Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year 2011!

I've learned over the years that big resolutions fall by the wayside, so I've been thinking of little things that I can incorporate into my life to make each day more meaningful, to add quality to my life.  There are the usual ambitions -- eat better, exercise more, deliberately save money.  My friend Sue reminds me that little changes, incorporated slowly, can have a big cumulative effect.  So, for 2011, here are some of the little things I have intentions of adopting:

1.  Drink more water.  From what I've read, it truly is the elixer for a healthier life. 
2.  Make time for people I don't see often enough, and change that to see them, often enough.  Especially my Aunt Jeanne (soon, I hope).
3.  Read more.  I don't have cable TV, but I still find it challenging to just sit and read (actually, I seem to have trouble sitting and relaxing!).  I have a pile of good books just waitng for me!
4.  Start swimming again, starting with just a couple of laps.  Because (1) I love it and (2) I'm good at it.  It's the only exercise where I truly get "in the zone" - have to watch out for hitting my head on the pool wall when I'm doing the back stroke!  (I can solve so many problems when I'm swimming!)
5.  Plan for good things or they'll never happen.  I like the idea of a goal, whether it's for a trip to see my daughter or to buy new tires.  Whatever it is, it feels good to set the goal and realize it. 
6.  Discover the world again, through Henry's eyes, and now Peter's.  There's nothing as exciting as those early discoveries, and I feel so lucky to be able to share this time with my little grandsons!
7.  Put down the buttercream and pick up a paint brush - healthier all the way around! 
8.  More beach time.  Absolutely necessary.
9.  Cook more and eat out less.  Wisdom I heard the other day:  eat "from the farm, not the factory."
10.  Spend at least a few intentional minutes each day thinking positively.  My father was a big fan of Norman Vincent Peale, who once said "Change your thoughts, change your world."  Now, those are good words to launch a new year by! 

And finally:  a very sincere thank you to my readers.  This December ADKBaker realized 2,169 visits, compared to just over 600 last December.  I'm very grateful.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Photo Credit and an interesting story on the history of auld lang syne at:  http://www.inquisitr.com/13891/auld-lang-syne-lyrics-and-history/

Monday, December 27, 2010

Katie's Rum Raisin Pound Cake

For special birthdays and holidays, Katie likes to bake a rum raisin pound cake.  She bakes it in a special bundt pan that Russ gave me for Christmas a few years ago.  It's shaped like a chrysanthemum flower.  She made it for Christmas dinner this year, and it was great.  It slices beautifully, without any crumbs.  It has a solid, silky texture, and looks beautiful on a plate with a dollop of whipped cream along side.  Last night I asked Katie for her recipe, which she found on epicurious.com.  Typically, she adds a light glaze, but was so busy preparing dinner that she never got around to the glaze.  It wasn't missed, at all.

RUM RAISIN POUND CAKE

1 1/2 cups brown raisins
2 1/4 cups sifted all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 2/3 cups sugar
5 large eggs
7 tablespoons dark rum
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons whipping cream
(Katie adds a little rum!)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour 12-cup Bundt pan. Toss raisins with 2 tablespoons flour in small bowl. Combine remaining flour, baking powder and salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light. Add 1 2/3 cups sugar and beat until fluffy. Add eggs 2 at a time, beating after each addition until well blended. Beat in 6 tablespoons rum and vanilla. Mix in flour mixture. Fold in raisin mixture. Spoon batter into prepared pan.


Bake cake until top is golden and tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool in pan on rack 10 minutes. Turn out cake onto rack and cool completely.

Stir powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon rum in bowl until smooth. Mix in cream. Spoon over cake. Let stand until glaze is set, about 30 minutes.


Original recipe found at:  http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Rum-Raisin-Pound-Cake-504
Read More http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Rum-Raisin-Pound-Cake-504#ixzz19Kg2Z4B9

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The party continues...

It seems that my family is participating in a marathon of baking/eating/celebrating.  Today is my son-in-law Bill's 34th birthday -- Happy Birthday Bill! -- and to celebrate I made his favorite, a pineapple upside down cake.  He loves this and I make it every year for his birthday.  Then I make sure to wrap his gift in NON-holiday paper.  It seems anti-climactic to have a birthday the day after Christmas -- talk about a tough act to follow!  So, he gets his favorite cake.  This isn't anything difficult or fancy.  For this cake, because I didn't want to spend too much more time in the kitchen after Christmas, I went the simple route.  I used a standard vanilla cake mix and instead of using water, I use the juice from a can of pineapple rings.  It's a simple cake.  The directions follow, but if you've got the energy and ambition, go ahead and make one from scratch.  I can't imagine it'd be any better than Bill's cake, which was outrageously delicious!

PINEAPPLE UPSIDE DOWN CAKE, the easy version...

1 bar butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 vanilla or yellow cake mix
3 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 standard can of pineapple rings
Pineapple juice and water to equal 1 1/3 cups (there's almost a cup in a can of pineapple rings)
Cherries

Mix cake mix according to package directions, substituting pineapple juice for as much water as possible, up to 1 1/3 cups.  Make up the difference with water. 

Prepare pan:

Spray a 10" round cake pan (2" sides, at least) well with vegetable spray. 

In microwave, in a microwave-safe container, melt 1 bar butter.  Pour into cake pan.  Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over melted butter.  Even out with a fork.

Place pineapple rings over butter/sugar mixture in bottom of pan.  Place a maraschino cherry in the middle of each ring.  Pour batter over pineapple and cherries, but stop adding batter when you get within an inch of the rim.  (Use the remaining batter to make a mini-cake or cupcakes.)

Bake for about 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Remove from oven and allow to rest for about 10 minutes, no more or it may stick.  Turn out onto a large plate or platter. (Place plate on top of cake, flip -- carefully! -- and remove pan.)  Allow to completely cool.

Serve with whipped cream.

Photo credit:  http://www.gastronomydomine.com/uploaded_images/pineapple-upside-795141.JPG

Thursday, December 23, 2010

French Toast Casserole for Christmas Morning

After our family moved from house to rented house to rented apartment to smaller apartment, I had incorporated some new Christmas traditions that have taken hold.  That's the nice thing about change - it's an opportunity to start something new.  One tradition I started when our kids had to share their time between my home and their father's was a Christmas morning brunch where I served a couple of quiches, bacon, my friend Sue's sweet roles (always so grateful to get them!) and a french toast casserole.  It's an easy-to-assemble strata of bread, eggs, milk, sweet spices, and maple syrup, assembled the night before and popped in the oven on Christmas morning. 

I'm grateful now to spend Christmas mornings at the home I share with my daughter Katie and her family.  The other night she asked me if I could make french toast casserole this year, and I smiled, realizing that change did indeed bring our family something new that would take hold and become comfortable and familiar.  That's one of my favorite things about kitchen traditions and the memories they create.  I expect french toast casserole will be on the menu in this family for many Christmases.

Merry Christmas, my friends!

FRENCH TOAST CASSEROLE

The night before or early in the morning:

Spray well the bottom and sides of a 13x9 pan or equivalent-capacity baking dish.

4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 lb. loaf of bread (approximately) sliced (you can use white, wheat, french, cinnamon raisin, whatever you love) - enough to fit into pan
8 eggs or two 4-oz. containers of egg substitute
3 cups milk (you can make it richer by using part half-and-half)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup maple syrup

Fresh fruit
Maple syrup for the table

Pour melted butter over bottom of prepared pan.  Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over all.
Layer bread over butter/sugar mixture. (You can double this if you want a really sweet sauce on the bottom).

Beat eggs with a fork and whisk in milk, vanilla, cinnamon, and maple syrup.  Pour milk  mixture over bread and cover pan with foil or wrap and refrigerate over night or for about an hour if you're baking it the same day.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Bake uncovered for about 45-minutes or until it tests done.  Serve with warmed maple syrup and fresh fruit on the side (and maybe just a little whipped cream!)

Image credit and another version of this recipe can be found at: http://www.cabaretsquidoo.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/frenchtoast156595371_e7a4afc99e.jpg

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

George Bailey, Ebenezer Scrooge, and a Merry, Imperfect Christmas

Perhaps the reason I so admire the character of George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life" is because his family isn't perfect, and his life isn't either.  His father, Peter Bailey, is depicted as a caring but underachieving business man; his uncle, an irresponsible drunk.  George himself is often bitter and brooding at what life has dealt him, wearing disappointment and jealousies on his shirtsleeves until he is shown the true significance of his own life, of every life, courtesy of Clarence Goodbody, AS2.  What I admire about the relationships in this movie is the acceptance each character ultimately realizes in the embrace of family and friends.  Every life does matter.  Each person has a place in the world.  Whether we realize it or not, we all have a great deal of influence on the lives of those around us. 

Anticipation and planning for the Christmas holidays, particularly, are heightened with expectation and sometimes, anxiety.  We aspire to an impossible ideal and are being sold a bill of goods by advertisers who make us think that we have to behave like the images we see on television.  Commercials depict gloriously reunited family members who are ecstatic to be together once again.  In real life, I've never known any family quite so happy as the actors on television.  Real families are tempered -- happiness is often balanced with equal measures of disappointment and frustration.  It is in the acceptance of each other, flaws and all, that we find family balance, and just maybe the true spirit of Christmas.  I like to think of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, when Ebenezer Scrooge is welcomed into his nephew's home despite years of intentional disconnect and dismissal.  His nephew, always hopeful, still wants his uncle to share the holiday with his family and friends.  When he is finally welcomed into his nephew's home, the past is past and they enjoy each other in the present with acceptance and happiness.  It is a beautiful, liberating moment.

The parallels between A Christmas Carol and It's A Wonderful Life are evident.  Ebenezer Scrooge is guided to see his actual life as it was, as it is, and how it will be if he doesn't change his ways.  It's a harsh lesson but one that finds him rejuvenated and jubilant, loving every second from the moment he wakes, home again in his own bed.  George Bailey, guided by angel Clarence Goodbody, experiences his life's world without him in it, and is able to see first-hand just how he has impacted the lives of the people he loves, and what their world, and the greater world, would be like had he never been born. 

Individuals are just that, individuals, each with particular talents and quirks.  At Christmas time, when the focus on family is sharpened, quirks might seem prominent. We often have more patience, tolerance, and acceptance for those we don't love, who aren't related to us, than we do for those with whom we share a family bond, something I find oddly curious.

At this very special time of year, my Christmas prayer is that every one of us knows the love and acceptance of family and friends.  If you have a family member who is alone this holiday, welcome her in.  If you have a friend who is feeling disconnected, reconnect.  Don't rehash the past.  Forgive. Let go.  Live forward.  Make that phone call.  Pay a visit.  Say hello and that you are thinking of that person.  You have nothing to lose, and just might make a big difference in someone's life, or even your own.

I wish you all a Merry, imperfect Christmas.  Enjoy every minute!

"God bless us, every one."  -- Tiny Tim, in Charles Dickens's  A Christmas Carol

Image credit:  http://www.jonesboroughtheatre.com/photos/a-christmas-carol-2.jpg

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Last Minute Gifts from Your Kitchen - There's Still Time!

If your Christmas to-do list isn't to-done and baking is one thing that isn't checked off, there's still time to bake without taking up a whole day or creating a big mess in your kitchen. 

For many of us, working every day leading up to Christmas leaves NO TIME to get it all done.  The "wouldn't it be nice" items on the list fall to the wayside with the mental note to plan better next year.  My gingerbread house is one of those list items.  I had grand plans of creating a small but exquisite gingerbread house and now, if it's going to happen at all, I have to do it during three free hours Thursday morning, and I don't like that kind of pressure!  We'll see.  I'd love to do it.  I just wish that the slower schedule the week following Christmas would loan me a day or two this week when the extra time would come in handy!  I'm now thinking that the walls of my gingerbread house will be made with the new gingerbread-flavored graham crackers.  After all, my deal is the decorating. I just need a background for the elaborate design!

There is, however, still time to get some baking done.  Last night I made three batches of dough, and they will become cookies in a snap over the next couple of days.  Believe it or not, I made snickerdoodle, sugar, and peanut butter doughs all in a matter of 10 minutes.  I wrapped them up and put them in the fridge and clean up took 5 minutes.  How did I do it?  I used pouches.  Pouches of cookie mixes -- Betty Crocker -- and last night I was grateful to invite Betty into my kitchen to help me out.  Using these basic doughs, I will put together a platter of a variety of cookies.  Half of the peanut butter will be rolled into balls, coated in coarse sugar, and once baked, plugged with a Hershey kiss.  The rest will be pressed with a fork to make the classic criss-cross pattern, no kisses.  The sugar cookie batter will be divided up:  some will be rolled and cut out, some will be formed into thumb-print cookies, more will be tinted red and roped into candy cane cookies.  The snickerdoodle dough will be rolled in cinnamon sugar.  I can take a little bit of each and on one cookie sheet bake three kinds of cookies for a quick gift for a friend. 

Mixes also come in handy for mini-loaves of quick bread.  Gingerbread, banana nut, or pound cakes are great in little loaves.  You can find decorative loaf pans for next-to-nothing in kitchen stores, or you can grab foil loaf pans in the grocery store.  One mix could make a bunch of mini-loaves.  Buy a roll of cellophane and some wired ribbon, and you can dress these up to be beautifully gifting-worthy!

There are even mixes for quick fudge using Carnation canned milk.  There's an easy recipe using chocolate chips and marshmallow fluff.  There's so much you can do quickly that will mean more to the recipient than something purchased.  A gift from your kitchen means you cared enough to make something special for someone.  I know it always means alot to me when I get such a gift. 

Another short-cut I used one year was to make my own apple jelly and present it in pretty glass jars - I used a good quality apple juice as the foundation for a recipe I found in an old cookbook.  I cut jelly-making time in thirds by starting out with ready-to-go juice.

I still want to make gingerbread men to  hang on my little kitchen tree.  It's decorated with metal cookie cutters and gingerbread men every year, though this morning the tree is till naked in my kitchen!  Because I'm running out of time, I'm going to make my gingerbread men out of a roll of gingerbread dough or convert a gingerbread mix into cookies (directions on side of box).  They are for decoration, and I'm just going for the affect, so I'm taking the easy way out (especially after burning out the motor of my mixer one year, trying to put together that heavy batter!).

If you still want to give gifts from your kitchen, don't abandon the plan.  Modify.  You can do it, and it'll be great!

Merry simple Christmas, my friends!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

White Chocolate Peppermint Fudge from Taste of Home

I love fudge.  I don't think there's anything more satisfying than buying four quarter-pound pieces, all different flavors, and taking them home in a little white cardboard box with a plastic knife!  I love slicing off just a smidge to taste the incredible flavors.  I love the whole artisan process and have often watched fudge being made in the big copper pots with a wooden paddle.  It's fascinating!  One of my favorite places to buy fudge is The Yankee Peddler in Greenwich, New York, a beautiful store.  Upstairs it is a Christmas wonderland, with beautifully decorated trees and every Department 56 collectable you can imagine.  Downstairs, you will find all kinds of beautiful gifts for the home as well as specialty foods and kitchen items.  The heart of the first floor is an old-fashioned candy counter which features superior-quality chocolates by the pound (you can select all your favorites, including sugar-free), jelly beans, striped candy sticks, and FUDGE.  My daughter Katie had their boxed chocolates as favors at her wedding.  The last time I stopped in, two weekends ago, I chose the following fudge flavors:  chocolate (a purist), maple walnut, amaretto, and pumpkin spice.  I took the goods home and we all, very slowly and gradually, slivered those quarter pound pieces away until, surprise!, there was nothing left.  Yep, it's an indulgence, but fudge isn't something most people eat every day.  It is a special treat, and should remain so.
The holiday season is the perfect time to provide my readers with a recipe for White Chocolate Peppermint Fudge.  It comes from TasteofHome.com, a beautiful Web site and a fruitful resource for tried-and-true recipes.  You will need a candy thermometer for this one.  If you don't have one, borrow one or go buy one for yourself.  It's a good tool to have in your kitchen, it's not expensive, and you'll be grateful you have one when it comes to making special holiday candies. 

WHITE CHOCOLATE PEPPERMINT FUDGE
from Taste of Home
81 ServingsPrep: 10 min. Cook: 10 min. + chilling
Ingredients

1-1/2 teaspoons plus 1/4 cup butter, softened, divided
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
12 ounces white baking chocolate, chopped
1 jar (7 ounces) marshmallow creme
1/2 cup crushed peppermint candy
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

Directions

•Line a 9-in. square pan with foil. Grease the foil with 1-1/2 teaspoons butter; set aside.

•In a large heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, sour cream and remaining butter. Cook and stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a rapid boil; cook and stir until a candy thermometer reads 234° (soft-ball stage), about 5 minutes.

•Remove from the heat; stir in white chocolate and marshmallow creme until melted. Fold in peppermint candy and extract. Pour into prepared pan. Chill until firm.

•Using foil, lift fudge out of pan. Gently peel off foil; cut fudge into 1-in. squares. Store in the refrigerator. Yield: 2 pounds.

Recipe and Photo Credit:  http://www.tasteofhome.com/Recipes/White-Chocolate-Peppermint-Fudge/Print

Monday, December 13, 2010

Snickerdoodles

This morning a bunch of us brought in cookies to work, to be divided up and packaged as holiday thank-you gifts for the student workers in our office.  My contribution were the Peanut Butter Blossoms from yesterday's post.  There was an abundance, so we were rewarded with a platter of many different varieties of cookies.  I saw what I believed to be a Snickerdoodle, a cookie I don't bake often and love to have whenever possible.  I snagged one before there weren't any left!  It was crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside, and perfectly sweet with cinnamon and sugar.  Joy for the tastebuds!

Many people associate the Snickerdoodle with Christmas.  This recipe (as well as the photo above) is from Betty Crocker, and it rates an impressive "5 spoons" on her Web site (see link below). 

SNICKERDOODLES

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup shortening
2 eggs
2 3/4 cups Gold Medal® all-purpose or unbleached flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Directions:

Heat oven to 400ºF.


Mix 1 1/2 cups sugar, the butter, shortening and eggs in large bowl. Stir in flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt.

Shape dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. Mix 1/4 cup sugar and the cinnamon. Roll balls in cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until set. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack.

Recipe and Photo from Betty Crocker at: http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/snickerdoodles/7ffc92a9-d847-4869-9ecb-99de3b751b14?p=1

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Peanut Butter Blossoms by Hershey's Kisses

I put a picture of a batch of these cookies, baked today, on my facebook page, and my friend Nancy asked for the recipe.  It's the Peanut Butter Blossom recipe on the Hershey Kisses package.  We had a fun day here in Middle Grove.  Because of freezing rain, I never left the house all day.  I had cookies to make, and Katie was experimenting with a recipe in her own kitchen.  She made Alton Brown's home-made marshmallows, and I assisted a bit but mostly watched her do her magic.  And magic they were.  Here's the recipe for the Peanut Butter Blossoms, as well as a couple of photos of Katie's marshmallows. 

Peanut Butter Blossoms
by Hershey's

48 HERSHEY'S KISSES Brand Milk Chocolates

1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup REESE'S Creamy Peanut Butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Granulated sugar

1. Heat oven to 375°F. Remove wrappers from chocolates.
2. Beat shortening and peanut butter in large bowl until well blended. Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar; beat until fluffy. Add egg, milk and vanilla; beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into peanut butter mixture.

3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar; place on ungreased cookie sheet.

4. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Immediately press a chocolate into center of each cookie; cookie will crack around edges. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely. About 4 dozen cookies.


Katie's Homemade Marshmallows

Nothing like the real thing...just incredible!
Cookie Recipe and Photo:  http://www.hersheys.com/recipes/5191/Peanut%20Butter%20Blossoms.aspx#

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dressed Up for the Holidays: Chocolate Chip Cookies with a Twist of Orange and Cranberry

Yesterday my daughter Katie made what looked like a typical batch of chocolate chip cookies. They were golden brown and loaded with chocolate chips, still warm and chewy when I walked into her house after working all day.  I have to tell you, it was a very welcoming aroma that greeted me when I opened her door.  But there was something different.  I don't know how many of you can resist a warm-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookie, but I can't.  One bite and I knew this was a special cookie.  There was an essence of fresh oranges, and the tang of cranberry.  Combined with chocolate, it was DEVINE!  I thought, "OK, these are going on my cookie platters."  We have an abundance of Florida oranges to eat/juice/use up since Russ brought Katie and me each a case at Thanksgiving (thank you, Russ!).

You can make these cookies with your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe or, as I encourage people to do if they're pressed for time, grab a quality mix like Krusteaz or Pillsbury and save yourself a little time.  That's an especially good idea for busy moms with two little ones like Katie who spends much of her time feeding 7-week old Peter and the rest of it building block towers with Henry.  Still, she found time to not only bake up a batch of cookies but also to make big, red ribbon bows to adorn each post of the 100-foot split rail fence that lines our driveway!  I was holding the baby as she headed into the night with a staple gun and an arm-full of bows.   Maybe it's her legal training, but when Katie wants to get something done, it happens, even when it's as basic as baking a batch of home-made cookies in the middle of a hectic day.


Katie and the boys

I like the idea of simple, standard cookies that most people love all year occupying space on my Christmas cookie platter, like a plump peanut butter cookie studded with a Hershey Kiss, a ginger snap, spritz or a buttery shortbread.  This cookie will keep those favorites very good company.  Add some snowflake-decorated sugar cookies and a gingerbread boy or girl, a few little candy canes, and some chocolates wrapped for the holidays, and you have a beautiful cookie platter to present to your family and friends. 

Orange Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies

Your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe batter, prepared
1 tablespoon freshly-grated orange rind
3/4 cup dried cranberries

Mix the grated orange rind and cranberries into the chocolate chip cookie dough batter.  Bake the cookies as your original recipe suggests.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Jam Thumbprint Cookies

A favorite cookie to make this time of year is the Jam Thumbprint.  I am very fortunate to have prize-winning jam for my cookies; my friend Catherine Golden wins blue ribbons every summer at the Saratoga County Fair, and she shares!  This year she's given me jars of both her home-made apricot and raspberry jams.  They are the crowning jewels of this cookie, one that always shows up on my holiday platter.

Jam Thumbprints are very simple.  With your favorite rolled sugar cookie recipe (because it is firm, or even packaged sugar cookie dough if you're pressed for time), you form the dough into balls about an inch in diameter, approximately the size of a gum ball from those machines when we were little kids.  Then the dough is dipped into a beaten egg white and rolled in coconut or crushed nuts.  Placed on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, an impression is made in the center (thus the "thumbprint" though I use the handle end of a wooden spoon), just right for a half-teaspoon of jam. 

Catherine Golden's Prize-Winning Jam

I love these cookies.  Here's the simple recipe:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper (if you don't have any, go get it.  It's one of the most useful kitchen tools you'll ever have). 

Your favorite sugar cookie dough for rolled cookies
1 egg white, beaten
1 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans (or whatever nut you prefer)
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup jam/s

With your sugar cookie dough prepared, form 1" diameter balls, then coat in beaten egg white and roll in either nuts or coconut.  Place on cookie sheets, 2 inches apart.  Make a depression in the center of each ball, about 1/3 of the way down, no further.  Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon of jam in each depression. 

Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes OR JUST UNTIL THEY VISIBLY START TO BROWN ON THE OUTSIDE EDGES (ovens are different, you really have to watch them). 

Remove from oven, let sit for a minute, then move to wire rack to complete cooling. 

I guarantee, you will love these!

Photo credit: http://jessie-cooks.blogspot.com/2008/05/bely-coco-nut-jam-thumbprint-cookies.html

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Reindeer Food (aka White Chocolate Party Mix)

A long time ago I was working in an office at Christmas time and a co-worker brought in gifts of "Reindeer Food."  It was a huge hit with everyone in the office, and I couldn't wait to make my own holiday version of trail mix.  This recipe for Reindeer Food is a combination of Rice Chex, Corn Chex, Cheerios, mini-pretzels, nuts, and M&Ms, all mixed together in a giant bowl or pot and then coated with melted white chocolate, which once distrubted and cooled looks like snow.  You can also add craisins, chocolate chips, miniature marshmallows, dried fruit--whatever you want to make this mix your own.  I like to pack a Mason jar full of Reindeer Food and tie a pretty ribbon around the lid.  It makes a colorful and very much appreciated gift.  Now that I have two little grandsons, we may be sprinkling a little bit of reindeer food outside on Christmas Eve, because Dancer and Prancer and all their friends will probably be ready for a snack by the time they arrive our house!

Reindeer Food

3 c. Rice Chex
3 c. Corn Chex
3 c. Cheerios
10 oz. package of miniature pretzels
2-3 cups of your favorite nuts (I like walnut and pecan pieces)
12 oz. - 1lb. bag of M&Ms (use holiday M&Ms if available)
Anything else you want to throw into the mix.

In extra large bowl or pot, stir together all the ingredients listed above.  Set aside.


"Snow"

2  12-14 oz. bags White Chocolate Chips, or white candy-making wafers. You can also  use white-vanilla chips. 

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

In a double boiler, or another large bowl set over a pot of simmering water (or in the microwave following package directions), melt two bags of white chocolate morsels with 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, stirring until completely melted.  Make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the boiling water and that no water gets into the melting pot -- it can seize up the chocolate beyond repair.   When completely melted, pour white coating over cereal mixture, stirring very thoroughly until it is evenly distributed and the trail mix looks like it's been coated in snow.  Spread out on cookie sheets, foil, or wax or parchment paper until cooled.  Pack in containers.

Photo credit:  tasteofhome.com

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christmas Blondies - like Fruitcake, Only Better!

Here's Cookie # 2 for my holiday season:  The Christmas Blondie.  It's a holiday take on the standard Toll House Blondie bar, but "seasoned" up with candied cherries, a little nip of cherry brandy (or juice), and toasted walnuts.  This is not your Grandma's fruitcake recipe.  The picture, from the Better Homes and Gardens Web site, is so beautiful that it inspires me to make these bar cookies asap, and in mass quantities.  My friends, pretend you don't see this, because it's going to be a major player in this year's foodie gifts!  The Christmas Blondie is a new addition to my Christmas tradition, and perhaps to yours as well.

Christmas Blondies


Prep: 15 minutes
Bake: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2/3 cup butter, softened
2 cups packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp. cherry brandy or cherry juice (optional)
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted*
3/4 cup chopped white or dark sweet chocolate
1/2 cup coarsely chopped candied cherries

Directions

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 13x9-inch baking pan.

2. In large mixing bowl beat butter on medium speed 30 seconds. Add brown sugar; beat until well-combined. Beat in eggs, brandy, baking powder, vanilla, and salt. Add flour; beat just until blended. Stir in nuts, chocolate, and cherries. Spread in prepared pan.

3. Bake 30 minutes or until golden. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut in bars. Makes 24 bars.

4. *Spread nuts in shallow baking pan. Toast in 350 degree F oven for 5 minutes.
Photo and recipe credit, Better Homes and Gardenshttp://m.bhg.com/recipe/bars/christmas-blondies/

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thinking About Cookies

I'm not ready to commit to a list of definites, but I do have Christmas cookies on my mind.  There are some standards that will likely be made:  gingerbread men (and women), peanut butter cookies with Hershey kisses, jam thumbprints -- some rolled in coconut, some in chopped nuts, and filled with my friend Catherine's prize-winning jam -- and sugar cookies (Alton Brown's recipe).  Each year I make that simple fudge with the Marshmallow Fluff and chocolate chips.  One cookie that will definitely be on my Christmas platter is the chocolate crinkle (recipe below).  It's a soft, fudgy ball of a cookie, rolled in confectioners sugar just before it goes in the oven, and once it's baked, the surface is cracked all over - thus the name.  They're very pretty.  Another recipe I'm interested in making is one I saw in a magazine at the checkout counter at the grocery store -- a bar cookie, a Christmas blondie, with walnuts, candied cherries, and almond extract.  It's like a fruitcake cookie only so much more interesting! 

There are other traditional desserts that have come out of my Christmas kitchen over the years, many of which have been popular requests by friends during the holidays.  I make a Grand Marnier pound cake, mini-cheesecakes, pie-crust cookies, and apple jelly. Then there's "reindeer food," a prettier version of trail mix which is a concoction of rice chex, mini-pretzels, M&Ms, various nuts, raisins and dried cranberries, all tossed in a thin coating of melted white chocolate, resulting in a snowy-frosted bowl of colorful goodness which is especially pretty presented in a Mason jar with a Christmas ribbon.   And of course, this year Katie and I will attempt a more elaborate gingerbread house.  We're getting good at that, and it'll be fun putting a new creation together. 

Over the next few weeks, I'll be bringing you my recipes for the cookies and treats mentioned above.  I'll start by reintroducing my recipe for Chocolate Crinkles from last December.  You can find it linked here and also printed below.  In the meantime, I'll look for new recipes that hopefully will be woven into already-established traditions and go on to become family favorites for generations. 

Here's to creating new traditions in your home!

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies
(Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Baking)
originally posted on ADK Baker December 17, 2009

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c cocoa
2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
4 large eggs
2 c granulated sugar
1 t vanilla extract
1 1/2 c chocolate chips (I like to use Ghiradelli bittersweet, but any semi-sweet will do)
1/2 c confectioners’ sugar

Melt the butter and chocolate on top of a double boiler, over simmering water, and stir often. Remove and set aside to cool a bit.

In a small bowl, stir together the dry ingredients — flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, granulated sugar, and vanilla. Beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate mixture on low speed until blended. Add the dry ingredients and beat until incorporated. The dough will be stiff, but you must persevere: mix in the chocolate chips by hand.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a good long while, at least 2 hours. I sometimes leave the dough in the fridge overnight.

Place rack in center of oven and preheat to 325. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a small bowl.

Roll a rounded tablespoon of dough between your palms into a 1 1/2 inch ball, and toss it around in the powdered sugar. Place the cookies about 3 inches apart on the cookie sheet.Bake the cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until the tops are puffed and crinkled and feel firm when lightly touched, about 13-17 mins. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Photo image credit: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_Mxd4DmGVwxk/S9h3mFv6HKI/AAAAAAAAAqk/_lbpcCveug4/s1600/merry-christmas-cookies-wallpaper-for-desktops.jpg

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Enter the Holidays, and Kathryn's Cornbread Casserole

I've always resisted any indication of the holiday season while there are still leaves on the trees here in upstate New York, while warm breezes still blow, and before Halloween even arrives.  But now that Thanksgiving, what I consider to be the gateway holiday to the season, has come and gone, I'm eager to listen to Christmas carols on the radio, to begin to think about the perfect gift for someone, or try to remember where I packed away the lights and tree stand!  When he arrived Wednesday night, Russ brought me a beautiful pine wreath with a big red bow, and it is hanging on the door to my apartment.  So it begins.  Now, I can enthusiastically embrace what will unfold over the next four weeks.

As the gateway holiday, this Thanksgiving was a fine example.  Katie created a warm and welcoming atmosphere, and cooked up a storm.  She brined a 23-pound turkey, made her own whole-cranberry sauce, a cranberry walnut salad with blue cheese, a great mashed potato casserole from Cooks Country, and a pumpkin soup.  She also made a terrific artichoke dip.  She set a beautiful table.  This dinner was a combined effort, however.  Katie's mother-in-law Penny brought a pumpkin custard,  made the stuffing, and cooked up an abundance of gravy just before the meal was served.  Kathryn, Katie's dad's wife, made a delicious cornbread casserole and an incredible pumpkin spice cake from a recipe from Country Living Magazine.  My contributions were a green bean casserole with fresh mushrooms, a pumpkin pie (had to have it), and a mile-high chocolate cream pie for the genetically predisposed in my family.  Sydney made a huge apple-raisin crisp, and Russ brought an apple-cranberry pie, home-made and lovingly purchased from the deli across the street from his home in Union Springs.  In addition to all this, there was a table-full of appetizers including shrimp, cheese and crackers, and an Indian pastry, Samosas, that my son-in-law Bill loves.  Dinner was served on fine china that Bill's father, Richard, brought back from Japan, purchased during his tour-of-duty as a gift for his mother.  Katie broke out the Hofmann family silver, which made it all very special.


Poor Tom, though he was delicious!

 There were 13 of us for dinner, including Henry, who very happily sat in his high chair and spooned gravy over a Clementine that he had been carrying around all morning!  Five-week old Peter's meals are still quite simple, and next year he'll join us at the table. 

Henry with Aunt Tricia - who's having more fun?

The dessert table

I am very thankful that I am able to share such a holiday with my daughter and her expanded family, and that three of my five children were in the same place at the same time, though Meghan, her boyfriend Mark,  and  my son Joe were missed.  Katie loves to open her home to friends and relatives.  She's good at it, too, and I am proud to see the effort she puts into making a memorable experience for all her guests. 


Peter with Grandma Kathryn


In the spirit of sharing something really terrific, here is a simple, easy recipe for Kathryn's cornbread casserole.  You can find more complicated recipes that require a lot more work, but you can't find one more delicious than this one.  I encourage you to try this as a nice compliment to any holiday dinner you might be planning, or even for a bit of comfort food one weeknight during all the hustle and bustle.  Happy Holidays!


Happy Holidays!

Kathryn's Cornbread Casserole

1-can whole kernel corn drained
1-can creamed corn
8-oz sour cream
1 stick margarine, melted (or butter, if you prefer)
1-box Jiffy cornbread mix
Preheat oven to 350degrees.


Mix all ingredients and pour into a 9x13 (or equivalent capacity) baking  or casserole dish that has been greased or sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. 
Bake until browning begins on top, about half-an hour to thirty-five minutes.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

You've Got to Have Friends, and Cupcakes

The challenges we all face every day would be a lot worse if we weren't able to share our burdens with friends.  Whether we're overloaded at work and an office mate offers to lighten the load, or a group of friends decide to get together after work to reconnect, it seems that friends make life's journeys a little less difficult, and a lot more friendly.  This week, I've been reminded more than once that I can rely on friends to get through a day, a week, or even a challenging life transition.  I find myself now two months into an entirely new work environment, and it's been a huge change for my life, but it is not bad.  This transition even has the potential to be very good, but I'm caught between grieving for the old and familiar while maintaining optimistic hope that what is new will one day become comfortably old and familiar as well. It just takes time.  It's not easy to make big changes in your mid-fifties, and many people simply won't.  They might say, "I'm too old to make such changes."  Sometimes, we have no choice but to take that leap of faith and hope that we've made the right decision, to trust that "everything happens for a reason" and that, though difficult, the adjustments will be worth it.  That's what I am counting on, that I am where I am supposed to be at this point in my life, that I will adapt and grow in positive ways, and that I can rise to the expectations and responsibilities I've assumed.  Tonight, I went out after work with three friends.  We went to Gaffney's in Saratoga Springs, and sat long and lingered over drinks and an assortment of tapas plates.  As friends do, we analyzed the current events in each others' lives, and when it came time to look at mine, they all said they believe that the changes that are occuring in my life will prove to be the right thing. 

In the spirit of friendship, I made cupcakes for a woman in my office who lent a much needed helping hand.  The cupcakes were a gesture of thanks for her assistance yesterday, when she volunteered to take one thing off my desk and lighten my load, just a bit.  I asked her what I could do to show my gratitude, and she said that there was nothing I could do for her, but that her young daughter loved cupcakes.  I got up early this morning and arrived at work with chocolate cupcakes frosted in buttercream.    I didn't have a mix, so as soon as I woke up I Googled "one bowl cupcakes" and was delighted to find Martha Stewart's easy (and very well-rated) recipe for chocolate cupcakes.  It was so simple.  I mixed the wet ingredients into the dry and popped the cupcakes into the oven for 20 minutes, just enough time for me to jump into the shower and out.  I didn't have a fancy box so I cut one side off a box of Cheerios and made a  make-shift tray which held a dozen cupcakes just perfectly.  From my own "quality control" evaluation, I can tell you that the cupcakes and frosting were terrific, really moist and delicious, and I hope that Lynn and her daughter think so too!

Martha Stewart's One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes (slightly adapted)

Oven 350 degrees F
Makes 18 standard cupcakes

Dry ingredients.  Mix together:
3/4 c. cocoa
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

Wet ingredients.  Mix together and then add to dry:

2 eggs
3/4 cup warm water
3/4 c. buttermilk (or 3/4 c. milk soured with 1 tbsp. lemon juice or vinegar - 5 minutes)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix the wet ingredients into the dry and beat for 3 minutes. 

Line muffin cups with paper liners.  Fill 1/2 full with batter.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes, or until tops bounce back when lightly pressed. 

When cool enough to handle, remove cupcakes from pans to continue cooling on wire rack.  When completely cooled, frost with buttercream.

Buttercream Frosting

1 bar (8 tbsp.) butter, softened
1 lb. confectioners sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk plus more to thin to desired consistency

Beat butter until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla extract and mix well.  Add confectioners sugar alternately with milk.  Beat well.  If too thick, add more milk, a tablespoon at a time, until it reaches the desired spreading consistency.

Photo:  my cupcakes, with sprinkles!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pumpkin Pancakes are Breakfast for Dinner

Pumpkin Pancakes RecipeTonight Katie made breakfast for dinner, with pumpkin spice pancakes and bacon.  It was one of those raw, blustery November days that called for a warm, inviting meal, whether it was a traditional dinner or not.  It was great to walk into her house and hear her say "We're having breakfast for dinner!".  Katie makes great pancakes.  She consults her Joy of Cooking cookbook for its traditional pancake recipe, usually infusing them with blueberries.  Seeing that we're just eight days away from Thanksgiving, the warmth and spice of pumpkin pancakes is a perfect, seasonal variation.  Henry loved them too.  He'd spear a piece of pancake with his toddler fork, push it on securely, dip it in the puddle of syrup, and stuff it in his mouth.  He had a real system going.  I ate with my right hand, holding Peter, now four weeks old, all curled up and sleeping, with my left arm.  I remember those days early child-nurturing days, doing a lot of things with only one free hand.  We do become quite adept at functioning well with a baby in one arm and accomplishing tasks with the other! 

This recipe that follows is from allrecipes.com, and the over-950 reviewers gave it 4.5 stars out of five.  That's a solid endorsement that this recipe is not only reliable, but really good!

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vinegar

1. In a separate bowl, mix together the milk, pumpkin, egg, oil and vinegar. Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, allspice, cinnamon, ginger and salt, stir into the pumpkin mixture just enough to combine.


2. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides and serve hot.


http://allrecipes.com//Recipe/pumpkin-pancakes/Detail.aspx

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Spiedie Sandwiches

Tonight I wanted to make something simple and easy to share with Katie and Henry.  Little Peter, being only three weeks old, will have to wait for such simple dinners.  This morning before I left for work I put three boneless, skinless chicken breast halves in a plastic bag and poured Spiedie marinade over top, twist-tied it up, and left it to enhance in my fridge all day.  After work, I stopped at the grocery store for some soft, wheat kaiser rolls.  When I got home, I ran upstairs to get the chicken and brought it downstairs to Katie's where I grilled it outdoors for about 8 minutes a side, never touching it other than to flip it half-way through.  The sandwiches were delicious, so if you're ever thinking you want something very, very good, but also very, very simple, plan to make spiedie sandwiches for dinner.

After dinner, I did the very few dishes we used while Katie gave Henry a bath .  Later, I snuggled with little Peter while Katie and Henry had a pillow fight and read a book.  It was a lovely evening.

SPIEDIE SANDWICHES

1 lb. chicken breast halves, boneless and skinless
A bottle of State Fair Spiedie Sauce
Soft wheat rolls (or the traditional slices of Italian bread)
lettuce
tomatoes
mayo
barbeque sauce

Early in the day or the night before, place chicken in a glass dish or plastic, resealable bag and pour marinade in to coat all pieces.  Leave it in the fridge until you're ready to cook.

Cook pieces over moderate flame on grill or in a grill pan on your stove, about 8 minutes per side.  When cooked through, remove from heat and allow to rest for a few minutes.

Cut cooked chicken on the diagonal in about 1" thick slices.  Stack chicken pieces on wheat roll with lettuce, tomatoes, and any other condiments.  I like a little mayo, but you can use ranch dressing or barbeque sauce --- whatever you like.

If you have left-over chicken (I always do) chill in fridge and cut into chunks and toss with walnuts, craisins, and a little mayo to make an incredible chicken salad for your lunch the next day.

Photo image:  http://www.spiedie.com/images/Reg8-16Thumb.jpg

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Egg Custard, a Small Comfort

Today was one of those days when I was reminded of something my children loved when they were little.  I used to make egg custard, the simple, basic, smooth-as-silk comfort dessert, slow-baked in the oven, and chilled to perfection in the refrigerator.  In my mind, there's no other dish that conveys love as much as a little, chilled glass pyrex dish of custard, sprinkled with nutmeg.

The other night, my son Jeffrey and I had dinner at Wheatfields in Saratoga Springs.  For dessert, I chose creme brulee, my absolute favorite dessert to order out, loved just a little bit more than Key Lime Pie.  I've been thinking about it ever since.  What is it about creme brulee that calls my name?  Is it the crunchy, sugary top?  Is it the velvety-smooth egg custard within?  More than that, my love of this dessert is due to the memories it evokes.  When my son  Joe was a little boy, he loved custards and puddings.  He loved egg custard, especially, and he loved butterscotch pudding.  I would make egg custard for him whenever he was having a tough day.  He's a grown man now, but today would have been a good day for custard.  Instead, we had dinner out together, and tried to make sense of the ups and downs of life, the things that are worthy of our energy, and the frustrations that are better left behind.  He did most of the talking -- he's an enthusiastic spectator of current politics, and many of his ideas are not those I embrace -- but it didn't matter what the discussion was about.  What mattered is that today was a day to spend some time, to listen, to make sense of the world, if that is indeed possible.  Neither one of us could even consider dessert, but I couldn't help but think, as I looked across the table at this handsome, strong man who was once my little boy, that custard would have been perfect.


 Easy Egg Custard

Epicurious, March 2007


From Epicurious: "This classic dessert remains a standout for its sophisticated yet mild flavor and its creamy texture. Ideally sized for a kids' snack but worldly enough for a dinner party, it takes just 15 minutes of prep time and can be stored in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 3 days. (It's even better the afternoon after you've made it.)"

Yield: Makes 6 servings

2 cups whole milk
2 eggs (preferably free-range)
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Freshly grated or ground nutmeg
1. Preheat oven to 300°F.
2. Place six 4-ounce ovenproof cups (you can use ramekins, or coffee cups marked as oven-safe) in a deep baking pan just large enough to hold them.
3. In a medium saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer over medium-low heat.
4. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolks, sugar, and vanilla.
5. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the simmering milk, whisking gently to combine.
6. Pour the mixture through a fine strainer into the cups (if the strainer clogs, use a spoon to scrape it clean), then sprinkle lightly with the nutmeg.
7. Pour hot (not boiling) water into the pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cups.
8. Bake until the custard is just set (it can still be a little loose), 30 to 35 minutes.
9. Let the custard cool in the water bath for about 2 hours before serving.

Recipe/photo credit, and to read more:  http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/printerfriendly/Easy-Egg-Custard-239229#ixzz14f1DuF40

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Pumpkin Cake

This past weekend I made a birthday cake for my friend Sarah's granddaughter, Everlie. Sarah asked for a pumpkin cake with  cream cheese frosting, so I found a good recipe on About.com's page for southern cooking and it sounded great, so I tried it. I made a few adjustments with the spices (see below) but I knew when I made the batter that this was going to be a wonderful cake - the aroma of the spices was incredible all on its own.  The color from the pumpkin was beautiful, and the batter was delicious.  I knew I had a winner here.  Everlie's cake was 2-layers with cream cheese frosting, decorated in little flowers.  The next day, I made the recipe again, and divided it into 12 cupcakes and one 8" square pan.  The cupcakes were served for dessert, still warm,  no frosting, but with a sprtiz of whipped cream.  The 8" cake was dusted with confectioners sugar, sliced up (see photo) and made its way into work with me the next morning.  I can't even begin to tell you the rave reviews this cake received, so I am sharing it with you.  Make your family (or just yourself) happy with a little slice of autumn in this delicious pumpkin cake.


PUMPKIN CAKE WITH CREAM CHEESE FROSTING (or without!)

Oven - 350-degrees F

In medium bowl, stir together the following dry ingredients and set aside:

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg*
1/2 teaspoon allspice*
1 teaspoon grated orange rind* (not necessary, I just had it so I added it)

*These are my addition - not in the original recipe...

In large mixer bowl, mix well:

2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable or canola oil
4 large eggs
2 cups pumpkin puree or cooked, mashed pumpkin (I used canned, simple and perfect)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

To the wet ingredients in the mixing bowl, add the dry ingredients and mix well.  Beat until thoroughly combined.  Pour into prepared pans (greased and dusted, or sprayed with vegetable spray and lined with parchment, or for cupcakes. lined with paper liners).

Bake in preheated 350-degree oven until they test done:  for layer - about 40 minutes, but test with toothpick to be sure.  If cake bounces back when pressed in the center, it's done.  For cupcakes, about 20 minutes.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

1/4 cup softened butter
8 oz. cream cheese, softened.
1 lb. confectioners sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract.

Combine all ingredients in large mixing bowl; beat well until smooth.  Frosts an 8" round 2-layer cake.  Sprinkle top with 1/2 cup chopped pecans if desired. 

Recipe source from About.com:  http://southernfood.about.com/od/pumpkins/r/bl30212s.htm

Monday, November 1, 2010

Catching Up, in Pictures

I haven't been blogging much lately because:

1.  My new job keeps me busier than any job I've ever had.
2.  My grandsons Henry and Peter are irresistible.
3.  I've been baking alot of seasonal treats.
4.  All of the above.

Correct answer: 4.  All of the above.  Phew!!!

So, now it's catch-up time.  Here's a blog post in pictures, which, at this point on a Monday night, tells this past week's story better than I'm able to. 


This is the English 105 Class I visited last week.  They blog!

Prof. Anne Breznau and me on class day...

My otherwise beautiful friend Claire, showing her true self on Halloween!

Cupcakes I made for "Grammy Eddy" - my kids' grandma.  They're gluten-free!

Haunted House by my son Jeff and me.

And from the back...

Sheriff Henry!

The destruction begins (note to self: no black jelly beans next year)...

Bam Bam, Betty, and Barney (aka David, Mary, and Gordon Eddy!)

Hank and Pete "I guess my baby brother can stay!"

I hope you all had a lovely end of October and a good start to November.  I'll be back soon with some great recipes for Thanksgiving and the holiday season, and of course, with pictures!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The End of October

Here it is, almost the end of October, and the month has flown by.  Halloween is just four days away.  My new grandson Peter is already eight days old!  For the past week, there's been such a flurry of activity in the home I share with my daughter Katie and her family.  Separated by a garage and a flight of stairs, my apartment is just steps away from their house.  We've established a balance of shared time.  I like to give them their family time together, though they welcome me into their part of the house.  For the past week, I've spent more time in their home than my own, helping a bit with Henry and now the new baby.  I'm proud of Katie -- she seems to have adapted from one-child-to-two with quiet confidence.  She has had a house-full of willing assistants (aka Grandmas) at the ready, and now it is time for her to fly solo, to handle two little ones for most of the day on her own.  I'm sure she'll be fine.

Last night, Katie set up the dining room table for pumpkin painting and carving.  She had grown a couple of pumpkins in her garden.  Massive pumpkin vines yielded lots of blossoms but just two pumpkins.  Henry had the happy task of painting those two pumpkins, the larger one for him and the smaller one for baby Peter.  We poured little puddles of paint on a paper plate.  Henry was in an artist's smock, and went to town like a little Jackson Pollock!  He kept asking for "more" paint, and was an intent little artist, quite pleased with his results.  Katie and Bill carved their purchased pumpkins.  Bill's is very creative, a 3-D pumpkin sculpture with eyebrows and a funny nose.  Katie carved a large monogram "H" for "Hofmann" on hers, to sit at the end of their split-rail fence on a bale of hay, greeting anyone who comes up the long driveway.  Along the top of the fence, she's strung little orange lights.  If you are wondering about my role during all this creative expression, it was to hold little Peter, who slept quietly in my arms while the artists were at work.

When the painting and carving were done, the pumpkins were lit with tea lights and placed on the front steps.  We turned the porch light off and went outside (it was a beautifully warm night) and spent a few minutes admiring the illuminated creations.   Henry was up on Bill's shoulders, in awe of the jack-o-lanterns and also of the beautiful night.  Trees were swaying in the night breeze, and fallen leaves were swirling about.   It was a peaceful, lovely moment with a growing, young family, and I thought, "I want to remember this."


Halloween postcard image:  http://www.autumnswitchery.byethost6.com/images/jackolantern.jpg

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Welcome Little One

Welcome to  my new grandson, yet unnamed.  He was born by cesarean-section early yesterday evening after a very long, laborious day for my brave and incredibly strong daughter Kate.  Her beautiful, blonde-haired boy is almost eight pounds and 20 inches long, and seems so tiny compared to her son Henry, now two-and-a-half who assumes the role of Big Brother.

I didn't spend the day at the hospital waiting for my grandson's arrival.  Instead, I spent the day at home with Henry.  He put me through my grandma-paces as any two-year-old will.  We had a very happy and good day together, and when he was napping a visit from his great-Aunt Carolyn and his Grandma Syd made for a lovely afternoon.  Like women have done since the beginning of time, the focus on a baby's imminent birth inspired us to share memories of our own experiences, which we dusted off and made new again in the telling.  There is nothing that marks our emotional and physical memories quite so permanently as our experiences of motherhood -- the successes, the disappointments, the happy endings, and the tragedies.  And there is nothing quite so bonding as women gathered toghther in the weaving of their personal stories.

Every time the phone rang, I jumped.  Finally, THE call came when my son-in-law Bill very quickly said, "He's here.  He's fine.  Katie's fine.  It was a c-section.  7 lbs. 15 oz., no name yet."  He asked me to spread the word (which I am especially good at) and the call ended.  First I called my daughter Meghan in California, who'd been waiting anxiously at such a distance, and we heard tears in each others voices as I shared the news. The waiting was over.  Waiting turned to Welcome.  Welcome, little one.  I will love you forever.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Waiting

This morning I am waiting for my new grandson to arrive.  I set the alarm for 5:15 a.m. and came over to Katie and Bill's side of the house.  Here I am in my pajamas, robe, and fuzzy slippers, trying to use up an over-abundance of anxious energy as Katie is checking in to the hospital.  Henry is sleeping, probably for another hour or so, and when he wakes up he'll look for his momma and wonder what is going on.  I'll try to explain to him what's happening, and spend the rest of the morning playing with him and waiting anxiously for the phone call from my son-in-law Bill. 

I made dinner and brought it down last night.  Katie has a freezer-full of meals for after the baby arrives, but last night we kind of stared at each other and said "What do you want to do for dinner?"  Bill was on his way home from Connecticut and wouldn't arrive for a while, so I threw together a qucik meal of Sloppy Joes, baked beans, and cole-slaw.  Then I thought, well, that's probably not the best pre-labor/possible pre-surgery dinner to have ingested.  She barely ate - there's not much room there.  This baby has taken up all her mid-section space.  He's grown and she's shrunk -- a miracle diet that any typical pregnant woman would wish for:  she's only gained 4.5 lbs. this entire pregnancy.  It wasn't intentional, but that's just the way it's gone.  She's quite the sensation in her OB/GYN office - the pregnant woman who doesn't gain weight!

As we sat at the table, her Blackberry kept buzzing.  I thought about how times have changed.  When my babies were due, the phone rang off the hook.  Not these days - nope, these days there are facebook messages and texts to cell phones wishing the new mother well.  Quite an interesting phenomenon for those of us who used the old land-line as our connection to friends and family. 

Henry's probably the only one of us who slept last night.  Just before they left this morning, Katie, in her typical efficiency, crossed items off the list on her legal pad, making sure she can leave household concerns behind as she goes forward into the next phase of her family.  You'd never know that the day ahead is filled with certain challenges, especially since this little baby has decided to wrangle  his way out of position and Katie and the doctors are trying to coax him back into place.  That's the first challenge she faces, and whether he cooperates or not, her new son will be born before the sun sets today. 

I want to be helpful, but there's not much to do here.  This house is ready for its new occupant.  There are baby bottles on the counter, tiny clothes folded and ready, car seats and strollers standing by.  I guess I'll go sit on the couch with Oden, the black lab.  His world is changing today, too.  He was "the baby" until Henry arrived a couple of years ago, and now a new "brother" will be shifting the order of things in the house, ala Marley and Me!  Odie, as Henry calls him,  and I will wait for Henry to wake up, and together we will start this new and exciting day.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chicken Marsala, Crock Pot Style

This is an almost effortless way to serve an elegant meal.  I often order chicken marsala if I see it on a menu, and for such a delicious meal, it is deceptively easy.  Creating it in a crock pot makes it even easier.  I love crock pot meals.  It's so nice to walk in the door after a long day at work and know that an incredible dinner is waiting for you.  If you take 10 minutes prepping it in the morning before heading off to work, you're basically done!  When you come home, all you have to do is add your side dishes and voila!  Dinner is on the table!


 CHICKEN MARSALA, CROCK POT STYLE

1/2 cup flour  mixed with 1/2 teaspoon each salt, pepper, paprika, and garlic powder
1.5 - 2 lbs. boneless chicken breast halves cut in 1" chunks (partially frozen makes it easier to cut)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 oz. sliced mushrooms (button, crimini, whatever fresh mushroom you like)
3/4 cup Marsala wine
1.5 cups chicken stock
2 more tablespoons butter
chopped fresh parsley

Early in the day, toss chicken in flour mixture.  Melt butter with oil in skillet and, when hot, add chicken.   Stir and toss chicken in the hot butter/olive oil and cook until it has browned nicely all around.  Remove from heat. Turn crock pot to high setting.  Place browned chicken in crock pot.  Cover with mushrooms.  Pour wine and chicken stock over top.  Cover with lid.  After half an hour, reduce crock pot to low and walk away.  Let it cook for 4-6 hours.  Twenty minutes before serving, add the rest of the butter and remove the lid. If you prefer a thicker sauce, drizzle and stir in a mixture of 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons water at this time.  Let it continue to cook, uncovered for the next 20 minutes.  When ready to serve, sprinkle with parsley.  Serve with rice, linguini, or mashed potatoes, along-side or with the marsala over the top.  I also like to serve those thin, elegant green beans with this meal.  Enjoy!

Buy the poster at: http://www.trueartworks.com/poster.php/0000-0285
Painting: Ingham Marsala Wine by Marcello Dudovich.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sharing

I know it will happen.  I know it is possible.  But right now, I am wondering how I can ever love another little grandchild as much as my first grandson, Henry.  Henry is two and a half, his little brother is due to arrive any time now, and I look at him realizing how much his little world will change, and very soon.  His parents, my daughter Katie and her husband Bill, have been so in-tune with Henry ever since he was born.  She parents with a gentle confidence and a firm consistency, and has been able, so far, to keep her attentions on Henry without overly-focusing on the new baby.  Yet, here she is, ready to welcome her new son to the world.  I can remember how I felt when it was time to welcome a new baby.  I wondered how I could possibly love the next one as much, and then we "met," and the love was there, in abundance.  I know the same will be true for my new grandson.  I know I will look at him with the same awe and wonder as I did Henry.  I'll feel the warmth of his compact weight in my arms.  I'll drink in his new-baby scent, and realize the connection from baby to mother to grandmother, and think of my parents and grandparents and all the O'Farrells and McGeehans before him who are all a part of the legacy my family brings to his life.  I know that the day he is born will be etched in my memory forever. 

My Buddy Henry

Last night I looked closely at Henry.  The lights were dim and shadows from the TV danced on the walls and on his beautiful face.  He was in his pajamas, snuggled in a chair under a quilt made by his Grandma Syd, intently watching his favorite Toy Story DVD.  He didn't move a muscle.  Even though he's seen the movie so many times, he was mesmerized by Buzz, Woody, and Rex as if it was all new to him.  I thought of how much Henry has grown since the day he was born, how big he will seem in comparison to his new baby brother.  I thought of how fortunate these two little boys are to have Katie and Bill as parents, who will provide them with so much love but also with wonderful relationships and experiences to create full and active lives for them.

Henry blew me a kiss as Katie escorted him off to bed, and I said, "I love you, little buddy."  I'll love his little brother too, and I can't wait to meet him.