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Can't beet these luscious cupcakes

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I grew up loving beets. My mom's pickled beets. She would buy canned beets from the store, then doctor them up with her own spice mixture of peppercorns, allspice berries, whole cloves, vinegar and sugar all boiled together. The canned beets would marinate in the spice mixture for a few days in the refrigerator. They were delicious. And until I had a mother-in-law, I thought that was the only way to make pickled beets.

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I remember a sunny Saturday in late summer when my mother-in-law came to my house with a bag of dirty beets and a big pot. She was prepared to show me how to make pickled beets and can them. This was all new to me. We cooked the beets until they were fork tender. Their skins slipped off easily, staining our hands a beautiful shade of purplish-red. We chunked them up and then my mother-in-law made a vinegary sweet and spicy liquid to soak them in. Oh, they tasted just right. The jars of ruby chunks didn't last through the winter. I ate them up - all by myself.

In a considerable number of homes, noses quickly turn up in disgust at the mention of a beet. My husband won't go near the sweet, earthy root. I've taken advantage of their versatility, roasting them with olive oil and garlic along with potatoes. I've roasted them and sliced them warm for salad with sweet-tart vinaigrette. I've steamed them and adorned them with brown sugar and orange juice glaze and I've grated them raw and tossed them into a salad. No, he just won't eat them. Until a couple of weeks ago.

I carefully sneaked some beets into the house when my husband wasn't looking. Then, when he was away, I pulled out my food processor and grated some raw, peeled beets. I planned to adapt my favorite brownie recipe and create chocolate cupcakes filled with the grated beets. After all, if carrots can sweeten cake, and zucchini can add moisture to muffins and bread, then why not beets? Their color would be hidden by dark, unsweetened chocolate.

I baked the cupcakes as the beet-phobic man watched a football game on TV. I kept my fingers crossed, hoping there would be no earthy beet fragrance wafting from the oven. The cupcakes cooled on the counter. I slathered the top of each cupcake with a thick layer of Fudge Frosting. And then I waited. At halftime a frosted cupcake was snatched from the counter. Only three minutes later, I watched another cupcake disappear. Under my breath, I whispered "Gotcha!" He never knew what he was really eating.

Chocolate Beet Cupcakes are rich, not too sweet, moist and luscious. Not a crumb will fall from the little hand-held cakes as you eat them. Each bite of dense chocolaty deliciousness will make it into your mouth. The frosting, like fudge, will melt on your tongue.

Fresh beets range in size, with smaller ones holding the most sweetness. Larger ones may be a little woody. For this recipe, I used medium-sized beets that are firm with smooth skin. Twelve to 16 ounces will be enough to yield 3 cups of grated beets. Peel them like a potato with a vegetable peeler. I used my peeler with serrated blades designed for soft, thin-skinned fruits and vegetables. Cut the beets into chunks and grate them in a food processor or grate them by hand, although this option will be a bit messy. It helps to set the grater inside of a 13- x 9-inch baking pan for this job.

Chocolate Beet Cupcakes will give you a triple whammy. Get your chocolate fix, eat beets and benefit from a good dose of antioxidants that both ingredients lend to these decadent little treats.

Chocolate Beet Cupcakes

2 cups sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons canola oil

4 large eggs

3 cups shredded raw red beets

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place paper cupcake liners in baking tins.

Sift sugar, flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda together.

Melt chocolate with 2 tablespoons butter in heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring until mixture is smooth.

Transfer chocolate mixture to large mixing bowl. Allow to cool slightly. Add canola oil and eggs. Blend well.

Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with shredded beets.

Spoon batter into prepared baking tins. Bake in 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until wooden pick inserted into center of cupcake comes out clean. Do not over bake. Remove cupcakes from tins and allow to cool on wire rack.

Makes 22 to 24 cupcakes.

Fudge Frosting

4 tablespoons butter

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate

2-2/3 to 3 cups sifted powdered sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

6-1/2 tablespoons milk or half-and-half

1-1/4 teaspoons vanilla

In medium saucepan, melt butter with unsweetened chocolate. Blend in powdered sugar, salt, milk and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Spread on baked and cooled cupcakes.

Tip from the cook

--I like to give the baking tins a light coating of non-stick cooking spray before placing the paper cupcake liners. This prevents any batter that may overflow from the liners while baking from sticking to the pan.

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