Friday, November 27, 2009

Buttermilk cake with Brandied Cranberries and Caramel

I made this cake for a dinner party last week and it was a total FAIL, I used too much buttermilk and it looked a lot like cobbler when it came out of the pan. I took it to the party anyway and it was devoured, the cake plate was scraped dry of any trace of caramel or brandied cranberry sauce. It was obvious I was going to have to remake it and make it more solid. (I remade it twice more; #2 had too much flour and this is #3.)

This is the one that I made for Thanksgiving this year, alongside a pumpkin tart. Thanksgiving at my house was 14 (15?) people, including some of my favorite bar friends and my best friends and some people who feel like family. We finished cooking a few hours later than expected but it was worth it to have new friends helping prepare the food while they drank and mingled, while I played queen of the kitchen and enjoyed the lively conversations just outside my tiny kitchen.

This is what it looked like when everything was done:

Buttermilk Bundt with Brandied Cranberries & Caramel

2 cups + 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 cup + 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1/2 batch brandied cranberries (see below)

Preheat the oven to 350º.
Sift the dry ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
In a medium bowl, beat the butter and sugar at medium speed until fluffy. Scrape down the bowl and beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Scrape down the bowl again and beat in the buttermilk at a low speed until just combined. Add flour 1/3 at a time, beating until just combined.

Pour into a well-greased (I recommend spray) bundt pan and bake in the middle of the oven for 35-40 minutes. Let cool about 15 minutes before trying to remove the cake from the pan. Let the cake cool completely before adding this:

Brandied Cranberries
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup brandy
1/4 cup honey
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
12-oz bag of fresh cranberries
2 tbsp corn starch

Whisk together everything but the cranberries in a sauce pot, then add the cranberries and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, for about ten minutes. Scoop some of the juice into a small bowl and stir in the corn starch until fully dissolved, then whisk the mix back into the pot. The sauce will thicken as it cools.


1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 tbsp corn syrup
pinch of salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Bring the cream, sugar, corn syrup, and vanilla to a boil in a sauce pot over medium heat, whisking to dissolve the sugar. Boil 12-14 minutes (yes that long), whisking frequently to prevent sticking. Add the vanilla. Pour the caramel over the cake while the caramel is still warm, but let cool before serving.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Fried Chicken, Corn Bread, Macaroni & Cheese, and Sweet Potato Chips

I just got back from nearly a week in Florida. Now, I know Florida isn't the south, but my family is largely North Carolina based and there are a lot of grits and biscuits involved when I go home. Yesterday I made biscuits and sausage gravy for breakfast, and this for dinner. When I'm in a food mood, there's no stopping me from taking the theme as far as my grocery store will let me. Don't be surprised if there's pulled pork on this blog soon.

Some people have joked over the years that I should open a restaurant and call it Beige, since most of my favorite foods are shades of brown. Har har har. But there's a salad! I was going to make green beans but I forgot to get them at the grocery store. I also meant to make the sweet potato chips with peanut oil, but discovered too late that I was out of it and had to use vegetable oil, which, sadly, doesn't make for crunchy oven chips. They were really tasty though!

Anyway, I hope you don't mind, but I seem to be on a kick of posting whole meals. I'm leaving off the apple tartlets for now, but there was dessert, too. Of course.

Fried Chicken
1 whole chicken cut into pieces
1 cup flour
3 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup beer
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp adobo
1/2 tsp paprika
2 more cups flour
1 more tsp paprika

Heat 1 1/2" or so of oil in a large skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat (350º if you have a thermometer). Drip one drop of water in the oil, if it sizzles the oil is ready. Put 2 or 3 pieces of chicken into the batter, then into the flour, then immediately into the oil. Flip them over when the batter is golden, it should take 10-15 minutes to cook thoroughly. Drain on paper towels before serving. I like to put the first batch in the oven to cook more and stay warm while I cook the rest.

Corn Bread
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs at room temperature
6 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 12.5-oz can creamed corn

Preheat oven to 350º. Grease a 9x13 or 9x9 pan (f0r thicker cornbread) or line muffin tins with paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs. Melt the butter and pour it into the eggs in a steady stream while whisking. Now whisk in the oil, milks, and cream corn, then stir in the dry ingredients until just combined and pour into pan. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 30 minutes, rotate the pan, and bake another 10 minutes.

Sweet Potato Chips
4 or 5 skinny sweet potatoes
1/4 cup peanut oil
kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 400º.
Slice the sweet potatoes as thinly as you can, use a food processor if you have one. Coat them with peanut oil, spread on a foil-lined cookie sheet (for easy cleanup) and bake until they are browned around the edges, roughly 30 minutes. Sprinkle with kosher salt before serving.

Macaroni & Cheese
1/2 pound (half a box) elbow macaroni
6 tbsp butter
1/4 cup flour
3 cups milk
1 tbsp mustard
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp paprika
12 oz shredded cheese (I used extra sharp cheddar & monterey jack)
salt & pepper to taste

Cook the macaroni as directed, but drain when it gets slightly al dente, as you will be cooking it further. Set the pasta aside after draining and toss it with half of the butter to prevent sticking to itself. In the same pot you cooked the pasta in, melt the rest of the butter over medium heat and whisk the flour in, turn down to low and keep whisking for 2-3 minutes. Turn up to medium heat and add the milk in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Add the seasoning, then whisk in the cheese. Adjust seasoning as needed, then stir in pasta. Continue to cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until the pasta is cooked through. Sprinkle with with breadcrumbs if desired.
If you have a casserole dish (I don't! Why!?) you can transfer the macaroni to it just after stirring in the pasta, and bake for 20 minutes.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Welcome, Jesse!

(left to right: Jesse, Rachel, Me, Diane.)

Those of you who read this blog all the time have heard of my friend Jesse, the co-creator of the black bean mushroom soup and, as you'll see later today, some seriously good thin-crust pizza. When we work together we read each other's minds, and always with delicious results. I have invited her to be my partner in this blog, because two heads are better than one, and two New Yorkers have more time than one. It's a fact. Now you will be sure to find more frequent and more varied posts here, something I for one am definitely looking forward to.

Welcome aboard, Jesse!

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Wedding Cakes!


My mom got married this weekend, and these are the cakes I made for the joyous occasion. I know some of you will be relieved that my cake-fest is over, but I have bad news for you: It's not. I have started selling batches of cupcakes, and am working on getting myself some business there will still be a lot of cake recipe testing to come. You'll just have to bear with me. Meanwhile, I have a new stepdad, and that's pretty cool.

These cakes were my wedding present, and they are all cakes which have made appearances on this blog before because I worked on the recipes all summer in preparation. From top left: Carrot cake, Black Chocolate Cake, and Banana Cake with Nutella icing.

(who knew blueberries were so vivid green on the inside? I'd never noticed before!)

The chocolate cake was the most popular, and was the first to be polished off. The kids present didn't know what to make of a chocolate cake with blueberries & raspberries inside and on top, but there were a ton of tiny little Hershey's bars present so they were ok.

Chocolate Ganache
2/3 cup heavy (whipping) cream
6 oz semisweet baking chocolate, chopped
1 tbsp light corn syrup

Do not make ganache until you are ready to use it, like when you have assembled the cake and the base icing is smooth, or when your donuts are already fried and cooled, etc.

Bring the heavy cream to a boil in a small sauce pot. Remove from heat. Add the chocolate and corn syrup, let sit for a few minutes until chocolate is melting, then whisk until smooth. Pour over cake immediately. Smooth with an icing knife or whatever you can manage.

(sorry the photo's not more glamorous, we'd all had some really delicious white sangria by this point and I couldn't be bothered to mess with manual settings. ha!)

I added 2 layers of caramel cream to the banana cake, at the request of the groom. He approved of the result wholeheartedly. Good thing, too, cause I messed up the first batch of caramel cream so badly it was basically a weak dulce de leche. If I hadn't been so caked out, and if I hadn't had to travel with it, I would've held onto it to make tres leches cake or something. I'll just have to do it again on purpose sometime.

Caramel Cream
1 2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon water
3 3/4 cups whole milk
6 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla

Measure out the cornstarch into a small bowl. Add 1 cup of the milk to it and whisk until smooth. Measure out the rest of the milk into another bowl. You will not have time to measure things once you have started.

Using a wooden spoon or heat-safe rubber spatula, stir the sugar and water in a small sauce pot over medium-high heat. Stir constantly until it looks like caramel. It will go through phases and will look like sand, gravel, rock candy, etc, and eventually will be liquid and dark brown. Let it get a tiny bit darker than you think it needs, because it will be paler when the milk is added. Do not, at any point, stop stirring. I mean it!
When it's nice and dark amber, remove from heat and add the whole milk (not the starch milk!) in a slow small stream while whisking constantly. Return to heat and add the starch milk while still whisking, a little faster now. When it thickens to a state just below, say, molasses, and has cooled a bit, add the butter and whisk until incorporated. Let cool almost completely before spreading it.

If using this caramel cream between layers of cakes, you will have a ton of leftover caramel, so you might want to bake a batch of brownies and swirl the caramel on top, or some cupcakes and inject it in them or something. Don't waste it!
Also, the cake will need to be refrigerated to let the caramel set before serving it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Red Snapper in Miso, plus Spinach and Squash!

As many of you readers know, because you are my friends, I have started telling my friends to invite themselves over for dinner whenever. Surprise surprise, they're taking me up on this. Sunday nights are my favorite nights for dinner guests, because I have so much more time to prepare and really do it up in style. Though, honestly, I think that's starting to happen several nights a week...(invite yourself over!)

Last night my friend Becki came over, and thrilled me with the news that she made my spicy sausage for dinner a few nights ago and loved it. I love positive feedback! I am always so happy to hear that people are enjoying my blog and trying things! Very exciting stuff.

On to the food! I know I don't usually list sides and entrees and all together, but this is one of my favorite meals, and I strongly recommend going for the whole shebang. It's especially great to serve to unsuspecting guests. The moment I put a whole fish on the bone and some chopsticks in front of people, the fun begins. Unfortunately it's the sort of thing I generally make up as I go, so I am doing my best to write it down for you. The recipes below serve 4. You can get all of the ingredients at most grocery stores, and definitely at Asian markets.

White wine works with this, but sake is better, of course. And don't forget, you definitely need rice!

Spicy Miso Snapper
2 whole red snappers, cleaned
1/3 to 1/2 cup red miso paste
1/3 cup nam pla (fish sauce)
1/4 cup sesame oil
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp sriracha or more to taste - this is the spicy part!
1/2 cup chopped scallions
3/4 cup water

Cut 3 or 4 parallel slashes into both sides of both fishes, down to the bone. Mix the sauces and scallions in a large bowl. Place both fish in the bowl and spoon the marinade all over the fish, inside too if you want. Set aside while you prep the veggies; more on them later.
Heat a large skillet to medium-high and carefully place both fish in the pan, then add all of the marinade to the pan. Add the water, bring to a simmer, then turn the heat down a little and let the fish cook for about 5 more minutes before turning them over. Use a spatula to look inside the fish periodically. When the flesh is opaque white, serve.

Acorn Squash
1 acorn squash
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter, slightly softened

Preheat the oven to 350º. Line a small baking pan with foil. Cut the squash in half and remove seeds. If you want to get fancy, cut little pieces off the bottom of each half so they don't rock and spill the juice while cooking. In a very small bowl, mix the brown sugar and butter until smooth. Smear half of the mix on each half of the squash. Place in the foil-lined pan, cover with more foil, and bake for about 1 hour. Cut into chunks and serve.

Spinach in Sesame Sauce
1 bundle fresh spinach
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

Bring water to boil in a sauce pot. Mix the seeds, oil, sugar, and soy sauce in a small bowl. Boil the spinach for about 30 seconds, strain, and return to the still-hot pan. Add the sauce mix, stir well and serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Carrot Cake

I have still been practicing for mom's wedding cakes, I just haven't been blogging about it. I have switched to cupcakes, though, to test (and hone) my icing skills and tweak the recipes til they're just right. I mean, you only get to make your mom's wedding cake assumes. (Kidding, mom!) The wedding is THIS weekend, and I am very very excited!

Anyway, this carrot cupcake was from the batch I made for my friend Angelo's birthday, and if you scroll down you'll see a different version of this recipe, which is less rich, with no brown sugar and no dates or walnuts inside, so don't worry about that one. If you're really into texture in your carrot cake, go nuts (ha!) with more walnuts, pecans, coconut and maybe some raisins. Just be sure to chop stuff up a bit, k? K.

Carrot Cake

2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar (I always use dark, for everything.)
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground clove
3 cups grated carrots
1/2 cup finely chopped dates

Preheat the oven to 350º. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat the sugars and eggs with a hand mixer on medium speed until frothy, about 20 seconds. Add the oil in a steady stream and beat another 20 seconds. (The steady stream part is easier if you have a standing mixer, but I find pouring it in slowly with one hand and holding the hand mixer with the other works just fine.) Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture. Stir in the carrots and dates, then pour into pans and bake in the center of the oven. Cupcakes should be about 25 minutes, 9" round cakes should take about 35 minutes. As with all cakes, bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cream Cheese Icing

2 8-oz bars of cream cheese
1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, softened but still cool
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups confectioners' sugar
2 tbsp whole milk

Beat the cream cheese and butter with a hand mixer until smooth. Beat in the vanilla and milk, then the sugar one cup at a time. You may not need all 3 cups, and you may need more, so be prepared.

Apple Cider Donuts

My friend Haley recently got married in Vermont, and while I was there for the wedding I had my first-ever apple cider donut. I was instantly hooked, of course, and had to try making them myself as soon as I had time - which was yesterday. I think the best thing about these donuts is that they're as quick as biscuits or pancakes, but look soooo much more decadent.

Overall, the recipes I read online called for about a cup less flour than my recipe below. I found the dough impossible to work with without this added flour, very loose and wet. See how it goes for you, add the last cup gradually. The temperature of the oil is important, if too hot the outside of the donuts will be dark brown and the middles will still be doughy. If too cool, the dough gets oil-logged and crispy (which isn't such a bad thing, when it's only a little). If you don't have a thermometer (I don't), you can test the oil temperature using donut holes. The oil is the right temperature when a donut hole cooks slowly, taking a minute or two before getting gold around the edges.

Also, if you don't have a donut cutter, you can use a large cookie/biscuit cutter and a shot glass or jigger to cut out the middle. (I have this one, and it's great for donuts or for cutting the center out of sliced pineapple!)

Apple Cider Donuts

1 cup apple cider
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup shortening
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Apple Cider Glaze
1/2 cup apple cider
2 to 3 cups confectioners' sugar

Boil the apple cider in a small sauce pot until reduced by half, about 9 minutes. While it is cooling, whisk together the dry ingredients (minus one cup of flour!) in a bowl. Set aside. Start heating your frying oil to 375º.

In a large bowl, beat the sugar and shortening until fluffy, then beat in the eggs, then the buttermilk, then the cooled reduced cider. Add the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until incorporated, adding the additional cup of flour as needed. The dough should feel like loose biscuit dough, too tough is bad but you have to be able to handle it without it falling apart.

Move the dough to a floured surface and pat out to 1/2" thick. Cut into donuts & holes and fry a couple at a time. Donuts should be flipped when the sides are golden, holes should be rotated as needed to brown evenly. Remove from oil and drain over paper towels, then dip or drizzle with glaze.

To make the glaze: whisk cider and confectioners' sugar until smooth. That's it!