Texas Toasted

Carrot Cake with Honey Ginger Figs

4-Layer Carrot Cake with Honey Ginger Figs

I once lied so that I wouldn’t have to eat a piece of carrot cake.

I remember the day so vividly; there was a birthday in my kindergarten class, and someone’s mother had made carrot cake cupcakes for everyone. As they were being handed out, my excitement turned to horror. Shaggy with coconut and clearly neither chocolate nor vanilla, these cupcakes were so unnatural, so unappetizing, so scary looking that in my greatest stroke of lying genius I politely informed the approaching mother that I was “allergic to cupcakes.”

It was, I believed, the perfect lie. I didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings, I received a bit of unspoken pity because of my mysterious dietary restrictions, and most importantly, I didn’t have to eat one of those gross cupcakes.

Oh how far I have come. With carrot cake that is. My lying skills have really not improved much.

This is a darn good recipe for carrot cake. It’s so moist and simple —  any picky kindergartener would enjoy it. But it’s also special, because it was used by my husband’s grandma Ruth and is used now by her daughter and grandsons (and me!). Unfortunately, I never got to meet Ruth, but she seems to have possessed everything that I want for myself: a meaningful career, a husband who adored her, and a talent for cooking that was unforgettable to her family and friends.

For the purposes of this post (and the celebration of a friend’s birthday), I spruced the cake up a bit. When plain and unfrosted, however, it is practically perfect.

Carrot Cake with Honey Ginger Figs

Ruth’s Carrot Cake

Two notes:

The original recipe called for “salad oil”, which means you can use any neutral flavored oil.

You want the carrots to be somewhere between a fine grate and a puree. I chopped mine up in a small food processor. If you don’t have a food processor, a grater is ok, but use the finest grate possible.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees (and take out your butter and cream cheese to soften for the frosting if you’re making some).

Grease a pan (2 round 9-inch pans or a 9 x 13 would work fine)

1 1/2 C oil (see note above)

2 C sugar

1 tsp vanilla

4 eggs

2 C flour

2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cinnamon (or 1 1/4 tsp vietnamese cinnamon)

1 tsp salt

3 C finely grated raw carrots (see note above)

Mix together first three ingredients, beat well.

Beat in eggs one at a time.

In a separate bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients, except for carrots.

Add dry ingredients to wet, then add carrots.

Stir until just combined.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake for up to an hour.

Check the cake after 25 minutes, and every 5 minutes after that if you think it is almost done. I baked mine in two batches in a shallow baker’s quarter sheet, and each only took about a half hour. Cupcakes could take only 15 or 20 minutes.

While your cakes are cooling, make your frosting.

Carrot Cake Bites with Honey Ginger Figs


Cream Cheese Frosting

(adapted from Martha Stewart)

2 8oz pkgs cream cheese, room temperature

1 stick butter, room temperature

1 1/2 C confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1 tsp vanilla

Beat the cream cheese and butter together with 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar.

While the mixer is running, add the rest of the powdered sugar in 1/4 cup scoops, beating well before each new addition.

Add vanilla and beat a few more minutes until combined and fluffy.

Ginger Honey Syrup

1/4 C honey

1/8 C water

3 inch knob of ginger, peeled and sliced into thin coins

Simmer all ingredients over low heat for about 5 minutes. Turn off heat and allow ginger to steep in the honey before removing with a slotted spoon.

Drizzle over the top of the cake after assembling.

Editor’s Note: this post is part of the series “Texas Toasted” by guest blogger Grace Steinel Jones.

Texas Toasted

Roasted & Toasted Homemade Strawberry Granola

Westervin's Fine Fixin's: Roasted & Toasted Strawberry Granola

Summertime is granola time. A cool bowl of yogurt and fruit with a little something crunchy is my preferred breakfast during these summer months when I just want to roll out of bed and sit myself next to the nearest source of air conditioning.

Of course there are lots of benefits to homemade granola: control over sweetness and the quality and safeness of ingredients, etc.  But in my quest to find a go-to granola recipe, this is the only method I’ve found that makes a really good and clumpy cereal, which is something that I miss in most homemade granolas.

You will have to turn your oven on, but only for about a half hour. The ingredients mix up quickly, and once you’ve got your granola, you’ll have a solid week (or not quite if you’ve got a significant other who also likes to eat occasionally) of customizable breakfasts. Have it with yogurt (or your milk of choice), dried cherries, fresh figs, maybe even with some tiny bits of dark chocolate as a dessert (if you’re feeling virtuous).

Today I decided to go with roasted strawberries. I love this recipe because it’s an easy way to rescue that box of overly-ripe strawberries that’s been sitting in your fridge for just a little too long (it’s okay, I won’t tell anyone). Also these would be great on french toast, ice cream, or muddled in a cocktail, perhaps?

Westervin's Fine Fixin's: Roasted Strawberries in Granola

Roasted Strawberries

adapted from “Fresh Uses for Fruit ” in the June 2012 issue of Martha Stewart

I went very light on the honey here, maybe 1 Tablespoon. As the strawberries cooled in the fridge, they made a thicker syrup.  If you’d like more syrup now, use about 2 Tablespoons. Brown rice syrup or agave nectar would both be fine substitutes for the honey.

1 lb of strawberries
1- 2 1/2 Tablespoons honey (or substitute as mentioned above)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Wash, dry, and hull your strawberries and spread them out in a single layer in a glass or ceramic dish, making sure they aren’t too tightly packed.

Drizzle the strawberries with honey (or honey substitute) and toss.

Bake for about 45- 90 minutes. Strawberries will shrink as they lose some of their moisture, creating a syrup in the bottom of the pan. Allow to cool.

Store strawberries with syrup in a sealed container in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks.

A Good and Clumpy Granola

Recipe adapted from Honest Fare

makes enough for 8-10 small servings

I think this granola is just sweet enough. If you like things on the sweeter side, you can substitute maple syrup or honey for the brown rice syrup.

1/3 cup good quality olive oil
3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
3 tsp flax seeds
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/3 cup pepitas
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup brown rice syrup

Preheat oven to 325.

Mix all ingredients in a bowl.

Spread mixture onto a shallow 11″ x 17″ baking sheet. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the oats have just turned golden brown.  Check after 12 minutes of baking, and every 3 minutes after that to make sure nothing has started to burn. You may need to rotate the pan if one side is browning more quickly, but don’t stir.

Remove the granola from the oven. Again, don’t stir! Instead grab another baking sheet and press firmly on the top of the granola, compacting it.

Let cool completely then break into pieces and store in the freezer in a well sealed container for several months.

Westervin's Fine Fixin's: Toasted Granola & Roasted Strawberries

Editor’s Note: this post is part of the series “Texas Toasted” by guest blogger Grace Steinel Jones.

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Texas Toasted

Texas Toasted: Buffalo Bill Tacos

We’re happy as clams to introduce our newest guestblogger, Grace Steinel Jones, who will be sharing some hot new recipes from her new home in Austin, Texas. We love this lady, not just because she’s been one of our besties for nearly 7 years and was the matron-of-honor at our wedding, but because she’s really good at lots of things, including cooking! 

Lately I’ve been going through a bit of a taco phase. This is strange for me, because I rarely go through food phases. I love the novelty of an untried recipe, and I seldom make the same dish twice. Nevertheless, tacos seem to be what I want for dinner all the time now. I’m sure it has a little to do with the fact that my husband and I spent the last 2 years in Japan (where the tacos are usually served like this) and everything to do with the fact that we now live within walking distance of my new favorite taco place. I love tacos, because they’re versatile and generally make for a pretty cheap meal. Case in point: chicken skin tacos.

Okay, I know. The idea is a little creepy. I don’t prepare a ton of meat at home, and I’m still getting used to handling a whole chicken without getting grossed out. Once I started cooking the skin, though, I realized it’s a lot like bacon, really. And you’d never be grossed out by bacon would you? (Okay, maybe you would. Sorry vegetarian folks).

These tacos started, as many good things do, with Tom Colicchio. I wanted to make his white chicken stock (from this book) and the directions called for removing the skin from 4lbs of chicken parts. I know Tom knows what he’s doing, but surely I would not just throw away what is arguably the best part of the chicken? I could fry it, but what would I do with it then? Tacos, duh! I like this recipe because I get to feel self righteous for using something that might have otherwise been wasted. I used queso fresco, but I think I would actually have preferred my new favorite cheese for tacos—blue cheese. Unusual, I know, but trust me.

This recipe is based on one of my favorite fish taco recipes from Poppytalk.

Fried Chicken Skin

skin from 4 or 5 chicken legs and thighs (a butcher may be able to sell you just the skins)

  • 1t cumin
  • 1t oregano
  • 1t garlic powder
  • 2 t chili powder
  • 1/8 t cayenne
  • large pinch of salt

Tapatio Crema

  • 5 T greek yogurt
  • 1/2 T cumin
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • juice of 1 small lime
  • hot sauce such as Tapatio
  • salt


  • 6 corn tortillas
  • shredded cabbage
  • avocado, sliced
  • queso fresco or feta (or blue cheese, seriously, try it)
  • cilantro
  • lime, quartered

Mix together spices in a small bowl. Cut each piece of skin in half and toss in the spices.

Heat a pan over low-medium heat ( the fat from the chicken will melt in the pan, so you won’t need to oil it ).

Working in batches, place chicken skin pieces into the pan. Be careful as the skin will crackle and pop for the first few minutes. Flip the pieces often with tongs, pressing down any places that might not be cooking as quickly. Once the pieces are golden brown and crispy ( about 10 minutes), set them aside on a plate lined with paper towels and sprinkle with a little bit of salt. You may need to pour off some grease from the pan between batches. (Pour fat into a disposable container, not down the drain).

When all of your chicken is cooked, you can keep it warm in an oven on very low heat while you prepare your tortillas, or have a partner help you. Toast the tortillas for less than a minute over a gas flame, or in a lightly oiled pan.

Assemble and enjoy, with a mexican coke, if you like.

Serves 2