Monthly Archives: July 2012

Vanilla Cupcakes with Raspberry Buttercream

I love raspberries. I love all berries truthfully and summer is certainly the season for berries. Unfortunately because of all the rain and cold here, Britain hasn’t has a very good berry season. The brave little berries struggled through and made it to my grocery’s shelves where there were snapped up by me! I must admit I may have gone a bit overboard because I ended up with a fridge full of punnets! I found that of the three punnets of raspberries I could only eat so many straight from the fridge. I needed a new plan! I was making cupcakes for a farewell party at work so the raspberries had to go into them. I didn’t want to bake the raspberries and lose the freshness, so into the buttercream they went!

Vanilla Cupcakes with Raspberry Buttercream

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated white sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Zest of 1 large lemon
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup milk
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.
  2. In the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract.
  3. In a separate bowl whisk together the lemon zest, flour, baking powder, and salt.
  4. With the mixer on low-speed, alternately add the flour mixture and milk, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  5. Evenly fill the muffin cups with the batter and bake for about 17 – 20 minutes or just until set and a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean.  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Once the cupcakes have completely cooled, frost with icing. If you want flat-topped cupcakes then slice off the dome of each cupcake before frosting.

Raspberry Buttercream

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup fresh raspberries
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (16-oz.) package powdered sugar
  1. Beat first 4 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy.
  2. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at low-speed until blended and smooth after each addition.
  3. Be sure to wash and thoroughly dry raspberries before adding to frosting.
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Roadtrip of a Lifetime

This man and his life are amazing. Probably not a possibility for most of my plugged-in generation but still inspires dreaming! Travel dreams are the best kind…

 

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July 24, 2012 · 4:53 pm

Baklava

I love baklava – I have since my first bite which was long before my trip to either Greece or Turkey this year. Fortunately for me baklava in both Greece and Turkey is the best in the world and I managed to eat a lot of it! Greek and Turkish baklava is quite different and I must admit I do prefer the Turkish variety – I find it more moist! Unfortunately I rarely get enough baklava and although expensive (due to the nuts) and a bit time consuming, its relatively simple to make at home. And then you can share it with your colleagues, or eat it all yourself. I won’t judge!

Baklava

  • 18 sheets ready-made filo pastry (unwrap and keep under a damp tea-towel until you are ready to use)
  • 225g/8oz unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 225g/8oz mixed pistachios and walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp orange juice
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom

For the syrup

  • 350g/12oz granulated sugar
  • 300ml/10 fl oz water
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp orange blossom water
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 17cm x 28cm (11in x 7in) baking tray with butter.
  2. Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan over low heat.
  3. Lay 10 sheets of filo pastry, one at a time, into the tray, brushing each sheet with butter before adding the next.
  4. In a clean bowl, mix together the nuts, sugar, juice and cardamom and spread the mixture over the pastry in the tray.
  5. Layer the remaining sheets on top of the nut mixture, brushing each sheet with butter, as before.
  6. Using a sharp knife, cut a criss-cross pattern into the top layers of the pastry.
  7. Place baklava in the preheated oven for approximately 20 minutes, then decrease the oven temperature to 300F and cook for an additional half hour to 40 minutes, or until the pastry is slightly puffed and golden on top. Do not allow the top to burn.
  8. For the syrup, heat the sugar, water, lemon juice and orange blossom water in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over a medium heat until the sugar has melted and a syrup is formed. (This will take about 20 minutes or so.)
  9. Pour the syrup over hot baklava and place back in the oven (turn the oven off) for 3-5 minutes to help absorb. Remove from over and leave to cool. Cut into small diamond-shaped pieces and serve.

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The Amalfi Coast

After another lovely breakfast at the B&B with homemade cake we headed back to the train station to meet up with my friend Nick who was the original reason for our visit to Italy (his friend was getting married in Atrani on the Amalfi coast and Nick was the best man). He’s been a friend of mine for about five years (and he can’t seem to get rid of me!) We bought bus tickets and took our first trip on the very winding coastal road from Salerno to Amalfi. We were supposed to have our host stop the bus outside the apartment we were renting but the bus refused to stop for him, so he called and told us to look for an old man with white hair in Amalfi town to give us further directions. We were a little worried about such vague instructions, but as we got off the bus, an old gentleman with unruly white hair approached us and told us that his son, the apartment owner, was coming to pick us up. He drove us back to the apartment, which was lovely with an absolutely beautiful view of the ocean and coast line.

Nick and the view out of our apartment

View on the walk into town

Mom and I in Atrani

After unpacking a bit, we headed into Maiori (our nearest town) and had gelato (as well as a nice conversation with a local business owner). We wandered around the town for a bit, checked out the ruins of an old Roman villa (with completely intact staircases) and went to a bakery for some treats (yum macaroons!) Next we decided to walk into Amalfi town which took about forty minutes, but was worth it for the gorgeous views of the coast. The only concerning bit was avoiding traffic on the very tight roads. When the road was built, it was for much smaller vehicles and now the road can’t be expanded without cutting into properties and making the coastline unsafe. So now huge coaches and tour buses get to try to pass each other at strategic points while motorcycles weave in and out and it’s all a bit nerve-wracking!

At the Roman Villa

Cathedral in Amalfi

On the way past Atrani we decided to stop in and see the church where the wedding was due to take place. While there, we ran into the bride and groom and Nick decided to head off with them for bit while mom and I headed into Amalfi and wandered for bit. We saw the Cathedral and stumbled upon some locals playing water polo in kayaks before heading to a lovely seafood restaurant owned by the father of our host. I had homemade pasta with swordfish sauce which was incredible. I noticed a market across the street and wanted to grab some stuff for breakfast before it closed, so I left my meal and went over, only to be followed by one of the waiters who announced that the market’s owner was his cousin! The cousin was lovely and told me all the fresh produce he had available before I headed back to the restaurant with my shopping to have dessert! We met up with Nick on the bus home and had an early night so we could get a good start for our trip to Pompeii the next day!

Above the cathedral steps

Water polo in kayaks

Our day to Pompeii started early with another windy bus ride out of the Amalfi coast area. We caught a train from Salerno and walked through Pompei town to get to the ruins. We went in what amounts to the ‘back’ entrance because it was recommended as less busy, and that certainly panned out for us. We barely saw people for the first hour of our wandering. The site itself is huge, covering 67 hectares, four-fifths of which have been excavated. It’s laid out like a typical Roman city and like Paestum; the ruins were much more complex and impressive in person. The frescos in some of the houses and shop were incredibly impressive and well-preserved. It has certainly given me my best feel for what life would have been life for the people who occupied such a time and such a city. A particular highlight was the well-preserved brothel complete with illustrative frescos! The only downside of the site was the difficulty in navigation – the map wasn’t very accurate and we had no idea which sites would be open or closed, which meant we spent time wandering to the far reaches of the site only to discover the site we wanted to see was closed. It was also incredibly hot and sunny – good for a beach day but less good for wandering around ruins and I was left with an impressive sunburn!

Overlooking Pompeii

Mom in one of the villas

Courtyard

At one of the bath house complexes

In front of Venus Rising from the Sea

Art from the brothel

The Villa of Mysteries

We took the train to Sorrento after leaving Pompeii and then took the coastal bus around the other direction on the Amalfi coast – through Positano and the beautiful coastline back to Amalfi town. There we ran around town madly gathering ingredients from small groceries for dinner (clams, vegetables, bread, pasta and wine) before catching the bus back to our apartment and cooking dinner.

The Amalfi coast

The next morning we were all up early – Mom went down to the market and picked up some pastries for breakfast and we all set about getting ready for the wedding. We left with Nick (who as the best man had to be there quite early) but Mom and I headed into to down and picked up some souvenirs (including some at a paper shop we’d been peering into for quite a while!) Amalfi paper is world-renowned for its quality; it’s made from just water and cotton in a tradition that dates back eight hundred years. As a lover of traditional crafts I had to have some! We also picked up some limoncello for my brother and candied citrus peel dipped in chocolate – the very best of sweets in my opinion! We headed back to the church for the wedding (an afternoon service at a beautiful Catholic church overlooking the sea) and then continued on to a local café for drinks with the small number of guests (just over twenty in total) before heading to a local restaurant for dinner. The bride decided she wanted to toss her bouquet after dinner from the steps of the main cathedral in town and, of course, with my luck, it managed to find its way to me…

The best man

Outside the church

Nick and Mom

Church frescos

Groom and best man

Nick and the groom’s nephew

Catch the garter!

Bouquet toss

Whoops?

After a bit too much wine we wandered back to the apartment and packed up in preparation for another early start the next morning – this time to Rome!

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Canada Day!

Happy Canada Day from across the pond! Canada day in my family is normally celebrated at the cottage with a bonfire and the appropriate alcoholic beverages! That’s what the rest of my family is doing currently, while I spent my day in Nottingham making Chinese Dumplings and Canada Day Cupcakes while listening to my Canada day playlist! (Highlights from the playlist include Mother Mother, the Black Keys and, of course, Great Big Sea!)

I didn’t feel like traditional red and white cupcakes (I wanted chocolate!) and I already had Canada flag cupcake liners courtesy of Janice’s trip back to Canada, so my red and white was already covered! I decided to make dark chocolate lemon cupcakes with lemonade buttercream. They were moist and delicious (Janice certainly agreed!)

Dark Chocolate and Lemon Cupcakes

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • zest of one lemon
  • 200 grams dark chocolate
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and line 12 cupcake cups with paper liners.
  2. In a large bowl, add the flour, salt, baking soda, sugar and zest. Stir to combine.
  3. Melt chocolate and allow to cool.
  4. Add eggs, sour cream, oil, vanilla and melted chocolate to dry ingredients, stirring until combined.
  5. Fill liners 3/4 full with cupcake batter and bake for 15-18 minutes or until baked through. Let cool completely.

 

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