Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Birthday Celebration and Chocolate Cake

Sunday we had a small party for Julian's birthday. For those of you paying attention, you might have noticed it is over a month since his actual birthday. I try not to let details like that get in my way. I like to have a special family day on my children's actual birthdays, soon after Julian's actual birthday was mine and then Passover. So we just waited to celebrate with his friends till later.

On his actual birthday the whole family had such a great time at Shelburne Farms that we decided to have his party there as well. This also seemed like a brilliant plan as our house is tiny and I may be an excellent cook but I am a lousy cleaner, tidy is not my thing. My house had that world war three bomb went off in it look. Although nothing that requires the board of health, just clutter.

Shelburne Farms is not open for the season yet and when we went there the previous month we could drive all the way in and park. Imagine our surprise and horror when we were stopped at the gate and asked if we were members. Oy! I thought I told everyone it was free. However oddly enough the weather cooperated with our plans and we were allowed to drive up because it was not a beautiful day.

I borrowed a bunny cake pan from a friend to make the cake. It seemed like such a great shape for the farm party. However this pan requires a really thick batter and I decided just to go with our favorite chocolate cake. Usually I make this cake in a bundt pan and serve it without adornment, however this was a party and over a month since the actual birthday. So I made it in 2 9-inch cake pans, layered them with chocolate ganache between and then more ganache on top. I don't usually like frosting, but rich chocolate is another story. For Julian's birthday I made a chocolate ganache but I made the same cake for people I work with that was a peppermint ganache. Kind of a thin mint cake. Both were wonderful.

This is another recipe where I use half whole wheat pastry flour. With that much chocolate the wheat taste is unnoticeable and I see nothing wrong with more fiber and whole grains. One of my friends apparently really enjoyed the cake but was wondering the whole time if there was something healthy in it. I am not sure why she thinks I only cook healthy food. I don't think this recipe is health food, but it is moist, chocolatey and smooth. If you happen by some miracle to have some leftover it also stores really well without drying out. Just keep it in a sealed container on the counter.

Chocolate Cake

2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk (you can substitute 1 cup milk mixed wit 1 Tbsp white vinegar, soy milk is fine here)
1 cup oil (the original recipe calls for canola, I have used extra virgin olive oil, grapeseed oil, canola oil)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups flour (I used 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour and 1 cup all purpose unbleached white flour, feel free to use all white or use white whole wheat)
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 300 ° Oil the pans or pan, I used pam spray, and then dust them with cocoa powder. Combine the wet ingredients in the bowl of a mixer, or in a large bowl with a whisk and mix to combine. Add the other ingredients except the chips and combine on low until smooth. When the batter is mixed add the chips and fold them in.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake until a knife comes out clean when inserted in the middle of the cake. It takes approximately an hour to cook in a bundt pan, 45 to 50 minutes in 2 9-inch cake pans. Allow to cool in the pans before turning out. Use a serrated knife to even the top of the cakes. Use an off set spatula if you have one to spread a thick layer of ganache (half the recipe) on 1 cake before laying the second cake on top. Pour the remaining ganache on the top and spread smoothly across the top. Decorate as you wish with sprinkles, dragees etc

Chocolate Ganache

7 oz's high quality bittersweet chocolate broken up
6 Tbsp heavy cream
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (for peppermint ganache use 3/4 tsp peppermint extract instead of vanilla)
1/4 tsp salt

Combine all the ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan and heat until smooth over medium low heat.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Banana Muffins

When I decided not to buy processed food a large hole was created in our breakfast rotation. Sebastian is probably part nutri-grain waffle as I ate so many of them when I was pregnant with him. He would sometimes happily eat them for dinner and lunch as well. However after reading the ingredients I stopped buying them, cold turkey. I tried freezing my waffles, but he never really took to them as toaster waffles. He will happily eat them when fresh but to him a toaster waffle is different.

For me there are only so many days that I can eat toast, even with the range of homemade jams in the house, before I get bored. So I began making mini muffins. Mini muffins also work wonderfully as snacks. Although sometimes my boys grab the container and eat them all. This is one of my favorite muffin concoctions, it is not too sweet, is still yummy after a few days, and they are super moist. I always have a huge collection of over ripe bananas in the fridge so I can make them at a moments notice.

As I was making breakfast this morning my boys were building a lego zoo. They decided that there was a chipmunk that had been rescued and they were nursing him back to health. "Chippie is doing much better because of all the healthy food we are feeding him. Good thing we are bringing him all that food from the local farm." Apparently I can brainwash my children. The bananas weren't local, although one of the employees at the co-op told me once that they had a customer ask for local bananas. Another cashier mentioned the time he had a customer ask for free range pumpkins.

Banana Muffins

1/2 cup butter at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp carob or regular molasses
1 cup mashed very ripe bananas (better to have slightly more then less)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp unsweetened coco powder
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or white whole wheat flour)
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/3 cup buttermilk (or 1/3 cup milk with 1 tsp lemon juice or white vinegar added)

Preheat the oven to 350 ° Cream the butter and gradually add the sugar. When well mixed and light add the eggs, bananas and molasses and mix until thoroughly combined. Next add the baking soda, salt, cinnamon, coco powder and ginger and mix well. Slowly add the milk and flour, alternating between wet and dry ingredients, beginning and ending with the flour. Blend well after each addition. Scoop the bater into ungreased silicon muffin cups or well buttered metal muffin pans. bake in a preheated 350 ° for 20 minutes for mini muffins and 25 for regular muffins.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Spring Celery

According to the calendar it is now spring. This time of the year I begin to glare at the white stuff falling from the sky and declare that it is not snow, instead it is "White dust." I also begin to have trouble cooking locally and in season. My taste buds have declared they will have nothing more to do with apples, and so have my boys. I was talking with a mom friend while our children had a play date the other day and we compared notes on our recent abandon in the grocery store. She bought grapes from Chile and I bought strawberries.

In addition my winter CSA is over but the summer one has not yet begun. The stores all try to push the season of spring in the produce aisle by having asparagus on sale. However I have stayed away from the woody looking asparagus from across the country. Come May and June we will eat so much asparagus that we will get tired of it, so I can wait.

However I still want a light flavorful spring vegetable. One that is easy to prepare, tastes like spring and can be served as a side dish at Passover and Easter. When planning this years Passover menu I discovered a recipe for sweet and sour celery. In all honesty I probably would have ignored it if Ruth Reichl had not mentioned it in her letter from the editor. I like a reason to try a new recipe and her description of visiting the test kitchen to steal pieces of the celery and its flavor sold me.

The recipe is really very simple, there are only 6 ingredients if you don't count pepper and salt, 5 if you don't count water either. However the slow gentle cooking mellows the celery, making it tender while the honey and lemon make it brightly flavored and comforting. I loved it so much for Passover I made it again 3 nights later when we were invited over to a friends for Easter. Sebastian had 3 helpings on Passover, along with his weight in brisket and several helpings on Easter.

Spring Celery
Gourmet April 2009

3/4 cups water
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 Tbsp mild honey (use the same spoon you measured the oil with)
3/4 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 pounds celery (from 2 - 3 bunches) outer ribs that are tough and darker green peeled, cut in to 2 inch lengths and then in half lengthwise if wide.
1 cup coarsely chopped inner celery leaves
1/4 cup finely chopped flat italian parsley

Trace the lid of a wide heavy pot that is 6 to 8 quarts on parchment paper. Cut out the parchment round and set aside. I used my 7 1/4 qt round Le Creuset Dutch Oven on Easter and my aunts 6 3/4 qt oval french oven on Passover.

Combine water, lemon juice, olive oil, honey, salt, and pepper in pan and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the honey is dissolved. Add the celery and stir so it is all coated with the braising liquid. wet the parchment paper, crumple it up, open it and then place on top of the celery. Cook over medium low heat just below a simmer until the celery is tender, 30 - 45 minutes. Remove the celery to a serving bowl and continue to cook the liquid over medium high heat until it reduces to approximately 3/4 of a cup. Pour reduced liquid over the celery and sprinkle the parsley and celery leaves on. Serve hot or at room temperature.

On Passover I cooked the celery for 45 minutes, on Easter I was running late so I cooked it for 30 minutes. It was wonderful both ways.