Friday, December 2, 2016

G is for Gingerbread

I'm getting in high gear and so is the class for upcoming Gingerbread festivities in Room 101. Here are two previous gingerbread men other classes have made. 

I always enjoy the variety of enrichment activities related to the gingerbread man provided by the teacher.

Cook's notes: The fragrance of a Gingerbread Cake baking brings out the flavors of the season. The cake can be iced or frosted with cream cheese.   
Gingerbread is said to have been invented by the Greeks around 2800 B.C. At one time gingerbread was made with breadcrumbs and sweetened with honey, but as it made its way throughout the world it was adapted to meet the tastes of different cultures. That is why if you sample gingerbread in a country other than your own it may not look or taste as you expected. It can be a bread, a spicy sweet cake or a molded/shaped cookie that can range from light colored with just a touch of spice to dark colored and very spicy. 

In England and North America, they like to make Gingerbread with either treacle or molasses instead of the original honey. The British favor treacle which has a much stronger taste and darker color than the milder tasting and lighter colored molasses that we like in America. Ground ginger is always present and, at least in America, ground cinnamon and often times ground cloves.

Old Fashioned Gingerbread Cake
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 2- 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1-2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. teaspoon Saigon cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup mild-flavored molasses
  • 1 TB. orange or lemon zest
  • 1-1/4 cups water or coffee
  • optional 1 cup raisins
Lemon Icing/Glaze Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 TB. fresh lemon juice
Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients:
  • 3 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. grated lemon or orange zest
  • milk

    Cake Directions:
    • Allow butter and eggs to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
    • Grease a 13x9 baking pan.
    • In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, zest and cloves; set aside
    • In a mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds
    • Add sugar; beat until well combined. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition and add molasses; beat until well combined.
    • Alternately add flour mixture and water or coffee to butter mixture; beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. 
    • Pour into prepared pan and bake @ 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean.
    • Serve warm with lemon icing/glaze or a cream cheese frosting.
    Icing Directions:
    • Whisk all ingredients until smooth
    Cream Cheese Frosting:
    • Beat all ingredients until smooth. Add milk a few tablespoons at a time until the desired consistency. 
     Consider this alternative: Guinness Gingerbread Stout Cake-previously posted
    The cake is flavorful and moist, the perfect dessert for fall and winter. The most unusual thing about this recipe is that stout is substituted for the water or coffee used in most gingerbread recipes. I find it adds a lot of richness and underscores the spices.

    Thursday, December 1, 2016

    Updates for Medjool Dates

    Yesterday's posting on Medjool Dates sparked reader interest on dates and where to buy them. So it prompted me to do some investigating.  
    Dates are the fruit of the date palm tree and are grown primarily in dry, arid regions, such as the Middle East and parts of California. Though dates are often used as an ingredient in sweets and other recipes, they offer several nutritional benefits when eaten fresh and pitted.

    There are many varieties of dates available worldwide, but the Medjool date is one of two of the most commercially produced varieties within the U.S. The other most commonly produced is the Deglet Noor date, but Medjools are larger, softer and sweeter.

    Medjool dates can be consumed fresh or dried, and it’s common for them to be dried, which lengthens their life span and prevents early spoilage. Medjool dates have a deep brown skin color with a flavor that can be described as caramel-like. When holding a dried medjool date in your hand, you first feel its firm yet wrinkled texture, but don’t make any quick judgments — upon biting into a medjool date, you will see that the inside is actually moist and meaty.

    Medjool dates are packed full of vitamins, minerals and fiber, the health benefits are remarkable. These edible sweet fruits of the date palm tree make great natural sweeteners and sugar alternatives. Not only delicious but have also been proven to decrease cholesterol and boost bone health — and these are just a couple of the many reasons to add Medjool dates to your diet.

    My biggest surprise in further reading was the health benefit- increase in fiber. Dates are loaded with fiber. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, just one pitted date contains 1.6 g of fiber, or 6 percent of the recommended daily intake. Fiber is known for its ability to help lower cholesterol and fight and prevent obesity, heart disease and colorectal cancer.

    With that being said Medjool Dates are a little pricier than regular dates. Another surprise was their availability. Generally they are in organic produce section of the grocery store. 
    This is not a complete list but some places to get you started
    All Traders Joes stores
    Upper Midwest Brainerd/ Baxter/Walker/Pequot Lakes    
    Cub Foods-Super One-Life Preserve Natural Foods (Brainerd) Crow Wing Food Co.  (Brainerd)
    Twin Cites, MN
    Hy Vee, Cub Foods, Kowalski, Byerys
    Florida/Southern Region
    East Coast
    West Coast

    My friend Denise weighed in today on the availability of Medjool Dates with a very good alternative. 
    Medjool dates are hard to find. Any large dates will work fine. I made this at Sonoma culinary school in CA- just insert Asiago cheese in the slit date; brush applewood smoked bacon with smoked paprika on 1 side & cut bacon into 3 pieces; wrap each date with 1 piece of bacon , with paprika side against date; secure bacon with toothpick & roast at 425 about 6 min until bacon browned on bottom, then turn dates and roast until bacon is cooked , about 5 min. Longer. Transfer to plate; cool slightly. Remove toothpicks. Delicious and easy!

    Thanks Denise this recipe sounds delicious!

    Wednesday, November 30, 2016

    Medjool Dates and Smokey Bacon-A Sweet and Savory Marriage

    It's All About the Bacon and the Medjool Dates

    Bacon and Cheese Stuffed Dates
    Cook;s notes:These delicious bite-size appetizers are prepared in less than 30 minutes. Holiday entertaining is a bit easier with make ahead directions. Follow all the preparation steps except do not bake the dates. Place stuffed dates in an airtight container, cover, and chill for up to 24 hours. Bake as directed just before serving.
    Recipe from Midwest Living
    • 2 slices bacon, crisp-cooked, drained, and finely crumbled, or 1/4 cup chopped prosciutto (2 ounces)
    • 1/4 cup thinly sliced green onion (2)
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese (2 ounces) or goat cheese
    • 1- 3 ounce package cream cheese, softened
    • 2 tsp. Dijon-style mustard
    • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
    • 24 Medjool dates (about 16 ounces unpitted)
    • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl stir together bacon, green onions, and garlic. Add blue cheese, cream cheese, mustard, and pepper to bacon mixture. Stir to combine.
    • Using a sharp knife, make a lengthwise slit in each date. Spread each date open slightly. Remove pits. Fill each date with a rounded teaspoon of the bacon mixture. Place dates filling sides up on a baking sheet. Bake, uncovered in the preheated oven for 5 to 8 minutes or until heated through. Serve warm. Makes 24 appetizers.

    Bacon Wrapped Dates with Goat Cheese
    Cook's notes: For crispier bacon, bake longer. Wrap bacon pieces around the dates 1.5 times. Recipe adapted from
    • 8 slices smokey flavored bacon 
    • 16 dates
    • 4 ounces goat cheese
    • toothpicks
    • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil otherwise there will be grease everywhere . 
    • Slice the dates lengthwise on one side to create an opening. Remove the pit.
    • Using a spoon, stuff a small amount of goat cheese into the cavity of each date and press the sides together to close.
    • Cut the bacon slices in half. Wrap each date with a slice of bacon and secure with a toothpick.
    • Arrange evenly on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the dates and use the toothpick to turn each one so it's laying on its side. Bake for another 5-8 minutes, until browned to your liking, and turn the dates to the other side and repeat. Remove from the oven, place on a paper towel lined plate, and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
    Bacon-Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Almonds
    Cook's notes: 
    Dates can be stuffed, wrapped, and kept refrigerated for up to 24 hours before baking.Recipe serves six as appetizers comes from
    • 24 Marcona almonds or regular almonds
    • 24 dried, pitted dates
    • 12 slices thick-cut bacon, cut in half (roughly 5-inch pieces)
    • Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.
    • Stuff an almond into each date. Wrap each date in half-slice of bacon and secure with a toothpick. Stick the toothpick through the date closer to one end, so as not to run into the almond in the middle.
    • Place dates on the baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, turning them over after halfway through, until the bacon is fully cooked and crispy. Baking time may be slightly longer or shorter depending on thickness of the bacon. Serve immediately.
    Thanks Sara for today's food inspiration! 

    Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) 
    Born on November 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri, Samuel L. Clemens wrote under the pen name Mark Twain and went on to author several novels, including two major classics of American literature: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He was also a riverboat pilot, journalist, lecturer, entrepreneur and inventor. Twain died on April 21, 1910, in Redding, Connecticut.

    Some interesting trivia from Writers Almanac
    Mark Twain favored white linen shirts and suits and smoked 20 cigars and countless pipes every day. He first fell in love with his wife, Olivia, when her brother showed him a photograph while they were on ship together. Twain said: "I do believe that young filly has broken my heart. That only leaves me with one option, for her to mend it." On their first outing together, he and Olivia went to a reading by Charles Dickens. She turned down his marriage proposals three times before accepting. For the rest of their lives together, she edited his novels, essays, and lectures.

    Tuesday, November 29, 2016

    A Burst of Literary Birthdays

    Today celebrates the birth date of Louisa May Alcott born November 29,1832. Coincidentally she and her father Bronson Alcott share the same birth date. 

    For her books, Alcott was often inspired by familiar elements. The characters in "Little Women" are recognizably drawn from family members and friends. However, Alcott's portrayal, even if inspired by her family, is an idealized one. For instance, Mr. March is portrayed as a hero of the American Civil War, a gainfully employed chaplain and, presumably, a source of inspiration to the women of the family. He is absent for most of the novel.
    In contrast, Bronson Alcott was very present in his family's household, due in part to his inability to find steady work. While he espoused many of the educational principles touted by the March family, he was loud and dictatorial. His lack of financial independence was a source of humiliation to his wife and daughters. As was common at the time, Louisa had little formal education. She was taught mainly by her father using his unconventional ideas about education. She read from the library of neighbor Ralph Waldo Emerson and learned botany from Henry David Thoreau.
    Louisa early on realized that her father's flighty educational and philosophical ventures could not adequately support the family so she sought ways to provide financial stability. She wrote short stories for magazines and published a collection of fables she'd originally written as tutor for Ellen Emerson, Ralph Waldo Emerson's daughter.

    The March family is portrayed living in genteel penury, but the Alcott family, dependent on an improvident, impractical father, suffered real poverty and occasional hunger. In addition to her own childhood and that of her sisters, scholars who have come across the diaries of Louisa Alcott's mother, have surmised that Little Women was also heavily inspired by Abigail Alcott's own early life.

    C.S. Lewis was a British novelist, scholar, writer of pro-Christian texts and poet but best known for the Chronicles of Narnia series, seven volumes of stories about young children who find entry to another world through an old wardrobe. They meet a magisterial lion named Aslan who asks for their help in battling evil. Aslan says, "I never tell anyone any story except his own."

    Lewis was born Clive Staples Lewis in Belfast, Ireland Nov. 29, 1898. His mother died when he was young and he spent much of his time at boarding school, where his headmaster wielded a cane and admonished students to "Think!"
    Before becoming a scholar of classics at Oxford University, Lewis served as an infantryman in World War I. He was wounded in the back, he said, "oddly enough by a British shell." He became lifelong friends with writer J.R.R. Tolkien, and they met weekly at Oxford for tea and literary discussion with other writers for 16 years. They called themselves "The Inklings."
    Madeleine L’Engle (1918-2007) was an American author of young adult fiction, Christian fiction, science fiction, poetry and non-fiction. She is the author of the Time Quintet and Austin Family series. She started writing when she was eight years old, keeping a journal. Because she was shy, clumsy as a child, she was considered to be stupid by her teachers, causing her to spend more time reading and writing. After a career that was not going well financially, L’Engle was strongly considering retiring from writing on her 40th birthday, but soon came up with the idea for what would become her best-known work, "A Wrinkle in Time." The young adult novel won the Newbery Award.
    Cheddar-Veggie Appetizer Torte
    Cook's notes: Check out this  easy appetizer recipe.  It's a quiche like torte baked in a springform pan served warm or cold. Perfect for holiday entertaining.

    Monday, November 28, 2016

    Seasonal Plate

    A Festive Holiday Meal from the Seasonal Plate
    Pork Loin Steaks with Cherry-Plum Sauce
    Cook’s notes: The Cherry-Plum Sauce can be made 1- 2 days ahead. Refrigerate covered. If it’s too thick, add water, a little at a time until it reaches desired consistency. The sauce is enough for 4 loin steaks. Recipe adapted from Southern Living 2015. 


    • 4 Pork Loin Steaks 
    Cherry-Plum Sauce
    • 1-1/2 tsp. olive oil
    • ½ cup shallots, diced or sweet onion
    • 2 garlic cloves, minced
    • 1 (5 oz.) package dried tart cherries
    • 1/2 cup plum jam
    • 1 TB. dark balsamic vinegar or Black Cherry Balsamic Vinegar
    • 1-1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
    • Salt and pepper to taste 
    • 1 cup water mixed with 1 TB. cornstarch
    • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
    • Sauté shallots or onions and garlic in hot oil in a saucepan over medium heat for  2 minutes or until softened. Stir in cherries and the next 5 ingredients. 
    • Bring cherry mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring often, 5 minutes or until mixture has thickened slightly and cherries are plumped. Divide sauce and pour half over pork. Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes. To serve spoon rest of the sauce over pork. Refrigerate any leftovers. 

    Wild Rice Salad with Mixed Greens,Blueberries and Clementine Segments  
    Cook’s notes: This refreshing salad combines greens and grains packed with lots of nutrients. Kale can be substituted for mixed greens. As a time saver; make wild rice ahead, refrigerate until needed and toast pecans. Dressing ingredients can be easily doubled.

    Plate each salad individually rather than using a salad bowl. Recipe serves four.

    Salad Ingredients:

    • 3 cups cooked wild rice
    • 1 pint blueberries
    • 3 clementines, peeled segmented and halved
    • 1 cup diced red onions
    • ½ cup each diced sweet red and yellow mini bell peppers
    • ½ cup toasted pecans
    • Mixed greens
    Citrus Dressing Ingredients:
    • 2 TB. white balsamic vinegar or Fig Balsamic Vinegar
    • 1 tsp. grated orange or clementine zest
    • 1/4 cup clementine, tangerine or orange juice
    • 1 garlic clove, minced
    • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil or Blood Orange Olive Oil 
    • 1/4 tsp. salt
    • 1/4 tsp.thyme
    • 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
    • 2 tsp. honey
    Salad Directions:
    • Mix wild rice, blueberries, clementines, onions and peppers in a bowl. 
    • On each serving plate place mixed greens. Top with wild rice mixture and sprinkle toasted pecans, drizzle with dressing. 
      Dressing Directions:
      • Mix all ingredients in a blender and drizzle over salad.

      Salted Caramel Eggnog Shooters
      Cook’s notes: Small dessert shooter glasses (3 inch high) are available at the Dollar Tree Store or use large shot glasses. The following recipe gives you just the right small bite with a big flavor to finish off your meal. And it solves the problem of what to do with leftover eggnog. Recipe makes six shooters.


      • 1 cup commercially prepared eggnog
      • 2 TB. sugar
      • 1-1/2 TB. cornstarch 
      • 1 jar Salted Caramel Ice Cream topping ( e.g. Smuckers) 
      • ¾ cup heavy cream, whipped or Reddi Whip 
      • Freshly grated nutmeg
      • Stacy’s Salted Caramel Pita Chips 
      • Combine the eggnog, sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan. Place over low heat and cook until mixture thickens. Remove from heat, place in a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Chill for 45 minutes. Stir to mix. 
      • Use a tiny spoon and layer twice: eggnog mixture, caramel topping and whip cream. Serve each shooter with a pita chip. 

      Sunday, November 27, 2016

      Weekend Round-Up

      I did my part for Shop Small on Saturday. Several places were even giving out canvas bags which I thought to be a great advertisement year round.
      Our Thanksgiving leftovers got a make over with Nancy Fuller's (Food Network September 2016)  Divine Chicken Divan. The recipe was adapted with turkey substituted for chicken. It's comfort food that serves 6-8 and perfect for chilly late autumn meals. Even picky vegetable eaters will embrace the dish.  
      Divine Turkey Divan
      Cook's notes: Julia Child would approve of this recipe with butter and cream in the ingredients. The wild rice and turkey are cooked ahead for easier preparation. It's a hearty company worthy dish packed with lots of flavor. 
      Topping Ingredients:
      • 3/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs e.g. Panko
      • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
      • 3/4 cup sliced almonds, crushed 
      Main Dish Ingredients:
      • 1 large head of broccoli cut into 2 inch florets, about 4-5 cups
      • 1 cup mushrooms, diced 
      • 4 TB. butter
      • 1/3 cup flour
      • 1 TB. chopped fresh sage or 1-1/2 tsp. dried herbes de Provence
      • 2 TB. white wine or sherry
      • 1 cup chicken broth. low sodium
      • 1 cup 2% milk
      • 1 cup heavy cream
      • salt and pepper to taste
      • pinch of nutmeg
      • 1 cup green scallions, chopped or 1 cup sweet onions, diced 
      • 1-1/2 cups shredded Gruyere, white cheddar or light Swiss cheese
      • 3 cups cooked meat chicken or turkey, diced
      • 2 cups cooked wild rice 
      • Mix topping ingredients and set aside.
      • Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a 2-1/2 qt. size baking pan.
      • In a large bowl add chopped turkey, broccoli florets, mushrooms and wild rice. Set aside. 
      • Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. When butter is melted add sage or herbes de Provence and let sizzle a minute. Add flour and cook roux 2-3 minutes avoid getting it brown. 
      • Add in wine or sherry and cook to reduce it away about 1 minutes.
      • Whisk in broth, milk cream, season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, whisking to make sure lumps are out. Cook on low heat until thickened about 6 minutes. Add a pinch of nutmeg.
      • Stir in scallions or onions and cheese. Cook until cheese is melted. Pour sauce over the broccoli, turkey, wild rice and mushrooms. 
      • Pour into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle topping evenly over the turkey mixture. 
      • Bake uncovered about 35 minutes.
      Week of Nov. 27th
      Recipes from the Seasonal Plate
      Holiday Appetizers
      Book Reviews:

      Friday, November 25, 2016

      Read Kids Classics

      I jumped on board for the 2016 Jump Into A Book ReadKidsClassics challenge.
      Valerie Budayr, children's book author, publisher, co-founder of Multicultural Children's Book Day and creator of jumpintoabook site originated this brilliant idea to encourage all ages to read children's classics. So far I've enjoyed
      March "Little Prince"
      April "Wind in the Willows"
      May:James and the Giant Peach"
      June "Adventures of Tom Sawyer"
      took a summer break and in
      September enjoyed rereading "Anne of Green Gables"
      October "Little Women"

      It's November and time for a review of "Tuck Everlasting, " a children's classic.  

      I was inspired to reread “Tuck Everlasting” after reading an obituary in the New York Times. The author, Natalie Babbitt, recently died Oct. 31, 2016. Babbitt was not only a talented writer but also an illustrator. She illustrated some of  Valerie Worth's children's poetry books.

      “Tuck Everlasting” is an American children’s novel published in 1975. It explores the concept of immortality. It is a cautionary tale that has sold over two million copies and has been called a classic of modern children's literature. “Tuck Everlasting” has been loved by children and parents for its honest, intelligent grappling with aging and death.

      "Tuck Everlasting" has inspired two feature films, released in 1981 and 2002 and three times into unabridged audio and has also been adapted into a Broadway musical.

      During Babbitt’s prolific literary career that has spanned four decades she has produced some 20 books, and illustrated over 10 books. Some of her accolades include Newberry Honor Award in 1971 and in 2013 the inaugural E.B. White Award.

      Babbitt was inspired to write Tuck when her 4 year old daughter woke from a nap crying because she was scared of dying. This was one of my favorite books to use in the classroom with fifth graders. It generated many interesting discussions on the universal themes of death and immortality.

      The storyline focus, doomed to - or blessed with - eternal life after drinking from a magic spring, finds the Tuck family wandering about trying to live as inconspicuously and comfortably as they can. When ten-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles on their secret, the Tucks take her home and explain why living forever at one age is less a blessing that it might seem. Angus Tuck and his family have been guarding their secret of longevity for many years. Complications arise when Winnie is followed by a stranger who wants to market the spring water for a fortune. Winnie is terrified of death. Angus, the family patriarch who considers immortality a curse for their family, tries to reassure Winnie that the great natural wheel of life must turn. They encourage her not to drink the water from the spring.

      Babbitt has written a highly engaging narrative filled with beautiful and descriptive language. It’s rather a quiet read with an emotional pull that draws the reader in. I loved Winnie's story, and seeing how just stepping outside of her fence made her world seem so much bigger until finally it's gigantic when she reaches the Tuck's cabin. Coming across Jesse Tuck in the woods and subsequently meeting the rest of the Tuck family showed Winnie a lot about life and choices.

      The characters in this charming book do not disappoint. Obviously I liked Winnie because she knows that she's not extraordinarily special. She's just Winnie Foster - the girl with an overprotective family, the girl who's not allowed to leave her yard and the girl who talks to toads. Jesse and his brother, Miles Tuck, are fun characters, but quite honestly I feel like I didn't really get to know them very well in the book, especially Miles. I wouldn't have minded a few more pages for Babbitt to explore them a little more. The man in the yellow suit is a mysterious, yet an intriguing character. I liked how Babbitt characterizes him, and I'm sure many kids will be able to figure him out before the conclusion of the novel. My favorite characters in the book were Tuck and Mae. They seemed like they genuinely cared about Winnie and her decision, although at one point I was concerned that they wanted to keep her.

      "Tuck Everlasting" is a book that all children should read in the later years of elementary school (or earlier if they are on the advanced track). Its short enough for kids to read in a few days, maybe even one day. It contains some important life questions to discuss such as is immortality a curse or a blessing?

      Something for you to think about:
      Do you think immortality would be a curse or a blessing? What if you were given the choice to age normally or halt your life at this moment and stay that way forever just by drinking a bit of water?