Friday, March 27, 2009

Cheesy Potato Spoon Bread

We tried a new recipe tonight at dinner for Cheesy Potato Spoon Bread. I've been holding on to the recipe for a while now. I clipped the recipe from the March 2005 issue of Vegetarian Times Magazine. It only took 4 years for the stars to align and for me to have the ingredients on hand. Usually when I keep a recipe that long, I am disappointed, but this one was good. Joe and Samantha both had seconds, so that means it's a keeper.

The original recipe has some quirks that I attribute to the fact that it came from a vegetarian magazine. I'm a meat-eating homecook, so I adapted the recipe to suit my cooking style. The portion size was large, which is fine as a main dish, but I served this as a side. There were alternate directions for baking individual ramekins or a single casserole dish. I chose the family friendly casserole dish. Another recipe oddity was the SOY margarine combined with the eggs and dairy. Vegetarians are weird.

Here is my version:

Cheesy Potato Spoon Bread

Makes 6 side dish servings
  • 1/2 T margarine
  • 2 c leftover mashed potatoes (prepared)
  • 1/2 c water
  • 1/2 c all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 T margarine
  • 1/4 t onion powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 t ground pepper
  • 1/4 t cayenne pepper
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 3 oz. hot pepper cheese, shredded
  • 5 oz. neufchatel cheese, softened
  1. Preheat oven to 425F. Generously butter 1.5-qt. soufflé dish or casserole.
  2. If using cold mashed potatoes, warm in large nonstick skillet or saucepan over medium heat until very hot, stirring frequently to prevent scorching.
  3. Meanwhile, bring 1/2 cup water to a boil. Put flour, margarine, onion powder, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper in mixing bowl, and pour boiling water over mixture. Using electric mixer on low, beat for 1 minute, and add very hot mashed potatoes. Beat again well. Add eggs, and beat again, until thoroughly combined. Set aside to cool slightly.
  4. Mix cheeses in a small mixing bowl. Pour 4 cups potato mixture (about two-thirds) into the prepared casserole. Drop spoonfuls of the cheese filling over the potato mixture. Cover filling with remaining potato mixture. Place casserole on baking sheet.
  5. Bake 50 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes before serving.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Fun Party Cake

I just finished up a cake for a party that my friend Lisa is hosting tomorrow. It's not the typical party. Sometimes they're called "fun parties." Basically a bunch of women get together and buy things at the party that they can take home to spice things up in the bedroom.

I volunteered to make a cake for this party, but I was thinking that I could practice the latest flower or border technique. Then Lisa asked if it was going to be a theme cake. Oh, no. What was I going to do? I'm much too easily embarrassed. I couldn't make a cake in the shape of a male body part.

I went online to do some research. I found a website with a photo gallery of thousands of all sorts of cakes. They even had an album of naughty cakes, but you have to become a registered user to view those photos and swear that you're an adult. I registered. Great. Now "they" know that I look at cake porn.

I found a lot of really gross cakes like the functional male ones. Eww. But there was one concept that I thought was pretty conservative as far as naughty cakes go. Man and woman in bed covered by a blanket. Everybody knows what's going on under the covers, but the details are left to one's imagination.

I was going to do that, but then I saw something at Hobby Lobby on the clearance aisle. "Susie" spoke out to me and I knew how I would decorate the cake. They had one female doll head marked down. She was the perfect size to put on a cake. There were no males. The only other doll making part was one pair of eyeglasses which were much too big. I took Susie home.

This week in Wilton 3 I made a cake covered in fondant with a fondant bow. While that is a story unto itself, I had some fondant leftover so the colors for the bed cake are very similar to the bow cake. I didn't feel like making more marshmallow fondant (MMF) for a few pieces on one cake. It's easy to make, tastier than Wilton Fondant, and about a fourth of the cost of the Wilton stuff, but I wanted to use up what I had before it went bad.

The cake is a 9x13 made from a lemon cake mix with homemade lemon curd filling. The fitted sheet is 100% MMF. The purple fondant for the pillow cases and blanket is a blend of Wilton fondant and MMF. Yes, I did intend for the marbling of the blanket. The pillows are cake scraps that I froze prior to carving. The bed skirt is buttercream (I never thought I'd ever use the ruffle technique when we learned it in class last week.) The headboard is Wilton fondant with some Gum-Tex added for stability. The headboard will be added to the cake on site which is why I'm holding it in the picture. Susie's body is made of fondant.

I like how Susie is looking over to the other side of the room as if to say "Come on, Honey. I'm warming up the bed for you."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

St. Patrick's Day Menu and Irish Soda Bread

I won't be home Tuesday night, so we had out corned beef and cabbage dinner tonight. Very yummy. Corned beef, cabbage, mashed potatoes and soda bread.

St. Patrick's Day has always been important in my family, but it's funny how I have modified the menu over the years. Growing up, Mom always bought the pink pre-corned beef at the grocery store. She cooked it and then added in the cabbage. We always had the "new" potatoes, which were always red and if we were lucky then they were small. For dessert there might have been green jello. I don't remember there being anything else.

Now that I am an adult I have figured out that I do not get along well with the chemicals in store bought corned beef. They give me headaches and a general sense of malaise. Not pleasant feeling at all. So, several years ago I started seasoning a beef brisket myself several days in advance. This year I tweaked the seasonings and I think it made it even better. Then I proceed with the cooking just as Mom always has. I do the cabbage the same as Mom. Joe doesn't like boiled new potatoes and I'm still working on establishing "our" traditional potato dish, so this year I made mashed potatoes. That leads me to the soda bread. Some years I've made a quick bread variant that was ok, but Joe was never crazy about it. This year I tried something made from yeast. It's really more of a raisin bread, but it's great. Soft. Would probably make a good sandwich bread.

Last year Mom sent me one of those magazine/cookbooks that they sell by the register at the grocery store. It was called Taste of Home Irish Food & Fun. The original recipe can be found on their website here. My comments below are italicized.

Irish Soda Bread




TIME: Prep: 30 min. + rising Bake: 30 min.


  • 1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (110° to 115°) (I will admit that I do not precisely measure the temp. I microwave 8 oz of liquid for 30 seconds in a Pyrex measuring glass. Less liquid for less time; more liquid for more time. I then check it by sticking my clean finger in it. Totally scientific, huh?)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1 cup warm buttermilk (110° to 115°) (I used the powdered buttermilk and reconstituted it per the package)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3-1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour (I needed more)
  • 3/4 cup golden raisins (I used regular raisins that I soaked in hot water until plump. I drained off the liquid after soaking.)


In a large bowl (I used my Kitchenaid stand mixer with the flat beater here), dissolve yeast in warm water. Add 1 tablespoon sugar; let stand for 5 minutes. Beat in the buttermilk, butter, salt, baking soda, 1 cup flour and remaining sugar until smooth. Stir in raisins and enough remaining flour to form a soft dough.

Turn onto a floured surface (I kept in my mixer and switched to the dough hook.); knead (I used Speed 2 and added flour as necessary to keep dough from sticking to sides of bowl. The bowl did have a little bit of dough sticking at the bottom.) until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes (At this time the raisins were pretty beat up, so there were little bits throughout the dough. May want to consider adding in the raisins near the end of kneading if you are concerned about keeping the raisins intact).

(After kneading, I cut the dough in half and froze one half for later use. Note to self: the yeast will be groggy upon awakening so be prepared for extended rise times.)

Place in a greased bowl (I used the same mixer bowl), turning once to grease top. Cover (I like a clean kitchen towel, but plastic wrap will allow you to see the progress) and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 40 minutes. (If your kitchen is cold, try this trick: turn your oven to the lowest possible setting (mine is 170 F) and a timer for exactly 1 minute. When the timer goes off, turn off the oven and put the dough inside.)

Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; knead for 2 minutes (This I do by hand and I stop when the dough becomes difficult to fold over itself). Shape into a round loaf. Place on a greased baking sheet (I used parchment). With a sharp knife, cut a 1/4-in.-deep cross on top of loaf. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.

Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes (even the half loaves) or until golden brown. Remove from pan to cool on a wire rack. Yield: 1 loaf (or 2 small loaves).

Wilton 1

As you may remember, Samantha's First Birthday cake was the first cake I had ever decorated. I enjoyed making it, but didn't do any other cakes until her second birthday.

The Crown cake was what I made for her second birthday. It was hard and I was sweating. The directions called for 5 cups of icing, but I only had enough powdered sugar to make 4 cups. I stretched it, but only barely.

For Christmas I asked for a set of cake decorating tips. Joe obliged and bought the large set with lots of tips that I had no clue how to use. I saw that Hobby Lobby had Wilton Method classes in January for 50% off, so I headed over there one day to see what it would cost me. "Only" $17.50 for a 4-week session with classes one night a week. I signed right up for Wilton 1.

The first week my instructor Melissa showed us around the cake decorating aisle at the store. So many tools to make the experience more enjoyable because the class kit ($24.99 then) contained only the bare minimum to get through class. Then she made up a double batch of buttercream icing and flavored it with equal parts of vanilla, almond and butter flavorings. (I concluded right then and there that I'm not crazy about the butter.) She left us with a list of things that we needed to bring to the following class including a cake and icing. We had two options for the cake. We would either need to bring a "character" cake (such as the shaped crown pan above) or we would need a pattern to transfer onto our cake. I chose the transfer cake option.

I scoured Samantha's coloring books looking for a suitable image that I could transfer onto my cake. She was crazy about Happy Feet at the time, so I thought a penguin would be good. The night before class I laid out my plan step by step so that I would do it all in order. The next day I got a phone call from Melissa. Class was canceled because we were expecting bad weather that evening. I decorated the cake at home and the Penguin Cake is what I made. Looks ok, but the mouth is goofy.

The following week I wanted to again make a transfer cake, but I wanted to do a different cake than before. I found a rubber duck online and printed it out. Ducky Cake used stars and outlines and the transfer method.

In Week 3 we learned how to make clowns. In real life I think clowns are scary, but made from icing they're kinda cute. They use up lots of icing though. We also learned drop flowers that night. This picture doesn't show a very good drop flower. The other cupcakes I was just messing around trying different techniques on. They're not worth mentioning.

Week 4 we were given the task of choosing any cake in our book and replicating the concept. I really liked drop flowers, so that's what I knew I could do. One bonus was that we made them ahead and allowed them to dry. In class all I had to do was add the bottom shell border and place the flowers wherever I wanted. While a drop flower border is great for covering up a lousy shell, this cake was one of my best shell borders.

Wilton 1 teaches the "Wilton Rose", but I haven't yet mentioned it because during this class I wasn't very good at it. They're ok, but not my favorite flower.

Sauerkraut Again

Last week one of my grocery stores had cabbage for 19 cents a pound. I'm making corned beef and cabbage tonight. That will meet Joe's monthly quota for cabbage, but at such a great price I bought extras so I could make sauerkraut. Yummy sauerkraut.

A year and a half ago I tried my hand at homemade sauerkraut and it was delicious. Here's the recipe I used back then. I've since found the juniper berries that I omitted back then, so the new batch has juniper berries and caraway seeds.

It's crazy cheap to make homemade sauerkraut. I paid $1.49 for 3 heads of cabbage. Two heads went to the sauerkraut and the other is for the corned beef. That's roughly $1.00 for enough cabbage to make 12 cups of sauerkraut. I already had the salt, juniper berries and caraway seeds in my pantry, so I don't know what cost they contributed to the recipe, but it wasn't much.

For comparison, I bought a 32 oz jar of sauerkraut for $1.84. I needed it for the reubens we'll be making with the leftover corned beef tomorrow night. Too bad we couldn't wait 4 weeks for the homemade batch to be ready for consumption. That jar has a third as much as the homemade, but cost more.