Saturday, February 19, 2011

Tufted Tiers

Cupcakes are my thing.  Anyone who knows me can vouch for this.  But this week I got a wild hair and wanted to make a full on cake.  And the name?  Red Velvet.  You know it, you love it, and you know you want to have some. RIGHT. NOW.  And I'm going to give it to you, darlings, in the only way I know how.

Red Velvet To End All Red Velvet

2 1/2 cups cake flour, sifted (after many tests, I recommend you sift, THEN measure - just put back what you don't use)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 oz red food coloring (two of those bottles that come in a box - yes:  all of it, kids)
1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter, room temperature (I stuck it on the windowsill when I got home, which worked nicely)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, room temperature (put them on the windowsill with the butter and you'll be golden)
2 tsp vanilla extract (none of that imitation stuff)
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature (I totally cheated and used 1 cup whole milk with 1 tbsp white vinegar - no joke... I always forget something at the grocery store, and this time it was the freggin' buttermilk)
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp baking soda

*preheat oven to 350 degrees, and prep your two 9 inch round cake pans with butter and flour to prevent future (inevitable) sticking.

1. In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt.  Set it aside for now.  In a small bowl, whisk together the red food coloring and the cocoa powder until there absolutely NO lumps and it is the color of blood you see in Tim Burton's movies.  Set this aside as well.
2. In your electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until it's really fluffy - about three minutes on high speed.  Beat in your eggs, one at a time, the vanilla, and the red cocoa mixture.  Bask in the glory of the color in your bowl.  Call a friend in to look at it because it is just. that. awesome.
3. Now put in a third of the flour mixture, mix in on low, then half the buttermilk until just blended.  Put in another third of the flour mixture, mix, and the rest of the buttermilk and blend in again.  Add the final third of the flour mixture and mix on low until smooth.  Scrape down your bowl and mix again.  Doesn't that look awesome?

*Have your two prepped cake pans at the ready, as this next part will go kind of quickly.  
4. In a small bowl, mix together the vinegar and the baking soda (yes... just like in science class, it will fizz and look cool).  Quickly add this to the cake batter and mix until smooth again.  IMMEDIATELY divide evenly into your two cake pans and put on the middle rack in your oven to bake for 25-30 minutes.  Check early (at the 25 minute mark) to make sure a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the cakes comes out clean (it'll be red for sure, but you just don't want wet cake batter-ness on there).
5. Once cakes are done, set them on wire racks in their cake pans for ten minutes, then invert out of their pans and put back on wire racks until completely cool.  Your house will smell amazing and they will look like giant garnet jewels of goodness on your counters.  Promise.
6. Once completely cool, frost with the following recipe (or your favorite frosting recipe, I really don't care).

A Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe

16 oz (two boxes) cream cheese, room temperature (same windowsill trick will work just fine)
1/2 cup (one stick) butter, room temperature (ditto...)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted (just like the cake flour: sift, THEN measure)
a pinch of salt

1. In your newly-cleaned electric mixer, cream together the cream cheese and butter.  Feel free to whip the snot out of it on high.  Turn the mixer down to low and then add in the vanilla and salt.
2. When you go to add your powdered sugar, make sure you have the mixer's plastic shield on the bowl - sh*t's about to get messy.  Add it in thirds, mixing on low and stopping the mixer completely when you add each third.  Otherwise you'll have sugar EVERYWHERE.  Once all the sugar has just blended, crank 'er up to high and beat until super fluffy, at least 5 minutes.  If you beat more than 8 minutes, you'll risk liquefying the cream cheese.  I'm serious.  It's weird.
3. Now you're ready to frost.  If you're like me and are not good at frosting cakes in the more traditional way, get out your frosting tips, a pastry bag (or go ghetto and use a ziplock bag with the end snipped off), and only frost the layer in between the cakes and the top of the second layer.  I decided to make it look more "deconstructed", which turned out to be quite elegant (except for the weird little "dollop" I thought would be cool in the middle of the top layer... don't do that. It looks dumb).

*Remember:  with cream cheese frosting, you need to keep it refrigerated - definitely not a cake you can just leave out all day.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Casserole

Okay, so here's the deal:  I love cooking, creating, and coming up with different kinds of flavors.  If you tell me to make a pizza, it won't be your typical pizza.  If you want a cupcake recipe, I'll find one with booze, weird sweet/salty mixtures and Nutella.  That's why the casserole is such a great one-container project.  You can't screw it up.  Let me repeat myself:  YOU CAN'T SCREW IT UP.  Despite the recipe that follows, here's the basic rule of thumb:  Pick your veggies and chop them all the same size.  Put them in a big lasagna pan (standard size works the best). Drown them in olive oil, salt and pepper, top with a mixture of Italian bread crumbs, grated parmegiano reggiano cheese and toasted sesame seeds, then bake at 450 for 40 minutes.  DONE.  I kid you not, you could feed 6 people easily with this and still leave them wanting more.  You're welcome.
*it should be noted that I hate measuring while I cook... so I eyeball a lot, from EVOO to amounts of bread crumbs and cheese - cooking should be interactive and creative, not boring and scientific.

Kasey's Tomato Casserole

2 medium potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch chunks (I love redskin potatoes with skins on - YUMMO)
1 large sweet potatoes, skinned and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 medium butternut squash, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch chunks (leave the skin/rind ON)
1 ruby red pepper, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch pieces (the darker the color, the deeper the flavor)
Extra-virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
Salt & Pepper
1 red onion, cut into 1/4 inch rings
1 medium zucchini, cut cross wise into 1/4 inch disks
2 ripe tomatoes, cut into 1/4 inch slices
A large handful of fresh parmegiano reggiano cheese, grated
A large handful of italian-style bread crumbs
1/2 a palmful toasted sesame seeds (I bought mine... no sense in wasting time or burning sesame seeds)
A bunch of fresh basil, torn into small-ish shapes

1. Turn on the oven to preheat.  Rip that sucker on to 450 degrees.  Get out your lasagna pan and have it sitting next to your cutting board.  You'll want it close by so you don't have to keep walking the ingredients over to the pan every 5 minutes.  So annoying.
2. Put the redskin potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash and red pepper in the dish.  Drizzle EVOO freely over the top, then add salt and pepper.  Toss with your hands.  Don't be afraid.
3.  Layer on your onion rings, then your zucchini.  Drizzle with more EVOO, salt and pepper.  This time, don't toss.  We want to keep it pretty, kids.  PRETTY.
4. Layer on your tomatoes, add a final pass of the EVOO, s & p.
5. Get a small mixing bowl and toss together the cheese, bread crumbs and sesame seeds.  Sprinkle evenly over the top of the gleaming tomatoes and stick that mess in the oven.  Bake for 40 minutes, then let rest for 10 minutes out of the oven.  (Rob: LET IT REST)
6. Sprinkle the top with the fresh basil and serve to the diners who are salivating in the dining room.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Storm Team Coverage

In what can only be described as the biggest letdown in snow history (of my adult life thus far), I would just like to say that I did not want ice.  Let me be crystal clear here:  Ice Bad.  Snow Good.  I'm not sure where the confusion was...

Last night Cori and I had dinner with her family up near Zionsville.  I kid you not, it took her mom (with us in her Mini Cooper) 40 minutes to drive from 92nd and Michigan Road to the Macaroni Grill at 86th and Zionsville Road.  FORTY MINUTES.  Not only was it rush hour, but everyone else was trying to beat the ice as well.  Creeping along 86th Street really isn't all that fun when you've been staring at the back of the same car for 40 minutes.  Yes it was icing, and yes I got excited at the idea of the mall closing the next day...  But do you know where the snow we were supposed to get was?  Lafayette.  And it wasn't coming any farther south than that.  I obsessively checked the radar on my spacePhone, and the I'mlaughingatyourdumbluck-Pink color we were in wasn't changing over to the Don'tyouwishyoulivedinAlaskarightnow-Blue.  And it began to stress me out...

It stressed me out during dinner, too.  And when we arrived back at our ice-glazed cars.  And during the slooooooow drive back to my apartment.  And then I became really stressed at home.  The forecast of 12-16" of snow was going to miss us COMPLETELY.  

So here I sit this morning... sipping hot coffee, hoping Cori makes it to work in one piece so that I may have a girlfriend when I get back home tonight, praying for a change in the wind to bring us more snow.  I'd be lying if I said I hadn't already surfed the web for snow dances.  Desperate times, kids.

As of this morning, we are now looking at 2-4" of the powdered goodness I so dearly love...  It's not 12-16", but anything would be better than all of this ice.  Beggars can't be choosers, right?