Friday, May 25, 2012

Nutty Approach to the Heat

Summery weather here in Buffland has me looking for more quick, easy raw dishes. Being hunched over the stove on an 80 degree day is not to my taste; and I'm too scattered in the mornings, too busy searching out a luscious breeze, to use the crockpot much yet.

Besides, raw food is full of water, and life; it's hydrating, and energizing, and cooling, all at once. And the sheer bulk of uncooked vegetables makes them filling. That's what I'm wanting now, and that's why I find myself using raw nut 'meat' for many creations.

 (Maybe we should even try to get beyond that description, and call it a filling, but that seems vague and easy to misunderstand. Ah, well, I'll leave the label issue for another day).

 If I just begin by soaking some almonds, cashews or walnuts for a while in the afternoon, I'm good to go come dinner prep-time. You can soak them for as little as an hour before use, to make them more easily digestible and blendable with flavorings, but if you have the presence of mind, start them at lunchtime and drain and refrigerate a few hours later. Catch the drained soaking water to use as a vitamin treat for your houseplants or garden.

 After draining, grind half the nuts fine, and half a little chunkier, for texture and chew factor,
(I use about 1 1/2 C for two people, but use more if you like-- leftovers keep well in the fridge for days), and then add your flavorings, tastings as you go-- a few drops of extra virgin olive oil, or sesame or walnut or basil oil-- a minced clove of garlic, and then seasonings appropriate to your dish, plus a grinding of sea salt. Note-- before adding the oil, the mixture should hold together well and not be too goopy and wet-- if it is, scoop it out to a bowl and grind a handful or so of unsoaked nuts fine, add to the original mixture and let it soak up the extra moisture. Then proceed with adding your spices as usual.

If you're not sure what you'll creating, add a simple herb, like dill or thyme, or fennel seed, that can blend well with many cuisines. In any case, set the nutmeat aside in the fridge, if you can, for a half hour, to firm up a bit, and let it pick up the taste of the seasonings.

 We like to have raw taco nutmeat salad, piling small mounds of cumin & chili-scented nutmeat around a bed of shredded lettuce, shredded cabbage or carrot, with sliced zukes or cukes, peppers of course, jicama, onion if we want, orange or apple bits, corn sliced off the cob, maybe some guacamole, all topped with chunked raw salsa or coriander for juiciness.

 Don't be contained by conventional ideas of taco ingredients either-- for one thing, our US version of tacos is hardly authentic; for another, it's really the seasonings and the combo of creamy/crunchy that make it anyhow. I often throw some slivered broccoli into both cooked and uncooked burrito mixtures, and the addition works. Don't even be hard-nosed about using all raw, here-- run hot water over frozen corn to thaw, squeeze out the moisture, and add to your salad. A sprtiz of lime will freshen the corn flavor, of you have some on hand.

 You could use sesame oil instead, and make raw pad thai, using uncooked vegetables, and some soaked glass noodles to fill in your favorite recipe. The nut meat can be formed into small balls or coins, or just crumbled, and you won't need to add crushed peanuts for nuttiness, unless you want to!

 Using minced onion, dried oregano and savory in the nut mix makes a good flavor base for mini-sliders-- finely chopped pickle or a spoonful of relish added works, too. Form the tiny burgers right after grinding and seasoning the nut mixture, then do the half hour chilling. Serve on buns or green salad with your usual toppings, or eat them on top of a pile of coleslaw or a bed of sliced mushrooms dressed with raw shoyu or a viniagrette.  Some crudite or fresh fruit on the side makes a meal.

 The same flavors of oregano and onion, plus dill and/or mint, turn your nut meat into a souvlaki filling for pita or to top a salad with-- use the nut meat in place of feta if you're trying, as I am, to use less cheese. Make a traditional salad of chunked tomato, peppers, cucumbers, and olives; or put that all onto spinach or lettuce and add croutons, for a great meal. Olive oil and red wine vinegar make the perfect, simple dressing, while lemon juice and parsley dress it up and add authenticity.

 These are a few of my regular raw nut dinner standbys-- but I'd love to hear your ideas. Enjoy!

  Peace, Mari

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Drinks 'n Things

Some quick happenings in the area, that you won't want to miss-- I know I have to miss both, and don't want to!

 Another The Dude Hates Cancer event, and for fans of wine and sport, Bases Merlot-ed for Shakespeare in the Park.

 Doesn't that sound like a ball?

 Peace, Mari

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Seeing Pink

 For a Mother's Day luncheon with my sisters, I was tasked with bringing the dessert, and asked for a cake. This could have presented a problem, since some in my family don't like chocolate, some don't like banana, some eschew walnuts. Which meant that my down-pat, go-to cakes were off the table.

 This the cake I made--

I saw it on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens magazine, and couldn't resist, especially after reading the words "Pink Lemonade Cake." I love lemon, and I knew everyone else would too. It was pretty, with four layers comprised of two different shades of pink, inside.

 What I didn't realize was that this beauty would call for a full 2 pounds of butter, most of which went into the frosting, along with 32 ounces of-- wait for it-- Marshmallow Fluff.

I'm serious.

And you know what? It was delicious, and not difficult, with a stand mixer to help. If you make the frosting on one day, and then the cake the next, you won't even have to handwash the mixer parts in between, as I did, you can throw them in the dishwasher instead.  Just make sure you take the frosting out for an hour before using, to soften. 

For once, I followed the recipe almost exactly; I didn't rush out and replace my lovely coloring gels with liquid red food coloring, and neither should you-- just tint carefully, and make sure the second panful of batter is a slightly deeper pink than the first.

Never having made buttercream without real butter, I can't say how this frosting recipe would turn out using margarine-- but the cake could easily accomodate oil instead of butter, using the same amount of fat (1 Cup). 

This is what the cake looks like inside:

And here is the recipe, perfect for a special day when you don't mind throwing your calorie counter out the window. Hey, my younger sister eats gluten-free and dairy-free, and she had a small piece anyway-- and said it was worth it.

Pink Lemonade Cake

 Makes: 18 servings (from BH&G, May 2012)

Prep: 1 hr Bake: 350°F 35 mins to 40 mins Cool: 1 hr


1 cup butter (2 sticks)

4 eggs

3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups sugar

Red food coloring

1 1/3 cups milk

1/4 cup frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed

1 teaspoon pure lemon extract

1 recipe Lemonade Butter Frosting


1. Allow butter and eggs to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, grease two 9x2-inch round cake pans. Line bottoms with parchment; grease paper. Flour pans, tapping to remove excess; set aside. In medium bowl stir together 3-1/3 cups flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In an extra-large mixing bowl beat butter with mixer on medium to high for 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time, beating on medium until well combined. Scrape sides of bowl; beat 2 minutes more. Add 1/8 tsp. red food coloring; beat to combine. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

3. In bowl stir together milk, lemonade concentrate, and extract (mixture will look curdled). Alternately add flour mixture and milk mixture to butter mixture, beating on low after each addition just until combined. Remove half (4 cups) the batter; spread in one pan. In remaining batter, stir 1/4 tsp. red food coloring. Spread in second pan.

4. Bake about 35 minutes, until tops spring back when lightly touched. Meanwhile, prepare Lemonade Butter Frosting.

5. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove layers from pans; peel off waxed paper. Cool completely on wire racks. Trim off domed tops of layers so cake will stand flat. Cut each layer horizontally in half, making four layers. Brush crumbs from layers.

6. Place one dark pink layer, cut-side down, on a plate. Spread 1 cup frosting just to edges. Top with a light pink layer, followed by second dark pink layer, spreading frosting on each just to edges. Stack final light pink layer, cut-side down. Spread frosting on top and sides as desired.

From the Test Kitchen

•Tip Evenly color layers: To incorporate food coloring evenly in batter, add the first portion of food coloring to butter and sugar mixture before adding eggs.

•Tip Lemon Garnish: Thinly slice lemons and remove seeds. Coat with sugar then arrange on cake just before serving.

Lemonade Buttercream Frosting

Yield: about 6 cups


3 cups(6 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 16-oz jars marshmallow creme*

1/4 cup frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed

1 cup powdered sugar

2 teaspoons pure lemon extract


1. In very large mixing bowl beat softened butter with mixer on medium for 30 seconds, until light and fluffy. Add marshmallow creme and lemonade concentrate. Beat until smooth, scraping sides of bowl. Add powdered sugar and extract; beat until light and fluffy. (If frosting is stiff, soften in microwave no more than 10 seconds, then beat until smooth.)

2. Frost Pink Lemonade Cake. To store frosting, cover and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month. Bring to room temperature before frosting cake. Makes 6 cups.

From the Test Kitchen•Tip Room-temperature butter ensures that the frosting will be creamy and spreadable.
•Tip * If only 13-oz. jars are available, add 6 oz. (1-1/2 cup) marshmallow creme.

Nutrition Facts (Pink Lemonade Cake)

Servings Per Recipe: 18***

***note-- you can't get 18 pieces by cutting the cake into large wedges-- which you won't need anyway, since the topping is so rich and the cake so satisfying. What you do is cut the top two layers into smaller squares, and so on. I used my old Betty Crocker cookbook for guidance, and still didn't make that many slices, but it is a large cake! If I can find an online source for this method, I'll post it here later.

 Peace, Mari 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Their Love is Cold

 I'm speaking of our local ice cream parlors and shops, of course. We may still have frost at night here in Buffland, but the warm days call for cool treats-- so here's a short list of some of the best I've been to in the last 2 summers. Lucky for me, Kenmore is home to some of the best pizza and ice cream in our area. And most of it comes through local, or locally owned, chains or stores.

 At Anderson's, you can get nearly any kind of shake, malt, sundae, or cone, but I adore the Raspberry Craze smoothie, a vegan treat that, for 50 cents more, you can make into a real pick-me-up by adding soy protein. This filling, lowfat snack of a drink is made with berries and apple juice, and it's thick, chilling, and super-fruity. The only possible drawback-- tiny raspberry seeds, but I don't mind them.

 Anderson's also serves great curly fries, a large and tasty veg burger, and even boasts a gluten-free menu.

Hanna's Frosty Treats, on Colvin in Buffalo, is both very inexpensive, and a sweet place to grab a cone. They use wonderful ice cream from Perry's, always a sure thing. We've especially liked the Creme de Menthe and Grasshopper sundaes, and when I only have a few bucks to spend, we can each get a cone and have change left. But be warned, the large cones here are a damn good size, and I've never been able to finish one. The biggest I can sometimes handle is a medium.

 There is covered outside seating, and friendly people from the neighborhood hanging around. They know a good thing when they taste it.

Reid's on Elmwood is a tradition, and for good reason. They also serve Perry's, and burgers and dogs and other reasonably priced fare. The large sunny deck that surrounds the shop makes for fine seating and eating. I try different flavors every time I go there, and have never been disappointed yet. They have flavors you don't see everywhere, and it's a family-owned business that rightfully prides itself on customer service.

 *Note-- cash is king at Hanna's and Reid's, so plan accordingly.

 While Hanna's and Reid's are open seasonally, Condrell's on Delaware Avenue, like Anderson's, stays open all year. With specialties like Maple Cider sundaes in the autumn, it's easy to see why they can last throughout the year.

 The decor is sort of a bright, kitschy fifties style, with old-timey posters on the walls, and it works for them. They have lavish sundaes and lovely candies, too.

 Get a small sundae and pile on the works, unless you have an appetite like the Hulk-- or have one of their excellent hand-dipped shakes. It's a little more than what you'd pay elsewhere, but totally worth it, and you can top off your unique ice cream adventure with a nice espresso or coffee, as well.

 I'd be remiss if I didn't put in a good word for my local Dairy Queen outpost on Elmwood-- although it's a big chain, you get very good service at this location. The employees are young, (and cute), and  always attentive and enthusiastic; and they make the best Peanut Buster parfait in WNY.

 DQ is open later than most ice cream places, too, and you can use plastic to pay, which makes them an easy option on many a hot night. I can't tell you how many times we've arrived there just before close, and waited in a short line full of students from the nearby dance studio, all replenishing their calcium, I guess. But the lines move fast there, and there are plenty of tables.

 Farther afield, the irreplaceable Parkside Candies on Main & Winspear in Buffalo, near UB's South Campus, serves up some of the best ice cream anywhere in a spectacular old-time soda shop atmosphere. The vaulted ceiling and tiled floors enclose a cool, spacious setting that is unmatched in its slightly shabby grandeur. They have soups, sandwiches, shakes. etc., all with tableside service, all at the lower end of reasonably priced.

 When yours truly was growing up on nearby Heath Street, 40 years back before the neighborhood was a complete student ghetto, I adored going into this shop and buying a solid maple sugar candy shaped as a Canadian maple leaf. They were so sweet I never finished them in one sitting. And the sponge candy was to die for!

 My favorite taste here, nowadays, is the deeply flavored, subtle and wonderful coffee ice cream, when they have it. If you want to spoil your Mom this week, bring her to Parkside, for ice cream and memories.

 Did I say this was a short list???

 Well, not as short as it could be, but I can't end it without mentioning the $6 milkshakes at Lake Effect Diner, a place that is an experience unto itself (pics below), Sweet Jenny's on Main in Williamsville-- home to maybe the best cinnamon ice cream ever-- and the newcomer, the Parker-Hertel Sweet Shop.* The baked goods there are homemade and wonderful, the service is friendly, the place is pretty, and the ice cream, awesome. Check it out soon!

 (The counter at Lake Effect-- one of the last authentic dining car diners in America).

Have a beautiful day--

Peace, Mari
*Sadly, the Parker-Hertel Sweet Shoppe is long closed, and after several other quickly closed businesses ran their course in the location, it has been expanded into the now well-established Daily Planet Coffeehouse. Good food, good music, great espresso.