It's cake! And vegetables!

Oh carrot cake, how do I love thee? You nourish me with vitamin A while satisfying my sweet tooth; what could be better? I have had a taste for carrot cake for a long, long time, but the idea of shredding all those carrots by hand quickly deadened any desire to bake. If you have ever hand-grated large amounts of zucchini, potatoes, or other shreddable vegetable by hand, you surely understand. But with my awesome new food processor, the sky's the limit as far as shredding goes. And in this case, the sky is carrot cake.

I made dinner tonight for the boyfriend, and because of the holiday, had the entire day free, so I felt a cake was in order. I was trolling the web for recipes, and suddenly carrot cake came to mind. I believe my actual search was awesome carrot cake recipe. No, it wasn't actually, but that's what I got. The Google machine led me to the fabulous Alton Brown, and his exceedingly well-reviewed carrot cake recipe. What makes this recipe so terrific is that it is unencumbered by things like walnuts or raisins, just pure carrot-y, spice-y goodness. I was sold. So off to Fred Meyer I went to gather some carrots, and then I baked:

Carrot Cake, recipe adapted from Alton Brown

You'll need a few fancy kitchen things to make your life easier. These include: a food processor (or a strong, slow-to-tire (wo)man to hand shred all your carrots), a microplaner (one of the best kitchen tools I have ever acquired), a digital scale (an analog scale will do, but digital scales are accurate to an 1/8 of an ounce), lots of small containers for measuring all your ingredients on said scale, and I think that's it. Plus 8 inch rounds, if you want to make the cake like I did. Alton's recipe calls for a different pan, and a few different measurements / ingredients, so if you want to try his to the tee, check out the link above.

Here is what you need:

Carrots - 12 ounces, shredded. I used four large ones. Hello food processor and digital scale.

Other dry ingredients:

1 tsp baking soda
1tsp baking powder
12 oz all-purpose flour (fluff it up with a whisk before you measure)
1/2 tsp salt. I used cyprus flake salt on a whim, which was fabulous in the final product. You end up tasting these occasional salt pockets, which really works with the sweetness of the final iced cake. If you use a flake salt, you might want to crush it a bit smaller before adding it. Maybe try sel gris, or whatever other random salt you have lying around that is good for baking.

Spices: cinnamon, allspice, and freshly grated nutmeg. About a half teaspoon of each, though I think you could heap the cinammon. I used heaping 1/4 teaspoons of these spices, and I think the cake could handle more cinammon, though probably not too much more nutmeg and allspice - the former comes through brightly in the finished product.

Get an actual nutmeg, it will be worth your while. Freshly grated nutmeg tastes very different from ground nutmeg.

A nutmeg is kind of weird looking, check out the photo. Apparently the nutmeg tree produces both nutmeg and mace! The nutmeg is actually the seed inside the fruit of the tree.I'm not really sure where the Spice Encyclopedia got this since it isn't cited, but apparently, way back in the historical day, it was thought that sticking a nutmeg in your armpit before heading out for a night on the town would bring the (wo)men a running. Single gals and guys, it's something to consider.

Wet ingredients:

10 oz white sugar
2 oz dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
6 oz canola oil
6 oz plain (no sugar!) non-fat yogurt. The original recipe calls for full fat yogurt, but I really think this helped the cake come out lighter than some carrot cakes. I will always use it in the future.

Prep your pans by spraying them with Pam for baking, or buttering and flouring them, then putting parchment paper on the bottoms of the pans. To measure this out, just use a pencil to trace the outside of the pan, cut out the circle, and put the circle, pencil side down, in the pan. This makes for beautiful cake bottoms.

Before you get started, I suggest measuring everything out, as it makes things much easier down the road.

As you can now see, that's why you need all those small containers.

After you have measured all of your ingredients, combine the spices, baking soda, baking powder, and flour in a large bowl. Whisk these together.

Add the shredded carrots to the bowl, and toss to combine them with the flour mixture. I just do this with my (clean) hands, as I think coating the carrots is easier that way.

Is your oven pre-heated yet? Turn it on about now, to 350 degrees.

And after you do that, switch the shredder blade to the regular blade in your food processor. 

In the food processor bowl, add the eggs, the yogurt, and the white and brown sugar. Turn on the food processor to combine these ingredients, then pour the oil in a slow stream into the bowl while keeping the processor running. I think the faster you work the better, so you don't over process the batter.

Remove the bowl from the food processor, and  add the wet ingredients to the carrot / flour bowl.

Divide amongst your two pans  and put in the oven on the same shelf to bake for 35 minutes at 350.

Turn down the oven after 35 minutes and cook for another 20 minutes at 325. This is a fairly big modification from the original recipe, based on my wonky oven, and using two 8 inch pans instead of one thick pan. Try it out in your own, but it worked perfectly for me. The cake is done when the cake tester comes out clean. If you put a toothpick (or skewer, which is what I use) in the cake, you should be able to feel if the cake is solid in the middle. If it isn't, it isn't done. Don't worry about the nicely browned top, that's what you're looking for. When the cakes are done, take them out and place the pans on a rack for 15 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto the rack to cool completely. You might take your boyfriend's dog for a walk, to kill time, and enjoy the day.

Ah, cake. This is where you (and all of us, frankly) wish you (and by you, I mean we) had smellivision.

Okay, next phase. Cream cheese icing. Holy goodness.

For about three cups of icing:

12 oz (one and a half rectangles) cream cheese. I think low fat is a poor choice here, don't be tempted by Neufchatel.
3oz unsalted butter, softish but not melty : this is 6 Tbs
1 and 1/2 tsp vanilla
13.5 oz (really, just get the digital scale) powdered sugar, sifted. I just pour the powdered sugar into the sifter, then sift it into the measuring container on the scale.

Beat the butter and cream cheese until combined and whipped up a bit, add the vanilla. Add the powdered sugar in batches, preferably on low speed if you have a better mixer than mine, which only has fast and super fast speeds. I just try not to inhale too much while incorporating the sugar.

Next, icing time. Place a dollop of the icing on the center of the bottom cake. Ice to the sides, but not all the way to the edge, leave about a 1/2 inch or so, because when you add the top layer, it's going to smush the icing out a bit.

Add the top layer and ice the rest of the cake. You could do something fancy on top like pecans around the top edge of the cake, but I didn't. I just used the spatula to make little peaks, like you might do with meringue.


It turned out delicious. Let me know if you try it yourself. Add more spice, I want to know how that goes.



Chicken and dumplings may just be the perfect chilly gray day food

I had a craving for comfort food, something that would make me feel warm and cozy inside, which led me to a recipe search for chicken and dumplings. Online I went, looking through the various recipe aggregators, when the boyfriend told me about his chicken and dumplings, which sounded delicious. His recipe came from epicurious.com, so I went there and found this four forks recipe. It calls for homemade dumplings with cornmeal and lots of cream, which sounded heavier than I wanted, so instead, I used heart smart Bisquick, which tastes pretty delicious for a lot less work. The recipe also calls for turmeric. I had no idea what this root was until just minutes ago. It is related to ginger root and used in alternative medicine, beyond its use in cooking. It's an ingredient in curry powders, and must lend to them much of their yellow color. A little goes a long way for both color and flavor. I really like its taste. I did some online reading, and someone mentioned they use it on oatmeal, which made me wonder if there's sweet/savory/baking possibilities there ... there is a pie contest in Portland every year ... maybe in the crust? I digress. So here's that hearty concoction, just what I needed to fight the gray.

Chicken and dumplings, adapted.

You need a big heavy duty pot with a lid, that is wide enough to fit all the chicken in along with the vegetables and broth.

You may also want a plate at hand for the chicken, because you may have to pan fry it in batches.

2 T. olive oil
1 (3-pound) chicken, cut into pieces ( I bought a 3.68 lb chicken in pieces, and ended up ditching the wings and thighs, just leaving the breasts and legs, which was enough for me. If I made this again, I would probably do three bone-in breasts and possibly one leg, because I mostly prefer white meat off the bone to dark meat or boneless)
1/4 c. flour, with salt and pepper (this is for dredging the chicken)

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks (I'd suggest more carrots, if you're a carrot lover, as I am. They get really soft and delicious, and mine were long gone before all the soup was)
2 stalks celery, cut into large chunks
1 bay leaf (if your boyfriend has a tree in the backyard you can pluck one from, all the better)
1 sprig thyme (I like more thyme, so I went with a very hearty sprig, that some might say was actually two sprigs)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric (Hello yellow! Don't get this on your counters or clothes, unless you've got a lovely mustard-colored frock on)
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (one Swanson's 32 oz container works)

Start by dredging the chicken in the flour, then cook them over medium heat in the pan until they brown on each side ... the original recipe says this is a 2 minutes per side situation, but I disagree! I would saw it took me about 8-10 minutes total to brown them the way I wanted ... you don't want to cook them all the way through though, the simmering soup will do that.

Okay, so remove those chicken pieces to a plate. Throw in the onion and cook it a couple minutes, so it's getting soft and shinyish (side note: fun part of blogging? Making up words.) then throw in everything else except the broth and cook that for a couple minutes.

Add the broth. Put the chicken back in. You might need to add a little water to cover the chicken completely. Simmer this about fifteen minutes or so, with the lid on. I like a high simmer, so I do this on about a (electric) 4. You don't want to overcook the chicken though, so don't get too crazy with your simmering action.

While everything is simmering, make the bisquick dumplings, basically bisquick mix and milk.  I tripled the side of the box recipe, which I think was just about right. Doesn't get too much easier than this:

for 12 dumplings: 2 c heart healthy Bisquick and 9 Tsp milk, which is just over a 1/2 of a cup? Yes, 1/2 a cup plus one tablespoon.

After those fifteen simmering minutes were up, I chose to remove the chicken from the pot, deboned it and shredded it into pieces, then put it back in the pot. This is somewhat cumbersome, but I think it makes the soup better. You can accomplish this with two forks and hands of steel (that chicken is h.o.t.) - okay not really, but you may want a paper towel as a buffer between your tender fingers and those heat-holding chicken bones.

Feel good that that particular task is over and then drop the dumplings by spoonfuls onto the (still simmering) soup. Cook another ten to fifteen minutes and prepare yourself, for you may have overflow as your dumplings grow in size. When I said you need a large pot earlier, what I meant was you need a LARGE pot.

When the dumplings have cooked up, you are done. Pat yourself on the back and warm your insides with a bowl of comforting chicken and dumplings. No better way to send that gray away, inside and out.