Category: holidays & breaks

ahhh Collard Sandwiches… North Carolina culinary Heritage at its finest!

Collard Sandwiches have a long history here in North Carolina. They are so tasty, feature some of our finest foods… and you will be the belle of the ball when you take to potlucks or serve at your own gatherings. Just MAKE SOME. It doesn’t get much easier. Sit some out and watch ’em disappear

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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!

 

Popcorn & Vintage Candy Bar! Fun for all…

 

Guests both young and old will love this fun festive popcorn and vintage candy bar!


Over 3+ decades of catering, I did many a party of every description… for young and old alike!  When my friend Jim called me to throw a surprise 50th for his wife, we talked about several themes, and ended up doing a variety of fun stations and bars, each features local and NC products.  There was a hot dog bar, hot and cold corn on the cob station, pickle tub, pimento cheese and field pea caviar area and for dessert… a blueberry and strawberry shortcake bar too.  Since there was a bunch of kiddos coming, he wanted something fun for them, so I did a great big table of old fashioned candies, peanuts and all sorts of popcorns with spicy shakes for those who wanted theirs spiffed up a bit.

Shake your popcorn…

Since Sunday was “National Business of Popping Corn Day”  (and forgot to post this then), I figured this would be a good time to share this popcorn bar!  With the holidaZe on the way and gatherings of friends and family, this would be a fun, budget-friendly and quick idea for your entertaining… 

Folks of all ages love popcorn and vintage candies.  Just keep it simple… pop corn or buy it in a big old tin… add some kettle, caramel and candied corns.  See what you have in your spice cabinet, or pick up some fun salts and seasonings. I’m a big fan of Savory Spice Shop and shop often at the Raleigh location, but they have other stores all over.  Or you can just shop online and have goodies sent right to your door!

Throw a sheet of burlap or something festive over a table… sit boxes of various heights up under there so you can put your containers at different levels on your table!  If it’s in a dark corner, don’t forget to sit a lamp on the table.  The light will give your display a “pop” and draw folks to it. 

TIP:  Do that with all your tables!  Lighting creates beautiful ambiance for your food displays, not to mention, it helps your guests see what they are getting in dimly lit areas. 

It’s also helpful to make little folded cards to sit by your foods for that same reason.  You can make with stickers right onto notecards or any number of ways.

Pick up some festive “take home bags” for folks to take a goodie bag with them so you’re not stuck with leftovers…

Enjoy your holiday season, and have FUN!  If you do a popcorn (or any other) bar, please do snap a picture and send me!  I’d love to share your ideas here with others.

A fun way to enjoy an old favorite… Crab Rangoon Stuffed Mushrooms!

You won’t go wrong making up a bunch of these Crab Rangoon Stuffed Mushrooms for your next gathering. You can bake in small batches in your toaster oven, or do a great big pan for larger crowds in your oven.

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Steak Bites with Horseradish Whipped Cream

Steak Bites with Horseradish Whipped Cream

 

 

Who doesn’t love steak?  If you are looking for a “sure to please” appetizer for your holiday gatherings, you’ll surely want to add this one to your table.  They are quick and easy to make, yet really spiffs up the menu. The horseradish whipped cream on the side for dip’n is just right for these steak bites too.  

Keep an eye out and pick up your preferred cut when on sale. Go ahead and cut up the pieces, then freeze to have on hand for quick fix’n. Even better, go ahead and freeze in the marinade so that all those flavors can spend some time getting to know the steak making your bites even more better!

I do hope you will give these a try, and come to my facebook community and tell me what you think.  See the recipe where it first appeared in the December 2017 Carolina Country Magazine, or below where you can print.

Glazed Steak Bites with Horseradish Whipped Cream
Enjoy this simple addition to your holiday appetizer menu. Your crowd will love these flavorful steak bites, as is, or with a dollop of snazzy whipped cream on top! 
Course: Appetizer, Main Course, Snack
Cuisine: Grilling, Southern, Tailgating
Author: Wendy Perry
Ingredients
STEAK
  • 4 lbs. lean beef (rib eye, filet or sirloin) cut into 3/4" cubes
  • 4 tablespoons oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
MARINADE
  • 1/2 cup grapeseed or olive oil
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
HORSERADISH WHIPPED CREAM
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons horseradish
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise (Duke's preferred)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch sugar
  • minced chives
Instructions
  1. Combine marinade ingredients. Put beef into zippered bag. Pour marinade over, seal and toss to coat. Marinate, refrigerated, 30 minutes to overnight.
  2. Heat half the oil and butter in cast iron skillet to medium-high heat. Add steak pieces, making sure not to crowd (cook in batches adding oil and butter as needed). Sear until “crust” forms. 
  3. For whipped cream: Whip cream until stiff peaks form. Fold in remaining ingredients. Garnish with chives. Serve with steak bites.
Recipe Notes

Note: Be careful not to overcook as the meat will continue cooking after removing from heat.