Thursday, December 4, 2014

Fruitcake and Holographic Chambers

Fruitcake and Holographic Chambers, an unusual topic of conversation.
The two don't really seem to have much in common, except they are both a mystery to me.
Let me start at the beginning...
My oldest son, Elijah is 6. He believes he's 16 or maybe more like 26.
He has requested a Holographic Chamber for Christmas.
Is this a thing?
Mrs. Claus has Googled the heck out of it, and has come up empty handed.

I'm pretty sure I don't even know what the combination of those two words mean.
But he does. Every detail.
He's imaginative and creative without restraint.
Where do we lose that?
The unbridled enthusiasm for everything.
At some point most of us trade that in for the acceptance of what is instead of what could be.

I don't have an answer.
Just wondering.
Ponder that.

And then there's fruit cake, a 6 pound confection loathed by most, but a necessity when exploring vintage recipes.
Loath no more good people.
This fruit cake is actually good. Fruit, nuts, spices all held together with butter and sugar, how could it be bad?
Read on for a delicious vintage fruit cake recipe.

If you need me I'll be in the basement trying to figure out how to build a Holographic Chamber to the specs of a 6 year old.

Holiday Fruit Cake

2 1/2 cups raisins, soaked for 10 minutes
2 cups chopped nuts, I used half walnuts and half pecans
1 cup candied cherries, chopped
1 cup candied pineapple, chopped
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs, separated
1 orange, juice and zest
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 standard loaf pans with waxed paper.
  2. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy.
  3. Add egg yolks. Beat for 2 minutes.
  4. Sift together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder and salt.
  5. Add dry ingredients to the butter mixture and combine.
  6. Add the juice and zest of an orange.
  7. Add the fruit and nuts and gently combine.
  8. Pour batter into the prepared pans and bake for 70 minutes.
  9. Let cool slightly and remove from pan.
To modernize this recipe try substituting dried fruits such as cherries, apricots, cranberries for the candied fruit.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

An Easy Thanksgiving, Right?

I recently read an article in Better Homes and Gardens magazine about Thanksgiving entertaining. The concept sounded lovely. Yes, it made me want to entertain guests in my home for Thanksgiving weekend.

According to the article, all I need to do is knit slippers for each guest; leave lists directing guests to first aid, fire extinguishers and t.v. remotes; cue Netflix up with Thanksgiving movies; make gourmet popcorn; buy guest toothbrushes with the word "guest" engraved on them; create serenity in the guest room; make snacks for their trip home; and cook Thanksgiving dinner. 

Sounds totally reasonable.
Wait, does it?
Not really.
It sounds like Thanksgiving on steroids.
We have a no 'roids policy around here, so here's what's really gonna happen...
  • There is no work or school, so my children will be awake and ready to play around 4:30a.m, which means I will be awake at 4:30a.m.
  • I will start cooking and realize I've forgotten to buy at least 3 key ingredients. This will lead to an hour long Google search for ingredient substitutions with a side of pre-Black Friday browsing.
  • My mom and I will be working in the kitchen together. We have very different cooking styles, so things may get a little harried. Did I mention we've been living with my parents for the last four months? Take a moment to let that sink in.
  • I will assign the kiddos the job of making place mats for the guests. They will want to use glue, glitter, scraps of wire and draw super heroes killing bad guys. They may even throw a couple Pilgrims into the battle. I guess that counts as Thanksgiving-ish.
  • It's now 10:30a.m. and I have been up since 4:30, so technically my day is half over already. I think this qualifies me for an extra cup or two of coffee. Or a piece of pie. Or maybe an adult beverage.(My tech support guy read this and thought I may come across as an alcoholic with this statement. For the record, I'm not.)
  • I will come up with some festive party games to which all in attendance will grumble about. Think Turkey Tag or a Turkey Trot.
The great thing about Thanksgiving is that whether you're going the the BH&G route(and I truly admire you if you are), or you're celebrating with homemade place mats and party games we all have a lot to be thankful for, and I, for one choose to remember those things today and everyday.

Among my most precious blessings
My 4:30a.m. wake-up call
My current house mates
My tech support guy

Needless to say, we're keeping it simple at the Zimmerman/Prince household this year. Read on for the easiest, most beautiful cranberry recipe you'll ever make.

10 Minute Cranberry Sauce

1-2 cups sugar, to taste (I used 1 cup because I like to keep the cranberries tart)
2 cups water
5 cups fresh cranberries
1 cinnamon stick(optional)
zest of half an orange(optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla(optional)

  1. Put sugar and water in a medium pot and bring to a boil over medium heat.
  2. Boil for 5 minutes.
  3. Add cranberries.
  4. Boil without stirring for an additional 5 minutes. When all of the skins have popped remove from heat.
  5. Pour into a container and let cool.  
This recipe can be made up to 2 days in advance and is great with any, all, or none of the optional ingredients. Use whatever you have on hand. 

Extra cranberries? Use them as a filler around pillar candles in glass containers or jars. Or as a cocktail garnish. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Adventures in Gingerbread

In the wilds of Kentucky, 1809
A boy was born
First name Abe, last name Lincoln...

The opening line of one of my oldest son, Elijah's, favorite books.
How do I know it by heart you ask?
I've read it approximately 900 times.
Lijee loves Abe Lincoln, and really, who doesn't?

So, when asked what he wanted to make for a local gingerbread house display, Abe's log cabin seemed an obvious choice. I thought it was a great idea. So proud of my smart, creative, interesting little boy!
Let's do it!
Let's build a log cabin out of edibles!
How hard could it be?
Spoiler's hard. Much harder than anticipated.
I didn't think so.

I've baked a lot, especially cookies, tens of thousands, so this should not be a problem.

The week of the log cabin, now infamous, at least in the minds of my family was an adventure, and this is how it went...
  1. Make Abe cookies, hats, Abe's dog and accompanying hat. This part should be easy, but not really. It involved cutting around paper templates, scaling to size and lots of broken arms and legs. On the cookies, not my children.
  2. Construct the house and cover it in pretzel "logs." Now, there really isn't any good way to cut pretzel rods to the right size, so I had to nibble hundreds of pretzels into the right size and shape. Yes, I nibbled pretzels like a little rodent. Ridiculous, you say? No my friend, I'm a mother and we do this kind of outrageousness when our children ask us to.
  3. Attach logs to house.Things have gotten real around here, so I've abandoned royal icing in favor of hot glue. This may be frowned upon in the gingerbread house making community, but I've gone rogue.
  4. Ok the time comes to attach the Abe cookies. And they're way too big for the house. President Lincoln is now a giant. Reconsider cookies and opt for a cardboard cutout of Abe.
    Look how happy he is
     that his mother spent a week on this house!
Okay. Good. Finished.
Time to drop the masterpiece off. I double check the info sheet to make sure I've got the correct drop off time, because I'm studious like that.
It was due yesterday.
This is happening. For real.
I'm super close to a mom fail on this thing.
I dial up the emergency gingerbread hot line number listed on the sheet.
I am totally committed to begging at this point.
But I don't need to, because the gingerbread hot line lady is literally the kindest person I've ever spoken to.
I can still drop it off.
All is right with the world.

Now it's time to make some gingerbread! This easy recipe produces a soft, not-to-sweet, molasses-y cake.

Elsie's Gingerbread

1 cup molasses
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup shortening, such as Crisco
1 cup boiling water
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger 
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8x8 pan.
  2. With mixer, combine molasses, brown sugar, shortening.
  3. Carefully add boiling water and mix on low speed until shortening is melted.
  4. Let mixture cool slightly and then add eggs.
  5. Add flour, baking soda, baking powder and ginger. Mix on low until combined.
  6. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes.
Enjoy warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. Also, a great companion for coffee the next morning!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Homegrown Tomato Soup

Do you love tomato soup, but hate all of the mystery ingredients found in the store bought variety? Read on, my friend. 

Living on a farm gives me access to the freshest fruits and veg available.

One of my favorite things to grow are tomatoes. Second only to strawberries. We'll talk berries another day.

I am responsible for choosing and planting the tomatoes each year. This means getting out the seed catalog around January when cabin fever really starts to set in, and choosing the varieties for the coming spring.
This may, or may not surprise you, but I have no scientific method for choosing seeds. I look at the pictures, read the descriptions and then take a wild guess at which ones will be beautiful and successful. 
Sure, I have some stand-bys, but I like to mix it up. Big, small, heirloom, hybrid, red, pink, yellow, purple...endless options.
My helper and the 70 year old transplanter.
Well, maybe not endless, but more than 10,000 options which is pretty close to endless. 

Around the first week in April I start the seeds and all of their magic in a hot box and then, after sprouting, they scoot out to a homemade greenhouse. Last year that amounted to about 1,000 plants. 
Next step, keep them alive until it's time to plant them in the field in late May using a 1940s transplanter . I don't complain about this vintage machine because planting 1,000 plants by hand would take me and my crew all summer. (My crew consists of 2 boys, six and two, so they would probably be pulling the plants out faster than I could put them in. One of their many talents.)

Last year at this time we built a High Tunnel which is a low tech structure designed for season extension. 
A beautiful thing in short seasoned Ohio.
We were able to harvest tomatoes a month early and still had a few stragglers in November. 
We've now been Vortexed, so the plants are no more. 

I used those hangers on in today's Tomato Soup.
No homegrown toms on hand? 
No problem. 
Just use the ones you so diligently froze during the peak of the season. 
Didn't happen this year?
It's okay.
I planted 1,000 plants and all I could scrounge up in my freezer were two small bags leftover from last year.

Simple solution. Just buy the best canned, whole tomatoes you can get. 
It will be fine. I promise.

But please don't buy grocery store tomatoes in November. Grocery store tomatoes are sketchy and shady and gross.

Tomato Soup
Serves 6-8

8.5 lbs. fresh or frozen tomatoes-about 20 medium, quartered
2 large onions, rough chopped
2 small peppers, mild, rough chopped
5 stalks celery, rough chopped
1 cup fresh parsley
3 cloves, optional
1/4 cup butter
1 cup flour, sifted
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt, more to taste

  1. Combine tomatoes, onions, peppers, celery, parsley and cloves in a large pot over medium heat. 
  2. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  3. Carefully strain the soup into another large pot using a mesh strainer. Discard the cooked vegetables.
  4. Reheat the tomato liquid over medium heat.
  5. Add the butter.
  6. Sift in flour, sugar and salt.
  7. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer, stirring often.
  8. Cook for an additional 5 minutes.
Dairy Allergy? Yep. A non dairy butter(I use Earth Balance) can be substituted for the butter in this recipe.
Use the spent vegetables in this recipe as chicken food or add to the compost pile.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Beginning...

I'm unprepared.
It's kind of my thing.

Some people are neat freaks, or party animals, or free spirited. 

I'm unprepared. 
And I embrace it. 

Coupled with the fact that I consistently overestimate my ability to complete almost anything successfully and quickly, makes me unstoppable. 

At least I thought so, until I actually made my first recipe and sat down to blog about it.  I had a few realizations....
  1. I don't know how to be a Blogger. Well, shoot. I better learn, like right now, because that's a big  part of having a blog. At least that's what I've heard.
  2. Blogging, even for someone who actually knows how to do it, seems to take time. More than I expected. Not surprising considering my aforementioned skill set.
  3. I'm not a detail person. Not a great trait when trying to translate old recipes with minimal methodology on the original. At least if the goal is for them to be edible. 
I've realized a lot today. 
And I've got a couple things to work on before my next post. 
All this realizing has made me hungry, so let's bake something.

Today's recipe is Grandma's Apple Cake. I chose this as the first recipe because it's awesome; my grandma made it a lot;it's easy; and it's fall in Ohio so the apples are great.
So here it goes....

Grandma Zimmerman's Apple Cake

4 cups apples, finely diced (I used Gala, any variety will do)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts*
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
pinch of salt

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease 9x13 pan.
  2. Combine diced apples, oil, and eggs in a large bowl.
  3. Add sugar, walnuts and vanilla. Stir.
  4. Add flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Stir until combined
  5. Pour mixture into prepared pan.
  6. Bake for 1 hour. 

*Nut allergies? We do! Walnuts can be omitted completely, or mix all ingredients except nuts and divide small portions into individual ramekins for those who can't consume walnuts. Stir nuts into the remaining batter and bake as directed. 

I hope you give this one a try! Let me know how it goes.
Thanks for stopping by.