Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

Stick a fork in me Jerry. I’m done.

I don’t talk about my chaotic schedule here on the blog much. Mostly because I keep resolving in my head to work on balancing not work and life, but my hobby and life. Life and life. You know, the difference between quiet time at home on the couch with a vat of moo shu vegetables and Country Strong and being out and about in the DC dining scene eating great food and talking to fun people…decidedly not on my couch.

From June 1st to today I have attended roughly 30 food-related events or dined out for food-related writing projects. And that’s not counting the two farmers’ markets a week I hit up. I’m exhausted. And full.

A few weekends ago I bought way, way too much rhubarb at the Dupont Farmers Market. I guess maybe the abundance of it in my fridge was my way of forcing myself into making time for a baking project. I used to bake every weekend. Like three times a weekend!

It’s hard to bake when you are in constant motion. Positive, forward motion, but motion none the less.

So there I was, just me, a lot of eggs and a shit ton of rhubarb. I am familiar with upside down fruit cakes, and I positively adore them. Instead of just using my old tried and true cake recipe I went with Martha Stewart’s concoction. It’s really not that far off from mine (which is to say, Real Simple’s)…but mine is better. Continue reading

Lemon Yogurt Cake with Ginger Thyme Syrup

For Easter I was invited to my friend Cecelia’s friend Lois’ house. I’ve spent holidays with Lois and her motley crew before, so I knew exactly what I was walking into.

Lois the type of lady (hi, Lois! I know you’re reading this!) that I want to be when I grow up. She knows how to cook a damn good meal, she can entertain a group of 20 and when she finally settles into a chair near you she’s lovely to talk to – smart and graceful and full of wisdom.

I had asked my friend Cecelia if I should bring anything to Easter, knowing that if I did I’d want to impress. It was just a matter of what to make. I wanted something simple (for the sake of my sanity and busy schedule) and worthy of an Easter dinner (meaning, probably not simple). I went straight to my file of bookmarked recipes in my Google Reader looking all the way back to late 2009. March 2010 delivered just the recipe I’d been looking for: a simple lemon yogurt cake, kicked up with a ginger thyme syrup.

Now. Never mind that I burnt the syrup the first time I tried making it and had to soak and boil my poor pot three times before all that hardened sugar came out. That was just me not paying attention in the kitchen (hm…what is that smokey smell coming from behind me?).

The cake itself was easy peasy and despite the nearly hour-long baking time, came together quite quickly. The syrup, the second time around of course, was equally easy but required a lot of standing, stirring and close care and watching.

Let’s talk about that syrup. It does absorb into the cake, like the recipe says, quite nicely. But I don’t know if I’m totally sold on it for my second go at this recipe. I am huge fan of a nice lemon glaze which I think would go quite nicely drizzled over this cake. Being that it already is a moist cake with a strong crumb (meaning, it makes a large crumb that doesn’t fall apart in your fingers), I don’t think you really need a syrup to make it more moist. On the other hand I don’t think a cake can ever been too lemon-y. So next time I may go for a lemon or ginger glaze. And some chopped thyme leaves sprinkled haphazardly all over the cake.

No matter what you do with this cake, it’s perfect for dinner parties, BBQs or midnight munching with a girlfriend.


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Zucchini Walnut Whoopie Pies

I have a very small family. It’s just me, my mom and my dad. Extended family hasn’t been a part of my family’s culture since I was about 10, but I have the most vivid memories of the food that was served in my Father’s family’s home.

Holidays have a way of searing memories into your head though. And as a curious 5-year-old, I was completely enamored with the 3D lamb shaped cake my Grandmother would painstakingly assemble each Easter and lovingly coat in a thick swath of coconut flakes. I remember the enormous, thick, caramel colored wood dining table the family would sit around for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners. More importantly I remember my Grandfather would turn the huge lazy Susan that was the middle of the table until he had a clear view of me, sitting opposite him, and declare that it was my turn to do the dishes and that I’d better get to it or else I’d be doing them all night. I would smile, knowing he was joking, but my Grandmother would always cry out, “Johnny! Leave her alone!”

I remember spending a lot of time with my dad’s oldest sister and my Grandmother when I was little. I will always associate my Grandmother with blue corn pancake mix, and my Aunt with zucchini walnut muffins. Sometimes she would come to the house with a white pastry bag in her hand and she’d let me have some of her muffin. I remember thinking they were just about the oddest thing I’d ever tried, but I loved them. The irony of putting a vegetable into a sweet treat was not lost on me, even at a young age.

When I got into baking quite heavily three years ago now, zucchini walnut muffins were one of the first things I tackled. Nowadays, whenever I see the words zucchini and walnut together in a recipe I get giddy, bookmark or tag said recipe and get right to grating zucchini and chopping walnuts as soon as I can.

Martha Stewart’s recent March issue of Living featured what I can only call zucchini walnut whoopie pies. She called them cookie sandwiches or something, but that’s a gross misrepresentation of these chewy, soft, salty-sweet, cream cheesy pies. My respect for Martha only grew when, after making the cream cheese filling, I realized she’d figured out the loveliest ratio of cream cheese to confectioner’s sugar in any icing recipe I’d ever tried.

High five to Martha, this one is for Aunt Miriam.

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If you read my post on Alton Brown’s Meat Sauce you’ll know that I’m engaged in a Twitter Battle Royale with @DarthGarry. Not really. It’s a totally friendly competition. But my return challenge of making a Croquembouche might have been a bit of a low blow. I don’t know. But Garry made one. He shares the hilarity with us:

After hearing about Alejandra’s acquisition of a cast iron dutch oven, I challenged her to make the famed Alton Brown meat sauce.  You can read about her experience here. So, despite the labor intensiveness of the recipe, at least it ended up tasting good.  I’m still looking foward to the “quick” version of that recipe.

Alejandra decided to retort by challenging me to construct a Croquembouche!  My immediate response was “WTH is a Croquembouche???”.  Thankfully we live our lives on the internet and I quickly became a wikiexpert on the recipe.  (Check out the official entry here.)  Now not to sound sexist, but this did not seem like a very manly type of recipe.  I mean, a giant cone of confectionaries?  I was thinking I’d be making like a beef stew steak bacon pork chop lamb leg combo platter.

Garry's Completed Croquembouche

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Olive Oil Cake

Saveur lied.

In what world does a cake this dense and thick – and with a TABLESPOON of baking powder – only need to bake at 325 degrees for 40 minutes? Either someone over there is baking at a crazy altitude or they’re on crack.

I’m obsessed with olive oil cake at the moment. See, I was in New York City not too long ago for a work-related conference. Driven to dining alone by a friend who ditched me, I went to L’Artusi for dinner. The meal, something I’ll blog about later, was amazing but the highlight for me was dessert. Of course. And dessert was an olive oil cake with creme fraiche.

The waiter had told me it was a hard sell for most diners, but to me it sounded like heaven. Why? Because months ago I’d had a life-changing olive oil at Zaytinya. Yep. It was that good. I totally understood why olive oil marketers are out to get American grocery shoppers with labels and fancy terminology of all sorts. A good olive oil is noticeable. A good olive oil is worth it. And you probably aren’t going to get it at Safeway.

So…off I went to Whole Paycheck, I mean, Whole Foods to try and make sense of the olive oil section. It was frustrating. In the end I asked a poor, unwitting shopper nearby what he thought was a good brand and went with that. To be honest, I can’t even remember what it’s called. But it worked just fine. And you know what? Any olive oil would probably work fine-especially in the name of not driving yourself crazy.

This cake is among the easier things I’ve ever baked. Pretty much we’re talking about dumping ingredients in a bowl and mixing them together. That easy? That easy!

If you have someone in your life who doesn’t have a huge sweet tooth, this is the cake for them. One of my coworkers who usually bypasses my sweet treats came back for seconds and thirds of this savory dessert.

I think the cake is wonderful. Its density makes it feel rich and decadent. The subtle undertones of the olive oil hit the spot for me. As a snack, it is ideal. As a full on dessert-I wanted more. I wanted something special…a strawberry, red wine reduction, a dollop of creme fraiche, a summer berry pure or even a peach ‘n bourbon mash. Not a lot of the something special, just a drizzle. Something to dress it up for a dinner party almost.

I hope you guys are intrigued enough to make this bad boy. It’s worth it!


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Plums and Plum Cake

Let me guess. You’re going to the market this weekend? You’re going to see a sea of red and white plums. Kind of like this…

…and you’re tooootally thinking, “Hm! What should I do with those?” Um. You’re going to make plum cake with them. Get two boxes. Yeah…$14 of plums. What of it? You’re going to love me later for this. Seriously. Get the plums. And then make this cake. The plum cake.

I made it back during Snowmageddon when plums were definitely not in season. But now that they are, there’s no excuse. They’re smaller than your grocery store plums, so instead of slicing them into little wedges, just cut them in half and load up the bottom of your pan with them halves, cut-side down.

The tartness of the plums contrasting with the smooth, sour of the cake (there’s sour cream in it) makes for a farmers market orgasmic-type experience. I’d even go so far as to say it’s the perfect summer cake. The perfect summer dinner party cake. The perfect party on my rooftop cake. Get it? Enjoy!

Cherry Almond Cake

What exactly is an “original” recipe? As told to me by a totally credible food journalist during a food writing class I took with Florida Girl in DC, if you change just one ingredient…even if you up a quarter of a teaspoon to three-quarters of a teaspoon…it’s your recipe.

So what if you take a simple cake recipe from Cooking Channel TV and you dump in a quarter cup of ground almonds and a cup and a half of pitted, chopped sweet cherries and sprinkle sliced almonds on top? Is that your own?

I don’t know! I don’t care! I love it! I’m so proud of myself.

See. I’d been dipping into Dolcezza in Dupont Circle a lot over my long weekend – certainly their gelato is good, but it was the cherry almond scones that kept me coming back. But after five days of very dry scones (that’s how they should be, for the record) I was craving something of the softer, spongier variety.

Que the (sorta) new Cooking Channel. Hot day number dos, The BF and I were still holed up inside and watching Laura Calder’s French Food at Home when she made this Angel Cake. Angelic? Yes. A wee bit plain for what I was craving?Yep!

Combine my love of the cherry/almond flavor profiles and a soft, spongy (bonus points for being incredibly simple) cake and I felt like a culinary Einstein.

Don’t laugh at me. I can hear you!

Something about this cake, its intense almond aroma has you tasting it before it even hits your tongue. Then you get smacked by the almond extract! And the ground almonds actually in the cake! And the crunch of the almond slices on top! And then the cool, smooth roll of the cherries just round it all out.

It’s divine.  It’s all mine. And my co-workers’ who ate it all today. And now it’s yours too!

I hope you…

Enjoy! :)

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Blueberry Coffee Cake Cups w Crunchy Walnut Topping

I really love breakfast foods. And I adore coffee cake. But the stuff that’s usually sold at Starbucks and coffee shops just doesn’t do it for me. Too sweet…too much like…cake?

When I got this Williams-Sonoma dessert cookbook I was bored and rummaging my way through the Virginia outlet stores. If you’re not already aware of the insanely great deals at the outlets, well, you have some exploring to do!

The book itself was 50% off, making it a cool $7. Plus it’s organized by color. Which, is appealing in its own OCD way. “Yes, I’m only eating BLUE foods this week. Thank you.”

The cake part of this coffee cake is made with sour cream. I love the tartness it adds to the mix. It’s the perfect balance to the sweet blueberries. And the crunchy walnut topping brings a zing in the texture department.

I think you’ll like it. It looks so pretty too…however you make it…in a muffin pan or a springform pan.


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Strawberry Whoopie Pies

To the tune of “Peanut Butter Jelly Time”: straw-berry whoopie pies! Straw-berry whoopie pies!! Strawberry whoopie! Strawberry whoopie!

Sigh. I’m in love people. I love whoopie pies more than I love any other dessert right now. Insane, I know! They’re so much better than cupcakes. (GASP!!) And I believe that after our Nation’s Capital gets over this whole cupcake thing, we’ll all be running around trying to get our hands on the city’s best whoopie pie ever.

Since it seems I’m still an outlier on this position, I’ll keep making my whoopie pies and sharing the fun with ya’ll.

I got an actual cookbook awhile ago, called…wait for it…Whoopie Pies…and have been itching to try fun new combos beyond chocolate cake and traditional marshmallow fluff filling. And let me say, the recipe for the cakes was amazing! Each little cakester had a soft, round peak to it. They were soft and moist and after they cooled, they stuck to your fingers a bit. (Which was maybe the best part because this facilitated licking your fingers making everything that much more fun.)

But the frosting recipe. Whoa. I’ve never seen a recipe for something fail so quickly right before my very eyes. I read, read and re-read the recipe about a million times for the strawberry buttercream and after I determined (three times) that I’d done nothing wrong…just totally gave up on it. By this time it was about 9 o’clock at night and I needed a solution, fast! So, I revisited the other whoopie pie recipe’s frosting and improvised from there.

It makes me feel better to know that I’m not the only one who’s encountered strawberry buttercream problemos. At least I found a solution…even if it did have so much sugar in it that upon eating a whoopie pie one would immediately vow to go on a low-sugar diet.

Never mind that though.


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Goat Cheese Cheesecake

NOTE TO READERS: You’ll want to use this crust recipe for the cheesecake! Sorry for any confusion!

Well…without further ado…the goat cheese cheesecake! Isn’t it beautiful? It’s so light and fluffy…lemony with that goat cheese-y aftertaste. It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful because we candied some lemon peels, used the perfect cheesecake crust…and added a dash of love.

If you’re just catching up on the story, last week I got it in my head that goat cheese needed to be a part of my life. And it needed to be in a dessert.

As I sifted through recipes and links saved, I came across Not Derby Pie‘s goat cheese cheesecake with caramel sauce. Her recipe sounded like it would hit the spot…but as my desire for goat cheese turned a wee bit obsessive. I decided the cheesecake had to be ALL goat cheese…no cream cheese at all. After about an hour of research (which I totally did NOT do while I was at work) and many recipes read later, I settled on an old Food and Wine recipe with some minor changes.

I like this cheesecake because it doesn’t have that heavy quality that most cream cheese cheesecakes have. It doesn’t coat your mouth in an uncomfortable, “I need a glass of water after I eat this.” sorta way. Like I said, it’s light, it’s airy…you can even see the air bubble craters on the top!

As the idea came together, I decided that I HAD to have a garnish for the cheesecake. Story time: I have a photograph in my bedroom that I took in Barcelona, Spain at the Park Guell designed by Antoni Gaudi, famous for his mosaics. The picture I took happened to be a large circle on the ceiling of a massive covered area of the park. Ta da!! That’s the inspiration for the lemon peels! See the squiggles?! Okay, maybe I’m the only one who thinks this is interesting…

Back to the recipe. This is one of those painfully simple recipes to execute. Don’t worry. You won’t mess it up. I will, however, warn you that a penchant for goat cheese is going to put a dent in your wallet. 11oz of goat cheese cost me about $15. So…wait until pay-day or make sure you really want it.


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