Sunday, December 4, 2016

Grandma’s chocolate cake gets a new layer

During the summer Jim made two batches of plum jam—one is rather runny but the taste combines the perfect tartness with a sweetness that makes my taste buds dance. The jam is also appealing because it’s a beautiful, deep plum color.
Besides eating it on toast, what can we do with our plum jam? I decided to combine it with chocolate cake. The easiest chocolate cake recipe I have was my childhood favorite—Grandma’s Salad Dressing cake. Now before you turn your nose up, let me clarify. I’m not talking about ranch or Italian dressing. I’m referring to the white stuff in the jar that’s similar to mayonnaise. When I tell people that they immediately say, “Are you talking about Miracle Whip?” I have to immediately tell them that Grandma’s strict instructions were to never use Miracle Whip.

Sometimes food myths are passed down through the generations. For example, in my family we had nearly certain knowledge that the Salad Dressing Cake needed to be a sheet cake, not a layer cake. It was reputed to be too moist to turn out of a layer cake round. However, when I tried it in my silicon baking rounds, it came out without a problem. That made me wonder if the salad dressing versus Miracle Whip question was also a myth. However, I compared the ingredients and did see slight differences, the largest being that vinegar is listed before sugar in the salad dressing and high fructose corn syrup is listed before vinegar in the Miracle Whip. Would it make a different in the cake? I trusted Grandma and went forth with her instructions.

After the rounds cooled, I put plum jam between the layers of chocolate cake. To visually indicate the plum taste to come I also made a small amount of plum cream cheese frosting and added red food gel to deepen its color. I used it as an accent color on the cake. My cake didn’t look like it came from the bakery but it tasted like it did. It also raised money for my church at our annual cake auction.
Try this easiest ever cake recipe and see what you think.

Grandma’s Salad Dressing Cake

1 ½ cup sugar
3 TBSP cocoa
2 tsp soda
1 cup salad dressing
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup cold water
2 cups sifted flour

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Sift together first three ingredients.

3. Add salad dressing and mix well with a spoon. Add vanilla.

4. Alternately add water and flour as you continue to mix by hand.

5. Divide batter in two well-greased cake rounds or one sheet pan.

6. Bake 35 – 40 minutes until cake tester comes out clean.

7. Cool for 10 minutes then turn onto wire racks.

8. When cooled, place the bottom layer on a cake plate. Spoon a generous layer of plum jam on top then place the top layer.

Cream Cheese Frosting

4 ounces softened cream cheese
2 TBS softened butter
1 TBS sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
8 + ounces confectioner’s sugar

1. Combine first three ingredients then mix in the vanilla. Add a little sugar at a time and continue beating until you get the consistency you want.

2. To make plum icing, start with a little more cream cheese because the jam will make the frosting loose. Add a tablespoon or so of plum jam and continue adding sugar until you get the consistency you want.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

What about those Thanksgiving leftovers?

The thing about Thanksgiving is that it’s sometimes difficult to know how much to cook. We get so excited about cooking for the feast that we always end up with too many leftovers. Here are a few things I’m doing with them.

Turkey salad—My favorite version is a basic Waldorf salad with turkey added. I like the freshness the apples bring to the turkey.

Potato cakes—This is a favorite from my childhood. I don’t know how Grandma made them but I simply lightly beat an egg then add in a few scoops of leftover mashed potatoes with whatever seasonings if feel like. Garlic powder is my standard. I patty them up, coat in cornmeal then brown in melted butter and olive oil.

Turkey pot pie—We love this dish. If I’ve had enough turkey for a while then I’ll chop what I need and freeze it for a pot pie treat in a few weeks.

Pinto bean soup—We don’t always have ham for Thanksgiving but since we did this year I’m looking forward to a good pot of Jim’s beans. I grew the beans so it’s a joint effort!

Bread crumbs—We still have a few homemade yeast rolls left. If we don’t eat them I will freeze them and pull them out when I need bread crumbs.

What are you doing with your Thanksgiving leftovers?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A simple supper pleases

I attended an out-of-town conference last week which meant my meals came from restaurants. I like eating out once in a while, but after so many meals cooked by someone else I’m ready to go back to my own cooking. 

The other side effect of traveling is that I returned to a very full day’s work. At the end of the day that left me with little energy to cook. So as I drove toward home I wondered what we had that I could prepare. Sweet potatoes, onions, Swiss chard. It was a start. Here’s what I ended up with.

Simple sweet potato supper
Medium sweet potato
1 Onion
1 TBSP Butter
1 tsp olive oil
Garlic clove
1 small bunch Swiss chard
Balsamic vinegar
1 can Cannellini beans
Basil butter

1. Bake sweet potato.
2. Thinly slice onion. Melt butter in skillet with olive oil. When skillet is warm, add onions and cook on low until soft.
3. Chop garlic and add to onions.
4. Fill pot with water and cover until boiling. In the meantime, wash and chop Swiss chard. Drop into boiling water for a minute or two. Remove and rinse in cold water to stop cooking.
5. Squeeze water out of greens and add to skillet. Sprinkle with salt. Stir to mix with onions. Sprinkle on a good balsamic vinegar or your favorite kind of vinegar.
6. Add beans and stir until all is warm. Check seasonings to determine if you need more salt.
7. Cut open baked sweet potato and dress with basil butter, or your favorite kind of butter.
8. Top with greens and beans.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Still Enjoying The Goodness of the Garden

Seven years later after beginning this blog I’m still relying on the goodness of the garden to feed myself, my family and friends. In celebration, I’ve decided to revive my blog. Welcome back or welcome for the first time. Whichever category you’re in, this is a place to explore what it’s like to eat from local sources for as much of the year as possible. It’s a pursuit that inspires my creativity while it also encourages healthy eating and hours of rejuvenating garden work.

At this time of year eating seasonally means using the still-growing greens from the garden, staying vigilant to harvest every last tomato and experimenting with our abundance of sweet potatoes and butternut squash. I recently gave a bag of Swiss chard to a friend who wanted to try it. Here’s one of my easiest-to-make recipes that uses chard.

      Swiss chard with caramelized onionsIngredients
1 ½ - 2 onions (depending on how much you like onions!)
1 TBS butter
1 TBS olive oil
1 lb. Swiss chard
½ cup nuts (pine nuts are especially good for this recipe)
¼ cup dried cranberries
balsamic vinegar

1. Slice onions very thinly. Use a mandolin if you like. Melt butter in olive oil in a good-sized skillet. (I like to use a large, cast iron skillet.) Turn the heat to low, add onions. Stir from time-to-time until they are caramelized, approximately 20 minutes. Caramelizing brings out the natural sugars but if you like more sweetness, you can add a little sugar.
2. Toast nuts while onions cook. If you use larger nuts, like walnuts, chop them.
3. Wash then chop the chard. When onions are soft and sweet, add a couple of handfuls of chard at a time. Sprinkle on a little salt and stir until wilted. You can also flick on a little water to help with wilting. Add more chard and repeat until all the chard is wilted and mixed with the onions.
4. Sprinkle on balsamic vinegar. Stir and taste. Add more vinegar to your taste.
5. Top with cranberries and nuts. Serve warm.

You can substitute other greens for the Swiss chard. Whichever you choose, you’ll have a healthy and tasty dish to enjoy one of the gems of the season.