Monday, September 06, 2010

Lemon Cake with Blueberry Filling

Two of my favorite summer tastes combined in one delicious treat. Lemon and blueberries. Living so close to Michigan, blueberries are so abundant this time of year. I made this yummy cake for my husband's birthday and it was definitely a hit. So much so that I had a request to remake it for Labor Day - only the second time I made it as cupcakes. The cupcakes were definitely a hit, but I think I'm recommending this as a layer cake. Getting mouthful after mouthful of tender cake, tangy icing and fresh blueberries is the way this dessert should be enjoyed. It will take a few steps, but it is well worth it.

Lemon Three Layer Cake with Blueberry Filling and Lemon Icing

LEMON CAKE (adapted from
1/2 cup butter-flavored shortening
1 3/4 cup sugar
6 egg yolks
2 1/2 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. plus 3 Tbls. milk (I used 1/2 cup cream, 1/2 cup + 3 Tbls of 2% milk)
Zest from 2 lemons
1 1/2 tsp. lemon extract (or lemon juice I suppose)

Cream shortening; add sugar and beat well. Add egg yolks one at a time until combined. Beat at medium speed until well creamed.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt, and wisk together. Add flour mixure to creamed mixture alternatively with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Add zest and lemon extract and blend well.

Pour batter into three greased and floured 8 or 9 inch round cake pans. Bake at 350 for 25-30. Cool in pans for 10 min and then remove from pans to cool completely.

2 cups + 1 cup fresh blueberries
3/4 cup water
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 Tbls cornstarch
4 Tbls lemon juice

In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups of blueberries, sugar and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer a minute or two. Strain most juice off of the blueberries (but reserve just in case your filling gets too thick). Turn off heat. Add cornstarch to lemon juice and mix until cornstarch is dissolved. Add cornstarch mixture to blueberries and stir until sauce is thickened. You're going to want it to be pretty thick so it doesn't run off of your cake. Add 1 cup of fresh blueberries. Stir a couple of times and let it sit to cool.

1 cup of softened butter or butter flavored shortening
Zest of two lemons
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. lemon extract
4 cups confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup milk (a little more to get desired consistency a Tbls at a time)
1 Tbls fresh lemon juice

Cream the butter, zest, vanilla and lemon extract and salt until fluffy. Add sugar alternatively with milk until mixture is cream and smooth. Add lemon juice and blend. Add more sugar or milk to achieve desired consistency. P.S. - You will probably need to double this if you do a three-layer cake or use as much frosting as I do.

Frost the top of each layer of cake with a thin layer. Place blueberry filling on top of the frosting, in the center of the layer, leaving at least one inch around the sides. Stack cake, then frost top and sides of cake.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Here We Go Again . . .Again

Wow. Where does the time go. I have no idea. A few weeks (months) ago, I said I was going to lose that last 10 before Memorial Day. Well, guess what. I haven't. But I'm holding steady. At 130. That's 33 pounds - and I've just hit a year since I've seriously started this weight loss journey. I've pretty much been holding here since Feb or so, and to be honest, that is fine with me. Of course I'd like to lose that 10 more, but I have never ever been a size 6 before and I plan on keeping this size (or less) for a while. So rather than looking at how sucky I've been at keeping my diet, let's take a look at things I've been doing right.

-- I've been getting to the gym - just about every day. I've missed maybe two days in the last month. At least 30 min on the elliptical, some weight training, and meeting with a personal trainer once a week.
-- I've been adding a second workout - a walk - about twice a week. I could probably do more, but with the kids out of school, its a little rough.
-- I drink some water every day. Mostly when I work out, but its at least 4 - 6 glasses.
-- I eat breakfast. My "go to" breakfast is two patties of turkey sausage - only 7 grams of fat, no carbs, a little spicy, and ready in 40 seconds. Gotta love it.
-- I'm getting a pretty good lunch or dinner too. Lunch is a lot of salad, mostly baby spinach with chicken. Dinner is almost always a grilled meat and a raw veggie.

OK - so here's the bad, or the diametrically-opposed-to-my-weight-loss-plan actions:
-- Baking! Baking! Baking! As you can probably tell by my most recent blog posts, I've been baking - bread, cookies, cupcakes, desserts. And I haven't even posted half of it! If I just wouldn't eat the results!!! I do share a lot, but I just love baking!
-- Getting through half the day with no carbs and then snacking on something bad (usually something I baked) half way through the day, ruining my morning. Ugh! I know that for me, personally, the 3:00 - 6:00 time is the roughest time of the day for my snacking. I've got to get some veggies or slices of turkey or something better around.
--I'm now headed for a couple of weeks vacation in New Orleans - that mean daiquiris, fried fish, sno-balls, mayonnaise, and Mandarin Chicken. The key will be for me to go walking (in 110 heat index) everyday, or finding a way to get a guess pass to the gym. I'm sorry, I can't give up my daiquiri or shrimp po-boy. That means I've got to bust some ass to not add 10 pounds while I'm gone.

So recently I bought this totally hot pair of jeans - and I sweartagawd I'm gonna wear 'em forever, so that means more gym, less tasting and baking.

So eating habits are taking a back seat to exercise lately, but I'll be back on track after New Orleans. Promise. Again.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Homemade Pretzels

More bread backlash from my low-carb diet. I know I made a big fat deal about really kicking the low carbs into high gear and knocking off these last (in my mind) ten pounds, but it's really not working. I'm getting to the gym just about everyday and not snacking a whole lot, but I'm not completely passing up the bagels or a sandwich every now and then. And this baking bender I'm on is not helping either. But I am definitely maintaining - and that's a good thing. A really good thing. I'm just about a year away from when I started (I mean really started) this weight loss journey and I still feel like 33 - 35 pounds is a pretty good thing.

So on to my latest experiment - pretzels!! You know - those big, soft, salty pretzels meant for dipping in mustard or cheese. The kind you get at a carnival. I was really in the mood for the kind you get at the mall (a little more buttery and soft), but I decided to lay off of all that butter. So my pretzels definitely weren't low carb, but they were low fat. And quite delicious. A couple of kids, a husband and a neighbor (and, ahem, the cook) gobbled 'em up in no time.

I'm going to keep looking for another recipe I like better, but this one was pretty good. I couldn't get a good photo of the texture on the inside, but it was very soft with little bitty airpockets. While I made mine in the cute little pretzel shapes above, my kids enjoyed making them in fish and heart shapes too. And instead of salt on a few, I put cinnamon sugar.


4 teaspoons active dry yeast

1 teaspoon white sugar

1 1/4 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)

5 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup white sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/2 cup baking soda

4 cups hot water

1/4 cup kosher salt, for topping

  1. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together flour, 1/2 cup sugar, and salt. Make a well in the center; add the oil and yeast mixture. Mix and form into a dough. If the mixture is dry, add one or two tablespoons of water. Knead the dough until smooth, about 7 to 8 minutes. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  3. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). In a large bowl, dissolve baking soda in hot water.
  4. When risen, turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rope and twist into a pretzel shape. Once all of the dough is all shaped, dip each pretzel into the baking soda solution and place on a greased baking sheet. Sprinkle with kosher salt.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 8 minutes, until browned.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Pignolatti and the St. Joseph Altar

OK, so it's taking me a little longer than I thought to finish documenting the St. Joseph Altar. Sorry about that. I do feel it is important to document the traditions of the past, so these recipes WILL get posted - eventually. And if you're interested, I created an entire photobook of the Altar. I have lots of pictures of the food and some recipes, but in the case of something like the Pignolatti, my few pictures don't do it justice. This post will be much more comprehensive. So, here we go.

These Sicilian cookies are so named because they resemble pinecones when they are finished. They are meant to symbolize the pinecones that Jesus played with as a child. I've seen it spelled Pignolatti and Pignolata, and it is pronounced pee-nyoh-LAH-tah. These are different from the Pinolate cookies you might be thinking about, but those can be included on the Altar, too. These are deep fried, hard, crunchy, sugar-coated piles of goodness.

There are two main parts to this recipe - the cookies, and then the coating and shaping of the cookies. The cookies themselves can be made a few days in advance if necessary, and must be completely cooled before moving to the next step. This recipe is HUGE and created a few of gallons worth of cookies (pictured to the right and in step 3 below), but you will be surprised at how fast you can go through the cookies once you start coating and shaping them. The cookies are pretty neutral flavored and you could certainly eat them just as they are - they are not sugary or sweet and just give you a taste of mild, comforting homemade goodness.

And this is definitely a recipe where you can't have too many cooks in the kitchen. You simply can't do this recipe with one or two people. Three, maybe. Four to six, even better.

The next step is when the fun comes in. You'll need a little extra equipment as I've listed below - the most important being a marble or granite slab - or something completely heat proof that the very hot sugar will not melt or radiate through. You'll be dumping hot, melted sugar straight onto it.

1. Melt the sugar until it is light golden brown and very liquid.

2. Pour cookies into melted sugar and remove from heat. Stir cookies until all coated.

3. Pour cookies onto oil-coated marble slab.

4. Begin to work quickly separating cookies into small piles. You can see that each person used two spoons to pull the cookies away and then push them into small piles. The sugar is still too hot at this point to use your hands.

5. Dip your hands in ice cold water and use your hands to begin shaping the piles of cookies into small pyramids - squeezing them together so the sugar will hold them together. Or use a metal funnel and stack the cookies inside. If the sugar starts burning your hands, quickly dip them back in the cold water and then start shaping again. (Try to dry your hands a little bit because too much water will keep the sugar from sticking together.)

6. Top with sprinkles before the sugar hardens.

7. You'll probably need to wash your hands and hopefully they didn't get too burned.

5 cups all-purpose flour
9 eggs
Shortening for deep frying

2 cups sugar (several times over, at least 5)
Candy sprinkles

Large slab of marble or granite
Bowls of ice and water for hands
Spoons to separate dough
Metal funnels for shaping

Add beaten eggs to flour. Work with hands until a stiff, smooth dough is formed. Cut off small portions of dough and roll into pencil-like rolls. Cut into 1/4 inch pieces and fry in shortening until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and allow to cool completely. These can be made ahead of time and stored in airtight container.

Coat marble and inside of funnels with thin layer of oil. Melt sugar on low heat in very heavy pan (like cast iron, preferably not non-stick). Stir constantly so it doesn't burn. Cook until sugar is dissolved and has reached "string" stage. (Sugar will be liquid and turn medium-brown.) Remove from heat and quickly place two cups of fried dough into sugar and stir well until all pieces are coated.

Pour dough onto marble slab. Quickly use spoons to pull several pieces of dough together. Use funnels or hands to shape pieces into a pyramid shape. SUGAR IS VERY HOT. Dip hands in cold water frequently , but try to avoid wetting the dough too much because the pieces will not stick to each other. Sprinkle with candy sprinkles before sugar hardens. Move cookies to a parchment-covered cookie sheet for cooling.

A special thanks to my mom (Cheryl), her friends - Diane, Teeda, and Cheryl - and their spouses for inviting me to be part of this cookie-making tradition!!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

St. Joseph Altar - The Italian Catholic Tradition

Chances are if you're not Italian and you're not Catholic and you're not from New Orleans, you've probably never heard of a St. Joseph's Altar. They are popular in pockets around the country (including the Chicago area), but the tradition thrives in the Italian Catholic community in New Orleans. On my recent trip to New Orleans, I had the wonderful experience of participating in a St. Joseph Altar, and over the next few days I hope to share some of the traditions and recipes with you.

This altar was very special to me. Some wonderful family friends wanted to host this altar and ask St. Joseph to heal my father's cancer. So many people worked for weeks making plans for the altar, baking THOUSANDS of traditional Italian cookies, simmering gallons of tomato sauce, chopping pounds upon pounds of olives for homemade olive salad, stuffing hundreds of favor bags, and asking for donations to feed more than 500 who were expected to come to the altar.

The origin of the altar to St. Joseph is said to have begun in Italy when the people of Sicily prayed to St. Joseph to save them from famine. When the rains finally came and the crops flourished, the people showed their appreciation with their most prized possessions - food.

Today, people host a St. Joseph Altar to ask St. Joseph for a favor or blessing, or in thanksgiving for a favor received. Almost everything on the altar is based in tradition. All items are donated by the hosts or community - upholding the tradition of "begging for donations." All food is given away to those attending. Any money raised from candles or petitions or donations is given to the poor.

In addition to setting up this elaborate display of breads and desserts, the altar also feeds anyone who come to pray to St. Joseph. The food at the altar includes no meat, probably because St. Joseph's day falls during lent or the fact that meat was scarce in Sicily after the famine. Our altar served more than 500 people who enjoyed Pasta Milanese, crawfish pie, stuffed artichokes, olive salad, green bean and artichoke casserole, fresh bread and so much more.

Everyone who visits a St. Joseph Altar wants to take home a fava bean, or lucky bean. History states that during the famine in Sicily, the fava bean thrived while other crops withered and died. Tradition holds that whoever carries the lucky bean will always have money in her pocket or food in her pantry. They also serve as a reminder to pray to St. Joseph. As a child I remember my grandmother having a small collection of fava beans in her wallet and on her nightstand.

A large bowl of fava beans was placed next to the altar with small stacks of prayer cards. By the end of the evening, the bowl was almost empty. Beans were also placed in the "goodie bags" that were available. The bags also had a pieces of blessed bread (which you should throw outside in a storm to calm the skies), several Italian cookies (recipes to come later) and a St. Joseph prayer card.

Blessed bread is a very important part of the altar. Not only are their full loaves of bread, but much of the bread is baked into symbolic shapes, such as crosses and animals.

Over the next few days, I'll be posting some traditional recipes and more photos of the altar. I hope you'll be back!!

Here we go again!

Wow! Where does the time go? All you gals with full-time jobs, full-time families and full-time blogs are my heroes. Sometimes I feel like I'm getting a whole lotta nothing done. I have a backlog of posts in my head and I really want to get them together. I have a ton of things to work on for the deli and a couple of personal projects going on too. I say this all the time - I'm living my life in two hour increments - enough time to keep afloat, but not enough time to concentrate and really focus on something.

But here's where I embrace it all. Make the most of it. Git 'r done. (Ugh! Did I just say that?) It's that little thing called time management that I've been chasing after since college. Coincidentally, today also marks the first day I am really back on my low-carb diet after a two week hiatus because of a long weekend in New Orleans and my kids' Spring Break. So I'm recommitting to everything today. Using my time more wisely. Making healthier choices. Being a little more patient. Striving to be more productive. Who's with me?

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Just sayin'

Dear Waiter in Fancy Restaurant,
Please don't tell me that you'll substitute my side dish for another side dish and then charge me for the other side dish. It makes me look and feel like a cheap bitch for questioning $3.95 on a $140.00 bill (which I didn't), and you look like a schmuck who can't get the bill straight (and just leave a bitter taste in my mouth after those delicious scallops).
Thank you.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

No Knead Bread - Everybody's Doing It

I think I have OCBD. Obsessive Compulsive Bread Disorder. Maybe that's what happens when you've been on a low carb diet for nine months. The other day when I saw that recipe for Cuban bread, I couldn't resist and wound up making three loaves. Now I'm obsessed with this No-Knead Bread. I know lots of foodie blogs have made this recipe from the New York times, and as I was kneading and kneading the Cuban bread, I started thinking about the no-knead recipe.

Before I could even Google it, a chef friend of mine in Portland (Brendan) sent me his version of the recipe. I'm going to copy and paste it word for word because he has some good ideas about the flours and how to make the recipe work.

The only real difference between Brendan's recipe and the NY Times recipe is that second rise. Now that I've made this loaf several times, I don't think it makes a huge difference, but without the rise the loaf is a little more dense, and with the rise you get bigger holes. The crust is A-MA-ZING either way.

For my first loaf I used 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 cup bread flour, 1/2 cup Ground Flax Seed Meal and 1/2 cup Almond Meal. I would recommend a teeny bit less water for this combination. My second loaf was 1/2 whole wheat flour and 1/2 bread flour. My next loaf (on the counter as I type this is all regular flour with about a teaspoon or two of dried garlic and dried oregano. I want my next loaf to be all grainy with seeds and nuts, but I'm going to have to wait a little while longer while I'm trying to stick to my low-carb diet.

So, why am I making all of this bread when I'm on a low-carb diet? I have no idea. I think it has something to do with the fact that I have gotten bored with indoor, winter, low-carb, meat and vegetable cooking, that I need a creative outlet. I've given away a couple of loaves to friends and neighbors and my kids have eaten a good portion of it. Of course I've tasted along the way, but I'm trying to keep it to a minimum. No weight gained so far, just slow losing. Still hanging out around 33-34 pounds.

(1/2 whole wheat flour, 1/2 white flour)


TOOLS: bowl, large (like 3-4 qts min.)
Spoon, large & strong (I like wood for bread rather than metal)
Plastic Wrap
Measuring cup
Measuring spoons
Oven safe baking vessel w/ good fitting lid- like a 2-3 quart Corningware or enamel coated cast iron w/ lid, or a SMALL Dutch oven. Do NOT try w/ foil as lid- will not work- needs a proper lid

.25 tsp Yeast, active dry (sounds like not enough, but trust me- it’s plenty)
1.25 tsp Salt (I prefer Kosher salt)
3 cups Flour**** see notes below- esp for Health
1 5/8 cups Water (sometimes a little more [not critical to be exact as more is OK]- see flour notes)
.5 tsp **cornmeal OR rolled oats OR dry cous cous OR wheat bran…(see note in 3rd paragraph of METHOD section)

Combine salt, flour(s), yeast in bowl & stir well. Add water all at once (but somewhat slowly). Stir to combine & wet all flour- usually about 15-20 stir/folds will do. Cover w/ plastic wrap and place on a counter for 12-18 hours. (18 only in winter, really). Should be about double original size.

Preheat to 425-450*F. Place baking vessel (without lid, for now) in oven to get intensely hot- like at least 10-15 minutes at temperature.

Remove vessel from oven. Sprinkle **cornmeal (or other choice from above) around bottom of pan (simply acting as a dessicant to make removal from pan that much easier later on). NOW, working rather quickly so pan doesn’t cool down too much, pour/scrape your dough into the vessel using wooden spoon to help get it out of bowl. If dough does not spread easily, gently shake baking vessel a little bit to disperse. Place vessel back into oven & cover w/ room temperature lid. Close oven & bake for 25 minutes (same temp). After 25 minutes, open oven and remove lid & bake about 25 minutes more. Remove pan from oven and tip loaf out (should come easily). IMPORTANT- place the loaf (using towel as it is HOT) on a cooling rack for at least 90 minutes. If you are w/out a cooling rack, improvise something to aerate the loaf. Store in same container you baked it in after cooling (b/c it fits there!) for up to 4 days before it starts to go stale. Freezes well too.

You do not need bread flour- All purpose works fine (bread flour works also though)
Personally, for health & flavor reasons, I like to mix in different flours.
My standard is 1 cup All Purpose, 1 cup whole wheat flour, ½ cup rye flour, and a ½ cup wheat bran (the actual bran of the wheat kernel- not a cereal- look in bulk section of good grocer for it) As long as it adds up to about 3 cups total, you can’t go wrong.
I also add to this healthy version 2 TBS Sunflower seeds and 1 TBS flax seed in the initial mixing- raise up that good cholesterol and add fiber….
--Courtesy of Chef Brendan from the Bronx in Portland :)

(whole wheat flour, white flour, flax seed, almond meal)

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