Friday, September 30, 2011

Ellie's Cake

Last night (or I should say this morning) I finished Ellie's cake.  A two-tiered creation for her 7th birthday, Ellie had requested something "special."  Her mom Sara had asked me a few weeks ago, and I couldn't resist.  It reminded me of the time my daughter Tricia (now 29 and a bride-to-be) asked me to make a "wedding" cake for her 5th birthday.  I have a photo of that cake somewhere - I have to find it!

So, around 2 a.m., I put the last of a few fondant flowers on the cake, and decided it was done.  I packed it up this morning and dropped it off with Ellie's grandma, Joanne, before I headed into my office.  I was very happy to hear that the cake was a hit with Ellie and her parents.  Here are a few photos of Ellie's cake as it took shape (the pinkish-purple flowers look brown in 2 a.m. kitchen light - but in the morning, their true color was evident). Enjoy!

Hope your weekend is off to a fantastic start.  Guess what - I'm baking!  Good thing I enjoy it!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Weekend Baking, Already Underway

This weekend I'm baking two birthday cakes, one for 7-year old Ellie, and one for Lisa, who is not seven but celebrating as if she is! Ellie is hosting ten of her friends and wants a little two-tiered cake with fondant decorations.  Lisa asked for something simpler - she contacted me via facebook messaging to ask if I'd bake her birthday cake.  I love it when someone askes me to bake a cake for their own birthday.  It's very proactive and I have to say yes for that reason alone!  Tonight, Ellie's cakes are baked and just out of the oven.  They'll be frosted and decorated tomorrow night.  Lisa's cake gets baked tomorrow for Saturday morning decorating.  I'll post photos as the cakes take shape, promise!

In the meantime, I'm working my regular job full-time, and spending time with Katie and the boys downstairs. Three-year old Henry started pre-school a few weeks ago and loves it, and Pete (now 11 months old) has become a crawling speed demon and just cut a new tooth.

Pete checking out my Timex
Henry, at the ADK Balloon Fest
where he got a bunch of mosquito bites!

It seems my life doesn't leave much time for relaxing.  Maybe that's why, when I stopped at Jacob & Anthony's last night to buy a take-out dinner, and they said I'd have to wait 30 minutes, I was grateful!  I sat at the bar and enjoyed my drink and watched people coming in to get their Tuesday night special (rigatoni with meatballs and sausage in an incredible red sauce, with ceasar salad and a loaf of Italian bread -- all for $24.95 and enough to feed 4-6 very generously).  It was the first time I had nothing to do for 30 minutes since those lovely August days at the beach house, and I enjoyed every second.

I am off to bed so I can get up early and be busy once again.  For now, good night!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Roasted Red Pepper and Smoked Gouda Soup

At Skidmore College, there's a cafe called "The Spa" (in the tradition of all things Saratoga), and I eat lunch there at least a couple of times a week.  Each day The Spa offers specials, one of them being a small container of soup with half-deli sandwich.  I love to see what the soups of the day are, and this week I lucked out -- they had Roasted Red Pepper and Gouda soup!  Oh, how I love that soup!  It's right up there with my two other favorites, butternut squash and cream of mushroom.  I was in lunch nirvana!  Then yesterday, my email inbox had a message from Smitten Kitchen where Deb had posted her recipe for roasted tomato soup with a giant cheese crouton on top!  Holy moly!  How many favorite soups can I have on my list?

I could have soup for every meal and never get bored!  It all harkens back to those childhood days of Campbell's tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, which I've written about before.  Seems I keep coming back to comfort foods that continue to provide comfort, even at age 57-and-a-half!  I searched on-line for a good recipe for roasted red pepper soup (with gouda).  The recipe that follows is the winner.  It sounds great, and because you use jarred,roasted red peppers, it's easier than other recipes where you have to roast your own over an open flame (dangerous and risky, and not a good idea when I'm in a hurry for soup!)... 

Here's what I found:

Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Smoked Gouda
recipe from McClatchy Newspapers

Makes 4 servings (total yield 5 cups)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into small pieces
1 (12-ounce) jar roasted red peppers, drained and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans (14.5-ounce) reduced sodium, fat-free chicken broth
2 teaspoons dried basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup shredded smoked Gouda

1. Heat olive oil in a 4-quart saucepan over medium high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, 3 to 5 minutes or until tender. Add carrots, roasted red peppers, garlic, chicken broth and seasonings. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 25 to 30 minutes.

2. Remove from heat. Carefully use an immersion blender and purée soup.

3. Return soup purée to saucepan; add cheese.

4. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until cheese is melted.

Per (1 ¼ cup) serving: 161 calories (43 percent from fat), 10 grams total fat (3 grams saturated), 16 milligrams cholesterol, 15 grams carbohydrates, 14 grams protein, 165 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.

Recipe and photo source:  McClatchy Newspapers

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tie-Dyed Cake, Phase 2

Sometimes, I have cake disappointment.  I work with a vision of what the final cake will look like, and somehow it just doesn't come together.  That happened today with Julia's tie-dyed cake.  The cake itself is great, with swirls of bright colors marbled throughout, but the frosting, well, that's another story.  I started with the idea that I'd pipe swirls of color in a peace sign over a basic round cake, frosted white.  I got into frosting overload!  The more I worked on it, the more frosting I loaded on, the less and less it looked like the simple peace sign I'd been envisioning.  Finally, I just had to tell myself to STOP and to leave the poor cake alone.  I had so much frosting on top that the weight of all that buttercream caused fissures in the surface of the cake, which I then had to hide by piping on even MORE frosting in the spaces within the peace sign!  So, if you think that my cakes are always a success, and that perfection is my goal, know that that is not the case.  But it doesn't cause me too much distress because, while I want my cakes to be beautiful, more than that, I want recipients to know that they are made with love and affection.  Cakes are personal -- they are part of me that I'm sharing with you, and if they're not quite perfect on any given day, that's OK, because, believe me, neither am I!  : )

 What was perfect today was my friend Lynn's big hug and reaction to the cake ~ she just oozes happy positivity, acceptance, and joy.  Her daughter Julia seemed happy, too, so that made my day.  I hope they have a wonderful slumber party tonight.  I know their guests will -- tonight Lynn is providing each little girl a menu of choices for a custom breakfast tomorrow morning, and believe me, their choices are better than your favorite diner!  How cute is that?

Here are photos of phase 2 of Julia's peace sign, tie-dyed birthday cake (which she seemed very happy with, thank God!)....  I just hope the kids don't go home OD'd on buttercream!

The baked cake

Ready to be decorated

SOOOO much frosting!  Shoulda stopped there!
But then there were little cracks...

So, even more frosting!  Time to put DOWN
the pastry bag & walk away from the cake!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tie-Dyed Cake, Phase 1

Tonight I'm starting a tie-dyed cake for my friend Lynn's daughter, Julia.  She's 10 years old and is having a slumber party Saturday night.  So, tonight I'm baking the cake, tomorrow night I will frost and decorate, and delivery is Saturday afternoon before her guests arrive.  This cake will have a peace sign and reminds me of my teenage years when tie-dying and peace signs were everywhere!  It's so much fun to revisit that time, and to make a cake that reminds me of flower power, "buying the world a Coke," striving for peace and harmony!  Here are some photos of phase 1, Tie-Dye Cake (phase 2 to be posted tomorrow - so come back to see!):

Started with a basic white cake mix (simple)...

Divided out 4 small portions of batter...

Added gel food colors... make a splash of color!

Remainder of batter ~ blank canvas!

It looks messy now, but...

it becomes a thing of beauty!
This cake will be frosted in tie-dye colors and will boast a big white peace sign.  I hope Julia loves it!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Easy Pasta Night

The other night I came home from work and wanted a satisfying dinner, and fast.  I had a pound of lean ground beef ready to be transformed into something, a pound of fancy Italian pasta (Pastene).  The pasta was in the form of long, wide noodles, about 1/2 an inch across and ruffled on the edges.  It reminded me of a mini-lasagna noodle.  In my pantry was a jar of Paul Newman's Cabernet Marinara, and in the fridge was some coarsely grated Parmesan cheese.  Katie had fresh veggies and a ready-to-go bag of lettuce greens. Viola!  A perfect, easy, Italian dinner and I barely broke a sweat!  Here are a few photos of an easy evening dinner (missing a reluctant-to-be photographed Henry - we've entered a new phase!).

Granny Syd and Pete, playing
while dinner was being prepared.

Right in the spaghetti aisle...

Easy meat sauce - a lb. of ground beef
and a jar of Paul Newman's Cabernet Marinara!

Pasta Night Pete!  He loved it!

How about the next time you want something very satisfying but don't want to do all the work, let Paul Newman and a bag of Pastene noodles assist you in the kitchen!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Remembrance

Ten years ago this morning, I was in my office at Skidmore College in upstate New York.  The semester was off to a brand-new start, and I was assisting students with questions about studying abroad.  I was looking forward to starting my class on Shakespeare that afternoon, one more course toward earning my undergraduate degree in English.  It was a day full of optimism and promise.  Working in International Programs, we were bringing the larger world to our students, bridging cultures, expanding communities.  I remember it was an especially beautiful morning, with a bright, blue sky, a glorious example of a perfect late summer day.  Little did we know, that morning, that the world was about to become a very different place, that travel abroad, or travel in general, would change forever, and that the skies above us would be silenced for weeks to come.

Shortly after we opened our doors, a co-worker entered the office and announced that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.  At first, I couldn't comprehend that message.  It seemed too huge, too improbable.  I thought it must have been a terrible accident.  We turned on the television in our conference room, and as a crowd of us were watching The Today Show's coverage of the event, we were collectively horrified at the images and shocked as we saw a second plane crash into the other tower.  It was then that we all realized, along with everyone else in the world witnessing this event, that this was no accident.  It was much more evil, and much, much worse.

That day is forever etched in the minds of anyone old enough to remember.  The testimonies and memories aired on television and radio all this week bring the events of September 11, 2001, back with searing reality.  It is almost too hard to take it all in again, to resurrect the pain, the heart ache, and the lost promise of that day.

God Bless all those who lost their lives, or lost loved ones, and also to those who lost hope that day. 

God Bless our Armed Forces who together work so diligently to keep our homeland safe. 

"Peace be with you."

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Almond Joy Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is the second half of the blog post that I started yesterday.  Today's contribution is for Almond Joy Chocolate Chip Cookies, though my version used walnuts instead of chopped or slivered almonds.  We've been talking about this cookie all week at work, so I made them for our office lunch yesterday and was very pleased with the results and positive feed-back.


Preheat oven to 375 d F
Line cookie sheet with parchment paper


1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup Crisco shortening
1 cup packed brown sugar (light or dark)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 eggs

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1/2 cup slivered or chopped almonds (or whatever nut you prefer)
1/2 cup shredded coconut

Beat butter and Crisco together.  Add sugars and vanilla and beat well.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. 

Stir dry ingredients together in a separate bowl.  With mixer at lowest speed, add to the butter mixture and mix completely.  Stir in chocolate chips, nuts, and coconut until very evenly distributed.

If you have a cookie scoop, scoop batter onto parchment paper-lined cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart. 

Bake for 9 minutes and check.  If they are browning slightly on the edges and losing the wet look on top (dry in appearance) they are done.  If not, check at one minute intervals until they are.  Better to have them slightly underdone and chewy than overdone and too hard.

Cool on wire rack.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Raspberry Ribbon Cheesecake Brownies

This morning I went to work with goodies in tow.  We were having a department lunch, and my contribution were brownies and cookies that I baked last night.  I looked through my many cookbooks, but the recipe I decided on was one I used to make often, though not at all recently -- raspberry ribbon cheesecake brownies, my own original recipe.  I take a favorite standard brownie recipe (a mix worked just fine for me) and to that add cheesecake batter, a few tablespoons of good raspberry preserves (thank you, Catherine Golden, for the gift of your prize-winning jam) and a sprinkling of chocolate chips.  These simple ingredients transform everyday brownies into an elegant dessert, one that elicited "oohs" and "ahhhs" from my co-workers, and would from yours as well, I'm sure!  They LOVE it when I bake.  The other dessert I made were "almond joy" chocolate chip cookies, though I only had walnuts, but basically, they were my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe with nuts and shredded coconut, also a big hit!

Here's the brownie recipe (cookie recipe tomorrow):

Raspberry Ribbon Cheesecake Brownies
Oven - 325 degrees F

1 family-size brownie mix or recipe for 13x9 batch, mixed according to directions
4 oz. cream cheese
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
1/4 cup raspberry preserves
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Spray bottom of 13x9 pan with vegetable spray, or grease with butter.

Mix brownie mix according to package directions, or make a batch of brownie batter for a 13x9 pan.  Spread batter in pan.

In separate mixing bowl, beat 1/2 cup (4 oz.) softened cream cheese with granulated sugar, vanilla, egg, and flour.  Drop dollops of cream cheese batter randomly over brownie batter.

In microwave-safe container, warm preserves until they are softened, about 30 seconds.  Stir with a fork to smooth them out, and then pour randomly over cheesecake dollops.

Sprinkle chocolate chips over cheesecake and preserves. 

With a knife, marble the batters together, first in one direction, and then the other.

Bake at 325 degrees F for 30 minutes, until cheesecake areas begin to brown just a little bit at the edges.  I made mine in an 11x7 pan, and needed to bake them for 40 minutes.  Just be sure to check the appearance of the cheesecake - when it just begins to brown around its edges, the brownies are done!  You do not want to overbake these and make them too dry.  The toothpick test doesn't work on these - you want moist crumbs on the toothpick, just not wet batter.  If the toothpick comes out clean, you waited a little too long.  Just a helpful  hint...

Monday, September 5, 2011

Cowboy Caviar

Cowboy Caviar!
This has been a busy weekend at our house.  Katie's in-laws were visiting all weekend.  Bill's brother Chris, his wife Cindy, and their kids Eric and Carly came to spend the long Labor Day weekend here.  Bill's mom Penny came down from Bolton Landing. Bill's dad and Sydney were here, and Russ was visiting, too.  It was, as my mother used to say, "like Grand Central Station!"

On Saturday, a group of us took the train from Saratoga Springs to North Creek where little kids from all over were waiting in line to ride Thomas.  (Russ opted out and stayed home to play golf!).  The train ride up and back was lovely.  We sat in the Club Car with full dining service.  It was beautiful and despite malfunctioning air conditioning, it really was a pleasant experience. Henry and Peter were so well-behaved and had a great day.  Here's a collage of photos from our day on the train:

Train ride through the Adirondacks!
(click to enlarge)

Sunday afternoon, Cindy made a sweet salsa-like creation that I'd never had or even heard of before:  cowboy caviar.  It was so delicious.  I can't tell you how much we all loved it, and it was devoured!  Some of the ingredients might not be staples in your pantry, but I encourage you to pick them up and throw this concoction together for your next party.  Everyone will ask you for the recipe!

Cindy's Cowboy Caviar

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cans black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
1 can white corn, drained
1 can yellow corn, drained
1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 large bell pepper, seeded, chopped
1 sweet red pepper, seeded, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, chopped

3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar

tortilla chips - scoops work especially well

Make dressing:  combine oil, vinegar, and sugar in medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil.  Remove from heat and cool.

Mix all the vegetables together.  Pour cooled dressing over all and stir to combine.  Let sit for 20 minutes before serving, to allow flavors to blend.