Friday, July 5, 2013

Southwestward Ho - A Relaunch

A lot has happened since I made risotto.

Matt had an unexpected, un-turndownable job offer in Tucson, Arizona. We had a month to move. I had to quit my job. I had to find a new one. I had to pack up every last superfluous serving dish in my Oregon eden kitchen for a smaller place with tile floors and blue cabinets we had to choose off a leap of faith and the Internet. I have learned that there is a difference between Mexican and New Mexican food, and that I prefer the latter. I've discovered that there is a level of heat that can shrivel tomatoes off the vine, in opposition to our drowned Hubbard tomatoes. My canning supplies have sat collecting dust, for there are no berries in the desert.

I miss home. I miss my family and friends. I miss the seasons of the farmer's market and a trip over to New Seasons. Avocados and lemons are great here, but the blackberries lack juice and taste. In-N-Out Burger is delicious, but the fancy restaurants are more ho-hum than gung-ho. I miss driving through hazelnut groves on my way home from work, and I miss a summer that is not synonymous with "misery."

And I really miss my blog.

I might not be the only one, either. Whenever I set down a creative culinary adventure on our table (same table, 1500 mile away new digs), Matt asks me where the camera is. A few times when I logged on for one reason or another, the number of hits that Eats of Eden was receiving knocked me over (I thought I was all alone here since there aren't usually any comments on my yammerings... ya'll are a silent stalky bunch!).

So, I thought, maybe I'm not exactly in Eden anymore. Not right now, at least. For the unaware, Tucson summers rarely dip out of the triple digits, this year we're setting records, and now we're in monsoon season. That's when freaky lightening storms and flash floods sneak in. And no, it doesn't cool off that much. But in the fall, when we get our second growing season and can sit out on our porch at night again, it may be closer to that joy of land and food that I used to know.

Or, I still don't like it that much. But the Northwest is home, and will be waiting after an adventure. An adventure that would be better if I kept track of the stories.

We hosted a small, last-minute 4th of July party yesterday with a few of Matt's co-workers in town on business. I brought up Eats of Eden, my trove of favorites, for a few classics like Roosevelt Beans and Secret Aardvark Macaroni and Cheese. Matt smoked brisket (which would have probably cooked up just as toasty if thrown on the patio bricks), and I decided to re-visit my cooking nemesis: layer cake.

If you've read the couple of posts this year, you know that I royally botched my last layer cake. Although I was able to rescue the cake and filling into trifle form, it was a potential giant waste of expensive ingredients and precious time. Time, increasingly not on my side, since my commute is now an hour each way and, well, whine, it's hot. The oven sucks. But I had a vision. A vision of a beautiful red, white, and blue cake, heavily influenced by the fact that I walked out of Williams-Sonoma last week with a box of Ad-Hoc red velvet cake mix.

That's right, cake mix. Am I going soft? Probably. But when you're putting together a three-layer dessert after work on a Wednesday, you take a few shortcuts, all right?

Red velvet, white cake and cream cheese frosting, and the blue? A quite-homemade blueberry compote using some of the techniques I learned last summer from our cherry pie filling escapades. That Clear-Jel finally went to work down here making a cake layer filling so thick, even the light white cake in the middle of this masterpiece did not dare slide out of place.

I carefully assembled the layers, using a serrated bread knife to take off the top poofy layer of each cake layer to make a clean, flat surface and promote stability. I kept the blueberry compote about a 3/4" away from the edge of the cake so that it didn't smoosh out and tint the icing. I put the cake back in the fridge to chill and harden a smidge for about 20 minutes while the icing came to room temperature, spreadable without causing friction on the delicate cake.

And, yes, FINALLY! Nailed it. If I was actually good at photography, I'd stick this thing on Pinterest.

(Cool knife-holder-point Tucson).

The Red, White, & Blueberry Cake was the grand finale to an epic barbecue that won the "best meal on work trip to Tucson contest." Because that's how we do it in my 'hood. No matter where, at the moment, that happens to be.

Red, White & Blueberry Cake
1 box Red Velvet Cake mix, made to package directions for 2 9" rounds
1 box White Cake mix, made to package directions for 1 9" rounds (use the extra mix to make 6 cupcakes! Bonus yum!)
2 cups washed fresh blueberries
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons Clear-Jel (you can use cornstarch, but I can't guarantee that your results will be as good and sturdy)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 packages cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup butter at room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Toppings: blackberries, raspberries, and red white and blue sprinkles (these are the Williams-Sonoma natural series, and I am biased to their awesomeness)

While your mix cakes are all cooked and cooled to room temperature, make the blueberry compote. In a medium saucepan, bring the blueberries, 1 cup sugar, Clear-Jel, lemon juice, and 1 cup of water to a slow boil over medium heat, stirring frequently, and constantly as the mixture nears a boil. After hitting a boil, turn down to low and keep stirring until berries are bursting and the mixture is thick like jam. Think cranberry sauce-like consistency.

You can also make the frosting by creaming together the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla extract with a stand mixer. Slowly add the powdered sugar in 3 additions, and mix until all sugar is fully incorporated. Be sure the mixture is at room temperature before attempting to frost.

To prepare the cake layers, select your cake stand of preference, and invert one of the red velvet cakes onto it. With a serrated knife, take off the "poofy" top of the cake, leaving a smooth and even surface. Invert the other red velvet cake and white cake on a baking sheet, repeating the shearing process.

Take the cooled, room-temperature compote and place 1/2 cup into the middle of the cake stand cake. Using a spatula, work the compote out into an even layer that does not reach past 3/4" of the edge of the cake. Carefully remove the white layer cake from the baking sheet, and place atop the red and compote layer. Gently add another 1/2 cup of compote and spread as before. Top with the final layer of red velvet cake.

To frost, use a large spreading knife, and evenly coat the sides and top with icing. I had the best luck by starting on top and then turning the stand along with the knife for the sides, but I am not an authority on this so if you're an expert cake-froster, do your thing.

Use leftover compote to top your extra cupcakes, or make some banging waffles.

Top with berries and sprinkles. Absorb the awesome feeling of success and freedom from trifle dishes.


  1. What a pretty cake and I'm sure it tasted fabulous too. So glad we can read of your adventures again. Please post again soon, I've missed reading these!

  2. It's my goal to try! Thanks for always reading :)

  3. Love the blog. I"m glad its back. You are inspiring me to kitchen numminess -Christene

  4. Thanks Christene! I'm glad you like it! :)