Cookbook Spotlight #3 — Old Fashion Apple Cake

About a month ago, I was thrilled to get an invitation from Breadchick and Sara inviting me to participate in Cookbook Spotlight #3. After Breadchick posted a recipe from Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbooks: Discover Their Culinary Legends for Weekend Cookbook Challenge #13, the book’s publisher, Paula McKenna, contacted her and asked to be the subject of the first Cookbook Spotlight for 2007.
I jumped at the chance to participate. Not only do I get to participate, but I get a free book? I’m in!

A week or two later, my copy arrived in the mail (it even came with book jewelry). To quote the book’s website, “the voyage presented on the pages of this cookbook carries passengers on a culinary and historical cruise across the five Great Lakes of North America. Tall ships, passenger ships, Coast Guard vessels and magnificent steel freighters combine with beloved retired ships from days gone by in offering a glimpse into culinary secrets that have become legendary. Sailors from yesterday and today vividly bring to life an average day on board, from decks of ships that are anything but average. Talented cooks from each ship generously share their menus and recipes, bringing to life meals fit for kings and Great Lakes sailors!”

Each section is separated by a type of Great Lake ship: Tall Ships, Freighters, Coast Guard ships, Passenger Vessels and Retired Ships. These are further broken down by specific vessels (say, the M.V. Indiana Harbor) and its crew’s favorite recipes. So, not only are you getting a slew of time-tested dishes, but you’re also getting history behind the ships and people who sail them.

There aren’t many “gourmet” recipes in here; this is food designed to be cooked in a galley for lots of hungry, hardworking people. There are four recipes for beef Stroganoff, four types of zucchini bread, and the “best fruit cake ever.”

Not that I have a problem with that: I love to eat haute cuisine, but I love to cook simpler fare. (And then eat it. )
My one issue with the book is the wide variation in yield between the recipes. Some, like the Garlic-Rosemary Roasted Chicken, serve a typical amount (in this case, 8 servings). Others, like the Bread Pudding, serve an army (or, more appropriately, a hungry crew of 75). Yet others don’t even mention how much they serve, forcing the reader to take an educated guess at how much the recipe will feed. (For example, the American Apple Bread calls for 2 pounds, 12 oz. sugar and 8 pounds apples and directs the chef to “bake in greased loaf pans at 375 degrees until bread tests done.” I like a bit more direction in my directions, and this vagueness dissuaded me from trying this recipe.)

But on to what I did make: Braised Pork Chops and Cabbage, Oven-roasted Baby Red Bliss Potatoes, and Old-Fashion Apple Cake.

The pork chops were very good: flavorful and smothered in onions and cabbage. The meat was a bit tougher than it should have been, but that’s probably my fault, not the recipe’s. (I always have a problem cooking meat.) The next time I make it, I’ll brown the chops for less time, and add more liquid for the braising.

From left to right, Oven-roasted Potatoes, pg. 39 and Braised Pork Chops and Cabbage, pg 103

Roasted potatoes are always good: starch, oil, rosemary, salt and pepper. What’s not to love? I scaled it down from 12 servings to 4 and we devoured the entire batch. (Probably could have taken on all 12, too.)

But my favorite of this trio was the Old-Fashion Apple Cake.

Old Fashion Apple Cake, page 413

The cake itself is moist, rich, and dark, studded by chunks of apples and nuts. It could stand well on its own, but topped by a smooth and sweet-yet-tangy cream cheese frosting, the sum total is really superb.

It really is an old-fashioned cake — something out of grandma’s kitchen — and it’s definitely a cake to try. (And I keep trying it. All day long, I’ve made sneaky sojourns to the ‘fridge, sampling bits of frosting and crumbs.)

The original recipe appears below as in the cookbook; my changes appear in the comments section. (I slimmed things down a bit and made a few editorial changes. I can’t help it: “old fashioned” looks better to me than “old fashion.”)

Thanks to Mary (aka Breadchick) & Sara, the wonderful hosts of Cookbook Spotlight #3.

Old-Fashion Apple Cake

4 c. apples, peeled, diced
2 c. sugar
2 c. flour
2 eggs
½ c. oil
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt

Cream Cheese Frosting
½ c. butter
1 (3 0z.) pkg. cream cheese
1 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

To prepare cake combine apples with flour; toss to coat. Ass remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Batter will be very stiff. Bake in greased 9×13-pan at 350 degrees 45 to 60 minutes.

Combine frosting ingredients and beat until smooth. Spread frosting over cooled cake.

Grade: A
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Categories: Cakes, desserts, Grade Range: A- to A+

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