Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Strangest Thing

I’ve been sick with a particularly nasty cold for the past couple of days, and it’s thrown me a bit off-kilter, food-wise. As usual when I’m sick, I lay around, eating practically nothing but chicken soup, popsicles and herbal teas. Then I get really hungry, and a craving sets in.

The cravings are never the same thing, but they’re always really strong and persistent. Once, while I was in high school, it was for a big glass of cold milk. I hate drinking milk. However, these cravings must have their purpose, because I invariably feel better after consuming whatever I’m yearning for. In the 7th grade, I was so sick that I couldn’t keep anything -–even water—-down. I asked my dad to buy a can of that really sour, pulpy lemonade, the kind you make from concentrate. It did the trick.

This time around, Sean is my lucky errand boy. For two days straight, I sent him to the grocery store to buy frozen pizza. I couldn’t get enough of it. Then I realized that what I was really craving was tomatoes. Cooked ones, specifically. Interestingly, I had recently read (where? I can’t remember) that cooked tomatoes provide the human body with more lycopene than uncooked ones. Maybe my body is in need of some lycopene. It’s worth a shot.

Since I’m feeling a lot better today, I started cooking again this evening (don’t worry, I washed my hands). I had been planning on waiting for slightly cooler weather to make these, but I couldn’t resist. Molly Wizenburg makes them sound so mouthwateringly delicious in her book, A Homemade Life, that it’s no wonder I’ve been craving them.

Making slow-roasted tomatoes is a cinch. If you (or a good tomato-sitter) are able to stay home for four to six hours—-which is a given when you’re sick—-then all should be well. Two hundred degrees Fahrenheit on an oven isn’t too high, so unless it’s a really hot day, it shouldn’t make much of a difference.

In place of coriander, I used Himalayan pink sea salt and freshly cracked pepper. Enjoy these in any way you might with fresh or canned tomatoes.

Monday, August 24, 2009

I Eat My Words (and Cake)

I love making (and eating!) birthday cakes. Unless it’s mine, that is. It’s really fun to think of a cake that’s just perfect for the birthday boy/girl in question. It’s also a good time to show off, or try something fancy.
The last birthday cake that I made was for Sean’s birthday. Since he is always eating Snickers Bars, I decided to find a recipe that would work for his taste buds and my baking skills. The result is a cake that is very rich, and perhaps even gratuitously sweet, but it was a hit at the birthday party. The cake has a good, rich chocolate flavor that compliments the caramel and peanuts of the candy. In the end, it was the chocolate icing that could benefit from some adjustment. Possibly a light ganache, applied sparingly over the top of the cake, and in between layers, would be adequate for this cake. However, this was to be Sean’s birthday cake, and so a sweet, fluffy , over-the-top icing was in order. Regardless of what you choose, whoever you make this cake for will know that you love them.
My recipe for Snickers Birthday Cake is a very loose adaptation of a recipe I found on If you wanted to make a show-stopping cake in a hurry, you could use a boxed German chocolate cake mix with canned icing. Just add Snickers. The cake recipe here calls for two nine inch cakes or three eight inch layers. I used the chocolate cake recipe from Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook, 1990 edition, as shown below. However, any good chocolate cake recipe would do. The frosting recipe was something that I found online (maybe or ?) while looking for an eggless butter cream.

Snickers Birthday Cake
Makes two nine inch layers or three eight inch layers
For Cake:
2 cups cake flower, sifted
2 Teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
½ cup plus two teaspoons cocoa powder, preferably dark
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup plus two tablespoons vegetable shortening
½ cup warm water (warmed on stove or in microwave)
2/3 cup milk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For Frosting:
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons whipping cream
10 ounces chocolate, finely chopped
10 ounces Snickers Bars, chopped into small pieces (I used the small, one bite ones that are an ounce each).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease two nine inch or three eight inch cake pans, and line the bottom with circles of parchment paper that have been cut approximately 1/8 inch smaller than the pans.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cocoa and sugar together. Add the shortening, water, milk, eggs and vanilla. Blend on very low speed until the ingredients are just moistened. Mix three minutes on medium speed , scraping down to fully mix ingredients. Scraping time should not be included in the three minutes.
Pour the mixture into the prepared two nine inch cake pans. Bake until the cakes bounce back when gently pushed in the middles. This will take about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool the pans on a cake rack for ten minutes before removing them from the pans. Allow to cool completely before applying the frosting or Snickers.
While the cake layers are baking, melt the chocolate in a double boiler or microwave. Set aside and allow to cool, but do not let the chocolate harden. Chop the Snickers Bars and set aside.
In a small bowl of an electric mixer, mix butter and sugar until well-blended; reduce the speed and mix for three minutes. Add vanilla, cream and chocolate. Beat an additional one minute, or until the chocolate is blended.
Place about 1 1/2 cups of frosting in a bowl. Add the Snickers pieces and gently mix. Refrigerate if not immediately using.
When icing the cake, spread the Snickers frosting mixture on the top of one cake that has been placed on a serving platter or cake stand. Place the second layer over top, and cover top and sides of the cake with the non-Snickered icing.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Who Thought of These?

Blowing my diet today on one of these little guys. Please excuse the picture, as it was taken from my cell phone. My boss's boss got them from the Macy's/former Kauffmann's Bakery in downtown Pittsburgh. I didn't really have a choice in the matter of eating it or not. Basically, it's a sugar-thumbprint cookie with sprinkles/jimmys, and a huge dollop of very yummy icing on top. The icing on this particular cookie is mint-chocolate flavored. They are surprisingly delicious. This came as something of a surprise to me, since I tend to dislike desserts that promote what I call "gratuitous sweetness". Of course, I am the one who suggested that you all make a s'more pie, so I can't be too smug.