Happy Halloween

The Internet goblins are hard at work today and my connection is a mess. I can't post pictures so I'll simply say HAPPY HALLOWEEN!


More Birthday Party Details

The menu for my mother’s 75th birthday party was not extensive and there wasn’t a drop of tea to be found. But I did use several of the recipes that I’ve featured on this blog. Here’s what we served:

Barbequed pulled pork sandwiches
Chicken salad on croissants
Sweet and sour meatballs
Slow baked beans
Macaroni and shrimp salad
Cole slaw
Pimento cheese and crackers
Veggies with dip
Chips, pretzels and nuts
Pickles and olives
Deviled eggs
Birthday cake
Brownie bites
Pumpkin cheesecake cream puffs
Pink swirl cookies
Daisy chocolates
Fall mints
Sweet local cider

Space was a big concern when planning the menu. I used three chafing dishes and they take up a lot of room. In addition to my large dining table, I needed three card tables, my sideboard and a high stool for holding the coffee pot.

The other thing I needed to consider was how to heat everything. My cousin, who lives just a couple blocks away, offered her oven and I had an extra crock pot. But what I found most helpful was using electric roasters. I’ve had one for years but bought a second when I saw them at Sam’s for $39.99. I’m so glad I did this. Those roasters really do take the place of an oven.

Last Christmas my basement fridge stopped working (with all my Christmas dinner supplies in it.) We finally replaced it before the party with a scratch and dent model from Home Depot. My husband had waited all year for just the right fridge. I think he was considering kicking a showroom floor model so it would have to be discounted. :)

My decorations were also simple. I had one large florist’s bouquet on the dining table, two pink cyclamen on the room divider and small arrangements of pink roses on each of the five tables where people ate. Mother received a beautiful arrangement from John’s daughter Pam and that sat beside her on a small table. As you can see in some of the pictures, Mother had a pretty pink corsage too.

I wouldn’t normally use plastic table covers but since I knew there would be at least two seatings at each table, I wanted a quick between-diners clean up. I used a white bottom cover and a pink runner for each table. In addition to the roses, each table had pink candles and glass water pitchers. I also used milk glass containers full of pink M&Ms.

I had many gracious offers of help with this party. But I wanted everyone to just be able to relax and be a guest. I relied on only a few people, my brother, Neil, his girlfriend, Kim, Mother’s friend, John, and John’s daughter, Pam. My niece and nephews blew up all the balloons, parked cars for guests, sliced rolls and served as taste-testers. And most importantly, my husband was my biggest help and support. He did everything I asked without one complaint, from lugging in huge tables to moving all our middle parlor furniture to the second floor to running for supplies time after time. I thank them all.

After the party, we had food left over. Monday my husband took chicken salad croissants and cake to work for his guys. Tuesday he took in pork barbeque and shrimp macaroni salad. My friend Luda said yesterday, "So you made your mother happy, you made your guests happy AND you made all those guys happy." Not to be immodest, but I think I did!


My World Wednesday: Mother's 75th Birthday Party

We celebrated my mother's 75th birthday last Sunday with a party for her family and friends. I'm sharing a few photos today and will have more details tomorrow.

My mother in motion. I like this candid shot of her because that's how I think of her, always on the go.

The balloon crew is working hard in the picture above. We had balloon bouquets all the way around the porch.

Some of the guests eating and mingling.

The dining room almost open for business. I'll share our menu tomorrow.


Oktoberfest: Apple Strudel

This is the final post on the Oktoberfest theme. I hope you've enjoyed it and will try some of the recipes.

I will not be posting again until October 29. I'm hosting a party for my mother's 75th birthday and will be running around like crazy next week. I hope I can remember to take pictures. I'll have some tips to share about organizing, about estimating how much food to serve for large groups and other ideas I've learned and mistakes I'm sure to make. The birthday party isn't a tea but some of the foods I'll be serving are tea foods.

2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
2 T. plus 1 tsp. neutral oil
13 T. lukewarm water
*Filling I*
7 T. butter
1 c. breadcrumbs
*Filling II*
1/2 c. raisins (traditional, but optional)
4 T. rum (optional) or orange juice
6-8 c. chopped baking apples (5-6 large apples such as Gala or Granny Smith)
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1-2 tsp. lemon zest
4 T. lemon juice (about 1/2 large lemon)
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Melted butter for brushing dough (almost a whole stick or 1/2 cup)
Powdered sugar for decoration

To make the dough: Place the flour in a bowl with the salt and add the water, then the oil. Stir with a spoon until it comes together and you can work it with your hands. Knead the dough until it is smooth and tacky, but not sticky, about 5 minutes. If you need to add more flour, only add it 1 teaspoon at a time. Form the dough into a smooth ball, brush it with a little oil and place it back in the bowl for 1 hour, room temperature. Covering the dough with plastic wrap is fine, too.

Make Filling I: Heat the butter in a pan until foaming and add the breadcrumbs. Toast them, stirring constantly, until they are medium brown. Let cool.

Make Filling II: Soak the raisins in the rum (or orange juice). You can heat them for 30 seconds in the microwave and then soak them until you are ready for them. Peel, core and chop the apples into small pieces. Add the sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, raisins and cinnamon and mix well.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured board to about 9 inches by 13 inches. Lightly flour a clean towel with no nap, place it over the dough, grab both (towel and dough) and flip over. Straighten both, as necessary. Using your hands, gently stretch the dough thinner on all sides, working your way around the sheet of dough. Stretch it until it starts to look translucent in spots. Let it rest a minute and stretch the areas you think are too thick, again. Thick edges can't be avoided and will be cut off. Brush dough with melted butter. Spread the breadcrumbs over 2/3 of the dough and pat down evenly. Drain the apples and spread them over the other 1/3 of the dough. Cut off any thick edges of dough with kitchen shears. Using the towel, fold one side of the dough over the filling. Brush exposed dough with melted butter. Fold in ends of dough like an envelope (or burrito). Fold other side of dough up and over filling to form a roll. Brush with butter. Use towel to maneuver strudel to baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roll strudel onto parchment paper so that the seam-side is down. Brush with melted butter.

Bake at 400°F for 20 minutes and then at 350°F for 40-60 minutes longer. Remove from oven, brush top with melted butter and sprinkle with powdered sugar while still warm. Transfer to a serving platter with a large spatula (or two). Cut into 1 1/2 inch wide slices with a bread knife or serrated knife and serve with your choice:
Whipped cream
Vanilla sauce
Vanilla ice cream

Tips: If you are planning on serving the strudel the next day, leave on parchment paper and cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel. Place out of reach. Recrisp in oven, warming in microwave not as good.

Practice making strudel BEFORE you want to serve it. Make it at least once before the big day to see which steps you need to watch.

Err on the side of thicker dough. If you stretch it too thin (you know, Oma always says you should be able to read a newspaper through it!) before you put the filling in, when you wrap it you will stretch it more, and it might tear. Tearing causes the liquid to evaporate when baked, instead of steaming inside the package. It won't ruin your strudel, but it will not be perfect.


Oktoberfest: Black Forest Cherry Cake

In German this is called Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. It is probably the most famous of all German desserts. There are several steps to this recipe but the result is worth it!

2 ¼ cups flour
1 2/3 cups sugar
¾ cup cocoa
1 ¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 ¼ cups water
¾ cup shortening
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
Cherry Filling, below
1 bar (4 ounces) sweet cooking chocolate
2 cups chilled whipping cream
¼ cup sugar
Marachino cherries

Heat oven to 350º. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans. Beat flour, 1 2/3 cups sugar, the cocoa, baking soda, salt and baking powder, water, shortening, eggs and vanilla in large mixer bowl on low speed, 30 seconds. Beat on high for 3 minutes. Pour into pans. Bake 30-35 minutes until wooden pick comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes and remove from pans. Cool on racks.

Prepare Cherry Filling. With a vegetable parer or thin, sharp knife, slice across chocolate bar with long strokes to form 12-14 chocolate curls for garnishing cake. Or use a micro plane to grate the chocolate, depending on the look you're after. For best results, let chocolate stand in warm place for ten minutes before slicing. Refrigerate curls until ready to use.

Place 1 cake layer on serving plate. Beat whipping cream and ¼ cup sugar in a chilled bowl until stiff peaks form. Spread bottom layer with about 2/3 of the Cherry Filling and 1 cup of the whipped cream. Place the other layer next and spread with remaining Cherry Filling. Frost side and top of cake with remaining whipped cream.

If desired coarsely shred enough remaining chocolate to measure ½ cup. Gently press shredded chocolate onto side of cake. Garnish top of cake with chocolate curls and cherries. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Cherry Filling:
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 can (16 ounces) pitted red tart cherries, well drained, reserving liquid
¼ cup Kirsch

Mix sugar and cornstarch in saucepan. Add enough water to reserved liquid to measure ¾ cup; stir into sugar mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir 1 minute. Stir in kirsch. Cut cherries into halves, stir into filling. Refrigerate until completely chilled.


Oktoberfest Tea Party: Pretzel Rolls

Pretzel rolls really do have a pretzel flavor and texture. They make great sandwiches. Use Black Forest Ham, German cheese, lettuce and tomato and perhaps a big German pickle. For the tea, you'll probably want to cut the rolls in half or even quarters.

There are many German cheeses available in the US. These include Allgäuer Emmenthaler which is like a Swiss Emmental but made with cow's milk. This is the perfect cheese for serving on the pretzel rolls.

One of the best places online to order German foods and products is the German Deli. Even if you aren't interested in ordering anything, it is fun to look at the different foods. Be sure to check the candy/chocolate section!


Oktoberfest Tea Party: Wurst

I don’t think anyone needs an actual recipe for preparing wurst. Simply brown it or grill it and serve it on a bun. Offer sweet or hot German mustard and sauerkraut on the side. For the Oktoberfest Tea, you might want to cut the wurst in half instead of serving long sausages.

Did you know that Germans eat more than a thousand varieties of sausage? As you can imagine a trip to a German butcher can be confusing. Here are some questions that can help you identify things you don’t want to eat.

Which animal was this?
Was für ein Tier was das?

Which part?
Welcher Teil?

Please just point to the place on your own body.
Bitte zeigen Sie mir die Stelle an Ihrem Körper.

Hmm. That doesn’t look very tasty/healthful.
Hmm. Das sieht mir nicht besonders schmackhaft/gesund aus.

Did I mention that I’ve decided to become a vegetarian?
Habe ich erwähnt, daß ich mich entschlossen habe, Vegetarier zu warden?

Here are some of the many different kinds of wurst available in Germany:
Aalgellewurst – jellied eels
Cervelatwurst – scent organs
Gänseleberwurst – swollen goose livers
Geflügelwurst – things with wings
Lammzungenwurst – tongues of lambs
Leberkäswurst – clotted liver paste
Münchner Weissuwrst – brains of calves
Milzwurst – slippery spleen meats
Rauhwurst – assorted sardine parts
Schweineherzwurst – well marbled pig hearts
Wurstwurst – defective wurst :)


Oktoberfest: Boiled Bacon Dressing

In German, this is called Warme Specksosse and is often used over potatoes or string beans. But for salad, pour this Boiled Bacon Dressing over any combination of salad ingredients you like. Here it is often served over simple iceberg lettuce. Don't try to make this dressing ahead as it will solidify in the fridge.

4 sliced bacon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 beaten egg
1 cup cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup vinegar
Fry bacon and reserve along with bacon fat. In a sauce pan over medium heat, mix sugar, salt and cornstarch. Add beaten egg and vinegar and mix well. Add cream, bacon and fat. Cook to desired thickness. Serve hot over salad greens. Yield: 8 servings


Oktoberfest: Chicken Corn Soup

At our church picnics, this famous Pennsylvania Dutch soup is made in big kettles over real wood fires. It must be stirred constantly with a wooden paddle. It takes two strong men to lift the kettle from the fire. They use a board through the handle and carry the kettle between them. My husband's picnic job is always the soup man. Standing over the fire when the temperature outside is in the 90s, he relies a lot on me, the iced tea and lemonade lady.

This recipe calls for rivels, a kind of dumpling/noodle like spätzel. If, like my mother, you prefer your chicken corn soup without, use 3 chopped, cooked potatoes instead.

1 whole chicken
2 ribs celery, cut in chunks
3 carrots, cut in chunks
1 medium onion, cut in chunks
3 quarts of water or enough to cover chicken
Salt and pepper
2 ½ cups corn, fresh or frozen
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 hard boiled eggs, diced

For Rivels:
1 cup flour
1 egg
¼ milk

Add chicken, salt and pepper, celery, carrots and onion to the water in a soup pot and cook slowly until tender; 2 ½ to 3 hours. Remove chicken, take meat from bones and cut into bite-size pieces; set aside. Strain broth and pour back into pan.

Add corn to the broth and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Add chicken, eggs and rivels. Cover pan and heat for another 10 minutes. Garnish with parsley. Yield: 8-10 servings.

Combine all ingredients in food processor or using two forks until the mixture is the size of peas. Drop into simmering soup by rubbing between your hands.


My World Wednesday: Wanna Bet?

I like weird, old things. Like my husband! :) We have many unusual contraptions around our house including this antique roulette game. It belonged to his great-grandfather and was hidden away in the barn where my husband found it.

Did Grandpa have a secret gambling addiction? He was such a religious man that certainly he must have believed gambling was wrong. Back at the turn of the last century though, there were many lodges and fraternal organizations. He belonged to several and this is where he probably used the game.

The game is still complete and works perfectly, probably because no children ever got their hands on it. A small key opens the back so the money could be retrieved. The key isn't original though as it says it is a Maryland Trust Company lock box key. There are about a dozen tokens which probably were given out to encourage people to try the machine for free before plunking down their own pennies. The token says that it is for amusement only and that it has no value.

I can't find out much about this roulette box. There is no manufacturer's name stamped into metal, no paper inside to indicate what it was called. I like having it around though. It makes me smile to imagine the very dignified Grandpa sneaking out to the barn after his lodge meeting to hide this shameful machine.


Oktoberfest: The Menu

For the Oktoberfest menu, I’m combining some Pennsylvania Dutch recipes with Bavarian favorites. Often people don’t realize that Dutch doesn’t refer to the Netherlands but rather it is a corruption of Deutsch, the word for German. There is a strong German heritage in my part of Pennsylvania from the foods we eat to the words we use.

Chicken Corn Soup is a favorite Pennsylvania Dutch food. It can be found at every church picnic in the summer and at every restaurant all year long. The secret to the taste of this soup is in the broth—no premade stuff here.

For the salad course, another recipe brought to the US by German immigrants, Greens with Hot Bacon Dressing. This is another old-fashioned favorite at local church dinners here. Church dinners, you know that’s where to find the best cooks, don’t you?

Bavarian muffins accompany the salad course this time instead of offering scones. The gingery muffins work perfectly with the sweet and sour of the salad dressing.
No Oktoberfest would be complete without wurst. Cut into small pieces and served on little buns, they’ll be a big hit. Make lots.

Bavarians love their brezel or pretzels. Pretzel rolls have the shape and the subtle flavor of pretzels. They will be filled with wonderful Black Forest Ham and imported German cheese. Of course, don’t forget either sweet or hot German mustard.

With the savory course, don’t forget to set out several varieties of German pickles. You can also offer sauerkraut for those who like that on their wurst.

For the dessert course, Black Forest Cherry Torte and Apple Strudel are the must haves. Just for fun pick up some bags of Gummi candy in bear shapes, naturally. You might also want to fill a big bowl with German candy bars for guests to grab as they are leaving. Ritter Sport bars, my favorite, are sold in Walmart.

It is easy to find German tea brands online but you probably won't find any at your local grocery store. Use a strong black that can stand up to the flavors of this tea party.

The recipes for these Oktoberfest Tea dishes are coming up next.


Oktoberfest Tea Party

Okay, so maybe tea isn’t the first drink you associate with Oktoberfest but let’s celebrate any way. The first Oktoberfest was in commemoration of Prince Ludwig’s marriage to Princess Therese. Today it is the largest fair in the world.

This is a good tea party for inviting men. The food is a bit heartier than regular tea food and you can indeed serve beer if you like. If you live in a community with lots of ethnic German folks, you might even get the men to wear lederhosen.

Traditional Oktoberfest decorations are blue and white, the colors of the Bavarian flag. Make them the colors for your tea. A blue and white checked tablecloth or napkins really set the scene. But if you only have solid blue and solid white linens, use them. Blue and white ribbon attached to a wreath form and hung on your dining room light is simple to make and very festive. You can see similar decorations in the photo above.

Now is the time to bring out all your Bavarian/German decorations. A Black Forest clock, posters of German castles, beer mugs holding flowers work well. For this tea party, kitsch is just the thing.

For sweet favors, give out Oktoberfest Lebkuchen Herz or Carnival Hearts. The real ones are very elaborately decorated gingerbread hearts but yours can be much more simple. They are made just like gingerbread Christmas ornaments. Don’t forget a ribbon for hanging. You can use them as place cards if you write each guest’s name on the heart.

Oompah bands, of course are the music to feature. Any German folk music works well and might get your guests dancing. My local cable radio station is playing this kind of music now on their “Sounds of the Season” channel so maybe yours is too.

Tomorrow, the menu for the Oktoberfest Tea Party.


Teacher Appreciation Tea: Homemade Chai

This recipe calls for whole milk. But as someone who can't drink milk, I can tell you that soy milk works beautifully for chai. The taste and texture both enhance the chai.

1 2-inch piece of ginger, cut into thin rounds
2 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
10 whole cloves
6 cardamom pods
6 cups cold water
6 black tea bags
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup brown sugar

Combine first 5 ingredients in saucepan. Lightly crush the spices. Add 6 cups of water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, partially cover pan and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Add tea bags and steep 5 minutes. Discard tea bags. Add milk and sugar. Bring tea just to a simmer over high heat, whisking until sugar dissolves. Strain chai into teapot and serve hot. Makes 6 servings.


Teacher Appreciation Tea: Apple Streusel Cheesecake Bars

Thank you to everyone who helped with my "what is it?" question yesterday! Now I have some new old-fashioned recipes to try in these pans. You can be sure that I'll post the results.

I love 9" x 13" pans. They make baking so easy. Again, this recipe uses packaged cookie mix and apple pie filling. Use your own versions if you prefer.

1 pouch (1 lb 1.5 oz) oatmeal cookie mix
1/2 cup firm butter or margarine
2 packages (8 oz each) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1 can (21 oz) apple pie filling
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 350°F. Spray bottom and sides of 13x9-inch pan with cooking spray.

Place cookie mix in large bowl. With pastry blender or fork, cut in butter until mixture is crumbly and coarse. Reserve 1 1/2 cups crumb mixture; press remaining crumbs in bottom of pan. Bake 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in large bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar, flour, vanilla and egg with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth.

Spread cream cheese mixture evenly over partially baked crust. In medium bowl, mix pie filling and cinnamon. Spoon evenly over cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle reserved crumbs over top. Sprinkle with walnuts.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes longer or until light golden brown. Cool about 30 minutes. Refrigerate to chill, about 2 hours. For bars, cut into 6 rows by 4 rows. Store covered in refrigerator.


My World Wednesday: What is it?

Years ago my husband helped to clean out his aunt's house after she and her husband passed away. He found these unusual pans and brought them home to me. I have no idea what they are or how she used them.

The pans are really thick and heavy cast aluminum, meant to hold the heat. Because of their shape, I believe they must have been meant for the oven. I've used the pans like muffin tins and one Christmas made cute coconut snowballs with them.

Aunt Ester was a very frugal woman and I don't believe she would have pans that only made snowballs. Her name is on a tag on the back of the pans in the way one does when taking the pans away from home. Where would she have taken these pans and why, I've wondered.

Can anyone help me solve this mystery?