Saturday, February 20, 2010

Crazy Cake

Two variations of Crazy Cake, with a variety of toppings: powdered sugar, sunflower seeds, pecans, almonds.

I can tell which recipes out of my mother's homemade and Kinko's bound cook book are my favorite because they are the greasiest, most wrinkled, and most stained pages out of the book. Among these recipes are Apple Pie, Sourdough French Bread, Pancake Non Pareil, and Crazy Cake. An all time fave, Crazy cake is a super basic chocolate cake that takes practically no time, tastes fantastic, and is healthier than your average cake. I keep the ingredients on hand and whip it up whenever we're craving something sweet. It is vegan, which means it contains no butter, milk, or eggs, making far less calorie dense than other cakes. This is the cake I requested for almost every birthday growing up. My mother says the recipe came from Parade Magazine circa 1953, though I have seen it recently called by different names in The Joy of Cooking and in Everyday Food Magazine.

It is also very adaptable. Lately I have been playing with the ingredients looking for an even healthier yield by substituting some whole wheat flour, and decreasing the amount of sugar by up to 50 percent. My mother always made it in a square cake pan, but it can be made in a muffin tin for individual servings, and mini muffin tin for bite sized pieces, or my newest favorite, a tart pan, which you can cut into elegant wedges.

Here is the original recipe, followed by some variations.

Crazy Cake
from CWB Recipes

Preheat oven 350 F

Sift together in a mixing bowl:
1 & 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3 Tbs breakfast cocoa
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Add to dry ingredients:
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 Tbs salad oil
1 cup water over all

Mix until smooth and pour into greased 8" cake pan. Bake for 35 min.
Serve plain or with desired topping.

Topping Ideas:
-sifted powdered sugar
-homemade whipped cream
-ice cream
-chocolate sauce
-caramel sauce
-sunflower seeds (top before baking)
-nuts (top before baking)

Even Healthier Variation:
-substitute 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour for 1/2 cup of all purpose flour
-reduce sugar by 25-50%. Especially if serving with an icing or whipped cream.
-add 1/2 cup of chopped nuts for additional protein and omega-3s

Almond Cupcakes variation:
-omit the breakfast cocoa
-substitute 2 tsp of almond extract for the vanilla extract
-substitute 1 cup soy milk, almond milk, or regular milk for the water
-add 1/2 cup chopped blanched almonds.
-pour into greased muffin tin, and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until an inserted toothpick emerges clean

Soundtrack: Where the Wild Things Are- Karen O and the Kids

Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine's Day at Woodberry Kitchen

Last night we went for an early dinner at our favorite restaurant, Woodberry Kitchen. On most Valentine's days in recent years, the restaurant tables were turned and I was among the busy restaurant workers shuffling through crowds with a stack of plates, trying to ensure a special experience for the customers. So you can imagine how fun it was to be able to sit down and enjoy a fabulous meal with my sweetie.

Woodberry Kitchen has a "farm to table" philosophy which boasts fresh, locally grown ingredients, seasonally appropriate produce, and organic meats. It is housed in a portion of Clipper Mill with gorgeous brick walls, high ceilings, and a loft for additional seating. The exposed kitchen reveals a chef preparing meals in sizzling cast iron skillets at the mouth of a brick oven. Basically, I want to live there.

My favorite cocktail of all time is their Gov't Mule: vodka, house-made ginger beer, and lime-ginger syrup served in a copper mug. The drink is great, but the copper mug makes it simply luxurious.

My favorite dish came first. It was a tuna appetizer, pan-seared rare, with a unique dry rub of espresso and ground chilies. This was unlike any tuna dish I've ever had. It didn't rely on the sushi references, instead it had an earthy flavor, not overly salted, and melt in your mouth delicious. It was served with greens from Great Kids Farm, and roasted ginger slivers.

Next came the "truck stop spinach salad" with candied pecans and maple dressing, followed by oysters on the half shell.

For dessert, we ordered honey-apple cider sorbet, and chocolate mousse over rose cake. I'm not a fan of rose-scented things, but teamed with the chocolate mouse, it was fantastic. Again, very unique and memorable.


Ryan Adams: Harder Now That Its Over

She and Him: Why Do You Let Me Stay Here

Creedence Clearwater: Suzie Q

June Carter and Johnny Cash: Jackson

Berlin: Take My Breath Away

She and Him: You Really Got A Hold On Me

Frank Sinatra- The Way You Look Tonight

Woodberry Kitchen
2010 Clipper Park Road, No. 126
Baltimore, MD 21211

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Dream Kitchen...

from The Lettered Cottage

I couldn't stop looking at this photo- it seems perfect though i don't think i would have come up with any of it on my own. It's amazing to me that a kitchen that used to look so dull can look this gorgeous.

They used the same cabinets that came with the house, just painted them black, changed the drawer pulls and knobs, took off the upper doors, and added crown molding to the top.

They made the back of this bench out of an old headboard. This is one thing I really wish I had in my kitchen- a small seating area.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Winter Dinner Part 3 of 3: Betsy's Bread (& Soup Sticks!)

One of my favorite Christmas presents this year was Betsy's bread starter that she's been keeping around since 1971, made from grated raw potato. I've been making bread for about a year, and the results from the loaves made with this starter are my favorite. The flavor is so much more complex than the quick recipes requiring no starter.

I know most people don't have a starter already hanging out in their fridge, so here is a basic "sponge starter" recipe from the Joy of Cooking.

Sponge Starter
also called "poolish" in France, and "biga" in Italy

In a medium mixing bowl, combine:
1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water

3/4 cup of bread four

Stir rapidly with a clean wooden spoon until you notice elastic strands pulling away from the sides of the bowl, about 2 minutes. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until bubbly and tripled in volume, about 6 hours. Or let it rise in the fridge overnight for 14 hours. (When it comes out of the fridge, use warm water in your recipe.)

When the starter has tripled in volume and begins to collapse slightly, you must use it immediately or "feed" it with 3/4 cup bread flour, and 1/2 cup water to keep the yeast from starving and the starter from weakening.

Betsy's Bread (plus bread tips for beginners)

Combine and let stand for 15 min in a mixing bowl:
1 cup warm water
1 Tbs (or packet) of dry yeast
a "sprinkle" of sugar

To yeast mixture, add:
1 cup of starter
1-2 cups of flour (enough to make it knead-able)
2 tsp salt
1 tsp soda

Knead on a floured surface until it passes the window pane test. (Tip: Hold the dough up by one end in front of a light source, let it stretch itself until you can see light through it- if it wants to tear easily, continue kneading. If it stretches until you can see light through it without it tearing, it's ready to rest)

Let it rise in a large, lightly oiled bowl covered tightly with plastic wrap. It should double in size. This could take several hours. Shape loaves as you like and let rise again under plastic wrap. (Tip: A test to see if its ready is to flour or grease your finger, gently press the dough with a finger tip- If it springs back up after you remove your finger, it's not finished rising. If it stays down, it's ready to go into the oven.)

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Right before you put your loaves in, take a sharp knife with a floured edge, and put at least one shallow slit in the top of the loaf. This is called "scoring" and aids in rising. It also makes the loaf look gorgeous. Bake for 25 min or until the top is golden brown and it sounds hollow when you tap the bottom of the loaf.

When it comes out of the oven, allow it to cool a while before cutting into it because it will ruin the crumb inside later on. ENJOY!!

For the dinner party, I adapted a Soup Sticks recipe from Better Homes and Gardens, using a half recipe of Betsy's bread as follows:
Soup Sticks variation

Start with a half recipe of Betsy's Bread.
When adding ingredients to yeast mixture, also add:
1 Tbs of brown sugar
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp dried parsley

Follow directions for first rise as usual.
When ready to shape the bread- turn dough out on to a floured sheet of parchment paper. Pat or roll into a 15x12 inch rectangle. Transfer parchment with dough to large baking sheet. Using floured pizza cutter or knife, cut dough width wise into strips about 3/4 inch wide.

Cover, let rise until doubled in size. Brush with olive oil. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until golden. When out of the oven, cool slightly, cut apart and serve upright for a stunning presentation.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Winter Dinner Party pt. 2 of 3: Torta Salata

The first time my friend Michael Ciancio made this for us in the fall, I declared it the best quiche I'd ever had. I have made several since then, and am now ready to declare it as one of my favorite dishes of all time. It is simple to make and visually stunning. This dish added needed protein to our dinner party menu, as well as some eye candy for the table.
Here, in his own words, is Michael to share his fabulous "Salty Cake" recipe.

Thanks Mae Lo for inviting me onto the blog! It's really an honor to be able to share this among so many other great recipes. I learned this one a few years ago while I was living abroad in Italy, from my good friend there–Valentina Carretta–an amazing product designer, and Treviso native. This recipe dates back for decades in her family and she was kind enough to share the basis of it with me. The best thing about the Torta Salata (literal translation into English = Salty Cake) is that you can really include whatever ingredients you want as long as you have the basics. It's a really great fall/winter dish, but you can absolutely change it up for any season. I'll give you the recipe for my favorite variation: zucchine e carote (zucchini and carrots). Other popular variations include raddicchio, spinach and tomato, or mushroom and prosciutto. Go ahead and follow this simple recipe, or create your own salty cake!
You will need:
1/2 chopped onion
4 cloves minced garlic
1 zucchini chopped
1 carrot chopped
1 beaten egg
1/3 cup of fresh ricotta
1/3 cup finely grated parmigiano cheese
Chopped fresh parsley for garnish
olive oil
Pie dough for crust, and lattice (optional). I prefer Mae Lo's if you can get your hands on the recipe!

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Heat a bit of olive oil in a large saute pan and add the garlic and the onions. Saute until the onions start to become clear. Add the zucchini and the carrots and season with salt and pepper.
3. Lightly spray a standard 9" pie pan with your favorite non stick agent... Pam or whatever. Line the pan with your pie dough.
4. In a large bowl, mix the ricotta, parmigiano, and the beaten egg. Once the vegetables are tender, add them to the egg/cheese mixture. Add freshly ground black pepper and a light pinch of salt. Don't over do it on the salt because you'll have already seasoned the vegetables and the parmigiano should already be quite salty.
5. Fill the pie with your vegetable/cheese/egg mixture evenly. Top off with your pie lattice if you chose to include it, tuck in the crust corners and crimp with a fork. Brush the lattice crust with an egg wash for even browning and a glossy finish. Sprinkle some freshly ground pepper over top and bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 min until crust is golden brown.
6. Garnish lightly with freshly chopped parsley.

Recommended salad
Spinach maple salad

Recommended wine
Montepulciano d'Abbruzzo

Thanks and buon appetito! Hopefully you'll all enjoy this easy dish and I can share some more findings with you soon.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Winter Dinner Party pt. 1 of 3: Butternut Squash Bisque

The best part about cooking is sharing. As lucky as I am to have a resident taste-tester who is always willing to give me feedback (as long as there's no broccoli involved), I most enjoy cooking when there is a promise of a potluck, dinner party, or guests in town. Eating food is such a communal activity. So many social gatherings are centered around eating together. It is perhaps one of our oldest traditions as humans: gathering around the fire, cooking and eating. So, to celebrate the end of the holidays and Javi's visit to Baltimore, we built ourselves a fire, and gathered around to eat.


Spinach Maple Salad
Fresh Sourdough Baguettes and Soup Sticks
Butternut Squash Bisque
Torta Salata (Mike Ciancio's "Salty Cake")

I have been dying to make this soup since I got the October issue of Better Homes and Gardens. Thanks to my new was a success.

Butternut Squash Bisque
from BHG October 2009

2 1/2-3 lb. butternut squash
1/4 cup butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large carrot, coarsely chopped
1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large Braeburn or Gala apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 48 oz. box of reduced sodium chicken broth
1 cup apple cider
2 canned chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup sour cream,
3 oz. smoked Gouda, finely shredded
Crumbled cooked bacon and shaved Gouda

Peel, seed, and cube butternut squash. In a large heavy pot, melt butter over medium high heat. Add fresh squash, onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add apples, broth, cider, and chipotle peppers. Bring to a boil, reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes or until vegetables and apples are tender. Remove from heat, and cool.

When slightly cooled, puree in batches using a blender. Return to saucepan. Stir in sour cream. Heat through. Remove from heat and stir in shredded Gouda until melted. top with bacon and cheese.

Soundtrack: Ella!!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Healthier Muffins and a Wannabe Latte

My 4 year old computer is back from its vacation at the mac spa where it got a much needed makeover...but that doesn't mean I haven't been cooking! A lot of the usual actually: soup, bread, more soup. However, I'll change things up a bit with this healthy muffin recipe. I have been experimenting with healthier baked goods. I am always on the lookout for good vegan recipes which eliminate the delicious yet fattening butter, cream, and eggs.

Though not vegan, this recipe is adaptable. You can sub in flavors or healthier alternatives as you see fit. I'll list the original recipe and then what I changed about it in parentheses.

Healthier Muffins
preheat oven to 400 degrees F

1 cup flour (I used 2/3 all-purpose + 1/3 whole wheat)
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup milk (I used plain unsweetened soy)
1/4 cup heavy cream (I used apple cider)
1 tsp vanilla extract (I used almond extract)
1 egg
1/4 cup of oil
pinch of salt
3 Tbs sugar (or honey)
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup whole flax seed
1/2 granny smith apple, peeled, cubed into 1/2" pieces

Combine dry ingredients in medium mixing bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients then add to the dry.
Add nuts, flax, and fruit and stir with fork until just combined.
Spoon batter into greased muffin tins. Top with nuts or flax seeds.
Bake for 13-15 min or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
(If using mini-muffin tin, check them after 10 minutes).

Some flavor combos to try
-coconut mango
-banana chocolate chip
-orange ginger
-pumpkin spice
-lemon poppyseed
-peaches and cream
-pina colada
-berry nut
-carrot raisin

Since we saved a few calories with the muffins, why not indulge on a homemade coffee treat? I learned everything I know about coffee from living in Portland Oregon for 14 months. Don't laugh, but I moved there still mistaking espresso for "expresso". At that point I had probably only been to a handful of coffee shops that didn't have a "Starbucks" sign out front. I don't think I had ever tried a cappuccino, latte, or straight espresso before my first week in Portland when I promptly experimented with all three. Now, I am a bit of a coffee snob, and proud of it. Recently, I have stopped drinking coffee on weekdays, which has made the weekend cups a genuine luxury rather than an everyday addiction.

A real cafe latte is an espresso, made with steamed milk, and milk foam on top. Since I don't happen to have an espresso machine or milk steamer at home, I came up with a shortcut that produces a similar effect on a lazy saturday morning. (Apparently this is on the menu at some coffee shops as Caffe con Panna).

Wannabe Latte

Make a strong pot of coffee in a french press. Pour about a 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream and a tsp of powdered sugar in a cold metal mixing bowl. Use a whisk to whip the cream until it is just thickened, before any peaks form. Stir a dollop into your fresh hot cup of coffee. I suggest you pull out the fanciest cup and saucer you have, this is the perfect excuse to dust it off.