Father’s Day Brunch 2022

I have written in the past about the new Mother’s Day tradition we started a few years ago. We used to go out for brunch until the pandemic hit. When Mother’s Day 2020 arrived during the very early part of the pandemic, we were still in lockdown, and you couldn’t go to a restaurant. That year my son and I worked to recreate the brunch from the place we always took my wife.

In those early days of the pandemic, you had to be creative to help make life feel a bit more normal, and preparing brunch was our way of doing that. Little did we know at the time that it would become a favorite new tradition in our home, and that even when the restaurants opened again, we’d all continue to choose our new at home brunch tradition over the old one.

When June rolled around that year, and the pandemic as it turned out would still be in the early days and going strong, Father’s Day was suddenly upon us. We used to go out for Father’s Day as well, but the new Mother’s Day tradition also turned into a new Father’s Day tradition as my wife and our son teamed up to make brunch for me!

That first year we were a bit more extravagant in our brunches than in the years that followed, and why not? We were stuck at home and had plenty of time to fill with our creativity! That Father’s Day they decided to surprise me by recreating the breakfast from Ohana at Disney’s Polynesian Village.

We’ve had breakfast at many restaurants in Disney World, but the breakfast at Ohana has by far always been our favorite. From the food to the atmosphere to the friendly service, you just can’t go wrong. I like to call their breakfast a “reverse buffet” because they bring everything they’re serving to your table on a beautiful platter. When a strikingly similar platter appeared on the table that first Father’s Day at home, I was truly blown away – my family really knocked it out of the park!

It’s hard to believe that new tradition is now three years old! With three Mother’s Days and three Father’s Days behind us, we still love it just as much as we did in year 1. While we may have simplified our efforts a bit after that first year, we still turn out a fun spread and with so many options on the table, that brunch also serves as afternoon snack and dinner as the day goes on!

Father’s Day brunch 2022

One fun new addition this year were these easy egg cups. My wife looked up a few ideas, but then decided to just throw her own idea together and came up with something that was incredibly simple yet loaded with flavor. They were also a time saver as they prepared them the night before and warmed them for the brunch the next morning.

Lori said that the simplicity of the project made it easy for our 7 year old to do most of the work himself by scrambling the eggs and deciding what variations to use. He let his imagination and creativity run wild – the recipe made a dozen egg cups, and he turned them into 6 varieties using ham, cheddar, smoked gouda, mozzarella, and parmesan. He was quite proud of his work and was so excited to tell his food blogger dad about each kind, which he had color coded by the cupcake wrapper.

Lori & Max’s Easy Egg Cups

  • 8 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Mix ins of your choice!

Add the eggs, milk and salt to a large bowl and scramble together until well combined.

Line a cupcake pan with cupcake wrappers – they used paper cups, but in learning from this experience, Lori suggests using the foil variety to make them easier to remove when baked. Divide the egg mixture evenly between the cups – there should be enough for 12.

Add your chosen mix ins to each individual cup and then bake in a 350 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes. Test with a toothpick to see if they are done. The egg cups can be served immediately or warmed again if you are preparing them the night before.

Easy egg cups

I had a wonderful day complete with the best company in the world, delicious food, and an incredible gift, but I think my favorite thing of all is to see the big smiles on the faces of my family as they present their buffet to me. That’s a gift that I can carry in my head and my heart every day. How lucky I am to have people in my life that are so happy and proud to do such amazing things for me!

Until next time, I hope you all have a great weekend!

From Angie’s Kitchen – Easter Cake Revisited

Welcome to round 2 of Easter cake! In this round we each take a shot at trying to change and/or modernize the original recipe in some way. As I said at the end of round 1, we are free to research again and when creating a round 2 recipe, the sky is the limit. So, did my plane of cake soar high into those unlimited skies? No, it did not. It definitely made it past takeoff, but it remained more of a low flying sight seeing tour at best.

My goals for this round were to increase the amount of batter to better fill a 13×9 pan, to increase the moisture in the cake a bit and to add in some sort of pecan and brown sugar filling into the mix. I thought the original recipe was actually pretty nice overall and that it would make a nice base for a breakfast or coffee cake – I had the idea of Easter brunch in mind. In making the shift to a coffee cake, I also went from lemon flavoring to vanilla.

Producing more batter was simple enough – I just increased most of the ingredients by 25%. My one exception was the sugar, which I actually reduced from 1 1/2 cups to 1 cup. I felt that the reduction of sugar in the batter would help accommodate the additional sweetness from the filling.

To increase the moisture, I went with one of my favorite tricks for doing so without adding a lot of extra fat. Instead of using oil or butter, I added 1/4 cup of plain Greek yogurt. I have read that if you are using or replacing 1/2 cup or less of butter or oil, you can do a 1 to 1 substitution without making what you are baking too dense and wet. I have used the trick before and it generally works pretty well and it did a decent job again, although for this recipe it did become a little more dense than the original cake.

Finally, for the filling I mixed brown sugar, flour, pecans and melted butter together. I froze the mixture for about 20 minutes and then crumbled it into frozen pieces before incorporating it into the batter. I chose to freeze it first so that when it was mixed into the batter it wouldn’t blend into it and change it into a butter brown sugar cake. I also wanted them to turn into little bursts of buttery brown sugar and pecan bites throughout the cake and it worked nicely as they melted while the batter baked around them, locking them in place.

When the cake finished cooling, I spread on the glaze topping. I kept the recipe the same as the original cake, but instead of lemon, for the thicker first layer I added some cinnamon and for the thinner portion of the glaze meant for decorating, I went with more vanilla. I also made four colors for the decorative glaze instead of just green – we don’t just make green Easter eggs, so I didn’t want just green frosting either!

First bite…. eww. The glaze was chalky and had a harsh bite to it. The thicker cinnamon portion had real cinnamon instead of flavoring, and it just didn’t work well. The thinner vanilla portion also wasn’t good – what went wrong when it was fine in round 1? Almost immediately, I realized it was human error – this human in his haste to get the cake glazed on a Sunday evening forgot to add in the melted butter.

As for the cake itself… As I described above, each individual change seemed to work well as I was putting the cake together. The sum of the parts however did not add up to the best end product. The little bursts of pecan, butter and brown sugar tasted pretty good and the cake alone wasn’t too bad either, although perhaps a bit too moist in the end.

All of the parts eaten together did not work well because of the mistake I had made with the glaze. I understood that of course, but why was it that the two decent parts, the filling and the cake, did not seem to go together well either when the glaze was taken out of the mix? Did the addition of the yogurt along with the frozen bits of butter melting while baking cause the extra moisture and denseness? Was the reduction in sugar in the batter to blame? Should I not have tried the yogurt idea at all and simply added oil?

I still haven’t come to any conclusions, and I’m not sure if I ever will. Some baking mysteries just can’t be solved, and perhaps we shouldn’t even try. Maybe the best thing to do is just cut your losses and try again. The one thing I do know is that I will not be sharing a new recipe for an Easter brunch cake with you today! Sadly, the best thing about the cake was the way it looked!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the kitchen to give my round 2 cake a proper send off – garbage pick up day is tomorrow. On that note, I’ll turn this over to Karen with fingers crossed that her round 2 went way better than mine did! Have a great weekend!

Ray and I took very different approaches to round 2! While Ray took large swings at the cake, my approach was to make smaller “tweaks”. I took that approach because the original cake was not too bad, perhaps a few small changes would bring it up to par. That, and remembering not to turn the oven off 10 minutes into the process.

I decided to use cake flour because I was looking for a lighter texture. I’m not sure just how much difference that made, but that’s what was in my head. I also decided to add a small amount of vegetable oil. This was again for the purpose of making the texture of the cake lighter. In keeping with the original, I used the hot water again, but not quite as much.

The next thing I thought about was flavor. I opted to add a couple teaspoons of vanilla extract along with the lemon. I’ve read that vanilla enhances everything, including lemon cakes and a quick perusal of my cookbooks confirmed that to be the case.

Next, I considered the baking vessel. I have a spring form pan that has a bundt insert. This pan is smaller than my other bundt pan so I thought it would do the trick. This also meant that I needed to make an educated guess about the baking time again. I went for 350F and thought 40-45 minutes would be in the ballpark.

Lastly, I considered the decoration. I liked the way the first frosting turned out, so I kept that and rather than mix another frosting color, introduced the green through sprinkles.

How did it go? not quite as well as I thought it would. I kept an eye on the cake, and pulled it out at about 44 minutes. A skewer test came out clean, but I wasn’t sure about the spring and the texture, so I put it back in for 3 minutes. I burned the fool out of my thumb when doing so, and when I pulled the cake back out of the oven, I suspected I may have gone too far as it was no longer making any sounds. I decorated the cake, then took some pictures of it. The moment of truth would be the taste test. First thoughts? It was dry. Damn! Those 3 extra minutes had taken a toll on the cake. Then flavor was assessed. It doesn’t taste bad, but it does taste bland. I suspect that the hot water isn’t doing this cake any favors. If you think about it, water will add nothing, but will dilute flavor, so a rethink is in order.

Easter Cake – Round 2

As Paul Hollywood would say, this is all style, no substance. So for now, I will still hold out hope that we can make a success of this cake. Perhaps a year from now, we can revisit this exercise, but for now, Happy Easter everyone!

A New Gift, A New Year & Some New Cooking Adventures!

Once again the holidays have come and gone, leaving in their wake a wave of happy memories, fun, a lot of leftovers and of course, a new toy or two! I was given many thoughtful gifts by my family and one of my favorites came from my wife Lori. What a fun surprise to unwrap the Fast Slow GO, a multicooker pot by Breville, on Christmas morning!

Many years ago before there was such a thing as an instant pot, I used to use a regular old stovetop pressure cooker. I learned how they worked from my grandma who used them frequently. I enjoyed the wild sound of the steam bursting out as the regulator on top of the pot rocked wildly back and forth. Of course there was also the thought of the slight element of risk in the old style stovetop cookers that the lid would blow right off under the pressure, but that only happened on TV shows or in movies right? Luckily it never happened to me!

Several years later the first of the electric pressure cookers started to come out and while I was reluctant to give up my old stovetop model, my wife (we weren’t yet married) decided she wanted to get one. We started using it, time passed, and one day I realized that my old stovetop pot had not been used since. I guess I had retired it in a rather unceremonious way!

Two years ago that first electric pressure cooker broke and had not been replaced. Recently I started talking about possibly getting a new one and that’s when the idea for Lori’s Christmas gift to me was born.

The newest models have really come a long way from the original one we had for so long. Along with the manual set options, this one also features a dozen preset cooking options including soup, sous vide, rice, risotto and yogurt to name a few. I also like that it has a sauté function for browning meat or softening vegetables before using one of the other modes. Lori debated if this would be a good gift, or another one of those things that sits and collects dust. After the first week she knew it was a good idea – I used it nine times!

My first experiment was a soup featuring the rest of the meatballs we enjoyed on Christmas Eve. I also made two other soups that week – split pea, which was a great way to use the rest of our Christmas ham and finally a simple chicken soup. The soup mode took about 25 to 30 minutes which included the 15 minute cooking cycle and approximately 10 to 15 minutes for the pot to come to full pressure.

Next, I tried the rice function twice. Once to make steamed rice (Jasmine) as a side for dinner and the other to make a simple main dish we often enjoy for dinner of ground beef (or turkey) and rice (this time I used Basmati) and Parmesan cheese. The sauté function was perfect for browning the beef before cooking it along with the rice.

I also tried recipes for macaroni and cheese and chocolate cake. Finally, I gave breakfast a test drive with steel cut oats and hard boiled eggs – at last I was able to try my fellow blogger’s method for making those eggs! If you are interested in trying it out, Karen did a great job of outlining the process in her post Easy Peel Eggs.

Overall I have found the pot to be very easy to use and often a time saver. The soup and rice functions were simple to work with and have produced great results. Some things do have a bit of a learning curve however. For example, my experiment with steel cuts oats needs a bit of tweaking to get the amount of water right. I used too much, so they came out a bit too wet. It was easily remedied by using the sauté mode to finish them off, but with the correct amount of water, that step would not be needed.

I also need to work a bit more with the chocolate cake recipe and cook time. The flavor of the cake was good – very rich and deep, much like a brownie. Unfortunately, the cake was a bit heavy and surprisingly a little dry considering it had been cooked in a steam filled environment! I don’t mind the occasional mishap though – that’s how we learn.

I hope that your holiday season brought you lots of joy and a fun gift or two! I am looking forward to a new year of blogging and sharing our cooking adventures. I have a feeling that a few of them will include creating a new recipe or two in my new pot! Until next time, I hope you all have a great weekend.

The Cookbook Club -Round 3

Ever notice how time moves at a certain pace for a while, and then suddenly accelerates? It usually catches me by surprise at this time of year. I wouldn’t even say usually. It always catches me by surprise. I become preoccupied with a cookbook club and suddenly we are a week away from Christmas! How did that happen? Well, for one thing I guess I was having fun and didn’t notice the time.

This past weekend we participated in another round of RainydayBites Cookbook Club. As with the other rounds, we cooked from Baking for the Holidays by Sarah Kieffer. The choices of recipes for this round included anything from the Gift Giving chapter. There were lots of great candidates in this chapter. As for me, I chose to make two of the recipes. The only two I thought Tom would enjoy.

The first recipe I chose to work on was the Peanut Butter Cups. There was the option to use a silicone mold or a lined mini muffin pan. There wasn’t a size listed for the silicone mold, so I opted to order some silicone molds in a size that would fit a mini muffin pan. This was a very easy recipe to execute. Make and chill the peanut butter filling. Melt the chocolate, partially cool it, then begin filling the cups with chocolate while rotating the chocolate up the sides, fill with the peanut butter then top with more chocolate. The cups set in the refrigerator and are unmolded once set. So, what are my thoughts on this recipe? Mostly good. The decision to go with individual cups for molds was a good one as it made it very easy to fill and rotate up the sides. I saw other molds that would make 6 or 9 cups at a time, but I think that might give a result that would be a bit messier for me. Because there was not a mold size given, I think that perhaps I should have started with a smaller amount of chocolate in each cup and not filled them completely as the chocolate layer was a bit thick. I would also consider making the filling a bit thicker. All that being said, the peanut butter cups were delicious and quickly consumed!

Peanut Butter Cups

The second recipe I made was the Red Velvet Crinkle Cookies. This was another very easy to execute recipe. I made the dough the evening before baking, and then baked the cookies up the next day with an efficiency that I don’t know that I’ll ever replicate again. The beautiful crinkle effect is achieved by rolling the balls of cookie dough into a mixture of granulated and confectioners sugar. The finished product is quite a showstopper. As for the taste. It was excellent and tasted even better a day or two later.

Red Velvet Crinkle Cookies

As usual, the pictures were posted on a specific day and a lot of good natured likes and comments followed. Now let’s see how things went for Ray.

Funny, Karen and I were clearly operating and living in polar opposite worlds for this round of the club. Where she was all into the club and seemingly forgot that Christmas was quickly coming at us, we were lost in Christmas land in my house and I forgot that it was the week for another round of the club. The day to post this round was Saturday and the afternoon of the Thursday before I casually texted Karen and asked “the club is next Saturday, not this one right?” A few minutes later the response came: “It is this weekend!”

So, I quickly pulled out the cookbook and made a choice based on two very important criteria for a last minute adventure:

  1. What ingredients did I have on hand – the odds that I’d have time to get to the store and buy anything in the next day were slim!
  2. What recipes could I make with those ingredients – and preferably, the easiest one possible as time was of the essence!

Sometimes the magic just happens. As it turned out, I had all the ingredients I needed to make the Vanilla Bean Sablés and the recipe was quite easy as well! They are a slice and bake cookie and the only thing I didn’t have on hand was turbinado or sanding sugar which would be used on the outside of the slice and bake log. I did have decorating sugar crystals in red and green on hand though, and in the spirit of holiday baking, it seemed like an excellent substitute!

The end result looked even better than I had imagined it would, and so many of the nice people in the club gave me compliments on my use of the red and green sugars. They tasted very much like a shortbread cookie and we really enjoyed them. It was a successful round for me after a rough start. I guess in this case the Phoenix really did rise from the ashes – the ashes in this case being my memory!

Stay tuned – we have one final challenge to go in the current round of the cookbook club. Until next time, have a great weekend.

The Cookbook Club – Round 2

Hopefully everyone had a happy Thanksgiving! Ours was a small gathering, but at least not spent apart from my mother and brother this year. Part of this year’s dinner at my own home included my selection from round 2 of Raindaybites Cookbook Club on Instagram. The challenge was to make one of the following: Apple, Caramel and Hard Cider Pie, Creme Brulee Pumpkin Pie, or Blueberry Streusel Buns. These are selections from Baking for the Holidays by Sarah Kieffer. My first instinct was to go for the Blueberry Streusel Buns as that is where my experience lies, but no, I decided to face my fears and go for the pie. You see, I had never made pie dough from scratch before, and this was a challenge after all. Once I decided to go pie, the next choice was which one? I liked the idea of the Apple, Caramel and Hard Cider Pie, but I didn’t have any hard cider and I know myself well enough to know that if I made it with the optional plain apple cider, I’d backtrack mentally and be dissatisfied knowing that it would be better with hard cider. Also there was that dough. If I made the pumpkin pie, I would only have to make a single pie dough instead of a double. That’s a 50% reduction in the chance of failure? I know that doesn’t completely make sense, but to me it did at the time. There was also the lure of the brulee. I could order a torch from Amazon and set something on fire. My choice was made.

Once my decision was made, I read over the recipe and the list of ingredients noting the one optional ingredient was blackstrap rum. I didn’t have that either, but for reasons I can’t explain, I was able to make the decision to heed the word “optional” and carry on. Why could I ignore the blackstrap rum option and not the hard cider option from the other recipe? I don’t have a genuinely good answer to that. Perhaps it is because I enjoy the occasional hard cider, but have never had blackstrap rum. Though I will say, I am curious.

Before launching into my pie dough making efforts, I decided to attempt to be a good student and watch a couple of episodes of Food 52’s Bake It Up a Notch with Erin Jeanne McDowell on YouTube. Erin literally wrote The Book on Pie and has a 4 part series on pie making on YouTube. I learned a lot, but watching isn’t the same as doing is it? The next day, I decided to put my new found knowledge to the test and made my dough incorporating some of the tips I had just learned from Erin.

The next step was to make the filling. The process was unlike other pumpkin pie fillings I’ve made in the past and involved sieving the filling through a fine mesh strainer, but this is a step that was definitely worthwhile as it produced a beautifully smooth result.

With my dough and my filling made, I tentatively put my pie into the oven. While it was baking, I scrolled through my Instagram feed only to see NYTcooking featuring a video of Erin making perfect pie crust. I immediately knew I’d under-hydrated my dough. I felt a little crushed, but at the same time determined to have a good attitude about it. When the pie came out, it didn’t look too bad, so I soldiered on.

When it was finally time to serve the pie, it was also time to try the most exciting step. Let the torching begin! I gingerly put the sugar atop the pie and lit my torch. How did it turn out? Not too bad. There were certainly some uneven spots, but it did have the satisfying crackle that all creme brulee lovers desire. My mom who is an experienced pie maker, enjoyed a small piece, but did agree the crust was a bit dry. She also sought out another piece a couple of days after Thanksgiving, but the pie was long gone.

In the end I would say hesitancy is the word of the day. I was hesitant to put too much water in the dough, and hesitant so as not to overwork the dough. I was also hesitant to put enough sugar on the pie and hesitant with the torch as is blatantly obvious by my photo. But the thing is, I am grateful for this experience. I learned a lot and have developed more confidence for future pie making adventures which I suppose will start with another pumpkin pie for my mom.

Creme Brulee Pumpkin Pie

I see this as a success with qualifications and a gateway bake into more things pie and more things torched. Now let’s see how things turned out for Ray.

I can see it now… Karen running around the kitchen with torch in hand and my brother running from the house faster than she can get it lit!

Thanksgiving was enjoyable in our house as well. While we missed the bigger get together a bit, we decided we would sit one more round out. We had lots of fun cooking together as a family – even our two dogs joined in when I worked on the cooking club project… but more about that later!

Karen already did a great job of outlining our recipe choices for this round, so I won’t go into all of that again and get right to the part about which recipe I chose! Each year my wife makes the pumpkin and apple pies and I look forward to both of them, so that made my choice easy – I made the Blueberry Streusel Buns. I knew we had more than enough dessert for Thanksgiving day, so I waited until Friday to make them.

Much like the dough that was used for our first round in the club for making pull apart bread, the base dough for this recipe could also be refrigerated for up to 72 hours before using it. Since Thanksgiving is a very busy day in the kitchen, that flexibility came in handy and allowed me to make the dough Wednesday night and tuck it away in the refrigerator for Friday morning. Making the dough was very easy too as it was designed to require very little kneading.

Friday came and I went to work making the buns for a mid morning snack. We don’t usually have such extravagant snacks in the morning, but it was a holiday weekend and you have to bend the rules every now and then right? The process to put them together was very simple and in little time I had them in the pan for the final rise before baking.

Once they were out of the oven and the icing was drizzled on, we dove in. We really enjoyed them – they reminded me of a combination of cinnamon buns and blueberry muffins. We enjoy both of those things, so putting them together into one delicious package was a win win situation!

When I posted my picture, I noticed that the buns I made were a bit smaller than the others that fellow club members were posting. I know exactly why that is and I have a little secret regarding that. I didn’t share it on Instagram – I haven’t even shared the story with Karen yet – but now it’s confession time!

Remember when I said above that even our dogs pitched in to help? It was the kind of help I didn’t need! We have two mini Australian Shepherds – they’re both puppies still, one is almost 5 months old and the other is almost a year and half. As you can imagine, two puppies can engage is some rather spirited play together from time to time. Normally we put a gate in the middle of the kitchen when we’re cooking to keep them on the dining side so we can work at the counter without… well, incident is the perfect word here!

Perhaps it was the morning after eating lots of turkey haze that took me over, but for whatever reason I didn’t put the gate up that morning. I went to work and dumped my dough on the counter – about a third of it was still stuck to the bowl, so I got out my scraper to get it. At the precise moment that I released that last third of the dough and had it in my hand, some of that spirited play broke out right next to me. The dogs bumped into my legs and the dough flew out of my hand and despite my best efforts to reach out and grab it in mid air, it hit the floor!

Don’t let their size or cute innocent expressions fool you – they can reduce your useable dough by 33% faster than you can blink an eye!!

Luckily having one third less dough to work with didn’t reduce the flavor by a third – they were still 100% delicious. Round three is coming up soon – I know two dogs that won’t be helping me out this time! Have a great weekend!

Happy Thanksgiving

We’ll be taking a break from our usual Friday post this week to spend time enjoying the holiday with our families. Before heading off to be with them, I just wanted to take a moment to say if you follow our blog, or just drop by to read a post or two on occasion, we are thankful that you do!

In a moment I’ll be off to start the day in our usual way. We’ll have a light breakfast – you need to save room for the main event – and then we’ll sit down with a glass of apple cider to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade before starting our dinner preparations. The parade brings back many good memories for me – and countless millions of others no doubt!

I will always remember my mother watching part of the parade before heading off to the kitchen to start getting the turkey ready to go in the oven. As she left to get to work she would always say to us “call me when Santa arrives!” She loved the holiday season, particularly Christmas and she loved to see how Santa would look each year. Just as fun are the new memories we add each year watching our son view the parade through his eyes and all of the excitement that comes as each new balloon goes by!

I hope that however you spend your day, it is filled with happiness as you create new memories. Happy Thanksgiving!

We Joined an Instagram Cookbook Club!

Confession. Until this past spring, I didn’t even know there was such a thing. I was checking out my Instagram feed and saw a post by @zoebakes aka Zoe Francois about her new cookbook, Zoe Bakes Cakes being chosen by @rainydaybites for the May and June cookbook challenge. Zoe gave a great description of the cookbook club and how it worked. I clicked the links and was impressed to see all the beautiful bakes that had been produced and thought the concept sounded fun, but I was late to the party as the challenge was halfway over. The way the club works is that a particular cookbook is chosen, a specific recipe or recipes are chosen from the book, and participants post photos of what they made on a specific date. It was something I wanted to do, but to be honest, I was late to the party several times. Finally, I decided to take the plunge and make sure I didn’t miss out again, and asked Ray if he wanted to join in. He also thought it sounded like fun and agreed to participate.

The book selection for November and December was Baking for the Holidays: 50+ Treats for a Festive Season by Sarah Kieffer. That sounded liked a perfect selection as we both expected to bake a lot during these months. Once we made the commitment to one another, I ordered the book right away and was delighted to receive my beautiful copy. A quick look through is all I needed to know that I would be making many of the recipes from this book outside of what was chosen for the club.

The first recipe for the club was Lemon Pull-Apart Bread. Well, that sounded delicious! So, I gathered my ingredients and went to work. First the dough had to be made. It needed to be made ahead of time and placed in the refrigerator overnight or up to 72 hours. That flexibility ended up being a godsend as family obligations interfered with my plans the next day, but my dough was still waiting for me when I was ready. On baking day, things appeared to be going well at first. I followed the instructions and admired the slices of dough as they sat in the pan for the final rise. All was great!

Lemon Pull-Apart Bread Dough

Then came time to bake. I’d already seen what Ray had produced, so I excitedly placed my loaf in the oven. After several minutes, I turned the oven light on to take a peek. Well, it didn’t quite look like what I was expecting. It was the opposite of Ohio – high on both ends and round in the middle. At the midway point I decided to tent the bread with foil to control the browning. The bread still had the odd shape, but the smell of butter that wafted up was heavenly! Once the bread was finished baking, it had a greater resemblance to a bouquet of flowers than the neatly stacked image that was in my head.

Lemon Pull-Apart Bread

What went wrong? I don’t know if I should say anything went wrong. What I got in the end was actually delicious. Tom likened it to a lemon Danish, which he said was one of the few breakfast pastries he likes. I wondered if I let the rise go longer than I should have? There was a range of 45 to 60 minutes, and I let mine go the full 60. More is better, right? I also think in retrospect, that I could have been much neater when placing my strips of dough into the pan. Nonetheless, I completed the icing and took additional pictures and posted one of them to Instagram. The response was so positive! I had many likes and warm comments. Both Sarah Kieffer and Deborah of @rainydaybites gave very nice compliments. I’d been reluctant to share, but Ray had nudged me to post, and I’m glad I did. This was so much fun, and the cookbook club is a really kind and supportive community. I’m definitely in for round two!

Let’s see how the experience went for Ray…

Let me start by picking up where Karen left off. I really wouldn’t say she had gone wrong in any way either. We discussed what we had done differently, but that doesn’t necessarily mean her following my exact path would have produced the same end result. I only did 45 minutes for the final rise, but would that have changed things for her? Probably not. There are many factors that could come into play. Perhaps the strength of the yeast she used was better than mine. Maybe her kitchen was warmer than mine which resulted in a more powerful final rise. Who knows?

I will also echo her thoughts regarding the nice group of people that were baking along with us! I had finished and posted mine much earlier in the day than Karen and had spent the rest of the day checking in from time to time and watching the results unfold. So many people (including Sarah Kieffer and Deborah of @rainydaybites) gave my end results likes and took the time to comment and I enjoyed replying to their comments and commenting on their work as well.

These friendly exchanges and the camaraderie within the group were the reason I encouraged Karen to go ahead and post her results. Of all the results posted, no two looked alike – some of the participants even talked about crazy results and slices of dough popping out of place as well! They posted their work proudly and with good humor and it really made for a fun and great experience for all.

As for my results… In our family since the very early days of Karen becoming my sister-in-law, we have teamed up to make a dessert or two each Thanksgiving. Baking is a very precise thing and I believe in following recipes, but after making a particular recipe several times, I am known to consider changes to the process. There is one pecan pie recipe that comes to mind. We choose new recipes each year, but this particular pie became a favorite of our nephew, so we still make it most years along with our other selection for that year.

Like most pecan pies, you fill the pie shell with toasted pecans before pouring the filling over them. In this particular recipe it calls for an extra step – after putting the pecan halves in the pie shell, you are supposed to add some chopped pecans to the filling before you pour it over the other pecans. After a few years of doing this I began to wonder what is the point of it? It has become sort of humorous traditional exchange between us when preparing the pie.

Karen: “Now we need to add the chopped pecans.”

Ray: “Is this step really necessary? Do we really need to do it?”

Karen: “Yes, that’s what the recipe says to do!”

Ray: “Fine, we’ll do it!”

Family anecdote aside, I did follow the recipe to the letter and I ended up with amazing results! One of the fun things about the club is that if there are variations in the book for a chosen recipe, you can make one of them instead. I like lemon desserts, probably better than my family, but I knew I would get a better response to one of the other options. In order to save myself from having to eat the bulk of the lemon bread alone, I decided to make the cinnamon version.

Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread – Final Rise

After the final rise was complete, it was all set to go in the oven. While it was baking the house filled with an amazing cinnamon smell and my son couldn’t stop asking me how much longer it would be before we could eat it. I understood how he felt – I couldn’t wait to try it either! When it was done baking and topped with icing, I was amazed at what I saw – it was probably one of the nicest looking things I had ever made.

After snapping a few pictures, we tore into it. It was truly delicious and in short order the loaf in the picture above was half its former size! My son asked for more and my wife said it reminded her a bit of Cinnabon – I agreed. It took a great deal of restraint, but we wrapped it up and set it aside for the next day when we enjoyed another slice. The author states that the bread is best eaten the day it’s made. While that is no doubt true, especially if you plan to serve it to company, it was just as good the second day after a few seconds in the microwave.

Round one really was a lot of fun and I am looking forward to the second challenge next week.

Happy Labor Day!

I hope you are all having a great day and that you are taking time away from your daily 9 to 5 to enjoy some relax time with your family. We are keeping it simple with some grilled burgers, pasta salad and a blueberry lemon cake.

In the spirit of the day, even the blueberry lemon cake I made was simple – it is nothing more than a blueberry muffin mix topped with royal icing made with lemon juice instead of milk or water. I even made it in a foil pan to save the work of cleaning up!

Super easy blueberry lemon cake.
My wife kept her preparation simple for today as well. This delicious pasta salad is made with mozzarella, garden tomatoes and Italian dressing.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I must get back to my family and our day of fun!

A Pandemic, a Coffee Cake and a New Mother’s Day Tradition

In our house Mother’s Day has been celebrated by starting the day with brunch at the country club where my wife and I were married.  After our son was born, I discovered that they held these brunches each year and for us it was a lot of fun to get to spend an hour or two in the very room where our reception had been held. 

We went on this way happily for our first 4 years of parenthood and probably would have continued to do so for several more, but in year 5 that option was taken from us as the pandemic had taken a strong hold on the world.  By the time Mother’s Day 2020 had rolled around, for the safety of all, indoor dining at restaurants had come to a screeching halt.

As they say, when life throws you lemons, make lemonade. Indeed, the entire world seemed to have had truckloads and truckloads of lemons thrown at it as we all watched the news hour after hour to learn more about this horrible pandemic. That is when the make lemonade part started to come into play for all of us. In this terrible situation we all had to find ways to try and make normal life happen again within our individual homes as the world around us began to shrink quite a bit.   They say events such as this only happen once in a generation or two, but I hope that no future generation ever has to experience this again!

So, the challenge to create some sort of normalcy was on and my son (five at the time) and I decided we would do the best we could to recreate our country club Mother’s Day brunch right in our own home.  Luckily, we started to work on the plan more than a month in advance as it was more difficult in the early days of the pandemic to source all the food you might be looking for.  

In the end, I think we did a good job of pulling it off.   When it was time to unveil the big surprise, it brought a big smile to Lori’s face and even a tear or two to her eyes – what more could you ask for?  We served ham and eggs, blueberry and chocolate chip muffins, biscuits, cheese and crackers, fruit salad, juice, tea, and coffee.

Mother’s Day Brunch 2020

We also served a coffee cake which I created on the fly using ideas from several recipes I had read. I looked at dozens of them and by the end, I was just too overloaded on great looking cakes and could not decide which one to try!   The idea was a very simple one which was handy because we had taken on a lot and it turned out great – we were very proud of what we had created.

Mother’s Day Coffee Cake 2020

Here is the recipe if you would like to give it a try!

Easy Coffee Cake


Here’s what makes this delicious cake so simple – start with your favorite yellow cake mix and prepare it according to the directions on the box!

Streusel Filling:

  • 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, packed – I used dark, but light would also be fine.
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter

In a medium sized bowl stir the graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, chopped nuts and cinnamon together until well mixed.  Pour the melted butter onto the mixture and mix again until well coated and the graham cracker crumbs are evenly moistened.

Pour half of the cake batter into a greased Bundt pan, then sprinkle the streusel mixture evenly over the batter and carefully pour the remaining batter evenly over the streusel.

Bake according to the directions on the cake mix box.


  • 1 cup Powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water

Mix the two ingredients together in a bowl until they form a smooth glaze.  You don’t want the mixture to be too watery or too thick – it should be able to drizzle off of a spoon slowly, but easily.  Fortunately, it is easy to fix consistency issues when it comes to glaze – if it is too thick, add more water a few drops at a time and if it is too thin, a bit more powdered sugar until you reach the desire consistency.

After the cake has cooled, prepare the glaze and slowly drizzle it over the cake in a back and forth motion until the entire cake is covered in decorative lines.  If you wish to add any decorations such as colored sugar, do so immediately after you are done pouring the glaze – if it gets too dry, the decorations won’t stick.

Fast forward to last week – another year and another Mother’s Day at home.  It was fun to create another brunch and one year later, food was certainly much easier to get having navigated the waters together on how to handle the simple things we all took for granted before like getting a loaf of bread or a roll of toilet paper.  Our cake was such a hit last year that we made it again and for the second year in a row, three people ate way more cake than they probably should have!  

Mother’s Day Coffee Cake 2021

After our second Mother’s Day brunch at home came to a close, I asked Lori if she missed brunch at the country club and if she would ever want to go back when we are able to do so.  She told me that maybe she’d like to go again one day several years from now, but for now she has come to love and enjoy the brunch we have created right here in our own home.  It will never cease to amaze me how out of the most unlikely or challenging of situations a new and happy tradition can be formed.

As the vaccine becomes more readily available, treatment options begin to expand and the number of cases and transmission rates begin to drop, it is nice to know that perhaps we are starting to see the beginning of the end of this whole situation.  While in many ways it was a terrible year and I know some people who did get sick, I am one of the truly fortunate ones who have not lost someone to covid – as we move forward, may we never forget the ones who did.

I am generally a glass is half full kind of guy, but even the strongest of the half full types were challenged during this past year.  While it might be easier to dwell on what we were not able to do, I’d rather remember what we did do and how creativity often saved the day.  From a Mother’s Day brunch created to be like the ones we’ve celebrated at the country club in the past, to being a mom and dad who took turns hiding behind each door in our house pretending to be different people so our son could still go trick or treating safely, to baking Christmas cookies together as a family and then spending an evening driving around to look at the holiday lights while delivering those cookies during surprise socially distanced visits to family because our usual gatherings were off the table.

To all the mothers out there, I hope your Mother’s Day was wonderful and that your glass was half full and that next year as we hopefully continue to emerge from this pandemic, your glass will be overflowing!

Holiday Leftovers

I should call this one Holiday Leftovers – The Easter Edition… Easter was just a little over a week ago and as it often happens when cooking for a holiday, we prepared more than we needed so we spent the week after using up some of the leftovers. If you have read some of my other posts, you may have already heard me say “play with your food.” Of course I don’t mean squishing it in your fingers or picking it up and flinging it at your family members! I’m talking about flexing your creativity and looking at your food in different ways.

Often after I cook something I’ll then think of dozens of variations to try in the future for “food playtime,” but another great way to play with your food is to take your leftovers and turn them into something different. For this post I have spent some time doing just that and will share with you three things I made during the past week.

The first idea was inspired by our Easter dinner entrée. We enjoyed a very nice smoked turkey that night – actually we enjoyed it the night after as well! Turkey is truly one meal that keeps on giving. When Tuesday rolled around and there was still some left, I decided to make a turkey salad for lunch. The idea for this salad was based on a chicken salad my wife and I used to get at a local market near where we used to live and although the original used chicken, I thought turkey prepared in the same way would work well. Just a side note here – if you happened to read our Q&A post from last week, you’ll know this one isn’t for Karen!

Smoked Turkey Salad

  • 2 cups diced smoked turkey
  • 8 to 10 red grapes quartered
  • 15 to 20 fresh Tarragon leaves cut or torn into 4 or 5 pieces each
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • Salt to taste

Simply mix all of the ingredients together and serve on your favorite bread. This should make enough for 2 sandwiches – I had mine on a toasted wheat English muffin.

Overall I was happy with how this one turned out and it definitely reminded me of the one we used to get from the market. Using smoked turkey instead of chicken was a pleasant change, but still tasted similar to the original. I know Karen will not agree, but the Tarragon truly is the star here!

The next idea in my trio of leftovers reimagined is a simple one. If you celebrate Easter, then chances are you have dyed Easter eggs. We love doing them in our family and it often leads to a bit of spirited and good natured fun. Who made the best blue egg? I did of course! Which egg was the best overall? Which one was the most unique? But what happens when you’re done coloring them and all of these important questions have been answered? You’re left with a bunch of hardboiled eggs that you need to find a use for!

There are many great uses for hardboiled eggs actually. You can simply eat them with a little salt, chop them up and add them to a salad or slice them and put them on toast with a little mayonnaise and make a sandwich out of them. Two of our favorite ways to use them are for egg salad and deviled eggs. One time we couldn’t decide which one we wanted to make more, so we meshed the two ideas together and the next recipe was born.

Deviled Egg Salad

  • 2 hardboiled eggs chopped
  • 2 teaspoons mayonnaise
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste if desired
  • Paprika for garnish

Once again, simply mix all of the ingredients together (except for the paprika) and serve on your bread of choice – before you put the second piece of bread on, sprinkle the egg salad with paprika to give it that true deviled egg look. This recipe is good for one sandwich, but is certainly very easy to double or triple, etc.

For the first two recipes I stuck with more traditional ideas when putting them together, for the final one I had an odd thought pop into my head – can I turn leftover cake into a frozen ice cream like treat? So I decided to try – if you’re going to play with your food, you can’t play it safe all the time! The recipe I came up with was quite simple really, but would it work?

Cake “Ice Cream”

  • 3 cups of leftover cake, icing included, cut into 1 inch cubes (I used yellow cake with white icing)
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Place all of the ingredients in a blender and blend on a low speed until everything is combined, then switch to high and continue to blend until smooth. Transfer the mix to a freezer safe container and freeze for 24 hours.

Before freezing it, the mixture actually looked and tasted a bit like I had turned the cake back into cake batter! After the freezing was complete we took an initial taste test.

It tasted like birthday cake ice cream or frozen yogurt. Since the mixture wasn’t churned in any way during freezing, it was much more dense and solid than ice cream normally is. While it tasted pretty good, it was quite sweet and the texture was a bit too slick for my liking. I decided to go in a different direction and turn the frozen mixture into a milkshake instead.

My hope was that the additional milk would resolve the slick texture issue and also help to reduce the sweetness. So, back to the blender I went and put the frozen mix in along with a cup of milk and blended away.

What is it they say – two out of three ain’t bad? Well in this case it would be one out of two ain’t bad I suppose, although how good is 50% really? They looked very nice and the change in plan did get rid of that slick feeling, unfortunately it was still much too sweet to drink more than a couple of sips. If you’re going to serve something this sweet, perhaps cake shake shooters would be the better way to go!

In the end I guess I could actually apply the thought above and say two out of three recipes ain’t bad because two of them did come out well. As for the shakes, I wouldn’t call them a complete failure. I do believe there is still some potential there and perhaps with a few adjustments this one could come up a winner. Not everything will turn into an immediate success when you play with your food, but you’ll never know unless you try.