Friday, August 29, 2014

Spiced Zucchini Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

 I'd like to take a moment to talk about mutant vegetables. Zucchini, to be more exact.
Around this time of year, food bloggers tend to start a trail of complaints along the lines of, "OMG, I can't even deal with how much zucchini is growing in my backyard and I'm so overwhelmed and it's taking over my kitchen and my life is really hard."
 The thing is, I live in New York City, where if your backyard is big enough to hold one small zucchini, you should consider yourself lucky. So I don't have a whole lot of sympathy.
Above is my dog, lying next to a zucchini we were given by a friend with her own little vegetable patch. Guys, this was one crazy zucchini - it was over a foot long. I didn't even know this ridiculous, genetically outrageous thing was possible in nature. Seriously, what?!
Regardless, I suddenly had a lot more understanding of the complaints popping up on my computer screen constantly, and I decided to tone down my own sass. And that's my life lesson for the day. (Is there even a lesson in there? I don't know. You're welcome anyway.)
This cake is crazy delicious. As in, way better than I ever thought a dessert based on a vegetable could be. (Although to be fair, that's pretty much the only healthy thing about it.) It's full of shredded zucchini, making it really moist, and it's studded with bittersweet chocolate chips. (These make everything better. We've been through this before.) I topped it with a quick cream cheese frosting made with both orange zest and juice (I used a blood orange, but you can use any kind), which adds a nice little pop of flavor to this summery cake.
Enjoy!
Spiced Zucchini Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
(adapted from Emeril Lagasse's Farm to Fork)

for the cake:
3 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups grated unpeeled zucchini
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate)

for the frosting
6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons orange juice
grated zest of one orange

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F, and grease an 8" square cake pan.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs until foamy. Add the vegetable oil, sugar, zucchini, and vanilla extract and mix well. Add the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and baking powder, and mix until well blended. Stir in the chocolate. Pour the batter into the pan, and tap it gently on the counter to release any air bubbles.
Bake until the cake has risen and is golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 5 minutes; then turn it out onto a wire rack to cool.
Once the cake is completely cooled to room temperature, make the frosting. With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until fluffy. Beat in the confectioners' sugar, the orange juice and the orange zest. Add more sugar or juice, until it reaches the desired consistency. Spread on top of cake (if you'd like to frost the sides as well, double the frosting recipe).

Monday, August 11, 2014

Spicy Chocolate Brownies

 Last summer, my dad and I spent three days in Paris. He had been there several times in the past, so he told me that I could plan the trip as I wanted, and he would be happy to follow along. I made sure that we got to all of the usual tourist spots - the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de triomphe, etc. - but also planned our days around p√Ętisseries. I had spent years reading about food bloggers' adventures eating in Paris and had been making a mental list of places to go - so when I got three days to play with, I had to fit in as much as I could!
On our first day, we were walking down a narrow street on our way to lunch and were stopped by a man who offered us a chocolate sample from his little shop. It was a thin dark chocolate bark with chili in it - it wasn't something I would usually go for, but we were in Paris, so why not? Even though his shop wasn't one on my list, he ended up giving us one of the best chocolates we had ever eaten.
 This brownie uses that same combination of dark chocolate and spice. With cinnamon and a hint of cayenne pepper, the chocolate flavor is enhanced, and it makes for a brownie you can't eat just one of. These are more cakey than the usual brownie, but in this case it works surprisingly well; that said, if you want them fudgier, feel free to leave out about 1/4 cup of the flour.
  Enjoy!
Spicy Chocolate Brownies 
(slightly adapted from Food Network Magazine)

2 sticks unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
2 cups brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup good-quality unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon chili powder or cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13 baking dish with butter.
Melt the 2 sticks of butter in a nonstick saucepan over medium-low heat; do not boil. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Add the brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla and stir with a wooden spoon until combined.
Add the cocoa, flour, cinnamon, chili powder, salt, and baking powder and mix until smooth. Spread the batter in the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out mostly clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in the pan on a rack before slicing.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Honey, Lavender, and Vanila Bean Ice Cream

 I got my first "real" job this summer. By "real," I mean doing something other than working as a camp counselor, which, as rewarding as it is, wasn't in my plans this year. Instead, I'm basically spending a couple of weeks doing secretarial work for a family friend who is a doctor; entering his patients' information into an online database and so on.
 While it's not exactly the most challenging job in the world, it's been surprisingly entertaining. Not only have I learned how to spell hundreds of last names I have no idea how to pronounce, I've had the Brandenburg Concertos on as background music more times than I'd care to admit. It also makes me smile every time I'm entering a baby's information, and the parents have listed five or six different emergency contact numbers. (The doctor says he's never once had to use an emergency number, much less six.)
 I try to make the time that I'm not working as "summery" as possible. Last week, I decided that a batch of freshly churned ice cream was in order.
  On their own, honey, lavender, and vanilla beans aren't particularly overwhelming flavors. But when mixed together, some kind of magical taste fairies make them incredibly warm and refreshing at the same time; put this together with smooth, rich ice cream, and you've got quite the summer afternoon ahead of you.
  Enjoy!

 Honey, Lavender, and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
(adapted from The Perfect Scoop)

½ cup good quality honey
¼ cup dried or fresh lavender flowers
seeds from 1 large vanilla bean (scraped out)
1½ cups whole milk
¼ cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1½ cups heavy cream
5 large egg yolks

Heat the honey, 2 tablespoons of the lavender, and the vanilla in a small saucepan.  Once warm, remove from the heat and set aside to steep at room temperature for 1 hour.
Warm the milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan.
Pour the cream in a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top.
Pour the lavender-infused honey into the cream through the strainer, pressing on the lavender flowers to extract as much flavour as possible, then discard the lavender and set the strainer back over the cream.
In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.
Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly to avoid cooking, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.
Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula.
Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons lavender flowers and stir until cool over an ice bath. Chill the mixture overnight in the refrigerator.
The next day, before churning, strain the mixture, again pressing on the lavender flower to extract their flavour.
Discard the flowers, then freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Note: I used vanilla bean-infused honey, so if you happen to have some around, you can use that instead and leave out the fresh vanilla.