Easter Celebration – Complete with Bunny Cake

Every celebration comes with traditions that we build around food.  In our extended family here in Maine, where very few of us are actually related, but most of us celebrate our holidays together, we have several traditions.  The first of which is that the Finger/Mahle house hosts the Easter meal.

Followed by… there are little girls running around collecting Easter eggs in the yard – usually hundreds of them – hundreds of what seems like little girls and, in fact, hundreds of eggs.  Before the actual hunt there is the boiling, dying, painting, and coloring of eggs in preparation for the hunt – an afternoon of spring color applied to eggs in all manner of ways.

But wait a minute.  This year, for the first time, we don’t have little ones running around at our knees (ours or anyone else’s) and our girls are old enough that dying eggs doesn’t hold the magic that it used to.  Neither does the hunting of them.  Our girls are firmly in teenager-land and while they weren’t quite ready to give up on the gift of candy, they were ready to let go of the traditional Easter Egg Hunt.  I, on the other hand, might have had to rally a bit to the new order of things and, in secret, wistfully respected the wishes and interests of the budding adults in our household.

Another tradition that we moms pensively released was the annual Easter Cake.  Long celebrated in our household with the usual argument of how the cake is actually constructed, neither the cake, nor the argument would be produced this year.  Until… Maggie, our newest crew member, walked in with a Bunny Cake – decorated in nearly the same way as the Easter Egg cake and a perfect serendipitous addition to our Easter table.

While our family traditions are changing, what matters the most – that we gather together to eat and laugh – will firmly and forever be a part of how we celebrate together – teenagers or not, Easter Egg Hunt or not, Easter Cake or not.

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Annie
Adjusting to change and grateful for the people around our table

Canning Pear Nectar

This fall, I was the surprised recipient of a beautiful bushel of pears from what we think is a Seckle Pear tree. That gift, however, did not come co-bundled with an abundance of time. I was determined that this gift would not sit too long while I put it off until the pears were passed perfectly ripe and had moved into “uh oh.”

HomegrownPears1

To hustle along, I decided to not can them as whole pears, but as nectar. Making nectar is a much easier process than canning whole fruit, as it does not require peeling. It begins with making a loose pear sauce much the same way one would apple sauce by bringing to a simmer pear quarters and water and cooking until the pears are either tender or falling apart. Pear varieties will differ in whether they stay together once they are fully cooked or fall apart – just like apples.

With the addition of lemon juice and sugar plus a hot pack canning process, pear nectar emerges. I’ll use it all winter long in smoothies instead of honey, as a juice for brunch, a foundation for mixed drinks, combined with ginger ale for a special drink for the girls and, well, I let you know what else I come up with!

Annie
Thank you, friend Glen. I’m glad we are both good at sharing.

All Hail Kale – Kale is King!

Maybe it’s because outside it’s white and windy.  The grey and brown skeletons of the trees rise up against clouds filled with coming snow.  The only green to be seen in our landscape is from the frost-tipped branches of evergreens.  Perhaps this is why this season brings such a strong craving for greens.  If it’s not in our landscape, we want it on our plates?

Potato, Cheddar & Kale Souffle

I don’t know.  What I do know is that I need to honor the instincts of my body and have created a number of recipes for cooking winter greens, this time for kale.  Potato, Cheddar and Kale Souffle; Thai Peanut Shrimp with Kale; and Tuscan Kale, Chickpeas and Olives are all in the Maine Ingredient column this week.

Annie
Kale is King

Thyme and Lime Potato-Crusted Salmon with Greens

Extra greens this time of year seems to be what I crave over and over again.  More kale, more spinach, more Swiss chard.  I’ve even begun eating kale for breakfast with my eggs instead of having toast.  It’s delicious and gives me one more serving of what’s good for me anyway.

This column for the Maine Ingredient, created with holiday entertaining in mind, could easily become a weekend dinner with friends.  The recipes – Thyme and Lime Potato-Crusted Salmon, Brown Butter Kale with Toasted Almonds, and Spinach Salad with Pomegranate Seeds, Cranberries and Preserved Grapefruit – are all healthy, with a large dash of elegance.

Spinach Salad with Pomegranate Cranberry Preserved Grapefruit

Annie
Eating my greens

Bûche de Noël – A Traditional Favorite

This recipe is a combination of both a Julia Child and Ellen Barnes recipe.  Julia Child’s cookbook “Baking with Julia” is a classic I enjoy returning to again and again.  Ellen Barnes is a former windjammer owner and one of my mentor’s.  Her cookbook is called “The Taber Cookbook” and the well worn pages of my copy were hand-sewn together once the plastic spiral binding disintegrated.  Clearly a cookbook I treasure.

Bûche de Noël

I began making Bûche de Noël for Christmas dessert over 10 years ago when the girls and I wanted a baking project that was a little less intense than making our own gingerbread house from scratch, an event that will live in infamy in our house for the overwhelm meltdowns this effort produced.  Needless to say, it takes a special 5 year old to handle the construction and then collapse of a gingerbread house.  Maybe a special adult too as ours might have ended up in the trash…

Anyway, that was a long time ago and we have held to our Bûche de Noël making with eager joy.  While it, in our household, is an easier and more welcome project than gingerbread, it is not for the faint of heart.  Also, I would say that if you don’t have all the tools – pastry bag with tips, baking sheet, pastry knife, that maybe you’d just forgo this project.  It’s rare for me to say this, but the tools make this project SO much easier.

Bûche de Noël mushrooms

Bûche de Noël

Bûche de Noël

This cake is inspired by a recipe in Julia Child’s cookbook “Baking with Julia.”

Cake:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (plus a little extra for the pan), melted
1 cup sifted cake flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Rum Syrup:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons rum

Mocha Cream Frosting:
1 1/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup water
4 egg yolks
2 cups soft butter
3 squares unsweetened chocolate
2 tablespoons espresso or strong coffee
4 tablespoons rum

Meringue Mushrooms:
4 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon cocoa powder

Decorative Frosting:
2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Dash of salt
1 tablespoon or more of milk

Pine sprigs
Pomegranate seeds

Cake:
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Pour 1 tablespoon melted butter into a 1-quart bowl; set aside.

Put the flour, 1 tablespoon of the sugar and the salt in to sifter and sift the ingredients onto a piece of waxed paper; set aside.

Put the eggs and the remaining sugar into the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer.  Holding the whisk attachment from the mixer in your hand, beat the mixture to blend the ingredients.  With the bowl and whisk attachment in place, whip the mixture on medium speed until it is airy, pale, and tripled  in volume, like softly whipped cream, 4 to 5 minutes.  You’ll know that the eggs are properly whipped when you lift the whisk and the mixture falls back into the bowl in a ribbon that rests on the surface for about 10 seconds.  If the ribbon immediately sinks into the mixture, continue whipping for a few more minutes.  Pour in the vanilla extract during eh last moments of whipping.

Detach the bowl from the mixer.  Sprinkle about one third of the sifted flour mixture over the batter.  Fold in the flour with a rubber spatula, stopping as soon as the flour is incorporated.   Fold in the rest of the flour in 2 more additions.  (This is the point at which the batter is at its most fragile, so fold gingerly.)

Brush the extra butter onto a 12 by 17-inch baking sheet that has a rim.  Cover with parchment paper and scrape the batter onto the sheet, smoothing out with the spatula.  Bake for 5 to 8 minutes or until the cake springs back when pressed in the center and the edges pull away from the sides of the pan.

Dust a large kitchen towel with powdered sugar.  Invert the baking sheet onto the towel and cool slightly.  Before it is completely cooled, roll the cake (with the towel) up into a log.

Rum Syrup:
Boil the sugar and water together until syrupy, about 3 minutes. Cool and add the rum.

Mocha Cream Frosting:
Boil the sugar and water together until 240 degree on a candy thermometer or until the soft ball stage. Beat the egg yolks until fluffy. Add the sugar and water mixture gradually while beating and continue until mixture is cool. Add the butter bit by bit until it has all been incorporated. Beat in the chocolate, coffee and rum.

Meringue Mushrooms:
Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Beat egg whites until frothy. Add the salt and cream of tartar and beat well. Add the sugar gradually and add the vanilla. Continue beating until mixture is glossy and stiff but not dry. Cover a 12 by 17-inch baking sheet with waxed paper and using a pastry bag, pipe the mushrooms tops and stems onto the sheet. Bake about 1 hour or until the meringues are dry. When you are ready to work with them, gently assemble by pressing the mushroom caps onto the stems. Lightly dust the tops with cocoa powder.

Decorative Frosting:
Cream the butter and add 1/2 cup confectioners sugar and milk until fluffy. Add the salt and vanilla and then the remaining sugar and milk, alternating between the two. Beat until frosting stands in stiff peaks. Transfer to a pastry bag.

To Assemble:
Unroll the cake and peel the parchment paper off. Use half of the Mocha Cream Frosting and spread evenly over the cake. Using the towel to help you, roll the cake up snuggly without causing the frosting to squeeze out of the ends. Poke toothpicks into the final edge to keep it from unrolling. Make a diagonal cut about 1/3 of the way down and snug that cut up to the side of the log to make it look like the v in a branch. Spread the rest of the Mocha Cream Frosting on the top and sides, leaving the ends frosting free. Pipe the Decorative Frosting on all of the ends and any place you’d like to make a decoration. Add the Meringue Mushrooms to the sides in clusters. Decorate with pine sprigs and pomegranate seeds.

Annie
Post your cakes so I can see!

Photo credit: Ella Finger

Homemade Salt Scrub – A Handmade Christmas Gift

In the winter time when the temperature drops, the air inside the house gets dry and my hair begins to stand up on it’s own from the static electricity, my skin also gets dry.  After trying lotions and potions, some expensive, some not, my mom gave me a salt and oil scrub as a gift one year.  I was hooked.  Yet a jar of sea salt scrub costs over $10 per jar and lasts a month or less.  Being a homemade sort of girl, I wondered if I could make it at home and have it be just as wonderful.  And I can.

Salt Scrub

Homemade Salt Scrub
1 wide mouth jar that you can reach your fingers into to scoop
sea salt, medium grind not fine
canola oil, jojoba oil or almond oil
essential oils

My favorite scent combinations are:
Lemon and Lavender
Rosemary and Orange
Fir Needle and Lemon
Rosemary and Lavender

Pour sea salt into the jar until it is 1/2-inch from the top of the jar.  Add the oil in batches until it has completely soaked in and then add 10 drops each of the scents of your preference.  Cover with a secure lid.  This will last as long as the oil does, so more perishable oils like almond oil will maybe last a month or two where as canola oil will last much longer.  However, if you like using this scrub as much as I do, it won’t even last a month before you are making more.

Annie
With happy skin

Lemon Curd Cheesecake – A Bake Ahead Holiday Dessert

The tricks to making a successful cheesecake are simple.  They also make sense when you understand the reason behind them.

Lemon Curd Cheesecakes

Eggs, a major component of cheesecakes, don’t like to be heated quickly or subject to high heat.  Instead they like to be handled gently and with a little tender loving care.  They freak out when the heat is too fast or too high, curdling or puffing up, both of which we don’t want in a cheesecake.  This is why having all ingredients at room temperature to begin with helps.  Another trick is some sort of water – either in the form of steam or a water bath, to mitigate the formation of a crust and to gentle the heat.  Lastly, letting the cheesecake cool down in the oven helps gentle the change in heat and prevents those craters we don’t want to see in our cheesecakes.

Lemon Curd Cheesecake

The recipes that ran in the Portland Press Herald today, Vanilla Cheesecake and Lemon Curd Cheesecake, are both favorites in our family.  There I also write about how to freeze and thaw cheesecakes, making them a perfect make-ahead dessert.  The Lemon Curd Cheesecake has been a holiday dessert for years, appeasing those who are done with the chocolate overload.

Annie
Happy baking!

Blood Orange Marmalade – It’s not too late!

Citrus season is almost over, but as I write, the last (or I’m hoping the last!) big winter storm is raging outside and any sort of canning seems like just the thing to keep the house toasty warm.  I know when summer rolls around I’ll be so happy to have these gem-like jars of coral-colored goodness for our guests to slather on biscuits or muffins in the morning or for an afternoon snack.

Blood Orange Marmalade 2

This recipe for blood orange marmalade is a combination of Alton Brown’s and Margaret Yardley Potter’s and is as easy as pie.  The initial inspiration came when cozied up last night with At Home on the Range a cookbook presented by Elizabeth Gilbert and written by her great-grandmother Margaret Yardley Potter.

At Home on the Range

I’m in love with this no-nonsense woman who is far before her time when it comes to honoring ingredients and the flavor of the food she creates.  The recipes are more of a guide and written as my grandmother wrote her recipes rather than the exacting format more popular today.  It’s how I cook and it’s a book that I’m loving spending time with.  (Buy your local copy here at Hello, Hello Books!)

Blood Orange Marmalade 1

And for the more exacting formula:

Blood Orange Marmalade
1 3/4 pound blood oranges; about 5 medium oranges
1 lemon, zested and juiced
6 cups water
3 pounds pounds plus 12 ounces sugar
10, 8-ounce canning jars with lids

Wash thoroughly and slice the oranges into very thin slivers with either a sharp knife or a mandoline removing the seeds along the way.  Quarter the slices and transfer to a large stock pot.   Add the lemon zest, juice and water and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a strong simmer and cook for about 40 minutes or until the fruit is very soft.  Stop here and refrigerate the oranges and continue the next day OR continue on with the rest of the recipe right off.

Place a small plate into the freezer.

While the oranges are cooking, prepare a large water bath with either a canning basket or a cake rack on the bottom.  Add the jars and lids to the water and make sure they are covered with at least 1 inch of water.  Cover with a lid.  Bring the pot to a boil and boil for 10 minutes.  Turn off the heat, and let sit until you are ready to fill the jars.

When the oranges are soft, add the sugar and return to a full boil for 15 to 20 minutes or until a candy thermometer reads 222 to 223 degrees.  To make sure, place 1 teaspoon of marmalade on the plate in the freezer and wait 30 seconds.  If the marmalade still runs when you tip the plate sideways, it’s not done.

Remove the jars and lids carefully from the water bath and set upright on a towel.  Place a funnel over the jars and ladle marmalade filling the jars with 1/2-inch clearance at the top.  Wipe any remaining marmalade off the edge, cover with lid to just hand tight and return to the water bath in either the canning basket or on top of the cake rack.  Boil for 10 minutes and remove from water onto a towel.

Now comes the fun part.  Wait for each lid to pop.  This is your reward for a job well done.  (Well, and eating the goodness you just created.)

Annie
Orange you glad I shared this recipe?

Sun-dried Tomato, Artichoke and Spinach No Knead Bread

Let’s be honest, there is nothing like the smell of freshly baked bread in your own home to make you feel accomplished and cozy all at the same time.  This is a no knead version, so it’s super simple.  Mix, wait, shape, wait, bake, wait.  Eat.  With butter.  What could be better?

Sun-dried Tomato, Artichoke and Spinach No Knead Bread

5 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon yeast
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes
3/4 cup artichokes, drained and broken into pieces
1 cup lightly packed spinach, de-stemmed, washed and well-drained
1 to 2 cups of warm water

Combine all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. With your hands, mix in the sourdough starter, sun-dried tomatoes and spinach. Begin to add water until the dough just barely forms a ball and there are no little dry bits hanging out in the bowl.

Cover the bowl with a layer of plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours or in the refrigerator overnight, until the surface of the dough has risen and is flat, not rounded. For those who have worked with traditional kneaded dough, this will look like a disaster. Just wait, it will be fine.Spinach, Sun-dried Tomato & Artichoke No Knead Bread 1

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place a heavy (empty) pan or skillet in the bottom of the oven (you’ll use this when you put your bread in the oven to create steam). I use a cast iron skillet, filled with rocks I’ve picked from the garden and scrubbed clean, to create a sauna of sorts. It just stays in the oven all the time. The addition of moisture into the oven air helps the bread rise more and then creates a terrific crust.Spinach, Sun-dried Tomato & Artichoke No Knead Bread 2

Shape the dough into the loaves of your choice – 3 baguettes, 2 batons or 1 large boule. Do this by turning the dough onto a floured surface, cutting into the number of pieces you need and gently turning the edges under to form the desired shape. Sprinkle a baking sheet with corn meal or rice flour and place the loaf/loaves on the baking sheet.Spinach, Sun-dried Tomato & Artichoke No Knead Bread 3

Spinach, Sun-dried Tomato & Artichoke No Knead Bread 4

Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise again for another 20 to 45 minutes depending on the size and looseness of your loaf/loaves.

Slash the tops of the loaf/loaves with a sharp knife, transfer the baking sheet to the oven and immediately pour a cup of warm water into the pan on the bottom of the oven to create the aforementioned steam. Be extra careful with this step and quickly remove your arm from the oven once you’ve poured the water.

Bake until the exterior is golden brown and the bottom is firm, from 25 to 40 minutes depending on the size of your loaf/loaves.

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Happy that the house is warm and my belly is full
Annie

 

Chocolate Ginger Cookies for Boarding

It’s a tradition on the Riggin to have homemade cookies with coffee or tea for boarding.  These are a fun batch I made this boarding and they were perfect for a foggy, chilly evening at the dock!

Chocolate Ginger Cookies

Thick & Chewy Double Chocolate Cookies
A faster way to get warm cookies in your mouth is to make the dough, wait 5 minutes for it to set a little and roll it into a log. Wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze it. When you are ready for a few cookies, cut 1/2 inch rounds off of the log and bake for a few minutes longer than the recipe calls for.

You can also use this recipe to make bars – simply spread the dough evenly in a greased 9 x 13-inch pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 to 40 minutes.

16 ounces semisweet chocolate (either chips or coarsely chopped)
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons instant coffee or espresso powder
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt the chocolate in a microwave or double boiler. Set aside to cool slightly. In a small bowl, beat the eggs and vanilla lightly with fork; sprinkle in the coffee powder and stir until dissolved. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat the butter until smooth and creamy. Add both sugars and beat until creamy. Gradually beat in the egg mixture. Add the chocolate and ginger and beat until combined. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt into the mixture and beat until just combined. Do not overmix.

Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until it firms up to a fudge-like consistency. Line 2 cookie pans with parchment paper. Form 1-inch balls and place them 1 1/2 inches apart on the cookie pan. Bake about 10 minutes, turning the cookie pans about halfway through. Cool on racks.

Makes 2 dozen