Friday, September 28, 2012

Apple Pie Muffins

Sometimes inspiration for this blog just strikes from out of the blue.  Sometimes, it doesn't.  Today was a good day.  I was driving home from work, thinking about those honey crisp apples we picked at Hick's last weekend, and thought about making an apple pie.  I just didn't want to do all the work of making an apple pie.  And I didn't have any Philly Vanilla ice cream from Stewart's (a requirement).  So that nixed that.  Hmmm.  I thought about my great and easy basic muffin recipe, and how I could saute the apples with cinnamon and sugar and fold them into the muffin batter, and thus my apple pie muffin recipe was born!

I've seen recipes that use grated apples, but I wanted the softer, chunkier presence of these beautiful apples in my muffins.  So, I took two big apples, peeled, and diced them into 1/2 inch pieces.  I tossed those in a saute pan with about a teaspoon of butter and a tablespoon of canola oil.  I sprinkled about 1/3 cup of granulated sugar, and sprinkled cinnamon over the top of all of it.  The lid went on and the apples cooked for a good few minutes until they were fork-tender.  I took them off the heat and stirred in a teaspoon of vanilla, and let it cool for a while.  It made a nice, syrupy glaze, too.  All of that was stirred into the basic batter (recipe below) and this new muffin has been added to my repertoire.  The aroma while they were baking was amazing!

Here's the recipe:

an original recipe!
Makes 18 standard muffins

Oven 400 degrees Farenheit

Prepare muffin tins with spray or muffin liners (I use spray to make them look authentically home-made).

Mix the following together and cook over medium heat in a saute pan until apples are fork tender:
2 large honey crisp apples (or your favorite apple), peeled & diced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Stir often and put a lid on it if you want them to cook a little faster and retain more moisture (that's what I did).
Allow to cool a bit while you're making the muffin batter.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

2 eggs
1 cup milk or butter milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Stir together dry ingredients.  Make well in center.

Whisk eggs with a fork and stir in milk, vegetable oil, and vanilla.  Dump into the well of the dry ingredients and stir with a fork until all the dry ingredients are moistened.

Fold in cooled apples and their sauce from the saute pan.

Fill muffin cups 1/2 to 3/4 full.  I use a levered ice cream scoop (standard size) to get uniform muffins.
Sprinkle tops with a cinnamon sugar mixture.

Bake for 18 - 22 minutes, OR (and this is important) until muffins are done - you can test by pressing lightly and if the muffins bounce back, they're done.  Mine were done after 18 minutes.  If they are still moist on top and don't bounce back, they're not done.

Cool in pan on rack for about 5 minutes.  Carefully remove from pans onto wire rack to cool completely.

Here are some photos of my successful apple pie muffin experiment!:

The New Apple Pie Muffin!  Click to inhale (I mean, enlarge)!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Carrot Cake Petit Fours

It's hard to believe that my daughter Tricia's bridal shower was almost two weeks ago, and that just two weeks from this Sunday, she and Jeff will be married!  It's been a whirlwind of happy activity.  Today I ordered the silver cake stand that will showcase her wedding cake, and printed inspiration pictures for my next project -- their 3-tiered wedding cake (maybe 4, depending on the final numbers!). They are getting married in ultimate Adirondack style, at a beautiful setting on Brandt Lake at the peak of what appears to be a glorious fall foliage season, and their cake will be a reflection of that natural environment.  I don't want to give too much away, but it will be very "woodland-y" and that's all I can say about it right now.  There will be pictures after October 14th!

One of the highlights of Tricia's shower was a platter of carrot cake petit fours with cream cheese glaze.  These were my daughter Katie's creation, and they were wonderful little mouth-fuls of autumny goodness!  Here's the recipe Katie used for the petit fours, which were more of a carrot pound cake than a traditional cake (for the perfect texture):

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit

Prepare pan/s:  Use a half-sheet pan fitted with parchment paper to cover the bottom, or divide batter between two 9x13 cake pans. Spray parchment and sides of pan with cooking or baking spray.

Ingredients for cake:

1 carrot cake mix
1 box 4-serving size instant vanilla pudding
4 large eggs
1 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Mix cake ingredients together until completely blended (about 2 minutes on medium speed).  Pour batter into pan/s and spread evenly, it'll be about 3/4 inch in depth.  Bake for 20 minutes or until cake tests done.

Let cool completely.

With a very sharp knife, cut cake into squares about 1 1/4 inches wide.  Katie did this by making all the horizontal cuts (with a ruler as a guide) and then all the vertical cuts.  You will be able to use the edges as snacks, since they will not be level as evidenced in the photo below.  This made for happy family members who wanted to taste test (!).  All the interior squares can be moved to a wire rack, bottom side up (it's perfectly flat).  Leave enough space between squares for the glaze to be applied without touching each other, and make sure there's foil or parchment under the rack to catch drips.  There will be drips!

2 lb. bag confectioners sugar (about 9 cups)
8 oz. cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, added at the very end after you remove from heat (or you can use almond or lemon extract to taste - a little goes a long way - use maybe 1/2 teaspoon).

Combine ingredients with a hand mixer at very low speed in top of large double boiler (large pot over a little bit smaller pot of water works - just make sure it's stable).  Once all the ingredients are completely combined, allow to get hot over the double boiler, stirring in a few drops of hot water at a time if you need to thin the consistency to a pour-able state.  Remove from stove but keep warm over hot water.

To glaze, we let the mixture cool and then Katie and I used a pastry bag with a writing tip to coat the petit fours while they were on the wire rack.  You can do that, or you can spear each square with a fork over the glaze and with a large spoon pour enough glaze to cover (that seems awkward to me, and I worry about crumbs falling off the cake and into the glaze, and then getting it back on to the rack.  Piping is easier).  If you have freezer space, you can even freeze the squares and then glaze.  You have options.

Anyway, allow the newly-glazed squares to rest undisturbed (hours or overnight) for the glaze to set completely, and then decorate as desired.  We liked piping little carrots to give a hint about the flavor. Just think of the flavor combinations you could come up with - red velvet cake with cream cheese glaze, dark chocolate with peppermint glaze (leave out the cream cheese), yellow cakes with chocolate or strawberry glaze, chocolate with mocha glaze - the possibilities are endless. And these adorable little bites can be decorated for any occasion, so use your imagination!

Photos of the process:

Nothing quite so elegant as a petit four at a tea party!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

M and M Chocolate Chip Cookies

Tonight I made M&M Chocolate Chip cookies.  I took a basic Toll House-type recipe and changed things up.  I used half semi-sweet chocolate chips and half seasonal M&Ms, which for autumn (after a quick study) are really basic M&Ms with just red, brown, orange, and yellow.  Didn't miss the green or blue at all!  I have a couple of favorite recipes for chocolate chip cookies, and the one I use the most melts two bars of butter and uses more brown sugar than white, creating an almost caramel-y, very chewy cookie.  For this recipe, I decided I wanted something lighter in color and texture, so I used more white than brown sugar, and half (don't gasp) solid vegetable shortening and half butter.  The shortening lends a tenderness that the butter, on its own, just can't.  It made a lot of cookies, so I figure the little bit of vegetable shortening per cookie isn't life-threatening, and as long as the substance hasn't yet been banned for home kitchens in and outside of New York City (!), I'm still using it!  And seriously, anyone contemplating enjoying a chocolate chip cookie isn't too, too worried about the nutritional consequences, not at that moment anyway!  Just don't eat the whole batch.  That's my disclaimer.  One or two, and you'll be just fine.  Life is short. Have a cookie.

Here's a collage of the process, followed by my recipe.  It's a good one. Henry and Peter were my quality-control officers tonight (between watching a Winnie the Pooh video more than once) and they gave four very happy and chocolatey thumbs up! Then I brought them back to their mother for clean up!

M&M Chocolate Chip Cookies
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit
line a half-sheet pan or cookie sheet with parchment paper

In large mixer bowl, combine:
1/2 cup room temperature butter (1 bar)
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening (Crisco)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract.

Mix well, and then beat in 2 eggs, one at a time.

To that mixture, add:
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour mixed with 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon salt.
Combine until all the dry ingredients are well incorporated.

Stir in:
1/2 cup M&Ms
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto parchment-lined cookie sheet 2 inches apart (I get 12-15 per sheet).  I use a small cookie scoop for this purpose and all the cookies are uniform in size;  therefore, they bake evenly.

Bake for 12 minutes or until the cookies are beginning to brown a bit around the outside edges.  Ovens vary so make sure you bake them long enough.  Start checking at 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes on the pan before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely (or not!).

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Pumpkin Pancakes and Apple Picking in Granville, New York

Katie, Bill, and the boys invited me to join them for a trip to Granville today for a late breakfast and then apple picking.  For breakfast, we landed at Rathbun's Maple Sugar House in North Granville.  We were actually there at lunch time, and the last table to be seated before they closed at 1 p.m.  It's a beautiful spot in the gorgeous hills of eastern New York, just west of the Vermont border.  Katie and I ordered pumpkin pancakes and sausage patties.  Bill ordered french toast made from thick slices of home-made bread, and Henry and Peter each had a chocolate chip pancake.  The pumpkin pancakes were light as air, fluffy, and drizzled with Rathbun's own maple syrup, produced on premises.  I took a photo of Henry and Peter as we arrived at Rathbun's.

After breakfast, we drove a few miles to Hick's Orchard, which has become our favorite annual place for picking apples.  It's a bit of a drive, and on a sunny day it's even more enjoyable, but today the skies opened up as we walked deep into the orchard to find the Honey Crisps, and we got wet!  Henry was prepared with his Spiderman umbrella, but the rest of us were not. We never picked apples so fast!  Of course, by the time we got back to the car, it stopped raining, but started up again when Henry and I were in line waiting to buy apple cider donuts from the take-out window at the orchard's shop!  The rain also meant no bounce house today, which was a bit disappointing for the little guys.  Hopefully, next year we'll visit on a day when the rain doesn't!

Inspired by my lunch-time breakfast in the beautiful mountains of Granville, here's a recipe for pumpkin pancakes from The Saturday Evening Post on-line.

from The Saturday Evening Post on-line
(Makes about 10 pancakes)

3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 cup milk
1/3 cup pumpkin puree
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 large egg

Whisk dry ingredients together in medium bowl. In another medium bowl, combine wet ingredients and mix well. Whisk the wet ingredients into dry mix until just combined. Do not overmix. Let sit for 2-3 minutes. Using ladle or 1/3 measuring cup, pour batter onto hot griddle or pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until bubbles form. Flip and cook other side for 1-2 minutes.

Pancake photo and recipe courtesy of The Saturday Evening Post:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Showering Best Wishes for an October Wedding

This past Sunday we celebrated the bridal shower of my youngest child and daughter, Tricia.  Mostly family and a number of Tricia's friends filled my daughter Katie's living-room-turned-cafe for an afternoon of really good food and lots of happy chatter.  Together with the other bridesmaids, Tricia's sisters Katie and Meghan  produced an exceptional party.  Tricia never stopped smiling the whole time.  Her joy is obvious as her wedding (just 27 days away) looms!

I wrote previously of the preparations leading up to the shower.  The funny thing is, I expected the guests to mozie up to my apartment from Katie's house, but none did.  We stayed downstairs and had such a good time there was no reason to wander off.  So, my little apartment got all dressed up for the party for no reason, and that's just fine too.  Right now, it's ready for guests at a moment's notice.  Usually, my apartment looks like baking-central and now everything baking-related is put away, out of sight. Mine almost looks like a "normal" kitchen again!  But before the great hiding away, my kitchen produced a bit for Tricia's shower, including scones and fancy cupcakes.  That was nothing compared to what Katie produced.  She made wonderful carrot cake petit fours which were enrobed in a cream cheese glaze.  They were beautiful and delicious, a tiny bite of autumn sweetness that everyone loved.  I'll post that recipe in a day or two.  Katie also made two soups to go with the elegant tea sandwiches (salmon with cucumber and capers, curried chicken salad, shrimp salad, and cream cheese with cucumber) she picked up at The Whistling Kettle in nearby Ballston Spa.  Her soups were butternut squash with apple, and creamy wild rice and chicken, and both were exceptional!  Bridesmaids brought an abundant pasta salad, a luscious fruit platter, a black bean confetti dip and toasted tortilla chips.  Mother of the groom Carol made unbelievably decadent brownies with Snickers!  No one went away hungry, that's for sure!

Really good food!

More of the good stuff...

Katie's carrot cake petit fours

The desserts!

The night before the shower, Katie and Meghan had moved all the furniture out of her living room and set up five round tables with chairs.

The setting...

Tea pot wishes... (later shellacked for preservation)
(tea pots and placemats decorated by bridesmaid Val!)

The tables were draped with gold-colored tablecloths, and decorated with placemats as well as personally painted tea pots (party favors for each guest), both made by Val echoing a tea party theme with an Alice in Wonderland motif.  Katie and Meghan made centerpieces with branches from her woods, stones, and purple calla lilies which were beautiful in their natural simplicity.  Meghan strung white lights in a zig zag pattern across the living room, giving the space a very festive glow.  I actually relaxed and let my girls do the work, enjoying their collaboration to make this happen.  It was great to let go, trusting them to do a good job, and realizing the terrific work they do without my help!  It's liberating!

The centerpieces

Here are a few shots of moments that made the afternoon so meaningful to Tricia (and to her sisters and me).  It was a lovely day!

Pretty pillow matched Tricia's sparkley dress!

Katie, my sister Anne, and my sister Ginny

Tricia with her future-aunt Judy and mother-in-law Carol!

Lovely Cousins Lauren and Louise

Meghan, me, Tricia, and Katie

Tricia with precious Grammy Mary Lou Eddy!

A collage of bridesmaids!!!

Fiance Jeff surprised Tricia when he showed
up as the Mad Hatter!

Love and all the best wishes to Tricia and Jeff!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bridal Shower Weekend!

The bride-to-be!
There is so much activity in this house it's crazy!  With my daughter Tricia's bridal shower on Sunday, Katie and Meghan have been furiously preparing for the house-full of guests who will be joining Tricia's bridesmaids and the rest of us to wish their sister and  her soon-to-be husband well.  It's such a blessing to have Meghan home again and to realize just what we'd been missing for the almost three years she's been away.  She's smart, funny, insightful, and such a work horse!  And she went to work almost immediately upon arriving home!  She and Katie have worked with boundless engergy (it seems -- my energy has absolute bounds!) to get our homes ready for this big event in our family. Together they have helped move major pieces of furniture, rearranged kitchens, washed, dried, and polished...and entertained two little boys at the same time.  Meghan's making up for daughter-sister-aunt time, and it is nothing less than wonderful to have her home again.  We've stayed up late and talked into the wee hours.  She and Tricia enjoyed some wedding shopping time together yesterday.  It's a good time of life right now for me as "Mom."  I love to see my kids enjoying each other's company.  It's very satisfying to realize they've all grown up into such interesting and unique people!

Kate, Meghan, Trish
My contribution to the shower is an assortment of fruit-filled mini-scones, as well as a tower of fancy cupcakes.  I'll be making colorful fondant flowers to sit atop puffs of buttercream on an assortment of butter yellow and milk chocolate cupcakes.  I'll take photos and (of course!) share them with you!  Katie's making home-made soups and bringing in teas and tea sandwiches from a great little restaurant in Ballston Spa.  Bridesmaids are providing their own specialties, and with my baked goodies, it'll be a delicious afternoon!

As you can imagine, time's a wastin' so I have to get back to my busy kitchen and produce!  I can't wait until Sunday when the house is filled with the joy of best wishes.  I will look at my now-grown youngest child and wonder where the years have gone, and know that my own cup will overflow with pride and hope for the brightest of futures for Tricia and Jeff.  My kids will tease me for being emotional, but that's OK.  I'll love every second.

Me and my baby girl!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Obsession Continues

My grandson Henry's obsession with Darth Vader continues.  Yesterday afternoon, I received a phone call at work.  It was my daughter Katie who said Henry wanted to talk to me.  Henry got on the phone and said, "Grandma, after work can you go to the store and buy a Darth Vader pan?"  I asked him if he wanted it for his birthday cake.  His birthday isn't until April.  Being four, I was wondering if he had a real concept of how far that is away, but he had already had a plan.  He said, "No, it's for Aunt Meghan.  I want to make her a Darth Vader cake."  Isn't that generous and thoughtful (read -- clever) of this smart little four year old?  Well, I knew what he was up to.  He wanted it because he saw it earlier in the day when he and his mom were shopping, and it was all he could think about. I wasn't sure if I was going to cave or not (I usually cave).  One recent example:  the Spiderman glove that makes web-spewing noises that his mother thought he didn't need, the same one I bought him after he called me at work and asked me if it was payday yet!

Determined not to give in for fear of spoiling  him, I left work, stopped at a welcoming reception at the home of Skidmore College's President (I work at Skidmore) and then met friends for drinks at Gaffney's in Saratoga Springs.  We were celebrating my friend Joanne's birthday.  It was a lovely, warm evening out in the garden, and after an hour or so of relaxing time with my buddies, I got in the car and instead of heading west for home, drove east to the exit 15 shopping area and AC Moore, the store where earlier in the day Henry saw the Darth Vader pan.  I pulled up a 40% off coupon on my Windows phone, and got the pan for a bargain.  I stopped at Price Chopper for baking supplies, and surprised Henry (who was totally expecting it) with the pan  he wished for.  I must say, he was very happy, very appreciative, and so excited.  You'd think it was some kind of amazing toy, but this child has seen cakes since the moment he came into my life.  In his world, cakes are a big deal.

One happy kid!

So, this morning after I got home from delivering Cindy  June's prize-winning cake (for commenting on this blog! - hey, if you comment, you could win!) Henry was ready.  We came upstairs to my apartment and baked the Darth Vader cake.  It's cooling now, and will be decorated later today.  It's for "no reason."  Every now and then, I think we should all enjoy a cake for no reason!

I'll post a photo when it's frosted (watch out, black frosting!!!)

taa daa!!!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Looking Forward and Looking Back

This is one of those days when I don't have much to write about, food-wise.  I did a little baking last night, I'll do a little more tonight (not for me, a carb-watcher these days!).   I do have Cindy's prize-winning cake for July to bake for Saturday -- I'll post about that this weekend.

It was a looonnnnggg productive day at work, and this Friday-eve finds me wanting to go to bed early to get to that weekend quicker!  But I know better than to wish/rush the days away too quickly.  Even though I work at a college and school is in session, it's not fall  yet.  This beautiful summer will be over soon enough, so even if it is a work day, it's good to slow down, enjoy the warmth and sunshine, and delay thoughts of cooler days ahead.

There is a lot to look forward to, though, as summer wanes and fall comes upon us.  This fall brings my daughter Tricia's wedding on October 14th.  She's marrying Jeff, and they have quite a celebration planned at Jimbo's Club on Brandt Lake.  It will be such a happy time for our families and their friends.  Meanwhile, Katie and I (and her bridesmaids) are getting ready for Tricia's bridal shower in about 10 days.  It's an exciting time for all of us.  Henry and Peter will be little groomsmen in the wedding. Can't wait to see them in their tuxedos!

So, as we move closer and closer to the cooler weather and all the festivities of the fall and early winter, every now and then I'll look back to this past summer and think of the all the fun times had with my little grandsons.  Here's a collage of recent shots that haven't made their way to this blog yet (I know, how'd that happen?!).  I try to not be too exploitive of my little guys, but it's hard when they are just so darn cute (grandmother's pride - if they weren't cute I'd never know it!) -- I want to share them with you, too!

Recent shots...
Happy Thursday evening, everyone.  I hope you have a great Friday that leads to a relaxing and enjoyable weekend!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Dinner Omelet

Tonight I made dinner omelets for Meghan and me.  She was craving "real food" after five days on the road, and I wanted something simple, filling, and satisfying, with few carbs.  I offered her an omelet, and that sounded good. These individual omelets, the size of a personal pan pizza (in roadside food terms) were made in an 8" round saute pan.

Here's how I did it:

In the non-stick saute pan over medium heat, I melted a teaspoon of butter and added a couple tablespoons each of chopped green pepper and chopped Vidalia onion.  To that, I added 2 large sliced baby bella mushrooms and 2 thick slices of red-ripe-garden-fresh tomatoes, chopped.  I let it cook down  until almost all the liquid from the tomatoes evaporated off, in which time all the other vegetables were done to perfection.  Then I beat 2 large eggs (Katie's chickens are laying!) with a splash of milk and poured it over the veggies in the pan, sprinkled a little salt and pepper, then gave it a stir to incorporate everything.  With a heat-proof spatula, the sides were pushed in until the liquid on top solidified and no longer flowed underneath.  At that point, I carefully folded one half of the omelet over the other half (this can be messy, but it tastes great even if it breaks and looks awful!).  I turned the heat to the lowest setting and let it sit for a few minutes to continue cooking through.

That was Meghan's omelet.

To mine, before pouring in the eggs, I added a couple tablespoons cubed ham (from a ham steak I bought just for this purpose - which will probably provide enough ham for 4-5 omelets at least) and some large dices of cheddar cheese.

When I was making my omelet, Henry asked what I was doing, and I responded that I was making eggs with ham.  He asked "Green eggs and ham?"  When I offered him a little dice of ham, he refused.  It wasn't what he was imagining!  Fortunately, Katie and the boys had dinner well before my omelets-for-dinner were underway.

Before the eggs -- sauteed veggies, ham, and cheese
I love breakfast for dinner, especially when I don't have to worry too much about carbs sabotaging my good intentions!

Katie's chickens lay beautiful eggs, but she had a little trouble tonight rounding them up before the rain started.  Henry had to chase the last one with a leafy branch to corral it into the little coop yard.  He'd run one way and the chicken ran the other, but finally (after half an hour of trying) the last hold-out joined the other chickens and I expect by now they're in the coop, out of the rain!  Sorry I didn't have my camera handy to capture that chase!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Lots to Celebrate this Labor Day

On this Labor Day, I am grateful to have a day off from work.  I am grateful that my daughters Meghan and Tricia are within just a few hours of home after a 5-day cross-country drive from southern California.  Pretty sure I haven't had one good night's sleep since they started this journey, with my phone by my head just in case. I am grateful for having a 3-day weekend to spend with my boys, now ages 4 1/2 and almost 2 (Pete's birthday is in October, and we're already trying to decide what cake he will have!).   I am grateful that Russ was here for even a short while since it's been too long since we've had any time together, though he had to leave too soon.  I am grateful to have had breakfast this morning with my lovely friend Claire.  We went to Compton's on Broadway in Saratoga Springs and were lucky to get a table at 9 a.m.  When we left, there was a line out the door onto the sidewalk.  I had a Mexican omelet and it was really very good.  I am low-carbing it these days, in anticipation of Tricia's wedding in 6 weeks!  It was  HARD to say no to toast and  home fries, but I did it.  I can do this for at least six weeks, and maybe beyond.  Quite a challenge for a baker, I must say!

I am also grateful that my friend Tina loved the cake I baked for her family's party last night -- a white cake with buttercream frosting, both with just a hint of lemon extract.  When I delivered the cake, Tina said that was just right since a friend was bringing lemon sorbet and blueberries to the party.  What a perfect dessert for an end-of-summer celebration!

Here are a few photos of Tina's cake as it came together, followed by recipes so you can make one yourself if so inclined! I took these photos with my Windows phone - I'm getting used to the settings, so I hope my photos get better as I go along!

Simple White Cake
(loosely adapted from

Prepare pans:  Butter and line bottom of 8" round pans with parchment or waxed paper.   Butter parchment paper.  Lightly dust with flour.

1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter
3 eggs, separated
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup buttermilk (or 3/4 cup milk with 2 teaspoons vinegar - let sit for a couple of minutes)

In large bowl of electric mixer, beat egg whites until stiff but not dry.  Set aside.

In another large bowl of electric mixer, beat sugar and butter for five minutes, scraping bowl occasionally.  Add egg  yolks, one at a time, and vanilla. 

Mix together flour and baking powder.  Add alternately with buttermilk and mix until completely incorporated.  Gently fold in egg whites, about a third at a time, until completely mixed in.  The goal is to lighten the batter, so don't overdo it.

Divide batter into 2 8" round pans and bake at 350 degrees F until done, about 30 minutes or until center springs back.  Do not over bake. Let cool in pans for 20 minutes.  Remove from pan and continue cooling on wire racks.  If you're not frosting the cake the same day, wrap cooled layers in plastic wrap.

Light Lemon Buttercream Frosting
(I doubled the recipe for a 2-layer, 10-inch round, decorated cake)

1/4 cup soft butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1 lb. confectioners sugar
1/4 cup milk, plus more if needed

In large mixer bowl, cream butter with shortening.  Add extracts.  At lowest speed, mix in sugar, pouring in milk as you go.  Once the milk is incorporated, beat for a minute.  If it needs more milk, add a few drops at a time until the frosting is of spreading consistency.  It could take a few tablespoons or just a few drops.  You have to judge for yourself.  Be sure to add additional milk sparingly, because you can always add more, but you can never take it out once it gets too soft.  I keep the frosting white, but if you'd like to add a drop or two of  yellow food coloring, that'd be nice too!

(If you plan to pipe decorations on the cake, a little-bit firmer frosting for piping is better.)

Happy Labor Day to everyone!   Hope you are relaxed, with family and friends, and enjoying great food!!!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Labor Day Weekend, Butterflies, and Hattie's Chicken!

Like many people, I am enjoying a 3-day Labor Day weekend.  I do have a bit of baking going on -- namely a 10-inch round 2-layer white cake with buttercream frosting for a friend's friends.  It's a celebration of her family's circle of friends and she asked for something pretty simple.  The cake is baked and will be frosted and decorated tomorrow morning and delivered in the afternoon.  In addition to the celebration cake, I have scones baking in the oven right now which is very typical Saturday night action in my home!  You've all seen my scones a gazillion times before, so I'll spare you another display of this buttery indulgence.  Tomorrow's cake will warrant a few photos, and I'll be happy to share as it comes together.

Today was not all about baking.  It was also about a little trip to a local tree nursery, Bob's Trees in Galway, New York, where Katie, the boys, and I had a great time looking at pretty evergreens (Katie wants to plant a "Christmas Tree" as part of her outdoor landscaping around her house).  The real attraction, though, was the abundance of Monarch butterflies which have chosen Bob's Trees as a layover point between their original point of departure and Mexico.  I was so amazed when I learned on an NPR segment that Monarch butterflies fly all the way from Canada, and south to cross the Gulf of Mexico in order to reach their destination.  When I look at their little bodies and delicate wing structures, I wonder how they are able to accomplish such an impressive feat.  Pete was joyful at the sight of the butterflies, which at first he called "birdies" but then,  in Pete-speak, fabricated his own version of "butterfly."  He and Henry ran after them with enthusiasm, but without enough speed or skill to actually capture one (good thing - I'd hate to be responsible for a missed trip to Mexico).  I got some good pictures of the chase of the butterflies:


Pete chasing butterflies!

After that, we had a full afternoon with lunch at Hattie's Chicken in Wilton (the satellite version of the famous downtown Saratoga Springs restaurant).  I had a really delicious house salad with a scoop of chicken salad and Hattie's own buttermilk ranch dressing.  Amazing!  Katie had a chicken sandwich with coleslaw as a garnish, and the boys had real chicken fingers and fries.  It was terrific and a place I'll go back to again and again!

Katie said, "I'm getting that next time!"

Hattie's cool restaurant!

After lunch, we made a quick trip to Home Depot where Katie and I bought some mums and pretty pots, wanting to make everything look pretty before my daughter Tricia's bridal shower in a few weeks.  When we came home, Katie planted some new (and transplated some old) bushes and plants in front of her house.  Henry had decided to take four mum plants and, in his own way, set them in the ground, spaced evently, with their little spikey description tags right along side (adorable!).  When he was all done, Katie helped by digging the holes a little deeper and setting them into the ground, since they wouldn't have survived an hour with their entire root ball above ground level!

Henry's plantings... (plus one acorn he found
that will become a giant oak tree!)

I look forward to the next two days of this long weekend, but with a little bit of apprehension as I wait for my daughters Meghan and Tricia to complete their cross-country drive from LA to home, something they're doing in just 4 days.  Meghan will be home for the first time in over a year, and Tricia flew out to meet her in order to keep her company on the long drive east.  I wont' relax until I see them standing right in front of me!

Early tomorrow morning (Sunday) we're headed to The Saratoga Race Track to watch the thoroughbreds' morning workout.  I haven't been to the track this season (6 weeks every summer) and the last day is Monday, so we're cutting it close.  It should be very exciting for Henry and Peter, and I will take pictures (big shocker!).

Hope you all enjoy a  relaxing Labor Day weekend.  All the best!