Monday, April 25, 2016

Buttercream Flower Birthday Cake

This was my birthday cake.  I'm very pleased with how it turned out.  I got the buttercream flower tutorial from Jenny at SpoonForkBacon.  Gotta give credit where it's due.

I used this recipe for the cake and icing.  I love it and have used it many times with great success.  I usually get a little sinkage in the cake but nothing a bit of icing can't fix.  This was the first time I made the icing in that recipe and was convinced I wouldn't have enough but it was the perfect amount.  I should know to never doubt Ina.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Old Fashioned Apple Pie

Pie Preparation

Fall is back and I came up with a new version of my mom's classic apple pie and decided to share it.  Also, just to comment on my lame photography skills...I work so the only time I can take pictures is at night and it gets dark here early now.  Anyway, I figure I'll learn more as I go along and hopefully one day I'll look back upon these photos and cringe more than I do now.

Back to pie.  I've always made the same pie crust, same filling as my mom did.  The more I learned about pie, the more I've wanted to try new things.  I used this pie crust recipe from the Pioneer Woman and it's turned out great every time I've used it.  The only change I made is to use vegetable shortening in place of the lard since lard kind of grosses me out more than icky white vegetable shortening.  It's all in what you can stand to deal with.  I keep the butter and the shortening in the freezer so it's really, really cold.  If you think about it, cut the butter into cubes before you freeze it, otherwise you could grate it on a box grater or just get a sharp knife and cut it carefully. 

The secret to the filling of this pie is boiled cider.  I had never made it before but for some unknown reason, I bought some apple cider and nobody drank it which was not a surprise at all.  I don't even know what I bought it for.  Anyway, I decided to boil it down so I could use it in some unforseen project.  This was it.  I added some to the pie filling and it was really, really good.  It's the new thing in the pie.

Anyway, you shouldn't let pie scare you at all.  It's really very forgiving most of the time.  This crust recipe is not fragile.  It's almost springy so it holds together really well.  I always roll my crust out between two sheets of waxed paper.  Roll it from the center out, turning the paper as needed.  Once you get it to the right size to fit in your pan, remove the top sheet and then place it back on and flip the dough over.  Remove the bottom sheet (which is now on top).  Then I flip it over into the pie plate and adjust as necessary and remove the other waxed paper sheet.  Fill the pie and roll out the top crust.  Don't forget the vents in the top!  Those are the cuts that my Grandma and my Mom always made so now I do it too.  You can do it with tiny cutters or whatever you choose.  A quick brush of milk or heavy cream if you've got it and then into the oven.  I don't even like pie and I ate this.

I've been adding boiled cider to all of my apple desserts ( crisp and apple pie).  I'm not much of a fruit dessert person but I think it makes a really big difference and it's delicious.

Apple Pie

6 cups Granny Smith Apples (or combo of apples of your choice), peeled, cored and sliced
1 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons flour
1 Tablespoon cinnamon (plus some...all of my mom's recipes say plus some at the cinnamon)  I just give it an extra shake (for those who like to measure - 1 T + 1 t)
3 (or more) Tablespoons boiled cider (optional) - see instructions below
2 Tablespoons butter, cut into tiny cubes

1 pie crust (recipe below)

Prepare your pie crust as directions indicate, lining the bottom of the pie plate with dough.

Toss apples, sugar, flour and cinnamon in a large bowl until well combined.  Put the apples into the prepared pie crust.  Dot the top of the apples with the butter.  Top with other pie crust.  Crimp edges.  Bake at 375 for about an hour.  If the crust is browning too much, cover it lightly with foil during baking.  I find it best to put the pie in the oven on a sheet pan (preferably lined with a silpat or parchment for easy clean up).  Otherwise, the floor of your oven may suffer from overflow and that is never a good thing. It's a smoky mess.  My grandma used to say that the only good pie was one that overflowed so I stand by that and always use a silpat.

Let cool, slice and enjoy.  If you cut it too soon, all the juice runs everywhere.  Just ask my son.  He found out the hard way.  I store this in the refrigerator.

Pie Crust

This makes enough for a double crust pie

2 1/2 cups all purpose or pastry flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon sugar (for a fruit pie only)
3/4 cup cold butter, cut into chunks or grated on a box grater
1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening or leaf lard, cut into chunks
1/4 cup ice cold water

Place 2 cups of flour, salt, & sugar if using in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse to mix.  Put in the butter and shortening and pulse until it looks like big crumbs and is starting to come together.  You can do all of this in a bowl with a pastry cutter if you want.  It's just quicker in a processor.  Now add 1/2 cup flour, pulse a couple of times and then add the water.  You just want the dough to just come together.  No overmixing.   You can take the dough out of the food processor and add the water and stir with a wooden spoon to avoid overworking the dough.  Too much messing around will lead to a tough dough.

Separate the dough into two equal pieces and flatten to a disk.  You can wrap these in plastic wrap and put in a freezer bag to use later or get some waxed paper or parchment paper and roll them out right away.  If your dough is really sticky, sprinkle the paper with a bit of flour.  Roll out to the desired diameter.  Start from the center and roll outward, turning the paper as needed.  Place into pie pan and put in refrigerator while you make the filling.  Roll out second disk of dough, cut out vents if necessary.  Place on top of pie, crimp and bake!

Pie recipe is from my mom.  The boiled cider is from the Washington Post and the pie crust is barely adapted from The Pioneer Woman.  All are linked above.

Happy fall and don't be afraid of pie.  It looks impressive even if it's messy because it's homemade.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Cookies 101 - Part 1

I make a lot of cookies.  Probably less than some blogger types but considerably more than the average person who never makes cookies or does it on special occasions only.  I make at least one batch a week.  Mostly two.  Gotta have those lunch box cookies and fortunately I have two teenage boys who can eat a full meal, complain about being hungry and then eat dinner.  It's a gift that they have.  Anyway, I always bring cookies to family things, school things, even just sometimes because I feel like it and I bring cookies to my friends for no reason at all.  They don't seem to mind.

Probably the biggest question I get is "why are your cookies always better than mine".  The snarky answer is because mine are filled with love.  The real answer is that you're baking them too much.  If you pull a cookie sheet out of the oven and the cookies look perfectly done (see photo), they're already too far gone.  They continue to cook on the baking sheet after you remove them from the oven so they will be over baked by the time you get them on the cooling rack.  You need to take them out when they're kind of gooey looking in the middle.  Don't be afraid of the raw middle.  It's your friend. 

That's my tip of the day.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Like most people, I have lots of things that I'd like to be better at this year than last.  2014 was not a kind year to our family so I'm hoping that things will be a little smoother this year.

My first big thing to learn is how to be a better photographer.  It's readily apparent that I'm not very good at it.  Just take a look at my crumb cake pictures.  Also, it's hard to photograph food at night and since I don't get to stay home all day, sometimes I only have the evenings.  And I don't have any professional lighting.  Just a Nikon DSLR and a couple of lenses.  Anyway, that's my first thing to improve upon.

The second thing I need to do is stay away from the sugar/carbs and wine.  I have a sweet tooth like nobody's business.  It's a shame really.  I KNOW I shouldn't eat so much sugar and I exercise all the time.  Like 5 or 6 days a week and I'm not happy with myself.  (I know it's not about how you look but how you feel...still...I'm extremely hard on myself.  Always have been).  In order to help with this I'm trying to cut down on eating the sweets.  I have two teenage boys who can eat all the time so I'll still bake stuff.  I just won't eat all of it.  I also just ordered a veggie spiralizer.  It's coming tomorrow.  I realize it's probably stupid but I thought I might try it out for a replacement for spaghetti.  I'll let you know how it goes.  Could be fun.  I'm on a mission to keep my hand out of the cookie jar and far away from the carbs that don't really do much for you.  At least for a few weeks!

Besides those two things I would really like to take this year as an opportunity to entertain more and try to not flip out about all of the things that aren't perfect in my house.  Unless I win the lottery, there is always going to be something that's less than perfect.  It's just life.  I would like to have more fun this year so hopefully we can make some time to do something once or twice a month.  As I mentioned above, we had a rough time in 2014 so we're trying to make an effort to carve out some fun stuff this year.  Plus, will anyone really remember if your baseboards are perfectly dust free or will they remember that they had good food and good company?  Hopefully the latter.

My final thing I would like to improve upon is this blog.  I would love to be able to be organized enough to post a couple of times a week.  That's my goal anyway.  I'm giving myself the month of January to get things together and then I'll see how it goes.  It's good to have goals!

I hope everyone had a lovely holiday season and your 2015 is starting off in a positive way.  Did you make any lists or resolutions?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

New York Crumb Cake

I grew up in a suburb of New York City.  It was a lovely place to live.  Just a train ride into the city for all the culture you could ever want but very suburban when you went back home.  New York was the center of the universe.  Bagels like no other, roasted chestnuts on the sidewalks...they definitely have a smell unlike anything else...I don't think I ever actually ate them.  And crumb cake.  Delicious, lovely, buttery crumb cake.  I was blissfully unaware that crumb cake was not available across the universe until I went to college in Indiana.  It appears to be big in NY and the shore towns of South Jersey.  Who knew?  Anyway, there was always Drakes but bakery crumb cake is a thing of beauty.  I have spent the last 30 plus years trying to find a recipe that makes a crumb cake the way I remember it to be. 

It finally happened.  I've tried Martha Stewart, Carole Walter (who has a lovely crumb cake recipe in her book that is fabulous but it's not the NY style one I was looking for but I've made it a bunch and it's really good), various online recipes and then I got a Cakespy email with new posts.  She posted one that came from the Food Maven.  The angels sang, the heavens opened and the recipe was "the one".  I've made it at least 6 times since I got it.  The kids love it, I love it.  You can freeze it.  You can substitute greek yogurt (even the non fat stuff) for sour cream because you don't have any and it's still great.  It has a lot of butter in it.  You've been warned.

New York Crumb Cake
Original Recipe from The Food Maven, adapted slightly from Cakespy
Makes one 9″ by 13″ cake



  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 ½ cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter (or use salted if that's all you have.  I do it all the time)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting the top (optional)

For the cake

  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon plus 1 pinch salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sour cream

For the topping: In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
Mix with the brown sugar. Set aside.In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. When melted, pour on top of the dry mixture. Add the vanilla. Stir with a fork until the mixture comes together to form small crumbs (if you clump it in your hand, it should easily form crumbs). Set the crumb mixture aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Place a rack in the middle of the oven.  Coat a 9″ by 13″ pan with non stick spray.
For the cake:
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or using a hand mixer), cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar, and continue mixing until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes in a stand mixer. Don't skimp on this.  It takes time.  Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed using a rubber spatula.  Add the eggs, one at a time, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl with each addition. Add the vanilla. 

Reduce the mixing speed to low. Add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternately with the sour cream, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Continue scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Blend only until combined. The batter will be thick.  Spoon the batter into the well-greased pan and smooth with a flat rubber spatula.

Now comes the fun part.  Take a handful of the crumbs and break on top of the unbaked cake. Continue, making crumbs of your desired sizes all across the surface of the cake. You need to cover all of the surface with crumbs, or the cake may bubble over the crumb mixture. That is not pretty and nobody wants that piece because it doesn't have the good stuff on it.  Gently pat the crumbs into the batter with your hand or a wooden spoon, but don’t sink them all the way into the batter, just pat them down a little bit.

I hope you don't have a horrible looking hand like I do in this picture.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown on top and begins to shrink from the sides of the pan. Remove from the oven and place the pan on a wire rack to cool. If desired, dust the top with confectioners’ sugar. Once cool or just lightly warm, slice into squares.
Store leftovers, well wrapped, at room temperature for up to 3 days.  It also freezes well.  I wrap the pieces individually and store them in a zip top bag.

The cake was good even if my photography wasn't.  Sorry.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Baked Chocolate Cake (Donuts)

I'll let you in on a secret.  I don't really like donuts.  I know.  I'm apparently crazy.  Someone on my unit owns a Dunkin Donuts and will occasionally leave donuts right outside of my office, which is quite nice, however I never, ever eat them.  There are many reasons for this.  First and foremost they have too many calories and are not enjoyable enough for me to be bothered with.  I could go on forever about the multitude of atrocities that donuts have committed but I'll spare you my rant.  Second, my office door has the credentials "Registered Dietitian" on it which would make me a really bad example.  But I don't even need a second reason.

Anyway, this recipe is called a donut but really it is a cupcake in disguise.  They're cute, they're chocolate and they're from Joy The Baker.  I just like my picture.  I'm a frosting girl at heart so if I want a cupcake, I really want the frosting more than the cake so that's a drawback if you're like me.  These are really nice though and everyone in my house liked them.  Like most donuts, they are best the day you make them.  I'm really selling this recipe.  Don't be like me.

By the way, who decides if they're donuts or doughnuts?  Homer Simpson?  Mr. Dunkin?  I wish I knew.  I'm very open to either spelling.  I pride myself on my open mindedness. 

Maybe you should just go make some and formulate your own opinion.  It'll be fun.

Baked Chocolate Doughnuts with Chocolate Glaze
makes about 6 doughnuts
recipe adapted minimally from Joy The Baker
This is halved from her recipe because I knew I didn't want a lot sitting around and my kids are weird so you never know if they'll eat something or not  (they did).

For the Doughnuts:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted until just browned
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the Chocolate Glaze:
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
color jimmies

Preheat oven to 325  degrees F.  Spray a doughnut baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, and brown sugar.
In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg, melted butter, and vanilla extract until thoroughly combined.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold together until all of the ingredients are well combined.  Scrape the bowl well.  Use a small spoon to portion batter into the prepared doughnut baking pan.  Each doughnut mold should be about two-thirds full.  Bake doughnuts for 11 to 13 minutes or until a skewer inserted into one of the doughnuts comes out clean.  Remove from the oven.  Allow to rest for five minutes before inverting doughnuts onto a wire rack to cool completely.  Allow doughnuts to cool completely before glazing.
Repeat the baking process until all of the batter is turned into doughnuts.
To make the glaze, in a medium bowl whisk together powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and salt.  Add 2 tablespoons of milk and all of the vanilla extract.  Whisk to combine.  Mixture may be thick.  Add milk, a teaspoon at a time, until the glaze is thick but still pourable.
Dip each doughnut (I dipped the bottom side) into the chocolate glaze.  Shake off some of the excess glaze.  Return to the wire rack and sprinkle with color jimmies.   Allow to rest a few moments for the frosting to harden slightly. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Porch Project


We have a  lovely wrap around porch on our house.  We had the floor replaced about 6 years ago and it's in desperate need of a coat of polyurethane.  Over the years we've had lots of different porch furniture.  The stuff we inherited from the previous owner which was ugly but comfortable.  The stuff I bought from Restoration Hardware which was really cute punched metal and really went with the house but was incredibly uncomfortable. It was like this.
Finally I got something a little more comfortable from Target a few years ago.  It's holding up well.  It's not my dream furniture but it was affordable and comfortable.  Anyway, my big plan over the very long, cold, snowy winter was to find a piece of furniture that I could use to put stuff on if we have company.  Like a buffet or something.  After scouring Craigslist for many months and not finding much I decided to shop my house and found a bakers rack that I used to use in my old kitchen.  It was sturdy and the perfect size.  I decided to paint it with milk paint.  My initial thought was to use it as a pop of color so I ordered what I thought was coral and a blue/green as a just in case.

It was really, really pink.  It's Miss Mustard Seed Apron Strings.  It's very pretty but it wasn't going to work the way I wanted.  I had also purchased Eulalie's Sky, which is what I ended up using.

Being that I'll never be a blogger, here's the before...which was really sort of on the way to being after but you'll get the idea.  It was just a stained bakers rack, originally all brown!

This is what it looks like after.  

I really like it although I have to admit that I did not love working with milk paint.  This was the first time I used it and I found it very difficult to mix.  I'm sure I'll use it again sometime but it's not the easiest thing to put on a piece of furniture.  I used it with a bonding agent and it still chipped more than I would have liked.  It just gives it a rustic look so it's all fine.

Here's what it looks like in action (or inaction as the case may be).

I like it.  Of course we didn't end up doing a lot of entertaining so I only used it with stuff on it but it'll be good for the future entertaining I'm sure to do next summer.  Yup.  Next summer.