The pickle man

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Flag Cake!

I started the new semester teaching an AP Government and Politics class for the 5th time.  On Friday, we had a party to celebrate both the inauguration and the right to peacefully protest the inauguration -- the same sort of celebration the class held on Inauguration Day four years ago.  It was a busy week, so I didn't have time to make them what I wanted to make (I relied on my old standard, Mom's chocolate cake, instead).  But if I'd had a little more time, they would have gotten to enjoy one of my favorite ways to celebrate America -- Flag Cake! 

The 4th of July has always been one of my favorite holidays.  Seriously, some years it tops Christmas.

There is no stress about gifts - just a big party, with fireworks!

My neighborhood has a bicycle parade!

We get to go swimming and skiing in the bayou :)

And the food - oh, the food.

We always start the day with a little watermelon, blueberry streussel muffins (recipe forthcoming), and bloody Marys.

And then, once the sun goes down, ribs, chicken, grandmother rice, and Cha Cha's fabulous baked beans.

Sometimes, there is homemade peach ice cream...

And... flag cake!

For the cake:
2 1/4 sticks butter at room temperature
3 cups sugar
6 extra large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sour cream, room temperature
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda

For the icing:
4 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 pounds cream cheese at room temperature
1 pound powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

To decorate:
1/2 pint blueberries
1 pint of red fruit - I have used strawberries, pitted cherries, and raspberries.

Preheat the oven to 350.
Spray an 18 x 13 x 1 1/2 inch sheet pan (I like Baker's Joy or Pam with Flour).
Cream the butter and sugar in an electric mixer until light and fluffy (this takes longer than you think -- 4-5 minutes on high).  Add the eggs two at a time, beating between, then add the sour cream and vanilla.  Scrape the sides and mix again.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda.  With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until just combined.  Pour into the sheet pan and smoot.  Bake for 20-30 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.  Allow to cool completely.

For the icing, combine the butter, cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla in an electric mixer.  Having the ingredients room temperature is important!

Take approximately a cup of the icing and put it into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip (while you can use a Ziploc bag with the tip cut off, these always explode on me, and I think it is worth the $8 the next time you are ordering from Amazon or at Michael's).

Spread the remaining icing on the cooled sheet cake. Outline a square in the upper left corner with blueberries.  Place two rows of red fruit (raspberries, strawberries, etc.) across the top of the cake to form the first red stripe.  Space an inch or two down and make a second row.  I only had room for three rows of red on this cake because the raspberries were big!

Once you've placed the fruit, go back and add stars to the tops of the blueberry section, and white stripes between the raspberries.

This cake has been known to be joyfully consumed by "nasty women" and "deplorables" alike ;)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Easy Fruit Cobbler

I never really get tired of cooking... but I do get very tired of doing the dishes.

And some nights, it seems that even if the cooking is worth it, loading and unloading the dishwasher one. more. time. might make me scream.

Tonight was one of those nights, so I was cleaning out the freezer and found a bag of frozen blackberries from last summer.  My kids happened to see them and instantly started clamoring for cobbler.  And I do have a favorite cobbler  - that recipe is here - but it requires the mixer.  And lots of pots and pans.

The cobbler above?

Add a 1/3 cup measuring cup, and these are all the dishes .*

This was Dixon's first recipe to make all by himself, and somewhere buried on my hard drive is a precious video where he lisps "Add a cuppa sugah and stirrrr...." with his motorboat noise.

Recipe, adapted from Cotton Country Collection

1 stick butter
1 cup white sugar
1/3 cup quick oats
2/3 cup flour       (*the original recipe called for 1 cup of flour, no oats, but we like the extra body)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk
2 cups fruit (blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and peaches, or any combination of these, all work great -- fresh or frozen and defrosted).
Cinnamon for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350.
Place the butter in a 1 quart baking dish and it in the microwave.  Stir in the sugar.  Stir in the flour, oats, and baking powder until smooth.  Gradually add the milk and stir.  Add the fruit and stir gently to combine.
Bake at 350 for 1 hour, until brown and bubbly, with a baking sheet under your pan to catch drips. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.  Enjoy!

*I never use a dry measuring cup for liquids like milk, but I did last night. Because dishes.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Roasted Cauliflower with Curry

Some days, I make complicated dishes that cook for a long time, and usually I think they are worth it.  But usually, that's on the weekend. 

Some days, I remember that I'm a working mom who also has to do laundry and it's Tuesday.  So I make dishes like this.  

From start to finish, this takes about 20 minutes... and 10 of those minutes are when it's roasting in the oven.  We serve this with pork chops, grilled chicken, or really, anything.

Roasted Cauliflower with Curry

1 head cauliflower, cut into 2 inch long pieces (remove the core)
1-2 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt (may need more)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp curry powder*

Cauliflower prior to roasting
Preheat the oven to 425.  Spread olive oil on a half-sheet pan.  Toss cauliflower out over the pan.  It's important not to overcrowd, so that the cauliflower gets a little crisp around the edges, instead of steaming.  Sprinkle seasonings and toss to combine.  Roast for 10-12 minutes, until lightly brown around the outside.  Open the oven once during cooking and give the pan a vigorous shake to move these around (or, I guess you can use a spatula, but I don't feel like washing dishes tonight).  

And after roasting... 

*Note -- What kind of curry powder? To be honest, I'm open for suggestions.  Currently, I just use McCormick, so I'm almost certain I can do better.  My friend Anu keeps a spice box by her stove where she makes her own curry by pinching from the seasonings... I'll update when I figure this part out. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Gumbo Dip

Monroe Mardi Gras is one of my favorite things about living as an adult in the town where I grew up.  No, it's not as fancy as New Orleans Mardi Gras, or as old as Mobile Mardi Gras, but there's just something that feels very "circle of life" about putting my kids on my shoulders on the same corner where I used to stand and scream "Throw me something, Mister!" as a child.

Of course, I also love Mardi Gras food.  Jambalaya, king cake, bourbon slush, muffalettas, my mother-in-laws's crawfish cornbread... my mouth waters just thinking about it.  This year, I decided to bring gumbo dip to our celebration. It takes the ingredients of gumbo into portable, tail-gate or Super-Bowl-Sunday-worthy form.
Turn up the zydeco and enjoy!

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 onion, diced fine
2 ribs celery, diced fine
1 bell pepper, diced fine
2 cloves or 1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 cup cut okra (can use frozen)

 1 lb small shrimp (I use frozen 150 count, so really small,  defrosted)
1-2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning (garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper, salt)
1 8 oz package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1/4 cup chicken stock, shrimp stock, or water, for thinning if needed
4-5 dashes Tabasco (optional)

Dice the vegetables (a food processor makes this part easier).  Saute them in butter over medium-high heat for 8-10 minutes, until soft.  Add the garlic and stir for 1-2 minutes.  Add okra and cook an additional 3-4 minutes. If you are using frozen shrimp, defrost them (I just ran warm water over them for a few seconds, enough to break them apart). Add the shrimp and stir until they are pink and opaque (usually 5-7 minutes).
Turn down the heat and add the seasonings and softened cream cheese, cut into cubes.
Stir in half of the Parmesan cheese.  Taste for seasonings.  I had to add a little broth since mine was very thick and hard to stir.  I also added some Tabasco.

Spoon into an oven-proof bowl.*  Sprinkle the rest of the Parmesan cheese on top of the dip, and heat in a 350 degree oven until warm and bubbly, usually about 10-15 minutes.

Serve with toasted french bread or a sturdy cracker.

*Stop at this point if you are making this ahead.  This dip can be made and assembled 1-2 days in advance and kept in the fridge until ready to be baked.  If you do this, add 15 minutes to the baking time.
Technically, this picture is from New Orleans Mardi Gras
Cousins at Monroe Mardi Gras! 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Bacon-Wrapped Duck Breasts

If the pick-up truck parked in your driveway has ever looked like this, then you probably already have some variation of this recipe, but just in case...

I was first introduced to this appetizer over a decade ago by my husband's then-roommate, John, who was, and is, a consummate duck hunter. But most of the hunters I know seem to have some iteration.  I think it's a favorite because wild duck is usually a little gamy and is extremely lean.  The marinade helps a lot with the gaminess and the bacon keeps the lean meat from drying out during cooking.

Breasts from 6-8 ducks
1 lb thin bacon
1/2 block of cream cheese
Pickled or fresh jalapenos
Marinade (recipe below)

First, have your favorite hunter breast the ducks for you, preferably outside.  Rinse them several times, then carefully examine them make sure that all of the shot gun pellets are out -- biting into steel shot is a good way to break a tooth.

Soak them in cold water for a few hours, then put them in a marinade.

  Marinade them for 2-6 hours in the refrigerator.

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup Lea & Perrin's Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup red wine
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 tsp red pepper
1/2 tsp black pepper

Combine these in a ziploc bag and shake well.  Then add the duck breasts.

After a few hours, take the breasts out of the marinade and pound them flat.  This process is neater if you place the breasts in a plastic bag first.

 They should be really thin.

Then, spread the flattened meat with soft cream cheese, and place one jalapeno slice per breast.
Roll them up, wrap them in bacon, and secure with a toothpick.  If you have picky eaters, you can leave the jalapeno out of some and color-code your toothpicks accordingly.

Finally, grill!

These take about 10-12 minutes over medium heat, turning once. You can also do them in the oven or on a grill pan on the stove. When the bacon is brown, the duck meat is probably done.  You can use a meat thermometer to check -- cooked breasts should register around 140 if you like them medium rare (which we do, or else they get too tough).  


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo (D's favorite meal)

This is my nine year old.

He doesn't eat (most) food that touches. In other words, he won't eat casseroles, (although if I save all the separate bits that go into a casserole and serve them, not touching, on a plate, he will eat them). Even beef stew must be served with the mashed potatoes or grits or rice on the side.

Etouffee? Pasta salad? Absolutely anything prepared in a crockpot? Don't even think about it. He'll be having a piece of fruit and peanut butter toast, thank you very much (because this mama doesn't make two meals).

He was not always this way.  A brief glance at the archives of this site show him happily devouring a variety of "touching" foods. But since roughly the time he became literate and started losing teeth, he has become quite particular.


One significant (*and one minor) exception to his "FOOD MUST NOT TOUCH" mantra has survived the onset of permanent teeth: gumbo -- which, as I remind him, is a whole lot of things touching.  But he's loved it forever.  Especially this gumbo.

There are as many gumbo recipes as there are cooks in this state. This is our favorite, mainly because it is easy enough that I can make it once a month.  I make a homemade roux, but I do use boxed broth and roasted chicken breasts instead of boiling the whole chicken because
1. I think it tastes better AND
2. I really don't like de-boning chicken, so I found that when I skipped this step, I made gumbo for my family a lot more.

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced small**
1 green bell pepper, diced small
2 ribs celery, diced small
1 tablespoon (2 cloves) diced garlic
2 bay leaves
6 cups chicken stock (you can make your own, but I usually cheat and don't)
1-2 cups water
1 cup sliced okra (can be frozen)
2 cups cooked chicken meat  (this can include roasted chicken breasts OR 4 thighs OR the meat from one small boiled or rotisserie chicken, shredded or cut into pieces)
2 links andouille sausage, browned in a skillet and drained (optional, but worth it)

salt and pepper to taste
red pepper to taste (I usually go light on this and add Tabasco to mine)

Method (and a lot of probably unnecessary commentary):

To start, as "my mamma and 'dem" say:  First, you make a roux.

Combine cold vegetable oil and flour in a cold pot.  Turn on the heat and begin whisking.  I use a flat whisk, but you can also use a wooden spoon or spatula.  Something flat to scrape the bottom of the pot helps.
There are two methods to heating your roux.  If you are a lazy and distracted stirrer, you can use the "low and slow" method my mom taught me.  That way, you only have to stir vigorously once the roux begins to pick up color.

If you're a bit more adventurous, turn up the heat.  Your arm will get a workout, but you'll have a roux in about 15-20 minutes.  Stir constantly and scrape the bottom of the pot with each stir.  Recruit your children. Talk your spouse into taking a turn while you move the clothes from the washer to the dryer.  Switch arms.  Think about the calories you are burning.  And stir.

Meanwhile (if you are a low/slow) or in advance, dice your vegetables.  I use a food processor because I like my vegetables really small (plus, I've got to save arm strength for stirring the roux).

Either way, if there are black chips in the roux, sorry to say you've burned it, but everyone has to burn at least one.  Turn on your vent, throw out the roux, wash your pot, and begin again.

When the roux is brown***, add the diced onion, bell pepper, and celery, stirring vigorously.  There will be steam.  Keep stirring.  Cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently but not constantly, until the vegetables are tender. I usually add a little salt at this stage.  Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.

Begin adding the chicken stock in a steady stream, stopping to stir well to incorporate.  You can add water as needed to get to the consistency you like.  Add the bay leaves and red pepper.

Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered for 30 minutes.  Add okra and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Add the meat and taste, seasoning as necessary. Simmer until ready to serve.

Serve over white rice with French bread and a green salad.  My husband also recommends saltine crackers.

This gumbo is even better made a day in advance and reheated.  It also freezes well.  I typically freeze it in quart bags, not overly full (so they can stack in the freezer).  Then, for a week night meal, all I have to do is run the bag under hot water while I make the rice, and reheat the defrosted gumbo in the microwave.

* The minor exception?  Lasagne verdi -- minor because he only gets to eat it about twice a year.
While he will at least try most gumbos (unless they have shrimp), he will absolutely only eat this one lasagna.
And (of course) it takes 6 hours, 3 friends, 2 homemade sauces, noodles that we crank out using a pasta roller, and at least one bottle of wine.

** These three ingredients (onion, celery, bell pepper) are the holy trinity of Cajun cooking (as my mama explained it).   I pulse them in my food processor until they are diced so fine that their texture disappears but their flavor remains.

*** (Allyson note) Brown? What do I mean by brown? First, a medium brown roux will get thicker than a dark brown roux.  Seems counterintuitive?  It did to me, too, the first time I read it.  But then we experimented and it proved true.  Also, darker roux is more prone to separate.  Soooo I typically shoot for Jif-peanut-butter-brown roux.  And yes, I get out the jar and compare.  I occasionally get brave (usually for seafood gumbo) and go for the Hershey's chocolate bar.  But the gumbo I make at least once a month? Peanut butter brown.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Lemon Cake

 This week, my younger son was "snack leader" for his kindergarten.  Snack week always has noticeable highs and lows.

The lows: 
Monday: After a two week vacation, I remembered it was our snack week when I opened his backpack exactly 3 minutes before we had to leave or miss the bus. 
 So... the class enjoyed a jumbo bag of pretzels, 2/3 full, and some candy left over from when we made gingerbread houses before Christmas.  Oops. 

Tuesday: my  husband managed to make it by Walmart before he had to be at work at 7:15 and grab some chips (So, from a "my husband is a hero!" standpoint, this actually may have been a high?).

Thursday: I forgot again (I know... it's time to bring back the family calendar)... so off he went (uncomplaining, because he's the second kid) with 2/3 a box of graham crackers and some very Christmas-sy candy canes. Yes, I know, it's January.

The highs: 

Wednesday was Epiphany, and on Epiphany, my family makes homemade king cake.  Sometimes we share with the boys' classes.   (Here's the recipe we use).

And Friday, 6:15 a.m. found our proud snack leader glazing a lemon cake.

 My older son's best friend loves this cake.   The first time he spent the night, we had it for dessert. Later, he told me he had to call his mom.  I thought he was feeling homesick; instead, he was calling her to ask that she get the recipe.

This cake does have a lot of steps, but I promise it is worth it .  
You can make it in a large (10 inch) bundt pan, 2 loaf pans, or a few mini loaf pans.  I've never tried it as muffins but expect they would be amazing.  This time I used a smaller (9 inch) bundt pan (for the kindergarten) and had enough batter left for two mini loaf pans for the family.  My son's friend even got the last piece this afternoon.

Lemon Cake, adapted from Ina Garten's recipe 

2 sticks butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup grated lemon zest (3-4 Meyer lemons; 5-6 regular lemons)*
3 cups flour**
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (zest first, then juice -- much neater that way)
3/4 cup buttermilk at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the syrup:
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar

For the glaze:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar (Ina recommends sifting, but we don't mind the lumps)
2-3 Tablepsoons of fresh-squeezed lemon juice


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour your pans. (I use Baker's Joy; if you are using a decorated bundt pan like mine, do a very thorough job).

Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. I use this time to zest my lemons.  With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, and the lemon zest, scraping down the bowl after each addition. (If you forgot to leave your eggs out to let them come to room temperature, you can put them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes).

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, the buttermilk, and vanilla. The mixture will curdle.  Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour.

Pour the batter into the pan (or divide the batter evenly between the pans, if using more than one). Smooth the tops, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Meanwhile, make the syrup.  Combine 1/4 cup granulated sugar with 1/4 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves.  You can also do this in the microwave.  

When the cake is done, allow to cool for 10 minutes. If you are using a bundt pan, while the cake is still in the pan, make holes in the bottom of the cake with the handle of a wooden spoon or spatula.  If you are using loaf pans, you can take the cake(s) out and invert it(them) to do this. Slowly pour the lemon syrup over the cake, filling the holes.

If you are using the bundt pan, shake the pan until it feels loose, then invert it carefully over your cake plate.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and the lemon juice in a bowl or measuring cup. Pour over the tops of the cakes and allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides.

* First, a note on zesting.  I use a microplane that my husband picked up at a hardware store and adore the tiny bits it makes.  You can get them on Amazon prime, although Michael says they are cheaper at the hardware store.  It is easily one of my most-used kitchen tools and works equally well on Parmesan cheese and nutmeg. 

Second, a note on lemons. I absolutely love making this cake with Meyer lemons, which I used to get from my neighbor.  However, the snow storm last year destroyed their tree.  BUT if you can get Meyer lemons for this, please do... just don't brag too much the next time you see me!

** (for Allyson and others who are really into the details)    Ina calls for cake flour, which I don't keep on hand, BUT  I use White Lily All Purpose flour, which is a very "soft" flour -- it has less gluten and is made from winter wheat, so it produces a noticeably softer crumb in cakes.  And for bread, my favorite is King Arthur Bread Flour ;)