Mike’s (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake

August 25, 2017

Mike Abramson says his carrot cake is the best ever.

Janet Carlson doesn’t necessarily agree.

For now, the controversy will need to simmer as I only have Mike’s (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake recipe, though I have suggested to Janet that she and Mike have a carrot cake bake-off.

Mike makes no apologies for having stolen the recipe from Tom Grier, originally of Grier, Georgia.

The story goes something like this…

In the 1970’s a group of four friends from San Francisco bought a weekend house, they named Aros, near Sebastopol, California. The four owners rotated use of the house, each getting it for a week at a time but also sometimes showing up there together to host parties as in the photo below.

Mike Abramson, second row far right

Over the years, ownership of the house shifted as some individuals sold their interest and others bought in.

At one point, Tom Grier was the youngest owner.

The group met on a quarterly basis in San Francisco to discuss maintenance issues related to the house. As with use of the house, these meetings were held in rotation at the owners’ homes in San Francisco.

Whenever Tom hosted the meeting, he served carrot cake, which Mike believes originated as a Grier family recipe. Tom shared the recipe with Mike and the rest is history. Mike’s (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake was born.

But for Janet’s assertion that Mike’s might not be the best carrot cake in the world, well, we’ll just have to wait for the bake-off.

From left to right: Janet Carlson, Richard Valantasis, and Gino Barcone

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Mike's (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake
This is almost a cross between a spice cake and a carrot cake. The frosting is generous and could easily be reduced by one-third. This recipe is for sea level. If there is interest in adjustments for high altitude, let me know and I’ll post them.
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Cuisine American
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 40 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cake
Frosting
Cuisine American
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 40 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cake
Frosting
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Instructions
Cake
  1. Butter and flour a 9” x 13” baking pan.
  2. Grate the carrots on the tear-drop holes of a box grater.
  3. Coarsely chop the nuts.
  4. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix with the paddle.
  5. Add the oil and eggs to the flour mixture. Blend until combined.
  6. Add the carrots and crushed pineapple with the juice. Mix thoroughly.
  7. Add the walnuts and raisins. Stir to combine.
  8. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake at 350°F for 35-40 minutes or until the center springs back when lightly touched.
  9. Cool completely in the pan before frosting.
Frosting
  1. Beat cream cheese and butter until light using the paddle of a stand mixer.
  2. Beat in all other ingredients.
  3. Frost cake when cool.
Recipe Notes

For recipes that call for solid vegetable shortening, such as Crisco, I use coconut oil is due to concerns about the negative health effects of hydrogenated fats.

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Asparagus with Parmesan Cheese

June 12, 2017

I am writing this sitting on a beach in Akumal, Mexico about an hour south of Cancun by car.

On the beach in Akumal
Iguanas enjoying the beach in Akumal

Just a few days ago, I was at home in Santa Fe where the weather was just beginning to turn spring-like.  The week before that I was in Hawaii.

The view from our lanai in Kauai

By the time you’ll be reading this, I’ll be in Palm Springs, where, even today, the temperature is hitting 100°F!

On the patio in Palm Springs before the heat of the day

Needless to say, my sense of seasonality is out of whack at this point.

No matter the temperature or the weather, asparagus says spring!

Just a few days ago, I was eating grilled asparagus in Santa Fe.  Days before that I made an asparagus frittata, before that I cooked the asparagus that is featured in this post.

Asparagus isn’t something I remember much of before college and usually it was the mushy white stuff out of a can.  White asparagus can certainly be a delicacy but when it comes out of a can that’s an impossibility as far as I’m concerned.

College was a time of incredible culinary growth for me.  Growing up I ate wonderful food as my mother was a great cook.  Mostly, though, it was Italian, Slovak, and the American dishes that every kid in the United States grows up eating.

I didn’t learn to cook until freshman year in college.  I was lucky enough to live in a college house at the University of Pennsylvania that was housed on two floors of an otherwise upper class dormitory made up of apartments with kitchens.  The typical freshman dorms either had no kitchens whatsoever or had the most rudimentary cooking facilities shared by large numbers of students.  Since I had a kitchen, I only took out the minimum required meal contract: 10 meals per week.  Usually this meant I ate lunch and dinner in one of the dining halls Monday through Friday.  On weekends I cooked…and baked!

I called home every Sunday from the day I went away to college.  Occasionally there was a lapse, like the time when I was 31 and hadn’t called home in a couple weeks.  The first words out of my mother’s mouth when she heard me on the other end of the line were, “I was just about to put your picture on a milk carton.”  Point made!  [You may or may not know that “back then” the pictures of missing children were put on milk cartons in the hope that someone would recognize them and call the authorities.]

Besides just catching up on our lives, I got advice.  My father gave me advice on how to handle alcohol, what to do if I had too much (don’t lie down and don’t close your eyes, for example), sex, and other topics.

My mother walked me through the steps of how to cook whatever it was I planned on making for dinner that evening.  By the end of freshman year, I was a credible cook.

My gastronomic circle was not very big, however.  Early my freshman year the resident advisors, Dennis and Martha Law from Hong Kong, took a group of us to dinner in Chinatown.  It was exciting, having grown up in a town without a Chinese restaurant.  The tastes, however, were so…well…foreign that I didn’t like much of what was served.  I tasted everything but rarely had more than one bite till something landed on my plate that struck me the right way.  The serving platter made it down the table past two or three other people till Dennis saw me eating.  He commandeered the plate and put it in front of me to be sure I had enough to eat.

By the end of the year I was not only eating, and loving, Chinese food, I had developed a rudimentary understanding of the regional differences and learned the basics of Chinese cooking from Martha.

After my taste buds got over the shock of Chinese food, I started exploring other cuisines.  A favorite became Indian food at Maharaja just a few blocks from my dorm.  It turns out the restaurant was owned by the aunt of someone I now work with!  I believe it was the first Indian restaurant in Philadelphia.

Sophomore year I was not in the college house but had one roommate in a similar upper class dorm with a kitchen.  Meal contracts were only required of freshmen and I saw no point in eating in the dining hall.  The arrangement I struck with my roommate was that I would cook and he would clean up.  It turns out he would eat, and like, most anything so I was free to explore and experiment.

That set the stage for my junior year when I was admitted to another college house, the International Residence Project.  Half of the students were from the USA and half from anywhere else in the world.

My roommate, and best friend for many years, Ray Hugh, hailed from Guyana.  Valrie Tracey from Jamaica became the third member of a triumvirate that was pretty much inseparable for the rest of college.

Two married couples were our resident advisors, Ambrose and Najma Davis, and Reginald and Nanacy Rajapakese.  Ambrose was from Jamaica, Najma from Bangladesh, and Reggie and Nanacy from Sri Lanka.

Nanacy taught me how to make Sri Lankan food and I’m almost as comfortable making that as I am Italian.  I remained close friends with Nanacy and Reggie, even making several trips to Sri Lanka with Nanacy in the last few years, after Reggie’s death.

Ray and I have reconnected on Facebook which is rekindling many memories of the trips I made to Guyana and my experiences in learning to make Guyanese and Chinese food from Ray and his mother.  Ray’s grandparents on both sides emigrated from China to Guyana in the 1800’s.

Ray and I packed an incredible amount of cooking power into a tiny dormitory kitchen.  Without enough cabinet space to store ingredients, we had stacks and stacks of plastic milk delivery crates packed with an unimaginable assortment of ingredients from international food markets.

Our apartment became known as the place for midnight snacks and folks always came knocking on the door around then to see what we’d whipped up to nibble on.

That was the year I discovered that my stovetop Corning percolator made a serviceable stand-in for an asparagus steamer.

 

Asparagus steamer in a pinch!

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Asparagus with Parmesan Cheese
Asparagus is best cooked in an asparagus steamer. This small-diameter, tall pot allows the bottom of the asparagus spears to boil in the water while the tender tips cook by steaming. When I was a college student and didn’t have an asparagus steamer I used my stovetop Corning Ware percolator. If you don’t have a steamer, or a reasonable substitute, I find it preferable to cook the asparagus in a microwave oven rather than to boil them. After rinsing off the asparagus, put the spears and whatever water clings to them in a microwave-safe dish with a cover. Cook in 1-2 minute increments, moving the spears around after each bout of zapping, until cooked but still a little “toothy” (and certainly not mushy).
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Course Sides, Vegetables
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course Sides, Vegetables
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
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Instructions
  1. Trim the tough ends off the asparagus. The “Notes” section below contains a link to a blog post describing how to do this.
  2. Crush the garlic with the side of a chef’s knife.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a small sauté pan over low heat. Add the garlic and sauté slowly until brown, pressing down on the garlic occasionally.
  4. Discard the garlic. Reserve the oil.
  5. Cook the asparagus until toothy, neither crunchy nor mushy. If you do this in an asparagus steamer, put about two inches of water in the bottom and bring to a boil. Lower in the basket with the asparagus. It will take 5-10 minutes, depending on the asparagus and your elevation, to cook the asparagus properly.
  6. Put the cooked asparagus in a warmed serving bowl.
  7. Add the garlic-infused olive oil and mix.
  8. Add the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and the salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Mix well.
  9. Drizzle with lemon juice and serve.
Recipe Notes

You can find videos of prepping asparagus here.

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Pear, Celery and Arugula Salad with Lemon Dressing

December 26, 2016

I grew up in a family that put salad on the table at the same time as the rest of the meal.  I married into a family that does the same.  However, in the years between leaving home to go to college and getting married I most definitely converted to serving salad after the main part of the meal was over.  Notice, I didn’t say main course because the other change I made was thinking of the meal as comprising an antipasto (even if it is just a nibble of cheese and a cracker for a family meal) followed by, what Italians would call, the first course (il primo piatto) followed by a second course (il secondo piatto).

In an Italian meal, the first course is usually pasta, or soup, or risotto.  The second course  usually consists of meat or fish with several side dishes (contorni).  After that comes the salad.  Granted, there are exceptions to this sequence, even in Italy.  One of the most classic exceptions is serving Risotto alla Milanese with a breaded and fried veal chop.  OK, so these days, I try not to eat baby animals, so veal is pretty much off the menu at our house, but the point is Risotto alla Milanese is typically served with the meat, not before the meat.

The general rule that the sequence is antipasto, then first course, then second course, then salad was made abundantly clear when my Italian tutor had dinner at our house a few years ago.  For some reason, even though my in-laws grew up in Italy, we served spaghetti and meatballs (very good spaghetti and meatballs, mind you!).  Where it got interesting, however, is that we all ate the spaghetti and meatballs at the same time (for full disclosure, I didn’t touch my salad until afterwards).  My tutor, hailing from Italy however, ate her pasta first.  Only then did she put a meatball or two on her plate for her second course.  Only after that did she touch her salad!

When I am serving dinner for company, the salad always comes after the second course.  I’d rather not serve salad than serve it with the rest of the meal.  Salads, by design, have sharp dressings meant to cleanse the palate.  You can’t go back and forth between a subtly seasoned dish (whether it be pasta or fish or meat) and salad and do justice to the subtlety of the first.  The vinegar and/or lemon juice and/or mustard (and/or whatever else you put in your salad dressing) doesn’t allow that.  Forget what it does to the wine that you’ve paired with the dish!  If it’s just family, however, in the interest of domestic harmony, the salad goes on the table at the beginning.  I still don’t eat mine till the end but I can’t say the same for others.

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Pear, Celery and Arugula Salad with Lemon Dressing
Pears add a welcome freshness to this salad that is a perfect antidote to winter when so little really good fresh produce is available. This may be a lot of pear for some but the sweet juicy taste is a great contrast to the crunch of the celery and the peppery bite of the arugula.
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 15 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Instructions
  1. Squeeze about half a fresh lemon to make 2 ½ tablespoons of juice. Allow the juice to sit, uncovered, at room temperature for about an hour before using it to dress the salad. The flavor of the juice will improve.
  2. Remove the top of the celery stalks, the part where the center stalk gets much thinner and smaller stalks come off the sides. Reserve these pieces for another use. Cut the remaining celery stalks on a long diagonal to create thin long pieces.
  3. Using a sharp knife or cheese paring knife, cut about 18 curls of Pecorino Romano cheese.
  4. Peel the pears and cut into quarters lengthwise. Core the pears. Slice into thin wedges.
  5. Combine the lemon juice and olive oil. Shake well to combine.
  6. Toss the arugula and celery with about 2/3 of the lemon-olive oil dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste and toss again.
  7. Divide the arugula and celery onto six plates.
  8. Toss the pears in the remaining lemon-olive oil dressing. Arrange the pear slices and Pecorino Romano cheese on top of the arugula. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2016 by VillaSentieri.com.  All rights reserved.

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