Archive for December, 2008

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!



December 31, 2008 at 9:30 am 1 comment

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.


December 29, 2008 at 7:34 pm Leave a comment

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

December 24, 2008 at 3:14 pm 4 comments

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.

December 20, 2008 at 1:14 pm 3 comments

Holiday Hors d’Oeuvres

palm-final1 ‘Tis a sad day when a food blogger forgets her camera’s USB cord at her parents’ house (think over the river and through the woods for an hour), especially on a Barefoot Bloggers Bonus Recipe day!  I was all prepared to show you the beautiful-looking Savory Palmiers that I made for my parents’ Christmas party.  They came out so perfectly – in the characteristic elephant ears shape, and run through with holiday colors: red sun-dried tomatoes, green basil pesto, and snowy white goat cheese.  I was wildly impressed with Becky’s  oh-so-appropriate pick!  

First fold

I did all the prep work for these early in the day on Saturday, photographing diligently, of course.  Then I left instructions for the caterers to slice the dough in very thin perpendicular cuts, then to cook them cut-side-up on a baking sheet.  After having showered, primped, powdered, and dressed in my holiday best, I came downstairs just in time to see a sheet of 2 inch pastry bricks going into the oven!  I caught them just in time and saved the party goers the need for charger-sized plates and large bread knives to eat my hors d’oeuvre! 

In any case, I apologize for the delay with pictures, but of course you can always see how they are supposed to look by visiting the other Barefoot Bloggers’ blogs.  If I could give one piece of advice with this recipe (besides making sure you prepare the slices correctly!), it would be to NOT skimp on the filling.  More pesto! More goat cheese!  More sun-dried tomatoes!  Otherwise you won’t taste all the great flavorful goodness.  Also – use good all-butter puff pastry (Dufour is excellent) since the pastry is more than half the mouthful!  Enjoy…


Savory Palmiers, from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics (makes 60 hors d’oeuvres)

2 sheets frozen puff pastry dough
1/4 c. prepared pesto
1/2 c. crumbled goat cheese, such as Montrachet
1/4 c. finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
1/4 c. toasted pine nuts
Kosher salt


Lightly flour a board and carefully unfold one sheet of puff pastry.  Roll the pastry lightly with a rolling pin until it’s 9 1/2 x 11 1/2 inches.  Spread the sheet of puff pastry with half the pesto, then sprinkle with half the goat cheese, half the sun-dried tomatoes, and half the pine nuts.  Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp salt.

savory palmiers-filling

Working from the short ends, fold each end halfway to the center.  Then fold each side again toward the center until the folded edges almost touch. Fold one side over the other and press lightly.  Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.  Repeat for the second sheet of puff pastry using the remaining ingredients.  Cover both rolls with plastic wrap and chill for at least 45 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

palmier slicesCut the prepared rolls of puff pastry into 1/4-inch-thick slices and place them faceup 2 inches apart on sheet pans lined with parchment paper.  Bake for 14 minutes, until golden brown.  Serve warm.


December 18, 2008 at 3:47 pm 1 comment

Risotto with Sausages

I have a wonderful story to take us into the holiday season.  It begins on a dark and stormy night.  RJ had a late meeting and I was staying with my parents to avoid the long drive in the rain.  cookbooksA colleague of RJ’s, Cameron, found out that his plane was cancelled due to the weather, and RJ offered him the couch at our condo for the evening.  Though I was not there to meet Cameron, I was apparently quite the topic of conversation.  Cameron took one look at my shelves upon shelves of cookbooks and back issues of food magazines, and began to question RJ about his wife the cook. (please note that the accompanying picture shows only about a quarter of the total space taken up by these books!)

RJ has never been wildly enthusiastic about my ridiculous number of cooking tomes, but he is always supportive when the food comes out!  He must, however, have said some good things about me, because about a week after Cameron’s visit we received a package in the mail.  Cameron had sent me a new cookbook for my collection!  His note indicated that it was one of his favorites and that he was happy to share it with someone who clearly would appreciate it.  

I found that package to be one of the most heart-warming things I had ever received.  Never having met Cameron, I was quite surprised that he would send me a gift, let alone such a thoughtful one!  I was tremendously touched.  All the more so when I tried my first recipe from the book and realized that it was just as much of a gem as he said.  So, thank you Cameron.  You’re welcome at our house anytime!

Risotto with Sausages, adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (serves 6)

2 1/2 c. beef broth
2 1/2 c. water or chicken broth
4 Tbs. butter, divided
1 medium onion, cut in half and sliced thin (or minced fine for a much quicker caramelization)
2 Tbs. oil
3/4 lb. mild, sweet pork sausage, cut into disks about 1/3 inch thick
1/2 c. dry white wine
2 c. Arborio rice
Black pepper
1/2 c. freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese


Bring the broth and the water or chicken stock to a very slow, steady simmer in a medium saucepan. Melt 3 Tbs. butter in a dutch oven or heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the onion and cook until the onion becomes a deep caramel color (15-35 minutes depending on the size of the sliced/diced onions). Do not let the onions burn – make sure to stir frequently!

Remove half of the onions to a small dish and add 2 Tbs. oil to the rest on the stove. Add the sliced sausage. Cook until the sausage is browned well on both sides, then add the wine, stirring to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. When the wine has bubbled away completely [don’t you just love how Marcella writes a cookbook??], add the rice, stirring quickly and thoroughly until the grains are coated well.


Add 1/2 c. of simmering broth mixture to the rice, and cook, stirring constantly, until all the liquid is gone. “You must never stop stirring,” says Marcella. When there is no more liquid in the rice, add another 1/2 c. of broth, continuing always to stir. Begin to taste the rice after 20 min. of cooking. Finish cooking the rice with broth or, if you run out, with water. It is done when it is tender, but firm to the bite. As it approaches that stage, gradually reduce the amount of liquid you’re adding. The final risotto should be served slightly moist but not runny.

Off the heat, season to taste with pepper, 1 Tbs. butter, the grated parmesan and the caramelized onions you set aside earlier. You may also choose to stir in 1 Tbs. finely chopped sage. Taste and see if you need any salt – usually the parmesan does the trick.

And to Cameron, if you’re out there reading, this is all that was left:


December 16, 2008 at 9:09 pm 3 comments

Jumbo Cranberry-Oatmeal Jumbles

Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

Though I have already leaked my favorite cookie recipe, this is a very VERY close second place. In addition to being highly flavorful in a subtle ‘what is that?’ sort of way, the other fabulous thing about these cookies is that they are modifyable. In fact, last night was the first time I have made them according to the directions! I have, in various iterations, left out the pecans because of a nut allergy, substituted cherries and/or orange-flavored Craisins for the dried cranberries, swapped in maple syrup for the corn syrup, and, almost always, I have ignored the call for cake flour and just used 1/4 c. regular all-purpose with 1 1/2 tsp. of cornstarch. Replacements, swap-outs and eliminations of any of the solid additives (dried fruit, chocolate, coconut, pecans) are fine so long as you maintain the 2 cup total. And I wouldn’t mess with the oats, since they are the structure and the texture of the cookie.

I should note that as cookies go, these involve fairly lengthy prep: toast the coconut, toast the pecans, chop the pecans, mix the all-purpose flour and the cake flour separately, form the dough into two-inch disks blah, blah, blah. There’s even a note suggesting that the cookies are better if you weigh all the ingredients rather than measuring with a cup. However, I can tell you that I have assembled these many times with far less attention to detail then I did last night and I haven’t yet been struck by lightning.

As I said, I’ve been making minor changes to these cookies each time I bake them based on people’s dietary restrictions and taste preferences. Honestly, though, this recipe is pretty incredible as written. The coconut is hardly noticeable unless you are sniffing for it, but it adds a distinct type of sweetness that isn’t just hum-drum brown sugar. The nuts are not overpowering, and they add a nice savory element to the bite. The white chocolate seems to be a natural continuation of the cookie batter, not a glaring sore thumb, and the cranberries are a far superior (and more universally appealling, I’ve noticed) alternative to raisins.

I made these this week for a cookie swap at work – if any of my friends from the museum are checking in, please let me know what you think of the results in the comments section!

Jumbo Cranberry-Oatmeal Jumbles, from Fine Cooking magazine, November 2005, Issue 74.
(makes 16-18 big, er, jumbo cookies)

cookie-mise6 oz. (3/4 c.) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 Tbs. light corn syrup
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
6-3/4 oz. (1-1/2 c.) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 oz. (1/4 c.) cake flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. table salt
1/2 c. sweetened dried cranberries
1/2 c. rolled oats (old-fashioned, not quick-cooking)
1/2 c. pecan pieces (or coarsely chopped pecan halves), lightly toasted
1/2 c. sweetened coconut flakes, lightly toasted
3 1/2 oz. good-quality white chocolate, coarsely chopped

Position two racks near the center of the oven and heat the oven to 325°F. Line three baking sheets with parchment.

cookie-batterIn the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and both sugars at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape the bowl. Add the egg, corn syrup, and vanilla; beat for 1 minute on medium speed. Mix in half the all-purpose flour on low speed until thoroughly combined, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Scrape the bowl. Briefly mix in the remaining half of the all-purpose flour. Sprinkle the cake flour, baking soda, and salt into the bowl and beat on low speed until well blended, 30 seconds to 1 minute. With a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula, stir in the cranberries, oats, pecans, coconut, and white chocolate.

Cranberry white chocolate oatmeal coconut pecan cookies

Using your fingertips, shape 2-oz. pieces of dough (about a scant 1/4 cup) into 2-inch-diameter disks that are 1/2 inch thick. Space them at least 2 inches apart on the parchment-lined sheets. Bake until the cookies’ edges and bottoms are golden and the centers feel dry on the surface but still soft inside, 15 to 16 minutes. When baking two pans of cookies at once, switch the position of the pans after 8 minutes for even browning. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for at least 1 minute before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. These cookies will keep for three or four days at room temperature or for several weeks in the freezer.

Cranberry White Chocolate Chip Oatmeal cookies

December 12, 2008 at 10:21 am 4 comments

Older Posts

Search For Blogs, Submit Blogs, The Ultimate Blog Directory
Food & Drink Blogs - Blog Top Sites