diamonds and white velvet cake

In honor of my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary I made this cake I called “Diamonds and White Velvet.” Its base is a butter cake recipe adapted from The Cake Bible (1988) topped with a Quick Butter Cream Frosting and handfuls of coarse sugar patted all over for a sparkly effect! My sister wrote to the Queen and the Governor General of Canada, and both sent congratulatory messages.

We had quite an eclectic celebration menu. Everybody brought something! To start,  I made roasted garlic crostini and Dad made Jamaican shrimp fritters. Ardis made pork and egg, a Chinese family-style dish that’s a favorite. Dexter made caesars, a drink made with clamato and vodka.  Meng brought fish with vegetables in a spicy red sauce, and savory green beans, both Chinese. I also roasted a chicken with garlic and potatoes, made broccoli with orzo,  and sauteed spinach in lemon juice and onions. For dessert, we had this cake and rum-spiked fruit salad with mulled apple cider cocktails.

White Velvet Butter Cake (adapted from The Cake Bible)

Ingredients
4 1/2 egg whites (4 oz.)
1 cup milk
2 1/4 tsp. vanilla
3 cups sifted cake flour (3/4 cup all purpose flour+2 tablespoons cornstarch = 1
cup cake flour)
1 tablespoon plus 1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
Quick butter cream frosting
4 oz coarse sugar

Preparation
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease two 9×2 inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper then grease again and flour. Set aside.

In a medium bowl lightly combine the egg whites, milk and vanilla. Set aside. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Whisk lightly and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add one-third of the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture. Beat until just combined. Add half the egg mixture and beat until just moistened. Scrape down the sides. Add half the remaining flour and beat until just combined. Add the remaining egg mixture and beat until just combined. Scrape down the sides. Add the rest of the flour mixture and beat until just combined. There should be faint streaks of flour in the batter. Scrape down the sides.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the surface with a spatula. The pans will be half full. Shift the pans back and forth on the counter top to release any air in the batter. Bake 25-30 minutes or until a tester inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center. The cakes should start to shrink from the sides of the pan only after removal from the oven.

Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides with a small metal spatula and invert onto greased wire racks. Remove the parchment paper. To prevent splitting, re-invert so that the top is up and cool completely before wrapping air tight for frosting. Frost with vanilla butter cream.

Decorate the frosted cake with coarse sugar. One-half cup (4 oz) will be just enough to decorate 2 frosted nine-inch layers. Place the cake on a wire cooling rack over a rimmed baking tray and pat handfuls of sugar all over the frosting. Re-use any sugar that falls through the rack onto the baking tray.

Quick Vanilla Butter Cream Frosting

Ingredients
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons whipping cream or milk, if needed.

Preparation
In a standing mixer fitted with a whisk, mix together sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes.

Add vanilla and cream/milk and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream if needed for spreading consistency.

This is not too sweet. The frosting changed from yellow to white in the first three minutes. It was beautiful!

Here’s the recipe for the mulled apple cider cocktails:

Mulled Apple Cider Cocktails (by Alex Guarnaschelli in Food Network magazine)

1 quart apple cider (I used apple juice)
3 cinnamon sticks
1 knob fresh ginger, smashed
3 whole cloves
pinch of nutmeg
1 firm red apple (e.g. Rome, Fuji, or Gala), cut into small cubes
1 firm green apple (e.g. Granny Smith), cut into small cubes
Juice of 2 lemons
1/4 cup sugar (can leave out sugar if using ginger ale, I think)
1x750ml bottle dry cava or other dry sparkling wine (can substitute ginger ale)

Preparation
Stir the cider, cinnamon sticks, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg in a pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until reduced by half, about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool, then strain.

In a large bowl, toss the apples, lemon juice, and sugar. Add to the cider and refrigerate until chilled. When ready to serve the cocktails, fill champagne flutes about halfway with the cider mixture and top with the cava. Stir and serve.

pan-fried asparagus with tomatoes and black olives (and bacon bits)

Pan-fried Asparagus with Tomatoes and Black Olives (and bacon bits)
2 pounds thick asparagus spears, ends trimmed
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup black olives, chopped
2 -4 garlic cloves, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (optional)
1 tablespoon bacon, chopped and fried until crisp, drained (optional)
4 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped (optional)

Trim the asparagus. Hold up one spear and snap off the end. Cut all the other spears to the same length.

Make the tomato-black olive dressing. Use the pan drippings from the pork chops to make the dressing. Over medium heat, fry the garlic in the pan drippings until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and olives. Cook until the tomatoes “spring” water and become wilted. Pour the dressing into a bowl, cover with foil, and reserve.

Cook the asparagus. Rinse out the skillet and dry it with paper towels. Heat 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon oil. Lay half the spears in the pan in one direction. Lay the other half in the opposite direction. Cover and cook over medium heat until the asparagus turns a bright green, about 2-4 minutes. Remove to a serving dish and pour the dressing on top. Top with cheese, basil, or bacon bits.

mocha chocolate icebox cake

Mocha Chocolate Icebox Cake (adapted from Ina Garten, 2010, Barefoot Contessa: How Easy is That?)
It’s AJ’s birthday today. So last night I made this cake and popped it in the refrigerator to chill overnight. It is extraordinarily easy to make, just cream and cookies. The cookies must be thin and crisp, like Tate’s Bake Shop chocolate chip cookies. I used chocolate chip, but vanilla or chocolate wafer cookies would do fine.

Prep Time: 20 min
Inactive Prep Time: 12 hr 0 min
Cook Time:
Level:  Easy
Serves: 8 servings

Ingredients
2 cups cold heavy cream
12 ounces Italian mascarpone cheese (see Cake Baker’s Note)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup coffee liqueur or espresso coffee (see Cake Baker’s Note)
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 (7-ounce) packages thin and crisp chocolate chip cookies
Shaved semisweet chocolate, for garnish

Directions
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the heavy cream, mascarpone cheese, sugar, coffee liqueur or espresso coffee, cocoa powder, espresso powder, and vanilla. Mix on low speed to combine and then slowly raise the speed, until it forms firm peaks, about 3 minutes.

To assemble the cake, arrange chocolate chip cookies flat in an 8-inch springform pan, covering the bottom as much as possible. Break some cookies to fill the spaces. Spread a fifth of the mocha whipped cream evenly over the cookies, spreading the cream to the edge as level as possible. Place another layer of cookies on top, so they lie flat and touch, followed by another fifth of the cream. Continue layering cookies and cream until there are 5 layers of each, ending with a layer of cream. Smooth the top, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

To unmold the cake, run a thin sharp knife around the outside of the cake and remove the sides of the pan. Sprinkle the top with the chocolate, cut cake in wedges, and serve cold.

Cake Baker’s Notes:

  • Coffee Liqueur – To replace 2 tablespoons of liqueur, use 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of chocolate extract mixed with 1 teaspoon of instant coffee, which has been mixed in 2 tablespoons of water. Can also substitute espresso, non-alcoholic coffee extract or coffee syrup. To make espresso coffee, mix 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder to 2 oz hot water. Cool before adding to the ingredients.
  • Mascarpone Cheese– An Italian cream cheese, mascarpone is expensive and difficult to find. You can make this mascarpone substitute from allrecipes.com:
    • 1x8oz package cream cheese, room temperature
    • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
    • 1/4 cup heavy cream
    • Mix together all ingredients until well blended. Use instead of mascarpone cheese in recipes.

salted caramel brownies

Salted Caramel Brownies (adapted from Food Network Magazine)
A colleague at the office gave me the October edition of this magazine. I promised her I would bake one of the cakes in its pages. I was intrigued by the recipe for silver frosting but that’s for another post.  Instead, I decided to try this brownie recipe. After all, it looked straightforward and simple, perfect for Cake Tuesday tomorrow. That saltiness of the sea salt flakes plays against the sweetness of the chocolate and the gooey stickiness of the caramel. This is a moist and tender brownie, not overwhelming in chocolate or sweetness.

Prep Time: 25 minutes
Total: 1 hour (plus cooling)
Servings: 12 large brownies or 24 square brownies

Have at room temperature:
1/2  pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon
8 oz plus 6 oz  semisweet chocolate chips
3 oz unsweetened chocolate
4 large eggs (3 extra-large eggs in the original recipe)
1 1/2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons all purpose flour, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5-6 oz caramel sauce
2-3 teaspoons flaked sea salt

  • Preheat oven to 350˚F. Melt 1 tablespoon butter. Mix in 1 tablespoon flour. Brush the butter-flour mixture on the inside and bottom of a 9×13 inch baking pan. Set pan aside. If the pan has a dark nonstick finish, remember to turn the heat down to 325˚F.
  • Melt the butter, 8 oz of the chocolate chips and the unsweetened chocolate together in a medium bowl set over simmering water. Allow to cool 15 minutes. It is very important to allow the butter mixture to cool before adding the remaining chocolate chips or the chips will melt and ruin the brownies.
  • In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee, vanilla, and sugar. Stir the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature.
  • In a medium bowl, sift together 1/2 cup of flour, the baking powder, and salt. Add to the chocolate mixture. Toss the remaining  6 oz of chocolate chips and the remaining 2 tablespoons flour in a medium bowl and add to the chocolate mixture. Spread evenly in the prepared pan.
  • Shift pan back and forth on the counter to settle the batter. Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Don’t over bake. If you’re using a pan with a dark non-stick finish, test the brownies after 30 minutes. If the toothpick comes out clean, take the pan out of the oven.
  • As soon as the brownies are out of the oven, place the jar of caramel sauce without the lid in the microwave and heat until it’s pourable. I don’t have a microwave oven (still) so I heated the sauce on the stove. Stir until smooth. Drizzle the caramel evenly over the hot brownies and sprinkle with the sea salt flakes. Cool completely. Use a sharp knife and cut into 12 bars or 24 squares.

 

soy ginger rice with tofu, edamame, and mixed vegetables

Soy Ginger Rice with Tofu, Edamame, and Mixed Vegetables (adapted from Shape.com)
Tonight is Election Night and it’s a nail-biter, so naturally, I am cooking something vegan! This is a tasty and hearty dish–even my meat lover allows  “it’s all right.” You can use just about any frozen mixed vegetables that you have in the freezer. I had peas and carrots so I used that. And since the ancestor of this dish is fried rice, that’s a sign to use up leftover vegetables too! Don’t be tempted to cook the ginger-garlic-onions in sesame oil. Sesame oil is delicate and is mainly used for flavoring in Chinese cooking, so a little bit goes a long way. 

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Servings: 4-6

Ingredients

2 cups dry brown basmati rice (rice cup measure)
4 cups reduced-sodium vegetable broth (rice cup measure)
1 tablespoon canola oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 square inch of ginger, minced (or more if you love ginger!)
1⁄2 yellow onion, chopped
12-oz package of firm tofu, chopped
10-oz package frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
1⁄2 cup frozen shelled edamame, thawed
1 cup chopped peppers (red or green for color)
4 tablespoons organic soy sauce (can substitute tamari)
1⁄4 cup of chopped cilantro
1/4 cup scallion, sliced fine
1 small head of kale, deveined and chopped
1⁄4 cup sunflower seeds, optional
1-2 teaspoons dark sesame oil

Preparation:

Cook brown basmati rice in a rice cooker, using vegetable broth instead of water. When it has finished cooking, it can be left on the stay-warm setting.

Cook’s Note: I’ve always cooked rice the way my mother taught me and it works for rice cookers too. I simply put the rice in the rice cooker liner and fill it with liquid until it comes up to the level of my first finger joint (about 1 inch).

In a large Dutch oven,  heat the canola oil on medium-high heat. Then  add the garlic, ginger, and onion. Sauté for 2 minutes, and then add the tofu, stirring frequently with a silicone spatula so as not to break up the tofu, until browned, about 15-20 minutes. Next, add mixed vegetables, edamame, peppers, soy sauce,  and stir.

Cook’s Note: If you forgot to thaw the frozen vegetables, as I did, just put a small saucepan of water on the stove to boil. Add the frozen vegetable until heated through. Drain and add to the pot!

Once the rice is cooked, add it to the vegetable mixture, turn the heat to low, add salt, pepper, and extra soy sauce or tamari if desired. Sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons sesame oil and toss gently. Turn off the heat but do not cover, since the heat will cook the vegetables.

Meanwhile, steam the kale and then toss with sunflower seeds, if desired. Divide into four or six portions. Serve the rice with the kale on the side, and scallions and cilantro for garnish.

Cook’s Note: I love the fragrance of coconut oil. So instead of steaming, I stir-fried the kale in a tablespoon of coconut oil until it turned bright green–no more than 30 seconds. Then I seasoned the kale with Fleur de Sel (sea salt) and red chili flakes.

sunday dinner

I’m in the mood to cook!

There’s still no news that power has been restored at the office. Train service has been restored to Lower Manhattan this weekend, but after a week off from work, I have all this energy that I’m using up in the kitchen.

Autumn Sweet Potato Cakes adapted from http://brokeassgourmet.com/articles/autumn-sweet-potato-cakes Taranee sent me this recipe for baked sweet potato cakes and said that I had to try this. I could not find frozen kale at the supermarket so I made do with fresh kale. We love kale so the bunch won’t go to waste. Besides kale, this recipe includes dried cranberries and caramelized onion. What a tasty way to eat vegetables.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
Servings: 10-12 patties

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, sliced into thin rings
  • 3 medium garnet yams (orange sweet potatoes), peeled and diced
  • 3/4 cup cooked chopped kale
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper, or to taste
  • 2 fresh sage leaves, minced
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese or feta optional
  • 1/8 cup whole wheat flour (or more, as needed)
  • Cooking spray

Preparation

  • Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium-low heat.
  • Add the sliced onions and let cook, stirring very occasionally, until the onions become brown and soft. Reserve the onions for garnish. After removing the onion, add the kale to the pan and lightly sauté until they turn bright green.
  • Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Cover a baking tray with foil and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.
  • Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the peeled, diced sweet potatoes and cover.
  • Let the sweet potatoes cook for about 8 minutes, or until fork-tender.
  • Drain the cooked sweet potatoes and transfer to a bowl. Mash with the back of a fork or a potato masher until mostly smooth.
  • Stir in the kale, garlic, cranberries, salt, pepper, sage, egg, goat cheese or feta (if using), and flour.  Stir gently to combine.
  • Use a quarter cup measure to scoop up the mixture and gently shake it out in a mound on the prepared tray. Gently flatten the top with a spatula. Continue scooping, shaking, flattening patties. After about three of these scoops, rinse the scoop in water so the mixture will release easily.
  • Bake in the preheated oven until browned on the bottom, about 20 minutes. Flip the patties and brown on the second side, about 15-20 minutes. Serve warm.

Roasted Turnips and Carrots (adapted from America’s Test Kitchen)
I slightly burned the carrots but I loved the crisp sweetness anyway.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 24-30 minutes
Servings: 4-6

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds white turnips, peeled and cut into 1 inch slices
  • 2 pounds carrots, peeled and slivered
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro, optional

Preparation

  • Pre-heat the oven to 425˚F. Put oven rack in lower-middle position.
  • Toss turnips and carrots in oil. Season with salt and pepper. Spread vegetables in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet.
  • Roast until the bottom of the turnips is golden and the carrots are browned around the edges, 12-15 minutes. Turn the turnips and carrots and continue to roast until they are tender and golden, 12-15 minutes more.
  • Sprinkle with cilantro, if using, and adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Variations

  • Add 2 teaspoons garlic powder and 1 teaspoon brown sugar to the seasonings.
  • Add 1 teaspoon minced or grated fresh ginger to the seasonings. Toss the turnips and carrots with 2 tablespoons maple syrup before serving

Wasabi and Panko Crusted Pork Tenderloin Cutlets (adapted from myrecipes.com)
To cut calories, I baked the cutlets rather than fry them.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup whole wheat panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 1/3 cup almond flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 large egg white, lightly beaten
  • 8 cutlets from 1 x 1 lb pork tenderloin, trimmed of fat and silver and pounded flat (about 1/2 inch thick)
  • 1 teaspoon canola oil
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
  • 1/3 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry, sake, or rice cooking wine
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon wasabi paste
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions

Preparation

  • Place panko, almond flour, salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Mix with a fork. Place egg white in another shallow dish. Dip pork in egg white; dredge in panko mixture.
  • Spray a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray. Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat; add pork. Cook for 4 minutes on each side or until done. Remove pork from pan; sprinkle with salt.
  • Reduce heat to medium. Add ginger to pan; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Combine broth, sherry, soy sauce, sugar, and wasabi in a small bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Add broth mixture to pan, scraping pan to loosen the browned bits called fond. Stir in green onions. Spoon sauce over pork.

Variation

  • Instead of frying, spray the cutlets with cooking spray and bake the cutlets 15-20 minutes in 425˚F oven or until the cutlets register 165˚F on an instant read thermometer.

ah! there’s the (spicy chicken) rub

New Yorkers who were in the direct path of Superstorm Sandy are now picking up what she left behind, counting their losses and their blessings. During the storm, I had wished for the support of family, but I never got to test the kindness of strangers. I’m indeed humbled and so thankful that we survived with very little loss. We lost a week of work but we have our lives and the warm little apartment that is beginning to feel like a home away from our home in Bangkok. Whether I am in Bangkok or New York, I like to fill my home with the smells of cooking (and baking) and here is a really spicy chicken rub that can be mixed up in a hurry, sprinkled on chicken, and grilled in my George Foreman indoors. I don’t need an outdoor barbecue to enjoy this, and neither will you.

Spicy Chicken Rub for Grilling (adapted from allrecipes.com)
3 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme

Mix all together. Sprinkle generously on one side of the chicken and grill 3-5 minutes per side.