Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lemon Blueberry Layer Cake

I think cake will always scream "BIRTHDAY" to me. Pretty much every time I have it, that's what it's for.

I remember the cakes from all my years of birthdays. The chocolate cake my mom let me cover with pink sugary decorations from the grocery store. The petit fours we searched allowed for during my Samantha phase.

And the banana cake on my first birthday. Yes, a banana with a candle stuck in it. That one I might not actually remember but I'll definitely never forget.

This cake celebrates an incredibly special birthday. A new baby boy welcomed into the world today by two of my dearest friends and their darling little daughter.

I'm headed right now to meet him.

I wouldn't consider myself a little baby person per say. I don't reach for them the moment they enter the room. But this is one little baby I can't wait to get to know.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bake Sale Saturday!

The New York City Food Blogger Bake Sale is THIS Saturday! Stop by the Brooklyn Flea Saturday from 10 to 5 p.m., and visit our table (near the school and food booths). All proceeds will benefit Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit organization working to end childhood hunger.

There will be raffles, more homemade baked goods than you can count, and incredibly good company as many of us will be working at the bake sale table throughout the day.

I'll be there with my cowboy cookies. There a little salty, a little sweet, and they're packed with goodness in every bite.

If you're in the area, I hope you'll stop by. The Flea is a treat by itself, and a table full of homemade baked goods by some of your favorite food bloggers can only make it better.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Roasted Beet Salad with Hazelnuts

I had some strange eating habits as a kid.

Cereal without milk.

Macaroni without cheese.

Salad without dressing.

Today I still don't drink milk, but I have started to eat cereal with yogurt. I've discovered that macaroni and cheese can be delicious when its homemade.

And I've even come to appreciate that extra touch that dressing can add to salad.

This salad is a perfect example. It needs the dressing to pull it all together, to balance out the bites where there's no beets or hazelnuts. It's a light dressing, and it just barely covers the lettuce and the beets.

While the dressing is delightful, the beets are the real start of this salad. Look for the red and the gold. Not only do they add a beautiful color contrast (if you don't store them together like I did so the colors bleed!) to the salad, I found they tasted different too, with the golden beets being a bit sweeter.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Chocolate Mousse Cake

There's been a lot of chocolate mousse in my life lately.

First, there was this version. A true chocolate moose. 1,700 pounds. Over fifteen years old.

Yes, we did drive out of our way to see him.

His name is Lenny, and he's at a delightful chocolate shop outside of Portland, Maine. The chocolate I sampled definitely made the trip worth it (and yes, it was a chocolate peanut butter cup). Plus, when else will I have the opportunity to see a chocolate moose again?

Second, there was a chocolate mousse version that was a major flop. Deb's recipes never fail me, so I'm sure the mistake was made on my end. It was grainy and clearly off. I'm a firm believer in tasting all the components as I add them together, and I guess I missed one. Time improved the graininess a bit, but in the end I poured the mousse down the garbage disposal.

Then I deleted the pictures. They were just too painful.

This third chocolate mousse definitely was an improvement. It was creamy, almost silky. It screamed chocolate. Despite all the ingredients, it felt surprisingly light and airy.

Finally, I had a chocolate mousse worthy of my mom's birthday cake. I mean, you need a kind of spectacular chocolate mousse if you're planning on putting it on top of an almost flourless chocolate cake and topping it with whipped cream barely kissed with vanilla extract.

The chocolate mousse is delicious on its own, but it's just over-the-top decadent on this cake.

It's the perfect cake for a celebration. Happy Birthday Mom!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

KitchenAid Advice!

For the past four months since my hand mixer broke, I've been doing all my mixing by hand. I'm ready to upgrade! I'm getting a KitchenAid stand mixer (a belated Christmas present), and I'm having a hard time deciding exactly which one to get. I'm not sure if a 5-quart or 6-quart stand mixer would be better. 

I'd love your advice. Do you have a KitchenAid? Which one? Do you love the one you have, or do you wish you had a different one? What KitchenAid would you buy if you wanted to bake regularly, but not professionally? 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Chocolate Cherry Brioche with Chocolate Ganache

I smiled constantly while I ate a slice of this bread.

At 7:00 a.m.

In my apartment.


I couldn't help myself.

It's that tasty.

I used to think Chocolate Babka was the ultimate special occasion bread, and it probably is. It's rich and decadent. It requires several pounds of chocolate, sugar and butter, all my favorite foods. The only downside is that it's super time consuming to make.

I can't justify eating that babka every day. I'm not really sure it would be healthy to do that.

Save that chocolate babka for special occasions.

Make this chocolate cherry brioche with chocolate ganache way more often than that. You'll want a slice of this, brushed with unsalted butter and sprinkled with fleur de sel.

I think it's the perfect bread for a birthday breakfast, a work meeting, an "I want to impress you" treat or a "I want to eat chocolate" day.

Lest you think I'm exaggerating, make a loaf of this for yourself quickly. The bread dough comes together in FIVE minutes (I didn't believe it until I tried it), it bakes up beautifully and the flavors weave through it perfectly.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Cheddar and Black Pepper Buttermilk Biscuits

Do you love the warm, fresh bread that restaurants bring out at the start of your meal as much as I do?  Particularly when you have to wait for a while for a table or when you've gone out for a glass of wine before dinner.

Recently, I've been ultra impressed by the bread baskets at restaurants. Olea serves their homemade bread with a tasty olive oil. Applewood's bread came out with four kinds of spreads, including a garlic butter, an herbed butter and a liver spread.

Yes, the bread basket can cause trouble. The longer it takes for my meal to come, the more bread I end up eating. No matter how much I try to have just one slice.

Still, even when I'm at home, I do love having a bit of bread with every meal, whether it's an actual slice of bread, crackers or biscuits like these.

These are pretty exceptional. The cheese and pepper add something interesting to every bite, and the buttermilk gives them a very pleasant bit of tang.

Best of all, they baked up perfectly from being FROZEN. Just what I needed for brunch this weekend.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cranberry-Streusel Coffee Cake

There are advantages to living in Brooklyn. There are two 24 hour grocery stores within two blocks of my apartment. Within that same distance, there's another grocery store and a convenience store.

I pass no fewer than five food stores on my way home.

I should know. Last week I went in all of them to try to find frozen sour cherries.

I had my heart set on making Martha Stewart's sour cherry streusel coffee cake for brunch. It's just gorgeous, and I loved the idea of that burst of sour hidden within the typical sweetness of a coffee cake.

Not one of the stores I went in carried sour cherries. Not one. Most didn't even carry sweet cherries.

Yes, there are advantages to bring able to walk to the grocery store anytime you forget an ingredient, but their selections just aren't as varied as the Meijer's of my youth.

At this point, perhaps it would have been best for me to abandon ship and search for a new recipe, but instead I forged ahead. I pulled out some frozen cranberries and made a cranberry streusel coffee cake instead.

The cranberries produced a much thinner layer of filling than the cherries would have, but the taste combination was spot on. Each slice had bursts of contrast, both through the flavors and the textures provided by the streusel and the glaze.

A word of caution: a Hansel and Gretel bundt cake pan may not be ideal for this coffee cake. One: the turrets cook unevenly. Two: you can't really flip a cake shaped like a castle upside down to serve it so the streusel is on top. But, I live in a Brooklyn apartment. I have to be creative.

My only problem with this dish is that I made WAY too much streusel topping (I've adjusted the quantities appropriately for you) and I'm not sure what I do with the leftover streusel I froze. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Vegan Baked Shells

A very small, small part of me would like to be vegan. Or at least dairy free.

Well, perhaps like is the wrong word. I should say that a big part of me is confident my body would be happier if I gave up dairy entirely. However, when I have the debate with myself, usually my brain and taste buds win over.

I can't help it. I just love cheese.

Brie. Swiss. Creamy ricotta. No matter how you slice it, I'm delighted.

That's why I'm always glad when I stumble across a recipe like this. A perfect supper for those of us not really convinced we want to be vegan.

Baked shells. Topped with a delicious tomato sauce. Stuffed with a creamy, VEGAN tofu mixture that just screams "ricotta cheese."

The tofu is blended up with a mix of spices and a bit of nutritional yeast. What results is as creamy as ricotta cheese with a similar taste composition.

Well, pretty similar. This isn't the ricotta cheese I would want to spread on toast and eat fresh, but mixed with chopped spinach and baked it was delicious.

These stuffed shells baked up beautifully, and they made for a delightful dinner!

Do you have a favorite vegan supper? I'm in the mood to start experimenting.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars

There are major perks to being an elementary school teacher that go beyond the joy I get from teaching.

Perhaps the biggest is that you have regular access to Girl Scout cookies. Take this box of Tagalongs, for example.

They've been sitting on my dresser for two weeks now.

The box is still sealed. It has to be.

I'm worried that if I open them, I'll devour them all.

Chocolate and peanut butter are my weakness, but I'm not telling all of you anything new.

It's not my fault. I think it's in my DNA.

I've been a fan of chocolate and peanut butter for as long as I can remember.

I can't even resist this chocolate peanut butter ice cream. I ate it every day on the beach in Florida a few spring breaks ago, even though it was voted the most unhealthy supermarket ice cream. My version of unhealthy is a bit different than their's. I think the ice creams with all the artificial ingredients are the unhealthy ones, and that this one is just about perfect.

But I digress.

These chocolate peanut butter oatmeal bars are the actual reason I didn't open the Tagalongs. With these around, the Tagalongs just weren't as tempting.

The base has chocolate wafer cookies and peanut butter, topped with a layer of semi-sweet chocolate and drizzled with more peanut butter and milk chocolate.

Cut them into small pieces. Immediately bring them somewhere. Far from your house.

(Leave a few at home for yourself.)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Blue Cheese and Red Potato Tart

Michael Pollan writes an awful lot about potatoes. They play a central role in his book "The Botany of Desire," which traces the evolution of four plants and examines how they've adapted to meet our basic needs.

He found that growing potatoes affords humans some control over the unpredictable mess of farming. It's a plant that's so nutrient rich that entire civilizations have thrived because of it.

However, with the proliferation of the potato came the first monocultures, where farmers filled entire fields with just one trusty potato variety. Some years they were rewarded with healthy yields. However, when crops suffered under a monoculture system, entire societies were decimated.

Farmers today, as a whole, seem not to have learned much from the Irish example. Driven by industry leaders such as McDonald's, many continue to plant monocultures of potato plants. Here the solution to disease is genetic engineering and specially targeted chemicals, not sustainable growing techniques and the use of a diversity of crops.

Still, blaming the potato seems a bit misguided in this situation.

And giving up on the potato does too. I have days where I just crave potatoes in any form. I can't seem to go out for breakfast without ordering hash downs, with their perfect combination of potato, butter and salt.

So instead of abandoning potatoes, I've tried to celebrate them. No, not those Russet Burbanks that are the perfect size for the french fry machine. I'm talking about the beautiful little lumpy red ones that arrive at the farmers' market freshly dug from the fields.

Yes, it does means that my concentric circles aren't all exactly even because the width of my slices varied. But they're the potatoes worth celebrating because of the sustainable way they're produced.

Oh yeah, and because they're really delicious baked in a tart topped with blue cheese too.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Spinach Strata

I didn't have bread pudding until I was an adult.

It's not that it wasn't offered to me. It must have been. It's my little brother's favorite dessert. I just wouldn't have enjoyed anything about it.

I was a kid who steered clear of creamy casseroles. I wouldn't eat chocolate pudding if it wasn't my mom's homemade. Those mushy desserts like creme brûlée did nothing for me. I just wasn't a fan of the texture.

But then, out for dinner at Blue Ribbon during Brooklyn Restaurant Week last year, I ordered bread pudding. The only other option for dessert was mango sorbet. It was by far the most delicious chocolate chip bread pudding I had ever had, followed by an even more delicious rendition a few months later at Buttermilk Channel.

I was in love.

The apple bread pudding at applewood during Restaurant Week this year reminded me of my newfound obsession.

I made a fabulous chocolate chip bread pudding for dessert for friends, though I took no pictures. Sorry.

I wanted to eat that thing morning, noon and night.

But, try as I might, I just couldn't convince myself that bread pudding was a breakfast food.

That's why this strata made me extra happy. It's the consistency of bread pudding, but it's made savory with the addition of spinach, feta and whole wheat bread.

It's simple to prepare and perfect for brunch because the bulk of the work can be done the night before. Just pop it in the oven an hour before you want to serve it.

The lemon zest adds a splash of flavor that livens up the strata.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Chocolate Peanut Butter Easter Nests

Are you as obsessed with Cadbury Mini Eggs as I am?

They are, by far, my favorite Easter snack. They were always in my Easter basket growing up. When I went away to college, my mom would send them to me every year. Now, I certainly keep packages of them in my freezer to snack on from time to time, although they don't seem to last long in my house.

Why? They're just perfect (if you don't pay attention to all the artificialness). They've got a hard shell and a creamy center that just melts in your mouth. The chocolate is tasty. And, they come in such fun colors.

Although I've eaten them every year, I've never baked with them, so I decided to take the plunge this year. Some of the recipes already out there featuring these guys are out of control.

This chocolate pie from What's for Dinner Tonight, Dear? is just gorgeous. See the nest filled with mini eggs in the center?

These little coconut nests from Sister View remind me of robin's nests, and I love how they used just the pale blue eggs to fill the nests.

Simple Bites presented their Simple Easter Cupcakes, a yellow cupcake with a chocolate nest on top.

My contribution to cooking with these little gems is a simple one. Chocolate peanut butter Easter nests. Chocolate, peanut butter and chow mein noodles, mixed together and shaped.

They're a little messy, but they really couldn't be easier to make. They scream "SPRING!" Which on a dreary day like today is just what I need.