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I’ve been meaning to make a Hanukkah feast every year for the past several. And even though eight nights seems like a long time to a child who only gets presents on one day, in adulthood, eight nights fly by. The Hanukkah feast has yet to happen. And I should add that this is not a religious thing for me in the least–I’m purely in it for the food.

I think that’s the reason I’m so excited about Thanksgivukkah, the holiday mash-up that will hit the universe this year when Thanksgiving falls on the second night of Hanukkah. See, I make Thanksgiving dinner EVERY year, so this is my big moment to get it right. I’m going to throw Hanukkah into the mix and kill two turkeys with one stone. Slacking off is NOT an option because Thanksgivukkah is not slated to happen again for over 77,000 years. This is pressure like I’ve never known it.

I’ve been hitting the Thanksgivukkah Pinterest boards and there’s some good stuff out there, but here’s the thing–it still has to be Thanksgiving done my way. And my way involves a big helping of Cope’s Corn.

IMG_0740Cope’s Corn is one of the many canned items I was resentful of at the Thanksgiving table of my youth. Thanksgiving at my grandparents’ house in Hershey, PA included Cope’s Corn from a can, creamed onions from a can, a Jell-o mold and a boneless turkey, meaning the bones were removed and the meat was molded back into a shape that roughly resembled its original form. As everyone started eating, I’d hear the ever-polite Central PA murmurs of “tastes good,” at which point I’d share an eye roll with my dad as we dutifully made it all disappear. Once I came of age, I started making Thanksgiving dinner myself.

While the turkey is now in its natural shape and the stuffing is made from homemade brioche, I still have a pang of nostalgia for Cope’s Corn. It is a dried sweet corn that has a nutty, caramelized flavor. We always had the canned variety back then, but today I use the dried kind in the pouch because it’s easier (and lighter) for my parents to carry in their luggage.

So here is my first (and probably–but hopefully not–last) contribution to the Thanksgivukkah cookbook. These fritters have all the appeal of a latke, but with the familiar sweetness of good old Cope’s Corn. I like them because they embrace the savory side of this sweet corn.

Here are a few tips:

  1. I’ve only made the recipe using dried Cope’s, so there are a few tweaks if you’re using the canned variety (here’s the original recipe for guidance). The dried corn requires a time-consuming process of rehydration, so start that the night before.
  2. The batter is very loose and crumbly, but don’t be tempted to add more flour. This recipe has just enough flour and adding more will make a very dense and heavy fritter.
  3. In fact, if you freeze the fritters before frying them, you can use less flour than my recipe calls for. Freezing them keeps them from falling apart immediately when you drop them into the hot oil. Therefore, the flour is a non-issue.

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Cope’s Corn and Scallion Fritters

(Adapted from www.johncopes.com)

  • 5 oz dried Cope’s Corn (1 cup)
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced (about a scant 1/4 cup)
  • 1/3 c flour (*see note)
  • 1 t. sugar
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. ground black pepper
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • canola oil, for frying

* As mentioned above, you can make the batter and freeze the fritters in advance. If you choose this route, you can reduce the flour to 1/4 cup. Simply whip up the batter and drop heaping tablespoons of it onto a sheet of parchment coated with pan spray. Flatten them into patties with a spatula and freeze them until you’re ready for frying.

  1. Soak the dried corn in 3 cups boiling water for 2 hours (or overnight in the fridge).
  2. Cook the corn in the soaking water for 30 mins. Almost all the water will be absorbed at this point, but drain any remaining water.
  3. Add the sliced scallion to the corn and stir to combine.
  4. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and pepper in a separate bowl. Then add the mixture to the corn and scallions and mix until incorporated.
  5. Add the egg to the batter and mix just until combined.
  6. At this point, you can fry the fritters or shape them into patties and freeze for later.
  7. Heat about 1 inch of canola oil in a frying pan until very hot.
  8. Drop a heaping tablespoon of batter into the hot oil. Flatten it with a metal spatula. After about 10 seconds, give it a nudge to make sure it’s not stuck to the bottom of the pan.
  9. Fry the fritter for about 1-2 minutes per side, or until deep golden.
  10. Transfer to a rack set over a sheet tray.
  11. Serve warm with your favorite condiments.IMG_0707

 

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IMG_3017A few years ago, I wrote a post on edible art inspired by the 1982 movie, Creepshow. I distinctly remember sleeping over at a friend’s house as a kid and watching this movie (something we would never have on the screen in my house) in complete terror. The evil father banging on the table for his cake and then clawing his way out of his grave left an indelible mark. It now seems unfathomable that the Father’s Day vignette would be considered anything other than pure camp. And these days I have new appreciation for it because at the center of the conflict is, of all things, a cake.

While “They’re Creeping Up on You” is not one of my favorite segments of the movie, I’ve chosen it for inspiration because, well, roaches make for a very simple and satisfying candy.

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Here’s a quick and dirty video on candy making, which some might argue is actually a very complex practice. However, I believe in taking the fear out of things, so hopefully this will help simplify the process a bit:

Here are a few more tips on making caramel:

1. Like I said in the video, only stir the sugar until it dissolves. Then stop, and let it caramelize in peace.

2. It’s almost ready when the liquid changes from a roaring boil to a slower, quieter affair.

3. When the caramel is close to the deep amber color, take the pot off the heat and swirl it around. It will continue to cook and darken from the heat of the pot.

4. I prefer to stir the mixture with a fork after adding the butter and cream. The hardened caramel will get stuck in a whisk.

5. Bring the caramel back to a boil to emulsify the fats and melt the hardened sugar.

IMG_0664 Here are a few more tips on tempering:

1. Start with about one pound of chocolate, and remove one handful for seeding.

2. I used Valrhona Equitoriale for this recipe. It’s a 55% semi-sweet chocolate, which I think it appropriate for Halloween candy. Feel free to use a 60%+ bittersweet chocolate, if that’s your bag.

3. Don’t let any water touch the chocolate! It will seize and be ruined.

4. If you’re chocolate thickens into a solid mass while you’re cooling is down to 82-83 degrees, remelt it back to 115 degrees and start over. It should still be liquid in the low 80s.

5. If you overheat your chocolate above 90 degrees in the third step, you also have to start over. It’s a pain in the ass, but it’s way better than forging ahead and ending up with bloomed chocolate.

Happy Halloween!IMG_0644

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(This post is long overdue, but I figured Halloween season, with its abundance of mini chocolate bars, is an appropriate time to reflect on the origins of the best candy on Earth. Also, everyone should know about this wild jungle farm in Belize.)

This summer, I had the great pleasure of traveling to Belize. There is a ton of stuff to do in that tiny yet very diverse country, but my main interest was a particular cacao farm in Punta Gorda. It’s called Agouti, but more recognizable than its name is its owner/mascot, Eladio Pop, a joy of a man who materializes out of the jungle to greet you and proceeds to lead you through his 34-acre farm, sharing with you its bounty.

Here’s my journal entry from that day:

Rosalio picked us up for the cacao tour around 9am. He drove us inland to the Mayan villages, which are basically dirt roads connecting simple huts. He said the population is an astounding 2000 people. We stopped for water but had a hard time finding it because there had been a wedding the previous day that cleared all the stores out. We finally found some and headed to Agouti Cacao Farm.

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At the entrance to the farm, Rosalio whistled a call into the depths of the jungle and about five minutes later appeared our guide, Eladio Pop. I had read all about this guy online in my hours of research/procrastination leading up to our trip, and he definitely lived up to the hype. He’s this seasoned, spirited and shirtless Mayan guy, and he immediately launched into an enthusiastic speech about his farm, nature, his family and God. He has 34 acres of jungle farm which looks no different from an unfarmed piece of jungle, except that it has a simple walking trail that he made by “following the ants”. He basically feeds his family of 15 children (plus grandchildren!) off the land and harvests cocoa beans for companies like Taza Chocolate in Boston, among others.

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Eladio started by cleaning his machete, which involved stabbing it through the trunk of a tree, and then we were off to sample the fruits of the earth. We ate fresh cacao from the pod, ginger root, pineapple, hearts of palm, apple bananas (bananas that really taste like apples!), milk from a tree trunk, sugarcane, allspice–the list was endless. All the while, Eladio talked about how working the land is his church, and about how God is not something foreign but instead is inside all of us. Oh, and of course, “let the ants be your guide”. I dug it.

After the tour of the farm, he took Steve and I to his house on a hill to meet several of his 15 children. We had lunch overlooking the Mayan ruin of Lubaantun off in the distance. We ate Belizean chicken, beans and rice, chayote, and fresh tortillas. All served with limeade and a big bowl of habañero salsa.

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After lunch, Eladio’s daughter, Adalia, showed us how to mill roasted cacao beans into a paste to mix with hot water, sugar or honey, and allspice for a tasty beverage. People drink chocolate like coffee in Belize. On a break from working in the fields, they will drink it cold without sugar. Adalia said she can’t live without it.

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While processing the cacao beans, Adalia made small talk, telling us that she was 34. I immediately responded that I was, too! We had a special bond. Then her teenage daughters started laying out their hand-woven baskets and other wares on a blanket for us to peruse. Of course we practically bought one of everything–we were headed to see relatives after the trip and couldn’t show up empty handed. I also couldn’t resist buying a few chocolate bars that Adalia had made–one was 70% chocolate and the other was white chocolate flavored with coconut and fresh ginger. They were like no other chocolate bar I had tasted before in my life.

Most travelers to Belize don’t visit the southern part of the country, but if you’re a chocolate lover and baker like me, you owe it to yourself to go to the source. Eladio was a gracious and entertaining host, and his farm was my favorite stop during our trip.

Check out the rest of my photos of the farm here.

Here’s more info on Agouti Cacao Farm. I booked our tour, which included swimming at Blue Creek Cave, through Bruno Kuppinger at Sun Creek Lodge.

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White Chocolate, Ginger and Toasted Coconut Cookies

Based on Adalia’s white chocolate bar and adapted from Foodnetwork.com, these cookies are crisp, buttery and cozy yet exotic.

  • 1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ c brown sugar (108 g)
  • ½ c sugar (100 g)
  • 1 T grated fresh ginger
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 c flour (135 g)
  • ½ t salt
  • ½ t baking soda
  • ½ t baking powder
  • 1 c unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted
  • 1 c white chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.Cream the butter with the sugars in a medium bowl with a hand mixer until light and fluffy. Add the ginger, vanilla and egg, and mix well.In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, and then add to the butter mixture. Add the coconut and mix until combined. Fold in the white chocolate chips with a wooden spoon. Spoon the dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper and bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Let cool 2 minutes, and then remove from the baking sheets.

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Bloodshot Eyeball Cupcakes

October 18, 2013

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Are you gonna cry about it or cupcake about it? It’s the question of the moment. I was faced head on with the choice when I woke up with a nasty (actually pretty tiny) popped blood vessel in my eyeball. It most likely developed from blowing my nose too much thanks to my triennial cold. Or maybe my body was just getting in the Halloween spirit.

It was my day off and I had cupcakes on the brain, so the cupcaking commenced.

I used my favorite cupcake recipe and the same decorator’s icing that I made for the firework cupcakes back in the day.

I made a video about the incident, and it includes TWO AMAZING BONUSES:

  1. A lesson in making a coronet or paper cone out of parchment paper. This is invaluable for any small detail work you plan to attempt.
  2. A Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure reenactment. Just you wait.

It’s all right here. Happy Halloween!

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It seems to me that the cakes these days that get the biggest ooos and ahhhs bear a simple, sleek coat of frosting and one big, bad accent flower. They’re unfussy and elegant. It doesn’t necessarily matter what type of flower it is. As I often remind myself, I doubt there will be a botanist at the party calling you out on your improvised fantasy flower. Of course, that’s wonderful if you want to stay true a particular species of flower. I’d rather play outside the lines.

So here’s a video featuring my version of the big, bad flower I like to make:

Like a say in the video, this flower may look complicated to make (and it is), but if you start making one now, you won’t be fussing with piping bags or tips or melty frosting on the day of the party. You can just slap this flower on the cake of your choice and your friends will think you’re a hero.

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KCRW’s Pie-a-Day features my Lemon Ice Box Pie

August 14, 2013

Photo by Cathy Chaplin of gastronomyblog.com. I could not be more thrilled to be included in this summer’s KCRW Good Food Pie-a-Day roundup. It’s a dream come true, and I have the lemon ice box to thank for it. I’ll be milking that pie til the day I die. Click here for the recipe and […]

How to make a cookie cutter out of a beer can

June 16, 2013

My dad is one of the craftiest people I know. He’s always making something, whether it’s wooden trivets, alphabet blocks for kids, wine, or collages. A few other fun facts about my dad–he loves beer, he loves to recycle and he has the greatest mustache of all time. So to celebrate father’s day, I had […]

National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day

May 15, 2013

Geez, these made-up national food holidays are really getting out of hand. (Ya, think?) Every single category of food–food that most of us barely register as we shove it into our mouths in mere seconds–has an entire calendar day dedicated to it. Chocolate, cookies, ice cream, even chocolate cookie ice cream. Actually, ice cream has […]

How to make fondant poodles

May 12, 2013

Life may just be complete now that I’ve reached my longtime goal of making poodles out of fondant. I decided to take a stab at it for Mother’s Day because my mom is a massive poodle fan. Her dogs, Henri and Pablo, have taken my place at home–they have their own beds, eat gourmet food […]

How to make gum paste succulents

August 2, 2012

The green revolution has officially swept the nation, and cake decorating has stepped right in line. Gum paste succulents are the latest craze for brides and environmentalists everywhere. So when my friend, Jessica, asked me to do her wedding cake and showed me a photo of her succulent-studded bouquet, I was pumped about taking on […]