Sunday, June 16, 2013


In 1957, a homemaker made history when she sent her recipe for a sweet chocolate cake covered with a rich, coconut-pecan frosting to a Dallas, Texas newspaper.  The cake uses a chocolate that was created by Samuel German, an employee of the Baker Company, in 1852 as a convenience item for home cooks because German mixed the sugar with the chocolate.  It took a century for his chocolate to come to fame with this typically Southern recipe that enjoys almost universal appeal.  Of course, millennial cooks have changed the original recipe to appeal to the modern palate.  Dark Chocolate ganache is usually found somewhere on the cake today because we have a taste for it now.

I adapted this recipe from The Kitchen is My Playground blog.  I was more specific with directions, as I feel baking is pretty much an exact science.  I used 1/4 tsp. salt instead of a pinch, unsalted butter, a bittersweet chocolate ganache instead of chocolate frosting and chocolate sprinkles and I cut the coconut topping to 1/3 the recipe.  Other than that, I followed the recipe exactly.  My taste testers and I went crazy over these cupcakes.  The cupcakes are very light, moist, sweet and just chocolatey enough, mimicking the difficult-to-make typical chocolate cake associated with this dessert -- but these cupcakes use a quick-mix method that is more baker friendly and harder to mess up.  The homemade cooked topping is very rich and absolutely divine, and the very easy bittersweet ganache balances out all the sweetness.  These make a truly memorable dessert, one that anyone would be proud to offer their guests.  Please do try these soon.  

German Chocolate Cupcakes with Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache and Coconut Topping
Adapted from The Kitchen is My Playground
Rating:  10 out of 10

3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour, whisked, then lightly spooned and leveled
3 Tbsp. unsweetened natural cocoa powder
Scant 3/4 cup sugar
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. Diamond kosher salt
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cool room temperature

1/2 cup whole or 2% lowfat milk
1 large egg, room temperature
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Heat oven to 325F.  Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper cups.  Combine flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, salt and butter in bowl of a stand mixer.  Using paddle attachment, mix on stir speed until combined and crumbly like sand.

In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, egg and vanilla.  Slowly pour about half the milk mixture into the flour mixture.  Mix on low speed to combine.  Once combined, turn mixer to high (cake mix speed) and beat for about 10 seconds to remove any lumps.

Return to low speed and pour in remaining milk mixture.  Mix until all ingredients are just incorporated, then beat for about another 30 seconds to one minute, until the batter is smooth.  Remove beaters and bowl and scrape the batter with a spatula, giving it a last few turns to ensure it is evenly mixed.  

Spoon about 2 Tbsp. batter into each cup, to fill cups about half full.  Bake 16-19 minutes, or till cupcakes spring back when lightly touched, or till a toothpick inserted near center returns with just a few crumbs.  Cool 5 minutes in pan, then transfer cupcakes to a wire rack to finish cooling.  You can freeze the cupcakes, once cooled, if you intend to make the other components  at a later date.

1 large egg yolk
1/3 cup evaporated milk
2 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. unsalted butter
Pinch Diamond kosher salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp. finely shredded sweetened dried coconut*
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup chopped toasted pecans

For garnish:  12 pecan halves

*To finely shred coconut, first, measure desired amount.  Place in mini food processor and pulse for several seconds to finely shred.  

Combine all topping ingredients except pecans in a small saucepan.  Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until thick, about 7-10 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in chopped pecans.  Let cool to lukewarm.  Refrigerate, covered, any unused portion.

3 Tbsp. heavy cream
1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate, chopped (or 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, if desired)

In small microwaveable dish, heat cream on high 6-8 seconds, till steaming (or heat cream in small pan on medium heat till steaming).  Add chocolate and stir till combined and smooth.  

Spread ganache thinly on each cupcake top.  Top with a small cookie scoop (about 1-1/2 Tbsp.) of topping.  Press 1 pecan half onto top of coconut topping on each cupcake.  
Yield:  12 lovely, delicious, decadent, memorable cupcakes

TIP:  If you don't have time to make these all in one shot, then make the cupcakes and freeze them up to a month ahead.  Make the coconut topping and refrigerate for up to a week.  Then, when you want to assemble them, take the cupcakes out to thaw, take the topping out to soften, make the ganache and assemble.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


We recently converted our covered porch to a sunroom.  Because we added sunroom furniture, we lost space for one of our tables.  The table pictured above is 25" x 33", perfect for an entry, a plant stand, an eating/snack table, or a place to do paper work.  The chairs are not for sale.

We've invested considerable time and money in restoring the legs.  They're freshly painted, including gold paint for the Singer name.

The Singer trademark is also detailed beautifully in gold paint.

The durable granite is encased in wood for a nice custom effect.  The granite is very dark green which presents as more of a black color until you look carefully and see the green specks.

We're very sad to see this beauty go, but we just don't have room for it.  Our other table is currently in the garage awaiting restoration, and the one you see above, already restored, is the one we're selling for a very reasonable price of $169.00.  This item is too heavy to be shipped, so you have to live in or near New Bern, or be willing to travel to New Bern, to take advantage of this offer.  Please leave a comment  at the bottom of this post with your contact information if you are interested.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


It's been many years since my last visit to the Trawl Door Restaurant in Oriental, and my memory of the physical layout back in the day is hazy.  I do remember the food -- fried fish, hush puppies, French fries -- typical Southern fare.  I was excited to check out the resurrection of the Trawl Door by New Bern's Flame Restaurant, hoping for a more modern cuisine.

There are three dining venues at the Trawl Door:  an open-air deck, a covered deck/bar and the inside dining room.  We chose the latter.  The restaurant is on the water, and the open-air deck is the only venue that has water views.  Even so, management has done a beautiful job renovating the inside.  Below is a photo taken as I was exiting the very nice Ladies Room.

Go straight and you'll be back outside.  Turn right, and you're headed toward the dining room, as below.

The dining room is on the dark side, even though there are some windows that face the parking lot, but it has a nice feel.

There were four of us, and we each ordered something different.  For me, it was Pan Seared Flounder with summer squash, zucchini olive oil and basil tomatoes, natural juice and mashed potatoes ($15.95). I asked for another veggie in place of the potatoes but when my entree came, there was just the squash.  The veggies were under the fish and they, and the fish, were absolutely delightful, cooked to perfection.  The veggies were not too raw and not too cooked, and the sauce was perfect on the mild flounder.

Bob ordered Seared cod with garlic mashed potatoes, andouille sausage and clam broth ($16.95).  There were some small clams with this dish.  He raved about everything.

Darian asked for Seared Atlantic salmon with truffle tomatoes vinaigrette mashed potatoes and
lobster nage ($18.95).  She asked for another veggie in place of the mashed potatoes and got a cauliflower-broccoli medley.  She loved the veggies and the fish.

Serving sizes on all of the above entrees were adequate, but not huge.  None of us had difficulty finishing our entrees and there were no leftovers to carry home.  The fried seafood platter, below, is a larger entree.  It should also be mentioned that none of the four of us were served hot entrees.  Everything was warm, which was okay, but not preferable.  Like good diners, no one asked for anything to be returned or replaced.  We dined early (6:30 pm), and the restaurant was not crowded, but we did order four different entrees, so that may be what the problem was.

Hubby Guy, a clam lover, was upset there were no clams on the menu.  The only thing he could find to order was the Seafood Platter of fried shrimp, oyster, calamari and flounder served with a side of 
coleslaw($19.95).  He asked for more shrimp in place of the calamari.  Though it wasn't mentioned on the menu, this entree also came with French fries.  When he asked for tartar sauce, he was told there was none available, but one of the sous chefs made him a red sauce.  He loved the shrimp and oysters and ate them all.  He left the flounder.  

We asked our very cordial server to take a photo of us before we left. Guy and Darian are on the left, and Bob and I are on the right.

The Trawl Door,, 518 Water Street, Oriental, NC, (252)249-3500


Monday, May 13, 2013


All year, we wait for Spring to enjoy the two lush, beautiful flowering Chinese Fringe trees in our yard.  The trees are completely loaded with fringe-y flowers for a full two weeks, sometimes longer.

We never tire of neighbors stopping by and remarking on the sheer beauty of the trees, asking us where we bought them.  (We purchased  them from Tru Value Hardware store on Trent Road/McCarthy Blvd. about six years ago, when they were young saplings.)

Unfortunately, we were so busy admiring the flowering trees and doing yard work, that we failed to notice a slow but steady downturn in our beloved Meyer Lemon tree, until the leaves were almost gone.  It was spider mites again.  The tree has turned ugly, at least for a while.  After three sprays for spider mites, we finally have seen new growth, but it will take a while for the tree to come back.  The spider mites are stubborn and there are still some on the underleaves.

I marked our calendar for next February.  We'll check our citrus trees then for spider mites.  They're going to be there every year, guaranteed -- we just have to spray before the damage becomes severe.
Our thanks to the girls at Pinecone Perennials for cluing us in on the spider mites.  We do love that store.

Thursday, May 2, 2013


We have a friend who has recently been diagnosed with severe lactose intolerance.  Imagine not being able to eat ice cream, whipped cream, yogurt or sour cream and having to avoid most desserts.  So, when we were invited to share Easter dinner with them, I was determined to bring a dairy-free dessert that didn't taste dairy free.  I succeeded in not only making him happy, but also his entire family.  You don't have to be lactose intolerant to enjoy these great cupcakes.  They're so good, you won't even think about lactose...or intolerance.

They are a bit of work, though.  First you make a from-scratch cupcake, then a filling, then Italian meringue frosting (aka marshmallow fluff), then melt chocolate to drizzle, then crush up peanuts.  It will take a while, but believe me, it's worth it.  These are so very good.  The cupcake is chocolatey, light and moist; the frosting is not overly sweet as most commercial marshmallow fluff is; the peanut butter filling complements the cupcake flavors; and the chocolate drizzle and peanut topping are the perfect finishing touches.  Not only that, but once you see these beauties, you will WANT to eat them.

Dairy-Free Cocoa Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Filling and Marshmallow Frosting
Rating:  10 out of 10


1/2 cup Dutch cocoa powder, sifted
1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, whisked then lightly spooned and leveled
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. chocolate flavor (I used Spices, etc., purchased online)
1/2 cup soy milk
1/2 cup freshly brewed coffee, decaf or regular

Heat oven to 350F.  Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.  In large bowl, whisk together cocoa powder, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  In medium bowl  whisk egg, oil, sugars, flavorings and coffee.  Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients using a spoon or spatula.  Batter will be somewhat lumpy -- do not over mix it to make it smooth.  Using an ice cream scoop (1/4 cup), fill paper liners.  Bake about 16 minutes, or till a toothpick inserted near center returns with just a few crumbs.  Cool in pan 5 minutes, then turn cupcakes out onto wire rack to completely cool.

7 Tbsp. Jif Natural Creamy Peanut Butter
2 Tbsp. confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 Tbsp. soy milk

In small bowl, combine all ingredients.  Core cooled cupcakes with a Cuisipro or other hollowing device, and fill cavity with peanut butter filling.  Eat the cupcake pieces you cored; sandwich two with some peanut butter filling and marshmallow frosting.

3 Tbsp. water
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. light corn syrup
1/3 cup plus 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar, divided use
2 large egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp. vanilla powder or vanilla extract
pinch of salt
pinch of cream of tartar

In a small saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, bring water, corn syrup and 1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp. sugar to a rolling boil on high heat, brushing down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush.  Do not stir mixture, as it will cause it to crystallize.  Boil until mixture reaches 242F, or soft-ball stage.

In the meantime, a few minutes after the sugar mixture comes to a boil, place egg whites in a completely clean, dry mixing bowl.  Using regular beaters on medium-high speed whip egg whites, vanilla powder or extract, salt and cream of tartar until creamy and foamy, about 2 minutes.  With mixer still on, sprinkle the remaining 1 Tbsp. of sugar over the whites and continue beating until whites hold very soft peaks, another 2 minutes.  When syrup has reached 242F, reduce mixer speed to low.  Find the sweet spot (between the sides of the bowl and the beaters) and very, very slowly and carefully drizzle in the hot syrup.  After all syrup has been added, turn mixer to high and beat till thick, fluffy and just barely warm, about 7 minutes.  Fit a 16" piping bag with a 1M Wilton tip; spoon frosting into bag and pipe onto cupcakes making high mounds of frosting.

About 1 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
About 1/4 cup honey-roasted peanuts, crushed or chopped

Place chocolate into one bottom corner of a resealable plastic bag.  Microwave on high about 30 seconds.  Continue microwaving on high at 10-second intervals until chocolate is melted.  Very carefully cut the tiniest corner to make a very small hole through which the chocolate may be drizzled onto the frosting.  Lightly sprinkle peanuts over cupcakes.

TIME-SAVING TIPS:  Instead of making peanut butter filling, just use Peanut Butter & Co.'s White Chocolate Wonderful Peanut Butter, available at Wal-Mart or Harris Teeter.  If you're not lactose intolerant, you could use a cake mix for the cupcakes, but you will have to double the other ingredients.

Friday, April 26, 2013


To celebrate their upcoming food truck tour*, Friendship Dairies is giving away to one lucky reader the following: 

-Branded Friendship cloth grocery bag ($15 value)

-$15 iTunes gift card (to create a mix for your workouts)

-Brita Filtered water bottle ($10 value)

-Rocco DiSpirito’s new cookbook: “Now Eat This! Italian: Favorite Dishes from the Real Mamas of Italy--All Under 350 Calories” ($26.99 retail)

-two Coupons for FREE Friendship Dairies products ($8 value) 


This contest is limited to US entries only, including Alaska and Hawaii residents, and deadline to enter is Midnight, Tuesday, April 30.  

For complete information on how to enter (don't worryit's easy), go to my main blog, Judy's Kitchen.

*Friendship Dairies will be having a food truck tour with celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito that will be passing through the New York Metro area this May.  The mobile mixer truck will be serving free 5-ounce Friendship Fit to Go™ 1% Low Fat, 1% Low Fat Pineapple, and 4% Regular cottage cheese samples with innovative mix-in options.  Check out the Friendship Dairies website to find where you can purchase their products in your area, to follow the food truck and to get recipes.  (Friendship Dairies products are predominantly distributed along the East Coast of the US with limited distribution in other states.) 

Thursday, April 25, 2013


These muffins are loaded.   Delicious buttery pecans, oatmeal and maple syrup will provide a great way to start your day or a perfect afternoon snack.   To get a more intense maple flavor, though, you have to use Grade B syrup in addition to maple flavoring.  Grade B syrup is available at Harris Teeter in the maple syrup section, on the top shelf.  

Since brands of maple flavoring vary in intensity, it would be best to start with less flavoring and adjust to taste.  I used Boyajian maple flavoring, purchased online per King Arthur Flour Company's recommendation, but I was very disappointed.  It tastes more like coffee flavor than maple flavor.  The company did not respond to my email questions concerning their product ingredients.  The good news:  even though the maple flavoring didn't taste like maple flavoring, the muffins tasted great.  Coffee and maple syrup, it seems, are great flavor partners.

Set out all your ingredients first and be sure they're room temperature before you start. If you want morning muffins but don't want to get up early to make them, just make them the day before and give them a quick zap in the microwave to warm them in the morning.  You won't need any butter on these -- they're perfect as is.  (But I would suggest a slice or two of bacon for a great accompaniment.)

Maple-Glazed Oatmeal-Maple-Pecan Muffins with Maple-Pecan Streusel
Rating:  9.5 out of 10

1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup chopped toasted pecans + 1/2 cup
2 Tbsp. quick oats + 3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp.
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. pure maple syrup + 1/2 cup + 1/4 cup, Grade B preferred
1/4 tsp. maple flavor + 1 tsp. + 1/4 tsp.
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted + 2 tsp.
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
scant 1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup canola oil
1 large egg
1/3 cup confectioner's sugar

In small bowl, combine whole wheat flour, 1/4 cup pecans, 2 Tbsp. oats, 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar, 1 Tbsp. maple syrup, 1/4 tsp. maple flavor  and 1 Tbsp. melted butter.  Set aside.

In large bowl, whisk together 1 cup all-purpose flour, 3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. quick oats, 1/2 cup pecans, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  In medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, 1/2 cup maple syrup, 1 tsp. maple flavor, oil and egg.  Add liquids to dry ingredients all at once, stirring lightly with spoon or spatula till just barely combined.  Let batter rest 20-30 minutes before filling greased muffin tins with about 1/4 cup batter and 1/2 Tbsp. streusel.  While batter is resting, heat oven to 350F.  Bake 17-19 minutes, or till a toothpick inserted near center returns with just a few crumbs.  Cool muffins in tins 5 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack to finish cooling.

While muffins are cooling, combine confectioner's sugar, 2 tsp. melted butter, 1/4 cup maple syrup and 1/4 tsp. maple flavor in small bowl, stirring with spoon or fork till smooth.  Drizzle warm muffins with glaze.  Yield 12 standard-size muffins

Thursday, April 18, 2013


In East Carolina, summer weather can extend from May through October, and the hot Carolina sun can be brutal.  It doesn't make much sense to use the oven, not only because you're counteracting the air conditioning, but also because New Bern's electric rates are even more ridiculously high during summer months.  But some foods need to be baked -- take, for instance,  Spanokopita.  It's a great accompaniment to a salad, and we have salads for dinner often in the summer.  Topped with a piece of fish or chicken, the salad becomes an entree and the Spanokopita serves as a delicious bread.

Since gas grills nowadays have separate burners and thermostatic controls, I found through experimentation that just spraying a piece of tinfoil with nonstick cooking spray and placing the Spanokopita on the foil on the turned-off burner and cooking with lid closed for about 20-25 minutes on 350-375F, yields the same results as placing it in a conventional oven.  (Be sure to preheat the grill first.)  

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Hummingbird cake – a banana-pineapple spice cake -- has been a southern tradition since the mid 19th century and is especially popular at Christmas.  The first known publication of the recipe was in the February 1978 Southern Living magazine.  It was elected the magazine's favorite recipe in 1990, and won the Favorite Cake Award at the 1978 Kentucky State Fair.  The cake typically has two or three layers with pecans, mashed bananas, crushed pineapple and cream cheese frosting.  I call it banana cake on steroids.

Last December, I made Food Network's version of Hummingbird cake to rave reviews.  Today's cupcakes are an adapted smaller version of Southern Living's enormously popular recipe, and I made them to celebrate the arrival of Spring.  These are very sweet with a moist, tender, almost velvety texture and everyone, but everyone, loves them.  (If you eliminate the cream cheese frosting and just sprinkle with powdered sugar, Hummingbird cupcakes are dairy free.)  

Hummingbird Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Southern Living
Rating:  9.5 out of 10


1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda, scant
1/2 tsp. salt, scant
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 large egg, room temperature
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup mashed bananas
4 oz. crushed pineapple, undrained*
1/3 cup chopped toasted pecans 

Heat oven to 350F.  Line a 12-cup standard muffin tin with paper liners.  In large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, sugar and cinnamon.  In medium bowl, whisk egg, oil, vanilla, bananas, pineapple and pecans till well combined.  Stir into dry ingredients, mixing just till barely moistened.  Fill muffin cups 2/3 full, using about 3-1/2 Tbsp. for each cup.  Bake 15-18 minutes, or till a toothpick inserted near center returns with just a few crumbs. Cool on wire rack.  Frost with cream cheese frosting when thoroughly cool.  Yield:  12 cupcakes

*You can use fresh pineapple, finely chopped, in place of the canned crushed pineapple, if desired.


4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
4 Tbsp. butter, room temperature
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese and butter at medium speed of mixer till fluffy and smooth.  Gradually add sugar, beating till smooth after each addition.  Add vanilla and beat on high till fluffy.

TIP:  Believe it or not, these actually taste better as they age, making them a perfect make-ahead dessert.  Store in fridge, of course, for up to one week.  They also freeze beautifully -- thaw at room temperature for one hour before serving.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Cheri Eby of Gunnison, Colorado, entered this yummy, moist cake in a Colorado Outfitters Association dessert contest and it took first prize.  After I made it, I agreed with the judges' decision.  This is the best classic carrot cake I've made yet, and my taste testers all raved.  Whether it was Cheri's recipe or my tweaks or a little of both, I can't say, but I do know I'll be making it again.

My changes:  I grated the carrots very fine using a coarse microplane grater.  It was hard to detect any traces of carrot in the cake because they were so well integrated, and I and my taste testers liked that.  I used 12 oz. cream cheese instead of 16.

This carrot cake doesn't have much salt in it, but it does have extra sugar.  Normally, I would decrease the sugar, but I decided to follow the recipe and I'm glad I did.  Carrot cakes are so easy to make because you barely mix the ingredients together.  In fact, if you over mix, the cake will fall or be tough, just like muffins and pancakes.  You don't even need to get your mixer out.  The best way to make a carrot cake is by hand, using a whisk and spatula.  This is a dessert that's welcome year round, easily made in a 9 x 13 pan and mixed by hand.  You can't beat that for convenience and ease.

Prize-Winning Classic Carrot Cake
Adapted from Taste of Home February/March 2008
Rating:  10 out of 10

1 (8 oz.) can unsweetened crushed pineapple
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 tsps. baking soda
2 tsps. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. table salt
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup milk mixed with 1-1/2 tsp. lemon juice or vinegar)
2 cups peeled carrots, grated using coarse microplane grater
3/4 cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts (1/2 cup for cake, 1/4 cup for garnish)

Heat oven to 350F.  Grease a 13x9x2" baking pan.  Line pan with parchment cut to fit.  Drain pineapple, reserving 2 Tbsps. juice for cake.  Discard remaining juice or save for another use.

In large bowl, whisk together flour, sugars, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.  In medium bowl, whisk together eggs, oil and buttermilk.  Stir in reserved 2 Tbsps. juice and carrots and 1/2 cup nuts with spatula or spoon, then stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients lightly, mixing till just barely combined.  Do not over mix.  Pour into pan.  Bake 35-40 minutes or till toothpick inserted near center returns clean.  Cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out onto towel-lined wire rack and peel off parchment.  Cool thoroughly, then return cake to cooled pan before frosting.

12 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups confectioner's sugar

In small mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and butter until smooth.  Add vanilla and 1/2 cup sugar and beat till again smooth.  Continue to add sugar gradually, beating well after each addition.  Spread frosting over cake top.  Garnish with remaining 1/4 cup nuts sprinkled over frosting.  Yield:  12 servings

Friday, March 22, 2013


What could be more Southern than coconut cake?  This is my own recipe and it's rich and filling, so two 8" layers go a long way.  Expect to serve 12-14 with this moist, tender and tight-crumbed cake that resembles poundcake. 

The French buttercream frosting is silky smooth and ultra rich.  If you've never heard of French buttercream, it's a vintage recipe, and it's not hard to make.  Back in the 60's we used to make it with shortening, and we called it "mock whipped cream frosting," but it's so much better made with butter.  Some people call it "custard frosting," because you make a pudding first, then beat it into the whipped butter/sugar mixture. 

Everyone has their own idea of what coconut cake should be.  Actually, I like them all, and I'm throwing mine in the ring as another option.  A perfect Easter dessert....I'm just sayin'

Coconut Layer Cake with Coconut French Buttercream Frosting
Rating:  9.5 out of 10

1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. Diamond kosher salt or table salt
1 cup whole milk
1 cup (8 oz.) unsalted butter, very soft
1 cup superfine sugar*
1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. coconut flavoring**
2 tsp. coconut-flavored rum or regular rum
1/4 cup cold heavy whipping cream (optional)

*You can make superfine sugar by pulsing in food processor.  Measure sugar after it is pulsed to superfine, not before.
**The amount of coconut flavoring will vary according to manufacturer.  I used coconut flavoring from Spices, etc., recommended by Martha Stewart and Cook's Illustrated for its natural taste.  If you use a different brand, use less flavoring and taste your batter to determine if you need more.  With coconut flavoring, less is more.

Combine flour, salt and milk in small saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly till mixture boils and thickens.  Set aside to cool.

In bowl of stand mixer, beat sugar and butter on high till light and fluffy.  Gradually add flavorings and cold flour-milk mixture, beating till frosting stands in stiff peaks.  If desired, beat in heavy cream at end, mixing only till combined.  (Do not add cream until frosting is thoroughly whipped, and do not overbeat the cream once added.)  Refrigerate until cake is cooled, but let it stand at room temperature until softened before frosting the cake. 

Yield:  enough to thinly frost two 8" layers.  If you like thick frosting, you should double the recipe.

3 cups White Lily*** all-purpose flour, whisked, then spooned lightly and leveled
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup unsalted butter, soft
1/2 tsp. Diamond kosher salt
2 cups superfine sugar* (See note above about superfine sugar.)
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 tsp. coconut flavoring** (See note above on coconut flavoring.)
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk mixed with 1 Tbsp. vinegar or lemon juice)
2 Tbsp. coconut-flavored rum or regular rum
2 Tbsp. coconut water or lite coconut milk
1-1/2 to 2 cups sweetened coconut flakes, pulsed in food processor in batches till finely grated

***If you live in an area where White Lily flour is unavailable, you can use any low-protein flour or cake flour.

Heat oven to 350F.  Grease and flour two 8-inch round pans and line each with a parchment round cut to fit the bottom.  Sift flour and baking powder onto a sheet of wax paper. 

Beat butter, salt and sugar on medium speed of stand mixer till creamy and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating till yellow disappears after each addition.  Add flavorings with last egg.  On low speed, add flour mixture in three additions, alternating with milk and beginning and ending with flour.  Beat just till blended, being careful not to over mix.  Divide batter evenly between pans.  Bake 24-27 minutes, or till a toothpick inserted near center returns with just a few crumbs.  Cool in pan 5 minutes, then turn cakes out onto towel-lined racks to cool completely.  Remove parchment to hasten cooling. 

When cool, baste or spritz tops of cake with the rum and coconut water combined.  Frost with room temperature Coconut French Buttercream Frosting.  Sprinkle coconut over top and sides of cake.  Yield:  12-14 servings

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


I'm hoping the New Bern Farmer's Market will have asparagus and fennel sometime soon.  Fresh, local produce is always the best, IMHO.  But, even with grocery-store veggies, this soup has quickly become my fave.  Roasting the veggies intensifies flavors.  Using cashews instead of heavy cream or butter produces a smooth, almost silky, soup with a rich and creamy taste.  The fat in cashews is "good fat," unlike heavy cream or butter which is "bad fat."  You might consider serving this soup for Easter dinner.  Me?  I'm having it whenever I can get asparagus and fennel.

Easy Roasted Asparagus-Fennel Soup
Source:  The Bear Cupboard
Rating:  10 out of 10

1 lb. fresh asparagus, rinsed, ends trimmed, coarsely chopped
1 medium fennel bulb, rinsed, trimmed, coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled
1/3 cup whole, raw, unsalted cashews
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. Morton kosher salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
2-3 cups low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
Shaved Parmesan cheese for garnish
Additional salt and pepper to taste, if needed

Heat oven to 400F.  In 9 x 13 pan, combine asparagus, fennel, garlic, cashews, oil, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. white pepper.  Roast 20-30 minutes, till veggies are soft and aromatic.  Remove from oven and puree in batches in a food processor or blender till very smooth, or place veggies in a 2-3 quart pot and puree with an immersion blender.  Slowly add broth while whisking or stirring; heat to almost boiling on medium heat; cover pot, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes (or longer) to blend flavors.  Add additional broth if thinner consistency is desired.  Taste to adjust seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if desired, but remember that the Parmesan will add more salt.  Serve hot in bowls and garnish with shaved or grated high-quality Parmesan cheese.  Yield:  4 servings

If you have saved Parmesan rinds, throw them in the pot when you add the broth, and discard them before serving.  

Shave Parmesan easily by using a vegetable peeler.

Cooking for one or two?  No problem, this soup freezes beautifully, sans garnish, of course.

No fennel?  No problem.  Substitute onion.  

Saturday, February 23, 2013


I love the buttery, sweet, rich taste of pecans, especially local East Carolina pecans.  Last year was not a good year for pecans in our region, and here's hoping that 2013 will yield a better crop.  Use whatever pecans you can get for these outstanding cupcakes.  I promise you won't be sorry.  The cupcake is ultra-tender and light, studded with those wonderful pecans that have been sauteed in butter first.  Salted Caramel Frosting is the perfect topping for these, of course garnished with more pecans.

Make the salted caramel sauce first.  It can be made several days ahead.  Make the frosting before the cupcakes so it can be refrigerated to set up.  This is one dessert you will make again and again.

Butter Pecan Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream Frosting
Rating:  10 out of 10

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, soft
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup salted caramel sauce, room temperature
1-2 tsp. sour cream or heavy whipping cream

In medium bowl, beat butter till light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Scrape bottom and sides of bowl; gradually add sugar and beat till smooth and creamy.  Add salted caramel sauce and cream on low speed until incorporated. Increase speed gradually to high and beat till frosting is light and smooth, about 2 minutes.  Refrigerate frosting at least 1/2 hour, or longer.  (Can be made the day before.)

3 tsp. unsalted butter for pecans + 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter for cupcakes, softened
1/2 cup chopped or broken pecans
1-1/2 cups White Lily all-purpose flour (not self-rising)*
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup light brown sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup milk + 1-1/2 tsp. vinegar or lemon juice), room temperature

*You may use cake flour or any low-protein flour in place of White Lily all-purpose flour.

Heat oven to 350F.  Cut 3 tsp. butter into small pieces; add to pecans in oven-proof dish.  Bake, stirring after butter melts, 5-7 minutes, or till pecans are nicely toasted and butter is absorbed.  Cool.  Line muffin tin with 12 paper liners; spray insides with nonstick cooking spray for easy release of cupcakes.  Whisk flour; lightly spoon and level to measure, then sift twice into medium bowl with baking powder and soda.

In bowl of stand mixer, combine sugar, salt and 1 stick butter.  Beat at medium speed 5 minutes, till light and fluffy, scraping sides and bottom of bowl as needed.  Add eggs, one at a time, adding vanilla with last egg and beating till yellow disappears after each addition.  Using lowest speed of mixer, add flour mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour and adding nuts with last addition of flour.  Stir batter with spatula, briefly, to be sure everything is mixed well.  Fill muffin cups with about 1/4 cup batter.  Bake 15-17 minutes or till a toothpick inserted near center returns with just a few crumbs.  Cool on wire rack completely before frosting.  If desired, garnish frosted cupcakes with additional chopped pecans.  Yield:  12 cupcakes

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Salted caramel has a deliciously almost-burnt taste that tones down the sweetness and makes it totally addictive.  It's easy to make and there are tons of ways to use it.  It makes wonderful frosting for cakes or cupcakes and is great drizzled over muffins, frosting, ice cream or even waffles.  It will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge.

Before you start making the caramel, be sure all the ingredients are ready, because once started, you have to give it your close attention so it doesn't burn.

Salted Caramel Sauce
Adapted from
Rating:  10 out of 10

1 cup granulated sugar
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream, room temperature
1-1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt

Heat sugar over medium-high heat in 1 to 1-1/2 quart heavy saucepan or saute pan.  When sugar starts to melt, start whisking the sugar.  It will clump up, but keep whisking.  It will continue to melt.  When the sugar is melted, stop whisking and instead swirl the pan to move the sugar around.  Continue cooking sugar until it is completely melted and reaches a deep amber color.  Carefully whisk in the butter, whisking till melted.  The caramel may clump at the sides.  Remove pan from heat and carefully pour in the heavy cream.  Whisk until cream is incorporated and caramel is smooth.  Whisk in salt.  Let sauce cool for about 10 minutes in the pan, then pour into a pint mason jar and cool to room temperature.  Yield:  about 1-1/2 cups

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Think all-beef meatloaf has to be boring, tough and dry?  Think again.  This recipe, adapted from America's Test Kitchen, proves that beef meatloaf can be light, moist, tender and full of flavor.  There are a lot of ingredients, but if you take the time to make this, I'm sure you'll agree that it's the best meatloaf ever.  Each ingredient is important to the finished product, so don't leave anything out.

All-Beef Glazed Meatloaf
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, January/February 2006
Rating:  10 out of 10

Meat Loaf: 
1-1/2 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, grated on small holes of box grater (about 1/2 cup)
1-1/2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped celery rib
1/2 tsp. minced or grated garlic
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp. paprika
2 Tbsp. tomato juice
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 large egg
1/4 tsp. unflavored powdered gelatin (the secret ingredient to mimic veal)
1-1/2 tsp. low-sodium soy sauce  1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/3 cup crushed saltine crackers  1 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley leaves
Scant 1/2 tsp. Diamond kosher coarse salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 lb. ground sirloin
1/2 lb. ground chuck

Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 375F.  Spread cheese on plate and place in freezer until ready to use.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with tinfoil.  Next, fold a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil to form a 10 x 6” rectangle.  Center the foil on a metal cooling rack and poke holes in the foil with a skewer about 1/2” apart.  (This will let drippings go through so the meat loaf doesn’t get soggy from sitting in the drippings.)  Place the foil-lined rack over the rimmed baking sheet that you lined with tinfoil.  Spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Heat butter in small skillet over medium-high heat until foaming; add onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 6-8 minutes.  Add garlic, thyme and paprika and cook, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Reduce heat to low and add tomato juice.  Cook, stirring to scrape up browned bits from pan, until thickened, about 1 minute.  Transfer mixture to small bowl and set aside to cool.

Whisk broth and egg in medium bowl until combined; sprinkle with gelatin and let stand 5 minutes.  Stir in soy sauce, mustard, saltines, parsley, salt, pepper and cooled onion mixture.  Crumble frozen cheese to coarse powder and sprinkle over mixture.  Add ground beef; mix gently with hands until thoroughly combined, about 1 minute.  Transfer meat to foil rectangle and shape into loaf.  Smooth top and edges of meat loaf with moistened spatula.  Bake about 1 hour, till an instant-read thermometer registers 135-140F.  Remove from oven and spread with half the glaze.  Turn broiler on high; place meatloaf under broiler about 5 minutes, till glaze bubbles and begins to brown at edges.  Remove from oven, spread with remaining glaze, return to broiler to cook an additional 5 minutes.  Cool about 15 minutes before slicing.
Glaze:  (You can substitute 3/4 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce, if desired.)
1/4 cup ketchup
1/2 tsp. hot pepper sauce
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
2 Tbsp. cup apple cider vinegar
1-1/2 Tbsp. packed light brown sugar

While meat loaf cooks, combine ingredients in saucepan; bring to simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring, until thick and syrupy, about 5 minutes.

Monday, February 11, 2013


Flounder by itself is not particularly filling, but when you stuff it with crab meat, it has more of a stick-to-your-ribs quality.  Both the flounder and the crab meat are pretty easy to find in New Bern.  B&J's on Route 70 is where we go to find the freshest flounder and crab meat.  B&J's steams and picks fresh-caught crabs, and both the founder and crab meat are locally caught.  It's always best to go through the crab meat again before using it because it's so easy to miss shell fragments and cartilage.

Fresh dill can be found at Wal-Mart and Harris Teeter.  Harris Teeter's is a smaller package and a tad less expensive. If you're a senior you'll get an extra 5% on Thursdays.

This dish is especially welcome during our short-lived winter here in East Carolina.  It gives a reason to turn the oven on.  Throw some potatoes in the oven 30-40 minutes before the fish, and while you're at it, roast some veggies that have been tossed with olive oil, Balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.  You'll have a complete dinner.  If the veggies get done too soon, not to worry.  They're always delicious room temperature.

Crab-Stuffed Flounder with Creamy Caper-Dill Sauce
Rating 9 out of 10

Creamy Caper-Dill Sauce
2 Tbsp. Duke or Hellmann's light mayo
3 Tbsp. plain yogurt* 
Scant 1/8 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1-1/2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 tsp. capers, drained
1/2 tsp. chopped fresh dill
1/4 tsp. Dijon mustard
Scant pinch each: fine sea salt and white pepper

*If you use nonfat Greek yogurt, you will have to thin with water.

Combine all ingredients in small bowl.  If necessary, thin with water.  Refrigerate till needed.

Crab-Stuffed Flounder Fillets
1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. minced fresh onion
2 Tbsp. minced roasted red pepper
2 Tbsp. Italian-style seasoned breadcrumbs
2 Tbsp. Duke or Hellmann's Light mayo
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice + 1 tsp. for tops
1/4 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
1/8 tsp. white pepper
1 drop Worcestershire sauce
1/2 lb. lump crab meat, picked over for cartilage and shell fragments
4 fresh flounder fillets, skinned on both sides
About 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt (or to taste) + 1/8 tsp. for tops
About 1/8 tsp. white pepper (or to taste)
2-3 tsp. unsalted butter, cut in small pieces

In small fry pan, saute onion and red pepper in olive oil over medium heat, about 2-3 minutes.  Do not brown.  Remove from heat; stir in breadcrumbs, mayo, 1 tsp. lemon juice, Old Bay, pepper and Worcestershire; set aside to cool.  When cool, lightly fold in crab meat, taking care not to break up lumps. Refrigerate till needed.

Heat oven to 400F.  Line a baking sheet with tinfoil; spray with nonstick cooking spray.  (Alternately, you can line a baking sheet with parchment paper or with the new tinfoil that has parchment on one side.)  Pat fish fillets dry with clean paper towel; lightly salt and pepper on one side only.  Place desired amount of filling onto one end of each piece; roll up starting with filled end.  Place seam side down on prepared pan; sprinkle with 1 tsp. lemon juice and about 1/8 tsp. salt. Dot with butter.  Bake about 20 minutes, or till fish is cooked through and flakes easily with a fork.  Serve with Creamy Caper-Dill Sauce.  Yield 4 servings