Saturday, March 26, 2016

Bunny Cake



In the mid 70's we moved to a new house on a new street in North St. Paul, Minnesota, and we quickly made friends with the Thomas family down the street. My dad and Mr. (Pat) Thomas were Bert and Ernie. They had great times fishing, playing cards on Selby Ave (while the kids were on the ice), and just hanging out. In the summer, after my dad had finished his work around the house, he would pull out the old white wobbly wagon, put the big brown Coleman chest cooler on it, load it up and head on down Buhl Ave to see his buddy Pat. Remember this was the 70s, before we had invented coolers with wheels on them. On these Saturday's My mum and Mrs. (Sue) Thomas would be stuck at the Maplewood Mall Bachman's working hard. Don't worry mum and Sue would be greeted with margaritas as soon as they got out of their deep purple smocks.

We spent a lot of time with Pat and Sue Thomas and their kids Wendy and Mike. We were our own that 70's show and then the 80's came, the Thomas clan moved to Hudson, Wisconsin, and then a few years later we moved to St. Joe, Michigan. Need a visual of Pat and Sue Thomas, think the neighbors in That 70s Show. The Pinciotti's 

You get it our families were close. I remember one away bonspiel weekend I was shipped off to the Thomas' house to stay.  I was raised to be on my best behavior as a guest in someone's home. One night they served fried chicken, and I tried to eat it with a knife and fork. Pat and Sue let me saw at it for a little bit, before Sue said, "Susie, fried chicken is a finger food." Sue Thomas, was (is) beautiful and was a little intimidating to my tom boy goofy dressing self, so I had to get double permission from her to eat with my fingers. 

If you don't live in the same area as your relatives you need friends like the Thomas'. We were never alone at the holidays as we were always invited to their holiday dinners. And lucky for us there was always good food. At Easter, Grandma Cookie (Pat's mother) would bring bunny cake. I remember thinking how cool it was that you could take a round cake and with one cut make a bunny. As an adult, I like that you don't have to buy a mold to make a cake to look like an animal. Most of us have plenty of cabinet space, but too much shit to put in them. You don't need to buy anything else that you will use once a year, at best.

It really is very simple to make a bunny cake, my first bunny cake I made was a success and everyone after that has been as well. 

The Cake Part:

Make your favorite layer cake (if you want to use a box mix-I won't tell). I like covering my bunny cake with cream cheese frosting, Cakes that work well with this kind of frosting include red velvet and carrot. Vanilla cake with coconut icing works nicely as well, but coconut is one of those things that some people just don't like. Or you could do a icing (confectioner's) sugar and butter frosting. Even if you do a boxed cake, please make your own frosting-it doesn't take that much time and it is so much better than that crap in a can. To cover your cake you may want to make a double batch. 

Pour your cake into two prepared 9" round cake pans. Prepare your pans by patting a little butter around the pans, then lining them with parchment or waxed paper, butter and then flour the wax paper. This will make getting your cake out in one piece much easier. 

After your cake has cooled, frost it:

1. cut it down the middle (if you don't cut cleanly-don't worry, the cut edge goes down on the serving plate)
2. Frost one the top of one of the halves. Then take the other half and stick it to that half, making a big half circle. Place this cut edge down on your serving plate.


3. Frost the rounded top of the cake, trying not to get too many cake pieces mixed in. It will be really noticeable if you made a red velvet cake. Scrap your knife on the edge of your frosting bowl as you go.
4. Frost the sides.
5. Frost a large marshmallow and stick it at the bottom of one of the rounded ends. Or just take a couple of spoonfuls of frosting to make the tail.
6. If you want and you have enough frosting repeat for the other round cake you baked.

Decorate your bunny:

1. Use Jelly Beans for the eyes and the nose.
2. Cut licorice twists to 2.5 or so inches.
3. Ears: take a saucer plate and lay it on the bottom edge of two white or same colored pastel envelopes. Open to see how large they are, trim around the open edge if needed. Wait to put the ears on your bunny, the frosting will soak into the paper, not a major deal but you not like the slight discoloration.



Green Grass:

I read on The Cake Blog that there is something called edible green grass. Well, seeing as I don't live in Colorado, I decided not to do a google search to see where I could buy edible grass. I instead decided to color some coconut.

Colored coconut, put about one cup of flake coconut into a small bowl and add a couple of drops of green food coloring. still it will cover the flakes very easily, I ended up adding a bit of water as my coconut was a little dry.

Finishing touches: put the coconut around your plate, throw some jelly beans on top of the coconut grass, I like to place a pile of the black ones back by the tail. Place the ears and serve.









Monday, August 31, 2015

Why I am doing this and Peach Cake

I know the last thing we need is another blog about food. And the last thing you need to read is one that is poorly written with crappy phone pictures. I have friends reading my blog who are English teachers, librarians, overall word nerds, authors, professional photographers, and then there are those who are in the food business professional. Oh yeah, one even writes about food professional. My friend Emilia Juocys works for Michael Ruhlman  Oh well, I am doing it anyways, besides you are no longer reading my blog 'cause you are now on the Ruhlman site reading a professional food site.

Above cooking a recipe over and over again, there is the writing. Directions are hard to write, how detailed do they need to be?  Oh, wait, does that mean I think somebody might actually follow one of my recipes. Here is some great advice from Michael Ruhlman on food writing If you are writing or want to write about your passion there is good advice in his post. Just insert your subject for food.

I know I have made mistakes, but I'll get better. Besides the internet is full of mistakes. I recently discovered a great, but poorly written recipe on Food52 for a peach cake.

The recipe calls for 3 diced ripe peaches, are those small or large and will it make a difference. It lists salt in step 4, however they do not list how much anywhere. *OOPS* I just forgot to set the timer, because I was too busy writing instead of cooking. Okay, set, but I'm gonna rely on my nose as well. As my mum would say,  "your nose can be your best friend while cooking"

If you read the comments, on the Food52 site, you will see a lot about the cooking time. I have a feeling they were working on getting the great crust, that this cake has, but then forgot to adjust the time on the lower temp.  The recipe has you start with a 350 degree oven for ten minutes and then you reduce to 325 for 45-55 minutes. This just seemed too long, so I set my timer for 35 minutes and checked. It was really close. So I recommend 325 for 35-40 minutes.

This is a great simple cake, made without the mixer, that would be great to make with kids. I believe, it would adjust well for those who are gluten free. Here is the recipe written out with my edits. Who am I to edit a recipe that has been posted on a professional site? Just some home cook trying to share my thoughts, improve my writing, and hopefully give you some recipes you can make at home. After reading this The New Yorker article about writing a food blog, I feel better about the approach I have taken to food blogging.



Peach (or other fruit) Cake

3 cups fruit: peaches or apples or plums or 2 cups peaches and 1 cup blueberries
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons softened butter
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup almonds or almond flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Step 1: preheat oven to 350 degrees, prepare (butter and flour) a 9 inch round cake pan (only use a pie pan, if a 9 1/2 large pan) you can use a 10 inch cast iron pan. 

Step 2: cut your fruit into bite size pieces, leaving the skins on, add nutmeg, cinnamon, and 2 tablespoons sugar. Set aside.

Step 3: with a wooden spoon or spatula cream together the butter and sugar (1 cup minus the 2 tablespoons you used in step 2) add egg, buttermilk, extracts. Stir to combine. 

Step 4:  add flour, almonds or almond flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt. Mix until a only a few lumps remain, does not have to be smooth. (you can use a separate bowl, or just put the dry ingredients in with the wet and mix) Pour into the prepared pan.

Step 5: if the fruit has more than a few tablespoons of juice, drain some of the juice off. Press the fruit into the top, down the sides, smash them into the cake. It should look like you have a lot of fruit for cake batter. 


Step 6: bake for 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven, adjust temp to 325 and continuing cooking for an additional 35-40 minutes. Use a cake tester to make sure your cake is done. 

You can cut this into squares of pie shaped pieces. 

Enjoy this cake for breakfast, brunch or dinner. If you do take to a friend's house leave it in the pan. It will keep the shape better and trust me you will come home with a clean pan.













Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Baby Back Ribs

I cringe when I hear, "those ribs are so good they fall off the bone"

To me, that says they have been boiled first. We make fun of the English for boiling the flavor out of their food, why are you doing it? Please don't take one of the more expensive pieces of meat and boil the flavor out of it? Now, I have had some good (not baby back) ribs that have been boiled first, the ribs at the Saturday night banquet at the Rocky Top Bonspiel, are an exception that I make every year. But after that wonderful weekend hosted by Great Smoky Mountains Curling, in Knoxville TN, I go back to why are you boiling your meat?

Baby Back Ribs are not cheap so you do want to take some time (love) and cook them properly. We all have heard of low and slow before or as my Uncle Peter would say 8-10 rum (drink) ribs. My nephew Kess, has inherited the family love of ribs. By the age of 5, he could tell you all about ribs.

My niece Maggie, not so much. Many Christmases ago, my parents mentioned that they had picked up a couple of orders of Rib Tips from Larks And five year old Maggie declared that she didn't like ribs. "I don't like the meat part, I don't like the sauce part, I don't like the bone part, I really just don't like ribs." So for family members like Maggie, grab some chicken to put on the grill along side the ribs.

My dad's technique for cooking Baby Back ribs produces tender and tasty ribs. You have to work a little bit to get all the meat off the bones, but it is worth it. His method also gives you minimal clean up, no basting, and lots of time to enjoy life.

Baby Back Ribs

Ingredients:

1 charcoal grill
1 bag of wood charcoal
1-2 racks of Baby Back ribs
Your favorite dry rub
Your favorite (tomato based) BBQ sauce
Aluminum foil
1 fully stocked beer fridge
Lots of good tunes, Chicago Blues and Outlaw Country pairs well with ribs

Recipe:

Remove the membrane from the back of the ribs. season with your favorite dry rub, set aside.




Prepare your grill, you'll want to cook your ribs over indirect medium heat for close to 2 hours.


When your coals are ready place ribs, meat side up, on the grill. Cook for 20 mins.

Turn over on top of coals, sauce the under part, and cook for 10 mins.

Tear off enough Aluminum foil to wrap ribs. Lay foil on grill, place 1st rack of ribs, meat part up, on foil, cover with sauce. Note: why use a basting brush, when the side of your tongs will work. Great tip Pops! I hate cleaning BBQ sauce off of brushes.



Place 2nd rack of ribs on top of 1st, with meat part up, sauce. Close up foil, making a foil pouch for your ribs to cook in. Sit back and let your ribs cook for 1-1 1/2  hours depending on how fatty they are.

Cheers!













Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Rosemary Cookies

After a storm like Hurricane Katrina hits, and your city is flooded, you eventually have to rebuild. It may seem small, but one of the things lost, that home cooks wanted to rebuild, was their recipe collections. Those favorite comfort food recipes, cut from the New Orleans' newspaper over the years, that had floated away.

About 6 weeks after Katrina, home cooks turned to the internet and the Times-Picayune responded with "Exchange Alley" connecting readers and finding those lost recipes. Lots of great recipes were found and it was turned into one of my favorite cookbooks "Cooking Up a Storm"  I have made a few of the recipes and they have been worthwhile, but the one I go back to the most is the one found on page 310 this one Rosemary Cookies.

Cooks need the comfort of a good recipe, one that they can make over and over again with great success. To me this is one of those recipes. It is a little shortbread like cookie, that has just the right amount of something different. I make these often and it is one of the most requested recipes from my kitchen.

If I didn't have a rosemary bush in my front yard, I don't know if I would make this as often. I hate buying a spice or a herb for one recipe. Although, I guess I should eat more for my memory, according to this BBC article

Not sure where to put this, but I must add that there is a saying that rosemary grows best in a garden tended by a strong woman. Surprise, I have no problem growing rosemary.

I have made a couple of adjustments to the original recipe. One thing, I do is I always make a double batch, but I never double the rosemary. It was just too much.

Rosemary Cookies:

1 cup: (2 sticks) butter. Room temperature (soft, not melting. soft, but it should retain it's shape)
2 cups: all-purpose unbleached flour
1 cup: powdered sugar
2 tablespoons (can be heaping) minced fresh rosemary leaves.

Squeeze of fresh lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon of lemon extract (optional)

1-2 tablespoons granulated sugar.

Heat oven to 350 degrees

Mix butter, flour, powdered sugar, rosemary, and lemon juice. Roll into small one inch balls and place in a bowl with the white sugar. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet about 1 1/2 inches apart. Press flat with a cookie press, the bottom of a flat glass, or by hand with the butter wrapper. Once flat these wont spread much more. 

Cook for 10 minutes, cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container, best eaten over the next few days. They don't have a long shelf life, but they probably wont last that long anyways.

A couple of hints:
Strip your rosemary leaves from the stems, dice from the top of the clump to the base, discard the base piece. Dice again, and look for the tougher base (where rosemary was connected to stem) pieces. In other words dice, dice, dice and get rid of any big or tough pieces.

If you can afford it and you want a thinner crisper cookie use a higher quality butter, usually labelled European style.





Tuesday, June 30, 2015

O'Canada Butter Tarts

In honour of Canada (Day-July 1st) and my mother I give you the Butter Tart.

What is a butter tart: it is a pastry filled with raisins, brown sugar, and butter and it is consumed in a few ooey, gooey, and chewy bites. You will find these little treats all across Canada. Some butter tarts are better than others. My mother's-THE BEST.

She'd start with her home made pastry dough, then she would prepare her raisins. Prepare raisins? Yep, raisins need a little plumping. To do this you simply pour boiling water over the raisins and let them sit until you are ready to use them. Sometimes, my mum would use currants. I also remember my Grandma Mitchell using currants. Yuck. I like what is said in this great butter tart CBC radio broadcast ; currants belong in the water.

A good butter tart should have a dark golden brown caramelized sugar top. To get the best top to her butter tarts, my mother insisted on starting with a hot oven-400 degrees.

The problem with butter tarts is, there are some bad ones out there. I avoid the ones that are larger than a few bites; If you have to open your mouth wide to eat one, it is too tall. I don't care for the ones that are light brown on top, or are made with corn syrup or contain nuts. Sometimes you don't know a bad butter tart until you bite down into it. A bad one just needs to get thrown away. It is hard to do, but it just has to happen.

The other problem with butter tarts is the good ones do not transport well. They should start to crumble in your hands, as you try to get them to your mouth.

Well, now if you have never tried a butter tart, you are thinking it's just a raisin tart-No-No-No. It is so much more.

Here are Peggy's Butter Tarts. Camp Keith tested and loved.

Pastry for 12 tarts

1 egg
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup raisins



  • Prepare raisins. Boil water and pour over the raisins, let sit. 
  • Prepare pastry: line muffin tins with pastry. Pastry should go about half way up the tin. 
  • Beat the eggs, add the sugar, butter and vanilla. Beat together until foamy/frothy.
  • Drain the raisins and add to the sugar mixture. 
  • Pour into unbaked tart shells until 2/3 full
  • Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes and then turn oven to 350 degrees and cook for ten more minutes. 
  • Remove from oven, cool ten minutes. Then run a knife around the edge. 
  • Wait a couple of more minutes, move tarts from pan onto cooling rack.
  • Here is the hard part, let them sit for a couple of hours before enjoying. If you have any left store in a cool dry place. 
Okay my confession, I cannot make pastry dough. My mother's pastry would never fail, mine always fails. It must have something to do with the oil in my hands or that my hands are too warm. I have heard of others with this ailment. So to enjoy butter tarts in North Carolina I make...

Butter Tart Bars

Crust: 
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup white sugar
3 tbls icing sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
10 tbsp cold butter

  • Line an 8x8 or 9x9 (I have made this recipe in both and they both work) with parchment paper, so it is over hanging. You want to be able to use the paper as handles to get the bars out of the pan. Put a few smears of butter on the pan so the parchment paper sticks. 
  • Combine flour, sugars and salt. Cut butter into until you get pea size crumbles. 
  • Press base into pan. Cook at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, set oven to 400 degrees. 
Topping: 
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
3/4 to a cup of raisins (prepared: see above)
2 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla

  • Combine the eggs and brown sugar; beat. You want this to be frothy. Add the vanilla, vinegar and butter. Drain the raisins and add.
  • Pour over base, bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes and then 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes
Remove from oven, let the pan sit for ten minutes. Remove from the pan (use the paper as handles) and place on a cutting surface. Okay, here is one of the great parts about being the cook, butter tart paper. This is up there with the cheese paper from wax paper wrapped cheese burgers. While everyone else waits a couple of hours for the bars to set, eat all of those yummy yummy pieces.



Cheers and Happy Canada Day, 

Sue






Jello shots

Over the past 5 years or so I have become known for my Jello Shots. Before then, I was in the Jello Shots are silly camp. Well, I do still think they are silly, but they can be a yummy silly.

Some of my favorite combinations are...

One 3 oz box of Melon Fusion and One 3 oz box of Lime with Tequila. You can also add a slice of fresh jalapeno. The crunch and the heat is a nice combination with the jello and booze. Do not add the slice when the jello is warm, the heat will be too much. Put the cups in the fridge and let them set for 30 or so minutes and then add the slices to the top. I like heat, but you don't want to make a batch so hot that you have to throw them out.

One 6 oz box of Jolly Rancher Green Apple gelatin with Fireball.

One 6 oz box of BlackBerry Fusion gelatin with a combination of Moonshine and Vodka.

One 6 oz box of Cranberry gelatin with Vodka and then drizzle or drop a little Grand Marnier, Triple Sec or Orange bitters onto the top of each shot before chilling.


How to make:

Boil two cups of water. While water is boiling, place 20-25 or the 2 oz solo cups on a jelly roll pan. Or a casserole pan, something with edges works best. Empty gelatin into a glass bowl (DO NOT use plastic), pour boiling water over gelatin and give it a good stir for a couple of minutes until dissolved.



Advice:

If you are going to make green ones for St. Paddy's day, plan on buying your Jello and the 2 oz plastic cups the week before.

Don't use the good stuff. Or if you do make sure it is just a drizzle. Nobody will care what kind of vodka or tequila you used for your shots. And if they do, more for everyone else.

Add gummy worms, the sour ones are good.

Add fruit. Soak some strawberries or blackberries in booze, in your fridge for a week or so. Drop a blackberry into each cup, drizzling a little booze onto the top of each Jello shot as you go. Cut up the strawberries and add them to the jello and then pour into the cups.

Do not do the Jello in the strawberries. They will not look like this... Jello in strawberries.

They will look like this, FAIL.


They will not set and they will not be worth the fuss.



Thursday, May 21, 2015

Carrot Cake is a Breakfast Food

My mom would bake bran muffins for breakfast and my dad would make the coffee. This was their routine for years. Healthy. My parents don't have a huge sweet tooth. Cakes, ice cream and sweets were for dessert not for snacking or for everyday eating.

One Monday morning, to my surprise, I found them eating carrot cake with their coffee and morning TV shows. I gave them a little questioning look and my mum says "what?" like what do you have a problem with. She then said, "try and tell me that carrot cake is not a breakfast food." Well, you got a point there mum.

My parents had come to visit me in Raleigh and we had carrot cake for dinner the night before. (I'm sure my pops made something wonderful on the Weber for Sunday night supper) When I got to work that morning, I had an email from my friend Frances, in Atlanta, exclaiming that carrot cake is a breakfast food. I replied with a what, um, how did you know what is going on in my house in Raleigh? Frances explained that she had been to a friend's house for Sunday supper and they had sent her home with carrot cake and it was so good, that it was time to declare it a breakfast food.

So I give you- wisdom from my mother Margaret Frances and my friend Frances: Carrot cake is a breakfast food, don't challenge them-you won't win. I don't think my mother has ever made a carrot cake, she liked to buy the Harris Teeter ones. I would tell her that I made a good one, she wouldn't respond. I knew just to let it go and let them pick up one at the grocery store. Sometimes buying a cake and spending more time relaxing with your family is better, than taking the time away from them to make one.

Making a carrot cakes does take more time, money, and clean up. If you have at least two of the three try this one. This recipe is adapted from the Atlanta Junior League cookbook True Grits. It makes two single layer cakes or one big layer cake. It ain't cheap to use olive oil and pistachios, but it makes a really moist, and complex tasting cake. 

Cake Part:
1 3/4 cups Sugar
1/4 honey
1 cup veggie oil (use mostly olive oil for a richer tasting cake)
2 1/2-3 cups grated carrots
4 eggs
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder 
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
salt to taste
1/2 chopped nuts optional (most carrot cake recipes call for walnuts, I prefer pistachios), Or use on top of the frosting. 

Frosting part:
1/2 cup butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 pound powdered sugar 

make the cake


  • Combine the sugar, honey, and oil in a mixing bowl; beat until smooth. Add the carrots; mix well. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time.


  • Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt together. Add to the carrot mixture; mix well.


  • Stir in the nuts. Spoon into 2 greased and floured 9-inch cake pans.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until the layers test done. Because of the olive oil your cake will look very done on top before the inside is completely cooked. Use a cake tester, link to the one I use. I bought it in Berea, KY, on a family trip to Keeneland for the Bluegrass Stakes.


  • Cool in the pans for 5 minutes; remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Mix the frosting


  • Cream the butter, cream cheese and vanilla with a mixer until light. Add the powdered sugar gradually beating until fluffy between each cupful. Stop adding sugar when you think it is sweet enough. 

  • spread between the layers and over the top and side of the cake. Or ice for two small cakes


Carrot cake pairs well with pistachio ice cream, an IPA, or coffee.  And remember Breakfast is a meal best served at anytime of day of night.