Declaring Winter is Over with Spring Cakes

IMG_4173If you lived through New York City this winter, it’s safe to say your heart may have sunk when spring rolled in with yet another snow fall followed by weeks of cold damp.It’s not that snow isn’t a beautiful marvel of Mother Nature. It is. Just not after a terribly slushy, sleet-filled winter.

So to Mother Nature, I offer you one spring-inspired coconut cake. Having worked at a bakery all through high school, switching out our cake cases became a hallmark of the change in seasons. Harvest-filled flavors transformed into vibrant, bright-flavored desserts.

Plucked by my dad from a leisurely Sunday read of the New York Times, this coconut layer cake has definitely become an Easter tradition in my family. Though it can be made anytime, I can’t help but think of warmer, pastel-filled climates when indulging. If you are in the New York City area, you can sample the cake yourself on the lunch menu at the well-known restaurant Telepan on the Upper West Side. And while this is a great option for those who are not culinary-inclined, it doesn’t allow for the opportunity to toast your own coconut flakes and make them “snow” onto a velvety landscape of cream cheese frosting. That beats real snow to me, any day!

Adapted from Larissa Raphael, Telepan, New York


For the cake:

  • 2 sticks/226 grams unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans
  • 2 cups/265 grams all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
  • 1/2 teaspoon/3 grams fine sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons/10 grams baking powder
  • 3/4 cup/140 grams granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs, separated, plus 3 whites
  • 1 1/2 cups/355 milliliters cream of coconut
  • 1 1/4 cups/295 milliliters unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons/30 milliliters coconut or dark rum
  • 7 tablespoons/104 milliliters freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 3 cups/370 grams unsweetened shredded coconut

For the frosting:

  • 2 sticks/226 grams unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups/454 grams cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons/10 milliliters vanilla extract
  • 7 1/4 cups/2 pounds/907 grams confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 3/4 cups/340 grams unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut, toasted


Make the cake:

  1. Grease 3 8-inch cake pans and dust with flour. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Whisk together flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl and reserve. Place butter and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment and beat until fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add 3 egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl with spatula. Lower speed and gradually add flour mixture. Batter will be thick and pasty.
  3. Whisk together cream of coconut, coconut milk, rum and orange juice.
    Alternately add shredded coconut and the orange juice mixture to the batter.
  4. In the clean bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip 6 egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold into batter.
  5. Divide batter evenly among prepared pans. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes. Cool
    in pans on wire rack. Unmold cakes once cool.

Make the frosting:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and cream cheese. Add vanilla extract. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar, scraping down sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Mix until combined and fluffy.
  2. Spread 1/4-inch-thick layer of frosting on top of the first layer of cake. Sprinkle with toasted coconut. Place next cake layer on top and repeat with frosting and coconut. Repeat with the third layer, spreading frosting on top and around sides of cake. Hold cake steadily in one hand and use other hand to pat remaining coconut onto edges of cake.

Serve Your Turkey with a Side of Sanity: Two Make-Ahead Secrets from One Who Knows

border_02Professional chefs are great when you want ideas for dishes you could only hope to make on your own someday. For those of us without culinary school or restaurant ownership experience (or an army of sous chefs, for that matter), sometimes Thanksgiving dinner is equal parts culinary inspiration and practicality, sprinkled with what little sanity we have left. To find that kind of recipe, frankly, I prefer the time-tested advice of a fellow home cook who has a highly demanding career to offer the most trustworthy tips for shaving precious hours off preparing the most important menu of the year. I want to serve my beloved guests a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner, but I’d also like to join them in the festivities. Luckily, Ketchum’s Global Food Practice Director, Linda Eatherton, shares two of her tried-and-true recipes for people like us. I can’t think of anyone on Earth who has better credentials than she does. Read on!

For many, many years I worked media all day at the Butterball Turkey Talk Line. My husband and kids made our Thanksgiving dinner and I would come home just in time to make the BBTL-inspired cranberry compote (recipe below). However, I never needed to worry about the gravy because, thanks to the BBTL chefs who coached me, I learned how to make Mark Bittman’s heavenly homemade turkey gravy ahead of time. At the critical moment, all I had to do was warm it up, add a splash of sherry just before serving, and pour it into a pre-warmed gravy boat. It was always a highlight of our Thanksgiving dinners!

On behalf of everyone at Ketchum, I wish you and yours a love-filled Thanksgiving.

Make-Ahead Gravy

Make gravy in advance to contribute to dinner, even with your busy Holiday schedule!

Mark Bittman’s Make-Ahead Gravy (featured in The New York Times, October, 1997)

1 stick butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup flour
Salt and pepper
4 to 5 cups rich stock, warmed
Turkey drippings and giblets (optional)

1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then add onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour on the onions, stirring constantly, and cook until flour is golden to brown. Adjust heat so mixture does not burn.

2. Gradually whisk in 4 cups stock until mixture thickens and is smooth. If it is too thick, add more stock. Cool, cover and chill.

3. When ready to serve, reheat mixture over low heat, stirring. Scrape bottom of turkey pan and add drippings or giblets to gravy. Taste and adjust seasoning, then serve.

Here’s my family’s favorite side for turkey, a feature of our Thanksgiving dinner. It comes from the 1987 Butterball Turkey Talkline Thanksgiving Recipe Collection which I worked with others to develop. This is an incredibly simple-to-make crowd pleaser that can be made ahead of the big meal. And, it lasts for days as a terrific topping for leftovers.

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Easy crowd pleaser! A great side that goes well with everything and comes together in moments.

Easy crowd pleaser! A great side that goes well with everything and comes together in moments.

Cranberry Fruit Chutney

2 cups cranberries, fresh
1 pear, peeled, cored and chopped
1 6-ounce package dried mixed fruit pieces
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoons finely shredded orange peel
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a saucepan combine all ingredients and bring mixture just to boiling, then reduce heat. Simmer uncovered 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently. Serve hot or cold. Can be spooned into poached pears for added impact. Store remaining chutney in the refrigerator.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups.


What’s Better Than Butter? More Butter – Jennifer’s Four-Stick Stuffing

border_01 Editor’s Note: Leading up to next Thursday, Thanksgiving Day in the United States, your food-loving friends at Ketchum thought it’d be fun to share some of our family traditions, favorite recipes (calories be damned!) and stories about America’s most food-centric holiday. For our first post in this series, we thought we’d go big and slather on the proverbial butter. Be sure to check back, because we will have more ideas that will cause many a belt buckle to be loosened this Thanksgiving and beyond.
Jennifer Reinhard, an issues counselor and media relations specialist in our San Francisco office, shares what sounds like a butter-lover’s dream come true: dressing made with, um, four entire sticks of butter. Let’s just go with this because Thanksgiving isn’t the time to count calories. Jen explains the provenance of her family’s favorite recently-aquired Thanksgiving tradition here:

Y E S. Bold Butter Flavor

Y E S. We love bold creative ideas (and especially ones that come with big butter!)

When my brother got married, we all loved my sister-in-law Tricia immediately – partially because she had been an unoffical fun-loving part of our family long before they were married, but mostly because she brought her Grandma Anderson’s homemade stuffing to Thanksgiving. And we’ve never looked back. Passed down to her by her mom and her grandmother before her, the recipe — affectionately nicknamed “Four Stick Stuffing” — is THE hot commodity on our family’s Thanksgiving dinner table. What makes it special? Mother’s Bread, she says.

Grandma Anderson’s Dressing (a.k.a. Four Stick Stuffing)

2 loaves of Mother’s Bread from the Balkan Bakery in Flint Michigan (otherwise use a tasty, dense bread; Whole Foods has a Farm Bread that works well if you don’t live in Michigan)
4 sticks (one pound) salted butter
4 – 6 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 medium onions, finely chopped
6 eggs (mix with fork)
4 tablespoons poultry seasoning
4 cups chicken broth

1. Break bread day before using and spread out on cookie sheets to dry overnight.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

3. Place bread in large mixing bowl. Use a bowl large enough to mix dressing thoroughly.

4. In large skillet, saute celery and onion in 2 sticks of butter until clear; add remaining sticks of butter just to melt.

5. Pour sauteed celery and onion over bread.

6. Add eggs, poultry seasoning and 2 to 3 cups of chicken broth to bread and mix thoroughly. Add additional chicken broth if mixture is too dry.

7. Place in large baking dish and bake for 1 1/2 hours. Cover for first hour and uncover for the last half hour. Depending on depth of baking dish may need to cook an extra 15 minutes.


Soil or No Soil? Differing Views on Growing Food Raise Interesting Value Questions

As part of a global food communications firm, thousands of foodies at Ketchum are experiencing and enjoying learning about all aspects of food and food production. You can imagine that no two opinions are alike and that’s what makes our world so exciting. Following are my personal observations as I read Dan Barber’s new book; some takeaways that resonate with me. Read on, and I welcome your point of view and observations as well.

I love discussing different viewpoints on food production and thinking about how personal values come into play when deciding what we want to eat. I’ve been reading Dan Barber’s book, The Third Plate (The Penguin Press, NY, 2014), in which he spends the first section setting forth his strong belief that the most flavorful food comes from a healthy and balanced ecosystem and that “When we taste something truly delicious, something that is persistent, it most likely originated from well-mineralized, biologically rich soils.”

An example from The Third Plate of an agricultural ecosystem in ideal balance: Pigs from which the world-prized iberico hams are made, graze freely in Spain’s dehesa region. Source:

An example from The Third Plate of an agricultural ecosystem in ideal balance: Pigs from which the world-prized iberico hams are made, graze freely in Spain’s dehesa region. Source:

Barber examines the ‘language of the soil’ and interviews those who have mastered the art of understanding what a field or patch of land is telling us. And, basically, it is this: “see what you are looking at” when viewing an environment, and to do so requires a deeper understanding of chemistry and soil health. Barber quotes Klaas Albrecht, longtime chairman of the Department of Soils at the University of Missouri who urges, “Feed the soil and let the soil feed the plants.”



I particularly appreciated Barber’s reference and homage to one of my lifelong heroes, Aldo Leopold, and his environmental classic, A Sand County Almanac (Oxford University Press, NY, 1948). In my opinion*, Leopold’s work should be read by everyone who eats. I wholeheartedly agree with Barber that Leopold’s essay on The Land Ethic, featured on pages 201-226 of my dog-eared copy of the Almanac, is required reading.

“Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.”  Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac. Photo source:

“Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.” Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac. Photo source:

But, just as I was reviewing my beloved old book, I read an equally compelling story featured in the July 28th Washington Post about the world’s largest indoor farm that grows its ecologically friendly food in the absence of soil, hydroponically. The environment of this farm couldn’t possibly be more antithetical to Leopold’s vision of a healthy ecosystem. How could he have foreseen farmers donning clothes resembling hazmat suits raising crops indoors, in vertically stacked rows, utilizing GE LED lighting rather than the sun?

Mirai Lettuce Farm, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. Photo source: The Washington Post, July 28, 2014.

Mirai Lettuce Farm, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. Photo source: The Washington Post, July 28, 2014.

At first glance, this futuristic agricultural system looks cold, surreal and almost creepy. Yet, there are many ecologically positive aspects to this type of farming. The 25,000 square foot Mirai Lettuce Farm, in Eastern Japan’s Miyagi Prefecture, is located inside an old Sony factory. High tech food has replaced high tech electronics in the recycled and retrofitted factory that could have gone to seed otherwise. There’s elegance in this renaissance and, importantly, a drastic reduction in water use – 99%, in fact – and reduced food waste as compared to conventional production methods.

This operation is unapologetically a ‘factory farm’ that turns out 10,000 coreless heads of lettuce a day. Photo source:

This operation is unapologetically a ‘factory farm’ that turns out 10,000 coreless heads of lettuce a day. Photo source:

Shigeharu Shimamura, a botanist and the company president explains, “The process for growing Mirai lettuce produces leaf type, and not head type, so 95 percent of the portion is edible and can be used conveniently at restaurants for salads and sandwiches. In terms of quality, since Mirai leaf lettuce is fresh and soft, they are praised by children and the elderly as easy to eat.” Shimamura also points out that the technology used to produce his plants creates “a variation of romaine lettuce that contains eight to 10 times more beta-carotene and two times the vitamin C, Calcium and Magnesium” (The Washington Post, July 28, 2014). It’s pretty hard to argue with this approach when the global population will surpass the 10 billion mark by 2050.

The good news, as I see it, is that brilliant minds around the world are coming up with different and important solutions to the world’s food needs. I, for one, have made the commitment to open my mind to alternate ideas and to appreciate the vibrant and passionate discussion taking place about how to feed the world and respect our planet at the same time. Let’s keep talking!

I’d love to hear your thoughts about interesting solutions you’ve discovered for meeting competing demands in this arena.

*This, and all, @ppetite posts reflect only the opinion of the author and in no way reflects the collective point of view of Ketchum.

Plated — A Culinary Savior for Busy Urbanites?

In today’s world – a world where Google delivery drones are an impending reality – it’s not hard to imagine an on-demand ingredient delivery service. In fact, as we near the end of 2014 – a plethora of services exist. Blue Apron, Meez Meals and Hello Fresh, just to name a few. I chose to try one called Plated, after being referred to the service by a friend.

Yes, I made this on a crazy busy weeknight!

Yes, I made this on a crazy busy weeknight!

[Read more…]

Millennials May Whine, But We Definitely Wine!

September marks the end of summer and the start of the busy school season. For most, this means a packed schedule, hectic mornings – the works, but did you know it’s nearly mandatory to enjoy a glass of California wine? Most Millennials will be partaking, but that’s only because wine has become their new drink of choice.

September marks the start of California Wine Month and as most Gen Y-ers head back to campus, it’s more than likely you’ll find a bottle of vino in the kitchen. In light of the recent earthquake Northern California experienced, it’s a better time than ever to support wineries from the Napa Valley, in particular.



Ronan Stafford, Canadean Wine Report analyst, helped Jezebel break down the statistics for this story:

Millennials above the legal drinking age guzzled up 25.7 percent of wine by volume in the U.S. in 2012. This is higher than the global average of 20.6, but lower than the 41.4 percent of wine by volume consumed by U.S. citizens aged 55 and up.

Additionally, Melissa Saunders, owner of the wine importer, Communal Brands says:

“Historically, wine has been marketed to older generations and came with a huge pretense. But this generation is blowing all of that out of the water. They don’t care about the pretentiousness of a wine, they want something that is authentic and speaks to them. This is a huge marketing opportunity.



Wine has traditionally been viewed as a classy, refined drink – not necessarily one marketed towards college students. However, times (and tastes) are changing and the wine industry is making new and creative adjustments to appeal to their new audience. Although some argue the wine industry is one step behind in their marketing schemes, 20 million Gen Y-ers have yet to turn 21, so better late than never to get started.

A recent article from CNBC featured an Oregon winery seeking “this real interaction between form and function”and it’s packaging pinot noir in a can. The wine costs $6 per can (or $24 for a four-pack) currently available on the Union Wine Co website as well as in stores in Rhode Island, Maryland/Washington D.C., Ohio, Illinois, California, Hawaii and Oregon.

“We’re certainly focused on keeping it real and removing the pretense that surrounds wine,” said Ryan Harms, owner and winemaker of the Union Wine Co. The winery is based in Tualatin, Oregon, roughly 30 minutes outside Portland. “While all that ceremony may be good and attract a group of consumers, it can be off-putting and can keep new consumers from entering the wine category.



Will you be grabbing a can of pinot?


Open Air Breakfasts

Biscuits ‘n gravy has never been one of my breakfast staples. I recently had the occasion to taste a pretty amazing version outdoors, under a stormy, cloudy sky. It might have been the location and timing of that particular breakfast, but I am pretty sure I would go back for third helpings of this dish anywhere.

Ready to paddle the distance of Boston to Washington, D.C. using just these two arms and my legs.

Ready to paddle the distance of Boston to Washington, D.C. using just these two old arms.

[Read more…]

Canned Tomatoes in Summer? You Bet! Try Them in Smoky Tomato-Bacon Soup.

This year I didn’t have time to plant tomatoes (or any vegetable, truth be told) in my garden. Maybe I was reading or cleaning out my closet or possibly riding my bike, but somehow I missed prime planting time so I’m destined to pay $2.50 for a decent heirloom fruit if I want to make a Caprese salad. However, when a hankering for homemade tomato soup hit the other night I was overjoyed to find that I had everything I needed on hand thanks to the ready availability of excellent canned tomatoes. A special issue of Fine Cooking Simple Dinners (on newsstands now) provided the inspiration and this recipe. I suppose you could make it with 28 ounces of garden-tomatoes cut into chunks — and that would be phenomenal — but I assure you that the results using canned were terrific. The kind handyman who’s building us a new puppy fence couldn’t stop raving over the steaming cup, topped with crispy, salty bacon pieces, and my boys endorse it as a “must save” recipe. Enjoy!

Smoky Tomato-Bacon Soup. Source: Fine Cooking Simple Dinners.

Smoky Tomato-Bacon Soup. Source: Fine Cooking Simple Dinners.

[Read more…]

Home Is Where the Coney Is

Lake Michigan’s coastline from 30,000 feet

Lake Michigan’s coastline from 30,000 feet

Great Lakes. Tigers (the baseball playing kind). “Up North.” Lemonade. Ice cream. Coney dogs.

This eclectic group of pastimes and food cravings describe summertime in Michigan, my home state. And I remembered just what makes summer so summery (besides steamy Midwest temps) in the Great Lake state during a recent visit home to celebrate my nieces Abbey’s and Allie’s graduations.

As my older niece Allie wrapped up her high school career, the primo food event that week centered on her graduation open house – when family and her parents’/grandparents’ friends would embarrassingly (but lovingly) reminisce about “how fast she’d grown up.” And memories and food go hand-in-hand.

Months ago, Allie landed on her open house theme: summer picnic. Daisies and a summer picnic. Let the picnicking begin …

Lemonade + Iced Tea

Every summer picnic’s favorite refreshing combo – as good apart as they are together. A Michigander enjoys an “Arnold Palmer” as much as the next guy.

Who doesn't love a pitcher of Arnold Palmer?

Who doesn’t love a pitcher of Arnold Palmer?

Summer Salad

Michigan builds cars. But did you know we also build a killer salad bar? A real Michigan salad never leaves off dried sweet/tart cherries (sometimes cranberries), crumbly blue cheese, crunchy pecans or walnuts and a tangy vinaigrette dressing. Toss in crisp cucumbers, juicy tomatoes, crispy bacon bits – with a side of my mom’s homemade macaroni salad – and you’ve got a picnic salad party.

Fresh Fruit

Traverse City, on the banks of northern Lake Michigan, is one of the world’s cherry capitals. Michigan also happens to grow some of the juiciest, sweetest, bluest blueberries. It’s true. If you’re ever at a Michigan summer picnic without a fruit salad heavy on the blueberries, something has gone wrong.

Essential for a Michigan summer picnic!

Essential for a Michigan summer picnic!

Sweet Daisies

Apple blossoms are Michigan’s official state flower, but daisies are a universal summer thing. This picnic sported white chocolate daisy lollipops from a local candy maker among the daisy desserts.

Daisy desserts are the perfect treat for a summer party

Daisy desserts are the perfect treat for a summer party

Not Just Any Hotdog

Hotdogs … an American summer staple. This open house picnic hotdog spread (my sister’s genius) included recipes & ingredients to tailor your ‘dog: Barbeque Bacon-style, Ballpark-style, Chicago-style. But the ultimate Michigan picnic show stealer is the Coney Island Dog (or “Coney” if you’re a local): grilled beef hotdog, with locally made Coney sauce (all meat), yellow mustard and chopped white onion. And you’ll only make the rookie mistake once of describing a Coney as “just like a chili dog.” Flint Coney? Detroit Coney? Different towns put their unique spin on their Coney secret sauce. Serious sauce business … worthy of its own blog post. (Ask Anthony Bourdain, who just scratched the Coney surface during his ‘Parts Unknown’ Detroit journey.)

Uniquely, deliciously, purely Michigan.

If you find yourself exploring Michigan, just ask where to find a good Coney and directions to “Up North” (which really does exist) … and a friendly Michigander will point you the right way.

Cannes You Taste It?

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity that celebrates the most amazing marketing campaigns from around the globe. As part of a Ketchum creative crew sent to soak it all in and report back the best creative morsels to colleagues and clients, I traveled to France hungry for some new inspiration.

What I actually found was that some of the most beautiful examples of creativity were not formally competing. Instead, they were found in the window displays and on the dessert menus of the best the French Riviera had to offer. Here are my top three favorite purveyors of works of edible art that I was lucky enough to experience:

Chocolate treasure boxes, Jean Luc Pele.

Stop #1 – Jean Luc Pele, a local chocolatier, designs the most beautiful chocolate creations I have ever seen. From the treasure chests filled with tiny delicacies to the macaron towers constructed with every flavor in the rainbow to the flowing chocolate fountain wall, there is no way a passer-by could resist. Each day, I allowed myself two macarons, coercing myself to choose one from their sweet collection and one from the salted collection. Caramel with sea salt is all you need to know, period. Check out the gorgeous menu items at [Read more…]