Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Tricks & Treats - a Chocolate-Orange Cake Story

It must be Halloween because I began my morning being tricked. In my sleepy stupor I could have sworn I heard my husband walking through water. Snuggling myself further under the glorious down comforter to fight off consciousness, much the way I protected myself from the monsters in the shadows as a child I couldn't help but think, "please. For the love of all that is good and right in the world... please... please... don't let the storage room be flooded."


Sunday, October 30, 2011

What Would Julia Do? A Plum Tart Story

Autumn tends to mean the end of most stone fruits, but it's when Italian plums are at their best. Also known as prune plums, Italian plums are less juicy than the black plums we see in the markets over the summer. They have a rather tart flavor that develops into a pleasing sweetness when cooked. Although I have a few favorite recipes using Italian plums I wanted something different from my usual, but with a couple of girlfriends coming over for tea I knew I wanted it to be elegant and appealing to the crowd. Enter Julia.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Dark Chocolate Marshmallow Cream Cups

Remember last week when I discovered two ways for not making marshmallows? Thank goodness I finally figured it out and was able to make some amazing marshmallow treats! Being the frugal cook I am I can't bear to let anything go to waste so I saved the marshmallow cream figuring no recipe is a failure if you can find a way to turn it into something glorious and new. Let me tell you, these candies are pretty glorious.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cloak, Dagger, and Meatballs - A Family Sunday Recipe

On Facebook the other day a good friend of mine posted a request for family friendly healthy dinner ideas. As a half-dozen ideas popped in my head I was suddenly stopped in my tracks by these two thoughts:
  1. She works long hours with a long commute (i.e. little time at home)
  2. She has an elementary-school age child (would he eat what I eat?) 
So I started thinking more strategically... what takes relatively little time to make, is healthy enough to satisfy adults and tasty enough to satisfy kids? The answer was clear. Big, flashing neon sign clear.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lessons in Love and Lobster Stock

I grew up with a Mom who makes the best chicken soup in the world. This chicken soup chases away the winter chill and cures colds. It provokes a happy dance when I find a container tucked away in the freezer and whatever else I might have had planned for dinner goes out the window. A couple of winters ago I caught a nasty cold and was just miserable. With bleary eyes and a Cathy Moriarty voice, ensconced in a tissue empire on the couch, I begged my husband to call my Mom and ask her for the recipe for her soup. He rolled his eyes but he dutifully called her and he tried to re-create it, but he ended up doing things just a bit too much his own way. A few days later when I was feeling better, I phoned Mom and said, "well, he really loves me to go to all that trouble; but between you and me, Mom, it just wasn't the same." With hot buttered toast made with fresh bread from Parziale's,  I'm pretty sure this soup could inspire world peace. You just cannot be mad when you have a mouthful of that rich, golden broth. It's all because Mom makes her own chicken stock.
Mom & Grammie; 1970s

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lobster Rolls

It's been rather warm in New England lately. In fact, there are some moments when it still feels like early September when the last few days of summer enveloped us in a haze of salty, beachy memories. With Halloween upon us, however, I had given up the ghost of summer and was prepared to wait until next June before allowing myself to anticipate it's heady grasp once more. Imagine my surprise then, when my mother stopped by to drop off a few things she picked up for us while shopping in Maine... lobsters!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Acorn Bowls - Just add Stuffing

One of my favorite things about autumn is all of the great winter squash that becomes available. My local markets recently had locally grown delicata, butternut, pumpkin, hubbard, spaghetti squash, buttercup, and one of my favorites: acorn squash.

One of the things I like best about acorn squash is its size - it's just right for two people, or one person plus leftovers. Since my husband works nights I might as well live alone when it comes to dinner! The shape of this squash is also perfect for stuffing with the filling of your choice since it becomes it's own little bowl. No need to make a trip to [insert name of your favorite trendy home goods store here] for a ceramic bowl in the shape of a pumpkin (cute tho' they are)!
Here is an easy stuffed squash recipe that makes the most out of the season's bounty:

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Think Pink! Marshmallows for Liz

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. From fundraising walks to pink ribbons on cars to TV movies you will see pink everywhere this month in honor of promoting education, early intervention, and treatment of this disease that will afflict 1 in 8 women in the US over the course of their lifetime. One in eight. Think about how many women you know. Now think about how many will be affected by this disease - as well as the ripple effect of the impact of this disease on their friends and families. We can all name at least one woman who has faced and fought breast cancer. I can name seven such courageous women, but today I'd like to tell you about just one - my dear friend Liz. Liz has graciously agreed to share her story here on Oh Cake in the hopes that you will be encouraged to take action, get yourself checked, or encourage your wife, sister, daughter, and friends to get checked.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Throwback Thursday - Tuna Noodle Casserole

As classic as casseroles are in American cooking they are unusual and exotic fare for me. The only remotely casserole-type dish we ever ate growing up was lasagna. As a child I was mesmerized when I went to friends' houses and saw creamy concoctions stuffed with noodles and vegetables. If there was a crispy bread crumb topping I assumed I had died and gone to heaven (don't even get me started on my best friend's nana's noodle kugel... a sweet casserole? Hello!). My mother's cooking was (and still is) excellent but decidedly not the typical American diet I saw at my friends houses. Mom was taught how to cook by her own European born and raised mother, as well as heavily influenced by the fabulous New York City restaurants she frequented BC (Before Children). As an adult I appreciate the techniques, flavors and experiences my mother's cooking exposed me to; but as a child I craved the creamy casseroles I saw my friends' mothers preparing.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Difference Between Good and Good Enough

Recipe creation. That wonderful alchemy between raw ingredient and creativity. Many of us who create original recipes have a small group of recipe testers who will painstakingly follow our recipes to the letter and report back with useful critiques. I am personally blessed with one particular friend who reports back with taste, technique and writing critiques. (I just got lucky that my best friend is a researcher and editor by training and trade as well as enthusiastic home cook).
Whenever I feel daunted by a recipe I am working on I remember something my mother said to me during a particularly challenging period early on in my culinary career: [t]he main thing to focus on is your creativity and the style in which you express that. You are an artist. ~ JRH - My Mom 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Cinderella Goes to the Farm... and Turns a Pumpkin into Soup!

It's that time of year when cooks everywhere run to the orchards, the farmers markets, and the farm stands to fill their baskets with apples, pears, and pumpkins (and cider, cider doughnuts, and my favorite: a caramel apple rolled in chopped peanuts). In the last month I've been to five different farms for all of the above mentioned items. (Except for that caramel apple... I always get one at Honey Pot Hill Farms; but I haven't been there yet this autumn).

Friday, October 7, 2011

Orange-Fig Teacake with Caramel Glaze

This post could easily be titled the evolution of a recipe...

As evidenced by this post I love tea time. Whether it's a simple tea and toast towards the end of the workday or a full-on afternoon tea with finger sandwiches and elegant cakes in my favorite A-line frock, I love tea. My favorite is probably a Devonshire tea (also known as a cream tea) which features scones with jam and clotted cream. While searching through my current collection of jams I came across an old favorite: Dalmatia Orange Fig spread. I have no idea how many jars of this I've gone through over the years. I used to use this jam so often in savory dishes that one of my friends started remarking, "ah yes, the famous orange-fig combo!" Although I love it, I started focusing on other flavors. But seeing the distinctive jar got me thinking; with fig season in the Northeast drawing to a close and orange season just getting started, I decided to create a teacake based on these two fantastic fruits.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Adventures in Vegan Cooking with Jenn Adler

Several months ago my brother's good friend Jenn requested some assistance in learning to cook vegan meals. And I... completely dropped the ball and left her hanging! Well, until yesterday that is when Jenn and I experienced our first session of Adventures in Vegan Cooking!

"I'm not a vegetarian, but I play one on TV..."

er... at home. I am a vehemently equal-opportunity cook and eater. If it sounds tasty, I will try to make it. If I like it, I will eat it. For a lot of home cooks I have spoken to however, there seems to be a certain mystique around vegans or at least the belief that it's challenging to prepare a completely meat & dairy-free meal. I'm not an expert on the subject by any means, but really, when was the last time someone slapped a piece of meat on a plate and said, "yup - that's it. Just the meat." No, we all incorporate fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and legumes into our cooking repertoire to have a variety of flavors, textures, colors and nutrients in our diets. Due to the high cost of most meats, and the fact that I really like vegetables and legumes, many of my meals at home tend toward the vegetarian (not vegan - I generally use dairy/eggs at home). These days most everyone has a friend or family member who is vegetarian or vegan. Instead of causing conflict, these culinary differences should provide an opportunity to expand our horizons beyond our own standard fare.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pear Teacake with Marzipan Streusel

Everyone has childhood memories of family traditions - whether it is a special holiday tradition, a favorite family recipe, or an annual trip. In my family, one thing I could always count on was that at around 3:30 every afternoon, no matter what else was going on, my grandmother would stop what she was doing and have tea.

Mom or I would put on the kettle, brew a pot of tea, set a pitcher of milk and the sugar bowl on the table. Three teacups and saucers. Three spoons. And then... Grammie would say, "how about a little something?" You see for Grammie there was tea at breakfast, a cup of tea around 10am, a cup with lunch, a cup after dinner and maybe a cup as a pick-me-up during the day. But tea time in the afternoon was different, special. The table would be set, a whole pot would be brewed instead of a single mug, china cups would come out... and there would be "a little something."

"A little something" was often a simple slice of cinnamon raisin toast with cream cheese but sometimes it was apple pie or leftover cake from a birthday or holiday. Sometime in my early teens my Mom and I started making this incredible plum teacake (the pears come later). It was incredibly dense and rich, not overly sweet. The plums stayed juicy and plump on the top while creating a thin sliver of a delectably moist layer right underneath them. A hint of cinnamon and this cake was perfection with a hot cup of tea. Over the years I've tweaked it to make it better and better.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Stuffed Risotto Cakes

There is nothing more satisfying to a frugal cook than making a new meal out of leftover ingredients. While preparing the grilled eggplant involtini last night I knew I had more than enough for two meals, but we don't tend to enjoy eating the exact same thing two days in row. This is when I put on my crown as Queen of Leftovers and get to work.

Indulge me first, if you will, in a little trip down memory lane... it's important for this recipe.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Grilled Eggplant Involtini

I always do my grocery shopping by first reading the circular. I check out what is on sale, I think about what I have on hand, and I let the two macerate with a splash of creative thinking before writing out my shopping list. As much as I like being spontaneous, the fact is we're on a budget and I loathe (loathe) seeing food go to waste. I always try to use up ingredients on hand first and only purchase what we need. Fridays we tend to try to make a nice dinner together since Thom works Sunday through Thursday nights leaving us only two nights per week to have dinner together. The weather in Boston is still pretty warm, we have loads of basil on the patio and this week, locally grown eggplant is on sale.

As I started thinking about what to make with eggplant I immediately gravitated towards eggplant Parmigiano. But... living in the North End it's a staple on most restaurant menus and I wanted something a little lighter. I thought back to a recipe I learned for stuffed zucchini blossoms and decided to try my hand at a hybrid between the two. The result became this recipe for grilled eggplant involtini. Note - this recipe is meant for two. In addition to the involtini make 4 servings of a basic risotto. Save the extra filling, extra risotto, and extra vegetables to make risotto cakes with sauteed vegetables the next day.