Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter Coconut Cake

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What would Easter be without a Coconut Cake...although here in the South we make them at the drop of a hat!

Although I am not spending Easter at home this year, I am bringing this to my neighbor's where we will be feasting on great food , this Easter cake and a Caramel Flan for those who do not like coconut.  There are some of those, dear readers, as unbelievable as that can be to coconut lovers like me.  Great news! for that means seconds and leftovers for the rest of us.

Now there are several variations to a coconut cake.  There are recipes with a lemon curd filling and some with a cream cheese frosting.  Not on my watch!  However, today I had to violate one of my principles as it is raining and humid in my neck of the woods and you never, ever, ever attempt a boiled white frosting under those conditions.

I have used Ina Garten's recipe this time but added a few tricks here and there from old Southern recipes.  One is to brush the cake layers with coconut water.  The second is to add organic unsweetened coconut to the cake batter.

Always make some extra frosting and have on hand in case the frosting gives a little, as you can see from the picture below.  Right before we leave I will patch up with extra coconut.


3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pans
2 cups sugar
5 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pans
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup milk
4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
4 oz. Goya coconut water

For the frosting:

1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature *
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted *
6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 (9-inch) round cake pans, then line them parchment paper. Grease them again and dust lightly with flour.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. Crack the eggs into a small bowl. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl once during mixing. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well. The mixture might look curdled; don't be concerned.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter in 3 parts, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Fold in the 4 ounces of coconut with a rubber spatula.

Pour the batter evenly into the 2 pans and smooth the top with a knife. Bake in the center of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until the tops are browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack for 30 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto a baking rack to finish cooling.  Brush the layers with some coconut water.

For the frosting, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and almond extract on low speed. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until just smooth (don't whip!).

To assemble, place 1 layer on a flat serving plate, top side down, and spread with frosting. Place the second layer on top, top side up, and frost the top and sides. To decorate the cake, sprinkle the top with coconut and lightly press more coconut onto the sides. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 12
*I used 3 sticks of butter and 1 1.2 lbs confectioners sugar

Notes: Quick Version

1 pkg Duncan Hines coconut cake mix. Add 1 pkg Royal vanilla pudding.  Substitute Goya coconut water for water.  Make sure you spread coconut flakes to frosting between layers

All photos Lindaraxa

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Grilled Portobellos With Arugula, Roasted Pears & Balsamic

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On a recent visit to Florida, I had this salad at a restaurant in South Miami.  It was the most enjoyable dish I had during my entire stay.  As a matter of fact, it was the first time I have ever enjoyed arugula.  This recipe is as close as I can remember. 

Thin ribbons of Parmigiano-Reggiano carry the mushrooms' meaty robustness through each bite of greens, with the roasted pear bits adding a subtle sweetness to the salad.  Divine!

You can roast or broil the mushrooms, but I guarantee you will adore them on the grill.
Use a potato peeler to shave off curls of cheese over the salad at the end.

Serves 4


portobello mushrooms
6 cups arugula, trimmed
1 roasted pear, cut in small pieces
1 TB butter
2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano or Asiago cheese, shaved
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper


Dressing: In bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, rosemary, salt and pepper; set aside.

Slice the pear in half.  Place in an oven proof  dish, cut side up  and top with 1 tb. butter.  Place in a 375 degree oven and roast until golden, about 30 minutes.  Let cool and cut in small pieces.

Scrape gills from mushrooms; cut off stem just below cap. Wipe tops with damp towel; cut in thin slices. Brush with half of the dressing. Place on greased grill over medium-high heat; close lid and grill, turning once, until tender, about 10 minutes. (Make-ahead: Let cool. Refrigerate in airtight container for up to 24 hours. Pour off any juices.) Alternatively, place under the broiler for about 5 minutes.

In large bowl, combine arugula and roasted pear. Toss with remaining dressing; mound on each plate. Top each serving with sliced mushrooms and shavings of Parmesan cheese.

Grind some fresh pepper at the table

Recipe and Photos Lindaraxa

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Easter Table...Tulips!

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Setting an Easter table for me has always been a problem.  When the children were little the bunnies and the eggs always found their way to the decorations but, let's face it, now that we are all grown up, it all seems pretty silly to me.   When it comes to a centerpiece for Easter, tulips have always been my flower of preference and this year here are some arrangements that caught my eye:

When kids are at the table:

Casual indoors:

Casual outdoors:

Just casual:

This is new.  Haven't quite made up my mind:

These I like!

And then, of course, there is Carolyne Roehm:  Nobody, NOBODY does tables like her.  She is my Elvis Presley!


Oh, okay...and for a kid's table here is my favorite:

Top image: Carolyne Roehm
All others: For credit and more ideas check my Pinterest here

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Thai Shrimp Curry

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For some reason I have never been a fan of Emeril.    Perhaps it is the fact that I have never liked his TV show and all the distractions,  Why a band and all those Bams!?  I just want to concentrate on the food.  Give me the serenity of a functional kitchen and a good recipe and I am in pig heaven.   I have to admit that some of his recipes, like this old Thai favorite, can be intriguing.  So I made it. And I liked it.  So did my guests.

When I try a new recipe the first thing I do is check for authenticity, particularly if it is one I have never had before.  On the metrics this recipe was right on.    I did add the mushrooms, something I saw on one of my favorite Asian cooking blogs, Steamy Kitchen.  Careful, though, if you are squeamish about the heat.  Try 2 TB of red curry paste first and go from there.  You can always sneak some in at the end if it's too mild for your taste.

Thai curry paste can be readily found in the Asian section of your grocery store.


  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped shallots
  • 1 large red bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 2 medium carrots, trimmed and shredded
  • 6 oz. Japanese trumpet mushrooms or shitaakes*
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons Thai Red Curry Paste, recipe follows
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons palm sugar or light brown sugar
  • 1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk
  • 1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 tablespoons chopped Thai basil leaves
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • Cooked jasmine rice, accompaniment
  • Sprigs fresh cilantro, garnish


In a large wok or saute pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, bell peppers, mushrooms, carrots, and garlic, and stir-fry until soft, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stirring, add the fish sauce and sugar, then the coconut milk and bring to a boil. Simmer until thickened slightly, about 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring, until pink and just cooked through, about 2 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in the basil and cilantro.

Serve over jasmine rice, garnished with cilantro sprigs

*not in the original recipe

All photos Lindaraxa

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Stuffed Tomatoes With Sausage, Basil And Mozzarella

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This was a specific request from my daughter when she saw the box of tomatoes that I had just purchased at Costco.  I have no idea where she had these before or whether this is Italian or something concocted by Italian Americans when they came to these shores.  All I know is that I couldn't find anything on the web or in my cookbooks that struck my fancy so I improvised.  I must say, in all humility, that I think I outdid myself.  Definitely a keeper for a first course or a light meal when our tomatoes are at their peak.

The recipe is very easy to halve if you are only serving two or four.  I made four tomatoes and I am looking forward to lunch tomorrow with the remaining two!

Serves 8


8 medium tomatoes, preferably with stems intact
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch of cayenne pepper
3/4 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed 
2 TB. chopped basil
1 small green or red bell pepper, diced
1/2 large onion, diced
1 stalk celery, dice 
4 small clove garlic, minced
2 cups bread cubes (from about 1/2 baguette)
1 cup fresh basil
1/2 cup grated mozzarella
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese.  Extra for the top.


 Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Using a serrated knife, slice off the top quarter of each tomato and reserve the tops. Scoop out the pulp from inside each tomato and transfer it to a food processor. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and the cayenne to the food processor and process until smooth; pour into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bell pepper, onion, diced celery and garlic. Cook, stirring, until onion and peppers translucent.  Add the sausage and cook until it browns, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.  Add the bread cubes,basil,  mozzarella and parmesan.  Pack the tomatoes with the sausage-bread mixture so the stuffing is domed on top. Put the stuffed tomatoes in the baking dish on top of the sauce.

Sprinkle the top with extra parmesan cheese and drizzle with olive oil.
Put the tomato tops, cut-side down, between the stuffed tomatoes. Bake until the stuffing is golden, about 20 minutes. Cover each tomato with a top and serve with the sauce.

Adapted extensively from Food Network
All photos Lindaraxa

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Very French Country Dinner

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Not only is this very French, it is also a very, very simple and easy  menu.  I urge you to try it for Sunday dinner this weekend.

If you have been following my blog for awhile you must have noticed there is often a reason to the chronology of the recipes.  Yes, I do post by the season, but sometimes I also post recipes that are part of a past or forthcoming dinner. Last week, I posted the recipe for Poulet A L'Estragon or Chicken with Tarragon that has always been a favorite but that, unfortunately, has been often  bastardized when served at corporate events or weddings.  Trust me, that one is nothing compared to the original, particularly if you avoid using boneless chicken breasts. Take another look at the post with the new photos since the first ones did not come out right.  Now tell me that isn't mouthwatering!

Sunday night we had a small dinner for intimate friends and I decided to treat everybody to dinner in the French countryside.  This is what we had, including a delicious Sancerre:

Le Dimanche Chez Lindaraza

Roasted Red Potatoes
Asparagus Spears

Pascal Jolivet (Sancerre)

Cheeses and Green Salad

French Apple Tart 

 Bon Appetit!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Getting the Basics Right...Steak House Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing

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A couple of days ago, my friend Reggie Darling wrote a post about one of his favorite steakhouses on the East Side of Manhattan called  Donahue's Steak House.  Although I have never eaten there,  what immediately caught my eye were not the steaks but the iceberg salad with blue cheese dressing, something that I have always adored but never been able to master.  Yes, I admit, my blue cheese dressing sucks!

Notwithstanding, today I determined to change all that and proceeded to investigate the world of blue cheese dressing.  Finally, I think I have come up with  something that even I would think is pretty close to what you would find in one of the best chop houses in New York. I am over the moon; for a good blue cheese dressing is one of my favorite things on earth.

It's so easy to make your own blue cheese dressing.    Not only is it much cheaper, you can also choose which great blue cheeses to use like  Gorgonzola or Roquefort. Whether for a green salad, or a plate of Buffalo chicken wings, this blue cheese dressing is a winner. I used Roquefort and I urge you to do the same.  Sprinkle some extra cheese at the end if you like.

Makes 3 Cups Blue Cheese Dressing


  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled fine (I used Roquefort)


Whisk together all the ingredients except for the blue cheese. Once mixed, stir in the crumbled blue cheese; cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours before service. Overnight is even better. Taste for and adjust seasoning with salt and fresh ground black pepper.

Photos: Lindaraxa

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A French Classic...Poulet A L'Estragon

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A favorite of French bistros Poulet a l'Estragon, or Tarragon Chicken, is one of the most delicious ways of preparing a bird that has ever been invented.  Don't be mislead by its name...this is not a fancy dish.  It is country French at its best.

Although the original recipe calls for a whole bird to start with, it is okay to use chicken parts, particularly the legs with the thighs attached.  You can mix in some breasts if you like, but I prefer to serve them with the wings attached.  Whatever you do, don''t use skinless and boneless chicken parts or you will be sorely disappointed. Don't mess around with perfection!

Small roasted red potatoes go particularly well with this dish.

Poulet A L'Estragon


Serves 4

1 1/2 TB chopped tarragon
1 garlic clove crushed
3 TB butter
1 chicken 3 1/2 lbs
2 tsp. oil
1/2 Cup chicken stock
2 TB white wine
1 TB flour
1 TB tarragon leaves
1/2 Cup heavy cream


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Mix the chopped tarragon and garlic with half the butter, salt and pepper.    Insert it into the cavity of the bird.  Tie the legs together and flip the wings under the bird.

Melt the remaining butter and the oil in an oven proof casserole and brown the chicken on all sides.  Add the chicken stock and the wine, cover and bake in the oven for 1 hour 20 minutes or until tender.  The juices must run clear when pierced with a fork in the thigh.

Remove the chicken from the casserole letting all the juice drain back in the pan.  Cover with aluminum foil and a kitchen towel and allow to rest.

Skim 1 TB of surface fat from the liquid in the casserole and place in a bowl.  Skim the rest of the fat from the casserole and throw it away.  Add the flour to the reserved fat and mix until smooth.  Add this to the liquid in the casserole and whisk over moderate heat until the sauce boils and thickens.
Strain through a fine sieve into a clean saucepan.  Add the tarragon leaves and simmer for 2 minutes.  Add the cream and mix but do not let it boil.  Correct for salt and pepper.

Carve the chicken into large pieces (legs with thighs, breasts with wings).  Spoon some of the sauce on top and serve.  Pass the sauce.

All photos Lindaraxa

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