Friday, May 28, 2010

Memorial Day picnic recipe round-up

Happy Friday!  Nothing puts a bounce in my step quite like knowing that I have one more day in my weekend.  Hopefully most of you have a three day stretch ahead of you with nothing resembling work on your calendar.  And it looks like the weather is going to be beautiful around here -- perfect for golf, biking, le tennis, and, of course, outdoor dining!  If you're looking for some last-minute ideas of things to make or take to a picnic, here are some of my favorite options:

And save room for the pièce de résistance -- dessert!  All but one of these are weather-friendly and need minimal attention beyond a simple covering until you are ready to serve.  The other just needs to stay in the freezer until serving, but you'll welcome a cold treat when temperatures creep into the 90s:

Me?  I'm making those salted brown butter crispy treats and toting them to the other side of the state.  "But Katy, what on earth would make you want to venture into enemy territory?"  Family, friends, grilling, eating, and shopping, of course :)  Have a fantastic weekend, everyone!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Frozen banana custard (one ingredient dessert!)

Go ahead, call me a hypocrite for what I'm about to admit: this week I'm on a self-imposed sugar/junk food detox.  After this past weekend of miniature cakes, excess frosting, and a self-serve candy bar (just to name a few), I felt like I needed to hit the reset button.  Let me be clear -- this is not about calories or dieting or anything obscene like that.  It's just that reaching for the Nutella and ice cream upon waking up, after every meal and as soon as I get home from the gym made me think that my appetite was a little unbalanced.  I'm pretty sure the last time I went 4 days without dessert, cookies, anything sweet, even a piece of chocolate, was 1999.  I remember it like it as yesterday... because it was AWFUL.

For some ridiculous reason, I decided that I would a) give up something for Lent, even though I'm Presbyterian and we just don't do that, and b) choose to give up "junk food" of all kinds.  That included sweets, chips, pizza, crackers... leave it to the type A personality to be detailed and thorough.  So many of my friends in junior high were Catholic (roughly 98%), and I thought it would be fun to partake in my own little willpower experiment since it meant nothing more serious to me than that.  It's safe to say that I suffered some sort of brain damage prior to that decision, especially given that Girl Scout Cookies are delivered during the Lenten season every year.  Anyway, I completed my challenge successfully, only to go on an all-junk food diet for the week after just to right the universe.  I don't recommend this to anyone, ever.  Case closed.

I decided this week (read: 5 whole days) I needed a little break... keeping in mind that we're approaching a holiday weekend when I can reassert my place in the world as a food aficionado.  So I wanted dessert last night... what to do, what to do.  Then I remembered seeing a few online mentions of frozen banana custard.  That required one ingredient.  One. Ingredient.  Shut. Up!

This "custard" is cold and creamy and sweet and healthy!  Of course, when I make it again, I might try adding a few chocolate chips or spoonful of peanut butter or Nutella to the mix.  But know that this was delightfully refreshing and satisfying all on its own.  Seriously, how have I not known about this until now?  And hey, this week isn't going as badly as I remember the first round many years ago... but that doesn't mean this will become a regular event.

One Ingredient Frozen Banana Custard
-makes about 1 cup

1 peeled banana, sliced into pieces, frozen in a sealed plastic bag

Add banana to bowl of mini food processor.  Start blending.  The contents will progress from tiny Dippin' Dot sized smooth banana custard in a few minutes.  Dish out and enjoy!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Almond layer cake

There's nothing better than a cake to celebrate a special occasion.  But what about two special occasions: a quarter century birthday and graduation from law school?  That kind of double milestone requires an extra special cake.  You know, something that says, "Hey, world, we're grown-ups now!" (Do grown-ups say those sorts of things?)

The quarter-century lady let her soon-to-be lawyer half of this also soon-to-be-married couple (congrats!!) choose an almond cake with chocolate frosting.  And what good timing did he have.  Not only had I made a chocolate frosting recently that I was just bursting to share with you, but the family and I enjoyed an adorably petite almond cake for Mother's Day that I was dying to attempt myself.  The chocolate frosting was first made to go with those dynamite peanut butter cupcakes, but I scaled down the recipe so much that I wanted to make a big batch to ensure correct proportions.  And the almond cake... ohhhhhh, the almond cake.  After much Googling (don't you love how that's a verb?), I'd seen this recipe from the Sky High cake book pop up a few times, so I took a risk with it.  What's that line about great risks and even greater rewards?  I don't know, nor do I feel like Googling it.  The bottom line here is that this cake was so rich, so fragrant, and bursting with almond flavor that I truly forgot it was the first time I'd made it.

Almond Layer Cake
(adapted from Sky High)
-makes three 9-inch cake layers OR two 9-inch cakes and one 6-inch mini cake

4 1/2 cups cake flour
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup prepared almond paste (look for an 8-ounce can in the baking aisle)
2 2/3 cups sugar
2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon almond extract
10 egg whites
1 1/2 cups milk

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Butter the bottoms and sides of three 9-inch round cake pans (or two 9-inch and one 6-inch).  Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment and butter the paper.

In a medium bowl, sift together (or use a whisk to break up the large clumps) the cake flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.  Place the almond paste and sugar in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Begin to cream the mixture on low speed to break up the almond paste, then increase the speed to medium for about 2 minutes, or until the paste is broken into fine particles.  (see pictures above for visual cues)

Add the butter and almond extract and beat it well, then the egg whites, two or three at a time, beating just long enough to incorperate after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl several times to make sure it is evenly mixed.

Dust about a third of the dry ingredients over the batter and fold in with a large rubber spatula until just combined.  Fold in about half the milk.  Gently fold in half the remaining flour mixture, followed by the remaining milk. Finally, fold in the last of the dry ingredients just until no streaks of white remain. Use a light hand and do not overmix.  Divide the batter among the three prepared cake pans.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes (for my slightly more full two 9-inch cakes, it took about 35 minutes; for the 6-inch, roughly 30 minutes) or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick stuck into the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in their pans on wire racks for about 10 minutes. Turn the cakes out on to wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners and let them cool completely, about one hour.

Layer cakes and top with desired frosting.  Might I not-so-humbly suggest this chocolate frosting, complete with an instructional video at the bottom for assembly.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The world's best chocolate frosting

[my very own little almond cake]

Isn't that the most adorable little cake you've ever seen?  A mini cake, if you will, all for me.  And while I'm going to keep the cake recipe and finished product until tomorrow's post, this chocolate frosting recipe was meant to be shared with the world -- shouted from the rooftops.  Some icings and frostings can be a bit tedious to make, with all of the whisking of egg whites and room temperature butter.  (Mind you, they are all totally delicious and utterly worth every second of labor.)  But until I made this frosting, I had been under the impression that a great frosting takes great work.  Nope, no way, not this time, not this frosting.

This chocolate frosting recipe comes from, who else, the experts at Hershey's.  And, though they left out a few details (such as the oh-so-crucial sifting), the recipe is quick and easy.  How quick?  Melt the butter in a microwave quick.  How easy?  Whisk everything together by hand, no electric mixer needed easy (though if you wanted, you could certainly use it).  Just use cocoa powder rather than chopping and melting down chocolate easy.  The first two times I made this I used a whisk, but the last time I caved and used my beloved KitchenAid... hey, I doubled the recipe and my arms were a teensy bit sore from a new workout at the gym the previous day.  Cut me some slack... please?

I think you will when you taste this.  If you've ever had a problem exhibiting self-control with those store-bought cans of chocolate frosting, well, you haven't got a prayer with this stuff.  It's so creamy and chocolatey and makes you think you've never had real chocolate icing before this moment.  And it may be the reason behind my doubling of the recipe.  I had enough for the layer cake, my mini cake, and oh, a 1/2 cup extra to spoon feed to myself straight out of the bowl save for later.

Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Frosting
(from Hershey's website)
-makes roughly 2 cups

1 stick unsalted butter
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Melt butter in a microwave safe bowl.  Stir in cocoa and whisk until completely dissolved (and no clumps of cocoa remain).  Add half of the powdered sugar, and whisk until no white remains.  Add milk, stir to incorporate, and add remaining sugar, again whisking until no white remains.  Stir in vanilla extract.

**Frosting too stiff?  Add milk one tablespoon at a time and stir until desired consistency for spreading is reached.

**Frosting too thin?  Add more powdered sugar one tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached.

To level and frost your cake, check out this video.  Great visuals for an otherwise wordy process.  I'm a very visual learner, so I thought this would help.  For this particular cake (recipe coming up tomorrow), I wanted a more rustic homemade look, so I didn't level the cakes.  It's totally up to you.  After all, it will taste just as delicious flat or rounded :)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Strawberry coffee cake muffins

 [rule-breaking never looked or tasted so good]

In many ways, it would seem that I was destined to love baking.  One such reason is that most bakers wake up at unseemly hours to begin the day's work.  And I am, without a shadow of doubt, a morning person.  (Consequently, I am no night owl.  If I am conscious when the clock reads 10:45 at night, consider it a major victory.)  Saturday was one very early day.  I "slept in" until 6:30, read for an hour and a half, and then began baking muffins.  I must've been in a slightly defiant mood because I just couldn't bring myself to follow the original recipe exactly, even on the first trial.  No, I didn't want to use any plums, and the initial process didn't make much sense.  And a topping without brown sugar?  Pfff, please, Martha.  I love you, but let's get real.

If you're a plum enthusiast, by all means, use them.  I'm not crazy about them, but really it was because at 6:30, I was going to use what I had available - fresh strawberries.  I've rarely seen strawberries baked INTO things, rather than just used as an afterthought or garnish at the end.  Why the shunning, bakers of the world?  Bake these and you'll think twice about ignoring these red beauties of spring and summer.  The crunchy sweet crust on top of the muffin is a nice contrast to the barely tart softness of the warm strawberries swirled into a fluffy muffin.

Strawberry Coffee Cake Muffins
(adapted very loosely from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook)
-makes 20 standard size muffins

Tip: If you don't have the time to wait for eggs to come to room temperature, fill a small bowl with warm-hot water and let eggs sit in bath for 5 minutes until no longer cold to the touch.

3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 Tablespoons brown sugar, loosely packed
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk
1 stick (1/2 cup) melted butter, cooled
2 cups chopped (1/2 to 3/4-inch chunks) strawberries (about 1 pint whole strawberries)

Preheat oven to 375F.  Line two standard 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners (if you only have one pan, cover the batter bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until it's needed) and set aside.  [Note: I opted for coating the pan in nonstick spray and skipping paper liners, and wished I had used the liners in the end.  Just easier for inverting, cooling, and serving.]

In a small bowl, whisk together brown sugar and 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon; set aside.  In a large bowl, whisk together flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and remaining 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and set aside.  In another large bowl, whisk together melted cooled butter, vanilla, milk, and eggs.  [If your resulting mixture looks a little curdled at this point, don't panic!  This will go away in the next step.]

Fold the liquid ingredients into the flour mixture gently with a rubber spatula until just combined.  Again, gently, fold the cut up strawberries into the batter until evenly distributed.  Fill each muffin cup about 2/3 full, or until equally full of batter.

Sprinkle cinnamon brown sugar mixture evenly over tops of muffins.  Bake 15 to 20 minutes (18 worked for me), or until toothpick inserted into center of muffin comes out clean.  Remove pan to a cooling rack for 10 minutes.  Carefully (and with an oven mitt) turn out muffins onto rack and, right sides up, allow to cool completely.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  Store in covered container for up to 2 days.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ham, apple & brie sandwich

Another day of rain, another day of reliving the glorious weekend we had.  All of the galavanting I did around the city had me indulging in various eats and treats along the way:
Oh, that's a lot of eating and treating, I know.  But all but the first were under $5, and I think it was a nice sampling of this fair city of ours.  I did do some toiling in the kitchen, albeit brief, and this is Saturday's light and luxurious dinner for the whole 45 minutes I was at my apartment: a HAB (no, not those Habs, how dare you) sandwich.  On my way back from Shadyside, I wanted to have a quick dinner before heading to the other side of the river, so I impulse grocery-shopped and left with one Granny Smith apple, 1/2 pound of thinly-sliced ham, a wedge of Brie cheese, and a pack of whole grain English muffins.  Some people go for a new TV or shoes, I go for food, thankyouverymuch.

What a study in flavors and textures this sandwich is -- the crisp bite of the tart apple, the dreamy creamy smooth Brie, the delicate and salty ham, and the crusty yet chewy nooks of the English muffin.  Swoon.  Although so simple in preparation, this sandwich feels like an instant getaway to a small outdoor cafe somewhere in France... you know, where the word "yinz" [shudder] is pleasantly absent from everyday language and Versailles is pronounced like Ver-sigh and not Ver-sales.  I love my city, but just sayin'.

HAB (Ham apple brie) sandwich
-makes 1

1 English muffin or two slices of bread, your choice
1 Granny Smith (or other relatively tart) apple, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced
Sliced deli ham
Small wedge of Brie cheese

Toast English muffin lightly.  Layer thin slices of Brie, ham, and roughly 1/3 apple slices on one side of muffin (or bread) and top with other half.  I opted for two layers of cheese, but play with this and layer as much or little as you see fit.  Enjoy with remaining apple for an easy and satisfying lunch, dinner, or hearty snack.  Take comfort in the fact that no heat-expelling oven was used in the making of this :)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Peanut butter cupcakes

[imagine opening your lunchbox to find one of these... swoon]

This recipe for peanut butter cupcakes has been in my "to try" folder for probably a year, and after tasting them, I'm kicking myself for waiting such a long time to bake these.  One of my favorite (and few) cupcakes that I like from a local bakery boasts a peanut butter frosting, but I have yet to encounter a peanut butter cupcake anywhere.  I've always been a fan of peanut butter paired with something sweet -- chocolate (hello, Reese's cups), bananas, and apples.  But no peanut butter cupcakes?  I think I have more bakery experiences than the average Jane, and I have yet to see a peanut butter cupcake.  What gives, people?

So you can imagine how glad my stomach was that I stopped thinking (my brain sometimes tries to force fruits and vegetables into this unwilling body of mine) and started baking.  Very basic ingredients, especially since I halved the recipe, and quick prep.  Also, I originally planned to top these with chocolate frosting but, when it came time to dress them, all I wanted was a spoonful of grape jam.  And that is what I did, my friends.  Dee-lih-shuss.  The mild sweetness and touch of salty in the moist cupcake with peanut butter's very own soulmate, grape jam, was a perfect pre-Glee snack.  Next time I make these, I plan to fold in some chopped peanuts for a little crunch in the cake itself.  Whoever said peanut butter and jelly is for kids only clearly never bit into one of these beauties!

Peanut Butter Cupcakes
(adapted from Martha Stewart)
-makes 20

1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup peanut butter (creamy or chunky will do)
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup roughly chopped unsalted or lightly roasted peanuts

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and powder, and salt; set aside.  In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar on medium high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Add peanut butter and mix.  Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition.

With mixer speed on low, add half of the flour mixture, all of the sour cream and vanilla extract, and the rest of the flour mixture, beating until incorporated after each, scraping sides of bowl as needed.  Fold in chopped peanuts, if using.  Divide batter among muffin cups, filling each 2/3 full.

Bake cupcakes until testers inserted into the centers come out clean, 18 to 20 minutes.  Let cool in tins on wire racks for 10 minutes, remove cupcakes from pans and let cool completely.

Store in a sealed container for up to 5 days.  Top with favorite jam or jelly just before serving and enjoy!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pat's loaded baked potato salad

I know this isn't the kind of recipe I should be writing about only weeks before swimsuit season, but when have I ever been one for timing?  Or coordination.  Or subtlety.  I digress.  Before you raise your fists to the computer screen, shouting something along the lines of, "Why, Katy, why?" I'd like you to hear me out.  This potato salad is not your ordinary potato salad; in fact, there is no mayonnaise or vinegar in sight.  Instead, it contains ingredients that pretty much guarantee culinary greatness: roasted potatoes, sharp cheddar cheese, green onions, sour cream, butter, and a full pound of crisped bacon... [insert Homer Simpson-esque drooling noises here]  Sorry, I'm fine, I'm fine.

I can't claim credit for this fantastic reinvention of a picnic classic.  A few weeks ago, when we were celebrating a friend's birthday with a cookout and hockey game, a friend of mine, Pat, brought this unorthodox version of potato salad.  I know this is something I shouldn't admit, being a lover of food, but I'm a bit picky sometimes.  I'm one of those people that always asks, "What's in this?" at potlucks, picnics, and buffets.  I didn't waste time talking once I saw this.  You can see every ingredient at first glance and the moment you dig in, you can taste every ingredient.  After asking around, I discovered that Pat made this fantastic dish and I had to get his secrets.

Pat said he found the idea for this potato salad online but made a few changes to "both satisfy [his] cooking snobbery and elevate the calorie count."  Well said, Pat!  Instead of boiling the potatoes, he roasted them.  Also, rather than just mixing the shredded cheese in at the end, he melted some over the potatoes so it would hold up better in the finished dish.  And, Pat warned me in advance that this recipe takes some time with the cooking and chilling, so don't think you're going to throw this together an hour before your office picnic.  Who knew that a lawyer could have such skills in the kitchen?  Thanks for sharing, Pat :)

Pat's Loaded Baked Potato Salad
-makes 9ish cups

4 pounds Idaho potatoes
1 pound bacon, crisply cooked and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 cups (about one 8-ounce block) grated cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
Nonstick cooking spray

(Note: You can pan fry your bacon and drain it over paper towels, or you can cook it in the oven on a wire rack over a cookie sheet at 400F for 20 minutes.  I chose the latter because it's less work for me and the bacon gets done all at once.)

Preheat oven to 425F.  Peel potatoes, rinse, and cut into 3/4-inch to 1-inch chunks.  Distribute potatoes evenly between two quarter sheet pans and coat potatoes/pans with nonstick cooking spray.  Toss with rubber spatula to evenly coat.  Roast in oven for 10-20 minutes, tossing with a spatula about halfway through, until slightly golden.  At this point, check to see that potato pieces are done (fork tender... or let one COOL and eat one).  Remove potatoes on baking sheets to cooling racks.

Toss potatoes and sprinkle 1/4 cup of the cheese over each cookie sheet of potatoes (that's 1/2 cup total, math majors).  Allow cheese to melt and potatoes to cool for 20 minutes.  Transfer cheesy potatoes to a large bowl or plate, cover with foil and chill in fridge for 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

In a large bowl, stir together sour cream and butter until relatively uniform mixture is achieved.  Remove potatoes from refrigerator and add to sour cream and toss to coat.  Add remaining 1 1/2 cups of cheddar cheese, green onions, and bacon and stir until evenly distributed.  Taste for seasoning -- I found that I didn't really need much more salt due to the bacon and cheese, but added a pinch anyway.  I also added 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper.  Stir once more.

Chill at least two hours before serving, but I made mine a day before it was to be eaten and, frankly, I think it was better since the flavors were allowed to mingle.  Let sit, covered, at room temperature for an hour before serving.  Enjoy and savor every bite, knowing that a swimsuit could never make you this happy.

Also, my dad requested that I post a little discovery of his from Monday night.  He originally ate the salad cold and loved it, but decided to microwave it for 15-20 seconds the second time around and said it was to die for!...fantastic!...out of this world!  Too bad I left the remainder of the dish at my parents' house.  Tear.  Welp, guess I'll have to make it again.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A date of different kind

After months of hearing about the world of wonders that is the new Market District Giant Eagle out in Robinson Township, I requested that we take a field trip to this king of grocery stores.  Holy overwhelming, people.  I'm the kind of person who normally takes an hour for a routine food shopping trip.  I like love the grocery store.  It's relaxing to me, and yes, I like to "interview" my produce (as my mom would say).  But this place, wow.  Good thing it isn't my regular grocery store... I'd never get anything done.  And it's a little scattered, but that's okay for this adventure's purposes.

We hit the restaurant section first after arriving: cold and hot bars (buffets), a crepes bar, barbeque/roasting counter, pastry counter, gelato case, pasta bar, salad bar, pizza oven, Asian food and sushi, a panini counter.... whew!  Matt and I each made our own dinner, picking a little from each section.  I can't count how many times I've ordered a dinner and not been thrilled with one part of it, so I end up begrudgingly swallowing it or pushing it around my plate before I ignore it completely.  This meal was an animal of a different color -- each part was hand-selected by yours truly.  I ordered a crab cake, a Tuscan vegetable stack, and garlic green beans, all of which were absolutely delicious (and warmed upon ordering!):

After our tummies were quite happy and full from dining on our grocery store dinners in the upstairs cafeteria, we decided to explore the rest of the store.  The produce section is unreal and features a hydroponic lettuce garden.  The meat and cheese counters had us ogling for much too long.  (Rattlesnake meat, anyone?)  Matt was especially excited about the nut butter station... and I can't blame him.  The homemade honey peanut butter was incredible.

Because it's Friday and a well-transitioned paragraph is not in my blood today, here are some other highlights of GE's new digs:
-Cooking school on the second floor
-Beer store for purchase and slight enjoyment within the confines of this area
-Health and wellness section, oddly organized by alphabetically lettered aisles
-Bulk foods section including beans, nuts, and dried granola mixtures
-Candy, card, and gift shops

If you're bored on a rainy day, head over to this gem of a store and you can thank me later.  It's a trip for any foodie :)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Chocolate pound cake

There are some things in life that are much better with additions, upgrades, and ornamentation.  Take toast for example -- who wants plain toast?  It's light years better with Nutella, jam of some variety, or even dipped in a sunny side up egg.  Even when I'm ailing in bed with some unfortunate stomach flu, I still want a smidgen of butter on my bread.  Toast is just the beginning.  I could list a hundred things that are better with the bling, but this cake is not one of those things, my friends.

Surprised you, huh?  Good.  I like to keep you on your toes now and again.

This chocolate pound cake (made in a 10-inch Bundt pan) is so luxurious and yet so pure that it feels like a sin to douse it in chocolate sauce.  (Though, if you are a chocoholic, by all means ignore me and add what you like.  After all, you're not serving me, are you? :)  But, you should know that I will accept any and all invitations to devour this cake.)   The recipe came to me in a cookbook that was a birthday gift from a friend (Natalie of aforementioned strawberry cake fame).  Permit me a moment to brag about her wonderful packaging -- she included the cookbook and a trial size of all of the ingredients to make this exact cake in an adorable green tote bag.  No need for wrapping when the bag is bursting with adorable mini baking groceries.  It was years ago, and I never did take a picture of it, but trust me when I say that it was so inviting that I basically turned out the bag's contents onto the counter right then and there to start baking.

This cake was perfect for a hockey night.  After all, I have a thing for alliteration: Pens and pancakes, Pens and pot pie, and now Pens and pound cake.  The cake will feed many mouths and isn't at all finicky, so it can be eaten crowded around a TV, gasping and wondering and how on earth any human can move (and bend) like that.  There are few cakes that turn out this kind of result without excessive toiling in the kitchen.  Chalk this victory up to Ms. Paula Deen and her ability to turn a few simple ingredients (butter -- her favorite, and mine too) into a fantastic party-ready centerpiece of a dessert.  It's moist and rich with a chocolate crust surrounding a fluffy sweet interior.  The only ingredient that you may not have on hand all the time is the buttermilk, but make your own by adding 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice to a cup of milk and allow it to sit 10 minutes before using.  Be aware that the baking time is a bit lengthy, so don't pull a Katy and start this little number an hour before lights out.

The Bag Lady's Favorite Chocolate Pound Cake
(from The Lady & Sons Just Desserts)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder + extra for dusting
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
3 cups granulated sugar
5 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325F.  Coat a 10-inch Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray and dust with cocoa powder. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cocoa and set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream together butter, shortening, and sugar until fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.  Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  With the mixer on low speed, add half of the flour mixture, all of the buttermilk, and the second half of the flour mixture, mixing until each addition is combined.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Add vanilla and mix well.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake for 1 3/4 hours, or until cake is done (a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean).  Remove from oven and allow cake to cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes.  Invert and turn out cake onto rack and cool completely.

Dust with powdered sugar and, if you must, serve with a scoop of ice cream for a hockey game intermission treat that hits the spot!  This cake freezes well and can easily be sliced and served for unexpected guests at a moment's notice.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Zucchini potato hash

 [perfect dinner for one]

After a few merely average issues of Everyday Food (too many "light" recipes for my liking), May's edition did not disappoint.  Featuring 40+ recipes that can be made in under 30 minutes, the editors got it right in assuming that I'll be spending less and less time in my kitchen and much more time outside running and eating ice cream.  Oh, and I pretty much avoid using my oven at all costs when it's warm outside, with the one glaring exception being birthday cakes.  But that's another story.  Today's story is about a quick stove-top dinner in my all-too-warm apartment.

Yes yes, zucchini.  More zucchini.  It's just so delicious and cheap and pretty!  And this recipe is easy, and fast.  And great timing after a workout.  Got home, heated the oil and added the potatoes and onions, took a quick shower, stirred the contents a little more and on with the recipe I went.  The potatoes get an awesome golden crust that pairs well with the soft tender zucchini.  Come to think of it, if I'd had some bacon on hand, that would've been a great addition, too.  And maybe some cheddar cheese to top it off.  (Can you tell that I'll be making this again?)

Zucchini Potato Hash
(adapted from Everyday Food)
-serves 2

1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch slices and then quartered
1 russet potato, cut into 1/2-inch slices and then quartered
Ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon olive oil
3 Tablespoons diced red onion
2 sunny side up eggs

Heat oil in large pan over medium high heat.  Add potatoes and onion and cook until tender and golden brown, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add salt and pepper as desired.  Add zucchini and cook for another 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat and plate, topping with an egg.  Enjoy!  (And maybe, if you're one of those ketchup-with-hash-browns people, top with a little of Heinz's finest.)