A Sarcastic Appetite


Texas Sheet Cake
June 28, 2009, 9:31 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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I’m taking off in a few days for the 4th, but the Nutritional Ninja will be here all week, all by his lonesome self. I was feeling a little sorry for him, so I thought I’d leave him with some baked goods: a loaf of banana bread and this cake. And this cake…wow. It is really delicious. I should note that the photo above is already out of date, since a giant corner piece has already been removed and scarfed down by yours truly.

The most difficult part, to be perfectly honest, was tearing myself away from the retrospective of Michael Jackson music videos on MTV in order to do the actual baking required. But I managed…and by that I mean this took a lot longer than expected because every time “Billie Jean” came on I had to sit down and watch it. And did you know Marlon Brando made a cameo in “You Rock My World”? Me neither! And how about Eddie Murphy in “Remember the Time”!? Incredible!

ANYWAY.

Those Texans, they were not messing around when they made this cake. You will be unsurprised to learn that I picked this specifically because it is a one bowl cake (ok, technically one bowl and one saucepan, but who’s counting?), and is frosted and served from the pan in which it is baked. Make a quick chocolate butter icing and you’re all set. Now if that doesn’t dovetail nicely with my lazy cooking, I just don’t know what does. And did I mention it is really, really good?

Texas Sheet Cake

From Joy of Cooking.

2 c. sugar

2 c. flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 c. water

1/2 c. vegetable oil

1 stick butter

1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder

2 large eggs

1/2 c. buttermilk

1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 375º. Have everything at room temperature before beginning. Grease a 13 x 9″ pan well.

In a large bowl, whisk the sugar, flour, baking soda, and salt. In a saucepan, combine the water, vegetable oil, butter, and cocoa powder. Stir constantly, and bring to a boil. Pour it over the dry ingredients and stir everything until smooth. Allow to cool slightly. Then whisk in the eggs, buttermilk, and the vanilla.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in the pan on a rack, and then frost with Quick Chocolate Butter Icing, below.

Quick Chocolate Butter Icing

3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped (I used semisweet and it’s delicious)

3 tbsp. butter

1/4 c. half-and-half, cream, or milk

1 tsp. vanilla

2 c. confectioners’ sugar, sifted (or not, if you’re…lazy…)

Melt the butter and chocolate in the top of a double boiler. Remove from heat; stir in the half-and-half  and vanilla. Then beat in the sugar, little by little, and continue beating until spreadable.



Fifteen Minute Dinner: Mustard Chicken
June 27, 2009, 5:45 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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The story goes that my mother once made this when we were fairly young – but with veal scallops, as the recipe originally calls for – and I threw a fit, mooed petulantly through dinner, and refused to eat it. She later substituted chicken and it was a favorite in our house for many years, until she finally got sick of making it all the time. Now that we’re older and (slightly) more mature, I make it for Clay fairly often; it’s really simple, requires few ingredients, and when you put the whole thing over some fresh spinach that wilts slightly from the sauce, well, you’ve got a complete meal with little effort. Last time I made it, I let the Nutritional Ninja fend for himself in the carbs department. As far as I know he survived…

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Mustard Chicken

Serves 2. Adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook.

2 tbsp. butter

2 tbsp. olive oil

3 scallions, cleaned and chopped

2 chicken breasts, pounded to about 1/2″ thickness and seasoned with salt and pepper

1/3 c. dry white wine

1/3 c. Dijon mustard

1/3 c. heavy cream or half-and-half

More salt and freshly ground black pepper

About 2 c. fresh spinach, washed and dried

1 large, ripe tomato, seeded and diced

Melt the butter and oil over low heat. Add the scallions and cook over low heat for about 5 minutes, being careful not to let them brown. Raise the heat, add the chicken breasts, and cook (about 3-4 minutes per side). Remove the breasts to a plate and keep warm.

Add the wine to the skillet and bring to a boil; allow to reduce slightly. Whisk in the cream and mustard; taste, adding more salt and pepper as necessary, and then boil for about 2 minutes. Add the chicken breasts back in to reheat them and finish cooking if necessary  (if, for example, you weren’t paying attention and undercooked them).

Mound the spinach on two plates; top with the chicken breasts and plenty of mustard sauce and some fresh chopped tomato. Serve.



Restaurant Round-Up for the Week of June 25
June 25, 2009, 1:26 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I canvass the food blogs so you don’t have to. Here are some highlights:

If you’re still employed and you’ve got money to burn at Bloomingdale’s, well, at least you can pinch some pennies by eating nearby for less. Put that money toward something good, like buying me a new handbag.

Get your green on in the Port Authority’s new Greenmarket, now in its second week. Katchkie Farms will also be at the Rockefeller Plaza’s Greenmarket come July.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, there’s a whole bunch of rooftop bars to choose from this summer, so you can enjoy that refreshing Victory Prima Pils, uh, in the rain? NY Mag breaks it down.

Sora Lela ups the ante in the Recession-Friendly Happy Hour department: free food, inexpensive small plates, plus $10 cocktails, $8 wines, and $5 Peronis.

Via the Eater Dealfeed, Shorty’s .32 also enters the fray with a new deal: 3 sliders and a beer for $12, Tuesdays through Sunday, all night long.

Florent rises from the ashes! Well…sort of. It’ll have new owners and a brand-spanking new look, but the same chef. So that counts, right? The Feedbag has the details.

NY Mag has mapped out the High Line with neighboring watering holes, eateries, and shopping pitstops (it is, after all, the West Village) for a leisurely afternoon walk.

Blondie and Brownie checked out the new pop-up in Bryant Park sponsored by Southwest Airlines, and in partnership with ’wichcraft. They’ve got a couple sandwiches on the menu and some local brews, which you know I love: Six Point and Blue Point.



Raisin Oat Bran Muffins
June 21, 2009, 9:17 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Raisin Oat Bran Muffins

These are pretty self-explanatory. (As Clay said: “What do you even have to write about? They’re muffins!”) They’re not cornbread, which I’m a little sick of making, and they seem to fulfill the Nutritional Ninja’s repeated requests for more carbohydrates. I wanted something that was, ahem, vaguely healthier – though let’s not kid ourselves: I couldn’t be less interested in making something with applesauce and no sugar. In fact, I didn’t have the called for buttermilk…so I used half-and-half. Come to think of it, these might well be the unhealthiest raisin oat bran muffins of all time. Maybe that’s why they’re so good.

Raisin Oat Bran Muffins

Adapted from this Gourmet recipe.

2 c. flour

3/4 c. oat bran

1/4 c. sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

3/4 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

heaping 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 c. half-and-half

1/3 c. honey

1/2 stick butter, melted and cooled

2 large eggs

1 1/4 c. raisins

Preheat the oven to 375º. Grease, or fill with liners, a standard 12 cup muffin tin. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oat bran, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. In a small bowl, whisk the half-and-half, honey, melted butter, and eggs. Add the wet ingredients to the dry; stir in the raisins, and continue to stir until ingredients are just combined. Bake for about 18 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out almost completely clean.



Restaurant Round-Up for the Week of June 18
June 18, 2009, 7:04 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I canvass the foodblogs so you don’t have to. Here are some highlights:

Pete Wells makes the case for some serious drinking at Mayahuel. Apparently the “tight quarters discourage rowdiness,” but I’d be willing to give it the old varsity try if you are…

Alto in Midtown just opened an outdoor café – not that you can really enjoy it in this weather.

From the Eater Dealfeed: Allegretti enters the Recession Ring throwing punches. Their new drink deal? Half off all wine and cocktails, daily from 5pm to 7pm on weekdays, not to mention a new $39 three course prix fixe.

If you missed the Big Apple Barbecue, either on purpose or otherwise, fork over for a ticket to the James Beard Foundation’s Legends of Barbecue dinner in August. Tickets are a cool $165, but let’s face it: you can’t put a price on Ed manhandling an entire hog, not to mention the okra poppers and hush puppies I spy on the menu…

More drink deals from the Eater Dealfeed: Allen & Delancey rolls out a new $25 cocktail pitcher for weekend brunches – the selection will change weekly, according to bartender Alex Day’s whims.

UWS newcomer Bar Luna’s opening is delayed until next week; word on the street is the chef went AWOL. Hopefully new chef Jacques Belanger will stick it out at least through the opening party….



Bittman’s West African Peanut Soup With Chicken
June 15, 2009, 9:15 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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A week ago, Clay filed a request that I make more carbohydrate-friendly dinners, (“60% carbs and 40% protein”) because as someone who claimed to be doing a “low-carb” diet, he was worried his body was in a “catabolic state, using protein as carbs,” and would I please do something about it already??

Hmmph.

So I grudgingly set aside several hours one night last week to make a big batch of bolognese sauce and a loaf of banana bread. But he seemed particularly hell-bent on adding sweet potatoes into his newfangled diet, so I kept my eyes peeled for a recipe that would satisfy both of us.

Lo and behold, Mark Bittman saved the day – with the added bonus that his recipe required plenty of peanut butter, and would make use of that chicken stock I had lying around. I couldn’t find kale, so I substituted swiss chard, and merely cooked it for less time, about 4 minutes. The nice part about this soup is that it comes together relatively easily and quickly; for every successful soup or stew I’ve made, another one has gone down in infamy for having rock-hard meat or potatoes even after hours of simmering on the stove. All told, this was really a breeze; I made only very minor adjustments along the way.

My only quibble? The broth in the end result has the unfortunate distinction of resembling, well, dirty dishwater. But the greens and the potatoes are still vibrant, and once you throw some of those peanuts on there, well, you can’t really resist. Something tells me this will be even better tomorrow. Guess there’s only one way to find out…

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West African Peanut Soup with Chicken

From the New York Times.

Serves 4, supposedly, but I’ve got enough to serve more like 6.

3/4 c. roasted peanuts

2 tbsp. canola oil

1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

2 tbsp. minced fresh ginger

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks and sprinkled with salt and pepper

1 dried red chili, crushed (I used about 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes instead)

lots of salt and ground black pepper

6 c. chicken stock

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced

8 plum tomatoes, cored and halved

1/2 lb. kale (or swiss chard, really, it’s ok) washed well and cut into ribbons

3/4 c. natural peanut butter, either chunky or smooth

Roughly chop the peanuts; set aside. Add the oil to a stock pot (unless you’ve got a saucepan big enough to hold all that; I sure don’t) and let it heat up for about a minute before adding the onion, ginger, and garlic. Stir until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the chicken and cook for about 5 minutes, until browned on all sides. Add 1/2 c. of the peanuts and the chili (or the red pepper flakes), and lots of salt and pepper.

Add the chicken stock and the sweet potatoes; bring to a boil and then simmer until the chicken’s cooked through and the potatoes are almost fork tender, about 10-12 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and kale or swiss chard, and the peanut butter. Cook until the greens are cooked through and the sweet potatoes are fork tender, about 4 minutes. Add more peanut butter if you feel so inclined; serve in bowls and garnish with remaining peanuts and more freshly ground black pepper.



Coconut Birthday Cake
June 14, 2009, 5:27 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

A couple of weeks ago I decided to bake my own birthday cake for the occasion (it was last week for those of you who are keeping track). Most people I told gave me a very puzzled, saddened look, as if baking one’s own cake were equivalent to revealing one’s plans for eating dinner alone on Christmas Eve. “Really? You really want to do that? You really can’t think of a better way?”

Nope.

The last yellow cake I made was a one-bowler out of Joy of Cooking and it ended up on the dry side. The, um, bone dry side. That, and the fact that the chocolate frosting didn’t come together like it was supposed to….it was kind of a disaster. So I returned to the classic four egg/cholesterol extravaganza cake, a long and involved concoction that requires about 75 bowls and cleaning the beaters midway through and cream of tartar and all that stuff. But it works. I baked them two days ahead, folding some shredded, sweetened coconut in there, and laying all of my hopes and dreams for a moist cake on a simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, heated until the sugar dissolves and then allowed to cool) that I would brush over the cakes before frosting them on the big day.

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As for the frosting, well, after all that I wish I had stuck with the usual classic vanilla. I made 7-minute frosting for the first time, and while it worked and everyone liked it, it looked like Fluff. I do not like Fluff. Plus it wasn’t, dare I say, sweet enough or vanilla-y enough for my taste. But it was good.

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I was smart enough to remember the “crumb coating” business when frosting it, though not smart enough to have frozen the cakes immediately after baking them – one had a jagged crack down the middle and barely held itself together under all that frosting. Duly noted. If I had any talent in this department, I might have split the 2 layers into 4 and really let loose with that frosting, but unfortunately I can’t be trusted with long serrated knives and cutting straight lines. Maybe next time. I also was needlessly sparing with the simple syrup, delicately brushing it on when I should have slathered it. That cake needed a little extra moisture, though it was not, thankfully, anywhere in the neighborhood of bone dry.

So now for the final reveal, since I know you’re just on the edge of your seat and can’t handle the suspense for much longer:

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Photo credit: Mary. Thanks!

My, my, my, that is a good looking cake. Let’s all hug. And happy birthday to me!

Four Egg Yellow Cake

From Joy of Cooking. Makes 2 nine-inch layers, which can become 4 if you’re a whiz with long knives.

2 2/3 c. sifted cake flour

2 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 c. milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. almond extract

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 c. sugar

4 large eggs, divided separately into yolks and whites

3/4 c. shredded sweetened coconut

1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

1/4 c. sugar

Have everything at room temperature before beginning Pre-heat the oven to 325º. Butter and flour the cake pans.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt well together in a small bowl. Combine the milk and the extract in a measuring cup. Beat the butter until creamy, then add the 1 1/2 c. sugar little by little, beating it on high speed until light and fluffy. Don’t mess around here! This can take ten minutes, easily.

Beat in the egg yolks one by one. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the milk in 2 parts. Beat until smooth. Fold in the shredded coconut. Now clean your beaters.

Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar in a large bowl until soft peaks form. Add the 1/4 c. sugar until the peaks are stiff but not dry. Use a rubber spatula to fold in one quarter of the egg whites, then follow with the rest of the mixture. Bake about 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. (I bake at 325 for longer so the cakes don’t rise as much.)

Seven-Minute White Icing

3 large egg whites

1 1/2 c. sugar

1/3 c. cold water

1 tbsp. light corn syrup

1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

1 tsp. vanilla

Combine the egg whites, sugar, water, corn syrup, and cream of tartar in a heatproof bowl, beating until well blended. Set the bowl over (but not touching) a pan of rapidly boiling water. Beat constantly until the mixture stands in stiff peaks, seven minutes. (Set your oven timer. Ok, ok, mine took eight minutes.)

Remove from heat, adding the vanilla, then continue beating until the mixture cools to room temperature. Use immediately.

Once you’ve frosted the cake, mound shredded sweetened coconut all over the top and sides. Now we’re talking!