Super Easy Chocolate Cupcakes

  I’ll be honest, chocolate cake has never been my favorite. But after pushing carrot cake and lemon raspberry cupcakes on my kids at birthdays 1 and 2, I gave in and made chocolate cupcakes for my son’s 3rd birthday after seeing him lose his mind over a chocolate Seahawks Trophy cupcake the weekend earlier. 

Sidebar: Have you ever bought a Trophy cupcake? They’re good. They’re also a million dollars. Each! You’re like let’s see, I invited all the aunts and uncles and cousins, and our neighbors on each side, so there will be about 24 people at the party, I’m going to need two dozen cupcakes, so that’ll be $24 million dollars. (Cancels party.)

Which is weird, because chocolate cupcakes are the cheapest and most basic thing on earth to make. I haven’t calculated exactly what I spent on these cupcakes, but it was definitely under $24 million. 

To balance out the chocolate I topped these  with cream cheese frosting. I top everything with cream cheese frosting. If it’s not cream cheese frosting, I fail to see the point. I kept it on the sweeter end for the kids, and if the way they licked the frosting off the tops is any indicator, I think it turned out perfectly. 

P.S. If you want your cupcakes to look like they came from Trophy cupcake, you need to buy this incredible and super cheap tool. Along with the ability to draw a spiral, it’s all you need to make perfect looking cupcakes. You’ll have to loudly announce that the cupcakes were homemade, otherwise  when people see them they will assume you’re just rich and bought your cupcakes somewhere fancy. 

Chocolate Cupcake Batter

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking soda 
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 2 cups water

Using your stand mixer, mix all dry ingredients, then add wet ingredients and mix until evenly incorporated. Pour into lined muffin tins and bake at 350 degrees for 23 minutes. Makes 24 cupcakes. 

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 2 packages cream cheese
  • 1 and a half sticks butter
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 4 cups powdered sugar

Cream room temperature cream cheese and butter together in your stand mixer. Add vanilla. Then slowly incorporate powdered sugar. 

If you want a tarter frosting, use 1 stick butter and 2-3 cups powdered sugar. If you want a more buttery frosting with just s hint of the cream cheese, use 2 sticks butter and 5 cups powdered sugar.

Makes enough frosting to very generously top 24 cupcakes using the open star tip of your frosting gun. Pro Tip: Double check that your cupcakes aren’t too tall before plopping the second layer of your cupcake carrier on top after slaving away on perfect cupcakes to take to your kid’s preschool. 

Salmon Quiche

This recipe should also be known as “How I get my kids to eat super-food greens with zero complaint.”

Rather than buy a lot of lettuce, I like to keep spinach on hand. It’s so much more nutritious, and can be used as the base of a delicious salad, slapped on a sandwich, or chopped into itty bitty pieces and hidden in all sorts of things like meatballs, marinara sauce, or quiche. Today, let’s chat quiche. 

Spinach pie is what we called it when I was growing up, and it was one of my favorite dinners. I’m honestly not sure if my mom even put egg in it. I just remember spinach, yogurt, and crust which doesn’t sound terribly appetizing, but I loved me some crust so I would have eaten pretty much anything you put in it. 

It turns out my son hates crust. The first time I made quiche I tore a nice flaky extra piece off for him and offered it as a sort of bribe to get him to love quiche. He refused it; turns out he hates crust. I was offended by a two year old. But for him, stick egg and cheese together and offer him some dip-dip (ketchup) to…well…dip it in and he’s in, so quiche started out on strong footing anyway. And now I get to eat my crust AND his crust!

This summer I found myself with a bounty of homegrown kale and Swiss chard. I didn’t have much idea what to do with it, and wasn’t really sure why I’d planted it in the first place other than I felt compelled to grow food this year and had no plan. I’ve made tons of salads and tons of kale pesto sauce to freeze, but finally I realized that kale and chard were perfect substitutes for spinach in quiche – and even more super as far as super-foods go! The results were delicious. 

I’m using store bought frozen pie crust. I’ve tried my hand at crust in the past and I’ve been very disappointed in the outcome. I need to keep working on this, but I’m not there yet, stop judging me. 

Note! This is a double recipe so I can make two pies at once and freeze one for a wicked easy dinner in the future. It’s my gift to future me, and now to you! To freeze, I bake the extra pie below the one we’ll be eating (it doesn’t get quite as baked that way) let it cool, wrap in Saran Wrap and then foil, and place in the freezer. To eat, take out the freezer in the morning, let thaw in the fridge, and bake another 15 minutes at 275 til heated through. 

I use canned salmon for this, but the options are really endless. My pantry has been stocked lately with king salmon canned by my husband’s cousins in Alaska. I’ve also used leftover salmon from the night before. If salmon isn’t your thing, substitute for bacon and mushroom. Or ham and Swiss. Or go vegetarian and throw in broccoli with he greens. Or breakfast for dinner and keep it egg and cheese. Endless options. 

Ingredients

  • 2 Frozen Pie Crusts
  • 9 Eggs
  • 3/4 Cup of Milk
  • 1 Large Onion
  • 4 Cups Chopped Leafy Greens
  • 2 Cups Grated Cheddar
  • 14.75 oz Canned Salmon
  • Garlic Powder, Turmeric, Cumin, Salt to taste 

Directions

Prick the crusts with a fork and place them in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. Dice the onion and sauté in olive oil seasoned with salt until soft and translucent. In your KitchenAid stand mixer mix the eggs, milk and seasonings until evenly incorporated. Add the cooked onion, greens, cheddar and salmon and mix on low until evenly incorporated. Pour into pie crusts, bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes and then 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until center is firm. Serve and enjoy!

Isn’t that the easiest recipe ever?!


Practically Free Breadcrumbs

Hey, now that you’re baking your own bread you’re probably extra annoyed when the crusty ends of the bread that no one wants to eat end up in the garbage, right?

SAVE THEM FROM THAT PURGATORY!

Your bread butts were put on earth for a reason, and it’s your job to make sure they fulfill their life’s purpose. It also costs you practically nothing, even in time. Just set the end slices out on the counter for a day until their nice and stale, then throw in your food processor and mix the shit out of them until you have nice fine bread crumbs. It’s the circle of life!

I use my breadcrumbs in my meatballs, my hamburger patties, and to coat fried fish. I just store them in a Tupperware on the shelf since there’s always a recipe each week to use them up in. What do you use breadcrumbs for?

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

  In the past 5 years I’ve gone from spooning chunks of cookie dough onto a tray and calling it baking, to baking my own bread every week. I can’t remember the last time I bought bread at the grocery store. Rest assured, my skills are not impressive. This is something you can easily master too.

Fair warning – I do have a KitchenAid stand mixer with bread hook. I know next to nothing about kneading by hand. I direct you to YouTube if you don’t have your own mixer. I will be writing an ode to my mixer at some point in the future. They aren’t cheap, but if you register for one expensive item on your wedding registry, maybe your grandma will buy it for you (thanks, Nan!)

We eat a lot of whole wheat bread in my household; my husband takes a sandwich to work most days, my son likes an egg on toast for lunch, and I enjoy delicious Marmite on toast as a snack most afternoons because I’m weird like that. So it became one of the easiest targets for making at home to save money. I started with a basic sandwich bread recipe that I found somewhere online. My first bread was sort of brick like. It took me a couple of loaves to understand the basics and make it turn out just perfectly. In the process I modified the recipe into my own. Most recipes seemed to make two loaves, and I prefer to make one at a time. I also picked up a few tricks along the way, and now I have a recipe and system that I love and that I can replicate every time.

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

  • 1 Cup Warm Water
  • 1 Tbsp + 1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 2 Tbsp Yeast
  • 1/4 Cup Canola Oil
  • 1/2 Cup Milk
  • 2 Cups Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1 + 3/4 Cups White Flour
  • 1 + 1/2 tsp Salt

The TL;DR Directions

Place all ingredients in mixing bowl, mix with bread hook on speed 2 for 10 minutes. Let rise for 1 hour. Shape into rectangle on wet surface and then roll into loaf. Place in greased loaf pan for 25 minutes and preheat oven to 400. Bake on 400 for 10 minutes and 350 for 25 minutes.

Directions For People Who Are Terrified of Screwing Up Their First Loaf of Bread

In the mixing bowl of your stand mixer dissolve 1 Tbsp of brown sugar in the warm water. The water shouldn’t be too warm or it will kill the yeast. When I first started baking I’d get it as warm as I could without it being uncomfortable to keep my hand in and that seemed to work great. Sprinkle 2 Tbsp of yeast on top of the sugar water and leave alone for 15 minutes. When you return your yeast will have done all sorts of exciting, bubbly, growing things. Note: If you’re confident that your yeast is good, you can skip this proofing step. These days I use lukewarm water and toss all the ingredients right on top without waiting on my yeast to activate.

Next add the remaining 1/4 Cup of brown sugar, 1/4 cup of canola oil, and 1/2 cup of room temperature milk. I typically use whole milk, but I’m not sure this makes much difference. Then 2 cups of whole wheat flour are dumped in the mixing bowl, followed by 1 cup of white flour and then another almost full cup of white flour.

To be perfectly honest, I eyeball this last one so I’m estimating in the ingredients above that it’s a 3/4 cup. It’s probably a little more than that. Every recipe I’ve read says to add the last cup in slowly while mixing until you’re at the perfect consistency. I didn’t enjoy that game, so I figured out what I needed in my part of the world and I just do that from the get go. When you first start baking this recipe, you can add just a little of the list bit at a time with your mixer running. The idea is to get the dough to come away from the sides of the bowl while also not being too dry. I find if I mix on the second notch of my KitchenAid stand mixer and have the flour ratio just perfect then after about 5 minutes of mixing what seemed like very wet dough comes away from the sides and is perfect. So I don’t like the slowly adding method, because what might be adequate and come away from the sides if given a few minutes longer probably seems too wet initially and will lead you to add too much flour and then bake bricks.

So, you’ve added just under 2 cups of white flour. Now you add the salt. Don’t add it before the flour because salt can do evil things to yeast. I’ve never encountered any problems with just tossing it on top of the flour and then quickly getting it all mixed in and distributed, but if you love having extra dishes to wash, you can mix the flour and salt together separately and then add to the mixer.

Now place your dough hook on the mixer, lock it down, and mix and knead everything together for 7-10 minutes on speed 2 of your stand mixer. Make sure to place this spill shield on first so you don’t end up with flour everywhere!

It may start climbing the dough hook and coming away from the sides of the bowl before 10 minutes is up, but it still needs to be thoroughly kneaded – 7 to 10 minutes is my sweet spot. Once done I pull up the mixer covered in dough, quickly pour a tiny drop of oil into the bowl and oil the sides (I can usually use the dregs from my earlier 1/4 Cup) and then pull all the dough off the hook and turn in the oil. It shouldn’t be so sticky that it’s attacking your fingers at this point, and once turned in the oil it shouldn’t be tacky at all, but it shouldn’t be too dry either. We are not going for play dough texture here.

You also don’t have to oil the bowl either. You can also cover the bowl with a wet tea towel so that it doesn’t lose moisture while it rises, but I like the oiling method because it makes the dough easier to work with.

Let rise until doubled. This can vary in time depending on location, temperature, elevation, but I find mine takes about 45 minutes and I don’t worry too much if it rises too much. Just don’t punch it down if it hasn’t doubled in size yet. It’s really the second rising that you don’t want to get out of hand! On a WET surface (yes, ignore everyone who says floured surface) place the dough and roll (or just hand shape like I do) into a rectangle – like an oversized piece of printer paper. Then roll the loaf the long way and press the seam together and place in a greased loaf pan. Make sure you greased the corners extra well. Your dough will be all sorts of squishy goodness and you’ll be able to feel the life in it yearning to start the second rise.

(My dough and I are getting pretty close, apparently.)

Let sit for approximately 25 minutes. Keep your eye on it towards the end, you want it to rise into a perfect loaf shape, not start spilling over the sides and getting all wiley on you or it’ll be very crumbly. Then pop it into a preheated 400 degree oven for 10 minutes (or a not preheated 400 degree oven for 15 minutes if you’re an irresponsible bread baker like me) and then turn it down to 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Tada! Your bread is done.

Place on a cooling rack and then enjoy.

I like to keep mine in old hot dog bun bags because they’re extra wide. We eat it so fast that I keep it in the cupboard rather than the fridge, but interestingly even if it takes us a week to get through one loaf it seems to stay good longer than the fresh baked loaves I used to buy at Safeway.

Cost Breakdown!

Should you bake your own bread? A resounding yes! Here’s why:

Brown Sugar: I need to start buying the big package of brown sugar, but for some reason I haven’t made the leap yet and have been buying the 4 lb bags for $3.28 at Costco. Cost per loaf: 11 cents

Yeast: DO NOT BUY PACKETS! Vow now to always buy yeast in bulk. For the longest time this is why I couldn’t figure out how people were baking bread for so cheap. You can get a teeny tiny one use packet of yeast for practically the same price as 2 lbs of yeast at Costco – $4.93. Cost per loaf: 9 cents

Canola Oil: 1.5 gallons of canola oil at Costco is currently $9.40. Cost per loaf: Almost 10 cents

Milk: I only buy organic milk, albeit probably not the best most pure organic on the market. I’m perfectly happy with O Organic brand which is $5.29 a gallon at Safeway (occasionally on sale through Just 4 U!) Cost per loaf: 16 and a half cents

Whole Wheat Flour: 50 lbs of ADM Whole Wheat Flour at Cash & Carry is $14.28. That’s 175 cups total. Cost per loaf: 16 and a half cents

White Flour: I buy flour either at Costco or Cash & Carry, typically a 50 lb bag of ConAgra All Purpose for $15.87. That’s 181.5 cups total, and I’ll round up to cups per loaf to be safe. Cost per loaf: 17 and a half cents

Salt: I purchase Morton Canning and Pickling Salt (also good for everything else) at Cash & Carry for $1.87 for 4 Lbs. How many teaspoons are in 4 lbs of salt? Approximately 320. Cost per loaf: less than a penny

That’s approximately 81 and a half pennies for a delicious home baked loaf of bread. Compare that to the Famous Bake House Bread I was buying for $3.89 at Safeway and you’ve got yourself a steal! We go through approximately a loaf and a half of bread a week – that’s approximately $240 in savings each year. Compound this with the fact that now YOU CAN BAKE BREAD! and your savings keeps going up. A delicious Italian loaf that impresses your guests? Practically free. Hamburger buns? Practically free. Hot dog buns? Practically free, AND no more agonizing over the fact that buns and actual hot dogs are sold in different counts, wthell.

You are now a baking super hero.

 

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Despite the name of this blog, the star of last night’s dinner actually didn’t come from Costco. You can use ground beef or ground pork for this recipe, and instead of using Kirkland Signature organic ground beef (my easy meal go to), I defrosted some ground pork from the freezer. I have no less than four sisters-in-law, and not a dud in the bunch. They got together and purchased half a pig for my husband’s birthday and we are STILL working our way through this fabulous gift. Since there are only two adult appetites in our family, I call this recipe a double batch, but for a full sized family of four it would probably be perfect. I love it because I can freeze half and heat it up for an instant meal on a busy night. 

Easy Peasy Meatballs

  1. 1 1/2 lbs ground meat
  2. 1 large onion
  3. 2 eggs
  4. Half a cup breadcrumbs
  5. 2-3 garlic cloves or a generous shake of garlic powder
  6. Bunch of parsley, Italian seasoning, or other delicious herbs
  7. 1/2 tsp Salt

  
I’m not a gourmet cook, I’m a do what you have to do to get a home cooked meal on the table kind of cook. So that being said, I’m more than okay replacing fresh herbs with dried and chopped garlic with garlic powder depending on what I have on hand and how much time I have. 

Dice and sauté the onions in some olive oil with a pinch of salt until soft. If you’re using fresh garlic, chop and toss in with the onions for the last 30 seconds until aromatic. Finely chop fresh herbs if you’re using. 

Then throw all of the ingredients together in a mixing bowl! Didn’t I say easy peasy?  

 
I like to use my KitchenAid stand mixer for absolutely everything. It makes my life so much easier. I also like that I don’t have to wait for the onions to cool off when making this recipe, because if you don’t use a mixer you will burn your hands if you don’t wait a minute before getting up close and personal with your ingredients. With the mixer I can cruise through this task in a minute flat. 

  
Once everything is good and mixed, get in there (or back in there) with your hands to form balls and equally space in a baking pan. Then throw them in the oven at 375 for 30 minutes. I made 20 meatballs with this recipe. 

  
I use Hunts tomato sauce for all my pasta meals. I like to stock up when it’s on sale for $1 or less at Safeway. I usually use half the can and freeze half, but for this double batch I used the full can heated and poured over spaghetti for four. I also tossed in a few handfuls of chopped kale into the sauce. This is my favorite way to get nutritious greens into my kids without them complaining. I put it in every red sauce. Then I put half the spaghetti in a glass Pyrex for freezing topped with ten meatballs for a future dinner. Future me will be thinking me for this soon!

It’s only fitting that I kick off this blog with a post about BUDGETS! What is the food budget of a Costco Cook? Actually, I hope to figure that out for myself while writing for you. The last time I followed a strict budget I was aiming at $300 a month for two adults. That was a long time – and two children – ago. I’m now aiming at $400 a month for two adults and two little monkeys, ages almost-one and almost-three.

Shhh, don't tell mom how much food we're going to eat one day.

Shhh, don’t tell mom how much food we’re going to eat one day.

How do I intend to do it? Well, I must confess that when it comes to grocery stores I’m polyamorous. Although Costco is featured in the title of this burgeoning blog, my other love is Safeway. These stores put together are a dynamite duo! The bulk savings of Costco and the Just for U app at Safeway are a budgeting mom’s dream come true.* I also like to keep Cash & Carry ready and waiting in the wings. They’re closer to me than Costco if I somehow run out of a staple before the month’s end, and they even have a few things that I can’t get at Costco (ahem…Timm’s Cascade Jalapeno Chips…) And then of course there’s my good friend Trader Joe’s. Gotta love that guy for delicious brie and fresh produce.

BUT! By running to too many places I definitely allow myself to get off track. My goal is to venture yonder to the northlands just once a month for one giant Costco run keeping the total at $200 or less. This then leaves $50 a week for purchasing things fresh. I do much better if I keep this to one store because sadly $50 spread out over two or three places goes REAL fast. This requires a lot of meal planning.

So, with regards to groceries I’ll be using this blog to…

  • Look at my total expenses so far this year (sure to be ugly)
  • Plan a master grocery list to keep staples stocked and meal plan
  • Keep track of all grocery purchases going forward
  • Share all my favorite go to recipes!

I hope you’ll share some of your recipes, tips and tricks too.

I’d also like this blog to be a place I can talk about parenting, both my wins and my massive failures, record memories of my incredible children, and talk about personal finance from the perspective of a young(ish) family. I hope you’ll read along, and welcome to the world of the Costco Cook!

*Okay, let’s be honest. If I’m dreaming, it’s Whole Foods. But I didn’t get to marry Will Arnett either, and life has still turned out pretty okay.

NEW YORK CITY, NY - JUNE 28:  Will Arnett leaves Whole Foods on June 28, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Josiah Kamau/BuzzFoto/FilmMagic)

NEW YORK CITY, NY – JUNE 28: Will Arnett leaves Whole Foods on June 28, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Josiah Kamau/BuzzFoto/FilmMagic)