Raiding the larder of ideas.

What one family eats, plans to eat, dreams of eating. Plus, other food and kitchen-related stuff from the home of steak-and-potatoes, pie and fresh green beans from the garden.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Escalloped Edges: Adventures in Comfort Foods

I read the other day that scientists now have definitive proof there is no such thing as "comfort food." Well, I am here to say, right here and now, that scientists can sometimes be kind of stupid.

For starters, it was they who chose which foods qualified, for each test subject, as the comfort food. None of the subjects had the power to decide – and this makes a bit of a difference. After all, what may be comforting to the palate and soul of one person may have little impact on another.

It isn't about the starches and sugars alone (that's what we used to call carbohydrates before everybody decided they wanted to sound more intellectual, even when they really had no clue). It's also about emotional associations, such as the memory of one's grandmother slicing off a slab of fresh baked bread and slathering it with homemade butter. Or one's mother, on a miserably cold January serving up a bowl of tomato soup  and a slice of toast.

And then there is the physiological response one might not otherwise realize should be factored into things, e.g., undiagnosed mild allergies and intolerances may come into play. I get migraines from eating wheat and aged cheeses. I have few problems with fresh dairy, but toss it into a vat, throw in a little fermenter, let it sit around and get hard, combine it with your average semolina pasta, and if I swallow it, I'm a whiny, useless puddle for about two days.

So, if the scientists want me to find a food (other than a slice of lovely gluten-free yeast bread cut warm and slathered with fresh butter) to take the edge off, they could do no better than to serve me escalloped potatoes (I like leaving the original "e" on the front of it. It distinguishes this dish from the seafood to which I am violently allergic. We all find comfort in different ways).

And, since I've been thinking about my favorite comfort food since the moment I first read the article on scientists displaying their silliness, I decided it was time to break down, say, "to heck with rational thought," and pile on the carbs for a day.

Now, there are two ways to make escalloped potatoes: the right way, and the diet way. The right way is simple, clean, and laden with fat, as well as carbs. All you need to do is preheat the oven to 400º F, thinly slice a few potatoes (about 1 cup per person you're serving, or enough to half-fill the dish you're using), chop an onion, butter the heck out of your baking dish, layer the onions and potatoes in the dish, pour enough heavy cream over the top of it to half-cover (about 2 cups, for a 9"x9"x4" casserole. For a larger dish, adjust upward accordingly). Bake for about an hour, until the potatoes in the center are firm, yet tender.

For the less decadent version (but one to fool your taste buds into thinking it's worse for you than it is), I swap out the cream and boost the protein. It goes something like this:
It ain't pretty, but it's my Breakfast of Champions! 

Skinnier Escalloped Potatoes

Ingredients:

4 cups thinly sliced potatoes, skins on
1 medium onion (about 1 cup), sliced thinly, or, if you prefer, chopped finely
1/2 cup chopped ham
1 cup lowfat milk (I like 2%)
1 brick (8 ounces) neufchatel cheese (reduced fat cream cheese)
1 clove roasted garlic, crushed, or 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt, pepper to taste
butter or butter blend, for greasing the dish

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400º F.

Heavily coat 9"x9"x4" baking dish with butter or butter blend.

Scrub potatoes thoroughly, slice as thinly and evenly as you can (if you have a kitchen mandolin, use the thinnest straight setting it has). Keep in a bowl of very cold water until ready to use.

Slice or chop onions, chop ham.

Place unwrapped cheese in a medium microwave-safe bowl, mash up slightly to spread out, heat on high about 1 minute, until completely softened. Add garlic, pepper, salt. Add approximately 1/4 cup milk, stirring with whisk until completely mixed. Add another 1/4 to 1/3 cup milk, stirring thoroughly again, until it is smooth and liquid. Stir in remaining milk.

In the baking dish, spread a layer of onion, then drain half the potatoes, spread them evenly over the onions, then sprinkle half the ham evenly over that, and the rest of the potatoes, the rest of the onions, and the rest of the ham over that. Press down to compact it.

Pour the milk/cheese mixture evenly over the whole dish, allowing it to percolate downward.

Place on center rack of hot oven, bake for 1 hour, or until bubbles on top have begun to turn dark brown.

Remove from oven, allow to cool at least 10 minutes before serving.


Note: I, personally, prefer to eat this as leftovers. Like chili, its flavors have more time to steep, so that it usually tastes even better on the second day. I put about a cup of this in a microwave-safe bowl, cover loosely, and heat on high 3 minutes. Let stand in the microwave oven at least 1 minute. Stir, enjoy.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

For a more contented canine


You know you want to make this big ol' pudding happy, right? And, if you had a chance to make his sister wage her tail, too, you'd probably have no issue with that, either.

Well, this past Christmas, I baked a few batches of doggie treats for Clyde, his sister who lives with my seester and her family, and for the new dog in my other sister's house. Sadly, Clyde's sister did not get her treats, making Bonnie's mood not very bonny. 

So, since the old fogeys are taking a trip out to not so very far away from where my sisters live, they're taking Clyde for a visit, affording me the perfect opportunity to make more treats for them to take along as hostess gifts…or, whatever excuse one needs to give cookies to an eleven-year-old Labrador Retriever.

I'll likely make some treats for my seester and her husband, as well, but I don't think they'll resemble these cookies very much at all, other than there will be no sugar added…

But the process for making doggy cookies is fairly simple: you start with a base dough, add the flavors or effects you want, bake until dry and crunchy, and store in a cool, dry place (or, if you so choose, you can freeze them. If you're doing stinky treats, I highly recommend freezing.)

For very crunchy cookies, the best flour to use is brown rice flour, or simple rice flour. Second best, and very good for stinky treats, is oat flour (if you don't want to spend a huge sum of money, buy some quick oats and run them through your blender/processor a couple of minutes, until they're powdery). If you need them to hold together and have just a hint of gluten in the dough, use a small amount of whole wheat flour (1 cup whole wheat to 2 cups rice or oat flour) to bind it.

Any way you look at it, all you want to start with is flour, egg, liquid, a further binder such as fat or sweet potato, and flavors (fish, bouillon, powdered milk, parsley, etc.). You mix it together until it is a cohesive mass (you can form a ball with the dough), pat it flat, cut it into bite-sized treats with a cookie cutter or just a big knife, pierce halfway with a fork, and bake it in a medium-low oven (325-350º F, or 160-180º C) until they're golden-browned, dry, and crunchy as heck (about 25-40 minutes, depending on size and shape). YOu can cool them on the cookie sheet or on a rack, and then store them away so the dog doesn't eat all of them at once.

I made a batch of breath-freshener treats, (Barkin' Bars) first, today, with added finely grated carrot because Bonnie still seems to not hate them, but I had to go ahead and make more, so here's the stinky batch (a double batch, at that) I baked today.



Stinky cookies

Ingredients:
2 cups rice flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup powdered milk
1 Tablespoon chicken bouillon powder
6 Tablespoons chicken fat, chilled firm 
1 can sardines packed in oil
1 egg
1/2 cup water plus more if needed

Directions:
Be sure rack is in center of oven. Preheat oven to 325º F.

In a stand mixer bowl and using a dough hook, combine flour, powdered milk, bouillon. Mix in chicken fat, sardines (oil and all). Mix until the sardines appear as flecks amid crumbs. Add egg, mix completely, then add water, mixing until the dough starts to form a ball.

On a floured surface, pat out the dough into about 1/4 to 1/3-inch thickness, then cut into bite-sized pieces. Pierce each cookie with a fork, about halfway through it (you can pierce all the way if you want, but it's not really necessary. It just helps the middle firm up as quickly as the edges).

Place on large cookie sheet, bake at least 35 minutes, or as long as 50 minutes, until the cookie is lightly browned on all edges, dry and crispy-crunchy even in the centers. Remove from oven, allow to cool, and store in freezer for the sake of your own nose.

But don't forget to give a few to your favorite canine companion before they're all put away.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Moms are peachy keen...so give them a peachy cake like this

Let them eat flowers and stuff

We observe Mother's Day in this house pretty much the same way we observe every other day of the year: enjoy each other's company. This year, though, we  also get to toss in a couple of birthdays (not actually today, but with schedules being what they are, we consolidated).

In light of said natal anniversaries, I got cracking and worked up a cake or two. When I plan cakes for a crowd, I usually try to make one of them gluten-free, just for the heck of it (all right. It's so that, when it works, I can enjoy what everybody else does, and without the unpleasant side effects. So sue me).

At any rate, this was no exception. The only change is that, in going GF, I don't yet have the flour mix right for a fluffy, non-bricklike layer cake not involving chocolate. For some reason, I have no trouble making my chocolate cakes delicate and flavorful, but vanilla or coconut...plenty of flavor, for a doorstop. I suppose I could invest in some big brand-name GF cake flour, but then I'd have to freeze it for those months when I'm not baking birthday cakes…so, no.

Still, the regular people's cake does quite nicely. And I have meds and time, to get over the damage of my misbehaving.

Meanwhile.

It begins with a cake.

Two thick layers of loveliness.
Don't worry. It gets straightened out, eventually.

Embraced by peaches. Again, two thick layers, of neato keen.
This was the gluten free base. It sagged. I suppose I could have used it as a bird bath. The regular cake stayed tall and tender…and then some.

And then there is the fluff. All over. But not store-bought, this is meringue with cha-cha.
Sticky, gooey, fluffy, lighter than a marshmallow simple Italian Meringue with some to spare.

Plus some homemade candied violets.
I recommend getting the help of a young'un or two to pick a large supply of violets, (including a whole mess of white violets, if they grow near you) and use extrafine sugar on them.

All tied together with coconut, in syrup form and toasted flakes.

Mmmmmmm…coconutty! Heh heh!

Here comes the coconutty cake recipe, and the peachy filling recipe. And the meringue frosting recipe. You can click through on the above link for how to make the candied flowers, which can be made as much as two weeks ahead, but DO NOT REFRIGERATE. The cold will cause condensation which will turn the candy sticky rather than crisp, and you will be left with limp, colorless masses of useless carbohydrates of no particular charm.

The cake and coconut, also, may be prepared a day or two in advance, and, in both cases, not chilled. 

The peach filling can be made as much as a day ahead, and kept in the fridge.

The meringue needs to be fresh on the day of serving the cake.

Cake Ingredients:

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk (I used powdered, and mixed it with skim milk)
1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup sweetened cream of coconut (Coco Lopez or Coco Reàl will do nicely. Do NOT use light versions. That would be just silly, considering how decadent the cake already is.)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2-3 cups unsweetened coconut flakes

Cake Directions:

Preheat oven to 350ºF, with rack placed in the center.

Grease two DEEP 9-inch cake pans (at least 1 1/2 inch deep), line the bottoms with parchment, and coat parchment and sides of pans with butter and flour.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt (if you are using buttermilk powder, mix it in here). 

In a small bowl, whisk milk (buttermilk, if you're using the straight stuff) and sour cream together .

In a large stand-mixer bowl, beat the butter until it is light and fluffy. With mixer still running on medium, gradually add in the sugar, and beat until creamy and fluffy (at least 5-7 minutes). Add in egg yolks one at a time, beating them in completely before adding the next. Then mix in coconut cream and vanilla.

Keeping mixer running on low, add in 1/4 of the dry ingredients, allow it to fully mix in, then add about 1/4 of the milk/sour cream mixture and be sure to allow it to fully mix in. Add another 1/4 of the dry, mix in, then the milk…repeat this process until the whole thing is completely combined.

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until light and fluffy, forming firm, moist peaks. Gently fold this into the large bowl of batter. 

When it is all mixed together, divide batter between the two prepared cake pans. Place on middle rack of oven. Bake at least 45 minutes, or until a toothpick or tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from oven but LEAVE THE OVEN ON.  Allow to cool on a rack, in pans, for ten minutes, then remove from pans to continue to cool. When they are completely cool (daddy-oh!), you may wish to take a long serrated knife and trim to make it flat and even. For myself, I don't mind a little hummock to build upon. If you are not frosting this right away, cover loosely with plastic or put in cake box and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a jelly-roll pan (a sided cookie sheet), evenly spread coconut flakes. Place on center rack of oven. Bake 12-15 minutes, stirring once at about midpoint, until golden brown and toasty.

Remove from oven, cool. Set aside for end stages of decorating.



Filling Ingredients:

1/2 cup peach preserves
2 lbs. frozen peaches, thawed (or 3 lbs. fresh peaches, peeled and pitted) cut into 1/2 to 1 inch chunks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus 1 teaspoon finely-grated lemon peel (optional)


Filling Directions:

In a small saucepan on low to medium heat, melt the peach preserves.

In large bowl, mix peaches, sugar, lemon juice and peel, add liquid peach preserves, stir to cover. Allow to stand. After a few minutes, drain away liquids. (If you are preparing ahead, allow the liquid to stay until just before you apply peaches to the layers of the cake.) If you want, you can use the liquid in a nice drink, with a little of your cream of coconut and some rum…get creative!



Meringue Frosting Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
1 1/2 Tablespoons corn syrup
3 Tablespoons water
5 large egg whites, room temperature

Meringue Frosting Directions:

In a saucepan, combine 1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar, plus corn syrup and water. Using a brush dipped in water, brush down any granules of sugar which might have been clinging to the sides of the pan. Place candy thermometer in pan so that it does not touch the bottom of the pan. On medium to medium-high heat, WITHOUT STIRRING as it heats, bring to a boil and continue to heat until it comes to 238ºF, or soft ball stage (when you drop a small bit of the mixture into a glass of  cool water, it forms a ball as it sinks to the bottom. But use a thermometer. It's much more effective a gauge of whether the syrup is ready).

At the same time you are boiling  the syrup, in a VERY clean LARGE stand mixing bowl with no residue (oils and fatty substances will keep the egg whites from whipping up all fluffy. I have read that some bakers rinse out their bowls with vinegar & then dry with paper towels, before whipping their egg whites, just to be sure), begin to beat the egg whites on medium-high speed. As the egg whites begin to become more frothy, sprinkle in 2 Tablespoons sugar, while continuing to whip until they are at soft peak.. You may be finished with this process a little before the syrup is ready. That is not a problem. The other way around, however…no.  So, if the syrup is heating too quickly, lower the temp a little (very little).

When the eggs are ready and the syrup reaches temperature, set the mixer at medium to high speed and pour syrup in a thin stream into the egg whites. Don't scrape the pan – just let what wants to come out, come out. Scraping may cause crystals to form in the fluff, and you don't need that.

Keep whipping the fluff on medium to high until it cools down to lukewarm (about 7-10 minutes).



Assembly:

As soon as the meringue is cool enough to handle, you'll want to assemble the cake, before the frosting begins to set up.

Place your bottom layer of cake in the center of the plate (or, if you have one, a decorator's turntable covered with parchment) in the middle of a large jelly-roll pan. Spoon a layer of drained peaches onto the cake layer, covering it completely. Pile on a generous amount of meringue frosting, spread evenly. Top with next layer of cake, cover with peaches, completely cover that with meringue. Slather meringue on sides of cake as thickly as you like it, and don't worry about crumbs showing through – you'll be pressing small handfuls of toasted coconut all around those sides. Be aware, the coconutting process is, by its very nature, an untidy one, which is why I suggest not skipping the jelly-roll pan. It will catch the flakes which don't immediately stick to the frosting, rather than letting them fall on the placemat – or, worse, the carpet. Scoop those fallen flakes up from the cookie sheet and add 'em to the next spot. 

If you have candied flowers, use them on top (or, if you have lots of them, stick them also amid the coconut on the sides, too). If you have no flowers, you can coat the top of the cake with more coconut, or you can leave it looking all yummy and fluffy on its own.

Cover without refrigerating. Will keep for up to 2 days, but is best served within an hour of finishing.

Four moms happy, two of them also satisfied with this as a birthday cake.

Note: I made a double batch of peach filling and meringue, as well as extra toasted coconut because I like to use it in other things. I layered the frosting on the sides of both cakes – regular and GF – rather sparingly, because I knew this was going to be a sweet cake, and I didn't need to make that overpowering. Therefore, I had about a pint of fluff left over, which I carefully spooned into a pair of pretty half-pint jars and sent off with a birthday girl, so she can use it to make fluffernutter sandwiches (or fluffernutellas, as she hinted she might) on toast. This is always an option with spare fluff.

If, on the other hand, you're not a big fan of fluff, you can replace the frosting with simple sweetened whipped cream or whipped coconut milk. But then you need to refrigerate the cake once it's assembled, and our fridge refuses to accommodate all that. It says it has enough stuff in it already.



Any way you look at this, though, you should eat it right away. It's too good not to.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Stumped for Ideas for Another Birthday Cake? We're In for a Treet!

For the young'uns close to me, I usually bake two birthday cakes – one for the family dinner, and one to feed to the kids who come to the separate party. The family cake is designed to appeal to the adults. I don't take shortcuts for those.

buzzzzz
This spring's cake, for example, was a gluten-free bumblebee sponge cake slathered in a rich, dark, whipped bittersweet chocolate ganache and decorated with cheery strawberry cream cheese candies. Granted, the candies aren't exactly no-frills, but Asteroidae enjoyed making them, so they were a "must-use" item on the cake, as well. And they served very nicely to hold the candles.
have a piece!
But when it comes time to make the one for the boys' overnight party, they care less about the substance of the cake, and more about style. For this, I usually throw together a mix, or, in this case, two boxes of Aldi's house-brand chocolate cake mix. After that, it's all about the brown sugar meringue mushrooms, vanilla wafer cookie lichen, gummi worms, bugs, & slugs in a mass of cookie crumb dirt... & a double batch of frosting.... 
in the garden of eatin'

I did drag out my little can of green food coloring spray mist to give it that final, slightly mossy effect, and allowed my assistant (the birthday boy's older sister, Asteroidae) to strategically place a couple of candy slugs where they could be seen before cutting into the cake (look for the little green wormy thing near the bottom of the frame, above).


I didn't realize chocolate was a grain…

The center 2 layers of the cake had been hollowed out using my largest biscuit cutter to take out all but the 1 1/2 inches around the outside, and those cut-out pieces were used in two ways: first, I set aside 5 crescents of varying sizes, for the exterior – the "root" bumps; second, I had Asteroidae gently crumble the remainder of the cut-outs and mix it, in a very large bowl, into the Oreo crumbs. Into that, we stirred a mess of gummi worms, bugs, and slugs. Dirt, bugs, slugs, & worms...in a cake!


the cake spills its guts

And there was plenty of dirt and worms mixture left over to serve up outside the cake, as well, since I used an entire bag of cookies, plus a pound of gummi worms, plus more bugs & slugs. The yard-apes had a blast with it! 
Bugs? Bugs! IS THAT A SPIDER? AWESOME!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sweet and Tangy Kale Quinoa Slaw





Ingredients:

Salad:
1/2 cup cooked quinoa*
3 cups finely shredded baby kale
1/4 of a medium head of cabbage, finely shredded (about 2-3 cups)
1/3 cup finely diced seedless cucumber
1 medium carrot, coarsely grated
4 medium-sized scallions (both white and green parts), minced
2 Tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
Fresh ground pepper to taste

Dressing:
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
Juice of 2 clementines (about 4 Tablespoons)
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil


Directions:
Make a batch of quinoa in advance following instructions on its package. Allow plenty of time for it to cool.

Chop, shred, grate & mince all the remaining salad ingredients, then toss lightly in a large bowl, along with the cooled quinoa.

Been chopping? Nooo, been chopping…


In a small bowl, whisk dressing ingredients together.

Drizzle dressing on salad immediately before serving, or put dressing in a cruet and allow each person to drizzle over his or her individual portion of salad.

Salad and dressing may be prepared up to 2 days in advance and will stay fresh as long as they are separate in the refrigerator. Once they are combined, the mixture is best eaten immediately.


Makes approximately 8 half-cup servings.


*I often prepare far more quinoa than I will need for a meal, and freeze the leftovers so that I will have some left over for these times. If your freezer is overstocked, or you don't have leftover grain & you don't have a lot of time to allow your quinoa to cool, the above link will show you how to cool it to room temperature quickly, too.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Roly-Poly Fish Cakes

Eat them up, YUMMM!
I sometimes crave crab cakes. This can become a hardship, now, for two reasons: I'm land-locked, and I'm allergic.

The first part is not much of a problem, really, since even in flyover country, they can still deliver relatively fresh or frozen seafoods. The allergies, though, are another matter. Really. I can't have shellfish. Regular fish are not so bad, but the last time I had those allergy tests done, I got a severe warning from my allergist about dosing myself up with antihistamines and gorging on Captain Bill's mostly-crab-and-pepper delights. Apparently, that sort of thing is not good for a body. Who would 'a' thunk?

Add to that, recently I learned I have a little trouble with wheat in all its permutations. No more bread crumbs. No more panko-crusted, peppered flounder.  No more beer-battered catfish. Not even a crummy Filet-O-Fish sammich from Mickey D's. 

Not that I'm destroyed by the fact that my fish must now be served naked as the day it was caught (well, nakeder, actually, since it loses its scales and bones, et cetera), but sometimes seafood likes the company of a tender ground grain as it goes across the tongue…tenderer than cornmeal, that is. Naturally, this led me to see if I could make a wheat-free fish cake which could make me not pine so greatly for the fjords…no, wait, that was a Norwegian Blue parrot, wasn't it? I only pined for a patty.

And, so, I set about trying to make something which could pass muster as actually good for me…and, in the process, I managed to get my folks to eat something besides the usual steak-and-potatoes they've grown accustomed to feasting upon each night.

And the best part is, it's pretty darned simple and light. No frying, no gigantic mess…it takes about 15 minutes to prepare, and bakes in 20 to 25 minutes. While it bakes, you might even sit back and enjoy this classic song. And, maybe a fish dance.


A fishy requisittttttttttttte…






Roly-Poly Fish Cakes

Ingredients:

3/4 lb fresh or frozen (thawed) whitefish, cut into chunks (I, being an art fan, used Pollock)
1 3/4 cups crumbs of rice squares cereal
1/2 large red bell pepper, minced (about 1/4 to 1/3 cup)
4 scallions, chopped
2 Tablespoons sweet bread-and-butter jalapeño relish, optional*
2 large eggs plus the white of one more
1/3 cup lowfat mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (I use white peppercorns)

Lemon wedges
Fresh baby arugula or other tender savory greens

Directions:

Preheat oven to 450º F.

Grease a nonstick 12-pocket muffin tin.

For the crumbs: in a food processor or blender, pulse 2 cups at a time of gluten-free rice squares cereal (Rice Chex will be fine. I buy a regional store brand, because I'm cheap), until you have at least 1 1/2 cups of coarse crumbs.

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients thoroughly. Spoon into muffin tin pockets (I used an old-fashioned mechanical ice cream scoop. It's fast, efficient, and gives equal portions without your having to think too hard).

Bake 20-25 minutes, until the top is crispy and the centers are tender. 

Best served hot on a bed of lemon-spritzed arugula salad. Garnish with more lemon wedges , if you like.  These cakes also may be prepared in advance, refrigerated, and served as much as 2 days later (either reheated or served cold) with seafood sauce or tartar sauce.

Serves 6 (2 cakes per person).



*If you don't have sweet-and-hot pickled pepper relish handy, and still want that kick, you may wish to substitute 2 Tbs minced bread and butter pickles and about 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce (or comparable hot sauce. I know the trendy thing right now is Sriracha. If you use this, use it judiciously, so as to not overwhelm the other flavors).

Friday, March 14, 2014

Whippy ganache

Cake is now offensive to nanny-staters.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Coconut Surprise Cake


It has a secret...

It's the birthday of the friend who built my bed frame. Well, it was really his birthday a couple of days ago, but we're having a Friday night supper party, and I got the honor of baking his cakes. 

That's right, I said "cakes." Plural. 

This is partly because he and his family deserve it, partly because there will likely be a fairly large gathering, and mostly because one or two of us who will be there are a little sensitive to wheat, so there will be two: one cake is the standard white all-purpose flour treat, and the other is a variation on it, using a blend of non-wheat flours. 

I usually stick to the safe and affordable Bob's Red Mill GF All-Purpose flour for most baked items (biscuits, crackers, bread rolls, etc.), but when it comes to cake, I like a little more…something something cakey. Bob's GF AP flour can be a little beany and a little grainy, and some people (okay, that would be just me) kind of want a slightly more traditional tongue finish to our cakes, even when they're those dense pound cakes or brownie cakes, such as this one. This is supposed to be almost gooey in the middle and a little crispy in the crust, like a brownie wrapped around a macaroon. It called for a slightly different blend.

So, having just received a fresh batch of fine (pastry quality) sweet rice flour, I decided to add it to the mix. I'll be trying to make a batch of these, in a week or so, filled with lemon curd in anticipation of Pop's natal anniversary, but there's nothing in the rules of our kitchen to say I can't play with the stuff in other ways, ahead of that occasion.

At any rate, the cakes are baked and chilling. I'm also planning to make a dangerous ganache to send it over the top…we'll see how that goes. Not that this cake needs anything to cover it up. It's just that a tub or two of that rich chocolate goodness usually gets itself into the hands our resident designer/builder as a standard for this occasion, and I'd hate to give him an unpleasant surprise.

Meanwhile…chocolatey, coconutty, cakey cakeness:


Yummmmm


Gluten-free Chocolate Coconut Surprise Cake


Ingredients:

Coconut filling:
2 cups unsweetened coconut, finely shredded
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 large egg white, lightly beaten

Chocolate cake:
3 1/2 ounces fine extra-dark or bittersweet chocolate, chopped, melted and allowed to cool
1 1/2 cups of your favorite gluten-free all-purpose flour 
1/2 cup fine-ground sweet rice flour (also called sticky rice flour)
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
scant 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 1/4 teaspoons  vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt


Directions:

Coconut filling:
In a small bowl, thoroughly combine the coconut, condensed milk, and egg white.

On a sheet of plastic wrap, lay out mixture, roll tightly to form a rope approximately 18 inches long, place in refrigerator to chill at least a half hour.


Chocolate cake: 
Preheat oven to 325º F.*
Heavily grease bundt or tube pan and dust with corn starch or cocoa powder (I like cocoa powder, because it leaves no white residue on the cake when baked).

Chop the chocolate into 1/4 inch bits and place in a microwave-safe bowl. Place in microwave oven and cook on high 30 seconds. Stir. Place back in microwave oven and cook on high another 30 seconds. Stir. If still not melted, cook some more, in increments of 15 seconds, stirring and allowing to 30 seconds. When almost fully melted, stir until smooth, then let stand to cool back down to room temperature.

In a small mixing bowl, sift together the flours, xanthan gum, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In the large bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter with the standard beater paddle, until it is fluffy. Add sugar, beat on high until creamy and light. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating on high after each one until it is fully mixed before adding the next egg. When this is light and fluffy, add the vanilla, and, while the mixer still runs, pour in the melted chocolate, in a thin stream. Mix until batter is smooth and even.

Add in 1/3 of the dry ingredient combination, mixing well, then adding in 1/3 of the yogurt, again mixing well. Repeat with the next 1/3 dry mix, then yogurt, and then again to complete the process.

When everything is combined, it will make a very thick batter – almost a soft dough, resembling the batter of most good brownies. With a rubber spatula, scoop it out into the pan and with moistened spatula or fingers, create a central channel.

coco channel


Take the coconut rope out of the refrigerator, unwrap it and press it as deeply as you can into the top of the chocolate cake batter.

Ringdingdingding...

This is easier said than done, as the rope is fragile. Gently roll it out of the plastic wrap into the indentation. Smooth the chocolate batter around the coconut to make it level. You don't need to cover up the coconut. The chocolate will rise around it a tiny bit, but also, when it bakes up, the toasted coconut is less likely to stick to the parchment or cake plate than the chocolate is, and its flavor is awesome!)

Bake approximately 70 minutes, or until cake tester (or toothpick) inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Allow to cool in pan on rack at least 1/2 hour. If necessary, loosen cake from pan with very thin, flexible blade. Place disc of parchment over top of cake, then cover that with cake platter. Carefully invert and remove pan from cake. Cover cake in ganache or chocolate glaze.

They won't see the coconut until you slice the cake (yes, that's the surprise. I know, it's not that big a surprise, but, hey, we get our little thrills where we can) and serve with ice cream or stout ale – or both.




*If you use regular, non-gluten-free all-purpose flour, you'll want to omit the xanthan gum,  set the oven to 350º F., and bake for only 60 minutes, or until the toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.


It's a cake!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Simple Cocoa Glaze (fat free! vegan! gluten-free! hard-core sugar-and-cocoa rush!)

I like a good frosting usually, but there are times when a glaze is called for. This one has no fat, is gluten-free, lactose free, vegan, soy-free…basically, the only sin is in the sugar, and, well, who cares about that on a sunny spring morn? Just go ahead and throw this together for a simple way to finish a denser cake, or to top a bowl of ice cream…or even to pour into a glass of seltzer water.

Simple Cocoa Glaze

Ingredients:

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions:

In a 1-quart saucepan (or larger), combine sugar and water. Bring to a full rolling boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar.  Remove from heat, whisk in cocoa and vanilla. Allow to cool a few minutes, until it begins to film over. (It should have the color and consistency of something you drain from the oil pan of a recently-run – but not hot – 1972 Ford Maverick owned by a teen-aged girl, but will absolutely not smell or taste like it. Please wait to lick the pan, until you've finished glazing your cake.)
This will pan out

Brush a thin layer over cake, allow to dry slightly. Repeat at least 2 more times, each time allowing the glaze to dry a little before applying the next coat. When all the glaze is applied, refrigerate the cake until chilled and glaze begins to crackle.

This is delightful on denser chocolate cakes, such as pound cakes and brownie cakes. Covers one bundt cake with four to five layers and a few drips; the standard tube cake will only receive three coats, unless you want to be naughty and make a double batch. Which describes me to a tee.


Just waiting to crackle

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Mini-Margarita Cheesecakey Bites

Yesterday was haircut day. In this neighborhood, the genius who does the work on The Bat's and my challenging mops gets not only cash and hugs, but something a little decadent from the kitchen. Sometimes it's chocolate, sometimes it's liquor...this time, it's tequila (cue the Peewee Herman dance, and tell 'em Large Marge sent you).

Not only is it tequila, it's cheesecakes. Bite-sized. No-bake. So none of the liquor bakes out. And you can easily lose track of how much you've had.

That's not a bug, it's a feature.

Another feature is, it's really a quick-and-easy process. Once I assembled the ingredients, and the cream cheese was allowed to soften to room temperature, the whole thing took only 20 minutes for me to prepare. It makes at least 7 dozen (if you have that many good, bowl-shaped tortilla scoops. Otherwise, it makes as many as you can get, plus a small bowl full of tasty, tangy dip).

There's another plus to this: the alcohol is totally optional (unless it's going to the salon)!

It's great for parties, either way, so if you have a Spring Break event, or you're thinking all the way ahead to Cinco de Mayo or graduation day, or somebody's wedding, you can make a gazillion of these in short order, either teetotalling or liquored up, and people will go bonkers.


How to drink your Margaritas without looking like you're drinking…

Mini-Margarita Cheesecakey Bites

Ingredients:

1 (10 ounce) bag tortilla "scoops" bowl-shaped chips
1 (8 ounce) packet cream cheese
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup tequila (optional)
1/8 cup orange liqueur (optional)
1 (6 ounce) can* frozen limeade concentrate - DO NOT THAW!


Directions: 

Make sure you have room in your refrigerator.  

Set up trays of tortilla chip bowls: (I used three 12-inch pizza pans with low rims to hold them in place as I worked). Select at least 80 chips from bag, based on their shape - good, unbroken, with high sides and slightly flattened bottoms so they will hold the filling and still stand alone on a plate.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat cream cheese until it is fluffy. Add in condensed milk, beat until smooth, then mix in tequila, orange liqueur, and frozen limeade concentrate. Mix well.

Using a 2-teaspoon-sized cookie scoop like this one, or a piping bag with no special tip, fill each tortilla scoop with the batter. When each tray is completed, cover lightly with plastic and put it in the refrigerator. Allow to chill at least two hours, until mostly firm (they do not freeze very well, I'm sorry to say).

Serve topped with whipped cream. You may choose to go the lazy way & get pre-fab stuff, like the canned whipped cream, or the frozen non-dairy whipped topping, or you can, a few minutes before you're ready to serve, make some lime-whipped cream:

Special whipped cream topping:
1 pint whipping cream
2 teaspoons lime juice
1 Tablespoon ultrafine granulated sugar*

In a chilled bowl, beat whipping cream and lime juice on high until soft peaks begin to form. Sprinkle sugar into cream, continuing to beat until light and fluffy and stiff peaks begin to form - but be careful! You want to stop before it turns to butter! 

Allow your guests to apply their whipped cream on their own – from the can or with a teaspoon – then just sit back and enjoy the accolades.


*I ended up buying a 12-ounce can of limeade concentrate (that's all they had at Aldi), used half the can in the cheesecake filling, then allowed the remaining concentrate to thaw, substituted 2 Tablespoons of that for the lime juice and sugar, and made a quart of limeade, as well, to carry with me as a drink mixer for the afternoon/evening crowd.