Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Bakery Bunch

The Shavuot Cake Party has been and gone, much like the cakes I baked and prepared in it's honor. My sweet little goodies did me proud, with the exceptions of a couple of misbegotten experiments and careless mistakes, but you just can't be ashamed of trying, or for being human.
Each cake had a little story all it's own, on how it came to the platter. Each little slice of sweetness had it's own special qualities that distinguished them from the rest.

Take this lovely fluffy chocolate coffee number. It's former incarnation was made with wholegrain pastry flour (which I bought in error), and while it wasn't awful, it just did not do it's striking flavors of coffee and chocolate justice due to the grainy quality of the flour. And, also, the earthy wholegrain taste clashed with the mocha smoothness. So I scrapped it, and tried a different coffee espresso cake recipe I've attempted a few times before. I went with the original recipe's frosting which was made with mascarpone, melted bittersweet chocolate, strong espresso, and some powdered sugar. All whipped up to a gorgeous swirl-worthiness, made even more comely with the bittersweet chocolate shavings on top.

Oh that Peanut Butter Banana Cream Pie was a popular one. I dressed it up with little interval puffs of whipped cream and an oversized chocolate chip in the center of each cloud. I never really got to know this one, as I was to stuck on one or two others, and didn't get around to trying it. But how can you go wrong with peanut butter and bananas? Just ask Elvis at your next seance.

This was one for the Traditionalists. If the Torah is Shavuot's official trademark, then cheesecake is almost certainly it's unofficial one Thanks to a great suggestion from Hub, I decided to add a pie aspect in the form of a fresh blueberry topping.

If there was a favorite, this tarty tart would have probably been it. The recipe came from the good old Joy of Cooking. Which proves to me that there are classics, that will never be irrelevant.

This dense chocolate cake was a favorite with my kids. Which makes me feel hopeful that I have had a positive influence on their tastebuds. It was very dark and very dense and not overly sweet, very smooth, and very deeply chocolate. So very...

I hate to say it but this was my most difficult one. A chiffon cake is very slight and light. It's the delicate flower of cakes. It had to be coddled into existence, starting with a tube pan completely devoid of even a smudge of grease. Egg whites beaten into fluffy shape which are to be folded in four parts into the orange scented cake batter . Buttercream frosting just seemed too heavy and offensive on such a such a sweet nothing of a cake, so instead I made a citrus glaze out of freshly squeezed and zested oranges and lemons and powdered sugar. This baked flour was not worth the effort.

While this one wasn't much of a looker, with it's craggy pecan streusel surface, it was my favorite. It tasted like a big delicious nutmeg scented donut and was made for a big cup of morning coffee. At the party I took a couple of minutes away from my hostessing and secreted away to a little corner with a hunk of this cake, some heavenly joe, and a couple of girlfriends for a few minutes of kitchen bitchin'.

This one was the looker of the bunch, but it didn't measure up to it's glistening appearance. It was my fault, I used self-rising flour which is best used in muffins and quickbreads. The seven minute boiled frosting was marshmallow-like in flavor and consistency and the coconut flakes also added a good texture. Unfortunately, the white cake inside was not soft, it didn't yield to the fork as it should have.

My other favorite. How can you not love a big and beautiful Carrot Cake? Made with hand-grated carrots, heaping spoonfuls of cinnamon, vanilla bean scrapings. And the frosting! That unforgettable cream cheese frosting- I gave it a tarter edge by adding half a cup of thick Greek yogurt to the cream cheese and more vanilla bean scrapings. I found my carrot cake recipe.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cake Chronicles

Nine cakes in three days, it's not the premise of a reality show on the Food Network, but rather the sub-plot of my life right now. Thursday night marks the beginning of Shavuot. A lesser known Jewish holiday, but definitely a goodie-particularly because it is customary to serve sweet dairy treats such as cheesecake and blintzes. Being an ardent Celebrationist, I cried "Shavuot Cake Party!", so a cake fete there will be at chez nous on friday afternoon.
I put a lot of thought and effort into the cake menu. I wanted a variety of sweet flavors represented, and I was unsentimental when deciding what old faves were to be edited out- due to the redundancy of flavors (my lemon pound cake was bumped due to the appearance of a Key Lime Pie). I was also seeking to try out recipes that I've been meaning to attempt for a while. Three out of the nine "chosen" were from a cookbook called "Birthday Cakes" by Kathryn Kleinman. I've had this book for a couple of years, and I'll pull it out whenever I'm feeling a little aspirational. The cakes in this book are just gorgeous as well as slightly intimidating. I decided it was time...

*Pecan Streusel Coffeecake (Bon Appetit)
* Blueberry Cheesecake (family cheesecake recipe combined with Martha Stewart's blueberry topping)
* Banana Peanut Butter Cream Pie (Bon Appetit)
*Key Lime Pie (Joy of Cooking)
*White Mountain Coconut Cake (Birthday Cakes)
*Carrot Cake (Birthday Cakes)
*Lindsey's Chocolate Cake (Birthday Cakes)
* Orange Chiffon Cake with Orange Buttercream Frosting (allrecipes)
*Coffee-Chocolate Layer Cake with Mocha-Mascarpone Frosting (Bon Appetit)

So far I've completed the Pecan Streusel, Blueberry Cheesecake, Carrot Cake (but not the cream cheese frosting), Lindsey's Chocolate Cake which looks and smells like dense dark chocolate heaven. And the White Mountain Coconut Cake which was contributed to the book by James Beard. This coconut cake recipe was an education in the making, baking, and construction of it.

There is an element of suspense involved in this cake party as I have not really been able to sample any of these cakes. I am slightly nervous, I've invited a lot of people-my baking cred is definitely on the line. Do I at least get points for trying?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Weekend '09

This holiday weekend we hit the dusty northeastern road and went camping in the Berkshires.

I was responsible for the grub. I bought a couple packets of Lower East Side hot dogs and grabbed a can of vegetarian chili from the pantry. I made a chinese chicken salad with leftover friday night chicken. We grilled the franks and beans and corn cobs over the campfire.

The corn was sweet and crunchy- but still a couple of weeks away from being summer corn. I discovered a new use for a toothbrush. It's very handy for brushing away the silky strands from the husks.

There is nothing that smells better, or is more fun, than a campfire. Especially one that roasts hot dogs and marshmallows.

The 'smores weren't great. They had no chance what without chocolate, and with lowfat cinnamon graham crackers. They tasted like sweet spackled cardboard. Kids didn't seem to care much.

We were up in the very early morn, pretty much with the sun. I tried to make that cool fried- egg-in-toast dish, but it didn't work. I think I either cut a too-big hole in the bread, or I was too tired and foggy to really care. The scrambled eggs that I made instead were great. Better tasting than any scrambled eggs I have ever made on my stove at home.

It was decided that Hub would go fishing in the Housatonic. So, the kiddles and I spent all morning at the campground's playground.

It wasn't until I secured this hot cup of coffee made glorious by half & half and a shake of sugar, that I really greeted the beautiful New England day.

At midday, Hub came back from his fishing jaunt. We packed up all our gear, arranged the kiddles in their respective spots, and drove to Great Barrington, MA. A town full of great little shops and restaurants and cool brick and stone buildings. I discovered Robin's candy store there. A place that is a sweetfreaked ADDer's fantasy conjured into 3D.

Robin's peach gelato was perfectly peachy and sweet. And the lemon chiffon gelato was pleasantly subtle in the citrus flavor but strong on the creaminess. Hub always orders the best flavors. The kids' chocolate and strawberry cones were pretty delightful too.
We headed back home for some of the time on a country road that ran between the Housatonic River and a train track. The tall green trees were like a leafy arch that went on for miles over us.

It was a Memorial weekend spent in a great part of a great Land.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Putting The Wine in Swine Flu

I've reached the point where I'm just throwing my hands up every time I hear about the swiney craze that's sweeping the globe. At first, upon learning about this porcine pandemic, when I, or one of the kiddles so much as sneezed, I was sure we were just an oink away from the emergency room. The media did not help much in assuaging any fears. They were describing scenes directly out of "Outbreak", a movie that makes you want to spend your life in one of those contamination space-suits. Seems like no one really knows where this outbreak is going, or how dangerous it will be. I put this in the "beyond my control" file- alongside nuclear proliferation, natural disasters, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the unequal ratio of orange skittles in any given bag.
So, my suggestion for any H1N1 fretting is to mix up a pitcher of white (s)wine sangria. The world just seems like a better and sunnier place after a coupla glasses of this fruity concoction.

Empty a bottle of white wine (I used Chardonnay) into a large pitcher, pour in a can or 2 c. of mango juice and 2 c. lemonade. Add 3 shot glasses full of triple sec to the mix. Stir. Pour in a bottle of seltzer or if you like your drinks super-sweet a 1 litre bottle of Sprite. Bottoms Up!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Salad Tales ch.1

Once upon a time there was a girl, who loved sweets. She loved sweets so much that that she scarcely had the time or the appetite for anything else. Her sweets-filled day began with a slice of toast spread generously with nutella, and long sips of vanilla lattes. Lunch was a muffin or scone (chocolate chip sreusel, banana honey walnut) and dinner was equally as nutritious. Life moved along sweetly. One day the girl woke up wanting something else, her tastebuds cried out;"give me something fresh and juicy". Her teeth longed for something with a crunch. Her eyes envisioned something green and leafy. "Methinks it's time for salads" said she, "but not the usual rabbit fare, something filling and delicious so that I don't feel like I'm eating lettuce flavored air."

So for dinner that friday night, when her family gathered round the table, she served Israeli CousCous Salad alongside the Mediterranean Red Snapper. They ate it all up, asked for seconds, skipped dessert and went to bed happily ever after.....

Israeli CousCous Salad
In a med. saucean heat 2 c. vegetable broth or water until boiling. Place 1 c. Israeli couscous and cook until couscous soaks up all liquid. In a med. bowl place 1 peeled and chopped small cucumber, 1 chopped tomato, 1/2 c. chopped kalamata olives, 1 bunch of chopped green onions, 1 tbsp. chopped parsley. Mix couscous into the chopped veggies. Combine several handfuls of fresh spinach into the mixture. In a small bowl whisk together juice of 1/2 lemon, 2 tbsp. olive oil, and a dash of salt. Pour over the couscous and mix together. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar, if desired. Refrigerate for at least an hour to let the flavors blend. Sprinkle with 1/2 c. crumbled feta before serving.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dancing Everyday

It's true that Art and Beauty are all around us in everyday objects like the graceful shape of a smooth, delicate egg or the bright collage brought home from school for Mother's Day. But on sunday I was treated to a performance that was Art and Beauty personified. In honor of Mother's Day, Hub got tickets for me and kidelette to see the Alvin Ailey dance company perform. It was so thrilling for me to witness such beauty and mastery up close. The dancers were strong, and graceful, and elegant, and bursting with movement and energy. The costumes were original and evocative. The individual dance pieces told stories and were full of emotion and humor and grace and beauty. My favorite piece was Suite Otis, which used the music of Otis Redding to present something brilliant and completely American in energy and mood. Ailey's well known piece Revelations was also on the program, and it was fantastic. The gospel music and the costumes and the dance moves expressing the African American experience in the South. The backdrop for one of the movements was a huge orange circle, which represented a merciless and blaring sun. Through the scenery and the dancers I could feel this harsh sun hotly glaring down on me. The whole program was just wonderful.

It might also be true that my Alvin Ailey experience with kidelette (who also enjoyed the dancing, but was starting to get fidgety towards the was a 2 1/2 hr. show after all) has nothing to do with my good ole adventures in kookery, in an overt manner. In a subtle way I think it has everything to do with it. I was so inspired by the beauty and the artistry of the dancing and the dancers, every leap that they executed, every gyration, every swoop, every outstanding kick was full of life and filled with grace. Why not extend all that into everyday living? Why not make your salad a tour de force of freshness and flavor and originality? Each meal that is presented could be a statement of the food and of the way you feel about the people you are preparing the food for. Yes, it's probably unrealistic to think that the AA dancers go through their life blithely leaping and twirling as they do on stage, but they probably spend much of their time perfecting these moves and practicing this joy and vitality. Maybe I could do the same in my everyday life?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Breakfast For Dinner II

Breakfast for dinner is the best thing since sliced bread. Sliced bread that is baked in an eggy custard and liberally sprinkled with parmesan cheese, topped off sunnily with a couple of eggs, lounging on a bed of fresh greens. Another winner from Bon Appetit, that is soooo easy it can be executed in the fog of morning, or the muddle of evening. The recipe called for baguette slices, but I used challah. If you don't have any parmesan on hand, I'm sure any shredded hard cheese would do well.

Parmesan French Toast
Lay six thick slices of challah in a baking dish. In med. bowl whisk 1 c. of lowfat milk with 1 egg, when mixture is thick and eggy, pour over bread slices. Grind some pepper over mixture, then sprinkle with 1/2 c. parmesan cheese. Dice 1 tbsp. butter and disperse over challah. Let it sit and soak up egg mixture for about a half hour. Place in 400F oven and bake until puffy and golden (about 1/2 hr).