June 29, 2010

German Chocolate Cake

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Meredith


Cake. There is just something special about the word. It brings to mind images of parties and happy times. I’ll never forget making my own birthday cake with my Grandma when I was seven. We made a tiered yellow cake with pink frosting and lots and lots of sprinkles. Looking back on it, I doubt I was involved in much of the actual baking, but I know I was instrumental in putting on the final touches. She was probably sweeping up sprinkles from her kitchen floor for weeks.
One of my Grandma’s favorite cakes, and my absolute favorite, is German Chocolate. This is a gene I’m proud to have passed on to at least 2 of my three sons, who always request it for their birthdays. Although, I’ll venture a guess that the fact that my husband and middle son don’t like coconut, effectively eliminating the competition for seconds…and thirds, may come into play in making that choice.
Really though, what’s not to love about a cake that, if not for just a few moist crumbs, would certainly be classified as a candy? After all, the incredibly decadent and insanely addictive coconut pecan frosting only needs to be enrobed in chocolate to be considered a bar (are you listening Mars?).
Not being a pastry chef, I also love the fact that I don’t have to wrestle with decorating this cake. It needs only to have the frosting slathered on the top of each layer to make it look like something I’d jump over 10 Cake Boss concoctions to eat.
Simple and delicious. Heaven.

Kitchen Counter Point- Take a moment to toast the pecans before adding them to the frosting mixture. The difference in flavor is night and day. One of my favorite ways to toast nuts, especially in the heat of the summer, is in the microwave. I place in the a microwave safe bowl and, on high, cook for two minutes.  Then set the microwave to cook in 30 second intervals, stirring each time, until the nuts are the desired level of toasty.
German Chocolate Cake with Coconut Pecan Frosting

Serves 10

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
4 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 (12 ounce) can evaporated milk
1 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 egg yolks
Pinch of salt
7 ounces sweetened flaked coconut
1-1/2 cups toasted, chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350° F. Prepare three 9-inch round pans, by greasing, lining with parchment and flouring.

Combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and stir with a whisk to combine. Set aside.

Into the mixer bowl add the sugar, butter and shortening. Mix on medium until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs to the batter one at a time. Beat until smooth.

Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the creamed mixture in the mixer bowl followed by 1/3 of the buttermilk. Add half of the remaining dry ingredients to the mixer bowl followed by half the milk. Mix until incorporated and add the last of the dry ingredients followed by the remaining buttermilk.
Spread the batter evenly into prepared round cake pans, greased, lined with parchment then greased and floured, and bake for 20-25 or until tester comes out with a few moist crumbs. Cool in pans on racks for 10 minutes. Turn out of the pans and peel off the parchment paper.

To make the frosting: Combine the milk, sugar, butter, egg yolks and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened and golden in color, about 10 minutes. Stir in the coconut and pecans.

Lay one cake layer on a serving plate and top with the one-third of the frosting. Repeat with remaining layers and frosting. Serve.

June 16, 2010

Strawberry Shortcakes with Buttermilk Ice Cream

Filed under: Desserts — by Carla


There are some dishes that actually scream, “I’m in season. Quick, eat me right now”. In July, it’s crunchy, creamy, corn on the cob. In August it’s juice dripping down your chin tomatoes freshly plucked from the garden. And in June, tah dah…it’s strawberries. Not strawberries as you know them from the rest of the year, but the real deal, locally grown, sweetened by the same sun that shines on you strawberries. Strawberries so good, they make you forget winter. Magic strawberries, indeed.

We have about four weeks of good strawberry eating and though I have been known to make a jar or two of strawberry jam once in a while, I’m mostly a fan of eating them naked, just as they are. But when family arrives for sunday dinners, it’s time to make that summertime dish of dreams and memories, strawberry shortcake.

 Because shortcake as usual is a little bland, I can’t resist perking it up with a little orange zest. But keep in mind shortcake’s major function, after all, is to act as a sponge. Though it may seem like sacrilege to douse these perfect berries with sugar, I love the juicy sauce that ensues. It softens the berries a bit and enables the shortcake to perform its ordained job of sopping up all the sweet/red juice. To make matters even more delicious, I pair the shortcake and berries with a scoop or two of buttermilk ice cream. Even if you don’t really like to drink buttermilk, you can’t let that minor detail stop you from trying it. A frozen custard, really, this ice cream is rich with egg yolks and heavy cream. The perfect icy, creamy, tangy accompaniment, buttermilk ice cream just might turn out be the strawberry’s new best friend.

So, don’t hesitate to create your own summer memory on a plate. Whether you buy them at a farmer’s market or pick them yourself, search out your own magic berries in the next few weeks and make this delicious dessert for family, friends or just for you and you alone. Quick. Eat strawberries right now.

Kitchen Counter Point: There are two important points in making the best shortcake. 1) It’s important to start with cold butter. That way, some of the little nubs of butter remain in the dough and help to puff it when they steam and melt in the oven. If you use warm butter it will be completely rubbed into the dough and the shortcakes will be heavy like  hockey pucks. 2) The next step is to add the buttermilk and just mix until it comes together. You don’t want to work it too much at this point as the gluten in the flour will become activated and become tough. Toss with a fork or your hands until the dough just comes together, then pat it out on a floured surface and cut into triangles. It’s so easy.


2 pints strawberries
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Pinch salt

1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, log quartered and diced into small squares
Zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup buttermilk plus 1 tablespoon, divided
2 tablespoons coarse sugar like Sugar in the Raw or granulated sugar

Buttermilk Ice Cream, recipe follows

Preheat oven to 350ºF

Wash the strawberries and hull and slice them. Add them to a medium bowl and combine with the 1/3 cup sugar and lemon juice. Stir and set the strawberries in the fridge for at least 1 hour and up to 3 hours so that the sugar has a chance to pull the juices from the strawberries and make a nice juicy sauce.

Add the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and stir with a whisk or fork to combine. Add the butter and orange zest and squish together with the tips of your fingers until the mixture is crumbly. Add the 1/2 cup buttermilk and quickly combine with a fork until it forms a mass. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and pat into a circle about 1-inch thick. Cut crosswise into 6 triangles and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush the tops with the remaining tablespoon of buttermilk and sprinkle the coarse sugar over the tops. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until golden. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

To serve, slice the shortbreads horizontally and place the bottoms on a small plate. Spoon the strawberries and juice over the shortcake and replace the top. Serve with buttermilk ice cream and swoon.

Buttermilk Ice Cream

2 cups heavy cream
6 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups buttermilk
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Add the cream to a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

While the cream heats, whisk together the yolks, sugar and salt together in a medium bowl. When the cream is hot, slowly pour it into the yolks while beating them with a whisk. Transfer the cream/egg mixture back to the pan and cook over medium heat until thickened slightly (don’t boil) about 3 minutes. Pour the custard into a large, clean, heat-proof bowl and cool to room temperature. Whisk in the buttermilk and lemon juice and chill the ice cream base until very cold (see tip). Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions. Most will tell you to transfer the ice cream to a container and freeze it until it is firm, at least 4 hours, but I never have time for that. Besides, I like it soft, smooth and creamy and serve it straight from the ice cream maker bowl. Serve with strawberry short cakes or anything else that you want to be out of this world delicious.

Tip: I usually make ice cream the day I’m going to use it, so I’ve come up with a way to chill the base fast. Pour it into a 9x 13 metal pan and place in the freezer. Check every 30 minutes or so and give it a stir. Remove it before it begins to set up and process it in the ice cream maker. If it begins to set up and freeze, let it warm up a bit in the fridge. If you add it to the ice cream maker too cold, it can freeze up too fast on the outside edges and jam the machine.

June 9, 2010

Barley and Wild Grain Salad with Fresh Herbs, Dried Fruit and Walnuts

Filed under: Salads — by Carla

I’ve never been, and never expect to be, a lady who lunches.
It’s not only the nap inducing glass of Sauvingnon Blanc and overdressed Caesar salad topped with either chicken or salmon that I shun. I don’t even like to take the time to eat lunch when working at home. Sometimes it’s hard to resume  focus after a lunch break and let’s face it, the mid day meal just isn’t as much fun as, say, dinner. I need something as easy and quick to eat as an apple and a handful of peanuts. That means any potential lunch must be sitting in the fridge waiting to be scarfed down at my desk or over the sink. That’s where this chewy barley and wild grain salad comes in. Because I make a big batch as a side for dinner the night before, there’s  plenty of delicious and quick leftovers for days of future lunches to come.

Multiple grains form the backbone of this fiber rich, tart and sweet salad so it not only tastes good, but is good for you as well. It’s not only fast, but  it fills me up and keeps me from pecking around for that  five o’clock before-dinner snack. Once the grains are cooked, there really isn’t a hard and fast recipe that must be followed. For example, my herb garden is flush with parsley, oregano, chives and thyme so I just add a variety of whatever suits my fancy. The simple vinaigrette is just a squeezed lemon and a splash of olive oil. Just add tart-sweet dried fruit and toasted nuts and dig right in.

So, maybe with a bit of planning, I’m a luncher after all.

Kitchen Counter Point: I think it’s important to add the cooked grains to the vinaigrette hot from the pan. That way, they seem to absorb the flavor into the grain and not just coat it on the outside. It’s also a pet peeve of mine when grains, beans or pasta aren’t cooked in salted water. It’s kind of the same concept as adding warm grains to the vinaigrette. When grains, pasta or beans are cooking ( or hot), they absorb some of the cooking liquid and if it is seasoned, so much the better. Since flat tasting insipid grains are a big no-no, add about 1 teaspoon salt to 2 cups cooking water. You’ll be glad you did.

Serves 6 to 8

1 cup pearled barley
1 cup wild rice mix (Lundgrens is nice)
Juice of one lemon or about 1/4 cup
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup currants or raisins
1 cup chopped, toasted walnuts
1/4 cup minced parsley
2 teaspoons minced thyme
2 teaspoons minced chives
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Add the barley to a 2-quart saucepan with a lid and cover with 2 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer, uncovered, reduce the heat and cook covered for 20 minutes or until the barley is cooked through, but still firm to the bite. Dump the grains in a strainer to remove any unwanted extra liquid.

Add the wild rice mix to a 2-quart saucepan with a lid and cover with 2 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer uncovered, reduce the heat and cook covered for about 45 minutes or until tender. Dump the grains in a strainer to remove any unwanted extra liquid.

Add the lemon juice and salt to a large bowl and stir to dissolve the salt. Add the olive oil to the bowl and blend with a fork until mixed. Add the warm grains, cranberries, currants, nuts and herbs to the bowl and toss to mix. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Refrigerate unused salad and bring to room temperature before serving as leftovers or just nuke for a few moments to take the chill off.