Monday, November 30, 2009

Simple Food and a couple of resto plugs

Hi Everyone!  Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving with lots to be thankful for.  We were lucky enough to have our boys home for an entire week - a wonderful gift, considering they are 27 and 25 and have their own busy lives away from Atlanta.  It was good family time.

The first thing they did was displace Henry from his "room" (the one with that ridiculously oversized TV).  Out came the XBox, off went the lights, closed went the blinds and here came the video games.  And if they weren't doing that, they were watching movies.  Or sporting events.  The "BOOM BOOM BOOM" sounds reverberated from the darkened depths of that man cave all week!

It was just like old times.  They were probably texting each other while they were in there, too.  (It's been known to happen before).  Guess there are things I am too old to understand!

And of course we ate too much.  Friends invited us up to their farm for Thanksgiving dinner and it was memorable.  It began as we gathered around the wood burning oven in their outside kitchen and feasted on roasted fois gras and freshly foraged oyster mushrooms.  I'll leave it at that so you won't know how much I really ate, but I will tell you that it just kept getting better from there... 

Here are two pictures of the beautifully decorated tables:

Friday brought the long-standing tradition of a riotous dinner here when all of their friends show up, drink a little too much (don't worry, they spend the night) and reminisce about old times.  We learned WAY too much about some of their prior escapades in high school (oy vey!) and some of their current ones (let's just say "Cubs and Cougars" - not my kids, fortunately, but double oy veh!!).  Anyway, it was a good time with too much good food.  That would be BBQ ribs, pulled pork and brisket from the recently opened Community Q BBQ here in Decatur.  If you live in Atlanta, you want to beat a path to their door as soon as you can.  It's really, really good.  Here is the link:

Dinner at Miller Union was Saturday's highlight.  OMG - if you live in Atlanta (or within a 50 mile radius, even) GO, GO, GO!!!  Steven Satterfield, formerly of Watershed and Float-a-Way, is the chef-owner and his business partner is the very savvy Neal McCarthy who is well-known from Sotto Sotto.  Beautiful space (industrial, yet warm and cozy - an oxymoron, I know) and beautiful, yet simple food.  The staff rocks, too.  Here is the link:

Okay, so back to the simple food concept.  Folks, I am TIRED.  I spent most of the day taking back my house.  It was a disaster after all those guys and all those kids hanging around.  I will not describe the lingering (beer and sweat) odor in the man cave.  "Disgusting" doesn't even come close.

And now it's time for dinner.  This is going to be simple beyond belief.  I have a plethora of farm-fresh eggs, courtesy of my weekly CSA.  I have some beautiful fresh arugula from the same source.  Looks to me like baked eggs and a simple salad are on the menu.  I can throw it together in no time.  And it will be really good.  No more fois gras for me in the forseeable future!


For each serving:

2 farm fresh eggs
2 T. half-and-half
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 T grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Preheat oven to 400-degrees.  Carefully break eggs into a ramekin.  Add half-and-half to just cover whites.  Sprinkle over with salt, pepper, rosemary and Reggiano.

Place in oven and bake until whites are just set - 10-14 minutes.
Serves 1

If you are really a good person and not the food police like I am, you will serve this with some freshly toasted baguette.  Sorry, Henry!
Obviously, this was bread-deficient.
Trust me, he survived!

Saturday, November 21, 2009


From this......

To this.

OMG, it was a big f-ing trainwreck.  I managed to get it all done, but that stupid chocolate cake with the peanut butter frosting almost did me in.  Seriously.

You saw those perfectly baked cake layers in the last post.  All good.  So I assembled the thing.  Carefully spread my peanut butter frosting on each layer, aligned them perfectly and did a "crumb coat" over it all.  I then placed it in the refrigerator (needing to move just about everything out of it to make room - can you say "spoiled milk"?) and left it there for 30 minutes.  Took it out, frosted it and did the chocolate glaze thing on top.  It looked gorgeous and perfect.

Twenty minutes later?  Not so much.  It apparently went south (or east or west, whatever).  The layers slid all over the place and the frosting in the middle of the cake layers oozed out in a bulge that reminded me of what it looks like when you put on waist-high pantyhose.  This was not pretty.

And it was 11pm.  I SO did not want to deal with this.  So I did what any rational person would do and I scraped all of the frosting and the glaze off of the g-d cake.  (My garbage disposal must have thought that it had died and gone to heaven).  And then I reassembled the whole thing, gave it another crumb coat and stuck it in the refrigerator.  Overnight.

Flash forward to this morning.  I gave up going to the gym and my favorite step class to deal with this damn cake.  And you can guess what happened - I pulled it out of the refrigerator, it was well-chilled, the crumb coat was well-set and....THE DAMN THING WAS STILL CROOKED.  It looked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Crap, crap, crap.

I tried pushing the layers into place.  Nope, they were cold enough that it wasn't an option.  So I decided to fix it with frosting.

But speaking of frosting, the recipe in the previous post DID NOT WORK.  It tasted good, but it didn't spread well and it had these weird pockets of bubbles in it.  Don't use it.  I went back to my favorite food guru (that would be Ina Garten) and made a batch of her peanut butter frosting.  Much, much better.  And, it managed to hide all of my cake-making mistakes.

1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup heavy cream

Place first 5 ingredients in an electric mixer and beat until well-combined and smooth and fluffy.  Add cream and beat on high speed until smooth.

So I am beat and I am tired and I never, ever want to smell peanut butter again.  Or encounter cream cheese frosting. Yuck.  Please, oh please can I have some guacamole?

But I managed to get it all done.  Here are my crappy iPhone photos to prove it....

         Finished and waiting for Henry to figure out
          how in the hell we are going to transport
                          these creations

                  Got it there!  (Thanks, Henry)

             Oh, and I ROCKED the cupcakes! 

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pieces Parts

So here is a picture of my "tupperware" drawer.  I probably don't even need to say it, but of course you can tell from this that I am a Virgo.  I mean, who in the world has an organized drawer, or cabinet or whatever of perfectly aligned plastic stuff?  Gulp, that would be me.

And yeah, my spices are organized alphabetically.  Don't pity me, though.  I am perfectly happy in my madness.

Which brings me to the cake marathon.  I had it all organized.  Day by day.  I finally figured out what I wanted to make (hummingbird cake, chocolate peanut butter cake, coconut cake and four dozen assorted cupcakes).  I crafted out what I needed to accomplish each day (including shopping).  I kicked into catering mode.

And then it all went to hell.  Wednesday night.  Henry called me at 4:30 to say he was headed to the ER at a local hospital.  WHAT?????  He had been experiencing severe abdominal pain for a couple of days (unbeknownst to me) and it got the best of him.  He was headed for the hospital.

Of course I met him there immediately, leaving all of my cake-making in the dust.  You don't even want to know what the kitchen looked like.  At the end of the day (that would be the next day, as we didn't get home until 1:30 a.m.), he was basically okay.  Diverticulitis, but he can live with that.  It wasn't anything worse, thank God.  My kitchen was still a mess, though.

So that left me pretty much in the weeds.  Didn't get much done yesterday as I had to deal with what was going on with my sweet husband (he will be happy to read that as he gets tired of my referring to him as "that old, bald man").  I am happy he is okay.  I'm even happier that Eric is showing up tonight and Andy will be here on Monday.  When you can be in the same room with your kids and your husband and breathe the same air - well, it doesn't get better than that.

But back to the cake a perfect world, I would easily make all of these cakes in no time at all, post the recipes and the final (gorgeous) pictures.  My kitchen would be perfectly clean and all my plasticware would be neatly stored away.

That is so not happening .  You're going to get the photos as I take them from my iPhone in any given sequence.  Random pieces, parts.  It's pretty much a hodgepodge.  Wish me luck today as I will be finishing it all off - at least, I hope.  I'm sure there will be some road bumps along the way!


I began by baking off all of my cake layers, starting with the chocolate ones for the Peanut Butter Cake.  This is a moist and dark cake, very tender and soooooo good when loaded up with that peanut butter frosting!  Here's the recipe:

(From "Sky High" by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne)

For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup unsweeted cocoa powder (I used Droste)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt (I used Kosher)
1 cup vegetable oil (I used canola)
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large eggs

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.  Spray 3 8-inch round cake pans with cooking spray.  Line bottom and sides with parchment and spray again.

Sift flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl.  Add oil and sour cream and whisk to blend.  Gradually whisk in the water, then the vinegar and vanilla.  Whisk in the eggs and combine until well-blended, scraping down sides of bowl.  Divide batter among the three prepared cake pans (I use a
4 2/3-oz. ice cream scoop for this).

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until center is done and a cake tester comes out clean.  Cool in pans for 20 minutes then turn out onto wire rack to cool completely.

Frost with peanut butter frosting, then drizzle glaze over top, letting it run down the sides of the cake.  If needed, refrigerate uncovered for 30 minutes until glaze and frosting are set.

For the frosting:
10 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
4 oz. unsalted butter, room temperature
5 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter (I used Jiff - you don't want freshly ground for this)

Beat cream cheese and butter in electric mixer until smooth and fluffy, with no lumps remaining.  Gradually add sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bolw often.  Continue to beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Add peanut butter and beat until thoroughly blended.

For the glaze:
8 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup half-and-half

Yield:  1 8-inch triple layer cake

Okay, so here comes the disclaimer.  I figured that if an 8-inch cake was good, a 9-inch one would be even better.  Thus, I made the cake recipe x 1.5.  Since the frosting is my favorite part, I doubled that recipe (you don't have to do that but I would much rather have too much than too little - besides, this way you can lick the bowl or rip off several large spoonfuls and still have enough left to frost the cake).  I only made 1 recipe of the glaze.

I'm about to go and frost the thing right now.  Will let you know how it turns out.  In the meantime, here are a few more photos!

Out of the oven - not bad!

Liz's Baking Factory
9-inch chocolate, 5-inch chocolate and hummingbird,
9-inch hummingbird

Lotta prep!

Friday, November 13, 2009


Parmesan Crackers.  Well done this time! (no pun intended)

The diet (now known as the "eating plan") is still up and running.  12 pounds lost so far; not enough and not fast enough, but hey, I can live with this. 

Dinner tonight?  That would be at Cakes and Ale in Decatur  I had a lovely escarole salad with olive oil, parmesan and anchovies and then the "vegetable bowl" with farro, turnips, cabbage, African squash, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and baby kale.  Simple, amazing and relatively healthy.  My friend Billy Allin (who owns the place) is there every single night. 

It's a chef-driven restaurant and he drives it well.  If I were ever to open a restaurant (which will not happen), I would model it after this one.  It's the perfect blend of casual neighborhood (you can wear your jeans) and beautiful, simple, locally fresh food. 

Okay, I'm done now.  See you around the cake baking marathon next week!

Birthday Cake Times Three

You may not like Paula Deen of Food Network fame, but you have to admit her boys are downright adorable.  On one of their "Road Tested" episodes, Bobby asks "What's better than cake?"  And then he answers his own question with "FRIED CAKE!"  Sure enough, they visited some place or another (no doubt in the South) where that was the specialty.  I personally think it sounds disgusting, but whatever. 

With that in mind, however, here's MY question - what's better than birthday cake? 

I was recently asked to make a birthday cake for a friend's 40th birthday party next week.  Flushed from my recent hummingbird cake success, I quickly said yes.  Of course, that was before I found out there would be approximately 60 attendees.  Keep in mind, I'm a one-woman show here (and my kitchen isn't so great either - I love this new house of ours but the prior owners didn't care about cooking so the kitchen isn't much).  There is no way I can pull off a cake big enough (or pretty enough) to feed sixty people!

So I broke it down.  "Alright," I thought, "I'll just make a regular-sized layer cake for the birthday boy and a couple of sheet cakes to serve everyone else."  I pondered that one for awhile but came to the conclusion that it just didn't sizzle enough.  After all, this is a BIG birthday.  There should be some BIG cake to go along with it.

You know where I'm headed with this.  If one birthday cake is good, then 2 are better.  And if 2 are better then why not THREE show-stopping cakes??????  I can do that!

This is the Mile-High Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake
I made recently

I'm still working on it, but I'm thinking of a hummingbird cake (of course!), a mile-high chocolate peanut butter cake and then ... well, that's where I'm stuck.  Coconut, maybe?  Caramel?  Caramel with Chocolate?  Red Velvet?  And possibly cupcakes to scatter around for the kids?

If anyone out there wants to weigh in on this, suggestions would be welcome.

Next week will be a baking marathon around here.  If I manage to burn anything (like those Parmesan Crackers) or screw up (which I will), I promise to take pictures and post them!

Wish me luck and stay tuned.......

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Parmesan Crackers

Oh, the pressure of maintaining a blog.  At the end of the day you drag yourself home, dog-tired, and somehow manage to scrape dinner together for those who care about that sort of thing.  That would be Henry, the old, bald-headed man.  Me? Not so much on most nights. (I'm still on this diet, yes?)

And then you remember that you need to post something.  Because, if you don't, your 2 or 3 loyal bleaders will hate you.  They might even stop checking your site.  God forbid!

So I got all prepared a few nights ago to post something as I was baking (and yes, I actually remembered to take pictures for a change).  It was a good recipe, too - Parmesan Crackers.  I was making them to take as a hostess gift to a party we were attending the next day.

You will recall that I promised to share the good, the bad and the ugly here (let's not forget the fruit flies).  So I made the recipe, took photos on my iPhone and then ... burned the entire batch of them.  Like really, really burned and inedible.  I didn't take them to the party the next day.  Oh no.  I threw them out.  Ended up taking a bottle of wine instead.  How ordinary, Liz. 

But here's the recipe.  It's so simple and so good.  I am making them tomorrow for a dinner party we are throwing on Saturday.  Here's hoping I won't burn them again!

PARMESAN CRACKERS (adapted from a recipe I got a million years ago from the New York Times)

1/2 cu unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour ( I use unbleached)
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano (don't skimp on this and use crappy parmesan - use the real thing)
1/2 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper
1 t. minced, chopped fresh herbs of choice ( I used thyme and rosemary)

In a food processor, combine ingredients and pulse until dough comes together.  Turn dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and pat into a round.  Refrigerate 30 minutes.

Roll dough into a 1/4-inch thick square.  Use a cookie cutter of choice to cut into desired shapes.  Re-roll dough as needed to cut again.

Preheat oven to 325-degrees.  Place crackers on a cookie sheet lined with parchment and bake until firm, about 12-13 minutes.  Remove baking sheet from oven and increase oven temperature to 500-degrees.  When temperature comes up to correct heat, return sheet to oven and bake for 2 - 3 minutes more or until crackers are deeply golden and browned.  Cool on a wire rack.

Yield:  40 crackers

My mistake was forgetting to watch them when I put them into a 500-degree oven.  I think I was on the phone with my mom at the time.  Oh good, that means I can blame her!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Not So Ho-Hum Hummus

Do any of you remember the movie "Annie Hall" with Woody Allen and Diane Keaton?  It's probably my all-time favorite as it is a mirror of my life.  I LOVED the part where SHE said that, in her family, the greatest sin was to raise your voice and HE said that in his, the greatest sin was to pay retail.

And then there was the night she found a "roach as big as a Buick" and made him come over in the middle of the night to kill it.

I can SO relate to all of that (even the roach part, as that is exactly what happened this morning in my kitchen -  I'll spare you the details).  Growing up in a WASPY atmosphere, I could have been a double for Diane Keaton in that movie.

When I departed my white bread life in Jacksonville to head for college, I was severely deficient in many of life's culinary pleasures.  As in, I had never had a bagel.  Or whitefish salad (well, I could have missed that one).  Or rugelach, Indian food or hummus.  Years later, this did not serve me well when I became a caterer and cooking instructor.

You know what happened.   I was asked to create all kinds of menus - Thai, Indian, Middle Eastern and even a ristaafel (Indonesian Rice Table).  Somehow, I always managed to pull it off and fool everyone.  I just winged it.  There was no internet in those days, but I was saved by my (pretty good) cooking instincts and a plethora of cookbooks and cooking magazines (oh Gourmet, I lament your loss).

Which brings me to hummus.  I had to make that, too.  It has now become a staple for me.  If you go into my pantry you will ALWAYS find a jar of tahini (sesame paste) and a couple cans (cans? I hate canned stuff) of garbanzo beans. 

Here's the thing about hummus.  People like it because a) it tastes good and b) they think it's healthy (well, maybe it is when compared to homemade potato chips drenched with warm Maytag blue cheese sauce).  That said, it's really not. 

Do you know the nutritional counts for garbanzo beans?  For 1 cup, it's 728 calories and 12 grams of fat. .  And then tahini - 2 tablespoons have 180 calories and 16 fat grams.  Yikes!  I would be better off dipping a spoon into the jar of peanut butter in my pantry.

And we won't talk about the olive oil that's in it.  But, hey, serve it up with some veggies and whole wheat pita crisps and folks will scarf it up every time, all the while thinking because it has protein and no dairy that it's healthy.

But, it's good. At least it can be. As I said, it's become a staple for me and I have served it hundreds of times (including that dinner party in Durham two weeks ago).  But I have had way too many bland versions which taste very similar to chalk paste. No, no, no.  And don't even think about buying the crap that's in the case in the grocery store.  If you're going to indulge in it and not delude yourself that you are being healthy, then go for it and make your own.  Here's my recipe.

Hummus (adapted from "Open-House Cookbook" by Sarah Leah Chase)

3 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup tahini (sesame paste)
1/2 cup water (more if needed)
3 cups garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon ground cumin
Salt to taste (use a lot!)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Rough chop garlic.  Place it into a food processor along with lemon juice.  Process to blend.  Add tahini and blend again.  Add water and chick peas and blend until fluffy, adding more water if needed, so mixture will not be dry.  Season generously to taste with cumin and salt.  Add olive oil and process briefly to combine.

Serve with pita chips, cucumber slices,. carrot slices, cherry tomatoes and good olives.

Yield:  3 cups

And if you want to pretend that you are being virtuous - well, who am I to argue?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Please Bear with me

I haven't forgotten about you.  More recipes to come, I promise.

Life has just gotten in the way for the last week.  Will post something tomorrow.

Thanks for reading my blog.  I appreciate all of you!