Orange Dream Cake

Orange Dream Cake may not be the most glamorous cake I’ve ever made, but it was way up there on taste. Amazing, moist, sweet, rich Cake!
orange cake
This cake tastes like the frozen treat Orangesicle. Only it’s cake – as in my favorite food. Heavenly, sweet, naughty cake. I asked my namesake and granddaughter, Clare, what flavor cake she wanted for her birthday and she said orange. Orange? Not chocolate? Are you sure we’re related? OK, after a pause, I was onboard with this. I haven’t made an orange cake since the 1980′s orange jello cakes. Which were yummy, but I wanted a modern approach.

clares cake

A woman I sorta know, Nancy, made cakes for weddings and other special events for years. Lemon cakes, chocolate fudge cakes, raspberry glazes, all sorts of yummy. Recently I heard she has given up this business, so I asked her if she would share her secrets. She shared some of the glazes and frosting recipes, but no cake recipes. She told me she just used cake mixes – even for wedding cakes. Really! Cake mixes. But hers were so moist? She said to use the best and largest eggs. That was it? BIG EGGS! I can do that.

So I headed to the grocery store for Clare’s cake – and BIG EGGS – and discovered they now make an orange cake mix. I knew I would make my own frosting, so I took a risk on the mix and it was… delicious. I know I preach against using foods with lots of chemicals, but now and then even I have to fall off my preaching pedestal. Of course I used the “magic candles” that relight, so Clare was a bit confused after she thought she had blown them all out. But I think she still gets her wish – right?
candles relight

My Orange Frosting Ingredients
1/2 stick butter – 1/4 cup
4 oz cream cheese
4 – 6 oz Orange juice concentrate (as in the kind you buy in the freezer and mix with water. But don’t add water.)
dash salt
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 tsp almond extract – optional (well let’s face it, everything is optional.)

Directions
Beat the butter and cream cheese
Add the other ingredients.
If frosting is too thick, add more juice concentrate.
If frosting is too thin, add more powdered sugar. But remember, the frosting will thicken up a bit if you let it set up.
orange cake2

It was a huge hit. Embrace it. PS – you could also use lemon, which would be fabulous. Or make this as a two layer cake and put raspberry jam in the center.
Why is it there are endless ways to enjoy cake, but limited ways to prepare broccoli?

Pepita Brittle

bite out of brittle

Apparently eating cake every day for two weeks is not a weight loss technique. So now that my birthday month has passed, I’m again faced with the reality – I need to give up refined sugar. So how does making Pepita Brittle fashion into that?

Let me explain:
Recently I read another popular food blog of a very thin woman and she exclaimed that she had given up sugar for two months – and lost 2 pounds! Oh boy, right? But the craziest part was that she “achieved” this great feat by signing onto a web class where she paid $300 to someone to tell her how to give up sugar. And she had a link so that we can all pay to have someone tell us to give up the white stuff. (And of course, the original woman will receive a kick back for every fool who does it.)

I’m not making this up. Out of the goodness of my heart, I’ll tell you all how to give up sugar and if you want, you can mail me a check for $300. But here it is – if you’re going to give up sugar, but you still like your sweet goodies – find a substitute. There! I said it.
But not just any substitute. The fake sugars like aspartame, dextrose and sucralose are scary white powders made in factories.
Pure Stevia is considered a good “fake sugar” but I think it has an aftertaste like toothpaste laced with cotton candy. And some of the boxes marked Stevia are mostly maltodextrin, another chemical. (read the labels, I’m not kidding!)

coconut palm sugar

coconut palm sugar

So what then? Coconut Palm Sugar – also called just Palm sugar. It does not taste like coconut at all, so don’t let that stop you if you don’t care for that tropical treat. And it doesn’t have to be organic, at least in my world.

I’ve been using palm sugar in my coffee and on my oatmeal and have been very happy with the addition. It’s very dark and has a caramel flavor. It’s been hailed as the next best thing to sugar and doctors are claiming that it will not raise blood sugars like refined sugar.

I tried making some peanut butter cups with it, but have not achieved perfection, so will keep working on that. (Look for this in the future.)
But tonight I hit upon an easy, delicious treat that took less than five minutes and resulted in an amazing caramel tasting brittle.

You could also call this Pumpkin Seed caramels.
b roast seeds

Pepitas are pumpkin seeds and I eat them by the handful roasted and salted. Find them in the health food section of your grocer. Unlike sunflower seeds, you don’t have to take them out of their shells. They just dissolve in your mouth, adding a wonderful crunch to salads and on top of soups.

Ingredients for Pepita Brittle
1/4 cup butter (4 TBS)
1/2 cup coconut palm sugar
1/2 cup roasted, salted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
bring to boil

Directions
Melt the butter in a fairly large skillet over medium heat.
Add the palm sugar and stir like crazy.
Bring to a boil and boil about one minute – 60 seconds – that’s it.
Add the seeds and continue to stir and boil for about 30 seconds.
add pumpkin seeds

Pour out onto a buttered plate. (Did I forget to tell you to have that ready?)

b brittle plate

Let it cool, cut and eat.
Or grab a spoon and dig in as soon as you can without scorching your mouth.

This is not a diet food, but don’t let that stop you. Sure, you could cut down the butter, but I didn’t.

brittle pieces

Quick Chicken Fingers

chick fingers

I made these chicken fingers for my 90 year old Dad last week and he said it was the best chicken he’s ever eaten.
Of course, he can’t really remember eating any other chicken…

I’m still clinging to the compliment.
With any luck I’ll remember it long enough to tell you how I made it.

As with all my recipes, there are lots of ways to vary this one. In fact, I first learned this as a quick way to cook walleye fish. We were living in the Chippewa National Forest near Leach Lake in MN. Our friends, Fred and Sharon Rapp, loved to fish and had five little ones. They would make piles of this fish and the kids would have a feeding frenzy. At the time, they used a deep fryer. It’s possible to get the same crunchy coating and moist inside by using a bit of oil in a hot frying pan. Be sure you get the oil very hot before adding the chicken.

Yes, you can also bake the chicken, with pretty good results. But I’ve had better luck with the coating staying on the chicken by this method.
chick tenders

b make assembly line

This technique works on:Chicken tenders (shown here)
Chicken boneless, skinless breast meat cut into smaller pieces
Turkey tenderloin, cut into smaller pieces
Fish – the nice, firm fleshy kind
Shrimp
Veggies like zucchini wheels or onion rings
OK, OK, you get it. This is very adaptable. Make a little assembly line.

Ingredients for Quick Chicken Fingers
1 pound chicken tenders (so easy and already the perfect shape)
Flour – ½ cup or so
1 egg with 1 TBS water
1 cup *bread crumbs (or more depending on how much you’re dipping into it)
1 tsp salt added to bread crumbs
1 TBS grated parmesan cheese added to bread crumbs
(Herbs of your choice can also be added to bread crumbs.)
¼ cup canola or olive oil
1 TBS butter (optional, but it adds a lot of flavor)

add a pat of butter

Directions for Chicken Fingers
Place the flour in one bowl and the bread crumbs in a separate bowl.
In a third shallow bowl, beat the egg with a bit of water.
Open the chicken and don’t wash them. This only contaminates your sink.
chick ready

cook till golden

Dip chicken pieces one at a time in the flour, then the egg and finally the crumbs.
Place them on a clean plate until all are dipped.
Heat your oil. Adding a bit of butter adds great flavor.
Gently place the prepared chicken pieces one at a time in the hot oil. Cook on medium high.
Turn over when golden brown – about two – three minutes.
Cook the other side about two – three minutes.
If they are done, place on a clean plate that has a paper towel. If not, put in a 350 degree oven for 5-10 minutes to finish cooking them. (This is likely if you’ve used a more dense meat, such as turkey tenderloin) But if you are cooking small items like chicken tenders, they’re likely done in 4-6 minutes total. Quick.
chicken fingers
Microwave a small potato and serve with carrots and you have dinner.

*Instead of bread crumbs, you can use: cracker crumbs, panko crumbs, crushed potato chips, crushed pretzels, crushed cereal (one that isn’t sweetened), taco chips….
OK, OK, you get it. This is very adaptable.

5 minute Hummus

hummus with sun dried tomatoes

It’s summer in the Midwest. The months we dream about during sledding months. And even during lumpy sledding months. But summer is not to be taken for granted.

veggies and hummus

Trying to hang onto summer is like trying to hang onto an eel in an oil slick.

Impossible.
The solution is to simplify life and squeeze as much fun as you can out of these blissful warm months.
Easy meals and quick cooking.
How does hummus fit into the picture? With a few veggies and an oatmeal cookie, you could call it lunch. At least that’s what I did today.

What is Hummus?

Official definition: a paste of pureed chickpeas usually mixed with sesame oil or sesame paste and eaten as a dip or sandwich spread – Merriam Webster online dictionary

Well, not quite that simple. I like to jazz mine up to make it more interesting. I make a big batch and put it in smaller containers in the fridge. This way, we can bring a bit to work with raw veggies for lunch or snacks.

chickpeas


Chickpeas are also called garbanzo beans. If you add them to your soups, they’ll hold their shape and not become mushy, so they are a favorite of mine.
Sesame paste is also called Tahini.

Why Eat Hummus? To add a bit more protein to a meal or snack. As a scoop for raw veggies, it will help you – and yours – munch a bunch more vegetables. Something we all need, right?

Dip other foods into it as well: pretzels, crackers, chips.
Spread it on your taco before you load on the other toppings. It’s also delicious as a layer in a Panini sandwich….between layers of cheese, apple, bacon or whatever you like.
I make my own because I shun those unpronounceable ingredients often found in store bought foods. Same reason I make my own bread, soups, granola, cookies, muffins, etc. Easy, simple, pure.
You will notice that I add plain Greek yogurt to my recipe for two reasons:
1. Adds a bit of tanginess
2. Adds a creaminess that I really like
You can also go wild with the spices – add your favorites. So this is a starter recipe which you customize according to what you like.
I also use a food processor; however, a powerful blender should work as well.

ingredients

Ingredients for Big batch of 5 Minute Hummus
2 cans salt free chick peas, rinsed and drained
½ cup Tahini paste (stir it well before you measure it.)
¾ cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup sun dried tomatoes
1 tsp garlic powder
Directions
Put into a food processor and blend for 3-4 minutes, stirring once or twice.
Divide into containers or store in one large covered bowl in the fridge. Snack Away!

For spicier hummus, add curry powder, basil, black or white pepper or any Mrs. Dash spice blend.

Hummus made without the tomatoes will have a lighter look, but it’s still delicious.

Hummus