Monday, November 29, 2010

The things we do for love: Red Velvet cake

Every year for the past 36 years, Shawn's parents gather the family to celebrate his birthday. And, every year, for roughly the past 10, they've asked me to provide the cake. This year was no different.

I usually buy one because, as I’ve mentioned many times before, I'm not big on baking. But this year, when Shawn asked if I could make a Red Velvet cake (his newly discovered favourite), I decided to give it a shot. For those of you who aren't familiar, Red Velvet cake is a two layer vanilla cake flavored with a little cocoa, coloured bright red with food colouring and topped with cream cheese icing.

The recipe I used appears in the current issue of Cook’s Illustrated magazine. I won’t reproduce the incredibly detailed recipe here —not just because it’s incredibly detailed — but because Cook’s frowns on any unauthorized reproduction of their recipes.

I will, however, share Cook’s secret for attaining the right shade of red: 2 tablespoons of natural cocoa mixed with one 1-ounce bottle of red food colouring, which is added to the cake batter. According to Cook’s, "natural cocoa" (as opposed to the cheap and ubiquitous Dutch-processed kind) must be used in order for the cake to rise properly and attain the right colour.

And how did Cook’s illustrate the right shade of red?

In grayscale! (True, Cook’s is not a colour publication, but the above image was really not helpful.)

For all the effort, the cake turned out well, especially the frosting. I'm just not sure I obtained optimum redness. Judge for yourself. Here are the pictures from my adventures in cake making:



As you can see, the process was not always pretty. But if it’s pretty we want, we’ll have to wait for Char to post one of her birthday cakes.




Sunday, November 14, 2010

New ingredient obsession: Greek yogurt

Rocco Dispirito, hot celebrity chef extraordinaire, has shifted his attention in recent years from restaurants to healthy eating. I'm happy to report that his new book Now Eat This is really good, thought admittedly, I will never be completely unbiased when it comes to Rocco.

Many recipes, like the one below, call for low fat Greek yogurt, which I had never cooked with before. Once I tried though, I was hooked. It's got a great thick texture, but the best part about it is that it's all yogurt — no thickeners or gelatin (gross). I like it as a sour cream or regular yogurt substitute, but Rocco says that full fat Greek yogurt can replace butter one-to-one!

I have to say that I have a hard time finding the low-fat version that many of Rocco's recipes call for. (Only non- or full fat at my grocery store). But even full fat Greek yogurt is a much healthier alternative to sour cream or heavy cream.

Here's Rocco's lightened-up version of the classic Penne a la vodka:



12 oz whole-wheat penne
2 cups low-fat marinara
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup 2% fat Greek-style yogurt
1 cup chopped fresh basil
Salt and ground pepper
6 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions, about 9 min.

Meanwhile, in a large, nonstick pan over medium, combine the marinara and red pepper flakes and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally with a heat-resistant rubber spatula, for about 5 min, or until it is reduced and slightly thickened.

Remove the marinara from the heat. In a small bowl, stir about 1/2 cup of the marinara into the Greek yogurt until it is smooth to temper it, then whisk the yogurt mixture back into the marinara in the pan.

Drain the pasta and add it to the pan, tossing to coat. Add the basil and season with salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve sprinkled with Parmesan.
Notice anything missing in the recipe? That's right. The tang of yogurt replaces that of the vodka, so Rocco omitted it. What a guy...

Oh, and he complimented my portion size, so I can now cross "one-on-one interaction with Rocco Dispirito" off the bucket list. (Shawn is incredibly jealous.)




Sunday, November 7, 2010

Boil Water Advisory

While navigating the most popular tab of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything app on my iphone, I was struck that the recipe at the top of the list was called Boiled Water. And it's most popular by a mile. It currently leads its closest competitor, Meat Loaf, by 806 votes!

I thought this might be a joke, or an internet meme in the vein of Three Wolf Moon. (Read the reviews of the Three Wolf Moon t-shirt on, if you don't know what I'm talking about). 

But, Bittman's Boiled Water is actually a simple soup; a variation of an ancient peasant dish from southern France. And it's remarkably satisfying, if I say so myself. And, I think I can speak with authority on this one since I am descended from peasants.

Here's how to make boiled water:



8-10 cloves of garlic, lightly crushed
1 bay leaf
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 thick slices French bread
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 small bunch chopped fresh parsley


In a stockpot bring 4 cups of water, the garlic, bay leaf and some salt and pepper to a boil. reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered for 15 min.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Brown the bread, turning once for a total of 5 min.

Place the bread in bowls and top with the cheese.

Strain the broth into the bowls and top with the parsley.

It's as simple as that. Try it. In this case 1526 anonymous internet commenters weren't exaggerating.  




Garlic and Parsley Soup on Foodista