Spice Cake – No Box Necessary!

Spice Cake

Well, it is New Year’s Eve, and it is likely that many of you are beginning to think about your 2009 resolutions.  I was starting to think about resolutions as I drove in circles around my gym’s parking lot yesterday, looking for a space.  It seems that more people have been jumping on the exercise bandwagon since the glut of the holidays.  Not good news for me, since if I spend more than 5 minutes waiting for a parking spot, I’m outta there!  (my resolve is weak; I feel shame)

For rest of us, the people who are waiting until the last possible moment to declare the holidays over and the cleanse/dry-out/diet begun, I have a final sweet fix.  And if you bake it within the waning hours of December, you can still eat it in the first days of 2009 without guilt, since wastefulness is no way to start a new year.  Trust me – I used that justification in 2008, 2006, and 2005 with no qualms!

Spice Cake, from The Cook’s Encyclopedia of Baking by Carole Clements

(Serves 10-12)
1 1/4 c. milk
2 Tbs. dark corn syrup (I used 1 Tbs. light corn syrup and 1 Tbs. molasses)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 c. walnuts chopped (to omit walnuts, use 1 1/2 Tbs. more flour and add 2 tsp. vegetable oil to the butter) 1 1/2 sticks butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 c. sugarIngredients for Spice Cake 1 egg, at room temperature
3 egg yolks, at room temperature
2 c. flour
1 Tbs. baking powder
1 tsp. grated nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground allspice

Cream Cheese Frosting:
6 oz. cream cheese
2 Tbs. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 3/4 c. confectioners’ sugar
2 Tbs. finely chopped ginger
2 Tbs. maple syrup (maple syrup was my swap-in for ‘syrup from stem ginger’: feel free to use that if you can find/make it)

Cake pans with parchment liningPreheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two or three (depending on how many layers you want in your cake) 8-inch cake pans with wax/parchment paper and grease.  I learned a trick once for lining a round cake pan – fold a square of parchment (or wax) paper in half, then fourths.  Now bring the open edges together to form a triangle.  Then position the point of the triangle in the center of the pan, as shown in my lovely photo.  Cut the parchment paper at the place where it reaches the edge of the pan.  Open up your sheet and you should have a perfect circle the size of the bottom of your cake pan.

In a bowl, combine the milk, corn syrup, vanilla and walnuts.

With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and egg yolks. Add the milk mixture and stir well. [At this point I should note that my batter was one of the ugliest and least promising-looking I’ve ever encountered.  It seemed lumpy and greasy and looked like it was separating.  I am sure it was due to my substitutions, but in any case the cakes came out really well.  So if your batter looks funny, just power through and see what happens!  You might get lucky, like I did!]  

Baked Cakes

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and spices 3 times. Add the flour mixture in batches, and fold in carefully after each addition.Divide the cake mixture between the pans. Bake until the cakes spring back when touched lightly – about 25 minutes for 3 layers, a bit longer for 2 layers. Let stand 5 minutes, then unmold and cool on a rack.

For frosting, combine all the ingredients and beat with an electric mixer. Spread the frosting between the layers and over the top.

Then, eat up!  I loved this cake, and RJ – a strong proponent of the Duncan Hines “Moist Deluxe” box – agreed that it was super moist and really flavorful.  I hope that the below picture can convey that the crumb of this cake was large and not at all dry or dense.  If you like walnuts, I think that the added crunch would have been welcome, but we aren’t nut lovers, so this one made us happy.  Enjoy!


Carmelized Onion and Brie Stuffed Chicken

Brie Stuffed Chicken

chick-onionsSince my last chicken post was kind of a bust (no offense, honey, it just wasn’t really a recipe.  And besides no one can fry those Tyson tenders like you can – it can’t be taught!), I have a really really good one for you today.  This recipe was given to me by a friend who is taking a Healthy Cooking class out in Brookline, MA.  She shared with me some of the dishes she had already made, and I of course weeded through all the really healthy ones with such forbidden items as vegetables, tofu, and whole wheat flour, to find the only one my husband would eat.  And, boy, did he ever!  We are huge fans of this recipe, even more so when I have caramelized onions already on hand to make this even easier!  In fact, may I recommend to all of you that you always have some caramelized onions on hand?  They are great for stirring into risotto, topping on baked potatoes, adding to an omelette, layering into a vegetable gratin, incorporating into hors d’oeuvres or for any number of other possibilities.  And they do keep, especially if you freeze them this way.

Pounded Chicken BreastsIn any case, this dish just really tastes good.  I’ve made it with both grocery store President-brand brie and with the really good Brie de Nangis that my local cheese shop, Joppa Fine Foods, regularly stocks.  The good stuff does make for a richer and more flavorful result, but if you don’t have access to any, the grocery brands work fine.  Also, if pounding out chicken doesn’t sound all that fun to you, I would guess that you could make this recipe by cutting a deep slit into the side of a chicken breast (but not through to the other side) parallel to the cutting board, and stuffing the cheese mixture inside that way.  Close up the slit with a toothpick and proceed with the recipe.  You might not get quite as much filling, but it is more exciting than straight chicken! 

Brie and Caramelized Onion Stuffed Chicken Breast, adapted from Cooking Light May 1997

Onions and Wine1 Tbs. and 1 tsp. olive oil, divided
1/2 c. sliced onion
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/3 cup white wine or dry vermouth
2 oz. Brie, cut into small pieces
1 Tbs. fresh sage, chopped finely
2 skinless boneless chicken breasts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat 1/2 tsp. olive oil in large oven-proof pan (meaning no plastic handles) over medium heat, add sliced onion and cook 3 minutes, until browned. Add sliced garlic and saute until golden brown. Stir in 1/3 cup white wine and cook five minutes or until liquid is evaporated.

Filled ChickenSpoon onion mixture into bowl and let cool. Once cooled, stir in Brie, sage and salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, place one chicken breast into a large plastic bag or between two sheets of plastic wrap. Pound with a rolling pin or heavy sauce pan, using firm glancing blows, until chicken is approximately 1/4 inch thick. Repeat with all of the chicken breasts. Salt and pepper each piece to taste.

Place a dollop of stuffing mixture onto the chicken, roll up and secure with a toothpick. Repeat with the rest of the chicken. In the same skillet you used for the onions, add a bit more olive oil, and brown the chicken roll-ups on all sides.

Put the whole pan into the oven and bake for 25 minutes.  At this point, you can dig in and enjoy, or you can remove the chicken from the pan, and pour into the pan about a 1/2 cup of white wine and some minced garlic, stirring to pull up the browned bits.  As it starts to get thicker, stir in a couple teaspoons of butter, then pour over the chicken for a nice and easy sauce.


Quite a Pair…

Homemade Macaroni and CheeseAt long last, there will be pictures! There is no question in my mind that a food blog simply cannot exist without the mouthwatering images that tempt and entice you to grab your nearest skillet and spatula and head for the kitchen. Hopefully today’s post will do just that! It is a special treat to have as a guest blogger my husband RJ. Though I am usually the one cooking dinner, he has never refused to fill in for me when I needed a break. He has a short repertoire, for sure, but his dishes never fail to satisfy, and they always involve the bare minimum of prep time.

Cold WeatherMy lovely husband has decided to share his secret chicken recipe today, as I break down a gooey and decadent macaroni and cheese side dish. I do not recommend serving these together, as we did this past weekend, for fear of breadcrumb-whiteflour-carb overload. But the weather outside was frightful and these dishes, under the circumstances, were delightful.

By the way, Happy Holidays everyone!

R.J.’s Famous Chicken

3 Tbs. olive oil
5 Tyson frozen chicken tenders

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet until shimmering, like so:



Remove chicken from freezer, like so:


Place chicken tenders in pan, making sure they do not touch. Let cook in the pan, flipping tenders every 3-4 minutes, until well browned on both sides. Voila!:

RJ's chicken

Macaroni and Cheese, adapted from From Warehouse to Your House by Sally Sampson (Sorry- I love Costco)

Serves 3macaroni and cheese sauce
1/2 lb. shaped pasta (gemelli, macaroni, shells, etc.)
2 Tbs. butter
2 Tbs. flour
1 1/4 c. milk
1 1/2 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 c. shredded fontina or gruyere cheese
3/4 c. grated parmesan cheese, divided
1/2 c. breadcrumbs (I used seasoned ones)
salt and pepper

Set a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Add the pasta to boiling water and cook until al dente.  Drain and transfer to a mixing bowl.

mac-cheese-sauceMelt the butter in a large skillet.  Add flour, 1/4 tsp. kosher salt, and pepper to taste, stirring constantly. When it starts to thicken, gradually add the milk, whisking constantly until the mixture has the consistency of heavy cream, about 1 minute.  Gradually add the cheddar, fontina or gruyere, and 1/2 c. of parmesan cheese, stirring all the time.  Pour the cheese mixture into the pasta and stir to combine.  Pour into a 8×8″ baking dish.  The noodles will be drowning in sauce for now, but it will get soaked up in the baking process.

In a small bowl, combine remaining 1/4 cup of parmesan and the breadcrumbs.  Sprinkle liberally over the top of the macaroni and cheese.  (You can cover and refrigerate the dish up to 2 days or freeze up to 3 months).  Bake until golden brown, 35 minutes.  Serve immediately.

Macaroni and Cheese with Crunchy Topping

Let Them See Cake

Momofuku Chocolate Cake

Apologies, apologies. I still don’t have my camera cord, so I am on a break from posting new recipes. However, I have some stored pictures that I thought some of you might enjoy. Namely, the above picture of amazing cake. The first weekend in December, I spent in New York City visiting my brother and his girlfriend, Claire. They live on the Lower East Side, amidst a delectable collection of David Chang restaurants. Our first night in the city, we waited until midnight to eat dinner at Momofuku Ssam.  And it was worth it.  Every bite of pork belly in my steamed bun convinced me of that fact.  A short walk down the hall is Momofuku Milk Bar, where I first encountered this counter:

momofuku cookiesDon’t let the crazy names fool you – compost cookie, cornflake marshmallow chocolate chip cookie, and corn cookie are some of the best mouthfuls you’ll ever meet.  In addition to cookies, the Milk Bar serves cakes and pies.  “Crack Pie”, in case anyone’s wondering, is made of butter, brown sugar, heavy cream, corn flour, and a hint of nutmeg.  Apt name, I’d say.  I am of course not the first to laud the offerings of the Milk Bar – Adam of Amateur Gourmet named the Banana Cake his 2nd best dish of 2008, and Serious Eats gives you the full run-down of the offerings, but I am here to reinforce the ruling of ‘truly awesome’.

The cake you see above is a chocolate fudge cake with yellow cake icing.  That’s about all I can say, until you taste it.  The ‘cake’ part melds into the ‘icing’ part so it is just one incredible bite of soft, creamy, vanilla-and-chocolate-flavored scrumptiousness.  Like I said, you have to taste it.  If I haven’t convinced you to go, read Frank Bruni’s article.  He really knows what he’s talking about.  I just pretend to.