Chocolate Birthday Cake with Vanilla Frosting

Wed, Jan 14 • 0

I don’t often get called to make birthday cakes, but when I do, this is the recipe I use. It’s practically foolproof, and completely rich and delicious, with dark chocolate cake mounded with sweet, white frosting. I usually make it as a layer cake, but it works perfectly fine as a sheet cake or even cupcakes –just use the toothpick method to figure out the proper cooking time.

My friend Theresa tried making this recipe, and snapped a picture of the result.

My friend Theresa tried making this recipe, and snapped a picture of the result.

Cake :

butter, for the pans
3 c all-purpose flour, plus a little more for the pans
2/3 c cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 c sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 c canola (or corn) oil
2 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup water
1 cup cold coffee

  • Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans, and line the bottoms with parchment.
  • Gently mix together the dry ingredients in your mixing bowl with the beater blade.
  • With the mixer on low, add the oil, vinegar, and vanilla, and mix, then add the water and the coffee, and blend until well mixed.
  • Pour the batter equally into the cake pans, and back for 30 minutes, swapping and turning them after 15. You know they’re done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  • Cool completely in the pans.

Frosting:

1-1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
3 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
pinch of salt
2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan, and heat to 240° or soft-ball stage. Meanwhile, start beating the egg whites, the cream of tartar, and the salt in your mixer until foamy.
  • Once the sugar syrup is at temperature, resume beating the egg whites on high, and add the hot syrup in a slow drizzle.
  • Add the vanilla, and continue mixing until the frosting is glossy and the mixing bowl is cool to the touch.

Rikers Island Carrot Cake

Mon, Aug 16 • 0

Each batch makes 25 nine-and-a-half-pound loaves of carrot cake. The kitchen crew at Rikers apparently make 2,500 loaves of this cake a year, which is served on holidays. Each loaf serves 20 inmates. As for the quantities, I don’t recommend down-sizing the quantities and hoping to get the same results. My grandmother-in-law, Edna Macnamer, used to run a bakery in rural Tennessee, and she’s been frustrated trying to replicate some of her favorite recipes scaled down for her own home kitchen. Still, if you should happen to have access to an industrial mixer and 200 eggs, you might consider whipping this one up.

25 pounds sugar
3 gallons vegetable oil
25 pounds flour
8 ounces salt
1 pound baking powder
8 ounces baking soda
6 ounces nutmeg
6 ounces allspice
4 ounces clove powder
4 ounces ginger
8 ounces cinnamon
25 pounds carrots
25 pounds eggs (about 250 large eggs!)
8 pounds walnuts
20 pounds raisins
8 ounces vanilla extract

  • Place in a mixing bowl – sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, clove powder, allspice, baking powder, baking sods, salt. Using a paddle mix on slow for five minutes.
  • Add raisins, carrots, walnuts, eggs, vegetable oil and vanilla extract mix on slow speed for an additional five minutes.
  • Increase speed to medium for 10 minutes.
  • Pour into loaf pans. Pans should be three-quarters full.
  • Bake at 400° for 20 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350° and bake for 20 more.

Source: New York Times

Update: GOOD NEWS! The New York Times has published a scaled down version of the recipe more appropriate for home cooks.


Strawberry Jam

Wed, Mar 3 • 1

This jam in midwinter tastes as fresh as the berries tasted the previous summer. The secret is to make small batches and to not overcook. The jam tends to be thinner (excellent for pancakes or ice-cream topping!) and less gummy than store-bought, but the fresh flavor cannot be beat. If you prefer thicker jam, you might experiment with adding some pectin.

1 lb. fresh strawberries, blueberries, raspberries or other berries
2 cups sugar

Wash and clean berries, and place whole (do not crush!) into medium sized saucepan with 1 cup of sugar. Warm over low heat while stirring gently and occasionally until the sugar melts and forms a syrup. Turn heat up to medium high and bring to a boil until foam appears on the top. Skim the foam, add the second cup of sugar, and boil just until jam forms a sheet on the end of your spoon. (Do not overcook — if you do, the jam will slowly transform itself into something that tastes no different from store-bought!) Pour into sterilized jars (leave enough headroom for ice expansion), seal jars with sterilized jar lids, cool, and store in the freezer.


Scotcheroos

Wed, Mar 3 • 1

Kellog's Rice KrispiesThese are a family tradition with my in-laws. Whenever two or more are gathered together, these sweet treats are made. (They’ve made them so often, there are metal cake pans that have scored cut marks in the bottoms.) They’re really delicious and pretty easy to make, and great for pot-luck suppers. Unless you try serving them to a room full of diabetics, you’ll never, ever have leftovers.

1 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup smooth peanut butter
6 cups Rice Krispies® cereal
1 small bag (12-16 oz) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 small bag (12-16 oz) butterscotch chips

In a 3-quart saucepan, combine the sugar and the corn-syrup and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, and stir in the peanut butter, and mix well. Add the cereal, stirring until blended. Press the mixture into a buttered 13x9x2-inch sheet pan. Melt the chocolate and butterscotch chips together in a double-boiler, or use a microwave: half power for 3 minutes, stirring, and then up to another 2 minutes. Spread melted mixture over the Rice Krispies® mixture in the pan. Cool until firm, and cut into squares. Do not refrigerate!


Mincemeat Tartlets, Update

Wed, Dec 23 • 0

So here’s what I ended up doing from my last entry, trying to come up with mincemeat pies that would better survive the shipping process, since the shortbread I used was really just too fragile.

I next tried my standard pie crust recipe, which ended up quite flaky and delicious, but was still way, way too fragile.

I finally settled on a pocket pie crust recipe as described on Alton Brown’s Good Eats show. This all-shortening dough recipe is incredibly easy to work with. Unlike other pie doughs, you want to build up the gluten in it, which makes it more durable, capable of standing up to — well — carrying a pie in your pocket. So rolling the dough out, and then rerolling it and re-re-rolling it, to use up all of the remnants to make more pies won’t hurt it a bit. (Try doing that with a regular pie dough.) Granted, it’s quite a long way from the shortbread little cups with stars in it, as described in Nigella’s television show, but these are much more practical. Of course, the proof will be in the pudding. I mailed off several packages today with a couple of these pies inside. We’ll see how well they hold up.

In addition, the way you cook the dough is very versatile. You can bake it, like I did, or pan fry the pies in a little butter (like a pot-sticker), or you can deep fat fry them. And apparently the dough works equally well for sweet or savory fillings, though I personally think the addition of a little sugar to the mix might go a long way to improving the crust, as well as perhaps adding a little more browning in the oven.

And I have a few more distant friends and relatives who I plan on sending some belated Christmas cheer to, so I’ll be making at least one more batch. This time, though, I intend on making smaller, more bite-sized pies than the ones described in the recipe. And I might even try deep frying them. We’ll see how they turn out.

If you’d like to watch the episode where the recipe is demonstrated, it’s been uploaded to Youtube and is in 2 parts — below.

Part 1 : A Pie in Every Pocket , Good Eats, S09E12

Part 2 : A Pie in Every Pocket , Good Eats, S09E12


Mincemeat Tartlets

Thu, Dec 17 • 0

I saw a version of this recipe on Nigella Lawson’s Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen and thought I’d make them and send them off, far and wide, to distant relatives for the holidays. In the end, though, they’re really just too fragile for shipping, so only my local loved-ones will get these from me, but  I may make little turnovers using more traditional pie crust, filled with the “mincemeat,” which I hope will end up being a bit more durable. I may update this entry after I’ve made a batch.

First, the “mincemeat,” which I put in quotes because it’s really not. It’s more like a spicy, boozy cranberry/orange chutney. Mincemeat, traditionally, has some in common with this mixture, like raisins and currents and booze, but it also usually has lard in it. This one  is, as advertised, a much lighter version.

2½ oz brown sugar
2fl oz ruby port
1 tablespoon molasses
12oz fresh cranberries (1 package)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
2½ oz raisins
2½ oz dried cherries
1 oz dried cranberries
1 navel orange, zest & juice
1fl oz brandy
few drops almond extract
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons honey

In a medium saucepan, melt the brown sugar in the port wine over low heat. Stir in the cranberries. Add all of the spices, the dried fruit, and the zest and juice from the orange, and bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 20 minutes. The pectin in the cranberries will quickly thicken the sauce. Stir occasionally and cook until all of the fresh cranberries have popped — which might need a little coaxing by pressing them against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. Once everything has broken down, remove from the heat, and let it cool down a little before adding the rest of the ingredients. (If the mixture is too hot, you’ll evaporate all the alcohol in the extracts and the brandy, along with all of their flavor, too.) Stir the mixture until everything is pretty much broken down into a chunky jam. From there, you can store the mixture in your refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

So while I was amassing the ingredients for all of this, I was completely shocked at the price of whole cloves. The store I was shopping in wanted $11 for a 1.25 ounce jar. With all of the dried fruit, extract, and booze in this recipe, it’s definitely something you’ll want to save for the holidays. I ended up buying enough to make 3 batches, and I think I easily spent $60 on the ingredients.

Nigella’s program showed her using this mincemeat in little tartlets she made using small muffin trays, lining each with a layer of shortbread dough, and topping each with a shortbread star. I tried following her recipe from both the television show and the web (which were identical), but the quantities given were given in metric. I believe I converted them correctly into standard measurements. Her recipe called for equal parts butter and vegetable shortening, along with flour, a dash of salt, and fresh orange juice. I deviated slightly, by also including the zest of the orange as well. In the end, the results were awful, and I don’t think I can blame the zest. The cooked dough was way too dry and crumbly, to the point that I couldn’t even swallow it.

I searched on the net for a standard shortbread recipe, and came up with this decent one.

1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
2 cups flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder

Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Add the flour and the baking powder and mix until it forms a ball. Wrap in plastic and form it into a disk and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, enough time to preheat your oven to 350°. Roll it out to a thickness of a ¼ inch, and cut 2 inch circles. Line each cup of a mini-muffin pan with the circles, and fill each cup with a spoonful of the cranberry mincemeat. Top with some of the leftover shortbread — you could do as Nigella did and cut little stars, but I didn’t have a star-shaped cookie cutter, so I just cut little strips of shortbread, 4 strips to a tartlet, and made little latticework, just like you might do with a pie. Put these in the middle of the preheated oven, and cook for 12-15 minutes, or until the shortbread starts to turn golden brown.


Christmas Cookies with Legs

Thu, Dec 11 • 0

42-17861611A week or two ago, I posted a link to Gourmet magazine’s website that listed 60+ years worth of cookie recipes, which is really, really great, unless your intent is to make stuff to send to far off relatives. Almost all the cookies on their list rely on you making and eating the cookies within a couple of days. I’m planning on sending stuff off to my relatives who live 500+ miles away, so I thought I’d do a little research and come up with recipes that I can make that’ll keep fresh for longer than a couple of days. Here’s some that I came up with.

Micheal Chiarello demonstrated an unusual fried cookie that’s later drenched in honey, called Turdilli. On the show I watched, he said that these cookies would keep a month, but the website says they’ll only keep a week.

Cranberry Biscotti
These will keep a month in a sealed container. Makes 48 cookies

1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup sugar
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1¼ teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
2 eggs (or 2/3 c. fat free egg substitute)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup fresh cranberries, chopped
1/3 cup sliced almonds

Preheat the oven to 350º f (175º c). Line a baking sheet with parchment. Sift the dry ingredients together (first 7 items) into a mixing bowl. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat until moistened. Reduce the mixing speed, and add the cranberries and half of the almonds, and beat into a light dough, about 2 minutes. Lightly flour your work surface. Divide the dough in half, and roll each into a log. Transfer to your baking sheet, putting them at least 3 inches apart. Pat the logs until they’re 1½ inches wide. Stud each log with the remaining almond slices. Bake until slightly firm to the touch, about 30 minutes. Let them cool on a baking rack for another 10.

While they’re cooling, reduce the oven temperature to 300° f (95° c). With a serrated knife, slice each log into ½ inch slices. Spread the slices back onto your baking sheet, and bake for another 30 minutes, until the cookies are dry. Cool 5 minutes, and remove to a rack to cool completely.


Sixty Years of Christmas Cookies

Sat, Nov 15 • 0
image courtesy, Gourmet Magazine
(image courtesy Gourmet Magazine)

Gourmet Magazine offers up a great site detailing 60 years worth of recipes for cookies. The recipes are presented just as they appeared on the pages of the magazine, so the recipes for the cookies from the 40’s don’t presume you’ll be using modern conveniences like a food processor, so you may want to tinker a bit with them, unless you’re aiming for ultimate authenticity.

If you’re on my holiday list, you can look forward to getting to taste some of these this December.

Note: 1/18/2010, With the demise of Gourmet Magazine, or just the passage of time, it appears this link is now dead. Sorry about that.


More from the Road

Wed, Aug 6 • 0

When you’re the only one who can cook, and you’re used to cooking for two and have to feed a crowd.

Well, it looks like I’m the chief cook on this visit to my in-laws. Not that I mind much, though it is a little stressful, especially since I’m not used to cooking for a crowd. Two nights ago, I improvised and just picked up various grillable things (two ribeye steaks, two orange roughy filets, and an assortment of bratwurst and mittwurst, all of which I cooked on my sis-in-laws gas grill, along with some storebought potato/macaroni salad and cole slaw.) Last night, given time to plan, I completely overdid it and made twice as much food as was required. (I made a pan full of manicotti (cheese) and a pan full of cannelloni (meat), with garlic bread and salad greens.) The first night, the mixed grill was a great success, with only a couple of the hot dogs left over. Last night, half of each of the trays of pasta remained, with the manicotti being slightly more popular. Compounded by my unfamiliarity to the kitchen I’m working in, and that it belongs to a person who really doesn’t cook much, so a trip to the store sometimes involves buying the cooking equipment as well.

The pasta was improvised from the manicotti recipe I posted last February, as best I could remember it. i wimped out and used jarred spaghetti sauce in the interest of saving time. The cannelloni was stuffed with browned ground buffalo meat, onion, oregano and garlic, that I whizzed briefly in the food processor to get a finer mixture. The meat rolls were harder to make than the cheese rolls because the meat mixture kept dribbling out of the tubes as I filled them. I was afraid when I took them out of the oven, since the pasta on the cannelloni looked a little dry, but they were fine. Next time, I think more liquid to the ground meat mixture might solve both the filling and the baking issues. I even made a bechemel sauce which I anointed each pan with before putting them in the oven.

I also tried making a summer fruit crumble (blueberries, black raspberries, and white peaches, tossed with some flour and sugar, as well as some orange zest and orange juice, and topped with a mixture of flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, pie spices and butter … based on a recipe I saw Ina Garten make), but I didn’t take into account that it’s supposed to be served warm or at room temp, and it was past 8 before I even took it out of the oven. I figured I’ll serve that with dinner tonight. Instead, I improvised and broke out one of the jars of peach preserves I brought down as gifts, and spooned them over vanilla ice cream, and that seemed to be a good success.

If I could just get away from being such a control freak in the kitchen, it might be less stressful. i had plenty of offers for assistance, and my sister-in-law actually does want to get more proficient in the kitchen. I will make an effort to let her help me make the dinner tonight.

Yesterday we went to a local foodie landmark, Jungle Jim’s — a one-of-a-kind super-duper supermarket — part supermarket, part carnival, really. They’ve taken cast offs from a nearby amusement park in an effort to jazz up the place, so shoppers are greeted by giant fiberglass animals in a mock oasis, as well as a non-functioning monorail system. Once inside the warehouse-sized store, it’s hard not to be dazzled by the selection. Their international foods section is amazing. Where most stores have a section of one aisle devoted to different world cuisines, Jungle Jims offers aisle upon aisle to products from different countries. I took one or two covert pictures (cameras aren’t allowed inside), which I’ll upload and post later. One standout highlight is their hot sauce aisles – yes, aisles — every hot sauce made on the planet can be bought at Jungle Jim’s, I think. Hundreds of different bottles. Jungle Jim’s

Today, the plan is to go to the Findlay farmer’s market in Cinci, and perhaps a trip to the Newport Aquarium, if all goes well. I’m not sure what’s gonna be on the menu tonight. Probably leftovers, if they’ll have it, augmented with something fresh from the grill — shrimp or fish, I think.

Some of the delicacies available at Findlay Market.


In Season Now : Peaches

Wed, Jul 23 • 4

Stores are selling peaches at a cut-rate price now. Sweet and juicy, now’s the time to think about canning some so you can have that flavor all autumn and winter, too.

Look for the best you can find … firm, but that have a fragrance. Even if they’re a little under-ripe, they’ll ripen at home, unmolested by squeezy shoppers. (One firm squeeze is enough to bruise them.) To ripen at home, place your peaches in a paper sack with a couple of ripe bananas. These will exude ethylene gas, which triggers the peaches to ripen even more quickly than they normally would. Ripening can happen in as little as 12 hours, so buy enough so you can keep tasting one to test for sweetness.

I wouldn’t start with anything less than 10lbs of peaches, since it’s not worth the trouble to work with any less. And resist the temptation to use nectarines.. even though most people dislike the furry skin of a peach — we’ll be skinning them — nectarine flesh tends to stick hard onto the pit.

Wash the canning jars in the dishwasher, turning on all the features to make it the hottest, sterilizing wash you can manage. Don’t wash the lids with the little rubber rings, though. The heat will compromise their integrity, and could give you a bad seal. Instead, wash these in hot water with some bleach in it, then rinse them thoroughly.

To prepare your peaches, boil a large pot of water, and have a bowl of ice water handy. I worked in batches of 6 at a time, but if you’re working with help, you can set up a regular assembly line. Cut an X in the bottom of each peach, just enough to cut through the skin, as you drop it gently into the boiling water, and let them heat up for about 30 seconds. Remove them all to the ice water bath. The skin should satisfyingly peel off. (If at all resistant, just dunk it back into the hot water for a little longer, then into the ice water again.) You can try to cut the peaches into halves, or even the neat little sections you see in industrial canned peaches, but I found it easier to just cut them randomly, in mouth sized pieces, discarding the pit, and any bruised or brown parts — keeping a sharp eye out for any tooth-breaking bits they sometimes leave behind. Toss the cut segments with Fruit Fresh (powdered vitamin C) or lemon juice to prevent oxidation. Repeat these steps until you’ve processed all of your peaches.

Now, prepare your syrup mixture. I went with a mixture of apple juice and a little Splenda, and some spices (cinnamon and star anise). I found that one gallon (64 oz.) of juice is enough to fill 12 pint jars mostly full of peach segments. I used three small sticks of cinammon, and 2 whole star anise. Pick good quality apple juice, preferably with the least amount of additives and no sugar added. I used ¾ c of Splenda for a gallon of apple juice, but you can increase or decrease that, depending on the sweetness of your peaches. Heat this to a gentle boil.

Spoon the peaches into the sterilized jars, leaving a little space at the top. Then ladle the hot apple juice in, covering the top, but leaving a little headroom. Cover and attach the screwtop rings to finger tight.

Once you’ve gotten this far, you can rest for a little while. Put your biggest pot on to boil, with enough water to immerse your jars with an inch of water over them. When the water is at a full boil, carefully lower your jars into the hot water, and let them boil for at least 20 minutes — longer if you live at altitude. Then remove the jars and allow them to cool. In 24 hours, remove the screwtop rings, and check the seal. If any aren’t solid, set those jars aside, and eat them within a week, storing them in the fridge. As for the rest, keep them in a cool, dark area, away from heat sources, for up to 12 months. When you go to eat them later down the road, inspect them carefully when you open them. Any that have obvious signs of decay — mold, smell, etc. — discard immediately.

Here are some links for more information :

FreshPreserving.com — the public website of Ball jars and canning supplies, in the business since 1884.

PickYourOwn.org — has a great guide, including charts for making different kinds of syrup mixtures, as well as boiling times for the last canning step, depending on altitude.


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