Sunday, January 29, 2017

Banana Nut Bread

My Hubbers and I are big banana eaters; there are always some in the house.  Though we eat a lot of them, inevitably we will have some that get too ripe to eat.  Like most bakers, when that happens, I usually make a loaf of banana nut bread.  It's easy, everyone enjoys it, and a loaf is easy to freeze for later use. My go-to recipe comes from an old Betty Crocker cookbook.  It's got both butter and buttermilk so it's very rich and moist. Nuts are optional, but we like them in our banana bread.  We have clients who gift us some of their walnut crop each year so I always have Ziploc bags of walnuts in my freezer. Pecans are good, also.

Buttermilk and I have a love-hate relationship in my kitchen.  I will buy some for a baked good recipe then won't plan properly for other baked goods and it languishes in my refrigerator until I throw it out.  Or I will want to bake something that has buttermilk in it and, alas, there is none in my fridge!  But, there is a cure for that!  It is very easy to make buttermilk at home.  Combine milk and some vinegar, let it sit for 10 minutes or so, and you get a buttermilk substitute.  It is not as thick as regular buttermilk but it's good enough for baking.  Whenever you see buttermilk in a recipe, it's there to act as the acid in the recipe.  When the acid in the buttermilk interacts with the baking soda it leavens the batter, allowing it to rise without yeast, and making the baked goods light and fluffy. So use this buttermilk substitute, no one will know, it's our secret!

Buttermilk Substitute

Combine 1 cup milk with 1 tablespoon white vinegar.  Let sit for 10 minutes, so the milk has the chance to thicken and curdle.

Banana Nut Bread

1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed very ripe bananas (3 to 4 medium)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped nuts, if desired

Move oven rack to low position so that the top of the pan will be in the center of the oven.  Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease bottom of 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.

Mix sugar and butter in a large bowl.  Stir in eggs until well blended.  Add bananas, buttermilk and vanilla.  Beat until smooth.  Stir in flour, baking soda and salt just until moistened.  Stir in nuts. Pour into pan.

Bake about 75 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool 10 minutes.  Loosen sides of loaf from pan; remove from pan and place top side up on a wire rack.  Cool completely, about 2 hours, before slicing.


Combine 1 cup milk with 1 tablespoon white vinegar.  Let sit for 10 minutes, so the milk has the chance to thicken and curdle.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Croissant Bread Pudding

I enjoy bread pudding, my Hubbers hates it.  Consequently, I only get it when we eat out or if I happen to be at my Mom's when she has made one. Recently, one of my food board friends, Martha, made Ina Garten's croissant bread pudding and raved and raved about it.  I knew I had to try it but it had to be a time when I wasn't the only one around to eat it!  As it was my turn to host our neighborhood book club, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try the recipe.  My neighborhood ladies are always indulgent of me making them my culinary guinea pigs and they give me good feedback on my experimentations.  We all loved it, there wasn't a crumb left in our bowls! 

This bread pudding is a little different than most.  Traditionally, bread puddings are made with leftover bread, oftentimes resulting in a dense bread pudding.  Croissants are a little more delicate and lighter.  Instead of being totally absorbed in the croissants, the custard formed a layer on the bottom of the dish.  Ooh, la, la, I loved that! Many bread puddings are seasoned with cinnamon, this had no seasonings, other than vanilla.

I topped our servings with a dollop of rum whipped cream, though any flavor liqueur would be good.  I may try it with Grand Marnier next time. There will be a next time whether my Hubbers wants some or not!
 Croissant Bread Pudding
3 extra-large whole eggs
8 extra-large egg yolks
5 cups half-and-half
1-1/2 cups sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
6 croissants, preferably stale
1 cup raisins
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the whole eggs, yolks, half-and-half, sugar, and vanilla. Set the custard mixture aside. Slice the croissants in half, horizontally. In a 10 x 15 x 2 1/2-inch oval baking dish, distribute the bottoms of the sliced croissants, then add the raisins, then the tops of the croissants (brown side up), being sure the raisins are between the layers of croissants or they will burn while baking. Pour the custard over the croissants and allow to soak for 10 minutes, pressing down gently.

Place the pan in a larger one filled with an inch of hot water. Cover the larger pan with aluminum foil, tenting the foil so it doesn’t touch the pudding. Cut a few holes in the foil to allow steam to escape. Bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake for 40 to 45 more minutes or until the pudding puffs up and the custard is set. Remove from the oven and cool slightly.

Dust with confectioners sugar and serve with rum whipped cream, if desired.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Red Velvet Cheesecake

I previously shared how my Hubbers and I ate at the Cheesecake Factory before Christmas.  He enjoyed a piece of lemon meringue cheesecake which I replicated for our Christmas dinner (recipe here).  While at the restaurant we perused their glass display case of cheesecakes.  I think a person could gain weight just peeking inside!  One of the cheesecakes that caught my interest was a red velvet cheesecake.  It's two layers of red velvet cake with a layer of cheesecake in between.  It's topped with cream cheese frosting and we all know that's a good thing!  My step-daughter loves red velvet cake so I added this to my Christmas dessert menu. It was enjoyed by all.  The colors of the cake lend itself not only to Christmas, but to Valentines Day as well. Oh, what the heck, the red works for the 4th of July, too! This cake/cheesecake combination is decadent and good anytime, but it would be the perfect dessert for an upcoming Valentines gathering.  The cake is huge so make sure to invite plenty of friends, it's a little too much dessert for a romantic dinner for two!

Though red velvet cakes have chocolate in them I would hesitate to call this a chocolate cake.  The chocolate flavor is very subtle.  As with all baked goods, the addition of buttermilk in the batter makes for a very moist cake.  And, yes, 2 bottles of food coloring is used in the cake, it is a very deep red! Red velvet cakes weren't real popular until the movie Steel Magnolias.  If you recall, the groom's cake, in the shape of an armadillo, was a red velvet cake.  Since then, the proliferation of cupcake shops has made this a very popular cake. Adding a layer of cheesecake to it just takes it over the top!

Don't let the length of the recipe intimidate you, each of the steps are easy to do. It does take some time, it is definitely a labor of love to make this, but your guests will appreciate it! The cheesecake layer can be made the day before. The cake is made in one bowl. The finished cake should be refrigerated so can easily be assembled the day before you need it. As with most baked goods, room temperature ingredients are always best.

Red Velvet Cheesecake


2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Red Velvet Cake:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups vegetable or canola oil
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup (two 1-ounce bottles) red food coloring
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons white vinegar

Cream Cheese Frosting:

2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted lightly to remove any lumps
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

To prepare the cheesecake layer:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Place a large roasting pan on the lower third rack of the oven. Place a kettle of water on the stove to boil. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick spray and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.  Wrap a double layer of foil around the  bottom and up the sides of the pan.

In a large bowl, and using an electric mixer, blend the cream cheese until it is nice and creamy. Mix in sugar and salt and blend for 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Add eggs, one at a time, blending after each addition. Mix in sour cream, whipping cream, and vanilla.  Mix until smooth.  Pour into the prepared pan.

Set the springform pan into the roasting pan.  Carefully pour the boiling water into the roasting pan.  Pour in enough water so that about an inch of the foil is under water, being careful not to get water on the cheesecake batter. Bake for 45 minutes.  It should be set to the touch and not jiggly. Remove the cheesecake from the roasting pan and let it cool on a wire rack for at least an hour. When it has cooled, cover the pan tightly with foil and place the pan in the freezer.  Let the cheesecake freeze completely, preferably overnight.

To prepare the cake layers:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two 9-inch round metal baking pans (or spray with baking spray).

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Add eggs, oil, buttermilk, food coloring, vanilla, and vinegar to the flour mixture.  Using an electric mixer, at medium-low speed, beat for 1 minute, until blended.  Scrape sides and bottom of bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat on high speed for 2 minutes.  Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pans, dividing equally.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached. Let cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pans, then invert cakes onto a rack to cool completely.

To prepare the frosting:

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat all frosting ingredients until it is smooth and creamy.

To assemble the cake:

Place one cake layer onto the center of a cake plate or platter.  Remove the cheesecake from the freezer, take off the sides of the springform pan, and slide a knife under the parchment paper to remove the cheesecake from the pan. Peel off the parchment. Measure (by eye) the cheesecake layer against the cake layers.  If the cheesecake layer turns out to be slightly larger than the cake layers, move it to a cutting board and gently shave off some of the exterior of the cheesecake so it will be the same size as the cake layers. Place the cheesecake layer on top of the first cake layer. Place the second cake layer on top of the cheesecake.

To frost the cake:

First apply a "crumb coat" layer of frosting to the cake.  This is done by using a long, thin spatula to cover the cake layers completely with a thin and even layer of frosting. (Be sure to wipe off your spatula each time you are about to dip it into the frosting so you aren't transferring red cake crumbs to the frosting!) Don't worry about seeing the cake through this layer; this layer is meant to be the base for the final layer of frosting. Once a thin layer of frosting has been applied, place it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set the frosting. Once the first layer of frosting is set, apply the second layer. Start by adding a large scoop of frosting on the top of the cake.  Using a long, thin spatula, spread the frosting evenly across the top of the cake and down the sides. Because a crumb coat layer was used there should be no cake crumbs floating around in the final frosting layer. Decorate, as desired. **

**  I didn't do any additional decorating.  You can top with shaved white chocolate, sprinkles, or candy.

Recipe adapted from Food, Folks and Fun.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Winter Birds Table Setting

We recently hosted three couples for dinner. The plans were made on rather short notice so I didn't have a lot of time to think about how I would set the table. For me, part of the fun in entertaining is creating a nice table ambiance. For this occasion I pretty much had to run with what I have in my cabinets. Currently on our dining table is a winter bird table runner that I got from Pottery Barn a few years ago.  It has a lot of browns in it, with little pops of blue and burnt orange. I grabbed some blue Fiestaware plates, which went well with the blue in the table runner, and placed them on white chargers.  The flower mart had burnt orange Gerbera daisies, which really brought out the orange in one of the birds on the runner.  I threw them in some blue mason jars which tied the two colors together even more. A few candles on the table, in clear glass jars filled with bird seed, further enhanced the bird theme. I didn't go too crazy with the decorating as I was serving the food at the table, rather than buffet style. There's no room for food if there's too much stuff on the table! Every thing was a mix 'n match, but it made a nice and informal table setting.

By using items I already had, I didn't blow my budget on new things.  That doesn't mean I was a Saint, however.  I was browsing online, looking for bird salad plates.  Pier 1, which is quickly becoming my favorite store, had these plates showcased on their "new items" category.  They were perfect for my table setting plan so I drove across town to get some. My store didn't have them in stock yet so back home I went without spending a dime! I haven't been back out to see if they have arrived in the store, I'm trying very hard to resist the temptation!

I'm linking up with Tablesetting Thursday.

Monday, January 16, 2017


I'm not a big breakfast eater.  I have to be awake a bit before food even begins to sound good.  By the time I'm fully awake it's time to go to work, so I usually have a bowl of oatmeal or a few slices of toast before heading out the door.  However, breakfasts on the weekends are a different story! I like to make things such as cinnamon rolls, breakfast casseroles, or waffles and eat around mid-morning. Eating late means I get out of having to worry about what's for lunch, too!  I often have ulterior motives!

My Hubbers' favorite breakfast is sausage gravy and biscuits served with scrambled eggs. A real stick-to-your-ribs meal and one he especially enjoys during the winter months. When we are traveling in the RV I usually buy frozen biscuits, but at home I always make my own. In talking to people I'm always amazed at how many people have never made biscuits, they think they are too hard to make.  They are so easy to make and taste so much better than the Pillsbury biscuits in a can!

This is my favorite biscuit recipe.  They are a little unusual in that they have sugar and cream of tartar in them.  The sugar gives the biscuits a little sweetness.  I find some biscuits to be rather bland and I like the addition of sugar in these.  The cream of tartar helps with the rising, the goal being a nice fluffy biscuit. For best results, the butter needs to be cold.  You want to see small pieces of butter in the dough.  When putting the biscuits on the baking sheet make sure the biscuits are touching each other.  Not only does this help them rise, it also means that the sides are soft and flaky like the insides.

I had a cart that needed assembly.  Making my Hubber's favorite breakfast means I now have a workable cart on my timetable!

Biscuits may sound boring but, seriously, is there anything better than a hot buttered biscuit with jam?


3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup ( 1 1/2 sticks) cold butter
1 egg
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the dry ingredients.  Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter in until you have small, pea-sized pieces of butter throughout the mixture.

Add in the egg and milk and mix until the ingredients are just combined.  The dough will be sticky but don't over-work it.

Turn the dough out onto a generously-floured surface.  Sprinkle a little flour on top of the dough so it won't stick to your fingers and knead 12-15 times. Add more flour if the dough is too sticky to work with.

Roll or pat the dough to a 1-inch thickness and cut with a biscuit cutter or glass.  Re-roll scraps.  You should get about a dozen biscuits. Place the biscuits on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Lemon Shortbread Cookies

I have a sweet tooth.  I think I inherited the gene from my Dad.  He needs his piece of chocolate each night.  I'm not a chocoholic like he is, but I do like a little something sweet each day. I can't eat pies and cakes every day or, if I did, I would have to exercise a lot more than I do! Cookies are my go-to sweet.  They are easy to make, easy to pass out to friends and neighbors, and a cookie or two eases my craving for sweets!

After all the richness of Christmas treats I wanted something a little lighter and more plain.  A shortbread cookie seemed perfect.  This particular shortbread cookie has lemon zest and juice in it.  The lemon flavor is very subtle but it gives it a little something extra. These cookies take no time to make and were the perfect sweet treat for my afternoon tea break.

Lemon Shortbread Cookies

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons lemon zest finely grated (I used Meyer lemons)
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg yolk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Process sugar and lemon zest in a food processor for 30 seconds (or make sure the lemon zest is finely grated).

Cream butter, lemon zest-sugar mixture, and salt in a large bowl with a mixer at medium speed.  Add in the egg yolk until well blended, then the egg, vanilla, and lemon juice. Reduce speed to low and slowly add in the flour until just combined. Divide the dough in half and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Working with one batch of dough at a time, roll out the dough to 1/4-inch thickness.  (The dough is sticky so use a well-floured surface or roll between two sheets of waxed paper). Cut out shapes using cutters. ***

Bake until the cookies are slightly golden brown at the edges (about 8 minutes).  After baking, immediately transfer to a cooling rack and cool to room temperature.

***  My Mom bought me this cute cookie stamp a few years ago (thanks, Mom!)  I stamped the dough, then cut out with a round cookie cutter.  If you don't have a cookie cutter, you can also cut out using the open end of a drinking glass.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Moscow Mule

Sometimes I am a little behind the latest trends, I must admit.  Such is the case with a Moscow Mule.  I've been hearing about this drink for months now (probably longer).  I've seen the cute copper mugs on display at stores. The main ingredient in a Moscow Mule is ginger beer. I always veered away from trying one because I can't drink beer.  Can't as in not only do I not like the taste, but it does not agree with me.  Ugh, the reaction I get! Well, come to find out, ginger beer isn't really a beer. Who knew?  It's a naturally sweetened and carbonated, non-alcoholic beverage.  It is produced by the natural fermentation of ginger, yeast and sugar. So, a few weeks back I tried one. Oh, yum! Now I know what all the hoopla has been about! It's a light drink, with a slight ginger flavor and lots of carbonation from the ginger beer.

I've been experimenting and have found a combination that my Hubbers and I like.  Of course, you know I had to get the copper mugs, too!

Moscow Mule

1 1/2 ounces vodka
1 ounce fresh lime juice
4 ounces (approximately) ginger beer
Lime wedge, for garnish

Add the vodka and lime juice to a chilled mug or glass.  Fill the mug with ice.  Add the ginger beer. Stir gently and garnish with lime wedge.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

New Year's Eve Dinner By The Fire

We aren't New Year's Eve party people and have not been out on the holiday since 1983 (I remember because our son was 6 weeks old and it was our first date-night without him!) If we see the ball drop at midnight, it's only because we are watching the New York activities as they happen on our West Coast time zone! We are usually awakened by inconsiderate neighbors lighting off fireworks at midnight, but we quickly go back to sleep. Our dog, Harley, is now deaf so the fireworks no longer bother him! As you can tell, we aren't real lively for this holiday!

I do like to have a nice quiet dinner, to celebrate the end of one year and the anticipation of a new year.  Some years we have another couple or two over, some years it's just us.  This year was just the two of us. We are finally getting some rain and wintery weather here, it's the type of weather where you want to be inside and near the fire.  This gave me the perfect excuse to set up a table in front of the fireplace. The combination of the fire and twinkly lights on the table provided a nice setting for our cozy dinner.

I used my wedding china, Fragrance by Noritake, placed on a gold charger. To avoid making things too formal, I added a decoupaged salad plate with a clock motif. There are some orange and yellows in the fabric that coordinated well with the floral colors on the china rim. Black napkins helped to tie all the colors together, too. A quick run to the fabric store for some sparkly material (on sale for $4.25!) provided our table runner. We have the most wonderful floral mart in town and I was able to get two dozen white roses for $18! (Four days later they still look wonderful!) I told my Hubbers there wasn't a restaurant in town that could provide this sort of ambiance!

The only problem with our fireside dining was (1) there is no kitchen help and (2) it got a little warm sitting next to the fire! Overall, it was a wonderful evening.  We enjoyed a nice dinner and a bottle of our favorite wine. We didn't have to get dressed up, fight the crowds, or worry about drivers who drink and drive. And my Visa charge isn't holding a big restaurant bill! Priceless!

I'm linking up to Tablescape Thursday.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Fabric Decoupage Plates

By now, you know that I love to play with dishes; to mix and match dishes, napkins, and silverware to create fun table settings. I enjoy setting a pretty table for my guests and it's a nice creative outlet to put things together.

Sometimes I get an idea for a table setting but can't find all the pieces to make it work.  Such was the case for New Year's. I wanted to do a table setting using clock plates. A few years ago Pottery Barn had some clock plates.  I didn't buy them at the time, they are now discontinued, and I'm not paying E-Bay prices for them. I remembered that one of my local fabric stores had a display for plates that they made with fabric and Mod Podge, which is a decoupage medium. So I made a trip to the store, bought a few clear glass plates and some fabric. I grabbed their instruction sheet, as well as turned to the internet for guidance. They were very easy to make and I love how they turned out!

I always have Mod Podge on hand, the one I used was for a matte finish.  They make one for outdoor use, which probably holds up to water better, but my store didn't have any in stock. As the Mod Podge is on the back of the plates, you are able to eat off the plates.  To clean, hand wash them gently and avoid soaking them in water, then lay them upside down to dry.

Now that I've done my first few plates, I have many ideas for future plates and chargers.  It's a great way to have special occasion dishes at a very low cost.  Glass plates can be found quite inexpensively at most hobby and dollar stores.

Step 1:  Cut out a fabric circle large enough to cover the plate, about 1" wider than the plate all the way around.  You can lay the plate upside down on the fabric and draw a circle around it.  I stacked two plates together and cut.

Step 2:  Make sure the back of the plate is very clean. Lay it upside down on an old towel or waxed paper.  Using a sponge brush, paint a good even coat of Mod Podge all over the back of the plate.

Step 3: Place a fabric circle, right side down, on top of the plate and gently smooth it out to cover the plate and remove any creases.  You can use a credit card like a squeegee to remove any air bubbles and to make sure everything is stuck tight to the glass.

Step 4:  Paint a light, even coat of Mod Podge over the entire back surface of the plate and allow to dry.  I set them on top of a bowl so they wouldn't stick to my work towel. 

Step 5:  Using very sharp scissors, cut away the excess fabric around the edge of the plates as close to the edge as possible (you could probably trim it with an Exacto knife, too).  Paint another coat of Mod Podge onto the back of the plate. Wait at least 48 hours before using the plates to allow the Mod Podge to set up completely.