Tuesday, July 13, 2010

They really work!

I have been participating in a test bake group for The New York Bakers.  They are working on a cookbook and have three groups of people testing the recipes.  We have completed seven weeks of testing with six more to go.  I have done sweet yeast pastries and cakes and have one more week of making cookies.  I am looking forward to doing four weeks of breads.  We have been asked not to share the recipes but here are a few pictures of the recipes so far (I forgot to take pictures of some).                                       

If you ever need hard to find flour or specialty flour take a look at what they have.  They have been quite helpful to me and best part .....they will send you a FREE sourdough starter

Moving on.  Since I have been busy with the test bakes and now have some remodeling going on there hasn't been as much cooking going on in my kitchen.  If fact, that is now impossible but hoping that by the weekend it will be accessible. 

What else have I been doing?  Well growing tomatoes and herbs.  Now, those of you who have known me for a long time know that I always say that I raise children not plants.  What I mean by that is I have a black thumb.  I have killed a cactus.  How?  Who knows, but I did.  The amazing thing is I actually have had some luck with the heartier herbs the last two or three years so I thought I would get really adventurous and grow tomatoes. 

Growing tomatoes apparently takes quite a bit of direct sun each day and that is surprisingly difficult to find in my large yard.  One day I saw the Topsy Turvy Tomato Planter advertised and I thought I might give it a try.  I spoke with a few people who have tried them and most of them said they had been successful in growing tomatoes in the planter.  Well what the heck?  I thought that with this planter I could hang the plants high enough that the sun would reach it for at least 6 hours a day, that works.  Instead of ordering the planter online I looked at a few local stores and was happy to find them at Home Depot for $9.99 each (now on sale for $6.99).  I bought three planters, two tomato and one strawberry (for my herbs). 

Tara and helped plant the tomatoes and herbs and Ryan helped hang them.  Luckily Ryan has taken on the watering of the plants and therefore they have had less contact with my black thumb than usual.  What I have found is that the heartier herbs did fairly well but the others may have been a bit shocked and have now been cut down.  The tomatoes on the other hand have done very well.  I planted tomatoes that grow to about 3-4 inches in diameter (can't for the life of me remember the name) and cherry tomatoes.  The pictures show the tomatoes after Nathan has picked several and the cherry tomatoes we have been eating for a few weeks.  I never had to worry about bugs eating the plants, they were trouble free (my favorite) and are producing beautifully. 

I would say it was a success.  I will have to buy a new planter or two for next year in order grow even more. After all they seem to be Laura proof.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Texas Sheet Cake

My first memory of this wonderful cake is when my great aunt Dorothy would visit from Alaska.  I remember being fascinated that this cake was made on what I knew as a cookie sheet.  The first bite was wonderful as was the last.  As I got older Aunt Dorothy's visits became more infrequent and I forgot about this cake, most of the time.  On occasion I would remember this cake and wonder why I hadn't made it in so long, and each time I did make it I swore I would do it more often.

A few weeks ago I thought of this cake and decided to make it. But life happens and each time I went to make it I realized I had STILL not bought any confectioners' sugar.  How is it that I can't remember to buy sugar?!?  Then the remodeling began.  Have I ever told you how much I hate remodeling?  Never mind moving on....... 

Anyway..........My daughter, Tara got a card from Aunt Dorothy for graduation earlier this week and of course the first thing that came to mind again was this cake. So, yesterday I went to the grocery store just to buy sugar, no excuses this cake was being made.  Now you may wonder what the big deal is.  Well, I really can't say exactly, except....... it is just wonderful.  It is sweet, chocolaty, moist and tender and oh so easy to make.  How often do you find something like that?

Tara decided she was going to help me make this cake.  Now, just to be clear, this cake is super easy so help is not really needed.  I told Tara to go ahead and start it and I would be there to guide her if she needed it.  In the end all I did was break the eggs, sift the confectioners' sugar, whisk the icing a little and scrape the bowl.  It was as if our roles where reversed and I was a small child "helping" mommy cook.  The cake was perfect, of course, and Tara and her boyfriend decided they needed to find a way to sell it.  

The origin of this cake is not known and there are many versions out there.  Some use buttermilk, shortening or add cinnamon and there even are vanilla versions (why, who knows but I guess it works for some).  The recipe I have here is what I found works best for me.  Is it low fat and low calorie?.......Uummm, NO but worth every bite.

Keep in mind it may not look like much, but the simple flavors come together perfectly and will satisfy any chocolate or sweets craving.  Go ahead give it a try, you won't regret it.

Texas Sheet Cake

1 cup butter
1 cup water
1/4 cup cocoa
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla

Icing:

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbls milk
1 lb box (4 to 4 1/4 cups) confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp vanilla
chopped pecans, optional ( I usually don't add these)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a jelly roll pan (17-1/2" x 12-1/2" x 1").  If you like you can line the bottom of the pan with parchment or wax paper but I find if you spray it well with oil it works fine.

In a sauce pan, combine the butter, water and cocoa over medium heat until the butter is melted.  Do not allow it to boil.  In a separate bowl, combine the sugar, flour, salt, and baking soda.  Add the butter mixture to the dry ingredients, then mix in the eggs, sour cream and vanilla. Mix well.  Be careful, it will be hot.  Pour into jelly roll pan and spread evenly.  Bake 20 mins or until toothpick comes out clean.  Be careful not to over bake, you want it to be moist.

While the cake is baking, in a saucepan combine the butter cocoa and milk for the icing.  Cook over medium heat and bring to a boil.  Immediately remove from heat and combine with sifted confectioners' sugar.  Add vanilla.  Mix well to remove lumps.  

As soon as you remove the cake from the oven and place it on a rack to cool pour the icing over the HOT cake, spreading evenly.  If you would like pecans you may sprinkle them over the top at this point or if you like you can mix them in the icing before pouring it over the cake.

Allow cake to cool about 20 to 30 minutes and serve.  This cake is good served warm or cold.  

I have mixed, baked, iced and served this cake in one hour.  It is a perfect dessert to throw together and serve quickly.