Friday, June 29, 2012

Tropical Paradise

I’m baaaack!  There are multiple reasons why I dropped off the “Never Trust a Skinny Cook” radar screen for awhile but I won’t bore you with details, other than the fact that I am now cooking out of a closet (well, a hallway actually) these days.  I have also landed in a restaurant kitchen again, but that’s a subject for another post!

My lovely temporary kitchen.  Saber and Annie don't seem to mind it!

I am also sad to report that I lost two of my beloved dogs within the last month.  I realize this has nothing to do with recipes, but since so many of you who read this blog are friends, I figured I could share this with you.  They were my old ladies and they lived long and happy lives, but I miss them terribly.  Rest in peace, sweet Lucy and Roxy.



Alright, in the words of my mother-in-law, “enough with the pity party.”  Instead, let’s talk about her!  That’s because she recently had a 90th birthday and the entire family threw her a big birthday party.  Do I even need to tell you what my contribution was?

That’s the easy part.  The hard part is that I had to travel to God’s Waiting Room Delray Beach to make the damn thing.  Of course, I am talking about a birthday cake!

Now the good news is that my dear friends Stephen and Mark happen to live about five minutes away from Mom.  They lucked out and found a fabulous 40’s ranch house that is in a spectacular location just across from the ocean.  The house is quintessential “old Florida”, complete with terrazzo floors and an outdoor lanai.  I’ll bet that someday it gets torn down to make way for a mansion (like the one across the street, see photo below), but for now it is just a charming place to live and it reminds me of growing up in Orlando.  It also has a more-than-adequate kitchen, which Stephen and Mark graciously allowed me to use for this cake marathon.

The house across the street.  Yep, this really is a single-family home.  

Lanai with a terrazzo floor.  Old Florida!

Let me guess – you’re wondering what kind of cake we were making.  I wondered too, when Mom mentioned that she liked carrot cake – but could it also include coconut?  Huh?  Then I remembered the Tropical Carrot Cake that a friend of mine made a few years ago.  She gave me the recipe, but just try finding anything around here these days, what with everything being packed away in cardboard boxes.  Luckily, a Google search did the trick.

This a moist and delicious cake and it only gets better the longer it sits.  The original recipe called for a cream cheese frosting made with cream of coconut and coconut extract.  I tested it that way and didn’t like it at all – it tasted like fake coconut to me.  Instead I opted for a simple cream frosting flavored only with pure vanilla extract and I covered the outside of the cake with shaved coconut.  Much, much better.

TROPICAL CARROT CAKE  (adapted from Epicurious)

For the cake:
2 1/3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, divided
1 cup sweetened, flaked coconut
1 cup dry-roasted macadamia nuts, optional
1 cup chopped, crystallized ginger
3 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt (I used kosher)
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
4 eggs (I used extra-large)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups grated (peeled) carrots
16-oz. crushed pineapple in juice, drained

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.  Butter three 9-inch round cake pans and line bottom and sides with parchment paper.  Grease or butter again.  Set aside.

Place 1/3 cup of the flour, coconut, macadamias (if using) and ginger in a food processor.  Process until ingredients are finely chopped.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 cups of flour, cinnamon, baking powder, salt and baking soda.

Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat sugar and oil until well-blended.  Ad eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add vanilla, then add flour mixture and mix on low speed only to blend.  Stir in carrots and pineapple.

Divide batter among prepared pans.  Bake until tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 25 – 30 minutes.  Cool in pans on a rack for 1 hour, then run knife around edge of pans to loosen.  Turn cakes out on racks and cool completely.

For the frosting:
24 oz. cream cheese (3 packages), softened
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
16 oz. shaved coconut, for decorating cake

Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese and butter until smooth and no lumps remain.  Beat in confectioner’s sugar and salt, then vanilla extract.

Place one cooled cake layer, flat side up, on a platter or cake plate.  Spread ¾ cup of frosting over top of cake.  Top with second cake layer, flat side up and spread ¾ cup frosting over.  Top with third cake layer, rounded side up, pressing slightly to adhere.  Spread a thin layer of frosting over top and sides of cake (crumb coat), then place in refrigerator for 30 minutes.  Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake and press shaved coconut over the entire cake.

Serves 8 - 10

Sorry for all of the pictures.  Be patient with me .. I'm about to add a few more.  In the meantime, don't be daunted by the ingredient list for this cake.  Apart from grating the carrots (do it in a food processor) and chopping the crystallized ginger, it's a piece of cake (no pun intended).

You can certainly use grated coconut to garnish the cake, but I much prefer the shaved variety.  It shouldn't be hard to find - I can get it here in Atlanta at my local Kroger.

I managed to take pictures of the frosting process on my iPhone - but then I got a new one (hello, Siri!) and lost the photos.  Oh well.

And just in case you're up for a few more photos......

Frantically lighting all of those candles as Mom approaches!

She did it.  Blew 'em all out!

Quick, Liz - get rid of those candles!

Jana, Mom and Andy.  This picture makes me happy!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Bitchin' About My Kitchen

For years, I have dispensed the sage advice of "be careful of what you want because you just might get it" to more people than I can count.  Uh-oh.  It appears these words are now coming back to haunt me.

When we bought this house five years ago, I was so eager to get out of that 85-year-old-house-where-we-lived-for-20-years-which-needed-major-renovations-and-major-money, I didn't really pay attention to this kitchen.  It looked just fine and I never stopped to look at the lack of counter space, the cheap cabinets, the bottleneck between the kitchen and the eating area and the lack of natural light.  At least, not until the move was complete, the unpacking was done ... and the reality of this crappy kitchen set in.

Trust me,  I had more than a few of those "what in the hell have I done?" meltdown moments.  Just ask Henry.

So now we have gone and done it.  Hired an architect and a contractor, that is.  We are about to rip out the entire kitchen, open it up to the adjacent rooms and build a brand-spanking new one.  And while we are at it, we are also adding a screened porch to the back of the house, since that's the thing Henry misses most about that old house on Fairview Road.  Oy veh, this is going to be a nightmare!

Demolition starts in two days.  I've done my part by cleaning out all of the cabinets, packing everything in boxes and turning the living room into a great big storage area.  My entrance hall is going to become a temporary kitchen (this will not be pretty) and it's going to be interesting to live through this.  For at least three months.  Double oy veh.

Packing up the living room

And turning it into storage space

For now, in addition to packing, I've been engaging in a baking marathon, figuring that not much of it will be happening in the temporary kitchen.  Ha, maybe I'll become proficient in producing baked goods from a microwave!  (Don't hold your breath on that one).

This gets a makeover into a temporary kitchen.  Seriously?

But here's a recipe worth passing on.  I call it Cookie Dough Pie, but it isn't really a pie at all.  It's more like a giant cookie baked in a pie dish so it's a snap to make and it doesn't require a crust.  (I'm betting I can even make it in my faux-kitchen).  It's also scrumptious and you can adapt the recipe to any combination of ingredients you like.  Here's my take on it with macadamias and white chocolate chunks.


1/2 lb. unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs (I used extra-large)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
12 oz. white chocolate chunks
1 1/2 cups macadamia nuts, toasted, cooled and roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.  Butter a 9-inch glass pie plate.

In an electric mixer, beat butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar and salt until light and fluffy, about 8 minutes.  Scrape down bowl several times.  Add eggs, one at a time, and beat on medium speed to combine.  Beat in vanilla extract.

Combine flour and baking soda in a medium bowl, whisking well to blend.  Reduce mixer speed to low and add flour mixture, beating only to just combine. Remove bowl from mixer stand.  Use a spatula to fold in white chocolate and macadamias.

Turn batter into the prepared pan.  Cover the edges with foil by placing the pan onto a large piece of foil and bringing sides up to cover edges.  Bake for 30 - 35 minutes or until just golden and set in center.  Place on a baking rack to cool completely.

Serves 8 - 10

*  This is a basic recipe, so tweak it as you desire.  Chocolate chips and walnuts?  Butterscotch chips and pecans?  Add cocoa to the batter, omit the nuts and keep the white chocolate chunks?  Consider adding dried fruit, such as cherries or cranberries instead of the chips?  Flavor the dough with lemon instead of vanilla and add dried blueberries?  I could also see adding coconut to the above macadamia and white chocolate version.  Change it up any way you like.

*  Needless to say, everything is better with a scoop of ice cream.  Or a dollop of freshly whipped cream.  This dessert is no exception.

So now you know.  If you invite me to dinner in the next few months (please, oh please) and ask me to bring dessert, this is what you are likely to get.  Just letting you know in advance!