Christmases Past: Remembering Kimberly

Every year about this time I have a special tradition that I do just for me (well, mostly, though my family always notices if I skip). I make “Kimberly Fudge,” in memory of a Bethany friend who died in a car accident a few years ago while she and her husband were missionaries in China.

I don’t have a picture of Kimberly. But in my mind’s eye I can see her at the stove in the basement of the Old Ad building (also now the stuff of memories, as it was recently demolished), stirring the sugar syrup for a full 12 minutes before adding it to the bowl with the chocolate and walnuts and beating for another 15 minutes. That’s nearly thirty minutes of nothing but standing and stirring. And (especially since I did nothing else but watch) it was worth every delicious bite.

Kimberly’s Fudge

2-1/2 C chocolate chips
1 pint marshmallow creme
1 C butter
2 tsp vanilla (I add a splash of Amaretto, too)
1 tsp cinnamon (my addition)
2 C chopped walnuts
1 can evaporated milk
4-1/2 C sugar

Line a cake pan 11×13 with buttered waxed paper. Put chips, creme, flavorings, cinnamon, and walnuts in a large bowl, set aside. Combine in heavy saucepan the remaining ingredients and bring to rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil 12 minutes (set the timer). Pour over other ingredients and beat for 12-15 minutes (the longer you beat it, the smoother the texture). Cool completely before serving.

One of my favorite Bethany memories is of me and Maria strolling around the “back 40” in the dead of winter, then coming back to my room for “special” hot chocolate (I’d hidden a bottle of blackberry brandy at the back of the closet). I’m not sure if alcohol was exactly forbidden to post-grads, but somehow the “sneaky factor” of pulling down the shades before pulling down the bottle from the top shelf made the experience that much more of a treat.

After the warmth had returned to our bodies, we’d make our way down to the basement where Kimberly was invariably baking something. Not sure where she put all that baking — she couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred pounds or so. Come to think of it, I don’t remember her actually eating her creations. But she had a way of making a home no matter where she was. It’s something I always admired — and something from which my own children now benefit.

See?

Tips for Baking Gingerbread

It’s that time of year again … Gingerbread House Making!!! This is a rerun of one of my “hottest” posts, which offers tips and a really good recipe to help you make a house of your own. Have fun!

A couple of years ago I posted instructions on how to bake a gingerbread house that continues to draw a substantial amount of traffic.  This year I’m making three gingerbread houses and five dozen oversized gingerbread men for Boosters, and after making gingerbread dough in those kinds of mass quantities, I was reminded of a few tips that I wanted to pass along to those who are new to baking this Christmas confection.

*  Use quality ingredients. Preferably Crisco (not all-purpose vegetable shortening) and “Grandma’s molasses.”  This year I tried to cut corners by stocking up with the low-grade, no-name molasses. It turned the dough quite a bit darker than I was used to — and added a bitter aftertaste I did not like at all. Stick with Grandma’s (or possibly B’rer Rabbit).

*  Use foil or parchment paper (my favorite) to roll out the dough and bake. Roll on top of waxed paper to avoid using flour, to keep the dough nice and dark. Don’t forget to chill the dough at least an hour before rolling it out.

*  Use the touch test to check for doneness. It should spring back, without leaving an indent. Leave it on the pans for several minutes before moving it to waxed paper to cool. It will darken and harden as it cools.

*  If ground cloves are out of your budget (when I went to buy them, they were over $7/teeny, tiny jar that had barely enough for three batches), you can use allspice.

*  Use ROYAL icing to decorate — put 2-3 Tbls powdered egg white in per pound of confectioner’s sugar to get the icing to harden quickly. Then just add water to the right consistency.

At our house, the Friday after Thanksgiving is Gingerbread House Day.  If you’re going to adopt that tradition at your house, be sure to take a picture and put a link in the comments.

Happy Thanksgiving . . . and Advent, too!

Advent Cake … Good Anytime!

This evening the contributors of AnnArbor.com will be gathering for a potluck, and I’ve decided to bring out a special recipe I make each year for my annual Rose Sunday Advent Tea. For several years I hosted one at my house, last year I made it for the tea at church. It takes a bit of time, but totally worth the results! It is a slightly modified version of a recipe I found on Allrecipes.com.

One of the things I like best about this recipe is the fact that it makes 4-5 cupcakes in addition to the cake. That way the family can “taste test” without ruining the picture-perfect company treat! The picture is my special “Advent cake plate” the day after I make my Advent Cake. Enjoy!

You will need …
3 C flour (all-purpose)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 C shortening
1 C butter, soft
3 C white sugar (it’s once a year, so live it up!)
5 egg yolks
5 egg whites, beaten stiff
1-1/2 C milk
1 tsp vanilla
1-1/2 tsp Amaretto (almond flavored liquor)
cinnamon sugar for dusting the pan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10 inch tube pan, and dust it generously with cinnamon sugar. Shake out excess. Line 4-5 muffin/cupcake holes with liners, set aside.

Sift together dry ingredients, and set aside. Add flavorings to measured milk, and set aside.

Cream shortening and butter in an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy, gradually adding sugar. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mixture should be light yellow and light.

Alternate dry ingredients and milk, stirring well to combine. Gently fold in beaten egg whites, mixing just until no streaks remain. Fill bundt pan to 1″ from the top, pour remaining batter into muffin tin.

Bake 1 hour 15 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. (Cupcakes come out after 30 minutes.) Rest in pan 10 minutes before inverting on to cake plate. Glaze while still warm. Serves 14 or so.

GLAZE:

5 Tbls cocoa
2 Tbls vegetable oil
4 Tbls butter
3 C powdered sugar, sifted
1 Tbls Amaretto
boiling water

In small saucepan over low heat, combine cocoa, oil and butter. Stir until melted and smooth, remove from hea. Stir in powdered sugar and Amaretto, adding water 1 Tbls at a time and beat until smooth and “glazy.” Dip your cupcakes in first, then pour the rest over warm cake. Sets with a nice sheen almost instantly. Now try to resist cleaning out the pan with your finger. I dare you.

What to do with a Halloween Pumpkin …

Get it ready for Thanksgiving!  With a little effort, you can turn your ubersized pumpkin into a tasty treat for the kids and a large bowl of pumpkin puree, perfect for pies and  muffins and all sorts of yummy treats.

Here’s what you do.

1.  Turn on your oven to 250 to toast the seeds.

2.  Decapitate Pumpkin, cutting a circle around the stem and pulling it off. Reach in and pull out the “pumpkin guts” (plastic gloves may make this less distasteful but it’s harder to reach the seeds). Put all the guts in a strainer, and set pumpkin aside. Slide fingers down each string, dislodging seeds into the strainer as you go. Discard strings and keep the seeds. I like to rinse mine at this point — but some choose to retain the nutrients and leave on the little bits.

3.  Line cookie sheet with foil, drizzle a tablespoon or so olive oil over foil. Dump seeds onto foil, then add a couple tablespoons more oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of seasoning salt and garlic powder. (You can also put on a teaspoon curry powder for a more distinctive taste.) Toss gently to coat, then shake sheet until seeds are in a single layer. Place in oven to roast, shaking the pan every 10 minutes to toast evenly. Bake 30-40 minutes total, then turn up the heat to 350 degrees.

4.  Now for the pumpkin. Using a large knife, cut the pumpkin along the ridges, approximately every 2-3 inches, from the top to the base. When you open it up it resembles a flower. On another foiled, oiled cookie sheet, place segments of pumpkin, flesh side up.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes each. Set aside to cool slightly.

5.  For the next step you will need a food processor, sharp knife with cutting board, and a bottle of apple juice. Take each cooled segment of pumpkin and slice horizontally all the way down the length at approximately 1 inch increments. Slice off peel. Put the peeled pumpkin in the food processor about half-way full. Add a splash of apple juice, and pulse smooth. Empty processor and repeat until all the pumpkin is processed.

6.  This creates a LOT of pumpkin puree, but fortunately it does freeze nicely. Just segment pumpkin in 1 or 2 cup portions into sandwich bags, squeeze out the air, and freeze. Now you’re all set for your Thanksgiving pies!

What else do YOU like to do with pumpkin puree?

Wee Cook Wednesday: Zucchini-Blueberry Bread and Zucchini Chocolate Cake

Today we went blueberry picking at a farm near our house. It’s a local secret — we go every year and pick gallons of blueberries for a couple of dollars each. It keeps us in berries all through the winter, since blueberries are very easy to freeze. Just wash, place on a cookie sheet, freeze, and bag in ziploc baggies. We like our frozen berries on oatmeal or Kashi Pilaf (when I can find it).

Anyway … yesterday we also got an armful of zucchini from a friend, and I decided to combine the two. With a little help from Bobby on blogchef.net, I adapted her recipe to create both lower-fat and lower-calorie versions.

Basic Recipe:

3 eggs (slightly beaten)
1 C vegetable oil* (loaf on right made with lower-fat recipe, using 1 C brown and 1 C white sugar)
3 tsp vanilla
2 C sugar** (loaf on left made with lower-sugar recipe)
2 C shredded zucchini
3 C flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 Tbls cinnamon
2 C fresh blueberries
1/2 C chopped walnuts or pecans

* Lower sugar version: Use 1 C sugar, 1 C Splenda. Increase baking powder to 1-1/2 tsp.
** Lower fat version: Use egg substitute. Replace 1/2 of oil with apple sauce (1/2 C oil and 1/2 C sauce)

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease 2 loaf pans.

In large bowl, combine eggs, oil/sauce, sugar and vanilla. Stir in shredded zucchini. Beat in flour, salt, bp, bs, and cinnamon. Gently fold in blueberries and nuts. Pour mixture into loaf pans.

Bake for 60-75 minutes, or until toth pick inserted into center comes out clean. Allow bread to cool 20 minutes, remove from loaf pans and cool on wire racks.

Each loaf serves 6-8.

If you’re looking for an even sneakier “cover,” my friend Joyce Haase recommends this chocolate cake recipe:

Chocolate Zucchini Cake
3 Sq. unsweetened chocolate (or 9 Tbs. Cocoa, 3 Tbs. Shortening)
3 C. flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp. soda
1 tsp. salt
4 eggs
3 C. Sugar
1 ½ C. Oil
3 C. finely grated zucchini
1 C. chopped nuts (pecans are wonderful, walnuts also great)
1 C. chocolate chips

Directions: Melt chocolate squares & cool. Grease & flour LARGE bundt pan (or dust with cocoa instead of flour to prevent white residue on cake.) Sift dry ingredients. Beat eggs until thick, add sugar. Gradually add oil and melted chocolate. Blend well.

On low speed, add dry ingredients. Stir in zucchini, nuts & chocolate chips. Pour into pan & bake 1 hour & 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool 15 minutes before removing from pan. When completely cool, drizzle with Chocolate Glaze.

Chocolate Glaze (Optional)
1 Tbs. Butter
1 Sq. unsweetened chocolate
Dash salt
½ tsp. vanilla
1 ½ C. Confectioners sugar
2 to 3 Tbs. milk

In sauce pan, melt butter & chocolate. Stir in salt & vanilla. Stir in Powdered Sugar & Milk until smooth. (Use 2 Tbs. milk for thick glaze, more for a thinner glaze.)

This makes a large bundt cake. If your pan is not the 12 cup size, it may overflow.

Turkey Day Soup!

This weekend I stumbled on a tasty new post-T-Day treat that I wanted to share with those who have a bird carcass left over, and are wondering what to do with it.

Into your favorite soup pot, toss turkey carcass (broken up), 8 cups water or chicken stock, 1 chopped onion, 4 stalks chopped celery, some leftover gravy, a generous splash of wine, 5 chopped carrots, and 1 cup leftover cranberry sauce (or cranberry chutney). Add a Tbls herbs de Provence or a mix of thyme, rosemary, sage. Add 1 Tbls red pepper flakes. When veggies are done, remove bones, take meat off them and return it to kettle. Add 1 can corn and 2 C wide noodles along with generous handful of chopped cilantro. Cook until noodles are done.

Yum!

Make a Gingerbread House! An Advent Tradition

At the end of November each year (the Friday after Thanksgiving may be a convenient time, since the project can extend an entire weekend), we get started mixing dough, cutting out the templates, and baking each cookie. The next day, we make a batch of royal icing (I cheat and use the powdered kind.

About cutting out the template for each piece of the house: You can make your own out of poster board or laminated parchment paper. If you’re not architecturally inclined, you can enlarge and trace this simple pattern. I also found this excellent tutorial on how to assemble a simple gingerbread house here at “Cookies, Cupcakes, and Cardio.”

We like to make two houses … one to keep, one to give. (I’ve found that teachers especially appreciate it if you offer to host a gingerbread decorating party in the classroom … and may even let you tell the story of St. Nicholas and the three bags of gold!). Continue reading