Dear Barbara: I’m having friends over for dinner next week and I have a great cake recipe given to me by a neighbor.
I happen to know that my dinner guests really dislike frosting. What else can I do to ‘decorate’ the cake so that it doesn’t look so plain? — Sara from Lodi
Dear Sara: There are a lot of things you can do to a cake besides using frosting. The first thing that comes to mind is to bake the cake in a decorative bundt pan. Make a simple syrup of equal parts sugar and water. Simmer the mixture, stirring constantly, until all the sugar is dissolved. Let it cool to room temperature and add a little (or a lot) of rum to the syrup. Using a pastry brush, generously brush the cake with the syrup, being careful not to use so much that the cake gets soggy. Sprinkle with a little bit of sparkling white decorating sugar.
If you would like more of a design, lay a paper doily on top of a single layer cake and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Carefully remove the doily and you will have a lovely pattern on the top.
Cake stores usually sell candied flowers that can be used for decorating cakes and cookies.
You can serve your cake slices by putting a nice mixture of berries over the top and a dollop of whipped cream on the side. A scoop of ice cream always makes a slice of cake taste special.
However you decide to serve the cake, if there is no frosting, I’m sure your friends will thank you for remembering.
Dear Barbara: I spent all afternoon yesterday making strawberry jelly, and it didn’t set up. I know I followed the instructions correctly. I have gone over and over the directions and I left nothing out. What should I do? I don’t want to throw it out, but I don’t know what to use it for. — Pat from Lodi
Dear Pat: I haven’t canned anything in years, so I had to have a little help on this one.
According to “Food Facts” by Dr. Myles H. Bader, if you have any problems with fruit jelly not setting up, place the jars in a shallow pan half-filled with cold water, then bake in a moderate oven for 30 minutes. This should help the jelly set up.
Dear Barbara: I know that some fruits will not ripen once they are picked. I have a terrible time picking out a good cantaloupe. My last one was hard and had no flavor. What should I look for? — Melinda from Lodi
Dear Melinda: You are definitely not alone. Pick the melon up and smell the stem end. It should have the sweet aroma of a melon. You also want to see a nice yellow ‘mesh’ on the cantaloupe with little or no green. If you don’t have a lot of choices, pick the one closest to looking ripe. Take it home and place it on the counter. It will ripen. When it is ripe, put it in the refrigerator so it won’t over-ripen. Whole melons will last about a week if kept cold. Cut melons should be eaten within a few days.
Barbara Spitzer is a Lodi home cook who also develops recipes for specific consumer products. Do you have a cooking question? Send it to Barbara Spitzer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first name and city.