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.