Saturday, January 31, 2015

Almond Cake and vintage kitchen love revisited!

Hello everybody! The Fresh Pioneer is back and I've got a tasty new cake to share that I first put up back in November 2012.  We've been celebrating birthdays here, and then everyone got a terrible cold, and then we have another round of birthdays, so I've got cakes on the brain. Well, cakes and tissues.  So, without further ado, here's a cake recipe to warm up your cold winter day... and a little bit of kitchen kitsch to go with. 

It all started when Edna was thinking on the good old days. She talked about dresses, and aprons and pyrex...

                                                             And utensils...

Which reminded me of something I picked up but wasn't sure what to do with... Ask Edna, of course! She knew what it was right away. It was a hard cheese grater, but you could also use it for grating nuts, like almonds.

But why would I want to grate almonds?? I mean, that's the real question here, right?

Edna was scandalized I had never made an almond cake. And so we began.

I'm a lazy, modern woman and didn't want to spend 3 hours grating almonds. And I have this minor wrist issue. Typing and all that. Ouch. I watch the wrists the same way a model takes care of her face.

(Here I am chained to my desk. I know, a little facial waxing may be in order.)

It's not quite our 'locavore' lifestyle, but a can of almond filling does the trick. You can also find recipes online for making your own if you don't have wrist issues and want to do everything the hard way.

Mix 1 cup of softened butter
        1 cup sugar
        and 3 eggs.  

Wait, this sounds like cookies! Hmmmmm.....

And in the almond filling. (Ugh. Is this a dump cake? I'm still scared to Google that term. Looks pretty close to what I was picturing..)

In one bowl, mix 2 1/4 cups flour, 1/2 tsp salt and 2 tsp baking powder. THIS IS A COOKIE RECIPE! I knew it!

 Oh, wait. And 1/3 cup whole milk. Edna said to add them, alternating between the flour and the milk, but STARTING with the flour and ENDING with the flour. Got that? I almost rolled my eyes, but I've learned to take dear Edna at her word.

You can add a coin for good luck, or a small porcelain figure, like a tiny baby Jesus. It's tradition that the person who finds the coin or the baby has wealth and happiness... But make sure everyone searches their cake piece BEFORE eating it.

55 minutes in a greased and floured Bundt pan at 350F. My house smelled AMAZING. It was like an amaretto latte being waved under your nose.
Drizzle of basic powdered sugar icing. I wanted to dress it up but Edna said DO NOT MESS WITH THE CAKE. So I didn't. She was so pleased, immersed in happy memories.

I got out some nice china for our cake and tea. I was ready to serve the warm cake and Edna made a strange little sound.

She was staring at a plate. Not a nice one, either. It was plastic and a little chipped.
Oh, AHEM. Yes. Early art project. Mother's Day, kindergarten, specifically.

See, she's wearing a crown. :) All mamas are princesses, you know. I have no idea if she really had a striped dress like that, or if I just liked red and blue. And I'm fairly sure her hands were NEVER that size.

Edna requested her piece of cake on that old plate. I tried to talk her out of it. Old, yes, but not a nice kind of old! Not pretty vintage! Plastic and scribbled and not safe for the mircrowave kind of old.

She would not be dissuaded. She said that vintage is a matter of time, and treasure is a matter of perspective. In forty years, my grandchildren will think it's a great plate so I should stop sticking it in the microwave.

One big thumbs up from one small person. He also managed to sneak in some blue frosting. Because all food tastes better when it's BLUE.

Note: Well, no matter what I do, that first paragraph is determined to show up ORANGE. Lol. So, I'll just let it be pretty and orange. 
Until next time!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Wonderful, Wacky Friends

Missy Tippens, here. I've got several things I've cooked lately (I know, don't keel over from shock!). But instead of having to dig up the photos and locate the recipe (and figure out how I changed it because I didn't have ingredients on hand <g>), I'm going to share something non-food related this week.

FIRST!! I'm so excited to share a brand new cover for my next Love Inspired book coming in May--The Doctor's Second Chance (and available for pre-order now!).

Here's the back cover blurb:

The Bachelor's Baby…

Jake West's troubled cousin leaves him with a most unusual parting gift—her newborn baby girl! And now the small-town contractor is forced to seek help from the very woman he resents—the  new big-city pediatrician who practically  stole his uncle's practice, Violet Crenshaw. Violet knows she shouldn't be consorting with the enemy. But she can't resist the adorable baby and her handsome new caretaker. Violet traded her chance at motherhood for her career years ago. But raising a family with Jake could be everything she's ever wanted.

Also, I wanted to share this cute card I saw in the store at Cracker Barrel the other day. I loved it and took a photo. Ten Rules for Wonderful Wacky Women. If needed, click on it to enlarge...

And the number 1 rule every wonderful wacky woman knows.....

Anyone who says she doesn't need a girlfriend,

Just hasn't found a good one yet.

(I don't have that problem... I have you!)

--Suzy Toronto

Very cute, huh? I wanted to give credit, so I snapped a photo of the back as well. The card is from Blue Mountain Arts.

And I found the artist, Suzy Toronto's website: 

So tell me your favorite number on the list. Share a way that you're wonderful wacky woman (or man)!

As for me, I have to say I love #4. But Ruthy will throw her Yankee version of a hissie fit if I do! And according to #5, that could prove very powerful. :) So I'm going to claim #2 as my favorite. It goes along with my One Word for the year.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Hand-held Superbowl Desserts!

Let's start with the Applesauce Cake recipe I adapted from this:

The kids and I are learning about how things were done before grocery stores and specialty shops dotted the landscape and just about everything was within a fifteen minute drive from our homes, so this week we made homemade applesauce... and we mashed the cooked apples by hand so we had a nice, chunky, cinnamony version, oh, so good!!!!!

And then we recorded our observations in our Handy Dandy Science Notebooks!!!!

The natural progression of things in our kitchen is "WHAT NEXT????"

Applesauce cake is a great way to turn something marginally healthy into something crazy delicious and NOT THE LEAST BIT HEALTHY!!!!

You're welcome! Because taking the low-carb thing to extremes makes us g-r-u-m-p-y!

Here's my version of the recipe and it was melt-in-your-mouth amazing and easy because it's a dump all this stuff in a bowl kind of cake:

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup oil
1 1/2 cups chunky applesauce
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Mix all together, blend well at medium to medium high speed, scrape sides as needed, about two minutes.

Grease and flour 13" x 9" pan. Pour batter into pan.

Bake at 350° for about 35 minutes, be careful not to overbake... When done, use the Ruthy trick of placing cake right into the freezer and freezing for about an hour before frosting. (Cakes continue to bake once out of oven, in pan. Putting fruit or oil-based cakes right in the freezer keeps them supermoist and delectable. This is a great trick).

Caramel frosting (browned butter icing):

1/2 cup butter, caramelized (don't worry, that's a fancy way of saying "brown the butter gently")
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Melt butter in saucepan on stove.

cook and stir over medium heat until butter foams and starts to turn golden/brown. Remove from heat.

Measure powdered sugar into mixing bowl, add butter and vanilla, mix until blended,

then add cream or milk until you have a spreadable consistency. Whip for three minutes until frosting is creamy and fluffy.

Frost and enjoy! This is an amazing complement of flavors. Thank you Land o' Lakes for the idea!

And from The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, her "Knock You Naked Brownies"

Gratuitous Finn pic licking out the caramel bowl!!! Oh, Finn!!!!!! :)

Here's the link to that one:

I made these on Sunday and froze a batch for our annual Half-a-Superbowl party where a bunch of my young friends come over, make noise, play games, watch commercials and pretty much ignore the incidence of football.

We feed them well, they're pretty sure they're COOL because they went to a Superbowl party where punch was served in fancy glasses.... and they all go home at halftime!


These are really good brownie confections. I don't like the name at all, I'm such a stinkin' prude! So let's just call them Turtle Brownies here, because that's what they're like. A chocolatey bottom, a layer of perfect caramel, then a chocolatey-nutty top. So they taste like your eating a praline (with pecans) or a chocolate turtle.... I was out of pecans (Kitchen: FAIL!!!!) so I used finely chopped almonds and they worked well but a slightly chewier consistency than if I'd had the pecans.

And I'd like to report that I've gotten that bedroom all back in order, just like most of youse would have done, right???

Well, there was a Saturday full of watching sweet grandboys and girlies and Sunday was just plain busy and then, of course, the day job and writing sweet books, so the room is still EMPTY.... but soon! :)  Let me just say my entire upstairs is in a dreadful state, but I'm writing the SWEETEST NOVELLA RIGHT NOW, and honestly....

No one pays me to clean.


But they do pay me to write books, so we'll get to the bedroom um.... soon? Maybe?

Enjoy the Superbowl fun! God be with you! Here's a pic of the finished, caramel-layered Turtle Brownies!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

What's in Your Dining Room? A Pinterest Adventure

When I promised ManO we would eat in the dining room more often, I didn't realize the ripple effect it would have on my meals, our conversation, and most especially the decor!  One month and I figured we'd be tired of it and I'd get to turn the room I never used into my dream library.

But a funny thing happened. We liked talking to each other and guests without the distraction of the television or dirty dishes (I'm a use all the dishes, spread the mess around kinda cook). There's a reason restaurants are so popular! No television unless we're in a pub and then ManO sneaks looks at the scores. No dirty dishes. Except we have "seat them by the kitchen" faces. We did an informal study once and realized 90-99% of the time, that's where the host leads us unless we say ASAP, "we want to be FAR, FAR, FAR away from the kitchen." I keep hoping it's because that's where a lot of restaurants seat families with children and we look like we're young parents or, at the very least, tolerant grandparent types.

So why didn't we eat in the dining room before now?  It's simple.We'd started referring to it as
"the museum." The dining room was the last decluttering domain, a reminder of times and people past. Last year, we still couldn't bring ourselves to go through all the formal  stuff we'd inherited.

But after our challenging 2014, 2015 needed to start fresh!  This month's experiment proved we liked eating in the dining room. We just needed to make it our own, keep a few valued heirlooms and antiques then mix them with our favorite things. ManO wanted to keep our newlywed furniture (he's sentimental and it's solid wood) but he wouldn't let me paint that maple no matter what Pinterest said!

My $50 budget also kept me under control because Pinterest can tempt you to do things you never thought you'd do.  We wanted an Ameri-Parisien feel to the room. Plenty of ideas on the boards. Faux French linen placemats were a much less expensive touch than the real thing. 

I had a huge grill-front tavern plate rack of my mom's above my buffet. I wish I had a picture. My sisters and I've called it the "pigeon coop" since we were little, if that gives you an idea. It overwhelmed and darkened the room.  Off the wall it went. Wow, a more serene space already.
My favorite antique from my childhood bedroom is the four drawer apothecary chest. 
I'd spent $17 on four placemats and $20 on wall paint/patch supplies so my personalized art pieces had to be cheap.
 A frame borrowed from another part of the house and an 8x10 print for $3.99 added another dash of  Paris.  ManO looks quite, um, dashing on this bridge over the Seine.

Pinterest helped again when I looked for ways to update our decor.  I love the sign trend out now but that's what it is, a trend. So I went shopping in my house for another frame. I thought about my favorite quotes en Francais and consulted Belle Calhoune  who loves all things French. She also has ten years of French lessons to my seven.

The French have such beautiful words like etoile for star and amour for love. What to choose? But the beauty of making my own "quote art" is I can switch it out. For now I settled on a Matisse quote reflecting my philosophy of life, "There are always flowers for those who wish to see them." It's about finding beauty in the world (see Jan Drexler's Monday post, ) and gratitude in the dark times.

I hope Monet forgives me for using a Matisse quote overlaying a picture we took in his garden. 

By this point my library idea was toast. But no Paris apartment would be without books. Out when all the things that made the hutch look like my grandma's and in came my favorite books and pottery collection.
Best Pinterest book/bookshelf styling tip: No need to buy books by the yard. Use books that you have and love. My flower arranging, spiritual writing and reading, and our travel books look great together without the dust jackets. Bonus, they lighten up the brown hutch I wasn't allowed to paint!

Not everyone can or wants to have a Paris inspired dining room but I leave you with one of the most wonderful spice blends from Penzeys Spices,  Sunny Paris. Such a wonderful blend of purple shallots, chives, green peppercorns, tarragon, and more. I use it on plain chicken and fish to dress it up, in salad dressing, over asparagus and in breakfast dishes. Yummy and so easy to use!

So, if you could have a dining room anywhere in the world, where would it be?  Are you decluttering this winter? Do you have a favorite spice that makes you think of far away lands? PS. Have you visited the Yankee Belle folks' boards on Pinterest? Such fun.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Brie, Wonderful Brie...

I love brie. So smooth and creamy. Yummy alone, on a cracker or paired with fruit. You can bake it, turning it into ooey-gooey, delectable deliciousness as Jan did here. I like to put a round on a parchment-lined baking sheet, drizzle it with honey and then bake it. 

Pure heaven.

Then I saw this recipe from the Pioneer Woman.

Be still my heart.

Brie and mushrooms? Together?

I can hear the angels singing.

I gave you a little teaser on this last week by showing you this picture.

So today, you get to find out how to make this yummy appetizer, just in time for the big game.

In addition to 8 oz of brie, you will need 1/2 a stick of butter, 12 oz white button mushrooms, stemmed and washed (I had baby bellas, so that's what I used), 4-5 green onions, sliced up to the middle of the dark green part, 4 garlic cloves, minced, 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (I didn't have any so I used a couple of teaspoons of dried parsley) and a splash of chicken broth or white wine.

 That's the full recipe. I only had 8 oz of mushrooms, so I adjusted my measurements accordingly.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Now I prefer to get everything chopped and ready, so when it's go time, I can throw everything together. That's one of the things that makes this a great party dish.

Cut the brie into bite size pieces. It's up to you if you want to leave the rind or remove it. 
I've done it both ways.

Green onion and garlic are ready.

Now it's go time.

Melt your butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then toss in your mushroom caps and move them around a bit, making sure to coat them with the butter (about a minute).

Remove mushrooms from the skillet and set aside.

Add the green onions and garlic to the pan and saute for a minute. 

Add the parsley and a splash of wine or chicken broth and cook for another minute or two. 
Don't worry. This is only for flavor and a little moisture. Any alcohol cooks out.

Place the mushroom caps in a baking dish and add a chunk of brie to each one.
Kind of like filling belly buttons.

Then spoon the onion/garlic/parsley mixture over the top.

Bake 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.

And serve.

Preferably warm.

There go those angels again.

Now if you don't like mushrooms... I'm sorry. I've got nothing for you.
Okay, you can have any leftover chunks of brie.

About that "big" game. For me, it's rather anticlimactic this year. I have no reason to cheer for either team. I mean, yes, I like the Cowboys, but I also like Aaron Rogers and Payton Manning. Those guys would give me a reason to cheer. But alas, twas not to be this year.


So now our big game party watching will go something like this:

Chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter...

Shhhhhh.... Hush, y'all! The commercials are coming on.

Save for the sound of the television, silence filled the room. 

Honestly, I'll probably sit this one out this year. That is, unless we decide to go to one of the parties we've been invited to. In which case, it's more of an excuse to fellowship. And let's face it, you can never get enough of that.

What are your plans for the big game?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Ginger's Salad

It's time to use your imagination:

"The Cafe is crowded this morning, isn't it?" Jan slid into the chair next to Ruthy.

"It sure is." Kav stirred her tea with the broken end of her biscotti. "I thought the weather would keep everyone at home."

"Weather schmeather." Ruthy downed her coffee in one swallow. "It's only winter." She poured herself another cup.

Jan pulled her new smart phone from her purse. "Well, we had great weather in South Dakota this weekend. We even went on a hike in the Badlands. I have the pictures on my phone." She started scrolling through the menu with her thumb.

Missy swallowed the last bite of her muffin. "The Badlands??? In January???"

Susanna leaned forward so she could see Jan's phone. "You mean people actually go outside in the winter where you live?"

Jan found the first picture and passed her phone around the table.

"That's beautiful." Virginia took another cookie and dunked it in her coffee. "My children would be off exploring if I didn't keep an eye on them."

"Funny you would mention that," Jan said, flipping to the next picture. "My son does the same thing."

Mindy took a few celery sticks and passed the veggie plate to Jan. "I loved visiting the Badlands when we lived in South Dakota. Did you see any animals?"

"We sure did."

"Wait a minute." Jan took her phone back and flipped the pictures. "That last one was a cactus!"

"Look how brown everything is." Julie sipped her tea. "How do the animals even survive in that barren landscape?"

"Barren? I guess you could call it that." Jan flipped to another picture. "My husband says that the Badlands challenge our concept of beauty."

"Wow," Missy said. She stared at the picture for a long time before passing the phone around the table. "I guess we'll have to plan a trip there sometime."

Ruthy passed the muffins to Jan. "So what are you fixing for us today? Rabbit stew?"

"Oh, no!" Kav and Susanna exchanged looks. "Not that nice rabbit!"

"No worries. I'm not fixing rabbit stew." Jan waited until she had everyone's attention. "I'm sharing my friend Ginger's salad recipe." She stood up and went behind the counter. "Actually, I'm not sure you can call this a recipe.

Ginger loves children, horses and dogs...not necessarily in that order. And she loves God and her husband more than any of those. But Ginger says she doesn't cook. So when we got together for dinner one night last week, Ginger brought salad.

There were eight of us at dinner that night, and Ginger's salad amazed all of us. I forget who asked where Ginger had gotten her recipe - either Janet or Vonda - but Ginger only said, 'Oh, I went to the store and picked up some things that looked good.'

Well, Janet, Vonda and I gave each other knowing looks. If any of us had done what Ginger described, our salads would have looked bland and boring, with no guarantee of how they would taste.

But I decided to try Ginger's method. I went to the store yesterday and picked up a bunch of stuff I thought might taste good.

I thought about mushrooms, too, but for some reason I thought I had some at home in the fridge. I'll add those in next time."

Jan cleaned the veggies, chopped them into bite sized pieces (you can't see this, but the carrots are already cut in little sticks - easy peasy), and layered the different items in a big bowl.

"I think the marinated artichokes will be fabulous, and the cilantro should give the salad a huge zing."

Virginia shuddered. "Stinky feet," she muttered to Mindy.

"I even bought some new salad dressing. It's Greek Feta Vinaigrette."

Jan tossed the salad, added the dressing, and let everyone serve themselves.

"Oh, oh, this is fabulous!" Ruthy took another bite.

"I'm making this for supper tonight. I could add tofu for some protein, right?" Kav speared a piece of marinated artichoke on her fork.

"You could, I guess." Jan wrinkled her nose. "I'd add chicken or tuna." She filled her fork with her next bite. "Oh, I almost forgot. Ginger and her husband are also the owners of one of the secondary characters in my next book. It's the Deadwood story that's coming out in September from Love Inspired Historical."

Julie frowned. "Your friend owns one of the characters in your book?"

Jan flipped to another picture and passed her phone around again. "Meet Loretta!"