Saturday, April 17, 2010

Twice as Good Carrot Cake

It must be good if it was worth making twice within a week.

My father's birthday happened to fall on Good Friday this year. Thus, we were compelled to wait for the celebration on Easter Sunday. Celebrating your birthday in conjunction with the celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord couldn't be a bad thing, though. And it just so happens that his favorite kind of dessert is carrot cake. Providential, perhaps?

As much as I like to bake, my experience with cakes has been limited. The prospect of prettily frosting the cake has much to do with it. (I watched a friend of mine frost a wedding cake for hours on end and it has scarred me for life...jk. ;)) Fortunately, carrot cake is frosted in a rather slap-dash, haphazard manner so I didn't have to worry too much about a smooth finish (or the random appearance of crumbs...don't have a coronary, Emma!).

Then, another birthday Easter Friday of a friend who actually received 3 cakes from the dessert crew (more about that in another post). Easy-peasy the second time around. It was necessary to make a purchase of cake pans as I had borrowed my mother's for my father's cake. But, I figured if I was going to be making cakes this frequently, I should probably invest in some of my own. Or, at the very least, it would be incentive to try my hand at them more often. And I'm always excited to add another kitchen utensil to my steadily-growing collection.

Speaking of new kitchen equipment...I used my new KitchenAid mixer for the first time mixing up the cakes. Works like a dream! Much easier than a hand-held whisk, let me tell ya....

The fire-engine red beauty.

One thing I've learned about cakes is that it is all about beating those eggs. Let your mixer run for the allotted amount of time. Those eggs need a good beating to help the cake rise properly in the oven.

This is a very simple, yet delectable, carrot cake recipe. I had a few people who tasted it say they don't normally like carrot cake, but this one changed their mind. It doesn't include all the added pineapple and coconut which I think makes the flavor too tropical.


adapted from Food & Wine Annual Cookbook 2010


1 c. walnuts

2 c. all-purpose flour

2 t. baking powder

2 t. baking soda

1 t. cinnamon

1 t. salt

1 c. canola oil

1/2 c. buttermilk

1 1/2 t. vanilla extract

4 large eggs

2 c. sugar

1 lb. carrots, coarsely grated


2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1 lb. cream cheese, softened

1 T. vanilla extract

2 c. powdered sugar

To make cake:

Preheat oven to 325.

Grease and flour two round cake pans.

Toast walnuts on a baking sheet for about 8 minutes.

In one bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In another bowl, whisk oil, buttermilk, and vanilla. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar at high speed for about 5 minutes. Beat in the liquid ingredients. Beat in the dry ingredients until just moistened. Stir in carrots and walnuts. Divide the batter between the two pans and bake for about 1 hour, until springy and golden. (I inserted a knife in the center and removed them when it came out clean.) Let cakes cool on rack for 30 minutes, then unmold and let cool completely.

To make frosting:

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, beat butter and cream cheese at high speed until light, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla, then the powdered sugar. Beat at low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and beat the frosting until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Invert one cake layer onto cake platter and spread with about a cup of the frosting. Top with the second layer. Spread the top and side of the cake with the remaining frosting and refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour.

Slice and enjoy. :)

Makes about 10-12 servings.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Clean or Not Clean, That is the Question.

The ironic thing about hypochondriacs is sometimes they inflict the very thing they are trying to avoid. In truth, if you try too hard to protect yourself and others from all germs, you may just end up becoming ill as your body is unable to build up antibodies to ward off unwanted intruders.

Not quite the situation that ensued yesterday, but it is something that often crosses my mind when I see mothers hyper-cleaning everything their children touch. Funny, how they are always the ones with the runny noses. Now, don't get me wrong...people should attempt to keep their children out of harm's way but a little dirt never hurt anyone, did it?


I have a certain sibling who can be rather anal about germs, especially ones involving food in the kitchen. He refuses to eat off of dishes that have been handwashed by him because he does not trust himself to get them clean enough. However, he's fine if someone else does it and he doesn't see them...out of sight, out of mind??? If anything comes remotely close to raw eggs, raw meat, etc., it must all be hosed down with disinfectant.

He'd been offering to make dinner for his girlfriend (my roommate) for a few days now and she decided to take him up on the offer. The meal planned: fried chicken. Fried chicken involves raw meat and raw eggs. Two points on the hypochondriac meter. Red alert. He oh-so-carefully sliced the chicken into thin strips with a fork and knife on the cutting board, making sure not to come in contact with the contagion. Unfortunately, he was not so lucky when it came time to fry up the poultry. He was forced to dip the raw chicken by hand into raw egg before arriving at the stovetop. The poison was held precariously at arms length as he hastily transferred it from bowl to pan. He nearly lost his marbles as a drop of egg landed on the space between...."NOOO!!! Quick, clean it up before it mutates into a man-eating beast from the depths of hell!" Needless to say, he survived the experience and lives to tell the tale. But my story does not end here. Oh no.

He was also kind enough to fulfill dish duty after dinner as well. For him, that meant rinsing the dishes so well that they were nearly clean before they hit the dishwasher. Lamentably, for us, it made it rather difficult to tell whether the dishes were clean or dirty. I innocently came home last night to make a quesadilla. Opening the dishwasher, it appeared in the process of being loaded as it was not quite full. However, I decided to investigate further as perhaps some had simply been removed after washing. Peeking into coffee cups that had no stains, bowls that were bereft of their milk rings, and frying pans that had been degreased, I came to the conclusion that the dishes were clean after all. I removed the frying pan from the top rack and went to work on my quesadilla....

Flash forward about 4-5 hours and I'm heaped over on the floor at a friend's house with horrible pain in my abdomen. Sometimes I get this type of pain comes from eating greasy foods so thought it was perhaps that, but it was much worse than usual and I hadn't really eaten anything particularly greasy....

Flash forward to the next morning, I'm still not feeling so chipper and wondering why this is lingering. I'm chatting with my roommate in our kitchen about my uncomfortable night as she goes to unload the rest of the dishwasher. She opens the door, takes a look inside, and is also confused about the status of the dishes inside. We inspect again, determine they must be clean and she begins to unload, as she tells me the story of my brother's humorous, chicken-frying experience. As she goes to unload the last spoon from the dishwasher, she glances down to discover food visibly crusted on the spoon. Uh oh. You missed one, dude. Dirty. And all of the pieces come together....

Yep, I cooked my quesadilla in an unsanitary pan thanks to the hypochondriac who rinsed those dishes so well they appeared clean....but I'm still alive to tell my tale too. :)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Easter morning was a chilly 35 degrees. My father read in the paper that our California temperatures were exactly the same as Alaska's. ALASKA?!?! REALLY?!?! He was bragging about the fact he was wearing his fleece-lined jeans and winter sweater on Easter Sunday. I actually caught myself about to wish several people a 'Merry Christmas' because my body was so confused as to what season we were in. (But, by golly, I wore my Easter dress to church! Wrapped in a wool coat, of course....) ;-)

Thank you Sunshine for making a re-appearance today. Really, you shouldn't ever leave the California skyline between the hours of 6am and 9pm. That's where you belong, after all.... ;-)

In honor of its reappearance, I present to you candied orange peel. There are fewer things that make me feel warm and summery than citrus. :) It sponataneously came-to-be the other day when I was making the tians, as I couldn't bear tossing out half a dozen perfectly good orange peels. (At least if I'd had a compost pile, it would have been put to good use fertilizing.)

Very easy to make, just takes a few blanchings, a sugar bath and lay them out to dry.
In the sun, if you want....

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Chimay - Trappist Ale

When asked to bring drinks to a party, Rick usually came toting a slender, long-necked bottle uniquely corked. Being a sucker for unconventional, appealing wrappings, the bottle intrigued me, but I never had the chance to become acquainted with its contents before it disappeared down the throats of the parched gentlemen. (Somehow the guys always get to the good beer first while the ladies are cooking and chatting....) And another attractive attribute of this beer: it was made by Trappist monks in Belgium. Monks who make beer are simply awesome in my book. Tasting it probably wasn't even a necessity for me to become a fan.

After a hauntingly beautiful Holy Saturday Tenebrae service yesterday morning, we did as all good Catholics do and headed to the local British pub for a breaking of the Lenten fasts with alcoholic libations. The pub offered a generous variety of beers on tap, including the ever-elusive Chimay -- the aforementioned Trappist ale. Here, finally, was my chance! It was so wonderfully smooth, a perfect pre-brunch drink. I had come in dreaming about a mimosa, but was pleasantly satisfied (and converted) by this blond ale, the Chimay Triple. I would even venture to say it was on the sweet side, with a lovely head crowning its golden base. Oh, and did I mention that they serve it from the tap as well with the proper 'trappings'? (pun intended) The Chimay is served in a chalice glass in order to adequately experience all the delicate flavors of this fine beer.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Just in Time for Strawberry Season....

Completely in love with this new dish pattern created by Sur La Table. How I would love to sip my tea out of one of these cute cups on a summery morning! :) They also have plates, bowls, and an adorable cake platter. The cook can dress the part in her strawberry-festooned apron and remove her baked goods from the oven with a matching oven mitt.