Posts Archived From: 'December 2009'

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The Prettiest Pound Cake

From outward appearances, all pound cakes are created equal. When prepared properly, a pound cake’s exterior should precisely mirror the pan in which it was baked, with a lovely combination of sharp peaks and soft mounds. Problem is, without slicing, it’s hard to know what’s inside each pound cake. That’s why, with this recipe, I took a photo after half if it was already devoured by family and friends.

I’ve made pound cakes for years, but this is the first recipe I’ve attempted from scratch: not a box cake mix anywhere in sight. It was one of two desserts I served on Christmas Day, and my goal was to have an option for guests who didn’t want an overwhelmingly sugary treat after dinner.

And let me tell you, the end result was a dense cake with just a hint of sweetness. Time got the better of me, so I wasn’t able to prepare a vanilla glaze to drizzle on top. The pound cake, however, tasted just perfect on its own, soft on the inside and firm on the outside. When warmed in the microwave for a few seconds with a drift of butter spread upon top, the pound cake nicely transforms from dessert to breakfast the very next day.

Southwest Georgia Pound Cake
Recipe courtesy of Paula Deen

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Generously grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan. Do not preheat the oven.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Alternately add flour mixture and heavy cream to the butter-sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Stir in vanilla extract.

Pour batter into prepared Bundt pan. Put into a cold oven and set the temperature to 325 degrees. Bake for one hour without opening the oven door. Bake for an additional 15 minutes if necessary. Remove from the oven and cool in the Bundt pan for 15 minutes.

*I don’t own an electric mixer, but simply used my hand mixer. It took a little longer, but did the trick.

Naughty Holiday Wishes

Even Santa Claus likes to be a little bad this time of year. Merry Christmas!

Managing Holiday Mail

I’m a sucker for the handwritten letter, which is why the concept of Christmas cards makes me swoon. (Why, oh why, does it come but once a year?)

My love for holiday cards (NOT Twitter, NOT Facebook, but honest-to-goodness letters with ink, stamps and lots of licking) is briefly touched upon in today’s Omaha World-Herald.

If your holiday cards are still stacked in a corner, don’t fret. Simply send wishes on the inside of a happy and healthy new year. Come January a handwritten envelope will be so very welcomed by family and friends, unlike the credit card bills that seem to so smartly show up the first week of the new year.

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A 2010 Goal: Major Culinary Overhaul

Last weekend among the bevy of new releases at my neighborhood Blockbuster Video, I rented “Julie and Julia” on DVD. Halfway through the film, I had an epiphany. Rather than simply stew on my lightening-bolt of an idea, I pressed pause, hopped on my Macintosh and fired off an email to my sister, Katie.

(For those who haven’t caught the film, charmingly written by Nora Ephron, the gist is this: Two all-true stories are simultaneously told; one on master chef Julia Child, the other on Julie Powell, a wannabe writer and above-average cook who, in 2002, blogged about her experiences preparing French-inspired recipes by the aforementioned Child.)

I immediately saw a connection, albeit transposed, between me and Julie Powell. I consider myself an above-average writer, yet a wannabe cook.

In the email to my sister, I said, essentially, that nearly seven years ago I purchased my home, complete with a cozy galley kitchen and usable appliances. In those seven years it has become an extremely rare occurrence for me to prepare a meal of any significance or memory. Lack of motivation is a huge reason, but another is complete and total ignorance on what it means to really live in the kitchen.

Having just turned 31, I quickly became embarrassed by all of this. To put it bluntly: What the hell happened?

As a response to my inquiry on wanting to improve/develop/grow my skills in the kitchen, Katie sent the following thoughtful reply. I intend to take all of her advice, now and in the future. If you share my shoes, you will likely find education, inspiration and even a little motivation to make 2010 the year where eating out is overdone.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about the email you sent about wanting to cook more and wanting some of my recipes. And I started thinking about all of the things I love to make. I thought about a basic cream sauce, a base you can add to to make Alfredo sauce, macaroni and cheese and even a base for cream soup. And then I thought I’d tell you to melt butter and add flour, but without a practical knowledge of how this works, you’ll end up with puff pastry. Which isn’t all bad, but hopefully I’m making a point somewhere in here.

I’ve heard people say if you can read you can cook. And that may be true. Your chicken will be done. Your cookies will be brown. Your soup will be hot. Sure, if you can read you can cook, but it doesn’t mean you can cook well.

So, that said, I would love to take you under my wing and help you be a better cook. But it’s going to take more than recipes. It’s a lifestyle. Friday night I found myself in bed with my headphones in, listening to The Splendid Table podcast and reading my new Bon Appetit. I am obsessed. But these obsessions made me a better cook.

You don’t need to be obsessed, but you need to make some life changes, and these things will build the foundation on the basics.

1) Subscribe to American Public Media’s The Splendid Table podcast. Listen to as many archives as you can. (If host Lynne Rossetto Kasper is off on her travels interviewing a 100-year-old Russian woman, skip it. It won’t teach you anything practical.)

2) Buy a copy of Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. It’s a kitchen bible as far as I’m concerned, and it should be consulted before you try anything new.

3) Avoid websites such as and like the plague. They are full of vague and useless Campbell’s soup recipes. Instead, bookmark Epicurious and America’s Test Kitchen. The latter especially will not only tell you the best way to make Minestrone, but the best pot to cook it in.

4) Read food. I would tell you to read Gourmet magazine, but it’s sudden demise has left us waiting for Ruth Reichl to find a new outlet. In the meantime, Bon Appetit is a fine substitute. Cooks Illustrated is the best, but let’s not rush into anything.

5) DVR America’s Test Kitchen, Lydia’s Italy and Everyday Food on PBS. In my opinion, Food Network has become more food-ertainment than food-ucation. Especially, don’t waste your time with Rachel Ray. She specializes in taking one recipe and turning it into another recipe no one will ever eat. Enchilasagne? Chicago Dog Salad? No.

OK, that should get you started. Now my homework is to really think about the things I love to make and help understand what makes them good. Then I’ll pass them onto you.

Happy eating, dear sister!

Ooey Gooey Goodness

I fully intended to snap a photograph of my inaugural batch of Ooey Gooey Bars before sharing them with my Media Writing students Tuesday night, but the image below is all that remained after class. Not only did my 15 students gobble them up – they asked to take the remaining bars home! That’s an unmistakable sign of a delicious recipe that should be shared.

I stumbled upon the recipe on Twitter a few days ago while searching for something new to bake for the holidays. Ooey Gooey Bars have quickly become a favorite of mine, and I can’t wait to make another batch.

Ooey Gooey Bars

Cake mixture
1 package Duncan Hines Golden Butter cake mix
1 stick of butter, melted
1 egg

Mix together the above ingredients. Dough will be thick like cookie dough. Press into a 9 x 13 greased pan.

1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened
2 eggs
4 cups powdered sugar

Using a mixer, combine these three ingredients in a separate bowl and spread over the cake mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, or until topping is golden brown. Cool completely before cutting.

I found the bars to best be baked for just under 30 minutes, for a cheesecake-like consistency. For a bar that’s more like a cookie, bake a little longer. Also, for a less sugary flavor, use 3 to 3-1/2 cups of powdered sugar.

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Just Call Me Betty Crocker

Snow days make me think of food. Actually, scratch that. Any day makes me think of food. I consider myself a foodie, insomuch that I simply adore eating meals of all shapes and sizes any time of the day, any day of the week. I couldn’t tell you the countless varieties of tomatoes available at my neighborhood grocery store, or what clarified butter is exactly. But I recognize the pure joy such foods bring.

Being stuck inside during Omaha’s big blizzard of 2009 makes me think of food, and the delicious pumpkin bars I made for Thanksgiving this year. Those who know me well know I’m not a cook, but I’m getting there. Recently buoyed by the ability to master Hamburger Helper (I’m not joking) and corn casserole, I asked my aunt Diann for a relatively easy dessert recipe perfect for Thanksgiving.

What she provided is a dessert nothing short of heavenly, with a box of ready-made cake mix nowhere in site. This recipe, my friends, is prepared from scratch. I initially hesitated while scanning the ingredients included in the e-mail from my aunt. But I just told myself: “Think of the flour as a Betty Crocker cake mix. How hard can this be?”

I was rather nervous while adding the ingredients, mixing them together and (gasp!) preparing the homemade frosting the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving.

The end result, I’m outrageously thrilled to report, was delicious and gobbled up by everyone at Thanksgiving. So proud of my feat that I snapped a photo and immediately sent it to my sister, a culinary master whose training came as she peppered our mom and late grandmothers with questions in the kitchen as a young child while I read tattered copies of The Babysitters Club.

Pumpkin Bars
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon EACH baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 cup oil
1 can pumpkin (15 oz.)
4 eggs
1/3 cup chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 350.  Grease 15x10x1-inch baking pan.* Combine all ingredients except the walnuts; beat at low speed until moistened. Beat 2 minutes at medium speed. Pour into greased pan and bake 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely.
*Or 13x9x2-inch baking pan for 45 minutes.


2 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup softened butter or margarine
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine all ingredients and beat until smooth. Frost when cooled. Sprinkle the walnuts on top to garnish. Cut into bars. Store in fridge.

Got an easy recipe for me to try? Help me become better in the kitchen:

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OEA Awards Live Music Nominees Announced

Live music nominees for the 2010 Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards will perform at five Benson venues beginning at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13 for the 2009 Nominee Showcase.

The OEA Awards is an annual contest that celebrates the creativity and performances of local musicians, artists, directors, actors and other metro area performers.

The Waiting Room, The Sydney, PS Collective, Burke’s Pub and the Barley Street Tavern will host performances by OEA Awards live music nominees on the 13th. A $10 wristband will allow access to all five venues that night and can be purchased at the door of each venue.

About 4,000 individual nominations were received earlier this year for the 2010 OEA Awards. The top online vote-getter in each of the 40-plus subcategories received an automatic nomination. The four other nominees were determined by a juried panel in each of the areas. 

At the Nominee Showcase, more than 25 local bands and artists will perform to allow fans to sample as many music nominees as possible. Performers at the Nominee Showcase include Brad Hoshaw and The Seven Deadlies, who lead all live music nominees with five nominations, followed by It’s True with four nominations.

“We received so much positive feedback from the venues, musicians and music fans following the 2009 OEA Awards Summer Showcase, which was a huge success for the Omaha music scene and the OEA Awards,” said MarQ Manner, OEA Awards board member and Nominee Showcase organizer. “I’m excited for the Nominee Showcase, which will once again feature a diverse group of the area’s best musicians. The Nominee Showcase has welcomed some breakout performances in past years. I expect this year to be no different.”

Nominees in the categories of visual arts and performing arts will be announced later this month.

Visit the OEA Awards Web site for the Friday, Nov. 13 Nominee Showcase performance schedule and the complete list of 2010 OEA Awards live music nominees.

All winners will be announced at the 2010 OEA Awards.

Follow the OEA Awards on Twitter: @oeaawards; become a fan on Facebook.

About Omaha Entertainment Awards, Inc.
Omaha Entertainment Awards, Inc., seeks to enhance our community by planning and producing an annual awards event that uniquely recognizes the performing arts, visual arts and live music of the Omaha area. With all-star talent and red-carpet prestige, the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards is a memorable evening that thanks the artists who keep Omaha culture alive.

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Halloween 2009 Snapshots

Halloween this year seemed to creep up like it always does, leaving in its wake the holiday countdown through November and December. Matt and I celebrated at the Whiskey Tango in downtown Omaha, followed by stops at Downtown Blues and the art studio of Peter Lochren. The Halloween celebration lasted until the wee hours of Sunday morning, but the fun was worth it. And with an extra hour of sleep the next day, who can complain?

Me and Matt

Hunter S. Thompson

Lindi the Lady Jailbird


Click through the rest of my Halloween photos at Flickr.

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Costumes of Halloween Past

Me and Jill Grabowski
, originally uploaded by wendytownley.

Facebook is a nifty social media interface. With a few keyboard strokes and mouse clicks, nostalgia can take center stage.

The above photo landed in my inbox earlier this year from Jill Grabowski-Kersey. We were best friends through much of our time at Holy Ghost Catholic School, proven by this image taken on Halloween many, many moons ago.

Jill’s recent comment on this photo via Facebook says it all.

I was a baby and you were a majorette? My favorite is the tights. I am having a hard time thinking that you needed control top back then, or even now for that matter.

Happy Halloween!

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Write Now: My Secret Wish

My Secret Wish | By Jeffrey Koterba


This essay is an excerpt from Inklings, the first book by Jeffrey Koterba.


That night, my father taps lightly on my bedroom door. “Feeling better?” he asks.


I’m up on one elbow. A dull ache throbs in my jaw, but I want to appear brave.


“Would you like to hear a story?” His voice is low, mesmerizing.




My father’s bedtime visits are sporadic. Most of the time it’s my mother’s job to tuck me in. She reads me stories from Golden Books; other times she lies next to me, holding my hand until I fall asleep.


“How about ‘Puffy the Cloud’?” my father asks, reclining next to me.


“Puffy,” he always starts out, “is a little cloud in the sky. He floats down, down, down, and comes in through the side door of our house, through the kitchen, through the hallway, to this bedroom.


“Hi, Jeffrey!” My father’s voice now high-pitched, breathy. The voice of Puffy. “Climb aboard!”


Back in his narrator’s voice, my father tells me I climb aboard.


I shift under the covers as though I am climbing aboard. “Puffy’s body is fluffy and soft like a big pillow,” he continues. “Together, Jeffrey and Puffy float out of the bedroom, through the kitchen, through the hallway, out the side door, and into the night sky. They go up and up and up, and the night is clear.”


I allow my head to sink into the pillow, closing my eyes to the dim, cobwebbed ceiling.


“Look, Jeffrey,” says Puffy. “See down there? That’s your school.”


Although it’s a December night, I imagine the story takes place on a warm spring afternoon. Children skip and dance on the playground.


“They keep floating,” my father tells me, through the night sky. “Puffy is cozy.”


I’m struggling against sleep.


“And see that tiny house down there?” says Puffy. “That’s where your father grew up. And that big brown circle? That’s the baseball field at Brown Park.”


Puffy takes me on a flight high above the business district of South Omaha, above Seig Drugs, Hinky Dinky, and the Salvation Army, where we buy clothes. In my mind, I see squares and rectangles, building after building.


“Well,” says Puffy, “it’s time I got you home and into bed.”


Together, I am told, we return to our neighborhood, past the ravine, over our backyard and house, floating “down, down, down, through the side door, through the kitchen, through the hallway, into this bedroom,” where I “crawl back into bed.”


As my father stands, he asks if I’d like a “parachute.” Before I can answer, he grabs one end of my bed sheet, softly snapping it in the air, allowing it to unfurl into a rectangle. Slowly, he allows the sheet to float to the bed, to my body, covering me, my face.


About Jeffrey Koterba
Jeffrey Koterba is an acclaimed syndicated political cartoonist. He was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and during the summer of 1978 was struck by lightning and lived to tell about it. But even before that, he drew cartoons, creating his own newspaper at the age of seven. In 2010, Koterba will create a cartoon that will fly aboard one of NASA’s last planned space shuttle flights. He is also lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter for the Prairie Cats, a swing and jump-blues band he formed in 1998. His memoir,
Inklings, is a story of Tourette’s Syndrome, a complicated father, bad weather, jazz music, and cartooning. Inklings was published in 2009 with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.


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Learn more about the Write Now project and how you can submit works for publication.


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