Archive for February, 2010

I would like to take this moment to say “yum”.  YUM!

…and this is why…

I made this cake this morning.  And yes, I had a piece for lunch.  Well pre-lunch, really.  But it was after noon.  Not that cake before noon and alcohol before noon have the same connotation.  Because they don’t.  Unless you’re referring to the addictive tendencies of those who partake in such substances before noon.  And in that case, I’ll plead guilty.  Without will-power.  But for the next 5 months, I’ll just go ahead and plead pregnant. That works, right? Umm…

Anyhoo.  I just felt like making a cake.  I don’t know why.  There’s no rhyme or reason to it.  I have nothing more to say on the subject.  Except that I highly recommend that if you ever find yourself wanting to make a fabulously moist, extra-super delicious butter cake, this here is the one to try.  The recipe has been dog-eared in one of my favorite cookbooks for ages.  And on a whim, I just decided to take the plunge (into heaven).

Butter Cake with Milk-Chocolate Ganache Frosting barely adapted from The Baker’s Dozen Cookbook
This recipe yields one 9-inch layer cake.  You may double it to make two layers.

As with all recipes with few ingredients, it’s especially important to use the best ingredients you can find…so shell out the money for some really great butter- after all this is a butter cake!

For the Butter Cake

  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • rounded 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 pound (one stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup whole milk, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place an oven rack in the lower 1/3 of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.  Line the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan with a circle of parchment.  There is no need to butter and flour the pan.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt.  Stir to mix well and aerate.

Place the room-temperature butter in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Beat on medium speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary, until the butter is lighter in color- about 45 seconds.  With the mixer still on medium speed, add the sugar in a steady stream.  Once all the sugar has been incorporated, scrape down the sides of the bowl, then continue to mix on medium speed until the mixture is very light in color and texture- 4 to 5 minutes.

Slowly pour in the eggs, about 1 Tablespoon at a time,  allowing each addition to be fully incorporated before adding more.  The whole process should take at least 2 to 3 minutes.

Combine the vanilla and milk in a small bowl or measuring cup.

With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture in four doses, alternating with the milk in three doses.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl in between additions.

Pour the batter into the cake pan and place in the oven to bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and set on a rack to cool for 10 minutes.  Invert onto a plate and remove the parchment paper.  then put the parchment back on the cake, with the sticky side up.  Re-invert the whole thing back on to a rack until fully cooled.

To use the next day, simply wrap tightly in plastic.  To be frozen, wrap tightly in plastic and then wrap again in foil- freeze for 2 weeks.  OR ice it and eat now!

Milk-Chocolate Ganache Frosting
Yields about 3 cups of icing.

You’ll get a little more frosting than you’ll need for this cake, however, it’s delicious dolloped into your morning coffee!  This icing turned out great and I loved it, but next time I’d like to try a different ratio using a little less cream and a little more chocolate for a slightly denser result.  Also, you’ll need to start this frosting at least 4-6 hours before you’re ready to use it.  I recommend melting the cream and chocolate together the day before so that’s it’s ready to whip when you are.

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 6-1/2 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped

Place the chocolate in a medium bowl and set aside.  Heat the cream in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan until bubbles begin to appear around the edges.  Pour the cream over the chocolate and let it sit for about 15 minutes.  Stir with a rubber spatula until the mixture is smooth and the chocolate is fully dissolved.  Cool completely and chill for at least 4 to 6 hours, or overnight.

Just before using, pour the mixture into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Whip on medium-high speed until the mixture holds stiff peaks and is spreadable.  Use immediately.


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I know, I know…prunes again.  But I think I already provided you with full disclosure.   I love prunes.  And meanwhile, I’ve had this Bergamot sitting in the fridge, calling my name, begging me to do something interesting with it. And then I happened upon Molly Wizenberg’s recipe for stewed prunes in her book, A Homemade Life.  Have you read it?  I love it.  It’s  sweet and romantic in a lovely-life sort of way.

Well, Molly uses an orange and cinnamon stick as flavoring, but I thought that this would be a perfect place to use that Bergamot.  And it uses the whole thing, which is a plus, since Bergamots are hard to come by and expensive!! I wasn’t willing to use just the juice, or just the zest.  I wanted to get my money’s worth!

Have you ever tasted a Bergamot?  Really, I’m not sure how to describe the flavor.  The flesh is sweet and kind-of earthy-musty- floral- all- at-once.  In fact, it’s part of the flavor profile in Earl Grey Tea, and is used as a “scent” in some cleaning products.  But to have a fresh one, cut in front of you is wonderful.  If ever you come across a Bergamot- shell out the bucks and buy it!

Prunes stewed with Bergamot and Cardamon adapted from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

  • 12 ounces pitted prunes
  • 1 small bergamot
  • 4 cardamon pods

Slice the bergamot into 1/4-inch slices- skin and all.  Remove the seeds.  Place the slices in a wide, shallow sauce pan along with the pitted prunes and cardomon pods.  Add water to barely cover. Place the sauce pot over medium heat and bring the water to a simmer until the water barely “trembles” (Molly’s description- don’t you love it?).  Cook very gently for 30 minutes.  Allow to cool and store, refrigerated for at least 24 hours before using.

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As a kid, you might say I was a flirt with vegetables.  We’d bat our eyes at each other and then I’d push them away.  Oh, there were a few that I’d devour, like corn, broccoli, and frozen string beans, but for the most part I had to be coerced in to eating them.  Artichokes, however, were never on my “bad” list.  They’re a fun finger food.  You practically have to play with them to eat them, and plus, there’s the whole dip thing…melted butter, mayo…mmm.  My current favorite dip is good ol’ Best Foods mayo, thinned with lemon juice and spiked with Tobasco (thanks to many artichoke extravaganzas with the Shim family- thanks Tommy!).

But oh….the hearts!  They are the lovliest of all.  The reward at the end of the adventure.  Always leaving me wanting just one more. I like to cut the heart up into at least four bites (no matter the size of the artichoke), just to make sure that I have as many mouthfuls of that lovely heart as I possibly can.

And on that note… Eat Your Heart Out! and have a happy Valentine’s Day.

P.S. Don’t know how to cook an artichoke?  Oh dear.  It’s just so simple.  Trim the stalk to a length of about one inch.  Use a sharp kitchen knife to trim the top inch off the artichoke and then use pair of kitchen shears to trim the thorns from the remaining leaves.  Run under cold, running water, spreading the leaves slightly to rinse out any dirt that may have collected.  Bring a pot of salted water to a simmer and add the chokes.  Simmer until a knife can easily pierce the underside of the choke (where the heart is).  Remove from the boiling water and place upside-down on a plate to drain for 30 seconds or so.  Dig in!

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I never was an orange-eater.  Sure, I’d eat them, but I wouldn’t seek them out.  They just didn’t thrill me.  But have you ever had a spectacular orange?  Unbelievably sweet, with enough acid to balance it out and absolutely full of flavor?  Well, let me tell you somethin’- you’re in for a real treat when you do.

We are in the height of citrus season right now.  So please, don’t buy raspberries or strawberries or blueberries right now.  Buy citrus! Explore the huge variety of citrus that is available right now…Navel oranges, blood oranges, cara cara oranges, pomelo, oro blanco grapefruit, kumquats, Meyer lemons, and soooo many more.

Wandering through the Marin Farmer’s Market two weeks ago, I came upon a farm which grows tons of heirloom citrus.  Bergamot, yuzu limes, sweet yellow limes, and so many more.  It was fun to peruse.

But I must say, I’m still not too interested in peeling an orange and just eating it out of hand.  But I’ll tell you what I discovered.  Olive oil changes everything. I can’t get enough of this: sliced oranges on a plate, dressed with extra-virgin olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and a splash of red wine vinegar.  We’ve been serving some variation of this salad at the restaurant for the past few weeks and it’s a hit with everybody.  My favorite version includes avocado (though my avocado obsession can rightly be blamed on other things**).  Other yummy additions are arugula leaves, chervil, cilantro, black pepper, chili flake, thinly sliced red onions, and fennel.  But don’t stop there- there are a million additions that would be delish.

It would be pointless to supply a recipe for this salad.  It couldn’t be easier.  But what I will do is give you instructions for peeling a piece of citrus with a knife.  Here’s how it goes.  If you’re peeling a smallish piece of fruit, use a small paring knife.  For a larger piece, like grapefruit, use a larger chef’s knife.  Trim both the stem-end and flower-end of the citrus so that you barely cut into the flesh of the fruit.  If your first trimming only cuts into the white pith, trim it again, a little farther in so that you get into the flesh of the citrus.  Now, turn the citrus onto one of the cut ends.  Using your sharp knife, slice down in a bulging vertical motion to slice off a slab of the rind.  (Note that you must use a bulging vertical motion because your citrus is round, not flat!)  The point here, is to remove all the rind and white pith, leaving behind the flesh of the fruit.  If you accidentally leave some of the white pith behind, go back and trim it again- you’ll get better as you go.  Now, turn the citrus slightly and make your next cut from top to bottom as you did with the previous cut.  Turn the citrus and do it again.  Continue along these lines until your whole citrus is peeled.  Tada!  Do you have a strangely-shaped, no-longer-oblong piece of fruit?  Don’t worry- the more you practice, the better you’ll get- it’s a difficult task! (That being said, I worked for a chef once, who told me that she used to have new cooks peel citrus in this way during their try-out to assess their knife skills!  Yikes!)

So, as you can see, I used blood-oranges in my yummy little salad (aren’t blood oranges gorgeous?) (and by the way, there are quite a few varieties of blood-oranges, all with slightly different flavors, acid levels and striations of color). But you can use any variety of citrus you want. Yum!

**So, maybe I am obsessed with certain foods during pregnancy- like avocado, yogurt, and spicy tomato sauce.  But I didn’t think I had any strange cravings until Scott asked me what I had for lunch yesterday.  “Romaine salad with toasted almonds, shallot-vinaigrette, and tomato sauce”, I replied.   “Like, just cold tomato sauce stirred into your salad?” he asked incredulously…”Um… yeah.?  Why?  Does that sound weird to you?”  He didn’t respond because he was laughing too hard.

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