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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Red Velvet Cake

A strikingly looking cake with an unexpected hint of chocolate flavor. Its only caveat is that you are left with a lot of bowls to wash. It's all worth it, though :). Recipe from Joy of Baking, of course.


For the cake:
2 1/2 cups (250 g) flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons (15 g) Dutch-processed cocoa powder*
1/2 cup (113 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (300 g) sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (240 ml) buttermilk**
2 tablespoons liquid red food coloring
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda

* As a substitute use 2 tablespoons natural cocoa and throw in a pinch of baking soda.
** Or, to make your own, stir 1 tablespoon of vinegar into 1 cup of milk, and let it sit for 10 minutes before using.

For the frosting:
1 1/2 cups (360 ml) heavy whipping cream
16 oz (450 g) cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (115 g) confectioners' (icing or powdered) sugar


For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C) and place rack in center of oven.
Butter two 9 inch (23 cm) round cake pans and set them aside.
In a mixing bowl sift (this is one of those recipes where sifting *is* important!) together the flour, salt, and cocoa powder. Set aside.

In a separate bowl beat the butter until soft.
Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined.

In a separate cup whisk the buttermilk with the red food coloring.
With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and the red buttermilk in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour.

In a small cup combine the vinegar and baking soda.
Allow the mixture to fizz and then quickly fold into the cake batter.

Working quickly, divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans and smooth the tops with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon.
Speed is of the essence here, as your only rising agent is the vinegar-soda mix, and it dissipates quickly.

Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 25 - 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean.

Cool the cakes in their pans for 10 minutes, then invert them on a wire rack and cool completely. Once completely cooled, wrap cakes in plastic wrap and place them in the freezer for at least an hour. (This is done to make filling and frosting the cakes easier.)

For the frosting:
Beat the cream cheese until smooth.
Add the vanilla and confectioners' sugar and process until smooth.

In a separate bowl (I told you there are too many bowls!) whip the cream until stiff peaks form.
With a large spatula, gently but quickly fold a little of the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture to lighten it.
Then fold in the remaining whipped cream, in two stages.

Recipe advises to place the frosting in the refrigerator for an hour if it is not thick enough to spread, but I've never had that problem.

To assemble:
With a serrated knife, cut each cake layer horizontally in half to get four layers.
Place one of the cake layers, top facing down, onto a plate.
Spread the cake layer with a layer of frosting.
Place another layer of cake on top of the frosting and continue to frost and stack the cake layers.
Frost the top and sides of the cake.
Garnish with coconut if desired.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Parmesan cheese and ham muffins

This one of my mom's piéces de résistance, it's basically a Mediterrenean addition to the basic muffin recipe. It makes a great party food or snack.


2 eggs
2 spoonfuls of sugar
1 deciliter of seed or rice oil
2 spoonfuls of parmesan
1 dl of milk
1 teaspoon of butter
100 g. of ham in small pieces
Flour as needed
a sachet of baking powder

Beat the eggs, sugar and oil together. Add parmisan, milk, butter and ham and mix well. Add flour through sieve and baking powder and mix as little as possible. Put mixture in muffin cups andbake at 180 celsius for 15 minutes.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

A very colorful and very flavorful winter dish. Recipe from the Taste of Home website.


1 1/2 lb (750 g) potatoes, peeled and cubed
6 medium carrots, cut into 1-inch slices
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
3 celery ribs, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 lb (700 g) beef stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
14 1/2 oz (410 g) canned diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup beef broth
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme


Layer the potatoes, carrots, onion and celery in a slow cooker.
Place flour in a large resealable plastic bag.
Add stew meat; seal and toss to coat evenly.
In a large skillet, brown meat in oil in batches.
Place over vegetables.
In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, broth, mustard, salt, pepper and thyme.
Pour over beef.
Cover and cook on high for 1 1/2 hours.
Reduce heat to low; cook 6 hours longer or until the meat and vegetables are tender.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ricotta Cheesecake

Adapted from this recipe.


For the crust:
1 cup (100 g) graham cracker (digestive biscuit) crumbs
1/4 cup (57 g) unsalted butter, melted

Recipe also adds 2-3 tablespoons sugar but I figure graham crackers are sweet enough by themselves.

For the filling:

2 1/2 cups (570 g) ricotta
8 oz (230 g) cream cheese at room temperature*
1 cup (200 g) sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch (corn flour)
4 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup berries
The zest of one lemon or orange

* So says the recipe. I've tried several other proportions of ricotta and cream cheese, depending on what I have in the fridge and it's always fine. More ricotta makes the cake creamier, more cream cheese makes it, well, cheesier :).


Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C) and butter a 9 inch (23 cm) springform pan.
Wrap the outside of the pan with two layers of heavy aluminum foil (otherwise water leaks in and cheesecake leaks out). How to line a springform pan.

For the crust:

In a medium sized bowl combine the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter.
Press the mix evenly over the bottom of the springform pan.
Cover and refrigerate while you make the filling.

For the filling:

Recipe says to drain the ricotta first. I must be buying some fake ricotta, because I swear!, there is nothing to drain there.

Beat softened cream cheese until smooth.
Add the ricotta and sugar and beat until smooth.
Beat in the cornstarch.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating about 30 seconds after each addition.
Beat in the lemon zest and vanilla extract until incorporated.
Fold in the berries.
Take the crust out of the fridge and pour the filling in it.
Place the springform pan in a large roasting pan.
Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come about halfway up the sides of your springform pan.
Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, or until the top of the cheesecake has browned and the center of the cake moves slightly when the pan is gently shaken.
Remove the pan from the water bath and cool on a wire rack.
Once cooled, cover and refrigerate the cheesecake for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Prune tzimmes (meat and potato stew with prunes)

This recipe comes from Claudia Roden's The Book of Jewish Food: an Odissey from Samarkand to Vilna to the Present Day which I'd recommend to anyone who wants not only a Jewish cookbook but also a sort of cultural and culinary encyclopedia.
I've tweaked the recipe slightly, though, both for quantities and ingredients. It makes a great, filling, colourful winter dish. I was a bit concerned about sugar in meat, but I promise you that, especially with the addition of red wine, it's not all sweet, just pleasantly sweet 'n'sour. You need time to make it but the preparation's very straightforward.

Ingredients for 4 people:
1 kg beef meat. Pick something like brisket or flank. It has to be tender and with a little bit of fat.
3 tablespoons oil
1 and a half large onions, coarsely chopped.
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
a good pinch of nutmeg
2 deciliters of red wine
1 kg new potatoes
4 large carrots
500 g prunes
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cube stock
1 teaspoon ginger

In a heavy pan over medium heat, turn the meat in the oil to brown all over. Then remove it and fry the onions gently till soft. Return the meat to the pan and cover with water. Add stock cube. Season with salt and pepper, add the cinamon, nutmeg and ginger and simmer for one and a half hours.
Add the potatoes, carrots, prunes, sugar and wine and more water to cover and simmer 1h longer. You may want to have plenty of black pepper to balance the sweethness. There should be a lot of liquid. Serve hot.