Category: Culinary Adventures

Part 1: Old Fashioned Coconut Cake… and Caramel Cake from Hell #CakeDisaster

I like a good moist coconut cake… not “love,” but do enjoy on occasion.   As is the case all around, there have been some ladies in my community, who, over the years, made a name for themselves with their cakes.  I’ll start this tale with a funny happening I had regarding “vintage” cakes that will take us full circle to this coconut cake saga.

I was recipe developer and food stylist for years at Our State Magazine here in North Carolina. (Check out my work there here and here!)  Before I came on board, they had been asking readers to send in their favorite church and community cookbooks for consideration in the new section they were creating in the magazine where these books would be featured. By happenstance, I judged at the NC State Fair that October as I do each year, but one day the Our State editor, Elizabeth Hudson, happened to be judging too.  We exchanged cards and she said, “well maybe we can use you at the magazine someday.”  Well of course I was giddy at that idea but had little faith anything would come to be.  But a couple of weeks after that, they got in touch and told me of this new section starting… in JANUARY!  Now keep in mind, this was the end of October, and they, like all magazines, work months in advance of publication!  They asked if I would like to prepare the foods for this new cookbook feature section each month….
Ummmm, a nanosecond later I said, “why yes I would!”
Now keep in mind, I’d n.e.v.e.r. done any such thing, and had no idea nor training in the world of food styling!!  

But off on yet another culinary adventure I went.

For the first few months, we did 10…. yes, TEN recipes each month!  Folks, that is a LOT of food shopping, prepping and cook’n. To have to cart over to monthly shoots in Greensboro one day a month that we started at 9:00AM!  

A few months later, that was trimmed to 8, then 5, and by the time I left 5 years later, we were down to 3 a month!  Much of that is dictated by ad sales and how many pages will be in each issue.

So the first 4 years, the editor in charge of the recipes would select which book(s) would be featured (there were hundreds if not thousands of books on the shelf there at the OS office).  Then, she would speak to the entity who did the book and find out any favorites in the book(s). The recipes chosen to be featured would be sent to me to shop, prep, prepare and prop!  It wasn’t until 4 years later I got to create and feature my own recipes each month.  

Now most that know me know that I don’t particularly care to BAKE.  The words “yeast” and “knead” send my brain into a tizzy!  I didn’t let this on for a while at OS because I was so tickled and excited for this opportunity, I didn’t want to be negative about such.

So without fail, each month, there would be a “vintage” cake of some sort for me to fix!  UGH…
And they NEVER would turn out right!  I’d make the recipe several times with failure each time.  I’d call the editor in panic and despair, and she’d sometimes pick another last minute recipe for me to sub.

Well one month, sometime into the first year and after multiple cake “issues,” I was sent a caramel cake to make.
I made that damn cake 3 times. It called for use of a candy thermometer (another tool causing me extreme stress)!  
Before I could lift the pot of sauce off the burner and turn around to spoon over the cake, that damn frosting turned to concrete, right there in the pot!  The one recipe I did manage to get “poured” onto the cake wasn’t enough to ice a large cupcake! (see picture below).
I actually found some pictures of this nightmare I shot that day to send the editor to show her what this recipe she sent me was doing… and asked… “WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO?”  Do excuse the horrible quality of them… they were shot quickly on an old phone to send to her to see what I was trying to describe and are as bad as the icing and cake themselves!

The caramel cake disaster!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was crying. The shoot was the next morning. I was on try 4 of this monster! 
I was posting my angst on facebook! 

A baking friend saw my panic and called me… said to send her the recipe to make. She got the stuff together and made it.
Well low and behold, it did the same thing for her too!
She surmised, which made perfect sense…. that oftentimes, these ladies (Church Cake Ladies I call them) were known for “their” cake!  Their particular cake was their claim to fame so to speak in their community! So when somebody in the church or community was putting together a fundraiser cookbook and asked them to contribute their recipe, they’d change it in some way, unbeknownst to the cookbook person, so nobody could actually successfully duplicate “their” cake!
I’m certain that was the case with those old recipes I was sent.  And in each case, the book contact was asked to get in touch, but the ladies had passed on. 

So I said all that to say this. (I don’t like writing longgggg stories since y’all probably don’t like reading longgg stories!)…

Last week, my friend Lisa Prince (Marketing @ NC Department of Agriculture) I judge for at the NC State Fair each year shared a Coconut Cake recipe on her noon news feature on WRAL TV.  Well mercy, ever since, I’ve wanted to make that cake!  It’s a 5-day-to-make cake, and haven’t had time nor space in my refrigerator that’s full of stuff for February magazine issue recipes I’m working on…  

WRAL TV”s Elizabeth Gardner’s Old Fashioned Coconut Cake! …Photo from NC Department of Agriculture

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It’s such an easy cake to make, and perfect for folks like me who don’t particularly care to bake.  And I’m pretty certain this one will work!  Tried and proven by Lisa!  Even though it’s an old fashioned cake! And y’all know me. I’m always looking for ways to tweak a recipe that has inspired me into my own… 
Sooooo… I’m thinking to myself… “self, I bet that cake would be damn good made with chocolate layers…. like a Mounds, or Almond Joy!” 
So self got in gear.
I dropped by the grocery store today but while in there, to get my favorite Duncan Hines mix… I pondered… “ummmm, which one of all these chocolates would be the best?” 

And “what IS the difference in all these chocolates?”
So I googled there in the Food Lion and pieced together some information to share with you right here… for making a chocolate version of this coconut cake… or just because! 

I am only discussing Duncan Hines mixes here as that is my preferred… because it’s what my Ma Hocutt used, and what my mama used.

Devil’s Food... this is DH’s “basic” chocolate cake.  It offers what might be called a “medium chocolate” flavor.

(Ever wonder why it’s called “devil’s food” cake?)

Butter Chocolatethis is like Devil’s Food, but the oil is replaced by butter (oh yes!) making it a richer (more “devilish?”) version.

Classic Dark Chocolate Fudgedeep rich chocolate flavor

Swiss Chocolatemost like milk chocolate with a less “chocolatey” flavor

German Chocolatea light German flavored chocolate.  This cake is most likely frosted with a pecan and coconut frosting.

My mama’s favorite candy bar was an Almond Joy. So sometime this Christmas season, in her memory, and because I’m curious, I’m going to make this old fashioned coconut cake. BUT… I got the Classic Dark Chocolate Fudge mix for my layers… and some almonds I’m going to toast and put on top!  So stay tuned. When I get around to Part 2 of this cake tale, you won’t want miss out on MY version!

Till then, if you make this cake, come over to my facebook community and share your experience… review, and pictures too! Hopefully it will look a whole lot better than this thing!

The caramel cake from hell!

 

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire… Fun Fall NC Festival!

 

 

 

Looking for a fun #culinaryadventure day trip from the Triangle area? Head over to High Rock Farm in Gibsonville on 11/4 where YOU can roast chestnuts over an open fire, sample goodies made with chestnuts and bring some home too! Here are a couple of pics… a blast from my past when I went in 2012! Details on their FB page. You’ll enjoy the beautiful historic home (open to tour) and farm (Est. 1807). I’m sure the festival has grown a lot since I visited! And you can take your doggie too…

“Come enjoy the day on the farm with food trucks, a variety of vendors, bounce house, historic house tours, hayrides, live music, and of course chestnuts roasting on an open fire!
Tickets ($8 a person) maybe purchased online or at booth day of event. This is a rain or shine event
Dogs welcomed but must be leased. 
So head to Gibsonville and have a roasty toasty nutty good time!! 

Fall = Applesauce!

Fall is in the air… well kinda sorta, now that fresh North Carolina apples are making their debut at farmers’ markets! And with that, comes comfort foods, like applesauce. Who doesn’t love that?  It makes such a quick and simple healthy side dish for so many things, including breakfast! What could start your day off better than some NC maple or brown sugar pork sausage with a side of freshly made applesauce?  Check out this site for lots of great information about North Carolina apples!

And because you can crock a pot so fast, unless you really want to, there’s no need to do huge batches and can.  Just make some fresh every week or so as you need in your house!

Apple Pie Spiced Slow Cooker Applesauce

Apple Pie Spiced Slow Cooker Applesauce

This recipe is so easy… you can have it in the pot in 5 minutes and go on about your business. It takes care of itself… wouldn’t it be great if all our foods did that?  

My applesauce is featured in this month’s September issue of Carolina Country Magazine but you can find it printable below.  As you will see in the notes, there are easy ways to vary this basic recipe.  You can use your favorite pie spice… and I really like to use the Georgia Peach Spice from Savory Spice Shop.

And here’s a helpful hint... for those of you with small households, I highly recommend getting yourself a mini crock pot (or two) for cook’n. I have a couple and cook in them several times a week.  The heat is so intensified due to its smaller size, food gets hot faster and cooks much faster too. I enjoy soft creamy grits some mornings in 30-45 minutes. I buy Boston butts when on sale and have them cut in half to freeze one/cook one… a half fits perfectly into the mini pot and in a couple of hours, I have my own Eastern North Carolina pulled pork BBQ!  The portions are perfect for a couple of folks and you won’t end up with lots of leftovers (but maybe just enough to throw together a mini crock pot of soup).  I’m not sure all the places you can get them, but I picked up both of mine at thrift stores… one for $3 and the other was $7. And I recently gifted one to my “other mother” from Roses for $12!  You can’t beat that….  and they are a great inexpensive Christmas gift for singles, couples and seniors that aren’t able to stand and do much cooking anymore.  You can even pair up with a grocery store gift card if you want to help someone on a fixed income at holiday time! And for you single and couple campers out there, a mini is a must-have.

So without further adieu I give you my delicious slow cooker applesauce! Happy Sauce’n and Happy Fall y’all!  Please be sure to share my recipe and blog with friends, and thanks!

Apple Pie Spiced Slow Cooker Applesauce
Fall is here, and so are North Carolina apples! Some are better for applesauce than others, so be sure to ask at the farmers market or do a quick online search to get just the right ones. We like to leave half the peel on for a chunkier sauce, but peel them all if preferred.
Course: Breakfast, Brunch, Dessert, Sauces, Side Dish, Snack
Cuisine: American, Farmers Market, North Carolina Goodies, Southern
Author: Wendy Perry
Ingredients
  • 8-10 large apples cored and roughly chopped, peel half
  • 1/3 cup apple juice or water
  • pinch salt
  • brown sugar, honey or sugar as needed
  • apple pie spice or something similar
Instructions
  1. Add apples, water and salt to slow cooker. Stir and cover. Cook on high about 2 hours or low about 5 hours until tender.
  2. Leave chunky, or puree with an immersion blender for smooth sauce. Taste for sweetness and add sugar as needed. Dust with apple pie spice.
Recipe Notes
  • Serve warm or chilled. Great alongside pork and chicken or stirred into your morning oatmeal or yogurt. Perfect for lunchboxes too!!
  • Spice:  Use cinnamon or any sort of "baking" spice you like such as pumpkin pie spices. I love to use the George Peach Spice blend from Savory Spice Shop!
  • Variation: Use half apples and half pears for a wonderful apple-pear sauce.

 

 

 

Peas, please… field peas, that is!

…field peas and country ham

Peas are such a simple food… they don’t need much fuss’n with, and can be fixed in all sorts of ways. Cook simply with some country ham pieces.  Ladle up a cup of the pot likker from their cook’n. Add some cornbread and call it supper!  Top with stewed tomatoes or homemade tomato jam

White acre peas with a dollop of tomato jam!

 

 

Whirl up for some right tasty hummus. Or make what we call “Carolina Caviar” for porch sit’n or tailgate’n which we will be doing soon! 

Add some tomato based BBQ sauce for a little kick to your Carolina Caviar!

To make this rather southern “dip,” you can cut up fresh veggies like peppers and tomatoes and onions and shake in some hot sauce, or just stir in some prepared salsa and “doctor it up” for a simpler version. I like to stir in some thicker tomato based BBQ sauce for a tasty surprise too. I like to serve mine with pork rind dippers as you’ll see here at this big reception I did long ago, but just serve with your own favorite chip!  

 

All sorts of fresh field peas are plentiful during July and August… time to stock up!

Any way you use them, North Carolina field peas are just good eats.  And right now is prime pea pick’n season. Load your freezer with all sorts of great peas to enjoy throughout the coming seasons, until it is time to load up again next summer. 

 

Putting up peas… White Acre Peas

 

You will need to blanch them before freezing, but that’s really easy to do.  You will find several methods to do that here, at the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s site! 

 

So run along to your local farm or farmers’ market and pick up PEAS!  Beautiful peas in all shapes sizes and beautiful colors!  Cook some cornbread, pour a glass of iced tea, and plop yourself down in that rocking chair on the porch… enjoy these dog days of summer before they are gone.  

….beautiful summer field peas

I rocked many a mile with my mama and grandma…. shelling peas on my grandma’s porch… back in the day, before pea shelling machines stole that “joy” from us.  Who else has those memories?  I remember my mama saying… “you will be glad you shelled those peas when we are eating them this winter” to which I defiantly declared… “I’d just as soon not eat a pea as to have to do this right here” as any young girl wanting to go play would say. But you know what, those WERE “the days.”

Oh how I’d love to turn back the clock… to these days… porch pea-shelling days!

And oh how I’d give ANYthing… to go back and have those days again… with my mama, my Ma Hocutt, and the sounds of peas falling into those metal pans and my sore little thumbs. Anybody care to join me?

…sweet summer corn salad with honey-citrus dressing

Corn…. here, there and over yonder!  Oh, the delicious time of summer is here in all its golden glory, and I don’t know about you, but I just can’t get.enough.CORN!
I love it raw… lightly steamed on the cob… grilled… in my grandma’s corn puddin… as a side…. or as a meal, like last night when I made my favorite corn salad.  Just good nekkid food at its finest…. nekkid just like the Good Lord gave it to us!

summer corn salad with honey citrus dressing

Enjoy this vibrant sweet summer corn salad with honey-citrus dressing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corn time is HOT time here in North Carolina, so anytime I can “cook” supper, without cook’n a damn thing…. well, that’s what I’m talkin’ about. I tell you, we just do not appreciate our local farmers enough… who toil in this heat for US… and bring us their goodness, for such bargain prices! I get a tad defensive when I hear folks saying “that food is more expensive… I can’t afford it.”  Say WHAT?  I sometimes feel like I’m stealing from them, and just say “keep the change” even though it’s a mere pittance of what they deserve.  Having come from generations of farming families in rural NC, I consider them to be “my people.” I know my food didn’t come from the back cooler at the Food Lion.  So when I have the choice, it’s farmers’ market  freshness for this gal.  

…tasty little wheels of fresh summer corn at Raleigh State Farmers Market!

I love strolling about, tasting little “wheels” of fresh corn, to find that day’s bestest! But usually, there’s little difference so I 

…one of many fresh corn vendors at the NC Raleigh State Farmers Market!

try to buy from different farmers each trip to share the love. I think about how early they had to rise to get that freshly harvested load of corn to the market… some coming from counties away.  Sleepy. Hot. Tired. …and ready to call it a day!  And probably not interested in cook’n anything either when they get home.

So wherever you are, run to your local farmers’ market and shop! And don’t cook this salad for supper. Grab some fresh corn…. field peas that are abundant right now, squashes and tomatoes and peaches and figs and melons…. oh my!  The bounty right now is endless… too bad it can’t be available all year long, although if it were, it probably wouldn’t taste nearly as good.  Savor the seasons.… and Make.Corn.Salad!  Your mouth (and those you share it with) will thank you!!

What could be wrong about combining these delicious ingredients together?

The dressing is so simple…. bright and flavorful, and citrus is the perfect pairing with the corn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet Summer Corn Salad with Honey-Citrus Dressing

Summer = Farm Fresh Vegetables!  And there are few things better that freshly pulled corn. The hardest thing about corn is deciding which way to eat it on any given day, but when my craving sets in, I just MUST stir up this summer corn salad. There's just nothing like the sweet corn, with its little "bite" stirred together with some feisty radish.... and freshly snipped herbs all dressed simply with honey and the bright flavors of citrus! So run to your local farmers market and get some sweet corn and make some for yourself.  But watch out, it's addicting!

Course: Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: Farmers Market, No Cook, Southern
Servings: 4 ish
Author: Wendy Perry
Ingredients
  • 5-6 ears fresh corn shucked, cleaned and cut off cob
  • 1 bunch radishes cleaned and chopped
  • 1/2 medium red onion diced
  • a few snips fresh herbs (I used chive, cilantro and thyme)
  • about 1/2 cup local honey (drizzle in a little more if suits you!)
  • juice of 1 orange
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1-2 tablespoons Savory Spice Shop California Citrus Rub
Instructions
  1. Combine all vegetables and herbs in large mixing bowl.  Drizzle with honey and juices.  Add spice rub and stir to combine.  EAT!!

Recipe Notes
  1. Feel free to add other herbs that you prefer. I just use what I have growing in my herb pots around the porch.   Feel free to throw in other veggies too!  I sometimes add a little bit of minced celery to this salad. Just don't get too carried away and lose focus on the CORN.
  2. If you do not have a Savory Spice Shop near you (although you can order their incredible goodies online!)... just look at what they have in it and use similar things.  I do love pairing citrus with the honey for this salad.  It just seems like a perfect match. You can zest your orange and lime into the salad and add whatever seasonings you have on hand.  Don't not make it just because you don't have the SSS rub.