Category Archives: Holidays

St Patrick’s Day

St Patrick’s day in most of the world seems to be a celebration of excessive green and excessive drinking while everyone pretends to be Irish. And before anyone says I sound unimpressed – I do actually like all those things! To be fair, I don’t have to pretend to be Irish – that comes naturally from my mother’s side. But as for green and drinking – those I can embrace wholeheartedly! So of course for St Patrick’s day I celebrated by making green food, although technically I made said food earlier in the week. My reason for this was so I could share my green alcoholic cupcakes with my coworkers (yes drinking at work is for the cool kids) instead of eating them all myself… Earlier today I went to the St Patrick’s day parade and outdoor concert in the city centre, but as luck would have it, I completely failed at photos due to dead batteries. Must remember to check batteries before leaving the house. However, the parade was a sea of green and the Celtic music was lovely and lively. But today I’m going to share my recipe for Guinness and coffee chocolate cupcakes with Bailey’s Buttercream. So good… I’ve been bribing all the delivery guys at work with them so they’ll be nice to me. Pretty sure it’s working! This recipe is adapted from one I found on the Brown Eyed Baker’s blog, so if you want the original, head on over there!

Yummy… and Green!

Chocolate Coffee and Guinness Cake with Baileys Frosting

For the Cake:
1 cup Guinness
½ cup strong coffee
1½ cups unsalted butter
1 cup cocoa powder
3 cups flour
3 cups granulated sugar
2¼ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
2/3 cup sour cream or plain yogurt (I used Greek style)
For the Frosting:
1 cup butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
4 Tablespoons Bailey’s Irish Cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Put liners in cupcake tins (makes 24-36).
2. Place the stout, coffee and butter in a large, heavy saucepan, and heat until the butter melts. Remove the pan from the heat, and add the cocoa powder. Whisk until the mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
3. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl; set aside.
4. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the eggs and sour cream. Add the stout-cocoa mixture, mixing to combine. Add the flour mixture and mix together at slow speed. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, and mix again for 1 minute.
5. Divide the batter equally among the prepared pans. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for 10 minutes before turning out of their pans and returning to the rack to finish cooling completely before frosting.
Frosting:
1. Cream butter and slowly add half the icing sugar beating well. Add the Bailey’s and vanilla. Continue adding icing sugar and beating until the proper consistency is achieved. (Add a few drops green food colouring if desired)
2. Decorate cupcakes.

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Happy St David’s Day

St David's dinner

Happy St David’s Day! St David is the patron saint of Wales – he was a bishop during the 6th century and was Welsh by birth. Today is it traditional to celebrate all things Welsh and I feel especially compelled to do so due to my recent trip to Wales (which I promise to write about soon!) Unfortunately, the traditional Welsh dish of Laver (seaweed bread) didn’t sound very appetizing, so instead I settled on dinner with leeks (one of the Welsh national flowers) as well as steak, roast potatoes and braised cabbage. For dessert I made Welsh cakes – a current studded cross between a cookie and a pancake. I have fond memories of these little treats. They were something my grandmother and parents used to make, especially during the summer when turning on the oven on hot days was definitely not on. I love these little cakes because they aren’t too sweet. They’re lovely on their own or with jam. Here’s an easy recipe modified from one on BBC food.

Welsh Cakes

Dough Cutouts

Welsh Cakes

• 2 scant cups flour, sieved
• 3 tsp baking powder
• 1 tsp salt
• ½ cup salted butter
• 1 egg
• handful of currant or sultanas
• milk, if needed
• ½ cup sugar
• extra butter, for greasing

1. Cut the butter into the sieved flour to make breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, dried fruit and then the egg. Mix to combine, then form a ball of dough, using a splash of milk if needed.

2. Roll out the pastry until it is a 5mm/¼in thick and cut into rounds with a 2in round cutter.

3. Heat a heavy griddle or frying pan. Rub it with butter and wipe the excess away. Put it on to a direct heat and wait until it heats up, place the Welsh cakes on the griddle, turning once. They need about 2-3 minutes each side. Each side needs to be caramel brown before turning.

4. Remove from the pan. Some people leave out the dried fruit, and split them when cool and sandwich them together with jam.

Finished product

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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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England – Trains, Planes and Automobiles and Back in the USS… wait…

The next morning we got up super-duper early (4am) and Reco, the nice guy that he is, drove us to the Kusadasi airport. We flew from there to Istanbul and then from Istanbul to Gatwick. Security at Turkish airports is intense, but pretty efficient and the airline was very helpful – even though our flights were in different terminals and through different airlines they checked our baggage straight through. Certainly made going through customs while exiting the country easier! Our first flight was easy, short and nothing to mention really, but the second flight was intense. Turned out we’d managed to get super cheap tickets on the inaugural flight from Istanbul to Gatwick flown by Turkish Airlines. And boy were they excited. They served champagne and chocolate and cake and then even tried to provide a not disgusting version of airplane food! All in all, not a bad way to fly!
We arrived in London and got to fight our bags all the way to the train to Nottingham (which cost a good pound of flesh at a peak time) but before we knew it we were back in Nottingham where Will’s lovely father picked us up. We met Will’s brother Michael and had dinner with the family before Will came home from his new(ish) job. We had a lovely few days with them before heading to East Leake to stay with Janice’s great aunt and uncle over Christmas.

East Leake

Clive and Joan were lovely people with a truly British sense of humour and Joan always managed to feed us very well! Also visiting over Christmas was their daughter and her husband and son from Germany. It was nice to have more people around. On Christmas Eve we went into town with them and wandered around the Christmas market and shopping centre before having lunch. Janice’s grandmother had unfortunately passed away a few days before, so we had a relatively quiet time and spent lots of time talking to our loved ones back home. It was a real treat to be able to skype – not something that can be done on the road in a busy hostel or in a stranger’s home.

Boxing Day walk

On Boxing Day Janice and I went for a lovely walk around East Leake and wandered through fields and past the old church. It’s a very pretty, if quiet, English village and the countryside is just beautiful. The weather was also unseasonably warm and the grass was still green and growing! The next day Janice and I went out with Clive for lunch at their local pub – very tasty and a nice end to our visit as the next day we headed off on the train to London.

Janice on our walk

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