Marble Bundt Cake

I love big bundts and I cannot lie…  There are so many different reasons why they are so loveable.  For me, they are usually pretty hearty cakes that are easy to make, and look beautiful.  In addition, because I am not a huge frosting person (aside from marshmallow or cream cheese), I love a good cake that can stand on its own.  Capable of making a big impact without too much fuss.

When I first started this blog, a whole world was opened up to me – a world I didn’t really know existed.  It was a world driven by food, pictures, and people’s commentary on both.  What I realized is there were blogs on just about anything to do with food.  Some people stick to a certain discipline of food – for example, desserts.  Some people stick to a certain way of making food – for example, canning.  And some people go in different phases – like choosing the best Banana Bread out there, before moving onto the next subject.  There are many ways to get there, but at the end of the day, it is all about ranking the best.  Isn’t that really what readers want to know – what delivers the best overall experience?  I have to say, it is not easy.  In the beginning of my blogging days, I remember finding this blog, when she was doing 30 days of Bundt Cakes – can you really determine which is the best?  In the end, it is all relative.

When my daughter asked for the best “Chocolate Swirl Bundt Cake” for her birthday, I actually struggled to determine which one could be the “best.”  I finally settled for one Adapted from “Baked” by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito – published by the Food Librarian.  After we had the cake in the oven, I went back to the computer and started combing through her site, and realized that she actually made a different one that sounded like it was even better.  Ugh!    Well, the cake was a huge success.  It was moist, dense but in a good way, and could definitely could hold its own with just some powdered sugar on top.  I would have to say that relative to its Bundt Cake peers that I have experienced, it was pretty damn good – but then again, have I ever made a Bundt Cake that was not good?  Again, I guess it is all relative.

Ingredients

Chocolate Swirl

  • 6 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used Trader Joe’s Bittersweet)
  • 1 tsp unsweetened dark cocoa powder (I used Valrhona cocoa powder)

Sour Cream Cake

  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 16 ounces sour cream
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preparation

Chocolate Swirl
In the top of a double broiler over simmering water, melt the chocolate. When the chocolate is completely smooth, add the cocoa powder and whisk until thoroughly incorporated. Remove the bowl from the heat and set aside.

Sour Cream Cake
Preheat the oven to 350℉. Prep 10-inch bundt pan (I spray mine with “Pam with Flour” spray…man, I go through a lot of that this month!).

Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a medium bowl.

Using the paddle attachment, cream the butter until smooth and ribbonlike. Scrape down the bowl and add the sugar. Beat until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the bowl and mix for 30 seconds.

Add the sour cream and vanilla and beat just until incorporated. Add the dry ingredients in three additions, scraping down the bowl before each addition and beating only until each addition is just incorporated. Do not overmix. You will have a lot of batter.

Pour one third of the cake batter into the chocolate swirl mixture. Use a spatula to combine the chocolate mixture and the batter to make a smooth chocolate batter.

Spread half of the remaining plain cake batter in the prepared pan use an ice cream scoop to dollop the chocolate cake batter directly on top of the plain cake batter. The dollops will touch and mostly cover the plain batter, but some plain batter will peek through. Use a butter knife to swirl the chocolate and plain batter together. Pour the remaining plain batter on top of the chocolate layer and smooth it out. Once again, use the knife to pull through the layers to create a swirl.

Bake in the center of the oven for about 1 hour, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, or until a sharp knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Invert from pan onto wire rack and let cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. The cake will keep for three days, tightly covered, at room temperature.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Marble Bundt Cake

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Fennel Lemon Drop

Time to pick up a drink and toast to the beginning of summer.  Of course, in the Pacific NW, we are lucky if we can break 70, but if the sun is out, people are smiling.  Friday evening when I came home from work, it felt like January – exactly the reason why my husband and I call this month Junuary.  I hear the rest of the country is in a huge hot spell…not us.  On the bright side though, no need for air-conditioners or sprinklers – aren’t we lucky.

I am obsessed with fennel – if you are a long-time reader, you will remember some of my other posts on the wonderful topic.  At one of my favorite restaurants in Seattle, they have taken fennel to a whole new level.  One night I was there and they served fennel ice-cream with this sumptuous morsel – with some candied fennel on the side, I swear there is nothing better.  Another night they served a fennel cocktail, that was also outstanding.  I have been thinking about that fennel cocktail ever since…

The other week I had a bulb of fennel in the refrigerator, and no time to roast it – so I had an idea.  Fennel infused vodka – I was well on my way.  Once the vodka was nicely infused, it was time to decide how to prepare the cocktail.  I didn’t want to do anything too crazy that would mask the taste of the fennel – so I decided to go real simple – just a little simple syrup and some lemon juice.  I shook it up, and I was in love.  The first night I made it, I served them in high ball glasses over ice – a nice fennel lemonade.  I didn’t like though how the ice melted into the drink – so the next time I served them straight up – and that was the key.  Just like a lemon drop, with a wonderful flavor of fennel.  So – here’s to summer – may we have many nice sunny evenings to enjoy these!

Ingredients

  •  2 cups vodka
  • 1 medium fennel bulb
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup simple syrup
  • ice cubes
  • lemon slices for garnish

Preparation

To make the fennel infused vodka, cut up one medium fennel bulb and place in a jar.  Pour vodka over the fennel and seal.  Place in the refrigerator until the fennel is infused, around 3-4 days.  The longer the vodka infuses, the stronger the fennel flavor.

The recipe above makes 8 drinks.  To make 2 drinks, take a shaker and fill with ice cubes.  Pour 1/2 cup vodka, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and 2 tablespoons simple syrup into the shaker.  Shake well, and strain into two martini glasses.  Garnish with lemon slices.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Fennel Lemon Drop

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Fun Cake

I am in need of some fun right about now.  My kids are in their last couple of days of school, and although my 4th grader comes home with stories on how her teacher is still making them work up until the last day (no picnics and day long parties like the other classes), I can tell they are still having fun.  I haven’t seen her do any homework in days, which is quite impressive given the mountain of work she had to do this year.  My kindergartener on the other hand, is in complete lala land with the final days.  She is having the time of her life – she said she would much rather stay in school than go to camp.

I remember when I graduated college and started working, it was quite a shock thinking that there was never an “end” unless you created one.  I loved the end of the year, taking a break from school, than starting the next year completely fresh.  At work, even though we start fresh each year with new commitments, the old ones pretty much roll into the new, and you never really have a clean break.  Although, this year…we are going to try something new – they don’t know it yet, but we are getting closer to fun.

So just like a true food obsessed person would do, I turn to food.  What can you do if you want to infuse a little fun in your life?  Well, I turned to Bon Appetit, and decided to make this cake.  First of all, anything with the words chocolate and peanut butter has to be delicious – but seriously – add the word fun, and you have just created yourself a party.  This cake was so amazingly moist and delicious, and that frosting, I seriously could not get enough.  I don’t even like buttercream frosting, but this was more like a marshmallow frosting with butter in it – it was light and sinfully good.  The best part about it was how simple it was to make.  Now, who is having fun now?  So, if you need a little fun in your life – this is the cake for you, and the best part of all is you don’t need to go through an entire year of school to get to the fun part…

Ingredients

Chocolate Cake

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1 1/4 cupsall-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (3 1/2 ounces)

Peanut Butter Buttercream

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup egg whites (from about 2 large eggs)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (about 1 3/4 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup chopped unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts
  • special equipment:

    An 8x8x2-inch cake pan

Preparation

Chocolate Cake

Preheat oven to 350°. Coat bottom and sides of pan with nonstick spray; line bottom of pan with parchment paper. Whisk flour and next 4 ingredients in a large bowl. Add oil, vanilla, and 1 1/4 cups water; whisk until smooth. Fold in chopped chocolate. Scrape into prepared pan; smooth top. Bake until a tester comes out clean when inserted into center, 35–40 minutes. Let cool completely in pan on a wire rack.

Peanut Butter Buttercream

Combine sugar and egg whites in a medium metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugar dissolves and mixture is hot to the touch, 3–4 minutes. Remove from heat; using  an electric mixer, beat on high speed until cool and thick, 5–6 minutes. Beat in vanilla, then peanut butter. With mixer running,  add butter a few pieces at a time, beating to blend between additions. Season with salt.

Run a thin knife around pan to release cake. Invert cake onto a serving plate. Spread peanut butter buttercream over top. Garnish with chopped chocolate and peanuts.

DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Chocolate-Peanut Butter Fun Cake

Banana Pancakes

Another crazy week just passed before my eyes, I barely had time to think about cooking, let alone posting anything.  Lots going on at work, lots going on at home, and we are down to the final countdown for school…just 5 more days.  It will be a blessed miracle if I can remember everything that the girls are supposed to do this week.  I almost lost it when I saw the notice that my younger daughter did not have to bring lunch on Monday, because of the pizza party.  I know that will actually save me time, but what are the chances I will actually remember NOT to pack her lunch?  Even if I put it on my calendar, at this point, the chances are slim to none, I am on auto-pilot just trying to catch the scenery as it whizzes by.

I got home late last night, after leaving the house before 8am in the morning and noticed the two overripe bananas sitting in the fruit basket.  I was craving to be in the kitchen and cook something, but at 10pm after a long week – that was not going to happen.  Instead I started thinking about breakfast, and how good banana pancakes would taste.  If nothing else, I had breakfast planned out.  I woke up this morning excited to try them, hoping they would taste like banana bread in a round circle.  I decided to make them dairy free, and used coconut milk instead of regular milk – and they came out great.  The secret is to mash the bananas as much as you possibly can – otherwise, the pancakes can be a little mushy – but even so, they are delicious.  They definitely did not need syrup – although my girls chose to put a little cinnamon sugar on top.  What a pre-Father’s Day treat, and my husband had three to celebrate.  So at this point, I am taking everything one day at a time – that is, if I can remember what tomorrow is.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed

Preparation

Combine flour, white sugar, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together egg, coconut milk, vegetable oil and bananas.

Stir flour mixture into banana mixture; batter will be slightly lumpy.  Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake. Cook until pancakes are golden brown on both sides; serve hot.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here: Banana Pancakes

Eggy Potato Salad with Pickles

What is a good BBQ or picnic without a good potato salad?  It is almost like April Fool’s Day without a good trick.  I swear though, making potato salad is not my idea of a fun time in the kitchen.  I have tried all types of potato salads, and I as you can see – none have ever been good enough to make it to the blog.  Aside from the fact that I never find a good recipe, it is a pain in the neck to make.  So potato salad has become one of those treats that I eat outside of the house.  I love going to a good NYC deli and getting a good side of potato salad to go with my sandwich.  How come I never seem to be able to make potato salad like that?  My favorite kind has little bits of pickles and hard-boiled eggs mixed up with the mayonnaise dressing.  I don’t like a heavily dressed potato salad, but one that is dressed just enough to make the potatoes creamy and flavorful.

Last month in Bon Appetit, there was actually a recipe for potato salad that looked pretty awesome.  The title of the article was “Will Drive for Food.”  I became very intrigued.  My husband and I will definitely drive for food.  It was something that I was kind of brought up doing, and fortunately I married someone who not only tolerates it, but finds it just as much fun as I do.  My parents would drive us to all sorts of crazy places, just to find the best “something.”  Living on the east coast made it a lot easier to do that – cities are not all that far apart.  We don’t drive for food as much as I would like – but we don’t have to – we are lucky enough to live in a city with outstanding food.

So – back to the recipe – I saw this, and knew it had to be good – but it ended up in the stack in the pantry.  This morning, I was trying to decide if I was going to make something for book club – I was kind of hosting, and everyone signed up to bring stuff – and there wasn’t really anything else we needed.  I was flipping through the recipes to menu plan for the week, when I came upon this recipe.  It didn’t actually look that hard – so I decided it would be a good addition to the menu.  As soon as I took that first taste, I almost jumped up and down.  I did it!!  I found the recipe I have been waiting for!!  I called the kids over to try it – they hate potato salad, but I told them this was the best they will ever eat – and they both loved it.  Success!!!!  There wasn’t a drop left after book club – so hopefully that meant everyone else enjoyed it as well.

Before I forget – I want to tell you about my little secret that made this recipe to easy…Trader Joes now has hard-boiled eggs…yes, can you believe it?  So – I bought a package, cut open the eggs, took the yolks out, and put the whites back in the sack.  My older daughter told me she is doing this next year for April Fool’s Day.  So not only do you get some killer potato salad, I just gave you a sweet joke for April Fool’s Day.  Come on now, what can get any better than that?

Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 pounds medium red-skinned potatoes, peeled (about 8)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt plus more
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sweet pickle juice from jar plus 8–10 sweet-pickle chips
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus more
  • 5 large hard-boiled egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons chopped red onion
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Paprika

Preparation

Place potatoes in a large pot. Add water to cover by 2″, season with salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook until potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife, 20–30 minutes. Drain. Place potatoes in a large bowl and let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, whisk mayonnaise, pickle juice, Dijon mustard, sugar,  1/4 tsp. pepper, and 1 1/4 tsp. salt in a small bowl for dressing.

Using a large wooden spoon, coarsely smash potatoes, leaving some larger pieces mixed with some well-mashed pieces.

Add dressing and egg yolks to potatoes and toss to coat, coarsely smashing egg yolks. Add onion and parsley; gently mix to incorporate. Season to taste with more salt and pepper, if desired.

DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Divide potato salad among small paper cups or bowls; dust with paprika. Top each serving with a pickle chip.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Eggy Potato Salad with Pickles

Roasted Carrot and Beet Salad with Feta

Why is it that the batteries for smoke alarms only decided to die in the middle of the night?  When my husband and I moved into our house 7 1/2 years ago, I remember the first night we lay down to go to sleep.  We were so happy to be done – finally living in the house that we agonized about for months.  We looked up at the cathedral ceiling in our bedroom, and saw the very high smoke detector.  It was at that moment I told him that hopefully the builder didn’t put a battery in that thing.  I remember learning that the smoke detectors were hard-wired, but they also hold a battery.  How would we ever change the battery in that thing?  We don’t even own a ladder, just a step stool?  Well, hopefully it won’t happen in the middle of the night.

Things have been hectic at home lately, and at work.  It seems that every day there is some end-of-year activity that we are attending, or preparing for – and work has been equally as crazy.  This time of year things really heat up – just like last year, my team is preparing for changes.  It is an exciting time, but that takes a lot of energy.  So, every night I hit the pillow utterly exhausted.  Except the other night, I woke up to the chirping sound of the smoke detector – the battery was dead and needed to be changed.  There was nothing we could do about it.  No sleeping for us.

So, what does this have to do with this delicious looking salad that I found in Bon Appetit?  Well, pretty much nothing – but I was looking for a quick and delicious salad to go with BBQ, and this was the winner.  It is so easy you can almost make it in your sleep – especially if you do what I did and buy the Trader Joes beets that are already cooked – what a beautiful thing.  This salad was just delightful, almost as delightful as it was to borrow our neighbor’s ladder so we could actually get some sleep.

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons Sherry vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup plus 3 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound baby carrots with 1/2″ of tops attached, peeled
  • 6 small (1 1/2″ diameter) red beets, scrubbed, trimmed leaving 2″ of stem attached
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta (about 4 oz.)

Preparation

Stir cumin seeds in a small dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, 3–4 minutes. Let cool. Finely grind in a spice mill.

Whisk cumin, lemon juice, vinegar, and Dijon mustard in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in 1/4 cup oil, then mint. Season vinaigrette with salt and pepper.

Cook carrots in a large pot of boiling salted water for 1 minute; using a slotted spoon, transfer carrots to a bowl. Add beets to same pot of boiling water and cook until just tender, 20–25 minutes. Drain. Let stand at room temperature to cool slightly, about 15 minutes. Peel and trim beets; halve lengthwise.

DO AHEAD: Vinaigrette and vegetables can be made 1 day ahead. Cover separately; chill. Return vinaigrette to room temperature and whisk before using.

Preheat oven to 450°. Season carrots with salt and pepper. Toss with 1 1/2 tsp.  oil. Arrange on half of a large rimmed baking sheet. Place beets in same bowl; season with salt and pepper and toss with remaining 1 1/2 tsp. oil. Arrange in single layer opposite carrots on same baking sheet. Roast vegetables, turning once, until slightly charred and just tender, about 15 minutes.

Place carrots, 1/2 cup parsley leaves, and feta in a medium bowl; drizzle 1/4 cup vinaigrette over and toss to coat. Arrange carrot mixture on a small platter. Place beets in another medium bowl. Add 2 Tbsp. vinaigrette; toss to coat. Tuck beets in among carrots. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup parsley leaves over. Drizzle with remaining dressing.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Roasted Carrot and Beet Salad with Feta

Chewy Coconut Granola Bars

My older daughter has been really into baking on her own lately.  She wants me to be in the kitchen with her, but she wants to do things all herself.  Her favorite thing in the world is when I say to her “Hey, I found a recipe that you can make all by yourself!”  She loves it.  I can tell as soon as she is old enough to be in the house alone…watch out.  It is going to be all about the baking.

I remember when I was younger, I was the exact same way.  I actually only liked baking when I could be in the kitchen myself…I should have known then, it was going to be my sanctuary.  I still laugh to this day when my sister and I decided to make a money cake.  It was her job to get the money.  She found some change, and we dumped it into the batter.  Of course it all sunk to the bottom, but we didn’t think about that.  We thought it would be so hilarious for our parents to eat this cake and as a surprise, end up with money in their mouth?  I can’t seem to remember how much trouble we got in – but let me tell you, if my girls every did anything like that, not only would I freak out, my almost over-protective husband would freak out more.  What would be worse, breaking a tooth, choking, or getting sick from germs on the coins?  I am sure we didn’t wash them.

I picked out a nice safe recipe from Cooking Light for her to make, and they were delicious.  We both agreed she should adapt it slightly to fit her tastes, which she did.  This is the perfect recipe for kids – not only is it fun and easy to make, it is perfect for packing in their lunch boxes – and because they stay good for a couple of weeks, you are set!  Start cooking with your kids now – or else they will start without you, and then life’s a box of chocolates…you never know what you might get.

Ingredients

  • Cooking spray
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2/3 cup)
  • 1 3/5 ounces whole-wheat flour (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons fat-free milk
  • 2  large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups whole-grain granola
  • 3/4 cup chopped mango
  • 1/2 cup flaked sweetened coconut

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°.

Coat a 13 x 9-inch metal baking pan with cooking spray; dust with 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour.

Weigh or lightly spoon 3 ounces all-purpose flour and 1.6 ounces whole-wheat flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flours, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl; stir with a whisk. Combine sugar, oil, milk, and eggs in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at high-speed until smooth. Add flour mixture, beating at low-speed until blended. Fold in granola and fruit. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle with coconut.

Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until golden. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack. Cut into bars.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Chewy Coconut Granola Bars

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