Tuesday, December 31, 2013

black-eyed pea cakes

It's the last day of 2013.  I normally feel weird and fussy on December 31, looking back over the year and inventing things I should've done more/less/differently.  This year I feel content.  I did my best.  Maybe that's the blessing of getting older, wiser, gentler on yourself.  I hope you feel content today. 

One of the many gifts of this year was in friendships, and I've learned to cook (you might have noticed) for friends with special diets, especially gluten-free and dairy-free regimens.

They say you're supposed to eat hoppin john for good luck in the new year.  As far as I can tell, that's just a spoonful of black-eyed peas.  I don't know anyone who does that.  Nothing against black-eyed peas.  I'm from the South, after all, and that's a legit vegetable.  (I also love pink-eyed or pink lady peas, if you can find those in your supermarket.)

What's better, and what can be modified to suit almost any diet, is black-eyed pea cakes.  They are hearty enough to serve as a vegetarian entree and flexible enough to modify for appetizers.  I've done both.  This recipe is as friendly as they come-- Try substituting ingredients you love.  What you are looking for is a semi-chunky, slightly wet patty before you fry.  Don't overprocess or it will be pasty.

This recipe grew out of modifications to suit the diet of a gluten-intolerant friend with an infant with even more rigorous restrictions.  It's vegetarian and uses garbanzo bean flour instead of all-purpose flour.  You can find garbanzo bean flour (made from chick peas) in most grocery stores now, if you poke around, or at Whole Foods and speciality stores.  It has a flavor and texture that work well in this recipe and doesn't get gummy the way regular flour might. 

Have a glass of champagne and toast to your best in 2013.  I'm so excited to cook for you next year.  The recipe for black-eyed pea cakes follows.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

brown sugar and spice pound cake

I have a favorite holiday tradition with a dear friend who lives nearby.  For years we've gathered on a Saturday in December to bake and catch up on the year.  

Usually cookies, but not always.  Sometimes it's sugar cookies from the roll or from scratch. Sometimes the recipes turn out great; sometimes utter disasters (like my caramels that never set up-- soft ball candy thermometer-watching is probably not the best to do while gabbing and distracted). Sometimes a family recipe, like my great-grandmother's pecan balls, which came out a little lot dry.  Sometimes something goofy. 

Sometimes it snows and it's magic.  

This year, this morning, we met at my house and I picked the most low-stakes recipe I could think of:  dog cookies.  We are tired.  And it wasn't snowing.  It was 70 degrees outside.  Maybe not the most holiday spirit we've enjoyed on our baking day.  But it was special to be together and going through the motions just the same, because we always do, because we are friends, because it's Christmas. 

My dog cookies turned out fine, or at least our dogs think so.  And they are great for gifting in mason jars tied up with string.  I'll share the recipe with you below. 

Saturday morning went by fast and we were on to the errands and routines of the day.  But I paused, while the kitchen was covered with flour and my apron was on, and baked a while longer by myself.  I was grateful for the reminder that we are still friends ten years later, still healthy, still able, with more days and experiences to connect us now. 

My neighbors will be the beneficiaries of this meditative project-- miniature brown sugar and spice pound cakes.  But the recipe bakes well in a full-size tube pan or two loaf pans, if that's what you prefer.  They are dense and moist like a pound cake should be, with bright lemon and cardamom flavor.  

Share them with a friend you haven't seen in a while.  Enjoy a quiet moment in the kitchen by yourself. Maybe start a new tradition. 

The recipes for giftable dog cookies and brown sugar and spice pound cake (for humans) are after the jump.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

unbelievable carrot cake

This cake will make you more popular.

Am I exaggerating?  Probably not.  Great carrot cake is hard to find.  This one is unbelievable.  Moist, flavorful, not heavy or greasy.  It once prompted a coworker to take a picture of me holding the rest of the cake after he ate a slice.

But, if I'm being fair, it might be the cream cheese frosting.

Before I get ahead of myself, let's talk about layers.  This cake recipe works well as 2 9-inch layers, with enough frosting to cover it completely.  Or it will work just as well for my preferred arrangement:  3 8-inch layers, stacked with frosting in between and the edges exposed.  I think the stacks are darling and this arrangement accomplishes the perfect distribution of frosting.

A few words about the carrots:  Scrub, peel, and grate by hand.  I know it's a pain.  I'll tell you why you should do it.  Scrubbing prevents any dirt, germs, and impurities from invading your cake, obviously.  Peeling removes the fibrous skin on the outside of the carrot, which can affect texture and turn to ugly greenish flecks in your cake while you're baking.  Grating by hand preserves moist texture and eliminates unwelcome toothsome chunks in your cake.  And it's probably easier than cleaning the food processor anyway.

I've spent enough time talking about the bad stuff you want to avoid.  Let's celebrate how incredibly easy this recipe is once you've grated had someone else grate those carrots.

The rest, truly, is a handful of baking essentials you have in your pantry, spices, plus your new best friend unsweetened applesauce.  The applesauce subs in for some of the oil you'll find in traditional carrot cake recipes.  It adds all the moisture without any of the weight.  Not to mention the grease or fat that are only worth it when, well, they arrive in something like cream cheese frosting. (More on that later.)  Maybe I'm not being clear:  the applesauce is better than the oil.  It's not just a healthy substitute.  If you don't have any on hand, it will cost you 2 dollars at the grocery store.  Totally worth it.

Don't forget the ground ginger taking the place of cinnamon's ordinary holiday companion, nutmeg.  The result is warmer, friendlier, and more flavorful.

As for the frosting, I've nailed my own version of cream cheese frosting with two packages cheese to one stick butter.  The ratio works.  The cake is unbelievable.  Your popularity is imminent.  Are you sure you want to do this?  The recipe follows.