Friday, July 31, 2009

Banana Bread (but it's not TWD Banana Bundt Cake...)

We want to eat something for breakfast every day.  It may be a bagel, a bowl of cereal and occasionally - bacon and eggs (but this happens at dinner more often than breakfast).   

One of us (not me fortunately) leaves for work at 6:30 in the morning and usually eats something at the office.   Wanting to put an end to the question "bagel again?",  I got out the trusty "I Am The Bread Of Life" cookbook about 18 months ago and found the perfect solution.... Banana Nut Bread.   The book was put together in 1994 by the good cooks at First Baptist Church in Greenwood, AR and is full of recipes that Grandma might have made if she cooked - which mine did not :-( The recipes aren't necessarily "pretty", "trendy" or "glamorous" - but they are always - always - always very good!

The recipe is simple - bananas (obviously), butter, eggs, sugar, flour, vanilla.   Two things keep this fresh each week (yes, I make it each week)... nuts and chips.   

Pick a nut (pecans, walnuts, macadamia, hazlenuts - maybe mix flavors and sizes).

Choose a chip (chocolate, peanut butter, peanut/butter, butterscotch  - maybe a mix of these too).

In less than one hour there are 4 mini-loaves ready for the mornings!   To really shake things up - a simple glaze can be toasted on the loaves under the broiler......  yum!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Slow Cooked Tomato Sauce

We do - actually - eat more than dessert here!   I will admit that dessert gets a lot of attention - pretty much equal to the main course.... sort of..... maybe.......

Anyways - the tomato plants are churning out fresh tomatoes pretty regularly and I needed a way to use some up and get them off the table.  Tomato sauce made in the slow cooker seemed like a great idea.

Tomatoes and green peppers - fresh off the vine that morning!   

The onions and carrots came from the big box market - our (sort of) "green thumb" couldn't pull these off this year.   They are still in the ground - setting there, waiting, doing nothing - their days are numbered....

The basil's been in the fridge for a few days.   While it looks a little worse for the wear - it was awesome and the smell filled the kitchen.... ahhh!

A glass of wine, some rotisserie chicken and a piece of bread.....  the only thing missing is dessert!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

TWD: Vanilla Ice Cream

I love ice cream....  it is its own food group in my world.   I have never been able to make it at home in a way that made me happy - Blue Bunny Premium Vanilla has a permanent spot in the freezer.   How excited was I after reading some of the adjectives in the P&O....  maybe this was it!?

There were only two things I did not follow to the letter in the directions:
  1. I don't have a fine mesh strainer so I skipped the "strain the custard" step.  This didn't seem like a problem since I couldn't see any curds or chunks in the mix.
  2. Looking at previous P&O for Honey Peach Ice Cream - I added 1.5 tsp vodka to help keep it smooth.
After a few hours in the freezer - we were ready to give it a try.   Just to be safe though - there was a fresh container of BB ready, waiting.....

I was not disappointed - not too much anyways!   With my expectations being described to me as "totally unrealistic" - I do have to admit that this ice cream was a complete success! Everyone loved it and it didn't last 24 hours.   "When are you making more" has become the common ice cream question over the last couple of days.   

The Bunny has not been opened; the Bunny is Blue :-(

I will continue to ponder these questions as I make the next batch.....
  • Did I heat the custard too quickly making it a little "grainy" (in my opinion)?
  • Should it have mixed longer before going into the freezer (see "grainy" concern)?
  • Too much vodka?   Not enough vodka?   
  • What about amaretto - would it have the same effect as vodka?
  • Not enough vanilla flavor?   Would a bean make it better?
and the most important question of all......
  • what can I add in the next batch?  LOL

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thursday morning coffee....

A buddy was going to stop by for coffee this morning.   We usually get together every week to stay in touch with each other's lives and talk about those we feel need to be talked about (we usually solve many of their problems too - ha ha ha)!  He is always willing to try whatever I put on a plate and he is - like my son - a fair and honest critic with a very big sweet-tooth!

Having nothing in the house from the sweet's category for the last couple of days - I decided to make cinnamon rolls.   I also wanted to play around with Dorie's brioche dough since it is a relatively easy recipe.   One idea quickly "morphed" to two and all of a sudden - there had to be lemon rolls too!   I wish I could stay focused........

After the dough rested overnight, I took the trusty rolling pin and rolled two pieces out to "about" 8x12 (can you use the word "artisan" to describe rolled dough?) and stuck them back in the fridge for about 30 minutes. 

I filled the cinnamon rolls with a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon and some pecans.   I was a little afraid that they would not have a good gooey filling since there was nothing in this mix to make them messy.   I added a little butter but should have done something different (see below).

My step-mom makes the world's best orange rolls - but they are a lot of work!   I stole from her recipe (she doesn't like it if I say "inspired" - to her that is some sort of fraud) for the lemon rolls.   The filling was butter, powdered sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice.   As I was putting this together - I thought it would have been tasty to add some brown sugar and cinnamon to the filling.... next time.

A little left over glaze and they were ready!

These were very gooey, messy and delicious - just like the cinnamon rolls will be next time!  

Too bad my buddy had to cancel at the last minute this morning.....   more for us!

Monday, July 20, 2009


I have to say that when I read the ingredient list - I just about skipped this one. There are two words that were a total turn-off.... "unflavored gelatin".   Being a self-professed carnivore it has nothing to do with vegetarian concerns.   It's all about gelatin - I can see nothing worthwhile about this substance (other than homemade marshmallows and a certain strawberry pie)!  I think it's because of the Christmas dinner side-dish nightmare of my youth... shrimp aspic.

Being a good sport and intent to get "out of the box" (hmmmm - I think that is why I decided to participate in TWD) - I set out on this project.   
  • Fresh peaches ripening on the counter sounded like a good idea.
  • Skinning the almonds seemed like way to much work (as described in various comments on TWD) so I used the food processor and ground up almonds with the skin.... I am all about the "artisan" look!
  • The Perfect Party Cake flavored with almond extract instead of lemon seemed like a good way to play around with this recipe.   The extra batter was baked off in 6" pans and frozen for later use.

  • A 4.5" springform pan seemed like the perfect size
  • The note "70 gr" is amount of cake batter I used on this version - it resulted in a 5/8" layer.    In the fridge - there is a "100 gr" version with a 1" cake layer. 
  • There was enough mixture to also make a full 4.5" pan (no cake) and three individual ramekins.

  • I thought about adding a layer of blueberry jam before topping the cake with blanc-manger but choose not to "invest" any more.  I was still trying to get past the image of shrimp aspic that was floating around in my mind (regardless of how tasty the samples were up to this point).

  • A few peaches into the FP along with some sugar, lemon juice and a little more sugar for a peach coulis.
  • Version #2 (the one with 1" cake layer) will have a blueberry glaze on the top.
  • The finishing touches on the non-cake versions are still up in the air..........
I read somewhere that blanc-manger originated in the Middle Ages and was often fixed with chicken, milk, rice and various other seasonings.   They said it was good for the sick.   All this seems to take it back way too close to my shrimp aspic nightmares!  

Thursday, July 16, 2009

It seemed reasonably simple........

The idea was a simple cake to take to the office as a stress-reliever during a busy tension-filled week.  It sounded like "fun" and I thought it would be a great learning experience.   Most off all - it was important that it look good (to me anyways) and taste good!    

The basic premise was a 4-layer frosted chocolate cake filled with pecan/coconut filling.  The chocolate cake and filling came from "Baking Illustrated" (a favorite as it talks about the process involved in fine-tuning the recipe).   I was expecting the frosting would be a challenge...

Well - there is that saying about "best laid plans" (or is it "good intentions"?).   Whatever the case may be, there were a few challenges - but - some great learning opportunities for me!

#1 - While the cakes were baking (no problems so far), I started the pecan/coconut filling.   Not really wanting green accents in the filling - I had to toss the moldy coconut and plan a quick trip (there is no such thing here) to the store.   This was a surprise...  the dacquois wasn't THAT long ago!

#2 - The chocolate cakes didn't rise as much as I hoped and I was hesitant to slice the layers.   No big deal - right?   To get the height I wanted - I pulled an extra white cake layer from the freezer and sliced the top off.   Problem solved (actually, that should be "sort of solved") and the 4-layer chocolate cake became a "3-layer chocolate & white" cake.

#3 - Frosting (this word is starting to scare me).........   On a recent trip to B&N - I checked out Martha's cake book and she used Swiss Meringue Buttercream all the time.  Trusting just about all things Martha, I figured that is the direction I would go!   After one completely failed attempt and another not-so-quick trip to the store for eggs, it was on to batch #2.   This one came out well but did seem a little soft.

#4 - Hmmm, the white cake was 8" round, the chocolate cakes were 9" round.   I figured this out after the first layer was filled and the white cake was stacked.   A serrated steak knife (I later found my serrated kitchen knife in the dishwasher...  why it was there, I am not sure) made quick easy work of trimming the top layer.  Clever I thought not realizing the challenge to come later.....

#5 - The assembled cake now looked like a mutant wedding cake - one big layer and two smaller layers.   A few slices and I had an 8" 3-layer cake!   Again, I was thinking about how clever I was!

#6 - The frosting did not want to stick to the crumbs on the cleverly trimmed chocolate cakes so things got pretty messy (obviously).   Having recently watched a DVR'd episode of Cake Boss - I tried "dirty icing" the cake.   It was dirty - very dirty - but after a few minutes in the fridge to set the frosting - it worked well and I even got a pretty smooth finish on the sides (although it doesn't look that way in photo below).

#7 - Little scraps of butter wrapping accidently left in the frosting do not let piping tips work to their full potential!

Next time, I think I will try a very thin layer of frosting on top and bottom of each layer to help keep the filling "clean".....  any thoughts?



The cake got good compliments and really was a great learning process for me!   I am anxious to try it (or something like it) again soon!

Sunday, July 12, 2009


What did I learn this week?
  • "paucity" -  n.     smallness of quantity; scarcity (
  • "Brioche" - n.    A soft, light-textured bread made from eggs, butter, flour, and yeast and formed into a roll or a bun (
  • "plums"
I had no idea what "paucity" meant.   I am not a student of the English language, but it doesn't really seem like a noun -  more of an adjective or something else.   I don't see how the above definition is either a person, place or thing.   But, I could be wrong.......

Having heard the word "brioche" several times, I had never  thought about it or what it really means.     I can't say that now, but (honestly) can not say that I understand it either...

Plums - hmmm, not so much!   They are too expensive and too "iffy" for my tastes.    There had to be another option (and the good bakers on TWD had a great suggestion).

I settled on a 2-part approach....    

This dough sort of scared me - it was nothing like I had worked with before.   But, I followed the directions and maintained hope for the results.   

The only tart pan that I had was a 14" x 4" rectangle.   The dough fit pretty well (I think) in the pan.   A scrap gave me the ability to separate the two flavors.

I chose blueberries and strawberries.   Both were in the refrigerator and needed to be used.   

Blueberries and home-made blueberry jam

Strawberries and Nutella (thank you TWD bakers)

Even though the pictures are awful - it was sort of "pretty" before its last proofing.

I have no idea if this is how brioche is suppose to look!?   But, I will try these again and do know that they tasted very good.   I am not sure there is a flavor winner in our house (but the Strawberry and Nutella was awesome (and is my favorite)).

An authentic brioche will be tried - first opportunity I have!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A little red, white and blue..... sort of

Inspired by Mike's Independence Cake at GTA Living Out West - I decided to try something new (for me anyways) in the same vein.   Having no star pans - I settled for a plain old 8" round pan and used Martha's Perfect White Cake.   The frosting was her cream cheese frosting - WOW...  what a great combination!

Having just completed my first four piping classes - this is only the 2nd cake I have decorated. I think it came out pretty well.

My plan was to use raspberries for the red but I couldn't find any.   Leftover jam from the TWD: Perfect Party Cake worked just fine.

I thought the spiral pattern was fun and each slice would have some frosting, blueberries and raspberry flavor.   Too bad I didn't scrape off the small star borders and the top shell border - I think I would have liked the result of using a larger tip - say #21...

This cake ended up being 3 layers - each separated with frosting and the same seedless raspberry jam used on the top.   

The frosting was difficult for me to work with (although this could have been a "user error"... ha ha ha) but it was a great experience for me and best of all - it tastes great!

PS - thanks Mike for your input and advice.... both are very much appreciated!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

TWD: Katherine Hepburn Inspired Brownies

These are some of the best brownies I have ever had!   The combination of coffee, cinnamon and chocolate really hit home.   They were rich, moist and gooey - what a great combination - and the only way to improve on it was with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

I had some trouble getting the brownie out of the pan.   After much prodding - it came loose but a few pieces hit the floor (how sad is that???) but otherwise all was good.  Next time - I would probably try to line the entire pan - not just the bottom...    The top was "papery" and the inside was gooey after 28 minutes in the oven (once they cooled - that is about how long the lasted too!).

I substituted semi-sweet chocolate in place of bittersweet chocolate as a personal preference.   Big surprise was the chopped macadamia nuts I found on the grocer's shelf!   I love macadamias and thought it would be a fun change - we were not disappointed!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th of July!

4th of July - our day to celebrate the freedoms we enjoy and usually take for granted (speaking for myself anyways).   Shouldn't we celebrate our freedom and the liberties we have every day? Earlier this year - we decided to fly the flag at our house every day - it is our simple way of saying we are proud of this great country!I love to drive up and see it fluttering in the wind...

I came across Martha's flag cookie recipe the other day.   Even though I have never worked with royal icing, I decided to give them a try.  They came out much better than I had hoped (the finished pictures really don't do them justice) and best of all - they taste great!

The recipe called for sugar cookies.   Not being a fan of sugar cookies - I used the Swedish Spritz recipe my boys love.   The shape was cut out of  cardboard and I put shipping tape on one side to keep it clean.   To mark the lines for piping the wells - I poked holes in the cardboard - these holes transferred to the dough.   A quick slice with a small knife connected the dots and gave me guides on the baked cookie to follow.

The cookie on the bottom was #1 with piping efforts; top cookie is #16 - big improvement with a little practice!

Blue and white frosting "flooded" into outlines.    This took a couple of hours but with some fun music playing, the time passed quickly (those who didn't care for my vocal contributions as I sang along usually left the room!).

These sat and hardened for about 3 hours while we went out for a late lunch/early dinner.


Thank to all veterans, soldiers and soldier's families for giving us the freedoms we enjoy!  We could not celebrate this day without your sacrifices and hard work!   Happy 4th of July!