Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The End of an Era

We really don't understand, until we are much older, how people, events, a lifestyle, influence our future.  My Dad has always been an auto mechanic, engine builder and drag racer. From a very young age I've been following in his footsteps at the drag strip and at his shops.  Dad can be rather old-fashioned, even chauvinistic at times, so my knowledge of auto mechanics is limited, he didn't spend much time teaching me those things.  Instead, I was always tasked with the "girl" duties of bookkeeping and tending to office matters.  By the time I was in junior high I was doing much of the business' bookkeeping functions, turning over the books at the end of the month to the accountants' office. Is it any wonder that I became a CPA?

I love drag racing and rarely missed a race. We have traveled all over the country, our family vacations were spent at drag strips. Eventually, I was able to get my own race car, following in the family tradition. My son now drives, the third generation in our family to do so.

For the last almost-twenty years I have spent my Fridays at Dad's shop, doing his accounting work, ordering parts, cleaning cars, loading trailers, whatever it took to keep the race operation running smoothly. As he has aged and slowed down, so, too, has the business.  My all-day Fridays became an hour or so after my 5:30 a.m. Pilates class.  I loved my mornings at the shop, it was quiet and the smell of grease and oil are like the smells of comfort food to me.
Dad is now 84 and we recently sold the shop building. His last race car was sold a few months ago. Today I cleaned out the office, packing things away for storage and shredding. Dad's lifelong career is winding down.  My days of working in the shop are over. I'm finding the whole experience to be bittersweet.  The sale of the property has more than insured my parents' financial future but an era has ended for my family.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Tres Leches Cake with Berries

Tacos were on the menu for my first birthday party (many years ago!).  I have no recollections from that party but do know that tacos have been my birthday dinner menu ever since.  The tradition has evolved in that most birthdays, in my immediate family, are celebrated with a taco dinner. My daughter-in-love’s birthday coincided with our first free after-tax season weekend.  It was the perfect time to have the family over and have tacos with all the trimmings! They were so good! Most importantly, it was wonderful to have my family gathered in our home once more! Between grandchildren, children and my parents, we had 12 in attendance.  I loved it! Nana’s house was full once more!

I wanted to make something different for dessert and found a recipe for Tres Leches cake in Ina Garten’s latest cookbook, Make It Ahead.  How perfect was that, a Mexican-style cake after our taco dinner? Tres Leches literally means three milks.  It is a light sponge cake that is drizzled with a mixture of three milks; evaporated, sweetened condensed, and cream.  The milk mixture soaks into the cake overnight.  The cake, surprisingly, isn’t soggy but has a cream-like consistency to it. It was part pudding, part cake. I served it with fresh-from-the-patch strawberries and freshly whipped cream. It was a wonderful dessert!
Tres Leches Cake with Berries

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ cup whole milk
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
1 (12 oz.) can evaporated milk
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
½ teaspoon almond extract
Whipped cream
5 cups sweetened berries (strawberries, or combination of strawberries, raspberries & blueberries)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x13x2-inch baking dish and set aside.

Place the room temperature eggs, sugar, and the vanilla extract in the bowl of an electric stand mixer.  Fit with the paddle attachment, and beat on medium-high speed for 10 minutes or until extra light and fluffy.

While the eggs and sugar are mixing, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a small bowl.

After 10 minutes of beating time, reduce the speed to low, and add half of the flour mixture. Then, add the whole milk, and finally the rest of the flour mixture. Stir with a rubber spatula to make sure that the batter is mixed completely, and pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Smooth out the top and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the cake springs back from the center when touched a cake tester comes out clean.

Place on a wire rack to cool in the pan for 30 minutes.

While the cake cools, whisk together the heavy cream, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and almond extract.

Poke the cake all over with a bamboo skewer, and then slowly pour the cream mixture over the cake, allowing it to soak in before continuing to pour more of the mixture.  Cover the cake and refrigerate for at least 6 hours and up to 5 days before serving.

To serve, cut the cake into slices and top with the sugared berries and whipped cream.
I was beginning to doubt myself at this step, it seemed like so much milk mixture, but the cake absorbed it quite nicely!


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Garlic & Herb Roasted Shrimp

I’m almost embarrassed to say this, but I only cooked one dinner last week. We either grabbed a quick bite on the way home from work, had pizza with our son and his family, or munched on cheese and crackers. I am so anxious to get back in the kitchen again. Only a few more days of tax season left!

A few days ago I was bound and determined to cook a nice dinner.  I knew it had to be something quick and easy as our life is so hectic right now.  I turned to my favorite cookbook author, Ina Garten, and her most recent book Make It Ahead and her Garlic & Herb Roasted Shrimp.

I first began roasting shrimp when I made Ina’s roasted shrimp appetizer.  Roasting the shrimp is so easy.  With this method of cooking, the shrimp has a very nice flavor.  I find sautéing shrimp often makes “rubbery” shrimp.  This is not the case when you roast them!

A good thing about this recipe is the ability to make part of it ahead of time. I prepped everything in the morning and refrigerated until I got home. All I had to do for dinner was throw the pan in the oven and make the side dishes. 

The sauce is very flavorful, with lots of lemon.  I served it with steamed broccoli and angel hair pasta, both of which were enhanced with a little of the lemony butter sauce.  We also had a few slices of sourdough baguette which we dipped in the butter. It was a great dinner!

Garlic & Herb Roasted Shrimp

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons good olive oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic (6 cloves)
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary leaves
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large lemons
2 pounds (8-10-count) shrimp, peeled with the tails on
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Melt the butter over low heat in a medium sauté pan.  Add the olive oil, garlic, rosemary, red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper and cook over low heat for one minute.  Off the heat, zest one of the lemons directly onto the butter mixture.

Meanwhile, arrange the shrimp snugly in one layer in a large (12-inch) round ovenproof sauté pan (or 10x13-inch baking dish) with only the tails overlapping. Pour the butter mixture over the shrimp.  Sprinkle with the sea salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper.  Slice the ends off the zested lemon, cut five (1/4-inch-thick) slices, and tuck them among the shrimp.  Roast for 12 to 15 minutes, just until the shrimp are firm, pink, and cooked through.  Cut the remaining lemon in half and squeeze the juice onto the shrimp. 

Serve hot with toasted bread for dipping into the garlic butter.



Sunday, April 3, 2016

Spring Has Sprung!

After a fairly wet March, we have rolled into April with sunshine, clear blue skies and the signs of spring all around us. Every morning I take a walk through our yard and enjoy the latest changes.  The roses are blooming.  The vines, once frost-bitten over the winter, are showing signs of new growth. Seeds planted in the days before Thanksgiving are now sweet peas with their fragrant flowers. Bees and butterflies are making their annual appearance.  I think Spring is my favorite season.  After a dull winter, with everything dead and brown, it's such a delight to see color again!

Each year I think my old bench won't survive the winter, but I think we'll have this for another season!

A geranium in Grandma McGee's old pot.

The mint plant, also known as the Mojito plant, is ready for another year of refreshing drinks!

The espalier apple tree in bloom.

The tiger lilies are almost ready to open!

Fragrant sweet peas!

The lavender plant attracts many bees!

A very fragrant jasmine vine!

My favorite rose bush, nothing compares to the fragrance of these red roses!

A clematis reaching for the sky (and daffodils done for another year).