Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tea Bread Tuesday: Sour Cream Coffeecake

I took the advice of my fellow blogger, Nicki, and served this week's treat with a cup of Java. I also decided to give our taste buds a break by baking an old tried and true recipe. This one also comes from “The Silver Palate Cookbook” and I've made it many, many times. For a while, this coffeecake was so popular at work that I had to make it every time we had a potluck - heaven help me if I made something else!

It doesn't look like much on the outside . . .

But on the inside . . . Ah . . . ! Pure bliss! The swirls of cinnamon and pecans add a wonderful crunchiness to an incredibly moist cake!

Here's the recipe:
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) sweet butter
2¾ cups granulated sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup dairy sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups shelled pecans, chopped
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a 10-inch bundt pan and lightly dust the inside with flour.
  2. Cream together the butter and 2 cups of the sugar. Add eggs, blending well, then the sour cream and vanilla.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  4. Fold the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture, and beat until just blended. Do not overbeat.
  5. In a separate bowl, mix remaining ¾ cup sugar with pecans and cinnamon.
  6. Pour half of the batter into the bundt pan. Sprinkle with half of the pecan and sugar mixture. Add remaining batter and top with the rest of the pecan mixture.
  7. Set on the middle rack of the oven and bake for about 60 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm.
10 portions
It may have "Coffeecake" in its title, but the recipe calls for baking powder in the batter as a leavening agent, not yeast, so it still qualifies as a tea bread. Just in case we want to get technical about it . . .

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Côtes de Porc Poêlées (Casserole-sautéed Pork Chops)

I was channeling Julia today for our Sunday supper . . . This came straight from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”

I served it with Bruschetta, using the last of the summer tomatoes, Carmela's Salad (here's the link for that recipe http://dreamsandepiphanies.blogspot.com/2010/05/mothers-day-at-carmelas-house.html), and a glass of burgundy.

Bon apetit!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Halfway to St. Patrick's Day - September Baseball

I was given some White Sox tickets for Friday, September 17th. I had never been to a White Sox game before. My family follows the Cubs with a stoicism that only another Cubs fan would truly appreciate. It defies understanding, seeing as the Cubs haven't won a World Series in over . . . 100 YEARS! But there you have it. We lived and set roots on the North side of Chicago. If you are a North sider, you are probably a Cubs fan (except for my brother, but he's weird), and if you are a South sider, you are a Sox fan. In Chicago, you had better choose sides. Pacifists like me, who like the Cubs, but have nothing against the Sox, are viewed with mild contempt.

I do understand how irritating it is for the Sox, who have won a couple of World Series in recent years to be, for the most part, ignored by the city, while the Cubs, who can't figure out how to win, fill Wrigley Field to capacity every single game. In fact, Wrigley Field is located in the middle of an old North side neighborhood, and the surrounding two-flats have adapted their rooftops and sell tickets to the game, because oftentimes, tickets inside the stadium are sold out.

But I digress, we went to the game and on arrival found out that a special celebration had been put in place - "Halfway to St. Patrick's Day" (see what I mean? they'll do anything to fill that stadium!)

It was a little strange seeing all that green in September . . .
There's a large Irish population in Chicago . . .

This Pet Check sign threw me for a loop. Why would you bring your pet to a baseball game? A game where fireworks exploded every time the team scored a home run?

Pretty flower bed, though . . .

The day was hazy, and it was close to 6:30 P.M., but we still had a great view of the Chicago skyline. The tallest building on the left is the Sears Tower, which has recently been sold and renamed after its new owners - The Willis Tower (we still call it the Sears Tower) . . .

Chicago has a most impressive skyline, and, fronted by Lake Michigan, it's a wonderful sight to see on a clear day.

Our seats were in the nosebleed section. This was the view from our seats straight down. Acrophobics: Stay away! The view of the field was surprisingly good, though . . .

All ticket holders received a green and white baseball cap. Here are my husband, Lee, and son, David humoring Mom by wearing the caps . . .

There was a parade featuring bagpipe players, and Irish dancers . . .

Those hot dogs . . . I'm still suffering from sticker shock: $5 for one hot dog! I need to get out more . . . I'm told this is not all that unusual at these public venues . . . but still . . . $5!

The Sox got creamed that night, with a final score of 9-2. Since I'm a pathetic excuse for a fan, I had a great time. The people-watching was outstanding!

I wonder what those poor marketing people will have to think up to draw fans to the park next year . . . “Halfway to Groundhog Day?” With Punxsutawney Phil making an appearance . . . ? or perhaps “Halfway to Casimir Pulaski Day” and instead of hot dogs they could sell kielbasa . . . ? At $5 each . . . ?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tea Bread Tuesday: Orange Pecan Bread

This recipe came from “The Silver Palate Cookbook.” It wasn't bad, but I don't think I'll be making this one again. The bread was crumbly and too sweet, and, worst of all, my husband, the ultimate judge, just shrugged his shoulders when I asked him how he liked it - it didn't even rate a “Not bad, but it could have used a little more . . . ” I wonder if we are suffering from tea bread fatigue . . . I may need to reassess whether to continue this series on a weekly basis or do it less frequently . . .

And, by the way, thank you to all my wonderful blogging friends who rack your brain every week to comment on essentially the same thing - another tea bread . . . It's nice of you to humor me while I work this project out of my system . . . I so appreciate you!

Here's the recipe - for the terminally curious:

8 tablespoons (1 stick) sweet butter, softened
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, separated
grated rind of 1 large or 2 small oranges
1½ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
½ cup fresh orange juice
1 cup shelled pecans, chopped

Orange Glaze

¼ cup orange juice
¼ cup granulated sugar

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350ºF. Grease an 8½ x 4½ inch loaf pan.
  2. Cream the butter. Add ¾ cup sugar gradually, beating with an electric mixer until light. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, and the grated orange rind.
  3. Sift the flour with baking powder, baking soda and salt, and add dry mixture to the batter alternately with ½ orange juice, beginning and ending with flour. Gently mix in the pecans.
  4. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold them carefully into the batter.
  5. Pour batter into the prepared loaf pan, set on the middle rack of the oven, and bake for 50 to 60 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, make the glaze. Spoon the hot syrup over the bread as soon as the bread is removed from the oven. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.
1 loaf

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Happy Anniversary, Al and Kathy!

My brother, Al, and his wife, Kathy, have just celebrated their 25th Wedding Anniversary. Al and Kathy's marriage had a bit of a rough start: They married in September and my mother passed away in October. The first baby came along in February and my father passed away the following November. So many life-changing events in such a short period of time, and they were so young! The odds were long on this pair . . .

Yet here we are! These two have somehow figured out how to make it work, while tackling life's challenges and raising three children. Today I heard Kathy call my brother “her best friend.” Al, a quiet man, just looked at Kathy with eyes that conveyed a world of affection . . .

God bless them both!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Gift Wrapping in Layers and Judging by Appearances

I'm old enough now to have heard the little adages . . . “Don't judge a book by its cover” . . . “Appearances are often deceiving” . . . and certainly, I know better than to judge people or circumstances by mere appearance . . . but when it comes to gift wrapping . . . well, I get such a huge kick from a beautifully wrapped package!

Today I wrapped a present for my brother, Al, and my sister-in-law, Kathy. They are celebrating their silver anniversary and their children are throwing them a party. I can't wait for them to open it!

I was so tickled when the writing on the paper matched up so that the letters flowed seemlessly! This is the bottom of the box, of course, but, as Emerson said, “Beauty is its own excuse for being.” There's satisfaction in doing a job well, even if no one will know about it. Well, I guess now everyone in blogland will . . .

The latest trend in gift wrapping, as well, it seems, as in every other area of life is . . . layering . . . Yes, one single type of paper for multiple packages simply won't do . . . How boring! How conventional! We simply must not do matchy-matchy . . . the package should look as though we saved scraps of paper from previous wrapping jobs and mixed them together because we want them, above all, to be unique and show depth and complexity . . .

Let me tell you . . . it takes a lot of extra effort to show depth and complexity while seeming casual, hip and unique . . . and I'm not just talking about gift wrapping!

I love how the wrapping turned out . . . but it would be mere paper without the deeper beauty of Al and Kathy's 25-year commitment to each other . . . their marriage, like most successful marriages I have seen, is far from “matchy-matchy” but reflects their individual personalities, somehow blended together into a lovely whole . . . I am so into layering . . .

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tea Bread Tuesday: Almond-Poppy Seed Bread (or Muffins)

These miniature muffins were wonderful, wonderful! Lawrence Welk: Move over! (You have to be over 50 to get the reference). These were a hasty bake and I didn't measure carefully. It didn't matter. This was a very forgiving recipe!

I first poured the batter in a loaf pan, but it looked a little low and I was afraid it would turn out rather flat, so I dug out the mini-muffin pans and used them instead. Not the prettiest muffins I've ever baked, but delicious just the same. Here's the link for the recipe: http://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/almond-poppy-seed-bread.html

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Bathroom Update: Handheld Shower

I just wanted a handheld shower, in addition to the big, rain-shower head that came with the new bathtub faucet. Check out all these parts! It took us an hour and a half at Home Depot to order it all . . .

First, we needed a diverter, so that we could have the water flow directed to either the big, fixed shower head or the handheld one . . .

Then we had to select the shower head . . . The hose had to be ordered separately, of course, it came in either a 60-inch length or a 72-inch length; we chose the 60-inch . . .

Then the bar came in different styles . . .

And these are the rings that finish the bar nicely against the wall . . .

And we had a choice of end caps, either these flat ones . . .

Or these dome-like ones . . .

And lots of other do-hickeys that I'm told were positively vital to putting up the thing . . .

Here's the finished project . . .

Did I mention that all these little parts came in a variety of finishes? Yes, there was nickel, chrome, brushed nickel, nickel-plated brass, brass . . .

The vanity comes next. Who knows how many pieces will need to be assembled for that?

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Fresh, home-grown tomatoes . . .

Some lemon thyme, grown on the kitchen window . . . a little olive oil, salt and pepper . . .

Voilà! The perfect way to enjoy this year's meager crop!

We may be in September but it's not officially Fall yet, so I'm hanging on to my summer treats as long as I can . . .

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tea Bread Tuesday: Sour Cream-Maple Muffins

When the time comes to recap "A Year of Tea Breads" I will be very surprised if this recipe doesn't end up among my favorites.

The recipe called for baking in a loaf pan, but I decided to make these darling little muffins instead . . .

The muffins were so light and moist; the taste subtle, barely hinting at the maple syrup used to sweeten them - they were truly delicious! Here's the link: http://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/sour-cream-maple-bread.html