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Saturday, July 25, 2009

DIVINE Chocolate Cake

We celebrated the Wizard's birthday tonight in the back yard. Once again we had pulled pork sandwiches* with cole slaw, corn on the cob, watermelon, a few chips, and some delicious baked beans brought by friends (need to get that recipe!).

Dessert, though, oooooohhhhhhh. I made a recipe that's been in my queue for quite a while: Chocolate-Buttermilk Layer Cake. It appeared in Portland Monthly in February of 2008. Instead of both filling and frosting it with ganache, I cut the cake into four layers and used ganache for all three layers of filling, and frosted the top and sides with Fluffy Cream Cheese Frosting. We also had The Cupcakes, also with cream cheese frosting, because we had enough guests that just one dessert I thought would not be sufficient. As it turned out, just the cake would have been enough if I had cut it in the small pieces its richness warranted. The size pictured is too big even for a chocoholic like me, and even with vanilla ice cream to cut the richness.

Chocolate-Buttermilk Layer Cake
adapated from Portland Monthly Mag

3 C unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/2 C sugar
1 1/2 T baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 C cocoa powder, sifted
1 1/3 C canola oil
1 1/2 C buttermilk
3 large eggs
1 1/2 C freshly-brewed, extra-strong hot coffee (I made instant coffee at about 150% the strength recommended on the jar)
1 t vanilla
16 oz bittersweet chocolate (24 oz if using for one layer of filling and top and sides of cake)
1 C heavy cream (1 1/2 C if using for one layer of filling and top and sides of cake)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper.

2. Put dry ingredients in bowl of stand mixer, and mix with paddle attachment at low speed to combine. Keep mixer on low speed and add oil, buttermilk, and eggs one at a time. Add hot coffee in a thin stream, pouring down the side of the bowl. Add vanilla, scrape sides of bowl with rubber spatula, and mix just until smooth. Divide between pans and bake until a toothpick comes out of the center with moist crumbs, 40-45 minutes (original recipe says 30-35, but the cake wasn't close to done at that point). Let cool in pans 10-15 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely, peeling parchment off bottoms of layers but putting cakes right side up on rack.

3. Put cream and chocolate (chopped if necessary) into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for one minute. Stir well, then microwave for an additional 30 seconds. Stir until all the chocolate is melted and the mixture is glossy and dark, zapping another 15-30 seconds if absolutely necessary. Let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

4. Trim cooled cakes just a little, so they're not too domed, then carefully cut in half horizontally with a serrated bread knife. Before separating the layers, cut a small notch in the side to line up when reassembling the layers after filling, since almost no one cuts that perfectly. Put one bottom layer on a cake plate, placing strips of waxed paper under the edges. Top with one-third of the ganache, and spread to within one half-inch of the edge. Place matching top layer, lining up notch, and top with another third of the ganache. Repeat with second split layer of the cake. Put filled layers of cake in fridge for 15-30 minutes to set ganache a little before icing.

5. Apply crumb coat of cream cheese frosting to sides and top of cake. Refrigerate for 15 minutes more, then spread remaining frosting on top and sides of cake. Refrigerate a couple of hours before serving.

*You don't need a recipe for the pulled pork, right? I bought a boneless Boston butt (big pork shoulder roast) from our favorite farmers' market pork purveyor, and coated it with a little oil and salt and pepper. I made a big fire in one side of the grill (charcoal, of course) and seared the snot out of it last night, then moved it to the cool side for 60-90 minutes. Around midnight, I put it in a roasting pan, covered it tightly with foil, and moved it into a 250-degree oven overnight. At 9 this morning I wrapped it tightly in foil and put it into a cooler to rest and cool slowly until this afternoon. It was just cool enough to handle, so I separated out the fat and the crispy parts with my fingers, then shredded the meat with two forks. I mixed in a little sauce, and served more on the side. This time the sauce was bottled (Cook's Illustrated's top choice, Bulls-Eye, now made without HFCS!), but last year I made a ketchup-based sauce from a Cook's Illustrated recipe. The coleslaw was made using the recipe on the side of the bagged coleslaw package. Maybe for a future year (we'll have this for the Wizard's birthday every year as long as he goes along) I'll make a fancier scratch coleslaw, and bring back that scratch sauce.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Northwest-Indian Fusion

Or at least my attempt. For our book group meeting to discuss White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, I chose an Indian-inflected menu. Oh, it was nothing like the women in Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake, slaving all morning to put on a lunch spread of many dishes. I made a Salmon Biryani, substituting skinless Columbia River Chinook filets for the chicken in the Chicken Biryani recipe, skipping the browning step. I'm pretty sure they don't have salmon in India (somebody please correct me if I'm wrong), but if they did they would put it in a biryani like this. The raita (yogurt sauce as it's called in the recipe) was divine as always. I served it with Curried Cauliflower:
Ginger-Curry Cauliflower
adapted from Real Simple magazine

1 head cauliflower, broken into bite-sized florets
2 T olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
2 t grated fresh ginger root
2 t curry powder
1 t turmeric
1/2 t kosher salt (recipe originally calls for 1/4 t, but it wasn't enough)
1/4 C fresh bread crumbs
1/4 C chicken broth (optional; I've made it both with and without and it turned out fine either way)
1 T fresh parsley, minced (optional; if I'd remembered to save any of the mint and cilantro from the other menu items I'd have used that instead)

Steam cauliflower until fork tender. Heat oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add ginger, curry powder, turmeric, and salt and cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add bread crumbs and cook another minute. Add cauliflower (and broth, if using) and cook until any liquid is absorbed and cauliflower is well-coated. Remove from heat and toss with parsley or other herbs, if using.

We had a palate-cleansing simple salad of baby greens, dried cherries and hazelnuts in balsamic vinaigrette, then finished with mixed berries (raspberries, boysenberries, marionberries and blueberries, purchased at the farmers' market that morning) over vanilla ice cream. Yum!

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