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Tar Heel Margarita

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As a North Carolinian outside the south, the question I get asked most often (besides “what is a grit?”) is “what is a tar heel?”  For clarification, a the phrase “tarheel” has  a lot of mystery surrounding it.  Some say that it was originated by Robert E. Lee himself. The story goes that North Carolina troops during the civil war were upset with those (damn) Virginians for deserting them in an important fight.  Later, the Virginians asked, mockingly, whether there was any tar left in the Old North State (the eastern part of the state is pretty tar heavy), and the good old boys replied “no, we’re planning on using it on your feet to make you stick better in the next fight.”  General Lee, hearing of this, declared “God Bless them Tar Heel boys.”  And the nickname stuck.

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A favorite diddy in North Carolina is “I’m a Tar Heel born, I’m a Tar Heel bred, and when I die I’ll be a Tar Heel dead.”  This is the fight song for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels.  You may have noticed that tomorrow they’ll be playing in the championship game of the NCAA tournament.  Like the diddy says, I am a Tar Heel born (though I was unfortunately born at Duke Hospital- consequence of living in Durham), and a Tar Heel bred.  Cheering for Carolina basketball is something ingrained in my DNA.  My father’s father, Ken, played on the 1957 Championship team, and later coached with Dean Smith.  I grew up in a world where two things were always true- we loved Carolina and hated Duke.

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As far as hating Duke is concerned, it’s more of a reflex at this point than anything else.  Some people don’t understand that on the Tobacco Trail, nothing is more important than your basketball allegiance.  There’s a really funny David Sedaris story about how his speech teacher got him to reveal his speaking impediment by asking him who he rooted for.  He made the mistake of admitting that he was a State fan.  I remember one day, during high school, I wore my Carolina sweater to school the day after Duke had pummeled Carolina (the Dougherty years were sad ones).  I am not a fairweather fan, so I wore my sweater to show my pure love for that team.  My TEACHER made a snarky remark to me about it.  I could never take her class seriously again.

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Tar Heel Margaritas
Source: Cocktail Times

2 ounces tequila

1 ounce triple sec

1 ounce blue curacao (pronounced cure-a-saow)

1 ounce lime juice

1 tbsp sugar, for rim

Wet the rim of your glass and dip in sugar.  In another glass, mix alcohol with ice, serve.

Makes one drink.

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Cherry Blossom Danishes

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My mother says what she missed most when we lived in southern Florida was the lack of changing seasons.  I remember one winter she turned the air conditioning in our house way down so that she could light a fire.  It seemed nonsensical, but as an adult I can understand her nostalgia for the transition of seasons.  Why our house in Palm City had a fireplace is a completely different issue.

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Nothing gives my cold, wintered heart more hope than the trees erupting in blooms.  And living in D.C. intensifies the experience because one trip down to the tidal basin and you feel like you’re walking on sunshine.  There’s nothing like millions of little flowers budding on every surface to reassure you that winter is finally over.

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I know that it’s not cherry season yet.  I know that I’ll have to wait until June to get good fresh cherries.  But the idea of making flower shaped cherry danishes during the Cherry Blossom Festival was irresistible.  I used cherry pie filling, but I promise that I’ll make them again with fresh cherries this summer.

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I was also on the fence about whether or not to make these cheese danishes.  I don’t particularly like cheese danishes, but I read through a few recipes that incorporated cream cheese.  So I made half of them with cream cheese and half with just cherries.  The cream cheese is good, it adds a gooeyness to the overall texture of the danish, so I would call it a success.

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I made these totally from scratch, but I suppose if you wanted to Sandra Lee it you could cut shapes out of puff pastry or crescent rolls.  I always feel like things just taste better when they’re made from scratch.  Which is why, I promise, I’ll remake this recipe with a homemade fresh cherry filling as soon as cherries have graced us with their presence.  The dough recipe is nice, though it was a little more biscuit like than a flaky danish.  This was my first go round at danishes, so I’ll keep experimenting.

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Cherry Blossom Danishes

1 tbsp dry yeast

1/3 cup warm water

3/4 cup warm milk

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/4 cup butter

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 cups all purpose flour

1 can cherry pie filling

Cream cheese

1 egg, for brushing

Dissolve yeast into water.  Add milk, eggs, sugar, butter, and extract.  Add half the flour.  Beat until smooth.  Add remaining flour and knead 3-5 minutes.  Form into a ball.

Place the dough ball in a greased bowl, turning once so it’s greased on all sides.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot.  It will need to double in size, which takes about an hour.

Use your hands to punch down the dough.  Let it rest for ten minutes.  Place on a lightly floured surface.  Roll it out and use your cookie cutters to cut out your shapes.  I used a set of flower shaped cookie cutters.  I used the largest of the set to make the bottom and then a smaller one to make the top.  One thing that I didn’t do but I recommend, is that you make a nice size well with your finger in the bottom layer to put the cherry and cheese.  Once your bottom is cut out, brush it with egg (that you’ve whisked).  Then, use the bottom of a spoon to schmear some cream cheese, and top that with cherry filling.  Then place the smaller flower on top, and brush that with egg.  Repeat until you’re out of dough.

Let the formed danishes sit for half an hour, and then bake them at 375 for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

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Angel Food Cake with Strawberry Sauce

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One of my favorite desserts since childhood has been angel food cake.  When I was a kid my mother would serve it to us shaped like a bowl with fresh strawberries and whipped cream.  I’ll admit I also love it smothered in strawberry sauce.  It’s just so light and fluffy and the barely sweet cake mixed with the sweet strawberries is such a heavenly combination.  No wonder they call it angel food cake.

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For her third birthday Marin got a selection of silicon baking pans in different novelty shapes.  So, to break them in, we made angel food cake.  I also made a larger one in a small bundt pan.  To top it off, we made our own strawberry sauce, which was so yummy.  The only hard part about making this recipe with kids is that there is a big cooling off process, especially for the sauce, which needs at least an hour in the fridge to really become syrupy.  The cakes also need to cool in the pan for about an hour before they’re solid enough for you to get them out of the bakeware.

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The recipe is surprisingly easy to make.  Angel food cake is made up primarily of egg whites and sugar, which is why it’s so spongey and light.  It’s a lot of whipping, and if you aren’t trying to impress a three year old with a hand mixer you can do it all in a stand mixer pretty quickly.  You do have to move quickly though, because you want to get the batter in the oven while it is still stiff, otherwise it gets gooey, which is not the texture you want.

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The strawberry sauce is also a breeze to make.  If you’ve ever made simple syrup, that is your starting point.  Though, because strawberries are naturally sweet I make the sauce using two parts water and one part sugar, then I add in some strawberry jam later to thicken it.  Don’t worry if it doesn’t seem thick enough as you’re making it, cooling it down will really add thickness.  If the little one you’re cooking with doesn’t like strawberries (or you don’t), angel food cake is also delicious with hot chocolate sauce drizzled over it.  Yet another alternative is to drizzle melted honey over your chopped strawberries.  This will make a very thick syrup, but it’s all natural and totally delicious.

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Angel Food Cake with Strawberry Sauce

For Cake:

1 cup cake flour

1 1/2 cup super fine sugar

12 egg whites

1 tsp cream of tartar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp almond extract (or vanilla or orange)

Sift together the flour, salt, and half the sugar.  If you were unable to find superfine sugar at the grocery store, it’s no big deal.  Just spin it in the food processor first.  Set this mixture aside.

Crack your twelve eggs and discard (or save for something else) the egg yolks, keeping the whites.  Use a hand whisk to incorporate your cream of tartar and your extract.  Whisk with your hand for a minute or two, then switch to the electric mixer with the whisk attachment.  Beat for about five minutes, or until the eggs have gotten really foamy and pretty stiff.

Add in the other half of the sugar just a little at a time.  Remember, you want this mixture to be really stiff, so keep beating until all the sugar is incorporated and it can hold a nice peak.  Then, using a rubber spatula, slowly add the flour mixture in.

When the flour is completely incorporated, pour (gently) into a bundt pan.  Bake at 350 for 35 minutes.

Let cool one hour in the pan before you serve it.

For Sauce:

1 box strawberries

1/2 cup sugar

Dice strawberries. With a fork or potato masher, mash the strawberries.  Stir in sugar.

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