Archive for May, 2010

Giant Chocolate Cake

May 20, 2010

I’m not sure how this happened, but the last “treat” I posted was 2 weeks ago.  There have been lots of savory things in May but not many sweet.  Time to remedy that.

What do you do when you need a cake to feed a lot of people?  You can make a big fat layer cake which requires filling of some kind and often a buttercream frosting.  Or you can go easy on yourself and make a one-layer 12-inch dense chocolate cake with a ganache frosting.  You can serve 25 people easily with this baby.  Thankfully, I had a cake conversation with my friend and neighbor Julie before I made it.  She advised me to cut it like a wedding cake – that is, cut a smaller circle in the middle, cut the outer circle into wedges and the inner circle as you would a regular smaller cake.  That would not have occurred to me and my poor friends would have been trying to eat massive wedges of cake – not that there is anything wrong with that.

I realize not everyone has a 12-inch cake pan lying around.  The only reason I have one is that I made my own 3-tier wedding cake 7½ years ago, but I haven’t used the pan since then.  I hung on to it through moves to four different residences and am so happy that I did – this is definitely a cake that I will be repeating.  It was easy to make and even easier to eat.  It is perfect for those times when all you really want is chocolate with no other competing flavors.  Truth be told, I often feel that way and in those moments, what I crave is a brownie.  Think of this as a sophisticated brownie with just the perfect amount of over-the-top frosting.  The oohs and aahs when you bring out a giant cake are pretty nice too.

If you want to buy a large pan, I highly recommend buying what is called a cheesecake pan.  When I bought the pans for my wedding cake, I sought the advice of the somewhat cranky but incredibly knowledgeable woman who owns a local cake decorating supply store.  If you tried to bake a large cake in a simple cake pan, it would be difficult to get it out without wrecking the cake.  The cheesecake pan has a false bottom, much as fluted tart pans do, so you can just push the cake out of the pan without having to turn it upside down.

OR, if you don’t want to make a one-use purchase, you can get a little tricky and use alternate pan sizes.  It is a testament to how good this cake is that I got involved with a bit of math and figured out things like volume and inches.  Using Bing of course – not Google (we are a Microsoft household, wink wink), I found that the volume of a 12-inch round pan is 15 cups.  A 13-x-9 inch pan has the same capacity so you could make this same cake in a rectangular pan.  If you have two 8-inch square pans lying around or two 9-inch round ones, you could also make it in those.  The cakes will be a little flatter because the proportions aren’t exactly right.  The chocolate lovers won’t care.  Trust me.

Chocolate Cake Previously on Dana Treat:  (this is a little embarrassing) Milk Chocolate Layer Cake, Double Baked Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Cake with Fleur de Sel Caramel FillingSweet and Salty Cake, Chocolate Spice Bread

One Year Ago:  Roasted Asparagus with a Poached Egg

Giant Chocolate Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache
From Gourmet
24 servings

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 cup plus 3 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
¼ cup (½ stick) chilled butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¾ cup heavy whipping cream
¾ cup sugar
Edible flowers for decoration (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Spray 12-inch round cake pan with 2-inch high sides with nonstick spray.  Line bottom of pan with parchment paper round.  Spray parchment paper with nonstick spray.  Dust pan with flour, tapping out excess.  Sift 2 cups flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl.  Sift cocoa into another medium bowl.   Pour 1 cup boiling water over cocoa; whisk to blend.  Using electric mixer, beat sugar and eggs in large bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add butter to egg mixture and beat until blended.  Beat in cocoa mixture.  Add buttermilk and vanilla; beat on low just to blend.  Add dry ingredients and beat on low just to blend.  Transfer  batter to prepared pan; smooth top.

Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 38 minutes.  Cool cake completely in pan on rack.  (Do ahead:  Can be made 1 day ahead.  Cover and let stand at room temperature.)

Place chopped chocolate, butter, and vanilla in medium bowl.  Bring cream and sugar to boil in a medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar.  Carefully pour hot cream mixture into bowl with chocolate.  Let stand 1 minute.  Whisk until melted and smooth.  Chill ganache until thickened and spreadable, about 1 hour.

Carefully invert cake onto large cake plate.  Gently remove parchment paper.  Spread ganache over top and sides of cake and allow ganache to set, about 1 hour.  (Do ahead:  Cake can be made 1 day ahead.  Cover with cake dome and refrigerate.  Allow to come to room temperature before decorating with flowers.)

Happy Birthday Dip

May 18, 2010

How to write about a getaway with some of the coolest, funniest, most interesting, kindest women I have ever known?  A night spent in celebration of a truly special and life-long friend?  On a beautiful island in a beautiful setting?  Not easy.  So how about some photos.  And a win-friends-and-influence-people recipe for dip.

Signs near the farmers’ market in Bayview.

The birthday girl, setting the table for lunch.

The outermost point on the property.  If I had a better lens, you would see a full mountain range in the background.

So many lovely places to sit and enjoy the beauty.

One of the friends brought beads for each of us to make bracelets.  The charm says “Jen Zen”.

4pm yoga was optional.  It was amazing to practice outside.  That is me in the purple shirt off to the right attempting a handstand without help.  (Didn’t happen.)

The grass was perfect for a headstand though.

Jen requested cowgirl attire for dinner.

She was one of the most well-behaved (and beautiful) cowgirls at the party.

(This photo is actually from last week’s yoga retreat.)

And dip!  I made this dip twice in a week and both times it got devoured.    People dig in expecting something mildly sour, as so many dips are, and are surprised by the lusciousness of it.  This dip gets its rich texture from avocado, silken tofu, and yogurt.  The interesting flavor comes from curry powder and mint.  The mix sounds unpromising, but the empty bowls speak otherwise.   Jen’s sister, after learning about the healthy mix of ingredients, told me, “I’ve been dipping delicately since I assumed it was really fattening.  Now I’m going to dig right in!”.

Curried Tofu-and-Avocado Dip
Adapted from Food and Wine
Makes about 2 cups

1 12-ounce box silken tofu
1 large or 2 small Hass avocados, peeled, pitted, and coarsely chopped
1/3 cup low-fat sour cream
1/3 cup low-fat plain yogurt
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 garlic clove
2 tsp. honey
1½ tsp. curry powder
3 tbsp. chopped mint
Salt and freshly ground pepper.

In a food processor, combine everything except the salt and pepper.  Process until completely smooth, then season the dip to taste.  Chill until cold.  This dip will keep for two days in the refrigerator, but the top layer will turn brown-ish because of the avocado.  I suggest storing it in a cylinder-shaped container (such as a large yogurt container) which has a smaller top surface area.

Lighter Fettuccine Alfredo

May 17, 2010

I have a quick, easy, and delicious pasta to share with you today – Meatless Monday.  But first, I want to announce the winners of my little two year celebration contest.

I was touched by what many of you wrote and I also got so many ideas of how to use my most special sun-dried tomatoes.  I decided that I couldn’t just pick one winner, so I grabbed a couple of extra bags of those beauties and bought a couple extra copies of the book.  With my trusty helper (who, in turn, needed to have his trusty helper – a truck), we picked the commenters numbered #11, #25, and #39.  Ladies, I’ll be sending you an email!

Back to pasta.  When I was a kid, my mom had a couple of standby recipes.  In other words, things she would make when she was low on ingredients or inspiration.  One such dish was Fettuccine Alfredo which was always a home run in our house.  We all loved noodles and those long strands coated in a creamy and cheesy sauce was something that my brothers and I couldn’t get enough of.  It is amazing to me, knowing what I do now, that my mom every made such a concoction.  She is very weight and health conscious and Fettuccine Alfredo about as far from health food as you can get.

Truthfully, I still love the taste of cream sauces but I steer clear of them.  I can’t eat more than a few bites before starting to feel slightly sick – I just can’t digest all richness.  When I found this recipe for a Summery Alfredo in Food and Wine, I was intrigued.  No cream, a little bit of cheese, and the starchy pasta water to bind it all together.  The original recipe called for just basil, salt, and pepper in addition to the pasta and cheese, but I decided to add some goodies I had waiting in my refrigerator.

Last week’s trip to the Pike Place Market brought me some spring onions and English peas, a few of which I had left in my produce drawer.  I blanched the peas and sauteed the spring onions in just a tiny of bit of butter until soft.  Those went into a large bowl with the two cheeses and the basil.  I boiled up some fresh pasta that I had in the freezer and, using tongs, just transferred the strands directly to the bowl.  I ladled in enough pasta water to create the sauce and voilà! dinner on the table in about 15 minutes.

Please let me tell you how unusual it is for me to find delicacies like spring onions (which are larger, sweeter, and more mild than scallions) and English peas in my refrigerator – especially on a Sunday night after I have been gone for the weekend.  Usually in that situation, my refrigerator is a wasteland where I can find some cheese, soy milk, condiments, lots of olives, and that is about it.  Any hope of dinner with a fresh vegetable is a supermarket trip away.  But, I had a bounty and I used it.  You could, of course, substitute scallions and frozen peas in this dish.  Allow the peas to thaw  –  no need to cook them – and just give your scallions a sauté like I did with the spring onions.

One Year Ago:  Raspberry Almond Bars and one of my favorite Graham stories

Fettuccine Alfredo
Inspired by Food and Wine
Serves 4

1 cup shelled fresh peas
½ tbsp. butter
4 small spring onions or 6 scallions, white and pale green part only, sliced
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
½ cup Pecorino Romano cheese
¼ cup basil leaves, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound fresh fettuccine or ¾ pound dried

Fill a small saucepan about half way full of water and bring to a boil.  Add a large pinch of salt and then add the peas.  Cook for 1 minute, then immediately drain and rinse with cold water.  Place peas in a large bowl.

Heat the same small saucepan over medium heat and add the butter.  Once the butter has melted, add the spring onions and a pinch of salt.  Sauté, stirring often, until softened, about 4 minutes.  Do not allow to brown.  Add the spring onions to the bowl with the peas.  Add the two cheeses and the basil to bowl as well.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil and toss in a couple of tablespoons of salt.  Carefully add the pasta and cook until al dente.  Using tongs, scoop the pasta directly into the bowl with the vegetables and cheeses.  Ladle out about ¾ of a cup of cooking water and toss the pasta together until the cheeses have melted and created a sauce.  You may need more water if it seems too dry.  Toss well to incorporate everything together and serve hot.

A Friday in May

May 14, 2010

I have a few quick things to tell you.

1)  It is 70 degrees and sunny outside.  Finally.

2)  Tomorrow I am piling my car with ingredients to make six large pizzas and my 7th version of the salted caramel chocolate cake that I won’t stop yammering on about or linking to.  I am taking a ferry to an idyllic spot for a night with 18 women.  Without my husband or children.

3)  I have an appointment scheduled to get my tattoo next weekend.  I think I am going to wimp out a little bit and get it on my right wrist instead of left forearm – a little smaller.

4)  I have a new post up at Amazon Fresh (you will need to scroll down a bit).  I wrote about (eek!) salmon.  But the marinade I made works really well with tofu and I also share my favorite way to prepare bok choy.

5)  I found my favorite potato salad.  I tend to be of the olive oil-dressed camp rather than the mayo-dressed, but this creamy dressing is better than either.  It’s the tarragon, I’m telling you.

Happy weekend.

One Year Ago: Peanut Butter Cup Brownies

Potato Salad with Sugar Snap Peas and Creamy Tarragon Vinaigrette
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Serves 4 to 6

The original recipe called for fingerling potatoes but I used a mixture of red and purple potatoes.  Much prettier that way.

¾ pound red potatoes, cut into ½-inch thick rounds
¾ pound purple potatoes, cut into ½-inch thick rounds
8 ounces sugar snap peas, ends trimmed
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Creamy Tarragon Dressing (recipe follows)

Cover potatoes with cold water by 2 inches in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil; add 3 tbsp. salt.  Reduce heat to medium-high; simmer the potatoes until tender, about 8 minutes.  Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Bring another medium saucepan of water to a boil; add 2 tbsp. salt.  Blanch the snap peas until just tender, 1 to 2 minutes.  Let cool in an ice water bath.  Drain and pat dry.

Toss the potatoes, snap peas, onion, and vinaigrette in a bowl.  Season with salt and pepper.

Creamy Tarragon Vinaigrette
Makes about 1 cup

2 tsp. tarragon vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup olive oil
½ cup sour cream
2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh tarragon

Stir together vinegar and mustard; season with salt and pepper.  Pour in olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking until emulsified.  Stir in sour cream and tarragon.


May 13, 2010

Two recipes that I want to share with you are waiting in the wings.  One is a beautiful potato salad that is definitely going on my favorite list.  The other is a birthday cake – a big fat chocolate birthday cake, perfect for feeding a crowd.

But those will have to wait.  I need to talk about chickpeas.

And before that, a word about the Seattle dining scene.  It was really not until recently, within the last ten years or so, that we even really had a dining scene.  You could always get incredible Thai food, Vietnamese food, and sushi in Seattle.  And fresh fish too.  But other than that, pickings were a little meager.  Slowly but surely, things are changing and some terrific new restaurants have opened recently.

One of our favorites is Cantinetta, a truly sweet spot found about 2 miles from our house.  Sometimes a restaurant just gets it right on all fronts.  Cantinetta opened right smack in the middle of a great neighborhood, but not in the bustling business corridor, more in the area where people live.  It is homey and welcoming inside.  The service is excellent.  The menu changes just often enough to make it interesting, but not so often that you mourn your favorite dish leaving before you could taste it again.  That menu is comprised of four different categories and you can spend the evening there tasting bits from each section.  The pasta is made on site and is some of the best I have ever had.  There are always plenty of vegetarian options and they are starred so I don’t even have to ask.

Soon after it opened, Randy and I ate dinner there with friends.  Then we went by ourselves.  Then we went with more friends.  We recommended it to everyone.  We had my 39th birthday dinner there and introduced it to my parents and brothers, all of whom loved it and have been back.  My youngest brother gave us a gift certificate to Cantinetta for Hanumass last year and it was probably the best gift he has ever given me.  It is a place whose food I crave and there are precious few restaurants in Seattle I can say that about.

(Sorry, I just had to share.  Almost all looking at the camera.)

My sister-in-law was in town last Friday and Randy and I thought Cantinetta would be the perfect spot for dinner.  We actually had not been in some time and I was excited about seeing a brand new menu.  Suffice it to say that absolutely everything we ate was delicious.  From the homemade bread that arrives on your table (featuring corn meal and olives) to the utterly creamy tagliatelle that I had for my main course.  We loved every bite.  In fact, we ordered so much and ate so much that none of us had room for dessert.

My favorite thing I ate that night, in a sea of good things, was the most simple.  Chickpeas, olive oil, Pecorino Romano, lemon.  The beautiful little dish came to the table and I was shocked to see green chickpeas.  Green means fresh.  Where did they get fresh chickpeas?  And can I have some??  I couldn’t really get a straight answer but after a moment I stopped asking and just started eating.  Sometimes, when every single ingredient is perfect and perfectly balanced, the simplest dish is the best.  That was absolutely the case with these little guys.

So, what’s a chickpea lover to do?  Try and re-create.  Since there was no way (that I know of) for me to get fresh chickpeas, I did the next best thing which is to cook up a bunch of dried beans.  I knew the somewhat mushy texture and tinny taste of canned beans wouldn’t work here, so I soaked and cooked up some dried chickpeas.  (I have nothing against canned beans when they are going into a stew like this one or this one.)  Because the restaurant dish featured tiny pebbles of the Pecorino – not flakes – I ground up a chunk of that amazing cheese in my mini-food processor rather than grating it.  Out of the refrigerator came a lemon and out of the pantry I pulled my best olive oil, sea salt, and pepper mill.  And away we went.  At the end of it all, I was somewhat surprised to find that what I had created was an awful lot like what I tasted at the restaurant.  Deceptively simple, incredibly delicious.

I served some to a friend who was over for dinner and she loved them.  I gave some to Randy and he thought they tasted just the same as Cantinetta’s.  I’m not sure about that exactly, but they are pretty darn close.  Please don’t roll your eyes and scoff – so simple Dana! – take just a bit of time, the best of ingredients, and decide for yourself.

One Year Ago:  Quinoa with Grilled Zucchini, Chickpeas, and Cumin

Chickpeas with Lemon and Pecorino Romano
Inspired by Cantinetta
Makes 2 cups

Definitely serve this dish at room temperature so the flavors can bloom and the chickpeas aren’t chalky.

2 cups chickpeas
1½ tbsp. olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
¾ tsp. kosher salt
Lots of coarsely ground black pepper
¼ cup ground Pecorino Romano

For the chickpeas, you might as well make a large batch and use them throughout the week.  They are great in all manner of stews and soups, in salads, and you will probably want to make another batch of this recipe.  Let dried chickpeas soak overnight in cold water that covers them by at least 2 inches.  The next day, drain the water and rinse the chickpeas.  Put them back in the pot, cover them again cold water and place on the stove.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat slightly, and allow to cook until chickpeas are tender, about 1 hour.

Mix together all ingredients for dish in a bowl.  Add more salt and pepper to taste.

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