Monday, June 27, 2011

Picnic Cake

First of all, I can't believe I haven't posted this's the easiest cake to make, and perfect to take to a picnic, have on hand for company, or make for the family.  My MIL shared this recipe with me early in our marriage, and I've made it many times since.  Apparently, this cake is very popular back in her home state of Wisconsin. 

I think "Picnic Cake" is a rather funny name for this particular dessert.  It contains flour, sugar, shortening, and dates, but no oil, eggs or butter.  I served it last night to Theresa's godfather, and he admittedly was skeptical when I told him what was in it.  But after one bite, he polished off his piece, and told me it was delicious.

So...don't write this one off yet folks.  Bake one up for your family or friends, and see what they think!

Picnic Cake

1 cup chopped, dried dates *
1 1/2 cups hot water
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1/2 cup sugar
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (about 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup chopped pecans

* Make sure you buy chopped dates.  If you buy whole dates, it's a rather sticky mess to try and chop them up yourself...take it from someone who's done it before and regretted it!

Grease and flour the bottom only of a 9x13 baking dish.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

We're going to rehydrate the dates first.  Combine the dates, water, and baking soda.  Set aside.

I looks weird.  But just you's going to be tasty y'all, trust me!

Use a stand mixer or hand-held mixer to cream the sugar, shortening, and salt together.  Scrap down the bowl once or twice to make sure everything is well incorporated. 

Add the water/date mixture to the bowl, along with the flour and vanilla.  You'll want to do this on low speed at first, otherwise the water will splash everywhere. 

Mix everything together for just a couple of minutes.  The batter will be a pale brown, with visible bits of dates. 

Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. 

Combine the topping ingredients--the sugar, chocolate chips, and nuts in a small bowl. 

Sprinkle it all over the top...sometimes I do the sugar, chips, and nuts seperately to distribute it more evenly.  Do whatever melts your butter. ;-)

Doesn't that look good? 

Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes.  Let cool before serving at room temperature (I think it cuts better when it's mostly cool).

Mmm...come to Mama!

Now, not all of my kids will eat this, but my husband LOVES it.  I've seen him and his 2 brothers sit around the kitchen table and fight over this cake!  I personally love the cake unadorned, but a little whipped cream is lovely too. 

So there you go...another one of our very favorite desserts here.  I've never had anybody say they didn't like this cake.  And I'd like to think it's not that bad for you, unless you're my hubby and have 3 pieces at one sitting. ;-)

Enjoy, and God bless your table tonight!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Linguini with Fresh Tomatoes and Basil

Since our tomatoes are still going strong, I wanted to post another one of my favorite tomato recipes. If you want some more easy tomato dishes, try this one, or this one

All my kids eat this...2 of 'em pick out the tomatoes, but they usually don't bother taking out every single bit.  This is a divine pasta simple, and ridiculously easy.  The sauce is just a few ingredients, and it's ready in the time it takes to boil the pasta.  I used regular tomatoes straight from our garden, but I see no reason why cherry tomatoes cut in half, wouldn't work either.  If you must use store-bought tomatoes, you may like an extra pinch of sugar to make up for some of the natural sweetness.

You'll find yourself making this all summer long, promise! :-)

Linguini with Fresh Tomatoes and Basil

6 medium ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped (or 2 cups cherry tomatoes cut in half)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound linguini pasta
1/2 cup parmesan cheese

Pictured above:  One of the beautiful tomatos from our garden. We're getting some amazing specimens this year!

We'll prep everything first...cut your tomatoes in half, take out the core, and squeeze gently to get all the seeds out.  I scoop 'em out with my fingers first, and then a little squeeze persuades the rest.  This keeps the finished sauce from becoming too watery.  Chop 'em up, and set aside. 

Mince the garlic, or use a microplane grater.  I like using mine because none of the kids bite down on a piece of garlic.  They're not my kids if they don't like I'll make it as easy as possible for them. 

 I have plenty of Italian parsley and basil from my garden...isn't it purty? 

Chop up the parsley and set aside.  Stack the basil leaves, roll up tightly, and slice thinly to make basil chiffonade...tiny little green ribbons. 

Cut the lemon in half and have it ready to didn't get a picture because it was camera shy. ;-) 
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil.  Drop your pasta and cook one minute less than the package recommends.

 Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over low heat.  Add the garlic and let it gently sizzle for about a minute, until golden, but not dark. 

Mix in the tomatoes, parsley, basil, lemon juice, sugar, salt, and pepper.  You are really just warming up the sauce for the pasta.  Don't stir too much...we're not making tomato paste here! 

 When the pasta is done, drain it, and add it right to the skillet of tomatoes.  Give everything a good toss for a couple of minutes.  The pasta will finish cooking in the pan, and absorb all the lovely juices from the tomatoes.  

Serve immediately garnished with more basil and some parmesan cheese if you'd like.  My kids like a little extra cheese in their bowls...I'm sure yours will too. ;-)

When you take a bite of tastes like summer!  The lemon juice gives the tomatoes just the right amount of acid, and the pasta is coated with sweet, tomatoey juices.  ("Tomatoey" may not be an actual work, but according to me, it is now!)

I hope you get to make this soon, and watch your family slurp it all up. I say "slurp" because some of my kids haven't mastered the art of twirling their pasta on a fork yet.  So it's fun to watch 'em eat pasta. ;-)

Enjoy, and God bless your table tonight! 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Baby, Oh Baby!

All righty.  I'm getting a little ahead of myself, and probably overly ambitious (no...really???), but I REALLY would like to start making some homemade baby food for Theresa.  Summer is in full swing here in southeast Texas, and all the fresh fruit and vegetables in the grocery store (especially the seasonal fruit) is inspiring me to try and make up some purees, freeze them in ice cube trays, and pull back out this fall when Theresa is old enough to start trying solids. 

I made homemade baby food for Joshua, my first-born because I was a really great mom (ha ha!) with too much time on my hands (obviously!).  I remember feeding him pureed strawberries, spinach, and carrots, and feeling such a sense of accomplishment.  Well, that didn't happen for the next 3 kids, because A), I had NO time on my hands, and B) there was no room in our one-fridge household for multiple bags of pureed foods. 

We now have a nice, big deep freezer, and if I can convince the hubby to STOP buying meat every time he goes to SAM'S (yeah right!), then I'll have plenty of room for storing bags of beautifully prepared baby food for our little girl. 

Wish me luck!

But, on a more serious note, does anyone have any baby food recipes they'd like to share?   How about doing a guest post?  I'm really open to suggestions.  I know I can do single foods, like sweet potatoes, peas, etc.  But what about combinations?  Like apples and pears?  You see them in the baby food aisle, but I've never tried making something like that at home.

So, if anyone wants to give it a go, PLEASE leave a comment below.  I would LOVE to hear from you!

Thanks friends, and God bless your table tonight!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Classic Caprese Salad

I love summer.  The days are lazy, the kids sleep in longer with every passing week, and my garden just grows, and grows, and grows.  We've had to water it more than ever this year...due to the prolonged drought here in Houston, but so far, the only thing we've lost is the yellow squash. 

Our tomatoes have really taken off the past couple of weeks.  David usually plants just one cherry tomato seedling, and one beefsteak seedling.  Well, have mercy...they have grown all the way to the top of our fence, and we pick nearly every day.  Rebecca eats her fill of the little cherries, and I've used the bigger tomatoes for some of my absolute favorite tomato recipes.  And my basil is just gorgeous...some of the leaves are as big as my hand!

Now, you really don't have to stack this salad the way I did...I just wanted to go a bit fancy for the photos.  And it's precarious, let me tell you!  Next time, I'm definitely not going fancy...I'll just lay it all out on a plate.  Don't assemble this salad until you're ready to eat.  It only takes minutes to prepare.  The longer the salt sits on the tomatoes, the more water will seep out, and it makes the plate watery.

I really believe using home grown tomatoes is a must.  Store bought tomatoes just don't have the mellow, sweet flavor that home grown tomatoes do.  If you must buy them, try to find them at a farmer's market or start growing your's really easy! 

Classic Caprese Salad

1-2 large beefsteak tomatoes, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds (keeping the top and bottom slices)
1 ball of fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/4 inch rounds
Handful of fresh basil leaves, washed and patted dry
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Lay the bottom tomato slice on a serving plate.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Top with 1-2 basil leaves, one slice of the mozzarella, and a drizzle of the olive oil.

Here's where I goofed.  I had stacked the whole stack, garnished with the oil and vinegar, and realized I'd forgotten to use the basil leaves.  That's what I get for trying to be fancy! ;-)  So you'll see the dressing on the plate before I actually finished assembling the salad, because I had to start all over again.

Repeat, stacking the tomato, cheese, and basil, until you've used up all the tomato.  Don't forget to season the tomatoes with the salt and pepper, and drizzle the oil over the mozzarella. 

Top with the last slice of tomato (the stem end), and a pretty bunch of basil.  Drizzle a little more olive oil over the top, and around the plate.  Finish off with some balsamic vinegar around the plate as well. 

David and I inhaled this was SO good.  Rebecca had some too, and said,

"Mommy, I think I could eat this every day.  We have go get some more cheese tomorrow and make it again!" 

I told her would we definitely will be making this again.  As long as we keep getting beautiful, large tomatoes from the garden, I can see us eating this salad at least 2x a week. :-)

Enjoy summer's bounty, and tasty eating!  I sure hope you can get your hands on some sweet tomatoes and make this salad.  Like now! 

God bless your table tonight!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Zucchini Cakes

Now that our garden is growing like MAD...we are picking vegetables every few days.  We already had our run of green beans (at the peak, I picked 10 pounds in 2 days!), and the cherry tomatoes are in full swing.  We also have an abundance of zucchini, yellow squash, peppers, and cucumbers.  I love using our home-grown herbs for a marinated cucumber salad with fresh dill.  We had a lovely bush of fresh dill up until a week's now gone to seed.  But the basil, italian parsley, rosemary, tarragon, oregano, thyme, and mint are doing very well.  The cilantro has also gone to seed, but I havested what I could to make this cilantro-parsley pesto (which is so insanely good!).  It's already too hot outside, I must admit, but that's the price we pay for a long growing season here in southest Texas. 

All right, so what do you do with zucchini and yellow squash, and still get the chittlins to eat it?  Fry 'em up into these yummy zucchini cakes of course!  You can actually use all zucchini or a combination of zucchini and yellow squash.  Our Christina, who won't touch a single vegetable with a 10 foot pole (except for raw, baby carrots), LOVES these cakes with ranch dressing.  Plus, they are quick and easy to make with ingredients I bet you already have on hand.

Zucchini Cakes

One medium/large zucchini (use 2 if you have just zucchini on hand)
One medium/large yellow squash
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/2 cup plain, dry bread crumbs
Salt and black pepper to taste
Olive oil for frying

Cut off the ends of the zucchini/yellow squash.  Then cut them in makes 'em easier to work with. 

 Use a box grater and the side with the large holes to shred the zucchini and/or yellow squash.

If you have time, place all the shredded zucchini/yellow squash in a colander set over a large bowl.  Sprinkle over one teaspoon salt, and toss together.  Let sit for about an hour or so.  The salt will help pull water out of the veggies.  Short on time?  You can skip this all together, no problem. 

 Take a piece of cheesecloth, a clean kitchen towel, or in my case, a clean white handerchief from my hubby's sock drawer.  Place the shreds in the towel, and wring as much water from the zucchini/yellow squash as possible.  It's best to do this in batches (2-4 ought to do it). 

Place the mostly dry shreds in a large bowl.  Add the eggs, garlic, cheese, bread crumbs, salt, and black pepper to taste. 
Here's where you have to look at your mixture and check the consistency.  It should hold together, but still be fairly wet.  If you think it's too wet, add a bit more bread crumbs.  Too dry?  Add another egg.  I usually end up adding more bread crumbs. 

In a large skillet, heat about 1/4 inch of olive oil over medium heat.  Take about 1/4 cup of the zucchini mixture and shape with your hands into a ball.  Flatten slightly, and place in the hot pan.

 Fry for about 4-5 minutes per side, adjusting your heat if necessary.  You want a nice, golden brown, so be carefully not to get the outside too dark before the inside is cooked through. 

Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels, and repeat with the remaining zucchini mix.  You'll get anywhere from 6-8 cakes, depending on the size. 

Let cool for about 5 minutes so little tongues won't get burned. :-)  Serve with ranch dressing on the side.  A nice alternative is ranch or blue cheese dressing with a few dashes of hot sauce. :-)

These are tasty!  You can make 'em smaller, and they're perfect as appetizers.  (I've made them in advance, and held them in a warm oven until serving time).  Slightly bigger, and they're a great side dish for chicken, fish, or whatever floats your boat.  Even though I make these at least once a week, I can barely keep up with the production from the garden.  So if you have any more zucchini or yellow squash recipes you want to share, let me know!
Enjoy, and God Bless your table tonight!