28 June 2011

Beautiful Dreams

Last week on Twitter someone posted a link to an article about 66 Beautiful Towns and Small Cities in Europe (don't ask why 66--I have no idea). Anyone who knows me knows I have a slight obsession with Europe. The history, the art, the ancient buildings, the culture all draw me in. On my more fanciful days I talk about moving there (the country always changes but currently the Benelux region is the front runner). I don't know that I ever really could move to Europe full time but it's fun to think about.

I thought I'd share a few of my favourites from the list. These are just the places I find particularly lovely and could see myself living in. Who knows--maybe someday I will.

I swear, nobody does cozy villages like the Brits:

Ambleside, England

Painswick, England

Salisbury, England

Winchester, England

York, England

Although the French come pretty close...

Bayeux, France

Collioure, France

Colmar, France

Eze, France

I'd love to live by the water:

Bern, Switzerland

Bled, Slovenia

Cinque Terre, Italy

Gamla Stan (Stockholm Old Town), Sweden

Heidelberg, Germany

Mykonos, Greece

Portofino, Italy

Trogir, Croatia

I'm also a fan of mountains:

Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Salzberg, Austria

Part of why the Benelux countries appeal to me:

Bruges, Belgium

Delft, Netherlands

Dinant, Belgium

Haarlem, Netherlands

Luxembourg, Luxembourg

Or maybe I should reconsider Eastern Europe:

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Eger, Hungary

Kalovy Vary, Czech Republic

Krakow Old Town, Poland

Sighisoara, Romania

Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

I love this kind of architecture and it just doesn't exist in Canada:

Fribourg, Switzerland

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

Toledo, Spain

Zwickau, Germany

I'm sure there are plenty more that never even made it to the list (I could be biased but I think Sparta, Greece is highly underrated). So many options...that's the real reason I may never be able to settle in just one.

You can see the rest of the towns and read the article that inspired this post here.

20 June 2011

Espresso Yourself

Happy Summer Solstice! This is the longest day of the year, when the sun is at its peak. Today is a day to relax outdoors, bask in the sun, and generally enjoy life. And life, I think, is best enjoyed with sweet treats. This espresso granita is easy to make and perfect for a hot, sunny day. It might even make you forget that the days are getting shorter from here on out...

(Click photos to enlarge)

You don't need much to make this:

Bless the person who invented instant espresso:

A delicious brew...

...+ a scoop of sugar:

Cooling the sweetened coffee in an ice bath. You can't tell because they melted too quickly but my ice "cubes" are actually the faces of Sesame Street monsters!

The cooled mixture is poured into a glass pan. It's unexpectedly pretty:

The trick to granita is to mix and scrape the ice every half hour or so to keep the ice crystals nice and small (otherwise you'd have a pan of solid ice). This is what it looks like after 45 minutes in the freezer:

After 1 1/4 hours:

After 1 3/4 hours:

After 2 1/4 hours:

After 2 3/4 hours:

At 3 1/4 hours it's done!

It looks icy but the texture is just right:

Starting to whip the cream:

Whipped cream, ready to go:

Delicious! (I'm just sad the pretty turquoise colour of the bowl didn't come out in the photos.)

Espresso Granita

Serves 4

[My notes/changes in brackets]
  • 1/2 cup finely ground espresso [or 2 cups brewed espresso. Because I used instant I ended up using 6 tbs of instant espresso mixed in 2 cups boiling water.]
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • [I happened to have chocolate-covered coffee beans on hand so I decided to use them as a garnish]
Reserving 1 teaspoon ground espresso for garnish [I skipped this and just used the chocolate-covered beans], brew 2 cups of espresso. Add sugar to the hot espresso, and stir to dissolve.

Prepare an ice bath. Place espresso mixture in a heat-proof glass bowl, and set in the ice bath, stirring until mixture becomes very cold.

Transfer espresso mixture to a 9-by-13-inch Pyrex baking dish [a heavy glass dish is fine--it doesn't need to be Pyrex], and place in freezer. Let stand until ice crystals start to form around the edges, about 45 minutes. Remove dish from freezer. Using the tines of a fork, stir the ice crystals into the center. Return dish to freezer. Stir the ice crystals every 30 minutes until all the liquid has frozen into soft, fine crystals, about 2 hours.

Place whipping cream in a chilled bowl, and whip until soft peaks form. Divide granita among four glasses or serving bowls. Top each with a dollop of whipped cream, and sprinkle remaining teaspoon ground espresso over tops [or top with a few chocolate-covered espresso beans]. Serve immediately.

Original Recipe here.

My Verdict

Easy peasy. Even though you have to keep an eye on it for a few hours you can do other things while it sits in the freezer. Just make sure you remember to check in every 1/2 hour to stir the ice. As for the flavour, this is a perfect dessert for anyone who loves sweet iced coffee (represent!) It's also a hit with those who generally like coffee and/or icy treats. Obviously coffee haters should not apply. A word to the wise: don't skip the whipped cream! The coffee flavour is overwhelming without it. Also, don't be tempted to sweeten the whipped cream; the granita is sweet enough on its own, although I think it would be great with cookies on the side. I'll definitely be making this again.

Want to see what else I've made for my 2011 baking project?

January: Double-Chocolate Brownies
February: Angel Food Cake with Raspberry Sauce
March: Chewy Chocolate-Gingerbread Cookies
April: Raspberry-Swirl Cheesecake
June: Cake Doughnuts

Photos by Domicile