Raiding the larder of ideas.

What one family eats, plans to eat, dreams of eating. Plus, other food and kitchen-related stuff from the home of steak-and-potatoes, pie and fresh green beans from the garden.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Autumn Carrot Salad, or Life in the Slaw Lane

Today we had weather everybody else I know would describe as "lovely", but I, being the grouch that I am, found just a tad too warm. The whole week has been sunny and 82º Fahrenheit (28º Celsius – or, if you're acquainted with EclectEcon and his friends and neighbors, the "C" is for "Canadian"). While normal mortals like this sort of mildness of climate, I've been looking forward to the chill of winter, when I have really good excuses to stay in the kitchen and bake.

Meanwhile, tonight we had our usual Friday supper crowd – The Bat, Pop, and their best friends, Bill and Jackie. Earlier this month, I'd decided The Bat and I had become too complacent in our dinner planning, falling back often on bratwurst, or chili, or an easy roast. And, even though I have nothing against any of those things, I do like to shake things up a little, once in a while.

We had some nice tuna steaks I'd picked up at a Big Box Store Which Shall Remain Nameless, and I decided to do them up relatively lightly, but with some kick, so I worked a variation on this StayFitCentral recipe, based on (a) the fresh ingredients we had in the house, and (b) people's tastes and tolerances, and, when cooked, I served them up on a bed of fresh baby spinach leaves. Alongside that, I cut wedges of the spuds Pop dug from his garden, slathered them in olive oil, Mexican hot chili powder, and kosher salt, then popped them in for an "oven fry" treatment. I steamed a batch of Pop's garden green beans, then sprinkled lemon juice on them before serving...but there was one more thing I needed to make the meal (not counting dessert, which Jackie and Bill usually bring).

I needed a proper salad. Well, I needed a slaw. Especially since we had a gallon ice cream bucket half-filled with freshly-dug carrots from (you guessed it!) Pop's garden.

Bat originally proposed doing a straight grated-carrot-mayonnaise-and-pineapple slaw, but that just seemed too heavy, alongside all the other dishes, so I played a little bit, until I had what we all agreed was the ideal balance.

The advantage to this slaw is, it needs to sit and marinate at least an hour before serving, so you can fix it first and forget about it until all the other work is done and the table is fully set. Plus, you can make the dressing a couple of days in advance, if you wish (it's also not a bad marinade for pork, if you want to give it a try!).  I understand there are also shortcut packages at the supermarket, of grated carrots and shredded cabbage, so you can go there, if you have time, money, and inclination. But it's very simple, especially if you have a food processor handy.  If not, a good grater is a "must", and no other special equipment is necessary.

It's also very seasonal – the best cider is usually available in this area for a few weeks, starting mid-September, from a small family business. Sure, you can use the store-boughten stuff that's pasteurized until it's little more than a cloudy apple juice, but why not give a local farm or co-op a boost, where possible?

Anyway, here's to Life in the Slaw Lane.

Autumn Carrot Salad


2 Tablespoons your favorite brand honey mustard
3 Tablespoons cider vinegar
1 1/4 cups your favorite local apple cider

1/4 head cabbage, chopped for slaw (about 3 cups)
2 medium-small tart apples (I like Jonathans), peeled, cored, and grated coarsely
4 or 5 large carrots, grated coarsely (about 4 cups)
1/2 cup dried cranberries


In a half-pint jar, combine the honey mustard, cider vinegar, and apple cider. Put lid on tightly, and shake until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Chill.

In a large bowl or a gallon zipper bag, mix together chopped cabbage, grated apple, grated carrots and dried cranberries. Pour dressing over this, stir or mix completely, and set in refrigerator to marinate at least 1 hour.

Serve chilled, ideally on a bed of fresh spinach or kale.

Note: If you really want this slaw to "pop" in your mouth, make it a full day in advance. The dried cranberries become tender and slightly sweeter, and all the flavors fuse into a truly zesty experience! (Like chili and spaghetti, it's better on the second day.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Awesome, Easy, Most Decadent Brownies You'll Ever Experience (Gluten-Free and from a Mix!)

It's a cause for celebration that Aldi has started carrying gluten-free products in their baking section. Especially nice: their brownie mix can easily pass for regular, fudgy, somewhat gooey, gluten-filled dark brownies.

And, they can be dressed up so very easily, to make the kind of brownies you spend lots of money for, at those chi-chi little bakeries.

Oh, trust me. You don't need to add anything to the new line of gluten free baking mixes from Aldi, but if you're of the school of "don't use paint straight from the tube," you can create something almost criminally yummy.  All you need is the mix (and the eggs, butter, and water it calls for), plus 1/2 cup each of coarsely chopped toasted pecans, coarsely chopped dried tart cherries, and semisweet chocolate mini chips.

Follow the instructions on the box, to make the brownie batter. Stir in the nuts, cherries, and chips, pour into brownie pan, and bake as directed on the box. 

It's that simple, and they're this sinful:

Ain't misbehaving. No, really. I ain't. Well, not much, anyway.

Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

Still working on the components for a birthday cake, I needed a plaque upon which to write the birthday wishes.  I had considered doing a second batch of the chocolate sugar cookies, but I had run out of room in the refrigerator and freezer, and the dough for those required lots of room in both. Instead, I went for something I knew my mother would help me eat, so I wouldn't pack on more pounds (after having earned my 9-inch waist shrinkage this past two-year span). Needless to say, shortbread was a fine option, and very forgiving when one makes it with gluten-free flours.  (I use Bob's Red Mill GF All-Purpose Flour, but Bob's Red Mill also, now, has a GF 1:1 Baking Flour which has a character very much like the wheat-based AP flour)

In case you find shortbread cookies a little on the dry side (it depends upon my mood…and probably some sort of hormonal thing) you can easily frost these with your favorite frosting or icing. I topped the big cookie with my chocolate royal icing, and put the letters on it using wetted meringue powder, painted on with a brush, and then sprinkled with colored sugar.

Tender and Light Chocolate Shortbread Cookies


1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/3 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
2/3 cup confectioner's (powdered) sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or your preferred GF all-purpose flour)
pinch kosher salt


Preheat oven to 325º F. (165º C.).

Line a cookie sheet with parchment or nonstick silicone sheet, ungreased.

In a medium or large mixing bowl, cream the butter (whip it up until it's light and fluffy). Continue to beat and gradually add in the confectioner's sugar, keeping it light and fluffy. At slow speed, mix in cocoa powder, flour, and salt.

When completely mixed, pat into a thick disc and wrap tightly in plastic, chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, to stiffen and temper the dough for shaping.

Remove from refrigerator, place on silicone sheet or parchment, lay a sheet of plastic over the top (it will keep the dough from sticking to fingers or rolling pin), and roll or pat dough to a minimum of 1/4 inch, or a maximum, if you're feeling wild and crazy, of 1/2-inch thickness. Cut into shapes (I like the easy solution: take a large knife and cut the cookies into bars, about 1 inch by 3 inches. But, if you're ambitious, cut them into fancier shapes with actual cookie cutters). If your cookies are on the thicker side, pierce them each a couple times with a fork.

Place about an inch apart on the prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool on rack.

Royal Icing of the Chocolate Persuasion

Chocolate Royal Icing for Adult Taste Buds


4 cups confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup dark cocoa powder (Hershey's Special Dark works nicely)
1/4 cup meringue powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 Tablespoon Cointreau, or your own favorite orange liqueur
1/3 cup water (plus a little, to reach desired consistency)


In a medium bowl, mix all dry ingredients.

In a small bowl, mix liqueur and water. Gradually stir or mix into the dry ingredients, until the mixture reaches the consistency of molasses. 

Using an electric mixer, whip until fluffy, like meringue.

This may be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, with a sheet of plastic laid over the top to seal it from exposure to air.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Sweetest Political Footballs You'll Ever Taste

This is the award-winning cafeteria cookie that Elyria, Ohio's school district was informed no longer met the federal nutritional standards, and, if served to the students, would cost them their federal funding. (I found the recipe and the pic their local newspaper ran on the subject, and I would usually, enthusiastically, send people to the source, but I found the site had an annoying "answer this survey or share on social media to continue reading" block, so I'm sharing the recipe here, with full graphic).

Were I in their town, I'd make these cookies and sell them at every school event, as a big fund-raiser, in order to replace the cuts in federal support. And, I'd wager, that would earn me enough, in the first month of each school year, to make it really easy to tell Michelle Obama and her federal food fascists to drop dead.

The Elyria pink cookie
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup Crisco
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons sour cream
3 cups sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Mix butter (or margarine), Crisco and sugar until creamy. Add eggs one at a time. In separate bowl, mix baking soda and sour cream until baking soda is completely dissolved. Add to butter mixture. In separate bowl, sift flour and salt together. Add to wet batter and mix well. Dough will be sticky and can then be used as drop dough, if desired. If too sticky, add more flour until it can be rolled  ¼-inch thick. Cut with cookie cutters and bake at 350 degrees until golden brown.
1 pound of margarine or butter
6 cups of powdered sugar
1/8 cup of water
Red food coloring
Beat margarine or butter until soft and creamy. Sift powdered sugar and then beat into the margarine/butter a cup at a time until creamy. Beat in water and a few drops of food coloring until smooth. Will frost about 3 dozen cookies.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Best Part of a Carrot: Cake

When your mother tells you that you need to eat more vegetables, and puts carrots on the list,  be happy. They are a food of great virtue, being full of vitamins and minerals, fiber, and flavor.

Be especially happy, also, that you can make a darned fine vice out of this virtuous food. My very favorite carrot sin is carrot cake, using the fresh, flavor-filled roots from Pop's garden, made even more decadent by topping it with a lemony cream cheese frosting. (And, it seems, I have a friend in this, because this was exactly the combination requested for a birthday cake, this year.
I happily obliged.)  It is also the one cake Pop – a pie kind of guy – will eat without hesitation or reservation.

This is probably not what your mother meant, though, when she told you to eat more carrots.

On the other hand, the recipe I work from is the one my mother, The Bat, adapted from Joan Nathan's The Jewish Holiday Kitchen, which, as I recall, we found at an auction and now she refuses to surrender to anybody else (even though Bat was raised a Methodist, and I, an agnostic. It would seem our kitchen will forever be nonsectarian).

What The Bat does, now – after years of smudges causing the most important pages of her favorite cookbooks to stick together – is to scan the pages she knows she's likely to use more than a few times, and then put a print-out into a protective sleeve in a ring-binder notebook. Then she puts the original book somewhere safe for posterity. Wherever that is. I, then, ask her if I might use her recipe. She searches through the ring-binders for the specific sleeve, and pulls it out for me.

I do fear the days I need a page while she is not here (and this includes those months when she and Pop go off on their snowbird trips to the desert or the Carolinas). Her mind is well-organized, but I think our library skills are differently arranged. I admit it, now. I'm lazy. I also don't trust my own memory.Which is why I post. Write it, tag it, file it, post it, and let your fingers do the walking through the cookbook pages…the search engine is your friend.

It saves more time for playing in the kitchen.

So, without further fuss, I will file and share my mother's secret recipe, with adaptations included so I can nibble on it in gluten-free bunny bliss.

Carrot Cake with Lemony Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients for the cake:

3 cups sifted flour (if you need gluten-free, I recommend Bob's Red Mill GF 1:1)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups canola oil (or light olive oil)
3 cups fresh, coarsely grated raw carrots
4 large eggs
1/2 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped (you can even leave them whole)


Preheat oven to 350º F.(180º C).

Grease (with butter) a 10-inch tube pan and dust it with flour.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and cinnamon.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (using the paddle), combine sugar and oil. Mix thoroughly. Add in the carrots, mixing completely, then add eggs, one at a time, mixing completely after each addition.

Fold in the nuts and cranberries, then gradually add in the flour mixture. Blend well.

Pour into tube pan, place in oven.

Bake 60 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean.

Cool on rack about 20 minutes in pan, then invert and remove from pan onto rack, to cool completely.

When the cake is cooled, start making the frosting:

Ingredients for the frosting:

1 (8 ounce, or 16 Tablespoons) brick cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1 1/2 sticks (12 Tablespoons) unsalted butter,* also softened
3 cups confectioner's (powdered) sugar
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon fresh, finely grated lemon zest


Combine cream cheese and butter in mixing bowl, mix until well-creamed and fluffy.

Gradually add in powdered sugar and continue to beat on medium until it reaches desired fluffiness.

Beat in lemon zest and lemon juice. Spread over cake.

(Optional: sprinkle more chopped toasted pecans on top of cake, for decoration)

Slice and serve.

*I don't recommend substitutions in the frosting. If you're trying to cut down on your fats, skip the frosting entirely, or adapt something else in your diet to make allowances for the equivalent of a Pat O'Butter and a dollop o' cream.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sculpting a White Rabbit Carrot Cake with All Sorts of Extras…

I made my last solo effort for a friend's year, she will be turning thirteen, and will help design and construct her own cake, pooling our resources. This year, though, she got a rare bit.

I based the form (very loosely) upon the Tenniel drawing from Alice in Wonderland,
and, knowing my own abilities were VERY limited, I simplified more than a little, and still had a major project.

So, she had a magic-themed birthday party, with a white rabbit, playing cards, some Butterbeer...but that's another story. The Cake is what we're all about.

So, to introduce the cake:

It's a hare off-kilter, but that's life.

I'm betting you didn't know the White Rabbit's real name was Julius Caesar. This guy got et, too.

I know, I know – the poor hare looks like he's in the middle of an acupuncture session. I did try, initially, to build a ruffled collar which would also hold the candles, but the royal icing and the meringue options failed, so I was forced, at the last minute, to make a swirly, somewhat lace-topped disc of white chocolate, and didn't have the time or skill to place the candles in it without trashing them in transit, or to put dots of royal icing on it to receive the little sticks of wax upon their arrival at destination. So, we had a poor pitiful pincushion. 

But I imagine he looks quite spiffed up with flames surrounding his adorable meringue bunny ears (they didn't crumble the way so much else of meringue does when I'm under pressure).

For the record, there is quite a variety of foodstuffs involved in the making of this project. I made two cakes: one, in a giant cupcake mold, is a carrot/pecan/cranberry cake. His torso, legs, and head were those parts, carved up a bit to meet the needs of the design. He's leaning against a wall of more carrot cake – this time, gluten-free (substituting Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose GF Flour for the regular AP flour in the Bat's basic recipe) and fruit-free. He is assembled using two frostings: lemon royal icing (the glue), and lemon/cream-cheese/buttercream frosting (the decoration), both whipped to a fare-thee-well.

His collar is white chocolate, plain and simple, straight from the supermarket, melted in the microwave oven, and shaped on a turntable before chilling. His ears, arms, and trumpet are lemon-flavored meringue. The cards fanning the wall he's leaning upon are chocolate sugar cookies with a basic vanilla royal icing. The large placard is a tender gluten-free chocolate shortbread with a chocolate-cinnamon-Cointreau royal icing. Decorations on card and placard are done using meringue powder wash (a teaspoon of meringue powder mixed thoroughly with 3 tablespoons water), painted on, and then sprinkled with colored sugar.

I did also "spray paint" a few features: the trumpet and the hearts on his jerkin (torso parts). Wilton has some very nice edible paints in cans, and I have enjoyed taking advantage of them for occasional use. I suppose I could have gone over the top and bought some pearl dust, but…maybe next year. They carry a nice, wide variety of decorating products at my favorite boutique, but if you don't live in my region, you can find them all at Hobby Lobby, Michael's, or, of course, Amazon.

In the interim, I hope to eventually get the proper posts up, including the Bat's recipe for carrot cake & the cream cheese frosting, the chocolate shortbread cookie, and the chocolate royal icing. Let me gather my notes and energy, and I'll get right on that.  

Meanwhile, I ended up running out of steam by the end of the day.  My chauffeur (hi, Bat!) arrived a little before the celebrants were ready to approach the cake (they had hot dogs, chips, beans, and a few other picnic foods), and I, having had a very long week, opted to come home right away, rather than to stay and watch the candles lit and blown out. Besides, the party really was for the roomful of tweens. I'd have been the one basking in the glory of the evening, instead of making it about her.   If her grandparents share pictures of the cake or her face all lit up, I hope I can post them, too. 

For now, though, I rest my weary self and enjoy the evening, and hope you'll do the same with your time.