Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sick Day

Sara and I set out bright and early the day after Easter (3:45 a.m. alarm) for her final college visit.  On the second-leg of our AirTran journey the poor guy next to me spent the entire flight battling his runny nose.  One thought, "Uh-oh".  Had a great Monday at Duke (!) and a good night's sleep before an awesome Tuesday which didn't actually conclude until Wednesday arriving home at 3:30 a.m.  Pick your poison (inability to shower right away to remove said germs?, crazy schedule? or lack of sleep?), but those germs had a field day with my tired body.  I did crank out make-your-own calzones last night before the wheels fell off. And we had a special guest at dinner who has never had rhubarb so of course I had to make a strawberry-rhubarb crumble.  I've not posted the crumble so when I rally a bit more I'll get it written.  And then I'll disinfect my keyboard again.  I believe I've mentioned that it's a push to the finish with lacrosse, grad party, oldest off to study abroad, graduation and etc. so the last thing I need is to lose a couple of days.  Nothing much to be done about it.  One good thing:  I will probably be awake at 4:00 a.m. trying to breathe and ready to watch the Royal Wedding.  There's the sunny side.

strawberry-rhubarb crumble

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter dinner wrap-up: yum

Happy Easter!  All the cleaning, cooking, baking, eating, enjoying and dishwashing are done.  A lovely Easter Sunday with my little family in the morning dragging ourselves cheerfully to the early service so we could leisurely prepare for Easter dinner with some of our extended family.  Worth it.  And since we were all up and ready to go I had three assistants in the kitchen and dining room.  Heaven.

Some of the Easter traditions have faded away over the years.  Thankfully we no longer dye the eggs.  I'm half Russian, the kind that is Eastern Orthodox and has Easter on a different day and the kind that creates the beautiful Pysanky eggs with the intricate designs.  I have my Grandmother Boryk's tools, wax and designs and some day I'll take the time to reacquaint myself with the technique.  But for now, I'm grateful not to have the mess for a few pretty eggs on the table.  You could not get me to eat a hard-boiled egg no matter how hard you tried.  And I really don't want to be anywhere near someone else eating one, so dying the eggs is kind of silly for me.

When my girls were babies I actually went with a friend to The Basket Case (cute name, no longer around) in Carmel and wove their Easter basket.  The baskets no longer are filled with Disney videos, chocolate eggs and jelly beans but they have a little surprise gift and maybe one chocolate bunny just because.  When they were 3 and 5 years old I decided that it was time I bought a sewing machine and made Easter dresses for my girls.  So for the next 8 years I would hunt for the perfect fabric and the cutest pattern and sew each of them an Easter dress that would match or compliment the other.  I would sew Christmas dresses, pajamas, shorts, overalls, and all manner of cute things.  Now when the girls look at the pictures of themselves in a cat patterned vest or dolphin shorts they wonder aloud how I could have tortured them.  My favorite thing to sew was their Halloween costumes.  Cinderella dresses, all manner of Beanie Babies animals (so easy:  ears, mittens and a vest with a tail), Pocahantas and whomever or whatever they wanted.  And then came the American Girl dolls and adorable little outfits, some with matching outfits for the real girls.  So much more fun than curtains and pillows and mending.  I'm glad I had home-ec and sewing and I retained enough to put some of the skills to good use years after middle school.

This tradition theme has really got the thoughts swirling in my head.  The kind of thoughts that now sneak up on me in the middle of a favorite anthem or hymn at church and bring unwanted tears to the corners of my eyes on Sunday mornings.  Will there be more or less tears next year when I'm sitting in church by myself most weeks?  Will I be able to commit to chancel choir and sit with the girls in the alto section that I last sat with when I was pregnant with Kelly?  Will that help the tears to stay away?  Oh, I doubt it.  I think that I had best just get used to having a tissue with me.  All the emotions are not likely to fade like some of the traditions.  As always, today's service ended with the "Hallelujah Chorus" and they put the words on the screen and surely that means they want you to sing along with the full orchestra and the 80 members of the choir.  My family just rolls their eyes and I try not to sing too loudly with my alto friends, but I've known every alto note of almost every "Messiah" chorus for more than 30 years.  I just have to sing it.  Some things never change.

Oh well, on to the food.  The famous lamb cake was baked and decorated on Friday without incident.  Even when it comes out perfectly, we all remember the times the head was propped up with bamboo skewers and the times the poor little lamb face-planted before Easter dinner.   Enjoy the pictures and them read a little more about the meal.

batter in the front section of the pan

the back section fits on top and I secure the two with silicone bands
the cake will rise and fill both sections


buttercream icing
do you like my shirt?  from a favorite restaurant in St. Croix:
eat @ cane bay, but it's perfect for me

this year I took the easy route and smoothed the buttercream and then
pressed on the coconut, but I have done the full on Wilton decorating
(this year just the eyes, nose and some flowers and then my pastry bag
split after 20 years of decorating)

Saturday I made the dough for sweet potato rolls from a King Arthur Flour recipe.  I mixed the dough in my stand mixer with the dough hook and then refrigerated it overnight.  After church this morning I rolled the dough into balls and placed them in my big deep dish pizza pan.  They were supposed to rise for 3 hours, but here's how they looked after just an hour or so.  I baked them for 20 minutes just before the meal was served.  They have 1/2 C of mashed sweet potato, honey, cinnamon, eggs and a little butter in them.  Of course they were good.

sweet potato rolls before baking

For potatoes I bought white fingerling and red baby potatoes to boil for 20-25 minutes in salted water and then drain.  I used a Fine Cooking recipe and tossed the hot potatoes back in the pan with 1/2 C chopped shallots, juice of one and half lemons, fresh ground pepper, 3 T butter, 1 T olive oil and some chopped freshly parsley.  Really fresh and delicious.  Here's a little thought for you:  if you ever need to take someone a hot meal don't take them a casserole.  Take them some grilled or baked chicken breasts, nice fresh steamed green vegetables, fresh potatoes like this and some fresh fruit.  Someone once did this for me and I just loved having the simple, clean flavors of good food.

potatoes ready to boil

tossed with the good stuff and ready to serve

I love cooked carrots and used another Fine Cooking recipe for these.  The recipe called for baby carrots with the tops just taken off, but I had a 2 pound bag of carrots to use and I decided to cut them in 1/2 inch or so pieces to fit them more easily in my pan.  Sara helped me brown them on the stove in a little olive oil with a bit of kosher salt.  After about 10 minutes, we turned off the heat and added 2 or 3 T of pure maple syrup (the real kind in a glass bottle, sorry Mrs. Butterworth) and a few more grinds of salt and pepper.  Then we put them in a 425 degree oven for about 15 minutes.  Amazingly good.

my computer did it again-rotated it and then as it exported it reverted, sorry Sara

out of the oven

Here's that cute lamb butter from Whole Foods.  Not the prettiest picture.  Sara also helped me roast lots of asparagus with a little olive oil and kosher salt.  Squeezed some lemon juice over it before serving.  Audie made her delicious strawberry-spinach salad.  Becky baked the too good escalloped pineapple which together with the very good Costco spiral sliced ham baked with the Boar's Head glaze made seconds on my plate.

little lamb butter
 Here's Sara not rotated, but being very helpful getting the rolls out of the pan and into the basket.

again, sorry Sara

the girls and their grandparents (well half of them, my parents celebrated in Ohio)

my little family (note I have on heels and Kelly has bare feet, I am the little one)

the table resisting rotation

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday: hot cross buns

Well, I had one good night's sleep this week.  My darling cat, Rio and I have a little routine.  Every night around 10:30 I chase him downstairs and we play "bean" for a few minutes (he chases a whole green bean like it is a mouse, it's the craziest thing) and then I leave him in the big windows "guarding" our home from the wildlife in the woods.  Then every night somewhere between 3:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. he calls for me outside my door and we go downstairs and I let him out to hunt in the garage (we do get mice from the woods, so there actually is some hunting going on) so I can go back to sleep without worrying about him waking everyone else in the house.  When my life isn't full speed crazy, this is just fine.  But it is full speed crazy right now and of course I did not fall back to sleep until it was almost time to get up with Sara.  Another day of not being terribly sharp.  A day when I have to get a lot done with Easter dinner here Sunday and a good part of Saturday spent at a lacrosse game in Culver.  Always love that trip because it's so pretty up there on the lake (Indiana is a little short on scenic lake views) and maybe it's a pretty Spring day.  Carmel has never beaten Culver since Sara's been in high school so maybe this is the year....But maybe someone else will have to drive.  I can't be trusted if this not sleeping thing goes on another night.

first of two!

Today is Good Friday and so today's post is hot cross buns.  My husband just called me out for eating two of them already.  Come on, I went to hot yoga and I'm about to go for a walk.  I'm probably not going to make it to church services today, so let me observe in my own way.  A warm bun and a hot cup of tea.  A little meditation.  All good.

Usually I enjoy hot cross buns from Panera a tradition started after a Friday morning tennis clinic that almost always found us lingering over coffee and treats and avoiding all the busy-ness of Fridays as long as possible.  Those Friday clinic days are long gone, but I'm still called to start my Fridays that way.

This is a recipe from King Arthur Flour.  When baking, look at their recipes first.  This was originally a Baking Banter Blog post.  A good read.  You can use any dried fruit you like.  I had currants and they are pretty traditional so that's the route I took.  Panera's hot cross buns have orange zest in them and I do love all things citrus, so that's my contribution to the recipe.  I used my bread machine on the dough cycle, but this is not a tricky dough to knead by hand.

One last aside, just remembering our first Good Friday when we lived in Hudson, Ohio.  We had a fabulous group of neighbors and everyone was in town for Easter weekend.  So why not have them all over for a little cookout?  And serve burgers?  Oops, I'm Methodist and we don't have the meat-free requirement.  Too funny.  If I remember correctly, all of my neighbors were Catholic.  Surely we had an alternative for them.  Lots of mac and cheese?  I just recall it being one of many fun spontaneous evenings we enjoyed in Winston Manor.

Have a good weekend with friends and family and Happy Easter if you observe!

Hot Cross Buns

1/4 C spiced rum
1/2 C currants or raisins
1/2 C other mixed dried fruit, optional
zest of one large orange
1 1/4 C milk, room temperature
3 large eggs, 1 separated
6 T butter, room temperature
2 tsp instant yeast
1/4 C light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves or allspice
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 3/4 tsp salt 
1 T baking powder
4 1/2 C all-purpose flour


1 egg white, reserved from buns
1 T milk

1 C confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
4 tsp milk, or enough to make a thick, pipe-able icing

Spray a 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray.

Mix the rum with the dried fruit (raisins, currants and other if using) and simmer on the stove until the rum is reduced in half.  Set aside to cool.

When the fruit is cool, mix together all of the dough ingredients except the fruit and knead by hand (it is pretty sticky), electric stand mixer with dough hook or bread machine until dough is soft and elastic.  Mix in the fruit and any liquid not absorbed.  Let the dough rise in the bowl covered with a tea towel for about an hour.  The dough will be puffy but may not double in bulk.

Divide the dough into billiard ball-sized pieces (about 1/3 C) to make 12 to 15 buns.  Use your greased hands to round them into balls.  Arrange them in the prepared pan.  Cover the pan with a tea towel and let them rise for about an hour until they are puffy and touching one another.  While the dough is rising preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Whisk together the reserved egg white and milk an brush the wash over the buns.

Bake the buns for 20 minutes, until they are golden brown.  Remove from the oven and transfer the pan to a rack to cool.

Mix together the icing ingredients and when the buns are completely cool,  fill a ziploc bag with the icing and snip a bottom corner to pipe a cross shape atop each bun.

simmer currants and rum
my family loves it when they see me with a big bottle in the kitchen

risen dough in the bread machine

dough balls, next time they will be smoother

risen and brushed with egg wash

out of the oven


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sleepless in Indy, but the baking must continue: chocolate chip cake

It's getting kind of funny.  I am seriously going to have to get some sleep tonight or I'll have to ground myself tomorrow.  Took a shower, grabbed my face-wash to use as body lotion.  You know, that kind of day.  Geez.  Anyway, baked yesterday and completely forgot that I'd be baking again today to deliver treats for the CHS PTO Teacher's Appreciation luncheon.  No problem, it's Cleveland cold and damp (sorry, but I grew up in the Chagrin Falls, OH just east of Cleveland so I can say that) and turning on the oven was welcome this afternoon.

I keep a little list on my iMac desktop of things I need to cook or bake so I could write a post.  This vintage recipe for chocolate chip cake comes off that list.  Originally from a little Pillsbury recipe book bought at the Marsh checkout titled "Winter Food for Friends".  Pillsbury's little recipe books walked me through my early family years in the kitchen.  I tore the page out of the book a couple of years ago when I culled my cookbook collection, so I'm not sure how long I've been baking chocolate chip cake.  Best guess is at least 15 years.  Vintage.  Nothing tricky.  Family friendly.  Easy to transport.  Good for bake sales.  And let's not forget, delicious.

So, happy Teacher's Appreciation luncheon to all the CHS teachers.  A little shout out to Jim Striesel,  HiLite advisor, newspaper guru, journalism teacher of exceptional merit and one of Sara's favorites.  Sara's tenure as Editor in Chief is coming to a close and I'm going to miss seeing her byline.  Just today she learned she was awarded first place in "Opinions" by the Woman's Press Club of Indiana.  We are very proud of her and very grateful for the opportunities she has had to learn and grow through her involvement with the HiLite.  Check it out  online.  Fabulous website.  Easier to read than the Indianapolis Star online and cheaper than the New York Times!

chocolate chip cake in my silicone bundt pan

Chocolate Chip Cake

1/2 C unsalted butter, softened
8-ounce cream cheese, softened (regular or 1/3 less fat)
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 C milk
1 C mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Coat 12-cup bundt pan with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, beat butter, cream cheese and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla and eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add flour, baking powder, soda and salt and mix until well combined.  Stir in milk and chocolate chips.  Batter will be very thick.  Spread in prepared pan (I drop it in big scoops and spread it with my spatula).  Bake for 30-40 minutes until tester in center comes out clean.  Cool for 15 minutes in the pan.  Invert onto cooling rack or serving plate to cool.  Kind of yummy served warm with vanilla ice cream, but let it cool a bit before cutting or you will smoosh it!

who knows why this happens?  honest, I rotated it before exporting...
anyway, here's what you need

creaming butter, cream cheese and sugars

creamy goodness with the addition of the dry ingredients


ready for baking


Hot lunch: meatball sandwiches

A little extra time this morning (surely I should be doing something, there is a pretty long list) after another night with not enough sleep.  Spectacular line of storms rolled through just before bedtime last night.  Everyone was tired so despite the tornado warning, I let them sleep and the cat and I stood on watch.  I had the guinea pig and the flashlight ready to join the wise feline in the basement.  The big humans would have been harder to carry, but it turns out they weren't sleeping because of the storm anyway.

Here's a little post regarding an everyday lunch that is a kitchen staple at my house.  Sara and I are not particularly fond of cold food unless it's salad or fruit or super hot outside (it is not, today is going to be in the chilly 50's because there is a lacrosse game to be played on a whippy field this evening).  Last year we discovered the herb foccacia thin buns from Costco.  They were just a summer and early fall item last year, so when they reappeared in the bread section a couple of weeks ago many were purchased and double wrapped for the freezer.  Far superior to those horrid little thin buns usually found (really, just eat good whole grain bread those things are like torturing yourself) they make fabulous cold or hot sandwiches.

Okay, so buy the buns and then buy the Italian chicken meatballs from the prepared food/deli cases at Costco.  They are really yummy too and much easier to heat up than the frozen ones.  Everything else you need you may already have on hand:  pizza or marinara sauce (we are partial to Muir Glen tomato products and their canned pizza sauce is excellent), provolone cheese slices and or mozzarella slices or shreds.  You know we always have on hand red/yellow/orange bell peppers (Costco again, or the grocery if the price is right) and every week we cut them up with onion and roast a nice pan full in the oven with a little olive oil and kosher salt.  If you have them on hand (jarred roasted red peppers in water from Trader Joe's are a good pantry staple instead) they are a good addition to this sandwich.

Heat your oven to 400 degrees (convection is nice for this to keep it fast).  Another fast tip is to heat the meatballs in the sauce in the microwave or in a pan on the stove.  Then all you are really doing is melting the cheese in the oven.

Tear a nice sheet of non-stick foil and open up your bun spread with sauce, top with slice of provolone, 5 or 6 meatballs, peppers and onions if you want and a little mozzarella if you like double cheese (or skip the provolone and just use the shreds to keep the fat content down).  Place the bun top on and wrap up your sandwich with the foil sealing pretty tightly.  Bake until cheese melts.  Maybe 10 minutes.

There you go.  Fast food that everyone likes for a warm lunch or a quick dinner.  I'm sure to make them again soon and promise some pictures.

This is not a hot lunch unless you are a neighbor cat or dog.  I was fertilizing
our grass plants before the rains and found a bunny den with 5 babies sunning
themselves in the center of the big grass plant.  They were a little sprinkled with 5-22-5
and ran off into the plant and down into the den.  See the little guy hiding from me?  Cute.

Keeping the lemon theme flowing: lemon yogurt cake

I really do cook dinner almost every night and cook quite a few lunches too, but since returning from St. Croix mainly I've been grilling and making salads.  I spent a good hour with my Fine Cooking magazines and the King Arthur Flour website today planning for Easter weekend.  Rest assured, there will be some posts about cooking and not just baking next week.  I will be baking for Easter hot cross buns and the famous lamb cake.  We are hosting Easter for Greg's family and I already have a big Kirkland ham from Costco in the extra refrigerator, a jar of Boar's Head ham glaze in the pantry and an adorable lamb molded in butter from Whole Foods.  I'm searching for a yummy potato dish and new recipes for carrots and asparagus.

But tonight it was a family favorite, enchiladas, that went into the warm oven after I baked a lemon yogurt cake adapted from the Barefoot Contessa. Cadbury eggs, malted milk ball eggs and Cadbury cream eggs call me to my butler's pantry even though I'm not really a chocolate girl.  You know how you just want a little something sweet?  Something needed to compete for my attention with the Easter chocolates and I'm a little more reserved with baked goods.  A little.  

Today was ridiculously rainy so I thought something lemon would perk up my afternoon.  The lemon yogurt cake did the trick because it's been a pretty evening.  Apparently the pretty evening sunshine is warming up the atmosphere nicely for a collision with tonight's cold front.  Hoping for a good round of thunderstorms as we go off to bed tonight.  Last night I was awake from 3:00-4:30 and I've been paying for it all day.  It was a good day for the pouring rain.  It kept me safely at home.  It was not a day to take on anything tricky.  Never underestimate the power of a good night's sleep.  Or the impairment the lack of sleep can trigger.  Not a day to wash crystal or operate heavy machinery.

I can always bake, however.  Most of my adaptations were simply a result of an unfocused and sleepy mind.  Still the cake was yummy.  Never underestimate the power of rest.

Lemon Yogurt Cake

1 1/2 C flour 
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 C plain yogurt (I used nonfat Greek yogurt)
1 C sugar
3 eggs
zest of 2 lemons
1/4 C lemon juice
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 C vegetable oil (I like Smart Balance)

1/3 C lemon juice
1/3 C sugar

2 T lemon juice
1 C confectioner's sugar

1/3 C lemon juice
1/3 C sugar

1 C confectioner's sugar
2 T lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Coat a loaf pan with cooking spray.  

In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.  In a larger bowl whisk together yogurt, sugar, eggs, zest, 1/4 C lemon juice and vanilla.  Pour in the flour mixture and whisk into the yogurt mix.  Use a rubber spatula to fold in the oil until well incorporated.  Note: I did not do this because I was too tired to read.  I think it improves the texture of the finished cake.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean from the center of the loaf (mine took 55 minutes).

While the cake is baking cook the syrup by combining 1/3 C lemon juice and 1/3 C sugar in a small pan over medium heat and stirring until sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear.  Set aside.

Cool the cake in it's pan for 10 minutes.  Place a baking rack over a rimmed pan and invert the cake onto the rack.  While the cake is still warm, slowly pour the syrup over the cake and allow it to soak in while the cake cools completely.  I poured the syrup on the bottom of the cake.  Pour yours on the top.  

Combine the confectioner's sugar and the 2 T of lemon juice to make a glaze.  Pour over the cake.  

sunny ingredients on a cloudy day

this is where I fell off the tracks a bit, see the oil in there already
with the yogurt, sugar, eggs, zest, juice and vanilla?

batter in prepared pan

55 minutes later
note:  this is an Emile Henry loaf pan that I just love
cute, versatile and easy to clean

squeezing lemon juice into a pan with the syrup sugar
you will see that I did not do this during baking
instead I left the kitchen to do a little cleaning
 (did I tell you how my husband was working at my computer all day?)

syrup simmering (really boiling which is not necessary)

now it is clear

syrup coated cake

glaze ingredients

glazed cake
Yep, had a little help in the kitchen since my husband's work lap top was "infiltrated" (his words) and completely shut down by a virus.  His plan was to work from his home office all week after lots of traveling.  Ha!  Instead his computer is being overhauled and he has sat at my beloved iMac at the kitchen island with his crackberry plugged into his ear and worked from our open kitchen.  I am learning a lot about the radiation detection world.  He has a cool job.  His biggest customer is homeland security and you can imagine that the Japan nuclear crisis has the radiation detection and monitoring business hopping.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Got to love Spring sports in Indiana! Think hot: electric lemonade

Started my Saturday with a wonderful strong hot vinyasa yoga class.  Went straight home to the shower, cleaned up, dried off and bundled up for the lacrosse field.  Lord, it was freezing out there today.  Thankfully, Sara's Carmel team pulled out a victory in overtime.  But, seriously, overtime when you are freezing?  Not comfortable.
The joys of Spring sports in Indiana (or, for  that matter, anywhere else in the great Midwest where he have lived).  And I'm not just writing a post to avoid the chore that simply can not be avoided on a damp and cold Saturday:  cleaning the basement storage room.  Put if off so long and do not want to waste any good weather on it.  But still, writing even a short post is way more fun.
Sunny Sara last week Annaly Bay, St. Croix, USVI

Cold Sara (#3, hard to find under all the layers) this week, Carmel, IN
And so it is that I am posting today a recipe I am not preparing today, but it's a good one to apply a little mental imagery and take yourself to a warmer place.  Breathe deeply, close your eyes (well, don't or you won't be able to read this post) and venture out to your back deck on a hot summer evening.  Carry out a big pitcher of electric lemonade.  Pour over ice in tall glasses and sit back and relax with good friends on a nice evening.  I am promising you that this night will come.  And hit the nice nights hard early in the season before the mosquitoes decide to join you.  Come by our house and if the party lights are on, join us for a glass or two.  I am ready anytime!

Just remember to keep the great big bags of lemons and limes from Costco in your spare fridge all summer.  You can never have too much citrus.  Keep scurvy at bay!

Electric Lemonade by the Pitcher

2 C sugar
2 C water
2 C freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 or 4 mint sprigs
16-oz. lemon-flavored vodka
sparkling water (Pellegrino is my favorite)
freshly grated lemon zest, optional garnish

Make a simple syrup with the sugar and water:  Mix in a small pot and bring to a boil.  Boil or 3 minutes and cool.

In a big measuring cup or batter bowl, stir together 1 C syrup (you will probably add more to taste or you can save it in a glass jar in the refrigerator for mojitos or something else yummy), lemon juice and mint.  And now you can go one of two ways with this recipe.  If you are really feeling it, freeze this mixture in ice cube trays for one hour.  Then put the cubes in a blender along with a good pour of sparkling water and the vodka.  Serve in chilled glasses and garnish with mint sprigs and lemon zest, if desired.
If you don't have that kind of time or patience just pour it into a blender along with the vodka and a good pour of sparkling water (1/4 to 1/2 C) and ice cubes (or pour it over ice to serve).  Taste for sweetness.  You may need to add up to a 1/2 C or more of simple syrup.  Serve in a pretty glass pitcher.
However you like to blend and serve it.  Just taste for sweetness.  I have even skipped the whole blender part and made a big pitcher, muddling the mint like I would a batch of mojitos.

That's better!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Strawberry Birthday Cake for my Kelly's 21st!

Kelly, the birthday girl
The things we do for the ones we love.  We landed after midnight and hit the pillows around 1:30 a.m. and by 12:30 p.m. (just 11 hours later) we've baked a cake, gone to the grocery, wrapped gifts, made guacamole, put baked beans in the oven, made and baked mac and cheese, prepped fruit and veggies, made icing and frosted a cake before the entire Rogers clan gathered to celebrate Kelly's birthday.  Kelly is our oldest, the oldest grandchild and most importantly the oldest cousin (something akin to rockstar status).  Kelly will be 21 in a matter of hours.  I am fairly certain Kelly is more freaked out about this than even her parents.  She has waited as all of her pledge sisters have turned 21 before her and now it's finally her turn.  Purdue University actually sent her a birthday card emphasizing the finer points of celebrating safely.  Nice touch.  Hopefully, she'll pace herself and survive to enjoy the rest of Grand Prix week (good timing).  I was always working on Grand Prix (and we all know I was not the fun half of "Greg and Kristin" at Purdue) so I can share no wisdom on celebrating the momentous occasion of turning 21 on campus.  I turned 21 and less than 6 months later I was married.  How my parents never showed their own freaked-outedness, I will never know.

Just before we left for St. Croix, Kelly volunteered that she could come home to celebrate on Sunday after we returned so I did have time to pick out a cake recipe with her and make sure I at least had ingredients for her cake waiting at home.  Kelly creatively requested a strawberry cake with cream cheese icing.  You know, like the raspberry one we've had and no I did not know but I did remember a lovely raspberry cake with buttercream icing that my best friend, Susan bought for me last summer.  Kelly had a good twist in mind.  A little google search later and I found a recipe from Paula Deen using a boxed cake mix, a box of jello and frozen sweetened strawberries.  None of those things naturally occur in my kitchen, but Kelly and I were sure Paula Deen would not steer us wrong.  That girl knows her desserts.  I did find a scratch recipe, but as it turns out the cake mix version saved me.  Because with all the things I needed to do that morning to pull off the party, sleeping in until almost 9 a.m. was not one of them.  But, indeed I rolled over and looked at my clock and had a moment or two of panic.  I am one of those people who can accomplish the same work in 3 hours or 6 hours, able to fill whatever time I have available.  And I had a bit of luck on my side, Sara was already awake and ready to help at the grocery and it was an unbelievably beautiful and warm (hot, even) day so we could all be outside.  Greg quickly moved all the patio furniture outside and even built two new chaise lounges while we scrambled inside.

So, back to the delicious cake.  Paula did me right.  I used sugar free strawberry jello and that was my only substitution for the cake ingredients.  I did not use a recipe for the cream cheese icing.  That's pretty easy just to "wing it" and since it was so warm and I was just home from somewhere near the equator, I thought lemon cream cheese icing would be especially yummy with the strawberry cake.  Good guess.  Just perfect.  I have one big hunk left in the fridge after serving it to our chocolate-loving family (sorry, chocolate cake is never requested by any one of the four of us for our special days) and sending four pieces to the Theta house with the birthday girl.  So, don't be a cake snob (generally guilty, no problem eating cake but it better be worth it and preferably from scratch) and give it a try.  I'm thinking these would be very cute and yummy cupcakes too.

Strawberry Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Icing

1 box white cake mix
1 3-ounce box sugar free strawberry-flavored instant gelatin
1 15-ounce box or tub frozen sweetened strawberries, thawed and pureed (mine were in a tub from Target)
4 large eggs
1/2 C vegetable oil
1/4 C water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray.
In a large bowl (stand mixer bowl is easiest) combine cake mix and gelatin.  Add pureed strawberries (I used my stick blender), eggs, oil and water and beat at medium speed until well blended.  Scrape sides and bottom of bowl and beat a little faster for another minute our so.
Pour into prepared pans and tap on counter to remove air bubbles.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a tester in the center comes out clean.  Cool 5-10 minutes on a wire rack, run knife around edges and invert onto cooling rack to cool completely.

4 T softened unsalted butter
1 8-ounce package reduced fat cream cheese (use regular if you desire, but never use fat free, ever)
3-4 C confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp lemon oil or lemon extract or juice of one lemon and 1 tsp lemon zest

Cream butter and cream cheese until smooth.  Add confectioner's sugar starting at a very low speed and then whipping on high until fluffy.  Beat in lemon flavoring choice to taste (you may need more lemon goodness).

Place one cake on your serving plate and spread with a generous layer of icing for the filling.  Top with remaining cake.  Heap the frosting on top and use an offset spatula to spread across top and down sides.  Chill until serving.  Store in refrigerator up to 3 days.

lighting candles on a breezy day

cake model

cousins: Jacob, Sara, Kate, Kelly, Marnie, Sophia and Madelyn