Cupcakes and Gratitude

Last Updated: March 25, 2021

When I was pregnant last year, there were so many reasons it felt like a cloud was hanging over us, the pandemic being just one of them. Most of the time we powered through, busy with work, getting the house ready for the baby, and like everyone else in the world, tracking down toilet paper and disinfecting our groceries took up 80% of whatever time was left over! The upcoming early months with the baby seemed very daunting at the time, especially since we were not going to have anyone to help out at home, so to make it fun and to have something to mark the milestones and celebrate the fact that we were “surviving” early parenthood, I planned this very special little side project: I decided that for each of our baby’s monthly birthdays (the 25th of each month), I would make a seasonal cupcake recipe, and take his picture with the cupcakes!

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Wontons with Sesame Sauce

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Few times a year I spend the better part of a Saturday assembling wontons. I try to go seasonal with the fillings, but if not, I fall back on the classic fillings: usually a combination of ground chicken, ground pork, diced shrimp, fresh ginger and scallions, and finely chopped water chestnuts. Ever since I took the “Wonders of Wontons” class at the Civic Kitchen in San Francisco, I’ve felt super empowered to experiment with wontons and potstickers. They are easy to assemble (time consuming, sure, but oh so rewarding), easy to freeze, and if you fold them a certain way, can double as boiled wontons as well as potstickers.

This year I tried adapted a recipe from Bon Appetit Magazine, which suggests adding sesame oil as well as vegetable oil to the filling and whisking (almost beating) it till the fat is fully incorporated in the filling. When cooked, it makes for a really lush wonton. I switched the pork for chicken so maybe mine weren’t as fatty as the ones from the original recipe, but still very comforting and delicious!

I usually drop my wontons in a quick chicken broth, but I really loved the Sesame Sauce here – a quick little sesame paste condiment that takes less than a minute to assemble, and I imagine will be delicious with a great number of things. You can always substitute tahini or even peanut butter if you don’t have sesame paste on hand.

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Tiranga Shrikhand Bars (frozen yogurt bars)

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Ever since my friend Shruti told me how to make shortcut Shrikhand (a sweet and creamy dessert from my home state of Maharashtra in India, made with hung yogurt, sugar, ground cardamom and saffron) using Labneh, I must have made it dozens of times. It comes together in no time – whisk together Labneh (extra thick middle-eastern yogurt cheese aka yogurt that is the consistency of cream cheese) and sugar with a pinch of ground cardamom and saffron, and chill in the fridge for a bit. That’s it!

I make it quite frequently to go with elaborate Indian meals – meals that have 7 or 8 other components as it is. So making the shortcut version is an easy win, especially if you make the mango version of it, called Amrakhand (Aam = mango), with mango pureé subbing for half the sugar. I’ve had this idea of converting Shrikhand to a bite-size, easy to freeze format, so that its easy to get a quick taste of it occasionally without investing any time/effort. I thought it would be a great idea to try a “Tiranga” (Indian tricolor) version of it to celebrate the upcoming Indian Republic Day (January 26th).

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Pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

A nice little Fall treat to accompany your afternoon coffees and breakfast alike – comes together in no time, no special equipment needed!

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Chai-spiced Applesauce cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

A perfect recipe for the Fall when you have way too many apples and way too much applesauce! Can also be made with pears/pear sauce for a twist. The chai spice (recipe below) is a nice change of pace from the typical pie spice that’s floating in the air – try it in place of pie spice or pumpkin pie spice in Fall/Winter baking for variety, or add it to your latte!

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Rose Cheesecake Squares (No Bake)

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No-bake cheesecakes are a world of their own, so quick, fuss-free, make-ahead, endlessly adaptable and eggless to boot! The eggless aspect of it lends well to a lot of Indian-flavored desserts, something my sister experiments a lot with. She had once made individual no-bake cheesecakes in these clear dessert cups for a party, and they were very well received!

My love for rose and all flavors floral is well-documented on this site, so when this fruity and floral decaffeinated Blood Orange tea showed up in my Simple Loose Leaf tea box, this chilled, no-bake Rose Cheesecake seemed like a really good idea. The mild, tangy and creamy cheesecake lets the fruit and floral flavors shine, the buttery crust provides a good contrast for the sharp and bright flavors, and the coolness of the cake makes it perfect for the upcoming warm weather, where the last thing you want to do is turn on the oven!

The crust is a simple, no-bake one with Nilla wafers (or you can use graham crackers or any neutral, buttery cracker), butter and a pinch of salt. The filling is softened, whipped cream cheese, with whipped cream for extra lift, and flavored with citrus zest (I used lemon, but orange or blood orange would be even better) and rose water/extract. Assembled in the fridge for 4-6 hours, or ideally overnight, this cheesecake is ready to go in all its glory for your teatime and dessert needs – no water baths, collapsed fillings, soggy crusts.

Shall we?

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