Category Archives: baking

OIive Oil & Yogurt Cake with Strawberries

It was snowing like hell on Sunday and I needed CAKE.   I’d wanted to make this one from food52, but I didn’t have an orange or unsoured milk (I had the Grand Marnier though, hah, just not the real food staples), so I had to look elsewhere, because it was messy and I was in serious nesting-hermit mode. I also had a pound of strawberries frozen from a sale at the store over the summer so I said, hmm, strawberries & cake, and then started googling.

I found this recipe, a variation on ones from Chocolate & Zucchini as well as Smitten Kitchen, and then took inspiration from this recipe to add strawberries in. 

I tweaked the first recipes thusly:  I added an extra 1/2 tsp of vanilla, a 1/4 tsp cinnamon because I think cinnamon and strawberries go well together, and the cake took another 20 minutes to bake because the strawberries were still frozen when I stirred them into the finished batter.   I should have probably let them come to room temperature, but I was also afraid they’d bleed into the batter at room temperature and make the batter too soggy.

The cake still looked good, though, in a homely, craggy, fragrant, quick, brew some tea and cut into it NOW kind of way.  It’s moist as heck because of the olive oil, and could have stood another 5 minutes of baking, but olive oil cakes have a wonderful flavor in general, and I’ll be making this one again soon with the rest of the berries lying around in the freezer.  I didn’t bake this one gluten-free, because I wanted to try the recipe as written (ish) first– but next time, I’ll try it with the Bob’s GF blend and see how it goes.


An unsalted thanks

I’ve been cooking, and adapting my cooking, to deal with the new low-salt restriction in my dad’s diet.  Since it was just us two this year for Thanksgiving, I could experiment with something other than turkey (sacriligeous secret, I don’t like turkey) and try my hand at slight less salty, less fatty versions of our traditional dishes.  I ended up with a low sodium, mostly low-carb, low-sugar holiday meal that was really delicious.  (Even if I added some salt to my plate.  I can’t help it, my normal BP is 100/60, I need that NAO2.)

Weird flowers brought home from work, because I like weird things.

Duck marinated in red wine, smashed garlic, rosemary, sage, parsley & juniper berries with herbs, roasted according to Amanda Hesser’s method in The Cook & the Gardener.

Sliced & served with windowsill herbs.

Gluten-free stuffing– wild rice cooked in red wine (the rest of the Bogle Merlot used on the duck) and butter and water, 4 italian sausages browned in a saute pan with red onion, 2 gala apples, a handful of dried cranberries & walnuts, then baked in a 350F oven with a splash of low-salt (Whole Foods 365 Organic) chicken broth & butter until the rice is cooked through & everything’s hot.

Cippolini onions & peeled shallots, cooked according to the recipe for braised rutabaga in Nigel Slater’s Tender.  Unsalted butter, low sodium chicken stock, white pepper, a pinch of white organic sugar.  Dressed once the liquid was boiled almost all the way down with generous gratings of nutmeg & two tablespoons of heavy cream, cooked until thickened & glazed.

One half a red cabbage, cooked again according to the recipe for red cabbage braised with cider vinegar from Tender.  Vegetable oil, black pepper, juniper berries, cider vinegar, a teaspoon of agave nectar and vinegar to correct a little burning at the end.

Warm potato & cucumber salad, dressed with mustard, olive oil, cider vinegar, a teaspoon of dijon mustard, chopped fresh dill, a pinch of sugar, black pepper.  Nigel Slater’s Tender, again.

Pumpkin cheesecake.  Gluten free, low sugar, low salt pumpkin cheesecake.  It looks like this when you slice it.

The recipe is based off this one, except I used gluten-free gingersnaps sweetened with stevia I bought from work and walnuts plus unsalted butter and agave nectar in the crust, (otherwise following the directions) then used full-fat ricotta & agave nectar in the pie instead of honey/maple syrup and lowfat ricotta.  I used 1/2 cup more pumpkin and 1/2 cup less ricotta than called for, to level out the fat content.   It was better than any regular pumpkin pie I’ve had in a while– less sweet, which is often my problem with pumpkiny things, and the gingersnap crust was delicious & had a nice zing.


Buonanotte, Marcella

If you’re at all an aficionado of cooking, you know that the grand doyenne of Italian cooking passed away this week.  I will admit, freely, that I don’t page through Marcella Hazan for inspiration the way that I flip through Julia Child; I find her (husband’s) translation too authoritative & cranky, and while I appreciate clear direction in a cookbook, there was always something about the tone of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking that seemed to promise that what befell the denizens of Dante’s Inferno would only be the start if I dared deviate from the steps laid out, so painstaking, therein.  If I want some inspiration for something Italian-ish to cook for supper, I’ve been far more likely to pull out Elizabeth David, whose firm but friendly writing and combinations of flavors always appeal.  Plus, I can never disagree with a woman who tells you to serve prosciutto with the very best butter.

Still– back to Marcella (though I think she would prefer me to call her Signora Hazan).  The fact still remains; crank though she might have been, and absolute snob for nothing but the best imported Italian what-have-you (and yes, I understand, the insistence was valid, whereas the book was written back in the day before concepts like locavore, heirloom seeds/breeds, and CSA meat/vegetable/aquaculture share were ever a glint in any hipster foodie wordsmith’s eye), Marcella’s books still were and are the Bible when I was looking for the recipe to rule them all or to tell me which amalgam of flavors was most likely truest & best.  I look at Barbara Lynch, at Susan Hermann Loomis, at Elizabeth David, at Patricia Wells and a half dozen more, but Marcella’s recipes distill the essentials, just like she says on the cover.  And for all that the recipes can sometimes be time-consuming, they’re always worth it.

Her pork loin braised in milk (Essentials, 417-418) should never be attempted when the mercury hovers over 80F, but any other time, please– set aside the 6-8 hours and make it.  It ain’t just stunt cooking, that stuff is worth it.  And her tomato sauce with onion and butter (Essentials, 152) will make you wonder– why bother with anything else? Vodka sauce? Who needs it? Take a stick blender to this.)  Her spinach soup with rice (Essentials, 89, 90-2) can be varied with sausage or baby kale or lacinato kale or not and will freeze like nobody’s business, just the thing to warm you.

So tonight, I cooked a dinner to bid Marcella mille grazie, and buonanotte.   Even if she was cranky.  I guess I’d be cranky if people were screwing up good food, as well.

Backyard beefsteak tomato salad.  Salt.  Pepper.  Real balsamic.  Real Tuscan extra virgin olive oil. And back porch chopped italian parsley and basil.  It’s not a recipe, but it is fresh.  I think Marcella would have approved.

Veal scallopini, dredged in toasted hazelnut flour, salt and pepper, browned in butter and olive oil and set aside, then the brown nutty juices reduced with a balsamic vinegar and chicken stock/juice of 1 lemon substitute for the wine called for in this Molly O’Neill adaptation of a Marcella recipe from “Marcella’s Italian Kitchen.”

Broccolini, cooked until tender all the way through, then sauteed quickly in its saucepan with the rest of the fresh-chopped parsley, basil, olives, red pepper flakes and garlic called for in this adaptation of a sauce for oriecchette , which is a souped-up version of the Broccoli and Anchovy Sauce (Essentials, 173) that Marcella recommends for oriecchette.  I skipped the grated cheese, as well as the anchovies, and let the olives speak for themselves.

And finally, last but not least, maybe Marcella’s most famous dessert, and a cake that deserves to be up there with Julia Child’s Queen of Sheba.

Behold, the Walnut Cake (Essentials, 588-9).

This needs a springform, and I futzed the 8-inch requirement and used a 9-inch, cooking the recipe 10 minutes less.  I also used Bob’s Gluten-Free flour blend in place of the 1 cup of regular flour the recipe calls for.  Some day, I’ll use all walnuts instead to make up the volume.

It’s a light, fragile cake, musky and fragrant with rum and lemon zest, tender and nutty.  (She has you toast the raw walnuts.  Do it.  It makes a difference versus buying pre-roasted nuts.)

It’s awesome, warm, still a little soft in the middle, with some creme fraiche stirred into whipped cream.  (Somehow, I don’t think Marcella would have minded the creme fraiche all that much.)

(And also, for those playing at home, with the exception of the tomatoes and the fresh herbs, I did buy all the ingredients, especially the perfect, tender, excellent and humanely-raised veal, at my lovely employer, whose name rhymes with Shmole Foods.)

Apricot & Mascarpone (Gluten Free) Tart

It’s actually not really as fancy as it looks– peak-season apricots, halved.  Most of a tub of mascarpone, beat with a tablespon of honey.  A 9-inch ceramic tart pan filled with most of a recipe of Namaste brand gluten-free biscuit/piecrust mix (I froze the rest, I can make a mini tartlet sometime) pressed into the pan because GF piecrust just doesn’t roll, it only smooshes into the pan.  I parbaked the crust for 10 minutes (no pricking, because of the liquidy filling) at 400F (the recommended heat from the mix) and then took it out, put in the cheese & then placed the apricots on top, then baked at 400F for another half-hour, until the filling bubbled and the apricot skins were shrunken and browned, and the crust edges were browned as well.

The mix does have xanthan gum, so if you’re sensitive, please take note.  I wanted to try something else besides Bob’s and King Arthur, and this was on offer at the newest of the stores our company’s been opening up in the area, so I thought I’d give it a try.  I like it– it’s got rice flour & tapioca starch for the starches, and sorghum for the flour part, as well as xantham, baking powder, potato starch & baking soda– which make it the biscuit mix, I guess, with the rise.  It’s not as gritty as Bob’s, though, so either there’s less rice flour by ratio, or it’s milled more finely.

On a non-baking note, but related to why the crust is gluten-free:

I’ve been getting more celiac and less gluten-intolerant lately– I don’t know if it’s a function of stress, age, too much gluten eaten all at once, lately, because there is so much tasty stuff to eat at work, or some combination of all of those things.  I know my grandmother, whom I inherit it from, figured it out at about my age (late 30s) so it makes sense that it’s getting worse, but the last few “Urgh, I got glutened” bouts have been really miserable, with bad headaches and a case of cold sweats, not just the antisocial GI distress that can and has gone on for days.  Time to really cut it all out, and also to cut back on the carb consumption again– I love the new job, but it has been stressful with all the work & responsibility & being around food in a sedentary position all day isn’t great, so I’ve put on about 5 lbs more than I’m comfortable with.  Some of that is sugar consumption, since we don’t carry diet anything, ever, and sugar and carbs are not good for the PCOS (which I like to forget that I have) but some of that is activity level, I’m sure.

I’m going to make this tart my last carbtastic blowout– and then find ways to make crisps and crumbles with nuts and agave instead.

Dr. Strangeoven (or, how I learned to stop stressing and serve crooked cakes)…

I just baked a cake so ugly that I will never think of a “Yo’ Mama” joke ever again.

No, really. This thing is UGLY. I should have realized the endeavor was doomed when it was OOZING CHOCOLATE LAVA from one side of the pan while it baked, but I was lulled into a false sense of security by the smell of its chocolatey goodness wafting throughout the kitchen.  (Chocolate-cake-aroma-lulling, next on Geraldo.)  I mean, the recipe (Amanda Hesser’s Chocolate Dump-it Cake, from Cooking for Mr. Latte and the new New York Times Cookbook) said it might leak– but it didn’t say there’d be half the cake left on the drip pan when it was done.

Delicious half a cake lava spill, but still. HALF A CAKE. (Okay, maybe only a few tablespoons. But still. IT WAS A LOT at the time that I looked into the oven five minutes before the cake was supposed to be done and did the Homer Simpson Gasp of Horror because of the impending Great Chocolate Cake Flood of 2012 going on just behind the glass and steel door.) Thank goodness the bits of the fossilized lava are insanely moist and don’t even need frosting. Though a sprinkle of powdered sugar? That would be awesome.

Okay, okay. It can’t be that bad, you say.

Wanna bet?


I’d say it’s the Derpy Hooves of chocolate cakes, but that would be paying this ugly thing too much of a compliment. Also, Derpy Hooves totally rocks.

I’m not going to blame it on the recipe, though, because did I mention the fossilized bits are delicious? I will blame it on my Dad’s weird-ass oven, because the gas heat fluctuates, hand-to-God, though not so badly that I’ve called the plumber despite how badly all my baking comes out since I’ve moved in. Either that, or, well…


Nah. It has nothing to do with the circa 1920’s Alzheimer’s aluminum pan that I baked the thing in rather than spend two hours looking for my perfectly useful, perfectly awesome silicone tube pan out of one of my 90 boxes in the basement. (The boxes are labeled. I swear. There are just a lot of them.)

Why on earth would a crooked pan make a crooked, lava-drooling cake? YOU SO CRAZY, YOU LOGICAL INTERNET, YOU.

Yeah. Next time, I’ll go pan-spelunking downstairs. That doesn’t mean I’m not still serving Chocolate Derp-it Cake with the recommended chocolate sour cream frosting, since too much frosting is never enough and hides an excess of sins behind its two-ingredient goodness.

Did I mention the lava drool is delicious?

Butcher, baker, candlestick maker

These last two weeks, I’ve been wearing my baker’s hat.  I made some lemon yogurt muffins from Marion Cunningham’s Breakfast Book, a cookbook everyone should have if only for her Fresh Ginger Cake and Nutmeg Muffins, and then made the (gluten free) Chocolate Chip Cookies in Cooking for Isaiah.  The latter were excellent, and no one at work noticed they were GF.  The texture was a bit different, but I made them with butter and not the shortening option (completely tested & approved by the author) and they were delicious and toll-house-y, which is really the departure point for all chocolate chip cookies.  And they did not make my stomach upset, always a bonus.

But as tasty as these things were, they couldn’t beat two real standouts.

First:  Melissa Clark’s Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake.  I love Clark’s column, “A Good Appetite,” at the NYT, and I own her book.  Twice.  In hardcover, and also on my Nook Color so I can shop from it randomly in the supermarket when I have no idea what to cook.  I’d never made an olive oil-based cake, and I hadn’t had this winter’s serving of blood oranges, so….  I used yogurt, not buttermilk, an either/or option in the recipe, and though Clark calls for whipped cream on the side, I wanted creme fraiche.  And my blood oranges were a little dry and tart, so– I heated my honey-fruit compote in the microwave with a little more honey than called for to give it more sweetness and oomph.

Melissa Clark's Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake

It was gorgeous and moist and a lovely, citrusy, midwinter cake.

And then there is Impossible Pie. Today’s been an Impossible Day, for various reasons that aren’t boring or unbloggable but which, well– I just don’t feel like discussing the reasons. So I won’t. But I did make Impossible Pie, which gets its name (so says the March 2011 Food & Wine article in which it’s contained) because it forms its own crust from the one-bowl battery mess of dried coconut and other pantry and fridge staples (um, if you keep coconut in your pantry, that is) that is totally worth making if you feel like– I need something custardy-sweet and comforting.  Now.  I did tweak the recipe thusly: I didn’t have sweetened coconut, only un-, and I had coconut milk, so I used 1 cup coconut milk (all the liquid in the can and then enough of the sploogy-clotted coconut cream to make one cup in a two-cup measure and 1 cup whole cow’s to fill) plus 2 cups dried unsweetened coconut– then everything else as called for.

It’s not gluten free– it calls for 1/2 cup of self-raising flour (cheat recipe here)– and the next time I make it, I’m going to try subbing in the basic gluten free blend from Cooking for Isaiah with the self-raising adaptation of baking powder and salt and see how I do– but it’s not so much that I think I’ll get a rumbly tummy from one slice a day.  Or two.  Maybe three?  Why not.  I deserve it.

Impossible Pie

It’s awfully good– enough to turn an Impossible Day into a possible one, even.

Not just any pancake

The husband can cook.  Very well, in fact.  He is a breakfast cook extraordinaire.  His omelets?  You should be so lucky to be the recipient of his egg cookery.  Trust me on this.  He gave me (while I was dating another man, no less) my copies of Mastering the Art of French Cooking one Christmas.  He’s also an excellent baker.  (Just don’t expect him not to use every pot in the kitchen.)

So, when I was looking at Amanda Hesser’s website, food52, and saw David Eyre’s Pancake there as a preview of the new Essential New York Times Cookbook, I thought to myself, “Self, this is what we’re having for breakfast tomorrow.”  And promptly handed the recipe over to my Better Half.  Because I stink at making pancakes.

Yep.  I am made of pancake fail.  You heard it here first.

But the husband?  He is not.  He can also make waffles.  And sometimes?  The gluten is worth it.  These pancakes most definitely are worth it.  Cut into fourths, sprinkled with a little lemon juice and coated with powdered (or superfine, because that’s what we had) sugar– mmmm.  Delicious.  A recipe worth the book’s price of admission, I think.

Truly.  There’s a reason we’ve been married for 10 years this coming week.

Well, that and the opening jars thing.