Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Easy Perfect Holiday Dessert

Ok...so last week I blogged about a certain pineapple upside-down cake debacle, and the recipe is from the above book by the brilliant Thomas Keller. The beauty of this recipe is that it is really simple and you can use any fruit in it. After making ten of these cakes with fig, I can assure you it works perfectly and makes for a really lovely seasonal dessert. Way easier than making a pie...way easier. So, here it is. The dessert you should make for your friends and family come Thursday. No thanks necessary! The only thing you need that you may not have, but should have anyway so it is a good excuse to buy one is a 9 inch silicone cake pan.

Fig Upside-Down Cake
/ Variation of Thomas Keller's Pinapple Upside-Down Cake


For the pan shmear: (which you can make days before you bake the cake)
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick/4 ounces) unsalted butter at room temp
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon dark rum
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla paste/vanilla extract
  • kosher salt
  • 6 Figs
For the cake batter
  • 1 1/3cupscake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick/4 ounces) unsalted butter at room temp
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoonvanilla paste/vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of milk


  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, combine butter honey, rum, brown sugar, and vanilla and beat until smooth and well blended.
  • Spread 1/3 cup of shmear over the bottom of the cake pan. (you will have leftover smear that you can freeze and use again for the next holiday feast day)
  • Sprinkle the shmear with salt.
  • Cut 4 figs in half and then place around the edge of the cake pan face down with the tops of the figs facing inwards.
  • Cut 2 figs into quarters and place a quarter slice of fig at the top of each half slice, making a sort of flower in the center of the cake.
  • Sift the flour and baking powder together and set aside.
  • Put the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle and mix on low speed to combine, then beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes until light and creamy, scrapping down the sides as necessary.
  • Beat in the milk. Add the flour mixture in 3 batches, beating until just combined.
  • Pour the batter into the pan and spread over the figs. Bake for 15 minutes then rotate the pan for even browning and bake for anohter 20 to 25 minutes until a wooden skewer or knife comes out clean.
  • Run a butter knife around the edges of the cake, put a plate over the top of it and flip it over onto the plate.
Ta Da! A delicious little cake perfect for any occasion. This is an easy cake to dry out by over baking, so I would check it early and if there is a few crumbs on the knife pull it out. Have a Great Thanksgiving Everyone! If you make this cake let me know how it worked out!

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Upside Down Debacle

In the past 2 weeks I have made 12 upside down cakes. This long yet entertaining odyssey began with Chef's longing for Thomas Keller's Pineapple Upside Down Cake recipe from his new cook book Ad Hoc, which by the way is fabulous and if you have anyone in your family who likes to cook get them this book for the holidays. It is full of recipes that are simple, beautiful and brilliant...I mean it is Thomas Keller, and I will always shamelessly promote his genius as a matter of patriotism.

The simple pineapple upside down cake is one of Chef's favorite cakes of all time. He decided he was going to make it himself one weekend, but then I told him that "I love to bake, I will make it for you babe." This little offering led to a much bigger baking extravaganza than I could have ever imagined.

I didn't get around to making the first cake until about 2 weeks later. It was remarkably easy and I was proud of my lovely little cake. Three mamas and lil' ones came over for a coffee play date and I served it up. Of the four of us women, three are pregnant and I had to put the brakes on because we would have devoured the whole thing, and Chef had not had a slice yet.

The mamas left and I went to put Lil' Bit down for a nap. I left the cake perched on my grandmother's crystal cake plate sitting dead center in the middle of our dining room table, with only one chair anywhere near it. When I returned 10 minutes later the cake was gone but for a trail of crumbs and our little mutt Pumpkin was scurrying out of the dining room. Never underestimate any dog with Jack Russel in their blood.

I felt terrible that Chef who had waited patiently for this cake would not have a bite to himself. That being said, I went ahead and made another one that day. This time it turned out even better than the last. I gave half of it to my grandmother and the other half Chef, Lil' Bit and I enjoyed together.

Five days later, Chef threw me a curve ball, and of course I took a swing. We were doing a special 4 course prix fixe at the restaurant this week in honor of Douglas Gayeton's new book Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town, and the dessert course was a fig upside down cake. I asked what I could do to help, because that is my nature. "You know what would really help...if you could make the fig cakes." I took the bait.

"Okay, I can make the cakes." Why? Why do I do it to myself?

This was on Sunday and the cakes had to be made by Wednesday. My mood over the following three days immediately soured. Chef kept asking "Are you aggravated with me?" And I would say "No, our daughter has unleashed her inner toddler and I am having a tough time with her." Which was true, but the reality is that I was wicked stressed out about the cakes. I have never baked ten cakes at once before, and given that they had to be fresh it really left no room for error given that the only time I could focus my hormone fogged brain well enough to follow the recipe was when Lil' Bit was asleep. Ugh.

Monday night I made the shmear which goes on the bottom of each cake. It is the yummy golden caramel like goo that the fruit bakes in at the bottom of the cake. Tuesday night, with all my ingredients laid out I began the great cake bake...hoping to do all ten before 10 pm. Fat chance.

I put the first five in the oven at around 9 pm, and prepared to start my second round of batter. 15 minutes later I smelled smoke. One of the cakes had bubbled over, maybe 2 tablespoons of batter was burning at the bottom of the oven. I opened the door and the smoke came billowing out. Knowing that it is a big no no to pull a cake out of the oven before it is done, I saw my 5 beautiful cakes and panicked. I frantically called Chef at work. He told me to pull them out, which I did but the batter in the oven kept burning. I slammed the oven door shut and locked the smoke it, but it was too late a haze had filled the house.

I threw open all the doors and windows and turned on the fans. I was terrified that the smoke alarms were going to go off and wake the baby. Chef came home and looked at the cakes. "I think we are going to have to throw them out." I gave him the death stare and responded, "No way. You are going to take those cakes to the restaurant right now and finish baking them and try to salvage them." There was no discussion. There was no way in hell I was going to let those cakes go down without a fight. He loaded them up and raced off to the restaurant.

As I watched the headlights pull out of the garage I heard Lil' Bit on the monitor. She was screaming. At this point I wanted to sit down and cry, but I put on my game face and when to her. I thought maybe the smoke had snaked its way upstairs and that she was choking and gasping for air, but she had just crapped her pants in her sleep. Poor thing. I changed her, sang her a lullaby and put her back down to sleep. Her room was smoke free.

Downstairs was terrible. The kitchen was a mess. There was no way to continue baking because Chef had made the executive decision to put the oven on the cleaning mode. This was one of those moments when I thanked God for dishwashers. I loaded everything imaginable into our machine and hit the start button. Then, I decided it was time for me to go to bed. Around 1 am Chef came into the bedroom and told me that the cakes were perfect and amazingly delicious.

The day of the event, Wednesday, I whipped out the last five fig cakes four hours before the dinner, and they too were wonderful. Our customers devoured them, and Chef told me our fellas in the kitchen said "Nan killed the cakes!" Code for...amazing job done. Whew.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Meatloaf Virginity Lost

I recently popped my meatloaf cherry. Yes, I now feel like I have entered the hall of true domesticates. I made my first meatloaf, and in some strange manner reminiscent of the Nuclear Age, as I pulled it out of the oven I felt as if some right of passage had taken place.

Being that this blog is about ecology, our relationship with the world around us, and food...meatloaf is a definite dish that has a reputation in the world. In its various mutations, meatloaf is a comfort food, a hearty meal that sits in the stomach and has blessed family dinners for thousands of years. Ground meat mixed with bread crumbs or stuffs has been utilized throughout history as a means to spread meat out in times of hardship, to utilize leftover meat rather than waste it, and to make less appetizing meat more edible. Meatballs, the mini meatloafs, have been around for ages.

While most ancient meatloaf recipes used already cooked meat, left overs, variations of mince, or what have you, thanks to the industrial revolution raw ground meat was made inexpensive and readily available in the 19th century for American culture. But it wasn't until the 20th century that meatloaf made its way into the cannon of American cookbooks, probably due to better refridergation, (ground meat is more perishable.)

My current pregnancy craving is ground meat...which admittedly is disgusting to confess, but there you have it. I made spaghetti and meat sauce one night and the next decided that meatloaf was in order. I chose an Ina Garten recipe because her recipes are fool proof, and have a certain elegant panache that I felt would some how make this humble dish a bit more interesting, without compromising its essence.

Meatloaf is a phrase that for some reason I find slightly unsettling. It just sounds slovenly in some way, and I don't think it is necessarily due to the stage name of a certain musician. As I took the five pound of ground meat into my hands to knead and shape into a loaf, I tried to stifle the gross feeling that filled my gut...because while a meatloaf may not be pretty to look at, by god it is delicious.

The recipe I chose used 5 lbs of ground turkey, which being 95% fat free made the loaf a little lighter in theory than its beef counterparts. But let me tell you, this massive wedge of steaming meat fresh out the oven is far from what would classify as a light meal, but the amazing thing is that this is a relatively healthy dish! I mean look at it...would you ever guess?

According to Chef, it was cooked to perfection. "And now you have a meat ball recipe too!" Two dishes with one bird...the possibilities are endless. I encourage everyone in these upcoming cold months to indulge in this timeless dish. It is pure satisfaction.

Good Life Recipe #14 / Turkey Meat Loaf / Ina Garten
  • 3 cups chopped yellow onions (2 large onions)
  • 2 tablespoons of good olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons of kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried)
  • 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 5 lbs of turkey breast
  • 1 1/2 cups plain dry bread crumbs
  • 3 extra large eggs, beaten
  • 3/4 ketchup
  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  • In a medium pan cook on medium-low heat, cook the onions, olive oil, salt pepper, and thyme until the onions are translucent but not browned, approx. 15 minutes
  • Add the Worcestershire sauce, chicken stock, and tomato paste and mix well
  • Cool to room temp.
  • Combine the ground turkey, bread crumbs, eggs, and onion mixture in a large bowl. Mix well and shape into a rectangular loaf on an ungreased baking sheet.
  • Spread ketchup evenly on top.
  • Bake for 1 1/2 hours until the internal temp. is 160 degrees and the meat loaf is cooked through.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ohhh Rats!

The other night I was on the phone with one of my best friends who had just had a baby. She was telling me her harrowing story of a home birth that resulted in an emergency C-section, and at one of the most climatic moments I heard a strange noise coming from our dining room. I went to check it out, flicked on the light and there I found Mazy, our persnickety tabby, crouched over a dead rat chewing off its head.

With Chef at work, I was on my own to deal with the situation. I interrupted my friend to tell her my shocking discovery and she said "Eww. Do you want me to let you go?" Without hesitation I replied, "No, I am going to just let her do her thing and deal with it later." With that I turned around, flipped off the light and left her to her gnaw. Granted, I could have shooed her away only to have to deal with the remains myself, but knowing Mazy I knew she would handle them herself in her own way.

Mazy and I have a long history of her bringing game into the house...birds, rats, moles, the whole gamut, and me having to deal with the aftermath. She is a well fed cat, and like many people, she hunts for sport and then indulges in her prize. She always chews the head off, leaves two organs which I think are the liver and stomach, and then takes the rest of the carcass back outside through the cat door.

When you live with a predator, there is little to be done about its natural instincts. You can't exactly punish a cat for being itself. Mazy is an indoor/outdoor animal and sometimes she forgets the distinctive difference between the those two worlds.

Sure enough, I returned to our dining room half an hour later and the rat and the cat were gone, and there were two organs laying on the sea grass rug. I picked them up and threw them out. I decided to wait until Chef got home before figuring out how to get the rat blood off the sea grass.

You can not scrub sea grass with soap and water the way you can other rugs. In fact, you can't even spill water on sea grass without having to clean it up by pouring starch on it and vacuuming the moisture out of it. I am all about natural fiber textiles, but do not recommend sea grass to anyone who has children or pets, or an f$%@&ing life for that matter.

About an hour later I h
eard Mazy vomiting in our living room. My first thought, You have to be kidding me. She puked up pink tinted bile, and at that point I lost it. I called her a disgusting animal and threw her out of the house, shut off all the lights, and locked myself in the bedroom for the rest of the evening. I was done.

There are many ecological benefits of living with pets, but primal dining experiences are not one of them.