Friday, February 28, 2014

Hull Pottery

For as long as I can remember my Mom had this Hull pottery vase.  She says that as long as she can remember her mom had it before her.  I have no real history on how or when the vase was acquired. I'm 57 and I'm pretty sure the vase came before me! My most vivid recollection of it is it would always show up in early spring, Mom would fill the vase with the first of the blooming lilacs. I've always loved the vase.
A number of years ago she gave the vase to me and I began looking into the origin of Hull pottery. The Hull Pottery Company began in 1905 in Ohio and its early lines were mostly common utilitarian stoneware. Over the years they enjoyed an excellent reputation and expanded throughout the Midwest and east coast.  In the 1920's they began to also produce a line of art pottery, using more colors and glazing techniques. In the mid-1980's the company was hit with union issues and foreign competition, eventually ceasing operations.

Most of the pottery was sold in dime stores and it was common to have a plant or flower bouquet delivered from a florist in a Hull container. Perhaps this is how Grandma got hers. The pottery was not a high-end item but is now becoming a coveted collectible.

Over the years I've acquired some more Hull pottery, usually as I was antique browsing. I keep them displayed in an entry way cabinet but I do use them (I think "pretties" should be used, not packed away!")
I used them a few years ago in my Christmas tea table settings.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Refrigerator Bran Muffins

I'm not an early morning breakfast eater or a big breakfast eater.  I have to ease into my morning so I'm usually not ready to eat anything until it's time (or past time!) to head out the door. Some mornings I'll have a bowl of oatmeal or Cheerios.  Too many days I find myself in the Starbucks drive-thru line ordering a latte and a baked good.  Not good for my budget or my waist line!

These refrigerator muffins are great to have on hand.  My Hubby's cousin introduced them to me while on a RV trip (thanks, DK!). This recipe, and variations, have been around for a while.  Most times, the old recipes are the best! It's nice to be able to bake one, two or more of these muffins without the mess of having to make the batter each time you want some. They will last in the refrigerator for 6 weeks, though we run out long before then. I usually throw them in the oven to bake while I'm getting dressed in the morning.  By the time I'm ready to leave for work they are ready to go.
Simple ingredients, easy to make!

The batter lasts about 6 weeks, in the fridge, making it very handy to make muffins in the morning!

6 cups All Bran cereal

2 cups boiling water

1 cup butter, melted

5 cups flour

5 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons salt

3 cups sugar

4 eggs

1 quart buttermilk

Put 2 cups All Bran cereal into large bowl.  Add boiling water.  Mix in butter and let stand.

In medium bowl, lightly beat eggs with sugar and buttermilk.  Mix remaining 4 cups bran cereal to mixture. Add to All Bran mixture in large bowl.

Sift together flour, soda and salt.  Add to mixture.  Stir to combine.

Cover and store in refrigerator overnight.

Bake desired amount of muffins at 400° for 20-25 minutes.

This batter keeps for six weeks in the refrigerator.  Stir in dried fruits (raisins, cranberries) and nuts of your choice, if desired.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Rubber Ducky Shower

I recently attended a baby shower for a family member. My cousin and aunt were the hostesses.  My cousin is very crafty, a fantastic baker and candy maker, and she didn't disappoint us with this shower. Using a theme of "rubber ducky" she had cute decorations and homemade food items. She and I have a lot in common and I know she had a lot of fun planning this shower.
The ducks are made out of chocolate.

Sugar cookies.

S'mores made with duck-shaped homemade graham crackers.  They were so good!

They even found a duck bath towel.
I've attended my share of baby showers and one thing I've noted is the abundance of infant clothes received. In the case of my daughters I know that the babies outgrew the clothes before they could even wear all of them! I long ago decided to no longer gift clothes but to give practical items, things I know will get used, the basics.

As the shower had a rubber ducky theme I bought an inflatable duck bathtub and filled the bottom and sides with the contents from a box of size 2 diapers. I then covered the diapers with cotton balls (they look like bubbles!) and tucked in bathing products and toys. I think it turned out adorable! It's practical and cute! An added bonus is I didn't have to wrap it! How's that for multi-tasking!

Whenever Mom needs a baby gift she heads to her sewing room and makes a cuddle wrap and burp cloths. She began making them when her first great-grandchild was born 12 years ago. A cuddle wrap is basically a blanket with pockets for the baby's arms and legs, as well as a hood. You wrap them up like a little burrito! They are made out of flannel and are so soft. Babies love being wrapped in them.  My niece is expecting her fourth child in May and has requested Grandma to make her some more!
Mr. Teddy Bear modeling his Giants cuddle wrap!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Creme Brulee

Grandma was known for her custard pies.  My hubby would never eat them, said he didn't like custard, yet he would eat (and loves) quiche.  I would (patiently?) explain the only difference between the two was sugar and salt but could never sway him.  Then one night, while out at a restaurant, he decided to take a bite of my creme brulee. What a transformation!  From then on, he's been trying creme brulee virtually every place we go! Being the nice guy that he is he always tells me mine is best!

Creme brulee is so easy to make, uses very simple ingredients. I'm not sure why I don't make it more often except that I get bored making the same thing! This recipe from Ina Garten,The Barefoot Contessa, is as good as it gets. According to her, this is the ultimate "guy" dessert.  Make it and he'll follow you anywhere.  I don't think my Hubby is going anywhere but I know if I have this on the menu he will be a happy man that night!

I use Grand Marnier for many things.  If you don't stock this liqueur in your pantry don't worry about buying a big bottle for just this recipe.  You can buy sample-size bottles! But don't leave this ingredient out, the subtle orange flavor in this creme brulee is wonderful!
If you don't have a kitchen blowtorch you can put the custards under the broiler.  The top won't be as caramelized and the custard may warm up some but it will taste wonderful, nonetheless.  I use extra-fine sugar, I like how it caramelizes better than regular granulated sugar.


1 extra-large egg
4 extra-large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the egg, egg yolks, and sugar together on low speed until just combined. Meanwhile, scald the cream in a small saucepan until it's very hot to the touch but not boiled.  With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the cream to the eggs.  Add the vanilla and Grand Marnier and pour into 6- to 8-ounce ramekins until almost full.

Place the ramekins in a baking pan and carefully pour boiling water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the custards are set when gently shaken.  Remove the custards from the water bath, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate until firm.

To serve, spread 1 tablespoon of sugar evenly on the top of each ramekin and heat with a kitchen blowtorch until the sugar caramelizes evenly.  Allow to sit at room temperature for a minute until the caramelized sugar hardens.

The custards can be made up to 3 days in advance; caramelize the tops before serving.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Nutella Swirl Bundt Cake

I just recently began using Nutella, a chocolate-hazelnut spread. I'm definitely late to the party in using this product but better late than never is my motto! Decadent is probably not enough of a superlative to describe this tasty treat!
While browsing Pinterest for Nutella recipes I spied this bundt cake from My Catholic Kitchen. The cake has more of a pound cake texture, more dense than a regular cake.  It's not too sweet and the swirl of Nutella is just enough sweetness. I brought it to work and have enjoyed it with my afternoon Starbucks addiction (why do they tempt me by having a store across the street?) On a side note,  some of my clients have brought us treats this week.  Our office kitchen table is currently playing host to this bundt cake, a tin of shortbread and a container of homemade toffee.  The bananas on the table are turning brown as we enjoy the more sinful offerings. Yep, treadmill time tomorrow!


1 1/3 cup softened butter
2 1/2 cups sugar
6 large eggs, room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup Nutella spread

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a bundt pan (I use baking spray).

Beat butter and sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, each time just until blended. Add vanilla.

Add flour alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour.

Microwave Nutella for 30-40 seconds in a microwave until soft.  Pour half of the batter into the bottom of the greased bundt pan.  Add the Nutella as evenly as possible.  Pour the last of the batter into the pan.  Using a bamboo skewer,  gently swirl the Nutella.

Bake for 60-75 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Allow to cool 10 minutes before removing from pan.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Orange Marmalade Rolls

I think I like these rolls more than cinnamon rolls. With each bite you get the subtle taste of orange marmalade and the sweetness of the orange-flavored glaze.  If you like a tarter orange flavor you can omit the sugar in the filling.

To make these, any sweet dough recipe will work. This day I used the same breadmaker dough that I use to make cinnamon rolls. You can also use the bread dough that is found in the grocery frozen food section.  After the first rise, roll the dough to an approximate 9x12-inch rectangle.  Spread softened butter over dough, sprinkle with granulated sugar.  Spread approximately 1 cup orange marmalade over the top.

Starting at the long side, tightly roll into a jelly roll.  You may have some marmalade "ooze" out.  Scrape this off as it will be hard (and messy!) to seal the edges of the roll.
Once rolled, pinch and seal the seam.  Cut into 1-inch slices. Place in buttered baking dish.  Let rise until doubled in size. (Or refrigerate overnight.  In the morning, let rolls come to room temp and bake as normal).  Bake in preheated 375-degree oven for 20-25 minutes (cover with foil if they are getting too brown). Let cool slightly before frosting.

As it's just two of us at home we don't need a dozen sweet rolls tempting us.  I divided them in two pans and gave one to my Mom.  We were both able to bake our rolls on a leisurely Sunday morning!
To make the glaze, combine confectioners sugar and orange juice until you get a spreadable consistency. Spread over slightly-warm rolls, grab a cup of coffee and enjoy!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Decorating for Valentine's Day

Unlike some of the other holidays I don't get too carried away with decorating for Valentine's day. I'm usually relieved that the Christmas decorating is packed away and too lazy to grab out the boxes of Valentines decorations. Besides, we're not home much this time of year to enjoy the decorations. It is a very low-key holiday for us. 

I made this burlap banner for our stove mantel area. I stenciled the lettering on burlap rectangles. The tabs that hold the ribbon were made by folding over a portion of the burlap and securing with heart buttons. Took me no time to do!

I'll keep this heart wreath up through spring. As I do dishes I get a little reminder that in a few short months my roses will be blooming.
Candy and Valentine's day go hand-in-hand it seems.  I've added conversation hearts to our dining table hurricanes. The granddaughter's candy jar is filled with holiday M & M's. 

So, that's it for my decorating this year! All that is left to do is plan a nice dinner. We don't go out, it's too hectic.  No reservations needed here!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Lemon Curd

A few weeks ago Mom sent me a text telling me that she had baked herself some scones. To accompany the scones she had bought a jar of lemon curd. Her text informed me that the lemon curd paled in comparison to mine. My girlfriends and I browsed through a tea room while we were at the coast last week and the shop was selling homemade lemon curd for $10 a jar. Yikes! It's so easy to make and very inexpensive, too. Lemon curd was on my mind so I got busy one night after work and made a batch.

I make lemon curd periodically during the year but always for my Christmas tea. The combination of tart lemons with the sweetness of sugar is very addictive to me. I use it to serve with scones, as a filling for cakes and cookies, in mini tarts. I confess that I've been known to just grab a spoon and eat the curd from the bowl!  It's so good!
I invited Mom & my daughter to have tea and scones (and I sent Mom home with her own supply!) My three year old granddaughter was eating a bowl of ice cream as I was spooning the lemon curd into a bowl. She asked for a taste, liked it and wanted some on her ice cream. She loved it! We found a new use for lemon curd!
Lemon curd isn't difficult to make, just takes a little stirring and some patience. The recipe I use is from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. I've seen recipes that seem easier, even microwave versions. This recipe is so good, I figure why mess with success? Lemon curd will last about a week in the refrigerator but we always seem to  run out before then!

LEMON CURD (makes 2 cups)

8 large egg yolks
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces

Combine yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar in a heavy-bottom saucepan; whisk to combine. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon (be sure to scrape the sides of the pan), until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, 8 to 10 minutes, and registers 160 on an instant-read thermometer.

Remove saucepan from heat.  Add salt and butter, one piece at a time, stirring until smooth.  Strain through a fine sieve into a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the curd to prevent a skin from forming.  Refrigerate until chilled and set, at least 1 hour.

These lemon curd tarts are easy to make and quite impressive looking for such a quick dessert. Using a flower cookie cutter, I baked the pie crust in a mini muffin pan. Let the crusts cool, add some curd and a dollop of whipped cream. If you don't want to bother with pie dough you can put a dollop of curd in phyllo tart shells, which are found in the frozen food section.


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Tax Season "Prepper"!

Continuing education classes have been completed, our tax software is installed and running, client appointments are on the books, we've hired extra staff, IRS is now accepting returns. Yes, the 2014 tax season is upon me.  For nine months of the year I have a pretty leisurely schedule.  I work 3-4 days a week, come and go as I please. But come the first week of February until April 15, I work 7 days a week, long hours each day. My poor office staff has to listen to me whine for a few days as I adjust to my increased work schedule but I eventually quit whining and focus on the work ahead.

With such a hectic schedule (and the fact that my Hubby is also a CPA with a crazy tax season schedule) I have learned that being as organized as possible at home is the key to my sanity. To keep things as smooth as possible I've developed an organization system that works for me.  It takes some time and effort to do these things but saves me time and stress later on.

 I go through our calendar and buy the gifts I will need for every birthday, Valentine's Day, showers and weddings from now until May 1.  I wrap them and tuck them away for when they're needed.
I buy greeting cards for the same period, address them and set an electronic reminder on my computer for the days I need to mail them.
I've bought enough household supplies to last us through the filing season, things like shampoo, toothpaste, toilet paper, laundry and dish soap. If you run out of anything, come by, I probably have it!
Our freezer is stocked with homemade spaghetti and pesto sauce, chicken breasts and other meats, some frozen casseroles. I have crock pot recipes waiting to be used.
Safeway has a grocery delivery service and I've used that service on more than one occasion.  They deliver the groceries right to my office! I don't mind cooking but the last thing I want to do after a long, stressful day is grocery shop!

Of course, I don't forget the animals.  I buy extra dog food and bird seed to tide us over. I schedule a few extra days for Harley to go to doggie day care as he gets a little lonely with me away from home more.

I have a housekeeper that I use periodically throughout the year.  During tax season she is on a bi-weekly rotation.

I've seen the TV reality shows about Doomsday preppers and always thought they were kind of crazy.  I'm afraid I may have more in common with them than I first thought. The nice thing is that they are prepping for the end of the world, whenever and if that may be.  I'm only prepping in order to survive to April 15!

This is my 35th tax season.  I'm hoping my advance preparation helps keep the stress at bay! But, ready or not, tax season is here!