Friday, December 2, 2016

White House Christmas Ornaments and My Cousin

A number of years ago I became acquainted with a cousin.  I know that sounds strange but we moved from Pennsylvania to the west coast when I was five.  I didn't grow up with cousins around me even though my parents both came from very large families.  I must qualify that...some of my dad's brothers and sisters moved to the west coast also, so I did see cousins from Dad's side of the family, occasionally.

Linda and I bumped into one another on the internet!  You see we both love genealogy and found one another on a message board researching the same family....and the emails started.  We have researched together for many years now. She is a wonderful researcher and problem solver.  I am so blessed to have found her and have her in my life.

She acquainted me with the White House Christmas Ornaments and I love them.  Each December she sends me the White House ornament for the year.  It has been a fun adventure.  I enjoy reading the history behind the ornament as each one is unique and has its own story.  I look forward to the package and adding a new ornament and piece of history to our Christmas tree.

I would love to share each ornament and the story behind it with you but decided it would be a very long I will share pictures of some of the ornaments and the story for one.

The 2011 ornament honors the administration of Theodore Roosevelt, the twenty-sixth president of the United States.  Santa crossing the White House lawn exclaims, "I hear there are kids in the White House this year."  This was the first time since the departure of Grover Cleveland in 1897.

The backside of the 2011 ornament depicts a 1903 illustration of the moment President Roosevelt's son, Archie, revealed to his family the Christmas tree that he had hidden in the seamstress’s closet. The tree defied the president’s ban.  The picture highlights the simplicity of the Roosevelt family Christmas decorations and the president’s conservation ethic.

Linda tells me that the 2016 ornament is on its way!  For now, I am sharing ornaments from 2006 through 2015 and one special ornament that is a miniature of Julia Gardiner Tyler.  This miniature is in honor of the portrait Julia gifted to the White House.   It marks the beginning of the comprehensive collection of portraits of the First Ladies.

Thank you, Linda, for generously sending ornaments each year.  It is fun to have a Christmas ornament collection that celebrates the season and shares our country's history at the same time!

Friday, November 18, 2016

No Kidding...this is the Absolute Best Pumpkin Bread!

You know that moment when you think about your pumpkin bread recipe and realize it is really just "okay"?  That moment when you know there has to be something better out there?  That moment when you start looking but you have so many options that you aren't certain where to begin?  That was me.

Then, I saw the recipe for America's Test Kitchen Pumpkin Bread.  And I knew that a new recipe had arrived!  While the method of preparation is totally different, it is prepared on the stovetop before baking, I figured it was worth a try.  

They were spot on when it comes to a moist and tasty fall sweet treat...yet, it isn't overly sweet.

I kid you not, this is the absolute, very, best pumpkin bread!!

The Absolute Best Pumpkin Bread
slightly adapted from America's Test Kitchen

Yield:  2 loaves

5 Tbsp packed light brown sugar
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree (Not pumpkin pie mix)
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsps ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 oz. cream cheese, cut into  12 cubes
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped fine

Place the rack in the middle position. 
Preheat oven: 350° F.
Prepare (grease) two loaf pans (8 1/2 X 4 1/2-inches).  Set asked.

In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients together using your fingers.  When the mixture resembles wet sand, set it aside.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the pumpkin puree, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.  Cook the mixture, stirring constantly, 6-8 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat.  Add the granulated sugar, brown sugar, oil, and cream cheese to the pumpkin mixture and stir until combined. Let the mixture stand for 5 minutes.  Mix until there are no visible pieces of cream cheese and the mixture is smooth.

Whisk together the eggs and buttermilk.  Add the egg mixture to the pumpkin mixture and whisk to combine.  Fold in the flour mixture until well combined. (Some small lumps of flour are okay.)  Fold the walnuts into the batter.  

Pour the batter into the prepared pans.  Sprinkle the topping evenly over the top of each loaf.  Bake 45 to 50 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.  Allow the loaves to cool in their pans on a wire rack for 20 minutes.  Remove the loaves from their pans and continue to cool, about 1 1/2 hours.

Note:  If a larger loaf pan is used, start checking the bread about five minutes earlier.

This is my new go-to pumpkin bread recipe!  I can't imagine ever going back to my old recipe.  I hope you make it and enjoy it as much as we have!

You won't regret making this wonderful fall treat!

I am sharing today at Full Plate Thursday hosted by Miz Helen's Country Cottage.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Apple Pear Coffee Cake

When I was in junior high I remember using the recipe for coffee cake that was on the Bisquick box. I wanted something sweet for Saturday breakfast. It was easy. It smelled good and it was something that I could do by myself.  I was pretty proud of that coffee cake.  Dad was always a good sport and ate whatever I made.  He always told me it was delicious, even if we both knew it could have been better.  I think we both wanted something sweet that Saturday as it didn't make it to the end of the day.

A lot of years have gone by since I made that coffee cake.  It has actually been a long time since I have made any coffee cake!  That was to change as for some reason, when I looked at the load of apples and pears in our weekly CSA box, coffee cake came to mind.

It was a great decision and it didn't last very long considering the amount!  I think this particular recipe is for a large gathering, but it could easily but halved.  Halving it is what I will do the next time...

Apple Pear Coffee Cake
adapted from Taste of Home

Yield:  12-15 servings

1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsps baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
1 1/4 cup chopped, peeled, cored apples
1/2 cup chopped peeled, cored pears

Preheat oven:  350° F.
Prepare 13 X 9-inch baking dish.

Prepare the topping
In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon.  Cut the butter into the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.  Stir in the walnuts.  Set aside.

Prepare the cake
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.  Set aside.

Using a mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs and vanilla.  Add the flour mixture alternately with the sour cream.

Fold in the chopped apples and pear.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish.  Sprinkle the topping over the batter.

Bake at 350° F. for 35-40 minutes or until a tester inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack.


The cake was very moist....fall apart moist.  I did add a full cup of pear to the batter which was probably a mistake.  It didn't make a difference to the flavor, just the moistness.  Next time I will be obedient and follow the recipe as it is written.

I am sharing at Full Plate Thursday hosted by Miz Helen's Country Cottage.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sopa de Abóbora aka Portuguese Pumpkin Soup and a Tour of Lisbon

Sometimes everything just falls in place.  That is what happened when I got my very last Secret Recipe Club assignment, Culinary Adventures with Camilla!  You probably recognize the blog name as I was just assigned her blog in July, when I made Watermelon-Tequila Granita, but it's no matter to repeat, there is never a lack of choices on Camilla's blog.  In fact, I found the dish I wanted to make first thing as her most recent post that day was Sopa de Abóbora which is Portuguese Pumpkin Soup! I was more tha excited to see her post!

Why?  Well, we had just returned from a recent trip to Spain and Portugal.  Thinking of the trip and the wonderful sights, sounds, smells and tastes we experienced, I knew I was going to be spending time in the kitchen.  Camilla's Sopa de Abóbora was a great inspiration and place to start.  

You really need to make this soup.  It was so smooth and flavorful with a very subtle hint of sweetness.  This is a soup that I would make again.  I did make a couple of changes in that I added carrots, garlic and cilantro.  It was delicious...

Sopa de Abóbora aka Portuguese Pumpkin Soup
Inspired by Culinary Adventures with Camilla

1 small pumpkin (about 2 lbs.), peeled, seeds removed, pulp cut into small cubes
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 tomato, diced (about 1 cup)
3 cups chicken stock, divided
1 tsp cinnamon or nutmeg
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
Kosher salt, to taste
Fresh ground pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven.  Add the diced onions.  When the onions become translucent, stir in the garlic.  Cook for another minute.  Add the pumpkin cubes and carrots to the onions and garlic.  Cook until the pumpkin begins to caramelize.  

Add the tomatoes and 2 cups chicken stock to the mixture and bring it to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer until the pumpkin and carrots are easily mashed with a fork, about 20 minutes.

With an immersion blender process the mixture until it is smooth.  If the mixture is too thick, add the remaining cup of chicken stock.  Stir in the cinnamon OR nutmeg.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Mix in the cilantro leaves.  

Ladle into individual bowls for serving.  

Garnish with roasted pumpkin seeds and a few cilantro leaves.

Camilla has an unending amount of energy.  She is the mother of three boys and describes herself as "a tree-hugging, veggie-crunching, jewelry-designing mean mommy who loves to cook but hates to clean."  She has spent time as a florist, waitress, SCUBA dive master, stock photo agency manager, stroller fitness teacher, writer, editor, and au pair. She also lived and worked in Rome where she learned to cook.  Camilla visited the markets, talked to farmers and fishmongers, and pestered them to learn how to prepare various dishes that are now part of her repertoire.

This busy woman uses any occasion to go into the kitchen and create delicious dishes for her family and friends.  It is her hope that her blog will be an inspiration to others and they will prepare their own creative dishes!

I must admit that I am intrigued with Camilla's recipe for Roasted Acorn Squash and Chestnut Soup. The fall is the perfect time to serve soup in the "squash bowl"!  But then, with the holidays approaching and knowing we would be entertaining, the idea of having homemade bitters on hand was appealing and Camilla just happened to have a recipe for making Meyer Lemon Bitters. Decisions...decisions.  


I am also sharing a collage of a few pictures from our brief two days in Lisbon.  In the morning of the first day, we took a general tour of the city which included Torre de Belem or Belem Tower (bottom center).  The tower was built in 1515 as a fortress to guard the entrance to Lisbon's harbor. It was imposing and beautiful.  As we walked along we came across the Wine with a View cart!  Director's chairs were set up enabling thirsty visitors to enjoy some great wine and the lovely view!  We thought this was a great idea!

Our afternoon was spent walking and walking and walking.  We made our way from the square pictured (bottom left) to the Moorish castle, São Jorge Castle (bottom right).  The oldest parts of the castle date from the 6th century!  I am always amazed at how old some of the structures are.

This is the last month for the Secret Recipe Club.  It is being dissolved.  I have enjoyed the opportunity to visit so many blogs and meet some really cool bloggers.  Thank you all for sharing your recipes! And thank you, Camilla, for leading Group B!!  It has been a fun adventure!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Spicy Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew with Chipotle

It is raining and it is cold.  On this type of day when I find myself standing in the kitchen thinking about dinner, I know that it has to be some type of comfort food.

I also have a new best friend of sorts, the New York Times Food site.  They have a page on Facebook. Everyday I see wonderful dishes just waiting for me!  On this day I saw a Spicy Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew that would be perfect!

The dish had all of the great flavors of Mexico, even chipotle, and my favorite, sweet potatoes. And... it's healthy!  What could be better?

Spicy Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew with Chipotle
slightly adapted from The New York Times

Yield:  8 servings

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt to taste
2 tsp ground cumin
2 medium carrots, peeled, diced
1 1/2 cups brown or green lentils, rinsed
6 cups chicken broth (water or vegetable broth may be substituted)
2 medium sweet potatoes (dark orange flesh), about 1 to  1 1/4 pounds, peeled and cut in large dice
1 to 2 chipotles in adobo, seeded and chopped (to taste)
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Lime wedges for serving

In a Dutch oven or soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion.  Cook, stirring, until it softens, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and salt.  Cook, stirring, until the garlic smells fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add the ground cumin and carrots.  Stir together.

Add the lentils, broth, sweet potatoes, chipotles, tomato paste, bay leaf and salt to taste.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 40-45 minutes, until the lentils and sweet potatoes are tender.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

Stir in the cilantro and simmer for another minute.  Serve with lime wedges.

NOTE:  Start with one chipotle and increase to your taste.


This was perfect for the cold weather we were having and there was enough leftover for lunch the next day!

I return to California tomorrow so there won't be any rain and it won't to as cold....I will miss the weather in Seattle.  Blustery, rainy days are my favorite!

I am sharing today at Full Plate Thursday hosted by Miz Helen's Country Cottage.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Chocolate Spiderweb Cookies

Halloween is just around the corner....really around the corner and Sabine and I are just now making cookies...but, better late than not at all.  Today we made Chocolate Spiderweb Cookies.  They were easy and had just enough steps so that a four year old could help and not get bored.

It was fun for me, too.  I have been in cookbook heaven of late.  Alison brought me three new cookbooks to read and Dorie's Cookies by Dorie Greenspan was one of them.  I have had so much fun dreaming about cooking my way through the book and then realizing that somebody had to eat all of those cookies, so I narrowed it down to one for now!

I selected the basic chocolate cookie dough which Dorie has named Do-Almost-Anything Chocolate Cookie Dough.  I was after a chocolate cookie that had a deep chocolate flavor with a bit of firmness to the touch but not crisp.  This was perfect!  Plan ahead if you decide to use this cookie dough.  I do need to mention that the cookies must be popped into the freezer for an hour or the refrigerator for three hours, prior to cutting and baking.

Chocolate Spiderweb Cookies
adapted from Dorie's Cookies

Yield:  40 cookies, 2-inch diameter

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 pound unsalted butter, cut into chunks and at room temperature
2/3 cups sugar
3/4 tsp fine sea salt
1 large egg white, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 Tbsp milk

Preheat oven:  350° F.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Sift the flour and the cocoa powder together.

Fit your stand mixer with the paddle attachment or use your hand mixer to beat the butter, sugar and salt together on medium speed until the mixture is smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes.  Reduce the speed to low and add the egg white and vanilla.  The dough may curdle but it will smooth out when the flour mixture is added.

At low speed, add the flour mixture in 3 or 4 additions, beat only until the flour is incorporated each time before adding the next addition.  Scrape down the bowl once or twice and mix until all the dry mixture has been absorbed into the dough.

Divide the dough in half.  Flatten each half into a disk.  One at a time, place a disk between two pieces of parchment paper and roll the dough to a 1/4-inch thickness.  Slide the parchment and dough onto a baking sheet. The two may be stacked on the baking sheet.  Freeze for 1 hour or refrigerate for 3 hours.

Work with one disk at a time.  Peel the paper away on one side.  Flip the disk over and peel the paper from the other side.  Use a 2-inch diameter cookie cutter to cut out as many cookies as you can. Gather the scraps together.  Make a disk, roll between parchment and re-chill before cutting and baking.  (Note:  Sprinkle with sanding sugar at this point if desired.)

Bake the cookies 18 to 20 minutes or until firm to touch.  Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 5 minutes and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Repeat with the next disk.

Mix the powdered sugar and the milk together in a medium bowl.  Stir until smooth.  It will be stiff.
Spoon the mixture into a small zip lock bag and seal.  Snip a tiny whole in the corner of the bag. (It can always be made larger if needed!)

Working with one cookie at a time, pipe a dot into the center of the cookie.  Pipe two concentric circles around the dot.

Starting at the dot, pull a toothpick from the dot through the two circles to the edge of the cookie. This makes the web design.


Have a Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Spiced Pear Muffins

I am back in Seattle and enjoying the rain which I rarely see at home.  I am probably one of those odd people who absolutely loves the rain.  I love to listen to it and watch it....snuggle up in a chair with a good book and bake!  Guess that could be boring but, it is not to me!  I think the baking part goes back to when I was a child.  My mom always baked on the days that it rained.  It is something that I love to do, also.  Needless to say there has been a whole lot of baking going on this week.  There has not been a lack of rain!

My daughter gets a CSA fruit box each week.  There are lots of apples and pears in the fruit basket....lots....and lots!  So, when she sent me the link to this recipe, we agreed that these had to happen!

The muffins are not really sweet which is nice.  The sweetness and the moistness comes from the pears.  We liked them but Sabine preferred to eat the pears and leave the much for the opinion of a four year old!

Spiced Pear Muffins
adapted from The Kitchn

Yield 12 muffins

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, softened 
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
2 tsps baking powder
2 tsps ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
2-2 1/2 cups pears, unpeeled, cored, and diced small
Optional ingredients:
1/4 cup candied ginger
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Cinnamon and sugar for sprinkling on top of the muffins

Preheat oven:  425° F.

Spray the muffin tin with baking spray or use muffin liners.

Place the sugars and the softened butter into the mixer bowl.  Cream on high speed until the mixture resembles a fluffy frosting.  Mix in the eggs, one at a time, beating after each.  Mix in the vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, spices, baking powder and salt.  On low speed, alternately mix in 1/3 of the flour mixture and 1/3 of the milk.  Continue until all of the flour and milk have been incorporated.  Do not over mix.

Scrape the sides of the bowl and gently stir.  Gently fold in the diced pears.

Divide the batter between the muffin cups.  The batter will fill the cups and be slightly mounded. Sprinkle the tops with cinnamon and sugar.

Place the muffin tin in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 400° F.
Bake for 20-25 minutes.

The muffins are done when the tester is inserted and comes out clean.  The tops of the muffins with appear cracked and toasted when they are done.

Let the muffins cool and when they can be handled, transfer them to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Note:  Leftover muffins can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for 3 to 4 days.  They may also be frozen for up to 3 months.  Frozen muffins should be reheated in an oven at 300° F. or for a few minutes in the microwave.


These were a super breakfast treat...snack...or for no reason other than you want one!

I am sharing today at Full Plate Thursday hosted by Miz Helen's Country Cottage.