Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Cake #2 - Hawaiian Banana Cake

Banana Cake. Hawaiian Banana Cake to be more specific.

The Distracted Cook has no idea where this recipe originated, but this is how it looks at our house:

This is one of those easy cakes that makes you wonder why you don't make it more often. Especially when you have a bunch of really gross bananas that you don't even want to pick up to toss out. They should look about like this:

I know, they are really pretty scary, but the more squishy they are the better the cake will be. This is a sweet, moist, delicately flavored banana cake. Not banana bread, but banana cake.

This is what you get straight out of the oven:

And after it cools in the baking dish and is turned out to finish cooling:

But best of all is when you get a piece on your very own plate!

Let us know how yours bakes up!

Christmas Cake #2 - Hawaiian Banana Cake

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
3 small very ripe bananas or 1 cup banana puree
2 eggs

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. 
Put shortening, bananas, and eggs into a blender and puree. 
Add pureed mixture to dry ingredients and mix till moist (should resemble a muffin batter.)
Spoon into a buttered and lightly floured 9" square pan.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes.
Remove and let cool in pan 5 minutes.
Turn out of pan and cool completely.
- This is where you cut yourself a piece -- just to be sure it is as good as you think it is!
Wrap air tight. 
Freezes well.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Cake #1 -The First Cake of The Twelve Cakes of Christmas

Today is the day for the Christmas Cake. This has been a favorite for many years now - the recipe comes from a magazine clipping, most likely Sunset Magazine from the 1970's! This is a fruitcake for all those who are fruitcake haters. It's easy and good and really pretty with the red and green cherries. Oh, I forgot about the rum - that makes it even better.

And pecans, of course, always make cakes really good.

When it's finished, it is as good to eat as it is pretty to look at.

Now it's your turn to give it a try:


This is the original recipe that The Distracted Cook uses every year. This is a good example of why there needs to be a better way to save your favorite recipes - well, I am sure that there are some cooks out there whose recipes NEVER look like this. And I am equally as sure that their kitchens are immaculately spiffy and that they have already alphabetized their spices on the shelf. Since there is a new year coming up, The Distracted Cook will begin to elaborate on her tricks to keep recipes from ending up like this one.

Let us know how you like this cake. I am betting that it will become one of your favorites too! And go ahead and have a second slice - tomorrow is another day and another Christmas Cake!

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Thirteen Cakes of Christmas

There seems to be some difference of opinion about the Twelve Days of Christmas. And did you know that there are Twelve Nights of Christmas? If you grew up in New Orleans as I did, you would know that Twelfth Night is celebrated on January 6th and this marks the beginning of the carnival or Mardi Gras Season. Because of the differing of calendars, some have it that Twelfth Night is actually January 5th and Twelfth Day is then January 6th. Others just start counting at Christmas and have Twelfth Night and Twelfth Day occuring on January 5th. But in New Orleans, Twelfth Night is January 6th and that is that. It's their story and they're sticking to it. And so am I!

Instead of celebrating the Twelve Days (or Nights) of Christmas we celebrate the Twelve Cakes of Christmas. But we actually celebrate Thirteen Cakes of Christmas. Why would we do this, you ask? Well, in our house we start off the Christmas Cake season today, December 24th. The reason that we do this is because it is Natalie Andrea's birthday. Yes, my daughter has the distinct honor and disadvantage of celebrating her birthday on Christmas Eve.  So, of course, we start our celebration of the cakes with her birthday cake the first night of our Thirteen Cakes of Christmas.

And believe me, this is no ordinary cake. Well, yes, it really is an ordinary cake. That is the whole point of all this rigamarole that we go through each year. And it really is a "real" cake -- read that as a birthday cake from the bakery and not The Distracted Cook's oven. When my children were quite young nothing was worse than a cake that their Mother had baked herself. Why oh why couldn't they just have a "real" birthday cake from the friendly bakery! So, now that they are very much older and I am somewhat much wiser, I have figured it out. I have learned to place the cake order well in advance. I learned that lesson the hard way - one would expect that you could go into a bakery the day before a birthday and order a cake with the obligatory "Happy Birthday Somebody" on it and pick it up the next day. Well, wouldn't you think that? I did. Ha! I got laughed right out the door the first time I tried that. No birthday cakes at Christmas time unless you order a week ahead. I could have had any cake I wanted as long as it was red and green with Santas, reindeer, holly, poinsettias, or Frosty on it. Nothing doing with a "real" birthday cake with pastel pink flowers and pale green leaves. Oh no you don't!

So now I know to order a week ahead and Natalie can have a "real" birthday cake with pink flowers and Happy Birthday Natalie scrolled across the top. This is a wonderful way to start the celebration of The Twelve (or Thirteen!) Cakes of Christmas.

However you count it, we wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and invite you back to celebrate the rest of the cakes with us right here!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

And then there were none - Or - Who ate those Sweet Potatoes? Time to make The Stuff!

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone and we are all vowing NOT to overeat again during the upcoming holidays. Really? It's always a good thing to consider moderation, but during the holidays? Isn't that what all that crazy cooking is about - eating, and tasting and sharing recipes? Well, yes, sort of, I guess.

In The Distracted Cook's kitchen all kinds of strange things happen around this time of year. Memories of great cakes, cookies, pies and other food groups slide silently out of the memory banks. Recipe folders and boxes are turned upside down in the wild frenzy to find "that recipe" that we need right now. Yes, where DID I put that recipe?

The Distracted Cook came upon a method to save her sanity many holidays ago and I have been using it ever since. It is really very simple, especially for cooks like us. Just take a simple (or extravagant, depending on your personal tastes and folder supply) manila folder and write "Christmas" across it. Then gather up all those clippings, note cards, pages from magazines and other pieces that have holiday recipes on them and put them in the folder. No, it doesn't matter if they're for Halloween or Easter. Just getting them all into one place is the object of this project.

For The Distracted Cook having a folder with Christmas across the front tells me that everything holiday is hidden between those covers. Christmas has become synonymous for "holidays" in my pantry and that is good enough for me. In fact, it is even better because I don't have to sort through sixteen different folders. I just have this one fat one with the stuff sticking out. And it is green so that is a visual reminder for The Distracted Cook. for me, green = Christmas = holidays.  See - just like this!

It works, I promise. You can certainly make more folders if you are into those kinds of things. I find that I quickly forget that I have done that and I look through the Christmas folder and panic when I don't find the Valentine Cake that I make every year. I obviously have forgotten that one day in a fit of perfection I made separate folders for all the holidays - like Guy Fawkes Day, Ground Hog Day,  Thank Your Teacher Day. You see what I mean? Just too much information for the Distracted Cook to process. After looking through all those folders I am ready to go have a nap. It is the KISS principle at work here and that is really the Golden Rule for The Distracted Cook. And really, who did eat those sweet potatoes?

If your refrigerator is bare and the marshmallow bag is empty you can rightly conclude that someone has eaten that last bite you were hiding behind The Stuff on the shelf.  Ordinarily this would be grounds for a real witch hunt, but since it is the holiday season it must mean it is time to make some more of The Stuff and maybe even give some as a gift.

The Stuff is a magical concoction that The Distracted Cook came across one morning at breakfast. Smack dab in the middle of the Cloud Forest in Costa Rica, The Distracted Cook discovered the most magical "stuff" that captured her attention and quickly became a favorite condiment to plop on top of everything at the breakfast buffet. Shortly after arriving home I decided I would try to replicate this delightful fruit dish.  First things first, I tried to remember just exactly what was in it. That didn't work out too well, so I decided to email the resort to see if they would part with the recipe. But of course! The answer came back within ten minutes. It is a snap! The email read: "it is quite simple, just these simple ingredients. Good Luck!" I was delirious with joy and immediately set off for the produce market to lay in my supply of ingredients. This is such a simple and wonderful thing to have on your breakfast table, I am sure that you will rush out to make it also. And -- it is equally as good on ice cream, pound cake, Angel Food cake, and probably a lot of other things as well.

So, take up your wooden spoon and join in the admiration society for The Stuff!


1 fresh papaya peeled, seeded, and cut into very small cubes
1 fresh pineapple peeled, cored, and cut into very small cubes
1 cup of granulated sugar (or more if you like really sweet things)
1 stick cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and cook at a moderate heat for about half an hour.

Do you see all those seeds in that papaya? The Distracted Cook took the seeds from the last papaya that she used and threw them into the flower bed outside the kitchen door. Guess what? There is now a small papaya forest growing there. Right! So, you can do the same thing and have a papaya grove of your very own. I don't know if either of us will ever see a papaya growing on our trees, but stranger things have happened.

The Distracted Cook knows that these directions are anything but specific and you are probably wondering how you will know when it is done. I have made this many times and each time it is a little different. You can make it more "preservey" and cook it longer or keep it more "fresh fruity" and cook it not so much. You can figure it out! And as for the cinnamon, if you don't like cinnamon leave it out. If you do, just taste it as it cooks and pull out the cinnamon stick when it gets to the point that you like it. Let it cool and then put it in glass jars or any other refrigerator container that you have on hand. The Stuff will keep in the refrigerator for about two or three weeks.

The Stuff is easy to prepare and is one of those kinds of things that make you feel really smart for having made. And it is really pretty in a cut crystal jam jar sitting on the table ready to adorn toast, English muffins, grits, pancakes and just about anything you would want to use as a vehicle for eating it. I am even thinking that I will dump some into the Christmas Cranberries and see how that works out. Let me know what ways you can discover to use The Stuff.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Where in the world is The Distracted Cook? And who ate all the sweet potatoes?

Distractions come in all forms. Some of the most lethal distractions for The Distracted Cook are good news, bad news, no news (aka good news), a new calendar, and HOLIDAYS. Holidays certainly were a big distraction the last two weeks what with all the planning, shopping, cooking, eating and eating again, and then discovering two weeks had gone by. Where was The Distracted Cook all this time? Hmm... right here.

One of the biggest hurdles for The Distracted Cook is avoiding all those really interesting, fascinating, glitzy and sparkly articles about holiday cooking and cleaning. You know the kind - they're everywhere these days. You can't open your email without at least two or three extolling the virtues of doing everything for everybody with lots of time left over to cook, clean, and make yourself into the Distracted Diva. I am here to tell you that the only way to survive this is to ignore them all. Yep, just ignore them all. You know what you have to do - it keeps running through the back of your mind on a daily basis. The Distracted Cook is a big believer in lists. lists, and more lists. Grab that notebook and write down in any order all those things you keep trying to remember: get the turkey, clean the dining room, take the baking pans out of the oven before you preheat it, find all those napkins and iron them, and find that recipe for THE sweet potatoes.

In almost every family or group there is that one recipe that just has to show up on the table or the holiday just isn't right. In this group it is Grandma's Sweet Potatoes. They are wonderful just out of the oven, but even better cold right out of the refrigerator. This remarkable dish goes from a hot "eat your vegetables" dish to a stellar "let's sneak some dessert" dish that you can really dig into.  Kids of all ages are caught sneaking one of the marshmallows off the top! It got so bad the The Distracted Cook changed the recipe from "top with large marshmallows to cover" to what she does now which is to pour about a bag and a half of small marshmallows all over the top.  And when you reheat this wonderful dish, put the last half of the second bag all over the top!

In case your family doesn't have a Grandma's Sweet Potatoes recipe, I'll gladly share ours. And if you missed Thanksgiving don't worry, these are great for Christmas buffets, New Year's Day football marathons, Easter, and probably July 4th if you really like them. Here is the original, one and only, better than good Grandma's Sweet Potatoes recipe from our Grandma!

Sweet Potatoes (For Thanksgiving)

3 cups mashed yams
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 stick butter, melted
1/4 cup cream (use Pet Milk)
1 small can of crushed pineapple
16 marshmallows

"Use Fresh Yams." Boil yams in skins until tender. Peel and place in mixer. Add melted butter and spices. Whip and add cream until it whips lightly, Add pineapple. Place in casserole and top with marshmallows. Bake at 350 degrees until good and hot.

Variations: almost everyone in the family has changed the recipe due to availability of ingredients or just plain laziness as is the case for The Distracted Cook. Besides using a million small  marshmallows, I also use canned yams instead of fresh ones. That is just me being lazy and I must admit these are so much better if you use the fresh yams. Small children will never notice the difference as long as everyone gets a good chunk of the marshmallows. But those adults with a trained palate will appreciate the subtle and delicious difference the fresh yams make - it's worth it to do it the right way at least once!