Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fall Color

Friday Favorite Photo

Quote of the Day: Our summer made her light escape, into the beautiful.  - final line from Emily Dickenson's poem, As Imperceptibly as Grief

I pass this gorgeous Red Maple on my way to the YMCA where I work out.  It's extra motivation to go to Group Power while this tree is in full color.  We had gale-force winds in the Brainerd lakes area today, so I made a special trip over to this side of town to capture the colorful leaves before they all fall away.

Close-up of another tree where I parked my van.

Love that shade of red!

I'm looking forward to my drive west and north this weekend for the children's writers conference in Grand Forks, ND. It's always inspirational, and the colors will be like watching a rainbow of trees slide by on the highway.

Journaling Prompt:  Where do you go to enjoy the change of seasons?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Announcing the Winner of "A Baker's Field Guide" Giveaway!

Just wanted to let you know that the lucky winner of A Baker's Field Guide--the four volume set--is Mary/Kit Redmond! Mary confessed in her comment that her favorite cookie is a fabulous chocolate espresso shortbread. Sounds divine to me!

To collect your prize, Mary, please email me at to send me your name and address. Your books will then be en route to you right away. Congratulations and happy baking!

Generations of New Faces

Quote of the Day:  Meeting someone for the first time is like going on a treasure hunt  What wonderful worlds we can find in others! - Edward E. Ford

As I entered the Kiwanis Park for the Walk to End Alzheimer's on Saturday morning, I was struck immediately by the mix of generations that gathered.  From newborn babies to great-grandparents, we all came together.  This disease affects all generations.  We had various mobility aids from strollers to walkers to wheelchairs to helping hands. 

Photo by Joey Halvorson
Some people might have been meeting for the first time. While others have known each other for years.  You never know when a new friend might be waiting on the other side of a "Hello."

As we journey through life, we might be side by side, in tandem, or walking parallel paths that maybe someday will cross.  At some point, we'll need a little push.  At another, we'll be the one who lends a hand.

May the hills and valleys of life lead you to new adventures, deeper relationships, and inspirational moments.

Journaling Prompt:  Describe how you met one of your best friends.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

We Walk for Memory

Quote of the Day:  Alzheimer's is like a thief. It comes in and steals away parts of a person. First it's memories, then driving ability, then self-care. You can never catch this theif.  But, our Walk to End Alzheimer's is taking a step in the right direction. Summary of the speech by Ken Thomas, honorary family at the Brainerd area Walk to End Alzheimer's.  Ken is a local radio personality.  He and his sisters, and family, walked together to honor their father who passed away earlier this year from Alzheimer's.

Here they are celebrating after the walk.
His granddaughter is stealing the show!

The Brainerd area of Minnesota raised over $72,000.00 for Alzheimer's research and to provide current needs of today's patients and caregivers. 

I was happy to be walking with all these generous people.  It was a glorious morning, cool and crisp and sunny. People wrapped their arms around each other to show that they care. 

Walk Chair Person, Pam, and her mom.
From the tiniest of citizens

She won this prayer shawl, made by Pam's mom, for being the youngest "walker".

To those who have been around a few more years.

For more photos and story click over to our LAMAA blog.  (Lakes Area Memory Awareness Advocates.)

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Do you know someone who has suffered from Alzheimer's or dementia?  What have you done to help?

Pollo alla Mediterranea

Came in so late without a plan.  Since we seem to be on the subject of chicken,   I opened the refrigerator and realized I had a whole Organic chicken, cleaned and cut up ready for something, but was not sure what to do.  My husband gets tired of chicken easily so I had to come up with an excuse quickly.  A jar of mixed olives unopened was in the pantry.   A simple combination of great flavors concluded a great dish~Here is a dish that requires very little work. My favorite recipes~ Buon Appetito

One whole chicken about 3-4 pounds cut up into small pieces. 
flour to coat
salt pepper to taste
1 / 12oz jar of mixed Greek and french olives/ drained and set aside.
3 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup white wine
salt and pepper to taste
2 additional tablespoons of olive oil upon the chickens return to the pan in step 2

1. Drain and dry with paper towels your cut up chicken. Heat your oil in a large enough skillet, enough to accommodate your chicken.  Dredge you chicken pieces in flour, remove access.  Brown your pieces in the oil.  Drain on towels and set aside.  By now, the fat from the chicken would have added additional grease to your pan. 

2. Drain the grease, wipe out with paper towels and return the pan to the stove.  Add 2 tablespoons fresh olive oil.  Saute your garlic till fragrant.  Add your olives, smashing some into the oil.  Return your chicken pieces to the pan and give them a turn.  Add your white wine and let simmer away.  Put the lid ajar on your pan and simmer until your liquid has reduced (about one hour).   Set off the heat to cool.  Serve with a side salad, and some Italian bread~ Buon Appetito~  

Friday, September 23, 2011

Buckeye Chocolate-Chip Cookie Cups and a Giveaway: A Baker's Field Guide, by Dede Wilson (the four volume set!)

Will the real buckeye please stand up? Because I wouldn't want to accidentally bite into the kind of buckeye that grows on a tree in Ohio. What I would want to bite into is the kind of buckeye that's peanut butter filled, dipped in chocolate, and plopped into chocolate chip cookie dough that's been baking in a cupcake pan.

I knew it was inevitable that I'd eventually make buckeye candies the moment that Charlie, my older son, divulged his final college choice late last April. He was fortunate in having a few great options, and as the decision deadline approached, my husband and I were on pins and needles awaiting the verdict. We were both happy and relieved that the winning choice was Ohio State, land of anything and everything buckeye, and less than a four hour drive from our house. So last Sunday, after months of anticipation and weeks of preparation, we drove Charlie down to Columbus, moved him in, met his roommates, then said our hug-laden goodbyes.

We'd successfully deposited our first child into the waiting arms of academia and, well, there wasn't much left to do but grab a hamburger and hit the road back to Michigan. Joy? Pride? Amazement? Apprehension? I feel them all. And I keep having non-stop mom-thoughts: Did he remember to bring an umbrella? He didn't pack that scary-looking hunting knife he owns, did he? Why didn't he bring that cute collapsible under-bed storage thingie I got him? Hmmm . . .

Now, our home is perhaps 25 percent quieter, there are fewer dirty towels to wash, and I don't have to wonder what time he'll turn into the driveway late on a weekend night. It's sort of as if he's away at a really big camp where they don't make s'mores or play taps at bedtime. But the kid's a force of nature, and I must say I miss him and the way he would always swoop in the backdoor after school or work, say hi to me, grab a snack, race to change his clothes, and swoop out the door again after giving me a peck on the cheek. That's my Charlie--a whirling bundle of barely-contained, teenage-boy energy.

I hope they like energy at Ohio State.

Thus, the Buckeye cookie cups . . .
Buckeye candies are a close cousin to the peanut butter cup. They're easy to make at home and so darn good. My idea to put them into this particular recipe came to me as I was browsing through my recently (and gleefully) received review copy of A Baker's Field Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies, by Dede Wilson

That "field guide" above is just one volume in a fabulous four-volume set that also includes A Baker's Field Guide to Christmas Cookies, A Baker's Field Guide to Holiday Candy & Confections, and A Baker's Field Guide to Cupcakes. Holy moly!

The Harvard Common Press of Boston was kind enough to offer me two sets of these wonderful books; one review set for me to keep (yay!) and one set to give away to one of you (double yay!). Thank you so very much, HCP! 

Do you want these books, too? 

Rhetorical question. I know you do. To throw your hat into the mixing bowl, so to speak, just leave a comment on this post telling me about one of your favorite cookie, candy, or cupcake recipes! That's all there is to it. I'll announce the lucky winner here on Wednesday, Sept. 28th, so be sure check back. 

About these recipes . . . 

This cookie-cup was adapted from the recipe for "Caramel Surprise Chocolate Chip Cups" in A Baker's Field Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies; that recipe suggests the use of Rolo candies inserted into mini-size cookie cups. But I wanted to do something with all these hefty buckeyes I'd made and, to accommodate their girth (they were about as big as whole walnuts--no kidding), I needed correspondingly roomy cookie cups, so I used regular size cupcake pans. (The basic recipe I adapted for the buckeye candies came from the book, Who Wants Candy?, by Jane Sharrock--another fun book to check out.)

(For printable versions of these recipes, click here!)

To make the buckeye candies:
(Yield: at least 36 buckeyes)

1 and 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter (I used Jiff brand)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 and 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tiny pinch of salt
3 to 3-1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
5 oz. of a dark chocolate candy coating (I used part of a Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Flavored Candy Making & Dipping Bar)
3 oz. baking chocolate or semisweet chocolate chips (I used part of a Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Bar)

In the large bowl of your mixer, on low speed, blend together the peanut butter and butter. Add in the salt and vanilla extract. Add in the confectioners' sugar gradually. You want the mixture to hold together easily when you roll a little glob of it between your palms into a ball, but you don't want it to be too soft. It should also not be crumbly. Keep adding sugar, and adjust the consistency as needed with more peanut butter.

Form into balls no more than 1" in diameter (that's how big mine were and they were pretty hefty; I think smaller might be better!), placing them on a parchment sheet placed over a rimmed baking sheet. Put the balls into the freezer while you melt the chocolate.

Break up the chocolate into a small bowl and slowly melt it in the microwave, using extreme care to avoid overheating the chocolate, and stirring gently every now and then when you check it. Be careful as well, to avoid getting any water at all into the chocolate; even one drop of water can cause it to seize, which will completely ruin it.

Another option is to slowly melt the chocolate in a metal bowl placed atop a pan of gently simmering water (making sure the water doesn't touch the bottom of the pan). Depending on what kind of chocolate you use, and whether or not it's specifically for coating or not, you may find you need to thin the mixture slightly after it's melted; you can do this by adding vegetable oil a couple of drops at a time and gently stirring it in. (If you are familiar with the process of tempering, and you want to use couverture chocolate for your buckeyes instead of the lesser coating chocolates available, go for it. If you have no experience with tempering chocolate at all, though, now may not be the best time to give it a try.) The consistency of the dipping chocolate you use, whatever it is, should be fairly thin when melted. You may need to make adjustments as you see fit.

When your peanut butter balls are cold and firm, use a toothpick to spear each one, and quickly dip it into the melted chocolate, leaving an uncoated circular area on the top, and swiping the bottom gently against the edge of the bowl to scrape off the excess chocolate. Set each coated ball on the parchment covered tray. You may end up with a little hole from the toothpick. Once the chocolate has firmed up, you can safely try to smooth the hole closed with your fingertip. If you have a special candy-dipping fork, you may be able to avoid the problem of the little hole by using that instead of a toothpick. Experiment to see what works best for you.

It will take several minutes for the dipped chocolate to firm up completely. Store the finished buckeyes in a dry and cool location until you're ready to use them in the cookie cups, or eat them as they are! (I layered mine with parchment paper in a small cardboard cake box.)

To make the chocolate-chip cookie cups:
(Yield: At least 24 large-size cookie cups, with a little cookie batter leftover)

Grease 24 regular-size cupcake cups and then spray liberally with vegetable spray, or use paper cupcake liners in the pan(s).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I used unbleached.)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt (I used kosher salt.)
1 cup unsalted butter, softened (2 sticks)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs, large
2 cups mini-size semisweet chocolate chips

In a medium size bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. 
In the large bowl of your mixer, beat the butter until creamy on medium-high speed. Gradually add in the two sugars and beat until fluffy, about three minutes, stopping to scrape the bowl periodically. Blend in the vanilla, then add the eggs in one at a time, beating each until well combined. Add one third of the flour mixture on low speed, mixing just until combined; add in the rest of the flour gradually. Don't over-mix. On the lowest speed, pour in the mini chocolate chips, beating only until evenly incorporated.

Evenly portion the cookie batter into the cupcake pans (I used a no. 24 portion scoop; it holds 3 Tbsp. by volume).

Bake for about 10 minutes, until the cups have begun to turn golden. Remove them from the oven quickly and plop a buckeye into the middle of each one, gently pressing it down into the cup.

Put the pans right back into the oven and continue baking for about 6 more minutes or so. When they're quite golden, remove the trays and set them to cool on racks. Run a thin knife or metal spatula around the edges of the cups to loosen them before attempting to remove the cookie cups.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below!)


Quote of the Day:  I feel grateful to be a woman. Ginny, from our Women's Retreat last weekend.

We were gathered in a circle on Sunday morning for our exit session. We went around and reflected on meaningful moments of the retreat and how we were feeling.  When Ginny said that, I said, "Halleluiah!"  We are most at peace when we embrace who we are, feel whatever we need to feel, and show our love for one another.

I'm feeling grateful for my journey, for my four sons who are a delight and an inspiration.  I love watching and listening to them interact. I smile everytime I hear the twins snap off their reading lights and wish each other a "Good night." I'm happy when my bigger boys hang out together and enjoy each other's company. I'm feeling grateful to be a woman and a mom.

And, for my Friday Favorite Photo: I'm grateful that Leo, the Great White Hunter, came to live with us. He's already left us several gifts from his recent hunting quests. Thanks, Leo, Keep up the good work!

Journaling Prompt:  What are you feeling grateful for today?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Slow Cooker Orange Chicken

I love orange chicken.  But not just any orange chicken, a delicious sweet and crispy orange chicken that I remember eating when my family lived in Washington.  The restaurant was an old pizza place that had been remodeled into a Chinese restaurant. My mom used to take us there and my memory of the orange chicken leaves me drooling.  Now, as a grown up nothing has quite matched up.  Oh, yes, I have found many an orange chicken dish to try but none left me wanting more.  They were too sweet, not orangey enough, too sour, too gooey/sticky/thickish or simply just not good.

So, when I stumbled onto this recipe I was excited for a few reasons.  First, I had all the ingredients (WOOT!).  Second, it cooked in the slow cooker (WOOT! WOOT!) and third, it is much healthier than fried versions (Triple WOOT!).  While it may not be what others deem as the best ever,  I was pleasantly surprised how the flavors came together.  The orange flavor is front and center, but other flavors join in and create a sweet and savory sauce that doesn't remind one of breakfast.  We served it over home made rice pilaf and fresh green beans on the side.  My kiddos devoured it, and I am anxiously awaiting lunch tomorrow when I can eat some of the leftovers.  ENJOY!

Slow Cooker Orange Chicken
Recipe Source: Modified slightly from Fake Ginger

1 pound boneless chicken, cut in 2-inch chunks
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
6 ounces (1/2 can) frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
3 tablespoons brown sugar or honey
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons ketchup
1/2 tablespoon grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
Red pepper flakes to taste if desired.

**Cook's Note-I used a tiny pinch of the red pepper flakes in the recipe and sprinkled more on top afterwards for more heat.**

Put the chicken pieces into your slow cooker. In a small mixing bowl, combine the orange juice concentrate, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, salt,  ketchup, ginger and garlic. Pour sauce mixture evenly over the chicken, and toss to coat.

Cover and cook on low for 6 hours, or on high for 3 to 4. If desired thicken with some cornstarch and water during the last 10 minutes of cooking.  Serve over rice.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I'm back and introducing my new love....Ruby

I didn't share with most of you that I have been in mourning the last few months.  My dear, faithful, and trusty Kitchen Aide died on me.  My husband, who is very handy and mechanically inclined, stepped in while the poor thing was sputtering away and tried to no avail to save my favorite kitchen appliance.  But, there was nothing that could be done.  The motor was fried in a fluke accident when an interior bolt came loose.  

As a result of losing my cooking companion, and life in general which includes three hunting trips, computer issues, kids going back to school, and me finishing my degree, I haven't been cooking much.  But now, life is slowing down a little bit and for my birthday my mother in law gave to me Ruby, my new Kitchen Aide mixer (yes, I know it isn't really normal to name an appliance but I couldn't help it.  I justify my actions by arguing that people name cars and boats and all kids of things so why not my shiny, new mixer?)

Ruby is RED, hence the name, and I can't wait to start making some of the recipes I having pinning on Pinterest. (If you haven't checked Pinterest out yet please go take a peak at my boards.  It's a virtual pin board for all great things you love and slightly addicting!)  Below is a picture I took when Ruby came out of the box and arrived at her new home on my counter top. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Where's God?

Quote of the Day:  Is God on Facebook, yet? Jim Gaffigan

I checked, and I'd say that God is not on facebook. You can "like" God. You can sign up for Messages from God, but I'm not exactly sure who does the typing for those. I've asked my pastor friends several times to share God's email, but they say they don't have it. So, I've come to the conclusion that God doesn't send messages via social networking websites. I was asked this weekend, "How do you hear God's voice?" God speaks to me through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Cousin Angie at the piano, me leading the song, Siri on flute

In Songs

In voices and conversations

In peaceful settings like Mount Carmel
on Lake Carlos

In art
and writing

In the community of women, gathered at a spiritual retreat on the topic of Depression.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Where do you go to find answers for life's difficult questions and circumstances?  Where do you hear or sense the Holy Spirit?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Creatively Filled

Quote of the Day:  Think of whatever you are doing as an adventure and watch your life change for the better. - Wilfred A. Peterson

I went on an Artist Date with my artist friend, JeMA.  It had all the best ingredients: coffee, two art galleries, a book store, a music store, and this deliciousness.

P. F. Change's Lettuce Wraps

And, My Favorite Photo Friday pick:

This one really cracks me up!

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Do you buy original art?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Banana Buckwheat Pancakes . . . with Wildflower Honey

I learned a new word today . . . . pseudocereal. Yeah, I'm serious. It would seem that buckwheat flour is made from a plant that's not really wheat at all, but something that likes to masquerade as a cereal. Just as a pseudo-intellectual is a human who fancies himself worthy of the academic upper crust when in reality he's probably just mildly smarter than average, buckwheat has a similar identity crisis going on. Who knew plants could do that?

Not to be confused with the Buckwheat character of Little Rascals fame, the common buckwheat plant, also known as fagopyrum, produces small triangular seeds that resemble the seeds of the beech tree; it seems the word buckwheat may be a derivation/corruption of the pronunciation of the Dutch words for beech wheat. Utterly fascinating, right? Mmm hmm, I thought so too. Okay then, moving on . . .

So, did any of that factual flotsam and jetsam matter to me this morning as I was whipping these babies up? No sir, not a lick. All I know is that the basis for these hotcakes--pastry flour enhanced with a meaningful portion of whole grain buckwheat flour,  a big over-ripe banana, a pinch of cinnamon, and a dollop of wildflower honey--make for a fabulous breakfast treat. On the heavily traveled thoroughfare of the American pancake continuum, these lean toward the healthier side of town, but you'd never know it based on their rich flavor and pleasing texture. Drizzle even the tiniest amount of honey over them, along with a few extra banana slices, and you have something wonderful with which to start the day.

About this recipe . . . 

Adapted from Kim Boyce's recipe for pear and buckwheat pancakes in her appealingbook, Good to the Grain, I halved the amount of buckwheat flour, used regular pastry flour instead of whole grain pastry flour, used mashed banana instead of pear, added in a smidgen of wildflower honey, used canola oil instead of butter, and tossed in a pinch of cinnamon to boot. And, of course, I reworded things to reflect exactly what I did.

Banana Buckwheat Pancakes with Wildflower Honey
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1 and 1/2 cups pastry flour
3 Tbsp. granulated sugar

2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 pinch ground cinnamon

2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 and 1/2 Tbsp. honey (I used wildflower honey.)
1 and 1/4 cups whole milk (I didn't have any on hand so I used 1 and 1/4 cups of 2 percent milk, along with 1/4 cup of half-and-half.)
1 large egg
1 large very ripe banana, mashed

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the oil, honey, milk, egg, and mashed banana.

Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing gently just until blended. Don't overmix.

If you have a nice non-stick skillet, and you prefer to add no more fat to the pancakes, go ahead and use that. Heat it over medium heat for a minute or so.

If using a regular skillet, be sure to add 2 to 3 Tbsp. of vegetable oil (I used canola) to the heated pan. Let the oil heat up, still over medium heat.

When your pan is hot, pour the batter on in 1/4- to 1/3 cup portions. Let the pancakes cook until quite a few bubbles start to form on the top of each one; flip them over with a thin spatula and cook them until their bottoms are quite golden. It shouldn't take more than a few minutes. Keep going with the remainder of the batter. Serve the pancakes with honey and banana slices on the side.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below!)


Quote of the Day:  Music's the medicine of the mind. - John A. Logan

Also, Laughter is the best medicine. I don't know if anyone gets credit for that one. It's one of the consistent humor columns in Reader's Digest.  Here's my own bit of humor for the day.  It's all good medicine.

I am a member of LAMAA (see sidebar for our blog). It stands for Lakes Area Memory Awareness Advocates.  I am strictly a volunteer member. I joined because I want to learn more about Alzheimer's disease and Dementia awareness, and well, get involved.  I noticed that on our agenda for today's meeting that I am the POC of the website/blog.  Here was my response to that:

Good Morning, Corrie,

So, I see that I am a POC regarding the website/blog. Not being active in the business world, I started to think what POC might stand for:

POC - Person of Concern (like in a crime investigation)

POC - Parent on Call (Me 24/7)

POC - Patient of Corrie, Licensed Therapist (currently, not me, there's always tomorrow)

POC - Princess of Camelot (again, not me, but now I have some ideas for Halloween)

POC - Princess of Chocolate (Strong contender)

POC - Person on Chocolate (me, totally)

POC - Pickle or Cucumber (matter of taste)

POC - Pill or Capsule (pharmacist's question)

POC - Play or Coach (depends on skill and age)

POC - Pissed off Customer (while calling your phone service and kept waiting and waiting, pushing buttons, and waiting and waiting)

POC - Picture of Christ (seen on burnt doorframes and frosted windows)

POC - Piece of Cake (yes, please)

POC - Passed Out Cold (hmmm)

POC - Police on Campus (often, for reason listed above)

POC - Petty old Coot (hopefully, not your next door neighbor)

POC - Plethora of Color (Fall, can you feel it coming?)

This is how my mind works. Enjoy your day. See you tomorrow!


Go. Create. Inspire! And, have a little fun!

Journaling Prompt:  Have you ever been a POC?  What might it stand for? Do you ever get confused by cryptic text messages?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Matter of Minutes

Quote of the Day:  May the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. 1 Thessalonians 3:12

We cannot begin to make sense of man's inhumanity to man. What happened in the United States of America ten years ago shattered our sense of security.  We were reminded just how vulnerable and fragile we are.  I was home with three small children, watching and crying over the news. I turned on the tv in time to see the firefighters rush into the towers, and then get crushed in their collapse. My seven-year-old came home from school worrying about tall buildings. I assured him that the tallest "building" in our tiny town of Parkers Prairie was the water tower, but he was afraid.

The short play, THE MIRACULOUS DAY QUARTET (under 10 min.), written by a "sister" member of International Centre for Women Playwrights, shows us what a difference of a few minutes makes.

Thank you, Mary Steelsmith, for sharing this with me and my blog readers.  Click over to the Youtube link. (I had problems embedding it. Maybe it was the length.)

Go. Create. Inspire! And, may your love conquer evil.

Journaling Prompt:  What were you doing on Sept. 11, 2001? What details of that event left strong images in your heart and mind?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Fresh Apple Cake with Boiled Cider Glaze . . .

Maybe you saw from my previous post that my father passed away recently? I mention this again only because, while he was ill over the latter half of the summer, my urge to bake just about completely fizzled. It was kind of like my inner pilot-light temporarily flickered out. I had other things on my mind, of course, and my energy was directed elsewhere. I guess baking for pleasure seemed like a frivolous pursuit.

But now, as I restart my internal baking engine, so to speak, I realize that I want to make things that are distinctly comfort inducing--dishes that remind me of why I love baking to begin with, and that evoke the sense of contentment I knew as a kid while watching my mom move confidently about her kitchen. I can still see the silver beaters on her Sunbeam mixer whirling in place as she hovered nearby, spatula poised, her blue eyes riveted on a bowl of pound-cake batter or thick chocolate icing. I don't think it would be stretching the truth to say that my dad enjoyed just about every food she ever prepared, and each night as we finished dinner, he'd thank her for having made it. I know that left an impression on me.

My dad loved the fact that I was always baking and I recall how surprised and charmed he was a couple of years ago when I informed him I was entering culinary school part-time to study the baking and pastry arts. He often asked me what I was working on, and occasionally requested that I make homemade bread for him, or peanut butter cookies, or creamy clam chowder. Eventually, he couldn't keep it in his mind that I was in culinary school at all, but that was okay. Though in the last several weeks he couldn't have told you what decade it was or what he'd had for lunch one minute after he ate it, he still recognized the most important things in life and, even up to the end, was still alert enough to give and receive expressions of love. I'll always be grateful for that.

About this recipe . . .

That desire of mine to bake comfort food brings me to today's fresh apple cake. Adapted from a recipe for apple rum cake found in pastry chef Nick Malgieri's book, Perfect Cakes, I omitted his use of the rum altogether and substituted a larger amount of boiled cider for the primary flavoring ingredient. I also used boiled cider in the glaze instead of rum, and I left raisins out of the batter as well.

What the heck is boiled cider, you may be asking? It's exactly what it sounds like. It's apple cider that has been slowly reduced in much the same way maple sap is cooked down into maple syrup. You can buy boiled cider in a bottle, like the kind I used for this recipe, or you can try making it yourself by simmering two cups of cider in an uncovered saucepan over low heat until it's shrunk down to 2/3 of a cup (that last bit of advice I found in my old copy of Richard Sax's indispensable book, Classic Home Desserts: A Treasury of Heirloom and Contemporary Recipes). Boiled cider still tastes exactly like cider, but in a richly concentrated form; it's very good.

I adjusted this cake recipe further by adding in restrained pinches of nutmeg and cinnamon--only enough to hint at their spicy presence, and of course I reworded it to reflect exactly what I did. Moist and satisfying, this simple cake is just right for early fall. Not too sweet, and the use of the boiled cider really pumps up the apple flavor. A good bet for brunch, dessert, or a nice afternoon snack with a cup of tea.

Fresh Apple Cake with Boiled Cider Glaze
(For a printable version of these recipes, click here!)

Yield:  One 9" cake, baked in a springform pan.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9" springform pan, line the bottom of the pan with a 9" parchment paper circle, then butter the parchment.

Ingredients for the cake:
2 large tart apples (I used Granny Smiths), peeled, cored, halved, and sliced into pieces about 1/8" thick
3 Tbsp. boiled apple cider

2 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I used unbleached)
2 tsp. baking powder
Scant 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 scant pinch ground cinnamon
1 scant pinch ground nutmeg

12 Tbsp. (1 and 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at soft room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs, large
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. milk

Ingredients for the glaze:
1 to 1-and-1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
2 to 4 Tbsp. boiled cider (depending on how thick or thin you prefer your glaze to be)

* * * * * 

Mix the sliced apples and the 3 Tbsp. of boiled cider together in a bowl. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, kosher salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

In the large bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until fluffy and light. One at a time, beat in the eggs, still on medium speed. Add in the vanilla.

Take the bowl off the mixer. Using a rubber spatula, fold in half the flour mixture.

Set a colander over an empty bowl and dump the apples along with their liquid into it. Let them drain a minute or so.

Add the milk into the cider drippings, then pour this liquid into the batter and stir it in.

Fold the remaining flour into the batter.

Evenly spread half of the batter into the bottom of the prepared springform pan. Use a small offset spatula (ideally), or the back of a spoon, to spread it out.

Scatter all of the apples over the top of the batter (they do not need to be neatly arranged); try to leave just a narrow margin of uncovered batter close to the sides of the pan.

Plop the remaining batter over that and spread it out smoothly.

Bake the cake on the middle rack of your oven for approximately 55 to 60 minutes, or until the cake feels  firm, is golden brown, and apples seem tender. Test it with a toothpick if you like.

Cool the cake in its pan, set on a rack, for 15 minutes before attempting to remove the sides of the pan.

Run a thin metal spatula or knife around the edge before removing the sides. Then, invert the cake quickly and carefully onto a flat plate; lift off the bottom of the pan, peel off the parchment circle if it's stuck to the cake, then quickly reinvert the cake-bottom back onto the cooling rack. Let the unpanned cake cool fully on the rack.

To make the glaze:

With the confectioners' sugar in a medium-small bowl, begin adding in the boiled cider one tablespoon at a time, adding in more and stirring continually until all lumps are gone and the glaze is as thick or thin as you prefer.

Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cake, or serve it warm, drizzled over individual slices.

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