Archive for the ‘entertaining’Category

White Chocolate Buttercream with Vanilla Cupcakes

Birthday Cupcake on Birthday Bunnykins

One of my oldest friends (and by old, I mean the length of time we’ve been friends…not age) enjoys a particular kind of cake for her birthday: white cake with blue frosting.  This birthday cake is traditionally prepared by another of our dear friends, Elpoo.  It’s always sweet and yummy and decorated in some clever way.  Here’s a cake she made for my own birthday:


 For this particular festive gathering, however, cupcakes were requested. Well, we all know that I have been elected (appointed?) the designated maker of the cupcakes, so the honour of baking for this occasion fell to me.  My signature cupcake is chocolate with chocolate buttercream frosting.  In a feeble attempt at meeting the white and blue requirements, though, I did my best to whip up a batch of homemade cake batter and a version of my favourite buttercream recipe. 


The cake was…meh.  The recipe was taken directly from a Cooks Illustrated recipe, with a few minor tweaks.  It was simple enough but honestly, a store-bought mix with some delicious additions (sour cream, melted butter, vanilla…mmmmm) would have been better.  I found the crumb slightly tough and a little dry, but I don’t think that was all due to possibly overbaking them.  Regardless, I’ll spare you the recipe.


Our focus instead shall be the frosting.  After all, isn’t a cupcake really nothing more than a vehicle to convey said frosting to mouth?  All silky and buttery and sweet and rich.  Perfection.  For those that enjoy reading about such sweet things, please join me on this educational jaunt into the world of frosting as we explore four tasty variations of buttercreams:

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11 2009



This fall, the Gentle Barber invited a motley crew up to his cottage on the shores of Lake Huron for a big bear weekend.  Never one to turn down an opportunity to escape the city, we hopped in the Sweet Babboo’s brand new Nissan Versa and hightailed it out there, Google map in hand.  We arrived at Southampton after sunset and spent the rest of the evening on the deck, enjoying beer and company. 

The following day, after a bracing splash in the icy lake and a long warm-up in the hot tub, we made our way into Saugeen for a bite to eat and a grocery shopping expedition.  Apple&Jacks volunteered to make a late lunch and perogies were on the menu…barbequed perogies.  Now the Ukrainian in me was having a hard time comprehending this.  I grew up with one tried-and-true method of perogy preparation: cook in boiling water until they float.  For an added bonus, fry in pan to crisp up.  This last step is usually reserved for dealing with leftovers, but I preferred them this way.  With roasting pans in hand, however, Jacks confidently set forth to demonstrate this little bit of magic and thumb his nose at generations of Slavic tradition.  Here’s a rundown of what he did:

-Heat BBQ.  Saute some onions in roasting pan with melted butter and oil;
-In the other roasting pan, saute perogies in more butter and oil until heated through and crispy golden brown.
-Serve with the sauteed onions sour cream, snipped chives, precooked bacon, and hot sauce (optional) [update-should be hot banana peppers and NOT hot sauce. Thanks, Jacks]. 

That’s it.  Done.  Easy peasy.  And as you can surmise from the photo above, they were mighty tasty.


 That evening on dinner duty, I prepared a dinner of barbequed chicken and lamb souvlaki with vegetable skewers and a warm potato salad.  I was too busy cooking to take pictures, and it was so dark by the time we ate that I was at the grill wearing a headlight.  Brought back memories of camping.  And the food wasn’t bad.  The sunset was really nice, though.

Oh, and I still get a chuckle about the neighbour who was struggling with the concept of the bear flag: “Now is that pro-bear, or against bears?”  I guess the ten bearded, burly, beer-drinking men didn’t offer her a clue.  Too funny.


10 2009

Vegetarian Butter Chicken


Once a year, I am inspired to undertake the ordeal of a detoxifying cleansing program.  This usually occurs after a long winter of over-indulgent eating and an extended period of activity no more strenuous than operating a remote control.  Ah…those dark Canadian winters.  But when the days get longer and the pants get tighter (and my favourite shows’ seasons start wrapping up), I get off my butt, throw out any treats I might have hidden in the recesses of the cabinets, and kick-start the Spring with a good cleanse.

 Detox Box

A dear friend, knowing my penchant for over-complicating things and always trying to support my causes, gave me a fantastic detox program called “The Detox Box” by Dr. Mark Hyman.  This is not just a simple cayenne-honey-lemon-water-drink-for-three-days kind of thing.  No ma’am.  This program tackles your toxic issues from multiple angles over a multi-week period.  We’re talking journal-writing.  We’re talking yoga three times a day.  We’re talking dry-brushing and lavender and salt baths and meditation and long walks and saunas and naps and cardio sessions.  And we’re talking food, or rather no food: no meat, no chicken, no dairy, no soy, no sugar, no nightshade vegetables, no starches, nothing processed.  If it comes in a package, it’s out.  Only non-predator fish, grains, many vegetables and some berries.  Oh, and clay.  We can’t forget the bentonite clay.

Now I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, so I will avoid the quackery of a detoxifying cleanse.  I do believe that the body is essentially self-regulating and that our internal systems are designed to promote a healthy state.  However, I can personally attest to the benefits of the program:  my skin gets clearer, my organs get a holiday, my senses become heightened, my appreciation for simple food grows, and the quality of my nutrition improves tenfold.

And what does this have to do with butterless, chickenless butter chicken?  Well let me tell you, it’s not easy coming up with meal variations using the same few food items for three weeks.  Some Internet research offered up a few options, one of which was the basis for this yummy dish.  It’s completely vegan and while it doesn’t exactly duplicate the traditional Murgh Makhani from the Mugal Empire, it does work at capturing the spirit: creamy and rich, flavourful without being too spicy, and it’s great on rice.

for more info on using dried chickpeas, click here.

For more info on using dried chickpeas, click here.

One of the great things about this kind of dish is the flexibility the recipe allows.  Use any combination of vegetables you might have on hand; my favourite is cauliflower, carrot and pea with chickpeas.  And while almond butter might be the easiest to find, experiment with different nut butters like cashew or hazelnut.  You also don’t need to be on a detox program to enjoy this dish, but I grant you full permission to feel redeemed upon its consumption.

Recipe on following page… Read the rest of this entry →


08 2009


First in a series of Cuban-related postings.


I just returned from my fourth visit to Cuba and have mojitos on the mind (for the uninitiated, it’s pronounced “moe-hee-toe”).  Cool and refreshing, balancing sweet and sour with a complement of herbaceous mint, this rum cocktail is perfect to sip while lounging in a hammock, rocking gently with the tropical breeze or to quench the thirst during a night of salsa. 

Some say the name was inspired by the lime-based seasoning, mojo, used in Cuban dishes.  Others believe that the name is a diminutive of “wet” in Spanish.  Regardless, the mojito was made legendary at the famous La Bodeguita del Medio, a tiny restaurant in Havana, and was also known as a second-favourite tipple of Hemingway’s.  I had my first sip of the cocktail at a Holguin resort in 2003; the gritty sugar crunched between my teeth and the economy rum was a bit harsh, and boy was it perfect.

The mojito is traditionally made with lime, mint, sugar, sparkling water and a good dose of Havana Club 3-year old white rum.  Indiscriminating tastes can now find any number of bastardized versions from mango to strawberry.  While perhaps delectable-sounding, they are as close to an authentic mojito as a saketini is to a martini.  And if you’ve never tried Havana Club, you’re really missing out on something.  Their Anejo Blanco rum is made with the best dark molasses from Cuban sugar cane and aged in oak barrels, giving it a fresh fruity flavour.  The classic 7-year rum is world famous and noted for its butterscotch and honeycomb nose, opening up to apple crumble with the addition of water.  It is initially very sweet but quickly moves to dry and woody.  It’s the perfect sipping tipple and heaven’s please only enjoy it on its own. 

Snobbery aside, here’s a simple recipe for the near-perfect mojito, fairly loyal to the version sanctioned by the International Bar Association:

Continue for recipe…

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07 2009

Trifle, Italian style

Lemon Blackberry Trifle

Lemon Blackberry Trifle

This recipe comes to me by way of the priestess, nay, the goddess of the kitchen, Nigella Lawson.  I’ve been a fan and fanatical advocate of the raven-haired Brit since her show Nigella Bites, with her impeccable style, spot on palate, and slightly subversive humour.  And no one can make love to a spoon the way she can.  I did meet her once and we had a little chat.  To be perfectly accurate, I met her along with maybe 3000 other fans at a book signing.  Despite the mob, she remained regal and warm in her chartreuse twin set, offering a genuine smile to all.

Nigella LawsonI must admit her cookbook prose have had a profound inspiration on my own desire to write.  I’ve savoured each and every one of her publications, reading them more like novels rather than as a resource.  I enjoy her informative preambles mixed with the regional vernacular (splodge, nubbled, blitzed) and simple recipes with inspired flavours.  She blends cultures and style with no apology.  One region she loves to explore is Italy, from crostini to dolce.  …Hence, this recipe, slightly modified, from her publication Forever Summer…

jam sandwiches

This is everything a trifle should be:  rich, oozing, cool, and creamy.  It’s also easy to make (please forgive the ready-made ingredients) and best if made well ahead of serving, rendering it perfect for easy entertaining.  The Italian inspiration comes from the ingredients: crunchy amaretti biscuits, sweet and puckering limoncello, and standing in for custard is a silky mascarpone mousse with blackberries providing a blistering contrast. 


The measurements are offered more as a guideline, with the size of your trifle bowl influencing the proportions.  For these photos, I used my oval porcelain casserole dish that I usually employ for mac and cheese, although it is most presentable in a glass trifle bowl (my own having disappeared after attending a potluck and not to be seen since).

Recipe on following page… Read the rest of this entry →


07 2009