Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Hi Marg,

Remember our friends Chris and Justin? Well they have a farm near us and are doing a CSA this year. We signed up and Chris showed up with bundles of goodies. Blackberries, herbs, flower arrangements, a big bouquet of mint, and more blackberries.
I made an herb crusted salmon the first night. I marinated the salmon with a mix of olive oil and lemon juice, then coated it with chopped chives, basil, rosemary and Italian parsley. Maybe some thyme too, I can't remember. Cooked it at 350 until it was almost done, about 10 minutes and then let it stand covered with tin foil.

It was great, even though it wasn't farm-raised. :)

Blackberry jam, several batches of blackberry muffins, and blackberry cobbler followed many bowls of blackberries and yogurt, blackberries, peaches and yogurt, always with flax and wheatgerm in honor of Mimi and it being a super food and all. I'll tell you about the blackberry days next time.

Love, Elise

Monday, September 6, 2010

Red Velvet

Dear Elise,
I have a community picnic in a couple of weeks and I want to bring a red velvet cake. Seems festive and appropriate to the season and the crowd. But I've never made a red velvet cake and clearly needed to practice, otherwise known as an Opportunity to Bake.
My first exposure to red velvet cake was at Old Crow Bar-b-cue in Altoona FL. Also my first exposure to bar-b-cue and remains the standard by which all others are measured and against which all others fall short. I had red velvet cake pretty much every day that winter. Their cake was reddish, but not scary, and it had a white frosting with nuts mixed in. I don't recall if the frosting was butter cream or cream cheese and probably the cake was a mild chocolate, but again, I can't really remember specifics.
I started by asking you what happened when you made a RV cake and you said it was gross, period, the end.
I found several recipes, most call for butter, Martha called for canola oil. Most want a cream cheese frosting and that seems traditional. Some call for nuts in the frosting, but some don't. Modern incarnations add cinnamon or berries but I wanted traditional. They all want it to be a layer cake, but this is a picnic, so I'm going w sheet cake.
I started w a Martha Stewart recipe that called for canola oil and 2 TB of red food coloring. This cake was a deep and alarming red. I then went with a very similar recipe from Baked by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito that used butter and slightly less red food coloring. This one was a sort of anemic brownish pink. After two tries, I went with an Epicurious recipe that used butter, but I increased the amount of cocoa powder and decreased still further the red food coloring. The previous two recipes add the leavening at the end as a slurry of baking soda mixed with vinegar. For the final recipe, I just put the dry in with the dry, and used baking powder as well, and added the vinegar in with the vanilla.

I then made a big batch of cream cheese frosting and used it straight on the Martha cake, put crushed pecans over the top of the frosted Baked cake and mixed chopped walnuts in the frosting before spreading it over the Epi cake.

The results:
The bf, my friend Christiana and her bf all came to dinner and agreed to be testers. Christiana's bf has had a RV cake as his birthday cake every year of his life, so he is a connoisseur. He is also from New Mexico, so he isn't fully familiar with the southern red velvet tradition. He preferred the very red cake, really everyone did, because it was by far the moistest. He also preferred the plain frosting, I think because that is what he is used to. The Baked cake was second. The Epi cake, the one I had most tailored to how I thought it should be, was dry and sort of flavorless. Also, once baked, the least appealing color. The rest of us liked the frosting with crushed pecans on top.
I'll have to test them again today, see what sort of difference a day makes.
In conclusion, you are right. Gross, period, the end.

I think for the picnic, I'll make an apple cake.
love, Margaret