Chocolate Cupcakes and Nut Allergies

In an effort to clear up space in my freezer while also making some tasty treats for some friends we were having over for dinner this week, I pulled out the last of some ground almonds we brought back from G Detou, Paris and some clementine buttercream icing from the freezer.  In my head, I thought, ‘perfect, I can make clementine almond cupcakes and then ice them with the leftover icing’.  Unfortunately this would have turned me into a killer chef as one of our group has a pretty serious nut allergy.  There have been several ‘close calls’ where I have started to research a recipe only to have it dawn on me that, no, that would be a bad idea as we’d like to keep our friends happy and healthy when they come to dinner.

In the end, I did make the clementine almond cupcakes but I also made these chocolate cupcakes and iced them with the clementine buttercream icing.  I got to free up some freezer space AND got two desserts from the experience.  An all around win.  Oh, and my friend suffered no ill consequences from the chocolate and clementine combo 🙂

This recipe is adapted from Ina Garten’s “Beatty’s Chocolate Cake” recipe.  I used plain greek yoghurt instead of buttermilk, and, as I only wanted 18 cupcakes, I halved the recipe.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Clementine Buttercream Frosting

Chocolate Cupcakes with Clementine Buttercream Frosting

Chocolate Cupcakes (makes approximately 18) – based on Ina Garten’s Beatty’s Chocolate Cake

2/3 c all purpose flour
1 c sugar
1/3 c cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 c greek yogurt
1/4 c olive oil
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 c fresh brewed coffee (hot)

clementine icing 

Sift together dry ingredients.  Beat together the yogurt, olive oil, egg, and vanilla (but not the coffee) on medium speed until well combined.  Combine wet mixture and dry ingredients on low. With the mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir until just combined.  Carefully spoon or pour the mixture into cupcake papers in a muffin tin.  Bake for approximately 20 minutes at 350F.  Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then allow to cool completely on a cooling rack.  Ice once completely cooled.

Too Scattered for Pictures – Braised French Onion Chicken

In between waiting for deliveries (both baby and Royal Mail) I have had quite a bit of time in our flat.  While at times our 400 square foot flat has felt quite spacious, after a few days of sitting in and waiting for packages to arrive, it has started to feel a bit small.  Thankfully we had some lovely friends round for dinner last night.  I was able to throw myself into a bit of a baking and cooking whirlwind and briefly forget about impending deliveries.

TheKitchn recently posted a series of recommended winter recipes.  The recipe posted for Braised French Onion Chicken sounded too good to pass up.  There’s also something very therapeutic about caramelising onions that I just couldn’t pass up.  It’s not a quick recipe to throw together, but it’s a very rewarding and flavourful recipe that I definitely recommend for those days when you want something that will fill your home with the scent of thyme, onions, and chicken.

Sadly I have no pictures as I literally took this meal from the oven immediately to our kitchen table to serve up with our friends.  The pictures posted on thekitchn should convince you though!

Braised French Onion Chicken – from theKitchn

3 tbsp unsalted butter
2 lb red onions, sliced thinly into half moons (I used a mandolin, but a food processor or a shape knife would do fine)
salt and pepper
5 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tsp thyme
2 c chicken broth, low sodium, divided
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp dijon mustard
3 lb chicken (I used chicken breasts cut in half)
1 c gruyere cheese

In a large casserole pan (I used my large le creuset), melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the onions, tossing in the butter.  Add salt and pepper.  Cook over medium low heat for approximately 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.  The onions will slowly cook down and take on a light colour.  They will not likely look ‘caramelised’ yet!  Add the garlic and thyme, increasing the heat to medium high and stirring frequently.  Watching to see the colour of the onions change to a darker mahogany, turn the heat up to high and add 1c chicken broth.  Deglaze the pan with the broth, stirring up any bits from the bottom of the pan.  Allow the liquid to reduce by about half.  Empty the contents of the pan into a bowl.  Place the pan back on the stove, again on medium heat.  Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper.  Brown the breasts on both sides, cooking for approximately 3 minutes per side.  You may have to do this in several batches (I did 3 batches of 4 chicken pieces to avoid crowding the pan).  Once the chicken has all been browned, you can put it in the same bowl as the onions while you deglaze the pan (again).  This time, add the remaining 1c of chicken broth, stirring to pick up any brown bits from the pan.  Whisk in the balsamic vinegar and dijon mustard.  Reduce by half.  Add the onions and chicken back into the pan and cover.  Put into the oven at 325F or 150C for 30 minutes.  Top with gruyere cheese and place in the oven under the broiler until the cheese has melted and browned.  Serve with quinoa, bread, and salad.

Note: I left the chicken in the oven for probably closer to 45 minutes, ensuring the chicken was submerged in the onions and liquids.  It came out really tender and not at all dried out.  I think as long as the chicken is submerged in the juices it’s ok to cook it a bit longer.

More Craftiness

My grandmother is a knitter.  For as long as I can remember she has knit my sisters and I hats, mittens, sweaters, dolls, and blankets.  The blanket she made for me is one of my most favourite things.  It arrived when I went to university, followed me to grad school, into our first home, and now, to England.  It’s the perfect thing to cosy up under to watch a film or to have an afternoon nap.  I don’t have my grandmother’s knitting skills, but I am trying to learn and continue to make progress.  I still prefer baby projects as they knit up quickly and seem to be fairly forgiving.  Mr416expat has requested a scarf which I am happy to say, I have started.  

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The Purlbee is a lovely website that has a great combination of crochet, knit, and sewing projects.  The Purlbee is the crafting site for the Purl Soho a fabulous shop in New York that sells beautiful fabrics, wools, and haberdashery.  When we next get back to New York it is definitely on my hit list.  I just finished their newborn kimono project and, having wrestled with bias tape when finishing my last quilt, am proud to say I have won another round against the bias tape.  

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Check out the purlbee if you’re looking for fun projects for wintery weather

Joy the Baker makes good dinner!

This one gets filed under tasty things I don’t want to ever lose track of.  Joy the Baker makes delicious things.  She posts beautiful pictures and straightforward, well-written instructions for her recipes.  Brilliant.

Her most recent post combines polenta with a tomato sauce recipe that’s been making the blogosphere rounds for ages.  That said, I’d never tried it and was a bit skeptical.  How could a full flavoured tomato sauce come from only four ingredients, only three of which you actually leave in the sauce?  The sauce has been featured by Joy, smittenkitchen, theKitchn, and many many other blogs.  It was originally Marcella Hazan‘s recipe and has been much lauded, tweaked, and used by many a blogger.

The first thing 416expat said on arriving home last night, with this recipe bubbling away on the stove, ‘wow, that smells amazing, what’s for dinner?’  Folks we’ve got a winner.  Please visit Joy’s blog for beautiful pictures of this meal.  Nothing I could post could do this justice!

Baked Polenta with Tomato SauceJoy the Baker

1 cup polenta
4 cups water
2 tbsp butter
salt

Combine the polenta and water.  Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.  Stir in the butter after 45 minutes. Bake for another 15 minutes.

1 28oz can of whole tomatoes – highest quality you can find
2 tbsp butter
salt
half an onion – peeled

Over medium heat, combine the four ingredients in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil then simmer for 45 minutes stirring occasionally.  Use a spoon to periodically break up the tomatoes as they soften.  As the sauce thickens to a consistency you’re happy with, remove the onion and adjust the seasoning as you see fit.  You’re done.  That’s it.

Top the baked polenta with the tomato sauce and parmesan.  I added some black pepper and served this with a side salad.

Craftiness

Away from cooking and posting vacation pictures, I’ve also been trying to get some crafty projects out of the way before this baby arrives.  416expat goes through dress shirts like water.  Understandably, he does wear dress shirts five days per week (rather snappily) and they make up the majority of his wardrobe.  When he wears them out (yes he wears them out) it’s typically around the collar or the elbows.  That leaves a lot of good shirt left, or at least a lot of good fabric left.

Prudent Baby is a crafty website that I’ve had on my radar for a while.  Their projects tend to be quite girl focused but this button down bib seemed pretty accessible for either a boy or a girl.  Check out the link for making instructions.  I don’t have a lot of experience using bias tape (this was my second project using it) but it was easier than I expected.  Happy Crafting!

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My Finished Project

Planes, trains, and automobiles

Driving through the South of France and Spain

View from our cottage outside Carcassonne

This autumn we’ve had both my, and 416expat’s parents visit.  In our experience, visiting parents are an excuse to travel and to get out of London.

With 416expat’s parents we flew to the South of France, explored Carcassonne and even popped over into Spain for a few hours.  We stayed via airbnb in a beautiful cottage on a wine estate in Languedoc, France.  Our hosts were able to provide recommendations for local markets, restaurants, and gave us a fantastic tasting of their wines.

Driving from the South of France into Spain

Driving from the South of France into Spain

Late night pizza run into town

Late night pizza run into town

Canal running into Carcassonne

Canal running into Carcassonne

Relaxing in the courtyard of the winery/cottage

Relaxing in the courtyard of the winery/cottage

With my parents we flew into Pisa, Italy, spent an overnight in Lucca, spent a day in Florence, and then bounced around Umbria for a few days before taking a fairly wild drive through the countryside to end up back in Pisa.

Walking along the outer wall of Lucca

Walking along the outer wall of Lucca – each side is planted with a different variety of tree

The Duomo in Florence

The Duomo in Florence

Donut, hot from the fryer, filled with custard and rolled in sugar - dangerously addictive

Donut, hot from the fryer, filled with custard and rolled in sugar – dangerously addictive

The sun did come out briefly

The sun did come out briefly

Hidden courtyards and lots of stairs in Assisi

Hidden courtyards and lots of stairs in Assisi

View from the lawn of St Francis of Assisi's cathedral

View from the lawn of St Francis of Assisi’s basilica

Basilica of St Francis of Assisi

Basilica of St Francis of Assisi

Cloudy but still incredibly beautiful

Cloudy but still incredibly beautiful

Oh yeah, and the leaning tower of Pisa was taken over by protestors

Oh yeah, and the leaning tower of Pisa was taken over by protestors who lit flares and threw banners over the edge

My favourite memories for both trips (apart from spending time with our families) are fairly food focused.  While in Umbria we ate at a tiny trattoria that appeared to make its hours up as it went but served really flavourful and well paired foods.  While in Carcassonne we visited the local market.  I could’ve spent hours just exploring the different produce and pastries, let alone watching the crowds of people doing their weekly shop.

All in both trips were lovely and a great opportunity to spend time with both our parents.

Granola Bars

There’s nothing like getting halfway through a recipe you’ve been doubling and coming to the realisation that you’ve actually only been doubling some of the ingredients.  Which ingredients did I double?  Hmm.  Thankfully a granola bar recipe is fairly forgiving.

In an attempt to get our freezer stocked I’ve been making a fair number of snackable, easily handled foods lately.  This has included getting some mini frittatas, muffins, and, today, granola bars, made and wrapped individually (or in small packages) into the freezer.  This is no small feat when working with a UK sized freezer.  Many of our friends have what in Canada, we would consider a bar fridge, as their kitchen fridge.  We’re quite fortunate to have a small apartment sized fridge with a small freezer.

Today’s recipe comes from Smitten Kitchen.  Who, I should note, has just put out a cookbook.  After a few attempts, I’ve decreased the amount of sugar and would recommend, after the bars have cooled, putting them in the fridge to harder further before attempting to cut them up.  Overall this is a really flexible recipe that can take a lot of tweaking without going off the rails – just like a good granola bar recipe should!

This granola bar didn't make it to the freezer

This granola bar didn’t make it to the freezer

Thick and Chewy Granola Bars – Adapted from Smitten Kitchen  

1 2/3 c rolled oats
1/2 c ground almonds
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2-3 c (10-15 ounces) of nuts and dried fruits (any combination – I used sunflower seeds, crushed almonds, raisins, dates, and dark chocolate)
1/3 c peanut butter
2 tsp vanilla
6 tbsp melted butter
1/4 c honey or maple syrup
2 tbsp golden syrup (or corn syrup)
1 tbsp water

Preheat your oven to 350F.  Combine the dry ingredients together.  Whisk together the wet ingredients.  Combine the wet and dry ingredients together.  Line an 8×8″ (I didn’t have an 8×8″ pan so doubled the recipe and put it into a 9×13 which worked wonderfully) pan with parchment paper.  Pour the granola mixture into the pan, spreading out evenly.  Bake for 30-40 minutes.  The granola bars are done when they start to brown around the edges.

Cool completely in the pan and, once cooled, place in the fridge to help set.  Cut with a serrated knife and enjoy.