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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What's Baking?: Vanilla Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting

Happy Birthday to my (not so little) niece Arianna! She's the big 3 today! I was able to be with her for her birthday so we celebrated in style. I asked her what her favorite flavored cake was and she said "banilla". Her favorite color today is purple. While my sister-in-law and I snuck away to TJ Maxx, she spotted these uber cute zoo animal toppers. Arianna loves animals. She was so excited about her cupcake surprise!

Vanilla Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting
makes 12 cupcakes

Cupcakes:
1/2 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 c. sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large lemon, zested
1 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees & line muffin tin or spray with non-stick cooking spray. Cream butter & sugar until light & fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla extract & lemon zest.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder & salt. With mixer on low, alternately add flour mixture & milk (in 3 additions, beginning and ending with flour). Scrape down the sides of the bowl & mix well.

Fill cupcakes and bake for 18-20 minutes or until tops are nicely browned. Remove from the oven and cool completely before frosting.

Frosting:
1/2 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. confectioner's sugar, sifted
2 Tbsp. milk
food coloring (optional)

In an electric mixer, cream butter until it is smooth. Add vanilla extract. On low speed, gradually beat in sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add milk & beat on high until the frosting is light & fluffy (3-4 minutes). Add more milk & sugar if needed. Tint with food coloring and mix well. Frost cupcakes.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Travels: Greece Day 8-(Akrotori, Baxes, Fira) Santorini

It was another beautiful day in Santorini. We were supposed to do the Oia to Fira caldera walk today. We walked for a bit. Here's the other side of Oia.

Eventually my travel companion gave up so we hopped on the bus to Fira. We walked around Fira for a little bit. We found an internet cafe and took some time to check our email and catch up with family and friends back home.

After that, we hopped on a bus for Akrotiri (on the southern side of Santorini). The bus ride cost 1.70 euro. The Ancient Akrotiri site was closed to visitors. We were going to check out the beaches. We had already been to a black sand beach in Kamari. There were also red and white sand beaches to check out.

The Akrotiri stop was near a small rocky beach. We weren't sure which way to go.
Around the corner, we noticed boats and about 3 or 4 restaurants. Food was good, we walked down and browsed the menus.
We decided on this little restaurant. Cave Stolidas had a nice menu who's prices seemed reasonable. The decor was also charming. Along the porch were signs with their specialties and the recipes to make them.

We decided to split a bunch of dishes since things were pretty cheap here. We started with the Santorini salad (4.50 euro) with tomato, cucumber, feta, onion, capers, green bell peppers & caper leaves. I was really loving the Santorini tomatoes and the caper leaves. Note to self to bring both of those home!

We tried the Tomato Balls "Santorini" (2.90 euro), which were like tomato "cakes". They were made into patties and deep fried. They were so yummy!
Fava "Santorini" (2.50 euro) was another specialty of the island. It was like hummus but made with fava or yellow split peas. I worked around the onions but it was delicious with the fresh bread they brought out.

The last dish we tried was Shrimps Saganaki (10.50 euro). They were whole shrimps cooked in tomato sauce, onions and cheese. It was wonderful! Yummo!

After lunch, we were stuffed. So much food but it was all delicious! We caught one of the small fishing boats to the red beach and white beach. It cost 5 euro roundtrip.



Red beach:


White beach:


After that, we headed back to Oia. We got off at the Finikia stop, near Baxes. It is on the outskirts of Oia in Northern Santorini. We were looking for Domaine Sigalas. We saw this sign pointing us towards the sea.

We walked down the road. It seemed to go on forever. Where could this winery be?

Along the way, we passed grape vines along the sides of the road. This is how they grow grapes in Santorini. Because Santorini gets very strong winds in the spring, grape vines are cultivated in low basket shaped crowns. These baskets protect the fragile vines from the strong winds.
I almost asked this man for a ride down to the winery as it seemed like we were walking forever!

Down and down we went. We were hoping, just hoping, that we were going in the right direction.

Finally, I spotted it!! Woo hoo! Domaine Sigalas!
Here's a shot of some of their vines.

We were here for the wine tasting. The staff was very informative. They gave good information about the region, what grapes were common, how the wine was produced and barreled and offered us a menu. They had 3 white wines: 1) Sigalas Asirtiko-Athiri Santorini V.Q.P.R.D - a dry white, 75% Asirtiko/25% Athiri, 2) Sigalas Santorini V.Q.P.R.D. - a dry white, 100% Asirtiko, and 3) Sigalas Barrel Santorini V.Q.P.R.D. - a dry white, 100% Asirtiko. We tasted the Sigalas Santorini and the Sigalas Asirtiko-Athiri Santorini. Both were really good wines but my favorite was the Sigalas Santorini.

They also had 2 red wines: 1) Sigalas Niampelo - dry red, 70% Mandilaria/30% Nemea's Agiorgitiko and 2) Sigalas Mavrotragano - dry red, 100% Mavrotragano. We were only able to try the Sigalas Niampelo which I loved.

Tastes were 1 euro each. They had a nice patio where you could enjoy the views of the vineyards.

After wine tasting, we caught a cab back to Fira. We had reservations at Selene. Selene is set along the cliffs of Fira with beautiful views of the water below. They pride themselves in using local produce.
We were brought a starter of a fava soup while we looked over the menu.

We shared a Santorini Salad (15 euro) with mini Santorini tomatoes, capers & chloro on top of cucumber "spaghetti" and marinated codfish. The salad was amazingly good. The Santorini tomatoes again did not disappoint. They were fresh, sweet and delicious. Chloro is a special type of goat cheese made on Santorini.
Since we had a wonderful experience today with Sigalas wines, we ordered a bottle of the Sigalas Santorini. It was perfect!

For dinner, I decided on the Baked Sea Bass with caper leaves and tomato wrapped in a crepe of fava and green salad (28 euro). The fish was absolutely amazing! The crepe was tasty and the combination of tomato and caper leaves were perfect. My greens was a raw zucchini salad with onions, balsamic vinegar and a dill marinate. It was a fantastic meal!

I should have stopped there but I wanted to try the dessert. I had the baklava with ice cream. It was okay but not that impressive for a fine dining experience.
We left Selene happy and full. The views were amazing. There were still cruise ships in the bay and made for a great night shot.


Cave Stolidas
Akrotiri, Santorini

Domaine Sigalas
Baxes, Oia, Santorini
phone: +30 22860 71644
http://www.sigalas-wine.com/home_en.html

Selene
Fira, Santorini
phone: 22860/22249

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Travels: Greece Day 7-(Oia, Thira, Kamari & Ammoudi) Santorini

I had gotten up a little early this morning. I think I was too excited about being on Santorini. Since it was early, I made coffee and sat out on the deck and watched all the ships arriving. It was such a beautiful and peaceful morning. This the caldera across the way from our rental.

I enjoyed my breakfast while watching the world go by.

Here's the little fishing village of Ammoudi right below us.
After breakfast, we headed out. This was a great shot looking down the stairs at the water and the caldera.
We made a quick stop at the Kastro (fortress) or old castle. There were amazing views of Oia as well as panoramic views of the ocean.




This is the outskirts of Oia where we caught a bus heading for Ancient Thira. We stopped in Fira and transferred to a bus taking us to Kamari and Thira.
We got off in Kamari and walked around the town for a bit. Ancient Thira is located way up on a hill (it looks more like a mountain than a hill!). We stopped at a small ticket counter that was selling rides up to Ancient Thira. It sounded like a good thing since the hike up takes about 1 hour. Since Ancient Akotiri was closed right now, we decided to see Ancient Thira. The tickets were 10 euro for a roundtrip by bus up the hill. Admission into the site is not included (another 2 euro).

Okay, I'm going to be honest. The ride up the hill was scary. It was a very narrow switchback that was also slippery since it was paved with stone. Our driver treated the ride like a race. There were hikers and traffic coming down to contend with. He made me nervous but reassured us that he has been driving the road for 25 years. Like that made me feel any better. Here's a view of the switchback roads from up top.
Once we reached the top, the views were amazing. Ancient Thira is built on a high rocky headland called Mesa Vouna that separates 2 black sand beaches (Kamari & Perissa). The cliffs from Thira drop off into the sea. Here's the view towards Perissa:
And this is Kamari beach below:
We started for the Ancient City. The hike up was along shear drops with amazing views below. The extensive ruins at the site are from many different periods - Roman bahs, Byzantine walls & Hellenistic shops all blend together. The Greeks lived here as early as 9th century BC though man buildings are much later & date from the Hellenistic era (4th c. BC).
These set of 3 rocks are located in the area known as the Temenos. It was founded in the mid 3rd c. BC. Its founder and priest was Artermidoros of Perge and was driven by a dream he had. The open-air sanctuary was chiseled out of the rock by Artemidoros himself: altars, relief decorations & numerous inscriptions, mainly epigrams for he honored Gods and for Artemidoros. The epigrams cover the front side of the rock. Here are 3 of them. Look closely and you may be able to see them. 1) an eagle to honor Zeus, 2) a lion to honor Apollo & 3) a dolphin to honor Poseidon:



Here are some pics of what remains of the city.


This was the Theater of Ancient Thira. It was constructed in parts in the 2nd c. BC and had a seating capacity of 1500 people.
These were the Cult Sites of the city. The ends of the ridges of Mesa Vouno was unlivable and unsuitable for residential developments. The narrow south & southeast end of the ridge was where the Agora of the Gods & the Sanctuary of Apollo Kamelos stood. There were also sanctuaries of other deities scattered on the hill.





This is the Church of Agios Stefanos, an early Christian Basillica.

After our tour of the ancient city, we took the van back down. Ok I lied when I said the drive up was scary. The drive down was twice as scary am I'm almost positive Mr. I have 25 yrs of experience did not use his brakes!! Shesh!

We headed toward Kamari beach for some R&R time. Kamari beach is a long beautiful black sand beach. It was nice to veg out in the sun for a while. The lounge chairs cost 7 euro for 2 people. There were also Thai women offering foot massages for a fee.
Here's Mesa Vouna that separates Kamari from Perissa.

From Kamari, you can take boats to Perissa.
After our day at the beach, we headed back to Oia. From Oia, we caught a cab down to Ammoudi. Ammoudi is the fishing village right below where we were staying.

This is what Oia looks like from below. Notice the switchbacks. That's all the stairs I had told you about. 270+ steps from Ammoudi to Oia.

There are a few restaurants along the water. We were here for the amazing fresh seafood we had heard about. We stopped at Taverna Katina, mainly because I had spotted them grilling fresh fish outside on the grill. It smelled heavenly!
We settled in and looked over the menu. I asked our waiter what kind of fish they had that day. I was ushered back to the kitchen where the fresh catch of the day were on display. Yikes! How do I know what to choose? I don't know the Greek fish. They told me they had mackeral, sea bream, snapper, sea bass and about 3 other types of fish. They were all 50 euro per kilo except the sea bass which was 60 euro per kilo. Since he had already tried that gigantic snapper in Athens, I decided on the sea bass.
He's the one he helped me pick out. Looks big but we were starving!

I watched as this guy prepared it over the fire for us. Mmmm!!

Our sea bass was so tender and moist. They served it with lemon and a lemon olive oil sauce. It was delicous! It ended up costing only 40 euro for our sea bass.
This little guy thought the fish was excellent also!
During our dinner, the sun began to set on another amazing day on Santorini.




Taverna Katina
Ammoudi, Santorini
phone: 22860/71-280