Monday, October 22, 2012

Persimmon Pudding for the Holidays


With fall in the air and November around the corner, my thoughts turn to Thanksgiving and the special meals my Grandmother prepared over the years. We literally did go 'over the river and through the woods' for our Thanksgiving feasts.
I remember it being colder back then. Many times when the house ran over with family, the kids slept on pallets on the floor. My sister and I would go to sleep on a soft pile of blankets, with a thick quilt over us to keep us warm. By the time we woke in the morning we could hardly turn over from the weight of the new quilts that had been spread over us during the night.
Daddy usually hunted early in the day leaving long before we were up, but returning with his dog, Bo, in plenty of time for turkey. The children always ran out to greet the hunters when they returned. Coming back into the house there was a rush of warmth from the kitchen—and delicious aromas of roasting turkey, rising yeast rolls and the unmistakable sweet smell of fresh persimmon puddings cooling on the counter.
We ate our persimmon pudding cold, so Mama Nell put it into the refrigerator for a cool down while we ate. Then we cut little slivers and topped them with whipped cream. The puddings disappeared so quickly, even though there were other desserts, cakes and pies, to be eaten.
If you are fortunate enough to know the location of a good persimmon tree, make persimmon puddings this Thanksgiving and see how quickly they disappear! 

MAMA NELL’S PERSIMMON PUDDING


2 cups persimmon pulp**
1 stick butter, melted and cooled
One-half cup corn oil
2 cups sugar, one white, one dark brown, packed
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups self-rising flour
1-cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoonful vanilla
1 teaspoonful cinnamon
Dash of cloves and nutmeg
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
1 cup shredded coconut (optional)

**Persimmons will ‘turn your mouth wrong side out’ if you try to eat them before they’re ripe. Mama Nell always told us to wait until after the first frost to gather them. Just be sure they are nice and orange and getting soft. It takes a big mixing bowl of persimmons to make 2 cups of pulp. Rinse the persimmons gently and remove any debris. Let them dry. Then either use a pulper to separate the skin and seeds from the pulp, or force through a sieve or strainer. You can freeze the pulp and then thaw completely when ready to make puddings.**
Preheat oven to 350°.
Add the melted, cooled butter and corn oil to both cups of sugar and stir until mixed. Add eggs and mix well. Alternate adding flour and milk until all combined. Stir in vanilla, persimmon pulp and cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Fold in pecans and/or coconut if so desired. Divide batter between three loaf pans greased generously with corn oil. Bake at for about 30 minutes. You want the pudding to be set, but not overcooked. Cool in pan. Turn out onto foil paper. Wrap and store in refrigerator. Serve cold. May top with a little sweetened whipped cream.


Home Grown Olives



 We're trying a new food project this month. About ten years ago a friend sent me two olive trees for my birthday. They were about two feet tall, and looked like rooted sprigs. I potted them and have loved and nursed them ever since. They grew to about four feet after several years and several new pots. Not until we took them to the NC coast and planted them in the ground did they really grow. After two years they are taller than our heads, and for the first time, filled with olives.

My husband and I disagreed about what to do with the crop. He wanted to press them for their oil, but with only two trees I didn't think they would yield very much. I thought curing them made more sense, plus if they tasted good, there would be lots of opportunities to share, and I could say each time we ate them, 'You won't believe this, but we grew these olives!' So, cure them we did.
As it turned out, it was fairly simple. There are several different methods. I chose gently cracking the olives and soaking them in cold water for several days, changing the water a couple of times a day until the bitterness is leached out of the olives and into the water. Then you pack them in salt water with a little vinegar, and any other additions you want—garlic, thyme, rosemary, lemon, jalapeƱo, etc., and let them brine for thirty days in the refrigerator. You can store them for up to a year in the frig.

I have since learned that where olives are grown, raw olives are sold each season and many people brine their own. I'm hoping we'll have another successful crop next year, and if we keep adding trees, maybe someday we'll have a large enough crop to press for oil!






Thursday, August 23, 2012

Vegetables--Wonderful Roasted Vegetables!




Once in awhile my best recipes come about by accident. It was time to clean out the vegetable bin in the refrigerator, and get ready for  fresh vegetables—we belong to a vegetable co-op that delivers weekly. There were six ears of corn I meant to cook earlier, completely forgotten. Sometimes being rich in vegetables makes me also a little wasteful. This winter I will only dream about my vegetable bin being full to overflowing.

So, along with the greens, peppers and tomatoes I'd already planned to prepare, there was corn that needed to be cooked. It wasn't a good night to grill, and I didn't want to just boil it, so I threw it into the oven and hoped for the best. I wasn't disappointed.

Next to the corn were six small beets that seemed to be just about to shrivel. I couldn't let those little red jewels turn into prune-like images of their former selves. No time like the present to try the Beet and Goat Cheese Salad I've seen on so many menus. I've never been fond of beets, and honestly think they taste a little like dirt, but roasting does wonders for most all vegetables. A little caramelization and suddenly the beets took on a delicious, deep flavor that was wonderful combined with the maple syrup vinaigrette and the goat cheese.

Hope you enjoy these easy and delicious ways to eat your vegetables!



Roasted Beet Salad

4-5 small beets, peeled and sliced into thick rounds
One-half cup chopped walnuts
5 T extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 T red wine vinegar
2 T maple syrup
1 shallot, finely chopped
Salad Greens (baby greens are particularly nice with some arugula)
8 oz. goat cheese, well chilled
2 eggs, beaten
~1 cup seasoned panko, or bread crumbs

Boil beets covered in water over medium heat for about 30 minutes.
Drain on paper towels to dry. Toss in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Spread beets onto sheet pan covered with foil and roast for 30 minutes in 425° oven. Half way through roasting time, sprinkle walnuts over beets and continue roasting.
Whisk together remaining oil, vinegar, syrup and shallot. Set aside.
Cut goat cheese in eight rounds. Dip each round into egg and then panko. Place on plate covered with wax paper and refrigerate until ready to serve salad. Just before serving, brown cheese rounds on both sides over medium heat in a nonstick skillet.
Place greens in salad bowl, add beets and walnuts, and finally goat cheese rounds. Pour vinaigrette over salad and serve.



Roasted Corn on the Cob

6 or more ears of corn, cleaned
1 stick of butter softened
One-half teaspoon garlic salt
1 tsp. Dried Italian herbs

Preheat oven to 350°.
Mix butter, garlic salt and herbs.
Line a baking pan with a large piece of foil. Place corn in pan and brush butter mixture over corn. Cover tightly with another piece of foil. Place in oven and cook for about an hour, turning corn once while cooking.
(If you have any corn left over, cut it off the cob and add it to a salad the next day.)



Friday, July 20, 2012

Recipes and Tales from Chianti--Ciona

Ciona, one of the beautiful homes where we cooked (and dined!).  You can actually see Sienna in the distance.
This is their wine label that is exported to the US.

After a wonderful trip to the Chianti region of Tuscany, I'm home and reeling with ideas, recipes, and beautiful memories. I told you about the famous Butcher in Panzano. Dario, in the butcher world, is a superstar, and we had the full experience. Later that week we had cooking classes with our friends of Tutti a Tavola, and to me these ladies are also culinary superstars!

Early in the week Mimma, our host and one of the 'Mamas' of Tutti a Tavola asked what recipes we would like to prepare. When we didn't have any particular requests (other than a primer in their chicken liver spread that I want to make for my Mom), Mimma proposed a menu of her recent favorite recipes that resulted in a fantastic meal and a great learning experience.

We spent hours working together to turn the beautiful, local produce, meats and cheeses into a meal fit for a Medici. My sister and I were joined in the class by an Italian mother and daughter who now live in Chile and were back visiting relatives. While we spoke little Italian, they spoke little English, but by the end of the evening we were all communicating in culinary-ese.

The recipes we prepared don't sound hard at all, and they're not. Simplicity defines Tuscan cuisine. It relies on hundreds of years of refined technique combined with the freshness and quality of ingredients to produce dishes that are so uniquely superb in their quality.

We are instructed through each recipe.

Chicken Skewers and Grilled Vegetables

Spiedini di Pollo all'olio di Oliva (Carne or Secondi Course)
Chicken Skewers with Olive Oil

1 lb. Chicken breast pieces
1 cup bread crumbs
1 cup finely grated Parmigiano cheese
1 small onion, finely minced
~1 tsp. Salt
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
fresh bay leaves, halved (you could substitute thin slices of onion, pepper or tomato without seeds, but usually you can find the bay leaves in the refrigerated produce with other fresh herbs—we picked ours off their tree)

Preheat oven to 425°.
Use either chicken breast tenders or flattened breast pieces (cover with wax paper when flattening to avoid a mess), and cut into into 2x3 inch pieces. You want these pieces to be fairly thin, and equal in size so they well cook evenly in the same amount of time.
Mix the bread crumbs, grated cheese, onion and salt. Taste and adjust with more salt if needed.
Pour olive oil into a bowl (add more if needed).
Add several chicken pieces at a time to olive oil. Dip them out with your hands and squeeze tightly over the bowl to squeeze out excess oil. Place these pieces into the breadcrumb mixture and press to evenly coat each piece.
Thread each piece onto skewer, folding over and piercing twice. Separate each piece with half a bay leaf. Be sure chicken pieces are spread apart so they will cook evenly.
Arrange skewers in a roasting pan and cook for ~15 minutes.

Verdure alla Griglia (Contorni/Vegetable Course)
Grilled Vegetables

2 or 3 red and yellow bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips
4 or 5 medium zucchini sliced lengthwise
2 or 3 small eggplants, peeled and sliced lengthwise
5 small sweet onions, peeled, and cut into eighths
4 or 5 small tomatoes, seeded and cut into eighths
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Freshly grated black pepper
One-third cup breadcrumbs
One-third cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425°.
Mix breadcrumbs and cheese and set aside.
Oil a large roasting pan, then line with parchment paper and oil the top of the paper well. Place peppers, zucchini and eggplant slices evenly on pan separating a little. Top with onions and tomatoes, spreading evenly. Now drizzle with olive oil. Add salt and pepper and breadcrumb mixture evenly over vegetables.
Place on top rack in oven and roast until vegetables are tender and lightly blackened in spots, about 30 minutes.


Fabulous Radicchio Lasagna
Fresh Creme Dessert


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Recipes and Tales from Chianti--Radda

Orazio overseeing the dinner.
You had to know where to look, or you would never find it!
Cantuccini and Vin Santo


The Chianti region is very similar to the mountains of southwest Virginia, dipping into the foothills at its southern boundary.
As far as I could tell these people are 'living well'. They enjoy life fully. This includes the butcher, the baker and the owners of the beautiful sprawling properties that have been lovingly restored.
We didn't lack for good dining, and splurged on a couple of over the top meals, but the one I enjoyed most was recommended by our hosts. They drew a map. There was no sign-not even a name. It was the restaurant of Orazio, the town baker. Our host told us it was one of the last truly authentic Tuscan dining experiences, where we would find a mix of the people in the village having lunch.We finally found the door after passing it more than once. Inside, down a little hall, up a couple of steps and we walked into what could have been the dining room of a modest home.
We had been told we would be greeted by a very stern look--and we were, but it turned into a beautiful smile. This was the daughter of Orazio. She brought water and wine and asked if we wanted pomodoro or bolognese. That was it--our only choice of the meal.
I could see into the kitchen. She began to peel potatoes and pulled out different meats from the local butcher. The meal went on for three courses when Orazio came in--90 year old Orazio--the baker of the village, dressed in his white baking coat. He reached into the bottom of a sideboard and pulled out an unlabeled bottle of Vin Santo , a very sweet dessert wine, and brought it to the table with a plate of cantuccini he had just baked. They were small biscotti to dip into the vin santo. For other diners a basket of fresh peaches was passed.
The meal couldn't have been fresher or more local, and I think you can imagine the flavor. Everyone had an air of contentment--happiness with their life. As the diners finished their meals they stepped into the kitchen to pay. No check, no cash register, just money on the counter and a grazie and ciao to the cook.
They were all 'living well'! In that moment they were contented with their lives, and so was I. There is a lesson to be learned. 

Pasta Pomodoro
Pasta Pomodoro

Extra virgin olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan (about 1/4 cup)
1sweet onion chopped
3 garlic cloves minced
6-8 medium tomatoes peeled and chopped
1 tablespoons fresh parsley chopped
1teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch of red pepper flakes
8 large basil leaves ( or similar quantity) rolled together and cut into tiny strips
12 ounces of pasta, your choice, cooked according to package
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Extra olive oil

Place skillet over medium heat and add olive. When oil is heated add onion and cook stirring occasionally until onions become translucent. Add garlic and cook another minute before adding tomatoes, parsley, salt, pepper, sugar and red pepper flakes. Cook slowly for about 20 minutes until tomatoes lose their shape and sauce thickens.
Drain cooked pasta and add sauce and basil. Serve with grated Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil. 

Recipes and Tales from Chianti--Panzano


Dario Cecchini is the famous butcher at Antica Macelleria Cecchini in Panzano in Chianti.  Here he is preparing porchetta which will later be served in his restaurant upstairs, along with delicious pork very similar to pulled pork and Beefsteak Fiorentina tartar.


And what meal would be complete without your very own Grappa?



We had several destinations in mind for day trips while in Chianti. One was to Panzano, only 11 km away from home base, to visit Dario, the Rockstar Butcher.  Even with stories on the Internet I was not prepared for the experience.  Dario Cecchini who is the butcher of Panzano now has three restaurants in his small village and has been visited by culinary celebrities and written about in many food magazines.  The butcher shop becomes a stage with frenzied patrons when Dario takes up his knife.  The day we were there he prepared two porchettas for roasting to the blasts of AC/DC.  By the end the wine was flowing and the people who filled the tiny butcher shop were cheering. It was amazing! I bought from the shop fresh tuna that he had preserved and sealed. And that night we prepared a very simple pasta dish using the tuna. (I know, tuna from a butcher shop, but it was one of his unique specialties.)
Several days later we returned to Panzano to eat in one of his restaurants and sample the delicious pork and beef dishes, another experience I will never forget.  We ate with a long table of guests, including many locals. The sample platter included Tuscan beef tartar, cubes of something that tasted like a fancy meatloaf, pulled pork and porchetta, all delicious.
Life is good in the Chianti region of Tuscany!
Easy Summer Pasta Dish with Tuna

Extra virgin olive oil
2 large red onions thinly sliced
4 medium tomatoes diced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 can chickpeas, drained
1/3 cup chopped olives 
1 lb. good canned tuna drained
2 or 3 handfuls of fresh arugula
Salt to taste
Freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
12 oz pasta, your choice, prepared according to pkg directions

Add about 1/4 cup olive oil to large skillet over medium/low heat. Add onions and cook until caramelized. Next add the tomatoes, rosemary, pepper flakes, red wine vinegar, and chickpeas. Taste and add salt if needed. Cook until tomatoes lose their shape. Add tuna being careful not to breakup too much and finally the arugula.  Immediately toss with pasta and serve with grated cheese.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Our Chianti Holiday




                            Muricciaglia
This is Muricciaglia, our home away from home between Castellina and Radda in Chianti.  The picture was taken by hiking down through the olive trees and grapevines to the bottom of the property into the surrounding forest.  Road access to the property is from above.  The largest building is the beautiful home of our hosts.  An arch inside dates the home.

This is Fienile, the building at the top of the photo of the overall property.  It was our temporary home, and originally, the hay barn.


This is the view from the backside of Fienile.  Many morning coffees and afternoon wines were enjoyed from here!

One of the beautiful views from the main house.

We have returned to our favorite vacation spot to reunite with old friends and enjoy the country life of Tuscany.  Some things are best remembered rather than revisited, but not Tuscany.  It is even better than I remembered.
I feel so in touch with the current movement to eat healthier--fresh, local, even organic when possible. Now I remember, in Tuscany there is no other way.  The cooking of Tuscany is not complicated, but it does require time and effort.  Everyone grows what they can, whether it's a vineyard or a window box of herbs.
In the small hill towns of the Chianti region there are usually fresh markets once a week if the town is large enough.  Otherwise, it could be only once or twice a month.  There is a small Co-op grocery in most villages where you can buy the necessities.  The people here have used the locally available food for generations.  In their minds there is no other way. When the season is over, you wait for next year.  I wanted fava beans. Too late, I am told. They are already too old and tough to be good.  Oh well, next time we must come earlier in the season!
(I'll be adding more pictures and recipes soon!)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Cookie Favorite

If you like peanut butter cookies and Fritos....


I've been saving the Momofuko Milk Bar Cookie recipe for a couple of years.  I saw it demonstrated on TV (can't remember which cooking show) and there was so much hype about it, I really wanted to try it.  So far, I haven't.  It requires the baking of a cookie-like cake to crumble into the cookie batter, and that seems like quite a stretch for me and a cookie.  The part of the recipe that is so intriguing to me is the crumbling of your favorite snack foods into the cookie--ie, cereal, peanuts, pretzels, cheezits, chocolate bars, potato chips--whatever your pleasure.  I'm still going to try it one day.


Meanwhile, I saw a very simple recipe for a peanut butter cookie that incorporated the same idea.  The recipe was in Real Simple, and used pretzels and chocolate chips.  The cookies were so good, and so easy.  Maybe too easy, because when they were gone I thought I should try it again, this time using Heath Bars, crumbled, and Fritos.  



For the cookie to be your FAV, I think you have to use YOUR addictive treats--one salty and one sweet, or even more if you're really willing to walk on the wild side.  Final declaration:  don't make these things if you're not prepared to gain a few pounds.  Maybe that's if you're over sixty.  I couldn't stop eating them.  However, I gave some to my children, and when I was at their house last week I saw the package still on the counter with the cookies only half eaten.  Maybe it didn't include their favorite snacks, or maybe I just have the will power of a slug.


Toffee-Pretzel Peanut Butter Cookies

(adapted from Real Simple Daily Email Recipes)
2 cups creamy peanut butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup broken salted pretzels
1 cup chopped chocolate toffee bars (about 4 bars)

Heat oven to 350° F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. In a large bowl, mix together the peanut butter, sugars, eggs, baking soda, and salt until smooth. Fold in the pretzels and chopped toffee bar.
Shape the dough into balls (about 1 heaping tablespoon each) and place 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Using the tines of a fork, flatten each ball, creating a crisscross pattern.
Bake, rotating the baking sheets halfway through, until puffed and golden, 10 to 12 minutes (the cookies will deflate as they cool). Let cool slightly on the baking sheets, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.



Saturday, April 21, 2012

New Favorites

Favorite Recipes That Make It Back To The Table Again and Again


I've saved more recipes than I'll ever be able to cook.  They keep calling my name, and finally a few make it to the table.  Then we either give it a thumbs up, or a thumbs down.


I probably save five or six recipes a week. That means I have hundreds in my files.  When Martha Stewart's daily TV show goes off the air later this year, that number will decrease.  She frequently has guest chefs from the best restaurants in the world.  It's hard to pass up trying something they're giving you straight from their menu.  You can count on these recipes, because no chef would dare mess with Martha.  I've heard her call people out more than once on ingredients or technique.  If it's extremely involved, I just watch and enjoy the talent.  Some things are best enjoyed when someone else is preparing it--or maybe several other people.  But many of the recipes are remarkably simple and rely on good technique and quality ingredients.  They're the ones I like.  Upcoming new favorite from Martha:  Passionfruit Cheesecake Tart--it's a thumbs up for sure!
But everything I do isn't inspired by Martha.  My latest 'favorite' was inspired by a pork roast at the grocery story.  It was gorgeous and it led to a wonderful meal.

Stuffed Pork Loin Rib Roast with Port Sauce

(This recipe was adapted from Epicurious and was originally featured in Gourmet Magazine in 2008.)

Stuffing:

8 oz. mixed dried fruit, roughly chopped
2/3 cup ruby Port (you can buy it at the grocery store in the wine section)
1 tart apple, peeled, cored and cubed
1 medium sweet onion, diced
2 shallots, diced
three-fourths stick butter
One-half tsp. Salt and pepper

Mix dried fruit and port in small saucepan. Simmer, covered for five minutes. Then remove from heat and let it stand for another 10 minutes.
Meanwhile add butter to skillet with onion and shallots, apple, salt and pepper over medium heat. Cook about five minutes, until onions and apple are softened. Add dried fruit and port. Stir to combine. Then remove from heat and cool.

Roast:

One 5-6 lb. Rib-in pork loin roast
8-10 slices of bacon
1 ½ tsp. Salt
½ tsp. Pepper
Preheat oven to 500°.
With a long, narrow-bladed knife, make a cut all the way through the center of the roast. Turn the knife 90° and make another cut forming a pocket through the center of the roast. Use the handle of a wooden spoon and push 1 cup of cooled stuffing into the pocket in the roast. Reserve the remaining stuffing to make a sauce.
Rub the roast with the salt and pepper, then wrap the bacon slices around the roast, between each rib, ribs pointing up, and secure bacon ends under the bottom. If roast won't stand like this, use some heavy foil crunched up to hold it in place.
Place roast in oven for twenty minutes, then reduce temperature to 325° and cook until thermometer inserted into center of meat (not touching bone or stuffing) registers 155°. This should take about l ¼ to 1 ½ hours. Remove roast from pan to cutting board and let it rest tented with foil while you make the sauce.

Sauce:

½ cup ruby Port
1 ½ cups water
1 T cornstarch
Discard all but about 1 ½ tablespoons drippings from roasting pan. Add port to pan and place over medium heat. When heated, stir vigorously to get browned bits from bottom of pan. Add cornstarch to the water, and stir to mix, then add mixture slowly to heated port. Finally, add fruit mixture that was set aside. Cook, stirring, until heated through and thickened. Serve as sauce.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Carrot Cake for Easter

A trip to Kroger last week sent me into an Easter frenzy. It all started when I went to the store to buy just a few things for dinner, and couldn't find anything. In one week, they had moved everything in the store to a different place. A shopping trip that should have taken twenty minutes took nearly an hour of in-store browsing.

One look into my basket at check-out showed why grocery stores periodically switch everything around and have us running like mice in a maze trying to find the items on our list. I came home with the cutest flower shaped cupcake wrappers (and no intention of making cupcakes), little plastic eggcups and saucers, a set of appetizer sized plates, and soft baking silicon moulds that make Easter egg and bunny shaped muffins.

Let the Easter baking begin!

I've also been obsessing about carrot cake. The thought process went something like this: spring, new growth, plants and animals regenerating, bunnies, carrots, carrot cake. Maybe not a direct line, but that was my inspiration. Plus, it's Doug's favorite cake. I have a theory--most men love carrot cake, but I think it's really the cream cheese icing they love. I caught Doug finishing off the icing left on the beaters and in the mixing bowl. Not one to often indulge in sweets, I'm pretty sure it's the icing and not the cake that tempts him.

First I made a three layer cake using an old recipe, but it didn't seem moist enough. Back to the drawing board. I added a couple of things that would surely add more moisture and changed a few quantities.

Next up, twelve carrot cake cupcakes, two bunnies, twelve Easter eggs and a single layer cake all from one recipe, and all nice and moist. I've had lots of multi-shaped carrot cake items to share with friends.

Now, here's the funny thing: my panel of judges was split. The guys liked the first cake, and the girls liked the second recipe. I still think it's all that cream cheese icing served up with the three layers of cake!


Recipe #1 (used for the three layer cake)

adapted from:

Hummingbird Bakery Carrot Cake

300g soft light brown sugar
(1 ½ cup)

3 eggs


300ml sunflower oil
(1 ¼ cup)

300g plain flour
 (3 cups)

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
(baking soda)

1 tsp baking powder


1 tsp ground cinnamon


½ tsp ground ginger


½ tsp salt


¼ tsp vanilla extract

300g carrots, grated (about six medium carrots) 3 ½ to 4 cups

grated
Zest of half an orange

50g shelled walnuts, chopped, plus extra to decorate (a little less than ½ cup)

50g pecans, chopped, plus extra to decorate (a little less than ½ cup)

For the icing

600g icing sugar (4 ½ cups)

100g butter, at room temperature (1 stick

250g cream cheese, cold (9 ounces)

pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 170C (340°F). Prepare 3 x 20cm (8 inch) cake tins with loose bottoms by greasing then lining the bottoms with greaseproof paper.

Put the sugar, eggs and oil in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment and beat until all the ingredients are well mixed (don’t worry if it looks slightly split). Slowly add the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, salt, orange zest and vanilla extract and continue to beat until well mixed.

Stir in the grated carrots and walnuts by hand. Pour into the prepared cake tins and smooth over. Bake in the preheated oven for 20–25 minutes (mine took 30 minutes, which seems to be the feedback from other cooks, too), or until golden brown and the sponge bounces back when touched. Leave the cakes to cool slightly in the tins before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, beat the butter and sugar with the paddle attachment again until well mixed. Add the cream cheese, then beat again until well mixed. Turn the speed to high and continue to beat until light and fluffy but stop when you reach this point; if you over beat it the mixture will turn runny.

When the cakes are cold, spread about one-quarter of the cream cheese icing over it with a palette knife (I used less). Place a second cake on top and spread another quarter of the icing over it (again, I used less). Top with the last cake and spread the remaining icing over the top and sides. Decorate with walnuts around the edges and chopped pecans on top.

Recipe #2 (used for the cupcakes, eggs and bunnies)

Spring Carrot Cake

(This recipe is an adaptation from the Food Network Collaborating Chefs' recipe.)

Notes: if you have nut allergies in your family, substitute one cup golden raisins.

Taste your carrots. You want sweet, fresh carrots.

I used sunflower oil, but any vegetable oil will be fine.

Ingredients:

three-fourths cup vegetable oil (I used sunflower oil)

one and one-half cups sugar

one-half cup packed light brown sugar

2 tsp. Vanilla

one-half cup orange marmalade

4 eggs, room temperature

3-4 cups grated carrots, 6-8 regular sized carrots

3 cups all purpose flour

one and one-half teaspoons baking powder

one-half teaspoon baking soda

one-half teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

one-half teaspoon powdered ginger

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup chopped pecans, toasted

1 cup salted sunflower seeds, optional

Preheat oven to 350°.

Prepare three nine inch cake pans by greasing and then adding parchment paper to the bottoms.

Mix the oil, both sugars, vanilla and marmalade until well combined. Add one egg at a time, mixing well after each addition. Now add the grated carrots, stirring until combined.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and ginger together into a separate bowl.

Alternate adding the flour and buttermilk to the oil-sugar-egg mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Don't over-mix.

Fold in nuts.

Pour equal amounts into the prepared cake pans and bake for 25 minutes, or until cake springs back in the middle and tester comes out clean. Allow cakes to completely cool in pans.

If making cupcakes, or using the silicone egg and bunny molds, I only decreased the cooking time one minute to 24 minutes. Just watch beginning at about 20 minutes.

Cream Cheese Icing

2 x 8 oz. packages cream cheese, room temperature

1 stick butter, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 lb. box confectioners' sugar, plus about a cup more

Beat together cream cheese, butter, vanilla and lemon juice. Add confectioners' sugar a little at a time until well incorporated, light and fluffy and right spreading consistency.

Spread icing between layers, then use remainder to ice sides and top of cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

CELEBRATE EVERY SINGLE DAY


LUCAS CLARK VASQUEZ
'LUC'

February offers many reasons to celebrate, but our family has added another, and possibly our best to date. At the end of January I became a grandmother to the most beautiful baby in the world. By the time the dust settled, it was February and we were home loving this sweet baby. I've spent two weeks on the grandmother mountain top, and it's a breathtaking place to be.

Oh, yes, there was incredible joy and celebration when our children were born--joy that continues to this very day. But to see our daughter and her husband become 'Mama and Daddy' overnight exceeded anything I've ever experienced. Their caresses soothe the questions and wonder of this little fellow. His eyes strain to make sense, his toes beg to be kissed, and meanwhile the sound of his Mama's voice mesmerizes him; his Daddy speaking 'bebe nino' in his ear stills him and he feels safe and loved. He's beautiful, he's wonderful, and we are so blessed.

We have celebrated every single day, and we're just getting started. For Baby Lucas there was first his Mama's birthday, which he now shares—what a special coincidence. Then there was Groundhog's Day—we laughed at the sun, but now we're believing it was a serious prediction. Valentine's Day called for extra love and heart shaped cookies (I'm practicing for a couple of years down the road).

Coming up next we had a food lovers holiday. There's no better time for a culinary blowout than Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. Before the fasting of Lent begins we overindulge and enjoy every carb and gram of fat in one big food celebration with no guilt. Lucas wasn't very interested, but we celebrated anyhow.

And then there was snow! His first snow and it was a good one--to quote a friend, here today, gone tomorrow. Becki claims he was trying to catch a snowflake in a yawn. My Mom saw this picture and wanted to know where his mittens were. I just wanted them to get the baby back in the house. It was a quick photo shoot--and the perfect time to wear his little snowsuit. Unfortunately, the little knitted suit we intended for him to wear home from the hospital will probably fit about mid-August. What was I thinking?

Food? Everything tastes good this month. As a matter of fact, EVERYTHING is good. Life is very, very good.

A couple of easy recipes we've enjoyed:

Jambalaya, Shrimp or Chicken

(6 servings)

1 T extra virgin olive oil

4 oz. Andouille Sausage, sliced into quarter inch rounds


1 medium sweet onion, diced

3 celery stalks, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

2 tsp. Smoked paprika

1 (8oz.) box Jambalaya Mix (I used Zatarain's)

1 (15oz.) can petite diced tomatoes

16 oz. peeled and deveined large shrimp or 1 cooked deli chicken, bones and skin removed and meat shredded

Shredded Monterey jack and mild cheddar cheese as garnish


Add the olive oil to a soup pot over medium heat. Add the sliced sausage, onion, celery and peppers. Cook, stirring occasionally, 4-5 minutes. Add paprika and stir to combine.

Add contents of Jambalaya box, the can of tomatoes (don't drain) and two and one-half cups water. Bring to a nice simmer, cover and low simmer for 25 minutes, or as directed on the box.

If using shrimp, add to the rice mixture during the last six minutes of cooking.

If using chicken, add during last few minutes, just long enough to heat through.

I like the finished jambalaya to be loose, not as liquid as soup, but still loose. Add a little more water or chicken broth if needed.

I know that some frown on using cheese with any seafood, but this is delicious garnished with a nice serving of shredded cheese.

Serve in soup bowls or even mugs.

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Turkey-burger Pie

(Pre-Hamburger Helper!)

You can add extras, like sauteed onions and peppers, or change out chili beans for the black beans, chili seasoning for fajita seasoning and ground beef for ground turkey, but this is how we like it. If you don't have an iron skillet, use regular skillet to prepare turkey, seasoning and added cans of beans, corn and tomatoes. Then transfer to casserole dish and top with cheese and prepared cornbread mix.


2 tsp. Extra virgin olive oil

1 lb. Ground turkey

1 packet (1.12 oz.)Fajita seasoning (ie McCormick's)

1 can (15 oz.) seasoned black beans, drained

1 can (7 oz.) Mexican corn, drained (this is a Green Giant product, but you can use any canned corn)

1 can (15 oz.) diced tomatoes NOT drained

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, or a mixture of your choice

1 box (8 oz.) cornbread mix, mixed according to package directions


Preheat oven to 425°.

Add olive oil to large iron skillet over medium heat. Add ground turkey and saute stirring occasionally until turkey loses its color. Add seasoning and give it a good stir. Add drained beans, corn, and full can of tomatoes and juice. Stir to combine and let it heat through while you mix cornbread.

Mix cornbread according to package directions.

Spread cheese evenly over tomato mixture in iron skillet. Top with prepared cornbread mix, spreading the mix evenly to edges of pan.

Place in oven and bake until cornbread is fully cooked, the time your cornbread mix recommends, usually about 25 minutes.