Elderflower Lemon Sponge Cake

I was browsing some British cooking/recipe sites and came across several recipes for Victoria Sponge Cake that looked really good and were lighter than my go-to pound cakes (here, here, here). I wanted something with elderflower and, since lemon goes so well with it, I used a recipe with tonic instead of cordial.

I used a bundt pan but a 9×5 loaf pan or another cool shaped cake pan would make a nice presentation.

So good with a nice cup of tea! Floral and lemony and delicate in texture. Please note that after a day or two, the elderflower scent disappears but the lemon is still deliciously strong.

Elderflower Lemon Sponge Cake

For the cake:

1 stick (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing the pan
1 cup sugar 
Zest of 2 lemons (about 2 tablespoons)
4 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon salt 

For the syrup:

¼ cup elderflower tonic (I’m using Jack Rudy Cocktail Company Elderflower tonic)
Juice of 1 lemon (about ¼ cup)

Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325°F. Lightly butter and flour a bundt pan or 9×5-inch loaf pan. Set aside.

Sift together the flour baking powder and salt and set aside.

Using a mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until very pale and fluffy. Mix in the lemon zest.

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs together. Gradually add the eggs to the butter and sugar mixture (about 1 tablespoon at a time), beating well after each addition. Take up to 5 minutes to slowly and completely incorporate the eggs.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the flour mixture into the rest of the batter. Mix just until all the flour is incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake in the oven until a tester comes out clean, about 60 to 70 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cool, in the pan, on a cooling rack for 10 minutes.

While the cake cools slightly, combine elderflower tonic and lemon juice.

After 10 minutes of cooling, prick the still-warm cake all over with a skewer. Drizzle 3/4’s of the elderflower and lemon syrup over the cake so that it seeps into the holes.

Cool cake completely, then remove from the pan. Pour remaining syrup over the top.

Wrap leftover cake in plastic wrap and store at room temperature.

Small Batch Elderflower Ice Creams

I recently bought some elderflower tonic for cocktails and, whilst sipping, thought the flavor would go really well in ice cream. I do so love being right!

While using syrup would make for a more intense and sweeter ice cream – the tonic from Jack Rudy Cocktail Company is light and adds a delicious floral scent and taste to ice cream.

Elderflower Vanilla Ice Cream

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
⅓ cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean pod
1 tablespoon elderflower tonic (I used Jack Rudy’s)

Mix together cream, milk and sugar and whisk until sugar is dissolved. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Whisk in the seeds and then toss in the vanilla pod. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove the vanilla pod and whisk lightly to ensure everything is well mixed. Place in your ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Place in an airtight container and freeze until firm.

The cocktail I first made with the elderflower tonic used muddled strawberries, so I decided to try it as ice cream. Winner!

Elderflower Strawberry Ice Cream

2 cups sliced strawberries
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons Elderflower Tonic (I used Jack Rudy’)

Place all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Refrigerate until cold and then process in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to a plastic container and freeze until firm.

Sausage Olive Cheese Balls

So, I like olive cheese bites and I really like cheese straws (even with bacon) and I love sausage balls. I figured why not put them all together into one delicious bite?

And I was right! Briny, meaty, cheesy – all that is delicious.

Make sure you grate the cheese yourself – the preshredded cheese is coated with a moisture absorber and it keeps the ingredients from sticking together.

balls

Now, if only I had a bridge club or majohng group to share them with.

Sausage Olive Cheese Balls

½ lb bulk sausage
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ cup Spanish olives, chopped fine

Brown sausage and drain. Set aside to cool.

Sift  the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk in the remaining spices.

Mix the grated and softened cheeses, olives together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment on low speed until combined. Slowly add in the flour mixture. Sprinkle in sausage and continue on medium speed until the mixture comes together. Place bowl into the fridge for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove the mixture from fridge and form into balls. Place on parchment paper covered baking sheets. Bake for 30 minutes, rotating pans midway between cooking.

Smoking Beef Ribs on the Grill

I picked up a 3lb vacuum pack of beef riblets because I wanted beef but not a steak. I also didn’t want to have to wait as long as something like a brisket or shoulder would take to smoke.

I started with the rub. I wanted one with no sugar as that doesn’t taste as good on beef as it does on pork. For brisket, I usually use a dalmatian rub of equal parts salt and black pepper but I wanted to put some additional flavor on the ribs. Once I put together granulated garlic and onion and some paprika, it needed a little something morish, so I added dry mustard. Excellent! You could put in some cayenne but the ribs I’m using are thin and I don’t want too much heat.

I cooked them in my Weber kettle grill over indirect with chunks of hickory wood for the smoke. Remember to give yourself plenty of time – smoking time on the grill was three hours but you need to add another hour of rest.

Definitely use a meat thermometer to check the internal temp but you know they’re getting near done when the meat has pulled away from the ends of the bone.

This is what you’re looking for – nice color, they crack a little at the bend and there is at least a finger width of bone showing. If you’ll be patient for just a little longer, you’ll have tender, juicy meat with a lovely flavor from the rub and the smoke.

After the long rest, they were very good and toothsome! Luckily no one else was around to see me eat the whole thing.

Smoking Beef Ribs on the Grill

¼ cup kosher salt 
¼ cup black pepper 
1 tablespoons garlic powder 
1 tablespoons onion powder 
1 tablespoons paprika 
1 tablespoon dry mustard

3 lb rack of beef ribs

Combine the rub ingredients in a bowl and mix well.

Rinse the meat and pat dry. Remove the silver skin from the ribs. Loosen with a dull knife and use a paper towel to pull the membrane off. Coat both sides of the beef with the rub and set in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Store any unused rub in an airtight container.

Remove the meat from fridge and set on counter while the grill is prepped.

Prepare the grill for indirect cooking and to last 3 hours. I do this by putting a ring of unlit coals around my Weber kettle grill, making sure all the briquettes are touching each other. I fill a chimney with charcoal and, once the coals become ashy, I spread them on two sides of the grill, layered on top of some unlit coals. This way, they light the coals beneath them and slowly ignite the rest so the grill should maintain 225-250 degrees F for at least three hours.

Put a drip pan in the center of the grill and add water to the pan. This will keep things moist while the magic happens. Place the rack of ribs bone side down in the center of the grill. Add dampened hickory chunks to the fire to smoke. Let the ribs cook until they reach an internal temperature of 200-205 degrees F. Carry over temperature will bring them to 210, which is ideal for beef ribs. Take ribs off the heat and tent with aluminum foil. Let ribs rest for at least an hour before eating. If it will be longer than an hour before eating, place the ribs in a cooler lined with towels.

You can cheat once the meat reaches an internal temperature of 170 degrees and wrap them in aluminum foil or butcher’s paper and let them finish cooking in an oven at 235 degrees F. While keeping them uncovered on the grill will allow for the best bark, I totally understand using the Texas crutch (and I have done so plenty of times myself).

While I don’t tend to use bbq sauce, the time to do so is when you wrap the ribs or for the final hour of cooking. Give them a generous baste and it will allow for another layer of flavor. Try my coca-cola bbq sauce. I avoid commercial sauces as they have a lot of sugar which can burn and add a bitter taste.

LA 23 BBQ

I was lucky to get invited to a tour of the Southwest Regional Flood Protection Authority facility on the West Bank with NOSHA and the local Sierra Club group. Absolutely fascinating about how much storm surge they stop and how much water they can pump out and how fast – to fill the Superdome from top to bottom would only take an hour and 45 minutes with their 11 pumps!

Regional Director Nicholas Cali begins the tour in front of the West Closure Complex

After the tour, I stopped for lunch with my friends Charlotte and Thomas at LA 23 BBQ. The entrance is right across from the Belle Chase Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base.

The building isn’t much more than the smokers and kitchen with a bunch of picnic tables under a metal roof. They are mainly open for lunch during the week. The food is good and comes out fast.

I had the pulled pork sandwich. It comes with the slaw on the sandwich but I had them put that on the side. Tender, juicy meat with a good flavor that hardly needed sauce. The mac and cheese was very tasty but a little grainy.

They’ve got a good selection of things besides sandwiches if you wanted to get a rack of ribs, whole or half chicken, turkey or brisket. They offer meat by the pound to take home or have meals for 10, 20, 30 people catered in addition to eating there in the open air. Check out their menu for the full list of options.

So, next time you’re over on the West Bank and want good food, fast – go to LA 23 BBQ

Oh, and if you open carry, you get a free drink!

LA 23 BBQ
9661 Highway 23
Belle Chasse, LA 70037
(504) 657-3693
11am to 4pm Tuesday-Saturday

Bold Tomato Pasta

I went to the Crescent City Sunday’s in City Park Farmer Market. They have an option to use the WhatsGood app to preorder from the vendors. On Sunday morning, you drive up and roll through the two aisles of the market with your trunk open and a placard in the window and the venders just put your stuff inside with no muss, no fuss, no contact.

I ordered a big amount of Creole tomatoes (they get their unique flavor from South Louisiana’s alluvial soil) and almost immediately upon returning home had a bacon and tomato sandwich. Delicious but I wanted more.

This is a pasta dish I had in Greece. It was tossed together as sort of an early pre-meal by one of my Dad’s coworkers for the crazy Americans who couldn’t wait until the civilized time of 9 or 10pm for dinner.

A little garlic, a lot of tomato and a touch of cheese make it simple to prepare and amazing to eat. The original was done with spaghetti noodles but I prefer rotini or penne pasta. They also used a goat cheese but I’m using what I have at home – Kraft Shredded Parmesan, Romano & Asiago Cheese.

It tastes like the essence of tomato. So, so good! Very bright and intense and so much better than any sauce from a can or jar.

This is an easy meal to scale up or down. The recipe below is for two people.

Bold Tomato Pasta


2 tablespoon olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 large tomatoes
½ teaspoon each salt and pepper
½ lb pasta (spaghetti or rotini or penne)
¼ cup Parmesan Romano & Asiago cheese blend 

Cut off a dime-size piece of the base of the tomato using a sharp knife. Grate the tomato from the base along the coarse side of an upright box grater, discarding the skin and stem top.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil and cook the pasta to al dente.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over low heat and add the garlic. Cook until soft and fragrant. Add the grated tomatoes, raise the heat to medium and cook until most of the tomato juices have mostly evaporated and what is left is a thick pulp, about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper and stir.

Serve the pasta mixed with the sauce and top, if desired, with a spoonful of cheese.

Oven Baked Turkey for the Best Sandwiches

I love turkey sandwiches and these days the price of sliced from the deli is sending me home with a turkey breast to bake my own. I use a simple recipe with just a little seasoning and aromatics in a sealed pot to keep the turkey tender and moist.

Select a bone-in turkey breast that will fit in your Dutch oven with about an inch of space around the bird and sides/lid. Choose a heavy pot – I went with cast iron and a bird of 6 lbs. I did butterfly it by cracking the breastbone in order to get it to lay flat to fit.

I usually divide the sliced turkey into portions that will last me for a week of sandwiches and freeze most of the packages. This cook gave me at least 3 pint freezer bags full of slices, a smaller bag to eat from now and a 2 cup bag of shredded turkey for casseroles.

I make my sandwiches on white bread with mayo, a little salt and a sprinkle of celery seeds. Simply delicious!

Oven Baked Turkey for Sandwiches

1 5-7 lb bone in turkey breast
1 large onion
1 large lemon

Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 250 degrees. Rinse turkey and pat dry with paper towels. Season all over with salt and pepper.

Slice the onion and place in the bottom of the pot to give the turkey a platform to rest upon. Halve the lemon and place in the cavity. Put the turkey into the pot. Fit a large piece of aluminum foil over pot, ­pressing to seal, then cover tightly with lid. Transfer pot to oven and cook until turkey registers 160 degrees, about 2 ½ hours for a 6lb turkey.

Remove pot from oven and transfer turkey to carving board. Cover loosely with foil and let rest for at least 30 minutes to cool enough to handle. Pull off and discard the skin and slice the breast meat for sandwiches. Pick any remaining meat from the bones and use for things like turkey tetrazzini.

Levantine Roast Chicken

I wanted to make Chicken Shawarma sandwiches but, first, I had to roast the chicken. I made a kicked up spice mixture for the marinade with cumin, paprika, turmeric, garlic and then added Aleppo peppers for an almost fruity heat. The flavor profile owes a lot to the mom of a Lebanese friend of mine who used to feed us when I lived in Oakland, California.

After roasting the chicken, we made a meal of it. I set it over a bed of rice pilaf and served it with the onions that I used to elevate the chicken during cooking. The meat was juicy and had a lovely flavor from the overnight marinade. The onion was tender and melt in your mouth good.

After we ate our fill, Mom and I picked the leftover chicken and tossed it in the pan juices before putting it in the fridge overnight with the leftover onion. I then made a delicious Greek yogurt sauce. For lunch the next day, we enjoyed Chicken Shawarma on pita with chopped tomatoes, rewarmed hunks of the roasted chicken and onion, topped with healthy dollops of the tzatziki sauce.

Just fold and enjoy. So very delicious with an awesome mix of textures and flavors with the spiced chicken and garliky, cucumber yogurt sauce. The best of street food and you didn’t have to leave home for it.

Levantine Roast Chicken

1 – 5lb whole chicken
2 lemons, juiced
½ cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (can substitute red pepper flakes)
2 large white onions

Use kitchen shears to cut the backbone off the chicken and then slice into the breastbone and crack the bird open. Remove the breast bone and cartilage. Place chicken in a zip top bag. The backbone and breast bone can be reserved in the freezer until ready to make stock.

Combine lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, turmeric and Aleppo pepper together and stir well. Pour over chicken and seal bag. Massage to coat the chicken and place in the fridge for at least 12 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees with a large cast iron skillet in the oven. Carefully remove the skillet and place the onions (each cut horizontally into three thick rounds) on the bottom of the pan and set the chicken on top. Pour over the marinade.

Roast for about an hour or until the meat registers 165 on a meat thermometer. For the last 15 minutes, cover the top with aluminum foil if the wings or skin is getting too dark.

Remove from oven and serve over rice pilaf with each person getting a large round of onion and a ladle or two of sauce.

Here is my quick and easy tzatziki recipe:

1 cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 cup Greek yogurt (I use FAGE Total Plain)
4 cloves garlic minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon oilive oil

Grate cucumber into a clean dish towel and squeeze out the moisture. Place the cucumber in a bowl with all the other ingredients and mix well. Taste for seasoning.

I recommend you make 24 hours in advance so that the flavors really come together.

Chocolate Cherry Dump Cake

I wanted a quick and easy dessert for dinner. I had a box of Duncan Hines Devil’s Food Cake mix and a large jar of cherry pie filling. Perfect, especially with me adding in a half cup of dried cherries to increase the umph!

I’ve done this before with blueberries and a box of yellow cake mix (Khaki’s Blueberry Crunch). The final result from today’s is a delicious cross between a cherry cobbler and a black forrest cake.

This style of dump cake is pretty darn versatile – anything that can be made into pie filling can be the base and nearly every kind of cake mix will work. The only limitation is your imagination!

Just pour the pie filling (if using canned, two cans) into the bottom of a buttered 9X13 baking dish. Spread the contents of a box of cake mix evenly over the top and then pour a stick of melted butter on the top. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes or until it is dry on top and bubbly around the edges. Serve with ice cream.

Yum!

Peaches and Cream Ice Cream

I went to the local farm stand near my parents and got some peaches from Chilton County. This area of Alabama has some of the best peaches I’ve ever tasted. As I was eating my third peach (bent over the sink as the juices dripped down my face and arms), I decided I should probably do more than just gorge on them.

I’ve done peach ice cream before (with brandy, with buttermilk, with Greek yogurt) but not just a plain, simple peaches and cream. While you can also use frozen peaches in this recipe, since the peaches in the South are at their peak, I’ll be making mine with these beauties:

This ice cream is velvety in texture. The fresh peach taste is well complemented by the cream – so very good!

Peaches and Cream Ice Cream

2 cups chopped fresh peaches (4 medium peaches), peeled and chopped
½ teaspoon lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar (divided)
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine peaches with 1/2 cup of sugar and the lemon juice. Let stand for one hour.

Place mixture in food processor or blender and pulse until peaches are coarsely chopped. Add remaining 1/4 cup sugar, milk, cream and vanilla to the peach mixture and mix well. Chill for 30 minutes.

Pour into your ice cream maker and churn for about 20 minutes or until desired consistency. Place in an airtight container in the freezer to finish firming up.