Category: birthday

Jam Cake!

For most of my life I heard about “Granny”. My Great-Grandmother. By all accounts she was an amazing cook, great seamstress and she was feisty! My Great-Grandfather was 27 years older than her and had come from a family of privilege in Georgia. My Great-Grandfather was “one of the most sought-after bachelors”. By all accounts he was a bit of player and drove a flashy “rubber-tired buggy” with a “trotting horse”. Today that might be compared to a little red corvette. Granny was a schoolmistress that came from a hard working, “good” family. In the 12 years they were married, prior to his death, they had 4 children and she was pregnant with the 5th when he passed. While the story is told of their love at first sight, I’m guessing there was a certain amount of satisfaction in catching the un-catchable.

In 1900 $18,690 would have been the equivalent of approximately $430,000 today. In 1900 that would have meant that you were wealthy. This is how much the savings passbook shows my great grand parents had in the their bank account when Granny started using it to write recipes. That is a lot of money for the time. While they lived a somewhat grand life with servants and a large plantation home, they also were very conscious of using what they could from their own land. They had crops such as watermelon and their own patch for growing fruits and vegetables. They also raised several different types of chickens and had milk, butter and cheese from their own cows.

A grandchild’s imagination can run wild and mine is no different. At first, I imagined my “feisty” Granny getting mad at Ab, my great grandfather’s nickname. Perhaps he had asked her to run ANOTHER errand to the bank on a day when she had sick children and chores to do on the Plantation. I can see her running into a friend and asking for her Watermelon Rind Preserves recipe. When she realized she has no paper, maybe she thought, “I’ll show him the value of his money!” and scratched out the recipe right there on the 4th page of the passbook. I say this because the recipe is quickly given. There is no list of ingredients and amounts, then instructions. It’s all on continuous sentence.

I sometimes fantasize that maybe she really didn’t have any paper and thought it would be “just one recipe”. However, it became her go to for writing recipes when she ran into friends. Eventually, the recipes did evolve and have a list of and amounts ingredients and instructions.

Today we don’t have passbooks and most of our recipes are shared via email, the Internet or pinterest. Having those recipes written in my grandmother’s handwriting is invaluable. As the years passed, after my Grandfather’s death, times got hard for my great-grandmother and her family. She was able to turn to her Brother in law for help and keep her family together, during the depression, World War II and a great cyclone. I still imagine that she would have been teaching us that the value of a rich family history has more value than today’s $430,000.

My favorite recipe was the Jam Cake. This is a traditional southern cake that came out of Tennessee or Kentucky, depending on what website you are looking at. I have searched high and low for a jam cake recipe that was made with wine instead of buttermilk. I’m not sure why Granny made the substitution, but it sure is good!

I’m giving it to you as written and then my version. How lucky was my Granny to be able to bake with such a limited recipe. I hope you enjoy it too.


Jam Cake!
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Jam Cake!
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  1. Beat eggs and sugar together until light colored and ribbony.
  2. Sift flour and baking powder together.
  3. Beat butter until light and fluffy. Add to eggs and sugar.
  4. Slowly add flour & baking powder mix to butter/eggs mixture.
  5. Once flour is completely added, add spices and lastly wine. Blend until just combined.
  6. Pour into 8 or 9 inch cake pans that have been greased and floured. Bake at 350°F for 30 - 35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
  7. For frosting I make a cream cheese frosting and use a good store bought caramel sauce to make a caramel frosting. Divide the layers. I put an extra layer of jam in between cake layers with the frosting and then frost the whole cake.
  8. You can find my cream cheese frosting recipe in my May 8, 2015 post of Red Velvet cake.
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A Case for Boxed Cake Mix

I am a Mom that went to culinary school whose kids like boxed cake mix! I’ve tried many a homemade cake from yellow to red velvet and every frosting imaginable. While they do love my cream cheese frosting they still like, dare I say it, canned frosting and boxed cake mix better.

So when my daughter suggested we do one of those doctored up box cake mix recipes, to add something chocolate to our family holiday celebration. I reluctantly agreed. My only caveat was that it couldn’t have any other processed ingredients. We came really close but the one my daughter wanted had instant pudding in it. I caved.

The directions were “SOOO” complicated. “Empty contents of Bag”. Add in this. Stir in that. I persevered. We greased the pan and baked the mix for the prescribed 30-35 minutes. The whole time I was mumbling under my breath and sighing. How could this be? I make great cakes! Most kids would kill to have me as their mom!

The timer went off and out came a good-looking moist cake. Huh, maybe? We’ll see. It cooled. I poked. It seemed moist and had a nice aroma. Since I managed to get out of the store without buying a can of frosting, I suggested a hack, I knew. The finger taste test was good and so far my daughter approved.

Once the cake was sliced in half, filled and frosted we put it out and we were ready for the harshest of critics…the family. They loved it! Of course every body thought it was one of my recipes and of course my daughter couldn’t wait to tell them it was a doctored up cake mix.

Well at least I can take joy in knowing that there is homemade cake and frosting that I can make with my daughters that they will like. So from my family to yours, enjoy!

*One note- I would love to give credit where due but I honestly don’t remember where this came from. It was a quick screenshot on the phone and off to the store before mom changed her mind.

A Case for Boxed Cake Mix
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A Case for Boxed Cake Mix
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Vanilla Frosting
  1. In a mixing bowl pour cake mix and pudding mix. Turn on mixer and add sour cream. Slowly add vegetable oil.
  2. Add eggs one at a time mixing well after each addition.
  3. Add milk, vanilla and sea salt.
  4. Add milk, vanilla and sea salt.
  5. Pour into 2 prepared (greased & floured) 8” round cake pans. Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes until toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in pan then turn out and cool completely on rack. Frost and serve.
  1. Blend together marshmallow fluff, butter and vanilla. Slowly add powdered sugar until well blended and consistency is as desired. If it gets too thick you can add some whole milk a couple drops at a time. Frost cake and serve.
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Try Something New! Graham Cracker Edition

When I read a post where the first thing the author does is make an excuse, I have to admit it is a huge turn off.  Julia used to say something to the effect of don’t make excuses for your food whether it’s bad or good, everybody already know’s. Well, Julia, true that but sometimes life just rushes by and you get behind.  The ironic thing is I have been writing like crazy, because I have so much to say!  It’s the cooking and picture that seem to set me back.  So here I am to catch up and I think this first one is a good one.

We finally got a little cold snap her in Los Angeles.  I love to think that means we can have a fire in the fire place and snuggle up.  I mean what else can you do when it is 50 degrees out (pause for groan from the east coast)? A fire in the fireplace almost always means S’mores.  So tonight it meant making my own graham crackers.


I don’t know why I wanted to make my own graham crackers. There was something so intriguing to me. I imagined it would be very complicated so it never occurred to me that I would share it here, under try something new. It was super easy!

I went looking for “Graham” flour. Guess what? Its really just whole-wheat flour that is not sifted during the milling process and is ground coarsely. You can find graham flour in some health food stores. For my purposes I used plain whole-wheat flour. I started with a recipe from King Arthur Flour Company. I made the first batch exactly as directed. One of my daughters is not a big cinnamon fan and I thought it could be a little more “wheaty” so I made some adjustments and the following is my recipe. It really is simple.

My advice is to be patient when rolling out the dough. You do want to get them very thin. You also will want to have a ruler handy, if measuring out as squares, which is the proper graham shape. I admit I got bored of that and made some squares and some circles with a biscuit cutter. Finally don’t forgo the pricking with a fork. This helps them keep their shape, without puffing up.

Homemade Graham Crackers
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Homemade Graham Crackers
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  1. Combine whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and baking powder in a medium bowl. I used a stand-up mixer fitted with a dough hook.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, oil, honey and milk. Blend into flour mixture, until a ball starts to form. Add an additional tablespoon of milk if necessary.
  3. Wrap and chill the dough for about an hour. Turn the chilled dough out onto a lightly floured board an knead gently for 5 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 375°. Grease or line with parchment, 2 baking sheets.
  5. Roll the dough to 1/16"; make sure the board stays floured so the crackers transfer easily.
  6. Cut the dough into 3X# square and prick them with a fork several times. Place on prepared pans and brush tops with a little milk. You can sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar, if you wish.
  7. Bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned. Cool completely, on rack. They will keep well wrapped at room temperature for a week or freeze for up to 3 months.
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Havana (Shabbat) Nights!

On December 14, 2014, the United States and Cuba started the process of resuming diplomatic relations. Since then I have been unable to squelch my curiosity about all things Cuban, but especially food. I was intrigued to find that many Cuban dishes have their roots in the Sephardic Jewish population. Ropa Vieja, a popular dish can even be made with a brisket cut of meat. Since I am Jewish I think of it as Cuban Shabbat dinner.

My favorite movie is The Godfather movie. You can find me on any Saturday looking to see if it is showing on any one of hundreds of TV channels. Cuba has a large role in Godfather II. That is where Michael went to meet with Hyman Roth and other important dignitaries to plan their business takeover. I wonder if the meal Mr. Roth was serving was his Shabbat in Cuba. That was my first look at the fascinating brightly colored homes and the well-preserved, vintage, American cars that make up Havana. My first taste of Cuban cuisine came from the restaurant Versailles. I live in Los Angeles and like most cities in the US that have any Cuban population; we have a few Versailles’. They serve a wide variety of Cuban food with a, slightly, American flair. Here in LA it might describes as the ‘gringo” version. The Ropa Vieja, below, is based on their recipe.

Travel companies are gearing up for the first tours to Cuba, airlines are asking for gate space and Americans are lined up to get their visas. As we wait for all this to happen, I thought it would be fun to give you a Cuban food primer, in your own home. I am making my own experience more authentic, by turning up the humidifier!

Havana Harry’s, is a popular Miami restaurant. They serve all things Cuban. While Vaca Frita is typically a beef dish, they do a chicken version that is out of this world. When I first looked down at the plate I felt betrayed. Was I in little Havana or Israel? Vaca Frita looks very much like Shwarma meat served on the plate and accompanied by pita. The real secret to a great Vaca Frita is the “mojo”. This iconic citrus marinade is used in so many aspects of Cuban cooking. It can be made with or without oil. The oil becomes crucial when you are cooking meats, such as chicken and fish that have a lower fat content. Every cook has their own version of mojo, but the basics stay the same. Mojo is usually made with bitter Seville orange juice. However, it can sometimes be difficult to find in big American grocery stores. I chose Nelly’s Key Lime Juice, sweet orange juice and lemon juice to try and get the balance of sweet and bitter. Another option is tangerine juice or even pink grapefruit juice.

It wouldn’t be Shabbat without dessert and as a matter of fact we recently celebrated Purim. I am including a recipe for a guava cream cheese pastry. My version is a cross between hamantaschen and sopapilla. Guava paste is very sweet, and so is the Cuban coffee you will serve with it. Cafetcito by definition is little coffee so a little goes a long way when serving dessert, too.

There are as many opinions on how to make “cafecito” as there are Cubans. There is a Cuban blend of espresso and you can make it in a Mokka (an espresso pot). But you can also use a good Columbian or French roast. You can also boil it on the stove. Some stir their sugar in halfway through the brew process and some make frothy mix of sugar and coffee to stir in after the coffee is brewed. My suggestion is to start with They have a good but simple version. Just like the mojo, you will find your own personal style.

All that’s left to do now is put on some Buena Vista Social Club, start dancing around your kitchen and cook!



Chicken Vaca Frita

  • 2 pounds skinless, bone-in chicken thighs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • chicken stock, to cover, about 3 cups
  • 1/2 head, roasted garlic, minced
  • 4 Tablespoons oil
  • 1/2 cup sweet orange juice
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup key lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon, rough chopped, oregano
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 small sweet onions, peeled and sliced thin
  • 6 additional cloves of garlic, minced
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste

Place Chicken and bay leaf in a large pot and cover with chicken stock.  You can add parsley or cilantro stems, even hearts of celery.  Add whatever you have on hand to boost flavor.  Bring to a boil and start skimming off foam from surface.  Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes, or until meat falls off the bone. Remove chicken and let cool, so it can be handled.  Let the extra stock cool and then freeze or use immediately.  Its a nice start to soups and sauces.

remove chicken from bone and shred. Set aside.

**Mojo is a sauce/marinade (you are about to make it).  Make extra and and keep it in fridge for up to a week**

Heat 2 Tablespoons of the oil in a heavy skillet and saute the roasted garlic.  Add in juices, ground pepper, oregano and cumin. Reduce heat and whisk until heated through.  This is your mojo.  Pour into a bowl and keep warm.

In the same skillet heat remaining oil and saute chicken with sliced onions until the onions are tender.  Stir in remaining garlic and cook until meat is crisp and browned. Season with salt & pepper.

Transfer to a heated platter and serve with white rice and black beans.  Garnish with fresh limes.

Ropa Vieja

  • Servings: 4-6
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  • 2 pounds flank steak (or brisket)
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, sliced in strips
  • 1/2 spanish onion, sliced in strips
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup red wine

Add all ingredients to a slow cooker.  Add just enough water to cover steak.

Set cooker to low heat and cook for 6-8 hours until meat comes apart with fork.  Shred meat and set aside.

  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 3 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 Tablespoons tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon, minced oregano
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil in a large skillet.  Transfer peppers and onion from slow cooker to skillet, reserve juice.

Add tomato paste, tomato sauce and beef broth.

Add shredded beef to tomato mixture and cook for another 20 minutes, stir occasionally.

Stir some of the reserved juice into cooked white rice and serve.

Guava & Cheese Turnovers

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 Tablespoons cold water
  • 2 sheets frozen puff pastry dough
  • 1/2 cup guava paste (use preserves if you can’t find paste)
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, start with block bring to room temp and beat it until creamy
  • 2 Tablespoons raw sugar (turbinado)

Preheat oven to 400

Be a together egg and water

On a cutting board use a sharp knife to cut 4-6 squares from each sheet of pastry and brush each lightly with egg wash.

Spoon 1 tablespoon each of guava and cream cheese onto squares, slightly off center.

Fold square in half forming a triangle and press edges together.  Crimp edges with fork and brush tops with more egg wash.  Sprinkle with sugar.

Arrange pastries on a parchment lined baking sheet and chill in freezer for 20 minutes.

Bake until golden and puffed, about 15 minutes.  I like to rotate at least once during baking.

Serve warm (but they’re really good at leftover room temperature)

Happy Birthday! Let’s Party Cake

Today would have been my Mom’s 80th birthday. It is also my youngest daughter’s 14th birthday. You have to know that my Mom was always the life of the party and she would, for sure, want us to be celebrating her life. My Mom and daughter were “soul sisters”, so by celebrating my daughter I am honoring my Mom.

In one of my first post I told you about a leather binder, filled with recipes that came from my Aunt Rosie’s house. When I started thinking about celebrations for my mom and daughter the binder was the most logical place to find the perfect cake. In this magical binder, I found several recipes for “Party Cake”. Obviously I was intrigued that a cake could demand its presence at a party by calling itself “Party Cake”. I looked more closely and it appears that this cake is very similar to a pound cake. It is a little lighter. So in honor of my Mother, my daughter and all the March birthdays out there, let’s make Party Cake



Party Cake

  • 1 cup butter or margarine, room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

Cream together butter and powdered sugar until fluffy.

Add eggs, one at a time, blending well after each.

Combine flour, salt and baking powder and gradually add into butter mixture, alternating with milk.  Blend well.

Stir in vanilla and almond extracts

Pour into a greased and floured 10″ tube pan and bake at 325 for an hour and 45 minutes.  Check after an hour and 30 minutes.  You may need more or less time depending on your oven.

For a glaze, whisk together 1 1/2 Tablespoons whole milk with 1 cup powdered sugar.   Add the juice of one lemon. Pour generously over the cake.

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