Friday, April 4, 2014

Tropical Carrot Cake

Servings:  10 to 12

Preparation Time:  30 minutes plus baking 1 hour for baking and cooling cakes

Note: this cake is best with either cream cheese frosting or the macadamia nut frosting given in the FNKWL blog: “Sometimes you Feel Like a Nut!”   

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup flaked, sweetened coconut
1 cup macadamia nuts
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup canola oil
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups finely grated carrots
2 (8-ounce) cans crushed pineapple, drained

1 cup flaked, sweetened coconut


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Coat 3 (9-inch) round cake pans with vegetable oil spray.  Line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper.  Spray the paper with vegetable oil spray.
Place ½ cup of the flour, 1 cup sweetened coconut, and the macadamia nuts in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse until the nuts are ground and the mixture resembles course crumbs.  Pour the nut mixture into a bowl.
Use a whisk to add the remaining 2 cups of flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda and salt to the nut mixture. Use an electric mixer to combine the granulated sugar and canola oil until smooth.
Stir in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the vanilla. Stir in the flour/nut mixture. Stir in the carrots and pineapple. 
Divide the batter between the 3 pans.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Cool the cakes in the pan for 15 minutes.  Run a knife around the edges of the cakes.  Invert onto a rack, and cool to room temperature.
For frosting, use the recipe for “Macadamia Nut Frosting” provided in the blog post “Sometimes You Feel like a Nut!”
Place one cake onto a cake stand.  Frost with about ¾ cups of frosting.  Repeat with the next layer.  Top with the third cake.  Frost the sides and top of the cake with the remaining frosting.  Sprinkle the top of the cake with the remaining 1 cup unsweetened coconut.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Time to Start Planning the Most Romantic Dinner of the Year…

Valentine’s Day is almost here, so if you plan on going out, I hope you have reservations! As for me…I don’t go anywhere near a restaurant on February 14th, choosing the candlelight supper at home (right, honey?) over that hot mess year after year. I’ve pulled 2 of my coziest and most elegant recipes from Sunday Best Dishes to focus on this go around, and because they feature a red wine reduction sauce drizzled over filet mignon made the classic French way, I guess you could say that this Valentine’s Day I’m wearing my heart on my sieve!
No spoilers here alert! I’m not giving away my signature recipe for Grilled Tenderloin Steak and a tequila spiked dessert, but I will dish on tried and true culinary methods in bringing them to the plate. Download Sunday Best, if you want your Valentine’s Day to resemble the hot and juicy picture below.

So here’s the deal with steak….yeah, it’s absolutely better when you grill it outside; however, this is a really frigid winter for most of us, and backyard BBQs may not be in the cards. That’s why a tenderloin steak is the perfect choice—it’s the best cut for stovetop cooking. You’re going to want to buy four (six ounce) steaks, 2 to 3 inches thick and ask the butcher to remove the silver skin for you; it’s easy enough to do it yourself (even kind of fun), but with the tequila sippin’ I hope you’ve got planned, it never hurts to save time.

So, steak tenderloin (aka filet mignon) must be seasoned well with coarse salt and cracked pepper; set your cuts out a good 20 minutes before you cook them, and make sure to pat the meat dry with paper towels before rubbing in the seasonings. Add a brush of olive oil to each side of the steak (very important!), and coat the grill pan with plenty of olive oil, too. I sear my steak 4 to 6 minutes per side on high heat, and let it rest outside the pan, in a fresh application of red wine sauce, about ten minutes before serving it. Steak, as you may already know, continues to cook on its own, off the grill. Another important steak lover’s mantra: Always, always aim for medium-rare. For Valentine’s Day, I’m topping mine off with a cheese I’m keeping secret until the big reveal on 2/14/14….but if you must know what it is, refer to the Culinary Class chapter in Sunday Best Dishes!   

Now, on to dessert, the focal point of a sweet holiday…

As you can see, I’m making blueberry short bread biscuits, surrounded in a bed of tequila soaked fruit—there’s nothing like peppery silver tequila to bring out the flavor of blueberries, and with the suggestion of strawberries in the mix, you’ve honored the color code of Valentine’s Day well enough.  For cooking, the brand “Jose Cuervo Clasico Silver” is a sound choice in tequila; it’s priced lower than other brands, yet has the sweet fire-power your marinades, vinaigrettes and sauces demand, whether they are savory or sweet.

And I can’t think of a more perfect note to end on. May your Feb. 14 be the sweetest yet!




Wednesday, January 15, 2014

If The Kitchen’s “Cookbook Club” Asked Me to Talk about SUNDAY BEST DISHES, I Wouldn’t Say No!

The KITCHEN is on Saturdays at 11am Eastern
Hello there, loyal readers. This blog is a review about a fun new show on the Food Network. Because I always liked The View (and The Chew!), the format of The KITCHEN is instantly appealing; it features five friends, who chow down and TALK FOOD—each episode (and so far there have been 2) is cleverly divided with Q&A from fans, a cooking demo that features a recipe with the top 3 most googled ingredients in the country, and an appearance of a cookbook author with a new book. Jenny McCoy, author of Desserts for Every Season was the first guest on The Show’s “Cookbook Club” segment; she made a warm chocolate bread pudding that I imagine co-host Jeff Mauro will try eating on a treadmill for next week’s opening credits!

On a good day I like to say I know foolproof food, and the way The KITCHEN is structured is certainly that: FOOLPROOF! I can’t tell you how interesting it is to know that 850,000 hungry souls googled, on the same day, what to do with the frozen lump of chicken in their fridge.

The KITCHEN’s panel, in addition to the hilarious Sandwich King (Jeff, whom I already mentioned), includes Sunny Anderson, Geoffery Zakarian, Katie Lee and Marcela Valladolid; these friends took the top 3 google hits for the week: quinoa, chicken and kale, and made them into a WONDERFUL entrée. I know because I made the dish right after watching the show. Sunny Anderson looked straight into camera and said that cooking, for her, was often about simply “emptying out the fridge!” and as though it were fate, I had some languishing items in my refrigerator (like a bag of frozen Brussels sprouts) that worked like a charm in The KITCHEN’S CHILE-RUBBED CHICKEN BREAST WITH KALE, QUINOA AND BRUSSELS SPROUTS SALAD. 

I didn’t follow Marcela’s recipe to the letter, but she did provide the base, and everyone in my family who loves chicken was pretty happy the night I added my own tweaks to what I can tell you is a truly solid dish. I liked how the panel, brimming with intimidating culinary talent, let all that go for the hour, and focused on teaching without preaching. On the kale/chicken recipe, Katie Lee asked if you could use feta in place of Marcela’s choice, cotija (a cheese I’m sure not everyone knows about), and everyone—including Marcela, was quick to advocate for substitutes anytime you want, and substitute I did. I didn’t have quinoa, so I used couscous; didn’t have toasted almonds so I used pine nuts—everyone loved it and I got rid of those darned Brussels Sprouts…and some feta!

The only thing I would have done differently is advise home chefs to really, really, wash that kale! I knew to do it because, well, what person in the food industry doesn’t have a PhD in kale by now? (we hear about it every single day!); however, for the layperson…you just might end up with some sand in your sauté if you’re not used to working with the stuff—and that’s what my latest book, Sunday Best Dishes: A Cookbook for Passionate Cooks is all about, educating home chefs in a way that’s fun and relatable. You don’t know you’re learning, you just know you’re cooking—I can’t wait to share that philosophy with everyone in The KITCHEN!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Foodie Resolutions: 2014

It’s here—another year! Social media is buzzing with resolutions about dropping a few pounds and getting more organized. I’ve decided to make mine about eating more locally grown food, patronizing more restaurants who work with nearby farms, and finding other ways of greening up my zip code. This post is actually about two things: helping people who want to become locavores get started, and supporting a friend of mine; an angel who gets his wings every time a locavore is born.  

His name is Cory Bryk of Boone, N.C., a Marine who served in Iraq and returned home to become, of all things…A FARMER! I’ve posted his picture here.

I’m sure I’m not alone in being so glad that he did—I enjoy the fruits of New Life Farm (Cory’s farm) every time I’m in North Carolina—and thank him for raising one of the best Thanksgiving turkeys the Morgan family has ever eaten. In addition to the tasty livestock, Cory’s farm is responsible for a bountiful vegetable harvest—and he can reap even more of what he sews when he gets a new tractor. If you live near Boone, and want to see more of New Life Farm’s products, you’ll donate what you can to his Kickstarter project, active until January 24th.  Just click this link to help him on his way.      

So, here’s what got me thinking about why being a locavore (that means restricting your diet to the consumption of fresh products produced within a 100 mile radius of home) is such a worthwhile pursuit. It’s so much fresher; a truck didn’t have to burn a ton of fossil fuels to bring it to the store, and it didn’t lose any nutrients on a long ride. 

You don’t usually have to worry about pesticides, and you’re helping your local economy do better. If you manage sometime in 2014 to make a pasta primavera sauce entirely out of veggies you bought from a local vendor, you can relish more than just a fabulous taste. You can feel good about being kind to the planet as well.    

Here a few quick and easy-to-remember ways to become a locavore—start small if you’re new to this, by serving all farmers market fare at your next dinner!  

  • Use LOCALHARVEST.ORG! It’s an amazing tool to find everything from farmers markets, organic food buying clubs, tasting events and more in every single zipcode in the United States.
  • Once a month, pick out an out-sourced food item, and swap it out for something you can get locally made. Honey is a great first start, as every community has a bee haven somewhere.
  • Join a community garden club or CSA. I do the later. Look up a farm in your area (use and sign up for biweekly or monthly delivery of their seasonal harvest. Some CSA’s offer milk, meat, honey and eggs in addition to veggies. It tastes SOOOO good.
  • Ask a local farmer or vendor at a farmers market, if he has any restaurant accounts and then patronize that restaurant! I’ll be the first to try this tactic with Cory at New Life.
  • Host a “100-mile Dinner Challenge”: PBS writes all about it in this article, (it’s based on Thanksgiving, but can be done any time of year) which I’ll summarize for you now: next time you host a dinner, ask guests to bring a regionally recognized recipe from their neck of the woods. If they’re from the south, a pecan pie made with pecans from a neighborhood tree is a prime example.  If you live on the coast, it can be all about the seafood.
  • Research the fruits and veggies unique to your area and try them in a salad or on a cracker! I did it with kumquats; I found a package of them at Publix with a label that said the kumquats were from Deland, Florida—the tangy, citrusy things kicked up the flavor of a tomato salad in ways I’m still craving…. 

OK, that’s it. I’ve put it in a nutshell for you—grown, harvested and sold by the guy next door : ) Cheers, and happy 2014!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Morning Breakfast Ideas for Berry Good Boys & Girls!

Not many days left to peel back on the advent calendar. In no time at all, it’ll be Christmas morning—and that, my friends requires a sugar and carb infusion of the highest order.  New word for “short-stack” anyone? I’m drawing from my Sunday Best repertoire on Wednesday, December 25th and would advise anyone with the same lust for life (and pancakes) to stock up this weekend on King Arthur Flour—the best for pancake house-style flapjacks—eggs, sugar, butter—the essentials for enough fluffy pancakes to take everyone through the learning curve of new gadgets and sporting equipment sitting under your tree.            

I believe the headlining photo on this blog, featuring Buttermilk Blueberry Pancakes with Berry Good Maple Syrup, can revv up the family on Christmas morning and turbo power their snow shoes! I haven’t made a habit of posting many of my book’s new recipes on my blog, but am doing so today as a gift to those “birds of a feather” out there who love pancakes as much as my family does. Other Christmas Day secrets that can put the wow factor into a Chris Cringle inspired table setting involve my Monkeying Around Bread (fun at any age!), trick for making inside out omelets, Canadian Bacon prepared just so (click on this Chipotle Spiced Bacon post to learn how to make it a legend in your household, too) and Cranberry Oatmeal Scones with Pine nuts.  For those bolded recipes, there is still plenty of time to download Sunday Best Dishes, wink, wink, nudge, nudge. It really makes a great Xmas gift!

Other Winter Day Breakfast Ideas….Faking Buttermilk in a pinch, etc…..

Buttermilk Biscuits with a savory gravy are also a great way to go for Christmas breakfast….but what if you open the fridge only to find you’re running low on precious buttermilk?  A lot of Apple commercials would tell you there’s an app for that. I won’t offer you that as a solution, but I can pass on a little cooking trick that can turn plain old milk into a buttermilk knock-off for all your breakfast recipes. Just pour ¾ cup of milk into a measuring container, add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar and set the mixture aside for 5 minutes at room temperature. The result is as close to actual buttermilk as it needs to be. 

If kids are part of the Christmas package this holiday season….

Here are a few tips for decorating pancakes in ways that’d tickle Santa pink!
  • ·        Use sliced strawberries and cover the top half of the pancake with them to represent the red-felt hat. Squirt a big dollop of whip cream for the powder puff on top of Santa’s hat and continue on with the Ready-whip to make the big white beard.
  • ·         Banana slices with Hershey’s kisses in the center make great eyes and maraschino cherries are a terrific nose!
  • ·         Triangles of French toast can be arranged into a Christmas tree, with a star shaped cut of pineapple just prefect for the star on top!
  • ·         Make Rudolph using bacon for antlers, blueberries for eyes and a dime sized pancake in the middle, strawberry on it, for the world-famous nose.

It’s not rockets science….it’s reindeer science! I hope your Christmas is full of love and magic, everyone. See you in the New Year with lots of new cooking advice and recipes! 

Buttermilk-Blueberry Pancakes with Berry Good Maple Syrup


1 cup pure maple syrup
1 cup fresh blueberries
Pour the syrup and blueberries into a saucepan and heat to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the sauce is thickened and the blueberries begin to burst, about 10 minutes.  Reduce the heat to very low to keep the syrup warm.

2 cups pastry flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon table salt
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup milk
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ to 1 cup blueberries
Confectioners’ sugar

Stir the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, milk, honey and vanilla.  Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until smooth.         

Heat a griddle (or large non-stick skillet) over medium high heat.  Ladle batter onto the griddle to form 4-inch pancakes.  When the pancakes are just set, sprinkle with a few blueberries. Cook until the pancakes are golden on the bottom, about 3 to 4 minutes. Flip and cook until the second side is golden, about 2 minutes more. (If you are cooking the pancakes in batches, keep warm in a 200° oven or warming drawer.)

Serve the pancakes with a ladleful of syrup and garnish with a few extra fresh blueberries. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Oh My Gnosh!

Tips for Serving Gourmet Spreads and Cheeses (as a gift or…) at Your Next Party
CHEESE makes a marvelous gift for the people you love. Yes, CHEESE: worthy of all caps—that is, if you present it well and offer pairings that make those already heavenly flavors pop. I love stories from hostesses that are told with a sigh—how guests at the Xmas party nibbled at their cheese plate, and asked, mouths full, if there would be a hostess/guest gift exchange. “Uh…darling? That dreamy little block in your hand with the cheesemonger’s initials engraved right into the rind? THAT was your gift.”

Point of story:  If the cheese isn’t speaking for itself and needs a little help, this Extreme Party Planner has come to your rescue with tips on how to make the perfect cheese plate.
Consider the 4 basic categories of cheese before you shop: Cheese is sold soft, hard, aged and blue; a representative from each category is a nice way to go, and an expert behind the cheese counter will be happy to help you. Personally, I believe the safest bets are cheeses that don’t have a pungent odor (I’m looking at you, Camembert), but do possess those nice sharp, tangy, earthy and/or nutty flavors we all love—that’s why I concentrate on the kind of milk used to make it, i.e. sheep, goat and cow. Go with manchengo (made from sheep’s milk, it’s a favorite tapa in Spain), aged 15 to 24 months cheddar and anything manufactured by Santori—their stuff is the friggin’ bomb.  Familiarize yourself with their logo via this photo:

Take the cheese out at least an hour before the party, unwrap it and let it breathe. The flavors shine through more this way.  Plan on 3 to 4 ounces of cheese bliss per person; this can easily translate into 3 to 6 different types of cheeses—ideal for a small party; one or two cheeses serve a gift basket well—you just have to find yummy accompaniments…like a sweet fig spread, crackers and assorted olives. More on those (olives!) later.     

Don’t worry about a carb overload—no such thing on a cheese platter. Use crackers AND sliced bread:  Be sure to vary up the textures on these--that’s every bit as important as diverse cheeses.  Reserve an extra cheese spreader to plunge into a jarred condiment that works well with a cheese plate, i.e. fig spreads (I’ve linked to a good one), Grey Poupon mustard or pretty pickles—which I published a recipe for in Sunday Best Dishes.
Stock up on Olives—loading a ramekin full of them works out nicely next to your cheeseboard Moroccan beldi olives are particularly tasty with any fine cheese—they come in so many pretty colors—from big plum colored purples to small and shriveled marble sizes. Roasted red peppers pair well, especially the ones that have marinated in a spicy vinaigrette, and kalamata olives deliver the perfect punch! Just check out this olive bar photo to get in the mood.
Prepare a few descriptive adjectives about each cheese before you serve it—it’s a fun way to put on a few pounds before the party, but hey…we all have to do our homework! Use a separate knife for each cheese and, obviously, group like-smelling cheeses, otherwise (as the song goes) ya gotta keep ‘em separated!

Parting tip about cheese for your next killer risotto: Use cheese rinds in your cooking; it’s perfectly edible and will flavor a rice, casserole or soup like nobody’s business. Parmigiano Reggiano is ideal for this. As far as what drinks are loveliest to wash your cheeses down with, I searched high and low before I was satisfied and found this article, worth pinning to Pinterest: Some exciting drink pairing for cheese.
Enjoy your cheese within 24 hours of unwrapping it, and be sure to refrigerate between uses…I’m off to carve off a little more of that Santori….
Related Posts with Thumbnails