Thursday, May 17, 2018

Decent Texas Sheet Cake

I've always felt my Texas sheet cake was the ultimate potluck cake. It is incredibly easy to make both the cake and the frosting. The cake can be brought to the party and served in the same dish it was baked in (no need to worry if the cake will stick to the pan!) and the icing is a pourable, un-mess-up-able dream. I've made it for every bbq or potluck for the past two years and it has always been demolished, and I have always been asked for the recipe. 

Except last week. Last week, I brought it to a dear friend's Cinco de Mayo party. My (okay, rather homey) chocolate cake was far outshined by several more visually stunning concoctions (all store-bought, of course). In particular, someone brought store-bought cupcakes with red, green and white icing with cute mini mexican flags flying atop each one, all of them arranged on top of a huge sombrero. How was a sheet cake supposed to aesthetically compete with that? 

I complained to my husband and his friend that no one was trying my dessert, and they strategically placed themselves next to the dessert table urging people to try it. "Hey, try that cake! It's amazing!" (What a blow to my baking-ego! Hah. Thank you guys.) A too-cool twelve-year-old boy did try it, and declared with a nod that it was, "Decent. Decent." And then he brought over all his friends. I brought home an empty pan.

Sometimes all it takes is one bite for word to spread.

We are about to make a big move next month. New home. New friends. New schools for the boys. New climate. It helps to know that my baked goods - no matter how homely in appearance - will always, eventually and inevitably, bring joy wherever we go. (However, next time I go to a Cinco de Mayo potluck.... I'm making cupcakes and putting them on a damned sombrero. Killer presentation for the cost of a cheap hat? Count me in. But, don't worry, I'll be making the cupcakes from scratch.)

Texas Sheet Cake

I originally wanted to make this cake because of the recipe in "Vintage Cakes" by Julie Richardson. While I do use her frosting recipe (which is just perfect for this kind of cake), I much prefer the cake recipe from my tried and true and so beloved "Joy of Cooking" (the 2006 edition). Mostly because I find the half oil / half butter ratio yields the perfect tender to moist balance in this cake, but also because Richardson's version uses a lot of coffee and I try to not bring desserts made with coffee or alcohol to a kid-friendly event... the caffeine and alcohol don't cook off that much actually, and you know, I'd rather be at an event where the kids' only stimulant is each other and sugar (that is too much enough to deal with already). But if you are going to an adults-only event (excuse me over here while I turn a vivid shade of green from envy), then go to town and substitute the water for strong coffee! And add in three or four tablespoons of liquor to the frosting! Kahlua would be divine.... Let me know how it tastes if you try it.

for the cake:
2 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla

for the icing:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted (or not sifted if you are short on time and want to sprinkle the dish with nuts or sprinkles anyway... there will be a few very small dot-like lumps throughout the icing if you don't sift)

Preheat the oven to 375 and grease a 10 x 15 inch pan. (I use a ceramic roasting dish, but a glass pyrex is better.)

Whisk the sugar, flour, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the water, vegetable oil, butter and cocoa powder to a boil. Pour the hot mixture over the flour and stir just until smooth. (Note: place the saucepan to the side to use later for the icing and save yourself a pot cleaning.) 

Let the mixture cool slightly then whisk in the buttermilk and vanilla. Mix in one egg, combine thoroughly, then mix in the other egg and stir until very smooth.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in the middle of your preheated oven for about 20 minutes. As always, do not overbake! 

While the cake is baking make the icing:

Melt the butter in (the same as you used for the cake, no need to wash it had the same ingredients!) a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in cocoa powder and bring the mixture to a rolling boil and boil for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and immediately whisk in 1/3 cup milk and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract. Whisking continuously, add the confectioner's sugar one cup at a time. Pour immediately over the top of the cake. Sprinkle with nuts if you desire. Or with colored sprinkles. Or marshmallows! Or pipe "eat me" in frosting on top. (Kidding. Despite above story, it does not need to be told twice to get eaten.)

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Almond Orange Easter Cake with Chocolate Cointreau Ganache

I'm trying to think of something elegant to say about this beautiful cake. Words are failing me when the pictures speak so clearly for themselves. This is truly a cake that is as beautiful as it is delicious. It is also gluten-free! I have made this cake in it's lemon form on a regular basis for several years now. I usually make a carrot cake for Easter but someone was already bringing one for Easter dinner today so, over several nights of Instagramming cake inspirations, I came up with this chocolate orange version of a cake I have loved so dearly. My husband prefers the original, plainer lemon version, but me... oh I could eat this cake for days and never tire of it. Happy Easter. Happy Spring. Eat chocolate and be happy!

Almond Orange Cake with Marmalade Glaze and Chocolate Cointreau Ganache 
loosely adapted from Nigella's great cookbook Kitchen 

for cake:
200 grams unsalted butter, softened
200 grams sugar
200 grams ground almonds
100 grams cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 large eggs
zest of 2 oranges

for marmalade glaze:
1/2 cup marmalade
1 tablespoon amaretto or cointreau

for ganache:
170 grams bittersweet chocolate chips, or coarsely chopped bars
190 grams heavy cream (a scant cup)

for topping:
unwrapped chocolate easter eggs and small Lindt bunny
colorful malted chocolate easter eggs
slivered almonds
slices of orange peel, peeled with a vegetable peeler into thin strips and coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350°F. 

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy - either by hand in a bowl with a wooden spoon, or using a freestanding mixer or handheld mixer.

Whisk together the ground almond, cornmeal, baking powder and orange zest in a medium bowl. Add 1/4 of this to the butter-sugar mixture and mix until incorporated. Then beat in 1 of the eggs until incorporated. Add in the rest of the almond and cornmeal mixture and the eggs in two more batches, ending with the almond and cornmeal mixture.

Generously butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Pour the mixture into your pan. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes. You can tell when the cake is done when the sides of the cake begin to shrink away from the sides of the tin. A tester will come out with moist crumbs.

While the cake is baking make the chocolate ganache. Put the chocolate chips or chopped chocolate into a medium bowl (preferably metal in case you need to reheat the ganache). Put the cream in a pot on the stove and heat until scalding hot but NOT boiling. (Watch it.) Pour the scalding cream over the chocolate and whisk until all the chocolate is melted. Stir in the liquer. Set aside.

Next make the marmalade glaze. Bring the marmalade and liquer to a boil in a small saucepan. Set aside on the stove top until cake is out of the oven.

Once the cake is out of the oven, prick the top of it all over with a toothpick, then pour the warm syrup over it, and leave to cool completely on a wire rack before taking it out of the pan.

Ease the cake out of the pan gently and place on your serving platter or cake stand. If the cake looks like it might crumble then just place the cake with the metal bottom still attached on the platter and adhere the platter to the stand with tape or butter. (It won't show until serving and at that point no one will care - trust me.) Pour the chocolate ganache over the top. If the ganache has stiffened you can either spread it over like a frosting (this will dramatically change the look of the cake as seen in my pictures, but I think it would still look great and it will taste delicious!) or gently rewarm it over a pot of gently boiling water (only if the bowl is metal.) 

Sprinkle the top of the cake with the slivered almonds then arrange the chocolate Easter eggs, bunny and malt balls on top. Sprinkle the orange slivers artfully on top. Bring to party, and enjoy. Happy Easter!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Salmon with Easy Cilantro Sauce

Holding on to Summer

Last night we bbq-ed with friends at the beach. It was the first day of October and slightly chilly. But with the sand beneath our bare feet, the descending sun throwing pink into the water, the kids catching crabs, and rosé in our hands, it sure felt like it was still summer. In fact it was better than summer, because the kids were going to school the next day, and the beach felt secluded and all our own.

I made this sauce for some frozen salmon filets one night this summer when my mother-in-law was visiting. I de-seeded the jalapenos (even though the original recipe does not say to do so) because my mil does not like hot food... the sauce was still divine. The next time I make it I might be daring and leave all the seeds in, because we love hot food. But I feel it might tamper with the delicate taste of the cilantro. So please, experiment and taste as you go till you get the perfect sauce. The best part of this sauce is that all of the ingredients are supermarket staples year-round, so make this sauce in the dead of winter and conjure up some beach-y vibes. You'll feel like you're still holding on to summer.

Salmon with Cilantro Sauce
adapted from the June 2017 issue of Sunset Magazine

1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves and tender stems, plus 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
1/2 cup sliced green onions
1 or 2 medium de-seeded jalapenos, chopped (set seeds aside in case you want to make your sauce spicier)
3 garlic cloves
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp french mustard
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup whole-milk greek yogurt (optional if you prefer a vegan sauce)
3 tbsp lime juice
4 wild salmon filets

In a food processor pulse together the first six ingredients until smooth. Add the coconut milk and the lime juice. Taste the sauce and adjust any seasonings. Add back in any jalapeno seeds if you want a spicier sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Grill or pan-fry salmon filets until just done, about 3 minutes per side on medium heat for 1 inch thick filets. (If you are unsure, take them off the heat and test a center section - over-cooking salmon is an unjustifiable waste of delicious omega-3s - don't do it!)

Plate the salmon (with or without skin depending on your preference) and some rice, couscous, small potatoes or pasta and vegetables then spoon plentiful amounts of the sauce over everything. Enjoy summer on a plate.

Monday, August 28, 2017

ONE POT! whole wheat spaghetti with tomato and basil

This pasta is just magical. I gather from instagram that this is a new food trend - one-pot, no-drain, one-dish pastas that is - and, although I generally dislike food trends, "love love love" is all I have to sing after making and eating this.

And, fellow moms in my life! This pasta is revolutionary. Not only is it very quick, healthy, easy and delicious, but your kids will actually eat it! I can't think of another dish I make for dinner that is quite like it.

After having spent a full afternoon at Legoland (in a Westchester shopping center it is just a glorified Lego shop with two church-parking-lot type rides) this recipe was a joy to cook. Everything was in the pantry and it took - literally - 15 minutes to make, and my kids ate it. OMG. (Almost) better than ordering Chinese.

Enjoy people.

One-Pot Whole-Wheat Spaghetti with Basil
adapted from A beautiful mess blog
One package of whole wheat spaghetti 
1 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes in tomato juice 
2 large cloves of garlic, pressed through a garlic press, or minced
3 large leaves of basil, chopped (or used dried basil)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (omit or reduce to 1/8 of a teaspoon if serving spice-sensitive kids)
2 tablespoons  extra-virgin olive oil
1 3/4 cups chicken stock
grated Parmesan for serving
In a large lidded saucepan combine the tomatoes with juices, garlic, chopped basil, red pepper flakes, olive oil, and chicken stock. Bring to a boil over high heat. Break the pasta in half (to ensure it fits in the pot) then add to the boiling mixture and stir to ensure that all pieces of pasta are submerged in liquid. Immediately cover and reduce the heat to low and cook for 9-12 minutes (starting tasting after 9). Once the pasta has taste-tested as al dente, remove the cover and cook for one additional minute to reduce the liquid (if any). Don't worry if the pasta seems to liquidy... don't over-cook the pasta, the sauce will thicken up as you serve it. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve with lots of grated parmesan.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Spring loin lamb chops with artichoke

Unexpected Success

Spring is a time of rebirth. And, since I made an excellent dinner tonight that took less than 20 minutes of active cooking, tasted quite good, was ingested without complaint by one of my two children, and was enough of a detour to be considered my own recipe - well then, that warrants a rebirth of my periphrastic blogging career.

Spring is also a time of cleaning. And here is where I start with the admittedly unappetizing conceit of this dish. I was cleaning out the freezer and found a half-pack of loin lamb chops from Costco, a half-carton of beef stock, and a package of quartered artichoke hearts. Uncharacteristically, I also found a half-bottle of sauvignon blanc, lanquishing forgotten behind a ketchup bottle. With fresh rosemary left over from Easter, I knew I had the makings of culinary sufficiency, sans trip to the grocery store. This in of itself is success. But true triumph was taking 15 minutes to make the dish and setting it to simmer, leaving for the playground for 2 hours, coming home to do the finishing touches, and having it taste.... GREAT! Even little G-man agreed. (Big G-man refuses point-blank to ingest any meat product that is not in sausage form, but that is a post for another day.)

Being a mother has taught me to make use of any available ingredient when preparing dinner. Anyone who has ever been to a grocery store with a toddler can attest to the  desirability necessity of avoiding ever taking a toddler to a grocery store. While you might not have the ingredients on hand to make this dish right this second, I do hope this encourages you to take a cooking technique you know and love (for me - in this instance - braising), raid your freezer and fridge and cook something unexpected! It might just amaze you.

Spring lamb chops with artichoke

Use loin lamb chops (the kind that look like triangles - NOT the kind with stick-like bone, which is a much more expensive cut of lamb and should be cooked rare or medium rare on the grill). My husband and I don't eat a lot of meat and only eat 1 chop each, but I would say a traditional American-size serving would be 2 chops per person, hence the variation in serving size.

2-4 servings

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 lamb loin chops
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or thyme leaves
2 cups dry white wine
2 cups beef or chicken stock
4 loin lamb chops
1 package frozen quartered artichoke hearts (Trader Joes brand preferred)

Take the artichoke hearts out of the freezer and leave on the counter whilst you prepare the lamb. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed medium fry-pan until shimmering. Pat dry the lamb chops and season with salt and pepper. Add the chops to the pan and until browned, about 2 minutes, then flip and brown on the other side, another 2 minutes. Remove the chops to a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion and garlic. Add more olive oil if necessary. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion softens and sweats, about 7 minutes. Add the rosemary or thyme, then add the wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up the brown bits. Turn the heat to high and bring the wine to a boil, then add the stock and bring that to a boil. Add the lamb chops, make sure that the chops are almost completely submerged in the liquid so that they braise properly and turn the heat to low. Cover, and simmer on lowest heat for 2 hours, turning the chops over half-way through. When the meat is fork-tender (about 2 hours), remove the chops and put them on a plate and cover to keep warm. Rinse the frozen artichoke hearts with water in a colander, then add them to the broth. Turn the heat to medium, cover and cook for about 10 more minutes, or until the artichokes are cooked.

To serve place a lamp chop or two on each plate then ladle plenty of broth and artichokes over it. Serve with good bread or buttered noodles; a crisp, unfussy, green salad; and plenty of dry white wine, light-bodied red wine, or pilsner.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Easy Ricotta Pancakes

Tonight when I was putting the boys to sleep, they wouldn't stop making each other laugh hysterically. 

Here's an excerpt:
Gunnar "poo poo Mama" <laughs hysterically, in the way only an adorable 16 month old baby boy can>
Gage <laughs, tee hee hee>
Gunnar "poo poo" <hehehehe>
Gage "goo goo gah gah Mama"
<everyone dissolves in hysterical giggles>
Me "It's sleepy time guys, close your eyes, shhhhhh shhhh shhhh"
<a full minute of silence>
Gunnar "poo poo" <laughs, eyes closed the whole time>

Bathroom humor aside, this exchange was adorable and kinda the best way to wrap up a great day with these two little guys. (Gage earlier in the bath told me "Mom, Gunnar is my best friend", with a clear emphasis on "best.") I am not saying I don't have bad days with these two cuties. There are days when I want to tear my hair out, stomp, yell and throw things. There are days when I shout in anger at them, which no child deserves. I am not a perfect mama and it is not a perfect life. But today was pretty great. And I think that part of the reason that happened is because I woke up, made coffee, then right away made these pancakes with both boys as my special big helpers. 

These are some of the best pancakes AND also some of the easiest. I'm actually astonished I haven't blogged about them before, because I make them at least once every other week. They are delectable enough to serve to guests for a fancy brunch, but so easy you'll want to make them all the time. Five ingredients people! That's almost the same number of ingredients you need for box-mix pancakes! And don't be intimidated by breaking out the hand mixer for the egg whites.... It really only takes one extra minute and it ensures the light-as-air texture which makes them so very, very good. Plus, there's nothing like enticing little ones to help then letting them press buttons on a fancy electronic toy.

Easy Ricotta Pancakes
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 1/3 cup whole milk ricotta (preferably Trader Joe's brand)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 large eggs, separated 

In a large bowl, mix the first four ingredients, plus the egg yolks until smooth. In a separate bowl beat egg whites until soft peaks form (whites stay in shape when you lift the beaters up.) Mix 1/3 of whipped egg whites gently into the ricotta mixture, then fold in the rest of the egg whites, very gently until just combined. Scoop up the batter using a 1/4 cup measuring cup and pour onto a well-buttered hot griddle or skillet (NOT non-stick) and cook over low heat until bubbles form, then flip over gently and cook till cooked through. Repeat until all pancakes are cooked, making sure to add more butter to the pan before each batch addition.

For company, serve with berries and powdered sugar (really no syrup needed!) 

You can also substitute the vanilla for 1 teaspoon lemon zest, or 1/4 teaspoon almond extract.

I've also made these with half full-fat Greek yogurt and half ricotta, and they were also very tasty, although less fluffy.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Whole grain chocolate fudge cake

One of my favorite little kid book authors is Sandra Boynton. One of her books, a book of moods, goes through different ways a child could be feeling. "Angry as a duck" "contented as a frog" and so on, pairing moods with animals you weren't sure could ever have one. But my favorite page is near the end "You might feel that, somehow, you've lost all your fizz. Or you're frazzled like a... frazzled thing. I'm not sure what is is." Well, Mrs Boynton, I'll tell you, that frazzled thing - as I'm sure you know since you've been one yourself - is a mommy of young children. In particular, this mommy, whose 1 year old is cutting four molars at once (why!?) and suffering from a bad head cold and thus up at least five times a night, and whose 4 year old (although sleeping in his own bed on his own in his own room - yay!) wakes up like clockwork at 4:30 or 5. Oh, and whose husband has been working 80-90 hr weeks for months now. I am really just spent. And so, when my kid wants chocolate cake, instead of being like oh, let's cut up some apples in star shapes! I'm like, YES. CHOCOLATE CAKE. NOW. GREAT IDEA.

However, my inner supermama is like, woah, hold on. Yes we can make chocolate cake, but let's try to make it just a little bit healthy. Because, you know, then you can eat half of it and not feel guilty, errr I mean, you can feel just a little better about giving it to your precious progeny.

My previous attempt at whole grain chocolate cake was an utter failure. Way too crumbly. Although I must say that my kids clearly have no culinary standards when it comes to chocolate because they both devoured it. But this time..... this time.... ahhhhhh. It is SOOO good. It is ahhh okay I don't care I was woken up at 4am after only a few hours of broken sleep because if I had slept a full 8 hours I would be eating apples cut into cute shapes instead of this divinity - good.

So, go on, get into the kitchen already. This is so easy to whip up and you will feel so much better after having a piece. Happy as a hippo. I promise.

Whole grain Chocolate Fudge Cake
adapted from King Arthur Flour

I'm a bit anti-egg recently for no real reason, so I used chia seeds as an egg substitute. Do whatever is easiest for you, but trust me that the chia seeds are awesome and make the cake just a tad more crumbly than it would otherwise be. (Just don't try to unmold the egg-less cake onto a plate, this is pure snack cake, not party cake.) Also, I used a cocoa brand which is half dutch-processed, half not. The original recipe called for dutch-processed only, which is why I added a bit of baking powder. If you use pure dutch-processed you can probably omit the baking powder, and if you only have Hershey's (which is not dutch-processed) then I would probably cut the baking soda in half and double the baking powder. As for flour, I used this awesome sprouted spelt flour I got at whole foods. I would go cautiously if using a super heavy whole-grain flour. When you measure it out, if you can see a lot of bran in the flour then I would use half white flour. Lastly, you can swap out the oils mentioned for almost any oil you prefer. Using half coconut or half peanut would work nicely too. 

1/2 cup Dutch processed cocoa
1 cup hot water
2 tablespoons coffee
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup canola oil
2 cups whole grain spelt, ancient wheat, or other sprouted flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk or European style yogurt
2 large eggs, or 2 tablespoons chia seeds soaked in 6 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 10 x 8, or 9 x 13 pan.

Put cocoa in a small mixing bowl and pour boiling hot water over it, whisking until smooth. Add in coffee and oil, whisk together.

In a large bowl whisk together all the dry ingredients. Pour the cocoa mixture over and stir until combined. Add the eggs (or chia mixture), the buttermilk and the vanilla and stir until smooth.

Pour into prepared pan and bake just until a toothpick comes out with with moist crumbs. This took about a half hour for me, but as always, bake time will depend on the baking vessel, the weather, the altitude and your oven. Do not overbake!!

Eat with your kids and don't feel guilty.