Monday, December 16, 2013

Oh Christmas Tree...

Admittedly, I wasn't going to put up a Christmas Tree this year while living in a rental; ornaments packed, no room for our traditional tree and with all I have going on for work and building a home, the idea was overwhelming.  However, one evening while I was flipping through channels to find something on, I came across one of my favorite movies...Eloise at Christmastime.
You can't help but get in the spirit after watching this precocious six year old spread good cheer throughout the Plaza Hotel.  I thought of my grands and how they would indeed expect a Christmas tree and wouldn't you know, during one of the commercials was an ad for Balsam Hill artificial trees.  I ordered a 4 1/2-foot because our daughter told me that our youngest granddaughter likes to "throw" the Christmas balls off the lower limbs!  Her tree is now bare below the level this almost 2 year old can reach!

The Christmas Tree is certainly a symbol of the season--traced backed to the 16th or possibly the 15th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes.  It is speculated that the tree originated in Germany and it was the reformer Martin Luther, according to the History channel, who "first added lighted candles" to it.

Interestingly, the custom of the tree didn't flourish in Great Britain until the marriage of Victoria to her German cousin, Prince Albert in 1841.  In 1847, Prince Albert wrote that he must seek an "echo" of what he and his brother, Ernest had felt with their delight of the Christmas tree in their home.

In North America, the town of Windsor Locks, Connecticut claims they had the first Christmas tree when a Hessian soldier put one up in 1777 while imprisoned.  Additionally, there are several more accounts throughout the colonies of trees being used at Christmas time and laying claim to the first tree in America--from Lancaster, Pennsylvania to Boston, Massachusetts.

If you can't settle the argument when the first tree was put up, how about when is the correct time to decorate your tree.  Would it surprise you to know that most trees were decorated on Christmas Eve?  I know after I was married that's exactly what my hubby's family did.  Our own family went with the Advent Calendar to determine the time...which meant sometime after Thanksgiving.

Only since the 20th century in the United States has it become common to decorate evergreen trees outside.  The National Christmas Tree has been lit each year since 1923 on the South Lawn of the White House.  Furthermore, some cities organize a Festival of Trees for charity events, which may have its roots from Manchester, England who sent a tree and money to buy chocolate and cakes for the children of the much-bombarded town of Lillie in northern France after the Armistice in 1918.

Our home maybe lacking some decorations, but at least the tree is up and now, the baking begins.  I would love to hear what special decorations you have on your Christmas tree and the story behind them while you listen to...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNeLKCqsPJM
(BTW...it's sitting on top of my antique silver chest that was in my mother's family.  I helped my grandfather reconstruct one of the lion's head, carved in wood, that had been broken.) Happy Holidays to All!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Lemon~Pecan Tea Loaf & December's Apron Give-Away

A rainy day...and thanking Mother Nature that we're not in the path of snow...left me thinking something baked would be delightful. I teetered between chocolate and lemon, but after talking with my sister this morning, I decided on lemon, which is her favorite.

Besides cranberries, pumpkin and gingerbread, I like to bake with citrus fruits during the holiday season. Today they brought back memories of getting oranges (and apples) in my stocking and my mother baking her infamous Lemon Cheesecake. After watching the weather channel this morning--yes, I'm one of those people!, the meteorologist was saying what beautiful weather Florida was having, in fact, the hottest in the country at 85 degrees and the citrus growers were thankful--which I took as a sign!  Lemons remind me of sunshine, which I was so hoping for, and after baking this tea loaf, that's exactly what it tasted like.

Lemon~Pecan Tea Loaf
Preheat oven to 325F-degrees.  Butter and line a "Pullman" loaf pan with parchment paper, then, butter again.  You could also use a mini Bundt pan or muffin pan.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1-3 oz. box Instant Jell-O Lemon Pudding
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon (use the other half in the glaze)
2 1/2 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup yogurt or sour cream
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup Lemon Bits
3/4 cup Pecans, chopped
In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the sugar, butter and oil until fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time and mix thoroughly, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.  Add the pudding, lemon zest and lemon juice (about 1 1/2-2 T) and mix well.

Add the dry ingredients with the yogurt/milk and mix on medium speed until combined.  Stir in the lemon bits and chopped pecans.  Spoon into the prepared pan.
 Bake for 70-75 minutes or until a wooden skewer comes out cleanly from the center.  Allow to cool about 10 minutes before turning out onto a serving platter.
 A lovely slice of this tea load is all I needed to excite me to get busy and sew this month's apron.  Even though I haven't done much decorating in the rental, the colors in this apron spoke volumes of the holiday.  Post a comment during this month and you will could be baking with this apron in January!
Stay warm and take a break with a cup of tea, cocoa, or as my sister prefers, coffee with a slice of this merry little tea loaf. Enjoy!


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Pistachio~Cranberry Bundt Cake & November's Apron Winner

Baking cakes in a mold actually began in Europe; Gugelhupf, a brioche-like cake, formed in a particular shape pre-dates this North American version introduced in the late 50s and 60s.  The credit goes to the Dalquist brothers, H. David and Mark, who co-founded the Nordic Ware Company in 1940.  In 1950, along with engineer Don Nygren, they came up with this mold done in cast aluminum.  However, it wasn't until Ella Helfrich, in 1966, would make it popular with her Tunnel of Fudge Cake for a Pillsbury Bake-Off.  Suddenly, there were over 200,000 requests for the cake mold and to date, more than 60 million have been sold!  Just so you know for next year, November 15th, is National Bundt Day:-D

I created this Bundt Cake to  celebrate the holidays, not only with cranberries, but added pistachios to give it the familiar red and green colors we've come to associate with the season.  I have to say, the flavors combine wonderfully and my hubby couldn't help but remark how amazing it looked.

Pistachio~Cranberry Bundt Cake
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room tempreature
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups granulated sugare
3 large eggs
1-3oz.pkg. Instant Pistachio Jell-O Pudding
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. Pistachio Flavoring  or 1/2 tsp. almond flavoring
3 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. Kosher salte
1 cup buttermilk (you can add 1 tsp. Apple Cider Vinegar to milk if you don't have buttermilk)
1 1/2 cups cranberries, halved
1/2 cup pistachios, chopped

Glaze:
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 T light Karo Syrup
2-3 T hot water
1-2 drops of green food coloring, if desired
1/4 cup pistachios, chopped

Preheat oven to 350F-degrees.  Spray a 12-cup Bundt Pan with a baking spray.
 
Cut washed, dried and picked over cranberries in half

In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter, oil and sugar together until fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating them into the batter.  Add the flavorings and the pudding mix and beat at medium speed for 1 minute.  Scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula.

Mix the dry ingredients and mix, alternately with the buttermilk (or soured milk), starting and ending with the dry ingredients.  Stir in the cranberries and chopped pistachios.  Spoon into the prepared baking pan and smooth the top.
Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until a wooden skewer comes out cleanly when poked into the center.
 I love seeing that pale green color, dotted with the red cranberries!  Allow the cake to cool about 10 minutes before turning out onto a serving platter.
Mix up the glaze and slowly pour over the top of the cake.  Sprinkle with additional chopped pistachios to complete the dessert.

Now, for the important part of this post--November's winner of the apron is Mrs. Sparrow! Please email me your address so I can send this gift from my heart to you!

I will have December's apron up this weekend, for sure; life is a little hectic finishing up projects for the big trade show I attend in January, picking out finishes for our home...I did kitchen cabinets, countertops and tile this week, and of course, holiday shopping.  Stay warm and bake. Enjoy!

Old Fashioned Soft Oatmeal~Raisin~Pecan Cookies

I love crunchy chocolate chip cookies, but my oatmeal cookies need to be soft and chewy. Yes, I'm quirky, but if you have the same...