French Onion Soup

I’m posting a recipe for soup in an effort to bring on warmer weather. You see, it seems inevitable that whenever I get ahead of myself, I end up putting my foot in my mouth. I was tempted to “think spring” and write about asparagus, but I know it would backfire and we would end up with snow in May. Kind of similar to the time I was talking to some of my friends that have babies younger than Smith and I told them that infant sleeping gets better. “Smith was sleeping through the night by six months; the waking up in the middle of the night will be over before you know it,” I told them with a sense of relief and achievement. What a foolish, foolish mother I was.

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It turns out there is a wee little thing called sleep regression that tends to pop up when the little ones hit new motor milestones. The sleeping gets better, but then it takes a wild turn and you find yourself sprawled out on the floor of your baby’s room with your hand wedged inside his crib at 3:30am. It’s a humbling time. As a result, I’m embracing the cold with this French onion soup to coax the number on the thermometer upward.

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French onion soup combines two of the world’s most glorious ingredients, melted cheese and caramelized onions, to make a special  lunch or a great main dish for dinner time. It warms the stomach and the soul.

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French Onion Soup

Yield: 4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 4 onions, sliced lengthwise
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 fresh thyme sprigs
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 3 heaping tablespoons flour
  • 2 quarts beef broth
  • Loaf of artisan bread (or whichever bread you prefer)
  • 1/2 lb sharp swiss cheese, shredded

Directions

1. Melt the stick of butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and salt and pepper and sauté until the onions are very soft and caramelized, about 25 minutes.

2. Add the wine, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the wine has evaporated and the onions are dry, about 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and sprigs of thyme.

3. Sprinkle the onions with the flour and stir to ensure the onions are well-coated. Turn the heat down to medium low so the flour doesn’t burn, and cook for 10 minutes .

4. Add the beef broth, bring the soup back to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

5. When you’re ready to eat, preheat the broiler. Arrange the bread slices on a baking sheet in a single layer. Sprinkle the slices with the swiss cheese and broil until bubbly and golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

6. Ladle the soup in bowls and add the toasted bread slices to the top. Serve immediately.

Source: Tyler Florence 

Homestead Living: Amish Sandwich Bread

IMG_5550 I almost titled this post, “White Amish Bread” and realized that didn’t really sound right. Kind of like when I said my brother earned his “small pilot’s license” or my parents looked at a house where the kitchen was described as a “big wife-loving kitchen.” It’s all in the word combinations, folks, so Amish Sandwich Bread it is. IMG_5539 The Amish community is well-known for growing, canning/preserving, and making the vast majority of their own food. Though they too have evolved with the times and rely more on processed and pre-packaged ingredients, from-scratch cooking and baking is nothing new in their book. The new movement that is striking the rest of our nation, is old hat for them, and the idea of homestead-living is probably something they would find humorous.

IMG_5615 (Smith and his cousins) I’ve been wanting to find a good recipe for sandwich bread for several months now. After trying a few different versions, I found this one and it’s one that our family has been enjoying for the past few weeks. This bread is very easy to make, it yields 2 loaves, and it’s delicious. It is soft, slightly sweet, and is sturdy enough to hold sandwich fixings.  I attempted to improve the nutritional value by swapping in whole wheat pastry flour in place of some of the all-purpose, but the texture was just not as good. Whole wheat sandwich bread is my next quest. IMG_5541 Have a great weekend, everyone. Amish Sandwich Bread  Yield: 2 standard loaves Ingredients

  • 1 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
  • 1 cup warm milk (110 degrees F)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 5 1/2 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg yolk + 1 tablespoon water to form an egg wash (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted

Directions

  1. In a large mixing bowl, mix together milk, water, sugar,  and yeast. Cover and allow the yeast to activate and foam for about 5 minutes.
  2. Stir in salt and oil into the yeast mixture.
  3. Using an electric mixer with a dough hook, slowly add flour one cup at a time mixing well after each addition. Mix for about 5 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic.
  4. Place dough in a well-greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a lightly warmed place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  5. Punch down the dough and divide into two equal pieces. Shape into loaves and place in 2 greased 9 x 5-inch loaf pans. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place for 30 mins or until dough has risen 1 inch above pans.
  6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. With a pastry brush, lightly brush the tops of the loaves with egg wash before baking. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from pans and with a pastry brush, lightly brush melted butter immediately after. Allow to cool completely.

Source: Barely adapted from Bakerette

Smith’s Puppy Pawty

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The little rump roast I am always writing about is a full blown toddler these days. He’s walk-running, trying to ride Athena like a miniature pony, throwing tantrums when he doesn’t get his way, and making us laugh on a daily basis. We had a first birthday party for him last month and, boy, did we have fun. Our immediate families and close friends joined us for a little shindig that involved lunch, cake and ice cream, and opening gifts.

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To highlight the adorable relationship between Smith and our dog, Athena, I decided on a puppy theme for the gathering. I kept decorations pretty low key by making some garland with cardstock and colored baker’s twine. My mother-in-law printed pictures of our rump roast and Athena together to display throughout our house.

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I didn’t get any pictures of the non-desserts, but the menu included:

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While this PAWTY was definitely a celebration of our ham ball’s birth, it was also a celebration for the birth of new parents, new aunts and uncles, new cousins, and new grandparents and great grandparents. This past year was definitely not all sunshine and lollipops, but it was an absolutely life-changing and incredibly amazing time that we will not soon forget. It’s difficult to put into words how it feels to be given the gift of motherhood. When I sit and think about the love I feel for my son, I can only describe it as a physical symptom of a combination of butterflies in my stomach and chest tightness. As I type that out, I realize It doesn’t sound pleasant-perhaps it may even sound like I need to find a cardiologist- but it’s a good thing. A wonderful thing. Happy birthday, my sweet boy.

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Birthday Cakes

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My second birthday- 1987

My earliest memory was on my second birthday. Some of my family members don’t think I could possibly recall moments from that early in life, but I absolutely do. There are pictures to prove me correct (see above). I remember it so well because my mom ordered me the most beautiful 2-tiered clown cake the world has ever seen.  It was 1987 and I was wearing purple courdoroy bibs. When I saw the cake, my toddler heart was so full that I wet my pants in pure joy. My body was still testing out the whole “fight or flight” thing. In this case- “faint or void your bladder.”  In an effort to avoid missing out on the magic of the moment, I chose the latter.

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The cake was covered in fluffy white icing and decorated with colorful plastic clowns that were embellished with candy lifesavers. It was so beautiful I could hardly breathe. The only thing that seemed logical at the moment was to kiss the cake, and so I did. And I did it with the tender love and affection that sweet Fraulein Maria and Captain Von Trapp share during their first kiss in The Sound of Music. My sweet darling.

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My clearest memory of that day is of me sneaking into the kitchen in the old farmhouse we lived in and trying to take just “one more taste” of heaven on earth. My mom came in after me and told me no (total buzzkill… it was my birthday, for goodness sake!) and ushered me back into the dining room. But what an impression that cake made on me. To earn a permanent spot deep in the hippocampus of my brain.

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Every once in a while, I get requests to make birthday cakes and/or cupcakes for children’s birthdays. I always feel so honored and I take it very seriously. Childhood birthdays are big.  I’m not talking these out of control, Pinterest-crazed, everyone-gets-a-pony birthday parties. I am talking about the gathering of family and close friends to celebrate another year of life and the hope of a new year.

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When I look back through old pictures of both me and my husband, there are lots of pictures from birthdays. My husband grinning widely while he stands next to a panda cake, me sitting in front of a frilly Barbie cake with my childhood friends smiling on. These are deposits in our memory banks that will last forever and my goal is to provide these kids with a special cake that makes an impression on them. Something that will make them “wet their pants” in excitement, literally or figuratively or both. I hope little Johnny or Susie will be able to someday look back through their childhood photos and see a picture of a birthday cake that I made for them; and I hope they smile fondly and remember what a happy day that was and the love that was shared and felt in that moment. The laughs, the singing, and probably the fights between siblings about sharing a toy. It’s all good stuff. 0Y0A7761

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Funfetti Cupcakes with Whipped Vanilla Buttercream

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This cupcake recipe is one I have been making for a few years now. It’s reliable and classic and I love it so much that I made it twice within the past month. Once on Smith’s actual birthday, and a few weeks later for his birthday party. The first round went over very well with my boo and my little rump roast. Smith gobbled up an entire cupcake with delightful glee (see picture below). The cakes were light and fluffy and had a lovely crumb. The second time around, however, I had to make a lot more cupcakes to accommodate all of the guests we would be having for lunch. In an attempt to save time, I doubled the recipe. And, wouldn’t you know it, the texture was completely different. This time, the cakes were spongier and firmer. I had mixed the batter and used the exact same ingredients. I just multiplied everything by two and the laws of chemistry cursed me.  Oh chemistry. You always win.

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One of the main rules in baking is that it’s not always possible to double a recipe and get the same product.  The chemical leavening agents- baking soda and baking powder*- are integral in the chemical reaction between the ingredients in the baking process, which means there isn’t much wiggle room. Unless you are using a recipe that has the exact weights of ingredients listed, there is always the risk for a small amount of error when using measuring cups and spoons. That “small” error may not matter as much for a single batch of a baked good, but when that “small” is doubled, it can turn into a more substantial difference. The moral of the story: if you’re thinking about doubling a cake recipe, it’s probably best to play it safe and make 2 separate batches of the batter. The end result will be worth it.

*Interesting side note- baking powder is just baking powder combined with cream of tartar and cornstarch.

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This boy. He fills my heart with love.

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Funfetti Cupcakes with Fluffy Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Yield: 2 dozen cupcakes

Cupcake Recipe (plus a mix-in of 1/2 cup of sprinkles)

For the frosting:

Ingredients

  • 3 sticks + 2 tablespoons (375 grams) unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
  • 3 cups sifted (475 g) powdered sugar (icing, powdered)
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) heavy cream, or milk
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) pure vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Sprinkles, if desired

Directions 

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip butter for 8 minutes on medium speed. The butter will become very pale & creamy.
  2. Turn the mixer off and slowly add in the sugar, one cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add remaining ingredients and mix on low speed until combined. Turn mixer speed up to medium and whip for about 2-3 more minutes to allow frosting to become light and fluffy.
  3. Decorate cupcakes as desired. Top with sprinkles. Store unused frosting in the fridge for 1 week.

Source: Cupcakes- Martha Stewart, Frosting- Sweetapolita