Wednesday, December 30, 2009

MY TOP TEN FAVORITE 2009 READS


I don't think I've ever read as many books in one year as I have this year. It has been invigorating to read one book after another without taking a break in between--kind of like a marathon but without breaking a sweat (or burning calories, hmmm). In a few days I will post this year's complete list with short reviews, but for now here is a list of my top ten favorite reads for 2009 with brief reviews from previous posts:

The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression - Amity Shlaes
The forgotten man is the man who works hard to stay off government assistance but continues to get stuck with the bill bailing out everyone else. Regardless of your opinion about our current economic situation and government policies this is worth reading and thinking about.


My Life in France - Julia Child
I loved reading about the steps that led Julia Child to become a celebrated French cooking expert.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
A beautiful story told through letters about a small British community surviving German occupation.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - Barbara Kingsolver
A few years ago Kingsolver moved with her family to a farm in the Appalachians committing to live off food they produced or was produced reasonably close to home for one year. Seriously fascinating.

Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand
Well-written, has wonderfully developed characters, an original plot that keeps you plowing through all those pages, and it makes you stop and think about your beliefs on personal responsiblity. And its a good illustration of the consquences of an anti-business government.

Diary of a Provincial Lady-
E.M. Delafield
A thinly-veiled autobiography about an upper-middle class woman and her family living in a small village in Devon, England.


Vanity Fair -
William Thackeray
Thackeray had great wit and his characters are hilarious. He creates an atmosphere that clearly illustrates the pinch of a face or the whine of a voice without stating so. And is there anyone as rotten as Becky Sharp?

The Help - Kathryn Stockett
Clever story written about white ladies, their black maids and the horrible double-standards in the 1960's, Mississippi.


The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett
Quirky little novella about the current Queen of England stumbling into a library van and selecting a library book for the first time in her life. Her new-found love of reading wreaks havoc on the palace staff.


Homecooking: A Writer in the Kitchen - Laurie Colwin
Reading about her jam anxiety, her search for the perfect chocolate cake, or describing the worst meal at someone's home is great fun. Plus her recipes are lovely.

I would love to hear what your favorite books have been this year, so leave a comment if you wish. Happy reading!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

MOM'S EXCELLENT BEEF ENCHILADAS and HOMEMADE REFRIED BEANS



My sisters and I have been loving these delicious enchiladas since we were kids. This is one of my three favorite foods my cute Mom made during my childhood: Enchiladas, Meat Loaf, and Lemon Cake. Just recently I finally recreated my Mom's meat loaf. Sometime I will share the recipe (super easy) but probably won't post a picture since it is not appealing to look at--but it warms the soul.

Our Mom picked up this recipe from AJ Bayless, a local grocery store in Phoenix that no longer exists. I still have a copy of the recipe card, "Nancy Parker Recipes", probably from the 1960's.

I made these for Christmas day dinner along with the refried beans (see recipe below) and Mock Fried Ice Cream (soon to be posted). In the past, I have skipped dipping the tortillas in the oil and instead of rolling the tortillas I have torn them into pieces and layered them. Not near as good as following the recipe.

So, this Christmas day I dipped the tortillas in oil and rolled them tightly--so good. Even my nephew, Connor, had two helpings, which warmed my little heart.

I baked 18 enchildas, 12 in a 9 x 13 baking dish and 6 in the dish pictured above. I stretched the sauce by adding extra tomato juice and water, and a bit more beef.

Mom's Beef Enchiladas
Sauce:
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup flour
1 20 oz can tomato juice
1/2 can water (10 oz.)
3-5 garlic cloves, crushed
Pinch of oregano and cumin
2-3 Tablespoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt


Filling:
1 lb ground beef
1 chopped onion
12 corn tortillas
Canola oil (for cooking tortillas)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 lb shredded cheese (I use sharp cheddar)
1 4 oz can sliced black olives
12 whole black olives
Toothpicks


To make the sauce:
In a saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the canola oil and flour, whisk together and allow to bubble for one minute. Pour in the tomato juice and water, stir. Add the crushed garlic and remainder of spices. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.


To make the filling:
Brown beef and onion in skillet, add salt. Lightly fry the tortillas in hot oil to to soften (do not crisp). Lay tortillas between paper towels to absorb oil.


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread one cup of the sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish. Place a portion of meat filling, grated cheese, and sliced olives in the center of a tortilla, roll, and hold together with a toothpick and olive (add the olives to toothpicks to more easily spot the toothpick and prevent choking). Place the rolled, filled tortilla in the baking dish repeating procedure laying enchiladas side by side. Pour sauce over enchiladas, top with grated cheese. Bake for 20 minutes or until cheese melts.


Super easy refried beans--and delicious.


HOMEMADE REFRIED BEANS
2 lb. pinto beans (or 3 15 oz. cans)
1/2 cup oil (I used 1/4 cup)
3 Mexican sausages (I used chorizo)
1 Tablespoon flour
Cook beans until soft. In a separate skillet add oil and cook the sausage and flour for 1 to 2 minutes. Add beans to mixture and mash with a potato masher. Add cheese on top.
This recipe came from My Favorite Things by Elizabeth Banks.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

LESLIE'S WASSAIL

My cousin, Heather, claims that Wassail is really a fancy word for Apple Cider. Although it has apple cider as a main ingredient, lots of yummy additions make it far more interesting than just cider.

My friend, Leslie, is famous for her Wassail (she even uses it to bribe others to donate to her beloved Southwest Shakespeare). I recently made a batch for our family Christmas party and it was a hit. We shall be drinking this on Christmas morn.

1 quart water
3 sticks cinnamon
5 cloves
1 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon ginger (fresh would be lovely)
1 teaspoon allspice

Bring the above ingredients to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes. Remove cloves and cinnamon sticks, then add:


1 12 oz. can orange juice concentrate

1 6 oz. can lemonade concentrate

2 quarts apple cider

Serve warm


Monday, December 21, 2009

SAUSAGE AND HERB STUFFING (Barefoot Contessa) and CARROT SOUFFLE (Sam Beall)

Love, love, love this dish! Sweet from the cornbread and a bit of a kick from the spicy sausage. I made a few changes as noted on the recipe. This is my new favorite Thanksgiving stuffing/dressing. Which, by the way, shouldn't it be called dressing when it is cooked outside of the turkey? I think so.

Ingredients


* 16 cups 1-inch bread cubes, white or sourdough (1 1/2 pound loaf) (I made with 1/2 cornbread, 1/2 crusty french bread)
* 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
* 2 cups medium-diced yellow onion (2 onions)
* 1 cup medium-diced celery (2 stalks)
* 2 Granny Smith apples, unpeeled, cored and large-diced
* 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
* 1 tablespoon kosher salt
* 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
* 3/4 pound sweet or spicy Italian sausage, casings removed (I used 1/3 lb sweet sausage and 1/3 lb spicy Italian sausage)
* 1 cup chicken stock
* 1 cup dried cranberries (I omitted)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Place the bread cubes in a single layer on a sheet pan and bake for 7 minutes. Raise the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Remove the bread cubes to a very large bowl.

Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, melt the butter and add the onions, celery, apples, parsley, salt and pepper. Saute over medium heat for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened. Add to the bread cubes.

In the same saute pan, cook the sausage over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until browned and cooked through, breaking up the sausage with a fork while cooking. Add to the bread cubes and vegetables.

Add the chicken stock and cranberries to the mixture, mix well, and pour into a 9 by 12-inch baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes, until browned on top and hot in the middle. Serve warm.

CARROT SOUFFLE


Hmmm, not so great. This is the recipe touted in a few magazines highlighting the fabulous Blackberry Farm and I like to try one new recipe every Thanksgiving. But this won't be made again. Darn. It looked so pretty in the dish. But I think the orange color tricks the taste buds into thinking something sweet is coming down the palate. Nope. I am sharing this with you lest you think everything I make turns out to be delicious and I also liked the picture.

Carrot Souffle
Serves 8
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for baking dish
  • 2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
  • Coarse salt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup saltine cracker crumbs
  • 3/4 cup grated sharp white cheddar cheese
  • 1/3 cup very finely chopped onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 large eggs

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 2-quart shallow baking dish; set aside.
  2. Place carrots in a large pot and add enough water to cover by 1 inch. Generously salt water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until carrots are tender and easily pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, about 10 minutes.
  3. Strain carrots and transfer to the bowl of a food processor; process until pureed. Transfer carrot puree to a large bowl; stir in milk, cracker crumbs, cheese, onion, butter, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk eggs until foamy. Whisk eggs into carrot mixture until just combined.
  5. Transfer carrot mixture to prepared baking dish and bake until puffed and light golden brown on top, 40 to 45 minutes; serve warm.

Friday, December 18, 2009

GINGERBREAD COOKIES

My niece, Ellie, was on the holiday committee at her school and volunteered to make Gingerbread Man Cookies for her class. I knew the kids wouldn't probably love the strong flavor of the classic ginger cookies so I was happy to find a milder version on AllRecipes.com.
Ellie did a great job of rolling out the dough and cutting out the little guys.

The house smelled great with ginger and cinnamon filling the air.

Ellie even added little buttons of royal icing, recipe courtesy of SimplyRecipes. The cookies were thin and crisp tasting just like the Anna Ginger cookies I buy at Ikea. And Ellie's classmates gobbled them up. Success!

Ingredients

  • 1 (3.5 ounce) package cook and serve butterscotch pudding mix
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, cream together the dry butterscotch pudding mix, butter, and brown sugar until smooth. Stir in the egg. Combine the flour, baking soda, ginger, and cinnamon; stir into the pudding mixture. Cover, and chill dough until firm, about 1 hour.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease baking sheets. On a floured board, roll dough out to about 1/8 inch thickness, and cut into man shapes using a cookie cutter. Place cookies 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.
  3. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven, until cookies are golden at the edges. Cool on wire racks.

Royal Icing

* 1 egg white
* 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
* 1 3/4 cup confectioners sugar (powdered sugar)

The traditional way to make Royal Icing is to beat egg whites and lemon juice together, adding the powdered sugar until the mixture holds stiff peaks. With modern concerns about salmonella from raw eggs, you can either use powdered egg whites or heat the egg whites first to kill any bacteria. With the heating method, mix the egg white and lemon juice with a third of the sugar, heat in a microwave until the mixture's temperature is 160°F. Then remove from microwave, and beat in the remaining sugar until stiff peaks form. Using the powdered egg whites method, combine 1 Tbsp egg white powder with 2 Tbsp water. Proceed as you would otherwise. (Raw egg white alternatives from the 2006 Joy of Cooking)

If the icing is too runny, add more powdered sugar until you get the desired consistency. Fill a piping bag with the icing to pipe out into different shapes. (Or use a plastic sandwich bag, with the tip of one corner of the bag cut off.) Keep the icing covered while you work with it or it will dry out.

Friday, December 11, 2009

ANNUAL CALIFORNIA GIRLS' TRIP 2009

Yea! It's that time of year again when my sisters, Tammy and Lori, and Ellie my niece, and I head over to California to spend a few days in Orange County. Basically, this posting is paying homage to the beloved Roger's Gardens.

Roger's Gardens is a delight anytime of the year but at Christmas it is ethereal. I should have brought along a video camera to capture the feeling for you and then post it on YouTube. But I didn't. So these photos will have to do.
Maybe a few of these vignettes will spur your imagination to do something new with your Christmas decorations this year. I love to be a copy cat!

Wouldn't it be pretty to gather up your white and clear glass items and fill them with flower for a centerpiece? It wouldn't need to cost anything, just using what you have and maybe a few clippings from your garden.

The above picture was full of sparkles but my camera didn't catch them. I loved the white, gray, and glitter.

This fun wreath looks bigger than it is. I bought it for my front door but it is too small. If I layer it over another pine wreath I am hoping it will fill the space better.

This darling little tree caught my eye. I love the red stand.

See that pretty white polka dot and red cake platter on the right side of the pic? Shhhh, I bought it for one of my sisters. The one who likes red. Don't tell.

Santas, santas everywhere. Are there ever enough? My sister, Tammy, doesn't think so.

I love this guy above. Very regal in his fur trimmed robe with his crown. I would have loved to bring him home.



Another gorgeous Santa.

Outside at night everything is lit up. The trees are all dressed up with white lights. If you can visit at night you will love it even more. All bundled up roaming around the gorgeously lit grounds.


Of course our annual trip includes one or two days at Disneyland! It was very cold. We stayed in jackets, gloves, and scarves all day and we loved it. But, of course, we are from Arizona.

Picture below: Pommes Frites. Cafe Orleans at Disneyland.

Best fries at Disneyland--garlic, parmesan cheee, and parsley sprinkled on top served with a cajun sauce. Yum. Really the only food worth taking a photo of at Disneyland. If I were to become CEO of Disneyland the first thing I would do is to improve the taste of the food. There is really no excuse for the abysmal food the Park offers.


But we don't go to Disneyland for the food. We go for the atmosphere, the memories of spending a few day there every summer, and just being together plotting which ride we will go on next and who will control the lever for the Dumbo ride!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

PECAN-TOPPED PUMPKIN BREAD - Cooking Light


Don't you love pumpkin bread? The smell, the appearance, and the taste is so comforting. Bake a batch to celebrate the first day of December! And, this recipe is from Cooking Light magazine. Isn't that a nice treat?



This recipe makes two loaves. Freeze the extra bread, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to one month. Omit the nuts or substitute chopped walnuts, if you prefer. Check the bread after 50 minutes of baking--you may need to cover the loaves with aluminum foil for the last 10 minutes to prevent overbrowning.

Ingredients

  • 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (about 15 ounces)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup egg substitute
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 6 ingredients (through allspice) in a bowl.

Place sugar, egg substitute, oil, buttermilk, and eggs in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until well blended. Add 2/3 cup water and pumpkin, beating at low speed until blended. Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture, beating at low speed just until combined. Spoon batter into 2 (9 x 5-inch) loaf pans coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle pecans evenly over batter. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pans on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack.

Friday, November 27, 2009

DORIE GREENSPAN'S FUJI APPLE SPICE CAKE

Look at those chunks of apples! Aren't they beautiful? I love it when you see the actual pieces of fruit in a cake. I found this recipe in Bon Appetit's October issue. Dorie Greenspan had a bunch of recipes for specific varieties of apples. And since I had a ton of Fuji apples this cake called my name.

I've had great luck baking Dorie's recipes (don't I sound like I know her?). You may remember her delicious Swedish Apple Cake recipe a few months ago--that was divine. This cake is also delicious--a bit more substantial than the delicate Swedish cake. It reminded me a bit of carrot cake.

Enjoy!

Ingredients

Cake

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon, apple brandy, or rum (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 medium Fuji or Gala apples (13 to 14 ounces total), peeled, halved, cored, cut into 1/3-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans (about 6 ounces)

Frosting

  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 cups powdered sugar (measured, then sifted)
  • Coarsely chopped toasted pecans (for garnish)

Special equipment

  • 2 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides

Preparation

CAKE

  • Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides. Line bottom of each pan with parchment paper round. Whisk first 7 ingredients in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat 1 cup butter in large bowl until fluffy. Add both sugars and beat until smooth. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla, then bourbon, if desired (mixture may look curdled). Add flour mixture to egg mixture in 3 additions alternately with applesauce in 2 additions, beating until blended after each addition. Stir in apples and pecans. Divide batter between cake pans; smooth tops.
  • Bake cakes until tester inserted into center of each comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Transfer cakes to racks and cool in pans 15 minutes. Cut around pan sides to loosen cakes. Invert cakes onto racks; peel off parchment paper. Place another rack atop 1 cake and invert again so that cake is rounded side up. Repeat with second cake. Cool completely. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap each cake in plastic and store at room temperature.

FROSTING

  • Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in vanilla extract and pinch of salt. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until frosting is smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes.
  • Using long serrated knife, trim off rounded tops of cakes to make level; brush off any loose crumbs. Transfer 1 cake to platter, trimmed side up. Drop half of frosting (about 1 1/2 cups) by spoonfuls atop cake. Spread frosting evenly to edges of cake. Top with second cake, trimmed side down. Drop remaining frosting by spoonfuls onto top of cake, leaving sides of cake plain. Spread frosting to top edges of cake, swirling and creating peaks, if desired. Sprinkle with pecans. Let cake stand at room temperature 1 hour to allow frosting to set slightly. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and refrigerate. Let cake stand at room temperature at least 2 hours before serving.

Monday, November 23, 2009

WHITE BEAN AND ROSEMARY SOUP - Barefoot Contessa



It is very hard to take a decent picture of white bean soup. White beans, garlic, onions, go figure.

This is a mild tasting soup that is quick to make and keeps well in the fridge. I doubled the spices (garlic, bay leaf, and rosemary--although I'm never quite sure what exactly a bay leaf contributes?). I also cut back on the oil which makes for a healthier soup.

It still needs something more--I'm thinking a little bit of ham, prosciutto, or bacon sauteed with the onions would deepen the flavor. What do you think?

And since I don't love pureed soups, I quickly dipped my immersion blender in and pureed about 1/3 just to make it thicker.

Ingredients
  • 1 pound dried white cannellini beans
  • 4 cups sliced yellow onions (3 onions)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large branch fresh rosemary (6 to 7 inches)
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

In a medium bowl, cover the beans with water by at least 1-inch and leave them in the refrigerator for 6 hours or overnight. Drain.
In a large stockpot over low to medium heat, saute the onions with the olive oil until the onions are translucent, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook over low heat for 3 more minutes. Add the drained white beans, rosemary, chicken stock, and bay leaf. Cover, bring to a boil, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, until the beans are very soft. Remove the rosemary branch and the bay leaf. Pass the soup through the coarsest blade of a food mill, or place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until coarsely pureed. Return the soup to the pot to reheat and add salt and pepper, to taste. Serve hot.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

NOVEMBER READING



The BFG by Roald Dahl is a favorite book of my niece, Ellie. So, since it is her favorite I had to read it. It is darling! Very clever, well-written, some good conflict, and besides a bunch of crazy giants even Royalty is involved.

And, yea for me! I finally finished Vanity Fair by William Thackeray. I read this book through DailyLit--one page emailed a day. Vanity Fair was a favorite of Theodore Roosevelt which is why I thought to read it in the first place. Thackeray had great wit and his characters are hilarious. He creates an atmosphere that clearly illustrates the pinch of a face or the whine of a voice without stating so. And is there anyone as rotten as Becky Sharp?

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding is written by Julia Strachey (niece of Lytton Strachey, a Bloomsbury writer). Published by Persephone Books, it is a novella that takes place on the day of a wedding. Funny and a bit sad, I kept waiting for something big to happen. Do big things ever happen in novellas? I don't think so. Usually just a bit of a story and that's it. Check out Persephone Books, though. It is a small British firm that publishes books written by 20th century female (mostly) writers. This is the publisher that gave us Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. Next time I am in London I shall be stopping by its darling little shop.

Currently I am reading Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire by Alex von Tunzelman. I am a third of the way through--fascinating.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

BLACK BEAN SALSA

My sister, Tammy, made this salsa (recipe from our fabulous neighbor, Jody). Yes, you read that correctly. TAMMY made something! And it was so delicious. Enjoy!

1 can corn, drained

1 can black beans, drained

1 bunch cilantro, chopped

2 tomatoes, diced

3 green onions, diced

2 avocados, chopped

3 Tbsp red wine vinegar

2 tsp. garlic salt

2 tsp. hot sauce

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 lime


Combine the first 6 ingredients, set aside. Mix vinegar, garlic salt, hot sauce, and olive oil. Pour mixture over vegetables. Squeeze lime over the top. Refrigerate for a few hours.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

CARROT CAKE - Simply Recipes

After my sister, Lori, requested Carrot Cake for her birthday I was on the hunt for just the right recipe. Ingredients had to include walnuts, pineapple, but not raisins.

I have wished a thousand times I had my Mom's recipe--it was perfection. But my Mom didn't write all of this stuff down and I wasn't interested in figuring it out during her lifetime. My mistake.


However, Simply Recipes to the rescue. My sisters thought it was the closest to my Mom's delicious cake. Of course I will never get it just right--I think memories elevate the actual taste experience. I can live with that.


Ingredients
Cake:

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tbsp baking soda
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups olive oil or grapeseed oil
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups shelled walnuts, chopped (more whole or chopped for topping)
1 1/2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut
2 cups of finely grated carrots
1 cup of drained crushed pineapple
Frosting:

8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temp
2 1/2 cups of confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 Tbsp lemon juice
Method
1 Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9 inch cake pans. Cut out rounds of wax paper and place at bottoms of cake pans. Butter the top of the wax paper rounds.

2 Sift dry ingredients into a bowl. Add oil, eggs, and vanilla. Beat well. Fold in chopped walnuts, coconut, carrots and pineapple.

3 Pour batter into pans. Set on the middle rack of oven and bake for 45-50 minutes (shift positions of cakes front-to-back if necessary about halfway through), until edges have pulled away from sides and a toothpick or sharp knife tip inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a cake rack.

4 To prepare frosting, cream together the cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl. Slowly sift in the confectioners sugar and beat until mixture is free of lumps. Stir in vanilla and lemon juice.

5 Once cakes have cooled, frost. Sprinkle top with chopped walnuts or arrange walnut halves in a crown around the top.

Serves 12-16.

Friday, November 6, 2009

CHOCOLATE TOFFEE COOKIES - Smitten Kitchen

These are rich and chewy and sophisticated tasting for a chocolate cookie. Definitely my new favorite chocolate cookie. Which up until now I really didn't have a favorite since I don't normally love chocolate cookies. (Of course, the New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookie is in a different category altogether.)

The recipe comes from Smitten Kitchen which she adapted from Bon Appetit magazine. (Did you hear about Gourmet magazine? Very sad.)

Chocolate Toffee Cookies
Adapted from Bon Appetit

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups (packed) brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
5 1.4-ounce chocolate-covered English toffee bars (such as Heath), coarsely chopped
1 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped
Flaky sea salt for sprinkling (optional, but please add it)

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl; whisk to blend. Stir chocolate and butter in top of double boiler set over simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Cool mixture to lukewarm.

Using electric mixer, beat sugar and eggs in bowl until thick, about 5 minutes. Beat in chocolate mixture and vanilla.

Stir in flour mixture, then toffee and nuts. Chill batter until firm, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment or waxed paper. Drop batter by spoonfuls onto sheets, spacing two inches apart. Sprinkle with a pinch of flaky sea salt, if you’re using it. Bake just until tops are dry and cracked but cookies are still soft to touch, about 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on sheets. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)

Let them cool completely as they continue baking once they come out of the oven.

From Smitten Kitchen: After struggling a bit to scoop these cookies, I rolled the dough into a log 1.5 inches in diameter and chilled it. When I was ready to bake the cookies, I cut it into 1/2-inch slices. You can store the dough log in the freezer, wrapped in waxed paper and then two layers of plastic wrap for up to a month, just baking the cookies off as you need. Cookies baked straight from the freezer may need an additional minute or two in the oven, depending on their thickness.

From Kim: I lined a 9 x 13 pan with wax paper and spread the dough in the pan and then chilled it for about an hour. Then I cut it in 4 pieces and rolled the dough into logs, then cut into 1/2 inch slices. This worked well.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

BREAKFAST APPLE GRANOLA CRISP - Smitten Kitchen





This is a really, yummy breakfast treat but could definitely be a family dessert. It doesn't have as much sugar (3 tablespoons and a bit of honey) as a regular apple crisp which is why it works well for breakfast. I had mine with plain Greek yogurt--divine.



Breakfast Apple Granola Crisp

3 pounds of whatever apples, or mix of apples, you like to bake with, peeled, cored and cut into medium chunks
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup flour
2 cups oats
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened; I used unsweetened)

Preheat oven to 400°F. Mix apple chunks with lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and pinch of salt in a 9×13-inch baking dish until apples are evenly coated. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter with the honey. Stir in the flour, oats, almonds, coconut and another pinch of salt until clumps form. Sprinkle evenly over the apple mixture and bake in the oven for about 45 to 55 minutes, or until the apples are softened and bubbly. Should the granola brown too quickly, place foil over the dish for all but the last few minutes of baking time, when removing the foil will help the granola recrisp. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate.

Friday, October 30, 2009

PUMPKIN CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES


Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Love, love, love the combination of pumpkin and chocolate chips. These are lovely soft cookies and can be made with either chocolate chips or butterscotch chips. I made them both ways and preferred the chocolate variety. If you make them with the butterscotch chips leave out the nutmeg and cloves.

From Joy the Baker adapted from Big Fat Cookies


2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

2 eggs

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup canola or corn oil

1 cup canned pumpkin

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup chocolate chips, or any chip you like

Position a rack in the middle of the oven . Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and butter the paper.

Stir the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices together in a medium bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the eggs and sugar until smooth and lightened in color, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl as needed during mixing. On low speed, mix the oil, pumpkin, and vanilla until blended. Mix in the flour mixture to incorporate it. Mix in the chips.

Using an ice cream scoop with a 1/4-cup capacity, scoop mounds of the dough onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing the cookies at least 2 1/2-inches apart. You could also simply use a 1/4-cup measuring cup if you don’t have a scoop. Use a thin metal spatula to smooth and flatten the rounds.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time until the tops feel firm and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry, about 16 minutes. Cool them on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then use a wide metal spatula to transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Dust the cooled cookies lightly with powdered sugar. The cookies can be stored in a tightly covered container at room temperature for up to 4 days.


Monday, October 26, 2009

OCTOBER READING


Well, I succumbed and bought a Kindle. I love it. Fortunately I bought it after a few price drops although it is still pricey. However, for traveling it is such a treat. I loaded it with a bunch of classics which are free or at the most 99 cents. And I boarded the plane with only my 10.2 ounce Kindle for reading--not my usual two or three books.

Amazon has a nifty no-charge option to order a sample of a book which is about one chapter in length. I ordered three samples: The Shipping News, The Lost Symbol, and The Children's Book. And of course, I will still be buying (cheaply through Abe, etc.) or borrowing beautiful books!

But in the meantime, I have read a few books this month. Watching the English, written by Anthropologist Kate Fox, was an educational read about the quirks and manners of the English. Sometimes tedious so I skipped a few sections, but I learned a lot about the English which is interesting to an Anglophile like me.

Cider with Rosie, an autobiography by Laurence "Laurie" Lee, is about Lee's growing-up years in a small village in the Cotswolds during World War I. He didn't write this book until the late 50's yet his writing details very specific incidents as if they had just happened. I didn't expect Lee's writing to be so finely crafted and lush. He could describe a leaf 17 different ways and I would enjoy reading each description.

Cemetary Yew was another Cynthia Riggs book set in Martha's Vineyard. Her series with Victoria Trumbull are well-written escapes for me. I love to read a book that includes a change of season that I'm not experiencing!

Finally, Speech-Less: Tales of a White House Survivor was a lot of fun. Written by my friend Matt Latimer, it is far more harmless than former Bush staffers have whined about publicly. If you are political you will enjoy the inside view from the Pentagon and the White House.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

OCTOBER GARDENING UPDATE

Solarizing our flower bed seems to have worked on those rotten weeds. But here is the odd thing: it appears the Freesia bulbs have survived. So the Arizona sun baked the dickens out of those insideous weeds but the sweet little Freesias may be blooming soon? I never would have guessed. Sweet peas (remember to soak your seeds overnight before planting) and a whole slew of bulbs will be planted next month. The ground is ready. We added 11 bags of manure and some of our own compost. Isn't that soil gorgeous?

The basil went wild this summer--I've been pruning it back weekly. I recently planted fennel, cilantro, and dill seeds and they are all coming up right on schedule. I also planted a herb I've never heard of--pennyroyal. I haven't done a bit of research on it but thought it was pretty so I bought it. I also transplanted flat leaf parsley (my favorite parsley), don't you find the curly parsley annoying?

Last month we planted (from seed) Choggia beets, Olympia spinach, various lettuces, a couple varieties of chinese cabbage, French Breakfast radishes, and green onions. All are peaking their little heads out now. More of our compost in the garden boxes above. We are now cooking up our Fall batch of compost.

The photo above makes my little garden boxes look a bit tipsy, they aren't. Apparently the photographer (me) was tilting a little more to the right than usual.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

APPLE CRISP


What's your favorite Autumn treat? I'm torn between apples and pumpkins. Both are gorgeous creations and both have that yummy taste that says, "Fall has arrived!" Their smell, taste, and appearance gives us low desert dwellers hope that it is finally cooling down and triple digits are a thing of the past (fingers crossed) .


This recipe is adapted from Simply Recipes (one of my favorite cooking blogs).
I added 1/3 more oatmeal and brown sugar since I like a lot of crunchy topping. Nutmeg is also a favorite so I added a dash. And I prefer chopped versus sliced apples in these types of recipes.


I made this for a Sunday night dessert and my family loved it. My brother-in-law Steve noticed the flavor of the apples was very pronounced since there wasn't as much sugar to mask its flavor. I agree.

Apple Crisp Recipe

Adapted from Simply Recipes

Ingredients7 tart apples, peeled, cored and sliced
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/3 cups brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup butter, room temperature

Directions


1 Preheat oven to 375°F. In a mixing bowl, combine apples, lemon juice, and vanilla. Toss to combine.

2 Place chopped apples in a 9 x 12-inch (I used slightly smaller) baking pan.

3 Combine brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and oatmeal in a bowl. Cut in the butter. Sprinkle sugar mixture over apples.

4 Bake 45 minutes or until topping looks crunchy and apples are tender.

Serves 8. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

MINESTRONE SOUP - Simply Recipes

I love a recipe that is delicious, easy, smells great, and is forgiving when you trade ingredients out for those you have on hand. Plus I love making (and eating) soup.

This comes from Simply Recipes. I had most everything already in the fridge and pantry but I did swap out a few ingredients--I didn't have parsley but I had an abundance of rosemary and it tasted great. I didn't have cabbage but I had plenty of swiss chard (spinach would also work) and that turned out great, too. I used canned cannellini beans and pancetta (bacon would also work).

Ingredients

1 - 1 1/2 cups dried Cannellini or Great Northern Beans
2 ounces salt pork or pancetta
10 to 12 cups beef or chicken broth
1 onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup loosely packed parsley, chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 head savoy or curly cabbage, sliced
1 potato, diced
2 zucchini, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 cups chopped Italian styled peeled plum tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan cheese, grated for garnish

Method
1 Soak beans overnight in cold water. Drain beans, rinse, and place them in a large saucepan or stockpot. Add salt pork or pancetta and 6 cups of broth. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook gently for about 1 hour.

2 Heat oil in a separate large stockpot. Add chopped vegetables (onion, celery, carrot, garlic, parsley) and sauté gently 5 to 8 minutes or until lightly browned. Add remaining vegetables and tomatoes. Add remaining 5 cups broth. Simmer for 40 to 50 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

3 Remove salt pork or pancetta from beans. Dice finely. Transfer half of the beans to a food processor or a blender and blend into a paste. Add mashed beans to the vegetables. Add remaining whole beans, broth, and diced pork to vegetables.

4 Simmer 5 minutes longer. Season soup with salt and pepper. Serve with a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese.

Serves 10-12

Saturday, October 10, 2009

WHY I LOVE THE LIBRARY

There have been a few interior design books I've had my eye on for quite a while. But even with a 40% discount from Border's or Amazon I haven't wanted to spend the money. But lo and behold they've been parked at my local library this whole time!

What a treat to pick up these books and take them home to peruse at my leisure. Kathryn M. Ireland (the Brit, not the former model), Bunny Williams, and Charlotte Moss are some of my favorite interior designers. It's always interesting to me to see just what they do to make a room comfortable and stylish. Some of what they do is waaay too over the top for me and over done. But I can usually learn something from each of the rooms depicted. Maybe it will be a color combination I hadn't thought of or using an item a different way than it was intended.

Interior design books and magazines help me to think a little differently about design--and I'm a great copycat. For instance, I needed something to hold the piles of mail received at home, not just stacked on the counter. So I found a deep lid from a square basket and now I have something good looking to hold the mail.



Then I took a pottery bowl that I seldom use and put it to use holding all of my half-empty seed packets. Functional and good looking. These are minor changes but they perk things up a bit around the house.

I know I've gone off a bit about interior design when the real purpose of this post is to say, "Yea for libraries!". New technology has made it so easy to check-out a book. A click to find out if the library has the book, then a click to put it on hold, another click to have it delivered to the branch nearest you. Then an email is sent stating "your book is ready for pick-up". You can even renew on-line. It couldn't be easier. So, three cheers for libraries! Use them.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

SNICKERDOODLES - Smitten Kitchen



Don't you think "Snickerdoodle" is one of the great words in the English vocabulary? I do.


A friend of mine did me a very nice favor and when I asked him how much I owed him he answered, "Well, a plate of Snickerdoodles would take care of it."


Not having made Snickerdoodles before, I went straight to Smitten Kitchen and found just what I was looking for.


These cookies are easy to make and just the right thickness--not too thin to be crispy and not too thick to be too doughy. It would be a great cookie to make with children, they would love rolling the dough into little balls and then rolling them through the cinnamon-sugar mixture.







Snickerdoodles
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes three dozen 3 to 4-inch cookies. Your mileage will vary by the size scoop you use.

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 stick or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon, plus more if needed
2 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 400°, with one rack in top third and one rack in bottom third of oven. Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper; set aside.

Sift together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add eggs, and beat to combine. Add dry ingredients, and beat to combine. I chilled the dough for an hour (or you can overnight) before scooping it, because I otherwise found it too difficult to scoop into balls and roll but the original recipe doesn’t find this step neccessary.

Once dough has chilled, in a small bowl, combine remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the ground cinnamon. Use a small ice-cream scoop to form balls of the dough, and roll in cinnamon sugar. Place about two inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until the cookies are set in center and begin to crack (they will not brown), about 10 minutes, rotating the baking sheets after five minutes. Transfer the sheets to a wire rack to cool about five minutes before transferring the cookies to the rack. They can be stored in an airtight container up to one week.

Friday, October 2, 2009

COCONUT CUPCAKES - Barefoot Contessa


Heavenly. Lovely. Pretty. Enjoy.

Ingredients

3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
5 extra-large eggs at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
14 ounces sweetened, shredded coconut

For the frosting:

1 pound cream cheese at room temperature
3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 1/2 pounds confectioners' sugar, sifted

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In 3 parts, alternately add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk to the batter, beginning and ending with the dry. Mix until just combined. Fold in 7 ounces of coconut.

Line a muffin pan with paper liners. Fill each liner to the top with batter. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until the tops are brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove to a baking rack and cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the frosting. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on low speed, cream together the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla and almond extracts. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until smooth.

Frost the cupcakes and sprinkle with the remaining coconut.

Makes 24 regular sized cupcakes

Monday, September 28, 2009

SEPTEMBER READING LIST

I am seriously addicted to reading. This month has been filled with more good books. Right now I am reading Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour written by Kate Fox, an anthropologist from England. It is a little too detailed at times but she has a good sense of humor as she gently pokes fun explaining "her people".

Diary of a Provincial Lady written by E.M. Delafield was delightful. Written in the 1930's by Edmee Elizabeth Monica Delafield, she writes a thinly-veiled autobiography about an upper-middle class woman and her family living in a small village in Devon, England. Good thing I was able to find it on Abe books since no library or bookstore carried it. I am looking forward to reading the sequels about her buying a flat in London, spending a holiday in Paris, traveling to America.

The Help was a clever story written about white ladies, their black maids and the horrible double-standards in the 1960's, Mississippi. This is the first novel written by Kathryn Stockett.

And I was completely entertained listening to two audio books this month, Unnatural Death, a Lord Peter Wimsey novel, and Thank You Jeeves, a slap-the-steering wheel comedy read joyfully by Jonathan Cecil.

Tonight, I will start reading Speech-Less: Tales of a White House Survivor written by my friend Matt Latimer. Matt and I worked together for several years and he is one of the best writers I personally know. A former speechwriter for President Bush and Secretary Rumsfield, he writes effortlessly and has a wicked sense of humor. Matt has been making the rounds on all the news shows and has been doing a terrific job. And more importantly, I'm mentioned in his acknowledgements (page 282), which is very exciting.


So many books, so little time.