3.21.2020

Martha's Hummingbird Carrot Cake

Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, it's been a week indoors for my partner and I, aside from the daily walk we take around the neighbourhood to get some fresh air and stretch our legs. With so much time on our hands there have been moments when the isolation feels a bit stifling. Just knowing you CAN'T go out to a restaurant or to a movie or to the local pool increases that feeling of being walled in.

Baking has been a source of pleasure for me since I first experimented with some of Martha's recipes about fifteen years ago. While I don't bake all that frequently, there is something so comforting about creating something delicious by hand.

Yesterday, when I awoke to a foggy, rainy day and the prospect of not being able to go outdoors at all, I was determined to bake. I knew exactly which recipe to choose, too. On page 69 of the April issue of Martha Stewart Living there is a glorious cake, a confectionery hybrid of sorts, by food editor Greg Lofts. It's a combination Hummingbird/Carrot cake complete with candied carrots on top, just to gild the lily.
The recipe is quite simple to make but does require some patience. The total time is over 3 hours, mainly because of the baking and refrigeration times required to complete it before serving. You can click here for the recipe.

COOK'S NOTES:

What makes the recipe so delicious is the addition of pineapple puree and sweetened coconut flakes to the batter, which also takes three cups of grated carrots, making it a rich, textured, moist cake. The recipe calls for the baker to grate the carrots using the fine side of a box grater to achieve smaller 'flakes' of carrots that will absorb well into the batter. I attempted this but found it very labour intensive to reach three cups worth. I instead used my food processor, first shredding the carrots on the grating attachment and then using the blade attachment on pulse to further chop them. The batter is divided into two 8x2 inch cake pans and baked for 35 minutes. It comes out beautifully: light, moist and textured.
The frosting is the traditional cream-cheese icing we're all familiar with - and there is a lot of it for this recipe, which calls for the baker to slice the two cakes into halves, creating four layers. The tops of each of the three layers, plus the cake itself, need to be iced. I opted not to slice the cakes into halves and instead reserved the remaining two cups of frosting for some carrot muffins I'll be making tomorrow.
The candied carrot swirls were a fun and unusual addition. I almost didn't make them but they really make the cake look professional and beautiful. Simply slice broad strips of carrot using a squash peeler and then boil them in a simple syrup of 3/4 cups of sugar to 3/4 cups of water. (Selecting large carrots at the grocery store helps with making thicker strips). Preheat the oven to 225 degrees while letting them simmer for 20 minutes. Cool them in the solution for a further ten minutes. Remove them and place them flat on a wire rack set into a baking sheet. Bake them for 30 minutes at 225 until they're no longer wet but still sticky and malleable.

The recipe suggests curling them around the handle of a wooden spoon, or even your finger, to make the curls. I found it much easier to to lie the sticky carrot slices flat on a clean baking sheet and twist them: hold one end of the slice with one finger and then twist the strip with your other hand until a curl forms. Covering the pan with a sprinkling of sugar prevents them from sticking and also coats them nicely with some extra sweet crunch. Let them stand for about one hour until they stiffen.
I served each piece with some of the candied carrots. It is truly one of the best cake recipes I've tried. It's now a family favourite. The cake will keep in the fridge for up to a week, although I doubt it will last that long! You can also freeze carrot cake for up to three months.

3.16.2020

The April Issue + The Importance of Home

As the world hunkers down to help contain the spread of COVID-19, many of us are employing social-distancing measures and working from home. Still others have been forced to stay home as the companies they work for temporarily shutter their doors to reduce public interactions: retail stores, gyms, restaurants and coffee shops. The home, always a retreat and a place of respite and calm, has taken on even more importance in these days of self-isolation.
Martha Stewart Living magazine, which has always been my favourite magazine, has proven itself, yet again, to be such a consistent source of comfort to me. The April issue, which is on newsstands now (although a subscription offers so much more value) is just what I needed on this first Monday of enforced public closures in the city where I live.

Its pages are filled with the perfect kinds of projects we can all do at home, from spring cleaning to Easter crafts. There are excellent recipes to try, too, if you can manage to source the ingredients in a calm and safe way at your grocery store. I'm eager to try the carrot-cake/humming-bird cake hybrid and all those delicious vegetarian dishes in the Everyday Food section. I know that I'll read the issue cover to cover, as I always do, and I'm sure it will help me appreciate the comforts of home even more.

April is also Earth Month, and the editors have put together a spectacular list of 50 things we can all do to minimize our footprint on the planet, from changing our eating habits to making our own cleaning products; from supporting local businesses and growers who adhere to eco-friendly practices to reducing single-use plastics in our homes and workplaces.

There is nothing quite like leafing through a copy of Martha Stewart Living with a cup of tea. It's a ritual I have cherished for almost three decades and it's a ritual that brings a more poignant level of comfort in these days of uncertainty. Happy reading!

APRIL ISSUE HIGHLIGHTS:

Favourite Good Thing: Using handlebar tape as a gripping device on brooms and brushes, page 30

Favourite Recipe: Hummingbird Carrot Cake, page 69

Favourite Find: Hop Tea , page 24

Favourite Article: "Living Legends" (the article about magnolias on page 96)

3.06.2020

Martha at "Bakeaway Camp"

Martha will soon star in a new competition show on The Food Network called "Bakeaway Camp with Martha Stewart." Acting as a mentor to six amateur bakers, Martha will guide the contestants as they rough it outdoors in tents and lean-tos while creating camp-inspired food with the barest of essentials. A snippet from the show's casting call shared on Apartment Therapy, describes the show like this: "part exclusive culinary retreat, part baking boot camp and part summer camp-inspired competition with a cash prize." The contestants will all take part in baking challenges, sometimes facing the unpredictability of outdoor situations. Their culinary creations will, of course, be judged and there will, of course, be a winner. Confirmed judges are Chef Barbara Hall, food blogger and Food Network Host Dan Langan and former Bachelor star Jesse Palmer.
The contestants are all competing to win a $25,000 kitchen renovation. Prizes will also be awarded to the winner of each of the challenges throughout the series, including a one-on-one cooking lesson with Martha at her home kitchen in Bedford, New York. An air date for the series has not yet been announced.

3.02.2020

Organizing and Displaying a Collection

When we think of the objects we find beautiful, the ones we collect and keep in our homes because of sentimental or monetary value, we rarely think of ways to display them effectively and attractively. Many of us have our collections hidden in cabinets, drawers or storage boxes, stacked and piled, sometimes neatly, sometimes not. We relegate these treasures to attics and basements, keeping them for posterity and perhaps the occasional turn of use when the mood strikes us. 

Dennis Landon’s collections, however, were gathered primarily for function. He is an avid cook and baker, sometimes offering cooking and baking lessons from his home kitchen in Madison, Wisconsin. His collections of bakeware and cookware are quite extensive, and they are very frequently put to use. When it became apparent that his vast collection of Bundt pans and cake molds could no longer be kept stacked on open metal shelving (there were a few noisy topples) he collaborated with his friend, Bernie Wong, to devise a system that would both corral and attractively display his treasured collection. Dennis and Bernie shared their photographs of the project and have allowed me to showcase the results on the blog. I hope you enjoy them!
The first task was to take inventory of everything that was going to be displayed on the shelves. Items were grouped together by size and style before a plan was developed. 

A corner of his basement was consigned for remodeling and they began the process of designing and building a new system of shelves that would beautifully display the collection while also keeping it close at hand.
Before beginning, the ceiling of this section of the basement had to be dry-walled and painted. Track lighting was also installed to better illuminate the shelves.

Each of the shelving units were designed, built and painted by Bernie and Dennis. As inspiration, Dennis suggested using the dimensions of the top portion of a Martha Stewart craft cabinet, once sold through Home Decorators, that he had purchased secondhand at a tag sale. The dimensions worked perfectly to house his collection.
Bernie made sketches of the shelves first, with all of the dimensions clearly listed. He and Dennis then set about building each of the shelving units; four in total. They were then painted Martha's signature "Bedford Gray" (along with the ceiling) before being secured to the walls. (Dennis had a small can of Martha's "Bedford Gray" paint and had it colour matched at his local paint store).
The Bundt pans and cake molds fit perfectly into the shelves and look so beautiful on display. One-inch dowels were used to keep the larger pans safely upright; some of them are quite heavy.
This glass cabinet was once on Dennis's kitchen counter top. To free up counter space, he decided to place it in the new shelves to display smaller collections of tart pans.
 Small tart tins, mini iron skillets and cookie cutters quickly filled this cabinet. (On the shelf below is a vintage aluminum gingerbread mold made in Wisconsin).
Included in the glass cabinet is some of Dennis's Martha by Mail collection.
The final results are so excellent! Bernie says the next project will be finding a storage solution for the madeleine pans, shown still resting on the floor.
With some of the leftover wood materials, Bernie came up with the perfect storage solution for Dennis's collection of French tart rings.
Dennis's cookbooks and cooking DVDs are also kept in this area. These were also organized by author. If you look closely, you will notice many of Martha's books and DVDs in his collection. 
Among the books is this is very rare collectible: Martha's "Entertaining 1985 Engagement Calendar."
I know Dennis is thrilled with the finished shelves. Now he can access his collection quickly and easily with everything on view. I hope you find these photos inspiring! I know I do! Maybe they'll help you come up with a way to display one of your own collections.

2.16.2020

The March Issue

When you've been bundled up in sweaters for the last twelve weeks and cranking the heater while it snows outside, it's nice to receive even the tiniest promise of spring. The March issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine is just such a promise. Martha takes the cover of this issue (first time since October, 2017) and I loved seeing her in her green Marc Jacobs top standing behind a table laden with a St. Patrick's Day feast. (All the recipes are included inside, don't worry).
The issue has a freshness to it, a devotion to airiness, colour and light. It starts with the cover and continues throughout the issue. There's a feature on the glories of olive oil, visits to a crafty shop in Ojai, California, an arid garden in Phoenix as well as a sunny home in Philadelphia. In the front of the issue, too, there is reason to linger. I love the article on meditation (something I need more of in my life) and the "Change Maker" column about Kei & Molly textiles in New Mexico whose beautifully printed linens will have you wanting to fill your entire home with their colourful prints.

Sarah Carey and her team of food editors give us fun and healthy recipes in the Everyday Food section (that tuna-salad hand roll has my name on it) while the Good Living section reveals the best locations and vendors used by interior designers to source their best goods.

Starting with this issue, I'll select my favrourite features from each: the best Good Thing, the most intriguing recipe, the best find, and the most engaging article. Here are my picks for March, 2020:

MARCH ISSUE HIGHLIGHTS:

Favourite Good Thing: stout shandy on page 24

Favourite Recipe: Spaghetti with Garlic, Olive Oil and Chile on page 76

Favourite Find: Chance by Chanel (Mother's Day gift = solved!) on page 44

Favourite Article: "Just For Us" - the home tour on page 92

The issue is on newsstands now! Be sure to pick up a copy.

2.12.2020

Martha's Chocolate Pots de Creme

As often happens when cleaning out the pantry, I discover something I had forgotten about. In this case it was a set of four heart-shaped cocottes from the Martha Stewart Collection I had purchased a few years ago at Macy's. It was a fortuitous discovery with Valentine's Day just a few days away. Included in the box was a recipe card for delicious looking chocolate pots de creme. I had all of the ingredients on hand and decided to give the recipe a go!
The cocottes, which are brightly-hued in Valentine's Day colours, are small enough (11 ounces) to make individual servings and the recipe below perfectly fills them. For presentation, it is nice to bring the cocottes to the table with their lids on. Remove them just before adding the whipped cream to serve. Here is the recipe:

CHOCOLATE POTS DE CREME

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 1/2 cups of heavy cream
6 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon of salt
Boiling water, for roasting pan

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven 325 F. Put finely chopped chocolate into a medium bowl. Bring 2 1/2 cups of heavy cream to a simmer in a small saucepan. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate in the bowl. Let stand for five minutes and then stir until smooth.

2. Whisk together egg yolks, vanilla and salt in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in chocolate mixture. Pour through a fine sieve into a large measuring cup.

3. Place four 11-ounce heart cocottes into a roasting pan. Pour chocolate mixture into each, dividing evenly. Boil water. Pour enough boiling water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the cocottes. Cover the entire pan with foil. Cook until custards are barely set, about 35 minutes.

4. Transfer cocottes to a wire rack to cool slightly. Cover the tops with plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.

5. Beat the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Spoon a dollop over each pot de creme before serving.
The recipe couldn't be easier and produces a luscious, creamy, chocolatey confection that every chocolate-lover will enjoy. Click here to purchase the latest version of Martha's four heart-shaped cocottes.

2.11.2020

Martha's New "Everyday System" With California Closets

I was thrilled to read about Martha's new collaboration with California Closets on her blog this morning. Martha has been a great proponent of California Closets for some years now and a collaboration with them seems like such a natural fit. She has used California Closets for several projects around her farm in Bedford, including the conversion of one of the smaller bedrooms in the Winter House to a walk-in closet and dressing room. She also used their services to outfit the dining room at the Maple Avenue House on the property with custom shelving to store her vast collection of cookbooks. You can see photos of these projects below.

Martha's offering with California Closets is called "The Everyday System" - borrowing that familiar vernacular so many of us remember from her Kmart days. It is the first modular system offered by the company, enabling consumers to transfer their Everyday System from room to room or from home to home, making it ideal for renters and apartment dwellers. For the launch, there appear to be two finishes or styles the consumer can choose from with an infinite number of ways the storage and shelving systems can be configured to suit a closet, a pantry, a home office, a laundry room or living space. There are also Martha Stewart accessories, such as a variety of sturdy hangers and acid-free storage boxes, with the promise of more products to come.
This is Perry Street White Woodgrain with Gold Metal finishes. Designed to feel fresh and modern, the system can be adjusted and modified to suit your personal space and requirements.
One of my favourite features is the screen detail in the cupboard door, designed to minimize dust and keep out unwanted pests, such as moths, while still keeping your sweaters and bags visible.
The drawers in this unit are soft-close, which is a very nice and thoughtful feature.
A place for everything and everything in its place! This configuration offers more than 15 feet of hanging space. Click here to watch a video on how this Everyday System can be easily installed.
This more masculine design is called the "Bedford Gray Woodgrain with Graphite Metal" finishes and is shown here in a recessed closet configuration.
The metal mesh drawers are a utilitarian, modern feature.

There is also a full range of sturdy hangers on offer, in both white and gray. Suit hangers, coat hangers, shirt hangers, skirt hangers and slack hangers are all available as part of this collection.
Two sizes of fabric-covered, acid-free storage boxes are also available to store scarves or seasonal items. They come in three different colours: light gray, dark gray and white.

The Perry Street White Woodgrain with White Metal finishes is shown here used for pantry storage. It can be used in a walk-in pantry or on a kitchen wall, as shown here.
Here is the same motif used in a home office system with concealed drawers (soft-close) and a spacious desk surface. There is also a three-drawer filing cabinet and smart storage for all your technology needs including power sockets and USB ports so devices can be charged and on-hand.
 This media center is in Bedford Gray Woodgrain with Graphite Metal finishes. The open shelving comfortably holds TV sets from 43-inches to 48-inches with plenty of space to display books and collectibles. Storage cabinets keep DVDs and other media out of sight, if desired.
Last year, Martha employed California Closets to design custom shelving for the dining room in her Maple Avenue House to store her cookbook collection. I love the effect!
And this is the rough plan for the small bedroom she converted into a closet and dressing room at her main house at Bedford using a custom California Closet design. To see more of this project, click here.