Friday, February 26, 2010

Woo Hoo and Happy Birthday, Eric!

I had a lovely dinner with three of my trusted girlfriends tonight at Pura Vida, which is a place you must try if you live in Atlanta. 

A big topic of conversation was the transition from raising kids and having a successful career (well, that part didn't include me) and the big question of WHAT"S NEXT?  None of us had any answers, but we did lament the fact that our kids don't need us much anymore.

Unless it's their birthday.

Which means we are loading up the car and driving to Durham tomorrow for Eric's 26th birthday.  To be fair, it's not a big catering gig this time (thank God) but of course I am taking his favorite birthday cake.  No chocolate for this kid.  Uh-uh, he's a carrot cake kind of guy.

We have multiple reasons to celebrate.  As I mentioned before, he is a PhD candidate.  He passed his written comps last week.  This is a big deal.  GO ERIC!  Of course, now that he is ABD (all but dissertation), he is headed to law school in Philadelphia in September.  Oy veh.  Super Mom will have to strike again and organize the move and the new apartment.  Stay tuned......

But here's the recipe for Eric's carrot cake.  Actually, I call it Carrot Spice Cake.  Most carrot cake recipes call for cinnamon.  That's just fine, but I like the extra addition of a little mace, clove, allspice and cocoa powder.  Gives it a lot more depth.

Preparing to frost the damn thing.
You know how much I love (hate) to do this.


1 1/2 cups canola oil
1 16-oz. can crushed pineapple, well-drained
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
4 extra-large eggs
4 cups grated carrots
3 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
3 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon good quality cocoa powder ( I used Valhrona)
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.  Butter three 9-inch cake pans and line with parchment.  Butter again and dust with flour.  Set aside.

In a bowl, combine oil, pineapple, vanilla, eggs and carrots.

In another bowl, combine remaining ingredients.  Add oil/pineapple mixture and stir well to blend.

Divide evenly among prepared pans.  Rap sharply on counter once, then place in preheated oven.  Bake for 35-45 minutes or until golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove to racks to cool for 20 minutes, then remove from pans and cool completely.

Frost with cream cheese icing (see Hummingbird Cake blog entry if you need a recipe).  This cake is good the first day, but even better on day 2 or 3.

Happy birthday Eric and congrats to you!  When we drove to Durham last year for your birthday (to cater a party for 25) we had to drive back in a blinding snowstorm.  Please, oh please, let that not be the case this year!

Much love from Mom and Dad.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Too Many Cookbooks

I possess a ridiculous number of cookbooks.  Take a look at the pictures and you'll see what I mean.  I've been collecting them for years and I have quite an assortment.  They are stashed everywhere - in my kitchen, in the hallway to the garage (well, at least they're not in the garage) and in my office upstairs.  And this is what's left after I got rid of at least half of them when we moved a few years ago!

Guess one of these days I should do a post about my favorite cookbooks.  Hey, and blog about my favorite recipe from each one.  That could be fun!  For now, though, you have to hear about my mad search for a pretzel recipe.

Yup, soft pretzels.  Here's why.  We did one of our marathon walks yesterday (having not done one in six weeks for obvious reasons) and it was tough.  It always is when we haven't done it for awhile.  We started around noon and by 3pm we were pretty much toast, just about the time we passed a grungy pub. We were still about an hour's walk from home.

Can you say "pretzels and beer?"  They turned out to be big, soft, homemade pretzels, warm from the oven and loaded with salt.  Pig heaven!

So that started my quest for the perfect pretzel recipe.  Out of ALL those cookbooks, I came up with only four.  The internet is loaded with them, but not my selection of cookbooks.  Leads me to wonder why we even need cookbooks anymore .... except I love reading them and you just don't get the same rush from reading recipes online or on your iPhone Kindle app.

These were the only four with pretzel recipes.
Guess there's just no getting away from Martha!

After perusing the recipes (in addition to some on the internet), I came up with what I think is the perfect pretzel recipe.  It was good.  So good, in fact, that Henry ate one for dessert tonight!


2 cups warm water (105-115 degrees)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
2 packages yeast
5 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 oz. butter, melted and cooled
10 cups water
2 tablespoons baking soda
2 egg yolks plus 2 tablespoons water, blended in small bowl
Coarse salt

Combine the 2 cups of warm water and sugars in bowl of electric mixer.  Blend briefly, then add yeast.  Let sit for 5 minutes until mixture is foamy.  Add flour, salt and butter and mix again to just blend.  Let sit for 10 minutes then turn mixer on low speed and mix for 10 minutes.  Remove to a bowl that has been well-greased with butter or oil and let rise for 2 hours, or until doubled in size.

Before and after rising

Remove from bowl and punch down.  Divide into 16 pieces.  Roll each piece into an 18-inch log and form into a pretzel shape.  Place on 3 greased (or Silpat-lined) baking sheets.  Let rise for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 450-degrees.

In a large, shallow saucepan, bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a boil.  Drop pretzels in (I did 4 at a time) and cook for 30 seconds.  Turn over and cook for 30 seconds more.  Remove to a greased baking rack to cool slightly and drain.

Transfer pretzels to 3 well-greased baking sheets.   Brush with egg yolk/water mixture.  Sprinkle VERY liberally with salt.  Bake for 20-30 minutes or until deeply golden and well-browned.  Remove to cooling racks.
Yield:  16 very large pretzels
Eat as soon as they are cool enough so as not to burn your tongue.  Revel in the salt overload!  Oh, and eat these the same day you make them.

A word about salt.  Conventional wisdom says to use pretzel salt.  Not having any in my cupboard, I used coarse French sea salt.  Worked just fine!

Yeah, that lonely leftover bite is killing me - I need to finish it!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Technical Difficulties

Maybe someday I will actually become proficient at this blogging business.  Remember how I announced a few posts ago that you can actually follow my blog (meaning you will get updates when a new post appears)?

Apparently there was a big glitch in the system.  Duh, that would rest with me, the operator.  Some of you opened up the blog and alas, there was no "Follow" button.  Turns out the reason why is because you need to sign on to Google first.  Here's how it works:

Log onto, go to the upper right hand corner and click on "Sign In."  Enter your google username and password. Once you do that and go back to the blog, the "follow" button will show up on the top left next to "share."  You can then hit it and sign up.

If you don't have a google password, go to and click on "Sign In" in the upper right hand corner. It will let let you create a username and password.

For those of you who care about this sort of thing, thank you.  For all of you who read this blog, THANK YOU!

Now can I get back to the business of cooking and writing about it?

While I am at it, here is a photo of my favorite dish in Cambodia.  It's called "Amok" and it is fish in coconut milk, wrapped in banana leaves.  The type of fish varies, but it is often made with snake fish.  Despite the name, it is really good!  Will work on finding a recipe.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Crunchy Granola

Despite the title of this post, I can assure you that I am not, repeat NOT some peace-loving, birkenstock-wearing, dope-smoking, ponytailed leftover old hippie relic from the 1970's.  Actually, that would apply more to Henry than to me (well, not the ponytail part).  Or at least it did "back in the day."  (Hint:  the peace symbol necklace pictured here does NOT belong to me).  Good thing we didn't know each other then!

But even Henry didn't love granola.  Neither did I, so that's probably one thing we could have agreed upon.

I already confessed in a recent post that I don't like Valentine's Day.  Well, in addition to that (and granola), here's another thing I don't like:  BRUNCH!

Why not, you ask?  Mostly it's because you eat way too much at a weird time, you might even have a mimosa or bloody mary and it just screws you up for the balance of the day.  I mean, you don't eat breakfast because you're waiting for brunch, you don't eat lunch because you're eating brunch and once you've consumed all that alcohol and starchy goodiness, you have no interest in dinner.  Ever.  Oh, and you probably want to nap in the late afternoon too, which means you will never get to sleep that night and it's probably Sunday so you'll be totally messed up on Monday morning.  Bottom line:  don't look for me in your favorite brunch spot!

Unless of course, you are having brunch at Nice Matin in New York City.

I refuse to visit NYC without a brunch visit here.  That's because I am addicted to their house toasted granola with cashews, almonds and dried cranberries.  Add a serving of their "perfect grapefruit segments" and a dollop of yogurt and you will find yourself in granola-brunch heaven.  Even me.

So don't ask me why (fond memories of Nice Matin, perhaps?) when NY Times food writer Melissa Clark published a recipe for granola in her one of her columns last July, I decided to try it.  It sounded just quirky enough to be interesting.

Interesting?  OMG, it was fabulous.  I have made it many times since, including the other day when I needed to send a care package to my stressed-out son (remember him - the recipient of those whole wheat biscuits a while back?)  While I sent him a fair share, I also managed to stash a decent amount of it in the pantry for myself.  Didn't even tell Henry, either.  Yeah, it's that good.  Don't be deterred by the olive oil or the cardamom.  They are essential.  Trust me.


3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cups raw pistachios, hulled
1 1/2 cups raw pumpkin seeds, hulled
1 cup shaved coconut (believe it or not, you can find this at Kroger)
3/4 cup pure maple syrup (use the real thing, NOT the Log Cabin crap)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
3/4 cup dried fruit, optional (chopped dried apricots, dried cranberries or whatever you like.  Or not)

Preheat oven to 300-degrees.  Combine all ingredients except dried fruit in a large bowl and toss well to blend.  Spread on a rimmed baking sheet (do not use parchment as it will make it difficult when you stir in the middle of baking) and bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes until golden brown and well-toasted.  (Note - baking time may vary due to the calibration of your oven.  Just keep stirring every 10 minutes and baking until mixture is dried out and crunchy, but not overbaked).

Cool on baking sheet, then transfer to a large bowl and mix in dried fruit (if using).  Store in airtight container and hide from everyone in your house if you want any leftover for yourself.

Yield:  about 9 cups

I can eat this stuff straight out-of-hand, but if you are so inclined, serve it with some grapefruit segments and Fage 0% Greek yogurt, drizzled with honey.  Then you get the tartness of the fruit, the crunchiness of the granola, the creaminess of the yogurt and the sweetness of the honey.  BIG YUM!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Comfort Food

Ah, reality.  As much as I would like to stay immersed in my jet lag and the musings of my trip, life intrudes. Sigh.

My mom (you've read about her here before - she's the one who loves to cook, entertain her friends and drink lots of wine) called me the other day to tell me she has to have a root canal.  Apparently she went to her dentist, got diagnosed with an abcess of some sort or another and ended up with an appointment (in very short order) with some specialist who told her it would cost $1,100.  AND, she would need to spend an additional $1,000 later for a crown.

Henry and I don't normally intrude, but this didn't sound right.  To make a long story short, we got her to cancel the appointment (which was scheduled for this morning) and re-routed her to our dentist (that would be Jerry Richman here in Atlanta).  He's painless and he rocks ... well, as much as a dentist can.

He immediately started her on antibiotics, subscribing to the theory that the infection needs to be under control before any oral surgery.  What were those other folks thinking?  Additionally, he told her the cost would be closer to $800 and he could probably do a post-procedure for $200 which would eliminate the need for an expensive crown.  And also, he will work out a payment plan with her.  Thank you, Jerry.

I write this for two reasons.  First, I am just outraged at the people out there who are willing to take advantage of the elderly.  That is NOT okay.  And second, it gives me the opportunity to post a recipe for something I dearly love.  That would be baked custard.

I know, I know - it isn't trendy.  It isn't on anyone's radar screen.  You can't find it in any restaurant that I know of.  But to me, it's the ultimate comfort food.  It's what Mom always made for me when I was sick.  It's why I made it tonight, so she will have something silky smooth and wonderful to gently slide down her throat when she will be able to eat little else.

I use Mom's recipe, which is basically the same one that my friend Scott Peacock published in his wonderful book "The Gift of Southern Cooking."  I love what he says about it - "This classic Southern dessert is rarely made these days, which is unfortunate because it is a refreshing and simple and delicious dessert.  When I was growing up, Gertrude Moore, who cooked for our family, made this egg custard regularly.  Its sweet nutmeg flavor is one of the most wonderful and powerful taste memories of my life."

The next time you are casting about for some complicated dessert recipe, stop short and make this instead.  I can't think of a better "feel-good" food.

EGG CUSTARD  (From Scott Peacock's "The Gift of Southern Cooking")

6 eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.  Place eggs in a mixing bowl and stir until just mixed.  Add sugar, salt and milk and mix to blend.  Strain through a fine-meshed sieve then stir in nutmeg and vanilla.  Divide evenly among eight 6-oz. custard cups. Put the cups into a deep baking pan and fill halfway up the cups with hot water.

Bake for 30 minutes or just until custards are set.  They should still be "jiggly" in the middle.  Remove from the hot water bath and let cool.  Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled.

Yield:  8 servings

Obviously there are very few ingredients in this recipe, so you want to make sure you are using the best quality possible.  That means YOU HAVE TO GRATE THE NUTMEG YOURSELF.  Do not use the pre-ground stuff - I am adamant about this!

When I worked with Scott at Watershed here in Atlanta I made the apple cake which is still on the menu to this day.  It called for THREE fresh nutmegs, grated by hand.  I still have scars on the knuckle of my right thumb to prove it.  But, he was right.  It made all the difference.  It makes all the difference in this custard recipe, too.  Just do it!

Well, duh.

Where on earth have I been? (besides Cambodia, of course).  My friend Laura sent me a FB message today asking if she could be updated whenever I post a new blog entry. 

It took me two seconds to figure out that I could add a "follow" button to my blog.  Why didn't I figure this out earlier?

Just go to the top bar on the blog and click on the "follow" button which is on the left.  You can sign up either publicly or privately.  Or, not at all.  Just wanted to let you know it's an option which is now available.

Thanks, Laura!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Children of Cambodia

This may or may not work.  I'm a neophyte when it comes to posting stuff, namely pictures and photo albums. 

But, I hope this works and I hope you can access these photos.  Sorry, no recipes in this post.  Just pictures of some of the beautiful and innocent children in Cambodia.  As I posted on Facebook, some of them live in slums, some live on the streets and some are living with HIV/AIDS.!/album.php?aid=2046106&id=1038660266&ref=nf

I am busy working on ways to help over there.  It doesn't mean throwing money at the problem.  There is no easy fix.  It will take a lot of time and a lot of thoughtfulness.  Stay with me, please.....and thank you for caring.

Back in the Saddle Again

Well, back in the kitchen, anyway.  I am finally starting to get over my jet lag.   A medical professional (slash friend) told me the other day it takes one day of recovery for every hour of time difference between home and one's travel destination.  Yikes, that means TWELVE DAYS for me.  No wonder I haven't been my usual energetic self...

It's been snowing here (duh, guess that's true for every state in the country except Hawaii) so we've pretty much stayed home.  Except for a late lunch today (which Henry really deserved as he and some of our neighbors spent three hours shoveling snow and ice at the base of our street so we weren't captives in the 'hood). 

If you live in Atlanta, you want to go here:  It's a very hip, cool place in Little 5 and we so do not fit in there, but it doesn't matter.  Molly Gunn and her husband Nick Rutherford serve up some of the best casual food in the ATL.  They built the place themselves on a shoestring and the eternal optimism of youth.  Oh, and some very creative food also.  Go.

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day.  Do I care?  NO!  I guess this is akin to blasphemy, but I think it's a Hallmark holiday and I am just renegade enough to say to hell with it.  Forgive me if you were expecting me to post some lovely and romantic menu, complete with a decadent chocolate creation.  Haha, we are just happy to hang out in our sweats and drink a good bottle of wine and then watch a movie (which we did last night - remember BIG NIGHT with Stanley Tucci? It inspired me to try my hand at a timpano.  Stay tuned).

But I had nothing to do yesterday as I was stuck in the house, so I decided to make a Coeur a la Creme.  I have no idea why, but in some weird way I figured it might make up for the lack of a Valentine's Day card or gift or even any acknowledgement of this silly holiday.  And of course Henry would much rather have a dessert than a gift any day (especially since the food police will actually let him eat it).  So there you have it.

Here's the recipe.

COEUR A LA CREME (adapted from Ina Garten)

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
3/4 cups confectioner's sugar
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
1 teaspoon vanilla paste (available at Whole Paycheck Foods)
Zest of 1 lemon

In electric mixer using the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese, confectioner's sugar and salt until smooth.  Scrape down bowl once or twice.  Change paddle for the whisk attachment.  On low speed, add cream, vanilla paste and lemon zest.  When blended, increase speed to high and beat until mixture is very thick, like whipped cream.  Be careful not to overbeat.

Line a coeur a la creme mold (basicaly a ceramic dish with holes in it - you can substitute a strainer) with cheesecloth, making sure that it overhangs the sides.  Spoon the cream mixture into it and smooth top.  Fold cheesecloth over top and chill for at least 24 hours.

To serve, unmold onto a plate and remove cheesecloth.  You can serve this with fresh fruit or you can be like me and gild the lily with a raspberry caramel sauce.

RASPBERRY CARAMEL SAUCE (adapted from Chez Panisse)

1 1/2 pint basket fresh raspberries
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water, divided
Juice of 1 lemon
1 T. Chambord or Framboise

In a food processor, puree raspberries then strain through a fine mesh to remove seeds (Note:  I hate raspberry seeds - they get stuck in your teeth and they have no useful function that I can discern.  Get rid of them!)  Put sugar and 2 tablespoons of the water in a saucepan.  Cook over medium-high heat until sugar is caramelized and mixture is bubbling.  Remove from heat and (stand back, this will sputter) add remaining water.  Place back over medium heat and stir until smooth.  Remove from heat and add lemon juice and liqueur of choice.  Chill.

Spoon generous helpings of the cream mixture into wine glasses or glass bowls.  Drizzle sauce over and garnish with fresh raspberries.

Even if you don't celebrate Valentine's Day, if you make this for your partner, he/she will be sure to appreciate the fact that you are in their life.....

Just in case you thought that my mind has wandered away from Cambodia and everything I experienced there, trust me, it has not. Here are a few photos.

These children break my heart.  Adoptions in Cambodia are closed due to sex trafficking.

Ponder that.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

No Wine-ing Allowed

Here are some facts about Cambodia:
  1. Sixty percent of the Cambodian population is under the age of 20.
  2. Cambodia is approximately 95% Buddhist.
  3. Angkor Wat is one of the 7 wonders of the world.  The temples are made from carved stone and are around 1,000 years old.  The word "magnificent" doesn't even begin to describe them.
  4. There are 3 - 6 million land mines still buried in Cambodia.  An average of 2 to 3 people step on them each day and are killed or severely injured.  It costs over $500 to locate and remove one land mine.
  5. The number of AIDS cases in Cambodia has reached epidemic levels and is the highest in Asia.
  6. 10,000 - 20,000 children live on the streets in Cambodia.  60% or more sniff glue which curbs their hunger (and causes brain damage).
  7. Cows in Cambodia are super-skinny and almost skeletal.  They are used solely for bartering or pulling carts.  Dairy and beef are not prevalent in the Cambodian diet.
  8. A favorite snack to go along with Angkor Beer is a big plate of fried, salted crickets or tarantulas. 
  9. Wine as we know it is not consumed frequently in Cambodia.  Instead, they prefer wine made from palm sugar (I tried it - it makes Gallo look like fine wine).
I've just returned from my journey and  am dragging my jet-lagged self around, trying to be functional.  Guess that explains why, when I went to the grocery store this morning, I found myself pushing someone else's cart into which I had actually loaded a few items of my own.  Oops!  By the time I realized it, no one was around and I had no idea who it belonged to so I just left it in the aisle and slunk away.  Shame, shame!

I will have a lot to say and a lot of pictures to post as soon as I recover from the 26-hours of travel.  In the meantime though, let me introduce you to my favorite drink in Cambodia.  That would be "Lime Juice."  In the absence of decent wine, this became my beverage of choice and it isn't even alcoholic!

For you jaded readers out there, I know this is basically what we know as limeade.  But it is so much more exotic than that when you make it with sugar syrup and keep it on the tart side the way the Cambodians do!


For the syrup:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water

Place sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.  Stir then bring to a boil.  Let boil for 30 seconds then turn off heat.  Let cool slightly, then chill in refrigerator until cold.  Place in a small pitcher.

To assemble the drink:
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
Thin lime slices for garnish

Fill a tall glass with ice.  Add lime juice.  Place a straw and a long thin spoon in glass (in lieu of this, you can use an iced tea spoon if you have one).  Serve with the pitcher of chilled syrup.  Add syrup as desired to the lime juce and stir well.  Garnish with lime slices.

Serves 1

Try to mend your evil western ways and add less syrup than you usually would.  You don't want this to be overly sweet or it ceases to be refreshing.

And of course, this could always benefit from a splash or two of vodka.  You could even serve it up with some fried crickets, in which case the vodka would be crucial.