Sunflower Cupcakes for our Anniversary

June 30, 2013

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Hmmm….Talk about laziness. I made these adorable little Sunflower Cupcakes for our anniversary! Yup…our anniversary which is way back in April! April 26th to be exact, and I am just now getting around to posting about it. Oh well, better late than never I suppose and I definitely wanted to share the recipe for these little gems with you. I Love, Love, LOVE cupcakes. I’m sure that comes as no surprize to anyone who has been following my blog for any time now. Indeed I love them so much that when my husband and I were married, 4 years ago now, we decided to forego the traditional wedding cake and have a tower of sunflower cupcakes instead.

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So I thought I’d do up my own version of sunflower cupcakes for this year’s anniversary. Mine looked a bit more rustic than our wedding version. But on the plus side, I did not use fondant at all, but my all time favourite frosting, Swiss Meringue Buttercream. And the center of my cupcake sunflowers was an Oreo cookie!

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Who doesn’t love Oreos?!! If there are some Oreo haters out there, which I simply can’t imagine, but then again folks never cease to amaze me, you could sub out the cookie for a bit of chocolate frosting with some chocolate sprinkles or mini chocolate chips sprinkled over top of it for texture. We were quite pleased with the Oreos. It was like having a cupcake and a cookie all at once, which is a definite win if you ask me.

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Every year we dream about spending our anniversary in some exotic locale. It never seems to work out that way for some reason or another. Though to our credit we did actually manage to get away from home this year. We went off to a lovely little cabin retreat in Fayetteville West Virginia.

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I know I’ve blogged about Fayetteville before, but I just adore the place. It has an abundance of hiking trails with drop dead gorgeous views.

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And although it is a pretty tiny town, it has several top-notch restaurants. I know I’ve mentioned Diogi’s before, which is our all time favourite Mexican Restaurant. Pies and Pints serves up stunning handmade pizzas and plenty of delicious craft beer to wash it down with. And this year we visited the Secret Sandwich Society for the first time. Let me tell you, it completely knocked our socks off! After a long day of hiking we were able to relax out on their breezy deck with some unbelievably tasty sandwiches served up with homemade ketchup and pickles…oh and perhaps a couple or four or so bottles of beer.

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And although we are always sad to leave, we are consoled somewhat by our usual stop by Tudor’s Biscuit World for some ginormous breakfast biscuits on our way out-of-town. That’s right! A veritable WORLD of biscuits. And when I say ginormous, I am not exaggerating. Basically you have a huge biscuit wrapped around hefty portions of egg and sausage with a serving of hash browns thrown on top as well!

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You can hardly get your mouth around this monster! It is a wonder I can get my husband, or puppy, to leave that town at all! (see all of our Fayetteville Photos here)

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But back to my adorable Sunflower Cupcakes. I won’t fib to you, these guys took a bit of work.

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The baking of the cake part was easy and tasted superb. The vanilla bean really shined through. Though I suppose if you are a fan of chocolate cupcakes, you could substitute your favourite recipe in here. The dark colour of a chocolate cupcake base would look a whole lot more like dirt, but I really like vanilla cupcakes and they were for my anniversary, so decided to indulge myself here. It was the decorating of the cupcakes that was a bit time-consuming and fiddly. Let me just say M&M’s are pretty small, as if you weren’t aware of that fact, and getting those lady bug spots on them was really interesting. Not to mention it took me a little bit of practicing with the Wilton tip #352 to get those flower petals done properly.

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A little patience goes a long way here. I’d recommend doing things in an assembly line sort of way. You know, all the lady bug spots, stick all the Oreos on the center of the cakes, then pipe all the sunflower petals on, then perch all of the lady bugs up on top. Get some good tunes queued up and the time will go by pretty fast. That is if you don’t get pastry bag induced carpal tunnel syndrome in your hand by the end of it. But they were so worth it! Not only a visual delight but also really delicious and reminiscent of our wedding day as well. They went along famously with our Veuve, but then what wouldn’t?!! Just perfect for our  4th anniversary! Keep your fingers crossed for us for next year’s travel plans…I’m eyeing St. Petersburg, Russia or maybe Positano, Italy. Any suggestions?

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Sunflower Cupcakes

recipe adapted from: Damn Delicious (for the cupcakes) Runcible Eats (for the frosting)

yield: 21 Cupcakes

Ingredients:

for the cupcakes:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

for the frosting:

  • 5 Large Egg Whites
  • 1 1/2 Cups Sugar
  • 2 Cups (4 sticks) Butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, cool but not cold
  • 1/4 tsp Salt

Directions:

For the cakes:

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Line two 12-cup standard muffin tins with paper liners; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, sour cream and egg whites.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter, sugar and vanilla bean seeds on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Beat in vanilla until well combined. With mixer on low speed, add dry ingredients and sour cream mixture alternately in 3 parts, beginning and ending with dry ingredients, beating just until incorporated.

Scoop the batter evenly into the muffin tray. Place into oven and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until a tester inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

For the frosting:

Now for the frosting. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites and sugar together. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water but do not let the water touch the bottom of the bowl. Heat the mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved and the color is milky white, about 2-3 minutes.

Transfer the egg mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and beat on medium-high speed (start slowly at first) until smooth and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Remove the whisk attachment and replace with the paddle attachment. Add the cubed butter and beat on medium-high speed (start slowly at first) until smooth and fluffy, about 5 minutes. If the buttercream looks like it is breaking, don’t worry, it will eventually come together.

Add the salt and beat for 5 seconds to combine. Add food coloring to frosting until desired shade of yellow is reached. I used Wilton’s Gel food coloring in the Lemon Yellow shade.

Place frosting in piping bag with a Wilton #352 tip attached.

Cupcake Assembly:

Set out 11 Oreo cookies. Carefully pull each cookie apart, like you may have done when you were a kid, taking care not to break either cookie half.

Pick red M&M’s out from bag and set aside. Using chocolate decorator’s frosting pipe on a little head, line down the center of the back and a few spots on either side of the line to turn each M&M into a lady bug. I have also seen this bug decoration done with black food colouring and a small paint brush.

Pipe frosting around the underside edge of cookie half and place in the center of the cupcake. Pipe petals of frosting going from the edge of the cookie out to the edge of the cupcake. Place the petals right next to each other. Once one row of petals is done, add a second row slightly off-set from the first.

Put a little dot of frosting on the underside of each ladybug M&M and stick it on top of each flower.

Enjoy!


Happy 50th Anniversary Mom & Da!

December 6, 2012

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So would you believe me if I told you I had caught yet another vile cold straight from the pit of Hell? I must admit, I almost don’t believe me, but right after I posted my last blog about how sick I’d been, Wham-O…I was afflicted with yet some new virus. Luckily I was able to kick that one sufficiently to make it to my Mom and Da’s big day. Back in 1962 they got hitched! 50 years together! You don’t hear of that much any more these days.

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For the celebration, my self, my brother, sister-in-law and husband took them to the Inn at Little Washington. Located about 2 hours from Washington DC in the scenic little town of Washington, Virginia, The Inn is a 5 star restaurant which is ranked as one of the Top 10 Restaurants in the World. I’ve been hearing amazing things about it as long for as I’ve lived around here and always wanted to go, so I was very happy we could take our parents here to commemorate this special occasion.

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The Inn At Little Washington

Though I must admit, with all the rave reviews folks were giving the place, I was a bit nervous it might not live up to all of the hype. As it turns out, there wasn’t any need for me to worry whatsoever. The Inn not only met, but quite simply exceeded all of my expectations. The entire staff from the valets on were warm, friendly and made you feel welcome.

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The whole gang at the Inn

The service was incredible! It was as if you were dining in the finest French establishment, but without any stuffy attitude or pretension. There was a wonderful attention to detail. We were all quite pleased to see “Happy Anniversary to Russell and Joan” printed across the top of our menus. The decor was romantic and whimsical. Oh, and let me tell you about the food. Phenomenal! Without a doubt it was the best meal I’ve ever had! Chef Patrick O’Connell is amazing. His focus on using locally grown and organic ingredients and long predates the recent farm to table movement. He is so proud of all of the neighbouring farms from which he sources the outstanding ingredients that he features in his superb dishes that he notes them on the menu. Chef O’Connell’s creations not only look spectacular but you just can’t believe how incredible they taste. After eating our first amuse bouche, which was pork belly, my husband, who grew up in Southern Virginia said, “I’ve eaten a lot of pork belly in my life, but none of it can compare to that! It’s almost as if it were a different animal!”

Pork Belly Amuse Bouche

Pork Belly Amuse Bouche

Our second amuse bouche was called a Shot of Liquid Autumn. It was a shot of butternut squash and apple soup served with a Gruyère puff pastry.

Liquid Autumn

Liquid Autumn

Unbelievable! It really was like drinking in Fall. I could go on and on about this sublime dining experience! But I will simply show you the pictures of these exquisite dishes and tell you that the taste of each decadent offering far exceeded anything you can imagine.

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Selection of delicious breads and a delightful amuse bouche

First Course: Lemon-Lime Lobster Largesse -Chilled Maine Lobster with Caramelized Endive and Citrus-Sake Gelee

First Course: Lemon-Lime Lobster Largesse-Chilled Maine Lobster with Caramelized Endive and Citrus-Sake Gelee

First Course: Carpaccio of Herb Crusted Baby Lamb with Caesar Salad Ice Cream

First Course: Carpaccio of Herb Crusted Baby Lamb with Caesar Salad Ice Cream

Second Course: Nantucket Bay Scallops Sauteed with Curried Cauliflower, Sultanas and Garlic Chips

Second Course: Nantucket Bay Scallops sautéed with Curried Cauliflower, Sultanas and Garlic Chips

Second Course: Aged Gouda Macaroni and Cheese with Virginia Country Ham

Second Course: Aged Gouda Macaroni and Cheese with Virginia Country Ham

Second Course: Grilled Breast of young Pigeon Marinated in Blueberry Vinegar on a Zucchini Crepe

Second Course: Grilled Breast of young Pigeon Marinated in Blueberry Vinegar on a Zucchini Crepe

Main course: Blackened Tenderloin of Beef with Bone Marrow Custard, Caramelized Fennel and Fennel Puree

Main course: Blackened Tenderloin of Beef with Bone Marrow Custard, Caramelized Fennel and Fennel Puree

Main Course: Pan Roasted Maine Lobster with Tomato Butter, Garden Spinach and Garlic Custard

Main Course: Pan Roasted Maine Lobster with Tomato Butter, Garden Spinach and Garlic Custard

Main Course: Juniper Crusted Venison Loin on a Tangle of Tart Greens with Caramelized Endive and Mustard Spatzle

Main Course: Juniper Crusted Venison Loin on a Tangle of Tart Greens with Caramelized Endive and Mustard Spatzle

Desserts: Butter Pecan Ice Cream Sandwich

Desserts: Butter Pecan Ice Cream Sandwich

Desserts: Lemon Curd Tart

Desserts: Lemon Curd Tart

Although this indulgent meal was a bit of a splurge, it was worth every penny and was the perfect way to celebrate a 50th Anniversary!

The Happy Couple!

The Happy Couple!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention The Middleton Inn, as it was a big part of what made this Anniversary celebration so special. When we made our dinner reservations, there were no rooms available at the Inn. (Seems apropos around Christmas, no?) Luckily I knew of a beautiful B&B, The Middleton Inn, which is just a stone’s throw away from The Inn at Little Washington.

Middleton Inn

Middleton Inn

They had rooms available, so my Mom and Dad and Brother and Sister-in-Law all stayed in the Main House. My husband and I stayed in the cozy Guest Cottage and were thus able to bring our dog along with us.

The Guest Cottage

The Guest Cottage

Our stay in this historic, elegant country Inn was utterly fantastic! The house sits up on a hill and commands gorgeous views of the Shenandoah Mountains.

View from the front porch

View from the front porch

The proprietor, Mary Ann, was very warm and friendly and  just embodied hospitality. She truly went above and beyond to make this weekend special for us. My parents found a complementary bottle of chilled Champagne awaiting them when they checked in to their room.

Cheers!

Cheers!

Because our dinner reservations were earlier, she set out some complementary wine and cheese for us to enjoy a bit ahead of the usual schedule. And she even went as far as to leave a little gift package for our pup, complete with two chew toys and bag of  chicken griller treats!

Gimlet guarding one of his new toys

Gimlet guarding one of his new toys

And then there was breakfast. After our indulgence at the Inn the night before, you’d think it would take a lot to get our attention. Well, that is just what we got! Breakfast was just delicious.  Light and fluffy Cherry Scones right out of the oven, fresh fruit and an amazing Italian Eggs Benedict.

The breakfast crowd

The breakfast crowd

A stellar breakfast!

A stellar breakfast!

Further culinary bliss in a weekend that already held so much! What can I say, if you’ve never considered splashing out at the Inn at Little Washington, start making plans. If you have, but haven’t acted yet, do so NOW! Life is too short. Everyone should experience this culinary nirvana at least once! And Happy 50th Anniversary to my wonderful parents! May they see many more!

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One Year Ago Today…..

April 26, 2010

I now pronounce you....

One year ago today, at Cloghan Castle in Kilcreest, County Galway, Republic of Ireland, Jay and I were married! Thanks so much to all of our family and friends who traveled over for the festivities. We have such wonderful memories and hope everyone else does as well. Everything just went perfectly (thanks to our wedding planner-Kate Deegan, Bernie and Joe with Cloghan Castle, Father Joseph Ryan, Mike Mulcaire, and many more) It rained on that day and I hear there is a chance it will rain today in Galway (imagine that….rain in Ireland ) It certainly didn’t dampen our spirits in the least.

Rainy Wedding Day

Mr. and Mrs. Ridgeway

So, today is our first anniversary, which I believe entitles us to a gift of “paper” according to all of those anniversary gift lists. I think that most likely means a card, though I did pause to ponder whether money could be considered paper….Hmmm…… Jay and I have agreed to forego getting presents for each other and to instead pick out something together for both of us. Thomas Moser catalogues are in heavy rotation here recently. We LOVE nearly all of his stuff, but it is a bit of an investment. No decisions made by us so far on that front.

Thomas Moser Vita Bed

Kinesis Chair

So, what are we going to do to celebrate? We had really hoped to be back in Ireland today at the Ice House Hotel, where we spent our honeymoon. To this day it is my favourite hotel (with the Standard in NYC  holding second place).We only spent three nights there and it wasn’t nearly enough time. The rooms are stunning, the food  both in the restaurant and the bar is stellar, the spa so amazingly luxurious and customer service is impeccable.

Ice House Bedroom

Soaking Tub

View from Suite

Unfortunately, circumstances conspired against us-Mistletoe cat is sick and can’t be left for over a day, further complications become obvious when one reads our previous post-DC Renovation 2- For these reasons, Jay and I are hoping to postpone our anniversary trip for now and try to take a big vacation in September-most likely to Ireland (Ice House here we come!!!) but the Amalfi Coast in Italy is also receiving quite a bit of attention lately. Jay and I did have a lot of fun the other day looking for castles/ruins to buy in Ireland. I would love to be able to spend 1/2 the year there and 1/2 the year here. I did find that there is a castle for sale, Strongfort Castle,  just a short distance away from Cloghan Castle, where we were married, that was built by the same family, The Burkes, in the 1400′s.

Strongfort Castle

We also found an old monastery near Ballinlough, County Roscommon…….

The Old Monastery

and if we win the lottery, there is Seamark in Glandore, County Cork!

Seamark Estate

Hey, a little daydreaming never hurt anyone. I’ll have to write another whole blog on cool properties in Ireland that I’ve drooled over. So, back to the original topic-how will we spend our 1st Anniversary? Well, we know there will be champagne-Veuve Clicquot to be specific-as if there were any other, and cupcakes. We might venture out for a nice dinner, though have not decided where we will go. We did manage to drag that top bit of our wedding cake all around Ireland with us and back to Virginia. It has been residing in the freezer since, until I took it out to thaw yesterday. From what I understand, we’re to eat a piece of it on our first anniversary. I’m not sure why. I think it is supposed to bestow luck. Perhaps it is a Darwinesque-survival of the fittest- test. I’ll have to let you know how that goes. Lets just say I’m glad we’ll have some cupcakes around as a back up!

Pristine Cake-One Year Ago

The state of the cake today. Gimlet is willing to give it a go!

As we were reminiscing about the day and looking over all of the great photos, it occurred to me that although I had promised in blogs past to post the photos from the professional photographer, Mike Mulcaire, I never got around to it. Mike is such a fantastic photographer, it was hard to choose from the literally hundreds of photos he sent along to us. Nevertheless, along with the few pics I’ve included in this blog, you can check out the rest of our favourite photos that he took on my gallery.

I guess we’ve come to the conclusion that we are so incredibly lucky. We not only had a wonderful wedding but have also had a fantastic first year of  our marriage now, finding us both happier than we’ve ever been. We are looking forward to many more years together. Well, gotta go now….there is champagne to be had!

Cheers!


La Feile Padraig Shona Dhuit! (a little belated….)

March 19, 2010

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! No, my cats didn’t go wild on my computer keyboard-the title of this blog is “Happy St. Patrick’s Day” written in Irish. March 17th is also the date that Jay and I were legally married here in the States. We had our actual wedding celebration in Ireland on April 26th, which is the date on which we’ll be celebrating our anniversary. Not that we didn’t acknowledge March 17th at all…there were some cupcakes, champagne, etc. And on March 18th we got to travel up to New York and stay at my favourite hotel….The Standard! Jay’s presence was earnestly requested by his employers for a meeting. Since it was St. Patrick’s Day the previous day, almost all of the rooms were taken at The Standard except the more expensive ones. The powers that be wanted him there so much that they were not daunted by the price (well maybe a little bit…)  so we got to stay in a Liberty King Corner Suite!

Yippee! It was, as usual, awesome but this time had an even better view! The huge window literally wrapped around the room.

 

The shower, always interesting there, had a huge window in it. Hmmm…I guess the showers at The Standard are interesting for their neighbours as well!

 

 

While Jay was off at the meeting, I went off exploring. I ended up in the Soho/Nolito neighbourhoods. It was quite a long walk but it was a gorgeous day and I got to browse through a bunch of cool boutiques along the way. I was also able to locate the John Fluevog Shoe store. Dangerous! Jay and I both love Fluevog shoes and already own several pairs. Jay became the proud, and somewhat surprized owner of one more pair that I picked out for him that day.

That evening we went out to dinner at Molé, a Mexican restaurant there in the Meatpacking District. Sooo….the restaurant looked great-cute tiles and punched tin lanterns-the food was very, very good-second only to my favorite Mexican restaurant-Diogi’s (strangely enough in Fayetteville, WV). However, with all that being said, it wasn’t a pleasant dining experience. The place was tiny to begin with and was super crowded! I mean, think of the most crowded place you’ve ever been squished into and then double the number of people around you. It wasn’t just crowded while we were waiting for a table, but when they actually seated us, our table was literally an inch(if that) from the tables on either side. In order for me to take the inside seat, they had to pull the table out and I had to squeeze by the other diners, nearly sweeping their drinks away in the process. Poor Jay was on the outside, where every single waiter/busboy that scuttled by bumped into his back along their way. I’m not too fond of people in general and was near to a full blown panic attack through the whole meal. I could not wait to get out of there. Our waiter, who I’m pretty sure was Billy Corgan from the Smashing Pumpkins, was overworked and inattentive. Really a shame because the food really was great. Apparently this is a problem in many New York City restaurants. Overall it was a great trip and I’m already planning our next visit!

 

Trippy shower view


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