Canada Day Cupcakes

July 1st is Canada Day! I hope everyone gets outside and relaxes this weekend.  What better way to relax than with cupcakes? These are delicious little jewels that have a fun, bright, and cheery colour.

Bright red cupcakes for Canada seemed like the patriotic dessert to make.  The bright red colour and the swirls of white buttercream icing represent our country quite well – it is a sweet place to live!  As a Canadian, I enjoy many rights and freedoms.  Including the freedom to make as much buttercream icing as I please!

Canada is a wonderful place to live (for reasons other than an abundance of buttercream icing) because of the quality education, equality, the many opportunities available, and its peace and democracy.  One should never take freedom and democracy lightly – it should be celebrated not just on Canada Day, but everyday.

For the little flags I went on the internet and printed out some flags, and then taped them to toothpicks.  In the Globe and Mail today I saw fondant Canadian images, which also look like great fun.  However, I did not have time to make fondant today.  So, show your patriotic side this weekend and let the Canadian flag wave proudly – whether it is atop a boathouse, in a city park, at a BBQ with friends and family or proudly sitting atop a cupcake. Happy Canada Day!

Ingredients:

2 cups all purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1-2 teaspoons red food colouring

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 large eggs, room temperature, beaten

1/2 cup pureed strawberries

Instructions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Set out cupcake papers and set aside.

2.  In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

3.  In a food processor puree one cup of strawberries that will be reduced to about ½ a cup.  With a strainer, strain the puree to get ride of the seeds.

4.  In your mixer combine the sugar, canola oil, vanilla extract and eggs.  Then add in the buttermilk and strawberry puree.  Add lemon zest.  Slowly add in the flour mixture.

5.  Spoon the batter into the cupcake pans and bake until the cupcakes spring back when touched lightly in the center.

6.  Cool before icing.

Buttercream Icing

Ingredients

Preparation

In large bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy. Alternately beat in sugar and cream, making 2 additions of sugar. Beat in vanilla. (Make-ahead: Refrigerate in airtight container for up to 24 hours; let come to room temperature, about 1 hour. Beat slightly before using.)

 

Advertisements

Midweek Snack – Blondies

Squares such as blondies are an easy midweek snack.  Except for the butterscotch chips, the ingredients are all pantry staples: butter, sugar, egg, salt and flour.  As for the recipe, I looked to Martha Stewart for guidance and inspiration.  If you don’t have severe allergies to nuts and dark chocolate you can add some of those ingredients.  However, butterscotch chips are delicious too!

At some point I hope to make more squares because they are a tasty treat.  I think I have perfected lemon squares and blondies.  So, the next big landmark will be buttertart squares.

I will need to do some more baking this week for the Canada Day weekend.  My family is going up north to the cottage to enjoy the (hopefully) sunny weather.  Baking up north is not a good idea (because the oven makes the cottage intensely warm), so it is best to do the baking at home.  Maybe the call of summer will inspire some delicious hummus dips and cool as a cucumber appetizers.

In Aurora and Peterborough the summer flowers are in full bloom.  On the weekend I was in Peterborough enjoying Jonathan’s Mom’s beautiful daisies.  When I got back to Aurora I was thrilled to see the gorgeous hydrangeas in bloom.  They say that surrounding yourself with plants and flowers can extend your lifespan by thirty years.  I am very lucky to have parents and a future Mother and Father in-law that love gardening and flowers.

So, enjoy some time outdoors with the flowers and a sweet simple blondie.

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pan
  • 1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butterscotch chips

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush an 8-inch square baking pan with butter; line pan with a piece of parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides. Butter paper.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk butter and sugars until smooth. Whisk in egg and vanilla. Add flour and salt; mix just until moistened (do not overmix). Fold in 1 cup of butterscotch chips. Transfer batter to prepared pan; smooth top. Sprinkle with a few extra butterscotch chips.
  3. Bake until top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Set pan on a wire rack, and let cool completely. Using parchment overhang, lift cake from pan and transfer to a cutting board; cut into 16 squares.

Comfort Food: Pizza and Pasta

Pizza With Portobello Mushrooms, Tomatoes and Calabrese Salami

This is an easy dinner using grocery store pitas and gourmet ingredients such as portobello mushrooms, beautiful tomatoes and Calabrese salami.  Pizza with fresh flavours are easy to make at home – no delivery necessary!  

Penne with Vodka Sauce

This delicious recipe is from The Food Network.  They only change I have made is to reduce the amount of vodka in the sauce because I feel 1 cup is too much.  I love any kind of pasta, but one of my particular favourites is this homemade vodka sauce.

Ingredients

  • 1 quart Simple Tomato Sauce, recipe follows, or store-bought marinara sauce, blended until smooth
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 pound penne

Directions

Simmer the tomato sauce and vodka in a heavy large skillet over low heat until the mixture reduces by 1/4, stirring often, about 20 minutes. Stir the cream into the tomato and vodka sauce. Simmer over low heat until the sauce is heated through. Stir in the Parmesan cheese until melted and well blended.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Drain the pasta and transfer it to the pan with the sauce, and toss to coat.

Simple Tomato Sauce:

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

2 (32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes

4 to 6 basil leaves

2 dried bay leaves

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, optional

In a large casserole pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until soft and translucent, about 2 minutes. Add celery and carrot and season with salt and pepper. Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, basil, and bay leaves and reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot and simmer for 1 hour or until thick. Remove bay leaves and taste for seasoning. If sauce tastes too acidic, add unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, to round out the flavor.

Pour half the tomato sauce into the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth. Continue with remaining tomato sauce.

If not using all the sauce, allow it to cool completely and then pour 1 to 2 cup portions into plastic freezer bags. Freeze for up to 6 months.

Strawberry Shortcake

What to say about (one of) my favourite desserts?

Strawberry shortcake is a classic and needs no introduction or up-talk.  Although, I could offer a few adjectives in its praise: heavenly, scrumptious, creamy and all-around-wonderful.  My favourite version of strawberry shortcake is the individual short stacks.  The biscuit is pretty much a plain scone with some vanilla yogurt to give it flavour and moisture – and of course with delicious BUTTER!  What isn’t to love?

I had to make strawberry shortcake with the fresh berries Jonathan and I picked yesterday.  The strawberries are sweet little gems that were begging me to use them in another blog post.

Now, believe it or not, I am NOT trying to give Jonathan a heart attack with all these sweets.  I used 2% Greek yogurt for this version of strawberry shortcake – therefore avoiding the extra fat in whipping cream.  This version is equally delicious as its fat cousin!

The brand of Greek yogurt we chose was Oikos by Danone.  With the popularity of Greek yogurt, we had no problem choosing the top rated Greek yogurt (as recommended by the Globe and Mail).  There was no chalky taste that is sometimes present with Greek yogurt.

This is a delicious summer dessert that you should not miss out on!

Shortcake Biscuit Ingredients:

2 ¼ cups organic all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

¼ sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1/3 cup cold, unsalted butter

1 cup vanilla 2% Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons milk

¼ cup to ½ cup of water, add slowly, just enough to help dough combine.

Filling:

4 cups sliced strawberries (add a teaspoon of sugar if you desire.)

2 cups 2% Greek yogurt

6 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions for making the biscuits:

1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

2.  In the bottom of a large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, sugar and salt together.  Add butter, either by cutting it in with two knives or a pastry blender.  Cut the butter into the flour mixture until the butter is pea sized and coated with flour.

3.  Stir in the yogurt, milk and water until the dough starts to come together.

4.  Once you have mixed it together with a wooden spoon, knead it once or twice in the bowl, to create one mass. Do not worry about getting the dough evenly mixed.  Be careful not to over knead the dough.

5.  Generously flour your counter. With as few movements as possible, transfer your dough to the counter, generously flour the top of it and with your hands or a rolling pin, gently roll or press the dough out to a 3/4-inch thickness. Cut into 2 1/2-inch circles with a floured biscuit cutter (or using a knife).

6.  Carefully transfer biscuits to prepared baking sheet, leaving a couple inches between each.

7.  Bake the scones for 12-14 minutes, until golden at the edges.  Cool for one minute on the pan and then transfer to a wire rack.  (Biscuits are best the day they are made.)

Assembling Shortcakes:

  1. Bake biscuits and let cool.
  2. Make filling by stirring filling ingredients together.  Chill filling for 1 hour.
  3. Take one cup or half the filling in a separate bowl and stir in 1 cup of sliced strawberries.
  4. Slice the biscuits in half.
  5. Add strawberry filling in the middle and place top back on.  Add a dollop of plain yogurt filling on top.
  6. Enjoy!

Apologies for the picture quality – I forgot to bring my camera to Jonathan’s apartment, so we used his BlackBerry for these shots.

Strawberry Fields Forever (Strawberry Picking!)

Yesterday, Jonathan and I went strawberry picking at Nauman’s Farm, approximately twenty minutes outside of Waterloo, Ontario.  We picked six litres of delicious, sweet, heavenly strawberries. Over half have since disappeared!  However, there was enough for breakfast this morning and tonight’s dessert.

Strawberry shortcake is one of my favourite types of cake, and will the subject of my next post.  It is best of course when strawberries are in season!  I prefer the short stacks version of strawberry shortcake – perfect little individual cakes loaded up with whipping cream and fresh juicy berries.

When I told Jonathan’s parents that I intended to take him strawberry picking, they warned me he would not go willingly. He agreed with their assessment, saying (light-heartedly) that he preferred to support farm workers instead of putting them out of a job.

Once we were there, however, he actually seemed to enjoy it! Though it was hot, there was a lovely breeze, and with only four of us in the entire field, there was a lot of room to find the best berries.

While six litres is a lot of berries, we didn’t pick enough to make jam. That will be next time, when raspberries come into season.  This was just a warm up, Jonathan!  Homemade raspberry jam is my absolute favourite.  I will need help from my Mom for that foodie endeavor.

Now, I have had a request from one of my sister’s dear friends, Hailey, to make fun food art.  Here is my first attempt.  I used fresh blueberries, strawberries and organic bananas to create this beautiful presentation on top of oatmeal.  Jonathan thinks that the blueberry smiley face was kind of creepy, so maybe I need a bit more practice.  Nonetheless, we enjoyed this fun, filling and delicious breakfast!

The Day of Iced Tea

Last Thursday, Jonathan and I made three different kinds of iced tea! The first one I made used four bags of orange pekoe tea and four cups boiling water.  I allowed the tea to steep for five minutes, chilled it and added ice, frozen cranberries and fresh mint leaves.

This regular steeping method left it tasting a bit bitter, so Jonathan did a quick search of the internet and found the sun-brewed method.  This method was a great deal better.  There was no bitter taste at the end. We also sweetened this round with agave nectar instead of sugar.  We made a special trip to Longo’s to find it.  It gave a subtle sweet flavour without being overpowering.  As an added bonus the agave nectar was fair trade and organic.

The only other ingredient for this recipe is a nice sunny day!  It was great to sit outside and enjoy such a wonderful summer day with the family out on the patio.  I will definitely make this iced tea again.  It was far more satisfying than other name brand iced teas.  The agave nectar was a nice alternative to refined sugars.  I used organic lemon slices, which made the iced tea flavour over the top and delicious.

Instructions:

1.  Add 4 tea bags to 4 cups of cold water into a glass mason jar with a lid.  This can be green tea or black tea or both (like we did).

2.  Close the jars, and let sit in a sunny area outside for two hours.

3.  Add agave syrup to taste.

4.  Add ice and lemon slices.

5.  Enjoy!

Congratulations Laura and Chris!

I am so proud of my sister!  All of the details and planning that went into her wedding paid off.  Everything seemed like it was right out of a movie – from their vows that made me well up with emotion to their last dance of the evening.  Laura and Chris are a beautiful couple and I wish them every happiness in the world.

As for me, I had an amazing time being the Maid of Honour!  Jonathan was the Masters of Ceremonies for the evening and did a wonderful job keeping everyone on track and announcing all of the speeches.  Later in the evening Jonathan and I danced the night away.  The next morning my feet were still hurting from all of the dancing!

Laura and Chris picked beautiful songs for their first dance, Father-Daughter dance, Mother and Son dance and their last dance of the evening.  From the beginning to the end, the day could not have been any better.

For the morning of the wedding I baked two different kinds of scones.  I made blueberry and raspberry white chocolate chip.  They were a perfect start to a busy day.  We brought them with us to the hair salon so people could snack while all of our hair was being styled for the day.

All of the guests took home the scrumptious fudge wedding cakes that my Mom, family and friends had all helped to put together.  The bridal party looked stunning!  I can’t wait to see when the wedding photos come back (taken by the wonderful PhotoTerra).  The professional cameras make that wonderful shutter clicking sound.  I want one now, just for that amazing sound (well, and the high quality photographs).

The whole family was just glowing with happiness for Laura and Chris.  We are so happy to welcome Chris into the family!

Congratulations Laura and Chris!

Blueberry Scones

Is there anything more comforting than a warm blueberry scone for breakfast?

I don’t think so! This morning, I thought I would try a new recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  We had all of the ingredients in the refrigerator and so it came together quite quickly. Dad came into the kitchen after his daily lane swim and dubbed them ‘swimmer’s scones.’  Laura loved the scones so much that she asked me to make them again for the morning of the wedding when all the girls are getting their hair done.

Sorry Starbucks, Leslie the Foodie is in town!

Ingredients

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1 cup heavy cream

1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

2.  In the bottom of a large, wide-ish bowl, whisk flours, baking powder, sugar and salt together. Add butter, either by cutting it in with two knives or a pastry blender.  Cut it into the flour mixture with a pastry blender, breaking it up until the mixture resembles a crumbly meal with tiny pea-sized bits of butter.

3.  Gently stir in the blueberries, so that they are coated in dry ingredient, then stir in heavy cream.

4.  When you’ve mixed it in as best as you can with the spatula, go ahead and knead it once or twice in the bowl, to create one mass. Do not worry about getting the dough evenly mixed. It’s far more important that the dough is not overworked.

5.  Generously flour your counter. With as few movements as possible, transfer your dough to the counter, generously flour the top of it and with your hands or a rolling pin, gently roll or press the dough out to a 3/4-inch thickness. Cut into 2 1/2-inch circles with a floured biscuit cutter (or using a knife).

6.  Carefully transfer scones to prepared baking sheet, leaving a couple inches between each.

7.  You can re-roll the scraps of dough, but don’t freak out over how wet the dough becomes as the strawberries have had more time to release their juice. They’ll still bake up wonderfully.

8.  Bake the scones for 12 minutes, until golden at the edges.  Cool for one minute on the pan and then serve warm or at room temperature.  (Scones are best the day they are made.)

Carrot Oatmeal Cookies (Vegan!)

As I mentioned in my previous post, I recently discovered the blog 101 Cookbooks.  After yesterday’s great success, I decided to try the carrot oatmeal cookie recipe this morning.  It has many ingredients that I love (carrots, oats, and maple syrup) so I felt I couldn’t go wrong.  I don’t want to over exaggerate, but this recipe is truly amazing! I could eat a million of these – okay a little bit of hyperbole – but they are just so flavourful with a perfect cookie texture.  It is definitely one of my new top five favourite cookies.

I feel like these could also be considered a breakfast cookie because they have the light sugary flavour from the maple syrup, relaxing oats, and always delicious carrots.  Perhaps they could be considered healthy-ish.  Adding carrots makes everything healthier right?  Also – no eggs – which makes them vegan!  The cookies went perfectly with a cup of tea and I have eaten four already.

The recipe makes the perfect amount of small cookies (about two dozen) and not that much mess.  One bowl to clean up, which is not bad, considering the major messes I have made in the kitchen in the past.  Jonathan and my Mom will attest to some of my huge kitchen chaos moments.

Ingredients

1 cup all purpose flour (you could use whole wheat pastry flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
scant 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 cup rolled oats (I was bad and used quick oats, but they seemed to work out)
1 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup real maple syrup, room temperature
1/2 cup canola oil (the original recipe calls for coconut oil)
½ teaspoon of ground ginger and ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375F degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, ground ginger, ground cinnamon and oats. Add the shredded carrots.  Measure out the maple syrup and canola oil and then add to the flour mixture and stir until just combined.

Drop onto prepared baking sheets, one level tablespoonful at a time, leaving about 2 inches between each cookie. Bake in the top 1/3 of the oven for 10 – 12 minutes or until the cookies are golden on top and bottom.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.