Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mom’s Carrot Cake

Dear Mom,

Happy Mother’s Day! Do you know that I think you’re a really great Mom? Because you are. And I really love you. I also really love your carrot cake recipe. I didn’t even know you had a carrot cake recipe until we spoke a few weeks ago and I mentioned I was going to a carrot cake party and needed a recipe. And, like the awesome Mom you are, you came through with this gem! It’s a great recipe. The cake is spiced just right, it stays super moist, and the cream cheese frosting was just tangy enough and not too sweet. I’ll definitely make it again.

I ended up making these cute little stuffed cupcakes instead of a regular cake, and I thought they were so cute, I wanted to share them with you. I dedicate this post to you, Mom. You really are the greatest. Happy Mother’s Day!

Love,

Mom's Carrot Cake-1
A closeup of my concoction.

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How sweet are these?!

For everyone else, here’s the recipe. Hope you enjoy as much as I did!

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Peggy's Carrot Cake Recipe

This recipe is the perfect balance. It's not too sweet, is earthy, spicy and moist, and has the perfect complement of tangy cream cheese frosting. Thanks for the recipe, Mom!

Ingredients:

Cake:
4 eggs
2 c white sugar
1 1/4 c vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla
2 c flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
3 c grated carrots
1 c chopped pecans

Frosting:
1/2 c butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
4 c confectioners sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 c chopped walnuts or pecans

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare your pan, 9x13" for a sheet cake, 2 9" round pans for a layer cake or use a cupcake tin for cupcakes.*

Beat together eggs and sugar. Add oil and vanilla. Sieve together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt and add to egg mix. Stir in carrots and fold in pecans. Be gentle with your mixing - if you overmix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, the cake will come out tough.

Pour batter into prepared pan(s). Bake 40-50 minutes or until cake raises and pulls away SLIGHTLY from sides. Don't overbake.
Let cool about 10 minutes, then cover with foil and let cool completely.

For the frosting, cream butter, cream cheese and add vanilla. Add sugar until spreading consistency is reached. (I didn't need to add any extra.) At this point you can either add the nuts to the frosting or save them to decorate the cake with. My mother loves cream cheese icing and will often double this recipe so she has plenty.

*To do what I did, fill a muffin tin with about a 1/2-inch of batter and bake for 10 minutes or so. Then you can stuff them with icing in the middle and on top. Once I had them filled, I rolled them in crushed pecans and walnuts.

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Best Black Bean Veggie Burgers

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If you’ve never made a recipe from this blog, make this one. How’s that as a dramatic way to start out a post?! These are, hands-down, the best homemade veggie burgers I’ve ever had. They’re flavorful, have great texture, stay together when you cook them and are super easy to make. What more could you ask for in any recipe, really?! I got the original recipe from a user on www.justapinch.com (I work there – read more about that here) but I changed up the seasonings and added an egg to bind it all together.

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I served them open-faced on a piece of whole grain bread with mustard, sprouts, and topped them with avocados. They’re also great crumbled over a salad or as a regular burger on a bun. 

I had some friends over for dinner the other night, no one among them a vegetarian, and I made these. Everyone loved them! If that isn’t a testament to a great veggie burger, I don’t know what is.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Raising Backyard Chickens

*This article also appeared in the Tennessean, here.

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I have two hens clucking around my backyard at this very moment. When I tell people this, even my smartest, hippest friends, I get the funniest looks. “Chickens?!” they exclaim. “Why? For their meat? Aren’t your neighbors bothered by the rooster crowing?” I sigh. (Neither of these things are true – read on.) Hey – I’m not judging. Before we got these hens last fall, I had the same questions. But what really strikes me about these questions is how very disconnected we all are from the food we eat, myself included.

DSC_0442Look at those beautiful birds!

Case in point: I grew up in a small Ohio town, east of Columbus. The middle school I attended was near one of Ohio’s largest egg farms. When the weather was warm, the part of the bus ride past those chicken farms – long, one-story hen houses stretching out side by side for acres – was nearly unbearable because of the smell. We kids would try to hold our breath for as long as we could as we went by. And this was from a bus out on the street. I can’t imagine what it was like inside those buildings. Granted I was a kid, but not once did I connect that the eggs we bought at the grocery store likely came from a facility like that, and I imagine neither did our parents.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Food Bloggers Against Hunger

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Forty-nine million people in the U.S. – one in four children – don’t know where their next meal is coming from. If that isn’t a frightening, infuriating, confusing piece of data, I don’t know what is.

Today I’m donating my post to building awareness about hunger in America, and inspire you to get involved.

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The above stat came from a new film called A Place at the Table, created by the makers of Food Inc. It’s got a star studded cast of actors, chefs and political personalities all trying to send a message. I haven’t seen it, but I plan to soon. So what can we do about this?

1. Educate yourself about the issue by watching the movie. Here’s the trailer:

There will be a local screening of the film in Nashville at Downtown Presbyterian Church (154 5th Ave N) Monday, April 29, 6 p.m. (begin film at 6:30 p.m.). Afterward, there will be a panel discussion so you can learn how to get more involved. I know I’m excited about that.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Carrot Apple Ginger Soup

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I was in Chicago last weekend for a friend’s birthday/graduation party. In between all the planned events, I was able to fit in several delightful meals, including one at Birchwood, in Ukranian Village. Our host and hostess, Davis and Laura, had their rehearsal dinner there. They also have a killer brunch.

birchwood

I ordered a Croque Vert, which was a version of a Croque Madame, a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with egg on top, but with veggies instead of ham. While we were waiting for our food we were curious about the translation of the dish. Turns out that “croque” means crunch in French, indicating the bread is grilled. There’s also a Croque Monsieur (i.e. Mr. Crunch) which is the same as Croque Madame (Mrs. Crunch!) but without the egg…Some good trivia for your next brunch date.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Spicy Sausage & White Bean Stew

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One of my favorite, most-flavor-for-the-least-effort, go-to meals is this white bean stew. I’m amazed I haven’t written about it before. I originally found a version of this recipe in a magazine but I’ve tweaked it so much over the years I have no idea what that recipe was – I just have my version. It comes together in 20 minutes (though it’s better after having chilled out in the fridge for a day). Plus it’s totally easy to make a double batch for a friend or just for the freezer. It goes great with some crusty bread or just a simple salad. Enjoy!

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Wheat Berries!

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Now that all that lovey dovey business about Chris and Maria is posted, let’s get down to business: Wheat berries.

In January, during my meat-free month, one of my three goals was to cook a new grain. I make brown rice, basmati rice, jasmine rice, barley, cous cous, quinoa, and arborio (for risotto) with some regularity. But I rarely branch out. The most recent new grain I’d tried was black rice, which I used in this Thai-Inspired Black Rice Salad.

We’re lucky in that Turnip Truck Natural Market is just up the street. They have a bulk grain bin with all kinds of interesting grains in it in addition to nuts, granola, specialty flours and dried beans. I didn’t have to commit to an entire bag of wheat berries – I got just what I needed, and it was cheaper that way too.

Wheat berries are the whole, unprocessed kernels of the grain, and they taste like it. They’re chewy, nutty and substantial. I loved the way they tasted while my husband said they tasted “healthy.”

Too cook these babies, you boil them like pasta in salted water. They could cook from 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours depending on how many you have in the pot. I boiled mine about 45 minutes until they were cooked, but still quite toothsome. I might cook them a little longer next time.

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Here’s what they looked like before they were cooked. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Maria’s Moussaka & A Love Story

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Today I have a special post. In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’d like to share a love story between two friends. If you read all the way to the end, you’ll get to see the step shots for Moussaka, the Greek dish I got to learn as the story unfolded.

Over New Year’s, two longtime friends came to stay with my husband and me. Maria lives in Cyprus and Chris lives in Oakland, Calif. No sooner had they sat down at our kitchen table the night they arrived they announced – much to our delight – they were in love and getting married.

chris and mariaChris and Maria. 

Chris and Maria met nine years ago when they, along with some friends, decided to open a bookstore on the island of Santorini in Greece. The group found a small whitewashed building overlooking the Aegean to rent, and Atlantis Books (you really should click that link and check it out.) was born. Over the years the two became close – almost like siblings. They bickered and fought, and both smart and stubborn, in the early days, they often disagreed about how tasks at the shop should be completed.

IMG_5804_smAtlantis Books, Santorini. Photo credit: Will Brady

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Szechuan Carrot Soup

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Don’t panic. It’s not as spicy as it sounds. The only thing spicy about this soup is the hot chili flakes, and you can lighten that amount if you want to. This is probably the best soup I’ve ever made. It is super easy to do (saute, simmer, blend, eat!) and it comes together fast – perfect for weeknights. The carrot, sesame, soy, carrot, ginger, peanut flavor profile is delicious, and really balanced. I highly recommend it! Serve it with a piece of baked fish or some shrimp, or on its own with a delicious salad and call it a day.

With this soup I’ve accomplished the second goal of my vegetarian month – cooking something with an Asian flavor profile. The first was signing up for a winter CSA, and that worked out great. Check out this beauty shot of my first delivery! Next up is trying a new grain, and I’ve got bulgur on the brain. Stay tuned!

Szechuan-Carrot-Soup

Don’t forgo the toppings – the cilantro and green onion add freshness. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Avalon Acres Winter CSA

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At the start of January I set some goals for my month of meat-free eating. One of them was to sign up for a winter CSA, and I just got my first pickup from Avalon Acres. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and here’s the idea: you pay a farm at the start of a season, kind of like a loan, and they pay you back in what they produce. Your money allows the farm to purchase supplies, pay employees, make repairs, etc. For many farms, a winter CSA offers income they wouldn’t otherwise have since the farm isn’t producing as much during the colder months and many farmers’ markets have closed for the season. Plus you’re keeping your money in the local economy and you’re guaranteed to get tasty, homegrown food.

“But,” you might ask, “It’s winter – if the farm isn’t producing as much, what would I get?” I signed up for a half share of the Preserved Harvest Package from Avalon. According to their website, my bi-monthly baskets could include a mix of peanuts, apple sauce, radishes, carrots, lettuces, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and other winter vegetables as available, homemade pastas and spaghetti sauce, plus canned or frozen sweet corn, green beans, shelled peas, stewed tomatoes, tomato juice, sorghum, honey, jams, jellies, preserves, pickles, apple butter, pear butter, popping corn or corn meal. Check out what was in the first box:

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 From left, I got green onions, kale, broccoli, white turnips, red potatoes, cabbage, a regular turnip, beets, watermelon jelly, a radish, and parsnips! What a haul. I’ll get a box like this every two weeks.

The Avalon Acres CSA also offers mix and match packages of meat, cheese, milk, eggs and some baked good. Avalon co-ops with a network of local farmers and offers a lot of flexibility in their share options. You can specify how much of each and what kind (from breakfast sausage to premium beef, goat cheese only or a mix, etc.). I have friends who have been members of Avalon’s CSA for years and really enjoy the flexibility for their family. I intend to add meat and cheese come February.