Sunday, October 3, 2010

Home Again

When my husband agreed to his employment contract it included two trips home a year which we spaced out about six months apart. This timing was perfect because even though I loved our new home, at about the five month mark my heart began to ache to see my family and friends. I also missed really good Tex-Mex food, pulling into oversized parking spaces ten feet outside my chosen retail establishment, and doing my banking from the comfort of my automobile. I longed for a washing machine that would happily accept a stray sock after the wash cycle had begun, and sales clerks wishing me to have a nice day. I was tired of hearing people complain about how everything in America is so over the top, but then listening to their stories about the brilliant holiday they had in Florida. I needed to be with my own kind. I was craving to run with my own pack.

The one thing I never craved was the twenty hour trip back home which I often took by myself with my two young children. Just the thought of packing up my little crew made my blood run cold. You see I have always been a worrier. I don’t worry about the normal things that most people worry about. I’m the kind of person that fears that a discarded paper bag in the middle of the road is full of kittens, or even worse, puppies (sorry, but I’m a dog person). I’m always sure that I’ve left both the coffee pot and the iron on, turned up to high, so that one or both can burn our house to the ground twenty minutes after we leave. Oh sure, I realize that automatic shut off switches were invented with people like me in mind, but I have never, nor will I ever, trust them. I check my tickets and calendar no less than ten times the night before we travel, just to make sure that my plane didn’t leave earlier that morning. I really do my best to drive myself and my ever suffering family crazy.

After conquering all of my worries and fears, including which of my two children I would save first if our plane were to go down over Greenland, we would finally reach our destination. As always, we were treated like Madonna’s entourage on tour. The fatted calf was killed and our children were showered in gifts by their grateful grandparents. The sun was always shining, life was good, and we were happy…then reality came knocking. Since we were in rural south central Texas, there was a very long list of things not to do. The children were reminded to watch where they placed their fingers and toes so as not to run upon a deadly spider or snake. Probably the only place in the world worse for deadly critters than this place must be the Australian outback. Living in the gentle countryside of England I had begun to take for granted the lack of deadly insects and reptiles lying in wait to eat my young children. Oh sure, there is a legend in Nottinghamshire that long ago someone had spotted an adder in my friend’s parents’ garden but that was always discounted with a chuckle, a couple of sideways swings of the head and a sip of lager.

In addition to living in fear of spiders and snakes, most of our holidays were spent reconnecting with American life. It is amazing the changes that can happen to a place in a few short months. There was always some new fad, movie or fun place to eat. One of our favorite new developments in our town was the never ending supply of all you can eat buffet restaurants. There are all you can eat pizza buffets, Chinese buffets, Mexican buffets, and mega salad bars. On one of our trips home we brought our English babysitter who was so amazed by this spectacle that she had to record it in photos to prove to her family back home that she wasn’t exaggerating. Maybe this is how America gets the reputation for being over the top. Hmmmmm, could be.

I don’t want you to think that we spent all of our time hanging out in restaurants. Since I come from a long line of bakers, we spent a great deal of our time at home in the warmth of our kitchen, especially during the holidays. One of our favorite recipes is also my favorite import from England, Sticky Toffee Pudding. The first time I served it at a holiday dinner it earned me no less that rock star status. It is this well loved recipe that was the inspiration for one of my own favorites, Baby Sweet Potato Cakes with Coffee Toffee Sauce. Not only is my version a bit easier to prepare than the traditional recipe, it has that little bit of southern flair that in my opinion makes it the perfect dessert. Since we are talking sweet potatoes, I also want to share with you one of my other favorites, Sweet Potato and Cream Cheese Roulade. This recipe is most often made with pumpkin puree, but since that is often challenging to find in Britain, I’ve used sweet potatoes which are more readily available and I believe make for a better recipe anyway.

Sweet Potato Cream Cheese Roulade

3/4 cup (83g) plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (195g) sweet potato puree
3/4 teaspoon freshly grated gingerroot
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

8 ounces (226g) cream cheese, softened to room temperature
6 tablespoons (85g) butter, softened to room temperature
1 – 1/2 cups (188g) icing sugar, plus about 1/2 cup (63g) extra for dusting towel and garnishing
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (180 C).

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt; set aside.

In another medium size bowl, mix together the eggs and sugar with an electric mixer set on medium until the mixture is light and a lemon yellow color. Add to this the sweet potato puree, gingerroot and vanilla; mix well.

Pour the mixture into a jellyroll pan that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray, lined with parchment and sprayed again. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until the middle springs back when pressed with a finger.

While the cake is baking, lay a clean cotton towel down on the counter and dust well with icing sugar. When the cake is baked, remove it from the oven and immediately turn out onto the towel. Remove the parchment paper. Starting with the short end of the cake, roll it up with the towel, jellyroll fashion. Leave to cool completely.

While the cake is cooling, combine all of the filling ingredients in a medium size bowl. Mix until the filling is smooth; refrigerate until ready to use.

When the cake is cooled, carefully unroll it. Spread the filling onto the inside of the cake. Gently roll the filled cake back up. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for one to two hours before slicing, dusting with more icing sugar and serving. Easily serves 8 – 10.

Little Sweet Potato Cakes with Toffee Coffee Sauce

1/2 cup (113g) butter, softened
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup (195g) sweet potato puree (1 medium sweet potato, cooked and mashed)
1/3 cup (83ml) buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 – 1/4 cups (138g) plain flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup (113g) butter
3/4 cup (150g) lightly packed light brown sugar
1 cup (250g) single cream
1 teaspoon instant coffee
2 ounces (60g) chopped pecans, toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (180 C).

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add sweet potato, buttermilk and vanilla, mix well and set aside.

In a medium size bowl, blend together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger and cinnamon. Add the dry ingredients 1/3 at a time, blending well after each addition until it is all combined with the wet ingredients.

Spray a 12 count muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray before dividing the batter evenly among the sections. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 20 minutes or until the muffins spring back when pressed in the middle. Cool for 2 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack.

While the cakes are baking, prepare the sauce by melting the butter in the bottom of a medium size frying pan over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and stir until the mixture is bubbly. Add the cream and coffee granules and stir until it is once again bubbly and the coffee granules melt.

Serve warm cakes with warm sauce and pecans sprinkled over with a scoop of ice cream or pouring cream. Serves 12.


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