Thursday, July 23, 2020

Showstopping Flag Ice Cream Cake for the Fourth of July

I love fireworks, but this year, 2020, proved different. With the Covid-19 mandate to avoid large crowds, most destinations canceled their annual event. I needed something to make the fourth seem like a holiday. Then, a photo of this Flag Ice Cream Cake caught my eye, and I made a plan.   


Fourth of July Cake


 

Fortunately, I started early (on July 2nd) because I knew this project would take a long time. I began by baking the cake that would form the blue portion of the flag. I followed the directions on a white cake mix box and colored the batter cornflower blue with paste or cake decorator food coloring in my pantry. (The Food Network recipe directions calls for a different food coloring.)



 

After the cake baked and cooled, I removed a five-inch diameter circle from the middle. That portion of the cake is not needed for the flag but you could use it to make a colorful mini-trifle layered with mixed berries. That blue cake ring goes in the freezer. 

 

 

Decide what to use as the bottom of the cake for its presentation. I picked the base of my old Tupperware cake holder. Whatever you choose, the dish should be freezer-proof and fit your springform pan with extra room for frosting. FYI- make room in your freezer for this project.  The cake grows quite tall. 

 

On the morning of July 3rd, I lined the springform pan with a 30" long section of parchment paper taped together with masking tape. This is a bit tricky, and in retrospect, lining and getting the first layer of sorbet down are the hardest step in the entire project. I scooped some of the sorbet from the pint container into a bowl and mixed it (just enough) to make it spreadable.  I spread on a layer and placed Cling Wrap on top. I used the bottom of a one-cup flat measuring cup to smooth it out. Then I put the lined pan with the sorbet layer into the freezer.  Wait at least an hour between layers. Since there are seven layers, plus the frosting, this project takes an entire day!! The layering is not tricky, just time-consuming. 



 

The next layer is vanilla ice cream. It took me a bit longer to mush the ice cream into a spreadable consistency than it did the sorbet.  Just be sure to work quickly, and don’t let your ice cream become runny. 

 

When you have two frozen layers each (four in total- red/white and red/white), it is time to add the blue cake ring. I pushed it down on the vanilla layer and then filled in the center section with red sorbet. Freeze, add a new layer of vanilla, freeze, and one more of sorbet. 



 

Now, the cake was ready to be frosted. The recipe called for two pints of heavy cream - which made too much, so I suggest cutting it down. Icing the cake proved easy, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I put the finished layered masterpiece back in the freezer for the night. 

 


Happy July 4th.  The completed cake is enormous and heavy, perfect if you have company coming to your house.  However, I volunteered to bring dessert, just for a few, so I cut the cake in half. I placed it in a cooler laden with ice for the drive. Warn your hostess that you will need freezer space.  


 


Expect compliments on the cake.  I must say it was impressive and tasted so yummy.  


RECIPE COURTESY OF FOOD NETWORK KITCHEN

From: Food Network Magazine


Ice Cream Flag Cake



For a Food Network video on making this cake watch: 

https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchen/ice-cream-flag-cake/ice-cream-flag-cake

 

Ingredients

Cooking spray

1 16-to-18-ounce box white cake mix (plus required ingredients)

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (I did not add this as some reviews suggested)

28 drops royal blue gel food coloring

4 drops violet gel food coloring

Unsalted butter, for the pan

3 pints raspberry sorbet

2 1/2 pints vanilla ice cream

2 pints heavy cream

1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

 

 

 Directions

1.     Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F; coat a 9-inch-round springform pan with cooking spray. Prepare the cake mix as directed, adding the cocoa powder and food coloring to the batter. Transfer to the prepared pan and bake until done, about 45 minutes.


2.     Let the cake cool, then remove from the pan; level the domed top with a serrated knife. Use a 5-inch circle of parchment paper as a guide to cut a circle from the center of the cake (you won't need the small circle). Freeze the large cake ring.


3.     Cut a 6-by-30-inch strip of parchment paper. Clean the springform pan, then butter it and line the side with the parchment as shown; the paper will extend above the rim of the pan so you can build a tall cake.


4.     Let 1-pint sorbet soften slightly at room temperature. Spread in the prepared pan, then lay a piece of plastic wrap on top and use the bottom of a measuring cup to pack the sorbet into the pan in an even layer. Freeze until firm, at least 30 minutes.


5.     Let 1-pint vanilla ice cream soften, spread in the pan, cover with plastic wrap, and press evenly with the measuring cup. Freeze until firm, then repeat to make 1 more layer each of sorbet and ice cream (4 layers total). Freeze until firm.


6.     Place the blue cake ring on top of the ice cream, pressing gently; return to the freezer while you prepare the next layer.

7.     Cut off the top 1 1/2 inches of the remaining sorbet carton; remove the carton, and wrap the sorbet loosely in plastic wrap. Press into a 5-inch round, then place the flattened sorbet into the hole in the cake, smoothing as needed. Freeze until firm. (I made this layer the same as the others- mushing up the sorbet or ice cream and smoothing it out.) 


8.     Cut off the top 1 1/2 inches of the remaining ice cream carton (you won't need the bottom). Flatten as you did the sorbet; place on top of the raspberry layer. Repeat with the bottom section of the sorbet. Freeze until firm.

9.     Beat the heavy cream and confectioners' sugar with a mixer until stiff peaks form. Remove the springform ring and parchment collar from the cake. Cover the cake with the whipped cream. Freeze until ready to serve.

 

 

Monday, June 15, 2020

Yummy African Peanut Stew from Baton Rouge

 

Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was the last destination I visited before the coronavirus lockdown. I went for a travel conference, and honestly wasn't expecting too much from the city. But I was wrong. The revitalized and clean downtown really impressed me. I found fantastic interactive museums, an old and new capitol building, and a lively spirit that flowed through the city, likely due to hometown Louisiana State University's (LSU) football team winning the National Championship.  


Louisiana State Capitol


 

You can't go to Louisiana and not enjoy decadent Cajun fare. In the mid-1700s, French-speaking settlers from Acadia, Canada's maritime regions, driven into exile by British forces, came to rural Louisiana. Hence the nickname Cajuns, as descendants of the Acadians. We all know Cajuns love to party and their dishes ooze with flavor. 

 

After I returned, VisitBatonRouge,the city's tourism organization, was kind enough to send me a box of Cajun cuisine product samples. The package made my day during the quarantine. It also contained a booklet of Red Stick Recipes. In case you are wondering, Baton Rouge means red stick in French. The name dates back to 1699 when French explorers noted a red cypress tree stripped of its bark that marked the boundary between Houma and Bayou Goula tribal hunting grounds. They called the tree "le baton rouge," or red stick. 

 

The Mississippi River Bridge in Baton Rouge

A recipe in the booklet came from the kitchen of Saskia Spanhoff at Cocha, one of Baton Rouge's fine restaurants, and caught my eye. Being housebound, a stew sounded perfect and would make good leftovers. So, I followed the directions and loved it. I strongly encourage others to try the recipe brimming with fresh ingredients, colorful peppers, and an abundance of flavorful spices. You'll love the hint of peanut butter. As an added bonus, the preparation creates a delightful aroma throughout the house. While the recipe is designed for Vegans and Vegetarians, I added a bit of cut-up (cooked) chicken pieces for added protein.  

 

This recipe is a keeper and one I will make again.  

 

 

AFRICAN PEANUT STEW

Prep Time:  45 minutes

Yields:  8 servings

 

African Peanut Stew


Ingredients

 

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 medium red onion, finely chopped

1 medium yellow bell pepper, chopped

1 medium orange bell pepper, chopped

1 jalapeno, chopped- optional

2 small carrots, chopped

1 rib celery, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

1Tbsp curry powder

2 Tbsp ginger, fresh, peeled, grated

1 14-oz can diced tomatoes

1 bay leaf

4 cups chicken or vegetable broth

1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into ½" pieces

1 ½ cups edamame, shelled (I used frozen) 

¼ cup peanut butter

5 oz choice of fresh spinach, kale, collard leaves, torn into bite-size pieces

½ t. salt

Coarse ground pepper, to taste

Add cut-up cooked chicken- optional

 

Garnish with grilled okra, toasted peanuts, squeeze of lime


Cooking the colorful peppers, onion, carrots and celery.


 

Directions:

 

Heated olive oil in a 4-quart pan over medium heat; add onion, bell peppers, carrot, and celery. Sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes

Add garlic, ginger, and curry powder and sauté until fragrant- about 1 minute.

Add tomatoes and a bay leaf. Cook uncovered about 3 minutes.

Add broth and sweet potatoes and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to low and simmer 8-10 minutes.

Stir in edamame and peanut butter. Cook until thoroughly heated, about 2 minutes.

Stir in greens until wilted.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Can be served with brown or wild rice.   


The stew simmers over low heat.


Many thanks to VisitBatonRouge.com

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Cheering on the Fighting Okra and the Lowly Green Vegetable


As a child, I never encountered okra unless disguised or unknowingly snuck into something like canned soup. I was simply unaware of its existence. I grew up in the 1950s, and my mother served us basic meat and potato meals, plus the popular Campbell's soups: chicken noodle when sick, tomato soup when eating a grilled cheese sandwich and vegetable soup during the winter. Mom admittedly was not the best cook, and her repertoire of fresh vegetables consisted of iceberg lettuce, celery, carrots and potatoes, corn on the cob, and tomatoes added in the summer. Frozen vegetables that supplemented our diet became peas, corn, mixed vegetables, succotash, and the unpopular, lima beans.

A package of fresh okra.
A package of fresh okra.


I first encountered okra in my forties, in gumbo, but steered clear of ever buying or preparing it. I then signed up for a Cajun Cooking class at the New Orleans School of Cooking, and okra dominated the class menu. I picked up a fresh piece and discovered for the first time that it wasn't slimy on the outside, just on the inside. I also learned that okra is technically a fruit, and that one serving offers two grams of protein and only 33 calories—this means almost 25 percent of the calories come right from protein.
New Orleans School of Cooking
New Orleans School of Cooking

Since then, I've gradually grown to love the lowly green vegetable, especially when roasted or cut lengthwise and sautéed lightly in olive oil with a dusting of creole spice.

Imagine my surprise when I ran into a "Fighting Okra" tee-shirt while touring the Mississippi Delta in late 2019. Delta State University in Cleveland claims okra as its unofficial mascot. How fun I thought and undoubtedly politically correct.
The Fighting Okra
Photo Courtesy of Delta State University



Upon further investigation, I learned that Delta State's official team mascot remains the Statesmen, but one hardly thinks of statesmen as frightening. Seems several urban legends linger as to how the "Fighting Okra" appeared, one claims the mascot arose from a stubborn okra plant on the baseball diamond. Another tale points to needing a mean and green mascot. The most popular says he was born from an inside joke in the student body, hinting that the Statesmen weren't intimidating. Whatever the case, in the mid-1990s, a student vote was taken, resulting in the university taking on "The Fighting Okra" as an unofficial mascot. Fear the okra!

Debi proudly wears a Fighting Okra tee.
Debi proudly wear a Fighting Okra tee. 

At this point, I was thigh high into mascot research and discovered that okra is not the only vegetable mascot. The Scottsdale Community College touts a Fighting Artichoke. Artie the Artichoke was a victory for students who rebelled against a more boring mascot that had administration blessings.

Then, I found more oddball mascots like the Big Red the Hilltopper of Western Kentucky University, SuperFrog, the Horned Frog: Texas Christian University, the Banana Slug of UC Santa Cruz. Back in 1926, the students from the University of Miami chose Sebastian the Ibis as the unofficial mascot. The most bizarre has to be Rhode Island School of Design's Scrotie the Penis: And his battle cry is "Go Nads!"

For information on travel in the Mississippi Delta: www.visitthedelta.com

If you've never fixed okra, and after all is a food blog, I offer the most simple recipe, but it is truly delicious and healthy.

ROASTED OKRA
(I initially learned from Martha Shulman Rose's recipe from the NY Times)

Roasted okra on a baking sheet
Roasted okra

Ingredients
About 1 pound fresh okra (or a package)
2 Tablespoons or less olive oil
Salt, pepper, thyme or creole spice

Directions
Preheat the oven to 400- 450 degrees. If you don't want the okra to brown as much, set the oven at 400 degrees.
Washed okra drying on a kitchen towel.
Washed okra drying on a kitchen towel. 

Rinse the okra and drain on a kitchen towel. The okra should be dry. Trim away the stem ends and the tips, just the very ends. I prefer the whole okra, but you can slice in half. Place the okra in a large bowl and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and toss with the olive oil until coated.

Okra ready for roasting. 


Lift the okra from the bowl, leaving behind any excess oil. Place on a sheet pan in one layer. I use a Silpat liner to make clean up easy. Sprinkle on any additional spices you like.

Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes (large okra might take a little longer), shaking the pan every five minutes. The okra should be lightly browned and tender, with a pleasant seared aroma.

Roasted okra nicely browned.
Roasted okra nicely browned. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Out of this World Shrimp Saganaki

Although no one is cruising during the coronavirus pandemic, I know many folks are ready to get back on a boat. Hopefully travel will return in the summer or fall of 2020. 

Chef is ready for a cooking demonstration.
Celestyal Cruise Chef is ready for a cooking demonstration. 
One morning not too long ago (but in many ways, the trip seems years ago), I was in the Mediterranean aboard the Celestyal Crystal on their 3-Continent Cruise. Lucky me made my way to the ship’s main dining room to learn how to make a Greek specialty. The ship's executive chef was going to demonstrate how to cook shrimp saganaki, a dish he promised, we could easily replicate at home. Plus, it’s one that doesn’t take much time. 

He and the dish lived up to the promise. 

A steaming hot pan of Shrimp Saganaki.
A steaming hot pan of Shrimp Saganaki
The entrée includes shrimp sautéed in garlic and olive oil with a splash of ouzo. That alone sounds divine, but it all gets bathed in a rich tomato sauce, Especially good when the sauce is homemade, (Chef uses ripe tomatoes and tomato paste that he simmers for three hours.)  Before serving, sprinkle on feta cheese, an extra swirl of olive oil, and fresh herbs. Did you know there are more herbs in Greece than anywhere else in the world? 
Chef tops the dish with a crispy crostini on the side, or use garlic bread as an alternative. When I make this, I suspect I will use a jar of sauce from the grocery store. Fresh tomatoes are not always the best in Florida where I live. You may also substitute calamari, mussels or other seafood. 

A crosini tops a serving of Shrimp saganaki, ready for serving.
The plated dish is ready for serving.
Shrimp Saganaki: Compliments of Celestyal Cruises
 (6 servings)
1/4 c. chopped yellow onion
1-2 lbs. raw shrimp, deveined 
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 ripe tomato, chopped
2 cups of tomato sauce, homemade preferred.
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/8 cup ouzo
1/4 cup olive oil (use less depending on your prefrence)
1 T. fresh parsley, chopped and/or fresh thyme
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
Salt and black pepper to taste
Directions: 
Heat a pan and about 2 Tbsp of the olive oil.  When hot, sauté chopped onions until they turn translucent, just a few minutes. Add the chopped garlic, but don’t let it burn. 
Chef adds onion to the pan to begin saute.
Add onions and saute. 
Add the shrimp, stir well. Add more oil, if needed. 

Chef adds the shrimp.
Chef adds the shrimp.
Deglaze the pan with the dry white wine.
Add ouzo and ignite - if you want to impress your guests.

Sous chef adds the ouzo.
Sous chef adds the ouzo. 

Add the chopped tomato and tomato sauce and simmer a few minutes.

Chef adds the tomato sauce.
Chef adds the tomato sauce. 

When the sauce has become slightly thickened, remove from heat and add the feta cheese stirring lightly. Add chopped fresh herbs and check the final seasoning.

Add the feta cheese and stir gently.
Add the feta cheese and stir gently. 

 Do not overcook the shrimp.

The finished pan of Shrimp Saganaki is ready to serve.
The finished pan of Shrimp Saganaki is ready to serve.  
Plate and serve with toasted garlic crostini or garlic bread. 





Tuesday, November 19, 2019

When You've Got Apples, Bake an Apple Raspberry Pie

When it comes to apples in the South, a visit to  Hendersonville, North Carolina, is in order. The small city near Asheville ranks as the seventh-largest producer of apples in America. Who knew? Apparently, William Mills, one of the original settlers to the area, planted hundreds of apple trees around 1800. The fertile fields helped nurture the crops, and for decades growers sold their apples to wholesale buyers who made the fruit into applesauce, apple juice and other products. But, some of the buyers moved on, and today, many of the farmers sell their produce directly to consumers. And invite them to their farms.


Farm fresh apples in Hendersonville, NC


I was asked to participate in an agritourism tour in Hendersonville, and being fond of apples, accepted.  

Now, what exactly is agritourism? By definition: any agriculturally based operation or activity that brings visitors to a farm, ranch or other business. You’d expect to visit apple orchards, and you’d be right. Families, often multi-generations, come together for autumn outings to the farms. They enjoy picking apples off the tree or choosing among the numerous varieties on sale. The farms also sell produce and small-batch products like apple butter, apple salsa, applesauce, and yummy bakery items such as fried apple hand pies and apple cider donuts. 

The Barn at Grandad's Orchard


The first stop was at Grandad’s Apples, beyond picking apples, visitors can get lost in the cornfield maze or jump around haystacks. The most fun, however, seemed to be shooting an apple cannon. Load an apple and fire at a target. The fruit explodes when it hits, bringing lots of laughs. Those hard to please teenagers love this activity. 

Shooting an apple cannon 


Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard offers three apple cannons (the appeal crosses all ages), tractor rides, and pick your own sunflowers as well as apples. Don’t miss their delicious apple slushy.  


Take a tractor ride at Stepp's Orchards. 

Lyda Farms is yet another family-friendly place. Folks come to shop for farm fresh apples and a vast selection of vegetables, including heirloom veggies. Visitors don’t pick their own here, except amongst the array offered in baskets. Juicy, the Giant Apple Bug is a favorite for kids. 

Juicy, the apple bug at Lyda Farms. 


Orchards aren’t the only places on an agritourism tour. Henderson County was recently named an official American Viticultural Area, and its three vineyards are producing surprisingly good wines. Burntshirt Vineyards runs an estate winery, meaning all the grapes used in their wines grow on site. Taste a dry or sweet wine flight or take a complimentary vineyard tour. 

Drive up to Point Lookout Vineyards and bask in a gorgeous mountain panorama seen from 2,900 feet. Their slogan: 30 mile views, even longer memories, seems to capture the essence of the place. Point Lookout Vineyards produce more than the typical red and whites, some of their varietals include plum, vanilla, blackberry, citrus or espresso. Had I room in my suitcase, I would have purchased the unexpectedly delicious coffee and chocolate blend, Javine Mocha Red Wine.  

Sunday afternoon wine tasting at Point Lookout Vineyards. 


In addition to some fine wine, Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards is growing apple trees from Normandy, France. The owner wants to create a hard cider that tastes much like champagne. I had a sample that was utterly surprising and oh, so delicious. 

Apple Trees from Normandy, France growing in Hendersonville for future artisan cider.


Hard ciders have become very popular lately, and Hendersonville’s Bold Rock Cidery offers some of the finest. An incredible 70 tons of apples go through Bold Rock every week, all converted to hard cider and seltzer. Sit back, taste a cider flight, and learn about the apples that created them. 

Bold Rock Cider is made in Hendersonville. 


I wasn’t in town for the annual North Carolina Apples Festival. Still, it’s a yearly (multi-day) event around Labor Day that attracts over a quarter of a million people and sounds like fun. 

 
So many varieties of apples. 
Hendersonville is not all farms. The lively downtown shops are pedestrian-friendly and many excellent restaurants feature local farm produce. I especially enjoyed one called Shine, where from the rooftop, you can look down on Main Street while enjoying a dinner or a drink. 

Old Hendersonville Courthouse as seen from the rooftop deck of Shine. 

Divine duck at Shine. 

Don’t miss the McFarlan Bakery, also on Main Street. The bakers have been turning out decadent goodies since they opened in 1930. A few gift shops devote space to locally made arts and crafts. I was especially impressed with Woodlands Gallery. 

Apple Strudel at McFarlan Bakery. 


Naturally, I came home with a lot of apples, carefully carrying them in my carry-on for my flight. What did I do with those apples? I made a small cobbler and stored the rest in my refrigerator. I was told that apples wrapped in a plastic bag can be successfully stored for months. It’s true! Many weeks later, I baked an apple raspberry pie that turned out to be a winner. I’m sharing the recipe at the end of this post. 

My Apple Raspberry Pie 


I was truly surprised and delighted by the abundance of unusual attractions and all great food and wine in Hendersonville. I heartily recommend a visit to the area. 


Apple Raspberry Pie 

This recipe comes from a blog by Sommer Collier, A Spicy Perspective: 
-->

I made a few minor adjustments.

Ingredients

  • Homemade pie crust or two 9-inch rollout pie crusts
  • 3 1/2 pounds firm apples I used Honey Crisps
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 12 ounces or two 6-ounce packages fresh raspberries 
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup raspberry or other berry preserves
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 large egg + 1 tablespoon water
  • 1-2 tablespoons brown sugar

Instructions

1.  Preheat the oven to 450 degree F and place the rack in the lowest position. Line a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan with pie crust dough. 

2.  Place the lemon juice in a large bowl. Peel and thinly slice all the apples (1/8- to 1/4-inch thick) tossing in the lemon juice as you add them to the bowl.

3.  Add the raspberries, granulated sugar, berry preserves, corn starch, spices, and salt to the apples. Gently toss the mixture by hand to coat. Scoop the raspberry apple filling into the pie crust. Shake a little so the filling settles into place.

4.  Roll out the second pie crust and cut into strips to make a lattice crust. Intertwine the strips across the top of the pie. Then whisk the egg and water to create an eggwash. Brush the eggwash over the top of the pie crust, then sprinkle the top of the crust with coarse Demerara or brown sugar.

5.  Place the pie in the oven, and LOWER THE TEMPERATURE TO 375 DEGREES F. The extra heat from the beginning gives the crust a little head start in baking. Bake the pie for 70-80 minutes, until golden and bubbly. If the crust starts to get dark, loosely cover with foil while baking. *Make sure you see the juices bubbling - otherwise the filling will be runny.

6.  This is the hard part... DO NOT cut the pie until it has cooled down to room temperature. I know it smells amazing and is very hard to resist, but the filling needs time to settle and set, so it's not soupy. If you cut your pie too soon, it will fall apart. I suggest making the pie in evening before you need it and let it rest overnight.