Category: Christmas

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














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!


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.

keep reading

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
  • 4 lbs. lean beef (rib eye, filet or sirloin) cut into 3/4" cubes
  • 4 tablespoons oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 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
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons horseradish
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise (Duke's preferred)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch sugar
  • minced chives
  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.





Make Ahead Turkey Gravy… by Substitute Teacher Elise Feiner @ Foodfanataolics!


My Italian yankee-now-Floridian culinary girlfriend recently posted her make-ahead turkey gravy recipe that’s genius! Elise is actually one of my “Substitute Teachers” you’ll be hearing from once I can get my e-zine up and rolling… soon I’m hopin! 

So many folks stress over gravy, and it’s not that hard to do.  Since I just don’t have time today to put it all into a printable version, I’m just gonna point you to her post I shared on my Wendy’s Home Economics! faceboook page.  I shared a post from her culinary community, Foodfanataholics! where she did extensive pictures to show you along the way what things should look like…  with step by step instructions in the comment of each picture.  Maybe one of these days, I’ll get it posted here for you to quickly print out, but for now… do come see her gravy post on my FB page!  Just look at this wondermous stuff…

Ring the dinner bell and grab a ladle. It’s gravy time boys and girls!!! 

The start of Make Ahead Gravy!












Make Ahead Turkey Gravy on its way…



















Oh, can’t you just smell this? Layers of flavor…



















And there you have it! Make Ahead Turkey Gravy… making your day stress free… and you’ll be crowned Gravy QUEEN!






My fav food Christmas tradition…

As far back as I can remember as a little girl, I have fond memories of our big Perry family gatherings… my FAV being at Christmastime.  I had one hellofa good cook’n grandma Perry, who we grandchildren call “Ma Pur.”  Although not rich folks, I suppose back in those days, they may have been considered by some to have a lot.  She was a retired school teacher, and Daddy Pur owned the Pearces community store.  It was one of those stores that had a little of this, that and the other.  My older girl cousin Karen and I would “play grocery store”…. even back then I LOVED grocery shopping as I still do.  Daddy Pur would let us “shop” in the store, then we would bring our groceries up to the counter where he would ring them all up.  Then, we’d have to go put them all back where they came from!

While we were doing that, a posse of old men (that wouldn’t seem so old now!) would be gathered around the wood stove, playing Rook, or Checkers.  I still love to play Rook, and I learned watching the best… a “fierce” Rook player is mildly describing my “style” of Rook play’n.  You don’t hear tell of Rook much anymore, so if you read this and are a Rook player, let me hear from you!

Daddy Pur’s store was 1/2 the community centerpiece.  The other half was right across the road… Pearce Baptist Church!  I grew up in that church and my sweet mama played the organ there for 36 years… rarely missing a Sunday and one of the few was the Sunday before she sailed away to Heaven.  When she was so very sick with Ovarian Cancer, one of the few things she wanted to eat in her final months was this protein filled custard.  Mama would ask me to make her some and when she couldn’t keep anything else down, she stayed nourished with Boiled Custard.  She especially loved it frozen like ice cream.  This, and baked skillet cornbread, were what kept her going near the end.

OK… back to my story!
While Daddy Pur was busy out at the store selling groceries and farm supplies, Ma Pur was busy next door cook’n… they had 5 children… 4 boys and 1 girl.  Daddy Pur died when I was only 4, but I do have a few memories of him.  Ma Pur was around until I was 12 so I do have a few memories of her kitchen.  She cooked 3 meals a day… and there was always a big plate of biscuits on the table and soft butter to mash together with molasses.  All those Perry children and their children would gather at the homeplace at Christmastime.  I could hardly wait, because there would be pitchers of Boiled Custard that she had made.  She served it with a big bowl of sweetened strawberries she had “put up” the summer before from her garden.  I really didn’t even want to eat any of all that other food she had made, I just wanted BOILED CUSTARD!  And although daddy’s brothers and sister have their own grown children with their children now and we no longer gather, getting in my kitchen to make this takes me back to those days so long ago when the excitement and magic of Christmas was such a happy time and place.  My sweet nephew Wyatt is nine now, and tonight we talked about making Boiled Custard for Christmas.  I hope he keeps this family tradition alive for generations to come.

I cannot believe in all my pictures there are none of boiled custard, so I’ll fix that this year.  I’ll be sure to come back after Wyatt and I get in the kitchen next week and make this Christmas’ batch of this yummmy stuff!  (post edited… picture added below)

Until then, enjoy the recipe and a few old pics to take us down Perry Memory Lane.

This is my Ma and Daddy Pur (Perry).  Daddy Pur died when I was four, so I think this was his last Christmas.  This is a VERY RARE picture of him because he isn’t wearing his Fedora.  I always heard that if his hat was dipped to the left, leave him be.  But if tipped to the right, all was well.

Ma & Daddy Pur...circa Christmas 1963

Ma & Daddy Pur…circa Christmas 1963
















A few decades ago, I put together a Perry family cookbook.  I vowned not to publish it until every single Perry in our clan contributed at least ONE recipe… and for the wee ones, a drawing of some food.  It took a spell, but finally accomplished this goal. This is the cover of that book…

The J.W. Perry Family Cookbook

The J.W. Perry Family Cookbook















And this is one of my fav pictures that’s on the back of the book.  Few folks are lucky enough to have three other living generations to be able to have a picture like this… me, daddy (Hal), Ma Perry and her mama, Mammy Chamblee!

4 gens!

4 gens!























As far as I know, this is the only place Ma Pur’s Boiled Custard recipe is published.  And although it may be “the” recipe of many other ladies of her time, for me, it’s My Ma Pur’s recipe…and there are few things better!

Ma Pur's Boiled Custard recipe in my cookbook!

Ma Pur’s Boiled Custard recipe in my cookbook!















Do you like Boiled Custard?  Was it part of your family’s goodies growing up?  If so, please share your BC memories in the comments box…
…Enjoy, and Merry Christmas Y’all!

Family traditions…. we don’t have too many in my family, but I’m planning to pass this one along to Wyatt, starting with our first time making it together this year… oh, how I do love this little fellow!

boiled custard day with Wyatt

Boil Custarding with Wyatt!

Ma Pur's (Perry) Boiled Custard

What to throw together...

  • 1/2 gallon whole milk
  • 2 tall cans Pet milk
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 10 medium or 6 large eggs
  • vanilla extract

How to throw together...

  1. Over double boiler in thickest pot, add milk and sugar. Stir constantly until the mixture reaches ALMOST boil (but never boil).
  2. Stir rapidly and add eggs that have been pureed until foamy in blender. Let come to a boil.
  3. Turn heat to medium. Continue to cook for about 45 minutes or until the custard coats a metal spoon.
  4. Remove from heat. Add 1 tablespoon vanilla extract and more sugar if needed.
  5. Cool in freezer until freezing begins around edges.
  6. Once chilled and thickened, pour into pitcher or small jars for gifting.
  7. OPTIONAL: Offer a bowl of sweetened strawberries to swirl into custard.