Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Just the cake for you.

Yep, it's as good as it looks.
So much for not being a cake person. Growing up I avoided cake at most birthday parties. Dry flavorless crumbs, almost always in the vanilla or chocolate variety never got me very excited. Sure I would lick the icing, but you were way more likely to find me sitting at the pizza table, than sitting by the cake. I've always preferred salty over sweet, which may also explain my salty personality :)

As I've gotten older I've realized that a good quality cake is one of the best things you can put in your mouth. You just have to use quality ingredients. No box mixes for me, they are bland and dry disasters. For my birthday a friend got me a wonderful book, called Cake Ladies that is all about delicious cakes and the stories and women who make them. The author owns a bake shop in town so it's neat to be reading from a local chef. She also makes a salted caramel cupcake that is like heaven in your mouth.

Currently I don't have a lot of occasions that warrant making an entire cake, so I mostly just look at the beautiful recipes in this book and dream. But every now and then I just break down and have to make a cake. Sure I wish I HAD to run a marathon or eat a big salad, but mostly I just want to bake cake. Strangely enough I don't even want to eat that much of it, just bake it. Baking is very calming and cathartic for me. Baking is much different from cooking, baking cannot be rushed and the ingredients must be exact.
In general I like fruit desserts, so when I saw this recipe for banana cake I knew I found something great. Basically it's punched up banana bread with a cream cheese frosting. If you wanted to make a cake, but wanted something a bit different than the traditional chocolate or white cake, this is a easy all purpose cake that sings with flavor. The orange zest really bumps up the flavor and is the perfect compliment to the banana flavor. I may just have to start using orange zest in my banana bread. I rushed the decorating part of the cake, but there are lots of options. Most of the ingredients you should have in your pantry and this is a great way to use up ripe bananas while also making the people around you very happy! Hope you enjoy!
Very easy to make, just prepare batter
Pour into cake pan. Bake and enjoy! 

Banana Cake

The Goods: 
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1 orange
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe below)
Walnuts halves, for decorating

The Deal: 
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 x 2-inch round cake pan. In the bowl of the electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the bananas, granulated sugar, and brown sugar on low speed until combined. With the mixer on still on low, add the oil, eggs, sour cream, vanilla, and orange zest. Mix until smooth.

2. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Stir in the chopped walnuts. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, turn out onto a cooling rack and cool completely. Spread the frosting thickly on the top of the cake and decorate with walnut halves.

Cream Cheese Frosting: For one 9-inch cake
6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups sifted confectioners sugar

Mix the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on low speed until just combined. Don't whip. Add the sugar and mix until smooth.
This cake has been Kirstin Approved. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Fancy Mac and Cheese? Oh yes.

Hot Damn if I don't feel fancy every time I say Gratin. This dish is simple to make, and can be as fancy, or as simple as you want. I chose to make my own sauce because it was Saturday and I had the time. Feel free to use store bought sauce, just pick out a good quality one. I loved the smoky flavor the Sofrito added to the dish, but again it's up to you how complicated you want to get, jarred sauce saves you a good amount of time. I used goat cheese because I ran out of parmesan, but again this is a flexible dish, so use cheese you know and love. I love dishes that make it easy to eat vegetables, and since its similar to mac and cheese this is wonderful to serve to both kids and adults.

Penne and Cauliflower Gratin with a Spicy Tomato Cream Sauce

The Goods: Serves 4-5 as main dish
1/4 cup goat cheese or parmesan
1 small cauliflower (about 4 cups), cut into small florets
1/2 pound whole wheat penne
1 1/4 cups chunky Sofrito or store bought marinara sauce
1 cup half and half or 2% milk
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup finely chopped basil or parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil

The Deal: 
1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Drop in the cauliflower and cook five minutes, or until just tender. Scoop it out with a strainer and drop it into a 2 1/2 quart casserole. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Drop the penne into the water and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain it in a colander and shake to remove all moisture. Mix it into the cauliflower.

3. In a large bowl mix together tomato sauce, milk, garlic, red pepper flakes, basil, cheese and salt. Pour the sauce into the casserole dish and toss well to mix the sauce, pasta and cauliflower.

4. Combine the bread crumbs and olive oil in a small bowl and mix until evenly moistened. Sprinkle all over the gratin. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until hot, bubbly and golden on top. Let it sit for 5 minutes before serving.