Category: vanilla

Fall-ing into some rosy pink & spicy Gala apple jam.

Indy snuggling.

Oh, fall. You come every year and you sweep in subtlely; first the air loses it’s humidity. Then the sun changes. Finally the wind itself is different- it smells different too. The leaves begin to change color, then drop. It’s time for the down comforter and open windows at night. The need for a light sweater at night turns into the need for something a little heavier. The leaves crunch underfoot and it’s time for boots and socks. The sandals get relegated to the back of the closet for another year.

Everyone instinctively wants to snuggle again- even the dog- after a long summer of “GET AWAY FROM ME IT’S SO HOT.”

And… and… there are apples.

Gala apple jam.

Apple season is here. Omigah, omigah, omigaaaaaaaaaaahhhhwwwwd.

I love apples. Apples are my favorite. Honeycrisps and Red Delicious, oh, I could eat them all day. Even Golden Delicious and Granny Smith have their place here with me. Pink Lady’s? Oh sure. Love those too. I’m just an apple lover, period. However, sometimes you get some apples and maybe it’s the batch or the harvest or maybe it’s just that particular apple… and they’re just not the kind thats best for eating out of your hand.

And that’s what happened with this little group of Gala’s I bought. I was all psyched for apple season, and went a little crazy getting a couple of different kinds, and the Gala’s were just… eh. Not fantastic. Gala apples are mild anyway, a bit grainy, and softish. Not the best eating apple (not to me anyway- I prefer a crisper, slightly more tart apple). So I decided to just use the rest of them in a jam and be done with it.

Rosy pink gala apple jam with vanilla and cardamom.

That way I can move on to eating those Honeycrisps.

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Happy birthday, Cupcake Rehab.

Happy birthday, Cupcake Rehab!

Happy 8th birthday, Cupcake Rehab!

Wow. I cannot believe it’s been EIGHT YEARS. Insane! Yes, I know, it’s unbelievable but this past Saturday, September 12th, was Cupcake Rehab‘s 8th birthday. Eight. 8. Ocho. I’m kinda in shock. It really does seem just like yesterday that I started this blog over at, way back in 2007. Since then, so many things have changed.

Jay and I adopted Indy. Jay got me a KitchenAid mixer which I named Lola (the Cook For the Cure pink one, of course) and a much better camera (Canon EOS Rebel t4i). We bought a house. We got married. We lost our Arwyn just a few weeks ago. And my mom- one of the main impetus for me even starting to bake & cook at all, and back then when I started this blog was still undergoing treatment- is now a NINE YEAR SURVIVOR of breast cancer, and a volunteer with the Adelphi NY Statewide Breast Cancer Program.

I’d like to think my photography has gotten a lot better. And I think my recipe development has too. I’ve grown in both my cooking and my baking, and I’ve started canning and preserving as well. I’ve matured, and so has the blog. It’s shaped me, just as I’ve shaped it.

It's Cupcake Rehab's 8th birthday! Make these adorable vanilla cupcakes for two.

And the people I’ve met? Oh wow. From fellow bloggers to the people who “like” Cupcake Rehab on Facebook, to my Instagram and Twitter followers. They are all AMAZING. I’ve made some fantastic friends through having this blog. I’ve been exposed to things I never thought possible. I’ve made contacts and networked and enjoyed every single minute of it.

Every single day has been fun & exciting.

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Ushering in autumn with spiced nectarine jam.

Spiced nectarine jam.

Whoa. All you bloggers- not to mention store owners- are really kicking in the fall stuff quick, huh? I’m sorry guys- I can’t do it. It’s still hot and while I love fall… I mean, I really LOVE fall… I just can’t do Halloween stuff or hardcore fall recipes in late August, or even the beginning of September. Gross. I’m still eating grilled hot dogs and fresh corn and hanging out in my backyard! I have plenty of time to make apple (and the ever beloved pumpkin) themed desserts and treats. There will be more than enough of that in October. And November. But for now, no. It’s still summer for God’s sake!

But what I can do is make a summery (or end of summer…y) fruit into a fall-appropriate jam. Because it is coming, and when it does won’t it be nice to have a few jars of summer mixed with a little fall? That’s how we have this jam; spiced nectarine. Spiced with vanilla bean, star anise and cinnamon. And actually a little bit of nutmeg, cardamom, powdered honey and ginger, too, because I used a “sweet blend” spice mix I bought from a local spicery at a fair last summer.

It’s basically a way to start to acknowledge fall without going crazy for apples (yet).


These nectarines are the last of what’s left from my most recent shipment of Washington State Fruit. My “Canbassadorship” is coming to and end for this year, and I wanted to make a jam that was easy and didn’t require something like purple basil that not everyone has.

Feel free to substitute your own favorite spices. I know star anise can be polarizing, like licorice. Use cardamom instead. Or ginger. Or nutmeg. Or just add in a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice! That way you get a little bit of everything.

I wouldn’t omit the vanilla bean, though. Not only does it smell heavenly, but it adds those little flecks to the jam that look pretty cool.

Spiced nectarine jam with vanilla bean, cinnamon and star anise.

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Vanilla panna cotta with fresh cherry sauce.

Vanilla bean panna cotta with fresh sweet cherry sauce.

Don’t you just LOVE when desserts look like murder scenes?

Panna Cotta is one of the most perfect summertime desserts. Not only does it take about  5 ingredients, but it’s a dream to make, and you can make it ahead of time. Oh, and it requires only about 10 minutes on the stove! And it’s impressive to say. Panna cotta.

Panna cotta is kind of what would happen if Jell-O and vanilla pudding had a baby. It’s gelatinous, yet creamy. Almost flan-like. In Italian, “panna cotta” means “cooked cream,” and that’s essentially what it is. With sugar, vanilla, gelatin and yogurt. In Italy it’s traditionally eaten with chocolate sauce or fresh berries, or both. Some types of panna cotta can hold their shape when unmolded, this particular one is a crap shoot. If you leave it in longer than overnight, in a very cold spot in the fridge, you might be able to unmold it.

However- forget it if it’s a hot, humid day, or if your custard cups have an unusual shape. It ain’t gonna happen.

Vanilla bean panna cotta with fresh sweet cherry sauce.

The first time I made this recipe, my mother asked for it for her birthday. I made two types; the original Ina Garten recipe with balsamic strawberries, and some with just mini-chocolate chips mixed in before chilling it. Since then I’ve made it many times over- usually for her, since it’s one of her favorite things- and never really deviated from that.

But this year I made some fresh cherry sauce with all of those beautiful Rainier Fruit Company cherries I received, and I thought that would be a delicious variation to spoon on top.

And I was correct. And you should make it too, if you were smart like me and froze some of those gorgeous cherries.

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Another year older (and deeper in debt) …plus donuts.

Happy birthday to me! So, I am officially 34 years old! Holy balls. Time fucking flies, man. All you youngin’s out there, take heed. The years begin to move by so quickly you won’t have time to even comprehend it. Yes- another year has passed, and what a year it was! As the song says “Another year (day) older and deeper in debt…”

We faced illness and overcame it. We got married, and we bought a house. Here’s Lola (one of my favorite birthday gifts ever) at home, in her natural habitat: the kitchen.

Lola the mixer, at home.(Painting by the lovely and talented Mrs. Christine Comis-Villareal)


Lots of things can happen in one year, clearly. Lots of good, maybe some bad. But it all balances out in the end. I decided to skip the “Life List” this year, because honestly? After all the bullshit this year I’m just glad to be here- literally and figuratively. I’m thankful for so many things & people, thankful that I’m healthy and here to celebrate another birthday.

I’m also thankful for donuts.

Baked chocolate donuts with pink icing!

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Ready for rhubarb: baked & pickled.

Bowl of rhubarb (click through for two rhubarb recipes)

Rhubarb comes and goes very quickly. It’s fleeting, rhubarb season. You simply cannot just walk into a store here and get rhubarb any time you want during the growing season. It sells out of the markets & supermarkets almost immediately. My mother absolutely LOVES rhubarb, and the season usually coincides with Mother’s Day, so I try and get some to make her something special. When I find it, I try to grab it. But if its not the greatest quality, or if its on the pricey side, I skip it. The stalk I bought for these two recipes was pretty huge, and I paid a little over $2.00 for it. It went into these pickles and also the next recipe which you’ll see in a few days (so keep that in mind).

So yes, in this post, it’s a two-for-one. One rhubarb cake recipe, and one pickled rhubarb recipe. First, the cake!

Rhubarb cake.

Rhubarb is really, really pretty. There are two main kinds; the bright pinkish red kind (this one) and the light pink and green kind. And then there are a bunch in between, of course, but those are the two main color types you’ll find in your store/market. Both colors are fine for any purpose, so long as you be sure to cut off all the leaves, if they come with them still attached. Rhubarb leaves are poisonous! This is especially important to remember if you buy your stalks from a farmer or a farmer’s market, or get them from someone who grows it. I know the brighter pink ones are more “attractive” aesthetically, but the pinkish/green ones can be very pretty too. I like to use a mix if I can find both.

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Let’s talk about berries & bundts, bitches.

Remember I said I never make cakes? Unless its easy? Well… yeah. This is why I’m obsessed with these tiny little mini-bundts. Remember the mini-bundt pan I spoke about a few months ago?

Strawberry ricotta mini bundt cakes.

I love it. Mini-bundts are my new favorite thing. They’re SO easy to just fill up with a recipe and bam- instant fancy. They make any recipe look awesome-r. And way cuter, let’s be honest. Not that ricotta cake needs help being awesome, but look. So cute.

Strawberry ricotta mini bundts.

And strawberries are cute, too.

Strawberries for ricotta mini-bundt cakes.

When you find yourself with strawberries on sale, and you’re dying for the fresh smell of a summer berry even though it’s only late April, you just buy ’em. And make cakes.

And jam.

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