Indian Pudding as Birthday Cake

Last Friday there were five more candles on my birthday cake than there were when I started this blog. Yup, it’s that time of year. Time to sing the song, put on the birthday hat, and celebrate. Which all happened after a day of zooming back and forth across the state.

Since Isabelle needed to pop over to Hanscom Air Force base to tie up some AFROTC stuff the celebratory birthday eating began at Sofra in Cambridge with their Turkish style breakfast and a pistachio pop-tart. Ana Sorten’s flavor combinations are truly five-star. If you ever are in the greater Boston area I would highly recommend you make time for a detour to check it out. Of course if I, like my sister, lived a few miles from Sofra’s front door I might stop cooking all together.Breakfast at SofraOn our drive back to western side of the state Isabelle asked what I wanted for my birthday dessert, since it’s a tradition in our family that the birthday gal or guy gets to choose the meal and dessert*. Jokingly I told her I wanted, “all the deserts associated with Massachusetts – Boston Cream Pie, chocolate chip cookies, and Indian Pudding.” It wasn’t clear who was going to make the birthday dessert(s) but I knew that somehow there would be something sweet to fill the bill. Honestly I would have been happy to make my own cake/dessert since being in the kitchen is so relaxing; I just didn’t have the time.

When everyone had reconvene back at the house in the early evening we popped over the bridge to the Blue Heron Restaurant for cocktails and hors d’oeuvre. Shawn had a fabu dinner planned at home for later, but I wanted a little bit of an adult beverage sparkle as well as a few foods I was unlikely to cook at home. Their hand cut french fries with homemade truffle mayo are swoon-worthy, as are their chickpea coated fried calamari.

With my birthday bookended by visits to two of my favorite eateries, followed by hubby grilling up some lamby chops, it was a pretty sweet day in the food department. The proverbial cherry on top was Isabelle directing Russell (via text) to stop by Paul & Elizabeth’s restaurant to pick up a few servings of their Indian Pudding. My 55th birthday was complete.Indian Pudding a la ModeIf you didn’t grow up in New England, or spend some time here, it is likely that you have no idea what Indian Pudding is. Continue reading

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Backgammon and the Twelve Days of Christmas

This year one of my Christmas presents came with a warning written on the tag –

“Please insert ear plugs now!!!”

Immediately my son, daughter, and husband stuck their fingers in their ears as I opened the package. And yes, as anticipated by the man I’ve been married to for nearly twenty-two years, I let out a very loud, very high-pitched SQUEEEEEEEE of joy. He’d gotten me a little red squirrel by Elizabeth Radysh, a local artisan who repurposes old sweaters into small Waldorf style animals and dolls. I have been collecting her bunnies, kittens, and chicks for several years now and Shawn had found the tiny squirrel at the North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival last fall. He was positive I had seen him buy it, but I hadn’t. I’d been too busy watching the flying feet of the Irish dancers, standing not-too-close to the raw egg toss, and marvelling at the winner of the raw garlic eating contest who chomped down 19 cloves of garlic in less than ten minutes, all while wandering around nibbling various garlic-flavored foods. Clearly I was in too much of a garlic haze to notice Shawn doing any secret Christmas shopping. What struck me was how well he knew what I’d love – even down to how I would react when I opened it up. Decades of living together can do that.

Elisabeth Radysh's little red squirrel

Pink bunny by Elisabeth Radysh

That much time together can also give a couple funny little habits. Our most recent couple quirk has been nearly nightly games of backgammon during dinner. We’ve played various board and card games over the years, but our new the-kids-are-away-at-college tradition is to eat dinner while we simultaneously play two to four games of backgammon. Not so much because it matters who wins (it doesn’t), rather just for the fun of playing. Though I will note for those of you who do play the game there have been several gammons this fall and even one backgammon. With the kids home from college for their winter breaks these dinner & game nights have been mostly curtailed since to be frank, as much fun as it can be to play backgammon, it is not a spectator sport.

Backgammon

With backgammon somewhat on the back burner what I’ve enjoyed most this holiday season (aside from the kids being home and my red squirrel) have been the twelve days of Christmas. Continue reading

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Giving Thanks

The kids are home from college and catching up on some much-needed rest. I’ve done my shopping, though I’d forgotten about the locust-like tendencies of teenagers and twenty-somethings who have been surviving on dining hall food for months, so I’ll be off to the store again this morning for a few more staples. It is gratifying to see that both Isabelle and Russell like to cook and it is usually the first thing they do when they get home.

This year we’re going to try something new. Not to eat, since that will consist of our tried and true favorites, but rather to read. Seth Godin’s Thanksgiving Reader *. It’s a a free download you can print out and share at your Thanksgiving meal.

The Thanksgiving Reader by Seth Godin

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Cottage Cheese Dilly Bread

Every time I opened the fridge last week there it was, staring at me and silently saying in a sing-song voice, “My sell-by date is coming up. You’d better do something with me…” I know what you’re thinking, you think I was hearing things, that this was all in my head. Nope, it really was taunting me from the top shelf – a partially used, industrial-sized bucket of cottage cheese.

Late fall colors

If you’ve stopped by this blog lately you know that Shawn and I hosted a coffee hour at our church a few weeks ago. I went a wee bit overboard making tons of food, which of course tired me out, and the food fatigue led to some whining on my part (and a fair amount of resting on the couch), but I’m going to stop now because it also led me back into the kitchen and gave me a handful of recipes to share with the people who stop by this blog (as well as my knitting group, and the Altar Guild, and the neighbors). I promise to try to pace myself better next time. Let’s just say it has been awhile since I’ve cooked for 100.

Fall fluff seen along a walk

So, back to the talking cottage cheese. I knew when I bought it I wouldn’t use it all, but honestly buying the five-pound bucket at Restaurant Depot was cheaper than buying just the right amount of normal-sized containers of cottage cheese at my local grocery store. However all those years of cooking in restaurants had trained me not to waste food, so I couldn’t bring myself to throw it out. Instead I dug into my recipe box and found Mary Massad’s recipe for Cottage Cheese Dilly Bread. I wanted to really notch up the subtle flavors of scallion and dill so I used five times what the recipe called for, and it turned out that super-sizing the flavoring agents was a very good idea!

Cottage cheese dilly bread rising Continue reading

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Vegan Pumpkin Date Nut Balls

Sometimes you never know what will suit. You can make all the educated guesses you want, but people will surprise you with their likes and dislikes.

So it was interesting for me to note which foods went first at the church coffee hour Shawn and I hosted a few weeks ago. In the blink of an eye two dozen of Rick Ellis’s deviled eggs disappeared, which made me glad, since they had been the last thing I prepared the night before and I almost didn’t make them thinking I had plenty of food (which I did, but then you have the question when is enough enough?). Inspired by Julia Child, the hard-boiled eggs first have their yolks pressed through a chinoise sieve so that the yolks transform into yellow yolk clouds. Next some room-temperature butter blended into the yolk clouds (along with a spoonful of dijon, mayonnaise, a squirt of fresh lemon juice, and a dash of cayenne) which combines to make these the most etherial deviled eggs that will ever pass your lips. Tired and cranky as I was the night before I was glad to have made the effort when I saw what a hit they were.Gluten Free Pumpkin Date Nut BallsThe next platter of food to vanish was Isabelle’s Vegan Pumpkin Date Nut Balls. It almost doesn’t feel like a recipe to me since they don’t go in the oven or get cooked, but they were a smash hit and people were popping them into their mouths as if they were candy. Continue reading

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When to Borrow vs. When to Buy

Fall leavesThis year we have had the quintessential fall. Bright reds ranging from deep burgundy to jammy crimsons, flaming oranges, and amber yellows. A few weeks ago our first frost mellowed the hillsides into a more subdued, yet equally glorious, pallete. Truthfully it has felt a little surreal to be experiencing such a picture-perfect autumn. Often during this season I whine, wishing the colors were just a bit more intense and the leaves lasted just a little bit longer on the trees. However I have no complaints for 2015 – this fall has been perfect.Fall hillsideWhile I have been revelling in the colors there is also a bittersweet edge to the season. November heralds – at least in Massachusetts – the end of the local farmers markets. Golonka’s, my neighborhood farmstand, closed up for the season last Saturday. Each week at the various farmers markets I visit there are less venders, and the colors of available produce are, like the season, becoming more muted. Still, there are delicious ingredients to fill my baskets with so I just throw on a scarf and sweater then venture out to see what is being offered.Strudel-ZAbout a month ago I was in Hudson, New York Continue reading

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Pumpkin Patch Carrot Cake

Last week at this time I was in a bit of a cooking frenzy doing something I thought I’d never do – preparing to host a coffee hour at my church. Sure over the years I brought in the odd batch of cookies here or contributed a bundt cake there, but I’d never felt called to take on the whole shebang. Until last week.

Golden orange fall colors

Coffee hour at St. John’s can be almost anything – from a few boxes of donut holes and a fruit platter to chaffing dishes filled with steaming trays of frittata and spicy eggs set alongside platters of homemade baked goodies. There aren’t that many rules about coffee hour other than that there be, well coffee. Plus a little something to nibble on. Oh, and it’s recommended you have some of it ready for the finish of 8 o’clock service so they don’t feel left out of the fellowship created by caffeine and conversation. Of course you also want to be prepared for the swarm of locust children as they sweep through the parlors on their way from Church School to the service. And don’t forget a few gluten-free goodies (after all we serve GF wafers at communion). I take it back. There are rules, which is probably why I’ve made the occasional donations of food over the years but never tackled the task by myself.

With the kids back at college after fall break it seemed like I could handle a coffee hour. It would be fun I told my husband, we can do all sorts of Halloween-y foods. He agreed. Like Jell-o brains and kitty litter cakes. Yes to brains, no to a litter box filled with edible cat poo at church. I was ready to start cooking.

Jell-O brain ready to be eaten

 

With my list in hand I went shopping. Shawn took me to Restaurant Depot which was all sorts of fun, even if it wasn’t practical for every item. Did I really need twelve dozen eggs and 50 pounds of butternut squash? Not really, but it was great for phyllo dough, crumbled feta, fresh scallions and dill, as well as the frozen chopped spinach and one-pound blocks of unsalted butter all of which could be turned into spanikopita.

Pumpkin patch carrot cake

I made a platter of my friend Rick Ellis’s Deviled Eggs, which Jane Lear has written about. There was the classic quivering Jell-O brain, which amazingly was eaten with great gusto. I overheard one 7-year-old tell a classmate, “I like brain, it’s really good.” I also had a steaming crock pot of Carrot-Squash Soup, baskets of Foccacia, along with many other nibbles, including my favorite Carrot Cake, made to look like a pumpkin patch.

24 Karat Carrot Cupcakes

If you are a reader of this blog this carrot cake will look familiar because I’ve previouisly posted it all dressed up as 24 Karat Carrot Cupcakes. Since I’ve been making variations of this cake for over forty years the recipe has seen a lot of iterations.

FamilyFun vs Martha

I’ve turned this carrot cake into Mr. McGregor’s vegetable garden for some Easter recipes I developed for FamilyFun Magazine (and interestingly Martha Stewart ran a Martha-ized Spring version of that cake design a year later – coincidence maybe, but who knows?). This carrot cake has appeared gussied up as the wedding cake at a friend’s nuptuals, was once the label of a carrot cake scented Yankee Candle, and of course has been made into the super fancy 24 Karat Carrot Cupcakes. I love this cake because you can dress it up or dress or down and bake it into just about any shape you want to. Definitely a recipe you should have in your cake repetoire.

Yankee Candle Carrot Cake

While I’ve tweaked portions and a few of the ingredients over the years, the most important thing I can tell you about making a tasty carrot cake is that size matters. Not the size of your carrots, rather the size you grate them. Too chunky and strands of carrot get caught in your teeth, too fine and the carrots clump in the batter. The best tool to achieve the right size of shred is on a box grater. Go for thin shreds and your carrot cake will be golden!

Finely grated carrots

If you’re pressed for time or you’ll be serving this to people who don’t like almonds, forgo the marzipan pumpkins. You can always use the little ones they sell around this time of year. Also I didn’t realize I had no grahm crackers to crush into dirt until 11 o’clock at night so I made a quick mix of brown sugar, white sugar, a bit of flour and some cinnamon. It worked very well. Since this cake was served right from the pan I made my cream cheese frosting very soft, with a 2:1 ration of cream cheese to butter, and cutting way back on the powdered sugar. I don’t think it would work on a tiered cake to make the frosting that soft, but it might be okay on cupcakes it you didn’t try to pile the frosting too high.

Marzipan pumpkins

Pumpkin Patch Carrot Cake

Cake

2 cups finely shredded carrots

1  1/2 cups vegetable oil

1 – 7 ounce can crushed pineapples in their juice

3 eggs

1  1/3 – 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup (1.5 ounces) dried unsweetened coconut

1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt (I use Kosher)

2 cups flour (I often use 1/2 whole wheat pastry flour and 1/2 all-purpose)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9″ x 13″ pan (I also use a piece of parchment paper on the bottom). Set aside.

Mix together the carrots, oil, pineapples, eggs, sugar, coconut, and walnuts together until thouroughly combined and no clumps remain. Do this by hand as a mixer is just too much for this cake. Sift the remaining dry ingredients together, or if you’re lazy like me just on top of the wet mixture. Fold together until everything is well blended then pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 60 – 70 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean, and the cake is “quiet” when you listen to it. Cool.

Frosting

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), softened

1/2 pound cream cheese, softened

3  3/4 – 4  1/2 cups powdered sugar

2-3 teaspoons vanilla

In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the butter and cream cheese together until light and fluffy. Gradually sift in the powdered sugar until you get your desired consistency. Stir in the vanilla after 2 cups of powdered sugar have been added.

I dyed a cup of frosting green with some paste food coloring to pipe leaves around the edge of the cake. It is totally optional, especially considering every pumpkin patch I have ever visited in Massachusetts at this time of year has nary a leaf. They are quite dead from frost.

Decoration

Marzipan

Gel food paste colors

Graham cracker crumbs for light dirt   or

Chocolate cookie crumbs for darker dirt

Last week when I made the marzipan pumpkins I dyed a small chunk green for the leaves and the rest orange for the pumpkins. Gel paste dyes are potent so you may want to knead the color into the marzipan within a plastic bag or while wearing gloves. I ended up with a bit too much green so I created a mutant zucchini. Basically you can treat the marzipan as if it were edible play-dough. Toothpicks are really handy for marking ridges and rolling stem curlicues around.

Pumpkin patch carrot cake

If you’re making this into a garden cake dye small chunks of the marzipan with gel food pastes and go to town! There are some great videos on making marzipan veggies, but honestly I just pull out my seed catalogues and go from there.

Since I was so busy serving up all the yummy coffee hour food last weekend I didn’t stop to take many photos. I’d like to give a shout out to my intrepid photo assistant Isabelle, who helped re-create this cake. She also rolls a fantastic marzipan pumpkin!

And of course lots of coffee hour love to my husband who never once let the coffee pots run dry, while he managed to wash the mountains of dishes I created, and whose heretofor little known talent for pepper carving have been revealed. He even snaped a few pics of the brain before it was gobbled up – thanks sweetie!

pepper pumpkin

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