Sunday, September 14, 2014

Nutty Graham Picnic Cake

Take photos of your work. Take photos of your work. Take photos of your work.

You'd think that after writing this blog for a couple of years I'd remember to take photos of everything I make, but I don't. Sometimes, as in this case, I took photos of the process and then forgot to take a photo of the final product.

So what you see here is the photo of the last, lonely piece of cake; the cake that I made for my Mother-in-Law's birthday. This cake and I go way back. I think the first time my Mom made it I was around 8 years old or so. This cake became one of our standard family recipes for many reasons, not the least of which is that it's delicious. It's also easy to make, and pretty too because it's made in a bundt pan and it has a lovely glaze on top. Having said all of this, I had never made this cake for my husband or kids or husband's family until just this month - and my husband and I are about to celebrate 20 years together so that is pretty remarkable indeed.

So here's how it happened...I was looking through a box of old photos recently and came across one of my Mom, brother, and me sitting at the kitchen table with this beautiful cake in front of us. I looked closely - could it be? Yes! The Nutty Graham Picnic Cake!!! How had I forgotten all about this beauty?   I put the photo up on the fridge to remind me - next time you need a cake, make this one.

Fast forward to early this month - my Mother-in-Law's birthday. Just the night before I had made another old family recipe, Sour Cream Chocolate Cake, for a dinner we were going to. It was so crazy rich and delicious I actually couldn't even consider having another chocolate cake this night. It was over the top and simply should not be repeated two days in a row. What to make that isn't chocolate? And then I glanced at the fridge and saw the photo. And that was it - to the grocery store for some graham cracker crumbs and orange juice!

As you may have noticed in the title of this recipe, the word 'graham' appears. That's because there are graham cracker crumbs in the batter! You are probably used to using graham cracker crumbs for the crusts of pies and squares, but you are likely similar to me in that in all my years of baking I have never seen graham cracker crumbs inside the cake itself (other than this recipe obviously). The other complimentary ingredient in this cake is orange juice. The juice (and rind) help to cut the sweetness of the cake and give it a certain je ne sais quois.

Since I hadn't made this cake in about 25-30 years I decided to make no substitutions or adjustments just to see what it tasted like the way the author intended it to be. The second time I made it (the next day), I cut back on the sugar. I didn't really notice any difference. I also left the nuts out since I was making this second cake for my kids to take to school (and the school is a nut-free zone).

This delicious cake recipe is from a mini magazine called America's Bake Off and it was published by Pillsbury in 1978. The funny thing about this mini magazine is that almost every single recipe starts with "Take a XXX cake mix and add XXX...". Not typically my kind of recipe source. However, this cake recipe is totally from scratch and doesn't involve any boxed mixes.

Here is what the cake looks like in the mini magazine:

And here is the photo that inspired me:

So you can see that it IS actually possible to make a cake that looks as good as the professional photo in a cook book.

Without further ado, here is the recipe for the now infamous Nutty Graham Picnic Cake. Instead of re-typing the recipe I am going to show it to you since I especially love the little blurb about Mrs. Esther Tomich of San Pedro, California.

The only changes I made were to put the ingredients in the bowl in a specific order, and beat after each addition. As well, for my Mother-in-Law's birthday cake I used pecans instead of walnuts because that's what I had on hand.

Here are the ingredients in the order I prepared them:


1 cup butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar (I left this out of the second cake entirely)
3 eggs
1 cup orange juice
1 tbsp grated orange rind
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (14 crackers)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)


2 tbsp brown sugar
5 tsp milk
1 tbsp butter
3/4 cup icing sugar
1/4 cup chopped nuts (to sprinkle on top of glazed cake, before glaze cools)

Start with the butter, then the sugar:

Then the eggs, beating after each one.

Then I added the orange juice...note that the orange juice causes the batter to separate but don't panic. As soon as you put the dry ingredients in the batter will come together again nicely. Here is a photo of what it will look like so you won't panic:

And here's what it looks like when you add the dry ingredients (and orange rind and nuts if you so desire) in and keep on beating:

Once your pan is prepared, pour the batter in and place the cake in the oven. It took 45 minutes in my oven (and I have a hot oven) so I would start checking at about that time.

When it comes out of the oven, the toothpick should be clean. Let it cool on the rack in the pan for 15 minutes and then turn it out on to the rack. 

While the cake is cooling you can prepare the glaze.

Let the cake cool entirely before pouring the glaze over the cake.

Here's a photo of the cake after the glaze has been poured on, but before it has hardened (it firms up slightly as it cools). The cake in this photo has no nuts on top as this was the one I made for the kids for school:

I hope you enjoy this delicious cake as much as my family does! 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Mascarpone and Fresh Basil

The King of Soup made this beauty a few months ago and I can still taste it. Sooooooooo good. This soup comes from our soup bible, 500 Soups by Susannah Blake (page 86). It's hard to describe how truly delicious it is - let me try some adjectives. Creamy, rich, velvety, hearty, you get my drift. Although there are a few steps in the process, I promise you it is worth it. Make sure you double this recipe - you can freeze whatever you don't eat right away.

You might think that soup should be reserved for cold winter months when we need to warm up our insides and hunker down next to the fireplace. I think that you can enjoy hot soup all year round. I am sure you've heard before that the best way to cool down on a hot day is to drink hot liquid - well soup is definitely a hot liquid. (

In fact, why not turn this into a barbequed soup? Try roasting your bell peppers on the BBQ instead of in the oven - thereby keeping your kitchen cool, and being able to advertise this dish as 'BBQ'.

I'd love to hear your comments on this soup! Here's the recipe. There are no adaptations because it's perfect as-is. Thanks Susannah Blake!


6 bell peppers
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
5 cups vegetable stock
6 tbsp mascarpone cheese
handful of fresh basil leaves, plus extra to garnish
salt and freshly ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Slice the peppers in half lengthways and place on a cookie sheet.

Bake them for about 30 minutes until they are charred.

Put the peppers into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let them sit for about 15 minutes until they are cool and the skins can be easily removed. You might find it easier to peel the peppers if you keep them whole. It's a personal preference.

Peel the peppers and remove the seeds. Set them aside.

Once your peppers are ready to go, heat the oil in a large soup pot. Add the onion and garlic and cook for about 4 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Put the flesh of the peppers in a food processor or blender with any juices. This photo is of the flesh on its way to the blender.

Add the mascarpone. Pour this mixture into the soup with the basil and process the whole thing with a hand blender until smooth.

The King likes to strain the soup through a sieve after blending to ensure a velvety texture.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve piping hot with fresh basil leaves for garnish.

There's a reason he's the King.

Homemade Peanut Butter

This is going to be a really short post. Not because I don't love peanut butter. I mean, that's what kept me alive for about 15 years (give or take 5 years).

Back in the day when I still lived in the most beautiful province in the world (Newfoundland and Labrador), and I was a VERY picky eater, I pretty much sustained my existence on peanut butter, Mary's homemade white bread (she made 6 loaves every single Sunday, without fail), homemade macaroni and cheese (, and tomato soup. Ahhhh, those were the days.

Since that time my love affair with Kraft Peanut Butter has remained untarnished. A few years ago I started buying natural peanut butters, and they are OK, but the separation that happens really bugs me. Who has time to stir peanut butter every morning? Not me.

A couple of weeks ago I decided that this was the time to try to make my own peanut butter. As I normally do, I went to the internet and started my research. No matter how many posts I checked, they all said the same thing. Put some peanuts in a food processor. Process. Eat. For real.

So I did it.


2 cups peanuts


Put the peanuts in a food processor. Process for 2 minutes. Eat.

Some words of caution, kind of. If you want a smoother peanut butter, add some oil (but not too much). If you want crunchy peanut butter, set aside 1/2 cup of the peanuts and add them just at the end. If you want a bit of salt in your peanut butter, add a pinch or two (or three). I use roasted peanuts for my peanut butter. The guidance I read online said not to use dry roasted peanuts. Next on my list is to try this with almonds and cashews. Maybe I will even make a mixed nut butter! 

Enjoy :-)

Lime Coconut Squares

Hi There! It's been a while, I know. I just returned from an evening work event and the King of Soup and our progeny are out at a Marlies game - what better time to plop myself in front of the computer to crank out a few posts I've been meaning to get to.

In the summer of 2012, the King of Soup's sister got hitched to a really awesome dude that we are proud to call brother. Since that time, we've been waiting patiently for offspring. While we were waiting, the King's brother and his beautiful wife produced a perfect little one so that kept the pressure off the sister for a few months. As we were basking in the glory of being Auntie and Uncle (and Cousins) to the beautiful one, an amazing announcement was made - that there would soon be another one joining the party! That day is soon upon us and we are all very busy getting ready and excited for this day. Several weeks ago, my Mothers-in-Law hosted a lovely baby shower for the King's sister, and the King's Mother baked these very excellent Lime Coconut Squares. I have made them twice since then and now I have to stop because every time I make them, I eat them.

I came late to the lime-is-awesome-in-dessert party, having had a deep relationship with chocolate for quite some time. With regard to citrus, I always knew about Lemon Meringue Pie but was never a fan. Later, I discovered lemon could be made into many pleasing desserts (like Lemon Squares, Lemon Ice Cream, Lemon Pound Cake), and realized there was more to life than cocoa. I was first introduced to lime with Key Lime Pie in the late 90s at a pot luck lunch. My friend Paula made the pie and of course, I tried it because that's what you do at pot luck lunches. It was to die for. I requested the recipe and have been making it at least once a year ever since.

These squares take it up a notch due to my Mother in Law's brilliant adaptation of the recipe, which is to use ginger snaps instead of graham cracker crumbs in the crust. The recipe also calls for coconut, and anything with coconut and lime together is A-OK in my books.

For my version I decided to use half graham cracker crumbs and half ginger snap crumbs for the crust, because I do love graham crackers and didn't want to leave them out entirely. I think that using all ginger snaps provides a little more kick, but both versions were delicious, and I am sure that using all graham crackers would also be yummy. For next time, I might even add some fresh ginger into the crust. Just sayin'.

Without further ado, here is the recipe. My adaptations are in brackets, as always. The original source for this recipe is Canadian Living Magazine, and I thank my MiL for sharing it with me.


3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (I used half graham cracker crumbs and half ginger snap crumbs, or you can use all ginger snap crumbs)
3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted
1/4 cup sugar (I cut this back to 1/16 cup, or half of a 1/4 cup measure)
1/3 cup butter, melted

1 can sweetened condensed milk (I used the "light" version - and take note, this stuff has an expiry date so make sure to check your can before pouring)
4 egg yolks
2 tbsp grated lime zest
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice


To make the graham cracker/ginger snap crumbs, use a food processor and spin until crackers/cookies are finely ground.

In the photo above you can see the layer of ginger snaps on the bottom and the graham crackers on top of that.

To toast the coconut, place it into a frying pan and put the burner on medium heat. Watch it carefully as it will burn before you know it.

In a bowl, stir together the crumbs, coconut, sugar and butter.

Press the mixture into a parchment-lined 8 inch square pan.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes and let cool on a rack.

While this is baking, zest and juice your limes. I think I used about 10 of them.

Then whisk together the sweetened condensed milk and the egg yolks. Add the lime zest and lime juice.

Pour into the baked crust.

Return it to the oven (still at 350 degrees F) and bake it for about 15 minutes, or until the edges are set and the centre still jiggles a little. Let cool completely on the rack.

Then put into the fridge for a full 12 hours. This way you will get a clean cut when you cut the squares.

These squares will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for a week. But who's kidding who? They won't last a day!

Makes 36 small squares and according to the Canadian Living site, each square is 83 calories, has 10 g of carbs, 2 g of protein, 5 g of fat, and 8 g of sugar. Remember that these counts are if you follow the original recipe to the letter. The site has a neat calculator so you can enter in the actual number of squares you got and see the calculation change. Here is the link:


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Also Not My Mom's Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Today my dear friend Kelly Z came over for lunch. Kelly and I met in 1994 in Montreal when I first moved into the area known as the Plateau (also known as Mile End - I don't really know where the Plateau stops and Mile End ends, but I digress).

Kelly and I weathered snowy and cold Montreal winters together, stomping up and down St Laurent in our Doc Martens, waiting for that slow, slow bus to crawl up the street from the station south of Sherbrooke, to come and save us from runny noses and salty streets, sometimes a hot bagel would be the reward. There were the sticky hot Montreal summers too - going to see plays at the Fringe Festival to support our friends who were aspiring actors writers and directors, eating dry and salty popcorn at Biftek St Laurent while waiting for a turn at the pool table, doing shots at the Double Deuce while listening to my brother DJ. Shopping at Warshaw for bargains and plants, eating cheese pies at Euro Deli, and dancing to the Tam Tams on Sundays at the base of Mont Royal. There is nowhere better than Montreal in the summer, by the way. As intolerable as the heat and humidity can get, there's always a patio chair available for you to kick back and soak up the rays. As long as you don't mind a cloud of cigarette smoke hanging over your head.

Our friendship persevered through all seasons - Kelly always had a seat at the Passover table when we celebrated with 20 to 30 of our closest friends. I even dragged her to Newfoundland a couple of times, where you can have all four seasons in a single day. She loved it, of course.

Kelly now lives in Toronto and as is the case with most of my friends in Toronto, we don't get to see each other enough. Now, when we plan our get togethers, they always involve food - eating it and talking about it. This date today started as brunch and then morphed into something more lunch-like, because of timing and other things we both had to do in the morning. We had planned a date a few weeks ago but then she got sick and Sam got sick and we decided not to gratuitously spread more germs so we rebooked. On the original date I was planning to serve vegetable soup, Danish rye bread, and something sweet to follow. For today, the menu was black bean soup with avocado and sour cream, corn bread, a nice salad with asparagus, toasted almonds and strong cheddar, and coffee cake to follow.

When I decided to make corn bread to go with the black bean soup, I picked up a really old cookbook my Mom had given to me a long time ago. It's called A Taste of Georgia. We have family on my Dad's side who used to live in Savannah, Georgia and I think my Mom bought this book when we took a family vacation there in the 70s. I have not tried very many recipes from it yet, but it is my reliable book for anything having to with corn bread, and it has some very excellent dip recipes in it.

As I was flipping through it today for a new corn bread recipe to try, I came across a recipe for "quick" coffee cake. What the heck - it looked like it would be a fast mix up so I went for it. I did make a couple of adjustments (as usual). One of them was to add sour cream to the mix instead of just using milk. The recipe follows with my adjustments in brackets.

The reason I titled this post "Also Not My Mom's Coffee Cake..." is that I previously posted a recipe for coffee cake (you can find it here:, and that recipe was NOT my Mom's recipe because I could not find it at the time. After making this cake today, I have to say, this one turned out even better than that one (but it's still not my Mom's - one day I will post that one, I promise).

Quick Coffee Cake - Adapted from A Taste of Georgia, recipe contributed by Mrs. Benny N. Grant (Diane)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease an 8"x 12" or  a 9.5" x 9.5" pan. You can use cooking spray if you prefer.

Filling/Topping Ingredients:

*I made this recipe in the quantities as directed, and found that there wasn't enough topping since I left the nuts out. If you are leaving the nuts out, you need to make this recipe larger by 1.5 times. For example, instead of 4 tbsp butter, use 6.

4 tbsp butter, melted
1 cup walnuts, chopped (I left these out so the kids could take the cake to school)
1 cup light brown sugar
4 tbsp flour (I totally forgot this ingredient!!!)
1 tsp cinnamon

Cake Ingredients:

1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar (I cut this back to 1/2 cup)
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
1/2 cup milk (I used half milk and half sour cream)


Cream together the butter and sugar.

Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat after each addition.

Measure the flour, then remove 1/4 of it. Add the baking powder to the 1/4 cup. Set it aside.

Add the pinch of salt to the larger portion of flour. Mix the sour cream and milk together. 

You are going to add the dry and wet mixes into the butter-sugar-egg mixture alternately, beating between each addition. Start with some flour.

Then add some milk/sour cream.

Carry on until you have emptied the flour and the milk/sour cream mix. Then add the 1/4 cup of flour + baking powder that you put aside earlier and beat that in very quickly. Don't over mix. 

Plop some spoonfuls of batter into the prepared pan.

Use a butter knife to spread it around.

Now you need to mix up your filling/topping. This is what it will look like without the nuts (and without the flour - oops!).

Now take some of the filling mixture and crumble it with your fingers onto this first layer of batter.

Don't bother spreading it around because it will be stuck to the first layer of batter and will make a mess (trust me, I tried). It's also unnecessary because during baking it all kind of melts together in a big pan of awesomeness.

Now spoon the next layer of batter on top of the filling mix.

Use your knife to spread it around like you did for round 1 of the batter.

Now add the final crumble of filling/topping. Again, don't try to spread it around as you will end up with a big mess. The oven will take care of it during baking.

Put your lovely pan of delicious goodness into the oven and bake for 25 - 30 minutes. The recipe said 30, I checked at 25 because I have a hot oven. It was ready. Test for doneness by using a wooden skewer - you want it to come out with a few crumbs on it but no wetness.

It looks kind of weird with pits and dents galore. The beautiful thing is that these pits and dents are usually filled with the topping/filling mixture. I call them sugar tunnels. See photo below.

So I recommend you serve this with a nice cup of strong tea, or coffee. You don't need anything else. It's DELICIOUS, moist, sugary, amazing. And it tastes like home.

P.S. The entire cake was eaten by Kelly Z, me, The King of Soup, and our children in about an hour. So I made another one. And this time I remembered to add the flour to the filling/topping mix. In my opinion, it didn't really make much of a difference.

The recipe for the black bean soup mentioned in the story can be found here:

The recipe for the corn bread will be posted today. For your interest, the minestrone recipe is here:

... and the Danish rye bread recipe is here: