Summer birthdays

Labor Day 2016We close out every summer with a birthday celebration for my sister Anna. We either have steak or Mexican, and I almost always make a cake. This year was a steak year. But first, we had sidecar cocktails, veggies, dips, cheese, crackers, ribs from the smoker, shrimp cocktail, lots of family, 8 trips to the grocery store, an epic happy birthday song, and one husband almost lost at sea.

We really earned our sidecars that night. First, we had an awful lot of people and were just plain disorganized, thus the 8 trips to the store. Then, Shane decided to go for a nice kayak as hurricane Hermine approached.

Shane is a big, strong man, but he’s no match for a hurricane. While I decided whether to be mad at him for being dead, or mad at him for not showing up to make cocktails on time, my dad and Bob kept their wits about them. Dad and Bob drove around the bay looking for a big, stranded man and found him. He arrived back and made sure everyone had a sidecar in hand just in time for Sid to serenade his Auntie Anna.

Once we had everyone more or less intact, we sat down to steak accompanied by tater tots, Iceberg Wedge Salad, and ultimately Belgian chocolate Cake with Malted Chocolate Frosting (which some folks chose to eat as a Cake ‘n Cone).

I made Belgian chocolate Cake with Malted Chocolate Frosting for Anna’s birthday two years ago. It was amazing, but the filling—though interesting with white cake mix for flavoring—didn’t seem entirely worth the effort. This year I made it with just the malted chocolate frosting and 3 layers of moister-than-moist cake. It was a tremendous hit and I’ll be sure to make it again.

Thanks to all the folks who helped out with the kids and my mental state while Shane was off battling the hurricane and possibly dead. And happy, happy birthday Auntie Anna!




Inside out German chocolate torte

Shane had a pretty significant birthday last weekend. “I don’t want a big party,” he said “birthdays are for cake with kids.” So we had a very small party, with cake, and kids.

I made him his very favorite cake, Martha Stewart’s Inside Out Chocolate Torte. It’s the same cake I made him for a different significant birthday, oh, about 10 years ago.

I neglected to take any good pictures of the cake, however. So above you’ll see the man of the hour devouring the last slice a couple of days later.

• Inside Out German Chocolate Torte •
From Martha

For the cake:
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for pans
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 9-inch spring form pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper, and butter the paper; set aside. Place chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl, and set over a pan of barely simmering water. Stir occasionally until melted; set aside.

Sift together flour and salt; set aside. Place sugar and eggs in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and beat until fluffy and well combined, 3 to 5 minutes. Add vanilla and chocolate mixture, and stir to combine. Add dry ingredients, and stir to combine. Divide batter between the two pans using an offset spatula to distribute batter evenly, and smooth the layers. Bake until the center is set, about 20 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool completely before un-molding.

For the filling:
1 fourteen-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 stick) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 large egg yolks
2 cups shredded sweetened coconut
1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans

Place milk, butter, and vanilla in a medium saucepan, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until melted and combined.

Whisk egg yolks in a medium bowl, and, whisking constantly, add some of the hot milk mixture to the egg yolks until combined. Whisk the mixture back into the saucepan, and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes.

Remove from heat, and stir in coconut and pecans. Cool completely, and refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use, up to 2 days.

For the ganache:
1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
2 1/2 cups heavy cream

Place chips in a large heat-proof bowl.

Bring cream to a boil over medium-high heat; pour directly over chocolate. Allow to sit 10 minutes. Use a rubber spatula to gently stir chocolate and cream until well combined and smooth. Let sit at room temperature until cooled and just thickened, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes, but up to an hour depending on the temperature of the room.

Place one layer on a 9-inch cardboard cake round. Spread filling over the layer, and invert the second layer onto the top, leaving the smooth side up. Press down gently on top layer to evenly distribute filling to edges. Using a metalspatula, smooth filling flush with sides of cake. Refrigerate until ready to glaze.

Carefully transfer torte off cardboard round onto a wire rack set over a baking pan. Pour enough ganache glaze over cake to fully coat, shaking pan gently to help spread ganache if necessary. Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes. The ganache in the pan may be melted and strained through a fine sieve and added back to glaze. Pour remaining glaze over torte, allowing excess to drip off sides. If top is not smooth, gently shake pan or run an offset spatula quickly over surface. Allow to set at least 30 minutes before serving. Carefully slide the cake off of the wire rack and onto serving platter.


Cake: Part 2

VeganCake_IMG_5261Remember the cake I made last weekend? I was testing out a recipe to bring to work to celebrate Jenya’s birthday. One of the gals on our team is vegan and lately I’ve been enjoying the challenge of making a delicious dessert that everyone in our group can enjoy.

This amazing vegan chocolate cake was a roaring success. It’s super-rich and moist, the frosting is heavenly, and it’s quick enough that you can make it after putting the kids to bed on a weeknight.

• Delicious Vegan Cake Topped with Chocolate Ganache •
cake from this recipe and this recipe

for the cake:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons neutral oil (like corn, canola, or vegetable)
1 cup cold water
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 tablespoon cider vinegar

for the ganache:
6 ounces (1 cup) good quality semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup coconut milk (I used the kind that you get in the dairy alternatives section of the grocery store)
2 tablespoons maple syrup

Heat the oven to 350° F. Mix together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, sugar, and salt. Sift. In a separate bowl, whisk together the water, oil, vanilla, and vinegar. Whisk together the wet and dry mixtures. If lumpy, whisk until smooth, or pour through strainer in to a bowl and break up lumps, pressing them through. Mix again, and pour into a greased and lined 9-inch round cake pan. Tap the edge of the pan against the edge of the counter, or drop from 6 inches to the floor several times to pop air bubbles. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top springs back when pressed gently. Do not over-bake. Cool before removing from the pan.

While the cake is baking, make the ganache. Put the chocolate chips into a small to medium sized heat proof bowl. Bring the maple syrup and coconut milk to a gentle boil in a small saucepan. When the mixture boils, pour it over the chocolate chips and let sit until the chocolate chips are melted. Whisk the mixture until smooth. Remove cake from pan and place it bottom side up on a rack. When cake is cool, slowly pour the ganache over the cake, letting it drip down the sides a bit.

Let sit for several hours for ganache to set, then remove cake from rack onto a serving plate. Serve at room temperature. 


Cake_IMG_3763Today was probably the most productive and gratifying day I’ve had, at home alone with two kids, in the past 14 months.

What made today so special? It wasn’t that with both kids awake, I managed to get the entire bathroom and the kitchen floor cleaned. It wasn’t that I managed to get a whole tortilla pie made for Monday (or Wednesday) night’s dinner. It wasn’t the laundry I did and hung on the radiators because we destroyed my parents’ 20 year old dryer.

It was the cake.

Cake! I made a cake, in my “new” apartment, with my kids. And, what I mean by with my kids is that Rose and I made a cake, while Sid played with the cooking utensils, put handfuls of cat kibble into the cat water, and periodically toddled over for a finger full of batter.

Thank you Margaret Fox’s Amazon Chocolate Cake, for grounding me.

P.S. She was always a Patriots fan.

Soft cooked eggs & heart cake


If Rose keeps on buying Beanie Boos, I think I might as well go ahead and realize my life-long fantasy of opening a bakery.

We’ve been insisting she buy the Boos with her own money. Seemingly, this would mean there’s a limit to how many she buys. But every time we think she’s out of cash, she comes up with another $7 from who knows where. It’s like she’s got a secret ATM in her room. Maybe we should put her in charge of our finances too.

Today was Sweetly’s birthday. Sweetly is a Valentine-themed Boo, so naturally we had heart cake. I made a batch of my sister’s famous brownies, cut one into a heart shape, and frosted it with whipped cream. I managed this because Rose entertained the baby while I made the brownies (yessssss!)

After back-to-back play dates and Sweetly’s party, I wasn’t particularly inspired, nor did I have much energy for making dinner. We had soft boiled eggs in shot glasses (because we don’t own egg cups), buttered toast fingers, bacon (not pictured) and salad.




The tiniest birthday cake

BeanieBoo_Birthday_IMG_0074When Rose asked if we could make a birthday cake for her Beanie Boo, Ice Cube, I said yes. Not because I have an excess of free time on my hands (or free hands on my hands, for that matter) but because I still had the pink half of my gender reveal cake and some frosting in the freezer. The cake just needed a bit of cutting and assembly.

Collecting and having parties for Beanie Boos is one of the ways we’re allowing ourselves to indulge Rose, as she adjusts to getting only half of our attention. We did our best to get behind her birthday plan, which involved buying even more Boos (with her own quarters) to give to the birthday Boo.

Dinner was store bought meatballs (which no one liked), in homemade sauce (which they liked) over spaghetti. And roasted broccoli. Since Shane is still doing physical therapy until 8:30 two nights a week, I can’t be bothered with attempting a nice looking table. A table with edible food on it will suffice.

Happy Birthday Ice Cube!




A twofer

Penne_Tomato_Anchovy_IMG_2876It’s been unbelievably hard to find time to post these days, but our family dinners have been going strong. Even the baby joins us while we eat, either nursing, napping, screaming his head off, or some combination of the three.

I know I haven’t been giving you much lately, so today (unless he wakes up right now), you’re getting a twofer. Both dinner and dessert. For dinner, Penne with Cherry Tomatoes, Anchovies and Garlic, and for dessert Lena’s Shortbread, with a bonus vegan option!

Suffice it to say both recipes are really quick and easy, and can be made with a baby strapped to your chest.

• Penne with Cherry Tomatoes, Anchovies and Garlic •
from my dad

1/2 lb penne
1 tablespoon butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
6-10 anchovy filets (depending on how satly/anchovy-y you want it)
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

Bring a pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. Melt the butter and oil in a medium to large skillet. Add the garlic and anchovies and cook, stirring frequently, until the anchovies are melted (this might take a bit of mushing with a wooden spoon). Add the cherry tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes until they begin to soften.

Cook pasta until al-dente then drain and add to skillet with the tomato anchovy sauce. Alternatively, you can use one of those sieve-like spoons and scoop the pasta out of the water and directly into the skillet*, a little of the pasta cooking water won’t hurt the dish.

Turn heat to high and stir for a minute or two, until pasta and sauce are combined. Serve right away.

Zucchini sauteed in butter and/or olive oil and topped with slivered basil is a nice accompaniment.

*I recommend this method if you have a baby strapped to your chest. I do not recommend draining a big pot of pasta while baby-wearing.

Lena's_Shortbread_IMG_2877• Lena’s Shortbread •
an old family recipe – possibly the easiest dessert you’ll ever make from scratch

1/2 lb (two sticks) softened butter, or for a vegan/non-dairy option use 1 cup coconut oil
2/3 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Heat oven to 300 degrees. Cream the butter, add the sugar and mix to combine. Add the flour and mix to combine. Press the dough into an un-greased 8″ square pan. You can use another pan of the approximate size if you don’t have an 8″ square, this recipe is forgiving. 

Bake for 45 minutes. Cut into squares or fingers while hot, cutting from the edge in. Remove fingers from pan once cool.

Here’s the copy of the recipe that I’ve been using for years:

New Year’s Sweet

Baked_Alaska_IMG_2612This New Year’s Eve was nothing like last year’s. The baby and I snuggled off to bed at 9:00. Shane and Rose stayed up until midnight playing cards, Spot It and who knows what else.

At midnight they went up to the roof—so as not to wake us up—and set off some questionable poppers that my sister bought from a street vendor. I don’t know the details, but word is the poppers were kind of scary.

There was no elaborate meal, just a simple lasagna, roasted asparagus and a bottle of bubbly that we couldn’t finish. As I said, nothing like last year… except for the dessert.

Rather than a recap of this tumultuous, but ultimately rewarding year, I’ll leave you with this, New Year’s Cake (aka Baked Alaska). Something sweet for the New Year, and a tradition to carry on. Wishing you all the sweetest 2014, I think we’re off to a good start.

• New Year’s Cake (aka Baked Alaska) •
original recipe from Saveur Magazine

For the filling and cake:
2 pints strawberry ice cream, slightly softened (you can use whatever flavors you want, of course)
Unsalted butter, for pan
½ cup cake flour, plus more for pan (cake flour is good but not essential, it will come out fine if you use all purpose)
¼ tsp. kosher salt
½ cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
½ tsp. grated lemon zest

For the meringue:
¼ tsp. cream of tartar
4 egg whites
½ cup sugar

For topping:
Toy penguins (optional, and yes, we know penguins don’t really live in Alaska – you can use caribou or polar bears if you prefer)

1. For the filling: Line a 7″-diameter bowl with a 15″ piece of plastic wrap, allowing excess to hang over rim of bowl. Pack ice cream into bowl, smoothing top, and freeze until solid, at least 4 hours.

2. For the cake: Heat oven to 325°. Grease and flour an 8″ round cake pan; set aside. Whisk together flour and salt in a bowl; set aside. Beat sugar and eggs in a bowl on medium-high speed of a hand mixer until tripled in volume, about 5 minutes. Stir in juice and zest; fold in flour mixture. Pour into prepared pan; bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool completely, invert onto a rack, and set aside.

3. For the meringue: Heat oven to 450°. Place cream of tartar and egg whites in a large bowl; beat on medium speed of a hand mixer until soft peaks form, about 1 minute. Add sugar, and beat until stiff but not dry peaks form, about 2-5 minutes.

4. To serve, place cake on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Invert ice cream onto cake and peel off plastic. Cover ice cream and cake with meringue. Bake until meringue begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Using 2 metal spatulas, transfer to a cake plate and serve immediately.

Turkey tacos and a soup-off

TurkeyTacos_SoupOff_IMG_2265We had dinner at our friends the Blanco’s place tonight. They had a lovely spread, as always, with turkey tacos (clever!) and a butternut squash soup-off. A good time was had by all, even still-pregnant me.

Let’s go back to the turkey tacos. What a great idea for Thanksgiving leftovers! When you take tortillas, cheese, seemingly any leftover thanksgiving dishes and top it with mole sauce, it’s delicious. The kids can skip the mole if they want.

James’ quick mole sauce really pulled everything together. He pointed out that you can make the kind of mole that takes days, or you can do a quick version in the blender. I didn’t know there was such a thing as a quick blender version, but it was really good!

James and Fiona each made a batch of butternut squash soup, and we did a blind taste test. The results were—and have been, when tested on others—pretty much even. Which means to me that they both make a really good butternut squash soup. Fiona’s was classic, subtle and butternutty, and James’ was spicy and appley.

For dessert I made Martha Stewart’s Banana Bread with coconut, toasted pecans and chocolate chips. the recipe doesn’t actually call for chocolate chips, but I think they’re a great addition. Recipe after the photo.

• Banana Bread with Coconut, Pecans and Chocolate Chips •
from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook 

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 cups sugar
1 1/3 cups canola oil
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups ripe mashed bananas (about 3 medium)
1 cup unsweetened dried shredded coconut
1 cup walnuts or 1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped (I prefer pecans)
1/2 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup chocolate chips
cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Coat pans with cooking spray; set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs, sugar and oil on medium-low speed until combined.
4. Beat in the flour mixture. Add the vanilla, banana, coconut, nuts, chocolate chips and buttermilk and beat just to combine.
5. Divide batter between prepared pans; smooth with an offset spatula.
6. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the centers come out clean, 60-65 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Remove laves from pans and let cool completely.
7. Bread can be kept at room temperature, wrapped in plastic, for up to 1 week, or frozen for up to 3 months.


Chocolate pudding

ChocolatePudding_IMG_9981It’s no secret that this pregnancy has been largely an uncomfortable one. The beauty and magic of pregnancy—which has mostly eluded me this time around—has dissipated. I’m ready, I’m done, I want this baby out now. But I’m just a little too much of a nature-knows-best type to request an induction or schedule a c-section.

“There’s not much going on down there.” That’s what my doctor told me today, at my 38 week prenatal visit. Labor is not imminent. It’s possible I’ve got 4 more weeks of this godawful unpleasantness ahead of me. I won’t go into detail, but trust me, it’s seriously unpleasant.

So what does this have to do with dinner? After my appointment, feeling glum, I paged through a magazine and noticed a picture of a very tasty looking chocolate pudding. Chocolate pudding! That was exactly what I wanted, and we had all of the ingredients on hand.

Tonight, rather than dipping into the dregs of the Halloween bucket, we would have a proper dessert. It was sure to make me feel better, or at least distract me momentarily from my discomfort.

When she got home from school, Rose and I whipped up a batch from this Smitten Kitchen recipe (also below). Cooking with Rose is always a spirit-lifter, and fingers dipped in chocolate never hurts either.

It’s a super-easy pudding recipe. Quick to prepare and no special equipment or fancy skills required. It’s delicious, but don’t fill your bowls too much, it’s very rich, and we couldn’t finish ours. Not even Shane.

For dinner, we had ravioli with some of Marcella’s Famous Sauce (from the freezer). And lightly steamed broccoli with lemon-butter.

• Chocolate Pudding •
from Smitten Kitchen

Serves 6 to 7 (I’d say more like 8-10)

1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole milk (2% works fine)
6 ounces semi- or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (or 1 cup good chocolate chips)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Combine the cornstarch, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan, Slowly whisk in the milk, in a thin steam at first so that lumps don’t form, then more quickly once the cornstarch mixture is smoothly incorporated. Place over medium-low heat and stir occasionally, scraping the bottom and sides. Use a whisk as necessary should lumps begin to form. After 10 minutes or so (slower over lower heat is better, to give the cornstarch time to cook), before it starts to simmer, the mixture should begin to thicken, enough that it will coat the back of a spoon. Add the chocolate, and continue stirring for another 2 to 4 minutes, until chocolate is fully incorporated and mixture is quite thick. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.

If you’re concerned about lumps: Run mixture through a fine-mesh strainer. Distribute among individual pudding cups or one large serving bowl, and chill until it is cool and set, about 2 to 3 hours. If you dislike pudding skin: Put plastic on top of the pudding and smooth it gently against the surface before refrigerating. Pudding is good for 3 days in the fridge.ChocolatePuding_ByRose_IMG_9984Rose’s “pudding setup,” by Rose.