Saturday, September 1, 2012

Chocolate Pound Cake with Espresso Glaze

Let me tell you about my friend. He's a terrific, single guy who likes to cook. Being single, he doesn't bake that often, so when he does, he wants it to be special. Invariably, he calls me up for advice on what to take to a party, and I give him a recipe that I've made dozens of times. Does he take my advice? No, never. He always tries some crazy recipe with thirty ingredients and fifty-seven steps. And it's always off somehow - burnt or raw, runny or brittle, bland or sickly sweet. (Lucky thing all those parties involve alcohol.)

What's the best recipe for a party? One that you know is going to work. One that doesn't leave you so exhausted and broke that you can't enjoy yourself. One that doesn't have odd ingredients that may put off intrepid guests, i.e. anise. One that can be transported and left on a table. Obviously, the best recipe for a party is bundt cake.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Blueberry Ginger Cake

We've been on vacation for five days, and I've made a version of this cake four times, once just after we unloaded the car.

Popularized by the smitten kitchen blog, this recipe for an easy buttermilk sponge from Gourmet magazine 2009 makes something that you can serve for either breakfast or dessert. This spicy version with crystallized ginger is my husband's favorite.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Potato Waffles?

On the fourth day of vacation, my mother finally managed to push me out of the kitchen and made waffles for breakfast. She says the kids like them, and I should take a break or something. Wow, does she have control issues or what!

Ahem ...

The iron wasn't the traditional four squares with deep grooves, but a small model that makes something closer to a round pancake with lots of nipples. I was just going through my regular morning script, "Stop touching your brother", "No, you can't get up until you finish your milk," "Use a fork!" when I realized that you could use that waffle iron to make potato latkes!

Have you ever made potato pancakes? I generally spend one whole day before Chanukah frying latkes. It is such a horrendous pain in the neck that I can only bear to do it once. The house reeks of fry oil for a week, grease splatters everywhere, you go through rolls of paper towels, and you usually end up with a burn somewhere. But if you just ladled the potato mixture onto a waffle iron and went about your business until it was done, it would be totally worth it for just one batch.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Potato Chip Cookies

Potato chip cookies are deliciously campy in July. You're just going to have another half a cookie, ... or ten, give or take. It's all sweet, salty fun until September, when you'd sooner eat a giant turkey leg dipped in blue shaved ice while wearing white shoes. Which is weird, when you think about it. (I'd wear sandals.) For sheer goofiness, Rice Krispies treats win hands-down, and we gladly eat them in February. M&Ms cookies are a year-round staple at the grocery store bakery. But, obviously, this rule assigning potato chip cookies to summer cannot be broken. Which means you've got about six weeks to make these cookies, so get a move on.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Chocolate Roll Cake

Adapted from Martha Stewart

Did your mother put dessert in your lunchbag? One day a week? What, never? Yeah, me neither. NEVER. I'm totally over it though. Any resemblance to a jolly treat from other kids' lunches is coincidental. Of course.
Actually, I don't put these in my kids' lunches, either. Hello, someone might see me buying them! I gotta protect my rep, so I make jelly roll cakes. People are always impressed with these roll-ups, which are just a little bit more trouble than a plain old 2-layer stack and frost. In the days before electric mixers, non-stick pans and parchment paper, they must have required some skill. But all you really need now is to have your ingredients prepped and actually follow the directions (note to self), since the instructions are a bit fiddly.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Lemon Yogurt Cake

I had planned to make my regular pound cake from the Silver Palate Cookbook, but we were out of butter.

"How can my fridge be so empty," I thought. (Cue the music from Jaws.) And then, we all learned that a derecho is a freaky thunderstorm that can knock down trees from Ohio to Maryland. So, after four days without power in July, my fridge was really empty.

Also, three of my neighbor's trees were horizontal in the front yard. But before all that excitement, I had no butter - only oil, eggs and yogurt. Also, I failed to get back to my mother when she asked me how many lemons I wanted from the giant crate that arrived in her office. Apparently, I wanted ten enormous Meyer lemons.

So, Lemon Yogurt Cake.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Sumac Steak, Or Why I Don't Eat Out Much

This plate makes me happy. Meat, starch and vegetables in equal proportions. Nothing that looks like a side of brontosaurus. No puddles of gravy/grease/glop. You can eat it all and still have dessert. Why can't you order this? Why do American, sit-down restaurants insist that a meal consists of a pound of meat, french fries and two ounces of vegetables? I know they must be serving what people want, but it grosses me out.

Did I mention that most of my date nights involve Chipotle and Netflix?

Sumac is not gross at all - it's fabulous! Are you thinking of poison sumac? Same genus, different species. Sumac is a red berry which is dried and ground into a powdered spice that shows up in lots of different Middle Eastern foods. The flavor is similar to lemon, but milder and more savory. You can find it in any Middle Eastern market, or some larger grocery stores. It works when you need an acidic solid, as in this spice rub.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Apple Cabbage Slaw

For a long time I thought I hated cole slaw. Actually, it turns out I just don't like mayonnaise. Does anyone eat that sweet, gloppy stuff that fills out every deli tray? I have my doubts. Since I'd rather chop cabbage than wash lettuce (or throw away an overpriced bag of the pre-washed stuff that's turned to slime), cabbage salads have all but replaced tossed ones at my table.

Slaw = Veggies + Vinegar + Salt + Oil.
Some days Japanese with soy sauce, some days Central American with lime, some days Middle Eastern with tahina, some days Thai with fish sauce, etc. I usually wing it, but writing down the proportions does save time tossing as you readjust the seasonings.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cappuccino Brownies

Do you already have a go-to brownie recipe? (Is it Duncan Hines? Whatever, I try to judge silently.) When I need brownies that aren't too rich, I use the recipe on the inside of the box of Baker's chocolate. You know why Kraft prints it there? Because it ALWAYS works and it takes less than ten minutes to get into the oven. Steer clear of any gooey, fudgy recipes here - you're going to put two layers of frosting on top. So, whip up a 9x13 batch of whatever brownies you like, omitting the nuts and lining the pan with foil.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Cola Cake

Have you ever bought cheese in a can? Or made a recipe by Paula Deen? Did it make you feel a little naughty? Maybe like a Caucasian Person of Modest Income who Lives in a Mobile Residence Prone to Tornado Damage? Only, not?

Honey, I have just the recipe. And it won't even kill you!
The traditional Cola Cake, a mainstay of Junior League cookbooks and potlucks, has a ton of sugar and mini-marshmallows stirred in, to promote dental health and cultural stereotypes. I made it once, but it gave me that queasy feeling adults get from eating cotton candy. It was pretty good, though, so I tinkered a bit to keep the cola flavor and lose the Pepto Bismol. It goes without saying that kids think it is hilarious to eat a cake made from soda. (Does it also go without saying that you can't use diet soda? Because you definitely can't.) One of my kids requests it with Coke, one likes it with Pepsi - because, obviously. The same batter works for a sheet or bundt cake, with only minor variation in the frosting.

1 stick (8 T) butter
1 C vegetable oil
3 T cocoa powder
1 C cola
1 1/2 C sugar
2 1/2 C flour
1/4 t table salt
1 t baking soda
(scant) 1/2 C buttermilk
2 eggs
1 t vanilla extract

1-2 C powdered sugar
1 T cocoa powder
3 T butter
4-5 T cola
1-2 T milk

In a large saucepan, bring to a boil 1 stick butter, 1 C vegetable oil, 3 T cocoa powder and 1 C cola.
Whisk together and remove from the heat.
Add  1 1/2 C sugar, 2 1/2 C flour, and 1/4 t table salt and whisk until smooth.
Stir 1 t baking soda into 1/2 C buttermilk, and add them to the batter with the 2 eggs and 1 t vanilla extract.
Pour your batter into a greased (and floured, if you have the baking spray) 9x13 pan and bake at 350 (or 325 convection) for about 50 minutes, until the corners of the cake pull away from the sides of the sides of pan and the top feels firm. No need to tip this one out, it gets frosted in the pan.
Bake in a greased and floured bundt or tube pan for about 60 minutes. Cool in the pan for five minutes, then tip the cake out onto a rack to cool. I usually leave mine to cool overnight in the microwave to stop it drying out.
To make the icing for the bundt, start by microwaving 3 T butter briefly, just until you see a little melted puddle forming at the bottom of the bowl.
A small whisk helps to start working in 1 C powdered sugar and 1 T cocoa powder
Now you have to thin this out with soda to make a spreadable icing. Two things to remember: First, if you think you'll just pour 4-5 T cola directly from the 2-liter bottle into the bowl, you're about to make a foamy mess.
Second, adding more than four or five tablespoons of cola will give you that strange flavor of gummy soda bottles - switch to milk at the end.
How do you know when it's thin enough to frost a bundt? My preference is that the frosting roll down the sides a bit, but not puddle on the plate. If the frosting stays mounded up on a spoon without flattening out, add a little more milk. If you can pour it, add more sugar. When you get the consistency right, spoon onto the cake, nudging the frosting towards the sides with the back of the spoon as you go. Let the icing set up for an hour.
To frost a sheet cake, double the frosting recipe above and add a couple of extra tablespoons of milk. Spread over the cooled cake with an offset spatula, if you have one. You may end up with a bit too much frosting, and I understand the temptation is strong to just dump it all on the cake. Resist - this will make the corner slices 50% icing, which is gross.
Extra points will be awarded for anyone who makes this recipe with Dr. Pepper, Mr. Pibb or RC.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Celery Salad

Sometimes you go to war with the army you have. (I guess Rumsfeld was right about one thing.) Saturday night, my army had an entire battalion of fast-wilting celery hearts.
Who bought all this celery? Did the outer stalks get filled with peanut butter? Who remembers? But they were there. And we were there. Something had to happen.

So I chopped up a shallot.
And made a dressing of one part whole grain mustard, one part red wine vinegar, five parts oil, a tiny pinch of sugar and a huge pinch of salt.
And it was good enough to go missing when I rummaged through the cupboard for something to eat.
Yeah, we could have gone out for dinner on a Saturday without the kids.
But the need to be in my PJs on the sofa was pressing.
And sometimes, if you're with the right person, a fried egg and a thrown-together salad can be better than dinner at the fanciest restaurant in the city.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Overnight Babka Rolls

Babka is a traditional, Jewish sweet bread, made with a rich, egg dough and chocolate-cinnamon filling. It is awesome, but it takes for-freaking-ever to make. Once I woke up at 4AM to roll it out, so we could have it hot for breakfast. But only once. These rolls are a decent substitute, and you can do all the prep work the night before. You just have to get your mind around the yeast.

I get that yeast is a little freaky. You may remember it like those Sea Monkies from the 80s - little packets of powder that bloomed when you added water. You'd stand over the foamy bowl, wondering if they were still alive. All distant memories, because it's 2012, no one has Sea Monkies any more, and we all use instant yeast now. You don't have to proof the stuff in warm water to check if it's still alive - just add it in like any other ingredient. Not freaky, not complicated, and no longer expensive, since they sell it at the wholesale clubs for like $4.50 a pound.
I promise, these rolls are way easier than Sea Monkies.
(The plural of Monkey is . . .?)
Put a medium sized saucepan on the burner and melt together 5 T butter, 1 1/4 C milk, 3/4 t kosher salt, and 1/2 C sugar. When you start to see bubbles around the edge of the pan, remove from the heat and stir it up to make sure the sugar is incorporated. I find it easiest to pour everything back into the measuring cup, just to give it a chance to cool. Also, I've slopped a lot of milk down the side of the mixing bowl trying to transfer directly from the pot. Either way, put the saucepan in the sink with some water after pouring out the milk, since the milk protein gets gluey if you let it dry on there.
While you are waiting for the milk mixture to cool off a bit, put 3 C white flour and 1 T instant yeast in the bowl of your mixer. It's probably best to start the machine with the flat beater and use the dough hook later, but if you can't face washing both, just throw the dough hook in there and turn it on. After a few seconds, pour the milk mixture in slowly. As the dough is starting to come together, add 1 egg and beat for another minute before starting to add flour, 1/4 cup at a time.
Pretty much the only thing you can do wrong with this recipe is to add too much flour and end up with rolls that are a little harder than you might like. BFD, right? You're aiming to take the dough out of the mixer when it's still sticking to the sides, then knead in just a few more tablespoons to make the outside dry enough that it holds together in a ball. This took me about 4 1/2 C total flour. And then I added some more, which is why my dough is standing at attention. We still ate it all, don't worry.
Let your dough rest on the counter for 20 minutes. I just cover mine with the inverted mixing bowl, to keep it from drying out. This rest gives the flour time to absorb moisture, allowing you to roll it out without gluing it to the counter.
While you are waiting, melt 4 T butter in a microwaveable bowl and then stir in 2 1/2 T cocoa powder, 3/4 C sugar, and 1 t cinnamon. This is also a good time to get your 9x13" pan greased and ready to go.
Sprinkle a little flour on the counter and your rolling pin, then roll your dough out in a rectangle about 17x11". Spread the chocolate mixture evenly over it with a spatula.
 Starting with the long end, roll the whole thing up into a log. If it feels a little loose, use your fingertips to tuck the front end under as you roll.
 Using a serrated (bread) knife if you can, slice the roll in quarters.

Then divide each quarter in thirds.
Place three rows of four rolls in your greased 9x13" pan, cover with plastic wrap and put it all in the fridge. Now go put your feet up and watch American Idol. Haha, just kidding! Go finish the dishes, move the laundry along, and pack all the lunches for tomorrow.
Does everyone in your house get up at the same time? The first person up has to remember to take these rolls out and put them on the counter to warm up a little. If he forgets, no biggie. About 35 minutes before you want to eat (to the extent that anyone really wants to eat at 7:15AM on a Tuesday), put the rolls in a cold oven and turn it on to 350 (convection 325). In about 25 minutes, they should be brown and puffy.
 Cool in pan 5 minutes before serving.
Try to excercise restraint when your children ask you for toaster waffles instead. More for you.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Fudge Frosting

Sometimes, I swear while I'm cooking. Okay, always. Recently, we had months of renovation on our house. Who do you think cussed more, the lady with the whisk, or the guys swinging hammers? (Hint: me.) Am I the only one who starts following a recipe, only to find myself muttering words that are not "fudge?" So, that's how this recipe came to be, in a hail of profanity, trying to fix a recipe that did not work.

Fudge Frosting
6 tablespoons butter
12 oz chocolate
5 tablespoons heavy cream
2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 - 5 tablespoons milk
5 tablespoons chocolate syrup
pinch baking soda, if needed

Melt 6 T butter with 12 oz chocolate in a large saucepan. Semi-sweet, milk, dark, whatever kind, just not more than 2 oz baking chocolate. Here I used a chunk of leftover Passover candy and a handful of chocolate chips.
Whisk in 5 T heavy cream, take off the heat, and add in 2 1/4 C powdered sugar, 1 1/2 t vanilla and 3 T milk. Did it seize up and look horribly grainy? Now is the time for some cathartic swearing. Go on, get it out.
Okay, pull it together! Add about 5 T chocolate syrup. Do not go dirtying your measuring spoon - just squeeze a few good glugs of the stuff and whisk it in.
Smoothed right out, huh? Go figure! Now grab a spoon and taste. Sometimes inexpensive chocolate can be unpleasantly acidic.

Pop quiz:
1) To counteract an acid, you need a ___________?
2) What basic substance (other than soap) do you always have in your kitchen?
3) If you use more than a tiny pinch of baking soda, will the children hear you swearing from the other room when you have to throw out an entire batch of frosting?

Okay, pencils down. If you want to cut the acidity of the frosting, sprinkle a pinch of baking soda over the top and whisk it in. Add a little bit more milk to achieve an appetizingly gloppy, pudding consistency. This frosting will harden pretty fast, so have your cake ready to go.
This recipe makes enough for a two- or three-layer cake, although the one in the photo has strawberry filling between the layers. Pour most of the frosting on top of the cake and work it down the sides in sections. The finish will be shiny, but it won't fill in the grooves like spackle. Hey, most people get frosting out of a plastic tub - you get all the points.
Two thirds of a batch will cover 24 cupcakes.
 Sometimes they make it to the fridge to set up for an hour.
Sometimes they don't. What the fudge?