Sunday, May 3, 2009

Cake for breakfast and it's not even my birthday... yet.

I am sitting here eating chocolate cake for breakfast, and I don't feel guilty. I think it's good to indulge sometimes, and so, as a little bonus this week, I am going to post a dessert recipe!

I am actually a baker more than a cook. I think that is why I am such a recipe user and I don't just wing it in the kitchen. I started out baking at a summer camp in Colorado and that lead to a job at Great Harvest in college. It was a good job for a lot of reasons. The people were fantastic, it was a great workout (lifting several hundred pound bowls of dough is not easy!) and it kept me full of delicious and healthy bread and other goodies. My boss was wonderful and let me go when I "needed" to do things like go to Europe for a semester or take a summer studio class that kept me out of town 5 days a week, and then she always took me back. I think I was pretty lucky to have had that job. After we moved to MA and Jer was in school I was able to get a second, part time job at a local bakery and general store. I think the interview question that got me that job was "What is the secret to good muffins?" (For any of you who don't know, the answer is to not over mix them.) I feel like if I am ever in a pinch for a job I can always find one baking and besides that there is no better way to celebrate a special occasion than a decadent homemade chocolate cake. So, since life is short, the first item up this week is:
My mother-in-law called me up a while back and asked if I would like to cater dessert for a gathering she was having. She said that of course everybody coming liked chocolate but that she would leave it up to me to decide what to make. I had this fantastic chocolate cake recipe and I thought it would be fun to try to make it into individual sized servings and add a layer of raspberry between the cake layers. The end result was delicious but I had a little trouble with the ganache frosting. I made it the night before and by the next morning it was too thick to spread. I was able to loosen it up a bit in the microwave but it was a delicate balance between too thick and too runny. In the future I would just go ahead and frost the cakes as soon as the ganache was set. I loved the size they came out to be, just enough to leave you satisfied, not wanting more but not feeling like you needed to unbutton your pants!

1. Individual Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cakes
modified from
makes 3 9"layers or 12 individual cakes

For the cake:
3 oz. semisweet chocolate (the better the quality of chocolate the better the end result will be)
1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee (I don't own a coffee maker and don't usually have it around the house but I do keep a jar a instant espresso for baking, I use this. It is not going to make the cake taste like coffee, it is used here to bring out the flavor of the chocolate.)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
2 t baking soda
3/4 t baking powder
1 1/4 t salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil (This is key, cake recipes that call for butter instead of oil always turn out a little dry.)
1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
3/4 t vanilla

For ganache frosting:
1 lb semisweet chocolate (again, go for the highest quality chocolate you can find and afford)
1 cup heavy cream
2 T sugar
2 T light corn syrup
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter

For the raspberry filling:
1/2 cup (approximately) seedless raspberry jam (I use the Pollaner jam that has no sugar added, it is sweetened only with the fruits juices.)

Make cake layers:

Preheat oven to 300°F. and grease 3 9" pans. Line bottoms with rounds of parchment paper (Every baker should keep this on hand. Look for it with the wax paper not in the baking isle, they charge a lot more for it there.) and grease paper.

Finely chop chocolate and in a bowl combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until well combined. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined. Divide batter between pans and bake in the middle of the oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes. (Caution: this cake will rise A LOT. Do not over fill the pans, they should be no more than 3/4 full and maybe even a little less.)

Cool layers completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around the edges of the pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove parchment paper and cool layers completely. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.

Make frosting:
Finely chop chocolate. (I like to chop it first and then run it through the food processor.) In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over moderately low heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Cut butter into pieces and add to frosting, whisking until smooth.

Transfer frosting to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable (depending on chocolate used, it may be necessary to chill frosting to spreadable consistency).

Once the cakes are cooled and removed from pans cut into circles using a biscuit cutter. Spread 1 teaspoon of raspberry jam on to two cake layers and top with a third. Spread frosting over the top and sides. Cakes keeps, covered and chilled, 3 days. Bring cake to room temperature before serving. Garnish with fresh raspberries.

You could also save yourself a lot of trouble and make a full sized cake ;).


2. Chicken Cesar Salad

This salad is endlessly adaptable. Use whatever ingredients you like. I used romaine lettuce, thinly sliced red onion, tomatoes, avocado, black olives, Parmesan cheese, croutons and chicken tenders seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked in a skillet with a little olive oil. We like the Newman's Own Creamy Cesar dressing on these.

So, this turned into a bit of an experiment but came out delicious! I had ricotta cheese left over from last weeks frittata and I thought I would make stuffed shells to use it up. I only had enough to make half the recipe I was using but when I started mixing the filling ingredients I accidentally used the full amount of all of the other ingredients. I searched the fridge and realized I had some cottage cheese, I used this to even things out. Then, because I was only planning to make half the recipe I didn't have enough tomato sauce. A little pizza sauce remedied this and was delish! In the end I think the dish was better with the changes.

3. Stuffed Shells
modified from
makes 6 servings

2 doz. large pasta shells
2 t kosher salt
15 oz. part skim ricotta cheese
16 oz. cottage cheese
1/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs, Italian seasoned (if you have plain on hand like I did you can just add about 1 t of Italian herbs; oregano, basil, rosemary etc.)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 T chopped fresh parsley or 2 t dried
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 medium onion, halved and sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes, un-drained
3 8 oz cans tomato sauce (or substitute any ratio of pizza or spaghetti sauce)
1/2 t dried oregano leaves
1/2 t dried basil leaves
1 1/2 - 2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook the shells according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cool water. Set aside. In a large skillet heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute until lightly golden. Add the garlic, tomatoes, tomato sauce, oregano and basil. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low and let simmer until ready to use. In a medium bowl, combine ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, bread crumbs, 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, 1/4 t salt, parsley and egg. Mix until well blended. Pour all but 1 cup of the sauce into a 9"x13" baking dish. Transfer cheese mixture to a large Ziploc bag and cut about 1/2" off of the corner. Pipe the cheese mixture into the shells and arrange, open side up, in the baking dish. Pour the reserved sauce over the shells. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and sprinkle with the Mozzarella and remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Return to oven and bake, uncovered, 10-15 minutes longer. If you want to brown the cheese a little turn the broiler on for the last two minutes of baking.

I do not like ground turkey. I think it is bland and the color kind of grosses me out. So I am not sure what compelled me to try these turkey burgers for the first time but I am glad I did! The addition of all of the veggies add a ton of flavor and make them super juicy. Don't plan on making these on the grill though, they will fall apart. We had some friends over for dinner on Thursday and these, as well as the potato salad, were a hit all around. They brought over the green salad which had mixed greens, tomatoes, onions, cucumber, Gorgonzola cheese and walnuts (Am I missing anything Elaine?). It was a great accompaniment to the meal.

4. Turkey Burgers with New England Potato Salad
from Real Simple and Cabbage Town Cafe Cookbook
makes 4 servings

3/4 lb ground turkey
1 medium zucchini, grated (A tip for grating zucchini and carrot; cut off the bottom but leave the top so you have something to hold on to as you're grating and getting to the end. It'll save your fingers from the grater!)
1 medium carrot, grated
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3/4 t dried thyme
3/4 t kosher salt
1/4 t black pepper
1 egg
3 T olive oil
8 slices crusty bread
4 leaves Boston lettuce
4 T mayonnaise
2 t fresh lemon juice

In a large bowl, combine the turkey, zucchini, carrot, garlic, thyme, salt, pepper and egg. Form the mixture into 4 patties. Heat 1 T of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the patties, turning once, until no trace of pink remains. (I find it takes quite a while to get them to cook all the way through, just keep the heat at medium and put a lid on the skillet if necessary.) Meanwhile, place the bread on a baking sheet and brush with the remaining oil. Broil until golden brown and crisp, about 1 1/2 minutes. Combine the mayonnaise with the lemon juice and serve with the burgers.

Potato Salad:
6 Yukon Gold potatoes
1/2 cup Tarragon Vinaigrette Dressing (recipe to follow)
4 hard boiled eggs, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
1 red or white onion, diced
1/2 cup chopped green olives
1 cup mayonnaise
kosher salt and black pepper

Scrub the potatoes well but do not peel. Dice into bite-size cubes and cook in water to cover until just tender, about 10 minutes after water boils. Drain and toss with the dressing. Set aside and allow to cool thoroughly.
In a large bowl, mix together the potatoes, eggs, celery, onion and olives. Add enough mayo to make the salad moist but not mushy. Chill thoroughly. Sprinkle with Paprika before serving.

For the dressing:
3 oz. olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 1/2 t red wine vinegar
1 1/2 t French mustard
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 t dried tarragon
1/4 t salt
1/4 t black pepper

Mix together all of the ingredients. (To avoid having any chunks of garlic in the dressing smash the clove on the cutting board and rub the salt into it with the side of the knife. It will form a garlic paste which will disperse throughout the dressing.)
This salad was certainly tangy and I think maybe a little too much so. I don't think I will be making it again and I debated even posting it but I decided that maybe it will appeal to some of you and maybe you will be inspired by the concept and play with the dressing. The slavation of the dish was the bacon, it provided a little relief from the tangy dressing.

5. Tangy Lentil Salad
modified from Alton Brown via Phoo-d

1 lb brown or green lentils
1 small onion, peeled and halved
1 large clove garlic, halved
1 bay leaf
1 t kosher salt
1/4 t black pepper

1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
2 t Dijon mustard
1 t kosher salt
1/2 t black pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 t fresh thyme leaves

6 slices bacon, cooked and chopped

Spread out the lentils and pick over them to make sure they are free of any small rocks or debris. Rinse the lentils with cold water and place in a large pot with the onion, garlic, bay leaf, salt and enough water to cover the mixture by about 3". Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer until the lentils are tender, about 25-30 minutes. Drain off any remaining liquid and discard the onion, garlic and bay leaf. Stir in the black pepper. Meanwhile, whisk together the salad dressing ingredients. Pour over the lentils and top with the chopped bacon. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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