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holiday eating, + down time

December 6th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

The space between Thanksgiving and Christmas feels so much shorter this year, like a freight train coming at us, all decorated in sparkling lights, tinsel and bows. I love Christmas a lot, and the decorations are only a part of what makes it so appealing. But we’re barely past Thanksgiving and December is already roaring in to greet us, all proclaiming the glory of the season.

It’s time to turn the focus on the real meaning of the season.

But first….. we need some good food for celebrating, don’t we??

I tend not to post a lot in the last month of the year. My job becomes so incredibly busy this month and the uptick in activity drains a lot of energy out of me, leaving little time for extra effort in the kitchen to make, photograph and write about a divine treat, or beautiful holiday option. Plus, I just don’t think anyone needs yet another food blogger spelling out Christmas cheer in concentrated posts between now and the end of December. It’s become so saturated with those, hasn’t it?

But I do have some delicious treats, side dishes and snacks from past years that I think are wonderful, and thought that I’d just share a few of them with you. Some are old (but all things old are new again, aren’t they??) and some are new; some spell Christmas loud and clear, and others are just a darn good idea, but all of them can be incorporated at some point over the next weeks in to your holiday repertoire.

May your season be cheerful and bright, however you celebrate.


The ultimate Christmas treat: Sugar Plums

If you’ve never made this classic holiday treat, this should be the year you do. They are superbly simple, with a delicious taste that only gets better as they sit, waiting for Christmas morning. They’re quite healthy, too.

Sugar Cookies. The perfect blend of butter, sugar and vanilla, and just what you need to roll out and cut with fancy cookie cutters for decoration.

 

A Nutmeg Cake that smells like Christmas:


White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies- Christmas perfection.

Swedish Holiday Fruit Bread (Fruktkaka), tasting like a long forgotten memory.

Nutella Pound Cake, anyone?? Can’t get much richer and decadent than that, can you?

Earl Grey Tea Cookies- made with the beautifully aromatic tea leaves, these taste like a gorgeous Winter day and are a great afternoon treat.

Authentic German Stollen, which I must make again this year. This recipe was glorious. (Photo is from 2008- no judging!)

Great snack option, or perfect for gift giving, Dark Chocolate Nutella Muddy Buddies:

For a very hearty appetizer, this Chili Bean & Queso Dip is spectacular:

For something completely different, try making this Middle Eastern spice and nut blend called Dukkah. (again, photo from 2008- no judging!!)

Make Christmas magic with this unique and delicious Red Rice Pulao with Roasted Vegetables as your side dish:

You can substitute your favorite hearty green in this Boursin Spinach Gratin, and still get an amazing, rich and creamy side dish:

May the magic and beauty of Christmas, and all the holidays be kept close to your heart, now and all the year through.

lighter than normal lemon pound cake

January 27th, 2012 | 4 Comments »

January is drawing to a close and we’ve only just now received the first good snowfall to completely cover the landscape. And with only one brief cold snap, where temperatures dropped below zero for a day or two, it really just hasn’t felt much like winter at all. Still, the calendar doesn’t lie, the light still falls off before the dinner hour -although it gets later and later every day!!- and the hum of an oven, concealing something aromatic and delicious is still welcomed in any Minnesota home.

Lemon is everywhere right now. Those bright yellow orbs are certainly popular in the wintertime, bursting forth with that incredible fresh scent. Lemon is like sunshine, and not just from the sunny yellow color; that spritz of luscious lemony aroma that bursts from the rind when you cut into it is a wonderful tonic to the drab and gray of a winter day. I even feel sunnier eating lemon, like the light rays are just pouring through me.  And citrus fruits are coming to the cold, lifeless mid-section of the country in all forms; gigantic globes of grapefruit, sunny tangerines, adorable little kumquats and key limes plus endless lemons.

I love to bake with lemon anything, and I particularly love the fresh zest paired with blueberries. But I have to admit that a lemon pound cake can make my knees weak. There is something about that tart bite, and the dense moist crumb that gets me, that makes it irresistible. But I’m not such a huge fan of the calories in pound cake, so finding a recipe that makes a lighter and less caloric version made me eager to try it out. But I had to ask myself…. would this even be worth it? We’ve all had those experiences of finding a less decadent way of baking a prized cake that simply falls flat. I couldn’t stand to be faced with a lemon cake that left me wanting more.

Needless to say, I was not at all disappointed.

If you didn’t know that this cake wasn’t made with a ton of butter and sugar, you might not realize it at all. It still has that gloriously dense texture that’s rich and satisfying. It still shouts “LEMON!!” with every bite. It satisfies and satiates and makes for a luxurious treat that doesn’t leave you feeling too guilty. There’s a ‘just tart enough’ glaze brushed over the top of it to add even more of that lovely mouth-puckering taste, making the top of the cake nice and soft too, something I love about a good teacake.

The bright and sunny winter day even made the photos look like they were bathed in lemony light.

Lemon Pound Cake

  • 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour or white whole-wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large lemons, divided
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
  • 3 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchâtel), at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature (see Tips)
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup reduced-fat milk
    Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9-by-5-inch (or similar-size) loaf pan with cooking spray; dust with flour and tap out any excess.Sift whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt together into a medium bowl.

    Finely grate 2 tablespoons zest from 2 of the lemons; set the lemons aside. Beat 3/4 cup sugar, cream cheese, butter and the zest in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in egg whites, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the egg and beat well. Reduce speed to medium and beat in milk; the mixture will look curdled.

    Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture in 2 batches, beating just until combined and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.

    Bake the cake until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the sides and turn the cake out onto the rack.

    While the cake is cooling, squeeze 5 tablespoons juice from the zested lemons. Trim the ends off the remaining whole lemon and very thinly slice; discard any seeds. Heat the lemon juice and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a small nonstick skillet over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Add the lemon slices and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Use a fork to transfer the lemon slices to a bowl. Continue simmering the syrup until slightly thickened and beginning to turn golden yellow, 2 to 4 minutes

    Set the rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Poke holes all over the top of the warm cake with a wooden skewer, 1 1/2 to 2 inches deep. Spoon the glaze over the cake, poking more holes if the glaze does not sink in. Arrange the lemon slices on top. Let the cake cool completely before slicing.

 

Recipe Notes: I made my cake with the glaze, and not the candied lemon slices. I tried, but they fell apart in the syrup and looked strange so I didn’t put them on the cake. The glaze was good, but I think the cake doesn’t really need it either.
Recipe from Eating Well magazine, posted in original form.

all that’s left

December 27th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

There isn’t much now, that signifies Christmas was only two days ago, other than the abundance of chocolate in the house, the presence still of a tree with glittering ornaments and other holiday decor. The gift bags are empty and some treasured new items have been absorbed in to our days. Everyone seemed to have a good time this year. The stocking hunt was successful…..

The cats received fun new toys that they enjoyed…..

And there was plenty of gatherings, with laughter, delicious food and wine, more cookies than one could shake a leg at, and little children with bright happy faces. But just like that, the planning and preparing and decorating and plotting and going and coming and caroling and waiting waiting waiting was over…… *poof*…… just like that. You wake up on the 26th and it’s back to normal, back to reality, back to work (for some) and another Christmas is done. It seems like so much anticipation, and then in a blink it’s gone.

Some aspects remain, memories made and smiles shared and a new gift to use or enjoy. Or maybe, what remains most prominently is a smidgen of the amazing Cranberry Pound Cake that, on a whim, I whipped together and pushed in to the oven, before dashing upstairs to shower an hour before guests were due to arrive. It was still baking, rich and fragrant and eliciting all sorts of ‘What IS that in the oven?’ queries when my family arrived, and before coats were even shed.

And me, nonchalantly trying to avoid panicking, since the cake seemed off when I shoved the pan in the oven and raced off with a prayer, I just shrugged and said ‘Cranberry cake’ as if I’d just, you know, trimmed a nail or something because I really had little confidence it was going to be worthy of Christmas dessert. It was a blind preparation, something I’d never made before and I had everything I needed and took a chance. It seemed simple enough.

And thankfully, the alchemy of eggs, sugar, butter, flour and a hot oven created a masterpiece that I can’t wait to make again.

I get a bit overly excited each year when faced with orbs of fresh deep red cranberries in the store, and often stockpile as many bags as I dare in the freezer to use over the winter months. I spotted this recipe at Apartment Therapy (as usual….) and tucked it away to try, then of course, got caught up in the crazy whirlwind of pre-Christmas and neglected to make a dessert for our family gathering. But…. like I said, it worked despite a few reservations. In fact, it worked so well that I already am thinking about another go of it. I mean, by golly the initial cake isn’t even gone from it’s plate and I want another one. That HAS to be a good cake, right? It’s got an amazingly rich, yet light taste and a dense sponge to the cake, sweet but not cloying. Pops of deep cranberry flavor are laced with pure almond taste, and the crumbly sugary crust is simply divine. You could make this for an amazing dessert to impress, or you could just make it for yourself as a phenomenal treat.

Cranberry Cake

3 eggs
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened and cut into chunks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1 tablespoon kirsch (optional)
2 cups flour
2 1/2 cups cranberries (1 bag)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9×13 pan or a 10″ springform pan. You can also use a standard Bundt pan, or 10″ tube pan with removable bottom.

Beat eggs and sugar together for 8-10 minutes —no, this is not a misprint! …. the egg and sugar mixture should double in volume and turn pale yellow, leaving thick and shiny ribbons of batter when you lift the beaters. This is the only leavening in the cake so make it good and fluffy.

Add the butter and flavorings and beat for 2 more minutes. Stir in flour and fold in cranberries. Pour into greased pan.

Bake 45-50 minutes for a 9×13, or a little over an hour for the springform, bundt or tube pan. You made need to tent the cake with foil in the last 15 minutes or so to keep the top from browning too much.

Cool completely before serving.

Optional pecan topping: 
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup pecans, toasted

Heat the butter in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the sugar and stir. Add the toasted pecans and cook for several minutes, stirring, until the butter and sugar mixture is shiny and smooth and the nuts smell toasted. Spread over the cake batter and bake as above.

Original recipe, from Faith Durand at Apartment Therapy, The Kitchn.

~~~Next time I make this cake, I think the addition of fresh orange juice and freshly grated orange zest would be wonderful. Also, a scant 1/2 teaspoon of fresh grated nutmeg would also be marvelous. So many possibilities!!!

nutella pound cake

November 30th, 2011 | 5 Comments »

Pretty fantastic ending….. wouldn’t you agree???

There is a class of food folks that live for dessert. No meal is complete without some amazing sweet at the end of it- a slice of cake, a bowl of ice cream, some creamy gelato, a chewy brownie or a few crisp cookies; there is just no way any good meal is worth it’s weight in gustatory delights without dessert.

I do love something sweet at the end of a meal, but it doesn’t need to be anything very fancy. A cookie or a piece of really good chocolate is sufficient. We don’t have cake around unless it’s a special occasion or I get fixated on bundt cakes, and I can make a slice of banana bread, or sweet potato bread into a delightful ending to a meal. Brownies? Hello! Love them. Still, once I’m through with a wonderful meal, and feel stuffed to the gills with good food, dessert becomes an afterthought.

This Nutella Pound Cake is an amazing dessert. It’s amazing any time of day; with coffee in the morning, with afternoon tea, as a late night snack. It’s perfect because it’s rich, luscious and indulgent, certainly not something out of an ordinary day. Don’t slaughter me…. but I’ve never really been on the whole Nutella bandwagon. I don’t get vapors over the stuff, and once I used part of the jar for this recipe, the rest sat in my fridge and languished, untouched. For more than a month, in fact. This cake was excellent, but it’s a pound cake. Butter. Sugar. What’s not to adore about that? The Nutella was a bonus.

This recipe graced my blog just about two years ago. And I felt it to be a fitting end to National Blog Posting Month, my third go-round of posting every day for November. I’ve shared some good recipes with you, and this one needs another look. It’s that time of year when special treats are brought out, even ones as indulgent as a pound cake with half a jar of Nutella swirled through it.  This would be a wonderful treat to make as a gift, or to bring to work to share with co-workers as  a means of saying ‘Thank you’ for the past year. Share it with family. Bring a loaf to a treasured friend. Make one for a neighbor that needs a boost, or someone who hasn’t got the ability to make themselves a homemade treat. The recipe can be broken down in to smaller loaf pans, perfect for sharing. And any Nutella that’s left in your fridge? Well, I hope yours doesn’t sit for a month, ignored.

Onward in to December!!!!

Nutella Swirl Pound Cake

4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 t. pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 c. unbleached AP flour
3/4 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 c. butter, softened
1-1/4 c. sugar
1 13-oz jar Nutella spread

Heat oven to 325°. Spray a 9×5 cake pan with cooking spray. Dust with flour. Fill a bowl with hot tap water and place entire jar of Nutella in it to soften. Place the eggs and vanilla in a small bowl and whisk lightly to combine. Blend dry ingredients together in another small bowl.

In a stand mixer, blend the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides at least twice. Turn the mixer to medium-low and add the egg mixture in a steady stream, stopping to scrape down the bowl once or twice. Reduce mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture, about a half cup at a time, scraping the bowl after each addition. After the last addition, blend the full mixture together for 30 seconds on medium speed. {{Be sure to scrape across the bottom of the mixer bowl too. Lots of stuff gets unmixed down in there.}}

Scrape 1/3 of the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth with a spatula. With a clean spatula, spread half the Nutella on the batter and smooth. Add in another 1/3 of the cake batter, then the remaining Nutella. Spread the last of the cake batter on the top. With a clean butter knife, swirl the batter and Nutella together to create a marbling effect. Don’t overmix the two! {{Kate’s Notes: The ‘spreading’ of the Nutella is impossible; try warming the mixture and drizzling it for ease. And I think the cake would come out better if you DON’T swirl the mixture, but that’s just my thoughts}}

Bake the cake until it’s golden on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes in the pan, then turn cake out onto a wire rack to cool completely. This cake tastes excellent after spending a night in the refrigerator, wrapped tight in plastic. I don’t know why. But trust me on that. {{Yes, trust us on this; WAY better chilled. As in OMG I could eat the entire thing COLD it’s so good.}}

From Food and Wine magazine, originally by Lauren Chattman, Cake Keeper Cakes

 

COMPLETED!!!!

 

The truth was in the taste…..

November 15th, 2009 | 7 Comments »

If you saw a recipe for Nutella Swirl Pound Cake, you’d probably think like I did….

“That has to be amazing…..”

nutella swirl poundcake6882nutella swirl poundcake6888

It was amazing. In fact, amazing or fantastic or decadent or incredible might just begin to scratch the surface of expectation for something with Pound Cake and Nutella in the title. If you’ve got a better description, please share it with me, preferably over a slice of this cake and some dark coffee. I could use some help in making this disappear.

I don’t make pound cakes much at all. I mean, a cake in all it’s sponge-y glory is bad enough, the butter laden, sugar sweetened lofty treat. But a POUND cake? Equal gobs of butter, eggs and sugar that all come together to create a glorious dense concoction not only tastes amazing, but can do incredible things to your thighs. And not many of them good. And with Nutella on top of all that sugar. And butter. To have that temptation around, or get my guys used to such decadence would be evil for all of us. We have no resistance, no self control. I think I’ll stick to cookies. My feet can’t possibly handle all the cardio I would need to do to work off the calories in a cake such as this. I like my waistline.

nutella swirl poundcake6894
This cake came out of the oven, however, looking anything but fabulous. The top sunk, the crust was really crumbly and it seemed quite fragile. The bottom of the cake fell off as I tipped it out of the pan. But, it was utterly delicious, superbly rich and proof that even when it looks sad and forlorn, what it’s really all about anyway is how it dances across your tongue. It was so tantalizing in fact, once I was done photographing it’s sturdy swirled slices, I promptly wrapped the remainder of it tight and placed it in the freezer. If the threat of tooth-breakage looms, I won’t be so quick to indulge in a stolen bite or two. And my thighs will be pretty grateful for that. I’ll pull it out for Thanksgiving, maybe, or when there’s a need to share something that the comfort of chocolate and sugar, a close friend and a cup of tea can provide is the only requirement necessary.
nutella swirl poundcake6899nutella swirl poundcake6900_2

Nutella Swirl Pound Cake
From Food and Wine magazine, originally by Lauren Chattman, Cake Keeper Cakes

4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 t. pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 c. unbleached AP flour
3/4 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 c. butter, softened
1-1/4 c. sugar
1 13-oz jar Nutella spread

Heat oven to 325°. Spray a 9×5 cake pan with cooking spray. Dust with flour. Fill a bowl with hot tap water and place entire jar of Nutella in it to soften. Place the eggs and vanilla in a small bowl and whisk lightly to combine. Blend dry ingredients together in another small bowl.

In a stand mixer, blend the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides at least twice. Turn the mixer to medium-low and add the egg mixture in a steady stream, stopping to scrape down the bowl once or twice. Reduce mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture, about a half cup at a time, scraping the bowl after each addition. After the last addition, blend the full mixture together for 30 seconds on medium speed.

Scrape 1/3 of the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth with a spatula. With a clean spatula, spread half the Nutella on the batter and smooth. Add in another 1/3 of the cake batter, then the remaining Nutella. Spread the last of the cake batter on the top. With a clean butter knife, swirl the batter and Nutella together to create a marbling effect. Don’t overmix the two!

Bake the cake until it’s golden on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes in the pan, then turn cake out onto a wire rack to cool completely. This cake tastes excellent after spending a night in the refrigerator, wrapped tight in plastic. I don’t know why. But trust me on that.

KATE’S NOTES:
I may be labeled insane, but using the entire jar of Nutella is kind of overkill. The first issue is something I saw in all the photos of this cake across the internet, and is evident in mine. The Nutella sinks. It caused the bottom of my cake to scorch slightly, and the bottom fell off when I took the cake out of the pan. I think the same marbling affect could be achieved with less Nutella, and without the end result of it sinking. I think that the Nutella would be utilized better if drizzled over the layers of cake batter, and not swirled with a knife. This is just an opinion. I probably won’t make the cake again to see if it actually would make a difference. Although I might. If I’m desperate.

However, should the bottom of your cake fall off too, do what I did: I used a large spatula to gently scrape the stuck parts out of the pan and then I replaced them on the bottom of the cake. Once wrapped up and chilled, which I can’t recommend enough, it sort of glued itself back together. And despite how high and lofty your cake will look when it comes out of the oven, for whatever reason, it will sink. All the cakes I saw on the internet had the same sunken tops. Don’t despair. It isn’t your fault. It still tastes delicious.