Saturday, April 30, 2011

Three Years Old and a Treasure Chest Cake!

Henry's birthday is almost over, and for a three-year old who didn't get his afternoon nap, he's in remarkably agreeable shape!  He had a wonderful day, celebrated with friends, cousins, and grandparents.  Late this morning Henry came upstairs to "help" me put the finishing touches on his birthday cake while his father finished constructing his new sand box and his mother was getting ready for the party. 

Click on this link to see a slideshow of Henry's day, and the cake I loved making for him!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Royal Wedding and Cake!

Liza's Wedding Cake
I'm planning to go to bed in just a few minutes and wake up in time to catch the Wedding-of-the-Century, the Royal Wedding of Prince William to lovely Kate Middleton.  I'm setting my alarm for 4:00 a.m. and putting it across the room, so I have to get out of bed to turn it off.  While I watch the procession and wedding ceremonies, I'll be frosting a little birthday cake for later in the day, and I'll be wondering just what the Royal Wedding Cake will be.  I've read that it is the traditional English fruit cake with cream and a white frosting.  While those of us here in "the states" would likely not choose a fruit cake to celebrate a wedding, it is the cake of choice for weddings across the pond. 

Queen Victoria's Wedding Cake

Queen Victoria commissioned the first tiered wedding cake, initiating a tradition to be embraced all over the world, and which has taken on huge signficance for subsequent generations.  (History of the wedding cake, here.) The tiered cake, now, is an iconic symbol of the wedding, second only to the bride's wedding dress.  For one course leading up to my masters thesis, I wrote a paper comparing the symbolism of the the wedding dress and the wedding cake.  There are many correlations between the two which I personally find fascinating!

Katie's and Bill's Wedding Cake, October 2005

Despite the fact that I am divorced, I love weddings.  I especially love wedding cakes.  I made my daughter Katie's wedding cake for her marriage to Bill in 2005, and I look forward to making Tricia's when she and Jeff marry in Septemer of 2012.  When I think of my own simple wedding so many years ago, when Iwas only 20-years old, there was no tiered cake.  We were young and only had a small buffet at my parent's home, and ours was a sheet cake.  I think that's part of the reason why baking beautiful cakes for people is such an obsession for me.  I want to commemorate special days for special people. 

Carrie's Cupcake Wedding Cake

I can only image the pressure, at this moment, on the pastry chefs who are now assembling the most important cake of their lives.  Most likely, the press will focus on so many other aspects of the wedding, but the moments I'd love to witness will be when Will and Kate see their cake for the first time, when they cut the cake and share that first bite.  I hope it is something enchanting, one aspect of their wedding day that will bring happy memories back to them for many anniversaries to come.

Best wishes to Will and Kate!  May they enjoy health and happiness for the rest of their enchanted lives.



Wedding cake history: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/food/2009/07/the-strange-history-of-the-wedding-cake/

Photos:  mine, plus Queen Victoria's cake: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_txgXxsAs6fQ/TLG0yR4QBzI/AAAAAAAAAmE/7TUUKflQ7iI/s1600/Queen+victoria.jpg

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Brunch and Crustless Quiche

Happy Easter!  This morning my daughter Katie is hosting a small Easter brunch for her family and the grandparents.  My contribution is a crustless quiche.  Because there is still much to do on this Easter Sunday, I'll share the recipe in photos.  I hope you all have a beautiful day!

CRUSTLESS QUICHE

red, yellow, orange peppers & vidalia onion

self-explanatory!
shrooms
broccoli (or "trees" to Henry)
So colorful!
4 slices bacon crumbled into the mix
Katie's eggs - from different chickens!
A dozen eggs to be mixed w/ 3 c. milk

Poured over veggies and 2 cups shredded cheese
Out of the oven

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Barney Cake and Family Celebrations

This has been a busy baking weekend.  I made a bridal shower cake for a couple getting married this summer, and a Barney cake for a little guy whose birthday party is today.  The groom of the bridal couple is the son of a friend from the English Department where I used to work; the one-year-old is the grandson of a friend of mine. 

When Sue asked me if I'd make a Barney cake for her grandson Jake, I was happy to say yes, but I'd never made one before.  I was online late last night finding images of Barney, sketching them, and designing the cake.  After finishing the bridal shower cake after midnight (for an early morning delivery), I decided to go to bed so that my energy would be fresh in the morning to "tackle" Barney.  I got up at 6 a.m. and went straight to work.

Every time I have to design a cake I've never made before, I am grateful for those four years of art classes at Saratoga High, under the direction of Mario Izzo, the best art teacher I'd ever had.  I can't help but remember, as I mix colors for frosting, the many times my palette knife mixed different paints together to get just the right hue.  It's all very similar.  Mixing colors to decorate a cake brings me back to that classroom every time, and to the motivating words that Mr. Izzo blessed me with, "You are an artist."  While none of my cakes are Picasso-esque, just having his encouragement stored away in my brain, and in my heart, lets me know that I can do it, that I can design a cake and follow through and be pleased with the result. 

It's very gratifying to see friends lift the lids of cake boxes and realize the joy in their faces as they like what they see, that their vision of a cake has come to life.  I was driving home today and I thought about the tasks ahead of me (cleaning up my kitchen, getting ready for my own weekend baking and cooking).  Baking these cakes takes up a lot of my time and energy; sometimes it feels as though I have two jobs.  I wish I had more time to myself, but then I think of how what I did, what I created, added elements of happiness to not just one family's occasion today, but to two, and that makes it worth it.  Congratulations, Laura and Will, and happy first birthday, baby Jake!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lemon Yogurt Muffins on a Happy, Happy Day

Today, my daughter Tricia and her boyfriend Jeff became an engaged couple. It's wonderful news, and I finally heard about it after Tricia repeatedly tried to reach me on my cell phone which was still on my night stand after I went to work without it today(!).  So, the news was a little bit delayed but very welcome, nonetheless!  It was a very romantic proposal, in beautiful Yaddo in Saratoga Springs.  Tricia tells me Jeff got down and one knee and when she realized what was happening, she couldn't believe it.  She hadn't had any idea!  So now they are engaged, and are both elated.  Jeff is a great addition to our family. He and Tricia have a happy, fun-loving, and joyful relationship.  I've spent half the night sharing the good news -- by phone, by email, and by facebook -- this is indeed good news, all the way around.

Tonight, in my happiness, I am baking lemon yogurt muffins.  I've adapted my basic muffin recipe with the addition of granulated lemon peel (purchased at Fresh Market) and the substitution of vanilla yogurt for sour cream.  They're just coming out of the oven  now, and they smell great!

Tonight, muffins, and at a date to be determined in 2012, my daughter's wedding cake.  Love it.


LEMON YOGURT MUFFINS
makes 2 dozen
Prepare muffin tins with liners or by spraying with vegetable spray

1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 tablespoons granulated lemon peel (or the zest of one lemon)
2 cups vanilla yogurt
3.5 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Cream butter with sugar for 3 minutes.  Add vanilla extract and lemon peel.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add vanilla yogurt and mix well.



Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, all together.  Mix  on lowest speed until well combined.  Don't worry, you can mix this beyond just being moist.  Make sure all the dry ingredients are well incorporated, stopping to scrape the bowl once or twice.

Bake at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes.  Cool for 20 minutes and remove to wire rack to cool completely.  Sift confectioners sugar over top.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Pineapple Muffins

Pineapple Muffins from
allrecipes.com
Today lovely Tina asked me for a recipe for pineapple muffins.  I've known Tina since the day she was born.  Her parents have been friends of mine since the beginning of time, and I watched Tina, her brother Bobby, and sister Teresa grow up.  Our children spent much of their childhood together, and there are priceless memories of that time.  Along the way, busy lives got in the way but we've reconnected and it is as if no time has passed (I love that). 

Tina's son Jackson (2 years old) is unable to digest milk or milk products which is very challenging.  I found a recipe for pineapple muffins from allrecipes.com and adapted it so it would be safe for Jackson.  Water replaces milk, and canola oil replaces butter.  In baking world, canola oil works well as a butter substitute in muffins and cakes.  The moisture from the reserved pineapple juice and water more than make up for the milk, and the crowning of pineapple and a cinnamon struesel combine to make this a moist and delicious muffin.  The original recipe, linked here, rates very highly on allrecipes.com.  Jackson will be the judge, though.  I can't wait to hear how he liked them.


PINEAPPLE MUFFINS
(milk and butter-free)

375 degrees F

2 cups AP flour
1/2 c. gran sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 8oz can crushed pineapple
1 egg, beaten
3/4 c. water
1/4 c. canola oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease and flour muffin pans, or line with paper liners.

In a large bowl, stir together 2 cups flour, white sugar, baking powder and salt. Drain pineapple, reserving 1/4 cup juice. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and pour in the reserved juice, egg, water, and 1/4 cup canola oil. Mix just until blended.

In a separate bowl, stir together the cinnamon, brown sugar, 1/2 cup flour, and 1/4 cup canola oil to make the topping.

Spoon batter into muffin cups, then spoon crushed pineapple over the batter and sprinkle with the cinnamon topping.

Bake for 30 minutes in the preheated oven, until a toothpick inserted in the crown of the muffin comes out clean.
 
Original recipe and photo:  http://allrecipes.com//Recipe/delicious-pineapple-muffins/Detail.aspx

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Little Elfin' Magic and a Great Cheesecake!

This week I made a cheesecake for my friend Katie's mom's birthday.  Katie and I work together and she was trying to decide what kind of birthday cake she'd bring for her mother's celebration.  Her father said, "Your mother likes yellow cake with lemon filling, whipped cream frosting, and lots of walnuts on the side."  Katie said to her father, "No, that's YOUR favorite cake!"  Her mother loves cheesecake, and Katie asked if I would make one, with just a touch of lemon.  I was happy to make it.  I love making cheesecakes.  They are cool and creamy happiness in a graham cracker crust!  Don't be intimidated by the thought of making your own cheesecake; it's really a very simple process.  The important thing to remember is to have all your ingredients at room temperature, so that everything mixes to a silky smoothness.

I have a favorite recipe (linked here) and it is found on the back of the Keebler Graham Cracker Crumb box.  It's a New York-style cheesecake:  deep, sweet, and creamy.  The crust is delicious on its own, but when paired with the cream cheese filling, the whole thing is perfect.   I made a few minor changes to the recipe:  I added finely grated peel from one lemon.  Additionally, I place a cake pan full of hot water on the rack below, just to add moisture to the oven which helps to minimize cracking, and then when it was done I turned off the oven and propped the door open an inch and left it there for an hour to allow slow cooling, which is also supposed to help minimize cracking.  You can customize this recipe to  your own preferences with different flavorings.  Part of the batter can be flavored with cocoa or canned pumpkin and spices.  You can fold frozen berries (they don't smoosh) or broken Oreos into the batter.  You can use different crumbs for the crust (crushed chocolate wafer cookies).  The basic formula can be the foundation for limitless combinations.  Try this recipe.  You'll love it!

Here are photos of Katie's cheesecake, start to finish.



Using a small measuring cup to press crumbs...


Two el-bees of cream cheese!


The finished product!
Photos: my own.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Office Food and Pistachio Cake

Every now and then we arrive at work to find some kind of baked goodie waiting for us.  It can be pastries from a local bakery or pan of brownies or even something I've brought in, like banana bread or a coffee cake.  When I had to work this past Saturday I brought cinnamon rolls and blueberry muffins to share.  My donations to "office food" offerings are unpredictable and random and usually depend on what I'm baking for other reasons (and if there's any left over).  Once in a while I bake intentionally for my co-workers.  It's usually as a surprise and is greeted by such exclamations as "Oh, wow!" and equally, "Oh no!" when it's just too much of a temptation for those of us (including myself) who are being careful with our diets. 

This morning I walked in to the office and in our little kitchen area there was a foil covered pan with a thank-you note.  It was from Lynn, and the note said the cake was in celebration of her 6-month anniversary in the office, and in Lynn's words, "...to celebrate ME!"  (She's very funny!)  Seriously, though, her presence is a joyful one and I am very, very happy to be working with Lynn, as are the rest of the staff.  She's a breath of fresh air on days when the responsibility of our work is overwhelming.  I had only been working in the office for a month when Lynn joined us, so we are both learning as we go.

Lynn and her Pistachio Cake!

Underneath the foil in that pan was a pistachio cake.  Lynn said it's her standard cake to take to any event.  She's made it so many times, for her family and for parties, that she reeled the recipe right off from memory.  It starts with a white cake mix, a box of instant pistachio pudding and chopped nuts.  After it comes out of the oven, a glaze is poured over the surface, creating a wonderfully moist cake.   It was incredible! 

LYNN'S PISTACHIO CAKE

Oven:  350 degrees F
Spray a 13x9 pan with vegetable or baking spray.  Line pan with parchment or waxed paper (if you have it).

Cake:
1 white cake mix
1 box instant pistachio pudding mix (4 serving size)
1 cup water
3/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
4 eggs
finely chopped walnuts (1 cup)

Glaze:
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup confectioners sugar
3/4 cup water

Bake cake:
Mix together cake mix, pudding mix, water, oil, and eggs.  Beat 2 minutes.  Scrape bowl and make sure it's well mixed.

Pour batter into prepared pan.  Sprinkle finely chopped nuts over the batter.  Bake 40 minutes or until cake tests done with a toothpick or springs back when lightly pressed in the center. 

While cake is baking, prepare glaze:
In small saucepan, melt butter and stir in water and confectioners sugar.  Whisk until well combined.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and boil gently for three minutes.  Remove from heat.

When cake comes out of the oven, let it rest for a few minutes and then poke holes in it with a skewer or toothpick (about 1/2 inch apart all over the cake).  Distribute glaze evenly over top of cake.  It will sink into the poked holes.

Thank you, Lynn!!!

And...just for fun, with absolutely nothing to do with pistachio cake, here's a photo of my grandson Pete, taken yesterday. He's wearning Henry's pirate hat! Check out those cheeks!

Pete, 5 1/2 months old!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hello Cupcake!

To say that cupcakes are a craze is an understatement.  You can find a cupcake bakery in almost every town these days.  Believe me, if I won the lottery or found myself suddenly semi-affluent, I'd open one in a minute, and it'd be incredible! But, there's that thing of needing benefits and a paycheck that keeps me loyal to the 9-to-5 routine I've established over the past 21 years!  I have had dreams of opening my own shop, and visions of what it would be like, even creating a business plan as part of my masters thesis.  I still have that on hold for the possibility that one day I'd have the wherewithall and the ability to take that dream out and dust it off.  Hey, you never know!

Lisa's Baby Shower Mni-Cupcakes

Cupcakes have taken center stage for many celebrations, even weddings, in recent years.  There's something about that small little serving of cake-meets-frosting that elicits happiness.  I recently made a gift of tiny little cupcakes for expectant mom Lisa's baby shower.  She loved them! 

Even cupcake packaging has come a long way.  There are small boxes for individual cupcakes if you want to give one person something special on an ordinary day.  A co-worker told me that her little girl was sad because of something that was going on, and the next day I brought cupcakes to her to brighten her daughter's day. 


Catherine's birthday cupcakes - red velvet!

My friend Catherine loves all things Victorian, and for her birthday one year I made her pretty cupcakes decorated in tiny mauve flowers.  She loved them. 

Dark chocolate cupcakes with
buttercream and sprinkles!

My most ambitious project was for a wedding a few years ago.  It was a cupcake wedding cake, displayed on a custom-made stand that a friend made especially for the occasion (and it only cost me two cases of Corona!).  It  holds three tiers of cupcakes below and an 8-inch round cake on top. 

Carrie's wedding cake with
fondant butterflies and flowers

The really great thing about cupcakes is that you can have almost instant gratification.  A cupcake can bake in 15-20 minutes, and is cool enough to frost in a half-hour. 

The cutest thing about a cupcake is that my grandson Henry LOVES them.  When I made Lisa's baby shower cupcakes, I had enough batter and frosting left over to make a half-dozen mini-cupcakes for Henry's house.  As I walked through the door, he ran toward me and literally shook in excitement.  Now, every time I walk into their house he runs toward me and excitedly asks, "Cupcake?" and I have to say, "No, not today.  They're all gone." He turns his palms upside down and expressivley repeats, with clear disappointment, "All gone..."  I promise him that we'll make them again, soon.  Henry's birthday is in three weeks, and he has been lovingly looking through a party catalogue that displays all kinds of birthday party goods including cupcake displays.  He focuses on the cupcake page and whispers "cupcake...".  Just adorable.

Henry, checking out cupcakes
in a party catalogue!


Here's a recipe for a basic cupcake and frosting.  If you have an hour, you can make these!

BASIC CUPCAKES
Oven - 350 degrees F
line a standard muffin pan with paper liners

1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 eggs AT ROOM TEMPERATURE
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus two tablespoons milk

Cream sugar with butter for a full five minutes.  Don't skimp on the time, it's necessary for a smooth batter.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating for a full minute after each addition.  Add vanilla extract and mix in well.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add by thirds to the butter mixture, mixing well after each addition, until it is all incorporated.  Mix in milk until the batter is smooth.  The batter will be pudding-like in consistency.
 
Divide batter among baking cups, careful not to fill more than 2/3 full.  For portion control, I like to use a standard-sized levered ice cream scoop so try that if you have one.  For mini cupcakes, I dispense the batter from a disposable pastry bag with just the tip cut off.   You can do that with a zippered storage bag too, it's just a bit unwieldy so be careful. 
 
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until top springs back when pressed lightly.
 
Cool and frost!

 
SIMPLE CUPCAKE FROSTING
 
1 bar butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
1/4 cup milk plus more as needed

Cream butter with vanilla extract.  Slowly beat in confectioners sugar, a bit at a time, with a few teaspoons of the milk until you've added all and both are incorporated.  If necessary, add more milk, a few drops at a time, until the frosting is desired consistency.  You can always add more liquid, but you can never take it away if you've added too much, so be conservative as you go.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

For Mrs. O'Brien: Cheesey Scalloped Potatoes

Taste of Home's
Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes
I put it out there that I wanted to hear from people about recipes they'd like to see on this blog.  First to respond was my friend Jill "It's good to be Mrs. O'Brien" O'Brien, a lovely young mom and fellow Skidmore College alumnus who leads a very hectic life with three little kids (the youngest, twins!).  She asked for a cheesey potato recipe, and I looked for something that won't take a lot of time or require a long list of ingredients.  I remember what it's like to try to put together a good meal with little kids running around (and still do - I often have my grandson Henry "helping" me in the kitchen!).

This recipe from Taste of Home is simple and classic.  It's made the way my Aunt Loretta  used to make her macaroni-and-cheese:  it's layered.   So, a little slicing, a little chopping, a little layering, and you have a classic scalloped potato dish, a perfect accompaniment to an Easter ham or Tuesday night's meat loaf. 


CHEESEY SCALLOPED POTATOES

4 pounds potatoes, peeled and sliced (about 5 large potaotes)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1-1/4 cups shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese, divided
3 ounces reduced-fat Swiss cheese slices, finely chopped (3/4 cup), divided
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1-1/2 cups 2% milk
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

•Place a third of the potatoes in a shallow 3-qt. baking dish coated with cooking spray. In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt and pepper; sprinkle half over potatoes. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of each cheese and half of the onions. Repeat layers. Top with remaining potatoes. Pour milk over all.

•Cover and bake at 350° for 50-60 minutes or until potatoes are nearly tender. Sprinkle with remaining cheeses. Bake, uncovered, 10 minutes longer or until cheese is melted and potatoes are tender.

Sprinkle with parsley. Yield: 8 servings.

Another great thing about Taste of Home is that it provides nutritional information, great for converting to my Weight Watchers points plus:  One serving (about 3/4 cup) equals 235 calories, 7 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 22 mg cholesterol, 556 mg sodium
 
Recipe and Photo:  http://www.tasteofhome.com/Recipes/Cheesy-Scalloped-Potatoes

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Good Morning Sunshine

Today actually looked like spring, though it was pretty cold and sure didn't feel like it.  As I was driving to Skidmore around 6:30 this morning, the sun was rising like a giant yellow ball.  It looked huge as it crested the horizon and radiated brilliance.  I didn't have my sunglasses with me (big mistake) and I actually had to shield my eyes from the rising sun, something that goes against every winter-fied cell in my body!  Come on sun, do your thing and get those trees budding and grass growing, so I can know for sure that winter has been banished and I won't have to deal with its ugly personality for at least eight months, please?!!!!!

Our workout today was just as the sun was rising, out on the turf of Skidmore's track, still lined with stubborn snow banks.  We did our stepping exercises through the woven ladder on the frost-covered ground, jump-roped (I'm almost getting back to 3rd grade proficiency!), lunged with medicine balls, side-stepped with elastic bands around our ankles, did push ups, planks, and sit ups until we just couldn't any longer, and more.  "More" included bicep and tricep curls, shoulder flies, chest presses, etc. with one of those rubber tubes with handles.  Mine was green, one step up from the easiest yellow, and I was a complaining baby about it!  Some of the men chose red, or even black, showing off their physical superiority in such exercises (so far!).  We even had to whip around a rope the size of a fire hose.  NOT EASY!  Then I went to work, with all the typical morning's anxious anticipation worked right out of me.  Morning exercise serves a purpose!

Besides exercise, I actually concentrated on other things today.  That's the great thing about morning exercise -- when it's over, it's over -- I don't have to think about it at all for the rest of the day (except if I'm whining about it in a blog post).  Of course, there's work, my real job.  The one good thing about working in a too-busy office is that you look up and it's lunch time.  You look up again and it's quitting time (though I have trouble quitting and getting out at 4:30.  I always manage to use the next 45 minutes to wind down and prepare for the next day).  And also of course, there's my after-work day, when I come home and go straight into Katie's house to get an irresistible baby fix, and I end  up staying until the boys are on their way to dream land and I can't keep my eyes open.  Doesn't leave a lot of time for much more than getting ready for bed so I can wake up too early!  Oh, I almost forgot to tell you about my latest obsession/distraction:  the Decorah Iowa Eagle Nest Cam - talk about lost productivity!  I only wonder how many comprehensively broad hours of work both at home and in the office have been forsaken to watch the parent birds care for three of the cutest little eaglets (the third hatched just last night) and feed them such things, so far, as squirrel, beaver and/or possum, trout, and a black bird.  Somehow it doesn't seem so horribly violent when I see how gently the parent birds feed the babies, how carefully they nurture and protect them.  Food chain.  Life and death.  It's all very simple really, and fascinating!  I don't really have any time at work to indulge, but when I finally get home and turn on the computer, there they are: a live screen saver of real-time nature at its most efficient.  I love, love, love it.  There's a lot that's not getting done at home, I'm afraid.  Good thing I limit it to home; work is just a little too demanding these days for such a diversion...

This afternoon when I was in the office and I said to a number of women I work with, "Well, today is Thursday and just one more day and we have a weekend!  Yea!" to which I heard the response, "Jeannie, it's your Saturday to work."   Dead silence.  A look of horror on my face, I'm sure...ARGHHHH!  I had forgotten.  We each take a couple of Saturdays during the fall and spring to answer phones and deal with office stuff, and this is MY Saturday.  Jeez, no rest for the wicked...

So here I am, just upstairs from Katie's house.  Her husband Bill is home for the weekend and the boys are bathed and ready for bed.  I lugged groceries up the stairs and had forgotten that, 2 hours ago, I did indeed buy low-fat frozen pomegranate yogurt which sat in my car while I was playing Grandma with Henry and Peter.  Hmmm.  Wonder if it refreezes well.  We'll see!

Tomorrow I plan to share a recipe for really cheesy potatoes, requested by my friend Jill "It's good to be Mrs. O'Brien" O'Brien.  And recipes for other requests are on their way. 

Hope you all have a good Friday eve and a great weekend.  Don't think of me while I'm at work Saturday.  Sleep late, loll about.  Just forget I said anything!

Photo credit: http://www.poetry-innerspace.com/city-sunrise-web.jpg

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bakin' Away

It's been a busy baking week.  On Sunday we celebrated my youngest daughter Tricia's 29th birthday.  Memories of the day she was born are very vivid.  It was April 3, 1982, and there was a blizzard!  She had been due on March 14th and was three weeks late.  After a long, exhausting day of induced labor and no results, Tricia was born by cesarean section just after 5 p.m.  She weighed in at 9 lbs., 3 oz., and had a full head of golden blonde hair. 

Tricia's birthday dinner was chicken parmesan and eggplant parmesan, along with a tossed salad, toasted garlic bread, and -- for the finale -- a triple layer chocolate cake with fudge frosting.  It was her special request and I didn't skimp on the chocolate.  I used the Hershey's Cocoa Cake recipe on the back of the cocoa tin.  For frosting, I made a whipped chocolate ganache that decided to become more fudge than ganache half-way through the icing process.  It was all good, though, because it ended up being a stately, if not rustic, cake and Tricia loved it!  We had a nice time with Katie, Bill, and the boys, Tricia's boyfriend Jeff, and me.  Very small, but full of happy energy and birthday wishes.


Tricia with nephew Peter 4.3.11

The baking continued as I made the cake for my office's celebration party Tuesday night.  I work in a college admissions office and we recently sent out decision letters.  The amount of collaborative work that goes into the process of preparing for that day is incredible.  I wouldn't have believed how intense it was if I hadn't experienced it myself first-hand.  So, letters out the door, and a party was planned to celebrate and appreciate the hard work of so many people.  The work continues as the class of 2016 takes shape.  Last night's dinner included all our staff and their families.  I brought my daughter Katie and grandsons Henry and Peter to the party.  Henry was very excited to be there and to meet the children of my co-workers.  He had a hug for every child, fist-pumps and high-fives all around.  He decided to sit with the big kids at their dinner table, and when Katie had to crawl under the table to get him out of there, she decided it was time to exit stage right and take Henry and Peter for a ride in the car until "Grandma" was ready to leave.  They came back for me a while later. 

Celebration cake!

The cake I made for last night's dinner was a simple sheet cake -- half vanilla and half dark chocolate -- with buttercream frosting.  I made two-tone rosettes with my pastry bag and a star tip, and used a writing tip for the message and to make little curved and dotted lines.  It was a fun cake to decorate and very simple.  One day in the not-too-distant future I would like to have a class for anyone interested to learn the basics of cake decorating, starting with cupcakes.  I know it would be a lot of fun and already I've had people say they're interested. 

In the meantime, I look forward to the next cake project, and I wish you all a warm and sunshine-filled spring!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Jody and the Chocolate Recipe!

Jody Shepson is a friend I've know since we were in high school, oh just a few years ago!  She lived just around the corner from me.  We lived on Salem Drive in Saratoga Springs, and she lived on Springwood Drive.  Jody's sister Cindy was in my sister Ginny's class in high school, a year behind me. 

We grew up in Saratoga when it was a simpler place, in a time before laptops, blogs, or I-phones.  There were no malls at exit 15 of I-87.  The big news was when a MacDonald's came to town in the late 60s!  Downtown was a simpler place too.  There were no national retail clothing stores as there are now.  We knew the shop-owners and they knew us.  They were our neighbors and friends.  We'd walk home from high school and stop at stores on timeless Broadway -- Patricia's, Erlangers, Mabou, Soave Faire (still there), The Economy Shop, Glickman's, Starbuck's (not the coffee), Covkin's...  Woolworth's, J.J. Newberry's, and Western Auto were the only chains, and they'd been there forever.  Farmer's Hardware was a great store where you could buy hardware, household items, and also pick up your new telephone from Ma Bell.  It was the only place in town to get a phone.   There was even a choice of grocery stores then:  A&P, Grand Union, Central Market (now Price Chopper).  We loved to go to the elegant and classic Community Theater, which is now home to a number of shops and businesses (makes me sad - I wish someone would win the lottery and convert it back to our beloved theater!). 

As kids, we rode our bikes everywhere, or walked.  We were outside all the time.  That all seems eons ago. It WAS decades ago!  I remember fondly those simpler times. 

Facebook has allowed us to stay connected, or reconnect, to people from our past.  Jody moved away from Saratoga a number of years ago, but it seems I know her better now because of her frequent (and hilarious) postings on Facebook.  Through her posts, I've learned that Jody is an enthusiastic and accomplished cook. 

Early on in my blog's life, I posted Jody's favorite recipe for Chocolate Slab.  Today I bring you two more chocolate-focused recipes that Jody's shared.  Don't get the idea, though, that she limits her culinary endeavors to all things chocolate.  Nope.  She often mentions the great dinners she's made for her husband, as well as his colleagues and students.  She also writes enthusiastically of meals she's had out (especially liking Thai food).  I'm hoping that there are a lot more recipes from Jody coming our way.  I'm saving another recipe she's shared for a future post; don't want to give it all up at once!  Below you will find recipes for two dishes she's mentioned recently on Facebook:  Country Chocolate Pie, and Rum Chocolate Mousse.  I asked, and she shared recipes and photos.  Thanks Jody!  And remember, friends, that I'd love to feature your favorite recipes, too, and photos to go along.  I might not make you famous, but you will be appreciated!

Shep, Jody, and the pups!



COUNTRY CHOCOLATE PIE

2 eggs
½ c flour
1 c. sugar
1 tsp vanilla
½ c melted butter
1 c walnuts
1 c semi-sweet morsels

Pour into unbaked pie shell.

Bake at 350 for 35-50 minutes. 
 
 
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Jody's husband Shep and his Mousse Plane!


RUM CHOCOLATE MOUSSE
(Jody shaped this into an airplane for her husband's birthday!)

Cook over very low heat until dissolved but not colored brown: ¼ cup sugar
2-4 tbls rum
Melt in a double boiler
¼ lb semi-sweet or sweet chocolate

When the chocolate is melted, stir in
2-3 tbls heavy cream

Add the syrup to the melted chocolate and stir until smooth. When the mixture is cool but not chilled, fold into

2 stiffly beaten egg whites

Then fold very gently into

2 cups whipped heavy cream

Chill in glasses 2 hours before serving.
 
 
Recipes and photos from Jody Shepson