Saturday, January 31, 2015

Friday Nights

When my first-born was around six months old my Dad began picking him up on Friday nights. Saturday morning, on the way to work, he would be dropped off at our home again.  In between those hours, there were special meals, TV shows watched, popcorn and soda, and, mostly, a strong bond being formed between grandparents and grandson.  A few years later little sister arrived and she was included in Friday nights.  Some Friday nights they would both go.  Sometimes they would alternate.  This would continue until high school, when Friday nights became the night of playing football and cheerleading. My children enjoy a wonderful relationship with their grandparents and I know part of it is because of their Friday night tradition.
My husband and I have carried on the tradition. We have the youngest granddaughter almost every Friday.  Sometimes we are lucky enough to have one of the older granddaughters, too.  Recently, we had two for our overnight visit.  At ages 6 & 4, they can relate to each other quite well.  We went for a scooter ride/walk around the neighborhood, made cupcakes, watched a movie (Cars).  Papa made them a fort in the living room to sleep in.  The next morning I made Mickey Mouse pancakes, bacon and scrambled eggs. There was not one argument, just lots of playing, hugging and laughing.

My newest grandchild lives about four hours away.  Once he's a little older (and I get through tax season), I plan on spending one Friday night a month down south.  His parents can have a date night and I can have some special time with him.

I so look forward to Friday nights. I know that children grow up in a blink of an eye and there will come a time when my grandchildren's social life will take priority over spending time with their grandparents. In the meantime, this night of love and fun is one I greatly cherish.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

"Classic" Cream Scones

One of my duties as hostess of our annual family tea party is to bake scones. I serve scones with homemade lemon curd and strawberry jam.  The scone course is my Mom's favorite part of the tea.  I don't know if she likes the scones or curd more but she always looks forward to this tea time treat!

Scones are basically a sweet biscuit.  They have a nice flaky texture and are a great accompaniment to tea.  They can be made in all shapes and sizes, and include whatever "add-ins" sound good.  As we have so many other food options at our tea, including the lemon curd and jam, we prefer our scones plain.

For our "Let It Snow"-themed tea I used a snowflake cookie cutter to make these scones. I brushed them with water and sprinkled with baking sugar for a little sparkle.

The day after our tea found me done with chores, ready to relax, do a little reading, and with some leftover lemon curd. I baked a batch of scones, brewed a pot of tea and had a little quiet time. Such a nice treat!

"Classic" Cream Scones

Add 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh grated lemon peel to the dry ingredients as a great way to have lemon with your tea!

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, chilled
1/2 cup (heavy) whipping cream
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup currants or raisins (optional)
1 egg mixed with 1 teaspoon water for glaze (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes and distribute them over the flour mixture. With a pastry blender or two knives used scissors fashion, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles course crumbs. In a small bowl, stir together the cream, egg, and vanilla. Add the cream mixture to the flour mixture and stir until combined. Stir in the currants or raisins, if desired.

With lightly floured hands, pat the dough into a 1/2-inch thickness on a lightly floured cutting board. Using a floured 2 1/2-inch-diameter round biscuit cutter or a glass (or a cookie cutter), cut out rounds from the dough and place them on the prepared baking sheet. (Alternately, the round can be cut into wedges.  Do not separate the wedges until after baking). Gather the scraps together and repeat until all the dough is used. Lightly brush the tops of the scones with the egg mixture, if desired.  Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Serve warm or cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Monday, January 26, 2015

"Let It Snow" Tea Party!

The females on my Dad's side of the family have been gathering for a tea party for nine years now.  Normally, we get together the Saturday after Thanksgiving weekend.  This year we had so many conflicts (granddaughters performing in the Nutcracker, grandson due to be born, work commitments), that we postponed our party to January. Details from last year's party is here: 2013.

I usually plan my theme pretty far in advance, it allows me to organize and craft things at a leisurely pace or buy things on sale. After last year's event I decided on a "Let It Snow" theme.  I bought Christmas ornaments and was going to decorate a snowflake tree in the dining room.  With the date change I had to switch things up a bit but the theme easily works in January, too!

This year we had 16 in attendance.  The oldest in attendance were in their late 70's, my 8-month old great-nephew was the youngest. I provide the setting, do the set-up and decorating, make the scones, lemon curd, jam, and provide the tea.  Everyone else brings a sweet or savory to share, some often bring one of each. We always have more food than we can eat.

My cousin, Robin, crocheted these mittens. After the tea, each guest got to take theirs home.  They have a little loop on them so can be hung on a Christmas tree as a remembrance of our day. They are just adorable!
I took a little twist with the kids' table and went with "Let It Go"! to honor the popular movie, Frozen. I told everyone ahead of time so the girls knew to wear their Anna & Elsa outfits. Olaf, was present on the cake!

I love hosting this event. We all have busy lives and this provides an opportunity to gather and enjoy each other's company.  It is my fervent wish that the following generations will carry on the tradition we are building. I would love to be in attendance at a family tea someday hosted by a granddaughter! Even if they don't carry on with this I hope that the memories made during our teas will bring fond memories of all the wonderful women in our family.

I am linking up at A Stroll Thru Life "Inspire Me Tuesday" 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Boilermaker Chili

Football season is winding down to an end.  As always, I will have some withdrawals once the last play is done. I love my football!  I have to admit I kind of checked out of football a month back when my Forty-Niners were eliminated. Oh, I still watch, I'm just not glued to my seat for every play. All activity will grind to a stop in our home when the Super Bowl kickoff happens!

We have hosted many football gatherings over the years.  I like to serve soup or chili at them.  They make a lot and can be made ahead of time, which leaves more time for football watching. A girl has to have her priorities, being stuck in the kitchen during a game is not one of them!

This recipe was originally posted on the All Recipes web site.  The  poster is a Purdue Boilermaker fan, thus the name.  I've adapted it to our tastes. This makes a lot of chili, enough for a big crowd or for leftovers. Like most chili, it tastes better the longer it cooks so I usually make it the day ahead. It freezes wonderfully, too. For an easy dinner I thaw some chili and use it to top a baked potato.
Chili, cheddar cheese & Fritos. Yum!

If you are hosting a Super Bowl party, consider adding this chili to your menu!

Boilermaker Chili

2 pounds ground beef
1 pound bulk Italian sausage
3 (15 ounce) cans "chili beans in a spicy sauce", drained
1 (15 ounce) can "chili beans in a spicy sauce", UNDRAINED
2 (28 ounce) cans diced tomatoes with juice
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped (she doesn't use)
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
4 cubes beef bouillon
1/2 cup beer
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce (e.g. Tabasco™)
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (add to taste)
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 bag corn chips such as Fritos®
1 (8 ounce) package shredded Cheddar cheese

Heat a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Crumble tthe ground chuck and sausage into the hot pan, and cook until evenly browned. Drain off excess grease.

Pour in the chili beans, diced tomatoes and tomato paste. Add the onion, celery, green and red bell peppers, chile peppers, bouillon, and beer. Season with chili powder, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, oregano, cumin, hot pepper sauce, salt, pepper, cayenne, paprika, and sugar. Stir to blend, then cover and simmer over low heat for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

After 2 hours, taste, and adjust salt, pepper, and chili powder if necessary. The longer the chili simmers, the better it will taste. Remove from heat and serve, or refrigerate, and serve the next day.

To serve, ladle into bowls, and top with corn chips and shredded Cheddar cheese.

I don't buy many canned items; tomatoes and beans being one of the exceptions.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Orange Marmalade

I came to love orange marmalade as an adult. I like it on toast or a biscuit, but prefer other jams and jellies for that use. I love to cook and bake with it. Orange marmalade rolls are one of my favorite baked things. I've been eyeing a marmalade-honey cake that I want to try but I'm out of marmalade.  Like most things, I think homemade is best so I proceeded to make a batch.  Citrus is about the only in-season fruit right now so this is a good time of year to make this.
My favorite orange marmalade recipe comes from Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa. She originally got it from another foodie, Anna Pump. It's not too sweet, not too tart. It's very easy to make, most of the preparation time is letting it simmer on the stove. While simmering, the house becomes saturated with the wonderful smell of citrus.  No candles or potpourri needed on this day! 
Lots of juicy citrus!

After the first boil, let sit overnight.

Orange, sticky, goodness, ready for the jars!

Anna's Orange Marmalade

4 large seedless oranges
2 lemons
8 cups sugar

Cut the oranges and lemons in half crosswise, then into very thin half-moon slices. (If you have a mandolin, this will be quite fast.  I have one but it intimidates me, I have scraped too many knuckles!) Discard any seeds.  Place the sliced fruit and their juices into a stainless-steel pot.  Add 8 cups water and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring often. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until it dissolves.  Cover and allow to stand overnight at room temperature.

The next morning, bring the mixture back to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for about 2 hours. Turn the heat up to medium and boil gently, stirring often, for another 30 minutes. Skim off any foam that forms on the top. Cook the marmalade until it reaches 220 degrees F on a candy thermometer. If you want to be doubly sure it's ready, place a small amount on a plate and refrigerate it until it's cool but not cold.  If it's firm -- neither runny nor to hard -- it's done. It will be a golden orange color. (If the marmalade is runny, continue cooking it and if it's too hard, add more water.)

Pour the marmalade into clean, hot Mason jars; wipe the rims thoroughly with a clean damp paper towel.  Seal with hot lids. (I invert my jars for 5 minutes. They will "pop" as they cool down and seal.) Store in the pantry for up to a year.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Cheese Tortellini and Kale Soup

I love soup and stew, especially in the cold winter months. They are usually easy to make and not easily messed up. My last few attempts at a bowl of something warm have been lackluster, to say the least. While at my son and daughter-in love's recently, I made stew. It turned out more like stew soup. I made clam chowder one night and it was more like flavored water. I thought there was no more flour in the kitchen, turns out I didn't know where to look! My excuse, on both occasions, is that it's hard to work in another woman's kitchen and I was more concerned with holding my newborn grandson. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

It's been very foggy here lately, the kind of fog that doesn't burn off, we don't see the sun, the damp just permeates a person. Perfect soup weather. After the above-mentioned mishaps I was almost afraid to attempt making soup. Third time is the charm, I guess, as this soup was pretty good.

I found the recipe on Taste of Home.  I modified it by adding carrots and eliminating the water called for. I used bulk Italian sausage instead of links and didn't add the extra olive oil the original recipe calls for. The original recipe is here. I think a can of crushed tomatoes would be a nice addition, next time I will try that.

The soup is full of all sorts of good-for-you-things such as carrots, kale, beans. Don't be afraid to try the fennel, it cooks to a mild flavor.
Once everything is prepped, making the soup is very quick.
To go with this nutritious meal I made corn bread.  I'm pretty sure the calories in the cornbread, butter and honey outweighed the benefits of the soup.  Sigh.  Besides, I needed an excuse to use my little skillets again. Remember them?

Cheese Tortellini and Kale Soup

3/4 pound mild Italian sausage
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup chopped fennel bulb
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 cartons (32 oz. each) reduced-sodium chicken broth
4 cups chopped fresh kale
1 can (15 oz.) white kidney or cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 package (9 oz.) refrigerated cheese tortellini

In a large saucepan, cook the sausage, onion, fennel, garlic, carrots, thyme and pepper flakes until sausage is no longer pink; drain.  Add broth; bring to a boil. Boil 5 minutes.

Stir in kale and beans; return to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, until kale is tender.  Add tortellini; simmer, uncovered, for 7-9 minutes until tender.

Season with salt and pepper.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Sweetness of Forgetting - Book Review & Cupcakes

I love to read or live to read, not sure which one it is. My day is not complete if I don't have at least a few minutes of reading time. Ideally, this reading time is with a good book, but a magazine or blog will work. Reading relaxes me.

I recently finished reading The Sweetness of Forgetting by Kristin Harmel.  The main character, Hope, owns a bakery in Cape Cod. The bakery had once belonged to her Grandmother who is now suffering from Alzheimer's disease.  With urging by her Grandmother, Hope travels to Paris and begins to uncover secrets her Grandmother has carried for over 70 years.  It's a story of lost and found love, the Holocaust, new relationships.  I really enjoyed it. 

Interspersed throughout the book were recipes from the fictional bakery.  Most of the recipes have a Jewish or Muslim background, so they are a little unusual, not things I would be inclined to make. My Granddaughter spent the night and, as usual, asked if we could bake something. I remembered that the book had a recipe for simple vanilla cupcakes.  I had a full day of plans and chores ahead of me so this recipe allowed me to play in the kitchen with her but not spend all day baking. The bakery makes the cupcakes with pink frosting, my Granddaughter wanted purple, so purple is what she did!  
My Granddaughter is four.  Anytime we bake I try to incorporate numbers, counting and measuring into our baking time.  She doesn't realize that I'm schooling her and I can see results.  Today, as we were using the Kitchenaid mixer, I told her to turn the mixer to number 4.  She did and I was impressed.  We turned the mixer off and I added the flour.  Before I could tell her we would start with number 2, she had turned on the mixer to 4 and we had a flour explosion! This was her face after she turned the mixer off.  We had a good laugh and then I taught her how to clean up! There are all sorts of life lessons to be learned in a kitchen!
The cupcakes have a nice vanilla flavor and use common ingredients. No running to the store for a special ingredient to make these! We only used half a recipe of the frosting as we didn't need all that sugar. More frosting would have made a prettier-looking cupcake but we had enough mess in my kitchen for one day, anyway!

I sent the cupcakes home with her, to give to her Mommy & Daddy.  She was so proud of them!

North Star Vanilla Cupcakes

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar using an electric mixer. Beat until light and fluffy, then beat in eggs one at a time.  Beat in vanilla extract and mix well.

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt, and add to the butter mixture, about a cup a time, alternating with milk.

Fill muffin cups about halfway.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, or just until a skewer inserted through the top of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in pan, then move to wire rack to cool completely.  Once cool, frost with pink icing.

Pink Icing
1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
4 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 teaspoon milk
1-3 drops red food coloring

Beat the butter in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

Gradually add the sugar and beat until well blended.

Add the vanilla and milk and continue to beat until well-blended.

Add one drop of red food coloring and beat well to incorporate.  If you'd like the icing to be a deeper pink, add one or two drops more, and  beat after each drop to incorporate.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Birthday Treats for Harley!

My buddy is 12 today. I find myself being very melancholy about this birthday as I know there won't be many more.  He is 100% deaf, his eyes are glazing over, he has major anxiety if he can't see me. Yet, he still runs and plays (just not as long as he used to!), loves to play with his stuffed animals, and chase the birds (he hasn't caught one yet!) He was supposed to be my children's dog.  They left for college and life, I got left with the dog.  Everyone who is around me knows I adore him and he adores me. I will be crushed when it's time to tell him goodbye!

But, it's not time for goodbyes yet, just spoiling! For his birthday he got a treat of Pumpkin Dog Biscuits. They are easy to make and much better for him than the boxed treats (which he gets plenty of!)
 Happy birthday, Harley!

Pumpkin Dog Biscuits

2 eggs
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dry milk
2 1/2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Blend eggs and pumpkin together; add salt, dry milk, and flour.

Add water, as needed, to make the dough workable (I used 3 tablespoons). The dough will be dry and stiff.  Mix with a wooden spoon, it is too stiff for an electric mixer.

On a lightly floured surface, roll to 1/2" thick.  Cut into shapes with knife or cookie cutter.

Place 1" apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes on one side, then turn over and bake another 20 minutes.

Cool completely before giving to your pet.  Keep in a covered container, will last 7-10 days.
Doesn't every well-stocked kitchen have a dog bone cookie cutter?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Sweet Scents

On New Year's Eve our grandson arrived in the world. He is a healthy little bundle of joy and Mommy & baby are both doing well.  My son and daughter-in-love live about four hours away from us.  I've been blessed to be able to spend the past five days welcoming this little guy into the world and assisting his parents.  I've been cooking, baking, cleaning, helping with late nights and holding him every chance I got.  Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and I had to come back home. This morning, before leaving,  I baked banana bread cinnamon rolls.  As I was holding the baby one last time the scent of the rolls was wafting throughout the house.  Though the rolls were good, their scent couldn't compare to that of this newborn. Sweet bliss!
My son loves banana bread.  My daughter-in-love loves cinnamon rolls.  When I found this recipe I knew I had to make them because it combines both! The banana taste in these is very subtle and the rolls don't seem as sugary-sweet as a traditional cinnamon roll. When I left the house half of the rolls were already gone so I think they were a success.
Once again, I made the rolls the night before and let sit in the fridge for the evening.  I let them sit at room temperature about an hour this morning, before baking. It's such a great way to have a fresh-baked yeast treat without getting up in the wee hours of the morning.  I'm all for conserving sleep especially since I wasn't getting much with helping to care for a newborn!

Banana Bread Cinnamon Rolls

3 medium overripe bananas
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2/3 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons butter, diced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast (one packet)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg yolk
3 3/4 cups bread flour, divided
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Cream Cheese frosting ingredients:
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
6 tablespoons butter, softened
2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-3 teaspoons milk

Puree bananas in a food processor along with 1 teaspoon lemon juice until mixture is smooth and no chunks remain; set aside (you should have just over 1 1/3 cups pureed bananas).

Heat milk and 3 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until butter has melted.  Remove from heat and pour mixture into the bowl of an electric stand mixer.  Whisk in vegetable oil and allow mixture to cool to 110 degrees.  Whisk in yeast, stirring until dissolved and allow mixture to rest 5 minutes.

With the paddle attachment, mix in sugar, salt, egg yolk, 2 cups bread flour and pureed bananas.  Switch mixer to a hook attachment, add 1 1/2 cups bread flour and cornstarch. Using hook attachment, knead mixture on medium-low speed until a smooth and elastic dough forms (dough will be sticky). Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

In a small bowl whisk together the brown sugar and cinnamon; set aside.

In a separate small bowl, whisk together remaining 1/4 cup bread flour and baking powder.  Return bowl with dough to electric stand mixer, pour in flour/baking powder mixture and knead dough with hook attachment until mixture is well blended and smooth. Roll dough out on a floured surface to a 16 x 20-inch rectangle.  Spread the softened butter over the dough.  Sprinkle top evenly with brown sugar mixture, coming within 1/2 inch of all edges.  Starting on the long side, roll dough tightly.

Cut rolled dough into 12 equal pieces. Arrange rolls in a buttered 9x13-inch baking dish.  Cover baking dish with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake rolls in preheated oven for 22 to 26 minutes until golden.  Allow to cool slightly then frost with cream cheese frosting.  Top with nuts, if desired.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

6 ounces cream cheese, softened
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
2-3 teaspoons milk

In a large mixing bowl, whip together cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add vanilla and powdered sugar and mix until smooth. Mix in enough milk to get a smooth frosting consistency.