Friday, August 11, 2017

Mocha Chocolate Chip Cake

I enjoy baking, but don't bake just to have cookies or whatever in the house--too tempting.  So I look forward to occasions to bake for others.  For a potluck earlier this week, I offered a cake, and the host was very enthusiastic.  I have a number of good recipes for cakes that don't need a frosting, and that's what I usually do, avoiding the extra steps of adding a final layer.  But this time I felt like doing something that was a bit more of production (a two-layer cake rather than a bundt pan or sheet cake, and frosting too), and it was definitely worth it.  I received many compliments on the final product! Baking the cake also provided an occasion to think about my mother, from whom I learned to bake.  I think most cooking can readily be learned from instructions in a cookbook, but in baking there are some little things that it helps to have demonstrated.  Like how to keep the frosting off the serving plate that you've got the cake on, which my mother showed me how to do by cutting four large triangles of waxed paper, laying them around on the plate (points all in the center), putting down the cake layers, frosting them, and then pulling out the opposite triangles.

I used a recipe for Mocha Chocolate Chip Cake that I saved from the New York Times a while back. Click here to see a nice photo of the cake and for the original recipe; recipe below slightly modified. I was tempted to substitute unsalted butter for salted, and light brown sugar for the turbinado sugar, but decided in the end to do as the recipe said.  I don't know how the alternatives would have been, but the cake was great as is.  I did lessen the espresso powder a bit, and didn't use all the liquid in the frosting.  And for sifting flour, I use a sifter just like the one my mother had.  For a while you couldn't find this kind (with a handle you turn to spin the sifter blades), but I see they're now readily available on Amazon.  So much easier than the squeeze mechanism that was dominant for a while:

For the cake
1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, softened
2-1/4 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/3 cups turbinado sugar
2 large eggs
1-1/2 t. vanilla extract
2-1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. kosher salt
1 cup milk (anything from skim to whole milk; I used skim)
1 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips, roughly chopped; or mini-chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli Bittersweet chips)

For the frosting
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
1/8 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. vanilla extract
2 T. instant espresso
2 T. boiling water
3/4 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips, for decorating (I left the chips whole, but the Ghirardelli bittersweet chips are large, flat buttons and didn't look as nice as the smaller chocolate chips in the Times photo.  Next time I would either use the smaller chips on top, or I would chop up these chips somewhat finely and sprinkle on the top of the cake)

1) Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray two 8-inch cake pans with flour/oil mixture (or butter and flour the pans).  Then line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper cut to fit.  (I was tempted not to use the parchment paper, but online comments on the Times recipe mentioned it was needed because of the melting chocolate chips in the batter.)

2) Using an electric mixer and a large bowl, mix the butter and sugar until evenly blended.  Add eggs and vanilla and mix again until smooth.

3) In a separate bowl, whisk or sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.  Add half the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar/egg mixture, mix well, then add half the milk and mix again.  Repeat with remaining dry ingredients and milk.  (The batter may look a little curdled; this is fine.)  Add the chopped chocolate chips and mix well.

4) Pour the batter into the pans and bake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 30-35 minutes.  Let cool for 15 minutes before removing cakes from pans to a rack to cool further.

5) When the cake layers are completely cool, make the frosting.  Using an electric mixer, mix the confectioners' sugar with the butter, salt, and vanilla, until well blended.  In a small bowl, mix the espresso powder with the boiling water to dissolve.  Add it to the frosting, starting with a tablespoon of liquid and adding more as needed to get the consistency needed for a spreadable frosting.

6) Prepare a serving platter with 4 large triangles of waxed paper, points toward the center; this protects the plate from the frosting.  Place one cake layer on top of the paper, smooth rounded top down on the plate.  Spread about one-third of the frosting over the top in an even layer.  Place the second layer on top of the frosting, smooth rounded top on top.  Spread the rest of the frosting over the top and sides of the cake.  Decorate with chocolate chips. Remove the waxed paper by pulling out opposite sides at once. Here's a photo of my cake with the large chips.  They look a little clunky, but that didn't interfere with the taste!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Two Croatian recipes: Ajvar and Blitva

One of the pleasures of a recent trip to Croatia was the delicious food. (See this post for an account of the trip.) I can't recreate the just-caught-that-day fresh fish available at every restaurant, but a couple of side dishes were also great, and I have successfully made them at home.

Ajvar is a beautiful red spread, ubiquitous as a condiment at Croatian restaurants. It's delicious along with meat or fish. I also like to serve it before the meal as a dip or spread with crackers, bread, or small pretzel twists.

(red pepper and eggplant spread), adapted from
serves 12
6 large red bell peppers
1 large eggplant (about 1.5 lbs)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 ounce fresh chives
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespooon white or red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Heat oven to 450°F and arrange racks in the upper third. Halve each pepper, discarding stems and seeds. Place peppers, cut side down, on a baking sheet lined with foil. Cut eggplant in half lengthwise and drizzle it with about 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and a little salt and place it, cut-side down, on the baking sheet. Roast the peppers and eggplant until they are blackened, blistered, and the eggplant collapses when you press on it, about 60 minutes.

Remove the eggplant and set it aside to cool slightly. Remove the peppers, place them in a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap until the peppers have slightly cooled, at least 5 minutes. Use a spoon or ice-cream scoop to remove the pulp of the eggplant from the skin, and discard the skin. Chop garlic in food processor.  Add eggplant to the food processor with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and the garlic. (Can also mash by hand.) Pulse the eggplant a few times so that it’s roughly chopped.

Once peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them (reserving any juices that collect), discard the peel, and add the peppers and 2 to 3 tablespoons of the pepper liquid to the food processor. Add the chives and pulse 5 to 8 times to chop coarsely.

Stir in the lemon juice, vinegar, red pepper flakes, and sugar. Taste and add more sugar if it is a bit sour, then add salt and freshly ground black pepper, as desired. Serve warm or room temperature as a spread or condiment.

TIP: Ajvar can be made up to 4 days ahead of time; store refrigerated in an airtight container and bring to room temperature before serving. Taste and stir in more vinegar, sugar, salt, or olive oil as desired.  You can also grill the peppers and eggplant.  You can freeze any leftovers.

The second recipe is on the menu of every Croatian restaurant, and often served as a side dish on a plate when you order a meat or fish dish.  It is simple, but delicious!

BLITVA (Chard and Potatoes)
adapted from
serves 4 

3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut in 1" pieces
3 T. olive oil
5 good-sized cloves of garlic, thinly sliced or chopped
1 large bunch of Swiss chard

Rinse the chard, remove the center stalk, and cut the greens into half-inch strips.

Boil the potato pieces in water until tender, about 6-8 minutes.  Drain and set aside.

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add garlic and cook for about 2 minutes.  Add the drained potatoes and cook, stirring a couple of times, until the potatoes start to turn golden around the edges, about 6 minutes.

Add half of the chard, sprinkle with a little kosher salt, and then toss in the potatoes.  Add the remaining chard and toss.  Cook until the chard has wilted, about 4-6 minutes.  Add freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve hot or at room temperature.  (It was convenient for me to cook this a couple of hours before serving dinner; it was very good at room temperature, and it saved me from having to be at the stove once the guests had arrived.)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Thai Corn and Fish Soup

This is a great soup, quick and simple to make, but with complex flavors.  The original recipe called for crabmeat, but I don't eat shellfish, so I substituted cod, which worked well.  I'm sure it would be good with most any variety of seafood.  I added in the snowpeas for a bit of crunch.  To fill out the meal, I served the soup with home-made artisan bread dinner rolls (with rosemary and kalamata olives).  I will not wait long to make this again!

adapted from Flat Belly Diet Cookbook by Liz Vaccariello

1 16-oz bag frozen corn, thawed
3 c. vegetable broth, divided (I used Better than Bouillon base mixed with water)
1/4 c. canola oil
1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips and then strips cut in half
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
8 scallions, sliced
1 T. fish sauce
3/4 lb. cod, cut into about 3/4" pieces
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 t. ground red pepper (optional)
handful of fresh snow peas, cut in half (optional)

  1. Place 1-1/2 cups of the corn and 1-1/2 cups of the broth in a food processor or blender. Process until fairly smooth.  Set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add the red pepper and jalapeno.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes.  Add the scallions and cook for another 3 minutes.
  3. Add the fish sauce, reserved corn-broth mixture, remaining corn, and remaining broth.  Bring to a simmer and then reduce the heat.  Cover and cook for 5 minutes.  
  4. Add the cod, cover and cook another 4 minutes.  Add snow peas (if desired) and cook for 1 minute.  Add cilantro, and ground red pepper (if desired).
355 calories