Archive for January, 2012

Carrot Cake

January 9, 2012

I have a question to ask you.  Before I get to that, I know you probably have a question for me.  “Where did you get the stars on that cake?”  And because I appreciate you (did I mention that in my 2011 recap? I do so appreciate you), I will answer your question first.  I slipped those stars into a King Arthur Flour order that also included chocolate sprinkles and chocolate bars perfect for making petits pains au chocolat.  It looks like the stars were a seasonal thing but you can buy the chocolate here.  (And while you are on that site, I can’t recommend the silicon rolling mat highly enough.  Whenever I teach a class and use it, people always ask about it.  (I have no affiliation with King Arthur Flour, I just love them.)

On to my question.  Cake or frosting?  Yes, some people are both but in my experience, people identify with being one or the other.  I am cake all the way.  I remember being at birthday parties as a child and asking for a piece of the store-bought cake with the rose on it because that is what all the other kids did, tasting the rose, and then scraping all the frosting off so I could get to the (hopefully) chocolate cake underneath.  Cake girl, right here.  Frosting is too sweet, too buttery, just too much for me.

There are two exceptions.  One is this cake where the frosting is so delicious, so ridiculously decadent, that I love it even more than the cake.  (And I really love that moist chocolatey cake.)  The other exception is carrot cake.  I am, um, not a fan of carrot cake.  Just not for me.  I do like cream cheese frosting and so, in the case of carrot cake, I would scrape off the frosting and leave the cake.

Randy and I are different in many ways.  I do believe it’s one of the reasons our marriage works.  We have different strengths and weaknesses and we balance each other.  One of his weaknesses is that his favorite cake is, you guessed it, carrot cake.  (Kidding.  Of course.  Kind of.)  I’ve made him carrot cupcakes and inside out carrot cake cookies, but never in all the years we have been together have I made him carrot cake.  His birthday was on January 2nd and his parents, who gave me a cookbook with a lovely sounding carrot cake were in town, so it was time.

Most people who don’t like carrot cake don’t like the idea of a vegetable in a cake.  I don’t like it because, while I like nuts, raisins, pineapple, and coconut – I don’t like them in cake and I certainly don’t like them all together in one cake as some recipes would have you make.  The carrots are the least of my problems.  So when I found a cake that featured none of those extras, just a lot of spices and even a bit of whole wheat flour along with the carrots, I knew I had my recipe.  Of course, the frosting is great too.  I’m sorry I don’t have a photo of a slice of cake.  I was serving this to a large group and had to cut very thin slices and I happen to think a thin slice of cake, while delicious, is a little sad looking.  One more note, the children in the group were all clamoring for a second piece before they were half way done with their first – until they learned that it was, in fact, carrot cake – and then the table got very quiet.

One Year Ago:  Herbed and Spiced Goat Cheese Balls
Two Years Ago:  Petites Pissaladières
Three Years Ago:  Poblano and Cheddar Stuffed Portabello Mushrooms

Carrot Cake
Adapted from Cake Ladies
Makes 1 9-inch 3-layer cake

My one quibble with this cake is that the actual cakes were on the flat side.  I might one and a half the recipe for the batter next time so the cake it a little taller. 

For the cake:
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted better, at room temperature
1¾ cups sugar
¼ cup molasses
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups whole wheat flour
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 tbsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. nutmeg
1½ cups buttermilk, at room temperature
2 cups grated carrots
Zest of 1 lemon

For the icing:
2 packages (1 pound) cream cheese, softened
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
5 cups powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  Spray the bottom and sides of 3 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray.  Place the pans on a sheet of parchment paper and trace three circles the same size as the bottoms of the pans.  Cut out the circles and place in the bottom of the greased pans.

Make the Batter:
Cream the butter, sugar, and molasses together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy.  While beating the mixture on low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.

Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl, and beat again until the mixture is smooth, light and creamy.

Stir the flours, baking soda, salt, baking powder, and spices together into a separate bowl.

With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl sveral times.  Mix lightly but thoroughly between each addition, until ingredients are just combined.  Add the carrots and lemon zest, and stir by hand until combined.

Gently scrape the batter into the pans, dividing the batter  evenly between the three pans.  Place in the preheated oven, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and the sides of the cake have pulled away from the sides of the pan.  Allow the cakes to cool for 20 minutes, then run a thin knife around the edges of the cakes (a palette knife works best) to make sure they are not stuck to the pans.  Carefully remove the layers from the pans and settle on a wire rack to finish cooling.

Make the icing:
Cream the cream cheese and butter together in the bowl of a stand mixer on low speed.  Beat until the mixture is smooth and creamy and no lumps of butter remain.  Add and combine the vanilla.  Add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, blending on low speed until fully incorporated.  Using the rubber spatula, scrape down the paddle, sides , and bottom of the bowl.  Beat the mixture on medium speed until light and fluffy.

Assemble the cake:
When the layers are completely cool, invert the first layer onto a cake plate so that the parchment side is up.  Carefully peel off the parchment and throw it away.  Spread about 1 cup of the cream cheese icing on the top surface of the cake with an offset spatula, pushing the icing all the way to the edges.  Place the second layer on top of the first and repeat the process – removing the parchment paper and spreadting the icing.  Top with the third layer and apply a very thin coating of icing (a crumb coat) all over the cake.  Refrigerate for 1 hour.  Remove and finishing covering the cake with the icing.

Carrot Cake can be kept covered at room temperature for up to three days and can be refrigerated for up to one week.

Spinach Cheddar (and Egg!) Casserole

January 5, 2012

Eggs for one is easy.  You poach, scramble, fry, hard boil, soft boil, or make an omelet.  Whatever suits you.  Eggs for two is the same.  Even eggs for four, although the poaching might get a little tricky and you might feel like a buffet cook at a bad hotel with the omelets.  Eggs for eight really necessitates a frittata, a Mediterranean style one or a frittata made with grits, or perhaps onions that have been cooked long and slow.  But more than eight people means you need to start thinking egg casserole.

We attended a New Year’s Day brunch with a group of my favorite people.  Five couples with kids, all of whom had celebrated New Year’s Even in some way or another.  In other words, we needed plenty of eggs and the cheesy grits that our hosts make and make so very well.  I have made a savory bread pudding for this gathering before but with the grits and biscuits and muffins, I thought something without bread added it to it would be a better option.

Epicurious had plenty egg casseroles but most of them had giant huge tremendous amounts of cheese.  One notable recipe had 8 cups, that is two pounds, of cheese for four eggs.  I’m sorry.  That is a cheese casserole, not an egg casserole.

The one I eventually decided on is not exactly spa food but there are some vegetables and herbs and much of the cheese is actually cottage cheese.  Because we were a large group, I tripled this recipe and split it between two large dishes.  As it baked and I could smell the mingling of the scallions, cheese, and dill, I realized that I had made a very good choice and the taste proved me right.  We ate a full one and a half which was a lot of egg casserole.  I even sacrificed some of the stomach room I had reserved for cheesy grits and filled it with egg casserole.  The next time you are making eggs for a group, this is a surefire hit, but you can also enjoy it on a much smaller scale by making the recipe as written and not tripling it.

One more note.  I know some of you are new here so I thought I would put this out there.  I cook a lot of food and a large percentage of that food never sees this blog.  Sometimes it is because I just can’t get a decent photo (there is a gorgeous Beet Tart that I made four times in a month and just can’t seem to get my photography ducks in a row).  Sometimes it is because the food is not blog worthy.  In other words, I don’t put up every single thing I cook – only the things that I really like or think you would really like.  Occasionally, I will talk about something that didn’t work but I really do that to air out my frustration or to demonstrate that, although I have been cooking for almost 20 years and have made somewhat of a career out of it, I can make mistakes just as easily as a newbie.  All this to say, I’m not just telling you about egg casserole because it was something I made.  It’s good.

One Year Ago:  Tofu and Shiitake Noodle Soup
Two Years Ago:  Bruce and Dana’s Pasta Sauce

Spinach Cheddar Casserole
Adapted from Bon Appétit
Serves 4-6

4 eggs
¾ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. pepper
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed dry
1 16-ounce container cottage cheese
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 cup packed grated sharp cheddar cheese
¼ cup all purpose flour
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 8x8x2-inch glass baking dish. Beat eggs, salt and pepper to blend in large bowl. Mix in spinach. Add remaining ingredients and stir until well blended. Transfer mixture to prepared dish.

Bake casserole until center is firm and top is golden, about 45 minutes.  Give the dish a shake, the center should not wobble.  Allow to cool 10 minutes, then serve.  This dish can sit and be served at room temperature.

Roasted Banana Muffins

January 3, 2012

How do you feel about bananas?  I am ambivalent about them.  They are neither my favorite fruit (nectarines) nor my least favorite (papayas).  They fall somewhere toward the bottom third of my fruit list.  I don’t hate them but I don’t seek them out either.  My children, on the other hand, love bananas.  Spencer especially.  And so I buy a lot of bananas and always think to myself that I can bake banana bread if they start to go bad.  But then, no matter how many I buy, my guys eat them and so no banana bread is made.  And then I realize that all is well in the banana world because I don’t really like banana bread anyway.  Now really, was that the most fascinating paragraph you have ever read?

Recently I found myself with a few bananas and a recipe that sounded surprisingly interesting to me.  Roasted Banana Muffins.  You take 2 bananas, drizzle them with brown sugar, vanilla, and rum, wrap them up in foil, and roast them for about 20 minutes.  What you get is soft bananas swimming in an incredibly fragrant bath and you know just by smelling them that these muffins won’t taste like that old tired banana bread you make to use up old bananas.  (For the record, “banana” is a really fun word to type.)

This recipe comes from a cookbook with the unfortunate name of Cake Boy.  It is a book that I would have undoubtedly passed by if the charming French author hadn’t made a stop at Book Larder.  I didn’t get to meet him, although I hear he smelled like expensive cologne and was extremely handsome, and those facts made me take a second look at his book.  An extremely decadent cream cheese brownie and a blueberry muffin that you fill and top with a blueberry compote were enough to make me buy it.  (Note: I can’t wait for blueberry season.)  Cake Boy lived up to his promise for big flavor with these muffins – my family inhaled them.

And how about those plates!  I don’t have any sisters, but I am fortunate enough to have three wonderful sisters-in-law.  Two of them, Randy’s sisters (hi Susie!  hi Lois!), conspired to send me these beautiful plates from Cat’s Paw Pottery as a holiday gift.  Don’t you love them?  I hope so because you will be seeing a lot of them…

One Year Ago:  Linzer Tart
Two Years Ago:  Orecchiette with Fennel, Beets, and Toasted Almonds

Roasted Banana Muffins
Adapted from Cake Boy
Makes 12 muffins

This recipe calls for self-rising flour – an ingredient used frequently in Europe but not as much in the States.  You can easily make your own by adding ½ tsp. of salt and 1½ tsp. of baking powder to each cup of flour.  Because this recipe calls for 2¼ cups self-rising flour, I just made 2 cups of the self-rising flour and then added another ¼ cup of all-purpose flour.  I thought with the additional baking powder already in the recipe that these muffins might balloon out of control but they did not.

I always buy superfine sugar (C&H makes it and you can find it on the baking aisle) but if you only have regular, you can grind it in a food processor.  Or, I imagine, you can just use it as is.  Report back if you do.

2 large ripe bananas
¼ cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. dark rum
6 tbsp. (¾ of a stick) unsalted butter
½ cup milk (I used 2%)
2¼ cups self-rising flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
½ cup superfine sugar
2 eggs
Dried banana chips (for topping)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.

First, roast the bananas.  Peel them, then place them on a large sheet of foil on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle them with the dark sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and rum.  Wrap in a loose but secure package and cook in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes.  Allow to cool.

Melt the butter and allow to cool.  In a bowl, mash the roasted bananas well.  With a fork, beat the eggs, melted butter, and milk in a second bowl.  Add the mashed bananas and stir through.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and superfine sugar into a large bowl.  Make a well in the center and add the egg and banana mixture, stirring roughly with a fork (don’t overmix) until it is a lumpy paste.

Spoon the mixture into the paper cups to the rims (I use a large ice cream scoop for this).  Top each one with some banana chips.  Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes.  Rest the muffins on a wire rack too cool down.


A 2011 Recipe Recap

January 1, 2012

It’s that time again.  Time for food bloggers to do their year-end wrap up posts.  Do you hate these?  Like these?  I’m on the fence.  With some blogs I read, I like being reminded of old posts and triumphs and with some, I just want to see new stuff.  (And if you haven’t read Cheryl’s version yet, you must.)  I’m feeling like it’s the right thing to do, so onward we go.    My favorite things of last year by month.  (Drum roll please…)

January – I make a lot of cookies, I make a lot of chocolate things, but these Deluxe Double Chocolate Cookies were one of my favorites from 2011.  I also like this post because I talk about Randy’s job change which has been a wonderful thing for our family.  Oh.  And I mention that I would be sending him in to the office with a weekly treat.  Um.  I promise I’ll be better about that in 2012!

February – Every year I make several incarnations of this type of noodle soup and this Somen Noodle Soup with Spring Vegetables and Baked Tofu was a nice version.

March – I really got into making pizza in 2011 and experimenting with all different toppings.  I loved this Pizza with Sun-Dried Tomato Onion Jam and Broccoli Rabe both because it tasted amazing and it also helped me use something in a new way.

April – Have you been to my house in the past year?  Or have you been to a party that I have catered?  Because if you have, there is about a 50% chance that you have had this Brown Sugar Pound Cake.  I’m made it more than anything else this year.  I have two sitting in my freezer, just in case of cake emergency.  Easy, amazing, make it.

May – I might not have chosen this bread as my May option, except that I just made it again a week ago and damn! that No-Knead Olive Bread is good.  If you need to justify buying Kalamata olives at Costco, a couple of loaves will use up that whole jar.

In June, I took a gnocchi making class from a celebrated Seattle chef and learned more in two hours than I thought possible.  And ate more than I thought possible.  I finally feel comfortable making these little guys and shared a recipe for Gnocchi with Morel Mushrooms and Spring Peas.

July had me making some of the best food of my year, so top post was a little difficult to choose.  I had to go with this Lemony Chickpea and Oven-Dried Tomato Stew.  Now I know why I do these recaps – I had completely forgotten about this dish and now I need to make it asap.

August – This Tomato and Corn Pie was something I saw in the dead of last winter and couldn’t wait to try once corn season hit.  It was more than worth the wait.  I made it many times because I taught it in a class and I loved eating it each time.  It also is very easy to make, even if you are pie challenged.  Wait, when does summer come around again?

SeptemberChocolate Dipped Ice Cream Sandwiches.  There is nothing left to say.

October – I’m a sucker for chocolate cake and this Old-Fashioned Chocolate Layer Cake is perfect for birthdays, celebrations, and, you know, Wednesdays.  If you are looking for a classic, this one is perfect.

November – I made many savory tarts in 2011.  This version, Stilton Tart with Cranberry Chutney got extra points for being versatile (appetizer or meal size portions), tasty, pretty, and holiday-like.  It is something I know I will make every holiday season for years to come.

December – I feel like I need to end on a healthy note with Red Lentil Soup with Lime.  It is rare that I repeat a recipe at all, let alone twice in a week.  And really the only time I do that is so that I can get a photo the second time if I miss it the first.  But in this case, I just really wanted to eat more of this soup.  If your plan is to eat healthier in 2012, this is a good place to start.

Happy New Year to all of you!

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