My brave Vermont quest to bring together food-love and mom-life.


Archive for the ‘cake’

In Praise of Maple 3

Posted on March 27, 2011 by crankycheryl

We would go to the Dakin Farm pancake breakfast every year.  Before we were married, before we had kids, while pregnant, with babes in arms, we went.  Being a city-dwelling transplant to Vermont, I loved to get that close to the making of the year’s maple syrup.  I love how Dakin has tables splayed all over the store and you just sit next to the folks who live up the road, or the mayor, or the group who just came over after church.


I love how the family members and staff are there year after year.  How someone from the Cuttings family seems to be within a few feet of the big evaporator at all times.  I love walking in and seeing that the girls are bigger, that the nice guy who pours those huge perfect pancakes on the griddle is there again, ready to ladle molten butter all over whatever’s on your plate.

And I like how things have changed too, but not too much.  Now they offer fresh fruit.  And have an official price for vegetarians since they’re skipping all that piggy goodness.  I like that they have this new line of well-priced pizzas and chili and are branching out while still churning out the syrup and bacon that put them on the proverbial food map.

This year we sat in our usual place in the back shipping room.  Friends crowded in and so I stood and perched and got to survey the filled tables.  To our left was a grown daughter with her mom and dad, mom in a wheelchair and needing to be fed, clearly in the grip of dementia and being loved so tenderly by her husband and daughter who offered up syrupy bites.  The big group of Asian tourists with a new baby in the midst, looking around and smiling at it all.  Groups of students from our local colleges, piling on the all-you-can-eat fare.  A single dad looking like he’s barely keeping things together, but there they are, syrup dripping down their snowsuits and all.   Z. walked up and looked around with me and said, “Wow.”  Everyone comes to pancake breakfast.  “Poor lady in a wheelchair,” he said.  “It’s all right,” I told him, “she can still come to Dakin because she has people who love her.”

I think it’s Dakin where the boys learned the social graces of free samples, and was where they maybe learned that even though their parents divorced, life might not be too bad if everyone can sit together a table covered with a red and white plastic checked tablecloth and pass the syrup and talk about the day.

And I love this annual meandering day that takes us back up Route 7 to stop at Shelburne Farms, where the lambs seem to be popping out of ewes every time someone turns around.  The air is bitter cold still, but we’re here with the farm babies and we know that spring really can’t be too far.  Can it?

And the day was made better by not getting spit on by Freckles the guard llama as I did last year.  Plus I had the bonus of being able to tell the story to everyone who was gathered around, and feel very farm-savvy by telling them to GET BACK when his ears lay against his head.

We talked and we played and the kids chased chickens and climbed big melting, dirty piles of snow.   And we pondered the weird contradiction of adoring these new little animals who may be on our plates later this year, and felt good knowing we could be back in the same place, with the same conversation, next year.

Staging your own maple celebration?  Here are a few favorite recipes from previous posts:

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The Viking Hordes 1

Posted on November 21, 2010 by crankycheryl

I’m hiding from my children as I write this.  I find that the procrastination that’s let me put off writing this post for a week has been run flat over by my need to avoid any more yelling and conflict today.  It’s half an hour past bedtime, and I have no idea what they’re doing up there.  But for right now it’s quiet, and that’s good enough for me.

So let me tell you about E.’s birthday.

Maybe it has something to do with an obsession with the exploits of Asterix, and maybe it’s just some good clean love of marauding.  Whatever the reason, this year it was a Viking party for E.’s 8th birthday.

“Mommy,”  he said, “I want a Viking ship cake.  And can you please do a good job with it?”

This was a clear reference to last year’s gorilla-face cake incident.  Oh dear.  I told him I would try.

So I went researching Viking ideas, and found that there aren’t a ton of them out there.  Pirates and racecars galore, but Vikings seem off the radar.  I found directions for duct tape helmets (and learned that horns weren’t actually that common).

Greg took pity on me and made them.  Aren’t they awesome?!

And then I was talking to another mom at school, who gave me the idea for a catapult.  “Catapults?  Vikings didn’t have catapults!” Greg exasperatedly told me.  “Not enough wood!”  In spite of this, his awesome friend Loren delivered one to us the day before the party.

They were a huge hit.

And while everyone else was doing this excellent stuff, I found this idea for the cake. I hit up my usual source for fondant, made two loaves of chocolate pound cake (by the way – kids don’t like pound cake), cut them into a boat shape by cutting one end into a wedge by making two even diagonal cuts, then slice off the top towards the other end.  Then did the same to the second loaf so that they were the same height in the middle.

I used fondant dyed brown with icky food coloring gel.  (More on fondant later.)  This part I don’t have pictures of as I was up to my elbows in the goo, but I made the cake by:

  • Rolling out a big hunk of dyed fondant to about 1/4″ thick between two sheets of parchment.
  • Draping the thin layer of fondant over the two cut loaves, placed with flat sides together.
  • Tucking the fondant around, then using a sharp knife to cut to fit.
  • Rolling pieces of fondant into thin long ropes for the rail of the boat.
  • Coloring some small bits red, yellow and black and rolling them into discs and other shapes for the shields on the side of the boat.
  • Painted a square piece of paper with red stripes, cutting two small holes in it and poking a green chopstick through it for the sail and mast.
  • Treating a couple of hunks of brown fondant like play-do and shaping a dragon’s head, spines, and tail.
  • Putting two candy-coated sunflower seeds on the dragon’s head for eyes, and a snipped triangle of dried mango for the fire it was breathing.
  • (The green sparkles obviously didn’t adhere well and could have been skipped.)
  • Dyeing some more fondant blue, rolling and stretching it into a flat long rope, and then pinching it into waves.

Fondant just doesn’t taste that good.  Next time, I’d use good homemade frosting, and only use fondant for the details (in this case, the dragon and shields).

But it sure looked good, and got this overtired mom some extremely gratifying admiration … at least until they tasted it.

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Peace of Cake 3

Posted on September 13, 2010 by crankycheryl

Because it’s Rosh Hashanah and who couldn’t use a sweet NewYear?

And because it’s Eid and too many people in Burlington are outraged that the schools were closed for one of Islam’s most important family celebrations.

Because the peaches on the tree 10 feet from my deck are ripe and outrageous and demand to be eaten.

Because it’s the start of northern Vermont’s Eat Local Week, and this cake is pure Vermont.

Because my great-aunt Trilby died, at 89, in her sleep.  She was beautiful like it hurt your stomach to look at pictures of her on the boardwalk at Atlantic City in the 40’s, right after she married my great-uncle Harry.  She was the one who at last shamed me into learning to drive in my mid-20’s with the exhortation, “GAWD FORBID SOMETHING SHOULD HAPPEN TO YOUR MOTHAH AND YOU SHOULD HAVE TO DRIVE HER TO THE HOSPITAL,” during a visit to her home in Fort Lauderdale.  She’s the last of my grandmother’s generation, and my family’s place in the world  is smaller without her.

Here’s my honey cake, in celebration and remembrance.  And in hopes that we may all be granted peace, and mercy, and more time with those we love in the coming year.    It’s a mashup of Vermont localvorism, of the honey cake tradition, and it’s flavored with mahlab, an Arabic spice made from the ground pits of sour cherries.  The cake keeps getting better every day, so it’s a nice one to have around to nibble on.  And hopefully a nice sign of the days ahead.  L’shanah tovah.

Honey Peach Cake
Adapted from Joan Nathan’s Jewish Cooking in America
Yield: One bundt cake plus 8 muffins

1.  Preheat oven to 350.

2.  Prepare pans by greasing and flouring one bundt pan and either one loaf pan or approx. 8 muffins.

3.  Sift together into a medium bowl:

  • 2 1/2 c. sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. cream of tartar
  • 1 t. freshly crushed mahlab

4.  Separate:

  • 3 large eggs

5.  Beat together in a large bowl until very well combined:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • egg yolks
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • grated rind from one (0rganic) lemon
  • 1/3 c. olive oil
  • 1 c. honey
  • 1 c. warm black coffee

6.  Chop into 1″ pieces:

  • 2 ripe, sweet peaches

7.  Beat until fluffy and nearly stiff:

  • reserved egg whites.

8.  Combine parts:

  • Add flour mix in three parts, beating just until thoroughly combined with as few strokes as possible.  Fold in egg whites, then stir in peaches.

9.  Bake until an inserted skewer comes out clean, about 1 hour for the cake, and 30 minutes for muffins.  Let cool in the pan for 10 – 15 minutes, then cool completely on a rack.

Will last 4 or 5 days if it can, but it’s awfully nice for sharing.

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Maple-Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies 4

Posted on September 06, 2010 by crankycheryl

I have a predilection for inappropriate competitiveness that dovetails beautifully with culinary contests.  And when our fair’s Whoopie Pie competition ended up on a day I knew I’d have free, there was little chance of me missing it.

I’d been there earlier in the week, and had scoped out the scene of the King Arthur Flour-sponsored contests.  I hit the computer for a whoopie pie research and recipe.  I liked the concept, suggested by some, that the whoopie pie was sort of a working class macaron, a lovely little confection that’s always seemed entirely too fussy for me to consider making.

Knowing that my talents lie more in the region of presentation and flavor than technical baking, I decided that interesting flavors were the way to go.  I love the combo of maple and peanut butter, and thought I’d give it a whirl.

Given that KAF was the sponsor, I based my recipe on theirs.  My first try, using butter for the fat, was a failure in that the cookies ran together into flat pancakes.

Luckily, I had time for a second try, when I used organic unhydrogenated shortening to much better, more cookie-shaped, results.

I got to the fair to discover that I was the 10th of 12 contestants to enter the competition.   All I could see of the competitors’ was chocolate, and there’s no way to judge a whoopie pie from its appearance, so I sat down to wait and watch the judges with other Ladies Who Enter Fair Contests.  Together we tried to determine what the panel’s body language meant, and was it bad or good if your plate’s tag was in a particular position and other such arcane things.

Soon enough the agony was over and I didn’t win a ribbon.  When I tried the winners’ entries, I had to agree: a great whoopie pie is cakey and fairly thick; my cookies had great flavor, but were distinctly cookie-ish.   So it’s back to research to find a soft and cakey non-chocolate whoopie pie recipe, which doesn’t sound like too bad a winter’s hobby.  And in the meantime, here’s a really delicious maple-peanut butter cookie recipe for your fall enjoyment.

Maple-Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
About 9 sandwiches

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease baking sheets.

1.  Whisk together:

  • 2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2.  In a separate bowl, whip until very light:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or natural shortening, softened
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed

When very fluffy and well combined, add in:

  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 t. vanilla

3.  Add dry mixture to wet in three parts, and stir just until combined.

4.  Drop batter by the 1/4 cup onto prepared baking sheets. With the back of a spoon spread batter into 4-inch circles, leaving approximately 2 inches between each cake.

5.  Bake 15 minutes or until they are firm to the touch. Remove from oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.

6.  While cookies are cooling, whip together until combined and fluffy:

  • 1/4 cup shortening or butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 cups Marshmallow Fluff
  • 2 T. smooth peanut butter

Pipe or spread onto one cookie and top with another and serve.

(And those too-flat cookies from the first batch?  I layered them with sliced local plums and mascarpone cheese and brought it to a friends for dinner after weighting it down and letting it sit in the fridge for a couple of hours.  Good – like some kind of simple trifle or riff on tiramisu.  I would have doused it with sherry or port but thought I’d leave off the alcohol as if my kids would eat it anyway.  Right.)

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Maple-Ginger-Bacon Blondies for the Maple Cook-Off 2

Posted on March 29, 2010 by crankycheryl

UVM decided to host a cook-off to celebrate the launch of their library’s new Maple Research Website and, what the heck – I hadn’t entered any contests since last year so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

The categories were Savory, Sweet & Judges’ Choice, and the criteria were simple: Appearance (25%), Taste (50%), and Use of Maple (25%).  I liked the straight-forwardness, and think it’s a nicely democratic approach that encourages all sorts of folks to participate.  There was music and Island Ice Cream and a cool tasting table set up where you could try your hand at identifying the mineral content of the soil upon which various saps were grown.  (I didn’t try, though I was geekily tantalized by a geological thrust on the terroir of maple syrup – why is Vermont’s product so good?  Maybe it’s because of our dirt’s mineral content.)

The competition was good-natured but serious.  There were around 30 entries, a few from UVM students, from local restaurants and bakers, and from local folks and families.  The mix was a great snapshot of the food-world of Vermont, with beautiful, sculptural entries like individual Maple Cheesecakes with Maple-Caramel Glaze alongside traditional humble fare like Maple Baked Beans and Butternut Cake with Maple Meringue frosting.  My personal favorite was a pork tenderloin with maple-habanero glaze.

I’m sorry I didn’t get more pictures, but you can imagine the stampede when they let guests help themselves after the judges had been through.  Here were some of the entries I was able to snap before we hordes descended with forks.

The music played, the judges sampled, E. & Z. ended up sticky and covered with frosting and finally sat staring into space, unsure how they had been allowed to consume so many sweet treats.  Then the winning entries were announced: Maple Pulled-Pork Sliders, excellent looking wraps with meat and root vegetables called The Beef Explosion (long gone before I could get one), Maple Baked Beans, and Maple Bars (didn’t get one of these either).

It was an opportunity to teach the boys about how to act when we lose.  After I coached them on applauding and congratulation, Z. told me, “Mommy, when we lose I’m just going to say, ‘phooey,’ quietly like this: phooey.”

Yeah, phooey, but yum.

Maple-Ginger Blondies with Maple Glaze, Nuts & Crispy Bacon

2 dozen

Butter 9 x 13 pan and set aside.

Melt together in a saucepan over low heat, stirring until nicely blended:

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 3/4 c. maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 c. brown sugar

Let cool for a few minutes then beat in until well-combined:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1/3 c. pumpkin puree

Sift in:

  • 1 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. powdered ginger

Put into prepared pan.  Bake for 25 minutes, then cool on rack completely

In the meantime, prepare the glaze and topping:

Cook until crisp then crumble and place aside:

  • 6 slices thick cut bacon

Very coarsely chop:

  • 1/2 c. maple-roasted or salted nuts

Make glaze. Sift:

  • 2 cups confectioners sugar

Beat in on high speed:

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 T. maple syrup
  • 1 T. milk

Adjust by adding more confectioners sugar, or milk, until thick but pourable. Once blondies have cooled, spread with glaze, top with nuts and bacon and serve.

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Green Wraps & Chocolate Guinness Cake for St. Patrick’s Day 0

Posted on March 17, 2010 by crankycheryl

Filed under the category of “Things My Children Ought to Have Liked but Instead Were the Cause of Great Consternation and Caterwauling” are these wraps that were yummy, simple, adorable, healthy, made with nearly all local ingredients, and a fun twist on St. Patrick’s Day. Dangit.

I had meant to make Green Eggs & Ham for Dr. Seuss’s birthday earlier this month but never seemed to have all the ingredients at the same time.  Then fresh spinach arrived from a friend’s CSA share, and off we went.

Green Egg Wraps with Bacon
Makes about 6 wraps

Place in a blender and puree the heck out of:

  • 2 cups of fresh spinach leaves, well washed, stems removed
  • 2 eggs

Pour the egg-spinach mixture into a medium bowl and beat in:

  • 4 eggs
  • salt & pepper to taste

In the meantime, cook:

  • 8 strips of bacon (a couple of extra never hurt)

And warm up:

  • 4 or 6 whole grain wraps

I do both of these in one easy, lazy step by placing the bacon on a rack on a broiler pan that fits in my convection oven and broiling it for 10 or so minutes, until it’s as crispy as we like.  At the same time, I place the wraps on top of the oven.  They end up just warm enough and I’m not fussing with extra dishes or labor.

While the bacon’s going, cook the eggs in a skillet until set.

Into each warm wrap, place:

  • 1 slice of cheese (we used Muenster)
  • 1 piece of bacon
  • a couple scoops of green eggs
  • favorite add-ins: tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, hot sauce, jalapenos, whatever you like.

Then wrap ’em up and serve.

For dessert we made Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Guinness Cake.  It was great, and I even lucked out and found some cream cheese frosting in the freezer to thaw to put on the top.

However, I would note that when a recipe calls for a 9″ springform pan, it really and truly doesn’t mean an 8″ springform pan.  Not that that’s a mistake you would ever make.

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Posted on February 28, 2010 by crankycheryl

In the morning, the boys climb into bed with me for a snuggle and some surreal conversation.  The other day, I looked over at E. and he was patting his chest with his hands.  When I asked what he was doing, he said, “Oh, I’m just looking at where my new hand and arm are going to grow.”

Last week, he told me a new evil queen was going to be arriving.  “Her name is Revengella [rhymes with Angela], Mommy!”    When we told Greg about it, he said, “Sounds like a dessert.”  We thought this was a bang-up idea.  I said I thought that Revengella would be a dessert that was so delicious it would make your enemies weep with jealousy.  E. corrected me.

“Listen, Mommy.  We’re going to make the cake and we’re giving a piece to 10 people.  It’s going to be SO DELICIOUS that they’re going to tell all their friends about it, and they’re going to be so AMAZED that they’re going to give us BAGS OF GOLD and we’re going to be SO SO RICH!”

We talked about what its parts would be.  It turned out to be a cake with a fudgy filling.  Lots of chocolate, obviously.  White frosting.  Cherries.  E. said, “eight layers,” but I was able to talk him down to four.  He says you people can decorate it any way you want (I think that the imminent bags of gold are making him feel generous), but that we had to put a big circle of chocolate on it.

What we ended up with was a sort of cross between Diplomatico and Black Forest Cake, with layers of cocoa angel food cake, semi-sweet chocolate ganache-y filling, cream cheese frosting on the outside, a center filled with black cherries and the ganache, and coarse-chopped chocolate chips on the outside.

There are a few steps, but none hard, and they’re fun for kids.  Plus, of course, there are those bags of gold.

(all component recipes from Joy of Cooking)
12 servings

Cocoa Angel Food Cake

1.  Preheat oven to 350 and set aside an ungreased tube pan.

2.  Sift together 3 times:

  • 1/2 c. cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 1/2 c. cocoa
  • 2/3 c. white sugar
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt

Set aside and keep the sifter handy.

3.  Place in a large bowl:

  • 12 egg whites (great use for the powdered ones unless you have a need for so many yolks)
  • 1 T. water
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • 1 t. cream of tartar
  • 1 t. vanilla

Beat on low speed for one minute (set a timer to help you out, especially if you’ll have to wrestle the mixer away from your kids).  Then increase speed to medium, and beat for about 2 minutes, until mixture increases in volume 4 – 5 times and looks foamy.  Measure:

  • 2/3 c. sugar

Increase beater speed to high, and add sugar very slowly, about 1 T. at a time, taking 2 – 3 minutes to incorporate.

4.  In 8 parts, sift a fine layer of the flour mixture over the top of the egg whites and gently fold in without beating or stirring.  Fold just until it’s all incorporated, then pour into pan, and spread evenly.

5.  Place in oven and bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  (By the way, I use a thin metal skewer for this because I hate to use disposable things unnecessarily.)  Once it’s in the oven, get a bottle ready to invert the pan over once it comes out. After baking, quickly and carefully place the pan upside down on the bottle’s neck to prevent the cake from collapsing.  Let stay there and cool for a full 1 1/2 hours.

In the meantime, make Chocolate Filling:

In top of a double boiler, or in a small pan placed inside a larger pan with an inch of lightly simmering water in it, stirring frequently just until thoroughly melted and combined:

  • 8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chunks, chips, or coarsely chopped
  • 6 oz. butter
  • 6 T. water or coffee

Set aside to cool.

Make Cream Cheese Frosting.  Beat together on medium speed just until blended:

  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 5 T. unsalted butter
  • 2 t. vanilla

Add in 3 parts and beat just until blended:

  • 2 c. powdered sugar

Keep at room temperature until ready to frost cake.

Prepare final ingredients for finishing cake:

?1.  Thaw frozen, or pit fresh:

  • 1 c. sweet cherries

2.  Coarsely chop:

  • 6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate

Construct cake once the chocolate filling is cooled but still fairly fluid and the cake has cooled for an hour and a half:

1. Remove cake from pan by running a knife between cake and pan all around.  Push bottom through, gently, then run knife along the bottom.  Place cake on one plate and have another plate ready. With a long, serrated knife, cut cake into four layers.

2.  Place one layer on the second plate, and spread thin layer of chocolate filling.  Place other layers on top, spreading chocolate filling between each.  Don’t worry too much if the layers break a little bit – angel food cake is not as crumbly as most cakes and can be patched back together.

3.  When top layer is in place, spread a thin layer of the cream cheese frosting over the outside of the entire cake.  It’s okay if it pulls up crumbs and looks crappy.  This is the crumb coat.  Set by cooling for a few minutes.  Spread the rest of the frosting on top.

4.  Scoop or pour the remaining chocolate filling into the center of the cake and put cherries on top of the chocolate.

5.  Using your hands, gently pat the chopped chocolate around the outside.

Enjoy, and send all bags of gold right to our house.  E. is going to be terribly angry if you don’t.

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Chinese New Year’s Valentine’s Day 0

Posted on February 15, 2010 by crankycheryl

My delightful and amazing friend showed up a few weeks ago with a duck and a goose for our freezer.  I had last met the birds as cute little fuzzywumps who were making a temporary stop in her condo on their way to the farm where they were to be raised.

Better, more interesting, and more thoughtful writers have written about the contradiction of loving specific animals and eating them.  But not all of them have a 7- and 4- year old to stage impassioned debates on the issue.

The boys asked what I was bringing down to the basement freezer and I told them.  Z. blanched and said, “But that’s TERRIBLE!”  And he started crying and telling me he wouldn’t eat them.   E. said, “Oh, I want to eat them, Mommy.  I’ll eat their … HEADS!”  So while his brother sobbed, I explained that birds usually don’t have heads by the time they get to someone’s freezer, and we trooped downstairs to peer inside the plastic bag at the birds.  E. nodded.   Z. announced that he was going to be vegetarian.

As the boys continued to loudly process their quest for ethical eating, I wanted to plan a meal around the birds.  Then, before I knew it, Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year’s were about to coincide and we turned it into a little party.  I started thinking about traditional good luck New Year dishes and Valentine’s fun.

I planned on a sort of mock Peking duck, with the overnight approach of steaming the bird and then roasting it with a glaze on the skin.  But when I went to start them: NO SKIN!  I gasped and started scratching my head, saying something that rhymed with, “duck,” over and over.  What was I going to do?  What possible substitute for skin could there be?   Duck, duck, duck, f …

Then there it was: bacon.

So it was on to plan B.  and making a sort of frosting with palm (unhydrogenated, organic, non-saturated) shortening, molasses and sambal oelek, and rubbing it all over the birds before draping them with lots of thick-cut bacon.  Then I roasted them in a clay-pot cooker to keep as much moisture in as possible.

I cooked them for about 1 3/4 hours at 475, which was when faces began to appear from all directions, asking to snitch a piece or two of bacon.  We then carved the meat and served it with:

  • Bacon, since there was no crispy skin
  • Wheat tortillas brushed with sesame oil and warmed
  • Hoi sin sauce
  • Julienned scallion greens
  • Scallion brushes (If you make this, don’t skip these!  They look great and will make your guests giggly-happy.)

There were tea eggs.  Here are Sara and her lovely daughter peeling them (and Kim laughing at my silly picture-taking ways):

And General Tso’s Seitan with broccoli, with homemade seitan made with Post Punk Kitchen’s excellent and reliable recipe.

My mom brought the unpictured but delicious Beets with Star Anise from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, and made sauce for Sesame-Peanut Noodles (long noodles are a traditional celebration food because they’re associated with long life).

Dessert was truffles, plus Sweet Rice Cake. I love this dish, but I adore sticky gooey things made with glutinous rice.   Besides being a really endearing texture, it’s auspicious for New Year’s because it’s round, signifying family union, and sweet for a sweet new year, and its name in Chinese is a sound-alike for a sort of good wishes expression.

But there were children to consider, so a Western-style dessert was in order.  In the morning, I had thrown together a vegan orange batter for cupcakes, then realized I had left out the baking soda, which I hurried in right before baking.   That was when I had a first-hand experience with what happens when you over-activate your leavening agent.

So I baked the rest as a cake, which worked better for some reason.  Then after dinner, while the children were acting completely insane and were all past their bedtime, a 10-year old guest and I made our silly piece de resistance, which involved the cake, neon-colored 7-minute frosting, black icing gel, and heart sprinkles.  It was a Tiger’s Valentine’s Cake (about which my assistant made sure to remind guests, “No actual tigers were harmed in the making of this dessert”).

And then we sent guests home with cupcakes and collapsed in a fit of sugar and food and good conversation.

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Gingerbread Trainwreck 5

Posted on December 20, 2009 by crankycheryl

I had spent the day feeling like a loser of a mom.  I yell too much and spend too much time muttering and sputtering.  Mornings are a nightmare and I have no idea how we get somewhere dressed and in somewhat presentable condition seven days a week.  I’m exhausted and they’re baffled.

Still, ’tis the season so we spent the afternoon making holiday crafts (more on that tomorrow) and then made gingerbread in the train-shaped pan I picked up at Williams-Sonoma a few years ago.  I went on and on about how I really would need their help doing our Very Important Job of decorating the train at the cohousing holiday party.

This is the train pan, which I’ve used many times (birthday train, Easter train, Christmas train, etc.) with great success.  So I was fully expecting to have little mini-cakes looking something like this:

But the cakes were wedged right into all the pan’s nooks and crannies, in spite of its space-age non-stick coating and the lavish greasing-up I had given it.  So what we ended up with was this:

Cringing, I said, “Boys, we have a trainwreck on our hands.”   I was expecting howls, but somehow they didn’t look too bothered.  I asked them to come decorate it, and they came scurrying into our community kitchen.  We started with sifting confectioner’s sugar over the top (snow – the cause of the crash), and then they started globbing leftover sparkly yellow and green icing everywhere.  Another friend wandered by and got involved.  We had those little sour fruits left over from E.’s birthday party, so we decided it was a fruit train that crashed, and they started placing the little pieces carefully around the pile.  We snipped up a piece of fruit leather into train tracks, and I had an ancient rock candy lollipop that was maybe a puff of blue smoke coming from the wreck.

I watched their total focus on the job, amazed at how captivated they were.  It was an imperfect product, but they didn’t mind.  And I wasn’t inclined to try to drive them to neatly outline the wheels with the icing, or put the pieces of fruit just so in one of the little freight cars.  It became theirs.  They proudly explained the project to anyone who wandered in, and then I heard my neighbors giggling and explaining the story to each other.  I started to think I maybe wasn’t so bad at this parenting thing after all.

And here’s the finished product, with my neighbor’s beautiful gingerbread houses in the background.  Beautiful, both.

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Upside-Down Apple Maple Cornmeal Cake with Cheddar 1

Posted on November 11, 2009 by crankycheryl

I’ve been awfully busy with work!  There’s this (still tickets left as of this posting):


and here, where you really ought to know that the freshest seafood in Burlington appears every Thursday, and the floor and kitchen staff will smack me if I cause any more people to show up for 1/2 price locally-grown burgers every Wednesday:

Scuffer doilly comp

and these, because these small people just seem to keep having birthdays and getting ever taller and smarter and cupcake-loving:

cupcake small

But no matter that I’ve had so much to do, there was the fabulous Melissa Pasanen on Facebook, posting a picture of a Caramelized Green Tomato Upside-Down Cornmeal Cake from a recipe she had picked up from a chef in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.  Holy smokes, did that look good.

What with the late blight here, I had no green tomatoes, but yes, apples galore.  And though I didn’t get that fabulous recipe, it was pretty easy to put together an apple and maple version that’s awfully homey and nice.  I made a proper upside-down cake with half of a doubled recipe, and a batch of muffins with the other.  If you too make some of it into muffins, make sure to use liners since they do tend to have the sticky maple-y apples fall right off the bottom.  I spotted Z. sucking on the parchment cupcake liner this morning at breakfast, so this doesn’t seem to be a terrible problem.

cornbread apple cake 013Upside-Down Apple Maple Cornmeal Cake with Cheddar
Makes 1 9″ cake, or 12 muffins

  1. Position rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 425.
  2. Grease a 9″ pie plate, or line a muffin tin with 12 muffin liners.
  3. Peel, core and slice:
  • 3 apples (I like Gala for a cake like this), and toss with
  • 1 t. lemon juice
  • 3 T. maple syrup

cornbread apple cake 0014. Arrange apple slices in bottom of pan or muffin liners.  Set pan aside.

5.  Whisk together in a large bowl:

  • 1 1/4 c. stone-ground cornmeal
  • 3/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt

6.  Whisk together in a medium bowl:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 c. milk
  • 2/3 c. buttermilk or yogurt
  • 1/4 c. maple syrup

7.  Add wet ingredients to dry, and stir just until moistened.  Stir in:

  • 2 -3 T. melted butter or vegetable oil.

cornbread apple cake 0118.  Pour over apple slices.  Cut

  • 3 oz. cheddar cheese

into 1/2″-wide long squares and insert into center of muffins or at some sort of interval around the cake.

9.  Bake muffins for 12 – 14 minutes, or cake for about 25 minutes.  Let muffins cool on rack until ready to serve.  If a whole cake, let cool thoroughly before inverting onto a plate.

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    Cheryl Herrick's brave Vermont quest to bring together food-love and mom-life. All original content (written, graphical, recipes or other), unless otherwise noted, is © and/or TM Cheryl Herrick. All rights reserved by the author. Want to reprint a recipe? Just get in touch and ask.

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