11/27/13

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends and readers. 




My wish is for you to travel safely, to eat well, 
and to enjoy your families during this holiday. 
May we also remember 
to include the lonely and less fortunate in our abundance.

11/26/13

Orange Sour Cream Poppy Seed Cake

Most of my holiday cooking consists of traditional dishes my family requests from year to year, but I like to slip in a new recipe among the old favorites to add some variety. This year I baked up this Orange Sour Cream Poppy Seed Cake as a new addition to the dessert table. This is an easy cake to make ahead with a wonderful orangey glaze that soaks into the warm cake.


Recipe adapted from Land O'Lakes

Orange Sour Cream Poppy Seed Cake

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup light sour cream
1 egg
2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon poppy seed
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup orange juice

Glaze
6 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 tablespoon orange juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare an 8-inch square baking pan by greasing or with nonstick cooking spray (I used a small Bundt pan). Combine sugar and butter in mixing bowl. Beat at medium speed of electric mixer until creamy. Add sour cream, egg, and orange zest. Continue beating until well mixed. In a separate bowl combine flour, poppy seed, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Reduce the mixer to low speed and gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture alternately with the orange juice. Spread the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 45 - 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Glaze - Combine powdered sugar and orange juice in a small bowl, beat together until smooth. Drizzle glaze over warm cake. Cake can be served warm or cool.

This recipe suggested an 8-inch square baking pan for the cake, but I had a new Bundt pan and just couldn't wait to try it out. My SIL Karen is a pottery hobbyist and made a beautiful Bundt pan for me to use in my baking.




This was my first experience in baking with a pottery piece, so I had to do a little research in advance. I found it is best not to expose these pieces to any extremes in temperatures. The information I read suggested ingredients should be at room temperature, and the oven should not be preheated prior to baking. One other instruction I found about baking with pottery was not to use cooking spray, but to grease the piece with oil. I'm no expert, as I've only baked in my piece once, but all went well with this cake. One thing I noted was it did seem to take much longer for the cake to release from the pan after baking than with a metal pan.



The sour cream, orange juice, and orange zest all combine to make this a flavorful cake, but I think the orange juice glaze is what puts it over the top.








11/25/13

The Prep in Preparation

A cook knows the prep work is the key to any successful meal, but it is especially important when planning for a large holiday gathering such as Thanksgiving. I tend to get a bit anxious about getting everything done, but I have found my very best friend in meal planning is my list, actually several lists. Over the years I have served many holiday dinners, so I have many of the menu lists I have made for those occasions. Not only is it fun to look back over the lists and remember and reminisce about what was served, those lists are invaluable in helping me decide what to cook for the current holiday. Once I get a new menu list made, then I can make the dreaded shopping list. My next list is the prep list, or the order of getting things done.

Being a list maker keeps me on track with my cooking and helps break a big job down into more manageable smaller jobs. I'm not sure how I became a list maker. I can't remember my mother ever making a list for a holiday meal, but I can also remember lots of times at her house that items were forgotten in the refrigerator and never served, or something was left in the microwave unfinished. We've had some good family laughs about her forgotten dishes.

Some of the most basic prep work for my Thanksgiving meal has been done, for example, my cornbread for the crock pot dressing is ready and in the freezer.


The recipe for my cornbread can be found here.


Another prep task I have completed is my pie crust. My recipe makes three single crusts that can be frozen until ready to use.



After storing each crust individually in zip top bags, I then stack them in this plastic pie keeper to protect them before placing them in the freezer.


I like to have these pie crusts in the freezer even when I'm not planning for a holiday meal. They are quick to make, easy to store, and just about as convenient as a store-bought crust, only better.

My next prep work is to chop the celery and onions I'll be needing later. I also want to bake a Bundt cake today that can be wrapped and frozen. 

My holiday meal still has much prep work needed, but I think this is the time to apply the sage advice, "Plan your work, and work your plan."

What's your best prep advice in preparing a holiday meal?



11/23/13

Blueberry Pineapple Bread

Blueberry Pineapple Bread is one of those recipes that can be served most any time of day. This fruity bread makes a great breakfast, it is a wonderful snacking bread, and most would even find it tempting as a dessert. I've been collecting blueberry recipes for years, and I'm not sure where this tasty bread recipe originated.




Print Recipe

Blueberry Pineapple Bread

2/3 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 (15 oz.) can crushed pineapple, drained
4 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups blueberries
1/2 cup flaked coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare two 9 x 5-inch loaf pans by greasing or with nonstick cooking spray. In a large mixing bowl, beat shortening at medium speed of an electric mixer until creamy; add sugar gradually, beat well. Add pineapple, eggs, milk, and lemon juice; beat well. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; add to shortening mixture, beat just until blended. Stir in blueberries and coconut. Pour batter into prepared loaf pans. Bake for 40 - 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, then remove from pans to cool completely. Makes 2 loaves.



You could halve the recipe and make just one loaf of this bread, but I think you would be sorry if you did, better go ahead and make the whole recipe so you'll have two loaves.
Blueberries + pineapple + coconut = good bread!








11/22/13

Meyer Lemon Curd Tart

The best kinds of food to eat are those that have been planted and grown right at home. This Meyer lemon tart was made with the juice and zest from my recent lemon harvest, and it has a satisfying taste that just could not be duplicated with store-bought lemons.




The recipe I used is one I have adapted from Food Network.


Meyer Lemon Curd Tart

Crust
8 tablespoons cold butter (1 stick), cut in small pieces
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 egg yolk
Pinch of salt
2 to 4 tablespoons cold water

Additional: 1 pound dried beans

Lemon Curd
3/4 cup Meyer lemon juice, freshly squeezed
Zest of 3 Meyer lemons
1 1/3 cups sugar
5 eggs
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into pats

Garnish (Optional)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice
1 pint blueberries

Whipped cream (Optional)

Crust:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the butter, sugar, flour, egg yolk, and salt for about 60 seconds or until the mixture has a grainy texture. Add half the water and pulse again. The dough should start to come together. Add the remaining water only if needed. Dough has reached the proper consistency if it holds together when a handful is squeezed. Pour the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and work into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before proceeding.

Next roll the dough out to 1/8 to 1/4-inch thickness. Place the dough carefully in a 10-inch tart pan, cutting the extra dough cleanly around the top edge of the pan. Cover the dough with aluminum foil, gently pressing the foil against the dough all around inside the pan. Fill the foil with dried beans and place in preheated oven. Bake for 10 - 12 minutes, then remove the foil and the beans and bake for an additional 2 - 3 minutes or until crust is golden and crisp. Remove from oven and cool.

Lemon curd:
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. In a bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, zest, sugar, eggs, and salt. Pour mixture into a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for about 12 to 15 minutes until mixture has thickened. Remove from heat and whisk in 2 pats of butter at at time, stirring until smooth. Pour the lemon curd into the prepared tart shell and bake in preheated oven about 15 minutes, or until lemon curd has set. Let cool completely before cutting.

Garnish:
In a small bowl, mix together sugar and lemon juice. Gently stir in blueberries. Serve lemon curd tart slices with blueberry garnish and/or whipped cream, if desired.




This amazing Meyer Lemon Curd Tart can be prepared ahead of time and would be a wonderful addition to a Thanksgiving dessert table.




11/20/13

Christmas Ornament Craft

Most everyone is delighted to be presented with a handmade Christmas ornament, but finding time to craft can be problem for many people. I've been doing some ornament crafting lately, and this project is one that can be completed quickly and requires little skill. I made these ornaments for a special family member who loves to play Scrabble, but I don't think you have to be a Scrabble fan to hang these on your tree. With some help, the kids could put together their own ornaments too.








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Items needed to make these ornaments:

Scrabble letter tiles
Red and green ribbon
Small bells
Gold wire
Beads
Felt
Craft glue
Scissors
Wire cutters

To make the ornaments, first assemble the letter tiles for the word you want to spell. Then cut a piece of felt the length and width of the assembled tiles. This will make a backing for the tiles. 

Cut a 6-inch piece of wire for each ornament and fold in half in a loop, twisting the ends together. This will be the hanger for the ornament. Lay this wire in the center of the felt piece where you want it to hang, then glue the tiles onto the felt, with the twisted ends of the wire between the felt and a tile piece. I embellished the ornaments with small bells, beads, and ribbon. This can be done in any creative way desired.




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Super simple and so cute! It takes longer for the glue to dry than it does to make the ornament. I let mine dry overnight and they were ready.

My next Scrabble letter project is to spell out the names of each of my grandchildren to hang on my own tree.

11/15/13

The Meyer Lemon Harvest

I had one last important gardening task to attend to last week just before the temperature dropped to below freezing here in Northeast Arkansas. I needed to pick my Meyer lemons before I repotted and pruned the little tree to bring it inside for the winter. I have watched and cared for my tree carefully for more than two years now, and this is the first time it has produced fruit.



I knew far too little about growing lemons when I started, but just like first time parents often do with a new baby, I jumped in and did my best to take care of the little guy. 


I watched as the tiny lemons developed and grew during the summer months.


It seemed to take forever for their color to change. They stayed in the green stage for a very long time.



The lemons finally were ripe enough to pick just before cold weather.



My small tree didn't produce very many lemons this first time, but since Meyer lemons are large I think there will be enough juice to make a nice tart.  I've made lemon curd tarts before, but I've never had my own home grown lemons to use before.  

Arkansas weather is not ideal for lemon trees, but I do have a sunny window that should keep my tree happy during the cold winter months. That small tree by the window reminds me of a youngster peering out the glass wishing for springtime to come again.



11/9/13

Crusting Buttercream Frosting

Our sweet Jonas celebrated his 7th birthday this week, and my contribution was a "bat signal" cake. Buttercream is my frosting of choice, but it can be difficult to get a really smooth look to buttercream on a large cake, like this two layer 10-inch round. Fortunately, my sister was in town visiting this week and she had just the frosting recipe I needed to get the smooth look I wanted. When I made this cake I really didn't intend to write a blog post about it, so I didn't take a lot of photos of the method, but I liked the frosting so much I decided I had to share it.



Print Recipe

Crusting Buttercream Frosting (Viva Paper Towel Method)

2 pounds sifted powdered sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups solid vegetable shortening (Crisco)
2 tablespoons clear vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/3 cup water (I used heavy cream)
Optional: 1 - 2 tablespoons meringue powder for humid climates

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter, shortening, and extracts until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar, meringue powder, and water (or cream). Mix thoroughly on low speed until smooth and creamy. Fill a decorator bag with frosting and use a #18 tip to spread rows of frosting up and down around the sides of a crumb-coated cake. Dip an off-set spatula in very hot water, dry, and spread the frosting smooth. Using the #18 tip, fill in the top of the cake with rows of frosting, then smooth with the hot spatula. Allow the cake to set for 15 minutes before covering frosting with the SMOOTH side of a Viva paper towel and gently smoothing with a fondant smoothing tool. Decorate cake as desired.

There is a great tutorial with photos of this process here that should help out tremendously. This method is not hard to do, and the result is a nice smooth frosting that is easy to decorate.





Some of the tools needed for the Crusting Buttercream Frosting are Viva Paper towels, a #18 decorator tip, and a fondant smoothing tool.




Once the buttercream has been smoothed with the paper towel, it looks almost like fondant.