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“Nest” Cupcakes

1 Feb

Like a lot of women people I know, I probably spend too much time on Pinterest. I waste a lot of time on there, just browsing and pinning things “for later”. In my defence, I have actually made quite a few things that I’ve pinned (cards, food, drinks) and I’ve used some of my pins for party-planning, so I feel that Pinterest can be very useful. When my best friend recently had her bird/nest-themed baby shower, I knew I could find inspiration on Pinterest…and that I did. These Martha Stewart-inspired cupcakes were just so cute that I had to make them.

I didn’t actually use Martha’s recipe until it got to the decorating instructions (the recipes for the cupcakes and frosting below are ones I’ve used many times before). Quite simply, all you are doing is putting some frosting on a cupcake, digging a little well into the frosting, covering the frosting in toasted coconut, and placing some of the eggs in the well. I found it easier than trying to frost cupcakes as people can’t see the mess you’ve made of the frosting with all that coconut on it!

The eggs are the mini Cadbury candy eggs, which you can buy in the stores all year round (I bought mine at London Drugs). If you are making these for a baby shower (really, I don’t when else you would want nest cupcakes) and if you know what sex the baby will be, you could theme it with pink or blue eggs. We didn’t know what sex the baby will be so I went with a mix of both, however, I think the blue ones look like Robin’s eggs so they were my favourite.

Vanilla Cupcakes – Makes over 24

250g unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups caster sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs
3 cups self-raising flour (using cake flour makes these extra fluffy)
1 cup milk

Method:
Preheat oven to 180C. Beat butter, sugar, ¼ teaspoon salt and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, and beat well after each addition.

Add ½ the sifted flour and ½ the milk and stir until combined, then add remaining flour and milk and stir until combined.

Line two 12-hole muffin tins with paper cake cases. Spoon 2 tablespoons of mixture into each paper case and bake for 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool cakes in tin.

Butter-cream Icing:

1 cup butter, softened
5 cups sifted icing sugar
½ cup whipping cream
½ tsp vanilla

Method:
In a large bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy. Alternately beat in sugar and cream, making 2 additions of sugar. Beat in vanilla.

Final steps:
Once the cupcakes have cooled, frost the cupcakes generously and use your thumb to make a well in the middle of the cupcake. Dip the frosted cupcake into your toasted coconut flakes and fill the well with three mini eggs.

Frozen Banana “Ice Cream”

25 Apr

In a recent post, I promised to let you know if I found any other sneaky ways of getting more fruits and veggies into your diet. Well, I’m happy to say that I’ve found another recipe and this one is exciting to me for two reasons. 1/ It’s a healthy dessert, and 2/ It is exactly like a treat that I used to get when I was living in Australia (and hadn’t had for years until I made this).

There aren’t many things to do in my home town of Darwin but one thing I would do religiously was to visit the weekly (now bi-weekly) Mindil Beach Markets. Darwin has some kick-ass markets! One visit to this beach-side, night market and you would understand immediately where I get my love of South East Asian food from. The market is full of locals and tourists all there with one purpose – to get some delicious food from the almost 60 food stalls that are brimming with international cuisine, and to eat it whilst watching the sunset. It was one of my favourite things about growing up in Darwin and something that I still miss.

A Darwin sunset (photo taken by B)

One of my favourite ways to end my meal at the balmy markets was with a frozen banana ice cream, which was made with nothing but frozen fruit. The frozen fruit was churned through a fancy ice cream maker and the result was a cooling, tasty treat. I have yearned for that ice cream for years. I was recently reading Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Diet when I came across a recipe that sound suspiciously like that ice cream, except that you didn’t need a fancy ice cream maker, you just needed a simple food processor. Hallelujah!! I have one of those! And guess what? The ice cream tastes exactly the same as I remember it!!

So, not only is it cheap, but it is low in calories whilst also providing another serving of fruit into your diet. If all of this health talk is making you crazy, you could jazzy it up by adding some peanut butter (whilst you are whizzing), or by sprinkling some chocolate chips or nuts over the top for some crunch. I know what I’m going to be making copious amounts of this summer!

Frozen Banana “Ice Cream” – Serves 2

2 bananas, cut into thin rounds and frozen

Method:
Place frozen banana into a food processor and whiz for about 3 to 4 minutes until the banana is whipped like ice cream. You will need to constantly push the banana down whilst you are whizzing it in order for it to whip properly. Do not over whip or the ice cream will melt. Serve immediately.

*If the starchiness from the bananas is too much for you, add frozen blueberries or strawberries to cut the starch.

Christmas Mint Cupcakes

27 Dec

DSC_0023One sure-fire way to get myself into the Christmas spirit is to retreat to the kitchen, put on some Christmas carols, and bake something festive. This year I tried a new recipe that I had been meaning to attempt for more than a year (seriously). I decided to finally unveil it for Christmas as I felt that the mint flavour of the cupcakes would pair well with a sprinkling of festive candy cane.

The recipe created a lot of batter so I divided it up to make some mini-cupcakes (perfect to take to parties, or for kids) and some bigger sized cupcakes to snack on over the next few days before I have to return to work. I will absolutely be making these again next Christmas (or whenever the need arises for mint chocolate cupcakes). I was impressed with the cake, which was very moist, the butter-cream was dangerously good, and the candy cane pieces add a nice bit of texture. Happy Holidays!

Christmas Mint Cupcakes – Makes about 36 large cupcakes

1 ½  cups all-purpose flour
¾  cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 ½  cups sugar
1 ½  teaspoons baking soda
¾  teaspoon baking powder
¾  teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
¾  cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
¾  cup warm water
1 teaspoon pure peppermint extract

Method:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add eggs, buttermilk, oil, water, and peppermint extract, and beat with a mixer on low speed until smooth.

Divide batter among muffin cups, filling each 2/3 full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes (For mini cupcakes 10-14 minutes). Let cupcakes cool in tins on wire racks for 10 minutes. Transfer cupcakes to racks, and let cool. Undecorated cupcakes will keep, covered, for 1 day, or frozen for up to 2 months.

Spoon butter-cream into a pastry bag fitted with a large, plain tip. Pipe small mounds on tops of cupcakes. Flatten mounds with an offset spatula, then top with chocolate-mint leaves.

Butter-cream Icing:

1 cup butter, softened
5 cups sifted icing sugar
½ cup whipping cream
½ tsp vanilla

Method:
In a large bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy. Alternately beat in sugar and cream, making 2 additions of sugar. Beat in vanilla and frost cupcakes once they have cooled.

* I did not create this recipe. It was given to me by a friend (after I devoured a few of her cupcakes) so I do not have an author to credit this recipe to. Whoever they are, they sure are awesome.*

Health Loaf

25 Nov

After being away from my kitchen for almost two weeks, I was desperate to get back in there for some serious chill time. The kitchen is my happy place. A place where I can gather and sieve through my thoughts, whilst also creating delicious treats from scratch.

Today I baked this “Health Loaf” from a recipe that my Mum shared with me. I grew up eating this loaf and, whilst I can now see that claiming it to be a “health” loaf is probably a bit of a stretch, I still find it a healthier option to most of the other baked treats that I make. And by healthier I mean that there is a lot of fibre in this loaf. Enough said.

Slices are best enjoyed when the loaf is slightly warm and with a thin spread of butter. I made a slight amendment and halved the amount of sugar in the recipe (taking it down to just 1/4 cup) so that it wouldn’t be overly sweet, as the apricots and sultanas (raisins) add a sweetness of their own. This recipe was handed down to me by my Mum so I have no-one to credit the recipe to but her, although she doesn’t claim to have created the recipe.

Health Loaf
1 cup of bran buds (I used Nature’s Path “Smart Bran”)
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup sugar (can decrease amount to 1/4 cup for less sweetness)
1/2 cup dried apricots, diced
1/2 cup sultanas/raisins
1 cup milk
1 cup self-raising flour

Method

In a bowl, soak all of the ingredients, except for the self-raising flour, for 1 hour. After the hour, add the 1 cup of self-raising flour and mix in to the wet mixture. Bake in a well-greased and floured loaf tin for one hour at 350 F (or 180 C). Allow to cool on a baking rack.

Saskatoon Berry and Rhubarb Crumble

9 Aug

Whilst visiting my in-laws in the Okanagan a few weekends ago, I had the pleasure of poking around in their garden. You may remember that I’m not much of a green thumb yet I absolutely love gardens; flower gardens, vegetable patches, and orchards. To me, gardens are serene and fascinating. How can it not be fascinating to watch seeds or small plants grow into a colourful, edible bounty? Sit in a garden for long enough and it feels as though you can almost see it growing in front of you!

Gardens…good for the soul

We ended up leaving my in-laws place with two bags of just-off-the-shrub saskatoon berries, bundles of freshly pulled rhubarb, and a recipe for Saskatoon Berry and Rhubarb Crumble. Whilst we were visiting, my mother-in-law had made a delicious crumble, bursting with berries and rhubarb. Feeling a little inadequate (it was really good!), I attempted to re-create it at home but as I was feeling lazy I tried to make it with a much easier recipe (based on the Jamie Oliver Apple Crumble recipe).

Quite simply, I stewed the rhubarb and berries together with about half a cup of sugar and then made the oat crumble mix to sprinkle over the top. Unfortunately, the end result wasn’t that tasty and I will follow my mother-in-law’s recipe next time. It sure did look pretty – the reds and the purples created such a rich colour, but the flavour just wasn’t great. Lesson learnt: stick to the recipe!!

Raspberry Napoleon

11 Jul

Next month it will be two years since B and I got married in Whistler – I honestly can’t believe that. Time has absolutely flown by since that day so I can attest that the saying “time flies when you are having fun” is true.

The evening after our wedding we splurged with a romantic dinner for the two of us at Araxi. It was a great wind-down to such an exciting time in our lives. The whole evening was memorable but the dish that stands-out to me as one of the most exquisite dishes that I’ve had the pleasure of eating was the raspberry napoleon. Here is a (not great) shot of this wonder from that evening:

Raspberry Napoleon - Araxi

I have since been longing for that dessert. Perhaps all of my senses were enlighten having just had one of the best days of my life but that dessert still lingers in my mind.

We were back at Araxi last summer, and unfortunately, it wasn’t on their dessert menu. We were back there a few weeks ago, and again, no raspberry napoleon. What is a dessert fiend to do? Thankfully I was gifted with the Araxi cookbook, by Chef James Walt, for Christmas and now that it is raspberry season (and they are much more affordable) I made an attempt to recreate it at home.

Whilst the dish is constructed of three different recipes (one for the sable, one for the raspberry coulis, and one for the Chantilly cream), none are that difficult, in fact, the coulis and the cream are down-right easy. Now that I’ve made it once, I know that this would be a winner at any dinner party (my next guests will be spoilt!) as you can make all of recipes in advance and just construct the dish prior to serving.

The sable is the most finicky of the recipes (lots of time in the fridge prior to baking) so just take that into consideration when making those. Also, the sables came out a bit mis-shaped after baking, so I took the cookie cutter and re-shaped them so they looked much cleaner. These keep well after baking too (and are a great little sweet snack with coffee). I think I need to work on plating skills a bit, but really, who cares about that when this dish tastes as good as it does?! This recipe is on the “to-do” list again before the end of summer.

Childhood treats: peanut butter & raspberry jam bars

1 Feb

Growing up in Australia in the 80′s, we weren’t exposed to the North American treat of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It was Vegemite sandwiches all the way in my house! In fact, I had only heard of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because I was an avid reader of “The Babysitters Club” book series which often referenced them. It was a perplexing treat to me as I had visions of people making bowls of what Americans call Jell-o (which is what jelly is in Australia) and trying to layer this wobbly dessert in between bread smeared with peanut butter. I couldn’t help think that it seemed like an odd treat that took a lot of effort. It was many years later that I discovered that “jelly” is actually jam.

My Canadian husband tells me that he grew up on peanut butter and jam (I can’t use jelly, it just sounds wrong!) sandwiches so I think that this was a pretty popular afternoon snack for North American kids. I can’t deny that the combination of salty, creamy peanut butter and sweet jam works. It works especially well in this Martha Stewart recipe of “Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars”.

After a few attempts at this recipe I want to pass on some helpful tips. Firstly, and most importantly, you don’t want the peanut butter mixture to be dry. If it is dry then it will crumble once it is cooked, so if you feel like it isn’t moist enough, add more butter. I sound like Paula Deen saying that but it works. If in doubt, add more butter (a good tip for anything in life). Secondly, using strawberry jam made the end result lacklustre. The flavour of raspberry jam just adds more depth so I highly recommend using raspberry jam over strawberry. And thirdly, the first time I made the recipe I used all of the peanut butter mixture according to the recipe but I found it was just too peanut butter-y and there wasn’t enough balance. The next time I made it I used only about 2/3rd’s of the mixture in total and I found that was plenty. Play around with it and see what you think, perhaps you prefer more peanut butter to jam ratio. Whatever you decide, enjoy! These are great with a big glass of cold milk.

Martha Stewart’s Peanut Butter & Jelly Bars

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1.5 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2.5 cups smooth peanut butter
1.5 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1.5 cups of jam of your choice (raspberry is my preferred)
1 cup salted peanuts, roughly chopped

Method:
Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 9 by 13-inch baking pan, and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the parchment, dust with flour, and tap out excess.

Place butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. With mixer running, add eggs and peanut butter; beat until combined, about 2 minutes. Whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder. Add to the butter mixture, and beat on low-speed until combined. Add vanilla.

Transfer two-thirds of mixture to prepared pan; spread evenly with an offset spatula. Using offset spatula, spread jam on top of peanut butter mixture. Crumble remaining third of peanut butter mixture on top of jam. Sprinkle evenly with chopped peanuts.

Bake until golden, 45 to 60 minutes, rotating halfway through. Tent loosely with foil if bars are getting too dark. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Run knife around edges and refrigerate, 1 to 2 hours. Cut into about 36 bars (about 1.5 by 2 inches). Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.

Recipe from Martha Stewart’s “Cookies” cookbook.

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