Chocolate Cake

By: Brady Evans

CakeMy birthday came and went in early March without much fanfare. Part of the problem might have been that I have a student who has been consistently wishing me “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” daily since August. It was hard to believe when the day had come that it was truly my birthday after all those wonderful salutations all year long.

Another problem, I guess, is that as you get older, birthdays matter less. Unless you are my mom (who blogs at leemalerich.wordpress.com if you want to check her out!), apparently, and then you throw yourself a wonderful party. That’s where this cake came into play – not on my birthday but on her birthday, which is two weeks after mine.

Maybe I went all out on the cakes (yes, there were two; I’ll share the other later) because I had truly not gone all out on my birthday. Or maybe it was because the skies had opened up and it had been raining for two days. What’s better than baking up a storm during an actual storm?

CakeI must confess that I chose this cake because the interior is deep dark chocolate and while my mom and I both prefer vanilla, our husbands do not. Also, I was in the mood to challenge myself by making homemade salted caramel.

The cake was described by the party guests as “shove your face into and eat away” delicious. Ina Garten makes a mean chocolate cake and the salted caramel frosting truly was the perfect contrast. The compliments I received for the baking of this cake at the party were embarrassingly plentiful, so use that as an indication of how quickly you should make this cake! Below are the recipes for the cake, the salted caramel and the salted caramel frosting.

Chocolate Cake (adapted from Ina Garten)

Ingredients

  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1.5 cups whole buttermilk, shaken, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons brewed coffee
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup good cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease your cake pans. (I like to use the wrapper from my sticks of butter).
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and 2 sugars on high speed until light and fluffy (approximately 5 minutes).
  3. Reduce the speed to medium, add the eggs 1 at a time and incorporate fully.
  4. Add the vanilla and mix well.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and coffee.
  6. In a third bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.
  7. On low speed, add the buttermilk mixture and the flour mixture alternately in thirds to the mixer bowl, beginning with the buttermilk mixture and ending with the flour mixture. Mix only until blended.
  8. Finish by folding the batter with a rubber spatula to be sure it’s completely blended.
  9. Divide the batter between two 8″ round cake pan.
  10. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let cool for 10-15 minutes and then remove to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Salted Caramel (from Kimberly Taylor Images)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Combine the sugar, water and the corn syrup in a large saucepan and stir with a wooden spoon over medium heat until sugar is dissolved.
  2. Cover the saucepan and let it cook over medium heat for 3 minutes.
  3. After 3 minutes, remove the lid, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil.
  4. Do not stir from this point on, but instead swirl the liquid around the pan so that the caramel doesn’t burn.
  5. Continue to cook until the caramel turns an even light amber color (it will darken upon standing) then remove from the heat and let stand for about 30 seconds. This step will take about 5 minutes.
  6. Carefully, pour the heavy cream into the mixture. The mixture will bubble up, so watch out.
  7. Stir the mixture, again being careful. Add the butter, lemon juice, and salt. Stir until combined.
  8. Measure 1 cup into a glass measuring cup. Stirring occasionally, allow to cool until thick like molasses and warm to the touch, about 20 minutes.
  9. Save any extra in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

Salted Caramel Frosting (from Kimberly Taylor Images)

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks (1/2 pound) butter at room temperature
  • 8 ounces of cream cheese
  • 3-4 cups sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 cup salted caramel (recipe above)

Instructions

  1. Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed until creamy.
  2. Add 2 cups of the powdered sugar into the butter/cream cheese mixture and beat to combine.
  3. Add 1 cup of the salted caramel and beat to combine.
  4. Add additional powdered sugar until the frosting is the sweetness and consistency you desire.

Fun In The Kitchen

By: Shannon Shull

As one of our fun Easter activities together this year, my li’l angels and I had some sugary fun in the kitchen! We brought out a cookbook that I had bought years ago, which inspired us to want to get creative with some sweets. If you ever get the chance to check out this particular recipe book by Karen Tack & Alan Richardson, you will see why it’s called “Cupcakes, Cookies & Pie, Oh, My!” This book of super cool baking creations is from the creators of the New York Times bestseller “Hello, Cupcake!” I think the pictures alone in this book are enough to spark anyone’s interest and capture your imagination! Leading up to our special baking “date,” the kids and I scoured over the cookbook choosing our favorite recipes that we wanted to try out. My daughter made a list of each of our favorites and we voted in order to decide what we wanted to create on our day of baking and making artistic desserts.

The super cool cook book and the creation we attempted...

I also came across a really cute creation on http://www.JustaPinch.com and had saved a picture of this Kit Kat dessert creation called Redneck Piggy Pool. My 7 yr old son, Sawyer, absolutely loves Kit Kats! So, I saved the picture on my desktop for a couple of months knowing I eventually wanted to attempt this one. A recipe with Kit Kats was  the main enticement that helped me to get my son to actually participate and join us in the kitchen! When it was time for the Kit Kat dessert making, my son was in the kitchen in a flash ready to play and, of course, sample along the way! And now, because I couldn’t get my hands on any fondant (much less had a clue at first what it was!), instead of making little piggies to go in our mud bath, we put pink Peeps in our chocolate puddin’, Kit Kat fenced in, mud bath! We all thought our little ‘Peep show’ creation was very appropriate here at Easter time! 😉

The Kit Kat lover and his Peeps Mud Bath...

Naturally, my creative 9-year-old girl, Mina, loved every bit of the baking and creating. In fact, the child is quite the artist in her own right, and I must admit, her creations were WAY better than mine! She’s got quite the knack, so we will certainly make sure to do more of this kitchen fun in the future so she can really tap into her artistic baking talents.

The creative, artistic process...

A  big thanks goes to my mother, my babies’ grandmother, a.k.a. “MamaMe,” who opened up her kitchen and aided us in our fun quest to produce some of these neat treats. We  destroyed her newly remodeled, lovely kitchen! Cupcake and brownie crumbs, chocolate, loads of different colored sprinkles, M & M’s, and several different flavors and colors of icing were not only all over the counter tops, but were spilled and splattered on the floor and cabinets! Fortunately, my precious Mama was so excited to have us there playing with her for the day that she didn’t mind the mess one bit! Thankfully, we escaped with only one kitchen injury (I burned my finger from accidentally touching an incredibly hot cupcake pan), and we made out pretty darn well, had a blast, and ended up very proud of our artistic baked creations.

The Fun in the Kitchen!

I of course, was overly ambitious in my plans to make lots of cool, culinary creations and discovered that baking – especially baking with children – takes more time than you ever plan for. So we ended up accomplishing only two of the many recipes we’d chosen, but that’s ok! As you’ll see, our edible art did not come out quite as professional and fancy as the pictures in the book, but we learned several lessons and discovered the importance of specific ingredients and baking tools! And for a first go at it, I’d say our artistic sweet treats turned out pretty darn cool lookin’!

Simple, Sublime Key Lime

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

I met Neil in 1997. He was born in Florida, but when I met him, he’d recently landed in South Carolina after 15 or so years in the Norse Land (you may know it as Minnesota). Over those years, he’d been back and forth to FL, since his parents had moved back down there. As we got to know each other, I learned a lot of interesting things about the places he has lived: practically everything in America was invented in Minnesota (’cause they spend half the year locked up in their snowed in houses just thinking up stuff?), when racing jet skis on TV, wear bathing trunks with a drawstring waist (MOOON over Miami), Ducatis are the only motorcycles worth owning, and most importantly, real key lime pie is NOT green.

Up until this point, key lime pie never really piqued my interest. At. All. But, turns out, it’s Neil’s most favorite dessert on Earth. As he was letting me know this, he also told me something I’d never heard before: real key lime pie isn’t green. Lime pie is green, perhaps. Food coloring helps, too. But a real key lime isn’t the same as the big limes we all see on a regular basis. No, key limes are tiny- like the size of a ping pong ball- and that’s considered a big one. And, key limes are way more tart than “regular” (Persian) limes. In fact, these little green orbs will turn your cheeks inside out…that’s how tart we’re talking about! So, Neil advised me of this: if you see a “key lime pie” in a restaurant that is green, know this: it’s not real key lime pie. Just say NO.

See the size of these little babies?

Soaking up some sun

Well, here we are all these years later, married and with a wonderful little girl. I’ve been making key lime pies for awhile now. The first time, I bought a bag of key limes from the grocery. Like I said, they are tiny. So, I cut them all in half, clutched them in my fingers and juiced them one by one. When it was over, I could hardly unclench my fists and was convinced that I’d just given myself incurable arthritis. I vowed that as much as I loved Neil, this was his one and only homemade key lime pie.

The life saver

The life saver

Lucky for him, I was browsing around Williams-Sonoma one day and lo and behold! I discovered you can BUY key lime juice in a bottle! Now, this was a game changer indeed. I bought a couple bottles of (really) expensive juice and ran right home to bake up a pie. Months later, my sister was visiting and saw this primo juice in my fridge and said something like, “You know you can get this in the grocery store, right?” Bahh wuhhh? So, my little sister drove over to the Piggly Wiggly and returned with four bottles of key lime juice for the price of my two Williams-Sonoma bottles. But, no worries…now we’re in business! I can make Neil’s fave anytime I want. Easily, inexpensively and all year long. Good thing for him, because I was never juicing those little limes by hand ever again. Never, ever, ever, again. Period.

Fast forward to today. I now have the most awesome juicing tool ever invented. Good thing too, since this Christmas, my parents found a key lime bush that has been cross-bred with a loquat, so it can withstand colder temps than they have in Florida. So now we’re growing our own key limes on the patio! I wouldn’t be so excited about this if it were not for my juicer, especially since I’d vowed never to juice those things by hand again! Of course, you just can’t beat the bottled juice, but if you want to go old school and juice yourself, you must get one of these. Plain and simple.

You just need this for any kind of citrus juicing…go get one!

This weekend was St. Patrick’s Day, and we were having corned beef and cabbage at my inlaws’ house on Sunday. The only thing I had on hand that I could whip up quickly that was remotely “green” was key lime. I was able to harvest one of our tiny baby limes to garnish and the pie turned out terrific as usual. The crazy thing is how easy this recipe is. Most of the time, you use a graham cracker crust, which is quite delicious. But one day at the grocery, I came across a granola crust, which I’d never seen before. I used one for this latest pie and it was terrific. In fact, it was better than a plain ol’ graham cracker crust. I think this will be my new “go to” for these pies.

The low-down on key lime pie is this: don’t waste your time with “regular” lime juice, either juice your own little tiny key limes or buy the key lime juice…there IS a difference! All you need is 1/2 cup juice, 3 egg yolks and a can of condensed milk. Mix until smooth, pour into pie shell and bake at 350 for about 15 minutes.

Another must-have:  egg separator

Another must-have: egg separator

Good eggs are important

Good eggs are important

Look at that beautiful yellow!

Look at that beautiful yellow!

Freeze egg whites in individual packages for future recipes

Freeze egg whites in individual packages for future recipes

Then, cool for about 10 minutes before refrigerating. Garnish as you wish, but rest assured, it wil be happily consumed decorated or plain Jane!

Garnish or dive right in...your call!

Garnish or dive right in…your call!

Elizabeth writes Gastronomy (by a Wanna-be Chef). For more thoughts, stories, musings, and opinions about food, please visit and subscribe.  Eat, drink and be merry!

Chill Out: Use Your Freezer to Save Money, Make Eating Healthier Easier

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

My grandmother was the “queen of freezers,” and growing up, I couldn’t figure out why anyone would keep two big freezers full of perfectly good food. But since I’ve started eating healthier, I’ve gotten a small freezer myself; I’ve been amazed by how it not only makes eating healthier easier, but also saves some money in the process.

FreezerI tell people that changing my eating habits hasn’t been that hard; the hard thing has been the preparation and planning that goes into eating healthier. Three years ago, if I didn’t have time to pack my lunch, no problem; I’d drive thru Wendy’s instead. Now, however, I have to think ahead, and my freezer has become my best friend! On weekends, I prepare several meals, divide them into individual servings and pop them in the freezer. That way, a healthy meal is only minutes away.

People often complain that eating healthier is more expensive, but using a freezer can really help keep costs down. One way is by purchasing fruits and vegetables when they’re in season, then putting them in the freezer to use later. When your favorite products are on sale, you can also buy extra to put away in the freezer. For instance, every time Publix has my bread on “buy one, get one free” special, I get two loaves, whether I need them or not, because they freeze perfectly.

Frozen food will stay safe pretty much forever because the microorganisms that lead to spoilage and illness go dormant at or below zero degrees. But not all foods will taste good after defrosting. Lettuce will wilt and mayo will appear curdled, for example. Raw meats and poultry freeze better than prepared ones because the moisture that locks in flavor is lost during cooking.

Here’s some helpful information that I’ve had on my freezer for a while, and I thought it would be great to share. The information, from the Department of Agriculture, indicates how long frozen foods will keep their quality.

Food Months
Casseroles 2 to 3
Frozen dinners, entrees 3 to 4
Ham, hot dogs, lunch meat 1 to 2
Meat: uncooked roasts and steaks 4 to 12
Meat: Ground 3 to 4
Meat: Cooked 2 to 3
Poultry: uncooked whole 12
Poultry: uncooked parts 9
Poultry: cooked 4
Soups and stews 2 to 3
Wild game; uncooked 8 to 12

Did your mother or grandmother have a freezer? Do you have one? How do you use it? What are your tips for a freezer newbie?

Confessions Of A Weepy Mom

By: Roshanda Pratt

When was the last time you cried?  I mean really shed some tears.  You know, what us gals call the “ugly cry,” the one with mascara rolling down your face, and your heart aching, the almost beating out of your chest kind of crying. The kind of crying that gives you a headache, causes your eyeballs to hurt, and is so exhausting you want to take a nap afterwards. A cry like this can be therapeutic, especially at times when there are no words to communicate the depth of your heart.  I have cried like this, not recently, but I had cause to do so.  Within the last two weeks (as if I did not already know), I have come to terms with the fact that building a business is work. As the owner, I see everything: the bills that need to be paid, the clients who are needed to pay those bills, their gripes (I have not had any real problems here) and the day-to-day workings of running a business.  I am the employee, CEO, CFO and janitor all in one.

I recently received a dose of reality that it is not for the faint at heart. About two weeks ago, I think it all came to collision.  I could feel the tears welling in my eyes and the heaviness in my heart.  First of all, I am a mom to three blessings and a wife.  Honestly, there are days I feel like the people who motivate me to build my business are on the losing end.  There are many demands between business, community service, church and just life.  I am not complaining.  My cousin once told me, “Girl, you are blessed to be busy.” And I would not have it any other way.  I knew early on I would never be that traditional June Cleaver (Matter of fact, is anyone?). However, I still want to make sure my husband and children are getting the best of me and not leftovers.  How many of you know that sometimes leftovers can leave a bad taste on the stomach?

So there I was, head on my laptop, thinking “woe is me,” as the tears began to form.  I could sense this was going to be a WHOOPER! The feeling of being overwhelmed settled in.  Feelings of wanting to quit, throwing in the towel, thinking this is just a pipe dream and lastly, “What am I doing to my family?”  Then, it happened. The first tear fell and then the second. I could feel the floodgates starting to open.  But before I could go there I had this thought:  This is just temporary.  Don’t let this moment or fleeting feeling determine the rest of your day or the rest of your life.  

Immediately, the tears dried up.  I then began to remind myself of what’s true.  Oftentimes we cry because we are replaying the negative thoughts or words in our head like a black and white film.  I had to replace what was false and remind myself what was true.  I then prayed. I mean, I was totally transparent with God about my thoughts and my feelings. Then I got up, started to clean the office and put together a plan of action.

That mini meltdown taught me something about honor. It is not the most popular word we hear in 21st Century culture. But just because it is not widely known, does not take away from its significance.  I had to get real with myself. I had not been honoring my time, my family, my spiritual commitments or my physical health.  Honor. In life, I have discovered when we are neglectful in one area, it has a tendency to run over in other areas.  I had to get back to Honor. So, I became intent on spending time with my family. I took the kids to the park and left the iPhone in the car.  I played games with the kids more often and cuddled with my husband on the couch while the phone rang. Meanwhile, I implemented a plan to also honor my business by setting a schedule and sticking to it.  Although my best intentions sometimes fall flat, I am still putting together a plan of action and that is a start!  As I continue to grow in my endeavors I am reminded of one of my favorite Bible verses:

Verse

Psalm 126:5-6 reads,Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy. Though one goes along weeping, carrying bag of seed, he will surely come back with shouts of joy, carrying his sheaves.”

Since my days as a student at Winthrop University, this scripture has been a balm of healing.  This scripture taught me my crying is just for a little while because in the near future, I will be shouting for joy and not rejoicing, but also carrying a harvest. Too often we become so consumed by what’s in front of us that we forget that everything is subject to change, just like the seasons.  The cold, harsh winter is saying goodbye and the newness of spring is coming. So shed some tears if you have to just for a little while, water your good seeds with your tears, and watch a harvest awaits you!

Be Encouraged.

Ro

What Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte & Miranda Taught Me About Life

By: Shannon Shull

I think of how I spent my early twenties watching the ultra famous and popular HBO show, Sex and the City. As much fun as it was, I wish more of it had actually sunk in! Truth is, I couldn’t relate to those women then. Heck, I was still a naïve baby. I watch the show now and can totally relate, appreciate, fantasize… the list goes on. My best girlfriends and I re-watch our Sex and the City dvds and wish we could escape and dive into worlds of Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda.

Picture 3

“As we drive along this road called life, occasionally a gal will find herself a little lost. And when that happens, I guess she has to let go of the coulda, shoulda, woulda, buckle up and just keep going.”
– Carrie Bradshaw

Why is it that with a majority of us women, it’s not until we get older that we find ourselves? In a sense, we “wake-up” and figure out what we really want in life, decide we don’t want to settle, and attempt to learn that we need to live for ourselves? The older we get, the more we realize that life is just too short!

Charlotte

“It’s infuriating! Women sit around obsessing about what went wrong over and over again and men just say, alrighty.”
– Charlotte

These four fabulous characters were all fierce and independent, yet totally human, unique and imperfect women. They wanted acceptance and success. The show followed each of these women through their journeys of seeking love, finding their very own Prince Charmings, and achieving happiness. In the end, I think they and we, as viewers, were all pleasantly surprised to see who they ultimately chose as a partner. These ladies had a great time, worked hard, took care of themselves and embraced each other, faults, quirks and all. When I watch the show now, as a strong, independent woman in my late 30s, one of the best things I take from the characters of this show is the fact that it’s ok to love your body, celebrate life and embrace your age. Whether you’re in your 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s – no matter what age – I say, as Goddess women, we owe it to ourselves to embrace life! Take it by the horns and ride that bull with ferocious determination!

Samantha Jones

“I’m gonna say the one thing you aren’t supposed to say. I love you… but I love me more. I’ve been in a relationship with myself for 49 years and that’s the one I need to work on.” – Samantha

Miranda

“No, he’s not sick. He’s not hungry, he’s not teething, he just wants to scream. I’m doing everything I can but I can’t please him. If he was 35 this is when we would break up.”
– Miranda

Now let me be clear, I’m not dissing the teens and 20 something’s of the world by any means! I say, live it up girls, go experience life to the fullest so you can find your true selves and not be forced into what others in your life expect you to be. I only wish I had explored more and jumped right into all of the opportunities I could’ve taken advantage of as a wild and carefree young lady. But let’s face it women, it seems unanimous that we tend to look back to our early years and consistently say, “if I only knew how good I had it then, the whole world ahead of me!” Like we’ve all heard declared all too often, “You just don’t get how good you really got it when you’re young, until maturity and the real world smack ya in the face!”

“So many roads. So many detours. So many choices. So many mistakes.” – Carrie Bradshaw

“As we speed along this endless road to the destination called who we hope to be, I can’t help but whine, ‘Are we there yet?’
– Carrie

So why am I touching on this subject? Because as I sit and write this blog entry, it is my 38th birthday. Yep, there ya have it, I just confessed my age. I am increasingly aware of the fact that I am gaining on 40. But I figure I can’t encourage all of you incredible women to embrace your age if I don’t, right!? Lately, I have noticed so many outstanding older women of all shapes, sizes, strengths, talents, and I am constantly encouraged that just because we get older does not mean that our lives are over. We do not have to have our teen and twenty year old bodies to appreciate life and all its glories. We do not have to live vicariously through others who are younger than us. Life is good in these later years of ours – we’ve learned from so many mistakes, we’ve experienced triumph and tragedy, we’ve lived through just enough discoveries to journey into the rest of our precious lives with enough knowledge to (hopefully!) not completely blow it, and to instead recognize our strengths, our talents, our desires and our needs in this short life.

Carrie On

“When real people fall down in life, they get right back up and keep walking.”
– Carrie

“The universe may not always play fair, but at least it’s got a hell of a sense of humor.”
– Carrie

So, whether you are a fan of Carrie Bradshaw and the ladies, or not, they’ve helped a whole lot of us women cope with and embrace our ever aging lives. Goodness knows, they’ve become a part of my own therapy in holding onto the little bit of sanity I have left in my own complicated life. Sometimes there’s just nothing like watching an episode of Sex in the City, escaping into Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda’s world and being reminded that regardless of the hardships in life, we can (with style, of course) not only survive, but we can darn well take on the tough times, laugh at the absurdities, and encompass the complex whirlwind that is life. Like I said before, embrace the heck out of your amazing, precious, short life, because it’s the only one you get, SO WORK IT!

“The most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you find someone to love the you that you love, well, that’s just fabulous.” – Carrie

Hummus

By: Brady Evans

I remember the first time I had hummus.  I was maybe 12 or 13, and my mom’s friend from the big city of Atlanta was visiting our small, stoplight-devoid town.  She brought with her crunchy wasabi peas, edamame, and hummus.

Hummus

Oh, the hummus.  It was so tangy and creamy and unique.  Where I lived, dips came in the form of a pop-top can and accompanied ruffled potato chips.

I’ve been making hummus for a long time, but what takes it up a notch lately is dousing it in a layer of flavor-infused olive oil and savory spices.  Here, I used roasted garlic olive oil and smoked paprika.

Hummus

The true secret to making the best hummus is peeling the chickpeas.  I generally toss them in a bowl with water and swish them around with my hand, which loosens the skins.  Then, I pop each pea out of its skin. It adds a little time to what would be a quick food processor-only recipe, but it is really worth it.

Chickpeas

Hummus (adapted from Oh She Glows)

Ingredients

  • 2 15-oz cans chick peas, peeled
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 2-4 tbsp water, as needed to reach desired consistency
  • 1/2-1 tsp fine grain sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander seeds
  • smoked paprika and olive oil for garnish

Instructions

  1. Add chick peas to the food processor and pulse until chopped.
  2. Add remaining ingredients, adding water if necessary to reach desired consistency.
  3. Garnish with spices and oils.