Hey, y’all. I’m trying to bake around workmen in my kitchen and I’ve got way to much on my mind. My cousin’s wife underwent her second surgery this morning continuing her battle with cancer. Prayers, please. Also, I learned earlier today that a dear, dear friend from our first college days suffered a major heart attack and is having major bypass and open heart surgery. Both fabulous women are too young and healthy for this. So I bake. I listen to comfort music which, today, is Puerto Rican salsa, bomba and plena. My mind wanders as I murmur the lyrics to the song streaming, one of my favorite songs ever, “En Mi Viejo San Juan”, In My Old San Juan. It’s a terribly sad song but fits my mood. I reassure myself with drifting thoughts of old neighbors who lived on my grandparent’s street close to the University of Puerto Rico. Sonia, who lives catty-corner across the street, and hosted us for finger sandwiches and champagne. Those were lovely afternoons spent in her gorgeous Spanish style villa laughing, gossiping and sharing our plans for the future. Dona Angelita and Don Juan Orta lived next door to us and had Cynthia and me over for dinner often. They were okay but the person in their household I adored was Tata, the housekeeper who was more like a servant considering the way they treated her. I loved Tata!
She told me a story of a typical idyllic Caribbean morning which found her sweeping the Orta’s back courtyard, birds were singing and lemon yellow alamandas were in full bloom, rambling up the back wall of the cottage where she lived… she was lost in her thoughts. Out of the blue she heard a small but happy voice from above singing and calling out, “Hiiiiii! Hiiiiii! Hiiiii!”. Tata looked up to the second floor of our house and told me she saw two fat little hands stuck out of the window waving madly at her. It was me. In my crib. And that’s when we fell in love. She was the sweetest thing. She always made certain I was included when all the little girls played fairies and witches. When serving at the table, Tata always took care not to put any beans on my rice…just sauce and the only way I would eat them. Her hugs were strong but gentle and I liked it when she sat down and allowed me to climb in her lap. Today that gives me quiet comfort. It’ll all be okay. Everything will work out. Joy comes in the morning.
This is a super easy breakfast cake that is truly forgiving. Fresh or frozen blueberries may be used. If y’all haven’t tried Costco brand frozen blueberries you’re in for a treat. They’re harvested in Canada and they’re just like the blueberries you find in Maine… small, juicy nuggets bursting with fresh flavor.
Y’all, we’re ’bout to have a royal wedding this weekend and that warrants the best cupcakes with THE BEST icing known to man. Every celebration merits them. I made these cupcakes years ago for my son, James’, school bake sales. They were legendary and sold in a flash…for big bucks. I’ve always been a cake person, scraping off the icing and pushing it to the side of my plate or peeling off the cupcake liner, turning the cake upside down in the liner thereby avoiding the usual sickeningly sweet and way too fluffy frosting. Doesn’t matter the flavor, I don’t want it. Unless it’s this icing. Mercy! This icing is thick, with the ample and generous flavors of vanilla and butter it delivers just the perfect amount of sweetness. I couldn’t stop swiping teaspoon after teaspoon from the bowl as I crowned each cupcake. The cupcake, as well, is equally astounding. It falls somewhere between the crumb of a layer cake and a pound cake. The flavor is of unadulterated, flawless butter. It is the quintessential bake sale, afternoon snack, birthday or wedding cupcake. And when Prince Harry and Ms. Meagan Markle wed early this Saturday morning, my bff, Andrea, and I will be celebrating with hot cups of freshly brewed coffee and these little royal fairy cakes. Best of wishes to all the brides out there!
Yes, I’ve been gone a while. I can blame it on all manner of events and situations. I was in the Holy Land…okay, so that accounts for two weeks. I help my 95-year old father. THAT is a constant but one that I typically enjoy. I have tons of yard work. I truly do and love getting dirt under my fingernails but the fact of the matter is I got tired. And discouraged. And my creativity ran dry, Dry, DRY! However, with summer being firmly ensconced in South Florida, my mind tends to run to hot weather food…and dishes I relished as a child and as a young adult. Recalling meals I discovered in my early days or travels has me hovering over the butcher block, knife in hand or in front of the oven pulling out a cake pan to test for doneness. That brings me to this cake. During my college days in Georgia, I was exposed to all manner of dishes; from brains to cheese grits to chocolate mayonnaise cake. Made popular in the early 20th century, mayonnaise was the perfect substitute for pricy eggs and milk. While the Hellman’s company didn’t invent the chocolate mayo cake they most certainly made it popular. Here in the South, a loved mayonnaise is Duke’s and that’s what I use here. Keep in mind, you are not including the moisture of butter and milk so, regardless of the brand of mayo you use, do not make the mistake of using non-fat or reduced fat. You will find this cake to be incredibly moist and tender. It is the stuff of dreams. Also, if you’re not a fan of dark chocolate, regular unsweetened cocoa may be used in both the cake and the icing and you’ll still have a magnificent work made by your own two, capable hands. No one will ever mistake this cake for a boxed cake or, even worse, a grocery store cake. And since mayonnaise is essentially eggs and vegetable oil there is no tell-tale taste…nothing more than a drop dead, gorgeous, mouth-watering chocolate cake!
2/3 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder, SIFTED. If the cocoa powder is not sifted you will have lumps that are impossible to get out.
7 tablespoons boiling water, plus more is needed
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, room temperature
3 cups confectioner’s sugar, SIFTED, plus more is needed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
In a large mixing bowl add cocoa powder and boiling water. With a wooden spoon, stir by hand until the cocoa and water is smooth and completely combined.
Using an electric beater on low-speed add the softened butter and mix until completely combined
Add the confectioner’s sugar and vanilla and beat on low until most of the sugar has been incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and continue beating on medium until the frosting is smooth. The longer the frosting is beaten the lighter in color and the more fluffy it becomes. If it too stiff add hot water one teaspoon at a time. If the frosting is too loose add more SIFTED confectioner’s sugar one tablespoon at a time.
This is one outrageous zucchini bread. The batter will have your eyes rolling to the back of your head. I can honestly say the first time I tasted the batter I seriously considered not baking the bread at all and , instead, simply eating it all…one generous, sloppy spoonful after another until there was no more. I first began baking zucchini bread for my son, James, when he was a toddler but I never called it zucchini bread. I’m pretty sure he would have turned his cute little Greek nose up at it, but how about “tea bread”? He loved Mama’s “tea bread” and even helped me bake it. Many a morning he suggested we invite his grandmother, Mimi, over for a tea party with “tea bread”. Little scamp. I covered his small, round child’s table with a linen tablecloth and set places for James, Mimi and his two best friends, Bert and Ernie. I prepared cafe con leche or James’ favorite tea, Constant Comment and served the guests while they chatted politely about Curious George, which day that week they would go feed the ducks or the latest happenings on Sesame Street…”Mimi! Did you know there is a number 9?” We have some lovely memories. I hope this recipe makes it to your next tea party!
This wonderful recipe I found in the booklet of directions and recipes which came with my Cuisinart food processor. I made no changes except for the addition of vanilla extract. The recipe is that perfect. It does state milk chocolate chips may be used as well but I’d rather have a sharp chocolate presence so I’ll stick with semi-sweet chips. If your food processor is another brand I’m pretty sure it will be just fine. (But I DO adore my Cuisinart!)
pinch of nutmeg (I used almost 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated)
1 large zucchini (about 12 ounces)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract (this is not part of the original recipe)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet)
Pre-heat oven to 325°F. Lightly coat a 9-inch loaf pan with cooking spray. Reserve.
Combine the flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, baking soda and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Reserve.
Insert the shredding disc with the medium side facing up. Shred zucchini. Add to the bowl with the reserved dry ingredients.
Put the sugar, eggs and oil into the large work bowl fitted with the large chopping blade. Process on high for 30 seconds. Add dry ingredients and pulse, to just combine, about 8 to 10 times. Remove blade. Fold in chocolate chips. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.
Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour.
The 2018 Saint Demetrios Greek Festival is upon us and I couldn’t be more excited. I am one of the thousands who love this church’s festival because of it’s authenticity…baked goods and Greek dishes prepared from old family recipes which over the years have been converted to feed the hordes of festival goers. Whether in Crete, the mainland or the islands, these festival dishes are the foods you find in the Greek home. The Greek table is a marvel regardless of lean times or times of ease and plenty. Every time I’ve been to Greece, I’ve discovered new foods or a completely new spin on an old dish. Of course, we all know feta cheese; briny and tangy sitting atop a Greek salad wearing a green and gold crown of locally grown oregano or still salty but now creamy tucked between several buttery sheets of shatteringly crisp filo dough married with spinach and sliced spring onion having been baked to perfection. How surprised I was when I was introduced to a typical appetizer, Feta Psiti, which is baked feta cheese topped with a good shower of hot pepper flakes and local oregano then doused with a liberal splash of fruity Greek olive oil! I had never had anything like that here in the States. My husband’s Greek family looked on with amusement as I dove in with abandon scooping up the melted cheese with torn off chunks of hot, crunchy bread. At another family gathering around the table, I thought I had found my new favorite food when my husband’s cousin served me Koukia, a gorgeous, creamy dish made from yellow split peas which have cooked down to a smooth, firm dip. Considered a salad, this dish is topped with Greek olive oil, chopped red onion, and a good dusting of oregano and I’m more than happy to call this dinner. My husband’s cousin was thrilled to have presented me with this humble yet unexpected treasure. The Greek table is like that. Always gathering one in, never shutting one out. “Come! Have coffee at my house and we’ll talk. I baked a cake”, is heard so often all through Greece. When you hear that, you ought to take them up on the offer for Greek coffee and baked goods are beyond delicious and the Greek table is where you’ll hear all the good village gossip. The following Greek olive oil cake is a recipe found throughout the country of Greece. Each recipe is slightly different…some add Greek yoghurt, liquors, orange or lemon but all are lovely and will bring you to the Greek table.
Dense, moist and velvety, this cake is an unlikely wonder touched with tones of orange, lemon, almond, and of course, green, fruity olive oil. Olive oil cake is a classic throughout Greece and once you have a taste you’ll know why. Somehow it works…all the flavors sing in perfect harmony. It’s a rather substantial cake so don’t be alarmed at the large amount of olive oil called for nor the fact that the batter will be rather runny. It will be gorgeous. And it’s a great do-ahead as the flavor improves the following day. Kali orexi!
1 1/2 cups extra virgin Greek olive oil, Trader Joe’s makes a decent one
1 1/4 cups milk, I’ve used almond milk and the cake turned out fabulous
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup orange liquor
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 teaspoons orange zest
3/4 cup finely, finely chopped sliced almonds. I use a mini-processor and pulse the nuts until they are small bits.
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
2 tablespoons extra virgin Greek olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of one lemon
zest of one lime
Pre-heat oven to 350°. Butter an 11-inch cake pan and set aside.
Into a medium-sized bowl sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl mix well the eggs, sugar, olive oil, milk, lemon juice, liquor, lemon and orange zest and almond bits. Mix well until there are no lumps of sugar and the olive oil is completely incorporated.
Mix the dry mixture into the wet mixture until well blended, pour into the prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes.
Allow to cool on a cooling rack.
Run a knife around the edge of the cake and invert onto a plate.
Allow to cool completely prior to icing the cake. If the cake is to be served the following day, prepare and drizzle the glaze right before serving.
Combine all ingredients except the lemon and lime zest in a small bowl and whisk until smooth
Y’all. These cupcakes have me crazy. They are PERFECTION and the best to enjoy with a Hallmark Christmas movie. I know… I know. Sappy, schmaltzy and totally predictable Hallmark movies are sweet and romantic and what most girls want during the Christmas season. Back to these cupcakes. I hadn’t made them in eons and thought I’d bake a quick batch to put up here on the blog. I had forgotten how dense and rich they are… almost like pound cake. And this icing… any thoughts of sticking to a diet are rapidly going through the window. I had to get them out of the house and my reach so I took them over to our neighbors who have twin boys in middle school. They’re all skinny… let them be tempted! Anyway, these cupcakes are wonderfully flexible in that a variety of flavorings may be added to the batter and also the icing to suit your mood and craving. If extracts are added to the icing add them sparingly as they can be awfully strong. For instance, I added 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract to the whipped cream whereas if I were making a vanilla icing I would have added 1 tablespoon. So almond, peppermint, coconut and rum extracts are capped at 1/2 teaspoon. That said, feel free to use up to 2 tablespoons of liqueur to flavor the cream. Coffee, raspberry, Irish cream and orange are, singularly, heavenly additions. And with so many vibrant and richly colored sprinkles, crystals and decorations on the market, (Home Goods is a treasure trove!), a girl can go crazy. The paper baking cups and liners are also a way to transform your goodies to a higher level. I keep my baking cups and liners in a designer bag on the top shelf of my closet and when I take it down and spread all those lovely boxes on my bed it’s like an Italian fashion show. Oh, the colors and prints! The next time you’re in a discount designer store take a leisurely stroll down the baking aisle and prepare to be enchanted. Until then enjoy these goodies with the one you love and a sweet Christmas flick.
Classic Vanilla Cupcakes with Peppermint Whipped Cream Icing
The end of tomato season is almost tragic. Not only is this favorite food lying low for four or five months but it’s an obvious sign that summer is over. Pools are way too cold to dip a toe in. Cotton nightgowns have been put away and it’s dark out at 6:00 p.m. I told a friend it makes me feel like Persephone on her way to the underworld. I hate you, Hades, and your stupid pomegranate, too! On the upside we have college ball which I’m crazy about. Plus this is the time of year when Trader Joe’s carries brussel sprouts on the stalk, figs are in season and one can work out outside and not faint from heat stroke. Tomatoes, though, are not the sweet, juicy apples of love they were just last month. It’s okay if the last of the tomatoes just don’t have enough flavor because this is the recipe which will make them sing. Baked with a generous amount of fresh basil and grated cheeses, this pie is heaven served next to a homemade mixed green salad. Tomato Pie has been around forever in the South and not only makes wise use of the last-of-the-season fruit but is a perennial favorite at baptisms, first communions, funerals, brunches and pot lucks. I always make two; one for my house and one to give away or take to one of the aforementioned functions. The pie needs to be enjoyed relatively soon after baking as the bottom will get soggy if it sits around too long, as with any pie. It can be re-heated but only in the oven. Heated in a microwave turns this little jewel into a squishy, wet mess. It’s super easy to prepare and the crust is merely Bisquick and milk mixed together and patted into your pan. There’s no ice-cold, cubed butter or rolling out involved. And everybody loves it. So when you’re craving some ‘maters but Mother Earth has other ideas, try this recipe out. It won’t let you down and Fall’s injustices will turn into Autumn’s glories!
1 packed cup fresh basil leaves, stacked, rolled and cut into thin ribbons
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/2 cup good mayonnaise, Duke’s or Hellman’s
about 2 pounds not-so-ripe tomatoes, peeled, sliced and drained on a thick layer of paper towels. It’s okay if you don’t quite have the 2 pounds but you don’t want more as the ingredients will over flow when the pie is baked. We’ve all been there!
coarsely ground black pepper
2 cups Bisquick
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
Pre-heat oven to 350° and cover lightly a 9″ pie pan with non-stick spray. Set aside.
Place cheddar, basil, parmesan and mayonnaise in a medium-sized bowl and mix until completely combined. Set aside.
While the tomatoes drain on the paper towels, mix the Bisquick with the milk in a medium size bowl until a dough ball has formed.
Dump the dough into the pie pan and lightly grease your hands. Gently press the dough evenly over the bottom of the dish and all the way up the sides.
Using your fingers or a pastry brush spread the mustard over the pressed pie shell.
Sprinkle tomatoes with the black pepper and layer the tomatoes evenly over the pie shell.
Cover the tomatoes with the cheese mixture and spread evenly. I find breaking it apart with my hands is easiest.
Bake in the oven for 60-90 minutes until the cheese turns a warm, golden color.
Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes prior to serving to make for easier slicing.