Category Archives: Desserts

Homemade Creamy, Sweet, and Slightly Tart Lemon Ice Cream with Raspberry Coulis

Today’s post is part of a series called Sugar High Fridays. Sugar High Friday is an “international sweet tooth blogging extravaganza” which was created by Jennifer, The Domestic Goddess. It takes place on the last Friday of every month and always has a different theme. Since you all know that I have a huge sweet tooth, I thought this would be a fun way to get involved in the blogging community, and get some new recipes!

This month’s Sugar High Friday is hosted by Alex at Yums and Loves and the theme is no-bake treats. (Be sure to go to Alex’s page to see what other yummy no-bake treats people are posting for Sugar High Friday.) When I heard the theme was no-bake treats I immediately knew I wanted to make homemade ice cream because to me, ice cream is the perfect no-bake dessert. I love ice cream, but since I am not eating any processed sugar this summer, my ice cream options are very limited (essentially to homemade ice cream only). I have been researching ways to make ice cream using natural sweeteners, but so far had not tried any.

When I was younger, we used to make homemade ice cream a lot, especially at our lake house. My parents have one of those old fashioned hand-crank ice cream makers so it always took a long time to make the ice cream. It was so hard to wait for it to be done, but it was always well worth the wait. My parents had a motto, “no crank, no cream” so making ice cream was always a team effort. As much as I love commercial ice cream, there is nothing like eating the homemade kind!

This is just like the old-fashioned ice cream maker my parents have.

I got my own ice cream maker for Christmas two years ago (one of the best presents ever). Let me tell you, it is waaaaay easier than the old-fashioned hand-crank version and the ice cream is just as tasty: win-win!

This is the ice cream maker attachment I have for my Kitchen Aid--LOVE IT!

I have made many different kinds of ice cream at home, but I must admit that I was a little nervous about making ice cream with natural sweeteners. I frequently use honey as a substitute for white sugar, but I was hesitant to use honey in the ice cream because I know that honey has a very strong and distinct flavor. I love the flavor of honey, but I thought it might be a little overpowering in the ice cream.

Since I happen to have Ben & Jerry’s book on making homemade ice cream, I decided to turn to them for advice. To my delight they actually had a section on making ice cream using sweeteners other than sugar. They agreed that honey has a very strong flavor and also said it caused the ice cream to have a “crumbly” texture after the ice cream hardened. They said that maple syrup is a slightly better alternative, but because its water content is high, it will dilute the butterfat and “affect the final richness and texture of the finished product.” Hmmm. After reading this, I decided to go with agave nectar because it’s sweet, but not overpowering.

Next, I needed to decide on a flavor. I thought vanilla seemed too boring, but I was nervous to try chocolate because I wasn’t sure how it would taste with my natural sweetener. While trying to decide on a flavor, we got invited to a dinner party with a Greek theme. They asked me to bring dessert so I thought it would be a great place to debut my naturally sweet ice cream. I decided to go with lemon ice cream because it’s a nice light and refreshing summer flavor that I thought would pair well both with agave nectar and a Greek-themed dinner.

Homemade Lemon Ice Cream

INSERT PICTURE OF FINISHED PRODUCT

Ingredients
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
zest from 1-3 lemons (I used the zest from just one lemon)
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp agave nectar*
2 eggs
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp xanthan gum (optional)**

Directions
Squeeze the juice from the lemons into a glass (or any other non-reactive) bowl. Add the lemon zest and agave nectar and refrigerate for about an hour to let the flavors come together.

Important: Once you’re ready to make the ice cream, you must move very quickly because if the lemon juice is left sitting in the milk too long it will curdle the milk!

Beat eggs in a mixer or by hand until light and frothy, about 1-2 minutes. Add the whipping cream, milk, and xanthan gum (if using) and mix on low speed until just combined (you don’t want to make whipped cream!). Add the lemon juice, zest, and agave mixture and mix until incorporated. Immediately pour into your ice cream maker and proceed according to the manufacturer’s directions.

*Agave is usually used in a 3:4 ratio to sugar. The recipe calls for 3/4 cup sugar (12 tbsp) so I used 9 tbsp of agave. The ice cream was not very sweet at all, which we thought was perfect, but if you like your ice cream a little sweeter, I would suggest using the entire 3/4 cup of agave. Perhaps the butterfat in the cream—and maybe the citrus too—cut some of the sweetness.

**Xanthan gum is used to help thicken things. Since agave is liquid, I thought the ice cream might be a little runny so I used a little bit of xanthan gum. I think it would probably work out fine without the xanthan gum though so don’t worry if you don’t have any.

And after 20 minutes we had this!

At this point I sampled it (of course) and thought it was fabulous. I transferred it to other containers and put it in the freezer to harden.

Ready for the freezer

While it was in the freezer, all I could think about were raspberries. I really wished I had some fresh raspberries to top our ice cream, but the commissary was all out. I racked my brain to figure out what I could use instead and after about 20 minutes I had the brilliant idea to make a raspberry coulis to put on top of the ice cream. Let me tell you, the combination of the slightly sweet and slightly tart lemon ice cream with the sweetness of the raspberry coulis was ah-maz-ing.

Raspberry Coulis

INSERT PICTURE OF ICE CREAM WITH RASPBERRY COULIS

Ingredients
1 cup raspberries (I used frozen raspberries that had been thawed)
1/4 cup agave
juice from 1 lemon

Directions
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Strain coulis through a fine mesh strainer to get all of the seeds out. Refrigerate until use.

Everyone at the dinner party thought that my lemon ice cream was a perfect summer dessert. It wasn’t super sweet or too tart. Even though I was a little nervous about how the ice cream would turn out with the agave nectar, it came out perfectly creamy and delicious. The raspberry coulis paired really well with the lemon ice cream making for a deliciously creamy and refreshing treat. I highly recommend you go out and try this right now :).

Question: What is your favorite no-bake treat?

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Filed under Desserts, Sugar High Friday

Sweet Sundays: Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

In an effort to become more mindful of what I eat, I’ve started following “The S Rule”. Have you heard of it? I read about it in Michael Pollan’s Food Rules and it goes like this: “No sweets, no snacks, no seconds—except on days that start with S.” I love it. I don’t follow it exactly because I’m definitely a snacker, but when I do eat a snack, I make sure to pick something healthy. I also don’t always follow the no seconds rule, but that’s because I’ve started eating until I’m 80% full and I’m still trying to figure out what portion size will lead to 80% fullness.

But I do follow the no sweets (which I interpret to mean dessert) rule because for me, eating desserts is my biggest weakness. When dessert is around, it is very hard for me to turn it down and as I’ve said before, I also have a hard time limiting the amount I eat. I’ve been following The S Rule for about four weeks now and I feel great. Since I cut back on the amount of sweets I eat, it’s helped me to learn not to overdo it when I do eat sweets because then I just feel like crap. So instead, I enjoy my sweets and don’t feel guilty about it :). (Oh and by the way, I also allow two “cheat days” each month when I get to eat sweets on days that don’t start with S—pretty crazy, I know ;)).

Since Sunday happens to be one of the two days that starts with S and thus a day I do eat sweets, I decided that I will share a sweet treat with you every Sunday…hence Sweet Sundays.

Remember when I got my package in the mail from my mom with all of my goodies? Well, inside that package were SunSpire chocolate chips that are made without any processed sugars. I was so excited to get these because it meant that I could finally eat some chocolate—woo hoo!!

I decided that night would be one of my cheat days and set out to make some peanut butter oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. The recipe comes from Brown Eyed Baker. I’ve made them a few times and they are always a big hit. However, since I’m not eating processed sugar right now, I had to adapt the recipe a bit. I’m going to include my version of the recipe below, but if you don’t want to make the cookies with honey and molasses, I highly recommend you head over to Brown Eyed Baker and make the original version—they are excellent!!

I’m going to be honest with you; at first I was not a huge fan of my adapted version of these cookies. The recipe calls for brown and white sugar so I substituted those with molasses and honey. If you’ve never used molasses before, it has a very strong flavor and as soon as these came out of the oven, all I could taste was molasses. I did not like them. Yuck. I was so disappointed, especially since I had been looking forward to having chocolate chip cookies for so long.

But the next day these cookies were delicious. The molasses flavor wasn’t nearly as strong and they were so moist. Each time I tried them they grew on me a little more and now I kind of love them. Maybe it’s because I haven’t had “real” chocolate chip cookies in so long, or maybe it’s because I expected these to taste just like the regular version, but now that I’m over that, I really like these cookies. If you’re nervous about the molasses though, I would recommend using a combination of agave and honey or maple syrup and honey. I think either one would be excellent.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
*Recipe adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

Ingredients
1 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup peanut butter (I used natural)
1/4 cup honey
2 tbsp molasses
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Directions
Preheat oven to 325°F and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

Cream the butter, peanut butter, honey, molasses, and vanilla on medium speed for about 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat until fully incorporated. Gradually add the flour mixture, in batches, on low speed until the flour is just combined and no dry spots remain. Stir in the oats and chocolate chips.

The batter is pretty wet, but don't worry because the cookies turn out great.

Drop spoonfuls of dough onto lined baking sheets. I used a small (1 tbsp) cookie scoop for this and baked them for about 7-8 minutes. They probably could have cooked a little longer because they were very soft, but I didn’t mind because I like my cookies “medium rare” :).

Let cool on baking sheet before transferring to cooling rack. The cookies are very fragile and if you try to move them too soon they will crumble apart.

Happy baking with honey! If you try these, I would love to know how they turned out for you :).

Question: What recipes would you like to see posted for Sweet Sundays?

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Filed under Cookies, Desserts, Sweet Sundays

Naturally Sweet and Utterly Delectable Strawberry Pie

**Don’t forget to tune in tomorrow for Tuesdays with Tommy. He has a five-part mini-series that starts tomorrow and trust me, you don’t want to miss it!**

Do you remember in the post about arepas that I said we made the arepas for Mother’s Day and promised that the recipe for my mom would be coming soon? Well folks, here it is—strawberry pie that is to die for!

Choosing a recipe to honor my mom on Mother’s Day was really hard because she has so many amazing recipes. Her most famous one is for her hot fudge sauce. I swear that stuff has crack in it because it is so so so addicting! I can’t even begin to imagine how many gallons of my mom’s hot fudge I have consumed in my lifetime. Her hot fudge is so good that I don’t even bother to eat any other kind of hot fudge because I know it won’t compare to my mom’s (it’s not worth the disappointment). But making hot fudge for her on Mother’s Day was 1) the easy choice and 2) impossible because it’s the only recipe she doesn’t share in hopes that someday you’ll see “Gramma Judy’s Hot Fudge Sauce” on the shelf in your local grocery store :).

Anyway, back to Mother’s Day. I thought about it for a while and finally settled on strawberry pie. First of all, I love fresh strawberries and when Amanda was here it happened to be strawberry season in Okinawa. And second of all, strawberry pie makes me think of summer and thinking of summer brings back so many wonderful memories from my childhood, including spending the whole summer at our lake house.

My not so red strawberries. I couldn't find any local ones so I had to settle for strawberries from the commissary.

From the time that I was four until I was a freshman in high school, we had a lake house that was just thirty minutes from our ‘regular’ house. It was close enough for my dad to commute to and from work everyday so we stayed out there for the whole summer. Man did I love that place! We didn’t have a TV so I spent all day everyday playing outside with the neighbors’ grandchildren. I spent so much time in the water during those summers that you would think I would have turned into a fish ☺. My mom had this big triangle (the musical instrument) hanging by our front door and when it was time to eat lunch or dinner she would ring the triangle and I would come running home!

We did a lot of entertaining during those summers at the lake house, both for out of town guests and friends from our hometown. Our lake house wasn’t fancy by any means. The best way to describe the décor is kitschy. When my parents bought the house, it was fully furnished. It looked like the previous owners just woke up one day and decided to leave because all of their stuff was still in the house—I’m talking books, dishes, linens, even some clothes! I can remember one of the first times we were at the house and I was looking through the dresser in my room. To my horror, I found a woman’s bra! I could not believe it and was mortified. Hahaha.

Our lake house may not have been fancy, but it was so cozy. One thing that we all loved the best was the enclosed screen porch. We ate all of our meals out on that porch, usually surrounded by lots of family and friends. There are certain foods that make me think of meals on the porch at our lake house—sourdough waffles, corn on the cob, and strawberry pie. And that is why I wanted to make it for my mom on Mother’s Day.

Since I promised you I would share the recipe, I thought it was a great excuse to make it again for us—just so I could take pictures of course ;).

While I was reading the recipe for the piecrust, I saw an option of making individual pies using an inverted muffin tin. I had never tried this before, but thought it sounded like a great idea so I gave it a go and they turned out really well. The piecrust was PERFECT—so flaky with an excellent butter flavor.

I tweaked the original pie recipe a bit to make it naturally sweet, but I don’t think it compromised the flavor at all. My husband and I both loved it—so much that we ate it two nights in a row. (I’m actually eating some as I blog about it right now….that’s how good it is!) Tonight I also topped our pies with some homemade whipped cream—delicious!!

Naturally Sweet Strawberry Pie
*I’m not sure where this recipe comes from other than my mom’s recipe binder 🙂

For the Pie Crust
*Recipe adapted from Joy of Cooking

Ingredients
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 + 1/8 tsp salt
7 1/2 tbsp butter, chilled
3 tbsp + 1/2 tbsp water, divided

Directions
To make a good piecrust, it is very important that the butter and ice water stay chilled until right before you use them. Letting them warm up too much will produce a crust that is not flaky. To really ensure a flaky crust, I recommend wrapping it in plastic wrap and letting it chill for 10-15 minutes before you are going to use it.

Combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until incorporated. Add butter evenly over the dry ingredients and pulse a couple of times until most of the butter is the size of peas. Remove the lid and pour the 3 tbsp ice water over the butter and flour. Pulse until there are no more dry spots.

Remove the lid again and see if you can pinch the dough together with your fingers. If it won’t stick together, add a little more water and pulse again. Do not allow the dough to gather in a ball. Once you can pinch it between your fingers, take it out and shape it into a ball yourself. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 10-15 minutes.

To make a large pie, roll out the dough and fit it into a 9-inch pie pan. Prick the dough with a fork (to prevent bubbling), line it with foil, and weight it down with beans or metal pie weights. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, remove the weights and bake for another 5-10 minutes, or until golden.

To make individual pies, roll out the dough and cut into 4 or 5-inch rounds (I used a large ramekin for this). Fit rounds of dough over inverted muffin cups (that have been greased) and prick with a fork. (Side note: I forgot to prick mine until half-way through the baking process and they still turned out okay.) Cover with a large piece of foil and bake at 425 degrees for 11-12 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 4 minutes, or until golden.

Let piecrust cool completely before filling.

For the Strawberry Pie

Ingredients
*I made half the filling for the individual pies

6 cups strawberries, washed and stems removed
3/4 cup agave syrup
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup water
1 package cream cheese, softened

Directions
**My strawberries were not super sweet (since I couldn’t find any local ones and had to buy some from the commissary that were shipped in from the States…boo). I drizzled a little honey over the cut up strawberries to bring out their sweetness, but this isn’t necessary if your strawberries are already really sweet.

Mash (I used the food processor) enough strawberries to measure 1 cup. Place agave in a small saucepan. Blend water and cornstarch together and add to agave. Stir in crushed berries and cook, stirring constantly until mixture thickens and comes to a boil. Once mixture boils, cook for 1 minute (stirring constantly). Cool.

Beat cream cheese until smooth and spread evenly over the baked pie shell. I probably used about a tablespoon per pie.

Fill shell with remaining berries. My mom usually leaves the berries whole and places them tops-down in the pie pan. I was worried they wouldn’t fit so well like that in the mini pies so I cut up the strawberries.


Pour cooked berry mixture over the top and refrigerate for several hours or until set.

For the Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tbsp agave syrup
splash of maple syrup
splash of vanilla extract

Whip heavy cream on high speed until it starts to thicken. Add sweeteners (these are just approximations—add them to your taste preference) and vanilla. Beat until peaks form and pipe over individual pies.

Go make this strawberry pie—I promise you’ll love it! It’s just the perfect amount of sweetness, and utterly delectable!

Question: What summer foods bring back special childhood memories for you?

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Filed under Baking Tips, Desserts

Tuesdays with Tommy–Steamed Little Neck Clams with Beer and Coconut Panna Cotta with Mango Sticky Rice

As promised, today’s post features a guest blogger who will be writing for Mind Your Bees and Trees every Tuesday.  I couldn’t be more excited for our new weekly series because it features a good friend of ours, and an amazing cook.  So without further ado, drum roll please……MYBT is proud to introduce Tuesdays with Tommy. 

Before I met Tommy, I heard about him.  My husband came home from work one day and told me someone had made lunch for everyone at work that day and it was amazing.  My husband does not usually get that excited about food so I knew it must have been good—I also knew I had to meet this guy.  I met Tommy a couple of weeks later at a BBQ where I got to taste some of his delicious creations and I too was hooked.   

Tommy is not only a wonderful cook, but a great guy too.  Everything that I have ever had that Tommy made was absolutely phenomenal.  He has that unique ability to make the most amazing thing you’ve ever tasted without using any recipes!  I really admire him not only for his amazing cooking skills, but also for the fact that everything he makes is made from the heart.  I love Tommy’s philosophy on food and cooking, but I’ll let him tell you all about it J.

I am honored that Tommy asked to be a part of this blog.  I hope you enjoy this series as much as I know I will!

And now I’ll turn it over to Tommy.

So let me preface this post with…here goes nothing.

First of all, the job I work in (we’ll just say US Air Force for now) has given my family and me many chances to make new friends worldwide. While in Okinawa, Japan, I met two guys that I think so highly of I’d like to adopt one of them and make them my little brother.  Chris and Giff.  For this post’s sake, let’s just say that Giff Bloom is the winner (sorry Chris).  So how does this have anything to do with food you ask? Well through my friend I was also able to meet his lovely wife Kristen.  We immediately had one driving interest in common….Our love for food.  So there is the connection I was hoping to make with my lengthy lead in statement.

Now here is a little about myself as it relates to food in hopes to give some sort of credit to myself so that Kristen’s blog indeed gets taken seriously.  I grew up in a family dominated by food.  I would actually go as far as to say that I can easily describe what my family stands for in 3 words…Italian, loud, and food—not necessarily in that order.  We do indeed cook and eat more than any other family I’ve ever met though.

My mother is my true inspiration. In the city of Colorado Springs, CO, she is a well renowned chef.  And although she had no formal training and never held the official title of chef (which I think is a crock by the way, I am more impressed with her being self taught and all) she still found herself working in a catering company that was a feeder for the most luxurious resort in Colorado.   So, since the age of, let’s just call it very young, I was always in the kitchen, by her side learning what I could whether I wanted to or not.  By the time I was in high school, I began cooking for events—even my own homecoming and prom as I remember!  But since then, I have lent my services to friends, family and occasionally the Air Force (even though that gig pays terrible…well actually nothing).

Most importantly though (and if Kristen lets me post again after this rant) I would like to drive home the most important aspect of my cooking and what it stands for.  Even after my mother worked all day in a kitchen, we had dinner together, prepared by her, as a family.  I am not just talking about 2-3 times a week.  I mean Sunday night through Thursday night we had to be at the table at 6:00 for dinner.  I thought it was a drag back then when all my friends were going to McDonalds and we were stuck at home with Mom and Dad.  That quickly changed however when my house became one of the most popular places to hang out because of its food.

So now that I have a family of my own…most beautiful wife Jamie, rambunctious son Sam and full of attitude daughter Jessie, I have kept up that tradition. And this statement is not to brag but it is something I am very proud of—in the 6 years we have been married, I have made dinner every night I was home and able.  I know that someday my kids will also appreciate what I had…or so I only hope.

Ok so a recipe…Finally! Little food gems are tucked away in every community.  In Okinawa, the obvious is seafood.  Although I do love sushi, I tend to enjoy bringing out the more progressive American style with this ingredient.  So today the fam and I went down to Awase fish market and scored some Japanese little neck clams.  With them I prepared steamed little neck clams in beer, ginger, cilantro and lime and for dessert we made a coconut panna cotta with mango sticky rice and papaya coulees.

If anybody does read this novel, I hope you do one thing…Get out, buy some fresh food, make it with your family, sit down together to eat, drink, listen to some Frank Sinatra, and enjoy life together…ok then, until the next post (my wife just informed me I have written too much).

Steamed Little Neck Clams with Beer, Ginger, Cilantro and Lime

*Prep Time 1 hr 30 min

Ingredients

1 pound Little Neck Clams

1 Shallot

3 cloves Garlic

1 piece Ginger

1 Cup Chopped Cilantro

1 cup all purpose flour

Dark Amber Beer

2 Limes

Butter

Red Chili Flakes

Directions

1st scrub and wash clams in fresh water.  Then put clams in a bowl of cold water (completely covered), and mix in 1 cup of flour.  Stir several times then place in fridge for 1 hour.  Remove and rinse before use.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and sauté shallot in medium size pot on med/high heat.  Add ginger (peeled and cut into matchstick size pieces) and garlic that has been minced.  Then add clams, one bottle of beer (dark amber preferred).  Cover and steam until all clams are open (6-10 min).  Remove from heat, squeeze two limes over the clams, add cilantro and red chili flakes to taste.  Stir thoroughly, and seve in a large bowl with French bread.

Best paired with a Sauvignon Blanc (I like Nobilo or Starborough) or Dark Amber Beer. (Side Note from Kristen—I love that Tommy includes suggestions for wine pairings!)

Coconut Panna Cotta with Mango Sticky Rice and Papaya Coulis

Ingredients

1 tablespoon powdered gelatin

1 (15-ounce) can coconut cream (recommended: Coco Loco)

1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk

2 cups chilled heavy cream

1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

Assorted tropical fruits, such as: kiwi, mango, and papaya, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice, for garnish (about 1 1/2 cups total)

Directions

Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over 3 tablespoons of cool water in a small bowl. Set aside to soften.

In a medium saucepan, heat the coconut cream and coconut milk over medium heat until the sides begin to bubble. Lower the heat and whisk in the softened gelatin, stirring to make sure it is completely dissolved.

Fill a large bowl with cold water. Strain the coconut mixture into a bowl that will fit easily into the bowl of water. Set into the bowl of water to cool, stirring every few minutes with a rubber spatula until the mixture starts to thicken. If the mixture starts to set, remove it immediately.

Remove the bowl of coconut mixture from the bowl of water. Empty out the water and wipe the bowl dry. In the dry bowl, stir the cream and confectioners’ sugar together until the sugar is dissolved. Stir into the coconut mixture. Divide the coconut mixture evenly among 6 (7 to 8-ounce) custard cups or ramekins. Chill until firm, at least 4 hours.

To serve, run a knife around the inside edge of the molds and invert each panna cotta onto a serving plate. Spoon some of the diced fruit over each, allowing the fruit to spill onto the plate.

Mango Sticky Rice and Papaya Coulis

The mango sticky rice is very easy—just make normal sushi style rice, add diced mango (1-2 Mangos) and 3 tablespoons honey.

The papaya coulis is 2 papayas and 1 cup Asti Spumanti champagne blended together.

Enjoy!

Question: Where did you learn how to cook?  Who or what is your cooking inspiration?

8 Comments

Filed under Desserts, Main Courses, Tuesdays with Tommy

The BEST Carrot Cake

My mom is known to a lot of her friends as “the cake lady”.  Her cakes not only taste incredible, but they are always something really elaborate.  When Amanda and I hiked to the top of Mt. Whitney in CA, she made us a 3-D cake modeled after the mountain—complete with all the switchbacks and two hikers made out of pipe cleaners.  It was one of the coolest cakes she’s ever made, and that is saying a lot because she has easily made hundreds of cakes throughout my life.

My junior year in high school she made my Volkl racing skis—full size!  Then there was the full size bassoon cake she made for a friend that played the bassoon.  She also did a 3-D model of a local theater to celebrate one of its anniversaries.  She made paint cans, sports logos, Paddington bear, ladybugs, Barbie—pretty much anything and everything you could imagine.  She is incredibly talented and everyone is always in awe of her beautiful cakes.  The best part is that everything is homemade—none of this fondant stuff—she makes the icing from scratch and models the cakes using the frosting as a mold.

I grew up watching my mom make these cakes, but it wasn’t until I moved to Japan three years ago that I attempted to make one on my own.  It was our friend Mike’s birthday and he had made me a pyramid of Funfetti cake for my birthday (brilliant, right?) so I wanted to make him an awesome cake in return.  I was pretty nervous about it because I felt like there was a lot to live up to, but I was very excited at how well it came out.  It turns out I did learn a thing or two from watching her all those years!

The Pyramid of Funfetti Cake!

My first fancy cake!

The reason I’m telling you all of this is because today is my friend Lindsay’s birthday and each year I tell myself I’m going to make Lindsay a cake, and for one reason or another I haven’t done it yet.  She made me an awesome birthday cake two years ago—this time involving Funfetti cake (can you tell I LOVE Funfetti cake?) and a cookie crust…YUM!!—and I still hadn’t returned the favor.

The delicious cake Lindsay made for me.

I wanted to make Lindsay a cake in the shape of Oregon because I have never met anyone who is more proud of where they are from than Lindsay.  We always tease her because anytime she sees anyone’s pictures from vacation she says, “It looks just like Oregon!”  In order to make one of my mom’s famous cakes, I would have had to use a lot of processed sugars, and since I’m not eating those right now, I thought that would be submitting myself to unnecessary torture and temptation.  I asked Lindsay how she felt about me making her a naturally sweetened birthday cake and she was in.

I decided on carrot cake because I thought it would go well with honey.  And it just so happens that my mom also makes a killer carrot cake that can be made with sugar or honey—jackpot!  When I say this is the BEST carrot cake ever, I’m not exaggerating.  One of our friends told me he doesn’t even like carrot cake and he ate two pieces.  Trust me, it’s amazing—even if you think you don’t like carrot cake, you’ll love it.  My mom won’t steer you wrong :).

The BEST Carrot Cake Ever

Mmmmmmm so moist and delicious!

For the Cake:

3/4 lb. (about 6 medium) carrots

zest from 1/2 lemon

1 cup honey (I used 3/4 cup honey and 1/4 cup maple syrup because I ran out of honey)

1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces

4 large eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

2/3 cup walnuts, chopped

1 cup raisins (I used golden raisins)

1. Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Butter and flour a 9-inch Bundt pan.  Knock out excess flour.

2. Shred carrots in food processor using shredding disc.  Remove and set aside.

3. With metal blade in place, combine honey, lemon zest, and butter.  Add eggs and vanilla and process until smooth.  Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Add to work bowl and pulse on and off only until flour just disappears.  Add shredded carrots 1/3 at a time, pulsing on and off after each addition until shreds disappear.  Add walnuts and raisins and pulse a few times.

4. Pour batter into Bundt pan and spread evenly with a spatula.  Bang pan on countertop to release trapped air bubbles.

5. Bake on center rack in preheated oven for 55-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Remove from oven and cool thoroughly on a wire rack.  To remove cake from pan, loosen from side of pan with a knife, then invert onto a serving plate.

**Makes 1 Bundt cake.

For the Frosting:

16 oz (2 pkgs) cream cheese (low fat is okay, but don’t use fat free)

1/2 cup butter

6 tbsp honey

1-2 tsp vanilla

Combine all ingredients and mix until smooth and creamy.

**I know you might be thinking, butter in the cream cheese frosting?  I thought that too, but it gives it a really good flavor without being too rich.

And now for a few of the other cakes I’ve made over the past three years:

This was a giant sugar cookie for my husband who prefers cookies to cake.

For our friend Marc who was obsessed with this game for a little while.

For a friend's daughter.

Another cake for Mike. He lucked out that his birthday always fell on my break for school when I had more free time.

Please excuse me if there are any typos here.  I re-read it, but I’m pretty tired so I may have missed something!  We’re leaving for China tomorrow, but I wanted to post something before we leave.  I hope you enjoy this recipe and please let me know if you try it!

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Satisfying My Cravings

Fist off, let me apologize for not posting for so long.  I was finishing up my classes last week for grad school (yay!), which means I just have my thesis to write this summer and then I will graduate with an M.S. in Global and International Education.  I have loved the program, but it has been a long two years and I’m very excited to know the end is in sight!  Then my cat ran away.

This sounds like a silly excuse that kids give their teachers for not doing their homework, but in my case it’s true.  He is an indoor cat, except for going out on our balcony.  On Sunday night he ran away and we didn’t find him until Tuesday evening.  It was a long two days and I was starting to feel pretty depressed about it.  I love my little Harold and I’m so happy to finally have him home!

Our little Harold 🙂

Anyway, enough with the excuses!  I am happy to report that we are now two weeks into our challenge and so far things are still going really well.  I have found that I am craving sugar a lot less, which for me is a HUGE accomplishment!  I also think I have more energy.  I have been subbing a lot in the past two weeks and spending a lot of time out in the hot sun, so it’s a little hard to tell, but I haven’t taken any naps and in the past, I was taking a 30-minute nap almost every day!

Although I am not craving sugar as much, I still want something sweet once in a while.  I made some of HEAB’s oaties the other day.  My friend Katie made some for me before and they were delightful, but without adding any chocolate chips or butterscotch chips, they were too “healthy” tasting and didn’t really taste like I was having a treat!  I highly recommend them though with chocolate or butterscotch chips.  HEAB has many variations and the ones I have tried are all delicious.

I sought out to find something else that doesn’t involve chocolate, but would satisfy my craving.  I found a recipe for peanut butter honey cookies.  These were excellent and definitely satisfied my sweet tooth.  Dare I say they were even too sweet for me?  I know that is hard to believe, but I’m finding that honey gives baked goods a very rich flavor so I need to start reducing the amount of honey called for in the recipes I try.  Anyway, these were excellent and I thought I would share the recipe with you.  I haven’t tried it yet, but I think they would be delightful as cookie sandwiches with cream cheese “frosting” (cream cheese sweetened with a little honey) in the middle.

Peanut Butter Honey Cookies

Recipe from http://www.honey.com

Makes 2 dozen

3/4 cup honey

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 egg

3/4 cup peanut butter**

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

In medium bowl, cream honey and butter until light and fluffy.  Beat in egg, peanut butter and vanilla.  Add flour, salt and baking soda; mix until combined.  Drop dough, one tablespoon at a time, onto well-greased baking sheet.  Dip fork into flour and press flat on each cookie to form an “x.”  Bake at 350°F for about 10-12 minutes.  Remove cookies from sheet and cool on wire rack.

**I used natural peanut butter (the kind with oil on top that you have to mix in).

**I also halved the recipe, so only used the yolk of the egg.  I like my cookies under done so I only baked them for 8 minutes rather than 10-12 as the recipe calls for.  Oh and the “x” in the cookies was not happening.  I don’t know if it’s because it is super humid here or what, but the fork kept sticking to the cookies even after I sprayed it.  “X” or no “x” they were excellent :).

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Filed under Baking Tips, Cookies, Desserts