Thursday, January 29, 2009

chocolate cola cake with toasted coconut-pecan frosting

Chocolate Cola Cake with Toasted Coconut-Pecan Frosting (16)

How did this happen again? A full week has gone by since I posted last and it’s been almost two weeks that this recipe has been sitting comfortably in my MT system waiting for me to click publish. And publish it, I did not. A whirlwind of a long weekend in Boston, and then a crazy week left me no time to string two words together, never mind sentences. And boy, was I excited to tell you about this cake! Does the phrase “dulce de leche” grab your attention? See, even now, I just stared a good five minutes at the last sentence thinking, “Now where was I?”

Chocolate Cola Cake with Toasted Coconut-Pecan Frosting (1)Chocolate Cola Cake with Toasted Coconut-Pecan Frosting (2)

This cake was made for a surprise engagement brunch for two of my best friends, Paul and Sharon who have recently returned from their trip to South Africa, where Paul proposed and Sharon accepted, making them officially engaged (yay!). I was in on the whole thing and kept it so well from Sharon that she totally bought my let’s-celebrate-the -New- Year-belatedly-since-you-were-in- South-Africa-and-we-didn’t-celebrate-together excuse. In reality, Paul, who is very sneaky in the most delightful ways, was planning a surprise brunch for Sharon with the nearest and dearest friends. And the surprise worked – she had no idea.

Chocolate Cola Cake with Toasted Coconut-Pecan Frosting (3)Chocolate Cola Cake with Toasted Coconut-Pecan Frosting (8)
Chocolate Cola Cake with Toasted Coconut-Pecan Frosting (7)Chocolate Cola Cake with Toasted Coconut-Pecan Frosting (10)

Of course, as soon as Paul let me in on this devious plan, I offered to bake a cake for the occasion. Paul’s only requirement was that the cake would have chocolate – never a poor request. But chocolate cake still left me with so many options. Do I go for the triple threat and make a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, and some more chocolate tucked somewhere in the middle? Do I maybe opt to have a raspberry filling to accent the dark chocolate batter?

Chocolate Cola Cake with Toasted Coconut-Pecan Frosting (12)

Since I had just made a chocolate peanut butter cake and there was an FDA warning on peanut butter, I thought carefully about my options and decided to go with a chocolate cola cake with a dulce de leche frosting. The recipe, from my new favorite cake book, taunted me for weeks with whispers of decadent things to come and since I leaf through this book practically every night before I turn the lights off and go to bed, it takes Herculean strength not get out of bed and have a piece of toast with Nutella. With will power like this, state secrets will never leave my lips!

Chocolate Cola Cake with Toasted Coconut-Pecan Frosting (13)

Well, for those of you who like a good nostalgic, Southern-themed dessert, this cake is for you! Flavored with cherry cola, frosted with a dulce du leche frosting with pecans and coconut, this is a rich, chocolatey, powerful cake. It’s intense and decadent and were it not for the fiercely cold temperatures outside, it would make me feel like I’m lounging in Charleston somewhere sipping on sweet tea and fanning myself.

Chocolate Cola Cake with Toasted Coconut-Pecan Frosting (14)

And though this cake is not difficult at all, a couple of notes I learned along the way to steer you along. First, I know the recipe says “sweetened coconut”, but seriously, rich chocolate cake, dulce de leche and sweetened coconut? I opted for unsweetened and it was lovely. Two, the dulce de leche takes 2 hours to make. And then some time to cool. While not a difficult cake, it’ll take a few hours to make and put together, so give yourself enough time. Three, I flash froze the cakes once they cooled off and then frosted them frozen – and gave the cake enough time to come to room temperature to be eaten. Frosting while the cakes are frozen is a lot easier than fumbling about with sticky frosting such as this and delicate, crumbly textures.

And honestly, this cake is so worth the time and trouble because it is just painfully good. Painfully, because as you are eating it and you realize you are full, you’re all-too-well aware that you simply cannot put your fork down and might even have to force yourself to have a second piece, as one of our friends did. If the rest of Paul and Sharon’s life together is as decadent and lush and sweet, then my work here is done.

Continue reading chocolate cola cake with toasted coconut-pecan frosting.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

roasted pumpkin soup

Roasted Pumpkin Soup

My goodness where did the week go? I feel as if long weekends make for hectic weeks, which are short, but so packed with activities, I wind up being more exhausted. I know I shouldn’t complain about getting Monday off. Who complains about that? Surely, my mind is not in the right place. Having Monday off allowed me to have a lovely morning, coffee with a friend and I was able to cook dinner for two wonderful friends, Paul and Sharon, who recently got engaged. But more on that later. That’s a whole separate post right there.

i heart pumpkin!

Paul happens to be one of those poor souls who had to work on Monday and so were he to read my lamentations above, would not take too kindly to such sentiment. I’m sure he would have traded my day for his, culinary adventures and all.

golden brown

This dinner was really a way to rescue some of my produce that started to look droopy and sad. This happens a lot in Sassy Radish kitchen. I get very excited about the beautiful fruits and vegetables I see at my neighborhood grocer, stock up, and then… life sort of happens and before you know it, it’s been five whole days and my turnips are looking mushy, herbs are turning that brownish green and carrots going limp. In this case, it was a pumpkin I had bought a few weeks before, excited that fresh pumpkin was still lying around, even though Halloween was long gone and forgotten.

scoop out the flesh with a spoonfleshy pumpkin - it's AIN'T pretty

I brought this pumpkin home, and even named him Stanley (a perfectly respectable name for a pumpkin, no?), but I failed to have a plan for it. For awhile it served as a lovely fall-nostalgic centerpiece, but then I put it in the refrigerator fearing it might go rancid. And so, the time to make this pumpkin had come. And while I entertained many a recipe for Stanley to shine in, nothing truly stuck out.

mire poix

That is until I saw this recipe just browsing and immediately everything clicked in its place. And let me tell you, this soup is both comforting and sexy. It’s fuzzy slippers and sleek stilettos wrapped in one, and I’m not trying to tell you that this soup looks like a shoe and feels like a sneaker. It simply has qualities of both. The cooked down pumpkin is soft, comforting and nourishing. The kind of thing you’d want after a long day in the office. But the spices give it the kind of sophistication that elevate this soup from every day to something special. And look, with only half a cup of cream used in the whole batch, it’s still a healthy meal. See how good I am to you? Now, go ahead, get that dessert you know you really want – the soup more than makes up for it.

Continue reading roasted pumpkin soup.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

pasta with chanterelles and fresh ricotta

pasta with chanterelles, cream and ricotta

It is still, after 20 years of living in the United States, utterly shocking to me how much chanterelle mushrooms cost. When I was growing up in Russia, they were the one of the cheapest mushrooms around, though we picked most of our mushrooms ourselves. That’s the kind of thing you do in Russia – pick your own mushroom and berries in the forest. It’s a bit cliché and “Sound of Music” but I assure you we didn’t do this with a song. And as for mushroom-picking, I used to be quite good at it too. You had to have a keen eye, discerning one brown thing from the next, a twig or a leaf sometimes was hiding a beautiful porcini or a cremini mushroom. And as for chanterelles, you could see their bright yellow tops a mile away.

I also had memorized names of all the mushrooms and how they looked and how to tell their poisonous look-alikes from the real thing. I’ve forgotten most of it by now, but with the chanterelles, my favorite childhood mushroom, I still remember. Should you find a chanterelle mushroom that has worms inside, it is a fake. Apparently, real chanterelle mushrooms are repugnant to worms. Now, that may have been an old wives tales, but even so, would you want a wormy mushroom?

pasta with chanterelles, cream and ricotta

Regardless, the chanterelle is a pretty fabulous thing, if you ask me. It smells of earth and moist woods and moss and when cooked, it makes the most humble meals glorious and worthy of a special occasion. And this dish, which I slightly spruced up with some fresh ricotta (I really just couldn’t resist it!) was an absolute favorite thing of mine to eat when chanterelles were in season. And ridiculously simple too!

pasta with chanterelles, cream and ricotta

You simply sauté some onions and shallots, add to them the chanterelles and let that cook until reduced in volume (mushrooms shrink when cooked) at which point you add a dollop of sour cream (what dish in Russia goes without?), mix it all in, and then stir it into freshly boiled pasta. It sounds simple and pedestrian, though it’s anything but – and you just might finish the whole dish by yourself, so for your sake, do invite some guests over. This could be one fancy dinner party!

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Friday, January 16, 2009

chocolate peanut butter cake

Chocolate Cake with PB Cream Cheese Frosting & Ganache

So before you roll your eyes and go, didn’t you just tell us you were going to take a break from sweets, I will tell you that Slashfood already (rightly!) chided me and I owe them and you an explanation and an apology. I am sorry to pull you away from tofu and brown rice and egg white. I am. But this was for a birthday, and was shared by about 30 people, so we all had the smallest of the pieces, and, most importantly, I have been meaning to make this for nearly half a year – so it’s kind of retroactive, in a way.

chocolate cake mixcake mise

To say this cake has been long time in the making, would be a terrible understatement. It’s been five months in the making and if you think I’m exaggerating let’s go down the timeline. When I moved into my new neighborhood in mid-August, my lovely new neighbors met me for dinner at this stunner of a place and presented me with a housewarming gift that made my heart skip many a beat – the cake book I’ve been lusting after for what seems like forever after seeing a few of its creations.


Immediately I read the preface and bought all the necessary baking tools that would enable me to start making celebration cakes and then emailed my friends with offers to bake dessert for any and each occasion. But every time someone’s birthday or gathering came up and I would offer up a cake – there was either not much enthusiasm for it or the situation couldn’t really accommodate. Last month I all but baked a cake for a friend’s birthday but the venue where we held it was going to charge us such an inappropriate fee for it, I backed out. And so finally, when my lovely friend Kate was having a birthday party last weekend, and I asked her if I could bake her a cake, her answer was a resounding YES.

peanut butter cream cheese frostingfrosting the cake

I had this cake in mind all along, what with the most perfect combination of chocolate and peanut butter, this was the cake I was most curious to make, but Kate had to approve the flavors – after all, it was her birthday. While not a huge chocolate person, she did like chocolate cake and the peanut butter frosting sounded too good to pass up. It was finally going to happen.

frosting the cake

Deb, on her site, mentions that if you like baking cakes, especially celebration ones – you need to get this book. I cannot agree with her more. The recipes are very doable and have clear instructions; the pictures are stunning; and the variety of unusual flavors makes this for a not-your-average-cake-book experience. It’s probably my favorite cook book at this moment, perhaps because I have a few cakes in the queue that will need to be made fairly soon.

melting the ingredients for the ganacheChocolate Cake with PB Cream Cheese Frosting & Ganache
Chocolate Cake with PB Cream Cheese Frosting & GanacheChocolate Cake with PB Cream Cheese Frosting & Ganache

Oh and since this cake is one-bowl only (for the batter – you will need another bowl to make the frosting) – it’s really really easy. You might not even need a preset mise because things just go in chronological order and voila – batter is made! I like having a mise, because I’m a little OCD about certain things and I like the look of it. But if you’re like me and lack a dishwasher (and loathe doing dishes) – the one bowl aspect of it is very valuable, don’t you think? And while this cake is quite intense and you’ll want the thinnest of slivers on your plate (because a huge piece just might send you into a permanent chocolate and peanut butter coma) it’s hardly fitting for my New Year’s resolve of healthier food. Just think of the hand mixing as a small workout for your forearm and tricep – which cancels out the calories consumed by a slice of this. Or so I’d like to believe.

that went well with some milk

More peanut butter and chocolate love: Crispy Peanut Butter Bars

Continue reading chocolate peanut butter cake.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

pepita granola with coconut oil and dried cherries

Pepita Granola

Oh I am so tricky with granola, I don’t even know where to begin. Granola is one of those foods that you know you should like because everyone likes it and because it sounds like something that you should like because it has oats and some fruit and overall it’s kind of good for you. And if you like the parts separately, shouldn’t you like the sum of them? Apparently, not if you are me.

pouring the honey

For years, I’ve struggled with my secret granola loathing. Years. I felt pressured to like it because everyone around me did. But I found it either too greasy, or too sweet, or to clumpy or too tough. And sometimes, it would be awfully chewy and it would stick to my upper teeth, which would then cause a wrestling match between my tongue and the pieces that lodged themselves there – and inevitably the pieces would win, and I’d give up. I tried various brands of granola, from the mainstream, to the new and small-batch made, and found nothing that was truly exemplary.

Pepita Granola

But about a year ago, a friend gave me some granola for the holidays and I thought it was delicious. I intended to ask her for a recipe, but kind of never got around to it. I sort of mentally dog-eared it in my head and in my typical way, just forgot.

Pepita Granola

But recently, I’ve been trying to banish the cookie and embrace the healthy. And in my attempts in doing so, I’ve been eating a lot of plain yogurt. Now, I am one of those people who actually loves the taste of plain yogurt (don’t judge me) and won’t eat its flavored cousin, but even yogurt, in all its glory, unadorned by anything, gets a bit dull. And so, in trying to come up with creative yogurt toppings, the idea of granola popped into my head.

Pepita Granola

This recipe came from Smitten Kitchen, which in turn got it from Gourmet, which in turn got it from Calle Ocho, a restaurant in New York. What can I say other than this granola recipe is a keeper? Other than a few tweaks I made based on my personal taste preferences, this is a great recipe to have – it’s not too sweet, not overly oily and if you keep your batch in the freezer, it’ll stay crispy indefinitely. At room temperature, it just gets soft, even in an airtight container.

Pepita Granola

And now I can join the legions of people who actually do like granola because I do as well. And because I am making it, I can add my favorite ingredients, like various dried berries, and make the sum of the parts precisely what I want it to be – plain yogurt, you’ve never tasted better!

**UPDATE 11/24/13: Since many years have passed since I’ve started to make my own granola, I changed up quite a few things and tweaked the recipe for you here. I now make my granola with extra-virgin coconut oil. I can’t stress enough its nutritional properties and it goes so perfectly with the coconut flakes. More importantly, I’ve scaled back sugar considerably. I like granola, but 90% of the time, it’s candy masquerading as healthy breakfast food. In playing around with sugar amounts, I found that decreasing sugar didn’t affect the quality of the granola, but its less sweet taste made it far more exciting to eat. Also, I gave up on using lots of different dried fruit because I much more prefer a pop of tart dried cherries than other fruit and it keeps my pantry less cluttered. (Also, cutting dried apricots is a PITA.) Finally, I added a little nutmeg and scaled up salt (but not by much) because with a proper amount of salt, this granola tastes much better than with just a pinch. In cooking, salt is a great highlighter of flavor – and using just the right amount not only brings a balance to the dish but also creates complexity.

Continue reading pepita granola with coconut oil and dried cherries.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

picked garlicky red peppers

Picked Garlicky Peppers

Among foods I can eat in near unlimited quantities, pickled things are at the top of the list. Perhaps because when I get hungry I don’t crave anything sweet (though worry not, I have quite the sweet tooth as evidenced by the cavity-forming December), but savory and salty. And there’s vinegar present – all the better.

In Russia, when I was growing up, fresh fruit and vegetables were not available in the winter (other than things like potatoes and carrots) and so we did a lot of our own canning at home. My mother would boil the jars and put place tomatoes, cucumbers, cornichons, or mushrooms in them and pour warm vinegary pickling marinade over, then sealing the jars. How she did this, I haven’t a clue – her canning skills were impeccable, and everyone knew her pickled tomatoes as the best around. To this day, even the best of Brighton’s tomatoes don’t hold a candle. Yes, I had a marvelous, gastronomic childhood.

Picked Garlicky Peppers

We didn’t pickle anything ourselves after coming to America and it’s something I kind of miss. In Russia, pickling was a ritual that got everyone involved in the kitchen, even my father. It was something we did each fall with during the harvest season, to enjoy eating in the cold winter months. Cold winter months in Russia commanded bold, intense flavors and salted or pickled foods went perfectly with a staple like potatoes. Just try putting some marinated mushrooms on top of freshly boiled potatoes, sprinkle some dill and sliced onion and see what happens. For me – it was nothing short of heaven.

Picked Garlicky Peppers

But I digress. I could wax poetic about such simple meals for pages and pages and will only find the deafening snores of everyone around. I’ll quit while I’m ahead and instead tell you that I’ve sort of started to pickle at home. All thanks to Deb and her husband who let me sample some of their pickled garlicky peppers, suspecting, though not knowing fully, the monster they would then create.
The very next day after sampling these amazing things, I marched to my produce place – that manages to sell peppers at reasonable prices this time of year, and picked up ten peppers and a head of garlic. While I always have garlic at home, I see no reason NOT to pick up more of it when there’s an opportunity to do so.

Picked Garlicky Peppers

I’m telling you – waiting twenty-four hours for the peppers to be ready was twenty-four hours too long, and the first moment I could, I piled a generous helping into a bowl, sat on my couch, and devoured these peppers in one instant. Undoubtedly, these will become a regular staple in my kitchen now, because they are delicious, easy to make and go with virtually everything. Or at least I think they do. And while it’s not the traditional type of pickling, it’s close enough for me and serves as a lovely and comforting reminder of a childhood memory.

Picked Garlicky Peppers

Continue reading picked garlicky red peppers.