Food quote of note

"The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience"…Eleanor Roosevelt

Monday, November 26, 2012

Taking a bite out of the Big Apple

Thanksgiving is all about three things - family, friends and food - and for us, two out of three ain't bad!  We didn't get to see our families this Thanksgiving (we will make the trek to the Great White North for Christmas, never fear), but we were lucky enough to spend Thanksgiving week in New York City with our dear friends the McClishs - what a blast.  It was a great week - filled with sights, laughter, crowds, shopping and, of course, lots of great food. 

Matt, Jennifer and their great kids (Madeline, Ian and Aidan) are some of our best friends and favorite folks to vacation with - and this trip was no exception.  The kids had never been to the Big Apple before, so we of course tried to squeeze in as many of the "must do sights" as possible - Times Square, The Rockettes, Broadway, Empire State Building, Central Park, museums - we packed it all in!  And, of course, we were treated to some of the best food around.  Here's just a glimpse of all we enjoyed!

We got to NYC on Sunday, and it didn't take us long to hit the streets in search of food!  Dinner our first night was in a crowded, loud and wonderfully delicious Italian restaurant in Hell's Kitchen.  What a great way to kick off our trip!

Dinner for 7

Breakfast of champions - I started each morning with a nonfat latte and Pain au Chocolate (chocolate croissant) at a coffee shop across from our hotel.  The perfect fortification for days full of sightseeing!

We managed to squeeze in multiple museums on this trip - the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art), the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art) and the Natural History Musuem.  
Monet's Water Lilies at MoMa

The New York Public Library was a must-see for my husband, the Librarian,
and the McClish children, all voracious readers.  The building is very interesting
and beautifully decorated for Christmas.
Of course, we had to have some of the traditional Big Apple specialties....
Madeline enjoying lunch at a NYC deli

Ian has a piece of NYC cheesecake at Pershing Square Cafe

Aidan devours pizza in Rockerfeller Center
Chestnuts from a cart in Central Park
Our hotel was very close to Bryant Park - and we spent quite a bit of time there shopping at the Holiday Market, watching skaters on the ice rink and sampling the myriad of food offerings. 

One of the chocolate shops there sold chocolate preloaded into syringes for
decorating cupcakes, cookies, etc...what a great idea!  I'm totally trying that!

It was hard to pick from all of the interesting and tasty lunch offerings - but, when we saw these Gozleme, we knew we had to try them.  Gozleme are Turkish pastries - rolled flat then filled with a variety of savory treats such as cheese, potatoes, spinach, etc.  Since Guy and I had seen these being made on our trip to Turkey and tasted them, we chose this for our lunch.

NYC Gozleme with chicken, mushroom and dill - just as tasty as
what we had in Turkey!
Of course, we had to make a stop at the Magnolia Bakery for cupcakes - you just have to, if you are in NYC! 

Magnolia Bakery Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
While there is certainly some great shopping on 5th Avenue, I have to admit that my favorite shopping is strolling through the food markets - cases of beautiful and interesting foods, all artfully displayed and tempting...Foodie Nirvana!

Our hotel was very close to Grand Central Terminal, a great location for sightseeing...and also home to a very interesting Food Market.

After a busy morning of shopping at FAO Schwartz, we stopped in at the Food Hall at the Plaza Hotel...a very high-end and beautiful market.

And, of course, it wouldn't be Thanksgiving in The Big Apple without The Parade.  Yes, we got up early and braved the crowds so we could experience this holiday tradition...and yes, it was worth it! 

After a fun-filled morning at the parade, we enjoyed a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving dinner at Back Forty, a casual farm-to-table restaurant in the East Village.  The food was truly delicious  - large platters of turkey, stuffing and interesting sides served to our table family-style - followed by scrumptious desserts.  It was a great meal and a great way to spend Thanksgiving in NYC.

After almost a week of exploring The Big Apple, we found ourselves at the end of our trip...we opted to skip Black Friday shopping on Friday and instead take a long stroll through Central Park and make a stop at the Natural History Museum.  It was a lovely, sunny day and an amazing time to be in the Park - a great end to a great visit  -- once again reminding me of all I have to be thankful for - not just in this trip, but in so many aspects of my life. 

Bench in NYC Central Park - how fitting for our trip!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Betsy Farnsworth's Autumn Apple Cake

I love traditions and rituals...I love having "special things" we do each year at the same time, especially when these traditions involve food and friends.  Each year brings anticipation of things to come mixed with sweet memories of years passed, when you've shared this same activity with special friends.  For some reason, fall seems to be full of traditions and rituals - with it's change of seasons and holidays - what a truly special time.

One of my favorite fall traditions is heading to the mountains to see the leaves and get apples.  Since well before we were married, Guy and I have made a pilgrimage each fall to nearby mountains to enjoy the beautiful autumn colors and fill our trunk with crisp, ripe apples.  Our companions for this years' apple ritual were our friends Jennifer, Madeline and Ian McClish - we loaded into Jennifer's minivan and headed to North Georgia -- what a great way to spend a beautiful Saturday afternoon in late October.

My pictures just can't do it justice - the North Georgia mountainside filled with trees
of orange and yellow - a beautiful backdrop for our annual apple tradition.
We headed north toward Ellijay, one of Georgia's prime apple towns.  After a winding, but enjoyable drive through the mountains, we ended up at Hillcrest Orchards, one of Ellijay's major apple establishments, complete with apple orchards, apple market, bakery, hayrides, cornmaze and petting zoo.  We headed straight into the apple market to collect our loot - a big bunch of apples to take home for eating and cooking. 

Ian, Madeline and Jennifer loading up on Pink Lady Apples

Apples of all shapes, sizes, colors and flavors - Hillcrest had them all -- Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Winesap, Rome, MacIntosh, Pink Lady, and more.

As you can see from the very large bag of apples my husband is holding, we couldn't choose just one type...good thing Jennifer brought the minivan.

Of course, no trip to the apple orchards is complete without a sample of some of the homemade apple treats - we couldn't pass up this deep-fried delight - a warm apple fritter loaded up with vanilla ice cream.  This fritter was clearly big enough to share....

Obviously that crisp mountain air made us hungry!
Again,  this year was no exception - a beautiful day in the mountains, colorful scenery, good friends, lots of laughs and crisp, delicious apples -- the perfect recipe for a fall tradition.  So, now I have a very large bag of apples that I need to do something with - perfect timing for October's cake -- Betsy Farnsworth's Autumn Apple Cake. 

I can't spend the day in the mountains without being flooded with fond memories of some of our dearest friends...Jim and Betsy Farnsworth.  The Farnsworth's are a lovely, tradional, and large  Southern Family - full of grace, eccentricities, history, colorful stories and laughter. Mr Farnsworth (who has now passed on) was larger than life while Mrs Farnsworth is the quintessential southern lady - a giving but firm mother of 6 sons who was very involved in her community and her church - and, of course, a great cook.  My husband went to work for the Farnsworth's as a freshman in college and quickly became a part of their family - and, when I  came into Guy's life, they graciously welcomed me with open arms.  We held our wedding rehearsal dinner in their large, lovely home in Greenville, South Carolina...we spent part of our honeymoon in their North Carolina mountain house -- like I said, many, many fond memories. 

Jim and Betsy Farnsworth -- dear friends for years and special guests at our wedding. 
So, whenever I am in the mountains I am reminded of spending crisp, cool days at the Farnsworth Mountain House -- relaxing on the big, wrap-around porch, listening to the sounds of nature and enjoying the autumn colors surrounding us.  Often, on these visits, we'd enjoy one of Mrs. Farnsworth's homemade treats, like her Autumn Apple Cake.  This is the perfect cake for fall - moist and dense from the apples, crunchy with nuts, slightly spicy and fragrant from the cinnamon, covered with a warm brown sugar-and-butter glaze...enjoy!   

There is something so special about using a recipe that is hand-written by a dear
friend - every time I pull this recipe out of the recipe box I see Mrs Farnsworth's 
writing and am instantly reminded of her.

Chunks of apples and nuts mixed into a hearty, moist batter.  This cake is relatively easy to make - but, be prepared, it takes some strength to stir this batter!

You glaze this cake when both elements (cake and glaze) are warm, so the
glaze soaks into the cake.  Tip - using wax paper or parchment helps keep your
cake plate and counter clean and neat.

October's cake - Betsy Farnsworth's Autumn Apple Cake

Like I said, I love traditions - making new memories and savoring memories of past years - and this year's fall trip to the mountains to get apples did indeed prove to be a very sweet and special time.   Hopefully you have your own traditions and are enjoying the fall!

Betsy Farnsworth's Autumn Apple Cake

1 1/2 cup cooking oil
2 cup sugar
3 eggs
3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla
3 large or 4 small apples, finely chopped (any kind of apple will do, but I especially like Winesap or Granny Smith in this recipe)
1 cup nuts, toasted and roughly chopped (either pecans or walnuts will work well)

1 stick butter
2 Tbsp heavy cream (or milk)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 and prepare tube pan or Bundt pan (butter and dust with flour).

Combine oil, sugar and eggs in bowl of mixer and beat on medium speed for 3 minutes. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, salt, soda and cinnamon - then add to oil mixture. Mix well, then add vanilla - note, mixture will be very thick. Fold apples and nuts into mixture and stir by hand to combine.

Bake for 1 hour 15minutes or until toothpick inserted in cake comes out clean (begin checking after 50 minutes). Cool cake in pan on a cooling rack for 15-20 minutes.

While cake is cooling, prepare glaze. Place all ingredients in medium saucepan and bring to a boil, then cook for 2 minutes. Remove cake from pan and pour hot glaze over cake while it is still warm. Glaze will be thin and soak into cake

Friday, November 9, 2012

Catching up on Cakes

I know you think I forgot about the Year of the Cake - but, trust me, I didn't.  I do, however, have some serious catching up to do - my last Cake post was in July.  So - let's get caught up...

As you recall, I had decreed that 2012 was The Year of the Cake - and, I've been making a new/different cake recipe for each month.  I've got two to share with you in this post - August and September. 

August in Georgia - hmmm - hot, humid and sticky - it was the dog days of summer and I was looking for a cake that was light and cool and refreshing. I selected Lemon Layer Cake with Vanilla Bean Frosting - a recipe I had been eyeing for quite awhile on one of my favorite blogs, Annie's Eats. (BTW - if you haven't taken the time to check out Annie and her straightforward, well-written and beautifully-photographed blog, do it now - it's one of my favorites. I've yet to try one of her recipes that I didn't really like! ) 

This is a lovely dessert - a moist cake with a hint of lemon flavor, a creamy marscapone filling between the layers and a smooth, rich vanilla frosting.  This isn't a tangy, make-your-mouth-pucker lemon recipe - if you are looking for a POW of lemon, keep looking.  However, if you are looking for something light and fresh - this is your cake.  It was a great treat for a hot summer day - but, quite frankly, I think it would be great any time of the year. 

Lemon Layer Cake with Vanilla Bean Frosting

Smooth, rich and creamy frosting with flecks of vanilla bean - a great
topping for this light, lemony cake.

All too quickly August gave way to September and all of the sudden it was Fall.  Days got cooler, the air became crisper and colors were changing all around me.  Carrot cake seemed like a great choice, then, for September's cake - a hint of spice and that great orange color - the perfect welcome for Fall. 

I have been making the same carrot cake recipe (thanks to my best friend Susan!) for several years now - and, to be honest with you, I think it's really, really good - just about perfect.  What I love about this cake is the depth of color and flavor - this is a carrot cake with spunk!  The secret is cinnamon - and lots of it!  Most carrot cake recipes call for a teaspoon of cinnamon - this recipe calls for 2 Tablespoons - yes, Tablespoons - which imparts both a hearty color and flavor to the moist layers.  So, while I love almost everything about this carrot cake - I wasn't quite ready to dub it "The Perfect Carrot Cake".  There was one thing that picked away at the back of my mind - the oiliness of the cake itself.  So, I did a little research -- looked at LOTS of carrot cake recipes - and found out that some carrot cake recipes (like mine) use all oil, some use buttermilk and some use a mix of both.  I opted for the mix of buttermilk and oil - 1 cup oil and 1/2 cup buttermilk - to retain the moistness of the cake but lighten the texture just slightly - and, it worked.  The cake turned out to have just the right level of moistness without being heavy or oily.  You know, I hate to brag, but I think I now have it - this is it - THE PERFECT CARROT CAKE recipe.

A pound of carrots - the star of this tasty cake.

Here it is - the Perfect Carrot Cake - rich and moist cake surrounded
by sweet/slightly tangy and smooth cream cheese frosting - the perfect cake for Fall.
So - I'm sorry it's taken me so long to get these to you.  You can't go wrong with either of these cakes - enjoy!

Lemon Layer Cake with Vanilla Bean Frosting

For the cake:

3 cups cake flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
16 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
Zest of ½ a lemon
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1¼ cups buttermilk, at room temperature
1 tbsp. lemon extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract

For the filling:

4 oz. mascarpone or cream cheese, cold
2½ tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1¼ cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 tsp. lemon extract
Zest of ½ a lemon
1 cup heavy cream, chilled

For the frosting:*

1½ cups plus 2 tbsp. (3 sticks plus 2 tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
Pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. heavy cream

*Note: This will make a bit more frosting than you need for the cake. You can scale it down a bit or just have left over frosting...always a good thing in my book.

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter and flour the edges of 3 8-inch round cake pans and shake out the excess. Set aside. Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the cake flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together and set aside. Add the butter to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the lemon zest to the bowl of the mixer with the butter. Beat on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and creamy in color. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for one more minute.

Add the sugar to the butter mixture, ¼ cup at a time, beating 1 minute after each addition. Mix in the eggs one at a time until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Combine the buttermilk and the lemon and vanilla extract in a liquid measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients alternately with the wet ingredients, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing just until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for 15 seconds longer.

Divide the batter between the prepared baking pans. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20-22 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Let cool in the pans about 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and let cool completely.

To make the filling, combine the mascarpone and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until smooth and well combined. Mix in the confectioners' sugar and beat on low speed until incorporated. Blend in the lemon extract and lemon zest. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and set aside. Wipe out the mixer bowl and fit with the whisk attachment. Add the heavy cream to the bowl and whip on high speed until stiff peaks form, being careful not to overbeat. Mix about a third of the whipped cream into the lemon-mascarpone mixture to lighten. Gently fold in the remaining whipped cream until no streaks remain and the mixture is evenly blended.

To make the frosting, add the butter to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whip on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the confectioners' sugar to the bowl and mix on medium-low speed just until incorporated. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean pod into the bowl and add in the salt. Continue to beat on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1-2 minutes. Mix in the vanilla extract and heavy cream on low speed just until incorporated. Increase the mixer speed and whip on high speed until light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl as needed, about 4 minutes.

To assemble the cake, place one of the layers on a serving platter. Top with half of the lemon-mascarpone mixture and smooth in an even layer. Place a second cake layer on top of the filling and top with the remaining filling. Place the final cake layer on top. Frost the top and sides of the assembled cake with the vanilla bean frosting. 

Carrot Cake

For the cake:

2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 Tbsp cinnamon (yes, TABLESPOONS)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 cups grated carrots (~1 pound)
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup pecans

For the frosting:

1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
12 oz cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pound powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 325°. Prepare 3 8-inch round cake pans - butter and flour pans, line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper. (Note - can also use 2 9-inch pans, just slightly increase baking time)

Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and toast for 8 minutes, until fragrant. Cool and chop the pecans.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk and vanilla. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar at high speed until pale, 5 minutes. Beat in the liquid ingredients. Beat in the dry ingredients just until moistened. Stir in the carrots and pecans. Divide the batter between the pans and bake the cakes for 45 - 50 minutes, until springy and golden (note - cooking time can be very dependent on your oven and which pan you use - make sure to test cake for springing back and for toothpick inserted in center of cake to come out clean) Let the cakes cool on a rack for 30 minutes, then unmold the cakes and let cool completely.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese at high speed until light, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla, then the confectioners' sugar; beat at low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Peel off the parchment paper and invert one cake layer onto a plate. Spread with a slightly rounded cup of the frosting. Top with the second cake layer, right side up. Spread with a slightly rounded cup of the frosting and then top with the final layer of cake.  Spread the top and sides with the remaining frosting and refrigerate the cake until chilled, about 1 hour.