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Deanne made these Clue-themed cupcakes at my house for her Clue party this weekend.  I helped a tiny bit, but the credit for these definitely goes to her!

Clue cupcakes

The characters include: Miss Scarlet with the rope, Mrs. White with the wrench, Mr. Green with the lead pipe, Mrs. Peacock with the candlestick, Colonel Mustard with the revolver, and Professor Plum with the knife.  Also, poor Mr. Boddy in chalk outline.

What is a Clue party, you may ask?  For the party, Deanne and her friends each dressed up as a character from Clue.  They got fake weapons and costume accessories from the dollar store.  At the party, they played the Clue board game, watched the 1985 Clue movie, and ate these cupcakes.  Awesome idea.

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Rock Band is my most favorite video game in the history of all video games.  I’m by no means good at it (I usually recruit someone to split drumming/kickpedaling duties with me, and have been known to fail singing on Easy) but I love it like no other.  I even draw nerdy literary comics about it. And this week, I made Rock Band cupcakes.

Rock Band Cupcakes

Rock Band cupcake

They’d be really nice to make if you were having people over for a Rock Band night.  (Do those exist?  They should.  If you host one, invite me over.  Perhaps I’ll bring cupcakes.)

On a somewhat related note, have you seen the trailer for The Beatles: Rock Band yet?  I’m pretty stoked.

In honor of Watchmen, I made these cupcakes with Jackie.  It is probably one of the more kickass sets of baked goods I hope to ever create.  The whole second generation of Watchmen is represented, even Archie:

The Comedian cupcake, Rorschach cupcake, Archimedes cupcake, Ozymandias cupcake, Silk Spectre cupcake, Captain Metropolis cupcake, Nite Owl cupcake, Dr. Manhattan cupcake, Doomsday Clock cupcake, Watchmen cupcakes.

Watchmen cupcakes

watchmen cupcake the comedian's badge

See my previous post on Father’s Day cupcakes for a link to the fondant recipe we used.  Based on demand, I might put up a fondant decorating tutorial later this week when I make cupcakes with Deanne.  We’re thinking Rock Band and/or Clue.  Get excited.

Digg!

mosaic_cupcakes

Inspired by hellonaomi’s adorable cupcakes on Flickr, Jackie and I decided to make our own for Father’s Day.  We started with a basic fondant recipe and colored it with food gel coloring; working with fondant is a lot like working with marzipan (or, if you’re not much of a pastry chef, like playing Sculptorades in Cranium).  Here they are, in golf and airplane themes:

father's day golf cupcakes

father's day cupcakes airplanes

father's day cupcakes airplane

I do not exactly have a reputation as a master chef.  Ask my family about my culinary prowess, and they will probably regale you with a story of the time I managed to botch up a batch of Betty Crocker brownies by forgetting to add the eggs.  My dad, always the optimist, pointed out that I had invented a nearly indestructable building material.  What a kidder.

1 Egg and Oil!

"Just Add: Drywall and Insulation!"

Now that I live in an apartment, however, I cook my own meals, with surprisingly edible results:

Her range of dishes, initially limited to Spaghetti And Other Assorted Shapes of Pasta, has in recent weeks included rosemary-thyme lamb chops and a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.

The rest of her family regards her meteoric culinary rise with a mixture of pride (Dad), skepticism (sister), and astonishment (Mom).”

Excerpt from this year’s family Christmas newsletter

In order to prove to my disbelieving family that I am indeed capable of such feats, I baked another carrot cake a few days ago, using the same recipe as before.  The recipe I am about to share with you is, to the best of my knowledge, the most epic carrot cake recipe of all time.

Ultimate Carrot Cake

Here it is, in all of its carrotty applesaucey pineappley walnutty glory.

It originated from the “Carrot Cake III” recipe on allrecipes.com; I like to imagine user “Tammy Elliott” working feverishly in her underground kitchen/lair, inventing carrot cake after carrot cake until, in one triumphant moment, she shouts, “I’VE GOT IT!” and posts her recipe for a third-generation carrot cake so good that it deserves its own Roman numeral.  Next, the recipe was further improved upon by suggestions from 1,390 reviews, and consolidated into one list of alterations by user “gneebeanie”, whose perplexing choice of username is, I can only assume, a secretive anagram for “A Bee Engine” or “Inane Be(e) Gee”.

Saturday Night Fever for carrot cake?

Saturday Night Fever for carrot cake?

My humble contribution to this global effort has been to incorporate these alterations back into the recipe, which I have fittingly entitled “Ultimate Carrot Cake”. Both times I have baked this cake, it has garnered rave reviews:

“Some sort of cooking god needs to bow down to you.”

If you never make this again, I will kill you.”

“After nineteen years, I finally believe Katherine can cook.”

Here is the recipe, if you’d like to try it for yourself:

ULTIMATE CARROT CAKE

Beat together:
4 eggs
3/4 c vegetable oil
1 c brown sugar
1 c white sugar
3 tsp vanilla extract

Then mix in:
2 c flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
0.5 tsp salt
3 tsp ground cinnamon
0.25 tsp nutmeg

Then fold in:
3 c grated carrots
20 oz canned pineapple, chopped/crushed and drained (optional)
0.5 c applesauce (optional)
1 c chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Bake at 350 degrees in a greased 9X13 baking pan. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Let cool before frosting.

CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

Beat together:
0.5 c butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
3.5 c powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Frost cooled cake and sprinkle on:
1 c chopped nuts

Since starting this blog, I have developed an unhealthy need to take photographs of my food.  Things have gotten to the point where I will bring an entire dinner party to a halt just so that I can take a few snaps for this blog while my friends slouch in their chairs, exhale pointedly, and roll their eyes.

My favorite meal to photograph is lunch; maybe it’s the simplicity of the meal, or the way the light in our kitchen looks at noon, or the satisfaction of a well-fixed sandwich.  Hopefully, these photos will give you healthy lunch ideas that are easy to fix in 10 minutes with a stock of basic groceries from the fridge in your apartment.  At the very least, my mom, who just started reading this blog, will be able to see that I’m not living off of Hamburger Helper and Mac & Cheese in college.  Hi, Mom.

celery; broccoli; baby carrots; hummus

After school snack: celery; broccoli; baby carrots; hummus

turkey, jack cheese, baby spinach, mayonnaise, dijon mustard; hummus; tortilla chips; sugarplums

Sandwich: turkey, jack cheese, baby spinach, mayonnaise, dijon mustard; hummus; tortilla chips; sugarplums

Baby spinach, roma tomatoes, raisins, sunflower seeds, olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Baby spinach, roma tomatoes, raisins, sunflower seeds, olive oil and balsamic vinegar

salami, jack cheese, sprouts, tomatoes, dijon; vegetable chips; pear

Sandwich: salami, jack cheese, sprouts, tomatoes, dijon; vegetable flax seed chips; pear

PB&J; baby carrots; hummus; tortilla chips; sugarplums

Sandwich: crunchy PB&J; baby carrots; hummus; tortilla chips; sugarplums

As you have doubtless noticed, hummus is a staple part of my diet.  Hummus to me is like corn to the Incas, or rice to the Chinese, or barley to the Mesopotamians.  As I have mentioned multiple times on this blog, it’s all about Trader Joe’s, people.

For this post, I was inspired by Jen’s blog project at simply breakfast, introduced to me by Natalie.  Jen takes amazing photographs each morning of the first meal of the day, and has even published an entire book of them.  Here are a few samples of her work:

I’m not nearly as patient as Jen in selecting backdrops and dishware specifically chosen for the way their colors compliment and accentuate the food-as-art.  Usually I manage to snap a photo just before I wolf down my lunch and dash to swim class.

If I was a snooty art major, though, I would give the alternate explanation “I like to give the natural colors and textures of nature room to express themselves, by juxtaposing them with the simple pastoral feel of our worn wooden table, so that the visual exploration of the food itself is the focal point.”

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Edit: Drat, I just saw that Stuff White People Like posted an entry on hummus two days ago.

Four out of five school days, I eat lunch in the apartment because I’m working from home for my internship with ChunkIt!, a San Jose, CA tech company that basically has found a way to make your Internet research (easier), better, faster, stronger.  This is usually after Stats 20 lecture or before swim class, so by the time lunchtime rolls around, you can bet that I’m in serious need of brain food.

This is one of my favorite lunches: a toasted PB&J with crunchy peanut butter, tortilla chips, carrot sticks and hummus, fruit, and milk.  When I made it on Thursday I felt like a 1940s mom preparing a nutritious and healthful lunch pail for her first grader.  Except that first grader was me.

Literally 95% of what's on this plate is from Trader Joe's.

Literally 95% of what's on this plate is from Trader Joe's.

I even covered all of the food groups again: protein (peanut butter), grains (bread, chips), fruits and vegetables (plums, carrots, hummus), and dairy (milk).  Score.

Michael Bluth: What have we always said is the most important thing?

George Michael Bluth: Breakfast.

Michael: Family.

George Michael: Family, right. I thought you meant of the things you eat.

Arrested Development

I never skip breakfast, and I’m surprised when my friends say they do.  It’s really not too difficult to toast an English muffin or pour a bowl of cereal in the morning on your way out the door, and it makes such a big difference in your concentration levels and your mood for the rest of the morning.

Lately, I’ve been having Trader Joe’s Frosted Shredded Bite Size Wheats (basically fancified Mini Wheats, okay?) and I love them.  They have 90% of my daily value of iron, which is important because I’m iron deficient.  If I have a bowl of wheats with soymilk, that’s my entire daily value right there.

Trader Joe's Frosted Shredded Bite Size Wheats

Trader Joe's Frosted Shredded Bite Size Wheats

Everyone has a different way of eating cereal.  I like mine with soymilk to add sweetness and nutrition, but just enough to get the cereal wet.  I really hate eating cereal with a big bowl of milk, so that at the end you’re left with sugary milk with little bits of cereal floating in it that your mom makes you drink.

This method is way better.

This method is way better.

I also like adding bananas or peaches on top for potassium and vitamins, as well as a big glass of soymilk on the side.  Awesomely healthy; all four main food groups are represented (grains, protein, fruits, dairy).

Breakfast of Champions.

Breakfast of champions.

In addition to learning to cook, I’m also learning to grocery shop in my first few weeks in the apartment.  I usually shop at Trader Joe’s on College Avenue because it’s easily accessible by bus, the items are always good quality, and it’s often cheaper than Safeway.  I love Joe.

One cool thing I learned so far to save money is to substitute ground turkey for ground beef.  It’s cheaper per pound, leaner (and thus healthier), and it’s better for the environment.  Cows take up a lot more resources than turkeys do to produce an equivalent amount of meat, making both the dollar and the environmental cost higher.  (Of course, if you really want to eat efficiently on the food chain, you should become a vegetarian.  But I can’t give up my meat just like that.)

At Trader Joes, ground turkey is about $2.99/lb.  (P.S. This isnt Trader Joes turkey.)

At Trader Joe's, ground turkey is about $2.99/lb. (P.S. This isn't Trader Joe's turkey.)

So far, I’ve used ground turkey to make meat sauce for my pasta, as well as a delicious lasagna.

One of the biggest changes about living in an apartment rather than the dorms this year is cooking meals for myself.  It takes a lot more time and dishes than you’d think to whip up a simple meal.  One of my friends confided in me yesterday, “All I’ve eaten since I moved into my apartment is PB&J, cereal, Hot Pockets, and Bagel Bites”.

Delicious? Absolutely.  Nutritious? Absolutely not.

Delicious? Absolutely. Nutritious? Absolutely not.

It does take a little extra effort to make sure you’ve got a balanced meal, but the result is well worth it.  Here are a few tips I’ve found to save time and have fun when you’re cooking your own meals:

Cook twice as much as you can eat. Leftovers are a lifesaver for those days when you’ve got a lot on your figurative plate and not enough on your literal one.

Get together with some friends. Making a dinner date to cook a simple meal together is a good way to catch up with old friends.  Everyone splits the grocery bill, prep time goes by a lot faster with one person in charge of each task, and doing dishes isn’t so much of a chore if you work together.

Choose your dishes wisely. I like using ready-made foods but adding variety and interest to them by adding fresh ingredients.  One thing I learned to do from my coworker Natalie is how to make a great pasta sauce quickly: brown some ground meat in a pan, sautee white button mushrooms in the same pan, add pasta sauce and heat it all together.  This makes a hearty pasta sauce that really sticks to your ribs, and there’s only one pan to wash at the end.

I made a quick and fun meal following all three of these principles tonight when some friends invited themselves over for dinner.  We laughed and conversed over ravioli, meat sauce, salad, garlic bread; it was a great time without too much hassle.