Archive for February, 2007

A presidential recipe experiment

A bit late for Washington’s birthday, but still “in the party spirit”, I decided to celebrate the occasion and experiment by making a recipe for “Martha Washington cake” that was published in the local paper. It seems this recipe that involves 4 eggs, nutmeg, and brandy for flavoring and dry fruit to mix in, is a modern adaptation of an original found among Mrs. Washington’s personal effects.

When I made the cake, the aroma was described by all in the household as “heavenly”, it was the general consensus that the brandy plus the dried fruits had made a wonderful scent as it cooked off. You could taste a hint of the brandy if you ate the cake fresh-baked, but now (the day after, with the cake drier) you can’t taste it at all.

A subsequent search on Google revealled that there are several variations to the recipe for a “Martha Washington Cake”, some non-alcoholic, substituting vanilla extract or even apple juce for the brandy. The recipe printed in the paper called for non-specific “dried fruit”. I used modern-day things which might not be available or if they were available, would be expensive & exotic imported goods to the average East Coast resident of 200 years ago, like dried pineapple chunks and papaya spears because that is what I had in the house. Other recipes for Martha Washington Cake get more specific about what kinds of (presumably historically authentic) candied fruit to use. It could be that (a) Martha made more than one sort of cake and/or (b)the recipe got distorted in the re-telling and re-proportioning for modern measurements and households. This latter is probably true, because the “Martha Washington Cake” that is generally regarded as the verbatim recipe for the one she actually made is called a “Great Cake” for good reason: it was meant to serve a large number of people (perhaps at an official reception or formal occasion with hundreds of people rather than just a household with a nuclear family). It also calls for some ingredients (like Mace) that might be expensive, exotic, or hard to get (though this is changing) at the average suburban supermarket. Here is Martha Washington’s original recipe!

Add comment February 28th, 2007

Chinese New Year cuisine

Even though there is no Chinese blood in my family, we are “Chinese at heart” and at the table for both Western (Jan. 1st) and Chinese (Lunar) New Year: both events are worthy excuses for us to order Chinese food! This was the case this year, but there was an added twist this time: I tried making something special and sort-of Chinese-themed for dessert: banana egg rolls. The version of the recipe published in the local paper suggested crystalized ginger and/or chocolate powder intead of cocoanut, ground peanuts, or sesame seeds. I sliced the bananas for the filling (the newspaper version would have had you just put a soild banana cylindar in an egg roll wrapper, but I wanted something with a little more sophistication) and gave them a brief dusting of powdered ginger, not having any crystalized ginger handy. The newspaper version of the recipe also had a recipe for a custard sauce to go with them. However, the recipe called for one thing we didn’t have in the household: pre-made egg roll wrappers! So I searched google for a recipe for egg roll wrappers and came up with a nice simple one from

Though the recipe did not call for it, and it probably would have been quicker and easier to just roll them out with a rolling pin as the instructions would have you do it, my mother insisted on hauling out the pasta maker (her latest new toy) and using it to flatten the wrappers. Once again, she had hijacked another one of my projects. And once again, I humored her, because she is trying to become more skilled with the pasta machine and reletively rarely gets to use it because of time/energy constraints. Hopefully, she’ll keep up the practice and we’ll have some homemade pasta sometime during the week that she’s off from work (Presidents’ day has expanded into “Presidents’ week” and is a full seven days of holiday goodness at her nonprofit preschool).  However, one thing we won’t be having more of anytime soon  would be the banana egg rolls.  Besides the fact that anything deep fried has got to be a no-no for the  low cholesterol regimen this family should be adopting, Michelle doesn’t like ‘em, mom claims not to like “mushed banana”, and they aren’t high on my agenda for a repeat performance, even though I have now decided that I like the homemade egg roll wrappers better than the packaged kind, and they are not really that hard to make.

Add comment February 20th, 2007

gooey dessert night

Michelle had the idea that every week or so; the family should have one night designated as “gooey dessert night” wherein one of us (me or mom) makes a homemade dessert chosen for richness, chocolatiness, and all-out violation of the low-cholesterol regimen we are supposed to be adopting. Tonight being Valentine’s Night, now was the time to start. I started with a Duncan Hines “Baking Kit” in which cake mix and mousse topping/filling are packaged together. In this case, the Chocolate Silk Torte. This concoction was supposed to result in two thin layers of chocolate cake (if baked in layer pans as I did) filled with and covered by fluffy chocolate mousse. My mother quickly usurped preparation details: She not only insisted I substitute apple sauce for cooking oil in the mix instructions, but added it herself; just as I was about to grease the pans, she insisted on lining them with the last of the baking parchment. (I don’t know why I bother, and years of experiencing this has not led to me finding a satisfactory solution to dealing with it, as you might think. I either step aside and humor her, silently fuming, which is what happens most of the time, in the larger quest to keep peace in the house; or choose to assert myself on the rare occasion, which leads to blow-ups on her part, my being cast as “the bad guy” and hurt feelings all around. I’m guessing that most people in the outside world humor her too, when she does this sort of thing, having no defense against her.)

These issues aside, (the substitution of apple sauce for cooking oil caused the cake layers to take longer to bake; the middles were still soft at the appointed time, so I put them back to bake longer) the problem with the recipe was, you had to let the cake cool before you frosted it with the mousse. In an effort to accelerate the cooling process, it was decided that the cake layers be turned out of the pans (an easier job when lined with the parchment), they should be taken to the sun porch, a very drafty front room in our old house and so cold that my mother has taken to hanging a barrier of clear plastic between it and the living room in recent years). This was fine, theoretically, it just worked out a little differently in practice. I should have given it maybe half an hour to cool in the room with winter’s chill instead of 10-15 minutes, but I was behind schedule with the dessert as it was, mom having microwaved leftover stewed chicken and dumplings for dinner (this is NOT a criticism, mom, I liked dinner just fine, I had just not expected your choice of main dish for tonight to be something you could just zap, because you were in discussion with Michelle about a dinner option that was potentially more involved.).

The top layer of the torte (turned out onto a plastic bread board) quickly lost heat, whether it was because it was the thinner of the two or because the bread board did not retain heat I don’t know, but the bottom layer which was put onto a Corian dinner plate for serving did. The extent to which this happened was made apparent when I frosted it and the mousse melted as I was bringing the torte to the living room. As the top layer slipped off the bottom and melted mousse washed into the countours of the plate, Michelle called the phenomenon “the mudslide” and the plate had to be tipped in an attempt to counterbalance the waves of melted chocolate and try to prevent the entire cake from capsizing. The SweetTart hearts that I had adorned the top with also went slip-sliding and quickly buried themselves in chocolate “mud”. Oh well, it was a success as a gooey dessert and it sure tasted as intended!

Add comment February 15th, 2007

A new expression enters our language

Last night mom overcooked the spaghetti accidentially because she ended up answering the phone. Her brother called from California and it took a while. She said she had “pulled a Laura” when she went back & discovered the state of the spaghetti.

Add comment February 8th, 2007

Been meaning to make something different for breakfast lately

I made regular waffles to great success and helped with another crockpot dish a week or so ago…but morning seems to come earlier & earler & I am usually put into the thick of whatever is going on with little warning. I’d hate to think of how I’d manage (or if I could manage) if I had kids. Home was chaotic in every sense possible while I was growing up & is only marginally better in adult life. Lord knows I don’t want the same to be true for my kids if I should ever have them (and I think it would be kinder not to have them unless I can assure that they will live in an environment with financial stability & be born without things like ADHD and learning disabilities. Trust me, I’ve been there and it’s not fun!)

Add comment February 7th, 2007


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