February 18, 2012

Last Valentine's Day I made red velvet whoopie pies with cream cheese filling. They were adorable and tasty, but red food colouring got everywhere. I mean, everywhere: all over the counter, the cupboards, the floor and my hands. I don't really know why I was so messy, but red colour just latched onto everything. So much so that every time I make something with food colouring Mike refers to the infamous red velvet whoopie pies.

This Valentine's Day I wanted to make a red velvet dessert again, but I was determined to make it not look like I had massacred something. I googled some recipes and somehow stumbled upon Magnolia Bakery's famous red velvet cake recipe. I went to New York a few summers ago and tried their cupcakes, so I knew they were good:

The recipe I found was spot on and made the best cupcakes I have ever made. Instead of vanilla icing, I used some buttercream I had in the freezer and added cocoa powder to it to make it chocolate flavoured. I also had some animal print cupcake liners from my Christmas stocking that I thought would be appropriate for some romantic cupcakes (meow):

This time I cleaned up as I went along --something I have gotten used to doing from cooking class-- and although my hands were pretty red from the colouring and a few spots of red got here and there, I managed to hide any evidence and surprise Mike with a dozen beautiful cupcakes. 

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream Icing (Magnolia Bakery cupcake recipe)
Ingredients (yields one dozen):

1 cup all purpose flour (the recipe calls for cake flour, but I added two tbsp cornstarch to all-purpose)
1/4 cup softened butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
3 tbsp red food colouring
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp baking soda


1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. In a stand mixer or bowl, cream the butter and sugar for 5 minutes until fluffy. Add the egg and beat well.
3. In a small bowl, whisk the food colouring, cocoa and vanilla together (or add the food colouring to the batter).
4. Add the salt to the buttermilk and stir, then add to the batter. Alternate adding the flour and buttermilk to the batter until mixed.

5. In a small bowl, stir the vinegar and baking soda together and add to the batter. Stir together until ingredients are blended and batter is smooth.
6. Transfer to a greased cupcake or cake pan.
7. Bake for 30-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.

For the icing, I used the Wilton Chocolate Buttercream recipe, but the Magnolia recipe uses a Creamy Vanilla Frosting. 

For transporting some leftover cupcakes back with me, I cut out holes in the bottom of a recycled egg carton so the icing wouldn't get crushed.

I didn't actually think we would be spending Valentine's Day together, as I live in Toronto during the week, but I had a doctor's appointment on Tuesday in London, so as luck would have it we were able to see each other.

We had our special dinner on Sunday night anyway at Pizza Libretto in Toronto (I didn't take any pictures unfortunately), but it was a nice meal. Mike ordered their popular "duck confit" pizza and I had one with house-made sausage, mozzarella and caramelized onions. We split a tiramusu for dessert with some cappuccinos. The pizzas were good, but nothing can beat our favourite pizza place of all time, Pazzo in Stratford. 

For our official Valentine's meal on Tuesday we had steak, sweet potato mash, broccoli and homemade bread made into garlic bread for dinner before I went back to Toronto (it's been a busy week):

Valentine's Day this year became a multiple day celebration apparently. Mike was joking that he can't try to top what he's done on previous Valentine's Days (like leaving a heart-shaped box of chocolates on my doorstep at 3 a.m or making a huge platter of chocolate covered fruit), but I think we manage to make it special every year, even if it is cheesy. 
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February 05, 2012

Clementine season is coming to a close and that it is definitely apparent from the shabby, sad looking clementines still leftover at the grocery store. The poor little things can't compare to their holiday time companions. Although the days of snacking on two or three a day (don't judge me) are over, I was surprised to learn they can be incorporated into refreshing baked goods.

I saw these Clementine Bling Muffins on Pinterest and knew I had to make them.
Recipe by The Novice Chef Blog

Clementine Mini MuffinsMuffins:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1/4 cup canola oil
1/3 cup milk
Zest and juice of 1 clementine
1 tsp vanilla extract
Icing: 1 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp clementine juice
Zest: 1/2 cup sugar
Zest of 1 clementine


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
3. In another bowl, whisk together egg, oil, milk, zest, juice and vanilla.
4. Add dry ingredients to the wet and whisk until combined.
5. Evenly divide the batter into a mini muffin pan.
6. Bake for 14-16 minutes.

For the glaze, whisk the powdered sugar with the clementine juice so it's thick enough to thickly coat the back of a spoon. For the sugared zest, combine the zest with sugar and break up with your fingers. I found mine didn't turn out that orange, so it may require more than one clementine for zest.

When the muffins are cool, dip the tops in the glaze, then sprinkle with the sugared zest.

Mine didn't turn out as "blingy" as the original picture, but they were still a big hit. We went to a potluck last weekend and always go overboard when it comes to cooking for other people, so we brought the clementine muffins and some homemade sushi:

I also made some Banana Maple Date Scones for my mid-morning work week snacks. Whether it's homemade granola bars, baked oatmeal squares or power muffins, I have become pretty serious about making my own snacks instead of eating pre-package granola bars or buying something at a coffee shop.

These scones were more of a treat than a nutritious snack, but I love the addition of the sweet dates.

Last weekend was also Londonlicious, where many restaurants in town had prix fixe three course meals for $25-30. I love it because it gives budget-friendly folk like us a chance to try some new restaurants and have a nice meal out :) This year we decided to try some classic French cuisine at Auberge de Petit Prince. The prix fixe menu was fairly simple, but compared to the price of the entrees on the menu, it was a great deal.

I started with buckwheat crepes filled with olive tapenade, cream cheese, pesto and tomatoes. Mike splurged with the escargots and sherry cream on brioche (a little rich for me). My crepes weren't anything amazing, but it was a nice start to the meal. I tried one of Mike's escargot--my first experience--and actually kind of liked it, but it could have been because it was smothered in butter and cream.

For our mains I ordered the lemon, thyme and green peppercorn marinated chicken on sweet potato puree and ratatouille. The sweet potato puree was insanely good and I devoured it pretty quickly. The chicken and ratatouille were both simple as well, but well seasoned and delicious. 

Mike ordered the slow braised beef cheeks in puff pastry with garlic and leeks. Again, a fairly simple entree, but the sauce and beef chunks melted together like butter. I liked how the portions were fairly small as it was a good taste of the food without feeling too stuffed afterwards. Who needs huge plates of food when you're having a three-course meal? 

Dessert was chocolate cake all the way for me, but I obviously had a generous sampling of Mike's vanilla cream brulee. The restaurant also has a patiserrie business, Petit Paris, in the Covent Garden Market, so I expected good things from their desserts. The chocolate cake had a layer of white chocolate ganache and a drizzle of raspberry coulis. I normally find chocolate cake too dry and "cakey," but this one was heavenly and I ate most of it before Mike could even try some. 

The meal wasn't spectacular, but it was pleasant and I am glad this was our Londonlicious pick for this year. The restaurant is located in a beautiful Victorian-style manor house and has a wonderful ambience with a lot of smaller, cozier rooms instead of one large dining room. I loved the atmosphere and I felt like I was eating in a grand, old French mansion. It would be a great place for a special private party or event. Maybe someday we'll go back for a special occasion and try more dishes from their regular menu. 
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