Tracy’s Famous Squash Blossom Honey Cake

A Squash Blossom

A squash blossom.

So you want to write a book? Maybe you’ve already written one. If so, I’d love to trade notes!  If you are toying with the idea of writing your first book––be it a novel, cookbook, memoir, book of poetry or dummy guide–be prepared to have your cage rattled and buckshots pummelled across your backside; in short, be prepared to  bleed.

At least that’s been my experience with self-publishing. But I’ve put the past behind, now that I’ve been invited to join  a remarkable team.

So what does writing a book have to do with cake? The Promise Kitchen is well into the works, the Lake Union Publishing group transforming my first novel, “Simmer and Smoke”, into something, well, something that I’m extremely excited about. My  editor, part of an amazing creative team, alerted me that one vital ingredient is missing––a recipe for  Squash Blossom Honey Cake.

It’s the celebratory cake that one of my favorite characters, Tracy, created and that all of the cast enjoy during the tale’s finale.  I was requested to come up with one to conclude the book.

Of course it’s important to the story, so why didn’t I include the recipe in my original manuscript? Ummm…maybe it’s because that, unlike the other recipes included, I’ve never actually made a Squash Blossom Honey Cake. I’ve made decent enough honey cakes, but I’d imagined Tracy making the recipe, and I could never live up to Tracy’s high standards. As well, Squash Blossom Honey is another product of my insanity, er, imagination.

So I got to experimenting. There were several–ahem— missteps. Cornmeal is a wonderful textural component in rustic cakes, so with the first cake I used 50% corn meal and 50% flour. The result? Cornbread. Albeit, good, honey-sweet cornbread, but Tracy wants cake.  For the second batch, I reduced the corn meal and  the result was cake, but a dry cake. So olive oil and yogurt were added to cake three. Hmmm….close, very close, yet it was  missing a special something-something. (You’re probably stuffed  imagining eating all of this cake.)

Happily, the fourth cake was the charm–Tah-Dah! At last I have a cake of which Tracy would approve. The cornmeal does not overwhelm; the cake bursts with moist orangy, rich flavors; and the chopped pecans give it that special something-something that was lacking in my previous attempts.

IMG_2788Ingredient Notes: I did mention that Squash Blossom Honey is not available for purchase (as far as I know) on this planet, right? So, until I dedicate a portion of my backyard to squash blossoms and bee hives, I substituted another honey that is rich, sweet, yet not cloyingly so, and  is local to my area. I’m sure that using such a fine honey made a difference in the cake.

All honeys are not equal, so I would encourage you to use something local to your region that you enjoy. You will need about 1 1/2 pounds of honey for the cake and the glaze. For olive oils, I used a decent, reasonably flavorful extra virgin. I wouldn’t waste my money on one of the expensive Mazzaratti oils that one could purchase. I liked that my oil lended flavor and personality but didn’t overwhelm.

Baking Notes: I used the convection mode set at 325 degrees in my oven. The cake cooked to perfection in 58 minutes, and the fan didn’t blow the batter around. Note that convection modes have varying results that could influence baking times .


As always, I am happy to  answer questions about my experiences with anything relating to bringing your own book ideas to life.

Recipe: Tracy’s Famous Squash Blossom Honey Cake

Ingredients for Cake and Honey Glaze

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing pan
  • 3/4 cup plus 1/4 cup chopped pecans, Georgia pecans preferred
  • 1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose white flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest, finely chopped
  • 4 extra large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup honey, locally made if possible (Tracy uses Squash Blossom Honey), plus extra for glaze recipe below
  • 1/4 cup whole milk plain yogurt
  • Ingredient for Honey Glaze
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 large 4-inch strip orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
  • Optional Garnishes
  • Squash Blossoms (if using squash blossom honey)
  • Fresh berries
  • Whipped cream


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees (see recipe notes above) and adjust the rack to center of oven.
  2. Generously grease a 9-inch round cake pan with olive oil. Sprinkle 3/4 cup of the chopped pecans in the bottom of the pan, reserving 1/4 cup for the batter.
  3. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  4. In a large standing mixing bowl, mix together the 1/2 cup olive oil, orange zest, eggs, butter and honey until well combined. Mix in the reserved flour mixture, scraping the sides of the bowl to insure dry ingredients are well incorporated into the wet. Mix in the yogurt and remaining walnuts.
  5. Pour the batter over the walnuts in the prepared pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
  6. While cake is baking, make the honey glaze by combining honey, water and orange zest strip in a saucepan. Stir and simmer until reduced and slightly thickened, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Grand Marnier. Let cool slightly before glazing cake.
  7. Remove cake from oven and let cool in pan 15 minutes. Invert pan onto rack and cool an additional 15 minutes, and then place on a serving platter. Drizzle honey glaze over cake and garnish, if desired, before slicing and serving.

Prep time: 30 minutes

Bake time: 50-60 minutes

Cooling time: 30 minutes

Number of servings (yield): 12

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Farro Adds a Toothsome Bite to this Savory Salad

Off the grid of late, spending every available minute, and every ounce of inspiration, on a book synopsis that had to be submitted last week. My two protagonists (female 31-year old first cousins) are of Polish descent, and Eastern European food has been on my mind.

A handheld mandolin is my key to this salad's success.

A handheld mandolin is my key to this salad’s success.

This salad is my daughter’s recipe and was inspired by my mother-in-law’s Slavic kitchen–heavy on the cucumber and fresh dill. As recipes go, I added my own stamp––cooked farro and fennel, and for the past several months I’ve been making some variation of this weekly. In my book of rules, that’s the mark of a recipe worthy of sharing.

I love the addition of farro, the powerhouse grain, which adds a welcome earthiness and chew to the salad so that it can suffice as a main course.

The key to success is using a mandolin. One of my favorite kitchen tools, it is handy for slicing foods paper thin. Years ago I purchased an expensive large, stainless mandolin but it takes up too much valuable kitchen space. I put it in storage and never use it. Enter the $14.99 hand-held mandolin that is easy to store, clean and serves my purposes as well as the big boy.

(Note that I’m not, nor have I ever been, compensated for endorsing product I like. Just want to share my experiences if they are positive.)

If you’re not on a sodium-restricted diet, the salted cucumbers lend the balance and contribute to the flavor profile. I don’t skip this step and take a heavy hand with the shaker. Mix and match ingredients according to your whim. I often add avocado and when tomatoes are in season, will substitute them for the radishes.

Recipe: Tossed Salad with Farro, Cucumbers and Dill


  • 1/3 cup dry farro (you’ll need a cup or so of cooked farro for the recipe)
  • 1 English cucumber, thinly sliced on a mandolin (see above notes)
  • 1 large garlic clove, halved
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup fresh dill, roughly chopped (adding chopped fennel fronds, optional)
  • 8-10 packed cups washed and prepared salad greens
  • 1/2 of a medium-sized bulb fennel, cored and thinly sliced on a mandolin
  • 8 large radishes thinly sliced, mandolin optional


  1. Cook faro according to package directions and let cool.Place sliced cucumbers on a clean towel or paper towels. Season with kosher salt. Let moisture drain for 15 minutes.
  2. Rub salad bowl interior with one half of the clove of garlic. Mince the other half. Whisk minced garlic, oil, lemon juice and dill together in salad bowl. Stir in one cup (or more to taste) of the cooked farro into the dressing. Pat cucumbers dry and stir into the mixture. Season to taste with freshly ground pepper. (Note: if you like salads lightly dressed, remove some of the dressing and reserve for another salad or add additional salad greens to recipe.)
  3. Toss greens, fennel, and radishes into the vegetables and serve.

Active time: 30 minutes

Number of servings (yield): 4

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Key West Shrimp Chili Rellanos

IMG_1947Key West has two of the things I love most in life: eccentric characters and shellfish. We’ve been holed up for a few weeks at a VRBO (an excellent find, a rare tranquil spot close to Duvall) as I brainstorm characters for Potlikker, a novel set in today’s Detroit.

Lobster Tacos

Lobster Tacos

Even though we’re as far south from Detroit as one could be in the USA, there is no shortage of inspiration. And we’re eating well–the food is fantastic.

Whether spending ten bucks for fried lobster tacos or ceviche from a food cart, buying fresh-caught seafood from one of the excellent markets and cooking it

Snapper at Latitudes

Snapper at Latitudes

yourself, or splurging and taking a boat to Latitudes on Sunset Key for lunch or dinner–for this seafood junkie, the food doesn’t get much better. I’ve been patronizing various seafood markets in the area, broiling lobster tails, hammering stone crab claws (they’re in season now) and grilling grouper and snapper. All of the seasonings needed to make a fine meal are lemon or lime juice, salt, pepper, butter and garlic.

IMG_2455Yesterday I hit pay dirt; a tiny little stand where a fisherman brings the evening catch and his wife sells it the next morning –a solid 1/3 less cash than any place else I’ve discovered. (Duval and Catherine behind La te da.)

We’ve a small but adequate kitchen and the following recipe was easy to put together. I abbreviated several recipes, took advice from a fellow traveller, and carved together an excellent, yet reasonably simple recipe for Chili Rellanos inspired by the local shrimp.

Blue Heaven's Key Lime Pie

Blue Heaven’s Key Lime Pie

It’s said that everything is better with bacon. Maybe so, but any south-of-the-border dish that incorporates poblano peppers is always the best-of-the-best to me.

They’ve a unique flavor profile with just the right amount of heat.  Poblano peppers that have been broiled or blackened over an open flame are  ideal for stuffing with any number of food combinations. Finished off with key lime pie from Blue Heaven, slam dunk.

Corn kernels could be added to the mixture, as well as jalapeño or chipotle pepper, for additional heat. Delicious served with rice or heated tortillas.

Recipe: Chile Rellanos with Shrimp (an easy method)


  • 4 large poblano peppers, roasted and prepared*
  • 1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 small onion, diced (1 cup)
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 pound raw shrimp, peeled, deveined and cooked in preferred method**
  • 8 ounces queso fresco, cheddar or mozzarella cheese shredded
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 4 tablespoons washed and chopped fresh cilantro, divided


  1. Set oven rack 3-4 inches beneath broiler and preheat oven to broil.
  2. Heat the oil and the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onion and sauté until the onion is just softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomato sauce and cook 10 minutes, adding garlic in the last 3 minutes of cooking time. Remove from heat and let cool 10 minutes.
  3. Cut cooked shrimp into chunks and stir into sauce with half the cheese, lime juice and 2 tablespoons of the cilantro.
  4. Place roasted peppers, slit side up, on a lightly oiled, foil-lined baking sheet, stuff with shrimp mixture, and sprinkle remaining cheese over the top.
  5. Broil 1-3 minutes or until cheese is bubbly. Remove from oven, top with remaining cilantro and serve.

*Roasting Peppers: Place the peppers on top of an open flame (gas stoves work great for this). With tongs, turn frequently until they are charred, about 7-8 minutes. Place blackened peppers in a plastic or paper bag, and let rest until cool eough to handle, about 15 minutes. Remove skin (if some remains affixed, no worries.) cut a slit lengthwise into each pepper and remove seeds. Rinsing them out makes the task easier but some of the flavor is compromised. You may also roast peppers under a preheated broiler in your oven following the same procedure as above.

**Undercook shrimp slightly as they will be broiled later in the recipe.

Number of servings (yield): 2-4 Servings

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