February 23, 2011

The 'Weekend' Cake!

This 'weekend' cake- a cake that doesn't have to be refrigerated and can be enjoyed all weekend (or anytime), is scrumptious! It is moist, dense, rich, and has a sugar crusted outside. Intrigued? I thought so! A couple that we're very close with loves this cake- so much so that for our wedding they bought us a glass covered cake dish and expressly said in the note they intended to encourage the making of this cake. Look at that- this cake is bringing people together. What a cake :)

Chocolate Applesauce Weekend Cake
2 cups sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 tsp. vanilla powder
2 eggs (room temperature)
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 3/4 cup flour (unbleached all-purpose)
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (a high quality brand)
23 ounces unsweetened applesauce
2 Tbsp. Cointreau
1/2 tsp. sea salt

I make this in either a full sized bundt pan or in small bundt pans. I am a little 'bundt' crazy- I have, let's see, my Grandmother's bundt pan that she used to make a cake called 'Harvey Wall-Banger Cake,' it is so seasoned that cakes just slide right out- I also have a fleur de lis bundt pan, six miniature bundt pans and a medium sized bundt pan with a geometric pattern. There are no support groups I am aware of, but if you hear of any, let me know. I eye the bundt pan designs in the Williams Sonoma catalog with ropes of drool...

So anyway, this either makes one full sized bundt cake, or, 6 small cakes plus one medium sized cake. Cooking time varies for each size, but we'll get to that at the end. Once you've chosen your pan, spray liberally with Pam (Pam is just great, isn't it?). We are going to coat the pan with sugar now that we've sprayed it, but there's a technique I've discovered that is helpful in avoiding pools of Pam and sugar, which kind of spoil the visual appeal of your cake. You might have noticed that once you spray the interior with Pam, it might start to pool at the lowest points. To get rid of these pools and remove them before you coat the interior of the pan with sugar, just turn the pan over and allow the excess to drain in either the sink or over the garbage can. Then, add sugar, a little less than 1/4 of a cup should do it. Shake to coat evenly and tap out excess, set aside.

Preheat your oven to 325. In a standing mixer, combine the butter and sugar until well mixed. Add the eggs and vanilla powder, mix until combined. Add the applesauce and mix just a little. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, ginger, cloves, cocoa powder and sea salt. Add to the wet mixture in 2-3 stages, using a spatula to scrape down the sides and to make sure the very bottom of the bowl is being included in the mixing (sometimes my Kitchen Aid seems to forget about the very bottom...). Add the Cointreau and mix.

Good work! Now, using a spatula, empty the contents of your mixing bowl into your greased and sugared pan. Smooth the top using the spatula and pop it in the oven! For a full sized bundt pan, bake for 2 hours (yes, really!), for a medium sized bundt pan, 1 hour, and for the small bundt shapes 45 minutes. When you remove from the oven, allow to rest for 15 minutes. Then, overturn onto a wire rack.

You may not be able to wait to try this cake until it's cooled, but I highly recommend waiting! This cake is better when you eat it the next day. It's incredibly dense and moist, even though it was baked for so long. Plus, since there's so much applesauce in it, you can count it as one of your fruit or vegetable servings... To store, just cover with plastic wrap.

Options! You may add 4-6 ounces of chopped bittersweet chocolate to the batter, this is a wonderful addition. You may also omit the sugar coating of the pan. The small bundt cakes in the picture do not have the sugar coating.

Sichuan Beef with Carrots and Celery

Chinese food is delicious and incredibly efficient! This dish, served with rice, is basically a well rounded meal! Look at us eating all the food groups! Not to mention tasty, and with a fair amount of heat! The most time you'll spend with this recipe is prepping the ingredients, but once you start cooking it, it is done very quickly! I recommend cooking your rice at the same time, that way they will be done at the same time (I cook my rice on the stove for 15 minutes).

Sichuan Beef with Carrots and Celery
1.25 lb. flank steak (or rump steak, or filet)
2 cups plus 2 Tbsp. oil (I use canola oil for this, use an oil that can get very hot, not olive oil)
2 medium carrots
3-5 celery ribs (depending on size, I used 5 small celery ribs)
1 Tbsp. ginger root (finely chopped)
2 green onions (white parts only, finely chopped)
1 Tbsp. chili garlic paste (or plain chili paste)
2 Tbsp. soy sauce or shoyu (shoyu is a type of soy sauce)
1 Tbsp. white wine
1/2 Tbsp. sesame oil
2 Tbsp. water
1 tsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. sichuan peppercorn powder

A few thoughts on the spiciness before we start- this dish has some heat! Which, I love, but you may want to start with less heat. I'd recommend reducing both the chili paste as well as the sichuan peppercorn powder. I'd reduce each by more than half to get something in the mild category, I think if you just halve the amounts it will still be fairly spicy. Sichuan peppercorns and sichuan peppercorn powder may be a little hard to find- I went to four stores and had no luck. I eventually ordered a bag of sichuan peppercorns from Amazon and to make my powder, I toasted the peppercorns in a small skillet until fragrant and then I ground them in a spice mill. Sichuan peppercorns are from the province of Sichuan in China and they have a delightful aroma and taste! They are worth a little bit of trouble to try to get :) Another common spelling of Sichuan is Szechwan.

Let's get started! Cut your steak into strips that are about 2 inches long and no wider than 1/2 an inch. Heat 2 cups of canola oil in either a wok or a stock pot, I don't have a wok, so I use a stock pot. Heat on medium high- a 6 or a 7 on a medium sized gas burner is what I use. When the oil is heated, add the beef strips, cover partially with the pot's lid. You'll be cooking the beef this way for a total of 12 minutes, I recommend stirring after 6 minutes to make sure all the pieces are submerged. What you're doing is getting the texture consistent, the outside of the beef will be browned and a little chewy / crispy. When 12 minutes has passed, remove using a slotted spoon and set aside.

While the beef is cooking, get your ginger root, green onion and chili paste ready. Also prepare your carrots and celery. After peeling your carrots and cutting off the root, make into similar sized strips to the beef. Same for the celery. Finally, in a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, wine, sesame oil, water, cornstarch and sichuan peppercorn powder. Use a fork or a whisk to combine gently.

In a new pot, heat the remaining 2 Tbsp. canola oil over medium high heat. Add the ginger, green onion and chili paste, cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the carrots and celery, cook for another 2 minutes. Add the beef and the liquid mixture, stir to combine and coat with the liquid. Cook only for about another 1-2 minutes, you don't want all the liquid to evaporate, a little bit of sauce is good to have. You're done! Serve over white or brown rice.

February 18, 2011

Win This Adorable Hat!

It is with great pleasure that I announce our next contest! A wonderful company, Maison de Belles Choses, which sells beautiful, traditional children's clothes, has donated this adorable Kissy Kissy sun hat!

I discovered Maison de Belles Choses when I was searching for a christening gown. I found a perfect, bishop smocked cotton gown with an slip by Bailey Boys on their website and have been a happy customer ever since! Some recent purchases I have made have included brands like Vive La Fete, Anavini, and Little English. Maison de Belles Choses is a great resource for sweet, elegantly executed children's clothes and accessories, visit their website at: http://www.maisondebelleschoses.com/default.asp

So what do you need to do to get this marvelous little hat for your little one this summer? Tell me about a great meal you had at some one's house and it's yours! I'd love to hear what they served you to eat, to drink, and about the ambiance of their dining room. Any other details are great, too!

Some rules of our contest:
1) US residents only (sorry!)
2) send me your meal story at ladolceduchessa@gmail.com
3) have fun!
4) the winner will have their very own blog entry!

The hat is 100% cotton and features an adorable lion! It is in size large, which is 12-24 months. The brand is Kissy Kissy, which is such an adorable and sweet brand. Retail value is $22.

I look forward to hearing from you! This contest will run through the end of March.

Picture courtesy of Maison de Belles Choses

February 14, 2011

Homemade Gnocchi

Gnocchi, yum! I love gnocchi! Homemade gnocchi is amazing, soft little pillows that brown and hold sauces beautifully... While I will happily eat store bought gnocchi, because they are also delicious, there is such a difference when you make it yourself. The gnocchi is softer, delicate, and just wonderful!

Homemade Gnocchi
2 lb. Yukon gold potatoes
2 cups (plus more) all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 egg yolks (room temperature)
1 egg (room temperature)

To begin, I weigh my potatoes. I weigh them before I've peeled them, so if I'm a few ounces over 2 lb., I don't worry about it. Do you have a scale that you use in your kitchen? We started using a scale a few years ago and I really like it! It's helpful when recipes are in weight, which I feel like a lot are? Anyhow, I think we got our scale at Bed Bath & Beyond and it's super useful!

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and in the meantime, peel your potatoes. If you are going to peel your potatoes but aren't going to boil them yet, put them in a bowl of cool water so they won't turn a rusty color. I actually peeled my potatoes the day before I made my gnocchi. But if you are boiling them right away, when the water is close to boiling, add some salt and then the potatoes. I had pretty small potatoes so I boiled them for 20 minutes. If they are larger, you might increase the time by a few minutes. You want them to be totally cooked so that they'll go through a potato ricer really easily! Combine the egg and egg yolks in a small bowl and whisk. In a large bowl, place 1 cup of flour and mix with the salt. This is where you're going to mix the gnocchi dough with your hands.

When the potatoes are done boiling, remove from the water and allow to cool down for about 5-10 minutes. Using a potato ricer and working in batches, press about half the potatoes into the bowl with the flour and salt. Using your hands, work the potato, flour and salt together, forming a wet, sticky dough being careful not to overwork the dough. Add the egg, kneading with one hand as you do. The temperature of the potatoes can't be so hot that a) it hurts your hands! and b) it cooks the egg. So... not so hot. Add the remaining 1 cup of flour and remaining potatoes, through the ricer. Continue to mix with your hands until a sticky dough comes together. If it's so sticky you can't imagine working with it, add some more flour. But it's ok if it is somewhat sticky- you don't want to overwhelm the potato content by adding too much flour. Also, by kneading too much, the flour can increase chewiness by what happens to gluten... Good for making baguettes and other chewy bread, bad for making gnocchi...

On a floured work surface, take fist sized portions of dough and roll them into long pieces roughly as thick as your thumb. Using either a knife or a pastry scraper, cut the long piece into smaller pieces, roughly 1" in length. You don't want your gnocchi to be too big, about the size of the first knuckle of your thumb is a good proxy. Now is the fun part :) So gnocchi enthusiasts are adamant that gnocchi should not be totally smooth- how can it hold on to any sauce then? You may either use a fork, a wooden gnocchi board designed just for this purpose, or some other similar surface to impart small grooves on the gnocchi. I have a little wooden gnocchi board, it's too cute! Do I need it? No, I could really do it with a fork, but I think having the little wooden gnocchi board inspires me to make gnocchi! So that's good right there.

So... if you are going to boil these beautiful creations right away and eat them, go ahead and put the grooves in the pieces, rolling them either on a fork or a gnocchi board. If you aren't going to eat them right away, you want to make sure that how you store them has enough flour and room so they don't stick together. I freeze what I'm not using right away, but make sure they aren't so sticky that while they freeze they stick together and make a big mess!

Now that we've made our individual gnocchi, let's boil them in salted water until they float, it's really fast, about 2 minutes. Remove them immediately. For a really simple presentation, heat some unsalted butter and olive oil on the stove, add the gnocchi (after it's been boiled) and let it get a little bit of color. Serve! You may also cook the gnocchi with some butter and sage leaves or add Parmesan after browning in butter.

You can do a lot with gnocchi, this recipe is just how to make the delightful pasta. My husband has come up with a DELICIOUS gnocchi dish that browns the gnocchi in butter, then combines it with peas, corn and truffle oil. It's amazing. He strongly feels that it's so rich, though, that it should be a small portion and a first course. Stay tuned, we'll post this recipe soon! (You can use your homemade gnocchi you made!)

February 5, 2011

Focaccia with Rosemary and Sage

Focaccia with rosemary and sage, doesn't that sound wonderful? A little sea salt and olive oil on top... Mmmm... A great accompaniment to a salad, some soup, or made into a sandwich and pressed in a panini maker!

Did you know that you can kill yeast by using water that's too hot? I didn't know that :) I learned that earlier this week, I was a little overzealous in my heating of the water that I used in the dough... What ended up happening was that the dough didn't rise at all and when baked resembled a doorstop. So don't use water that's really hot!

Focaccia with Rosemary and Sage
1 tsp. honey
1/4 cup warm water
1 envelope yeast
1 tsp. sea salt
3 cups flour
3/4 Tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves
3 Tbsp. warm water
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup cold water

Topping
sea salt
olive oil
chopped fresh sage
chopped fresh rosemary

In a small bowl, combine the 1/4 cup of warm water, honey and yeast. Set aside for 8-10 minutes, it should begin to form bubbles and release a delicious yeasty aroma. In either a large bowl or a food processor, combine the 3 cups of flour, 1 tsp. of sea salt and 3/4 Tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves, mix well. Once the yeast, water and honey have started to froth, mix together with the remaining 3 Tbsp. of warm water, 3 Tbsp. of olive oil and 1 cup of cold water. Add this liquid mixture to the flour, mixing either by hand or in the food processor. This will form a sticky dough. Turn this sticky dough onto a floured work surface and knead for 3 minutes, incorporating more flour as needed. Place in an oiled bowl, brushing the top of the dough with olive oil also, and cover with a kitchen towel. Allow to rise until at least doubled in bulk, 1-2 hours. This will also smell wonderful :)

Preheat your oven to 400. Lightly flour a baking sheet. Take your dough, punch it down so it's no longer inflated, and form a thick sheet of focaccia. Using your fingers, make indentations in the top of the dough, so small amounts of olive oil can sit inside. Sprinkle the top with the sage, rosemary and sea salt, liberally distribute olive oil over the top. Allow to rest and rise a little bit on the baking sheet, about 15 minutes.

Bake for about 15 minutes, a little longer for a more lightly browned outside. Enjoy! We ate this as a snack, and then the next day we made sandwiches with provolone and ham in a panini maker- these were delicious and really fast and easy! Don't have a panini maker? Just use a pan over low heat on the stove and use a heavy pot cover or bacon press to press the sandwich.

February 2, 2011

Mmmmmmmm... Rib Eyes and Fennel and Mache Salad...

Oh my goodness, rib eyes! Rib eyes, yes. Now, I used to be a filet mignon person. Don't get me wrong, filet is great- the texture is wonderful, but I think we can all agree that sometimes a filet is a little lacking in the flavor department. Enter stage left, the rib eye. My husband used to always say it was his favorite steak and I never understood why until recently. Now I am an absolute convert! Team rib eye, all the way.

Rib Eyes Marinated in Olive Oil with Garlic
(serves 2 very hungry people)
2 rib eyes, (boneless, a little less than 1" thick)
1/2 cup olive oil
2-4 garlic cloves, chopped, (2 if large, 4 if small)
1 tsp. sea salt
20 grinds freshly cracked pepper
generous pinch crushed chili peppers (chili flakes)
generous pinch dried rosemary

Mix together the marinade, evenly distribute over the two rib eyes. Marinate a few hours in the refrigerator.

Fennel and Mache Salad with Parmesan
(serves 2, multiply as needed)
1/2 fennel bulb, cut horizontally to create 'rings,' discard stems and center portions with leaves
2-3 cups mache leaves

Dressing:
1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. olive oil
pinch sea salt
5 grinds freshly ground pepper

To make the dressing, combine all the ingredients in a mason jar. Screw on the lid and just shake!

Combine the fennel pieces and mache in a small bowl. When ready to serve, place on plates, top with dressing and top with freshly grated parmesan.

To cook your rib eyes- we use our big green egg. If you are in the market for a BBQ, you should seriously consider one of these... They are just outstanding. You can cook low and slow, you can sear steaks at a high temperature, you can smoke with wood chips, you can use it as a pizza oven, this thing is just outstanding. We cooked our rib eyes for 3 minutes on each side at between 450-500 degrees using a cast iron grate that left beautiful juicy grill marks... Fire up your grills, it's rib eyes for dinner!