Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Lime Cake

I believe in having a well-stocked pantry. I have a spice collection that includes ingredients that some people have never even heard of, more or less used (including my husband before I married him). At a previous address, I'd taken over portions of our laundry closet, our front entry closet, and our cabinets to store various sundry ingredients. Usually, the only thing that I really need to pick up from the store to make a particular dish is fresh produce. I like having a wide variety of base ingredients so I can easily make what I want. It is a great asset to my kitchen.

However, when you need to move, it becomes a great liability.

I originally came up with this recipe while I was trying to eat through my stockpile of food in preparation of an upcoming move. I was on a search & destroy mission to use as many citrus ingredients from my kitchen as possible. This resulted in delicious lime cake. I came across the recipe again recently and decided to share.

This cake tastes best if you can make the frosting the day before and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight to let the lime taste sink into the cream-cheese frosting.

Lime Cake 
Oil & flour for dusting the pan
1 pkg (18.25 oz.) Lemon Cake Mix
1 cup whole milk
1 stick butter, melted (I used real, unsalted butter)
3 eggs
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. lemon extract
1 pkg (0.3 oz.) lime Jell-O

Preheat oven to 350°F. You will want to get out some butter & cream cheese to come to room temperature if you haven't done so already. (BTW trying to speed the process by warming cream cheese and butter up in the microwave does not produce the same results.)

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Pour into pan. Bake until golden brown & springs back lightly when pressed. I used two 9-inch round spring-form pans, and it took a little over 21 minutes.

1 pkg (8 oz.) cream cheese, at room temp.
1 stick (8 tbsp.) butter, at room temp. (NEVER use margarine for frosting, it just doesn't work)
Lime zest, the more the merrier (I used 1/2 of a lime, but should have used more)
1/2 box (1 lbs. box) powdered sugar, or just under 2 cups (you could use as much as 3 3/4 cup powdered sugar, but that's too sweet for me & it provides more frosting than I' prefer)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. lemon extract

Blend cream cheese, butter, & zest with electric mixer. Gradually add powdered sugar. Add vanilla and lemon extract, then beat until fluffy (about a minute). Frost cake once it has cooled enough that it won't melt the frosting.
I need to start cooking in this apron...

Yes, this might sound weird with the Jell-O & all, but it's quite good (and it allowed me to use up the Jell-o, which I'd probably never use otherwise because gelatin is not my favorite food item). The cake is even better the next day because the zest gets a chance to seep into the frosting overnight. It's also a lovely - though unusual - chartreuse color on the inside. Feel free to add some lime zest in the cake itself for even more citrus flavor.

As a side note, a part of me is sorely tempted to throw my son a Mad Scientist Birthday Party. If I do, I might use this cake, just because it has such an unusual color for a cake.

Does anyone else ever feel like a mad scientist when they cook?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Ginger Peach Berry Cobbler

I'm not normally a peach person - at least not a fresh peach person. I've never cared for the fuzzy texture. However, sometimes peaches are on sale at the grocery store for far cheaper than anything else. When they do, I try to make them into lovely peach cobbler.

The following recipe is my own variation off of the Peach Raspberry Cobbler from Joy of Cooking:

6 ripe peaches (1 1/2 - 1 3/4 lbs.)
1 cup frozen raspberry/blueberry/blackberry mixture
1 cup frozen wild blueberries
*1 tbsp. tapioca
2/3 cup sugar, divided
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp. ginger
1 stick butter, softened
1 egg
1/4 cup sour cream

I used a large, round corningware dish (9" diameter), but you could use anything with a 2-qt. capacity. Just so long as it's enameled or glass, there's no need to butter it.

1) Preheat Oven to 350°F

2) Slice up the peaches and place on the bottom of your baking dish. Top with the frozen berries.

3) Sprinkle berries with HALF of the sugar (1/3 cup sugar) and the tapioca. You'll use the other half later for the batter. Set the fruit aside to macerate while you prepare the batter for the top. (BTW, macerating fruit refers to when you use sugar to draws the moisture out of the fruit, creating a syrupy liquid around the fruit.)

4) Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and ginger together.

5) In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and remaining 1/3 cup sugar.

Part-way through the process: adding the
topping over the fruit. This photo was taken
before I spread it around.
6) Beat in the egg.

7) Beat in the dry ingredients. Fold in sour cream.

8) Spread the batter over the top of the fruit. Leave about 1/4 inch of space between the topping and the edge of the pan so the topping can expand a bit during cooking.

Note: if you use a spatula to spread the topping, you will end up with a smooth-topped cobbler. If you want a cobbler with a nubbly, irregular texture on the top, drop spoonfuls of batter over the fruit.

9) Bake at 350° for about 40-45 minutes - it's done when the top is golden brown and the fruit is fork tender.

Cool for 15 minutes before serving. Consider serving with whipped cream or ice cream.

*I didn't include tapioca when I made this recipe for this photo and it came out a bit soupy because I used frozen rather than fresh berries. If I were to make it again, I would include the tapioca to absorb some of the water from the frozen berries. It's not needed if you're only using fresh fruit.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Gift for a New Baby

Recently my husband asked me to make baby gifts for three of his co-workers who were expecting new additions in the near future. I love to make handmade gifts. However, I tend to shy away from making the traditional baby blanket.


After the birth of my second child, I noticed that I had received A LOT of baby blankets between the birth of my first two children. 32 baby blankets to be exact, 7 of them lovingly handmade. In my case, I'm also a military spouse, so I know that most of my husband's co-workers are going to have to pack up everything they own and move cross-country every couple of years. 

Handmade Embroidered Baby Blanket
A lot of times with new babies, I have no idea if the family has really crafty relatives, godparents, or other very close friends. Nor do I know what other people are going to give them. I realize that they may (or may not) receive a lot of blankets as gifts. However, I know the family is going to have to move. A lot. And if they need to get rid of a lot of stuff to fit into a smaller home at their next duty station, then the blanket from grandma is probably going to mean more to them than the blanket from one of Daddy's Marine Corps buddies. 

So what do you give a new baby when the parents don't have a lot of space or don't want to haul around a bunch of stuff through multiple moves?

Personalized Christmas Ornaments. 

They're small. They're useful. They outlive the lifetime of the average baby blanket (babies outgrow most blankets by the time they're two, whereas a Christmas ornament may survive until the child starts out on his or her own). And the family is going to see it and remember who gave it to them at least once a year when they hang it on the tree. Since the ornament is personalized with the child's name or initial, it will probably become special to that child as he or she grows up and sees his or her name up on the family tree. 

I've done a few variations on personalized ornaments in the past. For example, here's an ornament that doubles as a candy cane holder: 
Personalized Snowman Ornament

This one uses metallic thread:
Xmas Ornament with Name in Metallic Silver Thread

For this particular baby, I wanted to do something a little bit different. And here's what I came up with: 
Jacobean Initial Christmas Ornament

Now the most recent ornament isn't the child's full name, but I think the initial alone is gorgeous. It's a beautiful, traditional-looking ornament, which has a lot of color. The embroidery harks back to the Jacobean style, which developed during the first quarter of the 17th Century during the reign of King James I. The style was very popular and moved to Colonial America. I like the idea of giving a little bit of history with my gifts.

I like to lay my threads against the
fabric in a group so I can see how
everything will look together. 
To make it, I had a lot of colors to coordinate. Sometimes people think embroidery is easy and that the machine does everything for you. It certainly speeds up the process, but I'm the one who picks the colors and materials. In this case, I went through my 200-some collection of colors and picked out the shades that I thought worked well both together and with the dark green fabric. 

This was a bit more tricky because there are a lot of shades in the flowers, and I also had to account for those little acorns. (Acorns are a traditional motif in both Jacobean embroidery and the earlier blackwork style.) 

Partway-through the stitching process.
I ended up testing out about 4 different shades of pink before I found a light and dark tone that I was happy with.  In this case, I wanted something that was bright and cheerful - appropriate for the birth of a new baby girl. I could have used different shades, but the result would have been a different look. (I could have used less saturated hues for a more subdued, antique look.) 

The initial ornament is a decent size.
Big enough to be seen on the tree
without overwhelming it. 
From there, I got to stitch it. I have to make sure I stop at the right time to add a backing so you don't see the backside of the embroidery once it's on the tree. The final step is to add the decorative stitched border and to cut out the shape. Oh, and add the ribbon, which involves using a large needle threaded with satin ribbon, so I can have it go through the ornament where I've reinforced it with a ring of embroidered satin stitches.  

I think the end result is perfect for a little girl. I hope the family loves it.  

Oh, and there's one more thing I like about these ornaments. Sometimes, you want to get a personalized gift but the name is unusual or there are several different spelling variations. (My own name of Michelle could be spelled as Michele, for example.) With just the initial, you can go with either the first name or the last name, and you don't have to worry about accidentally using the wrong spelling variation.