Friday, September 30, 2011

Two Words

Iberian ham. I have only been in Barcelona for a few short hours, but the stuff is EVERYWHERE. Think I!m glad I had that cholesterol test before we embarked upon this trip.

Will keep you updated on all of our "porky pleasures!"


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Off, Off and Away

No, I am not abandoning you.  I'm just taking a two-week hiatus from this blog.

There is good reason for this.  Henry and I are about to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary (how did I get to be this old, anyway and how in the hell have we managed to stay married for this long?) so we decided to do it up right.

We are headed to Spain, first to hike for a week in the Pyrenees, then another week in Barcelona and Madrid.  I'm thinking there is a lot of pork in my future.

Can we afford this?  NoShould we be doing this right now, given all of the family drama that is currently going on?  NoAre we doing it anyway?  Yep!

We thought about canceling this trip, more than once.  At the end of the day, we decided we should go for it while we are still "young" enough and healthy enough to trek through the Pyrenees. 

 I promise I will come back with lots of food ideas and recipes.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Let Them Eat Cake

I should probably just give it up and go into the cake-making business. You may remember all those birthday cakes I’ve posted about here, as well as that wedding cake I made in July. Now it seems I will be doing another one (in NYC this time) as well as a cake for a friend’s big birthday in November.

The irony is that I just had a birthday and guess what my birthday cake was? Zip, zero, nada, that’s what. Guess it’s time for a pity party!

Well ... maybe not. Even though a cake wasn’t involved, I had a lovely day. We were in NYC, the weather was good (pre-tropical storm Lee) so we embarked upon one of our walks. We crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, came back via the Manhattan Bridge, then walked through the Lower East Side, Soho and the West Village before hitting the Meat-Packing District and the High Line.  My kind of day.

Brooklyn Bridge, here we come!

Back over the Manhattan Bridge

The High Line
(Don't miss it if you find yourself in NYC)

Dinner was with Andy and his lovely girlfriend Jana (yep, sorry girls - he's taken) at Marea on Central Park South. If you’re in NYC, check it out. Here’s the link:

So I won’t hand you any complaints about the lack of a birthday cake. Instead, I’ll give you the recipes for two cakes I made recently. Nope, they’re not fancy, decorated or even particularly pretty. They're just plain good!

The first is one of those retro recipes I love so much.  I was perusing my files and came across that old Tunnel of Fudge Cake recipe.  (It was right next to the recipe for Better Than Sex Cake, haha!)  Are any of you old enough to remember it?  It took 2nd Place in the 1966 Pillsbury Bake-Off, it was baked in a bundt pan and it was submitted by a woman named Ella Helfrich.  In her original recipe she used a cake mix, but the point was that the cake had a soft fudgy center which was kind of like eating underbaked brownie batter.  Who wouldn't like that?

I decided to wallow in the past and make the thing.  Sans cake mix, of course.  Turns out there's a good reason why it won an award.  I took it to a dinner party and it was a hit.  Here's the recipe:

TUNNEL OF FUDGE CAKE (adapted from Pillsbury)

For the cake:
1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt (I used kosher)
1 ¾ cups unsalted butter, softened
6 eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 ¼ cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
¾ cup cocoa powder (I used Droste)
2 cups chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Grease and flour a 12-cup fluted bundt pan or tube pan.

In a large bowl, combine sugar, salt and butter. Cream well until light and fluffy, scraping down bowl several times. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.Add vanilla. Gradually add the 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar and blend well. By hand, stir in flour and cocoa powder, then stir in walnuts.

Spoon batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 45 to 50 minutes until top is set and edges just start to pull away from sides of pan. Cool on a baking rack for 1 ½ hours, then invert onto serving plate. Cool completely before glazing.

For the glaze:
¾ cup confectioner’s sugar
¼ cup cocoa powder (again, I used Droste)
4 to 6 teaspoons milk or half-and-half

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, adding enough milk to reach desired drizzling consistency. Spoon over top of cake, allowing glaze to run down sides.

Serves 12 - 16

*  This is a very heavy dough.  Use a strong wooden spoon or heavy spatula when you get to the mixing-by-hand part.  Don't use a spatual with a plastic handle or it will break.  Trust me, I know about this.
*  Spooning the batter into the pan isn't as easy as it sounds.  It doesn't spoon easily.  Use an ice cream scoop instead.

*  You may be like me and omit nuts from most recipes.  Don't be tempted to do that here.  For whatever reason, the walnuts are crucial to the success of this recipe.  Just do it.

*  As evidence that I really am a dinosaur, I have not one, but three bundt pans.  Two of them are almost as ancient as I am.  The third (silicone) is the one I opted to use for this recipe.

The original

The non-stick

The up-to-date (if you can say that about a bundt pan) silicone

The next recipe comes from Gale Gand, whom I believe is the dessert goddess of our century (more about that in another post).  For now, just be content with her sumptuous recipe for this cake:

Chocolate Almond Upside-Down Cake

For the topping:
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
½ cup honey
1 ½ cups sliced almonds, toasted

Generously grease a 10-inch round cake pan. Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

To make the topping, pour the melted butter into the cake pan and swirl to coat the bottom. Sprinkle in the brown sugar and drizzle with the honey. Scatter the almonds over evenly. Set aside.

For the cake:
1 ¼ cups cake flour
½ cup cocoa powder (I used Droste)
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt (I used kosher)
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
3 eggs, room temperature (I used extra-large)
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the butter until smooth and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat again until light and fluffy, scraping down bowl several times. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. With mixer on low speed, add a third of the dry ingredients and mix to combine. Mix in half of the buttermilk, then another third of the dry ingredients before adding the remaining buttermilk and the vanilla. Finish with the remaining dry ingredients and mix until smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until set in the center, about 25 to 35 minutes.

Remove from oven and immediately run a knife around edges to loosen. Invert pan onto a serving platter. Let it sit with the pan still on top for 5 minutes so the caramel can soak into the cake before removing the pan. If the topping sticks to the pan, warm the pan surface over a low burner or in the oven briefly to loosen the caramel, then pour it over the cake. Let cool completely before serving.

Cut into wedges with a serrated knife.

Serves 10 - 12

A friend (who is diabetic) asked me to post some recipes he could actually make.  Oops, sorry DM - I don't think these qualify!  I'll work on your request, though....

Happy Chocolate Cake, y'all.  I'm headed to the gym now!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Wait, Wait, Don't Go Yet!

I don’t know what the weather is like where you live, but here in Atlanta it has morphed into autumn. One day it was hot and humid, then suddenly the air had that “cool” freshness to it and our sunlight became mellower and more golden. Today I saw a family of gold finches in our backyard, clearly on their migratory trail to warmer climates.  Summer, where did you go?

Despite the fact that I had a crazy, busy summer, I did manage to cook a lot. I just didn’t get around to blogging about it. In a perfect world, I would post every recipe immediately for you but hey – that’s not my reality. Unfortunately, I got too distracted with things like moving kids, wedding cake and other road trips, ailing parents, flat tires, varmints in the back yard and misbehaving washing machines. You get the picture. It’s called Life.

But even though it’s the end of summer, I have to give you the scoop on some of the best seasonal salads I know. It’s not too late to make them, as all of the vegetables and herbs you will need are still in abundance. It’s not too difficult to make them, as all of these recipes are a snap. In fact, the mushroom salad is so easy, you will probably laugh at me. Just remember my mantra that sometimes the sum is greater than the whole of its parts!


12 oz. fresh white mushrooms, wiped clean
4 oz. Parmigiano Reggiano, shaved
¼ cup best quality extra-virgin olive oil
2 lemons, juiced
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Several sprigs of Italian parsley

Trim mushrooms and cut into paper-thin slices. Arrange them decoratively on a round serving platter.

Sprinkle the shaved Parmigiano Reggiano over, then drizzle with the olive oil and lemon juice. Season assertively with salt and pepper to taste. Tear the parsley leaves into small pieces and scatter over the salad.  Let sit at room temperature until ready to serve.  May be made one hour in advance.

Yield: 6 – 8 servings


3 cups cooked couscous (I really don’t need to explain this, do I?)
1 ½ cups cooked, drained black beans (canned are fine, just rinse and drain them)
2 tomatoes, chopped
4 scallions, sliced on the diagonal
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro (if you hate cilantro, you can use Italian parsley)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine couscous, black beans, tomatoes, scallions, cilantro and cumin in a large bowl. Stir well to combine.

Whisk together olive oil, lime juice and garlic. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour over couscous mixture and stir gently. Taste to adjust seasonings.

Yield: 6 – 8 servings


For the salad:
1 shallot, thinly sliced
3 ears of fresh corn, kernels removed with a sharp knife
½ of a European (seedless) cucumber, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
¼ cup minced Italian parsley
½ cup crumbled feta cheese

For the dressing:
¼ cup buttermilk
2/3 cup plain yogurt (I used non-fat Greek yogurt)
1 tablespoon champagne (or white wine) vinegar
½ of a Vidalia (or other sweet onion), minced
1 small clove garlic, minced
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large bowl, combine shallot, corn, cucumber, red pepper, dill and parsley. Stir to blend.

In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, yogurt, vinegar, onion and garlic. Whisk to combine then add oil in a slow stream, whisking until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pour dressing over corn mixture. Taste to adjust seasonings, then sprinkle with the crumbled feta cheese.

Yield: 6 – 8 servings

GREEK PANZANELLA (adapted from Ina Garten)

For the salad:
6 cups diced rustic bread (1-inch cubes)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 European (seedless) cucumber, halved and sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and large-diced
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and large-diced
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced

For the dressing:
¼ cup good red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup extra virgin olive oil

To assemble:
1 cup diced feta cheese
½ cup pitted kalamata olives
¼ cup drained capers

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Toss the bread cubes with the olive oil and spread out on a baking sheet. Season well with salt and pepper. Bake for 10-15 minutes, turning once, until bread is toasted and lightly browned. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Place the cucumber, peppers, tomatoes and red onion in a large bowl and toss together.

For the dressing, place the vinegar, garlic, dried oregano and mustard in a bowl and whisk together. Season well with salt and pepper and whisk in the ½ cup of olive oil in a slow stream until mixture emulsifies. Taste to adjust seasoning.

Add the cooled bread to the vegetables in the bowl and toss to combine. Pour the dressing over and mix well. Stir in the feta, kalamata olives and capers. Taste to adjust seasoning and serve.

Yield: 6 – 8 servings

*  Now I realize I'm not giving you any ooey-gooey dessert recipes in this post, but bear with me here.  It's not always about sugar (and butter) in this blog!  Go ahead - treat yourself to one of these lovely salads instead.

*  I'm thinking I might make all 4 of these and invite some friends over for an end-of-summer salad party this weekend.  I'll mix up some pitchers of sangria and pomegranate cosmos and we can enjoy an evening on the patio.  Sounds like a plan - I'll just need to remind everyone to bring sweaters!