Exploring the Red Velvet

Before I even get into the Red Velvet cake, check out that logo! Isn't it great! Can you just see us conquering Meringue Mountain!

No, I'm not that kind of creative! The artist behind this amazing logo is Ximena, who's blog Lobstersquad, regularly has her picture on it! And we were so lucky that she did this for us!

You are amazing Ximena!

(and now back to our regularly scheduled cake.....)

The Red Velvet cake, a Southern tradition, a frugal housewife's staple recipe. It's a red chocolate cake. Nothing fancy there. Though the cake being red causes a few eye openers.

And it was this month's voted upon choice for the Daring Bakers.

I actually made two of them. Two completely different recipes, not just two cakes.

Like Morven, the first cake I made was provided by Peabody. (Morven has been kind enough to link to the history of the cake, so if you are curious, follow her link!) And like Morven, I did not use the nuts in the icing, though not because I can't get pecans or walnuts, but because those are among the nuts that are not allowed to enter my home (due to allergies.) I've never been a fan of nuts in my baking anyways, always picked the pecans off my pecan pie before I ate it.

The cake bakes up just fine, it is the icing that is a bit odd. I've never heard of a cream cheese icing that started by melting the cream cheese and butter together, so it's no surprise that despite reading the recipe five or six times, I still almost missed that part of the instructions.

I don't think I'd do it like that again though - my icing ended up being thin, which made it very difficult to spread on the cake and between the layers and a nightmare to try and smooth along the sides. And it didn't taste any different than a cream cheese icing where the ingredients are creamed together rather than melted. Oh well, live and learn!

I must say - that cake was red! And boring. I don't know what I expected, but I expected more. Interesting thing to note, however, was that in a mixed crowd of people trying it, all the men loved it. The women found it bland, nothing special. I wonder if it had to do with the level of chocolate flavor - all the women there like their chocolate, like it alot! This cake wasn't overwhelmingly anything, let alone chocolate, so we found it dull. Then men, they like their cake, but aren't as chocolate crazy as the rest of us. And they loved the cake!

One thing to note - if you have time, let this cake sit overnight. The chocolate flavor is much, much stronger (which isn't saying that much) the next day. Still not strong, but better.

So I made my cake a bit early, brought it to a friends party to serve. Thought I was done with the cake, with only my blog post to complete.

Then I learned that the Red Velvet cake had been a staple from my grandmother's kitchen, so much so that even my mother used to make it alot when I was a child. Well then why the heck did I make some other recipe!?!

My grandmother's recipe would be the frugal housewife's version, rather than the traditional Southern. There were no nuts in the ingredients list, it used Crisco as the fat in the cake, and instead of cream cheese and butter in the icing, it used flour and margarine. Yes, I said margarine and flour. And since my grandmother said that's what she did, those are what I used.

The frosting recipe called for 1 cup of milk, mixed with 5 tablespoons of flour, made into a paste and cooked until thick. Before I even got this far, I got an email from my mother (later confirmed by my grandmother) that she always used buttermilk in the frosting, to give it tang. Since the flour and milk were replacing cream cheese, that made sense to me, so I mixed them together, cooked them, and put them into mixer bowl to cool. Actually, I did this three times!

The first batch had a small error, called a human error. The one that happens when an ingredient misses being listed in the recipe. In this case it was the margarine. I mixed and I mixed that first batch and it just would not work! Well that happens when you are missing an ingredient! A quick phone call later and I was on to batch number two! (During that phone call, I also found out the transcribing had missed a full teaspoon of the red food coloring, so this cake is not nearly as red as the other one.)

The second batch worked much better, the thickened milk and flour, beaten together with the margarine, icing sugar and vanilla. It never did get fluffy, but it looked like an icing! And tasted like vanilla. Strong, strong vanilla. Oops. I used my new vanilla from Mexico, which is strong, and it overwhelmed the icing!

Let's try this again! And this time, remember this is the frugal housewife's cake, not the professional baker's cake. What frugal housewife would have anything else but artificial vanilla extract? I know that's what my grandmother always used.

Just to be sure, I did a taste test with my children, giving them each some of both icings. They loved them both, but they also agreed that the icing made with the pure vanilla was much sweeter, almost too sweet. So we used the last and final batch of icing!

This icing is not as smooth as the cream cheese, it almost looks like it has broken, and a full day in the fridge later and it still has not hardened or set. So it is a good thing that I did not make another 3 layered cake and try to frost the layers, top and sides, but instead went with my grandmother's bundt pan, which I inherited last summer.

I have to say, I have this magical, almost religious, belief that any recipe my grandmother gives me will turn out perfectly and taste amazing. This cake really tested me. Again, I didn't find it anything amazing, I actually barely touched my slice of it. However my children devoured it, offered to eat each other's pieces and looked sad when I put it away. I plan to deliver some to my neighbour today, so will have to wait and see what she thinks.

(My 4 year old just came and sat beside me as I type this, saw the picture and asked if he could have some again today. Oh and his stuffed monkey would like some too because she has never had a Red Velvet cake before and needs to try it, so two pieces please!)

And there you have it, two completely different Red Velvet cakes.

Be sure to check out all the Red Velvet Cakes made by my fellow Daring Baker's! Knowing the ladies, you are sure to see some amazing cakes, and have some great reading!

Red Velvet Cake
Serves 12 to 14

2 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 tsp white vinegar
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 to 3 TBSP cocoa powder
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
5/8 ounce bottle red food coloring

Preheat the oven to 350F
Cream the eggs, sugar, oil and vinegar
Sift the cake flour, baking soda, and cocoa together
Add the flour mixture to the creamed ingredients while beating
Slowly add the buttermilk
While still beating, add the vanilla and the food coloring
Pour into three 8-inch layer pans and bake for about 25 minutes
(I used 9" pans and they only took 15 minutes each)
Press lightly; if the layers are spongy, then the cake is done

Frost the cooled layers, assemble and frost the top and sides

Red Velvet Cake Frosting
1 (8 ounce/250g) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter (125g)
1 (1 pound/500g) box confectioners sugar
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine the cream cheese and butter and melt over very low heat
Add the sugar, pecans and vanilla and mix well
If the frosting becomes too thick, add a little milk
Frost one 8-inch or 9-inch layer cake.

My Grandmother's Red Velvet Cake (this is how she read it to me, from her handwritten copy)

Waldorf Red Velvet Cake

½ cup Crisco shortening
1 ½ cup white sugar
2 eggs
3 tsp red colouring
¼ cup cocoa
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 ½ cups sifted cake flour
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp baking soda

Bake in 2 pans 8X8 @ 350 degrees 30 to 40 minutes


1 cup of milk/buttermilk
5 tbsp flour—make paste
Cook until real thick—cool real cool
½ cup margarine
1 cup icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Beat until fluffy

International Dinner Week

Part of having children means (eventually) school holidays.

In our home, March break is usually highly anticipated by my youngest as it is the week that his uncle comes to stay with us for a week. At fourteen, he is old enough to be cool to his nephews, but not so old that he won't play with them and have fun.

Last March break I began cooking lessons with my brother, which I've recently heard has paid off with him cooking at home (though usually against his will.) Rather than continue with lessons this year, we took a different track. We traveled the world instead, all from the kitchen.

There aren't going to be alot of recipes in this post, or pictures of every night, but instead just a view of how you can travel without leaving your kitchen!

Our journey began in India with Biryani chicken, using a recipe I first saw at Kalyn's Kitchen.
I was taking a risk making this - first I had no naan bread, or time to make any. Second, I'd never made Indian for my brother before. Turns out he liked it alot, but wished I'd had naan! I served it with steamed jasmine rice and sauted vegetables.

There was no picture taken that night - at that time we didn't know we were going to go on a food aventure.

Sunday night found us in Thailand eating Pad Thai, whose recipe I found at a fellow Daring Bakers' Blog, La Mia Cucina. Pad Thai is not hard to make, provided you remember to do you mise en place! (Which I sheepishly admit I missed a step of on mine and almost ended up with no noodles being ready to go in!)

However with (nearly) everything ready, I dove in to my first time Pad Thai making (just like Lis!) head first!

Everything comes together quickly and looks great when it is done. Unfortunately this was not as well received by everyone as Indian had been. My husband and I have had really good Pad Thai at a Thai restaurant (I even blogged about the restaurant way, way back somewhere in the archives.) I found this flavorful and filling, but not Pad Thai. Not sure what was missing, but something was.

At least everyone was willing to try it though - which is a major accomplishment for my children (and my husband ate the left overs for lunch the next day.)

The next step on our journey was a little less exotic, but no less flavorful than the first two - off we went to France, to enjoy crepes!

I've made crepes for my children before for dinner. But I admit, I served it to them filled with pudding, strawberries and bananas. They LOVED it! (Well, what child wouldn't like pancake, pudding and fruit for diner?)

Tonight's dinner needed a bit more healthful twist to it, however, so the pudding was replaced with and assortment of cheeses, (cheddar, monterey jack, havarti and provolone), some thin sliced deli ham, green onions and baby spinach.

As with Pad Thai, prep is key here - you have to have your crepes ready in advance, separated by sheets of wax paper, your skillet hot and ready (melted butter and brush nearby), and your filling ready to go in. If you are okay with a bit of advanced work, this meal actually comes together in minutes and is only limited by your imagination.

Crepes were made to order, sorta. The children got to pick their cheese types but Mommy required a bit of veg and ham in each one.

I admit - the children liked the dessert style crepes much better than the savory (and I wished I'd had some sauted mushrooms and red pepper strips.) They certainly didn't say no a few days later when I offered them left over crepes with strawberries and whipped cream.

Crepes are a worthwhile make - they last several days in the fridge and are easily frozen, provided you remember to keep them separated, for future crepe fun. I have a few left over in my freezer still, waiting for a day when I want a quick and simple lunch or breakfast.

Leaving France, we headed to Italy, but not our Italy. Instead we were invited to a friends birthday dinner (who's party was inspired by my husband's January cake party,) and enjoyed a homemade lasagna. Sorry, no picture of the lasagna, we were too hungry and enjoyed it too much to stop and take a picture. For a picture of one of the cakes I contributed, see here. (Oh and don't forget to vote for your favorite cheesecake!)

Since we were close by, our next stop was in Greece, for souvlaki, tzatziki, pita and feta. Perhaps our Greek meal wasn't very authentic, but it was so good that I'm sure the Greek's wouldn't mind too much!

This was my brother's first introduction to good feta and tzatziki sauce. He liked the dip, did not like the feta. I admit, when choosing my feta, I had chosen a nice, sharp, tangy one. It may have been a little strong for him but I felt it balanced nicely with the mild Greek dressing of the salad and the creaminess of the dip. It sure tasted good sandwiched in a pita with pork, sauce and dressed lettuce!

Since we had done alot of exotic cooking, for Thursday evening we decided to stick a little closer to home and "normal" and had a visit to the South-West for Tex-Mex.

Taco's may not be authentic, but again, they are flavorful, and fun to eat. I served mine with a combination of lean ground beef and lean ground chicken, a choice of hard corn taco shells or soft flour tortillas and a variety of toppings, including two choices of heat level for the salsa. At the end of dinner clean up, I had left over lettuce and meat mixture. Oh and two very depleted jars of salsa sauce. And three very happy boys!

The last stop on our journey was by request of my brother, who had always wanted to fry a fondue. By his choice we tried a cheese fondue. I guess you could say we went a bit multi-cultural with this one as I didn't choose a recipe for a traditional cheese fondue, knowing that Swiss cheeses were too strongly flavored for the children and husband (I learned this the hard way.) Instead I chose a recipe that had cheeses I knew they would like; cream cheese, cheddar cheese and monterey jack. I used this recipe here, from Allrecipes, but adjusted it by leaving out the spinach and onions.

I'm afraid I had to nix the fondue pot as well. My four year old is still a bit too curious and too bouncy to be allowed near the open flame of a fondue pot. He's not too young, however, to have his own little bowl of cheesy dip and a plate full of yummy things to dip in it.

This plate had a variety of blanched veggies, asparagus, yellow beans, and broccoli, along with a cheese bread stick, some kielbasa sausage, a raw carrot and onion. I also had available some fresh baby spinach (yum dipped in the spicy cheese!), and blanched cauliflower. So again, another prep-intensive meal, but again, another fun one!

I plan to make this recipe again, but will reduce the mustard and cayenne as the children found it a bit too spicy, and will include the chopped spinach.

When my mom came back from Mexico the next day, my brother raved to her about how much fun he had eating around the world. And my mom swore my brother had grown at least a full inch in the week she was gone (seems she was right), so I guess all the work was well worth it!

While my children also had a good time, they were perfectly happy to return to their favorite spaghetti the next night. Think maybe they had "jet lag?" hehehehe


I have no idea where I got this recipe from - it is something I had written down on a card in my recipe box.

2 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Mix together the flour, sugar, eggs and milk and beat until smooth. This mixes very well, and fast, in a blender. Lightly stir in the oil. Let stand for 10 minutes before starting to cook.
Heat a small skillet and coat lightly with melted butter. Use about 1/3 cup of batter per crepe, swirling the pan around to spread the batter out. Cook for 2 minutes or so on the first side, flip carefully and cook another minute on the other. The crepe will be a light golden color and will have dried out. Keep crepes separated by sheets of wax paper until ready to use.

Makes about 8-10 crepes.

Paying it forward

My oldest son is very much into taekwon-do. He's been at it for about 3 years now and just last night promoted (after 3 hours of testing, he was exhausted!) to his blue belt. (Huge cheers!)

We've been at the same school since the beginning and know alot of the other parents and students, get involved in tournaments and student association events where we can and where they don't conflict with other scheduled events. All too often they do conflict with something we can't change.

Such was the case this weekend when the school hosted a fundraiser spaghetti dinner and auction to raise money for students, coaches and parents to attend the Canadian National Taekwon-do Championships to be held in Calgary, Alberta this week. Last year we attended the auction and had a blast! This year we had company, family who was just returning from a week in Mexico, and would not be able to attend.
We still wanted to contribute something so I did what I do best lately - I baked for them.

I admit I confused myself. I had thought I was providing an item to be auctioned off, had not noticed the portion of the newsletter asking for donations of baked goods for the spaghetti dinner. I still would have contributed the large box of cookies I donated had I paid attention to that detail - I think I just would have added alot more cookies!

The cookies, from left to right: giant ginger cookies, lemon ice box, brownie bites, oatmeal raisin, and finally raspberry linzer cookies.

When choosing my cookies for this, I admit, I was going for kid friendly types above all other criteria. All of these cookies were ones I would make for my own children, who promptly devoured the left over cookies.

I understand the cookies were very well received at the dinner, and enjoyed by children, both young and old. I'm just glad we were able to help and be involved in some way, even if we wouldn't be there.

Lemon Ice Box Cookies

1 cup butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind (save lemon for glaze)
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add in lemon rind.

In separate bowl, stir together four, baking powder and salt. Mix into butter-sugar mixture and combine well.

For slice and bake cookies: Shape into rolls about 2 inches in diameter, wrap in plastic wrap and chill over night.

Slice thinly and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375F for 7-10 minutes.

For rolled cookies: Shape dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill overnight.

Take dough out of fridge 15 - 25 minutes before you want to roll it. Lightly flour surface and rolling pin. Roll slightly thinner than 1/4 inch and cut using cookie cutter of choice. Bake at 375F for 7-10 minutes.

Cool cookies on wire rack before glazing.

Make a glaze of icing sugar and lemon juice, mixing until you have a barely pourable glaze. (I used about 1 cup of icing sugar to the juice of 1 lemon.) Either dip the cookies into the glaze before placing back on rack with a sheet pan underneath it (to catch the drips), or pour the glaze over the cookies.

Show us your lunch box

I'm sure this is news to some people, but I have two boys, one of which is old enough to need to bring his lunch to school every day. (hehehe) Somedays that lunch is a pain in the butt to make.

I blame it all on Jennifer. Her blog, Vegan Lunchbox, was the first food related blog I read. How I envied what her son would eat for lunch! Even if items weren't veganized (my son does not tolerate soy well, it has nasty affects on his personality), there is no way he would eat the lunches she would prepare!

Jennifer's blog eventually lead me to Meeta's blog, which lead me to her daily lunch box blog, The Daily Tiffin.

Both these ladies have a distinct advantage or two over me when it comes to making lunches for their children - their kids will eat a huge variety of things, and both can use nuts in their lunches. We can't. No nuts of any kind. My son has even given up peanut butter because of his best friend, who is deadly allergic. (It was a huge sacrifice for him, one he has not regretted though.)

In it's place, my son has a small selection of staples that he likes in his lunch: waffles and french toast sticks; bagels with cream cheese, soup, some noodles (only specific kinds), and little pizza's. Occasionally I am allowed to put a sandwich in, only jam, only strawberry, and only if I cookie cutter it into fun things. Yes, he is not very adventurous.

So imagine my surprise when last week, March break, my son tried goat cheese and discovered he liked it! He liked it so much, he asked for it in his lunch. Big cheers! Another item to put in his lunch box!

Which was wonderful timing, as Meeta had posted an event asking us bloggers to show what we would put in a lunch box!

Another stroke of luck - I woke up yesterday sick, sick, sick! I needed a good, balanced lunch box for my 8 year old but also needed something that would be quick to put together so I could send him off to school and go back to bed. Enter the goat cheese and the 4 minute lunch box:

fresh strawberries, little goat cheese "sandwiches" made with whole wheat paris toasts, slices of black forest ham, cucumber coins, a thermos of strawberry yogurt, and for dessert, raspberry linzer cookies (with a few of the little cut outs for fun.)

When he got home from school, I was told he hadn't eaten all his lunch, but he planned to eat it right away as a snack.

Success! So much success with a new item in his lunch that he asked for it again today! (And I'm still sick, so smearing goat cheese on little toast crackers is as energetic as I get today.)

So what do you put in your kids lunch box?

PS A big thanks to Meeta and the Daily Tiffin team for hosting this event!

Hey Hey its Cheesecake Day!

I have to admit. I don't really know who Donna Hay is. Apparently she is a well known chef. Though not so well known that I know who she is.

I've seen a cookbook or two of hers at the book store, but only after I started seeing Hay Hay its Donna Day events at some of the blogs I read. I didn't pay too much attention to the events until Peabody won (and from what I saw, a well deserved win it was!)

By winning HHDD #9, Peabody won the right (?) to host the next event, and choose the category. A girl after my own heart (but not waistline), she picked cheesecakes as the theme for HHDD #10.

I can tell you right now - my cheesecake is not winning prizes for the most beautiful one, or for the most picturesque one. It might, however, win for taste, especially if those voting are into chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate. Oh, and butterscotch.

I looked through a whole bunch of recipes before I picked one to take apart and make. I wanted to make a savory cheesecake but couldn't find anything I thought my family would eat. And I was not up for eating an entire cheesecake myself this week. With this cheesecake I at least had an event to go to that I could bring it to.

Triple Chocolate Surprise Cheesecake

For the crust:
1-1/2 generous cups of crushed oreo cookie crumbs
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules or espresso powder
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, at room temperature (I use Philadelphia)
3 tablespoons natural, unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 jar butterscotch topping

Heat the oven to 400°F. In a medium bowl, stir together the cookie crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon (if using) until blended. Drizzle with the melted butter and mix until well blended and the crumbs are evenly moist. Dump the mixture into a 9-inch springform pan and press evenly onto the bottom and about 1 inch up the sides of the pan . Bake for 10 minutes and set on a wire rack to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F.

Mix the sour cream, vanilla, and coffee granules in a small bowl. Set aside and stir occasionally until the coffee dissolves.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over medium heat. Stir until smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, cocoa powder, and salt until very smooth and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl and paddle frequently (and with each subsequent addition). Add the sugar and continue beating until well blended and smooth. Scrape the cooled chocolate into the bowl; beat until blended. Beat in the sour cream mixture until well blended. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until just blended. Pour an even layer of butterscotch sauce over the cooled crust, being sure to go all the way to the edge. Pour the filling over the butterscotch, spread evenly, and smooth the top. Bake at 300°F until the center barely jiggles when nudged, 50 to 60 minutes. The cake will be slightly puffed, with a few little cracks around the edge. Let cool to room temperature on a rack and then refrigerate until well chilled, at least a few hours, or overnight for the best texture and flavor.

Unclasp the pan’s ring, remove it, and run a long, thin metal spatula under the bottom crust. Carefully slide the cake onto a flat serving plate. Run a thin knife under hot water, wipe it dry, and cut the cake into slices, heating and wiping the knife as needed.

Drizzle with left over butterscotch sauce.

Now my cheesecake did not get enough time in the fridge to chill before it was served. Which didn't stop anyone from eating it, going back for seconds and bringing pieces home. It is even better frozen (omg, it is AMAZING frozen!)

So now the only question is - can you win HHDD if you don't really know who Donna Hay is? :-)

A treat for my Grandpapa

I talk alot about the influence my grandmother has had on my cooking/baking. While my mom cooked alot (and quite well) as I was growing up, she never enjoyed it and avoided it when she could. My grandmother is now at the stage where she enjoys having other people cook for her, after years of cooking for others.

My grandfather, on the other hand, is starting to cook more and more, to take over for my grandmother. He's who I associate certain foods and stories with. Corn, coconut and banana cream pies are foods that remind me of him. I'm sure I've mentioned before that he brags of being in school and trading all this desserts for other people's bowls of cream corn. He once admitted to shoplifting a bag of shredded coconut so he could eat it straight from the bag. He's already a silly and colorful guy to begin with, something these kinds of stories highlight.

And he absolutely cannot seem to go without having dessert every night.

It's March break here now, the week my kids get to spend with their teenager uncle, while my mother goes off for her yearly trip. This year she talked my grandparents into going with her, so early, early (thank you cousin M for being the one to drive them to the airport at that ugh hour!) off they flew. Before they went, I send them off with a little treat, geared towards my grandfather, but shared among everyone. A rustic, decadent coconut cake.

For a change, I didn't go straight to Dorie for this one. She actually didn't have what I wanted in this cake. Ina (aka The Barefoot Contessa), however, did. A rich coconut cake that was both simple and decadent. Simple in that it uses simple ingredients, nothing fancy, yet decadent in that it uses alot of good ingredients. Butter, eggs, coconut, cream cheese and good vanilla.

The cake comes together fairly quickly, bakes to a dense, golden color, with flecks of coconut throughout it. Assembly can be fancy, but need not be. Slather the cake with the cream cheese icing - be generous, there is lots to work with!

Oh it is rich! And it makes alot of cake! I served 5 people slices on Friday night, and sent off a huge portion to my cousin, his wife and kids, and still had just under half a cake left (to be devoured by the rest of us the next day.)

While this cake is good cold, it really does taste much better if you give it time to come to room temperature.

I had already planned on a welcome back treat for the family (though after a week in Mexico, I really think I need the treat, not them!) A birthday cake is in the plans, for my step-father, but I can probably manage another grandpa-style treat.

After all, there are going to be alot of us to feed, and I'd hate to run out of desserts!

Coconut Cake from The Barefoot Contessa At Home (page 177)

3/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more fro greasing the pans
2 cups sugar
5 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract (I didn't use this but doubled the vanilla instead)
3 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pans
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup milk
4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

For the Frosting

1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted
6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans, then line them with parchment paper. Grease them again and dust lightly with flour.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. Crack the eggs into a small bowl. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl once during mixing. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well. The mixture might look curdled; don't be concerned.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter in three parts, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Fold in the 4 ounces of coconut with a rubber spatula.
Pour the batter evenly into the 2 pans and smooth the top with a knife. Bake in the center of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until the tops are browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack for 30 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto a baking rack to finish cooling.
For the frosting, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and almond extract on low speed. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until just smooth (don't whip!)
To assemble, place one layer on a flat serving plate, top side down, and spread with frosting. Place the second layer on top, top side up, and frost the top and sides. To decorate the cake, sprinkle the top with coconut and lightly press more coconut onto the sides. Serve at room temperature.

Helping to buy more books

When I became a stay-at-home mother 7 years ago, one of the things I wanted to be able to do was be involved with my children's school. Over the last few years I have been able to volunteer in a number of ways: in the classroom (babysitter dependant), helping out at various events, organizing the book orders for the teacher, little things like that. Up until this year, that is about what I was able to do, having had one child in school but still having one at home.

Now that they are both in school, one full time, one part time, I've been able to get more involved. I started going to council meetings, and plan to be on council next year. I've been part of the weekly pizza day at the school, and was part of the hot dog day once a month until work interfered.

Being at the council meeting gave me an insight into what all our fundraising efforts accomplished. While I'm indifferent to every class having its own tv, how can I possibly object to the number one choice on the teachers wish list, more books? I can't! I wouldn't!

One of the ways the school council has found to make money for this wish list, for all kinds of extra books in the classrooms, is with a cake raffle. Turns out this event is much, much bigger than I thought it was when they started it last year (and I chose not to let my child participate in fear of what other people's cakes might have in them.) Now that I know what's involved, how could I not donate a cake to the raffle? Aside from providing a small selection of cakes for my children to buy tickets to, I would be helping to put more books into their classrooms.

With that in mind, I went looking for a kid and budget friendly cake, one that would also stand up to being moved to the school and would be safe to have sitting out at room temperature all day (while the kids came through, looked at all the cakes, drooled over the saran-wrap tops and put their piles of tickets into their choices.) I don't have the baking or the decorating skills to do anything too fancy, but if you are going to make a cake to appeal to kids, a cake to make them want to give up their tickets for (and there were 55 cakes, so to compete against the other cakes), I knew I would have to do something fun.

After a few quick searches through my pile of cookbooks and websites, I eventually settled on a chocolate log roll. The recipe came from Today's Parent, and was intended to be kid friendly, hence the suggestion that "plastic leaves and bugs are optional, but very effective."

Sounds like something kids would like to me!

However it is early March here, cold, cold and cold outside. Plastic bugs, while available in huge amounts during the spring in summer, aren't yet in the dollar stores. Instead I found frogs and was reminded of the preschool song I sing alot, "Two green and speckled frogs, sat on a speckled log, eating some most delicious bugs! Yum yum!" Hehehe

Okay, back to the cake. Whipped eggs, sugar and vanilla, a bit of flour and baking powder. Simple, quick, nut free. Baked in a very well buttered and parchmented sheet pan for about 8 minutes. Flip it out onto a clean dishtowel that has been generously sprinkled with sugar, to prevent sticking, and cut off the ends with a sharp knife....

Wait a minute!

The sugar is supposed to stop the cake from sticking? Does that actually work for anyone? Because it didn't for me. And cutting the cake with a sharp knife. The cake is supposed to actually cut? Well my knife is sharp enough to cut the dishtowel underneath it, but the cake, no, it didn't want to cut. I ended up scoring it only, instead ripping the ends off, before rolling it up in my now ruined dishtowel (that it was sticking to.)

Simple icing of cocoa, butter, vanilla and confectioners sugar with a touch of milk. Spread on the inside of the log before rerolling, then slathered on the outside to give the appearance of dark wood bark. Easier said than done, the cake is a bit fragile and the icing thick. Good thing I want it to look a bit rustic. (At the last minute, after I took the initial picture, I was inspired to sprinkle the cake with some icing sugar, to make it look like the frogs were sitting on a snowy log.)

Well, my cake, according to my oldest child, was a popular one. Among butterflies, jeans, worm cakes and flower cakes, I stood out as a bit more simple. And despite the the number of cakes, neither one of my children won a cake, both coming home sad. So I had to make a second chocolate log roll.

No ruined dish towel for me this time. I used parchment. And it still stuck! And sadly, no frogs.

My kids didn't care. It was cake. It was chocolate. It was theirs and they dug in with major enthusiasm. (One good thing about a log cake when you have two children - there are two end pieces so there is no arguing over who gets it.)

They loved it!

Personally, I found it so sweet that I couldn't finish even a small slice. It made my teeth itch.

In other words, a kids cake!

And a cake that helped put a few more books into the classrooms at my children's school.

Have a berry, bright morning!

How often can you say you've made muffins that were actually healthy for you? That were bursting with flavor but had very little sugar in them? Not often, eh? (I'm Canadian, I can say that.)

Well I could say that when I baked these muffins on Sunday. I could serve them to my children for breakfast and feel pretty good about them. Especially since they wouldn't notice the lack of sugar and could enjoy them, thinking they were eating a treat.

Yes, sometimes I am a sneaky mother.

I've never made as many recipes from one book as I've done so far with Dorie's book. And considering I haven't even finished reading it (I'm at page 374, so getting there), this is impressive. I've jumped on the bandwagon of bloggers who are in love with this book.

Orange Berry Muffins, page 3, the introductory recipe of the bible. After eating one, you would not believe there is only 1/4 cup of orange juice, plus some zest, in these muffins. And you'll never believe there is only 1/3 cup of sugar, along with 3 tablespoons of honey. That's it!

Despite this, these muffins are bursting with bright, berry flavor! You can see the orange zest throughout them, the flavor of which matches nicely with the fresh blueberries. (Btw, I used a naval orange for this.)

Once again, I can't seem to get the same yield as Dorie. I considered emailing her and asking her what size her muffin pans were by volume but then decided that my getting 16 muffins instead of 12 wasn't too tragic - it meant they would last a little bit longer!

I chose not to use the decorating sugar on my muffins. Instead I put them as is in my kids lunch boxes, and rake in the rave reviews when they come home with an empty spot and ask if there are any muffins left.

Thanks again Dorie!

Bundt = Frustration

No, there is nothing wrong with the recipe. Another Dorie recipe (Dorie, if you are reading this, would you consider adopting me? Or at least being my favorite Aunt!)

I mean look at it! You can see the banana's throughout it, and the moistness of the cake jumps out at you, even from a darkish picture!

However, with 2 cups of sugar, this is not a "healthy" banana cake. It is more like a company's coming type of banana cake.

Oh, and if you are wondering, it is on page 190 of Dorie's Baking From My Home to Yours, Classic Banana Bundt Cake.

On the other hand, the next time I make it, I'm using a 9x13 pan and not a bundt pan. I cannot, NOT, get a cake out of that pan no matter what I do! I butter it very well, getting into every nook and cranny. I spray it, I flour the pans, tapping out the excess. It doesn't matter, I can't get a cake out of that pan in one piece!

I think I will have to go look and see if I can find some cake release. If I find some, and still can't get a cake out of the pan, then that's it, I'm replacing it with a silicone one.

So be forwarned Bundt Pan! I am on to you - you hold on to one more cake of mine and you're history! I'll replace you faster than I could bake another cake!

(Think that'll work and it will let go of my cakes in the future?)

Five things about me

The Daring Bakers have been a great inspiration to me, helping me to challenge myself and learn new techniques. Plus they've given me a bunch of new blogs to read (like I needed more!) and a wonderful group of women I can call friends.

One of those friends tagged me though.... (Is this a good or bad thing? My first meme? Ask me later!)

Mary at Alpineberry chose me to let her, and my readers, know 5 things about me.

So here we go!

1. I have a university degree in history. I wasn't planning on becoming a historian, I wanted to be a lawyer, a civil lawyer. However you need 2 years (of a 3 or 4 year degree) before you can even write the law school admission test (LSAT), let alone apply to law school. In my 3rd year I decided that I would make a lousy lawyer, I'm too emotional, and that 5 or more years of being a broke student did not appeal. So I graduated instead of going for my 4th year and took up temp work, which eventually lead me into direct mail, which I was happy to leave to become a stay-a-home mother.

I think that is more than 1 thing. Oh well!

2. I'm a reader. There are books in every room of my house. Yes, including both my bathrooms. I like fantasy and science fiction, as well as history, but will read most things put in front of me, including my husbands running magazine. So maybe having tonnes of blogs to read is a good thing - I never run out of reading material!

3. I used to be a runner. And plan to be one again. I actually pulled a fast one on my husband when it came to running. He's a marathoner and triathlete (I cook, he runs it off), and thought I was going down to the Running Room every Monday night to take part in a walking clinic. Instead I was taking Learn to Run, which he learned on the last night of a 10 week class when he saw me running with my group. I've run a few 5km races, but stopped two years ago at the end of a race, the National Capital 5km, with shin splints so bad the run had been excruciating. I'd run on a treadmill all winter then ran outside only a few times before I raced (that was my second outdoor race that year). Big mistake! It's been awhile since I ran and I find I miss it. So when the snow goes away, I hope to overcome the shin splints and get running again.

4. I'm also a gamer. Not board games or table top games. I'm a computer gamer. I'm easily addicted to things like Solitaire but I also like to play RPG's. Which is where the Quellia comes in. It is my name in game to alot of people, from DAOC to WoW and currently GW. I almost always pick a class that can cast spells, and prefer those spells to let me blow things up.
Generally I'm the only woman playing with a group of men (grown up men, not little boys, no matter how they sometimes act.) My gaming has lead to another group of online friends, a number of which recently helped me send my son's school travel buddy all over the world, from Australia to Japan, Greece, Israel and the US. (I live vicariously through that little fox, who got to go to so many of the places in the world that I want to visit!)

5. Currently I have no idea what I am going to do with my life when my youngest child goes to school full time in less than 2 years. I'm being encouraged by some to go into teaching but I'm not sure if it is something I want to go to school to be. If I go back to school, do I want to explore culinary as a career option, or just walk up the street, put on a uniform and work in my local grocery store? I'm fascinated with the idea of learning more about nutrition and considered getting a degree as a nutritionist or a dietician but can't seem to find where you can do that in Ottawa. I'm also becoming more and more interested in cake baking/decorating, and would like to take some classes along that line. Or do I want to continue to work part time, earning very little money but having the flexibility of the hours I have now (as in I'm home for the same school holidays as my children and would be home with them after school.) I don't know.

So there you go Mary! Five things about me (okay, maybe more), most of which is totally unrelated to cooking.

Weekend Cookbook Challange #14: Salads!

There are a tonne of blog events available to participate in. Some weekly, some monthly, some one off events. Ideally I could participate in all of them, but that isn't realistic. Instead I have to pick and choose. Or in this case, happen to have a recipe, with pictures, ready to try when I come across an event!

The Weekend Cookbook challenge was started by Sara of I like to Cook. Sara is the wonderful blogger who got me in the CBBP several months back, a lady who writes a lovely blog called I like to cook. Her challenge is to cook from a new book every month, and provide a recipe for that months theme. Each month is hosted by another blogger, with this month's being hosted by Tami of Running with Tweezers. Salad is the theme.

I admit, I'm cheating some. I didn't plan to participate. It's March 2nd, there is a snowstorm outside my windows, and salads are just not calling to me right now. They are too cold.

And I didn't pull out a cookbook I've never used before (boy am I completely ignoring the rules!) Instead I made one up, a hearty salad, one to help you get over the winter blahs, and fill you up.

Actually some of that isn't totally true either - I had this salad from the gourmet kitchen of my neighborhood Farm Boy this past summer. It was so good I ate it every day for over a week. And I emailed the company to see if they would part with the recipe - they wouldn't. So I wrote down everything that I thought was in in, and this past weekend, managed to recreate it.

Introducing Quinoa salad!

I can't give exact measurements - I don't have any. I can tell you what I put in it, and give a few tips, that's about all.

You will need:

sweet potato
red onion
red pepper
corn (frozen works fine)
olive oil
salt and pepper

A tip to begin. When I bought my quinoa, the woman in line behind me mentioned she'd never been able to get quinoa to taste good, so how did I plan on cooking mine? I told her I'd been taught that you have to rinse the grains very, very well in cold water before you cook them. It seems to make a huge difference, so whatever you do - don't skip this! Rinse your quinoa very well, then cook it, 1 cup of quinoa to every 1 1/2 cups of water.

While cooking your grain, cut the sweet potato into bite size chunks, toss it in some olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast it in the oven until it is sweet, tender and has a caramelized color. This leaves your hands free to dice up the onion, red pepper and cilantro, and cook or thaw your corn.

When the grain is cooked and drained, put it in a large bowl. Add in some lime zest, while it is still warm, as well as a bit of salt and pepper and the juice of at least one lime, more depending on how much quinoa you made. I cooked a large batch and ended up using 2 1/2 limes in total for my salad.

Add in your veggies, toss with some olive oil, taste, adjust the seasonings. It should taste bright, not dull, so if the flavors aren't popping at you, add more lime juice and a bit more salt.

I served mine with a pan fried piece of salmon, basted in lime juice, but had made so much I had it for lunch for the next 4 days. It was filling, flavorful and a punch of summer in the middle of a snow storm. Just what I needed!