Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

I love Thanksgiving!  It incorporates three of my favorite things, family, food and football.  It involves no shopping or gift giving.  It's a day to relax, spend time with family & friends and be thankful for all we have.  Even in bad times we have so much to be thankful for, I think it's important to reflect on all our blessings.
Our menu is set and I've been baking and cooking for a few days now. My back hurts, I will admit, but this holiday revolves around food and I love to bake and cook! On our menu will be:

Roasted turkey
Cornbread dressing
Herb & sausage dressing
Mashed potatoes and giblet gravy
Praline sweet potato souffle
Roasted brussel sprouts with balsamic glaze
Cranberry sauce (homemade and my Hubby's canned favorite!)
Yeast rolls (homemade by Mom)
Jello or fruit salad (made by my daughter)

Even though he's been in this family 32 years my Hubby still doesn't like my Mom's cornbread dressing. The Thanksgiving meal is definitely one that is traditional, what you grew up with is the food that you crave for this holiday.  So I will be making my Hubby his own dressing. He may say otherwise but I do tend to spoil him!

For dessert we are having mini pumpkin pies, mini Boston cream pies and caramel apples. All should appeal to the young and old who will be in attendance here. We aren't eating until 5 so that my son and daughter-in-love can make the three-hour drive home and also start the day at her parents' house. I'm excited that our three children and three granddaughters will all be in attendance tomorrow. I'm blessed that both my parents are healthy and will also grace our table.  There is nothing that makes this Mama happier than a table full of great food being served to my family.

My tables are set, flowers were delivered so I'm spending the day in the kitchen trying to do as much ahead to make tomorrow more relaxing.

From our home to yours, wishing you a very happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Apple Kuchen with Hot Cream Sauce

One of the items on my bucket list is a dinner at the French Laundry in Yountville.  My hubby & I love touring the wine country, good wine & good food.  This restaurant is very notable, for food, location and price.  Thus, the reason why I've not eaten there yet, not sure I want to spend the $$$ a dinner there requires. $500, for a dinner for two, would be conservative. But, if I was to win the lottery? I'd make reservations in a flash!

This apple kuchen comes from the French Laundry. If I can't go there I might as well try to imitate the food there! It is attributable to its original owner, Sally Schmitt.  She owned the restaurant before selling it to chef Thomas Keller in the 1990's.  This recipe is in his cookbook, The French Laundry Cookbook.

After seeing this recipe on numerous blogs, Pinterest and other Internet sites, all to great reviews, I decided it was time for me to make this. As it was our Stitch 'n Bitch day I made it for the girls there. It's a lovely cake, not real sweet.  In my opinion, it's a great treat for afternoon tea or a late brunch, as opposed to a dessert. Don't pass on the cream sauce, it is simply luscious. I could bathe in the stuff! 
I had no cranberries so left those out.  The cake was lovely without them. With the cranberries the cake would be a nice holiday treat!
Apple Kuchen with Hot Cream Sauce

6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus butter for the baking pan
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup milk or light cream
3 to 4 Gravenstein or Golden Delicious apples
1 cup cranberries or firm blueberries
Cinnamon sugar: 1 tablespoons sugar mixed with 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

For hot cream sauce:
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter
For the kuchen:
 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan (I used a springform pan).
In a mixer bowl or by hand in a large bowl, beat butter, sugar and egg together until the mixture is fluffy and lightened in texture.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Add dry ingredients and the milk alternately to the butter mixture. Do not overbeat; mix just until the ingredients are combined.

Peel and core apples. Slice them into 1/4-inch wedges

Spoon batter into the pan. Press apple slices, about 1/4-inch apart and core side down, into the batter, working in a circular pattern around the outside edge (like the spokes of a wheel. Arrange most of the cranberries in a ring inside the apples and sprinkle remainder around the edges of the kuchen.

Sprinkle kuchen with the cinnamon sugar.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a cake tester or skewer inserted into the center of the kuchen comes out clean. Set on a rack to cool briefly, or let cool to room temperature. Sprinkle confectioners sugar on top, if desired.

For the hot cream sauce: Combine the cream, sugar, and butter in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat (to reduce the chances of scorching or boiling over) and let sauce simmer for 5 to 8 minutes, to reduce and thicken slightly. Serve hot sauce with the kuchen.

As for Stitch 'n Bitch?  I'm gradually making progress on my hummingbird project. I didn't work much on it over the summer but, now that the weather has cooled and days are shorter, I'm working on it more. It's not a difficult pattern but has over 43 colors so I'm changing out the needle quite often.  It makes for lovely shading but sometimes tedious work! I hope to have it finished before I get buried with tax season.

A Stroll Thru Life

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Class of '75

We graduated in June of 1975. We were all so happy for that long-anticipated event to arrive. Once it was over we quickly scattered in our own directions with nary a thought to the fact that we were seeing some of our classmates for the last time. We had no way of knowing that in a few short years several of our classmates would be gone or that by the 38th anniversary of our graduation, over a dozen of our classmates would no longer be living.

I grew up in a small farming community in the central California valley.  At the time I graduated high school the population was in the 4,000-range. The Patterson High School Class of 1975 consisted of approximately 125. I like to tell people we grew up in Mayberry.  No one locked their house doors, kids roamed the streets, if you got in any sort of trouble your parents knew about it before you got back home.
Our class always had a close-knit bond. Most of us attended school together from grammar school to graduation.  Many were children of parents who also attended Patterson High School.  Once we graduated we all began to go our own ways, forming our paths in life. But we have always managed to stay in touch and have had numerous reunions. Facebook and other online places have enabled us to keep in even closer touch. When a classmate is having a crisis or a family member dies, we always rally around. And when we do it's like time has never passed.  This closeness, this camaraderie has never been more evident than it has been this year.  One of our classmates is enduring a very serious health issue and the odds are stacked against him.  Twice this year the Class of 1975 has gathered to celebrate with this class member, to cheer him on, to remind him how much we are pulling for him. Last night there were over 85 of us sharing pictures, memories, laughs, tears and generally catching up on our lives. To our spouses we may have looked like a bunch of men and women in our mid-50's.  To us we were all still 18.

These classmates helped form who I am today. Like siblings, we laughed, fought, played, cried, traveled together, agonized over homework, loved and lost, and, by doing so, forged ties that are pretty strong.  No matter where I go, what I do, my memories of this group of people will always be fond ones. I think the older we get the more we cherish these meetings. We've been through enough adversity in our lives to know that nothing lasts forever, that each reunion we attend there is one more classmate who is no longer with us. We are getting classmates showing up now who we haven't seen in years.  I think they are getting it that the amount of time we have to gather together is decreasing. This sobering thought makes our gatherings even more special.

Thank you for a wonderful evening friends and thanks for the memories. May God continue to bless you and yours. "Here's to dear old high school, for Patterson, hooray! Go Tigers!"

Monday, November 11, 2013

Apple Butter

My family loves apple butter.  We love it on toasts or biscuits and I have many recipes that use apple butter as an ingredient.  When I first started making apple butter it was a long, laborious process.  The apples had to be peeled and cut, assembled with spices then slow-cooked on the stove for many hours, taking care that the mixture didn't get scorched. Then I "found" this apple butter recipe that is done in the crock pot and an apple peeler. My life was transformed! This is the only way I  make it now! It is so easy and so very yummy. Every year I make 2-3 batches, for us and for gifts. When my son was married four years ago I made 120 jars as wedding favors!

In my opinion, if you are going to be doing any volume of apple peeling you should have this apple peeler/corer tool. (It works great for apple pies!) My husband, who isn't very adept in the kitchen, assists me with making apple butter by working this little apparatus.  He works the peeler, I chop. (When we give apple butter away as gifts he takes credit for his assistance in the making of it!) In about 20 minutes we had a batch of apples in the crock pot.

Once the apples are chopped I add them to the sugar/spice mixture in a big bowl (my crock pot is on the small side so I find this a less messy process than mixing it all in the crock pot!) The mixture cooks for an hour on high, then it's turned down to low (and I go to bed!).

I usually make apple butter in the evening, letting it cook all night long. Waking up to a house that smells of cinnamon goodness is a great way to start a day!

When the apple butter is done you will have a chunky mixture.  I use an immersion blender to blend it to a smooth state.  If you don't have an immersion blender you can put the mixture, in batches, in a blender or food processor.  Be careful with the hot mixture in those appliances, however, as they can explode on you! A whisk and arm power work too!

The best part of making apple butter? Some warm apple butter on a piece of toast! So yummy!


6 pounds apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped

3 cups sugar

3 teaspoons ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon cloves

1/4 teaspoon allspice

¼ teaspoon salt

Place the apples in a large bowl.  In a medium bowl mix the sugar, spices and salt.  Pour the mixture over the apples in the bowl and mix well.  Add mixture to slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 1 hour.

Reduce heat to low and cook 9 to 11 hours, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thickened and quite brown.  Stir with a whisk or immersion blender to increase smoothness. (I usually let mine cook all night and I put in jars in the morning).

Spoon the mixture into sterile containers and process for jam preservation.  Alternatively, may freeze. Makes seven 8-ounce jars.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Shhh! Don't Tell!

My granddaughters don't read blogs yet, they are only 3, 5 and 8. So I can share one of the Christmas presents that I recently made for the two older girls.  But, don't tell them! They can't open until Christmas!

Both girls take dance lessons at a local ballet studio.  Their Aunt Jenna took lessons at the same studio for at least 10 years so it's been fun to have a second generation attending. A year or so ago, I saw ballet bags on Etsy and other Internet spots that resembled a ballerina's tutu.  So, I decided to try to make some. 
They weren't that difficult to do.  A little gathering and simple stitches and a cute bag was done! I will fill them with some ballet tights and the girls will have a useful and original Christmas present. If you have a budding ballerina in your family I'm sure she would love a tutu bag!

Materials needed:

1 canvas tote bag (can be found at any hobby store)
1 spool of 6" tulle
4 yards of 1/5" or 2" grosgrain ribbon
Large safety pin
Thread in coordinating color

If you want to embroider a name or applique a design on your bag do this before beginning your project. I don't have a monogramming machine so took my bags to a local monogramming shop.  The charge was very minimal. Make sure the monogramming is placed in an area of the bag that won't interfere with the tulle ruffles.

I'm no pattern-writer so apologize if my instructions aren't real concise!

1.  With a water soluble marking pencil or chalk, make two marking lines around the tote bag. You have to "wing" the first marking.  I wanted the edge of my tulle to be at the bottom edge of the bag so made my first mark so that would occur.  My second marking was 1.5" above the first marking line.

2.  Gather enough tulle to go around the bag with a small overlap.  You can do this with a traditional gathering stitch or with the ruffler attachment of your sewing machine. I am learning to use my ruffler attachment and found it very easy for this step. (If you have a ruffler attachment but are intimidated by it here is a great video that provides a lot of guidance Bernina Ruffler Attachment.)

3.  Pin the first gathered strip of tulle to the bottom marking line, overlapping at the starting point.  Use lots of pins for this!

4.  Using a straight or zig zag stitch, slowly sew the tulle to the bag adjusting as you sew around the bag.  Do not sew over the pins.  If your sewing machine has a detachable free arm the process is much easier. Make sure not to get the bag handles in the way!

5.  Repeat steps 3 and 4 for the top marking line.

6.  Cut a piece of ribbon 32" long.  Fold under  the raw edges 1".

7.  Just above the top line, find the center of the bag (back of bag) and mark with a pin.

8.  Pin the ribbon around the bag, starting and stopping at the back center. (Please note that I neglected to do mine this way, I started and stopped on the front.  I think it would look much nicer on the back which is why I have written the instructions this way! Just keeping it real here, I am definitely not perfect with my endeavors!)

9.  Beginning with the bottom of the ribbon, stitch to bag.  Again, the detachable free arm works great for this.  Repeat at the top of the ribbon.

10.  Cut another 32" piece of ribbon.  Make a bow.  If desired, cut an inverted "V" in the tails and/or use Fray Check to keep the edges from raveling.

11.  Attach bow, at center of bag, with a large safety pin.

Note:  if you want a thicker tulle look you can use two layers of tulle for each line on the bag.

See how they look like a tutu! So cute!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Chicken and Vegetable Minestrone

Though we no longer have kids at home and have to be out and about on Halloween, it's still a busy night for us. The doorbell is ringing every few minutes with trick or treaters, neighbors come by and we chat, we visit a few houses with the granddaughters. Knowing things would be busy I prepared a pot of soup.  Soup is one of those foods that you can make ahead, reheat, leave out for guests and all will be ok.  This soup, from Sara Foster, was very good, lots of fresh veggies which meant it was also good for us, always a bonus! It's lighter than a traditional minestrone, a nice variation. I love soup, think it's the ultimate comfort food.  It was a great dinner on a fun night!

Chicken and Vegetable Minestrone

Serves 8 to 10 / makes about 3 quarts

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 carrots diced
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
3 plum tomatoes, cored and chopped
1 summer squash (yellow or zucchini), diced

4 garlic cloves, minced
8 cups chicken broth
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
3 cups shredded cooked chicken (meat from a 3 1/2 - 4 pound roasted or poached chicken)
2 teaspoons sea salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/2 cup small shape pasta ( elbow macaroni or bow tie)

1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 cup chopped green cabbage
2 cups fresh spinach, stems removed, washed and drained
8 fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips
3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano or marjoram leaves
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook and stir about 10 minutes. Add the carrots, bell pepper, tomatoes and squash and cook and stir another 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sit a minute longer.

2. Add the broth, chickpeas, chicken, salt and pepper and bring to a low boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered for about 1 hour.

3. Add the pasta, green beans and cabbage and bring the soup back to a low boil. reduce the heat and simmer for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. add the spinach, basil and oregano and remove the soup from the heat and season to taste. Serve hot topped with the freshly grated Parmesan.

My notes:

I poached 2 large chicken breasts
I used zucchini, 2 small ones
The green beans in my grocery store looked limp so I used frozen
I didn't have fresh oregano or marjoram so used a few teaspoons of Italian season

And, like most foods, this minestrone was definitely enhanced with a glass of wine.  Tonight we had a glass of Twomey merlot.  The Twomey winery is located in Oakville and is one of our favorite places to visit whenever we are in the Napa Valley.