Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ukrainian Honey Cake

Every couple of months I'll roll up my sleeves and step into the kitchen and try to recreate the Ukrainian honey cake recipe from my mothers childhood that she still talks about. It's hard because I don't know what it's supposed to taste like and all my mom recalls is that it had strong coffee in the recipe, so I'll putter around, trying out different proportions, adding a spice here and there, hoping I'll come close. I'll wrap it up and take it to my parent's house, make a pot of tea and hold my breath as my mom tries a slice. So far I've come close, and I've gotten some good recipes in place, but the perfect one still alludes me.

Honey Cake

Round two of the FoodBuzz Challenge is to write about a classic dish, and there's nothing more classic then a slice of honey cake and a cup of tea with maybe a spoonful of jam to sweeten things up a bit more. So here's my hat in the ring once again and hopefully this time it will also trigger a memory and recover a lost recipe. Wish me luck and don't forget to vote :D

Honey Cake with Tea

Ukrainian Honey Cake
my recipe...for now

1.5 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup strong coffee
1 Tbsp vegetable oil


1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp honey

Preheat oven to 350F. Sift flour, soda, baking powder, spices, and salt together into a bowl. Whip the eggs until thick and light, about 5 minutes, gradually adding the sugar. Beat in honey, coffee, and oil. Add the dry ingredients and beat on low until combined. Pour into a greased and floured bundt pan and bake ~ 30min, until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool a few minutes and unmold.

Mix together all the icing ingredients until it forms a thin paste and drizzle over the cake to give it that honey tea with lemon flavor.

Cross your fingers and hope you got it right this time :D

Friday, September 17, 2010

Blue Moon spiked Orange Creamsicle Ice Cream

You know the days when about halfway through you know that you would have been better off not leaving the house, or your bed for that matter? I'm having that kind of a week. I have a wedding cake order for this Saturday and being the good and responsible person that I am (HA!) I've broken it down into steps so that I can tackle it after work and not end up staying up all night to finish it at the last minute...which is basically what I've done every other time. Monday I made a list and went grocery shopping, so far so good. On Tuesday I cleaned and organized the kitchen, did all the laundry (may not be directly relevant, but still needed to be done), and settled in at the dining room table to watch a movie and make the sugar decorations for the cake. About halfway through the movie I got that prickly goosebumpy feeling on the back of my neck. There's a wonderful short story in Joanne Harris's "Jigs & Reels" about a woman who discovers that whenever she cooks from the cookbook her mother-in-law gave her, her kitchen becomes possessed. The more complicated the recipe, the more severe the effect. Well, it felt very much like that story. All the lights in the dining room and the adjoining kitchen got really really bright, like they were about to explode, and just as I moved out from under the chandelier to avoid the inevitable shattered light bulbs, all the lights got really really dim. Then they started flickering. By now my imagination started getting a little out of hand as my mind began spinning through the vast catalog of horror films I've seen in my lifetime and I became aware of quiet swearing coming from the kitchen. Then there was a loud pop and everything got back to normal.

Now I should probably tell you that while I like watching horror films, while Halloween is my favorite holiday, and while my sense of humor does sometimes lean towards the morbid...I'm extremely "uncomfortable" in realistically supernatural situations. Or the dark. I don't like the dark. I feel I'm perfectly justified in that though since I grew up in Russia and they don't exactly sugar-coat or Disneyfy the children's bed time stories. There are always wolves and monsters under the bed that will eat your feet if they're not properly tucked in, and I hate having my feet tucked in. There are creepy nursery rhymes that are always sung in low deep and scary voices that replay in your mind and haunt you as you close your eyes and try to fall asleep. And there are furry hats left on the piano that in the dark look like a black cat that's staring at you waiting for you to drop your guard before it will jump and eat you. Okay, that last one may have just been me, but I stayed up all night watching the "cat" making sure it wasn't up to anything and let me tell you, my parent's found a fairly terrified and sleep deprived toddler the next morning.

So to relieve the tension and bring my nerves back to normal, I did what most people do in this day and age: I updated my facebook status. Yep. Said something about how my upstairs neighbors are trying to create their very own Frankenstein. And I guess it helped because I was able to settle down, turn the movie back on and finish up my work. But apparently that wasn't it. Yesterday I came home with the daunting task of baking 15 cakes (9 batches) and when I went to defrost the butter in the microwave I noticed that it was dead. Uh oh. The microwave is on the same circuit as the KitchenAid mixer. Crap crap crap crap crap. Fine, I've been meaning to rearrange my tiny cramped kitchen anyways, right? And the middle of the counter is totally the best place for the mixer. So half an hour later I had rearranged (and cleaned under) half of my kitchen appliances, and somehow managed to knock off a corner chunk of my marble top island. Sigh. The rest of the baking went off okay and I now have a fridge full of saran wrapped layers waiting to be filled and frosted. I tell you, days like that require ice cream.

Blue Moon Ice Cream 3

I made this ice cream at the request of one of my friends, who wanted it for her husband's birthday (same party as that Peanut Butter Banana cake I told you about a few days back). We were just bouncing ideas off of each other and this is what I came up with. The base for it is David Lebovitz's Orange Ice Cream, but I adjusted the amounts and added a reduction of a Blue Moon beer. It cake out tasting of an Orange Creamsicle with the beer flavor on the back end. In other words, pretty damn good, and just what was needed to keep the kitchen gremlins at bay.

Blue Moon Ice Cream

Blue Moon and Orange Creamsicle Ice Cream
adapted from The Perfect Scoop
Yields about 1 Quart

2/3 cup sugar
Grated zest of 3 large juice oranges
1 1/4 cups freshly squeezed orange juice (those same 3 oranges)
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 bottle of Blue Moon Belgian White beer

1. Pour the beer into a small saucepan and gently simmer over medium heat until reduced down to half a cup, stirring occasionally. Pour into a container and chill completely in the fridge.
2. Pulverize sugar and orange zest in blender or food processor. It will look like moist sand and smell intoxicating.
3. Add orange juice, sour cream, cream, and the beer reduction and blend until the sugar is completely dissolved.
4. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator for several hours and then process in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Hard Questions...and a Monster Cookie

I just looked and was shocked to see that I have been contributing to this here blog for almost two and a half years. It's funny because it feels like forever and no time at all, both at once. While I'm still not a rock-star churning out Martha Stewart worthy recipes and photos, I am able to say that I'm learning and that over the years this little space of the web has seen a lot of improvement. Though I do NOT encourage you to look that far back at my posts...too scary.

A while ago, when I finally decided to pour more time, love and dedication to this blog, I joined a little community known as FoodBuzz. It was a great place to meet other like-minded cooks and bakers out there, find out what was going on in the foodie world, and get inspired by all the wonderful recipes freely shared among the members. Oh, and maybe earn a few pennies to pay for the few cups of coffee my friends and relatives can't stop me from buying. Apparently I'm not very sane or reasonable when I'm hyped up on caffeine, but this way I can always argue that I earned it.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from FoodBuzz talking about a blogging contest they were organizing for their members, and throwing caution to the wind, I tossed my name into the hat and signed up. Well, the contest is now in full swing (see my little widget on the right?) and the time has come for the very first round, which asks the following question:

What defines you as a food blogger and why should you be the next food blog star?

I believe that the answer to both those questions is curiosity and a willingness to always keep learning. I read cookbooks, food blogs, cooking magazines, and old note cards stained with oil with the same enthusiasm some people devote to fiction. Remember the Harry Potter craze? Like that. I look for ingredients or recipes I haven't seen or tried yet and I can't wait to get into the kitchen and give them a go. In the kitchen, I hover just to the side of not just my mother, but mothers, grandmothers and aunts of all my friends, pestering them with questions and sneaking in a spoon (or if I'm not watched, a finger) into the pot. I love tradition and I love innovation, and I'm always excited when I can meld the two together into something both comforting and new. But most of all I love coming here and sharing what I learned with all of you. In the beginning it was just a place where I could keep track of my own experiments, just meant to be seen by me, but over time I've discovered that I try harder and I write better when I'm trying to share my creations with someone who shares my passion for cooking.

Through my blog I am able to extend a virtual invitation to a new or an old friend to come in, sit down, and chat for a bit over a cup of tea and a treat. I only share the very best recipes I find and through my blog there are no judgments, suggestions and ideas flow freely, adaptations are encouraged, and even when things don't go right there are friendly words of support offered. It would be a wonderful thing to reach out and share my findings with and maybe learn something new from even more people.

So if you like what you see, take a minute and please vote for me via that widget on the right that says FoodBuzz Contest, the one with a picture of me drinking a BOWL of coffee (best day ever!). Voting starts on 9/20, so please come back then. I'm sure I'll have something fun to offer then anyways.

Oh...and since I'm not really above bribery, especially when I know first hand what people are willing to do for cookies, I'd like to share with you my newly discovered, just in time to be perfected for Halloween, favorite cookie ever:

Cookie monster cookie

This recipe also comes from Sophistimom's Bake Sale ideas and it was probably the easiest and the most fun cookie I've ever made. Even forming the huge burger-like patties and slapping them onto a cookie sheet was satisfying! And when I finally scraped up the very last of the batter for the last cookie, the chocolate chips sticking out of it looked like eyes. Doesn't it look cute up there with it's head cocked to the side? I think that top cookie is flirting with you, he's saying "please vote for me, won't you?".

And because I still have marshmallows and because I am who I am, I just had to play with it and give my monster some teeth, paws and a cape

Cookie monster cookie 2

Monster Cookies, a.k.a. Eat It Before It Eats You Cookie
via Sophistimom
Note: I would highly recommend you use the scale and weigh everything out instead of using cups. For one, the peanut butter is so much easier to deal with when you just pile it onto a piece of wax paper then trying to coax it into and then out of a cup. And two, can skip the sifting of the flour step if you just weigh it :D

1 cup (100g) sifted flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
6 cups (480g) quick oats
1 1/2 sticks (172g) butter
2 cups (400g) brown sugar
1 cup (190g) granulated sugar
1 pound (450g) peanut butter
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup (170g) semi sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and oats. Set aside.
2. Cream the butter and sugars together in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add in peanut butter and mix until smooth, about 2-3 minutes. Add in eggs, one at a time, incorporating well after each addition.
3. Slowly add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture, and mix until well incorporated. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in chocolate chips.
4. Use a large ice cream scoop or your hands to form balls of dough the size of a baseball. Place 6 on a cookie sheet, and press down slightly with your hands. Bake for 15 minutes, or until slightly brown around the edges, and not fully set in the middle. I made some of mine a bit bigger and they needed an extra minute, so use your judgment.

They will be puffy when you take them out but they will deflate as they cool. Let them cool a bit on the cookie sheets before you transfer them to a cooling rack or they might break. Stack them up really high with a small slip of wax paper or parchment between each cookie to keep them from sticking to each other. It will look impressive, I promise.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

S'More Bars

The world needs more bake sales. It's a fantastic excuse to bake whatever you want, without any of the calories, because you're not actually eating any of it because it's usually for a good cause and any you eat are the ones you can't sell. So when my friend asked me to help her out I said yes and went on a hunt for the perfect bake sale recipe. Lucky for me, there's a whole week's worth of bake sale goody ideas over at Sophistimom's Blog!

I've already tried lemon bars, and while they were fantastic, I didn't think they'd survive being packaged and stacked, so I picked two other recipes. A cookie recipe that will be going into my "make every chance you get" file that I'll tell you about later, and these bars. They're the easiest thing in the world to throw together, taste fantastic, look lovely, and go great with a cold glass of milk. I think they were a hit too, my friend asked me to make her another batch ;)

S'more Bars

s’mores bars
via Sophistimom

10 oz (300g) graham crackers (two cellophane wrapped stacks)
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
1 pinch of kosher salt
1 14 ounce can (400g) sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups (250g) semisweet chocolate chips
2 cups mini marshmallows

1. Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. In a large resealable bag (or in a food processor), smash graham crackers until finely ground. I should have probably used the food processor, but it was strangely therapeutic to smash the bag of crackers with my fist. I call this "Free Therapy".
2. Stir in melted butter and salt. Press into a 13×9″ pan. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove from oven.
3. Sprinkle on chocolate chips. Drizzle can of condensed milk over graham crackers; follow with marshmallows.
4. Bake for 20 minutes more, until marshmallows are lightly browned. Let cool completely.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream

Hi, my name is Anna and I'm a hoarder. I am categorically incapable of sticking to grocery lists , I can never remember about the things I already have, and product placement most definitely works with me. I'll go into a store with a strict plan and I'll come out with a bunch of interesting finds without any plans on how to use them. As a second step on the road to recovery (the first was admitting that I have a problem), I am now going through the process of cleaning out my pantry. I made a promise to myself to not buy anything that's not on my very short list of perishables until I can see the back wall of the pantry. It's a daunting task, I've accumulated quite a variety of stuff.

One of these things is a giant jar of peanut butter. For some reason I keep buying it, even though I only occasionally make PB&J sandwiches (I usually lack bread). Well, no more. The peanut butter cake I made recently put a major dent in my supply and I further depleted the inventory by adding a Chocolate Peanut Butter ice cream to my repertoire. It has once again been inspired by the ever talented David Lebovitz. I started with his recipe for easy Peanut Butter ice cream, added some melted and cooled chocolate and upped the half and half amount to get the right texture. My ice cream machine has been getting quite a work out this summer and if this keeps up, I might have to invest in a bigger and better machine that does not require duct tape.

I have a few more ideas for the peanut butter, but the next challenge is...what to do with all the crushed pineapple cans?

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream
adapted from David Lebovitz, The Perfect Scoop

3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
3 cups half and half
4 ounces dark chocolate, melted and cooled to room temp
pinch of salt
1/8 tsp vanilla extract

Purée the peanut butter, sugar, half and half, chocolate, salt, and vanilla in a blender or food processor until smooth. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. That's it! Easiest recipe ever.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Watermelon Jam

Have you ever come across a recipe so unique and intriguing that you just had to run out and get everything you'd need to give it a try? Well, when Stef from Cupcake Project was searching for the best way to get the flavor of watermelon into a cupcake, her friend Marissa from Food in Jars got to work and came up with a watermelon jelly. Watermelon jelly say what? I had to try it. The ingredients were simple, and I always have watermelon within reach during the summer, so I ran home cut one up into chunks and got to work. I followed the recipe to the letter, but even two days later the contents of my jars still resembled more of a runny sauce then a nice thick jam or jelly. I think I got a bit nervous at the smell the jam was taking on and I may have not cooked it as long as I should have.

Once I was sure that it just will not set no matter how long I waited, I reopened all the jars and dumped everything back into the pot. I added a bit more lemon juice to try and cut the sweetness and boost up the pectin, and recooked the mess to 215F again, letting it boil for a bit longer then I was strictly comfortable with, but this time everything came out great! The jam set and I had 7 shiny jars of lovely jelly tasting quite strongly of watermelon. I'm already plotting "I know what you did last summer" desserts to make with it, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that my jam exchange partner will like it too.

Watermelon Jam

Watermelon Jelly
adapted from Food in Jars
makes about 7 eight ounce jars

6 cups pureed watermelon (remove any seeds prior to pureeing)
5 cups white sugar (I think next time I'd add 4 or less)
1/2 cup bottled or fresh lemon juice
1 packet powdered pectin

Combine watermelon puree, sugar and lemon juice in a large, non-reactive pot (anything but aluminum). Get one bigger than you think, you'll want plenty of space for things to foam up without overflowing. Bring to a boil and let it boil vigorously until the temperature of mixture reaches 220 degrees. Be sure to stir frequently, you don't want it to burn on the bottom. Add the powdered pectin and boil for another five minutes.

Remove from the heat and pour into clean, sterilized jars, leaving about a half inch of headspace. Wipe rims, apply lids and screw on bands. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

When time is up, remove from canner and let jars cool completely, preferably overnight. When they’re cool enough to handle, remove rings and test seals. You can eat immediately or store unopened jars in a cool, dark place for up to a year. Print up some pretty labels (I used the template from here found at this cool site) and start scheming.

The Jam Exchange

A few months ago, Steph over at Steph Chows posted about hosting her second jam exchange, and since I'm waist deep in jars of jam this summer, I thought it'd be fun to participate. A few weeks later I got an email telling me that my partner would be Evan, from Sweete Bakes and I immediately popped over to her blog to take a look around and see what sort of things she might like. I found out that we had a lot in common! We both made boozy blackberry jam, and in our back and forth emails we both agreed that every recipe can be improved by a splash of alcohol. Aside from some fantastic cake and cookie recipes I found over on her blog, I learned that she's also a little crazy like me when it comes to never saying no to a baking opportunity, though she does have me beat on the farthest traveling wedding cake delivery.

Gift Jam

Keeping all that in mind, I packed a jar of my Vanilla Bourbon Peach jam and a jar of a secret jam that I'm keeping a surprise until she gets her box, and dropped it in the mail. But she's so much more organized then I am and the very next day I had a box waiting with my mail when I got home. In it was a lovely note and two pretty jars of jam. A lovely blackberry blueberry port jam made with port from a local vineyard and an intriguing three pepper jam. I've been eating the blackberry jam in my pb&j sandwiches since last week and I'm planning to take her suggestion and try the pepper jam with fish, just as soon as this week's craziness dies down a bit. Thank you Evan!

Is it too early to sign up for next years exchange now?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Banana Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting

I love labor day weekend. It's the last long weekend where I can relax before the insanity of the holidays truly kicks in. It's one of the last weekends for BBQs here where the weather is starting to cool. I can finally turn off the AC and fling open the windows. It's the end of summer without quite feeling like the start of fall.

Peanut Butter Banana Cake

It's also the time when I no longer hesitate to turn on the oven, so I didn't even blink when my friend requested a cake for her husband's birthday, which was this past Sunday. "It must have peanut butter!" she said, and after a few emails back and forth we decided on a banana cake with peanut butter frosting (and a couple of ice creams, of course).

Peanut Butter Banana Cake 2

I have two simple recipes for peanut butter frosting, one of which I used a while back for my puppy cupcakes, but the banana cake would take a bit more research. I didn't want it to be as heavy as a banana bread. I wanted it more cakey, so when I found a recipe on Allrecipes with so many fantastic reviews, I thought I'd give it a try.

Peanut Butter Banana Cake 4

The cake came out great, and despite all the other food at the party, there was still a considerable dent made in the three layer cake. I even pulled out one of my pretty cake stands. Usually when I sell cakes or make them for parties I won't be attending, I don't want to worry about getting my containers or plates back, so I put the cakes on cardboard rounds and into cardboard boxes, but I have four cake plates that sit unused and unloved, waiting for a cake to be made that doesn't have to leave the house. It was nice to pull one down and give it purpose.

Peanut Butter Banana Cake 3

Banana Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting
recipe adapted from AllRecipes

Note: I increased the cake recipe to make 3 9-inch layers and I sort of made up the frosting to match, but be aware that this is a very rich cake, so serve a slice with a tall glass of milk.

3-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon and 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/2 pinches salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1-1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup and 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 eggs
6 ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup buttermilk

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 3 - 9 inch round pans.
- In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.
- In a large bowl, cream butter, white sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Mix in the bananas.
- Add flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk to the creamed mixture. Pour batter into the prepared pans.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

Peanut Butter Frosting
recipe by me

2 cups peanut butter
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream

Whip together the first 3 ingredients until smooth and a bit lightened. Slowly drizzle in the heavy cream until the frosting comes to the consistency you like. Feel free to add more sugar if you like things sweeter or of you want a bit of a thicker frosting. Spread a thin layer between the layers of the banana cake and use the rest to frost the top and sides.

If you keep the cake in the fridge, be sure to take it out and let come to room temp before serving. Also, if you like chocolate, I would also recommend possibly adding a layer of ganache into the middle of the cake.