" " " " Singing With Birds: March 2010

Monday, March 29, 2010

When "Hopping By"... Be a Show-Off!

My creative niece, Tagan, made this fabulous wedding cake for her sister, Tessa. Tessa and Adam cutting into their cake, are an extraordinarily beautiful couple! I loved the idea and have made it for holidays ever since...so if you.......

Want to make a glorious Spring cake that will be the highlight of your Easter brunch buffet? With tulips and daffodils popping up and the Bunny hopping by, celebrate the sunshine with a song in your heart.
Begin by washing and drip-drying several bunches of flowers from your garden or local market. Next, bake a 2, 3, or even 4-layer cake of your choice. I made my favorite chocolate cake,(recipe below) but I also like banana-nut, carrot, hummingbird, luscious lemon, really, whatever your heart desires! Line the cake plate with wax paper. I used 3 strips for easy removal.
I made a simple cream-cheese frosting and tinted it a soft yellow. Slap it between the layers.
Consider the frosting your glue...don't work too hard...I didn't. Mrs. Priest, my 7Th grade cooking teacher would have given me an F, but it works...just wait and see!
You'll need approximately 2 cans of wafer roll cookies. This brand was a little extra flaky. I DID get what I paid for!
Trim cookies if need be. Make sure to place the flat edge against the cake plate.
Work your way around. I did not even try to get them all perfectly cut...but I like it rustic.
Go all the way around. Now gently hold the cookie wafers with one hand while you carefully remove the wax paper strip with the other. Now secure the cookies with a fun ribbon tied around your cake. Again your favorite, you're the designer!
Poke your first flower in the center to set the height of your cake-rangement. Continue to place your flowers and soon your cake will be a fabulous Easter Basket Bouquet that can also be served.
Note the jagged edges on the cookies...what do you think? It's kind of fun and interesting.
I arranged tulips, and lilies, with filler, mums, daisies and baby carnations. What would you use?
The Spring Flower Show is on at Macy's in Manhattan this week. A chunk of my heart is there! Spring is my favorite time of the year and I think this is my very favorite cake to make. Thanks Tagan for a fun idea.

Scrumptious Chocolate Cake

  • 3/4 cup soft butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare three 8 x1 1/2 -inch round cake pans. (I recommend Baker's Secret!). In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until well mixed, 3 to 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute with each addition. Alternate adding milk and dry ingredients to creamed mixture, beating on low speed until you've added all of it. Beat on medium-high for 2 more minutes. Spread evenly into prepared pans.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Cool cake layers in pans for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and cool on wire racks.

Fill and frost cake layers. If desired, top with chocolate curls and toasted nuts. Store cake in refrigerator. Makes 12 to 16 servings.

Chocolate Frosting: In a large saucepan, combine one 12-ounce package (2 cups) semisweet chocolate pieces, and 1/2 cup butter, heat over low heat until melted, stirring often. Cool for 5 minutes. Stir in one 8-ounce carton sour cream. Gradually add 4 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar (about 1 pound), beating on medium speed until mixture is smooth.

Cream-Cheese Frosting: 12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, 4 cups powdered sugar, 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla, 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice. Cream the cheese and butter together. Slowly add the powdered sugar and fully incorporate it, (no lumps) about 4 minutes. Add the vanilla and lemon juice and mix well. Now add paste-color if you'd like!


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Monday, March 22, 2010

This was GREEK To Me!

Our row house on Steinway Street and Ditmars Blvd. in Astoria, Queens, New York, was a happening place. Shortly after we arrived in our neighborhood, we wanted to get acquainted with those around us. We wandered across the street and introduced ourselves to a Greek woman who ran the Victory Sweet Shop. Having tried only baklava before, she selected several of her specialties for us to try. She tied the bakery box with blue and white, thin, cord and such pride. As she handed it to us, in broken English, she admonished us to have them with coffee. We are not coffee drinkers, but we do enjoy herbal tea. Later that evening, (it was snowy January), we sampled her delicate treats and I instantly fell in love with Galaktoboureko! I planned to only have one bite and ended up polishing it off! It is a Greek pastry with a flaky top and bottom filled with custard and covered with a sweet syrup.
Shopping: Be sure to purchase Fillo (Phyllo Dough), easy to use pastry sheets. It's different from puff pastry sheets. Plan to use 1/2 pound of sheets, or half the 1 pound box.
Preparation: For the custard filling you will need whole milk, farina or Cream of Wheat, butter, vanilla and eggs.
While the custard mixture cools, you will layer fillo sheets, brushing each with butter. Ten for the bottom and ten for the top.
To keep the sheets from drying out you'll need to quickly remove one and then keep them covered with a damp towel.
This is how the pan looks with 10 sheets covering the bottom of a 9x13 non-stick pan.
Baking: Next pour the cooled custard filling into the pan and add 10 more sheets of buttered fillo sheets. Score the top of the pastry into 16 to 24 squares or diamond shapes. Pop into a 350 degree oven to bake for 45 to 50 minutes.
Begin the simple syrup. I like my citrusy! Let it simmer while the pastry bakes.
When the pastry is golden brown and the custard is set, remove from the oven, and let it set for 5 minutes.
Strain your syrup and then pour the hot syrup over the pastry. As it cools the syrup will be absorbed.
A lovely Greek Pastry, Galaktoboureko, on flowery, Spring, china. Serve it along with your favorite warm beverage...maybe a little herbal tea party is in store after a long winter!
Galaktoboureko (Greek Pastry)
Makes 16 to 24 servings
Thaw 1/2 pound of fillo dough in the refrigerator overnight.
In a large saucepan, bring 5 cups of whole milk to a simmer. Whisk into the hot milk, 3/4 cup of Cream of Wheat. Stir constantly until thickened. Remove from the heat. Whisk three eggs in a small bowl. Add 1 cup of the hot milk mixture and whisk together thoroughly. Add egg mixture back into the pan and then quickly whisk in 1 stick of butter, 2 teaspoons of vanilla and 4 more beaten eggs. Set mixture aside to cool.
Layer 1/2 of the fillo sheets, about 10 sheets, into a 9x13" pan, brushing each layer with butter.
Add the creamy cooled custard mixture. Spread evenly with the back of a wooden spoon. Layer remaining fillo sheets on top of the custard mixture. It is somewhat challenging with the first few layers, but gently layer each with butter. Continue until all the sheets are used, about 10 more.
Chill the prepared pan of custard and fillo in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. When the top has hardened score it (very carefully) with a knife in square or diamond pattern. Place the pan in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes until the pastry is a deep golden brown.
While the custard is baking boil together until a medium syrup consistency:
2 1/2 cups of sugar
1 cup water
1 stick of cinnamon
juice of one fresh lemon
1 whole orange rind
Set syrup mixture aside to cool. When you remove your pastry from the oven, let it cool for five minutes. Then pour the warm syrup over the warm syrup. Refrigerate any leftovers uncovered to keep pastry crisp.
Opa, my friends!
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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Soaring Sentiments: Bronson's Miracle

I saw the Staker family on the Today Show this week after following Bronson's miracle on KSL. What an incredible story it is. God is a God of Miracles. This message of hope, faith, and gratitude needs to be shared. Here is the link to the touching movie made by the Staker family.
Me we feel God's love for each of us in our lives today.
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Monday, March 15, 2010

No-Knead Bread {Artisan Bread}

Are you looking for New York's "upper crust?"

One of the great joys of our service in New York City, for 18 months, was feeding lots of missionaries, students and friends from our church. Most of these gatherings were fairly informal. I tried to plan something filling and nutritious on a limited budget for a large group. When we grilled chicken breasts or made pulled-pork we would order delicious rolls at Parisi Brother's Bakery on 31st and Broadway, under the subway, in Astoria, Queens. Picking up our large order at 7 AM, still hot, these steamy rolls fogged up our car and made it smell outrageously fabulous!

Upon finishing our mission, we returned to a small town in the West. No more plentiful bakeries and missing my New York resource, I thought back to
2006 when Mark Bittman of the NY Times started a frenzy in the baking world. He published Jim Lahey's, No-Knead Bread recipe. Lahey, worked as a baker at Manhattan's Sullivan Street Bakery. I found the recipe again and went to work, hoping for big city results. What a snap! It's so easy and I've been so pleased. Jim's inventive method allows time to do all the work while you rest!

Here's what you do: take 3 cups of flour, 1 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. yeast, 1 1/2 cups of warm water and mix it with a spatula to make a very wet dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise overnight. Next a.m., fold dough in thirds and place seam side down on a well-floured clean towel and let rise again for about 2 hours. Heat a 5 quart or larger heat-safe pot in a 450F oven for 30 minutes. Carefully dump the dough in seam-side up and bake covered for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake another 15-20 minutes so bread can brown and get crusty. That's it! This makes one loaf.

Another way of making a great No-Knead Bread, has become my favorite. It's for all of you, like me, who haven't planned for an overnight rising. In two hours your dough is ready to make 2 large loaves or up to 12 beautiful sandwich style rolls. Here's a run through:

In a large bowl, add 3 cups of lukewarm water with 1 1/2 Tbls. instant yeast, 1 1/2 Tbls. kosher salt, and 6 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour. Stir together until there are no more dry patches. Dough will be quite loose. Cover with a towel and place in a warm spot for 2 hours (or up to 5 hours).

At this point you can make your bread or rolls, or you can refrigerate the dough for as long as two weeks.

For a loaf, fold the four edges under, gently stretching the dough to form a smooth ball on top and a lumpy bottom. You can use flour or bran to dust a towel, (a smooth towel, not terrycloth). Let rest for 1 to 2 more hours.

I use this vintage pot, a treasured hand-me-down from my mother-in-law. Its sides are 4"high x 9" across the top, and makes a great round loaf. Use a covered pot, five-quart or larger, cast-iron, Pyrex, ceramic, or enamel, that can go in a 450F oven.

You may need to use a parchment round in the bottom of your pot so it doesn't stick. I know it looks like a 3 year old cut it...you'll never know for sure who did! The last 30 minutes that the bread is rising, turn your oven to 450F and slip your covered pot in the oven to preheat.

Your dough should have doubled in size. Remove the pot from the oven. Holding the towel, dump the wobbly dough into the hot pot. It doesn't matter which way it lands. Gently shake to even the dough out. Cover and bake at 450 for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 15-20 minutes or until the crust is beautifully golden.

Remove and let cool on a wire rack. If not eaten right away, you can re-crisp crust in a 350F oven for 10 minutes. Note, I used wheat bran on my towel to keep the bread from sticking. Isn't it pretty?

No Knead Bread {Artisan Bread} | singingwithbirds.com

I have found that this is an easy and effective method to produce the kind of loaf usually on sale in artisan bakeries for a pretty penny. My bread has a dense crumb and a really crusty, crunchy crust.

My fan club likes it with soft butter when it's hot right out of the oven!

Now, for a perfectly crusty roll, this recipe will produce a dozen large hard rolls. I use the same method tucking the dough under to form a smooth top and place them on a greased and cornmeal covered cookie sheet. I like to dust the tops with a little flour!

A half-size sheet with 6 rolls fits perfectly into my toaster size confection oven. I bake them at 425F, with confection or 450 F in a regular oven, for 16 to 18 minutes. Watch carefully your first time as some ovens vary greatly.

They bake perfectly and have a beautiful texture and appearance!

I think these rolls may be better than Parisi Brothers... at much less than 40 cents each!

I can happily say I miss my New York friends, but love having little fans visit and enjoy what their Grammie makes for them. I love the buttery kisses and smiles I get in return. Happy baking all!

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Are You a Fan...

of the wearing of the green and a traditional Corned Beef and Cabbage dinner? I've found that people either love it or leave it. There are few in between!

Meet our friends, Sharon and Lin, who served with us in New York. We found that between the two of them, there isn't much they can't do. They both sang with The Mormon Tabernacle Choir for nearly 20 years, and Sharon is a gifted pianist. They enjoy entertaining, and hosted a delightful St. Patrick's Day Party with many of our friends. My husband and I, never big fans of corned beef, found Sharon's rendition delicious along with the entire evening, (music and a fun trivia game) divine! I asked Sharon if she would share her recipe with all of us, and we got lucky!
Begin with a corned beef brisket, (this one's about 3 pounds) garlic, and the seasoning packet that comes with it.

Make small X slits in the meet and insert the garlic pieces. Place it in a large pot or roasting pan, (at least 8 quarts) and cover with water.
Add the spice packet, bay leaves, peppercorns, and sliced celery.
Bring to a boil, skim off foam and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer 2-3 hours on the stovetop or place in oven until meat is nearly tender.
Meanwhile, quarter the cabbage, wash potatoes and carrots.
Add vegetables and simmer for 2 more hours.
Drain and serve with your favorite yellow or specialty mustard.

Sharon's Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner


1 corned beef brisket
1 large head cabbage
8 peppercorns
6 cloves garlic, whole peeled
2 bay leaves
1 pound peeled carrots or baby carrots
6-8 medium red potatoes (I quartered them)
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, ground


Make small X slits in the meat and insert garlic pieces.

Place the meat into a large pot or roasting pan (at least 8 quarts). Cover the meat with water. Add the spice packet from the brisket package, bay leaves, peppercorns, and sliced celery. Bring to a boil, skim off foam and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for 2-3 hours on stovetop or place in the oven at 300 until meat is nearly tender.

Meanwhile, quarter the cabbage, wash potatoes and carrots. Add to the pot and simmer for 2 more hours until vegetables are tender.

Drain and serve with your favorite mustard.

Thanks to our dear friends for a great memory and sharing.

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