Monday, December 24, 2012

German Chocolate Cake and Merry Christmas!

I wish everyone a merry Christmas and happy new year. For some reason, the spirit has just not hit me this year and I can't believe Christmas is tomorrow. I do have all of my shopping done but the excitement isn't there.

I wanted to share photos of the German Chocolate Cake I made for Christmas dinner. This is Michael's favorite cake and this is the best recipe I have found for it. It is rich, moist and has a wonderful flavor. Dutch process cocoa makes a big difference so I highly recommend that you use it. It is hard to find (I order mine from Penzey's) and I've yet to find it in a grocery store. Our new Publix doesn't even carry it. :(

This recipe comes from the "Baked" boys - Matt Lewis & Renato Poliafito, who own the Baked bakery in Brooklyn. The recipe is included in their first book Baked: New Frontiers in Baking. Their new book is on my Christmas list - I wonder if I will be getting it? :)

Here is the recipe:

For the German chocolate cake layers:

  • 2¼ cups cake flour
  • ¾ cup dark, unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup hot coffee
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1¼ cups (2½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2¼ cups sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 4 ounces dark chocolate, melted and cooled

For the coconut pecan filling:

  • 1 1/3 cups shredded sweetened coconut
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 1/3 cup toasted pecans, chopped coarsely

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter three 8-inch cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Dust with flour, and knock out the excess flour.

Sift the cake flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium mixing bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the coffee and buttermilk.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Scrape down the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated. Add the vanilla and beat to incorporate. The mixture will look light and fluffy.

Add the flour mixture, alternating with the coffee/buttermilk mixture, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the melted chocolate.

Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the rack and remove the pans and let cool completely. Remove the parchment.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Spread half of the coconut evenly across the pan and place in the oven for 5 minutes or until the coconut begins to brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

In a large saucepan, stir together the sugar, butter, evaporated milk, vanilla, and egg yolks. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. After the mixture begins to boil and thicken, remove from the heat and stir in the toasted coconut, regular coconut, and pecans.

Place the pan over an ice bath (a large bowl filled with ice) and stir the mixture until cool.

Place one cake layer on a serving platter. Trim the top to create a flat surface and evenly spread one third of the filling on top. Add the next layer, trim and frost with one third of the filling, then add the third layer. Trim the top, and frost with the remaining filling.

The cake will keep in an airtight container, at room temperature, for up to 2 days.

© 2008 Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Foolproof Microwave Peanut Brittle

My mother isn't able to cook anymore but she used to bake all the time. Peanut brittle was one of her specialties and she made it often.  I have never made it the way she did, which involved lots of stirring, using a candy thermometer (although I don't think she used one, she just knew when it was ready by the way it looked), and more stirring. Here is a simple recipe for making peanut brittle in the microwave and it is easy as 1-2-3.

1 cup sugar
1 cup raw peanuts
1/2 cup white corn syrup
1/2 tsp. salt
1 TBS. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda

You will need a microwave-proof container that will hold 2 quarts. 

Stir together the peanuts, sugar, syrup and salt. Microwave on high for 8 minutes, stirring after 4 minutes.
Add the butter and vanilla and stir. Microwave for an additional 2 minutes. Add the baking soda and stir gently until the mixture is light and foamy.
Pour the mixture out onto a warm, buttered pan or a pan lined with aluminum foil. Let it cool before breaking it into pieces.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Sunday, December 9, 2012

December bouquet

Another extremely mild weekend with temperatures in the 70s. A change is on the way though with rain coming tomorrow and much colder winter-like temperatures. We need the rain. It has been very dry lately.

I noticed there were lots of roses and camellias blooming right now and picked some yesterday.

In the bouquet are roses "Mrs. B.R. Cant", "Knockout" and "Mrs. Dudley Cross". The camellias are "Pink Icicle" and "Debutante".

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Monday, December 3, 2012

A warm December weekend

It is December, right? Gorgeous weekend with temperatures in the lower 70s. I took some photos yesterday, did a few chores and changed into a T-shirt before heading to my mother's house in Franklin County. Here are some shots from the garden on December 2.

Armandii clematis over the front gate
Alabama Snow Wreath (Neviusia alabamensis), one of my favorite shrubs for fall color

Camellia "Snow Flurry"

Globe Amaranth (Gomphrena), already bitten by frost, against a backdrop of ornamental grass
Camellia "Pink Icicle" with Kerria in the background
Oakleaf Hydrangea
Oakleaf Hydrangea
Rose "Mutabalis"

Rose "Mrs. B.R. Cant"
Mohawk Viburnum with Holly "O'Spring" in the back
Kerria japonica
Camellia "Debutante"
Witch Hazel "Diane"

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

More Japanese Maples

It seems I was a bit premature on my post about Japanese maples a few weeks ago. The "Boskoop Glory" was outrageously beautiful then but now all of its leaves have fallen. In the meantime, the "Bloodgood" that was rather drab next to it, has suddenly intensified.

In the back, next to the garage, is one of the most beautifully colored Japanese Maples and I don't know the name of it. It also sits next to a "Bloodgood" variety. The brilliant yellow and orange leaves next to the crimson of the "Bloodgood" is what I'm guessing must be like a religious experience!

The Japanese Maples have never disappointed me with their fall color. You keep thinking that the color isn't going to be spectacular but you just have to be patient. It will come!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Friday, November 9, 2012

Hydrangea Give Away!

WHO:                   Keep The Shoals Beautiful / Shoals Master Gardeners / Florence Recycling Center / Shoals Solid Waste Authority
WHERE:              Florence Lauderdale Coliseum
702 East Veterans Drive
Florence, Alabama 
WHEN:                Thursday, November 15, 2012,  9:00 a.m. until
                                    Up to three per person while supplies last

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Blazing November

Japanese Maple "Boskoop Glory"

Before we left for Florida last week, there was practically no fall color. I kept apologizing to a garden group from Huntsville because color-wise, there wasn't much to see. I guess you just have to be patient. Like last year, the color comes in November. I don't think this has always been the case but perhaps it is a result of the changing climate. When it happens though, it seems to occur overnight. 

"Boskoop Glory", the Japanese Maple at our front door. Notice on the opposite side how "Bloodgood" pales in comparison. It makes you wonder why "Bloodgood" is so preferred in nurseries?

Another famous Japanese Maple is "Sango Kaku". The bark turns red in the winter and is spectacular in all seasons.
This maple is in our neighbor's yard. Not sure what kind it is. It is massive and the color is usually prettier than this.
The maples are not the only tree with beautiful color this time of year. This is a Star Magnolia.
Trees are not the only colorful plant - there are also shrubs with beautiful color. This is Fothergilla.
Oakleaf Hydrangea
Angel's Trumpet

Looking up - dogwood in the foreground, sugar maple behind it and crape myrtle on the far left.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Monday, November 5, 2012

Back from Florida

We are back at home from our annual trip to the Florida coast. We spent an entire week in Santa Rosa Beach. This year Michael's aunt, cousin and our friend Joann went with us. We were able to rent a larger house and we loved it. I'm always looking for houses with lush landscaping and this time we hit the jackpot. The owners are avid gardeners and have created a spectacular cliffside garden filled with decks, pergolas, pathways and shrubs. The monarch butterflies were everywhere and we also saw many dragonflies, lizards and birds. 

We arrived on Saturday with the dire predictions of a cold front coming through. This was distressing and the weather forecast changed every time you checked it. The front did come through on Monday and it was a bit chilly through Tuesday. We used those days for shopping. It warmed back up on Wednesday and the weather was fantastic the remainder of the week. So, we only had 2 un-beach-like days and with Sandy and all up the East Coast, I'm not complaining.

We also celebrated 28 years together! I still can't wrap my mind around that.

The view from the beach. The fenced in area was for our own private use. I did spend one morning in this area but for the most part, we used the decks for sunning.
Views from the decks

The plantings around the house consisted of oleander, eleagnus, sweet olive, Mexican petunias, Indian hawthorne, pittosporum, palms and privet. The house owners said that they had learned beach gardening by trial and error and over the years, experimented with plants until they found the ones that did best for them. They have been through 2 hurricanes which caused major damage, washing away the lower part of the cliff, and had to rebuild. The opposite side of the house, which faced the street, had a magnificent magnolia and plantings of camellias, boxwoods and other shrubs. I didn't get photos of the front except for some group shots of us.

We had a celebrity neighbor (if you want to call him that). Mike Huckabee's house was 2 doors down. You can see it on the left. Someone said he was on the beach one morning but I didn't see him. The huge monstrosity on the right was built by friends of Huckabee, who starting some Baptist organization. So, if you contribute to such, here is what your money goes for! These houses dwarfed all the others on the road and seemed out of place.

We had a great week, full of sun, sunsets, shopping and great food. I got my tan back and I was sad to leave. Until next year!

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Cullman County ammendment to develop protected wilderness - vote no!

Friend and fellow blogger Peggy Hill passed this along to me to share. Please take a look at her blog post "The Fate of This Land May Be in Your Hands".

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Huntsville Botanical Garden haul

The Huntsville Master Gardeners visited our garden yesterday (unfortunately there is no fall color yet and very few blooms but aside from that, I hope they had a good time) and then Michael and I headed to Huntsville for the Fall Plant Sale. Of course, I had only planned on getting a "few things". Ha! Famous last words. Just last week, Michael had to trade in his Pathfinder for a new one due to electrical problems so here I go dirtying it up. He read somewhere to keep a shower liner for such purposes. It worked great and I don't think we got a speck of dirt anywhere.
We came home with:

Cherrybark Oak (Quercus pagodifolia)
Chinese Chestnut (Castanea species)
Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica)
Cypress "Carolina Sapphire"
Winterberry Holly 
Yellow-berried Holly
American Beauty Berry
Azalea - Flame (R. calendulaceum) 
Azalea - Confederate series
Azalea - Aromi hybrid
Virginia Sweetspire
Sunflower Helianthus maximum)
Fire Pink (Silene virginica)


Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Friday, October 5, 2012

Camellia "Hana Jiman"

It is time for the fall camellias. These are the "sasanqua" camellias (the ones that bloom in late winter through spring are "japonica"). The first sasanqua to bloom for me is "Hana Jiman". It is covered with lovely blooms right now. The blooms of the sasanqua camellias are not as showy as the Japonicas but shine in their own delicate charm. I absolutely love camellias and if we ever move to the woods, I plan on having a lot of them.  

Another great sasanqua is "Bonanza" which grows next to our back door steps. For some reason, it has always been hard to photograph. It is pure red and just beginning to bloom. I regret that I did not plant one on the opposite side of the steps. "Yuletide", a Christmas blooming camellia is there and it is rather puny. This could be because the poor thing was moved 3 times before I put it in its present location. 

Other sasanquas that will hopefully bloom soon are "Cleopatra" and "Chansonette". More to come!

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy