A Chocolate Cake

Well, it was Chocolate Cake Day a few days back. Wonderful thing about social media, letting us know about important stuff like that (it’s Nutella day today I hear). Well, I thought, I should bake a cake. But really, something homey – like a cake you could just grab a slice of – not one that needed a lot of pomp and circumstance.
I just moved, and I now have 4 boxes (at least) of cookbooks in storage, after giving away a bazillion of them. I just don’t have the space. Plus, as I was reminded, there’s the internet. Well, one of the few cookbooks I kept out is Food52 Genious Recipes. There’s a chocolate cake in there by Nigella Lawson. Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake. Perfect!

Got my ingredients together. As I was gathering them I thought “I should add more chips and some dried cherries”.

Simple to put together. The only real trick is the alternate of boiling water and flour at the end. It reminded me of a Texas Sheet Cake I sometimes make.


 The batter turns out to be very thin. Really too thin for my additions. And then there’s the most frustrating thing about this recipe – the pans. No problem, line the pan with parchment. Check. But I read a sneaky little comment:”Pour any excess (batter) into a smaller cake or muffin pan”  Wait? What? Excess batter? I ended up with enough to fill about 10-11 cups. That’s a lot. And of course, no way that they cook at the same time… and then the overdone “cupcakes” won’t come out of the pan. Grrr…

  But then. I tried the loaf cake. Super moist, and quite good. And it is a good “keeping cake”. Very similar in flavor to the sheet cake I mentioned before. Not super chocolatey. But still very tasty.
As I mentioned, my real complaint with this recipe is the pan size. Why not say a larger pan? Or adjust the recipe for the pan size you note? But it was fun to make and was a nice treat.  Not sure that I will make it again, but certainly yummy.

CtBF: Winter Salad

  

This is my inaugural post for the new group Cook the Book Fridays.  Many of the participants were part of French Fridays with Dorie over the course of nearly 5 years. That experience kept us cooking and blogging, and ultimately may be best known for the friendships created – both in person and virtually. We’ve kept in touch, and now our friend, and talented (& organized) blogging friend Katie of Prof Who Cooks, has created this latest offering. We will be cooking through My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz. 

Our first recipe is Winter Salad. My version is really one of those annoying I made it, but not really because I changed all of the ingredients… Not a fan of endive – bitter not topping my list. And these days, well, I have my mom to think of when I’m cooking – ok, so romaine. Next, as usual, I didn’t read all of the recipe prior to shopping. I did not realize that Roquefort was a necessity. Gorgonzola. But I did add the tart apple, and used the Greek yogurt! I felt like I should get credit!

The salad ingredients are supposed to be cut in a particular way. Um, I didn’t really do that either. But the dressing is easy to put together, and tasted great. A bit thick, so I was a little concerned. 

  

No need to worry however, the dressing did coat the greens and apple nicely. 
  

And what goes better with some blue cheese than a bit of steak? It actually made a very nice meal with the combination of flavors. I even cooked the steak “French Style” on the stovetop (it was snowing that night, I think! no grilling).

  

I was so happy that I included the apple. It was such a great contrast to the light lettuce and the bold dressing. And certainly, I could see why the addition of a bitter greens element would have been tasty. Maybe another time. Of course, the recipe made a lot of dressing. But I think it will be a good accompanyment with other things. And I thought it might make a nice presentation to have small lettuce spears, and even some apple slices to just dip into the dressing. It’s quite thick and would hold up nicely. 

This was a fun start to a  new adventure. I hope that I can keep up with the group. I also love my Cottage Cooking Club as well, so I’ll have to find some balance (and then there’s my love of Mexican and Thai food – none in either of these books!). But it’s so worth it to get to spend a little time each week with friends.  And many thanks to my blogging friends. Our goal was to stay connected. It seems we have another new way of doing just that!

CCC – January re-set

The latter part of December was surprisingly stressful, so while 2015 was ok, I was ready for a new year. That also meant that I would be trying to re-set and get back to my blog, as well as cooking along with my friends in the Cottage Cooking Club. We have been cooking through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg. 

Each month, our Kitchen Lioness Andrea chooses 10 recipes from the book and we each choose which of those we want to make, some ambitious members cooking all of them. This month, I chose Squash Stuffed with Leeks and Curried Red Lentil Soup. 

I started with the stuffed squash. It looked so cute in the picture, and the cheesey leek filling sounded delicious. I really should have known better, but my mom was enthusiastic, and so I thought I’d try it. I’m one of the only people I know who did not like Dorie Greenspan’s Pumpiin Stuffed with Everything Good. This was a simpler, vegetarian version. 

This version suggests smaller winter squash. I was able to find a nice acorn squash that would be able to stand up in the baking dish. Judt like carving a pumpkin, the top is cut out, and the seeds and membrane removed.

   

The sliced leeks are cooked in butter until soft.

Then mustard, creme fraiche and shredded Comte cheese are added and generously seasoned with salt and pepper.  

  

This mixture gets all melty and delicious-looking.

  

The leek mixture gets put into the squash, along with a little thyme. Unfortunately at this time of year, no fresh is avaiable, so I used dried. 

    

The squash gets it’s top back on, and then baked for about 50-60 minutes until the squash is soft and everything is bubbly.
 

The filling ends up beautifully melted and looks just delicious.

  

The squash was on the large side, so was cut in half for serving. 

 
It really is a spectacular presentation, and I thought that it was a beautiful dish. That said, not so popular. As I mentioned, not really a flavor combination that really worked for me (or Mom, she didn’t eat it at all after the first bite). I thought that the squash was good, and the filling was good. Just not together. Too many decades of acorn squash filled with butter, brown sugar and maple syrup – or just plain with salt and pepper. It was a very fun project though.  And the filling reminded me that I need to make the leek and cheese toastie again!

My other recipe was Curried Red Lentil Soup. This was a version of a soup I missed in the original plan – made with sweet potatoes. I’ve never made anything with red lentils before. I’ve undoubtedly blogged about how I discoved loving French green lentils – but that love just never transferred. I was looking forward to trying them. I expected that they would hold their color for the soup. Um…

This version has chopped carrot, celery and a bay leaf in addition to the onions, fresh ginger and chiles from the original recipe. It became evident quickly the red of the lentils would be overcome by the other colors, particularly when the garam masala and curry powder were added to the mix. This is all simmered with vegetable stock. And smelled lovely.

  
I was confused by the recipe. One of the things I thought would make it so good was the coconut milk mentioned in the original version. No mention of it in this one. But I decided that I would add it – after I whirred it with my hand blender. 

 
This made a pretty, though not really red, soup.  

 
Apparently I messed up with I took the photo of the finished bowl of soup! I served it simply with the suggested chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime. It was certainly delicious. It was described as “elegant”, and had a wonderful velvety texture. 

It was fun getting back into my blogging, and even though there were mixed results. I’m looking forward to more cooking adventures, and now that I’m more settled, it should make it easier. 

CCC – October Madness

This month at the Cottage Cooking Club, we were to make dishes with seasonal fall produce – and particularly with an OKTOBERFEST flair. Well, if brioche from the market and fresh eggs count – I’m in there!

I love October. It’s my birth month. I think it is the best month for travel, no matter what hemisphere you visit. There are so many wonderful things about October – fall is in the air! Even in the desert southwest of the US, the air changes, the nights cool, and we even get some fall colors.

And it means that there will (someday) be time to slow down.

For the more than the past decade, I’ve worked as an owner rep for retailers – a Construction Manager if you will. Retail being retail, there are required dates for completion – always in time for the holiday shopping season. So that means that September through mid-November is a mad dash to the finish line. That timing hasn’t changed, though it’s even more hectic these days. Now I manage a team that completes projects, and we’re down to the last few to turn over, prior to taking a deep breath and starting on next year! 26! Yay!!

What does that mean for my cooking? Well, this month, it means that I only completed one of my dishes. It’s one I’ve made quite a few times – sometimes with this type of bread, sometimes with that. But it’s always delicious, sustaining and quick. Really, a perfect recipe for my schedule this year.

There is no particular recipe. Toast. With a poached egg on top. But who knew that something so simple would taste so good. It can be dressed up with a little truffle salt. And of course, some mushrooms or spinach would be heavenly. But simple as it is. it works.

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I know that my friends in the Cottage Cooking Club will have done a much better job of highlighting the wonderful fall produce of the season. You can find the links to their posts here. There were so many delicious-sounding dishes, that my mouth is watering just thinking about reading their posts and looking at their photos!!

CCC – September – a month of make-ups and re-visits!

This month for the Cottage Cooking Club, we had another “make-up” or even “revisit” month. I ended up doing a little of both.

To start, I was so inspired by my fellow club members who raved about last month’s Summer garden lentils niçoise, that I decided I just had to make it. Well, I did. And it was fantastic. And I didn’t take a photo. Hmm. I loved the dressing on the lentils – and will definitely make that again.

Another recipe that I was supposed to make was the Tomato and mozzarella risotto. Others who made the recipe weren’t extremely excited about it, but I wondered if I could change the method just a little and make it a bit more interesting and less pizza in a bowl. I had just gone to the farmstand and purposely bought 3 lbs of tomatoes so that I could make the roasted tomato sauce again. This time – it turned out better – I think I roasted the tomatoes longer. But it still made all of 2-1/2 c of sauce. Not sure it was worth it. But we will see when it gets a bit later in the year and I pull out a bag from the freezer – it might just brighten up whatever I’m making.

Anyway – I decided that I would make the risotto without the tomato sauce, just adding fresh mozzarella at the end, and add the tomato sauce on top.

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Well, it was tasty – but not even close to my favorite. Still and all, a fun process.

Another recipe that I wanted to try was the Leek and cheese toastie. This one was a huge hit with others, and I had every intention of making it before. But. Well. This is a super simple recipe. The leeks are cooked until tender, cream is added, then cheese. It all gets piled onto the top a substantial piece of toast, topped with a bit more cheese and broiled until browned and bubbly. Some fresh herbs are added – thyme in this case.

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I also had some cherry tomatoes from the garden – a few of which were starting to be a little sad. So I also prepared the Honey-roasted cherry tomatoes – one of my favorites. I made a “toastie” with those as well and it turned into a very festive, colorful and flavorful lunch! I used a combination of swiss and gruyere for my cheese. I’m certain other cheeses would be terrific too. This is definitely one to make again (and again!).

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Finally, I had a small dinner party. The goal was to serve vegan. As it turned out, the friend that practices a vegan diet isn’t all that strict, but it’s always a fun challenge. While the Mushroom “risoniotto” isn’t strictly vegan, I just eliminated the butter, didn’t add any cheese (just at the table), and would have left out the cream – but was told I should just go ahead and add it. I’ve made this before and it’s delicious! To go with that, I made the Grilled asparagus spears with lemon dressing. To be honest, this is a pretty typical offering, so instead of the skewers, I just used my grill pan.

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The spears get “dresssed” with some lemon juice and a little shredded fresh mint.

IMG_4638For our salad, I decided to make the Tahini-dressed zucchini and green bean salad. I thought it was interesting that the dressing was at least inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi. Because of Andrea, our Lioness, I have his latest book on order. But aside from that, this just looked and sounded good to me.

The salad calls for grilled zucchini and oven-dried cherry tomatoes – I decided to just grill the tomatoes along with the zucchini on my grill pan – I’ve done them that way before and they are delicious. The green beans get blanched. And the dressing comes together easily. It has the juice of half of an orange in addition to the lemon – an interesting combination. And quite yummy too!

IMG_4640The dinner was a huge success. I had some fresh baked bread to go along with. A delicious, healthy evening!

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And what better for dessert than an apple pie? IMG_4634

So despite being late to the party for posting (and only iPhone photos!), it was a delicious month with the Cottage Cooking Club

CCC – Thai Tomatoes in August

This month for the Cottage Cooking Club I made Tomatoes with Thai Dressing – I love Thai flavors, and I also love tomatoes – and fortunately had plenty from the garden.

Like many of the “raw assembly” recipes, this was simple to put together – designed to highlight the flavor of the tomatoes, while adding something a bit more interesting. The dressing is made first – with a bit of hot(ish) red chile, garlic, balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, sesame oil and honey. The suggested herb was mint – but I forgot mine, so I went with one of my favorite herb combinations in Thai food – fresh basil and cilantro.

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To this, I added my halved cherry tomatoes along with a little salt and pepper.

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Alone, this is a gorgeous dish. The Thai tomatoes shared the table with a fresh/charred corn salad, a tian of summer vegetables and a cheese platter designed to compliment the nectarine cinnamon-basil nectar that I’d made the weekend before (we had cambazola and manchego – yum!).

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Since all of the meals were made from farm/garden fresh vegetables and herbs picked that day – it was difficult to find a favorite – but I will certainly say that when I was offering “go-packages”, the tomatoes topped the list.

They were refreshing and the complex dressing complimented the sweetness of the tomatoes. If I were making this again, I would certainly want to add the mint to the mix. I would also probably either substitute the sesame oil with some fish sauce – or at least reduce it and add some. That would make this dish a bit more Thai to me – and I think would work well with the other flavors.

There were other recipes that I had planned to make this month, and others that I had on my short list as well. I hope to get back to those when things slow down a but. But until then – you and I can visit the Cottage Cooking Club, and find out how well the other dish choices went over with our members this month. Fortunately, members often make different recipes during the month – so you can see a preview of any recipes you missed.

Nectarine Cinnamon-Basil Nectar

One of my favorite things about summer is growing edible plants in the garden. For me, it is relaxing, and it also reminds me of my Dad. We always had some kind of a garden when I was growing up. Sometimes not such a big one because he was a busy man, but I think it brought back memories of growing up on a farm in New Mexico, and he would talk about truck-farmers with respect – folks whose lives revolved around growing food to support their families. Of course, my Mom’s Dad had the greenest thumb ever. He grew exotic orchids in his back yard in Southern California and sent them to us every year so that my mother could make spectacular corsages for my brothers’ prom dates. Of course, he grew lots of other things, though by the time I was old enough to participate, we would go pick boysenberries so that my Grandmother could make amazing boysenberry cobblers and all sorts of other delicious things. So, I guess I come from a wonderful tradition of people who love to grow (and cook) food for their families.

Living in northern Arizona (forget trying to grow anything in the valley of the sun!), it’s just wild enough and just hot enough that there are limits to what we can grow (oh, and that part about being a weekend-only gardener, among other things). So there are only a few things I grow. Sweet 100 tomatoes, and then a myriad of herbs. One of my favorites that I have found is cinnamon-basil. It has a beautiful aroma, and I just can’t get enough. Sure, there’s sweet basil, sometimes Thai basil, purple basil (when I can get it to grow), African purple basil – but it’s always a treat to find cinnamon basil and growing it in the garden.

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About two ago, I made some peach-basil jam. I had found a recipe for nectarine-basil a few years ago, but of course I didn’t have time to do the whole process – and didn’t really want the texture it described. But  when I made the peach-basil a couple of years ago, the version I made was great! One of my friends’ favorites. So, this year, I decided that I would take advantage of the bountiful basil I was growing – and thought why not go back to the original – OK, with a tweak!

I wanted to end up with some slices of nectarine, suspended in a fragrant, jewel-like jelly.

I have learned that basil, when left in the jam as it cooks gets brittle – so decided I would go with macerating the basil with the sugar and nectarines. I used 2-3 large branches of basil, and bruised the basil – leaving in the stems, since I’d be removing them and they would impart fairly strong flavor..

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I used just over 4 cups of nectarines sliced very thinly, the basil, 1/3 c lemon juice and 7.5 cups of sugar. Usually I’m a fast canner (I can make a batch of jam in 30 minutes if I try – and that includes clean-up), since I most-often use pectin. This time, I decided to take others’ advice and let the fruit, herbs and sugar sit – infusing the sugar and juice with the cinnamon-basil flavor. (note: this is the process for liquid pectin – I don’t often use it for jams, but makes wonderful jelly – and allowed me to have the sugar, fruit and herbs sit and combine flavors)

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As it turned out, this left me some time to run some errands and go pick up some corn and other vegetables from my favorite vegetable stand. So, this mixture sat for around 5 hours or so (this can be left for up to 8 hours, but after that, must be refrigerated). Before I could finish up my nectar, I had to remove the basil in the mix. Already it had started to toughen and get brittle. I took some time because there were some small pieces from getting this all mixed up. I strained the herbs as well.

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Finally, ready to go – all of the jars, rings, lids simmering away. All of the other tools ready too – and a few fresh basil leaves – one for each jar, ready for the process. The packets of pectin, cut open and propped up, ready for the quick action of completing the recipe. One note: I always use the tip of adding just a 1/2 teaspoon of butter to keep the foam down from the pectin – and I also find that Ball brand creates less foam as well.

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The process is easy – and I followed the directions on the box. The fruit mixture is heated to boiling (one that is hard enough that you can’t stir it down), then 2 packages of liquid pectin are added. The mixture is brought back to a full rolling boil for one minute. This is the trickiest part – it can boil over, and it can also bubble drops of molten sugar out of the pan – so just be forewarned. Stir the entire time – and I usually partially move the pan on and off of the high heat to maintain the boil, but keep it safe!

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Finally, the jars are filled and capped off. As noted, I added one basil leaf to each jar (it’s pretty and reminds me that’s what’s in there until I get the labels on!). Process per the directions. This is easy/not dangerous canning – since there is so much sugar, and the acid from the lemon juice.

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I ended up with a couple of extra jars – supposed to be 7 jars, I ended up with 9. A nice problem to have. I think the color is gorgeous, and what I tasted was delicious!

So, what will I use it for? I actually love this kind of thing on good toast, or a bagel. But what I really think is divine is to pair with cheese. This will pair so well with so many delicious options. Manchego, burratta, brie, a soft goat cheese… or even simple cream cheese. I also think it will be fabulous drizzled in lieu of honey over crostini with a soft gorgonzola. So many options! Of course, this would also make a wonderful glaze for grilled salmon or chicken.

 

Nectarine Cinnamon-Basil Nectar

4 – 1/4 cups thinly sliced nectarines
2 large bunches of cinnamon-basil (or any other basil – purple would be lovely)
1/3 c lemon juice
7 1/2 cups sugar
(1/2 teaspoon butter)
2 packets liquid pectin