Thursday, December 23, 2010


Oh, the holidays. You think you have it covered, with gifts for all the folks who make your life work. The yard guys (bless them, especially because we don't own a lawn mower and even if we did, Henry wouldn't know how to use it), the wonderful folks who keep my hair straight and not gray, the lovely people who own the dry cleaning establishment where Henry drops his shirts off every week and the staff at the local bank who knows me by name and always greets me with big smiles.

I can’t say “thank you” with cash. It wouldn’t be appropriate and besides, I don’t have any extra anyway. Who does? So instead I cook and bake. This year’s offerings include both English Toffee and Honey Pecan Bars (recipes previously posted, here are the links):

And it’s all good and you make enough to cover the folks on your list and then……..oh no! You forgot someone (or two or three) and you’ve blown through all of your toffee and pecan bars. Well, crap.

Here is the quick fix answer: Salted Cashew Brittle. I’ve had this recipe in my arsenal for years. It’s ridiculously easy and I’m almost sorry to post it because you will certainly start to doubt my food integrity as this involves the use of a microwave.

Okay, yes, I do have one. A microwave that is. Serious restaurateurs would undoubtedly look askance at that, but there you are. It comes in handy for melting chocolate, reheating my coffee in the morning when I don’t finish it quickly enough and softening up the dog food (because that snaggle-toothed dog of mine can’t eat dry food).

So Tuesday night I dragged out my recipe for the cashew brittle, nuked up a batch and patted myself on the back for my ability to come up with something fast and easy to the rescue. I set it out to cool, broke it into big pieces and packaged it up. Mission accomplished.


2 cups roasted, salted cashew halves (1 - 9.5 oz. can)
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda

Line a baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper and grease well. Alternatively, you can line it with a silicone baking sheet (Silpat).

Combine cashews, sugar and corn syrup in a 2-quart glass bowl. Place in microwave and heat on high, uncovered, for 3 minutes. Stir, then heat for another 3 to 4 minutes until mixture is a very light golden brown.

Carefully remove bowl from the microwave (I suggest using a good pair of oven mitts for this) and stir in butter and vanilla extract. Return to microwave and cook on high heat for another 2 to 4 minutes until mixture becomes caramel-colored.

Remove from microwave and stir in the baking soda. Mixture will become light and foamy. Turn out onto prepared baking sheets. It will be fairly thick, so work quickly to spread it out with a spatula.

Let stand until completely cool, at least 30 minutes. Break into pieces. Brittle will keep up to one week stored in an airtight container.

Yield: enough to completely fill an 8 x 3-inch round tin (3#)

There are two things I would caution you about.  The first is to be very, very careful when handling this stuff as it (and the bowl) gets extremely hot.  As I said before, it's best to use heavy-duty oven mitts.  I would also recommend using one of those 2-quart Pyrex glass measuring cups with a handle (which I thought I had but couldn't find  - think it's buried in the garage amongst all of my old catering equipment). 

The other thing to bear in mind is the fact that not all microwaves are created equal.  Yours may be higher-powered than mine and so forth.  I would therefore recommend that after you add the butter and vanilla extract, check the mixture every 30 seconds or so.  You want it to become caramel-colored but you do not want to take it too far or you will have a big, burned up mess in your microwave. 

Dump it in and stir

After a 3-minute zap

After 6 minutes

Add baking soda

Let harden for 30 minutes

Wrap it up and you're good to go!

Here's the interesting part.  I made this on Tuesday night.  Wednesday morning I settled in with my cup of coffee and the weekly Dining Section of the New York Times.  Look what was on the front page!

It's an article by Harold McGee about the efficiency of using a microwave to produce homemade candy!  There is even a recipe (similar to mine) for Microwave Nut Brittle.  Guess I was ahead of the curve and didn't even know it!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

From Our Zoo to Yours ...

Happy Holidays! 

That's my snaggle-tooth Tess (a.k.a. Forrest Gump) in the forefront.  Directly behind her is Lucy, who is still hanging in there.  Wish I had room for another rescue dog, but I think that would be pushing the envelope, don't you?

Merry Christmas, everyone!  I'll be posting another recipe tomorrow.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


My cigar-smoking, power-lifting son (he’s the one in the middle of this picture but the other two, his dear friends Phil and Jerry might as well be called my sons also) inherited my penchant for cooking and baking. He lives in New York City and has a wide circle of friends, so it is not unusual for him to host a dinner party at his house or take a dish to a party. We have frequent phone conversations about what we are both cooking today, what we want to cook tomorrow or what we cooked yesterday. You get the picture.

He reads my blog (haha, at least I know someone does!) and decided to make those sweet and salty brownies from Baked that I told you about recently. He had a party to attend and thought they might be a hit.

Were they ever! I got an email and a picture from him with the comment “these are amazing.” He was pretty modest about it, but I’ll bet my last dollar he was the hit of the party.

He also made the pilgrimage from the city to Red Hook, Brooklyn the other day, solely for the purpose of visiting Baked (see blog entry above for more details about this place). He rarely eats flour or sugar these days but he made an exception for their Sweet and Salty Cupcake. Good call, Andy!

So here I am to give you their recipe for Sweet and Salty Cake. It was one of the three I made for that birthday party last week. It was amazing. Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, (owners and creators of Baked) I bow down in humble appreciation to you. Thanks for publishing your cookbooks!

SWEET AND SALTY CAKE (from “Baked, New Frontiers in Baking”)

For the cake:
¾ cup dark cocoa powder (I used Valrhona)
1 ¼ cups hot water
2/3 cup sour cream
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour (I used unbleached)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt (I used Kosher salt)
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup vegetable shortening, softened
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3 eggs, room temperature (I used extra-large)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325-degrees. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans, line bottoms and sides with parchment paper and butter the parchment. Dust with flour, knocking out excess.

In a medium bowl, combine the cocoa powder, hot water and sour cream and set aside to cool.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until ribbonlike, about 5 minutes. Add the sugars and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, then add the vanilla and beat until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl and mix again for 30 seconds.

Add the flour mixture, alternating with the cocoa mixture, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 30-40 minutes, rotating the pans halfway during baking, until a toothpick inserted into the center of each layer comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and cool for 20 minutes then invert onto a cooling rack. Remove pan and cool completely, then peel off parchment.

For the salted caramel:
½ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
¼ cup sour cream

In a small saucepan, combine the cream and fleur de sel. Bring to a simmer over very low heat until salt is dissolved.

Meanwhile, keeping a close eye on the cream mixture so it doesn’t burn, in a medium saucepan combine ¼ cup water, sugar and corn syrup, stirring carefully so as not to splash sides of the pan. Cook over high heat until an instant-read thermometer reads 350-degrees or until the mixture is dark amber in color, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and cool 1 minute.

Add the cream to the sugar mixture. Whisk in the sour cream. Let the caramel cool to room temperature, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the cake.

For the whipped caramel ganache frosting:
1 pound dark chocolate (60 to 70% cacao), chopped
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into ½-inch pieces

Put the chocolate into a large heatproof bowl and set aside.

In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over very low heat.

Meanwhile, keeping a close eye on the cream mixture so it doesn’t burn, in a medium saucepan combine ¼ cup water, sugar and corn syrup, stirring carefully so as not to splash sides of the pan. Cook over high heat until an instant-read thermometer reads 350-degrees or until the mixture is dark amber in color, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and cool 1 minute.

Add the cream to the caramel and stir to combine. Stir slowly for 2 minutes, then pour the caramel over the chocolate. Let the caramel and chocolate sit for 1 minute the, starting in the center of the bowl and working your way out to the edges, slowly stir in a circle until the chocolate is completely melted. Let mixture cool the transfer to the bowl of an electric mixture fitted with the paddle attachment.

Mix on low speed until the bowl feels cool to the touch. Increase speed to medium-high and gradually add the butter, beating until thoroughly incorporated. Scrape down the bowl and beat on high speed until mixture is fluffy.

To assemble the cake:
Fleur de sel

Place on cake layer on a serving platter. Spread ¼ cup of the caramel over the top. Let caramel soak into the cake, then spread ¾ cup of the frosting over the caramel. Sprinkle generously with fleur de sel, the top with second cake layer and repeat. Top with third layer and spread with caramel. Crumb coat the cake with a very thin layer of frosting and refrigerate for 15 minutes to firm up the frosting. Frost top and sides of cake with remaining frosting and garnish with more fleur de sel.

This cake will keep well for up to 3 days in a cool and humid-free place. It can be refrigerated, but let sit at room temperature for a least 2 hours before serving.

Serves 12

Alright, so let's just deal with this now.  I am not Rachael Ray (thank goodness, although I wouldn't mind her salary) and I'm not always about easy recipes or 30 minute meals.  This recipe will take you some time and it's not exactly easy.  You certainly can't produce it in 30 minutes.  You have to make caramel twice and you might read this and say to yourself "it's just not worth it."  Oh, but it is!  If you are going to knock yourself out and make a homemade layer cake, it's well worth your time and trouble to make this one.  Trust me!

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Anything but turkey.

I’ve been doing a lot of recipe testing this week (for that book I’m collaborating on) so it’s been a bit like Thanksgiving around here. Translated, that means a lot of poultry, as in a great big roasted turkey. Now this would be great if I still had a houseful of kids but since it’s only Henry and me …. well not so much. As good as this recipe (with its accompanying gravy) was, I’m pretty sick of the stuff. Suffice it to say, I will not be making turkey on Christmas Day.

Yesterday I decided that I couldn’t face it once again for dinner. I hit the gym, then stopped at Whole Paycheck Foods on the way home to pick up something for dinner. It was cold, the streets were supposed to ice up later and something braised and comforting was on my radar screen. I was also feeling virtuous (since I had worked out), so I figured red meat or an extra fat gram or two wouldn’t kill me.

I ended up with lamb shanks. They didn’t break the bank and I knew they would fill the house with a lovely smell and a savory aroma. It was early enough in the day that I could set them on the stove and slowly cook them for a few hours until they were meltingly tender and infused with flavor.

Once home, I thought about unearthing a recipe, but I was too lazy. I just winged it. Here is the result, and it was delicious.  I served it on a lovely bed of cannellini beans, lightly tossed with good extra-virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice and chopped rosemary, then seasoned with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.


4 lamb shanks
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, cut into small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, cut into small dice
1 stalk celery, cut into small dice
1 cup dry red wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes (San Marzanos preferred)
¼ cup red wine vinegar
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 fresh bay leaf
2 cups beef stock
½ cup pitted and chopped Kalamata olives
¼ cup chopped Italian parsley, for garnish

Pat lamb shanks dry. Heat oil in a large sauté pan or dutch oven and add shanks. Brown on both sides until golden. Remove to a plate and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium-high, add diced onion to the pan and sauté for 5 minutes. Add garlic, carrot and celery and continue to cook until vegetables are just tender, another five minutes or so.

Pour wine into pan and deglaze over high heat. Stir in tomato paste and diced tomatoes with their juice. Bring to a boil then add vinegar and herbs. Add stock and browned lamb shanks. Season with salt and pepper. Once mixture boils, reduce heat, cover and simmer over very low heat for about three hours, or until meat is very tender and almost falling off the bones.

Just before serving, remove herb stems and stir in the Kalamata olives. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper if needed. Serve the lamb shanks over a bed of white beans, mashed potatoes or polenta, topped with plenty of the sauce and a sprinkling of chopped Italian parsley. A bottle of good red wine served with this wouldn’t be a bad thing either!

Serves 4

Note: I hate it when I look at a cookbook and the photos don't match the description of the recipe.  Like maybe they have added a garnish or something to make it look really good and there is no mention of it in the directions.  It really pisses me off.  So in the interest of full disclosure, I made this with only two lamb shanks as pictured (I mean, only two of us live in this house these days, right?)  Nonetheless, the proportions I gave you in this recipe are enough for four shanks. 

Henry, I hope you like leftovers, because you get to eat this again tonight. At least it isn’t turkey!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Triple Crown

We were recently invited to celebrate a dear friend’s 40th birthday. Since the guest list was small, we were honored to be included and I did exactly what you would expect of me – offered to make her birthday cake. Well, why not? After all, I did the same thing for her husband’s birthday last year.

Of course, I made THREE cakes (plus cupcakes) for his birthday. That presented a bit of a dilemma as I didn’t want to insult her by providing any less, even though there was a significant difference in the anticipated number of attendees. “Oh well,” I thought. “I’ll make three cakes anyway and dispense with the cupcakes.”

Now that meant I was making three triple layer cakes for a total of eighteen people. More is better though, right?

I emailed my friend’s husband to ask what she might like. His response?

“Can't remember if I already emailed this to you.... A sign of aging, perhaps?
After all, my 40th was so last year.

Her only preference for cakes is that she prefers white cake and buttery frostings, typically. That said, she would scrap all of that for your Very Good Chocolate cake. So, that's as clear as mud, isn't it?”

Clear as mud indeed. So much for my idea of one of my famous German chocolate cakes. White cake and buttery frosting, huh? The thought didn’t do much for me, but l aim to please!

Remember those Sweet and Salty Brownies from Baked  that I posted about recently?  The reason I bought both of their books is because one had that brownie recipe and the other had a cake recipe with my name on it. (You’ll understand why when I tell you what it is).  As I perused it for ideas, I came across their recipe for Whiteout Cake. Perfect! They suggested pairing it with their Sweet and Salty Cake. Even more perfect, since that was the recipe I bought the book for in the first place. Add the Very Good Chocolate Cake (posted here on 11/2/10, see labels) and I had a plan!

Since the party was on Saturday, I made the frostings and cake layers on Thursday and assembled everything on Friday. Then prayed to the heavens that the layers wouldn’t slide around overnight or turn into another “crater cake.” They didn’t, probably because I placed them in the coldest room here and refused to turn on the heat in the house. Bear in mind the high was 27-degrees that day. Henry has yet to recover.

Here’s the recipe for the Whiteout Cake. It has a tender crumb and the frosting is sumptuous. I couldn’t resist tinkering with it though – I wanted to add a little more taste and pizazz. I brushed the cake with raspberry syrup and sandwiched seedless raspberry jam as well as the white buttercream between the layers. Fantastic!

WHITEOUT CAKE (adapted from Baked)

For the cake layers:
2 ½ cups cake flour
¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup vegetable shortening
1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 egg (I used extra-large)
1 ½ cups ice water
3 egg whites, room temperature (I used extra-large)
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper and butter the parchment. Dust with flour and knock out excess.

Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until creamy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl then add sugar and beat for an additional 5 minutes. Add vanilla and the egg and beat until just combined. Turn the mixer to low, then add the flour mixture alternately with the ice water. Scrape down the bowl, then mix until just combined.

In another bowl, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Do not overbeat. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

Divide the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes, then remove from pans and let cool completely. Remove the parchment.

For the frosting:
6 oz. white chocolate, coarsely chopped (do not use white chocolate chips)
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups whole milk (do not use reduced fat)
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool and diced into small pieces
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Use a double boiler or microwave to melt the white chocolate. Set aside to cool.

In a medium saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together. Add the milk and cream and cook over medium heat, whisking frequently, until mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, about 30 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until cool. You can test this by feeling the bottom of the bowl. If it is cool, then proceed with the recipe. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter; mix until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy.

Add the vanilla and white chocolate and continue mixing until smooth and well-combined. If frosting is too soft, put in refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it reaches proper consistency. If too firm, set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until spreadable.

For the raspberry filling:
12 oz. frozen raspberries
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup liqueur, such as Chambord, Cassis or Scandinavian Berry
1 cup seedless raspberry preserves
White nonpareils

Place raspberries and sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook and stir until raspberries start to soften then reduce heat to medium low and cook until mixture is liquid and raspberries break down. Add liqueur, increase heat to medium-high and reduce until mixture is syrupy and alcohol is burned off. Strain.

To assemble the cake:
Place a dollop of the frosting on a serving plate to serve as “glue” to anchor the cake. Place a cake layer over and poke holes in it with a skewer or toothpick. Brush some of the raspberry syrup over, allowing it to soak into the layer. Place a few tablespoons of the raspberry jam over and spread to coat thinly. Cover with a layer of the buttercream frosting. Repeat this for the next layers.

Spread a thin layer of frosting over the top and sides to crumb coat the cake. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm up, then frost generously with remaining frosting, smoothing sides. Coat sides with nonpareils and swirl top.

Serves 8 – 12

As usual, I have a few comments. No, actually I have only one comment and that is beware of those nonpareils. They are like little, tiny cannonballs and they will hurl themselves all over your kitchen floor and various other parts of your house as you attempt to apply them to the sides of your cake. THEY BOUNCE!!!!! I dragged out the vacuum cleaner at the onset, but I am still encountering these lethal little balls scattered about on my kitchen floor five days out.

I'm my own tough critic, but I thought this was pretty good.  I'd even make it again ... nonpareils and all!