Orange Cake For Dad

A couple of weeks ago my Dad celebrated his 70th birthday. Bare with me…I’ve had a glass of wine, and I’m about to get sappy.

My dad is one of the best people on the planet. Of course, as his favorite child (my words, not his), I may be biased. But I think a lot of other people, both inside and outside of the family, would agree with me. One of my Dad’s best traits is that he is a quiet and thoughtful listener. He and my mother raised five children, four of whom are…shall we say… “dominant” females? When you go through that, you learn when to keep your mouth shut and when to speak up.

The Somers Family

Throughout my life, my Dad has been a part of every piano recital, every basketball game, every graduation ceremony. His face falls when  he sees me in heartache over a guy. And even as a full-blown, salaried adult, he still won’t let me pay for dinner.

I’ve had some of my best conversations about my professional life with my Dad. He’s encouraged me in everything that I’ve done in my life. Even when I took out an almost-crippling student loan to go to college for the second time to learn to ice cakes and fry doughnuts, he just asked the appropriate parental questions (Are you sure this is really worth it?), accepted my responses as truth, and let me go on my way.

To this day, I’m not sure if my Dad believed that I was making a good decision by sinking all of that money into to pastry school. I just know that if he didn’t agree with my actions at the time, he didn’t vocalize it. I was 23, and he let me live my life without passing judgement.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to make my Dad proud. That’s why one of the first new recipes I worked on when I started my job in the test kitchen at Wilton was an Orange Sheet Cake. It’s one of Dad’s favorite sweet treats. When I was young, my mother bought sheets of orange cake slathered with orange cream cheese icing from Sara Lee. She would freeze the large cake, cutting off  and thawing a section every now and then for an easy treat. My Dad loved that cake. We all did. It’s a great memory.

Orange Sheet Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Icing
Orange Sheet Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Icing

I’ve been trying to perfect the orange cake for years, and I may never stop tweaking it, but this version is very good and my Dad enjoyed it for his birthday. It has a dense, pound cake-like texture, and there is a lot of orange flavor from freshly grated orange zest and orange extract. It doesn’t take much to make the cake look luscious; let it sit at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes before serving, and the swirls of silky cream cheese icing will be all of the enticement you need to dig in, even if it is served on a disposable plate.

Dad, I love you, and I’m tackling homemade Ice Cream Cake Roll for #71!


Guinness-Braised Lamb Shanks + A Giveaway!

It doesn’t matter that Chicago is experiencing an apocalyptic “un-winter,” where daytime temperatures have been considerably higher than freezing, bordering on spring-like. It doesn’t matter that a year ago, the city (including my car) was buried under several feet of snow. And it definitely doesn’t matter that I haven’t wiped out once on a patch of devious black ice, since it hasn’t been cold enough for small puddles to freeze over. It’s only a matter of time before old-man winter hits hard again, and until I’m hitting the pavement hard again.

When you live in a place where the climate sucks for approximately 2/3 of the year, you can either sulk about it, or you can embrace it. Using a slow cooker is one of my ways of accepting the cold weather. What could be simpler or more satisfying? Brown up a tough cut of meat on the stove, saute a few aromatic veggies like carrots and onions, add some liquid and seasoning, and turn the knob to low. Go to work, where you absolutely, definitely do not worry about the electrical cord of the slow cooker malfunctioning. Causing fiery sparks to fly all over your apartment. Igniting kitchen towels, your greasy stove, and everything else within a 25 foot radius. Leading to a massive fire that takes down your entire apartment complex. Including your brand new 42-inch plasma screen. And everything else in your uninsured abode. No. You don’t worry about this. You don’t worry, because the inner dish of a slow cooker is usually made of glazed ceramic or porcelain, encased in metal. The slow cooker is self-contained, and cannot light on fire. Plus, you know better than to plug in a cord if the plastic casing has been compromised, or if the inner wires are popping out all willy nilly.


So, go to work. Come home 8-10 hours later, open the door and become instantly enveloped in the warm, inviting, delicious aromas of dinner. Prepare a simple side dish, if necessary. Or just sit down to a hearty meal. Who cares about the frigid outside world when you come home to a welcome like that?

Stout-Braisted Lamb Shanks
Guinness-Braised Lamb Shanks with Chive Mash

I made Guinness-Braised Lamb Shanks for my friend, Meghan. She was coming over on a weeknight, so being able to use the slow cooker made dinner a breeze, even though I got home from work late. The recipe is from The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes, Second Edition by Judith Finlayson. It’s a fabulous book that goes beyond the typical chilis and stews that are commonplace in slow cooking. It includes recipes like  Portuguese Sausage and Shellfish Stew and Osso Bucco, and many recipes include mouth-watering photos of the finished dishes. The book fittingly ends with 22 desserts that you can make in your Crock Pot. I’m curious – have you even used your slow cooker to make dessert?

Although I haven’t made all 150 of the recipes, this lamb dish most definitely makes my personal list of best slow cooker recipes. The meat fell right off the bone, tender and flavorful, and the braising liquid was delicious spooned over chive laced mashed potatoes.

I’m giving winter the middle finger and giving this book away to one of you!

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this post about your favorite slow cooker recipe. You can earn an additional entry by following me on Twitter (@bethylou10) and sending me a tweet about slow cooking. You’ll also earn an entry if you subscribe to this blog – just leave another comment to let me know you’ve signed up. Finally, refer a friend who subscribes (again, give me details in a comment so it’s accounted for), and you’ll both have another chance to win! This giveaway is open until 11:47 pm on Monday, February 13. Why 11:47? Well, why not?!? A winner will be generated by, and I’ll send you this fabulous cookbook! Yay!


This contest is now closed. Congratulations to Sylvia, the proud new recipient of The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes, Second Edition by Judith Finlayson! Email me your address and I’ll send the book out to you ASAP!

Cat Pizza

It’s been one helluva week. It’s the kind of  freight train week that doesn’t stop for anything, when more to-dos get added to the list, even though nothing is getting crossed off.

Not much time for cooking, or at least cooking anything notable. I even missed One-Word Wednesdays because I didn’t have an interesting photo to post.

Until yesterday.

I received an email from an old friend, and it was just the kind of silliness I needed to soften the hectic pace that has dictated this week. Laughing at this email was sort of felt like a mini-vacation, and I didn’t even need to leave my desk. I laughed so hard that Diet Coke almost came out of my nose, so I thought I’d share it with you. Plus, it gives me something quick to post when time is too short to pull anything else together. Hope you enjoy it half as much as I did.


I know you take your blog pretty seriously and all. I think you might want to figure out how to make this so you can strengthen your cooking chops for all the world to see. It’ll lend a bit more professionalism I think. No need to thank me.


Kitty Pizza
Crazy Eyed Kitty Pizza