"Food is our common ground, a universal experience." - James Beard

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Triple Chocolate Layer Cake

This is one of the first layer cakes that I ever made. It's a great one to start with if you've never made a layer cake before because the frosting isn't too difficult to make. Some chocolate cakes use a boiled icing (I once almost set my kitchen on fire making boiled icing!). This recipe comes from Easy Cakes and is really yummy!

Triple Chocolate Layer Cake
Cake Ingredients:
3 cups self-rising flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
a good pinch of salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup sunflower oil
2 extra-large eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, plus extra to decorate (or you can use shaved chocolate for a more elegant look)

Frosting Ingredients:
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/4 cup milk (whole milk works best for baking but 2% will work if you have it!)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make the cake, sift the flour, cocoa, salt, and sugar into a large bowl, and make a hollow in the center. Pour the oil, beaten eggs, milk, and vanilla into the hollow in the dry ingredients - mix gradually with a wooden spoon. Add the chocolate chips and stir well. Divide the mixture between the 3 prepared pans (use 3 pans that are each 8 or 9 inches in diameter - grease the bottoms and line with parchment paper).

Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes, the carefully invert onto a wire rack and let cook completely.

Meanwhile, to make the frosting, put the soft butter in a bowl and use a wooden spoon or electric mixer to beat until creamy. Gradually beat in the confections' sugar, cocoa, milk, and vanilla to make a thick, smooth frosting.

When the cakes are completely cold, use the frosting to layer them. Spread about one-sixth of the frosting on the top of one cake. Gently set a second cake on top and spread with another one-sixth of the frosting. Top with the last cake, then coat the top and sides with the rest of the frosting. Decorate with extra chocolate chips.

Store in an airtight container and eat within 4 days.
(Image from MarthaStewart.com)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Berry Trifle

This is great summer-time dessert! The fresh berries and lemon curd give the dish a refreshing taste. Next time I might even try adding some mint leaves. It calls for a store-bought poundcake, but if you have time you can make your own. I used this pound cake recipe in my trifle. If you prefer, you could certainly use lady fingers or angel food cake in place of the pound cake.

Berry Trifle
by: Tyler Florence
Berries -
1 pint blueberries
1 pint strawberries, hulled and cut into thick slices
2 pint raspberries
1 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

Lemon Cream -
1 pint whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (11-ounce) jar lemon curd
1 cup store bought pound cake, slices 1/2-inch thick

Place the berries into a large bowl and sprinkle with half of the lemon juice. Lightly toss.
Combine the berries, sugar, cornstarch and remaining lemon juice in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer and cook just until the berries begin to break down and give up their juices, about 3 minutes. Take the berries off the heat and let cool; the mixture should thicken up as is cools.
In a clean bowl, whip the cream with the powdered sugar and the vanilla to soft peaks. Put the lemon curd into a second bowl and stir in a little of the whipped cream to loosen it. Then fold in the rest of the cream.
To assemble the trifle, spoon a layer of the lemon cream into a large glass bowl. Add a layer of pound cake, breaking the slices into pieces that fit. Then soak the cake with a layer of berries and their juices. Keep going to make 3 or 4 more layers, depending on the size of the bowl, finishing with a layer of lemon cream. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pork Chops with Fennel and Caper Sauce

This recipe may seem a little complicated, but it actually did not take very long to prepare. Kent and I love Mediterranean food but usually end up sticking to the same flavors. We had not cooked with fennel much before and really loved the way this dish turned out! The leftovers were great! We used 6 smaller pork chops instead of 4 large ones and cooked them for less time.

Pork Chops with Fennel and Caper Sauce
(From Giada de Laurentiis)
1/4 cup olive oil
4 boneless (2-inch-thick) pork chops (about 2 pounds total)
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning meat
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning meat
2 fennel bulbs with fronds, thinly sliced (about 8 ounces or 2 cups)
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus 1/3 cup
1/2 cup white wine
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with their juices
1/2 lemon, zested
2 tablespoons capers

In a large, heavy skillet heat the olive oil over high heat. Season the pork chops with salt and pepper. Add the pork to the pan and brown on both sides, about 4 minutes each side. Remove the pork from the pan, cover loosely with foil, and set aside.
Add the fennel, shallots, and 1/3 cup parsley to the pan and cook over medium heat until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the wine. Using a wooden spoon, scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the tomatoes and stir. Add the pork back into the pan, nestling the chops between the fennel and tomatoes so they are mostly submerged in the pan juices. Cook until the fennel is tender and the pork is done, about 12 to 15 minutes.

Place the pork on a serving dish. To finish the sauce, add the lemon zest, remaining 1/3 cup parsley, capers, and 3/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Spoon over the pork chops and serve immediately.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Garlic and Herb Tomatoes

Kent and I did a lot of cooking this weekend - so be on the lookout for some new recipes this week! My tomato plants have been doing really well (with the exception of the plant that Jack tore in half when he got scared because my watering bucket broke and shattered all over the back porch!). So I wanted to use all of the tomatoes I picked while they were good. This recipe from Ina Garten is really simple and tastes very fresh. It could be served as a side or as an appetizer.

Garlic and Herb Tomatoes
3 tablespoons good olive oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
2 pints cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a saute pan large enough to hold all the tomatoes in one layer. Add the garlic to the oil and cook over medium heat for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, basil, parsley, thyme, salt, and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to loose their firm round shape. Sprinkle with a little fresh chopped basil and parsley and serve hot or at room temperature.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Twice Baked Potatoes

I have always loved twice baked potatoes! I've used these ingredients to make twice baked potatoes in the past, but usually end up changing the amounts around a little bit to get the right consistency. Sometimes I add buttermilk or heavy cream if I have it. I have also used the same ingredients (doubled) to make a casserole. You can always add a little extra flavor by adding seasoning or an herb (like dill or rosemary) and a different cheese (like Parmesan). If you use small potatoes and half them, they could make great appetizers!

Twice Baked Potatoes
4 large russet potatoes, each about 3/4 pound each, scrubbed and dried
2 to 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup sour cream
1 scallion, finely chopped
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the potatoes directly on the rack in the center of the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Pierce each potato in a couple spots with a fork and continue to bake until tender, about 30 minutes more. Remove potatoes from the oven, and turn the heat down to 375 degrees F.

Hold the potato with an oven-mit or towel, trim off the top of the potatoes to make a canoe-like shape. Carefully scoop out most of the potato into a bowl. Take care to leave enough potato in the skin so the shells stay together. Mash the potato lightly with fork along with 2 to 3 tablespoons of the butter and sour cream. Stir in the scallion and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Season the skins with salt and pepper. Refill the shells with the potato mixture mounding it slightly. Sprinkle the cheese on top of the potato filling.

Set the potatoes on a baking sheet, and bake until heated through, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Note 6/27 - I made this as a casserole last week. The flavors were great, but I had forgotten that the potatoes can be really difficult to mash. You may want to consider using a food processor if you want really smooth potatoes!

Friday, June 11, 2010

City Grocery Shrimp and Grits

City Grocery is a wonderful restaurant in downtown Oxford, Mississippi on the square. Head chef and owner, John Currence, is a celebrated chef throughout the South and contributing editor for Garden and Gun magazine. He won the 2009 James Beard Best Southern Chef award. He also owns Boure (Southern Cajun food) and Big Bad Breakfast (breakfast food - and lots of it). For those of you in Birmingham, word is that there will be a new restaurant opening in Mountain Brook by an Oxford native that models Big Bad Breakfast with its fresh local ingredients and original recipes. This recipe of Shrimp and Grits is probably City Grocery's most famous dish. I promise it will be a new favorite!

City Grocery Shrimp and Grits
1-cup quick-cook grits
4 Tbs. Unsalted butter
¾ cup extra-sharp white cheddar
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 ½ Tbs paprika
1 tsp Tabasco
Salt and pepper to taste

2 cups chopped smoked bacon
3 Tbs olive oil
1 ½ lbs. of 26-30 count shrimp (peeled)
Salt and black pepper to taste
3 tsp minced garlic
3 cups sliced white mushrooms
3 tbs white wine
2 Tbs lemon juice
2 cups sliced scallions

Cook grits according to instructions on package. As grits are finishing, whisk in butter, cheddar, Parmesan, cayenne, paprika and Tabasco. After all ingredients are incorporated, season with salt and pepper. Keep warm until shrimp are ready.

Cook bacon until it begins to brown; remove from heat, strain and reserve bacon grease and bacon bits.

Heat a large skillet until very hot, and add olive oil and 2 tbs bacon fat. As oil begins to smoke, toss in shrimp to cover bottom of pan. Before stirring, season with salt and pepper.

Stir until shrimp begin to turn pink all over (let pan return to original hot temperature).

Stir in minced garlic and bacon bits, being careful not to burn garlic. Toss in mushrooms, and coat with oil briefly.

Add lemon juice and wine; stir for 30 seconds or until everything is well coated.

Assuming that this is ready to be served, toss in sliced scallions and stir for about 30 seconds. (If these are added too long before serving, they will begin to turn brown and loose their crunch).

Serve over cheese grits.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Tuesday's Tips

I baked a pound cake yesterday for a neighbor and it reminded me of a few good tips to share that might make your baking a little easier.

1. When baking a cake, you'll know it's ready to take out of the oven when you can stick a toothpick in it and it comes out clean. Then, let it rest for 10 minutes before turning it out of the pan. It you don't let it cool any, it will probably fall apart when you turn it out. If you let it cool too much, it will stick to pan and not look very pretty (this has happened to me several times!).

2. Always break your eggs one at a time into a clear dish and then add them to your mixture. I had been hearing this for a long time before I really understood the importance of this step. One time in college I was baking a cake (and had just enough ingredients) and was cracking the eggs directly into the batter. One of these eggs was red on the inside, which seems to mean that some blood vessels popped while the egg was developing. Apparently, these are not dangerous to eat - but I certainly didn't want to eat it! So I had to throw all of the batter out! You should also look for any pink or green/blue tints which would mean that the eggs are spoiled. Cloudy egg whites generally mean that the eggs are extremely fresh, but some people prefer to stay away from those as well.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

La Paz's Guacamole

La Paz is a wonderful Mexican restaurant in Crestline Village in Mountain Brook. Their food is always really fresh. Kent came across this recipe so I thought I would share! If you've never made gaucamole, it's really easy and definitely better than buying it from the store.

La Paz's Guacamole
6 Hass avocados, peeled and seeded
3/4 cup diced fresh tomatoes
1 cup diced white onions
1/2 cup diced green chiles
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 tablespoon granulated garlic
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/4 tablespoon black pepper
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh jalapeno
1/8 cup fresh lime juice

Mash avocados with fork or potato masher. Add remaining ingredients. Serve immediately. Note: Use avocados at room temperature

Notes from Anna - If you don't have granualted garlic, just mince one small garlic clove. Also, if you like guacamole creamier, add a little sour cream.
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