About Crusader Jenn

I'm a new mom of a baby girl, learning to stay at home with her, do some graphic design, dabble with new recipes, and taste cupcakes!

What’s a “Stay-cation” Without Cupcakes?

Crusader Stacy recently took time off from work, spending part of her vacation in Florida, and then coming home early for a few days of R&R. Part of her “stay-cation” included spending the day with Leah and me. We had lunch, we talked, we shopped, we talked, and then we sat on the deck and talked some more. A perfect sister-day. Instead of dining out, Stacy picked up lunch from J Café, in Westminster, MD. I’ve been there before, but only for the cupcakes. They have a quaint restaurant and very appealing lunch menu.

JCafe_Interior

Since our lunch was so good, I just have to share it. Stacy had the Apple Pecan Salad, which is mixed greens, topped with sliced apple, candied pecans, feta cheese, craisins, red onion, and a sweet vinaigrette. From the looks of it, she thoroughly enjoyed every bite.

JCafe_Salad
(Even in a take-out container they took time to give the salad a nice presentation.)

I was craving bread that afternoon, so I selected the Sweet Chicken Salad Sandwich. J Café was out of croissants (bummer!) but suggested their focaccia bread instead.

JCafe_Sandwich

The chicken salad was jazzed up with craisins, celery, and chopped walnuts, and was unlike any chicken salad I’ve had. Because of the bread selection, the sandwich was huge and I ate the whole thing. The craisins added a touch of sweetness, while the walnuts gave a great texture. Although it would have been nice to sit in their café, they packaged up the food nicely and it was still enjoyable, even as take-out.

Now for what you all really want to hear more about…the cupcakes! As I mentioned, I tried their Pumpkin Maple and Sweet Potato cupcakes last fall. They were, hands-down, some of the best seasonal cupcakes I had last year. So, why did it take me so long to go back? My only answer really is, parking can be tricky in that area and I was busy eating a lot of other treats. So, it took Stacy going on a stay-cation to motivate us to give them another try.

Limoncello

JCafe_Lemoncillo
(I noticed that they used cupcake wrappers that came from the dollar section at Michael’s Craft Store – I spend a lot of time there…I thought that gave the cupcakes a personal, homemade touch.)

For my cupcake, I selected the Limoncello. With it nearing the end of summer, I’m getting my last fix of light, citrus/fruit flavors before I leave them behind for pumpkin and spice. Sadly, I wasn’t as impressed with this cupcake as I’d been with the others. The cake was good, with a light, but fresh, lemon flavor. However the cake was dense and on the dry side and the lemon frosting didn’t seem as natural. Perhaps they used Limoncello to flavor the frosting, but if so it resulted in tasting more like lemon extract. A redeeming quality was the smooth texture of the frosting and balanced sweetness as a whole.

Andes Mint

JCafe_MintChocolate

To offset her salad, Stacy chose a rich Andes Mint cupcake. Stacy said that the cake was some of the best chocolate cake she’s had, moist with deep chocolate flavor, but the frosting was the star: not too sweet, perfect hints of mint, and small pieces of Andes Mints mixed throughout. She said that it was the best cupcake she’s had in a long time!

There will definitely be a next time for J Café, and hopefully it involves grabbing a table (instead of take-out) to enjoy their charming atmosphere while eating our cupcakes.

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Jenn (Westminster, MD)

Minnie Mouse & Lemonade Make a 2 Year Old Happy!

LeahsBirthday_Table

My ideas for a lemonade stand themed party began brewing shortly after Leah’s 1st birthday last year (I couldn’t keep myself from thinking about it!). I love the color yellow and the idea of lemonade for a summer party with all the lemon-themed treats and cupcakes we could have.

LeahsBirthday_DIY

As the year progressed and Leah developed a love for all things Mickey and Minnie, I thought it would be cute to include touches of her favorite characters. I knew yellow would be a dominate color, but after adding Minnie into the mix, I also included pink…which worked well for pink lemonade too. Some of the DIY items included the invitation and party signs, Minnie/Micky paper lanterns, bunting, and party favors for the girls. We also collected “change” for No Kid Hungry, which totaled $54 at the end of the day!

LeahsBirthday_Cake

Some of the items I decided not to do myself this year were the cake and cupcakes. I splurged on cupcakes, deciding to allow the experts to do their thing. Since I splurged on the cupcakes, I kept the cake inexpensive by purchasing an $8 cake from BJs Wholesale, which was the perfect color right off the shelf.

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Kupcakes & Co. has created Minnie Mouse cupcakes for clients in the past, so I knew their capabilities to make them look good. I used one on top of the cake, to jazz it up, along with a glittery candle and cake bunting that matched the window bunting.

LeahsBirthday_Desserts

They also began offering Pink Lemonade cupcakes earlier this year. It’s a sweet cupcake, but kids like sweet (and some adults, like my husband). With those facts in mind, I was swayed to let someone else take this task off my plate.

Kupcakes & Co. Specialty Flavor – New Twist on Strawberry Lemonade Cupcakes
The cupcakes decorated like Minnie Mouse were a special flavor, made just for Leah! Well, sort of.

LeahsBirthday_Minnie1

Their Strawberry Lemon cupcake is lemon cake with strawberry frosting, but I love their strawberry cake and lemon frosting (the reverse), which I’ve tried from other cupcakes, so I asked if they could put those together for us instead of the usual, and they did! The flavor combination differed from their standard and everyone really liked it. The lemon frosting isn’t too sweet and the cake is light. It was the perfect summer cupcake.

LeahsBirthday_OreoPops

In addition to sugar cookies (some with a lemon glaze), rice krispie treats, and candy, we also had Minnie Mouse Oreo Pops for dessert. This gave our guests another fun, non-lemon flavored, personal-sized treat to enjoy (they were fairly easy to make, after a test run earlier in the week—let us know if you want to see more about how to create these pops).

LeahsBirthday_Flags

One thing we forgot to pull out were the cupcake flags. A few of the Pink Lemonade cupcakes would have been cute with some little flags in them, but the table didn’t really need the extra decoration in the end.

LeahsBirthday_Leah

Leah loved all the Minnie Mouse touches, the candy that was within reaching distance, and of course the cupcakes (or at least the frosting). It was a great day, filled with love from family and friends that came to celebrate my little girl!

If you’d like to see more from the party, you can check it out on Catch My Party, where we were featured again on their homepage, and Fizzy Party, where we more about the party details.! Also, the party designs (without Minnie Mouse – just lemonade themed) will be available on our new Etsy Shop, Eye2Eye Design, so keep an eye out for that!

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Jenn (Westminster, MD)

Catch My Party

Summertime: Time for An Old Favorite

Summer is always a jam-packed cupcake time for the Crusaders, due to all the birthdays, picnics, and cookouts. With so many cupcakes all the time, I ended up neglecting a neighborhood favorite of mine, Starry Night Bakery. We’ve reviewed many of their rotating flavors, but I’m always excited for new and seasonal options. After a wellness visit with my doctor, she prescribed me with, “doing something nice for myself before heading home,” to take advantage of not having the little one with me. I’m not sure cupcakes would have been her exact solution, however Starry Night is right across the street from the office, and when I think of treating myself, obviously cupcakes come to mind.

Cherry Limeade

StarryNight_CherryLimeade

Starry Night’s summer flavors are brightly colored (sometimes a warning sign for me), but they all smelled summery and refreshing. The first one I tried was the Cherry Limeade, and it tasted similar to Fruit Loops cereal. Despite the appearance of real cherries in the frosting, the flavor was on the artificial side. However, I personally like Fruit Loops so I thought this cupcake was fun (and surprisingly not overly sweet).

Mai Tai

StarryNight_MaiTai

The Mai Tai cupcake had me the most excited. I haven’t seen many (if any) this year, so originality plus adult drinks turned cupcakes is always a win for me. Perfectly summery in flavor, Starry Night’s Mai Tai was like sipping a fruity beverage on the beach. The pineapple compote filling added a nice touch and a lot of flavor. There was a mild citrus punch and I’m almost certain there was rum cooked in the cake or filling because it replicated the drink too much not to have it.

Raspberry Lemonade

StarryNight_RaspberryLemonade

Just like the Cherry Limeade, the Raspberry Lemonade also tasted like fruity cereal. So, if you are looking for fresh, real fruit flavors this cupcake may not be for you. But if you are like me and love sugary breakfast cereal as a special treat, then you just may love it!

Root Beer Float

StarryNight_RootbeerFloat

Having tried a few Root Beer Float cupcakes this season, I was curious to see how Starry Night’s would differ from the rest. The cake was made with root beer and the cupcake got its ice cream touch with the vanilla “cream” frosting. I thought this cupcake had a very authentic flavor, with a little spice from the root beer (just like those root beer barrel candies). The frosting was super light and smooth and all together the cupcake was balanced and not overly sweet.

Starry Night also has a new website, so if you haven’t seen it before you should check it out. And, if you’ve had some creative, fun, and tasty cupcakes this summer, tell us about them!

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Jenn (Westminster, MD)

Featured! Cupcake Parties, Crusader Style

One of the best things about parties is the food. I love party food and I especially love the desserts. But I also enjoy hosting a good party, making guests feel welcomed in my home and making the guest of honor feel special. With parties becoming somewhat of a hobby, I recently joined the Catch My Party community to share photos, which included Crusader Stacy’s “Cupcakes and Tea” bridal shower.

Stacy has been married now for 2.5 years, but it seems like the ideas from her party are still current! Catch My Party loved the “Decorate Your Own Cucpake” bar we had for guests and featured it as a “Party of the day” on their homepage and also on their Facebook page!

BridalShowerTable_CatchMyParty

We came up with the idea as an alternative to the typical bridal shower activities and games. The guests knew Stacy’s well-established love for cupcakes, so taking part in one of her favorite things was fun for everyone.

BridalShowerTableTop

We were able to find candies and decorations that matched the shower colors (and Stacy’s wedding colors), which kept the station looking elegant. We also had pre-decorated cupcakes for those that just wanted to eat (or needed help getting their creative juices flowing), and cupcake-to-go-boxes for guests to make extras or take their dessert home for later.

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(My decorating skills have definitely come a long way!)

BridalShowerTable_Boxes

The containers worked out perfectly as party favors and doubled as decoration, stacked in front of the cupcake bar. Ever since having an option for guests to take treats home, we haven’t looked back. Now it’s a must at every party!

BridalShowerTable_StacysCucpake
(Crusader Stacy’s cupcake…even then she had a knack for decorating!)

The cupcakes ranged from beautiful to humorous, but all were “sweet” with their wedding and love themes.

BridalShowerTable_GuestCupcake

It’s great to think back on this party, remembering how much fun everyone had, and how special Stacy felt. She was glowing the whole time, and after having hosted multiple showers herself, it was finally her turn to be pampered.

If you’d like to see more photos from this party, you can view my gallery. We also shared the party with Fizzy Party, who featured the full party on her blog.

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Jenn (Westminster, MD)

Catch My Party

Cupcakes in Paradise | Bonita Springs, Florida

CupcakesInParadise_Cupcakes

Some of you may remember that last year Crusader Stacy and I had an opprotunity to visit our family in Florida AT THE SAME TIME! This has rarely happened as adults, after having worked together for nearly 5 years. But, with myself no longer employed at the same establishment, we jumped at the chance to take a family vacation together. Well, try as we might, this year we just couldn’t make it happen. Sad as it may have been to not have my twin with me, my little family and I had a wonderful time. I stayed with my Nana, and it was like being home again.

Shortly after arriving, my uncle and cousins were quick to tell me that there was a new cupcake place in Bonita Springs, Florida. As much as I wanted to revisit one of my Florida favorites, Sassy Cakes, I had to try the new place.

CupcakesInParadise_Outside

Cupcakes In Paradise has a cute exterior and fits in perfectly with the colorful shopping center. When I walked into the shop I was surrounded by bright pink walls and modern flat-screen tvs for menus. There wasn’t any staff around, and I eventually had to say, “Hello?” into the direction of the kitchen, but it gave me time to take some pictures.

CupcakesInParadise_Inside

CupcakesInParadise_Display

At the counter there was a modest display of cupcakes with around 10 flavors to choose from. I was curious to try one of each, but I knew that I had to resist. Without my partner in crime, it would only be my husband and myself eating the cupcakes. So I (only) selected four. I was feeling the Florida air and picked Coconut, Key Lime, Funky Monkey, and then threw in a Chocolate Peanut Butter to keep the man happy.

Coconut

CupcakesInParadise_Coconut

The Coconut cupcake was the first one we tried and I’m sad to say it was my least favorite. It was filled, but unfortunately it was filled with the same super-sweet frosting that it was topped with. While the coconut flavor did come through, there was just too much frosting for me. However Dan, who prefers cupcakes on the sweet side, and Leah, who is going through a frosting-only phase, both loved this cupcake.

Key Lime

CupcakesInParadise_KeyLime

You can’t visit a cupcakery in Florida without trying Key Lime. After the Coconut cupcake, I was worried that they’d all be filled with frosting (and I’m a firm believer that a filling should complement the cake and frosting, but should be a different element). To my relief, the cupcake was not filled. The cake was very moist and had a good, real key lime flavor. I’m usually the one scrapping the wrapper of a good cupcake, but Dan beat me to it this time!

Peanut Butter Chocolate

CupcakesInParadise_ChocolatePB

The Chocolate Peanut Butter cupcake was a very moist and light chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting, and topped with a chocolate peanut butter crumble. The frosting didn’t look like it would have a smooth texture, but in the end it did, and the flavor was bold without overpowering the chocolate.

Funky Monkey

CupcakesInParadise_FunkyMonkey

Saved for last, the Funky Monkey is a banana chocolate cupcake with a marble cake, topped with banana frosting, and then drizzled with chocolate. For me this cupcake was only okay. The banana flavor seemed a little artificial, but the cake was good. I’m not sure I’d order it again with at least two other good options.

Overall, I would go back to Cupcakes in Paradise. I’ve heard their Lemon cupcake has a curd filling, that they make a good Red Velvet, and it was already hard to leave without the French Toast. I’ll have to try those out on my next visit to Florida!

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Jenn (Westminster, MD)

Guest Review from Fizzy Party | Decadent Creations | Beaverton, Oregon

Our friend Tiffany, from Fizzy Party, is at it again! She’s sharing a review of Decadent Creations, located in Beaverton, Oregon. Thanks again, Tiffany!

Hello again fellow cupcake lovers. Tiffany here, bringing you cupcake reviews from Oregon. Today I’m reviewing Decadent Creations in my town of Beaverton, Oregon. Decadent Creations can only be purchased at farmers markets or by special order.

DecadentCreations_AfterMidnight1

While shopping at the farmers market in downtown Beaverton one Saturday, I came across a bakery booth tucked in amongst the fruits and vegetables. Well you know I had to stop and sample the cupcakes. On my first visit the only cupcake she had was the After Midnight. A devil’s food cake, dark chocolate ganache with chocolate crumbs. A chocolate lovers dream. I’m not a huge fan of an all chocolate cupcake, but I sampled one for you.

DecadentCreations_AfterMidnight2

The cake had a mild chocolate taste and was moist. The chocolate ganache was a little too much chocolate for me. However, if you’re a chocolate lover I think you’d really enjoy this cupcake.

The following Saturday I stopped by her booth again to see if she had a different flavor. She did. This time it was Vanilla Caramel with Sea Salt. Again, not one of my favorites in the cupcake world, but someones got to sample them for you.

DecadentCreations_Caramel

I was pleasantly surprised by this cupcake. I love caramel but am not a fan of salt. Normally salted caramel cupcakes are too salty for me. The salt is all I can taste. This cupcake had a nice light flavor to it with just the right amount of salt. I would buy this one again.

I’m hoping to try some of her other wonderful sounding cupcakes. White Chocolate Coconut, Anisette and Tangerine, Fresh Berry and Blue Man. If she ever has these available I’ll be sure to sample them for you and let you know how they taste.

– Review by Guest Crusader, Tiffany from Fizzy Party

Winners of the Two Year Anniversary Giveaway!

Thank you to everyone who participated in our Anniversary Giveaway! We appreciated all the “birthday” wishes and enjoyed reading about your favorite cupcake flavors. We are glad to see that some struggle to pick just one, like us!

Now for the winners…Drum roll, please!

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Our GRAND PRIZE WINNER is Janet and our Runner Up Winner is “Bob”! We’ll be sending you both an email to collect your shipping information and we hope you enjoy the goodies. Janet will receive all the goodies we featured in our contest post and Bob will receive a runner-up package, which also contains some fun cupcake-themed things.

Again, thank you to those who participated!

– The Cupcake Crusaders

Cupcake Bites

CupcakeBites

Attempting to capture the wonder of cupcakes into a tiny candy morsel, the makers of CookieDough Bites created Cupcake Bites and Red Velvet Cupcake Bites. I found each of these at our local dollar store and curiosity got the best of me.

2YearGiveaway_Candies

They come in little boxes, like movie theater candy (and just like movie theater candy these days, the boxes are larger than necessary for the contents because the candies are housed in a bag, and then boxed).

CupcakeBites_RV

The Red Velvet Cupcake Bites are definitely red on the outside. Unfortunately so much red on such a tiny bite leaves the the candy with that unmistakable red dye flavor. The inside of the candy, to my surprise, was not red, but cookie dough colored. After popping a few more in my mouth, I realized that the flavor was more like cookie dough than cupcakes. I suspect that the insides might be a very similar recipe to the original CookieDough Bites.

CupcakeBites_Reg

I had higher hopes for the regular Cupcake Bites. They were certainly fun, with their colorful sprinkles, with extra scattered in the bag like confetti. The soft candy coating on the outside tasted like white chocolate but the inside looked like the Red Velvet candies and tasted more like cookie dough.

Although these candies don’t necessarily live up to their name, they are festive and easy to indulge in. Not overly sweet, especially for a candy, they are easy to pop in your mouth one after another, without paying much attention to how many you’ve eaten. I think they’d be great dropped into a tub of buttery popcorn!

If you’d like to try them for yourself, head over to our contest page because we are giving away a box of each in our Two Year Anniversary Grand Prize Giveaway package, and you could be the winner! The contest ends tonight, Monday July 22nd, at midnight. Good luck!

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Jenn (Westminster, MD)

Two Year Anniversary Giveaway!

** THIS GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED**

July is a month of birthdays for the Crusaders’ family. Crusader Stacy and Jenn will be celebrating their 31st birthday next week. Our littlest crusader, Leah, just turned two. Our dad (who might as well be an honorary crusader since he goes on so many adventures with us) has a birthday at the end of the month. And…Our blog just celebrated it’s 2nd anniversary on July 7th!

We can’t celebrate without including our followers, and the best way to do that is a giveaway! We think you’ll love some of the great summertime items in our Grand Prize package!

2YearGiveaway_Cakemix

For starters, we are including Pillsbury’s Orange Creamsicle cake mix and frosting, which Crusader Stacy used as a base for her Orange Creamsicle cupcakes.

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We also picked up extra boxes of these cupcake candies just for our winner. Check out our review here!

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Some other items we’ve included, that are always popular, are:
– Cupcake Chapstix (there was a lot of excitement over this with our last giveaway!)
– A Cupcake-To-Go container
– Fun summer cupcake liners

2YearGiveaway_3up

And then there are the cupcake items we just can’t resist:
– Cupcake gift bags
– Cupcake duct-tape (because duct-tape fixes everything, so why not have cupcakes on everything?)
– And more!

This year we also doing a 2 FOR TWO! What that means is, since this is our second year we are going to send a goody bag to a 2nd place winner! So now…how to win?!

There are several ways to enter and each entry counts:

– Comment below telling us your favorite cupcake flavor
– Like us on Facebook*
– Follow us on Twitter*
– Follow us on Foursquare*
– Follow us on Pinterest*
– Sign up to follow our blog via email or WordPress (sign up located in the right column on the homepage)*

* Please comment below after you sign up to follow our blog, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter, Foursquare, and/or Pinterest. Your comment below will act as an entry into the content. If you already have connected with us via social media, please make note below for your entry.

The contest will close on midnight next Monday, July 22, 2013. A winner will be drawn at random and announced on Wednesday, July 24, 2013.

Please let us know if you have any questions. Good luck!

– The Cupcake Crusaders

NOTE: We are only able to ship within the USA. Sorry to those who don’t qualify!

** THIS GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED**

Potluck Perfection: Pillsbury’s Key Lime Cupcakes

KeyLime_Box

We see them in the grocery stores; the brightly colored seasonal boxes with cakes and cupcakes that make your mouth water. For some of us there’s a voice in our head that says, “But it’s a box mix!” and that means artificial flavor and color, and therefore a lack of quality that we might have become accustomed to. And then there’s the rest of us who say, “OMG those would be perfect for that picnic, cookout, or potluck we’re going to this summer!” knowing that the summer months are going to be busy and we just need something easy.

I’m a mixture of both. As much as I crave a nice, gourmet quality cupcake, I haven’t outgrown my roots in boxed cake mixes. So, succumbing to the bright summer colors, I bought Pillsbury’s Key Lime cake mix and frosting (as well as their Pink Lemonade, which is still in my pantry  you may remember that we also tried their Orange Creamsicle earlier this season).

I battled with the urge to doctor up the cake and frosting, to customize them in some way. I originally wanted to pipe the frosting, but knew that I wouldn’t have enough in the tub for two dozen, and it wouldn’t set properly. And I really wanted to be able to give you an honest review of what you get straight from the box.

My solution? To make a homemade white chocolate ganache filling.

KeyLime_Filling

For the filling I used white chocolate chips and, instead of butter (which can discolor the white chocolate) or heavy cream (which I just didn’t have), I used 2% milk. I had to let the ganache cool first because it was too runny when warm, but it worked beautifully even with milk.

I kept the decoration simple and the frosting minimal since it’s so sweet. Topped with some shaved white chocolate pieces, I was pleasantly surprised with how pretty they were in the end!

KeyLimeCupcake

The cake and frosting were both tangy, but there was definitely an unmistakable “fake-ness” to the key lime flavor. It actually made my tongue tingle a little (like when you eat too many Pixie Sticks or sour candies…I know I’m not alone here, right?!). But the cake was super moist and fluffy, one of the reasons I come back to box mixes time and time again. The white chocolate was the PERFECT pairing for this cupcake. It brought down the artificial tang (and tingle), and added that custom, high-end quality I was looking for.

I brought the cupcakes to my calligraphy guild’s pre-summer social. There were so many treats, all homemade of course. My cupcakes looked amazing, but the real test was: How would they stand-up to these people who clearly appreciate family recipes? Well, people literally gawked when I told them it was a box mix. So, they either agreed with me and the white chocolate ganache added the needed pizazz, or they just aren’t as picky as I worried they might be. Either way, if you are in a bind and need a quick dessert this summer, I think you’ll be safe picking up this box mix.

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Jenn (Westminster, MD)