Monday, October 28, 2013

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to me and to June!

My birthday was Saturday, and I enjoyed a whole celebratory weekend! It began with a noontime party at work on Friday with my colleagues, a lovely dinner out with friends Friday night, and then a whole day in Burlington (VT) on Saturday visiting the farmer's market and the arts and crafts and antique shows at the Expo. Just perfect!

My dear friend June's birthday is just two days after mine, and I sometimes feel like I get celebrated too much and she, too little. So I wanted to make her a very special birthday cake to prove to her how glad I am that she was born!

On the most recent episode of The Pioneer Woman's show on Food Network, and she made something with her famous Texas sheet cake that she called Chocolate Devils. They looked sort of like Ding Dongs, two rounds of chocolate cake with a thick white filling, glazed on top with ganache and topped with maraschino cherries.

This sounded like the sort of thing that June would LOVE, as she adores the chocolate-cherry combination, but I wanted to rework it into a layered birthday cake and pump up the cherry component. My kitchen floor is uneven, so the layers always come out a little lopsided, and the sides looked like they've been spackled with chocolate 'cuz I suck at frosting/decorating. But I know it tasted good, and I do believe that the birthday girl loved it! (And it's the thought that counts, or so my momma always told me.)

Chocolate Devil Cake
(Source: adapted from The Pioneer Woman)

Cake Layers:
Baking spray with flour added 
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) butter
4 heaping tablespoons cocoa
1 cup cola (or water)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, beaten
Cherry-Vanilla Filling:
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 sticks (1 cup) butter
1 cup granulated sugar (not powdered sugar!)
1 jar maraschino cherries, drained and chopped

3 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
24 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces
1 jar maraschino cherries
For the cake layers: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray three 9-inch cake pans with flour-added baking spray.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, granulated sugar and salt. In a saucepan, melt the butter. Add the cocoa to the butter and stir together. Add one cup cola (or boiling water) to the pan and then allow the mixture to boil for 30 seconds. Pour over the flour mixture, and stir lightly to cool.

Pour the buttermilk into a bowl and add the baking soda, vanilla and beaten eggs. Stir the buttermilk mixture into the butter/flour mixture. Pour into the prepared cake pans and bake for 20 minutes. Cool the cake layers completely on a wire rack, then refrigerate to make sure there is no warmth to the cakes at all. (The frosting is so light and fluffy, the coolness will help keep it all together.)

For the filling: In a small saucepan, whisk the flour into the milk and heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens. You want it to be very thick--thicker than cake mix, more like a brownie mix. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. If in a hurry, place the saucepan over ice in the sink for about ten minutes or so until the mixture cools. It must be completely cool before you use it in the next step. Stir in the vanilla and almond extracts.

While the mixture is cooling, cream the butter and granulated sugar together until light and fluffy. You don't want any sugar graininess left. Then add the completely cooled milk/flour mixture and beat the living daylights out of it. If it looks separated, you haven't beaten it enough! Beat it until it all combines and resembles whipped cream, then gently fold in the chopped cherries by hand. 

For the ganache: Heat the cream until very hot. Add the vanilla, and then pour over the chocolate pieces. Stir to completely melt. Spread two of the cooled cake layers with ganache and return to the fridge to let the ganache set up.

To assemble: Place one cake layer (glazed with ganache) on a cake plate, ganache side up. Spread on half of the cherry-vanilla filling. Place a second layer (again, ganache side up) on top of that. Spread on the rest of the filling. Top with the last layer of (unglazed) cake. Using a ladle, pour ganache over the top of cake, allowing the chocolate to run over the sides. Place cherries on top in a decorative pattern. Chill the cake until ready to serve.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Think you don't like spaghetti squash? THINK AGAIN!

On Pinterest awhile back, I saw a picture of a quiche with a "crust" made of spaghetti squash. I think it was a gluten-free or Paleo/Whole 30 recipe, but I just thought it looked yummy. So I picked up a lovely squash at the farmer's market, and then made up my own "recipe" which I will now describe.

So, you cut a smaller spaghetti squash in half and scrape the guts out. Drizzle with EVOO (or coconut oil or whatever you Whole30/Paleo people like to do), sprinkle with salt, pepper, and thyme and roast at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes until tender. Use a fork to separate the strings. Add a pat of butter and a couple of tablespoons of shredded parmesan and set aside to cool. (Clarify the butter and skip the cheese for Paleo.) Then press evenly into a pie dish sprayed with cooking spray.

Brown 1/2 pound of sausage with one large chopped onion. (If I had had some around, I would have thrown some mushrooms into the mix.) Drain off the fat. Now I added some quartered roasted potatoes and sliced carrots that I had left over from dinner last night. Use what you have and like in your quiche. Asparagus might be nice...and low carb. Or use roasted sweet potatoes instead of the deadly white kind. Season with a couple of pinches of salt, pepper to taste, granulated garlic and ground celery (about 1/2 teaspoon each), and about a teaspoon of dried Italian herbs. Let this mixture cool a bit as well.

Whisk together six eggs and a half cup of milk (I suppose the Whole30 crowd could skip the milk), then add the cooled meat and veggie mixture, a half cup of grated Swiss cheese (I like Emmenthal best--but no cheese of any kind for the Paleos), and stir to combine. Pour into your squash crust and bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes until set.

I think even those who think they don't like spaghetti squash this would enjoy this!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Bow Down Before This QUEENLY Salmon!

Dear readers, I may not be rich in material possessions, but I am extremely wealthy when it comes to friendships. One of my favorite people on the planet is my colleague and friend, Chris Ford. Chris teaches computer science at my school, but he is a man of many talents, including kiteboarding, jump-roping (earning him an appearance on The Gong Show in his youth!), filmmaking, cooking, and fortunately for me, fishing! Last week, he brought in some extra-smoky salmon to work to share with me that he had caught and smoked himself. It was SO delicious--savory and salty, not unlike bacon. I used it on a wonderful entrée salad for dinner one night.

As if that weren't enough, Chris showed up at pub trivia at a bar in Peru, NY called Pasquale's where my team was playing Tuesday night, and hand-delivered the amusing cooler pictured below which contained fresh salmon (already cleaned and filleted!), a little baggie of wood-smoking chips, and two recipes. One was for the extra-smoky fish that I used on the salad, and the other was for a preparation called Kingly Salmon, from Smoke & Spice: Cooking with Smoke, the Real Way to Barbecue by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison.

So tonight, in perhaps the last firing of the R2D2 smoker unit for the season, I prepared a QUEENLY salmon that literally had my roommate and I groaning in pleasure as we ate it. It is CRAZY good! So now I am going to have to work out a bartering system, baked goods for salmon, while they are still running and Chris is still fishing. And I also want to try creating a stovetop smoker to do it inside during the colder months. (I will report back on that.)

If the salmon are running where you are (or even if you find some nice fillets from your local fishmonger), you MUST try this recipe! By the bye, I used only half of the recipe as written, and that was perfect for four fillets.
Kingly Salmon
(Source: Smoke & Spice: Cooking with Smoke, the Real Way to Barbecue by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison)

Pacific king salmon butterflied tail section (or use coho or silver salmon)
Alder wood for smoking

1/4 cup dill, dried
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons fresh-ground black pepper
*I added 2 teaspoons granulated garlic, optional
Optional Mop:
Remaining rub
1 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup oil (canola or corn)

The night before you plan to barbecue, combine dill, brown sugar, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Open the salmon flat and massage it well with about 2/3 of the rub, reserving the rest of the mixture. Fold the salmon back into its original shape, place it in a plastic bag, and refrigerate it overnight.

Prepare the smoker for barbecuing, bringing the temperature to 180 to 200 degrees F. Remove the salmon from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. If you plan to baste the fish, stir the remaining rub together with cider vinegar and oil in a small saucepan and warm the mixture over low heat.

Transfer the salmon to the smoker skin side down, placing the fish as far from the fire as possible. Cook for 50 to 60 minutes, mopping it after 10 and 30 minutes in a wood-burning pit, or as appropriate for your style of smoker. The salmon should flake easily when done. Have a large spatula and a platter ready when taking the salmon off the smoker, because it can fall apart easily. Serve hot or chilled.

BBQ Tips:
Alder remains the best wood for smoking Pacific salmon. Alder chips are fairly common across the country, but you may have more difficulty finding the wood in chunks or logs. Fruit woods are the best substitute, particularly when mixed with smaller pieces of alder.

Yield: 8 servings

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Boring Sunday Night Chicken Goes on Spanish Holiday

I was driving home from choir practice last week, and I happened to catch a snippet of some program from Martha's Sirius Radio might have been Everyday Food? Anyway, they were discussing new and interesting ways to prepare chicken. One was a recipe calling for spatchcocking (one of my favorite words) and cooking the bird on top of thick bread so that you end up with a big, chickeny crouton at the end (yum and YUM!).

And then the following recipe is for a Spanish-style chicken that sounded equally delicious. It is a one-pot wonder kind of like chicken cacciatore, but lighter, tangier, and zippier (from the sherry vinegar, green olives, and piquillo peppers). I suppose you could serve it however you like, but we had some leftover ziti knocking about, so that's what I used. However, a crusty loaf of bread to soak up the delicious juices would be ideal. Also, I'd like to note (mostly so I remember to make it again) that we started our meal with an awesome salad made with local Bibb lettuce, local apples, shallots, gorgonzola crumbles, and sliced almonds, all dressed with a lemon-herb vinaigrette.

Spanish-Style Chicken
(Source: Martha Stewart Living, October 2013)
1 whole chicken (3 1/2 to 4 pounds), cut into 10 pieces      
coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
6 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste
1/3 cup sherry vinegar
2 cups chicken broth
6 jarred marinated piquillo peppers, cut into strips (about 2/3 cup)
1/2 cup green olives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Season chicken on both sides with salt and paprika. Heat an ovenproof 12-inch skillet or shallow braising pan over medium-high heat. Swirl in oil. Working in two batches, add chicken to pan and cook until well browned, about 2 minutes on each side, adding more oil as needed. Transfer chicken as it is browned to a plate.

Reduce heat to low and stir in garlic, then tomato paste, scraping up browned bits in pan with a wooden spoon. Return chicken to skillet, increase heat to high, and pour in vinegar. Boil, stirring, until reduced to a glaze.

Stir in broth and bring to a boil. Add peppers and olives. Transfer to oven and braise until a thermometer inserted into thickest part of breast (do not touch bone) reaches 160 degrees and liquid is reduced by half, 20 to 25 minutes. Garnish with parsley.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Harvest Holiday

WHEW! Thank goodness it's finally Columbus Day weekend/Fall Break! I can't remember a busier autumn in recent memory, and I need a little break. Besides sleeping in and trying to clear out the dvr, I didn't have any grand travel plans, other than a few local and regional entertainments. But some folks did have leaf-peeping guests in from out of town, so my friend June decided to host a harvest holiday party and potluck.

Hailing from New Orleans, June prepared Cajun fare such as gumbo and pralines for dessert. But I was told that we did not have to adhere to a particular theme. So I made an easy bruschetta-topped pizza, taking the elements along with me and assembling and baking it at the party.

I hope there will be no audible gasps out there, but I started with a "cheater" crust, a thin-crust Boboli, which I really like. So there! I spread on a thin layer of pesto (homemade is best, of course), then topped it with shredded mozzarella and aged provolone (two cups?). I baked this in the oven at 450 for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese had melted and just started to brown at the edges. Then I added what is probably the last bruschetta of the season (seeded and chopped tomatoes, a little chopped onion, a big drizzle of olive oil, several cloves of minced garlic, a good glug or two of balsamic, and a handful of chopped fresh basil leaves) to the top and drizzled on a little balsamic glaze to finish. YUMMY!
Then for my dessert offering, I made a pumpkin cheesecake pie with ginger thin crust that I had originally made just for us to have at home, but it turned out so perfectly, I decided to take it to the party to share. (And I think the guests were very glad that I did!) I used a recipe I found online for the filling, but I was pleased with the crust that I fashioned from a package of Anna's Ginger Thins that I discovered in the freezer. Such a DELICIOUS combination! And don't you just love this time of year, where one can enjoy both the last of the tomatoes and basil and the first of the pumpkin spice deluge soon to follow?

Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie with Ginger Thin Crust
(Source: adapted from Southern Food at
1 package ginger thin cookies, crushed
4 to 5 tablespoons melted butter
pinch of salt
2 packages (16 ounces total) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup pumpkin purée
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
dash cloves
2 large eggs
1 9-inch graham cracker pie crust
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the cookie crumbs with enough melted butter and the salt until it all holds together when squeezed lightly. Press into a 9-inch pie plate. Bake for 13-15 minutes or until firm and a little darker in color Cool on a rack for a least five minutes.

Meanwhile, combine cream cheese, pumpkin, sugar, vanilla, and spices; mix with a hand mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add eggs; mix until blended. Pour into the prepared crust. Bake at 350° F. for 35 to 45 minutes, or until set. Cool completely. Refrigerate at least three hours, or overnight. Serve garnished with sweetened whipped cream or whipped topping.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Seems a little fishy to me...

Last night, my friends and I went to see another wonderful Shakespearean production (The Comedy of Errors) by the National Players at Clinton Community College. Before the show, we had dinner at the bistro just down the hill, Latitude 44. I've been there a few times, and mostly I prefer it for brunch. I have yet to try a dinner entrée there that really knocked my socks off...until now.

I ordered the Crab-Stuffed Sole with Roasted Red Pepper Cream sauce--gorgeous and so delicious! In fact, it was so good, I wanted to try and prepare something similar at home. Now, I didn't bother with rolling my fish, but topped it with the "stuffing" instead, Southern style. Also, I used both red and yellow roasted peppers, so my sauce was orange in color, but equally flavorful. And I served it all over some yellow rice with fresh corn and black beans for a zesty complement.

Baked Haddock with Crabmeat Stuffing
(Source: Epicurious)

Notes: You could use cod instead of haddock, and milk instead of half and half. Serve with lemon wedges, if desired. This stuffing is also good in baked stuffed mushrooms.

2 pounds haddock (or cod), rinsed and patted dry
1 to 2 teaspoon lemon juice
Butter to grease baking dish

1 tablesoon butter
3 scallions, sliced
7 ounces fresh Maine crabmeat
1/2 cup fine, plain breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
3 tablespoons half and half
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 13 x 9 inch baking dish. Lay prepared fish in pan, cutting as necessary to fit, layering thinner pieces on top of one another to make a uniform thickness (I fold the thinner bits underneath). Brush fish with lemon juice.

Prepare Stuffing:
Saute scallions in one tablespoon butter in nonstick skillet over medium heat until slightly soft, but tops still bright green. Remove pan from heat; cool two to three minutes. Add the rest of the stuffing ingredients, tossing lightly to mix. Larger pieces of crab should still be intact.

Spoon stuffing evenly over haddock. Bake at 350 degrees, or until the fish flakes. Do not over bake, or fish will be dry and tough.

Roasted Red Pepper Cream Sauce
(Source: adapted from AllRecipes)

1 12 oz. jar roasted red peppers, drained and cut into chunks
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 pinch cayenne pepper
Combine the peppers and heavy cream in a pot and bring to boil over medium heat; reduce heat to medium-low and continue simmering, stirring occasionally, until the cream reduces to about one cup, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the paprika, lemon juice, salt, white pepper, and cayenne pepper.

Pour the sauce into a blender (I used a stick blender in the pot). Hold the lid firmly with a towel while blending, using a few quick pulses to get the sauce moving before leaving it on to blend until smooth. Serve hot.