Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Lemony Snicket

I am working on this big project at work, and there are 15 of us who are trapped in a room all day glued to our laptops, running around helping each other and trying not to let the rest of the company into out little haven.

One of the women has been baking any type of cookie she could think of and bringing in plates and plates of them to these sessions. She is fabulous, but the team was looking for a change. One of the other ladies in the group starting buying grocery-store cakes and bringing them in - thanks, but not for my palate.

So I decided it was time to being in one of my lemon cakes. Depending on who I have made this for, it has been referred to as my Lemon Coffee Cake, my Lemon Pound Cake, or my Lemony Goodness (scary name, I know). This cake is really very easy and uses a boxed cake mix (not something I will do on a regular basis) and a box of flavored Jell-O. Its quick and easy and ever morsel is to die for. This cake is always a huge hit - I have even made it with Orange, Lime, Strawberry or Raspberry.

Lemon Cake
Yields 16 servings
Preparation Time: 5.00 Minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 30.00 Minutes
Cooking Time: 30.00 Minutes

Chef's Note: If you have it available, use 1 teaspoon of lemon oil and then reduce your amount of water by 1 teaspoon.

18 1/4 Ounce(wt)s cake mix, white
4 Large egg, whole at room temperature
3 Ounce(wt)s jello, lemon, 3-oz box
1 Teaspoon extract, lemon
3/4 Cup oil, vegetable
3/4 Cup water, cold
1 Large lemon, zested

1 Cup sugar, powdered
3 Tablespoons juice, lemon

Mix together the cake mix, eggs, jello, extract, oil, zest and water and beat for 5 minutes on medium. Pour into greased and floured bundt pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then turn it out onto a cake circle or a serving plate. Let cake cool an additional 20 minutes before glazing.

Mix together remaining ingredients. Drizzle with graze using a fork or pouring from a spouted container.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Curse of Friday the Thirteenth

My day started out pretty normal for a day off. My plan was to take it easy, make a cake and then head out to see a movie by 1pm. Then afterwards, I would go with my brother and his family to a “dinner party” with some old friends to see their new house. Seems simple enough, no?

Apparently not. After helping get the kids off to school, I threw on some clothes and my sister-in-law ran me up to the store for some key ingredients (eggs, butter, buttermilk). I returned home and got mixing. I sifted dry ingredients, creamed butter and sugar and, oh yeah, turned on the oven. I mixed wet with dry and alternated with the milk…easy pisy.

Then I realized the time (this cake cooks for almost 2 hours) and I quickly poured the batter into my Bundt pan. I turned to put it in the oven and realized that it was not to temperature yet. Odd, especially considering that I was baking at 300 degrees convection. Hmmmmm.

I opened the oven door and the oven was COLD! Completely devoid of any heat at all and here is this cake batter in the pan and no way to bake it. After 2 calls to KitchenAid and 6 calls to repairmen, I found a guy who would come out in the afternoon. Thank god. Oh well – no chance of seeing a movie today.

Next, I cleaned up from making the batter and realized I had never put in the tablespoon of vanilla extract – dammit! Quite the day I was having. Next thing I knew it was noon – the repairman said anytime between 12 and 2pm – so much for taking a shower. I sat any watched a DVD waiting for the doorbell to ring.

At 1:55pm, the doorbell rang. I opened the door to a very nice Russian with his bag of tools in hand. He came in, took the oven apart (did I mention this oven is only 5 months old?) and found that it needed a new thermostat. Great – so much for baking today. I walked him out with the promise of repair on Wednesday and checked next door – the neighbor was out…so much for stealing his oven for a couple of hours.

Now the stress kicks in. My Chocolate Pound Cake is doomed for the trash and I cannot stand it…all that work and nothing to take to our friends’ house for dessert. Then my sister-in-law has an epiphany…Marni! Our friend lives only 10 minutes away and she is at home with her two boys on Fridays. We give her a ring and she is game.

I run and jump in the shower, quickly get dressed and my sister-in-law comes through the door. She runs me to Marni’s house and I heat up her oven and pop my cake in. Will it work? This batter has been sitting now for like 6 hours and lord knows what will happen.

Well, the cake overflowed onto the pizza stone in the bottom of the oven, but luckily that was a very easy cleanup. The cake came out perfect looking, but who knows how it would taste.

Luckily, the cake was amazing. A quick glaze just before serving (with Vanilla ice cream, no less) and the cake is a huge success! Thank goodness – my day could not have gotten any worse, could it? I’m glad Friday the 13th doesn’t happen ever month!

Chocolate Pound Cake
Yields 16 servings

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
3 cups sugar
5 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Special equipment: 10-cup bundt pan

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cocoa and set aside. Using an electric mixer, cream together butter, shortening, and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, and mix well after each addition.

Add flour and buttermilk alternately to butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Add vanilla and mix well. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes or until cake is done.

Remove from oven and allow cake to cool in pan for 10 minutes. Invert onto cake plate and glaze.

Chocolate Glaze:
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
1 tablespoon honey

Put all the ingredients in a microwave safe bowl or glass measuring cup. Melt at 50 percent power in the microwave until soft, about 1 minute. Stir, and continue heat until completely melted, about 1 minute more. Remove from the microwave and whisk until fully combined, smooth and glossy. While warm, pour glaze over cooled cake and do not spread.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Italian Bribery

My brother and sister-in-law have yet to find a replacement babysitter since I moved away from the Bay Area 3 years ago. Unfortunately, this presented us with a dilemma...no one to watch the kids last night so all the adults could go into the city for a fancy, foodie birthday dinner for my dad.

Last minute, we had to volunteers from my sister-in-law's office who had no trouble watching the kids. So now the issue was - what can we make for dinner that is excellent and gourmet (without too much work) so that our new babysitters aren't stuck with pizza or fish sticks (not that we would serve either).

So I decided to go for something Italian - meatballs! And so my somewhat picky-eater of a niece would go for it...stuff them with cheese!! Maggie will eat just about anything is cheese is involved. So I whipped up a double batch (so those of us eating out could have it for lunch the next day, of course), and left it simmering on the stove. What a success - and so easy too!

Spaghetti with Mozzarella-Stuffed Meatballs
Serves 4

1/4 Cup breadcrumbs, plain
1/2 Cup milk, skim
1 Tablespoon oil, extra virgin olive
3 Cloves garlic, fresh minced
56 Ounce(wt)s tomatoes, crushed (fire-roasted if available)
1 Tablespoon oregano, dried
1 Tablespoon basil, dried
1 to taste salt
1 Pound beef, sirloin, ground (ground chuck works too)
2 Tablespoons parsley, flat-leaf chopped
1/2 Cup cheese, parmesan, grated plus more for serving
1 Large egg, whole
4 Ounce(wt)s cheese, mozzarella (part skim) cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 Pound pasta, spaghettini

In a medium bowl, soak the bread crumbs in the milk.

In a large, wide saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the smashed garlic and cook until golden, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, oregano and basil and season to taste with salt and let the sauce simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally.

Add the beef, chopped garlic, parsley, Parmigiano-Reggiano, egg and 1 teaspoon of salt to the soaked bread crumbs and stir with a fork until combined. Place about 2 tablespoons of the mixture in your hand and press a mozzarella cube into the center. Shape the meat around the cheese, forming a ball. Repeat with the remaining meat and mozzarella.

Stir the sauce and raise the heat to medium- low. Carefully place the meatballs in the sauce, submerging them completely. Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook without stirring for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti, cook until al dente, about 8 minutes, and drain. Toss the spaghetti with the tomato sauce and meatballs, sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.