Monday, September 13, 2010

A Birthday Carrot Cake!


I have been drawn to the kitchen nearly all my life. When I was 5, my mother (bed-ridden with a pregnancy) would send me downstairs to make her a sandwich for lunch. When I was 9, my father took my twin sister and I into the kitchen and taught us how to read a recipe.


There were several years following this momentous occasion where….Interesting Dinners resulted from our novice attempts at cooking. One particular meatloaf stands out in my mind. The recipe called for breadcrumbs, and dehydrated onions. The recipe helpfully suggested that if you did not have any breadcrumbs, you could toast bread and break it up. Having never seen breadcrumbs, per-say, I took the second option. And broke it up into one inch chunks. Then, tackling the onion problem…I looked through the spice cupboard, checking every ingredient label as I went. Finally, I found something that had onions in it – Onion Powder! So I put in three tablespoons of that.


The resulting meatloaf looked like brain (from the bread “crumbs”) and tasted like pure onion. It took me a long time to live down that onion loaf….


The other thing I could not get right was cake. I tried one, from the same cookbook, and it came out looking (and feeling) like a golden, buttery brick.


My father told me to chalk it up to experience…and that I had just re-invented the Pound Cake.


Needless to say, with the many other options available to me in the kitchen, it has taken me a long time to return to cake making. If I can get perfect results with Betty Crocker and an egg….who am I to mess with perfection!


My friends, it has taken me over 15 years…but I have finally found a few cakes that I can (successfully!) turn out for parties, celebrations and the like. The first is Pioneer Woman’s Chocolate Sheet Cake, with a few modifications. (I like to throw in a few dashes of Saigon Cinnamon now, to kick it up a bit. Mmm.)


The other cake I can successfully turn out?


Dorie Greenspan’s Carrot Cake. I first used it to cater a wedding luncheon this summer, and have since used it to celebrate two birthdays. It’s a hit. Nothing very unique about it…except that it turns out exactly how a carrot cake should be – not too sweet, not too spicy, and never dry. Just…perfect. 


Bill’s Big Carrot Cake

(adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan)


2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. ground cinnamon (I use Saigon cinnamon. It tastes like red-hots.)

3/4 tsp. salt

3 cups grated carrots (approximately 9 carrots) (a food processor makes this really quick!)

1/2 cup moist raisins, or dried cranberries (both are good!)

2 cups sugar

1 cup oil

4 large eggs

(The original recipe also includes nuts and coconut, but we don’t like nuts in cakes, and I never have coconut on hand. So…there ya go.)


Preheat your oven to 325 and prepare your pans. I like to use 2 9” pans, or make cupcakes. (Depending on the size of your cupcakes, this can make anywhere from 12-24.) You can also use 3 9” pans for more frosting-space, but I only have two. Spray well with cooking spray, or smear with butter, and flour liberally. Set aside.


In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In a small bowl, stir together the carrots and raisins or cranberries.


Using a stand mixer, with your paddle attachment, beat together the sugar and the oil, on medium speed, until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, and keep on beating until the batter is even more smooth. Take the speed down to low and add in the flour mixture until just mixed. Carefully mix in the chunky stuff, and divide the batter into your prepared pans.


Bake for 40 minutes, or until the cake just begins to pull back from the edges of the pan and a toothpick stuck into the middle comes out batter-free.


Cool the cakes for 5 minutes on a cooling rack, then run a small flexible rubber scraper around the outside and turn the cakes out onto racks to cool.


(The cakes can be wrapped up once they’re cool and kept at room temperature overnight, or in the freezer for two months.)



(This is a pretty generic Cream Cheese frosting, and easy to dress up)


8 oz. cream cheese

1 stick (8 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 pound (3 3/4 cup) powdered sugar, sifted

Flavoring (1 Tbsp. lemon juice, 1/2 tsp. pure extract, 1 tsp. vanilla, etc.)


Beat the cream cheese and butter together, in a stand mixer (with the paddle attachment) until creamy. Carefully add the powdered sugar and mix until it is smooth. Gradually add in your flavoring, adjusting to taste.


Now go forth and build the Carrot Cake of your dreams! This really does make excellent little cupcakes, or a rather elegant (and easy!) birthday cake.


(Another excellent quality of this cake is that, if you were to leave a few cupcakes un-frosted, you now have an excellent dairy-free dessert for any lactose intolerant nieces that might be lurking around your kitchen!)

Review: Mallard Ice Cream, Bellingham WA


(Two scoops of Lavender Chocolate ice cream)

Oh, my friends. I have a problem. A few weeks ago, we took a (very tasty) trip to Richmond, BC. On the way home, my devious Sister in Law and I snatched the GPS away from my husband (the driver) and programmed in a short pit-stop. In Bellingham, WA.


Now, there’s nothing in Bellingham, except for Western Washington University…and Mallard Ice Cream.


This wouldn’t be a problem, except that now that I’ve tasted the best ice cream in the world…I can’t possibly be expected to ever buy a carton of ice cream from the grocery store again!


In a stroke of genius, I sent in the (now thoroughly disgruntled) driver and his sister to pick out two bowls of ice cream for the four adults in the car to share. I volunteered to stay behind with the sleeping babies. (The remaining adult, my Father in Law, quickly abandoned ship when he realized he would be stuck in a warm car with just sleeping babies to look at.)


My husband, Lo Gung, came back changed. He was ranting and raving like a man possessed. Basil Raspberry! Vanilla and Black Pepper! Lavender and Coconut!


Mallard Ice Cream, supposedly, has over 500 flavors under its belt, but only 30 (or so) are for sale on any given day. They will happily give you a spoonful of this, or of that, for as long as it takes you to make up your mind…and even have a special scoop for “undecideds” – Half this, and half that!

We ended up with two bowls. One Lavender and Chocolate Chunk and the other Coconut Chocolate Chunk.


Both? Were out of this world amazing.


Which is why I can’t bring myself to buy ice cream anymore. *sigh*


If you ever find yourself on I-5, in Northern Washington State, make sure to stop by Mallard Ice Cream! You’ll be glad you did!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Easy Mac n’ Cheese, LoLo Style

Not to be confused with Myrnie’s recipe for Easy Macaroni and Cheese.

This? Is my go-to macaroni and cheese recipe. I love it because it uses one pot, one colander, mug, whisk and a wooden spoon. Also? The sauce isn’t thickened with flour. Flour’s fine, but I always get the proportions wrong, and it has to cook for a good five minutes before you know if you got it right or not. And then it’s hard to fix.

This recipe is thickened with cornstarch, or tapioca starch. Hello, instant gratification! (Oh, and the kidlets all love it.

IMG_7095 IMG_7100


Easy Mac n’ Cheese, LoLo Style


Salted water

1 pound pasta (macaroni, rigatoni, Seattle Space Needle…whatever)

Cornstarch, or tapioca flour


Grated Cheddar cheese.



Soup pot

Wooden spoon




Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook one pound of pasta.  While the pasta is cooking. put a colander and a mug in the sink. When it’s cooked just right, head over to the sink. First pour the water over the mug to fill it, and then drain the rest of the pasta into the colander. Let it just chill out in the sink for a second.


Swing by the cupboard and grab the cornstarch (or tapioca starch). Stop by the refrigerator and grab the milk and a bag of shredded cheddar cheese.

Now you’re back at the stove, whisk in hand. Make sure your milk, cheese, starch and that mug of water from the sink are handy. Pour in enough milk to cover the bottom of the pot by about 1/2”. Then put in two heaping spoonfuls of your cornstarch. Turn the heat to medium, and whisk it up. It will be a little gloppy at first, but keep whisking until it’s smooth. When it’s smooth, start throwing in handfuls of cheese. You might want to switch back to the wooden spoon at this point. It takes quite a bit of cheese to make a tasty pasta…four of five handfuls. If it gets too thick, thin it down with the pasta water, or a little more milk.

Finally, dump your pasta back into the pot and stir to coat. Kill the heat, and VOILA! Easy, sheeny, cheesy yummy macaroni and cheese.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Krab Toast

I had a few sticks of mock crab left over from a recent sushi night, and came up with these rich toasts. They were great with a bowl of tomato soup. I had 2 sticks of mock crab, and it made three small toasts- you can modify this however you wish. Of course, this crab salad is also great in a pasta salad, or as part of a sushi roll! For pasta salad you could add celery and whatever else looked good that day.

Krab Toast
2 sticks mock crab, finely minced
about 2 Tbsp mayonnaise
about 1 Tbsp finely minced onion

grated cheese

Stir together first three ingredients and spread on pieces of bread (or toast if you'd like these firmer when you finish), and top with grated cheese. We used mozzarella and a bit of parmesan. Broil until cheese is melted and bubbly.
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Garden Fresh Tomato Soup

The original recipe for this can be found here. I mostly followed the recipe, but upped the onion, omitteed cloves, changed up the cooking method, and never bothered to measure my tomatoes.

Garden Fresh Tomato Soup
Based on a Recipe from

About 4 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (I used a mixture of yellow plum and roma)
1/4 of a small yellow onion, sliced
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
2 cups chicken broth
salt to taste
sugar to taste (up to 2 tsp)

In a medium pot cook tomatoes and onions on medium high heat to slightly wilt and roast. Stir in butter and flour to form a roux- let cook and bubble until thickened. Stir in 2 cups chicken broth, vigorously, scraping up bits from the bottom of the pan. Let simmer 20 minutes, and puree with a stick blender.

Pour soup through a wire mesh strainer into serving bowl (to strain out any large chunks of tomato skin) and season to taste with salt and suger. I didn't use any extra salt, as my broth was from bullion powder and already quite salty.
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