Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Messy berry bundt cake




This recipe, from food blogger wizard, Smitten Kitchen, is one of my all-time favourites.

It's not just because it has THREE types berries or almost two cups of butter or a sweet glaze. I think it's because there's buttermilk. Buttermilk makes everything taste good. But the problem with buttermilk is that it only comes in 1 litre containers at my grocery store which is way too much when I only use maybe about a cup every few months. Inevitably, what happens is that I use almost a cup for a recipe and shove the container to the back of my fridge and forget about it only to have it start smelling a few months later when I realize I need more buttermilk but I have to go back to my grocery store to get a new box because the one in my fridge has gone bad. Who needs a whole litre of buttermilk??



Anyway, I have to admit to something. I fucked up this cake. Seriously, it's one ugly, motherfucker. The problem is that because of my impatience, I flipped the cake over on the pan too early, when it was still quite hot, and the top layer of the cake ripped right off and stuck to the bundt pan. Major sad face.



So not only will the people I made the cake for think I'm a horrible baker but the photos are going to look bad on this blog, and you fine people will not want to make this recipe. But trust me, ugly photos aside, this is something you're going to want to make. I'm sure I have some old Instagram pic of an earlier, prettier berry cake that I can stick up on here. I'll try to find it. But for now, I had to smother it with glaze to cover up its ugliness.



So here you go, the ugly (but delicious) berry cake in all its glory.

Messy berry bundt cake (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Cake

- 2 1/2 cups plus 2 tbsp of all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp of baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup of unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1 3/4 cups of granulated sugar
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 3 large eggs at room temperature
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup of buttermilk (Damn you buttermilk! I love you buttermilk!)
- 3 cups of mixed berries (I used blueberries, raspberries and blackberries)



Glaze

- 2 cups of confectioners sugar
- Juice of 2-3 lemons (the original recipe called for 1 lemon but I found it wasn't nearly enough)
- 1 tbsp of soft, unsalted butter

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Grease the hell out of 10-cup Bundt pan. (Seriously, grease the shit out of it. You can even flick some flour onto it.) Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk or sift 2 1/2 cups of flour, baking powder and salt together and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest until light and flurry, about five minutes. Then with the mixer on low speed, add your eggs one a time. Beat in vanilla, briefly. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the batter, beating until just combined, followed by half of the buttermilk, another 1/3 of the flour mixture, the remaining buttermilk and the rest of the flour mixture. Don't mix any more than you need to. Toss the berries with the remaining 2 tbsp of flour. With a spatula, gently fold the berries into the batter. Don't be rough with them or else you will squish them and they won't look as pretty as whole berries.



Spread the batter evenly into the bundt pan and spread the top thick. Bake for 60-70 minutes, rotating the cake 180 degrees after 30 minutes to make sure it browns evenly. When a cake tester comes out clean, it's done.

Set cake pan on wire rack to cool for at least half an hour. I actually flipped it over at half an hour and it was way too hot, resulting in the top layer of the cake being ripped off. So it might be best to let it cool for at least 45 minutes. Or just go by instinct: If it seems too hot, don't flip it over. Just as long as you don't let it cool all the way. Once it's on the rack on its own, let it cool completely before adding glaze.

To make the glaze, whisk together the powdered sugar, lemon juice and butter until it's smooth and thick. However if you want a runnier glaze, just add more lemon juice. As I said before, I needed to add a lot more juice to make it slightly runny. (In fact, I ran out of lemon juice and had to resort to lime juice but it's still good!) Spread carefully over the top of the cake, letting it trickle down the sides. Serve at once or keep it covered at room temperature for three to four days.

You're welcome.







Sunday, May 26, 2013

Chocolate coconut macaroons





Today was a bit of a disappointing day because I found out that a pug who I was supposed to meet and potentially adopt was given away at the last minute. (For those who don't know, I'm on the hunt to adopt an adult pug.) I was a bit upset because it would be my first pug "meet and greet" and I was really excited to see what would happen.

However, things can change on a dime and I'm okay with that. Back to obsessively checking out dog rescue websites and kijiji. (And if anyone knows someone who's giving away an adult pug, let me know!)



Since I had extra time to kill today I decided to make something featuring my favourite ingredient: coconut. I have to admit that part of the reason why I wanted to use coconut was because I have five half-used bags in my freezer and I don't feel right throwing them out, but also I'm not feeling up to making anything super fancy today. I'm still a little bit heartbroken over not meeting the pug. Okay, I'm done with the theatrics.



My aunt Ruthie used to make chocolate macaroons (not to be confused with macarons) for me and my sister and cousins when we were little and I always loved them. My mom used to make them too so when I moved out on my own, this was one of the first recipes I asked her for.

The best thing about this recipe is that it takes very little time although initially it involves some patience, a quality I lack, which has resulted in many disastrous, sticky macaroons.



Alright I'm going to hurry up and put up this post so I can eat my macaroons as I scroll through pug sites.

Chocolate coconut macaroons

- 2 cups of sugar
- 1/2 cup butter or margarine
- 1/2 cup milk
- 6 tbsp cocoa
- 1/2 cup of coconut
- 3 cups of oatmeal
- pinch of salt
- dash of vanilla

Combine the sugar and milk in a medium-sized sauce pan, set on medium low. Stir occasionally and bring to a boil.*
Once the sugar mixture is boiling, put in the butter and stir until it melts completely and blends in with the mixture. Turn down the heat to minimum.
Add the rest of the ingredients, stirring in between each addition.
Take the sauce pan off the burner and place on cool top. Set out wax paper. Doll out spoonfuls of the mixture onto the wax paper.** Let the macaroons cool and harden. Can be served right away or stored in a tight container in your fridge for up to five days. Serves about 30 macaroons.



*This is the part which takes patience because it can take about 10-15 minutes for the mixture to boil. Don't turn the heat up to make it boil faster or else your macaroons will end up soggy and sticky and will not harden.
**The mixture will be very hot so don't use your fingers to scrape the mixture off the spoon on to the wax paper or else you can burn yourself. I usually use a second spoon to scrape off the mixture from the first spoon.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Eggs for breakfast

Jes woke up to the smell of eggs.

She could hear Matt Galloway's familiar crisp voice waft up through the vent in her bedroom, which was painted lipstick red.

"You don't even like red," her mom, Katharine said, looking quizzically at her 14-year-old daughter holding the can of paint in the hardware store a few months back. Jes had recently started to form her own opinions.
"There's a lot you don't know about me," replied Jes.

She stretched out in her bed, her long, gangly dancer's legs dangled off the end and her equally long arms hugged the pillow tight.

She got up and caught sight of herself in the mirror. Cheeks flushed, she looked as if she had just been on a 5k run, not a 10 hour snooze-a-thon. Her curly brown hair was still in a hair tie that she forgot to remove before she went to bed. Dried drool flakes caked the outside rim of her mouth. She licked her finger and wiped away the evidence. She glanced in the closet. Normally on a Saturday morning, Jes would be fine throwing on her favourite ratty Backstreet Boys t-shirt and sweatpants, anything where comfort ruled, but not today.

Lee was here. She grinned quickly at herself and then hopped in the shower, hoping the shampoo, conditioner and soap would transform her into a sophisticated woman with shiny, wavy locks, like Cindy Crawford. Jes was always a bit disappointed when after the steam cleared off the window, the same, dark eyes stared back at her.

She hopped out of the shower and looked around the small tiled room anxiously. Should she put on makeup? How would she know how to use powder? What's the difference between foundation and toner? How do you apply eyeliner? She started to bite the jagged edges of her nails.

"Jes! Breakfast is ready!" Katharine called, already annoyed with her daughter who seemed to be in a perpetual state of panic and disarray ever since her childhood friend and his mother had arrived to stay with the family for a week.

Katharine reflected on how much her little girl was changing. The angry silences. The slamming of he bedroom door. The brooding. The loud music. The hair dye. Christ, I wish I never had kids, she thought, and then immediately felt guilty. She quickly began doing the dishes and called out again to her daughter, "Do you want to order pizza tonight?"

Jes ignored her mom, studying her closet as if she were figuring out how to stop a timed bomb from exploding. Finally she decided on her new, dark blue flared jeans and a tight turtleneck.

A soft knock at the door caused her to yell "Holy shit mom I'm coming I'm getting dressed!"

The door opened and Lee walked in, an impish grin stuck on his handsome face.

Jes blushed poppy red.

"You look good Jes," he breathed into her face, his breath smelling of eggs. Jes felt the goosebumps rise under her turtleneck. She felt hot. Lee's tongue pushed its way into her mouth. This isn't how people kiss, is it? thought Jes, as Lee darted his tongue all around the inside.

Jes felt like throwing up. She tried to push him away but he pushed back harder until they were tangled up in the clothes in Jes' closet. She squirmed, trying to find a way out but he was holding on tight to her wrist and unbuckling his pants. Jes whimpered in protest and he responded by shoving her on the bed, face down. Jes lay there, uncertain what to do or what was going to happen next. Lee gripped her waist and pulled down her jeans and underwear. Jes tried to struggle once, twice but it was useless. Lee had a good forty pounds on her and she could barely move. She tried to turn her head around to see what he was doing but he pushed her head down on the bed. "You'll like this," he half groaned as he put himself inside her.

Of course, Jes had already seen sex on TV and at the movies, when she snuck in with her older brother, Jon. But the coupling that happened on screen was nothing like the axe that was currently being slashed inside her like a soldier on the rampage.

Then Lee let out a long groan, as if he too were being slowly butchered. He yanked up his pants and giggled. "That was fun, wasn't it?" he winked at Jes, who quickly zipped up her jeans and stared at him, this 15-year-old who was more beast than best friend.

"See you downstairs!" he called as he left her room.

Jes lay back down on her bed and stared at the small cracks in the ceiling. They seemed to be getting bigger. So this is what it feels like to not be a virgin anymore, she thought. It's not as nice as they make it look in the movies.

"Jes, what the hell, get down here or I'm throwing out your eggs!" Katharine boomed. Jes got up, smoothed out the wrinkles in her turtleneck and quickly brushed her drying hair. It was starting to go curly at ends, a trait she hated.

When she got downstairs, Lee was sitting at the table with her mom. He smiled at her. "Took you long enough," he grinned. The eggs were headless, the heads lying beside their bodies on her plate. Hot yolk oozed down the egg cup. They were perfect. Katharine frowned at her, "it was rude of you to keep us waiting Jes. Don't let that happen again, okay? I won't make you breakfast anymore."

"Ok," said Jes. It was all she could manage to say.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

The most perfect lemon bars for spring





I don't come in contact with lemons that often. I'm not one of those people who adds drops of lemon to their water because I like my water plain, without outside interference. I see lemons sitting by the dozen in the grocery store, but I always bypass them in favour of their more delicious (and useful) cousins, the lime.



But there comes a time when that incandescent citrus fruit is so helpful that I rejoice its existence. That time inevitably comes when I need to use lemon zest and juice for baking.

Is your vanilla cake lacking some oomph? Add lemon zest. Does your icing make you bored? Add lemon juice.



Lemon is the perfect antidote to baked goods that are lacking flavour power but they don't overwhelm you either. Think of it as a subtle perfume that tastes delicious.

I made these lemon bars for a BBQ at my cousin's and his wife's new home and I knew they were a success after the family devoured them even while complaining about how full they were from dinner.



Lemon bars (adapted from The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook)

Ingredients:

Crust:

- 2 cups (four sticks) of unsalted butter, softened
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup confectioner's sugar
- 1/2 tsp of salt
- 2 tsp grated lemon zest

Topping:

- 2 cups sugar
- 6 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 cup lemon juice*
- 6 tsp grated lemon zest**



*I used half a cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice and half a cup of store-bought lemon juice)

** I used six lemons to get the zest, but since I couldn't make 1 cup of juice out of those six, perhaps it's better to get a couple more if you want to use fresh juice and not store-bought.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a 12x18 inch jelly roll pan. (I used a cookie sheet).

To make the crust: In a large bowl, on the low speed of an electric mixer, combine all the ingredients until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Form the dough into a ball. Spread crust evenly into prepared pan. Use a large piece of waxed paper to firmly and evenly press down crust. Bake the crust for 18-20 minutes until lightly golden. Remove from oven and let cool for 15-20 minutes on a rack before proceeding.



While the crust is cooling, make the topping: In a medium-sized bowl, on the low speed of an electric mixer, beat the sugar, the eggs, the lemon juice and the zest until well combined.* Pour over slightly warm crust. Return to oven and bake for 18-20 minutes until the edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature. Cut into squares.**



*To me the topping smelled a lot like egg and I was unsure if I had mixed it properly but rest assured, it's fine and it will come out perfectly.

** The edges of the crust were really stuck to the side of the pan and it was a pain to try to cut it out. I'm not sure if it's because I didn't grease the pan enough but maybe it would be better to line the pan with waxed paper. However the middle section didn't stick to the pan.




Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mr. Snortles

Mr. Snortles saw everything.

His grey eyes shone like a car's high beams out from under the silver Honda Civic that was parked in the driveway.
He blinked slowly and his downy tail flicked back and forth.

Oh, this is delicious, he thought, as he watched Mrs. Stevens open her neighbour's door, and twist her neck side to side, looking for the all clear.

The door closed and the light turned off. A figure joined her and attacked her face as if she were a ripe, young bunny, their bodies squished together like canned tuna.

Mr. Snortles licked the fur around his mouth. He saw Bud saunter towards him and poke his wet, black nose under the car. Mr. Snortles hissed and waved his paw in warning. Bud whimpered and scampered away. Mr. Snortles smirked then licked his butt.

He turned his laser beam stare back to Unit 31. Mrs. Stevens' soft body was pressed up against the door. Goodness, thought Mrs, Snortles, and she's not even pretty. How on earth that man is attracted to her, I shall never understand. And her husband is way more good looking than this twat.

He yawned and his left ear twitched. A fly was buzzing around his head. Mr. Snortles half heartedly tried to paw it away but gave up. The fly, who hadn't had a decent meal since breakfast was delighted. Ah, food at last! he thought, as he sank down into the furry flesh.

Mr. Snortles started to doze off and was woken when he heard a door shut. He turned his head and saw Mrs. Stevens walking quickly up the street to her house, Unit 18. The sun was beginning to lower. It was almost dinner time.

He felt a stirring in his stomach and let out a small gurgle in anticipation. He stretched his front legs so that his paws stuck out on the driveway.

Mrs. Stevens turned at the sudden movement and stopped. She squinted at the car and saw two bright globes underneath. Vermin, she thought, and hurried on home to clean up. She sighed and wondered whether she should shower but she also wanted to smell like Harry for the rest of the night.

Mr. Snortles arched his back and leisurely stretched out his toes, one by one. He shook his flank and the fly flew out, surprised and full.

A door slammed shut and feet walked briskly to the car. The engine started. The car started to move. Mr. Snortles' fur stood on end. Oh sh---


Monday, May 13, 2013

Classic vanilla birthday cake






Today is my boyfriend's Mike's birthday. Normally for birthdays I like to make something non-traditional, for example last year I made him a chocolate Guinness cake with a mocha glaze. One time I made a carrot cake for my cousin Cam that had so much oil, it made holes in the cake which the cream cheese icing spilled into. (It wasn't that good, tbh).



I've been baking a lot of really different cakes and other treats for the birthdays of family and friends but this time, I wanted to go back to a classic: the traditional vanilla birthday cake.



Two weeks ago, Mike and I went to New York City, the land of the cupcakes. While there, we stopped off at Magnolia Bakery at Grand Central Terminal (as well as this incredible cupcake store called Baked By Melissa which served mini-mini cupcakes) and bought their cookbook (and delicious cakes.)



I flipped through it and saw a photo of a delicious-looking vanilla cake with sprinkles. That's it! That's the cake I'm going to make for Mike's birthday, I'll be damned if he likes it or not.

I made a few changes to the book's recipe for vanilla buttermilk icing; instead of 8 cups of confectioners' sugar, I used 7 and I used 1/2 cup milk rather than 3/4 cups. I also added coconut to the top.



Traditional Vanilla Birthday Cake (adapted from The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook)

Ingredients:

- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup milk (I used 1% partly skimmed)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used real vanilla not artificial)



Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and lightly flour three 9x2-inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms with waxed paper.*

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about three minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine the flours and add in four parts, alternating with the milk and the vanilla, beating well after each addition. Divide batter among the cake pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.**
Let cakes cool in pans for ten minutes. Remove from pans and cool completely on wire rack.
When the cake has cooled, put icing between the layers, then icing the top and sides of cake.***



*I have major problems with waxed paper. When I eventually take the paper off the cooling cakes, it rips part of the cake off and the sides look uneven. I'm not sure what the solution is besides just greasing the pan and putting the cake right on it but then you run the risk of the cake sticking to the pan. Tricky... if anyone has suggestions, please let me know!

**It took 25 minutes in my oven. Don't let the bone-white top fool you; it's supposed to look like that.

*** It's easier to icing a three-layer cake on a cake stand at level eye.



Vanilla buttercream icing (adapted from The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook)

Ingredients:

- 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
- 6 cups confectioners' sugar
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract



Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add four cups of sugar and then the milk and vanilla. Use an electric mixer on medium speed and beat until smooth and creamy, about three minutes. Gradually add the remaining sugar, one cup at a time, beating well after each addition until the icing is thick enough for good spreading consistency. You can also add food colouring at this point. Icing can be stored in an airtight container for up to three days. Makes enough icing for a three-layer cake.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Comfort Banana Cake





I've been pretty sick with a cold since I got back home from New York City on Monday and whenever I feel ill, I don't turn away from food, I run towards it.

Being sick makes me crave comfort food, which usually means some sort of baked good that my mom used to make me and my sister when we were kids.

So I chose the easiest recipe I could possibly make: Banana cake.



For most of my life up until my late teens/early twenties I thought there was only one kind of banana cake, until I heard of the existence of one banana bread, and that most people referred to it as a bread, not as a cake. Well, let me tell you, the recipe that my mom made was most definitely for a cake, not a bread.

This cake is moist, has no nuts or a discernible crust and has a paler complexion than its darker brother, banana bread.

It tastes good with chocolate; chips and icing.

This morning I thought for sure I wouldn't have to go to the grocery store to get the ingredients because I knew I had a few bananas waiting for me in the freezer. Well, I did have a few frozen bananas, but I forgot that they were pretty old. So old it's embarrassing to admit to their age here.

Into the garbage they went. The good thing about being forced into going to the grocery store was that at least I got some much-needed outdoor time (since when did it become summer in Toronto?), since I have been huddled up in my apartment like a World of Warcraft geek.



Anyway, this recipe is great because it doesn't even take 10 minutes to prep and only 25 minutes to bake in the oven.

Now if only someone could invent a cake that cures the common cold.

Comfort Banana Cake

Makes 10-12 servings

- 1/2 cup margarine or softened butter (for this post I used olive oil margarine)
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 cup mashed bananas (two or three bananas)*
- 1 1/2 cup of flour
- 1 tsp of baking soda
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 tsp of vanilla
- Optional: chocolate chips, simple vanilla icing



Heat oven to 350 degrees celsius.

Grease 9x13" cake pan.
Cream together the margarine/butter and sugar for one minute. Add the egg and the mashed bananas (make sure the eggs and bananas are at room temperature) and beat until mixed.
Add the sifted dry ingredients and the vanilla. Beat into wet mixture until completely mixed.
Pour into cake pan.
Bake for 25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cake should have a light tan colour.

Let cool for 15 minutes and serve warm. It can stay in a fridge for about a week.

It also goes great with vanilla ice cream.




*The riper the banana the better because overripe bananas give the cake more flavour. I usually put leftover bananas that are too bad to eat in the freezer and then use them for the cake. However this time I obviously did not have the foresight to buy bananas in advance and bought ones that were only slightly green but more of a pale yellow.




Saturday, May 4, 2013

After Life

Caroline liked to walk around her apartment and pretend she was her boyfriend or mom or sister going through her home for the first time after she had died.

She would smile at all the unwashed dishes, caked with garlic & herb pasta sauce from the tortellini dinner she had eaten the night before her death.

She would tear up at the sight of the birthday, Valentine's Day and Christmas cards that were piled up on the side-table beside the couch.

She sat down at her couch, wondering how she would pack up all of her furniture, books, magazines (all those stacks of Vogue on the wood floor would take up at least eight medium-sized boxes), designer purses and clothes (god, she really did have way too many clothes.)

If she were her sister, Caroline thought, would she immediately claim her Star Trek movies and her Gandalf figurine?

If she were her mom, would she shake her head in annoyance at the piles of bills, tax receipts and pay stubs lying in a heap in the closet?

If she were her boyfriend, would she pick up the ratty t-shirt on the floor and smell it, breathing in her scent?

Caroline sat on the saggy off-white couch in the living room and looked around her small apartment.

Dusty photos still sat on the floor, despite the fact that she promised herself to hang them when she moved in five years ago. A used kleenex lay crumpled on the coffee table. Blackened poinsettia leaves covered the floor in the far corner; the plant itself still clung feebly to life.

Caroline got up from the couch and opened up the sliding door to the balcony. She squinted into the sun and rested her hands on the railing. She looked out at the urban jungle that was crawling with life.

It was July. It was hot.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The elevator ride

If you collapse in the elevator, you will probably be found quickly, thought Gilbert.

The thought comforted him as he watched the numbers swing predictably down towards the lobby.

22, 21, 20, 19, 18, 17, 16, 16.

The elevator shuddered to a stop. Gilbert turned slightly away from the sliding metal doors, so as to not look to eager as to who was coming in, but tilted his head to make eye contact with his neighbour so as to not look rude.

Four feet on wide, boxy shoulders ambled in, carrying a stout and muscular body. A long tongue swept the ground. A loud wheeze destroyed the soft hum of the elevator. Eyes bulged out.

"Rufus. SIT." A tall, lanky brunette clenched the leash in her hands and stared at the floor.

She won't be the one who saves me, thought Gilbert, as small beads of sweat started to run down his back and into his butt crack. His hands shook slightly.

The girl looked up briefly into his eyes and then looked down again, ever mindful of Rufus, whose tongue was now unrolling on the tile floor which was wet with black slush. He snorted and his body shook.

Gilbert felt a small burp rise up his throat. He tasted vomit and grimaced.

The girl looked at him again, this time for half a second longer. She could see the slightly overweight man with the wire glasses and glassy eyes staring at her. Weirdo, she thought.

6, 5, 4, 3, 3.

The doors slid open and two teenagers, a boy and a girl, got on the elevator. They were mid-conversation:

"What do I have to do to impress you?" the boy with the UFC shirt asked. "Lift the world like Titan?"

"Atlas," the girl corrected, who rolled her eyes. "And yes."

Gilbert's ears and face started to turn red. The teen girl turned around and looked him up and down. Gross, she thought.

Gilbert could feel his heart rate speed up. He felt like he was going to pass out. You're almost there, he thought. Just hang on.

Lobby.

The doors opened. Rufus, the brunette and the teens left the elevator, without glancing back.

Gilbert put his back to the elevator wall, and slowly slid down to the slushy floor. The doors closed.

G, 2, 3, 4...