Banana Cupcakes with Chocolate Hazelnut Buttercream Frosting

I’ve been a little bit out of control with my sugar intake this week.  But that’s totally ok.  Monday will start a new week and we’ll be good to go with some more clean eating.  But before that, let’s talk cupcakes.

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A few weeks ago, Nocciolata sent me some samples of their tasty chocolate hazelnut spread to try. It’s seriously amazing and is certified organic, which cool! I really like that this has actual recognizable ingredients in it. Now, you might remember that I loooooove chocolate hazelnut spread (aka I went crazy with Nutella when I lived in Rome and gained 15lbs, no joke) and my favorite combo by far is chocolate/hazelnut + banana.

So with these samples sitting in my house, I tested out a few recipes for chocolate hazelnut frosting.  I failed 3 times and finally went back to the basics: buttercream.  Buttercream is delicious and always pleasing.  And I knew that the frosting I created would go perfectly with banana cupcakes.  So that brings us to these guys:

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Lately, the world has gotten ridiculous on the cupcake frosting front (myself included), but sometimes you just want to have a cupcake that looks homemade.  You know, like spread with a knife.  No fancy piping bags necessary.

Something familiar, comforting and tasty (like chocolate hazelnut spread).  Let’s concentrate on flavor, not on looks, because that’s really what this spread is all about: Great Taste.

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Banana Cupcakes with Chocolate Hazelnut Buttercream Frosting

For Cupcakes:
1 cup + 1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp corn starch
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1/2 cup sugar, heaping
1 egg
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp whole milk
1/2 tsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla

Frosting:
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup chocolate hazelnut spread
3-4 cups powdered sugar

Make cupcakes.  Pre-heat oven to 350F.  In a bowl combine flour, corn starch, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.  Using a mixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 2-3 minutes).  Add egg and beat for another minute. Add mashed bananas and beat for another minute.  Add remaining wet ingredients then start to add dry ingredients.  Beat until combined.

Fill lined cupcake pan with 1/4 cup of batter each (or until each cupcake slot is about 3/4 the way full).  Bake 15-18 minutes or until golden and cooked through.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool completely. This recipe will yield about 13-14 cupcakes.

Next make the frosting.  Beat together butter and chocolate hazelnut spread.  Gradually add powered sugar until it gets a thick spreadable consistency.  If it’s too thick, thin out with a bit of milk.  Spread frosting on cupcakes.  Top with sprinkles if you like, then serve!  (P.S. You can totally add more Chocolate Hazelnut spread to this frosting have it be even more flavorful, you just might have to adjust the powdered sugar amount.  I would have added more but I ran out of samples with my many fails).

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I’m definitely a fan of the chocolate-hazelnut + banana combo!  What’s your favorite thing to combine with chocolate-hazelnut spread? 

Thanks to Nocciolata for the samples!  Be sure to check them out.

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Traveling: Planning a Trip to Peru

My blog is a food blog.  I know this, you know this, we all know this, but it’s also a little bit about me.  And you want to know something about me?

I love to travel.

To me, traveling is more than just a set of experiences.  It’s an enormous privilege that I’ve been lucky to have a large part of my life.  Starting with going to Guatemala every summer as a kid, then having my parents tote me around with them on various trips (Brazil, Europe, Caribbean), then learning to go places on my own (like Argentina and India).  Even just since I’ve had this blog, you’ve followed me to:

Mexico:

  • I went to Chiapas for a week to work on a project while in Grad School.  I didn’t tell my parents I was going, because I thought they’d freak out.  That’s one of my biggest regrets.  Not the trip, but the not telling my parents part.

Rome:

  • I went to Rome from January til June of 2011.
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    I worked at a UN Agency and ate too much pasta and Nutella.  There were also a few side trips, like Amalfi
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    Tuscany
    windey road

China:

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Last year I took a 2 week trip to China, and it was pretty awesome.

This time, I’ve got the travel bug again.

Two weeks ago, I bought a plane ticket to Peru.  Last week, I booked a 4-day trip on the Inca Trail.

So this time, instead of just giving you a lighting recap like I did with China.  I’d like to document the trip planning experience for myself to remember and for the world to know.

I think a lot of people have this idea that traveling is too scary, or too expensive, but honestly with some saving strategies, I think anyone can take a fun trip.  I’m not Mr. Money Bags.  If I can take a trip, you probably can too.  It just takes some planning.  So ready for some tips?

Where was your last destination?  Where are you going next?

Amazzzing Dessert

Last night, the other grads and I went out for “fancy dinner.”  We went to a restaurant called Renato e Luisa.  It was pretty delicious.  If you’re in Rome, I recommend it.

And if you go, promise me you’ll get the Creme Brulee all’arancia con canestrino di caramello (aka Orange Creme Brulee).

No words. But yes that’s orange creamy custard with a slice of blood orange then caramel on top.

Divine!  The pasta with truffles I had was pretty delightful, intense and wonderful as well 🙂

Basically, if you’re in Rome, hit it up!

One thing I will miss about Italy

I’m leaving in a little over a week.  I’ll definitely miss the ability to walk everywhere and the widespread public transit use.

But really, one thing I’ve fallen in love with:

Risolatte. That means rice milk.

It basically reminds me of Jell-o pudding but with rice (and more natural… Ingredients: milk, rice, sugar, cocoa, corn starch and vanilla), and it’s amazing.

I don’t discriminate I like the chocolate and the plain kind equally.

Risolatte, you will be missed.

Italy has ruined my baking skills

Today I decided to bake so I could give cookies away to random people at work tomorrow.

I decided on oatmeal chocolate chip cookies but instead of chocolate chips I cut up a chocolate bar with hazelnuts in it.  Sounds delicious right???

I thought so too until I pulled this out of the oven:

Flat cookies.

Burnt cookies.

Fail.

I blame Italy.

Italy has killed my baking skills and bolstered my meat making skills.

All this because of a strange curiosity about pancetta…

Overrated, I’m ready to be vegetarian again and win back my baking skills.

Gelateria del Teatro

I like weird food.  I pretty much always want to try new weird combinations of things.  Honestly, I think it sorta frustrates my family around the holidays, maybe not so much my sister but definitely the rest of my family.  The probably spend hours wondering: why can’t we just have normal food for Christmas?  Why are there apples in the potatoes au gratin?

But really, who wants to eat boring things?

The same should be true for gelato.  A few years ago, I went to this ice cream place in Berkeley called Sketch (it’s on 4th street in case you’re in the area and want to visit) and had the most amazing fig balsamic ice cream.  I’ve been obsessed with unusual ice cream flavors ever since.

This weekend some friends and I went to a gelato place, Gelateria del Teatro with the promise of unusual flavors. With less than a month left in Italy, it’s time to eat some delicious gelato.

We take our gelato very seriously!

They delivered!  I got three flavors: White Chocolate Basil, Ricotta Fig with Almonds and Orange Sacher (chocolate apricot?).

Oh my, so good.  Totally worth it!  The white chocolate basil tasted like real basil that had been sweetened, not really like white chocolate.  It was pretty delicious and fresh!

Kyla got some crazy flavors too but sadly I don’t remember which ones.  Even more sadly, the pictures of Lis and Nancy turned out wayyyy to dark.

My parents are visiting next week, I can’t wait to go back because I’m dying to try the Raspberry Sage flavor.  Then again, maybe I should stick to traditional flavors with them…

Moving Myself

My former (but quited beloved) roommate, Christina, would always say “I’m going to go move myself” before going to the gym.  So in the spirit of missing her… today I moved myself and it was great!

I came home from work, had a snack:

2 egg white and a banana that for some reason look like they’re smiling at me.  Don’t you think?

Then I headed over to Nancy’s, and we walked to the river for a nice jog along the water.  The weather was perfect.  We didn’t go too fast, and I was pretty pleased with life.  After our lovely jog in the perfect 65F Roman sunshine, I headed to the dark dungeon that is my gym.  I’m not sure I mentioned this before, but my gym is in a basement, which is no fun.  It usually sticky and humid down there, probably because there’s no ventilation and tons of people sweating in close quarters.  Not cute.

Per usual, I was a sweaty mess there for a while.  But hey, at least I moved myself a little bit.

Then dinner:

Who says healthy has to be boring?

Certainly not my Palak Chana (Spinach and Garbanzo bean) Masala with Chicken on rice with green beans.  Basically chana masala with spinach and chicken added.

Ready for a recipe?  It’s been a while since I’ve had one of those:

Palak Chana Masala

adapted from Manjula’s Kitchen

1-3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp cumin
2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 can of tomato puree
4 tsp coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1/2-1 tsp chili powder
1 cup water
1-2 cans of garbanzo beans, rinsed (I used one since I added chicken)
few handfuls of spinach
1/2 tsp garam masala
3 grilled chicken breasts, sliced (optional, I actually used less)

Heat the oil in a pot.  Once the oil is hot, add cumin and flour and stir and cook for 1 minute.   Add ginger and tomato puree and stir.  Add the remaining spices (except garam masala) and stir.  Add the garbanzo beans, water and spinach (and chicken if you want to use it), cover and simmer on low for about 10 minutes.  Lastly stir in the garam masala!

Serve with rice and/or vegetable of choice and a dollop of greek yogurt!

Serves 4-6.

Vegetabley mess, just how I like it!

Well, I should probably go do some exit project editing, but let’s be honest, I’ll probably watch an episode of my new (to me) obsession… Alias.

Goodnight!