Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Little On The Lighter Side

Since I've been a Zinger/Twinkie making, cake baking fool lately, I've decided to lighten it up just a bit and post about a salad I made the other day - it was so yummy and so guilt free. I was inspired by a Cashew Chicken Salad offered by Milwaukee Burger Company that I recently had the pleasure of experiencing. A risk is not something I usually take when it comes to salad. I'm more of a purist - lettuce, tomato, cucumber, dressing = salad. Once I ordered a salad and they had put strawberries on it. I remember looking at the plate and thinking, "What kind of new-fangled idiocy is this?! Can't I just order a salad and get a SALAD?!" I bit my tongue, not literally, forged ahead with the salad anyway. Not gonna lie, it was gross. Since then I totally turned off the whole "experimental salad" switch and left it at that.
In recent years, however, I've noticed that (for reasons unknown to me) my taste buds are craving new and different, more flavorful things, so back into the quagmire of salad fixins I went. There have been some good, some really good, and some really bad experiences along the way, but for the most part I'll step out of my comfort zone to try a new-fangled idiotic salad.
Which brings us to this:
Chicken Almond Apple Salad
It may not look like a professionally assembled salad, but it was really, really good and bonus: It was good for me, too.
Two handfuls of washed spinach; one cooked chicken breast, cut up; three tablespoons slivered almonds; one green onion, diced; one Roma tomato, diced; 1/4 c. craisins; 1/4 Washington apple, diced, two tablespoons fat free balsamic vinaigrette. Simple, yummy, light. I'm having another one for lunch tomorrow, because after those Flingers, I need to lighten up!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Under Construction

Some elements of this blog will not be working for a bit - I am trying to set up different areas with a tab index and such and it is currently under construction. Please forgive me and please be patient with me. Should you have any ideas for me, please post them below in a comment. Thanks!

Cake Man Raven Makes Me Look Good Every Time

Red Velvet was never a real big interest of mine until my sister wanted to serve it at her wedding and I was making the cake. I thought, "What's the big deal? It's just chocolate cake with a bunch of red food coloring, right?" Wrong. So, so wrong.

Red Velvet cake has been a southern favorite for generations. It has crept its way into the hearts of many a northerner since then, including me. Red Velvet does have cocoa powder in it - but it is by no means or definition a chocolate cake. It is a flavor unto its own. When paired with the cream cheese frosting, it is a little bit of heaven on earth. And Cake Man Raven's version is so very delicious.

For those of you that do not know, Cake Man Raven is a bakery in Brooklyn, NY, owned and operated by Raven Dennis III. He has been featured in articles and television shows such as "Throw Down with Bobbi Flay" and "Good Morning America," and has been cake maker for many stars to date. He's a very busy man, and the Southern Red Velvet is his signature cake. With good reason.

Let's get to the business, shall we?

Start out in the usual fashion: Sift all of the dry ingredients together and mix in the wet until you get a smooth cake batter.

Bake off in the oven and let the pans sit for 10 minutes. DO NOT TOUCH THEM! This is where everyone makes the mistake of taking them out of the pans too soon and they end up falling apart. Let them rest. They need it.
 Once the cakes have cooled and you have flipped them to cool completely, if there is a bump on the top, now is the time to "shave" it off with a serrated knife. Then you have scraps to give the scrappers, like this:
 How on earth could you possible resist that face?!
And this is what happens when you cut  your cake into layers and it almost falls on the floor when you try to flip it:
Love my cooling system - - - so do my neighbors.
When the cake is cooled completely, start assembling the layers, placing a small amount of the icing between each. I say small because if you put too much of this yummy goodness between the layers, you are going to end up with a completely overpoweringly sweet cake. Not what you want.
 I do my Red Velvet cakes in two 8" rounds and then divide each cake into two again, so I have four layers. I just like the look of the cake with so many layers, very pretty:
Back to the assembly - Once all the layers are stacked and the cake is completely iced, you can add the nuts to the side.
 I like to add a little decoration to my cakes, however small. The red on the top is crumb from the scraps that I trimmed off of the top of the cake after it cooled. Makes a pretty little representation of what's inside I think.

And there you have it, Cake Man Raven's Southern Red Velvet Cake. Yum! This particular specimen was for my sister's birthday - which is actually the second one I made for her. I was supposed to travel with the first one to her home, which is 1 hour and 45 minutes away from mine, and take her out to dinner for her birthday, but a snowstorm in the middle of March in Minnesota/Wisconsin put the kibosh on that little venture. I could have kicked Mother Nature in the shin that day. Can you tell I'm still a little mad? Didn't think so - I cover it pretty well.

One week later, however, I was able to deliver a second one and see my Uncle Tom & Auntie Joyce from Louisiana at the same time as they were passing through on a mission to buy an antique car. A Nash Metropolitan. Cute little thing. Anyway - it was a wonderful day. A very, very, very long, wonderful day.

Cake Man Raven's Southern Red Velvet Cake  *There are some slight changes by me in baking process!
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 t. baking soda
1 t. fine salt
1 t. cocoa powder
1 1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 c. buttermilk, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 T. red food coloring (1 ounce)
1 t. white vinegar
1 t. vanilla
Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)
crushed pecans for garnish

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and prepare two 8" round cake pans with non-stick baking spray.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In another bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla. Using a stand mixer, mix the dry ingredients into the wet until just combined and a smooth batter forms.

Divide the batter between the two prepared pans and bake for 20 - 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean and the cake starts to separate from the side. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes in the pan. Flip cakes out onto a cooling rack, and then onto another cooling rack so that the top of the cake is upright. Let cakes cool completely, then level the tops, setting the scraps aside for decoration.

Cut both layers into two more layers. Place bottom layer on a circle cake board that is about 1/4" larger than the cake round. Spread enough frosting on the layer to cover completely but not thick. Place second layer on top of first, and spread with frosting same as the first layer. Repeat until last layer is placed on top. Frost entire cake with frosting.

Placing your hand under the cake board and tilting slightly, take a handful of the crushed pecans and "wipe" the nuts up the side of the cake gently to cover the side completely in nuts. Repeat as you turn the cake to cover the entire outside of the cake but not the top. Using a fork or just your hands, crumble the cake scraps saved from leveling the cakes. Place the cake on a cake plate and sprinkle the cake crumbs around the outside edge. Using larger slices of pecans, make a decoration in the center of the cake and dust lightly with additional crumbs. It is best to let the cake set for just a bit before serving so that the icing has a chance to set up a bit. This will make the cake easier to cut.

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 lb. (2 - 8 oz. bricks) cream cheese, room temperature
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature (I use salted and its just fine)
1 t. vanilla extract
4 c. confectioners sugar

Place cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in bowl and whip on high until light and creamed together. Add confectioners sugar and beat again until light and fluffy. Place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to let the icing stiffen slightly before frosting cake.