Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary and Dark Chocolate (and Orange Mascarpone Frosting, if you like)

There are a lot of ways that you can try to dichotomize people- Right-Brained vs. Left-Brained.  Introverts vs. Extroverts.  Cat-People vs. Dog-People.  (For a while I thought maybe I was an all-around “Animal-Person”, but after much consideration I have come to the conclusion that I am truly a Cat-Person who happens to like some dogs.)

One category that has always baffled me are the people who claim that they are “not a dessert person”.  As someone who, in an ideal world, would conclude every meal with at least a little something sweet, I have a hard time relating to people who claim to never be tempted by ice cream, chocolate, or baked goods.

As I have gotten older, though, my sweet-tooth has developed a more refined palate.  Although there are still a few super-sugary treats I have a hard time resisting (i.e., Dunkin Donuts or Cadbury Creme Eggs), the desserts I really appreciate are the ones that have a lighter touch with the sugar.  Strawberries with balsamic and basil, for instance.

Or this Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary and Dark Chocolate.  I think this is a cake that even the self-proclaimed non-dessert people would like.  It’s not too rich or too sweet, has a nice graininess from the spelt flour, and the rosemary is fragrant and earthy.

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I followed the recipe exactly, so just follow the link above over to The Vanilla Bean Blog.  While you’re over there, spend some time perusing all the delicious-looking recipes.

A technical note: The recipe calls for using a 9 1/2 inch fluted tart pan.  If you are wondering if you can get away with using a 9-inch tart pan, the answer is yes, but the cake will rise above the edge and bake over the side a little bit.  Absolutely no effect on the taste, just not quite as neat, if you’re concerned with such things.  You can also use a springform cake pan with higher sides; you won’t get the pretty fluted edge, but you don’t have to worry about overflow.

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If you are wanting something fancier, you can top the cake with an orange-scented mascarpone frosting, which makes it a little more decadent but still not over-the-top.   I did this for Mother’s Day, and no one complained.  If you should choose to do so…

  • While the cake is cooling, combine 1 pound mascarpone cheese, 1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream, 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar, and 1 teaspoon grated orange zest (or a little more, if preferred) in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Use the paddle attachment to beat at high speed, until soft peaks form- about 60-90 seconds.
  • Spread frosting on the top (and sides, if you like) of the cooled cake.  This recipe will yield way more frosting than you will need for the cake, but I’m sure you can find a way to use it up.  I’m thinking it would be lovely with ginger snaps or graham crackers….
  • Keep frosted cake chilled and serve within a few hours.

With or without frosting, leftovers of this cake (if there are any) are wonderful for breakfast.

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Trying to Get Some Procrastination Out of My System

What I Need to Be Doing Right Now:

  • Grading my 89 students’ papers
  • Finalizing lectures for tomorrow and Wednesday
  • Preparing for my dissertation proposal meeting on Tuesday
  • Preparing the materials to submit to the Institutional Review Board, pending my dissertation proposal’s approval on Tuesday
  • Cleaning every square inch of this apartment

What I Want to Be Doing Right Now:

  • Baking chocolate chip cookies to test out the Smoked Chocolate Chips I got from MOUTH.com
  • Taking advantage of Nick being out of the house on a Sunday and using his turntable
  • Anything outside in the sunshine
  • Planning a menu for Mother’s Day
  • Shopping for new shoes for summer
  • Playing with these guys

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What I Am Doing Right Now:

  • Absolutely nothing worth noting

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Brown Butter & Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies

I suppose it doesn’t need to be stated that we’ve had a lot of snow this winter.  Every time it has snowed, my Facebook feed has been taken over by posts about people cooking hearty stews and baking dozens of cookies, cinnamon rolls, and donuts.  And every time there has been a forecast for snow, and I’ve joined the crazed masses at the grocery store to stock up for the next Snowpocalypse, I have deliberately avoided buying supplies to bake.  As lazy and inactive as I have felt this winter, I’ve been trying – with varying success week-to-week – to been eating less, especially less sweets.

But a girl can only go through so many snowstorms in one winter before she has to give in to the urge to bake.  And I apparently reached my limit this weekend when word spread about the next storm to hit Maryland today.  I figured (perhaps wishful thinking) that this will be the last snowy excuse I have to bake this year.  And ever since I made these Salty Chocolate Chunk Cookies at Christmas, I’ve been wanting to experiment a bit more with chocolate chip cookies.  Don’t get me wrong- those were great.  But I received Joy the Baker‘s cookbook for Christmas, and saw her recipe for Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies and thought, “What if I made those and just sprinkled a little Maldon sea salt on top?”

So while I watched the snowflakes fall outside today, I spent some time sprinkling flakes of sea salt on top of balls of cookie dough.  Nick and I are pretty sure the end product is the finest cookie I have baked to date.

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I was going to type up the recipe from the cookbook, but I just discovered that Joy has the recipe on her blog right here.  It’s a little different than the version in the book, but since she posted it after the book came out, I’m going to assume this version is new and improved.  She even added a step of topping them with sea salt.  Great minds think alike.  chocchipcookies2

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Garlic Shrimp and White Beans (and the Best Kale Ever)

The past couple weeks have been full of exciting discoveries.  I figured out how to replace a headlight (a tricky thing with a Mazda), which completely trumped my sense of accomplishment regarding the back light replacement.  Because my car repair self-efficacy is fairly low, I recruited my brother-in-law for moral support, but really, I did it myself.

Even more exciting, and more relevant here, I found out that our big cast iron skillet fits in the broiler of our oven, and I found my new favorite kale recipe.  I’m guessing you’re more interested in hearing about these things.

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The cast iron skillet discovery came in handy for this Bon Appetit recipe for Garlic Shrimp and White Beans.  I followed the recipe almost exactly, but I do have a few comments (don’t I always?)

  • I used a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes rather than fresh chopped tomatoes.  Who wants to buy fresh tomatoes in February?  This did make it a little more liquidy, but this wasn’t a problem with me since I had some delicious sourdough bread to soak it up.
  • Next time I think I would squeeze a little lemon juice over the shrimp just before serving.  It could use a little citrus-y brightness.
  • I don’t think the last two tablespoons of olive oil (drizzled on the shrimp after broiling) are really necessary.  (Although if you had a citrus-infused olive oil, that might work well instead of just using lemon juice).

Generally, this was a really tasty recipe that came together easily and quickly, and reheated well for lunch.

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And now, the kale.  This is ridiculously simple, and not that different from how I have cooked it in the past, but this particular formula seems to be magical in creating a pile of greens that I would never tire of.  It is fully endorsed by Nick, too.  Thank you, Alice Waters.

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Sauteed Kale with Garlic and Vinegar (from Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters; serves 4-6)

2 bunches kale (about 2 pounds), torn and washed (drained, but no need to spin dry)

3 tbsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic

1 or 2 tbsp red wine vinegar

Salt

Heat a large saute pan and add olive oil and just enough kale to cover the bottom of the pan.  Allow these greens to wilt down before adding more.  When all the kale has been added, season with salt, stir in garlic, and cover the pan.  The greens will take anywhere from just a few minutes to 15 minutes to cook, depending on their maturity.  When they are tender, remove the lid and allow any excess water to cook away.  Turn of the heat and stir in the vinegar.

Note: The recipe mentions that most leafy greens can be cooked using this method.  I’ve cooked Swiss chard like this, and indeed, it’s excellent.

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Accomplishments

November has been a productive month.   Well, not in terms of blog writing.  But in the rest of my life, things are getting done.

Most importantly, I submitted my portfolio, which is my program’s version of doctoral comprehensive exams.  It’s basically a sample of the work I have done so far in grad school: an in-depth review of the existing theory and research in my area of interest, and other documents that show that I have actually done something in the last three years: a manuscript submitted for publication, a poster presented at a conference, and a proposal that I submitted to an organization trying to convince them that what I intend to do for my dissertation is worthy of their funding.

So a little over a week ago, I printed out all 100+ pages comprising these documents, and organized them into binders to submit to the faculty members on my committee.  The binder organization was the best part.  It wasn’t until I saw all these printed pages, which contained nothing but words that I had written*, that I realized that, okay, I have done something with my life in the last few years.

I still have to wait several weeks to hear whether what I’ve done these last few years meets the approval of my committee members.  Consequently, I’m hesitant to do too much celebrating quite yet.  But assuming that I do pass, this means that I will advance to candidacy, and need to get going on my dissertation.  We shall see.

Is it odd that changing my own brake light, which I did earlier this month, felt like almost as much of an accomplishment as turning in my portfolio?  Perhaps I should explain.  Nick usually jumps on any sort of at-home car repairs and I usually let him, because, hey, that means I don’t have to do it.  But I like to know that I could do something if I needed to.  Sure, I still needed Nick to stand behind the car and confirm that I fixed the brake light, but I replaced the light bulb myself, dammit.  I swear I felt just as much pride in that moment as when my advisor told me my lit review was complete.

Also, I have a tendency to procrastinate on car-related things.  I almost always request an extension for the emissions inspection, mainly because I forget until the day before the deadline and I don’t have time to go.  I usually have to tape a printed-out temporary registration in my rear window because I waited to renew my registration online until the last day possible.  Once I even registered on time, but didn’t bother to put the new sticker on my license plate until the end of the expiration month.  This was a bad idea because in rushing to take care of it, I didn’t pay attention to all the dirt and salt (it was winter) on the license plate, and surprisingly, the sticker did not stick.

When I talk about things like this, it amazes me that I ever get anything done.

Anyway, the fact that I purchased and installed a new brake light within 24 hours of being pulled over by a state trooper felt like a pretty big accomplishment.  I would also like to note that this is the first time I did not feel like I was on the verge of crying and/or having an anxiety attack when being pulled over by a cop.**  So much growth this month.

Finally, I got a Fitbit.  I’ve learned that my walk from the parking lot to my building on campus is not as substantial as I thought it was.  But two Sundays in a row, Nick and I have gone for hikes and exceeded the goal of 10,000 steps.  This is very unlike us, but we like it and might do more of it.  Given the forecast tomorrow for a high of 33 degrees, I am not sure we’ll make it 3 in a row.  That’s okay, though, because we are seriously behind on figuring out this year’s Christmas card and we should spend some time on that.  Perhaps I’ll get my steps in while wandering through the Goodwill….

*And a handful of tables which I lovingly constructed.

**To be clear, in the 15 or so years that I have been driving, I have gotten pulled over maybe a total of 8 or 9 times, more often for burnt-out lights than for speeding.

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Beer-Glazed Black Beans with Chorizo and Orange

This recipe is the neglected guy friend of the female lead in a romantic comedy. You know the one. The best buddy who secretly pines for the girl while supporting her pursuit of another man who is clearly wrong for her. Then suddenly, after the other man has broken her heart, she sees the best friend in a new light (and probably in a rainstorm). The love of her life was there all along, just waiting patiently by her side for her to figure it out.

So, Beer-Glazed Black Beans, forgive me for taking so long to pay attention to you.  I have flipped past you time after time in search of more exciting recipes – maybe something indulgent with cheese and pasta , or something exotic with coconut milk and fish sauce.  Sometimes maybe I entertained the idea, giving you a glimmer of hope as I paused on your page for a moment until my eyes landed on “chorizo” and I moved on.  Then we lost touch completely, as I loaned my copy of The Food Matters Cookbook to a friend for several months. But then I got you back, and this time, something was different.  Maybe it was my need to spend a Saturday night doing nothing but cooking for myself.  Maybe it was my need to redeem myself for last night’s mac and cheese binge by making a dinner full of fiber and protein. Suddenly, “beer-glazed” didn’t seem weird; it seemed intriguing.  I realized you had citrus and cilantro- a couple of my favorite things. How did I not notice that before? And you yield enough food for a couple dinners this week while stashing the rest away in the freezer for another time.  I have a feeling you’re gonna be in heavy rotation for a while.

I was about to put this in the category of “Vegetarian Dishes That My Husband Actually Likes” but then I realized the chorizo makes this most certainly not vegetarian. (That being said, I think you could come up with a decent veggie-friendly version.)  But that’s what makes this a classic Mark Bittman recipe: the meat adds flavor and depth, but the bulk of the meal is plant-based.

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Bittman notes that you should use a beer that you like, because the flavor comes through.  I actually used a beer that I wasn’t crazy about drinking: Schlafly’s Pumpkin Ale.   It was a little sweet for me, but I figured that the spices would blend well with the chili powder and beans.  Since it was a sweet beer, I cut back the amount of honey from the original recipe. The only dilemma is that I’m not sure what beer I will use next time, since this was a limited release!

Beer-Glazed Black Beans with Chorizo and Orange

(from Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Cookbook)

Makes 4 generous servings, and can be frozen and reheated

1 orange

8 ounces Spanish chorizo, thinly sliced (I used pre-crumbled chorizo)

1 red onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 tablespoon minced garlic

One 12-ounce bottle beer

3 cups cooked or canned black beans, drained

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon honey (or cut back to 1 teaspoon if using a sweeter beer)

Salt and black pepper

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish (or more, if you’re a cilantro fan like I am)

Halve the orange and seed it if necessary. Peel one half, divide the segments and save the rind; squeeze the juice from the other half.

Put the chorizo in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring and turning to brown the slices, for 5 to 10 minutes. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for about a minute. Add the orange rind and juice, beer, beans, chili powder, honey, and salt and pepper.

Adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles steadily and cook until the liquid is slightly reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning as needed. Remove orange rind before serving, and garnish with orange slices and cilantro.

Serve hot over brown rice.  Keeps in the fridge for three days, or in the freezers for several months.blackbeans

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Apple & Cheddar Salad

There has been a lot of rain and gray skies this past week.  The upside: I’m welcoming the arrival of boots-and-sweater weather. The downside: It makes me want to hibernate.

More specifically, it makes me want to EAT ALL THE FOOD.  I have to keep telling myself that it’s not time for my once-a-year Fettuccine Alfredo indulgence. The idea of eating green vegetables is less than exciting, unless they are folded into a casserole of macaroni and cheese.  But vegetables must be eaten.  More exercise must take place, too, but let’s just focus on one thing for right now.

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I committed myself to making a salad today for lunch. I’ve talked before about my special relationship with salads.  I’ve even admitted to being seduced by a salad.  Once again today I was struck by how the process of making a salad makes me feel.  Preparing lunch for myself is different than cooking dinner.  It’s leisurely.  There’s no concern about pleasing anyone else.  This is special Sarah time.  As I was mincing shallots and toasting sliced almonds, I felt like I was engaging in some sort of ritual to take care of myself.  You know in chick flicks when the woman recovers from heartbreak by lighting candles, pouring a glass of wine, and running a bath?  That’s oddly what this felt like.

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The foundation of this salad was a mix of spring greens in my fridge that needed to be used, some apple, and good sharp Cheddar.  It didn’t need much beyond that.  I decided to throw some toasted almonds on there for some extra crunch (and fiber and protein).  When it came to the dressing, I whisked together a tiny bit of minced shallots, Dijon mustard, and apple cider vinegar with some olive oil. Seasoned the greens with salt, tossed in the dressing, topped with the sliced apples, coarsely grated Cheddar, and almonds.

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So, this is pretty much a standard fruit-nut-cheese salad formula.  You could change out the almonds for walnuts or pumpkin seeds, or the cheddar for blue cheese or Gruyere.  I used Ambrosia apples because that’s what I had on hand, but I think Pink Lady or Honeycrisp (my favorites) would work nicely, too.

 

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