Friday, June 28, 2013

New McCoy Pottery & A Dinner Party Menu

On our drive home from the cherry orchard, we stopped in a small, quaint town for lunch and popped into an antiques store. I found two nice McCoy pots in my favorite green color to add to my collection. Each piece was less than $20. I must now have at least 25 pieces of McCoy, Hull and other early to mid-20th century American pottery pieces. They're spread throughout the house, but I would like to have a place where I can display several of the pieces together for maximum impact. One day we will remodel our mudroom and that's where I'd like to have a shelf to display some of my pottery collection.

I wasn't familiar with the mark on this piece -- the letters "MCP" inside what looks like a measuring cup or pitcher -- so I looked it up online. I learned that it was used after McCoy Pottery was sold to the Mount Clemens Pottery Company in 1967. I believe this piece is from the Tierra line, 1968.

In addition to loving the color of the little pot below, I also love its design. I tried to find the name of the pattern online, but wasn't successful. Does anyone know which McCoy pattern this is?

On a separate note, we had friends over for dinner a couple of weeks ago. A coworker friend (the same one who gave me the white peonies) brought me this gorgeous bouquet of blue hydrangeas from her garden, which looked perfect on our dining table. Aren't fresh flowers wonderful?

I really enjoy entertaining. I love to cook, set a nice table and create a relaxing evening for family and friends. I also love planning a menu! Here's what we served.

Before dinner, we had fantastic whiskey sours from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa at Home cookbook. 

Whiskey Sours

In a jar, combine:
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 3 lemons)
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 4 limes)
  • 2/3 cup simple syrup
  • 3/4 cup whiskey (I use Knob Creek Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey) 
Shake well and serve. This recipe makes four drinks. Homemade whiskey sours are so delicious, you won't want to use commercially made sweet  and sour mixer again, I promise. With the cocktails, I served roasted rosemary mixed nuts, below.

Everything on the dinner menu came from my library of Everyday Food magazines. We made:
  • Maryland style crab cakes (instead of 2 lbs. crabmeat, we used half that amount: 2/3 lb. jumbo lump and 1/3 lb. backfin. This made 8 small cakes. Be sure to pick through the backfin meat to remove all sharp shell fragments)
  • Corn and scallion salad -- so easy and delicious
  • Asparagus with creamy vinaigrette and almonds. Both side dishes can be made ahead, refrigerated and brought to room temperature before serving.
  • Flourless chocolate cake with Cointreau for dessert, recipe below.
It was a mighty good menu, if I do say so.

Flourless Fudge Cake

1) Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9" springform pan. Line bottom with a round of parchment paper and butter the parchment. Dust paper and sides of pan with cocoa powder and tap out excess.
2) In a heatproof bowl set over (not in) a pan of simmering water, melt 2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter and 12 ounces (2 cups) semisweet chocolate chips, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in 3 tablespoons orange flavored liqueur (such as Cointreau or Grand Marnier).
3) In a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer on high speed, beat 6 egg yolks with 2 tablespoons granulated sugar until pale and doubled in volume, about 6 minutes. Stir in chocolate mixture.
4) In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, beat 6 egg whites on high until soft peaks form. Gradually add 2 tablespoons granulated sugar until medium-stiff peaks form. Whisk half of egg whites into chocolate mixture, then gently fold in remaining half of egg whites.
5) Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until cake pulls away from sides of pan and center is just set, 45 to 50 minutes. On a wire rack, cool completely in pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to overnight. Serve dusted with confectioner's sugar, if desired. Serves 10.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Brown-Sugar Cherry Cakes

As I mentioned in my last post, we went cherry picking and came home with about six pounds of cherries. Let me be honest, standing at the kitchen sink pitting cherries is the pits. Here's a tip: wear dark colored clothing and an apron, because bright red cherry juice will squirt all over you and stain your clothes. Also, have some good music playing to keep your mind off the drudgery of pitting cherries. (Can you tell I really didn't like this?)

When we arrived home from our cherry picking adventure, I baked a batch of brown-sugar cherry cakes. The directions say to fill the muffin cups 1/3 full, which I did, but I had a lot of batter left over. Rather than listening to the little voice in my head that said, "Use an extra muffin pan," I added more batter to the cups, filling them 1/2 full, before adding the cherries. That was a mistake. The batter overflowed and made removal from the pan a bit disastrous. Below is what they looked like before going into the oven. DO NOT replicate this! Your batter should not come up this high in the cups. Even though this first batch of cakes turned out quite ugly, they tasted great, especially with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top (which hid the flaws). 

Do not fill your muffin cups with this much batter or they will overflow and not cook properly.

A few days later, determined to master the recipe, I made the cakes again. This time I used a 6-cup jumbo muffin pan plus a standard muffin pan, ending up with six large cakes and eight small. I made sure to fill the cups only 1/3 full this time. In the jumbo cups, I used five cherries per cake and four cherries per cake in the standard cups. They turned out perfectly! They are delicious and very easy to make. Enjoy a couple warm from the oven with vanilla ice cream. Truly amazing. These are now one of my favorite summer desserts. You can find the recipe here.

Cakes made in a jumbo muffin pan come out wider and not as tall.
Cakes made in a standard muffin pan

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Cherry Picking

A few weeks ago, we drove up to the mountains to pick cherries at an orchard that has very narrow and bumpy dirt roads, spectacular views, and lots of wobbly ladders leaning against tall trees ripe for picking. 

I'll be honest, I'm not crazy about heights. I'm fine on the top floors of a tall skyscraper. I can walk right up to a window or railing and look down at the street below without any problem. But a few rungs up on a ladder and my hands are getting clammy. So why would I choose to go cherry picking, you ask? Because I'm clearly more concerned with creating a good blog post than I am with my own safety (smile). And because it's been years since we last did this and I didn't recall how scary it can be. I might have been smiling in this photo, but I was holding on for dear life. And when my ladder shifted slightly with the breeze, I hightailed it off that thing and picked as many low-hanging cherries as I could.

Because of all the rain this spring, most of the cherries had split, so it wasn't easy picking. Splitting doesn't affect their taste, but it means the cherries won't last as long. There were also quite a few cherries on the trees that were starting to spoil. I have to admit, after driving all that way, I was pretty disappointed. 

We were actually on our way back to the car when we noticed one tree that had lots of beautiful, unsplit -- though slightly unripe -- cherries on it. Apparently everyone had passed this tree on their way down the orchard's sloping terrain in search of darker cherries. So we loaded up our bucket and left with about six pounds of fruit! They may be a little tart for eating, but they're great for baking.

In my next post, I'll share with you a delicious cherry dessert I made. Stay tuned!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Local Goat Farm and Creamery

Two weeks ago we visited a local goat farm and creamery and were welcomed by these adorable 3-week-old kids. How cute are they! In addition to Nubians (shown below) and Nigerian Dwarfs, the farm has beef cattle, sheep, free-range chickens, turkeys, rabbits, and llamas, which are used to guard the goats (more on that below).

This goat named Alli was very friendly because she thought we had something good for her to nibble on. Instead, she nibbled on my husband's finger! It didn't hurt, but it did startle him a bit. Ha!

In the farm store, we bought three kinds of goat cheese -- an aged cheese, a soft cheese with basil and sun-dried tomato, and a soft cheese with garlic and chives. In addition to cheese, eggs, beef, lamb, and goat milk soaps from the farm, the store also sells locally made jams, sauces, country ham, honey and handmade crafts. My husband wanted to try a jar of pickled okra and I picked up a small bottle of natural, locally made mosquito repellant made from plant oils. For the past couple of years, I've been using an organic product called EcoSmart that is DEET free. It contains rosemary oil, cinnamon leaf oil, lemongrass oil and geranium oil. It works well to repel mosquitoes, ticks and gnats.

The goats are guarded by two Great Pyrenees and two llamas. Apparently, llamas have a natural dislike for domestic and wild dogs, coyotes and foxes. Once a llama bonds with a herd of goats, it takes on the role of protector and leader. It will become aggressive when a predator advances toward their "family" of goats. A llama will chase, bite and kick and can even kill a dog. Likewise, the Great Pyrenees is a livestock guard dog that can be trained starting at an early age to bond with goats. Once bonded, they will stay with the goats and protect them. The farm's dogs are not socialized and would only bark at us from a distance.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Blueberry-Lemon Bundt Cake

I bought a new Bundt pan, the Nordic Ware 60th Anniversary Bundt pan. Gold finish. Very fancy. It's larger capacity than my favorite old Bundt pan that has been handed down in my family (it's a 10-cup capacity and has a very unique design. This lemon cake was baked in it).

Since a lot of recipes call for a 12 or 15-cup capacity Bundt pan, I felt justified in buying this new pan (not to mention I will take any opportunity to shop at Williams-Sonoma!). To test out the new pan, I chose this blueberry-lemon Bundt cake. It's very tasty.

If you're interested in vintage Bakelite, you may have noticed the cake server in the first photo above. It has a pretty two-toned Bakelite handle -- which makes it less common and more costly -- and an interesting etched design on the metal server. It's a really lovely piece and I was so happy when I found it at an affordable price.

So, what are you baking these days?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

What's New in the Garden

Every spring I choose a different selection of shade plants for the front porch planter. This year I chose (clockwise from front): asparagus fern (not a shade plant, but always does well in this location), Sonic White New Guinea impatiens, Colorblaze Marooned coleus, Chocolate Drop coleus and Sonic Lilac New Guinea impatiens. The man at the garden shop cautioned us against buying regular impatiens, saying they are plagued by a fungus called downy mildew. He said the New Guinea variety is safe. Have you had problems with impatiens? One article I read said basil can also be affected. I hope the little basil plant I bought doesn't get it!

I purchased a Kimberly Queen fern at the farmers' market, which looks perfect in a wicker basket I had. I placed it between the front door and the bench, a space that needed some color, height and shape. On the steps, a blue pot holds a caladium, a good shade plant that looks pretty in a container. Rounding out the front porch are a couple of hanging Boston ferns and a calibrachoa Superbells Grape Punch with pretty, two-toned purple flowers. 

The ferns in the front garden are coming back beautifully. They always look a bit rough after winter. I love this birdbath, and so do the birds! Regular visitors include robins, catbirds and blue jays. For the backyard, we bought a new birdbath at our favorite garden shop. It's smaller and lower to the ground, and will probably get more use from the dogs as a water bowl.

I hung the hummingbird feeder Memorial Day weekend, and we were delighted to see a visitor the same day, within hours! 

If you've never fed hummingbirds and are interested in doing so -- and I highly recommend it -- here are some tips. Forgo the packaged mixes and red dye, and instead use a feeder that has red on it, which will attract the birds. Some people believe that red dye may harm the little birds and there really is no need to use it as long as your feeder is red.

Making your own nectar is easy using a one to four ratio: 1/4 cup of white granulated sugar to 1 cup water (do not use any other kind of sugar, honey or artificial sweetener). We boil the water first to remove impurities and pour it over the sugar so it dissolves quickly. Be sure to let the mixture cool before filling the feeder. Change the nectar and clean the feeder frequently during hot weather since mold can form in just a couple of days.

Hummingbirds are amazing and beautiful little creatures. They're also entertaining, especially when there are two or more birds vying for space at a feeder. Hummingbirds are territorial and will chase each other off. I have seen photos in which many hummers are feeding at the same time, but we've never had that happen, have you? To learn more about hummingbirds, here are a few good sources: The Hummingbird SocietyWild Birds Unlimited, National Geographic Kids (video).

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