Lime, Mint and Aniseed Dressing

Each friend represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born. Anais Nin

Friday was our monthly Girls Games and Giving event.  There were a few ladies who were there for the first time.  I think one of the things I love best about this group is that, at almost every meeting, I walk away having made a new friend or two (or even three!).  Our group was small and we had so much fun.  We like to play Catch Phrase and if you haven’t played, it’s hysterical.  Someone told me it’s similar to the game Taboo, but what it reminds me of is the show/game Password. Basically you have to get your team to guess a word without saying the word or giving any obvious hints (like “sounds like” or “starts with”). 

The kicker is that the game makes the most horrible loud beeping noise – it’s basically a timer.  The game itself is a round electronic widget that is about 6″ in diameter.  Your team has to guess the word and the game has to be in the next person’s hands before the timer goes off. As you’re holding the game, the beeps get closer and closer together – Beep!……Beep!…..Beep!…..Beep!…Beep!…Beep!…Beep!…BEEP!..BEEP!BEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPHONK. There you sit with the game in your hands looking pathetic. When the beeping starts to get really close, the person who is next line will often delay taking the game – because even if your team has guessed the word correctly, you CANNOT be holding it when the timer goes off. The best is if you pass it to the next person and the timer goes off immediately.

The charity chosen by our hostess was ALS – or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. What an awful disease.  Essentially you end up with a body that doesn’t work and a fully functioning brain – trapped.  Two of the girls in our club are cousins and they’ve had 5 people in their family who either died or are dying from this disease. It’s always amazing to me how I can so easily feel like I don’t have enough in my life; yet hearing about a disease like this really makes it clear how blessed I really am.  The hostess showed us a before and after picture of the latest family member who has been struck with ALS – in six months she looked like she had aged 30 years. A good thing to think about when I feel like I’m somehow deprived!

I had this bright idea that I was going to can peaches this year.  This was brought on by my friend  and co-worker, Annie, who is this truly amazing woman – she can do anything.  She’s an outstanding cook, baker, quilter, sewer, accountant, just name it.  She brought in these peaches she had gotten at a local produce market.  They’re called Colorado Mountain Gold and oh my goodness – I’ve never had such a good tasting peach.  So I went to the market and bought an entire box. And before I could get them canned, we ate them all!  I have three left. And now, sadly, they’re not available anymore.  So, I’ll try again next year.  But, I did use them in some very creative ways.  Last weekend I made a salad with peaches, blueberries, and strawberries, and I topped it with a mint lime dressing that was used in a different type of fruit salad by my cousin Sue.  It was outstanding.  And even though the peaches were wonderful on their own, I also tried them alone with the dressing – yummers. And, it’s simple to make and keeps well. One thing I want to point out – I DO NOT like black licorace.  In fact, I would eat something with raisins in it before I would eat black licorace.  But don’t let the aniseeds in this recipe scare you.  The flavor is so subtle and adds so much to the final product – I promise you it will be good!

Just a few simple ingredients.  Those are the anise seeds on the bottom left. 

Mix together the sugar, finely diced mint leaves, anise seeds, lime juice and water. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes.  Cool completely.

Here it is still warm from the stove.  If you’re going to make this a couple days ahead of time, you can leave the mint out when you boil it and add it in when the syrup is cool. Let it steep for a couple of days and it will have a wonderful mint flavor, and the mint pieces will stay bright green instead of losing their color (when they’re cooked they look a little like basil).

So good drizzled on fresh fruit (the last of the peaches!).  For more intense flavor, soak the fruit in the dressing for a couple of hours before serving.  So far my favorite combination is peaches, orange slices (from either mandarin or Cara Cara oranges), strawberries and blueberries.

Lime, Mint and Aniseed Dressing

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon anise seed
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in a small heavy saucepan over high head, and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and boil for 2 minutes.

Remove from heat, and cool completely. May be used immediately after cooling or store in the refrigerator.

Alternative: Follow directions above, but do not add mint until mixture has cooled.  Allow to steep in the refrigerator for at least one day before using. This method keeps the mint leaves a nicer green.

 

Simple Scrumptious Shortbread Cookies

Sail the main course in a simple sturdy craft. Keep her well stocked with short stories and long laughs. Go fast enough to get there but slow enough to see. Moderation seems to be the key. Jimmy Buffett

Yep, I think of Jimmy Buffett as my pal.  He’s been with me for over 30 years, singing songs that seem to perfectly reflect whatever I was feeling at the time.  Right now my life is at a point where simple things hold a great deal of appeal, which is a  frequent subject in Jimmy’s songs.

Sometimes I want to spend an entire day perfecting a complicated and amazing recipe.  One with many steps that have to be orchestrated as carefully as a ballet performance – one false step and it’s ruined, but when flawlessly completed yields a thing of great beauty and flavor.  Sometimes I’m successful, and sometimes not, but I always keep trying.  While I strive for baked goods that look good and taste good, taste is definitely most important.  Would that be function following form?

Anyway, there’s almost nothing simpler to make than a shortbread cookie.  Butter, flour, sugar, salt and vanilla – just five common ingredients.  Of course, you can add different flavors or flavors combinations. or some nuts if you like, but my favorite is usually the simple variety without any additions.  They will literally melt in your mouth.  So delectable!

It was another cool day here, so it felt like the perfect time to turn on the oven.

Just five ingredients.  Make sure the butter is room temperature, and sift the flour and salt together.

 

Preheat the oven to 350°. Cream the butter and sugar together until it’s combined.  For these cookies you don’t want the butter to be super light and fluffy, so as soon as they combine, you can add the vanilla, then stir a bit. Then add the sifted flour and salt and beat until combined.  It will be extremely crumbly.

Dump it out onto a pastry cloth and form it into a flat piece.  Wrap it up and refrigerate it for about 20 minutes.

 Here it is out of the fridge and ready to be rolled out.

 Sprinkle some flour on it as you’re rolling it out if it starts to stick to the rolling pin.\

You’ll want it about 1/2″ thick. You can reroll the dough and keep cutting out, just handle it gently.

Put them on a cookie sheet  – you can space them fairly close together since they won’t really spread out. Sprinkle with sugar (I like the chunkier sugar but couldn’t find it, so used regular, which is fine, too, just not as sparkly).  Bake for about 16 minutes until just beginning to brown around the edges. Cool on a wire rack until room temperature.

These are perfect with a glass of milk . Mmmm. Enjoy!

Shortbread Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup butter, room temperature (no substitutions)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3-1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 35o°.

Cream butter and sugar together until combined.  Add vanilla and stir just until combined.

Sift the salt and the flour together and add slowy just until combined.

Dump the dough onto a pastry cloth or marble slab and form it into a flat circle (it will be very crumbly, but don’t worry!).

Refrigerate for about 20 minutes, then place on a pastry cloth or marble slab and roll out to about 1/2″ thick.  Cut out with the cookie cutters of your choice, however, you’ll want to use cutters that are fairly simple shapes. You can reroll the dough and keep cutting it out.  Alternatively, you can roll the dough into a rectangle (still about 1/2″ thick) and use a pastry cutter to cut out rectangles about 1″ x 2″.

Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for about 16 minutes, or until the cookies just start to brown around the edges.  It’s better to undercook than overcook these.

Cool on a wire rack until room temperature.  Store in an airtight container for up to 4 days.  These also freeze well – use wax paper or parchment paper between the layers.

You can substitute other flavorings for the vanilla, and also make additions such as dried lavender or finely chopped nuts.  These are really fun to experiment with.


Getting Sauced: Salty Caramel Fudge Sauce

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. John 15:12

One of my greatest joys is feeding people.  It’s a selfish pleasure, really, because I get such a wonderful kick out of making something that causes someone to squinch up their eyes in glee and really enjoy what they’re eating.  And even better if they finish it and ask for more!

I am so blessed to be able to have this experience at least once a week with my uncle and my husband, who are patient recipients of my experiments. Most of the time they’re pretty pleased with what I feed them.  But truthfully I think it’s partially because they aren’t very picky eaters.  We have had a few laughs, with probably the funniest thing being the time I decided to make a vegetarian casserole – one of my dearest friends and her kids were coming for dinner that Sunday as well, and they don’t eat meat.  The kids, having been raised as vegetarians, are pretty offended by meat. They’ll look at you with those big eyes and ask, “Is that MEAT?” Talk about guilt-inducing behavior.

So I decided to make a mushroom casserole.  Basically just mushrooms in a gravy type sauce with baked biscuits on top.  Now I make almost everything from scratch, but the recipe called for canned biscuits and I was in a hurry.  I decided to just go with the flow.  I bought these biscuits called GRANDS which, as I found out later, are large sized biscuits. Now the recipe didn’t specify GRANDS but I thought, “what the heck, I won’t need as many!” Ha. Famous last words.  I certainly didn’t need as many, and they are much thicker than the regular size (as far as I can tell).

I made the mushroom base, which was actually very tasty – full of yummy spices and herbs, and of course garlic and onions. Then I put the biscuits on top as per the recipe, and popped the whole thing in the oven for the specified amount of time.  When the timer went off, everyone was sitting around the table, hungry. The casserole looked delicious, with the nicely browned biscuits covering the lovely mushroom-filled bottom.  Until I lifted a biscuit and realized the bottom was completely gummy and not even close to done.  It was gross!  Can you imagine the stringy half-cooked dough strands, covered in brown gravy, hanging from the bottom of the biscuit? 

I was mortified, but at the same time it was really funny.  My sweet husband, who is always ready to come to my rescue, saved the day by flipping the biscuits over and cooking the casserole until they were completely baked.  I wonder if that’s where the expression “half baked” came from?  And my uncle, who is like a father to me, to this day has not seen fit to tease me about it – whenever the subject comes up he always just says, “It tasted pretty good”.  Aren’t I lucky? But to this day I can’t stand the thought of mushroom casserole. Blech.

A few weeks ago I spent a Saturday going to garage sales and antique shops with two of my good friends.  We stopped at a wonderful little Mom and Pop ice cream store and I had this ice cream that totally knocked my socks off.  Okay, I wasn’t actually wearing socks because it was like 110° outside, but if I had been wearing socks, well, you can imagine.

I’m not going to tell you exactly what kind it was, because I don’t quite have my version of the recipe perfected, but I will tell you that it had a caramel fudge sauce and a vanilla ice cream base.  So, I’m going use the vanilla ice cream recipe I posted here a  month or so ago (albeit slightly modified) and this caramel fudge recipe I’m going to share now.  There is one more ingredient, and I should have this down pat by the weekend, then I can post the whole thing.  I can tell you it’s GOOD.

Start with a large heavy saucepan and add some granulated sugar. Sugar will melt and caramelize as it’s heated, but you have to be careful.  There’s a tipping point where it will go from caramel to burnt and that can happen fast.  The sam thing is true of browned butter – it can go from browned to burnt in a few seconds. So be patient and use low heat.  Keep stirring as you melt it.

First it will start to look wet.  That means it’s melting. 

Then it will be clear and will start to turn brown.  You don’t want it to be really dark brown, but too light and you haven’t cooked it long enough to get that caramel taste. It should be the color of maple syrup.

Here it’s getting nice and brown.

As soon as it turns the right color, put the butter in and stir it.  It will bubble up a little.  Keep stirring vigorously until the butter melts.

Now pour in the cream – it’s going to bubble up quite a bit so don’t be surprised. Stir it until it’s totally incorporated and smooth. Let it cool for about 15 or 20 minutes, and stir in the vanilla and the salt.  Make sure to use coarse ground salt (I like kosher) so that you get a true salted caramel.  Mmm.  At Christmas I’m going to post my recipe for soft caramels – they are so good.  Oh, and fudge, too.  I have a fudge recipe that’s over 60 years old!  You’ll love it.  It’s a pain, but worth the trouble. 

Now, you can either just sit and eat this with a spoon, or pour it over stuff.  Hopefully this weekend I’ll have time to show you something else to do with it!

Salty Caramel Fudge Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions:

  1. Measure out the butter and the cream and have them near the stove.
  2. Use a large heavy saucepan (I used a 4 quart), and over low to medium low heat stir the sugar until it melts and becomes the color of maple syrup.  Keep stirring so it doesn’t burn.
  3. When the sugar is the proper color, add the butter and stir vigorously until melted.  It will bubble a bit.
  4. Add the cream – this should cause quite a bit of bubbling.  Keep stirring until the bubbles go away and it’s nice and smooth.
  5. Let cool for 15 or 20 minutes and then add the vanilla and salt, and stir to combine.
  6. Keeps in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks.


Chocolate is My Friend So Let’s Have Brownies!

Fair and softly goes far. Miguel De Cervantes

When I was a little girl there were Girl Scouts and Brownies (little versions of Girl Scouts).  But there were also Campfire Girls and Bluebirds (little versions of Campfire Girls).  I think maybe the reason I like the color blue so much is because, yes, you guessed it, I was a bluebird! It was awesome.  I loved being in a club, and it was really exciting when the time came to move up and become an actual Campfire Girl – with the grown-up uniform (blue and red). 

In Campfire Girls I learned to bake banana bread, make friends, sew, do crafty things, and do nice things for others. I also had my very first S’more – and in order to have that S’more I learned how to make a fire in a coffee can.  We did this by tightly rolling up newspapers and coating them in melted parafin wax, and then packing them into an empty metal coffee can (do they even have metal coffee cans anymore?). It was so cool.  You light the newspapers on fire and you have a fire in a can.  When you’re 8 years old, that’s pretty impressive – heck, I still think it’s impressive!

Back in the 1970s the Campfire Girls  morphed into the Campfire Boy and Girls.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.  I had so much fun learning and spending quality time with my fellow Bluebirds and Campfire Girls, and it just seems like making it co-ed took something away.

 Here’s the Campfire Law:

  • Worship God – Respect all people, places and things as gifts of love. Share friendship and warmth as gifts to be given to others.
  • Seek Beauty – Look for the good in all people, places, things and nature.
  • Give Service – Show you care. Be a helper at home, at school, in your neighborhood, in your community, for your world.
  • Pursue Knowledge – Try new things. Experiment with a new skill. Learn more about something you already know.
  • Be Trustworthy – Be honest, truthful and do the things you say you will do. Be worthy of responsibilities others give you.
  • Hold Onto Health – Exercise, get lots of sleep, eat healthy foods, and keep your body neat and clean.  A healthy person feels good and is happy.
  • Glorify Work – Do the best you can with everything you do. Be proud of your work. Finish what you start.
  • Be Happy – Enjoy life. Be cheerful even if things don’t always go your way. Be positive. Help others to be happy. Have fun.

Okay, I know, I’m a sap.  A really sappy sap. I freely admit it.  I cry when I hold newborn babies (and even sometimes older babies), I have to change the channel when the ASPCA commercials are on TV, and I’m often overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the things around us.  And don’t even get me started on puppies, it’s ridiculous. I’m a glass half full person and I believe in unfettered optimism.

Now this doesn’t mean I haven’t had losses in my life or that I haven’t suffered – because, really, who hasn’t?  But what’s the point of focusing on the negative? In fact, sometimes I can’t believe the things that go through my head. And when I’m negative it almost always has bad repercussions. Case in point. One day I was at the post office and I was in a MAJOR hurry.  I had my head down as I was digging through my purse looking for my wallet.  The guy behind the counter was asking me questions: “How would you like this sent?” “Priority mail please”. “How would you like this sent?” “Priority mail please (said a bit impatiently). “Ma’am, how would you like this sent?” At which point I think VERY LOUDLY to myself, geez louise is this guy deaf or what? I then look up and notice a sign in front of him that says”I am deaf, please look at me when speaking”.  Yup, that’s how I roll.

The Campfire Law just totally embodies what I think life should be.  I know, I know, I’m a total pollyanna.  I just can’t help it.  But things like the Campfire Law brings back such great memories of simpler times,  and I especially like the very last one –  Be Happy. Makes me think of hearing the ice cream truck bell, playing hide and seek, being outside late and it’s still warm, going to bed in the summer when it was still light out (that one was my Mom’s idea), getting up early early in the morning and swinging on the swingset before anyone else got up…and not being mean to deaf people.

One thing that makes me particularly happy are brownies (not the little Girl Scouts but the cousins to cakes).  And Ina Garten recipes make me really happy!  Ina Garten, also known as the Barefoot Contessa, has so many recipes that are just fabulous.  Most of them are surprisingly easy, and I haven’t tried one yet I haven’t loved.  They’re also great jumping off points for creating your own new recipes.  But her brownie recipe, called Outrageous Brownies, is truly outstanding.  When I want to make someone a really special treat, particularly in the summer (for some reason), I make these brownies.  Wonderful heavenly treats.

 

You’ll need these dry ingredients (and believe me, you’re going to use a boatload of baking powder).  Anyone know the difference between baking powder and baking soda?  And why they are not interchangeable?  They’re both leavening agents.  Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate. But baking powder is sodium bicarbonate and cream of tartar (another  leavening agent). Both cause a reaction that will make the baked goods rise, but baking soda makes the goods a little airier.  These brownies are very moist and we don’t want them to be cake like. So baking powder is a better choice here.

You’ll need all this stuff, too.  Do you count 7 eggs?  The recipe calls for 6 extra large eggs.  I only had large.  In most cases this isn’t an issue, but because there are so many eggs in this recipe, it was important to add an extra one to make up for the size difference. Turn the oven on to 350° and grease and 12 x 18 x 1″ jelly roll pan using baker’s grease (see the Baker’s Grease post for more info on this – http://www.chirplikeacricket.com/tips/bakers-grease/).

You need 6 ounces of good semi-sweet chocolate.  This is my little Salter scale.  You know I love kitchen gadgets, but they have to be gadgets that are truly useful.  This is one such gadget. Lots of recipes (including this one) go by weight rather than  measurements.  For instance, this recipe also calls for 1 pound plus 12 ounces of chocolate chips.  If you’re not sure how many cups that is, you can use the scale.  You turn it on, place a bowl on it, and then zero it out.  Then it will weigh only the ingredients and not the bowl (I know, I know, I shouldn’t be afraid of math, but why take a chance?).

Perfect!

Chop it up nice and fine.  It works really well to shave slices off, they will then melt very quickly.

Another beloved kitchen tool.  This is cool tool (yep, I’m a poet!). It’s a De Buyer (pronounced dee boy aye) double boiler.  This is really ingenious. It’s double-walled stainless steel with a space between the walls that holds water.  You don’t ever have to empty the water out – there’s a little gauge on the bottom to let you know when you need to add more.  There’s a steam vent that prevents liquid from getting into the melted chocolate.  Anyone know what happens when you get even one drop of water into melted chocolate? It turns into a big gritty nasty frozen mess. So you don’t want to be doin’ that. This pot holds a lot of stuff, too.

Put the chocolate chips, butter, and chopped semi-sweet chocolate in the double boiler.  You can also make a double boiler by placing a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Turn the heat on low, and let everything melt.

Here it’s about halfway done. Give it a stir once in awhile.

I want to stick my face in here.  I didn’t, though. When it’s done, take if off the heat and let it cool for about 15 minutes.

In a large bowl, comgine the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and instant coffee. Don’t mix it, just stir it together.

I know, the coffee makes it look a little scary, and I hate those white stringy things in eggs.  Just try not to think about it.

Pour the chocolate mixture into the eggs and stir to combine. Let this sit until it comes to room temperature.  Or, if you’re impatient like me, stick it in the fridge for about 10 minutes.

While the chocolate mixture is cooling, toast and chop some walnuts (the original recipe doesn’t specify toasting the walnuts, but I think lightly toasting them for 10 minutes at about 350° adds a lot of flavor – just my 2¢).  Cool the walnuts down, and then mix them with 2 cups of chocolate chips and 1/4 cup flour.  The flour helps keep the chips and nuts distributed evenly in the brownies instead of falling to the bottom of the pan.

Sift 1 cup of flour, the baking soda and the salt into a small bowl.

Okay, now add the flour mixture to the chocolate.  Stir just until combined – don’t beat it.

 

Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips, and pour into your greased jelly roll pan.  Bake at 350° for 15 minutes, then gently bang the pan on the oven rack to dispell any air.  Bake for about 20 more minutes until a toothpick or straw comes out clean.

 

Here’s a trick I learned. Let them cool for 30 minutes or so, then pop them in the refrigerator (overnight works really well). They are very easy to cut when cold – they have a tendency to be more crumbly when room temperature.

And this is the loveliness that ensues.  But we’re not finished yet.  I learned something else from Ina, who is the queen of making food pretty and special.

 

 Ina indicates the batch makes about 20 brownies.  But those are huge brownies.  I cut them into 36 nice size brownies.  Place a brownie in the center of a piece of parchment paper (I used 12″ square pieces).

Fold the two sides together in the center over the brownie, and then fold them down flat.

Tuck the ends under.

Don’t you just love presents?  People love this presentation. I think it makes a very special treat. What would be really fun would be to give them out with single serving cartons of milk with red and white paper straws.

Ina Garten’s Outrageous Brownies Recipe (very slightly modified):

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound unsalted butter
  • 2-1/2 cups plus 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 6 ounces of very good semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped or shaved
  • 6 extra large or 7 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons instant coffee granules
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 2-1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup plus 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder (yes, it says tablespoon)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups lightly toasted chopped walnuts

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 12 x 18 x 1″ jelly roll pan with baker’s grease.
  2. In a double boiler, melt the butter, 6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, and 2-1/2 cups of chocolate chips.  When melted, stir thoroughly to combine and remove from heat. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes to cool.
  3. In a large bowl combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla and coffee – stirring to combine.  Do not beat.
  4. Add the chocolate mixture and  and stir to combine.  Cool to room temperature.
  5. Sift 1 cup flour, baking soda and salt together and stir into the chocolate mixture – again, stir just to combine.
  6. Mix the chopped walnuts with 2 cups chocolate chips and 1/4 flour.  Stir into the chocolate mixture.
  7. Pour into prepared pan and bake at 350° for 15 minutes.  Gently bang the pan on the oven rack to remove some air.  Bake for 20 more minutes or until a toothpick or straw comes out clean.
  8. Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes or so. Refrigerate overnight or for several hours before cutting. I find they are better when stored in the refrigerator, cover with plastic wrap to keep them from drying out after they have been cut.

 

 

Cupcakes, Ice Cream, and Answered Prayers

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26.

Mmmmm. Cupcakes! Cupcake. That’s what Joe Morelli calls Stephanie – she’s a sweet treat (if you haven’t read any of the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich, you need to – they’re hysterical). Isn’t it funny how we use food to describe people? Tough cookie. Marshmallow. Lamb chop. And of course, cupcake.

So I have this dear dear friend named Pam. Sometimes I call her Pammy, but cupcake would be an appropriate term of endearment for Miss Pam. What an inspiration she is to the people around her. She’s kind and loving and she is an amazing Woman of God. She not only talks the talk, she walks the walk. Being around Pam is both calming and exciting.  She is so loving and so ethusiastic – like a bright shiny new penny. A true friend of the heart. I could tell you so many things she’s done for others, but today I want to tell you about the party she gave last night for her husband, Barney.

Barney.  Mr. Barney. A wonderful match for Pam.  Funny, kind and a  Man of God. Barney has been on peritoneal dialysis EVERY SINGLE NIGHT for the last 2 or possibly 3 years – due to having kidney disease. What this means is that Barney has a tube permanently implanted in his tummy.  What this also means is that there are lots of things Barney can’t do (like going swimming) because he has to make sure he doesn’t get an infection around his tube. And he has to be very careful about what he eats and drinks.

Now, if you met Barney, you’d never guess there was a thing wrong.  He doesn’t talk about it. He just does what has to be done and goes on taking care of his family and friends.  Me?  I think I’d be whining and complaining to anyone who would listen.  Not Barney. Not Pam. Their faith is unshakable. They truly see every event in their lives as a blessing.  Turns out Barney’s sister, Jennifer, who lives in another state, has a kidney she’d like to give to Barney. And she’s a match.  Talk about answered prayers.  And Barney is getting his new kidney THIS WEEK.  And his little sister, Jennifer, is just a honey.  I’m not sure, because I’m not Jennifer, but I don’t know if she really understands the depth of the gift she’s giving him.  She’s a lot like Pam.  Barney needs a kidney, she has an extra one – no brainer!

Last night Pam had a birthday party for Barney.  And I was so honored to make some treats for the party. Pam made the most wonderful spaghetti bake and a delicious chicken alfredo.  I think she could’ve done it with one hand tied behind her back. There were at least 50 people at the party, could’ve been more – the kids are shorter and harder to count. I got to make the cupcakes and since Pam is a huge fan of butter pecan ice cream, I had to make ice cream.  We had mint with chocolate, chocolate with almonds, of course, butter pecan, and good old vanilla bean.  Making ice cream is easy – I have a tutorial in an earlier post (I Scream You Scream We All Scream for Ice Cream).  I am going to include the recipe for the chocolate ice cream here – use the methods in the ice cream post.

The air of excitement and expectation that was present at the party was intoxicating.  Lots of folks shared great stories about what Barney and Pam mean to them.  And getting to meet Jennifer and spend time with her was awesome.  She’s what my husband calls a “one each only” – this  being a compliment of course. We’re all thrilled to know that Barney’s life is going to take such an exciting turn and it is truly by the grace of God.

I sometimes make cakes for people.  And I often make cupcakes.  Don’t you hate it when you go to a fancyexpensive bakery and you get a beautiful little something, but the taste doesn’t live up to the advertising?  It’s dry or flavorless and you just spent three bucks on something that isn’t worth the calories?  My goal is always flavor first, looks second.  Last September I made the cupcakes and cakes for my friend Ebbe’s wedding.  And they had to be perfect.  I tried quite a few recipes (scratch recipes of course), because I don’t like artificial ingredients, but I kept coming back to this one recipe. The reason I was hesitant is because it uses a boxed cake mix as a base.  And I have to admit, I’m a little bit of a snot when it comes to boxed mixes – I REALLY like to make things totally from scratch.  But I ended up trying this recipe, and oh boy, does it make great cakes and cupcakes. I don’t know who originally posted the recipe, but I’ve found it on many Websites which tells me other people think it’s good, too. Here’s what you do:

 

Start with all these ingredients. I used both a white and a chocolate cake mix, because I wanted to make both white and chocolate cupcakes (I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck ya know).

Mix up all your dry ingredients (cake mix, sugar, flour, and salt) and whisk ’em together.

Add in the wet ingredients (sour cream; egg whites for the white cake or whole eggs for the chocolate cake; oil, water, vanilla extract and almond extract)

Beat if for a couple of minutes until it’s fairly smooth.

Here’s what the chocolate looks like. Tasty too – the best thing about being the cook is licking the bowl!

Fill up your cupcake holders.  I’d say about 2/3 full for the vanilla and little bit less for the chocolate.

I cheated. It was fun. And easy. I love this batter squirter thingy!

Mmm. Bake for about 25 minutes.  They’re done when they spring back when you touch the top, or when you poke a testing straw in and it’s not wet when it comes out.  Let them cool in the pan for a few minutes and then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. These will be sticky to the touch, so don’t stack them on top of each other. I know it looks like there’s a missing cupcake…

Make some really rich butter cream (real butter cream made with butter, not butter cream made with *shudder* shortening – blech) and put it in a pastry bag fitted with a big star tip.  Make sure to squeeze all the frosting to the bottom of the bag so it doesn’t burp while you’re squeezing it. Now the best way to do this is to hold the cupcake in your non-dominant hand and turn the cupcake as you squeeze. My pictures are fuzzy because I was taking them with my left hand – sorry!

Squeeze a line of frosting around the entire perimeter of the cupcake…

Then inside the first line…

Then into the very center.  Flick your wrist up as you stop squeezing, and you’ve got a frosted cupcake.  Add sprinkles and such as needed. Mine were naked because the only sprinkles I had were Easter egg shapes.

They’re so cute!

The cupcake version of ice cream and cake!

Basic White or Chocolate Cupcake or Cake Mix

Makes about 30 cupcakes; or two 2″ x 6″ rounds and 6 cupcakes; or two 7″ rounds

Ingredients:

  • 1 box white or chocolate cake mix
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 -1/3 cups water
  • 4 egg whites if making white cake; or 3 whole eggs if making chocolate cake
  • 1/8 cup oil
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325°
  2. Mix all dry ingredients together.
  3. Add all wet ingredients and beat for about 2 minutes until well combined.
  4. If making cupcakes, fill cupcake liners about 2/3 full for white and a bit less for dark.  Bake for about 25 minutes or until they spring back when touched.
  5. For cake, use baker’s grease or grease and flour, and start testing for doneness at about 35 minutes.  I also highly recommend using baking strips around the outside of your pan to keep the cake level.

Frosting:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter, softened but not melted
  • 2 cups sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract, if desired
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons milk, half and half or whipping cream
  • 2/3 cup sifted cocoa powder if making chocolate frosting (omit for vanilla)

Directions:

  1. Cream butter until light and fluffy. Add dry ingredients and vanilla and mix.  Add milk, one tablespoon at a time until frosting is spreadable.
  2. After frosting, keep covered in the refrigerator – this helps retain the moistness and the frosting stays pretty.

Chocolate Almond Ice Cream

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups half and half
  • 1-1/2 cups heavy cream
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons sifted cocoa powder
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 ounces finely chopped semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cups Marcona almonds, coarsely chopped

Directions:

  1. Mix cream, half and half, salt and cocoa powder together in a heavy saucepan over medium or medium-low heat. Mix thoroughly.
  2. Heat until bubbles appear around the edges.
  3. While the cream mixture is heating, beat the egg yolks and the sugar together until the yolks turn lemony yellow.
  4. Take about 3/4 cup of the hot cream mixture and pour slowly into the egg mixture, whisking briskly. Pour the egg cream mixture back into the cream and half and half mixture.
  5. Continue stirring and cooking as the mixture thickens.  When it coats the back of a wooden spoon and you can draw a line that doesn’t disappear through it, remove from heat.
  6. Add the chopped chocolate and continue stirring until the chocolate melts.
  7. Refrigerate over night to chill completely.  The colder it is when you put it in the ice cream maker, the creamier it will be.
  8. Process in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  About a minute before the ice cream has completed processing, add the almonds and let them get completely incorporated.
  9. Freeze for at least 2 hours before eating.