MiMi’s Chocolate Cake

J – My grandmother, MiMi, used to make the best desserts, in addition to making the best just about everything. Most Thanksgivings we would head down to the Gulf coast in Texas with the whole family and spend a good weekend eating everything in sight. To this day, my favorite part of Thanksgiving is the transition from entrees to desserts. It’s that moment when you’ve just stuffed yourself silly with turkey and mashed potatoes and you think you can’t possibly eat another bite. That is, until someone brings out countless desserts and suddenly you aren’t as full as you thought you were. My three favorite desserts of hers were her chicken scratch cake, pumpkin pie, and chocolate cake, and I’ve quite stupidly never thought to ask for the recipes. Well, last night my parents sent me some of MiMi’s old recipes and it turns out not only are the incredibly tasty, they’re incredibly easy. Today, let’s make some chocolate cake – it will take 10 minutes, promise.

MiMi’s Chocolate Cake

  • 2 cups flour (I used cake, you can use AP or whatever you like)
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 3/4 cup baking cocoa
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 – 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk (if you don’t have buttermilk, combine 1tbsp white vinegar and 1 cup minus 1 tbsp cream and let sit for ~5 minutes).
  • 1 cup oil
  • 1 cup boiling water (add last!)

Preheat oven to 300F. Combine everything in a mixing bowl, adding the boiling water last. Mix thoroughly and pour into a 9″x13″ baking pan. Yes, it will look very low in there – it’s fine. The buttermilk and the huge amounts of baking soda, plus the relatively light flour use, means this cake rises like crazy. Bake at 300F for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick in the center comes out clean. Enjoy!2014-07-05 09.30.16This cake is fudgy, chocolatey goodness. Because you use relatively little flour and lots of baking soda plus the acidic buttermilk, this cake rises like crazy and, despite its richness, is very light and fluffy. I chose not to top mine, but go ahead and whip up a chocolate fudge frosting if you wanna double down on chocolate, or a nice espresso chocolate or salted caramel frosting if you want some layers here. Or, just sprinkle some powdered sugar on this and enjoy. A quick note – some of you might be wondering why we didn’t separately mix our wet and dry ingredients then combine. You can, but you don’t need to, and this cake comes out great regardless. Without the melted butter to mix in (instead using oil) and with the addition of boiling water, everything will go in smoothly, trust me.

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Very Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

J – Ok, I’m just gonna say it: I don’t like crispy chocolate chip cookies. If they’re crumbly, I don’t want ’em. When I was in High School, we used to have these (admittedly disgusting) Otis Spunkmeyer (real name…I know) cookies. Their only saving grace was that they were really chewy in the center. Well, Alton Brown has a recipe to make cookies that are not only delicious but chewy to boot. The trick is brown sugar and bread flour, and lots of it. Here’s the link to his recipe, but I’ve reproduced it here with my images and notes as well.

Just a note – this is the first recipe I followed where the ingredients were by weight/volume instead of all volume, and I’m never going back. If you’re not using your kitchen scale religiously, you’re missing out.

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz unsalted butter – I prefer salted butter, actually – I think the salt helps cut the sweet of these cookies very nicely.
  • 12 oz bread flour sifted together with:
  • 1 tsp salt and
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 oz white sugar
  • 8 oz brown sugar
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
  • 1 oz milk (calls for whole, I’ve used skim with great success)
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 12 oz semisweet chocolate chips here – as always, I’ve noticed that high-quality chocolate chips taste WAY better than low-quality ones.

Melt the butter, then beat together with white and brown sugar until it looks like this. You want to use a large enough bowl to accommodate all of your ingredients, ultimately. A stand mixer will probably save you a lot of forearm soreness:

ChewyCookies_1Then, mix your wet ingredients (egg + egg yolk, milk, and extract) and add to the egg mixture slowly while mixing. Finally, add your dry ingredients to your mixing bowl slowly while mixing. The dough will become very bread-like and delicious. Add in your chocolate chips and mix further, then pop the dough in the fridge for ~1 hour:

IMG_7014Scoop approximately 1 heaping tbsp spheres onto a cookie sheet and bake for 7-12 minutes in a 375 F oven. These cookies will bake fast and you do not want to burn them. Keep an eye on them! Trust me, they bake faster than you think. When all is said and done, plot your cookies on a cooling rack, let cool, and try to eat fewer than 4 per day.

IMG_7015

Thanksgiving! Pies!

J – Happy Thanksgiving! Right now, I’m listening to the sounds of sizzling turkey as it roasts away in the oven (more on that tomorrow). Ines was in charge of the centerpiece this year, so I took it upon myself to make my favorite part of Thanksgiving: the pies. I made two this year, a pumpkin pie (a must-have) and a chocolate bourbon pecan pie, or a chocolate derby pie as they’re apparently called. First, the recipes. They’re very similar, but I hate making pie crust more than almost anything else in life. I used store bought, and you know what, it tasted just fine to me.

Pecan pie (modified from here):

  • 2 eggs, beaten until they’re foamy
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, microwaved till liquid
  • 1 tbsp flour (all-purpose is fine)
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips, semi-sweet
  • 1 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/4 cup Kentucky bourbon

First, beat the eggs until they are foamy, like this:

Then, add in your vanilla extract and milk and mix:

Next, the brown and white sugar goes in and gets mixed. Your filling should be very thick right now. Add in the chopped pecans, flour, and bourbon and mix it all in, like so:

Next, line your pan with the pie crust (remember, never grease pie pans) and line the bottom of the crust with chocolate chips.

I used a cheap disposable pan for this pie, but just know that they’re terrible. Use a Pyrex pan if you have one – we do, but just one, and it was reserved for my favorite pie, pumpkin. Pour in the filling but pour it in slowly, otherwise you will scoot the chips around and have parts of the pie with too much or too little chocolate.

Pop it in the oven at 425 for 10 minutes, then 350 for 30 minutes or until a knife tip about 1-2″ from the edge comes out clear. Don’t test the center! If the center is clear by the knife test, the edges will be burned. The pie will cook for about 15 minutes after you take it out, so the center will set. If you have problems with burnt edges on your pies, you can cover the exposed dough with foil strips (or just cook at a lower temp – they shouldn’t burn).

Yum!
Pumpkin pie (original here):

  • 1 15-oz can pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
  • 1 large egg and 3 egg yolks
  • 1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground nutmeg (so much better than old, dried nutmeg)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon.
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp Chinese 5-spice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 9″ pie crust

This pie is really, really easy. First, combine egg, egg yolks, and pumpkin puree in a mixing bowl. Next, add the condensed milk, mix, and add the dry ingredients (spices and salt). Combine, pour into your 9″ pie pan with the crust already in, then bake at 425 for 10 minutes, reduce to 350, and bake for another 30 minute or until a knife tip inserted into the pie about 1-2″ from the edge comes out clear. I prefer cool or room temperature pie with whipped cream, but you can serve warm too – just let it sit for about 30 minutes after it comes out or you will have a mess on your hands.

Literally easy as pie. Happy Thanksgiving!

Apfelstrudel

A while back, I wanted to try to make a typical Portuguese pastry called Pastel de Nata (one of these days I’ll make it again and post the recipe). It requires puff pastry, but when we went to the supermarket I couldn’t find it. So we got Phyllo dough instead, hoping it would be the same. Turns out, they’re different (see here, for example), so I ended up with two packages of phyllo dough in the freezer.

Well, last week we got a bunch of apples, and it’s Fall, and I wanted to do something with the phyllo dough… Apple strudel! I based my recipe on this one, but changed a couple of things. First, I chopped 5 apples. This is time consuming and tedious, but you want the apple bits to be small. Then I crumbled 4oz (120g) of bread in the food processor – I used toast slices I had bought to eat with cheese. I melted 1 tbsp of butter and toasted the bread for about 3 min. The apples were mixed with the bread, 1 cup (200g) of sugar, 1 tsp of cinnamon and 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts (I’m not a big fan of raisins and had those around). That makes the filling, then I had to deal with the phyllo dough. One by one, I separated the sheets, sprayed some cooking spray, and put another sheet on top. Each roll had 4-5 sheets. After they were stacked, and with some film over them, I pressed them together. The film helps because your hands don’t end up sticking to the dough. Also, it’s ok if the dough cracks, there are several layers and the filling won’t escape.

Then I placed the filling in the dough, like this:

The smaller sides of the dough were folded in and then I rolled the rest.

Finally, I melted 2 tbsp of butter in the microwave and brushed the top of the rolls. I ended up with four of these.

These were then baked at 375ºF (190ºC) for 25 min.

Just to make it prettier, I dusted some powdered sugar on top.

Baked salmon, vegetable curry and cranberry muffins

As Jeff mentioned, we were both pretty sick all week (damn you viruses!) but on Saturday I felt more or less okay and ended up cooking quite a bit. Which was good, because from then on and until today, it was bed-all-day for me…

On the weeks we get fish, I like to cook it right away because I think meat holds better in the fridge than fish. So the first recipe was baked salmon with potatoes (we had some left from last time) and mushrooms. It’s pretty simple, bake the seasoned potatoes and mushrooms for 20 min, then add the fish and bake for another 15min. We had more than the recipe asks for, and our steaks were pretty thick so I ended up leaving the fish in for another 5 or 10 min to make sure it was cooked all the way. But the best part was the sauce: red wine vinegar, whole grain mustard, honey and parsley. I’m not a big fan of salmon (I find it too fatty), but the sauce was quite tasteful so I actually ended up really enjoying this. Jeff does not like mushrooms at all, so they were all for me. I didn’t mind one bit because they were really tasty, none of that blandness you get from the white mushrooms from the grocery store.

The next recipe I made was a vegetable curry. This was my first attempt at curry of any kind so I was a bit afraid of making it too spicy. I learned I can go much stronger than I did, but it was nice to have this dish for the days of stuffy noses and lazy taste buds… The curry includes sweet potatoes, cauliflower, onions and carrots. We had it with brown rice, but also sometimes on a bed of arugula. This makes for a great vegetarian dish. One of the problems I have with vegetarian dishes is that they end up being a bit bland, but not this one!

And finally, as soon as I saw those cranberries, I decided to bake. I made cranberry muffins. So easy, it’s silly that we don’t make this all the time… Mix 2 cups of flour, 2/3 cup of sugar, 2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt and 1 cup of chopped cranberries. Separately, mix 2/3 cup of milk, 1/4 cup of melted butter, a bit of grated orange peel, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1 egg. Then mix the dry and wet ingredients, spray some cooking spray onto a muffin tray, place a spoonful onto each cup and bake at 400ºF (200ºC) for 15 to 20 min. Breakfast solved for the whole half the week.