Yesterday was Kevinís birthday. In addition to getting him a totally cool present (I buy the best gifts!), I made one of his favorite dishes for supper (which I will post about tomorrow!), and the best cake Iíve ever made and/or had. Maybe Iím just a bit too proud of myself, but everything was working for meÖ it all turned out great! Must have been a Friday the 13th thing.
But back to the cakeÖ in this post from a few weeks ago, I wrote about my new Bundt cake pan, and put out a plea for the perfect recipe for its inaugural baking. I only got one response, from Estelle of Le hamburger et le croissant. She sent me a link to the Williams-Sonoma site, which included a recipe for a cranberry-orange cake and some handy, helpful hints for baking with a Bundt pan. Thanks, Estelle! The hints were great -- I never would have thought to use a pastry brush to grease the pan, but I have no idea how I would have done it otherwise! =) I didn't end up using that recipe, but I will certainly try it in the near future. I love cranberries.
As I wrote in my post about my cake pan, "This seems like a pan worthy of a decadent, ooey gooey, totally unhealthy cake." I found all that and more in a recipe at allrecipes.com, one of my favorite recipe sources on the 'net. As soon as I laid eyes on it, I knew it was the perfect first cake for my new pan, and the perfect cake for Kev's birthday. It's called Irish Cream Bundt Cake, and here's the recipe as it's posted on the site:
Irish Cream Bundt Cake
1 cup chopped pecans
1 (18.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix
1 (3.4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup Irish cream liqueur
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup water
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup Irish cream liqueur
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease and flour a 10 inch Bundt pan. Sprinkle chopped nuts evenly over bottom of pan.
2. In a large bowl, combine cake mix and pudding mix. Mix in eggs, 1/4 cup water, 1/2 cup oil and 3/4 cup Irish cream liqueur. Beat for 5 minutes at high speed. Pour batter over nuts in pan.
3. Bake in the preheated oven for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then invert onto the serving dish. Prick top and sides of cake. Spoon glaze over top and brush onto sides of cake. Allow to absorb glaze repeat until all glaze is used up.
4. To make the glaze: In a saucepan, combine butter, 1/4 cup water and 1 cup sugar. Bring to a boil and continue boiling for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup Irish cream.
Makes 12 servings.
I followed the recipe to the letter, which is unusual for me. It made the ooiest, gooiest, thickest cake batter I've ever seen, which I took to be a good sign of things to come. You would not believe how good it smelled as it baked. It also rose way above the top of the pan!
It settled a bit as it cooled, but I still had to cut off a good amount before inverting it onto a plate. Mmm... cake scraps! =) At that point, it looked like this:
How gorgeous it that?!? I was getting a bit too excited to contain myself, and I didn't even have the glaze on it yet! The glaze turns out to be this gooey, Irish Cream flavored, caramel-like liquid (with all that butter, how could it be any other way?). Like the kitchen didn't smell good enough already! It was pretty thick, and didn't really soak into the cake quite the way I imagined it would. I spooned and brushed on what I thought was more than enough, and still had leftovers. Next time I make this, I will probably cut the glaze recipe in half. And trust me, it's so rich that half of the recipe is plenty! Here's how it looked when it was done, sitting in the pool of glaze that ran off:
And here's the slice I served to the Birthday Boy:
No fancy presentation, no garnish. It stood up well enough on its own. I can't even begin to describe to you how good this cake is. It's a bit denser than a traditional layer cake would be, but still somehow seems to have a light texture. That almost makes sense, huh? It's moist. It's flavorful. I taste-tested a bit of the scrap before I glazed the cake, and was pretty sure I'd be drunk before I even ate a piece of the finished product -- the Irish Cream flavor in the cake alone is that pronounced! Then top it with the buttery, caramelly, Irish Creamy glaze... Holly Holy! It totally exceeded my expectations. I knew it would be good, but this was amazing. Kevin was pretty much rendered speechless. And, of course, the shape of the cake is too cool for words, isn't it? It makes me want to go back to Paris and visit Notre Dame...
Thank you, Sue Haser, whoever/wherever you are, for submitting this recipe to allrecipes.com!
And happy birthday, Kev. I love you.
On a more serious note, and I know I'm a little late in acknowledging this, Julia Child died yesterday. I have never exactly been a huge follower, but I cetainly respect her for all that she contributed to the culinary world. She died just two days before what would have been her 92nd birthday.
Linda of "At Our Table" has a great Julia anecdote here. And the New York Times did a great writeup about Julia, her life, and her accomplishments here.
As I signed myself up for the event, I read others' comments on Redbeard's site, and saw that there is some question as to exactly what qualifies as a dumpling. Here is my two cents' worth, as I posted in my comment: "As far as the debate on what qualifies as dumplings, I have to go with my man Alton Brown. He did a great show on the subject. I don't remember all the details, but he talked about how every culture has its own form of dumplings, and there are so many things that are counted as such. I clearly remember him talking about gnocchi and ravioli, as well as filled wontons, biscuits dropped onto and cooked with stews, pierogies, spaetzle..."
There I go again, talking about something I'm not even entirely clear on. I'll have to check out Food TV's site and see if any of the recipes from that episode of "Good Eats" are still available.
Most of my life, "dumplings" were something that didn't interest me. As far as I knew they were just biscuit dough dropped onto some kind of soup or stew, so they cooked by way of steaming. All I could imagine was soggy, gummy bread in my soup. Now that I've declared myself to be a "foodie," and have watched countless hours of cooking shows, I know that the term "dumpling" covers a multitude of dishes. Most commonly, a dumpling is pasta or dough stuffed with any imaginable filling. Ravioli, knishes, pierogies, crab rangoon, and gyoza all fit this bill. Dumplings can also be balls or lumps of dough dropped into a liquid and cooked, much like my childhood images of chicken and dumplings, Italy's gnocchi (mmm... gnocchi!), or German spaetzle.
How do I feel about dumplings now? I'm toying with a couple of ideas... maybe I'll even try more than one. You'll just have to check back on August 22nd to see what I make and how it comes out!
This is far from an original idea, but it is one of my favorite things in the world: herb roasted potatoes. I made some the other day with my "potatoes in three colors" from Saturday's trip to the farmer's market.
My usual M.O.for making herb roasted potatoes involves potatoes, onions, salt, pepper, olive oil, and either dried rosemary or dried sage and thyme. This batch, however, had a couple of happy little twists...
I diced up my pretty potatoes and sliced up my gorgeous onions, and threw them into my Pyrex baking dish. The first twist on this recipe -- I didn't have to use dried herbs! I was fortunate to have in my posession some fresh rosemary from my aunt's garden. I stripped it from its stems, but left it unchopped. I think it's prettier that way.
The second twist was an epiphany Kevin had: "how about some of your garlic scapes? don't you think they'd be good with the potatoes?" The man is a genius. Why didn't I think of that? I cut a few of said scapes into about 1" strips, and into the pan they went. I salted, peppered, oiled, and mixed the concoction until it looked like this:
The purple- and red-skinned potatoes were both white-fleshed, waxy-style potatoes. The white-skinned ones actually turned out to be yellow-fleshed. How exciting (and colorful!)! I wasn't sure how the colors would hold up upon roasting, so I took the above "before" picture. You can see a few flecks of rosemary here and there, but the scapes don't really show up. They kept sinking to the bottom. Oh, well.
I roasted the potatoes at about 425 for about 45 minutes...? I realy should pay closer attention to times and temps if I'm suggesting that you should actually try some of these recipes! Anyway... I stirred them several times over the course of cooking them, and took them out when the potatoes were tender and the onions were all yummy and caramelly. My "after" picture doesn't really look too different from my "before," but here it is...
You can see that the onions shrank down a lot, and there's a little bit of browning here and there. I probably should have left them in a bit longer, but they smelled good and I was hungry.
I usually work with starchier potatoes -- the Maine russet, of course! It's my favorite for almost any use. These being waxier potatoes, the texture was a little different from what I'm used to -- but not in a bad way at all! In fact, these potatoes were actually better the next day, cold. It was kind of like an herbed potato salad with the lightest dressing ever know to potato salad. Oh, and the fresh rosemary was killer -- I don't know how I'll ever go back to dried! =)
Wild blueberries are one of the best things about August here in Maine (besides Kevís birthday, which just so happens to be on Friday the 13th this year!). If you havenít had the opportunity to try them, I feel so sorry for you. Those gargantuan ones you can buy year Ďround in the grocery stores just arenít the same. Maine wild blueberries are small, sweet, tart, juicy, and oh-so-healthy. Iím sure youíve heard about all the vitamins and antioxidants they pack in, so I wonít bore you with those details.
As is the case with so much fruit, I donít like my blueberries to be messed with too much. I know a lot of Mainers who would faint if I told them I donít care much for blueberry pancakes. Blueberry pie is OK, but I prefer raspberry or cherry. Blueberry muffins are fine as long as they donít have those hard, dry, oversweetened blueberry-wannabe pellets in them. And a friend of mine at work brought in a blueberry cake this morning that I have to say was pretty amazing (the girl brought in her own birthday cake that she made herself -- happy birthday, Kacie!). But I just like my fresh blueberries to be served as close to their natural state as possible. Hereís one of my favorite ways to eat them:
This is a classic case of the photo not doing the dish justice. Layered in this bowl are: one banana, sliced, half a container of vanilla yogurt, a bit of Kashi ďSeven in the MorningĒ cereal (which looks and tastes just like Grape-Nuts, but is made with seven grains instead of just one!), a pinch of cinnamon, and lots of blueberries bought just one day before this picture was taken. Itís not the most photogenic dish in the world, but it is one of the tastiest.
This fruit-yogurt-cereal combo can be done so many different ways. Grapes, apples, and nectarines are some of my favorite fruits to use. Lemon yogurt is fabulous, especially with blueberries. We use low fat granola quite often, or the meusli we stockpile and bring back from Paris whenever we can get there. To be a bit clichť, the possibilities are endless!
If you look in the freezer section of your grocery store and see Wymanís frozen blueberries, they almost certainly came from Maine. Theyíre not a bad substitute for cooking when fresh berries are out of season.Wymanís also makes blueberry juice, which sounds just a bit too intense for meÖ maybe it would be OK mixed with seltzer or cranberry juice or something. Iíve also seen pomegranate-blueberry juice, but havenít tried it. Talk about an antioxidant punch (ha ha ha)!
Of course, the absolute best way to eat fresh Maine wild blueberries (beside straight off the bushes as you pick them!) is in a bowl with a splash of cream, and maybe a tiny bit of sugar.
I put some of my fresh produce to good use last night -- I made pizza! I know, I've already posted about pizza twice. But there are so many ways to make it... why shouldn't I post about my ways? =)
I've done mini deep-dish pizzas, and I've made individual size grilled pizzas. This time, I made a regular old, family-size pizza. I started out with one of my new favorite recipes, "fiesta pizza" crust. I threw all the ingredients into my bread machine, set it for "dough only," and went about my business. For whatever strange reason, I was using a 1/4 cup measure to measure my flours. Call me anal, but I like the process of spooning the flour into the cup, levelling it off, and pouring it into the pan. I was pretty sure I'd put in four 1/4 cups full of bread flour, not three -- but not entirely sure. Usually I check my bread dough after 10 minutes or so to make sure it's mixing properly and the texture is good. I kinda forgot to do that yesterday, until there were only three minutes left of the mixing stage. Upon finally checking, I found a sticky mess. Guess I only put in 3/4 of a cup of bread flour, huh? Duh. I threw in another 1/4 cup with the hope that it would mix in well enough in the remaining two minutes of the cycle. Fortunately, it did, and the dough turned out great.
I got all fancy-schmancy with this pizza and actually used my pizza peel and stone (that I bought last year!) as they were intended to be used. The stone has basically just served as an oven liner since then, and I don't think I've touched the peel since I bought it. I liberally sprinkled cornmeal on the peel -- I wasn't taking any chances of that crust not coming off it! I got the dough stretched out to a size I found acceptable, and moved on to toppings. I spent a good five minutes looking for the pizza sauce I knew I had bought in the morning. I looked in the same cupboard seventeen times, searched the countertops, and even checked the grocery bags I had used. I finally resigned myself to the canned Hunt's tomato sauce I knew I had. I opened the cupboard, reached for the Hunt's, and found the sauce I was originally looking for -- right behind the peanut butter, of course. It's "Casa Visco" brand, and I really like it. It's just a little bit sweet, a little bit spicy, and it's loaded with herbs. It's so much better than those big names like Ragu and Prince. After the sauce, on went the (organic!) mozzarella, a little sprinkling of (not organic, unfortunately) freshly grated parmesan, and a healthy dose of Italian seasoning. Finally, the veggies: I used some green pepper, some purple pepper, half an onion, half the tomato, and a finely sliced garlic scape. I was afraid to use any more of the scapes, because I wasn't quite sure what I was getting into. Here's how it looked just before it went into the oven:
What a masterpiece! I was so proud of myself. I was even more proud when I took it to the oven and slid it right onto the pizza stone, just like I knew what I was doing. I blasted the pizza at 475 for not quite 15 minutes, and here's what came out:
YUM! I just love those big bubbles around the edge of the crust. But who knew purple peppers turn green when they're cooked?
All in all, this was yet another successful venture. Next time, I will definitely use more garlic scapes, and I will probably roll the crust out just a tad bit thinner. Not that this one isn't really good, but everything has at least a little room for improvement... right?