Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Icebox Cake

I've heard people talk about Icebox Cakes for many years. Nabisco Famous Cookies, you know, the thin, chocolate ones in the yellow carton, have a recipe right on the box. Still, I don't think that I've ever had one, or even made one for that matter.

Everyday Food September 2009 ran a recipe that I thought I should try. It just seemed so simple.

first mix 1 1/2 cups heavy cream, well chilled with 1/3 cup of confectioner's sugar till soft peaks form.

in another bowl, mix 1/2 cup heavy cream with 1/3 cup peanut butter until it's smooth.

then fold peanut butter mixture into the soft cream.

place 7 chocolate wafer cookies (one centered, 6 surrounding) with a dab of the cream mixture to secure them in place. add 2/3 cream mixture to the wafer layer, repeat 5 more times. finish with cream mixture.

It was really that simple, and looks really good. It now has to sit for 8 hours, at least, to give it a cake like texture.

As you are probably noticing, our kitchen is closer and closer to being done. Thank goodness photos can be edited, just out side this shot is all sorts of projects in process. The closer it gets to do, the more I can cook!

Thursday, August 6, 2009


I found it. Or at least, another one. Back on June of 2007 we sent out a request for Carrot Cake recipes. We compiled a few of them, and made all of them in October.

The Silver Palate Cookbook was our winning submission.I think that this carrot cake from Food & Wine, January 2009 (Recipe is at the end of the blog) could give it a run for it's money. I put it together in a pretty quick minute.

Mix all the dry, mix all the wet, beat eggs and sugar. Combine. Add carrots and pecans. Bake.

The cake is a moist, yet strangely light, not gummy and bursting with pecan and especially carrot flavor. How many times have you made a carrot cake to not taste the carrots, but only the spices? (Really, I like these spices, but if I wanted a spice cake.....) These worked really well together.

I wish I could remember that it's really easy to put these things together. What I did remember was to set out the butter to make it room temperature. It really does help.

My only complaint with this cake was how loose the frosting was. I kept wishing it was an Italian Meringue or something a bit firmer. When cooled in the fridge, however, it's a right good frosting.

In comparing it to the Silver Palate, they are essentially the same, there is less flour & sugar in the cake and less butter and powdered sugar in the frosting. (I may use the Silver Palate Frosting Recipe next time.)

One other difference in this baking experience, I remembered to take a photo! The thing I forgot - to charge the batteries. Gotta love the new iPhone's camera - at least in a pinch.


Classic Carrot Cake with Fluffy Cream Cheese Frosting

Food & Wine, January 2009



1 cup pecans (4 ounces)

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

4 large eggs

2 cups sugar

1 pound carrots, peeled and coarsely shredded


2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

Two 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups confectioners’ sugar


Preheat the oven to 325°. Butter two 9-inch cake pans; line the bottoms with parchment. Butter the paper and flour the pans.

Make the cake: Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and toast for 8 minutes, until fragrant. Cool and finely chop the pecans.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In a small bowl, whisk the oil, buttermilk and vanilla. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar at high speed until pale, 5 minutes. Beat in the liquid ingredients. Beat in the dry ingredients just until moistened. Stir in the carrots and pecans. Divide the batter between the pans and bake the cakes for 55 minutes to 1 hour, until springy and golden. Let the cakes cool on a rack for 30 minutes, then unmold the cakes and let cool completely.

Make the frosting: In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese at high speed until light, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla, then the confectioners’ sugar; beat at low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Peel off the parchment paper and invert one cake layer onto a plate. Spread with a slightly rounded cup of the frosting. Top with the second cake layer, right side up. Spread the top and sides with the remaining frosting and refrigerate the cake until chilled, about 1 hour. Slice and serve.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Daring Bakers April challenge is...


The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

We got to use the basic recipe linked above, and we could flavor it anyway we wanted. Really lots of wonderful experimentation this month. Even if you don't normally browse other DBer's sites, you ought to this time. Especially check out this one. Really, click the link if you want to see which kind of cheesecake I'm making next. ?*&
!# Brilliant!!

I did not do anything so notable, but it was just fine. I added a little pomegranate to the batter; otherwise the filling was as written in the recipe. I made them in miniature in the cutest removable bottom pan. The crust is crushed frosted oatmeal cookies mixed with cinnamon and butter, and is really delicious. It's kind of chewy and sweet but not too sweet. The cheesecake batter is tasty, nice and creamy. I tend to like my cheesecake a little on the dry side, but this was very good for a creamy/wet one. The tart contrast of the kiwi was quite nice and sort of pretty.

Everyone in the foodie blogosphere seems to be ga ga for little spoons, figured I might as well jump on the band wagon.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The beginning ...

...of something good?

You know how it goes. You make something terrific and people say- Ooh, you should sell this! You hear that enough and you start to wonder if you could sell some things. How would it work? What exactly could you sell? Where could you do it? Who would buy your stuff? How could it happen without disrupting your life or costing too much to get started? Etc. Etc.

Let it be said, I'm interested in cooking for money again. Not as a full time gig, however. I enjoy cooking and entertaining, and I enjoy the rest of my life which does include a 1/2 time job teaching. I don't want for that to change. But, how great would it be to have some people who regularly or occasionally bought some baked goods from me or hired me to cater parties?

I've mentioned this to several people in the last couple of months and I intend to put together a reasonable list of things I could offer, including some prices. That's in the works, but not yet ready. In the mean time, if you're in need of any items or catering don't hesitate to give me a call.

One of my dear friends, who has listened to me ruminate on this project, had an occasion this last weekend where my services were exactly what she needed. She'd gotten in over her head a little bit in throwing a birthday brunch for a family friend. The guest list grew and grew and things took a serious turn when she discovered that the menu needed to be kosher for passover. Yikes! No bread for brunch?? What about birthday cake? This put a serious wrench in her well laid plans. We talked and she offered to hire me to provide some quiche and a cake, and she handled the rest.

Kosher for passover is different than regular kosher- the main restriction for us was no flour, no leavening, and for those of you jumping to the logical birthday cake option of a flourless chocolate cake with ground nuts, due to an allergy, no nuts were permitted either! You can use ground matzoh as a substitute for flour, but without time to do a trial run and tweak a recipe, I figured I would use a recipe that I knew. I chose the Chocolate Oblivion cake from the Cake Bible. It's a pound a chocolate, a half pound of butter and 6 eggs. This satisfied the dietary rules, and is darn tasty.

A flat, dark, kind of dull looking single layer simply would not do for a birthday cake. The dense texture of this "cake" made it a little challenging to fancy up. I decided on a raspberry whipped cream piped on top with some pretty fresh raspberries. This was not the time to try new things, since I had to make the delivery in less than an hour, but I wanted to make it even more dazzling. On the second try, a band of white chocolate lattice/scroll work/squiggles whatever you want to call it, worked! It was even sturdy enough to survive the car ride and made it in good shape.

For the quiche, large potato latkes served as the crust, and the filling for one was mushroom, spinach, sun dried tomato and feta. The other was caramelized onion, asparagus and chive. I made a third for our own brunch on Sunday of the remaining fillings and it was really good. I like the Silver Palate quiche custard formula of 1 1/2 cups of cream to 3 eggs. And, if you can use flour, their pate brisee recipe makes a perfect crust.


Saturday, April 4, 2009

Pignoli Cookies

My friend Greer joined me one Tuesday and we made some cookies together. It was nice to have company in the kitchen again as Robb has been MIA for a while now.

These cookies came to be made because Greer bought some at an Italian market and totally loved them. She found a recipe and we got to work. They are very simple. You mix almond paste with sugar and egg whites and roll in the nuts- voila!

The only difficulty we observed was that in mixing the almond paste at the start, it was easy to end up with lumps, especially if the paste is a little dry. We pushed it through a sieve when we noticed this. I made the cookies a second time later and with really fresh paste and a thorough mixing, no lumps. I also made a discovery about almond paste. I prefer the smoother texture of the Solo brand paste in a can over the Odense brand in a tube.
(This turns out to be smooth enough so long as the paste is soft, just mix pretty well once you add the whites.)

The cookies end up sort of crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. They are insanely sweet; Kevin loved them!

Fooling with the almond paste made me crave almond croissants and linzer torte type things. Almond is just darn yummy. Maybe more almond-y things will be coming...


1 cup pine nuts
2 egg whites
3/4 c granulated sugar
1/2 c powdered sugar
12 oz. almond paste

Mix paste until it's pretty creamy. Add sugars and mix in egg whites. Roll in nuts. This made about 15 cookies, you could make them smaller and that might be better- the ratio of less soft middle to more crispy outside would be better. Bake at 375 for 20-25 min., less for smaller cookies.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Daring Bakers March Challenge: Lasagna??

Yes, lasagna. Quite a twist, but it is baked after all, and it highlights some of the new stuff happening with the huge gang of DBers. There is going to be another group using the Daring Kitchen website, welcome the Daring Cooks! For now, I'm going to stick with the baking folks and wait and see what the cooks do. Their challenges will be revealed mid month, and the bakers will continue to show off their work at the end of each month. It's all a work in progress, but there ought to be a blogroll available soon so you can check out other members.

The lasagna this month was fun. I enjoyed making the pasta. Kevin is the pasta maker in our house and I think I probably hadn't made any pasta in more than 10, or 12, or oh my, maybe 15 years? Wow, that makes me feel old! This pasta was right up my alley- just sheets of lasagna noodles- perfect. I loved making them with spinach, so pretty.

In addition to making the noodles, there was a ragu/bolognese sauce that began with grinding veal, pork and beef. It was a nice version of bolognese, and I find I like bolognese in stuff rather than as the primary sauce, so this was perfect.

The other element to this lasagna is a bechamel sauce which made it quite rich and sort of fluffy at the same time? It's probably the mix of fresh pasta and the bechamel together that created the light or at least soft texture. I'm struggling not to say that it was rich and light at the same time, but that's really my impression. It was meaty, creamy and light. You'll just have to give it a try and see what I mean.

Even if you don't make the sauces, you might just make some fresh pasta. It makes a world a difference in lasagna, and any other pasta dish for that matter. I've included all the instruction below, much of it is overly wordy, but the descriptions may be helpful to some of you who want to give it a try.


The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

What we want you to do:

- make the pasta recipe as follows (we’ve included alternative instructions for those with dietary requirements). Hand-making your own pasta is the main challenge for this month. While you should make your own pasta to complete the challenge, please don't feel that you need to buy a pasta machine. Lynne's recipe gives instructions for hand-rolling the pasta with a rolling pin and we'd like you to do the same
- a white (béchamel) sauce must be used. We’ve included a recipe but you’re welcome to use your own favourite recipe if you have one.
- we’ve also included Lynne’s recipe for the meat ragu sauce that is part of the finished lasagne. However, this sauce is optional and you are welcome to make up your own sauce (particularly if you don’t eat meat), or use your own favourite meat ragu sauce recipe. If you choose to use your own recipe, please include it with your post.
- Sweet pasta is unusual but here is a traditional pasta recipe for our sweetest bloggers at Emilia-Romagna Turismo http://www.emiliaromagnaturismo.it/engl … ?Numrec=78 This pasta would be paired in a lasagna dish with things like cream, raisins, pinenuts, orange, rosewater, prosciutto etc.

The most important part of this challenge is the hand-made Spinach Egg Pasta. We’ve also included Lynne’s recipes for béchamel (white) sauce and meat ragu but you can choose to use your own bechamel and ragu (or vegetarian sauce) recipes. Please follow Lynne’s instructions for the final assembly.

All recipes below from The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (published by William Morrow and Company Inc., 1992).

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)
(Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 to 8 as a main dish)

Preparation Time: 15 minutes to assemble and 40 minutes cooking time

10 quarts (9 litres) salted water
1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (recipe follows)#1
1 recipe Bechamel Sauce (recipe follows)#2
1 recipe Country Style Ragu (recipe follows)#3
1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Working Ahead:
The ragu and the béchamel sauce can be made up to three days ahead. The ragu can also be frozen for up to one month. The pasta can be rolled out, cut and dried up to 24 hours before cooking. The assembled lasagne can wait at room temperature (20 degrees Celsius/68 degrees Fahrenheit) about 1 hour before baking. Do not refrigerate it before baking, as the topping of béchamel and cheese will overcook by the time the center is hot.

Assembling the Ingredients:
Have all the sauces, rewarmed gently over a medium heat, and the pasta at hand. Have a large perforated skimmer and a large bowl of cold water next to the stove. Spread a double thickness of paper towels over a large counter space. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Oil or butter a 3 quart (approx 3 litre) shallow baking dish.

Cooking the Pasta:
Bring the salted water to a boil. Drop about four pieces of pasta in the water at a time. Cook about 2 minutes. If you are using dried pasta, cook about 4 minutes, taste, and cook longer if necessary. The pasta will continue cooking during baking, so make sure it is only barely tender. Lift the lasagne from the water with a skimmer, drain, and then slip into the bowl of cold water to stop cooking. When cool, lift out and dry on the paper towels. Repeat until all the pasta is cooked.

Assembling the Lasagne:
Spread a thin layer of béchamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange a layer of about four overlapping sheets of pasta over the béchamel. Spread a thin layer of béchamel (about 3 or 4 spoonfuls) over the pasta, and then an equally thin layer of the ragu. Sprinkle with about 1&1/2 tablespoons of the béchamel and about 1/3 cup of the cheese. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with béchamel sauce and topping with a generous dusting of cheese.

Baking and Serving the Lasagne:
Cover the baking dish lightly with foil, taking care not to let it touch the top of the lasagne. Bake 40 minutes, or until almost heated through. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes, or until hot in the center (test by inserting a knife – if it comes out very warm, the dish is ready). Take care not to brown the cheese topping. It should be melted, creamy looking and barely tinged with a little gold. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the lasagne rest for about 10 minutes. Then serve. This is not a solid lasagne, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served.

#1 Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)

Preparation: 45 minutes

Makes enough for 6 to 8 first course servings or 4 to 6 main course servings, equivalent to 1 pound (450g) dried boxed pasta.

2 jumbo eggs (2 ounces/60g or more)
10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3&1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)

Mixing the dough:
Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach. Use a wooden spoon to beat together the eggs and spinach. Then gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. As you work more and more flour into the liquid, the well’s sides may collapse. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough. Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump.

With the aid of the scraper to scoop up unruly pieces, start kneading the dough. Once it becomes a cohesive mass, use the scraper to remove any bits of hard flour on the work surface – these will make the dough lumpy. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Its consistency should be elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading about 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny, smooth, and very elastic. It will feel alive under your hands. Do not shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Stretching and Thinning:
If using an extra-long rolling pin work with half the dough at a time. With a regular-length rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time and keep the rest of the dough wrapped. Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour. The idea is to stretch the dough rather than press down and push it. Shape it into a ball and begin rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. As it thins outs, start rolling the disc back on the pin a quarter of the way toward the center and stretching it gently sideways by running the palms of your hands over the rolled-up dough from the center of the pin outward. Unroll, turn the disc a quarter turn, and repeat. Do twice more.

Stretch and even out the center of the disc by rolling the dough a quarter of the way back on the pin. Then gently push the rolling pin away from you with one hand while holding the sheet in place on the work surface with the other hand. Repeat three more times, turning the dough a quarter turn each time.

Repeat the two processes as the disc becomes larger and thinner. The goal is a sheet of even thickness. For lasagne, the sheet should be so thin that you can clearly see your hand through it and see colours. Cut into rectangles about 4 by 8 inches (10 x 20 cm). Note: Enza says that transparency is a crucial element of lasagne pasta and the dough should be rolled as thinly as possible. She says this is why her housekeeper has such strong arms!

Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag.

#2 Bechamel

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred
2&2/3 cups (approx 570ml) milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Using a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat. Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper, and a hint of nutmeg.

#3 Country Style Ragu’ (Ragu alla Contadina)

Preparation Time: Ingredient Preparation Time 30 minutes and Cooking time 2 hours

Makes enough sauce for 1 recipe fresh pasta or 1 pound/450g dried pasta)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (45 mL)
2 ounces/60g pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium onion, minced
1 medium stalk celery with leaves, minced
1 small carrot, minced
4 ounces/125g boneless veal shoulder or round
4 ounces/125g pork loin, trimmed of fat, or 4 ounces/125g mild Italian sausage (made without fennel)
8 ounces/250g beef skirt steak, hanging tender, or boneless chuck blade or chuck center cut (in order of preference)
1 ounce/30g thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma
2/3 cup (5 ounces/160ml) dry red wine
1 &1/2 cups (12 ounces/375ml) chicken or beef stock (homemade if possible)
2 cups (16 ounces/500ml) milk
3 canned plum tomatoes, drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Working Ahead:
The ragu can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. It also freezes well for up to 1 month. Skim the fat from the ragu’ before using it.

Browning the Ragu Base:
Heat the olive oil in a 12 inch (30cm) skillet (frying pan) over medium-high heat. Have a large saucepan handy to use once browning is complete. Add the pancetta and minced vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, 10 minutes, or until the onions barely begin to color. Coarsely grind all the meats together, including the prosciutto, in a food processor or meat grinder. Stir into the pan and slowly brown over medium heat. First the meats will give off a liquid and turn dull grey but, as the liquid evaporates, browning will begin. Stir often, scooping under the meats with the wooden spatula. Protect the brown glaze forming on the bottom of the pan by turning the heat down. Cook 15 minutes, or until the meats are a deep brown. Turn the contents of the skillet into a strainer and shake out the fat. Turn them into the saucepan and set over medium heat.

Reducing and Simmering: Add the wine to the skillet, lowering the heat so the sauce bubbles quietly. Stir occasionally until the wine has reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Scrape up the brown glaze as the wine bubbles. Then pour the reduced wine into the saucepan and set the skillet aside.

Stir ½ cup stock into the saucepan and let it bubble slowly, 10 minutes, or until totally evaporated. Repeat with another ½ cup stock. Stir in the last 1/2 cup stock along with the milk. Adjust heat so the liquid bubbles very slowly. Partially cover the pot, and cook 1 hour. Stir frequently to check for sticking.

Add the tomatoes, crushing them as they go into the pot. Cook uncovered, at a very slow bubble for another 45 minutes, or until the sauce resembles a thick, meaty stew. Season with salt and pepper.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Double Daring Bakers: Cinnamon Rolls

Heavenly cinnamon aroma... really, is there a better smell wafting through the house? Some may argue that garlic might rival the sweet spicy fragrance of cinnamon for first place. Hmm, call it a tie then.

This recipe is from the Daring Bakers from September of 2007. I joined in December of 2007, so just a couple more of these make-ups to go! The DBers are growing like crazy- CRAZY!! I think there are more than 2000 members, and they are from all over the world. Some of my favorite members are in Jamaica and Australia and France! The organizers/founding members are constantly working on making the group better, namely by doing a massive overhaul of the website. Check out the new logo to the right. The Daring Kitchen now includes superheroes: Miss Measure, The Vanilla Fairy, The Chopping Ninja, El Spatulla, Lady Whisk, and The Mighty Flame.

The cinnamon roll recipe comes from the Peter Reinhardt book I keep yapping about- The Baker's Apprentice. These rolls are good, but I think I don't love cinnamon rolls. When I eat one, I feel like something is missing, they are kind of dull. That missing thing comes from the fact that they are cinnamon rolls not sticky buns! I really prefer sticky buns. This recipe can make either, and I had hoped to try out the sticky buns as well, but I didn't get to it.

See the host's blog for the recipe and some wonderful photos of the sticky bun version.

Happy Baking!