I decided a couple of years ago that I was going to begin making all of my cakes from scratch. For many years before I made this change, making cakes was so simple. I just chose the flavor and looked on the back to see if I would need vegetable oil or not. Then, I chose a frosting flavor and grabbed that tub. These cakes were fool proof and always tasted and looked great. Well, a couple of years and many birthday cakes later, I am rethinking my decision. For example, at my mom’s birthday, I made a red velvet cake that looked more like a pink furry cake. It kept falling apart into the frosting. It did taste good; but, I was going for looks and taste. It turns out, I am a terrible baker. It seems the only thing I can bake is a cinnamon roll and I am not sure why those keep coming out so good. I always follow the directions as they are written, but my cakes are never right.
Two weeks ago, I asked Claud what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday party. He said, “Yellow cake with chocolate butter frosting.” So, I found a recipe and got to work. I get excited about baking, always believing that this time it will turn out great. The cake part wasn’t so bad, although it was a bit on the dense side and not so much fluffy, like I had hoped. The frosting is where I really went wrong. The recipe was vague on just how much milk to add and I think I put in too much. It was a gooey mess. Once the cake cooled, I spread it on anyway, hoping the taste would outweigh the looks; unfortunately, it did not.
At the beginning of Claud’s birthday party, while my cake hid silently in the refrigerator, my sister, Jessica, walks in the door holding the most beautiful chocolate cake ever.
My cake can’t sit next to that cake. So, I poured myself a glass of wine and tended to the food for the party and forgot all about it for a while. However, after dinner, I had to readdress the situation. Should my cake even make an appearance? Should I accidentally drop it? No, “don’t be silly,” I thought. I would just bring it out with the stunning cake and hope it gets some attention. We sang and began cutting. Listening to the comments from our guests, Jessica’s cake not only looked beautiful, but also tasted heavenly. Yes, heavenly, divine, scrumptious, fantastic, were words floating around. I looked and my cake had barely been touched. People were feeling sorry for it and taking a small sliver to go with the large slice of the perfect cake.
In the end, hers was devoured (someone may have even licked the platter because nothing was left), and half of mine remained and then went out with the trash. So, last weekend, I decided that Jessica should make the cake for another birthday party I hosted at my house. Some people are bakers and some people aren’t and I fall into the latter category. I needed to just get over it and let the experts do their thing. I called Jess and asked her. Unfortunately, she couldn’t come; but, she would send me the recipe. “Oh right, that’s a great idea”, I thought. But, I have a lot of courage and confidence and by golly I was going to give this cake thing another shot. Maybe I had been picking the wrong recipes. Maybe it’s the recipe and not the cook?
Nope, turns out it’s the cook. I took the cake out of the oven and it collapsed. But, I didn’t lose hope. I thought, well, that’s the bottom when I flip it over. I may be able to save this little guy. When I flipped it over, half of it stuck to the bottom of the pan. No problem, I scraped that puppy out and plopped it into the hole from whence it came. It was bumpy. But, with the glaze, it should still look pretty, right? Not. I poured on the glaze and the cake looked like something even Charlie Brown or the cakes own mother couldn’t love. In the end, I did serve the cake. A birthday has to have a cake. I have to say, it did still taste good. I hope you have better luck. Here is Jessica’s recipe and I am certain I was the failure and not the recipe. Good luck.
1 C. dark 80% cocoa
1 C. shopped semi-sweet chocolate
¾ C. butter
1/3 C. cocoa powder
¾ C. sugar
1 Tbsp. flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9-inch springform pan and set aside. In a medium saucepan, melt the chocolate and butter over the lowest heat. Mix in the cocoa powder set aside for a few minutes to cool. While the chocolate is cooling, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and flour until they are completely combined and foamy. Fold the egg mixture into the chocolate until the color is uniform and pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 30- 45 minutes, until a toothpick pulls out moist crumbs when inserted near the center of the torte. Allow the cake to cool in the pan on a rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife along the edges of the torte and loosen the sides of the pan. Cool for 5 minutes and remove the sides of the pan. Place the cake on a serving platter and cool completely before serving.
4 ½ oz. dark chocolate
3/4 C. cream
3/4 C. sugar
4 Tbsp. butter
3/4 tsp. vanilla
Heat sugar and cream in a sauce pan until sugar has dissolved. Then, pour over chocolate let it sit and melt for about 5 minutes. Then, stir. Mix in butter and vanilla let cool about 10 minutes. Pour over cake.
George’s Fine Steaks and Spirits: an ideal restaurant for anyone and any occasion
When I first began writing this column, I considered writing about George’s Fine Steaks and Spirits, located at 301 North Minnesota St. in New Ulm. But, I thought, writing about George’s was too obvious. Everyone I know loves George’s. Everyone has at least heard of it. So, writing about George’s was predictable. Lately, however, I wondered how sad it would be if someone in New Ulm, or nearby, didn’t know about George’s? Maybe I could reach out to that one person who may have just moved here or lives in a cave or hides under a rock and open their eyes and mouth to some truly amazing food.
Claud and I stumbled across George’s a few years ago. It was early evening, before the dinner crowd came in. We were impressed by the open kitchen and long wooden bar. Everything was so clean. We sat at the bar and George Cottom served us. Instantly, we felt like one of his good old friends. George has a way of making every customer feel like he or she is the most important person in the room, and it’s genuine. I don’t see how he could fake his warmth and hospitality every single time I have been in the restaurant. He seems to enjoy the company of everybody who walks through the glass doors. In fact, I have never been to George’s and not been greeted by George.
Maybe George loves the restaurant and his clientele so much because he gets to work alongside his wife, Karen and his two daughters, Erin and Sarah. I know George values family, as well as food, because he told me his and Karen’s concept for this restaurant is, “good fresh food with family in mind.” I believe this is true because I have seen small children nestled in the booths with their parents enjoying “Pssghetti” or ribs from the children’s menu. At the same time, a couple on a romantic date will sip wine and eat lobster tail and filet mignon. I have witnessed anniversaries celebrated with large groups of people of all ages upstairs in a room that is designed for private parties. We sat upstairs one night when the restaurant was crowded and it was really just as pleasant as sitting downstairs. One night, just before Christmas, Claud and I were at the end of the bar, near the entrance, and we couldn’t believe how many people were coming in to buy gift certificates. This place is so special that you will want to give the experience as a gift to someone you love.
Now, let’s get to the food. The cover of George’s menu reads, “’There is no love sincerer than the love of food’ –George Bernard Shaw.” It’s wonderful to have a charming family greet you and make you feel comfortable, but the food is really what you are coming to enjoy, right? You will not be disappointed. Karen and George buy the highest quality meats and locally grown produce. Their recipes come from Karen, George or George’s mom and they are unbelievable. I think I have tried almost everything on the menu and, because everything is so good, I don’t know where to begin.
First, you start a meal with bread and honey butter. You will have to control yourself so you don’t make this your entire meal; it’s that good. The appetizers are to die for. My mouth waters on the drive to George’s when I think about “Erin’s ‘Shrooms” which are beer battered fresh mushrooms served with hot sauce and ranch. Sometimes, when the kids are at Rock on Ice on a Friday night, Claud and I will go into George’s for a date. We belly up to the bar and order a glass of wine for me and a Shell’s Firebrick for Claud and we each have an appetizer. We always have so much fun meeting new amazing people.
Whenever we have family out from California, we take them to George’s for dinner. In fact, when my mom is here, she insists we have at least one meal there. The entrees at Georges are so tasty and start at $13.95. However, I would be remiss not to say that the soup which precedes the meal is good enough to stand on its own. The lamb chops are seasoned to perfection, the baby back ribs are tender and messy, and Claud says the steaks are the best he has ever tasted. There is an Italian section of the menu featuring shrimp scampi and pasta with meatballs.
If you are steering clear of large meals, George’s also offers a lighter option to his dishes. He tells me that customers are encouraged to ask their server to suggest light options to the entrees. For example, you may substitute a Newman’s Own light dressing on your salad or have them replace the butter with olive oil. Also, the menu offers George’s salad with steamed fresh veggies or Bob’s Salad with a fresh cut wedge of iceburg lettuce. You may even want to try the chicken breast sandwich which is boneless and skinless. If you aren’t counting calories, you will want to end the meal with one of “Karen’s Dessert O’da day”. Go to www.georgessteaks.biz to view the entire menu.
I didn’t want to pry any of George’s traditional family secret recipes out of him; but, he did say that if anyone was trying to adapt something they were making at home, he or she could call him for advice or information on how to cook it. He is happy to assist.
George’s is open Monday through Saturday at 4 p.m. and for private parties anytime. Also, they are open for Valentine’s Day which is on a Sunday this year. You can make a reservation at 507-354-7440.
George did share his recipe for the creamy delicious honey butter:
1 lb butter
1 lb honey
1 C. heavy cream
Blend together and serve on warm fresh bread.
Today is Big Bird’s 40th birthday and National Candy Day. How perfect to have both on the same day. Who hasn’t been touched in some way by the magic and joy of Sesame Street? Who doesn’t like candy? Each is sweet and loved by so many. So, to honor both, I am offering a delicious treat: chocolate covered cookie dough. You read that correctly, cookie dough smothered in chocolate. There are no raw eggs in his recipe, so they are safe to eat. You can only break these out for special occasions and today is one such day. This could also be a Thanksgiving dessert idea.
Cookie Dough Truffles:
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
2 ¼ C. flour
1 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp salt
1 C. butter, softened
¾ C. sugar
¾ C. packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 C. chocolate chips
Mix flour, and salt together. In a separate bowl, mix butter, sugar, brown sugar, vanilla extract and milk and beat until creamy. Gradually add the flour mixture into the creamy mixture. When well blended, add the chocolate chips. Place wax paper on a platter. Roll out balls of dough (about an inch in diameter). Place tray or platter in the freezer allowing the balls to get very firm.
1 C. semi sweet chocolate chips
Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler. Dip the dough balls in the melted chocolate. Place them back on the wax paper tray. Stick them in the freezer to allow the chocolate to harden into a crunchy coating. Serve cold.
I could eat Mexican food for every meal. I’d start with huevos rancheros for breakfast, maybe a light taco salad for lunch and finish off my day with shrimp fajitas. This would be my idea of heaven. I love the combination of pinto beans and Spanish rice. I am in love with hot peppers, chili sauce and salsas. Who doesn’t find irresistible grilled vegetables in fajitas? Also, I can never get enough cilantro. I won’t even get into all of the accompaniments: sour cream, guacamole, pico de gallo, salsa verde, and enchilada sauce (okay, so I did).
Maybe it is because I grew up in Southern California and my close proximity to Mexico made tasty Mexican food so accessible? Or, maybe Mexican food is just fantastic no matter where you grew up? Sometimes you cannot explain love; you just have to let it happen. Imagine my delight when I discovered a Mexican restaurant in Madelia. Imagine my elation when I tasted the food and it was beyond delicious. To make my meal more spectacular, the restaurant is spotlessly clean and the service is impeccable. You may sit in comfy large white booths. You might have your water and pop delivered by an adorable little boy; but, don’t let his stature fool you, he too has manners and class. I think he is being primed to take over his father’s restaurant empire one day.
The restaurant is called Plaza Morena, Mexican Restaurant & Bar.
Javier Reyes has worked here since it opened in late May 2009. He sat with me and my family to shed a little light on the background of the restaurant. Javier told me that the two partners, Jose Herrera and Jose Carlos Salazar, knew each other in Mexico. They own several restaurants together. They brought many employees from their Owatonna restaurant to Plaza Morena. So, there is no feeling of this being a new restaurant with a learning curve for the staff. They are seasoned employees and it shows in the service.
They serve delectable margaritas, which come blended or on the rocks and with a choice of strawberry, lime, raspberry, or mango. Every Thursday, the margaritas are half price ($2.99). All of the Mexican dishes are made fresh on site. Be sure to ask for the spicier salsa if you prefer it to the regular. I know I do. The beans are made in the restaurant. The steaks are marinated fresh every day and freshly cooked to order. They make their own desserts on site and I highly recommend the churro. You get three homemade churros with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. It is not the fried stick you are used to from the vendors at fairs. This churro is incredible. They also make and serve mud pie and flan.
Plaza Morena offers a special every day. Here are a few examples: Monday is the Vallartas Especial (grilled shrimp, steak, chicken, peppers and onions over a bed of rice with lettuce, pico de gallo, cheese dip, guacamole and tortillas), Thursday is the Mexican Sampler (beef nachos, beef and chicken flautas, chicken quesadillas, served with fixings…and, of course, the half priced margaritas), and Friday is the fajita super burrito (10” flour tortilla stuffed with rice, beans, peppers, onions, tomatoes and cheese, topped with cheese sauce, served with rice and beans). If you celebrate your birthday at Plaza Morena, you will be treated to a song and a complimentary fried ice cream with a candle for your wish.
For those of you who prefer American food, Plaza Morena is prepared to serve your needs as well. They have an “American Way” portion of the menu which offers ribeye steak topped with grilled mushrooms, onions and spinach, served with red potatoes refried beans, sour cream and cheese. They have a steak sandwich and a grilled cheese sandwich. Come to Plaza Morena on a Tuesday and the special is a Cheeseburger or hamburger for $4.95 and they will add bacon at no extra charge. However, to my astonishment, I witnessed a miracle at Plaza Morena! My son, Jack, who only eats cheeseburgers and hot dogs, ordered a cheese enchilada…ate it all…and loved it. This was a first. So, who knows, once you get there and see the variety of dishes, you may opt for the Mexican over the American.
For a lighter meal, you are given the choice of six different salads including, seafood salad, chicken salad and a fajita taco salad.
The average entre at Plaza Morena will cost you about $10.00. If your experience is anything like mine, you will leave the restaurant happily full. They offer take out and catering services. Furthermore, they serve “Fast Lunch” between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Monday – Friday. During these times, you can get Mexican dishes, egg dishes, salads and sandwiches at incredible prices.
Plaza Morena’s hours of operation:
Sunday – Tuesday: 11:00 a.m – 9:00 p.m.
Wednesday and Thursday: 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Friday and Saturday – 11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.
For further questions or to order take out, call: 507-642-8624.
Wendy’s easy fresh salsa recipe
1 glass margarita for each person
3 medium tomatoes, diced
1 small onion
3 Tbsp. cilantro leaves
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Take a sip of your margarita. Pour all of these ingredients into a food processor and hit pulse three times (Claud swears by this three pulses rule). Serve with tortilla chips. Enjoy! For more Mexican recipes, please visit my blog at www.yovia.com/blogs/simplyfood. Thank you.
A liqueur is a sweet alcohol which could be sipped on its own, made into a cocktail, or used as an ingredient in a recipe. They are usually flavored with fruit, herbs and spices which adds so much flavor to food. Many flavorings are dissolved to make a liqueur. Therefore, the name liqueur means to dissolve in Latin.
Amaretto is a traditional Italian liqueur. It has a sweet and smooth almond flavor. However, almonds are not used in making Amaretto. The flavor comes from apricot kernel oil, burnt sugar and spices. Amaretto can be used as a substitute for almond extract in recipes. Here is a delicious example of a recipe using Amaretto. It’s a simple way to spruce up ice cream. Enjoy.
Amaretto Ice Cream and Berry Surprise
4 coops of vanilla icecream
2 C. fresh strawberries, sliced
1 C. fresh blueberries
¼ C. almonds, slivers and toasted
1 C. amaretto liqueur
Mix the berries together with the Amaretto. Cover the mixture and allow this to chill in the refrigerator for an hour. Scoop vanilla ice cream into four bowls. Spoon the berries over the top of the ice cream. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds.