Tag Archives: Recipe Review

Book Review of Pushing the Line by Kimberly Kincaid and a Recipe Review of the recipe it contained Grandma Izzy’s Pecan Clusters


There is an entire sub-genre within the romance and mystery genres that involves cooking and baking where a particular recipe plays an important role in character development or the plot’s unfolding. The heroes of these culinary romances are generally no-nonsense women who have a business to run, or life to live, and children and grandchildren to raise. Through cooking for and feeding others these heroes express and often identify their femininity and inner goddess. I am oversimplifying the idea but these female heroes don’t need the hero in their lives, but through cooking for him they reveal to themselves they are a woman, have womanly thoughts, and the hero might be good to have around.

I do not read contemporary romances and hardly any mystery novels so I have missed out on this sub-genre. Most I have seen on the self, at least mystery-wise, look like I would get cavities by reading the book, if it were possible. Pushing the Line was a self-published book on the 2015 RWA RITA Award finalists’ listings so I thought I would give it a try.

Book Review: Pushing the Line by Kimberly Kincaid

Pushing the Line (No. 4 of The Line Series) by Kimberly Kincaid is a 2015 RWA RITA Award finalist in the novella category. Pushing the Line is a self-published novella. The RWA Rita Awards define a novella as a story between 20,000 and 40,000 words long. Other literary and genre awards recognize different word count maximums as their definition of a novella (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novella). Novellas generally contain chapters, think Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, whereas short stories have a blank line between sections.

Novellas, because of their nature are often quick reads and contemporary romance Pushing the Line is no different. One can read Pushing the Line in under 3 hours. I purchased it as an e-book and its formatting within my Kindle was not a problem to the reading experience. In summary, Harper McGee a free spirited artist crashes, emotionally and physically, back to her hometown after the death of her beloved grandmother who raised her. She discovers her grandmother left her the local landmark candy shop, and what does someone who has not spent more than seven days in one place since college do with a such business. The candy shop coincidentally and mysteriously catches fire after the reading of the will. McGee rushes into the burning building (????) and our hero Aaron Fisher the fireman leads (drags?) her out of the dangerous situation. McGee cannot sell the business after the fire until the building is brought up to city building codes, so she contracts to have the renovation done and guess who is the sub-contractor (this is quite believable, actually): our hero Fisher the fireman. Sparks fly and embers burn as McGee and Fisher, both rootless, figure out what to do with the attraction between them. Here enters the mystical, magical pecan cluster chocolate candy. This recipe is a plot device that proves to all who eat the candy, and to McGee, she is the mythical feminine figure who possesses the magic to cook this recipe like no one else. It is a romance novella and ends as a romance should.

Pushing the Line is very well done. It deserved its RWA RITA nomination. I kept expecting the disagreeable cousin to demand McGee sell the candy shop so he could receive a full portion of the inheritance. I fully expected him to be behind the candy shop fire. I still feel the old wiring explanation is not right, and the disagreeable cousin faded from the story much to easily. Perhaps in an effort to keep the story under 40,000 words that complication had to be edited out. I did not know how Kincaid was going to wrap up the story for her happily ever after ending, and she provided a good ending. Pushing the Line was well written, well formatted, and an enjoyable read.

Recipe Review: Grandma Izzy’s Pecan Clusters

I made Grandma Izzy’s Pecan Clusters as Kincaid presented the recipe at the end of Pushing the Line. I knew that as I read through the recipe the first time there were going to be problems. The end of the recipe she says to drop the chocolate and pecan mixture by a tablespoon onto waxed-paper sheets. I did not see how the evaporated milk-sugar mixture could hold any shape when hot, so I used little shaped squares and any excess would be treated as goo and shaped later with a spoon. Where the recipe goes wrong is it does not tell the reader/candy maker how hot to heat the evaporated milk-sugar mixture. I followed the recipe as written and did not use a candy thermometer.

There is nothing magical about basic cooking and this is a basic recipe. Cooking and baking is plain, old fashion chemistry. Cook the candy until it reaches the temperature point of “soft ball”, and you can get all fancy after that. Once you master, for example, cooking a hard-boiled egg you can then get fancy and magical with the deviled egg recipes, but you have to learn how to boil the egg first.

sugar and condensed milk (640x427)

Evaporated milk, sugar, and clear corn syrup mixture heating in a double boiler.

So, you have the sugar and corn syrup and evaporated milk heating in the double boiler (a very important thing that double boiler) and you now need to take your candy thermometer and heat the mixture until the thermometer reads 230 °F (110 °C). Stir constantly for two minutes, and do not let the heat rise above 240 °F (115.5 °C), otherwise the sugar will do things you don’t want it to do. Remove from heat and carefully add in small amounts the milk chocolate chips or pieces, stirring between additions until what you added melted. Then, add the pecans and stir until coated. I chopped the pecans into small pieces. Spoon into your candy forms or chance the waxed paper. Refrigerate immediately.

cluster in form (640x427)

Spooning the chocolate pecan mixture into the candy forms.

I did not allow the evaporated milk-sugar mixture to get hot enough and it was a soft goo that did not take any shape even after refrigerated overnight. It has to be eaten with a spoon. It tastes very good spread on toast.

did not solidify (640x392)

The soft chocolate pecan mixture after being refrigerated overnight was not solid enough to hold a form. It tastes good when spread on toast.

Grandma Izzy’s Pecan Clusters taste good, but you need to use a candy thermometer to get the evaporated milk-sugar mixture hot enough the sugar dissolves properly so that you get to the “soft ball” phase. Enjoy this good recipe and its good story.

Pushing the Line (No. 4 of The Line Series) is available as an e-book and as a printed book through your favorite online retailer or by ordering through your local book store. You can check with your local library or state library to see if it is available. If not, request it.


Here is a link to Kimberly Kincaid’s website. You can order it through her links. That helps her out, too.


For a quick summary of candy making, I would encourage you to look at Wikipedia’s entry. The entry reports “soft ball” starts at 234 °F (112 °C), but I think there is enough wiggle room when it comes to thermometer accuracy to think 230 °F (110 °C) is a good starting point, too.



Recipe Review: Sweet Potato Bread with Caramel and Aleppo-Spiced Pecans by Gerardo Gonzalez (Epicurious, September 2014)


“Sweet Potato” oil on canvas panel, 10X8, by Noah Verrier featured on Verrier’s Daily Paintings blog on 17 June 2009

The sweet potato [Ipomoea batas (L.) Lam.] is a tuber vegetable plant that originated and was domesticated millennia ago somewhere between the Yucatan Peninsula of modern Mexico and Orinoco River in modern Venezuela. Our modern sweet potato is a member of the morning glory family Convolvulaceae family and possibly only distantly related to the potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) of the nightshade Solanaceae family. Sweet potato is purported to be the only globally important food crop among the Convolvulaceae. A raw, unpeeled sweet potato is rich in antioxidants and fiber. The sweet potato is not grown from seed, and does not tolerate frost. The sweet potato plant does not tolerate water-logged soils, and does best in sandy soil. University of Missouri Extension suggests home gardeners plant the tuber slips in raised beds or a black plastic mulch pieces and then cover with an organic mulch such as straw or hay.

Sweet potatoes have become a prominent component of the US “Southern” identity in the past couple of decades. The tuber was documented as being grown in Virginia in 1648. Sweet potato was documented as being grown by the local Native American residents when the first Acadian Canadians, now known as Cajuns, arrived in Louisiana in the mid-1700s. The sweet potato probably was not present at the Massachusetts Pilgrim’s Thanksgiving celebrations unless the Native American neighbors brought them. Yams (Dioscorea species) originated in Africa, and probably were also unknown to the Pilgrims and their rocky New England soils.

Recently Southern US themed women magazines have celebrated preparing sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and everyday meals. Fried sweet potato fries and baked chips are popular sandwich side dishes. Mashed and baked sweet potatoes are more common at restaurants. What modern sweet potato enthusiasts conveniently forget is that sweet potatoes were the food of poor people, both black and white and all those colored folks in between. If one had any money one did not eat sweet potatoes. Once people left poverty and the South behind it is my understanding no one wanted to even smell sweet potatoes except when the “traditional” American holiday dinner required it.

We found ourselves with an abundance of purchased sweet potatoes several months ago. When cured correctly, sweet potatoes last up to 10 months if dry and stored at 55 to 60°F (12.7 to 15.5 °C) at high humidity. These potatoes that we acquired were not cured well and needed used as soon as possible. One can only eat so many of variations of mashed sweet potatoes.

The sweet potato bread recipe called for a pound of sweet potatoes. I weighed out 16 ¾ oz raw sweet potatoes. The recipe called for piercing the sweet potatoes several times then baking on a baking sheet, but I did not do that. I peeled and then wrapped the potatoes in aluminum foil and baked at 400 °F (204.4 °C) for an hour. I pureed the baked sweet potatoes and scooped out 1 ⅓ cup of sweet potatoes into a mixing bowl and allowed the purée to cool so not to cook the eggs. I used half-and-half and not whole milk. A quarter cup (2 oz) half-and-half is easier to obtain than 2 oz whole milk. Use a tasteless oil such as canola so that the sweetness of the potatoes comes through. The dry ingredients were added as instructed in batches to the wet ingredients. It is very important to use cake flour. Cake flour is milled finer than all-purpose flour. Cake flour produces a more delicate crumb and texture than all-purpose flour which is more desirable in a heavier batter quick bread. It is important to gently stir until all the dry ingredients are just moist. The batter does not photograph well.

halfway through baking (640x442)

the sweet potato bread after 30 minutes of baking

I poured the batter into a greased loaf pan. The oven was set to 325 °F (162.7 °C). As directed I turned the loaf 180° around 30 minutes into the baking time. The recipe says allow 60 to 75 minutes to bake. It took 70 minutes baking for the toothpick to come out clean.

after 65 minutes

toothpick after 65 minutes of baking

clean toothpick 70 minutes

a clean toothpick after 70 minutes of baking

After the bread (cake) had cooled it slipped out of the loaf pan easily. I topped the loaf with 3 tablespoons dulce de leche. Amazing stuff that dulce de leche. I sprinkled about ⅛ teaspoon salt over the caramel topping. I could not find any Maldon type salt except in a King Arthur Flour catalog, so I used a medium ground sea salt. I toasted ⅓ cup chopped pecans, the recipe called for ¼ cup, in a 325 °F (162.7 °C) oven for about eight minutes stirring frequently for even toasting, and pressed the pecan pieces into the caramel. I could not find Aleppo pepper flakes outside of a catalog or the internet. I am not sure what 1 ½ teaspoon pepper flakes would add.

sliced sweet potato bread

sliced sweet potato bread with dulce de leche and toasted pecans

The sweet potato bread was cake-like and we ate it as a dessert. It was amazing. This bread/cake was very moist and maintained its moistness over a couple of days. I have made this recipe several times over the past couple months. This is a type of bread/cake that you would spend $4.5 for a slice in a nice coffee shop. Did I mention the break/cake is amazing?

The recipe can be found at: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/sweet-potato-bread-with-caramel-and-aleppo-spiced-pecans-51249830

“Sweet Potato” oil on canvas panel, 10X8, by Noah Verrier featured on Verrier’s Daily Paintings blog on 17 June 2009 http://noahverrier.blogspot.com/2009/06/sweet-potato-oil-on-canvas-panel-10×8.html

If you want to know more about the harvest of US sweet potatoes, here is a report from NPR.  “Behind Your Holiday Sweet Potato Dish, Hard Work In The Fields” by Dan Charles. Updated January 11, 201612:12 PM ET, Published November 24, 20155:32 AM ET http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/11/24/457203127/behind-your-holiday-sweet-potato-dish-hard-work-in-the-fields

If you want to grow your own sweet potatoes, the University of Missouri Extension has a nice write-up. http://extension.missouri.edu/publications/DisplayPub.aspx?P=G6368

Recipe Review: Blackberry Muffins (2003) by Beth Hensperger

A summer berry muffin ready to eat.

A blackberry muffin.

“‘You’re out and about so much more these days,’ said Cecil. ‘Why don’t you join us on Blackberry Night?’

This was his great idea? ‘You’re mad!’

Good girls didn’t romp about on Blackberry Night. Father has strong opinions about it. His biggest, fattest sermon of the year is all about Blackberry Night, which is also Michaelmas, when is also when Archangel hurled the Devil from Heaven. Naturally, this annoyed the Devil considerably, and goes about on that night spoiling the blackberries.

‘I’ll protect you,’ said Cecil, laying his hand over mine.

I whipped my hand away. ‘Cecil!’

On Blackberry Night, the lads and lasses run barefoot through the swamp, pretending to try to catch the Devil; but it would appear the Devil catches them instead, for they consume quantities of beer and wine, and they shed their clothes, and there are always a number of surprise weddings come Advent.”

From Chapter 16 – The Party’s Always Over at Midnight, from Chime (2011) by Franny Billingsley

This is the legend as I understand it. At the end of the battle of who would rule Heaven, Archangel Michael pushed the then-angel Lucifer one final time and Lucifer fell all the way to Earth and landed in a bramble patch. The bramble patch was full of thorns and blackberries. Lucifer, already furious at losing his access to Heaven and God, thrashed his way out of the brambles, cursing the thorny vines and staining berries as he went. So, no one is to pick blackberries after Michaelmas, because the Devil cursed them. This victory by Archangel Michael and his band of angels is one of the events celebrated at Michaelmas, a traditional Roman Catholic Church holiday adapted by the British Isle Anglican Church. When Michaelmas is to occur seems to depend on who you are talking to or reading. Some would have it be September 29, the traditional “quarter day” when rents were due. Others would have you wait until October 10 or 11. I understand a more modern celebration of Michaelmas has been pushed up to the Autumn Equinox, September 21.

Michaelmas was in some sense a traditional second harvest festival, or a thanksgiving celebration. The harvests were all in, whatever was required had been sold to pay the rent, and the first frost historically could be expected any day towards the end of September. Blackberries would have been in abundance, and hard to preserve outside of jellies or jams, so they would need to be used as picked. Stories about the food served at any holiday can define a culture, so blackberry dishes and associated stories around Michaelmas would help define the local traditions and culture.

Blackberry muffins are tasty year round thanks to freezers. I was reading about Michaelmas, a much mentioned calendar date in Regency and historical romance novels – Mr. Bingley of Austin’s Pride and Prejudice was to decide to keep or release his lease of Netherfield Park by Michalemas – and thought blackberry muffins sounded good. I went to my trusty cookbooks and did not find a recipe. So I went online and found a promising looking recipe on the Williams-Sonoma website. I have seen Williams-Sonoma ceramic mixing bowls, usually chipped, in junk stores. What told me this was the recipe to use was it was designed by Beth Hensperger for the Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Muffins (2003). I do not think Hensperger has ever developed a bad muffin recipe.

I used a frozen three-berry mix of blackberries, blueberries, and red raspberries. This worked fine. Following the recipe was simple. The recipe called for maintaining the structure of the berries. The berries only need to be stirred three times after adding to the batter. This keeps the white quick bread white. I prefer to mash part of the berries up and swirl within the batter. When I make this recipe again I will mash all the berries so there are no empty spaces within the muffin where the berry has cooked then collapsed. Mashing the berries is my preference for an everyday muffin. Keeping the berries whole looks pretty and would work for a holiday brunch or breakfast.

I like the pecan crumb top to the muffins. The crumb topping adds sweetness and finger-licking goodness to your breakfast. Even though the muffins do not need the crumb topping, I encourage you to keep it.

A close up of the topping on four berry muffins still in the pan.

A close up of the topping on four berry muffins still in the pan.

Another reason to incorporate mashed berries into the batter is it keeps the muffins from sticking to a well-greased and floured muffin tin. I was not expecting the problem of removing the muffins from the pans. I had to leave the muffins in pan until the next morning after the muffin pan spent the night in the refrigerator. I dislike using paper cups because I just do. For this recipe I would recommend silicon muffin baking dishes or decorative muffin paper cups, if you have them. The biggest problem was the muffins sticking to the pan.

The recipe said it made twelve muffins. Here are all the muffins still in the pan.

The recipe said it made twelve muffins. Here are all the muffins still in the pan they did not want to leave.

I will be making this recipe again. I will be using the crumb topping in recipes that do not call for it. This is a fun recipe to make for family because the finished muffin is pretty as well as tasty.

The recipe is located online at:


Chime by Franny Billingsley was a finalist for a National Book Award for Young People’s Literature (US) in 2011. It is a beautifully written, if slow at times, “growing up” story. The protagonist “came of age” before the book started, I think. I cannot tell you the “coming of age” backstory without spoiling the a gorgeously written book. In the first scene she is presented at the train station by her village pastor father as a child, but she does not have a child’s “voice”. By the end of the story she has grown into that adult voice we met in the first chapter. Check Chime out from your favorite public library, or purchase it from a local bookstore, or from your favorite online retailor.

In Addition: Besides the story of the Devil falling into the bramble, stories also include Pan and other satyrs fouling the berry vines after Michaelmas.

Recipe Review: Morning Glory Muffins by Pam McKinstry

“Merry Christmas, little daughters! I’m glad you began at once, and hope you will keep on. But I want to say one word before we sit down. Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little new-born baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there; and the oldest boy came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?”

They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour, and for a minute no one spoke; only a minute, for Jo exclaimed impetuously,—

“I’m so glad you came before we began!”

“May I go and help carry the things to the poor little children?” asked Beth, eagerly.

I shall take the cream and the muffins,” added Amy, heroically giving up the articles she most liked.”

From “Little Women” (1868, 1869), Chapter II A Merry Christmas by Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888)

“[European] Muffins. good, but indigestible…” from “Mark Twain’s Notebooks and Journals, Volume II: (1877-1883)”

For several years I was making muffins all the time. It was not the muffin fad that came and, for the most part went in the last ten years, but Beth Hensperger’s “The Best Quick Breads” (2000) cookbook I think I acquired through an art-and-craft book club. I enjoy quick breads, but storing and freezing muffins is an easier way of eating quick bread when you live on your own alone.

I found no mention of the word “muffin” or “crumpet” or any alternate spellings in Samuel Johnson’s 1785 Dictionary of the English Language. An English muffin, also called Yorkshire muffin, or rock bread is a yeast bread cooked on a griddle in the kitchen, or a flat rock over hot embers. Documentation of English muffins goes back the 13th century. According to etymonline.com the word “muffin” first made an appearance in 1703. “Crumpet” can be found in written use in the 1690s. Jane Austin would have known what a muffin or crumpet was, but it may not have been socially acceptable for her, or her characters, to consume such a working class food. I have not studied Austin’s letters or other writing to know either way. Muffin men were 17th century through early 20th century English street food vendors who cooked the bread on griddles fresh for their customers. So, the food trucks that specialize in modern muffins and oven-fresh cookies are continuing a culinary tradition possibly dating back to the time of England’s Elizabeth I.

Recipes for what Americans, coffee house, and muffin enthusiasts would recognize as a “muffin” possibly first appeared in the USA’s very first cookbook “American Cookery” (1796) by Amelia Simmons. Simmons’ “American Cookery” was the first to include as an ingredient a very refined potash or pearlash, a native-to-North America alkali leavening agent. Through the generation of carbon dioxide while baking, including pearlash caused the bread to rise as seen with modern baking powder. This was the birth of the modern quick bread. Identifiable muffin recipes appeared in US cookbooks in the early 19th century along with the entry of muffin pans into the marketplace and kitchen.

The recent muffin fad was not the first muffin fad. When I was little in the 1980s there was a muffin recipe that was all the rage. When we visited my aunt in the Kansas City area (Kansas side) she made Morning Glory Muffins which she loved. The recipe came from Nantucket Island which in the Midwestern imagination was the playground of the rich and famous. When I was ten years old I did not appreciate what a Morning Glory Muffin was or what it represented to the larger American culture.

From what I have been able to find, Morning Glory Muffins were first put together by Chef Pam McKinstry  in 1978 for her Morning Glory Café on Nantucket Island, a 3-by-15 mile long island about 30 miles off of the coast of Massachusetts. The original Morning Glory Muffin recipe appeared in Gourmet magazine in the reader submitted recipe section in 1981. Appearing in the reader submitted recipe section of Gourmet was like winning an Olympic gold medal. The muffin recipe ‘went viral’ by 1981 standards. In 1991 the recipe was selected by readers as one of Gourmet’s twenty-five favorite recipes published in the previous fifty years (1940-1990 or 1941-1991).

The Morning Glory Muffin is a catch-all recipe that uses lots of odds and ends that can be found in a busy bakery and café. The crushed pineapple, two cups grated carrots, grated apple, raisins, shredded coconut, and pecans are all in amounts that look like to me Chef McKinstry had enough to make something, but not enough of any one ingredient, except maybe carrots, to make anything in particular. The results are wonderful, rich, sweet, and freezes well muffins.

Morning Glory Muffins

Morning Glory Muffins

This is a very easy muffin recipe. You spend more time grating and chopping the ingredients than you do mixing. Use canola oil as directed or another flavorless cooking oil. A more forward flavor cooking oil will negatively interact with the oils in the nuts and other botanical compounds in all the fruit and vegetable ingredients.

I would strongly recommend hand mixing in a large glass mixing bowl. The batter is thick and heavy. A hand-held electric mixer would be overwhelmed by the heaviness of the batter. A hand-held electric mixer works great to mix and aerate the liquid ingredients, mixing the eggs and oil until almost double in volume. With a stand mixer it would be very easy to overmix the combined dry ingredients and wet ingredients. Overmixing is a danger when making quick breads. Overmixed quick bread is heavy because the gluten in the flour activated while mixing and the bread does not raise while baking. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and hand stir until the mixture is just combined, and the flour only just moist. Gently spoon the batter into paper-lined or well-greased muffin pan cups. Place in hot 350°F (176.7°C) oven and leave the door closed for thirty minutes. No Peaking (Mother!Jamie!Dad!Sam!). The muffins are done when the tester comes out clean after being inserted into the baked muffin.

Morning Glory Muffins made from the original recipe by Chef Pam McKinstry.

Morning Glory Muffins made from the original recipe by Chef Pam McKinstry.

The muffins would be good for a Sunday or holiday brunch. They really do need to sit for at least overnight to reach their best flavor and texture. Make the evening before the brunch or breakfast and allow to sit overnight in a storage container. Butter spreads well with the muffins as well as plain cream cheese. These muffins freeze extremely well for up to two months. A muffin reheated after frozen for longer than two months is not as tasty.

The Morning Glory Muffin recipe has been around almost forty years. It has become a dependable recipe for me. For a little bit of work you can get a great result.

Below is a link to Pam McKinstry’s original Morning Glory Muffin recipe, via Earthbound Farms’ website. I have, yet, to find a copy of the original 1981 Gourmet magazine. I will keep looking.


Below is more information about “American Cookery” (1796) by Amelia Simmons. I have read repeatedly that “American Cookery” was the first American cookbook written by an American for Americans. The Spanish settlers arrived in the Western North America as early as the 1530s so I am not comfortable making that claim until I have proof the Spanish settlers and Catholic missionaries were not writing cookbooks for their American mission settlements on how to use local ingredients, too.


If you like “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott or have not read it before, you can download a free e-book. Please, feel free to leave a donation for the Gutanburg.org efforts. There are other free copies of “Little Women” available online. Or, you can support your favorite local bookstore and purchase a hard copy. Or, you can visit your public library and practice your social skills with the librarian behind the circulation desk.


Mark Twain’s Notebooks and Journals are available through Google Books.

www.etymonline.com provides a quick glance at the evolution of words we use every day

Recipe Review: Chocolate-Coconut Pound Cake by Alison Roman (Bon Appétit, March 2014)

Chocolate-Coconut Pound Cake with vanilla ice cream.

Chocolate-Coconut Pound Cake with vanilla ice cream.

“I could be hit by a Sara Lee truck tomorrow. Which is not a bad way of going: ‘Richard Simmons Found in a Freeway in a Pound Cake and Fudge, With a Smile on His Face.’ Let’s face it. We don’t know anything” Richard Simmons (b. 1948), enthusiastic exercise leader

My father purchased a coconut at the grocery store. When my father was a child in the 1950s as a treat my grandmother would buy a coconut, drain the coconut liquid out for the family to drink, and make things from the raw, unsweetened coconut. I have in my memory the story she would take the coconut out to my grandfather’s wood shop, put the coconut in a vice, and use a hand drill to make a hole. Dad used a screwdriver and clawed hammer to pound an opening. He poured off the coconut liquid which mom used in her smoothies, and pried the rich, white meat from the shell.

What was he to do with all that coconut meat? He has images of heavenly coconut cream pies with fluffy, sky-high meringue like his mother used to make. I will get the pies made, eventually, but I wanted to try a cake first. This is a cake recipe I had put back and waited to make.

I had no idea how much of the raw coconut would be required for the 1/4th cup (by volume) as called for in the recipe. This is partially why I did not tackle the coconut cream pie because I had no idea how much coconut would be required. I hand-grated frozen coconut pieces. I did not make a dent in the sum total of all the coconut by removing a grated 1/4th cup. We have enough coconut for several pies. I need to find a better way to grate the coconut meat.

Following the directions, I buttered the loaf pan and lined it with parchment paper. You need to leave the “generous overhang”. The browned paper edging looks classy, I think, and that overhang keeps the batter when poured into the loaf pan inside the parchment paper and away from the pan walls. I would recommend cutting the parchment paper into a circle before placing it into the loaf pan. The square ends of the parchment paper burn and smolder, while a circle shape browns without catching fire. I did not think of this until the paper had been placed inside the loaf pan and cut the edges of the overhand into an overall circle shape.

The cake batter went together well. Make sure to use a stand mixer with an very open bowl because you need to aerate (add air) to the batter. Beat at medium-high speed for the entire time period, 5 to 7 minutes before eggs, and 5 to 8 minutes after eggs until the batter volume has doubled. You want a light batter. With a slow speed, add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk as directed. As soon as the dry ingredients are moistened and just incorporated, stop the mixer. Cease, halt, and discontinue the electric mixer. You may want to take a couple of turns with a spatula to clean off the sides of the mixing bowl, but that is it. Gently pour the batter into the cake pan, and run spatula down the center of the full loaf pan. Sprinkle with the tablespoon sugar and all the coconut.

Pound cake batter topped with white sugar and grated coconut before it has been placed in the oven.

Pound cake batter topped with white sugar and grated coconut before it has been placed in the oven.

When I sat down to read the recipe before preparing the batter, my first thought was there was no way this cake would be done in a 325 °F (163 °C) oven in 70 minutes. Experience told me this cake, with or without foil to protect the coconut from scorching, would take 90 minutes to bake. I was correct. I gently placed the cake in the oven and set the timer for 60 minutes. I did not open the oven once in those 60 minutes. When the timer beeped, I opened the oven and surmised the cake had a long ways to go to be done. There was still liquid on top of the cake. I set the timer for another fifteen minutes (75 minutes total baking time) and waited. When the timer beeped, I tried, again, and the toothpick tester was wet with cake batter. I set the timer for another fifteen minutes (90 minutes total baking time). After 90 minutes, the cake was done, but could have been removed five minutes sooner. The bottom corners of the cake were slightly overdone, but the cake was cooked through. Next time I will allow 85 minutes total baking time.

Chocolate-Coconut Pound Cake fresh from the oven.

Chocolate-Coconut Pound Cake fresh from the oven.

I planned to serve the cake for dessert for our family Sunday afternoon dinner. The additional baking time pushed allowing the cake to cool in pan to fifteen minutes before I sliced it. This did not hurt the cake.

Chocolate-Coconut Pound Cake after it has been sliced.

Chocolate-Coconut Pound Cake after it has been sliced.

Next time I go to a community meal or supper get-together, I will seriously consider preparing this cake. It looks so charming presented in the parchment-lined loaf pan. It is an easy recipe to make, it just takes time to mix in the electric mixer and bakes for an hour and a half.

Richard Simmons is correct. You do not know what is going to happen next. Make your cake and eat it, with ice cream, and chocolate syrup, and excellent coffee. Savor what you have when it is in front of you. Enjoy.

Here is a link to the recipe:


Here, too, is Epicurious’ instructions on how to open a coconut.


Recipe Review: Mixed-Greens and Sausage Soup with Cornmeal Dumplings by Melissa Clark in Bon Appétit (January 2011)

turnip leaves in the garden

turnip leaves in the garden

“The [two Knightley] brothers talked of their own concerns and pursuits, but principally of those of the elder [George], whose temper was by much the most communicative, and who was always the greater talker. As a magistrate, he [George] had generally some point of law to consult John about, or, at least, some curious anecdote to give; and as a farmer, as keeping in hand the home-farm at Donwell, he had to tell what every field was to bear next year, and to give all such local information as could not fail of being interesting to a brother whose home it had equally been the longest part of his life, and whose attachments were strong. The plan of a drain, the change of a fence, the felling of a tree, and the destination of every acre for wheat, turnips, or spring corn, was entered into with as much equality of interest by John, as his cooler manners rendered possible; and if his willing brother ever left him any thing to inquire about, his inquiries even approached a tone of eagerness.” —  from Emma (1815), Chapter 12, Jane Austen

Turnips discussed in Jane Austen’s Emma (1815) were planted as a forage crop for cattle and swine. In the early 19th century when Austen published, the Knightley brothers would have been recognized as progressive, gentlemen farmers who fretted over then modern agricultural practices of field and pasture drainage and crop rotation. Perhaps several turnip roots were harvested as a tenet farmer and his cousin living in gentile poverty left the field for family dinner. Historically, cornmeal, turnips, and their greens were understood to be what you fed livestock, and the foodstuff of people living in poverty. Depending on where and what Western subculture you lived in, you would eat the greens and feed the roots to the hogs, or eat the roots and feed the greens to the livestock. I grew up with stories of my small town Kansas hometown where the only crop that kept people from starving in the early 1930s were the turnips and handfuls of other root vegetables that survived the early 1930s drought by the hand watering of anxious gardeners.

It was not until college it ever occurred to me to eat the greens of a turnip. Turnip greens were bitter but when mixed with other “greens” and cooked to the point they had just wilted, then prepared with a light but spicy sauce the turnip greens and its cousins were tasty. Eating turnip greens also satisfies the “waste not, want not” paradigm I drag behind me like an albatross I have not yet released to the universe.  For some, “greens” are a comfort food, and for others eating “greens” is a political statement. Last week I needed to thin the turnip row in the garden, and hated to see the turnip leaves compost when we could eat the green leafy foliage.

The Mixed-Greens and Sausage Soup with Cornmeal Dumplings was an easy recipe to prepare. I prepared the exactly 18 measuring tablespoon (15 mL) sized dumplings and allowed to sit in the refrigerator for about 2.5 hours. The green onions were the green tops from three onions I pulled from the garden. The onion used in the soup was fresh from the garden. Everything about the soup was straight forward. I did not salt or pepper the soup because I thought the sausage would provide enough salt and pepper to flavor the soup. I used a smoked beef sausage instead of the called for andouille sausage because the grocery store and meat market did not have any that day. I used ½ teaspoon (2.5 mL) hot pepper sauce instead of the called for 1 teaspoon (5 mL) with the idea if I wanted the soup more spicy, I could add a drop or five later at the table. I weighed out 6 oz. (168 g) of washed turnip greens fresh from the garden, which is all I had after thinning the turnip row, and 6 oz. (168 g) kale from the grocery store. The visual different of the seaweed-like turnip greens and curly, tight kale leaves provided a visual and textural interest to the soup. I cooked the dumplings for 25 minutes in the large soup pot containing the soup. It is important to not lift the lid while the dumplings steam cook; let the dumplings steam in peace. The recipe produced 10 cups of hearty soup.

I liked the cornmeal dumplings. The dumpling texture was light and resembled a fluffy pastry, not the doughy gunk I have encountered in previous dumpling recipe attempts. The dumplings almost dissolved when the soup was reheated, which was disappointing. I do not expect the dumplings to survive freezing intact. The dumplings thickened the soup to the point I had to add the leftover 2 cups (500 mL) chicken broth to keep the soup in soup form. Next time, I will store the dumplings separate from the soup. Perhaps storing separately will maintain the integrity of the delightful little bread.

This is a tasty, garden-fresh, summer soup I will make again.

Here is the link to the recipe:


Recipe Review: Oat Scones with Apple-Pear Butter in The Best Quick Breads (2000) by Beth Hensperger

oat scones fresh from the oven

oat scones fresh from the oven

Oats: “A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” — Dr. Samuel Johnson’s (1709-1784) ‘Dictionary of the English Language’ (1755)

Rolled oats as oatmeal drizzled with real maple syrup is my breakfast food of choice when it is not 90°F (32.2°C) at 7 AM. Steel-cut oats is my first choice for cooked oatmeal, when I have access to it. Doctor Johnson is correct as he defines oats in the first important dictionary of Modern English. Until the Oxford English Dictionary (starting in 1884) came along, Johnson’s Dictionary literally defined use and spelling of the English language. I have fed oats to horses, cattle, goats, sheep, and songbirds. Some people I have met over the years refuse to eat oatmeal or any oat product because they see it as livestock feed. I have met Germans who feel the same way about corn (maize). Oats and maize are the foods of folks living in poverty. Oats is a high fiber food and good for your physical heart, and I would argue, too, your soul on cold winter mornings.

The Oat Scone recipe is one I have wanted to try but was daunted by the instructions for incorporating the oat flour. Whole wheat flour is not something I keep on hand, either. My parents have a Vita-mix® and grind their own whole wheat flour for bread. While my father processed the wheat berries one evening, I thought “Hey, he could grind whole oats into flour, too.” So, he did. We processed rolled oats with the whole wheat flour, as called for in the recipe. I used freshly ground whole wheat and oat flour for the scones.

This scone recipe went together quickly. This recipe is probably the simplest of the scone recipes in this cookbook. I mixed the ingredients in order and made no changes to the ingredients. I did not cut in the butter into the flour until it resembled coarse crumbs but stopped when the butter was still what I would call chunky and thinking “Oh, that’s to big.” While watching a Julia Child episode with a bread baker from California, the baker guest convinced me you don’t want to cut the butter into small pieces or what I usually stop at garden pea size. Keep the butter pieces larger for lighter bread, if I remember correctly.

The wetness of the dough surprised me. Adding additional flour would have made a heavier dough and scone. The need to pat into a round and use a cookie cutter as directed was easy to understand once you handled the dough. Cutting into triangles would not work. The scones would not bake well as a triangle, you need a round structure and not one with corners (chemistry and physics at work). The dough was wetter than, and not as adhesive as I would have liked. The seemingly not adhesive quality to the rounds concerned me, but the scones baked well.

The scones baked to a pretty, golden color. They were light in texture, and not at all heavy and hard like I feared when I placed the wet, firm, cement-consistency rounds on the baking tray. When I put them in the over I predicted the outcome to be golden hockey pucks. They were sweeter than I expected with only three tablespoons light brown sugar.

The recipe includes an apple-pear butter which I also made. The apple-pear butter was very good. Apples and pears dehydrated or dried for this recipe were sweet with no added sugar and tasted good on toast and in peanut butter sandwiches. I could taste the pear which I was not expecting because pear to me has a very faint flavor except if you pick the past-ripe pears off the ground as the wind is blowing the pears off the tree. Beware of the falling pears if you should do that.

The scones I did not eat within a couple of days I froze and forgot about them. Mom pulled the sealed plastic bag out one morning when looking for a frozen orange juice can and asked: “What’s this?”

To thaw and heat from frozen I place a scone wrapped in aluminum foil in a cold oven and set the temperature to 400°F (204.4°C). Heat the scone for twenty minutes. Twenty minutes is long enough the scone to be hot and moist in the center but not dried out or over-brown.

I would describe this as an excellent autumn or winter recipe for breakfast, brunch, or with a hearty soup. The dehydrating or drying of fresh apples and pears for immediate use in the apple-pear butter intensified the flavors and sugars and compliments the sweet nuttiness of the whole grains. The scones freeze well, but freezer burn might set in if left in the freezer for more than 6 months.

The cookbook is available through your local library, an independent books store, or online through the publisher. You can also publish through your favorite online retailer. The cookbook ‘The Best Quick Breads: 150 Recipes for muffins, scones, shortcakes, gingerbreads, cornbreads, coffeecakes, and more’ by Beth Hensperger is full of recipes for every season and appetite.


The Oat Scone and Apple-Pear Butter recipe reviewed is from an edition published by The Harvard Commons Press in 2000. The edition the publisher sells on their website has a May 2012 date.

I am also including a link to Johnson’s Dictionary with his definition of oats which is great. In the Johnson’s Dictionary, he defines, with the 1755 spelling, oats as:

“A grain, which in England is generally given to horfes, but in Scotland fupports the people.”


Recipe Review of Dried Apricot-Pecan Bread, in The Best Quick Breads (2000) by Beth Henspergen

Apricots are important icons to several cultures around the world. The stone fruit is as important as olives to other cultures. Like olives in some places in the Middle and Near East, intentionally destroying an apricot tree is such an extreme insult over which people that are willing to kill. The apricot we know today may have been developed in Armenia up to 8,000 years ago. Apricots have been identified as cultivated in India 5,000 years ago. Spanish Missionaries carried apricot seedlings west across North America as they carried the Gospel and sought golden salvation in the Mediterranean-climate of California. The pale orange fruit dries into a golden bronze coin when not treated with preservatives. Apricots were an important commodity in along the Persian and Silk Road trade routes. Today, Turkey is the largest producer of dried apricots.

Two loaves of Dried Apricot-Pecan Bread from The Best Quick Breads (2000) by Beth Hensperger

Two loaves of Dried Apricot-Pecan Bread from The Best Quick Breads (2000) by Beth Hensperger

The recipe for Dried Apricot-Pecan Bread is one of my favorite quick bread recipes. I shared it at work several times a year. My English and Irish co-workers called it a wonderful tea bread. I considered this the best critique available. It is best served cool and sliced thin with a very sharp knife. Sweetened butter is best.

I need to first say I love this cookbook, but that does not mean the recipes do not need to be tweaked to bake the best bread.  I have been using the cookbook for over ten years and each recipe has its own adjustments.

I recommend the Turkey apricots over the California apricots. I use kitchen scissors to cut the dried fruit into not quite match stick size, but maybe two match sticks wide pieces. When you hydrate the 12 oz chopped, dried apricots, you can use 8 oz water, or orange juice, or orange liqueur.

There is nothing special to the mixing of the dry ingredients. Use the best flour you can afford. It really does make a difference in the finished bread. The 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour which the recipe called for and I used in the photographed loaves here was ground by my father from wheat berries he purchased from King Arthur Flour at their office in Atchison, Kansas in a Vitamix food processor. My family takes flour quality very seriously.

The recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar which is included in the first step when you marinate the apricots. I used a half cup of finely granulated sugar and in this batch I think that was to much. The surface of the bread was much to brown, in my opinion. That said, I had a nice center crack on one loaf, which indicated good expansion during baking. The recipe calls to allow the dough to rest 15 minutes before placing in the pre-heated oven. I allowed the dough to rest 20 minutes before baking.

It has been suggested if I want to avoid the quick bread from cracking on its top surface I need to allow the dough to rest before baking. I think this is important especially when dealing with quick bread recipes that rely on baking soda for expansion, such as this recipe. The 4 oz plus a little orange juice added at the end provides the acidity to trigger the baking soda and any expansion that occurs before and during baking.

When combining liquids, mix the two eggs with the 4 oz orange juice, then add to the rest of the ingredients. I do not recommend substituting orange liqueur. You need the orange juice acidity to interact with the baking soda.

My main complaint about the recipes in the cook book is that they consistently do not call for enough liquid to adequately combine the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients. I have had the best results in hand mixing this recipe. It is very important to not over-mix but the dry ingredients do need to be evenly moistened. Add more liquid, here orange juice, a tablespoon at a time until the flour does not stick to the mixing bowl. The recipe calls for 60 minutes baking time, but this recipe is done, provides a clean toothpick when inserted into the top of each loaf, right at 50 minutes.

Dried Apricot-Pecan Bread is wonderful at a brunch, on a picnic served with paper-thin slices of honey ham and a small amount of marmalade, or as a mid-afternoon snack with cream cheese. This quick bread can be as sophisticated or as simple as you desire.

The recipe book I use is The Best Quick Breads: 150 Recipes for Muffins, Scones, Shortcakes, Gingerbreads, Cornbreads, Coffeecakes, and More published in 2000 by The Harvard Common Press. ISBN: 1-55832-171-3  It appears the book was republished in 2012.


Recipe Review of “Perfect Baked Eggs” by Celeste Rogers, in Cook’s Illustrated, November/December 2012

Figure 1 A baked egg in a cream-spinach bed in a 10-ounce ramekin.

The recipe and article “Perfect Baked Eggs” by Celeste Rogers (no relation to me that I know of) in Cook’s Illustrated, November/December 2012 is an attempt to demonstrate how to bake an individual egg with a spinach filling (Fig 1). For the most part this is about as good of instructions on how to bake an egg without overcooking it that I have seen. The ingredients are basic ingredients already in the kitchen and freezer.

I have looked for a recipe to successfully make little, single egg dishes for years. I have tried several recipes including Scott Peacock’s “Eggs with Cream, Spinach, and Country Ham” in Gourmet, January 2008. Peacock’s “Eggs” recipe should work but never has. I have since traipsed along tinkering with the egg dish every fall and winter looking for something I can use as a contribution to a holiday breakfast. Rogers’ “Perfect Baked Eggs” worked well so that I would not have to tinker with it if all I wanted was a simple egg dish. I will have to jazz it up to make it Christmas Morning material.

What I will criticize is the size of casserole recommended for the dish. Rogers recommends “6-ounce ramekins with a 3 ¼-inch diameters, measured from the inner lip.” I think this is to small. I only have 4 6-ounce ramekins and had to use 2 10-ounce ramekins in order to fill out the six servings the recipe made. The difference surprised me (Fig 2). The 10-ounce containers did not overcook the eggs after the 6 minutes in a 425 degree oven followed by the ramekin siting 10 minutes on a wire rack. The eggs in the 6-ounce dish are firm after cooling and will be fine to eat, but with the 10-ounce casseroles the soft egg will nicely mix with the spinach filling.

Figure 2 Side-by-side comparison between the baked egg cooked in a 10-ounce ramekin and a 6-ounce ramekin.

I recommend the use of Parmesan cheese. It is a dry cheese that will not make the dish greasy or watery like cheddar or any other generic cheeses in the dairy section of the average grocery store. If you can spend the money to purchase the good Italian Parmesan cheese, do that. You will not be disappointed.

The oven time Rogers recommends, 6 to 8 minutes at 425 F if using a metal pan to hold the ramekins and 500 F if using a glass backing dish, is to long. The 6-ounce ramekins were overcooked. Temperatures are correct, I think. Since the demise of Gourmet I have had to look to Cook’s Illustrated for good recipes. I have noticed Cook’s Illustrated recipes tend to recommend times that will overcook the dish. I have wondered if this is an effort to make sure the food is fully cooked, even when the writer and recipe recommend checking the internal temperature. This is a recipe where, in order to prevent overcooking you will be standing or kneeling in front of the open oven door watching the eggs cook until the egg whites are just full white.

I will make the “Perfect Baked Egg” recipe again. I will also tinker with it. What I have found with these egg casseroles is 5-ounce spinach and 5-ounce finely chopped “woodsy”-tasting mushroom is good. What I like is adding, per ramekin, a half slice home-smoked bacon, frozen firm then sliced into 1/8-inch slivers with kitchen shears, then fried with grease discarded (bacon grease does not add anything good to the taste of the egg casserole no matter how fresh the smoked bacon is so stick with Rogers’ 2 tablespoons butter to cook the shallot in at the beginning) and two large, cooked shrimp, frozen firm then sliced into less-than ¼-inch pieces added to the spinach/mushroom/shallot/half-and-half/Parmesan mixture.

Recipe and demonstration video can be found at the Cook’s Illustrated website if you are a online member by searching for “baked egg” .

I served the baked egg with French Onion Soup (Gourmet magazine recipe), milk, and for dessert Chocolate Pudding Cake.

Recipe Review: Beef and Mushroom Pot Pie

Beef and Mushroom Pot Pies

I like this recipe. I am always on the look-out for new pot pie recipes. Some work, some do not work, and this one worked just fine. Historically, I have disliked “Taste of Home” main meal recipes because they, in my opinion, tend to involve opening a couple of cans of this and that, stirring, and heating at 375° F for twenty minutes for something rather fattening, salty, and unappetizing. Perhaps this is unfair. I do prefer to use fresh ingredients from local farmers so that my money supports the families I run into at the public library or a community event instead of the money disappearing into an anonymous, international food processor.

This pot pie recipe is very filling. It would be ideal on a winter, or dreary spring or autumn evening. I could envision reheating a ramekin after shoveling the driveway.

The pot pie recipe was easy to put together. Preparation time was exactly 40 minutes like the recipe says. The needed ingredients were accessible if not already in the kitchen. I did purchase the prepared beef gravy, sour cream, fresh mushrooms, a baking potato and tube of refrigerated crescent rolls.

The recipe starts off by calling for boiling the cut-up potato in a microwave. I boiled the potato on the stove-top because I do not have a microwave. I used 1-lb ground beef instead of the called-for 1-lb beef top sirloin steak cut into 1/4 inch pieces. It has been my experience steak cuts cooked in small pieces turn out tough unless you marinate them overnight, and even then they are chewy. After cooking the ground beef, I sauteed the vegetables. I used a large, white onion instead of the red onion. White onions are not as bitter, I think, as most red onions you find in a store. I did not use ketchup. I do not keep ketchup on hand. Ketchup is high in sugar, and if it is necessary I will substitute organic tomato sauce.

While the vegetables cooked, I prepared the refrigerated crescent rolls. I was very tempted to purchase two tubes of refrigerated crescent rolls. I did not see how one tube could adequately supply the 16 slices without squishing the slices. As seen in the picture, the thin slices expanded and worked okay. In my opinion one can never prepare enough refrigerated crescent rolls, so the next time I will go ahead and spend the money and use two tubes with 8 slices from each. Or, you could cut sixteen slices from each tube and have a flower pattern. The exposed meat and gravy is almost unappetizing looking so the larger or more slices of crescent roll dough cooked golden brown will add to the eye appeal of the finished dish.

Using the ramekins or individual casserole dishes is an excellent idea. They are easy to transport and re-heat. I only have two 16-oz round dishes, so I used the 2-cup square dishes, too. The round ramekins are available at Pier One Imports or you can go on-line to QVC and purchase there. Department stores sometimes also carry ramekins.

When baking, make sure to have a tray under the dishes. They will be full enough they will boil over.

I have been thinking of ways to add one more cup of frozen vegetables to the recipe. One ramekin, in theory, has cup potatoes, ¼ a large onion, ½ cup sliced mushrooms, ¼ cup carrots, and ¼ cup peas. In my mind this equates to about one serving of vegetables. Each ramekin also contains ¼ cup sour cream, 1/4 ground black pepper, 1/4 tablespoon cornstarch and ¼ cup store-bought, low sodium beef gravy. The ramekins are boiling over already so I do not there is enough space to add another 8-oz vegetables to each ramekin to reach the recommended 2 cups per meal.

In order to obtain the suggested two servings vegetables per meal, you should prepare a salad, or as “Taste of Home” suggests, serve with assorted fresh vegetables such as carrots, celery, cucumbers, broccoli, and radishes.

Recipe Beef and Mushroom Pot Pie by Macey Allen (Green Forest, Arkansas), published in “Taste of Home” February/March 2012 issue.