Nov 28, 2009

Gnocchi w/ Shrimp, Asparagus, & Pesto, with Luke's Girly Salad


Happy birthday to me! With a huge emphasis on the happy part. On November 10th, I turned a year older. (Yes, I’m a tad behind on my blogging. Soon I’ll be caught up.) And the day was definitely a celebration. First it was homemade French toast, “Luke style”, which basically means covered in powdered sugar. Then a lunchtime escape to a little café we’ve been dying to try that boasts the best grilled cheese on the planet (the secret was basil and honey). And a grand finale surprise dinner cooked by Luke. With no grill, no ketchup, and no sliced bread. No joke.

He’s cooked for me a couple times before. The first time, it was ribs and unintentionally raw potatoes. The second time it was Polish chicken breasts partially made by his mom. And all the times that followed included either charcoal or maple syrup. But this time, he planned a real meal from scratch so I could hang up my apron and enjoy what he gets to experience every week.

Actually, we ended up cooking together, because with all the birthday excitement, we didn’t start until the clock was rounding double digits, and we were both on the brink of eating our own hands. So instead of making him fumble for hours over a foreign recipe while our stomachs growled in agony, he agreed to let me help. After all, cooking together is much more romantic than being served.

And because there were two of us in the kitchen, there will be two of us writing this post. (Just one of the blessings of being a writer married to a writer.) So, it started the day before my birthday.

LUKE: Ok, I knew I wanted to make something romantic so I ruled out BBQ ribs and hot pockets.  And since Cooking Light seems to be the theme, why not follow suit? On the website, I found a bunch of 20-minute recipes. Not bad. So there I sat in my cube at work with a stack of 30 printouts. What to do next? “Hey, Travis!” I consulted another member of the male species to grunt through the decision making process.

“BBQ fish sandwich? Seriously Luke? Chili on chicken? Nothing more romantic than midnight gas.” Then I saw it. “Oh, what about this funky noodle pesto thing? Rachel loves Italian, and she loves pesto.” Needless to say, funky noodle pesto thing was the winner.

The next evening, when we got home from work, Luke poured me a drink, positioned me in front of the TV, and headed to the store for supplies. I begged him to let me go along, because he’s about as familiar with the ins and outs of the grocery store as I am with his video games. But he was stubborn. Finally, I got him to settle on a hand-drawn map of Kroger with call outs for the ingredients, and out the door he went.

LUKE: There I was in the grocery store with my list: Basil. Asparagus. Gnocchi. Pine nuts. I was alone and I was afraid. “Okay, first I’m just going to calm down and start by getting basil in the produce section like Rachel said. I’ll be fine.” Five minutes later I was at the customer service desk. “Customer needs assistance in produce.” Twelve minutes later, still no customer assistance. And Kroger’s flower lady was no help because produce “wasn’t her section.” Come on lady. It’s green. It’s leafy. Can’t you just pretend it’s a flower? Finally, I was helped by a “produce” employee, who replaced my dignity with a plastic box of Basil leaves. 

Now for the Gnocchi. Note to self: find out pronunciation of ingredients before asking people where to find them. Note to self #2: don’t ever ask a male employee to help you find anything that starts with “gn.” The only thing I got from him was, “It’s made of potato? Then it’s probably with the frozen vegetables.” Lucky guess. I found my second ingredient.

Next, I was on the hunt for shrimp. And I found it. Olive oil, Got it. I was on a roll. Pine nuts. Crap. So I was off to meet my third employee of the night. This time, a crabby old Russian stocking shelves. He quickly pointed out the pine nuts right behind me. And guess what was right above the them? Gnocchi. Not frozen, but in an air-sealed package, which is exactly was I was supposed to get. Note to self #3: read directions carefully.

After about 45 minutes, the nightmare was over. But it was all worth it after seeing Rachel’s face when I came home with more than a frozen pizza.

Quite some time later, he returned, baked up one of my favorite appetizers, spanakopita, and surprised me with my real gift: a brand new record player, which made its entrance playing an old Christmas album. I screamed, forgot all about my spanakopita (which is pretty impressive), and hovered over the beautiful player, lid propped up, crackling record spinning inside. It sent us into a different era. So with spirits flying high in Christmas land, we got back to our spinach pies and the birthday meal was revealed. And I was beyond impressed.

We started by boiling the gnocchi and chopping the shrimp and asparagus. Gnocchi, by the way, is egg-shaped pasta made out of potato. Very yummy. When they were done, we spooned them out and added the asparagus and shrimp. Asparagus first, in our case, because Luke bought frozen, already cooked shrimp. So we just added them during the last minute of cooking.





Luke: While we were waiting, I scrambled to recreate a salad I learned how to make at a Publix sample stand in Miami. I still remember that moment at the cash register as I placed dried cranberries, pears, blue cheese crumbles, walnuts and balsamic vinaigrette on the conveyor belt. What was I doing? What had I become? Well, I knew sacrificing my manhood would pay off, because this was one salad Rachel wouldn’t forget.

Next, we started on the pesto. I love love love pesto, and I’ve never made it from scratch, so I was really excited about this step. It was so simple to make, and so much better than the overpriced premade stuff from the store. You just blend it all up in a food processor. Luke did most of this part. I think he liked using the machine. The smells were awesome – garlic, basil, toasted pine nuts. Which, of course, we were toasting at the last second. And…we burned the first batch because we weren’t paying attention. But nothing could put a damper on that night, especially as I watched Luke attentively squeeze juice from a lemon into a teeny little teaspoon.




Luke: At that point, anything left of my manhood that wasn’t lost at that Publix in Miami was squeezed into a spoon.

We tossed everything together, heated up some Texas toast, and Luke finished the salads. And by finished, I mean piling them a mile high and drenching them with lots of dressing. Even if it was a girly salad, he definitely made it like a man.

Luke: I’m a man!


So hopefully, you’ve made it through this post without barfing on your keyboard from our blatant cuteness. But hey, we’ve only been married a little over a year, so we have an excuse. By the way, the food was delicious. So quick, yet so fancy. The pesto was great. I’m already thinking of other ways to use it. And all the flavors came together so nicely in this dish, and paired perfectly with Lucy’s, errr, Luke’s salad.

Luke: I sat there, very impressed with myself as Rachel thanked me over and over again and gushed about how good it was. Right then I knew exactly how she feels every single week. Note to self #4: Do this more often. 

Gnocchi w/ Shrimp, Asparagus and Pesto
Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 2 cups)

Cookbook note: Gnocchi, small Italian dumplings made with potatoes, are a hearty alternative to pasta.

2  quarts plus 1 tablespoon water, divided
1  (16-ounce) package vacuum-packed gnocchi (such as Vigo)
4  cups  (1-inch) slices asparagus (about 1 pound)
1  pound  peeled and deveined large shrimp, coarsely chopped
1  cup  basil leaves
2  tablespoons  pine nuts, toasted
2  tablespoons  preshredded Parmesan cheese
2  teaspoons  fresh lemon juice
2  teaspoons  bottled minced garlic
4  teaspoons  extravirgin olive oil
1/4  teaspoon  salt

Bring 2 quarts water to a boil in a Dutch oven. Add gnocchi to pan; cook 4 minutes or until done (gnocchi will rise to surface). Remove gnocchi with a slotted spoon; place in a large bowl. Add asparagus and shrimp to pan; cook 5 minutes or until shrimp are done. Drain. Add shrimp mixture to gnocchi.

Combine remaining 1 tablespoon water, basil, and next 4 ingredients (through garlic) in a food processor; process until smooth, scraping sides. Drizzle oil through food chute with food processor on; process until well blended. Add salt and basil mixture to shrimp mixture; toss to coat. Serve immediately.

Nutritional Information: Calories: 355 (24% from fat), Fat: 9.3g (sat 1.6g,mono 4.5g,poly 2.5g), Protein: 26.5g, Carbohydrate: 42.7g, Fiber: 3g, Cholesterol: 170mg, Iron: 5.7mg, Sodium: 894mg, Calcium: 108mg.

Source: Cooking Light, July 2007

Luke’s Girly Salad
Yield: 2 servings (Serving size: a lot)

Okay, what you’re gonna wanna do first is start with a half a cup of…wait, that’s not how it works with my salad.

Pile-o-spring mix
Bunch-a-blue cheese
Some pear
Balsamic vinaigrette dressing

Mix it up until it starts spilling onto the table.

Source: Sample lady from Publix Grocery Store, 2008.

Lemon-Honey Drop Cookies

While I was lucky enough to have dinner planned and cooked for me on my birthday, I still had a dessert to make. But after a long week, and an even longer weekend, I ended up waiting until the last possible second on Sunday night. So to guarantee at least eight hours of sleep, I turned to these simple-looking little tea cookies.

Let’s just say I wasn’t in the best of moods from the get go. I was tired, a little stressed out, and had the worries of an early Monday morning looming over my head. I really just wanted to snuggle up with a good movie. But for the sake of keeping this project going, I pressed on.

I won’t bore you with all the zesting/beating/mixing details. It really was quite a cinch. Then I dropped the cookies by level tablespoons, as the recipe says, onto cookie sheets. And since the recipe said by “level tablespoon,” the perfectionista inside of me took over and I robotically measured each and every one, but somehow, still ended up with about 20 cookies too many. Not gonna help with the whole bad mood thing. But whatever, I baked them.





Next, I whipped up the glaze and brushed it over the cookies while they were still hot in the pans. And because I’m not fancy enough to own a pastry brush yet, I used the next best thing – a paint brush. It worked pretty well. Until the clear bristles started getting stuck in the clear glaze. Wonderful.


Then, you’re supposed to sprinkle the cookies with lemon peel, but since I’d taken extra time picking out paint brush bristles, and was a little distracted with the hilarious YouTube video, "David at the Dentist" (Luke’s attempt to cheer me up), the glaze had already dried. So I slapped on a little more, sprinkled as fast as I could, ran out of peel, zested more lemons, slapped on more glaze, sprinkled, picked out bristles, and ….done.

Only one problem. I’d left them on the pan entirely too long, and the cookies had permanently adhered. When I tried to remove them, they held on for dear life. I think I had a mini meltdown at that point. I’d just spent so much time meticulously decorating those dainty little cookies, and just a light tap from a spatula broke them into teeny puzzle pieces. Somehow I managed to scrape most of them off and delicately transferred them to the cooling rack, and a few of the badly broken ones to Luke’s happily awaiting paws. But as they cooled, their torn undersides began to fall through the wires, and by the time they were ready to be put away, the table was covered in crumbs. But you know what? No one looks at the underside of a cookie. It’s the top that matters, right? Especially when the “no one” is just Luke and me.

The cookies were actually pretty good. Reminded us a lot of the raspberry strippers. Same glaze. The lemon peel gets crunchy, kinda like toasted coconut flakes. Luke liked them a lot. But if I make them again, I’ll be sure to turn off the videos and pitch the paintbrush. Maybe then they’ll turn out good enough ward off a sour mood. Even if they are lemon cookies.

Lemon-Honey Drop Cookies
Yield: 32 cookies (serving size: 1 cookie)

1/2  cup  granulated sugar
7  tablespoons  butter or stick margarine, softened
2  teaspoons  grated lemon rind
1/3  cup  honey
1/2  teaspoon  lemon extract
1  large egg
1 3/4  cups  all-purpose flour
1  teaspoon  baking powder
1/2  teaspoon  salt
1/4  cup  plain fat-free yogurt
Cooking spray
1  cup  powdered sugar
2  tablespoons  fresh lemon juice
2  teaspoons  grated lemon rind

Preheat oven to 350°.

Beat first 3 ingredients with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add honey, extract, and egg; beat until well-blended. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt, stirring well with a whisk. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture alternately with yogurt, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Drop by level tablespoons 2 inches apart onto baking sheets coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 12 minutes or until lightly browned.

Combine powdered sugar and juice in a small bowl; stir with a whisk. Brush powdered sugar mixture evenly over hot cookies. Sprinkle evenly with 2 teaspoons rind. Remove cookies from pan; cool on wire racks.

Nutritional Information: Calories: 89 (28% from fat), Fat: 2.8g (sat 1.6g,mono 0.8g,poly 0.2g), Protein: 1.1g, Carbohydrate: 15.3g, Fiber: 0.2g, Cholesterol: 14mg, Iron: 0.4mg, Sodium: 81mg, Calcium: 15mg

Source: Cooking Light, December 2000

Nov 15, 2009

One Pan Whiskey-Flavored Pork Chops & Mashed Potatoes w/ Roasted Garlic Butter

Last weekend, my dad and brother paid us a visit while on their journey from Florida to Pennsylvania to help my grandparents move. It was all too short of a trip, but we had a great time. And along with every great time, comes great food. From humongous burgers and onion rings, to deep-dish pizza, fried fish sandwiches and chimichangas, we definitely indulged in man food. But I was most excited about the home cooked meal I would finally get to make for someone aside from Luke, who, as I’ve mentioned before, loves pretty much everything. I want a challenge!

So I set out to find the perfect recipe for the occasion. One that was delicious, meaty, filling. Manly. And at the same time, something simple. They’re simple people after all – in the sense that they prefer a meal of meat and potatoes to exotic fare like sushi. Heck, even Chinese food is pushing it majorly with my dad. So, after much consideration, I set out to make…meat and potatoes.

Thanks to some very thoughtful suggestions on, my newfound haven for recipes and advice, I decided on this pork chop recipe with a whiskey sour cream mushroom sauce that sounded simply amazing. Definitely something a bunch of guys would like. And a gal. Even more so with a heap of restaurant-style garlic mashed potatoes to sop it all up. And so it began.

Like always, my adventure started at the grocer as I searched for products that had yet to grace my cart. This time it was rosemary, rubbed sage, and buttermilk. And, surprising as it may seem, my first pork chops. But after about 15 minutes of trying to find the right pork chops, I was a little discouraged. The recipe calls for four six-ounce chops, and I was lost in a sea of thin 4-ouncers and ultra thick, nearly 1-pounders. Some were loin chops. Some were rib chops. Others yet, center loin. And when I did find the right size, it was boneless, and I needed bone-in. I sifted for quite awhile, annoying many people, I’m sure, as I tried to convert pounds to ounces in my head and do math with an imaginary pencil in the air.

But then I recalled how the same thing happened when I was picking out chicken breasts for the stuffed chicken. And again with thighs for the Indian dish. Yet both of those meals came out great. So at that moment, I decided that it was ridiculous to stare at shrink-wrapped meat for more than three minutes. You just can’t get too worked up over details like that, because unless you’ve got an in with the butcher, you’ll probably never find cuts in the exact weight the recipe calls for. I grabbed two packs of medium-thick, center loin chops, and got out of there.

I made the meal a couple days later, after a fun day with the family in Dearborn, Michigan, touring the Ford Rouge factory. We walked along an elevated walkway, watching from above as they built F-150 trucks. I’ve never seen anything like it – a humongous, never-ending maze of people, parts and machines, all flowing seamlessly on the conveyor belt below us. So cool. And watching all those people do manual labor sure built up our appetites. So when we got home, I got to work.


First, I popped the garlic in the oven to roast for the garlic butter. This was a cinch, as I did it the previous week for the pierogies. While it roasted, I chopped the onion for the sauce, and the shallots and herbs for the potatoes.

Next, I trimmed the pork (which was much easier than those chicken thighs, thankfully), sprinkled them with salt and pepper, browned them, and set them aside. Then whipped up the sour cream sauce while sautéing the mushrooms and onions. I’ll tell you, nothing smells better than mushrooms and onions sautéing in a kitchen already full of fragrant roasted garlic. And it only got better when I added the whiskey. Although, I don’t recommend taking a huge whiff of simmering whiskey fumes with your nose only inches from the pan. It doesn’t have to be in a glass to end up in your brain. Oops. Nothing like an accidental brain buzz in front of your family. While working with sharp knives and boiling liquids.



I poured in the sour cream sauce and started to drool. It looked so good. At that point, you’re supposed to add the chops back in and bake the whole thing in the pan for an hour. But after the browning, my chops were already done. I mean, totally done. So the thought of baking them for another hour, even at a low 300-degrees, had me envisioning dry, tough meat and forced politeness from my guests.

So I posted a quick thread on the cooking light message board, and literally within minutes, I had advice. So I went ahead and baked it. Seems you really need to in order for all the flavors to soak in. I used a casserole dish (covered with foil) however, because my pan is entirely too small and old for the oven. And I only left them in for about 25-30 minutes.

While they were baking, I boiled the potatoes and mixed up the garlic butter. The rosemary smelled amazing. Like spring. And we could use a little spring around here, seeing that a few days ago, the beautiful golden leaves covering the ground were sadly covered in frost. Fall is far too short of a season.

When the potatoes were tender, I mashed them, skins and all, along with the buttermilk, broth, garlic butter and seasoning. I took out the chops and hooray! They weren’t dry at all. Although, I think next time I’ll get those mondo-thick cuts so they’re still a bit raw when I put them in the oven, creating an even more tender outcome.



I tossed a quick salad with dried cranberries, almonds and shaved Parmesan, removed the magically empty bowl of hummus from my husband's death grip, and we sat down to eat. It was great to have all four chairs filled. And the food, if I don’t say so myself, was awesome. I’ve never made pork chops before, and I've only had them on one other occasion, so I don’t have the authority to say that they were the best pork chops ever. But I can say that the table was silent while we were eating. Aside from the sounds of clinging silverware and men stuffing their faces. Music to my ears.

The sauce was delicious. Peppery, flavorful and creamy. It made a perfect gravy for the potatoes. And the potatoes – superb! Definitely restaurant style. Although, as much as I love garlic, I think I liked the herbed mashed I made in my second recipe better. Just had less landmines in there. But I loved including the skins. Next time I think I’ll do a combo of the two – start with the herbed recipe, but keep the skins and add a bit of roasted garlic.

I highly recommend this dish. It’s ridiculously easy for what you get. And what you get can be summed up with this quote, said by both my dad and my brother. “This is awesome. You’ve gotta give this recipe to mom.”  So, mom. Recipe is below.

One Pan Whiskey-Flavored Pork Chops
Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 pork chop and about 1/3 cup sauce)

2/3  cup  fat-free sour cream (I used reduced fat)
1/2  cup  water
2  tablespoons  all-purpose flour
1/2  teaspoon  salt
1/2  teaspoon  dried rubbed sage
1/4  teaspoon  black pepper
4  (6-ounce) bone-in center-cut pork chops, trimmed (I recommend thick-cut)
1/4  teaspoon  salt
1/8  teaspoon  black pepper
1  teaspoon  olive oil
1/2  cup  chopped onion
1  (8-ounce) package presliced mushrooms
1/2  cup  whiskey (I used Jack Daniels)

Preheat oven to 300°.

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a small bowl. Sprinkle pork with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.

Add pork; sauté 5 minutes on each side or until golden. Remove pork from pan.

Add onion and mushrooms to pan; sauté for 3 minutes. Carefully add whiskey to pan; cook for 1 minute or until liquid almost evaporates. Stir sour cream mixture into pan. Return pork to pan; spoon sauce over pork.

Wrap handle of skillet with foil. Cover and bake at 300° for 1 hour. Serve immediately.

Nutritional Information: Calories: 310 (28% from fat), Fat: 9.6g (sat 3g,mono 4.5g,poly 1.1g), Protein: 29.5g, Carbohydrate: 24.3g, Fiber: 1.3g, Cholesterol: 71mg, Iron: 2mg, Sodium: 546mg, Calcium: 16mg.

Source: Cooking Light, 2001.

Mashed Potatoes with Roasted Garlic Butter
Yield: 8 servings (serving size: 2/3 cup)

Cookbook note: Make the garlic butter ahead and refrigerate it for up to 3 days.


Garlic butter:
2  whole garlic heads
1/4  cup  butter, softened
1  tablespoon  finely chopped shallots
2  teaspoons  finely chopped fresh rosemary

2 1/2  pounds  cubed Yukon gold or red potato
1/3  cup  fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/4  cup  buttermilk
2  tablespoons  chopped fresh parsley
1  teaspoon  salt
1/2  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350°.

To prepare garlic butter, remove white papery skin from garlic heads (do not peel or separate the cloves). Wrap each head separately in foil. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes; cool 10 minutes.

Separate cloves; squeeze to extract garlic pulp. Discard skins. Combine garlic pulp, butter, shallots, and rosemary.

To prepare potatoes, place potato in a saucepan, and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 15 minutes or until tender.

Drain and return potato to pan. Add broth and buttermilk; mash to desired consistency. Cook 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring constantly. Stir in garlic butter, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Nutritional Information: Calories: 181 (30% from fat), Fat: 6.1g (sat 3.7g,mono 1.7g,poly 0.3g), Protein: 3.9g, Carbohydrate: 28.8g, Fiber: 2.4g, Cholesterol: 16mg, Iron: 1.4mg, Sodium: 375mg, Calcium: 39mg.

Source: Cooking Light, 2002.

Carrot Cake w/ Cream Cheese Frosting

While my dad and brother were visiting from Florida, I wanted to celebrate my dad’s 50th, which had just passed. It’s so hard living away from family when birthdays and holidays roll around. A card in the mail just isn’t the same as a family celebration.

So the night before my dad arrived, I set out to make him a birthday cake from scratch. His favorite: carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. And what a night it was. More like a morning, actually, as the cake-making-while-cleaning-process went into the wee hours of the a.m.  But what else would you expect from an inexperienced baker with no help from Betty Crocker, and no canned frosting in sight?

Actually, I can’t complain about the cake. It was very easy. No mixer necessary, which was a wonderful change. My hand mixer can get quite annoying, especially when a recipe tells me to beat something for five, arm-cramping minutes. But I’m hoping it won’t be long before I score the stand mixer of my dreams. It’s yellow. It’s Kitchen Aid. And I think I have just enough leftover wedding money on a Bed Bath & Beyond gift card to cover at least half the cost. We’ll see. I’m waiting for another one of those 20% coupons to arrive in the mail. Seems they always come when I don’t need anything.

Anyway, the cake was quick. Just mixed everything together, then folded in the carrot. Which really made the batter look less like a cake, and more like a casserole. But it smelled wonderful with all that apple butter and cinnamon. Very fall. Then I poured them into pans and stuck them in the oven. 




One cake got a traditional metal pan, the other got one of those oddly rubber ones. I used to have two metal pans, but when I put them in the sink to soak after making a chocolate cake, they must have stuck together. So when Luke washed them, he thought it was just one pan. Which meant that months later, I found the pans glued together with creepy black stuff, a.k.a. chocolate cake. And it just wouldn’t come off one of them, so I pitched it. I’ve been using the rubber one ever since, and it’s great. Sometimes it makes the cake crack a little on top because it doesn’t hold the batter as tightly, but it’s easier to pop the cake out thanks to its magically bendable sides. And who sees cracks under a layer of frosting anyway?




While the cakes baked, I worked on the cleaning, then started on the icing. The icing is a very simple recipe, too. Just not when you start it at one in the morning, when you’re too exhausted to plan, think, or read. I got out the ingredients and began, only to realize the butter needed to be softened, and the cream cheese needed to be chilled. So I stuck the cream cheese in the freezer, the butter on the counter, and myself at the table for a snack because I didn’t even have enough energy to zest a lemon.

Once refueled, I zested that lemon, and added the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla. It seemed like an awful lot of zest. An entire lemon’s worth. And a lot of vanilla, too. I mean, a lot. I knew something was wrong, so I re-read the recipe and… I messed it up. I used a tablespoon instead of a teaspoon for both ingredients. That’s three times too much. So I decided to just double it and have extra frosting to freeze. I got out more cream cheese and butter, stubbornly skipping the chill/soften part, and plopped them into the bowl. But before mixing it up, I thought, “Hmm, maybe I should check to make sure I have enough powdered sugar for a double batch.” I needed seven cups. One.... Two.... And, that’s it. Not even enough for one cake. What a planner.



 I was so tired at that point, I just wanted to give up, but my perfectionist ways would have none of that. I called Luke, who was running an errand at CVS, and had him check for powdered sugar. Nope. I even asked him to check for cream cheese frosting. But they didn’t have it, thankfully. I would have hated myself for cheating.

Kroger was closed, and it was too late to call my mom, so I consulted the internet. But surprisingly, I couldn’t find anything about substitutes for powdered sugar. That is, until I came across a site advising people to create powdered sugar by grinding regular sugar in a blender. That seemed pretty ridiculous. So... I gave it a shot. There I was, at 2:30 in the morning, trying to grind sugar in my teeny food processor, which was probably too small for the job, and way too loud for a second floor condo with a sleeping neighbor below. But I was desperate.

Just in time, Luke saved my sanity when he called and said he was on his way to a 24-hour Meijer! (Which I later heard had him sneaking into a slippery closed aisle.) So I stopped the madness (good thing, because it didn’t work at all), grabbed the extra cream cheese and butter I’d placed on top, brushed off the lemon, and chilled/softened them, cleaned up, and took a nap while I waited.

And just as I finally fell asleep, Luke woke me up with sugar in hand. The second time around, I knew exactly what to do, and I did it fast. Zested a lemon. Whipped up the frosting. Iced the cake. I loved that part. Icing a cake really makes you feel like you’re in the 50’s, even if it is 3:30 in the morning. I wanted it to look a little fancier, so I ground some walnuts and sprinkled them all over. Why not? At that point, I wasn’t going to get any sleep anyway. Might as well go the extra mile.  Stuck it in the fridge. Slammed the door. Passed out.





We had the cake the first night my dad and brother arrived. Of course, topped with a black and white over-the-hill candle. And I have to say, hands down, it’s the best carrot cake I’ve ever had. If you like carrot cake, you have to try this recipe. It’s not full of nuts and pineapple and raisins, which was good. Just a lot of flavor, and a lot of spice. And the frosting is to die for. Sweet, lemony, cream cheesy. Way better that the stuff from a can. Way. And way worth the time. Well, I guess it was really my dad that was way worth the time, right? Happy 50th!

Carrot Cake
Yield: 18 servings (serving size: 1 slice)

Cookbook note: To give our cake moistness and more flavor, we used apple butter--a thick, dark-brown spread made of apples, sugar, and spices. You can find it with jams and jellies in your grocery store.

2  cups  all-purpose flour
1/2  cup  granulated sugar
1/2  cup  packed brown sugar
2  teaspoons  baking soda
2  teaspoons  ground cinnamon
1  teaspoon  salt
1/2  cup  apple butter
1/2  cup  vegetable oil
1  tablespoon  vanilla extract
2  large eggs
2  large egg whites
3  cups  shredded carrot
Cooking spray
Cream Cheese Frosting

Preheat oven to 350°.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (flour through salt); make a well in center of mixture. Combine apple butter and next 4 ingredients (apple butter through egg whites) in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk. Add apple butter mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Fold in carrot.

Pour batter into 2 (8-inch) round cake pans coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 35 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack.

Place 1 cake layer on a plate; spread with 2/3 cup frosting, and top with remaining cake layer. Spread the remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Store cake loosely covered in refrigerator.

Nutritional Information: Calories: 304 (28% from fat), Fat: 9.5g (sat 2.9g,mono 2.8g,poly 3.2g), Protein: 3.6g, Carbohydrate: 51.6g, Fiber: 1g, Cholesterol: 33mg, Iron: 1.1mg, Sodium: 357mg, Calcium: 38mg.  

Source: Cooking Light, November,1999.

Cream Cheese Frosting
Yield: 2 cups (serving size: 1 tablespoon)

1/2  cup  (4 ounces) block-style fat-free cream cheese, chilled
1/4  cup  butter or stick margarine, softened
1  teaspoon  grated lemon rind
1  teaspoon  vanilla extract
3 1/2  cups  powdered sugar

Beat the first 4 ingredients at medi-um speed of a mixer until smooth. Lightly spoon sugar into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Gradually add sugar to butter mixture; beat at low speed just until blended (do not overbeat).

Nutritional Information: Calories: 67 (20% from fat), Fat:1.5g (sat 0.9g,mono 0.4g,poly 0.1g), Protein: 0.5g, Carbohydrate: 13.2g, Fiber: 0.0g, Cholesterol: 5mg, Iron: 0.0mg, Sodium: 36mg, Calcium: 11mg.

Source: Cooking Light, November 1999.
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