Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It Would Be Worth It

It's tradition in my office for me to bake a cake for any number of occasions. This wasn't my idea, but office harmony is worth a few cakes as far as I'm concerned.

One such occasion was yesterday. Over the years I've learned to just bring the frosting to the office and frost there. Trying to transport a decorated (ha!) cake brings me to the verge of breakdown. Not that transporting cake, frosting, and all my crap on the train is any picnic, but still.

The cake almost didn't make it yesterday. It's not that I nearly dropped it, it's that I nearly offered it to a fellow passenger if he would promise to never, ever again wear socks with flip-flops. But I restrained myself....

The requested carrot cake was a hit. No one in my office is on Weight Watchers, so far as I know, I just used the recipe because it's the best carrot cake recipe I've found. It's not health food, but it's not nearly as waistline-impacting as regular carrot cake. And it's FAB!

Carrot Cake
Weight Watchers magazine, 2006

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

1/2 cup dried apricots
3 TBSP hot water

2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
4 large carrots, shredded (2 1/2 cups) - DO NOT use bagged, pre-shredded carrot. It will be way too dry.
1/2 cup apple butter
1/3 cup canola oil

12 oz. light cream cheese (Neufachtel)
One 7.5 oz. jar marshmallow fluff (I could only find 7-oz. jars - it worked fine)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray, line the bottoms with parchment or wax paper, and spray the paper.

Combine the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and baking soda in a bowl.

Put the apricots and hot water in a food processor (I use a mini-chopper) and process until finely chopped and well combined.

Whisk the eggs and egg whites together. Add carrots, apple butter, oil, and apricots, stirring until blended. Spread the batter evenly in the pans. Bake until nicely browned, 30 - 32 minutes. Let cool in the pans for 15 minutes, then remove from pans, remove paper, and cool on wire racks.

To make the frosting, combine the marshmallow fluff, cream cheese, and vanilla (I also throw in a dash or two of cinnamon) with an electric mixer on medium speed.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What I Did Over My Summer Vacation

I embraced the Staycation. There's a lot to be said for sleeping in, having a leisurely breakfast, and taking a stroll through the gorgeous Botanical Gardens. They've set up an edible garden with an outdoor kitchen for cooking classes (cough, SHOW-OFFS, cough). Seriously, props to the Gardens for growing a tremendous amount of produce and donating it to the Atlanta Food Bank.

Might I mention that we got 3 tomatoes, numerous baby squash (they never grew to full-size - why????), and a decent array of herbs from our own patch o'dirt? And yes, I know I should compost. I KNOW. But if I take on one more ongoing responsibility I. Will. Scream.

It was also the summer that Friday became PieDay. Sweetie (my hubs) and Cutie (our niece) share a deep and abiding love for pie. [Note: Cutie has been known to climb in my car and say "What's for pie?"] Sweetie makes some seriously kick-ass pie due in no small part to having learned from his grandfather, a chef. Cutie is an enthusiastic apprentice. Their preferred Key Lime Pie recipe will be a future post.

My own favorite recipes, at least for weeknights, are those that don't require a lot of work. Sorry if that takes the blush off the rose for a cooking blog, but there you have it. There's still some decent corn on the cob out there - enjoy!

And a big shout-out to this fab website that tells you what fish you can substitute for what other fish. This is particularly helpful if you're trying to eat locally or, like me, trying to substitute something - anything! - for the $19/lb fish some recipes call for.

Flounder With Corn & Tomatoes
Good Housekeeping, September 2011

Makes 4 servings (recipe is easily halved or doubled)

2 c. fresh corn kernels (plan on 1/2 to 1 ear per person) - for presentation, I prefer yellow corn to white for this recipe. It adds a nice contrast with the greens and the white fish.

1/4 c. sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (call it half a handful for 2 people)

1 tsp. freshly grated lemon peel (I wasn't buying a lemon just for this. I used a squirt of bottled lemon juice)

4 (3-oz.) skinless flounder fillets

1 small leek, white part only, well-rinsed, cut into matchsticks (they were crazy-expensive at the Farmer's market, so I subbed in regular green onions/scallions. Don't substitute regular onion, it will be too strong.)

4 sprigs fresh thyme (yay! my garden!!!!). A light sprinkle of dried thyme will also work.

8 tsp. dry white wine

2 tsp extra virgin olive oil (don't buy olive oil just for this recipe. Use it if you have it but if you don't, regular canola or vegetable oil will work just fine)

8 oz. spinach (2 handfuls per person)

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

2. In bowl, mix corn, tomatoes, peel (or juice), and a dash of salt & pepper.

3. On 12" by 15" or parchment or foil (either will work great - I used foil), arrange 1/4 of the vegetables (or 1/2 if you're cooking for 2) on 1 side. Fold 1 fish fillet into thirds (if it's large; mine were small, so I laid them flat). Place on top of corn/tomato mixture.

Top with 1/4 of leek, 1 sprig thyme, 2 teaspoons wine, 1/2 teaspoon oil, and a pinch of salt. [Much easier - combine leek, wine, and oil and just divide it evenly over the packets of fish.] Fold the other side of the parchment or foil over the fish. Starting at 1 corner, fold edges over 1/2 inch all around, overlapping folds until sealed.

[Note: Be sure to leave enough room in the packet for steam. The steam is what cooks the fish & veggies and the fish comes out fabulous moist and beautifully cooked. If the packet is too tightly wrapped it may pop due to the pressure from the steam. And in that case, neither "fabulous" nor "beautifully" applies.]

Repeat to make remaining packets. Bake, on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan, 15 minutes.

4. Place spinach in glass bowl; cover with damp paper towel. Microwave on High 2 minutes or until wilted. [I check it every 30 seconds].

5. Open packets; serve with spinach.