Baked Sunday Mornings: Devil’s Food Cake with Angel Icing

I decided to adapt this week’s entry into cupcakes because tonight is my (very small and intimate) Oscars party and I reckoned cupcakes would be easier to eat than cake.

I made the cupcakes this morning while my husband slept in. I knew where this project was headed the minute I took them out of the oven:

Flat, sunken messes

The edges.

After nap, I made the frosting. I knew I was doomed when I got distracted (toddler harassment), dropped an egg on the floor while putting the fifth egg white into the mixing bowl, and allowed a teensy bit of yolk into the bowl with the rest of the whites. I tried to get it out, but it didn’t work. I would have dumped the whole thing and started over if it hadn’t been the final egg white, but I didn’t want to dip into my “regular” egg stash.

The recipe says you’re supposed to whip the egg whites with the sugar syrup for seven minutes. Three minutes into it, I had soup and started making plans to go to the store to get some cream cheese to make a backup frosting. But with about two minutes to go, it started to thicken up and look glossy, per the recipe. Then I added the vanilla (I used 1.5 t extract per the recipe, which calls for 1 t of vanilla paste or 1.5 t of extract, but that was WAY too much).

I went ahead and put the frosting on the cupcakes. And by “put,” I mean “glopped.” Then I realized, as I ascertained the brown streaks in the frosting, that the vanilla hadn’t blended in entirely. Then I tasted a cupcake. While the cake was really delicious and moist, the frosting was crazy sweet and had an overpowering vanilla extract taste.

After conferring with my husband, who agreed with me when I said that these were by far the ugliest cupcakes I’d ever made (not to mention just an epic failure with the frosting), I decided to cut my losses.

Better luck next time.

So, now I have no cupcakes for tonight’s party and all of the local cupcakeries are closed. Yes, this is a first world problem. But I’m still bummed.

Two beautiful meals

Obviously I didn’t do a meal plan this week, even though I have one written up. Things have REALLY picked up with the dissertation, which means I’ve got to focus my time on this final chapter revision, then major revisions of the whole project, then writing the introduction. ZOINKS! It’s getting down to brass tacks, my friends, which means that blogging is absolutely the lowest priority until further notice.

That said, I simply MUST share these two recipes with you, both taken from the current (March 2011) issue of Everyday Food. I have made them both this week and while I wouldn’t characterize either of them as being particularly fast (this is called the “FAST” issue), they are incredibly delicious. Not only that, they are very colorful and pleasing to look at. Sadly, my Bloggie camera is better suited to shooting movies than taking still shots, so these photos don’t really do these meals justice. Must remember to charge the regular camera’s batteries.

Pork fried rice

This fried rice is incredibly tasty, with just enough fragrant ginger to round out the flavors. I put extra carrot in there to boost the fiber content (and to offset the presence of pork AND egg). The kids were suspicious of it, but Matt and I both loved it. I took the leftovers for my lunch yesterday and was sad when it was gone. Definitely something to put in fairly regular rotation. I love how light it is (although it’s a bit of a POINTS bomb).

2 T canola oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 T + ¼ t soy sauce
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1 T (approx) peeled, minced ginger
1 bunch scallions, white and green parts separated and thinly sliced
½ lb. ground pork
3 carrots, shredded
½ c shelled edamame
2 c cooked white rice (I cooked this in the rice cooker the night before)
2 T rice vinegar

    In a wok, heat 1 T oil on high. In a small bowl, beat the eggs with ¼ t of soy sauce. Add eggs to wok and swirl to coat bottom of pan. Cook until almost set, leaving it flat on the bottom and sides of the wok, then fold into thirds. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into thin strips. Set aside.

    Add 1 T oil to wok and coat the bottom and sides. Add garlic, ginger, and scallion whites and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add pork and cook until it is browned, about 3 minutes. Add carrots, edamame, and rice and stir to combine. Add egg, 2 T soy sauce, and vinegar and cook, stirring unti rice is coated. Let cook without stirring for a minute, until it is warmed through. Top with scallion greens and serve.

Asian chicken salad

I really hate the name “Asian chicken salad.” What about it is Asian? Soy sauce? Mint? Also, it makes me think of Margaret Cho’s “Asian chicken salad” bit.

“This is not the salad of my people!”

At any rate, this salad was delightful. It puts the lie to the “fast” promise because you have to shred the cabbage and the carrots, juice the limes, mince the jalapeno, and shred the chicken. 15 minutes my butt, Everyday Food! But this is super light and refreshing — we will definitely be eating a lot of this over the summer!

1/4 cup lime juice
2 t soy sauce
1 jalapeno, minced
2 t canola oil
1/2 t sugar
2 c shredded red cabbage
2 c mixed greens
3 shredded carrots
1 c shelled edamame
1 c lightly packed mint leaves
2 cups shredded cooked chicken

    In a large bowl, whisk together lime juice, soy sauce, jalapeno, oil, and sugar. Add cabbage, greens, carrots, edamame, mint, and chicken and toss well to combine. Serve immediately.

A variant that the magazine offers is to slice the jalapenos rather than mince and put the veggies on a baguette spread with mayo, top with the chicken and have a sort of banh mi. I did have a baguette, but I just used it on the side. The verdict? TASTY. I have a big tub of leftover salad for lunch today; I plan to take it with me to my Weight Watchers meeting (I’ve switched to a lunchtime meeting so that I can attend with friends) and make everyone else jealous.

Baked Sunday Mornings: Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

It’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining and we’re looking forward to a week of springlike weather. We’re headed to Harry’s class friend’s birthday party in a bit and have a fairly lazy Sunday ahead of us. I have lots of projects from which to choose (some tedious, like folding laundry, some creative, like sewing and knitting projects) and I don’t feel overwhelmed. I’ve seen some pretty awesome movement on the dissertation front since Wednesday and things are looking up! We had a really lovely dinner at two different families’ houses in the past week and all is well. I am feeling the love from all corners. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and what better way to celebrate amor than with red velvet whoopie pies?


Now then, I am a fan of whoopie pies. And I am a fan of red velvet cake. Both are sort of a pain in the ass to make, but soooo worth the effort. One annoying thing about making red velvet anything is that it always takes a full bottle of red food coloring (I’m talking about the ones that come in the box of four primary colors). And, of course, the grocery store never has the single, larger bottle of red food coloring in stock. Yes, they have plenty of green and black on hand, but never red. Maybe that’s a side effect of living in the south. Or it being so close to Valentine’s Day. At any rate, I now have four boxes of food coloring in my pantry, all minus the red. Next time, I’m making blue velvet cake.

True to form, these are a pain in the ass to make, but they are definitely delicious. And there’s something so gratifying about completing a fussy project, you know? And it’s not that it’s hard to make whoopie pies, it’s just that it’s a drawn-out process, especially when you’re like me and forever woefully underprepared. (Special trip to the store for food coloring? Check. Special trip for shortening after polling friends/neighbors/debating using mayonnaise or butter instead? Check. Out of parchment paper? Check. Only one silpat, so that I could only bake off the cookies one dozen at a time? Check.) Which means that maybe *I’m* the reason certain recipes are more complicated than they need to be!

ANYWAY. Using an ice cream scoop has changed my life. No more scraping uneven blobs of batter onto the cookie sheet, kissing goodbye any hopes of uniformity! No more messy fingers! No more fussing with pastry bags when it’s time to put the filling on! No more lopsided whoopie pies! If you make cookies or whoopie pies regularly, you MUST get an ice cream scoop. Srsly. And while the recipe calls for these to be finished with crushed walnuts, I did not because I do not like walnuts.

The most fun part of making these was the assembly, because Harry kept getting more and more excited. He shadowed me around the kitchen as I scooped the filling, smooshed the sandwiches, and arranged them on the platter for photographing. He was so into it, he wanted to take a few photos of them himself! Here’s one of them:

...with a bit of a cropping assist from Mom

This cat could not WAIT to try one of the sandwiches, even though it was only 8am or so. First, I let him pose for a photograph:

Still life with whoopies

…then I let him inhale his very own whoopie pie (no sharing, please!). I think I know why he was vibrating at breakfast. And not the least bit interested in his gingerbread pancakes!

Oh, I ate half of one of these (Weight Watchers, remember?) and they were quite tasty. I might eat the other half tomorrow morning with my coffee, as I suspect that this is one of those pastries that tastes EVEN BETTER after the flavors have had a chance to mingle with one another. But, freshly assembled, I could really taste the cocoa (I used the fancy Valhrona kind), which was balanced by the sweet WHAP of the cream cheese filling. Delightful.

This recipe, for me, yielded 16 whoopies (I used a 1/4-cup ice cream scoop). The remaining 14 will accompany my husband to the office tomorrow.

Menu plan: Feb 7 – 13

Lots with which to work!

This is the inside of my freezer. Notice anything interesting about it? You know, that it is stuffed to the gills? It contains salmon, pork tenderloin, tilapia, chicken sausage, leftover roasted chicken, some deer meat shot by a coworker of Matt’s, leftover quiche, some ancient salmon burgers, frozen waffles, and no fewer than 10 tubs of soup. TEN TUBS OF SOUP. Soup in flavors that my children will never eat, like spicy peanut with eggplant and pumpkin-sausage.

Needless to say, this week’s menu plan is rooted firmly in this hot mess of a freezer. The only grocery shopping I did this weekend was to restock on Whole Foods strawberry cereal bars, which is the only thing my daughter will consent to eat on a regular basis. (Don’t judge me, please. She gets a plate of food that looks like everyone else’s at dinner, but she refuses to eat it. The strawberry bars, LIFE cereal, and strawberry kefir are her primary sources of sustenance right now. Sigh.)

Monday: Herb-Dijon pork tenderloin, roasted potatoes, broccoli
Tuesday: Salmon (which I baked and froze last week when we decided to punt and get pizza), roasted veggies, brown rice
Wednesday: dinner at friends‘ house!
Thursday: soup and sandwiches (may have to go purchase sandwich fixings, including bread)
Friday: orange-dijon chicken sausages, spinach linguine (purchased from the farmers market more than a week ago; perhaps I should move it to the freezer until then), green things
Saturday: chicken tacos with the leftover roast chicken, greeny things, chippy things
Sunday: Tilapia, beans, rice

What does your freezer look like these days? How much soup do you have socked away? (And do you want some of mine?)

Radish butter

A few weeks back, I mentioned my plan to make radish butter for my friend’s Super Bowl party. Well, I weren’t just whistlin’ Dixie, y’all!

Yesterday morning, Laurel and I made a speedy trip down to the farmers market to snag some radishes and a loaf of three-seed sourdough from Texas French Bread. It was an incredibly hectic day of out-of-town AND neighborhood birthday parties (not to mention a jewelry trunk show that I really wanted to attend, but that sadly fell through the cracks of chaos), so I snagged the very small window of opportunity I had to grab my most preferred ingredients for this experimental party dip.

The recipe is so incredibly easy. Just pulse a half-pound of radishes in a food processor until they are very finely diced, then wring them out in paper towels or cheesecloth. Then place them in a bowl and cream the radishes with four tablespoons of softened unsalted butter. Add more butter one tablespoon at a time until you have a spreadable dip (I erred more on the veg-heavy side, but feel free to make it more butter-heavy if you prefer). Top with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

If you’re making it ahead of time, cover it up; it will keep for two days or so. Let it soften for about 15 minutes before serving so that it is spreadable.

I was a little nervous about how it would be received at a Super Bowl party, but the feedback was resoundingly positive. It was more spreadable at the onset of the party because it was still soft and the sun was still out (the food was outside). But after the sun went down and the air cooled off, the spread stiffened up and was hard to serve. But that didn’t stop me from plopping a big blob of it on my bread and chowing down even after I had already eaten past satiety.

As I mentioned, I served this with a seedy multigrain sourdough, but it’s also good on Wasa or GF crackers. And maybe even with celery or carrot sticks.

P.S. Don’t be stingy with the salt. It really brings out the flavor of both the radish and the butter.

Curried Chicken Pan Roast, or, coping with failure

This week has been so, so stressful. I keep thinking things will calm down, but they just keep escalating. My opportunities to work on my dissertation (I’m on my fourth and final chapter) keep getting curtailed (this week I got more time than usual, but I only managed to get a sentence or two written yesterday due to the kids being home for a snow day), and this causes me a lot of anxiety. I would really like to get an April defense date on the books, but there are people who have had my three other chapter drafts for MONTHS and I’ve gotten no feedback. I don’t know how to interpret this silence, but my default setting is OMG THEY HATE MY CHAPTERS AND THEY HATE ME. MIGHT AS WELL GO GET THAT APPLICATION IN AT McDONALDS. (I’m sorry. I know that I just went all Dooce on you with the all caps. I need to find a more creative way to be emphatic.) But I just keep plugging away under the impression (delusion?) that I’ll have all of my committee stuff ironed out and a defensible draft by April 15. I haven’t entertained the other prospect.

Additionally, back in the summer, I signed up to run a half-marathon, which is now two weeks away. I have yet to do a 13.1-mile run. In fact, I haven’t run in more than a week. The weather here has been quite cold and blustery and while I don’t really have an issue with running in the cold (because you don’t stay cold for long!), but when that 30 degrees is accented by frigid 20mph winds, no deal. And I can’t stand running on a treadmill or on an indoor track. I’m a very fussy exerciser in that regard. (That’s also why I stopped doing Zumba and Total Body workouts on campus, because I also can’t stand to work out among a bunch of 20-year-olds who weigh 100 pounds soaking wet and all of their body fat is in all the right places.) The weather is supposed to improve this coming week (apart from another cold, wet blast on Wednesday), so I can get back out on the trail and bust out some miles, but I am very, very, VERY anxious about what I’ve committed to do two weeks from tomorrow. In fact, there’s still a possibility I’ll chicken out and sell my bib to someone who failed to register before all the spots sold out.

And we won’t even talk here about all of the unfinished craft projects I’ve got floating around here, the disaster area that is my sewing room, and so on. There are so many loose ends flapping in the breeze over here, the only way I’ve found to cope with it is inertia. I was in bed last night at 8pm, watching bad stand-up comedy until I finally succumbed to sleep.

One thing, though, that I’ve found satisfaction in is cooking dinner, especially with my forays into roasting chicken. I’ve gotten it into my head that I want to have some variation of roast chicken for Sunday dinners. My first outing was a recipe from the Lee Brothers that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. It turned out pretty well, except that I didn’t adjust the cook time for the larger chicken and it was a bit undercooked when I attempted to carve it. Which resulted in a roast chicken that was a bit dry in spots once it was totally cooked through, but it was tasty.

Last Sunday, I tried this recipe, despite the fact that my husband was in the Flu Cave and wasn’t eating anything but applesauce (he finally emerged on Tuesday, but he’s still fairly low energy). I had gotten two bone-in chicken breasts and four drumsticks, with the plan to pack those in Harrison’s lunch box. I was particularly excited about the winter veg that would roast with the meat; I adore Brussels sprouts and butternut squash is the only squash I’ll eat (I hate zucchini and I have a mild allergy to summer squash). I used “Punjab” curry instead of the Madras the recipe calls for; I’m not sure what the difference is between the blends, although I’m sure they both feature coriander, turmeric, and cumin.

I thought this chicken was delicious, and the way the veg caramelized in the pan was just delightful. The next time I make this (and there WILL be a next time), I’ll probably halve the oil and maybe use some chicken broth to moisten the veg because 4T of oil just makes me uneasy (oh, hey! I forgot to mention how I’ve totally been cheating on my diet and have stopped losing weight as a result! Yay!). Sadly, I was the only one who ate any of this meal. Harrison roundly rejected the chicken because the skin was yellow (from the turmeric). Laurel doesn’t eat any meat, and Matt was, as previously mentioned, on an all-applesauce diet. I did my best to work through the leftovers, but ended up tipping three of the drumsticks into the garbage (the breasts were HUGE, and I didn’t get the rest of the meat into the freezer before it was too late).

So, I’ll keep plugging ahead with my roast chicken project because it really is so simple, hearty, and pleasing. And these days, I need to take the small victories where I can get them.