February might be the bleakest month of the year. Unless you’re in Vancouver. I left St. John’s a week ago to go on tour and while I bask in the sun and buy marinated mini bocconcini at the Granville Island Market, I’m missing what is, by all accounts, the shittiest week of weather to have hit Newfoundland so far this year. I don’t know how long of a drive it was to actually get the athletes to the snow during the winter Olympics, but I still get confused when I see people on city buses with snowboards.
I’ve been feeling guilty for letting myself get behind on the blog this month because I know peace in the Middle East totally depends on it. I was thinking how embarrassing it would be to post Christmas recipes in early February until “The White Ninja” hit St. John’s last week and it occurred to me just how awesome my tardiness is. I would bring back Christmas to the masses, remind people of the booze, food and twinkling lights of a few short weeks ago. January is all about taking a breath and starting again and deciding that YES!! This is the year you will get in shape and look good in front of your ex and learn to speak a new language and trek the Himalayas. And if it all doesn’t happen by January 15th, you throw in the towel, put on soft pants and eat nachos until Lent rolls around. I think February should be the new December. I think people should keep the lights up til March, possibly April. Depriving yourself of the foods you hold near and dear to your heart in February is tantamount to sticking your tongue on a cold piece of freezing metal. Both are pretty stupid.
Two new recipes for the dwindling weeks of 2011. More Paula Deen cupcakes and Nan’s Christmas shortbread recipe that’s been in the family for years that I shamefully tried for the first time in December. When I called her to get the recipe (she’s on speed-dial next to Paula Deen) she told me it comes from Mila Mulroney…whether that means she read about it somewhere or Mila gave her the recipe over a cup of tea, I’m not sure. But the latter certainly wouldn’t surprise me.
Red Velvet Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean-Cream Cheese Frosting
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 tsp distilled white vinegar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 (1 oz) bottle red food colouring
Preheat the oven to 350F. Line 2 (12-cup) muffin pans with paper liners. In a large bowl, beat butter, sugar and vanilla at medium speed with a mixer until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vinegar. In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Add to butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, beating just until combined after each addition. Stir in sour cream and food colouring. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling two thirds full. Bake for 16 to 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in centre comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pans, and cool completely on wire racks. Spread or pipe frosting over cupcakes. Garnish with cake crumbs, if desired. Store cupcakes, covered, in refrigerator up to 3 days.
For the frosting:
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped, seeds reserved
7 cups confectioners’ sugar
In a large bowl, beat butter, cream cheese, vanilla extract and vanilla bean seeds at medium speed with a mixer until creamy. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar, beating until smooth (I reduced confectioners’ sugar to 6 cups and the frosting was plenty sweet…that Paula is one wild and crazy gal).
Paula Deen’s Holiday Baking, 2011 Special Collector’s Issue
I made these for the Fourth Annual Hobbit House Christmas Party. Hobbit is home to the little red kitchen and it’s the one magical night of the year when fifty-plus people can squeeze themselves into 792 square feet of fun. You’ll get over two dozen if you go with regulation-size muffin tins. In keeping with the festivities in the tiniest kitchen in St. John’s I made them mini and managed to get six and a half dozen (baking spray worked fine instead of papers and oven time was reduced to about ten minutes). If you’re expecting over fifty guests this will work out beautifully. Unless your crowd’s like my crowd in which case most people will eat three or four and leave crumbs and a bowl of leftover icing for the latecomers. Everyone loves red velvet cupcakes, even people who have a thing about food colouring. Sometimes red things just taste better, especially at Christmas and especially in a little red kitchen.
1 cup butter
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
Preheat oven to 350F. Beat for 10 minutes with handmixer. Top with a small piece of maraschino cherry. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until just golden around the edges. Best if eaten within a couple of days.
These cookies make me understand why kids sit in sandboxes and eat the stuff. If the golden sand of a Tahitian beach was a cookie, this would be it, kids. Real easy to make, just be sure to beat them for the full ten minutes and take them out of the oven when they’re barely golden. So light and fluffy and melt-in-your-mouth you’ll forget you’re eating anything at all and you’ll eat six just to remind yourself. Nan says they’re best the day you make them, and she knows best. Don’t push it more than three or you’ll lose that crispy-melty-buttery sort of feel.
February should be for belated Christmas parties. String up some lights, make some sweets and see how many people you can fit in your kitchen. Put on your soft pants and start fresh in March when there’s a little bit more light in the day. You need to store your energy for that Himalayan trek you’re planning anyway.