Thursday, December 20, 2012

best cake I ever baked: Irish Coffee Three Layer Cake

You know I'm a lululemon educator and you surely understand that this is the most fun but the craziest time of year for my work life.  The mall opens and closes early which means one day a week I work until after 11 pm and one day a week I go in at 6 am.  It all flies by every shift and every day, but boy do I need to pound some stuff out today on my day off.  My babies are home and today is Christmas Cookie Day!!!  It's also shop for your cousins day so they get something infinitely cooler than they might if your mother (me) does the shopping.  So, as much as I'd love to write about holiday preparations, parties, cookies, card selection and all the rest (so much good stuff in there, really).  I am going to give you the gift of the recipe for the best cake I have EVER baked.  It looks super impressive, but really it's not tricky.  The key is to get good ingredients.  I have no idea how the whipped cream held up so well because this beauty spent 4 days in my fridge until we finished the last delicious crumbs.  I am not asking questions or looking up the science.  Go get some espresso powder and good chocolate (the only place I found good bulk chocolate for shaving was Whole Foods) and bake this cake for your favorite people.

Okay, I do have to tell a quick Whole Foods story.  I had a short list, but some things I love were on sale:  Muir Glen tomatoes, zevia ginger ale, rock creek crisps.....and so I had two solid bags full of goodness.  "That will be $215," says the nice indie clerk.  Cue to my stunned face and my heart skipping a beat.  "How?" I ask.  It's Whole Foods and there are two big bags, but no meat, no seafood, no wine, no super expensive fish oil, no overpriced sushi.....  So I scan the receipt and one block of the french chocolate rang up at $105 instead of $5.  Phew.  The customer service guy was nice and apologetic.  I was just relieved.

If you do not own three cake pans, and truly I just bought a shiny new set of three amazing King Arthur cake pans this year after only having two for decades, you can just make this a two layer cake.  Your baking time for the cake layers will be longer (maybe an extra 5-7 minutes), so check them so you don't over bake your cake.

Irish Coffee Three Layer Cake

cake layers

2 1/4 C flour
2 C sugar
3/4 C unsweetened cocoa powder (Ghiradelli is my favorite)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 T King Arthur Flour Cake Enhancer, optional
2 large eggs
1 C whole milk (I had fat free half and half to use instead)
1/2 C canola/flavorless vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 T espresso powder
1 C hot coffee

coffee-whiskey whipped cream
1 T espresso powder/instant espresso granules
1/4 C Irish whiskey (I used Jameson's)
3 C heavy/whipping cream
3 T packed brown sugar (light or dark)

finish the cake

4 ounce block milk chocolate, about 1 inch thick
4 ounce block dark chocolate or white chocolate, about 1 inch thick

Make the cake:  heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray three 9-inch cake pans with cooking spray and dust with flour, turning and tapping to remove excess.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or a large mixing bowl if using a hand mixer), briefly blend the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cake enhancer (if you have it) on low speed to combine.  Add the eggs, milk, oil, vanilla and espresso powder and mix at low speed, scraping bowl as necessary, until mixture is thick and creamy like chocolate frosting (about 5 minutes).  With mixer running, gradually add the hot coffee at low speed until just combined.  The batter will be quite thin.  Divide the batter equally between pans.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until firm to the touch, cake pulling away from the sides and tester comes out with just a few crumbs; rotating pans half way through (I have big ovens, but can only fit two cake pans on one baking rack).  Let cake cool 10 minutes in pans and then invert onto cooling rack to cool completely.

Make the coffee-whiskey whipped cream:  Clean and chill the mixing bowl and the whisk attachment (or beaters if that's what you have, but don't skip the chilling).  Measure out the whiskey and stir in the espresso powder or granules until completely dissolved.  In the chilled bowl, whip the cream, whiskey mixture and brown sugar on high until medium peaks form (2-5 minutes).

Finish the cake:  Transfer one cake layer to a cake plate and spread a third of the whipped cream on top, leaving a 1/2 inch border.  Top with second layer and repeat the whipped cream layer.  Top with final layer and spread the remaining whipped cream all the way to the edge.

To make chocolate curls or shavings, line a baking sheet with waxed paper.  Soften the chocolate a bit by placing it in the microwave on medium power for 20-30 seconds.  Draw a vegetable peeler along the bar's edge and let curls fall onto the lined baking sheet.  Make enough curls to top the cake generously.  My peeler is kind of closed so my curls were either very loose of super tight.  My french chocolate was amazing, so the beauty of the curl became secondary.  You can refrigerate the curls to make them easier to place on the finished cake.  My girls would tell you to save the shavings and the ugly curls to eat later!

You can bake the cake layer and keep them wrapped at room temperature for one day to make the cake ahead.  Refrigerate the cake with the whipped cream layers until serving.  For one cup of my heavy cream I used shelf stable whipping cream in a box from Trader Joe's.  I do not know if this is what made my cream stay so nicely, but try it.

ingredients for the camera

dry ingredients

wet ingredients

batter all thick and chocolate frosting-like

now the batter is thinned from the coffee

ready to bake

baked and pulled away from the pan

cooling cake

first attempt at chocolate shavings/curls

coffee-whiskey whipped cream:  dissolving the espresso powder in the Jameson's

there is a reason for the splatter guard

note how nicely the whipped cream is staying on the whisk

all whipped to perfection

two layers

all layered up
I would have used my treasured Tiffany's Christmas platter but this
cake had to travel to a party and I can't risk it leaving my house

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 10, 2012

cooking light, fast and super flavorful: spiced pork medallions with apples

Finally, we have a Christmas tree in our house.  Needles on the carpet, quirky branches loosening up in the heat (I use that term loosely, it's never more than 69 degrees in here) and pollen or whatever in the air strangling my lungs a little bit (no worries, that goes away after a week or so).  If your parents bought a live tree with balled roots every year and planted them in the yards of the houses you lived as just can't get an artificial tree.  Well, if this allergy thing gets worse and I need an inhaler someday we might, but we're standing tall with our intrepid fraser fir straight from the lovely state of North Carolina.  Sara will feel right at home.  Greg and I set out on our empty-nester tree buying adventure after dark on one of the colder days we've had this winter.  Even a few snow flakes fell earlier today.  So hard to get all Christmas-y when it's 60 degrees in a place where it's not supposed to be 60 degrees in December.  But the lights are twinkling outside, the decorations are waiting for me to dust in the morning before they are placed around the house and the tree will have lights one of these nights when I can take Benadryl before bed.  If you see me barely functioning later this week, you'll know why.  It's the drugs.  Whatever it takes to breathe.  Kind of important.

Anyway, by the time we got back with the tree we were really hungry and ready for me to cook while Greg moved the tree into the house.  I bought a 25th Anniversary issue of Cooking Light last month and leafed through it while we watched all the NFL games yesterday.  I had a pork tenderloin in the freezer and decided that instead of roasting it whole, I'd make the medallions or slices of tenderloin instead.  Turns out that was a brilliant plan since we got home at 7:00.  I was pretty sure anything with a good compliment of spices, covered in apples sauteed in butter and finished in cider would be delicious.  This one exceeded my expectations.  Greg and I both loved it.  I made my favorite kale salad yesterday and it went beautifully with this dish.  So here's a quick one that's just amazing.  And somehow technically light.  If you don't have a cast iron or enameled cast iron pan (Le Crueset), you'll be fine with a regular skillet.  The heavier pans make browning easier and scraping bits up for a sauce easier, but no worries.  Enjoy!

Yes, it tastes as good as it looks!

Spiced Pork Medallions with Sauteed Apples

1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
1 pound pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut crosswise into 12 medallions
1 T olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
2 C thinly sliced unpeeled Braeburn of Gala apple (I used two galas which netted more than 2 C slices, but that's the best part if you are like me)
1/2 C thinly sliced white onion
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 C apple cider
1 heaping tsp fresh thyme leaves

Heat a large cast-iron or enameled cast-iron pan over medium high heat.  Combine first 5 ingredients and sprinkle spice mixture evenly over cut pork.  Add olive oil to your pan and then add the pork to brown and cook through (3-5 minutes per side).  Do not overcook.  Remove pork from pan and place on a heated plate and cover with foil to keep warm.
Melt butter in same pan and swirl to coat.  Add apples slices, onion and 1/8 tsp salt.  Saute 4 minutes or until apple slices begin to brown.  Add cider to pan and cook for 3 minutes or so until apples are crisp tender.  Stir in thyme leaves.  Serve apple mixture over the pork medallions.

Serves 4

cooked pork medallions

adding apples and onions to the pan

all sauced up with the cider and thyme

Empty Nester tree adventures under the cover of darkness

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

new favorite: kale salad

I love my Whole Living magazine in print and on my iPad.  I love my Fine Cooking, Oprah and More magazines too.  The problem is, I have almost no time to read them.  So sad.  I really miss curling up in my chair and a half and watching Ellen or last night's Daily Show or whatever off my DVR in the middle of the afternoon and browsing catalogs, reading my mail and dog-earing pages of magazines.  Good times.  Now I just have big piles I have to cull every few months and baskets for the favorites just in case I find some time to catch up or revisit them.  Just not as fun as googling an article or a recipe.

Today's recipe comes from an article on Dr. Andrew Weil which included two recipes from his True Food Kitchen restaurants.  The man is all about good health so you know his restaurants can find their way around a good kale salad.  I know my Kelly makes a mean kale salad out in California.  Heard all about it.  Figured it was time I tried to make one myself.  I bought a nice big bag of trimmed, cleaned and chopped kale at Trader Joe's.  I still picked through it for rough stems, but it would be fine just the way they do it for you.  Then I added the dressing ingredients (because why whisk when you are about to toss?), tossed it and let it sit 30 minutes.  That 30 minutes is where the magic happens.  The raw kale softens and loses it's bitterness and the raw garlic mellows just a bit.  It was delicious!  After the waiting, I tossed in a half cup of freshly grated Parmesan and refrigerated the salad until I packed dinner the next day.  It was even more delicious!  I took in the bulk of the salad to share with my fellow lemons.  I'm sure they were relieved that I brought in kale instead of baked goods.  At least for one day.  Tis the season, after all!

So very very easy.  So good.  Give it a try!  Next time I might add in shaved fresh brussel sprouts.  Even healthier.  Or add toasted pine nuts.  Maybe dried cranberries.  Hmmm.....

work lunch plate of kale salad courtesy of my iPhone

Kale Salad

1/4 C olive oil
juice of one lemon (about 2 parts olive oil to one part lemon juice, but if you err on the side of too much lemon, no one will complain)
3 cloves garlic, minced with 1/2 tsp kosher salt
pinch red pepper flakes
one 16-oz bag chopped kale (or two bunches, stemmed and chopped)
1/4-1/2 C freshly grated Parmesan (who measures?  just grate a pretty snowy pile)
3 T toasted whole wheat breadcrumbs, optional (I didn't have any and didn't miss them)

In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, kosher salt and red pepper flakes.  Toss in the chopped kale.  Let the mixture rest for 30 minutes.  Toss with grated Parmesan and breadcrumbs, if using.  Serve or cover and refrigerate up to 2 days.

serves 8

you do not need a Costco size wedge of Parmesan, but it is good cheese

freshly tossed

freshly grated cheese

Saturday, December 1, 2012

LA inspiration: asian short ribs

Quick note to my vegetarian friends, I'll get back to you later this week.  Working on a kale salad and some other recipes that will not freak you out.  Now, for my omnivore friends let's talk slow cooked beef.  For years I'd have to ask the butcher what was the best cut of beef for braised, roasted, and slow cooked dishes.  I could never keep them straight.  So I don't even bother wracking my cluttered brain, I just buy beef short ribs (usually boneless, but bone-in are of course fine if not better), brown them and then slow cook them in a covered Dutch oven either on the stove or in the oven.  Never fails.  Like butter.  So tender.  So flavorful.  Done.  No more queries to the butcher.

Years ago I found a bottled red chili pepper sauce at Williams-Sonoma and occasionally splurged on a bottle for cooking up a savory and spicy batch of Asian flavored beef short ribs with carrots and onions.    I was newly inspired to make them at home from scratch after my visit to see Kelly in LA.  She took me straight from LAX at midnight my time to a (very) late dinner at Chego!.  A whole in the wall strip mall spot that she found on Yelp.  Chego! (yep, there's an exclamation point there) is "chillax peasant food for the soul".  Or you could say they mix up some pretty amazing bowls with mainly rice bases and then just fascinating layers of flavor combinations.  And you have to start with Ooey gooey fries  which are beer battered fries topped with sour cream sambal, monterey jack and cheddar cheeses, cotija, cilantro and pickled garlic.  Oh yeah, they are worth it.  Especially after midnight.  Kelly had the sour cream hen house:  grilled chicken bowl with fried egg, Chinese broccoli, sour cream sambal, Thai basil, sesame and red jalepeno.  I had the Leafy T:  fried chili garlic tofu rice, fried egg (yes indeedy, I gave that to Kelly), water spinach, Chinese broccoli and fried shallots.  Find it if you're ever out in Los Angeles.  What I'm getting to, is everything is apparently better with some sour cream and served "bowl style".  So this time when I slow cooked my Asian style beef ribs, I served them with sour cream, sriracha, scallions and cilantro.  If I had Thai basil that would have been awesome too.  If you get inspired by restaurant food, take a photo, take a menu and bring some of their genius ideas into your cooking at home.  Or, wait for me and I'll try to do it for you.  Fair warning:  I don't eat out very often.

Ooey Gooey Fries at Chego!

seating at benches along a mirrored wall for this awkward selfie (it was about one in the morning)
note how there is nothing awkward about Kelly, she is a professional

Leafy T Bowl at Chego!

It's that time of year.  Slow roast some meat in your oven and make your house smell savory and warm.  Splurge on some good short ribs.  You'll thank me later.

Asian-Style Beef Short Ribs

3 to 4 pounds boneless beef short ribs
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 T olive oil
one white or yellow onion, sliced vertically
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 C chicken broth or stock
1/4 C lower sodium soy sauce (Tamari)
1/4 C mirin (rice wine)
1 tsp chili garlic sauce or sriracha
1 T brown sugar
2 tsp minced fresh ginger or 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 C chopped scallions (white and tender green parts)
sour cream
sriracha sauce

Preheat oven to 300 degrees*.  Sprinkle ribs with flour, salt and pepper.  Heat olive oil in dutch oven over medium high heat and brown the short ribs on all sides (only takes a couple of minutes per side).  Add onion and garlic to pan and stir for a minute.  Pour in broth and stir in soy sauce, miring, sriracha, brown sugar and ginger.  Bring to a boil.  Cover pan and slow cook in oven for at least 3 hours until meat shreds easily with a fork.  Remove from oven, shred meat and serve over brown rice, if desired and top with sour cream, scallions, sriracha and cilantro.

*These could easily be made in a crock pot.  Brown your short ribs in a deep pan on the stove and then place them in your crockpot with all the ingredients through the ginger.  Cover and cook as directed (surely your crock pot came with a recipe for something similar with beef).  I am guessing 6-8 hours on low.  That is a guess!

Serves 4-6

I really need to stop being so hungry, that I forget to take pictures.  I have my blogger photo situation resolved, but no short ribs to show.  Owe you another one.