Variations on the Theme

December 31, 2010

Christmastide at Life in the Garden

If you only knew what a goofball I am, you’d know how amused I am that anyone has asked me about this wee blog design.  Check out the new Theme page (right up top) for my vast, unrivaled knowledge, or you can click here.  Should take you about 33 seconds to read it.  Evelyn Wood peeps, you get 2.7.

Cheers, and HEY – be safe out there tonight!  I want to see you all tomorrow. ❤


Bread Tutorial Coming Soon

December 29, 2010

I’ve been making our whole wheat sammie bread for about two years now.  I’ve been wanting to do a tutorial since before we moved last spring, but life was too complicated for a bit there.  Since we’re a bit more settled now, this is a great time for a tutorial.

I have a couple of wonderful kitchen tools that are pretty close to life-support status:  I can’t live without them.  Well, ok, I probably could live without them, but I couldn’t bake without them.  Well, that’s prolly a stretch, too.  Technically, I suppose that I could bake without them; but these implements of mass nutrition have moved so far past gadget category that they have attained Necessary Tool status.  Tools so necessary, in fact, that if they weren’t here, certain food would just never happen around here.  Like the kind we eat.  So, in this modern day kitchen that is longer on good intentions than it is on time or skill, I need every good tool I can find.  Any guesses as to what they are?

I’ll be working on the tut over the next couple of days.  If you post your questions, I’ll do my best to work them in!

A New Classic: Egg Nog Cake with Vintage Bourbon Cream Frosting

December 26, 2010

Egg Nog Cake

Firstie was wanting an Egg Nog cake for his special December day.  Not finding a recipe for “egg nog cake” anywhere on the web, I did the only thing that a girl can do in that situation:  I panicked.

Then my creative brain kicked in and reminded me that cake making was pretty straight forward in its formula; just give it the appropriate seasonal flair and it should work.  I was completely unprepared for how well it would work.  I served it with our homemade Vanilla & Ginger Snap ice cream for a very memorable day, and a definite new family favorite.

I hope that you get a chance to try it, and that you love it as much as we do.  Cheers!


C = Cup and tsp = teaspoon

1 1/2 C butter, softened
1 1/2 C extra-fine granulated sugar
4 egg whites
4 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground clove
1 little splash of bourbon
2 C all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/3 C Egg Nog, plus a bit more to reach consistency*
Vintage Bourbon Cream Frosting (below)

* When I first made this recipe, the consistency was close to dough-like, so I kept adding a bit more egg nog to get more of a batter. Still not quite what I was expecting, but the end result was fabulous.

350* oven
1. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until creamy.
2. Beat in egg whites one at a time.
3. Beat in vanilla and spices.
4. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with egg nog, beating just until combined.  Don’t overmix.
5. Spread evenly into two greased and floured 9-in round baking pans.
6. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
7. To cool, put your cakes directly into the freezer from the oven for 45 minutes, then remove to the counter for decorating.*  PLEASE only do this with metal pans; the extreme temperature change could cause any sort of ceramic or glass pan to shatter.
8. Ice with Vintage Bourbon Cream Frosting.
9. Top with crushed ginger snap cookie and chill for one hour.
10. Cut into 16 slices and serve with Vanilla & Ginger Snap ice cream.  Deo Gratias for simple joys!

– For goodness sake, please do NOT use margarine; you will absolutely break my heart. And besides, nothing says love like butter.
– My vanilla doesn’t have alcohol, so my amounts may be greater than those with alcohol-based vanilla; you may want to adjust your vanilla accordingly.
– I really do recommend the freezer right after baking; I have had consistently moist cakes, despite the fact that I don’t really know what I’m doing. Just make sure to use metal pans if you go right to freezer from the oven. You will love it!
– Oh, and always double the vanilla (the doubled amount is already in this recipe).
– For the egg nog, I used Hub’s homemade twist, “loosely based” on Sal’s Easiest Egg Nog (Hub’s changes were to substitute half & half for the low-fat milk, and to use more eggs).

1 Qt half & half*
9 whole eggs
A couple of handfuls of sugar
A bunch of vanilla
And probably some cinnamon and nutmeg

Mix it all up in a bowl and chill it in the fridge.
Makes enough for the cake.  Hopefully.
* Hub says, “I only used half & half because the store was out of heavy cream.”  Lord, how I love this man.

Vintage Bourbon Cream Frosting

2 blocks cream cheese
1/2 C softened butter
1 1/4 – 16 oz boxes powdered sugar (a bit more or less to taste)
8 tsp vanilla
2+ tsp Kentucky bourbon (or more according to taste)

1. Cream the cream cheese and butter.
2. Cream in the powdered sugar.
3. Cream in the vanilla and bourbon.
4. Chill 30 minutes or until cakes are out of the freezer.

I use an alcohol-free vanilla, and tend to use more than in alcohol-based vanilla; you may want to adjust your vanilla accordingly….The picture is a half-iced cake, to give an idea of consistency and texture of the frosting.  I was running a little late, so didn’t chill it but 15 minutes and it was still wonderful.

For Homemade Ice Cream:
2 C milk
1 C extra fine sugar
3 C heavy whipping cream
6 tsp vanilla
2 tsp cinnamon, ground or freshly grated
1+ C Ginger Snap cookie pieces, about the size of a sweet pea, give or take.

1. Using a hand mixer, dissolve sugar into milk.
2. Add heavy whipping cream, vanilla and cinnamon and beat on medium for one minute.
3. Place mixture into ice cream machine.  Follow manufacturer’s instructions for making ice cream.
4. Five minutes before the ice cream is done mixing, add the Ginger Snap cookie pieces, a bit at a time.
5. When ice cream is done mixing in the machine, remove to a freezer-safe bowl and chill for an hour.

For Store-bought Ice Cream:
1 package vanilla ice cream
3 tsp vanilla (no such thing as too much vanilla)
2 tsp cinnamon, ground or freshly grated
1+ C Ginger Snap cookie pieces, about the size of a sweet pea, give or take.

1. Soften the ice cream (I like to leave mine on the counter for a bit).
2. Stir as soon as it’s “stirrable”.  (Oh, yes, you’ll learn all sorts of new words here.)
3. Stir in vanilla and cinnamon.
4. Add cookie pieces, mixing in thoroughly.
5. Leave out for a bit, so that the ice cream softens the ginger snaps just a bit.
6. Place in freezer to set, about an hour or so.

This is a really wonderful softer ice cream, especially when served with the Egg Nog cake.  After it’s set in the freezer, you can leave it out for 20 minutes before serving, or cut back on your freezer time.  Whatever works for you.

Yep. We thought so, too. 🙂