February 23, 2011

Birthday Cake

I've known D since grade school, fourth grade in fact. We've been through four or five different stages of awkward together... really, really, awkward. Together we've flown past our awkward teens, through our unsure 20's, and now are happily enjoying the start of our 30's with new found comfort in ourselves. There have been times that we haven't spoken out of annoyance, distance, or just being busy. There have been times when we needed each other and no one else would do.

Knowing D though, means knowing her specific likes and dislikes when it comes to birthday cakes. She's... picky, (and she's going to get me back for calling her that, I assure you!). She likes her cake moist, but not too moist. She doesn't like dark chocolate, only milk. Raspberries make her gag, but strawberries make her happy. So, I made her a moist, but not too moist yellow cake, with strawberries, not raspberries, in a chocolate, dulce de leche frosting. The frosting was risky... it's made with semi-sweet chocolate not milk chocolate. But thankfully, the frosting is too impossibly delicious not to love, so she did.

Yellow Cake
adapted from Martha Stewart

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup fresh strawberries, sliced
3/4 cup Triple Sec (or other fruity liquor)
-Let Strawberries it in Triple Sec until ready to use.

-Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 10" circular cake pan or a 13x9 sheet pan. Dust the pan with flour and tap out excess.
-Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
-Beat butter with standing (with paddle attachment) or hand held mixer until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Slowly add sugar, and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until well incorporated, occasionally scraping down the sides of bowl.
-Mix together buttermilk and vanilla. Slowly add the sifted flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk mixture in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Do not over-beat.
-Drain Strawberries (save liquor) and mix into batter with a spatula - do not over mix.
-Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake until a tester comes out clean, about 30-40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Remove cake from pan, and cool completely on wire rack. 
-With a pastry brush, brush the top of the cake using the Triple Sec the strawberries soaked in. Do this twice, letting the liquid soak in between brushes. Don't brush more than twice though or things can get soggy.

Chocolate Dulce De Leche Frosting

can dulce de leche (13 - 14 ounces)
5 ounces semi-sweet or darker chocolate
1/2 stick unsalted butter

-Chop chocolate into small pieces. If butter is isn't soft, cut into thin slices.
-In double boiler, melt chocolate, butter, and dulce de leche, mixing frequently with wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula.
-Continue to double boil until everything is melted and well incorporated.
-Let cool for a few minutes before frosting the top of the cake.
-Let the frosting cool and set-up before serving. 

This isn't a traditional frosting, it's a little thick and sticky, but so worth it!

February 14, 2011

An Inaugural Lunch

My parents just finished a massive remodel of their kitchen. It's really stunning. I picked out all the appliances because they asked me to and I couldn't wait to get my hands on that new stove-top and counters. So when my Mother asked me to come over to help her unpack the kitchen and get it set up, I gladly agreed as long as I could make lunch.

I adapted this recipe from one that I found in my old recipe box. It was a long forgotten but much loved dish. Unfortunately, I never wrote down where I found it or who the recipe belongs to, so I can't thank them properly. That being said, its a wonderfully easy and elegant recipe that's pretty much fool-proof. It's perfect for a crowd and very easily doubled or tripled (I doubled it). And although the leftovers are at my parents place, we have been assured, that like so many other great recipes, this is excellent the next day, too.

Apricot Chicken
1 whole chicken, skin on, cut in 8 pieces
3/4 lb dried apricots
1/2 cup red wine
1/4 red wine vinegar
1/3 cup chicken stock
1 small / medium shallot, sliced
1 medium / large yellow or Spanish onion, sliced
1 tbs fresh thyme
1 tbs olive oil
Salt & pepper

-Place apricots, wine, and vinegar in a bowl, set aside.
-Season chicken liberally with salt and pepper, then brown in heavy bottom pot in olive oil in batches. As pieces brown, set aside on platter.
-De-glaze the pot with chicken stock (add stock to pot and scrape up all the brown bits). Add onions and shallots, let cook until tender - about 2-3 minutes.
-Add thyme. Put chicken back in pot. Pour over the apricots with the wine and vinegar, bring to boil, then lower heat. Let simmer all together until chicken is cooked, about 20 minutes.
-Remove chicken, place on serving platter. Boil apricots and liquid until reduced to a sauce (the sugar from the apricots will thicken the sauce slightly). Pour sauce over chicken and serve with some crusty bread.

PS -  the colors in the picture aren't off - the chicken and onions will take on a pink hue due to the wine.

February 8, 2011

A Gift to Myself

My Christmas gift to myself was a recipe box - a custom recipe box. My old one was metal and had rusted at the bottom so badly, it stained any surface it was on. I picked up my new one from the post office this past Saturday and tore it open like a kid. I know, I know, it's 2011. It's the age of iPad's and electric cars and why the hell do I need a recipe box? I'm fully aware that I could scan all my recipes into any number of devices I use day-to-day and with the push of a button summon my top secret chocolate chip cookie recipe. But besides the practical issues that include accidental batter dipped smart phones and oil-burned e-readers, there's something to be said about a recipe on 4x6 index card.

A friend called me a Grandmother when I enthusiastically showed her pictures of my new box. Personally, I couldn't think of a better compliment. I don't care how many doo-dads, canisters of compressed air, and precision cooking thermometers you have; nothing was better than your grandmother's mushroom barley soup. I can almost guarantee that soup recipe was written on a 4x6 index card. The corners of that card were soft and worn, probably bent, too. There were thirteen different colored stains on it and the perfect script of your grandmother's hand had all but faded to a mere shadow. 

Well here is my recipe box, just begging to be filled with my old stained recipe cards and new favorites yet to come. I found the woman who lovingly made this box on Etsy. Her store is called Gifts and Talents and she's a sweetheart. I asked for Wayne Thiebaud and cherries and that's exactly what she gave me. The first recipe to grace the box? My Godmother's Chutney Recipe... there are only three people in the world who have that recipe, I'm one of them. Now doesn't something that precious deserve a gilded home? I think so, too. 

February 4, 2011

Quality Meats

I want to start this post off with a couple of notes and admissions...

The pictures are not fabulous, I know this. But to be fair, it was my first time taking pictures in a restaurant and oh man its hard! You don't want to annoying to your fellow diners, you don't want to annoy the establishment, you have to deal with the lighting (or more to the point, lack thereof), you have to deal with a possibly wobbly table (which we had), and you have to deal with lack of angles since you can't just pop up and moves everything around until its perfect.

I'm not a huge fan of restaurant reviews in blogs. If I don't live in your city or town and have no plans to be there shortly, it just sort of feels like some kind of foodie torture you know? Oh really, it was hands down the best risotto you have ever had in your life? That's awesome except you're in Chicago and I'm in Brooklyn! Not fair.

Since I had absolutely no hand in prepping or even buying the items for the meal, I feel sort of like I'm cheating here. I think I'll get over this one though.

It's restaurant "week" in NYC right now. I use the term "week" lightly since in fact its more like month, but that's neither here nor there. What is important is that some of the best eateries in all of New York are offering pre-fixe menus for lunch at $24.07 and dinner at $35.00. Thanks to years past I've been able to eat at places that would have otherwise cost me a few month's salary.

I went to Quality Meats, a place in midtown near my office, with a couple of ladies from my office. We chose Quality partially because the menu looked wonderful, but also partially because all of our bosses take their clients to lunch there and we wanted to know what all the fuss was about. The appeal was almost immediate... there is no fuss. That's whats so damn nice about it. No silly frilly decor, nothing pretentious, no techno or oddly Japanese-like or is it Indian, music playing. Nope, just a place with exposed brick, comfy wooded chairs, and some wonderful lighting, which sadly didn't photograph well.

Our App choices were a Cesar salad, a butternut squash soup with gingerbread croutons (great idea that, I'll have to borrow it), and steak tartar. Never one to pass up raw meat and eggs, I chose the tartar and I'm so glad I did. It was probably the tastiest steak tartar I've ever had and I'm sorry to my fellow Chicago foodies who won't be having it tonight.

For main the options were: grilled chicken salad (boring), skirt steak with brandied cherries (which one of us had, it was nice if not a little too sweet), and  baby back ribs. Now I had originally thought about the steak, but my waitress convinced me otherwise - she was right. These ribs were fantastic! They had a spicy Thai rub on them and were doused in honey. They were sticky, tender, sweet, and spicy. So damn good. I just might have to go back for those someday.

Desserts were cute. They make their own ice creams over there and I chose "Coffee & Donuts" not entirely sure what I would be getting. It happened to be coffee ice cream, with chocolate donut pieces, and chocolate sprinkles... a mini chocolate donut on top. I really don't have to tell you that it was clever and charming and delicious, but I will. What a fun idea and there is nothing as yummy as homemade ice cream. All in all, it was a very happy tummy day.