Wednesday, May 2, 2012

German Choclate Cake (My Current Go-To Cake)

Easy to make, even easier to eat.

Ever since I was a kid, my favorite kind of cake has always been German Chocolate Cake. I don't know. There's something special about this cake, something magical. First off the frosting isn't really frosting, not in the typical sense. And as someone who loves nuts, the candy-like concoction that covers this cake is basically a sugary mess of pecans and coconut. What's not to love? And then there is the cake it's self. Chocolate. But not just any kind of chocolate. German chocolate. As a child it sounded exotic. As an adult I would purchase the green wrapped bar of German Sweet Chocolate by Baker's. But now I go for something else. And here's why.

German Chocolate Cake isn’t really German at all. Nope. In fact it’s named for it's creator Samuel German, the man who created the original cake recipe’s star ingredient back in 1957 for Baker’s Chocolate Company. German’s chocolate contains only 46% cacao, which makes for a subtly flavored cake. This recipe for German Chocolate Cake from  Fine Cooking Magazine uses a moderate amount of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate—up to 70%—for deeper flavor. You can use any semisweet or bittersweet chocolate you like, as long as it contains 70% cacao or less. Any more than that could adversely affect the cake’s texture.

Serves 16

For the cakes
4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened; more for the pans
4 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (up to 70% cacao), coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)*
1/2 cup boiling water
9 oz. (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. table salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature**

For the coconut-pecan filling
7 oz. (about 2 cups) sweetened, shredded dried coconut
4 large egg yolks
1 12-oz. can evaporated milk
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. table salt
6 oz. (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1-1/2 cups pecan halves, toasted and coarsely chopped

Make the cakes
Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Grease the sides of three 9x2-inch round cake pans with butter and line the bottoms with parchment circles.
Put the chocolate in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over it. Let stand for several seconds and then whisk until the chocolate is dissolved. Set aside until cool to the touch before mixing the batter.
Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt onto a sheet of waxed paper. Whisk the eggs in a small measuring cup.

Beat the butter for a few seconds in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-low speed. Add the sugar in a steady stream and then beat on medium speed, scraping the bowl as necessary, until the mixture is lightened in color and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes. Still on medium speed, add the eggs a little at a time, taking a full 1-1/2 minutes to add them all. Add the melted chocolate and vanilla and beat just until blended. With the mixer turned off, add a quarter of the flour mixture.

Mix on medium-low speed just until incorporated. Add a third of the buttermilk and mix until blended. Repeat, each time adding another quarter of the flour, then a third of the buttermilk, until the last of the flour is added. Scrape the bowl as necessary and mix each addition only until it is incorporated.

Divide the batter among the pans and spread it evenly. Bake, rotating the pans and swapping their positions, until the cakes just start to pull away from the sides of the pans and spring back when very gently pressed with a finger, 20 to 25 minutes. Let the cakes cool in their pans on a rack for 10 minutes.

Run a knife or small spatula around the edges to separate the cakes from the pans. Turn the cakes out onto the rack and peel off the parchment. Cool completely.

Make the filling
Spread the coconut on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 350°F, stirring every 2 minutes, until golden-brown, about 10 minutes. Scrape the toasted coconut onto a sheet of waxed paper and let cool completely.

Whisk the egg yolks with the evaporated milk, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a heavy-duty, nonreactive 4-quart saucepan. Add the butter. Set over medium heat and stir constantly with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom and corners of the pot. When the mixture starts to boil, adjust the heat so that it boils actively but not furiously, and cook, stirring constantly, until golden and thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the coconut and pecans. Let cool completely.

Assemble the Cake
Put one cake layer on a cake plate. Spread a third of the filling over the top of the cake, leaving a 1/4-inch border. Top with a second cake layer. Spread with half of the remaining filling. Put the third cake layer on top and cover it with the remaining filling. Leave the sides of the cake exposed. Serve at room temperature.

From Fine Cooking  #114 , pp. 82-87
October 10, 2011

*I like to use Ghirardelli's Bittersweet chocolate, found in the baking aisle.

**If you don't have buttermilk, you can make your own, like I do. In a 1 cup measuring cup add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar. To this add whole milk to the 1 cup mark.Stir and let sit for several minutes before using.  You may also substitute lemon juice for the white vinegar.

Saffron...It's What's For Dinner!

Just how many containers do I have to get dirty to make a "one pot meal"???

Tonight for dinner Tim and I are going to make a semi-old favorite. It is Chicken and Rice with Saffron and Almonds. I'd say it was a one-pot meal but that would be a misnomer. We've just started and already I've use 4 containers! Well, I could have shortened that to 2, but come on.

2 cups of rice
1/2 teaspoon of saffron
Warm Water

2-3 Chicken Breasts broken down in to 1/2" cubes

Olive Oil (or your go-to cooking oil)
1/2 cup slivered almonds

4 tablespoons of butter

4 cups chicken broth

Step 1:
Put the rice into something that will accommodate it being covered with warm water such as a pot or a 4-cup measuring cup. In a small container put the saffron and add 1/3 cup warm water. Let both of these soak for 20 minutes. (I use Mexican Saffron, which is a lot cheaper. If you use "real" saffron decrease the amount by 1/2)

Step 2:
If you haven't yet, break down the chicken and season with salt and pepper.

Step 3:
Into a large skillet (which you'll cook everything else in later) add 1/3 cup oil of choice and almonds. Fry them up until brown over medium-high heat (3-5 minutes). Drain almonds on paper towel and set aside.

Step 4:
Wipe out the pan (if needed), add more oil and heat it slightly before adding the chicken. Get some yummy brown on the chicken. [You don't need to cook the chicken all the way through because it will cook more in a bit.] Set chicken aside.

Step 5:
Give the pan a quick wipe out with a paper towel.
Drain the rice.

Step 6:
Add the butter and saute the rice the big pan. Add the saffron and water mixture to the rice. Add the chicken broth and season rice with salt and pepper. Add the chicken.

Step 7:
Cover, turn the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes or until all the liquid should be absorbed and holes should appear on surface. Remove from heat.

Step 8:
Place a layer of paper towels on top of the rice and cover with lid. Let sit 10 more minutes.

Step 9:
Add the almonds in and serve!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Everyone's Favorite--Pizza!

Pizza is one of our favorite things to eat. It also happens to be one of the easiest and most delicious things to makes, in my opinion. The great thing about pizza is you can make it as simple or as complicated as you want. I am going to tell you how we make our favorite pizza!

It all starts with the crust.

I have a couple of different recipes for crust, but I find myself going back to the same one over and over again. It just is so easy and fast:

Jen's Easy-P-Z Pizza Dough
1 cup warm water (110-115 F)
1 package or 2 teaspoons active dry yeast (Rapid Rise is fine)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
4-6 cups all purpose bleached or unbleached flour
olive oil

1. To make good anything that involves yeast, it is important that the water be at the correct temperature. Too cold and the yeast is sluggish. To hot and the yeast is dead. Invest in an instant read thermometer. I use one that I bought at a restaurant supply store for less than $5.

2. Pour the warm water into a medium to large bowl. The bowl should be able to comfortably hold a volleyball.  Sprinkle or dump the yeast into the water and give it a quick stir. Set this aside for a few minutes to let it work.

3. Add the olive oil and the salt and stir.

4. Stir in 2 cups of flour.

5. Add remaining flour in 1/2 cup increments until the dough goes from batter-like to dough-like. You'll be able to tell because it will start to pull away from the sides of the bowl. It will be somewhat sticky.

6. Dump dough on a floured surface and work in more flour by kneading until you have a soft, non-sticky dough. You'll feel the change in the dough as you work with it.

7. Pour some olive oil into the bottom of the bowl (1-2 tablespoons). Put the ball of dough back into the bowl on top of the oil and using the dough, smear the inside of the bowl. Basically you're just turning the dough upside down so that it and the bowl and coated in a light sheen of oil.

8. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a towel and leave it in a warm, draft free place for 1 hour. (If you used Rapid Rise you need only wait 30 minutes) I like to put the bowl of dough in my oven. If it is cold, I will turn my oven on to 500 for 2-3 minutes then turn it off before I put the bowl of dough in.

Making the Pizza.

About half way through the rising process I start gathering the other ingredients for the pizza and getting things together. For our favorite Friday Night Pizza you'll need the following:

Pesto Sauce
Mozzarella Cheese
Baby Portabella Mushrooms
Pizza Stone
Pizza Peel or a cookie sheet

You can make your own pesto sauce which is really easy. All you need is some fresh basil, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and garlic. All of that gets blended together to make a spreadable paste. You can also purchase prepared pesto sauce like I do. My favorite brands are Trader Joe's (the fresh one!) and Costco's pesto sauce. I get the cold stuff in the deli section. The canned stuff is much too salty. If you've been getting take-out pizza you might not notice the difference, but trust me. Once you've been consistently eating homemade pizza you'll be able to tell just how salty that canned stuff is.

How many pizzas does this dough make? Well, that depends on you.

Thick or thin?

Big or small?

I usually get between 4 and 6 pizzas depending on how thin I roll the dough. I like to be able to tell where my fingers are on the other side of the dough but not to actually see them.

Sprinkle some cornmeal onto your pizza peel or paddle (or cookie sheet without sides) and spread your pre-rolled dough on top. I aim for a 9-10 inch pizza, about the size of a dinner plate.

Smear some pesto sauce on the pizza.

Now add some cheese. You want to be able to see the sauce through the cheese. Trust me. This will be plenty cheesy.
 Now comes the pepperoni....
 ....and the mushrooms. I like to do it this way because sometimes the topping shake loose when you're putting the pizza onto the stone. If I loose a little cheese or a mushroom piece or two I don't care. I do get annoyed when the meat falls off.
Now we bake your pizza in your 400 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. Again. This depends on the size of your pizza and how much color you want on it.

What normally happens in our house is I have the uncooked pizza on the pizza peel and the cooked pizza comes out on a cookie sheet. This way I can keep things moving pretty quick!
For fun on the pizza below I sliced the pepperoni the long way. I also gave the pizza a lot of color. I like the caramelized almost nutty taste you get when you cook things a little while longer.
And there you have it. The beginning of a promising weekend! So open a beer, pull out the yeast and get cooking! And please, let me know how it goes.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Community Supported Agriculture & Certified Organic

So we have heard about these community farms for some time. And about co-ops and such. A good friend of ours, Suzann Leininger, was a member of a Community Supported Agriculture Program in northern San Diego called Be Wise Ranch.

We were always concerned we'd get food we didn't like, or that we wouldn't be able to eat it all, etc. You know, excuses.

Well, I started looking at it again, this time in more detail. There are a number of options available - I think that's a great idea - which help make it more flexible to fit what a family wants/needs. You can choose between the Large and Small boxes (actually I was quite surprised to see how close in size the boxes are). And they have added another option - every-other-week pickup.

We checked in with Suzann. She and her husband Bill get the Small box every-other-week. We decided to go for it, and selected the Large box, every-other-week. Oh ya, and if you find you want the other size, or to pickup every week, you can switch.

So Thursday we picked up our first box!

Too bad you can't see the carrots in the photo. It's really quite a haul. Hard to see it all in the photo. Here's a list of what was in the box this week...

Bok Choy
Mizuna - this one is totally new to us!
Mustard Greens
Spring Mix

The hope is that this will help us to be better about eating our fruits and veggies, and eat more greens. So far so good. Now we need to work on getting creative with all this bounty and work it into our cooking.

Be Wise helps here too, with a page of recipes from other members. We will have to be good citizens and add some recipes there too!