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Pina Colada Pound Cake

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My husband to the baby: Goobs (our nickname for the baby), tonight we begin Operation Go the ‘Fudge’ to Sleep.

The baby responded with a happy leg shake and wide eyes which clearly seemed to communicate, Oooh…sounds important!

Then he shook his hands excitedly above his head, I love secret missions! I’ve been working on Operation Stay the H.E.Double Hockey Sticks Awake for almost a year now. It’s been remarkably successful.

We know, Goobs. We know. But your mission ends tonight.

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Our littlest man’s sleep habits have been a challenge, to say the least. We’d established a routine where he’d spend the first half of the night in his crib and the second half snuggled in bed next to me. It wasn’t our ideal plan, but it enabled everyone to get some sleep, so we went with it. (And to be perfectly honest, I frickin’ love those snuggles.) But lately, this routine isn’t working and no one is sleeping. We’re being forced to confront his sleep routine head on. Parenting, much like being the president, is hard work.
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I could really use a vacation, preferably someplace sunny and tropical. Someplace where I can drift off into an uninterrupted sleep to the sound of gently crashing waves on a beach. Someplace with an endless supply of fruity beverages, garnished with bright red cherries and fresh orange slices. And pink paper umbrellas.
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Perhaps once the baby learns to sleep through the night, we’ll plan a weekend getaway. In the mean time, I’ve got this piña colada cake. I started with a buttery lemon pound cake and upped the ante with a touch of rum and a hefty dose of tropical fruits. Then, I drizzled the sweet cake with a tart lemon glaze and shredded coconut. It’s no drink on a tropical beach, but it’s pretty darn good!
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Piña Colada Cake 
Ingredients
  • 1 2/3 cups flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 lemon, finely zested and juiced
  • 1 tablespoon rum (optional)
  • 1/2 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
  • 1/3 cup crushed pineapple, well drained
  • 1/3 cup mandarin orange slices, well drained and chopped
For the garnish
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup shredded, sweetened coconut

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter and flour a large loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking powder. With an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, until well blended. Add the lemon juice, zest, and rum. Gradually add the flour mixture, about a third at a time. Beat just until blended. Stir in the coconut, pineapple, and mandarin oranges. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for about 75 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean. Cool 15 minutes in pan, then transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely.

To make the glaze: Combine the confectioner’s sugar with lemon juice, a little at a time, until it reaches a thick, but fluid consistency. Use a spoon to drizzle the glaze over the cake. Sprinkle with shredded coconut.

References: Martha Stewart’s Glazed Lemon Pound Cake and Gale Gand’s Lemon Pound Cake

Coconut Custard Pie

Halloween has come and gone. Just like that. The costumes have been washed and packed away (though I think I’d put my baby in his monkey costume everyday if it were socially acceptable to do so). The candy has been picked over for the good stuff. (You know who I’m talking about, Almond Joy.) And the daily morning frost makes it feel more like winter than autumn. We’re on the fast track to Thanksgiving.
And with Thanksgiving comes one of my favorite meals of the year. Comfort food just doesn’t get much more comforting than Thanksgiving dinner. Savory stuffings, tart cranberry sauce, vegetables doused in cream, doughy buttered rolls, and pie. Sweet, delicious pie.
This recipe comes by request of a reader in search of a recipe for a graham cracker coconut crust to use for a fresh pumpkin pie. I decided to use my crust to make a seriously satisfying coconut custard pie, but this crust would also work beautifully with a fresh pumpkin coconut pie filling or any other filling you can dream up.
This recipe is written for use with a deep pie dish. If you have a more shallow pie dish, you will probably have some extra crust and custard. Spoon the extra custard into cups and top with some of the extra crust mixture for a tasty little treat!
Coconut Custard Pie
For the Crust:
  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 3/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) melted butter (I use salted butter.)

For the Custard:

  • 3 cups milk*
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 2 cups shredded coconut
*If you’re looking to reduce the calorie and fat content, skim milk will work just fine!

Directions

To make the crust: Combine graham cracker crumbs, coconut, brown sugar, and melted butter. Press the mixture onto the bottom and sides of a deep pie dish. Bake for 13-15 minutes at 350 degrees.

To make the custard: Bring the milk, sugar, vanilla, salt and cornstarch to a simmer over medium heat, whisking frequently so that the sugar and cornstarch dissolve. Once the mixture begins to bubble and thicken, reduce the heat. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks. Gradually whisk about 1/2 of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks, starting with a slow drizzle. (Gradually incorporating the hot milk into the egg yolks tempers the eggs, allowing them to slowly rise in temperature without scrambling.) Gradually whisk the egg mixture into the remaining hot milk mixture in the pot. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, whisking constantly for about 3 minutes, until thickened and smooth. Stir in the shredded coconut.

Pour the custard into the prepared crust. Cool for a few hours, until set.

Garnish with whipped cream and toasted coconut or crushed graham crackers before serving.

Coconut Layer Cake

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Like typical young siblings, my sisters and I would spend hours of our youth engaging in pretend play scenarios based on our favorite TV shows. Each play session would begin with a tense negotiation over who would represent each character. As the oldest of my siblings, I typically drew a first-pick card, of my own creation. This meant that I was usually Alvin when we played the Chipmunks, Brittany when we played the Chipettes, Lion-O when we played Thundercats, and Stephanie Zinone when we played Grease 2.

Looking back, it now seems somewhat inappropriate that my sisters and I played Grease 2 games in our youth. We truly had no comprehension of the lyrics we belted into the neighborhood, as we swung merrily on our backyard swingset. Three young girls, ages 5-9, singing at the top of lungs, Let’s do it for our country… I’m certain that our parents were sufficiently mortified.

Yesterday, I had a flashback of these memories of my sisters, as I sat watching my two boys play. They’d cleared out half of their toy box and situated themselves comfortably inside. Listening to their conversation, I learned that the toy box was now a pirate ship and they were about to play Jake and the Never Land Pirates, a current favorite Disney show.

And then the predictable negotiation began, led in older sibling style, by my four year old. He explained that he would be playing the part of Jake and his two year old brother would be a character known as Cubby.

But my two year old has never been one to roll over and accept his fate. He responded with an assertive, “NO, I’m Jake!” Even at the young age of two, he has a clear understanding of starring roles and he was not about to play sidekick.

The negotiations quickly dissolved into a chanting match of “I’m Jake” after that. And then they played Legos instead.

Celebrating Easter this past weekend, there were other flashbacks of my youth; hunting for eggs, early-morning candy treats, and discovering the animal crackers, which the Easter bunny always hid at the bottom of our baskets. And best of all…our traditional Easter dessert; bunny cake!

The bunny cake of my youth was always made from a box of yellow cake mix, frosted with a tub of white frosting, coated with coconut, and decorated with a bunny face. In my mom’s version, it was a single layer cake, with ears cut from the second cake round, frosted pink in the center. Two black jelly beans formed the eyes, a pink one for the nose, and shoestring licorice for the mouth and whiskers. An adorable Easter treat.

I took a few liberties with my version of a bunny cake. I skipped the ears in order to make a two layer cake, filled with a luscious coconut custard. I coated my cake in a simple cream cheese frosting and the traditional shredded coconut. Our bunny’s face was constructed of the same jelly beans and shoestring licorice I loved in my youth.

He may have lacked ears, but the kids didn’t mind. In fact, with this cake, I have finally managed to impress my discerning two-year-old, who has been unusually generous with his praise of my culinary skills, exclaiming “You make good things, Mommy! You make good things.” Thank you, dear. I try. 

This cake works perfectly for a coconut-coated bunny cake around Easter time or a decadent coconut layer cake any time of year!

Vanilla Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups milk

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour two round cake pans. Combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until creamy. Add the eggs to the butter mixture, one at a time, until well blended. Beat in the vanilla. Gradually beat in the flour mixture and milk, alternating about a third at a time, until well blended. Divide the batter equally between the two pans. Bake for about 35 minutes. Cool completely.

Coconut Custard Filling

Ingredients

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/6 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup shredded coconut

Directions

Bring the milk, sugar, vanilla, salt and one tablespoon of cornstarch to a simmer over medium heat, whisking frequently so that the sugar and cornstarch dissolve. Then, reduce the heat. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and remaining tablespoon of cornstarch. Gradually whisk about 1/2 of the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture, starting with a slow drizzle. (Gradually incorporating the hot milk into the egg yolks tempers the eggs, allowing them to slowly rise in temperature without scrambling.) Gradually whisk the egg mixture into the remaining hot milk in the pot. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, whisking constantly for about 3 minutes, until thickened and smooth. Stir in the shredded coconut. Allow to cool at room temperature until only slightly warm before spreading onto the cake.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces cream cheese (1 1/2 bars ), softened
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

Beat together all ingredients until smooth.

To assemble the cake: Carefully slice off the rounded tops of both cakes. Line the edges of a plate/platter with foil or wax paper to keep the plate clean while you frost the cake. Place one cake round, cut side up in the center of the plate. Spread the slightly cooled custard across the cake. Place the second cake round, cut side down, on top of the custard. Spread the cream cheese frosting all around the cake. Press about 2 cups of shredded coconut around the top and sides of the cake. Carefully remove the foil or wax paper from the edges of the platter. If desired, use jelly beans and shoestring licorice to create a bunny face on the top. Refrigerate to keep fresh.

**If desired, you can double or triple the custard recipe. Then, slice each cake round in half and spread custard between each layer for a taller, multi-layered coconut cake.

Alternately, you can skip the custard layer and cut the second cake round into bunny ear shapes. Frost the ears onto the other cake round for a full, single layered bunny-faced cake.

The Kids Cook Monday – Chocolate Coconut King Cake

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I’ve always felt a strong pull towards the city of New Orleans, as if in some long-forgotten past life, it were my home. The most likely explanation for this feeling comes from reading way too many Anne Rice novels during an impressionable period of my youth. I dreamed of the vampire Lestat in the way which girls today dream of  the infamous Edward. I so clearly imagined myself in Rice’s stories, that I began to believe I had a history with New Orleans. Whatever the case may be, the city calls to me. I’ve yet to visit New Orleans, but it’s high on my list.

In another time and place, I would have surely planned my New Orleans trip to correspond with the uproarious celebrations of Mardi Gras. But at this point in my life, as I sit here expecting my third child, I’d almost certainly plan my trip for any time of year except Mardi Gras. I’m just not sure there’s enough wild youth left in me to handle Mardi Gras. These days, I’d be much more inclined to find a dimly lit bar and sit back with a few drinks, listening to live jazz until the wee hours of the morn.

Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is traditionally celebrated on the day before Ash Wednesday; a sort of last hurrah before buckling down for Lenten preparations. Tomorrow, as I’m comfortably nestled on my couch, watching American Idol and eating Easter candy, the city of New Orleans will be buzzing with the grand excitement of Mardi Gras; parades, beads, music and wild partying.  It’s a time to celebrate, indulge, and let the good times roll!

If you were composing a list of foods associated with Mardi Gras, King Cake would surely top the list. King cakes have a long history as part of the Mardi Gras tradition in New Orleans. They are typically made from a ring of lightly-sweetened bread, similar to a brioche, which is then drizzled with a sweet glaze and decorated in the customary Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold. Part of the king cake tradition involves placing a small plastic baby, said to represent the baby Jesus, into the cake. Other items, such as dried beans or nuts are often used as a substitute for the baby. The party guest to find the ‘baby’ is deemed the king.

Holidays make fantastic opportunities for getting kids involved in the kitchen. As with all cooking activities, young children develop early-learning skills in multiple areas. But when the cooking activity relates to a special holiday, it also becomes an opportunity to create a memorable experience which helps kids to connect with their newly learned knowledge of customs and traditions. Experiences like these create memories and help to develop curious lifelong learners.

As part of our Kids Cook Mondays series, my little helpers joined me in making a traditional king cake with a twist. We started with a basic king cake recipe, courtesy of Emeril Lagasse, the culinary king of New Orleans. Then, as Emeril would say, we kicked it up a notch, with a double filling of coconut cream cheese and chocolate. The kids helped to measure, mix, stir, and knead. As we worked, we talked about Mardi Gras and its relevance to Lent and our upcoming Easter preparations. We chatted about the history of king cakes and the tradition of the plastic baby in the cake. Then, once the cake was complete, we eagerly plunged our forks into the sweet slices of cake, curious to discover who would become our king for the day.

Chocolate Coconut King Cake
Adapted from Emeril’s King Cake


Ingredients

For the Cake

  • 1/2 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 packets dry active yeast
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon lemon peel
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup warm milk (105-115 degrees)
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled

For the Fillings:

  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/3 cup shredded coconut

For the Icing:

  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Water (a few spoonfuls)
  • Colored sugars (green, purple, and gold)

Directions

Combine warm water, sugar and yeast. Stir until dissolved. Set aside for about 10 minutes. It will begin to bubble up, indicating that the yeast has been activated.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, nutmeg, and lemon peel. Gradually stir in the egg yolks, milk, and melted butter. Stir in the yeast mixture until well-blended. If the dough becomes too thick to stir, knead the ingredients together with your hands. If the dough is too sticky to handle, add additional flour until it becomes more manageable.

Coat a large bowl with a bit of vegetable oil or melted butter. Place the dough into the prepared bowl and turn once or twice so that the top of the dough is lightly coated with oil. Cover with a towel and let the dough sit for about 1 1/2 hours.

Prepare the coconut filling by stirring together the softened cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and coconut. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Once the dough has rested and risen for 1 1/2 hours, split the dough in half. Roll each half into a log, about 30 inches long. Flatten each log into a long rectangle. Sprinkle the chocolate chips along the center of one of the rectangles. Spread the coconut mixture along the center of the other rectangle. Fold the rectangles in half along the long sides and pinch closed. Form into rounded logs. Twist the two logs together. Then, arrange the twisted logs into a circle and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Cover with a towel and allow to rest for 45 minutes. Then, bake for 30 minutes.

To prepare the icing, combine the powdered sugar and vanilla with just enough water to form a pourable glaze. Drizzle the glaze over the warm cake. Sprinkle with colored sugars.

Prior to serving, insert a nut or dried bean into the bottom of the cake. The guest to find the nut in their piece of cake is deemed king!

King of the Mardi Gras!

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