Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Frosting, Plus My Irrelevancy

No recipe for today - but nonetheless, I don't see anything wrong with posting some food porn. Who doesn't enjoy gazing at frosting and thinking about swimming in it, slathering it all over the house and all available bodies, or simply just dipping a finger, or an arm, in the poofy, sweet gorgaliciousness? You don't? Well, bear up as the rest of us need some new material. These naughty kittens were a guilt-bake that occurred the night after I made that utterly ridiculous cake, which nearly brought us to our knees. Fearing untold repercussions if I didn't bring something into work - because, that cake wasn't leaving our sight - I made another round of batter and made some Red Velvet cupcakes. So, enjoy.

On other fronts, I've officially moved into irrelevancy this week. I won't snore you with all the gory details, but let's just say this blog entails technical know-how far beyond my scope. As in, about 8 billion miles far, as in win the lottery far, I want to re-live high school far, I love my ass far. I've run across terms I don't get, social networking sites I'm not a part of, blog design platforms whose merits I can't really judge because I'm a clueless dork, html code and other nonsense which seems to be common sense to so many other relevant cool people.

I feel behind-the-times. I feel irrelevant. And I'm kind of taken aback. I was hip once - I cut my teeth on Black Flag and the Clash and Sonic Youth and I adored Gibby Haynes. I bought Sub Pop records before they were Sub Pop, I was a roadie for a summer, I dated a mohawk - I was in-the-loop for crap's sake! And no - we weren't "techy" - in fact, we were anything but - we were flannel and fatigues and combat boots and tangly hair meets baby doll dresses with a goth twist. We were music and anti-almost-anything - not just because, but because we didn't have a whole lot to warrant our support at the time. So we did our own thing, and pulled back from the rest of it. We were terribly misunderstood, of course - this Generation X of mine.

And then I read this article and I felt my Gen was validated. A fringe generation, yes, but no less valid or potent. If there are any fellow X-ers out there, it's a must read - and for those who think we X-ers are just a bunch of nutballs, might be worthwhile too. It's a great retrospective, though I suppose it just reinforces how I was once relevant, and am now just one ping away from driving slow in the left lane.

Friday, April 25, 2008

If All Else Fails: Eat Cheesecake

Is there something in the air? I mean, besides air? Because it seems to me that a lot of folks in my immediate circle, not to mention my fringe periphery, seem to be in varying stages of losing their minds. I mean, I suppose we could blame it on April - as I so omnisciently and humbly warned you about. This April, while perhaps not exactly traumatic, is proving no less turbulent - per usual. Friggin' April man. The whole month needs a chill pill. The other 11 months need to take April out back and show it the business. I mean, January can push to 40-below for Pete's sake - so why does it let April pull this crap?

For example, I received an email this week from my sister with the title "random"; she had just been out for a run where she had the luxury of some lucid moments to herself. Dangerous, I know. She is a wifemotherdocter (her words in the email) and let me tell you - those roles by themselves aren't easy - but you run them all together and -- oooooooo, lordy -- I'd be writing myself some serious prescriptions and either crawl in a hole with my Oxycontin or maybe run naked down the street just to prove I'd unraveled my last nerve. That'd be one way to get the neighbors off your lawn. So, in the email - she used the word chaos 11 times as she described the endless crud this modern life demands of us. At any given time, her to-do list stinks of about 50 things that really do need to be done - and honestly, so does my list - and it drives me to the precipice.

Anyway, it really was a 5-star rant - full of the manic, multi-tasking energy that both of us are scathingly guilty of - and I cracked my knuckles to reply in kind. I was almost tingling as I typed, all ranted-up - typing my share of words in CAPS - firing off joyous expletives, describing my stink-butt infinite to-do list, my exhaustive fight with exhaustion. I mean, I-let-it-rip-and-it-was-SO-good. And I couldn't wait for her to read it and feel satisfied that I *understood* - and I was so thankful for email and that we could communicate across the miles. And, thank you, Al Gore, for inventing the World Wide WEB and everything and all that.

Later, she emails me and gleefully writes "Didja get my [expletive] rant?" and I'm all "Yeah! Didntja get mine?" - turns out, it never went through! So, "WWW" - let me get this straight - one of the most satisfying emails I've ever written just didn't go through? That's right. So, now I had to fire off a rant about a rant about a rant. I wasn't about to try to recapture the original rant, it was gone, gone! I don't know why I was so mad, but I was - it was one of those times that your blood boils and you kinda want to do something crazy like shave your head on the spot or go spill a bucket of paint on a table. I dunno. Still not over it.

Something in the air. Tony has been working 14-hour days for almost two weeks and is so loopy that he thinks everything he says, once he arrives home at night, is funny. And it kind of is, really. He gets home and his brain is pure goo - and he reminds me of a cross between a buzzed college boy and my nieces when they were around 3 years old and giggled really easily. So, it's been a mild joy to have such an easy target within close reach. And, he seems to be enjoying the self effacement as well, which really just reminds me of a nice, synergistic host-parasitic relationship. Cozy.

And, is it me, or does everyone seem to be suffering from insomnia? What is that? I'm almost beginning to think there is something seasonal to it - like dogs shedding their winter coats. I guess what confounds me is I cannot fathom just how many more hours I must shed before I can sleep normally again. I've been shedding my winter-sleep-coat for months now, enough is enough. Speaking of enough is enough, there is a guy I follow on Twitter, and I think he perfectly
captures how crazy insomnia makes one feel - here is his Twitter about it:

Here's the plan: I'm going to grow a goatee and put on an HEV suit and hunt down my insomnia and stab it in the head with a pen" - from Twitter

OH! Had I written that missive myself! See? Something in the air. Then again, without all of this angst - how would we ever hear of insomnia being stabbed in the head with a pen, you know? I suppose we can remind ourselves that suffering births plenty of creativity - just ask Van Gogh's ear.

So, with me sleeping about 4 hours a night and Tony working about 14 hours a day, our life feels about as balanced as Donald Trump's hair in a swift breeze. It's rough. So, I asked my beloved, my peach, my boom boom - "what oh what could I bake for you, beloved, to make your week better" - and he replied "Cheesecake". So, I guess when things are rocky, splintery, icky, bumpy, sleepless, and crappy - the thing to do is to make some smooth, silky, melt-in-your-mouth cheesecake - and then eat it. So I did. And then we did.

Oh, and I almost forgot - on top of everything else - I was diagnosed with Dry Eye Syndrome this week. This, after feeling for the last 2 weeks like I just might want to RIP my eyeballs out of my head. Could barely look at my computer screen this week. However, I did find that Twittering about it actually did help, but I don't know why. I just simply cannot tell you how satisfying it is to express something on Twitter in 140 characters or less and hit enter. SO satisfying! It's like Starbucks in word form, I kid you not. Twitterloo!

White Chocolate Cheesecake

If you like cheesecake, this is worth your while. It is good naked (meaning, without topping - although I suppose you could take that literally as well) or it goes wonderfully with raspberry sauce or coulis. I find many folks are wary of making cheesecakes as the process may appear a bit challenging - but I just want to dispel all that, because please understand - I am not a talented cook. This recipe is pretty darn easy - and I will tell you, the water-bath could be skipped if you don't mind the potential of a few cracks in the end result (which often is not a big deal). So, either way - you know? To further inflate your cardiologist's pocketbook, you could toss some white chocolate chips over the crust, just before you pour in the filling for baking - sinful and debaucherous.

1 3/4 c. graham cracker crumbs
3 tbsp. sugar
pinch of salt
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

10 oz. white chocolate (use only white choc. that contains cocoa butter)
4 (8 oz.) pkgs. cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. + 2 tbsp. sugar
4 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 tbsp. all purpose flour
1 tbsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and adjust baking position to middle rack. Butter a 9- or 10-inch springform pan and double wrap the outside of the pan with wide aluminum foil.

Make crust: Stir crumbs, sugar and salt in medium bowl. Pour in the melted butter and stir until thoroughly combined. Press mixture into bottom of pan and about 1/2 way up the sides of pan. Bake crust for 10 minutes. Set the crust aside to cool on a rack while you make the cheesecake. Reduce oven heat to 300 degrees. Put a kettle of water on to boil, in preparation for the water bath.

Make filling: Melt chocolate in double boiler and stir until smooth. In large bowl, beat cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add sugar and beat in whole eggs and yolks one at a time - beating well after each egg. Add flour and vanilla, beating until just combined; add melted chocolate in a slow stream, beating, until filling is combined well.

Set springform pan into a large roasting pan and pour filling into springform pan. Pour boiling water from kettle into roasting pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of springform pan. Bake cheesecake for 1 hour or until top is firm to the touch. Turn off oven and leave cheesecake in closed oven for a further 1/2 hour. Remove from oven, remove foil, and let cool on a rack; then chill for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight, before serving. Cover loosely in refrigerator; will keep for 4-7 days.

For a simple Raspberry Sauce - heat 1/3 c. sugar and 3 tbsp. water over medium heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally - about 5 minutes. Add 1 lb. fresh or 1 (12 oz.) bag frozen raspberries and cook until thickened. Cool a bit, and serve. If smooth consistency desired, put mixture through sieve to remove seeds.

She's so purdy, ain't she! This could save you a whole day of therapy!

Monday, April 21, 2008

My Kitchen Staff: Wylie & Marcel

Some people have sous chefs. I have apres chefs - aka - after chefs, aka my staff. I figured it was time I 'fessed up to having some help in the kitchen and felt it was only fair that I shared a little about them, given all that they do here. (Can you name this movie: "What is it that you do here?")

So anyhow, given my penchant for not vacuuming - My Staff must remain on full alert when a recipe is about to unfurl. And it's not easy - I mean, these are creatures who typically sleep the entire day - so, it's difficult to imagine the wherewithal, the sheer personal domination it must take just to stay awake to fulfill their duties hoovering the kitchen floor. I venture to guess their perseverance would humble even Tom Cruise in another Scientology vs. Matt Lauer beat-down. They're that good.

This is Wylie "The Floop" Fitzsmudge - he's 3 years old. He cannot tolerate any barriers or doors whatsoever - you may as well remove a claw one-by-one instead. When he was a puppy, we bought a typical baby gate and placed Wylie in the laundry room for the day. When we came home from work, he had chewed through the gate -
plastic-coated-wire and all. So, we got that message loud and clear. Every day, he makes a scene before we go to work - hoping that today will be the day that his efforts finally prove effective. When he senses we're about to leave - he dashes out to the living room, trying to show us that "I'd prefer to stay here for the day", then, as we approach him - he rolls onto his back into the submissive position, conveying to us just how pitiful his dire situation truly is. We carry him into the master bathroom (where Marcel is already peacefully ensconced, to Wylie's eternal irritation and derision) - at which point, we gently place him on his ridiculously overstuffed pillow - at which point, OF COURSE, he begins to shake violently like an abused dog...of which he is the absolute opposite. He is a drama king - and this is just one example of many - but the extent of his separation anxiety makes my problems feel like a bath.

Then, there is Marcel Verdel Purcell, he's 1.5 years old and weighs 3.4 pounds. At one point, the cost of Marcel's monthly grocery bill surpassed ours - and at the time - he weighed...oh...about 1.75 pounds. No, you don't need bifocals. Yes, you read that correctly. Yes, I took math in school. No, I didn't forget how to use it. Put it this way: Marcel has his own nutritionist who lives in California. Enough said? Not quite? Okay, well, after some terrible health issues from ages 5-9 months - which no vet or amount of money could solve - we desperately sought the help of an animal nutritionist. Almost immediately, through diet and supplements - our little stinker was back on track. Of course, we were cooking for him (but not, say...for US) - and hence, the very expensive diet - while Tony and I were eating cereal and frozen burritos. Fast forward, and our darling fur-babies still only eat the best -- dog food that contains raw, human-grade meat - which is often imported from New Zealand [roll eyes here]. While...we often eat processed, sub-par grub...food which I'm not always quite sure is good enough for...well...dogs? Now, that's interesting. I never said I was great at math.

Anyhow, Marcel is all easy-breezy, baby-of-the-family, totally secure about separation, accepts his place as non-alpha, very joyful and moment-to-moment. He worships Wylie, he shadows Wylie, he is constantly sniffing Wylie in all the wrong places - as if, at any moment, Wylie's odor i.d. may suddenly change. Beyond the ocd odor checking, Marcel's only real pathology is his obsession with nostrils. Simply put, there is NOT enough nostril on the planet for Marcel. If he had his way, he would spend his day in a sling, hoisted up near my face, in prime position so that he could have his tongue inside one of my nostrils every waking moment. If Marcel could shoot nostril in his vein - then we'd find Marcel living in some back alley, drugged up with nostril, selling - stealing - anything to get more nostril, in and out of rehab for nostril. We call him NOSTRILDAMUS. We don't know what to do.

What we do know is that these two nutty ragamuffins are not only excellent apres chefs, but they are also two of the most beguiling and charming beings to have ever graced our lives. Given that, I guess we can accept that Marcel is now worth more than Governor Spitzer's 6-month call-girl bill, and I suppose we're willing to put up with Wylie's almost-daily ploys for an intervention from Dog Protection Services, and his claw artwork on nearly every door in our 3-year-old house...not to mention our new floors in the living room and master bedroom - compliments of his Picasso-esque attempts at liquid-ism. That nut.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

I really do have an ideal test audience for my baked goods (or, bads) - my work mates are 90% men - which means: high-baked-goods-consumption-rate.
Plus, a man takes a bite - and, shockingly, may tell you what it tastes like or if he likes it. Ah! The raw, unencumbered honesty. Like a cool, wet cloth on a feverish day.

I made these hunks the other day and one of my co-workers, "T", comes up to me immediately after trying them and says:

"I don't know whether I should thank you, or be mad at you." Love it. Could there be a better compliment? It felt like the opposite of a slap in the face.

Later, T approaches me after another helping, and says (in reference to whether he prefers the bars with just the white chocolate chips alone or the bars with the white chips and the semi-sweet chocolate

"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." Thanks for the title, T.

, I realize white chocolate is often considered tres gauche, but, Tony recently had a delightfully sinful "Blondie" (not...er...human) at one of our favorite al fresco joints - and I, of course, being the loving, devoted, (read: just bought expensive new camera), positively adoring wife that I strive to be - immediately sought to make the perfect Blondie Bar for my positively adored hubby. So, since it's all-Tony-all-the-time, these are for him...

I feel all empty inside about this post. I didn't throw Tony under the bus about anything. It's like I've turned black inside. I don't even know who I am anymore.
I need a depressant.

White Chocolate Blondies

Now, the original recipe - like most Blondies - called for both white chocolate chips and semi-sweet chocolate chips. I made 1/2 the batter with both, and 1/2 the batter with just the white chocolate chips. Hands down, everyone said they liked the version with just the white chocolate chips. I wholeheartedly agree. What happens, when you add regular chocolate - is that you cannot taste the white chocolate at all, so they become a moot chocolate, so to speak. The white chocolate only version, on their own, made all of us a little crazy - and, they disappeared by about 10:30am, a record in the office.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
12 tbs. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups white chocolate chips

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 350F. Grease a 9 x 13 pan and fit aluminum foil into the pan, lining the bottom and sides - leaving enough overhang to pull bars out of pan after baking; spray foil with nonstick spray.

Whisk flour, baking powder and salt in medium bowl, set aside. Whisk the melted and brown sugar in a medium bowl until combined. Add eggs and vanilla, mix well. Using a spatula, fold dry ingredients into egg mixture just until combined. Don't overmix. Fold in white chocolate chips, then turn the batter into the pan, smoothing the top with spatula.

Bake until the top is shiny and feels firm to the touch, about 22-25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Using the foil, remove bars from the pan, cut into desired size, and indulge!
Adapted from Baking Illustrated.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Clafoutis, Obsessing About Obsessing

Do you ever think about things over and over and over again? No? Oh.
Me neither.

With that (not) in mind, I didn't see this a few weeks ago - this being a Clafoutis; I didn't see that picture in my head every day since, I didn't wonder what it tasted like, I didn't think about it's possible texture, I didn't wonder if it was moist, I didn't contemplate its level of sweetness, I didn't consider whether it might be more muffin-like or cake-like or other-worldly-like. I didn't think about the fact that it almost looked like cheese, like sweet cheese, but not like cheesecake. I didn't research the Clafoutis (cla-foo-tee) to find out just what in damnation I've been missing all these decades. I didn't think about it, really, from say...oh...March 26th until now. Nooooooooooooo, not me.

And then, nearly daily, I turn to those who know and love me and exclaim, all bewilderment - "WHY can't I sleep at night??!! WHY?" --- Indeed.

On one hand, this blog calms me because it has unclogged my creative artery - through writing, photography, cooking, reading, networking, learning - and has become an outlet for a bolus of previously stuck gunk. On the other hand -
this unleashed inner blogstress energy is proving rather difficult to harness. Long-favored, but forever under-utilized, WORDS pouring forth from the netherfolds of my dormant brain - causing exponential increase in already ridiculous usage of post-it notes - notes stuffed everywhere containing words, phrases, recipes, ideas, concepts, food inspirations, food memories - waking up in the middle of the night to scrawl JACK DANIELS on a note - then reading it in the morning and having absolutely no freakin' idea how it may have related to a concept for the blog. JACK DANIELS?

Eeking poor Tony through all of the minutiae right along with me, which frankly, would make most people - lately - want to peel sticky-price-tags off of Christmas gifts all year long, rather than hang with me. I mean, comparing a food picture that is ostensibly, one centimeter different from the next picture - while it may be riveting for me - I suppose for Tony, it's akin to "Hey! Let's grab the Neti Pot for some nasal irrigation!" - ya know? But he nods and somehow tolerates all the newfound...creative brewery slash manic sleeplessness.

So, you do understand why I absolutely had to make the Clafoutis. AS IF I had a choice in it, please. Certain things fascinate me, then I become fascinated as to why they fascinate me - from there, I start to wonder why I'm always so intrigued by finding out the reason behind what fascinates us. At that point, I either cry uncontrollably or change medications.

By the way, this batter - is insane - I want to live in it. MEN, if you slather this batter all over your bodies - you will make sex slaves of your previously "Headache! On your own!" wives.

Le Clafoutis de Fanny's Grand-Mere

Back to the matter, or batter (oh! so clever!) at hand - you must make this. You could make this with one paw tied behind your back. This is sort of a French baked pancake - but sweeter than what we recognize as 'pancake'. It can be served as breakfast, or as a dessert - with a dollop of vanilla yogurt, ice cream, or whipped cream; syrup is not necessary at all. As suspected, the texture is dense, yet totally light - I can't really explain it properly, it was a new texture for me - and completely delicious. It does taste like a pancake - but the best dang pancake I've ever had. Toss in the blueberries - and we were in breakfast heaven this Sunday morning. And, don't forget to slather left-over batter all over your bodies.

3/4 c. + 2 tbsp. all purpose flour
1/2 c. sugar, slightly heaping
pinch of salt
3 eggs
6 T butter, melted
8 oz. milk, full fat preferred (just don't use skim)
2 c. blueberries (cherries are the classic fruit used)

Preheat oven to 400F and generously butter an 11-inch tart pan.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Incorporate the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. When the batter is smooth, mix in the melted butter. Then, working slowly, gradually add the milk, mixing well, so no lumps form. If needed, you may strain the batter through a sieve for added smoothness.

Scatter blueberries into the prepared pan and gently pour the batter over the fruit. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown, but firm on top. It may still be slightly wobbly in the center, but a tester inserted in the middle should come out clean. Serves 10.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Swoon: Meet My Morning LOVAH

Well, I've been thinking about my kitchen accoutrements again.

This is my mug. She has been with me,
every morning, for almost 5 years now. I have known her - held her between my greedy, needy paws - longer than I have known my husband. Like a hockey player approaching the Stanley Cup tournament, I feel superstitious posting about her - I worry that she will crack under the pressure. What if tomorrow she breaks because today I gossiped about her?

She looks benign enough (I mean, polka dots?) - but this
robin's egg colored CHALICE - this venerable gives-me-the-shakes-when-I-see-it caffeine delivery vehicle is my morning muse. I wake - and - knowing she is not far, am willing to move - I schlep out of my dreadful, insomniac, pinch-faced haze - grabbing a sweatshirt, turning off the AC - hoping to sweat Tony from his slumber - I shouldn't be the only sleepless, suffering, sack of...well, anyways.

I drag toward the kitchen, questionably conscious - arm raising forward, pointer-finger beginning to stretch into extended position -
almost there - PUSH BUTTON - whirrrr, tick, tick - drizzzzzzzzle. The espresso shot begins. Let the crema ensue. I shall prevail. I am woman, hear me snore! Add the vanilla syrup, steam the milk, froth excessively just because I can, pour into espresso shots, stir gently. Too hot, but sip anyways - ooooooh, baby, come to momma. I am RISEN. I cup both freezing paws around this gloriously over-sized mug - it fits perfectly and burns my skin a little. Bring it, mug-o-lovah.

Sipping and savoring, I contemplate important global considerations, such as, how did I
ever survive before my super-automatic espresso machine? Does Tony sleep late just to stick it to me? What was my dog dreaming about? Why am I "blog-thinking" in the middle of the night? Why is that dude at the bead store always such a jack to me? Is it because he is a dude, and working at a bead store? Why do I have 28 mugs (I counted) when I use just this one? What is that about?

Um...you might be thinking...OCD, perhaps? Good point. I'll uh...look into that...again. I think it goes back to my obsession with
kitchen accoutrements and somehow - artistically and aesthetically and experientially - certain objects just hook me. In other words, we bond - me and this mug. It's my one true mug.

So, if you come to my house and see this gorgeous hunk of mugoliciousness - you
should know not to use it. Or, touch it. Or, if you do touch it - then, touch it 7 times, put it away twice - then turn the espresso machine on and off, x 3.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Cake, A Wingspan, & Seven Blankets

Fine, I give up - for now. The clock is ticking, I already promised to post this recipe before the weekend timed out - and I really don't want to let anyone down, in case there is an actual reader out there. This darling fluffette of a cake was going to act as the foyer to the love story between me and Tony. But, as I've already indicated - I have family in the house - I need to plan, regress, feel rushed, exaggerate, be dramatic. This is no time to wax poetic.

So, while I will post this recipe (which, by the way, has been in my family for decades - though I do know there are similar recipes, I've never quite tasted one as divinely and utterly ridiculous) I'm not in the right frame of mind to post the love story as I'd intended. And frankly, you're probably insanely grateful. I'm sure the gratitude Tony feels, as he's reading this along with you, far surpasses yours - since I never really asked in the first place if he'd mind my disclosing the story, along with the fact that we once talked on phone for 6 hours straight - a fact which I know he really hoped his male friends would never uncover. Huh? I didn't hear anything.

At any rate, if there was a headline for our love story - it really would be: A Cake, A Wingspan, 7 Blankets and A 6-Hour Chat* (*note: even though we lived 7 miles apart). That headline was our recipe, therein lies our love story. Truly, one night - a few years ago - when we shared Red Velvet for the first time - that was the night we somehow knew there was more in store for us than just buddies, as much fun as that was proving. Gag if you want to. You've been there, you know you were. And you know that we know.

That's the short version - I know this doesn't explain the whole Wingspan (huh?) and the 7-Blankets (da?) - but you still get the picture -- the cake is still a player and I threw Tony to the wolves just as a bonus, so I feel I've done my share. SO, this current cake lasted about 3 days in our 2-person house; thank the universe we have a treadmill and that actually I'm using it. Upon our first piece, witness the conversation:

Ann: "This is ridiculous"
Tony: "Oh my god"
Ann: "This cake should be called The Utterly Ridiculous Cake"
Tony: "Oh my god"
Ann: "This is the kind of cake that could change your life"
Tony: "If we weren't already married, I'd be down on one knee...after I finished my cake."
Both: "Oh my god"

We had it for dinner 3 nights straight - and basically had the same conversation, as outlined above, 3 nights going. We both burned a lot of brain cells in our early 20s.
Good times.

Red Velvet Cake (aka Utterly Ridiculous Cake)

Now, we need to chat a bit about this little beauty. This is a moist cake, with a fantastic "mouth-feel". For some reason, men seem particularly fond of this cake - perhaps because it is known for not being cloyingly sweet. I find its flavor almost dulcet - its sweetness almost just out of reach - just enough, never too much, never over the top - yet, almost achingly satisfying, perhaps because we can't articulate why. There are many "imitation" Red Velvet/Waldorf Cakes out there - it makes me a little batty, thinking of all those fakes out there luring folks in with their buttercream this and their cream cheese that - I beg thee, please try the real thing, just once. The frosting may be a tad high maintenance, but is *so* worth it - and, if you *did* covet Red Velvet as a kid, but often wonder why it just doesn't taste the same as way-back-when...this is your recipe, from way back when. Better print this quick, because my family is probably going to rub me out (and this blog) after publicizing this nugget.

3 tsp. cocoa
(not dutch), heaping
1.5 oz. red food coloring (about 3 tbs.)
1/2 c. shortening
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs (room temperature)
1 tbs. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. flour (all-purpose)
1 c. buttermilk (room temp., if possible)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tbs. vinegar, white

Frosting (If you DON'T want to frost the sides of this cake, as some Red Velvet eaters prefer, then cut this recipe in half....but really, why would you ever do that, if sane?)
2/3 c. flour, all purpose
2 c. milk
1 c. shortening
1 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
2 c. sugar
2 tbs. vanilla
1 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, placing baking position to middle rack. This recipe can be used for (2) 9-inch or 8-inch pans, or 24 cupcakes; butter and flour inside of pans, then line bottom of pans with parchment paper - or - line cupcake tins with liners.

Batter: In small bowl, combine cocoa and food coloring - making a runny paste, set aside. Using hand-held mixer, combine shortening and sugar, cream until combined; then add eggs 1 at a time - beat until combined and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add red paste, beat until completely incorporated. Add vanilla and salt, beat until incorporated. Add 1 cup flour, beat just until combined; add all of the buttermilk, beat until combined; add remaining cup of flour, beat just until combined. Do NOT overmix. Sprinkle the baking soda over the top of the batter; pour the vinegar over the top of the batter. Gently fold these last 2 ingredients in by hand - do NOT beat. Pour batter into pans or cupcake tins. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until tester that is inserted into middle of cakes comes out clean; cupcakes should bake for 18-20 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Place cakes on cooling rack to cool, then remove from pans. Frost once completely cooled.

Frosting: Prepare a cooling bath. Fill a sink or large, wide container/pan with ice water; have a medium bowl ready to cool the flour mixture. In medium saucepan, over medium heat (4-5) - add milk and flour, stirring occasionally at first and then almost constantly as the mixture begins to warm and thicken. Attentive stirring later in the cooking process will prevent unbreakable "lumps" from forming while the flour and milk begin to combine. Mixture will continue to thicken, bring the consistency just past pudding stage, where it begins to get a bit gummy. Take the mixture off the heat and pour into the waiting medium bowl. Stir vigorously and place bottom of bowl into cooling bath to speed cooling, stirring every few minutes to avoid big lumps, until mixture cools.

In large bowl, beat shortening and butter until creamy. Add sugar and beat until incorporated and fluffy. Add vanilla and salt, beat until completely incorporated. When cooled, add the flour mixture and beat, at high speed, until completely incorporated - for 5 minutes. When cake has completely cooled, frost cake to your heart's desire!

Do you think I could've plowed any more crap into that middle layer? Insanity, I tell you.

This is what dinner looks like in my dreams - and, well, last week. Mouthgasm.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Bloody Heck, Where's The Red Velvet?

It was not an April Fool's joke, I promise - I really did make that luscious, white, utterly ridiculous Red Velvet cake to which I alluded below - and I *will* post about it. Thing is, my Dad and Stepmom arrived in town - so there is quite a bit in the brew; we're living under the nearly constant threat of a game of dominoes. So, you can sense the pressure - I feel like an eyeball in the late stages of glaucoma. Okay, okay. I exaggerate - but I had to come up with something to hide the fact that I was cleaning the slime in my house prior to their arrival. So, there it is. There was evidence to hide, for flour's sake. You do understand.

So, my hope and intent is that I will write a rather annoyingly-long-winded-post about my dearly beloved Red Velvet cake...sometime...over the weekend.

Once again, story developing [roll your eyes here].

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Face Only A Mother Could Love

Awright, look. If there was a Playboy Magazine for food, this pinup above would not be a Playmate of the year, or the month; it wouldn’t make the cover, it’s no centerfold. It’s not even a cheap back-o-the-magazine advertisement snapshot. This picture of....sludge....isn’t even supposed to be here. It was Sunday evening – I had promised the one-whom-I-let-thinks-he-wears-the-pants Lava Cakes later that night – so I really just wanted to throw a light snack together for myself, saving my appetite for the good stuff. I made this ugly little snack, gave Tony a bite and he was all “get the camera!” – it’s no longer “mmm, that’s good” around here – the real test, apparently, is “get the camera!”. So, that’s how this sweaty, swarthy little snack ended up here. It’s like a slug amongst butterflies. You look at it, squint a little, pull back, and just go “oooof”. This dish following so closely after the flourless cake is like Aristotle Onassis after JFK.

So, the veggie drawer revealed cucumber and fennel; the fennel was on its last leg. NOW...I do NOT waste fennel; I adore fennel - I just typed a cuss word for emphasis – and I took it out, but eff I love fennel! So, for my light snack – clearly, fennel was going to be a player. The cucumber wasn’t faring so well either, so I decided to spare its violent descent into the toothsome garbage disposal. Surely, there was some way I could salvage these limp biscuits. So…

I don’t quite know how to explain the experience of this little dish – which can often be the case (and the delight) when it comes to dear fennel. There is the crunch of the cucumber and the softness of the sautéed fennel. There is the tang of the rice wine vinegar and lime juice – and the sweet-savoriness of the honey and sesame. The cucumber is cool, the fennel is divinely warm and buttery. And then, there is – drum roll – the anise-y, undeniably, uniquely eyes-roll-back-in-head [choir music] sumptuous flavor of fennel. Then the “GET THE CAMERA!!!” – and that’s how this sad, little, un-photogenic urchin ended up in the headlines. Just…blur your eyes a little…or something. And, ya know, just because Aristotle covered his barstools in whale genitalia – he did wear bespoke suits, so he was a quasi-sophisticate; so, think of the cucumber as the Ari of this dish and fennel as the JFK, if that helps. Scratch that, there is nothing appetizing in that analogy whatsoever. When you find yourself in a hole, first thing you do is stop digging.

Fennel Cucumber Sesame Glob While Waiting for Lava Cakes

This would be a great little side salad. Or, as designed, while waiting for lava cakes. The cool thing about this little glob is that you can adapt it to preference – if you’re not a big vinegar fan, then use more honey in the ratio; if you love sesame – do a heavy pour; just be cautious in amping up the vinegar as it's more potent.

2 tsp. fresh lime juice
1 T + 1 t. honey
1 T sesame oil
2 T rice wine vinegar
1 cucumber, sliced and halved
1 bulb fennel, sliced
1 tsp. black sesame seeds
Salt, pepper to taste

1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. butter
salt, pepper

In bowl, combine honey, sesame oil, rice wine and lime juice – add pinch of salt and pepper. Add cucumbers to bowl. Heat sauté pan over medium high heat – add olive oil and butter, add fennel, pinch of salt and pepper, and sauté until soft and translucent, about 6-8 minutes. The last 2 minutes, reduce heat to low and add sesame seeds – tossing continuously, so as not to burn the seeds.


Now, don't lose all hope - along with your breakfast, lunch, and dinner after queasy-ing your way through this smarmy post - because *looksie* at what I made for my beloved's birthday - below is a preview. This recipe has been in my family for decades. It is a Red Velvet Cake like no other - and it tastes utterly ridiculous - it makes all other food just seem plain stupid, just dumb. Gaze upon it. We had it for dinner (well, not all of it).