new year's eve - super (sweet) size edition

My father always said that as you get older the years go by faster – he was right! It’s hard to believe another year is coming to a close. Ups, downs, challenges and victories, it’s been a whirlwind. And as we’ve done for the past few years, a group of friends will get together with some yummy treats, a few alcoholic beverages and some memories to share (and laugh about).

So you can imagine my delight when the party’s theme – finger foods – was announced. What better finger food than a cupcake! And I knew just which two to whip up in celebration of the beginning of a new year and the many mysteries and hopes it holds.

Lasagna cupcakes
I’ve mentioned my nonna – and her impeccable kitchen skills – in a few blogs over the past year. And although her pasta was to die for, her lasagna reigned supreme. Served up for special occasions, like New Year’s, it was a melt-in-your mouth concoction of cheese, sauce and fresh pasta noodles. Knowing I could never duplicate this appetizing work of art, I did, however, want to pay homage to this much-missed tradition with Lasagna Cupcakes.

I started with the lasagna trifecta…Boiling the lasagna noodles…

Browning the ground beef, and…

Cooking the homemade sauce (i.e. adding the necessary oregano, pepper and salt, to taste).

Once the noodles were ready (very al dente) I cut each one into four pieces, lining each cupcake well with two. Then came a layer of beef, ricotta cheese tomato sauce and parmesan cheese.

I squeezed all the ingredients as snug as a bug in order to fit another layer on top, this time including mozzarella for the perfect melt.

The final outcome was a little messier than originally planned, but I’m pretty sure they’ll be a perfect addition to the main dish apps course offered at tonight’s New Year’s bash.

Peach Bellini cupcakes
There’s nothing like a little girl’s night. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to spend a $10 cover charge for $7.50 drinks while creepers try to hit on you, despite the unveiling of that sparkler on your married finger. In fact, it’s even better to celebrate some time with the girls when there are a few apps – and a few beverages – present.

In honour of Girl's Nights everywhere, I thought this Peach Bellini cupcake would be the fitting end to one year – and a great way to welcome a new one.

The first part of this cupcake experiment was heading out to the liquor store to pick up the required champagne and peach schnapps. Now I admit, I’m not much of a drinker. In fact, I often end up wandering aimlessly through the aisles of wine, spirits and liquers to find exactly what I’m looking for – not to mention I usually end up feeling like a lush every time I walk out of the LCBO carrying those brown paper bags.

No matter… when the time came to put everything together it was a lot simpler than I thought it would be. Following this fabulous recipe, I mixed the dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately, with the champagne and peach schnapps mixture as the alternator. 

The final ingredient was a fresh peach diced into little cubes.

The end result, according to my taste-testing husband, was that the champagne-peach schnapps mixture was flavourful, but not overpowering. Topping each one off with the peach bellini buttercream added that extra kick – and will be the perfect way to celebrate the big ball drop at midnight.

Here’s wishing you a new year filled with endless possibilities, the opportunity to make your dreams come true and, most important, health and happiness.

it's not the nog in your egg, it's the egg in your nog

“Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?”
~ Clark Griswald, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

With Christmas Eve just one sleep away, we all know what’s coming – way too much time with friends we like and family we’re kind of stuck with. What to do? Enjoy a glass of egg nog – or two – of course! Not only a tasty festive treat, the addition of a little rum somehow manages to numb any anxiety to ensure your Christmas celebrations are merry and bright.

With a weeklong celebration of all things Christmas on the horizon, I whipped up a batch of chocolate cupcakes and topped each one with egg nog icing. 

A delightful Christmas treat, there was no need to add a kick of rum to warm our insides. After all, we’re Italian – we have sambuca for that!

Here’s wishing you a warm and happy holiday!

cranberries for the construction crew

If there’s one thing you can find on most Christmas tables, it’s cranberry sauce. Whether whole berries or jelly, it’s a holiday staple… at least in my family. It started with my grandmother who, as legend has it, would eat a whole can by herself. My father proudly carries on the tradition every year, with that mound of red jelly sitting proudly by on the table to his right… or left… it really doesn’t matter, as long as it’s within reach.

I thought with Christmas a mere week away, it would be best to honour this tradition – and possibly create a new one – with a white-chocolate cranberry cupcake topped with white chocolate buttercream.

It’s been a while since I’ve baked with actual fresh fruit, so it was nice a change. With a combo of brown sugar, orange zest and peel in the batter, the smell was heavenly. Although I must admit I was worried about working with cranberries. 

As well, it took a few extra steps working with white chocolate, as it had to be melted for the buttercream and I decided on using white chocolate chips for the batter, to get the desired outcome. And since I don’t eat them myself, I had to rely on others to be my taste buds and give their honest opinion about whether it was a holiday hit – or a flaming flop.

I’m happy to report that, of all the cupcakes my husband brought to his Christmas party – and consisting mostly of construction workers – these ones were the first to go. 

Proving once again that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach - especially at Christmastime!

i want candy... canes!

For most people, even though it continues to be the wonderful time of the year, Christmas sure has changed from when I was a kid. Back in the day, you waited in a lineup wearing a heavy winter coat, wiping the sweat from your brow and going over your Christmas list twice so you’d be ready when it was your turn to come face-to-face with the big guy, the father of all things merry – Santa! Overcome with a nervous excitement when he called your name (i.e. “Next!”) you’d march over to where he sat – on his throne in all his glory – with purpose… or maybe it was just to get your hands on that little candy cane he’d offer at the end of your visit.

Did you have to make an appointment? No! Put your name on a waiting list? No! Did your visit consist of being read a story by Santa or being asked (horror upon horrors) to Skype him? No! Were your parents suspicious about an old, bearded man (stranger, if you will) holding out candy so you would sit on his knee? No! Although in retrospect, that last one does seem a bit dicey.

No matter… for this week’s cupcake I decided to pay homage to those wonderful holiday memories of divulging your Christmas wishes to a kind ear in exchange for a candy cane with chocolate candy cane cupcakes.

Starting with my chocolate cupcake as a base, I found a great recipe for a candy cane buttercream. I mean, how can you go wrong when you combine those two? The finishing touch, of course, was topping each one with crushed candy cane.

May I interest you in a walk down candy cane lane?
“Run, run as fast as you can,
You can’t catch me – I’m the gingerbread man!”

Ask anyone who knows – and loves – me and they’ll tell you I’m a picky eater. I consume very few veggies, almost no fish, lots of tomato sauce (but no actual tomatoes) and I love me some carbs. And although I sometimes divulge in a sweet treat here or there, I’m careful as to what I choose… it’s almost like the treat chooses me, instead of the other way around. Let me explain…

A few years ago I was at a friend’s Halloween Party and she served the cutest little chocolate mice. Everything on them was edible (chocolate for the body, black licorice for the tail, sprinkles for the eyes) and yet I couldn’t bring myself to eat one. I felt guilty about the prospect of either ripping off his tail or biting off his head.

Although I used to take pleasure in biting off an Easter bunny’s ears or picking out those sugary little eyes of his, I can’t bring myself to do it anymore. 

Blame it on the aging process or just a growing empathy for all sweet things alive (I blame those darn Pixar movies where birds can talk and lizards can play a guitar).

So for this week’s cupcake creation, I decided that my Martha Stewart-inspired gingerbread cupcakes would have to do without the little gingerbread men cutouts on top, as suggested in the recipe. All I could picture was The Gingerbread Man in Shrek lying on that cool baking sheet, his little legs bitten off <shudder>.

Instead, I decided to stick with the original recipe and hopefully come up with a decorating alternative. It was the first time I’ve baked with ginger and molasses, so I was curious. Upon opening the bag of ginger, which to me resembled ground almond, the strong smell hit my nose instantly. The only way to describe it was like having my nose hairs doing the quick step. 

As for the molasses, it was pretty gooey and darker than I pictured... and didn't help make the cupcake appetizing, to be honest. The batter smelled like a pumpkin cupcake recipe that was a bit off.

While stirring and scooping, I crossed my fingers (mentally, as they were busy stirring and scooping) that this wouldn't be my first epic fail baking experience. In fact, I couldn't help but try one of these little monsters as soon as the popped out of the oven, which I rarely do. But I didn't want to chance a raised eyebrow (or gag reflex) from my cupcake tasters. I'm happy to report, they were surprisingly delicious - and will definitely be an addition to my recipe stockpile.

The only thing left is a message for you, little gingerbread man. As someone once said about another famous fictional character: "That boy's a runnin' fool!" Be free!

the mo-rning after

Well it’s that time of year, when bro’s everywhere try to answer that difficult question – to shave or not to shave. What might have seemed like a ridiculous endeavour at first for some, many bro's (from what I’ve heard) actually grow quite fond of their bushy upper lip look.

As you know, this year we decided to donate a percentage of all proceeds raised from these exclusive Movember cupcakes to Movember Canada.

I’m pleased to share that, thanks to the support of some mo-tastic supporters, we raised $102 in support of this very worthy cause. That’s just over 125 cupcakes!