Gosh Darn You, Martha Stewart!

I fell in LOVE with the cover of Martha’s Easter Issue. I was positively obsessed!!

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I mean, what’s not to love, right??

So, with my characteristic over-enthusiasm, I decided to recreate Her basket for my daughter’s in-law’s Easter Table. That won’t be too hard, I told myself.

Around two hundred dollars’ worth of Martha Products later, I have a reasonable facsimile of Her Easter basket, if I do say so myself. Minus the adorable lop-eared bunny, of course!

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Martha may not have a warm and fuzzy personality, but She’s still one of my Pantheon of Women Goddesses. Hey, Athena wasn’t Miss Congeniality either! And who else could have had a bunch of federal prison inmates crafting?? To gild the lily, She’s an avid beekeeper too!!

She’s the tops in my book.

Have a wonderful Easter, Martha.  I was just kidding You in the title of my post.  :)

 

Honey Lamb Cake!

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I’ve spent the last 48 hours baking, frosting and decorating three Lamb Cakes for Easter.

Okay, I took a two hour break to hear Carla Hall, my personal favorite Top Chef and co-host of The Chew, speak at our local bookstore, Joseph Beth. I even got to meet her and give her a big hug! She was awesome!

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But that’s another story… Back to the Lamb Cakes

I first encountered Easter Lamb cakes when I moved from Louisville to Cincinnati back in the 70′s.  Cincinnati has a large Eastern European population, mostly German. Lamb cakes are wildly popular in the Old Country at Easter Tide, and German immigrants brought them here in the mid 19th century.

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Lamb cakes were traditionally made in heavy cast iron molds manufactured by the Griswold Manufacturing Company of Erie, Pennsylvania. They aren’t manufactured any more, but you can find them on EBay, usually at exorbitant prices.  I was lucky and got mine for cheap. It was worth the hunt!

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Traditionally Easter Lamb cakes were made with honey and ground hazelnuts. Sadly, nowadays hazelnuts are usually omitted and cane sugar is used instead of honey. My recipe leaves out the nuts, but you can always include some almond flour.

I originally planned to only make one cake, but this recipe makes two large and one small cakes. It was fortuitous though because both of my neighbors wanted one!

By the way, I’m starting Culinary School in two weeks.  Wish me luck!!

Cake Ingredients

3  cups sifted cake flour, plus more for mold

1 tablespoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

6 ounces (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for mold (I used Crisco to grease the pan)

1 1/4 cups sugar

2/3 cup honey

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup whole milk, room temperature

6 large egg whites, room temperature

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Directions

Place rack in center of oven, and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a pastry brush, coat both sides of the mold with butter or Crisco, making sure to cover all areas.

Dust mold with flour, tap out excess, and freeze until ready to use.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda,and salt. Cream butter and sugar with a mixer until pale and fluffy. Reduce the speed; drizzle in honey. Beat on high until very pale and fluffy. Add vanilla.

Add flour mixture, alternating with milk, beginning and ending with flour. Transfer batter to a large bowl. Beat egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and beat until stiff, glossy peaks form. Fold 1/3 of the egg white mixture into cake batter, then fold in the remaining whites.

Pour batter into the “face” side of the mold.  Place  toothpicks or bamboo skewers in the batter to provide support for the head, ears and neck.  Place the other side of the mold on top.  Place on a baking sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes and turn the mold over.  Bake for another 20 minutes. Transfer mold to a wire rack.  After 15 minutes remove the top side of the mold.  After another 15 minutes or so, carefully remove the cake from the other side of the mold. Let cool completely. Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (or up to 1 day).

Honey Buttercream Frosting

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup honey plus 2 TBSP
4-5 cups powdered sugar
milk as  needed for thinning out frosting

In a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and the honey for 2 minutes.  Add 2 cups of the powdered sugar .
Start on low speed on the mixer, beat until smooth and creamy, about 3-5 minutes.
Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition (about 2 minutes), until the icing is thick enough to be of good spreading consistency.
Use milk to thin out frosting to reach desired consistency.

Tips for Success

1. Grease your lamb pan.  Then grease it some more.

2. Flouring your pan is MUST!

3. Fill your lamb on the “face” side of the mold.

4. Add structural support (e.g. toothpicks and/or bamboo skewers) to your lamb cake before it is baked.

5. Tie your lamb cake mold shut with baker’s twine.

6. Bake cake for the maximum amount of time called for in the recipe.

7. Cool cake properly before removing from mold.

8. Loosen edges on the face side completely before trying to de-pan your lamb.

9. Let your lamb cool completely before trying to frost it.

10. Give your lamb a good base (frosting on plate) to sit on.

Happy Easter To All!!

The Science Of Cooking

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I love the fact that cooking is science!  The above is next on my list of books to read!!

I was reminded of kitchen science yesterday when I made an extra-healthy vegan vegetable stew. It was inexplicably sour.

I fixed it by adding a little honey and a little salt .”Just the scientific facts, Ma’am!”

Here is a handy guide to scientifically “correcting for taste.”

The four (five??) senses of taste are sour, sweet, salty and bitter and way too hot and spicy.

When you increase one taste to counter another, it changes the way your taste buds perceive the flavor.

If you alter one of the tastes, it will affect the others.

If it is too sour, add something sweet or add a little salt (or both!), depending on what you’re preparing.

If it’s too sweet, add something sour,  like lemon juice or vinegar.

If it is too salty, increase the amounts of sweet and sour and it will reduce the saltiness.

If it tastes bitter, increasing the sweet, sour and salty tastes will reduce  the bitter taste.

If it is too hot, adding a dairy product (such as sour cream) will help calm the heat.

 

Bees — We’ll Miss Them When They’re Gone!

Never Forget ….

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Cooking With Honey – Roasted Butternut Squash Soup With Honey, Pancetta, and Fried Sage Leaves

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There are wonderful butternut squash available in the local markets, and today, cool and sunny, is a perfect day to prepare this tasty soup!

It’s what I’m having tonight!!

Yield:  Serves 4-6.

Ingredients:

1 (2 to 3-pound) butternut squash, halved with seeds removed

4 medium shallots, peeled and left whole

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

2 ounces pancetta (about 12 paper-thin slices), diced

1 cup diced leeks, white part only (about 1 large leek)

1/3 cup finely diced carrots (about 1 small carrot)

1/3 cup finely diced celery (about 1 small stalk celery)

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh sage

1 tablespoon dry white wine, of drinkable quality

2 quarts rich chicken or vegetable stock, plus extra if needed

1 teaspoon honey, or to taste*

Splash of sour cream and/or hot sauce, for serving (optional)

Canola oil for frying

1/4 cup sage leaves

Fine sea salt, to taste

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Coat the squash and shallots with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and season generously with salt. Place  the squash and shallots onto the lined baking sheet and roast until the squash and shallots are tender when pierced with a skewer or the tip of a small knife, about 40-60 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside until needed.

Heat a large sauce pan or dutch oven over medium heat; add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and heat through. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring, until the fat has rendered and the pancetta is crisp. Remove from the heat, then use a slotted spoon to transfer the pancetta to a paper towel-lined plate; set aside until needed.

Return the pan to the heat and add the leeks, carrots and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, but not browned, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and sage and cook, stirring, until very fragrant, about 1 minute more. Add the wine, scraping up any browned bits that have formed on the bottom of the pan (deglaze). Cook until the wine has evaporated, then add the stock.

Scrape the squash pulp from the skin and add the pulp, the shallots (scraping up any browned bits) and honey to the pan; bring the stock to the boil. Immediately reduce to a simmer and cook until all the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup completely. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper and honey as desired. Keep the soup warm until service. (This is where you’d add the splash of sour cream to taste, if desired.)

For the Sage: In a small, heavy-bottomed sauce pan, heat 1-inch of oil to 365°F; fry the sage in batches, stirring to separate the leaves, until crisp, about 3 to 5 seconds. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain; season with fine sea salt while still hot.

For Serving: Ladle the soup into warmed soup bowls or cups. Top each serving with some of the crispy pancetta and a few fried sage leaves. Serve immediately.

*The honey doesn’t sweeten up the soup; it just enhances the caramel flavor of the roasted squash.

Cottage Gardening – The Grand Dahlia

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It’s a cold, rainy and generally gloomy Saturday in Cincinnati. I’ve managed to get a few errands done, but all I want to do is curl up and keep warm. Maybe do a bit of needlepoint…

Then there appeared a  bright spot – the blooming of a spectacular Autumn-colored dinner plate dahlia!!  It loves the miserable weather.  A gorgeous reminder that even a dark and damp Fall day can be beautiful!!

Beautiful Beekeeping – Carving Bee Pumpkins!

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I love Halloween, especially the pumpkin carving. Last year I carved the bee pumpkins above!

It’s easy and fun!  All you have to do is find a template you like and print it out.  Below are some suggestions.  As you can see, your design can be as simple or as complicated as you wish. You can also design your own!

Remove the seeds, pulp and flesh of your pumpkin. Tape the template to the pumpkin and poke holes along the outlines. Make the holes close together so you can see the design clearly when you remove the template.

Then, carefully using a sharp knife, cut out your design. Add a light and enjoy your Bee-utiful Pumpkin!

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Cooking With Honey – Easy Honey Blueberry Preserves

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Here’s a very simple recipe for blueberry preserves that doesn’t use pectin or processed sugar. Just 4 ingredients!

It’s great over Greek yogurt or ice cream.

Ingredients (fills an 8 ounce jar)

3 cups blueberries (frozen and thawed or fresh)

3/4 cup honey (you can use more or less depending on how tart your berries are)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon lemon zest

Directions

Place the blueberries in a medium sized sauce pan and crush them with the back of a fork or using a potato masher.

Add the honey, lemon juice, and lemon zest, then bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir frequently while the mixture boils for 15-20 minutes and it starts to thicken. The best way to test if it’s done is to put a spoonful in the freezer for 5 minutes. If it won’t easily pour off of the spoon when you remove it from the freezer, then it’s done.

Skim off any foam, then ladle the jam into a sterilized jar.

Store tightly covered in the fridge for a couple of weeks or you can use canning methods to store in a pantry for longer storage.