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Megan

book review, recipe

Rabbit Cake + Vanilla Pound Cake

I got the opportunity to read Annie Harnett’s novel Rabbit Cake recently when it was selected for my office’s Diversity Book Club, but it first grabbed my attention when it was recommended on a podcast as a book pairing for the classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Though nothing alike in tone or subject matter, I see the similarities in the wizened child narrators – Scout, in TKAM of course, and in this contemporary novel, 11-year-old animal-loving Elvis.

I found Annie’s story to be quirky but heartwarming. Elvis is a smart, curious little girl who wormed its way into my heart. We meet her shortly after the sudden death of her mother, who drowned in a sleepwalking accident. Scientifically-minded, Elvis decides to follow a mourning chart that is meant to help her know how long to grieve. For an 11-year-old, she is doing her best, but the rest of her family isn’t exactly thriving. Her older sister is also affected by sleepwalking and her father deals with his grief by buying a parrot and wearing his late wife’s lipstick and bathrobe.    

I wouldn’t have expected a novel crafted around death and mental illness to be as light and easy-to-read as this proved to be. Though the characters had some serious flaws, I loved the way the family found a way to move forward together. Best of all, Elvis was a refreshing and insightful narrator. I found it to be an entertaining read from beginning to end.

When I began reading this novel, I was determined to find something to make other than rabbit cake. Sometimes, though, the obvious is the best choice. (Here’s looking at you, potato peel pie.) Elvis’ mother made rabbit cake for nearly every big occasion in their family, since rabbits symbolize good luck. She often plopped red jelly in the middle so that when it was cut open, the “blood” would ooze out. (She was a biologist and it reminded her of her past research, apparently.) Even after Elvis’ mom dies – at the very beginning of the story – rabbit cakes continue to play a prominent role in the story.

In the book, they use an old metal cake mold to make their rabbit cakes, so I knew I needed to get one of them too. Luckily, Amazon came through without me needing to run all over the place hunting for my own. (It being significantly after Easter, I’m not sure I would’ve found one anyway.)

Then, I looked for the perfect pound cake recipe – one that wasn’t overly complicated but that had the promise of good flavor and density. I settled on one from My Recipes. Because there are only 7 ingredients – most of them pantry staples – I had everything I needed to get started.  

Once my butter was softened, I added it to a large mixing bowl and whipped it until creamy.

To that, I added the granulated sugar, beating until fluffy, and then the eggs, one at a time, until the yolk was incorporated.

Finally, I added the flour and the milk, alternatingly, and then stirred in the vanilla and almond extract.

The next step was to grease and flour the molds thoroughly so nothing would stick – both the top and the bottom of the mold.

The directions that came with rabbit mold said that it should be filled with about 3 cups of batter. So, I measured out a slightly generous 3 cups and plopped that into the bottom of the rabbit cake pan, using a spatula to spread it into all the nooks and crannies. Finally, channeling Elvis’ mom, I plopped a small heap of strawberry jam into the middle before adding the top of the mold.

I placed it on a sheet pan and put it into the oven. It took just under an hour to bake. (In the meantime, I readied my pound cake cupcakes in their pans, which is one way you could use your leftover batter.)

Once the rabbit cake was finished, I took it out of the oven and allowed it to cool in it’s mold for 5 minutes. When I took the lid off, I was so excited – it looked perfect!

However, when I flipped it over out of the pan and onto the cooling rack, I saw that the hot jam had eaten the poor rabbit from the inside out. (If you choose to add the jelly too, be careful. It was a bit like molten lava.I would also recommend using a bit less than a did. One generous tablespoon is probably plenty.)

I let it cool for a few more minutes on its side – mostly to give the jelly time to chill out – but then I stood it up, with the help of some props. I think the jelly slightly stunted its rising while baking, so it wasn’t as rounded out on the top as it was on the bottom; this made the rabbit less sure on its feet.

Once it was fully cooled – and standing on its own – I decorated it. As a general rule, I’m not a great decorator, so I went with the coconut flake option that would make the rabbit look “fluffy,” which they employed a few times in the novel. I figured this would also help fix the gaping hole in the rabbit’s side, and I was right. I frosted it pretty thoroughly first and then covered that with coconut flakes.

I don’t think my cake will be held up as a beautiful example of rabbit cake, but it did somewhat resemble a rabbit. And, even better, when I brought it to our office’s book club meeting, everything immediately knew that it was a rabbit cake! So, I did something right.

Book Club Spread. Photo credit to: @MissMeg703 (Instagram)

Vanilla Pound Cake

Course Dessert
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 55 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings 1 rabbit cake, plus 18 cupcakes

Ingredients

  • 1 pound butter softened
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 6 large eggs
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. (The butter will become a lighter yellow color; this is an important step, as the job of the mixer is to incorporate air into the butter so the cake will rise. It will take 1 to 7 minutes, depending on the power of your mixer.) Gradually add sugar, beating at medium speed until light and fluffy. (Again, the times will vary, and butter will turn to a fluffy white.) Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until yellow yolk disappears.
  2. Add flour to creamed mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition. (The batter should be smooth and bits of flour should be well incorporated; to rid batter of lumps, stir gently with a rubber spatula.) Stir in extracts.
  3. Pour approximately 3 cups of the batter into the bottom half of a greased and floured rabbit-shaped cake pan. (Use solid vegetable shortening to grease the pan, getting every nook and cranny covered. Sprinkle a light coating of flour over the greased surface.) Place the top mold over the bottom, interlocking the seams; the top half is the one with the vent hole. Place the filled mold on a cookie sheet.
  4. Bake at 375°F for 45-55 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted through the vent hole comes out clean. Cool in pan for 5 minutes. Turn mold before standing in an upright position. Trim bottom of cake if the surface is not flat.
  5. Decorate as desired.

Recipe Notes

From: My Recipes

Using rest of the batter: Once rabbit cake has finished baking, turn the oven down to 350°F and place filled cupcake pans in the oven to bake for 20-25 minutes. The leftover batter should make approximately 18 cupcakes. You can fill the empty cups ⅔ full with water to help ensure even baking.

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen + Chocolate Chip Cookies

At this point in my life, I thought I could safely say graphic novels aren’t for me. I’d read a handful of graphic novels and a couple of comic books – mostly all recommendations from friends but a few piqued my curiosity on their own – and just wasn’t a fan. I appreciated the talent that went into creating them, but for some reason, I haven’t been able to connect to these types of stories emotionally. I decided to give graphic novels one last chance with Lucy Knisley’s Relish: My Life in the Kitchen.

Happily, I enjoyed it immensely. I’m going to guess the main difference here is the way food was constantly incorporated into the story. Every chapter revolved around her memory of a food experience and nearly all of them featured a whimsically illustrated recipe at the end.

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book review, recipe

The Milk Lady of Bangalore + Paneer Cheese

I remember being excited about Shoba Narayan’s memoir when I first heard about it because I added it to my list of most anticipated books for the year. I got re-excited when Liberty Hardy recommended The Milk Lady of Bangalore on the All the Books podcast, and at that point, I was already on the library waiting list. Funnily enough, I hate milk, so I’m not sure where all the excitement came from.

In her memoir, Shoba shares her experience moving back to India with her husband and two daughters after twenty years in the United States. Upon moving into their new apartment building, they encounter a cow in the elevator. It’s destined for a neighbor’s housewarming ceremony, and thus begins Shoba’s cow-centric journey in modern-day India. She befriends the local milk lady, visiting her every morning for fresh milk and learning more and more about cows as the days go on.

We learn about cows along with Shoba, admittedly more than a casual reader will ever need to know about cows and their byproducts. I would say the memoir is split about 50/50 between Shoba’s experiences and lessons on the revered cow, but it was woven together well and was always entertaining.

Lucky for me, milk can be made into other foods – like cheese. I decided to make paneer, a fresh pressed cheese common in India. I had made cheese once before, when Scott bought me a cheese-making kit for my birthday. That time, I ended up with a nice round ball of mozzarella. I found a recipe/tutorial from The Kitchn, and though I would be kit-less this time, it gave me confidence.

For this recipe, I needed a half gallon of milk. If you want to try your hand at cheese-making, make sure the whole milk you’re purchasing isn’t ultra-pasteurized (UHT). To start, I poured 8 cups, or half of my gallon, into a 4-quart saucepan. I brought it to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally – especially along the bottom, until it came up to 200 degrees F. (This took almost 20 minutes.)

Then, I removed it from the heat and added ¼ cup of lemon juice, covered it and allowed it to sit for 10 minutes. It had started curdling right away, but after the 10 minutes, it looked well-separated. It was easy to see the difference between the curds and the whey (yellowish liquid).

Next, I strained the curds. I placed a strainer in a large bowl and lined the strainer with a cheesecloth. I carefully poured the contents of the saucepan into the strainer, allowing the whey to separate from the curds.

I squeezed the cheesecloth a bit to remove any excess whey, but be careful to not squeeze to hard or the curds will also start to squish through the cheesecloth. Then, I poured the whey out of the bowl. (Note: The whey can be saved and used separately if desired. It can be used in place of water in baking recipes, added to smoothies, or drunk on its own.)

I opened the cheesecloth and was greeted with some beautiful little cheese curds. I added a ¼ teaspoon of salt, stirred it as gently as I could and tasted it. I added just a bit more salt and then it was good to go.

If you were making ricotta, I believe this is where you could stop. But, since paneer is a pressed cheese, the process had a few more steps. I transferred the curds, still in the cheesecloth, to a plate and shaped it into a rectangle as best I could. Then, I placed another plate on top and added two 32-ounce cans of tomatoes as weights to help press it down.

Though you can press it for as little as 15 minutes, I opted for an hour (the max recommended in my recipe) since I would be adding it to a warm dish and wanted to make sure it wouldn’t fall apart. I put it in the fridge until I was ready to use it, at which point, I cut it into squares.

With it, I made mattar paneer, which is an Indian dish with peas and paneer into a tomato-based sauce. It was absolutely delicious.

If you haven’t made your own cheese, I’d recommend trying it at least once. It’s not that difficult (as you can see), and it’s oh-so-satisfying to eat.

Paneer Cheese

Cuisine Indian
Prep Time 2 hours 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Inactive Time 2 hours 10 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 40 minutes
Servings 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 1/2 gallon whole milk not UHT pasteurized
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice or vinegar
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt

Equipment

  • 4-quart saucepan
  • Slotted spoon
  • Strainer or colander
  • Mixing bowl
  • Cheesecloth, nut bag, or other cloths for straining
  • Dinner plates
  • Weights, like a 32-ounce can of tomatoes

Directions

  1. Heat the milk: Pour the milk into the saucepan and set over medium heat. Bring the milk to a bare simmer — just below the boil at around 200°F. Stir the milk occasionally, scraping the bottom of the pot to make sure the milk doesn't scald. When ready, the milk will look foamy and steamy.
  2. Add the lemon juice: Remove the milk from heat and stir in the lemon juice. The milk should begin to curdle immediately, but it's ok if it doesn't.
  3. Let the milk stand for 10 minutes: Cover the milk and let stand for 10 minutes to give the acid time to completely separate the curds and whey. At the end of 10 minutes, the curds should be completely separated and the liquid should look yellow and watery. If the milk hasn't separated, try adding another tablespoon of acid. If it still won't separate, check your milk and be sure you are using non-UHT milk; this kind of milk won't separate.
  4. Strain the curds: Set a strainer or colander over a mixing bowl and line it with cheesecloth, a nut bag, or other straining cloth. Carefully scoop or pour the curds into the strainer, letting the whey collect in the bowl beneath.
  5. Squeeze the curds: Gather the cheesecloth in your hand and gently squeeze to remove the excess whey.
  6. Salt the curds: Open the cheesecloth and sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of salt over the curds. Stir gently and taste. Add more salt if desired.
  7. Press the curds: Transfer the curds (still in the cheesecloth) to a large dinner plate. Shape them into a rough square and then fold the cheesecloth tightly around the curds to form a neat rectangular package. Set a second plate on top of the package and weigh it down. Press for at least 15 minutes or up to 1 hour.
  8. Use or refrigerate the paneer: Once pressed, your paneer is finished and ready to use. You can use it immediately or refrigerate for up to two days. Refrigerated paneer will be firmer and less likely to crumble than fresh paneer.

Recipe Notes

From: The Kitchn (How to Make Paneer Cheese in 30 Minutes)

Whole vs. 2% vs. Non-Fat Milk: While whole milk is our favorite for making paneer, 2% milk can also be used, though the ricotta is slightly less rich and creamy. Avoid using skim and nonfat milks; these don't separate as easily into curds and whey.

Pasteurized Milk: Pasteurized milk is fine to use for making paneer, but avoid UHT (Ultra High Temperature) pasteurized milk as this process changes the protein structure of the milk, preventing it from separating.

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

of interest

Show Us Your Books – May 2018

It’s the second Tuesday of the month, and you know what that means; it’s time for another edition of Show Us Your Books! Over this past month, I’ve read a different mix of books than I usually do – half fiction and half memoirs, one of which was a graphic novel (which I never read because I thought I didn’t like them). With the exception of the one book I didn’t finish – likely a case of wrong book, wrong time – I liked everything. Yay for a good month of reading!

Linkup Guidelines:
This linkup happens the second Tuesday of every month. The next is Tuesday, June 12, 2018.
1. Please visit and comment with both of your hosts, Jana & Steph
2. Please display the button or link back to me and the linkup hosts on your blog post
3. Please visit a few other blogs who’ve linked up and get some book talk going!

Last Month’s Edition & What My Ratings Mean

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book review, recipe

The Coincidence Makers + Fortune Cookies

Yoav Blum’s latest novel The Coincidence Makers follows Guy, Emily and Eric, who all work for a secret organization as Coincidence Makers. They’re responsible for orchestrating what the rest of the world sees as random occurrences – a chance meeting, a missed train, or even a spilled drink. Such “coincidences” are intricately designed to spark a significant change in their targets’ lives, and in fact, the world.

As one of my most-anticipated books of the year, I’m happy to report, it lived up to my expectations. I devoured it in an afternoon, enthralled from the very beginning. The process of coincidence-making, the Makers themselves and world Blum creates is so well-thought out and fully-formed, it’s enough to leave you wondering if your real life coincidences are just that, or something more.

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book review, recipe

The Optimistic Decade + Honey-Lemon Popsicles

I was drawn to my latest read both by the striking cover art and the following description:

You say you want a revolution? This energetic and entertaining novel about a utopian summer camp and its charismatic leader asks smart questions about good intentions gone terribly wrong.

Framed by the oil shale bust and the real estate boom, by protests against Reagan and against the Gulf War, The Optimistic Decade takes us into the lives of five unforgettable characters, and is a sweeping novel about idealism, love, class, and a piece of land that changes everyone who lives on it…

Heather Abel’s novel is a brilliant exploration of the bloom and fade of idealism and how it forever changes one’s life. Or so we think.

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book review

Reading Challenge Wrap-up: Book Challenge by Erin 8.0

With a third of 2018 already behind us – how did that happen so fast, by the way?! – I wanted to do a quick wrap-up of my first reading challenge of the year, the Book Challenge by Erin 8.0. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, you can read more about it in my announcement post from January.

I’m excited that I was able to finish reading all of my selected books by the end of March, leaving my April pretty commitment-free (as far as books go). Below, I’ve included short overviews of each, with a link to my posts with full-length reviews and recipes. 

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book review, recipe

The Female Persuasion + Faith Frank’s Feminist Steak

I don’t remember where I first heard about Meg Wolitzer’s new novel The Female Persuasion, but I remember getting immediately excited and adding to my TBR on Goodreads. Even though I didn’t really like The Interestings, the description of this one seemed right up my alley. If I didn’t like it, I decided, Meg Wolitzer probably wasn’t for me. As luck would have it, I didn’t have to wait long to read it — I was the first one to receive it when it arrived at the library on New Book Tuesday, April 3. I rushed to pick it up.

In it, Wolitzer explores feminism from the inside-out. Greer is a shy college freshman when she attends an event where Faith Frank is speaking. A prominent figure in the women’s movement for decades, Faith captivates the room. Greer, too, is inspired and decides to approach Faith, making to a connection that will shape her ideas, her career and her future.

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book review, recipe

The Astonishing Color of After + Matcha Belgian Waffles

When Leigh Chen Sanders finally kisses her longtime best friend Axel, she knows that her life is about to change. By the time Leigh arrives home, high on the magic of her first kiss, life as-she-knows-it really has changed — in a way she never could’ve imagined. In Emily X.R. Pan’s debut novel The Astonishing Color of After, Leigh goes on a journey that begins on the day she kissed Axel, the day her mother took her own life.

Leigh is half-Taiwanese and half-white, and following her mother’s suicide, her father decides it would be beneficial for her to meet her maternal grandparents and discover her heritage. Beginning at her mother’s wake, a series of signs lead Leigh to believe that her mother, in death, has become a red bird. As she travels to Taiwan, she becomes almost obsessed with finding her mother the bird and seeks her out wherever she goes.

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of interest

Top Ten Tuesday – Book Palate Cleansers

Happy Tuesday, everyone! It’s time for another edition of Top Ten Tuesday, a literary list with a new bookish topic every week. This Tuesday’s topic is a freebie, which means I get to do whatever I want! This week I’m going to focus on some of my favorite palate cleansers.

And while this means something in the food world (my other favorite topic), I’m actually referring to those in the book world. Book palate cleansers can mean be used for various reasons. You just finished an intense read and are looking for something easy or fun. You’ve been having trouble getting into everything you pick up and need a story that will draw you in. You’re a little stressed in real life and want a book that is the exact opposite, an escape.

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