Food quote of note

"The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience"…Eleanor Roosevelt

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Mon Petit Chou

   Today's post takes a slight departure from the culinary for just a minute to welcome my new Great Niece Ella to the world!  My favorite nephew Brian and his sweet wife Crystal welcomed their first baby, Ella, into our family on February 15th -- and she's already proving to be quite the little cutie.  I haven't seen her in person yet, but I am already smitten by her pictures - of course, I've included a few below so you can swoon along with me. 

     Congratulations to my brother Craig and sister-in-law Patti - they seem to be settling into Grandparenthood very smoothly.  I, of course, am much too young to be a "Great Aunt" - so I think Ella and I will have to strike a little agreement to just go with "Aunt Crystal". 

     Mon Petit Chou - this is a French term of endearment - literally "my little cabbage" - seems very appropriate for our new addition to the family.  One of my favorite things to do is cook with my nieces Amanda and Crystal - I'm sure we'll be bringing Ella into the fold soon - she'll look adorable in a little pink chef hat! 

Mandy and Crystal -- partying in anticipation of Ella's arrival

Ella arrives!

Grandma Pat with Ella and Romo

Mon Petit Chou

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Cakes with Friends

     Lest you forget - 2012 is "The Year of the Cake". One of the best parts of this year-long celebration is picking out the appointed cake for each month. Quite honestly, the criteria isn't all that stringent - it needs to be a cake that promises to be yummy (very techincal culinary term, I know), has an interesting story, and will provide blog-worthy photos. I am giving priority to cake recipes I haven't ever made, but I do expect a few old favorites will find their way to the cake stand sometime this year - for instance, anyone who knows my husband knows that Coconut Cake will likely get the nod for April, the month of his birthday.      
     So, for February I selected Hummingbird Cake - a moist, homey Southern treat. The recipe came from Nancy McDermott's "Southern Cakes - Sweet and Irresistible Recipes for Everyday Celebrations", a beautiful book that brings to life many traditional Southern Recipes - I highly recommend it. Nancy writes this about the history of the Hummingbird Cake:

Hummingbird cake is a modern classic that showed up in community cookbooks in North Carolina in the early '70's, and achieved stardom after it was featured as a reader's recipe in Southern Living Magazine in 1978. It has been captivating people around the country ever since. Wonderfully rich and pretty in an understated way, it features delicious layers moistened by pineapple and bananas, and a yummy cream cheese frosting studded with pecans. It's all the more impressive for the fact that it is quite simple to make.

Quite frankly - Nancy was right - this is a relatively easy cake that packs lots of flavor into it's moist layers. I've attached the recipe at the end of the blog.

     While picking out each new cake recipe is certainly fun, by far the best part of the Year of the Cake is sharing each month's culinary adventures with my friends.

It seems that Hummingbird Cake makes a great birthday cake - we celebrated Aidan McClish's 9th birthday with a rousing game of Apples-2-Apples, Jello Jigglers and large pieces of Hummingbird Cake for everyone.

My dear friend Rosie - always up for an adventure - has decided to join me in my yearlong baking endeavor.  She started the year quite deliciously, with a beautiful Pineapple Upside Down Cake for January and is working on a Coca-Cola cake for February.  Cooking and eating a new cake is certainly fun - but doing it with a great friend like Rosie makes it even more special.

    So - embrace the Year of the Cake - try Hummingbird Cake or some other treat that will flex your baking muscles.  But - most importantly - bake a cake or share a piece with your friends - that is the true treat!

Nancy McDermott's Hummingbird Cake:

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
3 eggs, slightly beaten
¾ cup vegetable oil
1½ tsp vanilla extract
One 8-ounce can crushed pineapple (do not drain)
2 cups mashed ripe bananas
1 cup finely chopped pecans
Pecan Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)

Heat oven to 350° F. Grease and flour three 8-inch or two 9-inch round cake pans and set aside.
Combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a large bowl and use a fork to mix well. With a large wooden spoon, mix in the beaten eggs, oil, vanilla, pineapple, bananas and pecans. Mix well, stirring gently, just enough to blend into a thick batter.

Divide batter evenly among cake pans and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the cakes are nicely browned and pulling away from the sides of the pans. Cool the cakes in pans on wire racks or folded kitchen towels for about 15 minutes. Turn out the cakes onto wire racks or plates. Turn layers top side up and cool completely.

To finish the cake:
Place one layer, top side down, on a cake stand or a serving plate, and spread frosting on the top. Place the second layer, top side up, on the frosting. Frost the sides, and then the top. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes or so, to help the icing set.


• One 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
• ¼ cup butter, softened
• One 16-ounce box confectioners' sugar
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• ½ cup finely chopped pecans

Combine cream cheese and butter with a mixer at low speed in a medium bowl. Add confectioners' sugar and vanilla and beat until the frosting is fluffy and smooth, stopping once or twice to scrape down the bowl and blend everything thoroughly. Add the pecans; stir well. (NOTE - I did not mix the pecans in the frosting, but simply sprinkled them on top.  also - I found this to be a very sweet cream cheese frosting recipe.  I actually made 1.5X batch)

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Jolly Farmer and other English inspirations

OMG - it's been too long -- it appears that having a full-time job is interfering with important activities like cooking and blogging!  I've spent the last few weeks traveling for work - so please forgive the lack of blogging activity - hopefully I am back in the proverbial culinary saddle.  So, although I didn't get to get my hands dirty and practice my culinary skills while traveling, I did get to feed my culinary soul during my recent trip to England and thought I would share some of that inspiration with you. 

First - I would heartily recommend a trip to the Food Hall at Herrod's for anyone visiting London. I spent over an hour roaming the large and lavishly decorated rooms known as the "Food Halls", admiring row after row of fresh foods from all over the world - everything from fresh salmon to dim sum to teas to chocolate napoleans. Of course, I was besotted by the patisserie and confection cases - row after row of beautifully decorated and artfully displayed cakes, cookies, pastries and tartlets - I was enthralled and had to be forcibly removed by my traveling companion (not good, you know - after all, the English frown on open displays of emotion). We ended our outing by having afternoon tea there at Herrod's- a tiered tray of perfectly trimmed sandwiches, scones and miniature sweets, accompanied by a flowered china pot of steaming English Breakfast Tea - how perfect is that? 

 While Herrod's was amazing, I must tell you I was in British Hog Heaven later in the week when I was taken to dinner at a local restaurant/pub/market in the English countryside - The Jolly Farmer. It was everything I love, just with an interesting accent, hand-loomed sweater  and quirky sense of humor! The Jolly Farmer is a converted farmhouse that focuses on local foods - serving meals composed of seasonal and local offerings and selling a variety of local-sourced and house-made specialites in their pantry/farmer's market lobby.  There were local meats, fresh farm eggs, local cheeses made from the milk of local cows and sheep, house-made jams, ice cream and, of course, several beers.  I spent at least an hour examining all of the offerings and plotting how to get a larder of fresh foods home on Delta.  I must say, my KC colleague was quite patient while I took pictures, investigated each flavor, sampled some clotted cream fudge and spent at least 30 minutes chatting with the owner about the pure joys of fresh cheese and local honey.  Even though it was a cold, wet and typically-English evening, I was warmed throughout by the homey atmosphere and charming host.  The Jolly Farmer made me smile - filled my belly and my soul - and inspired me to make sure to include local foods as part of my culinary journey.