Archive for September, 2010

Caramel Pear Cake

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

I have a soft spot in my heart for lumpy bumpy homegrown pears… Our very first house in the Chicago suburb of Glen Ellyn had a magnificent pear tree in the front yard along the driveway! This is the house where Working Girl and College Girl were both born back in the day, a time in my life when wallpaper was in everyone’s kitchen and those of us who made our own baby food were considered REALLY weird…

Plus I happen to kinda luv pears, maybe even more than apples! Life without apple pie would be plumb crazy, but I remain especially prone to making dishes with pears! I top my Thanksgiving salad with pears that have been poached in Riesling, I throw them in with grilled butternut squash dressed in balsamic vinaigrette, and I learned in Boston to add them to a grilled cheese sandwich made with gooey Italian cheese. And, ah sigh, I love to make all kinds of pear desserts!

So when a friend of mine offered me a bag of homegrown pears I was thrilled. These pears came from a tree in Marble Falls (a place I hear that also grows apples…) where unbeknownst to me they were growing quite happily right here in Texas. (But I have forgotten the name of the variety…) She reminded me that pears are picked mature but unripe from the tree, and that I should have about two weeks to wait until full ripeness. So I waited, meanwhile scouting pear dessert recipes… 

I narrowed it down to two. This one from Cook and Be Merry, and one from the Southern Living Farmers Market Cookbook I won this summer for submitting, what else?, a dish made with and inspired by farmers market produce!

Both involve caramel… I made the cake, mostly because I wanted to feed a crowd and the tart was smaller. Maybe next time…it looks divine…

Gather Up:
3 cups peeled, diced, ripe pear
1 tablespoon sugar
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ cups chopped toasted pecans
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For Caramel Glaze:
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup butter
¼ cup evaporated milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 10 cup Bundt pan.

Toss pears with 1 tablespoon sugar and let stand.

Beat eggs, 2 cups sugar, and oil at medium speed in an electric mixer until blended.

Combine flour, salt and baking soda. Add to egg mixture a cup at a time on low speed until blended.

Fold in pears, pecans and vanilla extract.

Pour into prepared pan.

Bake about 1 hour, until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes and then turn onto serving plate.

Prepare Caramel Glaze buy stirring together the brown sugar, butter and evaporated milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly, bring to a boil and cook 2 minutes until sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool slightly to thicken.

Spoon glaze over cake. Serve extra sauce immediately with warm cake.

Recipe from the Southern Living Farmers Market Cookbook.

Risotto with Corn and Arugula

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

I used to be afraid of risotto. I think it was all the stirring that held me back. I likened it to all the sauces I had ever failed at making, thus relegating it to the list of dishes to be avoided at home…

But never say never. One day I had lots of beets and lots of time and the suggestion of risotto kept popping up. So I ran out and bought the mysterious Arborio rice and proceeded to scour Italian websites for proper advice on stirring up a decent risotto.

At once, ridiculously over-prepared, I made beet risotto. True to my vision the family ate it, loved it and declared the beet to be delicious (in risotto…). (And true to form I have not made it again, although I should…)

Suddenly risotto was my friend; I surely wish this was the end result of all my cooking adventures! In this particular version sweet corn and tender young arugula ease you toward fall. This risotto is a hot bowl of creamy comfort and oh, so delicious!  

Gather Up:
3 cups low sodium organic chicken or vegetable broth
2 ears sweet corn, shucked and blanched, cut off the cob
2 fresh garlic cloves, smashed into paste
2 cups young arugula, stemmed
½ cup diced onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup Arborio rice
¼ cup dry white wine
¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Heat the chicken broth until very hot. Keep it hot but not simmering.

Melt the butter and add the oil to a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and stir through the onions just until its fragrance is released, about 30 seconds.

Add the rice and stir until the grains are well coated with fat and edges become translucent, about 2 minutes.

Pour in the wine and stir until it is absorbed, about 30 seconds.

Ladle enough hot broth into the pan to barely cover the rice, about 1 cup. Bring to a boil and adjust the heat to maintain a lively simmer. Cook, stirring constantly, until the broth is mostly absorbed.

Continue adding broth in ½ cup increments, stirring constantly, and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next.

In 15 – 20 minutes time all but the last of the broth will have been added and the rice will be just cooked but still fairly firm. At this point add the corn, the arugula and the last ½ cup of broth.

Continue to simmer and stir until rice is just tender, about 2-3 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in the parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

A Chocolatey Engagement Celebration

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

I have been trying to find a good chocolate cake recipe for a couple of years now. I didn’t think it would be that hard, but for some reason nothing has even come close to my ideal: PF Chang’s “Great Wall of Chocolate!” My search had slowed tremendously since school started, but when I heard about Working Girl’s engagement I couldn’t help but think that this would be the perfect opportunity to unveil the ultimate chocolate cake. It became an obsession. History classes no longer revolved around The Glorious Revolution, (a bloodless coup that forced James II out of England), or the Great Awakening, (a period of religious revival in both England and America). (Well, maybe I somehow managed to learn a few things…) Instead my hours were consumed by endless food blog searches to find the perfect chocolate cake!

For some reason when I came across this recipe, the simplicity of it made me think that it could be the one. Do keep in mind that a college girl doesn’t have much time for baking, so a cake that claims to be super moist, doesn’t require an electric mixer, and has a title like “Double-Chocolate Cake,” is going to draw me in!

Gather Up:
Vegetable-oil cooking spray
1 cup warm water
½ cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1 ½ cups flour
1 cup granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup sunflower oil
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar

For the glaze:
2 ounces dark chocolate (preferably at least 70 percent cacao)
½ cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat an 8-inch round cake pan with spray.

Wisk water and cocoa in a small bowl until smooth. Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl, and make a well in center. Add cocoa mixture, oil, and vanilla. Whisk until smooth. Whisk in vinegar. Pour into pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Let the cake cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Remove cake from the pan onto rack and let the cake cool completely. Transfer cake to a serving plate or cake stand.

For the glaze: Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water, stirring until smooth. Let cool slightly. Whisk together sugar and water until smooth. Add melted chocolate in a slow, steady stream, whisking until thickened, about 1 minute. Immediately pour glaze onto the center of the cooled cake. Using a spatula, gently spread glaze over the top and sides of the cake.

Cake can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 days.

This cake is the closest I have ever come to perfection! It’s really easy to make and has a dense, fudgy, and super moist texture. But I must say the thing that takes this cake over the edge is the glaze. Drizzle it over a fresh cake and it is chocolate heaven!

As the soon-to-be maid of honor of this whole extravaganza, I have to say congratulations to my big sister and soon-to-be brother-in-law! I’m so happy for both of you and we are all wishing you a fun engagement and an amazing marriage. 

Recipe from

An Engagement in London

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Disclaimer: This post does not contain a recipe. I was going to post one, but in light of recent personal events, this post makes much more sense…

About a month ago, my boss told me I would be traveling to London for a week on our work exchange program. I was SO excited: the shopping, the food, the sightseeing! Naturally, I told Darrell. He came back to me a few days later and said that his company was also starting a work exchange program, and he was looking into participating. I was hoping that his company would let him go; that way, we could coordinate our trips to be there at the same time. Long story short, it worked out…he was able to go, and we booked our flights. I never thought twice about it after that.

Fast forward to last Friday, September 17. Darrell and I arrive at London Heathrow, take the Heathrow Express, check-in to our hotel, change, and head off to lunch. Darrell is acting weird. Although, not any weirder than he’s been acting for the last four months. (Apparently, the four months where he was trying to get my ring in order…the four months where he decided it would be safer to basically just not carry on a conversation with me.) I chocked it up to jet lag and moved on.

After lunch, we decided to walk through Green Park to see Buckingham Palace. (Side note: leading up to the trip, Darrell kept asking me about my favorite thing in London. I told him the parks. I LOVE the parks.) As we’re strolling through the park, Darrell begins to direct me off the path, into the middle of this grassy area, lined with huge, old, trees. Gorgeous.

Darrell: I can’t wait until we can do these kinds of things together all the time, for the rest of our lives.

Me: Ummhmm. Me either. (Joking now. Seriously, completely joking.) Do you have my ring in your pocket?

[I felt Darrell tense up, and then the rest of the details are a little fuzzy for me. I think I went into shock.]

Darrell: Nooooo…well…(pulling away from me)…I was actually thinking we could start the rest of our lives right now. (Down on one knee now.) Ellen, will you marry me?

Me: Are you serious?! Are you kidding me?! (Crying.) YES!! Are you serious?! Are you kidding me?! (Still crying.)

It was the most thoughtful thing anyone has ever done for me. I’m still in awe of the planning that went into this proposal, and the number of people who kept it a secret from me. I will absolutely remember it forever. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so special or so loved.

We spent the rest of the weekend sightseeing. (There was never any work exchange program for Darrell, so he left on Monday morning.)

At the Globe…

…and on the London Eye…

…and in front of Tower Bridge.

I’ll close by leaving you with two places that you absolutely MUST visit the next time you’re in London: Ben’s Cookies and Hotel Chocolat. (Someone in our London office is laughing at me right now because I probably picked out two tourist traps.) Either way, I LOVE these places.

Ben’s Cookies – big, dense, rich, warm. Doesn’t get any better than that. It was a regular stop for me on my way home from work during the summer I studied abroad. Try the triple chocolate with nuts. Heaven.

Hotel Chocolat is a British chocolatier and cocoa grower. I discovered the shop on my first trip to High Street three summers ago, and I went back every Sunday to stock up as part of my weekly grocery shopping. This time: cocoa penne. You’re welcome, mom!

This post is already MUCH too long, but I’ve been dying to share. If you played any part at all in this story (even just keeping the secret from me) thank you SO much. I really couldn’t be any happier. I am so excited for this next chapter of my life, and I’m even more excited to start it with my fiancé. (EEK!)

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend! xoxo

Vanilla Ice Cream and Root Beer Floats

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

Ur Dad loves vanilla ice cream. It is universally his favorite. Vanilla on pie. Vanilla on brownies. Vanilla on berries. On gingerbread. Cobbler. Pound cake. Tarts. Crepes. Upside down cake. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! You can see his point…

But I crave new recipes… I want to change things up… I never want to make the same thing twice… (Usually when my family asks me to make a recipe from the distant past I have no idea what recipe they are talking about! This blog is an effort to correct that!) So in MY ice cream dream there are nuts and berries and chunks of candy. (Cuz if you are going to go to all the trouble…)

But an oft-made request is for vanilla… So I decided to try a quick vanilla ice cream using whipping cream. No cooking, no custard, no eggs. Is this laziness? Rebellion? I prefer to think of it as practical. Time-saving. Milk, whipping cream, sugar, vanilla, all chilled down together for several hours and then into the machine!!!

I didn’t have high expectations, (and I was eyeing some coconut add-ins), when my son walked through the door. He promptly stuck a spoon down into the machine for a taste. He thought it was fantastic! Wow, very vanilla! Very wonderful!

It finished beautifully thick and ice-creamy, and remained smoothly the real deal in the freezer afterwards. (This is something my ice creams do not always do…possibly because I am always dropping ingredients into the mix…) I served it over something fudgy – it was delicious and it kind of tasted like whipped cream!

The next day I pulled it out to see if it was, ahem… still good… And vanilla ice cream suddenly became overwhelmingly irresistible! Next stop – vanilla ice cream in a glass of icy root beer and a fizzy, creamy drinkable lunch!!! Did I lose my head over vanilla? I prefer to think of it as a moment of appreciation for one of life’s simpler pleasures. And heck yes, it was yummy!

(Later I definitely had to explain to my family why I had finished the majority of “their” vanilla ice cream… Wait until they notice the missing bottle of root beer…)

Gather Up:
1 cup whole milk
¾ cup sugar
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Bottled root beer – I used Fitz’s Premium Root Beer

Whisk together the milk and the sugar until the sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the cream and the vanilla. Chill the mixture thoroughly, 3-4 hours. Stir and pour into prepared ice cream machine and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions. Turn into airtight container and store in freezer.

To assemble root beer float, fill a tall glass with scoops of ice cream. Pour in root beer to top of glass. As foam settles, add more root beer. Add spoon and straw!

Welcome to Like Mother Like gal, stay at home mom, college student. Just 3 girls who love to eat and are dedicated to doing it the old-fashioned way! Plan, shop, cook, bake, clean, sleep, repeat. Hope you enjoy - we are so glad you are here!
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