Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Happy Birthday Frosting

So you may remember that I had a birthday a couple of weeks ago.  Throughout most of my childhood, that occasion was marked by the presence of what my sister and I still call, quite simply, The Birthday Cake.  At our house, that meant a white cake (made from a mix) with lemon filling between the layers (the cooked version of Jell-o lemon pudding, not lemon curd), and Happy Birthday Frosting on top.   It’s not fancy, but it tastes like my childhood, and that makes it delicious.

This year, the birthday cake was gluten-free–courtesy of the forward-thinking Hubs, who ordered a vanilla cake mix from Bob’s Red Mill– but everything else followed tradition.  I asked my mom if she remembered where she’d found the frosting recipe originally.  As I suspected, that piece of memory has long since been lost–what she did remember is that I’d preferred chocolate cake when I was a teenager, so my birthday cakes had taken a swing toward the dark side for a few years.  (That bit of trivia is just a testament to changing tastes:  these days, I would never choose chocolate cake over vanilla.)  I have a vague memory of Happy Birthday Frosting flavored with peppermint extract, which probably topped those chocolate cakes.  One of the great things about this very basic recipe is that you can adjust the flavorings to match whatever sort of cake you’re making–rum extract with spice cake, orange extract with yellow cake, almond or lemon extract with white cake, or whatever sounds good to you.  Or, keep it simple and use all vanilla extract.

You’ll notice that this recipe does include one raw egg white.  The boiling water heats it up to a temperature I consider safe, and keep in mind that, according to the American Egg Board, the chance of contracting salmonella from a raw egg white is only .005%.  Salmonella is unlikely to grow in egg whites and more likely to grow in the yolk.  However, that very small possibility does exist. If you’re worried about it, you should use an equivalent amount of powdered egg white.  Just mix it with water according to the package directions and proceed as if you’re using a fresh egg.

Mix up this frosting just before you’re reading to frost and eat the cake.  Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator, but the frosting will begin to separate if it’s stored for more than one day.

For a few additional tips on working with egg whites, click here.


Happy Birthday Frosting


1 cup miniature marshmallows (or two huge spoonfuls of marshmallow creme)
1 c. sugar
1 egg white
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. other extract (almond, orange, peppermint, etc.)
1/2 c. boiling water


Melt marshmallows in a double boiler to soften them. If you're using marshmallow creme (which I usually do), just skip this step.

Beat the sugar, egg white, cream of tartar, and extracts in a deep mixing bowl on low speed until they're combined. Pour in the boiling water all at once and immediately turn the mixer to high speed for 8 minutes, until the mixture is very light and fluffy. Turn the mixer down again and add the melted marshmallows or marshmallow creme. Return to high speed and beat for 2 more minutes.

Frost your cake immediately. Store the frosted cake in the refrigerator until you're ready to serve it.

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Further Adventures in Produce: Persimmons

Yesterday, I made my usual Friday afternoon trip to the grocery store knowing it was time for another produce adventure.  I have to admit, I get a little excited when I know it’s time to seek out something new to try–it’s a little like going on a scavenger hunt, but with very vague instructions.  Find a fruit or vegetable you’ve never eaten before.  I’m always surprised by how many things fit that description.

This week, though, it was easy to make a selection.  When I headed for the bananas–always the first place I go when I walk into the grocery store–I noticed beside them a small bin of something that looked like small, very bright orange tomatoes.  Orange is my favorite color, which you might have guessed just by looking at this blog, so I was delighted to discover that these were not tomatoes, but persimmons.  And, conveniently enough, the persimmon was a fruit I hadn’t ever eaten before.  Mission accomplished!

Persimmons actually have a lot in common with tomatoes–they’re both “true berries,” meaning that they don’t have a stone or pit at their center and they do have edible skin.  When it comes to taste, though, the two bear no resemblance to each other.  A little research prepared me for a fruit with a soft texture and sweet taste, which surprised me; I’d thought the persimmon would be tart.  I’m not sure why I thought this, except perhaps because the orange color of the fruit made me think of oranges.

The first thing I noticed was that the texture of the persimmon was very similar to a nectarine or plum.  The Hubs said its flavor reminded him of a ripe apricot; The Boy said it tasted like a cross between an apple and a kiwi; The Girl thought it tasted like very sweet cantaloupe; I thought it tasted more like honey than fruit.  All of which is to say that the persimmon is very, very sweet, and beyond that it’s hard to describe the flavor.  (Then again, tell me:  what does a banana taste like?  If you said “A banana,” then you understand the difficulty of describing the taste of a persimmon.  It’s unlike anything else I’ve tasted.)

I’d purchased three persimmons, and we ate the first two in slices with the skin intact; the third one, I peeled and chopped into smaller pieces and tossed into a salad of organic greens and balsamic vinaigrette.  The soft, sweet persimmon was a really lovely contrast to the crisp greens and tart vinaigrette.  (Since a fruit or vegetable’s skin is where the fiber lives, I almost always try to eat it.  In this case, though, I really preferred the persimmon without.  It isn’t particularly tough or difficult to chew, but the super-sweet flavor of the fruit is a better match with the pulpy insides than the sturdy outer skin.)

The verdict:  I will definitely buy persimmons again.  At 97 cents each, they weren’t a big indulgence–but they’re in season throughout the fall, which means the ones I purchased were probably the last of this year’s crop.  I’ll watch for them to show up again in September and, in the meantime, learn more about how I might put them to use.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Quiet Moment

My mom headed home today.  I’m grateful for many things about this visit:  that she arrived safely and without incident (this was the first time she’d traveled on her own in almost 20 years, and the first time she’d been on an airplane–or even in an airport–for at least the last 5 of them); that the Texas weather cooperated, for the most part, by providing us with sunshine and warm temperatures, a welcome break from the cold weather that’s waiting for her at home; best of all, that I was able to celebrate my birthday with her for the first time since just after The Girl was born.

While she was here, my mom had the chance to sample a pummelo, try some gluten-free cake, and enjoy milanesa.  That in itself is probably more food adventure than she’s had in the past year.  I’ll be sharing our family’s favorite frosting recipe in the next few days–the same frosting that graced every birthday cake I enjoyed as a child, and the central feature of what my sister and I still call The Birthday Cake–as well as my new favorite recipe for milanesa with a gluten-free bread crumb crust.  I’m also at work on developing a new recipe for the lovely people at Bob’s Red Mill.  I’ll be sharing that with you–and hosting my very first giveaway–later this spring.

In short, life is finally getting back to normal after a long holiday season and an extended birthday celebration.  I’m looking forward to more experimenting, more blogging, more adventures in produce–but I’m really enjoying this quiet moment before it all begins.


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Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Foodie goes national!

While I take a break from blogging to enjoy my mother’s company, check out this article on the Jamie Oliver website–written by yours truly!  It’s a shortened version of my post detailing our family food revolution, and it features links to a couple of our favorite recipes.

This is a big  moment for The Foodie, so I hope you’ll take a look and celebrate it with me!

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Further Adventures in Produce: The Pummelo

My mom is here to spend some time with us this month, which is why my blogging has slacked off a bit in the last week or so–I’m relying on old familiar favorites to feed our slightly extended family while she’s here.  When we went to the grocery store this morning, though, I told her we needed to find “something unusual” in the produce section so I could, at the very least, keep up with the Adventures in Produce project.  Almost immediately, the two of us spied what looked like an oversized green grapefruit.   The sign below it introduced us to the pummelo.

Also known as Chinese grapefruit or shaddock, the pummelo (sometimes spelled pommelo) is, in fact, a member of the large family of citrus fruits.  They’re in season from November to March, which makes this the perfect time to give one a try.  I really didn’t know what to expect from the pummelo; the signage at the grocery store said they were slightly sweeter and less acidic than grapefruit, and that was about the only information I had on hand when I took one home and cut it open.

My first surprise was how thick the rind turned out the be.  It’s very soft and easy to peel away from the fruit, but given the fact that the pummelo costs $1.98 a pound at my local store, I felt like I paid for more rind than fruit.   The inside portion of fruit is about the same size as a typical grapefruit.

I ate half of the pummelo with a grapefruit spoon, using the sharp edges to cut segments from the fruit.  The fruit itself is firmer and less juicy than grapefruit, although there was still plenty of juice squirting us in the eye.  The other half, I peeled and ate in its segmented slices.

Most of us agreed that it was very tasty–not as painfully tart as grapefruit, but the same general flavor.  The Boy, who is no fan of sour foods, said it was just okay.   My mom pointed out that it would be a good flavor in a fruit salad; since it’s not as sour as grapefruit, it wouldn’t overpower the other elements of the salad.  I think the juice would be a nice component of a salad dressing, or a jam (perhaps mixed with apricots or peaches.)

The final verdict?  We liked the pummelo, but given the cost, it’s not really practical to think about buying it on a regular basis.  For a special occasion, The Girl suggested that the bright green color of the rind  would make a nice bowl for fruit salad or sorbet.  I like that idea, but I’m also wondering if we might want to rethink our Christmas bowl of oranges to include many varieties of the citrus family.  A bounty of citrus might do just as well to illustrate the many blessings that have come to us via the hard work of others.

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