Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bacon: A Love Story

This morning witnessed a convergence of ideas and circumstances that happens all too infrequently. It is spring break at Loyola this week, and while I have an endless list of tasks to complete before classes resume, I will allow myself a tiny bit more flexibility than I normally might otherwise. Yet routine is a terrible master. After deciding that I should enjoy a leisurely breakfast while grading World Civ exams on the front porch, I soon found that I simply wasn't hungry. Breakfast here is generally coffee and some fruit or perhaps a bagel, not the smoky unctuousness of bacon smoked by Allan Benton.

But Greta, my German Shorthaired Pointer, was interested. She's definitely a mooch (as is our new cat.) She's a good mooch, though. Jessie and I often joke that Greta plays Nina Simone's classic "Put a Little Sugar in My Bowl" when mooching, only substituting "bacon" for "sugar." Thus, the soundtrack here was never in doubt. 

Bacon: A Love Story from Justin Nystrom on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Positive Influence of Inlaws: Coconut Cake!

On several occasions now, while gathering for family events at the Armstrong family home in South Carolina, Jessie's sister Alicia has made a fantastic coconut cake. Last Saturday, Jessie made known her wish to have a piece of this cake. The quest to replicate sister's recipe was on. After a phone call to Ohio, Jessie produced an index card bearing the basic instructions. The recipe is something of an amalgam of several cookbooks including the 1950 classic, Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook. Rich, creamy coconut milk lends a wonderful flavor. In its appearance and taste, this cake would make an ideal addition to an Easter feast. If I were to give this a "cookbook" name, it would be "Triple Coconut Cake." Triple you ask? Coconut appears three times - to wit, in the cake, in the custard, and in the coconut flake exterior.

The only modification that I've made below is that I've reduced the baking soda from 3 to 2 teaspoons. Three teaspoons was definitely one too many, and may have been an error. Two should definitely suffice to leaven this cake.

2/3 C butter
2 C sugar
3 C cake flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. coconut milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
5 egg whites (reserve 2 yolks for custard)

Cream sugar and butter. Then add thrice sifted flour-baking soda-salt mixture alternately with the coconut milk. When mixed, beat egg whites to a stiff meringue and fold thoroughly into batter. Fill 3 x 9-inch pans with the batter. Bake for 30 minutes in a 350F oven.

The custard goes in between each layer of cake.

1 C. coconut milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 C. sugar
3 tbsp. flour
1/8 tsp. salt
2 egg yolks

Heat in a heavy saucepan the coconut milk and vanilla, but don't bring to a boil. When hot, add sugar, flour, salt. When dissolved, temper the egg yolks, then add and mix. Note: if you assemble the cake when the custard is still warm, it will more easily spread onto the layers.

warm custard steaming away!

Frosting: (a basic "7-minute" frosting)

1 1/2 C. sugar
3 egg whites
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Simply put all the ingredients into a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water (à la double boiler) mix at first with a whisk until everything has dissolved together and is hot. Then stick your electric mixer and beat away. When the mixture starts to thicken up, pull it off of the heat, and place it on the counter (on a towel so it stays warm) and continue mixing until the icing is thick and firm. At this point, ice the cake and then coat with coconut flakes.