Sunday, March 27, 2011

It's Tapping Time

Today my friend, Tina, and I went to learn the secret of making maple syrup.  I don't think we really learned any top secrets and we didn't even get to see the sap run because apparently it needs to be 40 degrees out. It was not 40 degrees out this morning. But since we were the only 2 customers they had, I think the old gentleman wanted to give us a good time anyways. I never found out his name so let's call this guy, Hank.  I really liked him because he reminded me so much of my grandpa. Hank was slender and slightly hunched over, he wore those awesome old dude overalls and a goofy looking hat topped off with classy leather boots.  He looked, to me, like a typical old Midwest farmer.  Luckily I wore my snow boots because Hank took us on a little walk through the snow and trees to find a good maple tree to drill into.  I seriously did not know that the process of getting the sap to drip was so easy. Hank had the tree already to go in about 2 minutes, granted he was a little winded, but it was simple and he was quite happy to do it.  Thank god Tina was there to talk and ask most of the questions or it would have been me awkwardly following Hank around the woods for an hour with no words being spoken, just me right behind him carrying his tools.  

After we were done tapping, Hank brought us over to where they cook the maple sap over the fire and boil it down to get the syrup. It seems like a long process and a lot of work, so I now understand why pure maple syrup empties your pocketbook.  We took a few pictures and Hank gave us each a shot of maple syrup in a paper cup. That's one thing I can say I've never done, shooting syrup. After our shots, we headed for the car while Hank grabbed his ax and went back to chopping his wood.

I don't know if you've read the Little House on the Prairie books or not, but I read them all as a kid and yes, I watched the television series as well. We had 4 stations to choose from growing up and that show was really all there was to watch after school other than Power Rangers. Anyways, Laura would always talk about the maple candies that Ma would make after Pa would get the sap from the trees and make the maple syrup. Those people worked so much harder for their treats than I do. Apparently that was their big Spring treat and it was memorable enough for her to devote an entire chapter to it. Sorry Laura, but I get Peeps and Cadbury Eggs. Sucker.

In honor of our maple syrup day, and Hank, I'm making Oatmeal-Maple Scones. I wanted to purchase some syrup from the nature center but apparently they don't bottle it because they don't make enough to sell. So instead I went to Lunds and purchased some pure maple syrup made someplace else in Minnesota.  It'll do.

Oatmeal-Maple Scones:
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup pecan halves, toasted and chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 to 10 pieces
1/3 cup cold heavy cream
1/2 cup MAPLE SYRUP!!
1 cold egg

Maple Glaze:

1 cup confectioners' sugar
3 Tbs maple syrup
1 to 2 Tbs water

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Using a mixer, mix together the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, pecans, and raisins on low speed for 10 to 15 seconds, or until combined.  Scatter the butter over the top and beat on low speed for about 30 seconds, or until the butter is somewhat broken down and grape-size pieces are still visible.
In a small bowl, whisk together the cream, maple syrup, and egg until thoroughly mixed. On low speed, pour the cream mixture into the flour-butter mixture and beat for 20-30 seconds, or just until the dough comes together.  It will be fairly wet.
With a rubber spatula, scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to ensure that all of the dry ingredients are mixed into the dough.  Using a 1/3-cup dry-measuring cup, drop mounded scoops of the dough onto a baking sheet, forming 8 scones and spacing them 2 to 3 inches apart.
Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the scones are golden brown on top. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes. 
To make the maple glaze :  
While the scones are cooling, in a small bowl whisk together the confectioners' sugar, maple syrup, and enough of the water to make a smooth, pourable glaze. You should have about 1/2 of a cup. 
When the scones have cooled for 30 minutes, brush the tops evenly with the maple glaze, then serve. 
The scones taste best on the day they are baked, but they can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.  If you keep them for longer than 1 day, refresh them in a 300-degree oven for 4 to 5 minutes. Makes 8 scones.

These scones were so easy to make. I think that they are even less work than cookies. They are quite large, so you could probably even scoop half the amount and double the yield. I'm not going to lie, they are tasty. Happy baking...

*This recipe came from the cookbook, "flour". It's written by Joanne Chang.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Peter Peter apple eater!

Happy Birthday to my pal, Peter.  Peter is an amazing friend to both my boyfriend, Jim, and I so that is reason enough for him to deserve a special cake on his birthday. This may seem like an odd cake for a birthday because it's not very fancy or have 3 layers and a ton of frosting, but it's a cake I'm sure Peter will enjoy. He has a love for apple flavored things and cinnamon ice cream and he even loves apple flavored liquor. Yup. So, that is why this is the best cake I could think of for our wonderful friend on his birthday. In my opinion anyways.

For this cake I had to toast my nuts.  I'd never toasted nuts before and apparently I've been making a giant mistake my entire baking life, so for about 3 years.  Toasting nuts brings out their natural oil and heightens their nutty flavor. All you have to do is spread them out on a rimmed baking sheet and put them in a pre-heated 350 degree F oven for about 8 to 10 minutes.  They should be golden brown color when they are done. Oh, and they smell amazing.

Apple Spice Cake:
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 eggs
4 cups peeled, cored and chopped Granny Smith apples (2 to 3 apples)
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup pecan halves, toasted and chopped

Cream Cheese Frosting:
6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
6 Tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter and flour a 10-inch round cake pan.

In a large bowl sift together the all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.  Add the granulated sugar and butter to the flower mixture and beat on medium speed for about 1 minute, or until the butter is fully incorporated and into the dry ingredients.  Periodically scrape the sides of the bowl during the mixing process.  Add the eggs and mix on low speed for 10 to 15 seconds, or until fully incorporated.  Then, turn the mixer to medium-high speed and beat for about 1 minute, or until the batter is light and fluffy. 

Using a rubber spatula, fold in the apples, raisins, and pecans.  The batter will be very stiff and thick. It will look like too many apples but it's not. Scrape all of the batter into the prepared pan, then spread it evenly to fill the pan.

Bake for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until the cake feels firm when you press it in the middle and the top is dark golden brown.  Let the cake cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.  Invert the cake onto a serving plate, lifting away the pan, and then invert the cake again so it is right-side up.

Mix the cream cheese, butter and vanilla in a bowl until just combined. Don't whip! Add the sugar and mix until smooth. Frost lightly on top with cream cheese frosting.  This cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. 

I learned a few things while making this cake. You really do have to make sure your oven temperature is correct. Ours was off by almost 30 degrees and it browned the cake very quickly. Also, don't use a spray instead of buttering the pan. The outside of the cake turns out so much better if you use real butter to grease the pan and then sprinkle the pan with flour so its all covered and then shake the extra flour off. It's worth the extra time it takes. I actually had to make this cake twice.  The second time it came out just right. It had to be perfect for Peter's birthday! I learned a lot of lessons though, so it was totally worth it. Happy baking....

Monday, March 21, 2011

All my seeds in a row...

I've decided to plant my very first garden this year. I finally have a backyard so I figured this is the year I will live off the land. Well, for a meal at least.  Apparently, if you want to have your garden succeed you need to start some of your seeds indoors, like yesterday. I could always buy the plants later on, but I've decided to grow them all myself. I'm guessing this might be a mistake, but I figure if I'm super nice to these little seeds and talk to them and feed them they will totally grow and yield more vegetables than I could ever imagine. Right?? Yes, I do realize I am being a bit delirious about the outcome of my garden.

I'm using 6 biodegradable pellet greenhouse kits. You are supposed be able to 'Grow Healthier Plants Faster With Fiber Grow!' My body needs/likes fiber, so plants probably do as well. In each 'greenhouse' there are 10 pellets, no dirt required. The pellets just expand and then you put them right in the ground so you don't disturb the roots. Odd, I know.  I'm not at all sure about how these little pellets work, but I trust Menards, which is where I bought them. It is my dad's favorite store after all, so it's got to be good. Did you know they have EVERYTHING there? Trust me when I say that we saw everything at Menards this past weekend when my parents came to visit because we were there for 2 hours. Who knew you could waste that much time there? Surely, not I. 

The seeds I am starting are tomato,red and green peppers, a hot pepper mix, pepper 'carnival mix', green onions and Columbine flowers.  I have the usual seed packets like carrots and radishes and such as well but apparently you don't need to start those early.  You can just throw those in the ground when it thaws, which will probably be the end of May seeing as I live in Minnesota.  My goal with all these peppers and tomatoes is to can salsa by the end of summer, So we will see if I end up just going to the farmer's market instead.  Fingers crossed this works. I'll keep you updated on how my little greenhouses are doing throughout the next few weeks. Exciting, isn't it?! If you have any gardening tips or words of advice please leave a comment or email me at Thanks!

Sunday, March 13, 2011


The recipe I re-created today came from the cookbook 'Chicken and Egg' by Janice Cole.  Janice raises her own chickens in her backyard in St. Paul! She has written a lovely cookbook devoted to cooking with chicken and baking with eggs.  She talks about the importance of using fresh farm eggs and organic eggs in food and I've actual started to use only large organic brown eggs in our house as well. I really do think it makes a difference.  Her recipes are very well detailed and easy to follow, that's probably why I like her book so much. 

The recipe I chose to make out of her book today is the Bittersweet Fudge Pound Cake.  When I read through the recipe it seemed sort of difficult, but in all honesty it was extremely easy.  She explains every step in great detail so you shouldn't have any questions, which is why I liked it. There are a lot of ingredients involved with this cake but most of them you may already have. I hope you're able to make this cake because the smell alone is worth it.

In order to make the glaze you have the melt the ingredients in a glass bowl over a pot of simmering water.  Now this is something that I had never done before, but it's actually very easy!  For some reason I've always skipped over recipes that have done this technique, but I won't anymore.I thought it would be really difficult, but it's not at all. I have no idea why I used to have concerns about it. 

This cake turned out great. It tastes like a giant brownie. Yummm!  I always figured that bundt cakes were dry and bland, but I'm happy to report that I was wrong!! Happy baking....

Bittersweet Fudge Pound Cake

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 Tbs strong coffee at room temperature
4 eggs plus 1 egg yolk at room temperature
3/4 cup buttermilk
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60% cacao), chopped

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60% cacao), chopped
3 Tbs unsalted butter, cut up
1 Tbs dark corn syrup

To Make the Cake: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 12-cup bundt pan with shortening or coat with a nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle with unsweetened cocoa, turning the pan upside down and tapping to remove any excess cocoa. Whisk together the flour, 3/4 cup cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl until blended. Set aside.
Beat the butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed for 1 minute until creamy. Reduce speed to low and add the brown sugar, beating just until blended. Increase the speed to medium, and, with the mixer running, slowly pour in the granulated sugar in a steady stream.  Beat for 3 minutes or until light and fluffy.  Reduce the speed to low and slowly beat in the canola oil and coffee until blended.
Add the eggs and the egg yolk, one at a time, beating each egg only until blended into the batter. Alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk in thirds, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Stir in the 8 ounces chopped chocolate. Gently ease the batter into the pan. Run a spatula or knife through the batter and tap the pan on the counter several times to eliminate air bubbles.
Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out almost clean, with a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 min. Invert the cake onto the rack and remove the pan.  Cool to room temperature. 

To Make the Glaze:  While the cake is cooling, put the 6 ounces of chocolate, the butter, and corn syrup in a medium heat-proof bowl. Place over a saucepan filled with 1 inch of simmering water. Melt chocolate, stirring occasionally until smooth. 
Pour the glaze over the top of the cooled cake, letting the glaze drip down the sides. Let the glaze set before serving.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Cake Pops?

Everyone is allowed to blame their mother for something, and I choose to blame mine for passing along her sweet tooth. I think I'm justified to blame her for this. The woman had a candy drawer, people! A whole drawer devoted to just candy, and it was glorious. Not only that, but her cookie jar was always filled and she usually had some bars lying around. Needless to say, I became addicted to sweets, and it's probably not a surprise that I'm always searching for something new to try. So you can see why I was super excited to find a new treat recently released at Starbucks. Cake Pops....

Yup. A tiny little cake on a stick. It's our lucky day, reader! It's not even Minnesota State Fair season and we get a cake on a stick!!!  I, self-proclaimed sweet tooth queen, couldn't pass this up. I promise that it wasn't just the chocolate, but mostly my curiosity that got to me. They have three different flavors; Birthday Cake Pop, Rocky Road Cake Pop and Tiramisu Cake Pop.  Of course I got all three.

I have officially tried a little hunk from each, and currently have a sugar rush. Wow. The only one that sort of has a resemblance of a cake texture is the rocky road one. Otherwise, it's like fudge covered in frosting. That's my opinion anyways. If I had to pick one as the most tasty one of them all, it would be the pretty little pink pop with white sprinkles. It has a vanilla center with a pink chocolaty frosting. Uff. The marshmallows on the rocky road pop are sort of stale, but the nuts in the 'cake' are pretty tasty. The tiramisu pop is at the bottom of my list for taste and texture. There is a slight coffee flavor to it, as there should be considering it was dipped in a mocha flavored chocolaty coating... I guess you can't really go wrong with a fudge-ish filled, frosting covered treat. On a stick.

Even though I will never purchase these again, it was a nice, sugar-filled experience. While others would have scoffed at the new cake pops at Starbucks, I was the person who bought them, and was totally excited about it. Now, to re-create them myself??


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Favorite Cookie

Hi there, Reader (s)!
So, I've decided to start a blog! I'm only about 6 years late for the cool factor, but better late than never. I wanted to start this little thing to get myself back into writing and to share some of my favorite recipes and new ones I'm excited to try. I have several cookbooks to get through and plan on baking a ton. I've never written about preparing or eating different foods before, so this should be quite interesting.  I always find it helpful to read about a recipe that a regular ol' person has tried, and not just the cooks in Martha Stewart's kitchen.  Don't worry, you'll also get to read about the occasional kitchen/life disaster in here as well. 

My first recipe is going to be a breeze!! I decided to post my favorite cookie of all time. When I was in high school I tasted this amazing cookie that my Ma had made and I thought she was a baking genius after this cookie. Turns out she's not. She can just read the back of package labels. I was pretty disappointed that my favorite cookie was printed on the back of a Nestle Toll House wrapper, but then I tasted them again and I got over it.  Thanks for the cookie, Ma! So here is my very first blog post, hope you're able to try them! Happy baking....

Oatmeal Scotchies:

1 1/4  cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups quick or old-fashioned oats
1 2/3 cups butterscotch flavored morsels

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in oats and morsels. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto greased baking sheets.
Bake for 9 to 10 minutes. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.  Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

So there are a few things I've learned about cookies that I want to share. I've made the mistake, more than once, of having the butter to soft. If it's to soft the cookies will spread out and not turn out as well. I always use unsalted butter in my cookies as well, even if it doesn't specify.  These cookies have oats in them and I find it easier to mix in the oats and morsels with a spatula or wooden spoon.  That way the dough doesn't get tough by over mixing it with the beaters.
Oh! I also use one of those handy ice cream scoopers to drop the cookies. That way they are all the same size and I find it to be less of a mess. It says to grease the baking sheets, but I think that using parchment paper is just as good and it is much easier to clean up.