Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Chocolate Espresso Peanut Butter Birthday Cake

Yes, you read that correctly. Chocolate espresso and peanut butter cake with chocolate cinammom swiss meringue frosting and peanut butter frosting.

My niece, Lavada's birthday is August 27th. My husband, Bud's, is August 31st. In our family we always celebrate their birthdays together on the same day.  Last year my niece asked if I could make her a chocolate cake with peanut butter.

I started asking questions. "Do you want chocolate cake mixed with peanut butter cake so it's all marbled? Or do you just want straight peanut butter frosting on plain chocolate cake? Or oooooh do you want lots of chocolate cake and peanut butter cake layers with chocolate and peanut butter frosting?"

About the 5th suggestion in the eight, about to be nine-year-old girl was standing staring at me blankly like I'd lost it. In general I think she thinks I'm a few megs short of a full gigabyte as it is, but this day she just stared vacantly at me and then somewhat questioned, "Ummm, yes?"

So I began planning the structural ascent up Reese mountain. That heavenly chocolate-peanut butter flavor combination mecca that has lead the charge in one of the last century's greatest debates: Did the chocolate get in the peanut butter or did the peanut butter get in the chocolate?  Hey - It's right up there with how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?

Both cakes bake at 350º.



1 cup sifted whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup raw sugar
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/4 cup coconut oil or unsalted butter
1/4 cup creamy natural peanut butter
1/2 cup whole milk - divided
1/4 cup beaten eggs (2 smaller eggs or 1 extra large)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour 1 round 8-inch cake pan. Cut out a parchment circle to line the bottom of the pan.

Sift and stir together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Then add 2/3 of the milk. Mix together on the slow-medium setting of your mixer for 2 minutes, scraping the sides frequently. Add the shortening, peanut butter, remaining milk and eggs. Beat for 2 minutes on medium speed.

Pour evenly into the cake pan, then bake for 30-35 minutes.  Let stand in the pan for 5 minutes then turn out on a rack and cool completely.



3/4 cups + 2 TBLS whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup raw sugar or 1/2 cup honey (if using honey, add when mixing wet ingredients)
1/3 cup + 1 TBLS dark cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup coconut oil melted
1 extra-large egg
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup fresh hot strong coffee /espresso

Grease and flour one 8-inch cake pan.  Cut out a parchment circle for the bottom of the pan.

Sift together all dry ingredients.  Mix wet ingredients separately except for the coffee.  Gently mix together wet into dry.  If using an electric mixer,  mix on low while slowly pouring in wet ingredients. Once incorporated,  mix in hot coffee all at once. 

Pour into prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes.  Let the cake cool for 30 minutes in the pan. Turn out on a rack and let cool completely.



2 cups natural peanut butter (creamy or chunky - your call, but for piping purposes, creamy would work better)
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1 cup honey (I prefer raw tupelo)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsalted butter

Blend all ingredients together and keep cool. If using any of the peanut butter frosting for decoration or piping I recommend adding powdered sugar to that portion 1 tbls at a time till of a stiffer consistency.



5 egg whites
1 cup and 2 TBLS raw sugar or 1/2 cup honey
2 cups of unsalted butter at room temp (4 sticks or 1lb)
3 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp cinnamon
4 oz dark chocolate melted or 3/4 cup dark cocoa powder

Temper egg whites in a double boiler with sugar or honey,  mixing gently with a whisk till sugar is dissolved or honey is blended.

Remove from heat and whisk or use stand mixer to beat till stiff peaks form. 

Add butter in fourths,  a chunk at a time to whisking bowl till incorporated.  It will go from a cottage cheese looking state to suddenly a beautiful frosting consistency.

Blend in cocoa powder,  cinnamon and vanilla extract. 

For piping,  add in powdered sugar till stiff enough to pipe.

Alright,  frosting waiting,  cakes cooled -  ya ready?  This is where it gets fun!

Take your chocolate cake, slice it in half.
Take your peanut butter cake and slice it in half horizontally.  Yep,  we're going for 4 thin layers.

Now we're going to make a staggered pattern so when you cut into the cake you have variations of color between the chocolate and peanut butter,  but also this way,  you truly experience the consistent chocolate-peanut butter taste combination. Is it necessary?  No, of course not,  you could just alternate the newly cut cake layers,  but it was fun for a child's cake.

I find this easiest done with circles or triangular wedges (see bottom of post for triangular instructions). If you have circle cutters or stackable bowls in graduated sizes,  choose sizes so each cake circle created is equal.  We baked 8" cakes here so for ease:

2" circle starting at the center of a cake layer
4" circle
6" circle

Now you should have a cake layer cut into 4 rings with a 2" center and each ring 1" in width.

If you do not have circle cutters or bowls to trace around with a paring or cake knife (let's be honest,  we all know a standard cheap kitchen knife works just fine on a cake),  you can take a piece of string,  tie one end to the knife blade,  the end to a thin dowel,  skewer or toothpick,  measure off 1" from center and rotate the taut string with the knife.  Voila,  first circle cut.  Measure out another inch of string length and you have another ring. 

I'm always amazed by people who buy things to make a cake or dish just to do it one time or rarely,  when quite frankly you can improvise most any tool with what you already have on hand.  Just use a little ingenuity. 

The question I'm asked by people baking cakes in my kitchen,  which always amuses me is,  “Do you have a  cake leveler or layer cutter?" 

No.  First,  the pan it was baked in was already level.  Cut it before turning it out by keeping the blade flush with the pan. 

Second,  people have been making cake even and level with a piece of thin string for centuries.  I still find it to be cleaner,  faster,  more accurate and cheaper.  Wrap the string or thread around the cake at your desired cut point,  cross the ends and pull.  Yeah,  it's that easy.


Continue cutting circles till all layers have uniform rings. 

Now - take the center cut out of either kind of cake,  place it in the middle of your final cake board or serving plate.  Take the next size ring of the other cake and place it over the center piece on your cake board or plate.  Continue interchanging the cake rings till you have rebuilt an 8" cake layer with rings alternating from chocolate to peanut butter.

Thinly (you have three layers of frosting here so you do not need to be heavy-handed with it,  lest your guests go into a diabetic coma after eating one slice), frost the top of the layer with either chocolate or peanut butter frosting.

2nd Layer: This time start with the outer ring so you can ensure the layer will be centered over the bottom layer. Alternate the ring in cake flavor from what you used on the outer ring of the bottom layer .  So if your first layer had a chocolate outer ring, Layer No. 2 will be peanut butter.  Alternate the ring types again inserting until you have reconstructed another layer.  Your center piece of cake on this layer should be the opposite of what you used on the first layer if you started correctly.

Thinly top frost this 2nd layer with the other frosting from what you started with.  If you chose chocolate for the first layer,  now use peanut butter.

3rd Layer: Begin the same as the 2nd Layer,  starting from the outside to ensure it's centered over the bottom and then build in.  This time your outer ring should be the same as the one on the 1st bottom layer,  alternating again as you build inward to the final circle.

Again, thinly top frost with the frosting you used on the first layer. Your layers should now be frosted: chocolate,  peanut butter,  chocolate,  or vise versa,  which ever order you chose.

4th Layer: Starting with your remaining outer ring and centering on bottom layers,  begin constructing inward.

How you choose to frost this cake is completely up to you.  For my niece's cake I frosted in sixths. Piping a chocolate line across the center,  then crossing and so on till the cake was evenly divided.  I then filled each section with alternating frosting so it resembled a sort of circus tent.

I used stars and scroll work for the piping and piped large royal icing letters on floral wire and seals (her favorite animal at the time),  letting them harden on parchment paper while the cakes were baked and assembled.

After the piping was completed,  I inserted the hardened decorations by their wire so they stood up off the cake.

Have fun!!


Cut each layer into strips at a 45 degree angle,  changing the lean of the blade at each cut.  Each layer's final cut should resemble teeth/triangles.  When building the layers,  alternate the strips of cake.

Lay down the bottom layer's center strip and build outward on either side, alternating between triangular strips of chocolate and peanut butter cake.

Thinly top frost.

Start the 2nd layer with an edge strip to ensure it'd flush with the bottom layer and make sure the side strip you start with is different than the strip below it on the first layer. If the bottom strip is chocolate,  use a peanut butter cake strip in the 2nd layer.  Build sideways,  alternating cake type strips.

Thinly top frost.

Start the 3rd and 4th layers the same as the 2nd  to ensure edges are flush with bottom layers so the cake is centered.  Always alternating cake type from the layer below it.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

When do you gear up Christmas

I know it's a ridiculous question for most people - but truthfully, I'm one of those crazy people who could own a year round Christmas shoppe, and yeah it has to be spelled like that.

Whether it was just the way the magic was created for me when I was a child or my own brainwashing by always listening to Christmas carols when I was falling asleep at night, there it is.  I became a full-fledged Christmas Junkie.  I could make toys for kids, bake cookies, make crafts and decorate all year round.  For me Heaven will be that I actually pass away and awaken in a white snowy wonderland with the Arora Borealis streaking across the sky, surrounded by magical elves and caring for reindeer with one goal in mind - to remind and restore mankind's hope for peace and love eternal.   That's not too much to ask for, right?

So here it is only August 15th, the hottest month of year in Florida and most anywhere in the northern hemisphere, but my mind is completely filled with ideas for making hand-painted Christmas cards, cookie recipes, gilding a tree, making wreaths and drowning in a sea of colored paper and ribbon.

Our Christmas Eve tradition:  Baking one last batch of sugar cookies, having home made Strombolli, driving around to look at the houses covered in Christmas light displays, watching a Christmas special together around the tree and just spending time together.

This year will be particularly special for us, because my Bud (my husband) was booked on a year long US speaking tour.  He leaves this September 9th and then will only be able to come home at Thanksgiving and Christmas and then won't be home again till late June of 2011.  We've spent the last 14 years of our marriage together and for the most part working together as well.  The majority of those years we've been together 24/7 so this is going to be a whole new world for us as a family.  He's not even gone yet and I'm already looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas.

So for me this year - Christmas holds even more promise, hope and magic than usual.  I cannot wait!

Monday, August 2, 2010

When good brownies go bad

Last Friday night we had company over and a request was put in for carrot cake.  I created a recipe for carrot cake using whole wheat flour and honey which my husband loves since he's into health food.  My whole goal around health food is that it should taste good.  Trust me here - I do not enjoy eating food that tastes badly so I spend a good deal of time experimenting with different types of honey, egg whites, whole wheat flours and other ground nuts and grains,etc.  My aim is to end up with family recipes of beloved foods that taste amazing, but can be enjoyed regularly without feeling the need to do 1,000 rep kettlebell swings to burn off the indulgence.

My husband, Bud, trains strength athletes and professional fighters and anyone else willing to learn his Captain Insane-o methods.  One of his cousins trains at our house with him several times a week and after he had told her about the carrot cake when she mentioned that being one of her favorite desserts she started hitting me up about it.  Last Friday she planned on hanging on with us after training so a carrot cake was suggested.  

I began working on that when she arrived and our son Noah, who loves to cook as well, decided to jump up and make a batch of brownies.  Brownies are another thing I'd worked on so my recipe is written down in a little journal I keep in the kitchen so Noah as a book to refer to when wanting to make something of mine.  He whips out the book and announces he's making brownies.  Knowing Bud's cousin had been wanting to try those as well I gave him the go ahead.  

Noah was busy at work at one counter and I was paying attention to my work area on the other side of the kitchen.  I walked past him once and notice two bowls - one with the dry ingredients and another filled with white watery chunky substance.  Knowing full well there's nothing in my recipe or a stage which would create what I was looking at I pointed to it and asked, "What's that?"

He looked at me and replied, "The milk and butter combination."

I was perplexed.  First of all in my recipe the butter is melted and added to the cocoa powder at the beginning. Secondly, there was way too much milk.  I asked, "How much milk did you use?"

He said rather nonchalant, "Three and a half cups."

I just stood there staring at him blankly.  I finally managed, "Three and a half cups?!  Noah - it's supposed to be three and a half tablespoons."  I felt my inner-Gordon Ramsey rearing up.  

He blinked wide-eyed, "Tablespoons?  You probably should have written that in there," as he whips the book around to look at the page again.

I said, "I did.  In fact you made those last week and you made them perfectly - what's up with that?"

He said, "I don't know - I just... Well what in the world do I do now!?"

I thought Bud's cousin was going to fall off the barstool at the counter watching this transpire.  You see she's a high school teacher and the softball coach for the junior varsity and varsity girls' teams. I'm guessing she found the entire scenario hilarious watching someone else cope with matter.

I said, "Okay - just hang on - give me a second to think what we can do with this."

He asked, "Well can't we just add the other ingredients to equal up to the right proportions and still make brownies?"  

I said, "Yes - in theory if we were sending brownies to the troops.  Do the math - if there are 16 tablespoons in a cup and you put in three and half cups, there are 56 tablespoons of milk in there.   You only needed three and a half.  That's 16 batches of brownies."

He put his head down further and grumbled at himself.  I said, "It's not a big deal - we'll make something else out of it.  It's a good way for you to learn how to adjust things and about versatility."

He just shook his head as I sat down to start looking over my own recipe and thinking about how to adjust the quantities and what else to add to make this into something different, but still great.  I had him add another two cups of flour, 1/4 cup of honey, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, 3 Tbls cocoa, another teaspoon of vanilla, 3 more tablespoons of butter, 3 tablespoons of lemon juice (the goal there being to trigger the milk to sour to buttermilk giving a thicker, richer flavor), and a dash of chili powder.  Why chili powder?  The mixing of this batter was a taste-and-add process.  Knowing how the batter should taste to determine the finished product is key in a situation like this.  Adding chili powder to a cocoa makes the flavor points of chocolate really pop.  It doesn't take much and not enough to create heat, only enough to accentuate and elevate the flavor.  
Accidental Chocolate Cake

I was estimating it was going to make enough batter for two 9-inch pans and it did.  We baked it at 350 for approximately 35 to 40 minutes.  If you're unsure of baking times on a cake just remember the stages a cake goes through, the rise, the set, the browning and finally the pulling away from the edges.  

It turned out really wonderful with a deep rich brownie flavor - similar to devil's food cake with a gorgeous glossy top.  Noah has chosen to name it, "Accidental Chocolate Cake."  

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Creating great meals on a tight budget

It would seem these days it's nearly impossible to buy good food, create meals and feed your family and still pay the rent or mortgage, keep the lights on and pay the car insurance.   At a time when many people are struggling to make ends meet, those looking to provide their family with decent, healthy meals can find themselves at a crossroads in the grocery store.

"Well I can buy this one roast at $4.99 a pound which will feed my family of four once with no leftovers or I can buy this pre-made, pre-packaged, boxed meal which has a list of chemicals, additives and preservatives longer than the Gettysburg Address for $1.98 and it will make three meals as the main dish."

It's hard to argue that logic when you're also deciding if you could buy more food if you yourself skip some meals thereby providing larger portions or more meals throughout the course of the week for the rest of the family as you recount the cash in your wallet or mentally review your budget for the week.  Don't scoff - it happens and in more families than you may think in your own neighborhood.

First of all ask yourself if you're shopping in the right store.  Just because a grocery store is located nearest to your house doesn't necessarily mean it's the smartest choice for your household budget.  Case in point, where I live the most popular grocery store is one whose headquartered in my city, but you can find chains of them across the southeastern US.  It's a great store, terrific employees, customer service is their main priority.  They have the freshest produce, outstanding cuts of meat, an amazing organic, all-natural section in some of the stores, their own generic line that rivals the quality and taste of many name brands and it's the store that most people would prefer to say they shop in.  It's great and personally - I never shop there.  Why?  It's not cost effective, because it's also the most expensive store and even their "sale" prices are still above those of competitor's regular prices.

I have done my fair share of price comparison shopping over the last 14 years of marriage and it broke down like this; During the first year of marriage it never occurred to me to shop anywhere than where I always had, which was that particular chain, because that's where you were supposed to shop, it was the closest to my home and I wasn't buying for a family.  It was just me.  I could afford the luxury of popping in, buying a few items, decadent or not, enjoy them for a few days and go back again in a few days for whatever I was in the mood for next or struck my fancy as I perused the aisles.

The first week I went shopping after we married I did so in the same way I always had.  I went to that store, walked around till I saw things that I thought he and I would like, bought those items, came home and made them.  I wasn't terribly concerned about budget or reducing trips to the store and buying in bulk was a foreign concept to me.  That first week the food ran out quickly and I was back at the store again within days.   That was pretty much the status quo for the first several months.  I felt like I lived at the grocery store.  My husband was also a picky eater.  He would never see it that way, but the truth is he gets in moods for foods.  Sometimes its beef, then chicken, other times he wants oatmeal and hummus.  However if I made/make something he's not in the mood for, he'll eat it, but when asking what we're having I get, "Oh," and then a shrug of his shoulder.  Translation: "I wasn't in the mood for that."

I always felt pressured (because I wanted him to enjoy his meal) to buy a wide variety of foods to make sure and cover my bases.  It got expensive quickly.  After our son was born in a difficult situation requiring extensive medical care, even with great insurance the medical bills leveled us.  I stopped shopping at the great store and opted for one that was closer to our home and less expensive.  I began learning that I could still create variety in our meals without having to buy numerous different cuts and types of meats by using different herbs and seasonings and cooking methods.  This was a huge find, because it meant buying less expensive cuts of meat in larger quantities.  We actually had better more full meals even though I wasn't buying as much.

Over the years I would visit different stores to price check our standard household items and dry goods.  I even learned that the same store would have different prices on the same product depending on the store's location.  Even a store as common as Walmart has price differences based on location.  Factors such as demand for an item in a particular area of town, distance the trucks must drive off of the main highways to deliver products all play in the price you pay in a store.  For example: my husband loves Celestial Seasonings Decaf Green Mint tea.  I started the obsession years ago when I mixed a pitcher for myself, he tasted it and that was it.  He was hooked.  There are four Walmart Supercenters in my area within reasonable driving distance from our home.  Two of them are the primary Walmarts we shop in and understand, Walmart is to me like death and taxes - Something I don't enjoy, but find unavoidable.   In one Walmart the same box of Celestial Seasonings tea is $3.29 for a box of 20 tea bags.  In the other store they're $1.98.  Not a difficult argument as to which Walmart location gets the bulk of our monthly household budget.  Those same tea bags are $3.99 a box at the grocery store which is nearest to our house.

You have to price comparison shop first and foremost.  If you're near a store for another reason and have the time, just walk around and jot down the prices of your most common purchases.  You may be surprised.  I know I was when I found out that a Dollar General Marketplace - a rare creature and beyond me as to why all Dollar Generals are not converted over to one - allowed me to purchase more than double the groceries for the same price as shopping at Walmart.  Surprisingly Dollar General Marketplace also carries major name brands for far lower prices.

Some standard Dollar Generals also have food sections that while not as large as a Marketplace, still carry the same great deals, but again it's about location.  There is a Dollar General near my home, but I drive past it another two miles down the road, because the next one down has better prices and a larger selection on the same products as the DG near my home.  As a bonus, that other Dollar General I prefer to shop in when I don't have time to drive to the DG Marketplace which is across town, is also located next to a Big Lots and a Save-A-Lot grocery store.  Did you know Big Lots carries groceries?  They do and you'd be stunned by the variety, prices and selection.  I have found amazing Japanese foods that my husband and I adore which I have to drive to specialty stores to  purchase, yet occasionally Big Lots will have these great finds in their International Foods aisle.

Price comparing items from Dollar General in a Save-A-Lot I still find Dollar General to be for less, but Save-A-Lot has a meat department which some amazing cuts and phenomenal prices.  If you do not have a local butcher shop near you, but do have a Save-A-Lot it's definitely worth the visit.

Be careful of grocery store chains which tout, "Buy One Get One Free," deals or 10 for $10.  Check their regular prices in comparison to their sale prices.  Quite often that BOGO deal isn't so much of a deal.  Off sale, they're half the price.  When they put them on sale suddenly it's "Buy one steak and get one free," but the double the price so you're still essentially paying the same price as if you'd bought at their regular price.  The 10 for 10 deal - in many stores you must buy 10 to get them for $1 each.  Sometimes this is a little absurd for a shopper.  They don't need or want 10 of something, however go to Dollar General for the same product and you'll find it's always two for $1 and if you just want one it's only 50 cents.  

Look for price to quantity comparisons as well.  Sometimes if you read the labels you'll find out that buying four of a smaller package size is the same price as buying the larger one, but you get more ounces/pounds or count for the price.  This is often true of cheese and dry goods.

Another great find - check local independently owned grocery stores.  They many not have as much selection, however they quite often have sales that the bigger chains cannot compare to.  In my area a local store has a sale the first weekend of every month.   While I've never gone for the regular household items because DG and Walmart were still better priced, I have gone for the meat department.  On those weekends they will sell ground chuck for 69 cents a pound, roasts for $1.29 per pound, Delmonico, T-Bone, and Rib-Eye steaks for $1.49 a pound.  You can buy a 40lb box of leg quarters for $19.  The savings is enormous and the lines granted are unbelievable in the butcher's department, but the cuts are fresh, they keep it well stocked on those days and people show up to shop!  Women appear from neighborhood associations and street co-ops.  They all put their money together and send two delegates in their minivans ready for the haul.  It's quite a sight.  The first month I learned about it and went I was stunned by the turnout and wait time, however I purchased over 100lbs of different types of meats and fish for $52.  It lasted us one month and we entertain frequently so we weren't just feeding ourselves.

Learn about stores such as Sams and Costco.  While you may not need or want to buy a 100 pack of toilet paper, they will have offers on something else with a price that can't be beat.  Case in point - in any store I shop in cheese on the average is $2.25 to $2.99 for an 8oz block.  At Sam's Club I can buy a large 4lb block of Land O Lakes brand cheese for $4.98.  For those of you not seeing it - that's four blocks of the $2.25+ cheese at the grocery store and that's buying the generic brand which never seems to have the flavor or consistency of Cabot's or Land O Lakes.  Why would I pay $9 for low-quality cheese if I can pay nearly half for a good brand in the same quantity?

Know your area.  Purchase fruits and vegetables from local growers at stands or at a farmer's market.  The savings cannot be beat and the freshness is far superior.  Learn how to cook vegetarian even if you're not vegetarian.  People who aren't vegans often don't realize the versatility and meal options you can have in vegetables, legumes and beans.  Eggplant for example is often disregarded for the most common dish as Eggplant Parmigiana.  However eggplant sliced vertically and left to set on paper towels or paper bags beneath and above with a heavier plate on top of them can then be cooked in a skillet, grilled or baked in a pan with a myriad of different seasoning options and are amazing as a meal in themselves.  One eggplant can usually feed two average eaters in this manner.  Spaghetti squash also can be cooked and served just like spaghetti with far more nutritional value than standard pasta - and this is coming from an Italian - I love my pasta.

Don't assume eating cheap means eating badly with little variety and limited options.  It doesn't.

Here's a quick variation on something you can buy in extensive bulk for a low price - potatoes.

Variation my son made by baking with a little cheese
Cottage Mashed Potatoes:

Average approximately two to three medium potatoes per person as a yield

Wash the potatoes, but do not peel them. Keeping the skin on not only significantly increases the nutritional value of the dish, but increases the quantity of the finished amount.  The substance of the skin will also decrease the amount eaten as you will feel fuller, faster.

Quarter the potatoes and cover with hot water to reach the boil faster.  I usually prefer to cover the cut wedges till the water is about five inches above them.  This allows room for the potatoes to shift during boiling allowing a more uniform cooking.  Bring to a boil, cover lightly allowing steam to escape and slightly reduce the roll of the boil as this allows the potatoes to cook without bottom potatoes scorching.  Stir occasionally and cook for 15-20 minutes.  Test a wedge by mashing it with a back of a fork.  The potato should easily mash and break apart but not be mealy.  

Drain the potatoes and mash with either a large fork, potato masher or beat with a mixer or electric beater.  Personally I prefer to use a masher/ricer or fork as I can control the consistency of the mash better than with a mixer.  I find a mixer allows the potatoes to be more lumpy and mixing too long or too fast will activate the sugars in the potato causing a gooey, gummy consistency.  

We use real butter, because that is our personal preference and believe the science of what's in margarine and butter substitutes will cause far greater health damage than actual butter ever will.  Consumption of butter should also be based on your activity level, but it's fundamental in bone development and maintaining the health of them.  It's important to understand that people who are sedentary (couch potatoes), or who have jobs which only require them to sit and work on a computer or do general office work should be watching the amounts of fats they are consuming.  If your body's highest activity level is digestion you're better off being a vegetarian for the rest of your life and only drinking water or unsweet decaf teas.

That being said - Melt 1 TBLS of butter for each potato you used.  When making mashed potatoes do not add any cold ingredients.  Warm anything you will be using whether it's butter, substitute, olive oil or milk.  

Warm approximately 1 cup of milk.  If you feel you are lactose intolerant or have chosen to eliminate dairy from your diet for one reason or another you can substitute almond milk, rice milk, or coconut milk (make sure this is actual coconut milk and not a version which contains added sugars).  I personally would never advise soy milk to anyone except to a menopausal woman.

Gently stir butter and 1/3 the milk into the potatoes.  Add another 1/3 of the milk and mix.  Add the remaining milk and stir.  Depending on your preference of stiff or creamy potatoes some people find 2/3 of milk to be adequate.  Others prefer more than the full cup, this also depends upon the number of potatoes you have used.  As an average this 1 cup is good for approximately 6-8 potatoes.  Sea salt and pepper to taste.  

Variation on this recipe - use an herbal mixture of 1/4 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp onion powder, 1 TBLS dried parsley, 1 tsp dried basil, 1 1/2 tsp chopped chives in 1 cup sour cream.  Use this in place of the butter or substitute used.  This gives a "ranch" flavor to the potatoes.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Hidden Nutmeg

Several years ago my husband kept pushing me to write a cookbook or at least create a blog around food and creativity. I thought he was insane and chalked it up to a nice man looking to pump up his wife's ego for benefits of another kind. Well that - And it always motivates me to cook and bake more things. It's really a win-win for him.

None the less, one evening after finishing off a bowl of my broccoli soup he said, "This stuff is amazing! Seriously - I don't understand why you haven't published anything yet! What's in this anyway? I've always eaten broccoli soup, but none of it has ever tasted like this. What is it?"

Dismissively I replied, "It's probably the nutmeg."

My son and husband just sat there staring at me like I was crazy. My son, Noah, said, "Mom - I thought nutmeg was for baking."

I said, "Well yeah - it is, but it's a spice just like any other. You can put it where you want. Truthfully nutmeg is used frequently in Italian cooking so since that's how I grew up - sometimes I incorporate it into things that are more mainstream. There's not a ton of it in there. Nutmeg is pretty powerful when used in a large quantity so it's just a scant amount, but it seriously changes the whole flavor of the soup."

My husband just shook his head and laughed, "Nutmeg? Who'da thought?"

Fast forward three months to one evening when I made a spinach casserole type dish, but needing it to be portable because we were traveling and wanting to take something that was nutritionally dense, I increased the spinach, doubled the egg and reduced the milk. In the end we had spinach squares that could be easily held in the hand and okay - not to publicly pat myself on the back, but they were pretty darn tasty. Spinach, egg, cheese, sour cream and some seasoning and spices.

As I'm sectioning them out and putting them into a storage container my husband magically appears out of nowhere (How does he do that? I haven't decided if he's monitoring the kitchen with hidden surveillance or he has me on Low Jack), and snitches one. I said, "Those are supposed to be for later."

He laughs and replies, "Hey just sampling the fruits of your labor Baby!"

As he's walking out of the kitchen making his happy noises he says, "Good God woman - these are outstanding! What's in this?? Oh no no wait - let me guess: nutmeg."

He said it jokingly, but turned back around to face me when I said, "Actually, yes."

So began a guessing game between the two of them to figure out which spices and ingredients I have used for each creation. They're getting pretty good at it and finally Noah has begun to develop a palate that can identify the majority of the ingredients of a dish. He himself is very interested in cooking and one day would like to own his own restaurant or be a chef somewhere.

He'd been begging for cooking classes and unless you live in a major metropolis do you have any idea how difficult it is to find a culinary school that will take anyone under the age of 16? Or at least offers classes to kids that's not treating them like they're in pre-school.

I've never treated my son like a little kid who was not capable of handling anything. Like some adorable little moppet to be patted on the head and left with a few alphabet blocks in the corner. I'm sorry but that's condescending and truthfully you get what you put in. If you treat a child as though they're absent-minded, incapable, and unskilled - well that's exactly how they'll behave. Eventually they have to grow up into adults so I believe that confidence and responsibility should be instilled early and consistently. I'm not a tyrant (er well... I don't think I am, but you should probably ask him his take on that), I just have faith in him. When he wants to try or do something that brings out a new facet of his personality or interests I do my best to nurture it and find people who can wisely guide him.

None the less - I finally found a school in Tampa: Apron's Cooking School. They give summer and winter sessions. They have a Kid's Camp for children under 13 and then a Teen Camp as well. When my son was 10 he attended the kid's camp and then this past July during the month of his 13th birthday he attended the teen sessions. He loved it! He drinks in every word the chefs utter and applies it when he comes home. He's not stopped cooking and is beginning to learn how to alter recipes to accommodate those around him. He's also begun creating his own. His dishes are amazing. He made this breakfast casserole the other morning that was to die for!

My favorite part was when dissecting his ingredients I jokingly said, "And do I detect nutmeg?"

I was stunned when he said, "Actually Mom - yeah. I did use nutmeg. I was doing what you said and altering the recipe to fit our family. I know we like that little flavor so I put some in it."

Okay - I'll admit it. I was impressed.

Then he went one step further and told me something I did not know which surprised me, because I read about herbals and homeopathic ways constantly. It's something I find deeply fascinating. So when he divulged this little tidbit of information I was shocked. He said, "I mentioned to Chef John how you use nutmeg in stuff most people wouldn't and how it adds so much flavor even just a tiny little bit. He said that he does that too and then started talking about each spice and what it does. Did you know that nutmeg in large doses is actually a hallucinogenic?!"

I started laughing as the light dawned in my mind as to why even though so many things in our life as a family have been difficult around us, but we've always managed to laugh and joke our way through together:

Copious amounts of nutmeg accumulated over long periods of time, a cooking family and a dinner table.

Who knew?