Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Fall Treat for Stitch 'n Bitch

Now that summer is over we've resumed our bi-weekly gatherings at friend Kathy's house.  I refer to these sessions as Stitch 'n Bitch. Surprisingly, we do more stitching than bitching!

I've looked forward to getting back into the stitching groove again. My summer was crazy and chaotic so I did very little stitching.  I'm still working on the project I started last spring! (In my defense I do tend to get more stitching done in the fall & winter months as I watch football!)  Kathy, in the meantime, has  gotten 5 or 6 pieces done and framed! Kathy & I both cross-stitch. Linda is very versatile and brings various kinds of projects.  Today she was working on a "block of the month" quilt.  Each month has the same shaped house but done in fabrics to correspond with the month or season.  Her hand applique skills are amazing.  Here is one of her fall blocks (my photography skills are so lacking that you get the extra bonus of seeing my nicely-pedicured feet!)
I love the button and embroidery detail!

For today's gathering I made a Caramel Apple Pound Cake from the September issue of Southern Lady. It's a "keeper" recipe, we really enjoyed it. Of course, anything with a cream cheese frosting can't be bad, right!
The layers of spicy apples in the cake was so good!

Caramel Apple Pound Cake

1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups firmly packed light brown sugar, divided
1 1/2 cups butter, melted
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon apple pie spice ***
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups chopped Granny Smith apple
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spary a 12-cup fluted pan with nonstick baking spray with flour.

In a large bowl, beat sugar, 1 cup brown sugar, and melted butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until combined.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, apple pie spice, and salt.  Gradually add flour mixture to sugar mixture, beating until combined.

In a separate bowl, combine apples, remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar, and cinnamon.

Spoon one-third of batter into prepared pan and one-half of apples, repeat layers.  Top with remaining one-third of batter.

Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Let cool in pan for 10 minutes.  Remove from pan, and let cool completely on a wire rack.  Top with Cream Cheese Icing.  Garnish with chopped walnuts and caramel topping, if desired.

Cream Cheese Icing

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup caramel topping

In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese and confectioners' sugar.  Beat at medium-low speed with an electric mixer until smooth.  Beat in milk and caramel topping.

Note: In my opinion this made more than enough icing for the cake.  I had leftover.  It would be really good on pumpkin cupcakes!

*** I don't carry a lot of pre-mixed spices in my pantry.  I usually make my own.  The spice mixes usually consist of spices I already have and mixing my own is an inexpensive way to get different mixes and rubs.  This is the recipe I use to make apple pie spice.

Apple Pie Spice

4 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamon.

Combine spices in a small bowl, mix well to combine.  Store in a small jar or spice container.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

How to Make an Embroidered Signature Label

I've made two jelly roll quilts that will be part of the pile of Christmas presents our granddaughters will have under our tree. I wanted to personalize them to make them more special.  The girls are only 5 & 8 so I don't think they will appreciate (yet) the time & love that went into their quilts but they can read my sentiment every night and know that their Nana loves them!

To make my sentiment I found a font on Word that I liked (Lucida Caligraphy) and sized it to fit the design.  If you don't like any of the basic fonts there are plenty of sites on the web that have free downloadable fonts.  I was too lazy to do that. If you have nice handwriting you can do your own.  That would probably be more special but 30 years of signing tax returns has reduced my once nice handwriting to more of a scribble!

I printed my words on a plain piece of paper and taped to a window (no fancy equipment here, trust me this works!) The light coming through the window makes a great tracing medium. 
Then place your fabric over the printout.  I used painters tape as it doesn't leave a real sticky residue.  I used a washable marker to trace the sentiment. The markers can be found in the sewing section of any hobby store. I used a simple back stitch to embroider, using two strands of floss.  When done I rinsed the fabric out and the marker was gone.  Do not iron until you have rinsed your fabric, ironing will set the marker.  No need to ask how I know this.

Now is when I got really technical.  To make the heart shape I used one of my cookie cutters. Creative gadgets are everywhere!

I used a fusible web, that is made especially for appliquing, and ironed the heart onto the quilt top.  Using the blanket stitch on my sewing machine I sewed around the edges.

I'm so happy with how they turned out!  Now it's time to take them to be quilted. I need to get busy and find more fabric as I have one more quilt to get done! So many projects, so little time!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Apple Crostata

A crostata is a free-form rustic tart that is a quick fill-in for a  two-crust pie.  It is very easy to put together.  Because you aren't filling a pie pan with fruit a crostata usually bakes pretty quickly, too, making it a good dessert when you need something in a hurry.

My son loves apple pie.  As he lives about 3 hours from us I do try to spoil him with treats from Mama when he is home. We had a very unseasonal thunder storm yesterday so I cancelled my trip to the grocery store to get more apples. The three apples I had in the fridge were plenty for this crostata.

I used a variation of a recipe from Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa).  She uses orange rind in a lot of her recipes but I'm not a fan of combining oranges with apples. I omitted the orange and used my own pie dough recipe. I used the three apples I had in my fridge, any apple will work!

I'm a sucker for a pie, or other sweet treat, with a streusel topping. This crostata didn't disappoint.  The streusel gave it all the sweetness it needed. My son was quite happy with his treat and his Mama sent him home with the leftovers!

Apple Crostata (Ina Garten)

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated or superfine sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) very cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 2 tablespoons ice water
  • 1 1/2 pounds McIntosh, Macoun, or Empire apples (3 large)
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated or superfine sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced


For the pastry, place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and pulse 12 to 15 times, or until the butter is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water all at once through the feed tube. Keep hitting the pulse button to combine, but stop the machine just before the dough becomes a solid mass. Turn the dough onto a well-floured board and form into a disk. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Flour a rolling pin and roll the pastry into an 11-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Transfer it to a baking sheet.

For the filling, peel, core, and cut the apples into 8ths. Cut each wedge into 3 chunks. Toss the chunks with the orange zest. Cover the tart dough with the apple chunks leaving a 1 1/2-inch border.
Combine the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and allspice in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Pour into a bowl and rub it with your fingers until it starts holding together. Sprinkle evenly on the apples. Gently fold the border over the apples to enclose the dough, pleating it to make a circle.

Bake the crostata for 20 to 25 minutes, until the crust is golden and the apples are tender. Allow to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Halloween Fairy Gardens!

This morning one of our local nurseries, Westurf Nursery, had a Halloween fairy garden workshop. The two youngest granddaughters and I went. The nursery provided all the supplies, a table to work at. One of their employees, Joan, was most helpful. We had a fun morning, got a little dirty and came home with two darling fairy gardens. It was fun to watch the girls take the same basic supplies and create their own special garden pot.  Next on the agenda is to make a really big one that we can keep at my house and change with the seasons.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Cupcakes for Carly

My step-daughter is a busy mother of two young girls and a speech therapist for a local school district.  She called me a few weeks ago needing assistance in making cupcakes for a bridal shower she is co-hostessing.  I remember the days of juggling children, homework, work, taking care of the home and trying to fit in extra-curricular activities.  I don't work on Fridays this time of year so I volunteered to make them for her.

The colors for the shower are purple & green.  A trip to our local cake supply store and I had ample supplies for the task!  Pearls, sprinkles, royal icing flowers, colored cupcake liners!
 I always feel so thrifty when I'm able to re-purpose an item that I already have.  An embossing folder, that I use for paper crafting, makes a nifty little design maker for fondant.  I colored the fondant, rolled out and pressed in the folder, using a rolling pin to get the design into fondant.  I then cut out my embossed fondant with a tiny cookie cutter.  Voila!  An embossed heart!

I drool at pictures of decorated cupcakes on various blogs and Pinterest.  Mine never look quite as good.  At first I get disappointed but then I think of the things I can do that those wonderful decorators can't (can they drive a race car?) and then I don't feel so bad.  Decorating cupcakes & cookies is not a regular activity for me so what we end up with is what we get! I think they turned out cute and I hope Carly likes them! I enjoyed the creative activity and helping her out!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

She Loves You, Yea, Yea, Yea! (Date Night)

My Hubbers & I live a very busy life. Even though we work together we have very different hobbies so often spend a lot of time with others in those pursuits (he just got home from a two week biking/camping adventure with his friends). We realize the importance of spending time together, re-connecting and having special date nights so, every now and then, we manage to fit one in!

Our most recent date night was a performance by the Modesto Symphony Orchestra and a Beatles tribute band. The performance was billed as "Picnic at the Pops - Magical Mystery Tour" and was held on the beautiful grounds of the E & J Gallo Winery. Picnic basket in hand we were entertained with a band that looked and sounded like the original Fab Four, accompanied by our great Symphony.  Topping off the night was a fantastic fireworks display. We had beautiful weather, the sky was full of stars. We chatted, sang, people-watched, drank wine (probably too much!), I even got up and danced to the last song, "Twist and Shout"! It was a great evening!
On a side note, I find it amazing that a band that was only together for 10 years still keeps us entertained 50 years later! The majority of the concert-goers grew up during the 60's & 70's but even the younger crowd was singing and dancing along to the music.  The Beatles are truly timeless.
We kept our picnic pretty simple but with quality food offerings.  A few good cheeses (smoked gouda with bacon, habenero pepper jack & horseradish white cheddar), salami, gourmet crackers, grapes, apples (from our tree!), olives, prosciutto-wrapped cantaloupe. No plastic or paper on this picnic, this was a picnic for a special man so the good wine glasses and dishware was used. I even brought a candle!
 Earlier in the day I baked some mini apple pies using the Williams Sonoma pocket pie presses. They made for a little more special presentation and were easy to do.
If you have some of the pie presses they are very easy to put together.  I made a basic apple pie filling but cooked it down a little so the apples were partially cooked before baking. Using the press, cut out the pastry.  Put one piece of pasty in the press, add 2-3 tablespoons of filling.  Using an egg wash, brush the edge of the crust to help seal the pastry.  Top with second layer and crimp the edges using the press.  Bake as you would any pie.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Menu Planning Sure Makes Things Easier!

I'm a very organized person.  In my home I live by the motto "a place for everything and everything in its place". At the office I'm always on top of my deadlines, return phone calls promptly.  I'm almost done with our Christmas shopping. I'm saving for a family vacation in 2015.  But. I. Hate. Shopping. Now the Internet has made shopping a little easier for me, I can shop for holidays and birthdays in my pajamas. As a result, I don't make too many trips to department stores. I hit Costco about 6 times a year (and stock up when I do!) But grocery shopping continues to be a thorn in my side. Part of it is I don't like dealing with the people, trying to get through crowded aisles with people who stand on one side and park their cart on the other.  The other part is I get tired of always being the one to determine what our meals will be, having to be inspired. I love to cook and bake, just get tired of deciding what to make! Because of that I'm usually standing in my husband's office about 4 pm asking him what sounds good for dinner.  I always get "I don't care". So I head to the store and get things for that evening.  Half the time it seems I get home and I'm missing an ingredient so have to run back to the store or tell my husband we're going out. And, of course, there's always the standby dinner of bacon and eggs. It's all so inefficient and I know better.

This week I vowed to do better so sat down and made a weekly menu, perused my pantry for ingredients, made my grocery list with what I needed and went shopping. It's amazing how much easier my week has been! Tonight I got home at 5:30, brought in the garbage cans from the street (garbage pickup day), played with Harley and started a load of laundry.  I made dinner, cleaned up the kitchen and was relaxing by 7! Why don't I do this every week?!!

Tonight's dinner was quick, easy and a favorite of ours, salmon piccata. We love fish, we love piccata sauce so it's a win-win situation for us. We like to serve it over pasta, the lemony, slightly-salty caper sauce soaks into the pasta capturing more of the flavor than if you just pour it over the salmon.

Capers have long been a favorite in the Mediterranean region. The small, green herb buds lend a piquant sour and salty flavor to salads and main dishes.

How can a dish be bad when the sauce starts with butter and garlic?

Salmon Piccata

2 6-ounce salmon fillets
Salt & pepper ( I love to use lemon pepper in this dish)
1 tablespoon butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup chicken broth
Juice from one lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoons capers, drained

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Sprinkle both sides of the salmon with salt and pepper, place on a baking dish, and cook until the salmon flakes easily with a fork, about 12-15 minutes. 

While the salmon is cooking, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.  Whisk together the broth, lemon juice and flour until well blended and add to the saucepan.  Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly.  Continue to simmer and stir gently until the liquid thickens slightly, about 2 minutes.  Stir in the capers. 

Plate salmon and top with sauce.

So, tell me.  What are your meal planning/shopping secrets?

Monday, September 2, 2013

What do Ann Landers and lemon meringue pie have in common?

My favorite lemon-meringue pie recipe comes from the legendary advice columnist, Ann Landers.  In 1980 a reader of hers submitted the recipe to her column.  I don't know if I first started making it from that letter or later on but I know I've been using the recipe for a long, long time! 

There are two ingredients in this pie filling that are not commonly found in lemon meringue pie; lemon extract and vinegar. The extract gives it a stronger lemon flavor than using just the lemon juice and the vinegar enhances the tartness of the lemon flavor.  And, no, the pie does not taste vinegary!

The recipe calls for the pudding to be cooked in a double-boiler.  If you don't have a double-boiler, a pan over very low heat, works just as well.  Just watch and stir so as not to burn the filling.

Any meringue recipe will work, of course. There are a few important steps in making meringue.  One, have egg whites at room temperature to obtain greatest volume. Secondly, make sure the sugar is well-incorporated.  After you've beaten to a stiff-peak stage take a "glob" of meringue and rub between two fingers.  If you can still feel the sugar granules, beat some more!  I use ultra-fine sugar for my meringues.  Finally, always put the meringue on the filling while it’s piping hot and make sure it touches the inner edge of crust to seal it all the way around the pie. The hot filling helps cook the meringue from the bottom up and helps keep it from weeping. I usually make my meringue first then have it sitting while I make the filling.

Today is my Dad's 82nd birthday.  He's hard to buy for but has a sweet tooth.  I bought him a 2-pound box of See's candy and made him a pie.  Happy birthday, Dad!

Lemon Meringue Pie

1 baked 9-inch pie shell
1 1/4 cups sugar
6 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups water
1/3 cup lemon juice
3 egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon extract
2 teaspoons vinegar
3 tablespoons butter
2-3 drops yellow food coloring, optional (I omit)

Mix sugar and cornstarch together in the top of a double-boiler. Add the two cups of water.  In a small bowl, combine the egg yolks with lemon juice and beat until well mixed.  Add to the sugar mixture.  Cook over boiling water until thick, stirring frequently, about 25 minutes.  Remove from heat; add the lemon extract, butter, vinegar and food coloring, if using, and stir thoroughly. 

Pour mixture into pie shell and cover with meringue, spreading it so it touches inner edge of crust to seal all around (prevents shrinkage) and making decorative swirls. Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees) 12-15 minutes, or until meringue peaks are golden brown.

Basic Meringue

3 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
6 tablespoons sugar

Place egg whites, cream of tartar, salt and vanilla in mixing bowl.  Beat, at medium speed, until mixture is frothy. Add sugar, a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat until sugar dissolves to help prevent beading (those brown syrup drops on top). Continue to beat until stiff peaks form when you lift the beater.

I like more pie than meringue, if you like a fluffier meringue use 4 eggs whites and increase the sugar to 1/2 cup.