Tag Archives: picky kids

Scotch Chocolate Cake

Today, gentle readers, I’m pondering the meaning of being Southern. When things are going well, we celebrate with a cake. When things are not going well, we mourn, with a cake. The Practical Cook has eaten a lot of cake, but this remains a favorite. There is nothing healthy about it, it borders on cloying sweetness, and it is all chocolate, all the time. If you’re short on time, and you want a cake that will sell at a bake sale, be eaten at a church supper, make a party festive, or cheer someone up for a while, this is the cake for you.

The Practical Cook’s Mom’s Scotch Chocolate Cake Recipe

Let’s start with the secret, which my mom repeats emphatically when sharing the recipes: hot frosting on a hot cake.

Doctoring the Cake Mix

Doctoring the Cake Mix

1. Make a Devil’s Food (or other Chocolate) Cake as a standard 9 by 13 sheet cake. The recipe calls for a cake mix cake. That’s what I used here, slightly doctored (added some plain yogurt for richness, a teaspoon of vanilla, a tablespoon of cocoa powder, and milk instead of the water that was called for, oh, and some grated semi-sweet chocolate). If you have a beloved scratch-made chocolate cake and want to use that, go for it.

More chocolate, courtesy of my faithful Microplane.

More chocolate, courtesy of my faithful Microplane.

2. About 5 to 7 minutes before cake is due to be done, start making frosting.

Scotch Chocolate Frosting Recipe:

1 stick unsalted butter
4 Tablespoons cocoa
6 Tablespoons milk (whole if you’ve got it, but skim works too)
pinch of salt

Keep stirring that frosting!

Keep stirring that frosting!

Melt butter in saucepan, add cocoa and milk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil 1 minute. Take off the heat.

Stir in:
1 teaspoon vanilla

Sift in:
1 box confectioner’s sugar (around 3 cups, sifted)

Sift in the powdered sugar.

Sift in the powdered sugar.

**Note: Do not skip the sifting, or you will be cursing my name. Lumps are homey in gravy or mashed potatoes, but undignified in frosting.

Behold the chocolate waterfall.

Behold the chocolate waterfall.

Mix thoroughly. Will be glossy and fudgy. Immediately pour hot frosting on the hot cake (that should be cooling on the rack at this point).

Pour the hot frosting on the hot cake. (See Mom, I was listening!)

Pour the hot frosting on the hot cake. (See Mom, I was listening!)

Top with toasted pecans or serve plain. As you can see, I split the difference. (The nuts will cut the sweetness even more!)

Scotch Chocolate Cake Half and Half

Scotch Chocolate Cake Half and Half

Gratuitous Scotch Chocolate Cake Pecan-Side View

Gratuitous Scotch Chocolate Cake Pecan-Side View

Oh just check out the gloss on that frosting. It is a very sweet cake, best paired with vanilla ice cream, black coffee, or cold milk. In the test kitchen, I’m going to try a version with cayenne and one with cardamom. Stay tuned.

Alas, that’s enough of that for now. Coming up tomorrow, we’ll travel to West Africa with Mafe, a Senegalese stew. It’s a one-pot wonder that’s a hit with every member of Team Practical Cook.

Until then, let me know what you take to special occasions: a cake, pie, casserole? Email me at practical cook at gmail dot com

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Apple Smiles or Playing With Food

Sometimes seeing is believing. The Practical Cook is all for extreme food presentation, but until I researched Apple Smiles, I was in Little League. I knew the basics: apples, peanut butter, marshmallows. But how to put it all together?

Here’s how:

Smile, Apple, Smile!

Smile, Apple, Smile!

Freaky, but delicious. Which led to the creation of the literary smile, the Wife of Bath:

Wife of Bath Apple Smile (the gat-toothed woman)

Wife of Bath Apple Smile (the gat-toothed woman)

I knew memorizing that prologue would serve one day. “Whan that April . . .”

These snacks are even more fun en masse:

When Food Smiles Back

When Food Smiles Back

Admittedly, it borders on creepy. Here’s what I learned:

  • Use the peanut butter sparingly. Otherwise you’ll end up with gingivitis.
  • The redder the apple, the more realistic the look.
  • If you’re using pre-sliced apples (guilty, I was in a hurry!), cut them in half again. The voluptuous lip may work for Revlon, but creates a sliding smile.
  • Have fun with the marshmallow “tooth” placement. You can see gap-tooth above, but there are several smiles missing teeth, just like the young patrons who were consuming them.
  • Marketing works. When delivering the smiles, I asked the recipient if they thought that one was a good tooth-brusher. Great ice-breaker for the under 7 set.
  • I’m ashamed to admit how tasty these were. I’m a fan of all three ingredients, but together, magic. I won’t tell if you make some for yourself.
Apple Smile Work in Progress

Apple Smile Work in Progress

I found it simplest to slice the apple slices in half (or make them fairly thin if you’re slicing your own), smear them lightly with peanut butter, then add the marshmallow teeth and assemble, as shown above. Push the marshmallow from skin side to interior or risk unsightly peanut butter gums.

This is a great option for Snack Week if allergies are not an issue. Much fruit was consumed based on presentation and taste.

Coming up next, spring is in the air somewhere, so it’s time to think about the Farmer’s Market. Are you a Farmer’s Market fan? Join us tomorrow and tell us what you shop for (or why you haven’t gone yet): practicalcook at gmail dot com

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One Ingredient, Three Ways: Cereal Edition

The only thing better than Saturday Morning cartoons—cartoons plus sugary cereal. Alas, this generation will never know the pleasure of getting hepped up on Booberry while watching the Smurfs cohabitate or that rascally rabbit dodge another anvil. The Practical Cook adores cereal. From the holiday tradition of receiving little boxes of the sugariest of the sugar bombs in her stocking (always trading the Frosted Flakes for her brother’s Cocoa Krispies, which he despised/s) to preschool art projects to life in a college dorm, there’s always been cereal.

Let us pause and celebrate how to get the most from this amazing innovation. Cereal: One Ingredient, Three Ways, including Eat It, Snack It, concluding tomorrow with Bake It.

#1 Eat It: Read It First, Not Just During

The Practical Cook's Cereal Warehouse

The Practical Cook's Cereal Warehouse

How many ways can you eat cereal?

  • With milk, in the traditional fashion.
  • Top a parfait with it. (Or just mix it with yogurt.)
  • Eat it dry, with milk on the side. (My eldest HATES  soggy cereal and will only abide it this way. Perhaps this is true for you, too.)
  • Eat it hot. I have tried this many times, and it’s not my favorite method, but some people swear by Grape-Nuts made that way.

There are lots of cereal options out there, and wide variation between brands of the same type. Look for sugar, fiber, and serving size:calorie ratio. I stock the spectrum, but you should know what you’re eating before you buy it. The Practical Cook does not take a hard line against magically delicious cereals, but prefers to match the cereal to the occasion.

Some favorite types:

  • Whole Wheat Chex
  • The entire Trader Joe’s Cereal Aisle: particularly the “purple” box granola and the Peanut Butter Puffins
  • Grape-Nuts
  • Kashi Autumn Wheat (aka, Hay Bales, as my brother and I named shredded wheat years ago)
  • Kashi Honey Sunshine
  • Gorilla Munch (hello, it’s called Gorilla Munch)
  • Cheerios
  • When no one is looking and there’s time to play “Radar Rat Race” on a Commodore 64 emulator, Froot Loops

#2 Snack It: Trail Mix Recipe

Trail Mix

Trail Mix

So you have 15 extra boxes of cereal around, and no ideas for snack. Hmmm, what to do? Trail Mix time! This is great for big and little people, and you can customize. Every Snack Week, this is a runaway hit. My soggy-cereal-hating eldest daughter treats this snack like gold. Could it be the marshmallow bribe inside?

Here are some tips and tricks:

  • If you’re sending this for a class snack, consider sending separate bags of each ingredient, scoops, and zipper-t0pped plastic bags for a “choose your own flavor adventure” style snack.
  • Salty ideas: Chex or Cheerios, Nuts or Seeds, Goldfish or pretzels or bagel chips
  • Sweet ideas: Chocolate or Cinnamon or Whole Wheat (or a combo) Chex, dried fruit (such as raisins, cranberries, blueberries, banana chips, mango, etc.), graham cracker pieces or teddy grahams, marshmallows or yogurt raisins or chocolate chips
  • Sweet and Salty ideas: Any cereal will do here, pretzels, dried fruit, nuts, marshmallows or yogurt raisins or chocolate chips or peanut butter chips or M & Ms.

Tomorrow,the riveting conclusion with Bake It: Raisin Bran Muffin Recipe.

Until then, what’s your favorite kind of cereal? Post a comment, send an email (practicalcook at gmail dot com) or join us on Twitter for a lively cereal discussion.

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Whole Wheat Waffles Recipe: Recipe Update and Renovation

Growing up, we ate waffles most Saturday mornings. I have wonderful memories of the PCM (that’s the Practical Cook’s Mom) separating eggs and beating the whites into fluffy submission. Because Mr. Rogers told us to top them with peanut butter and syrup, we did so, with a song in our hearts.

36 Waffles

36 Waffles

Fast forward some 30 years, and now there are schedules, practices, and general wildness on Saturday mornings. Not a time to be separating eggs and creating a huge mess. Along with PCM’s love of food, the Practical Cook inherited her cholesterol profile. Thanks PCM! The time had come for an easier, healthier waffle.

iCook to the rescue! A casual conversation about food landed this fantastic recipe. Once you collect the ingredients, these waffles are a snap. I quadruple the recipe and freeze them, thus letting go of Eggo more permanently. If you feel lucky and have a non-stick/well-oiled waffle iron, add blueberries, wild if you can. (They are smaller and will give you less trouble in the waffle iron.)

Whole Wheat Waffles Recipe

Note: The Practical Cook prefers the non-Belgian waffle. If you quadruple the recipe below, you’ll get approximately 36 waffles. Highly suggest at least doubling the recipe if you have hungry eaters. Also suggest maxing out the milk (though the thirstiness of the batter can depend on the day, the humidity, etc.). But if you max out the milk, you wind up with more waffles.

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup ground flax seed meal
2 Tablespoons wheat germ
2 Tablespoons all-purpose white flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 and 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

These are the dry ingredients, mix them up. Then add the wet:

1 egg
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
2 Tablespoons of unsweetened applesauce
2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil (I use a mixture of canola or grapeseed and walnut)
between 3/4 and 1 cup of milk

Mix wet into dry until smooth and let sit for at least as long as it takes your waffle iron to heat up, then make waffles.

Bonus Waffle Tips:

  • If the waffles stick, oil or butter your waffle iron, and add a dash more oil to the batter.
  • The waffle iron shown here takes a healthy 1/2 cup of batter to fill it. Find out what your waffle iron demands, and use that size measuring cup to dip and pour the batter.
  • Set your waffle iron on the lighter setting for waffles you plan to freeze. That way, when you reheat them they won’t be overdone.
  • The Practical Cook’s preferred method of waffle reheating: zap in the microwave for a few seconds, then finish in the toaster or toaster oven.

Now the waffle instructions, blueberry option, graphic form:

Gently Mix Blueberries into Waffle Batter

Gently Mix Blueberries into Waffle Batter

Spread the Batter Carefully on the Waffle Iron

Spread the Batter Carefully on the Waffle Iron

Lightly Browned Waffles

Lightly Browned Waffles

36 Waffles Less the Ones Consumed During the Making of the 36 Waffles

36 Waffles Less the Ones Consumed During the Making of the 36 Waffles

Prepping Waffles for the Freezer

Prepping Waffles for the Freezer

These are truly magically delicious whole wheat waffles. For the record, the Practical Cook still prefers peanut butter and maple syrup on her waffles. The peanut butter is just natural now, and the maple syrup from an actual tree. That said, she would also eat a waffle with fried chicken, or anything else. Waffles are good for all occasions.

Coming up next time, a long-time love, first-time cooking experience: quinoa. There will be a recipe for quinoa, beets, and chickpeas, which blew the family away at Sunday night’s dinner. Score! Keep those questions coming in to Facebook, Twitter, and/or practicalcook at gmail dot com.

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Spaghetti Bird’s Nests

The challenge of having a family that eats most things is that said family rejects obvious things. My children are regularly invited to meals as tools to get picky eaters to eat something, anything! But can the Practical Cook serve buttered noodles and some nice green peas—no, they are soundly rejected.

Another reject: spaghetti and meatballs. Though the Practical Cook counts a turkey meatball as one of her top 5 best meals ever (Mario Batali restaurant, and it was literally one big softball-size turkey meatball, when I thought I was ordering spaghetti and meatballs), the crew is not buying it.

Enter Spaghetti Bird’s Nests. Secretly, they are a play on spaghetti and meatballs, minus the meat and plus some faux pesto. Perhaps not as much as a play on as a play near situation. However, healthy, pretty fast, and a nice break from routine, the Practical Cook encourages you to play with your food and see what you can come up with!

Spaghetti Bird’s Nests Recipe

1/2 box Barilla Plus Spaghetti (I specify because this worked for me, whole wheat or the plus variety will be less starchy and less sticky–if you use regular spaghetti, move quickly or you’ll end up with more of a tangled yarn than bird’s nest look)
8 to 10 ozs mushrooms, sliced
~1 to 1 1/2 cups cottage cheese (sorry, didn’t measure this)
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 lb baby spinach (CSA!)
handful of parsley leaves and tender stems (optional)
1 jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce, or homemade if you prefer
a few ounces of goat cheese (local) or Parmesan or mozzarella

1. Boil water. Prepare pasta according to directions on box.

Bubble Bubble Pasta Pot

Bubble Bubble Pasta Pot

2. While pasta is cooking, saute mushrooms over medium-high heat until water is mostly evaporated.

3. Place cottage cheese, garlic, spinach, and parsley into food processor. Will it blend? Yes. Blend until smooth.

Food Processor Pesto

Food Processor Pesto

4. Drain cooked pasta, and let cool briefly, until you can handle it without screaming like Ned Flanders. Put a thin layer of sauce into an oven-safe baking dish, and twist the noodles around until they form nests as shown.

Twist and Fill Spaghetti Bird's Nests

Twist and Fill Spaghetti Bird's Nests

5. Fill each nest with a dollop of pesto, a few mushrooms, and a sprinkle of goat cheese.

Mushroom Birds Alight on Nests

Mushroom Birds Alight on Nests

6. When the pan is full, top with enough extra sauce to prevent the noodles from drying out.

7. Bake, covered with foil, in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until sauce bubbles. Remove foil and bake for another few minutes to brown/melt cheese.

8. Serve carefully with a spatula to preserve the shape. Add a side salad, and enjoy!

Spagetti Bird's Nests

Spagetti Bird's Nests

Coming up next time–Punt! A viewer request for the Top 10 Punt Ingredients will be served up. Timely, because the Practical Cook just punted this evening.

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