Let's eat!

Hi. My name's Carol, and I love food. No, you don't understand. I love food. If I were on the Titanic, I'd be in the galley (kitchen) eating up the chocolate pudding and the roasted quail. I go to most events, activities and parties just for the food. The company and the conversation are secondary. Here, I'll try to document everything that goes into my mouth. Aren't we excited? Oh, hey, are you gonna eat that?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Classic Yellow Cake w/Hershey Bar Milk Chocolate Frosting

As I watched my friend take off with her precious cherry cake the other day, I already connived in my head to gear up for another cake-baking session on the weekend, but for my precious family. My husband has been especially patient as he watched cake after cake go out the door without his name on it.

If I was really a good wife, I'd finally bake him that marble pound cake his mom used to. But I'm saving that for his birthday (shh! don't tell). This classic yellow cake with milk chocolate frosting really hit the spot, considering I have my period and when you have your period before menopause all you crave is sugar, preferably in cake form, and it's one of my family's favorite all-time cakes.

There's something dreamy and golden, for me anyway, about alternating flour/baking powder/salt with milk into the butter/sugar/egg mixture. Your adrenaline's pumping, because you need to do all this in one smooth stroke without pausing or taking too long -- lest the batter turn into hockey pucks at the end -- and you get to watch eggs, sugar, vanilla, flour and milk turn into creamy, luscious cake batter, from raw translucent gritty pieces into an amalgamated whole. Magic. But then I dream about the beauty of mixing batter with fresh raspberries the way people dream about flying over the ocean on Mars.

An aspect of this recipe from the mocha me food blog I really thought was efficiently pragmatic was the use of Hershey bars in the frosting. It made me think of other variations for the future, like maybe using Dove bars (my favorite). I must say, when I bought the four regular bars of our family's favorite chocolate (personally I find it smells like vomit), I got carried away with buying additional jumbo bars for my husband and our son just for snacking on alone.

If there's one thing I still need to master--not that I'm a master baker yet or anything--is the frosting. For some reason, I screw it up one way or another, whether I'm rushing the powdered sugar and forget to sift, or not mix the butter into the powdered sugar enough so there are still slabs of it running through the frosting, or making up ratios after I added too much powdered sugar or milk or accidentally added cream. This time, all went well, because the recipe had me beating the butter, an initial 1 cup of the powdered sugar (1 pound/1 regular box of powdered sugar=about 3 3/4ths cups), vanilla and milk for a minute before adding more sugar. The one minute of beating really incorporated all traces of butter. I also remembered to leave the milk out for room temperature, less likely to seize up.

Instead of putting the chocolate pieces directly in a saucepan, I learned from cooking shows to slowly melt the chocolate in a glass bowl over a simmering saucepan of water, so as not to burn the chocolate.

The cakes themselves turned out of their pans cleanly. Well, except for one cake was bulging slightly over the pan a little, which made for frosting the double layers a little lopsided. I really enjoyed myself though, eating almost as much frosting off the knife and spatula as I laid thickly on the cake. I remembered my husband's request that I put on the frosting at least an inch thick. I really slathered it on, using up every last bit of frosting.

When I turned the cakes out of their pans, I used a method I read about in my favorite cook book from Betty Crocker (I've had that cook book since I was single) yesterday. I put a dish towel over a rack, placed it--towel side up--over the cake resting on another rack and flipped. Then, flipped back. Effortless.

When it came time to frost, I put pieces of parchment paper over the sides of my cake stand, and went to town. I almost forgot Ina Garten's method as I just slashed away. By the time I filled the top of the first cake (placed on the stand upside down), I remembered not to go down the sides yet until I put the second cake on and frosted that top. I put a huge dollop of frosting on the top, and then worked the frosting all over then down the sides.

I did worry a little about it being lopsided and toppling like some of those cakes in the Food Network's challenges. Luckily, it's gone in a covered cake stand and it's in there snug, waiting for my husband to come home from his three gigs tonight.

He's going to have a big old grin on his face.

The question is, will he and James be able to finish this cake by next Sunday, when we get ready to go on vacation out of state?
What a silly question. I'm gonna eat about half that cake in about five minutes. Gangway.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Nutella Swirl Muffins

Today's the day I make my boys (husband and son) their own cake, a classic yellow cake with milk chocolate (from four Hershey bars) frosting. That's fine. But then I remembered I wanted my husband, who works in a church band, to bring in something for the congregation to snack on with their coffee tomorrow morning. What to do. What to do. At first I figured I'd double the yellow cake recipe and make cupcakes, but ran into another question mark with the frosting. I didn't feel like grocery shopping for more chocolate (I have my period, enough said). Maybe a vanilla frosting. Those are gonna be an awful lot of cupcakes--maybe I can halve...

This is when I randomly picked a recipe from the pending pile and found myself baking Nutella Swirl Muffins.

Definitely doable, since I have about a million jumbo Costco jars of Nutella (my son is a Nutella fiend). So, after I put my yellow cake batter in the oven, I worked on the Nutella batter. The only tricky part is swirling the Nutella in with the yellow batter of each muffin without messing up the cupcake liners (pink, natch) too much. I did alright.

The muffins came out unevenly baked (I blame the metal muffin pan I got caught in between a drawer and the underside of the oven trying to pull it out and bending it all kinds of ways). But the Nutella swirled inside and on top should make up for any dry ones.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Rainier Cherry Cake for Sheila

Keeping up with the cherry theme, I stumbled upon another recipe (from Kitchen Experiments--more cake than pound cake or bread--which appealed to me. I spotted milk, lemon, vanilla beans from a real vanilla pod, and went ahead with baking one for a friend like I promised. It just so happens that today is her and her husband's anniversary, for their pawn shop. Why not celebrate with a freshly made cherry cake with Rainier cherries? If it survives the long car ride back home.

I left out the optional kirsch, because that would've meant an embarrassing trip to a liquor store. In Washington, the hard stuff is run by the government and the government always makes the average citizen feel guilty for something, so I avoid those stores like the plague. It feels like sneaking into a porn shop. Instead of those pretty red Bing cherries, the food blogger uses, I used our Pacific NW Rainiers. I also kicked myself for not thinking of decorating the top of my last cherry cake with cherries.

For some reason, my cake didn't rise as high as Elaine's. Maybe it was my cheap 10-inch spring form cake pan. Next time, I'll use my regular 8- or 9-inch cake pan, without the spring form. Still came out (thank God) clean and pretty. I almost smashed part of it while clumsily transferring it from cooling rack to a cardboard cake round, though. When I dusted the top with powdered sugar, I almost gasped at the transformation.

Let me tell you the smell coming from that freshly baked cake almost forced me to make another one. One for me, one for Sheila, who gleefully came over after work this afternoon to take possession of it, promising to post a picture on Facebook, after, with nothing left but crumbs.

Now, I'm attracted to the idea of baking my patient husband and son their very own yellow cake with chocolate frosting. They've had to watch me baking cakes for other people. This would be their reward, don't you think?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Minted Strawberry Cupcakes

Sweet, juicy strawberries from the farmstead made me muse on different ways to use this fruit (that my mom craved when she was pregnant with me) in baking. So, onto Food Gawker for some ideas. Found minted strawberry cupcakes (which looked more like muffins in the batter) from the cutest blog on the block.

After reading the recipes carefully twice (I learned my lesson the last time, rushing through), I began to put the ingredients together and the day of baking (today!). I really liked the inventive combination of strawberries with mint. The combination smelled even better in my kitchen, perfuming my entire house with sweet and refreshing. The addition of heavy cream instead of light or low-fat milk really added to the intoxicatingly decadent scent.

Even better, this recipe is simple as can be and perfectly rendered. If you follow it exactly, you'll have beautiful cupcakes. My personal twists included adding a tablespoon or so of sugar to the cut-up strawberries for more sweetness, dusting the finished cupcakes with powdered sugar. They looked so good and I had leftover strawberries, so I baked up another batch, this time with granulated sugar on top of the raw battered cupcakes. Didn't care for the opaque glaze so much. Live and learn.

I also gave a nod to Martha Stewart and Ina Garten by selecting color-compatible paper liners in shades of pink, white and blue/green plaid. Very spring and summery, too.

These'll go to church tomorrow morning and a friend. Lucky.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Soup, anyone?

I saw this chicken and orzo soup recipe somewhere else. A food blogger referenced For the love of cooking's Pam for the origins. Makes sense. All of Pam's recipes are easily re-makeable, uses simple, fresh ingredients, and come out tantalizingly delicious, especially her soups. Who could forget the fanfare her Pasta e Fagioli made on a group of my friends? Or how handy and hearty her chicken with homemade noodle soup was for an ailing friend?

Like that food blogger (sorry, can't remember who it was) who referenced For the love of...'s chicken orzo soup, I, too, played with the recipe's base a little. I used leftover corn cobs from yesterday's corn on the cob to help flavor the canned chicken broth (instead of making my own from scratch, although I've done that before). I used an already-roasted whole chicken from the supermarket, instead of broiling/poaching one myself. I used the thick, gelatinous chicken juices left over in the roast chicken container to add more flavor to the broth as well, and then, I threw in a can of stewed tomatoes just for kicks.

When my soup was ready to eat, I simply pulled the corn cobs out and threw them away.

I must say, I enjoyed chopping vegetables and chicken, putting them in individual plastic containers, readying them carefully for the soup, while the rest of the world was outside blowing off firecrackers and polluting the atmosphere. (Fourth of July, for me, is only good for its buffet, and besides, I'm allergic to the fireworks.)

I took my time, utilizing the leftover carrots and celery as snacks. While the soup simmered, I also prepped the radishes I found forgotten in the fridge's bottom drawer, some Hami melon balls, put everything in their own freezer bags and then back in the fridge. Healthy, healthy.

The only difficult aspect of cooking soup is to make sure each layer is flavored with salt and pepper. There's nothing worse than dishwater soup.

The whole reason for me making this soup in the first place is all the packaged cold cuts I'd bought the week before for sandwiches that looked and tasted lonely without a hearty, hot accompaniment. This'll tide me over for the rest of the week. I reserved a large jar for a friend in need, whoever she may be.

I know it sounds crazy to be making soup in the summer. But it's not that warm here in the NW, or sunny. And I'll have soup in the middle of the freakin' desert if I want to!

Torta di Ciliegie, or the CSI cake

From Dulcis in Furno

The picture of this Italian lady's Torta di Ciliegie (cherry cake), with its pale-golden wedges gently dusted with snowy icing sugar, first drew me in. Then, I began to feel confident that I could pull this Dulcis in Furno recipe off in America, with the English translation.

It wasn't until I got my hands into the labor of the recipe itself that I found myself hopping back upstairs to my computer numerous times to translate some of the metric and questionable measurements:

14 oz cherries = about 2 cups
1,86 fl oz Maraschino = between 1/4 and 1/3 cup, and it's the maraschino sauce not the cherries
7/8 cup sugar = a little less than 1 cup
for a 10in cake pan = oops, a nine-incher will do but it won't look as flat and delicate

Getting cherries right now is easy as pie, er cake, however. My husband favors Rainier cherries, the gold and red ones that seem to come straight out of an island horizon. The cherries in this Italian lady's food blog look like they're red. But not any old red. Red from Italy, which means quite often they're white inside. No such luck with these bloody-red (I thought of what my vagina might look like when it's menstruating) Bings. But she said if you don't have white fleshed-cherries, the other kinds are fine; they may slightly tinge the pale gold though.

I bought enough Bing cherries to make several cakes. Which is why I made this one as a kind of experiment, to see if it was worthwhile to make for some friends -- a birthday girl and someone who's been better than professional therapy lately; both very enthusiastic guinea pigs for my baking.

The first thing I had to do was pit and slice the cherries in half. I tried pitting as I cut, but that didn't work. As I stood there frowning about what I could do to make the process go faster, I was struck with a memory of my former roommate giving me an authentic cherry picker from Italy for my birthday once. I stuck it in a drawer and never saw or used it again. I opened the same drawer, foraged past the pizza cutter and the extra tongs to find it. Thank you, Jon Komatsu!

This cherry picker was so clever and so useful, and so fun, that I admit I got carried away pitting way too many cherries until my kitchen counter resembled a homicide investigation. Who knew that cherry juice could be so bloody?

Once I got to mixing, alternating the melted butter with the flour/baking soda, I worried that the batter wouldn't be batter-y enough. Where was the milk, buttermilk, sour cream? As an afterthought, I flicked a thumbful of congealed heavy cream in the bowl, and mixed away. When I alternated the butter with flour, I had both bowls in my hands for efficiency, praying I wouldn't mix it too much and that the batter would hold.

The oven time was almost exactly the 50 minutes the recipe calls for, minus two. What was weird was when I went to check doneness, the middle came out clean but the sides, if you slid the tester in sideways, weren't. I added one more minute and let the cake cool almost completely, for fear of the last cake unmolding incident (where pieces, some raw batter, came flying out).

After I upended the cake in its pan the first time, nothing happened. Stifling my panic, I did what I remembered to do -- I slid a knife around it, felt something give slightly, and the cake came out perfectly intact. When I dusted the top with powdered sugar, it felt almost like magic.

This is why I bake.

The church Ed plays for ate every last slice. He reported that it was almost the texture of pound cake, but very delicious. That's all the feedback I needed. More cherry cake to come this and next week.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Porterhouse for pre-Fourth of July

Happy Fourth of July! Er, the day before. The entire family helped prepare a nice feast today (for tomorrow, my husband Eddie is off and running from morning till late at night on gigs): Porterhouse steaks, baked potatoes with basil/green onion sour cream, garlic asparagus spears, and corn on the cob.

Our son James, 8, shucked the corn outside in our backyard, then went to work on snapping the asparagus spears. I finished up on the baked potatoes--microwaving them cooked first before oiling, salting, rubbing them for the oven to crisp up their skins.

Eddie performed the main course, as well as the sauteed asparagus. Over a screaming-hot cast-iron skillet, he pan-fried the steaks in butter to a medium-rare, medium-well. The asparagus was lightened up somewhat by a dash of lemon juice.

My plate!

One of corn on the cobs was white, which James thought meant it went bad. No way. I showed him that cob corn was sweeter than when cooked. He still didn't believe me and refused to try the raw white corn kernels (like candy). To his credit, he ate everything we put on his plate, except for the baked potatoes. I wouldn't let him have any more corn on the cob if he didn't clean his plate.

Normally, I'm not a clean-your-plate mom (been there, got fat over it, thanks mom and dad--you dangerous idiots!), but it's high time our picky eater son start trying out new foods, especially for such a festive occasion.

Starting out with steak ain't a bad start at all.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Downtown Everett Farmer's Market

Photo of heirloom tomatoes by Barb Sennet Wilson

We had better luck finding a real farmer's market today. Downtown Everett has a fantastic one featuring sweet, local strawberries, plump, ripe tomatoes, corn on the cob with the pale-green husks wrapped tight and young, and assorted other traditional (asparagus and green beans) and exotic (gigantic papayas and coconuts) produce for a steal. I could smell the sweetness of the strawberries, which I couldn't yesterday at that dismal market further south of Evergreen Way/Hwy 99.

Big difference too. Yesterday's crappy, non-smelling strawberries were rancid (formaldehyde) or flavorless. Not even brown sugar could help. Today's strawberries were out of this world, superior to the jumbo ones I'd pick at Everett's Biringer Farms in the '90s and equal to the ones I bought in crates down in Oxnard, CA back in 1989 at a festival.

Summer's here and farmer's markets have sprung up everywhere.

I plan on baking a cherry cake and simmering up a chicken orzo soup this weekend, so visiting the downtown Everett farmer's market (through strong word of mouth) sure came in handy. Picked up all the ingredients I needed while "Frampton Comes Alive" played through the speakers. Surreal but outta sight.

Tomorrow, we're treating ourselves to a pre-Fourth of July bash, just the family, before my husband has to go out on evening gigs. Porterhouse steaks from a Mountlake Terrace butcher, asparagus spears, potatoes and corn on the cob as accompaniment, strawberries (if they last that long) and Rainier cherries and Hami melons for dessert. Love summer in the Northwest.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

El Taco Boom

We were supposed to pick up some farmer's market fruit (Fujis, strawberries, Rainier cherries) and vegetables (?), then walk a few feet over to the taco truck and get us some tacos. That was the plan anyway. I kept seeing the farmer's market for days, the hand-written signs for cheap, local nectarines and tomatoes, and the taco truck (they're everywhere) off Hwy 99/Evergreen Way. A window opened up this morning for me and the husband to head on over.

Well, the produce wasn't all that impressive. Upon closer inspection, the locally grown strawberries looked the part but rough around the edges, the corn on the cob I was hoping to buy for my son was old, with pockmarks on some of the kernels underneath rusted-out husks, from California not here, and the rest of the stuff looked suspiciously like supermarket fare, complete with a Charlie's Produce truck-van that pulled up. Frankly, the entire Mexican-run establishment seemed funky to me, as just another excuse to make a quick buck by trying to pass for an authentic Pacific Northwest farmer's market.

I've been to those. This wasn't it.

To top it off, I had to go #2 real badly and the taco truck wasn't even open. The entire area was littered with trash, too.

So we headed down the street and found ourselves at a better option, one with a restroom for me to use: El Taco Boom, which featured NY Steak Tacos for cheap. I'd passed by this small place in a small, fairly new shopping plaza, next to a crappy teriyaki joint that purported to be authentic Japanese bento (you lie!), millions of times, but never felt quite enough in the mood to try it. My husband, Eddie, had though, and he reported that it was okay.

It was more than okay. OMG, the soft taco (I chose ground beef, but they come in a wide assortment of fillings, and if you're hungry, you can order the five-taco combo plate)! Loved the greens on top, the cilantro, bits of hot jalapeno pepper, sides of lime and radish chunks. When I squeezed a little green and a little red salsa from their bottles, the whole thing was fiesta in a bite. The ground beef was fried up with some juicy spices and wet marinade, blending well with the crisp, tart, spicy greenery and salsa mix. I wanted more.

To try something new, I went with the enchilada plate, chicken. This was also incredibly flavorful, the enchilada sauce obviously simmered for hours upon hours with full depth-of-flavor ingredients, the chicken was moist and tender, the refried beans melted in my mouth like butter.

We need to go back next week for the rest of the menu. I'm eager to try their pork and NY steak tacos, and the sopes (a tostada with Mexican cheese). I wasn't even in much of a Mexican cuisine mood either. But El Taco Boom sure changed my mind in a hurry.