Sunday, April 29, 2012

Express Pasta

We are finally at a time in the year when there is still enough daylight to photograph my dinner, and thus, share it with you. I have been making this fast and delicious pasta for several days now. The sauce is done in the time the pasta is cooked. Typically, I cook a batch of the roasted plum vodka marinara sauce and use it for several dishes over the next days; when I am out of the sauce  (and lazy) I have been in love with the Prego Smart Light sauce. I used it as a base and add essentials: some butter, capers, fresh garlic, a third of a hot cherry pepper and creme fraiche. A stripped down puttanesca sauce. Mushroom, even leeks, add a nice texture. The taste is perfection to me. Here is the recipe.


Express Pasta (1 serving)

  • 1/2 ts butter
  • 2-3 large baby portabella mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 TB small capers (and a bit of the brine)
  • 1/3 of a cherry hot pepper (finely chopped)
  • 1/3 cup salt-free canned tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup home-made or store-bought marinara sauce
  • 1 garlic clove, microplaned
  • 1/2 ts creme fraiche
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 2 oz of Penne

Cook pasta according to instructions.

In a saute pan, heat the butter and add the mushroom, capers and hot pepper, and saute until the mushroom are browned. Add the canned tomatoes  and the tomato sauce, and mix all the ingredients and saute for ca. 2 more minutes. Add the garlic, pepper and the creme fraiche, mix well, and turn down the heat. Once the pasta is al dente, drain and add to the saute pan. Mix all ingredients and serve with goat cheese crumbles.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Grilled leeks

I am finally done with most of my work. Wheeee! I guess the relief will come when I catch my breath again. The outlook is good, less work plus summer. Today’s lunch was on the indoor grill --- a frozen organic free-range local chicken thigh from the FM from last year which I found  in the freezer and “new” corn from Mexico (I could not resist although it is not local). The rest was zucchini and mushroom and a salad with strawberries. As a good vegan I shared the chicken thigh with my cats. One loved it, the other passed it up after some more sniffing it out. Cats.


BTW, leeks are great when grilled. Instead of any sharp onion taste, they get soft and literally sweet, really good.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Chocolate glazed Hazelnut Cake (the recipe)

The verdict is in: “Silvia, your best one yet!” Word of mouth travelled fast today at work, and by 2:30pm there was not much left of the hazelnut cake. I had even cut myself 2 slices to save for later, which I rarely do because as usual I bake a mini-cake for myself (but it was without the glaze!). 

I agree, this is wonderful cake which I have loved since childhood, but I must give credit solely to my late aunt’s recipe. She is really my mom’s aunt, so more like a grand-aunt to me. She would be 100 years old this year if she would be still alive, but I am sure she still watches closely when I make this cake. I am also sure she was delighted today to see that her recipe has still so many (new) fans and happy bellies. She was a proud, accomplished baker, and her cakes are legendary.  

I must note that the ‘it’ factor of this cake is also due to a uniquely spiced Austrian rum, the Strohrum, which my aunt always used and I use, too. The cake is just not the same without it. Typically, I buy the rum over the internet (e.g. It is not cheap, it is also 180 proof (but there are lower proof versions, which work just as well, it is really the spiced taste of the rum that makes the difference --- anyone who ever skied in the Austrian Alps will have had this rum in the “Grog” that is served in the ski huts). The rum lasts a long time and it is my secret weapon for many baked goods, chocolate mousses, and mulled wine in the winter. 

So here it is, my Aunt Jenny’s hazelnut cake recipe.


Aunt Jenny’s Hazelnut Cake
  • 200 g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 250 g organic cane sugar
  • 4 very large or 5 large free-range organic eggs, at room temperature
  • a pinch of salt
  • 200 g hazelnut meal (finely ground hazelnuts)
  • 100 g bittersweet dark chocolate, grated or chopped into tiny cubes
  • 2 TB Strohrum (or 3 TB warm milk)
  • 2 TB warm milk
  • 1 ts vanilla extract
  • 250g all-purpose flour
  • 1 ts baking powder
Preheat the oven to 360F. Spray a baking form (bundt cake pan or a large enough rectangular bread loaf pan) with baking spray. Set aside. 

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment whisk the butter and the sugar until well-combined and slightly foamy. Add one egg at a time and combine well. Add the pinch of salt, the rum, the vanilla and the milk, and let it be whisked together. Now, add the hazelnut meal, large spoonfuls at a time, and let it combine with the standmixer continuously running. Once all the hazelnut meal is integrated, add the grated chocolate. 

Mix the flour with the baking powder, and turn off the standmixer. Then add in a 1/4 of the flour. Turn on the mixer on very slow until the flour is integrated in and turn in the speed to the 2-3 setting. Add in all the flour this way, but avoid over mixing.

Fill the batter into the cake pan, and bake at 360F for ca 55min. Let the cake cool in the cake pan for 15min, then gently flip on a cooling rack, and let cool completely. 


Home-made chocolate glaze:
  • 200 gr bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 4 TB unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup confectioners sugar
  • 2 tablespoons warm milk
  • 1 TB Strohrum
  • 1 ts vanilla
Pour the chocolate chips in a glass bowl or a ceramic bowl, and set it over a pot with boiling water on the stove (the bowl should not touch the water!). Stir continuously until the chocolate chips start to melt. Add in the butter, and melt it with the chocolate chips. Once it is all a creamy, lump-free consistency, add in the milk, the rum and the vanilla extract. Once incorporated, take the bowl off the pot, and continue to stir while adding in the confectioners sugar. Keep stirring. Place the cooled cake on a baking rack on top of a baking sheet lined with paper, and using a brush generously “paint” the cake with the chocolate glaze. The glaze will thicken when cooled, and it is great to have a 1/4 of an inch thick glaze on the cake.
Let cool and dry for about 4-5h before serving. The cake actually tastes better with time; at the beginning it is dry and light and slightly crumbly, and after a week it becomes moist with an intense nutty flavor. It should be stored cool and airtight.  


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Chocolate glazed Hazelnut Cake

It is a dreary, cold, rainy Sunday, and what better to do on a day like that than baking a comforting cake (aren’t all cakes comforting?) . I used my late aunt’s recipe for one my childhood favorites: a hazelnut-chocolate cake. Today, I glazed it  and it looks luxurious (I will post the recipe later).

Now, I am watching “The Help” for the second time. Although it is beautifully filmed and true to book the racism of the time just makes me sad. I listened to the audiobook version last summer, and I remember the sweetness of Abileene talking to Mo-mogli, and the funny parts that made me laugh out loud, and the scary parts of writing a socially critical book, the role confinement of women at the time and, yes, the racism.  It is hard to believe that all this happened only 40 years ago.


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Sandwich Symphony

It is a working weekend once again, although the weather is wonderful, warm, sunny, spring-like. Alas, life. I rather be on the coast. The sandwich was good, though: portabella, spinach, onion, roasted red pepper and hummus. I think every sandwich is better with hummus. My new favorite ingredient. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

My first cupcake

Hard to believe, but I never baked cupcakes before. What is the difference between muffins and cupcakes? Cupcakes have a sweet creamy frosting, but muffins not? So, maybe it is still not even a real cupcake ;-)

Nevertheless, today I took Giada’s di Laurentiis strawberry jam filled cupcake recipe she linked to on twitter (Jade’s favorite Easter treat) and got started. Loved that it has quinoa flour as ingredient, and Giada is pretty reliable with the quality of her recipe (or also Ina Garten). However, half of the batter I used to make tiny tea cakes. This was another adventure; I had bought this beautiful pan years ago but so far I had no succeeded to actually get tea cakes out of the pan (they always got stuck). This time it finally worked! However, the impressions on the tea cakes are still not pronounced. But, at lest they came out and they taste very good. Progress. The other half of the batter became the original cupcakes. Not sure if I add frosting. Eating a cupcake is already going like into sugar overdrive. Nevertheless, I proudly present my first cupcake!


Tea cakes / cupcakes (make 24 tea cakes and 6 cup cakes): (adapted from link)

  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup quinoa flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1 stick butter, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • ½ cup whole milk, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ⅓ + 6 ts cup strawberry fruit spread or jam

Frosting (optional)

  • 1/2 stick butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 TB whole milk, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoons strawberry fruit spread or jam

Mini Teacakes and Cupcakes

Place an oven rack in the center of the oven and reheat the oven to 360 degrees F. Spray a teacake pan liberally with baking spray (combination of oil and flour) and set aside. Line a 6-cup muffin pan with paper liners and set aside.
Whisk together the flours, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In a stand mixer, add the butter and sugar and beat on medium speed until well combined and fluffy. Add the eggs, milk, vanilla and strawberry jam and combine well. Spoon-wise add the dry ingredients on low speed of the stand mixer, and mix until just blended. Spoon half of the batter into the prepared tea cake pan, and fill each tea cake about 3/4. Bake at 360F for 15 min. Remove from oven, and cool for 2 min. Remove from the pan. Let cool and dust with confectioners sugar.

Use the prepared muffin pan and fill each cup with ca. 2 tablespoons of batter. Spoon 1 teaspoon of the strawberry fruit spread into the center of the batter of each cupcake. Spoon the remaining batter on top to cover the fruit spread completely. Bake until puffed and the cake springs back when touched, 15 to 17 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely, about 30 minutes.


Beat the butter in a medium bowl until light and smooth, using stand mixer. Beat in 2 cups of the powdered sugar, milk and vanilla until smooth and creamy. Stir the strawberry fruit spread and the remaining 3/4 cup powdered sugar into the other bowl of frosting and stir until smooth. Frost the tops of the cupcakes with strawberry frosting using a small spatula. Allow the frosting to set for 20 minutes before serving.


Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday Salad

Not sure why it is called “Good Friday”. Good? More like “bad Friday”. Well, J. had a bad day (some millenia ago) and me, too, because in some martyr stance this morning I decided this would be the day to do my taxes. Gah. At least the lunch salad was inspired by the Easter weekend ahead, with a big fried organic free-range happy sunny side up egg. And some green onions that are already growing in my kitchen, in the onion basket.

If you want to see even happier eggs (aka live peeps) check out Jaden’s post.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Stout chocolate cake 2.0

After my success with the first version of the stout chocolate cake, I made another one last weekend. Unfortunately, contrary to the first one the second cake came out bland and soggy. I scratched my head --- what had gone wrong? Did I underbake it? For the second cake I had completely followed Heidi’s recipe but for the first one I had improvised and added my own tweaks. So, how to recreate my original version? After some thorough analysis and inspecting the photos for additional clues I was able to recreate the cake.

Changes: I had added a few ingredients to bring out the chocolate flour, such as espresso powder. It is also important to simmer the beer, butter, cacao powder and espresso powder together on very low for about 15min. I do not reduce the mixture to half of the original 2 cups of stout, but with all ingredients, including butter and chocolate, I still have 2 cups of liquid. To make up for the extra liquid, I add an extra 1/2 cup of flour. Also, I only use all-purpose flour since it just rises better than whole wheat in my experience. Instead of 340ml yogurt, I only use 170ml (1 container). I also add molasses and vanilla extract. This time I followed my original recipe, and the cakes were rising well in the oven, and the texture is light, yet moist, again and only lightly sweet but chocolate-ly taste is back. I am always amazed that slight changes can make such huge differences in flavor and texture, when baking. It is an art and a science.

So, here it is, stout chocolate cake, 2.0. Enjoy!


Stout chocolate cake, 2.0


  • 2 cups St. Pete’s cream stout beer, reduced only to 1 1/2 cups of stout
  • 8 tablespoons/1 stick of unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup Dagoba authentic cocoa powder
  • 1 TB instant Megdalia d’oro espresso powder
  • 2 1/2 cup King Arthur Flour all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 140 ml Brown Cow Maple cream top yogurt (1 container)
  • 3/4 cup Maine maple syrup (I use the whole foods brand and Stonewall kitchen)
  • 1/2 TB vanilla extract
  • 1/2 TB organic black strap molasses

Chocolate Buttermilk Icing:

  • 3/4 cup / 2.75 oz / 75 g powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup / 25g natural cocoa powder (non-dutched)
  • 2 tablespoons buttermilk
  • flaky sea salt, to serve

Preheat oven to 360F, with a rack in the center. Spray a regular sized and a small bundt cake pan with baking spray. If you use another cake pans, just make sure to avoid filling the pan(s) more than 2/3 - 3/4 full. Adjust the baking time as well - baking until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, and the center tests clean when you insert a knife.

In a saucepan simmer the 2 cups of beer down to 1 1/2 cup. Add in the stick of butter cut into pieces, and whisk in the chocolate powder and the espresso powder. Continue simmering on very low for another 15 min. The mixture develops a strong, rich chocolate aroma (make sure to not to scorch it by simmering on too high). Remove from heat, measure that it makes 2 cups, and let cool.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a standmixer with the paddle attachment, combine the eggs, yogurt, and maple syrup. Mix until nicely blended and uniform in appearance. Gradually add the (cooled) stout mixture, while still mixing. Add the flour mixture, tablespoon by tablespoon/

Transfer the batter to the prepared pans and bake for 45 minutes if using the bundt pan. You really don't want to over bake this cake - err on the slightly moist side if anything. Remove from the oven, and turn out onto a cooling rack after seven minutes.
Once the cake is completely cooled, whisk the icing by combining the powdered sugar, cocoa, and buttermilk. The icing should end up smooth and creamy looking. Run the icing around the top with an offset spatula and let it set.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bundt cake hunt

Yesterday I had planned to do my taxes and some work; then the weather turned out nice and I changed plans: antique hunting for a bundt cake pan along the coast; it was a nice day for a drive. Coastal Maine is full of antique stores and road-side flea markets and with my new search focus I was eager to visit them again. After I filled my car with gas, I waivered on the plans. ”That’s gonna be an expensive bundt cake pan….”. In the end I decided to start with the local antique stores and get some work done, basically stay local for the day. Much to my delight I found almost exactly what I was looking in the second store: a beautiful bundt cake pan in good shape and…..  it was only $7. I was almost giddy with excitement. I also found a pretty old muffin pan in another store. It rounded out the beautiful day. 


This morning, I woke up to warm sunshine and the day started out with my first outdoor run for the year. Although, it felt chilly when I started, a sleeveless jog felt perfect on the way back. Naturally, I was curious how a bundt cake would look like made in the new (0ld) pan, and due to the great feedback at work of the ‘manly’ chocolate stout cake I had  brought 2 weeks again, I decided to make another one. 

I soaped and scrubbed the pan, and started thinking who might have baked cakes with it before? A happy grandmother for her family? Was it passed down through generations? What had it seen? Which families? Which kitchens? Which cakes were baked? The bundt cake pan could easily be from 1910 and so it could have seen a lot. 

It made me smile. 


As usual I made a big cake and 2 small ones (for taste test  before I hand it to the crowds, or not), and the cake turned out great. This time I used a chocolate stout that I picked up at Trader Joes last week and made the original glaze with confectioner’s sugar, cacao and yogurt. 

There is not much left of the little cake.