Sunday, January 31, 2010

210. Buttered Baby Spinach (p. 578)

It doesn't get much easier than this recipe. Melt some butter, add some baby spinach and toss for a couple of minutes until slightly wilted, bright green, and coated with the melted butter. Add a little salt and pepper to taste, and that's it.

This is exactly what you want from a vegetable side dish. I served this with some Chicken Piccata that I'll blog about soon. It was tender and tasty, not at all soggy or bitter. And the amount of butter was just right. A nice coating without overpowering the spinach.

I forgot to take a photo of this dish, so please enjoy this picture of Popeye instead. "I fights to the finish, 'cause I eats me spinach!"

Date Cooked: January 31, 2010
Degree of Difficulty: Very easy
Rating: A-

Friday, January 22, 2010

209. Golden Cake with Chocolate-Sour Cream Frosting (p. 725)

My son's first birthday was on December 30th (Wow, that was fast!), and we celebrated with a party on New Year's Day. I was determined to have a homemade cake for my son's very first birthday ... no store-bought cake would do. But, we had invited about sixty relatives and friends, so I was in a bit of a quandary about how I was going to handle cake for a crowd.

The Book came to my rescue. As I flipped through the cakes chapter, I noticed that the Cook's Note at the end of this recipe says that instead of a layer cake, you can use the same batter to make cupcakes. A-ha! That's it ... I decided to make one cake and enough cupcakes to go with it so that there would be plenty for everyone.

Because I knew that things would be pretty hectic leading up to the party, I decided to make the cake and cupcakes ahead of time so that I'd only need to make the frosting on party day. So, a week before the party, I sifted together some cake flour, a ton of baking powder, some baking soda, and salt. Then I creamed some softened butter and granulated sugar in my KitchenAid. I added some eggs and vanilla extract. (Speaking of vanilla extract, because I haven't posted in about six weeks, I haven't had the chance to mention that I got a 32-ounce bottle of Madagascar vanilla extract for Christmas...thirty-two ounces! That's a whole quart!) Then I added the half of the flour mixture followed by a container of sour cream ... yeah, I know, I wasn't expecting that either ... and then the rest of the flour mixture. I divided the batter into two nine-inch round cake pans that I had buttered, floured and lined with wax paper. I baked the cake layers for about forty minutes. I repeated the whole process to make the cupcakes. I scooped the batter into a muffin tin (using an ice-cream scoop ... thanks for the tip, Ina Garten!), cooking the cupcakes for about 25 minutes per batch. (One recipe makes about three dozen cupcakes.) Once the cake layers and cupcakes were cooled, I put them in the freezer. I wrapped the cake layers in plastic wrap and then foil, and I put the cupcakes in zip-top bags. The day before the party, I transferred the cakes and cupcakes from the freezer to the refrigerator to thaw slowly.

The morning of the party, I made the frosting. First, I melted some milk chocolate and semisweet chocolate together in a metal bowl over simmering water. I took the chocolate off the heat and whisked in some more sour cream. Again, I would have never expected that.

While the frosting cooled to room temperature, I unwrapped the cake layers and, very carefully, using my biggest serrated knife, cut the layers in half to make four layers. I frosted the cake and put it on a platter. The Book suggests decorating the cake with Brown Sugar Buttercream. I had made this frosting before, and it is delicious. Also, I knew that the dark chocolate frosting and the light brown buttercream would be the perfect color combination to decorate the cake with the monkey design that we'd chosen as the theme for my son's party. But for some reason, the buttercream was a total failure. It turned into a gloppy curdled mess. Plan B was to decorate with some giant pastel-colored sprinkles that I found in my mother-in-law's kitchen cupboard. I think that it looked pretty good just the same. I made another batch of frosting and slathered it on the cupcakes.

This cake was really very good. It was light and sweet and moist. I think that the sour cream has a lot to do with the cake's moist tenderness. The frosting was excellent, too. It was fudgey, creamy and tangy and not too sweet. I know that The Book calls the All-Occasion Yellow Cake "the cornerstone of every cake baker's repertoire," but, as you'll recall, I thought that it was awful. This cake, on the other hand, could easily be my go-to classic birthday cake.

My son's birthday party was a lot of fun, except for the fact that my poor little guy was as sick as a dog that day. When I got him out of bed that morning, he was burning up. When we found out that he had a temperature of 102.6, we called the on-call pediatrician for help. He calmed our fears a bit by telling us to give our boy some Tylenol and let him take it easy. We were all set to call the party off, but the doctor said that we should go ahead anyway. While my son wasn't his happy-go-lucky, fun-loving self, (as you can tell from the less-than-enthusiastic expression on his face), I think that he still had a pretty good time. At least I know that he enjoyed the cake...the frosting he smeared all over his face was evidence of that.

Date Cooked: December 27, 2009 and January 1, 2010
Degree of Difficulty: Medium
Rating: A