Well hello there! Long time no see! Happy New Year! I am happy to be back with you and back to bookcooker. I apologize for my long absence - no good excuse really - lack of inspiration, lack of time, too much work, life etc...The important thing is I am back, ready to start 2015 with a bang and a blog post! I resolve to blog more this year, this will be helped by an awesome new camera I was lucky to get as an Xmas gift that has inspired me to get back at it! Starting the year with a visit with Ina Garten. Now as I posted previously, I clearly have a cookbook problem with 200+ cookbooks in my home. A good little chunk of this problem is with Ina Garten books. I have every single on her books, which I think is 9 now? There is just something about Ina - her personality, her style, her food and her adorable husband Jeffrey that I find irresistible. I have cooked out of all 9 of these cookbooks, and you know what? Not one recipe has failed. Not one recipe has been too complicated. And not one recipe has been "meh." I will admit her recipes, after 9 books, can seem a bit formulaic - but it clearly a formula that works, so who am I to question? For this post I am starting with Ina's newest book - Make it Ahead. One thing I have noticed in that some of Ina's later cookbooks there is a bit of repetition and some of the recipes seem a tad uninspired. But even in these books there is loads of great recipes to make, all a combination of accessible and special. The theme of this Make it Ahead book is obviously recipes you can make ahead of time. I am not sure how well this theme really drives the book - but like I said, there are loads of great recipes in there. I made all of them before I ate them ; ), but not anymore than 1 day before I ate them - so not that "make ahead." The three recipes I made are a good example of the end of December to beginning of January trajectory many of us are on: a festive mocha cake (end of December) to a quinoa tabbouleh (beginning of January) with a homemade ricotta somewhere in the middle of a celebration excess and cleanse diet mentality. All were easy, all were delicious, with perhaps the homemade ricotta as a standout - such minimal effort, such incredible reward!
Chocolate Cake with Mocha Frosting
While this cake turned out really well, my version does not look quite as delicious as the picture in Ina's book. So I was a little disappointed with the look, but the taste was really spot on. This was an easy cake and a great choice when you have to feed a lot, as it is made in a 9 x 13 pan.
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), at room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla
3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2/3 cup very hot tap water
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
2/3 cup half and half
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced, at room temperature
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon Kahlua
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Grease a 9 x 13 x 2-inch baking pan. Line with parchment paper and then grease and flour the pan.
- Place butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 4 to 5 minutes until light and fluffy.
- One medium speed, add vanilla, then beat in the eggs until incorporated and the batter is smooth.
- Sift the flour, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl.
- In another bowl or a liquid measuring cup, whisk together the hot water, cocoa powder, and espresso powder. Add the half-and-half and which until smooth.
- With the mixer on low, add the flour and chocolate mixtures alternatively in thirds, starting and ending with the flour. Mix until just combined.
- Pour the batter in the prepared pan, smooth the top and bake for 25 to 35 minutes until a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clear.
- Cool completely in the pan, then turn out onto a flat platter or board and let cool.
- To make frosting: place the chocolate, butter, and espresso powder in a bowl.
- Heat the cream to simmer and pour it over the chocolate mixture, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted. (You can microwave the chocolate if it isn't melted).
- Stir in the Kahlua and vanilla and stir until mixture is smooth.
- Cover frosting and refrigerate for 30 minutes only, until cool but not cold.
- After 30 minutes, beat the frosting with either a handheld mixture or in a standing mixture with whisk attachment until it forms soft peaks - about 15 - 20 minutes.
- Spread on the cake immediately.
On the other end of the health spectrum as that chocolate cake, here is this delicious Quinoa Tabbouleh. This is the perfect make ahead lunch to get you back on track in the new year. The substitution of quinoa for the traditional Bulgar is great, upping the protein content of this salad. The addition of feta makes this a less healthy but a little more irresistible.
1 cup quinoa
salt and pepper
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 cup thinly sliced scallions, white and green part
1 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded and mdeium-diced
2 cups cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 cups medium-diced feta
- Combine 1 cup of quinoa, 2 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Bring heat down to low, cover and let simmer for 20 minutes.
- Transfer the quinoa to a medium bowl (drain if necessary), add the lemon juice, olive oil and another teaspoon of salt.
- Add all of the other ingredients and mix to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Let sit in the fridge a bit before eating to let the flavors develop
Here is the simplest recipe and the real showstopper. I love, love fresh ricotta, but am always a bit dismayed by how much it costs at the grocery store. I will never buy it again! All it takes to make this ricotta is milk, cream and vinegar. That is it. It could not be easier. I will be doing this a lot more often. I have served it below as Ina recommends with raspberries, almonds and maple syrup as a breakfast treat (yogurt will never be as appealing...)
4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- Set a medium-mesh sieve over a deep bowl. Line the sieve with two double lawyers of cheesecloth and dampen the cheesecloth.
- Pour the milk and cream into a large pot and stir in the salt. Ina suggests a stainless-steel or enameled pot, such a Le Creuset. I used a regular nonstick sauce pan and it worked a-ok.
- Bring to a full rolling boil over medium heat, stirring occassionally. Watch carefully or the milk mixture will boil over.
- Once the mixture boils, turn off the heat and add the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand one minute, until it curdles (magic!)
- Pour the mixture into the cheesecloth lined sieve and allow to drain in the bowl. Allow the mixture to drain for 20 - 25 minutes. The longer you drain, the thicker the cheese will be.
- Transfer ricotta to another bowl, discarding any liquid and the cheesecloth.
- Cover with plastic and refrigerate or use immediately.