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Spent the weekend loafing around…

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a bit of a bread junkie.  I absolutely love all of the fabulous rye and multigrain breads that are available here in Germany, but it’s not as easy to find a good, crusty French boule loaf (usually, the best you can find is a baguette).  I’ve made lots of different kinds of bread before, but for some reason (probably because it was easily attainable at the time), I’d never attempted a French bread.  Luckily, this fabulous, incredibly simple Le Creuset recipe that was featured on Simply So Good recently caught my eye on Pinterest, because it’s just too good to miss!

Like the bagels I posted about a week or so ago, I was initially skeptical when I read about how easy this recipe was supposed to be.  There’s NO prepping the yeast.  NO kneading.  None!  Just a quick mix, a night spent proofing on the counter, and a minute or two spent shaping the dough into a ball.  That’s it!  Could it possibly be that simple to re-create the fragrant, crusty boule loaves that I loved to buy at the French bakery years ago?

Simply put, yes!  I was pleasantly surprised when my initial test loaf came out so much better than I ever anticipated.  My house smelled like a French bakery, which was almost enough reason in and of itself to bake this bread!  The crust is thick and crunchy, and the texture is the perfect density for a good boule. The experiment was a success, and life was good.

And then, I thought, “What about other flavors?…”

But I’m getting ahead of myself- let’s begin with the basics!

 

Basic Crusty Bread

Ingredients

  • 3 cups unbleached all purpose flour (Bread flour seems to work fine, too- I ran out of all purpose last night, so I switched over for today’s dough)
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt (I used kosher salt for most of the batches, but once again, I ran out and went to regular iodized, and it seems to be the same)
  • 1/2 teaspoon yeast (I used regular Active Dry yeast)
  • 1 1/2 cups water (The recipe doesn’t specify, but I went with lukewarm water, because that’s what other bread recipes have required)

Directions

  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and yeast.  The bowl needs to be large enough that it can accommodate rising dough.

  2. Add water and mix until a shaggy mixture forms- it doesn’t need to be pretty, just combined!

  3. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 12 – 18 hours (overnight works great, and I found that the longer the dough proofed, the larger the finished loaf was).

  4. Heat oven to 450 degrees.

  5. When the oven has reached 450 degrees place an enameled cast iron pot with a lid in the oven and heat the pot for 30 minutes.  (I used my Le Creuset Dutch oven for this, and it was perfect- I only wish that I had a big enough oven to fit two!)

  6. When the pot is safely in the oven, pour the dough onto a heavily floured surface and shape into a ball.  (I found that it helped to scrape the dough out with a spatula- just enough to encourage it to let go.  The dough will be sticky, so don’t be stingy with the flour on your hands and work surface!)

    The dough after proofing- it expands a bit, but it's not a huge rise...


  7. Cover your dough ball with plastic wrap and let it set until the 30 minute pre-heat time is up.

  8. Remove the hot pot from the oven, remove the lid, and drop in the dough.  Cover and return to oven for 30 minutes.  (There’s no need to grease or oil the pot- the bread won’t stick!)

  9. After 30 minutes remove the lid and bake an additional 15 minutes.  (Because I was baking several loaves, I simply propped the lid next to the pot so that it didn’t cool off and require another pre-heat.)

    After 30 minutes covered...

    After 15 additional minutes uncovered...


  10. Remove bread from oven and place on a cooling rack to cool.   (This step is the hardest one in the entire recipe- waiting until the bread is fully cool before eating it is downright cruel and unusual!)

 

Now, wasn’t that just beautifully simple?  Hard to believe that something so easy could produce something so very, very good!  Of course, I couldn’t let it be too simple- remember those other flavors I mentioned earlier?…

Let’s Go Bouleing!

The following are just a few different flavor mixes that I’ve put together for this beautifully basic boule recipe.  There are also some great suggestions on the Simply So Good blog (in the post AND in the many, many comments), and even that is just the beginning.  The sky’s the limit, so go crazy, and please share your ideas and successes with the group!

A few rules of thumb:

  • Unless you like your bread really chunky, aim for about a cup of mix-ins, give or take a bit.
  • Add any non-liquid mix-ins (fruit, nuts, cheese, herbs, etc.) to the dry ingredients after you’ve whisked them together.  Once added, whisk again to combine before adding liquid.
  • Try to keep the amount of liquid about the same.  If you add honey or a flavoring, subtract the same amount of water.  (I may be totally off base, but I think it keeps the dough from getting too wet…)
  • If you add a liquid, try to combine it with the water before adding to the dry ingredients.
  • Some ingredients may add moisture when baked, so you may want to decrease the water slightly to compensate.

Mixed Berry and Lemon Zest Boule

This one was an instant hit with my youngest kids- they devoured it with butter and blueberry marmelade, and Nathan officially declared it ‘the bestest’!  I also liked it with butter, but I can’t wait to try it in French toast later on…

Dry Mix-Ins:  1/4 cup each of Just Tomatoes dried strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries; 1/4 cup craisins; the zest from one lemon

Wet Mix-Ins:  One tablespoon of honey (subtract one tablespoon of water to compensate)

 


Prosciutto and Cracked Black Pepper Boule

This was one of my favorite flavors from Klinger’s Bread Company in South Burlington, VT, but I always wished that it came in a boule loaf rather than the very skinny baguette that they sell.  It’s fabulous for grilled cheese sandwiches!

Dry Mix-Ins:  1 cup of chopped Prosciutto ham; 2 teaspoons of coarsely ground black pepper (I used the coarsest setting on my McCormick Black Peppercorn grinder)

 


Mixed Seed Boule

This bread could be done with any variety of seeds, including sunflower, pumpkin, flax, pine nuts, poppy, and sesame.  I opted to use a pre-mixed salad blend of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and pine nuts that I found at our local grocery store.  If you would like to add seeds to the top of the loaf, simply sprinkle them on top of the shaped dough ball before you cover it with plastic to rest before putting it in the pot.

Dry Mix-Ins:  1 cup of assorted seeds with additional to top if desired

 


Apple Cinnamon Almond Boule

Apples.  Almonds.  Bread.  Could it possibly be any better?  This is yummy with butter and a bit of cinnamon sugar on top, but I’m also planning to try French toast with this bread.  I actually caught myself standing next to the oven and sniffing the vents while this loaf baked, because the scent was absolutely phenomenal…

Dry Mix-Ins:  1 cup each of peeled, chopped apple (this was one average apple, I think either Jonagold or Braeburn), tossed with 2 tablespoons of cinnamon sugar; 1/4 cup of sliced almonds

Wet Mix-Ins:  One tablespoon of honey (subtract one tablespoon of water to compensate); 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract (I did NOT subtract water for this, but I leave it to your discretion…)

(Note:  I sprinkled a bit of additional cinnamon sugar over the mixed dough, just for the heck of it.  I’d planned to brush the top of the loaf with melted butter and sprinkle on some cinnamon sugar when I took it out of the oven, but forgot it in the pre-dinner rush.  It’s great without it, but I think it would also be great with it if you’d like to give it a try!)

 


Baby Boules

Once I’d established that this was a great, crusty bread recipe, I realized that it was just right for bread soup bowls!  The full recipe is too big for an individual serving (although it would be great for dips), but by cutting the batch in half, you get a boule that’s just the right size for your favorite soup.  To test the mechanics of the smaller loaf, I mixed up a double batch of the basic boule recipe: 

When it was time to shape the loaves, I emptied the dough out onto my floured bowl and cut it into four portions that I then shaped into balls and covered as usual. 

When you bake the mini loaves, you’ll give them the 30 minutes covered as usual.  For the uncovered portion, I set the timer for 10 minutes and then kept an eye on them until they were the desired shade (usually about 10-12 minutes).  I thought that I could manage to squeeze two mini boules into the pot at once, but I soon discovered that this just wouldn’t work.  Unless you have a bigger pot or an oven big enough for two pots, you’ll have to bake them individually. 

Still, time drain aside, I was very happy with the two mini boules I came out with in the end- they’ll be perfect for our Zuppa Toscana tonight at dinner! 


This is just the beginning of my boule adventures, folks- there are still tons of flavor combinations that I want to test (chocolate chip is proofing as we speak, and I have plans for bacon and cheddar, sun dried tomatoes, Italian herb…), so my oven will definitely be busy.  Please, come back and share any great new combinations that you create so that we can expand our repertoire together!

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2012 in Breads and Rolls

 

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A good day for soup.

Let me begin by stating one of the basic facts of my life: I love soup.

I really don’t care what the season is, what the weather is, or even what time of day it is- I simply love soup!  There’s just something so wonderfully comforting and relaxing about a good (not out of a can) bowl of soup, preferably with some fresh bread alongside, and I refuse to limit that wonderful feeling to a set time, temperature, or season.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s always a good day for soup!

This weekend’s soup offering was one of my favorites, a variation on a Crock-Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup recipe I found on DisneyFamily.com several months back.  I’m not usually a fan of soups that are heavy on the tomatoes, but something about this recipe pulled me in, so I decided to give it a shot.  Of course, as usual, I didn’t have all of the ingredients on hand, so I made some changes along the way that I ended up liking better than the original!  You can see the first version of the recipe by clicking the link above, but here’s my version of Chicken Tortilla Soup:

 

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Ingredients

  • 4-6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (I get them in packages of 6, so I put them all in)
  • 2 10-ounce cans of RO*TEL tomatoes, including juice (I use one Mild and one Mexican Lime & Cilantro, but you can use the spicier versions if desired)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 15-ounce can of petite diced tomatoes, including juice
  • 1 32-ounce box of chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon cumin (chili powder works in a pinch)
  • Kosher salt and pepper (as desired- I rarely add either)
  • Shredded Monterey jack cheese
  • Chopped fresh tomatoes (for garnish)
  • Fresh tortillas, cut into strips, or tortilla chips (for garnish)

Directions

  1. Place the boneless, skinless chicken thighs in the bottom of your slow cooker.  (I prefer to use a disposable liner in my slow cooker- it’s not perfect, but it cuts down the clean-up considerably!)
  2. In a large bowl, mix the RO*TEL, garlic, onion, canned tomatoes, cumin, and 1 cup of the chicken broth.
  3. Pour the tomato mixture over the chicken, spreading to distribute evenly. 
  4. Cover and cook on HIGH for 3 hours, or until the chicken is tender.
  5. Remove the chicken to a bowl and shred, using the tines of two forks to pull it apart.  (I occasionally will just attack it with my kitchen shears for a quick chop)
  6. Return the chicken to the slow cooker, along with the remaining chicken broth, and stir to combine.  Adjust seasoning as desired at this time.
  7. If desired, you can stir in your fresh tortilla strips prior to serving.  (I generally skip this step, because I’m just as happy without it, but then it’s technically not tortilla soup…)
  8. Serve hot with a generous helping of shredded cheese and some fresh tomatoes and tortilla chips to garnish.

 

I always double this recipe, because it freezes beautifully!  If you would like to freeze your soup, simply spray the cups of a muffin tin (I use a jumbo muffin tin) with cooking spray and fill the cavities about 3/4 of the way with soup.  Cover the tin with plastic wrap and freeze.  (You can stack several trays in the freezer if you put a piece of cardboard between them!)  When frozen, remove the soup pucks from the tin and store them in a zippered freezer bag (if the soup won’t come out, you can run a little bit of hot water over the back of the tin to loosen).  To reheat, simply put several soup pucks into a microwave-safe bowl or mug and cook until hot, stirring occasionally.  This is one of those tricks that I wish I’d known about sooner, because it’s just as easy to make a lot of soup as it is to make a little, and it’s fabulous to have a supply of home-made soup ready on a whim!

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2012 in Recipes, Soups

 

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Calling all quilters…

…Please help!!!

We are still in need of many more submissions for the Quilt Squares for a Cause Challenge, so I’m going to extend the deadline through the end of March and then re-evaluate where we stand. I really want this finished quilt to be incredible, since it’s going to support a fabulous cause, so please share the challenge with friends, family, bloggies, and anywhere else you can!

 

http://QuiltSquaresForACause.com

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2012 in Random Acts of Craftivity

 

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Bringing Bagels to Bayern

Germany is a great place to live if you’re a bread addict!  (I’ve heard that it’s pretty cool if you’re a beer addict, too, but I tend to prefer my carbs in a solid format…)  Everywhere that you go, there are bakeries full of fresh-baked breads, pretzels, and pastries.  Even the supermarkets have great bread, and since the Germans tend to use fewer preservatives than we do in the States (yet another bonus of living over here), you just HAVE to go on a daily basis for fresh supplies!  (A serious hardship, don’t you know…)

Because of the baked abundance that’s so readily available, I don’t usually bother to make bread when we’re over here.  There are few things I would normally make that I can’t pick up at the bakery on a whim, so I tend to turn my baking time in other directions.  However, there is one thing that you just can’t get over here, and that’s a good, warm bagel.  The commissary on base sells the frozen (hockey puck) bagels, and there are occasionally some fresh bagels available in the bakery section, but I’ve been spoiled by my years on the East coast.  If I’m going to eat a bagel, I want a REAL bagel, and after looking over many, many recipes, I finally decided to take the plunge!

I was recently lucky enough to stumble on a Pin of a post from The Wednesday Chef that featured a bagel recipe from Peter Reinhart.  My inner bagel skeptic was hesitant to believe that they could be as good as they looked in The Wednesday Chef’s pictures, until I read the following:  “…you’re going to have a tray of gorgeously brown and crisp-skinned bagels in your kitchen, making your house smell like H&H (I used to live across the street from their 80th Street outpost – I know that smell like I know my own mother’s).”  That’s right, this recipe was passed along by someone who’d been to the source, someone who should know from bagels!  With that golden endorsement, I decided that it was time to jump in, hands first, and end my bagel drought once and for all.

Peter Reinhart’s Bagels

Makes 6 to 8 bagels according to the original recipe specs, but I tripled the recipe below and ended up with 16.  (I like big bagels, I cannot lie…)
 

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2C (1 LB) unbleached flour (You can use either bread or all-purpose, but I used the Gold Medal ‘Better for Bread’ flour.  I also used my digital scale for the measurement- much easier and more accurate!)
  • 3t salt (I used Kosher), divided
  • 3/4t instant (rapid rise or bread machine) yeast
  • 1T honey or barley malt syrup (I used honey- apparently you can get the barley malt syrup in health food stores, but I have no clue where I’d even begin to look for that over here!)
  • 1C plus 2T water
  • 1t baking soda
  • Poppy or sesame seeds, kosher salt, or whatever else you want to use as a topping

Directions

  1. In a nice, big bowl, mix the flour, 2 teaspoons of the salt, the yeast, honey and the water by hand until the ingredients form a stiff, coarse ball of dough, about 3 minutes. (Just a tip- the honey will be MUCH easier to work with if you spray your measuring spoon with a little bit of oil first!)  If necessary, add a little more water (carefully- I over-added, so I needed a touch more flour to balance it out). Let the dough rest 5 minutes.

  2. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until the dough feels stiff yet supple, with a satiny, slightly tacky feel, 2 to 3 minutes. If the dough seems too soft or too tacky, sprinkle over just enough flour as needed.

  3. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to several hours. Keep in mind that the bagels must be shaped before proofing overnight.

  4. When ready to shape the bagels, line a baking sheet with lightly greased parchment paper or a silicone baking mat (I used parchment with a light spray of oil).

  5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it into 6 to 8 equal pieces (again, I tripled the recipe above and made 16 total- it all depends on how big you want your bagels to be). Form each piece into a loose, round ball by rolling it on a clean, dry work surface with a cupped hand; do not use any flour on the surface. If the dough slides around and won’t ball up, wipe the work surface with a damp paper towel and try again – the slight amount of moisture will provide enough “bite” for the dough to form a ball. When each piece has been formed into a ball, you are ready to shape the bagels.

  6. PLEASE NOTE:  I did NOT follow step #6 or the first part of step #7!  Based on something said in the blog comments over at The Wednesday Chef, I opted to form my bagels by pinching a hole in the center of each doughball and then spinning the dough hula-hoop style around a floured finger until the opening was the size I wanted.  Much faster than rolling out ropes, and (in my opinion) more fun, too!  However, for those of you who want to re-live your Play-Doh snake making days, I’ve left the original directions, shown in blue, for your enjoyment…Using your hands and a fair amount of pressure, roll each dough ball into a “rope” 8 to 10 inches long. (Moisten the work surface with a damp paper towel, if necessary, to get the necessary bite or friction). Slightly taper the rope at the ends so that they are thinner than the middle. Place one end of the dough between your thumb and forefinger and wrap it around your hand until the ends overlap in your palm; they should overlap by about 2 inches. Squeeze the overlapping ends together and then press the joined ends into the work surface, rolling them back and forth a few times until they are completely sealed.

  7. Remove the dough from your hand and squeeze as necessary to even out the thickness so that there is a 2-inch hole in the center.(Okay now, back to the regularly scheduled recipe…)Place the bagel on the prepared sheet pan. Repeat with the other pieces. Lightly wipe the bagels with oil (I used spray), cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight.

    Who knew that flinging dough around could be so much fun?


  8. Remove the bagels from the refrigerator 90 minutes before you plan to bake them. Fill a large stockpot with 3 quarts of water (be sure the water is at least 4 inches deep), cover with a lid, and slowly bring the water to a boil. When it comes to a boil, add the remaining teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking soda, reduce the heat and simmer with the lid on.

  9. Thirty minutes before baking, heat the oven to 500 degrees.

  10. Test the bagels by placing one in a bowl of cold water. If it sinks and doesn’t float to the surface, return it to the sheet, wait 15 minutes and then test it again. When one bagel passes the float test, they are ready for the pot.

  11. Gently lift each bagel and drop it into the simmering water. Add as many as will comfortably fit in the pot. After 1 minute, use a slotted spoon to flip each bagel over. Poach for an extra 30 seconds. Using the slotted spoon, remove each bagel and return it to the lined baking sheet. Continue until all the bagels have been poached.  (I noticed that the bagels that I put in at a full boil puffed up better than the ones I did at a simmer- not sure if that was just coincidence, but I’m going to go for a heavier boil next time.)

    Bubbling Bagels


  12. Generously sprinkle each bagel with a topping. (Note: If you want to do a cinnamon sugar bagel, you need to wait until the bagels come out of the oven- see step #14 for further instructions.)

    Poppy Seeds...

    Sesame Seeds...

    Kosher Salt...


  13. Place the baking sheet in the oven and reduce the heat to 450 degrees. Bake for 8 minutes and then rotate the sheet (if using two sheets, also switch their positions). Check the underside of the bagels. If they are getting too dark, place another sheet under the baking sheet. Bake until the bagels are golden brown, an additional 8 to 12 minutes.

  14. Remove from the oven and transfer the bagels to a rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.  If you’d like to top your bagels with cinnamon sugar (1 part cinnamon to 5 parts granulated sugar), immediately brush the top of each hot bagel with melted butter and then generously sprinkle with the mixture so that it is coated. It will form a nice cinnamon crust as it cools.

    Seriously, I have to wait 30 minutes???

Now that I’ve made these, I’m kicking myself for waiting so long.  The hardest thing about this recipe is the waiting!  They may not be as pretty as the bagels I used to grab for breakfast every morning, but the taste and texture were exactly what I was hoping for.  Next time around, I’ll probably make a few aesthetic tweaks (putting them on the slotted spoon to lower them into the water may preserve the shape, and waiting until I have some caffeine in my system would probably help, too…), but over all, I’d call this a success.  The inner bagel skeptic has been put to rest, and my cravings have been satisfied.  Or, at least they were satisfied this morning- now that I’ve written this and put up all of these pictures, I think it may be time for another bagel or two…

 
 

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Quilt Squares for a Cause

Some of you may know that I also have a group on Facebook that’s dedicated to sewing, crafting, and general fabric addiction- appropriately enough, it’s called ‘I don’t have a problem, I have a well-rounded fabric stash!’  Each month we run some kind of a fun challenge (mainly to gain inspiration and keep the creative juices flowing, but there’s also a prize to be won), but this month’s challenge is extra-special in my eyes, because it’s designed to help the Fisher House Foundation, a fabulous organization that helps military families!

From March 1st through March 19th, we will be accepting photo entries of 12” quilt squares.  The top entries will then be collected and assembled into a quilt that will be auctioned off on eBay to benefit the Fisher House Foundation (see the end of this post for more information on the Fisher House Foundation).  Anyone is welcome to enter, and we would really appreciate your support!

OFFICIAL RULES

  • Entries must be made of quilting-weight cotton fabric, must be sewn in some way, and the finished size must be a 12” square (PLEASE NOTE: you will actually be making a 12.5” block, because there will be a ¼” seam allowance on each side when assembled- the 12” is the space that will be visible in the assembled quilt).  Beyond that, they can be quilted, embroidered, appliqued, dyed, painted, bedazzled, or otherwise embellished in any way that the contestant chooses!  (Please remember that the finished product must be washable.)
  • In order to have a coherent final product, we are limiting the color palette to red, white, and blue (we understand that there are tons of variations and shades within that range- basically, if the tones would work with the American flag, they’re fine).
  • Entries can be submitted from March 1st through March 19th, 2012.  Voting will take place from March 20th through March 26th, and a winner will be announced no later than March 28th.  (In the unlikely event that there is a tie, a run-off vote will be held from March 27th through March 29th, and a winner will be announced no later than April 1st.)
  • Each contestant may enter as many as five (5) submissions.
  • Entries must be the work of the contestant submitting them.
  • One lucky winner will receive a $30 gift certificate to the online fabric store of his or her choice!
    • If that fabric store doesn’t offer gift certificates (and if an arrangement can’t be made with the shop owner), the winner will receive $30 via Paypal to shop to his/her heart’s content.
    • If the winner is in a country outside of the U.S., he or she will receive the equivalent of $30 USD in the appropriate currency.
  • The top 25 squares will be sent in to be assembled into a quilt that, upon completion, will be auctioned off via the eBay Giving Works programto benefit the Fisher House Foundation.
    • Participants whose entries have been selected will be notified no later than March 28th (April 1st if a run-off is necessary) and provided with a shipping address.  
    • Squares should be shipped out (with Delivery Confirmation where possible) no later than April 9th, 2012.
    • If the response is great enough, we may opt to either do a second quilt (also to be auctioned off) or increase the number of squares selected to make a larger quilt.

HOW TO ENTER

  • Entries can be submitted from March 1st through March 19th, 2012
  • If you haven’t already, please join this group!  (It allows you to add photos)
  • Please be sure to include the following in your picture’s description:  Your name (as it’s shown on Facebook), a name for your submission if you have one, and what materials/methods you used.  (ex.  Kristin Brattlie Garst, ‘Stars and Stripes’, quilted and embroidered cotton)
  • If you used a tutorial or online pattern that you’d like to share, please provide the link in your entry’s comments.  Also, if there’s a story behind your entry, please feel free to share!
  • If you submit more than one entry, please either give them different names or number them.

HOW TO VOTE

  • Voting will take place from March 20th  through March 26th.
  • Each voter can vote only once, and additional votes will be disqualified.  However, please feel free to click the ‘like’ button for as many entries as you want so that we can share the love! :)
  • Please feel free to invite your friends, family, neighbors, acquaintances, and random people passing on the street to vote- they’ll simply have to join the group in order to have access to vote (you can add them yourself on the top right side of the page if desired).  We won’t get our feelings hurt if they ‘unlike’ us later, but we’d be thrilled if they decide to hang around!

To add this button to your blog or website, copy and paste the following code:


<a href=”http://tinyurl.com/QuiltSquaresForACause&#8221; target=”_blank”><img src=”http://i43.tinypic.com/2f096ro.jpg&#8221; border=”0″ alt=”Join the Quilt Squares for a Cause Challenge- open for entries through March 19, 2012!”></a>



Good luck, and happy creating- we can’t wait to see what results!  If you have any questions, please comment on this post or email me at FabricProblem@aol.com.  We would really appreciate it if you could share this challenge with your friends, family, and associates- there is code for a blog button below that will link to the event page (http://QuiltSquaresForACause.com).  Also, please feel free to share ideas, inspirations, anecdotes, and work-in-progress pictures with the group as you work on your submissions!

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If you own a fabric/quilting/sewing store or other business and would be interested in donating additional prizes, please contact me at the email above- we’d love to promote you, and would greatly appreciate anything that you can give!

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About Fisher House:  The Fisher House program is a unique private-public partnership that supports America’s military in their time of need. The program recognizes the special sacrifices of our men and women in uniform and the hardships of military service by meeting a humanitarian need beyond that normally provided by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

Because members of the military and their families are stationed worldwide and must often travel great distances for specialized medical care, Fisher House Foundation donates “comfort homes,” built on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers. These homes enable family members to be close to a loved one at the most stressful times – during the hospitalization for an unexpected illness, disease, or injury.

There is at least one Fisher House at every major military medical center to assist families in need and to ensure that they are provided with the comforts of home in a supportive environment. Annually, the Fisher House program serves more than 12,000 families, and have made available over three million days of lodging to family members since the program originated in 1990. By law, there is no charge for any family to stay at a Fisher House operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs; and Fisher House Foundation uses donations to reimburse the individual Fisher Houses operated by the Army, Navy, and Air Force. No family pays to stay at any Fisher House!

In addition to constructing new houses, Fisher House Foundation continues to support existing Fisher Houses and help individual military families in need. We are also proud to administer and sponsor Scholarships for Military Children, the Hero Miles program, and co-sponsor the Newman’s Own Award.

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2012 in Random Acts of Craftivity

 

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Happy Anniversary!

Yesterday was our 6th wedding anniversary, so I’ve been wracking my brain for the past few weeks, trying to decide just what I should make as the baked portion of my anniversary gift.  I went for a fairly light and airy option for Valentine’s Day, so this time I decided to hit the opposite end of the spectrum with a Chocolate Brownie Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate Glaze!  Yeah, there’s NOTHING low-fat about this recipe, but it’s soooooo worth it…

Chocolate Brownie Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate Glaze

This is one of those recipes that was born from an ‘I wonder what would happen if I threw this into the mixer’ kind of day.  I had cream cheese in the house after buying too much for another recipe, so I was looking for a way to get rid of it!  I had some brownie mix on hand, and I’d seen plenty of recipes where cream cheese was used to make a separate element in a brownie, but never one that actually mixed it into the brownie itself.  Fully expecting a baking disaster, I threw everything into the bowl and was very pleasantly surprised!  The cream cheese adds a richness to the brownies that (in my opinion) takes the chocolate to the next level, and the texture is moister, like a very dense, rich cake.

The brownies bake up like a cake, rather than sinking a bit like regular brownies.

Once I’d decided that the brownies themselves were a keeper, I started to think of other flavors to pair with such a rich chocolate.  Peanut butter was the first thing on my list, and so I decided to bring a peanut butter frosting recipe I’d seen on The Barefoot Contessa into the mix.  Again, it was a perfect fit!.  Top it off with some of my favorite Shiny Chocolate Glaze, and you have…

Chocolate Brownie Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate Glaze

Delicious, but messy- in my hurry, I went a bit overboard with the glaze...

Brownie Layers

Please note that I specifically listed the Ghirardelli brand because a) they’re my favorite and b) I don’t have any others on hand, so I don’t know if the required ingredients are different.  If you want to break out the Duncan Hines, etc., it should work just fine- all you need to do is follow the ingredients called for on the box and add one package of cream cheese for each mix used I would like to try this with a recipe from scratch at some point, but let’s face it- when you’re in a pinch, a little bit of mix doctoring works just fine!

Ingredients

  • 2 Boxes of Ghirardelli Brownie Mix (I used the Dark Chocolate variety, but the Double Chocolate and Triple Chocolate flavors are also really good!)
  • 2 Eggs
  • 2 8oz. Packages of Cream Cheese, softened/at room temperature
  • 1/2 C Water
  • 1 C Vegetable Oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350*
  2. Lightly spray two 9″ springform pans with cooking spray
  3. Combine cream cheese and eggs in a mixer and beat until combined
  4. Add water and oil and beat until combined
  5. Add brownie mix and beat until combined
  6. Divide the batter between the two pans and spread evenly with a spatula, smoothing the tops
  7. Bake at 350* (325* convection) for 40-45 minutes
  8. Remove to a wire baking rack.  Cool for at least 30 minutes, and then release the lock on the springform to finish cooling.  (Don’t worry about removing them from the pan entirely- that can wait until later, when you’re ready to assemble!  This is a nice, dense cake, so it was very easy to move from pan to plate.)

Kathleen’s Peanut Butter Frosting

Credit for this recipe goes to Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa.  I’m a total peanut butter nut (pun intended), so this is one of my favorites!  If you only intend to use the frosting between the brownie layers as I did above, one recipe will suffice.  If you plan to use it all over (see my note on aesthetics at the bottom), you’ll want to at least double it.  And if there happens to be some leftover to dip apples and pretzels, well, you can’t just let it go to waste, can you?…

Ingredients

  • 1 C Confectioner’s Sugar
  • 1 C Creamy Peanut Butter
  • 5 T Unsalted Butter, softened
  • 3/4 t Vanilla Extract
  • 1/4 t Kosher Salt
  • 1/3 C Heavy Cream

Directions

  1. Place the confectioners’ sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment
  2. Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work. (Side note- I have this fabulous SideSwipe spatula blade for my Kitchenaid, and it makes life so much easier at times like these!)
  3. Add the cream and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth.

Shiny Chocolate Glaze

Adapted from the Shiny Chocolate Glaze recipe found in The Cake Mix Doctor by Anne Byrn.  While I usually go for a double recipe when I make glaze, a single recipe should do it for this particular cake.

Ingredients

  • 2 TBS Butter
  • 2 TBS Unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 C Heavy (whipping) cream, plus additional as needed
  • 1 TSP Vanilla extract
  • 1 C Powdered sugar (the original recipe says to sift, but I rarely do)
  • 1 C Semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan
  2. Add the cocoa and cream, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens, about 2 minutes. Do not boil.
  3. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the confectioners’ sugar and the vanilla until mixture is smooth
  4. Stir in the chocolate chips until melted, putting the pan over low heat again if needed, and adding a little more cream if the mixture seems too thick.
  5. Spoon the glaze over the cooled cake as directed above.

Now, to assemble…

As noted in the caption under the picture of the finished cake, I was kind of going for speed over beauty when I put everything together last night- we’d just gotten back from a very rare dinner without the kids, and I was rushing to get the dessert frosted and ready to eat while my husband put the kids to bed.  I made a single recipe of the peanut butter frosting and put all of it between the brownie layers.  I then poured the chocolate glaze over the top, going WAY overboard and using a lot more than I planned, so it kind of resembles that creature that lives in the Molasses Swamp in Candy Land.

Granted, it tastes great no matter how it looks.  However, if I did it again, I would definitely change my plan of attack for a prettier end result!  Next time I will do a better job of leveling the tops of my cake layers, and I plan to double (possibly triple) the peanut butter frosting recipe.  I’ll sandwich the layers together with some peanut butter frosting, and then I’ll strategically poke holes through the cake with the handle of a wooden spoon or a dowel to inject the glaze into the cake itself (I recently picked up a large plastic squeeze bottle that is perfect for times like this).  When the tunnels have been filled with glaze, I will then frost the entire cake with the peanut butter frosting, garnishing with some peanut butter cup candies and a drizzle of the chocolate glaze on top.  Additional glaze can be used to garnish the dessert plates when serving.  Much prettier in the end!

(Just to update, I made another one this week, following my plan above, and I was MUCH happier with how it turned out!  I did the triple batch of peanut butter frosting, and a double batch of glaze.  Like mentioned above, I sandwiched the layers with peanut butter frosting, infused the cake with the glaze, and then frosted all over with peanut butter frosting.  I let the cake and the remaining frosting chill in the fridge to firm up for a few minutes.  Once it was cool, I piped a scalloped edge of peanut butter frosting around the top and bottom of the cake, and then I flooded the top with the remaining chocolate glaze.  With some chocolate flakes on top, it looked infinitely better than the original cake pictured above, and I liked the additional peanut butter, too!  Sadly, I didn’t get a picture…)

Like I said, this isn’t the healthiest of desserts- it’s so rich that it’s one of those things you’ll probably only want once in a blue moon.  Still, it’s definitely one of my favorites!  Also, it’s REALLY good with sliced bananas on top, and bananas are fruit, so that should make it at least marginally healthy, right?…  (Please, work with me in my delusion- it’s the little things that get me through the day!  LOL)

Happy baking, and please share pictures if you give this a try- I’d love to see how you put the finished product together!

 
6 Comments

Posted by on February 26, 2012 in Cakes

 

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Alles Gute zum Fasching!

Alles Gute zum Fasching!

Today we celebrated the final day of Fasching, which is the German equivalent of Carnival or Mardi Gras.  It’s a lot of fun- everyone dresses up, has parties, and eats delicious Berliners and Krapfen (both names for fabulous filled donuts)!  Each year, my oldest son’s school celebrates Fasching with a big parade around base, led by a local band and officiated by the Mayor and Assistant Mayor of Grafenwoehr.  The kids loved being able to wear their costumes almost as much as they loved having an excuse to get out of class and walk around in the sunshine that actually made an appearance today!  (According to our wonderful German Host Nation teacher, “when Angels travel, God makes the sun shine down,” but I have some doubts about how very angelic we were, my own child in particular…)

After the main event, all of the dignitaries gathered for some well-deserved refreshments.  Of course, when the call for American baked goods went out (our cakes and cookies are very different from their German counterparts, so they’re a bit of a rare treat around here), I started making a list of what to bring!  Once I’d finally whittled my wish list from twelve recipes down to three, I ended up making Chocolate Chip Banana Bread with Shiny Chocolate Glaze, a fabulous Lemon Almond Poppyseed Cake that I found at Odense.com, and one of my all-time favorites, Kransekake Drops.  It was a great day, but let me tell you, I’m completely sugared-out!

Kransekake Drops

Kransekake Drops

Kransekake is a traditional Norwegian cookie that is usually baked in ring forms to make a series of graduated rings that are then stacked into a pyramid with a powdered sugar frosting ‘cement’ and decorated with flags and other trinkets (visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kransekake to find out more).   This is my variation for every-day Kransekake- it’s a lot quicker and more portable than the traditional tower!

Ingredients

  • 1 LB Confectioner’s Sugar
  • 1 LB Blanched almonds OR 1 LB almond flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 2 TSP Almond extract
  • 3 Egg whites
  • Crisco
  • Farina (Cream of Wheat)

Cooking Directions

  1. Crush the almonds in a blender or food processor until they’re a fine powder (skip this step if you’re using almond flour)
  2. Combine the almonds with the confectioner’s sugar
  3. Whip the egg whites until a little frothy and add the almond extract
  4. Combine the almond/sugar mixture with the egg white mixture
  5. Put the mixture in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight, until hardened
  6. Pre-heat oven to 350*F
  7. Grease cookie sheets with Crisco and line with farina (I line the pans with parchment or aluminum foil first- it makes clean-up MUCH easier!)
  8. Drop balls of dough on the cookie sheet with a cookie scoop
  9. Bake at 350* until a light golden brown, approx. 15-20 minutes (watch the first batch closely, as ovens vary)
  10. Remove cookies from sheet to cool
  11. Drizzle or dip cookies with either melted chocolate chips or sugar glaze (take ½ LB of confectioner’s sugar and slowly add milk until it reaches a spreadable consistency).  I love these with a drizzle of dark chocolate- it balances out the sweetness beautifully!
  12. Store in a sealed container with a piece of white bread, changing the bread every day or so to keep the cookies soft and moist

Lemon Almond Poppyseed Cake from Odense.com

Lemon Almond Poppyseed Cake

Originally published at www.Odense.com, a fabulous source for recipes and inspiration!

Ingredients

Cake:

  • 1-7 oz box Odense Almond Paste, grated (Sadly, I can’t get Odense Almond Paste over here without considerable planning, so I used an 8 ounce can of almond paste from another company that I can get around the holidays.  It worked just fine, but I really do prefer the Odense if I can get it!)
  • 2 lemons (Depending on size, you may want three lemons to get more lemon rind for your cake)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter, room temperature
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • Scant 1/4 cup poppy seeds (I didn’t go scant, but I’m a poppy seed fan…)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

Icing:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 4-6 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • Optional: 1-2 drops yellow food coloring

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease and flour fluted pan. (I used a baking spray with flour- MUCH easier with a pan that has a lot of detail!)
  2. Grate 1 tablespoon of lemon rind on smallest hole of grater, being careful not to get the pith (white part of rind). Set rind aside. Squeeze juice and reserve for icing.  (I felt that the cake needed a bit more lemon rind- I used closer to 1 1/2 tablespoons)
  3. In a mixing bowl beat grated Almond Paste, sugar and butter on high speed until well combined.
  4. Add eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Beat on high three minutes, or until light colored and fluffy.
  5. Sift flour with baking powder and baking soda. Mix grated rind and poppy seeds into flour. Add flour mixture to batter alternately with sour cream. Beat on low until just combined and smooth. Do not over mix.
  6. Spoon batter into pan, and smooth top with a rubber spatula. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until cake turns golden and a toothpick inserted near cake middle pulls out clean.
  7. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Invert cake on wire rack and cool completely. Drizzle with icing or dust with powdered sugar.
  8. Icing: In a small bowl mix the powdered sugar, 4-6 teaspoons of lemon juice and almond extract until smooth. Add a drop of yellow food color if desired. Drizzle icing around top of cake and let it run down the sides. (Again, I felt a need for a bit more lemon- I just kept adding more juice until the taste was strong enough, and then I added a bit more powdered sugar to get the texture where I wanted it to be.  I also doubled the icing recipe, because there can never be too much lemon glaze!)
  9. For an extra festive touch decorate with marzipan lemons or grated lemon peel. (As seen in the picture above, I went with the lemon peel this time- there wasn’t enough time for marzipan artwork…)
  10. To Store: After completely cooled, wrap in plastic wrap. The cake will last three days at room temperature or one week if refrigerated.
  11. To Freeze: Wrap un-iced cake first in plastic and then with foil. Freeze for up to one month.

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread with Shiny Chocolate Glaze

For the full Chocolate Chip Banana Bread recipe, visit my Muffins for the Masses post from last December!

It’s been a busy day of baking, celebration, and running backwards to keep ahead of the kids during the parade while taking many, many pictures, so I’m about ready to call it a night.  I hope that you have a great Fasching, Carnival, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, or whatever else you may call it.  Enjoy, and happy baking!

 
8 Comments

Posted by on February 21, 2012 in Cakes, Cookies

 

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