Sunday, February 23, 2014

My Buttercream Frosting Recipe

makes about 2.5 lbs., enough to generously frost way more than 24 cupcakes 
or a 9/10" round decorated cake 

4x this recipe made TEN POUNDS of buttercream
for Marley's wedding cakes!

Beat together in large mixer bowl:
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup trans-fat free shortening (I know, but it's necessary for the body and texture)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Very slowly add:  
2 lbs. confectioners sugar, along with
1/2 cup milk, and maybe 1-2 more tablespoons for desired consistency (drizzle in milk as the sugar mixes with the butter - careful; the sugar will want to fly out of the mixing bowl!)

Beat until smooth and creamy, adding more milk by the tablespoon if necessary. Generously pipe or spread on cakes or cupcakes that are completely cooled.

One of four rustically frosted cakes in front of inspiration photo on my computer…
Each cake was topped with real pinecones for Marley's Adirondack wedding!

What to do with bonus cake batter and frosting? CUPCAKES!

Marley's and Chris's Wedding Cake
Displayed on the stand they made themselves
Jimbo's at the Point, Brant Lake, New York 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Chocolate Chip Walnut Banana Bread

If you want an exceptionally moist loaf of banana bread, try this recipe. I've been playing with banana bread recipes for years, and this adaptation is really good. I made it last night and brought a slice with me to work today. Decades ago, my sister-in-law Lynn gave me great advice, a tip she got from her mother Audrey. She suggested wrapping the loaf of banana bread with foil while it was still warm (about a half-hour out of the pan). This results in an ultra-moist loaf of banana bread.

Another plus -- this recipe is basically stirred together. No appliances, no beating, just stirring ingredients and they come together beautifully resulting in a heavy, dense banana bread, which is the way I like it. This loaf slices like a dream, too, not a crumb lost. It's great as is, but could be enhanced with a smear of soft butter, or grilled to a crisp on a hot pan.

SO good!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
Spray a 9x5 loaf pan with vegetable spray or butter generously

4 oz. unsalted butter, melted
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plain or vanilla greek yogurt, or sour cream
3 medium bananas, mashed ahead of time
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cup chocolate chips

In large mixing bowl, stir together melted butter with sugar. Add eggs, whisking in with fork, one at a time. Stir in vanilla extract.

Add flour, baking soda and salt, and with fork, stir well into wet mixture. Add yogurt, mashed bananas, walnut pieces and chocolate chips. Batter will seem exceptionally moist. That's OK.

Fill prepared loaf pan with batter and bake in center of oven for one hour. Test for doneness at an hour and if it seems too moist in the middle, bake for another 5 minutes. It's done when you press the center with a finger and it bounces back, or when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. I like to use the "nose" test - when you can really smell the aroma of the banana bread, it's just about done.

Allow to cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes. Turn out to cool on rack, and about half an hour later, when it's still slightly warm, wrap loaf in aluminum foil. Wait a few hours (if you can!) to cut it into the most perfect slices of beautiful, delicious banana bread!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Butter Pecan Bars

I don't eat ice cream often. Maybe a couple times a month, if that. The one flavor I can NOT resist is butter pecan. I buy Stewart's Butter Pecan Ice Cream. Stewart's is one of the few companies that still sells a full half-gallon of ice cream for a price that's less than the smaller sized packages that larger manufacturers sell. It's a better ice cream and a better bargain.  If I drive by a Stewart's on a quiet afternoon, you might see me walk out of the store with a single scoop of butter pecan on a sugar cone. Maybe. And their cones are a bargain too, at less than $2.00 for a generous serving. You can't do that at some of the trendier ice cream shops, that's for sure, and you can't find a better ice cream. Just sayin!

Recently, when I was trying to think of things I love that can be translated to a baked recipe, I thought about butter pecan ice cream, and how great it would be to capture that flavor in a bar cookie. I decided against brown sugar, which would lend too dark a flavor and disguise the butter flavor I was looking for, but I also didn't want a soft, cake bar. To get a firmer texture, I decided to adapt a traditional chocolate chip cookie bar recipe by eliminating the brown sugar and replacing it with granulated sugar. With two bars of butter, eggs with bright yolks, and a drop or three of yellow food coloring, the batter looked like butter pecan ice cream! I folded in the precious pecans figuring that this batter is worthy of their presence (they are expensive right now - I paid about $7.00 for a 9 oz. bag!).

Here's the recipe. Hope you love it!

Original recipe by Adirondack Baker

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit

Butter or spray an 13x9-inch baking pan (I used a non-stick pan with spray)

1/2 lb. unsalted butter at room temperature (2 bars)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (I like a lot, you can use a little less)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I like King Arthur)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
up to 1 1/2 cups pecan halves (they're expensive, use what you feel is best)

In large mixer bowl, cream butter until nice and smooth. Add sugar and beat until thoroughly combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla extract.

To bowl, add flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. On very low speed (careful not to blast the flour out of the bowl) mix until dry ingredients are completely incorporated.

Stir in pecan halves.

Press dough into pan, evening it out with your finger tips (dust fingers with flour). Press in a couple more pecans on top, just so it looks pretty.

Bake for 20 minutes or until top begins to puff up and brown just a bit. I had to keep mine in a few more minutes - depends on how your own oven works.

Cool completely on wire rack. Cut into squares and enjoy!

Beautiful Butter Pecan Bars! I think you'll love them!
Henry, who prefers chocolate chip cookies over pecan bars - oh well!!!

Berner puppy Freya, almost 3 months old!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Gratitude on Valentine's Day

I know the typical thing to do is to honor couples and romantic love on Valentine's Day. I prefer to take a broader perspective. Yes, I am grateful for the love connection and the almost 17 years that Russ and I have had so far. My heart still skips a happy beat every time he walks in the door (the advantages of a long-time, long-distance relationship!). He is a smart, generous, and handsome (!) man who makes me laugh and I so look forward to our time together. But the other loves in my life -- children, three great sisters and three great brothers, my GRANDsons (!), sisters- and brothers-in law, nieces, nephews, cousins, life-long and more recent friends, and yes, even great family dogs, fill me with so much appreciation for their place in my life. The emotions intertwined in all these relationships are not always joy, not always peace and happiness, but LIFE happens to and around us, and we appreciate the good with a greater perspective because of the bumps in the road. That's when the true beauty of the connection is evident.

Russ and me, um, a few years back… photo by Emma Dodge  Hansen

The past few weeks have proven the strength of such connections, considerably. My youngest sister (we are seven siblings) underwent a very serious brain surgery with a difficult and continuing recovery. It's when you know there's nothing you can do that you want to to anything at all to make it better, to make it easier, to let her know how much she means to you, that there's no one else like her in the world. It's lovely to see how the rest of our family and her friends feel the same way and continue to come together in hopes that our meals, cards, flowers, calls, messages, when delivered, provide the healing energy that will ease her pain and get her back to a place of wellness, the sooner the better. And it's good to realize that any one of us would do the same for our siblings, or in-laws, or best friends, because nothing is more important.

My sister Anne, as Mother-of-the-Groom, with her oldest son, Jack
So beautiful!
July, 2012 - Boca Raton, Florida

So, on this Valentine's Day, I cherish all the loves in my life, with complete and sincere gratitude for every moment, knowing that we are lucky to have every joyful, challenging, happy, sad, proud, embarrassing, spontaneous, planned, long-overdue, imposing, welcome, annoying, and REAL second of that time together.

Happy Valentine's Day my friends, and especially to you, my sister Anne. xoxox

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Super Week

I didn't think I had much to write about today, but I was wrong!

Today's the Superbowl, and while I'm not a HUGE football fan, I do like the Denver Broncos because I really like the Manning family, and I think Peyton is a great guy. That's my one and only reason for rooting for the Broncos, but I have nothing against Seattle and the Seahawks, either. In fact, I won't be home for the pre-game festivities and early TV coverage - I'm meeting my son Jeffrey out for dinner, and when I get home, I have a date with my addiction - Downton Abbey! But, I will watch the later part of the game AND hope to catch the half-time show with Bruno Mars. I love Bruno Mars - he's an incredible talent. So, I will be one of the gazillion people watching the Superbowl, though not for the football, or the commercials, but to see Peyton Manning in action, and to enjoy Bruno's talent at half-time. It's not that I don't understand football. I understand it very well! My high-school boyfriend (then future ex-husband) was a very talented player and I learned the game very well. My Dad was a huge sports fan as well, so there were a lot of weekend football games on the field and also on TV at home. So I know the difference between a first and fourth down, a touch down and an extra point, off-sides and a flag on a play. My football IQ is right up there, but I honestly haven't watched football on TV since my Dad passed away in 1993. Just haven't.

This has been an eventful week. Most significantly - I am incredibly grateful that my youngest sister weathered a very difficult surgery and is home recovering.  Puts everything in perspective, believe me! She's such a strong and beautiful person, and I am so proud of her! She has a wonderful husband (who happens to look very much like Peyton Manning) and four devoted sons - she is so blessed in that regard. Plus she has six siblings and an extended network of family and friends who love her beyond measure.  She is very deserving of all good wishes.

And there's happy news for my daughter Katie and her family:

We have a new addition - my grandsons Henry and Peter have a new little puppy, a Bernese Mountain Dog named Freya. She's 10 weeks and adorable.  She joins Oden, their 8-year old Black Lab.

Freya, 10-weeks old!

I think I can, I think I can (and she did!)

I made a pretty cute cake for bachelorette party. My friend Mary asked if I could make it for her friend's celebration and just asked for a blonde woman and a man with brown hair on motorcycles, and this is what I came up with! (The cake was half French vanilla and half dark chocolate, side by side).

Ride into the Wind!

I've been battling a wicked cold for two weeks, and finally, it seems to be leaving! I've been on a strong antibiotic for a few days to clear my head, and I feel so much better, finally! I am wondering if this winter's strain of colds are worse than before, or if I'm just having trouble shaking it because I'm getting older (six weeks to sixty!)…

I got to spend some fun time with H & P, too. Here they are enjoying a movie on Netflix on my Kindl this morning:

Peter (L) and Henry (R)

Anyway, it's been an eventful week in the O'Farrell/Eddy/Hofmann world, and I am happy to say that, after every real-life thing, it's been a super week!