Women & Their Stories & Chocolate-Raspberry Cupcakes

With frigid temperatures one day and icy rain and snow the next, March is a month about fortitude. It’s about marching forward against all odds. How do I know this? I don’t. I made it up but it sounds good. It sounds good because March is Women’s History Month and history is filled with women who moved forward against all odds.

Famous and infamous women fill the history books or should. Women we admire like Jane Austin, Elizabeth Blackwell and Shirley Chisholm. There is also the list we keep close to our hearts. Long or short, it includes all the women who have personally influenced our lives. That one includes our grandmothers, mothers, sisters and aunts, a neighbor, maybe two and a couple of friends plus a few teachers and mentors. Most of these women will never have a Wikipedia page but they helped make us who we are.

If you haven’t been paying attention, don’t worry. It’s a thirty-one day month. You have plenty of time to celebrate the women who have inspired, encouraged and influenced you. Now, the only question is – how to celebrate? Here are a few ideas:

Send a note to a woman who made a positive impact on your life. Perhaps she helped you over a rough patch or led by shining example. Maybe she encouraged you when you were at an impasse or read you the riot act when you were floundering. If you’ve lost touch, she may be wondering how you turned out. Share your story with her, thank her and let her know how much she means to you.

Do a little research and look deeper into the lives of some of the women you admire. We all know the two minute version of our favorite heroines. How about a deep dive? Environmentalist might want to learn more about Rachel Carson. If you’re a numbers person explore the life of Katherine Johnson. Musicians can read up on Aretha Franklin and art lovers research Mary Cassatt.

Share stories about your mother, grandmothers and aunties with your kids and grandkids. Help them understand their roots and family history. You might even try writing some of those stories down. Not as a series of dates and data points; focus on the wonderful, strong, vulnerable, living, breathing human beings who helped make you – you.

Tell your own stories. How exactly did you end up being so terrific and right here, right now? Think your story isn’t all that interesting? Think again. Of course, it’s old hat to you. After all, you were there; you lived it. Take some time to stop and reflect. There must be a thousand little things that make you special.

Gather friends around the table for a meal and storytelling. Throughout history, women have gathered around tables to make quilts. Our stories are like the patches in a quilt. Each piece represents a memory and together they form a brilliant whole. Our personal experiences are set against a background of both ordinary and historic events. Embrace and share the crazy hodgepodge of memories. That wonderful, disorganized mix is a beautiful summary of life.

As Abigail Adams once said, “Remember the ladies” and bon appétit!

Chocolate-Raspberry Cupcakes
These cupcakes are in honor of my mother. She loved chocolate and she loved raspberries. Enjoy!
Makes about 24 cupcakes

1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature and cut in pieces
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Framboise or raspberry liqueur
2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups less 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Chocolate-Raspberry Glaze (recipe follows)
White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)
Fresh raspberries for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners.

Put the jam and water in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from the heat and add the butter and chocolate. Let the butter and chocolate sit and melt for a few minutes and then whisk to combine.

Add the sugar, Framboise and vanilla to the chocolate and whisk until smooth.

Put the egg yolks in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Whisking constantly, slowly add the chocolate to the eggs. Add the sour cream and whisk until smooth.

Put the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture and combine thoroughly.

Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Stir a quarter of the egg whites into the batter and combine thoroughly. Gently fold the remaining egg whites into the batter.

Use an ice cream scoop or two spoons to fill each muffin cup about 2/3 with batter. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

To assemble: spread warm Chocolate-Raspberry Glaze on the cupcakes. Place the cupcakes in the refrigerator or freezer to cool until the chocolate has set. Use a pastry bag fitted with a large tip to add a hefty dollop of White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting. Top each cupcake with a raspberry.

If making ahead, store in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Chocolate-Raspberry Glaze
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
Pinch salt
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate or a mix of bittersweet and milk chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon butter, cut in pieces

Combine the cream, jam and salt in a heavy saucepan and heat to steaming over medium. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate and butter. Let the chocolate sit for a few minutes and then whisk until the chocolate is smooth and completely melted.

Let the ganache cool for about 10 minutes before frosting the cupcakes.

White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons sour cream
About 4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon Framboise
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces white chocolate, melted and cooled slightly

Put the butter, cream cheese and sour cream in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until well combined.

Reduce the speed to low, slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until just combined. Add the Framboise, vanilla and white chocolate, increase mixer speed to medium-high and continue beating until smooth.

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One Year Ago – Pork Stew with Beans & Greens
Two Years Ago – Shrimp Curry with Spinach
Three Years Ago – Mini Tarte Tatin
Four Years Ago – Lemon Roasted Chicken
Five Years Ago – Panna Cotta with Strawberries
Six Years Ago – Decadent Mac & Cheese
Seven Years Ago – Seared Scallops with Roasted Pepper Sauce
Eight Years Ago –
Creole Shrimp with Creamy Grits
Nine Years Ago –
Wild Mushroom Risotto
Ten Years Ago –
Swimming Pool Jello

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Are you for or against or … the time change? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2019

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Stuck in the Middle & Almost Nana Nye’s Blueberry Cake

There are all kinds of silly holidays spread throughout the year. Emma M. Nutt Day is coming up on the first of September. Why do we celebrate Emma? Why not – after all, she was the first woman telephone operator in America. Don’t forget Mad Hatter Day on October 6. No, it’s not a day devoted to finding the perfect hat. Forget shopping and enjoy a topsy-turvy day filled with Through the Looking Glass riddles and contradictions.

Anyway, along with the list of excuses to eat pie and fly kites, is one holiday I can get behind. Yes, Middle Child Day and it’s this coming Sunday, August 12. In case you missed it, I am one of those poor, pitiful, stuck in the middle children. (By the way, you don’t need the calendar to tell you to eat pie or fly a kite. You can do either or both on most any day you like.)

So, what’s up with middle children and our ridiculous attachment to Middle Child Syndrome? First of all, let be clear: all sorts of child experts and psychologists confirm that MCS is real. I don’t know if they call it MCS or not but I just did and here’s how it works:

First borns are anxiously awaited and then celebrated with the greatest joy. At least for a year or three, she has her doting parents all to herself. She enjoys the riches of unfettered attention, new toys and never-before-worn onesies. Youngest children aren’t so much celebrated as coddled. Ask any older sibling, the baby of the family is not only spoiled; he gets away with everything. Middle borns are just that – stuck in the middle.

Unlike the first born, a middle child is not heaped with praise at every turn. Take for instance, the first time she ties her shoe or rides a bike. Mom and Dad don’t immediately jump on phone with grandparents, post videos for all the world to see or suggest a parade down Main Street. They’ve seen it all before. Besides, the baby is crying and demanding to be fed or changed. In case you’ve forgotten, that crying baby – he’s the one who stole that poor middle child’s bedroom.

The experts tell us that,although surrounded by siblings, middle children tend to be the most independent. Crowded on all sides, sometimes the best, the only, thing to do is get out. That could mean joining your neighborhood pals at the swings or finding some peace and quiet in the basement. As a child, I did both with regular frequency. When I hit my twenties, I did more than wander out into the neighborhood. I moved half way around the world.

Along with independence, middle children are known for being agreeable and diplomatic. We are the great compromisers. We just want everyone to be happy and get along. That said; I did inherit a bit of a stubborn streak from my mother. She was an only child. Some might disagree but I tend to think that I have an inordinately long fuse. I comply and compromise again and again until, BAM, that’s IT. I’ve had enough. As of right now, I’m no longer listening, no longer negotiating. I want my way … otherwise; I’m taking marbles and going home.

If you are a middle child, be sure to indulge yourself this coming Sunday. If you have a middle sibling or are the parent with a middle child, feel free to shower that her with a little extra attention and unmitigated praise.

Have fun and bon appétit!

Almost Nana Nye’s Blueberry Cake
Although I’ve made a few changes (that’s the cook’s prerogative isn’t it?), this cake comes from my grandmother’s recipe box. Since we have many summer birthdays in our family, our blueberry cakes are generally slathered with cream cheese frosting, decorated with blueberries and topped with candles. Enjoy!

2 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour, divided plus more for the pan
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature plus more for the pan
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup sour cream
1 overflowing cup fresh blueberries plus more for garnish

Butter and flour 2 (8-inch) cake pans or a 9×13-inch pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Put 2 1/4 cups flour, the baking powder, spices and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the lemon zest and whisk again. Set aside.

Put the butter and sugars in a bowl and, using an electric mixer, beat on medium high until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla, reduce the mixer speed to medium and beat until smooth. Add the sour cream and beat again until smooth.

With mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients and continue beating until just combined.

Toss the blueberries with the remaining flour and, using a rubber spatula, fold the blueberries into batter. Spread the batter in the prepared pan(s) and bake at 350 degrees until golden and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean or with just a few crumbs attached, about 35 minutes.

Cool the cake completely. If you like, slather with Cream Cheese Frosting and decorate with more blueberries.

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 pound confectioners’ sugar

Put the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add the vanilla and beat until well combined.

With the mixer on low, slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until well combined. Increase mixer speed and continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.

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One Year Ago – Blueberry-Ginger Cobbler
Two Years Ago – Grilled Filets Mignons with Salsa Verde
Three Years Ago – Corncakes
Foure Years Ago – Grilled Corn, Black Bean & Cheese Quesadillas with Fresh Tomato Salsa
Five Years Ago – Summer Salad with Green Beans, Blueberries & Goat Cheese
Six Years Ago – Shrimp Salad Niçoise
Seven Years Ago – Insalata Caprese
Eight Years Ago – Mojito Melons
Nine Years Ago – Grilled Antipasto
Ten Years Ago – Nana Nye’s Fish Chowder

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Are you a first born, middle child or baby of the family? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018

Loving the Holidays & Ginger-Orange Cheesecake

From time to time, you’ll hear someone disparage the holidays. They’ll complain that Christmas is too stressful or too commercial, too one thing or another. Not me, I love the holidays. The hustle, the bustle, the cooking, decorating, music and, yes, even the shopping. As far as I’m concerned, it’s pretty much all good.

With Black Friday, Shop Small Saturday and Cyber Monday, the past few days were all about shopping. However, with a refrigerator full of leftovers, I kept my credit card in my wallet and made turkey soup. That’s not to say, I wasn’t tempted. My intray pinged constantly with one email offer after another. These weren’t just any old sale. Not by a long shot, they were HUGE, door busters and blowouts. At least that was the subject line in the emails.

If last weekend was all about shopping, then it stands to reason that this coming weekend must be about decorating. Yes? No? Maybe? Let’s go with yes and deck the halls. More than anything, decorations tell our family history. From keepsakes and school photos framed in glittery popsicle sticks to tiny elves, sailboats and cowbells, our tree ornaments track new babies, weddings, comings and goings, hobbies and travels. Each tells a story, reminds us of an adventure or harkens back to a particular time in our lives.

In addition, our decorations create a bridge linking one generation to the next. Technology changes, cooking trends come and go, new artists overtake old crooners but you can always find a spot for Nana’s della Robbia wreath or Great-Grandma’s crèche. Several years ago, we found a small hemlock, perfect for Grandpa’s ancient string of outdoor lights. The only trouble was, as soon as Dad plugged them in, the bulbs exploded with a snap, crackle and pop. I guess some things are just not made to last. That said, the story has been told and retold at least fifty times, maybe more.

Whether it’s shopping, holiday baking or decking the halls that has you stressed (or all of the above), here are a few tips to keep you centered throughout the yuletide season.

1. Keep things in perspective and set priorities. It’s the holidays; it’s a busy time. It’s okay to say no once in a while. Don’t confuse must and can. As in, you must show up for work, take a shower and get some sleep versus you can singlehandedly fold hundreds of origami cranes and hang them from the gym ceiling for the school dance. Can doesn’t mean you should let alone must.

2. Exercise, I’m not listening when you say you don’t have time. With a to-do list a mile long, you deserve some me-time. Get on the stationary bike or take a walk, join a Zumba class or spend an hour stretching on your yoga mat. Breathe deep and take a break from all those things that are shouting for your attention.

3. Laughter is a wonderful stress reducer. Whether a string of lights explodes, you drop the pecan pie or you discover mice have been living in the Lionel train, all you can do is laugh and laugh some more.

Enjoy the holiday season with friends and family. Bon appétit!

Ginger-Orange Cheesecake
I like to make a cheesecake at least once a year for Thanksgiving or Christmas. This one will be perfect for Christmas Eve. Enjoy!
Serves 12-16

Ginger Cookie Crumb Crust
2 cups ground gingersnap cookies
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, melted

Ginger-Orange Filling
4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
2 inches fresh ginger peeled and finely grated (about 2 tablespoons)
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier

Make the Cookie Crumb Crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the cookie crumbs, brown sugar, spices and butter in a 10-inch springform pan and mix with a fork until well combined. Firmly press the crumbs into the bottom and about 1-inch up the sides of the pan. Tightly wrap the bottom and sides of the pan in two large sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

Cool the pan on a rack. Do not remove the foil. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Make the Ginger-Orange Filling: Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese in a large bowl until fluffy. With the beater running, gradually add the sugar, cinnamon and salt. Continue beating, adding the eggs, 1 at a time. Beat in the sour cream. Add the crystallized and fresh ginger, orange zest and juice and beat until well combined. Pour the filling into the springform pan.

Place the springform pan in a large roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come about halfway up sides of the springform pan. Bake the cheesecake until the filling is puffed slightly, softly set and golden, about 1 1/4 hours.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and discard the foil. Put the cheesecake on a rack to cool. Transfer the cheesecake to the refrigerator and chill uncovered until cold. Cover and chill overnight or up to 2 days.

To serve: carefully cut around the sides of the pan with a thin knife and release the sides of the pan. Cut the cheesecake into wedges and serve.

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One Year Ago – Chocolate Walnut Tart
Two Years Ago – Citrus & Spice Sugar Cookies
Three Years Ago – Peppermint Bark Cookies
Four Years Ago – Mixed Reds & Greens Holiday Salad
Five Years Ago – Snowy Pecan Balls
Six Years Ago – Chocolate Truffles
Seven Years Ago – Smoked Salmon Mousse
Eight Years Ago – Roasted Beans
Nine Years Ago – Winter Soup with Pasta, Beans & Greens

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

How do you keep your sanity during the Holidays? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

What Now? What Next? & Strawberry Tort

It will be all pomp and circumstance at the local high school on Saturday. Bright-eyed teenagers will collect their sheepskins in front of beaming parents and grandparents. Many will continue their education in the fall; others will head straight to work. There will be plenty of sage words and glib platitudes but here are a few more…

Dreams are like an early morning mist. They float and surround you but there is little to grab and hold. Work is real and makes dreams come true. No one said it would always be easy; make a plan and persevere.

Don’t settle. Life is too short, too tough and too much fun to settle for dull and boring. It is much too short for cruel and meaningless.

Don’t wait for stuff to happen to you. Create your own next best thing. Achieve something; learn a new skill or take an old one to new heights. Perhaps you will write a sonnet, unscramble a piece of jumbled code or build a birdhouse. Go ahead – take a step, then another and make life happen.

Of course, accidents happen and luck can be hit or miss but the future is by far and away a product of the choices you make. Good, bad or indifferent, own your choices and move on to the next.

Don’t just pick your battles; pick the outcome. If you find yourself in the middle of an angry feud, you can choose to fume, forgive or forget. More often than not, being at peace is better than righteous indignation.

Life is better when you are happy. Happiness is not a deep secret or a profound mystery. You can find happiness by smiling more, laughing more and singing more. And don’t forget to dance.

Given a choice between an adventure and the same old-same old, choose adventure. No matter what happens, you will learn a whole lot along the way.

Don’t be an idiot. Open your mind to new people, possibilities and ideas.

Change is constant and all around us. If it wasn’t, you’d still be using a rotary phone. Heck, you’d know what a rotary phone was. Technology, fashion and opportunities change but love for family, for friends and a favorite place is constant. So embrace the latest smart phone but use it to call your grandmother on Sunday morning.

Keep kindness as a core value. Throughout your life, you will experiment and explore. You may investigate different beliefs or try new approaches to life. Through all those changes and evolutions, practice simple acts of kindness to connect to the people around you.

Hug your parents. Hug your grandparents. They won’t be here forever so appreciate them while you can.

Enjoy the ride and bon appétit!

Strawberry Tort
June is the month for graduations, weddings and strawberries. No, this tort can’t replace a five-tier wedding cake but celebrants will welcome it at almost any other festive feast. Enjoy!
Serves 8

1/2 cup butter, plus more for the pan, at room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
About 1 pound strawberries, hulled and cut in half

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter and flour a deep dish pie plate.

Put the flour, baking powder and spices in a bowl and whisk to combine.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well combined.

Add the dry ingredients and beat on low until just combined. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.

Arrange the strawberries cut side down on top of the batter. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool for at least 20 minutes, the tort can be served warm or at room temperature. Cut into wedges and serve plain or with a dollop of whipped cream or scoop of ice cream.

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One Year Ago – Grilled Potato Salad
Two Years Ago – Grilled Salmon with Lemon-Herb Quinoa Salad
Three Years Ago – Chocolate-Peanut Butter Tart
Four Years Ago – Salsa Verde
Five Years Ago – Blueberry Crumb Cake
Six Years Ago – Peanut-Sesame Dipping Sauce
SevenYears Ago – Strawberry Gelato
Eight Years Ago – Asparagus Soup

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What about you? Do you have a favorite piece of advice for graduates? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

Easter at Nana’s & Lemon Pound Cake

My grandmother was happy for any excuse to see her family. Thanksgiving, Independence Day, you name it. At her house or ours, in the dining room or backyard, she loved seeing her clan all together. So, after Mom and Dad built the little brown house in the New Hampshire woods, an early Easter became the bane of Nana’s existence. A March Easter increased the likelihood that we would be skiing instead of headed to Nana’s for baked ham, scalloped potatoes and green beans.

As much as we loved her and we truly did, Nana and her Easter ham could not entice us off the slopes. We’d be more than delighted to indulge in her scalloped potatoes and green beans once the snow was gone. For her part, although she liked to have her family around her table, Nana wasn’t fussy. She’d have come up to our house in the suburbs without hesitation. Why, she would have been more than pleased to bring the scalloped potatoes or a lemon cake or both. (New Hampshire was another matter. She preferred to visit the little house in the woods during the summer.)

When it came to cooking, Nana was old school and a true New Englander. She baked at least once a week or at least she did when her grandchildren were around. I can’t remember ever being at her house when there were not homemade cookies in the jar. My grandfather’s favorites were Hermit Bars and Molasses Cookies. She baked lots of pies, especially blueberry, as well as the occasional cake and pan of brownies.

Her kitchen was tiny, just large enough to hold the stove, refrigerator and the sink with flanking counters. Cheery, calico curtains hid the treasures inside the lower cabinets. The uppers were open and held mysteries not found in my mother’s kitchen. No, these shelves were not filled with exotic spices. After all, Nana was a classic New England cook. However, she had a glass jar of cream of tartar. It was not creamy and was nothing like the tartar sauce that came with our fried clams at the local fish shack. There was also a canister of cornmeal and jars of nuts and raisins, ground ginger, baking powder and a bottle of molasses. Not a single one of these obscurities could be found in my mother’s kitchen.

Apart from the countertops on either side of the sink, her only work space was a small table. My sister Brenda and I would sit at that table and ask her countless questions while she bustled about. My grandmother was a bustle-er. We were more than curious as to why she didn’t bake her cakes from a mix or buy her cookies ready-to-eat and lined up in a plastic tray. After all, that’s what our mother did.

Now, this was not the kitchen my dad grew up with, that one might have been larger but maybe not. The kitchen I connect with my grandmother was in their cozy retirement house on Buzzards Bay. Infrequent or not, it continues to amaze me that Nana prepared family dinners for eight, twelve or more in that tiny kitchen.

Although it might have happened at least once, maybe twice, I never saw even a hint of chaos when Nana cooked. When we arrived for dinner, Easter or otherwise, everything was under control and close to ready. The ham was roasting and the potatoes were bubbling in the oven. The beans were trimmed, snapped and ready for steaming. A lemony cake was sitting on the kitchen table and strawberries were ready in the refrigerator.

… and if Easter was early, well, there was always Mother’s Day. Bon appétit!

Lemon Pound Cake
Lemony cake with fresh berries is a bright and sunny dessert for Easter or any spring feast. Enjoy!
Serves 12

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pans
3 cups all-purpose flour plus more for the pans
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Grated zest of 2 lemons
2 1/4 cups sugar
Juice of 3 lemons
6 large eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered
Whipped Mascarpone & Cream (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 8×4 1/2-inch (6-cup) loaf pans.

Put the dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the lemon zest and whisk again.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high until fluffy. With the mixer running on medium-low, add the eggs one at a time and beat until combined. Add the lemon juice and beat until smooth. Add the sour cream and vanilla and beat again.

With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Increase the mixer speed and beat until just smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans, smooth the top and bake for 45-60 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean or with just a few crumbs attached. Cool to room temperature and serve with a spoonful of fresh strawberries and a dollop of Whipped Mascarpone & Cream

Whipped Mascarpone & Cream
4 ounces mascarpone cheese
Grated zest of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream

Put the mascarpone, zest, sugar and vanilla in a bowl and beat until fluffy. With the mixer running, slowly add the cream and beat until well combined. Increase the mixer speed and continue beating until soft peaks form.

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One Year Ago – Lavender Scones
Two Years Ago – Calzones with Marinara Sauce
Three Years Ago – Chocolate-Espresso Cheesecake
Four Years Ago – Runners’ Chicken with Pasta
Five Years Ago – Steamed Artichokes with Bagna Cauda or Warm Lemon-Garlic Sauce
Six Years Ago – Death by Chocolate Cake
Seven Years Ago – Filet de Perche Meunière
Eight Years Ago – Chicken Provençal

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What about you? How will you celebrate Easter this year? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

Merry Christmas Mom & Bûche de Noël

mom_xmas_11My mother loved Christmas. As far as I can figure, she loved everything about it. She loved decorating the house, shopping for her family and gathering that family around her. Not too long ago, Mom lost her long fight with Alzheimer’s disease. Her battle gear was her beautiful smile, her infectious laugh and, most important, her kind heart.

I will keep my mother in my heart at Christmas and throughout the year with memories and stories. Here are some of my favorite images of Mom at Christmas:

Baking cookies. I’m sure that other mothers on Jackson Road baked dozens and dozens of cookies in a multitude of varieties. At our house, Mom, my sister Brenda and I rolled out and baked a batch of sugar cookies. If one existed at the time, we probably made them from a mix. We did not turn out a cornucopia of magnificent cookies but the afternoon was filled with laughter and singing. What Mom lacked in enthusiasm for baking, she made up in her enthusiasm for life.

Tree shopping. Mom was quite particular about our Christmas tree. Most years we went tree shopping as a family. The year my brother John was born, she decided to stay home with the baby. She entrusted this critical task to her husband and two little girls. The three of us bought and returned not one tree but two before she gave up. She bundled Johnny into his snowsuit and back we went to the garden shop. She perused, she studied, rejected and perused some more, until, she did indeed find the perfect tree.

The annual lights tour. Dad strung lights in and around the rhododendrons and Mom hung a wreath with a big red bow on the front door. As displays go it was pretty simple; no sleighs on the roof or flashing lights. For that, the Nye family jumped in the car for a rambling tour of the neighborhood. A week or two before Christmas, usually on a Sunday evening, we would twist and turn down one street and then another in search of spectacular lights. Without a doubt, Mom was the world’s best audience. I can still hear her enthusiastic oohs and aahs.

Santa_bookChristmas story time. In early December, Mom pulled out The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus to read to Brenda and me. Worn from countless readings, my mother was a tiny girl when Santa left the book under her tree. Its sixteen wonderful chapters chronicle the life of Nicholas the Woodcarver. The story is filled with love, kindness and generosity. It will make you cry, make you smile and fill you with goodwill. At five, I was convinced that it was all true. I still am.

Lipstick and coffee. We were that family. On Christmas morning, our lights were on before the sun began to think about rising. In spite of or maybe because of our predawn start, Mom insisted on two things – lipstick and coffee. Hopping from one foot to the next, we impatiently waited for Dad to make the coffee and Mom to put on her bright red lipstick. It seemed like forever but, finally, we could pile down the stairs.

Dancing with delight. Bows flew, paper ripped and tags were lost. Finally, it was Mom’s turn and Dad handed her an enormous box. She tore in (we were not a save-the-paper family) and let out shriek. Inside, swathed in a thick layer of tissue was a mink stole from Alfred M. Alexander Furs of Boston. It was another time, before it was politically incorrect to wear fur. Mom immediately pulled it from the box, threw it over her shoulders and danced around the living room – red lipstick, bathrobe, slippers, mink stole and all.

I wish you a holiday season filled with peace and wonderful memories. Bon appétit!

Bûche de Noël
I baked my first Bûche de Noël in high school. With little interest in baking, Mom limited her participation to wholehearted encouragement and enthusiastic appreciation. Enjoy!
Serves 12buche_de_noel_06

Parchment paper, butter and flour for the pan
2-3 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup cocoa powder
4 eggs, separated
1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon espresso or instant coffee powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
White Chocolate Cream Frosting (recipe follows)
Chocolate Cream Frosting (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a 15-1/2×10-1/2×1-inch jelly-roll pan with parchment paper and butter and flour the paper. Sprinkle a clean dishtowel with 2-3 tablespoons cocoa powder.

Beat the egg whites in large bowl until soft peaks form, gradually add 1/2 cup sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form.

Beat the egg yolks and vanilla in bowl on medium speed for 3 minutes. Gradually add the remaining sugar and beat for 2 minutes more.

Put the remaining cocoa into a bowl, add the flour, espresso powder, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, and baking soda and whisk to combine.

Add half the dry ingredients to the egg yolk mixture and beat on low speed to combine. Add the orange juice and beat until smooth. Add the remaining dry ingredients and beat until smooth.

Add 1/4 of the egg whites to the batter and stir to combine. Gently fold the remaining egg whites into the bather. Evenly spread the batter in the prepared pan.

Bake the cake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes or until the top springs back when lightly touched in the center. Carefully invert the cake onto the prepared towel and peel off the parchment paper. Immediately roll the warm cake and towel from the narrow end and cool completely on a wire rack.

While the cake cools, make the White Chocolate Frosting.

Carefully unroll the cooled cake and remove the towel. Spread White Chocolate Cream Frosting on the cake, leaving a 1-inch border on all edges. Reroll the cake, cover and refrigerate for about an hour.

While the cake sets, make the Chocolate Cream Frosting.

Use a serrated knife to cut a 1-2 inch slice of cake from one end. Arrange the cake, seam side down, on a platter. Spread Chocolate Cream Frosting on the cut side of the slice and place it frosting side down on the log. Cover the cake with frosting. Smooth the frosting on the ends and then use a fork to draw concentric circles. Use a spatula or fork to create a bark-like texture on the rest of the cake.

The cake can be made 1 day ahead, covered and refrigerated. Remove from the refrigerator about 1 hour before serving.

White Chocolate Cream Frosting
1/2 cup heavy cream
Grated zest of 1 orange
Pinch salt
6 ounces white chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon Grand Marnier
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Heat the cream, orange zest and salt in a heavy saucepan over low heat until it is almost a simmer. Remove from the heat and immediately add the chocolate to the warm cream to and let it stand for a few minutes. Whisk until smooth, add the Grand Marnier and vanilla and whisk again to combine.

Transfer the chocolate to a bowl, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate until cold.

With an electric mixer, beat the chocolate cream until thick and fluffy.

Chocolate Cream Frosting
2-3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon espresso or instant coffee powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch salt
1 cup heavy cream
6 ounces dark chocolate (or a 50/50 mix of dark and milk) chopped
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Put the sugar, espresso powder, cinnamon and salt in a heavy saucepan and whisk to combine. Slowly whisk in the cream. Whisking frequently, heat the cream over low heat until it is almost a simmer and the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and immediately add the chocolate to the warm cream to and let it stand for a few minutes. Whisk until smooth, add the vanilla and whisk again to combine.

Transfer the chocolate to a bowl, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate for about 1 hour.

With an electric mixer, beat the chocolate cream until thick and fluffy.

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One Year Ago – Roasted Beets with Sautéed Greens
One Year Ago – Very Ginger Gingerbread Muffins
Two Years Ago – Ginger Shortbread
Three Years Ago – Baked French Toast
Four Years Ago – Braised Lamb with Artichokes and Mushrooms and Creamy Polenta
Five Years Ago – Mixed Greens with Roasted Grapes
Six Years Ago – Savory Bread Pudding
Seven Years Ago – Triple Chocolate Parfait

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What about you? What are your favorite family traditions? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2016

Columbus Day Weekend & Cardamom Plum Tort

Elkins_Dam_Foliage_02The Columbus Day weekend is just days away. Although Columbus Day is a federal holiday, less than half the states celebrate and many companies treat it like any other Monday. As far as I can figure, Columbus Day has lost some of its luster. I could be wrong but the holiday seems to have regressed into not much more than a good excuse to buy a cheap mattress or shoes at a big discount.

Whoa bucko, let’s be careful there. Let’s not go disparaging Columbus Day. That goes double if your company gives you the day off or you’re married to an Italian. Columbus Day was a hard fought holiday. Although it was first celebrated in 1792, Columbus Day did not become a federal holiday until 1937. President Roosevelt’s proclamation was largely due to the tireless lobbying of the Knights of Columbus and Italian-Americans.

Admittedly, Columbus Day is fraught with controversy. From all or at least most accounts, Columbus was a nasty guy. His treatment of the indigenous people he met in the Caribbean as well as his crew was atrocious. Many cities and even a few states have changed the name and focus of the holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day, Native American Day or Discovery Day. I’m good with that. Let’s settle this controversy quick because early to mid-October is a wonderful time for a long weekend.

For one thing, it’s still warm or at least warmish. Whether you want to march in or watch a parade, go for a marathon bike ride or visit a pumpkin patch, you can do it without dressing up like the Michelin man. For another, the leaves are starting to turn. No one but no one does fall foliage like New Hampshire.

Of course this year, we’ll have to contend with more than a few politicians making the rounds. With the election just weeks away, they’ll be at parades and harvest festivals. One or two might even show up in a pumpkin patch. I doubt any will make the mistake of checking out a corn maze. There’s too much at stake to risk the indignity of getting lost in a field of corn. Instead, the pols will be offering up sound bites, shaking hands and kissing babies. Let’s hope that the endless grind of campaigning doesn’t get the better of them. Heaven forbid someone starts biting hands and shaking babies.

For anyone living in New Hampshire, Columbus Day is a reminder that cold weather is coming and coming soon. As a midpoint between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, it is a good time to get your fall To-Do list together. Besides tracking down pumpkins, it’s not a bad idea to put the kayak away, run the weed-wacker around the garden and maybe plant some bulbs. While the long weekend is not a hard and fast deadline for these chores, I suspect we are all starting to feel the looming threat of an early snowfall. Those first flakes may not be hours or days away but the state is famous for Halloween ice and snow.

Regardless of how you spend the day, biking, weed-wacking or shopping, you’ll want to end it with a great meal. Both the holiday and the harvest can inspire you. Let your taste buds travel around the world and back again. After all, Columbus was from Italy and he was trying to get to the Far East when he landed in the Bahamas. Take your pick of any of these great cuisines or mix it up.

Have a fabulous weekend and bon appétit!

Cardamom Plum Tort
This melting pot dessert combines plums from Italy and cardamom from India. Enjoy!
Serves 8

Butter and flour for the pan
1 cup unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
10-12 Italian prune plums or other purple plums
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter and flour a deep dish pie plate.

Put the flour, baking powder and spices in a bowl and whisk to combine.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well combined.

Add the dry ingredients and beat on low until just combined. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.

Cut the plums in half lengthwise, remove the pits and quarter, again lengthwise. Put the plums in a bowl, sprinkle with lemon juice and toss to combine. Add a little sugar if the plums are particularly tart.

Arrange the plums skin side up in concentric circles on top of the batter. Bake for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve warm, plain or with a dollop of whipped cream or scoop of ice cream.

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One Year Ago – Easy Microwave Popcorn
Two Years Ago – Bruschetta with Fresh Tomatoes, Goat Cheese & Pesto Oil
Three Years Ago – Lemon Pasta & Shrimp with Olives & Capers
Four Years Ago – Roasted Sausages with Caramelized Onions, Broccoli Rabe & Polenta
Five Years Ago – Lobster Mac & Cheese
Six Years Ago – Sausage, Kale & Potato Soup
Seven Years Ago – Soupe au Pistou
Eight Years Ago – Mulled Cider

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

How will you spend the long holiday weekend? Feel free to share.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2016