I made raisins!

So I was scrolling through Pinterest a few days ago…often my reward at the end of the day, or when I have a few minutes to wait in line (though I admit the images on my iPhone screen are not as satisfying as they are on my laptop)…and I saw a pin for making homemade raisins. I had to give it a try as I’d just bought some beautiful red seedless grapes. And what could be better than turing my beautiful grapes into beautiful raisins? (Now don’t say you’ve never seen a beautiful raisin!)

I’ve been known to buy the big raisins…did you know they come in more than one size? (I only discovered that a few years ago.) I love raisins that are plump and juicy…I’ve got no love for the dried up, shriveled versions of this grape-reduction. I adore raisins in all sorts of dishes (try adding them to tuna salad, or a sweet / savory green salad), and I even enjoy eating them without the wrap-around of cookie or cake. There’s something so satisfying about the squish factor! So, as a true raisin fan, this seemed like a pin for me.🙂

The instructions were simple enough, but I made the process even easier. The first step was a quick blanch, then a plunge into ice water to stop the cooking. This is to soften the grape skins. But this was an optional step, and I decided to skip it. The “recipe” is so basic…honestly I couldn’t believe it never occurred to me to try this before. I suppose that’s the power of pre-packaged food…a lot of things that are very doable at home have an aura of mystery and difficulty about them.

But as it turns out, making raisins at home is so easy, I may never buy a box again.🙂

And I have to say, mine are better than any I’ve ever bought!

So this is all you do:

Give the grapes a quick rinse, then remove the stems. Place in a baking dish.

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I don’t have a dehydrator handy…hey, I’m living in clinic housing, so my options are pretty basic…but I do have an oven, and that’s actually what the instructions suggested…use an oven, or dry the grapes in the sun…I opted for the oven, since you can’t always count on sunshine in the rainforest of SE Alaska. Set the oven temp to about 180, pop the grapes in, close the door, and let the low heat do its magic. That’s really all there is to it.

This is how the grapes looked after the first few hours:

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You can see they’re beginning to look raisin-y, and give up some of their juices.

I left the grapes in overnight, although the instructions said to leave them about five hours. This is what I had the next morning:

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They were perfect! (Ok, the pan is not lovely…you don’t get lovely pans in clinic housing.) But the raisins were this magical reduction of grape flavor, still just slightly squishy to bite, a lot lighter than the boxed variety. I’ve always assumed that the dark raisins were from red grapes, but these were definitely not as dark as the commercial version.

I stored my freshly dried baby raisins…that is an odd description!…in the fridge, just put them in a resealable container, though I don’t store commercially made raisins in the fridge. But I thought this home version would do better staying chilled. There’s enough moisture still on the raisins I could see them moulding if stored at a room temp.

So all week I’ve been eating a few at a time as a snack. They’re so delicious, and really a handful is enough to satisfy a sweet craving. I’ve tried drying a few other things over the years, and grapes are a great addition to my drying repertoire. This is so easy, and so yummy, I think I’ll be making raisins on a regular basis.

Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

~ Sheila

Cranberry relish on my table

In this season of holiday meals, of traditional foods, one of the debates that’s ongoing is over the delicate subject of cranberry sauce: do you have what you grew up with (for me it was the jellied sauce that pops out of the can, complete with the ringed indentions of said can) or do you go for something homemade?

To be honest, I have to have both…a nod to my past, and the sauce of my childhood. (I’m not sure fresh cranberries were even available in the market in my childhood years, so far did we live from the source.) And I love a berry-filled, sweet/tart version, simple and yet perfect to grace any table.

It’s been a while since I posted a recipe. Possibly that’s because I’ve been in the kitchen less in the past year than any time in my life.

But even I, living a couple of weeks here and there at a time, have to do some holiday prep. There are a few dishes I love, that are the essence of the winter holiday flavors for me.

One of these is the homemade cranberry relish that’s on the menu every Thanksgiving, and often at Christmas too. It’s so delicious and simple, and pairs beautifully with all sorts of savory dishes. But the important thing is that it tastes amazing. And it’s beautiful. And it’s easy, and keeps for weeks in the fridge. How perfect is that?

Baked Cranberry Nut Relish

  • 1 lb fresh whole cranberries, washed and drained
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1 1/2 cups orange marmalade
  • Juice of one lemon

Combine cranberries and sugar in deep baking dish. Cover with foil and bake at 350° for one hour. Spread walnuts in a shallow pan and toast in oven during the last 10 minutes of baking time for cranberries, stirring walnuts a couple of times. Remove cranberries and walnuts from oven, combine in bowl with marmalade and lemon juice. You can serve warm or chilled. This will keep for several weeks in the fridge. Perfect for gift giving…fill jars and add the recipe for an easy and charming hostess gift or stocking stuffer.

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Saturday favorites

I’ve been collecting a few suggestions…in the spirit of paying it forward these are some things I’d recommend to everyone!🙂

Getting ready to do some baking. I never get tired of playing in the kitchen! That’s why I hauled my Kitchen Aid mixer to this little apartment, along with a few other essentials. Here are a mix of my current favorites, both savory and sweet, tools and foods.

  • Parchment paper – what a difference this makes in baking. Easy clean up. I particularly love using parchment paper for baking brownies…leave a generous margin of paper hanging over the sides of the brownie pan and just lift out the brownies when baked. Easier to cut brownies out of the pan. When I first tried parchment paper, I was frugal, using it only for certain things.  Now it comes out almost any time I turn on the oven.
  • Silicone baking pans – I’m only beginning to use these, but what I’ve used so far I like. The added bonus: you can shape all sorts of stuff in these…handmade soap or other crafts. Multi-purpose!
  • Cauliflower “mashed potatoes” – I’ll admit when I make this version of the traditional mash I add a little butter and sometimes sour cream to the mix…the flavor is so good I hardly notice the substitution of cauliflower for potato. Best tip: if you want a little more body to your “mash,” add a small potato or two to the head of cauliflower. You’ll still have a lower carb dish, but it will be a little sturdier…maybe a good step down from the all-potato mash.
  • Big wide shreds of parmesan…I can sometimes find this wide shred in the grocery, usually in the specialty cheese section, but if you can’t find it, buy a gorgeous big hunk of parm and use a vegetable peeler to make your own wide, luxurious shreds to top pasta bakes, salads, or whatever needs a little more cheesy goodness.
  • A new favorite, I’ve only recently been roasting garbanzo beans, aka chickpeas. Delicious and simple. Start with two cans of garbanzo beans, drain and rinse. Spread the beans on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, pepper, garlic, cumin, chili powder, or any seasoning that strikes your fancy. Bake/roast at 400° for approximately 30 minutes. I say “approximately” because you may want them to be more or less crunchy. My advice is to check the beans after the first 30 minutes and decide if they’re done to your taste. They’re like popcorn, only better. Good for snacking, and making salads more interesting.
  • Seattle Bakery Cracked Wheat Sourdough Bread…if you can find this brand, buy it! The sourdough flavor comes through with the crunchy nuttiness of the cracked wheat…delicious toasted with jam, or use for the perfect grilled cheese. This bread comes in a big round loaf. Beautiful.
  • Burrata cheese: If you haven’t tried this, you must do so, asap! It’s wonderful, that’s all.
  • My new favorite way to prepare salmon: searing. I used to bake salmon, if I wasn’t grilling, thinking it was the best way to keep it healthy. But I always have trouble with the timing. It seems like I pull it out too fast, or just past the perfect done-ness. I tried pan searing the fresh salmon we caught last weekend, and it was perfect. Just put a little olive oil or butter (ok, I always choose butter) in your pan, and when the pan is hot, place the salmon and season. I turned the fillet once, and got it just right. Not overdone, and the texture was perfect. Outside got a little color, and the inside was medium rare. Never baking salmon again!
  • Homemade Magic Shell: (this is just fun!)
    • 8 ounces of chocolate (I used semi-sweet chocolate chips)
    • 2 tablespoons of coconut oil

    Place coconut oil in double boiler over low heat and melt. Add chocolate chips to double boiler with the oil. Gently blend chocolate into coconut oil until smooth.  Let cool for a few minutes and then drizzle on your favorite anything. Perfect for dipping fruit. Bananas, strawberries, and grapes are my favorites. Made some frozen dipped bananas recently and can verify: highly edible! Also perfect for ice cream.

In the digital world, check these out…well worth exploring.

  • PicMonkey – a fun and easy photo editor…there’s a free version and a paid version, both are great. Good for creating printables or almost anything. Look here.
  • Best way to sell online…I call it a digital garage sale. Check out your local Facebook sale site. The one for Ketchikan is called Ketchikan SaleCycle, it’s a closed group for local residents…an amazing resource if you need something, or if you’re selling. I sold most of my furniture in the move last fall, and a lot of miscellaneous household items…made over $13,000 in just a few weeks. Of course, eventually I’ll have to replace some of those things, but it was a fantastic way to sell without doing a huge one day event that might or might not have gone well. And it’s fun too…actually sort of addicting once you get going. I like it better than Craigslist. I think most communities have a local Facebook sales group. Find the digital garage sales in your area and get ready to clean out!

And finally, some random suggestions:

  • A new favorite exercise…the Perfect Fitness Ab Carver Pro…It really works!
  • Looking to be inspired to say “No!” more often? I can’t say enough about Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. I read it a few months ago, and I’m still drawing on it as I consider choices.    I’m one of those people who finds it difficult to say “no.” Recognizing that saying “no” actually honors the real priorities of my life helps me to be strong in the face of my built-in need to please. Not always easy for this Southern girl/woman to do, but I’m trying to be more thoughtful and deliberate about my answers.
  • RSVP Endurance kitchen products: I love these tools. You can find them on Amazon or in specialty kitchen stores. They’re not too pricey, but all the ones I’ve tried are good. Very good. This is a brand like Oxo…great value for the money, and whatever they make is quality. The tools are a pleasure to use.

And finally, a smile for the day:

Organic Donuts

Enjoy your weekend!   ~ Sheila

Colorado Maple Bran Muffins

So, Saturday morning needs something more than cold cereal or a yogurt. Some weekends that means pancakes or the Southern treat of grits and sausage. But today I’m falling back on an old reliable that combines comfort and just a wee nod to the healthy side of baking. I made bran muffins, a slightly adjusted variation of the classic recipe that can live in your fridge for several days, allowing you to produce a warm breakfast treat in a matter of minutes.

I used to make this one regularly for my kids. These muffins are one of my son’s favorites, always on the menu for those rare occasions when he has a chance to visit us in Alaska. Brings back good memories of chilly Colorado mornings and the aromas of coffee and maple in the kitchen. Delicious!

Colorado Maple Bran Muffins
 
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder + 1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups Kellogg’s All Bran Cereal
1 1/4 cup milk OR buttermilk (use whatever you have on hand)
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil OR melted butter
1 tablespoon maple flavoring
1 cup raisins
 
OR

You can use Kellogg’s Raisin Bran cereal in this recipe instead of the All Bran Cereal and raisins…just add 3 cups of the Raisin Bran cereal in place of the 2 cups of All Bran and 1 cup of raisins.
 
 
Stir together flour, sugars, baking powder, soda, and salt.
 
In large mixing bowl, combine cereal and milk. Let stand about 5 minutes.
Add egg, oil OR butter, and mix well. 
Add flour mixture, stirring until ingredients are combined. Add raisins if using the All Bran/raisin combination. 

Ooey gooey batter

Ooey gooey batter

 
Spray muffin tin with cooking spray, or use cupcake papers. Spoon batter into pan and bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Serve warm with butter. YUM!
 
The batter will keep well in the fridge for several days. If muffin batter has been in fridge for a few days, add a little more baking powder and soda (about 1 teaspoon each) to help muffins rise when baked.

If you want to make this recipe more healthy, replace 1/4 cup up to 1/2 cup of the AP flour with wheat germ, flax seed or flax meal. You can also replace the butter or oil with applesauce or a ripe banana, and add nuts for some crunch factor. It’s a pretty forgiving recipe and can take almost any substitution you throw at it. But the basic version is tasty too. Just keep in mind if you mix it up, you’ll need to watch baking times closely and adjust if necessary.

Mmmmmm....

Mmmmmm….I see raisins peeking!

 

Enjoy!

Fresh picks

I’ve been on my own the past couple of weeks, back in Alaska to do a little work for income, and to have a little work done on the house. I’m focused on policies and grants for one clinic, and filling in for the medical staff coordinator at the local hospital. The variety keeps me on my toes, keeps me learning and productive.

On the home front, the house and deck were power washed and some of the paint was refreshed. With a house that’s almost 100 years old, there’s always some project in the works. The replacement glass for my cracked front window has arrived and I almost had that replaced yesterday. But no, the weather didn’t cooperate. We had a gale of a storm and had to postpone until June. My hedges and trees are all trimmed up, and I have a new lock on my fuel oil tank. So I’ve marked off a few of my to-dos.

But it’s not all been work. There’s been cooking too! Or at least some cooking, and some prep for future yumminess.

Last week I bought a king salmon, the first one of the season. Here’s that beauty:

Alaskan King

Alaskan King

Thank goodness it came without the head and tail and guts. I don’t need any of those, although I hear I’m really missing out by not making fish head soup. But someone else can enjoy that delicacy. I’ll just content myself with the non-head parts. I’m taking some of the fish I vacuum sealed and froze down to California for a little Memorial Day grilling. See, I know how to get ready to camp.🙂

Ready to freeze

Ready to freeze

I couldn’t resist trying my hand at smoking some of the fresh king. I borrowed a Little Chief smoker and researched a brine recipe. Here’s my finished product:

Smoked to perfection!

Smoked to perfection!

The smoked salmon makes a great dip. I can’t give exact amounts, but try blending smoked salmon and a block of cream cheese to a chunky paste in a food processor. Some people add onion or other seasonings, but I like just the salmon and cream cheese. Serve with water crackers or whatever dipper you like. Easy and delicious!

I made a quick pickled salad this week. You could use any firm vegetable. I used diced cucumber, cherry tomatoes (cut in half), diced red onion, and diced baby bell peppers. I made an oil and apple cider vinegar dressing and seasoned it with a little sugar and salt and pepper. Again, no measurements…just mix to taste. (You’ll want enough dressing to coat the veggies, but not so much that they’re swimming in it.) Chill in the fridge to give the veggies time to absorb the flavor of the dressing. It’s a cool and crunchy light lunch or dinner.

Healthy lunch!

Healthy lunch!

Beautiful and simple

Beautiful and simple

And last but not least, I harvested my rhubarb this week. Rhubarb is a late comer to my life. I discovered it about a decade ago and immediately fell in love with the tartness and the way it pairs so well with other flavors to make amazing desserts.

I started my rhubarb crop here in Ketchikan with one plant a friend gave me. This stuff is hardy. You plant it and forget about it. Two or three times each summer I have enormous leaves and stalks that demand attention. The rhubarb is planted behind the hedge in my front garden, and when I begin to see the leaves poking out above the hedge, I know it’s time to harvest. You can cut the plant down to the ground and it grows right back. Let me just say, here and now, this is my kind of gardening! Seems indestructible, impervious to weather, and I literally do nothing but cut it back a few times a year.

I should have made a photo of the plant, but I wasn’t in blog mode when I was in harvest mode, so you’ll have to google “rhubarb” if you want to see the the full glory. I’ve been told that rhubarb likes cooler climates, which is probably why I first met it in Colorado and renewed my acquaintance here in Alaska. My grandmothers, who grew most fruits and vegetables known to man, didn’t grow rhubarb, so I assume it would not do well in the heat of a Mississippi summer. Which explains why I missed out on this taste for so long.

The edible part of the plant is the stalk, which looks a lot like celery, except it is a deeper green and has shades of red and pink as well. You cut the stalks off and remove the large leaf that grows at the end of the stalk. Then you wash and dice. That’s it! You can use the fresh rhubarb to make all sorts of dishes. I see savory recipes and I’ve even tasted a couple. But I’ll admit, I just use it for desserts and sweets.

You can make rhubarb pie, rhubarb crisp, rhubarb jam. You typically see rhubarb paired with another fruit, and the classic choice is strawberries. Yes, yes, that’s a good flavor. But do yourself a favor. If you can get your hands on rhubarb, pair it with orange. Orange zest, orange marmalade, orange juice. Nothing. like. it.

Here’s my rhubarb journey this week:

From 1 (!) plant!

From 1 (!) plant!

 

You cut the long stems off the base of the plant and have these celery-like stalks. They’re even a little stringy like celery. The only thing I do is wash and chop. You’ll have different widths but honestly I can’t detect any difference in texture or flavor once the rhubarb is cooked down, so I use the small tender stalks as well as the monster wide ones.

Chopped!

Chopped!

I used a little for a sweet treat (reward for my two weeks of work!) and popped the rest into freezer bags. It’s the easiest thing to freeze. I just chop and bag. No need to blanch or prep in any other way.

Ready to go

Ready to go

And now, just to whet your appetite!

Dessert for two: (or just me🙂 )

Butter the bottom of a small baking dish. Spread a layer of chopped rhubarb and lightly sprinkle with brown sugar. I added a couple of teaspoons of orange marmalade, then topped the fruit with a crumb mixture. The crumb mixture is a combination of quick cook oatmeal, brown sugar, a pinch of salt, and a couple of tablespoons of butter. Spread the crumb mixture on top of the fruit and bake at 350, about 25 minutes, or until the crumb topping is lightly browned. Voila! Dessert, or snack, or whatever you need to call it to eat it as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Rhubarb and orange layer

Rhubarb and orange layer

Crumb topping

Crumb topping

All I need is ice cream!

All I need is ice cream!

If you want to mix in other goodness, add nuts or raisins. You can also do this with strawberries or apples instead of the marmalade. I just happen to like the orange, so that’s always my first choice to pair with rhubarb.

Happy start to the summer! And happy Memorial Day! Thank you to all the people who’ve given so much to freedom and our way of life. Remember them while you’re enjoying family and friends this weekend, and find a man or woman wearing the uniform to thank.

 

In case you missed it…World Nutella Day!

WorldNutellaDay_logo_s-e1391459886361-300x207In the flurry of sports headlines…today is the parade for the Super Bowl champs, the Seattle Seahawks, (boy, was that painful!) and there’s ongoing news and drama around the Sochi Olympics…you could be missing an exciting new entry to the list of “world” days: World Nutella Day. It’s a young event, launched in 2007, so momentum is still building.🙂

Complete with website, World Nutella Day provides the perfect excuse for uniting spoon and spread, for enjoying chocolate creaminess long before the Easter bunny hops this way. This is a day for lip-licking, jar-cleaning, smear-on-any surface goodness, and I’m proud to partake!

To celebrate in style, check out the plethora of Nutella recipes you can try. Pinterest offers a gold mine. Nutella has come a long way, moving beyond a humble spread for toast to star in ice cream, pastries, cakes, brownies…any place you would want chocolate, you can invite Nutella. And really…is there any dessert that doesn’t deserve a chocolate option?

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Super Bowl!

Good morning sports fans! Surprise, surprise, here I am among the millions, waiting to watch the Super Bowl!

Not my usual thing. I like a good game, now and then, but I’m hardly a die-hard sports fanatic. But with Denver and Seattle in the big game, I have to watch and cheer. No, strike that…I get to watch and cheer!🙂

I’m cheering for the Broncos, of course. We lived in Colorado for almost 20 years, and you’d have to live under a rock there to not be at least a little bit of a Bronco fan. And I have a soft spot in my heart for Peyton Manning. He was a favorite of my dad’s, and Peyton’s dad, Archie, was a legend of Ole Miss football, many moons ago. It was long before our time at the school, but that legacy lingered when we were there. So it’s an easy choice, despite the fact that I’ve spent a lot more time in Seattle in recent years than in Colorado.

We used to go to Broncos games during the John Elway era. Rob had two season tickets…usually it was him and one of the kids who went to the stadium (the old Mile High) for the games. Occasionally we would get an extra couple of tickets and all of us would go. There was a guy who sat behind our seats, and he was a fixture on those Sunday afternoons. He would boom out, now and then, in a random fashion, “SUPER BOWL!” Didn’t matter if the Broncos were losing or winning. He always had faith!

Well, some years, he was right. I’m sure he’s long gone, just like that old stadium. But the fans keep going, the team keeps going, and Peyton! Well, you have to love his drive🙂

We’re in Metlakatla this weekend, with Rob covering call, so hopefully no one will have an emergency this afternoon. The game starts at 3:30 our time, and we’re joining some of the clinic staff in front of a big screen to see the commercials, the game, and eat our way through a few game day treats.

Since dips are an eternal favorite, and artichokes are a personal favorite, I’m taking my cheesy, garlicky, yummy, completely decadent combination of the two.

Baked Artichoke Dip

  • Marinated artichoke hearts, 2 jars (6.5 oz each)
  • 2 cups mayonnaise
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan
  • 1 cup shredded Mozzarella
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 yellow onion, medium dice
  • Dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • Pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 350°. Mix all ingredients together and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Serve warm with crackers or other dippers of choice…veggies, pita chips, flatbread. Everything works with this dip.

I’m also honoring the tradition of buffalo wings, but doing an updated version. For you doubters out there, give Buffalo Cauliflower a try:

Spicy Buffalo Cauliflower

And last, for a sweet treat (you know I’m never without dessert!), an old favorite:

Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes

Well, it’s still early here in Alaska. So excuse me now, I have a little baking left to do before I put my game face on.

Go Broncos!

Pumpkin Soup and other goodness

Rain and cold greet me as I start the day. Fresh coffee, and the scent of the pellet stove burning, sending out warmth and wood smell, lure me down the stairs to begin. I make breakfast, hot, hearty and healthy, to push us through to lunch. Lunch, salad, light and crunchy bites, fuel until dinner. And then, on this chilly fall Friday, a big bowl of soup and crusty bread for end of day. The soup simmers on the stove already, not because it has to, but because I want it to. Seeing the pot on the burner, giving an occasional stir as I wander through the kitchen, taking a break from my work-at-home office, I feel the comfort of tradition, the ritual of minding, tasting; and the anticipation of home cooked goodness to tuck us in to the dark of early evening. We’ll light candles, play soft music, and get cozy with bread baked this afternoon and soup for the season.

If you’re looking for homemade easy, this is a good place to begin.

                                          November gold

Pumpkin Soup

1/4 cup (4T) butter
1 large onion, finely diced
1 stalk of celery, finely diced
1 can (1 lb) of pumpkin (NOT get pumpkin pie filling)
3 cans (14.5 oz) chicken broth
1/2 tsp. curry powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt
1 cup light cream or half-and-half
Melt butter in saucepan.
Add onion & celery.  Saute’ until tender.
Stir in pumpkin, broth & seasonings (adjust seasonings to taste if you like more spice).
Bring to a boil stirring constantly.
Reduce heat and simmer uncovered 15 minutes.
Remove bay leaf.
Add cream or half-and-half.
Stir just until thoroughly heated, but not boiling.
Add chives (fresh) for garnish.
Serves four generously.

                                 Sweet Wheat bread dough

Sweet Wheat Bread

3 packets dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water, divided
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup dark molasses
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp of caramel coloring, optional

Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water then stir in sugar. Let stand until bubbly.
Combine dissolved yeast, remaining water, molasses, salt, oil, whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour and caramel coloring in a large mixing bowl. Beat, using a dough hook until smooth. 
Knead dough for 5 minutes. Place in a large bowl then cover with a damp cloth. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. 
Punch dough down and divide in 2 large round loaves and place on a greased and cornmeal dusted cookie sheet. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size.
Remove cloth and bake in a 375 degree F. oven for 30 minutes or until crust makes a hollow sound when tapped.
(The caramel coloring will not affect taste, just the color of the bread. You can order this ingredient from King Arthur Flour.)

                                                Ready for dinner!

Food for inspiration: Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes

As everyone knows, you think better with food. Especially with something that is a luscious blend of comfort and decadence. Lemon cream cheese cupcakes fit that description perfectly. This is my new favorite sweet treat, not to be confused with something low calorie. If I haven’t said it before, I’m saying it now: you will never find a low calorie dessert on my table, unless the dessert is just fruit. My dessert philosophy is really quite simple: if I’m dieting, I don’t need dessert. If I’m eating dessert, I must not be dieting. So now you know.

The ingredients are standard pantry and fridge items, so this is a great treat to bake on a whim. That’s usually when I whip out my cupcake pan…when I just want a little something without having to run to the market.

I would eat them all, but, alas, that could be ugly, by anyone’s standards! I typically share part of the batch. Check it out for yourself, you may want to have a sweet feast. And best, this is easy, so easy!

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Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes
(I think the original recipe is from Kraft. Honor to whom honor is due.)

Ingredients:

1 pkg. (2-layer size) white cake mix
1 pkg. (3.4 oz.)JELL-O Lemon Flavor Instant Pudding
1 cup water
4 egg whites
2 Tbsp. oil
1 pkg. (8 oz.) PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, softened
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 pkg. (16 oz.) powdered sugar

Method:

HEAT oven to 350ºF.

BEAT first 5 ingredients in large bowl with mixer on low speed until moistened. (Batter will be thick.) Beat on medium speed 2 min. Spoon into 24 paper-lined muffin cups.
BAKE 21 to 24 min. or until toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 min.; remove to wire racks. Cool completely.
BEAT cream cheese, butter and juice with mixer until well blended. Gradually add sugar, beating on low speed after each addition until well blended. Spread onto cupcakes.

OR: if you don’t want to make a cream cheese icing, pick up a can of cream cheese frosting at the market. I’ve made my own, which is yummy, following the recipe, and I’ve also used the prepared cream cheese frosting. Believe me, either choice will be perfect!

One last tip, shared by my daughter: these are delicious as soon as they’ve cooled enough to frost, but they take on an extra special goodness if you chill them before serving. I don’t know what it is; the cupcakes seem to be a bit denser in texture, if you like that. I do, so I typically build in enough time to chill, after frosting, and before sampling.

Enjoy!

I’m taking Gingerbread to Seattle

We got home from Prince of Wales (POW) this morning. The little plane…not a float plane, this plane has wheels, and it seats about a dozen people…left the island at 7:00, and by 8:00 we were crossing over on the airport ferry to Ketchikan. After three weeks away it is good to be in our own space again. But no rest for the weary! This is Saturday, and we leave on Monday evening to meet our kids in Seattle, so today has been about catch up.

First we made the rounds for errands. Picked up the mail, bought a few things at Wal-Mart, stopped by the bank, dropped off a couple of things to ship at the mall. We were sidetracked a few times, but eventually made it back home. Good to get comfy, put on Christmas music, turn on our twinkly lights…no tree for us this year as the next two nights will be our only time at home before Christmas. So I miss having the scent of a fresh tree, and feel I’ve let the Boy Scouts down by not giving them my business this year. But it was not to be. (And I have to admit, the bright spot is that I don’t have to put away all the ornaments in a couple of weeks.)

After sorting the mail, I’m adding to my to-do list. I have a few Christmas cards to finish, some work on a project I should complete before we leave on Monday. But the most important thing to do this weekend…more than laundry, online work, or the other chores on my list…the most important thing I have to do is make gingerbread cookies.

We get to see Alex next week, and Stephanie and Matt, and little Riley. I’m excited to spend a few precious days with them, and it is a bonus that these days come at Christmas. We don’t get that every year. This one will be a little different. Last year they were with us in Ketchikan, and it was easy enough to do all the traditional things, have the favorite foods. But not this year.

This year, Stephanie and Alex and Riley are arriving in Seattle only a day ahead of us. Matt is out of the country on business and won’t be home till next Tuesday. Alex flew out to Arizona earlier this week to drive with Stephanie and Riley from Prescott to Seattle so Stephanie didn’t have to face a multi-day drive with an 18-month-old by herself. The nice thing is that he’ll be able to stay over a few days, so we get to see him. He goes back to Atlanta on the 23rd.

We’ll be in a hotel. Matt and Stephanie are literally still in the process of their relocation to Seattle, and as they are hardly settled, this is not the year to be creating home cooked feasts. So, I’m taking the homey touches with me. And the iconic treat for Alex is gingerbread cookies. He loved these as a little guy, and to this day, if I had to name one thing I make that he enjoys most, it would be these cookies.

I know the point is that we’ll be together, and that this holiday will not be about food, at least not the homemade variety. Except for this one thing. And I’ll admit that I’m taking gingerbread as much for myself as for Alex. Not for my taste buds: for my heart. You see, he loves to eat these cookies. But I love to make them for him. This is one of the few ways I can reach out and touch that little boy that used to live at my house. At 24, there isn’t a lot he needs me to do for him. But this is a gift from my heart to his, and he understands that.

To date, we have been able to see Stephanie more often than we see Alex. Part of that was due to his life in the army. Now that’s ended, and he’ll have a bit more flexibility than when he was in the service. But he lives in Georgia, at least for now, where his wife is based at Ft. Benning. Now Stephanie and Matt will be a short flight away from Ketchikan, and I’m already planning frequent visits. Hard to resist Riley’s little face, or pass up an opportunity to connect with my favorite daughter and son-in-law. So I anticipate that we’ll continue to see Stephanie more often than Alex. Maybe he’ll eventually relocate. Or who knows? Maybe we will.

Regardless, for now, when I have a chance to make gingerbread, I’ll do it. I’ll be the one flying down Monday night with a tin of homemade cookies. And no, I’m not the white-haired grandma. I’m the mom, anxious to see the young man who makes me smile, challenges me to watch him play games, sends me funny texts, walks with me down memory lane when we share this treat together. I’m taking gingerbread to Seattle, baked from the heart.

GINGERBREAD
(Recipe from Colonial Williamsburg)

1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup melted butter
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 cup unsulphered molasses
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional
3/4 teaspoon lemon extract, optional
4 cups stone-ground or unbleached flour, unsifted

Combine the sugar, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Mix well. Add the melted butter, evaporated milk and molasses. Add the extracts, if using. Mix well. Add the flour 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly. The dough should be stiff enough to handle without sticking to fingers. Knead the dough for a smoother texture. Add up to ½ cup additional flour if necessary to prevent sticking.

When the dough is smooth, roll it out ¼ inch thick on a floured surface and cut it into cookies. Bake on floured or greased cookie sheets in a preheated 375° F oven for 10 to 12 minutes. The gingerbread cookies are done when they spring back when touched.