Saturday, August 23, 2014

Baking our ABC's!

My youngest granddaughter will be four in a few weeks.  She now goes to preschool two days a week and is learning her letters, besides the familiar ABC song she's known for a while now. She loves to be in the kitchen with me.  I have her almost every Friday night until mid-day Saturday and each week she asks me what we are going to make. So I thought it would be good to combine a learning lesson with some kitchen fun.  We made sugar cookies in the shape of the letter A.

Attention spans for little children aren't long so I rolled out, cut and baked the cookies ahead of time.  She helped me make the frosting.  While doing so, we were also able to work on her number skills, counting the cups of sugar that go into the frosting. She chose the colors she wanted the frosting to be (I let her choose four and white!) I put the frosting in squeeze bottles to make it a little easier for her, put out bowls of sprinkles and candies and we got to work!

We talked colors, counted sprinkles, talked about what things started with the letter A. She talked about her Daddy & Mommy, her Papa, her upcoming birthday party. She was quite chatty, in fact!
We went swimming first, thus the wet hair!

As evidenced by the frosting on her face, quite a bit went in her mouth!
The highlight of the evening, for me, was later on when we went to our favorite Mexican place for dinner.  She looked at the menu and said "Nana, look an A"!  She then proceeded to point out all the A's she could find.

I had a lot of cleanup to do this morning, including mopping the kitchen floor and cleaning dried royal icing from the cabinets. Not sure we'll be doing the remainder of the alphabet in cookies but it was a fun time playing with the letter A!

The sad part of the evening was when I got out our aprons. My Mom made matching Disney Princess aprons for my oldest granddaughter and I, five or six years ago.  She's now outgrown the apron and the little one wears it. It just seems like yesterday that my big K was wearing the apron! My girls are growing up much too fast!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Pasta Making Toy

I love my Kitchenaid mixer and would be lost without it.  I use it to mix cake and cookies batters, to make royal icing, bread dough.  I use it so much I have two work bowls so I can do multiple things without having to take a break to wash the bowl! I have two attachments that I find I'm using more and more and they both involve pasta.  The pasta roller & cutter attachment rolls and cuts the dough for sheet pasta, fettucini, etc. I also have the pasta press attachment. This gadget is an extruder and produces "tube-style" pasta, such as spaghetti and rigatoni.

Last weekend I made a batch of rigatoni. The dough was initially mixed up in the Kitchenaid, then kneaded with the dough hook for a few minutes. I attached the extruder, put in walnut-sized pieces of dough and let the machine do the rest. It took me about half an hour to make this batch of rigatoni, easily done while watching a preseason football game that my team was losing (regular season please get here soon!)

Using fresh ingredients, some bacon, cream and basil,  I made a very simple pasta sauce and tossed the cooked rigatoni in it. Like most freshly-made foods, fresh pasta is so much superior to the boxed pasta. It's worth the extra effort!
A little kneading action!

The extruder attaches to the mixer.  Small balls of pasta dough are put in top and the machine does the rest!
The pasta is cut to the desired length with the wire attachment.
Fresh pasta ready to be cooked! Yum!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Poor Man's Fruitcake

I come from a long line of Okies.  Nothing derogatory about that, just facts. Most of my ancestors are from Oklahoma, they struggled through and survived the Great Depression. As a result, they learned how to be thrifty and industrious, especially when it came to food. They grew their own fruits and vegetables, canned them, slaughtered livestock, saved and re-purposed everything.  They had no choice, had to do that to survive and by doing so, they acquired many good skills and traits that inadvertently passed down to the younger generations.

Besides my parents, the most influential Okie in my life was my Grandma McGee. She saved all her leftover food.  I used to laugh when I'd open her refrigerator because there would be all kinds of plastic containers filled with a spoonful or two of something. She didn't waste them, they became lunch the next day. Her pantry was full of canned goods, her freezer full of meats and other products that she stocked up on when on sale. If she was given a bag or box of fruit she would drop everything and get out the canning equipment, nothing must be wasted! She had a drawer full of leftover wrapping paper, neatly folded to be used again. Scraps of material became quilts. Buttons from worn-out clothes were taken off and saved in her button jar and would be seen on another article of clothing in the future.

She's been on my mind a lot these last few weeks.  We have an espalier apple tree, it is grafted with six different varieties of apples.  I'm not a farmer and it's hard for this accountant to tell when apples are ready for harvest.  My Hubbers and I noticed a few on the ground, so we started picking.  Soon we had over two dozen apples. I didn't feel like baking anything at the time and knew we wouldn't eat that many apples before they went bad. I could hear Grandma telling me not to waste anything.  So I went in and made applesauce, just the way she taught me. There is no recipe for this, it's more a method.  Peel, core and slice apples and put in large pan, add 1/4 cup water to keep the apples from sticking to the pan, adding more if needed.  Cook, stirring often, until soft.  Add sugar and cinnamon and nutmeg, to taste (I usually add during the cooking process and adjust afterwards).  I like my applesauce lumpy.  A food processor or immersion blender can be used to make smoother applesauce.
It helps to have an apple peeler and assistant when working with a lot of apples! Thank you, Hubbers!

Just put the apples in a pan and cook until you get a soft consistency.

Homemade applesauce is so much better than store-bought!
I ended up with a pretty good-sized bowl of applesauce.  After about a week of eating it, I was tired of it.  I really should have canned some of it to begin with but was too lazy that day! Then I thought of Grandma again.  She made a loaf cake using applesauce that she called Poor Man's Fruitcake.  I have no idea where the name came from but I've always loved it. It recalls my Okie roots, poor people can have fruitcake, too (thankfully, this doesn't taste like traditional Christmas-time fruitcake)! I baked mine in a loaf pan, I seem to recall Grandma would sometimes bake hers in a tube pan.  Store-bought applesauce can be used and the seasonings can be adjusted to taste.  My applesauce had cinnamon in it and I added more in the cake batter, making for a very dark cake. I took it to the office today and had some with my morning tea, shared some with a client. It was the perfect mid-morning treat!
Grandma would've been proud of my thriftiness with these apples, not one was wasted! We still have more apples on the tree, I will be making and canning applesauce soon!
Poor Man's Fruitcake

One stick butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups applesauce
2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons nutmeg
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease loaf pan.

Blend together butter and sugar until creamy.  Add 2 cups applesauce and mix until blended. Add flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, baking soda and salt.  Mix until just blended. Stir in raisins and walnuts.

Pour into loaf pan.  Bake for 45-55 minutes, until inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes, remove from pan and finish cooling.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Bedside Rose

My Hubbers and I have long since moved past the days where I get flowers for, what I term, Hallmark holidays.  Valentines Day, Mothers Day, even anniversaries, are not times when I want to receive flowers.  I like gifts of flowers to be a surprise, not an obligation. Some days he'll walk in the house with a surprise bouquet.  Those I love. 

We have always had roses in our yard.  I love roses. Ever since I can remember, when the roses start blooming in the spring, my Hubbers will get a small vase from our cabinet and put it on my bedside table.  During the growing season he keeps that vase filled with fresh roses, sometimes one perfect bloom, other times a small bouquet.  He never says anything, I will walk into the bedroom at night and there will be a new rose. He used to work in a florist shop and has a tool that takes the thorns off the stems so he takes the time to do that. I love these roses.  The time and thought he devotes to doing this means the world to me.
When our daughter lived at home he would keep a vase by her bed, too. He took care of his two girls.

We have our youngest granddaughter almost every Friday night. A few weeks ago she walked in my room and noticed I had a new rose.  She said "Nana, how come I don't have one?" I told her Papa and he immediately went out and cut her one.  A new tradition has begun.  This Friday morning he went out to the garden and cut and trimmed two roses; pink for me, red for her.
She had to smell hers a few times before she climbed into bed! Generation Three is now being spoiled.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Heading Into Fall

Fall is my second favorite season (in my life the seasons are spring, summer, fall and tax season!)  Pumpkins, colorful leaves, football games (Go Niners!) apples, the smell of cinnamon baked goods are a few of my favorite fall things. Life becomes a little slower in the fall, my Hubbers and I tend to nest more.
I'm not ready for summer to be over.  I love the warm days and nights, tending to my flower garden, watching the birds, swimming in the pool, grilling, fresh fruit and veggies.  But, much to my dismay, I see signs of fall each day.  The local schools are in session again, the days are getting shorter, football is back (this does not bother me!), the summer flowers are looking a little tired.

Just when I was feeling a little bummed that summer was waning, I get a batch of new magazines in the mail, all with fall themes. All three magazines are filled with decorating ideas, fall recipes, party ideas.  Now I'm envisioning caramel spice cake, pumpkin tartlets, cranberry coffee cake, tailgate parties, scrumptious soups, Halloween festivities, tea party ideas (yes, Mom, I'll make some lemon curd!)
I may go kicking and screaming into fall but once I get there I know I will be enjoying the fun!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Peach Upside-Down Cake

In the past few weeks I've made a sour cream peach pie, peach and raspberry crisp and peach, ginger and blueberry strudel.  A few nights ago I made a peach upside-down cake.  I think I'm officially done with peach desserts for the summer! I'm ready for a different fruit.  I say this now but, come January, I'll be craving a warm piece of peach pie with a scoop of ice cream! I suppose I could freeze some peach pie filling but not sure I'll get that done this year. So many good intentions, so little time!

This cake is a twist on the traditional pineapple upside-down cake. It's very easy to make and makes an impressive-looking dessert. It's especially good warm but I've been known to have an unwarmed piece for breakfast (I tell myself it's no different than having a piece of toast with jam. Same calories, right?!!)
I took this to dinner at a friend's house.  It is easy to transport and makes a small cake so not a lot of leftovers to deal with.
You don't need a "fancy" pan to make this but it makes for a very nice presentation, if you do!
Spread the batter over the peach and sugar layer, very easy dessert!
Peach Upside-Down Cake

1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 to 2 cups sliced, pitted and peeled fresh peaches (2-3 medium)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk

Place 1/4 cup butter in an 8x8x2-inch baking pan and set pan in a 350 degree oven for about 5 minutes, or until butter is melted. (Be sure to watch carefully to avoid overbrowning the butter.)  Remove pan from oven.  Add brown sugar, stirring until sugar is completely moistened.  Spread sugar mixture evenly in pan. Arrange peach slices evenly over brown sugar mixture. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.  In a large bowl, beat 1/2 cup butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds.  Beat in granulated sugar until well combined.  Add egg and vanilla, beating until combined.  Alternately add the flour mixture and milk to beaten butter mixture, beating on low speed after each addition, just until combined.  Spread batter evenly over the peaches in the pan.

Bake in 350 degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool in pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Loosen cake from sides of pan; invert onto a large serving plate.  Cool for 10 to 15 minutes more.  Serve warm.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Peach, Ginger & Blueberry Strudel

I always have a package of puff pastry sheets in my freezer.  They are useful for so many things, including quick desserts.  Last week our neighborhood had a gathering in connection with the Neighborhood Watch National Night Out. We were all requested to bring a dessert. By now you probably know that I rarely buy a dessert, the food snob that I am! I love to bake but I had worked all day and didn't have time to bake something very elaborate. On this evening I turned to my trusty puff pastry friend and made this simple strudel.

It's a very easy dessert to put together but very flavorful. If you are not a fan of ginger you can leave it out but I like the depth of flavor it brings to the fruit combination.


Peach, Ginger and Blueberry Strudel

1 pint fresh blueberries
3 cups fresh peaches, skins removed and cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon sugar

Adjust oven rack to the center shelf; preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, toss together berries, peaches, flour, ginger, brown sugar and orange zest; set aside. Unfold one puff pastry and, on a lightly floured surface, roll it out to an approximate 10x12-inch rectangle.

Transfer the pastry dough onto the sheet pan and brush edges of dough with some of the egg.  Arrange half the fruit mixture lengthwise down the center.  Fold both sides of the dough over the fruit toward the center. Pinch the seam together and tuck it under to seal it securely.  Pinch the ends to seal then turn the strudel over so the seam is on the bottom.  Repeat with remaining sheet of pastry dough.

Brush the tops with the remaining egg and sprinkle sugar over the surface of the dough.  With a sharp knife, cut four 1-inch slits down the length of the pastry. Bake 25-30 minutes, until pastry is golden brown and feels crispy to the touch. Remove from oven; let cool for 15 minutes before serving.  Serve alone or with vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Peach and Raspberry Crisp

In the summer I love desserts using fresh fruit.  Peaches and raspberries have always been one of my favorite combinations.  This crisp doesn't disappoint. I've adapted it from Ina Garten's (The Barefoot Contessa) recipe. She uses orange zest in her version.  I prefer to let the peaches and raspberries stand on their own.

This crisp is so easy to put together. It's a great dessert when you have a crowd to feed.  The topping can be made ahead of time, and refrigerated, to save some prep time.  You can also make the crisp ahead of time and reheat.  I always try to time it so that it comes out of the oven about half an hour or so before we eat dinner. When it's time for dessert, the crisp is still warm but not so warm that you can't eat it.  It's especially good with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top!

Peach and Raspberry Crisp

4 to 5 pounds firm, ripe peaches (10 to 12 large peaches)
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 cups plues 2 to 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 pint raspberries
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup oatmeal
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter (or use cooking spray) the inside of a 9x13-inch baking dish.

Peel the peaches and slice them into thick wedges; place into a large bowl.  Add 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of flour. Toss well. Gently mix in the raspberries.  Allow the mixture to sit for 5 minutes.  If there is a lot of liquid, add 1 more tablespoon of flour. Pour the peach mixture into the baking dish and gently smooth the top.

For the topping, combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, salt, oatmeal, and the cold, diced butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitter with a paddle attachment.  Mix on low speed until the butter is pea-sized and the mixture is crumbly (can be made ahead and refrigerated). Sprinkle evenly on top of the peaches and raspberries.  Bake for 1 hour, until the top is browned and crisp and the juices are bubbly. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Frosty Memories

When I was in high school my parents bought the local A&W drive in. Soon I was knee-deep in making root beer floats and freezes, milkshakes, soft-serve ice cream cones. I washed dozens of mugs a day as most of the root beer drinks were served in frozen, frosty mugs. We had no indoor seating, no air conditioning. We were closed in the winter. In the summer it would get so hot we'd open the freezer to stick our face in! We made the root beer in a big stainless steel vat, using concentrate from A&W and huge bags of sugar. Some of my girlfriends worked there, too. We worked hard but there were also a lot of fun times, especially flirting with cute guys who came to the order window! All in all, it was a great experience.

Every now and then I crave a root beer float or freeze. Recently I made a batch of vanilla ice cream and the root beer craving got stronger. Though it's not as good as the root beer we made, the bottled root beer still tastes pretty good. After swimming for a few hours on a 100 degree + day I introduced root beer freezes to my youngest granddaughter. I don't have a milkshake machine, so a blender had to do the mixing. No frosty, frozen mugs (a Disney Princess cup works!) We devoured them!  She loved her first freeze and, for a moment in time, I was transported back to my teenage days. Great memories and a great afternoon treat!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Bandana Dress

I first began making bandana dresses when my oldest granddaughter was four.  She turned nine in May.  My youngest granddaughter will be four in a month. In between, we have a six year old. Can we slow down the clock, please! The dresses are very easy to make and only involve two items; a knit top (any type of sleeve) and two bandanas. The girls love them as they are very comfortable.  Most girls love to twirl around and the way the bandanas are offset on these dresses provides plenty of twirling activity!
Hobby and fabric stores have a wide variety of bandana options, very easy to find a pattern for the little girl in your life. (Has anyone seen any San Francisco 49ers bandanas? I need some!) The dresses are inexpensive to make, for less than $10 you have a dress that is not only cute but very durable.

Earlier this year I purchased a Silhouette Cameo digital cutting machine. The applique on the top of the dress was my first attempt at using the machine to cut fabric. I have a lot to learn, especially with sizing the various pieces of the applique, but it went pretty well for the first time. I wish I would have used a darker yellow for the bee body but didn't have anything appropriate in my fabric stash.

I bought the pdf pattern from this site. With the pattern is a template for cutting the opening of the bandanas so they will fit the width of the top. Basically, you measure the width of the top, correspond that measurement to the template and cut accordingly. It's a very easy and effective way to get an accurate cut.

After that it's just a matter of arranging the bandanas to get the proper hem effect and sewing the bandana to the top. The dresses take no time to make!