Feb 28, 2010

Cake Worthy of a Birthday

What's the best thing about birthdays? Two words...Birthday Cake. Hands down.

I am a strong believer that birthdays deserve cake. Not cupcakes. Not pies. Not tarts or cookies (unless they are in addition to the cake). For me, a birthday is just not a birthday without a slice of your favorite cake. And you can gather a lot about someone by their favorite kind of cake. Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting? Vanilla cake with chocolate frosting? Red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting? Each is so very different, as are the people whose preference they are.

I love it when someone’s birthday comes along because it gives me a legitimate reason to bake a cake. As much as I would love to bake cakes all the time, I don’t because it makes it all the more special when the occasion for cake arises.

One of my greatest friends' bday was on Saturday. Knowing I would be baking a cake helped me get through the week. As if I could see a cake on a pedestal at the end of the tunnel… it made all the work in the week bearable. This friend is definitely the chocolate cake – chocolate frosting kind of girl. Meaning, basically, you can’t help but love her.

I got the recipe for this cake from Tartine Bakery’s cookbook. I had the cookbook before I had actually visited the bakery, and let me say that the place deserves its own post. If you are ever visiting San Francisco, you will have missed a treasure if you don’t stop here somewhere along the way. But like I said, i'll fully express my love for it at a later time, right now all I can focus on is THE cake who happens to be sitting right here, tempting me with its chocolate cologne and good looks.

It is a chocolate devils food cake, with chocolate ganache frosting. Need I say more? I don’t think so… but I will anyways. The creation of this cake is still fresh in my mind. Like one of those rare occasions when you can remember yesterdays dream so well, you feel as if you closed your eyes you could jump back to the scene.

It was Saturday morning and, being the early bird that I typically am, I was up at 7:00. But even 7:00 was a bit early for me on a Saturday morning, I think it was the excitement and anticipation that woke me up. Like every Christmas morning of my childhood (psh! who am I kidding, this STILL happens every year), when you wake up at 6am because your internal clock KNOWS that Santa has come and gone and its show time. Except in this case, instead gifts under the tree, I was excited about the butter I knew i had left on the counter overnight to soften. The butter was ready, and I couldn’t wait any longer to unwrap it. The cake baking ensued before 8am.


I have to say, i've never seen such a beautiful batter. It might have been the most beautiful thing to come from that shiny red kitchenaid. I wanted to swipe my entire hand finger through it sooo badly, but it was much too early to be eating cake batter. As much as I wish differently, cake batter is not a sufficient breakfast.  To ensure the finger swipe wouldn’t occur, I started to fill the mixing bowl with water. It was heart wrenching to watch the chocolate dissolving into the soapy water, and as the water level approached the top I lost control. Like my brain went into neutral and survival instinct kicked, my index finger swooped up the last bit of batter from a watery death. My housemate said the sounds I made as I tasted this batter were borderline inappropriate. When you make this, I recommend not resisting a taste and inviting every man woman child and dog to try this batter.

While I aim to only post recipes that I have made at least somewhat my own, I didn't make any adaptations to the recipe from this cookbook. I didn’t want to mess with success the first time around. I wasn't going to write about it, but it is just too good not to share. I did however, use raspberry jam instead of caramel between the layers. Since I used the recipe to a 'T' I don’t know if I can post it on here because of copyright reasons or what not. But I will give you a little secret. You can Google ‘tartine bakery devils food cake’ and find it there. It feels weird not leaving you guys with a recipe on this post :( I’m going to look into the rules for sharing recipes from cookbooks. If anyone knows, please do let me know

The letters on the cake are my go to for birthday cake decorating. I melt white chocolate chips slowly in the microwave, and then pipe it on to parchment paper. Let it set until it is completely cool and the letters pop right off the paper. Stick them on the cake and viola! I like this better than piping directly onto the cake because I have been known to misspell ‘birthday’ a few times. Don’t judge.
This cake deserves a birthday just like any person does and I know just the way to celebrate it.

Feb 20, 2010

Love and Bananas

It’s been a long while since my last post, I know, don’t hate me. I can assure you laziness was not a contributing factor. The reasons include 1. Having both my feet strapped to a board that was supposed to glide me down a soft snowy mountain (in other words, I snow boarded *kinda* for the first time in my life), 2. An ear infection… in both ears. (I thought one of the perks of surviving past your third birthday was that you were out of ear infection territory, apparently not), and i’m going to stop listing off my reasons, you’ve got the idea. 

I spent the better half of today finishing a book that I really didn’t want to finish.  It’s Molly Wizenberg’s, A Homemade Life, and it’s a winner. This book has been on my list for quite some time now, but I bumped it to the top since I started blogging. Molly has a blog that I have found myself looking at everyday during my morning routine of coffee, cereal, aol/yahoo/gmail/gwmail, facebook, orangette. In that order. Her writing is delicious and her thoughts, analogies, and life remind me so much of… me. There were several times throughout the book when I felt like I was reading about myself. A very strange feeling to say the least. As I was reading, it felt like she was talking
to me like a good friend would. I was fully immersed in the pages. I caught a severe case of the giggles around page 40 and by page 145 I was trying to control sobs… some of it was all too real for me. And by the very last page I felt in love with food, with Paris, with words and with Brandon (her husband).  I’ve never been a fan of the idea of cloning things (except when I was 12 and my cat, Rudy, died. I kept one of his whiskers so I could clone him… I kid you not), but now I’m thinking again that cloning might not be so bad if I could have a Brandon sent to my doorstep. ANYWAYS I couldn’t recommend this book more to anyone who loves food, or who loves life for that matter. I can’t remember a time I have so thoroughly enjoyed a book more. 

Another big reason I love this book so much is because of the banana bread it inspired. I am a big fan. Growing up, I loved seeing the disgustingly blackened bananas on the counter top at home because I knew of their fate. I only know two people who don’t like bananas. One being my mom. She thinks it’s because she ate too many as a kid. I think it's because she’s crazy… or maybe there’s a genetic mutation to blame because my sister is the only other person who would not eat a banana for a million dollars. Not only does she hate bananas, she gets particularly PISSED if she
hears you eating one, even from the other side of the room, or behind a brick wall. It's one thing to not like bananas, but it’s a whole other thing to not like banana bread. Like it’s ok if you don’t like tomatoes (I guess), but you’d have to be crazy/un-American to not like ketchup.

I adapted this recipe for banana bread from A Homemade Life. I love adapting recipes because then I don’t feel guilty taking full credit for the great outcome, and calling them my own. Here I’ve created the practicing foodies own banana bread. I’ve always thought you can tell a great bakery by its banana bread. I became a regular at an American bakery in Florence after I had their banana bread… and because it was the only place to get a big cup of coffee. I became a regular at Doan’s in Los Angeles after a slice of banana bread and a latte. And If I were you… I would become a regular of this blog after making this banana bread. My experiment was such a success the first try; I am tempted to make this little loaf my practicing foodie mascot. Worthy of having its portrait put on a flag and hung from the streetlights lining my street.

These days I find myself happily hiding bananas in the far depths of my pantry to be forgotten and found a week later, my neglect nursing them to full term. But since I really can’t forget about the hidden yellow gems in the pantry, I have made an addition to my morning routine… coffee, cereal, aol/yahoo/gmail/gwmail, facebook, orangette, banana check. Nothing beats the morning when I wake up to find the banana bunch ripe with age spots and begging to be mashed. 



In the past banana bread has always been a struggle for me. I always took it out of the oven far too soon because I was afraid the top would brown too much. While the butt’s of bread are my favorite parts, its nice to have a loaf cooked through the middle too. I’ve made this banana bread several times now and it has turned out moist, tender, and absolutely fabulous each time. The trick is to place some tin foil over the top if you think it is browning too much. I usually place it over when there is about 10 minutes left of cooking time, but you may not have too.

  • 3 Tbls unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 c. almond flour  (I found almond flour at Trader Joe’s, if you can’t find it, all-purpose will work too… but it won't be as fabulous)
  • 1 c. all purpose flour
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 ½ oz. 72% dark chocolate, chopped fine (or any grade of dark chocolate)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ c. mashed bananas (3 bananas)
  • ¼ c. 2% greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a loaf pan.

Melt the butter in the microwave slowly, set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together the almond flour, flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the chocolate and whisk to combine well.

In another bowl beat the eggs together with a fork a bit. Add the mashed bananas, yogurt, butter, and vanilla and mix well.

Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and gently mix/fold until just combined.

Scrape the batter into loaf pan

Bake until loaf is a deep golden color on top and a toothpick comes out clean. About 50-60 minutes

 <-- click this picture to bring up a new page where you can just print the recipe. If you want to print the whole post (writing & recipe) click the title of the post and then print.

Feb 6, 2010

For the Love of Fresh Pasta

Mmmm, Fresh pasta! I would argue that if you haven’t had it, you have yet to experience all life has to offer. What’s the big difference between buying dried pasta and having it fresh? Well that’s like asking, oh I don’t know… what the difference between 12am and 12pm? It’s night and day!!! There is nothing like making pasta by hand. When I am making it, it's almost as if the colors of my world shift to antique hues and the little Tuscan grandmother in me comes alive. Now, I don’t exactly have a Tuscan grandmother, BUT i've spent enough time learning about and eating traditional Tuscan food that I think I do have a little Tuscan fairygrandmother. Making pasta is a labor of love. I think that’s the difference actually. A lot of things taste better with a little love in them… it’s my not-so-secret ingredient. In fresh pasta, you can taste it lingering in every bite.  I have only recently started making it in my own home, but I already feel almost guilty making pasta dishes with the dried variety. I see my little pasta machine sitting there on the shelf as I reach for store bought stuff and I imagine the rejection it must feel. Like how all that puppy in the window must feel when it sees one of the others being chosen and not him.

(see... antique hues!) photograph made possible by roomie

We all know it’s equally fun going out at 12am and 12pm but for different reasons. It’s the same when it comes to fresh vs. dried pasta. They are both great in different circumstances. Obviously… if you don’t have a pasta machine like this one, you aren’t going to be making rigatoni any time soon! But you can make ravioli or fettuccini. Dried pasta is best with your hearty sauces like rich marinara. Fresh is delicate and needs a sauce of the same nature.

One of my closest friends and I collaborated on this recipe.  Often times it hasn’t even hit noon yet and we are throwing around ideas for dinner. Always a good start to the day. When coming up with this pasta, we were thinking fresh & light yet cheesy & substantial. When we had decided on all the ingredients, we knew it was going to be good, but we didn’t know it was going to be THIS good! This is a slow sauce to make, one that doesn’t require a lot of attentiveness and it gets better the longer it cooks. Like one of Pavlov’s dogs, I salivate at the sound of the ricotta cheese mixing with the pasta and melting into the crevasses. I was so hypnotized by the sound, in fact, that I completely forgot to take a picture of the final result. Forgive me, it wont happen again.

Fresh Rigatoni with Heirloom Cherry Tomato Sauce
serves about 4

Fresh pasta is not necessary for this recipe. Feel free to use dried, it will still be delicious.

To make the pasta I followed the recipe that came with my pasta maker... but any will do. You do not need a stand mixer to make pasta dough.

For the Pasta dough:
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 1/2 c. sifted all-purpose flour (sift first, then measure out 3 1/2 c.)
  • 2 Tbls. water
  • 1 Tbls. salt

Break eggs into a glass measuring cup
     Place flour and salt in stand mixer bowl. Beat at low speed and gradually add in the eggs plus 2 Tbls. water. Mix for 30 seconds. Stop and exchange the flat beater for the dough hook. Turn to low speed for about 2 minutes.
    Remove mixture from bowl and place on a clean surface. Knead by hand for about a minute untill it is smooth and forms into a ball.
    This is when you add the dough in small balls into the pasta maker and it comes out in pretty shapes :)

For the Sauce:
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced - use 4 the first time (i say first because you WILL want to make this again) but add in another clove the second time if you would like a stronger garlic flavor
  • 2 cups (more or less) heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 4 Tbls balsamic vinegar
  • 3/4 of a 15 oz. container of ricotta cheese (I used whole ricotta, you could use skim if you want, but whole really is the way to go)
  • 3 oz. goat cheese
  • 2 handfuls of arugula
  • 1/2 c. basil, roughly chopped
  • about a dozen cranks of lemon pepper - I bought this at Trader's (as in Trader Joe's grocery store...we are on a first name basis thanks to my frequent visits). I bought it on a whim and now I add it to everything! Seriously Delicious
In a medium sized pan, pour enough olive oil to coat the bottom completely. Add the diced onion and a pinch of salt and sauté over a medium-low temperature. The slower you cook the onions the more delicious they get. You are not trying to brown them… you just want to sweat them out and make them happy and translucent. After about 5 minutes add the minced garlic. Keep cooking over a low temperature, once the onions become translucent, add the halved cherry tomatoes and another pinch of salt. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil and cook for a good while, I’m talking at least 20 minutes, until it is thick and glazed and saucy. Once it has all come together and reached this saucy stage, add the splash balsamic vinegar and turn up the temperature a little bit. Continue cooking until it is reduced and has turned the sauce a wonderful caramelized color. Resist eating this with a fork straight out of the pan… but its okay if your can't.

      (This is right before adding the balsamic vinegar)
You can keep the sauce over low heat while you cook the pasta. Since I am using the fresh rigatoni I made only hours beforehand, it takes about 3 minutes to cook. If you are using store bought pasta, follow the time on the box. Once the pasta is done, save about ½ c. of the pasta water and set it aside. Drain the pasta. In a large bowl, add the pasta, the cheeses (it is important to do this first so the heat from pasta really melts the cheese), the pasta water, the onion/tomato sauce, the arugula, basil, and lemon pepper. Toss all together until well incorporated. I like to have some freshly grated Parmesan to sprinkle on top. I also like to add a little salt and pepper once I’ve dished up my individual plate, but after I’ve tasted it to feel it out.

I had these leftovers cold for lunch the next day, YUM


Feb 5, 2010

Food For Thought Friday

This week's Food For Though Friday is short and sweet. Well... maybe not sweet, but important. If you haven't seen this documentary I recommend you do. It is alarming and sometimes difficult to watch, but it is the story of our food. I want to emphasize that this was not made by vegetarian extremes. I had assumed that is was before watching it. I even think vegetables and grocery stores get more screen time than factory farms do. While you might not want to have a burger... or go to a chain grocer after watching this... its better to be aware than in the dark.

feel free to comment your opinions on the film!

Happy Friday :)

Feb 2, 2010

A World Without Cancer Is A World With More Birthdays-- New Red Velvet Cupcakes

I have two new recipes that I am really excited to share with you. One is for some very special cupcakes and the other is for fresh pasta! I couldn’t decide which to share first. Then I thought… life’s too short… eat dessert first! So the cupcakes won. Next issue was deciding what to title it.

Option A: Vegetarian cupcakes.
     I’m sure THAT one got your attention! But I think somewhere in the world, a baby cries when these words are said together. ‘Vegetarian Cupcakes’ also makes me think hippie sweat is a main ingredient, which is sometimes hard to find. However the main ingredient that
isn’t so hard to find IS a vegetable. So basically, while I thought this title would grab your attention, I thought it might also trigger your gag reflex.

So I went with Option B: a world without cancer is a world with more birthdays.
     Strikes a different cord than ‘vegetarian cupcakes’ right? These New Red Velvet cupcakes are actually The American Cancer Societies ‘official birthday cake'. The ACS held a contest to find a ‘better for you’ cake to sponsor their movement for more birthdays. This cake isn’t red because of food coloring… its red from beets. Yep... That root vegetable that if you aren’t careful… will make you pee red.

The cause this recipe supports is one very close to my heart. In the past four months, I have lost two too many people I love to cancer. Two less birthdays I will be celebrating this year.  And If they were here to see this, I’m sure their reactions would be something like yours… those cupcakes are made with WHAT?? UHH YUCK! The jokes would be endless and I can guarantee there would be lots of laughter and joy going around. I'm hoping they’ve got wifi up where they are so they can see this <3.

I will admit I was a little skeptical about this recipe.  Could cupcakes made with BEETS really compare to the traditional Red velvet? But as they were transforming from batter to cake in the oven, the kitchen smelled of cupcakes, not root vegetables. And when I took them out, they definitely looked like cupcakes and not root vegetables. I proceeded to inject them with a little chocolate ganache (real chocolate… not a vegetable substitute for chocolate), swirled on some cream cheese frosting and took a very hesitant bite. I chewed. I tasted. I thought. And I realized I actually really LIKED it! The chocolate taste is stronger than any beet flavor, and the tang from the cream cheese frosting helps the flavors balance together very nicely.  My housemates and I all agreed… we could definitely go for another! When you take the last bite of a cupcake, and you have to restrain from grabbing another, that’s when you know its goood!! As for the cream cheese frosting, I had to wash the bowl immediately to avoid licking it clean! 

I really wanted to know what these cupcakes tasted like to people who had no idea what they were made with. I had ten very willing volunteers to help taste test. Most of them thought they were just chocolate cupcakes, with a hint of berries. It wasn’t until I gave them a hint that there was a vegetable in there that they arrived at beets (after several other vegetable guesses)! I was surprised and the cupcakes were thoroughly enjoyed!

A world without cancer is a world with a lot more opportunities to eat cake. There are no certainties in life (take my oven for example… this was the first time it has ever baked something to perfection!!) so eat something sweet everyday  and live each day with laughter and joy. I look forward to my next opportunity to make these cupcakes, wishing I had more. 

This recipe was created by Alexandra Mudry for the American Cancer Society. I made a few of my own adaptations, but your can find the original recipe here.
The taste of this cupcake is very difficult to describe, but its worth giving it a shot and trying it out yourself! It doesn’t taste like your usual super sweet red vel    vet cupcake from that designer bakery you love. It is, after all, a ‘healthier’ cupcake.

New Red Velvet Cupcakes
makes about 18-24 cupcakes

For the Cake:
3 Large or 5 Small Beets (to make 2 c. puree)*
½ c. Applesauce, Unsweetened/Natural
1 c. Granulated sugar
½ c. Canola oil
2 Lg Eggs
2 Lg Egg Whites
3 oz. Bittersweet Chocolate, melted
1 tsp. Instant Espresso Powder or Instant Coffee
½ c. Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1 c. All-purpose Flour
¾ c. Whole Wheat Flour
1 ½ tsp. Baking Soda
½ tsp. Salt

* I roasted my own beets, but you can make it a lot easier by buying canned beets. Just make sure they are not seasoned or pickled. Also add about a Tablespoon or more of water and puree it smooth.

To roast the beets: Preheat oven to 375. Trim ends of beets and place on a foil lined baking pan. Drizzle with 1 tbsp. canola oil. Roast until fork tender (about 2 hours). Once cooled peel then place in  food processor (or blender) with 2 tbsp. water. Puree beets until they reach a very smooth and even consistency. (This is important! You do not want chunks of beet in your cupcakes!!!) Set aside.
(You can make this days ahead and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.)

Preheat oven to 375. Line you cupcake tins with cupcake papers

     Combine oil, eggs, egg whites and sugar in a mixing bowl. Beat on medium speed with a paddle attachment for a couple minutes, until smooth and pale yellow.
     Add the tsp. of espresso powder to the melted chocolate and stir until dissolved.
Turn the speed down to low and slowly drizzle the melted chocolate into the mixture. Once the chocolate has been added, turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
     In a separate bowl, combine the cocoa powder, applesauce and beet puree. Add this mixture to the egg mixture. Turn the mixer to medium speed to incorporate, scrape down the sides of the bowl. Remove the bowl from the mixer.
     Sift the flours, baking soda, and salt together and  gently fold into the wet mixture (do not over mix or the cake will become tough and dense).
     Pour batter into the cupcake pans and bake for 20-25, until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
     Cool and remove from pans.

For the Chocolate Raspberry Ganache

2 oz. heavy cream

1.5 oz. Seedless Raspberry jam (or press through a sieve to remove seeds)
4 oz. Bittersweet Chocolate, broken into small pieces

Boil cream in a small pot.
    At the same time, warm raspberry jam in the microwave just long enough to make it warm... not hot!
Once cream has boiled, add the warmed raspberry jam and stir to combine.
     Pour it over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is combined.
    Set ganache aside and allow it to cool.

Cream Cheese Frosting
24 oz. (3 pkgs) Reduced Fat Cream Cheese, room temperature

1 ¼ c. Confectioners’ Sugar, sifted
 (measure out 1 1/4 c. and THEN sift it)
2 tsp. Vanilla Extract

Lightly beat cream cheese and vanilla extract until it is smooth, about 2 minutes.
Stop and scrape down the sides of bowl then add confectioners’ sugar. Cream together until smooth.    Do not overmix or the frosting will become too soft and difficult to spread.

To Assemble:
     Once the cupcakes have cooled completely, cut out a small hole in the top of the cupcake, going almost to the bottom. Then fill the hole with the chocolate raspberry ganache. Or you can use your cleannnn pinkie finger to make a hole and do the same. Then take as much or as little frosting as you like,  frost the cupcakes and enjoy!
     I kept mine in the refrigerator in an air tight container. I think they taste even better the next day!