Fresh Blueberry Coffee Cake

I’m not one for muffins or cakes in the morning (although I am a sucker for doughnuts on those rare occasions), but when the calendar turns to August, I really get a hankering for my Aunt Freda’s blueberry coffee cake made with fresh local berries. I’ll get up on a lazy Sunday morning, when the morning temperature is a little bit cooler than it’s been, and pull out this recipe to warm the kitchen. All told it takes about an hour, and who doesn’t have that on a Sunday morning?

I’ve made this with frozen berries in the winter, but it’s just not the same. I’ve included my “lighter” version for the topping, but who wants that? I’ll just take an extra long walk in the afternoon, but only after I’ve finished my cake and coffee.

Fresh Blueberry Coffee Cake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1 3/4 cup flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 well-beaten egg
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup oil (canola or another light colored and flavored)
1 cup fresh blueberries,mixed with 1-2 TBS sugar (I only use two tablespoons if the berries are sour.)

4 TBS. butter (I use 3 TBS.)
1/2 cup flour (I use 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup sugar (I use 1/4 cup)

Sift dry ingredients into a deep, medium bowl and make a well in the center. Mix egg, milk, and oil together in separate bowl, and pour into well. Carefully stir in blueberries and sugar. Mix until combined. Add topping and pour into a 9” greased pie pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until done.

*Chris’s addition: When the cake is almost done, I put a tiny dash of cinnamon and nutmeg on top.

Simple Rhubarb-Strawberry Sauce

The middle of May to the beginning of June in Vermont means warmer weather, waking to the chirping of birds, lilacs, and rhubarb! Last spring I overdid it and bought tons of rhubarb for pies and sauces–which I discovered this spring I hadn’t used. I recently found two bags stuck in the back of the freezer, and since I’m a die-hard thrifty Yankee and I hate to throw food away, I decided to see how it would taste if I cooked it up. I had about five cups of frozen, diced rhubarb that I placed into a dutch oven, found a cup of frozen strawberries, and left the pot on the counter overnight for the fruit to defrost. In the morning, everything had melted with just the right amount of water. I put it over medium heat on the stove, stirring occasionally. I added about 3/4 of a cup of sugar, tasting along the way, and it was enough to make it sweet-tart; I added a dash of cinnamon as well for a little bit of spice. It was done in about 20 minutes. You can make this with fresh rhubarb too, just add a bit of water, strawberries or maybe red raspberries, and watch it carefully so 1. It doesn’t boil over; and 2. It doesn’t stick to the pot. (I ruined a saucepan once when I wasn’t paying attention!) Medium to low heat is best.

You can use this sauce with anything, as a dessert topped with some fresh whipped cream; as a chutney with chicken or pork; or even as a pie filling. My favorite way is just by itself in a small bowl with my breakfast!

Pecan Sticky Rolls

Although I frequently make my own bread and make pies in the summer, I’ve never thought of myself as a baker. Too precise, down to a science; in order to have something come out right, you can’t have the “improvisational flair” I tend to have when I’m creating a dish. You have to follow the recipe exactly and I always tend to veer off in another direction when I’m told what to do.

But when I actually DO follow a recipe, sometimes the most wonderful things can happen; the air in your kitchen will be filled with cinnamon and sugar and you will have small pillow of deliciousness to sink your teeth into. These sweet rolls, which came from the September 2008 issue of Cooking Light, is one of those recipes. I make it only on special occasions and no one will know it’s “low fat,” which I do use loosely; one roll has 275 calories and 7.6 grams of fat, yet it’s considerably less than one you’d pick up in a bakery. And you can be pleased you made it with your own two hands. This receives nothing but raves when I bring it along to family gatherings.

I will preface the recipe with the facts I used five bowls and a saucepan and I was up at 5 a.m. for these to be finished cooking by 9 a.m. And I found myself humming Christmas carols because cinnamon always reminds me of the holidays. But it’s well worth the extra effort in the end. And if you hum Christmas carols when you’re doing the dishes, it seems to make the job go quicker!


Pecan Sticky Rolls
(Note: As you’ll see I can’t help myself, there ARE some changes that I’ve made within the recipe, although none change the outcome, although using 1% milk might change the calorie and fat content.)

3/4 cup warm skim milk (100° to 110°) (Cook’s Note: I use 1%)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (Cook’s Note: I use 1/4 teaspoon)
1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/4 cup warm water (100° to 110°)
1/2 cup egg substitute
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
18 ounces all-purpose flour (about 4 cups), divided
Cooking spray

3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons hot water
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans, toasted (Cook’s Note: I don’t toast the pecans, I like their fresh flavor.)

2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted

1. To prepare dough, combine the first 3 ingredients in a large bowl.

2. Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water in a small bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Stir yeast mixture into milk mixture. Add egg substitute and 3 tablespoons melted butter; stir until well combined.

3. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 16.8 ounces (about 3 3/4 cups) flour to yeast mixture; stir until smooth. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 8 minutes); add enough of remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel slightly soft and tacky).

4. Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray; turn to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 45 minutes. Punch dough down and turn over in bowl; lightly coat with cooking spray. Cover and let rise another 45 minutes. Punch dough down; cover and let rest 5 minutes.

5. To prepare sauce, combine brown sugar, 3 tablespoons butter, and 2 tablespoons hot water in a small bowl; stir with a whisk until smooth. Scrape sugar mixture into a 13 x 9–inch baking pan coated with cooking spray, spreading evenly over bottom of pan with a spatula. Sprinkle sugar mixture evenly with pecans, and set aside.

6. To prepare filling, combine 2/3 cup granulated sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; pat dough into a 16 x 12–inch rectangle. Brush surface of dough with 1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter. Sprinkle sugar mixture evenly over dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Beginning with a long side, roll up dough jelly-roll fashion; pinch seam to seal (do not seal ends of roll). Cut roll into 15 slices (approximately 1 inch wide). Arrange slices, cut sides up, in prepared pan. Lightly coat rolls with cooking spray; cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

Before the final rise.

7. Preheat oven to 350°. (Cook’s Note: I turn my oven to 325° because mine tends to heat high, so I use a lower heat and a longer cooking time.)

8. Uncover rolls, and bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Let stand 1 minute; carefully invert onto serving platter. (Cook’s Note: This can be a little daunting and scary. I usually say a little prayer and hold my breath! Taking a spatula or knife to go around the edges can make the inversion easier. I do this on the counter with a plastic cutting board underneath the serving platter, just in case!)

Calories: 275; Calories from fat: 25%; Fat: 7.6g; Saturated fat: 3.8g; Monounsaturated fat: 2.6g; Polyunsaturated fat: 0.8g; Protein: 4.9g; Carbohydrate: 47g; Fiber: 1.4g; Cholesterol: 15mg; Iron: 2.2mg; Sodium: 146mg; Calcium: 37mg

Paying it Forward…With a Loaf of Banana Bread

Snow tires in winter are a must in Vermont, so every April and November I find myself at  the car shop having them taken off or put on. I’ve been mulling over getting a new car to replace my ’03 Toyota for a while now, and since I got rid of my almost bald tires last fall, I knew I either needed to get a new car or new tires this spring. But I didn’t want to spend $400 on a set of tires that wouldn’t see me through the years, so to Craig’s List I went.

I spent a week looking for a set of tires that had been used for a couple of seasons. I figured I’d spend anywhere from $100-$150 for them, I was getting a deal either way I looked at it. Finally, late Friday afternoon, I had scanned far enough back to find an ad that had been posted a couple of days previously. The right size, used one summer, were $60(!), and about an hour from home. Perfect, and a response came Friday evening that they were still available.

I called Paul Saturday morning and he was fine with letting me stop by on Easter Sunday; we were going have dinner with family just a few miles away that afternoon, so the timing worked wonderfully. I was so pleased I found such a great deal on the tires that wanted to give him something additional.

Sunday noon we arrived and after getting the tires in the car, I paid him, then gave him a loaf of banana bread to share with his family. I think I surprised him with this a little bit, and as I left, wondered what if they are a gluten-free, lactose-free, nut-free family? It didn’t matter. I hate to equate the adage “food is love,” but in this case, for me, food was just saying an additional “thank you.”

Banana Bread
I got this recipe from my mom  when I started baking many moons ago. Through the years I’ve tried to make it a little bit healthier with a combination of wheat and white flour and less oil, but the original is much tastier, in my opinion.

Preheat oven to 325-350 degrees, depending on your oven

1/4 Cup canola oil
3/4 Cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
2-3 extra ripe bananas, mashed*

2 Cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

3 Tablespoons buttermilk or sour milk**

1/2 Cup chopped nuts if desired

1. In a large mixing bowl, cream the oil and sugar together in a small bowl. Add the beaten egg.

2. In another bowl, sift together the dry ingredients.

3. Alternate adding dry ingredients with the buttermilk or sour milk. When completely mixed, add nuts, if using and mix completely.

4. Place mixture in a well greased loaf pan and bake for 45-55 minutes, depending on your oven.

This is served best warm with a little bit of butter and a cup of coffee on a lazy weekend morning.

*Whenever I have bananas that are getting a little too ripe for my liking, I’ll pop them in the freezer, whole and unpeeled. When I decide I want to make something with them, I’ll just defrost them on a plate and then peel. They just slide out, and no mashing is necessary!

**If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make sour milk by taking 3 Tablespoons of milk and slowly adding lemon juice or white vinegar until it starts to become thick.

An Invitation to a Royal Wedding

The year was 1981 and Prince Charles and Diana Spencer were getting married. I was 14 years old and was obsessed with both Diana and the wedding. The shy nanny marrying the older prince was a young girl’s fantasy. And her haircut was something no one had ever seen before. I had a wrinkled photograph of Diana that I would take to the hairdresser’s every visit, hoping they would make me look just like her. Perhaps someone should have been honest and told me my thick and curly hair would never resemble her sleek feathered haircut, but then again, no doubt I wouldn’t have listened.

In the early morning hours of July 29, I got up with my family to watch the royal wedding. It was magical, pomp and circumstance at its almighty, with a wedding dress train that went on for what seemed like city blocks and horns that sounded the rooftops. My mom fixed a proper English breakfast, scones and tea with brown sugar.

So with the latest royal wedding, I got up at 4 a.m. to watch all the festivities. For the special occasion, I created these scones/muffins that my sister, Diana, named “Kate’s Delights.” Full cook’s disclosure, I cooked them too high and for too long, so the bottoms were a bit too done for my liking. No more multitasking when I have something in the oven!

Kate’s Delights
Depending on their size, makes 9-12 scones.
Preheat oven to 325-350 degrees

1 3/4 Cups white flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons white sugar
4 Tablespoons butter-chilled
2 eggs
1/2 Cup buttermilk
1/2 Cup dried currants (I had very small raisins, or you can substitute lemon zest)
Cinnamon and sugar blend for the topping

1. In a bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.
2. With either a pastry cutter or two forks, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles cornmeal.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs.
4. Add eggs  to the flour mixture and stir. Add buttermilk and mix until all ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.
5. Scoop the mixture onto a greased cookie sheet, top with the cinnamon and sugar blend. Cook until done.

Crunchy Maple Granola

Sunday mornings are sacred to me. The only day of the week I don’t awake with an alarm clock, I usually get out of bed between 7 and 8 and slip on my Asics to take my four-mile walk. No need for music on these walks, I am serenaded by the symphony of meadowbirds and the crunch of me feet on the earth. My body knows this road well, so I am able to be inside my head and meditate on  reflections of the week that has passed and the week to come or some problem or situation on which I need clarity. Frequently, I will walk this road in the afternoons, but on Sunday mornings, nary a walker will I pass, save the occasional pickup truck. This early morning is for me and me alone.

Today is Sunday, March 27. The last Sunday of March, at least for another year. I’m still bundled in two layers. No need for coffee before I walk, the western wind from the Adirondacks keeps me awake. The sky is baby blue with no sight of a cloud and the sun is brilliant; I’m able to stop for a moment and drink all that I get from the sun.

March in Vermont also means maple sugaring season. Warm days and cold nights make the sap run and gets the sugar houses going. Just like the return of the Canada geese and the red-winged blackbirds, that first plink in the sap bucket is music to everyone’s ears; it means the end of another winter and the start of spring.

On today’s walk, I thought about what I could make with maple syrup to celebrate this glorious season. This granola recipe is so easy, throw everything into a bowl, mix, and stir mid-way. Plus, you have the added comfort that you know exactly what is going into it; so many granolas on the market are filled with added sugar and other not-so-healthy ingredients. I’m giving you the original recipe, although I usually halve it for just two. Another note, this recipe originated with my aunt, who gave it to my mom, who gave it to me, so its origins are unknown, although I have seen similar recipes through the years. And it is reflective of the 1970s, dry milk is added, probably for an additional protein. Although I’ve made it without the dry milk, I prefer it included. This is delicious added to yogurt or just in a bowl with a little milk.

Crunchy Maple Granola
Bake at 300 degrees for 40 minutes or until done.

In a large bowl, mix:

  • 5 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup sesame seeds
  • 1 cup wheat germ
  • 1 cup dry milk
  • 2 cups almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, or any combination
  • 1 cup coconut or sunflower seeds

Add to dry ingredients:

  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup maple syrup or honey (both are equally delicious and add their own special flavor)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • Vanilla, to taste