Lemon Pound Cake

Tilt your head 90 degrees to the right for this one!

9 eggs do not fit well in our bungalow. Its a little grey house, with squealing floorboards and heavy sash windows that do not meet fire regulations. We have trouble fitting the Christmas Tree in the living room because our ceilings are less than 7ft high in some spots, and unsuspecting guests are often injured by the standing chandelier. Everything works because of the unspoken rules: duck your head when you get up from the couch, body-check the door or it won’t close, and if you put it in the back of the fridge it will likely grow mould. Considering this, and pondering the pros and cons of a recipe that uses an entire brick of butter, I concluded that if I were to make Lemon Pound Cake in its original proportions, it would certainly end up in the back of the fridge.

The rear shelf is reserved for congealed Kraft Dinner and silken tofu alfredo; the side effects of exams, extra curricular activities and various kitchen disasters. Never Lemon Pound Cake. But the allure of a  rich, moist, citrus flavoured cake was too great, and my willpower has never been very strong anyways. So amounts were halved, a ten inch tube pan became an 8 and 1/2 inch spring form, and for some strange reason I decided to triple the amount of lemon. The results were lovely paired with Cake Boss Vanilla Frosting. 9 eggs and a pound of butter may be too big for our house, but I assure you this Lemon Pound Cake fits quite comfortably.

Luscious Lemony Pound Cake: adapted, barely, from Sylvia’s Family Soul Food Cookbook

Notes: twice sifted all purpose flour can be substituted for cake flour. 1/4 cup self rising flour is equal to 1/4 cup all purpose flour plus 1/4 tsp baking powder and 1 pinch salt. This recipe has been halved from its original.

1 1/2 cups cake flour

1/4 cup self rising flour

1 3/4 cups sugar

1 cup butter

4 eggs

3/4 cups sour cream

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 300F. Grease and flour an 8-9 inch cake pan. In a medium bowl, mix together both flours, set aside. In a large bowl cream together the sugar and the butter. One at a time, beat in the eggs. Add the flour mixture in two parts, alternating with the sour cream. Stir in the lemon juice. Beat very well, about 3 minutes.

Spoon the batter into the pan. Bake on the centre rack for 1 hour and 45 minutes, being sure to check early. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Flip onto a rack (or pop off the spring form) until cool.

Can be eaten plain, with ice cream or with Vanilla Frosting.

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There once was a girl who racked up $53.75 in library fines. She spent days holed up in her bedroom reading cookbooks; salivating over Mastering the Art of French Cooking, The Vegetarian Chili Cookbook and The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook while due dates continued to pass. Those great tomes might have remained in her bedroom forever if it weren’t for a little robotic message on her answering machine informing her that Julia Child’s masterpiece was several weeks overdue. So reluctantly she walked to the nearest branch, slipped the books through the return slot, and continued on her way. Unbeknownst to this naive child, late returns of books do not go unpunished, particularly when there are 153 holds placed on the literature in question.

Months down the road, her large debts to the Public Library came into play again, as she attempted to borrow The Kite Runner. “Card Suspended” flashed across the self-checkout screen in angry red letters. “Seek Assistance from Front Desk,” it advised. The librarians informed her of the fines she owed and asked if she would like to pay them. “Oh no thanks,” she gulped, and left.

If you haven’t guessed, the little girl was me. At the tender age of 13 I developed a huge amount of Library Fines due to my love affair with food and cooking. I probably would have been better off stealing a copy of Playboy. The fines on my cookbooks went unpaid for the better part of 3 years, in which I walked the long way to the mall to avoid the prying eyes of the librarians and the pangs of guilt in my stomach. It was not until last weekend that I coughed up the cash to pay my debts. While I could never show my face in the neighbourhood branch again, the library downtown had no knowledge of my past sins. It was then that I decided to hop aboard the Number 8 and brave the congested streets in City Centre.

I’ll admit, Edmonton AB, whose population just spills over the 1 million mark, is not exactly a prime example of “fast paced living” and “urban cool.” But we do what we can, and about 95% of the people living here are very amazing. (There’s a 5% minority that are kind of losers, but we don’t talk about them). We’re home to the Largest Mall in America, and a newly renovated Art Gallery. We even have pedways. The only thing we don’t have (aside from a famous tower) is Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. Or rather we have it, but some 13 year old has decided to hide it under her pillow past the due date. Kids these days.

Instead of Julia Child, I walked away from Stanley A Milner Library with “Sylvia’s Family Soul Food Cookbook” and “Afghan Food and Cookery.” I then proceeded to get lost in the pedway, somehow end up inside the Citadel Theatre, eat a panini at the Three Bananas Cafe, and give a homeless man $20 because I had no small change. But I made it home eventually, recipes to come.

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Blueberry Scones

“I asked the maid in a dulcet tone/ to order me a buttered scone./ The silly girl has been and gone/ and ordered me a buttered scone.”

Amazing things happen when you manage to wrestle an 11 year old away from his PS3. Amazing things such as intense brother-sister bonding, dough flinging and Blueberry Scones with a hint of lemon. And while we may not be as cute as we once were, or as chummy, our scones tasted fantastic.

Furthermore, as if by fate, blueberries were club priced at $2.99 for a 551mL at Safeway. I did not really understand how whole blueberries could be measured in millilitres, but I knew exactly where the toonies in my pocket were going. The rest of my money, a whole $17 and 46 cents, went to bribing a certain sixth grade student away from the telly. In hindsight, I might have been cheated a bit– while he was useful for lifting bags of sugar and flour and the warm fuzzy memories were valuable, I doubt I really owed him all that cash. In fact, I may have dug myself a little hole, because that money will surely go towards the next edition of Fifa World Cup Soccer for the PSWii. The little brother doesn’t have to worry about buying 3 types of cheese.

Or 3 types of milk product (which my mum, bless her heart, was kind enough to buy), as used in this tossed together scone recipe. Its a combination of a bunch of recipes, all with the same general procedure. Many used buttermilk, such as this one from Delicious Days, one from Canadian Living used whipping cream, and another from Allrecipes used sour cream. I sent my little slave protégé brother to the fridge, only to discover that we only had a carton of 2% and the leftovers from TexMex fiesta night. But because we’re so cunning, resourceful and clever (it runs in the family), we made it work. Imitation Buttermilk saved the day. Never has 3/4 cups of milk and a teaspoon of lemon been so good.

The real secret to the scones, however, was not 1/4 cup of sour cream, or the Bob the Builder glasses we used as cookie cutters. It was most likely the cold butter, and the, er, smunchling. You can make scones in a food processor very quickly, but of course we do not have one (a Magic Bullet is NOT the same, Dad), or use two knives to work in the butter, but by hand might just be the way to go. It was the definitely the method of choice for one young gourmet, who clocks in at 150 lbs and stands probably 5 foot 5. Yet despite his size and brute strength, was not too macho to exclaim “Ooh, its squishy!” as he kneaded the mass of dough. Win.

Blueberry Scones (rhymes with Jones, but also Johns)

Begin by preparing your “buttermilk.” Pour 3/4 cups + 3 tbsps milk into a  liquid measuring cup. Add 1 tsp of lemon juice. Let stand at room temperature until needed. Notes: you may skip this step if you plan to use real buttermilk, but the lemon in the buttermilk does add to the flavour.

In a large bowl, stir together 2 cups flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp baking soda and 1/2 cup sugar. Cut in 3/4 cups cold butter (the colder the better) and crumble it with your hands or 2 knives (or in your food processor, if you are one of the privileged few) until only peas size chunks remain. Gently mix in 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries.

Stir in the buttermilk, 1/4 cup sour cream and 1-2 tbsp lemon juice (optional). Dump the mixture onto a floured board. If you find it to be too sticky, add an additional 1/4-1/2 cup flour, if you find it too dry, add a splash of milk. Knead very briefly (over-kneading results in a tough scone) and pat into a circle about 3cm thick. Cut into circles and place on a cookie sheet. Re-knead the scraps into a similar shape and cut out circles again. Try to be particular about how you cut your scones out, as you should only be re-shaping the dough once to avoid over-kneading it.  Brush the tops of the scones with 1 egg yolk (beaten) and 1 tsp of milk.

Bake at 425F 12-15 minutes. Makes about 15 scones. With the scraps from the second round of cutting you can form a “mega scone” to save for snacking or throw the dough at your younger sibling.

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Popeye, and other health enthusiasts the world over would be proud to learn  the amount of spinach I’ve nestled into these triangles of phyllo. Everyone else will be excited to hear how much cheese I’ve added. And believe me, there is a large amount of both. “Go big or go home” is what this came down to, so I decided to go big.

That was the only possible route with this recipe, because I had enormous shoes to fill on the Mediterranean Cooking front. Working in a shop that is neighbours with Cosmos Greek Taverna, Koutouki AND Hellas Greek Superstore is like living next door to Taylor Lautner and a Chocolate Factory– supergreat. But when the time came to make my own slice of spinach pie, I had a lot to live up to.

So I took to the interwebs and pieced together a sort-of recipe for Spanakopita. I was wary of using so much spinach (a whole tub, which was about 284g, or 1/2 a pound, roughly), but after the blanching and the shocking and the squeezing, it was really not so much. I was a lot less concerned about using a ton of cheese. Ricotta, cottage, feta, the whole 9 yards. I may have spent more money on food than clothes in the past 3 months, and somehow, thats okay with me.

Spanakopita adapted from many recipes, namley Mike Isabella’s from Zatinya Restaurant

1 tub of baby spinach

1 leek, white part only

1 bunch of green onions

2 tbsp fresh dill and parsley; 1 tablespoon fresh oregano (optional)

1 cup feta cheese, crumbled; 2-3 tbsps each ricotta and cottage cheese (optional)

Oil and 3/4 cups Butter

1 package phyllo dough (there may be a few sheets leftover, depending on how you fill)

Begin with a pot of boiling water and a bowl of ice water (it is sometimes helpful to remove the ice just beforehand, to avoid a messy spinach-stuck-to-icecube situation). Put the spinach into the boiling water for 10-15 seconds. Remove it from the pot with a strainer and plop it into the ice water to stop the cooking process. Stir the cooked spinach around for a few seconds then remove it from the bowl with your hands, gently squeezing all the water out. Set aside.

Make a slit lengthwise down the centre of your leek (using the white part only). Place it in a bowl of water to allow the grit to be washed out. While waiting for the leek to clean, chop the bunch of green onions. You will be using the green top part mostly, discard or save the bottoms for another recipe. By the time you have finished chopping the green onions the leek should be clean. Remove it from the water and cut it lengthwise, though the slit.  Chop it thinly and throw it in a hot frying pan with a drizzle of olive or vegetable oil. Allow it to cook on medium until slightly translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the green onions for another 2 minutes before transferring the mixture to a large bowl.

Combine the leeks and onions with the spinach and cheese(s) and chopped herbs. You may also add an egg to this mixture, but it will taste heavenly even if you forget (and yes, I did forget).

Unroll the phyllo dough and cut it in half. Set the one half aside, covered in a damp towel so it will not dry out. Cut the other half in half again so you have 2 stacks of dough. Choose one stack to work with. Lay the top sheet of dough from that stack by itself on the counter. Coat it in a thin layer of melted butter using a pastry brush. Place another layer of dough on  top of the first and coat it as well.

Some recipes I looked at encouraged the use of clarified butter. I had to study for my Physics exam, and lacked the time and desire to go through the whole process. Thus, melted butter was substituted in. If you wish to use clarified butter,

simply bring the 3/4 cups of butter to a boil on the stove, skimming off the whitish foam that develops. When the butter reaches a boil, reduce the heat for a moment and the milk fats will settle. Pour the butter through a strainer and voila! Clarified Butter. Melted butter does just as well, but clarified might have been easier to work with.

Scoop a heaping teaspoon of filling onto the phyllo and fold it into a triangle shape: bring the right corner to the left side, fold it over, bring the left corner to the right side, fold it over, etc. At the top, dip your finger in the butter and rub it over the lip to seal. Continue

the routine of two sheets of phyllo, butter, a scoop of filling and folds until you’ve used all the filling and/or all the dough. Refrigerate on a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper overnight and bake the next day at 350 for 6 minutes, then flip them and bake for another 2 minutes.

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Hello Cupcakes

You’ll soon find out I take any excuse I can get to make a cake. Of course I bake Rainbow Cake for birthdays and Red Velvet for dinners like anyone else might, but in the gaps between celebrations I often get restless. Before too long, there is at least six cupcakes with colourful frosting sitting on our counter. If they didn’t taste so good, I think my father would complain.

And perhaps he has a right to be annoyed, when passage through the kitchen is obstructed by bowls of frosting and an industrial size bag of all purpose flour. But at the time there was an occasion to be celebrated, so mess was going to be made. It was a fairly mediocre Tuesday night in our home when I made these Hello/Goodbye Cupcakes. I do however, have a tendency to over-celebrate mediocre Tuesday nights, and I ended up churning out 6 Vanilla Cupcakes with Raspberry Jam Icing before I could stop myself. My Mother was to board a plane for Las Vegas, NV in the next twelve hours and I wanted to give her something to remember me by while she trekked up and down the Strip.

If I’d of had my way, it would have been a much grander affair. I was thinking about having a little Diana Ross playing in the background, and perhaps a toast with a glass of champagne (or sparkling apple juice, for the underage members of the family). This idea didn’t bode well with “the men,” who were more enthusiastic about discussing Superbowl XLV than helping me reach the champagne flutes from the cupboard, but I managed to get the family sitting around the table for a minute or two, even if we had to drink Ginger ale instead. The cupcakes were well received as a Goodbye to my Mum, but also as a Hello to all of you!

The vanilla cake is a Magnolia’s Bakery recipe which calls for self rising flour as well as all purpose. I used only all purpose in it, mainly because we don’t have self rising flour in the pantry. Things turned out just fine. The frosting is from Buddy Valastro’s Cake Boss Cookbook with a little raspberry twist by yours truly. It recommends you have a stand mixer with paddle attachment, but a handheld one will work also. (I actually did this with a whisk, which was maybe not the best route!)

Magnolia’s Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes

2 ½ cups flour

1 cup soft butter

2 cups sugar

4 eggs at room temperature

1 cup milk

1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake papers.

In a large bowl, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour in three parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but do not overbeat. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended. Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about three-quarters full. Bake for 20–25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean.

Cool the cupcakes in the tins for 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

Note: If you would like to make a layer cake instead of cupcakes, divide the batter between two 9-inch round cake pans and bake the layers for 30-40 minutes

Vanilla Frosting: adapted from Stories and Recipes from Mia Famiglia by Buddy Valastro

Mix 2 ½ cups butter in a large bowl until smooth. Continue beating and add 5 cups icing sugar, one cup at a time, ensuring the first addition is mixed well before adding the next. Stop beating and add 1 tablespoon vanilla and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt. Mix on low medium until smooth, then add 3 tablespoons milk or water. Mix until light and fluffy. In a very small bowl, stir 2 tbsp raspberry jam or puree until smooth. Add to the frosting for a fruity kick (optional). Will keep for up to 2 days in an airtight container at room temperature.

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