Chocolate Mayonnaise Sheet Cake

A year ago on April 19th I lost a very special friend, Debra, to cancer.  There was a celebration of life for family and friends  followed by a luncheon.  I made the chocolate mayonnaise sheet cake she loved and decorated it with the monkeys I had bought to use on her birthday cake.  She loved all animals but monkeys were a favorite of hers and always made her smile.  Whenever I saw cute monkey memes I would share them with her and I once gifted her a hideous pink sock monkey that I made.  She adored it.  My first and last attempt at sock monkeys.  Debbie had the gift of gab.  She loved to come down and sit and visit and have a cup of tea or a cup of coffee with a little rum chata in it.  And she had a sweet tooth.  She loved chocolate.  So if there was a cake or cookies or brownies she was a happy girl.  And if there were no baked goods, there was always a dish full of chocolate candy and that’s where she’d head.  I’ll always think of her when I make this cake.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups hot, strong coffee

1 cup cocoa

3 cups AP flour

2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 1/2 cups sugar

4 large eggs

1 cup mayonnaise

2 tsp vanilla

Preheat your oven to 350.

Whisk together the hot coffee and cocoa and let stand for 20 minutes.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, soda, baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl combine the sugar and eggs.  Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Beat in the mayonnaise and vanilla.

Alternate flour mixture and coffee/cocoa mixture beating after each addition and beginning and ending with flour.

Pour the batter into a lightly greased and floured sheet pan.  Bake for 22-25 minutes.  Allow the cake to cool completely before icing.

To make this cake easier to serve to a crowd I cut the cake, used cupcake lines to separate individual pieces, and then iced each piece.  I made a peanut butter icing but you can use any flavor icing you like.

This post is for you my beautiful friend.  I miss talking to you and enjoying a cup of coffee or tea with you at my kitchen island.  I hope there is a lot of chocolate in heaven.  And monkeys.  A lot of monkeys.

Roasted Nuts

Nuts.  A healthy and filling snack.  Nuts are a great source of fiber, protein, and healthy fats as well as a number of vitamins and minerals.  Almonds are the highest in calcium of all nuts and and studies have shown that they can reduce the “bad” LDL cholesterol which is particularly harmful to heart health.  Pecans and walnuts have also been shown to lower bad cholesterol levels and contain compounds that act as antioxidants.  Walnuts, one of my favorites, may help to reduce inflammation which can contribute to many chronic diseases.  A study of college students found that eating walnuts increased cognition, suggesting they may have beneficial effects on the brain.  Walnuts are supposed to be the top nut for brain health.  That’s probably why I like them so much!  I’ve always been told that fish was brain food.  But maybe it’s really nuts!

Considering all of the health benefits, snacking on a handful of nuts each day, unless, of course, you have an allergy to tree nuts, is a good thing.  Eating nuts that are covered in chocolate might, however, cancel out the health benefits.  And while raw nuts are probably best, nuts that have been roasted with a little sea salt are ever so much better tasting.  My friend Jane gave me this quick and simple recipe for roasting nuts.  They are excellent!

Ingredients:

5 cups of raw nuts – I used pecans and almonds

1 1/2 T HOT water

1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt

2 T olive oil

Preheat your oven to 375.

Measure out your nuts into a large metal bowl.

Whisk together the 1 1/2 tsp of salt and the HOT water together until the salt is dissolved.

Using a spatula or wooden spoon pour the salt water over the nuts and stir well.

Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper and spread the nuts out in a single layer.

Bake for 8 minutes.  Remove from the oven, stir, and bake for an additional 8 minutes.  Depending on your oven temperature you may want to bake them for a couple more minutes.  You can sample a couple after 15-16 minutes remembering that once they cool they will crisp up a little more.  After baking return the hot nuts to the bowl and stir in the 2 T of olive oil and additional sea salt to taste.  Spread the nuts back out on the parchment covered pan and allow them to cool completely.  Once cooled store them in an airtight container.

ENJOY

NOTE:  I used raw almonds and pecans but any kind of raw nut would be good.

These nuts were so good I decided that some other flavor profiles might work as well.  I did a second batch adding 1 1/2 tsp of vanilla to the 2 T of olive oil and sprinkling 1 T of cinnamon and 2 T of superfine sugar on the hot nuts.   I could have added even a little more vanilla and cinnamon.

If you like things kicked up a bit, 1/2 to 1 tsp of cayenne pepper added to the sea salt at the end may be another good choice.

If you don’t have superfine salt or sugar on hand you can use a coffee grinder or mini food processor to accomplish a fine grind.

As with any recipe, you’re only limited by your imagination.

Vanilla

Good quality, pure vanilla extract is crucial to good baked goods.  And it is not inexpensive.  A good friend winters in Texas and she brings me awesome vanilla from Mexico.  I use her Mexican vanilla all the time.   When people try to replicate some of my recipes they notice subtle taste differences between what I baked and what they baked.  I’m convinced it is the vanilla.  I recently came across instructions for making your own vanilla on the King Arthur blog.  And decided I would try it.  It’s not complicated at all.

Homemade vanilla consists of vanilla beans and liquor.  You want to make sure your vanilla beans are fresh.  They should be pliable and soft to the touch.  According to King Arthur there are three kinds of vanilla beans that are readily available.  Sharing his descriptions.

“TAHITIAN:  Contains floral notes as well as subtle cherry and almond overtones; pairs well with fruity desserts and has a strong vanilla aroma.

MEXICAN:  Described as woodsy with hints of spice.  This vanilla is exciting, a perfect choice to bring something new to your baking.

MADAGASCAR:  A classic vanilla flavor that’s described as creamy and sweet.  Often used to make vanilla extract; it’s familiar and comforting.”

The vanilla bean descriptions reminded me of the labels on wine bottles!  I chose the “familiar and comforting” beans from Madagascar.

You also choose the kind of liquor you want to use for your base.  Something that has a neutral flavor like vodka or brandy or rum. You want to steer away from spices or smoky flavors that may overpower the vanilla.  No cucumber vodka or Captain Morgan.

Ingredients:

Vanilla beans

Liquor

You want to make sure you have clean bottles/jars with tight fitting lids.  The bottles I used hold 8 ounces.  I used 2 1/2 beans in each jar.  You want to slit your beans to expose the seeds.  If you don’t want to have “flecks” in your vanilla you can scrape out the seeds.  I choose to leave the seeds in for a richer vanilla flavor.  Once you’ve slit the beans put them in the bottles.

Add your liquor of choice to the jars.  I used a funnel because it’s sinful to spill and waste liquor!  I used rum in one jar, vodka in the other.  Make sure your beans are totally submerged.  If they are not, cut the beans into shorter pieces and return to the bottle.

Now you wait.  For at least 3 months.  Store your bottles in a cool, dark place.  King Arthur says the refrigerator is too cold (and it’s light in there when you open the door) so consider the basement or another area of your house that is relatively cool and dark.  Don’t store them in the kitchen which is typically the warmest room in the house.  If you left the seeds in the pods like I did, shake the bottles gently every week or so.  This will help deepen the flavor,

NOTE:  You don’t have to use top shelf liquor.  I used liquor that I serve at home.  You do want to make sure that you have good quality, fresh beans.  Finally, you don’t want to leave this somewhere where someone might pour themselves a shot!

I’m excited for the end result.  Last year a lot of people got homemade laundry soap for Christmas.  This year it may be homemade vanilla.  Worst case scenario, I’ll have to come up with some great vanilla cocktail recipes!

 

 

Zucchini Bread with Walnuts and Golden Raisins

Zucchini.  The vegetable that people are always giving away after it has inexplicitly multiplied and grown to ginormous proportions in their gardens.  One can only make so many zoodles and side dishes with tomatoes and onions and zucchini boats stuffed with meat and cheese.  But everyone loves zucchini bread and cake and other sweets.  Zucchini makes for very moist bread and cake and no longer even tastes like a vegetable.  Not even a little bit.  That’s probably the appeal to many people.  This bread is an easy quick bread that is at least a little healthy.  The inclusion of nuts and raisins,  ground flax seed, and, of course squash, bolsters that claim.  And cinnamon.  Cinnamon is very healthy!  It is loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.  You’ll feel so good after you have a slice or two of this tasty bread.

Ingredients:

1 cup white sugar

1 cup brown sugar

3 eggs

1 cup vegetable oil

1 T vanilla

3 cups AP flour

1/2 cup ground flax seed (or wheat germ)

1 tsp nutmeg

1 T cinnamon

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

3 cups shredded zucchini

1 cup walnuts chopped

1 cup golden raisins

Preheat your oven to 325.

Beat white and brown sugar, eggs, oil and vanilla together.

Sift together flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, baking powder and soda, and salt.

Add raisins, nuts, and flaxseed.

Add shredded zucchini and stir until well combined.

Grease 2 loaf pans or 6 small loaf pans.  Use parchment paper if you’d like.  Divide batter evenly.

Bake for 40-60 minutes depending on the size of the pans,  Check for doneness using a tooth pick or cake tester after 40 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.

Slice and enjoy!!

NOTE:  Zucchini bread freezes well.  If it lasts that long.  If you prefer you can use dried cherries or pecans.  A little different flavor but it’s all good.

Bologna Cake

We have a good friend who requested a bologna cake for his birthday.  He sent a photo of a bologna cake that was slice of bologna, cream cheese, slice of bologna, cream cheese and so on and so on.  The sides and top were “frosted” with more cream cheese and decorated with the cheddar cheese that you buy in aerosol cans.

I decided that rather than an ALL bologna cake I would make bologna sandwich spread and use bread for the layers.  Several years ago I made a sandwich cake for a Super Bowl party.  I made that “cake” with ham salad and chicken salad.  It was lovely to look at and tasted ok but I made a mistake and didn’t cut the crusts off the bread making it very difficult to slice. You nearly mangled the whole cake sawing through the crust.  I also learned that sandwich cakes are a real “thing” called smorgastarta, Swedish for sandwich cake.

Cake Ingredients:

2 loaves of a good sturdy bread

2 pounds of garlic bologna

mayo or miracle whip

sweet pickles

onion and celery

Icing Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds of cream cheese

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 c mayonnaise

1 envelope ranch dressing seasoning

The shape of your bread does not matter.  Round, square, rectangular.  Just ensure that it is a good quality, sturdy bread so it doesn’t turn to mush when you add the filling.  Shave off the crusts with a serrated knife.

Grind your bologna and pickles in a food processor.

Small dice your celery and onion and add to the ground meat.   The vegetables give a little crunch to the sandwich spread.  Add mayo or miracle whip until the spread reaches your desired consistency.  Now you can begin assembling the cake.  Spread a thin layer of the icing on each layer and a generous amount of the sandwich spread.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Until you’ve used all of your layers.

When you begin icing the sides and top of the cake do just as you would with a real cake.  Start with a thin layer of icing to seal in the crumbs and then go back and add more icing and smooth out the sides and top.

Decorate your cake with garnishes of your choosing.  I used fennel fronds, carrots, green onions, radishes and miniature heirloom tomatoes.

Voila!  I think my bologna cake is quite beautiful and it was appreciated and enjoyed by the birthday boy and most of the other guests.

NOTE:  It isn’t necessary to use bologna.  Any type of sandwich spread, sliced deli meats, lox, or hard boiled eggs would work.  Adding sliced vegetables like seedless cucumber, radishes, or onion would add some crunch and flavor.  I wouldn’t recommend using tomato slices which would make the bread wet and mushy.

I used the bread crusts to make breadcrumbs which I bag and freeze and croutons for soup or salad.

 

 

Cucumber Mint Jelly

Some time ago I bought a Better Homes and Gardens magazine with jam and jelly recipes in it.   Lots of good stuff!  I love cucumbers and I love mint so this combination really intrigued me.  Interestingly, most of my brothers hate mint.  They won’t even use mint toothpaste.  And I think some of them probably don’t like cucumbers either.  My kitchen smelled wonderful while I was making this jelly.  A friend came in while it was cooking and the first thing she said was, “your house smells like cucumbers.”  This recipe was very easy and it’s something you can make year round.

Ingredients:

3 large cucumbers

7 cups of sugar

1 cup cider vinegar

1 6-oz package liquid fruit pectin (both envelopes)

1/2 cup packed fresh mint leaves

a drop of green food color

Peel and cut the cucumbers into chunks.  No need to remove the seeds.  Purée them in a food processor or blender.

Press the purée through a fine mesh sieve over a bowl.  You want to recover 1 1/2 cups of cucumber juice.

You pretty much waste most of the cucumber.

In a heavy saucepan combine the cucumber juice, sugar, and vinegar.  Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally, to dissolve the sugar.

Quickly stir in both packets of pectin and the mint.  Bring to a full rolling boil stirring constantly.  Boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from the heat.  Use a metal spoon and skim off any foam and remove the mint.  Add a drop of green food color.  The “natural” color is not appetizing.  While I was making the jelly I had this bright idea that a mint leaf in each jar would be really pretty.  As you remove the mint from the pot you realize, as I did, that this would not be a good idea.

Ladle hot jelly into hot sterilized half pint jars leaving a 1/4 inch headspace.  Wipe rims, adjust lids and screw on the bands.  Process jars in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.  Start the timer when the water comes to a boil.  Remove jars and allow to cool completely on a heavy towel or wire racks.

Makes 6 half pints.

I love the finished product!  The day I made the jelly we had lamb chops for dinner so I could showcase the cucumber mint jelly.

NOTE:  Try a spoonful of cucumber mint jelly, some tonic water and good gin or vodka for an amazing cocktail.  Zap the jelly for a few seconds in the microwave, add the alcohol, ice and stir in the tonic.

Cheers!

Potato Salad

Today is our friend Joyce’s annual 4th of July party.  She loves to entertain and is a natural at making people feel welcome and comfortable.  And she LOVES feeding people.  She makes the main dishes…her famous lemon breaded chicken, meatballs, and sauerkraut with several different kinds of sausage.  People bring dishes to pass and today I’m making potato salad.

I have never been a big fan of potato salads.  But I do like this recipe.  This is not the traditional mayonnaise, mustard and egg potato salad most of us are familiar with.  This salad is perfect  for hot days when we all worry about having to keep mayonnaise based foods adequately chilled so as not to poison our guests.  Actually this salad tastes best served at room temperature.  Lots of veggies make this salad colorful and marginally healthier.

Salad Ingredients:

5# Yukon gold or redskin potatoes

1# green beans

3 sweet bell peppers (one each red, yellow and orange)

2 bunches green onions

4-5 stalks of celery

Dressing Ingredients:

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup white wine vinegar

2 T whole grain mustard

2 T Franks hot sauce

2 tsp salt

I leave the skin on the potatoes.  Cut the potatoes into potato salad size pieces.  Rinse them well and cook until tender.  Blanch the green beans and set aside.  While the potatoes are cooking rough chop all of the vegetables.

You want to dress this salad while the potatoes are still warm so they absorb the dressing.

Whisk all the dressing ingredients together.

Put all of the rough chopped vegetables in a large mixing bowl.  Add the drained, still warm potatoes to the mixing bowl and pour on the dressing.  Gently toss all the ingredients together.

While this salad is good cold it is really best served warm or at room temperature.  It’s a bit reminiscent of German potato salad.  Make sure you sample a bite.  Or two.

NOTE:  If you’d like to serve this as an entree cut some spicy smoked sausage or polish sausage into bite size pieces and brown them in a little olive oil.  Stir the sausage pieces into the potato salad and serve with a fresh green salad.

Enjoy!

Steel Cut Oats with Chia Seeds

My dad is going to be 90 in a few months.  His conversations with same age and even younger cohorts frequently revolve around health issues.  Comparing blood pressure, cholesterol readings, everyday aches and pains, medications.  And, as the oldest child of that nearly 90 year old, I realize I’m getting older as I start thinking and talking more about things like colon health, good and bad cholesterol, heart health, etc.  when shopping for groceries and preparing our meals.

I have always liked hot cereals like cream of wheat, oatmeal, and remember malt-o-meal??  I was watching an episode of The Chew a few weeks ago where Michael Symon prepared what he called The Worlds Greatest Oatmeal.  I got online after the show and saved the recipe.  A “simple” breakfast which contained nearly 30 ingredients.  Michael Symon’s recipe uses steel cut oats, chia seeds, coconut oil and coconut milk.

Steel cut oats look more like rice than the rolled oats most of us are accustomed to.  They are less processed, take longer to cook, and have a chewier consistency and nuttier flavor.  Nutritionally they are not significantly different than rolled or instant oats.   Chia seeds are one of nature’s superfoods.  They come from a flowering plant in the mint family and date back to the Aztecs.  They are rich in antioxidants, fiber, iron, calcium and contain more omega 3 than salmon.  They also absorb as much as 10 x their weight in water so they help us feel full and satisfied.  All of that makes this a heart healthy, colon healthy breakfast.

My modified version of The World’s Greatest Oatmeal  uses some of the process and ingredients in Michael Symon’s recipe.  And, to be fair, his 30-ingredient recipe included a blueberry compote and a streusel topping which I omitted.

Ingredients:

1 T coconut oil

1 cup steel cut oats

3 cups water

1 cup full fat coconut milk

3 T brown sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

2 T chia seeds

Because steel cut oats take much longer to cook than even the old fashioned rolled oats it works best and is most efficient to start this before going to bed.

Heat 1 T of coconut oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and toast the oats for a couple minutes stirring constantly.

Add 3 cups of water and bring the oats to a boil.  Cover the pan and remove from the heat.  Let the pan sit overnight.

In the morning uncover the oats and stir in the brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and 1 cup of coconut milk.

Bring the oats up to a simmer and cook, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes.  About 8 minutes into the simmer stir in the chia seeds.

Ladle into bowls and top with fresh fruit and a little granola for extra crunch.  (My granola recipe is on my blog.).  I used blueberries but you can use your favorite berries, banana, or diced peaches.

Add a little milk at the table and you have a very satisfying, tasty, stick to your ribs breakfast.

NOTE:  If you prefer not to use coconut milk you can substitute an additional cup of water, milk, or half n half.  You may also want to stir in some coconut flakes or chopped walnuts or pecans.

And yes, the chia seeds in this recipe are the same chia seeds that sprout “hair” on the clay heads sold as Chia Pets.

 

Chicken Soup with Vegetables and Orzo

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I baked a roasting chicken one night and used the rest of the chicken for soup the next.   You could also shred half of a grocery store rotisserie chicken.  In less than an hour you will have a perfect comfort food that is hearty and full of vegetables and chicken.  And it can be easily modified based on your personal preferences and/or what you have in your refrigerator.  We all know that chicken soup cures what ails you no matter what’s in it.

Ingredients:

1 cup of onion rough chopped

1 cup of celery rough chopped

1 poblano pepper diced (seeded if you want to keep the heat down)

1 cup of carrots sliced

2 cloves of garlic minced

2 T olive oil

6 cups of chicken broth

1 can hominy drained and rinsed

2 cups baby spinach

1/2 cup each of fresh parsley and fresh cilantro

zest and juice of one lemon

1/2 cup uncooked orzo

salt and pepper to taste

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In a heavy kettle or dutch oven heat the olive oil over medium high heat and sweat the celery, onion, carrots and pepper for about 5 minutes.  Add the minced garlic.  Reduce the heat, partially cover the kettle and cook until the carrots are tender.

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While the vegetables are cooking bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the orzo according to package instructions.

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Drain and rinse the hominy.

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Add the broth to the vegetables and bring it to a boil.  Cover the pot, reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

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Drain the orzo reserving some of the pasta water.  Add the orzo, chicken and hominy to the soup.  Simmer until the chicken is heated through.

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Stir in the lemon zest and juice, parsley and cilantro and the spinach.

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Stir until the spinach is wilted.  Season with salt and pepper.  If the soup needs more liquid add in some of the pasta water.

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Ladle into bowls and serve with toasted tortilla strips.

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Enjoy!!

NOTE:  I love the lemon in this soup but it’s really a matter of personal taste.  You could substitute peas and mushroom for the pepper and hominy.  Serve with a good crusty bread or your favorite crackers.  Cooking the pasta (or rice) prior to adding it to the soup helps to avoid pasta that is overcooked and absorbs all of the broth.

 

Smoked Fish Spread

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For those of you who have visited the Upper Peninsula  of Michigan (the UP) you know that smoked fish is a “thing.”  As soon as you cross the Mackinac Bridge you start to see little shops with signs hocking smoked fish.  Smoked whitefish, Menominee, salmon, and my personal favorite, smoked trout.  You can buy a whole fish or a slab.  It’s great to eat just as is.  Your fingers get a little greasy and they smell a little fishy but we don’t care.    The fish also makes an excellent spread.  Easy to make.  And you won’t smell as fishy!  My Dad used to make us smoked fish from his fresh catches and I will always remember his as being the very best.  My very favorite.  But Dad is nearly 89 and isn’t fishing much anymore.  So when I visit the UP I frequently get fish for our family and for friends from one of the little shops.

Ingredients:

2 cups (approximately) of smoked fish flaked

4 oz cream cheese at room temperature

1/2 cup sour cream

3-4 green onions sliced thin

2 T capers

2 T lime juice

2 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (1 tsp if you want more kick)

Cracked pepper

Salt to taste

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Use a hand mixer and beat the cream cheese and sour cream together until it is smooth.

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Add the capers, lime juice, black and cayenne pepper, and paprika to the cream cheese, sour cream mixture and stir well to combine.

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Slice the green onions and flake the fish.

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Add the fish and onion to the creamed mixture and blend well.

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Taste before you salt.  Some smoked fish is saltier than others.

This spread is excellent on crackers or served with raw vegetable like celery and carrots.  Great with bread and butter pickles.  You’ll also love it served on another UP tradition.  Finn Crisp.  Rye bread is the most traditional bread in Finland and in some areas of Finland it is baked only a few times a year, then dried and enjoyed year round.  It is baked with a hole in the center allowing the loaves to be hung on dowels to dry.  I’m sure that Finn Crisp is modeled  after those loaves.

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Enjoy  the smoked fish spread and enjoy the Finn Crisp if you can find it.

NOTE:  You could add some fresh dill to this recipe or substitute some minced dill pickles for the capers.