Category Archives: Recipes

The Great British Baking Show: Opera Cake Anyone?

Have you ever heard of the Great British Baking Show? I hadn’t until our son Joel introduced it to us last spring by showing us the final “round” from one season where the three contestants were to make “opera cakes.”  If you enjoy baking, you might enjoy this program, although they make things  that are way too complicated for me, as one who is a bit on the pragmatic side. I’d never heard of opera cake before, but on the show, the women dreamed up amazing cakes with seven tantalizing layers, everything from lemon to lavender, and peanut butter to chocolate. I was probably drooling while watching, but I didn’t think much about it until we were on a cruise of the Adriatic Sea the next month…and, guess what?! We were actually served a piece of traditional opera cake, which is a French cake made from layers of almond sponge cake soaked in coffee syrup and layered with ganache and coffee buttercream, then crowned with a chocolate glaze. It was one of those kiss-your-fingers desserts, and after I returned home, I thought sometime I should try it. However, I never have, but I’m still enamored with the idea, and sometime when I’m in a very festive mood and want to celebrate (and think I can afford the calories), I will definitely attempt it. Seven layers…what would you have? Mine would have layers of chocolate, peanut butter and strawberry cake with cherry, peach, and buttercream fillings topped with chocolate glaze. On The Great British Baking Show, the cakes were obviously supposed to be thin (and two of the three turned out too thin), but mine would look more like P.F. Chang’s Great Wall…and I wouldn’t mind that it wouldn’t win a prize on their show! If you ever make one, please send me a photo! If I ever make one, I’ll add it at the bottom. Happy baking.  🙂

2 Samuel 6:19, where David is celebrating the return of the ark: “And he dealt among all the people, even among the whole multitude of Israel, as well to the women as men, to every one a cake of bread, and a good piece of flesh, and a flagon of wine. So all the people departed every one to his house.” There are times when it’s good to celebrate!

Salmon with Spinach and Artichokes

Last Saturday I mentioned Chuck’s trick of combining favorites from your fridge for a new twist, and here’s what happened when I followed my own advice! If you love grilled salmon and guacamole as much as I do, try this sometime:

  1. Prepare some wonderful, homemade guacamole. (If you don’t have a a recipe, you can try mine, found here: https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2017/02/04/an-avocado-boat-of-ideas-especially-fantastic-guacamole-with-an-orange-twist/
  2. Grill your salmon (about 4-8 oz per serving, grilled 2-3 minutes per side) with your favorite spices. (I like fresh-squeezed lemon juice, Italian dressing, sea salt, Lawry’s seasoning salt, and lots of pepper, but that’s just me.)
  3. Prepare your veggies while the fish is grilling. (You’ll probably need to assemble all the items so the cooking time is just 5-6 minutes.) This includes:
    1. 1 chopped onion (this recipe will serve 4-6) sauteed in 2 tablespoons of butter until nicely browned. Add
    2. 6 oz fried, chopped bacon (optional but good if you eat pork; you can also fry this with the onion and cut the bacon in pieces after it’s crisp, but that takes an additional 5+ minutes, so cook it before you start the fish)
    3. 1 can quartered artichoke hearts (drained)
    4. 8 oz. cherry tomatoes (sliced in half)
    5. Add 1 tablespoon of fresh, pressed garlic, 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon fresh, chopped basil, 1 teaspoon dried (or fresh) oregano
    6. 1 large bag (about 16 oz) spinach, added last and cooked just until tender and starting to deepen in color
    7. Add salt and pepper to taste (and do taste it to make sure it has enough sparkle!)
  4. Arrange the veggies evenly on the plates, add the salmon, and crown with a scoop of guacamole. Serve immediately. It’s especially good with fresh fruit and rolls, although I didn’t remember to take a photo of the entire ensemble. Pretty much guaranteed to please anyone who likes the individual ingredients.  🙂

But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee: Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee. Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this? In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind. Doth not the ear try words? and the mouth taste his meat? With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding. With him is wisdom and strength, he hath counsel and understanding. (Job 12:6-13)

What to Eat When Your Wife is Gone for the Weekend

Okay, so this is going to be a “for fun” recipe (of sorts), but while Lizzie was visiting me not long ago, she shared a great text from her husband picturing what he was eating for dinner, and it was so funny that I asked for permission to share it with you. Maybe I should start with just a tiny introduction about my “baby brother,” Chuck (who is actually 6’6″). I just happened to be visiting my “sister” Liz in Chicago the first night they dated (about 17 years ago). She asked if I wanted to meet him, and I said, “I don’t care! You date so many guys…” I had to eat those words later. Little did I know Chuck was going to be “the one” after Lizzie had waited almost 40 years for the right guy. And, let me tell you, he’s the right guy! He’s not only handsome (as you can see…I can brag about him because he’s my little brother…even if we’re not actually related), he’s loyal, kind, brilliant, tenderhearted, funny, and extremely good to his wife! So, as far as I’m concerned, he can pretty much do no wrong.  🙂

At any rate, before Lizzie came to visit, she made Chuck a big casserole, but by Sunday night, it was all gone, so Chuck started foraging in their refrigerator for something to eat. Want to know what he found?      How do you like it? He said he also had a bunch of fresh veggies and fruit.

Now, you might not think hotdogs with sauerkraut, carrots, and spinach on tortilla shells would be your first pick for dinner, but he said it actually tasted pretty good! And, the thing I especially love is the idea of trying new combinations of things. If you like various foods individually, who’s to say you might not like them together?

So, the next time you’re a little low on food and don’t want to take time to shop, look a little closer at your fridge and cupboards. Maybe you can find a winning combination too! Let me know what you create, will you?!!

(P.S.—I did ask their permission before writing this. They are too fun for words!)

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
(Proverbs 17:17)

Gold’n Blueberry Coffee Cake

It’s blueberry season in Michigan (and most of Northeastern America),  and for years we’ve had a cherished tradition of picking berries at Blueberry Hill. We wait with baited breath for U-pick strawberries in June, cherries in July,
and blueberries in August. For much of the summer, we enjoy abundant fruit! Most of the time we just serve blueberries fresh as part of the meal,  but also use them as a garnish with salads,  and when they’re really abundant, we start using them to bake pies and cakes.

Before the season ends, we usually try to squirrel a little away in jams. This year we also made a jar to send with Jonathan to Germany, because it’s his favorite jam and not common in Europe.

Sometime soon, I hope to write about making jam, but today I want to share an easy way to make a delicious blueberry coffee cake, which makes a fragrant start to a summer weekend morning, whether you’re hoping to curl up with a cup of coffee and the morning news on Saturday or heading out the door for church on Sunday. Here it is:

Golden Blueberry Coffee Cake

1 yellow cake mix (which normally calls for eggs, water, and oil) Follow the recipe, but only add 1/4 cup water (no more; the blueberries are very wet).

Sprinkle 3 cups of washed blueberries evenly over the top. (They sink in baking, so you don’t see much of them, but believe me, you’ll taste them!)

Make a “crumble” out of:
1 stick butter or margarine
1 cup flour
2/3 cup brown sugar
1.5 teaspoons cinnamon

Drop/sprinkle the crumble mix evenly over the top.

Bake at 350°F. until the top is golden brown, which will likely take 45-50 minutes. Let it rest for about 5-10 minutes, but then serve it immediately. This coffee cake is so moist that it will get soggy if it sits around, so it’s best eaten fresh and hot! It doesn’t need any garnish, but if there’s any left over and you want to serve it as a dessert later on, I sometimes reheat it and serve whipped cream or ice cream on top.

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24). May our words be as sweet as our meals!  🙂

 

Making Homemade Berry and Maple Syrups

What’s your very favorite breakfast? My all-time favorite breakfast out is the Cracker Barrel’s Sunrise Special with blackberry syrup. Actually, I like making my own pancake breakfast at home even better, because I put blueberries in the pancakes and make enough for one person, not one giant. Nevertheless, eating breakfast out on a rare occasion is a memorable experience, and if we’re anywhere near a Cracker Barrel, that’s where I want to eat!One morning while our grand children were visiting, my daughter-in-law Carleen taught the kids how to make baskets out of leaves pinned together with tiny twigs, and they walked down the lane collecting black raspberries and mulberries. Instead of eating them as hors d’oeuvres, they brought almost all of them home and asked me to make some syrup for their pancakes. How could I resist??

Syrup can be made with any type of berries, but here’s what we did:

Yummy Blackberry Syrup

1 quart washed blackberries (I supplemented what the children picked with some from the freezer)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
(or, the sugar and water can be replaced by 1/2 cup honey and 1 tablespoon water)

Heat in a saucepan until it starts to boil, stirring occasionally, then turn it down to medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until it’s the consistency of syrup. If the berries are really juicy, and the syrup seems too thin, you can add 2 tablespoons of corn starch to help thicken it. (Whisk to help the corn starch dissolve, and then continue to whisk it until the starch thickens a bit.) Taste test it. If it lacks flavor, you can also add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, but really just the first three ingredients above should be all you need. This can also work with any other type of berries, or even cherries. If you want a “compote” rather than a syrup, just add more corn starch until you get the consistency you want. Serve it up with coffee, bacon, and eggs, and top it with some whipped cream, and you’ll have a breakfast so memorable that no one will beg to go out!  🙂

Imitation Maple Syrup

By the way, we didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up, and we always made our syrup from scratch: 1 cup sugar in the bottom of a pan, cover with just enough water to leave a thin layer of water over the top, boil until the sugar is completely dissolved, and add 1/2 teaspoon of maple flavoring. Serve immediately while it’s hot!  Some of my kids still prefer this to genuine maple syrup. It will crystalize within hours, so only make as much as you’re planning to use for that particular occasion.

How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
” (Psalm 119:103)

 

What Can You Feed Poor Knights?

With lots of little mouths to feed this month, I decided the best option would be to make a list of all the things my grandchildren liked best to eat, so one morning I asked them to name their favorite foods. Sophie (3) said, “Fudge!” Other items included chocolate chip cookies, salami, corn on the cob, cake, and rice, etc. After they ran out of ideas, I started asking my two little granddaughters if they liked certain foods. When we  got to breakfast foods, they said they liked pancakes and waffles, but they were totally baffled when I asked if they liked French toast, which surprised me, so I asked their mother (who is European). She asked what it was, and when I explained it to her, she said, “Oh, yes! The children do like it, but we call it ‘Poor Knights’.” After a quick Google search, we learned that the recipe goes back to the 4-5th century, and it sounds like the name refers to something knights would eat when they had little else available. However, in modern times, Poor Knights (aka/french toast) is considered a treat —at least it is at our home—although I do often use it as a way of brightening up bread that is starting to loose its freshness. I suppose everybody who grew up in America knows how to make it, but just in case you’re from a country where it’s not on the menu, here’s the recipe:

Warm and Wonderful French Toast

Start with bread. It can be bread that’s been sitting around for a few days and is starting to dry out (although if I notice that happening, I store it in the refrigerator to keep it from molding). Prepare a mix of 1 egg whipped with 1/4 cup of milk for each 2 slices of bread.  (Most children eat one, and most adults eat two, but you know your family best.)Sprinkle the surface with cinnamon, dip in the bread slices, letting them soak for a few seconds on both sides, and then fry in butter (or oil, bacon fat, or whatever). Cinnamon isn’t necessary, but it really does enhance the flavor. Fry them until they’re golden brown on both sides, and serve them up with syrup. I suppose the poor knights of old didn’t have any meat to go with them, but a bit of meat on the side is always a yummy addition, although bread with milk and eggs is a perfectly nutritious meal!

“Better is a dinner of herbs where love is,
than a stalled ox and hatred therewith”
(Proverbs 15:17).

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Frosting on Top

I think sweet teeth are genetically transmitted…or at least our grand daughters seem to have inherited the Armstrong family’s love of all things chocolate.  I used to make chocolate cake from scratch, but I can’t compete with the moist, tender, lightness of commercial cake mixes, and so I have given up trying.  However, my family still likes homemade chocolate frosting better than what you can buy at the store, and it’s simple. Here’s how:

Creamy Chocolate Frosting

6 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup dark chocolate cocoa powder (can melt 12 oz chocolate chips, but that costs more and isn’t necessary)
1 stick softened butter (room temperature)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2-4 tablespoons of milk (depending on how soft you like it; experiment)

Start on the slowest setting, but whip all the ingredients together in a blender until they form a creamy, smooth frosting with a sheen. Frost immediately, and if you have any little helpers, let them lick the spatula when they’re done!For the scripture saith, thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward” (1 Timothy 5:18).