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A Perfect Monday: Books & A Lane Cake

IMG 3209 Edited A Perfect Monday: Books & A Lane Cake

I love to read. Far and away, reading is my number one hobby. If for some odd reason I were to become independently wealthy, all I would do is sit around and read. I’d curl up on the couch and read all night. I’d swing in a hammock on the beach and read all day. I’d read on the plane while I traveled from my couch to the beach. If my nephew asks me for girl advice someday, I will say to him, “Wyatt, you should Date a Girl Who Reads.”

Though I’ve always been a reader, I wouldn’t say I’m well read. I’ve never read any of the great Russian authors, (Tolstoy, Chekhov), and I honestly can’t think of any literary greats who I should be reading (Milton?). So why books? And why today?

At 3 p.m. EST today, the 2012 winners of the Pulitzer Prizes will be announced. I have a deal with myself to read every book that has ever won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Prior to 3 p.m. today, I’ve read 35 of the 53 prize-winners. And when I get through the list, I’ll take on another category. I have a lot of reading to do.

IMG 3182 Edited A Perfect Monday: Books & A Lane Cake

My two favorite books are “Gone With The Wind” (the movie does not do the book justice) and “Lonesome Dove.” Rounding out my top five would be “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay”, “Middlesex”, and “The Grapes of Wrath”. A few of my favorite authors include Jeffrey Eugenides, Wally Lamb, and John Updike. And though they’re not all that literary, anytime Emily Giffin releases a new book or Charlaine Harris writes a Sookie Stackhouse tale, I’m all over them.

As a kid, my summer routine was to ride my bike from my Grandma and Grandpa’s house to the library in the morning, then swim at our town’s pool in the afternoon. For a few years, I spent my mornings helping kids learn to hone their reading skills at the summer reading program in “the little red schoolhouse” before trekking over to the library. Those were the days.

And in those days I loved “Bridge to Terebithia,” “A Wrinkle in Time,” and anything Judy Blume wrote. I’d also be remiss not to mention I’m pretty sure I’ve read every Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley Twins, and Babysitter’s Club book in existence. Does that enhance or utterly destroy my cool image?

IMG 3194 Edited e1334544888647 A Perfect Monday: Books & A Lane Cake

Since the Pulitzer winners are on my reading bucket list, and a Lane Cake was on my cake bucket list, it seemed fitting I should post a Lane Cake on Pulitzer Day. Lane Cake is referenced in Harper Lee’s 1961 Pulitzer winner “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Scout says, “Miss Maudie baked a Lane Cake so loaded with shinny it made me tight.” When I read that sentence for the first time, I didn’t know what “tight” meant. The first thing that went through my mind was, “Tight? Did it give the poor girl the runs?” Turns out tight is a slang term for drunk. (I warned you I’m not well read.) And in case you didn’t know, shinny references the liquor in the cake.

IMG 3208 Edited A Perfect Monday: Books & A Lane Cake

This cake recipe, from “Booze Cakes: Confections Spiked with Spirits, Wine, and Beer A Perfect Monday: Books & A Lane Cake, calls for bourbon in the cake, filling, and frosting. If I had made this Lane Cake a few weeks ago, it could have easily been my entry for the Cooking Hard Stuff challenge. It takes a lot of ingredients (10 eggs!), equipment (three cake pans, two mixing bowls, one candy thermometer), and time. I was pretty beat by the time I had it all put together, but I then again, it didn’t get to be on my cake bucket list because it was easy.

The full recipe is below but here are the high points. Be prepared to use both a hand mixer and a stand mixer as the cake batter needs to be mixed and the egg whites need to be beaten to stiff peaks to fold into the cake batter. I had a lot of filling left over. I wrote the ingredients below as they appear in the cookbook, but unless you plan to cut your three cake layers into halves for a six layer cake, I would recommend halving the ingredients for the filling. Avoid the urge to place too much filling on the cake layers or you will end up with a drippy mess that will be difficult to frost. Lastly, I found my Wilton Cake Lifter A Perfect Monday: Books & A Lane Cake to be invaluable throughout the process of assembling and moving this cake.

If you would like to know what I have read or am currently reading, feel free to send me a friend request on Goodreads.  If you are in need of some recipe inspiration, I also keep a Love & Flour Goodreads profile where I list all the cookbooks I peruse. Enjoy!

IMG 3221 Edited e1334544554503 A Perfect Monday: Books & A Lane Cake

Updated to note: For the first time since 1977, no Pulitzer Prize was awarded for Fiction! I am so disappointed, yet I also find the irony of this post and no award hilarious. I am taking solace in the fact that I have read one of the nominated books, Swamplandia!, and that I have plenty of cake to eat.

Lane Cake
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Ingredients
  • For the Cake
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 10 egg whites
  • For the Filling
  • ¾ cup (1½ sticks) butter
  • 1¾ cups granulated sugar
  • ⅓ teaspoon salt
  • 10 egg yolks
  • 2 cups pecans, toasted and chopped
  • 1 cup golden raisins, chopped
  • 1½ cups assorted dried fruits, chopped
  • ½ cup candied cherries
  • 1½ cups unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted
  • 1 cup bourbon
  • ⅓ cup orange juice
  • For the Frosting
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups confectioners' sugar
  • ¼ cup bourbon
  • ¼ cup half-and-half
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.
  3. Add in the bourbon and the vanilla extract and continue to beat.
  4. Add part of the flour mixture, then some of the milk, to the mixing bowl. Continue to add the flour and milk in alternating additions, ending with the flour to prevent curdling.
  5. In another mixing bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.
  6. Gently fold the egg whites into the cake batter.
  7. Pour the batter into three, greased and floured 8-inch cake pans.
  8. Baked at 325 degrees F for approximately 30 minutes or until the cakes are golden and a knife inserted into them comes out clean.
  9. Set the cakes aside to cool.
  10. While the cakes bake and cool, prepare the filling. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  11. Remove from heat and whisk in the sugar, salt, and egg yolks.
  12. Return to medium heat and stir constantly until a candy thermometer inserted into the mixture reads 180 degrees F.
  13. Remove the heat again and stir in the pecans, dried and candied fruits, coconut, bourbon and orange juice.
  14. Set the filling aside to cool.
  15. While the filling and cakes cool, prepare the frosting.
  16. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and salt until creamy.
  17. Add the confectioners' sugar and bourbon in alternating additions until fully incorporated.
  18. Slowly add the half-and-half and continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy.
  19. Refrigerate the frosting until ready to use.
  20. When the cake and filling are cool, assemble the cake by placing one cake on a plate.
  21. Pipe a ring of icing along the edge of the cake to act as a dam for the filling.
  22. Spread filling to the dam, then place a second cake on top of the filling.
  23. Repeat piping and filling on the second cake, then place the remaining cake on the top of the filling.
  24. If possible, allow to sit overnight to allow the flavors of the filling to meld into the cake.
  25. Use a spatula to spread the frosting over the top then down the sides of the cake.
  26. Rejoice you are finally finished and enjoy a piece of cake.
Notes
I used currants and figs for my assorted dried fruits.
 

 

From Savory to Sweet: Baked Sweet Ravioli

IMG 3100 Edited From Savory to Sweet: Baked Sweet Ravioli

My sweet tooth was crying for attention after I helped make savory ravioli, so I thought it would be fun to try a dessert ravioli after making a “real” ravioli. In the ravioli post, I mentioned the need to be patient and keep trying when things in the kitchen do not go as planned. And while I whole-heartedly believe in patience and perseverance, I did not expect to rely on my own advice so soon.

The first batch of sweet raviolis I made were miserable failures. I’m not quite sure what went wrong, but the dough kept tearing, the sweet raviolis looked misshapen (I originally cut them into squares), and they did not brown as expected when baked. I did not want to make this dessert a second time. I was tired and bored and feared I would waste a second batch of ingredients. But I took my own advice – what tough medicine that can be sometimes – and started again.

IMG 3097 Edited From Savory to Sweet: Baked Sweet Ravioli

As you can see, the second batch of sweet raviolis turned out much better. Perhaps I was better accustomed to the very soft dough the second time around, maybe I was in less of a rush, or it could have been something altogether different that escaped my attention. All I know for sure is I’m glad I tried the recipe again.

IMG 3101 Edited e1334530816490 From Savory to Sweet: Baked Sweet Ravioli

Recipes for both the ricotta cheese and candied fruit called for in the sweet ravioli filling can be found within the pages of Love & Flour. I’m not sure about the availability of candied fruit for baking at the grocery store; I’ve never had much need to use it, so I’ve never looked for it. I did however recently notice candied fruit pouches in the dried fruit section where I shop, so perhaps that would work as a substitute to candying fruit at home. I opted to use candied orange slices in my sweet ravioli, and the orange flavor was a lovely compliment to the chocolate.

I hope you all enjoyed a weekend of ravioli, and more importantly, I hope you have a lovely week ahead. Enjoy!

IMG 3092 Edited From Savory to Sweet: Baked Sweet Ravioli

Baked Sweet Ravioli
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Ingredients
  • For the dough:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup butter, diced
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 2 egg
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • For the filling:
  • ¾ cup ricotta cheese
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon candied fruit
  • 1 ounce semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
  • confectioners sugar and/or cocoa powder, for sprinkling
Instructions
  1. To make the dough, process the flour, butter and sugar in a food processor.
  2. Add one egg and the lemon zest to the dough and continue to process until a dough forms. The dough should form a ball and pull away from the sides of the food processor.
  3. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30-60 minutes.
  4. When the dough has chilled, roll it out on a lightly floured work surface to about ¼″ thickness.
  5. Flour the rim of a glass or round cookie cutter, and cut the dough into circles.
  6. Make the filling by stirring together the ricotta cheese, sugar, vanilla extract, egg yolk, candied fruit and chocolate.
  7. Top one dough circle with a tablespoon or so of cheese filling.
  8. Slightly stretch a second dough circle and place it on top of the cheese.
  9. Press the tines of a fork into flour, then use the fork to crimp the edges of the top circle onto the bottom circle.
  10. Place the raviolis on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 15 minutes or until golden.
  11. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar and/or cocoa powder.
  12. Best when served warm.
Notes
I substituted ¼ cup mini-chocolate chips for the chopped chocolate.
 

Adventures in Pasta Making

IMG 3045 Edited Adventures in Pasta Making

I recently spent Good Friday afternoon helping my friend Niki and her mother Marueen make homemade ravioli. I invited myself to attend their annual ravioli-making day sometime last fall, and Niki agreed to the invitation provided I would show her how to make homemade ricotta cheese to stuff in the homemade ravioli. Knowing how easy it was to make ricotta at home, I knew I walked away with the better deal.

Aside from how to make the pasta, I was intrigued by how a family tradition to make homemade pasta during Easter weekend came about. I learned Maureen’s side of the family is of Italian heritage, so that explained the pasta, but what about the Good Friday connection?

Niki and Maureen reminded me those who follow the Catholic faith do not eat meat on Good Friday. Given the number of fish sandwiches my school cafeteria served on Fridays during Lent (Catholics and Protestants alike, they served us all fish) I should have remembered this. Like fish sandwiches, cheese ravioli are also a meatless meal to eat on Good Friday. Over the years, the Good Friday-cheese-ravioli-eating morphed into Good Friday-cheese-ravioli-making.

IMG 3013 Edited Adventures in Pasta Making

Maureen rolling the dough while Niki fills and crimps the raviolis.

IMG 3035 Edited Adventures in Pasta Making

Cutting the raviolis from a sheet of pasta dough.

IMG 3033 Edited Adventures in Pasta Making

Filling and crimping the raviolis.

To make the dough, roughly four cups of flour, three eggs, a sprinkle of salt, and 3/4ish of a cup of water went into a bowl to be mixed and adjusted with flour and water until it was ready.  And how did one know when the dough was ready? It just “felt right” (i.e. no longer tacky, but not dry).

If you are a cook who likes to measure, those instructions will drive you mad. I used to be that type of person (I measured water to boil spaghetti, for Pete’s sake), and I still feel my anxiety level rise when I read a recipe that does not include a picture of the final product to guide me or requires a technique that appears to be written with assumed steps. But over time, and with much trial and error, I finally understood the best thing I could do to better my cooking and baking was to try again and again, be patient, and give myself permission to fail.

What I learned last Friday was how simple the process of making homemade ravioli could actually be. Or perhaps more accurately, how easily Maureen made homemade ravioli-making appear. She rolled out that pasta dough like it was the most natural thing in the world. Niki’s attempts where a bit more rocky, and I, who still quakes in fear at the sight of a rolling pin, successfully avoided rolling out the dough all afternoon. Avoidance was probably not the wisest move on my part, because you know how Maureen went from a novice like Niki to rolling out a beautiful sheet of dough? Trial and error, patience and practice.

IMG 3048 Edited Adventures in Pasta Making

Here’s how the afternoon unfolded:

  • Niki and LeAndra poured glasses of champagne to sip while watching Maureen mix and roll dough.
  •  Maureen cut the rolled dough into circles with the lightly floured rim of a glass.
  • Niki and LeAndra placed spoonfuls of a ricotta-parmesan cheese mixture onto one of the dough circles, topped with a second dough circle, and crimped the edges shut with a fork.
  • Repeat ravioli-making and champagne-sipping.

In just over three hours, we made three batches of dough, exactly 100 ravioli, and drank two bottles of champagne. Note: Niki and I had help with the champagne. We did not each drink a bottle of champagne, though I must admit I like the idea.

I think it’s also worth nothing that making homemade ravioli brings back a lot of memories of Maureen’s late mother and Niki’s late grandmother, Nana, who started the tradition. Though I never met Nana, I’ve been friends with Niki long enough to feel like I knew her through all the stories Niki has shared. I know how important my grandmothers’ traditions, love and recipes are to me, so to be invited to share in a friend’s family tradition that was started by a much-loved lady was very special to me.

IMG 3030 Edited e1334256251817 Adventures in Pasta Making

The ravioli table before…

 

IMG 3038 Edited e1334256312279 Adventures in Pasta Making

and the ravioli table after.

By the way, I did show Niki how to make the homemade ricotta cheese. The quantity of ravioli we planned to make made store-bought ricotta cheese easier to use since the homemade ricotta was not made in advance, but the homemade ricotta found an immediate home in stuffed shells. Niki wrote me later with her verdict, “I really want to try making some [ravioli] with the homemade ricotta because the stuffed shells had a really good cheese flavor. It was probably the most flavorful cheese we’ve ever had in a dish like that, and I know it had to be the ricotta.” So simple…so good.

IMG 3062 Edited Adventures in Pasta Making

Keys to remember:

  • Roll only half the dough at a time. Keep the other half covered to avoid drying out.
  • Do not roll the pasta dough out more than three times. It will toughen to the point of little use after the third roll.
  • Be patient, have fun and enjoy!
5.0 from 1 reviews
Homemade Ravioli
 
Author:
Recipe type: Entree
Ingredients
  • For the ravioli dough:
  • 4-ish cups flour, plus additional for flouring the work surface
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 sprinkle of salt
  • ¾-ish cup of water
  • For the ravioli filling:
  • 1 pound ricotta cheese
  • 2-4 ounces Parmesan cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ -1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. To make the pasta dough, place four cups of flour in a large mixing bowl. Make a well, or a "pocket" according to Nana, in the center of the flour.
  2. Crack the three eggs into the well, sprinkle in some salt, and add the water.
  3. Mix until the dough achieves a consistency that is smooth, but not tacky or dry. Depending on humidity, additional flour and/or water may need to be added to the dough to achieve this consistency.
  4. When the dough is ready, place half in a bowl and cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap to keep it from drying out.
  5. Roll the remaining dough out on a floured work surface to about ¼" thickness.
  6. Flour the rim of a glass or round cookie cutter, and cut the dough into circles.
  7. Top one dough circle with a tablespoon-ish of cheese filling.
  8. Slightly stretch a second dough circle and place it on top of the cheese.
  9. Press the tines of a fork into flour, then use the fork to crimp the edges of the top circle onto the bottom circle. Take care to crimp all the way through to the bottom circle but avoid ripping the dough. This will ensure the raviolis do not come apart when boiled.
  10. Repeat until all raviolis are complete.
  11. Allow the raviolis to sit out to dry for 2-3 hours, then turn over to dry another 2-3 hours.
  12. Boil in water, top with a sauce of your choice, and serve.
Notes
The raviolis will keep in a sealed, plastic bag placed in the freezer for months. To cook the frozen raviolis, drop them one at a time into a pot of boiling water. Add a few drops of vegetable oil to the water to prevent the raviolis from sticking together. Cook at a rolling boil for approximately 20 minutes. The cheese filling approximations are my own. The original recipe was written for a large batch of pasta and called for four pounds of ricotta cheese. I reduced the filling recipe as best as I could for one batch of dough, but it is only an approximation that you will likely need to fit to your own tastes.