Rainbow Layer Cake

5 Feb

I was too busy celebrating my 1000th day of sobriety to publish this yesterday!

I spent the day cooking, teaching, playing a bunch of games with a handful of friends, laughing all night, and made a pretty awesome cake too.

Here today is the brand new version of a rainbow cake I originally made last year, but I re-wrote the recipe yesterday to simplify a cake that still has a lot of steps but is definitely easier now. This was a special cake for a special day, and there’s nothing quite like cutting into it and seeing the rainbow of layers inside.

Rainbow Layer Cake

Cake

  • 2½ cups white granulated sugar
  • 4 oz. butter, softened
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ¼ cups whole milk
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • Food coloring (I used Americolor Gels) in red, yellow, orange, green, blue, and purple

Frosting

  • 8 oz. butter, softened
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. almond extract

 

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter and flour (or line with parchment) six 9 in. pans. I only have three pans, so I baked in two batches.

Combine the butter and sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Then beat in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions. Add the vanilla extract.

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In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, salt, lemon zest, and baking powder.

Slowly alternate adding the flour and milk to the wet ingredients and mix until well-combined.

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Weigh the batter and then divide it evenly into 6 bowls (my batter weighed approx. 9.5 oz per layer).

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Mix the food coloring in the bowls so that you have a bowl of each red, yellow, orange, green, blue, and purple.

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Pour the batter into the prepared pans and smooth with an offset spatula. Bake for approximately 13-15 minutes.

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Cool layers completely before frosting.

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To prepare the frosting, whip the butter and cream cheese until smooth, then add powdered sugar slowly and whip until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well.

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Stack the layers and put a thin layer of the frosting between them.

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Then ice and decorate the cake as desired using the remaining frosting.

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Pretty on the outside…

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…but suuuuuper cool inside.

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Thanks for letting me share part of my celebration with you. Maybe I’ll make an even crazier one for 2000 days!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Under Pressure: Mushroom and Romano Risotto  

10 Jan

Happy New Year, readers! As it always does, the cold month of January has brought me to my crockpot seeking bean and kielbasa stew, hearty soups, and pot roasts. These one pot meals are lifesavers when I teach in the evening and then don’t want to have to come home and cook.

This year, I’ve been trying to use my pressure cooker a little bit more to save time on recipes and also infuse deep flavors into proteins and grains. I can’t remember what cooking show it was that I was watching, but a chef mentioned making risotto in a pressure cooker and I thought, “What a brilliant idea!” After a little Google-fu, I found that others had tried this and had great success, so I decided to throw my own culinary skills at it.

The pressure cooker I have also has a sauté function, which is even handier because it meant that this meal could be made with nothing but a few delicious ingredients, a cutting board, and one pot. Less dirty dishes, far happier Neen. So without further ado, let’s get to this earthy, creamy and really satisfying mushroom risotto.

Pressure Cooker Mushroom and Romano Risotto

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups Arborio rice or other short grain pearl-shaped rice.
  • 4 cups broth or stock (I used turkey stock I made/froze at Thanksgiving)
  • 8 oz. cremini mushrooms, diced
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1 cup pecorino romano cheese, grated
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional: splash of red wine

Method

Begin by sautéing the onions in the olive oil until soft and translucent.

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Add the mushrooms and cook until they give up their juices and most of the liquid has evaporated.

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Add the rice to the cooker and stir to combine. Sauté the rice with the vegetables for 1-2 minutes and then add a splash of red wine (or stock/water) to deglaze the pan and get any browned bits off of the bottom of the sauté pan.

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Finally add the stock or broth.

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Put the lid on the pressure cooker and set it to cook at high pressure for 6 minutes.

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After the time has elapsed, you can wait for the pressure cooker to release steam naturally or use the quick release function.

Give the rice a quick stir and then add the romano cheese and mix well.

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And that’s as simple as it is. Risotto in less than 20 minutes. This makes quite a lot, so you may have leftovers. It reheats well on the stove, or can also be used to make arancini straight out of the refrigerator.

I wish you all the best and happy cooking in 2017. Let’s continue to make delicious food together!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Crispy, Chewy Thin Crust Pizza

20 Sep

I love all kinds of pizza. Thick squares covered in crushed tomatoes and romano cheese, thin floppy slices oozing with mozzarella, deep dish pieces, and yes, the slightly charred crispy Neapolitan-style pies.

My better half like his pizzas thin and crispy. I’ve spent YEARS cooking thin crust pizzas in my slightly under-powered oven and for a long time just wasn’t getting the result I wanted. Okay, sure, you can preheat a pizza stone in your oven for a while and probably get a pie that’s crisp and chewy, but let’s be realistic: Who has time to do that?

No, the real secret to a perfect crust, even for bread, is airflow. Yes, I defy all of you pizza stone experts, because unless you’ve got my dad’s fires-from-hell brick oven, there is a better, easier way to get the perfect pizza or bread crust at home.

First let’s deal with the dough itself. This recipe is an amalgamation of at least four other people’s recipes, but it is velvety, easy to work with dough with a beautiful flavor.

Perfect Pizza Dough (for one 16 in. pizza or two smaller pizzas)

  • 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. salt dissolved in 2 tbsp. warm water
  • 2 ¼ tsp. active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water (about 110-115 degrees)
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine the water, sugar, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and let it sit until the mixture is very foamy, about 5 minutes.

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Add the flour to the yeast mixture, and then add the salt water. Finally, gently stream in the olive oil.

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Switch the paddle for a dough hook and knead until the dough is soft, smooth and pliable. I prefer to do this by hand and it takes about 10 minutes. Once you have a smooth dough, roll it into a tight ball.

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Oil a clean bowl and toss the dough ball to coat. Then cover the bowl lightly with plastic wrap, leave it in a warm spot, and allow the dough to rise until doubled in size, about one hour.

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After it has risen, gently punch the dough down and it is ready to use. Or store it in the refrigerator covered for up to a few days.

To bake, preheat an oven to 450 degrees F.

NOW, remember what I said earlier about airflow? You do not need an expensive pizza stone or a bunch of bricks on your oven rack, you need this:

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This is a 16 in. pizza screen, but they come in all sizes. It cost about $10. This is how we achieve a golden brown and crisp bottom with a nice, chewy interior.

Lightly oil the pan and then oil your hands. Stretch the pizza dough across the screen until it is even, then brush the surface with olive oil and top as desired. This is a classic marinara and whole milk mozzarella pie.

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Place the screen on the bottom rack of your oven and bake for about 12-13 minutes. Check it at 12, because the bottom can start to char quickly!

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Give the pizza a minute or two to cool, and then easily slide it off of the screen and on to your cutting board for slicing.


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Give this method a try on your next pie. You won’t be disappointed!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Sweet Simplicity: Chocolate Chip Scones

15 Sep

There are some dishes I make so frequently that I never bother to photograph them. That got me thinking the other day about lost recipes. The sort of everyday things that become second nature, that we think unworthy of photographing or calling attention to. But if we don’t teach or tell others how to do these things, they’re completely lost to time. Imagine that; a dish that might never live again until some unwitting cook elsewhere dreams it up again.

So this is one of the recipes that I make probably every other week or so, and one you can make and customize with whatever you have in the house.

Chocolate-Chip Scones

Yield: 8 scones

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp. baking powder (aluminum –free is best)
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3 oz. butter, chilled and cubed
  • ½ cup of cold buttermilk (or make your own by squeezing half a lemon into ½ cup 2% milk)
  • ½ cup chocolate chips (or berries, dried fruits, nuts…etc.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and kosher salt in a large bowl or food processor.

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Add the chilled butter, and process or cut the butter in to the dry ingredients until the mixture has a pebbly, sandy texture.

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Add the buttermilk and mix just until the dough forms large clumps.

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Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and mix in the chocolate chips (or addition of your choice) by hand. Then pat the dough into a circle about ¾ in. thick.

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Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the circle into 8 triangles and then arrange them on a baking sheet with a couple of inches in between each.

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Bake for 15 minutes or until the bottoms are golden brown and the tops are just lightly golden.

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Scones, like most quick breads, are best consumed the day they are made. That said, I’ve revived these in the toaster for many breakfasts, so they’re definitely still tasty a day later. My favorite additions aside from chocolate chips are blueberries and of course the classic dried currants. Don’t want to add anything? Then don’t! They’re great plain with a pat of butter, too.

So that’s it really. Go forth and make delicious scones!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Weeknight Wonder: Baked Macaroni and Cheese

31 Aug

My teaching schedule can sometimes mean being gone at an awkward hour for trying to coordinate dinner, so I’ve learned a lot of crock pot, sous-vide, and make-ahead meals to keep Joe and myself from paying for take-out.

This baked macaroni and cheese recipe is one of my personal favorites, because it skips some of the fussier steps like making a roux and a cheese sauce. Nope, this one is for the evening you’d rather skip all of that and still have something hot, gooey, cheesy and delicious. Plus, it can be prepared well in advance. You can also double this recipe for a bigger crowd or even add vegetables or chopped meats to it.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

  • 8 oz. dried pasta (I usually go with penne or elbows)
  • 1 cup half-and-half cream
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese (or a mixture of cheeses! Great way to clean out the cheese drawer.)
  • 2 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp. flour
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs or crushed crackers
  • 1 tbsp. butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cook the pasta al dente, drain the water, and return the pasta to the pot. Add the cream cheese and stir until the pasta is lightly coated with cream cheese.

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Combine the cream and spices in a measuring cup and then stir that into the pasta. Add the flour and Dijon mustard as well.

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Finally, add the cheese, stirring to distribute as easily as possible. Move this mixture to a greased 8×8 in. baking dish. At this point, you can prepare it for the oven, or cover and refrigerate until ready to bake.

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Melt the butter and stir it into the bread crumbs. Spread the bread crumbs evenly over the macaroni and cheese and then bake for 25 minutes.

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I also like to turn the broiler on for the last minute or two to brown the top. We get four servings out of this, and it reheats really well in the oven or toaster oven. Yum!

Graham Crackers (and S’mores!)

23 Aug

Sometimes, you find your 31 year old self needing the comforts of childhood: Cartoons and s’mores. After a particularly long week recently, I asked a couple of friends to come over and watch Batman cartoons with me and wind down.

It’s hard not going into full-on hostess mode when people come over. But I really just wanted to hang out with my friends. Can’t hide in the kitchen the whole time, Neen. So I decided the local Thai place would make dinner and I’d only put myself on the hook for dessert.

I thought s’mores would be pretty fun for a summer evening, so I made a batch of marshmallows (recipe here), a batch of chocolate ganache, and some graham crackers.  I know the typical s’mores chocolate is a good old fashioned Hershey bar, but the ganache was definitely tastier and meltier.

Easy Chocolate Ganache

  • 8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream (or coconut milk for dairy-free)

Put the semi-sweet chocolate in a bowl. Bring the heavy cream just to a boil, and then pour it over the chocolate. Let stand for 2 minutes, and then whisk until smooth. It will be very liquid, but will set up and become spreadable as it cools down.

The last step was making the graham crackers, which is really more like making pastry dough than a cookie or biscuit. I’ve made graham crackers a lot of different ways, but this is my personal favorite recipe for ones that are crisp, and juuust sweet enough.

Graham Crackers

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar (or 1 cup granulated sugar blended with 3 tbsp. molasses)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 4 oz. unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
  • 1/3 cup honey or maple syrup. For this batch I used half and half!
  • 5 tbsp. cold milk
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • granulated sugar for sprinkling

Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a food processor.

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Add the butter a few cubes at a time and pulse until the mixture is sandy. You can also do this by hand with a pastry cutter or the tines of two forks.

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In a separate bowl, whisk together the honey/maple syrup, milk, and vanilla extract.

Slowly add the wet ingredients to dry and mix until a cohesive dough forms.

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Divide the dough into two equal pieces, flatten into discs, and chill in the refrigerator for an hour or until firm enough to roll.

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Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a baking mat.

Roll out one half of the dough until it is 1/8 in. thick and then cut out crackers. I used a 2-in. fluted round cutter for these.  Move the crackers to the prepared baking sheet, dock with a fork (this keeps them from puffing up) and sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar.

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Bake the crackers for about 15-20 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. Then move to a wire rack to cool.

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We intended to use my little butane torch to toast the marshmallows (no campfire here, alas). It was out of fuel though, so Joe quickly improvised while at the grocery store and bought a sterno. We lit it and toasted our marshmallows using the chopsticks from dinner as skewers. Honestly, it was a pretty great way to spend an evening with friends. I’m glad to have people in my life who are content to laugh, eat a bunch of gooey marshmallows, and have a good time.

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