Red Velvet Cake

Ginny returned from his far-too-long sojourn to Australia and of course we had a big party. Themed party, because why not. Themed costume party, because we’re all only pretending to be grown-ups.

I decided to make a few contributions, namely, of course, a cake. After asking my friends for a few opinions, the overwhelming consensus was that I needed to make a red velvet cake. So a little research provided a few recipes I was ready to tweak, reducing oil, adding more cocoa powder, making a few substitutions.

2 eggs
1 cup oil (canola)
1 cup milk + 1 Tbs vinegar (instead of buttermilk)
1 Tbs apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla.
The rest of the bottle of red food coloring from my seven layer cookies (2 oz was recommended)
2 1/2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 Tbs cocoa powder
Pinch of salt

Whisked the dry ingredients together in one bowl, then beat the eggs and the rest of the wet ingredients in a larger bowl, then mixed the dry into it in batches, a vibrant red batter. Divided in two, and baked in my round cake pan at 350F for 30 minutes. Cool in the fridge.

I was a bit afraid at first, even though the batter was so red, the first cake came out a little brown on top. But when I assembled the cake and trimmed it even, cutting it revealed a blood-scarlet interior. And the scraps were delicious–I had to prevent myself from eating the cake right then and there.

I put together a quick cream cheese frosting: 2 packs of 8 oz cream cheese, softened, 1 stick of butter, softened, 2 cups of powdered sugar and a dash of vanilla, creamed together (a hand mixer would be so nice to own!) painfully into a smooth concoction. I spread a thin layer between the two cakes, and then a thin layer around it, to “crumb” or catch all the crumbs. Put this in the fridge for 15 minutes, then applied a thick, smooth layer one it had set slightly, to ensure a smooth, crumb-less frosting. I had a little bit leftover, so I colored it green, improvised a pastry bag out of a ziplock bag, and made the cake a little fancy.

Red Velvet Welcome Home Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting, inexpertly frosted

Beautiful, delicious, and quickly eaten, which is good otherwise I would have eaten far too many slices myself.

Beautifully red and sinfully addictive cake for Ginny

Other party prep included an adventure to get a photoshop banner printed (and I will never be able to go back to that particular Kodak Express without being judged as that crazy, strange foreign girl with creepy friends), nailing together a bar out of a salvaged reception desk and some cheap black sheets (end result: actually pretty classy looking), and some last minute costume design (surprisingly, I whipped up an amazing Pokemon costume for a friend out of some old shirts and a needle, and a passable last-minute Princess Jasmine costume for another friend out of a shawl)

Cake was a success, welcoming Ginny back to his proper country was a success, and ended, as good things should, with a Batman movie marathon and a boatload of Gung Ho pizza.


Roasted Bone Marrow and Honeyed Chicken

I bought this cook book, Bones, and read through it voraciously, and ever since I’ve been really craving and wanting to attempt my hand at bone marrow. The author just makes it sound so delicious. So in my adventure to Sanyuanli on Sunday, I stopped at the mutton and beef stall, and asked the little Uighyr man if he had bone marrow. He didn’t. So then I changed tactics, and asked if they sold the leg bones of cows. Surprise, surprise, they did! The girl behind the butcher table dug out two bones from the freezer, and I chose the smaller, since I’m only feeding this decadent treat to myself. I had her cut it into two pieces about 3 inches long.

First, I soaked the bone chunks in a mixture of water and two tablespoons of salt, for 24 hours, changing the water and salt 3 times.
Dried the bones, patting them down with paper towels, then placed in a lightly oiled baking dish. At 450F (230 C) for 20-25 minutes, when the marrow starts to puff slightly. Served very simply sprinkled with fleur de sel on slices of toasted baguette.

This was decadent. Delicious. Slippery, rich, buttery, meaty. I was transported with delight, fishing out little bits of the marrow with a tiny spoon to spread over bread. Some of the marrow rendered down in melted fat over the cutting board, in which I soaked some of the crusts of bread…I am the fattest panda. But it was so good!

Roasted bone marrow, sprinkled with fleur de sel, ready to be spread over crusty bread

Two servings per person make an excellent appetizer–there isn’t much more than a mouthful of marrow in the bones. For a main course, I turned to a plate of spaetzle and honeyed chicken. The spaetzle recipe I’ve posted before: 2 cups flour, 7 eggs, 1/4 cup milk, with a sprinkle of salt, pepper and cinnamon for a little extra. Refrigerate for an hour, then press through a wide holed colander into salted boiling water (This is messy and easier when you have a kitchen buddy, but somehow I managed, and only got spaetzle dough all over the stove). Remove with slotted spoon as soon as they float to the top, and into a prepared ice bath to stop cooking. Do not over crowd the pot or you’ll get one giant spaetzle blob! Half of the batch I froze after draining (spread out on a flat surface, once frozen place in a ziplock bag), and the rest I kept on ice until the chicken was done, and then tossed with butter and some torn up herbs.

The honeyed chicken is a recipe I found on a cooking website that tries to create all the food mentioned in Game of Thrones. I wanted to make a roast chicken in honor of Julia Child and her hundredth birthday, and her assertion that a well-executed roast chicken makes a good chef, and of course that “the best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the heck out of a chicken” but I was looking for a slightly different take then my normal roast. The GoT recipe included a lovely sounding honey sauce.

After brining the chicken over night, I patted it dry. I tweaked the recipe a bit, and slipped thin slices of lemon, garlic, and pats of butter UNDER the skin, before rubbing the skin down with olive oil and butter (to ensure crispiness), and throwing some celery and lemon into the cavity. Roast this for an hour and forty minutes at 400F, when pierced the juice from the thigh should run clear.

The honeyed part comes from a sauce made of reducing 1/2 cup vinegar, 1/3 cup honey, and dried fruit. Their recipe called for raisins, but I don’t like them, so I did with a mixture of chopped dried dates and dried cranberries, and I added some lemon juice as well. Mix this on the stove until it has thickened and the fruit is plump. Once the chicken is done, spoon the sauce all over it.

Herb and butter tossed spaetzle and sweet corn, honeyed roast chicken

The honeyed sauce really made the entire dish. Roast chicken is roast chicken, which is good and all, but the sauce elevated it. A little bit sharp and vinegar tangy, the dried fruits were sweet and tart and were the perfect accompaniment to a bite of chicken and noodle, although next time I’d probably only use cranberries and not dates, the dates were a bit mealy-textured.

After gorging myself and watching old episodes of No Reservations, I shredded up the rest of the meat off the bones. The skin, fat, and carcass I used to make a giant pot of stock, and while that was bubbling away merrily on the stove, I became a taco-making robot.

I now have a drawer full of tacos in my freezer for quick and easy future consumption. I whipped up a batch of guacamole and salsa, caramelized an onion and tossed in some sweet corn, then shredded cheese. Assembled with sour cream and the chicken, then tightly wrapped up in tin foil and popped in the freezer. Instant dinners! Pro-tip: microwave the tortillas in a damp towel for a minute, they become more pliable for rolling without tearing. Second pro-tip: burritos are better than tacos, get the larger tortillas so you can put more filling in.

In Which Robot Starts Boxing, Hilarity Will Probably Ensue

So somewhere along the way I decided that running marathons isn’t enough torture, no, no I needed to take it up a notch, and when some friends mentioned they were signing up for a boxing class, this silly robot decided, wow, that sounds like fun!

Part of my logic is that if I pay for three-times a week class where I commit to showing up and getting yelled at to do get into shape and do abdominal conditioning, then I’ll actually go, instead of paying for a gym membership and then going three times in 6 months and half heartedly doing some pushups and running on the treadmill. The downside is, of course, committing to showing up and having some ridiculous Muay Thai fighter yell at you to do ab work. We haven’t even gotten to the punching part, and I’m dying. I can only assume that I’m going to get hit in the face, or fall over my own feet, or some other catastrophe. Thank goodness for Vitamin I(bu profen). Because I am in some serious pain, and it’s only been two classes. Things I’ve learned about myself thus far: I am REALLY clumsy and have no balance to speak of. Ab work is GOING to kill me. And I haven’t done a real push up…in years.

So since two of these classes are late evenings after work, there are going to be two nights a week when I get home at 10 pm without the energy to stand, much less cook dinner. And really, my wallet can only handle late night emergency orders of Gung Ho pizza so many times. So yesterday I went to Sanyuanli bright and early and loaded up on all sorts of food product–my plan was to make many, many dinner and freeze them. After the Sunday class, however, I had no strength to cook, I merely tottered to dinner with friends at yang tui and gorged myself on lamb (I dare you to not feel like either a warring Mongol or a dragon while hacking into a sizzling haunch of lamb while it roasts on top of flames). But I did manage to prepare a brine for the whole chicken I’m roasting and soak the bone marrow.

Also, the only other thing I accomplished over my weekend was to make smoothie popsicles. In an attempt to a) eat breakfast regularly, even when chronically late for work, b) to eat healthy breakfasts instead of muffins from Costa and c) to stop spending so much money at the rip-off Jamba Juice near the office, I bought a couple bags of frozen berries and yogurt from April Gourmet, some mangos and bananas and red-fruits juice at Sanyuanli. Blended up about equal parts of mango, banana, raspberry and blueberry with a splash of the juice and a few spoonfuls of yogurt. Then I poured this into popsicle molds I bought at Carrefour when I first moved, but had forgotten about all summer. The result? Tasty, refreshing, portable breakfast popsicle.

This is also a good way to pre-make smoothies–if not in popsicle molds, then in an ice tray or muffin tin, blend a big batch, freeze into cubes, and when you’re ready for a smoothie, instead of having to assemble all the fruit and juice and yogurt, just blend up a couple of the frozen smoothie-pucks.

Italian Rainbow Cookies

Wonder of wonders, after an entire summer of sitting in an office, I actually got a chance to wear a bathing suit and jump in a pool. Bliss. A friend very obligingly hosted a barbecue and pool party. To show my gratitude, and because I had it programmed into me that you never go anywhere empty handed (yeah, nice enough sentiment, but you try explaining to a very skeptical woman why her 12 year old daughter’s friend showed up to her house with a bottle of wine for her…”My parents made me! It’s for you and your husband” isn’t that believable) I attended bearing many, many snacks. A jar of home made ricotta and bacon jam to start, to spread on bread and snack on while waiting for burgers to grill. The jam and cheese disappeared pretty quickly, and a few marriage proposals might have been tossed my way. Bacon jam is just that good.

I’d been craving cake and desserts all week, so I also brought a chocolate cake, and a tray of Italian rainbow cookies, also known as seven-layer cookies (I can justify making all the baked goods I want as long as I share). You don’t really find these outside little Italian or sometimes Jewish delis on the east coast. My grandmother used to buy them for us from time to time when we were kids. I’d never thought about making them until I saw a recipe on smittenkitchen pop up while I was searching for a recipe to use up almonds.

If I had known what a pain it would be, I probably wouldn’t have bothered, but they were delicious and probably worth the effort in the end.

Made almond paste. Very important to note that you should grind the almond and sugar first, and then add egg white. Otherwise, blender gets all gummed up and refuses to blend. Had to start over. Equal parts about one cup of blanched almonds to powdered sugar, then one egg white
Smitten Kitchen’s recipe is here. I’m too lazy to write the thing up after making the damn cookies. They are exhausting. But sort of worth it.

Notes: It took a lot more food coloring than I thought it would to get more than a pastel of either–and at 2 dollars a bottle, food coloring is kind of expensive. Plus, it got everywhere. Shirt, hands, face, table, all stained.

Try really hard to spread the dough into thin, even batter. Mine weren’t pretty, very uneven, and went from thing edged to thick in the middle, which makes cutting thema t the end difficult.

Melted chocolate: When will I learn? I hate working with chocolate.
Smitten Kitchen says: Spread it thinly and evenly over the top of the cookie. Freeze for 15-30 minutes, flip, paint the chocolate on the other side, and then she recommended freezing and then cutting because it was less messy. Well,I dont know how messy it would have been without that, because as much as I tried, the chocolate woud melt, crack, fall off. I tried to press the pieces back on.

They didn’t come out very professionally looking and were messy and a lot of effort, but every last crumb was eaten at the pool party and they were much admired, so I think they were worth it. They apparently keep at least a week in an airtight container in the fridge, and in the freezer for much longer, although I didn’t have any extra to test that.

Mine came out so messy that I didn’t even bother to take a picture.

Lychee Panna Cotta with Mango Gelee

I had a carton of cream in the fridge from the corn chowder that I needed to use up, a bowl of lychees I didn’t really want to eat, a mango I had forgotten about in the produce drawer, and a tiny bag of unflavored gelatin powder left over from the chocolate lacquer cake glaze.

So I decided to make a batch of panna cotta.

First I peeled all the lychees, about 15, (this recipe is infinitely easier with a can of lychees in syrup), cut the flesh away from the pits, and blended it with a few tablespoons of golden syrup and 1/4 cup water. This I mixed in a saucepan with 1 cup of cream (I was going to add 1/2 cup milk, but the carton had inexplicably spoiled after being open for one measly day!). I let this simmer for 15 minutes, in the mean time I poured 3/4 Tbs of gelatin into 1/4 cup water and let it bloom (stand for at least 5 minutes).

Strain all the solids out of the cream mixture, and discard. Remove from heat, mix the cream with about 2/3 of the gelatin until dissolved. Let it cool for 15 minutes, then pour into shot glasses/dessert cups/what have you. Chill in the fridge at least 3 hours.

I took the mango and cut it into small pieces, extracting all the juiciness from the pit, into a sauce pan. (You could probably blend it up, but my blender was still covered in chickpea mash). I mashed the fruit as best I could, added 1/3 cup water, a spoonful of sugar, and let it simmer, continuing to mash the mango, stirring to dissolve the sugar. After maybe 15 minutes, I strained the solids out, pressing as much liquid out of it as possible, and then added the mango liquids to the gelatin. Stir until completely dissolved, and let cool. This is important. If it’s too warm when you pour it over the panna cotta, the panna cotta will melt a little, and white clouds will rise up into the yellow gelee.

Lychee Panna Cotta with Mango Gelee

Spoon it over the panna cotta, and then let chill in the fridge. This looks especially impressive and elegant when served in a little shot glass or small water glass. It’s a fairly low effort dessert (compared to a layer cake or anything involving decorating with chocolate) and has infinite variations of flavor, whatever fruit or even vegetable you have kicking around the kitchen–I’ve even seen a recipe for a savory goat cheese panna cotta topped with cranberry jelly, which I am definitely going to make for Thanksgiving.