Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Bunny Cake

The Bunny cake has been a long tradition in our family. He's made an appearance at every Easter I can remember.

But one year, he almost didn't make it. I was probably around 12 or 13 years old when my mom gave me the job of making the bunny cake. ME! What an honor.

I was only using a box cake mix, so it should have been a piece of cake (groan). Anyway, I added the eggs, water, oil and started mixing. And mixing. And mixing. Ten minutes later I thought my arm was going to fall off. I had no choice but to ask my younger sister what went wrong.

She took one look at the unopened box of cake mix and pointed out exactly what went wrong. I forgot to add the mix. So terrible to be corrected by an 8-year-old.

In the end, the bunny made it to the table and was enjoyed by all. But my mom never, ever asked me to make him again. Until this year...

She's really starting to show faith in me. She believes I'm FINALLY outgrowing my Domestically Deficient title. Thus, she turned over the bunny cake pan.

I didn't want to disappoint and decided to go all out with a homemade burnt almond torte cake. I made everything from scratch.

There were a few bumps in the road --
  1. I put too much batter in the pan and it started to overflow.
  2. I spilled flour everywhere (including on my brand new black sneakers). Such a pain to clean up.
  3. The icing called for emulsified shorting -- Does anybody even know what that is? Or where you can buy it? I never did figure that out. Apparently Crisco works as a decent substitute.
  4. Despite greasing and flouring the pan, the cake got stuck.
  5. And the almonds -- yikes. The recipe I used to toast them essentially cemented them to the pan. Roughly a third of them flew all over the kitchen as M and I tried to scrape them off. They were EVERYWHERE. Good thing I made extra!
But in the end, the bunny was served. And he was a huge hit. All was right in our home on Easter Sunday.

PS Take a vote -- Do you think he's holding the Easter egg in front of him or popping out of an egg? That is a question we've pondered for years.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How sweet it is

Sweet Potatoes. A favorite in our house. And on special this week!

I was flipping through my Nigella Lawson cookbook and her butternut squash with pecans and blue cheese recipe jumped right off the page.

Since I had the sweet potatoes, I substituted them for the squash. It turned out really well. M said this recipe is a keeper.

After cutting the potatoes for Nigella's recipe, I still had three left over. So I made Paula Dean's sweet potato fries on our baking stone. Tip: season both sides of the fries before making and flip them at least once in the middle. M also declared this recipe a keeper.

Of course, I don't like a meal to consist only of one type of food (even if it's in two different forms), so I heated up the remaining pulled pork (which was still delish) and served up a side salad.

And since we're on the topic of sweet potatoes, I have to mention my favorite go-to sweet potato recipe. I've served it at a few family dinners and it's a hit every time.

I also think praline yam casserole could work well with sweet potatoes. I'm still not quite clear on the difference between sweet potatoes and yams.

Come to think of it, I'm not sure I've ever met a sweet potato recipe I didn't like. What's your favorite sweet potato dish?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mrs. Brightside

My week began with a flat tire. Ordinarily I'd think it was a bad sign for things to come. But for some reason -- I just keep thinking about the positive.

It happened at on my way to the "gym" (a.k.a. my parents' basement) at 6 am. When I got out of the car I heard a whooshing noise only to find a piece of metal in my tire. It took about 10 minutes for it to completely deflate.

On the bright side:
  1. It happened on my way to my parents' house (less than 5 minutes from home) and not on my way to work during rush hour traffic.
  2. As you may recall, my mom had foot surgery and thus isn't driving. I just left my car there and took hers for the day.
  3. My mom's surgery also means she's at home today when she'd normally be at work. Thus, she was able to wait for Triple A so I didn't have to.
  4. My CR-V had a full size spare tire and instead of one of those donuts. Not sure how much that matters, but it seemed like a positive thing to me!
Hey, life could be a lot worse.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Do unto others...

Remember when I was having a terrible week and my mom helped me through by cooking a week's worth of food for us? This week, I finally got to pay it forward.

My mom had to have surgery on her foot and is now non-weight baring. Don't worry, she's recovering nicely. On the bright side, some forced R&R is probably a good thing for the lady who never stops.

Since my dad had to be out of the country for work this week, M and I had to pleasure of cooking for her.

Also, our friend's cousin, Julie, is currently fighting stage 4 cancer. And as if that isn't enough for one young family, her son, Jaden, (2 at the time) was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma last year (also stage 4). It's been one hell of a year for them, but they recently received some good news. Jaden is now in remission! But, Julie's own battle continues. Please keep this family in your prayers.

And, with everything going on, Julie was kind enough to let me interview her for a grad school paper. So I found out Jaden's favorite dinner is baked ziti and got to work. It was the first time I ever made it, so I hope it turned out ok!


Monday -- Actually my fabulous M.I.L. stepped in and brought my mom dinner, since we were just returning from a long weekend in the Bahamas.

Tuesday -- Parmesan crusted chicken (below), roasted brussel sprouts and spinach salad with strawberries, feta, pecans, almonds, pepper and just a touch of EVOO.

Wednesday -- Carrots and rutabaga, another spinach salad (pictured). I also prepared the baked ziti (did everything except bake it), then delivered it to the family with a salad and Italian bread. That way all they had to do was actually bake it on Thursday.

Thursday -- Pulled pork sandwiches. Holy easy! One of my new favorite crock pot recipes. We made 6.5 pounds, so we had to call in reinforcements to help us eat it all. It got rave reviews from all of our last minute dinner guests, which I (of course) loved.

Friday -- Naan pizzas. Nothing too fancy since we don't eat meat on Fridays during Lent. Just a little EVOO with roma tomato slices and fresh mozzarella, Romano, Parmesan, and Fontinella. Oh and we've been using the whole wheat Naan. It's good.

My mom requested a lot of veggies and protein, since she can't exercise. So we barely incorporated carbs and we definitely didn't miss them. Plus everything we made was quick and easy.

We're also trying to branch out and try different things. I think brussel sprouts somehow got bad name, but they really are delicious. And that carrot and rutabaga recipe is so easy and tasty. Seriously -- try them. You might just be pleasantly surprised.

I know this post is getting long, but I still want to share my Parmesan Crusted Chicken recipe. It's so easy and we always have these ingredients handy.

Bread crumbs
Fresh grated Parmesan
Fresh grated Romano, Fontinella, any other cheese you have handy
Italian Spice
Garlic powder

Preheat the oven to 350. Pound the chicken (so it cooks faster).

In one small bowl, crack an egg or two. In another bowl, mix a cup of bread crumbs, 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, 1/4 of other cheeses (or a full cup of Parmesan if that's all you have). Season with a shake or two of all spices.

Then make an assembly line. Dip chicken in egg, then in the breadcrumb mixture, then place in a baking dish. Repeat for all pieces. Cover with foil and bake until chicken is cooked through.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Breakfast with Dad

Growing up our mom was the cook. She's a pretty amazing cook, hence why I never bothered to learn until I was on my own.

But breakfast. That was my dad's jurisdiction. Sister and I used to sit on our stools at the counter and wait for Dad to flip a couple pancakes our way. "Hot off the griddle" he used to say. The best was when he made us our initials. KZ, that's me. Or at least it was until I got married.

This morning, my dad was helping me with some work and we decided to have breakfast together. Just like old times. As I sat at the counter, waiting for breakfast, I noticed letters begin to take shape in the pan. Then next thing I knew, a KD showed up on my plate. I was pretty excited. Perhaps even a little overly excited.

"Your first initial pancakes as a married woman," Dad said. "Hot off the griddle."

How cute is he?! I can't wait to start that tradition with little ones of my own some day.