Archive | June, 2012

Spice Cake

30 Jun

So I hunted for ages to find this recipe.  I found so many Apple Spice Cakes, Pumpkin Spice Cakes, Spice Bundt Cakes, Walnut Praline Spice Cakes… The list goes on, but I just wanted a very simple spice cake, which I eventually found on The Hungry Mouse.  I made it for my dad’s birthday and it went over marvelously.

I bought a new Murakami book today.  My boss recommended Kafka on the Shore, which I understand is one of his most famous.  But I went for Wild Sheep Chase because I thought it sounded more interesting.  I’m sure I’ll get around to Kafka eventually, since I love, love, love Murakami.  But let me tell you, I’m going camping this weekend and I’m going to read:

Wild Sheep Chase, The Obamians, and Factory Girls.  And Maybe Banzai Babe Ruth.  Mot of those are political books, so I won’t bother telling you about them.  But my recommendation of Murakami still stands, so you’re all aware.

Anyway, spice cake.  Back to your scheduled programming.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cloves (the powdered kind; ground, that’s it)
  • 2 tbsp ground ginger
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar.  Any gradient, but I think dark works best with spice cake because it’s more molasses-y than light.  It’s got a stronger kick.
  • 8 tbsp butter, or 1 stick, softened
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk.  I know, ewwwww.  It’s okay, you can make pancakes out of it later
  • 2 eggs

The best thing about this recipe is how easy it is to make:

Mix together all your dry ingredients.

I’m going to warn you now, I got a little camera-crazy when I was baking this.  Especially when I had the whole thing finished and frosted.

I like that.  Finished and frosted.  Hm.

I particularly love all the spices in this recipe.  I know, I know.  It’s spice cake.  What were you expecting?  But I believe that it’s not that easy to mix spices perfectly together.  These spices, for example, complement each other so well.  Ginger has a real bite to it, which would totally change the character of this cake, except that the nutmeg and cloves soften it beautifully.  And cinnamon brings such a great snap to the whole thing.  It’s a well-put-together recipe for sure.

I made a spice gradient.  Because that’s how cool I am.

So alright, mix it all together until it looks like that.

Next, add the butter and the buttermilk.

The classy Dean & Deluca mug has nothing to do with the recipe.  I was just too lazy to move it out of the way.

That’s something I miss about New York.  Dean & Deluca is part of my childhood, and it’s still treated as a beautiful luxury in my family.  That place is amazing.  We go there almost exclusively for things like sugar, honey, and chocolate, so I have very sweet memories of the place.

I just realized that it looks like the measuring cup looks like it’s floating.  How cool would that be?  So you didn’t have to hold onto thing while taking pictures.

So beat that until it’s smooth and fluffy.

Okay, not so fluffy, but that’s fine.

Then, add the eggs.  Beat until well-combined, and then pour into a greased pan.  The recipe says to use a square pan, but I wanted to make a layer cake.  The layers were small and two different widths, but it worked pretty well.

The recipe also said to trace the pan you’re going to use onto parchment paper, grease the bottom of the pan, lay in the parchment paper, and grease it again, which I found to work exceedingly well.

I’m sitting outside as I write this, and I’m pretty sure I’m being eaten alive.

No big deal.

(Ouch ouch ouch)

Bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes if making one layer, or a bit less than that if making two layers.  Sorry, but I didn’t time it, so I don’t know the specifics.  But you should be able to stick in a cake tester and have it come out clean.

In other words, it should look like this.  The top will puff out like that, and it may crack, but that’s totally normal.

And I am very, very pleased to announce that I extracted my cakes perfectly.

Perfectly.

I took many pictures of myself holding the layers and smiling triumphantly, which I put on Tumblr and Facebook and the like.  Because do you know what?  This is the very first time in my life that I made a cake that turned out right.

Every other cake has fought to stay in the pan, broken in half, or crumbled oddly upon withdrawal.  But not this time!  I was so proud.  I’m still proud.

And now it’s time for frosting.  You can do what you want, of course, but cream cheese frosting is perfect for spice cake, so that’s what I’m going to show you how to do.

You’re going to need 8 oz of cream cheese (one of those square packages), 12 tbsp of butter, and a cup of powdered sugar.

Mix together the cream cheese and butter and DO NOT EAT because it is highly repulsive at this stage.

Trust me.

Then sift the sugar into the mixture.  I hate sifting, so I understand if you’re grimacing at the screen and going, “Helllll naw!”  But it’s important to sift in this case so that your frosting isn’t lumpy.  Lumpy frosting is not only unattractive, it’s hard to spread, and on a cake, that’s the last thing you need.

Just… sift.  Shhh.  Sift.

You can add more sugar if you need to to make it sweeter or stiffer.  There’s no exact science to making cream cheese frosting.

And then you frost.  I won’t tell you how.  Because I am miserable at it.  Trust me, you don’t want me trying to show you how it’s done.  I’m a total cake-frosting loser.

Sad, but true.  I almost never make cakes, so I don’t have a lot of practice…

But look!  I managed.  And the fact that this is what it should look like is all I can tell you about frosting.  You are on your own, young one.

I told you I took a lot of pictures, didn’t I?  I was so proud of how this turned out, and so nervous that I would fuck it up, which I really, really didn’t want to do, since it was my dad’s birthday cake.

And there you have it.

I have no new book to recommend, but I have music: Beach House.  I haven’t heard much of their new album, but I’ve been listening to their first one almost non-stop.  I’m particularly enchanted by Tokyo Witch.

And I mean, if you’re interested in Chinese economics: I most recently read Mr. China, by Tim Clissold, which I really enjoyed.  But it’s really only for people interested in Chinese economics.  Otherwise, it would probably bore the hell out of you.  #justthefacts

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Breakfast Buns with Streusel Glaze

27 Jun

This post is absolutely meant to tease you.  Because this recipe?  This is good.  These are great to make when you don’t have time for an elaborate breakfast, but you can spend at least a minute getting covered in delicious, sticky streusel glaze, which is exactly how you should start off your morning if you’re not going to drown yourself in stacks of pancakes.  But this is nothing compared to what’s coming at you later today.

In the meantime, breakfast buns.  Mmmm…  Because these use so many eggs, they actually just smell like egg when they’re cooking, which might be off-putting.  But don’t be fooled!  For they are sweet and sugary and, if you do it right, fluffy and soft.  Good times.  These will actually merit the “Good” in “Good morning”.  Trust me.  And trust Magnolia Bakery, because that’s where these are from, as usual.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 sticks butter, softened
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 6 large eggs (yes, really!)
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 3 tbsp water

To make the buns:

Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.

In another bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes.

I love being able to leave butter outside to soften it, instead of resorting to the microwave.  It just bothers me when half the stick melts.  The sugar-butter mixture just doesn’t get as fluffy if most of the butter is in liquid form.

Speaking of butter-sugar mixture…  Going in for the kill.

Success.

Now add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

So many eggs!

Also, fun fact: I can crack an egg one-handed, but only with my right hand even though I am left-handed.  Cracking left-handed in the picture because my camera was made for right-handed folks.  :(

Add the dry ingredients, alternating with the milk, in three parts, beating well after each addition.

I really want a picture of myself in the Rose the Riveter pose, but with an egg beater instead of a drill.  Next time I bake, that’s what I’m doing.  Hell yes.

Spoon the batter into greased muffin cups and bake for ~20 minutes at 350 degrees, or until golden brown and something you stick in the center comes out clean.

To make the glaze, stir the sugar and water together until smooth.  When the buns are done, drench them.

I mean it.

Drench.

Them.

And there you go.

Now if I may, book recommendation of the week: The Samurai’s Garden, by Gail Tsukiyama.  It’s a very short, very beautiful book. It will hardly take you any time to read, and it’s very well worth it.  It’s quiet and lovely and creeps up on you so that, before you know it you’re on the last page and your hoping and hoping that it’s some trick and the book isn’t really over so soon.  Yeah, one of those.

Portobello Mushroom Egg Sandwich

27 Jun

I’m in love.

It’s true.

I’m in love, and do you want to know the object of my affections?

The smell of portobello mushrooms cooking.  Wow.  I’ve never smelled anything like it.  I’ve never had portobello mushrooms, since I only really eat mushrooms raw.  But I put these in the pan, right, and oh man.  Portobello mushrooms, which often serve as beef substitutes, have a robust, meat-y smell when they cook, like they’ve been marinated perfectly just before hitting the pan.  But there’s also a sweet undertone, a promise that you’re getting something fuller than meat.  Where beef has a sharp bite from blood, portobello mushrooms have a bold sweetness from the depths of the Earth where they grow.

Mushroom love.

So okay, there’s my love letter to portobello mushrooms.  Why was I cooking them?  Because I made a sandwich out of them.  My sandwich was inspired by this one, but so, so loosely that I’m not sure I even need to link the original recipe.

Ingredients:

  • One portobello mushroom
  • Two eggs
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • Garlic salt to taste/entire container
  • Bok choy, some leaves (however many you feel you need on your sandwich; this recipe is single-serving)
  • Spring onions, some (see above)
  • Grated parmesan cheese for sprinkling on things
  • (Sorry, this is vague, yeah?)
  • Bread
  • Duh

Alright, here’s what you do:

Chop the bok choy and onions into little bits, and the mushroom into larger pieces.

This is bok choy:

Throw all of that into a pan with about 1 tbsp of butter and cook on medium heat.

When the mushrooms are cooked halfway through, pour the eggs into the pan.  You can fry them if you like, or make them into mini-omelette-type things, like I did.  It depends on how you like your eggs.

The mushrooms should be cooked through now, so drop them onto the egg here.

Mine got everywhere because I am lame and spill food everywhere.

Mmm, yes.

In other news, I’m watching this show on Netflix called Commander In Chief, which is about a female Vice President who succeeds the President when he dies.  It only lasted a season on ABC, and yeah okay, it’s not an extremely quality show.  But I am seriously enjoying it.  Every night for a few days now I’ve been watching this show, because I am a Massive Dork when it comes to American political shows/movies.  I don’t even know why, because I study international relations.  But I am really digging this show.

Okay, that’s all.

I’m trying to figure out what that blue thing is in the background.  I don’t know…

But final verdict on my first Cooked Mushroom Experiment: delicious.  The egg (with a lot of salt, because I salt the hell out of everything) complements the mushroom very well.  And then the handful of onions give the whole thing a crisp tanginess.  Lovely.

 

Peach Cobbler

21 Jun

Alright, full disclaimer: I think cobbler is pretty gross.  I don’t like fruit to be mixing up with my dessert, okay?  Dessert is dessert, and fruit is something I only eat occasionally anyway. But my dad likes cobbler, and so I made him one for Father’s Day.

You have my permission to go “Awww” and make faces at the screen.

Anyway.

I will acknowledge that if you’re into fruity desserts, cobbler is an excellent one, especially for summer.  Even to me, cobbler just screams summer.  Especially when you pile it on top of a massive scoop of vanilla ice cream…  Does that sound like a cliché?  Well, maybe it is, but clichés are around because someone loved an idea or a phrase or an image so much, they just had to share it with the whole world.  Doesn’t that make clichés sound a lot nicer?  I thought so.

In any case, I hope you enjoy this cobbler more than I did, and I hope it feels like a summer-y punch to the gut when you eat it, because that is a really great feeling.

From Magnolia Bakery’s cookbook

Ingredients:

Topping:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 4 tbsp butter, softened

Filling:

  • 4 cups sliced fruit-of-your-choice, but advisedly peaches or nectarines
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1/3 cup unpacked brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp butter

Let’s make some topping:

Stir together the dry ingredients.  Then add the milk and the butter and beat until smooth.

I love gross process pictures, because I love the contrast between nasty lumps of ingredients and the finished dessert.  I mean, look at that goop.  Butter and milk slopped on top of a pile of flour?  Ew.  But it becomes cobbler!  How great is that?  Iconic, American cobbler…  To add to the clichés, picture perfect.

For the filling…:

Throw everything you’ve got into a saucepan.

If you’re using canned fruit, make sure you drain it.

Cook on medium heat, stirring frequently until the mixture is thick and bubbly, for about 10 minutes. Pour into an ungreased 8×8 baking dish.

Pour the topping… on top… and spread evenly.  As evenly as you can, anyway.  The topping gets pretty gummy when applied to cooked peaches.  Do your best and I’m sure it’ll be fine.

Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar.  I feel like there should be a word for cinnamon-sugar mixture.  One concise word, I mean, because it’s such a ubiquitous topping.  I like to put it on toast, as do many folks, as well as one peaches, on cupcakes, and cobbler.  So you see, it should really have its own word.

Something that is not “cinnagur”, because that just sounds like vinegar.

You see two pans, don’t you.  Don’t fear, I’m not trying to deceive you or anything, using other people’s pictures and passing them off as my own.

Really, I’m not.

I made two cobblers because I had extra peaches.

See?

Bake for 30-40 minutes at 350 degrees, or until a cake tester comes out of the top clean.

Voilà, cobbler!

Enjoy with friends, family, or with yourself and your endless Netflix queue.  I won’t judge either which way.  But be sure to eat this with ice cream, as I mentioned, otherwise you are really missing out.

Or so I’m told.

Next up (by which I mean either tonight or tomorrow): Breakfast Buns with Streusel Glaze

Awwww yeah

Also, here is your book recommendation of the week: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami.

Don’t read anything about it.  Not even the blurb.  Just go to your library or bookstore or your friend who seems to have every book ever and read it.  Just… trust me.

You trust me with your desserts, right?  So trust me on this, too.  It’ll be weird and maybe a little uncomfortable, but totally, totally worth it in the end.

 

Fried Rice. Just Ordinary Fried Rice This Time

20 Jun

This isn’t really a recipe post; I just thought I’d share pictures of my dinner from last night.  No special reason, but it’s nice to have little chats sometimes that don’t have any clear purpose.

I used frozen spinach.  Ech, I know, but there were no vegetables in my house.  Not  a single little leaf or sprout.  I guess my family no longer eats vegetables, with the exception of my dad who keeps these gross frozen packages of peas and corn–my least favorite foods.  I’m absolutely going to Whole Foods this weekend and getting peppers and bok choy and onions…  It will be great.

Also, tofu.  I’m sort of fascinated by it.

That top egg (I rotated the picture… hmm, what happened) was way larger than any of the others in the carton, and I found out when I cracked it into the frying pan.  Twin yolk!  Whooooo!

Well I was excited anyway.

It’s just… those little things, those little surprises that mean absolutely nothing but are still absurdly delightful just because they’re little and they’re surprises.  Something you couldn’t have expected even if you’d tried.  I like things like that.

It’s 95 degrees right now and I’m sitting on the patio in the back of my house in a bathing suit, which I have never done before.  But it’s disgustingly hot, and the idea of wearing actual clothes makes me want to dig a hole deep, deep underground where it’s cool and dark and stay there forever.

I had a sort of experimental iced mocha that I made, homemade soda, and pineapple so far. I’m not even really hungry, which is disappointing because I had plans for today.  Plans in the shape of homemade falafel and hummus.

By homemade I mean from boxed mixes because I found some in my cupboard last night when I was looking for rice.  They’re probably from six years ago when we went to Israel, but I feel like that stuff doesn’t really expire…  I guess I’ll find out, right?

Also, as you can see, I got to use the wok.  It was

Intense.

So was washing it, but not in a good way.

Ugggh washing it was such a pain.

But woks are very cool.  I’ve never used one before.  I may have to get one for the apartment because I have this problem where I throw food everywhere when I’m trying to make dinner, and you can’t do that with a wok because of the depth of the pan.  A+ design.

I added one of these noodle nests, too.  I misread the directions and tried to add the nest straight to the wok, not realizing that I did indeed have to boil it first.

This probably seems obvious to you, but you know what, sometimes a person just isn’t thinking.

And this is what I came up with!  Using the fancy chopsticks I brought back from Japan for my dad.

Man, I want to go back to Japan so badly.  But China first…

Those brown tubular things are, as the bag labels them, Chinese noodles.  They’re just fried noodles I suppose… I grew up eating them, but I’ve never actually seen them anywhere else now that I think about it.

Anyway, I will let you get back to your life, and I will go back to James Mann’s The China Fantasy.

Up next: an actual recipe post!

A Jazz Age Lawn Party and a Weekend with Friends from the Internet

20 Jun

This past weekend, a friend of mine from Tumblr visited and we hung out in Manhattan.  Yes, that’s right.  Friend from Tumblr.  We started talking when I did a concert review post of an Andrew Bird show, and then found we had quite a lot in common.  I had a very good time with them.  Especially because I suspect we function socially on the same frequency.  There’s a love of talking to people, but there’s also a love of silence.  We read our own books on the train and the subway, walked around in silence, hung out without speaking… I can’t speak for them, but I enjoyed it.

The ferry to Governor’s Island is free on the weekends.

There were dapper people everywhere, and it was lovely.  The twenties is certainly my favorite decade, for music, fashion, weird slang, and leisure activities.  I hadn’t realized how extensively I love it until I wrote out that list…  Hmmm…

I love cars that look cool.  That sort of surprises people when they find out, because I don’t actually like cars at all.  I hate being in them, I don’t want to drive them, and I would prefer it if there were far, far fewer of them.  But I love a good design, and cars have some really fabulous ones.  Old cars, especially, have an uncanny ability grind my gears.

Ha.  Get it?

I’m sorry.

Even if you would never wear it, you can’t tell me that’s not cool?  There aren’t many who can pull that look off, and yet…  I really can’t get over people’s clothes at this thing.  Some of them really knew their way around the decade.

And of course, the main reason we were there: swing dancing.  That’s what I meant by leisure activities, by the way.  I love swing dancing.  I started in January, and have fallen deeply, deeply in love.  It is also the only kind of dancing I can do.  Put me in a club, and I will probably fall down and die.  But put me on that dancefloor?

And I will be very awkward.  But I do know the basic steps of East Coast, Lindy, and Charleston, so I have that going for me at least.

I do so enjoy Charleston.

Mainly because I can–and do–do it anywhere.  Including the El, in case any of you were wondering.  If you don’t believe me… you’ll have to try it yourself.

This woman actually entered the solo Charleston contest.  It was pretty rad.  The whole contest was great fun to watch, actually.

Start ’em young, folks.  Start ’em young.

And, finally, the view from Governor’s Island.  What a lovely place.  I can’t believe I’ve never been there before.  I’ll have to go back with my bike next time…

We had dinner on the mainland (well…) with another Internet friend, at P.J. Clarke’s.  Ohhh man, P.J. Clarke’s.  And then we walked the area, going into bookstores and bagel places, acquiring waffles, and making the kind of small talk wherein you try to learn someone’s life in the span of a few minutes that I have become very accustomed to in college.

It was Golden Hour, which is a very dangerous hour, particularly when I’m in New York City.  Actually, almost every hour is dangerous there, especially when the hours accumulate, because then I think, walking around, dancing around other pedestrians, staring into the setting sun, rushing around beneath the Earth on the Subway… I think I won’t ever leave, and why must I ever leave?  That’s a very dangerous feeling, you know.  Actually you can’t know until you feel it.  And then, I’m sorry if you do.

Brown Sugar Cookies

20 Jun

Hello, it’s been a while.

There’s no real reason.  I could say studying for finals, and I could say settling in back home for summer break, but that’s not really true.  It’s just been one of those things…

But maybe a little goal for the summer will be keeping up with this, just to be writing something.  In the past year, I’ve very much forgotten that I once wanted to be a writer.  (I say once like it was years ago, like I’m very old and have accrued much wisdom.  I just got done being a freshman, so that’s not true either.)  And I’ve been thinking about it, writing I mean, a lot lately because of Peter Hessler.

I read Hessler’s Country Driving, which is about the various road trips he took across China while he was living there.  It was on a list I have of books about China.  None of his other books is on the list, but I couldn’t find any other books that are in Barnes and Noble when I was looking for something to read on the drive from Chicago to New York.  So I got River Towns, by Hessler.  And it made me start thinking about how I was a Very Promising Writer in high school, and people used to joke that they wanted me to sign something so they would have it when I was very famous.

And then I found political science and fell deeply in love with foreign policy (savor that sentence–I’ll bet you anything you’ll never see anything like it again).  But now I’m thinking about writing again.  I don’t think I like writing fiction, so maybe this blog will be something more than I had planned…

We shall see.

In the meantime:

Recipe post!

Brown Sugar Cookies, from Joy the Baker

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 stick butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg

Let’s do this:

Sift your dry ingredients, minus the brown sugar.  Or don’t.  I don’t usually sift anything unless a recipe says SIFT OR ELSE OH MY GOD, which they usually don’t.  Sifting isn’t entirely necessary here.

Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy, for about 3-5 minutes.  Do not eat this.  Do not eat all of it, anyway.  I find I’ve developed this problem with sugar and butter where I eat it.  It’s disgusting, I know, but I can’t seem to stop myself.  I was lactose intolerant for a long time, too, so you would think I would have some residual fear of butter.  Nope.

Beat in the egg until well-combined.

Add the dry ingredients all at once and beat until just combined.

Mix by hand until all the flour disappears.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.  DON’T WORRY.  These are not really refrigerator cookies.  The dough just needs to chill for a bit.

I actually don’t know if you were worried.  I was, when I saw that part of the recipe, simply because I always mess up any cookie with dough that needs refrigeration.  I don’t know.  Winter, summer, doesn’t matter, I fuck it up.

My dough always gets gummy and loses shape, or doesn’t roll into a proper log in the first place…  And now I am not brave enough to tackle such recipes.  But fear not, for this is not one of them.

Once you’ve refrigerated those, you can go ahead and form them into balls about an inch in diameter, or a teeny bit smaller.  Then, roll them in sugar and bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes.

These cookies are particularly well-suited for making ice cream sandwiches, by the way.

Because of the spices involved, they taste great with mocha/coffee ice cream.  That is possibly because I like spicy coffee, but who doesn’t, really.

Don’t say you don’t.  Please.

But I suspect these would taste great with a nice simple vanilla as well.  Maybe mint, but that might be stretching it.

For best effect, consume often.  At least after every meal, and yes, that includes breakfast.  Come on, you may think that sounds indulgent, but think about it.

It’s June, quickly melting into July, which will slowly bake into a hearty August…  The mornings are still cool enough that you can and should burrow into a sweater as you stand at the counter watching through a film of sleepy tears as your coffee/double-shot espresso brews.  You know it will get hot later though, and you can’t wait to shed your fleecy layers and sit in the sun and feel your skin roast slowly…

Unless you don’t like tanning, in which case, shade is very nice too.

But you know, you just know, that it will get hot later, hot like the coffee you’re probably finally holding very close to your face as though you can absorb what you’re not immediately drinking through osmosis.  And what goes great with coffee?  Ice cream, that’s what.  And since it’s time for breakfast, you need a nice anchoring substance, too, which is where these cookies come in.

Have I convinced you?

I hope so.  You’ll thank me, even if you silently curse me as you gain twenty pounds from eating the entire batch by yourself.  Shhh, it’s okay.  Just eat.  The cookie.  (Remember that movie?  Quality stuff.)

These cookies are also best enjoyed by booting up Spotify and listening to The Fox and the Monk, by John Smith, who is an A+ singer that I had the great fortune of seeing this past Friday with Joe Henry and Lisa Hannigan.  You’ll thank me for that, too.