Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Best Chocolate Cake You Will Ever Eat!

This is the best chocolate cake you will ever eat! It is truly moist, dense and delicious and it is so easy to make from scratch! When I was growing up my mother's best friend was a professional baker. 

This was her recipe:
1 3/4 cups flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups cocoa
1 teasp salt
2 teasp baking soda
1 teasp baking powder
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk or 1 tablesp vinegar in 1 cup of warm milk, soured
1/2 cup oil
1 teasp vanilla
1 cup coffee, plain or flavoured, liquid, not grounds.

I like to use flavoured coffee in this cake and also in the frosting. Usually I use hazelnut vanilla but for this one I used butterscotch coffee, because that is what I had on hand.

Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients. Beat with mixer for 2 mins. Pour into two round greased and floured pans or one greased and floured rectangular pan.

The batter will be very runny, but that's as it should be.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes, just until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out dry. Do not over bake and make sure it is done!! This will require you to watch the cake carefully for the last few minutes of baking time, occasionally testing it until it is perfect. The key to a truely fabulous cake is to take it out of the oven at exactly the right moment.

Make certain that your oven is calibrated properly. Most electric ovens get hotter over time so that they are baking at about 375F when you put the dial on 350F.

If you are mechanically inclined you can fool around with the thermostat inside the oven and adjust it in the right direction a tiny bit. We do this when we get another oven or when our oven is obviously too hot. You will need a good digital or oven thermometer to do this and it takes time. Adjust the thermostat in the oven a tiny bit, then turn the oven on until the light goes out. Use the thermometer to test the temperature in the oven when the light goes off, adjusting the oven thermostat slightly, over and over again until you get it exactly right. It could take an entire day to calibrate your oven, but its worth it! It makes a huge difference in baking to have the oven at the right temperature. It should be a few years before it needs it again.

Please don't ask me for exact details. All ovens are different. Hubby does this and I don't know exactly how he does it. You can probably find out on the 'net'.

If you know that your oven bakes hot, you can always just turn it down a smidgen. If you turn it down too far and it is baking too cool, the cake will take longer and dry out before it gets done, so be careful with that. If it bakes too hot the cake will be overdone on the outside before it gets done on the inside.

Also, if you are using a glass dish you should bake at a slightly lower temperature, approximately 325F.
When the cake is done and removed from the oven it should cool to room temperature before frosting. I set my pans in very cold water in the sink to cool them quickly. Never, ever frost a cake that is even slightly warm. The frosting melts! You can make a fabulous cake and come back an hour later to find the second layer sliding off and sitting beside the bottom one and the frosting all pooling in the plate!

When the cake has cooled completely it is ready to be frosted.
This is how I make frosting. I never use a recipe for it.

Put about 3.5 cups of powdered icing sugar in a large bowl. If making chocolate frosting, put about 1 cup of dry cocoa in with the sugar. Dont use an instant pudding mix in here to make flavoured frosting. It doesn't dissolve. Jello that has been made and set might work well but I haven't tried it yet.

Add about a tablespoon of vanilla or other flavour extract unless using cocoa, then you won't need it, unless you want to add a specific flavour to chocolate frosting, like cherry. You can be creative here.

Add about this much butter (the smaller piece).

Mix it slowly on low until the butter has been fairly evenly cut into the sugar and you have a dry, lumpy mix. Then add liquid very slowly, a tablespoon or so at a time until the frosting is the right texture. Beat it on high for a few minutes.

You can use any liquid. I use coffee to make the frosting for this cake. The same coffee that I put in the cake. The flavoured coffee makes especially good frosting.

I sometimes make an orange cake, using fresh orange juice to make a white cake and using fresh orange juice to make the frosting. Carrot juice in the frosting for a carrot cake?

If you put too much liquid in the frosting, just add a bit more sugar and mix again. Add only a tiny amount of sugar or liquid at a time until the frosting is the right texture. Aim for a little too stiff as opposed to a little too soft. The frosted cake will hold together better with a stiffer frosting but it will slide if the frosting is too soft.

If you made a layer cake you will need to cut the top off of the bottom layer, making it flat. Otherwise the finished cake will be slanted. (Eat the cut off top while you frost the cake!)

After cutting off the top of the bottom layer, spread frosting on it carefully. You don't want to tear up the cake without a top on it to protect it. Set the other layer on top of this frosted one and continue to frost the top and sides of the cake.

I like to drizzle some melted hard chocolate on the top of a chocolate cake and sometimes other cakes, as well. I buy chocolate Easter bunnies on sale after Easter, chop them and put them in the freezer for this purpose. If they are chopped up and frozen other people don't eat them.

When I am making the frosting I melt about 1/3 of a bunny (You will have to use your judgement here) in a glass measuring cup that I have put in a small pot of water on the stove. I add a few drops of oil to it while it is melting to make it smooth. You will also need to stir it a lot and watch it carefully. As soon as it melts, turn the heat off. When the cake is frosted you can drizzle the chocolate in lines across the top or dot it on. You can also make chocolate leaves with it. If you are going to make chocolate leaves, don't put much oil in the chocolate while it is melting. You want it to get really hard when it cools.

To make chocolate leaves you will need some clean leaves from the garden to use as a mold. Paint the melted chocolate onto the leaf tops and let them cool until they get hard. Peel the leaf off the bottom. This should leave you with a chocolate leaf you can arrange on the top of the cake. I don't usually have the time to do this.

This cake is especially good with black cherry juice! You can even use this in the cake instead of coffee. You can put it in the frosting too!

If you keep an apple in the container with a cake, it will help to keep it moist.

Its not a miracle worker, however. If you don't keep the cake well sealed, it will still dry out.

Most cakes freeze well, too, if sealed properly. Freeze half of it if you don't think it will be eaten in a week.

Mine disappears in just a couple of days! I think my son eats it for breakfast... (He's 24. Its ok, he knows better.)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Our Tomatoes

When you get to your "last frost date" it is time to plant your tomato seedling in the garden. I dig a small hole for each one, drop in a tiny bit of old dried chicken manure, fill the hole with water, insert the tomato plant, fill with soil and water again. This takes a bit of time but ensures that each plant has wet roots and some food. I feed them again after about a month in the garden. This year I am going to use compost/comfrey/manure tea for regular feedings.

When I plant the tomato seedlings, I plant them deep. Tomatoes will grow roots all along the stem underground, giving them a better root system from which to grow lots of delicious, heavy fruit. Pinch off all leaf growth that will be underground when you plant deep.

After you have planted your tomatoes in the garden, how much attention do you give them? The big question on the "net" seems to be whether or not to remove suckers. This determines how they are staked. If you don't remove the suckers and grow tomato bushes, you should probably use a cage.

You can make your own great cages with fencing or concrete reinforcing wire. Make them about 5' tall with lots of space. I had planned to do this with some fencing that I have but ended up needing the fencing for other things. I also had way too many tomato plants for this method anyway.

I remove the suckers and the bottom leaves. I also remove any leaves that cover or shade the developing fruit. Some people remove all the leaves on the plant as the fruit is developing, but I think the plant needs them to make food, so I leave as many as I can further up on the plant. It is important to remove the leaves that are near the ground to keep soil born pathogens like fungus from getting to the tomatoes. It doesn't prevent all of the problems but I think it helps.

I remove as many suckers as I can get while they are small. Sometimes they are quite large by the time I find them and some have flowers on them already. I leave those and just tie them to the wire with the main stem, so sometimes my tomatoes have 2-3 stalks. I take off the rest of the suckers. I use stakes with wire stretched tight between them to hold up my tomatoes. I have too many plants to provide a stake for each one and this is quick to put together.

I used the same stake/wire method for the cukes, two small 'Sweet Mama' squash and also for the sweet potatoes this year. Its an experiment. We'll see how that goes.

I planted a lot of our large Portugal "beef heart" tomatoes, around a dozen plants. These are huge, sweet and meaty. This type of tomato is called "beef heart" because of its size and shape. I got the seeds for these a few years ago in a seed trade. The ancestors (her Grandfather I think it was) brought them over with him from Portugal. I don't know the variety.

I also planted about a dozen 'San Marzano' tomatoes plants. They are from Italy and are reputed to be the best paste tomatoes in the world. I grew them last year and they were very good and dry with a thick wall which makes them good for paste. I didn't make paste or sauce with them last year, but this year I am going to.

I planted some new tomato types this year. One is Matt's Wild Cherry tomato. I hear good things about it and am looking forward to some great cherry tomatoes for salad!

I am also participating in a growout for a group. I am growing three tomatoes for testing and I have just a few plants of each kind. They are 'Spudakee', 'Indian Stripe', and 'Cowlick' tomatoes. Since I have never grown these before, they will be a surprise, a pleasant one, I am sure!

The last tomato type that I am growing is a grape tomato, grown from seed that I saved from some grape tomatoes I bought at the grocery store. I only grew a few of those. Since they were probably a hydrid, I have no way of knowing what will grow from the seed. I hope they turn out to be grape tomatoes. If I do get a good grape tomato plant, I will save some of those seeds, also, for next year. These grape tomatoes won't be heirloom tomatoes like all of the others and will probably be genetically modified too, but they will still be good. The Monsanto police might come knocking on my door and make me destroy them when they find out. I'll keep you posted!

While I am not a real hard-line stickler for heirloom vegetables, most of mine are. I aim for that. I just couldn't find a good heirloom grape tomato seed and I have this compulsion to plant every seed that crosses my path.

Tomato seeds are a bit complicated to save. The fruit has to be very ripe to the point of being far too soft and ripe to eat, almost rotten. You can even let it sit out and get rotten. The seeds will grow better if you do, it just looks bad on your kitchen counter. Make sure to put a note on it that says, "For seed. Do not throw out!" or someone might throw it in the trash or compost bin!

After you collect seeds from very ripe tomatoes, you need to put the seeds in some water in a little dish and let it sit for a few days until it ferments a bit. Then wash well, getting off all pulp, strain the clean seeds and dry thoroughly on a paper towel. Keep the clean, dry seeds in a paper envelope for a few months until they are completely dried out then put in an airtight container. Keep seeds in a cool dry place. A frige or freezer is a good place to keep tomato seeds for long term storage.

Another way to clean them well without fermenting is to use Comet cleanser, the blue powder in the round can. You know...the ordinary Comet cleanser our mother's used regularly. Take the seeds from a very ripe tomato and wash them with Comet, scrubbing off all the pulp. Rinse VERY well, strain and dry. This works. I have done it and successfully sprouted the seeds the following spring. I read this method on the "net".

Cucumber seeds need the same treatment as tomato seeds, either method will work.

This year I am going to can our tomatoes using my waterbath canner. I had it last year but just didn't have the time to use it. I worked full time off the farm last year and had to forego a lot of things I am going to do this year. I have the waterbath canner, I just need the strong shelves in the basement to hold the canned produce. I don't want those glass mason jars falling off on the cement floor in the basement, so secure shelving is wise. There is a huge and heavy wooden shelf in the garage that would be perfect for that, if hubby can be persuaded to let me have it. I might have to use my secret weapon - witholding pie!!

I am looking forward to seeing shelves full of our own canned produce this fall! A waterbath canner is used for a few things that don't require pressure. Most foods that are canned need a pressure canner and I do want to go down that road, as well. In the mean time I will use the waterbath canner for things that work well canned that way, like tomatoes, fruit in syrup and anything pickled with vinegar. Those are about the only things that can be canned with a waterbath canner. If it doesn't have a lot of acid or sugar, it need to be canned with pressure.

I want to make and can our own spaghetti sauce with our tomatoes also, but that needs pressure in canning because of the other vegetables in the sauce with the tomatoes, so I don't know if I will get there this year.

I don't have a pressure canner :-(


Its on my list...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A White Flower Bed

I have always wanted a white flowerbed to be viewed in the evening. I think the name "moon flowers" gave me the idea when I was very young. When we moved here I finally had the space for it. That first year I covered what I thought would be a large enough area for it across from the porch. I had visions of us sitting out there and seeing the beautiful white flowers after dinner in the dark.

This is the original white flowerbed which I have since enlarged. It is also no longer all white, as you can see.

The original plan was to keep it all white with touches of true red. There are red 'Blaze'
climbing roses planted at either end of the little white picket fence.

The following summer I doubled the size of the bed to add a collection of white shrubs. I soon gathered so many plants of all colours, this is my nature as an OBSESSED collector, that I had to put them wherever I could find the space. That often happened to be in the so called "white" flowerbed, and so it is no longer all white. That is okay with me, though, as I like it better with the other colours added in. It is still mostly white.

When I started the white flowerbed, I researched white flowers and was amazed at the variety available!

I love Easter lilies and have collected the finished ones from local churches after Easter. They are more than happy to find them a good home when they have finished blooming. If you plant them immediately in the garden and let them yellow naturally before cutting them off, they will often reflower that same year. They are also often perennial here and will sometimes come back in the spring. This is a picture of one collected last spring after Easter, that regrew and reloomed. The scent is amazing!!

In my white flower bed a have several feverfew, of course. If you have one, you have many. It can become invasive but I love it. It makes a full small shrub that blooms all summer long, even past the frost. It makes an excellent cut flower which lasts a considerably long time in the vase, much longer than the other flowers I put with it. Its a great white filler with its tiny flowers! While they do reseed everywhere, they are fairly shallow rooted and easy to pull out. I have them all around the back edge of the white flowerbed now, but some of the shrubs I added last year have gotten so large that it is a bit too crowded now. I will be digging a few of the feverfew up and giving them away shortly to a friend who just moved into a new house and needs them for her new gardens.

I do have a lilac in that bed but it is purple :-(

I couldn't find a white one at that time.

I had three large shasta daisies from my mother in law. While they are beautiful in bloom, I only have room for one. I dug out the other two last fall and gave them away. They were huge!

Last year I added large white Aztec nicotiana, iris, a snowball bush, pegee hydrangea, two bridalwreath spirea, a goat's beard aruncus, phlox Davidii, ninebark, three potentillas, rock cress, and two dwarf white cannas grown from seed - all white.

At the end of the year last year I bought 30 small perennials for .25 ea at a clear out! Some of these were white. Of the white ones I bought there were malva moschata (pictured left), prunella, great masterwort, diamond flax, candytuft, meadowsweet filipendula and osprey spiderwort - all white - and I grew white campion from seeds I got in an exchange which are blooming now.

The 30 end-of-the-year plants were alive but very tiny. I have not seen all of them up again in the beds yet this year. The rest of the thirty were scattered here and there in the other beds.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dealing With Weeds

If you hear someone say they are purely organic and have no problem with weeds, they are LYING! Weeds are the bane of the organic gardener/farmer. They sprout up everywhere and are so hard to keep away!

I have a very long fieldstone walkway with a step, across the front of my house and around the corner. I installed it myself over the last three springs. While I like the look of it, I do have a problem with weeds growing between the stones. I know, I could have put something between the stones, like mortar, but...well, I didn't and I probably won't either. That project is finished, done, written off and completed as far as I am concerned. I have moved on to other things, however, I do have to deal with the weeds.

I have been just sitting down on the rocks and pulling them or digging them out with my little spade. I have read over the years that vinegar mixed with a little dish soap will kill weeds and that pickling vinegar will work the best. I have looked here and there, sort of, for pickling vinegar and not seen it anywhere and I use the antibacterial dish washing liquid and am not sure that it is the same stuff. These things considered, I just have not tried it before today.

A couple of weeks ago, my mother-in-law told me that she uses vinegar on the weeds and grass that grow in her driveway and it kills them fast and dead. So much so that she has to be very careful with the overspray as it will kill anything it touches.
After that bit of info I decided to try the vinegar thing. She uses just cheap, plain, white vinegar so that is what I bought too.

I poured some into this little sprayer for the little weeds on the walkway and driveway. If you live in town, you probably think these weeds on my walkway are big weeds and this is a big weed problem. Trust me, you haven't seen weeds until you live in the country!

These are the little weeds around the chicken houses and the next ones are the little weeds under the deck.

I sprayed all of these today with that little sprayer full of vinegar, well about 4 sprayers full of vinegar, but I got them all sprayed. If it works and they do, indeed, die from it, I will get out the big gun and fill it with vinegar!

Then I will use it to spray THESE weeds:

I have battled burdock and thistle since we have lived here. If I can just spray them with vinegar and they will wither up and die, I will be thrilled!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Regrowing Celery

Did you know that you can grow another complete celery stalk from the bottom piece that you cut off and throw away? This is new to me too but I have been doing it this year. I use a lot of celery when cooking and I hope to save quite a bit by regrowing it through out the spring and summer.

When I bring the celery home now, I cut the end off first then put the rest into the refrigerator.

Take an ordinary bunch of celery from the grocery store or cut from your garden, much like the one in the picture at the top. Using a large knife, cut the bottom off the stalk. Simple!

I usually set the bottom piece on a saucer of warm water overnight to get it started. Also because I am usually busy cooking and working in the kitchen when I do this and don't have time to plant it right away. I think this gives it a head start.

When I have time, I will take that piece and plant it just like it is, in the vegetable garden with the stalk side up. Just dig a small hole, fill it with water and set the end in the hole, then cover it up with an inch or so of soil and water thoroughly.

This is one planted about three days ago.

This one was planted about 10 days ago.

It will grow a brand new top to be cut and used, then you can plant the bottom again for more new growth at the top.

I plan to start planting my cut off celery bottoms in small pots or trays late next winter so that I have a few doz to plant out into the vegetable garden in May. I wonder if I can grow it in a sunny window all winter!

Once you have it growing, you can probably cut it off on an "as needed" basis and just keep it regrowing in the garden or pot.

I may never need to buy celery again!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Flower Garden Photos

Here are a few pictures of my flowers, taken yesterday:

Pics of my rugosa rose, whose petals I am collecting to make a gallon of rose wine.

Sweet William in front, sedum to the right and malva moschata not yet in bloom behind the rail.

Peach foxglove digitalis and Japanese iris

Russell Lupins

Peony and Buck behind.

Miniature roses.