Saturday, May 28, 2011


They say that April showers bring May flowers. That's true, but just because a month flips over on the calendar, it doesn't mean that the rain stops around here. So what do May showers bring? Babies!

Just over a year ago I blogged about making a small wedding cake for my daughter's maid of honor. The first year of marriage has gone so well that I was invited to help with the food for her baby shower!

The mum-to-be has a nursery beautifully decorated with a Classic Pooh theme. The challenge with that is that Classic Pooh is no longer in vogue. Good thing she's an ebay diva and my daughter is queen of the thrift stores. Between them they've been able to score crib bedding, stuffed animals, books, wall hangings, and a pile of baby outfits with Pooh bear and friends on them.

My contribution? I made a sling (a necessity for new mothers, in my opinion). But it was my younger daughter who brought the biggest smile to her face. When Serena was born, her nursery was also done in Classic Pooh. So Serena passed along the framed print of Christopher Robin and friends gathered around a table for a party that had hung over her crib. I love recycling, especially when it brings so much joy!

And for the food, I was thrilled to have an excuse to buy yet another cake pan. This one makes a flock of butterflies (which, according to Wikipedia's page on collective nouns should be a rabble of butterflies). Very spring-timeish and very Pooh Bearish.

I came up with a recipe for a moist cake (I hate dry cupcakes!) and then was in a quandary as to how to decorate them. I wanted the beautiful details from the pan to show through, so I just lightly iced them with an almond glaze and dusted with just a hint of purple sparkling sugar for fun.

You can still make these, even if you don't have the specialty pan. Just bake them up as regular cupcakes and decorate with lovely crystallized violets or lavender sprigs.

Butterfly Cupcakes

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 cup + Tbsp cake flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 large egg yolk at room temperature
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup buttermilk at room temperature


3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp almond extract
2 Tbsp water

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F.

2- Using a pastry brush, thoroughly butter the cake pan, being careful to brush the butter into all the crevices. Lightly dust the pan with cake flour and tap off the excess flour. (If making standard cupcakes, place cupcake papers into a cupcake pan.)

3- Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Sift a second time into another bowl.

4- In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until it is light in color, about 4 minutes. Add the sugar in a steady stream with the mixer running. Beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.

5- Add the eggs and egg yolk, one at a time, beating well after each addition, scraping the sides of the bowl down as necessary. Beat on medium speed for 2 more minutes.

6- With the mixer on low speed, add the oil and beat for 1 minute.

7- In a small bowl combine the vanilla and almond extracts and the buttermilk. Using a rubber spatula, fold in half of the dry ingredients into the batter. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add half of the buttermilk mixture. Fold in the remaining dry ingredients, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the remaining buttermilk.

8- Pour the batter into the prepared pan, filling each cup about 2/3 full, smoothing the surface with a spatula.

9 - Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

10- Allow the cakes to cool in the pan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes, then gently loosen the cupcakes with a plastic knife or fork and turn them over to finish cooling on the rack.

Because the pan makes 6 butterflies at a time, I had to bake these in 3 batches. Between each baking, wipe out the pan then regrease and flour before putting in more batter.

11 - For the glaze, combine the powdered sugar, almond extract and enough water to give a smooth, runny consistency. You can either dunk the cooled butterflies into the glaze or drizzle the glaze over the cooled cakes on the cooling rack.

Makes 18 cupcakes

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Rethinking Banana Bread

It's easy to see how people get locked into their habits. What starts out as "this is the way I do it" becomes "this is the right way to do it" which ossifies into "this is the only way to do it."

When I was the new mother of an infant, a lot of the advice that my mother and mother-in-law gave me drove me nuts. They thought they knew the best way to parent because they'd been parents. But what did they know about the best way to put the baby in the car seat? They didn't even have car seats when they were new mothers. Or seat belts!

Why would I need advice on how to heat a bottle at night? Or that helpful tip about putting bourbon in the bottle to help the baby sleep at night? Well, since I was nursing, the bottle question didn't apply. And putting bourbon in the mommy would help mommy sleep, but feeding it to a baby? Really???

While babies and their needs stay the same, ideas, technology, and invention change the way some things are done. It wasn't until after my second child was out of the car seat that someone saw that babies fall asleep in the car and invented a car seat that could easily come out of the car, letting the baby stay asleep. Genius!

I try to keep this paradigm of change in mind as I watch my daughter parent. And she is doing things differently than I did. Bucking the standard "wisdom" that you should start a baby on rice cereal at 6 months (you shouldn't), she's doing baby-led weaning. She puts her daughter (now 10 months old) in the Bumpo chair (another brilliant invention) at the dinner table, puts on her eating apron, and sets a variety of food on the tray in front of her. Real food. Stalks of cooked asparagus, sauteed onions, and strawberries are some of her favorites. This method is perfect for someone as strong-willed as my granddaughter. She's in control of what she eats and she gets to pick from a healthy array of choices. She's much happier than if someone tried to shovel pureed ick into her mouth with a spoon.

I know that I get in ruts in the kitchen of doing things the same way because that's the way I've always done it, baking things with the same recipe because that's what I'm familiar and comfortable with. But it's good to try new things because life does change.

Recently King Arthur Flour featured this banana bread recipe on their website, touting it as a customer favorite. I have a banana bread recipe that I love. I've used it about as long as I've been baking. So why try something new? Because you never know what you might be missing. And if you passed on this banana bread, you would be missing indeed. It's got whole grains, but it's so moist you don't feel like you're eating a healthy brick. My son was sad when the last piece was gone and requested it again almost immediately. That's change I can live with!

Heavenly Healthy Banana Bread
- adapted from King Arthur Flour

1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter
1/2 cup brown sugar, light or dark, firmly packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon banana flavor, optional
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 medium to large bananas, cut into chunks
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs
1 -7/8 cups King Arthur 100% white whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp flax meal
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1 - Preheat your oven to 350°F with a rack in the center of the oven. Lightly grease an 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" or 9" x 5" loaf pan. The larger pan will give a somewhat flatter loaf.

2 - In a small bowl, mash the bananas.

3 - In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until smooth. Add the vanilla, baking soda, salt, and mashed bananas, beating until well combined.

4 - Beat in the honey and eggs.

5 - Add the flour and flax meal, then the walnuts, stirring until smooth.

6 - Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Let it rest at room temperature for 10 minutes. Don't skip the rest period!

7 - Bake the bread for 50 minutes, then gently lay a piece of aluminum foil across the top, to prevent over-browning. Bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, then remove the bread from the oven; a long toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center should come out clean.

8 - Allow the loaf to cool for 10 minutes; then remove it from the pan, and set it on a rack to cool completely.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cookies From Pluto

To explain the rift between the sexes, a book was written called Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus. That may well be true, but what the book failed to address is that my son is from Pluto.

My son has a peculiar way of looking at the world and a mystifying way of expressing himself. This can make communication very challenging. No ordinary stranger can understand him; it takes an intensive language immersion course to make sense of what he says.

You don't believe me? I challenge you to unravel this one.

"Mom, did you see that car that just went by? I think it was a beaver. Kinda hortony."

Well, after much cogitation, I deduced that he meant it was a BMW (a beemer), and that it was silver, like the one our relatives, the Hortons, rented when they came to visit. Crystal clear, right?

Can you guess what he meant when he asked about "that stomach thing that you put into your ears and listen to your body"

Of course - a stethescope. You got that, right?

How about this exchange?

"Mom, you know those cookies that you used to make? We should make those."

"What kind of cookies are those, honey?"

"You know, the kind that are brown with the chocolate."

Multiple questions followed about the color of the cookie (dark brown or tan - "lightish tan"), and whether the chocolate was in the cookie, on the cookie, around the cookie, or just flavoring the cookie ("In it. In bits.")

Have you guessed it? Yes, it was these. Now wouldn't a standard Earthling have just said, "Mom, could we bake some chocolate chip cookies?"

Once the confusion was cleared up, we did bake cookies. Chocolate chip. But I was bored with my standard and wanted to try something new. I cracked open a brand new cookbook I'd gotten for Mother's Day (Thanks, sweetie!), and found just the thing. Moist, chew, chocolate chunk cookies. Oh, yeah!

The recipe initially irritated me because it called for a mystery ingredient I didn't have on hand. So I came up with my own substitution and it turned out wonderfully. The cookies have a lovely texture, and the taste is amazing. I normally make small, dainty cookies, but there's something fun about a really large, delicious cookie. You can make them either way, but I think you'll get more of the moist, chewy texture if you keep them large.

Those Cookies With The Chocolate
- adapted from The SONO Baking Company Cookbook

1/2 cup dates, pitted and sliced*
Boiling water
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I subbed out 1/2 with White Whole Wheat flour)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp coarse salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp almond extract
2 cups coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate

*Dealing with the dates is tricky in a small quantity, so you can make a big batch of date puree and store it in a glass jar in the refrigerator for later use.

1- Put the dates into a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Let them soak for 20-30 minutes, till softened. Drain the dates (save the soaking water to make oatmeal or put into bread, to sweeten it). With a handheld immersion blender or small food processor, puree the soaked dates to form a paste. Add a small amount of the soaking water, if necessary, to get a smooth consistency.

2- Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F with racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

3- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda: set aside.

4- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the date paste, butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and salt on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl halfway through.

5- Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in the almond extract.

6- With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients, beating until the flour is absorbed. Gently fold in the chocolate chunks with a rubber scraper.

7- Using a 2-inch (1/4 cup) scoop, scoop out the batter onto the prepared baking sheets, placing the scoops about 2 inches apart.

8- Bake for 14-16 minutes, rotating the trays halfway through the baking time. The cookies should be set, browned on the edges, but still very soft in the center.

9- Place the sheet on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. (The cookies will continue to cook with the residual heat.) Use a metal spatula to transfer the cookies to the rack and let cool completely.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


There is no such thing as an unmixed blessing. For every upside, there is a downside. It's part of the physics of life.

For example, if I were to win the lottery (which I won't because I don't buy tickets) and trade in my amazingly large mom-mobile and drive off the lot a brand new sexy Porsche, my insurance rates would go up, I'd probably get tons of speeding tickets, and my husband would be cross because my Porsche couldn't haul a half sheet of ply from Home Depot.

The Bible tells us that children are a blessing, and that's true. But along with the blessing part comes the bleary-eyed, awake all night, baby screaming, poopy-diaper-that-leaked-and-soiled-the-whole-outfit part. And just because they grow up doesn't mean the poop stops.

Going on a dream vacation to the tropics also means that you have to deal with the TSA, time changes, rental hassles, lost luggage, and possibly bringing home a tropical disease as a souvenir.

Recently, though, I think I might have found a crack in this otherwise iron-clad rule.

Ice cream is one of my favorite things about summer. I keep my ice cream maker humming busily all summer long. But that means that the egg whites pile up in my refrigerator. Since I pay out some big bucks to buy free-range organic chicken eggs, I'm not about to just toss out those egg whites! But what is one to do with 5 egg whites?

In another post, I explained what to do with 6 egg whites, but it was with glee that I found a delicious way to use 5. Angel Food Cupcakes. And the best part for me is that cupcakes are so easy to share! You can put 6 in a box and it's an extravagant gift. Try putting 6 slices of angel food cake in a box. Not so impressive.

So now you know. 5 egg yolks will make fabulous ice cream. Try lavendar, almond cherry chocolate, double mint, blueberry, lemon gelato, or my favorite, chocolate. (I have made a ridiculous amount of ice cream, haven't I?) Then with the extra whites, you can make these beautiful, airy, lightly tangy, totally delicious cupcakes.

In the words of Charlie Sheen, it's bi-winning!

(This video makes me giggle every time I watch it)

Lemony Angel Food Cupcakes
- adapted from Baking Bites

3/4 cup superfine sugar*, divided
1/2 cup sifted cake flour
5 large egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
zest of one lemon

* If you don't have superfine sugar on hand, you don't need to run to the grocery store for it. Just throw regular granulated sugar into your food processor and run it till the sugar is fine. Not too long, though, or you'll end up with powdered sugar!

1 - Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

2 - In a small bowl, sift together cake flour and 1/4 cup superfine sugar.

3 - In a large bowl, beat room-temperature egg whites until foamy, then add in cream of tartar and salt. Gradually add in the remaining 1/2 cup of superfine sugar while the mixer is on high speed, beating the egg whites to soft peaks. With a rubber spatula, gently fold in the vanilla and lemon zest.

4 - Fold in flour mixture, adding it in two or three additions.

5 - Divide evenly into prepared muffin tins. Fill them almost full.

6 - Bake for 16-18 minutes, until golden brown. The tops will spring back when lightly touched.

7 - Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove the cupcakes to the wire rack to cool completely.

Lemon Icing Drizzle

2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Confectioner’s Sugar

Add enough confectioner's sugar to the lemon juice to make a drizzling consistency. Whisk until smooth. Drizzle on top of cooled cupcakes.

Makes 12 - 16 cupcakes. (The recipe says it makes 12, but mine made 15, I think because of the size of my farm eggs.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fight or Flight? Oh, yeah, Fight!

My daughter is a warrior. And although her name does mean princess, she's nothing like Xena, Warrior Princess. She's a lot buffer and tougher.

Last week she came home in the middle of the day with her baby girl in her car seat. As she walked through the front door she saw that the stereo was on the floor in the middle of the living room. Odd. That shouldn't be.

She set her girl down on the floor by the coat rack and was pondering whether her husband was unexpectedly home, or whether there was a burglar in the house, when she heard noises downstairs. Walking down the carpeted stairs, based on the quality of noises she heard, she decided, "definitely burglar."

When she rounded the corner into the family room she saw a pile of their things (xBox, stereo, laptop, etc) by the sliding glass door and next to it a man trying frantically to open the door. Unfortunately for him, that door is broken and requires a precise series of lift, shove, push, and lower in order to be opened.

The adrenaline already surging through my daughter peaked and she flew at the intruder, screaming at the top of her lungs, "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING IN MY HOUSE?" Then she punched him in the face three times. He broke free and ran upstairs, my daughter chasing and screaming the whole time. After he sprinted out the front door she called 911.

After the adrenaline surge left, the cops and her husband were able to gently tell her that what she had done wasn't the optimal course of action. When there's an intruder in the house, you should leave the house immediately and call 911. She was very blessed that the burglar was not a professional (he'd walked by more valuable things on his way to the xBox) and that he hadn't had a knife or gun on him. Also, that her daughter sat unfazed and untouched in her car seat the whole time.

I said that the burglar was blessed that she didn't think about picking up one of the 15 lb. dumbbells lying there.

So why do I tell you this story? Because I love that my daughter is awesome, confident, strong, and fearless. And she approaches life with the same attitude. Her kitchen is a place of wonder, mystery, and adventure where she tries out new things all the time. Zero fear of failure. She's teaching me new things all the time and she inspires me.

Recently, I finally got around to trying something new that's been on my to-try list for about 2 years. Homemade Nutella. I had some crepes leftover from a savory dish and really wanted Nutella and banana crepes. But, sadly, I had no Nutella. My younger daughter offered to bike to the store and buy some (she really wanted those crepes, too), but it occurred to me that I had hazelnuts in the freezer, so I should make it myself.

I don't know why I put this off for so long. It's so easy. It takes longer than opening a jar from the store, true, but I do have the satisfaction of knowing exactly what goes into my homemade version. Plus I get to check another item off my to-try list. Yeah and high fives to me!

Homemade Nutella
adapted from Su Good Sweets

2 cups whole raw hazelnuts
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
up to 1/4 cup vegetable or nut oil
1/2 tsp vanilla

1- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place hazelnuts in a single layer on a shallow baking pan. Toast until the skins are almost black and the meat is dark brown, about 15 minutes. Stir the nuts halfway through baking so ensure an even color.

2- Wrap the hazelnuts in a clean kitchen towel or paper towel, and rub until most of the skins have come off. Don’t fret if you can’t get off all the skins.

3- Place the nuts in a food processor and process, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. At first, you will get coarsely chopped nuts, and then it will turn into a fine meal. After a little while, the nuts will form a ball around the blade, and it will seem like you only have a solid mass. Keep processing. The heat and friction will extract the natural oils, and you will get hazelnut butter! This takes about 5 minutes.

4- When the nuts have formed a paste, add in the sugar, cocoa and vanilla. Slowly drizzle in enough oil to make a spreadable consistency. Since the mixture is warm, it will be more liquidy now than at room temperature. Transfer the spread to an airtight container, and store refrigerated for up to 1 month. For best results, stir the Nutella before using.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Fabulous Foodie Feast

It's been a year since the amazing Val of More Than Burnt Toast organized a Food Bloggers' Tour of Pike Place Market. She comes to the Seattle area twice a year and it's always a treat to get to hang out with her. Since we all had such a great time doing the Market tour, it was decided that we needed to get together again. This time the venue was the wood-fired oven in the backyard of Sortachef, Don. He has an authentic wood-burning oven which he built himself (directions and pictures are on his blog), and offered to share it with us. Along with people from the tour, we added some new faces and had a lovely time getting to know each other, sharing our passion for all things food (and wine!).

When a wood-fired oven pizza is the centerpiece of the meal, an Italian theme is a natural. Start with fun food bloggers (being Italian was optional, although a trip to Tuscany didn't hurt), add antipasti,

add several different delicious wines,

design and make your own pizza,

bake it in a real, wood-fired oven,

and add a dash of dessert

and you've got a recipe for a fabulous evening!

I, of course, volunteered for dessert. My first thought for an Italian dessert was cannoli, but the logistics of transporting and filling on site, plus my fear of frying, made that option a no-go. Instead, I went with cannoli cake. It's a sponge cake with a cannoli filling, redolent with the flavors of almond and orange, which I found on the website of Cream Puffs in Venice. Since I didn't alter the recipe a bit, you can go here to get the recipe.

Thanks, Don and Kathy, for hosting this fun event! We'll have to do it again.