Month: September 2014

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Splendidly Chocolate!

I have a confession to make, I’m a chockaholic, and I’m not afraid to admit it.  Just chomping on a chocolate bar is my idea of heaven, give me chocolate chips, in a dessert, in a drink, in a snack, in a cookie, and I’ll be your friend for life.  I’ll have to admit though, these days I do not tempt myself, nor go down that route anymore, as I have no self-control – it’s all or nothing for this gal.  

It had been a while since I had baked any kind of chocolatey goodness, so when our friends invited us over to celebrate his Dad’s birthday, I asked him about his Dad’s favorite dessert as I wanted to contribute to the party.  Without any hesitation, he blurted out “Chocolate Cake with Buttercream Frosting”.  So, here was my chance, I set about finding something suitably chocolatey to bring to the party.  I had also been testing my new convection oven over the weeks and thought this was a great opportunity to make a double-tiered chocolate cake and see if the convection oven was all it was cracked up to be.  I had been doing some of my own research online to acquaint myself with this new appliance. It claims to cook and bake evenly.  There is a small fan in the back of the oven that circulates the air, thereby allowing even distribution of the hot air in the oven.  It also cuts down the baking time by a few minutes, allowing you to tend to other things, like pouring yourself a cocktail :).  Thanksgiving, Christmas and other larger gatherings work a treat with the convection oven as you can bake several dishes with the same setting at the same time.  This chocolate cake is adapted from Epicurious.   I wanted to link this post to Selma’s tips n’ tricks on baking and a whole host of other ideas.  If you haven’t already visited her blog you’re missing out; not only is she so helpful to newcomers such as myself, she just has such an amazing blog full of wonderful recipes and stories.  Her motto “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful” http://selmastable.wordpress.com/tips-and-tricks/

  • Time: 1hr
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 cup boiling hot water
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • Rounded 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature for 30 minutes
  1. Put oven rack in the middle position and preheat oven to 350deg F.  Butter 2 (9″ by 2″) round cake pans and line bottom of each with parchment paper.  If using wax paper, butter and dust side of pans with cocoa powder (if cake is semi-naked), knocking out excess.
  2. Whisk together hot water and cocoa powder in a bowl until smooth, then whisk in milk and vanilla.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.
  4. Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy about 3-5 minutes.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Reduce speed to low and add flour and cocoa mixtures alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture (batter may look curdled).
  5. Divide batter between cake pans, smoothing tops.  Bake until a wooden pick or skewer comes out clean and edges of cake begin to pull away from the sides of pans 25-35 minutes total.  Cool layers in pans on racks 10 minutes, then invert onto racks, removing parchment paper and cool completely.  

Chocolate/Vanilla Buttercream Frosting 

  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter softened
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips melted
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons milk
  1. In medium bowl, mix powdered sugar and butter with spoon or electric mixer on low speed.  Stir in vanilla and 1 tablespoon of the milk.  Add chocolate chips.
  2. Gradually beat in just enough remaining milk to make frosting smooth and spreadable.  If frosting is too thick, beat in more milk, a few drops at a time.  If frosting becomes too thin, beat in a small amount of powdered sugar.  Frosts 9″x13″ cake generously, or fills and frosts an 8″ or 9″ two-tiered cake.  I sandwiched the 2 tiered cake with some frosting, then spread some on top, but not the sides to give it a more semi-naked look.  I then piped some curly-wurlies on the top and base of the cake.  If you want to frost the entire cake, you would probably need to make some adjustments with the frosting. 

The hosts prepared grilled sea bass, home-made barbecue sauce on baby back ribs, steamed asparagus and pasta.  It was all very delicious.  Loved the whole fish, bones and all :).  Finished it off with a dessert pumpkin martini :).  

I’m off to join Angie’s  virtual potluck party.  Today’s co-hosts are Naina and Prudy.  Please click on their names to reach their blogs – each unique, creative and most talented.  Thanks ladies for allowing us this great get-together every  Friday.  We visit, learn, and forge wonderful friendships around food.  :)

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Ina Garten’s Limoncello Tom Collins

Ingredients – (Makes 4-6 drinks)

  • 1 1/2 cups good vodka, such as Grey Goose – I used Skyy Vodka
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (6 lemons)
  • 6 tablespoons sugar syrup (see below)
  • 1/4 cup Italian Limoncello liqueur
  • 1 1/2 cups cold club soda
  • Ice cubes
  • sliced lemon for serving and fresh mint for garnish
  • Simple Sugar syrup (Yield 1 1/2 cups) 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar.  Bring water and sugar to a boil and boil till sugar is dissolved.  Cool to room temperature and transfer to jar.  Store in refrigerator. 

Combine the vodka, lemon juice, sugar syrup, and Limoncello in a large pitcher.  Just before serving, pour in the club soda and stir.  Fill glasses with ice and pour the mixture over the ice.  Garnish each drink with a slice of lemon and a sprig of fresh mint and serve cold. Cheers! 

I served these Limoncello drinks one evening last week when a few friends came for dinner (see menu below).   I do love playing hostess, throwing a party, entertaining guests from out of town etc.  It could  either be an impromptu dinner or putting on a spread, planning a tablescape, picking out flowers, candles, deciding on a menu and making it all happen.  Since we’ve recently downsized, we are not able to accommodate the 30-40 people we hosted at prior parties,  so more intimate gatherings and smaller groups seem to be the norm.  I do miss the dancing at some of our parties though…..hubby would get the music organized, and the house cleaned and all set up for the party, I would spend hours in the kitchen, getting it all together and loved every minute of it. Click on this link  Cooking Up a Storm  to read how I developed my love of cooking and entertaining.  I also enjoy teaching folks some of the techniques I’ve developed over the years, so often I will invite friends over and teach them how to cook an Indian curry, perhaps show them how to make a paella or the fine art of rolling sushi.  I enjoy this immensely as everyone is involved in the preparation, fueled by glasses of wine, chatter and laughter. A group of us started a Cooking Club a while back, the hostess would create a menu, most times it was from a different country, and we’d all contribute ingredients and learn from each other.  The virtual linky parties that I’ve joined as a result of blogging, are also a lot of fun, you get to meet folks with cooking interests from around the world and you get to try recipes you would never have before.   

For last week’s dinner party with our friends, I served Roasted Chicken thighs with Balsamic Vinaigrette, Herbed Oven Roasted Baby Red Potatoes, with a sprinkling of grated parmesan,  Caponata (Eggplant with Tomatoes and Olives) and my infamous Apple and Cheese Tart.

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Here’s what my table looked like – I especially love taking pictures at dusk, it gives the entire room such a glow doesn’t it?  I’m heading over to Angie’s  for our Fiesta Friday virtual party, I can’t wait to see all the entries and thank our British duo from across the pond.  Hop on over to their blogs and see what an amazing job they both do.  Thanks Selma and Elaine – your co-hosting is very much appreciated. 

 

Peach and Plum Galette

Oh how I love Fall and all that it brings, it’s probably my most favorite season.   Warm, sunny days and cool nights – being able to sleep with the windows wide open to let the cool air in.  The slow yet steady pace of the leaves eventually turning, the anticipation of the brilliant hues all around, the clean up and eventually putting the garden to bed, just so much to look forward to.  Fall conjures up images of pumpkins, gourds, scarecrows, fall fruit, like apples and peaches, the latter juicy and succulent.    I just love to bake when the weather outside is less humid and I can finally turn on the oven (and not suffer from heat exhaustion).  Of course I try saving dessert-making just for company or when our girls visit, but with the cooler nights and beautiful warm days, fruit baked pies and bars just scream out my name.  I did make raspberry and blueberry oatmeal squares last week so I thought I’d make a Peach and Plum Galette this week.  The peaches and plums were sitting in the fruit bowl for a few days just  waiting to be used.  

A galette is a French term that refers to a flat, free-form, open-faced round, cake, usually made with a flaky pastry dough of some kind.  It is rustic and bold, with pretty fall colors, yet can be pretty elegant if you wish to serve it at a dinner party.  I was not serving this to anyone fancy, so I did not go the extra mile to make it elaborate nor elegant.  The best part about galettes, is you can be pretty innovative, choosing to use savory or sweet ingredients.   You don’t have to flute the edges, you do not need to cover the top, nor make slits to let out the air…….when you’ve mixed up all the fruit and spices, you just plonk it onto the pastry, turn up the edges and  just let your imagination be your guide.  I decided to make a smaller version of this galette, but the ingredients below should serve about 6-8.

Ingredients for Pastry

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt and sugar
  • 3/4 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup ice water or more
  • or you can use store bought Puff Pastry if time is short 

Filling

  • 3 large peaches, sliced but not peeled
  • 2 plums sliced, but not peeled
  • a handful of blueberries for color variation 
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp. cold butter diced
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice

Topping

  • 1 egg lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons coarse sugar

For pastry, place flour, salt and sugar in large bowl. Mix together, Add butter and cut into flour with a pastry blender or your fingertips. Add water and toss mixture until moistened. Lightly knead into a ball. You will probably need an extra few tablespoons of water. You can do all this with a food processor if you have one.  Roll dough out on a floured surface to a 12 inch circle. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

The peaches are tossed with flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, ground ginger, cardamom and lemon juice to coat well and centered onto the rolled circle of dough. You must remember to place the dough on parchment paper before adding the filling or you’ll never move it onto the baking sheet.  The dough is then centered onto the pastry to encase the filling. Fold the edges over the peach mixture overlapping as you go, leaving the centre open.  It is then brushed with an egg wash which will give it that nice sheen and will be golden brown when done.  A sprinkling of turbinado sugar and your galette is ready for the oven.  Bake in a pre-heated oven at 400deg F for 20 minutes.  Lower the temperature to 375 deg F for 30 minutes or until golden brown in color. 

Here’s the finished product, a golden brown galette oozing with the juices and syrup that have formed, it has a nice crisp, crunch to it, I’ve served it with a dollop of vanilla yogurt and skipped the ice cream, so now I do not feel quite so guilt-ridden :)). Welcome Fall! I’m trotting off to Angie’s Fiesta Friday # 33.  Thanks to our co-hosts Andrea  and Sylvia  for helping today, make sure you check out their food blogs.  

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Tea for Two and Two for Tea!

I’m not quite sure when I made the switch from drinking coffee for breakfast to drinking tea – it might have been after my children were born.  For some reason, we go through many cravings and changes when that occurs don’t we?  Now don’t get me wrong, I love coffee, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafting through the house is enough to titillate my senses, but there is nothing more comforting for me now than a cup of hot tea with milk to wake me up every morning.  With that in mind, I’m bringing out my best tea set and serving up tea with Blueberry/Raspberry Oatmeal Breakfast Bars. 

We just got through some fresh blueberries and raspberries, and I’ve got to bring something to Fiesta Friday in a hurry.  So out popped the frozen variety, and I must say they weren’t too bad after all  :).  I halved this recipe and I got enough bars for a week of nutritious goodies for breakfast.  Oh, and by the way, the tea set was a hand-me-down from ma-in-law who claims she got it as a gift from relatives in South Africa.  Isn’t it just so swanky and grand?  There’s a creamer, sugar bowl, teapot and service for six. 

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cup oatmeal
  • 2 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (I added half blueberries, and half raspberries)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tbs cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tbs golden flaxseed meal

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixing bowl combine the oatmeal, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, golden flaxseed meal, soda and salt. 

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Melt the butter and pour over the oatmeal mixture.  Mix until incorporated and crumbly.  Press 2/3 of the oatmeal mixture into a 9 x 13 pan, saving the other 1/3 for the topping. 

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In a separate bowl, combine the blueberries/raspberries, sugar and corn starch.  Mix until the blueberries/raspberries are evenly coated with the sugar and corn starch.  Pour over the bottom crust. 

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Crumble the remaining oatmeal mixture over the blueberries/raspberries.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from the oven and let cool completely before cutting.  

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Now join me for a cuppa won’t you and enjoy additional pictures of this intricate pattern of the tea set below.  Click on the individual photos to enlarge.

I’m bring cinnamon tea and my blueberry/raspberry oatmeal breakfast bars to Angie’s weekly Fiesta Friday # 32.  Can’t wait to get there, just so many great folks with many many creative ideas in the kitchen.  A big thanks to Hilda@along the grapevine for co-hosting.