Sump Pump Queen Reigns

Layla keeping track of the newly purchased sump pump!

Just to show you that it's not all sweetness and cupcakes, for the Cupcake Queen...sometimes it down right dirty work! For the second day in a row, enough rain fell around here to break records for Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Dulles International Airport. On Monday, 4.22 inches of rain fell in Washington, breaking the old record of 2.62 inches set in 1942 for June.

Needless to say, our basement flooded...and while it's absolutely nothing compared what folks experienced with Katrina, Rita, or's a relative odd thing in the Washington, DC area.

Not being prepared...of course, for the flood, we spent the first night of the flooding, frantically sopping up water with every towel we own and using an antiquated shop/vac that filled up every 5 minutes and then emptying it...oh, those back muscles! During the day yesterday, things abated but storms threatened to continue during the night. I made a pit stop at wonderful (I mean that seriously, kids) HomeDepot which had some nice non-baking-but-storm-related stock, even. First, I bought the biggest shop/vac I could find...let me see, it's called RIDGID...16 Gallons, 6.5 HP PROFESSIONAL WET/DRY/VAC...all I can say is WOW! How can I use this puppy for baking?? It's been awesome...when I first started it, I almost sucked up Laylas (that's her nickname).

But, back to HomeDepot...then I bought 2 new mops with these squeegee type handles...very nice! But, the pentultimate purchase was my very first SUMP PUMP! I felt so proud to own my very own SUMP kind of felt like when I bought my very first car-top-carrier! And, all I can say is OMG! This thing (officially called Flotec Cyclone Pumping System) is the best invention...maybe even better than my Kitchen Aid...well, let's not get carried away. But, whoever knew...where has the sump pump been in my life. It's such a tiny thing, but, it is so cool and it sucks up 350 gallons per hour...easy to put together...within 5 minutes it was sucking the water and putting it right back into the back yard to continue on its merry way.

And, last but not least, here's the coolest sump-pump-baking-trivia...the sump pump must to be "primed" with 1/2 teaspoon of vegetable oil every time you start it...which, of course, they provide in 3 little plastic packages! Now if that's not funny, I'm not the Cupcake Queen! I wonder, should I use almond, walnut, pecan, apricot kernel, corn, peanut vegetable oil next time?

Well, the rain is supposed to continue all night tonight...But, I feel confident that the Sump Pump Queen will reign least I know where to find the vegetable oil!

Martha Stewart's Dessert of the Month: Strawberries-and-Cream Cheesecake...Disguised as Cupcakes!

I found this recipe in the current issue of Martha Stewart Living (the one with the Fourth of July stuff in it) looked pretty great, so I thought hmmmm...cupcakes...and then I thought: why not?

The basic thing with this recipe is time...I got all my ingredients on Friday morning around 8:00 on the way to work...btw...this is a first: while I was in Shoppers Food Warehouse, this cute guy comes over to me and asks me what kind of perfume I was wearing...he liked it, he's Coco by Chanel...what a great way to start the day, huh? Also, I found this cool cupcake carrier at Shoppers...It's called Bake - n - Take..3-piece cupcake pan, tray and carrier. It holds 24 cupcakes on two can take 12 or 24. It's the best carrier I've found yet and mine only cost $14.95. I found another one online here for $19.95.

During the day I was getting excited to make the cupcakes...then I really read the recipe and found out that I had to roast the strawberries for 1 hour and thirty minutes and let them cool completely. (You know how literally I take recipes, right?) So I get home at 6ish and by the time I get ready to do this first part, it's like 8:00 p.m. Step one completed by 10:00 p.m.

Okay, so now it's the next morning and somehow we don't have any eggs (someone got hungry in the middle of the night??) but then I also decided that I wanted to use the silicone cups with ridges like real cupcake I get on the road and go to Williams Sonoma and no go...I couldn't believe they didn't have them. On to Home Goods, and they don't have them either. Sheesh! Next stop, Crate and Barrel and there they were: . I was so happy!

Things were going super smoothly for a while and then I messed up and and added too much sugar to the graham crackers (for the crust)...but I didn't realize that until I was making the creamcheese mixture...and then I remembered I had a 3:45 eye doctor appt and it was already 3:00...OMG! I made the crust stuff again, baked it and since it had to cool anyway...put everything else on hold until I got back from the eye doctor...where, I might add, I had a very nice time with Dr. Espejo at Pearl Vision in Rockville, MD, he's the best! back home at 5:30 (had to stop for's always something, right)...and now at least 24 hours have somehow gone by since this experiment began. I think that's a record for me.

After dinner I finish up the creamcheese/strawberry concocution and begin to make the cupcakes. I had already baked the graham cracker crust (put about and tsp and a half in the bottom of each silicone cup). I spooned the strawberry mixture into each cup and then added the part without the strawberries. The actual baking do you say...a guessing game. According to the cheesecake recipe, it's supposed to bake at least an hour...but the cupcakes were much smaller. I think I ended up doing baking them for 45 minutes. Then I let them cool off and finally, finally, finally, I put them to bed in the fridge to set up over night! By this time, I was tired of this experiment (lol)...but by morning, I refueled and was excited to see how they turned out.

They were GREAT! I peeled off the silicone cup and the cute little cheesecake cupcakes stood up all on their cute. We ate some for breakfast. But here's the best: Layla was in the the photo shoot...she thought it went well, in fact, that she helped herself to two of these babies when I had turned around to give Harry (our French bulldog) an ice cube. This is how she looked AFTER she ate them. You might think that she's embarrassed by her way! She's just waiting for me to turn around again!

This time I can't tell you to "NOW GO MAKE IT"...this one takes time and some guessing....okay, I think I'll say it anyway: JUST GO MAKE IT!

Here's the recipe for the cheesecake that I found on Martha Stewart's web site:

Strawberries-and-Cream Cheesecake

Serves 8 to 10
This dessert is proof that cheesecake can be as unexpected as it is delicious. Its surprise comes when intense oven-roasted strawberries are folded into a blend of tangy mascarpone and cream cheese. The mixture is spread over a graham cracker crust and covered with a rich vanilla layer. The result will please on every level.

1 1/2 pounds strawberries, hulled

3 tablespoons light corn syrup

1 1/2 cups finely ground graham crackers (about 4 sheets)

1 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 pound plus 13 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, room temperature

1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped and reserved

8 3/4 ounces mascarpone cheese, room temperature

1. Preheat oven to 300°. Place strawberries in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with corn syrup, and toss gently to coat. Bake until syrup thickens and strawberries turn deep red and shrink slightly, about 1 hour 30 minutes. Transfer strawberries and syrup to a medium bowl, and mash with a potato masher. Let cool completely.

2. Raise oven temperature to 350°. Stir together graham cracker crumbs, 3 tablespoons sugar, and the melted butter in a small bowl. Press mixture into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan to make an even layer. Bake until crust is firm to the touch and has just darkened, about 10 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack, and let crust cool completely.

3. Reduce oven temperature to 325°. Put cream cheese into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium-low speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl, then gradually add remaining cup sugar and the salt. Scrape down sides of bowl; add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down sides of bowl, and mix in vanilla bean seeds and mascarpone until very creamy and no lumps remain, about 3 minutes. (Reserve vanilla bean for another use.)

4. Transfer 5 cups cream cheese mixture to bowl with mashed strawberries; stir to combine. Pour strawberry-cream cheese mixture on top of crust; smooth with an offset spatula. Carefully spoon dollops of plain cream cheese mixture on top, smoothing with an offset spatula.

5. Wrap the exterior of the springform pan in 2 layers of foil; set in a large roasting pan. Fill roasting pan with boiling water until water reaches halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake cheesecake until set, about 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes. Remove springform pan from water bath, and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours (up to overnight).

Note: Roasted strawberries can be mashed and folded into all of the mascarpone-cream cheese mixture, but two contrasting layers make for a prettier presentation. For best results, use an offset spatula to spread small dollops of the plain cheese mixture gently and evenly over the berry base.

Cutest Cupcake Pin!!! And, more!

I found this cutest cupcake pin from a web site called rose + sadie! I actually spotted them at lili confetti boutique, a very cool place. All we know about Rose + Sadie is that they "met a while ago," and became friends because they both like the movie "Big Business." Now, as their website says, "Sadie rides her bike over to Rose's after work and they make pins: drinking cheap wine, watching trash TV, and singing along to the radio." I really think they need to throw some cupcakes in there, too!The little guy on the right, Frankie is featured on Rose and Sadie's web site...note he has his very own bowling pin pin on the collar! Now how could you not love that? He looks a bit like our frenchy, Harry (on the right).

I may have to get one of these for Harry's collar, or better yet one for Layla...I think they might light a kitty like this one. They also do custom what are you waiting for??

Frenchy Clowns on Billy's Vanilla Vanilla Cupcakes For Jim's Picnic!

John: thanks for the awesome photo!

I found these Frenchy clowns during my trip to France...aren't they cute? I love them! And, they were just perfect for my second run of Billy's Reece's Vanilla Vanilla Cupcakes (see this post). The little dots are from France, too. They are called "Confettis"... multicolores sucres Vahine.

I made these cupcakes for Jim (my brother-in-law)...he's retiring from the Air Force and we had a big picnic for him today at my Mom's place. Tomorrow we're all going to Andrews Air Force Base for the ceremony! On the right is his granddaughter!

These are two of my three nieces...Lesley (left, from Spokane) and Melissa (right, from New Hampshire) enjoying the cupcakes. BTW: The white ones had vanilla frosting and the pink ones had mint frosting!

When in France....Buy Shoes!

No cupcakes this week...The Cupcake Queen is in the south of's so beautiful here...everyday so far has been fantastic weatherwise. cupcakes have been spotted so far. Believe me. I've looked high and low. This place is ripe for a cupcake boutique! But...I did find all these cute shoes!

Of course, because we are foodies, we had to find a grocery store soon after arriving...and we did find the most fabulous grocery store (well, it's a lot more than groceries), but it's the biggest grocery store I've ever seen (a lot like Wegman's, but, I dunno...bigger. It's called Carrefour....simply amazing. This is a photo I took of the baking aisle. They have lots of cake decorating stuff but no cupcake materials...not even cupcake pans. Every where I go I'm looking for cupcake stuff.

I did buy some muffins in Carrefour that looked like cupcakes...vanilla with mini-chocolate chips...but they didn't really have much taste. Cupcakes do not ssem to be for sale anywhere I've been so far...Cannes, Nice, Antibe. But we have seen some very cute little pastries.

One of the things I've noticed is that French store owners seem to like to dress up mannequins outside their stores...and they seem to have quite a sense of humor about it...note the "guard" dog...he was actually a very nice boy!

As you might have figured out, it's very tiring looking all over the place for cupcake material. Here's how we finished off today...with some awesome French we call them...outside on the patio...and a little Coca Blak and Pommery's POP Pink Champagne....Well, what happens in France stays in France!

Raspberry-Topped Lemon Cupcakes with Limoncello Glaze

Is it summer yet??? It certainly tastes like it around here with these cupcakes! They are so lemony (is that a word?), and the Limoncello glaze makes them sweet enough to make you wish you had one in your hand right this minute. I made them this morning...such a beautiful morning...since lunch I've been working on work-stuff most of the day...I've been craving another bite of one of these cupcakes since I left the kitchen this morning...I just might have to take a break here and walk right out to that kitchen to get one! Somebody stop me!

Okay...I'm back now...somewhat satiated. Excuse the crumbs on my face...and the Limoncello glaze, too! Back to business: This recipe is from Bon Appetit (June 2006). The published recipe calls for the cupcakes to be topped with a strawberry. But, all the ones that I found were too big...funny how everyone around here is into BIG strawberries...I mean HUGE strawberries.

I was looking for the little tiny ones, like Wholefoods...but they were into the gigundo ones, too. Oh well, I decided to the raspberries instead and I actually like raspberries better than strawberries, anywayz!

Here's the recipe:

Raspberry-Topped Lemon Cupcakes with Limoncello Glaze
Makes 18
2 cups cake flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cups (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp.
4 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup finely grated lemon peel

Glaze and topping:
3/4 cup (or more) powdered sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons limoncello or other lemon liqueur
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1-1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel

18 strawberries or raspberries

For Cupcakes: Preheat over to 350 degrees F. Line 18 standard cupcake pan with liners. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Beat sugar and butter in large bowl (I used the BIG KA for this) until fluffy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Beat in dry ingredients in 3 additions alternately with buttermilk in 2 additions. Beat in lemon juice and lemon peel. Divide batter among liners.

Bake cupcakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 18 minutes. Transfer cupcakes to racks.

Meanwhile, prepare glase and topping: Stir 3/4 cup powdered sugar, butter, limoncello, lemon juice, and grated lemon peel in small saucepan over low heat until butter melts and glaze comes to simmer... (now, don't get scared...this turns out to be pretty easy)...Whisk in additional powdered sugar by tablespoonfuls if glaze is very thin. Spoon 1 teaspoon warm glaze over each warm cupcake. Cool cupcakes completely.

Arrange 1 strawberry on top of each cupcake. Drizzle remaining limoncello glaze over them. Let cupcakes stand until glaze sets, about 2 hours. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature.

Now, go get yourself a little taste of summer!