Just Another Wednesday Night

Last night, I was fortunate enough to be able to see one of my favorite people on earth and the one woman who, if I could trade lives with anyone, it would be her, the Barefoot Contessa! My love for Ina Garten has grown exponentially over the years and grew even more after attending one of her speaking engagements last night. My mom surprised me with Ina’s latest cookbook and tickets to attend her show, essentially it was just a live interview, last month. I was so excited to get the chance to see a woman whom I have admired so much over the years.

Here is her latest cookbook, it’s another winner for me!

My love for Ina’s cooking style began about 7 years ago when I purchased my first Barefoot Contessa cookbook. It was actually a purchase that I settled for with reward points from a credit card that were about to expire. I was reluctant because although I knew she was a famous celebrity cook, I didn’t really enjoy her TV show and didn’t understand the hype. But given then fact that it was either the cookbook or a cheap foot sauna, I went with the cookbook. A few weeks later this arrived at my house:

I paged through it and thought some of the recipes sounded really good and I found that the recipes were simple to make without all sorts of weird ingredients. I began to try some of them out and each one came out perfectly. As the years went by, I found myself enjoying Ina’s point of view and her TV show more and more and I would search through her recipes listed on FoodNetwork.com whenever I needed something that I could trust to turn out exactly how it was supposed to.

Then I found out that Ina loves Paris, almost as much as I do. Again, my love for her grew and I recently was given her Paris cookbook which is filled with even more delicious and simple recipes. This lady knew what was up and she made cooking accessible to home cooks. Her story is one that in a lot of ways, reflects Julia Child. Her food career was a mid-life 180 and when she started out with her gourmet food store, she knew nothing about running a store and less about cooking but she followed what she loved and look what it’s turned into?! She also had a husband who supported her dreams and desires; we often don’t realize how crucial love and support for our ideas can truly be.

So, back to last night, even though the evening was a little poorly planned (the venue’s fault, not Ina’s), Ina proved again why I admire her so much. She was gracious, patient and warm hearted as the audience shouted out compliments and questions at her on stage. She shared a bit more of her story and of her life in the Hamptons with her husband. Through the entire evening, I was continually amazed by how graceful she was and nothing seemed to rattle or annoy her. She certainly has not allowed her celebrity to go to her head and seems to take it all in stride.

Alas, she did not pick me out of the crowd and offer to be my mentor and leave her empire in my care when she decides to retire someday. I guess I’ll just keep wishing for that one! But I left last night with a greater love for cooking and a better sense that I, myself will figure out what is next for my career. I’m not sure what the future holds but I hope that it will involve food and or cooking. Until that dream becomes a reality, I’ll be here, blogging away and testing out new recipes from one of my favorite cooks, the Barefoot Contessa.

 

A Tale of Two Cakes

I hope everyone enjoyed their weekend and that lots of you enjoyed an extra day thanks to Presidents Day yesterday. I know that depending on what company I’ve worked for, their Presidents Day policies are always different; about half the places I’ve worked, I’ve gotten the day off and the other half, I haven’t.  It’s always nice to have that day off but you never know if people actually have it off or not. In my case, since I’m not employed full-time at the moment, I had the day off and so did Eric. We enjoyed the extra day and were busy all weekend working on house projects. And no, they weren’t fun projects, they were the pain in the a$$ type of projects. Poor Eric spent Saturday working on issues with our hot water heater and our only shower. I’m sure he learned a lot about this ancient house of ours, and its confusing piping, and about hot water heaters but when he finally came to bed at 1am on Saturday night, he was not excited to tell me about his new knowledge of our home’s inner workings. Sunday was spent cleaning up from Saturday and Monday was a continuation of that mixed in with some much needed R&R. Being a young homeowner is always an adventure, especially in an old house!

Alright, back to some recipes, again, I’ll reiterate that I haven’t been cooking quite as much as I’d like to. As I get larger and less mobile, being in the kitchen on my feet is harder and harder but today, I’m finally getting around to sharing with you my red velvet cake disaster followed by triumph.

This whole recipe testing began years ago. Obviously from this blog, I love red velvet cake. I remember the first time I ate a slice, my mom brought some home from a Christmas party when I was a kid and I fell in love with it.  She asked her friend for the recipe and that’s the way she’s been making me red velvet cake for as long as I can remember. I love that recipe, however it calls for 2 cups of vegetable oil; yes 2 whole giant cups! That’s ALOT of oil. And as I’ve gotten older, my poor intestines have decided they do not enjoy 2 cups of oil in one cake. My favorite red velvet cake recipe became my worst enemy; it was so good when I was eating it and then I’d regret it shortly after. I was a love/hate relationship and I was determined to find a recipe that I loved and that loved me back.

Over the last 10 years or so, I’ve been searching for that perfect red velvet recipe, in vain. Red velvet is a very difficult taste to get “just right.” You want to taste a hint of the cocoa in the recipe, but not so much that the cake tastes like a devils food cake dyed red. The oil adds the correct moistness and flavor but I really needed to avoid that much oil.

The images of the red velvet cake on my blog are from a recipe from Paula Deen and it was good, but not quite what I was looking for. It also looked great in the photos, it was the perfect red.

For my birthday last month, I decided it was time again to try a red velvet recipe. I had gotten a beautiful new cookbook from my in-laws for Christmas, it’s all vintage cake recipes, and the red velvet recipe was calling my name. This particular recipe include zero oil, already I was intrigued. I mixed up the ingredients and as my lovely red cakes were cooling, I mixed up what was supposed to be mascarpone cream cheese icing. Here was my first “red” flag (pun intended). The icing was like a thin glaze not a thick frosting. I began pouring cup after cup of powdered sugar into it and got nowhere fast. I put the icing in the fridge in hopes that the cream cheese and mascarpone would thicken up.

Two hours later, the icing was still runny but I attempted to put it on the cake. I iced the cake and quickly put the whole thing in the fridge to set. Set it did not. After giving up on my icing, I decided to cut a slice of this cake that I’d been thinking about for days. The cake was terrible. The flavor was off, the consistency wasn’t dense or moist. It was a complete failure. A failure that I didn’t take any photos of (sorry!) the evidence has been destroyed. I threw the entire cake away in the garbage disposal (which looked like a bloody mess thanks to the red cake) and went to bed. Low point.

Has this every happened to any of you? Everything in a recipe just goes completely wrong and you’re left with time wasted and something gross to eat? Ever feel like you have to eat it anyway since you spent so much time on it? Yeah, I’ve done that before too. But those just end up being unnecessary calories that aren’t worth it. I’ve learned to get over myself and throw the food away. Mistakes happen. They happen a lot in cooking/baking. It’s OK. Learn from it. I learned that both of these recipes were terrible and I should trust my instincts more. If the icing seems like its going to be too thin based on the recipe, then maybe opt for a different recipe instead.

A few days later, and after some research online, I was ready to try again and this time my red velvet cake ended up looking like this:

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It looks decently normal!! I pulled a recipe that I found online from Bakerella and then used an icing recipe that I’ve made lots of times so I knew it would turn out. The recipe does call for 1.5 cups of vegetable oil. So I wasn’t cutting down on the oil very much, but it also called for buttermilk, an ingredient I liked. I have found that most recipes call for one or the other, this is the first one that calls for both. I wanted to see how it would come out.

The recipe is pretty standard. Mix the wet ingredients and dry ingredients separately, then slowly combine them all together in an electric mixer.

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The cake batter should look like this:

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Divide the batter evenly between two 8 or 9 inch cake pans.

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Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool the cake completely, ice it with your favorite icing. (I prefer butter cream to cream cheese on my red velvet) Slice it up and enjoy!

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Wow, I’m just realizing how terrible those colors look on camera, the lime green plate with my butcher block counter top and the red velvet cake. Whoops! Sorry people. I’m no photographer, I’m a cook. It tasted good and that’s all the matters! The taste wasn’t exactly “perfect” for me, I think it could have used a bit more salt and cocoa, however the consistency was perfect and (best point of all) it didn’t make me sick! Win.

A note about the icing: The recipe that I used from Bakerella was made with a cream cheese frosting and that is traditionally paired with red velvet cake. However, the original red velvet cake recipe from the Waldorf Astoria, in NYC, was made with a butter cream icing that was prepared on the stove top. I happen to prefer an easy version of vanilla butter cream with my red velvet cake. I suggest if you ever have the chance, you try your red velvet cake with lots of different icings. I also enjoy red velvet cake with a chocolate filling, it really brings out the cocoa flavor. Don’t pigeon hole yourself to the traditional, it’s never a bad idea to try cakes with different fillings and icings.

Here’s the Bakerella recipe link to her site, complete with her cream cheese frosting and might I add, much prettier photos of her cake! And here is my quick and easy butter cream icing recipe:

Quick and Easy Butter Cream Frosting
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 

Serves: 2 layer cake
 

Ingredients
  • ½ cup shortening
  • ½ cup butter at room temperature (1 stick)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk

Instructions
  1. Cream the butter and the shortening with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 5-8 minutes.
  2. Add vanilla and beat well.
  3. Gradually add powdered sugar mixing until well combined.
  4. Add in milk and mix well. Add additional milk to reach desired consistency, if necessary.

The Day of Days

It’s THE day, the greatest day of the entire year and my favorite day always, it’s FASNACHT DAY! I post about Fasnacht day each year and this year is no exception. I wait and count down the days until this most delicious day in February and then I stuff my face with as many potato doughnuts as humanly possible. In case you’re not a resident of Central PA or have been living under a rock for your entire life, Fasnacht Day is the glorious way that the PA Dutch celebrate Fat Tuesday. In New Orleans, they have Mardi Gras but in Lancaster, we have Fasnachts. The tradition sprang from trying to use up all the lard and leftover tastiness in one giant way before the celebration and fasting of Lent. Thus the Fasnacht was born.

As less people, including myself, actually celebrate Lent in a traditional way, Fasnacht Day has become a day in which we celebrate the deliciousness that is the potato doughnut and all the wonderful deliciousness that it brings to your belly. I won’t lie, doughnuts are easily one of my favorite foods and I have a remarkable ability to eat a lot in one sitting. I can pack away 4-6 doughnuts and not even feel it, if I want to. It’s almost as if doughnuts, once in my belly, vanish completely and I feel the urge for another one because my doughnut craving has not been satisfied yet.

Anyway, enough about my doughnut eating capabilities, if you’re in the Lancaster area today, be sure and stop by somewhere for a Fasnacht, I recommend the powdered sugar or the rare glazed Fasnacht because the plain ones are just plain gross. Who actually eats the plain ones, I’d like to know. They can’t be good.

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How are you celebrating Fat Tuesday? Do you love a good Fasnacht as much as I do?