Disaster, or, I Should Have Known

I should have known this cake was going to be a disaster.

I took one too many shortcuts with it.

I used a boxed mix (2, actually), I cooked it in cake pans I don’t like (the sides don’t go straight up), and, really, I just sorta slopped the whole thing together.

And then, when the first layer didn’t want to come out of the pan, there was no excuse for me not to know.

As I was using this cake to serve 9 people, I didn’t even really take my time slicing it.  So you missed the whole ombre effect.  Unless you squinted your eyes and really looked closely.

The one aspect of this cake that managed to look quite smashing, if you ask me, was the decoration on top.  Which was my idea on a whim.  Red sanding sugar for the Terrapin Beach Bums.  OBX for, well, duh, the Outer Banks.

I penciled the block letters in on a square of wax paper, cut them out, and layered the paper over the cake.  Then I went to town with the sanding sugar.  And peeled back the paper.

Voila!  Good to know this cake has a redeeming quality.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to try this whole ombre thing again.


Sacher Torte

“Is the most famous cake in Vienna.”

At least, so says my husband.

He grew up traipsing around European countries.

It’s how he knows this stuff.

Last year he requested the world-famous Sacher Torte, so named because Franz Sacher pulled out all the stops when putting this chocolate cake together to impress some muckety-muck European guest, as his cake.  After my husband put in his order, I pulled out The Joy of Cooking, and discovered that it calls for almond flour and apricot jam.  Not standard in my pantry, by any measure.  So he had a regular, good old, chocolate cake that year.  But this year, I was ready.  I had everything I needed.  And I set to work making the cake the evening of his big day.

And after all was said and done, it didn’t live up to expectations.

I’m hunting around for a more palatable version for next year.  I hate being defeated in the kitchen.

On Carbs

I finally made spaghetti squash.

Actually, a more truthful interpretation of the tale would be that I finally cut into a spaghetti squash.

It was like my Everest.

I had bought squash before, and never been able to actually get it open.


I win.

But not when it comes to spaghetti squash.

Because it tastes nothing like spaghetti, dear readers.

Why didn’t anybody tell me?

It’s like crunchy water.

Even when you gussy it up with cheese and call it au gratin.

It still just tastes like crunchy water.

I’m over it.

A Touch of Homemade

Disaster struck my kitchen this morning, in the most embarrassing way.

I’m currently enrolled in a class that meets on Thursday evenings.  Having class after work requires a snack, and our instructor is kind enough to realize this.  Today was my day to share with everyone.  So last night, I diligently set about baking pumpkin cupcakes. I figured it would be the perfect nod to the beginning of fall.

These are the easiest cupcakes in the world (read: semi-homemade) and they came together quite nicely in no time.  With rather domed tops, too.  I was so proud of them for baking up like that.

I frosted them with *gasp* store bought icing, which served as a fantastic reminder that I hate store bought icing.

But that’s neither here nor there.  Because when I woke up this morning and peeked at my little fall treats, disaster struck…

Said store bought icing ran all down the cupcakes, and the little candy corn garnish that I thought such a nice touch started drooling all over the place too. I’m looking at you, Betty Crocker.

Seriously, who messes up box-mix cupcakes with store bought icing?  That’s a new low for me.  I’m going the “maybe they weren’t completely cool when I frosted them and put the lid on my cupcake carrier” excuse.  I tried salvaging these this morning by scraping off the old icing and starting over.  I got a whopping 3 cupcakes into that project before I realized it wasn’t worth it.  Store bought brownies for snack time it is!

On Disappointment

Little else in life makes me feel better like whirring things up in my mixer, kissing them goodbye for 30-60 minutes, and ending up with sweets, fresh out of the oven does.

Even better is when I can share those sweet treats with my nearest and dearest.

The worst is when those treats are not everything I ever hoped for and more.

As was the case with the Baked Brownie.  Yes, that brownie.  The one that Oprah declared the best brownie in America.  The one that is the stuff of legend.  The Baked Brownie!  While not a single one of the recipients of these brownies was disappointed–I dare anyone to receive a surprise bag of brownies and be disappointed–these didn’t stack up for me.  My Baked brownies weren’t bad.  But after so much hype, I was expecting the best brownies I’ve ever had, and I didn’t get them.

I’m chalking this one up to my own errors.  There’s no way so many people could be wrong.  I’ll make these again in due time.  And when I do, I’ll cross my fingers for a happier ending.

On Being a Foodie. Or Not.

Dear readers, we’ve been together for over two years now.  In that time, I’ve done all kinds of crazy things in the kitchen.  Some have even called me a foodie.  That’s a word that gets thrown around a lot these days.  Like epic.  Or winning.  Foodie.

You know what?

I ain’t one.

The more I go through the endless cycle of flagging trillions of recipes and purging old ones I know I’ll never end up making, the more I realize that I’m an at-home cook.

Leave the fancy stuff to the pros, and give me a chocolate chip cookie any day.  Steak and potatoes too.

Sure, I’ve been known to infuse basil into my lemonade, make balsamic reductions for my caprese salad, and throw a touch of salt on my sweets, but those are more twists on the classics than steps towards foodie-ville.

Foodies have vast knowledge of their ingredients.  Foodies bake 5 variations of a recipe side by side (by side by side by side) and figure out exactly what makes it work.  Foodies create crazy photo shoots of their food, letting their dinner get cold in the name of a pretty post.  At least foodie bloggers do.

I don’t.  And don’t get me wrong.  I’m 100% okay with that.  And I also 100% respect the foodies.  They’re a fun breed.

Oh dear readers, what I’m trying to tell you is that I made a foodie cake.  And I didn’t love it.  This pains me, because it came from Dorie, the queen of baking and inventor of world peace cookies.  It was too fahn-cy for my tastes.  It wasn’t bad.  It just wasn’t crumb cake like I know and love.

Moral of the (roundabout) story?  Know thyself, and bake accordingly.

*A note – Maybe you’re a foodie, dear reader?  Give this a try.  It comes together easily, and the texture is spot on.  How can you not swear by anything Dorie?

A Tale of Two Soups

My love of the Barefoot Contessa is never-ending.  I know there are haters out there.  My husband is among them.  He doesn’t go for the stuffy, East Hampton goddess thing (Also–can someone tell me why one is East Hampton and one is Southampton?  Two words and one word and 15 miles apart?).   Sure, she name drops.  Sure, she has some quirky lines that she recites multiple times per episode.  Sure, she has a relationship with her husband that resembles puppy love.  But I find it all endearing.  And there is no denying that the woman can cook.

I have found so many of her recipes to be the definitive ______.  For example, she makes the lemon bar of all lemon bars.  She makes the chicken chili that puts other chilis to shame.  And don’t get me started on the fresh corn salad or curried couscous.  One bite into so many of Ina’s dishes, and you know you can throw whatever other recipes you’ve been waiting to try away.  So i should have known.

I should have known not to mess with her chowder.  I absolutely love Ina’s cheddar corn chowder, and if it wasn’t so deadly for my waistline (and arteries), I’d eat it once a week.  But no, that wasn’t enough for me.  Having resolved to pull out more of my cookbooks when planning my weekly meals, I found another recipe for a similar chowder in a cookbook from which many success stories have already been eaten.

And though the difference in chowders may not be that visible,

the difference in taste was immense.  This one was good, but nothing compared to Ms. Garten.  We choked it down though.  It was topped with bacon, after all.


Usually I am a lemon girl, but ever since I ate lunch here for a couple of days

I’ve been craving limes.  From cupcakes to cocktails my menu has featured these little Florida fruits.   I had always wanted to cook Ina’s tequila lime chicken, and after my cupcake endeavor I had the leftovers to make it happen.

The problem is, I move quickly in the kitchen and often forget little things.  Like when you are cutting a recipe in half, you should cut each and every amount in half.  So while I juiced an orange and what seemed like 8 million little key limes with my pretty new juicer, resulting in just the right amount of juice…

I forgot to cut the seasoning amounts in half.

So the chicken tasted mostly of chili powder.

But it was juicy and thus, edible.  And with summer well on its way, we’ve been grilling more often.  So here’s hoping for a second go at this one.

Brownies Make Everything Better, or, Disaster, Averted [brownies]

I am always in a little bit of a funk after returning from a vacation.  As soon as we cross the threshold back into our apartment I get a little cranky.  I sit on the couch with my laptop and mope.  The suitcases do not get unpacked, I do not start a load of laundry, and the last thing I want to think about is unloading the dishwasher.

Luckily, I promised my grad school class some sweet treats for our next meeting, so I was forced back into the kitchen almost immediately upon my return.  I began by thinking of something simple.  Chocolate chip cookies simple.  Not waiting for butter to soften simple.  But then, this recipe caught my eye, and I thought of the mint chips I’ve been harboring in an air-tight container since the holiday season.

As I melted the chocolate and butter, I started feeling less icky and more like myself.  But when I reached my favorite part of the batter process, stirring in the flour, things didn’t thicken up.  The batter was way too runny to make cookies.  I added 1/4 C flour to no avail.

So I said, forget it, sprayed a 8 x 8 pan with cooking spray and made brownies instead of cookies.  Disaster averted.

And you know what?  With the addition of the mint chips, these serve as a great substitution for their more time-consuming cousins, grasshopper brownies.  They have the texture I love, not too cakey and dry, not too fudgy and buttery, and come together super quickly.

Michelle, whose blog I enjoy, suggests measuring the ingredients by weight if the batter comes out too runny.  So perhaps that’s what I’ll try next.