Walnut (cup)cake

I was thinking about writing a blog post concerning health care and health care reform here in the U.S. but today is M’s birthday and I’d rather celebrate his life than whine, moan, and bitch about the health care rationing that I experience with my health insurance coverage.  Besides, I’m trying to practice kindness and gratitude these days and have reminded myself that I should be (and am) grateful that I have medical coverage.

I am not much of a baker.  The reason for that is I prefer a free-for-all when I cook, adding this, that, and whatever suits my mood and/or taste at the time.  You can’t free-for-all with baking.  There is a required precision to it if you want your cake, bread, or cookies to come out right.

It’s not that I don’t know how to bake or can’t bake.  As the title of a cookbook I was given by M the Younger states, You Can Cook If You Can Read (Muriel and Cortland Fitzsimmons, 1946).  (Side note:  I love old cookbooks as well as old books on housekeeping.)  I believe that’s true about baking as well.  I can read (and follow directions) so I can bake and even enjoy it once in a while, especially when it comes to breads.  There is something almost therapeutic about creating a loaf of bread.

There are a few times a year when I will bake a cake or something sweet.  Family birthdays are the majority of those few times, and the only time I will take requests although requests are probably not necessary since everyone has their favorite cake and except for a few years when M the Younger was young and experimenting, usually the requests are the same every year (thus giving me the chance to perfect my baking skills when it comes to those cakes).

M the Elder’s favorite cake is walnut cake.  The recipe was handed down to us by his Grandma Kraus.  As with a lot of her recipes, it doesn’t go into a lot of detail.  Fortunately, she did have exact measurements, something you won’t find with some of her other recipes and often we’ve had to work things out on our own, trying to figure out exactly what she meant by things such as  “a heaping tablespoon” (in her case, that’s about two to three times the amount or 2-3 tablespoons).

Grandma Kraus’s walnut cake is not low-fat.  It is not light and fluffy, but dense and rich.  It is a cake to be enjoyed and savored, and you don’t need a huge piece to be satisfied.  That’s not to say you might not want a huge piece, but you don’t need it.

For the past few years I haven’t baked a walnut cake for M’s birthday because his birthday is so soon after the holidays that we’re usually still recovering from the over indulgences of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.  Instead, we go to our favorite Thai restaurant for dinner and if he’s not too full after dinner, M orders a slice of their walnut cake.  It’s not as rich and dense as Grandma Kraus’s walnut cake but it seems to satisfy his yen for it.

We did go to our favorite Thai restaurant for an early birthday celebration on Thursday.  (Note to Jen & Eric if you’re reading:  We thought of you while we were there and toasted you with our cups of green tea.)  M was too full for cake so he didn’t order it.  And since we’ve decided to cut back on buying things for birthdays and such, I decided I would treat him to his favorite walnut cake.

Not wanting to make a whole layer cake that we’ll be forced (heh) to eat, I decided to convert it to cupcakes, figuring we can freeze some of them, unfrosted, to eat another time.  I also cut the recipe in half.  Even so, it made 12 cupcakes.

I’ve had a request for the recipe over at Facebook so here it is:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups butter
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

Grandma Kraus’s instructions:  Combine all ingredients and bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 60 minutes.

I follow the basic recipe instructions for cakes (combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl; cream the sugar and butter together in a large bowl; add eggs to the sugar and butter mixture and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes; add in the flour, milk, and walnuts a little at a time).  As cupcakes, they had to bake for 25 minutes.

If you decide to give this recipe a try, keep in mind that the batter is not as thin as a typical cake batter.  And if you decide on cupcakes instead of layers or a sheet cake, fill the cups.  The cake will not rise as much as most cakes do.

The best icing/frosting for this walnut cake is a buttercream frosting.  I usually add some chopped walnuts to the frosting or decorate the top of the cake with walnuts.

The cupcakes are cooling now (which is why there are no photos with frosting on them).  They smell delicious.  If I think of it later, I’ll post a photo of them frosted (and maybe with a few candles stuck in ’em).

Happy Birthday, M!


For those wondering how the puzzle project is coming along:

We still have a long way to go.

Green tomatoes


(078:  Green tomatoes.  Photo © 2009 by Robin)

I was at Hilgert’s Farm Market buying some fresh veggies when one of the women who works in the market asked if there was anyone who knew how to make fried green tomatoes.  I told her I did and she directed me towards another customer, a young woman, who was asking how to make them.

I know there are various ways of making fried green tomatoes, from the very simple to the gourmet.  There seem to be regional differences as well.  Some are made with breadcrumbs, some are made with cornmeal, and the southern variety are usually fried with some bacon grease to give them the extra flavor.  Some folks, before dredging the slices, dip their tomatoes in beaten egg, some in buttermilk, and some dredge them “dry.”

I gave the young woman my mother’s recipe which is one of the simplest ways I know how to make fried green tomatoes.  It’s also my favorite.  I don’t make them often because they can be a mess to make due to all that hot oil spattering around.

Mom’s fried tomatoes were not always fried green tomatoes.  She frequently made them with not-quite-ripe red tomatoes.  From my own experience I’ve found those work better with Mom’s recipe since a little juice on the tomato slices helps the coating to stick.  The tomatoes are sliced about a quarter inch thick, coated in flour, salt and pepper, and then fried in about a 1/4 inch of  hot oil in a skillet until they are golden brown (or as brown as you like them).  Flipping the slices in the hot oil is the messy part (for me).  Once they’re browned, the fried tomatoes are placed on a paper towel to sop up some of the oil then served hot/warm with parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

Simple, delicious, and they always remind me of summer and the wonderful flavor of fresh tomatoes (especially Jersey tomatoes!).

If you’re interested in the history of fried green tomatoes, I found this blog post to be helpful.

Bonus post: A recipe

(Cauliflower and potato curry.  Photo © 2009 by Robin)

A friend asked for this recipe.  I can’t remember where I got it from, but figure I changed enough things to make it pretty much my own.

Cauliflower and Potato Curry

  • 2 T. butter or ghee
  • 1 t. mustard seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
  • 1 large potato, peeled, diced
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 1 chili (jalapeno, serrano, or any hot chili provided you like things spicy or you can substitute red pepper flakes)
  • 1 piece (1-inch long) ginger, peeled, chopped
  • 1 t. each:  garam masala, chili powder
  • 1/2 t. turmeric
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped, or 1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes, drained (reserve liquid)
  • 1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 3/4 cup water and/or reserved juice from the canned tomatoes
  • Cilantro, chopped, to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the butter or ghee in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add mustard seeds, cover and cook until they pop (about 5-6 seconds).  Add garlic, potato, onion, chili (jalapeno, etc.), ginger, garam masala, chili powder, and turmeric.  Cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes.  Add tomatoes and continue to cook and stir for another 1-2 minutes.

Lower the heat to medium and add the cauliflower.  Cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes.  Add water and/or reserved juice from the tomatoes, and salt and pepper.  Heat to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until the cauliflower is tender, 10-20 minutes.  Sprinkle the cilantro on top when ready to serve.

Hash brown casserole

(056:  New potatoes.  Photo © 2009 by Robin)

Way back when, around the time of the wedding, I was asked for the recipes for the cherry pudding and the hash brown casserole that were served at the pre-wedding brunch for the groom’s side of the family/friends.  The cherry pudding recipe has already been posted at Life in the Bogs and you can find it here.

The hash brown casserole is fairly simple and remarkably fattening.  I got the recipe from some friends from West Virginia.  If you want to do a veggie version (something I’m not sure they’d approve of in West Virginia), I’d suggest cream of mushroom soup instead of the cream of chicken.  Or cream of celery.  If you want a vegan version, you’re on your own figuring that out.  This casserole is chock full of dairy.

  • 2 lb. bag frozen hash browns (the diced or cubed variety)
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cans cream of chicken soup
  • 12 oz. sour cream
  • 2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (save a little to put on top)

Combine all and put in 3 qt. casserole dish (9×13).  Bake at 350°F for 45 minutes (longer = browner).  Cover with foil until last 10 minutes, then cover with reserved cheese and brown for final 10 minutes.

I don’t bother adding the salt.  There is plenty of salt to be found in the soup and cheese.

I have not tried to make this with fresh potatoes.  With all the other unhealthy stuff in this recipe, I’m not sure it would make a difference in the end.

Enjoy and good luck.  Hopefully it won’t clog your arteries too much.

Boulangerie Beans and Potatoes

(Photo © 2009 by Robin.)

For Christmas I received a copy of Mark Bittman’s  How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food.  It was high up on my wish list and I was thrilled to find it under the tree.  (Thank you, C & B!)

Yesterday a friend, who also has a copy of the book, excitedly suggested I turn to page 620 and make the Boulangerie Beans and Potatoes.  Because I happened to have everything I needed to make it (including fresh thyme), I decided to cook up some beans and see what all the excitement was about.

The recipe is very simple and very basic:

  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 cups cooked white beans, drained but still moist
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 medium russet or other high-starch (baking) potatoes or all-purpose potatoes, peeled
  • 1 cup vegetable stock or water
  • 3 tablespoons butter

Preheat the oven to 325°F.  Stir a tablespoon of the thyme into the beans, taste, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Spread the beans in a baking dish and set aside.

Halve the potatoes lengthwise and thinly slice into half circles.  Lay the potatoes in overlapping rows to cover the beans.  Pour the stock over the top, dot with pieces of butter, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and the remaining thyme.

Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes.  Remove the foil and continue baking until the top is browned and glazed, another 45 minutes or so.  Serve immediately or let rest for up to an hour and serve at room temperature.

I used great northern beans (because I had them in the pantry).  In the book Bittman points out that you can use canned beans, but he doesn’t recommend it.  I started with dried beans, and used the quick soak and cook method.  The beans were ready in about three hours.  You can also use red or pink beans.

Obviously you will need to do a little planning ahead for this dish.  It’s well worth the time and effort.  The beans make it a hearty dish that works well as a main course.  Just serve with a salad and you have a full meal.

This is the first recipe I’ve used from the book.  I’m looking forward to many more happy meals from this “ultimate one-stop vegetarian cookbook.”

Thai-Style Pumpkin Soup

This recipe is from The Complete Cooking Light Cookbook.

Note:  I made a vegetarian version.  That means I substituted vegetable stock/broth for the called-for chicken broth.

(Hubbard squash.  Photo © Robin)

I also used hubbard squash instead of pumpkin.  I cut the gigantic squash in half (no easy task which is better suited to a handsaw than a knife), scooped out the seeds, put it cut sides down on a baking sheet, and roasted it for about 1.5 hours at 400°F.  For best flavor, you want to roast it, not steam it.  The squash puts out quite a bit of liquid so check on it every now and then, draining the liquid as needed.  When the squash is cooked, scrape it out of the shell/skin.  I put it in the food processor and pulsed it a few times to smooth it out.

You can, of course, use what the recipe calls for:  Canned pumpkin.

  • 2 (14½-ounce) cans fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
  • 1 (12-ounce) can mango nectar
  • ¼ cup reduced-fat peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1½ tablespoons minced green onions
  • 1 teaspoon grated, peeled, fresh ginger
  • ½ teaspoon grated orange rind
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • Chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Combine first 3 ingredients in a large saucepan, and bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes.  Combine 1 cup pumpkin mixture and peanut butter in a blender or food processor; process until smooth.  Add mixture to pan.  Stir in vinegar and next 5 ingredients; cook 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated.  Ladle into soup bowls.  Sprinkle with cilantro, if desired.

Yield:  7 servings (serving size:  1 cup)

I was going to use Thai red curry paste instead of the crushed red pepper.  I’ll probably do that next time.  The cilantro may be optional but I think it finishes off the soup very nicely.

Enjoy.  🙂

Almost forgot.  Today’s view of the pond:

Cherry Pudding

M made cherry pudding with some of the cherries we bought at the market on Saturday. We were up kind of late, with the pudding coming out of the oven at midnight. Of course we had to sample it while it was warm and fresh.

Cherry pudding is good for breakfast, as a snack, and as a dessert. We usually serve it with milk poured over it. I imagine it would also be good with ice cream, especially when it’s still warm from the oven.

This cherry pudding recipe came from my mother-in-law who got it from her mother. How far back it goes from there is anybody’s guess.

Cherry Pudding

  • 1½ cups sugar
  • ½ cup butter
  • 3 eggs
  • ¾ (3/4) cup milk
  • 2 cups cherries
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • 3 cups flour

Mix all ingredients. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 1 hour.