Divine Dark Chocolate Soufflé Cake

19 Feb Ain't she sweet?

Wow. It has really been awhile, hasn’t it? I’ve been so busy with my new job as a writing instructor, coupled with blogging about naps, in addition to the general mania of family life…well…I’ve been cooking, but I haven’t had time to talk about it.

Until the Kahlua conversation on Facebook.

Some friends of ours invited us (all four of us – they are such saints) over for dinner and our contribution was to be a dessert. Since we had a little time yesterday, I decided we should bake something instead of just buying it at Wegmans. Not feeling like stretching myself too much, however, I pulled out a tried-and-true favorite that I first ripped from a Cooking Light magazine in 1997: Dark Chocolate Soufflé Cake.

Let me clarify that nothing about the taste of this cake says “Cooking Light.” The reason it has become such a favorite for us is that it reminds us of one of those desserts you split at a fancy restaurant – the kind that makes you slump after your first bite, roll your eyes, and go “omagawd.” With only 6g of fat (unbelievable) and 205 calories per slice, it has a chocolate taste that will satisfy even the most dedicated chocolate whore.

“But a soufflé?!” you might moan. Isn’t that hard? Don’t I have to tiptoe around the house for fear of making it collapse? Well, I don’t know about real soufflés, but the answer regarding this divine dessert is “no.” It’s really as simple as any other scratch cake.

But I digress. I was telling you about the Kahlua.

So the way this cake gets so fabulously chocolatey and rich without fat is that it is made with Dutch process cocoa (especially dark), instant espresso, and two tablespoons of Kahlua. I guess, when I was 21, everyone had that bottle of Kahlua sitting with the Rumplemintz and the Boones Farm Strawberry Hill and the Southern Comfort. We, however, had no such bottle kicking around. This resulted in the following Facebook status:

“Nothing says classy like buying a 50mL bottle of Kahlua.”

Well, you can imagine that the trash talking started right then and there. And so it is that my abusive Facebook friends have pushed me to break my silence and blog a new-old-favorite-fabulous recipe for you. You can thank me later.

Dark Chocolate Soufflé Cake

9-inch springform pan

Cooking spray

1/2 C granulated sugar

1/2 C packed dark brown sugar

3/4 C water

1 Tb. instant espresso or 2 Tb. instant coffee granules

2/3 C Dutch process or unsweetened cocoa

1/4 tsp salt

2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped

2 Tb. Kahlua (IT’S FOR A CAKE, PEOPLE!)

3 large egg yolks

1/3 C sifted cake flour (like Swan’s Down – it comes in a box, usually)

6 large egg whites at room temperature

1/4 tsp. cream of tartar (it’s not just for playdoh, folks!)

1/3 C granulated sugar (yes, again – this is in addition to the first)

1 Tb. powdered sugar

Raspberries or chocolate shavings for garnish (if desired – and why not?)

This is a long list, but don’t be intimidated. Just get all your ingredients ready and read through the recipe before you start, and everything should go smoothly!

So the first thing you want to do is separate those eggs! Why? Because the egg whites will beat up better at room temperature, and you’re going to want them to sit. Don’t let any yolk get into the egg whites or it will mess up your fluffy concoction. One way to avoid accidents is to separate each egg into a separate bowl to start, and then dump it in with the others when the coast is clear (no yolk leakage). In any event, you want these six egg whites warming up. Set aside three of the yolks for the chocolate sauce and then store the other three for another use (like making pasta dough).

You gotta keep ‘em separated…

Preheat your oven to 300.

Coat the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray. “WAIT!” you might say. What the hell is a springform pan?

Springform pan – just get one

A springform pan is one of those useful items that will expand your baking repertoire. Basically, it’s this cool device that allows the bottom of the pan to separate from the sides. The latch opens to pull the sides of the pan off without you having to dump the cake out. Springform pans come in all kinds of sizes, though. I realized I had FOUR of them and had to measure the bottom to figure out which one was 9 inches, so be forewarned when you go to buy one.

“Forsooth, oh Sweet of Tooth! Thy pan must be the correct size!”

Just in case you’re curious, this is a “ruler ruler,” which has all the kings and queens of England on the back. Very useful. Anyhoo…

So you spray the bottom of this pan and set it aside.  Get your sugar.

Sugar, sugar…you are so yummy

Combine the 1/2 C granulated sugar, 1/2 C brown sugar, water, and espresso in a large saucepan. If your brown sugar is lumpy, smash the lumps before adding the water.

Mix it up…

No, seriously, it’s a light recipe!

Bring the concoction to a boil and remove it right away from the heat. Then add the cocoa, salt, and chopped chocolates.  Stir thoroughly with a whisk until they are all melted and smooth.

So rich and velvety. Gorgeous.

Now stir in the Kahlua. YES! IT IS TIME! Look at it – so innocent in the baking pantry. No Rumplemintz in sight.

It’s for a CAKE, folks…

Also stir in the three egg yolks at this time. Then, even though this sounds weird, you stir in the cake flour until it disappears. You should have a gorgeous,thick chocolate sauce. Set it aside to cool to room temperature while you work on the egg whites.

Now you put your egg whites in the mixer. You can do this with a hand mixer, but it will be a bit tiring! You need to start by beating the egg whites and the cream of tartar at high speed until they are foamy. This happens quickly.

Have your last 1/3C of granulated sugar handy and start spooning it in one Tb. at a time. When it’s all gone, you want the egg whites to come to stiff peaks.

Let me stop here and say that I have always lacked confidence when it comes to determining what soft peaks are and what stiff peaks are. On occasion, I have beaten my eggs to a pulp trying to achieve the right stiffness. Basically, you should see that the eggs do not slide in the bowl when it is tipped, and they should stand up with some integrity on the whisk. Like this:

This works.

So now you will want to go back to that chocolate and make sure it’s in a big bowl, because you are going to proceed to gently fold in the egg whites about 1/4 at a time. In other words, wipe about 1/4 of the eggs into the chocolate and gently combine, turning the chocolate over with a rubber spatula. Continue until all of the eggs are mixed nearly completely into the chocolate. If you have a few white streaks, that’s okay – it will just be visible in the final cake. What you don’t want to do, though, is beat the life out of those nicely whipped eggs. Use your judgment.

Before you pour the batter into your pan, make sure that sucker is LATCHED. I made the enormously careless mistake of not latching the pan this weekend, and I picked it up and had some of the batter ooze out the bottom. What a mess! Stupid.

The recipe says to bake at 300 for 60 minutes. I’ve found that it’s best to check the cake no later than 55 minutes. When you insert a toothpick, it should come out nearly clean. When it’s done set it aside in the pan and let it cool on a wire rack.

When the cake is cool, lightly run a sharp knife around the inside edge, just to free any sticky parts. Then unbuckle your little pan and lift. Voila!

Ain’t she sweet?

Add a few raspberries and chocolate shavings for garnish if you wish, and definitely sift powdered sugar over it! Naturally, this “light” cake can be made much more decadent with whipped cream or ice cream if you so choose. That’s on your conscience.

And that, my friends, is why I bought the Kahlua.

Stupendous Seafood Pasta

27 Aug Look at those noodles!  Perfection.

I’ll come out and admit it.  I’ve always been intimidated by seafood pastas and stews.

Okay, okay, I’ve made scampi.  But the prospect of a bouillabaisse or a paella or a pasta with various sea creatures on it…well, it just seemed too hard.  I can’t say exactly what made these dishes seem so unattainable, but I am pretty sure it had something to do with the challenge of obtaining three or four different fresh fish or shellfish on the same day in almost embarrassingly small amounts.  Now, this may be a real problem for folks who live in areas lacking good grocery stores, but as a person who lives just miles from TWO different Wegmans supermarkets, I really have no excuse.  So, recently, when Dan and I saw Lidia Bastianich making a mouthwatering seafood pasta on her show, we decided the time had come.

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Brunch for Beleaguered Parents

18 Jul

I was awakened around 5:45am on Sunday morning with a hankering for brunch.  In the old days, before kids, I’d have gotten out of bed at 11am, rolled out of my front door in Manhattan, and met a friend for an omelette and a mimosa.

Hardy har.

Instead, I found myself sitting in bed in front of an episode of Curious George, while my husband blearily suffered through yet another round of my boys fighting over his attentions.  Being chopped liver, myself, I was on my own side of the bed…pondering how I could salvage this morning.  Cormac turned and burped at me, laughing.

I wanted eggs.  Unfortunately, Cormac had gone on an egg binge the day before.  There were only four left, and I knew it wasn’t going to be enough for all of us.  But four eggs was a good place to start.  I began to think about what other odds and ends were in my fridge, that I could use to supplement the main feature.

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Guest Cook! Coconut Chip Cookies

20 Jun

“B.S.!” my friends are saying.  Those who know me well are aware of my strange aversion to all tropical fruits, including coconut.  Wait…is a coconut a fruit?

It’s true.  I have not made these cookies.  Instead, I decided that it was time to rise above my unfair dislike of coconut and, in honor of hot summer days, put up a recipe that touches on the tropics.  The pictures are good enough for me.

Because Kim from Let Me Start By Saying did such a cool dessert post before, I’m am featuring her very fine-looking recipe here.  I especially like that it shamelessly utilizes a cake mix in order to allow you to look like June Cleaver without having time to get too hot from standing over the oven.  Grab your popsicles and pull up a chair on the deck!  I invite you all to make these lip-smacking little numbers and share your thoughts.

Happy baking!

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Quiche Is No Quandary

18 May

When I was little, one of my absolute favorite meals was my mom’s quiche.  Delicate, yet simultaneously and sinfully rich, it seemed like a cloud made of cheese and egg and flecked with sought-after pieces of yummy bacon.  I rejoiced when I heard, after school, that it was on the menu. The whole time I was growing up, I’d hear people asking her for the recipe.  I took it to a potluck once and a guy told me it was one of the best quiches he’d ever tasted.  It was like this magical and complicated dish that my mother produced with her highest order homemaking skills.

Me. Pondering the mysteries of quiche.

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Stupidly Simple Pork Chops and Spicy Black Beans

16 May

I’m back!  And you thought you were rid of me.

Actually, I decided weeks ago that I wanted to blog this recipe because (although it is not fancy) it is low in fat, easy, and really tasty.  As an added bonus, it’s one of those things you can keep on hand for busy nights, as long as you have a little freezer space and some canned/jarred staples.

When we’re managing our weight (oh…so like ALWAYS?) Dan and I depend on the whole protein-and-a-side strategy for weekday nights.  We find that by freezing some chicken breasts and boneless pork chops, for example, and then making sure we get in the right vegetables, we can quickly throw together a meal that makes us feel well-fed without exhausting us.  Spicy pork chops and black beans is just such a recipe.

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Guest Cook! Butterscotch Sugar Cookie Bakes with Ice Cream

11 Apr

She had me at “spontaneous cookiegasms.”

My friend Kim is a very funny and very talented writer and blogger and an equally frazzled parent.  Like the rest of us, she knows a good dessert when she sees one.  Well…when she makes one.  Because she made this up, people.  I’ve badgered her into letting me post this delectable treat on my blog, and I’m just leaving it all in her words.  They were good to begin with.

For those of you who are looking for a shortcut to a homemade dessert, this is your recipe.  We’re talking majorly easy – like Pillsbury cookie dough.  Also, I have to confess that I topped all of this off by putting chocolate syrup on it.  Ahem.

Go forth and have a sugar meltdown.  You won’t be sorry.  Oh – and you can get these tiny springform pans at Michael’s craft store if you are having trouble finding them! Continue reading

Digging for Dough Scraps

4 Mar

I was so over this day by 9:45am.

William had an appointment at 8:00am, and I had to get both of the boys up, dressed, fed, and out the door by 7:40am.  Once we arrived at the appointment, I had to stand outside on the nearby playground in near-freezing temperatures with Cormac for the half hour while we were waiting for William.

Crack-of-dawn playground antics

Afterwards, despite my best efforts, there was a potty “incident” that forced me to drag both reluctant children back to the car and then drive all the way home to freshen up prior to getting back into the car so we could traipse to William’s new preschool and take care of some paperwork.  As you can imagine, this was like trying to conduct a business transaction while holding two excitable monkeys by the ears.

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Potluck Pasta

2 Mar

In case y’all aren’t sick of pasta (frankly, I never am) I thought I’d quickly share with you one of those shortcut meals I made using odds and ends I had in the fridge today.  It was so fast that I whipped it up for lunch.

Here’s what I had hanging around.

Potluck Pasta

Random and Flexible Odds and Ends:

Two different kinds of leftover pasta sauce

about 1.5 C of the ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan and egg mixture from the Meatball Ziti I prepared a few days ago.

Half a box of campanelle pasta (any chunky shape would have done equally well)

Half a bag of shredded mozzarella

One can of Hunt’s Fire-Roasted Tomatoes

Preheated the oven to 350.

So here’s what I did with it.  I cooked up the pasta al dente and drained it.

Meanwhile, I warmed up the two leftover sauces in the empty pasta pot.  While it was warming, I sprayed a casserole dish with cooking spray.  Then I ladled a little sauce into the bottom of the dish to cover it.

I then threw the pasta and all the cheese mixture into the sauce pot and just blended it all until it was well-mixed.  It takes a little warmth to un-chunk the cheese from the refrigerator.

Once it was all mixed, I dumped it into the casserole.  Because I wanted a little more sauce, I drained a can of Hunts Fire-Roasted Tomatoes and dumped it over the top of the pasta mixture, spreading it out evenly with a spoon.

Lastly, I evenly covered the pasta with shredded mozzarella.

I baked it covered in foil in the oven for 35 minutes.  Then I removed the foil and let the cheese brown for 10 more minutes.

Voila.  I swear – it was about fifteen minutes of prep.

 

Quick. Cheap. Easy.

 

 

Pretty good for Wednesday lunch, eh?  Dan was working from home – I didn’t eat it by myself!

Here’s what’s great about this recipe.  You are using up things you might have tossed (a perfect example is two leftover sauces that are barely a portion each and are mismatched, or the small amount of cheese mixture I hadn’t needed for the ziti…or half a box of pasta that is not quite enough for a full family meal!).  It takes minutes to prepare.  Also, the ingredients are really flexible.  You could have used any sauce, a number of pasta shapes, and even substituted another kind of cheese for the topping (like cheddar).

Dan wants me to quote him.  He pronounces my grab-bag pasta dish “Delicious!”  Go forth and save your scraps.

Meatball Mafioso: A Ziti You Can’t Refuse

28 Feb Of course wine goes with cheese...

Sometimes I write up recipes because they’re really easy.  Sometimes I write up recipes that are good for the diet.  This recipe fulfills neither of those requirements.  But DAMN is it good.

I found out recently that my friend Steve, who lives in California and whom I haven’t seen since high school, was going to make a special stop at Dulles airport just to spend the evening with me and meet my family.  Considering that childcare duties and the shortness of the stay prevented me from taking him anywhere at all, our remaining option was to hang out at my house and enjoy dinner there.  So, I was thinking, “This had better be good.”

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Dirty Secrets Get Dirtier

17 Feb

Just a quick update (and sorry I’ve been MIA – who hasn’t had two kids with the flu lately?).

I wanted you all to know that I recently took my Mom’s goulash and tried it as a crockpot recipe with excellent results.

You know the drill.  You want to make dinner, but you have the following schedule:

9:15 – Preschool drop-off

11:45 – Preschool pick-up

3:00 – drive to appointment

5:00 – return from appointment

I’m not complaining about this day, but it would have precluded me from watching a pot on the stove from 3pm to 6pm.  So I said to myself, “Self, what is to prevent you from crocking this in the pot?”  Indeed, it turned out to be ridiculously easy.

Make the following changes to the recipe – just brown the meat, onions, and garlic and then throw it in the crockpot with all the other ingredients.  Also, I changed from regular paprika to smoked paprika because it was all I had.  And I used beef chuck this time because I’d been feeling like the sirloin was too tough.

Cook on low for up to 10 hrs. and serve over egg noodles.  Seriously, I browned the meat at 8:00am, threw it in the pot at 8:30am, and didn’t touch it again until 6pm.

AMAZING.  Dan said the best goulash I’ve ever made.  I’d have taken a picture but, honestly, beauty is not one of the greatest attributes of goulash.  Yumminess, on the other hand…and now ease!

Go forth and cook slowly, folks.  Mom would approve.

My Hip Mom

A Chili January Day (Resolutions Edition)

10 Jan

‘Tis the season for the eternal weight loss resolution.  For me (as I’m sure is the case for many of you) this doesn’t mean a new diet as much as it means a continuation of the old diet.  Deprivation!  The ever-present companion of the Rubenesque among us.

I post a lot of recipes that couldn’t be categorized as “diet food.”  In fact, I prefer to think that I avoid any recipe that classifies as “diet food” because it’s a pretty depressing idea.  You know…like this.  Anyone who has eaten bad diet recipes will tell you that the reason they work is because you’d rather go hungry than consume them.  Of course, none of us can live like that for long.

This week, Dan and I have been following Weight Watchers which, for me, means pulling out my materials from ten years ago and counting points the way I did back in 1999.  I continue, in fact, to diet like it’s 1999 and don’t see why I should adapt to any new system.  For one, I’d have to actually go to a meeting, and I have always found Weight Watchers meetings to be most suitable as a torturous punishment for not losing weight that week.  Inspirational and informative, not so much.  As a result, I just stay home and use what worked for me back then and, not shockingly, it still works.

On this cold weekend, I introduced Dan to a chili recipe that I long ago dug up from some old Weight Watchers cookbook that went out of print ages ago and has now been lost, even to me.  Luckily, I typed this recipe up way back when to give to someone else, so it was on my hard drive.  I’m telling you, this one is a keeper.  You will not feel deprived.  Also, it has the winter benefit of clearing your sinuses.  Spicy!

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Dropping the Ball

3 Jan

On New Year’s Eve this year lots of my friends were joking on Facebook about how old and lame they had become.  Whether it was watching a pay-per-view movie or going to bed at 10pm…or both…many of the exhausted parents in my group of friends were ruefully lamenting how this generally adult-oriented night had turned into yet another bedraggled and sleepy event — devoid of sparkle.

New Baby, New Year - 2006

Never mind that I rarely had a fun New Year’s Eve when I was single.  In fact, my very worst New Year’s Eves were from my seven years living in Manhattan.  Everyone thinks it’s such the fab place to be on that night of nights.  But the truths are as follows:

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Festively Frazzled – Cookie FAIL

24 Dec

When you are a cook or a baker, one of the aspects of the holiday that lives, cherished, in your imagination is the delightful memories you will make while cooking with your children.  The only evidence I have from my childhood of the making of Christmas cookies is this photo of me baking with my Grammy Ruth in Colorado – probably about 1977.

Festive outfit, too.

As you can see, I am a model of good behavior and artistic integrity, placing my sprinkles JUST SO.

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Faux Pho

20 Dec

I have to admit that I’m a little sheepish about writing this post, because it definitely falls into that “dirty little secrets” category of my life in the kitchen.  Sometimes, however, desperation drives us to attempt the recreation of a favorite takeout or restaurant dish that we simply can’t get – either because we’ve moved away or the restaurant isn’t open or you’re broke.  It is just this type of desperation that brought me here, today.

You see, back when I lived in New York, one of my favorite foods was Cantonese Noodle Soup.  Something I’ve noticed about Chinese places is that all the restaurants in a given geographical area seem to do the same things well and other things poorly.  For example, after leaving New York, I couldn’t find a good steamed veggie dumpling to save my life.  In the suburbs of Northern Virginia…ugh…don’t even talk to me about the thick, doughy crab rangoon.  But the dish I’ve most sorely missed since leaving New York is Cantonese Noodle Soup.

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