Thursday, June 30, 2011

Let's Eat Hummingbird Cake

Today I'm sharing a favorite recipe clipped from the newspaper years ago.  It won the blue ribbon at the state fair and could easily be the South's answer to a European torte cake.  It consists of two layers of heavenly cake.  The batter is full of chopped pecans, crushed pineapple and mashed bananas.  The layers are then frosted with a cream cheese and toasted pecan icing.  What a way to end a meal!

For all of the cake's moist richness, it's super easy to make.  No mixer is required, just two mixing bowls, one for wet ingredients and the other for dry.  You then stir the dry ingredients into the wet.

A hummingbird cake is perfect to serve at a 4th of July cookout.  Delish.  Guests always love it.  Best served in small slices; one cake feeds a large gathering.  Here's how to make it:

Ingredients for the batter:
1 cup pecans, finely chopped and toasted in the oven for 15 minutes
3 cups all purpose flour  [I use whole wheat flour]
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
¾  cup canola oil  [Use a light oil, not butter.]
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
8 ounces crushed pineapple, do not drain  [I use almost all of a 20 ounce can pineapple, than only mash 1 banana]
2 cups mashed ripe bananas (3-4 medium sized bananas)

Directions for the batter:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Butter two 9 x 2 inch (23 x 5 cm) round cake pans and set aside.
3. Combine the dry ingredients in one large mixing bowl: flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and chopped pecans. Whisk together.
4. Combine the wet ingredients in a second mixing bowl: eggs, vanilla, crushed pineapple, bananas and oil.
5. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and beat well.
6. Evenly divide the batter between the two prepared pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
7. When done, take out of the oven.  Allow the cakes to cool, but remove them from the pans before they get stone cold, or they will stick.  After they are removed from the pans, let them cool completely on racks, or two plates.

Ingredients for Cream Cheese Pecan Frosting:
¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
16 ounces confectionary sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup, finely chopped pecans, toasted in oven 15 minutes

Directions for frosting:
1) In a bowl beat the butter and cream cheese, on low speed with an electric mixer, until smooth with no lumps.
2) Gradually add the sifted powdered sugar and beat, on low speed, until fully blended and smooth.
3) Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla extract and then stir in the finely chopped pecans.
4) To frost:  I very carefully slice the two cakes in the center so I end up with 4 frosted layers – i.e. the top layer, plus 3 middle layers like a torte.  But you don't need to do this; 2 frosted layers are fine.
5) Spread the icing on the inside layer(s), then frost the top and sides.  

Chill the cake in the refrigerator for about one hour.  Garish with chopped pecans and/or shredded coconut, if you wish.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Best Cookbooks Ever

In our tech-savvy world, there's no need to buy every cookbook in print. You can google most recipes and cooking techniques that come to mind.  Still you don't want to rely totally on the internet, as it's never a good idea to put all of your eggs in one basket.  You may have to prepare a meal when your service is down.   And, what if one evening nothing comes to mind?  There's something permanent and comforting about thumbing through the pages of a cherished cookbook.  Something tangible, you can pick up and return to time and again.

For the sake of prioritizing, lets say … you only have space or a budget for up to 10 cookbooks.  Which ones would be on your shelf?

My picks are:
1) Joy Of Cooking – 1931 by Irma S. Rombauer: A classic and respected cookbook for over 75 years.  If I only had space for one cookbook, this one is it.
2) Mastering The Art Of French Cooking – 1961 by Julia Child: This cookbook brought French cooking to mainstream America, plus inspired a lovely movie, Julie and Julia.
3) Smoke & Spice – 2003 by Cheryl & Bill Jamison: A complete A-Z barbeque premier.
4) Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking – (revised) 1995 by Marcella Hazan: Very expansive and easy to follow.
5) The Gift of Southern Cooking:  Recipes and Revelations from Two Great American Cooks – (revised) 2003 by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock. 
6) Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie – 1990 by Bill Neal: Southern baking explained.  The recipes are very authentic.
7) The Art of Mexican Cooking – 1989 by Diana Kennedy: If you love Mexican, this is the definitive cookbook for it.
8) Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, 2011: All of his cookbooks focus on simple, fresh, affordable meals. They are my go-to cookbooks. His recipes are hard to mess up.
9) Cabbage Patch Famous Kentucky Recipes – 1956, or 1972 by Cabbage Patch Circle: Delicious, home cooking.
10) Southern Food – 1987 by John Egerton: Ok, I love Southern food.

Personally, I'm more of a Jamie Oliver cook than a Julia Child cuisinier.  It's fun to get inspired to try to make fancy French food; but in truth, you will never find roasted pigeons or rabbit in cream sauce at my dinner table.  Duck, maybe.  I have enough to eat without looking outside my windows, thank you.BunnyTurtle How about you?Snail

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Low Computer Ink And Battery Prices

Why are inkjet cartridges and laptop batteries sooo expensive?  At $130 a pop, I am on my third battery for my Apple computer in three years.  And as it turns out, my Canon Pixma All-In-One printer uses ink whether it prints documents, or not.  If the printer sits idle for long periods of time, it is still using the ink!  The cost for replacing a set of ink cartridges is a cool $75.78 at Staples office supplies.  That is nearly the price of the printer, itself.  After paying the piper several times, I decided to look elsewhere for a discount.  And I'm glad I did.

Though neither Apple, nor Canon would ever recommend the practice, my research lead to compatible, copycat accessories.

For a laptop battery, I ordered from BatteryEdge.  Cost: $50, saving a whopping $80.  The battery arrived in mint condition and is flawless.  I can't tell a difference in how my computer performs.

For inkjet cartridges, I recommend turning to Overstock, or Amazon and entering “compatible inkjet cartridges” in their search boxes.  Using Amazon, I found my knockoff Canon ink cartridges -- a 10 pack (2-sets) for a low $8.34, plus $5 shipping.  You can find individual cartridges at Overstock also.  Once inserted in my printer, the ink works exactly the same as the name brand.  However, you should unscrew the caps off of the cartridges very carefully. The plastic casings are slightly flimsier than the ones from Canon.  Nonetheless, the hugh savings make this compromise worth it.  Just remember to be gentle when breaking the seal.  More of a priority, my printer accepts the ink, and documents print as before, looking great.

When shopping online always read the customer reviews to see what others have to say about the product and company.  You always want excellent customer care in case you need to exchange, or return a product.  You want to order from companies who guarantee their products.  If a product is flawed, a reputable merchant will send out a replacement, or refund your money.

Both Overstock and BatteryEdge have live phone help, who will patiently answer all your questions and walk you through a purchase so you don't order mistakes.

If you do your research, you will reap big savings on compatible replacements for your battery-loving-computer and ink-hungry-printer.

Here are three bonus tips to lower expenses:
1. To prolong the life of your laptop battery: (a) Once a week, unplug it from the wall and use some of the charge.  Then, recharge it back to 100%.  (b) Once a month let the charge run all the way down to 0%, then recharge it to 100%.
2. If you know you won't be printing for a length of time, remove the ink cartridges from the printer, and store them in separate zip lock bags until you resume printing.
3. Leave your printer on "sleep" rather then turning it off and on. Turning it "off," then back "on" uses more ink.
4. If you buy a manufacturer's ink from Staples, return the empty cartridges for a $2 [each] Staples store coupon.

It all adds up to more money in your pockets.

Update: I ordered a laptop capatiable battery from Amazon for $22, including shipping.  It keeps the charge for 1.5 to 2 hours, which is enough for my needs. If more hours are required, I'd buy extra batteries for that low price.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Thinking About Father's Day

My Father -- more than any other person -- gave me the love of music by example.  His musical tastes were surprisingly eclectic; even more so than mineHe believed there were only two kinds of music, good and bad.  You either like it, or you don't.  My Dad was young when rock and roll began, so naturally we listened to Sam Cooke, The Everly Brothers, Little Richard and all of the pioneers of rock and roll.

As a matter of fact, when Dad wanted to keep 2-or-3-year old Debbie from getting underfoot around the house while he did paper work, or cut grass, he encouraged me to sit in my rocking chair and listen to an Everly Brothers' album on my box record player.  He said, “EB records worked every time.”  He'd pass through the room and see me rocking and mouthing along with Don and Phil:  “ Johnny wants to fly away to puppy love my baby ... He's a bird dog, ” and so, freeing Dad to accomplish his tasks.

In addition to rock and roll music, we listened to show tunes and pop voices like Doris Day, Teresa Brewer, Julie Andrews and Eddie Arnold.  Also, the Chad Mitchell Trio, Marty Robbins, Peter, Paul & Mary and Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass.  I remember being introduced to Simon and Garfunkel, The Band and Janis Joplin when Dad brought their records home and gave them a spin.

We also watched every pop, rock, blues, country, talk-variety-awards show that hit the airwaves:  Merv Griffin, The Midnight Special, The Johnny Cash Show, The CMA Awards, The Grammy's, The Dolly Parton Show, The Porter Wagoner Show, The Wilburn Brothers Show and others.  Dad made popcorn and cocoa for these TV-music nights.

Chet Atkins
When my Dad was a boy, he listened to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio.  Early country music has many of the best and most expressive voices in the history of the music industry.  The songs and arrangements of early country [and bluegrass] are rich and timeless.  Not only is this old-time music preserved in The Library of Congress, it has influenced much of the music we listen to today across genres.  If you are in Nashville, TN, it is well-worth spending a day at The Country Music Hall Of Fame.  I could spend years there.

Sunday is Father's Day, so I'm remembering my Daddy by giving his perennial music a nod. 

Marty Stuart
Carlene Carter has such a sparkle and authenticity.  I love her!  She is the daughter of country singers June Carter and Al Smith and stepdaughter of country legend Johnny Cash.  The grandma she wrote about here, is Mother Maybelle Carter of the iconic Carter Family, who contributed so much to American music.  Carlene is a fine singer and songwriter in her own right.  She was once married to English rocker Nick Lowe and has put out some excellent country rock albums in her career.  The video is good-enough to watch, but I wish it were sharper.  The friends backing Carlene in this performance are some of the finest musicians, still active in the music industry, including Randy Scruggs, Vince Santoro, Alan O'Bryant,*Roy Huskey, Jr, Marty Stuart and Emmylou Harris.

Listening to Carlene's song reminds me of what once was and how the world goes on.  Over the telephone recently, my Mom asked me if I remember how pretty my Dad's [and her Mother's] blue eyes were.

Yes, I do … along with other sweet memories.  Happy Father's Day, fathers!  

Click the links below to learn how the day became a holiday and for ideas on how to spend it with the family.  Enjoy! 
*Roy Huskey, Jr. is deceased.

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Treat The Triggers Of Allergies

I just watched an informative segment on The Today Show about how to lessen the symptoms of allergies.  Many people are allergic to pollen, dust mites and chlorine. The sneezing, red-itchy eyes and runny noise can be especially acute and annoying in the summer months as we spend more time outdoors.  If you suffer from summer allergies, here's what you can do to reduce symptoms:

1) When you come in the house from a day outside, shower and change your clothes and shoes.

2) Shower before bed instead of early in the morning to remove pollen from your hair and skin.

3) Keep antihistamines in your system to prevent symptoms from coming on.  You can take a regular antihistamine at night to help you sleep and a non-drowsy formula in the morning to get you through the day.

4) Make sure you wash your clothes and bedding in hot water that's at least 140 degrees F to kill dust mites.

[This next suggestion wasn't mentioned on The Today Show.]
5) Some allergy sufferers claim eating local honey builds up immunities to pollens where you live.  There's no scientific evidence to support the claim, but honey is sweet and delicious and worth a try.

6) If you are sensitive to chloride, you will be less bothered by swimming in an outdoor pool over an indoor pool, where the chloride will be trapped and more concentrated.  Also be sure to wash the chloride off your skin immediately after you finish swimming.

Hopefully, taking a few prudent steps to treat the triggers of allergies will stop some of the suffering.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Save On Summer Fashion Essentials

I love how carefree and comfortable a summer wardrobe is.  In the summer there's absolutely no reason to buy anything that's high maintenance, or will require dry cleaning.  Articles of clothing can be thrown in a washer and dryer and be ready-to-wear in less than an hour.  And you can pay less for fun accessories, or a few basics than what it costs to buy a Frappuccino coffee at Starbucks.  Below are several darling, but practical essentials, along with places to go for the best value:

Old Navy – Old Navy is the place to go for summer tops.  It offers t-shirts, tanks and camis in every color, shape and style … with inexpensive, matching cardigans, shorts and flip-flops.  The t-shirts are 100% cotton and range from classic to smock to crocket-trimmed and ruffled jersey.  Usually, $6-$15, there are always promotions, so you can pick up a t-shirt for $3 and a pair of flip-flops at $1 on sale days.

Forever 21 – This retailer stocks a wide selection of ultra chic sunglasses with 100% UV protection.  Why wear sunglasses that don't shield your pupils from the sun, when you get fashion and protection for $6.50, or less?  I found a snazzy pair for $1.50.  If they are lost, no big deal.

Kmart – Has fashion-forward visors and hats.  The Joe Boxer visors keep the sun out of your face and the hair off of your neck.  They come in turquoise, hot pink, red, white, denim, navy and beige.  Attractive straw and cotton hats are priced between $10-$12.  Visors are $3.

H&M – Is the place to go for ankle and no-show socks.  Lots of colors and patterns at unbeatable prices.  7 pairs for $10 and less.  And while there, you will likely find a trendy dress, skirt, or trousers for a few bucks.

Express – Carries adorable, well-make, graphic canvas totes, leather shoulder bags and patent-leather, quilted wristlets with lots of compartments and other bells and whistles.  Costs: $15.90-$49.90.  Sign up for their emails to get $20 coupons and up to 40% off.

Lands' End – Lands' End is where men and women will always find great value and super, well-crafted clothes.  I love their assortment of "trekker" Mary Janes and sandals, as well as, the "water shoes."  If you work-out on a trend mill or run, you'll still need traditional sneakers.  For everything else, from riding a bike to long-distance walking in the woods, or on city concrete, Lands' End's trekker shoes will support your feet.  I love them because they add style when paired with dresses, leggings, jeans and shorts.  Wearing mine, I seldom put on sneakers anymore.  Look casual smart at $29.50-$39.50.

With prices like these, you can splurge without spending lots of money.  [Ideas for swimsuits here.]

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