Monday, September 18, 2017

Chocolate Strawberry Naked Cake

Sometimes I am too ambitious for my own good. I've never been much of a baker, excepting the occasional tray of brownies and cookies at Christmastime. There's also the annual cake for Mr Minx's birthday, but that's usually a simple chocolate bundt. This year, I wanted to do something fancier. I was desperate to make a "naked cake," a cake with exposed layers, popularized by Christina Tosi at NY's Milk Bar. I've seen a lot of them on Instagram, and they look so cool. Also, they didn't seem all that difficult to make. Frosting the sides of the cake always seemed like the most fidgety part, and making a cake naked eliminates that whole messy ordeal.

My idea was to use the same super moist recipe that I use for the bundt cake, with the addition of roasted strawberries, and a simple stabilized whipped cream frosting. It would be like a strawberry shortcake, only not short and with the added goodness of chocolate.

I didn't want to attempt to cut round cake layers in half horizontally, pretty sure that would be a disaster. Instead, I made several flat rectangular cakes in a jelly roll pan and cut them into rounds. That ended up looking a bit sloppy. Perhaps my knife wasn't sharp enough, or the cake recipe I used was too moist. In any case, the somewhat jagged layers got stacked between pieces of waxed paper and spent the night in a cake carrier until I was able to assemble it the next day. It would have been too much to try to get it all done on Saturday morning before our annual afternoon birthday crab feast guest arrived.

The roasted strawberry idea I got from a foodie newsletter. The recipe in the newsletter was actually for oven-dried berries, but I liked the idea of cooking strawberries in the oven until they got soft and gave up a lot of liquid. Some of that liquid became a subtle flavoring for the whipped cream frosting that I stabilized with gelatin so it would last longer and not weep all over the cake.

I had used up all the strawberries in the roasting process but wanted to top the cake with something besides whipped cream. Birthday candles were out of the question (as was singing "Happy Birthday"), but I remembered we had a bag of Crunchies freeze-dried strawberries that the company sent me to taste after the Fancy Food Show. I had been nibbling them on their own, but felt they would be the perfect garnish for this cake and a good counterpoint to the squishy roasted berries between the layers. They stood up like sweet stalagmites, adding height as well as color and flavor. They softened a bit as the cake stood, but they never sagged, and I kinda liked the third strawberry texture in the mix.

Crunchies are non-GMO, gluten-free, vegan, kosher, and halal and contain no added sugar or artificial flavors. They are just freeze-dried fruit, pure and simple. I also love the Crunchies mango snacks and am contemplating making a similar cake, with yellow cake and mango filling, so I can use them as a garnish, too. That is, if we don't just eat it all straight out of the bag. :)

For someone who didn't really know what she was doing, I did a pretty decent job. Though the cake isn't the most beautiful thing in the world, it tasted so so good. ::::patting self on back:::::

Chocolate Strawberry Layer Cake

For the roasted strawberries:
2 pounds strawberries, hulled and halved, quartered if large
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the chocolate cake:
1 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons liqueur of your choice (I used Kahlua)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla

For the frosting:
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatine
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Crunchies freeze-dried strawberries

To make the strawberries: Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Toss the strawberries with the sugar, then with the vanilla. (Don't put the vanilla on the sugar to cut corners; it will just make the sugar clump up and make it hard to toss with the strawberries. No, I did not learn that through experience.) Spread in one layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast for 25-30 minutes, until strawbs are soft and there's lots of yummy juice on the baking sheet. Allow to cool at room temperature before scraping into a covered container and refrigerating until completely cooled.

To make the cake: Preheat oven to 350°F. Place a layer of parchment in a jelly-roll pan and grease it lightly with butter.

Combine the butter, cocoa, salt, and 1 cup of tap water in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook only until butter is melted and mixture is completely combined. Stir in the liqueur.

Place the flour, sugar, and baking soda in a large bowl. Pour in the chocolate butter mixture in 2 or three batches, stirring between each to combine. Beat the eggs with the sour cream and vanilla and stir into the flour mixture. Whisk until fully incorporated.

Here's the tricky part. Depending on the size of your pan, ladle in enough batter to cover the parchment entirely and be no more than 1/2 inch deep. Bake for enough time that the cake springs back when you touch it. I used a 9" x 13" jelly roll pan, which made three cakes with the amount of batter specified, each baking from 13-15 minutes (the first cake took longer and the last cake took less time). An 12" x 17" pan or thereabouts would probably take 18-20 minutes, so start checking at the 16 or 17 minute mark. Just looking at it should tell you if the middle is wet or cooked through. Once your cake or cakes are baked, allow them to cool in the pan for a few minutes. Loosen the edge of the cake with a knife and turn out onto a rack to cool completely. You should peel off the parchment while the cake is still warm.

Once the cakes are cool you can cut them. If you want to make it really easy on yourself, cut each cake in half and make a square layer cake. (Next time, that's what I'm doing!) But if you want a round cake, use a 7" or 8" round template as a guide. Place each cooled cake on a cutting board large enough to hold them, or right on your counter or table if that's easiest. Using the template and a sharp knife, cut your circles. Lift them away with a large spatula and put them on parchment or waxed paper until you're finished cutting. The scraps can be eaten as a cook's treat, or put them in a plastic bag and freeze them for when you're having a cake craving.

To make the frosting: Remove 3-4 tablespoons of the strawberry roasting liquid to a bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over the liquid and allow to rest for several minutes until set. If your strawberries didn't give off much liquid for some reason (perhaps because you ate it as you scraped it off the pan), use a few tablespoons of water instead.

Place the cream, sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer (or a regular bowl, if you're using a hand mixer) and beat for a minute or so. Put the gelatin in the microwave for about 10 seconds to liquify (it might take 15 seconds). Stir well so there are no clumps of gelatin, and with the mixer running on a fairly low speed, v e r y slowly drizzle it into the cream, beating all the time. Once incorporated, turn the mixer speed up and beat until medium peaks form. Don't overbeat, or you'll have butter. Scrape the cream into a piping bag fitted with a large star tip, or the tip of your choice.

To assemble the cake: Place a round of cake onto a cardboard cake round or on an aluminum-foil covered springform or tart pan bottom of appropriate size. Eyeball the strawberries. Do the pieces seem too big? Then chop them up a bit. Maybe you should just chop them up a bit anyway. Spread an even layer of strawberry pieces + some of the cooking liquid on the cake. Pipe on a layer of the cream, then top with another cake layer. Add another layer of cream, then another layer of cake. Top this third layer of cake with more strawberries and more cream. (You won't use all the strawberries. Eat them with ice cream or with a spoon.) Add the fourth layer of cake and pipe the frosting decoratively on top. Refrigerate cake until ready to serve.

Garnish with freeze dried strawberry pieces before serving.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Flashback Friday - Baked Mushroom Spring Rolls

flashback friday graphic
This post originally appeared on on September 29, 2014.

At last year's (2013) Summer Fancy Food Show, I had a taste of The Ginger People's Sweet Chili Ginger Sauce and fell in love. It's a lot like the sweet chili sauce one finds accompanying fried things at Thai restaurants, only better. When I found it at the grocery store (I do believe it was MOM's Organic, but it may have been Whole Foods) I bought a bottle...which then languished in our pantry for at least six months.

Every time I opened the pantry, I spotted the bottle and made a mental note to make spring rolls at some point. Every time I closed the pantry, I forgot that thought. (Hey, I'm old. Memory's not what it used to be.) Except the very last time, when I remembered to write "spring roll wrappers" on the grocery list hanging on the fridge all of 18 inches away.

I decided that vegetarian or vegan spring rolls would be easier than the meaty sort, so mushrooms also went into the shopping cart that day, as did a head of cabbage.

I was making cole slaw for another meal, and after I chopped up the cabbage, I saved a cup of it for the spring rolls. In retrospect, I could have used more cabbage and fewer mushrooms, but I liked the idea of mushroom spring rolls. They would seem meatier, so we wouldn't miss the, er, meat. And a fear of frying (in addition to a fear of absorbing too much cooking oil/not needing those extra fat calories) led me to bake the spring rolls. Baking produces a crunchier eggroll than frying does, but it's also not greasy, so not a bad exchange.

You, of course, can make these the way you like. Heck, put some ground pork in the pan with the mushrooms if you want. I won't tell.

Baked Mushroom Spring Rolls

1 pound of mushrooms (your choice), chopped
2 teaspoons vegetable or olive oil
Big pinch of salt
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 cup shredded cabbage
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1-inch piece of ginger, grated
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Soy sauce
1 package egg roll wrappers
3 scallions, chopped
Cooking spray

In a large pan set over medium-high heat, cook the mushrooms in the oil with a pinch of salt until they give up most of their moisture. Add the onion and cabbage and cook until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook an additional minute. Season with sesame oil and soy to taste. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature/refrigerate until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Prepare a baking sheet by topping it with a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment. Keep a small bowl of water at the ready.

Take one spring roll wrapper and arrange it so the corners are facing the compass points (the southernmost/bottom point should be pointing directly at you). Place two heaping tablespoons of the mushroom filling in the lower center of the wrapper; top with a sprinkling of the chopped scallions. Fold the bottom point up over the filling, then fold the east and west points in to form an envelope. Dip a finger in the water and apply it to the northernmost tip. Roll the whole thing up and place on prepared baking sheet.

Repeat with the remainder of the filling. I got 12 rolls; you'll get more or less depending on how generous your "heaping" tablespoons are.

Spray tops of rolls with cooking spray. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until bottoms have begun to brown. Using tongs, turn rolls over, spray with more cooking spray, and bake an addtional 10-12 minutes, until rolls are crispy.

Serve with your favorite spring roll dipping sauce.

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Monday, September 11, 2017

Kung Pao Cauliflower

Kung Pao chicken is Mr Minx's favorite Chinese dish. He also uses it to measure the worthiness of a Chinese restaurant--if their kung pao is to his liking, we'll most likely eat there again. So when I saw this recipe for kung pao cauliflower in Bon Appetit, I bookmarked it for future use. Mr Minx isn't the biggest fan of cauliflower, but I thought the kung pao-ness of it would sway him.

Cauliflower is becoming the new Brussels sprout. Not all that long ago, the lowly miniature cabbage was relegated to horror stories about hated childhood foods of the 60s and 70s, now they're on trendy restaurant menus everywhere. Or at least they were. Nowadays, cauliflower is popping up instead, usually in some sort of preparation with East Asian origins. Though East Asian cuisines celebrate most members of the brassica family, cauliflower isn't especially popular. However, cauliflower is sturdy and meaty and has a fairly neutral flavor, as far as cruciferous vegetables go, and can be adapted to many types of cooking methods and flavorings. Why not kung pao?

We had a somewhat large cauliflower in the fridge, so I decided it was time to try the Bon Appetit recipe I had bookmarked last year. I changed the method and the ingredients a tad. I felt there was not enough sauce, nor was it going to be sweet enough for our tastes, so I added a bit more sugar and hoisin. The recipe called for sherry vinegar, but we always have a bottle of Chinese black vinegar in the cupbard, so I used that instead. More authentic, as if authenticity matters here. The original recipe also calls for a serrano chile in the stir fry, but rather than buy additional types of chiles (we had the dried japones chiles on hand), I simply added some sambal to the sauce.

If you like the idea of kung pao but are not into the heat of it, you can omit the dried chiles. They aren't just for show--cooking them in the hot oil imparts heat to the oil. Leave out the sambal too, if you're wimpy like that. Not everyone has the same tolerance to chiles and you shouldn't be judged on it.

The dish was a huge success. The kung pao sauce is so good, I think I'll use it on a protein next time, perhaps chicken thighs or tofu. It would probably be work on other vegetables such as broccoli, or hey, even brussels sprouts.

Kung Pao Cauliflower (adapted from Bon Appetit)

For marinade:
2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon soy sauce

For sauce:
1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar (sherry vinegar may be substituted)
4 teaspoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons sambal oelek
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons soy sauce

For cauliflower:
1 medium head of cauliflower (about 1¾ pounds)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
6 dried japones chiles, chiles de árbol, or other red chiles
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns or ½ teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
3 scallions, dark-green and white parts separated, thinly sliced
1 1-inch piece ginger, peeled, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup unsalted, roasted peanuts

Steamed white rice

To make marinade: Stir wine, cornstarch, and soy sauce in a large bowl and set aside.

To make sauce: Stir vinegar, hoisin sauce, sugar, sambal, sesame oil, and soy sauce in a small bowl and set aside.

To make cauliflower: Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with foil.

Remove leaves and cut cauliflower into medium florets. Toss with 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil and arrange in a single layer on the baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes, turning once, until cauliflower is browning in spots. Stir the marinade with a fork to reincorporate the corn starch and add the cauliflower to the bowl. Toss to combine and set aside.

In a large saute pan, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the dried chiles and peppercorns, stirring regularly, until fragrant. Remove the chiles and peppercorns to a plate and set aside. Add the marinated cauliflower to the oil in the pan, discarding excess marinade. Cook the cauliflower for a few minutes to rewarm. Add the white part of the scallions, the ginger, garlic, and peanuts and toss. Pour in the sauce and toss again. Cook until the sauce is fragrant and the cauliflower is coated.

Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the scallion greens.

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Friday, September 08, 2017

Flashback Friday - Nectarine Soup with Crab Salad

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This post originally appeared on on August 29, 2014.

It has long been a tradition to have steamed crabs for Mr Minx's birthday. We usually get two dozen, which comfortably feeds four adults, but for some reason, we had a ton left over this year. We did our part, putting away a dozen between the two us (along with hush puppies and corn on the cob), but there were still several crabs left by the time we were done. These were meaty suckers, so once we picked the remaining critters, we had a whole pound of meat (.984 lb, to be exact) left over.

I can probably eat a pound of crabmeat served with nothing but a fork, but that's no fun, and maybe more than a bit piggy. I didn't want to only make crabcakes, especially since I feel I've done that recently. I thought back to a soup I made with avocados and garnished with crab salad and decided that would hit the spot. Only we didn't have any avocados. But we did have a big bag of nectarines and white peaches that I had purchased at the farmers' market earlier in the week. Rather than going to my old stand-by soup, gazpacho, I decided to let the nectarines speak for themselves. Blended with a bit of Greek yogurt and seasoned with savory spices, it went nicely with the rich, sweet, blue crab (the best crab!).

As for the salad, I went with a ceviche-style preparation, with citrus juices, jalapeno, and tomato. Mr Minx and I agreed that it was a restaurant-quality dish, and not really all that difficult to prepare. And made entirely from things we already had on hand in the pantry and fridge.

Nectarine Soup with Crab Salad

For soup:
5 nectarines
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup chicken stock (you can use veg stock, or water)
1/4 cup mint leaves, loosely packed
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon harissa powder
Pinch cayenne
Large pinch salt
Agave syrup, to taste

For salad:
1 small shallot, minced
1 small tomato, seeded and diced, or 5-6 cherry tomatoes, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon agave syrup
1/2 lb fresh blue crab meat

To make soup: Peel nectarines and cut into chunks, discarding pits. Place nectarine flesh into a blender or food processor with remaining ingredients except cayenne, salt, and agave syrup, and pulse to a puree. Season to taste with the last three ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To make salad: Place vegetables in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together citrus juices, olive oil, and agave syrup. Pour over vegetables. Add crab meat and gently fold to coat with dressing. Refrigerate for at least an hour for flavors to meld and to tame the oniony-ness of the shallot.

To serve: Pour soup into bowls or cups. Top with a generous portion of crab salad.

Serves 4-6, with extra crab salad.

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