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I guess I should explain that my love for cooking and sugar didn’t just transpire all in one day, out of the blue.  My dad is the cook of the family, he loves to try new things even if they fail.  Indian food is not his specialty.  The spice ratio and the meat they use has never been his forte.  I remember one specific instance, he began with some sort of beef, it was unrecognizable because it was rolled into a sort of cigar shape.  The taste and texture were terrible but that isn’t why he cooks.  He cooks because he loves his family, the spices and herbs only express his love in an edible form.  Which of course, I am not at all opposed to and neither is my little brother.

Then, there is my mom.  She is the go to cook of the family and loves to bake, now you see where I get it.  Her love for cooking began with her mom; they were poor and the outrageous recipes my grandma came up with made her love to be able to cook for her family, with fresh organic resources.  She loves the feeling of looking for the perfect produce at farmers markets and then bringing those little possibilities home only to craft something beautiful and full of love.

The genetics speak for themselves; so why do I love baking so much.  The sugar tooth does not fully explain anything.  I could get my fix of sugar from any sort of bought over sugary machine-made cookie.  It’s the emotion behind the food.  The way things are folded into each other, mixed on medium speed and kneaded; each step is a part of my heart.  Any stress of a hard day at school is no match to the powers of unsalted butter and organic sugar.  There is nothing unsure about the way flour, sugar and butter will treat you.  If you beat it lovingly and take the time to give it the fair amount of attention; it will mirror the affection.  And, even more than that it brings others joy.  Something in my heart feels more joy and contentment with the smile of a friend remarking over my baking and knowing that maybe that ounce of sugar changed their day.  In someway, it brightened their thoughts and filled them with the emotion that I filled my dear cakes with.

This past summer was no exception.  My mom’s friend asked me to bake her birthday cake for her.  Her only request; a fresh organic garnish and pink.  I searched through many recipes and cookbooks, with no luck.  It was the simple act of searching for a snack that would give me my muse.  They were fresh, newly bought from our local farmers market.  Each seed on the little pink fruit was beautiful, tiny but gave the sweet taste such a lovely texture.  The strawberries were beautiful and had to be place on top of something.  I then remembered I had once watched Paula Dean make a strawberry cake.  At the time, my grandmother had suggested that I make the pink cake, but I wrote it off thinking it was simply a topic of conversation.  Now, I regretted not writing down the recipe but, I called my nonnie (grandma) knowing she wrote everything down.  As she read the recipe I imagined her yellow legal pad, and her loopy dancing handwriting.  In between each curve and line was a bit of her love, spelling out a recipe.  There it was, the perfect cake.  A million strawberries and some pink dye later a masterpiece was born.

On the day of the party I knew I had a special cake.  The moment I placed the plate of my work into her hands, it was all worth it.  The exchanged paused, for the slightest moment, transferring everything I had felt for that cake, and all that I wanted it to mean to her.  She was overjoyed and, because of her smile, I grinned. It was my stupid “happy poster child” grin, but it was as genuine as ever.  The cake tasted good too!  It was moist, and was quite like enjoying a real strawberry.

Marie holding her cake, and my beloved "Nonnie"

The other birthday of summer was my grandfather’s seventy-fifth birthday.  I don’t think it hit me until this year that our lives are not infinite.  Seventy-five is fairly wise and I cannot ever imagine my life with out my POG (plain old grandpa).  I love him to bits and so his favorite carrot cake was the perfect way to take advantage of sharing my love of him through some old-fashioned sugar.  The recipe has been passed down in my family and is very dear to our hearts, and of course stomachs.So, think about it.  What do you love to do?  Does it matter who you do it with?  Find something that makes you happy and brings you joy and share it!

Paula Dean’s Strawberry Cake

Ingredients (cake)

1 (18.25-ounce) box of white cake mix (I made my own white cake)

1 (3-ounce) box strawberry flavored instant gelatin

1 (15-ounce package frozen strawberries in syrup thawed and pureed

4 large eggs

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup of water

Ingredients (frosting)

1/4 cup of butter, softened

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 (10-ounce) package frozen strawberries in syrup thawed and pureed

1/2 teaspoon strawberry extract

7 cups confectioners sugar

Freshly diced strawberries (for garnish!)

Directions (cake-wise)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease 2 (9-inch) round cake pans.

In a large bowl, combine cake mix and gelatin.Add pureed strawberries, eggs, oil, and water; beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth.

Pour into prepared pans, and bake for 20 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool in pans for 10 minutes. Remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.

Directions (frosting-wise)

In a large bowl, beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Beat in 1/4 cup of the strawberry puree and the vanilla extract. (The rest of the puree is leftover but can be used in smoothies or on ice cream for a delicious treat.) Gradually add confectioners’ sugar, beating until smooth.

Spread frosting in between layers and on top and sides of cake. Garnish with sliced fresh strawberries, if desired.

P.S. family’s secret carrot cake recipe to come!

I am currently sixteen and so, I make a lot of mistakes.  Watching endless hours of pointless tv instead of doing my homework, accidentally “forgetting” to study for the endless tests I seem to have… And, my mistakes don’t just end there, I cannot even count the number of times I have forgotten socks, forgotten money for lunch or said the wrong thing to a friend spoiling some sort of surprise.  But, thats really what they are right?  Mistakes.  My dictionary says a mistake is “an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge, etc.”  And, the only way to gain knowledge is to learn.  With each mistake I learn something new.  For me, this means I must be learning a thousand times a day, for I make a lot of awkward mistakes.

Today’s baking fiasco was no different.  It started with a birthday, for my friend T she was turning sixteen.  We all told everyone that she was eighteen though, because we love her and she doesn’t like to announce that she’s sixteen.  Anyways, I was contemplating what should I make her.  Monday night was occupied by homework and so, on her actual birthday I substituted homemade love with three store bought lotto tickets.  But, I figured I could make it up to her by baking something on a day that I had little homework.  I peered into cookbooks, searched online but could not find anything special that I felt like making in that moment.  I took a break from my stressful search to make a list of all of the things I love about the holidays.  Then I thought about it.  Fudge.  It was perfect.  Chocolaty, something like frosting (her favorite part of cakes and cupcakes) and it screamed holiday birthday.  All I had to do was find the right recipe.  So I went to my best friend; google.  There it was, traditional fudge with six cups of sugar and all.  It was the one.  The work of stirring and checking temperatures was guaranteed to be “well worth the work,” and I was sure it would be.  I got to the end and searched for a pan to hold my babies and let them cool.

This is where I believe my mistakes started.  My mom has this thing about preservatives and organics, needless to say she is against pam and cooking sprays.  Instead, we put our organic cooking oil into silver bullet like canisters, that become pressurized with some elbow grease.  I pumped that thing until I thought my arms were going to fall of and then sprayed up my pan.  No spot of that container would be untouched, I made sure of it.

It was not until after they had cooled and I decided to make sure they were alright that I realized something.  It was olive oil in the container.  The sickly sweet taste could not begin to mask the olive taste, it was as if I had poured chocolate sauce over olive oil and butter pasta.  Not good, at all.  But, this being a mistake I knew I just had to figure out what to do.  I decided to wash my fudge.  There I stood, with my sink on the coldest setting hoping that it would work.They tasted much less like the gross oily fudge of before, but not without work.  And after each bath each piece had to be refrigerated to firm back up.  Several more mistakes were made, and some fudge was lost to the melting capabilities of water and sugar.

In the end, the work put into the recipe and the learning process made the experience worth it.  It tastes good and I am almost sure that tomorrow at school it will be gone in no time.

“Old Fashioned Fudge”

1 + 1/2 cups milk
4 ounces (or 120g) unsweetened chocolate
4 cups sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 + 1/2 teaspoons vanilla essence

In a mid-sized heavy saucepan over a low heat, melt the chocolate with the milk.
Add in the sugar, corn syrup and salt.
Stir continuously until mixture is boiling.
Reduce heat and continue to cook – without stirring – until mixture reaches 230 degrees Fahrenheit (or 110 degrees Celsius) on a candy thermometer.
(If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you will know your mixture is done when a teaspoonful of the mixture forms a soft ball when dropped into cold water.)
Remove from heat as soon as mixture has reached desired temperature.
Add in the vanilla essence and the butter, but do not stir.
Allow mixture to cool in saucepan until it reaches 110 degrees F (or 43 degrees C) on your candy thermometer.
(If you don’t have a candy thermometer, cool mixture until it is lukewarm.)
Once mixture has reached desired temperature, beat it with a wooden spoon until the mixture begins to lose its gloss and starts to thicken (approximately 15 minutes).
Pour into a greased square pan (approximately 8in/ 18cm).

  • Here is where you have the option of adding some olive oil to your pan! I don’t recommend it unless you’re in the mood to bathe your fudge.

Allow mixture to stand until cool and hard.
Turn fudge out of the pan and onto a cutting board.
Cut your tasty old-fashioned fudge into squares and start eating!