Tag: baking (page 3 of 5)

Grandmother Jane’s Old Southern Fruit Cake

This is the ninth installment in my series in which I cook all eleven recipes I found my grandmothers had submitted to their old church cookbooks. Previous recipes include Crabby SnacksRice Pilaf, Frozen Fruit AppetizerSalad with Cashew NutsHam & Sour Cream CasseroleOld Fashioned Cauliflower SlawApricot Jello Salad, and Ship Wreck casserole (the one my mom hated). 

Remember these?

Crabby Snack label

Hello crabby snacks. This is the Velveeta-canned crab concoction that derailed my quest to prepare all eleven of my grandmothers’ recipes I found in old church cookbooks. After mysterious casseroles and ice cream jello, Jake begged for mercy. We took an eight-month break from my grandmothers’ retro recipes and found her “Old Southern Fruit Cake” didn’t sound so bad.

I can singlehandedly dispute the rumor that there is actually only one fruit cake in the whole world that people keep re-gifting. Growing-up, my parents received a fruit cake every holiday season and I was the only person in my family who ate them. I don’t know where the cakes came from or if they were homemade, but I ate them all one slice at a time. Of course they were speckled with those fluorescent green and red candied cherries.

I examined my grandmother’s recipe and couldn’t do the candied cherry thing. Yup. I’d sooner dig into a bag of Lay’s Cappuccino chips or hack into a durian than purchase a bucket of green cherries for the sole reason that they just really freak me out. I followed the sound advice of a friend and substituted dried cherries instead. They lent a pleasing tart note and so I recommend you do the same.

Fruit Cake recipe watermarked

Grandmother Jane’s Old Southern Fruit Cake is totally not gross. I made half of a batch and live to tell the story. Like most fruit cakes, Jane’s is dense and thick with fruits and nuts, but it’s far from the store-bought bricks. We enjoyed slices fresh from the oven and relished the dried fruit which had become plump and gooey. I chose to add brandy to the batter and, after the cake baked for two hours, we were left with only a hint.

Fruit cake slice watermarked

If I had any qualms about this cake, it’s that I wished for more salt. Fortunately, this is a simple fix. Try adding a teaspoon of salt to the batter or swipe some butter on each slice and sprinkle with flaky sea salt.

This fruit cake is more like an energy cake with all of its dried fruits and nuts. Who needs chalky energy bars when there are glorious cakes o’ fruit? Thank you for this gem, Grandmother Jane.

My Take On Grandmother Jane’s Fruit Cake
This recipe halves the original and produces two loaves of fruit cake. I substituted dried cherries for candied cherries. 

Fruit Cake Cover Photo

Ingredients:
1/2 cup mashed banana
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup + splash of brandy or grape juice
1 1/2 tablespoon buttermilk (can substitute whole milk with a splash of lemon juice)
3/4 cup flour
2 eggs
1 scant teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups pecan halves
1/4 lb dried cherries
(optional) 2 slices dried or candied pineapple, cut into small pieces
1/2 lb. dates cut into large pieces

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 250℉.
  2. Grease pans and dust with flour so the cakes don’t stick.
  3. In a large bowl, mash the banana with the sugar until it forms a paste. Stir in the brandy, buttermilk and flour.
  4. Mix in the eggs until smooth.
  5. Add the vanilla, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  6. Stir in the fruits and nuts until combined.
  7. Pour batter into two loaf pans. Tap and shimmy the pans so that the batter is evenly distributed.
  8. Bake for one hour uncovered.
  9. Bake covered for another hour. Cool.

Only two grandmother recipes remain: Grandmother Jane’s braised Chicken Marengo and Crabmeat Casserole. I will not be preparing an entire Crabmeat Casserole which is a baked dish that contains crab, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise and cream. Fresh crab is not available here and frozen crab is expensive. Based upon the Crabby Snacks experiment, I’m afraid this dish would be a waste of resources if we prepared it with canned crab. Maybe I’ll try preparing a small ramekin of crabmeat casserole. 

Our First County Fair: Cake Decorating & Pork Sandwiches

When North Iowa blogger Val of Corn, Bean, Pigs & Kids asked me if I wanted to team-up and compete in the Franklin County “Cake Wars” decorating contest, of course I had to say yes.

I warned her that my cake decorating abilities were very limited.

In culinary school in Moorhead, MN, Mrs. Kraft patiently tried to teach me how to pipe little rosettes and shell patterns with a piping bag with mixed success. And I can put sprinkles on things. Basically, sprinkling sprinkles was what I was bringing to the cake decorating table. Fortunately, the competition was not cutthroat, but focused on cultivating fun.

On Saturday afternoon, the fair was extremely busy. We enjoyed grilled pork tenderloin sandwiches and apple pie at the 4-H food stand.

The first part of the cake contest sent us on a scavenger hunt around the Franklin County Fair to earn points to purchase cake decorating supplies. Every team was given a small cake, white frosting, funfetti sprinkles and a single knife.

I let Val take the lead. She knew her way around the fair and I’d seen her amazing Curious George banana cake she made for her son’s third birthday. We were also excited that Donna of Donnahup.com joined us for the afternoon. She cheered us on and took some fantastic photos.

Jen, Val, Donna.jpg

We based our cake design on the 4-H theme. It’s a good thing Val piped the letters because if I had tried, they would have looked like blogs. I was so impressed with the cake decorating skills of our competition, too. Some teams thought outside of the box and cut their cake into shapes.

PicMonkey Collage.jpg.jpg

In the end we won our snazzy green participation ribbons which were the perfect icing on the cake of my first county fair experience.

I like to call us Green Ribbon Winning Cake Decorators.

Beet & Goat Cheese Flatbread

I love baking homemade pizza and homemade pizza is Jake’s favorite.

This week, I found beets at the farmers market and eagerly bought a couple of bunches. We ate the leafy beet greens right away. If you haven’t tried them, cook them like you would any other green. I don’t blanche the tops because they’re tender and wilt quickly like spinach.

Kale is the green everyone talks about, but we enjoy beet greens more. I toss them into sautéed onion and garlic and briefly wilt them in soy sauce and honey or maple syrup for a sweet and salty treat.

Beet Greens

For a special midweek treat, I prepared this beet and goat cheese flatbread. I baked my favorite, thin crust pizza dough recipe and spread it with goat cheese flavored with garlic scapes. Then, I sprinkled over diced beets and green onion. Beets and goat cheese is one of our favorite combinations and it brightened up our week.

Beet and Goat Cheese Flatbread
Makes two large but very thin flatbreads.

DSC_0101

How To Prepare the Garlic Scape Goat Cheese
Combine a large 10 oz. package of plain goat cheese with enough milk or cream to make it spreadable. Add minced garlic scape. The flavor of the scape is strong so I used a handful. If you can’t find garlic scapes, you could add minced garlic, green onion, chives, dill, and/or parsley.

How To Cook the Beets

Beets
I cook beets by simmering them in water because I first learned to cook them this way, though many prefer to roast. Be aware that beets will stain your cutting board. Here’s my simmering method:

  1. Clean the beets and remove most of the stem.
  2. Place them in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer until they are tender enough to easily insert a knife into the center.
  3. Drain and cool until they’re cool enough to handle.
  4. Gently peel off the skin and remove the stem and tails.
  5. Slice or dice however you wish.

Preparing the Flat Bread:
Adapted from the recipe Lahmacun published by Saveur. 

Ingredients:
1 package of quick rise yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 cup warm water
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

Instructions:

  1. In a small bowl, combine the warm water, yeast and sugar. Hot water will kill the yeast. Allow to sit and bloom until it bubbles.
  2. Add the flour and salt to a large bowl. If preparing by hand, make a well in the center of the flour and add the yeast mixture and olive oil. Gradually stir until the dough forms a ball. If using a stand mixer, add the yeast-water mixture and oil to the flour on low and mix with a dough hook until the dough pulls away from the sides and forms a ball. If it’s too dry, slowly stream in a little water. If the dough is too soft and sticky, add a little flour. Knead or mix at a higher speed until the dough is smooth and elastic and not too sticky.
  3. Form dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl. Loosely cover and place in a warm location until it’s doubled in size.
  4. Punch down and divide in half.
  5. On a floured surface, roll out dough and place on an oiled baking sheet. Stretch the dough towards the edges.
  6. Allow the dough to rise again for about 1/2 hour.
  7. Pre-heat oven to 400℉
  8. Lightly brush the dough with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  9. Bake until the dough is cooked through and golden brown on the bottom.

To Assemble the Flatbread

  1. Spread the warm pizza crust with the goat cheese mixture.
  2. Sprinkle with diced beets, sliced green onion and any herbs you desire.
  3. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Slice and serve.

Three Recipes I Like & My Childhood Cookbooks

Summer is making me want to cook and bake everything.

I love the sunshine and even the thunderstorms. I like opening my windows in the morning and look forward to going to our little farmers market each week. All of these things feel make me feel energized about trying new recipes. Here are several I’ve tried recently that turned out well.

Pulled Pork in the Crock-Pot
I’m sheepish to admit that I’ve never made pulled pork. Growing up, my mom slow-cooked boneless country pork ribs with barbecue sauce. I think we ate it so often that I haven’t wanted to make it as an adult.

Three things inspired my pulled pork endeavor: Eating a fantastic pulled pork meal from Pimento Jamaican Kitchen located in the food court of the Burnsville Mall, reading Beth’s Slightly Savory Saturday post about pulled pork, and winning an Iowan pork prize pack from Cristen’s blog Food & Swine.

I followed Christine Gallary’s recipe for Easy Slow Cooker Pulled Pork from Chow.com it turned out perfectly.

Pulled Pork Collage.jpg

Pull-apart tender, moist and flavorful. Plus, you are left with wonderful au jus after you de-fat and strain the juices. We enjoyed our pork with this homemade coleslaw on either buns or steamed rice.

Taste of Beirut’s Recipe for Lebanese Meat Pies (Sfeeha)
I love Lebanese food and miss the little triangle pies I bought at Emily’s Lebanese Deli in NE Minneapolis. These beef pies aren’t as pretty as Joumana’s but they taste so good.

Meat Pies

I followed her recipe as written, except that I substituted balsamic vinegar for pomegranate molasses and minced red jalapeno for red pepper paste. You could always substitute slivered almonds for pine nuts and don’t forget to buy lean meat, otherwise, the fat will turn into molten lava while they bake and drip.

We like dipping our pies in greek-style yogurt.

Rhubarb Custard Meringue Dessert
I’m kind of obsessed with Rhubarb. I tried bake Aunt Emma’s Rhubarb Custard Dessert (from the Land O’Lakes website) in my tart and pie pans.

rhubarb tart
The crust stuck to the pans and one of meringues started weeping, but the dessert tasted fantastic. If I were to make this again, I’d bake it in a regular baking dish lined with parchment paper or blind-bake homemade pie crust for the tart and pie pans.

Jake’s never tried a variation of this dessert before and declared it one of his favorites, weepy meringue and crumbled crust and all.

My First Three Cookbooks
Do you remember your first cookbooks? Mine were Enclyclopedia Brown Takes the Cake, Alpha-Bakery by General Mills & Kids Cooking: A Very Slightly Messy Manual.

My original books were long since misplaced, so I ordered my own copies again. The recipes aren’t the most exotic, but many of my friends consider dishes like Alpha Bakery’s banana bread and Kids’ Cooking’s Disgustingly Rich Brownies classic favorites. Everyone’s gotta start somewhere, right? Someday, I’ll share them with my kids.

As I’ve alluded to earlier, my parents were hesitant to let me experiment in the kitchen, so I didn’t prepare many of these recipes. It’s time for some cooking catharsis.

Cookbook Collage.jpg

Catharsis never tasted so chocolatey.

Have you tried any great recipes lately? What were your first cookbooks? 

Rhubarb Muffin Cake

The North Iowa farmers markets are open again and I spy rhubarb, so summer may begin now.

Unlike the Twin Cities, we don’t have a farmers market in every neighborhood, but I’m happy we have one in town. The Mason City farmers market isn’t large and there aren’t food trucks or anything, but I can at least buy fresh vegetables and fruits, plus extra treats like bread, jam, and bags of puppy chow mix.

There’s also a vendor that sells grilled brats with the typical fixings of sauerkraut, onion, ketchup, and mustard. This is a simple pleasure that never gets old. I rarely turn down street meat.

On my last two visits, I rejoiced over this summer’s first bounty of rhubarb like the good Midwesterner that I am.

We never cooked with rhubarb growing-up. Nobody in our neighborhood grew it and I think they considered it like a weed. Jake remembers picking it as a child and eating the tart stalks dipped in sugar. As an adult, I’ve become taken with rhubarb. I love how it retains some tartness when cooked and balances out sweet desserts. The complexity of its unique flavor strikes me as both fruity and floral.

I asked friends for their favorite rhubarb recipes, but chose this cake because I had all of the ingredients in my kitchen. I found variations of this recipe in nearly all of my cookbooks, so, where it truly originates, I do not know. This cake is very simple to prepare and light and fluffy like a muffin. It reminded us so much of muffins, that I poured the batter into muffin tins the second time I made it.

This cake will be an ol’ reliable for us. Now I’m moving on to trying everyone’s favorite rhubarb recipes.

Rhubarb Muffin Cake
Adapted from Bonnie Anderson, Dee Detlefsen, Blanch Grummons & Ardy Haugen’s recipe in the Peaceful Pantry Recipes cookbook compiled by Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Burnsville, MN, 1975

Cook’s Notes: The original recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of white or brown sugar. I used both, but in lesser amounts. The original recipe also calls for buttermilk, which I did not have. It says you can substitute one cup of regular milk + one tablespoon of lemon juice for buttermilk. In my first cake, I used 2/3 almond milk + 1/3 cup sour cream. In my muffins, I used only almond milk. I think you can use whatever you have, though the sour cream adds extra moistness. If you’d like to bake muffins, reduce the cooking time. Mini muffins took about 10 minutes. The cakes are done when you can cleanly remove a toothpick from the center.

Rhubarb Collage.jpg

Ingredients:
A scant 1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, not packed.
1/2 cup butter (1 stick). I used salted.
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional: Splash of almond extract
1 cup milk or combination of milk + sour cream
2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups of rhubarb, chopped into small pieces
Topping: sugar & cinnamon

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350℉.
  2. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugars.
  4. Mix the egg and vanilla extract into the butter-sugar mixture.
  5. Add the milk and dry ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture, half at a time, alternating until just combined. Don’t overmix.
  6. Stir in the rhubarb.
  7. Pour into a greased pan or muffin tins. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon and sugar (or just cinnamon).
  8. Bake until you can remove a toothpick cleanly from the center. A small cake pan took about 45 minutes, a 9×13 will take about 35-40 minutes, and muffins will vary depending on the size. Mini muffins took about 10 minutes.
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