Saturday, February 12, 2011

I Love Chocolate Cake

Nothing says love like chocolate. For me, I'm not too picky about what kind of chocolate, though the dark and milk varieties are my favorites. Chris, my brother Brett, and I once toured a real chocolate factory - Scharffen Berger - in San Francisco (which has now closed down), and it was like visiting heaven. We got a great education on chocolate that day, and although I have a great appreciation for Scharffen Berger's amazing chocolate, I'll take (eat) Hershey Kisses any day. I think Chris feels the same way, he being even more of a chocolate lover than I am. While that may be surprising, case in point, he would choose chocolate cake over a slice of apple pie any day. I'd probably go for the apple pie first because pie is one of my favorite foods, and then sneak a small slice of the cake afterwards. But I found a chocolate cake recipe that I've made twice now - just within the last 4 weeks. That's saying something because most chocolate cake recipes are just so-so. Not so-so with this one. The different kinds of chocolate, and I think the brown sugar, make it an amazing cake. So if you're looking for a chocolate cake recipe for your Valentine (or for any time, for that matter), here's a great one to make. Your sweetie will thank you.

Double Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake
(Courtesy of Daisy Brand)

1 cup cocoa
6 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate
3/4 cup boiling water
1 3/4 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
10 T. butter (1 1/4 sticks), softened
2 cups brown sugar
1 T. vanilla
5 eggs
1 1/2 cups Daisy Brand sour cream
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 heavy pinch powdered sugar *as needed


Set the butter out to soften at least an hour prior to baking.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 12-cup bundt pan with cooking spray. [Funny story: I found out the hard way that my bundt pan wasn't big enough when a waterfall of chocolate cake descended onto the bottom of my oven. Thank goodness for "self-cleaning" ovens, right? The second time was more successful. I put the extra batter into four smaller bundt cake molds. So be forewarned that this recipe definitely makes a lot of batter!]

Mix cocoa and chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Pour boiling water over chocolates and stir to melt. Let stand to cool (about 2 to 3 minutes). Meanwhile, combine flour, salt, and baking soda. Cream butter, brown sugar, vanilla until creamy. Add eggs to the butter mixture. Fold the sour cream into the cooled chocolate mixture. Add the flour mixture and the sour cream chocolate mixture to the butter mixture and blend. Add chocolate chips and stir to incorporate. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 55 minutes or until a inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool slightly before removing from pan. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve. *Optional – may serve with whipped cream, ice cream and drizzled with chocolate syrup.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A New Culinary Adventure: Baby Food

There it is -- one of my newest adventures in being a mom -- homemade baby food.

Butternut squash, to be exact. Packaged in neat, 2.5 oz. containers. Ready to eat. Gotta love that.

I'm happy with my efforts in making baby food since introducing solids to Claire over the last month, although this is about the simplest cooking I've ever done. Steam. Puree. Store. And it tastes good. (Yes, I've tried it - every time.)

(I have been using the Beaba Babycook which allows you to do all of that in one device, but obviously, you can make your own baby food without it. I do love it for the pure convenience factor.)

Claire has been particularly fond of butternut squash and sweet potatoes, but thankfully has eaten everything put in front of her so far. Even though she first snubbed carrots, she eats them now. We'll see how long that lasts, right?

A byproduct of introducing solids into her diet is that Chris and I have been eating more veggies. And one of my new favorite ways to eat butternut squash is through roasting. It's easy and makes for a delicious side dish. So while Claire is feasting on steamed and pureed squash, we will be enjoying it a different way.

Roasted Butternut Squash
(Courtesy of Whole Foods)

1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Halve the squash lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out and discard seeds.

If desired, peel with a vegetable peeler or cut into big chunks and keep steady on the cutting board while cutting off the peel with a knife.

Cut into 1-inch cubes. Transfer to a large, rimmed baking sheet. Toss with oil, salt and pepper and spread out in a single layer. Roast, tossing occasionally, until just tender and golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Love is in the Air

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake, a perfect Valentine's treat
It's hard to believe that January is over already. Of course, I find myself saying that every year. Is it me, or does time seem to go faster when you get older?

Now that it is the beginning of February, it's time to start looking forward to Valentine's Day. Yes, I said looking forward to. I know many people seem to feel the opposite of love towards this holiday, but regardless of whether or not I've had a Valentine, I've usually enjoyed it for the sweet treats that seem to magically appear in my home, whether I'm baking them, or someone's giving them to me. (Last year, Chris surprised me with some Bakeshop cupcakes, and yes, I still remember them. See, sweets are powerful things.)

So if you need something sweet for your sweetie, this Cranberry Upside-Down Cake is a festive and delicious choice. I loved how the cranberries and sugar caramelized during baking and oozed into the batter.  Put it together with the cake and you've got yourself a very tasty treat. While this is a pretty dessert, I think it would also be a nice dish to serve at breakfast or brunch. Enjoy!

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake
(Courtesy of Everyday Food Great Food Fast)

8 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar, divided
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1 3/4 cups cranberries (fresh, not canned)
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup milk
whipped cream, for serving (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, with a rack in the center. Rub the bottom and sides of an 8-inch round cake pan with 2 T. of the butter. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup of the sugar with the cinnamon and allspice. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the bottom of the pan; arrange the cranberries in a single layer on top.

With an electric mixer, cream the remaining 6 T. butter and 1/2 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla; beat until well combined. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk, until well combined.

Spoon the batter over the cranberries in the pan, and smooth the top. Place the pan on a baking sheet; bake the cake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the cake; invert onto a rimmed platter. Serve with whipped cream on the side, if desired.