Archive | February, 2012

And Then There Was Red Velvet Cake…

25 Feb

So, there is something that you should know about me.

Throughout my baking career, I have made dozens of biscuits, cookies of all kinds, and just about every dessert under the sun. I make a mean cinnamon roll. One time I made a particularly delicious pumpkin + caramel apple pie (!!!) for a cook off that didn’t quite make it to the judging table because a few slices went missing while it was still on the cooling rack.

But up until last week, I had never made a red velvet cake of my very own.

I’m not sure why not. Maybe I was a little intimidated. I am here to tell you today that not only is red velvet cake delicious, it is something that anyone with an oven and a sense of culinary adventure can accomplish. All it takes is an oven and a sense of culinary adventure.

I mean, if I can do it, so can you.

I was baking for two, so I modified a few recipes that I found online so that my boyfriend and I wouldn’t face the temptation of  leftover cake for breakfast.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) Since February means Valentine’s Day, and Valentine’s Day means heart-shaped everything, I decided to use two miniature heart spring form  pans (as seen here).

Red Velvet Cake for Two

Ingredients

1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups flour (most recipes call for cake flour but I just had regular ol’ flour on hand)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon vinegar
About half of one of those little bottles of red food coloring
1 teaspoon cocoa powder

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease your baking pan(s).
Blend together shortening and sugar with electric mixers – set bowl aside.
In bowl #2, mix together flour and salt – set aside.
In bowl #3, mix egg, buttermilk, vanilla, baking soda, and vinegar. – set aside.
Alternate adding the contents of bowl #2 (flour mixture) and bowl #3 (egg mixture) to the shortening mixture. Mix well.
In a small bowl, mix the red food coloring and cocoa powder. If it is too thick, add a few drops of water. Add this to the other mixture – mix until just combined. (Don’t over beat.)
Pour the batter into the cake pan(s) and bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on the pan. To check doneness, insert a toothpick. It should come out clean. DO NOT OVERBAKE. Allow to cool in pan for at least 15 minutes before removing.

A lot of red velvet cake recipes call for cream cheese frosting, but this particular recipe had me at hello.

The Self-Proclaimed Best Frosting I Ever Had (that’s what it is really called)

Ingredients

4 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup regular sugar (not powdered sugar!)

Directions

In a saucepan, whisk flour into milk and heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens.  You want this to be very thick – think brownie batter.
Remove from heat and let it cool to room temperature. This is important. Stir in vanilla.
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. You don’t want any sugar graininess left. Add on the cooled flour mixture.
Beat it until it all combines and resembles whipped cream. Top with these fun sprinkles. Enjoy!

Voila. I have a feeling that red velvet cake will be making an appearance in my home again sometime soon. Do you have a favorite recipe that you were originally a bit hesitant to try?

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Did Somebody Say “Scallops”?

19 Feb

One of the best things about living on Capitol Hill is having easy access to Eastern Market. I find myself there at least once per weekend to check out the seasonal produce and wander through the flea market.

But did you know? While the outdoor market is only open on the weekend, the vendors inside the Eastern Market building are open all week. Stop on by sometime, especially if you, like me, are of the carnivore persuasion. The meat and seafood displays are impressive.

Today, I have an Eastern Market-inspired recipe that would be just perfect for your next special occasion dinner. You know, when you feel  like you need to pull out the stops and act a little classy.

The main attraction? Scallops. Big ol’ sea scallops, to be exact. Wrapped in thick cut bacon. Be still my heart.

Check out the recipe below, adapted from the one and only Emeril Lagasse. Bam!

Bacon Wrapped Scallops in  Brie Cream Sauce

Ingredients

1 quart heavy cream
6 slices bacon (via Eastern Market)
8 sea scallops (via Eastern Market)
2 tablespoons olive oil

8 ounces Brie cheese (Trader Joe’s makes the best!)

1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium saucepan reduce the cream by 1/2, skimming the foam off the top. This can be tricky – it will need to boil but be careful not to let the cream bubble over the sides.

Meanwhile, lay the bacon on a cookie sheet and place in the oven for 5 minutes or so. Remove the bacon from the oven and let cool. Once the bacon is cool, wrap each scallop with 1 piece of bacon, using toothpicks to fasten the bacon to the scallops. (Broken popsicle sticks also work, for what it’s worth.)


Season the scallops with 1 teaspoon of the salt and 1/2 teaspoon of the white pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan until hot, then add half of the scallops to the pan and cook for about 2 minutes on each side. Remove them from the pan and place them on a baking sheet. Repeat this process with the remaining scallops, then transfer the baking sheet to the oven until the scallops are just cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes. This is important! Do not over cook!


Remove the rind from the brie and cut into small pieces. Add the brie to the hot cream and whisk until melted. Season the sauce with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of pepper and the nutmeg.

Serve the scallops on small appetizer large dinner plates with the Brie cream drizzled around the edges. Grilled asparagus is a great way to round out the meal.

So there you have it. A special occasion meal that will not disappoint. But a dinner this good calls for an equally-indulgent dessert.

Never fear, dear readers: next time, we will explore what could be the perfect way to end the perfect meal: homemade red velvet cake.

Until we meet again…

A Pennsylvania Avenue Food Show Down

12 Feb

Sometimes, in this crazy thing called life, we are forced to choose sides. Cats vs dogs. Seinfield vs Newman. Yankees vs Red Sox.

Have you experienced D.C.’s ultimate fast food faceoff, courtesy of chef Spike Mendelsohn?

Okay, okay, so this might be a bit melodramatic. But it’s true that Chef Spike has introduced a dilemma to the lives of Capitol Hill dwellers such as myself: burgers or pizza?

I like Chef Spike, despite that I didn’t watch his season of Top Chef and that he made some locals grumpy last year by calling D.C. a “second-tier city”.  (That one hurt, Chef.)

His Good Stuff Eatery opened up in 2008 at a prime Pennsylvania Avenue location, and We, The Pizza moved right next door in 2010, effectively dominating the block with affordable lunch options for hill staffers and non-politicos alike.

Make no mistake – these are both essentially fast food joints. But sometimes all you really need is a nice, cheesy piece of pizza and/or  a creamy milkshake, am I wrong? And the food at both of these venues is well above what you would ever find at the golden arches or your standard jumbo slice establishment.

And I have to admit that Good Stuff’s farm-themed decor makes this rural girl happy.

We, The Pizza

Love It: 
  • The buffalo chicken pizza can not be missed. The the Forest Shroomin’ pie is also a keeper.
  • The soda fountain is a fun touch – ask for the C.R.E.A.M. soda. The barista will  whip one up from scratch!
Leave It:
  • The gelato is not very flavorful, despite the proclamation that it’s homemade on site.
Notes:
The $10 for two slices and a soda deal is a good value. But be forewarned:  the  place gets busy. Really busy. I have run into some ver-r-r-y slow service on  multiple occasions. (Think one hour + wait for a couple of slices of pizza. Not good.)
 

Good Stuff Eatery

Love It:
  • The  Farm House cheeseburger is probably the freshest-tasting, juiciest burger that I have had in D.C.
  •  You must, must get a milkshake. Order the Dulce de Leche for a caramel-vanilla treat or opt for the Toasted Marshmellow.
  •  Spike’s Village Fries come with fresh thyme, rosemary, and sea salt and the  regular size bag is big enough to share. Check out the array of specialty mayos and dips.
Leave It:
  • The chicken sandwiches are okay, but let’s face it, this place is really about  the beef.
Notes:
The food is more expensive than most burger joints. Burgers run $6-8 and  milkshakes are $5. The portions are not particularly generous.
 

Verdict:


To me, Good Stuff outedges We, the Pizza due to consistent service and food that never fails to impress me.  If you go, be sure to scan the room for the guy with the beard and the fedora on. You might just see Chef Spike himself.

And a word to the wise: both are closed on Sundays!

Have you visited these fine establishments? What is your vote?

Super Bowl ‘Skins

6 Feb

So, yesterday was kind of a big deal for football fans. Maybe you heard about it? Or maybe you only made it though the game to catch the first episode of The Voice, season two?

I admit it, guilty as charged…

But even if you don’t really care which team wins big, the Super Bowl is always a good excuse to enjoy some good old-fashioned party food of the greasy, potato-ey, cheese-y variety.

Behold:

(Photo courtesy YourHomeBasedMom)

PW’s Potato Skins, as found in the Holy Grail of country cooking The Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond, definitely bring the “wow” factor.

Adapted Recipe:

4 slices of bacon
8 (smallish) russet potatoes, scrubbed clean
olive oil
kosher salt
A couple of generous handfuls of grated cheddar cheese
Dollops of sour cream to taste
4 green onions, chopped finely

Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Rub the outside of the scrubbed potatoes with olive oil and salt.  Place on foil lined baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes. Make sure they are fork tender!

Slice potatoes in half, lengthwise. With a spoon or small scoop, scrape out the inner flesh of the potatoes, leaving a small margin of potato in the skins.*

Brush both sides of the potato skins with olive oil and salt liberally.  Place potatoes cut side down on the pan and return to the oven.  Bake for 7 minutes; flip skins over and bake for 7 minutes more.

Cook bacon and chop into small bits.  Set aside.  Grate the cheese if you haven’t already. Chop green onions, too.

When the skins are crisp, remove from the oven and sprinkle each with cheese and bacon pieces.  Stick them back in the oven until the cheese melts.  Just before serving, add a dollop of sour cream onto each skin and sprinkle with sliced green onion.

* Warning – this is tricky, and your fingers will probably get burned. But it is worth it, so never fear!

I whipped up some of these bad boys yesterday and they did not disappoint. So simple, yet so delicious. Make them for your next get-together and you will not have to worry about what to do with the leftovers. (Get it? Because there won’t be any!)

Now for the good part:

  • If you ever wondered where exactly that sour cream (or cheese or milk or ice cream) came from, l would like to introduce you to one of my favorite bloggers, Barbara Martin, otherwise known as The Dairy Goddess, a third generation California dairy farmer who loves to blog about cheese, cows, and a little country fashion thrown in for good measure. Check out her blog at: http://dairygoddess.wordpress.com. Visit Barbara’s blog. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You might even learn something!

  • Have you seen these new commercials from McDonald’s that feature real farmers? Regardless of how you feel about Mickey D’s, I think it is pretty refreshing to have honest-to-goodness farmers being showcased in this manner. Check out the below ad featuring potato farmer Frank Martinez.

Like the ad? Loathe the ad? Make something particularly delicious for your Super Bowl get-together? Leave a comment below!