S’mores and Softball

IMG_0284Cupcakes are a touchy subject with me. I have actively eschewed them for about four years…about the time all the “Cupcakeries” started sprouting up. There seemed to be a cupcake shop on every corner, in every town I visited. I don’t like to follow the herd in baking matters, so my cupcake liners have laid fallow in their drawer. Though I love cupcakes, I switched gears and began dabbling in hand pies, mixing up trifles, and experimenting with souffles. Until two weeks ago.

My daughter plays travel softball and it was her coach’s birthday. It was an occasion screaming for cupcakes! Not just any cupcakes though, s’more cupcakes. The kind of cupcake that embraces all the great things about summer- campfires, simple foods, lazy evenings with groups of friends, vacations. The kind of cupcake that brings back all those golden childhood memories. The kind of cupcake that lingers with you not just for the flavor, but also the experience. That was the cupcake we needed.

A little backstory, Liv has been playing travel softball for three years  and much of our summer is spent in the shadow of a backstop with swirls of red field dirt floating around. When your child plays a sport, you want them to have a good coach who they respect and will learn from. Enter Vanessa. She is a twenty-something, sassy, former D1 college softball player who took on our group of young ladies- I use the term ladies loosely- this season. She is one of those beautiful souls who tells it like it is, always. She has inspired Liv with her knowledge of the game, passion for playing, and easy-going humor. Vanessa is one of those rare people who come into your life and you hope they will stay.

Vanessa’s birthday happened to fall on a weekend we had a local tournament. She willingly gave up birthday plans to coach our girls. Liv and I decided we needed to do something to celebrate and whenever we decide that, it usually results in baking. We have ten girls on the team plus parents and siblings, so cupcakes were the logical confection. We wanted to do something different though; something you could not just pick up at the local cupcake shop. We talked about flavor profiles and what V. liked, but we were struggling. As we got on the subject of dinners with Vanessa, it struck me that all of our pre-game rituals involved a Starbucks stop. V. has been on the S’mores Frappucino pretty heavily lately and from that the idea was born. We would bake s’mores cupcakes, bruleed marshmallow and all. With Liv doing the torching…maybe.

We started our adventure searching the internet to get an idea of what others had done. This is always a good starting point when I bake with Liv since it forces me to think concrete recipe, not just wild experimentation. We found a number of riffs on s’mores as cupcakes, but none were exactly what I envisioned. We discussed what we liked about various ones, and came up with a chocolate base- my old standby, go-to recipe from Nanny, a marshmallow meringue frosting- bruleed of course, topped with a mini hershey bar and bit of graham. I could picture its perfection in my head.

My main issue going into this was the frosting. I can make a rockstar, solid-peaked meringue, but how to incorporate marshmallow was the sticky wicket. I thought about melting marshmallows down like I do for Rice Krispie treats, but I worried it would solidify too fast to incorporate. Then a thought from my childhood came to me- Fluff! That gooey, goes best on peanut butter but is good friends with jelly ambrosia of my younger years. I mentioned it to Liv and she gave me the puzzled look. I realized at that moment I had fallen down as a parent. My child had never experienced Fluff. No fluffernutter sandwiches, no banana fluff snackies- how could I have let this happen. Now it could be because she hates peanut butter or that I spent a decade of her life banning all processed foods, who knows but it was getting remedied that afternoon. She was dubious; I was excited.

After our jaunt to the grocery store and the great hunt for Fluff, which by the way is now called “marshmallow cream” and no longer resides in the peanut butter and jelly aisle, we got to work. I gave Liv Nanny’s no-fail chocolate cake recipe and let her have at it. Hard to believe a year ago she barely knew how to make pasta. Now classmates clamber over her cookies and brownies when she brings them to school. They often don’t make it past the bus. Pretty cool! I set about the more delicate process of creating a marshmallow meringue frosting worthy of Vanessa. It was actually fun to be working off-recipe again for a little while.

We both finished our tasks about the same time. I put the frosting in the fridge to set, and we lined our pans with cupcake liners and filled them with the cake. By the way, use parchment cups always. Don’t question. Just do it and trust me. After about 10 minutes, the yummy smells began to permeate the kitchen and we knew we were on track.

After some cooling time, wrangling of the chocolate bars because you know the store did not sell mini hershey bars, and some mangled graham cracker cracking; the cupcakes were frosted and adorned. Of course we tried one because as responsible bakers we could not let things leave our kitchen without a taste test. They were delicious, gooey, and more importantly, Vanessa loved them. Another success for Liv and I!

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Yes. She did torch the meringue!

Ingredients:

Nanny’s No-Fail Chocolate cake (makes one layer cake or 24 cupcakes):

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

2/3 cup Hershey’s dark unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

dash of salt

3/4 cup room temperature butter

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

3 eggs

1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1 1/3 cups sour cream

Marshmallow Meringue frosting:

4 egg whites

1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

1/2 cup sugar

8 oz. Fluff

Procedure:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray muffin pans with non-stick spray and line cups with parchment cupcake liners (you can get them anywhere, including Kroger).

In a large bowl. whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder and soda, and salt. In a stand mixer, beat the room temperature butter with the sugar until incorporated and fluffy. Add the eggs for the cake one at a time. Add the vanilla extract and on low speed, begin adding the flour mixture. Alternate the addition of the flour mixture with the sour cream. Once combined, grab your ice cream scoop and fill the cups about 3/4 full. Bake for about 18 minutes, depending on how fast your oven cooks. You want a toothpick to come out clean when inserted. Remove from oven and cool completely.

Meanwhile, let’s make the frosting. Using a clean stand mixer bowl (clean is really important for meringue), beat the egg whites and cream of tartar on medium speed until soft peaks form. I will say I mistakenly added the sugar prematurely, but everything came out okay so don’t freak out if you make a mistake. Sometimes some of my best recipes come from mistakes! Add in the sugar on high speed until the meringue looks glossy and stiff peaks form. You can judge the peaks by stopping the mixer and lifting the whisk out. If the meringue does not move and holds the peak shape, you are good to go.

Time for the Fluff! Fold the Fluff into your meringue. Most people will say you need to be gentle here, and that is preferable, but if you get a little impatient and fold too quickly, just use a hand whisk and bring the meringue back. Once combined, put your frosting in the fridge for about 30 minutes to set.

Once cupcakes are completely cool and frosting is set, get out the piping bag and frost the cupcakes. For the brulee, I like a hand torch. They are inexpensive and readily available at most stores. You could also use your oven at high heat. Torch each cupcake to light golden brown color. Insert your mini hershey bars and graham pieces, and voila, S’mores Cupcakes!

Easter Cheesecake

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The seersucker suits. The pastel bonnets. The array of delicately patterned eggs nestled around the yard waiting to be found. I love Easter. It is one of those holidays that still holds some non-commercial magic in our family. We gather together at Granny’s house for some food, fellowship and front yard football. It is potluck style. Everybody brings their favorites and Granny cooks a big ham to share.

Liv and I have been on a roll with cheesecakes lately so we decided that would be our contribution. The pumpkin cheesecake at Thanksgiving was a huge success, and the Chai cheesecake at Christmas was decimated. We talked about flavors and decided to try a riff on Cadbury Eggs. My kids love these Easter confections and this would be an opportunity to teach Liv how to make caramel from scratch. We talked about how to recreate the flavor profile of the eggs and decided on a white chocolate filling, a chocolate graham cracker crust, and layer of toppings that included caramel, chocolate ganache and chopped up Cadbury Eggs.

Ingredients:

Crust-

1 box chocolate grahams, ground

1 stick unsalted butter

Filling-

8 ounces white chocolate

2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, room temperature

1 tub mascarpone cheese

1/2 cup granulated sugar

4 whole eggs

2 egg yolks

2 tbsp. all purpose flour

1tbsp. pure vanilla extract

Toppings-

1/4 cup lt. brown sugar

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

3 oz. dark chocolate

4 Cadbury Cream Eggs, chilled overnight and quartered

Procedure:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees to bake the crust. Butter a 14 inch springform pan and place a disk of parchment paper in the bottom. I do this so the cake will easily release and I can move it to a tupperware container for transport.

Using a food processor, grind the chocolate graham crackers. I use a whole box because I like my crust to come up the sides of the cheesecake, but if you prefer just a bottom crust, just use two packs of the grahams. Once they are ground, transfer to a bowl and combine with melted stick of butter. You want the crumbs to be moist with butter, but not greasy. Press the mixture into your prepared springform pan and bake for about 20 minutes or until crust begins to darken slightly and hold together. Once finished, cool to room temperature before filling. Drop your oven to 325 degrees for the cheesecake.

Next comes the filling. Get a double boiler going over medium heat (or you can use a large bowl over simmering water) and place your white chocolate in the top. Once melted, remove from heat and allow to cool. Meanwhile in a stand mixer, beat your cream cheese and mascarpone until fluffy. Add sugar and combine. Next add the eggs one at a time, scraping sides of bowl as needed.

Once the mixture is combined, add the flour and vanilla extract. By this time your white chocolate should have cooled. Add that slowly to the mixer, beating until all is smooth.

The next step may be the most important for a tasty, unbroken cheesecake. Cut some large pieces of heavy duty foil and make a shell layer around the springform pan. It should come up to the edges of the pan. Then place your foil-lined pan in a larger pan (I use a Wilton bottom cake layer round). Fill your crust with the cheesecake filling and move the pan to the oven. Once secure on the rack. Fill the outer pan with warm water until it comes about halfway up the springform. This will allow the cheesecake to bake in a water bath. Water baths ensure even baking when cooking a custard or egg-based cake. It is the only way I have found to get the perfect texture with a cheesecake.

Bake the cheesecake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes. At this point the edges should be set, but the center should still be wobbly. Shut the oven off and open the door to allow some heat out. Then shut the door and leave the cheesecake in there another hour to finish baking. Once finished, cool on a rack to room temperature. After it reaches room temperature, it will need to chill and set in the fridge for about 8 hours.

Meanwhile, let’s make the toppings. I love homemade caramel and it is pretty easy to make. It just take precise measuring and patience. I let Liv do this completely on her own with just some verbal direction from me. First, you melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Once the butter is melted, add the brown sugar and stir with butter. Then comes the cream. Once you put the cream in the pan, you must whisk it constantly until it cooks down to a dark toffee color and reduces by about half. If it smells burnt at all, you must do it again. Luckily, Liv got it right on the first try! We put the caramel in a small sandwich bag and put it in the fridge to cool slightly.

The other topping is a dark chocolate to drizzle on top of the cheesecake. We did the same thing with it as the white chocolate. Bring some water to simmer in the bottom of a double boiler and put the dark chocolate in top. Allow it to melt completely. Once smooth, place it in another sandwich bag and put in the fridge to cool.

The Cadbury Eggs should be good and hard by this time. Move them to a cutting board and gently cut them into quarters. arrange them around the perimeter of the cheesecake. Next take your cooled caramel and snip the tip of the sandwich bag so you get a very slight opening to drizzle caramel. We did a spiderweb pattern with both toppings, but you can decorate however you like. Do the same with the chocolate- a slight snip in the tip and drizzle the chocolate over the caramel, creating whatever pattern you like. Once it is decorated, put it in the fridge to chill and set.

It was a huge hit for our Easter gathering and I even heard some say it was their favorite cheesecake yet!

Best Cookies…Ever!

IMG_1329Last night as I looked out my dining room window at the kids sledding down our enormous road blanketed with cottony white snow, I was taken back to my own childhood riding down Nanny’s hill on our old wooden toboggan until it was too dark to see. We would trudge up the hill, sleds in tow, to the porch and peel off the hundreds of layers of long johns, sweatshirts and thermal padding required to keep Vermont children playing outside in the dead of winter semi-warm. Though, who am I kidding, kids don’t get cold even if they are blue. The best part of coming in was knowing there was a big kettle of warm milk on the stove for hot chocolate and a batch of the best cookies ever- no-bake chocolate oatmeal drop cookies.

In the South they call them Preacher cookies, but growing up we knew them as Aunt Julie’s cookies. I could always count on Aunt Julie making something yummy for Christmas, birthdays and any other holiday. She believed in homemade gifts and went to great lengths to make them special. Every year at Christmas I knew I would get some luxurious homemade soaps, cozy scented candles and delicious jars of homemade confections. Her peanut butter fudge was legendary, but her chocolate oatmeal drop cookies held my heart. Aunt Julie was never stingy with her knowledge. Weekends in the summer I would stay with her and she would teach me all about soap and candle making and the finer points of candy making. I am not sure I could still make a candle or bar of soap, but each year for Christmas Liv and I make jars of cookies and candies in homage to her. We spend hours tempering chocolate, making peanut butter fillings and creating just the right fudge consistency. But, just like my younger self, my children always request the chocolate oatmeal drop cookies.

Watching the kids outside frolicking in the snow with our huge golden retriever, I knew what Liv would need when she came in. I took out my copper-bottom pot and filled it with fresh milk to start heating. Mugs were filled with cocoa powder, sugar and a touch of cinnamon. I made Liv some warm hot chocolate just like Nanny used to for me when I would come in after a hard day of sledding. The only other thing she would need? Aunt Julie’s chocolate oatmeal drop cookies to munch with her hot chocolate in front of the fireplace.

This is maybe one of the easiest recipes ever, but it must be followed exactly. I have tried to make a double batch, not use a timer, change the peanut butter and it always fails. Now I just stick to the way Aunt Julie made them and they are right every time.

Ingredients:

1 stick unsalted butter

2 cups granulated sugar

4 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Hershey’s)

1/2 cup milk

3 cups quick oats (I use Quaker)

2 tbsp. creamy peanut butter

Process:

Melt butter in deep sauce pan. Add cocoa, sugar and milk and boil for 3 minutes. Make sure you set a timer as soon as you see the mixture begin to bubble. Too long on boil and they will be dry, too short a time and they will be sticky and unset. After 3 minutes, remove pan from heat and add oats and peanut butter. When just combined, drop on wax paper to dry. They should be ready to eat in just a couple of minutes.

Cookie Extravaganza, Part 1

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The holidays bring about those moments when I get out the rolling pin, my arsenal of cookie recipes and flour…lots of flour. Every year Liv and I break out the cookie cutters and bake hundreds of cookies for family and neighbors. I try to keep our tradition of decorating cookies and creating care packages for people we care about alive so Liv will carry it on when she has her own family. We have some favorites we make every year, but we also try out new ones each year to see what we might like to add to our cache.  When the kids were younger I would invite all their friends and cousins over to decorate cookies with us. I would spread out the candies and food coloring and let them have at it.

One of our new favorites from this year is the gingerbread dough pictured above. It is a recipe I found on Food Network. It is courtesy of Paula Deen and is posted below. I followed the recipe exactly and the dough was perfect. It rolled out well, was easy to cut and had that nostalgic gingerbread flavor I always crave around the holidays.

Recipe courtesy Paula Deen for Food Network Magazine
Gingerbread Boys and Girls Gingerbread Boys and GirlsTotal Time:
2 hr 30 min
Prep:
35 min
Inactive:
1 hr 35 min
Cook:
20 minYield:
18 to 20 cookies, depending on cutter sizeLevel:
Intermediate

Ingredients

For the cookies:
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 stick salted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1/4 cup molasses
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting work surface
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Using a mixer on low speed, cream the brown sugar and butter in a large bowl until thoroughly combined. Mix in the eggs and molasses.

Sift together the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in another bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix with a spoon. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap; place in the refrigerator until firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350. Let the dough sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes, until pliable. Line 1 or more cookie sheets with parchment paper. Take about 1/2 cup dough at a time and roll on a floured surface until – to 1/4-inch thick. Cut out shapes with 5-by-3-inch gingerbread boy and girl cookie cutters. (Re-roll the scraps.) Using a spatula, transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheets, leaving space between them. Refrigerate the cookies for 20 minutes, then bake until they just begin to brown at the edges, 18 to 20 minutes. Cool slightly, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Liv and I also tackled traditional sugar cookies, but with not as much success. I usually stick with a killer shortbread cookie dough, but it is a boatload of room temperature butter and we were hosting a holiday party with a cookie station so I needed something a little more streamlined. Unfortunately, it did not work out the way I wanted. I again turned to Food Network for a recipe and found what looked to be a solid recipe. I think it could have worked out if I had reduced the amount of sugar to allow for a softer dough with less of a grainy texture. We made do though and it was entertaining. We were able to roll out about half the amount of cookies for the dough we made. I microwaved it for 10 seconds to melt the butter some and then quickly rolled it out with lots of elbow grease to keep it sticking together. Then I sprinkled water on it and rolled lightly. With those steps I was able to salvage some cookies. It was not pretty though, we plastic-wrapped our whole island, there was flour everywhere and dough was stuck to everything, including us. In the end, what we were able to bake turned out pretty tasty.
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Recipe courtesy of Food Network
Ingredients2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Coarse sugar, aka sanding or crystallized sugar
Royal Icing, recipe follows
Royal Icing:
5 tablespoons meringue powder (egg white powder)
6 tablespoons water
1 pound confectioners’ sugar (about 3 3/4 to 4 cups or 1 box)
Food coloring, as desiredDirectionsWhisk the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

Beat the butter and both sugars in another medium bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 30 seconds. Add the egg yolks, vanilla and orange zest mixing until fully incorporated. Slowly add the flour mixture, and continue beating until the dough comes together, stopping and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

For rolled cookies: Roll about a tablespoon of dough by hand into a ball. Dip 1 side of the balls into some coarse sugar and place them sugar-side-up on an ungreased baking sheet, leaving about 1-inch between cookies.

For sliced cookies: Divide dough in half, roll by hand into 2-inch-wide logs, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.

Cut the logs into 1/4-inch-thick cookies and place them on ungreased baking sheets, leaving about 1-inch between cookies.

For cutout cookies: Divide dough in half, pat into disks, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.

Roll dough between lightly floured parchment, or waxed paper, until about 1/3-inch thick. Transfer sheets to a baking sheet and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes. Cut into desired shape using a cookie cutter, place them on ungreased baking sheets, leaving about 1-inch between cookies. (Gather the dough scraps together, pat into a disk, chill and reroll.)

Refrigerate cookies while preheating the oven to 375 degrees F, for at least 30 minutes.

Bake the cookies, until the bottoms are golden, about 10 to 15 minutes depending on shape. Cool on sheets until firm enough to transfer to a rack to cool. Decorate as desired and serve, or store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month.

 

Next up, cookie bark, hazelnut shortbread and chai cheesecake!

Thanksgiving- Installment 2, Sides and Dessert, oh the dessert…

Adding on to the fabulous turkey and gravy from last post, we enjoyed some delicious side dishes and crazy good dessert. I must spend a moment on dessert. Years ago, when I owned and restaurant and catered I always wanted to change my concept to a bakery and book shop because my passions were baking and reading. It would be the kind of place I wanted to spend all my time, surrounded by a bevy of my favorite characters and confections. But, it was not meant to be. My cafe was successful and my customer base was established and if you know anything about the restaurant industry, you do not mess with a good thing. Now that my restaurant has been gone for a number of years, I find myself still yearning for those early mornings when the sun was just peeking up over the beach and the ovens were hot, ready for whatever I filled them with. I can say it now, I am a recovering baking addict. My personal twelve step program involves lots of prep and baking around the holidays- even if nobody is coming over. This year was no different except I had help. Dangerous. Liv was as excited to get into the flour and sugar as I was and we were feeling experimental. I made the traditional Maple Pumpkin Pie my family loves- actually I made four. We also decided to try our hands at Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake and Pumpkin Creme Brulee. For some reason I never make cheesecake any more. I used to make about 10 per week when I had the restaurant and they were some of the most popular desserts, but since I left the industry, I just have not made any. It could be that my husband hates cheesecake and I just don’t have the audience for it or it could be the complicated nature of cheesecake with its water bath and temperamental top you hope does not crack. I don’t know. It just does not seem to happen in my kitchen, until this year. I made the requisite traditional dessert so I gave myself license to branch out. I am just going to say now, I could not have chosen two more labor-intensive, difficult desserts to make with Liv, but the results- Amazing! My husband actually devoured both desserts and raved about the cheesecake. The top was perfect- no cracking and the gingersnap crust was crumbly perfection. The Creme Brulee had a beautiful spice from the added cardamom and a pudding-like texture with that hard, crystallized sugar top. I could not have been happier and more importantly, Liv and I survived creating two fairly difficult dishes with only a few squabbles and a little food processor hiccup. Below are our side dish and dessert recipes.

Cranberry Sauce (It is not that hard to make it fresh, though my son prefers the can variety you can still see the can imprints on :). In addition to a condiment with the turkey, we used this as a topping on the cheesecake and it was the perfect tart counterpart to the creamy texture of the cheesecake.)

Ingredients:

1 bag of fresh cranberries

1 large orange

2 cinnamon sticks

1 cup of granulated sugar

Procedure:

In a medium-sized saucepan, mix together cranberries, sugar and zest of orange. After zesting orange, juice it into your cranberry mix. Add cinnamon sticks and turn heat to high. Allow sauce to come to a boil and let cranberries start popping. Once cranberries have popped and sauce begins to thicken, remove from heat and allow to cool. Transfer to serving dish and put in refrigerator for 3- 6 hours. When ready to serve, remove cinnamon sticks.

Crawfish and Andouille Cornbread Stuffing

Ingredients:

2 tbsp. unsalted butter

1 lb. Andouille sausage links, cut into small rounds

1 lb. bulk sausage (I use country)

2 vidalia onions, chopped

3 celery ribs, chopped

2 red bell peppers, chopped

1 poblano pepper, chopped

10-12 oz. crawfish tail meat

2 tsp. thyme

1 tsp. hot sauce (I like Melinda’s)

12 oz. dry cornbread stuffing (I use Pepperidge Farms)

2 cups  chicken stock

Procedure:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter in heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add all sausages and cook until browned . Add onions, celery, peppers and crawfish. Cover and cook until vegetables begin to be tender, stirring occasionally. Add thyme and hot sauce and continue to cook for another minute.

Transfer contents of skillet to a large stainless steel bowl. Add stuffing mix and chicken stock and mix by hand until combined. Transfer to a glass 13×9 baking dish and put in oven to bake. Bake until top becomes crispy- about 45 minutes.

Warmed Cauliflower and Herbed Barley Salad

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I saw this recipe in Bon Appetit last year and have been dying to make it. I changed it a little to accommodate my family’s palettes. Here is the link to the original recipe. I omitted the mayonnaise and tarragon. It was adored by everyone at my table, including the picky eaters and was the perfect side dish with turkey, cranberry and feta sandwiches the next couple of days!

Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Gratin

This is another recipe I originally found in Bon Appetit and adapted slightly. I missed a cheese element in my potato casserole and found this recipe too wet in its final form. Here is the link to the original recipe and below is my adaptation. This is perennially requested at my holiday table.

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Ingredients:

4 tbsp. unsalted butter, plus 1 tbsp. at room temp to coat baking dish

2 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, rinsed

2 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled

2 cups whole milk

3 garlic cloves

1 tsp. thyme

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

8 oz. Gouda cheese, not the processed version, firm gouda

Procedure:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 13×9 glass baking dish.

For the next step, I have always used my mandolin. My husband watches in fear, thinking I will slice my finger off at any moment and we will head to the emergency room. This year since Liv was cooking with me, I decided to give the slicing attachment on my food processor a shot. Best decision ever! She was able to slice the potatoes on her own and they were uniform size. Place one layer of potatoes (mix them together) in the prepared baking dish.

Now it is time to turn to the cream element. Bring milk, garlic, thyme and nutmeg to boil in a medium saucepan. Pour 1/3 of mixture over potatoes. Spread 1 layer of Gouda next. Repeat these steps until ingredients are exhausted. I usually get about four layers in my dish.

Cover with foil and bake one hour. After an hour, remove foil and dot top with four tablespoons of butter. Sometimes I grate some more Gouda or fresh Parmesan on top for a little extra something. I did not this year, but it is a good addition. Put back in the oven and bake for another 40 minutes or until golden brown. It will still be a little liquidy, but will set after it cools slightly.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

I have a base cheesecake recipe I always used at the restaurant, but with the addition of an ingredient like pumpkin I decide to consult a couple of recipe sites to see how they handled the additional moisture. The one closest to my own recipe ended up being from Food Network. I did a variation on their Almost Famous Pumpkin Cheesecake. The original recipe is linked here. Below is my recipe adaptation.

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Ingredients:

approx. 6 tbsp. unsalted butter- melted, plus some for buttering pan

1 box gingersnaps, ground

2 lbs. cream cheese, room temp

2 1/4 cups granulated sugar

1/4 cup sour cream

1 15 oz. can pumpkin

6 eggs, room temp

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

2 tsps. cinnamon (I like roasted)

1 tsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. ground cardamom

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

Procedure:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 10 inch springform pan.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the gingersnap crumbs and the melted butter. Once the crumbs are moistened, transfer to the springform pan and press into bottom and up sides. Bake about 15 minutes. The crust will start to look a little puffy and be very aromatic. Remove from oven and cool. Wrap bottom and sides of pan with heavy duty foil. Place in a large pan that will accommodate a water bath.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until combined, scraping sides as necessary. Add the sour cream, pumpkin, eggs, vanilla and spices to the mixture and beat lightly until combined. Pour into cooled crust.

Place large baking pan with cheesecake mixture in it, on the lowest oven rack. Pour hot water into the outer pan until it comes up to halfway on the springform pan. Bake in oven until center just sets (it will still be moving but not breaking the top), about 90 minutes. Turn off the oven and open the door to allow some of the heat out. Then close the door and leave the cheesecake in there for one more hour. Carefully remove the pan from the waterbath to a cooling rack and allow to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving. Whipped cream is the traditional topping, but I used the cranberry sauce and it was a sweet-tart masterpiece.

 

Pumpkin Creme Brulee

Again, I have a base recipe I use for Creme Brulee, but with the additional moisture added by pumpkin, I consulted recipe sites for their adaptations. I found a solid recipe on Food Network again and went with the original recipe except I added 1 teaspoon of cardamom. It turned out beautifully. The custard was silky and maintained that standby pumpkin pie flavor while being something different. The recipe is linked here. I will definitely make it again!

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Thanksgiving- Installment 1, The menu and the bird

IMG_1177As I started planning this year’s menu, I kept coming back to all the things we miss about living in Florida- the fresh seafood, the bold spices and the abundant farmer’s markets. I think some of the nostalgia stemmed from this being my son’s first Thanksgiving away from home. We have always gathered as a family no matter how far apart we were, but this year Dylan had a new job and could not get away so I prepared for my first holiday without him. He and I grew up together amid university classrooms and local kitchens. I had him young, but was determined to finish my degree. I made my way through college working in restaurants and he was right there with me so I knew this year would be hard. Fortunately, my new chapter of cooking with Olivia opened the door for some salve to that wound. Liv and I planned the menu together keeping in mind all of our favorites and honoring some of Dylan’s. Below is what we came up with.

Thanksgiving 2014

Chipotle Honey Glazed Turkey w/chipotle honey gravy

Sweet and Golden Potato Gratin

4 Cheese Baked Fusili

Andouille Sausage and Crawfish Cornbread Stuffing

Cauliflower Salad

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Cranberry Orange Relish

Pumpkin Creme Brulee

Maple Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Some of these are recipes I have been making for years and others are items Liv and I wanted to try and tackle for the first time. We have kind of a strange tradition in our family. We always spend Thanksgiving proper with my husband’s family and then Friday we host a Thanksgiving Part Deux for our friends. Friday is when I try bold spices, different ingredients and more adventurous takes on classics. I make a ridiculous amount of food, we share laughter and good wine, and it reminds me of all those holidays when my restaurant crew would gather and cook together. No matter what though, it all starts with the turkey. I always order a fresh turkey, no hormones or weird additives, just fresh bird. This year we went big with a 22 pounder, maybe our biggest ever. I was unsure of the logistics of getting it on the roasting rack, but my husband had visions of turkey sandwiches, turkey hash and turkey pot pie dancing in his head so I acquiesced. I know brining has fallen out of favor, but I still believe in the benefits of a good seasoned salt bath for 24-48 hours so we also picked up some pink Himalayan sea salt, smoked paprika, whole cumin and chipotle chili powder to forge a seasoned salt mix. The other pre-cooking prep that is really important is getting the right amount of unsalted butter out to bring to room temperature for you various recipes. It seems trivial but anybody who has baked knows the need for room temperature butter- microwaving is no substitute.

Being the smart people we are, we saved most of our shopping for Wednesday, yes the day before Thanksgiving when normal people are out just picking up the last few things. Lady luck was on my side though, I acquired everything except scallions which I knew I could pick up Friday morning. Wares in tote, I headed home to make the salt blend and get the turkey going. Liv and I wrestled the enormous turkey into the sink and began the process of removing extra fat pads and all the organs stuffed in the neck cavity. Once everything was trimmed, we rinsed the turkey well and dried it. Drying the turkey is a crucial step. It allows the skin to soak up all the goodness you are about to put on it and it also encourages a more golden brown skin when roasting. Next up was the spice mix. We toasted the cumin seeds over the stove until fragrant and smoky and then moved them to a spice mill. Our spice mill is really an old coffee bean grinder, but it works like a charm. Once the cumin was ground, we added it to the salt, smoked paprika and chipotle chili powder and stirred it to combine.

Salt mixture for turkey bath

Salt mixture for turkey bath

Liv was dubious about this process, but I explained to her how juicy and flavorful the turkey was going to be after it’s “bath”. With a little effort, we got the turkey in a roasting bag and spread our salt mix all over. We sealed it up and transported it to the refrigerator downstairs to absorb all the yumminess for the next 48 hours. I never knew how great a second refrigerator could be until my first holiday meal with one. I have always struggled to fit all the food at various stages of prep around the holidays into my one refrigerator. A few years ago we upgraded appliances and my husband suggested keeping the old fridge just in case. He was right. I am not sure I could do some of our larger holiday meals without it. Now if only I could get those double wall ovens…but I digress. Below is our turkey recipe. Stay tuned for the rest of the Thanksgiving feast recipes in the coming days!

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Chipotle Honey Glazed Turkey and Chipotle Honey Gravy

Ingredients:

Salt Mix-

2 tbsp. whole cumin seeds

1 cup Sea Salt (I like the pink, but you could use any sea salt)

2 tbsp. smoked paprika

1 tbsp. chipotle chili powder

Turkey-

1 20-22 lb. fresh turkey, organs removed from neck cavity

1 cup clover honey

2 tsp. chipotle chili powder

1 vidalia onion, chopped

1 bulb garlic, peeled and rough chopped

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

4 cups turkey stock

Gravy-

drippings from pan, strained

2 cups flour

Procedure:

First, let’s make the salt mix. Toast cumin seeds in skillet until fragrant and smoky. Transfer to a spice mill or mortar and pestle and grind. Place all ingredients for salt mix in a bowl and stir to combine. Then we need to prep the turkey for the bath. remove all fat pads and internal organs from neck cavity. Rinse bird thoroughly and pat dry. Some people like to reserve the organs and fat for their gravy, but I do not. I make my gravy just using the pan drippings. Place the turkey inside a roasting bag on top of a sheet pan and spread the salt mix all over. Close the bag and refrigerate for 24-48 hours.

After the salt bath has set for your preferred amount of time, it is time to get down to business. The turkey must be rinsed completely and patted very dry. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Move your turkey to the roasting pan- preferably one with a rack to elevate it out of the pan juices and ensure proper skin crisping. Chop the vidalia onion and garlic and combine in a bowl with 1 tsp. chipotle chili powder. Distribute this mix to the cavity of your bird. be sure to get it all the way so the aromatics can flavor the bird while it is roasting. Tuck the wings under so they don’t get crispy and tie your legs together with some kitchen twine to secure the turkey. Spread your stick of room temperature butter all over the turkey and voila, it is ready for the oven. Pour 3 cups of turkey stock in the bottom of the roasting pan and set your timer for one hour.

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I like to let my bird cook for an hour to start and then move to the basting process. After the first hour, I baste every 45 minutes so I can keep an eye on whether it is browning too quickly. After a couple of hours, I tent the turkey with heavy duty foil. It does not have to be tight, just a loose cover to protect the skin from burning until you are ready to start glazing.

While the turkey is roasting, make the glaze. Combine the honey and 1 tsp. of chipotle chili powder. I start glazing my turkey the last 40 minutes of cooking. I brush it with my snazzy silicone brush 40 minutes out and then again 20 minutes out. This creates that deep mahogany color of the skin. My turkey cooked incredibly quickly this year- a mere three hours. This was unusual since it was so large- I chalk it up to my sad oven, but that is another story. You are looking for a temp of 165 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh. Once you get there, remove the turkey and let it rest about an hour for maximum juiciness.

At this point, you should have a pan full of savory pan juices. I strain these to get out the unnecessary tidbits. Put the strained juice in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. Add your flour and whisk briskly until combined. Let the gravy simmer a little until thickened. I find the pan juices are so seasoned I do not need additional salt and pepper, but it is always a good idea to taste it for seasoning. Once you have reached your desired gravy consistency, you are ready to serve. Since I did not do mashed potatoes this year, my family poured the gravy over their turkey and stuffing. Their sighs of approval indicated it was pretty good. Next installment….sides with attitude!

 

Last bits from the garden

Heirloom Pears, Heirloom Husky Cherry and Heirloom Black Cherry tomatoes

Heirloom Pears, Heirloom Husky Cherry and Heirloom Black Cherry tomatoes

Fresh-spun Genovese Basil

Fresh-spun Genovese Basil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My little container garden has finally given up the ghost for this season, but before it gasped its last breath, it produced some plump heirloom cherry tomatoes and a few robust stalks of fragrant basil. It was the perfect makings for Liv’s yummy pasta. In another life I waited tables at a Governor’s club and a staple on the menu was a very simple pasta dish that combined angel hair pasta, Roma tomatoes, fresh basil and goat cheese. It was one of those dishes where the simplicity of the ingredients belied the depths of the flavors. I recreated it one night for dinner when I was short on time and it was a hit, especially with my daughter who eats goat cheese like a food group. So when our humble containers yielded the ingredients for the pasta dish of Liv’s dreams, it was an easy choice about what to have for dinner and an opportunity to show Liv how to make this for herself.

These moment she and I spend in the kitchen together remind me of how important it is to savor each second with those you love. We are forging a space where we get to know each other over puffs of flour whisping around the air and dough that sticks to our fingers as we knead it by hand. In today’s immediate gratification driven society, taking time to cook with your kids in the kitchen provides face-to-face, no electronics,  natural conversation. I wanted to be present in my family’s life. I longed for that connection with them that can be forged through the communal act of meals. Cooking had been a part of my public life for a long time and I wanted to find its place in my private life.  I had amazing memories of baking with my Nanny while I was growing up and I wanted to connect with my children over food and inspire them the way I was. I can still remember the dollops of batter for corn fritters splooshing into the pan and the cloud of flour that dusted me as I rolled out the dough for homemade buttermilk doughnuts. The scent of fresh maple syrup heating over the stove releasing its caramel aroma filled my nostrils. The conversations Nanny and I had over rhubarb stalks and dandelion greens are some of my strongest memories from my childhood. I wanted to find a way to communicate deeply and personally with my family like that and create those memories for them.

These evening when Liv and I get out my recipe book, don our aprons and get down to cooking offer that conversation space I have looked for over the years. For me, it’s important to hang on to those traditional activities, like having dinner together around a table with no phones or devices, so I never lose sight of what makes a family work. It’s not the bustle of “getting everything done,” and it’s not the pressures of having the bigger house or better car; it is reminding each other why you love one another and celebrating our human connection to each other. Family food lore is how that happens in my house.

 

Ingredients:

cherry tomatoes (I use fresh from the garden, as many as I can pick, but if they are not available, one container of heirloom cherries work as well), quartered

2 cloves garlic, sliced thin

1 box Angel Hair pasta

lots of fresh basil (I use two full stalks from my plants, but you could also buy one of the packages at the store if need be- they usually come in one size, but if you have the option, get a big one), rinsed and rough chopped

1 log of good goat cheese

2 tbsp. olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Process:

First you want rinse all your produce. I like to use a salad spinner for the basil so that all the water is removed, but you could also rinse the leaves and tamp them between two paper towels if you do not have a spinner. You also need to put a stockpot on with enough water to cook your pasta. When the water is boiling, add the pasta, a dash of salt and a teaspoon of olive oil.

IMG_0862Next, heat your olive oil in a saute pan over medium high. I use a wok pan so that I can get all my ingredients in the pan and still have room to flip the pasta around to mix it. Once your oil comes to temperature, add the garlic. Allow the garlic to saute and become fragrant,  2-3 minutes usually.

IMG_0860Once the garlic has begun to infuse the oil, add the tomatoes. I like my tomatoes to still hold firm texture so I only saute them for about five minutes. If you like a softer tomato, leave them on a couple extra minutes. When the tomatoes are ready, add the chopped basil. There should be an immediate herbaceous scent filling the air.

While all this sauteing is going on, your pasta should be cooking. Angel hair requires very little time in the pot. You want the pasta to still be firm but not chewy. Usually, I cook mine for 5-7 minutes.

IMG_0868Once you reach happiness in the saute pan and you have some al dente pasta, it is time to combine.  Transfer the pasta to all the goodness in the saute pan and toss. This takes a quick wrist motion, but if you are not up to tossing your food in the air playfully, you could also grab a set of tongs and “toss” your ingredients manually. At this point you have a decision to make about the goat cheese. My husband likes his formed into dolloped atop his pasta. My daughter and I like it tossed in the pan with the pasta so it can warm and spread throughout the pasta. Either way it is tasty. Once you decide, finish your pasta and plate. Another dish in Liv’s arsenal. I like this dish with the Coppola Rosso, but any nice Italian red will do. Enjoy!

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Comfort Food

Around RoanokeOn those cold, blustery nights the best thing I can think of is a warm mug of soup, a gooey grilled cheese and my great first lines throw blanket. The weather lately makes me appreciate the comforts I forego when it is warm and sunny outside. This weekend begged for a crock of butternut squash soup so to the Farmer’s Market I went.  I poked around the stands downtown, which by the way was bustling with our local Fall Festival, looking for the perfect squash. There were beautiful butternut squash everywhere I turned. I picked out a few beauties to purchase, a plump Vidalia onion, a crisp granny smith apple that smelled like a sweet tart, and some fresh sage. I love the farmer’s market, all that fresh locally grown produce in one place, with the most knowledgeable people, the growers, to guide you. There is something more fulfilling about buying from a local grower than the grocery store. There is a connection you instantly feel as the produce leaves their hands and falls into yours. The look in their eyes that says “I have shown this love and now it is your turn to help it be something more” surrounds you as you accept their offerings.

Around Roanoke This week we also decided to take a little detour for lunch. We ducked into On the Rise and hit the jackpot. Their sandwiches were delicious (I will be reviewing this place soon), but it was the loaf of bread I bought that was the star. They had Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion bread for sale. Well I could not pass that up! The lovely lady behind the counter sliced it up as visions of grilled cheeses danced in my head. I just knew this would be the finishing touch to my soup.

I toted my wares home and got out my Caribbean Blue Le Creuset stock pot that we got as a wedding gift and began in on the food prep. Let me let you in on a little secret, or at least it was a secret to me up until a few years ago. Did you know that butternut squash peel is some of the most acidic stuff around? The first time I tried making this soup, I started peeling those suckers and looked down at my hands, the squash was exfoliating my hands at an alarming rate. I tried to wash it off, no good. I tried to moisturize, no luck either. I was not to be deterred though so I just sucked it up and continued my prep work. It took me weeks to recover from that incident and now I don’t even think about peeling butternut squash without heavy duty gloves. This time I went ahead and roasted the squash first. I figured the pulp would be easy to scoop out once it was cooked. Also, let me just say that anybody that does not sob like a baby when they cut Vidalia onions is a stronger person than I. Hey let’s face it though, you always get a little mileage out of it, if they think you really suffered over making dinner. The recipe below is for a large stockpot of Butternut Squash Soup that will help carry a family through a couple of busy weeknight meals. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

6 tbsp. unsalted butter

lg. Vidalia onion, sliced

3 good-sized butternut squash, halved and deseeded

1 granny smith apple

2 garlic cloves

1 tsp. chopped fresh sage

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. nutmeg

1 tbsp. real maple syrup (I like grade A fancy)

8 cups chicken stock (or veggie if you want to keep this vegetarian)

1 pt. heavy cream

salt and pepper to taste

10 slices of good bacon for garnish

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Procedure:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and foil line a large baking sheet. Cut butternut squash in half and deseed. Place flesh side down on prepared pan and bake until skin is soft enough to pierce with fork- approximately one hour.

After squash has been in about 30 minutes, melt butter in stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onions, apple and garlic and saute until they begin to soften. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, maple syrup and sage to mix and continue cooking until fragrant. About this time the squash should be ready. Pull it out of the oven when it is fork-tender and allow to cool slightly. Scoop squash flesh out and add to pot. Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and break out the immersion blender. This is a tool I eschewed wrongly for years. I always thought, do it the old-fashioned way and blend with a blender. But, I was wrong. My husband bought me an immersion blender despite my protests and I am glad. Now I just plug that puppy in and blend away. No covers flying off because the mixture is too hot for the blender or crazy cleanup after it has spewed everywhere and burned me in the process. I just pop it in the reduced temperature pot and blend away. Bliss! IMG_0911

 

Once the soup is a creamy texture, it is time for the cream and the final seasoning. You can make this without cream but I think it gives it a nice finish. Salt and Pepper and you are done except frying up a few strips of bacon for a tasty garnish. Sticking with the Fall theme, I went with Applewood Smoked Bacon. The bread from On the Rise made beautiful grilled cheese, though extremely large. I used Vermont white cheddar but any good melting cheese will do.

 

The perfect comfort food on a cold almost winter evening!

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Sweater Weather with a Side of Soup

IMG_0884You know that time of year when the air is crisp and cool, the trees begin to blaze with fiery reds and oranges and the scent of fresh apples envelop you as you walk outside? Fall is my favorite time of year. There is excitement about the coming slew of holidays, pumpkin patches to visit and soup, lots of soup. Soup, to me is the perfect comfort food. A cup full of delicious, nutritious yumminess. Last week the chill in the air inspired me to wear sweaters and make soup- specifically, Low Country Pork Stew. It is one of my family’s favorites, in fact Olivia suggested it, but not the quickest stew to make. It is a sit-in-the-pot, Sunday endeavor, meant to last a couple of nights.

 

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Husks from the tomatillos.

 

I made my grocery list with the thought that it may not be the best time for okra, tomatillos or poblanos. Fresh Market has some wonderful flash frozen veggies that can do in a pinch, but fortunately for me, the produce was bountiful. I could not have asked for plumper tomatillos or firmer okra. Tomatillos can be deceiving because of their outer husk. I have learned over the years that like corn, you need to peel the husk back a bit and check for ripeness. The basket yielded some beauties. If you find the produce you are looking for is not quite up to par, don’t be afraid to ask if there is more in the back. I have been saved by this question on many occasions. Sometimes it is not rotated quickly enough and you can’t let your meal suffer. This day though, everything was perfect; it was meant to be. I made my way home to my renovation-needy kitchen and trusty Le Creuset Carribean Blue stock pot.

 

 

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Make sure to wash these lovelies well!

As I alluded to before, this stew is not a quick meal. It is a multi-step process, but completely worth the time. The recipe below makes a large stockpot. I do this because my family is ridiculously busy during the week and having a go-to dinner helps us spend more time together talking, playing Scrabble and belly-laughing at mindless movies. Those moments are precious so I try to make them happen as often as possible. If you are cooking for a smaller audience, you can easily cut the recipe in half with the same results.

 

Low Country Pork Stew

Ingredients:

3 tbsp canola oil

3 lbs pork tenderloin, cut into 3 inch hunks

3 celery stalks, diced fine

1 shallot, diced fine

1 beefsteak or heirloom tomato (I like the Mr. Stripey), diced

1 Anaheim chile, seeded and diced fine

2 poblano peppers, seeded and rough chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 lbs tomatillos, husked, rinsed and diced

2 cups okra, sliced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

2 28 oz cans fire-roasted, diced tomatoes (I like Muir Glen)

1 box chicken stock

2 tsp chili powder

2 tsp roasted ground cumin

1 tbsp hot sauce ( I like Melinda’s but if you use something hotter, you may want to adjust amount)

salt and pepper to taste

ready for the pot- poblanos, vidalia and celery

ready for the pot- poblanos, vidalia and celery

 

 

Procedure:

Heat the oil over high heat in your stockpot. Season the pork with salt and pepper and saute over high heat until browned on all sides. Reduce heat to medium and add celery, onion and garlic. Saute the veggies until softened and slightly translucent. Add the Anaheim, poblanos, carrots and spices to the mix and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Once you have reached a boil, reduce heat to low. Add the tomatoes, tomatillos and okra. Simmer for 25 minutes.

Now comes the hard part: hand-shredding the pork. Remove the hunks of pork from the stew to a cutting board. Increase the temperature to medium so the veggies and stock can get cozier. Now let’s turn to the pork. There are many ways to shred meat, but I prefer the two fork method. You get a better shred, though it is harder on your arms.  The end result should look like pulled pork for barbeque.

Meanwhile, the stew should be thickening in the pot. Add the shredded pork back in and taste for seasoning. At this point, you want to introduce the hot sauce, salt and pepper. My family like it spicy, but you should go with whatever your pallet dictates and if says not to hot sauce, leave it out.

BTW-This makes a great inexpensive leftover meal with grilled cheese sandwiches for those action packed weeks.  Queso fresco is a tangy cheese perfect for grilled sandwiches and the flavor blends well with the stew spices.

 

 

Let them eat cake!

Not a Tigerlily, but one of my Spiderman lilies that served as the inspiration for this cake.

Not a Tigerlily, but one of my Spiderman lilies that served as the inspiration for this cake.

Dessert. Just the word makes me happy. I love to bake, but without the restaurant I struggle to find occasions to bake for other than the usual holidays. Last week presented an opportunity to dust off the Kitchenaid and break out the Wilton pans. My department set up a potluck for our goal setting meeting. I decided dessert would be my contribution plus it was an opportunity to get Olivia into the kitchen with me again. The theme for the afternoon was Mexican, but I wasn’t sure how smart flan would be with Olivia in the mix so we brainstormed some options. Ancho Chocolate Creme Brulee, Mexican Hot Chocolate layer cake, Kahlua brownies- all great choices but mostly time consuming for a school night where we already had travel softball practice for two hours. Liv suggested one of her favorites with a twist- Tigerlily Cake with a Mexican chocolate ganache. It is a bundt cake that requires minimal prep and the ganache would mexify it. I was in.

After a short trip to the store for ingredient acquisition, we donned our aprons and got to work. Tigerlily cake is a blend of two different cake flavors- orange and chocolate. Some people have aversions to this combo, but we love it. We mix up the orange cake first- it is really a fabby yellow cake with fresh squeezed orange juice substituted for the liquid and heaping teaspoons of orange zest. I do this one first because when you assemble, it goes in the pan first and there is the added bonus you can use the same mixing bowl and it will just lend the chocolate a complimentary profile. I adapted the wonderful yellow cake recipe I got from Smitten Kitchen for the orange cake. Liv did all the measuring and mixing while I prepped the pans with butter and preheated the oven. I love the way a kitchen smells when you zest an orange- fresh and reminiscent of walking the groves in Florida.

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Orange Cake (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

***Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter one Bundt pan.

2 cups plus 1 tablespoons cake flour (not self-rising)

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4  teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon table salt

1 stick  unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

Juice of one large orange, fresh squeezed

2 teaspoons orange zest (zest over batter bowl to capture oils from peel)

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup buttermilk (I like Homestead Creamery)

Process:

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk, orange juice and zest until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.

Once you have that mixed up, pour into your prepared Bundt pan. The orange cake is lighter and will rise to the top while baking. This will give the cake its flowery appearance with the two cakes colors merging. Now let’s turn to the chocolate cake batter. It may seem strange, but I do not even rinse my mixer bowl before switching to the chocolate. I like the bits of leftover orange scent mixing in with the chocolate cake- it makes them more fused in the final product. Added bonus- your kid only gets one bowl to lick so you are contributing to their reduction of empty calories. Less dishes, healthier kids (sort of)!

Chocolate Cake

1  cup all purpose flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

3/4  teaspoon baking powder

1/4  teaspoons baking soda

1/4 teaspoon table salt

1 stick  unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon ( I like roasted Saigon)

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 large eggs, at room temperature

3/4 cup sour cream

Process:

Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cayenne and salt in a separate medium bowl. Using the paddle attachment for your mixer, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl at medium speed until  fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla. At low speed, beat in half the flour mixture. Alternate beating in the sour cream with the flour mixture until all is incorporated. Layer into the Bundt pan by pouring around middle of orange batter. I like to use a chopstick to swirl the batter. The chocolate batter will immediately start to move to the bottom revealing the orange batter.

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Bake for approximately 40 minutes, depending on your oven. Mine is old and finnicky so I check when we hit the 35 minute mark. You want it to rise so don’t be afraid. It is done when a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then invert onto your cake carrier to await ganache. After the cake is inverted, I like to squeeze another orange around the top of the cake. This adds that extra level of moistness and infuses more of the orange flavor throughout.

Chocolate Ganache

12 oz. good chocolate (I like Ghirardelli Dark chips)

1/2 cup heavy cream (adjust as needed for smooth consistency)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Process:

Now it’s time for the ganache. Ganache can be super easy as long as you pay attention to it. You don’t want to breakdown the chocolate so much that it becomes grainy. You want a smooth topping to spread on you luscious cake. I let Liv try her hand this time with me just guiding. She got the double broiler out and poured the chocolate chips in to get the party started. She stirred the chocolate periodically to ensure even melting. Once the chocolate was pretty melty, she added the heavy cream and cinnamon. Then it was just a matter of letting it meld. Once it combined, Liv removed it from the heat and let it cool for just a couple of minutes before ladling it on the cake.

 

After topping the cake with the ganache, we zested one more orange around the top just for effect. Normally this comes out really well, but I zested after I juiced so the orange was limp and difficult to keep hold of…hence the chunks of zest riddling the top of the cake. I will remember next time to zest first. This is an important final touch though because it brings full circle that orange flavor you have been layering throughout the cake. If you are not into making two scratch cake batters, you could also modify this recipe by using store-bought cake mixes. My only caveat is you need to still get the orange juice, zest and ganache in to make this a true Tigerlily cake. I have a friend who did this and just substituted the water called for on the box for the fresh-squeezed juice.

Needless to say, the cake was enjoyed by all and Liv has one more recipe in her arsenal!

Note to self- get better at taking food photos!

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