Thursday, August 30, 2012

On the Needles

Before I went on vacation I went into a mad frenzy to figure out a knitting project to bring with me.  I simply cannot travel without a good book and a knitting project!  So I scoured Ravelry for something to knit and found Color Affection.  I have been kind-of itching to make some sort of a shawl/wrap type thing but have not been very excited by the lacey ones I have seen.  Color Affection fits the bill!  I love the asymmetrical look to the stripes. 

I must say that the never-ending garter stitches get really old, especially in the second section, which has the two colors of stripes.  One stripe alone is about a zillion stitches long, so I don't make much progress when I sit down to knit! 

However, like I said, it is a work in progress and I'll update you when I am further along!  In case you are interested, I am using Knitpicks Comfy Fingering yarn.  I am allergic to wool (a downright terrible allergy for someone who knits) so it is always a challenge for me to find substitute yarns.  I am enjoying the Comfy yarn, though.  It is soft and easy to work.  I don't usually choose yarns so close in color to ones on a pattern, but it worked out that way this time!

It's so great to have a knitting project again!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Daring Bakers: Pate a Choux Swans!

Yes indeed, I made a pate a choux swan!  Truly, I am as shocked as you are.  

Kat of The Bobwhites was our August 2012 Daring Baker hostess who inspired us to have fun creating pate a choux shapes, filled with creme patisseire or Chantilly cream.  We were encouraged to create swans or any shape we wanted and go crazy with filling flavors allowing our creativity to go wild!

In case the fancy French words are throwing you off, pate a choux is the basis for pastry part of cream puffs and eclairs.  It is the puffy dough that you then fill with yummy cream.  Never in my wildest imagination did I ever think I could create a pate a choux swan, but looky there, I did it!  It really is much easier than it looks!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters

I was astounded to realize recently that we had NO treats in our house.  Nothing.  Not even some cookies hidden away in the freezer.  The clever girl asked for a cookie after dinner and I had to tell her we didn't have anything.  She looked at me like I had sprouted a second head.  "Nothing?!", she said, incredulously.  "Momma, we need to bake some cookies tomorrow!", she exclaimed.  It was a travesty!  Don't get me wrong, we don't have treats every day after dinner.  But usually there is a little something sweet somewhere in our house for a random treat.  It was truly devastating to have no treats.  I felt a bit like Old Mother Hubbard, though luckily my cupboards weren't so bare that I couldn't rectify the situation!

Though 99.9% of the time I make my favorite chocolate chip cookie to fill our treat needs, I have decided lately that I need to branch out and try other cookies.  Back to the cookbooks to find something to try...  And alas, I found Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters in Dorie Greenspan's cookbook, Baking: From My Home to Yours.  Do you have this cookbook?  If you enjoy baking, I highly recommend this book for your shelf.  It is wonderful.

Anyway, this is like three amazing cookies all in one!  A trifecta of yummy cookie-ness!  Peanutbutter?  Check!  Oatmeal?  Check!  Chocolate Chips?  CHECK!!  How can you go wrong?

You know the TWD group I am in?  Well, the cookbook containing this cookie recipe is the first cookbook they cooked through.  I am super sad that I missed that experience and may just have to replicate it on my own sometime.  Drat.  Anyway, since this recipe is part of that book, hundreds of people have baked it and blogged about it!  So when I googled the recipe, I had tons of opportunities to see what different people thought!  The first blog I found noted that she reduced the amount of butter in the recipe by HALF.  Wow.  That is not something I would have been brave enough to try on my own, but I thought it was definitely worth thinking about.  And as I looked at other bloggers posts, I noticed that many of the cookies were flatter than I wanted and had that brown buttery look.  Many people stated that the peanut butter flavor did not really come through, but it tasted more buttery.  Ah-ha.  So I made a big change (in my opinion) to the recipe.  Instead of using 2 sticks of butter, I used 1/2 of one stick and and equal amount of butter-flavor Crisco.  Technically, this equals 1 stick of butter but I wanted to substitute some Crisco because of the melting difference between butter and Crisco.  (For more discussion about this, see my chocolate chip cookie recipe, linked above.) Next time I might even try just Crisco, no butter.  Now we are getting crazy!

Enough talking, let's get baking!  Whisk together oats, flour, baking soda, spices and salt.

Here is my scant amount of butter/Crisco.  The butter is on the left, Crisco on the right.  Imagine, these cookies are supposed to use twice that amount of fat!  It makes me so happy to have found a way to "lighten" up some cookies.  Since there is oatmeal involved, can we call them "healthy"?  No, I didn't think so.

Cream the butter/Crisco with peanut butter, white sugar and brown sugar.  I reduced the total amount of sugar by about 1/3 cup and will do more next time.  Instead of using 2 cups total, maybe I'll try removing another 1/3 cup or something.  Ratio-wise, I'll use more brown sugar than white sugar.  Whenever I make these again, I'll let you know!

Once that is nice and creamy, add the eggs one at a time and then the vanilla extract.  Then slowly add the oat mixture, mixing only until it is all combined.  Stir in the chips.  Don't you love how little kids stand with their tummy's poked out?  It just cracks me up.

Here comes another controversial part.  According to the recipe you should now refrigerate the dough for 2-24 hours.  Wait even longer for cookies?  Agony.  Supposedly this gives you more evenly shaped cookies.  I did refrigerate them for about 2 hours but I don't know that I would do it again.  When cold, the dough is a bit dry and harder to get into the smooshed ball-shape.  And the dryness is not because I used less fat.  There were lots of comments about this in the random blogs I read.  Anyway, refrigerate (or don't) and then scoop the batter into rounded tablespoons and put them on the baking sheet.  Bake 13-15 minutes.

Success!  Puffy, chewy goodness!

Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters
adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours
3 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon 
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg 
1/4 tsp salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature (I used 1/4 cup butter, 1/4 cup butter-flavor Crisco)
1 cup peanut butter--chunky (my choice) or smooth (but not natural)
1 cup sugar 
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar 
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chunks, or 1 1/2 cups store-bought chocolate chips or chunks

Preheat the oven to 350F and position racks to divide the oven into thirds.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk together the oats, flour, baking soda, spices and salt.

Working with a stand mixer, beat the butter, peanut butter, sugar and brown sugar on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition, then add the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the dry ingredients, beating only until combined. Mix in the chips. If you have time and patience, cover and chill the dough for about 2 hours or for up to one day. (This will give you more evenly shaped cookies.)

If the dough is not chilled, drop rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto the baking sheets. If the dough is chilled, scoop up rounded tablespoons, roll the balls between your hands and place them 2 inches apart on the sheets. Press the chilled balls gently with the heel of your hand until they are about 1/2 inch thick.

Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back after 7 minutes. The cookies should be golden and just firm around the edges. Lift the cookies onto cooling racks with a wide metal spatula - they'll firm as they cool.

Repeat with the remaining dough, cooling the baking sheets between batches.

Storing: Wrapped airtight or piled into a cookie jar, the cookies will keep at room temperature for about 4 days. Wrapped and frozen, they'll be good for 2 months.

Substitute soft, moist raisins for the chocolate chunks or just stir in some raisins along with them. 
Toss in chopped peanuts too (salted or not). 

Enjoy triple cookie goodness!  I made mine into an ice cream sandwich.  Mmmm. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Tri-Berry Muffins

The kids group in my neighborhood had a back-to-school pot luck this past weekend.  Though you might think of a pot-luck as a dinner-type event, this was held in the morning at the neighborhood park.  It is way too hot in the afternoons to spend much time outside, so mornings are always best!  Late the night before the event, I remembered that I needed to bring something (there's another shining example of my good planning!) so I scavenged my recipe files for a recipe to make.  I found several that sounded great but this one jumped out as the winner - Tri-Berry Muffins from the Barefoot Contessa.  It just so happened that I had purchased blueberries, raspberries and strawberries earlier that day, so obviously it was meant to be!  And I have to say, thank goodness I had a need to make this recipe!  It is delicious!  Why had I waited so long to pull this out of the files?  It will not stay hidden any longer!

This recipe comes together really fast, so I made them in the morning and brought freshly baked muffins to the pot luck!  Muffins are always the best the day they are made, in my opinion!

First sift together the dry ingredients - flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.   The recipe calls for 3 cups all-purpose flour and I replaced a cup of that with whole wheat flour.  I generally do half all-purpose, half whole wheat but I was lazy and didn't feel like getting out the half cup measure.  Pitiful, I know.  

Then mix melted butter, eggs, and milk together in another bowl.  Here is my epiphany for the day:  if you are going to mix melted butter with milk, the milk needs to be at room temperature even if the recipe doesn't say so.  Otherwise, when you pour the melted butter into the cold milk, the butter hardens up again!  Once the butter hardened up, I put the bowl in the microwave in 5 second intervals and whisked in between, until it was softened up again.  You can see in the picture that there were still hardened pieces in the bowl, but they were individually pretty small and I was scared of microwaving too much.  Lesson learned!  If mixing melted butter into a liquid, make sure that liquid is at room temperature!

Anyway, once the eggs, butter and milk are mixed, pour it into a well in the dry ingredients and stir until it is just combined.  

Add blueberries, raspberries, and chopped strawberries, and the sugar.  Here is what is interesting about this recipe.  Normally, sugar is added with the other dry ingredients.  In this recipe it is added later, and helps to create a nice crunch on the top of the muffin!  I added the amount of sugar called for in the recipe (1 1/2 cups) but next time I'll probably add less.  The berries add plenty of their own natural sweetness so I think I could easily cut down on the sugar.

The muffins bake for 20-25 minutes, and I allowed them to cool while I took a quick shower before heading to the park.  If you look closely, you might be able to tell that some of the muffins got a little browner than the others.  In fact, the browner ones are also less puffy.  I have two muffin pans:  a metal one and a silicone one.  The browner, flatter muffins were baked in the silicone pan.  That is definitely not my preferred pan.  I may have to dump it and just get another normal muffin pan!  

I loaded the muffins in my cupcake carrier (such a handy gadget) and brought them to the pot-luck.  I had hoped to get a picture of someone eating a muffin but alas, they were devoured too quickly!  I did get to have one, and I must admit they are really delicious.  The different types of berries give their different sweet/tart flavors and make nice juicy spots in the muffins.  Each muffin was bursting with berries.  

Tri-Berry Muffins
adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home
3 cups all-purpose flour (I substituted 1 cup whole-wheat, and will do 1 1/2 cups next time)
1 TB baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 TB ground cinnamon
1 1/4 cups milk, at room temperature
2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup fresh raspberries
1/2 cup diced fresh strawberries
1 1/2 cups sugar (could use less)

Preheat the oven to 375F.  Line muffin pans with paper liners.

Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon together in a large bowl.  Stir with your hand to be sure the ingredients are combined.  In another smaller bowl, combine the milk, eggs and melted butter.  Make a well in the middle of the dry mixture, pour the butter/milk/egg mixture into the well, and stir just until combined.  It is okay if there are lumps!  Don't overmix the batter!  Add the fruit and sugar and stir gently to combine. 

Using a 2 1/4 inch ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter into the muffin cups to fill the liners.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean and the tops are nicely browned.  I used a 1 5/8 ounce disher and got 23 muffins, though the recipe says you should get 12-18.  Depends on the size of your scoop!  

A friend of mine who is about to have a baby any day now truly loved them - she said she had to refrain from eating the whole tray!  Yeah!  Anything I can do to bring bliss to a woman in that condition is worth it!  

This recipe is one I'll make again and again.  I think frozen berries would work fine as well, as long as you don't defrost them before putting them in the batter.  And you could use only 1 or 2 types of  berries and switch the types of berries up a bit too!  Versatile and delicious!  Give it a try!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

TWD: Baking with Julia - Popovers

Wow.  What a fun pastry!  This week's Tuesday's with Dorie/Baking with Julia recipe is Popovers!  Seriously, these are so easy and look so cool when they come out of the oven, these need to become a dinner party staple!  Guests will be amazed at your amazing pastry skills and we will keep the ease of this recipe our little secret! Many thanks to Paula of Vintage Kitchen Notes and Amy of Bake with Amy for hosting this great recipe!  I highly suggest that you turn to page 213 of Baking with Julia or visit these two blogs to get this recipe!

To make popovers, you simply dump all of the ingredients into a blender, or have your sous chef do it for you!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Beef with Snow Peas

Yum.  Beef with Snow Peas is a Pioneer Woman recipe and I suggest you give it a go.  It is really tasty and fast to make!  This will probably make it into your "keeper" recipe file.  It made it into mine!

Beef with Snow Peas
adapted from the Pioneer Woman

1-1/2 pound flank steak, trimmed of fat and sliced very thin along the diagonal
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce or tamari
3 Tablespoons sherry or cooking sherry
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger
8 ounces, weight fresh snow peas, ends trimmed
5 whole Scallions, cut into half-inch pieces on the diagonal
salt as needed (use sparingly)
3 Tablespoons peanut or olive oil
crushed red pepper, for sprinkling
brown, jasmine or long grain rice, cooked according to package

Mix together soy sauce, sherry, brown sugar, cornstarch, and ginger in a medium bowl. Add sliced meat and toss. Set aside.
Heat oil in a heavy skillet (iron is best) or wok over high heat. Add snow peas and stir for 45 seconds. Remove to a separate plate and set aside.
Allow pan to get very hot again. With tongs, add half the meat mixture, leaving most of the marinade still in the bowl. Add half the scallions. Spread out meat as you add it to pan, but do not stir for a good minute. (You want the meat to get as brown as possible in as short amount a time as possible.) Turn meat to the other side and cook for another 30 seconds. Remove to a clean plate.
Repeat with other half of meat, allowing pan to get very hot again first. After turning it, add the first plateful of meat, the rest of the marinade, and the snow peas. Stir over high heat for 30 seconds, then turn off heat. Check seasonings and add salt only if it needs it. Mixture will thicken as it sits.
Serve immediately over rice. Sprinkle crushed red pepper over the top if desired.
Printable Recipe

Fast, yummy dinner?  Here you go!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Anytime Vegetable Salad

Introducing Anytime Vegetable Salad.  I have made this salad about a zillion times, and change it up a bit each time.  It's just that kind of recipe.  Throw in a mix of whatever veggies you like and away you go.  It is bright, colorful, healthy and delicious!

Anytime Vegetable Salad
recipe adapted a lot from Gaida De Laurentis, Food Network

2 cups shelled edamame soy beans
1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
8 oz. yellow/red/orange pepper, in inch pieces
8 oz. fresh corn, lightly cooked and removed from cob
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
3 TB extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Spritzes of white truffle oil (optional)

Cook edamame in a large pot of boiling water until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes.  OR, if you purchase the steam-in-the-bag kind, do that instead!  Rinse the edamame with cold water once cooked, then drain well and pat dry.  Repeat with the fresh corn.  Pile all of the vegetables in a big bowl and gently mix them together.

Whisk vinegar, oil, herbs, salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Pour atop the vegetables.  I add a secret ingredient - spritzes of White Truffle Oil.  Yippee!  I found this in the Home Store section of Marshalls for just a couple of dollars and it is awesome.  Spritz this on the top and you get that nice earthy flavor.  Mmmm.  If you don't have such an item, no worries the salad is still great!

Options:  I always use the edamame and tomatoes.  The other veggies, I mix up depending on the season, my mood, whatever.  I have used green beans, artichoke hearts, yellow wax beans, etc.  Whatever makes you happy!  
Printable Recipe

This is great for pot-lucks or parties.  You can easily double the recipe and make it in advance.  If you are worried about the dressing, mix it in a small screw-top jar and add prior to serving.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Anniversary Cake Project: I did it!

Additional installments of the Anniversary Cake Project:  lemon cake, lemon curd, lemon butter-cream icing

Ta-da!  Success!  I can hardly believe it!  I guess my Hermione Granger moments paid off, as all of my research really did help me create a tiered cake!

I brought the cake to my parent's church in the separate layers as you saw in the most recent post regarding the lemon butter-cream icing.  Here is a great trick for when you have to transport cake:  You know the shelf liner you can use in your kitchen shelves and drawers that is sort of foamy and comes in a roll?  I think a variety of brands make it.  Anyway, cut a square or strip of it and place it under whatever the cake is sitting in (a box or plate or whatever), so it is between the box and the car floor.  For example, I used many copy paper box lids for transport.  So, I put a piece in a box lid underneath the square cake board that held the 9-inch round cake.  Then I put another piece on the floor of my sister's trunk, and put the box lid on top of that.  Now the cake was safe from sliding around inside the box, and the box was safe from sliding around in the car!  All of my layers were carefully put into the car and we all said a bunch of prayers on the way to church!  Appropriate, right?

At church, I set everything out and took some deep breaths before attempting to stack the tiered cake.  I used a flat metal spatula, wiggled it under the cardboard circle under the 6-inch layer and gently placed it onto the center of the 8-inch square cake, right over the support straws.  I touched the cake a bit with my fingers but made sure it was at the very bottom where I planned to put the ribbons.  I did the same thing for the  4-inch layer.  When it was all stacked, I stood back and took some more deep breaths! 

I had prepared the satin ribbon in advance.  Since butter-cream is made mostly of butter and shortening, if it actually touched satin ribbon, it would leave ugly grease spots.  No good!  So I cut the ribbons to appropriate lengths for each layer, then used double-sided tape to stick waxed paper to the back.  The waxed paper was cut to be the exact width as the ribbon, 1 1/2 inches.  That took some work but it wasn't so bad.  I rolled up each ribbon, attached a little tag notating which cake layer it was for, and put them together in a little bag to bring to the church.  At church, I just had to unroll each ribbon, gently place it around the bottom of a cake layer, and pin it into place using a straight pin.

So far, so good.  Time for the roses.  I cut the stems of the roses I intended to stick into the cake very short and wrapped them in plastic wrap.  You don't want whatever liquids that are on the inside of a flower to get into the cake.  Then I stuck the stems into the cake to secure them.   For the roses that are on the tops of the cakes, I just cut the stem all of the way off and put a tiny square of plastic wrap under the bottom of the rose before sticking it into the icing on the cake.  They stayed put!

My sister and I!

I had my parents cut the first piece of cake together, just like they did 50 years prior.  Sorry for the blurry picture... I wasn't behind the camera and I have no idea what happened!

You might notice the green punch next to my dad.  That is known as Miller Punch.  My sister made up the recipe and we use it for all events where punch is offered!  It's a secret family recipe!  Don't tell anyone....

Miller Punch
2 small containers lime sherbet
1 2l bottle of lemon-lime soda
1 large can of frozen limeade concentrate
1/2 large can of frozen lemonade concentrate

Prepare limeade and lemonade using the lemon-lime soda to replace MOST of the water.  You might use a bit of water depending on how zippy you want it to be.  Scoop the lime sherbet into a punch bowl.  Pour the lemon-limeade over the sherbet and serve!

To mix things up a bit (or to get a pink punch if that is desired) you can also use raspberry sherbet and pink lemonade.  Also very yummy!
Printable Recipe

Back to the cake!  I estimate that there were about 60-70 people at my parent's reception and I miraculously made the right amount of cake!  I sliced the cakes into pieces about 1 inch wide and about 3-4 inches long.  I did not use the concentric circles method of cutting cakes.  I find that too tricky.  I just cut slices as if the round cakes were actually square, slicing off about an inch at a time.  I saved the top piece for my parents, so that was not consumed.  In the end, I had a little less than 1/2 of the 8-inch square cake left.  In my opinion, this turned out perfectly!  We could have fed a few more people but had enough to take home and have leftover cake a couple of times.  Phew!

Are you wondering about how the cake tasted?  Delicious!  I wished I had gotten it out of the refrigerator a little bit earlier, as the cake part wasn't quite at room temperature, but it was pretty close.  The cake had a great texture, very lemony and light, the curd had a good tang and the butter-cream was zippy!  If you didn't like lemon, this was the wrong party for you, that is for sure!  My sister and I joked that we were preventing scurvy in our guests!

I did freeze that top layer of cake for my parents.  I don't know how good it will turn out, but here is what I did:  I stuck the cake as-is into the freezer (without the roses, obviously)  to get it somewhat frozen before wrapping in any way.  After about 6 hours, I took it out and wrapped it 3 times in plastic wrap.  Then I stuck the cake into a freezer zip-lock bag and sucked the air out of the bag with a straw.  I put this bag into another freezer bag and used my straw trick again.  The point is to get as much air out of the bags as possible, as any extra air will dry out the cake.  Ideally, you should put the cake into some sort of box to protect it from other things in the freezer, but I could not find one.  My parents will just have to be careful in their freezer! 

I really can't believe how great these cakes turned out!  It was a great learning opportunity for me and I really enjoyed putting it all together.  Something to check off of my bucket list!

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Anniversary Cake Project: Lemon Butter-cream Icing

Additional installments of the Anniversary Cake Project:  lemon cake, lemon curd

With a lemon cake and lemon curd filling, it seemed natural that I should have lemon butter-cream icing.  Though I am a fan of Swiss meringue butter-cream, I chose not to use this for the anniversary cake project.   I did a traditional butter cream, with butter and shortening.  I based the recipe off of the Repressed Pastry Chef's Buttercream Dream Icing.  This is a great butter-cream recipe.  You might want to print it out because it is a good standby.  By the way, the cake in the photo above looks lopsided but it wasn't that way in person!

It is hard to figure out how much icing you might need to frost a cake.  I found some chart (I think it was Wilton) which indicated that for the sizes of cakes I was making, I would need to make 4 batches.  Each batch makes 4 cups of icing so that is a ton!  Above are the ingredients for 4 batches of icing.  Do you see the three bags of confectioner's sugar?  Yikes!

Anyway, I wanted to make the icing nice and zippy to go with the cake, so I added a teaspoon of lemon extract and 2 teaspoons of lemon zest to each batch.  It was delicious!

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Anniversary Cake Project: Lemon Curd

Additional installments of the Anniversary Cake Project:  lemon cake

Whew!  After baking 4 batches of cake, I went to bed and decided to work on the filling another day!  My dad just sat in the kitchen and watched his kitchen turn in to a bakery (his words) while the cake process was happening.  It really was a process and rest was needed before tackling another step!

Sugar and lemon peel in the mini-food processor
After some rest, I moved on to lemon curd!  I have a recipe for microwave lemon curd that I enjoy but I decided to try a stove-top lemon curd for this project.  Originally I thought I would only need to make one batch, but after making it once I decided I might as well make up another one.  It would be a real bummer if I ran out or had to do thin layers when the day comes to actually create these cakes, and is there such a thing as too much lemon curd?  I think not.  So, I made a second batch.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Anniversary Cake Project: Lemon Cake

This summer my parents celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary!  FIFTY YEARS.  Over the past year, my sister and I have repetitively asked them what they would like to do to celebrate.  "Oh, nothing big" was the answer we kept getting.  They wanted to have a family vacation but not do it at the same time as the anniversary because that time would be too hot.  True, their anniversary is in August and there seems to be few places that time of year that aren't ungodly hot.  So what should we do to celebrate the actual day, if we do a family vacation?  "Oh, nothing" was the response we got.  Nothing?  Really?  Fifty years of marriage is a big deal!  "Would you like to have a reception at your church?  Cake and punch?".  "No, no bother."  Ugh.  After getting the same response again and again, my sister and I gave up.

Only half of the necessary butter!

Then, my in-laws planned their 50 year anniversary celebration.  Yes, both my parents and my husband's parents are celebrating their 50th anniversaries this year!  Isn't that crazy?  Anyway, I called my parents and told them that my in-laws planned their celebration for the first weekend in August.  "Oh", my parents said, "I guess that means you aren't coming here to celebrate our anniversary?"  WHAT??  Now they decided they would like a reception at church, with cake and punch.  That same reception idea that my sister and I have been asking them about for the past year, to which they have repetitively said "NO".  Ack!  Parents!  "It doesn't have to be a big deal", they said.  "We can order a cake from somewhere and have some punch".  Order a cake?  I had to think about this one.  Am I okay with ordering a cake?  In general, NO!  Especially not for an event like this!  I love to bake, for goodness sake!  However, I would be traveling for the week and a half leading up to their celebration, which is of course not in the city in which I live.  I thought about it and still came up with the same answer.  I just could not have a store-bought cake at my parent's wedding anniversary celebration.  Don't get me wrong.  I am not a total bakery snob.  I just could not allow a bakery cake to grace the table at this particular event.  If I could have figured out a way to make the cake for my in-law's celebration, I would have done theirs, too!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

TWD: Baking with Julia - Berry Galette

Our challenge this week for Tuesdays with Dorie was a Berry Galette!  I was super excited for this one, though a little apprehensive as I would be baking in a different kitchen than normal.  I am currently on vacation and made the galette in my mother-in-law's kitchen in the Catskills.  The excitement part came from going berry picking to get the berries!  Is there anything better than picking the berries right off the bush for your desserts?  It was a wonderful adventure.

We picked blackberries and blueberries.  The clever girl had a great time.  She probably ate more berries than she put in the bucket, especially with the blueberries, a la Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey.  Ker-plink, ker-plank, ker-plunk!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Buttermilk Scones

A few years ago, we visited Mr. Clever Mom's grandmother in Arizona and I found a newpaper clipping of a scones recipe pinned to her bulletin board.  So, I made them.  They were delicious!  Nana has asked others to make the scones as well!  I copied down the recipe to bring home and make again.  I have since altered the recipe a bit to make it more to my liking... 

In an effort to do something "different" for breakfast on a Saturday morning, I decided to make these buttermilk scones.  They don't take very long which is often important in my morning baking!

 Sift dry ingredients into a bowl.  I am using my new glass batter bowl!  Yeah!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Bacony Barley Salad with Marinated Shrimp

When I first saw the recipe for Bacony Barley Salad with Marinated Shrimp, I thought, "Hmmm, that sounds good...".  Good?  How about delicious?  It was like eating a bite of freshness.  So tasty.  Even the clever girl liked it!  She cleaned the plate!  Fantastic.  Winner-winner-chicken (no, how about shrimp) dinner!  Winner-winner-shrimp-dinner!!

Bacony Barley Salad with Marinated Shrimp
adapted from Eating Well

3 strips bacon, chopped
1 1/3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup quick-cooking barley
1 pound peeled cooked shrimp, (21-25 per pound; thawed if frozen), tails removed, coarsely chopped  OR 1 pound peeled un-cooked shrimp
1/3 cup lime juice
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup finely diced red onion
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 avocado, peeled and diced

Cook bacon in a small pan over medium heat, stirring often, until crispy, about 4 minutes. Drain bacon on paper towel and set aside.  If you purchased RAW shrimp, cook the shrimp in the bacon fat. 
In a small saucepan, add water and salt and bring to a boil. Add barley and return to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed, 10 to 12 minutes.
Combine shrimp and lime juice in a large bowl. Add the cooked barley; toss to coat. Let stand for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, to allow the barley to absorb some of the lime juice. Add tomatoes, onion, cilantro and the bacon; toss to coat. Add oil and pepper and toss again. Stir in avocado and serve.

Note:  I was unable to find quick-cooking barley, but did find a quick-cooking barley mix, which had barley, farro  and a few other things that I can't remember.  Whatever it was, it was delicious so if you find something like this but can't find just barley, give it a shot!
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This was SO GOOD.  The combination of the grains, veggies and shrimp with lime and cilantro is just so fresh and satisfying.  I served it with a slice of semolina bread and it made one super meal!