Christmas Pound Cake

Sunday, December 20, 2015

It started out when a co-worker pressed a recipe into my hand that came from a friend of hers, the late Colonel James Manning, whose grandmother had made this cake every year over the holidays.  "This is for a Sweet Potato Pound Cake and I think you would enjoy it," she said.  "It's become a tradition in our family, too."

The next day, another co-worker brought a little brown bag containing freshly dug, organic, purple sweet potatoes from a friend in King.  "I thought you would enjoy these," she said as she put the bag into my hands.

The cake was destined to happen.  I call it my Christmas Cake.

Local, organic sweet potatoes of a most exquisite color.

After roasting in the oven for an hour, their color was even more vibrant.

Surprise!  During the baking process the cake turned from purple to green.

Christmas Pound Cake

1 cup of butter (1/2 pound)
2 cups of sugar
2 1/2 cups cooked and mashed sweet potatoes or yams (I used purple organic)
4 eggs at room temperature
3 cups of white flour
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsps. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla

Cream the butter and sugar in a mixture until light and fluffy. Add the potatoes and beat well.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine the dry ingredients in a seperate bowl and then add to the creamy mixture slowly. Add the vanilla and beat well. Pour the batter into a greased and floured tube pan. Bake at 325 degrees F. for 1 to 1 1/4 hours until knife inserted comes out clean. Glaze warm cake with a mixture of 1 cup of confectioner's sugar and 2 - 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice.

Note:  The cake lost a bit of its vibrant green color a day after baking, so if you are using purple sweet potatoes for the cake, eat the same day if color matters to you.  Obviously, the taste will not be affected.

The Year I Saved Christmas

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Year I Saved Christmas

One of the best Christmases I remember was in 2008 when the economy plummeted and took my husband’s fledgling business along with it.  With barely enough money to pay the basics, there was certainly no budget for gifts. So what’s a mom to do?  Determined to provide my kids with the joy of opening gifts on Christmas morning despite the gloomy forecast of our bank account, I started saving a little each week from our grocery budget. By the time Christmas rolled around, I was able to accumulate $60, which meant $20 per child for a bit of holiday joy.

We told our kids ahead of time that Christmas was going to be lean that year. In fact, they were prepared to wake up on Christmas morning with no gifts under the tree.  And they were okay with that, being the awesome kids they were.  My oldest daughter was 19 and attending college at the time, so I knew she would be happy with anything for her apartment. My middle daughter was 15 and loved old books and anything vintage so I figured that wouldn’t be too hard. My son, at 13, was all about campfires and outdoor stuff so he was going to be my biggest challenge.

On a blustery winter morning, just a few days before Christmas Eve, I headed out to do my shopping. My destination: The Rescue Mission, Winston-Salem’s largest thrift store where one can find anything from furniture to forks, and where proceeds go to help people get back on their feet after addictions or homelessness.  God was surely smiling on me, because an hour later I was happily loading my treasures into the car - a small white wall cupboard for Natalie, perfect for storing cosmetics; a cozy reading chair and a collection of poems from the 1940’s for Rosemary; a campfire popcorn popper and an assortment of flashlights and tools for Ethan.  With the five dollars left in my pocket, I purchased wrapping paper, and used freshly gathered pine and holly for present toppers.  Later that night, as the lights glowed on the tree I happily placed my bulky packages around its fragrant branches and went to bed with a happy heart. 

My kids still talk about that Christmas. They say it was the best we’ve ever had, because it was about loving each other, pulling together through a difficult time, and focusing on thankfulness for what we had instead of what we lacked. And that’s really what it should be like, right?

by Naomi Gingerich, as printed in Winston-Salem Monthly Magazine, December 2015. 

Meet Modest Marce

Friday, December 11, 2015

One glimpse at the beautifully curated feed of Marcella DiLonardo helps us understand why this young food blogger from Toronto, Canada has had such incredible success.  Launched in March, Marcella's blog soon found it's credibility in collaborations with Ghiradelli, West Elm, The Feed Feed and others, garnering a host of loyal fans (over 26,000 at last count!) captivated by the combination of exquisite photography and easy-to-follow recipes.

In her hometown of Niagara Falls, Marce, as she loves to be called, grew up in an Italian family where she was surrounded by cooking.  "Of my siblings, I was constantly the one at my grandparents' home making homemade pasta, gnocchi, canning tomatoes & peaches," she said, "and I loved everything about it," she added.  For a birthday one year, her aunt gave her an Easy Bake Oven and from then on they would make and decorate sugar cookies together each holiday season.

Then there was the time in high school when she decided to cook the family's entire Thanksgiving dinner by herself.  Which was fine, except she forgot to defrost the turkey so it went into the oven frozen solid. "We ended up eating turkey at 10:00 that night," she laughed.

After years of working in restaurants, studying business and economics in school, and most recently working for a bank in Toronto's financial district, Marce now spends her days cooking, baking and working on her blog.  And on a cozy night when the snow flies and the weather is perfect for sipping hot chocolate, you may find her playing piano or curled up by the fire with a stack of magazines for inspiration - Saveur, Food and Wine, Bon Appetite and others - as she dreams of the new year and all the exciting opportunities it holds.

"Modest Marce"

All the ingredients for homemade hot chocolate.

A luxurious holiday breakfast in bed. For the recipe and step-by-step directions, click here.

Who wants to lick the bowl?

"Christmas is the best baking season."

Rosemary Cranberry Spritzer, a non-alcoholic choice for Christmas dinner party guests.  

Eggnog Cake.  Whaaaaaat?

The Queen's Hat, er Dulce de Leche Cake.

The enchanting Christmas market in Toronto.

"My little Grinch of a dog who was not feeling the Christmas spirit at all!"



  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup dulce de leche (store bought or homemade)
  • 1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut
  • powdered sugar, for dusting
  • in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment beat butter & sugar until just combined. add vanilla.
  • sift in flour & salt, beat until dough comes together.
  • roll out on floured surface & shape into a disk. if the dough is a bit dry, add a teaspoon of water. wrap in plastic & refrigerate for one hour (or over night).
  • once the dough has chilled, roll out on a floured surface to ¼ inch thick. use desired size round cookie cutter (i used a lid!).
  • bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes, or until the edges JUST begin to lightly brown.
  • once cool enough to handle add a touch of dulce de leche to the bottom cookie & top with another. roll the gooey caramel edges in coconut & dust with powdered sugar!

Cranberry Apple Cobbler

Cranberry Apple Cobbler
for the filling
  • 3 lbs firm apples (approximately 5-6 large apples)
  • 1.5 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
for the topping
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold & cubed
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • in a mixing bowl mix apples, cranberries, cornstarch, vanilla, sugar & nutmeg.
  • place mixture into baking dish and bake in oven for 10 minutes, while you prepare your topping.
  • in a separate mixing bowl sift flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  • blend in butter like you would a pie dough, until mixture resembles a crumb like texture
  • add milk & vanilla until just combined.
  • remove filling from oven & evenly top with the mixture.
  • finish off by sprinkling raw sugar & dusting with cinnamon.
  • bake for 20-25 minutes until topping begins to slightly brown.
  • remove from oven, dust with powdered sugar & serve.

Peppermint Bark Chocolate and Vanilla Cake

Peppermint Bark Chocolate and Vanilla Cake
for the vanilla cake
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups raw sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup william sonoma peppermint bark, chopped
for the chocolate cake
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups raw sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract (optional)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dutch process cococa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup william sonoma peppermint bark, chopped
for the ombre frosting
  • 2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4-5 cups icing sugar, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • for the vanilla cake: in the bowl of a stand mixer cream butter and sugar. add the eggs and butter until light and fluffy. mix in vanilla and oil until combined. in a separate bowl sift the flour, baking powder, and salt. gradually add to stand mixer at low speed. once the flour is JUST combined into the wet ingredients, add the milk. stir in peppermint bark. divide batter equally into two 8 or 9 inch round cake pans. bake at 325 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until cake bounces back to touch.
  • for the chocolate cake: in the bowl of a stand mixer cream butter and sugar. add the eggs and mix until light and fluffy. mix in vanilla, peppermint extract and oil until combined. in a separate bowl sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. gradually add to stand mixer at low speed. once flour is JUST combined into the wet ingredients, add the milk. stir in peppermint bark. divide batter equally into two 8 or 9 inch round cake pans. bake at 325 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until cake bounces back to touch.
  • for the frosting: add all ingredients except cocoa powder in the bowl of a stand mixer and whip until light and fluffy, about 8-10 minutes. separate frosting into three bowls (the plain should have the most frosting reserved because of the crumb coat): keep one plain, then mix cocoa powder by the tablespoon into the remaining two. Use your discretion on the color, adding more or less cocoa powder to create the contrast you like best.
  • to decorate: begin with a white frosted crumb coat layer and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. next, begin with the darkest chocolate frosting at the bottom, followed by light chocolate, followed by white. add some chopped peppermint bark to the top and serve!

All photos courtesy of Marcella DiLonardo and used with permission.

From a Kitchen in Oz

Friday, December 4, 2015

Purple. Carrot. Cake.

Every now and again, you meet someone you instantly love.  There's that connection, that kindred spirit, that feeling of having known this soul for a long time when in reality you only just met.  That happened to me several months ago when I met Noha Serageldin.  Except, I didn't really meet her, as in face to face, but via the social media of Instagram.  It was all because of a photo she posted of eggs in a cast iron skillet.  I mean, those were perfectly golden eggs, dusted with Za'atar and fresh thyme, a combination I had to try. The next morning over my own plate of golden spiced eggs, we met.

And then there was the cake. The photo of this magnificent carrot cake took the Instagram world by storm and I rejoiced with Noha as it sort of went on a viral whirlwind of icing loveliness.  So it seems only fitting for us all to meet this lovely woman who brings such beauty to so many lives daily, and it is my pleasure to give you an inside look at her life.

Noha Serageldin, author of Matters of the Belly.

Noha Serageldin has spent a lot of her life around a dinner table.  Growing up in the bustling city of Cairo with a family who loved to cook, she learned about the pleasures of food and dining at an early age.  Later in life, she carried those values into her own home when she married her childhood sweetheart at age 21 and continued the tradition of family togetherness over a beautifully prepared meal. While Noha was diagnosed with a debilitating autoimmune disease soon after marriage, leaving her struggling to lead a normal life, it has not dampened her enthusiasm for food or cooking. She says, "Through it all, I have always found solace in the clinking of metal pots, the gentle bubbling of a simmering sauce, the sweet aroma of vanilla...simply put, the two places I find comfort and consolation are my husband's arms and my kitchen."

Wholewheat Purple Carrot Cake.

Noha, tell me about your life currently.
I live in Sydney, Australia with my husband.  We moved here just over 2 years ago from Egypt. I work as a freelance food stylist, photographer and recipe developer, as well as blogger. 

Tell me about your childhood.
I grew up in Cairo, Egypt, which is where I lived until moving to Sydney. It is a crazy, chaotic city to grow up in! We spent our summer vacations on the north coast of Egypt by the Mediterranean Sea, where there are the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen, with turquoise clear waters and the softest white sand. My father was always big on travel so he would take us all on a family trip abroad for a couple of weeks each summer, too. I've been very lucky to have visited a whole bunch of countries, especially in Europe.

How did you come to love cooking and baking? Were there role models in your life?
Oh there sure were! Both my mother and father were always tremendous cooks! My mother used to make the best desserts, and always had my sisters and me helping out in the kitchen (which we absolutely loved!) and my father would throw massive dinner parties where he would cook the most beautiful and lavish feasts. They both taught me SO much about food and instilled in me the love and passion for it. 

Have you always been a cook or did you work in another profession?
I've worked in a bakery as well as in an office and in retail. Basically, I've been all over! But I always knew that food was at the heart of what I wanted to do, and only after coming here to Australia did I feel like it was the right time to focus all my energy and time on it. I studied commercial cookery here at Tafe, then began my blog. The blog has been a wonderful starting point for me into this whole world of creativity and food.

What inspires you?
I am endlessly inspired by all my surroundings! Cookbooks, big TV cooks like Jamie Oliver and Nigella, all the beautiful food blogs and Instagram accounts that I immerse myself into, the wonderful memories I have of family and gatherings and traditions, as well as the beautiful seasonal produce that I have access to here in the markets and shops. A trip to the grocery store always inspires me to make something new!

Have you had any funny experiences while cooking or learning to cook?
Oh plenty! I might not look like it, but I am terribly clumsy in the kitchen. I burn myself almost on a weekly basis! And I do have tons of failed experiments, because I believe that the best way to learn in the kitchen is by trying. Many times, these trials are unsuccessful, but I ALWAYS learn something! One recent funny incident was a beautiful cherry galette that I dropped face-down on the floor as I was taking it out of the oven. I was devastated!

Most interesting place you have visited?
Everywhere is interesting in its own way, I suppose, so I'll tell you the places I loved the most. Greece is pretty much on top of the list.  We absolutely fell in love with it when we visited a few years ago. The people, the food, the general vibe. I dream to go back and spend a few weeks island hopping someday! Another place very dear to my heart is actually Sinai, back in Egypt. It has some of the most gorgeous beaches by the stunning Red Sea, as well as being the most laid back place ever. I miss it all the time. 

Rolling out the dough for potato gnocchi.

When the weather is gray and cold, Noha turns to making things that are warm and comforting.

The pillowy, soft beauty of Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Cream

A 3-day creative workshop in the Australian countryside. Read the story here.

Egyptian lentil soup.

Roasted winter vegetable salad with blood oranges and goat cheese.

Nutritious chocolate fudge truffles.

Purple Heirloom Carrots.

Cast iron goodness.

Herbed Ricotta and Spinach pie with spelt crust.

Perfect chocolate brownies.

New props for food styling beauty.


Wholewheat Purple Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Honey Drizzle 
A healthier yet equally delicious and simple recipe for carrot cake, made with 100%wholewheat flour, light olive oil & sweetened entirely with honey.  It is perfect for tea or breakfast!
Author: Noha Serageldin
Serves: 4-6
·        FOR THE CAKE
·        • 200g whole-wheat flour or spelt flour
·        • 1½ tsp. baking powder
·        tsp. salt
·        • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
·        • ½ tsp. round ginger
·        • ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
·        • 2 eggs
·        • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
·        • 125ml (1/2 cup) honey
·        • 125ml (1/2 cup) light flavoured olive oil, or melted coconut oil or macadamia oil
·        • 200 finely grated carrot (purple or regular)
·        FOR THE GLAZE
·        • 125g cream cheese (such as Philadelphia)
·        • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
·        • 1-2 tbsp. honey
·        • 3-4 tbsp. milk
1.     Preheat oven to 180C (350F)
2.     Grease and flour a 6-cup capacity loaf or bundt or regular round cake pan, set aside.
3.     In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Set aside.
4.     In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, honey and oil. Add the dry ingredients in two additions and mix till combined (do not overmix). Add the grated carrot and fold through with a spatula or a spoon till well dispersed.
5.     Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean (time may vary slightly depending on the shape/size of the pan, check at 25 minutes). Leave to cool at least 20 minutes in the pan before inverting onto a plate. When cooled completely, drizzle with the cream cheese glaze. The cake can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
6.     To make the glaze: beat the cream cheese for 3-5 minutes until softened with a handheld electric mixer or stand mixer. Add the vanilla and honey (to taste) and beat until incorporated, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the milk one tablespoon at a time until it reaches a nice pourable consistency.
• This recipe makes quite a small cake. Double the recipe for a larger crowd, and note that the baking time will increase by 15-20 minutes, depending on the size and shape of the pan used. Start checking at 35 minutes; the cake is cooked when golden and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

Potato Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Cream
Author: Noha Serageldin
Serves: 6-8
·        • 1kg starchy potatoes (similarly sized, preferably smallish), unpeeled, scrubbed
·        • 1 egg, lightly beaten
·        • 1 tsp. salt
·        • a pinch of ground nutmeg (optional)
·        • 300g-350g plain flour (Italian flour if you can find it)
·        FOR THE SAUCE: (this makes enough for half the quantity of gnocchi, double it if you are cooking the full amount)
·        • 300ml cream
·        • 150g soft gorgonzola cheese, or any soft blue cheese
·        • grated/shaved parmesan cheese to serve
1.     Place the potatoes in a large pot. Cover with tap water (cold) and place onto high heat. Bring to the boil and cook for 30-45 minutes, until tender, and a thin sharp knife pierces through a potato easily without resistance. The time will vary slightly depending on the size of your potatoes. Drain them into a colander and leave them to cool and steam dry until they are still warm but cool enough to handle.
2.     Place each potato into a potato ricer (don’t bother peeling them) and press to mash them into tray or onto a clean work surface. Remove the peel from the ricer before adding your next potato. Repeat until all potatoes are mashed. Alternatively, you could use a food mill or a regular potato masher to mash the potatoes, just don’t use a food processor or blender (they will make the mash gluey and gloopy rather than light and fluffy).
3.     While the mash is still warm (not steaming hot), add the egg, salt and nutmeg (if using) and mix through with a fork. Sprinkle over about a third of the flour and start incorporating it into the potato with the fork. Gradually add more of the flour and stop when it just starts to come together into a very soft and pliable dough. I usually end up using about 320g of the flour, the less flour you use the lighter your gnocchi will be. Using your hands now, knead the dough just for a few seconds until it’s smooth, sprinkling with a little more flour if needed.
4.     Roll the dough into a log and divide it into four pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope (about 2.5-3cm/1” thick), sprinkling with flour to prevent sticking. Using a sharp knife or a pastry cutter, cut the ropes into bite-sized pieces. Toss the little pillows with a little flour and spread onto a floured tray to prevent sticking. At this point, you can either cook the gnocchi or freeze them, or cook half and freeze half (instructions for freezing in notes)*. The amount of sauce in the recipe above is enough for half the gnocchi (feeds 3-4), so if you plan on cooking the entire batch of gnocchi, double the sauce.
5.     Bring a large pot of salted water to a full boil over high heat.
6.     While the water comes to a boil, prepare your sauce: simply combine the cream and the gorgonzola cheese into a wide, deep pan on medium-low heat until the cheese melts and the sauce is bubbling lightly.
7.     Once the water is boiling and the sauce is ready, cook the gnocchi: add about a quarter of the full amount of the gnocchi (or half if you are just cooking half the full amount) to the boiling water and give it a stir. Let the gnocchi cook until they rise to the surface, this takes only a minute or two. When they are floating on the surface, that means they are cooked! Remove them from the water carefully with a slotted spoon and add straight to the sauce in the pan. Allow the water to come to the boil again before adding the next batch of gnocchi. Repeat until all gnocchi is cooked. Toss the gnocchi with the sauce well to coat and serve immediately, with parmesan cheese sprinkled on top!
*To freeze the gnocchi: place the gnocchi as they are on their floured tray in one single layer into the freezer until completely frozen, then transfer them into airtight zip-lock bags or sealed containers. This prevents the gnocchi from sticking to each other while freezing. They will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months. DO NOT DEFROST before cooking, just cook them from frozen: bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and add about a quarter of the frozen gnocchi to the water. Cook until they rise to the surface of the water and float, remove with a slotted spoon into your prepared sauce, then add the next quarter of the gnocchi to the boiling water. Repeat until all gnocchi is cooked. If you add the gnocchi all at once, the water will become very cold suddenly and the gnocchi won’t cook properly and probably turn into a big soupy mess (been there, it aint pretty).
Photos courtesy of Noha Serageldin. Used with permission.