All Of Us Under Its Spell

Ever catch one of those Tasty videos in your Facebook feed? Mesmerizing, right? Lilli caught one over my shoulder a few months back, and ever since she’s been hooked on watching recipes on the Internet. It wasn’t long before she and I discovered that you can basically watch a recipe of anything on YouTube. Her favorites are the intricate cake recipes, of which she, and now I, have watched have watched far more times than I would like to admit.


There are teen bakers, baking bloggers who do all sorts of incredible things with food coloring and pastry bags, an Australian baker who leans heavily on using chocolate bars on his cakes. Lilli likes this last one a lot, and so I promised her we would make our own cake using her leftover Halloween candy. This turned out to be a lie, because certain adults in the house have been nibbling away at it over the past three weeks. Ahem.

But we finally made our cake this weekend, and it went off without a hitch, just like we saw on the Internet. I didn’t use person’s recipe per se, but created one out of what I learned watching countless hours of online videos.

What I have prepared for you are directions on how to make a rainbow cake. I promise you it’s easy; it just takes a little bit of patience and time. (Ours took about two hours from start to finish.)


First thing’s first: Find yourself a vanilla cake recipe. Make sure it’s a vanilla cake, not a yellow cake, because that will mess up the colorings. This is the recipe we used.

Next, secure your frosting recipe. I always vote for cream cheese frosting, and this is my go-to, but if you have a vanilla frosting recipe – remember, it has to be white – then use that one instead.  Take out the ingredients for your frosting to come to room temperature when you start preparing your cake batter.

Now, I had never used food coloring until this cake. I’ve always been a little skittish about such things, so I went to the nice kitchen store in town and bought them there. The ones they had on their shelf were the same ones that the online bakers all use. But if you have a favorite brand you use, then please, do what you feel.

We used Kit Kats around the outside of the cake and M&Ms to decorate the top. The Halloween sized ones would have been the right height for the cake, but fortunately the large bars we used also fit when cut in half. Skittles will work as well for the décor, but I’m the only one in the house that likes fruity candies, so I would be the only one who’d eat the cake. I’m actually not a fan of M&Ms, so this was a guarantee that I wouldn’t sit and eat the entire cake myself.

Now that you’ve assembled the ingredients, assemble the cookware and utensils you’ll need. Grab as many 9-inch cake pans as you have. I had three so I ended up using each one twice for my six separate colors. I had Lilli butter them, but then I sprayed a layer of Baker’s Joy on top of that.

If you are using six separate colors, then get out six separate bowls and six separate spoons. An ice cream scoop, if you have one, is very useful.

Now, it’s time to start making your cake. As you can see from my photos, it was six very thin layers. If you want a cake that will have your friends and family oohing and ahhing, I mean, even more than this, then double the recipe to make thicker layers.

Now that your batter is prepared, evenly divide it into the six bowls. This is where the ice cream scoop comes in handy. Next, add your food coloring. We had to mix colors to make the orange and the purple, and it was a fun way to practice our colors. I hope you’re wearing an apron!



Now it’s time to bake. Carefully scrape the first bowl of colored batter into your first cake pan. It’s probably very thin, so gently push the batter to the sides of the pan with the spoon.

I baked my cake layers three at a time in the oven. Please keep an eye on them; mine were done in about 13 minutes. When they are baked through, remove the pans from the oven and set them on cooling racks to cool, which they will do very quickly. Turn the cakes out, let the pans cool, wash them, then repeat baking the remaining colors of batter.


While this is going on, have a small child practice their sorting skills by separating the Skittles or M&Ms into small bowls. This is also when you can make your frosting.


Lilli, auditioning to be a roadie for Van Halen.

Once your cakes are completely cool, it’s time to assemble. I find the easiest way to frost a cake is by placing it on a plate covered in wax paper, and place that on a Lazy Susan, if you have one.

Layer of cake, little bit of frosting on top, spread with an offset spatula, then next layer of cake, and so on.


It’s honestly up to you to choose a design. Rich pointed out that I’d actually stacked my cake layer colors in reverse. Make sure you save enough frosting to cover the outside and sides of the cake; your frosting acts like a glue.


Once it’s assembled, put it in the fridge for about an hour to set and firm up.

And how was it? Very tasty, although Lilli simply picked off the M&Ms and Kit Kats, ate those, and left the cake.

PS – This was Lilli’s theme song all summer long.


Something Lighthearted

Lilli and Giragge

It’s been a rough week here in Boston. We’re safe. Everyone we know is safe. We live far from the finish line, but a mile from Watertown. I don’t have anything profound or original to say about the situation, except that last week’s events have put my ongoing series of pressure cooker recipes on hiatus for the time being.

Instead, I’m going to share a story from this summer that always make us chuckle. It happened in August, during my second trimester.

Scene: Preggers Molly, sitting at the dining room table, on the phone. Rich enters, stage kitchen, and overhears Molly’s conversation

MOLLY: “It clearly said on the container “peanut butter explosion,” and I’m telling you, there was no explosion.”

RICH: “Oh my God! Get off the phone! Right now!”

MOLLY (waving him off): “Shh…”

RICH: “You’re a crazy pregnant lady. Please get off the phone.”

MOLLY: “Honey, the ice cream container specifically said that if I had a problem with their product to call the 800 number. I bought this container of ice cream because it promised me a chocolate-peanut-butter explosion, and there was no explosion. There was not enough peanut butter in this ice cream.”

A few weeks later, a coupon arrived in the mail from the ice cream company for a free product of theirs with up to a $7.99 value.


Still, this incident led me to take stock of the outsized role that the chocolate-peanut-butter flavor combination plays in my life. There were other clues: there was the fact that I didn’t hesitate to eat the squished Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup I found in my spring jacket pocket last week. (It was not delicious; we think it was from Halloween.) Another was, when I was sent a cookbook of “homemade versions of your favorite brand-name treats,” I zeroed in on the homemade Nutter Butters’ recipe, but with an important amendment: I would bake them, and then dip each end in ganache. And that’s just what I did. Chocolate Peanut Butter Explosion accomplished. At this rate, I’m never going to shed the rest of this pregnancy weight, but honestly, after this week, it really doesn’t matter.

Seder Shluff

The cookbook is Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats, written by Casey Barber, editor of the online magazine Good.Food.Stories. ( It’s full of really great-sounding recipes for things like Nutter Butters, Mint Milanos, Twinkies, Goldfish Crackers, Funyuns, and Klondike Bars. A lot of its stuff was forbidden fruit growing up, first because my parents were more into actual fruit rather than giving us packaged treats, and, second, because a lot of it isn’t kosher.

peanut butter frosting

I’m happy to report that the Nutter Butters were spot-on, and really not a big deal to make. I made these this afternoon. I was able to feed Lilli, change Lilli, dunk a diaper, put Lilli down for a rest, and also have her hanging out with me in the kitchen, in between steps. They weren’t a big deal to make, really, and I’m saying that with a 12-week-old napping nearby.

Ocean State Job Lot Chocolate

The ganache is just a basic recipe, although I want to make note that the Ghirardelli chocolate I used was purchased at Ocean State Job Lot for $2 a bar. (I bought four. They’re in the freezer.) I rarely (and by rarely, I mean, never) use Crisco, but was pleased to discover that it is sold in bars, like butter, making measurements very simple.

One Note: If you’d like to join me in donating to help the victims and families of the attack, you can do so at The One Fund.

Nutter Butters

Makes about 2 dozen sandwich cookies.

Special Equipment: Stand mixer.

*Spritz your measuring cups with baking spray to help extract all the peanut butter you’ll be using for this recipe.



2 cups (8 ½ oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 pinch kosher salt

8 Tablespoons (4 oz.) chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes

1 cup (7 oz.) granulated sugar

1 large egg

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup (4 ¾ oz.) creamy peanut butter


1 cup (4 oz.) powdered sugar

¼ cup plus 2 Tablespoons (3 ½ oz.) creamy peanut butter

¼ cup (1 5/8 oz.) vegetable shortening

Ganache (my recipe)

1 cup heavy cream

4 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate. (I’m not going to be picky and tell you to use the good stuff. If you only have chips in the house, they’ll work just fine.)


Make the Cookies:

Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and stir in the egg and vanilla on low speed. Add the peanut butter and stir on medium speed for 2 minutes more.

On low speed, stir in the dry ingredients a half cup at a time until just incorporated.

Spread 2 large sheets of plastic wrap on clean surface and divide the dough into 2 equal parts on the sheets. Wrap each piece tightly to form a rough cylinder about 8 inches long and 1 ½ inches in diameter. Place the dough logo in the freezer for 30 minutes.

(Please note: Lilli woke up from her nap at this point, so the peanut butter dough logs were a little more frozen than they should have been. All I needed to do was have the logs rest on the counter for a minute or two until they were a little less freezing.)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat liners.

Cut the chilled dough into thin (no more than ¼ inch) slices and place on the prepared baking sheets. Put the sheets in the oven for 30 seconds, then remove and form each cookie into a rough peanut shape by squeezing the sides gently in the middle to form grooves.

Return the sheets to the oven and bake for 13 to 16 minutes, until the cookies are dry and no longer shiny on top but not yet browning on the edges. They will seem slightly underbaked, but remove them anyway. Cool the cookies completely on wire racks.

Fill the Cookies:

While the cookies cool, make the filling. Cream the powdered sugar, peanut butter, and shortening together until fluffy, using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or an electric hand mixer – first on low speed until the sugar is incorporated, then on high speed to fluff it up.

Spread the filling evenly on the flat (bottom) side of the half cooled cookies. Top with remaining cookies.

Make the Ganache:

Place chocolate pieces in a heat-proof bowl.

In a small saucepan, gently heat the heavy cream to a boil on a medium-low burner. Remove the heated cream from the stovetop and pour over the bowl of chocolate. Let stand 10 minutes. Whisk the cream and the chocolate, which will be very melted at this point.

Dip one end of each cookie into ganache and lay the cookie on a baking pan or plate. To chill the ganache, place the tray in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes.

Store the cookies at room temperature in an airtight container, with pieces of parchment paper in between the layers of chocolate-covered cookies, for up to a week.

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

A few months back, I attended the kickoff event for the Boston Food Bloggers website. Rachel, the mastermind behind the website, had teamed up with Christine from Urban Spoon, who waved some sort of magic wand and made it rain free samples and restaurant gift cards. The event was hosted at The Gallows, who plied us bloggers all night with sliders so big they barely slid and paper cones of poutine.

But it was the massive bowls of spiced, caramelized popcorn that were the hit of the night. I grabbed a handful and started munching. “Rich, try this popcorn,” I said between bites. “It’s the strangest thing, but there’s a flavor that I can’t seem to put my finger on. It’s sweet, but salty, and there’s this smoky flavor. What is this? Why don’t I recognize this taste?” I asked to no one in particular and wandered off in search of more free samples.

A few minutes later, Rich came up to me. “Um, honey?” Rich began. “What?” I asked as I popped another fistful of the mysterious popcorn in my mouth. “The taste? The one you’re having trouble with,” Rich said with a sly smile creeping across his face. “Yes?” I stopped crunching. “That’s bacon.”

Argh. Stupid bacon. I dumped my fistful of the porcine popcorn and wandered off to wash my mouth out. Along the way, I spotted a fellow blogger I knew to be vegetarian who was popping the kernels into her mouth. “Stop!” I said. “That popcorn has bacon in it!” “Oh, I know,” she said with a shrug. “”It’s just so good!” And she wandered away to top off a bowl of SoCo Creamery ice cream with some of the illicit popcorn.

I’ll be so happy when the bacon trend is over and people stop putting it into everything from cupcakes to mixed drinks to popcorn. As I write this, there’s an advertisement for something called “Baconalia” at Wendy’s on the television. It haunts me, I swear.

I’ve wanted to make my own spiced popcorn after the bacon debacle, and last week, when I catered my vegetarian friend Jonathan’s 30th birthday party, I deemed the Kentucky Derby-viewing portion of the evening, complete with fancy hats and mint juleps, the perfect time to give it a shot.

There’s no super secret to this recipe. I took a Martha Stewart one and dabbled with it a little bit. I used fresh thyme instead of ground, because that’s what I had in the house. I added some sugar to give a layer of sweet to the spice. I pop my corn in a large pot, but you can just as easily pop a bag in the microwave and toss in the spices and give it a shake. I used butter, but to keep things vegan, you can use margarine. It’s also a great pantry recipe. Gourmet popcorn, minus the stupid bacon.

Sweet and Spicy Popcorn

3/4 cup corn kernels

1/3 cup oil

3 tablespoons shortening, melted

Spice Mix

In a bowl, mix together:

1 1/4 teaspoons paprika

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

3/4 teaspoon onion powder

3/4 teaspoon ground pepper

3/4 teaspoon dried oregano

3/4 teaspoon ground thyme (I used fresh and was very pleased)

1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons sugar


Heat the oil and one kernel in a large pot. Once it pops, add the rest of the kernels to the pot. Wearing potholders, lift the pot occasionally, holding onto its lid and give it a shake. Once your popcorn has popped, pour in the melted shortening, give it all a shake, then add the spice mix and shake it like a Polaroid picture.

This stuff is crazy addictive. I ate most of it while trying to photograph it and had to make great efforts to make sure there was some left for Rich.

Stupid bacon.

Dollar. Taco. Tuesday.

Tomorrow is my favorite kind of Tuesday: Taco Tuesday! Here’s the deal: Ken Oringer’s little taqueria, La Verdad, which is across the street from Fenway Park, sells some of their tacos for $1 on Tuesdays when the Red Sox aren’t playing at home. Which means that’s where you’ll find me every Tuesday from November through March.

I’ve found that two is enough, three if I’m feeling very very hungry. And when I say chicken taco, I mean achiote BBQ chicken with pickled red onions and sour orange. The other $1 choices are the pig ones. I can’t vouch for them, but I hear they’re also fantastic.

Please Note: There is a new chef at La Verdad and the tacos have changed. Not to worry, they are still incredibly delicious. Also, to qualify for the dollar taco deal, you now have to eat inside the restaurant.

As of January 25, 2011, Taco Tuesday begins at 5PM.

It's much tastier than it looks. I was still a novice at whipping out my camera in restaurants when this was taken.

America’s favorite…something

When I saw photographer Dwight Eschliman’s 37 or So Ingredients documenting what really goes into a Twinkie, I remembered one hot summer day, long long ago. My exhausted camp counselors made up a contest, the winner of which would receive a special prize. I can’t for the life of me remember what the contest was, but I do remember swelling with pride at being crowned winner. When handed a package of Twinkies my 10-year-old face betrayed my attempts at being a gracious winner. “Um, I can’t eat this,” I said, feeling the tears swell. “Why not?” my jealous fellow campers asked. “It’s not kosher. It has beef in it.” Everyone kind of stood around, trying to digest the idea that a cow had somehow made its way into a snack cake. After the repulsion subsided, no one wanted to eat the Twinkies, so they were left on a picnic table. Sometime in my adolescence, the beef tallow was removed and I finally tried a Twinkie. I wasn’t missing much. Growing up kosher gave me a heightened awareness of what goes into the foods I eat, and I have been the bearer of bad news to many a vegetarian. A blessing and a curse.

Now without beef tallow. Credit: Pieces of Flair