Last week we had terrible weather in Boston. It was dark, dreary, and downright depressing. Not even the alliteration in those words could bring a smile to my face. So I finally gave in to the cozy temptation of my soft red couch and curled up with a copy of Emily Franklin’s new book Too Many Cooks: Kitchen Adventures with 1 Mom, 4 Kids, and 102 Recipes. I was a little unsure if I would be able to relate to this book prior to beginning it. The closest thing I have to a child is Watson and he pretty much eats whatever I put in front of him (most of it horribly unappealing in both smell and appearance), but I quickly shed my doubts as I delved into the year-in-the-life of Emily’s family, friends, and especially food.
We all know picky eaters or perhaps were picky eaters growing up. Some of you probably still can’t let go of your dressing on the side, hold the cheese, no carrots please holdovers from childhood. Believe me when I say I can empathize. I was one of those plain pizza, only mustard on my hot dog, I hate onions and peppers, and do-not-get-me-even-started-on-fish children. Thankfully I’ve gotten over the majority of these table-related outburst and I’ve thought on occasion how cool it would be if the hypothetical children I have someday would be willing to eat sushi with me. Maybe they’ll get excited because I made homemade pasta, or even like to eat green leafy vegetables instead of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese from a box? A girl can dream, but Emily Franklin doesn’t have to. Her anxiety-free views on feeding children and introducing them to new foods and dishes are absolutely refreshing.
Don’t worry. This isn’t a preachy how-to book by any means. It’s simply Emily’s quest to “create happy, healthy eaters without tricks.” While this is a non-fiction book it reads like an effortless dream. I became entirely wrapped up in learning all of the personality quirks her four children possess and found myself laughing out loud at her tales of son Daniel’s days of conversing with his imaginary friend that just happened to be the red blender on their kitchen counter. Daughter Julia (and her father for that matter) both dislike cooked fruit. The eldest, Jamie, is incredibly precocious for an eight-year-old and baby Will spends the year looking longingly (at least I know I would) at his siblings’ dinner plates while nursing.
Some of my favorite moments in the novel involved trips that the family took together. A vacation in Indiana brings about a summer bounty of local ingredients (sometimes mysterious in nature) from farmer’s at the roadside. Fried Green Tomatoes, Barbecued Pike, and “Heather’s Weird Beans” all make appearances on the table.
An excursion to Italy offered up the most memorable scenes for me. Emily describes the trip as “one long, prodigious meal punctuated by conversations, walks, and swimming with the kids.” The multitude of warm days spent eating gelato, and blackberries picked fresh from the bush to pizza made with dough “thin as a pillowcase” sounded like Heaven-on-Earth to me.
Don’t worry. Everything isn’t always happy-go-lucky. Emily’s children may willingly eat roasted broccoli but they are just as real as your own kids and she doesn’t hesitate in detailing their dirty faces, flaws, and swearing phases, but somehow through hissy fits, major shelving malfunctions, delayed ferry rides home, and even personal tragedy Emily consistently gets healthy meals on the table.
Remember how I mentioned being a picky kid before? Well I feel the need to confess that while I love sushi I still don’t eat or prepare cooked fish at home. However, Emily’s recipes for Asian Marinaded Salmon and Garlicky Panko Flounder had me seriously eying the Whole Foods fish counter this afternoon. Apparently Too Many Cooks: Kitchen Adventures with 1 Mom, 4 Kids, and 102 Recipes isn’t just for picky children. I found myself marking dozens of recipes to try later. I’m especially looking forward to Emily’s rendition of Sticky Toffee Pudding. Whether you’re a regular old Brady Bunch or a single twenty-something the story Emily weaves is timeless. At the end I found myself wanting the book to be longer and I definitely missed “sharing meals” vicariously with her endearing family.
Now Emily’s children may not be into cake but I definitely am and this Sublime Coconut Cake isn’t even a remotely questionable dish. You must make-it! The crumb is light, the icing is delicately coconut flavored and the two together absolutely do live up to the recipes lofty name. It’s also a very quick yet impressive dessert. I finished the entire cake from start to finish in under two hours.
Sublime Coconut Cake
Adapted from Too Many Cooks: Kitchen Adventures with 1 Mom, 4 Kids, and 102 Recipes by Emily Franklin
You can make this cake in stages if your timing demands it: Crack open one coconut and grate it into medium-sized shavings. If doing this in advance, put the shavings into the fridge. This can be done 2-3 days in advance. (Erin’s Confession: I used store bought coconut).
For the Cake:
1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups superfine sugar
3 cups flour
4 level tsp. baking powder
3 whole eggs
1 egg yolk (so 4 eggs in total)
1 cup coconut milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 375º. Cream butter and sugar. Sift flour once and re-measure, then sift together all dry ingredients. Add eggs and yolk one by one to the butter and sugar mixture and beat after each addition. Add dry ingredients a bit at a time, alternating with coconut milk and vanilla.
Spray two round (9 x 2) baking pans and shake into them a bit of flour (tap out the excess). Insert parchment paper circle on the bottom of the pans and spray lightly and dust with flour. Fill evenly with batter.
Bake for 30-45 minutes until a toothpick placed near the center comes out clean (Erin’s Note: Mine was done in 30 minutes).
For the Frosting:
1 lb. confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tbsp. cream of coconut
1 tbsp. flour
3 tbsp. coconut milk (add more or less milk as needed)
the grated coconut from before (Erin’s Note: Or around 7 ounces, half a bag, of coconut from the bakery aisle).
Mix together sugar and butter. Mix in the cream of coconut and vanilla. Sprinkle in flour. Add in milk little by little, only enough so that frosting is light and spreadable but not runny.
After cake has cooled completely, frost the top of bottom layer and sprinkle around a bit of the grated coconut to cover the surface. Place the second round on top and frost the top and sides. Spread the rest of the grated coconut around the top and gently pat coconut to sides so that cake is completely covered.
Note: If you prefer the look and texture of toasted coconut, you may put the grated coconut on a cookie sheet and bake at 300º for about 15 minutes, or until just tanned.