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Spicy Brownies & Chocolate Disaster Cake

Say you’re asked to take part in a Chocolate Cake Challenge in honor of friends moving out-of-state, that will take place at a ‘going away dinner’ in their honor.  You have weeks to prepare…and you think about what adventurous recipe you might tackle.  The Chocolate Cake Challenge, despite its name does not require the entry be in cake form.  It just needs to have chocolate as one of the main components of the dish.  I pondered a savory enter of mole, perhaps cream puffs with a chocolate bacon drizzle, homemade hot cocoa, a frozen chocolate treat perhaps; the choices are infinite.  I ultimately decide on Decadent Chocolate Cake – the most commonly baked cake in my parent’s house.  My brothers enjoy this not only as an evening dessert, but a perfect morning shot of sugar – breakfast cake.

Now consider as well, that this evening competition was scheduled to take place the day after the dreaded and stressful Tax day of April 15, and let’s say that, unlike previous years, you were one of those procrastinators who lost all track of time, and had the “holy %$#*&” moment a few days prior,  realizing that THIS Thursday, taxes were due.  Assuming all this is true…here is the play-by-play of the events that led to the following disaster success, no, well, both really.

Here’s the series of events:

  • 6:30 pm – Liz arrives at grocery store to purchase important ingredients for Decadent Chocolate Cake according to the Connelly family cookbook including Bakers Bitter Chocolate squares.
  • 7:15 pm – Liz spends 45 minutes at the store in shock and disbelief that they do not carry the necessary Bakers unsweetened chocolate…AT ALL.  They carry semi-sweet baking squares, chocolate chips, dark chocolate, peanut butter chips, toffee chips, dark chocolate bars…but seriously, no Baker’s Unsweetened Chocolate Squares.  Liz searches her magical internet phone for exact cacao % and tries to match it to some substitute ingredient.  If you’re a Cohen brothers movie fan, this is the first moment that things begin to go wrong…which then of course leads to continual small disasters and ultimately ends with someone’s life in ruins – think Fargo.  I should have known I was doomed.
  • 7:45 pm – Liz arrives home with take out dinner and ingredients…and begins baking.  Reads recipe over again and thinks…hmmm…that seems like a lot of sugar – 2 cups, really?
  • 8:15 pm – Liz begins mixing…
  • 8:30 pm – Liz forgets to remove the 2 tbsp of flour from the 2 cups called for in the recipe…and thinks crap…maybe I just ruined the cake…but thinks, maybe I’ll add a little vegetable oil to try to avoid a dry cake.
  • 8:45 pm – Egg whites whipped – mixed in – batter looks surprisingly light in color…hmmm…hopefull it’ll darken when it bakes.
  • 8:46 pm – Liz greases and flours the cake pan
  • 8:50 pm – cake goes in to bake for 40-50 minutes.  Smells good…Liz is still thinking it is not totally ruined – there is a chance.
  • 9:40 pm – Liz removes cake from oven after testing with toothpick and it comes out clean.
  • Cake is left to cool for 15 minutes or so, so I can turn it out onto a plate.
  • 10:00 pm – turn cake pan over on plate…nothing happens.  Nothing.  No clunk, no thud, no easing of the cake out of the pan and onto the plate.  Remove plate – shake pan around, use spatula to try to loosen cake from the pan…cake seems loose – place plate on top of pan and flip over one more time.  Wait a few minutes…as if that might help it work.
  • Slowly lift edge of pan and promptly yell “f#$%&@* – I broke the cake!”

Woody:  “How did you break the cake…?  Cakes don’t break”
Liz:  “Well, I did.  So it’s possible.  I broke the cake.”
Woody:  “I don’t get it…?”
Liz:  “Look – 1/2 the cake is still stuck in the pan…and the other 1/2 is on the plate.  Broken. Cake.
Woody:  “You can fix this.  You could peel the pieces stuck in the pan out and glue them back on top – no one would notice…”
Liz: “Okay – now you’re just using crazy talk on me”
Woody: “Well, look at it this way – you won’t have to get up in the morning to make the frosting.”

Woody described the cake as tasting like a sugar cookie (not even a chocolate sugar cookie) hiding in a bundt cake, and in fact, even said, it tastes like something he would eat (read:  I don’t like cake unless it is made with pure sugar (angel food cake) or contains vegetables (carrot cake)).

So, I threw in the towel.

Decadent Chocolate Cake – you and I will meet again someday and this time…you will do as I say, and turn out perfect.

But all was not lost.  Thanks to Woody and his last-minute desire to enter his own chocolate masterpiece.  In the midst of my baking disaster, a chocolate success story was in the making.  Woody made some delicious brownies that incorporated a non-traditional dessert ingredient – Chipotle Chile’s in Adobo.  He made a regular batch of brownies and then added some special ingredients.  I can’t divulge exact amounts – secret recipe and all…and frankly, I don’t even know exactly what he added, although I think there was some adobo sauce, maybe a little garlic powder, a sprinkling of ginger and cumin as well.  All I know is that the kitchen smelled of enchiladas and brownies all rolled into one.

Woody resisted the urge to try one that night and waited until the party the next evening.  The competition was fierce and the voting was very serious.  In order to vote, you had to try every chocolate dish entered in the challenge; tiramisù, chocolate mousse cake, mini-mint chocolate double layer cakes, chocolate Kahlua bundt cake, dense chocolate petits fours, and ice cream filled cream puffs with a drizzle of chocolate sauce and lastly, Woody’s spicy chocolate brownies.  Everything was truly tasty, incredibly rich and I loved seeing how everyone interpreted the challenge.

Each person voted for their first and second choice.  The votes were tallied and the results finalized.  Ralph announced the winner.

Woody WON!

The trophy (which will be passed down in the next annual chocolate challenge) is actually a 4H trophy from Ralph’s early years raising sheep…1991 to be exact.  Of course, it was slightly modified with various chocolate stickers.

Congratulations Woody!

Woody saved the day!  The Fischer name will remain an honorable one in kitchens across Pasadena.  Maybe he’s a baker after all.

Turmeric Scented Rice Pilaf

An impromptu invite to a friend’s for dinner was the reason for this dish.  I had never made a rice pilaf before, and did not have time to run to the store for anything…so I needed to have all the ingredients on hand.  Hmmm…after looking in the fridge and pantry…here are the ingredients I found:

  • Frozen Peas
  • Onions
  • Feta Cheese
  • Rice
  • Turmeric (straight from Africa – thanks M& D)
  • Veggie Broth
  • Pine Nuts

Having never made a rice pilaf before…I have no idea whether these are pilaf-appropriate ingredients…however, they worked for me.  I think I may have popped the rice grains a little too much – making it into an almost risotto-like pilaf.

Start with butter.  (Almost everything I cook includes the line: “Start with butter”…what…?  That could have almost been an alternate title for the blog…hmmmm)

Then add chopped onions, I had two onions, red and white, so I used both.

Mmmmmmmmm…onions…!  I think onions belong in almost everything.  I know there are some onion-haters out there…(you know who you are) but I don’t understand how you can not like something that is essentially the flavor basis for everything.  Here’s an example:  “I hate onions, but I love Cool Ranch Doritos”.  Oh really – did you know that the top flavor ingredient in Doritos seasoning powder is…onion!?!  If you’re adverse reaction is perhaps limited to raw onions…I can offer you a little sympathy.  They can be strong, and they have a bite…and it can take some time for them to grow on you – I recommend starting with very thinly sliced red onions…maybe on a sandwich…but puhlease…don’t use a blanket statements regarding your hatred of onions.  They are in everything, and are like the guest who you always invite to the party because you know that no matter who else shows up…they can make it the greatest party in the world.  Not that I feel strongly about onions or anything.  Moving on.

Also, cooking onions makes the kitchen smell like home to me.

So…there are some pictures missing.  This happens frequently.  I get too busy cooking, and forgot to take photos.  Steps that were photographically missed:

  1. Adding of garlic to sweating onions
  2. Adding of rice to pot to pop the starch…just a bit
  3. Adding of turmeric, other spices and herbs and of course, the vegetable broth

Bring the pot to a boil and then turn down the heat to low and let the rice simmer away for 30 minutes or so.  I also skimped on the broth, as I couldn’t imagine it soaking up more than 6 cups of liquid.

Visual representation of *patience*.  Resist all urges to lift the lid and peak at what is going on inside.

When the rice is nearly done, start toasting the pine nuts.  Don’t walk away from the stove.  I did and almost ruined 3/4 of a cup of pine nuts.  I repeat, don’t walk away from the stove.  At first, it’ll feel like there is nothing happening…and then all of a sudden, a toasty aroma will waft up and by the time you’ve processed what that delicious smell means…you will have come very close to burning at least 1 side of every pine nut.  Give the pan a shake often…and don’t walk away from the stove and you’ll be fine.

Again, missing pictures.  Her’s what you missed:

  1. Stir in frozen peas, the residual heat is enough to thaw them and warm them through
  2. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper, etc.
  3. Stir in toasted (not burnt) pine nuts…pay not attention to the few that look a little beyond ‘toasted’
  4. Stir in crumbled feta

Pour all of this into a dish, sprinkle with a few more pine nuts and feta crumbles and serve immediately…or in my case, cover with foil and transport very carefully in the rear-mounted basket on your bike and ride very carefully to your friend’s for the dinner party, cringing all the way at every lump, pothole, curb and seam in the road.

Consensus:  The feta makes the dish – don’t skimp!

Meyer Lemon Cake

We still have lemons.  Many lemons.  Apparently we have one of the most productive ever-bearing Meyer lemon trees on the planet.  And it is now flowering again…and being pollinated and will therefore be producing more fruit in the near future.  So my hunt continues for interesting and creative ways to juice, squeeze, preserve, cook with and bake with Meyer lemons.  Thoughts, recipes, ideas are welcome!  I found a recipe for this Meyer Lemon Cake in this book.

It is worth the time and many steps involved in making this cake…and I think that it might end up being a very simple cake to make…if I made it all the time.  Chez Panisse Cooking may not look like a very exciting cookbook with it’s lack of drool-inducing photographs of each recipe and ingredient…but the value of it’s actual substance – food philosophy, recipes, techniques and insight into Alice Waters – is huge.  I highly recommend all of the Chez Panisse series.  The illustrations are even worthy of frames hung on a wall. (See below for full recipe.)

First, start with Meyer lemons, zest them, and juice them.  The recipe calls for approximately 8 lemons.  I must have some really juicy lemons, because I only juiced 3.5 lemons and had more than enough juice for the cake.

Eggs are separated and whites are whisked until you have stiff, but not dry, peaks.  Copper bowl is not required…just fun to use if you have one.  I had to ask Woody if I could use his – as it was a Christmas gift after a very long and extensive search for a true copper round bottom bowl that wouldn’t break the bank – he’s always wanted one.  Permission was granted.

Eggs, lemon juice, sugar – beaten and frothy.

Sugary, lofty egg whites.

Flour added to egg yolk and sugar mixture.

I know you were dying to see the inside of my oven…so here it is!  I used a mini-bundt pan and a regular sized bread loaf pan – the proportions look very strange in the photo above if you weren’t aware of the mini-bundt.

Pulling them out of the oven and unmolding them revealed a delicious and perfectly toasty golden color to the cake.

This was perhaps the 4th or 5th glazing…all of it pooled on top would sink right into the cake and it would once again look as if it had just been taken out of the pan.  Don’t let your glaze cool too much, otherwise it won’t be viscous enough to soak in.

Also, you should poke more holes than you think you should.  Poke the skewer in 8-10 times and then poke it again and again and again!


I had plans to candy the thyme…but funny enough, I ran out of time.  HA!

Meyer Lemon Cake
from Chez Panisse Cooking

for the cake:

8 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large eggs, separated
1 1/4 cups sugar
2/3 cups buttermilk
1/3 cup Meyer lemon juice
1 tablespoon Meyer lemon zest
2 cups cake flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

for the glaze:

1/3 cup Meyer lemon juice
1 2/3 cups confectioners sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Melt butter in a saucepan, set aside to cool. In a mixing bowl, beat together the egg yolks with 1 cup of sugar, until thick and light in color. Beat in the buttermilk, lemon juice, and zest. Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks are formed. Add the remaining quarter cup of sugar, then continue beating until stiff peaks are formed.

Alternately fold half of the flour into the egg yolk mixture, followed by half of the egg whites. Fold carefully as not to deflate the batter. Repeat with remaining portions. Take approximately 1 cup of batter and stir into the melted butter. Gently fold the butter mixture into the cake batter. Pour into a buttered, and floured, 9-inch cake pan, springform pan, bundt cake pan, bread loaf pan – really any pan will do.  Bake for 50-60 minutes – this time varies depending on the type of pan you use.  Always test the cake for doneness with a toothpick or skewer.  No one likes a dry cake.

While the cake is baking, make the glaze. Combine the lemon juice and confectioners sugar. Heat in a saucepan just until sugar is melted. Set aside until cake is done.  I found that the volume of glaze was more than I needed, but I am also a little hesitant about soggy cake.  I probably could have used more.  It’s delicious stuff!

When the cake is done baking, cool for 5 minutes in pan. Turn the cake out on a cooling rack, and invert. With a long toothpick or skewer, poke the top of the cake making small holes. Slowly spoon on the glaze. Wait for the glaze to sink in, then add more. Repeat process until all of the glaze is used.  Cool cake completely, and enjoy!

For an extra ooommph at the time of plating – drizzle the glaze over each slice and top with a dollop of freshly whipped cream.

Eggs for breakfast…

I love cooking breakfast.  Something about getting up first thing in the morning and getting right to work – gas on, coffee dripping, oven heating, eggs cracking, batter mixing…it just feels like the day has begun and you’re on track.  I especially love cooking eggs – and not because I love eating eggs for breakfast – they’re not at the top of my list.  I love cooking eggs for breakfast…for other people.    Scrambled I like…all the other glorious ways of cooking eggs…my mouth is not really interested.  So…if you love eggs for breakfast and want someone else to cook them for you…come visit!  Lucky for me…my loving husband loves eggs in all forms.  So, weekend eggs are my way of using up what’s left in the fridge (thai curry eggs, mole eggs, italian huevos, etc.).

Eggs, leftover kalamata olive bread and “frying cheese” – have you seen this in the grocery store…it’s delicious and reminiscent of Costa Rican breakfast (gallo pinto, eggs, a sliced of pan fried cheese, platanos, various jugos and cafe).  This particular morning, I decided on sunny side up, sliced tomatoes, fried cheese, and toasted olive bread – Woody approved!

It was enjoyed with the required morning coffee, and a cutthroat game of dominoes.  I’m pretty sure I won…but I’m always pretty sure I won…regardless of the facts.

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