Monthly Archives: February 2012

Valentines Day Cookies

Candy Heart Cookies

So this post is a little late considering Valentine’s Day is almost a month past. For some reason this year Valentine’s Day was a little more appealing to me than usual. I’m going to chalk that up to being far from home and thus being sentimental. Or perhaps it was because my dear friend from Canada was coming to visit me and so I was in a cheery mood, but whatever it was, I decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day through food (of course). Thus came the Valentine’s Day sugar cookies. They are really very easy to make, the hardest part being having a steady hand for writing. I would normally cut these out in the shape of hearts, but being new to the city I couldn’t find a cookie cutter at the last minute, and thus had to settle for round cookies.

The method is simple. Make sugar cookies. Cut out in desired shape. Make royal icing (either from meringue power or egg white) and then use a flooding technique to ice the cookies before writing sweet messages on them. I themed my messages after ones written on candy hearts – you know ‘be mine’ ‘You+Me’ ‘Love Bug’. For a haphazard attempt at icing without an icing bag or any tips they turned out pretty well. Finding a makeshift icing bag proved difficult do to the flimsy nature of the plastic bags we own.

Animal themes were big with candy hearts for a couple of years

For sugar cookies my standard recipe is the Martha Stewart one. Here it is!

Martha Stewart’s Sugar Cookies

  • 4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  1. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl.
  2. Put butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Gradually mix in flour mixture. Divide dough in half; flatten each half into a disk. Wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.
  3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees with racks in upper and lower thirds. Let one disk of dough stand at room temperature just until soft enough to roll, about 10 minutes. Roll out dough between two pieces of plastic wrap to 1/4 inch thick. Remove top layer of plastic wrap. Cut out cookies with a 4-inch one-piece-shaped cookie cutter. To make an ornament, cut out a hole from the center of the neck about 1/4-inch from the edge using a straw. Transfer cookie dough on plastic wrap to a baking sheet. Transfer baking sheet to freezer, freeze until very firm, about 15 minutes. Remove baking sheet from freezer and transfer shapes to baking sheets lined with nonstick baking mats. Roll out scraps, and repeat. Repeat with remaining disk of dough.
  4. Bake, switching positions of sheets and rotating halfway through, until edges turn golden, 15 to 18 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

Let the cookies cool completely. Make the Royal Icing to a stiff consistency, so that it can be piped. Colour if desired and then pipe along the outline of the cookie. Let the border set (usually by the time you finish edging all the cookies the first ones will be set). Then add water a few drops at the time until the icing is pourable. When you let it drizzle back into the bowl the stream should disappear in twenty seconds. Then add about a teaspoon to each cookie and use a knife or toothpick to spread the icing. Let harden (overnight preferably). Now you can decorate however you wish!

Royal Icing

Makes about 3 cups

  • 3 tablespoons Meringue Powder
  • 4 cups (about 1 lb.) confectioners’ sugar
  • 5-6 tablespoons warm water
  1. Beat all ingredients until icing forms peaks (7-10 minutes at low speed with a heavy-duty mixer, 10-12 minutes at high speed with a hand-held mixer). Will dry quickly, so cover with a damp towel and use quickly.

Finished product

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Chocolate Cherry Bars

Chocolate Cherry Bars

Growing up we didn’t have too many sweets around. My mother definitely believed in healthy food – most of the time. I do remember an adorable homemade teddy bear shaped cake for one of my early birthdays. However, the baking was really limited once I was diagnosed with my food allergies. No wheat or corn or dairy for almost five years is no walk in the park for a kid. Luckily I could still have most fruit and chocolate. A welcome treat when you can’t have cookies, cakes and ice cream! More than a decade later and I’ve outgrown my food allergies, but one of my favourite flavour combinations is still chocolate and cherries. So with a friend coming to visit over the weekend, it seemed hospitable to do some baking. We didn’t have much in the house so I decided to make shortbread cookies. Of course while my dough was chilling in the fridge, my flatmate came home and dragged me off to the grocery store. While there I spotted a display of sweetened condensed milk for sale and an idea sparked. I deeply love sweetened condensed milk and all bake goods made with it, especially Magic Bars (the recipe on the Eagle Brand can) so I decided to make a version of that with shortbread as the base. My guest hated coconut though, so I needed different flavours and decided on chocolate and cherries. After picking up supplies I came home, rolled my shortbread into a pan and covered it with bits of chocolate and candied cherries before pouring the sweetened condensed milk over it. A stint in my shady oven and out came gooey goodness that didn’t last 36 hours between my flatmate and our guest.

Good thing I snagged photos before they disappeared!

Chocolate Cherry Bars

  • 1 cup butter
  • Generous ½ cup sugar
  • 1 ½ cups plain flour
  • 1 – 1 ½ cups candied cherries
  • 200g chocolate, broken into chunks
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  1. Heat the oven to 190C/375F.
  2. Beat the butter and the sugar together until smooth. Stir in the flour to get a smooth paste. Pat into 8 by 8 inch baking pan and chill for 30 minutes.
  3. Toss on the chocolate and cherries (mess around with their placement if you’re anal retentive like me) and then pour over the can of condensed milk.
  4. Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden and set. Once cool, cut into squares.

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Our first visitor!

Our very first guest arrived the last weekend in January from France. Our dear friend Chris, originally from Alabama, came to visit for the weekend, taking Friday off from his job teaching English. He arrived late Friday and we went back to our flat to celebrate (a little belatedly) Chinese New Year’s with steamed pork buns, spring rolls and dumplings. We celebrated with the rum Chris had bought at the airport duty free and woke up late the next morning to cinnamon buns.

Janice and Chris

Chris and I

Cinnamon buns before baking (I forgot an after shot)

Later that day we went for a walk in the afternoon in Nottingham, first to the castle and then along the Robin Hood trail (signs telling the stories of Robin Hood throughout the city). We also went to look at a couple churches in Nottingham, and walked past Jamie Oliver’s restaurant! We had a lovely evening at home watching Robin Hood (the Disney version) together and on Sunday we had breakfast together before sending Chris off to the airport for his flight home.

Chris and Robin Hood

Janice and Chris doing?

Church of St Mary

Posing

Outside Jamie Oliver’s Restaurant!

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Home sweet home

We’ve settled in Nottingham, finally. It was a long journey to get here, certainly longer than London and back. We had a nice time in London with the people from our hostel, but most of the time was spent doing paperwork and other such things to get our move finalized. We headed back to Nottingham for New Years (although technically we spent New Years at a party in Birmingham) and then we headed to Leeds, which was our original choice of long term city. Unfortunately, after having zero luck in Leeds with job offers, interviews or even interest, as well as no luck finding an apartment we were interested in, we were getting pretty discouraged. One night we decided to randomly apply for a couple jobs in other key cities, just because neither of us were feeling very good about Leeds. As luck would have it, the very next morning I got a call for an interview in Nottingham. Within the week we packed up and moved back to Nottingham and within the next couple of weeks, we both had jobs and a new place to live!
Now I get to take you on a tour of our new two bedroom (or one bedroom plus a broom closet as we like to call it) flat. To begin, here are our stairs. Note the lovely carpeting (we live on the upper floor).

Stairs

Upstairs you have one bedroom to the left (my current sleeping abode) and a disaster of architecture to the right (see all the open space and the lousy wall making a tiny bedroom? Poor planning.)

My room

The awful waste of space...

Janice's closet... (note the lame red wings flag)

Then you have the lovely bathroom with its vaguely dismembered shower partition. Thing of beauty…

Bathroom...

And finally our living space complete with grandma couches (we’re working on how to sleep guests bigger than Janice) and our kitchen (which does me quite well most of the time).

Living room (see Janice in the mirror)

The other side of the living room

Our kitchen!

So there you have it –a tour of our new abode. Doesn’t it feel like y’all have been here already? Wonderful!

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A jaunt to the castle

One afternoon Janice and I decided to wander through Nottingham to the castle and take a gander at the Castle Museum and Art Gallery. It was a lovely afternoon with some nice collections (although the castle itself isn’t very impressive due to mostly having been destroyed in the mid-17th century before a ducal palace was built on the site. It’s a beautiful palace, but nothing incredibly compelling based on my childhood love of Robin Hood tales. (My poor father had to sit through so many weekend movie nights of the Disney version of Robin Hood he was begging for mercy by the time I was eight). It was interesting learning about the history of the castle though, and the art gallery had some very nice pieces. They currently had a really interesting exhibit on the work of Anish Kapoor. Dramatic colour and shape with some really interesting optical effects. In March the new exhibit will be a collection of 2000 years of silk work from China. I’m definitely going to check it out in the spring. In the meantime, here are some pictures from our afternoon!

The Ducal Palace

The Palace

Janice poking at things...

Entrance

Janice after the art gallery

The castle gardens

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