Saturday, 29 November 2014

Salted Caramel Cupcakes oh my!

Browsing around the supermarket yesterday I came across this:

Oh my, I adore salted caramel there is just something about that salty sweet goodness that hits just the right spot! I mean look at it! Golden and thick and gooey, mmh... (yes, that spoon did go in my mouth right after that photo was taken)

So, as you can guess, I bought this wonderful pot of deliciousness and decided that the only decent thing to do with it, besides spooning it directly into my mouth, was to make cupcakes with it. I mean cupcakes are awesome, salted caramel is awesome so put them together and you have something extra awesome right? Right! 

I searched for some salted caramel cupcake recipes and boy were there many to choose from, should I go with Vanilla or Chocolate? How about double salted caramel? I actually tried out a few cupcake recipes but none seemed to hit the spot. One was a chocolate cupcake made with oil, I learned that I do not like oil in cupcakes they taste weird and have a funny texture, the other was a vanilla cupcake that just seemed to lack that wow factor I was after. Then I remembered these cupcakes from my first post that I adored. They were so chocolatey and rich and fudgy, perfect! They are quickly becoming my go-to chocolate cupcake.

Then onto the frosting, since I was using caramel I didn't really want to use plain old buttercream as it is so very sweet. I noticed that many of the recipes I was browsing used Swiss Meringue Buttercream but that had a heck of a lot of butter, but then I noticed once that had Italian Meringue Buttercream, it seemed much simpler than the Swiss kind, no whipping egg whites over a pan of simmering water.. yay! So I went with Italian. 

I am so glad Mr. Grad bought me a Kenwood Stand mixer for my birthday this year, oh boy do I love that machine and that man! I don't think you can really make this kind of frosting without one. It was my first time making this kind of frosting and it is a bit more involved than just whacking sugar and butter in a mixer but I followed this recipe by Annalise and it turned out perfectly. If you are struggling I totally suggest you to check out her step-by-step tutorial. Incidentally today I also learned how to make Marshmallow Fluff, now that is dangerous knowledge to have! 

So anyway back on track, cupcakes... chocolatey, fudgy cupcakes topped with a billowing cloud of caramel flavoured Italian meringue buttercream, drizzled with more salted caramel and finished off with a little chocolate shard! Heaven! These quickly got sent with Mr. Grad to work because, you know, its not a good idea to leave me alone with 12 of these babies! Everyone LOVED them. I tell ya I'm making that man look good! I mean... just look at them... who could resist?**

So without further ado, I present to you...

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Ultimate Comfort Food - Spaghetti Carbonara!

We eat a lot of pasta in this house easily 3-4 times a week. Mr. Grad gets withdrawal if he doesn't eat a big steaming bowl of pasta at least once every 2 days. Left to his own devices I'm pretty sure pasta would be his sole food source for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Myself, I love pasta but I can't eat it everyday, I get bored with eating the same food too often. I do have a good repertoire of pasta dishes, most of them are really simple and quick and totally delicious.It's a really cheap way of eating too, you can buy giant 3kg bags of pasta for around £3-4 from the supermarkets which will feed you for a good few weeks! We always have a couple in the cupboard, it's even better value when they run promotional offers and you can pick up a bag for £2!

What I love about Italian cooking is that it doesn't have to be expensive and fancy, in fact expensive and fancy is pretty much the antithesis of Italian cooking! It's all about simple food with good ingredients that are healthy and delicious Pasta is quite central to Italian food and its eaten in one form or another most days. There is also something so comforting about sitting down to a big old bowl of pasta surrounded by family all laughing and joking and sharing in the deliciousness in front of you.

So, Spaghetti Carbonara, we've all heard of it. Spaghetti, Eggs and Bacon combined to make an amazingly delicious dish that ticks all the boxes, cheap, easy, quick, yummy. But, on the market there are some just awful imitations, really I've never understood the need to buy Carbonara Sauce in a jar, it's full of sugar, salt and unnecessary ingredients and additives. Then there are the ready meals that you cook in the microwave, one look at the bowl and its just so unappetizing, a gloopy white mess with stringy things in it... yuck! You can even buy the whole meal in a can, you know the famous baked beans brand, horrifying! We jokingly took a tin of it back for one of Mr. Grad's friends, 4 years later he still dare not open it! Seriously people it takes 4 ingredients to make your own (plus the spaghetti) and I guarantee you it's 1000x better!

Carbonara is probably Mr. Grads go to comfort food and I often make it for him at the weekend when he's home for lunch and it always goes down particularly well. Sometimes if he's had a tough day at work I'll make it for dinner, although I don't usually partake in that meal, it's a bit too heavy for me in the evening! But that eggy, carby goodness seems to cheer him right up, or it might be the glass or two of wine... but lets go with the carbonara shall we? 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Lemon, Ricotta and Olive Oil Loaf Cake.

Rooting through the fridge this morning in a desperate search for breakfast I came across two forgotten tubs of Ricotta cheese lurking in the back. It seems I'd bought them a while back and totally forgotten they were there... oops! They were about to expire (today! double oops!) So I had some quick thinking to do. I hate wasting food, especially delicious food like Ricotta. Since Mr. Grad started working I don't care to prepare lunch for just one person particularly so pasta was out, even though I have some wonderful recipes for Ricotta pasta it was just not a pasta day! But cake? It's always a cake day! You can make Ricotta cake right?

Google to the rescue! Turns out you can! Though none of them seemed to tickle my fancy, so I spent way too long searching for recipes. Ina Garten's Lemon Yogurt Cake looked just the thing! Only I decided to use Ricotta instead of yogurt and Olive Oil instead of vegetable oil. I got into using Olive Oil in cakes rather than vegetable oil after spending the summer with Mr. Grad's parents in Italy, yes Mr. Grad is Italian! So the whole Lemon, Ricotta, Olive Oil is also a delightfully Italian combination. They aren't big on butter or vegetable oil in Italy so I had to get creative! Carrot cake made with olive oil? delicious! Lemon Olive Oil cake? Awesome! And not just olive oil but Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which I know many baker's balk at for its strong flavour, but done right it really adds another depth to the cake.

So Ina's recipe, I took a look at it and changed it. 200g of sugar is way too much, so I reduced it down to 150g for the first try. Ricotta instead of Yogurt and EVOO instead of Vegetable oil. I also added in a tsp of Lemon Extract to boost the flavour a bit, after all the Ricotta and EVOO don't need to overpower the Lemon. The result was such a moist and tangy cake, really really delicious! Mr Grad called it 'a taste of home' good praise indeed me thinks!

For the second cake (hey I did have TWO tubs!) I chucked in a handful of blueberries too because blueberries and lemon are just a divine combination. I also reduced the sugar further to 100g as the blueberries add their own sweetness. Too much sweetness can really kill a cake.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Hello! Sit down, have some cupcakes won't you?

I guess this is Hello!

This is, obviously, my first post here so perhaps introductions are in order no?

I'll keep it brief don't worry because I have a delicious cupcake recipe to share with you guys as a welcome.

So, I am Shen. I am 27 and a PhD student studying early modern History, so 1500-1700 (give or take a few years!). So I guess that makes me a hard up grad student as unfortunately studying does not bring in the money, at least not during your studies, in fact it tends to take it away from you in vast quantities! So whilst there are vast numbers of bloggers out there writing for students I think most of them focus on undergraduates, people who are just starting out their education career and perhaps need more help learning how to cook. Once you are further along in you studies (and life) a whole new set of challenges comes along. My days as a young, fresh-faced teenager entering into the wide world without a care in the world are far behind me (:() and now I live with my partner (who shall henceforth be known as Mr. Grad) and juggle studying full time with running a household on a limited budget whilst trying to keep things interesting, healthy and fun as well as cheap.

So, yes, that's me!  I am totally new to this whole thing so hopefully I won't bore you too much and we'll have some laughs and good food along the way!

Now, down to the real business... cupcakes!! Who doesn't like a good cupcake (or 5) now and then? I don't think I've met anyone who doesn't go gooey-eyed over cupcakes and I don't think I want to meet them if they exist! Seriously... you don't like cupcakes? What kind of monster are you?? 

Personally I prefer cupcakes over cake! There's something about those delicious bites of cakey goodness with the perfect ratio of mouthwatering icing with endless combination possibilities! They are just so much more versatile than cake! 

I recently made these cupcakes for Mr. Grad to take to work, they got massive thumbs up from his colleagues who devoured them in minutes. I do hope that you enjoy them! Scratch that, I know you will!! I mean... just look at them!! Imagine them with a nice cup of coffee (or tea) with your feet up!