It has been a little while since I spent a day playing in the kitchen and baking. I’ve done some cooking, although not much really interesting lately, but I decided that with the latest cool snap it was time to crank up the oven and bake an actual cake.
Probably anyone who grew up in the 70s and 80s remembers the orange Betty Crocker cookbook. I think every house had one and unlike a lot of cookbooks today that are specific to one type of food (grilling, vegetarian, sauces, desserts) this one has just about everything you can think of in it. It definitely reflects the times when you read through some of the recipes, but for desserts, for cakes, I love this cookbook. I found a copy at a used bookstore in California when I lived there (I think for a dollar since it was pretty beat up on the outside) and snagged it. While I don’t go to it often for meals, I definitely go to it for baking ideas. Classics have a place.
The cake came straight from the cookbook and I actually followed the recipe. For the icing, however, I just went with the basic buttercream with the caramel sauce I made a month or so ago that was languishing in the fridge. The result – a cake Bob called “excellent” and one of my “best efforts.” Given that he generally likes what I bake, I’m taking that as a high compliment.
- 1.5 cups whipping cream
- 3 eggs
- 1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1.5 cups sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- .5 teaspoon salt
Heat over to 350. Grease and flour pans (I used two 9 inch cake pans)
Beat cream until stiff. In separate bowl, beat eggs and vanilla until thick and lemon colored. Fold eggs into whipped cream. Stir together remaining ingredients and gently fold into egg/cream mixture. Fold until well combined.
Divide into pans and bake for 30-35 minutes. Cool completely before icing.
- 1 stick butter, room temperature
- .5 cups caramel sauce
- confectioners sugar to taste (about 1-1.5 cups)
Beat butter until light and airy. Add caramel sauce and mix well. Slowly incorporate confectioners sugar until the icing comes together and no longer has a distinct butter taste.
Every now and then I come up with something that just works. It isn’t often, but sometimes I do. This was one of them.
At the farmers’ market I found these incredible yellow peppers and some heirloom tomatoes. The garden has given me kale and basil, so I figured I could make up something with all of those. Bob isn’t a huge fan of peppers, but the yellow and orange ones he can do, so I thought he’d eat the filling and leave most of the pepper, but he ate the whole thing. The peppers were incredibly sweet and the filling had a deep flavor that was great on it’s own, but complimented the peppers so well.
Keep in mind that this was something I threw together and all quantities are estimations.
- 2 large peppers
- 1 cup Israeli Couscous
- 1 3/4 cup vegetable broth
- 1/2 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes
- 1/2 cup pecorino cheese (or other hard grating cheese), divided in half
- 4 kale leaves
- 3/4 cup basil leaves
- 1/4 cup diced onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1/4 cup almonds
- salt and pepper to taste
- olive oil
Peppers: Cut the top of the peppers off and remove the seeds and veins of the pepper. Coat in olive oil and lightly salt. Roast in 350 degree oven while you prep the filling.
Pesto: combine basil, kale, lemon juice, garlic, almonds and a pinch of salt in food processor. Blitz until everything is finely chopped. Add 1/4 cup cheese and about 1/4 cup olive oil and blitz again. Adjust seasonings to taste. Set aside.
Couscous: Heat a large pan with a tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat. When oil is hot add onions and tomatoes. Cook for about five minutes, pressing the tomatoes with a wooden spoon every few minutes to help them burst. (you could also chop the into small pieces then add them about half way through cooking the onion.) Season with salt and pepper. Add couscous and cook for two minutes more. Add vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until all liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in pesto and most of the remaining cheese.
Put it all together: Remove pepper from oven and carefully (they are hot) fill each pepper with couscous mixture. Sprinkle a little cheese on top and return to the oven for about twenty minutes. There should be enough filling left for a third pepper, but I took it for lunch the next day instead of making another pepper.
Every now and then I get a craving for something that reminds me of childhood. It doesn’t have to be something I ate as a kid, but it tends to be the flavors that kids would typically eat. This craving was for sloppy joes.
I’ve only made sloppy joes once or twice before, so I didn’t have a whole lot to go on. Thankfully the internet has a treasure trove of recipes that I could refer to, but after reading about ten of them I decided to just wing it. The result – pretty darn good. I ended up taking the leftovers to work for lunch for a few days, so not only did I satisfy my sloppy joe craving, I was able to pack an actual (not cheese and carrots) lunch.
The second time I made this I reversed the order when adding the textured vegetable protein and the tomatoes, and I used only sauce since that is what I had on hand. I like adding the tvp at the end, but crushed tomatoes work better in the sauce – just a little more texture.
- 1/3 cup diced onion
- 1/2 tsp jalapeno (chopped fine)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1.5 cups rehydrated textured vegetable protein (I used vegetable broth to rehydrate)
- 15 oz of crushed tomatoes/tomato sauce (I used about 7 oz crushed and 8 oz sauce)
- 1 tbsp. brown sugar
- 1/2 tbsp. dark soy sauce
- 1 tsp. chili powder
- 1/2 tsp. cumin
- salt and pepper to taste
- olive oil for pan
- favorite hamburger bun for serving.
Heat pan with oil then add onion and jalapeño. Cook stirring occasionally for about five minutes, until onion is soft. Add garlic and cook about a minute more. Season with salt and pepper. Add tomato/sauce, cumin, chili powder, brown sugar and soy sauce to pan with onion and stir to combine. Cook over medium high heat for about three minutes then add the TVP and combine well. Cook over medium low heat for about five minutes until everything is heated through and sauce is just a little thick. Taste and adjust seasoning.
I like to toast the bund before piling the sloppy joe mix onto the bun, but that is not strictly necessary.
There is something about the combination of cheese, tomatoes and bread that is unbeatable. I love bruschetta and decided to make a warm dish out of the classic. This wasn’t fancy, it wasn’t hard and it didn’t take long to make, but it was one of the most satisfying meals I had in January. (This was in part to the cold that came, went and came again so nothing sounded or tasted particularly great for a few weeks.) But on the other side of that cold, in the middle of a cold snap that had me covering plants and putting flannel sheets on the bed this dish was pretty perfect.
- 1 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes
- 1 shallot
- 2 cloves garlic
- olive oil
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- French bread
- Buratta cheese (about 4 oz)
- Basil for garnish (I used 3 leaves)
Heat oven to 375.
Half cherry tomatoes, quarter if they are larger. Slice down the shallot and rough chop the garlic. Toss tomato, shallot and garlic on foil lined pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar. Roast for 20-25 minutes until everything is soft.
While tomatoes roast, slice down French bread into thick slices (I made ten). Brush with a little olive oil. When tomatoes are done, broil for a few minutes until bread starts to turn golden. Remove from oven immediately.
Top bread with tomato mixture. Cut buratta in half and then slice each half into five sections. Top each bread/tomato slice with one section of buratta and some basil leaves.
Brownies are delightful. There is something wonderful and indulgent about brownies. Brownies need to be rich, chocolate-y and goo-y. No cake like brownies here. If you want cake like brownies, make a cake.
Over the years I’ve search for the perfect brownie recipe, and I always seem to come back to this recipe from David Leibowitz. I’ve tried others, I’ve modified others and I’ve tried my own, but whenever I want really good brownies, I go to this one. But … I may have stumbled onto the best alteration of these brownies possible – caramel. I made caramel sauce right before Christmas and I had a jar full left over in the fridge, just sitting there, taunting me. (just look at the picture – it taunted me every time I opened the fridge looking for kale or potatoes. So caramel brownies it is.
I am also in inherently lazy baker so I shortened a few steps in the recipe. I mixed all the dry ingredients without sifting, then added the wet and just combined. Pour that into the pan and pour on the caramel (about a quarter cup) and swirl it in. That was it. I baked it for a bout 35-40 minutes – I started checking it at 20 minutes, but it really does take much longer than 20-25. (I also used an 8×11 pan lined with foil, but I don’t think it matters much – no matter the size of the pan, I generally end up needing more than 30 minutes to cook the brownies.)
The results – oh my goodness! Talk about a near perfect brownie. These are rich, chocolate-y and goo-y. There is enough caramel in them to taste it, but not so much it overpowers the brownies. I cut them into rather large squares, but that’s ok – I can then “split” a brownie with Bob and feel good that I’m not eating the whole thing. … Or I can just eat the whole thing and call it dinner.
During the first week in January Florida, like much of the country, got hit with a cold front that left us feeling pretty miserable. I am not a fan of cold weather in general, but this was just biting. Bob wasn’t feeling well and so I decided to make soup.
One of my favorite soups as a kid was the ham and barley soup mom would make every now and then. I’m not sure if there is a recipe or not for that soup, but I remember it required simmering the ham hock for a while. I didn’t have a ham hock (and didn’t really want one) so I just made a vegetarian version – this is a basic soup, but it really worked well.
- 1/2 large sweet onion
- 2 medium carrots
- 2 stalks celery
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 cups vegetable broth
- 3/4 cup barley (I used the instant quick cooking kind)
- salt and pepper to taste
- ~1 tablespoon olive oil
Chop the onion, carrot and celery, mince the garlic. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium to medium high heat. When oil is hot, add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and cook until onion is soft, about 4-6 minutes. Add the tomatoes (with juices), vegetable broth, and bay leaf and stir. Season again with salt and pepper and cook, stirring every now and then, for about 15 minutes. Add the barley and cook ten minutes more. (If using regular barley, you may need to cook this longer.) Adjust seasoning and serve with crackers or some toasted bread if you like.
Quick, simple soup. It gets better the second day and made 6-8 servings – enough for Bob and I for several lunches. Best part about this soup is that I had everything on hand when I decided to make it – something that very rarely happens in this house.
Over the last week I’ve had the chance to rest a bit and not think about work or school. Final grades are in and I did well, so now it is just waiting for the diploma and final transcript in the mail. It has been a little weird to not *have* to do anything and I’ve tried to do a little around the house – clean out the fridge and pantry, shred what needs to be shredded, attend to the garden and pets – and just read for fun and relax. It’s been nice.
So the pets … All are good and they are fairly normalized now. I will find Arthas and the kittens on the couch more and more and the kittens are going right up to Arthas and he just sniffs. He is seeking them out every now and then. Tigger is good – he needs his space and quiet time, but he plays with the kittens and curls up with them (or lets them curl up with him) so we know he likes them at least a little.
I’ve also had the chance to cook a little this week. I haven’t ventured too far into experimenting, but it has been nice to think about cooking and have the time (and energy) to make a few things.
If I like my wine, Bob is equally enamored by beer. Oh, he drinks wine with me with dinner, but in the evening, if we are sitting on the couch watching something, he tends to go for beer. He recently (thank you, John) discovered that he can get beer delivered to the house. He is a happy man – with a cat.
Just a few more days off and then it is back to reality. But, I’m enjoying the time while I have it and looking forward to cooking, hanging out with the pets, and maybe looking at a little travel.