Friday, November 9, 2012

Barackos (the meal formerly known as Hawaiian Tacos.)


I was scrolling through Facebook that night after the the results were announced and found this post from one of my favorite people, Cathi Kern:

“Gobama!! I knew having Barackos for dinner would bring good luck!”

I just loved the statement—and considering President Obama was born in Hawaii, and we were having “Hawaiian Tacos” for dinner the night he won the election—I have decided to steal Cathi’s term for tacos.

Regardless your political leanings, the Barackos are delicious.

Barackos (recipe adapted from BHG, Feb. 2007—Hawaiian Tacos)

1 1/4 lb. bulk Italian sausage

1/2 c. chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, crushed

dash hot pepper sauce (optional)

12 taco shells

1 recipe Hawaiian Pineapple Salsa (see recipe below)

1 c. grated fiesta blend or sharp cheddar cheese


In a large skillet cook sausage, onion, and garlic, until meat is browned and onion is tender. Stir to break up and crumble the sausage.  Drain off fat.  Stir in dash of hot pepper sauce.  Spoon meat mixture into taco shells.  Top with Hawaiian Pineapple salsa and sprinkle with cheese.

Hawaiian Pineapple Salsa:  Combine 3 chopped Roma tomatoes, 1/3 c. chopped onion, 1 chopped cucumber, 1 (8 oz) can pineapple tidbits (drained), 1 fresh, chopped and seeded jalapeno pepper, 2 T. snipped fresh cilantro, and 1 T. packed brown sugar.  Mix until sugar is dissolved.  Serve immediately or chill in fridge for up to 2 hours.  If refrigerated for more than 30 minutes, serve salsa with a slotted spoon.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cake 6: Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting


I do this all the time.  I invite people over for dinner and later realize I don’t have time to get to the store—so I end up scrambling trying to figure out what to fix with ingredients I already have on hand.  Fortunately, I generally manage to pull it off okay.  Case in point: this delicious carrot cake from Mel’s Kitchen CafĂ©.  (I know, I could probably be her one woman advertising team.)

Made from staple ingredients, this cake is awesome.  One note: make sure you cool this baby COMPLETELY before attempting to frost it.  I was a bit hasty in putting this together and even though it was cooked completely, both layers sank in the middle, leaving a pretty good sized crater.  Yay for lots of frosting and home-canned apricot preserves to make it look like I MEANT to have a hollow cake.

Carrot Cake and Cream Cheese Frosting

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces)
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 lb. medium carrots (6 to 7 large carrots), peeled
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar (10 1/2 ounces)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups vegetable or canola oil


Note: You might want to double the frosting recipe if making for a layer cake—I didn’t, but kind of wish I had…

8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
5 tablespoons butter softened to room temperature
1 tablespoon sour cream, light or regular
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar (4 1/2 ounces)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Adjust oven rack to middle position. Grease and flour a 9X13-inch baking pan or 2 9-inch round pans.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt in large bowl; set aside. In a food processor fitted with large or fine shredding disk, shred carrots (you should have about 3 cups); transfer carrots to bowl and set aside. You can also shred by hand on a box grater if you don’t have a food processor. (I use a salad shooter—remember those?)

In a large bowl and using hand-held mixer, beat granulated and brown sugars and eggs on medium-high until thoroughly combined, about 45 seconds. Reduce speed to medium; with mixer running, add oil in slow, steady stream, being careful to pour oil against inside of bowl (if oil begins to splatter, reduce speed to low until oil is incorporated, then resume adding oil). Increase speed to high and mix until mixture is light in color and well emulsified, about 45 seconds to 1 minute longer. Turn off mixer and stir in carrots and dry ingredients by hand until incorporated and no streaks of flour remain.

Pour into prepared pan(s) and bake until toothpick or skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 32 minutes for 9-inch round pans and 40 minutes for a 9X13-inch pan. Let cakes cool for about 10 minutes in the pan and then invert them onto a cooling rack to cool completely (the 9X13-inch cake can be cooled completely in the pan if you don’t plan to invert and ice all the sides). At this point, once the cakes are cooled, they can be wrapped in plastic wrap and put in a ziploc bag and placed in the freezer for up to 2 months. Thaw at room temperature prior to frosting.

When cake is cool, mix cream cheese, butter, sour cream, and vanilla at medium high speed in clean bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment (or in large bowl using handheld mixer) until well combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Add confectioners’ sugar and mix until very fluffy, about 1 minute.

Frost cooled cake and dollop with apricot preserves or sprinkle it with nuts or whatever else to make it look fancy.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Perfect grilled chicken!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!  Thanks to the internet, I have finally FINALLY figured out how to grill chicken breast without it turning into tough, stringy, dry pathetic-ness! I use a gas grill, so here are the instructions:

Brush a little oil on the grill before turning it on. (I use olive oil.) Turn grill on high and let it get good and hot.  Then, turn the heat down to medium. 

Flatten your chicken breasts with a meat tenderizer or mallet or whatever the heck those things are called—1/2 inch is the perfect thickness.  Season the suckers with a little salt and garlic powder if you haven’t already marinated them with something else.

Place the chicken breast on the grill for two minutes.  Rotate the chicken forty five degrees (don’t flip it over) and grill for another two minutes.  THEN, flip the chicken over and repeat the two minutes/rotate/two minutes thing.  This sears in the juices and keeps the chicken tender.  I never have a meat thermometer but here’s how to test for doneness—if you press the chicken and it feels mushy, it’s not done.  If it has no give, it’s overdone.  If it springs back slightly—voila—you’ve got cooked chicken.

I know that’s not terribly scientific, but it works for us.  If you’re paranoid about that kind of thing, get your thermometer and make sure the chicken registers at least 170 degrees in the middle of the thickest part.

Cake 5: Pineapple Coffee Cake and Homemade Yellow Cake—two forehead-meets-the-table disappointments

I have been on a serious Pina Colada kick lately.  It’s my favorite flavor aside from chocolate.  And I thought, hey—if you can make a pineapple upside down cake, why can’t you make a pineapple and coconut coffee cake?  So, I went in search of a recipe and found this one on  Apparently, it’s one of the more popular recipes for pineapple cake.  I made it up, and doctored it a little (added coconut to the batter.) 

It looked like cake.  It smelled like cake.  But it tasted like a whole lotta nothing. I was so disappointed I didn’t even take a picture of it before pitching it.

But, I still had time to try something else.  Since I was out of canned pineapple, I thought I’d go with Mel's Homemade Yellow Cake.  It, too, was a disappointment, but maybe it’s just me.  The cake turned out fine, but when I think of yellow cake, I think of the vivid yellow and airy/spongy texture that comes from boxed cake mix.  And I like that.  Mel’s yellow cake was on the dry, heavy side.

Oh well.  There’s always next week!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cake 4: Ethereal Angel Food Cake


I am ridiculously proud of this cake.  It turned out so well and was SOOOOO good! Before I found this recipe, I had determined I was no good at making angel food cake.  Every time I tried, it was a disaster.  So why bother trying again?  Three reasons.

First: I was listening to a radio show called Food for Thought featuring our loved and local Chef Doughty. She was talking about making yeast breads and how often when they don’t turn out, we’re tempted to give up.  She encouraged listeners, when we have a cooking failure, to immediately try again and keep experimenting until we get it.

Second: A friend of mine who keeps chickens had just unloaded two dozen farm fresh eggs on me. What to do? Make a cake, of course!

Third: I found this simple, straightforward, ultimately AWESOME recipe from one of my favorite recipe sites, Mel’s Kitchen Cafe. (No cake flour involved! No weird ingredients! No experience necessary!)

This really is the easiest angel food cake recipe I have ever seen, and it even has a chocolate version! I’m posting just the recipe here, but if you want to see some “tutorial pictures” from Mel’s site as well, click here.

Ethereal Angel Food Cake

*Note: To make a chocolate version, substitute 1/4 cup cocoa powder for 1/4 cup of the flour.

Dry ingredients:

1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt

For the egg white mixture:
¾ cup granulated sugar
12 large egg whites (make sure not to get any of the shell or egg yolk in with the whites or they won’t beat up properly)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder (if using), sugar and salt and set aside. In another bowl place the egg whites and add the vanilla. With a hand mixer (or with a stand mixer), beat the egg whites and vanilla on medium-high until the mixture is just frothy, about one minute. Sprinkle the cream of tartar on the top of the foamy whites and continue beating on medium-high until soft peaks form, another 2-3 minutes.

Add the sugar 1/4 cup at a time until fully incorporated. Continue beating until the whites are stiff and glossy (see the picture below). This may take several minutes, depending on the type of mixer you are using. With a whisk, gently fold the dry ingredients into the beaten egg whites. Pour the batter evenly into an ungreased angel food cake pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Place the cake on a rack in the center of the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, until the top of the cake is golden brown, the cake springs back when lightly touched and the cracks are dry to the touch. Place the cake upside down on cooking rack or bottle until cool. Slide a knife around the edges of the pan and gently remove the cake.

Cake 3: Pumpkin Almond Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Caramel

Boy that title is a mouthful. And what a decadent mouthful it is.  This cake is an adaptation of what has become my birthday cake tradition (except for this year, thanks to my eldest child’s budding desire to learn to cook.) 

A few years ago, a friend of mine showed up on my doorstep on my birthday with this amazing three layer pumpkin spice cake with a pecan and vanilla wafer crumb crust.  Between each layer of dense, delicious cake was the best cream cheese frosting ever made.  This drool-worthy confection was topped with a generous dose of caramel ice cream topping and sliced almonds.

It was the best cake ever, despite not being chocolate, and ever since, my friend has made me this cake every year.  This cake is so awesome, so coveted, that we never have leftovers.  I made it this year for the cake challenge, and it was gone before I could even get some out to my friends.  (I promptly went out that day and joined a gym.)

Apologies for the lack of photos—apparently it takes more smarts than I have to download the photos from the new camera without deleting them in the process!

The original recipe called for pecans,but I never have those on hand—I always have almonds—so that’s what I use.  Here’s the original recipe—with substitutions included:

Pumpkin Pecan (or Almond) Spice Cake:


2 c. crushed vanilla wafers (about 50)—I used gingersnaps

1. c. chopped pecans (or almonds)

3/4 c. butter, softened


1 box spice cake mix

1 (15 or 16 oz) can solid pack pumpkin

1/4 c. butter, softened

4 eggs


2/3 c. butter, softened

3 oz. cream cheese, softened

3 c. powdered sugar

2 t. vanilla

1/2 c. caramel ice cream topping

In mixing bowl on medium speed, beat the wafers, nuts, pecans/almonds, and butter until crumbly.  Press into three greased 9 inch round cake pans. In another mixing bowl, beat cake mix, pumpkin, butter, and eggs for three minutes.  Spread over crust in each pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centers of cakes comes out clean.  Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then remove to wire rack to finish cooling. (Crust will be crumbly, so be careful.) 

For the frosting, combine butter and cream cheese in a bowl and add the sugar and vanilla.  Beat on medium until light and fluffy, about three minutes.  Spread thinly between cake layers, placing crumb side of cakes down as you stack them. Drizzle the caramel topping over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides.  Garnish with more chopped nuts (I like to use sliced almonds.) Serve immediately or store in the fridge until ready to serve.  Yield: 16- 20 servings.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Cake 2: Blueberry Almond Cake


I made this coffee cake for Father’s Day, just shy of “week 2” of my 34 cakes in 34 weeks challenge.  Though my husband claims he loves chocolate, he almost never chooses chocolate desserts. He always goes for something full of fruit. So when I found this recipe, I knew I was golden.

Made with fresh blueberries, with a brown sugar and almond crumble topping, this cake is divine.  I expected it to be good, but man, oh, man—I have made this cake three times in as many days, that’s how good it is.  We just can’t get enough of it.  Hmmmm—if I keep finding recipes like this, my hips and thighs are in serious trouble!

Blueberry Almond Cake

1/4 c. butter

3/4 c. sugar

1 egg

1/2 c. plus 2 T. milk

2 c. all purpose flour

2 t. baking powder

1/2 t. salt

2 c. blueberries


1/2 c. brown sugar

3 T. all purpose flour

1 t. ground cinnamon

1/2 c. chopped or slivered almonds

3 T. butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9 inch springform pan (I used a 10 inch springform pan with great results.)

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in egg. Add milk alternately with flour mixture, mixing just until incorporated.  Stir in blueberries (if using frozen berries, first rinse lightly and drain in a colander to remove ice crystals that may be clinging to the fruit.)  Pour batter into prepared pan.  In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and cut in butter until crumbly.  Stir in nuts.  Sprinkle mixture over batter.

Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (The first time I made this, it took 45 minutes, but the second and third time it took closer to an hour.)

Allow the cake to cool for at least ten minutes before serving.

(recipe adapted from