Rosemary Olive Oil Cake

The Finished Product w BrushstrokeJeff and I are having some friends over for dinner this evening.  It will be a very casual dinner as I try out some recipes for one of the cooking classes I’ll be teaching at the Kitchen Shoppe in the spring.

I am excited for this new journey and have been learning so much along the way.  Each iteration of a recipe teaches me about the effects of all kinds of things – a change in spices, different cooking times, higher or lower temperatures, fresher ingredients – on the end result.  It has been a fun process and I am thankful for the support of my family and friends – those people who are willing to eat not only the successes, but the failures as well!!!

For dessert tonight, we’ll be having Rosemary Olive Oil Cake.  Some people find the idea of baking with olive oil quite strange; frankly I feel sorry for those folks because they are missing out on some amazing moisture and flavor!

I thought I’d show you the process of making this cake.

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Manly Cookies

My husband, Jeff, has been having a challenging week at work. One of those Murphy’s Law kind of weeks – “anything that can go wrong will.” You know that kind of week….you’ve HAD that kind of week.

As he was telling me about some of the challenges yesterday, he said, “Ryan and Zach (co-workers in his department) really stepped up and I really appreciate it.” The HR in me kicked in and asked him, “Did you tell them?” To which he replied, “Not yet.”

I wholeheartedly believe in expressing my appreciation for people’s actions – and so does Jeff; however it does not always occur to him as quickly as it does to me. Maybe it’s the difference between men and women, maybe it has to do with our upbringing, maybe it is the time I spent working in HR, or maybe it’s just how we’re wired. Either way, it doesn’t matter – as long as we eventually do it!

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Inspiration

You never know where you’ll get your inspiration!

I have read thousands of magazines over the years – probably  half of them cooking magazines.  In fact, in my very first post on the blog – Welcome! – I wrote about my love of cookbooks and magazines.  I wrote about how on my birthday Jeff brings me cooking magazines and a cup of coffee in bed and I am immersed for hours.

This week was NOT my birthday (I am not celebrating them more frequently than I absolutely have to), but I was thrilled to receive a magazine from our friends, Alicia and Jason, while I was “recovering” from some outpatient surgery.  Although we haven’t known each other for very long, they clearly know me quite well.  They made Jeff and I a wonderful dinner and sent along a copy of one of my favorite magazines, La Cucina Italiana.

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A Crackerjack Event

Last week was so much fun….I spent the majority of it preparing for a party I catered for our friends Lowell and Nancy on Saturday evening. They were welcoming some friends from our church into their neighborhood.  Lowell and Nancy are such gracious hosts and some of the most generous people I have ever met – they’re quite inspiring.  So it was my pleasure to cater the party.

We met a few weeks ago to talk about the menu, decor, buffet placement, etc. I then worked out a menu, which Nancy and I tweaked along the way, and last Tuesday I did all the grocery shopping I could do in advance.  On Wednesday food prep began and by Saturday afternoon, Jeff was helping me unload the car at Lowell and Nancy’s beautiful home.  Their house overlooks a lake, which made working in their kitchen a pleasure. The view from the window over the sink is spectacular!

Between 2:30 and 4:00 I got the bar, the dessert table and the appetizer buffet set and then at 4:00 I began putting the finishing touches on the food.

Nancy and Lowell chose a nautical theme and I had great fun coming up with ideas for the bar and buffets. Jeff agreed to tend bar, so I wanted him to have a nice space to work.  I created the bar using a 4 foot table; two vases with sand, rope and shells; a piece of reclaimed wood; and some other decorations including a string of battery-operated lights.  Everyone at the party commented on the bar.

The Bar Continue reading

Generations

I received a text message from my younger niece, Ashley, last night.  It read, “hey!  wanted to tell you I just made my first banana bread! but I used oatmeal flour and added white chocolate chips! :)”

I am happy as a clam (funny phrase, isn’t it) that Ashley texted me her news.  Having no children of my own, I am immensely grateful for my relationship with my nieces and nephews.  They are my link to the next generation and generations to come.  They keep me as hip as I possibly can be and they are the reason I keep up with technology!  Texting has kept me in contact with my nieces throughout their college careers and I can glimpse into their lives and the life of my older nephew on Facebook (no, I don’t consider it stalking)!

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Hope & Soap

Saturday night was full of fun and laughter.  We spent it with 3 couples from church enjoying a meal, playing games and competing in a cookie bake-off.  Don and Rena invited everyone over for the evening and came up with the idea of the cookie bake-off.  Don and Rena provided the main course, each couple contributed a side dish and each person brought a batch of home-made cookies.

Jeff and I plotted and planned throughout the week and didn’t tell each other until Saturday morning what kind of cookies we each were baking.  I decided on Lavender Shortbread Hearts with Lemon Filling and Jeff made Triple Chocolate Pistachio.  We engaged in the kitchen ballet while making our cookies and trying to stay out of one another’s way.

After arriving at Don and Rena’s house, we ate dinner and talked.  Somehow the subject “To Which Click Did You Belong in High School” came up.  We had fun telling stories about our younger selves and learning more than a little about one another!

After dinner Don explained the judging.  Continue reading

The Best of Bread!

A 70’s rock band, a colloquialism for money, or a sandwich platform – any way you slice it, it’s delicious!

And it turns out bread is also a great vehicle for getting to know people better! Friday Jeff and I had the pleasure of spending the day at the beautiful home of a great couple – Darrell and Donna – that we know from church.  They invited us to their home to learn Darrell’s techniques for no-knead bread making after hearing me bemoan the fact that I don’t have the best luck baking bread.

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It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas – Friday

Ooohhhhh, what a fun and productive day we had yesterday!

My friend Holly, who has a Costco membership, was gracious enough to accompany me and my Mom, Mimi, there so that we could buy some things for our Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve.

The day began at my house at 9:00 am……my mom met me there for a quick bowl of savory oatmeal and a cup-a-joe.  Next we met Holly at her house at 10:00 and the day was officially under way.

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It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas – Thursday

My lunch with Ashley (my beautiful niece) and Mimi (my mom) got off to a slow start……I was at the appointed meeting place – Pizza Grill – at 11:30 a.m..  At 11:56 I texted to Jeff the following, “I should have known better than to make Ashley and Mimi responsible for getting one another here. What was I thinking? It’s like the blOnd leading the blind!”  LOL!!!!

When they finally arrived, we had a good laugh about our less-than-smooth execution of a plan!  And then we had a great lunch!  We ordered a sun-dried Tomato and Feta Salad, a Crab Pizza on whole wheat, and a cup of Seafood Soup.  Everyone was sooooo hungry, but once we ate we were all quite satisfied with our choices and were fortified for an afternoon of cookie baking.

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Ladies Who Lunch

Growing up I remember doing a lot of “visiting” on and around the holidays – in fact, it was one of my favorite parts about this time of year.  Visiting in my family typically occurred at one of three places – my grandmother’s house, her sister Mary’s house, or their sister Mag’s (Margaret) house.  Later in the evening, after each of the three families had finished their main holiday meal, all the families got together and……well…….ate some more!  Not a full meal, but there was always food and drink.

My Aunt Mary (actually my mom’s aunt, but we called her Aunt Mary)  had the best setup at her house for the large number of people who gathered because she and her husband – Uncle George – had a basement with a table that I thought could seat about 100 people!  Invariably, the women gathered either in the kitchen or the dining room (usually the kitchen), the men around the t.v., and the kids in the basement.  If I promised to be quiet, I got to sit with the big girls in the kitchen…..so, believe it or not (and I know this will be a stretch for those of you who know my ability to talk), I was quiet – most of the time!

What I remember enjoying was all the generations being together talking and laughing.  Yesterday we had a mini recreation of holiday visiting at my mom’s house.  My Aunt Pam (again, not my aunt, but my mom’s cousin – but they may as well have been sisters) came out to visit from Bethlehem; so my sister (Laura) and her girls (Vanessa and Ashley) joined my mom (Connie), Aunt Pam, and me for lunch.  It was great to have several generations around the table talking and laughing!

My mom made lentil sausage soup – Ina Garten’s recipe from her book Barefoot in Paris – and served warm bread and rolled provolone cheese & salami.  It was a warm, hearty, satisfying lunch with exceptional company and great conversation.  Cross-generational communication is always interesting to me! And I am seeing things from a new perspective these days….as I was growing up I was in the youngest or younger generation at gatherings and now I’m smack dab in the middle, so I have a new view of things – I get to listen to the younger generation and be amazed at how smart younger people are these days and occasionally roll my eyes!

Our time together was heart-warming to me….we ate good food and talked about all aspects of life – from work and careers to relationships and life lessons.  We also talked some about family history.  I love hearing stories about how things used to be; but I also love the exuberance of the generation who is just beginning their own traditions!

For dessert I made an Apple Upside Down Cake – an adaptation of a recipe from Diane Phillips – one of the instructors at the Kitchen Shoppe.  In a recent class, Diane made Pear Upside Down Cake with Warm Caramel Sauce – since I couldn’t find nice pears, I used apples and it was a nice twist on the original using ingredients that were available to me in the moment. Luckily, I was able to garnish the serving platter with the most delicious chocolate-covered candied orange peel made by my Aunt Pam – a treat we always enjoy.  We also sipped Aunt Pam’s homemade Limoncello Cream, a variation of standard limoncello from Sorrento (which you can usually purchase in a liquor store).  Limoncello Cream is made with lemons, grain alcohol, milk, sugar, and water.  It warms the body as well as the soul and since it’s not readily available, has to be homemade!

After lunch Laura and the girls left – each going a separate way. Vanessa home to West Chester to have dinner with her boyfriend, Justin.  Ashley back to school in Millersville. And Laura home – just a bit down the road in Mechanicsburg.

Mimi (my mom, Connie), Aunt Pam and I left for a little shopping.  We went to First Impressions in Linglestown – one of my favorite shops and then to Community Aid and Making Sense in Mechanicsburg. Aunt Pam won the prize for best bargains of the day.  For under $20 she bought a Talbot’s down vest, a Ralph Lauren sweater-ish vest, a three-piece velour and wool outfit from Saks Fifth Avenue – with the tag still on, a cute purse and two aperitif (no, Mimi, not “a parakeet”) glasses that I think are Mikasa. Wow – she is a consignment guru!!!

As we were driving along the river going from the East Shore to the West Shore, God treated us to the most amazing sunset…..I just have to share a photo with you, but the photo simply does not do justice to the beauty we saw before us!

In the last several years, time and distance and life (literally birth and death) has changed the makeup of our extended family.  Gatherings of extended family don’t happen nearly as often and they certainly aren’t the same as I remember them. I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to have a family lunch yesterday and I hope we can use it as a spring-board for more extended family gatherings.  I grew up spending a lot of time in the company of my aunts, uncles and cousins and I miss that time.  Although it won’t ever be exactly what it was, I hope that we can create new traditions and memories for all the generations!

Photos of the Apple Upside Down Cake w/ Warm Caramel Sauce Garnished with Chocolate-Covered Candied Orange Peel

 

Diane Phillips’ Pear Upside Down Cake with Warm Caramel Sauce

Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter (melted)
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar (firmly packed)
  • 2 Medium pears (firm-ripe (about 1 pound))
  • 1 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 Large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla paste or vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (softened)
  • 1 cup light brown sugar (packed)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar (packed)
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or vanilla extract

Note

Recipe courtesty of Diane Phillips

Directions

Topping - using first 3 ingredients
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat the bottom and sides of a 9 x 2 inch round cake pan with non-stick cooking spray.
2. In a small bowl, stir together the butter and sugar. Pour into the bottom of the prepared pan.
3. Peel, core, and cut the pears lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices.
4. Arrange the pear slices on the bottom of the pan in a circle around the edge, overlapping them slightly, with the pointed ends toward the center.
5. If necessary, cut a little off the pointed ends to make the slices fit better. Or if the pear slices don't reach all the way to the middle, arrange a few shorter slices in the center to cover the bottom of the pan.
Cake
6. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, and salt into a medium bowl. Stir to combine. In a small bowl, stir together the milk, eggs and vanilla.
7. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
8. Reduce the speed and add the milk mixture, it will look curdled. Add the flour mixture, and beat until the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes.
9. Spoon the batter in large dollops over the pears and smooth it into an even layer with an offset spatula. Bake the cake until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Transfer t he pan to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan. Turn a cake plate upside down on top of the cake pan and, using pot holders, carefully invert the cake pan onto the plate.
10. Serve the cake warm with vanilla ice cream and/or warm caramel sauce.
Warm Caramel Sauce - using last 4 ingredients
11. In a medium speed saucepan, melt the butter, and add the brown sugar, stir until the sugar is melted.
12. Add the cream, and bring to a boil for 1 minute.
13. The sauce can be cooled, and refrigerated for up to 1 month. Reheat on the stovetop.

A New Cookie Recipe

Earlier this week our good friend Ben stopped by to plant a tree in our yard – yes, I told you, he is a good friend and he also owns a landscaping business – and while he was here he said had a question for me.  The question was related to the Apple Cider Caramel recipe I posted in early October.

Ben makes cider and was kind enough to share some with us.  From the cider he shared I made some apple cider caramel for he and his wife to try, which led to his question.  He asked, “Do you think you can make a molasses-type cookie with the caramel you made?”

Never being one to shy away from a challenge, I replied, “I’ll give it a try and let you know.”  So I did.  Today I delivered a batch to Ben and his crew at a job site.  I am awaiting their assessment, but while I wait I thought I’d share the recipe with you.  As soon as I hear back from him, I’ll let you know his thoughts,.  But for now I can tell you that Jeff has not been at all disappointed that I’ve made multiple batches!

I had the caramel already made, so the work was pretty easy.  I’d recommend you make a batch of the caramel and keep it on hand.  It’s good on plain yogurt, great in the appetizer on the home page of the blog, and I also think it would be great on grilled meats or even over vanilla ice cream….there are so many possibilities.

The recipe for the caramel is:

Apple Cider “Caramel”

Meal type Condiment, Dessert
This recipe was a happy accident. I envision it being excellent over vanilla ice cream, perhaps drizzled over a bagel with cream cheese or over oven roasted sweet potato fries. The possibilities are endless!!!! Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Apple Cider
  • 1 pinch Kosher Salt
  • 1 pinch Ground Black Pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Brown Sugar (divided)

Note

mmm mmm mmm blog at www.cookeatentertain.com

Directions

1. Put cider, salt, pepper and 1 Tbsp of brown sugar in a heavy bottom saucepan, stir well and bring to a boil.
2. Lower heat to medium low (low if you have a particularly hot burner) and reduce to 1 cup.
3. Add the remaining 1 Tbsp of brown sugar, increase heat. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and reduce to 1/3 cup.

Now for the cookies…

Melt 3/4 cup of butter and add it to the bowl of an electric mixer.  Add 1 cup of sugar and 1 egg and mix until smooth.

 

 

Add 1/4 cup of apple cider caramel to the butter mixture.  Mix until smooth.

 

 

 

 

Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and ginger.  Blend into the butter mixture.  Cover and chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Using a 2 Tbsp scoop, scoop dough into balls.

Cut each scoop in half and roll between your hands into a ball, working quickly to keep the dough cool. Spread the remaining 1 cup of sugar onto a plate and roll each dough ball into the sugar to completely coat.

Place balls 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets and bake for 8 minutes (time may vary depending on oven), until tops are cracked.  (Photo below taken at approximately 6 minutes into the cooking time).

Cool on wire racks and enjoy!!!!

As I wait for feedback from Ben and his crew, I am mulling over the name for these.  I thought of calling them “Bennies,” but that reminded me of a friend’s dog.  I thought of using Ben’s initials, but then they’d be “BS Cookies” – not too appetizing.  So for now I’ve landed on “Sawgrass Apple Cider Cookies.”  Sawgrass is the name of the street Ben and his crew were working on today when I delivered their samples….stay tuned for a name change….let me know if you have any suggestions, particularly you, Ben!!!!

To learn more about Ben’s business, visit http://www.souderlandscaping.com/!

Sawgrass Apple Cider Cookies

Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cups butter (melted)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup apple cider caramel
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 cup sugar (for coating cookies prior to baking)

Note

mmm mmm mmm at www.cookeatentertain.com

Directions

1. In a medium bowl, mix together the melted butter, 1 c. sugar, and egg until smooth.
2. Add the apple cider caramel and mix until incorporated.
3. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt and spices and mix into the butter mixture.
4. Cover and chill for 1 hour.
Toasting Pepitas
5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
6. Using a 2 Tbsp. scoop, scoop dough into balls.
7. Cut each dough ball in half.
8. Roll the halved dough into balls and then roll each one in the remaining 1 cup sugar.
9. Place cookies 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.
10. Bake for 8 minutes in the preheated oven (time may vary depending on your oven setting) until tops are cracked.
11. Cook on wire rack.

Serendipity

ser·en·dip·i·ty/ˌserənˈdipitē/

Noun:
The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: “a fortunate stroke of serendipity”.

On Wednesday evening I was in my office paging through a book entitled, The Cake Bible (those of you who read my post What’s the Difference: Flour? Part 1 will understand why) when another book on the shelf caught my eye – Four-Star Desserts by Emily Luchetti.  Jeff and I are hosting a dinner party on December 1st; so we’ve been planning the menu and other details.  When I saw Four-Star Desserts, I thought I’d browse through it to see if includes any recipes that would be a welcome addition to the dinner party menu; but what I found was even better than the best dessert for December 1st.

I found a recipe for which I’ve been searching for 5 years or more!  When we still lived in our old house, I made a cake that I really liked and wanted to make it again; but I could not for the life of me remember which cookbook it was from.  And when your cookbook collection numbers over 200, it is difficult to just thumb through them all in search of one recipe.  Every now and again, I am reminded of this cake and I look at a few books hoping to find the recipe – always to no avail and great frustration.  In fact, I’m sure I reach for the same books over and over hoping to be successful in my search. What was that definition of insanity again?

But on Wednesday – when I wasn’t looking for the recipe – it just appeared to me, presented as a gift from the cake gods!  So it must be time to make it again!

This is a great cake to make when you are entertaining people who are watching calories.  Of course, it IS cake; so it isn’t a diet dish.  But it is one of those cakes that you don’t have to say, “just a sliver” when it’s being cut!

The recipe says it can be made several days ahead and stored wrapped in plastic at room temperature, but it was best on the first day.  Fortunately it’s so good I don’t think it will last too long!

Espresso Chocolate Chip Angel Food Cake from Four-Star Desserts by Emily Luchetti

Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • 1 1/3 cup cake flour (sifted)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 cup egg whites (about 12 large eggs)
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon freshley squeezed lemon joice
  • 3/4 cups chocolate chips (coarsely chopped)

Note

Recipe from the book "Four-Star Desserts" by Emily Luchetti

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Sift together the espresso powder, cake flour, and the salt. Set aside.
3. Put the egg whites into the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on medium speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar. Increase to high speed and slowly pour in the sugar. Continue whipping until the whites are stiff but still shiny, about 3 minutes.
4. Reduce to low speed and add the vanilla extract and lemon juice. Add the reserved flour mixture. When the flour mixture is almost completely incorporated, remove the bowl from the machine and fold in the chocolate chips. Make sure that the chocolate chips are spread throughout the batter and that the flour is evenly mixed into the egg whites. Do not overmix.
5. Pour the batter into a prepared pan and cut through it a few times with a dull knife to break up any air pockets.
6. Bake until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Invert the cake on a rack and let it cool upside down in the pan.
7. Unmold the cake and slice it with a serrated knife.

Hint: To prevent the chocolate chips from sinking to the bottom of the cake, mix the chocolate chips with 1 Tbsp of the flour before adding them to the batter.

If you make this cake, I hope you look back on finding this post as a serendipitous event!!!  Enjoy!

What’s the Difference: Flour? Part 1

Last week, when I was working at the Kitchen Shoppe, an intriguing challenge arose from a student’s question to the instructor.  The instructor was talking about the flour he was adding to a roux and one of the class members asked if you could substitute other types of flour.

The instructor began talking about different types of flour – bread flour, all-purpose flour, and pastry flour (a.k.a. soft flour or sometimes substituted by cake flour).  He challenged class members to try each of these types of flour by making the same recipe multiple times only changing the flour.

Well, never being one to shy away from a challenge, I decided to give it a whirl.  But rather than simply try one recipe, I decided I would try two.  Chocolate cake and foccacia.  This post details my findings in the chocolate cake category.

I began by making a very basic chocolate cake recipe with bread flour, with all-purpose flour and with cake flour (since I didn’t have and couldn’t easily locate pastry flour).  I drafted a team of six tasters – including one of the world’s foremost authorities on chocolate cake, my buddy Jackson, and his dad, Tim.  Incidentally, it’s not that difficult to draft a team of tasters when chocolate cake is on the menu; however I wonder if it will be so easy should I decide to test brussel sprouts!

I must admit, I went into this experiment with a preconceived idea of which flour would be the best.  I was surprised to find that the results were somewhat different than I thought they would be.

I was also surprised to find during my research that there are differences between Southern all-purpose flour and Northern all-purpose flour.  Who knew?  Not me.

I fully expected the cake flour to make the best cake – I mean, duh, cake is in the name.  And were we only judging on taste and texture, I would have been right.  But when we included appearance into the criteria, pastry flour fell flat – pun intended.

 After researching the different kinds of wheat flour, I put together a chart I hope is helpful:

Bread Flour All Purpose Flour Pastry Flour
Southern Northern
Protein Content 12 – 13% 8 – 10% 11 – 12% 9% (Cake flour 7 – 8%)
Gluten Content high medium low
Weighing and Measuring 1 cup = 160 grams 1 cup = 140 grams 1 cup = 130 grams
Wheat hard, high protein wheat Blend of hard and soft wheat soft winter wheat
soft winter wheat
General Good for breads and some pastries, best choice for yeast products Good for cakes, cookies, breads and pastries Good for cakes and cookies where a tender/delicate texture is desired. / Cake flour is slightly different than pastry flour but is a good substitute
Shelf-Life Cabinet – several months in a cool, dry cabinet in sealed container / Freezer – up to 1 year Cabinet – up to 8 months in sealed container / Refrigerator – up to 1 year Cabinet – up to 8 months in sealed container / Refrigerator – up to 1 year
Crumb / Texture Produced Chewy Delicate, tender

MY RESULTS:

The following are the results of my first experiment, during which I baked the cakes for exactly the same amount of time; however, I want to see what happens if I alter baking times based upon the type of flour –  my hunch is the cakes made with the all-purpose flour and cake flour could have used a little more time than the one made with the bread flour.  I will also dust the cake pans with flour the next time, rather than my usual dusting of sugar (which people always love, but which makes it a little more difficult to remove the cake from the pan).

The taste tests were blind in that the testers did not know ahead of time which flour was used in which cake.  The cakes were simply labeled A, B and C and only I knew which flour which cake.  The cakes were single layer and did not have any icing on them.  Testers were asked to comment on appearance, texture, moisture, taste and ‘other.’

Cake A – Bread Flour

This cake looked the best.  It was 1 1/8 inches high and held its shape nicely.  It was easy to remove from the pan – no coaxing necessary.

Appearance: Testers commented that it looked brownie-like, nice and even, lightest color, compact, and cakey.

Texture: There were a wide variety of opinions on the texture. Testers commented that the texture was dense, toughest of the 3, soft and chocolatey interior, and spongy.

Moisture: Again, there were a wide variety of opinions on moisture.  Testers comments included, moist and good without frosting, a bit dry, medium – on the dry side, evenly moist, driest.

Taste: Testers said sweet – not overly chocolatey, least like chocolate, dull, like a brownie, and good.

Other: Testers comments included, I liked this, least flavorful, no frosting needed, and small holes on top.

Cake B – All-Purpose Flour

This cake was the tallest.  It was 1 1/2 inches high and took just a little coaxing to get out of the pan.  Except for a damaged corner, it held its shape.

Appearance: Testers commented that it wet (moist) and light (fluffy), thin and chocolatey, tallest overall, and tempting-looking.

Texture: There was less variety in opinions on the texture of cake B than on the texture of cake A. Testers commented that the texture was spongy, fluffy, gooey, moist – cake like, fluffy, and light in color.

Moisture: Again, there was less variety of opinions on moisture.  Testers comments included, very moist, gooey, better than A, evenly moist, and medium moist.

Taste: Testers said sweet/good, a super sweet brownie, better cake taste than A, not too sweet or too chocolatey, and chocolatey.

Other: Testers comments included, cracked top, no frosting needed, tastes like cake, very good, and I liked this too.

Cake C – Cake Flour

This cake was the shortest.  It was 1 1/16 inches high and took a lot of coaxing to get out of the pan.  The middle of the cake stuck to the pan and had to be placed back into the rest of the cake once it was coaxed out.

Appearance: Testers commented that very moist (wet on top), crumbly, fallen – least visually appealing but darkest, uneven surface, darkest color and big holes on top.

Texture: Of all the cakes there was the most variety in opinions on the texture. Testers commented that the texture was moist and light, fluffy, denser than the others – not light and airy, very light – almost angel food texture, and crumbly and airy.

Moisture: Of all the cakes there was the least variety of opinions on moisture.  Testers comments included, very moist, most moist of three, very moist throughout, and most moist.

Taste: Testers said good – different than others but not sure why, chocolatey, best taste – seems chocolatier, and delicious chocolate flavor.

Other: Testers comments included, didn’t like as much as others, like taste but not appearance, and can picture raspberry mousse, peanut butter, vanilla fillings or frostings with this.

There was no clear favorite, nor was there a clear loser. Each cake had its merits and downfalls.  As I said earlier, I will try my experiment again – at least once – and will report back.  For now I would say for an overall good result, the all-purpose flour takes the cake!

A Labor of Love for My Love

I am lucky to be married to a man who knows how to cook, clean and iron his own shirts.  He’s quite self-sufficient.  In fact, if it weren’t for trouble matching his clothes and folding a fitted sheet, he probably wouldn’t need me at all.

Over the years, we have learned numerous things from one another – not from any formal lessons, but as couples do – simply from being around one another for enough time. For example, I have learned to put the toilet paper roll on the holder the “right way,” the first 15ish steps of troubleshooting my computer before asking him (an IT guy) for help, how to change a ceiling light fixture, and that you can enjoy a Phils game IF you sit in the good seats!  He has learned how to wrap a gift without 1,000 wrinkles and 1,000,000 pieces of tape, that a crock pot (or anything with a cord) is not a gift unless expressly requested by the receiver, that some towels are just for show, and that you don’t have to follow a recipe to the letter for it to turn out well!

From the beginning, we’ve shared household chores in a non-traditional way.  He enjoys coupon clipping and grocery shopping, but has allergies.  So until a few years ago, he did all the grocery shopping and I cut the grass.  When we both worked full-time, he made dinner as often as I did (ok, maybe he still does) and we shared cleaning responsibilities (ok, maybe we still do).  It’s a balance that may make other couples scratch their heads; but it works for us.

With all that said, it’s unusual for Jeff to ask for something.  But when we returned from vacation he began hinting that he’d like me to make a peach pie.  So I put it on my To Do list.  The hinting started getting less subtle, so yesterday – with the last of the peaches – I surprised him with a peach pie.

I must be honest and admit that making pies intimidates me, and not for the reason you may think.  I have no trouble making pie crust.  It doesn’t scare me in the least.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say I’m pretty good at it.  It’s the fruit fillings that get me every time!

In the past, no matter what I’ve tried – flour, cornstarch, tapioca – my fillings have always slid out of the pie with the first cut.  I had some seriously bad pie mojo.  But all that changed on vacation.  We got some really yummy peaches at a farm stand on the way to the OBX so I couldn’t resist attempting to bake a pie.  I googled ‘peach pie’ and looked at several recipes.  I decided on one entitled ‘Peach Pie the Old Fashioned Two-Crust Way’ from allrecipes.com.

The recipe worked like a charm and my bad pie mojo lifted!  I think I learned a few things about my sad pies of the past.  Here’s what I did differently this time:

  • I used room temperature peaches.  In the past I am fairly sure I used fruit from the fridge.  I don’t know exactly why I think this has an impact, but drawing on tidbits I’ve learned over the years, I know many recipes call for room temp ingredients (except when making a good pastry).
  • I mixed the filling about 30 minutes prior to filling the pie, which gave everything a chance to meld, the peaches a chance to juice and the flour a chance to begin absorbing that juice.
  • I waited until it was fully cooled before cutting it.  When I made my pie on vacation I had an easy distraction – the beach.  I made it in the morning and then we headed off for a full day at the beach and the pie had a chance to rest.  Yesterday, I made the pie in the afternoon and then went to my Bible study group and Jeff worked his part-time job – so again, the pie had time to fully cool.

When I got home from church last night, I texted Jeff a picture of the pie and this is how the remainder of the text exchange went:

JEFF: What is that?
ME:     What do you think it is?
JEFF: Pie!!
ME:     it IS pie
JEFF: But what kind
ME:     What do you hope it is?
JEFF: Peach
ME:     Yep
JEFF: !!!
JEFF: Are you sharing?
ME:    The question is are YOU sharing?  I made it for you!
JEFF: I’ll share it with you

As I disclosed earlier, Jeff is very self-sufficient so it is nice to be able to do something for him that makes him happy and is unexpected.  I was amazed at his restraint….he came home from work and did not have a piece of pie.  And he didn’t even have one for breakfast with his morning coffee.  He did, however, cut a “small piece” to take for lunch so that he could have another piece this evening.  It is true what they say, the way to a man’s heart (or at least my man’s heart) is through his stomach!

PS.  In case you were wondering, it is incredibly difficult to cut a piece of pie and pour a hot cup of coffee so that you can get some good photos and NOT indulge!

 

Just Peachy

Last week in the Outer Banks was terrific.  I truly can’t remember the last time I was so relaxed.  We let each day unfold like a surprise.  We had no plan, no itinerary, and no stress!

On our way home, just before we crossed from North Carolina into Virginia, we stopped at a roadside produce stand to pick up some late-summer peaches.  And boy are they good!  Jeff and I usually overdose on PA peaches in August; but this summer we just didn’t find any great peaches near home.  Fortunately, North Carolina not only delivered on a great vacation, but on great produce as well.

As a salute to vacation, I decided to bake today; which is funny since our fridge is bare. After scanning the contents, I decided to make a crostata – a rustic Italian tart.  But I wanted to amp it up a little so I added some brandy to the last of the blackberry syrup Jeff used to make a refreshing blackberry gin drink on vacation and I added a little bit of fresh thyme from the garden.

I used the 3/4 cup of blackberry syrup that remained and added to it 6 Tbsp of brandy and 1 Tbsp of chopped fresh thyme.  I cooked it over medium low heat for 15 minutes, whisking frequently, until it reduced and became dark and thick.

While the syrup reduced, I made the dough.  This dough is a very simple recipe with just a few ingredients:

I pulsed the flour, salt, sugar, lemon zest and thyme in a food processor until just combined and then added the cold butter.  I pulsed the food processor until the butter incorporated into the flour mixture and resembled coarse crumbs.  I added the ice water a bit at a time until the dough began to hold together.

Then I turned the dough out onto a board, gathered it together, shaped it into a ball, flattened the ball into a disk, wrapped it in plastic wrap and refrigerated it for approximately 1 hour.

I rolled the cold dough into a rough 12-inch “circle” – remember this is a RUSTIC Italian tart –  and transferred it onto a parchment lined baking sheet.

I then topped the dough with the blackberry, brandy, and thyme reduction – kind of like you top a pizza crust with sauce.

I sliced two ripe, juicy peaches and arranged them on the crostata.  I folded the edges of the crostata toward the center – no need to be precise.  In my opinion, the more rustic looking, the better.

I brushed the crust with egg wash and sprinkled it with some white (I’m not quite sure why they call it white when it is really clear) sanding sugar and baked the crostata in a 400 degree oven for approximately 35 minutes.

The end result is a delightfully mouth-watering treat.

I rewarded myself with a piece of the crostata dusted lightly with powdered sugar and a steaming cup of Jeff’s yummy coffee.  I’d say my day is going to be just peachy!

Time in the Kitchen

I love vacation!  I know, I am not alone in this, but I may be alone in one of the reasons why.  I love all the time in the kitchen.  Particularly when there is a crowd for which I can cook.

This week has given me the opportunity to make cinnamon rolls and peach pie – things I rarely make at home.

 

I just love the mixing and kneading – the smell of yeast and of buttery crust baking.  And there is a strange satisfaction when the dough rises – even though that is what is supposed to happen, it is a bit surprising each time the chemistry works.  I passed the waiting time by working on our group puzzle (1,000 pieces – a work in progress), enjoying some music in the cool evening breeze and reading a good Karen Kingsbury book.  That’s part of the joy of cooking for me too, the in-between time – like the pause in music or the negative space in art.

Yesterday was crabbing day.  Although I am not patient enough to wait for hours for the crabs, it was fun to take part in the beginning of the festivities.  It is interesting that you don’t need sophisticated equipment and surprising to me that crabs like chicken necks.  Having made many roasted chickens in my time, I’ve discarded a lot of chicken necks – now I wish I had saved them for this trip, in the freezer of course!  It is true what Tom Petty says; the wa-ai-ai-ting IS the hardest part!  Waiting for the slack in the line to tighten and then the anticipation of whether or not there is a crab on the end of the line is maddening.  But when you finally get one in the net the celebration is glorious.  Not glorious enough for me to stick it out – I went to the beach for several hours while the Felty’s toughed it out with the crabs.  They brought home 8 and cooked and meticulously cleaned them.  We will be adding the sweet meat to our crab cakes this evening……I am drooling just thinking about it. Crabbing brought me to the conclusion that if I had to catch my own food I would be extremely thin – maybe I am on to the next diet craze!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s also a well choreographed ballet going on in the kitchen with 6 adults, 3 kids and 2 dogs.  It’s not a big space, but somehow it is working well for us.  We’ve learned to dance around each other while we are cooking or cleaning up or pouring drinks or getting snacks.  The only misstep in the dance is Kissy, an adorable, lovable, extremely food-motivated golden retriever.  She is always underfoot when there is a possibility of food.  I believe her prayers go something like this, “God, please let them drop something.  Please, please, please, please let them drop something.  Please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please let them drop something.  Amen!”

Vacation defined – an extended period of recreation, esp. one spent away from home.  Vacation defined by Jan – an extended period of recreation, esp. one spent in the kitchen!

No “Gradzilla” Moments

I had the pleasure of catering a party for my friends’ daugher who recently graduated from nursing school.  The experience was great from start to finish.  I realize this is a rarity, but there were no “gradzilla” moments, no last minute menu changes, no hard to find ingredients, no delays or snags of any kind.  I am still thanking God for this amazing grace!

The process started with the invitations.  The grad had a favorite color scheme and wanted something unique.  Unable to find just the right thing, I decided to make a sample invite and see if she liked it – and boy did she – so I went quickly into production mode and got them out on time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The menu was set and I began work, with the help of a very experienced and dedicated sous chef, my mom!  I couldn’t have done it without her help – she kept the sink free of dishes and reminded me to take an occasional break!

We worked for the entire week before the party making what we could ahead of time and constantly reworking the timeline to ensure that everything went off without a hitch the day of the party.  The party was on a Saturday; so I created a daily calendar (beginning the Monday before) of all the tasks that had to be accomplished – not just making food, but ensuring we had selected the proper serving platters, purchasing flowers/herbs for the buffet, making the iced teas, ironing tablecloths (a quick rant – please, please iron the tablecloth and napkins if you are using linens – don’t set a table that looks like someone slept on it overnight!!!), etc.

The day of the party we had a few last-minute details to attend to in the morning.  We had a hearty breakfast and then went to set up.  Below are a few photos of the buffet and a list of what was on the menu  – those of you with a keen eye will notice that the menu item cards on the buffet match the invitations.  Please visit my Photo Gallery for all the beautiful photos of the event, which were taken by the grad, Brianna Wilbur.  In addition to being a new nurse, Bri is also a wonderfully talented photographer.  Please visit her blog to see more of her work.

Southern Sweet Tea & Herbal Iced Tea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crudite Platter (Served with Caramelied Onion Dip)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Almond Joy Cupcakes

 

 

 

 

 

 

The full menu included:

  • Southern Sweet Tea & Herbal Iced Tea
  • Crudite Platter w/ Caramelized Onion Dip
  • Marinated Cheese w/ Crackers
  • Spinach Balls
  • Meatball Duo – Chicken Wing Meatballs & Spicy Sesame Meatballs
  • Sundried Tomato & Smoked Cheddar in Phyllo
  • Artichoke, Bacon & Goat Cheese Tart
  • Fruit Skewers w/ Brown Sugar Sour Cream Dip
  • Amond Joy Cupcakes & Pumpkin Cupcakes w/ Cinnamon Icing

What a pleasure it was for me to cater this party.  It allowed me to share my love of cooking and entertaining with others and to spend time – lots of time – in the kitchen with my mom. What could be better than that?