Wednesday, July 27, 2011


SL marble cake

This is a great cake to take to a pot-luck.  It’s baked and cooled in the same pan.  The cake is on the thin side, so the frosting really stands out.  Since most people are frosting freaks, I wasn’t surprised that everyone who tasted this raved over it. 

A tender and flavorful chocolate/vanilla cake is topped with a mocha cream cheese frosting.  Very easy and very good.

Chocolate Marble Sheet Cake with Mocha Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Southern Living, October 2008
Rating:  8.5/10

Chocolate Marble Sheet Cake:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1-3/4 cups sugar, divided
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2-3/4 cup + 1 Tbsp. low-protein flour (I used White Lily all-purpose)
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup half and half (I used fat-free Land o’ Lakes H&H)
1/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa
3 Tbsp. hot water

Heat oven to 325F.  In bowl of electric stand mixer, using paddle attachment, beat butter and 1-1/2 cups sugar at medium speed 4-5 minutes or until creamy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating just until blended after each.  Beat in vanilla extract.   Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.  Add to butter mixture alternately with half and half, beginning and ending with flour mixture.  Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition, stopping to scrape bowl as needed.  Spoon 1-1/4 cups batter into a 2-quart bowl, and stir in cocoa, 3 Tbsp. hot water and remaining 1/4 cup sugar until well blended.  Spread remaining vanilla batter into a greased and floured 15x10 jelly-roll pan. Spoon chocolate batter onto vanilla batter in pan in
8 portions.

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Gently swirl with a knife or small spatula. 
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Bake 23-25 minutes, or till a toothpick inserted in center returns with just a few crumbs.  Cool completely in pan on a wire rack (about 1 hour).  Spread top of cake with Mocha Cream Cheese Frosting.

Mocha Cream Cheese Frosting:
2-1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
2/3 cup natural unsweetened cocoa
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
8 oz. cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese, softened
1/2 tsp. coffee essence (equal parts instant coffee and coffee liqueur or water)
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3 Tbsp. half and half

Whisk together sugar and cocoa in a medium bowl.  Beat butter, cream cheese, coffee essence and vanilla at medium speed with electric mixer until creamy.   Gradually add sugar mixture and beat on low till blended.  Beat in half and half, 1 Tbsp. at a time, until smooth and mixture has reached desired consistency.  Frost top of cake, using all frosting.
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Monday, July 18, 2011


boston cr pie (7)

The official Massachusetts state dessert is really a cake, not a pie, and said to have originated with The Parker House Hotel (now the Omni Parker House Hotel) at their opening in 1856.  Two layers of sponge cake are filled with thick vanilla custard and topped with a chocolate glaze or a sprinkling of confectioners' sugar.   This cake was probably called a pie because in the mid-nineteenth century, pie tins were more common than cake pans, and the cake was at first baked in pie tins.   Boston Cream Pie is a remake of the early American "Pudding-Cake Pie."

In a previous life in New Jersey, when raising my two boys, I often made Boston Cream Pie.  It was a favorite in our household.  Since it’s been several years since I’ve made one, I decided to treat the hub and three other fathers for Father’s Day with this universally popular dessert.

infrared turkey (14)

You can definitely use a yellow cake mix and vanilla pudding mix if you want shortcuts, and you can even spread the top with canned chocolate frosting.  But it just won’t taste anywhere near as good as a homemade version.  Hot-milk spongecake is easy to make and provides a moist, tender base for Boston Cream Pie.  Homemade vanilla custard, flavored with a vanilla bean, is also simple to make and unmatched for flavor and texture.  Chocolate ganache makes a perfect topping, but, true confession, I did take a shortcut.  I had leftover homemade chocolate buttercream frosting, and I heated it and added some chopped Callebaut bittersweet chocolate.  It was just enough to frost the top and sides of the cake. 
I’ve vowed to not wait so long before I make another Boston Cream Pie.  It’s just sooooo good.

Vanilla Bean Boston Cream Pie
Source:  McCall’s Book of Cakes and Pies, 1965
Rating:  9 out of 10

Rich Vanilla Cream Filling:
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
Big pinch salt
1 cup fat-free half and half (Land o’ Lakes, only)
2 egg yolks
1 vanilla bean*, seeds scraped (I used a Tonga bean, which is larger and stronger in flavor)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

In 1-quart saucepan, whisk together sugar, cornstarch, salt and milk over medium-high heat.  Bring to boil, while whisking.  Continue to whisk till mixture thickens.  Remove from heat.  Stir in scraped vanilla bean seeds and butter.  Cool completely.
*If desired, you may substitute 1-1/2 tsp. high-quality pure vanilla extract.

Hot-Milk Spongecake:
1/2 cup milk
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted before measuring
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3 eggs (2/3 cup)
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, or 1-1/2 tsp. high-quality pure vanilla extract

In small saucepan, heat milk until bubbles form around edge of pan.  Remove from heat; set aside.  Heat oven to 350F.  Sift flour with baking powder and salt; set aside.  Set out two greased and floured 8” cake pans.  Line pans with parchment paper circles cut to fit.

In small bowl of electric mixer, at high speed, beat eggs until thick and lemon colored.  Gradually add sugar, beating until mixture is smooth and well blended – about 5 minutes.  At low speed, blend in flour mixture just until smooth.  Add warm milk and vanilla bean seeds, beating just until combined.  Pour batter immediately into pans.  Bake 17-18 minutes, or till cake tester inserted in center returns with just a few crumbs.  Cool cake in pans 10 minutes.  Run knife around edges and remove cake from pans; cool thoroughly on wire racks lined with paper towels.  (Paper towels will keep the cakes from sticking to the rack but will still allow the air to come through.) 

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When cake and filling are both completely cool, spoon filling onto one layer and top with second layer.  Pour warm chocolate ganache over top, letting it drip down sides. Smooth top and sides with a spatula, if desired.   Refrigerate till serving time.  Yield:  8 servings

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Friday, July 15, 2011



In hot weather, you typically need to drink more because you sweat more, especially if you’re exercising.  Humidity also increases your water needs.  When it’s humid and warm – a double whammy – you may need as much as two times more water than when it’s drier. 

How water impacts your body:  Your body releases heat by expanding blood vessels close to the skin’s surface (this is why your face gets red during exercise), resulting in more blood flow and more heat dissipated into the air.  When you’re dehydrated, however, it takes a higher environmental temperature to trigger blood vessels to widen, so you stay hotter. 

Dehydration also lowers your blood volume, so your heart must work harder to pump the reduced amount of blood and get enough oxygen to your cells, which makes everyday activities like walking up stairs – as well as exercise – more difficult.

Excerpted from Eating Well Magazine, July/August 2011

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Fried green tomatoes, a Southern staple, taste good whether they're hot from the pan, room temperature or cold.  Served hot with a drizzle of spicy mayo, they could just be the star of your dinner.  Room temperature or cold from the fridge, they're wonderful added to a meat or cheese sandwich or just munched as is.  READ MORE....

Monday, July 11, 2011


blueberry muffins

America’s Test Kitchen’s “Best Blueberry Muffins” was the inspiration for this adaptation.  I changed the flour from unbleached all-purpose to a mixture of bread flour and whole wheat pastry flour.  Admittedly, the texture of these is not as light and fluffy as the original.  But if you want to sneak more whole grains into your baking, give these a try because they’re still a great muffin. 
blueberry muffins (2)

1-1/8 cups of sugar may seem like a lot for a healthy dessert, plus what’s in the blueberry jam and the topping, but remember that you can use a sugar substitute for part of the sugar if that’s a concern.  I recommend Nu Naturals Stevia for a sugar substitute that doesn’t leave an aftertaste, but don’t use it for more than half the sugar amount or that will change.
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These muffins are more work than your average, mainly because you have to make the jam first.  If you try to substitute commercial blueberry jams, you’ll get a much sweeter product, and you may not be happy with it.  Besides, the jam recipe here relies on an intense blueberry flavor and natural sweetness that comes from cooking the blueberries way down.

Whole Wheat Blueberry Muffins
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen’s “Best Blueberry Muffins”
Rating:  8.5 out of 10
Blueberry Jam: 
5 oz. (about 1 cup) blueberries, fresh or frozen
1 Tbsp. sugar

In small saucepan, combine berries and sugar, mashing berries with spoon.  Cook over medium-high heat till berries are jam-like in consistency, stirring often to prevent burning.  The mixture should cook down to about 1/4 cup.  Remove from heat; let cool thoroughly.

1/3 cup sugar
1-1/2 tsp. grated lemon zest

Combine sugar and zest in small bowl and stir together with fork or spoon till well mixed; set aside.

1-1/2 cups bread flour (or unbleached all-purpose, if preferred)
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or white whole wheat flour, if preferred)
2-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. sea salt
2 large eggs
1-1/8 cups (8 oz.) sugar (or 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp. sugar + sugar substitute equal to 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter, slightly cooled
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup low-fat buttermilk (or 1 cup milk + 1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar or lemon juice)
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Heat oven to 400F.  Arrange oven rack to upper-middle position.  Lightly grease a 12-cup standard-size muffin pan and a 12-cup mini muffin pan.  In large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder and salt.  In another, smaller bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar till light, about 45 seconds.  Add melted butter, oil, vanilla and buttermilk and whisk till well combined.  Stir in flour mixture with spoon or spatula.  Blot the blueberries on a paper towel and carefully stir into batter, being careful not to over mix or bruise the berries.  (Never, never, never beat or stir muffin batter too vigorously.  Over beating the batter is the prime cause for tough or sunken muffins.)

Scoop batter into greased muffin pans, using about 1/4 cup for standards, 1-1/2 Tbsp. for minis.  Top each with about 1 Tbsp. jam (about 1 tsp. for mini).  Swirl slightly with a chopstick, using a figure 8 motion.  Sprinkle with topping.  Bake  on upper-middle rack of oven till tops are set, about 12 minutes for minis, 15 minutes for standards.  (You can carefully test with a toothpick, but if it hits berries or jam, you will have to reinsert.)  Cool in pan 5 minutes before transferring to wire rack to finish cooling.  Yield:  1 dozen standard-size muffins + 1 dozen mini muffins.  

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


chocolate hazelnut pudding (8)
Chocolate-hazelnut pudding has been on my mind since I tasted it at Trattoria Luca in Charleston, SC. posted a recipe from Self magazine.  It was simple, with few ingredients, but one of the ingredients was gianduja (hazelnut-flavored dark chocolate).  In our small East Carolina town, there was no possibility of finding such sophisticated chocolate. 
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The recipe below is my adaptation, using the ingredients in my pantry, and hopefully, yours.  The pudding is silky smooth and creamy with a mild hazelnut flavor hiding under the chocolate.  You can certainly dress this up with some lightly sweetened, whipped heavy cream that’s spiked with hazelnut liqueur.  You could even shave some dark chocolate or chopped toasted hazelnuts over the cream.  I chose to eat the pudding as is and savor every sweet, delicious mouthful.
chocolate hazelnut pudding (2)
Chocolate-Hazelnut Pudding
Adapted from and Self Magazine, July 2007
Rating:  9.5 out of 10
INGREDIENTS:  4 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 cups fat-free half and half (or milk), divided
1/4 cup Nutella
2-1/2 oz. good-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Callebaut)
2 Tbsp. hazelnut liqueur
1/8 tsp. fine sea salt
2 tsp. sugar

Whisk cornstarch with 1/2 cup half and half in small bowl till cornstarch is smooth.  In small saucepan, heat remaining half and half on medium till it steams.  Stir in Nutella and chocolate; remove from heat and stir till chocolate is melted and smooth.  Whisk in cornstarch slurry, liqueur, salt and sugar.  Return to medium heat and cook till thickened, about 5 minutes.  Divide pudding evenly among 4 custard cups; press waxed paper or plastic wrap onto surface of pudding to prevent a skin from forming.  Refrigerate till cold, several hours…. that is, if you can wait that long.  I started eating it right away.
chocolate hazelnut pudding (4)

Monday, July 4, 2011



Last November, I made the best turkey ever, and thought I could never improve on it.  Then our friend presented us with a gift:  the Big Easy Oil-Less Infrared Turkey Fryer. 
infrared turkey fryer
I was initially under-impressed.  No way, at least in my opinion, could this product cook a better turkey.  I continued to rant, rave and complain to my hub, telling him I wanted to make a turkey like the one we had in November, on our grill. 

And now I’m eating my words.  Along with some of the most mouthwatering delicious turkey ever.  Not that last year’s wasn’t good – it was fantastic.  With the Big Easy, it’s better than fantastic.  And it’s fast.  A 13-1/2 lb. turkey was done in 2 hours, plus 1/2 hour resting time.  Top that, if you dare. 

The Big Easy is a little weird, if I may say so.  The turkey is placed feet first, kind of standing up, in the fryer.  Here’s what’s weird:  It cooks uncovered for most of the time.  Very weird.  (In colder outdoor temperatures, extremely windy days or towards the end of the cook time when extra browning is desired, use the wire mesh lid that comes with the unit.  It reflects infrared heat back into the cooking chamber.)  

infrared turkey (2)

I heartily recommend brining the turkey first.  I brined overnight with my soy-apple brine.  But, with the Big Easy, you can’t stuff the cavity.  The legs of the turkey must be spread and the cavity left empty so that the heat will circulate.  I told you it was weird. 

A disposable drip tray at the bottom of the unit conveniently catches all the drippings and makes the best gravy you will ever taste.

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We had some friends for a Father’s Day dinner, and the turkey was definitely the star.  Uber-moist, flavorful, tender, delicious, succulent turkey.  Everyone, but everyone, raved.
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We had appetizers and drinks on the patio first.
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The weather was beautiful, and we all enjoyed relaxing while waiting for the turkey to cook.  Bob and Darian were already thinking about buying The Big Easy, and were anxious to try the turkey.   After trying it, they said they definitely will be buying one.
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Mary and Jim are the friends who gave us the cooker.  They’ve done a whole chicken and a Boston Butt with theirs so far.
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Eventually, we went inside and ate buffet style, and the serving plate that was most often visited was the turkey platter.  Even my Boston Cream Pie couldn’t eclipse the succulent turkey.infrared turkey (6)

Before the night was over, I vacuum packed most of the turkey remains.  Yesterday we had turkey sandwiches with one of the thawed packs.  The turkey tasted just as fresh and delicious as it did on Father’s Day.  Next, we’ll be trying a Boston Butt.  Friends have already told us this unit makes formidable pulled pork BBQ.  You can also do Cornish Game Hens, pork tenderloins, beef roast, Prime Rib and whole chickens.  The Big Easy cooking rack (purchase separately) enables you to add veggies while the roast cooks.

Can you tell I like this cooker?  I wish I could say that Char-Broil has paid me to tell you about The Big Easy, but in truth, I’ve received no payment of any kind for this endorsement.

Update 7/3/11:  The Boston Butt is still being planned.  Last night, after a 4-hour marinating process with miracle marinade, we cooked a 1 lb. 11 oz. beef eye round.  It was tender and flavorful and made wonderful sandwiches for lunch.