Friday, July 27, 2012

Coconut-Topped Chocolate Cake

This cake is one I discovered as a teen and requested as a birthday cake on several occasions. I found the recipe for this coconut topping in a recipe book of my mom’s and paired it with chocolate cake for a fantastic and unusual dessert. The coconut topping is toasted right on top of the cake and gets a little bit crunchy and caramelized. It's super delicious. This is also a very easy recipe that takes less time to prepare than a typical cake because you don’t have to wait for the cake to cool.
For coconut lovers out there, you may also like my recipes for coconut cake, 2-layer coconut cake, coconut macaroons, coconut custard pie, and coconut pecan pie.

For the cake, simply mix and bake any chocolate cake mix in a 9 x 13 pan according to package instructions. I used a chocolate fudge cake here, but I have also used devil’s food, German chocolate, and milk chocolate cake mixes in the past. Use whatever chocolate cake you like best.



While the cake is baking, make the topping:

1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup honey
3 cups shredded flaked coconut 

Mix the butter and honey until smooth. 



Stir in the coconut. 



As soon as the cake is done, remove it from the oven and spread the coconut topping on the top of the cake. The coconut makes the topping hard to spread so it usually works best to add it in spoonfuls and then spread it outward very carefully. The topping will make a fairly thin layer on the cake. 



Turn the oven on low broil and place the cake in the oven for just 3-5 minutes or until the coconut becomes toasted and brown on top. You may need to turn the cake during this process to ensure that the coconut browns evenly. This cake is best served warm (with a little vanilla ice cream), but it's good however you eat it. Enjoy!




Linked up with NOBH and WLWW.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Biblical Dating: Intentional

So far, I’ve talked about how Biblical dating is Christ-centered and pure. This week, I’ll discuss how dating should be intentional. 

First of all, our number one intention in dating (as in everything else) should be to please God. I’m sure you could figure that one out with no help. But the question that many people are asking is how to please God in a dating relationship. After all, the Bible doesn’t exactly mention dating. So how do we implement Christian principles within a dating relationship? 

There are several intentions that a person should have as they approach a dating relationship, but the main intention, the main purpose of dating, is to find a godly spouse. For believers, dating should be for the purpose of determining whether or not two people will make a good Christian married couple. Dating for recreation, just “having fun,” is wrong for a number of reasons. 

First of all, when you engage in a romantic relationship, you are making some implicit promises. You are saying with your actions that you want to get to know someone in a romantic way. Romance inherently creates an emotional bond between people – a bond that should be leading toward commitment in marriage. To toy with someone’s emotions by engaging in a romantic relationship with no intention of committing is to defraud them. It is promising something with your actions that you don’t plan to follow through with.

Secondly, dating without a plan to move towards marriage is using the other person to meet your emotional needs (even without physical involvement). We are to love one another and to treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, not use each other. When you approach dating as simply a way to make yourself feel good or to “have a good time,” you end up seeing the other person as an object to fulfill your desires rather than the unique child of God that they are.  

Not only does recreational dating objectify another person, but it often leads to wrong patterns of thinking that will negatively impact a future marriage relationship. A person who engages in recreational dating often sees relationships as being fundamentally about making them happy. However, no earthly relationship will ever fully satisfy us. We were created to long for a relationship with God. No romantic relationship – not even a good marriage – can satisfy every one of our needs. The thing is, God did not design marriage to make us happy (although it often does), but to make us holy. A marriage relationship is fundamentally about giving of yourself for the other person. As in the rest of the Christian walk, we have to die to self. That goes against our nature anyway, but recreational dating just reinforces our natural selfish tendencies and makes it even harder to learn the kind of self-sacrifice that is necessary to build a good marriage. 

So, if dating should be focused on finding a spouse and should not involve using another person, how does one go about it? The best way to both determine whether someone is a good marriage partner and to avoid hurting and using them is to maintain clarity in the relationship. That means clearly communicating your intentions from the beginning. When a man asks a woman for a date, he should be clear that it is in fact a date. When a man simply asks a woman to “hang out” with him or says they’re just friends, but wants to spend time alone with her, he’s giving mixed signals. Similarly, if a woman allows a man to spend time alone with her without clarifying the situation, he may think he’s dating her while she thinks they’re just friends. In either case, one or both of them may be unnecessarily hurt when the relationship lacks clarity.

Not only is it important to be clear that a dating relationship exists, but it is important to maintain clarity about the depth and direction of the relationship as it progresses. In a worst case scenario, a person may either date for years and years with no direction or else end up marrying someone they really don’t know well enough. To avoid both of these pathologies, it is important to keep the focus on determining compatibility for marriage. That means prioritizing your time and efforts at getting to know one another. A dating couple should be learning the most important things about each other first, followed by things that are useful, but less important, and finally growing in emotional intimacy as they learn more deeply personal things about each other. It is a process that should not be short-circuited by getting the steps out of order. Emotional intimacy should not begin until both people are satisfied that they are at least roughly compatible (meaning that there are no major incompatibilities) and much of it should be reserved for the engagement period and then continued into marriage as they grow closer and closer to one another.

Another thing to consider is that breaking off a dating relationship shouldn’t be considered a failure. It just means that the two people are not compatible. That’s useful information to know. In fact, finding that out was the whole purpose of the relationship in the first place. If the goal is marriage, then figuring out that a person is not right for you should free you to end the relationship and look for someone who is a good fit. If a dating couple has refrained from premature emotional intimacy, ending the relationship should not be a devastating blow. Granted, that’s difficult in practice because we are human and we find it easy to bond emotionally when in a dating relationship. Just the thought that a person is interested in us and that a marriage may be in on the horizon is enough to get our hearts involved in many cases (especially for women). But measures can be taken to help avoid premature bonding and the angst that often arises when a breakup occurs. 

So, how can clarity be achieved and maintained in a dating relationship? Here are some practical tips to help clarify intentions and keep the proper focus: 

·       For men, when asking a woman out, be sure she understands you mean an actual date (not hanging out as friends). Step up and pay for it too. That tells a woman a lot. How she handles having you pay will also tell you a lot about her.

·       For women, if a man asks you to spend time with him and you’re unsure if it’s a date, ask for clarification. It may seem a little awkward to ask him that, but it’s way less awkward to ask now than to ask later if the last 6 months of hanging out means he is dating you.

·       Before entering a dating relationship, have a list (either mental or more concrete) of issues that are important to determine up front about any romantic interest. These things are the non-negotiable issues that you must find in a marriage partner. Then, when beginning a new relationship, have a plan to find out how the other person stands on those issues. Be overtly inquisitive. You need to know that the two of you are compatible on these issues before moving forward into emotional intimacy. Of course, you should be sure that these issues are actually important. Blonde hair, a good singing voice, or 6-pack abs are preferences, not vital issues of compatibility. Include on your list the values and goals that are very important to you since not sharing these vital aspects of your values with your marriage partner will probably lead to strain and marriage problems. The most important of these non-negotiables is that the two of you must share a common faith. As mentioned earlier, you can’t have a Biblical dating relationship unless you are both Christians. However, even within the Christian faith there may be doctrinal stances that are important to agree on as well. Differences on these issues may be deal breakers for some and not for others. You need to decide how important these issues are to you. Other major things to consider are major goals in life, political viewpoints, and your ideas on having and raising children. For a longer listing of potential topics to discuss, see my post on Items to Discuss Before Engagement.

·       By the end of the first couple of dates, you should have made it clear to each other whether you are planning to continue the relationship into something more formal that is headed towards marriage or whether you are not going to continue the dating relationship. Those are the two possibilities. This discussion may occur even before the first date if you already know each other, but should not be put off for long in any case.

·       As the relationship progresses, there should be frequent clarification of how it is progressing as well. Are you having doubts about your compatibility? Talk about it. Are you thinking that you make a good team? Talk about it. Not only does this foster clarity in the relationship, but it helps you learn patterns of good communication that will help in a future marriage (whether to your current boyfriend/girlfriend or someone else). This doesn’t have to always be a set time to have a DTR talk. You can just work comments into the conversation periodically. But you should both have an understanding that if either of you lacks clarification on how the relationship is proceeding, they should ask for it and receive an answer.

·       Be on the lookout for red flags. The time to put on rose-colored glasses is after the wedding. Before you say “I do,” you need to see the other person clearly in order to make a good evaluation of your compatibility. Watch for signs that the other person is using you, lying to you, or being very selective with what they share with you. You need to know the real person, not a sparkling fa├žade.

·       With that in mind…Be yourself. Be real. Putting on a show is counterproductive if the purpose is to find a lifelong marriage partner. You can’t keep it up forever so they will eventually find you out. Better now than after getting too emotionally attached (or, worse yet, after the wedding). The other person needs to know the real you now so that they can determine if you are right together. If they don’t like the real you, they aren’t the right one for you.

·       If the time comes to end the relationship, do it promptly. Don’t drag a relationship on with the futile hope that the other person will magically change to become the person of your dreams. That’s unfair to them and to yourself. Once you have determined that someone is not a compatible match for you, end the relationship gently, but firmly. Realize that they may have had some feelings for you and understand that they may be hurt. However, continuing the relationship would only lead to more hurt as they become even more attached in the meantime. You do perhaps owe the other person some details as to why you ended the relationship, but don’t make a list of their “failures” – simply point out where you are not compatible. Above all, do not leave open the possibility of resuming the relationship in the future. Leaving them hanging like that, wondering if you’ll come back, will only lead to misunderstanding and grief. Let them get over you and move on.

What do you think? Are there any other ways you can achieve or maintain clarity in a dating relationship? What successes have you had at keeping a relationship intentional? Or, if you’ve failed to be intentional in the past, what might you do differently in the future?


Linked up with  NOBH, WLWW, WFMW, To Love Honor and Vacuum, and The Alabaster Jar.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

2-Layer Coconut Cake

Here's my coconut cake recipe, but with instructions to make it a 2-layer cake instead of a 13x9 sheet cake. You can see the original recipe here. I made this for a family reunion this last weekend and it was popular.

Cake:

1 box white cake mix (without pudding in the mix)
1 3.5 oz package coconut cream pudding mix
3 eggs
1-1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut

In a large bowl, stir together cake mix and pudding mix. Add eggs, milk, coconut extract, and butter. Blend thoroughly for 3-5 minutes to give the pudding time to develop. Gently stir in flaked coconut. (I usually chop the coconut in a food processor before adding it to the cake batter so that the long strands don't make the cake hard to cut.)

Pour the batter into two 9-inch cake pans. Bake at 350
for 25-30 minutes or until lightly brown on top and done in the center. Cool the cakes completely before frosting.

Frosting:


2 cans white (not vanilla) creamy frosting (not whipped)
2 teaspoons coconut extract
3 cups sweetened flaked coconut (chopped, if preferred)

Stir together frosting and coconut extract until thoroughly mixed. Stir in flaked coconut. Note: This is double the frosting of the original recipe.

If the cake layers are really uneven on top, use a serrated knife to cut off the top and level the cake. If the cakes are just slightly domed, you won't need to do this since the frosting between the layers will help even things out.

Place a dollop of frosting in the center of a cake stand (or large plate or whatever you want the cake to be on). Place one of the cake layers right side up and centered on the cake stand, on top of the frosting. The frosting will hold it in place so that it won't slide while you frost it or when you transport it.

Make sure the frosting is easily spreadable, but not too thin - which usually means room temperature. Also, make sure the cakes are completely cool. Frost the top of the cake layer using a dinner knife or spatula that has been dipped in warm water. Add frosting in large spoonfuls on top of the cake and then spread outward. Be careful not to get crumbs in the frosting as you spread (which is especially tricky if you cut the top off the cake, so only do that if you really need to).

Once the first layer is frosted on top, place the second layer on it upside down. You want the smooth surface and sharp edges from the bottom of the cake pan to be on top so it will look nice. Press lightly on the top layer to get the cake to stick to the frosting underneath and to even it up. You want the top to be as level as possible before you start frosting.

Frost the top of the second layer as you did the first. Then, frost the sides, taking care to seal up the top and bottom edges of the cake with frosting. Don't try to make it perfect right away. Concentrate on first getting all the cake covered (with no crumbs in the frosting) and then you can smooth it out later. The good thing about this frosting is that it has coconut pieces in it so nobody expects it to look perfectly smooth.

Ta da. It's done. Enjoy!