Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Valentine's Day Cake for Exhausted Cooks

If you are looking for a pretty but extremely easy dessert this Valentine's Day, this is your cake.
 When time is short and tempers are frayed,
 the exhausted cook needs a repertoire of fast, gorgeous recipes.
 This cake is is your new best friend. It's delicious and takes five minutes to assemble.

I'm supposed to be dieting, but I couldn't resist!

Easy Valentine's Day Cake
1 grocery store pound cake (make sure it has a hole in the center)
raspberry jam
Jell-O vanilla pudding
1 box raspberries
1 large carton Cool Whip or 2 small cartons

Cut the cake in half. Place bottom half on a cake plate (put waxed paper around the bottom to keep your icing from making a mess). Spread a thick layer of jam. Now spread a layer of vanilla pudding. I used the ready made product from the grocery's dairy case. Now, place fresh raspberries over the pudding. Sliced strawberries would be delicious, too.
Set the top layer on the cake. "Ice" with cool whip. Set a small juice glass in the center of the cake. Pour a little water into the "vase" and add flowers (advise your guests not to consume the flowers!).
Remove the waxed paper.
It's that easy. 
 What's your favorite Valentine's Day cake?

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Painted Brick House: Choosing Colors

I have a love/hate relationship with paint colors. Just looking at a fan deck can set off a maelstrom. I become indecisive, rash, conservative, edgy, remorseful. And, I fall in love too easily with inappropriate hues.

So when my husband gave me a "honey do" list for our house-to-be, Rattlebridge Farm,
and "paint brick exterior" was item number one, I felt elated and angsty
No, we wouldn't paint it ourselves (we're out of shape Baby Boomers, plus we're skittish of tall ladders), but I'd need to get estimates and select exterior colors.

In theory, I love the process, even though I dither for weeks over paint decks, comparing near-identical shades of beige. Sometimes a bold fit will sweep through me, and I'll paint a room terra cotta or chocolate. Or I'll pick something safe. I am still shell-shocked from choosing a neutral stucco color for our present home. This happened years ago, but I can still remember how my hands shook when I selected a creamy shade from a tiny sample card. I'd assumed the color would be true, but I ended up with a house that resembled royal icing.
Time and dirt has given the stucco a lovely patina, thank goodness. However,
I learned two lessons:

1) Color chips lie.
2) Outdoor light transforms colors--drastically.

All these years later, here I am, facing another paint dilemma, so I did homework. Which color will work on our brick? Should it be bold or neutral?
Maybe I should add soft color? I love blue shutters.
Traditional colors are timeless and elegant. I can't go wrong with this combo.

Or I could make a smallish, but significant statement.
Decisions, decisions.
After studying the fan deck, I drove to the paint store. Sherwin Williams has a "Nashville" collection, and I was drawn to Tennessee Limestone (which resembles Amazing Gray) and Cumberland (close to Halcyon Green).
Zap plopped down on the color folder, right over Belle Meade Green.

I also liked Ramie, which appeared to be a warm, not-too-dark beige.

I bought small sample tubs and made a crude color board. But when I painted samples, I had misgivings about defiling the pretty bricks. Plus, the colors (surprise!) didn't match the paint chips. Ramie (left) turned out to be a pretty shade of yellow, and Tennessee Limestone (right) was a cool, chalky white.

I started eliminating colors.

I came up with a plan. What about tinkering with Tennessee Limestone and pairing it with either Urbane Bronze or Cumberland (aqua)?

From the top: Ramie, Tennessee Limestone,
 and Tinkered Tennessee Limestone (bottom):
The tinkered mix turned out to be neutral and creamy, not too dark and not too light. I'd found the paint color for the bricks. But what about shutters?

I'd envisioned something different for Rattlebridge. It's a farm, hemmed in by two creeks and a pond. Wouldn't aqua or blue-green be lovely for the shutters? What about Cumberland? Surely it could hold up against the tinkered Limestone.

Just to be safe, I also got a few other samples. I started with Belle Meade Green, which my husband loved, but it looked navy. I'd been hoping for a deep, dark green.

 Tricorn Black seemed harsh. I'm not sure why.
By the time I painted a swatch of Urbane Bronze, an icy wind was kicking up, and I only painted a thin coat (bottom photo).

I wasn't pleased with the results.
I cannot control the light
or those liar-liar-pants-on-fire paint chip colors.

Of the three colors, Urbane Bronze seemed like the best choice. But I wanted to keep looking.

I emailed photos to my friend Allison, the shopping editor for Atticmag
Allison is a talented lady, and I'm grateful that she's been advising me about Rattlebridge Farm. Here's a tour of her Amazing Home. Her kitchen is, hand's down, my favorite. Here's a peek at that gorgeous room.

Allison thought Cumberland was pretty but a tad beachy (after all, Rattlebridge is in Tennessee). Belle Meade Green looked navy to her, too. I kept clinging to Cumberland.
Here's the thing about dark shutters.  From the road, a dark blue-green like
Belle Meade Green
will appear black.
The eye slides right over dark shutter colors and registers them as pleasing; but people will notice pastel or strong shutters. It's a love/hate thing.
Shutter color (or any color, really) comes down to two things:
Do you want to be safe
do you want to take a risk?

If you love risky color, you must love that color, then be confident in your choice and ignore the inevitable criticism.
But what if you are married to the critic?

My husband voted for Belle Meade Green but agreed that Tricorn Black was too much of a contrast for the house and setting. He thought Cumberland was too "girly."

Allison always discovers things I miss, and she said that Urbane Bronze would work with the setting and the coppery-brown gutters.

I'm thinking board-and-batten shutters will add a rustic touch to the painted brick house.

The wildness in me longed to tinker with Cumberland, so I did. The result was way too green.
My Yorkies are still ailing, and I won't spend hours in a paint store, searching for the perfect shade of pale blue. Also, let's be really real: I would go through twenty of those little $6 paint tubs. Even then, I might not find a tint that can handle the light and shadows at Rattlebridge.

I'd hoped to pick an audacious color, but I'm caving. The shutters will be Urbane Bronze. And I'm content. Besides, I've got to prepare for an Upcoming Color Dilemma.

I'm testing colors for the foyer.
It's a small, dark place, but white paint and a glass door will brighten the area. SW's Snowbound is a front-runner. It's creamy yet neutral. Pure White looks promising, too.
Shoji White might work in an adjacent room. But I am loving Snowbound.

That's the crux of paint--the DIY decorator must test samples
and study them in all kinds of light.
Then, if you are very, very lucky, and if the stars and moon are aligned, you might find a color that pleases your eye, soothes your loved ones, and works with your space.

A Metamorphosis Monday contribution.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Foodie Friday: Stopping by the Kitchen on a Snowy Evening, a Guest Post by Shirley Hailstock


Welcome to the January 20th Foodie Friday. I'm so glad you're
here, because I have a special treat, a guest post by author Shirley Hailstock. Shirley and I have been friends for over 30 years, long before we were published authors, and when we aren't discussing the writing business, we're talking about food.
The other day, Shirley made Cinnabons in her bread machine. We were talking on the phone, and I could almost smell the cinnamon. I immediately invited her to write a guest post for Foodie Friday, then I made a batch of Cinnabons for Bandwidth (Dr. G and I are still dieting. We sent one batch of rolls to his office).

Please give Shirley a warm welcome!


Stopping by the Kitchen on a Snowy Evening

A Guest Post by Bestselling Author Shirley Hailstock

Picture this – a roaring fire in the hearth, one that glows and turns the room into a place as cozy as a your favorite sweatshirt. You know, the one you’ve had since college that’s worn at the elbows and nowhere near the color it was when it was new. Big fluffy flakes of snow falling like feathers from the sky and coating the ground and windowsills until the world is marshmallow white. Warm cinnamony smells emanating from a country kitchen and wafting throughout the house making it an edible wonderland.

These are some of my favorite things. I grew up in snow country – the wilds of Buffalo, New York. We know snow. But in conjunction with that, we learned things to do when the weather keeps you indoors. Most of them are fat free, but there is one that is delicious enough for you to brave the treadmill for an extra mile in order to eat it.

For me the scenario of snow, fireplace and kitchen goodies is one of my favorites. It means contrasting the outside by baking something sweet, gooey, and loaded with mouth-watering calories. I tend to gravitate toward cinnamon rolls. I love baking cakes, muffins, cookies and bread, but cinnamon rolls are my snowy day indulgence. Inhaling that sweet air as the cinnamon and sugar melt and bubble up and the dough changes to bread is an experience eclipsed only by curling up in front of the fire with the picture window in full view, my fingers wrapped around a hot cup of coffee and biting into an icing-laden cinnamon roll.

We had just such a day recently. It snowed.

The snow didn’t last, didn’t even coat the ground, but the moment I saw the white flakes, memories of my childhood came flooding back. Just like your best Christmas memory, the thought of cinnamon rolls popped into my mind and had me opening one cabinet after another. I pulled out my recipe for Cinnabons and checked that all the necessary ingredients were in house. If they weren’t, the urge was so strong I was willing to drive to the grocery store and buy them. Luckily, my well-stocked kitchen had everything I needed and I got to work, just like Santa’s elves on the day before Christmas Eve.

I made the dough in the bread machine. This was my first time using it for this purpose and it proved a God-send. The dough was perfect, elastic but not sticky, exactly the way you want it when you knead and knead and knead. This time without the effort. The machine even handled the first rise. And the elasticity made it easier to roll/create the required rectangle before adding the sugar-cinnamon mixture. I often have problem forming dough into a rectangle when it wants to be a circle.

Apparently, this was the kind of day when the universe was aligned and everything was working in my favor. The bonus was a mouth-watering dessert that proved a crowd-pleaser with every member of my family. There are times when snow is a good thing.


I live in New Jersey now. We get snow a few times in the winter. It’s usually heavy and will close businesses for a day. At my office once we talked about the foods we love to cook and eat on snow days. For me it was the cinnamon rolls. What is your snowy day favorite?

If cinnamon rolls are as mouth-watering for you as they are for me, I’ve included the recipe below. Bon-appetite.


Cinnabons (Bread Machine)

Ingredients - Dough

1 package yeast

1 cup warm milk

3 eggs (room temperature)

1/2 cup butter or margarine (melted)

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

5 cups flour

Place above ingredients in bread machine in the order presented. Consult manufacturers directions to make dough. Allow it to run through the first rise. Remove from machine and place on a lightly floured surface while you make the sugar mixture below.

Ingredients - Sugar Mixture

1 cup brown sugar - packed

3 tablespoons cinnamon

½ cup butter or margarine (softened)

Combine the brown sugar and cinnamon, mixing until they are smooth and even. Mixture will be crumbly (no clumps). Roll out the dough, creating a 16x20 rectangle. Spread the butter or margarine over the dough. Top it with the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Beginning at the short end (width), roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Cut into 12 rolls and place in a slightly greased 9x13 pan. Let rise until doubled. Pre-heat oven at 400 degrees. Bake rolls 15-20 minutes or until golden brown and sugar mixture is bubbly.

Ingredients - Icing

4oz cream cheese (softened)

1/3 cup butter

1 ½ cup confectioners sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla flavor (I use pure vanilla not the extract)

1/8 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, place the above ingredients. Using a hand mixer, beat until they are smooth and have the consistency of eggnog or chocolate milk (store bought milk). It’s a little thick.When the rolls have cooled enough to touch, but are still warm, pour the icing over them and spread it over the top. It doesn’t need to be even. The thickness is based on your taste for icing.

Serve warm. Coffee, tea or milk is optional.

Shirley Hailstock is the author of 26 novels, none of them about cooking and only one of that includes a recipe. She loves cooking for large crowds, generally for holidays. However, she goes on jags and cooks something special every now and then. This time it was cinnamon rolls, yet there's a story in her muffins and muffin tops that's the subject of another blog. Her most recent novel is Some Like Them  Rich.

Thank you so much for stopping by Foodie Friday today. I'm trying to talk Shirley into blogging about her adventures in the kitchen; if you'd like to help me convince her, please leave Shirley a message!

 If you are contributing a recipe this week, click on the blue Inlinkz frog (below) and follow the instructions. If this is your first time to participate in Foodie Friday, or if you aren't sure how to add a permalink, a short tutorial is available. If you are linking a recipe to Foodie Friday, a FF button can be found on the sidebar. If you'd like to add it, simply copy-and-paste the code beneath the button (located on the right-hand sidebar).
Happy Recipe Hunting!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Winter Cooking at Foodie Friday

 Welcome to the January 6th Foodie Friday. How's the weather in your part of the world?
Here at Bald Hill Farm, it's been chilly, but temperatures are supposed to rise tomorrow. I'm looking forward to a little warmth.
Winter is a time of hunkering down and looking inward. It's a time to look at the duality of things--ice is brutally cold and rips down power lines, but Mother Nature is also quite pretty.

 Winter air can clear the sinuses and the spirit. It's A Good Thing to get outside and get moving.

I have a small gift for everyone at Foodie Friday this wintery day--a free e-cookbook (with some tablescaping and design ideas).

Please ignore Lulu's "buy/purchase" sticker--the ebook is totally free. You can download the ebook or just leaf through the pages (see below):

Free e-cookbook: http://www.lulu.com/product/ebook/winter-notebook-recipes-tablescapes-for-exhausted-people/6316115?showPreview

What's your favorite winter activity?
Do you look at gardening catalogs and dream? Do you curl up with a cookbook and a cup of hot chocolate?
Thank you so much for stopping by Foodie Friday today.  If you are contributing a recipe, click on the blue Inlinkz frog (below) and follow the instructions. If this is your first time to participate in Foodie Friday, or if you aren't sure how to add a permalink, a short tutorial is available. If you are linking a recipe to Foodie Friday, please add the FF button to your post (see below). The button can be found on the sidebar.
Happy Recipe Hunting!