Wednesday
Apr112012

Making Babka

One of the highlights of our Easter celebration are homemade loaves of Babka, a traditional Polish sweet bread. My family makes our bread on Friday so we can take a loaf to church on Holy Saturday to be blessed.

This year, I started the bread in my Cuisinart bread machine and finished it in the oven. I like to use the bread maker to free up my time to do other tasks. The Cuisinart is extremely versatile, offering a variety of crust and loaf options. It also has preprogrammed menu options including low carb, gluten free, dough, sweet breads and even jams.

I gathered my ingredients including all purpose flour, sugar, golden raisins, cinnamon, milk, butter, salt, yeast, lemon rind and four egg yolks.Babka ingredients

I placed the ingredients, wet first then followed by the dry in the machine, put it on the dough setting and let the machine do its magic.

1 1/2 hours later, I had a supple dough fragrant with cinnamon and lemon. I kneaded it quickly and turned on the oven to 350°F and put the dough to rise in my warming drawer.

Into the ovenOnce it rose to double (dependent on temperature and environment) I put the two one-pound loaves in the pre-heated oven for 35-50 minutes or until baked. I always use a quick read thermometer to check the dough. The internal bread should be 195-200° degrees.

As you can see, the final products turned out beautifully. The loaves were browned to perfection. Plus they were delicious!

Wednesday
Apr112012

Setting the table and the mood

I love to entertain. One of my favorite activities associated with having people over is setting the mood and the table. I have a large collection of china and glassware my husband and I have collected over the years. For special holidays I like to pull out all the stops. This year for Easter we had 12 people plus my two year old granddaughter for dinner. We chose to use our dining room for dinner but offer the food on a buffet. 

The table turned out great. I used spring as my inspiration and incorporated some traditional Easter touches to bring a little tradition to the table.Easter table 2012

I chose white roses, pink carnations, creamy hydrandeas and green and white fillers from Wegman's to make the arrangements.  Several pussy willows to illustrate spring renewal were also included. I inserted a 12" cylinder glass vase inside a taller glass urn to create height and drama. To hide the stems, I inserted green and pink Easter grass. The effect was lovely. I also added a few decorated eggs and grass style rabbits. Traditional brass candle sticks completed the look.Flowers, rabbits and eggs.

 

 

 

The final touches were Waterford Campion china, Mikasa glassware and sterling siver flatware. Each place setting had a name card. The dinner was a success, the table lovely and everyone enjoyed themselves. Isn't that the real meaning of living a simple but extraordinary life?

Wednesday
Apr042012

Collecting the Ingredients

We live in New Jersey, known as the Garden State (also known infamously for our taxes, diners, traffic circles and turnpike as well). In our area, we are fortunate to have numerous Farmer's Markets available to us get fresh produce, meats and other goods. One of my favorites is the Dutch Wagon Market on Route 70 in Medford. The market is open Friday and Saturday and is a local institution. There are numerous vendors on the site who sell a variety of goods. Two of my personal favorites sell fresh chickens, ducks, turkeys and other meats. The other sells cheese, pork products, lunch meat and my favorite item...rolled butter. What a find for a cooking enthusiast! The butter is just wonderful. Although it is salted, the quality of the butter makes up for the added salt. I just adjust my recipes for it. It is great for baking, cooking and eating. Once you try this old fashioned butter, you may never want to go back to the supermarket brands. I purchase it in 2+ pound rolls. The per pound price is $3.75 which makes it slightly less expensive than brand name butter. I like to slice it in thick slices and freeze it using my FoodSaver, vacuum sealing system. The babka I am making on Friday uses 1/2 cup of butter for each loaf. I promised to make one for my mom as well so that's one cup out of my stash.

The butter comes from Minerva Dairy in Minerva, Ohio which uses about 400,000 pounds of milk daily to maintain its products of 40,000 pounds of cheese and 7,000 pounds of butter per week. They rely on 70 small dairy farms in the area to keep the operation running. The Amish Roll Butter they produce is made by the batch in a churn with naturally cultured cream According to the website, "the slow churning process gives the butter an authentic thick texture". It is mixed with additive-free Sea Salt before it is is hand packed.

Tuesday
Apr032012

Easter Holidays: The Countdown

Our family celebrates Easter the Eastern European way. My husband's family is Russian Orthodox and my dad's side is Polish. My mom, who has a French/Scottish slant, contributes with her own special style.

When planning a holiday with religious overtones, we try to stay faithful to traditions but I like to add new ideas to the mix. Our families celebrate the Christian "Easter" and the Orthodox "Pascha". As you may know, the Orthodox follow the Julian calendar. This year, Easter falls on April 8 and Pascha follows a week later. According to my husband, the Orthodox church celebrates Easter after Passover. Some years the calendars coincide while other times they can be six weeks apart.

Since both of our families trace their roots back to Eastern Europe, many of the traditional foods stay the same. A typical menu consists of babka or paska ( a sweet bread made from butter, eggs and sugar), kielbasa, ham or pork with fresh horseradish or beet horseradish sauce, hard boiled eggs and a pressed cheese. Our families deviate from the typical sweet cheese and go for a savory one with grated onion and an egg wash for color. I plan on calling my aunt to get the recipe she has used in the past for our cheese this year.

In our churches, we still follow the tradition of blessing the Easter basket. The service, which is presided over by a deacon or a priest, is held on Holy Saturday. The Orthodox bless their baskets following the midnight service on Saturday.

Right now, I am starting to plan our menu and gathering ideas for table and buffet settings. I like to take my inspiration from nature. We are fortunate to live in a large home with beautiful gardens.

Here is a photo of our lawn. I love the early spring colors of green, yellow, creamy white, pale pink and violet.

For our table this year, I am planning on two arrangements on our dining table with pastel eggs and tulips, roses, gerbera daisies and some twigs. I plan on using a large container for the eggs and inserting a small narrow vase inside for the flowers.  I saw a beautiful example on the Better Homes & Garden website.

Photo courtesy of BHG.com.

Isn't this a lovely representation of springtime? I also plan to use a similar look on our kitchen counter for the buffet. By using the colors of the season, you can easily adapt it to whatever flowers look good at the flower mart, garden center, supermarket or produce outlet. Instead of real eggs, I am using plastic ones. I like to keep my arrangements out for as long as the flowers last, and if I use real eggs, I would need to disassemble it so the eggs won't spoil. I also plan to add votive candles, and a few rabbits, both porcelain and woven grass, to the mix.

My first crack at the menu looks like this:

 

Warm Carrot & Ginger Infused Soup

Strawberry/Romaine Salad

Rack of Lamb crusted with Rosemary,Thyme and Pine Nuts

Smoked Kielbasa with Beet Horseradish

Mixed Rice Salad

Asparagus with Lemon Zest

Deviled Eggs

Pressed Savory Cheese

Babka 

 

 


 

Friday
Mar302012

Learning the Ropes

I switched my blog to a new site and I am slowly learning how to use all the wonderful features from SquareSpace. I really love having the ability to add features like the slide show under the Pizza entry, but it took a little bit of experimenting to get it to work. Thanks to the support team from SquareSpace I was able to finally get the slideshow to appear on my blog. 

By the way, I am using a Mac computer with Safari 5.1.5. I am not sure that was the problem but it works now, so thanks again!;)