Monthly Archives: February 2016

Red Velvet Cake

 We are officially two days from the 88th Annual Academy Awards! Everybody else in the country may look forward to Super Bowl Sunday, but this is *my* big Sunday.

My best pal, Tad, and I spend months preparing for Oscar Night. We start making predictions in October, but by the night of the actual awards show, we’ve changed our answers about fourteen times! We have a pretty solid track record of predicting the winners 😊 Tad and I met sophomore year of college at a failed screening of Shrek 2. The projector broke mid-movie, and while the techs tried to fix it, we got to talking. We quickly discovered that we love the Oscars equally, meaning that it’s all we ever talked about even though nobody else on campus cared that the ingenue is always poised to win Best Supporting Actress. Over the ensuing months, we met multiple times a week with books of statistics, former winners, and a deep, abiding passion for “Hollywood’s Biggest Night.” Let’s just say that if there’s ever a job opening for Oscar Historian, I know two people who would love the job.

Tad lives in San Francisco now, but still gets up to watch the nominations announcement with me, even though it airs at 5:30am in California. He’s that kind of friend. And as if we couldn’t be more perfect for each other, he also shares my borderline-obsessive love of Martin Scorsese–he didn’t even bat an eyelash when I decorated my half of our senior year duplex in a Scorsese theme. And don’t even get us started on Leonardo DiCaprio–fingers crossed that this is his year! 

Among our Oscar traditions is a meal. Back when we were sharing one kitchen with an entire dorm, I’d go down to the basement before the pre-show to put together pesto-mozzarella grilled cheeses on good country bread, and a spinach salad with mandarin oranges, thinly-sliced red onion, and balsamic vinaigrette. The pièce de résistance was always a red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting. I wasn’t any sort of baker yet, so both were courtesy of Betty Crocker, but it didn’t matter. The memory of that cake has stuck with both of us, and even now, Oscar Night doesn’t feel like Oscar Night without it…and our constant stream of text messages. 

These days, I make my Red Velvet Cake from scratch, and it is waaaaay better than Betty Crocker could ever hope to be. It’s the perfect combination of chocolate and vanilla flavors, and kept super tender thanks to the additions of cornstarch, oil, and buttermilk. And of course, it’s red, just like the red carpet! 

 

The frosting is the dreamiest, creamiest cream cheese frosting I’ve ever had. Many cream cheese frosting recipes use twice as much cream cheese as butter, and not enough confectioner’s sugar. In my experience, this results in frosting that tastes divine, but is somewhat soupy, and therefore difficult with which to work. Cream cheese simply does not whip as well as butter. But this recipe uses equal weights of both ingredients, so we get all the tang of cream cheese and the stability of butter. A full pound of confectioner’s sugar is beaten in, along with a pinch of salt and two teaspoons of vanilla extract. Once all the ingredients are combined, the frosting is beaten on high for two additional minutes, so it gets extra light and fluffy. It’s what makes this cake the stuff of dreams! 

 Once the frosting is made, use a serrated knife to even out the cakes so they stack evenly. Crumble the cake scraps into a small bowl–you can use these to decorate the frosted cake! 

  As you can see, I added an Oscar to mine, too! To do this, I used a fork to stir gold and black gel food coloring into sparkling sugar (found near the sprinkles at most well-stocked grocery stores). I added some gold luster dust to the gold-dyed sugar, just for some extra sheen. I used a mummy cookie cutter (like this one) for Oscar’s body, and went freehand for the rest of it. I think it turned out pretty cute!

This Red Velvet Cake is perfect for Oscar Night, but it’s great for birthday parties (or just dessert), too! With a tender red crumb, wonderful chocolate and vanilla flavor, and fluffy cream cheese frosting, it’ll be a winner all around 😊 

 Red Velvet Cake
makes one two-layer 9″ round cake or 28 cupcakes

For Greasing:
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil

Cake:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1/3 cup cornstarch
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
3 large eggs + 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white vinegar*
2 cups buttermilk*
1/2-3 tablespoons liquid red food coloring*

Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 ounces full-fat brick-style cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 pound confectioner’s sugar
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For Decorating (optional):
reserved cake scraps, from trimming the layers
4 tablespoons sparkling sugar*, divided
gold gel food coloring
gold luster dust
black gel food coloring

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a small bowl, whisk together greasing mixture ingredients. Using a pastry brush, paint the mixture onto the entire insides of two 9-inch round cake pans. Set aside.

Make the cake. In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, cornstarch, salt, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together oil, eggs and yolk, vanilla, white vinegar, buttermilk, and red food coloring. Add dry ingredients in three installments, combining completely after each addition.

Divide batter evenly into prepared pans. Tap full pans lightly on the counter five times. Bake for 23-28 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for ten minutes. Run a small thin knife around the edges of the pans before inverting the layers onto racks to cool completely. Once layers are cool, use a serrated knife to even the tops. Reserve the cake scraps.

Make the frosting. In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat cream cheese and butter together until light and fluffy. Add confectioner’s sugar and salt in two installments, until completely combined. Beat in vanilla. Once combined, beat on high for two additional minutes, until light and fluffy.

Fill and frost cooled cakes. Crumble reserved cake scraps and use them to decorate the cake as desired.

If you want to decorate with sparkling sugar, place two tablespoons of the sugar into two small bowls. Add a small dab of gold gel food coloring to one bowl, and a small dab of black to the other. Use forks to stir the gel into the sugar until it’s completely dyed. Stir a touch of gold luster dust (less than 1/8 teaspoon) to the gold sugar. Decorate as desired.

Frosted cake will keep covered at room temperature for three days, or in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Notes:

1. For cupcakes, divide prepared batter into 24 standard muffin cups, filling them 2/3 of the way full. Bake at 350F for 16-18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
2. Apple cider vinegar may be substituted.
3. If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, place 2 teaspoons of vinegar or lemon juice in the bottom of a liquid measuring cup. Pour milk up to the 2 cup mark. Stir. Let sit for five minutes before using. Do not use skim or fat free milk.
4. Add as much or as little red food coloring as needed to achieve your desired shade, keeping in mind that the color will darken as the cakes bake.
5. I use Wilton White Sparkling Sugar.

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No-Churn Mint Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream

 I know. I know! Who makes ice cream in February?!

But I have three very good reasons:

1. It’s been in the fifties and sixties multiple times since last weekend’s deep freeze. In NYC, that’s practically June.
2. Until last week, I hadn’t had a freezer bigger than a shoe box in three years. I had to have something to put in it!
3. I wanted ice cream. 

But what kind of ice cream? My two favorite flavors are Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Mint Chocolate Chip. I hadn’t been able to keep either at home for so long, making that decision just seemed impossible. 

But what about a combination of the two? A rich vanilla-mint ice cream stuffed to the gills with bits of edible mint chocolate chip cookie dough? And no-churn (because I don’t have an ice cream machine)? That would do the trick. And so, I got to work.

This ice cream is so easy, it’s stupid. Anybody could make it. The most difficult part is being patient for six hours while it sets in the freezer. The base is made entirely of sweetened condensed milk and heavy cream, a combination that sounds like it shouldn’t work at all, but it totally does. The sweetened condensed milk (you guessed it!) sweetens the base, and since it’s condensed, it keeps ice crystals from forming while the ice cream is freezing. It also adds a little richness. The heavy cream is whipped and then folded into the sweetened condensed milk. This makes everything super creamy and light-textured, and ensures that the ice cream is scoopable. Add a little vanilla and freeze it, and you have some fantastic homemade vanilla ice cream.  But we’re not after vanilla ice cream today. No, this is first-ice-cream-in-three-years ice cream. This is exciting ice cream!

 Okay, maybe I’m being a little over-enthusiastic.

In this recipe, the sweetened condensed milk is flavored with vanilla and just a bit of peppermint extract. The whipped cream is folded in, followed by 1/2 cup of miniature chocolate chips. Then comes the best part: little pieces of eggless edible cookie dough flavored with a bit more peppermint and filled with more miniature chocolate chips. I dyed mine green to go with the mint chocolate chip theme (and because I think it’s cute), but food coloring is optional. Freeze it in a loaf pan, and scoop away!

So, who cares if it’s February? And who needs an ice cream machine? With this No-Churn Mint Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream, the answer is “nobody.” 

 No-Churn Mint Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream
makes about 8 cups

Edible Cookie Dough:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons milk of choice
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract*
3-5 drops liquid green food coloring, optional
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour*
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips

Ice Cream:
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk (not fat free)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract*
2 cups heavy cream, cold
1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips

Put a 9×5″ loaf pan* in the freezer to chill.

Make the edible cookie dough. In a medium mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to cream butter and granulated sugar together until light and fluffy. Add milk, vanilla and peppermint extracts, and food coloring, and beat together until completely combined. Add in flour and salt. Mix until combined, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Add mini chocolate chips and mix until well-dispersed. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Line a pan with wax paper. Remove dough from refrigerator. Scoop dough by the 1/2 teaspoon and roll into balls. Place rolled dough into wax paper-lined pan. Dough balls may touch–this is okay. Once all dough has been scooped and rolled, place full pan in freezer for an additional 15-30 minutes.

Prepare the no-churn ice cream. Pour sweetened condensed milk into the bottom of a large mixing bowl. Whisk in vanilla and peppermint extracts. Set aside.

In a separate mixing bowl, beat cream with an electric mixer until it holds billowy peaks, about three minutes. Slowly fold whipped cream into sweetened condensed milk, being careful not to deflate it too much or overmix. Fold in miniature chocolate chips.

Remove the frozen loaf pan and the dough balls from the freezer. Spread half the sweetened condensed milk mixture in the loaf pan. Top with half the dough balls. Spread the second half of the sweetened condensed milk mixture on top, followed by the remaining dough balls. Use a table knife to stir the cookie dough balls around. Cover the pan with two layers of plastic wrap, pressing it onto the surface of the ice cream. Wrap covered pan with aluminum foil. Chill six hours or overnight before scooping.

No-Churn Mint Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream keeps well covered in the freezer for about two weeks.

Notes:

1. Make sure you are using peppermint extract. Mint extract is not the same thing.
2. If you have concerns about eating raw flour, I suggest microwaving the flour for one minute, then letting it come back to room temperature before mixing.
3. Do not be tempted to use more than 1/4 teaspoon of peppermint extract in the ice cream base (or the cookie dough for that matter). Peppermint extract is very potent, and can easily make things taste like toothpaste if too much is added.
4. If you’d rather not use your loaf pan for this recipe, you may use another container with an 8 cup capacity. I recommend a glass Tupperware.

Everyday Cassoulet

Updated 12/28/2018: This post was edited to add (much) better photos.Everyday CassouletLiving far away from home means that when I get a call from friends or family, I “play the hits,” if you will. I tell them all about the big things going on in my life–a new apartment, the awesome kid I take care of, the brown and white spotted schnauzer I saw yesterday (I really love a schnauzer). But in all the fuss of sharing my life and hearing about theirs, I can let amazing things go by the wayside because they might seem mundane if the person on the other end of the phone call is not directly involved.Everyday CassouletTake for example this Everyday Cassoulet. It’s rich and delicious and one of my favorite meals to make at home, but at the end of the day it’s *just* dinner. Everybody eats dinner. It’s not really a “call your mom down in Texas to tell her about it” kind of thing.Everyday CassouletWe all have our go-to meals though. My best friend, Emily, asked me a few months ago what I had been making for dinner lately, and this was the first thing I told her about. Mind you, I’ve been making this for five years. When I found the original recipe, I still lived in Manhattan! I was still working office jobs! The only thing I had ever baked from scratch were Ina Garten’s brownies! And while all of those things have changed, my go-to dinner has not.Everyday CassouletEveryday CassouletSome of you may be wondering: what is cassoulet? It’s a slow-cooked meat and white bean stew from the south of France. Cassoulet is traditionally baked in a dish called a cassole. The fanciest versions contain things like goose, lamb, and duck confit. But this is a weeknight version of the classic French dish, so it’s been pared down. Don’t worry though, it’s still every bit as good and comforting as the real deal!Everyday CassouletEveryday CassouletThis Everyday Cassoulet is made with Italian sausages in place of any specialty meats. Traditional white beans are baked with grape or cherry tomatoes, pearl onions, crushed garlic, and fresh herbs. Nothing has to be sliced or diced–you only need a knife to crush the garlic! Everything is drizzled with a simple mixture of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and Dijon mustard, and baked for an hour in a regular casserole pan–no need for specialty dishes here!Everyday CassouletAnd oh my, is it delicious. The sausages get super crispy, and the tomatoes burst and create the most wonderful sauce with the balsamic mixture. The beans soak in all the flavors and get super tender. This is fantastic served with crusty bread. I forgot it when I took these photos, but trust me, you’ll need it.Everyday CassouletPut this Everyday Cassoulet on your list of weeknight dinners! It’s easy as can be, but sure doesn’t taste like it! Your family and friends will definitely ask for the recipe 🙂 Everyday Cassoulet

Everyday Cassoulet
adapted from Quick Cassoulet by Julie van Rosendaal
makes four servings*

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2-4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, rinsed
1 cup peeled pearl onions (fresh or frozen)*
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 lb. raw Italian Sausages*
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Preheat oven to 425F.

In a small bowl, use a fork to whisk together balsamic vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. Set aside.

In a small casserole dish, combine garlic cloves, tomatoes, and pearl onions. Top with rosemary and thyme sprigs, followed by sausages. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar mixture. Bake for 40 minutes.

Remove sausages to a plate. Stir cannellini beans into tomato mixture. Place sausages back on top of vegetables with the less-browned sides up . Bake for an additional 20 minutes.

Remove dish from oven. Let cool a few minutes before serving in shallow bowls.

Leftovers keep covered in the refrigerator for up to four days.

Notes:

1. This recipe doubles easily in a 9×13″ pan. The bake time is the same.
2. If you don’t care for onions or simply don’t want to use them, they may be omitted.
3. I used pork sausages, but I think chicken or turkey would work well here.
Everyday CassouletEveryday Cassoulet

Vanilla Layer Cake

 This blog hit fifty posts last week which, considering that I only started blogging in October, is pretty crazy. Looking through my Recipe Index, I have a ton of cookie recipes, three pies, a bunch of different breakfast items and savory things, but only one measly cake recipe. Granted, it’s a Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcake recipe that is really delicious, but how is it possibly the only one?!

See, I make a lot of cake. Like, a minimum of five every month for the various birthdays and celebrations that all my friends (and their friends) have. I’ve made everything from chocolate biscuit cake to chocolate peanut butter cake to the vegan carrot cupcakes I baked last night. But the one that everyone really loves? The one that people get excited about when I walk in the room with a white cardboard cake box? It’s this Vanilla Layer Cake. 

This cake has been through many iterations over the last two years as I learned more about baking chemistry and made adjustments. All of them were delicious, but this is the best by far. It’s moist and buttery, a little bit dense (but not pound cake-dense), and has a prominent vanilla flavor. 

The cake is made with room temperature butter and eggs so that it stays extra rich. Buttermilk keeps everything moist. The dry ingredients involve a combination of all-purpose flour and cornstarch to mimic cake flour’s lightness and tenderness. Light brown sugar is used in addition to granulated sugar for a little extra moisture and complexity of flavor. And there is plenty of pure vanilla extract so that this cake is undoubtably vanilla. The batter is simple to put together, and will be thick and beautiful (or at least, I think it is). It’s divided into two pans and baked until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
      The frosting is made while the cake layers are cooling. It’s a simple vanilla buttercream, and will come together in just a few minutes. Beat room temperature butter and confectioner’s sugar together until combined. Add in vanilla and salt, followed by a few tablespoons of heavy cream. You may use whole milk or half-and-half in place of the heavy cream, but the frosting won’t be nearly as rich and creamy. You see, the cream whips within the buttercream and makes it so light and fluffy, it’s ridiculous. Don’t skip it! Fill and frost the layers to your preference, and sit back while your friends and family ooh and ahh!

This Vanilla Layer Cake is anything but plain vanilla! Between the buttery, rich cake, and the fluffy, gorgeous frosting (not to mention the vanilla flavor!), it’s a total showstopper! 

 
Vanilla Layer Cake
makes 1 two-layer 9″ round cake*

To Grease the Pans:
2 tablespoons neutral-flavored oil
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Cake:
3 cups all-purpose flour*
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3 large eggs + 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups buttermilk*, room temperature

Frosting:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 pound confectioner’s sugar
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3-5 tablespoons heavy cream
sprinkles or decorative sugar, if desired

Preheat oven to 350F. In a small bowl, use a fork to whisk together greasing mixture ingredients. Use a pastry brush to paint mixture onto the entire insides of two 9-inch round cake pans. Set aside.

Make the cake batter. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, salt, granulated sugar, and light brown sugar. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Add eggs and egg yolk one at a time, beating completely after each addition. Beat in vanilla and buttermilk. Add dry ingredients in three installments, beating just until combined. Scrape down the bowl as necessary.

Divide batter evenly into prepared pans. Tap each full pan on the counter five times to release any large air bubbles. Bake cakes 32-37 minutes, rotating top to bottom and back to front at the halfway point. Cakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Let cakes cool in pans for fifteen minutes. Run a small thin knife around the edges of the pans and invert the cakes onto cooling racks to cool completely.

Make the frosting. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Beat in confectioner’s sugar in three installments, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Beat in salt, followed by vanilla. Add in heavy cream until desired consistency is reached.

Transfer one layer of the cake to a cake stand or plate. Frost and layer cooled cakes. Top with sprinkles or decorative sugar immediately after frosting, if desired.

Layer cake will keep covered at room temperature for up to three days, or in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Notes:

1. This recipe can also be made into 24 cupcakes. Skip the greasing, and instead line 24 muffin cups with cupcake liners. Fill each muffin cup 2/3-3/4 full. Bake for 16-18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
2. Cake flour may be substituted for the all-purpose flour and cornstarch. Just use 3 1/3 cup cake flour in place of the all-purpose flour and cornstarch.
3. If you don’t have buttermilk, put one tablespoon of white vinegar in the bottom of a liquid measuring cup, then pour milk up to the 2 cup mark. Stir and let sit for five minutes, until curdled. Use as instructed in the recipe. Do not use skim or fat free milk.

Oreo Peanut Butter

Is there possibly a better combination than Oreos and peanut butter? I had never heard of eating them together until I saw the Lindsay Lohan version of The Parent Trap. When one of her characters used Oreos to scoop peanut butter out of the jar, it blew. my. mind.

It makes sense. I mean, chocolate and peanut butter are BFFs. Exhibit A: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. But pairing not-too-sweet Oreo wafers, creamy filling, and the magic that is peanut butter? Does it get better than that?!

Well, yes. Yes it does. How about Oreos *in* peanut butter?!

!!!

 My Oreo Peanut Butter could not be easier to whip up. All you need are three ingredients: roasted salted peanuts, Double Stuf Oreos, and a tablespoon of coconut oil. Put all three in a food processor or high-powered blender, and blitz until smooth. That’s it! The combination of freshly-ground peanut butter and pulverized Oreos is to die for, and the coconut oil keeps everything smooth and spreadable.
The only drawback is that it’s not the most gorgeous color, but when there is peanut butter-Oreo magic going on, who cares?

Oreo Peanut Butter is fantastic on toast, spread on bananas, in milkshakes, or just on a spoon. My favorite thing to do with it is make Fluffernutter sandwiches. Who wouldn’t love Oreos, peanut butter, and Marshmallow Fluff?!

Bottom line: make this Oreo Peanut Butter. It doesn’t get any better.

Oreo Peanut Butter
makes about two cups

1 1/2 cups roasted salted peanuts
24 Double Stuf Oreos
1 tablespoon coconut oil, solid

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or high-powered blender. Process until smooth, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks, or indefinitely in the refrigerator.

Oreo Peanut Butter