Sunday, March 17, 2013

Carrot Cake


Happy Almost Easter!
I made this yummy carrot cake for "company" for supper last nite. It was so easy and very similar to making a fresh apple cake. You just can't go wrong with an Ina Garten recipe. Except, I can't always find the ingredients she calls for where we live! Since I could not find marscapone in our grocery, I used a simple Cream Cheese Icing recipe from my other favorite, Southern Living. I'll post both and you can take your pick. I did add the crystallized ginger and thought it gave a nice "kick" to the taste of the icing. However, I would not rush out to purchase it just for this recipe. I keep it on hand for Christmas baking and those wonderful Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bars.

Confession time, I made the carrot decorations from Royal Icing on waxed paper. Do NOT ask why I didn't just make them on the cake! For some reason, I thought they would look cuter if attached to the sides of the cake. Learn from my mistakes. Make them ON the cake. The carrots came off the wax paper just fine. The leaves didn't. Since this was for close friends, I used them anyway and I have to admit the ones popping up above the sides of the cake were cute!

Ina Garten's Carrot Cake with Marscapone Ginger Icing

2 cups  sugar
1⅓ cups vegetable oil
3 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups plus 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 pound carrots, grated by hand, not in food processor
1 cup raisins (you can omit these, if you prefer)
1 cup chopped walnuts (of course, I used pecans!)

12 ounces Italian mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
2 Tablespoons heavy cream
½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
⅓ cup minced crystallized ginger (not in syrup), plus more for garnish
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat oven to 400°. Grease two 9 x 2 round cake pans, grease and flour the pans,line the bottoms with parchment paper (or waxed paper).

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat sugar, oil, and eggs together on medium-high speed 2 minutes, until light yellow and thickened. Stir in vanilla. In another bowl, sift together 2 cups flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. With mixer on low, slowly add dry ingredients to wet ones.

In a medium bowl, toss carrots, raisins, nuts, and remaining 1 Tbsp. flour. Stir into batter with a rubber spatula. Divide batter between prepared pans and smooth tops. Bake 10 minutes, lower heat to 350°, and bake 30 to 35 minutes more, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Set aside 15 minutes to cool in pans, turn out onto a baking rack, and allow to cool completely.

Meanwhile, make frosting: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat mascarpone, cream cheese, confectioners' sugar, cream, and vanilla about 1 minute, until light and fluffy. Add crystallized ginger and salt and beat 30 seconds more.

Place 1 cake on a flat serving plate, rounded side down. Spread half the frosting on top only (not the sides). Place the second cake on top of the first, rounded side up. Frost just the top of the second cake. Sprinkle with crystallized ginger. Serve immediately, or refrigerate until ready to serve (if cake is refrigerated, let it come to room temperature before serving).

Helen's Note
Here is the icing recipe I used. It made enough to go between the layers and on the sides of the cake. I did not sprinkle with more ginger. I did add the chopped crystalized ginger to the frosting along with a teaspoon of lemon juice. I like lemon juice in cream cheese icing to "cut" the sweetness. (That's one of Mama's special cooking terms.)

Basic Cream Cheese Icing
1 (8-oz) pkg cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound powdered sugar

Cream the cream cheese and butter until soft and fluffy in electric mixer. Add vanilla. Add powdered sugar a little at the time until all is added and mixture is spreading consistency. If needed, add milk or cream to make the icing softer.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Country Ham and Shrimp on Grits

Forest Gump, move over! Here comes a very Southern dish! This is so good it would make Forest run for sure. When I think of Shrimp and Grits, I think of Spanish moss hanging from giant oak trees, warm summer days, lazy rivers, front porches, lemonade in tall glasses with sprigs of mint and the scent of magnolia blossoms wafting on the breeze. My goodness, Scarlet just may show up for dinner!

We lived in Jacksonville, Fl right out of college for 10 years. I was in heaven with all the fresh seafood and fish. We used to go to the docks at Mayport and buy shrimp as it came off the boat, heads on for $1 per pound! Oh! My! That WAS a long time ago!! When I was little, my godmother lived in Long Beach, MS literally across Hwy 90 from the Gulf coast. She taught me to eat whole flounder at an early age and ingrained in me a love of all things from salt water. A few years ago, Bill and I went to San Juan, PR and ate at a small local restaurant where I had traditional paella, complete with eyes looking back at me! That was almost too much! But, I still loved every bite even though I couldn't look at it!

I truly believe there are those of us that no matter where we live, we will always have a little sand in our shoes. And for those of you who don't, you will still love this recipe!

This recipe calls for country ham. If you don't have it or chose not to use it, substitute pancetta, thick bacon or smoked ham. Just realize that country ham gives that smoky, salty flavor that adds depths of flavor to this dish.

The worst sin of cooking seafood is overcooking! Shrimp are done as soon as they turn pink. Period. If you cook them longer, you might as well serve rubber bands. And, that is all I have to say about that.

Serve the shrimp over grits, but not just ordinary grits and PULEEZE, NOT instant grits (which to true Southerners are not grits at all!). Stone ground grits with some texture and flakes of crunchy corn husks will make all the difference in elevating this dish from plain to gourmet!

This is a special occasion meal. Serve it for company who will (hopefully) appreciate this Southern specialty. I plan to make it for my sister-in-law from Maine when she visits.

Country Ham and Shrimp on Grits
1 stick butter
12 oz. country ham, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 green onion, chopped
1/2 cup brandy
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/3 teaspoon sage
1 1/2 pounds small shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Hot cooked grits

Melt butter in large, heavy nonstick skillet over high heat. Add ham and saute quickly. Add garlic and green onion. Saute for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in brandy. Return to heat and stir in cream, cayenne and sage. Cook for 3 minutes or until thickened, stirring constantly. Add shrimp and simmer for 2 minutes or until the shrimp turn light pink. Stir in the parsley and serve over hot grits.
Yield: 4 servings.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Mississippi Mud Cake

There's a lot to be said for old recipes... especially desserts. Mississippi Mud Cake has been around for years and years and really can't be beat for a quick, easy and dependable chocolate cake. Baking in a 9x13 pan makes it easy to serve and store. The original recipe used a package of miniature marshmallows sprinkled over the top of the hot cake. You can add those or not. Either way, you'll have a rich chocolaty cake with silky smooth icing.

I came across this handwritten on a recipe card by a friend who lived in Jackson, MS. You just can't get much more Southern than that! It's an old standby and well worth saving.

Mississippi Mud Cake
2 sticks butter
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
1 cup chopped pecans ( toasted!)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 pkg miniatute marshmallows, optional

Generously grease a 9x13-inch baking pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt butter, add cocoa and stir until melted. Remove from heat and add sugar, eggs, flour, salt, nuts and vanilla. Mix until well blended. Bake 30 minutes. If using marshmallows, sprinkle on top of cooked cake and return to oven just until they melt. Cool completely.

1 stick butter
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 (1-lb) box powdered sugar
7 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans (toasted!)
Melt butter and cocoa. Remove from heat.  Add sifted sugar, milk and vanilla. Beat until fluffy. Frost cooled cake. Sprinkle with chopped pecans.