Thursday, October 6, 2016

Birthday Cake Bonanza (or "You want me to do what with that cookie dough?")

I say often that one of the greatest joys in my life is cooking and baking for the people I love. Today is no exception.  It is my wife’s birthday, so cake is a must. 

The road to this cake started a couple of years ago when my friend Carolyn introduced me to the baking blog SprinkleBakes.  It is full of incredibly creative recipes and techniques, one of which is the Chocolate Chip Cookies and Milk cake.  I’d long wanted to try it, but for some reason, the cake itself didn’t really appeal to me.  It was the filling and the frosting that kept nagging at me.  Chocolate chip cookie dough filling and a boiled milk frosting.  (WHAAAAT? I know, right?)

Fast forward to last week when I asked my wife what kind of cake she wanted for her birthday.  She loves asking me to bake something I’ve always wanted to try, but I can be stubborn and want it to be all about her. So, like any successful married couple, we compromised.  She asked for chocolate cake and left the rest up to me.

Then it hit me.  Chocolate cake with that filling and frosting!!  It could be incredible!!

I didn’t want to fall back on my usual chocolate cake, which is a chocolate stout cake.  It’s heavy and dense and would be too much with this combination of adornments.

So I turned to the internet and found an interesting sounding cake on the King Arthur Flour website.  It’s just called “Moist Chocolate Cake.”  What intrigued me about this recipe is that it called for both butter and vegetable oil.  The description said it had a fine, moist crumb that you could pick up with the back of your fork, which is something both my wife and I do to clean the cake crumbs off the plate.  Perfect, I thought.  That is it.

The cake turned out light and yet had a very tight crumb.  And the method of mixing was very odd to me. I’ve never come across a cake that you mix like this one. I was so confused that I started mixing it wrong. I sifted all the dry ingredients into a bowl and set it aside.  Then I was flummoxed by the fact that I couldn’t get the butter and vegetable oil to mix until it looked like sand (read the recipe. Have a laugh at my expense). Because I couldn’t get that the recipe wanted me to dump all of the dry ingredients into the mixer bowl, then add the butter and vegetable oil (interesting, right? Both butter AND oil) and mix it until it looked like sand.  Then add all the liquid (coffee, milk and vanilla) in one fell swoop.  And lastly, add the eggs one at a time (at least that seemed normal).

The cake turned out beautifully.  It was amazingly light and a tight, even crumb. Mine turned out a little crumbly because I used spelt flour in deference to my wife’s wheat sensitivity. But with regular cake flour, that’d be a stunningly unique cake. Definitely putting this one in my arsenal.

And then we come to the filling. Chocolate chip cookie dough? Really?  Oh, yeah, baby. Really.  Thanks to SprinkleBakes, a wonderfully creative baking blog, I saw this as a possibility for the first time. It’s pretty much regular cookie dough, but without eggs or other leavening, then thinned with heavy cream to spreading consistency and speckled with mini chocolate chips to make it easier to spread.  Oh my gods, it is good. I have a little leftover…I may have to put that in some ice cream.

The most unfamiliar item in this cake equation was the frosting. Boiled milk frosting. I was intrigued. Such a strange recipe. Frosting with flour in it?  What? 

You start with a little flour, some milk and salt. You cook that until it gets thick, kind of like a béchamel without butter. Then you let it cool while you beat AN ENTIRE POUND OF BUTTER and two cups of confectioner’s sugar and some vanilla until fluffy.  Then you add the flour & milk goop, which is now actually the consistency of pudding a tablespoon at a time, beating it well.  When it’s all together, you beat it for 6 minutes.  Magically, in that time, the grit of the sugar disappears and the frosting comes out light and smooth and tasting like vanilla pudding. And it’s so beautifully white.  It’s alchemy, I swear.

And the combination of the cake, the filling and the frosting? Holy moly! I may have met my match.  It is so rich, even a small piece was almost too much.  Almost.  It was definitely worthy of a special birthday for the most special person in my life.

If you want to try some recipes that are a little bit off the beaten path, I highly recommend these, together or separately. 

For the cake, look at the King Arthur Flour company’s recipe for their Moist Chocolate Cake:

For the filling and frosting, check out the SprinkleBakes Chocolate Chip Cookies and Milk cake recipe here:

On another note, it feels good to be back in the saddle. Stay tuned for some more regular thoughts on restaurants and cooking and baking and other food related stuff.  Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, September 29, 2014

All Hail the Mighty Clove! (or Soup's On!)

Fall has officially fallen here in the Seattle area.  Hallelujah!

Can I get an amen?

Thank you.

Fall means many things to us here in the great PNW. For some it means the coming of all things pumpkin-flavored.  Beer, coffee, donuts.  You name it, you can probably find it flavored with pumpkin somewhere around here.

For others, Fall means the beginning of the 9-month battle with their horse-chestnut tree. One might refer to this time of year as conker season.

Still others might call it root vegetable season.

Today, I dub it Soup Season! Why? Because I am sick with a cold and I need soup.

Because nothing my wife suggested for dinner today sounded good to me, I am making my favorite soup of all, garlic soup.  So chock full of garlic cloves that you might think I'm trying to get rid of a vampire (I wouldn't do that. I'd invite him or her to my favorite all-night coffee shop for a chat.).

The beauty of this soup is that it is so simple and so satisfying. I will warn you, though. It is not for the carb-conscious among us.

Garlic Soup (from 365 Italian Recipes)

2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
12 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered (or more if you desire)
6 slices of crusty Italian bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup dry red wine
6 cups low sodium chicken stock
2 tbsp chopped parsley
4 eggs
parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

In a soup pot, heat the olive oil and butter on medium heat until the butter foams. Add the garlic to the pot and stir for 1-2 minutes. Do not let the garlic brown.  Add the bread cubes and stir or toss to coat.  Next, pour in the wine and chicken stock and toss in the parsley, stirring to combine.  Turn up the heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

Crack the each egg into a small bowl and slip directly into the soup, cover and simmer 3-4 minutes or until the eggs are set to your liking. I tend to like mine on the soft side.  The goal is to have a runny egg yolk to break in your soup bowl. (I know. Sexy, right?) 

Serve in bowls with one egg per serving. Top with grated parmesan. Devour.

This soup is something that I eat less often than I used to because it is a LOT of bread. But, man oh man, does it taste good when it's cold outside or when you're not feeling well, like my family and I were today.

Surprisingly, the garlic power is not intense. The garlic gets poached in the broth and comes out soft and sweet. Plus the egg yolk gives it a gorgeous richness. 

After that soft cooked egg in that garlicky, bready soup, you can just take me to bed.

Really. I feel like crap. Take me to bed.

Good night, y'all.  Hug someone you love tonight.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


What do I remember about September 11, 2001?

I remember coming downstairs and making coffee and toast, then turning on the news as usual. I thought it was odd that Peter Jennings was on in the morning. Then I watched in horror as the second tower was hit. And again as they started to fall.

I remember conversations with people on the bus into town, people I saw every day but had never spoken to before then.
I remember the sudden fear when I learned about the Pentagon and the three hours of worry until I found out that my friend who worked there was okay.

I remember recording a special message on my company’s inbound message, saying that ‘due to the national tragedy, we are closed for business today.’  It seemed odd to go home in the middle of the day, but no one could work. And since we were in a high rise, it was being recommended that the building be empty anyway.

I remember the eerie stillness walking around the neighborhood where I lived. We were in the flight path of SeaTac airport. Since all flights were grounded that day, the streets were disturbingly quiet.

At the time, I was the music director for a show in the Seattle area, a review of Richard Rodgers songs. Of course, the song ‘Manhattan’ was on the list. We met, the cast and production staff, to discuss whether we should remove the song from the show, leave it in and change nothing, or write a short intro to the song mentioning the tragedy and do the song.

We decided on the last choice because we all thought in unconscionable to ignore what had happened. It would undoubtedly be on everyone’s mind and it just seemed wrong to gloss over it.

It was a hard night for all of us, but mostly for the actor who introduced the song and then the two who performed it. There wasn’t a dry eye on stage, backstage or in the house. The song is a happy one, but now it was burnished, darkened by the horrible things that had transpired. It was hard to sing about love and frivolity in that place that had so recently been visited by such tragedy.

But it was a reminder, too, that we all must go on. We must move forward and celebrate the life we have, to find beauty and love in the world.

I still have a hard time listening to ‘Manhattan’ without tearing up.

With the perspective of time, I am saddened now by the actions of the politicians who, ‘in the country’s best interest’, acted in haste and with emotion, rather than with careful thought. Many congresspeople who voted against the Patriot Act received death threats for voting their conscience.

Another tragedy of 9/11/2001 is that it exposed the sickening underbelly of our political system. For many, including myself, that day ultimately turned the word ‘patriot’ into a dirty word. And ‘Homeland Security’ has turned out to be just another den of spies with their eyes and ears turned inward towards its own citizens.

Efforts to try and bring together people of all faiths and to try and heal the great gash in that New York Island have been met with hostility at worst and disdain at the least. And fearmongers have used that day to divide my country’s citizenry even further than they already were.

I find myself appalled that a person I call a friend now received death threats on that very morning and lost many friends, just because of her religion. I didn’t know her then, but I am happy to know her now. She is a wise lady and has taught me much about faith and joy in the face of so much hate.

It’s not all doom and gloom, of course. There are some good things that are gaining ground. In 2001, I would not have been able to marry the woman I now call my legal wife. There are still many vocal opponents to that, but their voices are being drowned out.

Being who I am, with my rose-colored glasses, I have to believe that the world will be a better place as we look to the future. It is hard some days. There are daily reminders of the struggle to make it better for everyone.

If we believe, if we have faith, we can move forward. We can have a brighter future.

Can’t we?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

For Mr. Williams

This is not food related, but I wanted to share it. It was inspired by the thunderstorms that happened in Puget Sound last night, the loss of a great actor and comedian, and the profound sadness of many, including myself.  

For Mr. Williams

The Heavens open to receive 
The robin flying upwards, pulling
The ache from my chest. 

The Heavens weep as they receive
The broken, beautiful soul from
The infinite space of this nutshell

Where he was a king. 

Summer Alchemy, or Plums, part 2

The plums from a few weeks ago became too ripe to eat before they went bad, so I took the couple of pounds we had and made a simple, no pectin jam out of them. 
Apparently, plums make me want to write poetry. So here is the second one. If I can manage a third, does that make a series? 

Summer Alchemy (Plums, part 2)

Bubbling in the cauldron
Mass of yellow pulp
Distilling to a thick,
sweet, pungent,
golden memory 
of a summer

Monday, August 11, 2014

This is dedicated to the one I love

This past Wednesday was a special day, my wife's and my first wedding anniversary and the 10th anniversary of our first date.  With the celebration coming on a weeknight, we knew it would be difficult to get child care for the evening, plus we didn't want to be out late on a 'school night', so we decided to cook a special meal at home.

In a lot of ways, it reminded us of when we were dating. I used to cook things deliberately to impress her. Like making whipped cream with nothing but a bowl and a whisk. (Yes, I know professionals do this all the time. I bet they use it to impress dates, too.)  It still impresses her, but the tendonitis in my elbow isn't very impressed by it anymore.  

As I said, it was a weeknight, so while we wanted something special for dinner, we also wanted something that would be simple to prepare.  After a long, busy day, the last thing we wanted was to have to cook a complicated meal.

Typically we go for a nice steak on these kinds of occasions, but since we had been grilling tri-tip almost every weekend this summer, steak just didn't cut it this time.

Coincidentally, I had recently unearthed a piece of smoked salmon that was in our freezer.  I thought back to a cooking class I took with our friend Marty a few years ago.  That night, we learned how simple it is to make a nice cream sauce.  The plan was formulating.

Pasta with smoked salmon cream sauce.  Oh yeah.  That's right. 

So simple and so incredibly easy, it was all ready in about half an hour.

First, we thawed the beautiful piece of smoked salmon we'd purchased from our friend Shannon, proprietor and fishing boat captain of Two if By Seafoods.  She catches the fish herself, has it smoked to her specifications (about 50% less salt and sugar than regular cures) and then sells it to friends and at local farmers markets.  It is the best smoked salmon I have ever eaten.  (This is hot smoked, so the fish is fully cooked, not lox-style, incidentally.) Really, if you are local, you should get some. Check them out on Facebook. 

When you have the best ingredients, simple treatments are best way to show them off. 

Pasta with Smoked Salmon Cream Sauce - served 2 entree portions

1 cup chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream (local and organic will have a better flavor)
4 - 5 oz. northwest-style smoked salmon (not lox)
freshly ground black pepper

about 5 oz. dried fettuccine or other medium-width noodle

Set a large skillet on medium high heat (I used my 12" saute pan).  Pour in the stock and cream, stirring to combine.  Let the liquid come up to the boil, then turn the flame down to medium or medium-low to maintain a good simmer. Where you end up setting your burner will depend on your cooktop.  Err on the side of caution if you are nervous. A slightly lower temperature will just mean it takes a few extra minutes for your sauce to thicken.

Let the sauce simmer, stirring occasionally, until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.  (What does that mean? Well, if you swish a metal spoon in the sauce, getting the back of the spoon covered with the sauce, the sauce should stick to the back of the spoon in a layer thick enough that when you swipe your finger through it, it leaves a line.) It'll take about 10-20 minutes depending on how fast your simmer is simmering.

While your sauce is simmering, cook your pasta according to the package directions. I used a thin egg noodle, about the width of a thin fettucine, but not as thin as linguine.  You want something for the sauce to cling to.
Drain your cooked pasta, reserving a little pasta water in case your sauce thickens a little too much. 

When your cream/stock mixture coats the back of a spoon, toss in your flaked salmon, stir to distribute, then dump in the pasta, tossing it with the sauce.

If you are looking to impress a date, you could do the chef thing and toss the pasta using the skillet.  If you are concerned about dinner landing on the floor, you might want to just use tongs. I was tired and hungry that night...I used tongs.

Divide your pasta between plates, put a little shaved parmesan on if you want (though you don't have to...there is enough salt from the salmon and most people don't believe in cheese with fish), maybe a little parsley for color, and you're done. 

We served ours with a side of baby carrots roasted with olive oil and agave syrup.  This is also lovely with maple syrup, just a little to help them caramelize.
Pour a couple of glasses of your favorite beverage and enjoy a simple, impressive, romantic meal.

I have always thought that Nancy and I make a good team.  We have, since we started dating 10 years ago, had an uncanny ability to think something that a moment later comes out of the other's mouth. 

We have built a life together by relying on each other's strengths and working together.  This meal was no exception. The pasta dish was my idea, my creation.  The carrots were hers.  And the rosé she randomly picked up at the store was a beautiful, bright complement to the meal.  Light, tart and fruity, just enough punch to cut through the fat of the sauce, but not too much to overpower the delicate smokiness of the fish.

So here's to our wonderful anniversary meal and to you, my love.  May we continue to make beautiful meals and a beautiful life together.

Thanks for stopping by. 

Enjoy a meal with someone you love. It'll make your soul smile.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A bit of silliness in response to William Carlos Williams - That is just to say

This has been poking at me for a couple of days, so I finally decided to write it down. It is because of a Twitter conversation and a picture of a bowl of yellow plums. 

#Just Sayin' (or GET OFF MY PLUMS)
for @exitthelemming 

I awoke in
the morning
having dreamt of
the plums

Which I 
was definitely 
for breakfast

I am left with
a bowl
so empty
and so tepid