Spring Greens! Or, The Return of The CSA

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Happy day! Our Spring CSA (short for “Community Supported Agriculture”) started up again this week. Despite having an uncharacteristically mild winter here in New England, I was still without locally grown veggies. Try as I might, I just don’t end up eating as much fresh stuff when I don’t have the CSA. I get super turned off by the lack of freshness of a lot of the organic produce in the supermarket, and I really struggle when faced with conventional produce that’s been imported (or even domestic produce which has traveled a long way from points south and west).

This week’s core items were scallions and a choice of lettuce. I selected what Farmer Adam referred to as “Asian lettuce”; a Google image search leads me to believe it’s the variety known as Tokyo Bekana. I had three choices from the crazy abundance* of what remained, so I selected something new — Texsel greens (alternately called Ethiopian Kale/Cabbage), plus broccoli rabe and salad turnips (with gorgeous healthy greens still attached).

Right now, I’m envisioning the scallions doing what scallions inevitably do in our house, which is getting chopped up and winding up in a little of everything: omelets, nachos, baked potatoes, and the odd guest appearance in dishes with other veggies.

I noshed on an Asian lettuce leaf as I was putting it away in the fridge. The flavor is reminiscent of napa cabbage but the stem is much crunchier. Adam said they’d be great for wraps, but I’ll probably either used them in a salad, maybe wilted, or cooked with Thai ramen (yeah, I know the link points to “Artificial Pork Flavour” Mama — don’t judge me).

Adam described the Texsel greens as being like a cross between baby kale and baby spinach (at least that’s what I think he compared them to) and having great flavor. Those will wind up in a salad, for sure.

The broccoli rabe is destined to go in a Thai rice noodle dish (Rad Na Moo), as a stand-in for Chinese Broccoli (Gai Lan). My eldest will be hanging in Boston tomorrow night so I’ll take advantage of his absence to make some comfort food for myself.

And last but never least, those beautiful turnip greens and salad turnips. The salad turnips will get halved or quartered and be tossed with olive oil and a sprinkle of crushed red pepper and salt and then roasted in the oven. The greens will receive a similar treatment and get tossed in the oven with the roasting turnips in the final few minutes to wilt.

So that’s it for this week’s share. To read about my 2012 CSA experience, check out my abandoned blog Salad Days.

*Off the top of my head, I believe there was the following in addition to what’s listed above: a couple of other varieties of lettuce, red radishes, baby kale, baby arugula, baby bok choy, baby chard, spicy and regular micro greens, Swiss chard, and a couple other things I can’t quite put a name to (not being able to remember — I know exactly where they were on the tables! — is driving me more than a little batty.

Pull Apart Garlic Bread

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I made this quick and easy recipe from Rasa Malaysia to go with homemade chicken soup one evening and was delighted how easily it came together, and how very forgiving the recipe was. As I was kneading the dough, I noticed that the dough was drier than expected. I pondered this while the rolls were proofing and realized that, thanks to a calculation error, I had added an ounce too many of flour. I was concerned that this would make the rolls dense and heavy but thankfully they were delightfully soft and light. My tasters loved them but C. commented that he would’ve liked a bit more garlic — something I’ll play with the next time I make these.

And… Birthday Cake #4: Beatty’s Chocolate Cake with Whipped Cream Frosting

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This has inarguably been the summer of Ina Garten’s Beatty’s Chocolate Cake for us. Three out of our four birthday cakes were made using the recipe (herehere and this post), and L. would probably say he would’ve been happy had this been true for the fourth as well. It’s tasty, moist and very consistent.

After the sugar-palooza that was the last cake‘s frosting, my younger son asked for this, his 18th birthday cake, to be frosted with whipped cream. I simply beat together a pint of heavy cream, a couple ounces of confectioner’s sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Easy peasy!

Birthday Cake #3: Milky Way Cake With Caramel Buttercream

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I first (and last) made this cake thirteen years ago after seeing the recipe in the now defunct Rosie Magazine. I’m not the hugest Rosie O’Donnell fan but I loved that magazine and was pretty devastated when it ceased publication. Anyway, at the time I wasn’t the most confident baker and the recipe sounded fun and I figured fun would easily overshadow any baking shortfalls I might have.

2002 milky way cake

I thought this was the original Milky Way Cake until my son reminded me that this was actually a Three Musketeers Cake (my riff on the Milky Way Cake recipe). Apparently I didn’t photograph the Milky Way Cake but I’m sure it looked pretty similar.

I had pretty much forgotten about this recipe until my older son asked me to bake it for his 21st birthday last week. I found the recipe posted on Cheat Day Cafe. I tweaked the posted recipe a little in an attempt to make it less cloying and more moist, as well as clarified some finer points of technique; my adapted recipe is posted below.

The icing was pretty soupy, thanks to the day’s heat and humidity. I thought it would be futile to futz with the decorating too much so I kept it super simple — I microplaned some dark chocolate and diced some leftover Milky Way bar for the top.

The cake was still pretty tooth-achingly sweet, which everyone commented on. We discovered that a sliver of cake was an ample serving, even for my boys, who usually help themselves to multiple hunks of birthday cake. Which is not to say we didn’t enjoy it. By Day 2, everyone had taken a shine to it and, provided that the servings were very small, was happy to have a slice. I actually had 4 slivers over the course of one day, beginning at 7am and ending at 9pm. I am not ashamed.

Milky Way Cake With Caramel Buttercream

Cake:
6.15 ounces Milky Way candy bars (from three 1.84-ounce bars; save the extra for snacking or decorating)
2 tablespoons milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/4 cups buttermilk

Frosting:
14 ounce bag of caramels, about 43 caramels (I used Brach’s Milk Maid Caramels)
1/2 cup milk
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
4 cups (16 ounces) confectioners sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make the cake:  

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans (I also line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper trimmed to size, and then grease and flour the parchment). In a bowl placed over a pot of simmering water, melt the cut-up Milky Bar bars with 2 tablespoons of milk. Stir until smooth. Remove from heat and let cool completely.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk together until combined. In a mixer bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy on medium-high speed. Add the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla, scraping the bowl after each addition and beat until combined. Add the cooled melted candy bars and beat until combined. On low speed, beat in 1/3 of the dry ingredient mixture until not quite combined, then add 1/2 of the buttermilk and continued beating until almost combined. Repeat with another 1/3 of the dry ingredients, followed by the remaining buttermilk, and end with the last 1/3 of the dry ingredients. Beat until combined, scraping the bowl and paddle to ensure everything is thoroughly incorporated. Pour batter evenly into the prepared cake pans. Bake for 29 – 31 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few crumbs attached. Cool completely on wire racks.

To make the frosting: 

In a bowl placed over a pot of simmering water, melt the unwrapped caramels with the 1/2 cup of milk. This will be slow going; it took me about 30 minutes. Whisk until smooth. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.

In a large mixer bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla, until light and fluffy on medium-high speed. Add the cooled caramel mixture and then beat for an additional 2 minutes, until light and fluffy. You will likely have about a cup of frosting leftover when frosting a two-layer 8-inch round cake.

Cook’s Illustrated Rustic Country Bread

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In the spirit of using up lingering baking supplies, I offer you Cook’s Illustrated Rustic Country Bread. I printed the recipe way back when I had a membership to their site. They offer a 14-day free trial, and from time to time they offer heavily discounted memberships as well. I find Cook’s Illustrated and their related enterprises (Cook’s Country and America’s Test Kitchen) endlessly helpful and highly recommend their magazines and various books. In the meantime, you can also see the recipe on Ruth’s Kitchen‘s site here.

This is my second time making this recipe in recent weeks. The first time, I made one huge boule with all the dough. This time I opted to make two smaller boules. I didn’t end up using all the flour that was called for, and didn’t use any extra flour when kneading the dough either (I just used some of the initial flour that I hadn’t incorporated). The recipe says that the dough should be very wet and sticky and I did not find this to be true at all, either time I made it. I scaled my ingredients so I’m confident that it was not a flour measuring error. Upon further investigation, I discovered others in the blogosphere who have had the same experience. Rather than force the rest of the bread flour into the dough and risk a dry, dense loaf, I left it out. Even with reduction in flour, it was not at all what I’d consider a wet dough.

The first time I made this recipe, I followed the shaping instructions to the letter, including performing the final proof in a basket to help the loaf keep its shape. However, since the dough was not at all wet or slack, I decided this was unnecessary and simply proofed the two boules on a parchment-lined sheet pan this time and it was fine. I also proofed the dough quite a bit longer than stated, choosing to go with my eyes rather than the clock.

One of the things I love about this bread is its complexity. It’s mostly (white) bread flour, but includes a small amount of whole wheat flour and even less rye flour, which adds interest to the flavor while keeping it from being heavy like wheat breads can be. My favorite way to enjoy it is toasted with a nice schmear of peanut butter. Yummy.

A postscript: after I posted this, I saw a link to a 2008 post when I baked this bread. So it appears that I have made this three times, and not just twice! Honestly, I think I maintain this blog more as a record for myself than anything else!

A Birthday Cake For A Special Man

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My darling man turned 50 the other day.

When we were on vacation last week, I sat on the beach watching him and contemplating the upcoming celebration of the half-century birthday of this man who was just 21 (the same age our eldest will turn next month) when we first became a couple. I was suddenly awestruck by the person that he’s grown into, my beautiful husband, who is good and kind, and unfailingly supportive and patient, and is always the voice of reason when I start to lose it (which is often).

By the birthday boy’s request, I combined the components from my two most recent cakes — the Ina Garten chocolate cake from my birthday last month and the Philadelphia cream cheese frosting that we most recently enjoyed on the graduation cake a few weeks ago. This was my second time making this chocolate cake recipe and the results were consistent with the first go-round: chocolatey and moist, but not too heavy. Again, it was fully baked before the suggested time, so I’ll continue to check the doneness early. The cream cheese frosting recipe I’ve used more times than I can remember — it continues to be my go-to cream cheese frosting recipe.  It doesn’t make a ton — I just squeak by when I ice an 8-inch two-layer cake and have enough for some decorative piping if I’m not too generous with the icing when covering the cake. On a 9-inch two-layer cake like the grad cake, I really don’t have enough for anything more than just filling and covering the cake. The purple buttercream was leftover from the grad cake as well; I had stored it in the freezer and it defrosted just fine although I felt like it was a little looser than before it was frozen. It’s worth mentioning that my kitchen was super hot the afternoon I iced and decorated the cake, which always has an impact on the stiffness of the icing, especially with cream cheese.

Once again, happy 50th, PJ. xo

Happy Graduation Cake!

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Bonus cake this month! My baby boy (well, the younger of my two baby boys) graduated from high school this evening. I made a devil’s food cake with cream cheese icing to celebrate his wonderful achievement. Plus as it’s been a whole week since my birthday, we were out of cake and in dire need of more. The mortarboard and stars were made from fondant. I’m not super confident freehanding templates so I used this one for the mortarboard. Predictably, we picked the fondant off our respective slices before eating the cake; it’s pretty to look at, but not nice to eat.

Congratulations, CMac!

Chocolate Cake Time!

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It’s a tradition in our family that we launch Birthday Season (four birthdays, one per month from May – August, not including our schnauzer whose special day also falls within that span), with “Mama’s Choice” — chocolate on chocolate. It’s not because I’m such a chocoholic (I’m far from it) but because it was the one combination no one else would request. We had lots of yellow cake/chocolate icing, chocolate cake/vanilla or cream cheese icing, red velvet cake/cream cheese icing, and so on. So in the interest of variety, I sacrifice my choice to all chocolate each year.

This year I was looking for chocolate icing that wasn’t the typical chocolate buttercream that I have been making of late. I found  this recipe for Beatty’s Chocolate Cake by Ina Garten. For the cake, it employs buttermilk rather than the sour cream or greek yogurt used in many of the chocolate cakes I’ve make. I took care to check the cake for doneness before the time indicated so that it wouldn’t overbake. I’ve learned, at least in our oven, waiting to check cakes even at the minimum time suggested more often than not results in a dry, overdone cake. My vigilance paid off, as my husband said it was perhaps the moistest cake I’ve ever made.

The frosting is unlike any I’ve attempted in the past, as it includes a raw egg yolk. I had some concerns about salmonella but decided to go with it. It was a really hot and muggy day when I made the frosting so the butter was near liquid at room temperature, and the finished frosting wasn’t much thicker. I opted to do an informal spoon swirled design and plopped the iced cake in the fridge in the hopes that the frosting would firm up quickly and not slide right off the cake.

To finish, I dug out my old Wilton books and made some purple primroses and yellow violets out of royal icing, and bright green leaves (clearly I was a tad too generous with the leaf green icing color) from Wilton Class Buttercream (not super tasty, but good for decorating and easy to whip up in a pinch). I’m a little rusty on composing realistic flower groupings but all in all I was pretty happy!

Salted Honey Roasted Almonds

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This recipe is a slight adaptation of The Cafe Sucre Farine’s Honey and Sea Salt Roasted Almonds. Instead of sea salt, I used coarse ground Himalayan Pink Salt because that’s what I had.

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The recipe’s super easy — four ingredients — all things I had in my pantry. The above photo is after coating the sliced almonds with the coconut oil and honey mixture before the pan went in the oven.

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And here they are after 25 minutes in the oven, stirring every 5 minutes or so.  When the pan first comes out, the almonds look wet, but as they cool, the glaze hardens into a crunchy coating. The almonds aren’t super sweet, and go great as a topping on salads, yogurt, oatmeal… really anything that needs a little pizzazz. They’re also super for snacking!

Confetti Sugar Cookies

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Sometimes it pays off to have an overstocked baker’s pantry.  I got word late this afternoon that an event for which I had already baked was in a jam and could use more treats.  I thought these cookies would be different and fun (and I had an abundance of rainbow sprinkles to use up!).

I adapted a sugar cookie recipe I had in my collection by adding a small amount of sprinkles to the cookie dough, and then rolled the scooped dough in more sprinkles. It’s not necessary to flatten the cookies before baking, but be aware they won’t spread much if you don’t. The finished product is buttery and soft, but not excessively sweet. Alternately, if you just want a simple sugar cookie, you can omit the sprinkles altogether, and instead roll the dough in coarse white or colored sugar.

Confetti Sugar Cookies

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup rainbow sprinkles, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.  In a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla.  Continue mixing until thoroughly combined, scraping the sides of the bowl and the paddle/beaters as needed. Add the combined dry ingredients to the mixture and continue mixing until just combined.  Add 2 tablespoons of the rainbow sprinkles and mix until incorporated.

Pour the remaining rainbow sprinkles in a  shallow bowl. Scoop 2 tablespoons of dough and roll into a ball (or use a #40 cookie scoop to portion the cookie dough), then roll in the rainbow sprinkles lightly.  Place the cookies, spaced about 2 inches apart, on a parchment lined sheet pan, and lightly flatten each cookie with the bottom of a glass. Bake for 12 minutes or until edges are set.  Let cookies cool on the sheet pan for about 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 18 cookies.