Friday, June 26, 2009

Summer Starts With Sweetiepie

POP! And just like that summer starts. School ended wednesday morning, however the peculiarly unseasonal conditions had prevented us from hurtling full whoop! speed ahead. The serial downpours kinda providing the clouds for the silver lining of summer vacation. Yesterday, I decided a celebration was in order. We chugged down to the City for a little lunch at Sweetiepie. What a treat that was for both young and old-er alike! The space is gorgeously whimsical and playfully sophisticated, with hot pink leather banquettes to lounge on at your perfectly appointed table. If it's the special little touches that make big differences in life, Sweetiepie has made this idea it's central theme. The dainty mismatching china, the huge gilded cage containing a table for 5, the bar stocked with bottles of spirits, wine, and colorful jumbo gumballs, the fey pastel mural stretching along the wall in the back room, the femme powder rooms- where you actually feel like powdering your nose, all contributes to a chic grand time.

Obi 1 Kenobi (kid#1's requested new name) ordered fish 'n chips. Girlette got her usual of mac 'n cheese. I had a salad of halved boconccini and cherry tomatoes with greens and splashed with olive oil and truffle oil. All three dishes were delicious. The mac 'n cheese was seriously yummy smooth, creamy, and sharp, with an attractive golden crust to poke through to get to the stuff. Mmmmm I'm swooning just recalling it. The french fries were thin, crispy, and salted, and served alongside a tiny cup of malt vinegar. Chips with salt and vinegar are a great nostalgic treat for me, so at that point in the experience I was wondering how I could tranform my kitchen-dining area into Sweetiepie. For dessert, the kids decided on milkshakes served in posh heavy glass goblets, which were so thick that Girlette flattened her straw through her hollowed cheek vigor. My dessert of a light and sweet coffee was offered in a beautiful gold rimmed cup and saucer set. And after Girlette and I freshened up in the powder room, and Obi experimented with the automatic hand dryer, we set off through the West Village, back home. Definitely worth the while and effort; a little flight of fancy from the weekly budget every once in a while is always fun.

To provide a contrast for les kides, upon returning to ye olde country we grabbed a couple of balls and Munch, and headed for an off-the-beaten-path park I discovered recently, and frolicked summerly for a while- until I remembered the recent bear warnings in the area. And that's how our vacation began, quite a fantastic opening day, if you ask me.

Today I tried a new dairy-free chocolate cake recipe, and I think I like the result. Of course tweaking and improving are usually necessary, and I already have a few ideas. But this original iteration might be a good canvas to work off of. I'll serve slim wedges of this 2 layer cake on my Royal Albert Country Roses china, with dessert forks and a primly folded cloth napkin in order to have a Sweetiepie experience in my own dining room.

Dairy-free SweetieCake
In med. bowl sift together p2 3/4 c. all purpose flour, 1 c. cocoa powder, 1 tsp. baking soda and set aside. In a large bowl beat together 1 1/2c. smart balance-type spread and 2 c. packed brown sugar. Beat in 4 eggs (1 at a time), 1 1/2 c. almond milk and 1 tsp. vanilla extract (the mixture will be soupy). Gradually mix in flour, beat until it resembles a thick batter. Pour into greased cake tins. Bake at 350F for 35-45 mins. or until it passes toothpick test.

Post script (7/1): COCONUT MILK!!!!! Replace almond milk with 2/3 c. coconut milk- and then mix in 1 c. choc chips right before you pour into bundt pan. Pour chocolate glaze over cooled cake. Chocolate Glaze: 1/2 c. coconut milk heated in saucepan, mix in 1/2 c. choc chips until smooth.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Banana Honey Pecan Scones

My baking binge continues on with these Banana Honey Pecan Scones. A while back, during the holiday season, I had a banana scone that I just could not get out of my sense memory. It was just heavenly with a cup of coffee- not overly sweet, and not at all mushy in the way that banana baked goods sometimes are. Last night, I decided to exploit my burst of baking energy, and make a version of those unforgettable scones. I was quite pleased with the result. These scones are lightly sweetened with honey, making them more of a breakfast bread than a dessert. They are best served warm, with a scraping of butter- or if you want to be extravagant; with peanut butter and nutella.

Banana Honey Pecan Scones

Preheat oven 400F. In a large bowl mix 1 1/2 c. wholewheat flour, 1 1/2 c. all purpose flour, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1/4 tsp. baking soda. Cut 3 tbsp. chilled butter into flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. In seperate bowl combine 1/2 c. plain yogurt, 1/2 c. honey, 2 eggs, 1 tbsp. vanilla, 1 c. mashed ripe bananas (about 3). Mix until well-blended. Add to flour mixture, stirring until just moist (do not over-mix). With floured hands turn dough (which will be sticky) onto lightly floured surface, knead and shape into a large disc shape. Place on lightly greased baking tray, sprinkle with chopped pecans, and 1 tbsp. brown sugar mixed with 1/4 tsp. cinnamon. Press pecans gently into dough. Score scones into wedges. Bake for 20 mins. until golden brown.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

That's A Latte Cake!

You know you've got a baking problem when you convert a shortcut cake mix recipe into a from scratch recipe. Last week, for Hub's birthday I made him a Latte cake. It was a three step program, this cake was, despite it being a cake mix concoction. It was good- unsusual and a little sophisticated. Ever since, I've been thinking on how to make it even better, more homemade. I used a simple butter cake recipe for the base and mixed in a cup of strong espresso. For the next cafe fab layer I substituted condensed milk for dulce leche and stirred in more espresso- poked holes in the cake base and let this coffee-like syrup seep through. And then for the foam on the latte? Slightly sweetened whipped cream with a neat sprinkling of cocoa powder. This is one for those who love the flavor of coffee, the strong smokiness of it, and the bittersweet taste.

Latte Cake
Preheat oven to 350F. In large bowl combine 1 c. butter, softened, 4 eggs, 1 1/2 sugar, 1 tbsp. vanilla extract, 1 3/4 c. all purpose flour, mix well. Add 3/4 c. very strong espresso. Mix well. Pour into a greased baking pan, and bake for 35-45 minutes until cake passes toothpick test. Let cool for about 5-10 minutes then with stem of wooden spoon, poke holes at 1 " intervals in cake. In a medium bowl mix 1 14 oz. can of condensed milk with 1/3 c. v. strong espresso and 1 tbsp. rum, it should be porable and syrupy in constistency (if too thick, microwave for 30 seconds). Pour over the poked cake and let cool for about 2 hours. In a med. bowl beat 1 c. whipping cream, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, and 2 tbsp. powdered sugar- until firm. Spread thickly over cake. Sprinkle cocoa powder or chocolate shavings on top.
PS: Upon further consideration I've decided that this cake needs a further makeover, beginning with the cake base. The butter cake is too dense, this cake needs a fluffier lighter cake that will be completely absorbed by the syrup. Also, the espresso mixed into the condensed milk needs to be very strong. I'll be revisiting this one.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Blue Johnnycakes

Let the Johnnycake trials begin! I proposed an article on Johnnycakes made from blue cornmeal- to coincide with the July 4th issue. My plan is to make a sweet and savory version of this pre-and post-revolutionary American standard. The sweet version will feature the blue corn cakes sweetened with honey and served alongside whipped cream and red berries (red, white, and blue- geddit?). The savory will include salt, grated cheddar, and possibly creamed corn. And will be plated with a dollop of sour cream and a ladling of salsa (also red, white, and blue...)
Here is the truth about Johnnycakes- they're not that tasty, especially when following traditional recipes. The reason why they were so popular probably had everything to do with convenience and ease. They were originally dubbed as journeycakes because they were transportable in those pre-refrigeration days. The early recipes called simply for cornmeal, lard, and boiling water, and were suited for frying over a fire.
In order to make this hoary old chestnut appetizing to our modern palates I included other ingredients that will hopefully provide some flavor. I'm happy with my sweet version, as I got the thumbs up from Kid1. I'm still working on Savory Version.

Blue Corn Johnnycakes for a new Generation of American Patriots

Melt 4 tbsp. butter. In a large bowl mix butter, 2 c. blue cornmeal (reg. is fine too), 2 lightly beaten eggs, 1 c. lowfat buttermilk, and 1/3 c. honey. Melt 1 tbsp. butter in skillet. Drop Johnnycakes batter into skillet in 1/4 c. spoonfuls. Flip over when edges start to firm and brown slightly.