Sunday, March 29, 2009

Coconut Dream Birthday Cake


From: The Best of Martha Stewart Living Desserts and (see recipe link below)

I think it's good to have a few great cakes in your baking repertoire for those occasions when you are lucky enough to have someone to bake a birthday cake for. My favorites include an ice-cream cake where the birthday boy or girls gets to choose his or her favorite ice-cream, a carrot cake that my mom made for me every year on my birthday (really I just like the cream cheese frosting and there was usually leftover--kept in a container in the fridge for me to eat with a spoon at my leisure), a German chocolate cake that my grandmother once made that I tried to sell for $1,000 (there's a picture of this little enterprise adventure for proof) and the coconut cake that appears here, which is a more recent but still delicious addition. There is something dreamy about the fluffy white cloud-like aspect of it and the way the little bits of sugar in the frosting crystallize in your mouth. Yum. And happy birthday.

I've been lucky enough to have had several people make this cake for me for one birthday or another. Steve made it for me during our second year in Louisiana and did something that perhaps only he could get away with. He took it to the restaurant we were eating at and asked if they would serve HIS cake to me in THEIR restaurant. They actually said yes! And this is a restaurant that serves dessert! Steve claims that the cake leaned dangerously to one side, a leaning tower of Pisa-like structure, due to the fact that he layered in the custard while it was still warm. I don't remember the cake being one that might have toppled over onto my plate at any moment, but I'm not sure I would have minded had it done so. The custard is achingly good when eaten warm with a spoon, and my sisters-in-law Tasha and Amora even ate it cold out of a container of extra that was in the fridge this past weekend. If you have leftover, it certainly won't go wasted, and if you are making it, be sure to slip a few spoonfuls of the custard in your mouth before cooling it. This year, it was Steve's turn to receive coconut cake for his birthday, and I was more than happy to have another excuse to bake.

The recipe link is here:

Cake Recipe

I use 2 nine-inch cake pans instead of the 3 six-inch pans Martha recommends. The cake won't be as high, but I am yet to get my hands on six-inch pans. Until then, the lower cake will do. Also, if you use eight or nine inch pans, don't bake the cake as long as she says to. I would bake it for 20 to 25 minutes.

Pictures of cake assembly (in reverse order from top to bottom):

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Breakfast My Way: Egg Mountain

I really don't like sweet breakfasts. So, when I came across Mark Bittman's article in the February 18 edition of The New York Times titled "Your Morning Pizza," I got excited. Finally, here was someone talking up the merits of savory breakfast and pointing out the many countries around the world whose inhabitants would never dream of loading up on anything sweet in the morning. Bittman extols the virtues of traditionally non-breakfast items, like polenta pizza, breakfast risotto, and wheat berry-soy-scallions bowl. However, if you're not ready to fully take a dive into the dinner-for-breakfast recipe pool, I have a recipe for you that offers a nice compromise with the traditionally "dinner" vegetables and the traditional "breakfast" egg. Although this recipe evolved out of one from Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" for Eggs in a Nest (a dinner concoction in which the American notion of eggs for breakfast is turned on its head and eggs are instead eaten for dinner on top of brown rice and swiss chard...very Italian), mine is heartier and more satisfying. I like to call it "Egg Mountain," a name which certainly connotes satisfaction much more imposing than a mere nest.

Now that I'm a student, I have the luck of being able to eat breakfast whenever I want (around 10 or 11 am most mornings) and to eat whatever I want (provided the ingredients are in the apartment). This dish is versatile enough, however, that you can use what you have on hand, which is exactly how the recipe came about. I loved the way that the poached egg from Kingsolver's "Eggs in Nest" recipe oozed happily over the brown rice and vegetables, coating them with a deep yellow sheen. However, I'm not a huge fan of rice (I much prefer potatoes) and one morning I found myself ready for breakfast but not sure what to make. I had some stir-fried bok choy on hand, along with some cooked potatoes. Recalling the Eggs in a Nest recipe but wanting to use ingredients on hand that I enjoy, I created Egg Mountain.

Egg Mountain (serves 1)

This is a perfect breakfast/brunch with a nice ratio of veggies, carbs, and protein. It's healthy, quick to make, delicious, and savory. The dish is a great use of leftover cooked veggies and potatoes, but it is also quick to make from scratch, as I did this morning.

1 small potato, srubbed but not peeled, and cubed in large chunks
Olive oil
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
A pile of veggies (I like greens such as bok choy, spinach, and chard, but you can use any veggies--tomatoes are a nice accompaniment to the greens)
1 large egg
Salt and pepper

1. Put the potato cubes in a shallow bowl and cook in the microwave on high for about 5 minutes, or until cooked through (skip this step if your potatoes are previously cooked).
2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet (not non-stick), heat the oil. Throw in the garlic and saute until golden. (Skip this step if cooked veggies are already cooked in garlic; just heat veggies with a little oil.)
3. Add the veggies and saute (if veggies are previously cooked, just saute them enough to heat). Remove from pan and place in a bowl; cover bowl with a pot lid or plate to keep warm.
4. Add more oil to the pan, heat, and throw in the cooked potato cubes. Saute until golden and crisp, turning only when the sides are brown. Remove potatoes and place on top of vegetables.
5. If necessary, add more oil to the pan. Break egg into pan and fry. Turn, and cook about 1 minute more so the white is cooked through but the yolk is still runny (you can also cook it through if you prefer). Place egg on top of potatoes and veggies.
6. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and eat. Then start your day.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Mighty Legume: Honest Legume Hummus

Some people are scared of the legume. However, I would like to make the pitch that it is a food group worthy of much more than fear. Taste and nutrition wise, legumes are at the top of the food pack, and they are rather versatile to boot. After reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma last summer, I've stopped eating most meat that is not free-range and grass-fed (when appropriate). My husband, Steve, and I have also realized that we just eat too much meat anyhow, so we made a conscious effort this year to eat more vegetarian meals (this should make my sister, Christina, who has been vegetarian for years and is currently vegan, happy to hear). Eating vegetarian has totally opened my horizons, particularly when I'm at restaurants that don't serve happy meat. I've had the opportunity this year to order all kinds of things that I would never have ordered before because they didn't have meat in them. Plus, it's just healthier not to eat meat every day. Mark Bittman, "The Minimalist" who writes for the New York Times wrote a blog post recently titled "Vegan Before Dinnertime" (Feb 27, you can access it here: in which he extols the health virtues of eating vegan most of the day. I'm not sure I could go as far as vegan before dinnertime (sorry, Christina), but certainly vegetarian before dinnertime might be a good place to start.

One thing you should know about beans is that if you want to have a complete protein, you need to eat them with seeds, nuts, grains, rice, or corn. Some research shows you can spread this out over a 2-day period (eating beans on day 1 and rice on day 2), but I like to stick with some of the traditional combinations anyway.

The Chickpea

The chickpea is, by far, my favorite legume. I like to eat them all ways: in salads, in hummus (recipe below), in a small bowl with balsamic vinegar and salt (a habit I picked up from my sister, Francesca), and in my favorite soup (chickpea and pasta). A half cup contains 6 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein. Nice.

Hummus: Every Chickpea's Dream

This hummus makes an honest legume of the chickpea. Now that Steve and I work/go to school in the same town, we sometimes get to have lunch together, which is a really nice mid-day pleasure. Today I made this hummus and served it with whole wheat pita and a simple green salad with a mustard vinaigrette. This recipe is based off of a recipe from Ina Garten, also known as "The Barefoot Contessa," but is less acidic and less garlicky. A food processor works best for making hummus, but you can also use a blender, and I have even mashed the little peas with a fork when I haven't had the proper tool.

Honest Legume Hummus:

2 15-ounce cans of chickpeas, rinsed well and drained
1 1/2 tsp Kosher salt (or regular salt to taste)
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/3 cup tahini (sesame paste)
2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice (yes, fresh is best, but I have used bottled in a pinch)
3 T water
10 dashes of Tobasco sauce

Place 2 cups of the chickpeas along with the other ingredients into a food processor and blend until very smooth. (I think these are the best ingredient amounts and the best texture, but everyone's tastes are different, so at this point you should taste and add whatever you think it needs more of: lemon, water, Tobasco, garlic, etc. You can also blend it more coarsely, but then the chickpea skins remain partially in-tact, which I don't like.) Spoon hummus into a dish and sprinkle with remaining chickpeas and paprika.

Coarsely blended hummus:

Finely Blended Hummus:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thursday Night Chocolate Walnut Mocha Bundt Cake

Mmmm mmmmm....

Too many hours of reading, reading, reading, which means an hour of measuring and mixing and baking to keep me sane. One may wonder how I decide what to make (okay, maybe you don't wonder, but indulge me for a moment anyway). Well, it's a smooth sort of negotiating act, really, as I flip through the pages of my multiple baking books looking for enticing pictures. Sometimes I'll have something specific in mind, like maybe cake, or even chocolate cake. But more often than not, I don't, so I just browse pictures. No picture, no baked good. However, if a corner of fluffy chocolate ginger cake or a lemony meringue pie catches my eye, it goes into the running. If a picture doesn't cut it that time, it's out. Next, and this is the tricky part, I try to figure out what treat I can make with the ingredients I've got in my house. Often times I'm Googling substitutions, trying to figure out if I have enough sour cream to make sour cream bundt cake if I stretch it with a little milk and butter (not tonight, sadly), or if I can use nonfat milk powder and half and half in place of whole milk (a definite yes). It's quite a little dance. Whatever recipe makes these final rounds as the outstanding possibility gets made. Tonight: Chocolate Walnut Mocha Bundt Cake from Dorie Greenspan.

By the way, I highly recommend Ms. Greenspan's book, "Baking," not for its high-culture baking knowledge and elegant goods, but because it contains a multitude of items, many of which are not complicated (translate: you might actually make them, especially when you decide on a whim you want to bake). She writes up variations on almost every one of her recipes, so if you do have something particular in mind and you can't find it in another book, it's often there in hers. My mom gave this book to me for Christmas a couple of years back, and it's become a real go-to, especially with those pictures I love.

Thursday Night Chocolate Walnut Mocha Bundt Cake

Depending on how much of a workaholic you are, you might be able to make this cake on a Thursday night. If you can't make it, I recommend becoming fed up for at least an hour or two with your status as a workaholic while you stir up this cake. Once it goes in the oven, you can resume. Thankfully, I am lucky enough to be in school while my husband works. I do repay him with the delicious cake, however.

Without further ado, here is the recipe that made it through tonight's "cuts".

"Mocha-Walnut Marbled Bundt Cake"
from Dorie Greenspan's "Baking"

Note: When you are marbling a cake, you need to really go easy on the knife zig-zags. Don't get excited, folks. A few zigs and you're done.

2 1/4 c flour
1/2 c ground walnuts (I used a food processor)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 sticks plus 2 T unsalted butter
3 oz (a scant half cup) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (chocolate chips work fine)
1/4 c coffee, hot or cold
1 tsp finely ground instant coffee
1 3/4 c sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 c whole milk

1. Butter and flour your bundt pan, or any 12-cup cake pan (you could also use 2 loaf pans, or other pans). Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together flour, walnuts, baking powder and salt.

2. In a double boiler, put the 2 T butter (cut up into pieces), chocolate, and two kinds of coffee. Heat on low and stir to combine. Remove from heat.

3. Beat butter in mixer. Add sugar and blend. Then add the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla. Mix well.

4. Add the dry ingredients and the milk alternately, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and with 3 total portions of dry and 2 of milk. Think: dry, milk, dry, milk, dry. Mix.

5. Scrape a little less than half the batter into the chocolate mixture. Mix to combine.

6. Scrape all of the white batter into the bottom of the bundt. Top with the chocolate batter. Run a table knife SPARINGLY in a zig-zag pattern through the bundt for a chocolate-in vanilla pattern. Alternatively, for a real marbled effect, alternate large spoonfuls of white and chocolate batter in the pan, then swirl with knife.

7. Bake for 65-70 minutes (mine took just 60 minutes, so go easy here; don't overbake!). Transfer to rack to cook for ten minutes. Then unmold the cake and cool completely on the rack.

The chocolate, butter and coffee in the double boiler.

The chocolate, butter and coffee melted and mixed together.

The white batter in the mixer.

A little less than half of the white batter in the chocolate mixture, waiting to be combined.

White batter and chocolate mixture combined to form the chocolate batter.

*Ms. Greenspan says the cake keeps for 5 days at room temp wrapped tightly, or you can freeze it. She also notes that if it gets stale it is good toasted for breakfast. I know first-hand that bundt cake is good toasted for breakfast, because my parents' friend, Wendy, makes the most delicious poppy seed cake in a bundt pan, and we used to eat it toasted with butter for breakfast on Cape Cod. GREAT way to start summer vacation.