Saturday, April 28, 2012

Sugar Cake

mixed lilacs



Valley Valentine Japonica

apple blossoms

Spring is such a beautiful time of year, and I just had to share some of the flowers in bloom at our house. Right now, I picked some lilacs and the scent is perfuming our entire house. Growing up, there were lilacs around our house, and later the house my husband and I bought had a large number of old lilac bushes of various colors throughout the entire property. I must say, they are one of my favorite flowers. We have since removed some of them to open up some areas and clean up the yard some (still very much a work in progress). Our small home orchard was also beautiful this spring in full bloom. I hope this translates into a good fruit crop.

I know that in some parts of the U.S. it is rhubarb season, but ours is not quite ready. We were finally able to harvest a nice supply last spring/early summer. In our area, there is actually a rhubarb festival that features this tart plant in many different ways. I had posted a recipe for rhubarb dessert sauce previously and thought I would share this old fashioned cake recipe that goes so well with the rhubarb sauce.


This is a  cake that was made for our family by a good friend when my last baby was born. She made some wonderful soups that we could heat up and eat when we needed quick meals, and she also made this cake for dessert to go with some rhubarb sauce she had made. Her mother-in-law used to make this recipe for many years, and my friend remembers her making it to take with them when they went camping. They often ate it for breakfast with applesauce, but it is also a simple cake that goes well with ice cream and just about any other type of dessert sauces or toppings.

I had to look around for a while to find the right kind of sugar to use on the top so that it would not dissolve into the cake during the baking process. You should use some type of specialty sugar that is larger granules and may be called gourmet sugar or coating sugar. I noticed this sugar has wax added, which I believe helps keep it more solid. When I made these cakes, my daughter saw I had bought some pink coating sugar and so she wanted "her" cake to have the colored sugar. The other cake was coated with the gourmet sugar that was white and larger granules. It seemed to sink into the top of the cake batter slightly more than the coating sugar, which surprised me, but it made a lovely glittery, crunchy top layer on top of the cake. If you cannot find this type of sugar, you can still use the regular granulated sugar- it will just dissolve somewhat into the top of the cake as it bakes.

 I really enjoy this cake because of the moist, tender crumb with the crunchy top. The original recipe called for it to be baked in 3 pie plates, but I decided to use two 9 inch cake pans. I just had to adjust the baking time approximately 10-15 minutes longer. My friend has also made the cakes in a couple smaller oblong cake pans with good results.


  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup shortening (I used olive oil)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla (I used about 1 1/2 or 2 tsp)
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • Cream shortening or oil with sugar. 
  • Beat eggs and add to sugar and oil.
  • Add sour milk and vanilla.
  • Sift dry ingredients and add to wet ingredients in batches while mixing.
  • Divide into 3 greased pie pans (I used two greased 9 inch round cake pans). 
  • Sprinkle top with additional granulated sugar.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes for pie plates or about 30-35 minutes if using cake pans (check frequently and test with toothpick in the center when it appears golden brown on top).
  • Cool on rack for about 20 minutes and then may serve with toppings of choice if desired.
One cake could be wrapped in plastic and frozen to be eaten later.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Pasta with Potato and Brussel Sprouts

In my family growing up, I ate spaghetti but always just with tomato meat sauce. It has only been in the last few years that I have tried making pasta dishes with different types of sauces. When I saw Rachael Ray make a lightened up version of  Pizzoccheri, I was very interested to see how the Italians combine potatoes and pasta together- I never would have thought of this before. I have made a number of changes to Rachael's recipe. In Rachael's recipe, she cored the brussel sprouts and opened up the sprouts into individual leaves, as well as used some toasted bread crumbs for garnish. Since I had a lot of brussel sprouts to use and I did not feel like coring them, I simply cut them in half. I collected the extra leaves that came off the sprouts and added to the cooking water about 1 minute before the end of cooking. I also omitted the toasted buttered bread crumbs, but these would also be wonderful as a garnish. This dish was also originally a meatless dish but I recently decided to add in sausage- it is delicious both ways.  I also made it one time with sliced cabbage instead of the brussel sprouts- actually would be good with both cabbage and brussel sprouts. This dish is definitely one of my family's favorites lately.

Serves about 6

  • 3-4 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced into planks
  • 15 brussel sprouts, sliced in half, larger ones quartered
  • 1 large onion
  • 1/2 pound sausage
  • 3 large cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
  • 1/2 tsp ground sage or 10-12 fresh sage leaves
  • 1-2 Tbsp butter 
  • 1 Tbsp dried parsley or 3 Tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • seasoned salt to taste/pepper
  • 1/2 pound pasta (I used thin spaghetti)
  • reserved pasta cooking water
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup whole milk, half and half or cream (may also use evaporated milk)
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • shredded mozzarella cheese for garnish 
  • toasted bread crumbs mixed with parmesan cheese for garnish
  • chopped parsley for garnish

  • Boil sliced potatoes and brussel sprouts together in a large pot of salted water for about 5-7 minutes or until potatoes are just beginning to become tender. Be careful not to cook too long or they will fall apart and be mushy. Then remove the potatoes and brussel sprouts and  drizzle a little olive oil and mix gently. Leave the cooking water in the pot to cook the pasta later.
  • In a large skillet, brown the sausage and onion until the onion is translucent. Then stir in the garlic and cook for about 2 minutes. If there is a lot of fat, remove most of it from the pan. 
  • Stir in the butter, parsley, sage and salt/pepper and simmer for another couple minutes. 
  • Meanwhile, start the potato water boiling in the large pot and cook the pasta according to the directions on the package. 
  • When finished, drain off the pasta water and reserve it. Mix the pasta in with the meat mixture.
  • Add in the milk/cream and parmesan cheese and then add enough pasta water to make a sauce- it will thicken gradually. You may need to add some more water later to loosen it up more. Warm through for about 5 more minutes on medium heat, stirring regularly.
  • Then add in the potato/brussel sprouts and gently mix in the pasta. Garnish with more parmesan or mozzarella cheese, bread crumbs (if desired) and chopped parsley.

This dish was shared with the following:
     Weekend Potluck #15

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Squash Dal Curry

One of my favorite cuisines is Indian food because of the rich flavors that are combined into amazing dishes. I don't think I really even ate much Indian food before I was married but tried it while visiting larger cities with my husband, as well as a nearby Indian restaurant that we have grown to love. However, what I have realized in the process of learning how to cook this food is that there are many different types/styles of Indian food, depending on the region you are cooking from, as well as the fact that Indian restaurant food is quite different from what most Indian people eat in their homes everyday. I have bought a couple good Indian cookbooks that I have studied and tried to learn from and now have accumulated quite a few spices/herbs that are often used in their cooking. However, with just a small investment in about 5 spices (some you may already have), you can make some very tasty Indian dishes. I like the fact that, while much of the Indian food is spicy hot, when you make it at home, you can omit or temper down the heat to your liking and yet still enjoy the wonderful flavors. In addition, although Indian restaurant food is quite expensive, you can make many dishes very cheaply at home. Since I have been trying to cook more dishes with beans for my family, I often like using Indian recipes because they take the lowly bean from oh-hum to oh-yum!

this is the masala dabba I bought to hold some of the spices I frequently use- includes tumeric (outer left and continuing clockwise), cardamom, fennel seed, black mustard seed, ground ancho chili powder, cumin seed and black salt (center)

This recipe I share here was inspired by a Green Pumpkin Curry recipe that I have enjoyed making quite a few times. A few years ago, I picked up a small, thick cookbook at a local craft store titled Greatest Ever Indian for about $5. While I have not made many of the recipes in the book, there are a lot of nice pictures illustrating the steps and many of them are simple dishes with a variety of ingredients and ranging from sides to main dishes to breads, appetizers and desserts. When making this recipe, I never saw or found green pumpkin but it said I could substitute ordinary pumpkin. So I also figured that since butternut squash is in the pumpkin family, then that should also work well. This most recent time I made this, I decided to add in some dal I had- I believe it is moong dal, which is very quick cooking and mild in flavor, as well as some extra cooking liquid. You can omit the beans, if desired and reduce the cooking liquid, or substitute some red lentils. This dish comes together pretty quickly- in about 30 minutes, and is very rich in antioxidants from not only the spices but also the squash and beans. 

moong dal

  • 2-3 Tbsp oil
  • 1 large onions, sliced
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds (may substitute 1/2 tsp ground cumin if you don't have seeds)
  • 1/2 - 3/4 tsp black mustard seed (optional)
  • 1 1/2 - 2 pounds butternut squash (1 large), peeled, deseeded and cubed
  • 1 tsp amchur/amchoor- dried mango powder (optional, but adds a nice flavor)
  • 1 1/2 tsp mild curry powder
  • 1 tsp tumeric 
  • 1/2 tsp black salt (optional- may use adobo seasoned salt or other salt)
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder (not the chili powder blend)- (optional)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger * (may substitute 1 tsp dried ginger- not quite as good)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, crushed/made into paste
  • 3 1/2 cups chicken broth- or may use vegetable broth or salted water
  • 1 cup moong dal (or split lentils), sorted and rinsed
  • 10 dried apricots, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp dried fenugreek leaves (optional)
  • Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the onions, cumin seeds, black mustard seeds and curry powder, stirring occasionally, until a light golden brown color.
  • Add the cubed squash or pumpkin to the skillet and stir-fry for 3-5 minutes over low heat.
  • Mix in the amchur powder, tumeric, salt, chili powder, ginger and garlic cloves together in a small bowl. 
  • Add the spice mixture to the squash  mixture, stirring well to mix.
  • Add the broth or water, rinsed moong dal or lentils, apricots and fenugreek, then cover and cook over low heat for about 20 minutes or until beans are soft and slightly creamy, stirring occasionally. 
Serve warm with rice, warm naan or paratha (chapati) bread.
    *ginger is easy to keep on hand ready to use if you peel it/chop into large chunks after bringing it home from the store, place it in a plastic bag in the freezer. Then when you need it, simply remove a piece or two and either grate it or thinly slice/chop it. It is actually easier to work with when it is slightly frozen. This will keep for a long time in the freezer. It is great in chicken soups, with bean dishes, smoothies with coconut milk, etc.

    This was shared with the following:

    Monday, April 2, 2012

    Cheeseburger Soup

    Even though we are experiencing some lovely spring weather, I still love to make up soups during this time since my husband does not care to have soups during the hot summer months. This recipe is more like a thick chowder with the creamy and cheesy base and is great for adding in any number of vegetables for those little (or big) people in the house who might not like to eat their veggies. I have adapted it somewhat from the original version I found online on the Taste of Home site.

    • 1/2 - 3/4 pound ground beef
    • large onion, chopped
    • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or pressed
    • 1/2 tsp seasoned salt
    • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
    • 6 mushroom, finely chopped (optional)
    • 3/4 cup carrots, sliced
    • 3/4 cup celery, diced
    • 1-2 Tbsp sofrito (optional)
    • 1 Tbsp dried parsley flakes
    • 1 tsp dried basil flakes
    • 3-4 cups chicken broth (I used 1/2 chicken, 1/2 beef broth)
    • 4 cups potatoes, diced (I left the peels on them) (about 2 pounds of potatoes)
    • 1 3/4 cups canned chopped tomatoes (I used one 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes with Italian herbs)
    • 4 Tbsp butter
    • 1/4 cup flour
    • 8 oz (2 cups) cheese of choice, cubed (Velveeta or muenster cheese makes it more creamy, but it will still be good with other types of cheese)
    • 1 1/2 cups milk (if using skim milk, may start with a can of evaporated milk and add enough skim milk to equal amount needed)
    • 1/2 cup sour cream (optional)
    • In a stockpot, sauté the ground beef, onion, celery, mushrooms, salt and pepper until the onion is translucent. 
    • Drain off some of the fat and add in the garlic and sauté for another 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. 
    • Add the sofrito, carrots, herbs, broth, tomatoes with juice and potatoes and bring to a boil. 
    • While that is cooking, melt butter in a saucepan or a large skillet and add in the flour, stirring well and cooking for approximately 2 minutes. Add in the milk gradually while stirring; then pour into the soup, mixing well. 
    • Cook soup over medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until vegetables and potatoes are tender.
    • When finished cooking, add in the cheese, stirring well until melted. May also blend in the sour cream if desired. (I will often omit this since it is already very creamy and rich.)
    Serves approximately 4-6 

    This is wonderful with a salad and/or bread!

    This was shared with the following: