Thursday, September 29, 2011

Breakfast Spice Muffins for a rainy autumn morning

While we all recognize shorter days and colder weather as a sign of fall, we must not forget the most important indication of this shift in season...a brand new repertoire of baking recipes! Rather than the bright, fruity, refreshing desserts typical of hot summer days, with autumn comes warm, spicy, soul-satisfying sweets that will make any gray, rainy day a little more bearable. 

My first fall time treat? Breakfast Spice Muffins. After having a delicious french breakfast muffin at a local bakery, I was eager to experiment with my own recipe for a dense, moist, and spicy breakfast muffin.

Not too sweet with spicy warmth from cinnamon and nutmeg, moistness from the addition of sour cream, and a crunchy cinnamon sugar topping, these muffins satisfied my craving for a satisfying, substantial, and flavorful morning (or anytime of day) treat. I liked them even more the next day, when the flavors seemed to have intensified.

Breakfast Spice Muffins

2 eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar plus extra for topping
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp ground cinnamon plus extra for topping
1 tsp nutmeg
1 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 400 deg F. Grease or line a 12 cup muffin tin.

In a large bowl, beat eggs. Gradually add in sugars, stirring as you add. Mix in oil and vanilla.

In a separate bowl mix flour, salt, baking soda and spices.

Stir dry mixture into eggs alternately with sour cream, beginning and ending with dry.

Pour into muffin tins. Sprinkle tops with cinnamon and sugar.

Bake 20 minutes until toothpick comes out clean. Cook in pan for 15 minutes then transfer to a wire rack. Enjoy warm with a hot cup of tea.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pizza Research Institute... taking pizza to new heights

I know I've mentioned this before, but in no way have I ever been a pizza person. I'm not a fan of cheese or heavy bread intake, especially simultaneously, but Pizza Research Institute changed my view on pizza forever.

Reinventing pizza with fresh, seasonal, and unique ingredients, all vegetarian and plenty of vegan options, PRI is one of those places you can't believe exists, especially in a small, relatively unknown culinary-wise town like Eugene!

Built in what looks like a large warehouse, PRI has a wonderfully inviting open layout including a completely visible kitchen and beautiful back patio dining area, which hosts live music friday nights. I've tried a few different pizza combinations but my favorite, and the one I order every time I go, is a slice of the vegan chef's special. With homemade vegan white sauce and spinach bed base on top of marinara sauce and wonderfully thin, crispy crust topped with approximately 15 different items chosen by the chef, every slice is different and not one bite of a given slice is the same as another. When in the mood for something lighter, I've opted for no vegan base and only marinara sauce and have equally enjoyed it.

This time my vegan chef's special came topped with grilled zucchini, sliced potatoes, fresh tomatoes, sweet potato fries, apricot, curried cauliflower, red onions, and many more tasty things I am unable to remember or see in this massive pile of deliciousness.

Another favorite of mine is their P3 salad, a meal in its own or a great appetizer. A large bed of greens with red onions, vegan pesto and garlic aioli, roasted potatoes, and sweet, juicy pear slices, I love this salad so much I've even tried recreating it at home. The sharpness of the onion contrasted with the juicy pears and rich sauces completed with warm, herbed potatoes makes this salad totally different than what you'd normally expect.

Pizza Research Institute is one of my favorite things about Eugene, and I only wish it was in walking distance so I could enjoy such uniquely delicious dinners more often.

Pizza Research Institute: 530 Blair Blvd. Eugene, OR 97402

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

This College Girl Cooks- Tofu Stir Fry

Another easy, healthy, and flavorful meal I love- Tofu Stir Fry. Packed full of fresh, colorful veggies and flavored with salty, savory oyster sauce, this meal tastes as good as it looks.


1 block firm tofu
All the veggies you like (mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, pepper, broccoli etc.) Onions and garlic are a must!
Oyster sauce to taste

**A popular sauce in asian cuisine, oyster sauce is available in most asian sections of your local grocery store. 

Slice veggies into relatively equal sized pieces. Over high heat, sauté onions and any other harder veggies (carrots) until soft, add in rest of the veggies in order of cooking time. 

Things like mushrooms and zucchini take less time than pepper and broccoli, so put those in last. Add in garlic towards end to avoid burning. Dice tofu into bite sized cubes, add to pan of veggies and stir fry until heated through. 

Add in oyster sauce, tasting as you go until desired flavor is achieved. Serve over brown rice. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Life can be sweet at Sweet Life Patisserie

First off, let me start by saying that this post was very close to not being written. Since my first visit to Sweet Life Patisserie in Eugene, OR two years ago, it has been one of my favorite food establishments in town. However, while their pastries, for the most part, are absolutely delicious, their service is awful, to the point where I am now questioning whether or not I should continue supporting them. Hence the "can" in my title. Life can be sweet there, if you are able to enjoy your pastry without having to deal with totally undeserved altercations with grumpy, rude, and unhelpful staff member. But seeing as the owner/bakers are not to blame for the actions of an employee or two, I felt that they deserved recognition for their tasty treats.

I haven't had the chance to try any of their cakes or cupcakes yet because I usually go for the breakfast pastries, but have heard great things about their indulgent desserts. 

This adorable frosted sugar cookie puppy was a present for my little brother, but I've tried a cupcake shaped one in the past and it was a giant piece of buttery, sweet, heaven!

Who doesn't need a giant pile of assorted sprinkles and colored sugar!

Anything with "all-butter" in the title must be good, right?

Their French Breakfast Cinnamon Muffins have a nice cinnamon-sugar coated crunchy muffin top and buttery, sweet bottom.

Our indulgent breakfast before a hard day of moving. The pecan sticky bun is gooey, nutty, insanely sweet and to me, one of their best offerings. My blueberry muffin was buttery and moist with a nice crunchy top and bursts of blueberry sweetness throughout. 

Unfortunately I don't remember what the exact name of this brownie is, possibly double chocolate, but it's so unbelievably moist, fudgey, rich, chocolatey, and decadent that it is possibly my favorite dessert offered at Sweet Life. Unlike cakey box-mix type brownies, this is one where a little bit goes a very long way. I happily savored this luxurious treat, taking a bite here-and-there over the course of a few days. 

After tasting the above mentioned over-the-top delicious brownie, I was expecting this peanut butter one to be outstanding, but was sadly disappointed. Rather than moist and rich, it was dry, crumbly, and lacking in flavor. However, it did look slightly old or maybe like a thin end piece of the batch, which could have been the reason why this brownie wasn't too great. 

In an attempt at a healthier (vegan and baked= healthy... kind of) breakfast, I ordered a blueberry baked fritter. Looking back I really wish I'd ordered the cinnamon rolls next to them because they are absolutely delicious! I ended up throwing out the majority of the fritter and picking off the sugar glaze topping which was the only flavorful part of this pastry.

All in all, Sweet Life Patisserie is a great place to go for anyone interested in gourmet, better than the norm breakfast pastries and desserts. But I do have one piece of advice to the owners: put more thought into who is hired as your counter staff. No matter how amazing your product may taste, no one wants to buy a happy thing like dessert from an unpleasant person.

Sweet Life Patisserie: 755 Monroe st. Eugene, OR 97402

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bountiful Bowls at Cafe Yumm!

For a hungry, broke college student, Cafe Yumm! is one of the best options there is for cheap eats that actually taste good. Fresh and healthy ingredients make up their menu of bowls, sandwiches, and wraps, and with prices for a large sized bowl at only $6.75, you really can't go wrong.

So, what exactly is in a Yumm Bowl? Most bowls include brown or jasmine rice, some sort of beans, their signature Yumm sauce, and variety of toppings. I always opt out of the sour cream and cheese topping normally added to bowls in favor of red cabbage and carrots (just tell them to make your bowl vegan).

Lucky for me, there is a Cafe Yumm! located just a few blocks from my house, and I took the quick 5 minute trip over with some friends for dinner tonight. 

Tonight's bowls: Edamame (front). My favorite bowl (never even tried a different one) came with brown rice, edamame, shredded nori (seaweed), Yumm sauce, and their vegan toppings. I usually ask for sauce on the side because it's very strong and tends to overpower the rest of the flavors, and get a small size, unless I'm especially hungry then go for the medium. 
Original (back left). Brown rice, black beans, salsa, Yumm sauce and the deluxe toppings. 
Jazzy (back right). Jasmine Rice, red beans, salsa, Yumm sauce, and deluxe toppings. 

A close up of their deluxe toppings, which don't cost any extra like the name may suggest. Avocado, olives, cheddar cheese, sour cream, cilantro, and tomatoes. Salsa is only included in a few of their bowls. 

Leaving satisfied from my meal costing less than $5, Cafe Yumm! will always be one of my go-to picks for an affordable, tasty dinner. 

Cafe Yumm!: 1801 Willamette St. #140 Eugene, OR 97401 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

This College Girl Cooks: Yogurt Parfait

My daily yogurt, fruit, and cereal parfait has become one of my greatest pleasures in life, and it's a rare occasion when I don't start out my morning with this quick and healthy breakfast. I guess this doesn't really count as cooking, more just throwing things together in a bowl, but for the purpose of my blog, let's just say it does.

Yogurt, cereal, and fresh fruit are a staple in most kitchens and if not, are available in any supermarket or even mini mart, so this is a great meal for those with a minimalist approach to food and grocery shopping. My favorite yogurt is Trader Joe's French Village strawberry nonfat yogurt which I always have a stockpile of in my fridge so there never comes a morning when I wake up to find that I am unable to have my all time favorite breakfast. I usually include strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries but having just moved in to my new townhouse, I've been getting by with only strawberries. I'm not a big cereal with milk eater, so I like to have one or two boxes of cereal that I think taste best in my yogurt parfaits, my favorites being Kashi Go Lean Crunch and Trader Joe's Bran Flakes. 

Yogurt Parfait

1 container of your favorite yogurt
a handful of your favorite berries and fruit
approx. 1/3 cup cereal or granola

Empty yogurt into a bowl (a cute polka dot one if you have it). Cut fruit and add on top of yogurt. Sprinkle on cereal, and there you have a deliciously sweet and simple start to your day. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

This College Girl Cooks: Tofu Patty Dinner

Having survived the jail cell-like experience of freshman dorm living, I couldn't be happier that I now live in a townhouse with a full, brand new kitchen. Overcome with joy and excitement over all of the yummy things I'll be able to make this school year, I decided to add a new section to my blog: This College Girl Cooks. Whether it be breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack, I'll post photos and step by step instructions of the different foods I make with the limited time and money of a college student.

First post of This College Girl Cooks... dinner!!!! Surprised it's not something sweet? I'm still waiting on my package of bakeware to be delivered, so I'll have to deal with the baking withdrawls I know I'll soon suffer for a week or so (hopefully no longer).

For tonight's dinner I made one of my favorites, tofu patties with salad. Learning from last year's mistakes, I'm really trying to stick to the healthy diet I normally follow at home, and this dinner is great for that. Easy to make with just a few ingredients and requiring very little time, it's a great healthful yet substantial meal, especially for people with time and money constraints.

Tofu Burger Patty

1 packet Tofu Burger Mix (I bought a few of them at my favorite Japanese market back at home to bring up to school with me, but you may be able to find them in any asian market. It's a mix of breadcrumbs, veggies, soy sauce, and a few other basic ingredients.)
1 package firm tofu

Drain tofu well and put in a medium bowl. Add in tofu burger mix packet and mash tofu and seasoning together with hands.

Divide into 3 or 4 sections and use your hands to form patties. Pan fry in a preheated, greased pan over medium heat for around 5 minutes on each side, until nicely golden brown. Usually I eat them with bulldog sauce, a Japanese worcester based sauce, but having none I substituted with a mixture of ketchup and soy sauce.

Serve with a big, colorful salad. Tonight's had romaine, carrots, tomatoes, and edamame (I like to buy frozen, shelled edamame from Trader Joe's and prepare it in advance, keeping it in a container in the fridge to toss on salads or snack on whenever I feel like.) For anyone looking for an even more substantial meal, eat with rice, a fried egg, or both!

Angel Food Cake and the Most Amazing Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting

After being left disappointed with the artificially sweet strawberry taste of my past strawberry cake attempt but completely overjoyed with the outcome of the frosting, I couldn't stand not experimenting with at least one more cake and strawberry cream cheese frosting combination.

Because this strawberry cream cheese frosting is so unbelievably tart, sweet, and deliciously pink, I knew the cake itself should serve as a canvas for the frosting rather than as the star of the show. Light and spongy, angel food cake was the perfect subtly-flavored background that allowed the frosting to shine to its fullest. Add in some chopped strawberries and bananas and you have a great cake for any birthday or celebration (or lazy afternoon).

And yes I know, once again I used boxed cake mix, but I was in a time crunch and it really did help...

Angel Food Cake with Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting

for the cake:
1 16 oz box Betty Crocker white angel food cake mix
1 1/4 cups cold water
zest of 1 lemon

for the frosting
12 oz cream cheese, room temp
8 tbsp unsalted butter, room temp
2 c powdered sugar, sifted
3/4 c fresh strawberries, mashed to 1/2 c, drained well

for garnish
1 banana
a handful or two of strawberries
strawberry jam or lemon curd

Follow the directions on your cake mix with the addition of lemon zest in the batter.

**I was a little confused after seeing that it only listed loaf pans and angel food cake pans as cooking devices, and that it advised against greasing your pans. However, while it did cause me to nervously anticipate the outcome of my against-the-rules cake, I used canola oil to grease two 9 inch cake pans with very tall sides and baked for about 40 minutes. It is very important that you bake your cakes in something with tall sides otherwise they may overflow, as angel food cake rises A LOT.

Let cakes cool completely on wire racks before removing from pans. It might be difficult to get them out, but angel food cake has a lot of give so its ok to forcefully, yet somewhat gently, use a knife to pull your cake out.

To make frosting, cream together butter and cream cheese, then mix in sugar and strawberries. Frost first layer of cake, spread on some strawberry jam or lemon curd if desired, and distribute chopped banana and strawberry in one even layer. Place second layer over first, frost cake, slice remaining strawberries and decorate the top. This process should be done quickly because the frosting is slightly runny and will begin to drip off your cake if not allowed to set. Place frosted cake uncovered in fridge for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Strawberry Cake with Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting... Tart, Sweet, and Adorably Pink

For an end of the summer BBQ bash, I had to come up with a delicious, new, summery, and festive dessert. I thought long and hard about what could fit this extensive list of criteria, and finally came up with the ultimate treat, strawberry cake with strawberry cream cheese frosting.

While boxed cake mix and jello powder are against almost everything I stand for when it comes to baking, it seemed that every recipe for this perfectly pink cake included these items. However, I figured as long as the frosting was homemade, the shortcuts in the cake would pass undetected.

The cake came out moist with a vibrant orangey pink hue due to the strawberry jello powder in the mix. While the jello gave it a slightly artificial sugary strawberry taste, the fresh strawberries added a nice tart and sweet berry flavor. The cake was good, but not as outstanding as I had hoped for, but the frosting totally made up for it. Tangy cream cheese with a hint of strawberry sweetness and pink color, the frosting was so delicious I would have been happy tossing the cake and eating just the frosting with a big spoon. This strawberry cream cheese frosting will definitely hold a permanent place in my recipe folder, but next time rather than using it with the strawberry cake, I might try it on a homemade lemon or white cake with fresh fruit slices.

Strawberry Cake with Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from a recipe
original strawberry cake and frosting recipe

for the cake
1 (18.25 oz) boxed white cake mix
3 oz package strawberry gelatin powder
1 c mashed fresh strawberries with juice (about 1 1/2 c whole berries)
1 c vegetable oil
1/2 c milk
4 large eggs

for the frosting
12 oz cream cheese, room temp
8 tbsp unsalted butter, room temp
2 c powdered sugar, sifted
3/4 c strawberries, mashed to 1/2 c, then drained well
**I like my cream cheese frosting more tangy than sweet, so add in more sugar if you prefer a sweeter frosting

Preheat oven 350 deg F. Grease two or three 9 inch cake pans, depending on how thick you want your cake layers.

Beat cake mix, jello, mashed strawberries with juice, oil, milk and eggs in a large bowl.

Bake 28-30 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. Place pans to cool on wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert cakes onto rack and cool 30 minutes.

Frosting- combine cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl. Add in sugar and strawberries, mixing until lightened. Place frosted cake in refrigerator for 20 minutes to let frosting set before serving.