Bacon Maple Cupcakes

Bacon Maple Cupcake 3I admit it: I love bacon. I love it too much to relegate it breakfast, which is often skipped or consumed half awake.  I want bacon for lunch and for dinner too.  And, if possible, I want bacon for dessert. Lunch and dinner recipes are easy, but dessert… well… it’s a little tricker. Or so I thought…

Bacon Maple Cupcake 5I used one of my favorite baking hacks, a box of cake mix, to reduce the time and cost of making these. Now, let’s take a minute to talk about boxes of cake mix. They are a win/win. First, they cost about $1.50, which saves you at least $10 on the various ingredients you’d need to buy to make a cake from scratch. Second, they really do taste good. I can’t tell the difference between a good boxed cake and one made from scratch, so you probably can’t either. Personally, I think it’s the frosting that really sets cupcakes apart. Third, you still have to add a few ingredients and bake it, so you get the fun part of the experience and homemade touch without all the measuring and mess. That said, cake mix from a box does have its limitations (although not many, based on the selection now available). For this recipe, I jazzed it up a little by adding maple extract to the cake mix, and it gave me exactly the results I wanted with minimal effort.

Here’s the complete list of ingredients:

  • Box of yellow cake mix (and eggs, oil, water as listed on the back)
  • 1/2 tbsp Maple Extract*
* A quick note about maple extract: This may be hard to find. I had to go to 4 stores to find it (eventually found it at Safeway, but not Whole Foods). So don’t assume that your store will carry it. There are places you can order it online if you plan ahead. You might be able to substitute maple syrup, but I don’t recommend it. I wondered what the difference was myself so I tasted it and it’s stronger and much less sweet than syrup, so the substitution would definitely be noticeable.

For the Frosting:

  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 8 tbsp (1 stick) of butter (at room temp)
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp maple extract
  • 1/2 tsp water
  • bacon (about 4 strips) for garnish

Bacon Maple CupcakeI started by making the cake according to the directions on the box, and adding 1/2 tbsp of maple extract. I poured the batter into a cupcake tin and popped them in the oven.

BaconWhile the cupcakes baked, I put the bacon in a skillet to fry. By the time the cupcakes were finished, the bacon was cooked and cooling on a paper towel. Once the bacon was cool, I used a knife to coarsely chop it so that it could be sprinkled onto the top of the cupcakes.

The last step was to make the frosting. I used this recipe as a guide but tweaked it slightly (see my ingredient list above) based on the comments and the exact taste and consistency I wanted. I put the butter, sugar, maple extract, maple syrup, and a splash of water into my KitchenAid Mixer and let it whisk everything until smooth.

Bacon Maple Cupcake 4For the professional-looking swirl, I put the frosting in a big heavy-duty ziplock bag (the cheap ones will burst – learned that the hard way!) and snipped off one of the corners. That let me pipe it on like they do at the bakeries, starting on the outside and swirling my way inward. A quick word of warning, though: if you pipe it on as thick as I did, you will run out and have about 5 naked cupcakes.

Last, sprinkle with the bacon bits. Be as stingy or as generous as you like, but I’d encourage you to go “hog wild” (sorry… couldn’t resist)!

Bacon Maple Cupcake 2I know that cupcakes aren’t normally considered the manliest dessert, but these are a bit of an exception. They deserve a spot at any tailgate, poker night, or potluck.  One of my favorite things about these is that they really capture the essence of fall, without a single hint of pumpkin (which is a bit over-played, don’t you think?)

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Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

pumpkinbread3It’s finally here: my first Autumn back on the East Coast.  The leaves are changing and crunching under my feet.  I’m pulling scarves and boots from the deep recesses of my closet.  The temperatures are dropping and this all culminates in the perfect excuse to stay in and bake on a Saturday night (which I did, with a glass of Pinot Noir and no shame at all).

I wanted to make my mom’s delicious Pumpkin Bread, but she was off visiting her dear friend in the North Carolina mountains so I had to improvise with an adapted recipe from the internet.pumpkinBread1

It wasn’t Mom’s, but no complaints.  To make your own, set your oven to 350F. Grease two bread pans, or muffin pans (I did one of each).

In one large bowl (preferably connected to a mixer), combine:

  • 2   1/2 cups flour
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1   1/2 cups chocolate chips (I used minis)

Then in another medium or large bowl, mix:

  • 1 (15 oz.) can of pumpkin
  • 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1  1/2 cups sugar

Once both bowls are mixed well, slowly add the wet mixture to the dry one, stirring as you combine them.

Divide the batter into the pans and bake for 45-60 minutes (more like 30 mins for the muffins).  You’ll know they’re done because a toothpick will come out clean.


Now if you need me, I’ll be snuggled in bed with a book, a few of these slices, and a nice hot mug of spiced apple cider!

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Chicken & Waffles

image9I swore I’d never move back below the Mason-Dixon Line, and yet – here I am.  And to be honest, I’m loving it.  To me, DC is like a cross between Atlanta and New York.  The architecture is lovely, people bustle about, and it’s very walkable.  Yet, it’s littered with greenery and there’s a hint of warmth to people that suggests Southern Hospitality.

Last weekend I decided to celebrate the best way I know how: making chicken and waffles from scratch in my brand new kitchen.  It was every bit as wonderful as I thought it would be, and now that I’ve made a bit of a mess in it, the kitchen really feels like mine.

Now, to the uninitiated, Chicken & Waffles may sound a bit… weird.  Fried chicken isn’t exactly breakfast sausage or bacon.  But trust me: fried up fresh and crispy, with a nice little drizzle of real maple syrup, it clearly deserves more than a “poultry” spot on the podium of breakfast meats.image2

Since I was working solo, I started with the waffles.  I figured they’d be fine sitting for a few minutes while I tackled the chicken, so I gathered my ingredients and got to work.

I won’t say much about making the waffles, since I talked about those here, but I will say that I tried this new recipe and thought it was delicious (but needed a few extra tablespoons of sugar).  Once I had a nice fluffy stack of waffles, I set them aside and started on the chicken.

I’ve always been a little intimidated by the idea of making fried chicken, but now I’ve peeked behind the curtain and seen how easy it really is.  image1

First, take out everything your kitchen (just kidding… kind of…).  You’ll need:

A small bowl for the seasoning (of course, I didn’t measure these ingredients, but in case you want to, the recipe calls for-)

  • 1  1/2 tsp salt
  • 1  1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp garlic pepper

A medium bowl (or large ziplock) for the liquid (which I did measure):

  • 4 eggs
  • 1/3 cup water
  • a whole (small) bottle of hot sauce (the recipe calls for 1 cup)

A large-ish bowl for the flour mixture

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt

A plate lined with paper towels

  • For the chicken to cool on

A deep skillet or pot for frying

  • Add peanut oil, but don’t fill more than half way, heated to 350 F.

I used boneless skinless thighs, but bone-in meat with some skin is more authentic.  So pick your chick and sprinkle it with the salt/pepper/garlic combo on both sides.image3

Then, give it a good coating in the egg mixture.  Some people do this step in a big ziplock bag, which makes sense.  But I used a bowl.

image4Next, dredge the chicken through the flour coating, making sure it’s thoroughly covered.  I suggest setting up these steps in a line, like I did above.  It makes it easy to move the chicken quickly from one step to the next, without dripping nastiness across the floor.

image5Once the oil is hot, carefully drop in your chicken.  I used a fairly shallow pan, so I flipped the chicken after a few minutes to make sure it cooked thoroughly.  If you had a deeper pot, you could submerge it all and skip that step.  Remove the chicken when it’s brown and crispy. It takes about 12 minutes to be cooked through, depending on the cut.  If you have any doubts, just cut into the thickest part and check.

image6Remove the cooked chicken and put it in a paper towel covered plate to cool.

image7Voila! Chicken and waffles at home!  Just be careful posting this to social media right away- you may find a line outside your door.

image8*Here’s the recipe source.

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Venturing into the Sahara

Marrakech is notoriously hectic.  The narrow streets bustle with people, cars, motorbikes, and donkeys pulling carts.  Vendors shout at you, children ask for the food from your hands, and it quickly becomes overwhelming.  So after a few days in the city, we were ready to get out and see more of Morocco.

At 7AM sharp, Mohammed picked us up in a Land Cruiser. We climbed in and headed East.  Here’s my photo journal from the beautiful and vastly different geographies we saw.

Sahara 3 Sahara 1 Sahara 4 Sahara 2 Sahara 6 Sahara 5 Sahara 7

We stopped for lunch and a tour in Ouzzarte, which is an ancient Berber village (and frequent movie set for films like Gladiator and an episode of Game of Thrones).  The whole thing is built from bricks made of clay and straw.  It’s remarkable how well it’s stood the test of time.

Sahara 8Sahara 9Sahara 10After lunch we continued East until we reached Zagora, where we pulled off the road for this parked pack of camels.  We stepped out of the car, grabbed our bags, and hopped aboard.

Sahara 11Climbing on was pretty easy, but when they start to stand up, it’s ABSOLUTELY TERRIFYING.  See that face?  Pure fear.  Twenty years of horseback riding did not prepare me for this.  They pitch forward, then rock wayyyy back before coming to all four feet.

Sahara 12Until I was on one, I didn’t realize how enormous camels are.  Mine’s name translated to “The Big One” and it was very fitting.  Sitting right atop the hump, I was probably 10 feet in the air.  And camel rides are not the smoothest.  Just ask my sore groin.Sahara 17

Sahara 13 Sahara 15Sahara 16Eventually we reached our Berber camp for the evening. The Berber people are a traditionally nomadic group and I learned a lot about them on this tour.  Like I learned that Hope Chests were used to present dowries, and the purpose of the chest was because each man offered his best and the chest concealed it so that other people couldn’t see and compare.  Isn’t that a nice idea?  Quite opposite of today’s engagement rings, eh?

Sahara 18Perhaps the biggest thing I learned is that I’m not cut out for nomadic life.  It was over 100 degrees (the car thermostat topped out at 40°C) and after just a few minutes, I had sand places I didn’t even know I had.

Sahara 19After we arrived at the camp, we were joined by about 25 other people from all over the globe.  We were served a traditional Moroccan meal before creeping into bed.  I won’t say that I slept that well, but no matter because we were roused by 6 AM and back on camels by 6:30.  The trip back was long and uneventful, so I capitalized on perfect opportunity to sprawl across the back seat and nap.

Eventually, we arrived  back in Marrakech and checked into The Pearl, a gorgeous modern hotel.  I was so happy to be there, I almost kissed the doorman.  As I write this, I’m propped up on a big comfy bed in an air-conditioned room.  And it feels GREAT!

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Souk Cuisine

Souk Cuisine 3At 10 AM sharp we met Gemma, a Dutch native, in front of a cafe in the Medina’s main square.  She was carrying an armful of empty shopping bags and chatting with a couple of Belgian women.  We introduced ourselves, were joined by a lovely British couple, and were ready to get started on our local culinary tour.

She started by distributing the bags, shopping lists, and small change purses with local currency.  We’d be making an array of traditional Moroccan dishes, all family recipes from the local women who assisted her.  Our list had mint, cumin, icing sugar, eggs, vegetable oil, and a couple other miscellaneous items.  The other pairs had other items, making it feel like we each had our own little treasure hunts.

Souk Cuisine 5She led us through the bustling alleys of the souk, stopping first in front of some stands heaped with olives jars of preserved lemons.  While the other people procured items from their list, Gemma showed me the two kinds of Moroccan mint.  She snapped a leaf off both varieties and let me taste the difference.  One was distinctly more bitter, so I chose the other and purchased a neat little bunch, which the vendor wrapped in paper for us.

We trekked on, deeper into the souks, stopping here and there for items.  My favorite stop was the spice shop.  Gemma explained that there are many vendors for each type of good, and that they’re all essentially the same but that locals always return to the same one.  They value the relationship, especially since these spice vendors are also herbalists of sorts, who can be consulted when an illness or ailment strikes.

Souk Cuisine 2Her “spice guy” was a real delight.  He let us smell each spice and made us guess what they were.  I don’t think we got a single one right, but learned a whole heck of a lot in the process.  He also showed us how to distinguish real saffron from fake, how Moroccan women use crushed minerals for eyeliner, and a wealth of other informative gems.

Souk Cuisine 4One of our last stops was the baker, who prepares bread in an oven that somewhat resembles a massive version of an Italian pizza oven.  The bread here is unleavened, like a biali or thick pita.  It’s a bit bland, but the perfect canvas to soak up the juices from a tangine.

With all our goods in hand, we snuck through a door so small that even I had to duck to squeeze through.  We were guided into the courtyard of a small riad, where local women washed our groceries and created cooking stations while we relaxed in front of a fan with some tea.

Souk Cuisine 7Once everything was prepped, recipes were distributed and we all got to work.  I paired up with the British woman and we got to work chopping, peeling, and chopping some more.  The local women could barely conceal their disdain at our barbaric knife skills.  What we thought was “finely diced” must have looked like glaciers of onion to them, and they continually pantomimed the additional chopping we needed to do.

Souk Cuisine 12Together, she and I made a sweet carrot salad, a Moroccan salad, and Courgette (zucchini) salad.  The Belgian women made a mashed aubergine (eggplant) dish, and a pan of filleted anchovies covered in tomatoes and peppers.  Souk Cuisine 10The men handled the meatballs, cooked in a tangine, and once everything was cooking we all chipped in on some cookies that turned out much like a shortbread from home.

Souk Cuisine 8 Souk Cuisine 9Souk Cuisine 11Souk Cuisine 13Once everything was thoroughly cooked, we all sat down to enjoy the meal with some nicely chilled wine.  It tasted just as good as it smelled, the local flavors creating a delicious bouquet of fragrances.  To my surprise, the carrot salad was a favorite.

Souk Cuisine 14 Souk Cuisine 15Souk Cuisine 6I didn’t care much for the anchovy dish (not a huge surprise) but no matter because moments later the meatballs stole the show.  Simmered in a tomato sauce in a large tangine, they were robust with flavor and utterly divine.  Just before they were done, four eggs were cracked on top and poached in the sauce, balancing out the whole dish and providing even more protein.  This is something I would definitely make again at home, and now that I have the recipe, I can!

Last came the mint tea and cookies.  Although I was a bit nauseated by the amount of vegetable oil required by the recipe, my skepticism waned when I took my first bite.  They were really good.  Just like a shortbread, with an essence of orange.

With our bellies full, we sat and swapped stories from our travels.  We learned that Gemma had moved to Morocco over 9 years ago.  She imparted wisdom and helped us gain a better understanding of the local culture.  Other tourists recommended restaurants to try (and to avoid) and of course, we discussed the inevitable shopping we all planned to do.

If you ever find yourself in Marrakech, I highly recommend this experience.  You can find Gemma online- her tour is called Souk Cuisine and it’s an excellent introduction to Moroccan food and culture.  The whole experience is so enjoyable, I’d say that the delicious meal is just (I can’t resist a food cliche here…) “the icing on the cake”.

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Arriving in Marrakech

After about 20 hours of travel, this was a very welcome sight.


I retrieved my luggage and connected with the driver I’d arranged with my riad.  In Marrakech, the most common form of lodging is Riads.  They’re small, generally about 20 rooms, with a beautiful courtyard in the middle, and they’re operated a bit like an American Bed and Breakfast with warm, personal service and a morning meal included with your stay.

After scouring reviews online, I booked Palais Sebban for my first few nights.  The driver, like most Moroccans, was very warm and friendly but I started to question things when he dropped us off in front of this unassuming door.
Morocco Sebban 4

Fortunately, the exterior was deceiving.  The inside is truly splendid. It’s a labyrinth of courtyards, rooms, and lounging areas.  Each is ornately decorated and blissfully tranquil (a vast departure from the streets outside!).

Morocco Sebban 3

We were welcomed in warmly and served mint tea in true local tradition.  Despite the temperatures topping 100°F, the Moroccans love their hot tea.  The lovely woman from the front desk provided a map and pointed out attractions as we rested our weary bodies.
Morocco Sebban 2After securing a dinner reservation in the hotel restaurant, it was time for a nice long nap.  I was shown to my room and collapsed into bed.

DSC_0161We arrived downstairs at six, completely famished.  Dinner was served poolside, at one of the tables with the red clothes in the picture above.  It was a traditional Moroccan meal and utterly delectable.  We started with a bottle of red and some salads.  Tomato and basil for me, tomato, basil, and eggplant for my friend.  Mine was good, but the other was better.  The eggplant was sliced thin and lightly fried.  It was the perfect compliment to the tomato, pesto, and cheese.  I’ll surely replicate this little dish at home.

Morocco Dinner Night 1 5Next, the best part: Tangines.  Lemon chicken with olives and beef with prunes, dates, and apricots.  Tangines are a classic Moroccan style of cooking.  They’re made from a terracotta of sorts and look like little clay teepees until the covers are removed.  They’re cooked on the stove, and the top traps in moisture producing soft, savory meats that fall off the bone. Morocco Dinner Night 1 4 Morocco Dinner Night 1 3

The beef was good, but the chicken was truly delectable.  After this meal, there’s a really good chance I’ll be leaving this country with a tangine in tow!

Dessert was yogurt and these flaky crisps, doused in a sticky sweet orange glaze.  Not really my style, but still worth a try.  One of the best parts of travel is trying local cuisine, knowing that I won’t love everything.

Morocco Dinner Night 1 2After dinner, the sun had set and the local’s Ramadan fast had been broken so we struck out to see the souks and experience the city after dark.  Even though it was after normal business hours, many shops were open and the main square bustled with activity.


20150712_210343Even at night, it was a sight to behold.

After a while, we decided to find our way home.  Our feet were filthy and we’d had enough of the heckling that the souk is known for.  I collapsed into bed again, and slept like the dead.

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An Update


In recent months I’ve avoided posting very personal content on my blog, but I think it’s due time for an update.

After three and a half [mostly] blissful years in Southern California, I’ve decided to move on.  And while I’m sad to close the book on this chapter, I’m really excited about the things ahead.

I’ll be living in DC: an exciting, vibrant city with which I’m completely enamored.  I’ll miss the 350 days of sunshine, the abundance of palm trees, and the Pinterest-perfect ocean views but I’m excited for the culture, the history, and of course, an entire new city of restaurants to try!

In about a month, once I settle in, I’ll start grad school at Georgetown.  I’ve always known that I wanted to go back to school for an MBA and about a year ago I decided I was ready. Of course, as luck would have it, all of the admissions deadlines had just passed.  Business schools don’t allow students to enroll in January, so I had the entire year to plan, research, study, and apply.  I worked my butt off.  I woke up at 5AM everyday for months so that I could study for the GMAT before work.  I drove to LA and back several times for dinners and forums and interviews.  And now that the application process is over, I’m thrilled with how everything worked out.  As Sophia Amoruso would say, “I [got] what I want[ed] because I work[ed] for it.”  And I’ve gotta say, it feels really good.

But first, an adventure….

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