Monday, June 27, 2011

Sarah's Fresh Coconut Cake...

Category: Desserts
Difficulty Rating: Hard (if you make the boiled frosting, Medium if you make cream cheese frosting)

This recipe was first introduced at a family gathering 26 years ago at my grandmother's house in Lafayette. I loved that house. It sort of had the ambiance of  the White House. My grandparents designed it with a huge living-room with high ceilings and a large fireplace mantle that my grandmother had carved herself and laquered a creamy off-white. I remember crackling fires in that fireplace, and moss-green carpets and furniture. My grandmother, who was wild for interior design, took great pains picking the colors for her home. In fact, one night my grandfather was greeted at the door when he came home from work not with "Hello darling, how was your day?" but " Fletcher, I've decided to carry green throughout the house!". My grandfather replied," Who is Mr. Green, and why are you planning to do this to him?"

Anyway, after my sister Sarah made this cake I nabbed the recipe right away. It is moist and delicious. Some people don't like coconut--but my whole family does. I hope yours does too!


1 coconut--take the meat out of the shell and grate it using  a medium sized grate
1/2 C butter
1 1/2 C sugar
1 t vanilla
1/2 t. coconut extract
1 3/4 C cake flour
2 t baking powder
1/4 t. salt
4 egg whites


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 8" pans OR line with baking parchment. Beat butter and 1 1/4 C sugar until well blended. Beat in vanilla and coconut extract. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Add dry ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture alternately in two parts with milk.

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until foamy, then continue beating as you gradually add the remaining 1/4 C sugar, beat until soft peaks. Fold 1/4 of beaten whites and 1 C grated coconut into batter. Scoop in remaining whites and fold rapidly until just blended. Divide the batter between the pans. Bake for 25 minutes. Let cool in pans 5 minutes before turning onto racks.

Note: You can frost this with "Boiled Frosting"or "Cream Cheese Frosting". 

Boiled Frosting Ingredients:

1 1/2 C sugar
1/2 C water
1/4 t cream of tartar
pinch salt
1/2 C egg whites
2 t. vanilla
 6 oz. fresh grated fresh coconut


Combine the sugar, water, cream of tartar and salt in small saucepan. Bring to boil until perfectly clear. Put lid on pan for 1 minute. Remove lid and continue boiling over high heat until 240 degrees. Slowly drizzle hot syrup onto egg whites, beating at medium speed. Add vanilla and beat 2-3 minutes more until peaks form. Frost cake and sprinkle lots of fresh grated coconut on top and sides of cake. Press coconut gently onto the cake so it sticks. The entire cake should be covered with coconut so fill in the blank spots and serve.

Alternatively you can make this slightly less sweet icing:

Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting:

16 oz. Cream Cheese (softened)
2 sticks unsalted butter (softened)
1 t coconut extract
1/2 t vanilla extract
1 lb powdered sugar (sifted)
 6 oz fresh shredded coconut


Combine cream cheese...butter...vanilla...and extracts on a low speed. Add powdered sugar and mix until just smooth. Do not whip! Spread all over cake and sprinkle shredded coconut on the sides--pressing on gently with your hand so that it sticks. Cover the entire cake and serve.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mom's Apple Pie

Category: Desserts
Difficulty: Medium-Hard (if you make your own crust)

The 4th of July is coming very soon, so it's only appropriate that I post my Mom's Apple Pie recipe. This recipe comes from that all-American cookbook: "Joy of Cooking". Published first in the early 1930's by Irma Rombauer, it was a big hit in the Depression. My mom still has the blue 1943-46 version, and used it to learn how to cook when she was first married. When the boys came home from WW2, as my Dad did, they were often greeted with apple pie made with the same recipe that is at the bottom of the page.

Feeling not just a little nostalgic, I recently had Mom over to help me make an apple pie. The pictures are of her hands... Hands that loved us in so many ways--including cooking! My mom is one of the sweetest people I have ever known. I should also mention her name, other than Mom, is Anne Taylor Whitson (because she always wanted to be famous). The following recipe for a pie filling is from Joy of Cooking, the recipe for pie crust is not. Mom got it off a Tupperware pastry-rolling sheet sometime in the 1960s. The recipe was printed right on it!

Note: The secret to making great pie crust is to keep everything very cold. Put your shortening in the freezer for an hour before making crust if you can. Use iced water. And above all, don't handle the crust any more than you have to.

Tupperware No-Fail Pie Crust Ingredients for One Crust: (double recipe for a two-crusted pie)

1 1/4 C flour
1/2 t. salt
1/2 C shortening (preferably chilled)
1/4 cup iced water (remove ice before measuring)


Blend cold ingredients with a pastry blender, a mixer, or just a good olde fork. Stop blending when flour and shortening are completely incorporated into tiny balls, about the size of sweater balls. Add 1/4 C iced water and stir with fork just until a loose ball is formed. Wrap ball in plastic and put into fridge for 1 hour or more. Remove plastic and put chilled ball in the middle of a floured flat surface and flatten a bit with hands. It should still be circular in shape. Using a floured rolling pin (or use a floured wine bottle in a pinch) and roll dough about 1/8th to 1/4th inch thick . Try to roll it into a shape as close to a circle as possible. Any breaks in the crust can be mended by squishing it together with fingers moistened with a tiny bit of water.

Using a spatula, loosen crust from floured surface (see picture). Fold crust in half (see picture) and quickly transfer to a 9-inch pie pan. Make sure folded edge lands in the center of the pan. Unflold crust so that all of pan is covered evenly. Using a sharp knife, trim off any extra dough that hangs over over the side of the pan more than 1 inch. Set aside. Fold under the 1-inch of dough hanging off the side and crimp edges of crust using Mom's method (see picture). If crust seems thin in some places, or breaks, just use the extra crust you have trimmed off previously to patch it. It's very much like Play-Dough--after it's in the pan it's OK to just mold the darn stuff into what you want!

Note: After rolling out one crust, you can make another if you want a double-crusted pie. Simply roll out a second crust just like the first and reserve to put on top of the pie after it's filled. Another option is to make a delicious streusel topping, which is even easier!

Joy of Cooking's Apple Pie Filling Ingredients:

5-6 cups of cored and very thinly sliced apples (we used 7 cups of Granny Smith apples)
1/2 to 2/3 C white or brown sugar (we used 1/3 C of each)
1/8 t salt
1 to 1 1/2 T cornstarch (we used 1 1/2 T)
1/4 t cinnamon
1/8 t nutmeg (or less)
1 1/2 T butter
1 T lemon juice (add only if using sweet instead of tart apples)
1/2 t grated lemon rind
1 t vanilla (optional--if you are using apples lacking in flavor)


Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, place sliced apples, sugars, salt, cornstarch, cinnamon,and nutmeg. Only very juicy apples will require the larger amount of cornstarch. Use the larger amount of sugar if you are using tart apples (Granny Smith or Pippin). Note: Always use tart apples. If you can't find some, use lots of lemon juice (see below). And always use another 2 T of extra sugar if you increase the apple content to seven cups like we did , and that goes for tart OR sweet

If the apples are bland or lacking in flavor, are sweet instead of tart, sprinkle with the following:
1 T lemon juice
1/2 t lemon rind (or 1 t vanilla)

Stir the apples gently until they are wll coated. Place them in layers in the pie shell. (I never worry about this, but if you do it, it looks really good!) Dot the top with 1 1/2 T butter (mom used about 4-5 heaping teaspoons--the dots were more like globs--see picture). Cover pie with upper crust and crimp edges on top of bottom crust crimping. Prick with a fork a few times. For a delicious touch, sprinkle upper crust with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. Bake in a 450 degree oven 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees. Bake until done, 35-45 minutes, or until golden brown. If crimped edges start to get too brown before the apples are cooked, remove pie from oven and cover top with foil and return to oven until done.

Streusel Topping Option: Mix together 1/2 c brown sugar and 1/2 C sifted flour in a small mixing bowl with 1/2 t cinnamon. Cut in 1/3 C chilled butter with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over apples and bake at 425 degrees about 40 minutes or until apples are done and streusel is lightly browned. If streusel or crimping starts to over-brown or burn before apples are cooked, remove from oven and cover top with foil. Return to oven until done.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Sue Shelby's Vienna Sugar Cookies

Category: Cookies and Bars
Difficulty Rating: Easy

The Shelby family, who lived next door to my family when we were growing up in the 60's and
70's, was a lot of fun. We used to go over to their house for wonderful dinners cooked by our moms and later by all of the girls in the Shelby family too. We played basketball, Go Fish, Murder, Hide and Go Seek, Charades, Horse, and a thousand other games. I "married" Jim Shelby when I was 4 and he was 5. We have it on film. I wore my mothers finest curler-bonnet and James wore my dad's suit jacket and tie. Happy Days, indeed!

Here is the recipe for a lemon sugar cookie very much like the ones made by Pacific Cookie Company except without lemon drops. I suppose you could crush some lemon drops and add them--but I haven't tried that yet. Sue Shelby, the eldest daughter in the family gave us some once and we immediately inhaled them. And asked her for the recipe...


1 1/2 C flour
2 t baking powder
1 stick butter
1 c sugar
3 egg yolks
1 t. vanilla
1 t. lemon extract


Sift flour and baking powder in a bowl. Make a well in the center: put butter, sugar, egg yolks and flavorings in it. Using hand mixer, mix ingredients until smooth. Then work in flour. Chill 2 hours, roll out on floured surface about 1/4 inch thick, cut with floured cookie cutter and transfer to sheet with a spatula. Bake at 375 degrees 8 minutes or until very lightly browned. Cool 5 minutes on racke rack before removing from pan. Makes 36 3-inch cookies. Don't eat too many at once or you will get lowwwgie!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Laura's African Peanut Stew

Catagory: Chicken
Difficulty Rating: Easy-Medium
Pretty Healthy--especially if you are in Africa

My sister Laura (Whitson) went to Sierra Leone to be in the Peace Core in the 1970s when she was in her twenties. She taught school there, and became totally immersed in the East African culture for a few years. So, my mom, dad and my 12 yr. old brother Jim went over to visit her. They had a great time until one day they decided to go explore where the river meets the ocean. There was a peninsula in the middle of the
 river. It had a nice beach, so they decided to swim to it. Suddenly, they found themselves caught in a fierce rip tide. Now, my family are all good swimmers. But the peninsula was only so long and was becoming out of reach as they were slowly being swept out into the mouth of the sea. My Dad, realizing the situation, was coming up behind my little brother and attempting to throw him all the way to the peninsula. This was tough--especially since he hadn't exercised for years. My mom was trying to get to my sister to help her. Suddenly my 160 IQ sister Laura looked back at the shore and yelled "Let's go back to where we came from. It's a shorter distance." This made sense. So, heaving and exhausted--they turned around and made it to safety.

My sister has henceforth been known for her smarts. One smart thing she did was bring back this recipe for Peanut (or Groundnut) Stew. This stew is considered the Sierra Leone national dish--it takes peanut butter, peppers and chicken and makes something REALLY tasty.

This is the recipe in her own words:

"Cook any kind of meat (I like skinned, boneless chicken breasts--2lbs) first by frying it in peanut oil in a skillet. Take it out and chop into 1-inch cubes and replace in pan. Add enough water to cover meat. Cover with lid, simmer until tender. Meantime, chop onions (1 medium), saute in peanut oil until soft. Chop a fresh hot pepper and add to the onions (or use one dried red pepper, or 1/8 t crushed red pepper). Take smooth peanut butter, about one cup to a chicken, and mix it up with water (same amount as peanut butter). Then pour mixture on top of the onions. Add a large can of stewed whole tomatoes and a small can of tomato paste. Then, stir in as much water as you like to make a thick stew consistency. Throw in a couple of chicken bouillon cubes too. No salt is necessary (because of the bouillon). Add black pepper, savory, garlic powder and just a shake of cayenne pepper to taste (I would use about 1/8th teaspoon of each except cayenne, and 1 t garlic powder). Add cooked chicken and simmer together. Serve on top of rice."

Note: If it gets too thick when it cools, stir in more water and put it back on the stovetop.

John Stamos's Lemon Chicken Marinade

Category: Chicken
Difficulty Rating: Very Easy
Very Healthy

Everyone who is health-conscious should have a lemon-chicken recipe in their collection. This is actor John Stamos' Greek chicken recipe. Featured in Vogue years ago--it even makes people on diets happy. I am dieting right now as I write this. After Easter is over if I have still not taken off the lb.s added at Christmas --I know it's time to take radical steps! Arrgh! ( Who put this spare tire around my waist! I know...It was the elves. The night-elves. They live under the bed with the dust bunnies!)

This is best as an overnight marinade for chicken--but as little as an hour is OK. Can be used for seafood as well-- but with only up to 2 hours of marinating advised. Yield: 1 1/3 C marinade --enough for up to 8 half chicken breasts. Place thin lemon slices on top of grilled chicken breasts with a little chopped parsley sprinkle to garnish. Serve to guests on a large platter--simple and elegant.


1 C olive oil
1/4 C white wine
1/3 C fresh lemon juice
6 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1 T dried oregano
1 t salt


Combine all ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lide and shake well. Makes about 1 2/3 C.

For Marinated Chicken:

In a reasealable plastic bag, marinate chicken and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.
Rmove from marinade and discard marinade. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Cook over high heat on grill, turning only once, for about 10 minutes. Let sit before serving. Serves 8.

For Marinated Seafood: ("Put a shrimp on the barbie...")

In a reasealable plastic bag, marinate 2 lbs seafood (shrimp and/or scallops) and refrigerate for 2 hours, turning occasionally. Soak bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes (or use stainless steel skewers). Remove seafood from marinade and discard marinade. Thread seafood on skewers and season with salt and pepper. Grill over high heat on charcoal or gas grill, 6-8 minutes, or until opaque. Serves 8.

Robin's White Chili with Chicken

Category: Chicken
Difficulty Rating: Easy
Healthy if you have it plain

It's just Common Sense to make chili. It's not expensive because of the beans...and full of protein. You can make a big batch of it and freeze half. This is a recipe my cousin Robin makes (from "Southern U.S. Cuisine") that was requested by her kids whenever they had an "adult" party. Especially her son Ryan's baseball team. Hey, if you can please a high-school baseball team, you can please anybody! My husband actually got some out of the oven the other day while it was cooking and finished a quarter of it before I could go to the store to get sour cream!. It smelled that good! He had such a big smile on his guilty face!!!  Common Sense Tip: If you are not allergic to dairy--serve with non-fat sour cream and grated low-fat mozzerella or cheddar cheese. If you are allergic--have it plain or use non-dairy substitutes.

Note: You will need either a Crock-Pot, a Dutch Oven casserole, or a large ceramic casserole dish to make this.


1 can cooking spray (olive oil)
1 T olive oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 C chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced (3 medium cloves or 2 large--too much garlic takes away from the other flavors)
1 can tomatillos, about 12 oz., drained and cut-up (Embasa brand is available at specialty markets like Shopper's Corner and Scotts Valley or Ben Lomond Market-- but call around before you drive out to get them!)
1 14.5 oz can tomatoes, diced, preferably canned with green chilis ( Ro-tel brand is good)
1 1/2 C chicken broth
1 4-oz can chopped green chili peppers, not drained (Ortega is fine).
1 /2 dried oregano flakes
1/2 t coriander seeds, crushed--or ground coriander
1/4 t ground cumin
2 cans great northern beans, drained
3T lime juice (about 3 limes)
1/4 t black pepper
1/2 C (at least) shredded cheddar cheese (you can also use Monterey Jack OR a combo)

Note: If you make this and it turns out too hot for you, just put in another pound of chicken and another can of beans!


Spray a large skillet with cooking spray, add olive oil and heat on medium high until hot. Add diced chicken and saute for 3 minutes or until done...Remove chicken from pan. Place all ingredients, except cheese, in a crockpot, cover and cook for 8 hours. Or, if you have a casserole, make sure it's greased and covered and put it in a 250 degree oven for 4 hours. Serve hot in large bowls with pass-around bowls of sour cream, tortilla chips, salsa, cheese, and anything you else can think of. Cornflakes? ( jus kiddin'... tee-hee)

Debbie's Out of This World Garlic Bread

Category: Breads
Difficulty Rating: Very Easy

Everybody loves garlic bread. In fact if Marie Antoinnette had said "Let them eat garlic bread" instead of "Let them eat cake" she might have kept her head.

This garlic bread is has Italian seasoning and Parmesano. You'll see. You will never buy store-bought garlic bread again!  The author of this superb side used to walk with me with our babies in strollers while we prayed together.  We put on many miles on our Adidas in Sunnyvale when Silicon Valley was still young. Sun MicroSystems was still in two buildings and Facebook was just a gleam in a child-genius's eye.
We didn't need to wear jackets because it was the 80's and our butt-lenghth bulky knit sweaters (that made us look HUGE) and acid-washed jeans and leg-warmers sufficed to keep us warm.

Our babies are now "growed up" but the memories will never fade. Thank you Deb, for your garlic bread and invaluable friendship.


2 cubes butter (soft)
5 cloves garlic (pressed or smashed and finely chopped)
2 T finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 T olive oil
1/4 t Italian seasoning
Grated parmesan or mozzarella cheese (optional)

Mix all above ingredients. Split french bread lengthwise and spread on each half. You can put a thin layer of grated parmesan or mozzarella on top of this if you want to be even more cheesy. Bake in 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or until melted and lightly toasted. Do make extra--you'll need it.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Aunt Elma's Almond Bars-- Russian Tea Cakes with a Difference

Category: Cookies and Bars
Difficulty Rating: Easy

My mom had a wonderful aunt named Elma Robinson. Married to my mother's sweet Uncle Chet, she was tall and striking. She also had a knack for talking to younger people and would chat to us at length about important things that concerned us. Like whether maxi skirts or midi skirts were coming into fashion. Things like that.

My mom has always contended that Aunt Elma was the best baker in her family. I never tasted anything she had made, except one. Her Almond Bars. They are mostly butter, sugar and flour with powdered sugar on top--like Russian Tea Cakes or Mexican Wedding Cakes. But the difference is: these have ground almonds. It makes them taste...oooh so good. Betcha can't eat just one! Easy and fun to roll into peanut shapes or balls, this is one for the kids to make with you!


1 lb butter
6 T powdered sugar
2 C ground, blanched almonds
4 C flour
1 t real vanilla extract
1 box sifted powdered sugar

Mix all ingredients together (this will be a very stiff dough). Shape into balls the size of walnuts. Alternatively, make the balls into peanut shapes by putting your index finger in the middle of a dough ball and rolling it once. Aunt Elma did it this way--it was cute! Bake at 400 degrees on a greased cookie sheet until cookies just start to brown on the bottom. Remove from oven and cool to just slightly warm . Roll in powdered sugar on a flat surface (I use a paper plate). Then cool completely. Roll in powdered sugar again. Serve or pack into containers to give as gifts!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Steak with Chimichurri Sauce

Category: Main Dishes
Difficulty Rating: Easy (it would be very easy except for all the chopping)
Healthy for a steak!

Father's Day is coming and that means the steaks will be on the grill! This is for Dads who love a little spice in their lives. Talk about flavor! The chimichurri sauce is adapted from a South American (and I don't mean Georgia) recipe from Chef Emeril Lagasse. I recently had it when I was at a caterer's "tasting" for my daughter's wedding. Put it on any cut of steak or tri-tip and it will be incredible. Goodness! Just remembering it makes me drool. I dedicate this to my Dad, and to my wonderful husband who is a great Dad also.

 steaks (up to 4 lbs of flank or sirloin or other low-fat steak)
1 C olive oil
2/3 C sherry vinegar (or you can just use white wine vinegar)
1/4 C sherry (cooking sherry is fine--and inexpensive)
2 T lemon juice
1 C chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 C basil, chopped
3 T finely minced garlic (sauteed in a T olive oil for about 1 minute)
1/2 med. red onion (quartered)
2 T chopped fresh cilantro
1 T chopped fresh oregano
1/2 t salt
1/4 t crushed red pepper
1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper


Mince garlic and sautee it in a small pan with a little olive oil for about 1 minute. Do not let it brown! Throw garlic plus all of the above (except steak) into the food processor with a blade and chop up for just a second or two. Transfer half of mixture to a flat bowl or pan. Marinate steak in 1/2 mixture for a few hours or overnight. Set aside other half of marinade to use as a sauce later. Scrape stuff from marinade off of steaks and cook on a medium-hot grill until just medium rare. Slice into thin slices and place on a serving platter. Spoon a bit of the reserved marinade/sauce onto the steak and serve the rest in a bowl for guests to pass.... Wow.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tortilla Ole Casserole

Category: Chicken
Difficulty Rating: Easy
Not Very Healthy

When I got married, my dear cousin Robin had a beautiful bridal shower for me and all the Robinson ladies brought me copies of their favorite recipes.  This one was from Vonda Breed who got it from her mother-in-law Edie. Yah, they have soup in them, but you can use lo-fat soup and lo-fat sour cream if you wish to lower the fat content. Chef Rocco Dispirito uses it in HIS recipes--so why can't we? However... if you are a cooking purist you can always substitute a bechamel saucemade with chicken stock for soup. Your choice. I'm sure I son't need to tell you that for a busy week, a good casserole is a dream, because it's quick, easy, and makes lots of great leftovers for future meals. Eat some Freeze some. Yield:  feeds 8-10 depending on how many hungry atheletes you have.

3 chicken breasts, cooked and chopped (I cook mine in a skillet with a bit of olive oil)
1 C sour cream (lo-fat?)
1 can green chilis
1 can (lo-fat?)condensed cream of mushroom soup (or make 10 oz. thick bechamel sauce with salted chicken stock)
1 can (lo-fat?) condensed cream of chicken soup (ditto above for alternative)
1 1/2 C grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 can pitted olives (optional)
1 onion, chopped
6 corn tortillas, cut into 1/2 inch strips

Mix sour cream, chilis, olives, soups and onion. Put a layer of sauce on bottom of a greased 12X14 inch pan. Layer cut tortillas, then layer chicken, more sauce, and cheese, ending with cheese. I always add more cheese on the top than the recipe calls for--but I love cheese! Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, it's best if cheese is bubbly and starting to turn brown.