We’re calling it a “Suede Cake”

Baking projects with Lilli are a weekly thing in our kitchen. Sometimes I’ll ask if she wants to bake, but most of the time I’ll watch her go into the kitchen, grab her apron and push her Kitchen Helper to the counter while shouting “Cook! Cook!” (This is also her word for cookie, so you really have to watch for context clues to see if she wants a cookie or to bake one.) Last weekend, during the latest blizzard, she got out her apron and started pushing her way to the counter while calling out “Cake! Cake!” so I knew what she had in mind.

Suede Cake

Although Lilli loves spending time in the kitchen, she still has the attention span of a two year old, so it’s better if the recipes are easy to manage and can be done quickly. So I was pretty excited when I found this red velvet cake recipe in the Lemonade cookbook a few weeks ago. It looked really easy, and I already had buttermilk for the batter in the fridge as well as two blocks of cream cheese for the frosting. (There had been a sale and I figured there would be a frosting recipe soon enough that called for them.)

It turns out the recipe was ridiculously easy and took only a couple of minutes to pull together. You sift the dry ingredients in one bowl, and whisk the wet ingredients in another, then you add the dry to the other and continue to whisk. Or, as Lilli said as she stirred the batter: “Mix! Mix!” I should add here that whenever I read “sift flour” in a recipe, I ignore that and grab a whisk. Couldn’t be easier.

You’ll notice in the photo (go me for actually managing to snap one this time) that this is more of a tan velvet cake. Rich even suggested calling it a “suede cake.” We made the executive decision to eliminate the food coloring from the recipe and keep it out of our bellies. As it happens, there was a study released late last week about artificial colors and hyperactivity in children. Of course, I can’t find it right now, but I’m sure you can find it if you’re really curious.

tea party

But about this cake: It’s terrific. Deceptively delicious given how simple it is to throw together. We baked a pineapple upside down cake this morning, and you could see how disappointed Lilli was when she was served a slice of that rather than this cake. I know you’re probably thinking the ingredients are a little strange, but to quote the cookbook, “While the ingredients may sound odd, vinegar and cocoa powder are crucial to the batter, lending its distinctive tang and subtle chocolate taste!”

My only other suggestion aside from eliminating the food coloring is to take the cream cheese and butter out of the fridge when you start this project. It will be room temperature by the time the cake is ready to be frosted.

Man, this is a great cake. Trust me.

Suede Cake from The Lemonade Cookbook by Alan Jackson and Joan Cianciulli

Ingredients

BATTER

Nonstick cooking spray, for coating the pans

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups sugar

1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups vegetable oil

1 cup buttermilk

2 large eggs

(2 tablespoons red food coloring)

1 teaspoon white vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

FROSTING

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line three 9-inch round cake pans with wax or parchment paper and coat lightly with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Remove the cream cheese and butter from the refrigerator and set it on the counter to come to room temperature.

To prepare the batter: In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the oil, buttermilk, eggs (food coloring), vinegar, and vanilla extract until well combined. Gradually add the dry ingredients, continuing to whisk until the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the surface with a spatula; the pans should be one-half full. Tap the pans a few times firmly on the counter top to level and knock out any air bubbles. Place the pans on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when touched. Cool the cake in the pans until completely cool. In the meantime, prepare the frosting.

To prepare the frosting, put the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or use a hand-held electric beater. Beat on medium speed until very smooth and lump-free, about 2 minutes. Stop the machine periodically to scrape off the paddle and the sides of the bowl. While beating, gradually sprinkle in the powdered sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and continue to mix until combined.

Once the cakes are cool, turn them out from the pans and remove the paper. Trim off any uneven edges. Save these crumbs for decorating the top of the cake. Using a metal spatula, spread half the frosting on top of two of the cake rounds. Carefully place the cakes on top of each other. Set the last layer on top. Frost the top and sides of the cake thoroughly. Crumble the reserved scraps with your hands and sprinkle on the top of the cake, letting the (red) crumbs fall on the sides. Refrigerate the cake for 45 minutes before cutting.

A New Favorite

We’ve had so much snow here in Boston that we’re now using sports figures as units of measurement. For those keeping track, we’re up to nearly a Gronk of snow. That’s about six and a half feet in less than two weeks. There’ve been multiple weekly school cancellations; the T, our mass transit system, has completely shut down several times; sidewalks are nearly impossible to navigate; parking etiquette has devolved to Lord of Flies level. We’re really lucky to own a driveway, although we’ve barely shoveled out room for our car, so no visitors, please.

do you want to build a snow man

The Super Bowl party we were invited to was canceled due to lack of parking, so we threw together our own party and hosted close friends who live around the block. We had leftovers for a few days, including a half-eaten bag of tortilla chips. But that’s OK, because it means I get to make my new favorite go-to weeknight dinner: Nacho Pie.

Found the culprit

I saw this recipe on an episode of Sara Moulton’s Weeknight Meals I had on in the background one weekend this fall. When she opened the show by saying the episode was devoted to pantry meals, she had my attention. The first dish was a pasta with beans and Kalamata olives. I have no recollection what the third dish was because all I could think about was the Nacho Pie in the middle.

You probably have everything on hand in your pantry already: can of black beans, can of corn, jar of your favorite salsa, an onion, and the dregs at the bottom of a bag of tortilla chips. In terms of fresh things, you’ll need a chopped up green pepper and some shredded cheese. There was once a time when I groaned when all I had in the house was a green pepper. But now that means I can make shakshuka, eetch or nacho pie, all terrific pantry meals.

You can gussy it up with other things on hand. I bought a pile of avocados which were on super sale for $0.88 cents each for the Super Bowl. I threw them in the refrigerator when they were perfectly ripe and we’ve been working our way through them these past few weeks. Add a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, and maybe a squeeze of fresh lime to perk it up.

warm head

This is a great weeknight meal that travels well the next day as leftovers. It’s vegetarian and cheap. I think you’ll love it as much as we do.

Nacho Pie

Ingredients

One medium onion, chopped

One green pepper, chopped

One can of black beans, drained and rinsed

One can of corn, drained and rinsed

One jar of your favorite salsa

Two cups of tortilla chips, divided

Two cups shredded cheese, divided

Enough oil to cover a skillet

Directions

Preheat oven to 400F

Heat oil in a large skillet on medium heat. When hot, add onions. Sprinkle a pinch of salt to help them sweat, and cook them on medium heat for about six minutes.  When they start to soften and become clear, add the green pepper to the onion and continue to soften them for about three minutes more.

While the peppers and onions cook on the stovetop, drain the cans of corn and beans in a colander. Give them a good shake and add them to the skillet. Stir to incorporate. Add the jar of salsa to the mixture and cook it for about one minute more.

In the bottom of an oven-proof dish – I use a soufflé dish – lay a cup of tortilla chips on its bottom. Pile about ¾ cup of shredded cheese on top of the chips. Next, pour the contents of the skillet on top of the cheese and chips. Finish the dish with the remaining chips and the rest of thecheese. Slide into the oven for about 20 minutes.

The crust will get nice and bubbly. Remove from the oven and enjoy.

Turning Two

Lilli turned two on Sunday. We celebrated with cupcakes and an ice cream sundae bar at the Inside Playground down the road. Thankfully, the party was sandwiched in between two snowstorms, ensuring that the guests and grandparents from outside of Boston were still able to make it.

It’s been a while since I planned a party and I’d wanted to share how it turned out, like my friend Molly always does with her own awards show viewing parties. Of course, I forgot to snap photos of the sundae bar. Sorry about that. We bought a case of small, wide-mouthed jars from the local hardware store for a few dollars which will obviously now be used for canning things. Then I filled the jars with candies like M&Ms, chocolate chips, jelly beans, crushed Oreo cookies, and mini York Peppermint Patties. Next to the jars I placed cut up strawberries and bananas, fresh homemade whipped cream, hot fudge, salted caramel sauce, marshmallow topping and a jar of cherries.

ice cream party

Daddies were very appreciative of having a place for their toddlers to play.

After consulting with mommies at work, I decided to forgo a fancy bakery cake for Lilli and just buy some mini cupcakes from the grocery store. As it turned out, the bakery at the market couldn’t guarantee they would have enough, if any, in stock that Sunday morning, so Lilli and I donned our aprons and got to work in the kitchen. We have weekly baking projects, although most of her participation ends with me sweeping flour and sugar off the kitchen floor. Papa and Grammy got her a Kitchen Helper for Christmas which is nice because I was always a little nervous about her slipping off a dining room chair.

I was sent Hello Cupcake! years ago to review, but hadn’t found the right moment to dive into the recipes in it until I needed to bake these birthday cupcakes. If it had been a birthday party for me, I probably would have gone with the sweet potato cupcakes with cream cheese frosting or saffron cupcakes. And if nuts weren’t an issue, Lilli would have loved the Nutella cupcakes. We settled on the “Classic cupcakes” recipe, which had a nice lemony base and a cream cheese frosting.

cousins playing

The author is British and the recipe is measured in weights, so get out your kitchen scale. The recipe says it makes 12 regular-sized cupcakes, but it made 48 mini-cupcakes, more than enough for the party. The smaller cakes took about 13 minutes to bake. I think the frosting was a bit too sweet, but I think that’s because I had a little slip up with weighing out the sugar. Many of the guests thought it was divine, but that’s just my two cents.

Classic Cupcakes from Hello Cupcake! by Leila Lindholm

Ingredients

3 eggs

250 grams (9 oz) sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

100 g (3 ½ oz) butter

100 ml (3 ½ fl oz) milk

350 g (12 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 pinch salt

Grated peel and juice from 1 lemon

Cream Cheese Frosting

60 g (2 oz) softened butter

500 g (17 ½ oz) icing (confectioner’s) sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

100 g (3 ½ oz) cream cheese

Sprinkles or flowers, for garnish

Directions

Preheat oven to 345F (175C)

Whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla until white and really fluffy.

Melt the butter, add the milk and mix this into the eggs.

Mix the flour, baking powder and salt and carefully fold into the other ingredients until combined.

Mix in the grated peel and juice from one lemon.

Set out paper cups in a muffin tin and fill the cups until two-thirds full with the mixture.

Bake them in the middle of the oven for about 15 minutes. Once they cool a little, move them to a cooling rack to cool down.

Frosting

Mix the butter, icing sugar, vanilla, lemon juice and cream cheese until creamy.

Spread the frosting on the cakes and garnish with sprinkles or flowers.

 

It’s a Brooklyn Thing

Well, we are two for two with baking times being totally off with cake recipes from The Mile End Cookbook. But, like the honey cake for Rosh Hashana, I’m still sharing this olive oil cake with you in time for Chanukah because the result was that delicious. It’s soft and fluffy and lemony. Pillowy, even.

olive oil cake

Lilli and I put this together when we got home tonight. The recipe, as written, says it should bake for about 40 minutes, and there’s something about a thermometer which I found useless since the cake was near-liquid 35 minutes in. In total, this took about 75 minutes to bake. While we waited, Lilli and I did some coloring and enjoyed some halva my mom gifted me for Chanukah. (Rich would like me to note that she’s not a chatty one, but actually said “halva” tonight in between popping sweet bites into her mouth. This is actually a really big deal considering she has yet to say her own name.) She was already asleep by the time the cake was cool enough to cut. Sorry about that, kiddo.

The authors describe this cake as not a “traditional Jewish thing, or even a Montreal thing. It’s a Brooklyn thing – it’s based on cakes you’ll find at some of the old Italian bakeries in Carroll Gardens…” They say the cake is still good for up to a week after it’s been made, but it would be a miracle if it lasted to the eighth day.

Olive Oil Cake

Ingredients

3 large eggs

Zest of one lemon

3 cups sugar

1 ½ cups olive oil (or substitute 1 cup canola oil and ½ cup olive oil)

1 ½ cups whole milk

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Powdered sugar, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh berries, and crème fraiche (optional), for serving

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Place the eggs and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix on medium speed for a few seconds. While the mixer is running, add 1 ¼ cups of the sugar and mix until it’s dissolved, 10 to 15 seconds. Keep the mixer running and add the oil in a slow, steady stream. Continue mixing for another minute, and then add the milk in a slow, steady stream. Mix for another few seconds.

Stop the mixer and add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and remaining 1 ¾ cups of sugar to the bowl; mix on low speed for a few seconds to bring the ingredients together, then on medium speed for about 3 minutes, stopping a few times to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until you have a smooth and fairly thin batter.

Line a 12-inch round cake pan with a circle of parchment paper trimmed to fit snugly in the bottom of the pan; grease the lined pan with a light film of oil or cooking spray. (I used a 12-inch spring-form pan for easy removal.)

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for approximately 75 minutes, rotating the pan 180 degrees halfway through cooking, until the top has split and become a deep golden brown and a thin metal insert comes out clean.

Let the cake cool, and then turn it out onto a serving plate. Garnish with a dusting of powdered sugar and drizzle of good extra-virgin olive oil, and serve with fresh berries and crème fraiche, if you like.

For the Kids

Ever watch Gilmore Girls? If you read my blog, the answer is probably yes. Do you remember the episode where Lorelai and Sookie decide to do small, private parties, complete with catering by Sookie? They’re charged with planning a kid’s birthday party, and Lorelai gives Sookie explicit instructions to do mac and cheese and pizza and all sorts of kid-friendly foods, and Sookie makes jalapeno mac and cheese and all sorts of adult foods, and it’s a complete disaster?

Lilli in the Yard

We nearly had a similar incident at a brunch we hosted on Sunday. I should make it clear that the meal wasn’t a disaster, and everything worked out in the end, but only because Rich played the role of Lorelai to my Sookie. We hosted a friend from college and his family. His daughter Sara is about four, and his son Alex is just a touch younger than Lilli. I was thrilled at the chance to set up a Sunday morning spread and was quite pleased when I reviewed the menu with Rich on Saturday night: Broccoli frittata, a salad of greens topped with maple roasted pears, walnuts and blue cheese, with a brown sugar vinaigrette, breakfast potatoes, hummus and crackers. (There was also a pumpkin bread that I forgot to serve, so we’ve been working on that during breakfasts this week.)

“Waffles. You need to serve waffles for the kids,” Rich responded after my menu review. Annoyed, but in agreement that he was probably onto something, I got out Marion Cunningham’s The Breakfast Book, his birthday gift from a few years ago. We’ve done the waffles before, and thought they were really great. They’re a yeasted waffle that’s done overnight, so it take a bit of planning.

Turns out Rich made the right call, and little Alex went nuts for them. He loved them so much when they left he was holding an entire one in his hand for their road trip back to Philadelphia. His dad wrote me this afternoon for the recipe, which reminded me it was time to share it with you guys.

As Cunningham explains, the recipe is from an early Fannie Farmer cookbook, and “is still the best waffle I know. The mixing is done the night before and all you have to do in the morning is add a couple of eggs and some baking soda. These waffles are very crisp on the outside and delicate on the inside.”

Raised Waffles from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham

Ingredients

½ cup warm water

1 package dry yeast

2 cups milk, warmed

½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 eggs

¼ teaspoon baking soda

Directions

Use a rather large mixing bowl – the batter will rise to double its original volume. Put the water in the mixing bowl and sprinkle in the yeast. Let stand to dissolve for 5 minutes.

Add the milk, butter, salt, sugar and flour to the yeast mixture and beat until smooth and blended. (Cunningham often uses a hand-rotary beater to get rid of the lumps.) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand overnight at room temperature.

Just before cooking the waffles, beat in the eggs, add the baking soda, and stir until well mixed. The batter will be very thin. Pour about ½ to ¾ cup batter into a very hot waffle iron. Bake the waffles until they are golden and crisp.

This batter will keep well for several days in the refrigerator.

 

Perfect for the Fall

The first week in November is a pretty big deal when you’re married to a political pollster. I’m sure some, but not all, of you reading this were frustrated with the week’s results, but Rich’s firm came closest of any in predicting the governor’s race here in Massachusetts, which is a good thing for them professionally.

As you can imagine, he was very busy this entire fall, especially in the weeks leading up to that Tuesday. This meant hosting guests for Shabbat dinner, or even having someone over to watch a game, came to a standstill.

swinging

But after every vote was counted and recounted, we opened our home back up to guests. First up was a Shabbat dinner guest – a neighbor of my aunt and uncle’s who’s moved to town for work. We had eetch, and eggplant with capers, roasted salmon, a broccoli kugel, and this Brussels sprouts salsa. That Sunday night a friend came for a visit to watch The Simpsons and the Patriots. He’d been MIA all year long working on two campaigns. (One had a very happy ending; the other, not so much.) He’s a strict vegetarian, so no leftover salmon for him, but he went gaga over these Brussels sprouts.

climbing

Ottolenghi tweeted this recipe, so obviously it’s fantastic. The sprouts are tossed with sumac and maple syrup, so they’re perfect for the fall. He serves them as a side to charred grilled butternut squash he has you toss with cinnamon and feta. I have yet to make that part of the recipe, and have just been concentrating on the sprouts.

Because this is a British recipe, the measurements are weighted. I suggest cleaning a small pile of them and then doing some weighing as so much of the exterior is just going to end up in the trash. The recipe calls for the sprouts to be finely shredded, but I find that shredding them in a food processor shreds them too much. I sliver each sprout by hand and I think it’s worth the time to do that extra step. I used half a larger red onion last time I made this because a whole one would have been too much. Two large red chiles, even if they are deseeded and thinly sliced, is far too much spice for me, so I use about one half a chile. I’ll leave that up to you.

I’ve started serving this as a side to salmon, but maybe you’ll end up serving them next to turkey on Thursday. Ottolenghi thinks “…this makes it an excellent vegetarian choice for the Christmas meal.” Whatever you serve it with, it’s a great vegetable dish for this time of year.

Brussels Sprouts Salsa from Yotam Ottolenghi

1 medium red onion, peeled and very thinly sliced

Up to 2 large red chiles, deseeded and thinly sliced on the diagonal

1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed

2 tsp. sumac

1 Tablespoon cider vinegar

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

2 Tablespoon olive oil

2 tsp. maple syrup

230g Brussels sprouts, trimmed and finely shredded

Salt and black pepper

Directions

Put all ingredients for the salsa in a bowl with a quarter-teaspoon of salt. Mix and set aside for 30 minutes to marinate.

 

 

My Favorite Cookie

mixing together the spices

I’ve been meaning to share these cookies with you for years. They’re actually my favorite cookie, which is saying a lot. It’s a great November cookie, full of warm spices and just the right amount of chew. Sure, you can use them next month if you do the whole Christmas cookie thing, but something about these cookies say November to me. They’re from the same cookbook that gave us those wedding cookies back in May, but unlike those, these are nut-free, so they’re perfect for school bake sales. And even though the recipe calls for butter, you can easily swap it out for Earth Balance making them parve and perfect for post-turkey snacking.

mixing

Lilli and I made these last night for my mom’s birthday. I was going to bake a banana bread like I’ve been doing for the past few years, but the fruits weren’t as ripe as I prefer them to be. So we baked these cookies instead, and I’m happy we did, because as I have mentioned, I love these cookies.

Don’t roll your eyes at measuring out the dough by teaspoon; it takes less than 10 minutes when all is said and done. I’ve baked them on both parchment paper and a greased baking sheet. Both will work, but definitely let the cookies set for a minute or two before using a spatula to move them onto a cooling rack. I often get too excited and end up wrinkling half the batch in the process. More for me, I guess.

examining the dough

I hope you’ll give these cookies a shot and enjoy them as much as I do.

Old-Fashioned Gingersnaps from Favorite Cookie Recipes by Lou Seibert Pappas

Ingredients

¾ cup butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 egg

¼ cup molasses

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ground cloves

1 tsp. ground ginger

Granulated sugar for coating

Directions

Preheat oven to 325F.

Beat butter and sugar together until creamy. Beat in egg and molasses.

In a separate bowl, stir together flour, soda and spices. Add to creamed mixture and beat until smooth. Batter will be soft.

Spoon out rounded teaspoonfuls of dough and roll into balls. Roll in sugar to coat lightly. Place on greased baking sheets 3 inches apart.

Bake in 325F oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.