Perfect vanilla cake with best chocolate frosting

This is the one my family loves. This recipe has brought me peace of mind at last. It’s the reason I’ve called off the search for the perfect vanilla cake. I’ve found it. This cake, paired with this chocolate frosting, is the cake of my childhood dreams. This is the one, my friends. This is the one.

And the timing is just perfect. Over here at The Little Blue Apron, we are celebrating four years of sharing recipes and living a handcrafted, delicious life. Thank you, thank you! to all our followers. I can’t think of a better way to look back on the last four years than with a cold glass of milk and a slice of this cake! I can’t wait to offer you more vintage cake and classic cocktail recipes as well as basic French cooking techniques in the weeks, months and years ahead!

Golden Vanilla Cake

Adapted from King Arthur Flour

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 1/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder *
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, soft **
  • 1 1/4 cups milk, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs

* Test your baking powder. In Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom: Essential Techniques and Recipes from a Lifetime of Cooking, a neat little paperback book by Julia Child meant to be used as a quick reference, I learned to stir a teaspoon of baking powder into 1/2 cup of hot water. Says Julia, “If it doesn’t bubble up in a lively way, throw it out.”

**By the way, soft means soft. Not just room temperature, but seriously soft.

Take the butter out of the refrigerator first and cut it into chunks.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly butter (use your fingers!)  and flour two 9″ round cake pans.

In the bowl of a stand mixer whisk (by hand) together the sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt.

Add the butter and beat (using the paddle attachment) at low speed until the mixture looks sandy.

Combine the vanilla and milk and add all at once. Mix at low speed for 30 seconds, then increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds.

Scrape the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl.

With the mixer running at low speed, add 1 egg. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds (until incorporated). Stop the mixer and scrape the bottom and sides.

Repeat the above steps with the remaining eggs, adding each one at a time.

After the fourth and last egg is added, scrape the bottom and sides once more, then beat at medium-high speed for an additional 30 seconds.

Pour the batter into the cake pans (I use a scale to weigh each pan after filling them, trying to get them as close to even as I can).

Bake about 25-27 minutes. I always begin testing after about 18 minutes or so (this is also around the time when I first begin to smell cake in the air). The cake is done when a toothpick inserted an inch from the middle comes out clean, when it’s a golden brown and just beginning to pull away from the edge of the pan.

Remove the cakes from the oven and place it on a rack to cool for 5 minutes before removing them from the pans. Left in the pans any longer and the cakes will begin to sweat and toughen.

Best Chocolate Frosting

  • 1 3/4 cups unsweetened baking cocoa
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder or 1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso coffee)*
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, very soft
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted (this means, measure 2 cups then sift)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

*http://www.thekitchn.com/pantry-basics-what-is-espresso-41586

Take the butter out of the refrigerator, cut into chunks to soften.

Bring the cream to a gentle simmer on the stove.

Sift the cocoa, 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar and espresso powder (or instant espresso coffee), into a bowl.

Whisk the warmed cream into the cocoa mixture.

At first the mixture will look grainy but keep on going, about a minute longer until it becomes smooth and silky.

You’ll see the lumps disappear as the sugar dissolves and the cocoa hydrates. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Place the butter, salt and 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla (30 seconds).

With the mixer running on low speed, add the cocoa mixture a spoonful at a time until it’s all incorporated. Thoroughly scrape the sides and bottom of bowl, then beat at medium speed for one more minute.

Fill and frost cake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Braising Winter Vegetables

Here’s what I learned this week. Short and Sweet. Those winter root vegetables. Over it? We still have some time you know until tender sweet greens begin to show up at the farmers’ market. I’ve done my fair share of roasting parsnips, beets, carrots and potatoes these past few cold months. But now I know something more. Braising isn’t just for meat. It turns out vegetables take quite nicely to the low and slow method.

I came across an article in The Washington Post  written by Molly Stevens author of the cookbook: All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking. And I believe in her method and I’m an advocate of the four things she says every good braiser needs to know about this art form.

Just about any vegetable can be braised. Stevens stays away from summer squash because of the mushy results. Earlier this week I braised a bunch of beet greens, escarole and a couple of carrots together and the flavor was outstanding.

Four is the magic number here. Here are Stevens’ four parts to braising:

  1. there’s the vegetable (s), main ingredient
  2. liquid, a small amount
  3. seasonings
  4. fat in the form of butter, bacon fat, olive oil, etc.

I would actually add one more: time. How much time have you got? Two hours? Leave the vegetables in large chunks. Twenty minutes? Cut them smaller. Just keep whatever size you’ve decided on uniform throughout all the vegetables going into your pot.

Actually, I think there’s a sixth factor: A covered pot.

Here’s what I did. First, I gave a rough chop to a giant-sized head of escarole (which braises down to very little in the end, by the way). Then I gently sauteed a shallot and a few cloves of garlic in about two tablespoons of butter and one tablespoon of olive oil. I did not let the garlic brown.

Then into the pot with the garlic, shallot (seasonings) and the fat (olive oil and butter) went the greens and two carrots (the main ingredients)–I chopped these small–I did not have two hours.

Next, I added way too much chicken broth (store-bought)–the liquid. If I had just added enough at the beginning to cover the bottom of the pot that would’ve been perfect. I would then continue to add a little more at a time as it evaporated. However, the resulting soupiness was easily fixed. At the end, I removed the lid, turned the heat up high and let it all bubble away. I stayed right there at the stove watching it the whole time.

That’s the idea, I believe. Like cooking risotto. A little bit of liquid at a time. Let it almost all evaporate (without putting your vegetables in danger of scorching) before you add a little bit more, then a little bit more.

Keep the pot covered and when the vegetables come to the desired consistency, take the pot off the heat and add a little bit more butter or a drizzle of olive oil. Finally, a thrifty pour of balsamic makes it all so very nice.

 

 

Grandma Gert’s Irish Soda Bread

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! We began the day with green milk and Irish soda bread for breakfast and will be wrapping up what’s left of the holiday with frozen pizza. It’s almost 6 pm out here in the Midwest. The sun is still shining. The skies are blue and filled with the promise of spring (50°– still a bit chilly for me, but I’ll take it!).

I grew up in a town that celebrates St. Patty’s Day with a big parade down Main Street and pubs bulging with people wearing shades of green. Just about every year, following church, my family would take our place along the parade route and wait…and wait…for the first sirens to scream or the shots to blast a patriotic gun salute.

One year when I was a kid, my grandparents took me to the parade. We nabbed a great sunny spot on the corner across the street from my elementary school at the time. Bag pipes began to blare as men in kilts came marching by. Over the music, I shouted to my grandmother, “What do they wear under their kilts?” Before Grandma Gert could get out her best guess, I dropped to an army crawl position and tried as best as I could to take a peak.

Grandma told that story over and over again every year around this time–she even told it to my own children. Her reminiscing always ended with a generous laugh, that to this day I can still hear.

This is her Irish soda bread. There’s not a lick of Irish in any of us–Gert included, yet she embraced this holiday like she embraced every occasion that would gather us all around the table. She told me she had gotten the recipe from an Irish woman who lived in her building when she and my grandfather were first married. I know she’d love that I’m still making it, thinking of her all the while.

  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened, cut into cubes
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 1/3 cup buttermilk

1 egg yolk

Preheat the oven to 350 F

Whisk to combine flour, baking soda, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Using a pastry blender or two butter knives in a scissoring, criss-cross motion, cut in the butter.

Add raisins, mix well.

Gradually add buttermilk, mixing together until you have a soft (and slightly sticky dough). Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, 1 minute only.

Shape into two rounds loaves and place each on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Flatten each loaf slightly and score an “X” across the top of each.

Beat egg yolk with a teaspoon of cold water, then brush the top of each loaf with the egg mixture.

Bake 30 to 40 minutes until nicely browned.

 

Roasted Carrot Soup

The Hubbas thinks I’m crazy. I just showed him what I go through when I come across a recipe that interests me. I research many of the ingredients, sometimes spending an entire afternoon going off on tangents. I never thought to include the flurry of articles that educate me in my posts until today.

Maybe he’s right. I might be nuts…which makes me think of hazelnuts and how toasted hazelnuts could be used in place of the pancetta…and when is the season for hazelnuts anyway? And is Italy a major exporter? How again do you say hazelnut in Italian? Oh yes, nocciola… And biscotti! I’ve never made biscotti before. How is that possible….?

Rounding third base and back to home she comes…

Around this time of year in Madison I can get a hold of some sweet locally grown carrots from Tipi Produce, Evansville, WI.  For me, other than eating them right out of the refrigerator, the next best thing would be to roast them. I’ve been hanging on to a recipe for roasted carrot soup by Elizabeth Minchilli, who lives in Rome and writes about delicious things in Italy, for quite some time now.

 

A somewhat thick soup, it has so many of my favorite flavors: caramelly sweet carrots, pancetta and balsamic vinegar. This is the perfect meal for which to transition from winter to spring.

Let’s make it together…

Roasted Carrot Soup

2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch slices

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil  (Have you seen this article in last weekend’s The New York TimesItaly Growers Wary of Olive Oil Fraud as New Law is Weighed ?)

4 sprigs rosemary

1 tablespoon butter

1 large leek, white part only, rinsed and finely chopped ( I found this link useful: Jacques Pepin’s instruction for washing and chopping a leek)

salt

freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup white wine*

*I used a Sauvignon Blanc for its crispness and acidity and found this explanation helpful Dry White Wine. If you’d rather use dry Vermouth because it will last a lot longer in the refrigerator than an opened and corked bottle of wine and it can be more cost effective, here’s an article that educated me on the classic aperitif  Vermouth 101 and this one on brands 3 Dry Vermouths.

1/2 cup cubed pancetta ( short-cut: I found a package of pancetta already cubed in the grocery store.)

balsamic vinegar (An interesting article and maybe someday I’ll spring for the good stuff–a little goes a long way and it lasts forever Everything You Need to Know About Balsamic Vinegar)

IMG_7740

The Method

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Place carrots in a bowl with 4 tablespoons of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt. Use your hands and toss the carrots well.

Onto a sheet pan, arrange the carrots in a single layer and tuck the rosemary sprigs in between. Drizzle any extra oil from the bowl over all.

Roast the carrots until they are soft and the edges begin to darken. You may have to flip them over half way through to get color on both sides. Pay attention to the aroma in your kitchen. Make sure it stays pleasant. We don’t want the carrots to burn.

In the meantime, put the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the butter in a large pot (I used my Dutch oven) over medium heat. Add the leeks, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the pepper. Cook until the leeks are completely softened–do not let brown. This should take about 30 minutes. Keep it cooking slow. Your kitchen will begin to grow warm and delicious.

Add the white wine or vermouth (whichever you’ve decided on) and let bubble for a minute or so.

Take the carrots out of the oven and remove the rosemary sprigs. Add the carrots to the pot, stir and add enough water to the pot to cover the carrots by an inch and a half.

Cover and let simmer for 30 minutes. Let it all cool down and using a food processor, puree until smooth. You will most likely have to do this in a couple of batches. Be careful it’s not too hot. Using a potato masher would probably work well too although the soup might not be quite as smooth. I prefer the rustic texture of a few bites of carrots.

The soup can be thinned a bit with a little warm water, broth or milk (cream would make it decadent for sure).

Heat a small frying pan and add the pancetta, cooking it until it’s browned and crispy. This is where I would bet toasting some hazelnuts and roughly chopping them would taste delicious and would make this soup a vegetarian choice.

Now to serve: Ladle a little soup into a bowl, sprinkle pancetta on top (along with as much pork fat as your conscience will allow) and finish with a light drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Ms. Minchilli recommends this balsamic on her website La Vecchia Dispensa and in my opinion, would make a nice gift. Seriously, a little of this on a hunk of parmiggiano reggiano, or lightly drizzled over vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries…

IMG_7852
New Jersey, 1974-ish, sharing a carrot with our pet rabbit, Peter. At first I couldn’t remember into which file I placed the photos of the roasted carrot soup, so I grabbed this one. At least it had a carrot in it.

Ciao!

 

Beans in Broth Always

 

I made beans. Tamar Adler, chef and author of An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace inspired me. Legendary food writers, M.F.K. Fisher, Clementine Paddleford and Elizabeth David inspired her. This is well-trusted advice on how to make beans plump and tender and make you want another bite.

Begin when you are not feeling hungry. Begin when you remember that you’ve been wanting to give these beans a go. Begin where you are.

Gather two cups of dry cannellini beans (beans should be of your choice, the process is the same except for lentils). Put them in the pot and fill with water–about an index finger over their heads. Cover the pot and leave them soak overnight.

The next day, drain the beans, return them to the same pot and add the following:

  • vegetable scraps (carrot peels, celery tops, onion peels, fennel fronds and stems) or cut up a stalk or two of celery, rough chop a carrot (no need to peel), chop an onion in half or quarters–the idea being you add what you have on hand.
  • fresh parsley, a bay leaf, garlic cloves (however many you like, these are your beans), salt and pepper.

Pour in enough cool water to cover. According to Adler the beans should appear to be bathing, not drowning. Add a long drizzle of your best olive oil.

Bring to a rapid boil then immediately lower to simmer and cover. It has taken me no less than three hours to get these beans cooked to perfection, possibly more. I make these in the morning when I’m going to be home all day and I’m able to eat them that night in time for dinner. The aroma that fills your kitchen will be one of nurturance and peace of mind–a savory meal is on its way. Remember to taste the broth as it cooks and adjust the seasonings to your pleasure.

IMG_7664

Adler defers to Clementine Paddleford’s (from  The Best in American Cooking) instruction of how long beans should simmer. I don’t believe I will ever need it put another way.

“…until beans have gorged themselves with fat and water and swelled like the fat boy in his prime.”

Taste five beans. If they are all soft to their very middles, they’re done. If even one of them doesn’t meet this requirement, keep on simmering.

One last bit of bean advice that Adler pulls from The Best in American Cooking is downright sexy

“a cooked bean is so tender that the mere flutter of your breath should disturb its skin right off.”…..

All you need alongside a bowl of your beans is a slice or two of toasted, crusty bread, rubbed with a clove of garlic, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with grated parmeggiano reggiano cheese.

Later in the week, build upon that humble pot of beans by adding slices of broiled sausage, pasta, sauteed spinach, more parmeggiano and olive oil.

 

 

 

Peanut Butter Cookies-The Sugar Season Has Begun

 

I have many random things to tell you and somehow my meandering thoughts have to lead you to this amazing peanut butter cookie recipe.  Where to begin…well for one, I’ve been reading so many tips and strategies for making this blog kick ass.  Reading, reading, snore, reading some advice, like “allow your readers to enter into your life…make them feel as if they know you…maybe share a little more…”  The take-away, tell your story–throw your family and friends under the bus in your writing.

“What is your niche? Define your niche.  Now define your niche even more.   Good, now shrink it down even more…”

“Post more frequently, include stellar photos, comment on other blogs.  Before hitting ‘publish’ ask yourself if your readers will answer ‘Yes!’ to the following: Is this post relevant to me?  Is this valuable to me?  Can I trust this?”

It’s a lot to think about, too much to analyze and leaves me with the question, What if my blog is average?  Could I be happy with that?  Fuck NO! Can I swear on my own blog?  I don’t even know!

My husband and three kids are my world and they are the reason for this blog.  Those of you who have been with me since my first post (April, 2012) know that I am living with four really picky and unreasonable eaters (my middle son, of whom from this day forth shall be known to all as “Fritz,” is open to new recipes and unfamiliar flavors with the exception of bananas and Indian food–he won’t even try it…yet).

IMG_6943

My oldest son, my teenager–we’ll call him “Augie,”  won’t try a single new food.  But wait!  A few months ago, he tried, for the first time, brisket!  Of all things!  And, it was at a friend’s house.  Did you hear my voice get low and deep with indignation just now?!

Like all good mothers, I blame myself.  He was my first and everything I fed him was organic and sterilized and didn’t contain any GMOs or pesticides or high-fructose corn syrup.  I didn’t allow him to put Heinz ketchup on his mini grass-fed burgers that I shaped using only my thumb and index finger.

The girl.  The baby of the family.  The one I’ve renamed for this blog, Harriet.  I believe I still have a chance with this one.  “What’s that smell?”she’ll ask in a way that makes me think my turkey meatloaf baking in the oven isn’t triggering her gag reflex.  Will she taste it though? Nope.  She’ll stick to her bowl of plain pasta (no butter, no sauce, no cheese, everything that says I love you, Harriet she denies night after night).

Some of you know him.  Some of you love him, despite knowing him.  He’s the Hubbas.  And sometimes he can be a giant pain in the kid when it comes to trying new foods.  We’ve been together for twenty-three years now and you know, he really had me duped in those first years–taking me on dates to schwanky restaurants in NYC, telling me things like, “I’ve tried alligator.”  Blah. Whatever.  Now I say things like, Why won’t you try this hummus I made for Pete’s sake?!  Honestly, he’ll try pigeon and a gray spoonful of rabbit pate at a fancy restaurant on the rare occasion that we dine to that fancy extent, but he’ll sit there at our kitchen table and pick out every little teensy tiny piece of onion or garlic or tomato from my tomato sauce.

IMG_6934

Of course, he has good qualities.  We’ve been married for sixteen years and I haven’t been in a coma for any of them. He’s crazy.  He thinks I need prescription drugs or at the very least, a therapist, and yet, this is our glue.  Together we make a pretty great life for us and for our kids.  I told him the other day, “You know, I appreciate that every day you keep showing up…just wanted you to know that I notice these things.”  We are a dysfunctional combo at times, but after all these years, we keep showing up every day.  So we’ve got that.

I’m letting loose, dear readers.  You want some pretty great recipes?  You will have them.  I will do all the research for you, I will blow things up in my kitchen so you don’t have to.  But I promise you, it will come with a tale or two of chaos.

How can I get to that peanut butter cookie recipe from here?  I know!  Sometimes, just before dinner is ready, pots are bubbling on the stove, the table is set, the Hubbas will eat a spoon of peanut butter from the jar which says to me, “Maybe I shouldn’t eat what you’re making for dinner on an empty stomach.”  Hmph!

Peanut Butter Cookies with Chocolate

I gleaned this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, of which Deb, the author based on NYC’s Magnolia Bakery.  Not only does this recipe have peanut butter in it but it also has those addictive peanut butter chips.  Double peanut and if that’s not crazy enough, there are chocolate chips as well.  And, if you happen to have any peanut butter cups leftover from Halloween (I know, who am I kidding?) chop up a handful and toss them in.

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup peanut butter (commercial brand only–no natural, organic…)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter chips
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips (I chopped bittersweet chocolate–Ghirardelli 60 % instead of using chips for more even distribution)
  • For sprinkling: 1 tablespoon sugar, regular or superfine

Preheat the oven to 350 °

In a large bowl, combine the flour, the baking soda, the baking powder, and the salt. Grab another large bowl into which you will beat the butter and the peanut butter together until fluffy.  Add the sugars and beat until smooth.  Add the egg and make sure it’s mixed in well.  Add the milk and the vanilla extract.  Then the flour mixture and beat until thoroughly combined.  Remove the bowl from the mixer, and with a wooden spoon stir in the peanut butter chips and the chocolate chips/pieces.

Place the tablespoon of sugar on a dinner plate, then using an ice cream scoop, drop rounded spoonfuls of cookie dough onto the plate of sugar.  Roll them around and space apart by several inches onto an ungreased (parchment-lined is even better) cookie sheet.  Using a fork or the back of an offset spatula and gently press down.  Do not smush the cookies.  We don’t want pancakes.

Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Do not over bake.  In my opinion, a slightly, chewy, under baked cookie is way better than a dry, over done one.

Smitten Kitchen offers, “Cookies may appear to be underdone, but they are not.”

Cool on the sheets for 1 minute, then move the cookies over to a cooling rack and watch them be devoured by your family (and you) before they have cooled completely.

** I doubled the recipe.  Then dropped ice-cream-scoop-size portions onto a cookie sheet.  Froze them like that, uncovered, then placed them in a Zip-loc baggie.  I can now bake a couple at a time any time I want.  Baking time will take longer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Damn! That’s good pumpkin bread

It doesn’t take long for me to jump aboard the pumpkin band wagon.  Once the month of October hits, all I see is orange: orange leaves, orange sunsets, orange food.

This damn good pumpkin bread is decadent and moist and was the offering in last week’s Give It Away half of what I bake each week goes to whomever you tell me could use a little something sweet in their day–and was delivered by me to a lovely and very happily surprised mom/grandma.

The aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg simmering down with pumpkin in the kitchen is so warm and soothing that it takes  the sting out of summer’s leaving.  You’ll find the traditional pumpkin bread ingredients in this post with a few surprises (okay, cream cheese!).  However, and this is a big HOWEVER, leave it to Cooks Illustrated to find a way to make pumpkin taste even more autumnal and less like the can from whence it came.  This recipe has you cooking the pumpkin down with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, the season’s beloved trinity of spices, into an almost custard before combining with the remaining ingredients.

This makes two 8 1/2 by 4 1/2-inch loaves or one 9×5-inch loaf pan with extra batter to make muffins.

Damn, that’s good pumpkin bread!, adapted from Cooks Illustrated October 2012 issue:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Butter pans (bottoms and sides).  After you butter the pans you can lay a piece of parchment paper in the bottom and butter again.

For the Streusel:

  • 5 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • *1/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts (optional)

*lay a single layer of walnuts in a non-stick pan on top of the stove and warm until you can smell them.  Stay close, they can burn quickly.  Take off the heat and when cool, turn them out onto a cutting board and with your chef’s knife, give them a rough chop.  Leave them as big or as small as you would like them to feel in your mouth.

Into a small bowl mix all this together using your fingers (not hands) until you see what looks like wet sand.

For the pumpkin bread:

Into a medium bowl, whisk together:

  • 2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Next, into a medium saucepan, combine:

  • 1 (15-ounce) can unsweetened pure pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg (ground is fine)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Cook the pumpkin mix on medium heat, stirring constantly until reduced to a cup and a half.  This took me approximately 8 minutes.  I set a timer.

IMG_6875

Then remove the pot from the heat and stir in until combined:

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, cut into 12 pieces (at room temperature)

Important: Let this mixture stand for 5 minutes.  This will melt the cream cheese.

In the meantime, whisk together:

  • 4 large eggs (at room temperature)
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk (give the container a good shake first)

After those 5 minutes, add the egg mixture to the pot and give it all a good whisking!

Finally,

Gently fold in the flour mixture just until combined.  Small lumps of flour will remain.  Do not over mix.  This will make the difference in your pumpkin bread turning out moist and light.  No gummy texture!

IMG_6878

Ready to Bake:

Scrape batter into pans.  Fill each no less than half-way, but leave 1/2 inch of space from the top.

Into the oven.  Start checking for doneness after 25 minutes.  It’s done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out almost clean.  About 35 minutes.

Give It Away Now

 

Back in November of this year, I wrote a post about Banana Bread, a Spoon and Some Bourbon and probably the best recipe I found for it.  It called for Bourbon, an ingredient I didn’t have on hand, nor did I keep it in the house at the time.  I made it without and it was delicious.  But I have some now, some Bourbon and last week I baked a couple of mini loaves with it and it’s good.  The banana flavor is more concentrated, more caramel-y.   And, this may be the Bourbon talking, but more in love with this recipe am I.

Here’s a problem  opportunity.  I love to bake.  Why?  For the good, good smells it puts in my house.  Aromas that wipe out, if only momentarily, the stink of football equipment and teenage sneakers.  For the meditative quality–I cannot talk to /think about you, this or that because I’m measuring, kneading, counting, and God help me–figuring out some stuff that looks a lot like math in my head–temperatures, timing, doubling and what not.

For the challenge of producing something that will take me back to the comforts of my mother’s kitchen.  But baking a couple times a week means indulging in too much of a good thing and therein lies the problem  opportunity to give it away.  And so in a moment of enlightenment (probably from all that baking meditation I’ve done) I figure that I need to spread the love –give half of everything I bake away.

But I can’t do it alone and I need you to write to me and tell me who could use a little something sweet in their day.  So here’s my thought.  I’ll bake and then post the offering on The Little Blue Apron’s Facebook page.  You private message me (first “Like” my page to be sure to get my updates) with your top pick of who needs a sweet pick-me-up and I’ll deliver it before 3pm that day with a note from you (on a little birdie note card) unless you prefer to remain anonymous.

Here’s what happiness looked like last week.

11952900_10206491388176842_4901946206139361811_o

That’s all.  That’s One Love y’all.

Kat

Never miss a post.  Follow this blog by pulling down the little menu bars and leaving your email address.

 

 

 

Swirls of Ice Cream & Rainbow Sprinkles

What’s been going on in my kitchen lately?  A lot of dreaming along with quick looks of longing from me in the direction of my silent stand mixer.  Warm August afternoons when I didn’t dare turn on the oven.  Long days that turned quickly into nights of cool sheets gathered around my exhausted body.

Chatter of children growing older.  Sons making reasonable arguments for more independence and freedom from their mother’s watchful eyes.   And the youngest, the daughter, in a daring feat on the monkey bars miscalculating a brave leap across four bars and breaking her arm completely.   A playground accident setting off a long night of ambulance rides and emergency rooms.   An open fracture requiring surgery at four am and a three-day stay in a children’s hospital.  Casted from her hand to her shoulder in mid-July.  A summer of swimming and soccer ends abruptly, becomes one of inside art projects, card games along with her intermittent melt-downs ending in tears.

Imprisoned in fiberglass, she shouts

“It’s hot!”

“It itches!”

And rubbing it hard back and forth against the kitchen table where I sit trying to describe something I had eaten recently for the magazine, she rages, “I want this off!”

And the boys, the 10-year-old and the 14-year-old talking over her, at me, telling me that they are leaving, heading off somewhere to ride their bikes.

The door slams shut.  I don’t think I heard what they said–where they were going.  But now my broken 8-year-old has climbed into an awkward pile upon my lap.  And I rock her while looking for a place against my body where I might keep her arm safe.

Why didn’t I make something in the kitchen with her?  In all that time we spent together in the cool house?  I don’t know. I thought about it.  But this summer, comfort didn’t come in the form of creating meals together.  In moments of calm, it came in swirls of ice cream and rainbow sprinkles.

 

 

 

 

 

Lemonade Wisconsin-style by way of cherry pie

 

 

I kept the juice from the cherries I bought to supplement the cherries given to me by a neighbor from her tree.  I should’ve made a straight-up cherry pie which is what I was craving, but the husband doesn’t like cherry pie, so I looked for a compromise.

There in my Pie:300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie book was a recipe for Dense Cherry-Almond Coffeecake Pie.  I figured I like coffee cake.  He likes coffee cake and the cherries would be so dispersed throughout that he could easily avoid them.  So I set to work on an all-butter crust, in the middle of a humid August afternoon, with the kitchen windows open.  I know, I know, all you pie crust makers out there.  What was I thinking?  See photo.  I don’t even want to talk about it.

IMG_6392

I will tell you that I egg-washed the crust to death to fill in the cracks hoping only at that point to save my back from all the scrubbing I would have to do to get a whole mess of leaked-out, cooked cake filling off the pie plate later.

As for the finished pie.  They say anything in a pie crust is delicious and I say, Delicious?  No.  Passable for a few mornings with coffee?  Sure.  And now I am a proponent of keeping your coffee cake separate from your pie.

Back to the cherry juice.  I made lemonade for the kids the other day and right before I served it to them in their little cups with paper straws (Pizzazz!), I added a good splash of sweet cherry juice (Double pizzazz!).

IMG_6480

After taking their first sips, Long live the Queen!–they chanted wildly.

One of, if not the very first recipes I clipped our first summer living in the Midwest was for, romantically so, fresh-squeezed lemonade. and is called Carson Gulley’s lemonade.  Mr. Gulley was head chef of the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1927-1954 and had his own weekly cooking show, “What’s Cooking” on local television.

The recipe is for a full gallon, but here’s my version, cut in half.

Begin with four lemons and 3/4 cup of granulated sugar.   Thinly slice one of the lemons and place in a pitcher with the sugar.  Using a wooden spoon, lightly press the lemons into the sugar.  Leave rest for 30 minutes.

Speaking of rest…while the lemon slices and sugar are getting to know each other, I’ll be reading a book in my favorite chair outside beneath my favorite tree.

After 30 minutes is up, juice the remaining three lemons into the pitcher.  It’s easy to catch the seeds if you squeeze your lemons into a small strainer over the mouth of the pitcher.

Finally add enough water and ice to fill the pitcher (a half-gallon).

You have successfully captured one of summer’s fleeting moments!  Enjoy!