Q. There's a wonderful restaurant on Captiva Island in Florida called the Bubble Room. They serve the biggest and best slice of Red Velvet Cake I've ever eaten, and I really, really want the recipe. Josie Richards, Lancaster, Pa.
A. If you can live without snooze buttons, fax machines and cell phones, Sanibel and Captiva, twin islands jutting out into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, may be the unique travel destination you crave. White, powdery beaches, azure water that seems to stretch forever, colorful seashells and rare birds are trademarks of these "Out Islands" of Florida.
Scouring the shores of southwest Florida, where profusions of shells are cast up during strong northwestern winter winds, is a favorite pastime of locals and visitors to the area. Come summer, offshore currents take away many of the shells, but by then, avid collectors have already gleaned the ocean's treasures while doing the "Sanibel Stoop."
If time permits, spend one incredible day on an out-islands charter. The remote islands offer fantastic opportunities for shelling, fishing and photography, and glimpsing the manatees - hippolike mammals with big noses and bristly, whiskered lips that roam and graze on the sea grass in the waters around the islands. The intimidating size of the sea cows, some weighing as much as one ton, belies their gentle friendliness.
After sightseeing and shell-collecting, stop into Captiva's Bubble Room Restaurant for a unique, outrageous and award-winning island experience. The Bubble Room is garish, funky and fun, and diners love noshing where Christmas, nostalgia and Hollywood are all rolled into one dining adventure. Award-winning cuisine is served amid memorabilia from the 1930s and 1940s, antique and animated mechanical toys, Christmas displays, toy trains and twinkling color lights. Zany "Bubble Scout" servers are noted for dishing up huge portions and sumptuous desserts such as the belt-busting, multilayer extravaganza, Red Velvet Cake.
RED VELVET CAKE
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup red food coloring
1 teaspoon white vinegar
2 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
2 large eggs
10 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
1 16-ounce box confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, combine buttermilk, oil, vanilla, red food coloring and white vinegar. Whisk to combine and set aside. In large bowl of mixer combine flour, baking soda, sug-ar and cocoa powder. Grad-ual-ly add buttermilk mixture, while beating at low speed and scraping sides and bottom of bowl. Add eggs and beat until smooth. Spray three 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick coating. Pour batter, dividing equally, into the three pans. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
In small bowl of mixer, combine cream cheese and butter. Beat at low speed until well combined. Add sugar and beat until smooth.
Place first cake layer on cake plate. Frost and sprinkle with 1/2 cup pecans. Top with second layer and frost. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup pecans. Top with third layer. Frost top and sides with remaining frosting. Sprinkle with remaining pecans. Makes one three-layer cake.