brownies, chocolate, favorite chocolate, Holiday cooking, home cooking, homemade desserts, Nigella Lawson, pudding, vegetarian, winter desserts

Easy chocolate cake for the New Year!

Chocolate Fudge Cake

My messy, frosted cake!

Below you will find a seriously good, slightly unusual chocolate cake, and the best buttercream frosting I have been able to figure out how to make!  It’s a little labor intensive, it’s easier to just grab a Betty Crocker box and take the short cut, but it’s SO much better to make your own!  Normally I shy away from buttercream, but I figured out the perfect way to make it light and delicious without the grittiness I usually get!

I did steal this one, but made the adjustments that get the cake to be super silky and very dense.  Check it out below and let me know what you think!

Fudge Cake:

  • 2 ⅔ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ cups superfine sugar
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup best-quality unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (melted and cooled)
  • ½ cup corn oil
  • 1 ¼ cups chilled water

Fudge icing:

  • 6 oz chocolate, melted and at room temperature
  • 18 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened)
  • 2 ¾ cups confectioners’ sugar (sifted)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

 

You’ll need 3 mixing bowls for the cake, and a stand mixer or hand held mixer for the cake and icing.  It’s a lot but it’s necessary, I found out the hard way!

Preheat your oven to 350° F.  Grease and flour two 8 inch cake tins, round or square are fine.  In a medium sized bowl combine all the ingredients for the cake up to but not including the eggs.  Use a fork to combine them and set aside.  In a small bowl, or a measuring jug, combine the eggs, sour cream and vanilla extract, combine well and set aside.  (*quick note here, please, please use good extract, and not artificial essence.  That will quickly lose it’s flavor.  To make your own, 2 cups good vodka or bourbon in a Mason jar, and one vanilla pod, pushed down to cover with the alcohol.  Let it stand for a few days, you’ll see the change in color almost immediately.  Keep in a dry cool place and shake every few days.  After about 2 weeks,  you’ll have good extract.  You can keep it forever, and feed it more alcohol as you use it up!)

In the third bowl, if you have a stand mixer, use that bowl, combine the vegetable oil and melted butter and beat them together like mad.  When they look fairly amalgamated, add in the water and again beat like mad.  Turn the mixer to low and add in the flour mixture.  Mix until well combined, then add in the sour cream mixture.  Don’t do it out of order, or skip a step and add all the dry ingredients to the wet, do the two additions of dry then the sour cream, that will make the cake dense and rich.  If you short cut it, you’ll end up with a flat hard cake (my husband said it “hurt” his mouth to eat, but it was still delicious!)  Stir all well to combine and divide up in to the two pans.  Tap the filled pans on the counter lightly to release any air bubbles and put them in the oven.  They will bake for 50 – 55 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Once fully baked, cool the pans on a rack, and when fully cooled, either wrap well with plastic wrap and save until ready to frost, or just start frosting them.  It’s critical they are completely cooled.

For the frosting, you’ll have to do a little forward planning.  Critical step number one is to allow the butter to come fully to room temperature well in advance.  I usually take it out of the fridge the night before I make it and let them wrapped sticks sit overnight and most of the following day.  When you’re ready to make the frosting, plop the butter into the mixing bowl and beat it like mad, for longer than you even think necessary.  Once it’s pretty light and looks whipped, start adding in the confectioners sugar one big spoonful at a time.  This is going to take a while. Critical step number 2, once the sugar is fully incorporated, once again, beat like mad.  In doing so, you’re not only adding air, you’re also allowing the sugar to dissolve more in the liquid in the butter.  It’s not going to curdle, the sugar also acts as a stabilizer, so beat away.  At this stage, I let it sit for a good 20  minutes, beat it again, then add in the vanilla, and then the completely cooled chocolate.  And one more time beat like mad.  Stop occasionally to scrape down the bowl and beater, as you beat it, the color will be come lighter, and the texture will be very fluffy.  Once you’re sure it’s all combined, time to frost!

Find the plate or cake stand you’ll be serving on, and set the cake on strips of wax or parchment paper, like so with the rounded top side down (borrowed from the Betty Crocker site):

Betty Crocker frosting

Dab a tiny bit of the frosting under the cake on the plate to hold it in place. Use about 1/3 of the frosting on the top of the cake, and leave a 1/4 inch border around the edge, for expansion when you put the second layer down.  Next layer should be humped side up. Use the rest of the frosting to ice the remaining cake, including the sides, and once you’re done, remove the paper strips, and you’ll have a clean presentation!

Of course, you can change up all the flavors of the cake by changing the vanilla extract to something else, and also replacing the water in the cake with a fruit juice, or a liqueur.  If you do, just watch the baking time and test slightly earlier than 50 minutes.

Happy New Year all!  Go forth and bake!!

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brunch, cherry, gourmet, home cooking, maraschino cherries, Nigella Lawson, scones, vegetarian

Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day, to all the Mom’s out there, be it of human children, doggie or kitty children, or any of the combinations this modern life affords!  You’re the most important thing to a child, and one day is truly not enough to honor all that you do!  In particular, I send this to my own mother, who’s name happens to also be Elizabeth Hennessey.  She is such a wonderful person in general, that her being an amazing Mom to us, and to many that are not her own children, is something I am grateful for each and every day!

If I lived near my mom and dad, I would do a great deal more cooking for them.  But, I live 600+ miles away, so the cooking has to be special any time it does happen. When Mom came out to help with the Hubby’s recovery, I made lamb shanks for my Mom’s birthday celebration dinner, labor intensive, but so worth it for my mom!  I know my Dad is a big dessert lover, in particular blueberry pie and cherry pie.  I am not a big blueberry pie fan, but the cherries, I adore, I guess I got that from him!  

You will recall I gave you a recipe for preserved cherries (AKA Maraschino cherries) here so it’s obvious I love them in any form they come in.  So, when I got a blog post from Faith from TheKitchn for strawberry sour cream scones this week, I suddenly thought, ohh… cherries!  Then it went off into the transom of my mind, and as usual with my menopausal mind fog, I forgot about it.  But Hubby and I went to Whole Foods last night, and they had bags of gorgeous frozen cherries and they were on sale!  Win, WIN!  The idea of the scones popped back into my head.  Now, I will tell you, my go to thing when cooking with the kiddies are chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes (my niece doesn’t realize they’re actually muffins with Nutella on…) or scones.  And for the scones, I steadfastly go to Nigella Lawson’s cheese scone dough (in Nigella Bites) as “the one” recipe with some tweaks. It’s simply the easiest and tastiest scone recipe, but it’s not the traditional lead bellied bombs you usually see.  They’re light and airy, and she uses them for making pigs in blankets… I have to say they’re divine!  I take out the mustard powder and substitute sugar, and chocolate chips go in rather than cheese, and VOILA, you have a chocolate chip scone!  For one thing, Nigella begins with self raising flour, which I have at the ready all the time, I even travel with it if we drive home to New York!  She also doesn’t use the usual sour cream or buttermilk and I find that incredibly easier for impromptu cooking.  

Faith’s recipe calls for all the traditional things, sour cream, buttermilk, eggs.  I made a bit of a detour and combined the two recipe’s with a few tweaks of my own.  For example, instead of adding the sour cream, I just added an egg yolk for richness and a bit of dough enhancement.  These are simpler, and take mere minutes to toss together, and are really delicious!  Once again, you can substitute many things here, the constant is the flour amounts and the liquids have to roughly remain in the same proportions, or you end up with a too wet mess.  Let me know what you think, and I actually took a few photos’ so you’ll see what inspired me about these this morning.

 

Mother’s Day Cherry Scones


1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon fine kosher salt

1 tablespoon sugar (can be refined white, or raw brown)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (cardamom might be nice here too..!)

2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes

1 cup frozen (or fresh) cherries pitted and cut in half

1/2 cup sliced almonds (optional)

1/2 cup milk (I used coconut milk, since we never have milk in the house)

1 egg yolk

Scant 1/3 cup Demerara sugar (or some crunchy, large grain sugar for topping)

 

Preheat your oven to 400°, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper, foil or a silpat.

In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, cinnamon), stir well to combine.  Add the cold butter to the mixture and toss to combine.  With your finger tips or two forks, or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour, just until the cubes are better combined, and the mixture starts to look crumby.  Toss in the cherries, still frozen and the almonds if you’re using them and set aside.  In a jug or bowl, combine the milk and egg yolk and beat to combine well.  Here comes the tricky part, combine the liquids and flour/cherry mixture in the bowl with a wooden spoon.  It will instantly clump up, and so my best advice it to use your hands and, as gently as you can, mix the two together.  It will be a sticky messy dough, but it will hold together fairly well.  Don’t worry about clumps of flour or butter, that will all work itself out in the oven.


Cherry Scone dough


Once most of the flour in incorporated, turn the whole lot out onto the parchment lined baking sheet and shape it into a round. With a bench scraper, or a large knife, dipped in flour, cut the round into wedges.  Now you’re ready to bake!


Ready for the oven


Bake for 20 – 25 minutes.  They will be darker than you think they will be, that’s due to the frozen cherries melting a bit.  Let them cool to room temperature to try them.  I like them just as they are, but you can split them and slather with butter too!


Fresh from the oven

 

So, I hope your Mother’s Day is wonderful!

 

 


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Happy March everyone!  You’ll notice that I have moved the blog to WordPress.  I heard it was an easier site to work with, and so I am trying it!  Let me know what your thoughts are on the new format and ease of use.

Although this has been the mildest winter I can ever remember, the sun hasn’t been out much here in Michigan, so the dismal look and feel of the winter is still around.  It makes me cook comforting, cold weather food and lentils really fit the bill here. I can honestly say, other than heavy, gloopy canned soup; I haven’t really eaten much in the way of lentils for most of my life.  When I started cooking for a vegetarian, I discovered the ease and variability of cooking with beans and legumes.  Then one day we were exploring around a natural gourmet food store, and I came upon a bin of these beautiful slate green lentils that were so eye-catching to me! I had to have them, so bought 2 pounds and took them home immediately!

If you follow Nigella, as you know I do, you have probably heard of Puy lentils but I had never really researched or experimented with them.  My memories were always the little cylindrical plastic sleeves you see in the supermarkets for “soup mix”.  They always have a solid chunk of lentils in them, right next to the spice that mix that you can never really put your finger on. The Puy lentils are different from them and are actually famed for being “the best”.  Typically, you see them called French green lentils.  They hold up very well to cooking and they don’t go all to mush unless you crush them when you’re cooking them.  Puy’s have a distinctive flavor, very earthy and hardy, with a bit of crunch to them, and I have grown to love them.

There are many other types of lentils, red, yellow and orange which you typically see in Indian foods and are called dal.  All of those types tend to be more tender when you cook them.  In general, lentils are very high in fiber and protein, are very easy to cook and flavor, and even these special “Puy’s” are definitely very inexpensive to buy.  So you get great bang for your buck with them.

Now, this recipe has a great deal of red wine in it, so if you’re cooking for kids, you may want to substitute the wine for some good quality, low salt vegetable broth.  And remember, if you won’t drink it don’t cook with it!  Also, when you start cooking, the liquid seems to be way too much.  It’s exactly the right amount so trust me here.  I typically start checking them at about 35 minutes, because each batch of dried lentils you get is different, so if the liquid is still covering the lentils, continue cooking for another 10 – 15 minutes.  But, once you hit the 40-minute mark, start listening for a dry pan and check every few minutes although you should resist the urge to stir them much. There will be little to no liquid in the pot, and the lentils will easily mash when you press them with a fork.  If you find there is still a lot of liquid, take the lid off, and raise the heat up to medium, and let the extra liquid boil away.  When there is virtually no liquid left, take the pot off the heat and stir in the vinegar, then taste and add salt and pepper if needed.

Puy Lentils in Red Wine

1 cup green French green Puy lentils (or any lentil, except red or yellow)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

2 shallots, finely chopped*

2 garlic cloves, sliced finely

2 bay leaves (optional)

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (1 teaspoon fresh)

2 cups good red wine (Spanish wine is great here, maybe a nice Tempranillo)

1 ½ cups water

Coarse salt and ground pepper

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (or apple cider, red wine, balsamic vinegar, anything with nice flavor)

Before you start cooking, rinse the lentils well, pick through them and remove any stones, leaves or stems, then place them in a bowl and cover them by about an inch with hot water and let them soak for about 20 minutes.  Once they’re soaked and slightly soft, drain them, rinse with cold water and set them aside to drain in a colander.

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large heavy pot with a tight fitting cover.  Once it’s melted add the shallots, garlic, bay leaves and thyme. Cook, stirring frequently until the shallots turn golden brown.  Be careful not to burn them, or you will have to start over.  Lower the heat to medium and add in the wine.  Bring the mixture to a boil and allow to cook for 1 minute. Add the drained lentils and then the water, stir well. Allow the pot to come to a rolling boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer until the lentils are tender, about 40 – 45 minutes. There will be little to no liquid in the pot, and the lentils will easily mash when you press them with a fork.  If you find there is still a lot of liquid, take the lid off, and raise the heat up to medium, and the the extra liquid boil away.  When there is virtually not liquid left, take the pot off the heat and stir in the vinegar, then taste and add salt and pepper if needed.

As always, comments are welcome and variations are encouraged!

*Note: If you don’t have shallots, you can use more garlic (2 more cloves) or add a small finely chopped yellow union.

Julia Child, Mark Bittman, Nigella Lawson, slow cooking, vegan, vegetarian, winter

Lentils are good for you, but they actually taste good too!

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brown, brownies, eggs, gourmet, home cooking, kid friendly, kitch recipes, Nigella Lawson, non-gluten, nuts, vegetarian, walnuts

Happy new year everyone!

Yes, I am wishing you a Happy New Year on January 14th… a bit late, and such a long time since my last post, but the wishes are just as sincere now as they were on the day!  Many things have gone on since my last post, chiefly, work, work work… and some pretty awesome cooking too.  It’s flurrying outside today, and I have been so guilty about not posting… I hope you enjoy what I came up with!
We had a truly lovely Thanksgiving at our house this year, as has become the tradition for the Curtis/Suliman/Neal/McLenon/Hennessey house!  We have basically kept all the traditions going that Tim’s mom and aunts started many years ago, including pretty much all of the menu.  I have cut back considerably on all the sugar that they used to use, and I have added a few twists from my life and Tim’s favorites. (A quick side note here, have you ever spatch cooked your turkey??  I have now for 2 years running and I will never go back!  More on that in the next post!)  For Christmas we were off to New York for the Hennessey celebration.  I have to say, I didn’t cook much at all for Christmas, but I did make a genuine Irish fruit cake two months before hand, dutifully doused it with brandy every week or so, and brought it with us.  That also was part of the New Years Day chocolate fondue I made.  My brother Mark, sister in law Carie and their children John and Elsa came for a quick visit to my parents to see us, which was, as always, an utter delight!  Family is so great to have around, and nothing beats it!  The gift I was the most excited about was a Le Creuset oval dutch oven!  I will admit, I asked Santa for it, but it was such a delight to actually unwrap it and take it home!  I have already made a version of vegetarian chili topped with cornbread in it, and was so happy with it, I can’t even describe it!
As for most people, January is usually a busy month for us, not just because it’s the new year and we want to start everything fresh, but also because my father, sister and oldest niece all have birthday’s a few days apart from each other.  Today is my Dad’s turn, and as I was talking to him this morning, he mentioned that, although it’s not really possible, it would be so great to have us living nearer the kids.  I have to admit, I agree with him.  I would love to be able to have the kids drop by, and cook with them, or just sit and talk.  As they (and we) get older, it’s harder to have real ties and relationships to them, they’re discovering who they are, and Aunt Bep (or Libet, or Elizabeth, depending upon the kids) may not be the hip happening person they want to be around all the time.  So, my NYR (new years resolution) is to make the extra effort to be more there for the kiddies, all 8 of them!
How does that work it’s way into this blog?  Here’s how!  I was thinking today about what I would make if I had all the kids to myself and had to occupy them for a while?  The kids range from almost 13 to almost 4 months… quite a spread!  Most of the answers I came up with were either too simplistic for them (or at least for the older ones) or too complicated to do with masses of kids all at the same time.  But, I did prevail.  What do you think most kids would never pass up?  I think brownies fits that bill to a tee!  Now, I know some kids have dietary issues so please understand I am not allowing for that completely in this post.  I will say that the recipe below will do fabulously well with the non-gluten flours on the market, and you can always use soy yogurt or apple sauce or pureed banana’s to substitute for the sour cream or yogurt that I suggest… you get the picture though, it’s fairly easy and as always, you can tweak this a million ways to suit your kids and their needs.  My one and only insistence is that  you NOT use carob.  It’s awful tasting and doesn’t melt the way a decent chocolate does…. if that’s the only option you have, leave the chocolate out or substitute a dried fruit or a nut that the kids like.  Come to think of it, dried pineapple would be SO good in this!  Hmmm… off to the kitchen!

Easy and Delicious Brownies

  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 14 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder (Hershey’s will do fine, or go for the good stuff)
  • 1 & 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup sour cream (or plain Greek yogurt, or plain soy or coconut milk yogurt)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped nuts of your choice or dried fruit or chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 325°. Line a 9-inch square pan with foil or parchment paper so that 2 inches hang over two opposite sides.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a nonreactive pan or in the microwave. Stir occasionally until melted and smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl and allow to cool slightly. Beat in cocoa powder and sugar until well blended. Add in sour cream and vanilla extract, then add each egg and beat to incorporate fully, then add the next egg. Combine flour and salt well, then slowly add to the chocolate mixture.  Once fully combined, add in the nuts, fruit or chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 40-45 minutes or until done. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out with a few moist crumbs attached. Cool in pan on wire rack.

Makes 16 brownies.

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garlic, garlic soup, Mark Bittman, Nigella Lawson, non-gluten, vegan soup, Vegeeta

There’s nothing like the deep summer to make and eat some soup!

I will be making up for my lack of blogging with two recipe’s this weekend.  A few weekends ago, were unintentionally productive (the preserved cherry recipe will be the next entry I do…)  I wanted to do lots outside, but this hellish heat-wave settled in on Friday, and after weeding the shade garden behind the house, outside was not an option.  So, I went grocery shopping.  I tried to reign in my prolific food spending, but managed to just buy less expensive things that I use in my store cupboard.  If anyone reading this has any idea of me, they know I am pleasurably obsessed with Nigella Lawson.  And from her, I got encouragement that yes, my very, very, VERY stocked pantry is entirely necessary! 
And so, I came up with a fabulastic garlic soup recipe, culled from previous tries, an encounter with the unfortunate Jeff Smith (AKA the Frugal Gourmet, who also introduced me to cheddar beer soup…) and a reminder that I hadn’t made this in a while from Mark Bittman.  Mr. B reminded me that sage is lovely here, and that I have a thriving sage patch in my container garden.  Also TONS of variegated lemon thyme that I brush up against every time I walk out my back door.  So here is my garlic soup, with a nod to the wonderful Mr. Bittman.  I’d like to add here that I had soup left over and made a wonderful dish of steamed new potatoes and this soup the following night and it was heavenly… Tim wanted seconds!
For the soup:
2 smashed and peeled garlic heads, sliced into thick slices/cut into manageable bits
¼ cup good olive oil
4 – 5 medium fresh sage leaves (don’t use dried, just don’t use anything if fresh isn’t available.)
6 cups of good low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock, or water (with a little soy sauce thrown in for taste, I also have been known to use water and some Vegeeta which gives it a lovely yellow color)
salt and pepper to taste
For the croutons:
4 thick slices of good Italian or French bread
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 sage leaf
1 garlic clove, cut in half
Heat the olive oil and the garlic slices over a low flame in a heavy bottomed soup pot. Sprinkle over a little salt to help the garlic release its juices.  When the oil starts to sizzle a little, toss in the sage leaves and allow them to fry for a bit.  What you’re going for here is cooked garlic that has not colored at all, just softened and cooked.  If you get browning on the garlic throw the whole lot out and start again.  If you go slowly and watch carefully it should take about 6 – 7 minutes on a low flame.  When the garlic mashes easily with the back of a spoon, add in the chicken stock and raise the heat up to medium and bring it to a boil.  One it comes to a boil, allow it to bubble for about 2 – 3 minutes, then lower the heat to a simmer and cover.  Simmer for 10 minutes watching carefully that the water doesn’t cook away, and stir occasionally.
After you have simmered for 10 minutes and are assured that the soup has good flavor (check and add salt and pepper as you feel it needs) take it off the heat and cool for about 10 minutes.  Add the cooled soup to a blender and puree, or use your immersion blender until the soup is completely pureed and milky looking.  Add it back to the pot, or just cover the pot you used the immersion blender in and set on the stove at a bare simmer.
Then make the croutons.  If you have a toaster oven, use that, otherwise heat your oven to 375.  Place the 4 pieces of bread onto a baking sheet and use the oil to drizzle over them.  Put into the oven to toast for 6 minutes, but keep an eye on them, don’t let them burn.  When they are toasted, you can toast the other side if you like, and then take them off the baking sheet and rub with the halved garlic cloves, and run the sage leaves lightly over them.  Place the croutons in large bowls and pour the soup over them, and eat right away.
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