Pecan-nectarine layer cake

I have this old Ladies’ Home Journal cookbook that I want to sneer at, but I can’t. The recipes are well tested. The photography is mouthwatering. The recipes are for dishes I want to make. Sorry for doubting you, Ladies’ Home Journal. You had some great food editors back in the ’90s. Clearly you’re not working at Midwest Living, which suggested I make blueberry muffins by mixing my freshly picked Michigan blueberries into my favorite cake mix batter. Go ahead, call me a food snob. 

Within the covers of this cookbook is a recipe for a cake that is perfectly August, bursting with ripe fruit but hinting at fall with its spices and nuts. Three layers of tender, bourbon-laced pecan cake are stacked with mounds of ripe nectarines and clouds of whipped cream. You need a crowd for this beauty, because it won’t keep for another day (though I’m not above finishing off that final slice after the party, cake layers slumped into a puddle of juicy fruit and melted cream). Bake the cake layers the night before, wrap them well, and slice the nectarines just before dinner so they have time to release their juices. After dinner, take 10 minutes to whip the cream and assemble the cake, then hurry back to your celebration.

Pecan-Nectarine Layer Cake

adapted slightly from Ladies’ Home Journal Recipes 1999

1 cup toasted pecans

2 cups cake flour (Don’t have any in the pantry? Here’s a handy substitute.)

1 1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup bourbon

3/4 cup butter, softened

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs, separated

 

8-10 nectarines

2 T. granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

 

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line three 9-inch round cake pans with parchment or waxed paper and coat with baking spray or grease and flour. Grind pecans in a food processor or blender until finely ground.

Mix pecans, flour, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Stir buttermilk and bourbon together in a measuring cup. Beat the butter and sugars together at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each. Reduce the speed to low and stir in half the flour mixture, then the buttermilk mixture, and finally the rest of the flour mixture. Beat just until smooth.

In a clean mixing bowl with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium-high until they just hold stiff peaks. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter with a large rubber spatula. Divide the batter and spread it evenly into the cake pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of the layers comes out clean. Cool the layers in the pans on a wire rack for 15 minutes; then remove from pans and cool completely.

Slice the nectarines into 1/4-inch slices (I didn’t peel them, but you can if you like). In a large bowl, toss the nectarines with the 2 T. of sugar. Beat the cream with a mixer until thickened. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar and continue to beat until the cream just holds stiff peaks. (If you are serving the cake immediately, you can get away with using a spray can of sweetened whipped cream, but it will melt pretty quickly.)

To assemble the cake, place one layer on a serving plate and cover with a single layer of nectarine slices. Spread one-third of the whipped cream over the nectarines. Top with the second cake layer and repeat. Add the final cake layer, the remaining whipped cream, and garnish with the remaining nectarines. Refrigerate for up to 3 hours.

Makes at least 12 servings.

Enough birthday cake for Mom and all her grandchildren!

Enough birthday cake for Mom and all her grandchildren!

Monday Menu and Recipe Review

As much as I crave a return to the routine, we’ve still got some summer fun to pack into this week. We’ll be away from home a lot, so I don’t have many meals to plan. My garden was smaller than I originally planned, but I’ve had a great crop of parsley and basil, and two out of my three tomato plants are heavy producers. I also have a small crop of beets and carrots (probably just enough for a couple of meals). Along with a couple giant Costco containers of blueberries and strawberries, we’ve got plenty of produce.

This week

Last week


In no particular order, these are the recipes we tried last week and loved:

  • Wild Rice Gratin with Kale and Caramelized Onions (from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook): I magically found myself with all the ingredients for this gratin without even planning. I had cooked a huge pot of rice earlier in the week, and had already washed and ribboned the kale when I made a salad on Thursday. The Hub and I agreed this would be a wonderful Thanksgiving side dish.
  • Eggplant and Porcini “Meatballs” in Tomato Sauce (from Food and Wine): Definitely a weekend meal, but SO GOOD. Like eggplant parm in a single bite. If you roast the eggplant and make the sauce ahead of time, it’s not quite such a project. I think this would freeze well, too. If you serve this with pasta, you get several more servings out of the meal than just four.
  • Indonesian Chicken Salad with Peanut Dressing (from Dinner: A Love Story): I doubled this recipe to feed a crowd of four adults and six kids (with a side of Trader Joe’s potstickers). Half of the ingredients were spread out on a platter with the dressing on the side, so the kids could pick and choose which items they liked, and half were tossed in a bowl with the dressing. Great summer meal after a day at the zoo.

Do you have a bounty of fresh summer produce to use up?

Summer ennui

For people without young children in the house, perhaps you don’t experience the change of seasons so viscerally. You go to your climate-controlled office, you come home, you go back to the office.  Things don’t change much from one month to the next.

Personally, I feel our American school calendar is for the birds. Nine months on, three months off–who needs THREE MONTHS off? Seriously, knock even one of those months off and spread the vacation days throughout the school year–or not–and we’d all be a little more balanced.

In our house we’ve all lost our momentum. The kids are bored and and snappish, and my routine is so out of whack that I haven’t planned a week’s meals in…three weeks? A month? I can’t take the anxiety of not knowing what we’re going to eat for dinner when five o’clock sneaks up on me. I can’t start some other project when I don’t even know what we’re having for dinner. Spontaneity is fine for other people, but apparently not for me.

All week I’ve been thinking about, and then avoiding, these eggplant meatballs. Saturday. We’ll make them Saturday. I finally plopped the eggplant in the oven to roast this afternoon, so we’ll be one step closer. Yesterday I didn’t know what to have for dinner, so I cooked a pot of rice (credit goes to Tamar Adler for that particular strategy). Then I got distracted by these corn cakes and decided to use up the four ears of corn in the fridge instead. With fried eggs and a handful of tomatoes from the garden, it did turn into a lovely meal (you should add a little more buttermilk to the batter, though).

I still wish I had planned it ahead of time.

Tonight we’ll be eating rice.

Beginning on the Boy’s Room: Before Pictures

I know I haven’t quite finished Miss Eight’s room–still on the hunt for a nightstand and haven’t bought the bed yet–but I did hang artwork and buy a big cork board to corral her artwork, birthday cards, and pictures of cute puppies. I also hung the canopy over her floor cushions and now she has a cushy little hiding place. She’s been spending more time in there, and unfortunately, so have her brothers. It’s a nice room. So it’s time to spruce up their spaces and leave her to a room of her own.

With 25 days left until school starts, Mr. Ten is anxious to have his room made over, and has been more helpful than ever before in the decluttering phase. These photos are after we removed everything from the walls, decluttered all the surfaces (dresser, nightstand, desk) and the closet, and packed away the Lego Harry Potter display for safekeeping. When you’re 10 you can finally let go of the bins of kindergarten-4th grade memorabilia (all that kindergarten stuff is so embarrassing), but you still keep a small box of stuffed animals on the top shelf of the closet.

Now you can see the fabulously frugal green and blue paint job that I did five years ago with leftover paint from previous projects. The new color we’ve chosen (I brought home a pre-approved selection of paint samples and Mr. Ten chose his favorite) is a blue/gray called Ozone by Behr. I hope it will be a more sophisticated and neutral backdrop to all of the colorful contents of the room. (Anything is better than that green. SO over the green. It was supposed to be an accent color, but it has spread all over the room like algae.) We’re keeping the chalkboard and I’m going to attempt to paint over the vinyl rocket and star decals, and then peel them off like a stencil. Mr. Ten is attached to the rocket, as it represents his dream of one day going to Mars.

Our list includes:

  • Paint
  • Replace the small bookshelf with a tall Billy bookcase and reconfigure the Lego storage
  • Hang artwork (a pared down and more grown up selection)
  • Add hooks to back of door and inside closet for storage
  • Change the sagging curtain rod
  • DIY an upholstered headboard and box spring

Other than a bigger bookcase, we’re not adding any furniture. A year or so ago, I got the dresser and nightstand from Freecycle. I painted, decoupaged and added new hardware to the dresser, which was sturdy but a horrible orange color. I added a darker coat of stain to the nightstand and painted the drawer fronts white. I’m still sad that I passed on the matching dresser, but we didn’t have room in the van (we’d have had to leave a couple of kids on the side of the road).

The bins next to the desk house art supplies and a variety of collections. I’d like to encourage paring those down, too, but it may take a while. I only just convinced him to part with a piñata leg saved from a friend’s birthday party three years ago. Can you really put a price on such a treasure?

To be honest, my only goal before school starts is to get the room painted. The rest should be easier to knock out in a few days while the kids are in school.

As for Little Five’s room, I have no intention of repainting it anytime soon. I do plan to reorganize a little, though–switch around some toys, maybe move a little table in for him to use as a desk, and give him someplace to display his artwork and Lego posters.

Birthday cake with fondant

I’ll be taking a little blogging break this week while we spend some time with family and friends. But I wanted to leave you with a few photos of the birthday cake I made for Miss Eight. She requested a cake “that looks like a present” (this is what comes of wandering the cake decorating aisle at Michael’s), so I finally overcame my horror of rolled fondant and took the plunge. Sort of like this:

First I baked and frosted a two-layer yellow cake with chocolate frosting. After chilling the cake for a couple hours, I covered it in white rolled fondant. I just followed the instructions on the package, but didn’t use any special tools–I found it easy enough to smooth with my rolling pin and fingers. Because I already had it in the pantry from another cake project, I used Wilton Sugar Sheets (colored edible paper) to make the decorations.

These things are so easy to use: cut out your design, peel off the plastic backing, moisten, and stick it on the cake. Especially for kids, who like bright splashy colors and designs, these are an easy way to decorate.

 

Miraculously, the cake survived the trip to the pool in 90-some degree weather (in a cooler full of ice), and the eight-year-old girls were lavish with their compliments. But after another hour of swimming and party fun, even the cooler couldn’t prevent the fondant from beginning to melt and slide off the cake. No matter–back at home I lifted the remaining fondant right off the cake and we ate the lovely cake underneath. I won’t be using fondant on all my cakes now–I still don’t like the taste, and most of the girls left it on the plate, too–but the ready-to-use package is a quick and relatively easy way to get a professional look.

 

And Miss Eight had a happy birthday, which is all that matters.

See you back here in a week or so!

Monday Menu and Recipe Review

After a very slow and rainy start, it’s definitely summer now. I don’t have much ambition in the kitchen lately (or much ambition at all, really). It’s so hot and humid outside, I don’t even want to get near the grill. I’ve got to make an effort for Miss Seven’s eighth birthday this week, though. We’re having a small party at the pool, and Miss Seven has taken over the party planning. Weeks ago she hand wrote the invitations and picked out paper plates with cute puppies. Yesterday she assembled and labeled all her party favor bags. I’ve been given a checklist with my assignments. I must admit that it’s nice to be relieved of the planning duties, but I’m still responsible for producing a cake in the shape of a present.

This week

Monday: Pasta with Corn, Bacon and Basil

Tuesday: Chicken and Dumplings (this is the base recipe–I add extra seasoning and usually make homemade biscuit dough)

Wednesday: Salad Bar and grilled cheese sandwiches

Thursday: Green Chicken Enchiladas, yellow rice, beans, tomato salad, s’mores (for the birthday girl)

Friday: Fish and Chips, green salad

Last week

Monday: Lemony Potato Salad and broiled salmon, red cabbage slaw, watermelon

I added some more yogurt, lemon and herbs to the 4th of July potato salad, and we mixed in some broiled salmon. Good for a hot summer evening.

Tuesday: Zucchini-Ricotta Fritters, rotisserie chicken, farmer’s market carrots and peas with Homemade Ranch Dressing

I didn’t make the fritter recipe I’d planned because I forgot to buy ricotta. Instead I made this one, which was really easy and delicious. Little Five keeps asking me to make them again. I had to cook my own chicken because the market’s rotisserie oven wasn’t working–so much for convenience!– so I didn’t make the dressing, either. Next time! 

Wednesday: Crock Pot Chicken Taco Chili (from Jen), rice

Tasty! Jen used chicken thighs, and the chili was nice and thick and would have made a good taco filling, too. Thumbs up from the kids.

Thursday: Pasta with Caramelized Cabbage, Anchovies and Bread Crumbs, green salad (swap with Jen)

I don’t know whether everyone else loves this recipe as much as I do, but at least everyone loves the bread crumbs! I used red cabbage and added caramelized onions, too.

Friday: Kofta, yogurt-mint sauce, Hummus and Pita (all from the freezer)

I made a double batch of these kofta kebabs a couple of weeks ago and froze the extras. They make a great freezer meal, reheated in a 375 degree oven. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly–I used half ground lamb, half ground beef, substituted cooked bulgur for the pistachios, and added an egg to the mixture. I also found that refrigerating the kebabs for at least 30 minutes helped them hold their shape on the grill. Skip the skewers if you only have bamboo ones. Even though I soaked mine, they disintegrated pretty quickly on the grill. I’m sure metal skewers would work just fine. This is definitely a meal to repeat.

Girl’s Room Progress: Almost there!

One of my goals this summer was to get the big kids’ rooms painted, reorganized and (moderately) redecorated. The pace is slow, but in the past two weeks I’ve made good progress on Miss Seven’s room. Thanks to a loose kid exchange arrangement I have with some friends, I took advantage of a few hours while all the kids were out bowling to start painting. (Just going to Home Depot all by myself to buy the paint was a huge bonus.)

Two days and two coats of paint later, we went from Calamine pink to Spa blue. I removed the broken roller shades and faded curtains and replaced them with some blackout curtains in a turquoise that I wasn’t sure I’d like, but Miss Seven picked them out at Target. We added some sheers for softness, and it turns out I like them fine.

I spray painted an old lamp and lampshade (inspired by this lamp from Land of Nod) with the rest of the can of paint I used on her desk chair a few years ago.

A trip to Ikea netted some organizers for over the desk and new bedding. The hanging rails for her art supplies are really working well. They keep everything organized, visible and in reach, but off the surface of the desk, so she has space to work. The desk has plenty of drawers, but expecting a six or seven-year-old to actually put things away in the drawers is apparently too much. I added a couple of magazine files for her to store paper–one for blank paper, one for works finished or in progress. She’s kept her desk clean all week! I’m certain that’s a record. She still needs a decent desk lamp. That little flower lamp isn’t much more than a night light.

Still to be completed:

A new bed frame and night stand. We had an old headboard propped up behind her bed, and I had rigged a slipcover for it out of a cheap quilted comforter. Honestly, the comforter looked as cheap as it was. I’ve been scouring Craigslist for other options, but we’ve settled on this bed from Ikea. Miss Seven really likes it, and it costs less than most second-hand beds. A freestanding bed frame will allow us to pull the bed away from the window a few inches, but still give her something to lean against when reading in bed.

Her current night stand is one of those little wobbly decorator tables. I’m on the hunt for something sturdier with some more surface area and a little storage.

I need to hang her little canopy above this cushiony corner that will serve as a reading nook and hideout. I priced beanbags and looked at cushion sewing tutorials, but settled on a dog bed–it’s just a big floor pillow–in a cute fabric on clearance at Home Goods. We don’t have a dog, but the cat seems to like it.

Finally, I need to hang up all her artwork, a big pinboard, and shelves to display her treasures. That bin next to the bookshelf is full of all the stuff waiting to go back on the walls. Maybe this weekend…

If you’re interested, here’s the link to my inspiration board on Pinterest. I was most inspired by this room designed by Emily Henderson. It’s not a slavish copy, but the color palette is pretty close and there’s a similar mix of textures and eclectic furniture. I’m sure Miss Seven doesn’t care where the inspiration came from, but I love nearly all of Emily’s rooms and it has been fun to try to recreate this room from her example.

Do you ever try to copy a designer room in your own home?

Linking up to Emily A. Clark’s Kids’ Spaces Link Up! Check out all the links to some really fun kids’ rooms!

Monday Menu

If you celebrated the 4th of July, I hope you had a great weekend. We had a lovely long holiday weekend, complete with parades, fireworks, swimming and pie. We even squeezed in a little yard work (a very little, in the grand scheme of our jungle of a garden) and a whole lot of reading.

In this hot and sticky weather, I don’t feel like heating up the kitchen too much, so we’re sticking to quick meals that don’t require much in the way of cooking. Except for cookies. We’re probably going to need some cookies.

Monday: Lemony Potato Salad and grilled salmon, slaw, watermelon

Tuesday: Zucchini-Ricotta Fritters, rotisserie chicken, farmer’s market carrots and peas with Homemade Ranch Dressing

Wednesday: Crock Pot Chicken Taco Chili (from Jen)

Thursday: Pasta with Caramelized Cabbage, Anchovies and Bread Crumbs, green salad (swap with Jen)

Friday: Kofta, Hummus and Pita (all from the freezer)

Midweek Menu

This week I abandoned meal planning (and everything else, really) in favor of repainting Miss Seven (almost Eight)’s room. I grabbed a few things at the grocery on Sunday night, but other than that, I’ve been winging it. We had pesto again (we had it last week), which isn’t really a problem, especially when the basil comes straight from the garden.

But tomorrow is the Fourth of July, which calls for some celebratory eating–we’re going to be hungry after all that parading. We’re sticking to the classics: hamburgers, hotdogs, corn on the cob, potato salad, strawberry pie and watermelon. (This feast should take care of lunches for the rest of the weekend, too.) The Hub has volunteered to do the grocery shopping after work today, and I’m taking him up on it. Shopping brings out the worst in the Little Five lately, so I’m accepting every opportunity to avoid it.

What about the rest of the weekend?

Friday: Shrimp tacos, black beans, quick slaw with lime dressing

Saturday: Thai-Style Ground Pork with Chinese Eggplant, coconut rice

Sunday: Homemade Pizza

I’ll be back next week with the progress on Miss Seven’s room makeover and maybe even a recipe.

What are you cooking to celebrate Independence Day?

Closet door to computer desk

It’s taken a couple months, but I finally completed another project on my list.

We had our desktop computer, the one the kids use the most, in a small computer armoire in the living room. I had come to loathe it. The doors didn’t latch properly anymore, the keyboard tray glides had lost all their ball bearings, dust and trash collected behind the monitor, and the extra storage cubbies just stored things that we forgot about and obviously didn’t need (old holiday cards, obsolete computer software, empty printer cartridges…). And if someone actually needed to do some work at the computer (it does happen once in a while), there was no desk surface on which to spread books and materials.

I wanted a new desk, very simple, with no drawers or cubbies that could collect junk. Being me, I didn’t want to spend much money. Also, I have a garage full of old hollow core closet doors just waiting for a project.

I did buy some trestle legs from Ikea, but that was my only investment. I chose one of the narrower doors in my stash and used some Citri-Strip gel to remove the paint from the side edges. Then I used my jigsaw to cut the door to the length that would fit between the wall and the window in the living room corner. I had to use a little wood filler where the veneer started to chip off.

I sanded the whole thing and applied two coats of Minwax Wood Finish in Ebony. When it was dry, I coated the door in paste wax and buffed it until it was shiny.

But remember–this was a hollow core door, so when I shortened it, I lost the finished edge on one end. The other end wasn’t looking too great, either. I scrounged up a couple of 1″ x 2″ pieces of primed MDF in the garage left from some other project and spray painted them with some oil-rubbed bronze. I was just lucky that the color matched the stain really well. I nailed the pieces as best I could to the ends of the door, and that was that.

This is no polished piece of carpentry.

But you know what? I don’t mind. From a distance, it looks nice. “Like it came from West Elm!” cheered the Hub. (You can see why I keep him around.) A box to store the kids’ headphones (essential so that I don’t have to listen to Minecraft sound effects, episodes of iCarly, or Curious George games) and a pencil cup is all the storage we need. I was going to hang a small memo board to post computer-related reminders (user names and URLs), but I might just keep a little notebook in the box instead.

The one problem I haven’t solved is cord wrangling. I suppose I could do a better job of tidying up the extra lengths of cable and power cords. I’ve seen a few people hide the power strip and modem in a decorative box, but somehow that seems like a fire hazard to me.

I’ve already noticed that it’s easier for two kids to pull up chairs and play together. (Mr. Ten has been giving Miss Seven lessons in Minecraft.) It’s been three days, and the area has stayed nice and tidy. I even found a spot to hang my map plates that wouldn’t fit in the dining room. And if the new desktop doesn’t withstand the abuse it’s sure to suffer, at least I didn’t spend any money on it.

What would you make with old door?