour, baking powder, salt and turbinado sugar.  Pulse to combine.  Cut chilled butter into 1" cubes and add to ingredients already in food processor.  Pulse until the mix becomes a coarse meal.

Transfer mix from food processor to a large mixing bowl.  Add cranberries, raisins and orange zest.  Stir in 1/2 cup of buttermilk until a stiff dough forms.  Remove dough from bowl and gently knead until it just comes together.

Transfer dough to a parchment lined baking sheet.  Pat the dough into a 3/4 inch thick circle, and cut into 8 wedges.  Brush wedges with extra buttermilk.  Bake scones 17 minutes, until lightly browned.  Let scones cool.

Mix 2 cups of confectioners sugar with lemon juice until desired consistency is reached.  Sometimes I add more sugar..... depends on how juicy the lemon is.  It's up to you.  Drizzle glaze over scones.  Eat!

To make buttermilk at home just measure out 1 cup of whole milk and top off with 1 tablespoon of white vinegar.  It only takes a minute for the buttermilk to form, so I usually start with this step.  Make sure to either remeasure or add the proper amount when the time comes to add the buttermilk.

I think it's really important to be quick with this whole process once you add the butter.  The less time your dough spends between the food processor and the oven, and the less you work it with your hands, the flakier the scones will be.  At least that's my experience.

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Mediterranean Cucumber Dip

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Can I say that I just love a recipe where everything goes into the food processor, and after a few pulses....... Voila!  Beautiful appetizer or snack to put out for a visit with friends.  Can't beat that.

I whipped this up after seeing it on 'Spice and Easy' on the Food Network one weekend.  It went with me to a cookout, and all I have to say is that it did not return to my house.  Big hit.

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Recipe adapted from Janet Johnston and

8 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 red bell pepper seeded and chopped, plus 1/4, for garnish
1 lemon, zested
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 teaspoon dried Mediterranean oregano
4 teaspoons chopped mint leaves
2 seedless cucumbers, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds

Put the goat cheese, yogurt, red bell pepper, lemon zest, garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, and the mint in a food processor and puree until smooth.

Serve alongside sliced cucumbers for dipping.

Almond Blueberry Cookies

Yes, I realize that the cookies are literally blue.  I always manage to turn the batter blue when blueberries are involved.  There's just something about the instruction that always says something like '...gently fold blueberries into batter...'.  No matter.  They are just as delicious blue.

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These cookies were sweet, but not too sweet.  Delightfully crunchy (if you ask me) and light.  They taste very much like the top part of a blueberry muffin.  Which is my favorite part of a blueberry muffin, or any muffin for that matter.

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Almond Blueberry Cookies
Recipe from Giada De Laurentiis and

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup whole milk (or heavy cream if you forgot to buy the milk)
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 teaspoons lemon zest, about 1 lemon
1/2 cup chopped almonds, toasted
1 cup frozen blueberries, thawed and drained

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream together the butter and sugar. Add egg and beat to incorporate. Add milk, almond extract, and lemon zest.

Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Fold in the almonds, then the blueberries. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Spoon cookie dough onto cookie sheet in equal portions of about 1 tablespoon. I like to use one of those handy dandy cookie scoops so they're all evenly sized, but I'm crazy like that.

Bake until golden brown around the edges, about 15 minutes.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Bruschetta with Gorgonzola Cheese and Honey

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I have something very important to tell you.....

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Gorgonzola cheese, honey, and crunchy italian bread.......

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they go together so wonderfully.

This is the simplest appetizer.  And for such a simple appetizer, it makes an elegant presentation. It'll be a hit.  I promise.

Bruschetta with Gorgonzola Cheese and Honey
Recipe from Giada De Laurentiis and

36 slices (1/2-inch thick) baguette bread, about 1 loaf
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces Gorgonzola, sliced
3 tablespoons honey

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Arrange the sliced baguette on a baking sheet. Brush with olive oil. Bake until the bread is pale golden and crisp, about 10 minutes.

Arrange the cheese on the toasts and bake until the cheese is melted, about 3 minutes.

Drizzle the toasts with honey. Place on a serving platter and serve immediately.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Chocolate Chip Walnut Cupcakes

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These were a quick make last weekend.  My goal was to use up some stuff that was already in my pantry.  Giada's chocolate chip walnut cupcakes were the perfect solution for the brownie mix that had been hanging around in there with no purpose.  I do have a confession to make.  You can use any brownie mix on hand for this recipe, however, the brownie mix that I happened to have on hand was from The Barefoot Contessa.  Sacrilege, I know.  Using the Barefoot Contessa's brownies for a recipe from Giada.... my 13 year old suggested that it might be cause for arrest... 

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What can I say... the mix of the two ladies' recipes was absolutely delicious.  I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Chocolate Chip Walnut Cupcakes
Recipe adapted from Giada De Laurentiis and

for the cupcakes:
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips, plus 1/4 cup for garnish
1 (21-ounce) box brownie mix (recommended: Duncan Hines Chewy Fudge)
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water

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 for the icing:
4 ounces mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar

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Special equipment: 12 paper cupcake liners, a 12-cup muffin pan

For the cupcakes: Place an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.

In a small bowl combine the walnuts, 1 cup mini chocolate chips and 1 tablespoon of the brownie mix. Toss until all the ingredients are coated. Set aside.

In a large bowl mix together the remaining brownie mix, eggs, vegetable oil, and water. Stir for 20 seconds until blended. Fold in the walnuts and chocolate chips. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan (cupcake liners will be full).

Bake for 22 to 25 minutes until a cake tester inserted into the cupcakes comes out with moist fudgy crumbs.

Cool the cupcakes in the pan for 10 minutes. Transfer the cupcakes to a wire rack and cool completely before frosting, about 30 minutes.

For the frosting: In a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer, beat the cheeses together until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add and beat the powdered sugar into the cheeses, one cup at a time, until smooth and spreadable. Refrigerate the frosting until ready to use.

Spread the frosting on top of the cupcakes.  Eat one, or two, or perhaps half a dozen....

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lime Yogurt Cake with Blackberry Sauce

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I am really hoping that the neighbors didn't notice me laying out on my front walkway with my camera and this cake. Word doesn't seem to have gotten back to my husband, so I guess we're okay.  I can just imagine that conversation..... 'I was driving by your house and saw your wife.....'  What can I say.  I was looking for the light, and it happened to be out in front.  Normally I try to keep all craziness behind the fence, or inside the house.... Ahhhhh, the things I go through for the perfect shot.

Check this out.  Looks good doesn't it?  You want a bite, don't you?

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But wait.....this fantastic cake has an even more fantastic sauce that gets drizzled over it. 

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I found this recipe on Smitten Kitchen.  One of my favorite websites for more than just dessert recipes.  She always has something tasty posted.  Definitely check it out if you're not familiar with it already.  If you are already familiar with it, then you should already know that this cake is a winner.

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Lime Yogurt Cake

for the cake:
1 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cup vegetable oil 
1 cup sugar
zest of one lime
1/4 cup lime juice (I used 3 limes)
2 eggs
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt

now for the sauce:
12 ounces fresh blackberries, or one whole bag of frozen blackberries
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Combine blackberries, water, sugar and lime juice in blender or food processor. The original recipe calls for straining out the seeds, but I was in a hurry, so I left them in, and it was fine. Cover and refrigerate.
(You can use whatever sauce you don't use on the cake in a yogurt parfait with some plain yogurt and granola... which I have recently added to my morning routine.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Generously grease and flour the sides and bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan 

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a bowl.

In a stand mixer, whisk together the yogurt, oil, sugar, lime zest and juice. Add the eggs and mix well after adding each one (or add them both at the same time, and pretend that you added them separately, like I did).

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in 2 batches.  Mix until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes.  The top of the cake will be a  golden brown when it's done.  A toothpick will tell you if it's really done. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let stand for 10 minutes. I like to sandwich the cake pan between 2 cooling racks, and then flip the cake gently, and invert it back to right side up once it comes out of the pan.  

Once the cake was cool, I sprinkled it with confectioners sugar....just to make it pretty.

Drizzle with blackberry sauce and serve.  Yum.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mascarpone Chocolate Toffee Bars

I know I say this every time, but you really should make these.

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They have a chewy sugar cookie base... with chocolate toffee bar chunks mixed in there too...

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and a creamy, chocolatey, decadent, top layer, sprinkled with the rest of the chocolate toffee pieces and roasted almond slices..... am I in heaven?

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Oh my goodness.......

They are very, very decadent and rich. I would compare them to brownies. I cut them into small pieces because they were so very rich, and I stored them in the refrigerator because the chocolate/mascarpone layer got a little melty when left out at room temperature. I personally thought they were better served chilled, straight out of the fridge. Perfect for that late night chocolate craving...

Warning: I had some trouble with the pan that she is recommending for baking these. I did not have this particular size pan, nor did many people who commented on the recipe on I used my stoneware 7 1/2" x 11 1/2" shallow baking dish. Many people who reviewed the recipe complained that her baking time was not near enough to bake the cookie layer completely through. I agree. 12 minutes was a joke. The cookie dough was practically raw. I believe that I put the pan back in the oven for another 8 or so minutes, but it will depend on what size pan you're using, and also I assume on whether the pan is metal, glass, stoneware, etc as well. I kept a really close eye on the pan after about 15 minutes and checked on it in 3-4 minute intervals until the top was a golden brown and looked done. Then do the whole toothpick maneuver to make sure. It's just sugar cookie dough, not rocket science people..... wing it.

Recipe adapted from Giada De Laurentiis and

Vegetable cooking spray
1 pound refrigerated sugar cookie dough (recommended: Pillsbury)
2 (1.4-ounces) chocolate-toffee candy bars, coarsely chopped, divided (Skor or Heath)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 cup (8 ounces) mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted * see Cook's Note
Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Spray a 7 by 10 3/4-inch nonstick baking pan with vegetable cooking spray. Lay a 6 by 18-inch piece of parchment paper in the pan, allowing the excess paper to overhang the sides. Spray the parchment paper lightly with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, combine the cookie dough, 1/2 of the chopped chocolate-toffee candy pieces and vanilla extract. Using damp fingers, gently press the dough into the prepared pan. Using the tines of a fork, prick the dough all over. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes until the crust is lightly browned. Cool for 15 minutes.
Place the chocolate chips and vegetable oil in a medium bowl. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir until the chocolate has melted. Cool the chocolate mixture for 10 minutes. Whisk in the mascarpone cheese until the mixture is smooth. Using a spatula, spread the chocolate mixture over the cooled crust. Sprinkle the remaining chocolate-toffee candy pieces and sliced almonds over the chocolate mixture. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours until the chocolate layer is firm.
Peel off the parchment paper and cut into 1 1/2 by 2-inch bars. Serve at room temperature.
*Cook's Note: To toast almonds, arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees F oven for 8 to 10 minutes until lightly browned.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Swiss Chard and Sweet Pea Stuffed Shells

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Whether you have company coming over and want to make something fabulous, or are just craving a creamy, cheesy, pasta dinner, this dish will not disappoint.

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Despite it's look, it was simple to put together and it was delicious.

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Shells, stuffed with a mixture of swiss chard, peas and cheese.....all covered in a decadent creamy fontina cheese sauce....... it was heaven. At least it was for me last night.

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The original recipe calls for manicotti, which I'm sure make for a very elegant presentation, but stuffing manicotti shells in the past has resulted in a huge mess and a very frustrated cook. So I used jumbo shells instead. They are a snap to fill, and make every bit as beautiful a presentation if you ask me. The filling only carried me through about 20 shells or so, so you may want to save the rest of the uncooked shells for another meal... I'm not sure exactly how many are in a box.
Swiss Chard and Sweet Pea Stuffed Shells
recipe adapted from Giada De Laurentiis and
the recipe can also be found in 'Giada's Kitchen'.

Butter, for greasing the pan
approximately 20-24 jumbo sized pasta shells (I cooked the whole box, but only used about half. The filling might take you further if you don't fill the shells as full as I did, but I recommend that you stuff them generously.)

for the filling:
1 bunch of either red or white Swiss chard
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta cheese
3/4 cup frozen petite peas, thawed
1 cup shredded mozzarella (4 ounces)
3/4 cup grated Parmesan (2 ounces)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

for the fontina fonduta sauce:
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
3 cups (6 ounces) fontina cheese, grated
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) mozzarella, shredded

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a 13 by 9-inch glass baking dish liberally with butter.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 6 to 8 minutes. Drain the pasta and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring milk and cream to a simmer, over medium heat. Reduce heat to low. Add the fontina cheese and cook, stirring constantly, until the cheese is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the Parmesan cheese and basil.
Using a knife, remove the leaves from the stems of the chard. Discard the stems. Chop the leaves into 1-inch pieces. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute longer. Add the chard and cook, stirring constantly, until wilted, about 2 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool slightly. Place the ricotta cheese, peas, mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, basil, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Add the cooled chard mixture and blend until smooth. Spoon some of the cheese sauce into the bottom of the baking dish. Just enough to provide a layer between the shells and the bottom of the pan. Spoon the filling mixture into each jumbo shell, and place the stuffed shells in the prepared baking dish.

Pour the sauce over the stuffed manicotti and sprinkle with the mozzarella cheese. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the top is golden. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Five Spice Pineapple Carrot Cupcakes

I spent a lot of time in the kitchen yesterday..... Ahhhhh baking. It's therapy I tell you. Good for the soul. Not so good for the figure, but definitely good for the soul.

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All those carrots are really good for your eyes....right???

A new show debuted on the Food Network last weekend. It looked interesting, so I checked it out. Spice and Easy. The host, Janet Johnston, is the owner of a spice shop in Denver, CO. I really enjoyed the show and the things she made looked really good, so I decided to give her a run for her money..... the 2 recipes I chose did not disappoint, and both were big hits. Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about Giada....

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I will tell you that this particular recipe includes a spice called 'Chinese 5 spice powder'. She said that you can find it anywhere these days, but I could not find it anywhere. So, I googled it and came up with a recipe to make it myself. Not sure if my 5 spice powder tastes anything close to true 5 spice powder, but the cupcakes were good regardless....I ask you, how can you go wrong with anything that has cream cheese frosting on top? The cupcakes were very similar to your classic recipe overall, but had a taste very reminiscent of spice cake if you ask me. Yum.

Five Spice Pineapple Carrot Cupcakes
adapted from Janet Johnston and

(note: The recipe makes 12 cupcakes.)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder (*see note below)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup crushed pineapple
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups shredded carrots (about 3 to 4 medium-sized carrots)

(note: These ingredients make an absolute TON of frosting. I doubled the recipe for the cupcakes and had more than enough frosting without doubling the frosting ingredients as well.)

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground ginger
3 cups powdered sugar

In a large bowl, add the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and ginger. Blend the ingredients with an electric hand mixer until a creamy. Add the powdered sugar to the mixture slowly...1 cup at a time. Don't whiz the powdered sugar all over yourself and your kitchen like I did. I'm messy like that.

Chinese 5 Spice Powder
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tblspn ground cinnamon
1 tblspn ground fennel
2 tsp ground black peppercorns
4 tsp ground anise

(I could not find ground anise or fennel, so I ground them up with a little spice grinder, and then whisked them together with the other ingredients until combined. This recipe makes more than enough for use with this carrot cake recipe. You will probably have enough 5 spice to make 3 24-cupcake batches of cupcakes when all is said and done. Just store the excess in a sealed container (an emptied container from another spice works very well).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12 cup muffin pan with paper cupcake liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and Chinese five-spice powder.

In a large bowl or stand mixer, whisk together the vegetable oil, crushed pineapple, eggs, sugar, vanilla extract and carrots. Then slowly add the flour mixture and beat until just combined, about 2 minutes.

Fill the cups 3/4 full with batter. Bake until the cupcakes are set, about 20 to 22 minutes. Let cupcakes cool for 5 minutes, then remove them from the muffin tins and let cool completely on wire racks before frosting.