Flashback Friday – Nobody Bakes A Cake As Tasty

Flashback Friday

The following originally appeared on 11/28/08 at Exit 51.

Nobody Bakes A Cake As Tasty

Preparing Thanksgiving dinner is a lot of pressure.  Expectations are high and people come to the table HUNGRY.  So when dishes don’t quite hit the mark, it can be disappointing.  I’ll give you an example.  Actually, I’ll give you three.

That Mushroom and Barley Pie that I snagged from Smitten Kitchen – everything about it said winner.  Simple flavors, minimal ingredients, and make ahead preparation; these are all good things in the kitchen.  When I pulled it from the oven, the puff pastry had risen to golden brown heights and the smell of mushrooms and bacon filled the kitchen.  At least it looked good.  The taste was not what I had hoped for.  The filling was dry and overwhelmed by the shiitake broth that I used to cook the barley.  Note to self, next time don’t use rehydrated dried shiitake in the mushroom mix.  Stick with fresh portobello or crimini and use beef stock for cooking the barley.  I think I’ll be much happier with those flavors.  And what about the flavor of the red onions that I painstakingly caramelized for the better part of an hour?  They completely disappeared.  Terribly disappointing.  Especially when the smell of buttery cooked onion lingers for days in the house.  Ahhh, what could have been.

And what about the stuffing, you ask.   It’s definitely got potential but I wouldn’t say it lived up to it yesterday.  I have very fond memories of stuffing…moist but not gummy, firm but not dense.  Mine wasn’t bad, but it’s got room for improvement.  I’m going to have to quiz The Grandma this weekend on how she got hers just right.  How do you  know when you’ve added enough liquid to make it moist but not soggy?  Clearly, I should have paid more attention to what went on in her kitchen.

Maybe most frustrating was the roasted butternut squash.  I say maybe most frustrating because I KNOW how to make this.  But I decided to get a little fancy and try Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics version.   This one incorporates maple syrup.  Yes, it should have occurred to me that maple syrup in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes may have a tendency to go beyond caramelized and straight to burnt.  Nothing says Happy Thanksgiving like the wail of a smoke detector.  Fortunately, we were able to salvage most of the squash and the grated parmasean cheese added at the table gave it a nice touch of flavor.

But the saving grace of the day was dessert.  I won’t lie,  the Caramelized Apple Crumb Cake is not a quick recipe.  Don’t think you can leave this till last and just knock it out in a jiffy.  It’s going to take you some time.  Although you could probably make the cooked apples and topping a day or so in advance and then only have the batter and baking to do.  Even then, it’s a needy recipe.  Bake for 15 minutes, add apples and a portion of topping, bake 15 minutes more, reduce heat and add remaining topping, bake till done.  Not exactly an Easy Bake Oven recipe.  But I promise you this, it will be worth it.  And yes, it may just remind you ever so slightly of a TastyKake Coffee Cake.  But it will be way better than that.

Now if you will excuse me, there is some leftover stuffing that I need to take care of.

Caramelized Apple Crumb Cake

Juliet Mackay-Smith’s Recipe posted on Washington Post

  • 4 to 5 medium cooking apples, such as Honeycrisp, York, Ida Red or Granny Smith (about 2 pounds)
  • Juice of half a medium lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 tablespoon frozen orange juice concentrate
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

For the topping

  • 1 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

For the cake

  • 18 tablespoons (2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the baking dish
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup low-fat or whole buttermilk, at room temperature

Peel and core the apples and cut into 1/2-inch dice. Toss them in a large bowl with the lemon juice and orange juice concentrate until they are evenly coated, then add the cinnamon and sugar, tossing until well incorporated.

Melt the butter in a large saute pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the apple mixture; increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the apples begin to caramelize yet are not too soft. Remove them from the heat and let them cool. (If the apples have released a lot of liquid, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a bowl, then boil the pan juices to reduce them until they are thick and syrupy. Combine with the apples to cool.)

Combine the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Use 2 forks, a pastry cutter or your fingers to cut the butter into the dry mixture, forming a crumbly topping. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with a little butter.  Combine the butter and 1 1/2 cups of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium-high speed and beat for 2 minutes, until well incorporated. Reduce the speed to add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and mix for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar in a separate bowl or on a sheet of wax paper. Reduce the mixer speed to low and alternate additions of the flour mixture and buttermilk to the batter, beginning and ending with the dry mixture. Mix just until combined, being careful not to overmix. Transfer to the prepared pan and bake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and spread the caramelized apple mixture in a single layer over the entire cake layer. Then sprinkle half of the topping over the apples. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 degrees.

Remove the cake from the oven and sprinkle the remaining topping evenly over the cake. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool before slicing.

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Coconut Rice

My earliest experiences with rice led me to believe that {instant rice + water + 5 minutes = done}. Later experiments with parboiled rice revised that equation to {pouch of rice + 90 seconds = done}.  While those certainly are acceptable equations for rice, and quick ones at that, there are many other formulas that one can use so that {rice + liquid + time = done}.

I had a roommate from Portugal who made a fantastic baked rice dish.  It required no stirring and no fussing.  Rice, water, and onions went into the oven and came out perfectly cooked.  I regret never getting her to write it down for me.  Maybe if I ask the Googley, I can find something similar to G’s Baked Rice.

In the meantime, I continue to conduct the occasional experiment to see what kind of rice goodness I can create in my kitchen.  The latest equation involved jasmine rice and coconut milk.  I wouldn’t exactly say this produced outstanding rice.  If the scale I’m using to evaluate the results is 1 (boil in bag mush) to 10 (Chipotle’s cilantro lime rice….my absolute favorite), Coconut Rice is a solid 3 or 4.  It’s easy enough to prepare but the rice tends to get thick and gummy.  Maybe if I had rinsed the rice before putting it in the water my grains wouldn’t have stuck together quite as much.  Or maybe something like basmati would have been a better choice to use instead of jasmine.

So as a side dish on my dinner table, Coconut Rice doesn’t really make the cut.  But with a few adjustments, I could see this being the base for a great Coconut Rice Pudding as dessert.

Coconut Rice

Adapted from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cup jasmine rice
  • 1 (14 ounces) can light coconut milk
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • juice and zest of 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the salt and rice and stir until the rice is completely coated with the oil.  Stir in the coconut milk and water.  Bring to a boil then cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the rice is tender.  Add the lime juice, taste for seasoning and add salt as necessary.

Serve garnished with minced cilantro.

{printable recipe}

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Soup

Yes my friends, it is the dead of summer and I’m talking soup. I know it’s hard to believe right now, but in just a few short months we will be welcoming fall.  Windows that have been shut against the summer’s brutal heat will be thrown open to let in a bit of autumnal cool.  Shorts, tank tops, and flip flops will be traded for turtlenecks, wool trousers, and boots. I even know people who change their home decor accessories…curtains, pillows, blankets, and linens…from summer to fall.  I know them, but I’m not one of them.

Just as you need to trade your summer gear for your fall wardrobe, you also need to dust off the fall recipes that have been relegated to the back of the recipe box over the summer.  Personally, I like this soup anytime of year but it’s definitely got a fall vibe to it.  If you’re reading this in Australia, then now is the perfect time to make this.  And if you’re not, you could make this now and pretend that the leaves have begun to change color and that your thoughts will soon turn to shoveling snow or you could wait until the calendar has flipped a few more pages into the year.  Either way, I highly recommend you make this soup.  It’s from the folks at Fine Cooking and it is indeed some fine cooking…regardless of whether the air conditioner is running at full steam or the fireplace is lit.

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Soup

Adapted from Fine Cooking

BAH Note: This recipe assumes that you don’t have a stash of those braised onions in your fridge or freezer.  Because if you did, I’m sure you would substitute a half cup or so of those for the sliced onion called for.  You would, wouldn’t you?

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 3/4 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 2 cans (15.5 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

Heat the oil in a dutch oven or stock pot set over medium heat.  Add the onions and cook about 5 to 10 minutes until the onions begin to soften.  Add the coriander, cumin, and a pinch of kosher salt and cook for 30 seconds.  Add the chicken broth, black beans, and sweet potatoes.  Bring to a boil and then simmer, uncovered, for 15 to 30 minutes until the sweet potatoes are soft.  Skim any foam that may accumulate.

Set aside 1 to 2 cups of the cooked black beans and sweet potatoes and then carefully puree the rest of the soup in a blender.  Add the reserved beans and potatoes back to the pot with the soup, taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as desired.

{printable recipe}

Flashback Friday – Gobble, Gobble

Flashback Friday

The following originally appeared on 11/21/08 at Exit 51

Gobble, Gobble

Want to know a secret?  I don’t like turkey.  Oh, I love me some crispy roasted turkey skin.  But the rest of the bird?  Not so much.

I’m not sure when all this started.  I used to enjoy the big Thanksgiving dinners that my grandmother made.  But then when I got the choice of what to make, I would never choose turkey.  So I’m always on the lookout for a non-turkey recipe that will absolutely rock the Thanksgiving table.  This year, I’m inspired by Deb over at Smitten Kitchen.

I’ve been looking for a main dish to become our Thanksgiving tradition, and I think with a few tweaks her Mushroom and Barley Pie may just be it.  Add some onion, applewood smoked bacon (mmmmm, bacon), wilted spinach, and a few more herbs and spices, and this could be a contender.

We’re big into the roasted veg these days so oven roasted butternut squash will definitely be on the table.  And I think I might, just maybe, try and see if I can’t make a decent stuffing.  Nothing will ever come close to my grandmother’s so I need to just get over that and find something that can become “my” stuffing.

So if you’re in the neighborhood next Thursday, stop by and see how everything turned out.  Just make sure you get your turkey fix taken care of before you do.  Because we are officially a gobble, gobble free zone!

Ina’s Mangled Muffins

When I fail, I fail BIG.

You already know that Ina’s coconut cupcakes didn’t quite go as planned.  Decapitated cupcakes.  2 dozen of them.  But if it weren’t for this fail, I wouldn’t have had the Coconut Cake win.

That got me wondering, is a failure a bad thing if it provides the opportunity to succeed in a different way?  I’ll ponder that over while I look for a way to use those mangled cupcake bottoms.  Anyone out there have a suggestion for what I should do with them?

Coconut Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

I’m calling this Coconut Cake a happy accident.  Although, in the moment there was very little I was happy about.  I started out to make a batch of Ina’s Coconut Cupcakes for a coworker’s birthday.  And I failed spectacularly.  Instead of the batter rising nicely to form perfect cupcake tops, it spread all over the top of the ungreased muffin tin.  The result of which was two dozen decapitated cupcakes.

It was not a pretty picture.

But it was a pretty funny picture and when I posted it on Twitter I got some great comments.  @breadandputter asked “who came along and chewed off all the tops?”  And @creativculinary said “Oh no…not Ina. Not coconut. Not cupcakes?”   She also suggested that I use a “high altitude” explanation to account for the carnage.  If my house even sat on top of a hill I’d run with that idea.  Sadly, the fault was squarely on me.

And I still had nothing to take to work for the birthday celebration.  Despite the fact that I was pretty steamed about the three sticks of butter that got sacrificed in the name of cupcake mutilation, I laid another two sticks out to soften while I washed the bowls and beaters and grody muffin tin with the caked on remnants of my failure.  By the time Coconut Cake was mixed, baked, and cooled I may have had a little bit of an attitude.

But there was still frosting to make.  In spite of my crankiness towards the cake, the frosting and I were on great terms.  It whipped up in no time and spread beautifully onto the layers.  Once the final bit of cream cheese goodness had been applied, I mentally moved on from Coconut Cake.  I even put the recipe in the recycling bin without transcribing it for the blog.  I was ambivalent about its very existence after a day that involved 6 sticks of butter, 10 eggs, and 5 cups of sugar.

At work the next day, we cut into Coconut Cake.  And I came home and dug that recipe out of the recycling.

The cake was moist without being wet or soggy.  And the coconut in the batter gave it an unexpected texture but didn’t overwhelm the cake with a coconutty flavor.  As a vehicle to move frosting into my mouth, it was excellent.  Once everything came up to room temperature after spending the night in the refrigerator, the frosting was smooth and creamy; not overly buttery and not overly cream cheesey.  There was the added bonus of apricot jam mixed into the frosting between the layers.  It worked perfectly with the rest of the flavors.

So yes, Coconut Cake was a happy accident.  Coworkers were happy.  I was happy.  The only person not happy in this whole thing was The Mistah.  He didn’t get to sample the cake.  But don’t feel sorry for him.  He’s got two dozen mangled coconut cupcake bottoms to tide him over until I pull the next treat out of the oven.

PS – Don’t be fooled by that less than sexy picture above.  That’s what happened when I didn’t get a shot of the cake at home and had to use the office’s aged digital camera to document its existence.

Coconut Cake

Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2011

BAH Note: Make sure you use a container that will hold at least two cups when you mix the baking soda into the buttermilk.  The buttermilk will react with the baking soda and the mixture will double in volume.

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 cups sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups sugar or 1 cup sugar and 1 cup vanilla sugar
  • 2 sticks butter at room temperature
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 4 large egg whites at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (vanilla salt if you have some)

Heat your oven to 350 degrees.  Line two 9″ round cake pans with parchment rounds and spray the prepared pans with nonstick cooking spray.

Mix the flour and coconut in a medium bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine the buttermilk and baking soda.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar for approximately 2 minutes until light and fluffy.  Add the egg yolks and beat to combine.  Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately, beginning and ending with the flour.  After the last of the flour is added, stop mixing once the batter is just combined.

In a separate bowl with clean beaters, beat the egg whites and salt until stiff peaks form.  Mix 1/3 of the whites into the batter and then fold in the remaining whites until just blended.

Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans and bake for approximately 35 minutes or until the cakes are set and a tested inserted in the center comes out clean or with just a crumb or two.  Cool the cakes in the pan for 10 minutes before turning them out onto racks to cool completely.

{printable recipe}

Cream Cheese Frosting

Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2011

BAH Note: My butter wasn’t exactly at room temperature when I made the frosting.  But after a few moments in the mixer, everything was just fine.  Be sure to start the mixer out on LOW speed or you will have powdered sugar all over your kitchen.

  • 3 1/3 cups powdered sugar
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 stick butter, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 to 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons jelly, jam, or preserves (optional)

Combine the sugar, butter, cream cheese, and vanilla in the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on low speed until the sugar starts to work into the butter and cream cheese then increase the speed to medium high until completely smooth.

If adding a fruit filling in the frosting between the layers, transfer about 1 cup of the frosting into a separate bowl.  Mix in the fruit filling to taste before spreading it onto the top of the bottom cake layer.  Top this with the top cake layer and use the remaining plain frosting to frost the top and sides of the cake.  Sprinkle coconut over the top of the cake and press some into the sides as well.

Let the frosted cake set in the refrigerator.  Allow it to come just to room temperature before serving and store leftovers in the fridge.

{printable recipe}

Flashback Friday – Barefoot Contessa In The House

Flashback Friday

The following originally appeared on 11/20/08 at Exit 51.

Barefoot Contessa In The House

Less than 24 hours after my awesome acquisition of the new Barefoot Contessa cookbook, the good folks at the Washington Post had it in my hands. You guys rock!

97814000543501

I haven’t looked inside beyond the autographed title page yet.  I am afraid that once I start turning pages, I won’t be able to stop until I get to the end.  So for the time being, I’ll have to satisfy myself with Ina’s new Mustard Roasted Fish recipe posted in yesterday’s Food Section of The Post and today’s feature on her in the Post’s Home Section.

Confidential to SFC: I did this during lunch, I swear!