Monday, December 28, 2009

Red Velvet Cake

What makes a red velvet cake red?
Well, originally, "red" was not meant to describe the color of the cake, but in fact described the volatile results when baking soda & buttermilk (acid & alkaline) chemically react. But apparently, sometime in the mid 1960s, someone somewhere decided that an old-fashioned red cake was not "red" enough, and added red food coloring to the cake batter. So there. Now you know!
The first time I ever made a red velvet cake was when my friends, Jason and Jimmy, got married. Just like in the movie Steel Magnolias, Jason wanted a red velvet cake in the shape of an armadillo. Luckily I had my brother Denny to help me with it. I think it turned out pretty good! This is also my fabulous friend, JKB's favorite cake and I'm always happy to make it for her.
You should try it!!!

1/2 cup vegetable shortening
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 oz. red food coloring
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda sprinkled over 1 Tbsp. vinegar

Heat oven to 350°F.
Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans. Set aside.
Cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Sift flour, salt & cocoa together. Add alternately with buttermilk. Beat after each addition. Stir in baking soda and vinegar mixture, then blend in the food coloring. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the cakes bounce back when lightly tapped. When completely cooled, frost with Cream Cheese Frosting.

Yes, this seems like a huge amount of red food coloring to add to a cake, but just go with me on this one. You don't want it to look like just any basic chocolate cake, which is basically what it is.
It's customary to frost this cake with the cream cheese frosting, but any favorite frosting will go just as nicely.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Easy Coconut Custard Pie

Many people think that a coconut custard pie is the same thing as a coconut cream pie, but that's not exactly true. Yes, they both have a custard filling, which is basically a mixture of milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt, but the difference is in the cooking. The custard pie is an uncooked filling poured into an uncooked crust, and both are cooked together. A cream pie, however, is a cooked and cooled filling poured into a precooked and cooled crust, usually with a layer of whipped cream on top. So, there you have it. Did that make sense?
This is a simple coconut custard pie that uses all the basic custard ingredients and is a snap to throw together. It's perfect for any occasion or holiday dessert. And can I just tell you how heavenly it smells while it's baking? I'm not even kidding!
I hope you'll try it!

one pie crust
2 1/2 cups milk
4 eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp coconut extract
1 cup flaked coconut
whipped cream and bananas (for garnish)

Heat oven to 400F.
Place pie crust in a 9" pie plate. Flute to make a decorative edge. Set aside.
In a small sauce pan, scald milk over medium heat. In the meantime, prepare the other ingredients. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs. Stir in sugar, salt and vanilla and coconut extracts. Gradually add scalded milk while stirring constantly. Stir in coconut and a little sprinkle of cinnamon. Pour into prepared unbaked pie shell. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until lightly golden on top or until an inserted knife comes out clean. Cool completely, then place in the fridge to chill. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and a few banana slices.

You really don't need to add the cinnamon or the coconut extract, but I always do. I just think they make it taste better!
You can use a store bought ready made pie crust, or just use half the recipe for my Easy Pie Crust.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mom's Mince Pie

For years and years, Mom didn't make this pie on Thanksgiving or Christmas because many of my siblings don't particularly care for it. Mom and my brother Jimmy were the only ones who really loved it. Finally, one year she said "You know what? I like it, so I'm making it!" And that was that. I have to say, although I didn't like it as child, I do enjoy it now. I guess my taste buds have become a little more sophisticated. Or maybe I've just grown to enjoy those falls spices a little more.
I think some people are afraid to try it because they think there's meat in it. Well, at one time, there really was meat in mincemeat, but that's not the case any more.
Mincemeat is a mixture of chopped dried fruit, spices, and distilled spirits. English recipes from the 15th, 16th, and 17th century describe Mincemeat as a mixture of meat and fruit used as a pie filling. By the mid-20th century the term was used to describe a similar mixture that does not include meat but is basically a mixture of fruits and spices such as cloves, nutmeg, mace and cinnamon, usually with added brandy or wine. So, there you have it.
Whenever Mom made her Mince pie, she always added finely diced apples. She once told me that the spices can sometimes be a little overpowering to the pie, and the apples help to balance everything. I've made it with apples and without, and of course, Mom was absolutely right. The apples really make a difference.
So, since Mom loved this recipe, it deserves a place in my recipe archive. If you're all about apples, raisins, and fall spices, then this is DEFINITELY the pie for you!

1 27 oz jar Mincemeat (with or without rum and brandy)
3 apples, peeled, cored, and finely diced
1 tbs flour
two pie crusts
2 tbs butter
powdered sugar

Heat oven to 425F.
Pour the jar of mincemeat into a large bowl. Add diced apples and flour. Stir until well combined. Set aside. Roll out pie crust and place in a deep dish Pyrex pie plate, making sure to leave an inch hanging over the edge. Pour the mincemeat/apple mixture into pie crust. Cut up butter into small pieces. Place them evenly on top of the pie filling. Roll out second pie crust. Place over pie. Press edges together. Trim excess pie crust. Crimp edges between your fingers to make a decorative edge. Cut slits in the top crust so that steam will vent. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F. Bake 20-30 minutes longer or until golden. Once it has cooled completely, dust the top with powdered sugar.

I always use Fuji apples because they're crisp and sweet, which is exactly what you want. I wouldn't use a tart apple in this particular recipe, since the point of adding the apples is to sweeten the pie.
No, I've never made home made mincemeat. Maybe one of these days I'll look into it, but for now, I'll just use the jar like Mom did.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


When you think of a ginger snap, you think of a dry, hard cookie that hurts the roof of your mouth, right? (Unless you're my friend Harry, who said that Ginger Snap sounds like the name of a drag queen....but that's another story...) Anyway, I wanted to find a gingersnap that is chewy, delicious and not dry, without being so heavily spicy. So, once again, I turned to my favorite cookie recipe source, The Mrs. Fields Cookie Book. Her gingersnaps are everything I wanted. The molasses flavor isn't overpowering and they have just enough spice. Oh, and I love the addition of crystallized ginger. It adds another layer of flavor and texture. YUM! Also, I borrowed an idea from Martha for this one...
I was watching one of her Christmas cookie specials, and she made Molasses Crisps that were rolled in sugar just before baking. I decided to do the same thing with the gingersnaps. It adds a lovely sparkle to the finished cookie and gives it a pretty 'crackled' look. Beautimous!
So here they are. Mrs. Fields' gingersnaps, with a Martha touch.

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tbs crystallized ginger - diced
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/4 cup dark brown sugar - packed
3/4 cup butter - softened
1 lg egg
1/4 c unsulfured molasses

Preheat oven to 300F.
In a medium bowl combine flour, soda, salt, ginger, crystallized ginger, allspice and pepper. Mix well and set aside. In a large bowl, mix sugar and butter with an electric mixer set at medium speed. Scrape down sides of the bowl. Add egg and molasses, beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the flour mixture and mix at low speed just until combined. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 1 hour--the dough well be less sticky and easier to handle. Form dough into balls 1 inch in diameter. Place onto ungreased cookie sheets, 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake 24-25 minutes. Use a spatula to immediately transfer cookies to a cool, flat surface.

I like a larger cookie, so I usually use about 2 tablespoons of dough for each one. Yes, that means less cookies per batch, but that's just an excuse to bake another batch!
I like to use the Pampered Chef medium scoop to measure out my cookies. It just makes life SO much easier.
Thanx Red!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Roz's Ricotta Cookies

I was recently at Roz's house for a little visit. As I was explaining the joys of Ebay shopping to Roz, Amy was baking these fabulous cookies for a cookie swap. I asked Roz where she got the recipe:
"Probably about 25 years ago, my Aunt Marie got the recipe from a co-worker and gave it to me. I'm not even sure if she ever made them herself. I started making them for a cookie swap and they kind of became my signature cookie."
Well, Roz, my unofficial 5th sister, since this is your signature cookie, you get the credit for the recipe. Thanx so much for sharing! Now, shall we get back to our Ebay shopping?

1/2 lb. butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 lb. ricotta cheese
2 tsp. vanilla
4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda

Cream butter and add sugar gradually. Beat until creamy. Add eggs one at a time, add vanilla. Add ricotta cheese and beat for 1 minute. Mix flour, soda and powder in a separate bowl. Add this mixture gradually to wet mixture. Stir well. Drop by teaspoon on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven. Ice and decorate the cookies while warm.

1 1/2 cups 10x sugar
1 tbs. milk

Beat until smooth. Dip cookie tops and decorate with sprinkles.
Cookies will be white on top, light brown on bottom. Do not double.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hot Ham

If you're one of my faithful readers, you know by now that my Mom was truly an amazing woman. As I become older, I realize more and more just how amazing she was. She could make a pot of chicken stew big enough to feed an army by using only one small chicken, she could make gallons of gravy with barely any drippings from a single roast beef, and she could stretch a ham into several meals. She used to tell me that ham is great because you can serve it at any meal. Ham and eggs for breakfast, ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch, and Hot Ham for dinner. Now, I know you may be wondering "What's hot ham?" Right? Well, it's sort of the ham version of a hot roast beef sandwich. (You know, thin slices of roast beef in brown gravy served on fresh round bakery rolls). But with hot ham, it's more of a thin glaze rather than a gravy.
At first, I couldn't remember how Mom used to make it. All I could remember was that the sauce had ginger ale in it. So, I called Cathy and Jeanie, and I even emailed my cousin, Pattie. Everyone remembered the dish but had no idea how Mom used to make it. Luckily, Denny remembered! Then, as I was at the grocery store buying ingredients, I ran into our long time next door neighbors, Frank and Claire. I told Claire what I was planning to make and she told me that she makes it too, pretty much the same way Mom used to make it. Perfect!
So here it is. It's a piece of my childhood, and it's gift from Mom that I'm happy to share with you. It's perfect for a quick mid-week dinner because it's ready in minutes and it's also perfect to serve instead of roast beef or meatballs at your next holiday party.
Try it!

1 (2 liter) bottle of ginger ale (not sugar free)
3 cups pineapple juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbs dry mustard
1 (20 oz) can pineapple slices with the juice
3 or 4 lb boneless ham, sliced by hand

In a large pot, simply mix together the first 4 ingredients over medium heat. As it simmers, add pineapple and ham slices. Let it simmer for about 20 minutes, just long enough to heat the ham, and blend the flavors.
Serve hot on fresh bakery rolls.

-These amounts are just a guideline. I'm guessing Mom never measured anything. She just sort of threw everything into the pot, and everything is to taste. Do you like a lot of mustard? Add a lot of mustard. So forth.
-It might seem like the final dish will be far too sweet, considering the brown sugar and juice and all, but the saltiness from the ham really balances everything.
-Mom always sliced the ham by hand because the thicker slices hold up better as they sit in the sauce. Thinly sliced deli ham always becomes kind of wrinkly and not quite as hearty.
-Another thing Mom always did was to float maraschino cherries in the pot with the ham and pineapples. It gives the sauce a lovely pink hue.
-I like Canada Dry ginger ale the best, but clearly any brand will work perfectly. You can even substitute 7 Up. Whatever you have on hand will work. If I were using 7 Up, I'd probably add a little ground ginger. You can also substitute any kind of mustard if you don't have dry mustard, and you can use chunks instead of slices of pineapple. Mom always cut the slices into chunks anyway! However you make it, it'll always turn out great!
-This makes quite a bit, which would be perfect for a party, but you can easily cut the amounts in half.
-If you're cooking for a party, just throw everything into a crock pot to keep it hot, then place a basket of rolls next to it and have your guests serve themselves.
-If you're planning to roast a holiday ham, you can use this exact recipe to glaze the ham before you put it in the oven and then pour on more glaze as it caramelizes.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Joey's Stewed Tomatoes

The very first time I ever made stewed tomatoes, I used my sister Jeanie's recipe. For years and years, if you had asked me what recipe I use, I'd have said "I always use Jeanie's recipe." It wasn't until recently, when I made them for our weekly Project Runway group, that I thought to myself "This isn't Jeanie's recipe at all!" Without even realizing it, over the years I've sort of tweaked it here and changed it there to suit my own tastes, and now it's very different from the original. For one thing, I like them to be nice and sweet, so my tomatoes are much sweeter. For another thing, I use canned tomatoes instead of fresh. If you want to know all the other differences, you'll just have to ask My Jeanie!
Oh, and one other thing...
For me, this recipe goes hand in hand with Baked Macaroni and Cheese. I literally never make one without the other.
Not kidding!

olive oil
3 tbs butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 small green bell pepper, finely chopped
5 large cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup sugar
3 large (28 oz) cans sliced or diced tomatoes
2 heaping tbs tomato paste
dried basil or Italian seasoning to taste
salt and pepper

In a large heavy pot, pour a few generous glugs of olive oil. Add butter and place over medium heat until the butter melts and the oil shimmers. Add the onion and green pepper. Saute until they become soft. Add garlic and sugar. Stir well. Add tomatoes and tomato paste along with the dried herbs and spices. Reduce to a low heat and let it simmer for at least 30 minutes. I usually let it go for much longer, like an hour or more. The longer it simmers, the better it is. Stir it every so often to make sure it doesn't burn on the bottom. I always add an extra drizzle of olive oil just before I serve it, just to make it shiny and glossy and to add a little extra flavor.

Make sure you simmer it over a low heat. It'll help to insure that you won't burn it on the bottom.
When you add the salt and pepper, hold back a little. Add a little less than you think you should add. As it simmers, it reduces and the flavors become more concentrated. You don't want your finished product to be too salty. You can always go back and adjust the seasoning at the end if you need to.
I suppose you could make a smaller batch, but I always figure "If I'm gonna make it, I might as well make it!" and go for the big batch.