Peanut Butter-Strawberry Snack Cake

IMG_3232It all started with a rainy day. Instead of waking up to clear skies and warm beams of sunshine, which is what the middle of July should look like, I woke up to 100% cloud cover, pouring rain, and a desperate need for the extra blanket that I had recently shoved into my closet because it had been sitting uselessly at the foot of my bed for two monthsI shouldn’t complain too much, since so far we’ve had a b-e-a-uuutiful summer in this normally-gray corner of the northwest (knock on wood!) but now that I’ve gotten a taste of sunshine I crave it all the time! Sunshine allll the days. No rainy ones allowed. (I should probably consider moving.)

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Aside from making me sad and cold (and in all honesty, giving our parched island a nice dose of moisture), all of that dreary rain put me in a baking mood. I had no inclination to venture outside and the kitchen was calling. We had a big container of strawberries in the fridge that I knew were approaching the end of their days, so I decided to bake them into something while they were still fresh. The only question was, what to make? Cake came to mind….not a giant frosted fancy layer cake, but a simple one-pan snack cake. I love to call cakes baked in square pans “snack cakes” because then of course they’re justified to be eaten as snacks. Or breakfasts, for that matter…

I thought about making a strawberry-lemon cake, but seeing as we didn’t have any lemons I couldn’t figure out a way to make that happen. My next idea was a vanilla bean cake with fresh strawberries, but I had just used some of my precious vanilla beans in a batch of blueberry muffins and figured I should branch out a little. Then my eyes fell upon the jar of peanut butter in our fridge and an idea was born….peanut butter cake filled with diced strawberries! Just like pb&j, but with real fruit instead of jelly. Because fresh summer fruit always trumps jelly in my mind, just sayin.IMG_3218

I found a recipe for a peanut butter-jelly coffee cake that I morphed into my Peanut Butter-Strawberry Snack Cake. Essentially it’s a soft, rich peanut butter cake studded with juicy pieces of strawberries and topped off with a drizzle of melted peanut butter. It can be served at room temperature or chilled, and tastes a lot like the classic pb&j that we all know and love. You can adapt this to your heart’s content, maybe using raspberries instead of strawberries, adding chopped peanuts to the cake, making a full-on peanut butter frosting, or going the true pb&j route and swirling some warmed-up jam into the cake batter.

This cake definitely brightened up my rainy day! The combination of peanut butter and strawberries may sound a bit odd, but they taste amazing together. My Peanut Butter-Strawberry Snack Cake is a great little twist on the classic peanut-butter-and-jelly, and it will leave you wanting more!

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Peanut Butter-Strawberry Snack Cake

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup buttermilk*

1 cup diced strawberries

3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter, for drizzling (optional)

*You can make your own buttermilk by pouring 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar into a measuring cup and adding enough milk to equal 1/2 cup. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes to curdle, then proceed with recipe.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8″x8″ pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a larger bowl, use an electric mixer to combine the peanut butter, butter, and brown sugar until smooth. Add in the egg and vanilla, mixing until well-combined. Stir in the flour mixture and buttermilk in alternating increments, beginning and ending with the flour. Stir just until no flour streaks remain, being careful not to over-mix. Gently fold in the strawberries.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 30-32 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. While the cake is cooling, melt the additional 3 tablespoons of peanut butter (I used my microwave and it took about 30 seconds, stirring after every 10). Using a spoon, drizzle the melted peanut butter over the warm cake.

Let the cake cool completely, then slice and enjoy!

(Recipe adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod)

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Lemon-Berry Muffins with Cream Cheese Filling

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Happy July 5th, everyone! I hope you all had a fun and safe 4th of July yesterday, whether your day was filled with sunshine, parades, picnics, friends, fireworks, or all of the above.

Before heading downtown for our annual parade yesterday, I decided to start the morning off with a sweet treat to celebrate. Lemon-Berry Muffins with Cream Cheese Filling fit the bill nicely: tender, sweet, lemony muffins bursting with fresh juicy berries and containing a surprise pocket of lemon-cream cheese filling. To make the muffins more festive I loaded them with a mixture of blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries and figured that the cream cheese filling qualified as the “white” part of my red-white-and-blue color scheme. Sure, the cream cheese was hidden in the center, so the color scheme was more like red-blue-and-muffiny brown, but who’s complaining? For all intents and purposes, they were red-white-and-blue. Okay? Okay.

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Although the muffins themselves are delicious with a soft, moist crumb; a hint of cinnamon, vanilla, and almond flavors; a fresh citrus zing from the lemon; and a triad of sweet, juicy berries, they’re made even better with the secret filling. One bite in and you’ll encounter a tiny pocket of sweet lemony cream cheese that takes these muffins from good to great!

In my muffins I chose to use half whole-wheat flour and half all-purpose to give them a little more heft and fiber. The recipe below calls for only all-purpose flour, but it’s up to you. Same goes for the type of berries, extracts, spices, etc. Like many of my recipes, this one is highly adaptable!

Bake up a batch of these Lemon-Berry Muffins as a special treat one of these mornings! In no time at all you can be enjoying a warm, fresh-out-of-the-oven muffin for breakfast or brunch. Be sure to watch for people’s reactions as they discover the sweet surprise filling. Some surprises are not so good (like the surprise that would have occurred had I not realized in the nick of time that I was starting to pour peppermint extract into my measuring spoon rather than vanilla) but this surprise is definitely a nice one! Unless of course you happen to dislike sweet lemony cream cheese stuffed inside a tender lemon-berry muffin. But that would be just plain silly.

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Lemon-Berry Muffins with Cream Cheese Filling

Makes 9 standard-sized muffins

1 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Grated zest of 1 large lemon (about 2 teaspoons)

1/3 cup milk

1 large egg

1/4 cup canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

1 cup fresh berries, rinsed and chopped (I used 1/3 cup each of strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries)

Coarse sugar, for sprinkling

Cream Cheese Filling:

3 tablespoons cream cheese, softened

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line or grease 9 cups of a 12-cup muffin tin; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. In a smaller bowl, use your fingers to incorporate the lemon zest into the sugar until fragrant. Whisk the lemon-sugar into the flour mixture.

In another bowl, whisk together the milk, oil, egg, vanilla, and almond extract until smooth. Using a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients just until incorporated. Be careful not to over-mix. Gently fold the berries into the batter, which will be thick.

To make the cream cheese filling, stir together the cream cheese, lemon zest, and sugar in a small bowl until smooth.

Fill each of the 9 prepared muffin cups about halfway with batter. Drop about 1 teaspoonful of the cream cheese mixture onto the batter in each cup. Then divide the remaining batter among the muffin cups, carefully covering the cream cheese center. Sprinkle the muffin tops with coarse sugar if desired. (I also topped each with a raspberry.)

Bake for 17-20 minutes or until tops are set and edges are golden-brown. Let the muffins cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack.

(Recipe adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod)

Strawberry Mango Salsa

I live in a family of extremes when it comes to spice.  My dad and I are the spice-lovers, him even more than I, and have no problem with adding cayenne, jalapeño, and the like to various dishes.  My mom and brother, on the other hand, can’t stand heat in their food.*  Once I added 1/8 tsp–1/8th–of red pepper flakes to a stew that yielded 8 whole servings, and my mom finally admitted that her throat was on fire.  My dad, on the other hand, can eat a Thai dish with 7 out of 10 stars of spice and not even flinch.  What can I say, genes are funny things!  *Oh, and my beagle, who hates to be left out, would like me to mention that she will eat anything.  Be it spicy, mild, cooked, raw, fresh, rotten, she will eat it.  It’s quite handy for spills, actually.  I’ve trained her so that when I yell “Clean up on aisle 4!” her little claws come clicking into the kitchen and the spillage is scarfed up in a matter of seconds.  But I digress.

During my sophomore year of high school, I took an International Cooking class, which was a lot of fun.  When our Korean food unit rolled around, we were invited to take a field trip over to our island’s single Chinese restaurant, which was owned by a man whose origins were in Korea, to see how the food was prepared and sample various Korean dishes.  After the cooking demonstration we all sat around a huge banquet table and were invited to taste a plethora of kimchi, stir-fries, rice dishes, and more.  I had learned that Korean recipes include a ton of garlic and spice, two things I’ve always loved.  It was fun to try a whole new cuisine and see what dishes I liked and which ones were just too strong–kimchi for instance,which is basically pickled cabbage, may take me another try or two or ten before I can stomach more than a bite.

At the end of the meal, our gracious host passed around tiny slices of jalapeño pepper, just for fun.  Apparently it enhances the flavor of some of the dishes, but when you mix high school boys with an opportunity to simultaneously burn their tongues off while showing off to their friends, you end up with a table full of kids daring each other to eat raw jalapeños by the slice.  I just sat and watched for a while, with a mixture of amusement and disgust at my peers’ self-destructive qualities, before deciding to put my spice tolerance to the test.  I  had always enjoyed a little jalapeño pepper in things like soup and salsa, so why not try a tiny taste of the real thing?  I bit off just a tiny piece of my slice.  Now I can understand why those crazy people on daredevil TV shows get paid thousands of dollars to eat raw peppers for a living!  Just a tiny bite of jalapeño set my mouth on fire, and though it wasn’t terrible it lingered for about an hour.  It didn’t help that someone suggested getting rid of the spice by eating a spoonful of salt…and then spitting it out.  I missed that last little piece of the trick and ended up with the lovely flavor of fiery pepper combined with a whole teaspoon of salt.  I walked away with a throbbing tongue and a bruised identity as a tough spice-lover. Needless to say, jalapeños and I were not friends anymore.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when I saw this lovely recipe for Strawberry Mango Salsa on Two Peas and Their Pod, one of my favorite cooking blogs.  The juicy strawberries, sweet, smooth mango, and creamy avocado sounded like an unusual but delicious combination.  The recipe only called for 1 Tbs of diced jalapeño, but I was a bit dubious at allowing my food-foe back into one of my recipes.  However, I decided to suck it up and add the pepper anyway, and I couldn’t be more pleased.  The salsa was a wonderful mix of sweet and savory, and had only the smallest kick from the red onion and jalapeño.  The mango and avocado gave it a smooth, silky texture and the strawberries and lime juice made it one of the most refreshing salsas I’ve ever had.  After a few chipfuls of this, I started to reconsider my fallout with jalapeños.  I’m thinking that maybe we can be friends again.  Maybe.

This Strawberry Mango Salsa takes all of ten minutes to prepare and is a great addition to any summer meal.  This salsa tastes best fresh, so try to eat it up quickly–that shouldn’t be too difficult! 🙂

Strawberry Mango Salsa

1 cup strawberries, hulled and diced

1 medium mango, peeled and diced

1/2 large avocado, peeled and diced

2 Tbs finely diced red onion

1 Tbs diced and seeded jalapeno

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 Tbs freshly squeezed lime juice

Salt, to taste

Directions:

In a medium-sized bowl, gently stir all the ingredients together.  Add salt to taste, and let salsa sit for at least 10 minutes so the flavors can meld.  Enjoy this salsa with chips or crackers, or alongside chicken or fish.

(Recipe from Two Peas and Their Pod)

 

 

 

<–Cleo the food thief

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

One of my favorite ways to end a summer night is with a cool scoop of creamy frozen yogurt.  I live on an island, and some of my favorite summer memories are of walking down the docks along the waterfront with an ice-cream cone in hand.  I always used to go out for frozen yogurt, but after making this recipe I may stick to homemade!  Who knew it could be so easy, so fast, and so delicious?

With all the fresh summer produce available, I’ve been trying to incorporate lots of fruits into my baking projects and this strawberry frozen yogurt fit the bill perfectly.  Made with only 4 ingredients, this frozen yogurt is unbelievably sweet, smooth, and creamy even though it is almost fat-free.  The strawberries are the star of the show, and combined with a hint of lemon juice and the slight tang of Greek yogurt you are in for a real treat!  I was surprised at how only a couple ingredients could result in something so good.  Even my brother, who usually gives only the grunt of approval for my baked goods, commented “Mmm….Hey, Emma.  This is really good!”  Yeah, it doesn’t sound like much, but my parents and I have been known to clap with glee when we get more than a 2-word response from him at any given time.  And an un-prompted response is almost unheard of.  So for those of you who do not live with a 17-year-old selectively-illiterate brother, that (6-word!) comment gives this frozen yogurt an equivalent of about 5 stars.  Stay cool on these  hot summer days by mixing up a batch of this quick and tasty strawberry frozen yogurt!

Note: The original recipe only makes about 1 quart, but it can easily be doubled.

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

1 lb fresh strawberries

2/3 cup sugar

1 cup plain Greek yogurt, such as Chobani

1 tsp lemon juice

Directions:

Rinse, hull, and slice strawberries.  Place berries into a large bowl and add sugar, stirring until sugar begins to dissolve and strawberries begin to release their juices.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

In a blender or food processor, combine strawberries, yogurt, and lemon juice.  Blend until the mixture is smooth, and refrigerate for at least another hour.

Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to your maker’s instructions.  (I used a Cuisinart, and I let it churn for 20 minutes before freezing).  Enjoy!

(Recipe from Two Peas and Their Pod, originally from The Perfect Scoop)