4/18/14

Meet Ewenice




Looks a little sleepy, doesn't she?

As children, some of us  grew up with pets, such as cats, dogs and canaries. And then, there was that  kid who preferred less conventional animals like horses, rabbits  and sheep – I was that kid.

From my aunt, who raised sheep and chickens, to an uncle who owned horses, to my godfather who raised rabbits, I was fortunate enough as a kid to have a free, lifetime pass to a menagerie.



For years, I prayed for any of these animals to "follow" me home from school. But now I know that's not possible,  as I no longer go to school . . .
But I  still love my 'pets.'  And I still love cake  And so, I give you,  Ewenice, with her sweet black face.

 I could've dusted off some old lamb cake molds, but chose an 8-nch hemisphere pan to bake this cake.  This way, you too can make her, or any other fluffy critter of your choosing, from any size bowl you like, without the need for special equipment.
The lamb's head was just a cupcake. It was attached by inserting a wooden skewer  into the cupcake and right through the body.

The face was covered in fondant. Ears, hooves and flowers were also fondant.  Buttercream covered the cake, which was piped with a Wilton's 1M pastry tip. But any star or round pastry tip will be fine.


Unfortunately I don't have enough space for all the animals I love. But there will always be enough room for my two cats . . . and other, smaller collections. Enter baby silver cups. Tell me you love them too, or  I'll be disappointed.
This American sterling silver cup with the Peter Rabbit handle (by Saart Brothers Silver Co.) still makes me swoon with delight . . . was that too Stepford-y?

But I digress. If you're baking a cake this Sunday, allow me to put a sway in your Easter basket.  This recipe was slightly adapted by adding the zest of one orange. The cake is fragrant and deliciously moist, with an assertive citrus kick  (Btw, I omitted the orange glaze  because I used my Whipped Buttercream  to cover the cake). 

Found the recipe here: Culinary Concoctions by Peabody.

VANILLA YOGURT CAKE with ORANGE GLAZE

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, seed scraped out, pod discarded
1 ½ TBSP vanilla extract
7 oz Greek Yogurt
½ cup vegetable oil
Grated zest of one orange
4 TBSP orange juice, divided

Spray two 6 x 3.2 x 3.4 inch loaf pans with baking spray. Or coat with butter and flour.

Preheat oven to 350F.
Using a stand mixer, beat together the egg, egg yolk, and sugar on medium-high speed, until it turns pale yellow, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla beans, vanilla extract, and oil, beat another minute, until incorporated.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

With the mixer on low speed, add half the amount of dry ingredients. Then add half the amount of Greek yogurt, and 2 TBSP of the orange juice. Add remaining dry ingredients and followed by the remaining yogurt. Remove from mixer and finish mixing by hand using a spatula until all of the ingredients are fully incorporated.

Pour into prepared pans and bake for 35-40 minutes.

Remove from oven. Using a toothpick or large wooden skewer poke holes into the cake. Using a pastry brush, brush orange juice over hot loaves.
Let cool for 10 minutes and remove from pan. Place on wire rack to finish cooling. When cool, glaze cakes.

Orange Glaze

2 cups sifted powdered sugar
6 TBSP orange juice

Combine together with a whisk. Pour over cakes.



Happy Easter  Friends!



12/30/13

Happy New Year!


I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas! And may 2014 bring you much happiness.

Jack Frost slogged his way through the Midwest recently, leaving hundreds of thousands of people (and yours truly) without power, for nearly a week.

Things are back to normal, for the time being. But if it hadn’t been for my guys, who kept me entertained, my splash with watercolors, and hours of fun with bubble wrap, I would’ve come unhinged.

Unfortunately, without electricity, I didn't get a chance to make my usual  gingerbread sculpture this year. But, let us  hypothesize it's on its way. Lest you start believing I never finish anyth . . .




11/27/13

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Bourbon Praline




Right now, Wednesday seems so far from Thursday. And I just don't think this cheesecake will be safe until then.


I've been in  pumpkin paradise  since one local farmer filled his stand with myriad of  orange, cream and  bluish-green pumpkins. The latter I'm completely enamored with.

There's something about fall that puts me in nesting mode.  I bake. I sew. Then I'll sit by a crackling fire and read about  nesting,  baking and sewing.  Ready for  more non sequiturs?
How about the bluish pumpkin-shaped cake, with sugar leaves and berries I made for Mr. Man Pants' birthday? 

 Another reason to love pumpkins is the following recipe for  pumpkin cheesecake. It comes from the sister I never had, Susan Branch. It features  the colors and tastes of fall, with my adaptation of her Bourbon/Praline playing a supporting role; it is loaded with pecans, maple syrup, cream, and I repeat, bourbon.

I dare say this is better than a shirtless Hugh Jackman.  In fact, this is  better than a shirtless Hugh Jackman covered in Bourbon /Praline.  
And I think I speak for everyone when I say, 'Let us give thanks.'


Please Note:   For this cheesecake, I ask that you first combine the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla together, then set aside a small amount of the batter  before combining the rest of the filling ingredients.

The reason is, you'll need a batter with a firmer consistency and enough body that will hold up well for piping your designs.
If you were to combine all the ingredients at once, you would end up with a very runny batter, which would be impossible to control. 

If you'd rather not decorate this cake at all, simply combine all filling  ingredients and beat until smooth. Pour into your prepared crust and bake as directed.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Crust:

3 cups broken gingersnaps
½ cup chopped pecans
¼ cup sugar
2/3 cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Cover bottom of springform pan with two layers of aluminum foil. In a food processor, finely grind gingersnaps, pecans and sugar. Add butter and process until just combined. Press mixture onto bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan. Bake 10 minutes. Set aside to cool and prepare the filling.


Filling:

4 - 8 oz. packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 2/3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 15 oz. can pumpkin purée*
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon mace
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon cloves
4 large eggs, room temperature

Have a pastry bag fitted with a #7 round pastry tip at the ready. If you do not own a pastry bag, use a parchment paper cone. I can't recommend a plastic sandwich  baggie, because I can't internalize its 'practicality.' To me, a filled baggie handles much like a wet cat.  And let's face it,  humans and  soapy cats do not  mix.  Them frisky felines will always have the upperhand, or paw, as it were.
However, if a plastic baggie is all you have, go with that. Just keep in mind, a pastry bag is inexpensive, and will give you far better results.

To bake cheesecake:

Place a 9-inch x 13-inch pan, filled halfway with water, on lowest shelf in oven.
In mixer bowl, beat together the softened cream cheese, sugar and vanilla extract until smooth.( If you're decorating the cake, now is the time to remove 1/3 cup of  the cream cheese mixture and set aside). 

Add the pumpkin purée and  spices, beating just until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until  combined. Pour cheesecake mixture into cooled crust.

If you'll be decorating the cheesecake, read below for how-tos. Then,  bake cake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until slightly golden around the edges.
 Remove cake from the oven, and run a thin metal spatula around the edges  to loosen cake and prevent it from cracking.  Leave cake in the pan and allow to cool, then refrigerate overnight. 
 When ready to serve, gently warm the Bourbon Praline (below), and drizzle over cheesecake. Serves 10-12.

*I used a roasted pumpkin instead of canned. To roast a pumpkin, poke a 3-4 pound sugar (or other pie) pumpkin all over with a knife. Place whole  pumpkin on a cookie sheet with sides, and bake in a 375°F oven for about 1 hour, or until a knife effortlessly goes through pumpkin.

Set the pumpkin aside until cool enough to handle. Then, slice in half, remove seeds and process pumpkin flesh in a food processor until smooth. Measure what you'll need (I used two cups), and if there's any left, freeze it.

To decorate cheesecake:
Fill prepared pastry bag with the reserved cream cheese mixture. You'll be piping a sequence of 'half-moons' that roughly resemble Christmas trees.
At this point, drag the tip of the pastry tube (or a wooden skewer), through the center of each 'tree' (starting at the narrow end), draw your skewer through each one. This step transforms them into simple, pretty leaves. You could pipe a series of leaves around the edge of the cake (as pictured), or scatter them all over the cake, if you like. You could also tint the batter with paste food colors.
You hold the artistic reins here.



Bourbon Praline 

¾ cup pecans, chopped
2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons bourbon

Melt butter in a skillet. Place chopped pecans in melted butter and toast until fragrant. Add remaining ingredients, except for bourbon. and stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Do not let it boil. Stir in bourbon and pecans. Makes 2 cups.



A few days ago, we woke up to a light dusting of snow. A sight to behold. But I will miss the autumn sky.

May your cornucopia runneth over with thankful hearts, amid joyful noise  from your favorite people and many lasting memories. Oh, and lump-free gravy.

 Happy Thanksgiving to all!


7/4/13

As American as Baseball, Apple Pie and Chevrolet...






It's been an unusually cool summer here.  And between the beautiful noise emanating from the birds' tiny condos nestled  in the majestic maple tree outside my window, and the playful swaying of the tree and rustling of its leaves, I surmise  heaven can't be too far away.


And then, there's the food.  The day wouldn't be complete without the all-American  hot dog (made with 10% natural  ingredients and 90% what-you-don't-know-can't-hurt-you). 
Homemade apple pie (this one is an adaptation of Susan Spungen's Caramel Apple Tart,  easily found on the interwebz). 

Then, the guys are taking me out to the ball game :) Which will be  followed by  fireworks. And that, in a nutshell, is how we're celebrating Independence Day. Party animals that we are.


But, more importantly,  we remember and  honor our heroes. And we pray for our service men and women and their families. May God bless them. And may God bless America!


May this day be as spectacular for you  as the sparkliest  fireworks. Or Purry Mason's eyes.


Dear brigade, as I'm running a little behind with this entry,  I will  disable comments.


6/26/13

Chilled Guacamole Soup and Cornmeal Crisps




I moved from a bustling city to a small  town, so thickly-painted with Mayberry charm, that I decided to stay a little while. Twenty one years later, this  laid-back  town is still one I enjoy exploring, even alone, day or night.  

My biggest worry?  Being mugged at needlepoint in a Walmart parking lot, while Andy Griffith lurks in the shadows, whistling a familiar tune.

You're probably asking yourself,  where is this pleasantly-strange  little town? 

Whereas my question is, what in the heck is sheriff Andy Griffith doing  hanging around Walmart?


If, like me, you  live in a town that atlas forgot, then you'll appreciate simple recipes, like the following. 

Only three ingredients make up these addictive Cornmeal Crisps, because  (unless you live in the Sahara desert) who counts water? 

Make. Eat. Share (as always, the latter is optional).

  
Cornmeal Crisps

1 cup stone-ground white cornmeal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons butter
1½ to 2 cups boiling water

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Whisk together cornmeal and salt in a mixing bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of butter cut into small pieces.

Slowly stir in enough boiling water until mixture resembles watery mashed potatoes. Continue to whisk until butter is melted and batter is smooth. Set aside.

Lightly grease two rimless baking sheets with nonstick vegetable spray, and wipe off  the excess, leaving a light coating on the pans. Drop batter by teaspoons onto baking sheets. Slam baking sheets onto the kitchen counter a few times to spread the batter very thin.

Bake crisps for 20 to 30 minutes until  golden around the edges. To get the crisps to curl up as shown, turn them over  during the last 5 minutes of baking. Makes about 50 cornmeal crisps. 
Adapted from  'The Gift of Southern Cooking,'  by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock.

Please note: You might be tempted to use parchment paper, but I don't recommend it. Parchment paper will buckle, making it difficult to remove the crisps without breaking. 

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention  Edna Lewis' version  for a simple and  dramatic way to serve these. Instead of dropping the batter by teaspoons,  divide  batter among two baking sheets, tap, tap, tap,  and bake as directed. Once cooled, break them into shards.

Did you notice the grated lime zest in some of the crisps?  A nice touch.
There are times, however,  when the men-folk request a little heat, so adding a tiny pinch of cayenne to the batter  makes them happy. As for me, I like them plain.

But I urge you to plunge into it with blind faith, and  share your experiments with me.


Whether you decide to spice up your Cornmeal Crisps, or not,  try pairing them with this quick and refreshing Guacamole Soup, and enjoy. I always do.

 Chilled Guacamole Soup 

2 cups buttermilk
2 cups chicken broth
1 large avocado, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed  lime  juice
2 tablespoons salsa
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro*

Purée soup  ingredients in a blender or food processor. Salt & Pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate for several hours before serving.
Garnish with crema fresca,  diced avocado, chopped tomato or chopped cilantro. Serves 4.

*I'm not a fan of cilantro, so I use  fresh mint.


 
 Did you miss that? Go back up.  And look at my 'new' antique kitchen scale. 

I went right into a schoolgirl rave when I laid eyes on this old scale, at an estate sale recently. 
This is not just another pretty copper  face, it's also pretty accurate. The kind of thing I'm incapable of walking away from. 


And this one kept calling my name. But I ignored the voices, and brought it home with me anyway. 


Another recent find was this humble marmalade crock.  Being in the antiques business with years of experience under my belt, I believe this fine piece could be traced back to the turn of the century. Or possibly  T.J. Maxx.  Not sure which.

I filled it with violets, because "they're the only flowers I cannot destroy," she said in a tremulous voice


Enjoy the rest of the week, ya hear?