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Cooking with Myra: Comfort, company and good eating

By Victoria Advocate
May 10, 2010 at 12:10 a.m.
Updated May 11, 2010 at 12:11 a.m.

Ponchatoula Strawberry Cupcakes

PONCHATOULA STRAWBERRY CUPCAKES

Cupcakes

21/2 cups cake flour

1 tsp. baking soda

¼ tsp. salt

1/3 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup canola oil

1/2 tsp. almond extract

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 stick unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup mashed fresh or frozen berries

1 tsp. grated orange zest

Frosting

1/2 cup chopped fresh or frozen strawberries

2 Tbsp. strawberry jam

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened

3 sticks unsalted butter, softened

4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

For cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray or line with foil baking cups. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.

In another medium bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil and almond and vanilla extracts; set aside.

With an electric mixer, beat the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually add the buttermilk mixture. Beat for 1 minute at medium speed.

Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture. Mix until just combined. Stir in the strawberries and orange zest. Spoon into the prepared muffin tins, filling them two-thirds full. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the cupcakes spring back when touched lightly in the center. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove the cupcakes from the pan and cool on racks.

For frosting: In a small saucepan, over medium heat, combine strawberries, jam and lemon juice. Cook and stir for 5 minutes or until the jam is melted and the strawberries are soft. Press any big pieces with the back of the spoon to mash.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the cream cheese and butter at medium speed until creamy. At low speed, add the confectioners' sugar and mix until completely combined. Add the strawberries and mix at low speed until blended. When the cupcakes are completely cool, spread with frosting.

Source: "Screen Doors and Sweet Tea" by Martha Foose

By Myra Starkey

Driving through the Texas Hill Country and then into the valley of Fredericksburg makes me relax in a way I can't understand. It was late Friday evening by the time we arrived. The shops were closed, but I could see the bright displays in the store windows. The weekend tourists were walking Main Street, coming and going to the restaurants and beer gardens.

We had accepted an invitation to Taylor's oldest sister's ranch north of town, near Enchanted Rock.

My feelings about this quaint German town go back many years. In the early years of Taylor's medical practice, he was often tense from being so busy, and I was also constantly occupied with raising three small kids, volunteering and helping run the office.

We had a house in Fredericksburg back then and would escape for the weekends. We had no responsibilities there and could totally relax. It was non-stop all week in Victoria and then everything slowed to an easy pace as we hung out in the Hill Country, eating breakfast at the bakery, doing crafts, going to the playground, shopping, cooking or working around the house.

The kids had our undivided attention because we were away from all the things we really needed to do at home. And the truth is, the hectic life we create for ourselves at home is mostly unnecessary.

Once our children became teenagers, they developed a strong social life apart from ours. They became very resistant to leaving town on weekends, so we eventually sold our Fredericksburg home.

We spent Friday evening through Sunday morning at the house out on the ranch. Taylor's sister, Marsella, and her husband, Tim, are great hosts. We really enjoy spending time with them. And to add to the family fun, another sister, Loree, and her husband, Mike, were there for the weekend.

We went on a nature hike to look at wildflowers and then later climbed down the deep granite canyon on their place and sat and listened to the calming sound of the waterfalls and hung our feet into the clear, cold stream. It was a lovely day.

On Friday afternoon, they had killed a rattlesnake by the road, skinned it and decided to cook the meat. Being from Louisiana, I have eaten lots of things, but rattlesnake is not one of them. I have never thought that I even wanted to taste such a reptile, and I don't have any recipes that call for rattlesnake meat.

Tim said he wanted to cook it, so when he talked to his out-of-state friends who might make some remark, such as "So, you're from Texas. I guess you have eaten rattlesnake," he could reply that indeed he had.

He marinated it, cooked it on the grill, cut off some small, meaty parts from the very bony creature and served it on toast with a roasted carrot, cilantro slaw. Thankfully, I could mostly only taste the slaw, but I can at least now say I have eaten rattlesnake and have crossed that off my list of Foods To Eat Before I Die.

On Sunday morning, we got up and went to the church we frequented when we were weekend residents. It is always great to catch up with our old friends there. Their little kids are just like ours, grown up and coming home to visit from college, whenever their schedule allows.

We then stopped by the nursing home to visit our old next door neighbor lady friend, who we had not seen for almost two years. Miss Dorothy, as we called her, was a sweet, German widow lady who loved to visit. She had no children and only a few friends, so we would stop by and talk to her.

She would put on lipstick each time we came to visit, smile and often look off into the distance and say, "Now don't you know when ." and tell us something she recalled from long ago. She called me Myra and called Taylor, "the Doctor."

And so we went to Room 104 down Hall A as they told us at the nurses station and Miss Dorothy was laying on her side, hooked up to oxygen. As I placed my hand on her leg to wake her up so we could visit, she briefly opened her eyes and stared at me pleasantly but emptily. I said, "Miss Dorothy. It's Myra. I came to see you."

She looked at me for a second more and then slowly closed her eyes. We asked the nurse who told us she had not communicated for some time. I hand wrote a note that said we came by to visit and tacked it to the bulletin board by her bed, just in case.

On our way out of town, the light rain slowed to a drizzle and then stopped, so we drove to Marburger Orchard to pick fresh strawberries. The guy at the stand gave us a box and instructions on how to pick strawberries. I could tell he had repeated these instructions to a thousand amateur pickers before us.

None of his rules included the admonition to desist from eating the very ripest, reddest, shiny strawberries you find on the bush, and so we did. We returned later with our box full and he weighed it, and we paid him and left for home.

Upon arrival back home, I decided to make good use of my freshly harvested berries. I remembered seeing a recipe for Ponchatoula Strawberry Cupcakes in a cookbook called "Screen Doors and Sweet Tea" by Martha Hall Foose. Her book is filled with touching tales and useful information on ingredients, techniques, storage, shortcuts and substitutions. The strawberry cupcakes explode in your mouth with flavor. The cream cheese icing is pink tinted with flecks of berries. The recipe makes 24, so share some with friends.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or e-mail myra@vicad.com.

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