Archive for the ‘challenge’ Category

beet birthday cake

In challenge on December 20, 2015 at 2:51 pm

i don’t know how i got it in my head that i wanted a beet birthday cake. i don’t even like beets that much (although they’re growing on me!). but six or so quite large ones arrived in our winter farm share box this week, and they just screamed birthday cake to me.


i looked at a lot of beet cake recipes online and decided to go with joy the baker’s chocolate beet cake. i don’t think i’ve made anything from her blog before, but i like her voice and the recipe called for cream cheese frosting. what more is there? actually, i also liked that it used more brown sugar than white and buttermilk. good flavors. and it was a layer cake. martha’s and the new york times’ were both single layer, and david lebovitz called his “not overly sweet, which is good for those of you looking for more of a snack cake” which, despite being an intriguing concept, was not what i was looking for.

i decided to boil my beets rather than roast them because i didn’t want to run the oven that long, but otherwise, i stuck to her instructions.


in any case, once you cook the beets, you grate them and beat them into the batter.



i wish the camera picked up the color better – once you add the cocoa, it’s not brown, it’s a delicious pinky-mauve. (has anyone called mauve delicious before? well, it is here.)


joy advises you to put beets in the frosting, too, which is another reason i chose this recipe. they make it gorgeous. i’ve heard people call beets the candy of vegetables, but it never really resonated until now.



happy birthday to me!


halloween baking extravaganza

In challenge on November 2, 2015 at 1:59 am

this year, i finally had the opportunity to make the halloween treat i’ve had my eye on for ages: the pumpkin cake shaped like a pumpkin. i know you’ve seen it on pinterest.

first, i roasted a sugar baby pumpkin, being careful to save the top and handle. then i used the pumpkin puree to bake two (giant) pumpkin-spice bundt cake (martha’s recipe and it’s good).


one sits upside down and gets a layer of (orange cream cheese) frosting and candied pumpkin seeds/sunflower seeds/crystalized ginger.


and the second one gets flipped over on top, frosted with more orange cream cheese frosting, topped with the pumpkin top/handle, and surrounded with more crunchies.


i thought it looked fantastic and there was enough to feed an army of zombies. it also tasted great. mostly though, i’m just so pleased just to have done it after thinking about it for so long!

for those who need a chocolate fix, i also made a bittersweet chocolate ganache tarte with sea salt and oreo-graham crust.

this picture was taken before i styled it up on a white plate with plastic ‘roaches. i mean, it was halloween after all….


farmers cheese

In challenge on October 25, 2015 at 9:33 pm

longtime readers of this blog will remember the days when i used to do challenges. i love making things that are usually bought. not all the time, but just to better understand the item. some of my favorites were bagelsfig newtons, fortune cookies, junior mints, marshmallowssoft pretzels, and yogurt.

today’s post is in that same vein: farmers cheese.

(no, your memory is not deceiving you, i have made cheese before.)

so, farmers cheese (and i had to look this up) is technically a “pressed cottage cheese” or an “unripened cheese.” we’re not talking a hard block of cheddar, but softer, spreadable, creamy yumminess.

whether you add rennet or just boil the milk, essentially you’re looking to curdle it. that produces curds and whey (a la little miss muffet, aka cottage cheese), which you separate by draining and/or pressing, leaving you with the curd cheese. it’s got a texture similar to cream cheese, although a little crumblier.

you can use it in both savory or sweet applications. i like it on toast with jam. it adds a nice little tang which cuts the sweetness of the jam.


the recipe i used was from good eggs, courtesy of ms. nag

mini dessert party

In challenge on August 17, 2015 at 12:29 am

who doesn’t love mini desserts? here are a few i made recently for a celebration at work.

tiny lemon curd and blueberry tartlets.


this is a low-effort, high-impact one. the tart shells can be bought at your local speciality grocer or super-large grocery store (my whole paycheck does not carry them, however). they are about the size of a quarter. i keep a box around at all times because they are perfect for whipping up a last-minute dessert or app that is sure to impress.

lemon curd is easy and can be made way in advance. washing blueberries is also easy. the only trick to this is that the shells soften pretty quickly, so fill them right before you serve and remind your guests you just can’t have leftovers!

mini buttermilk cupcakes with vanilla frosting.


the secret to mini cupcakes is having a large mini cupcake pan. i used to make mine in a pan that had only six cups and it was brutal – all that filling and waiting and cooling over and over. so i recently invested in a professional-grade mini cupcake pan and it’s a godsend. makes 24 in a batch, which is about a full recipe of batter that would yield a dozen regular ones. it makes all the difference. (and when i say “invest” i mean $36. hardly a bank-breaker)

i had a bit of batter left over and used it to make a baby birthday cake for my upstairs neighbor. it was a two-layer cake and there was a candle (not pictured).


yes, i have a mini cake stand.

little chocolate “bundts.”


ok, they aren’t really bundts because they don’t have that hole in the center, but they kind of look like it, right? make any chocolate cake or brownie recipe in a mini cupcake pan. cool them upside down and then dip them halfway in melted chocolate and top with sprinkles. i like variety on my dessert table and this is an easy way to basically serve chocolate cupcakes but have them not look repetitive of the vanilla. (this is how my mind works.)

i also made one-bite chocolate chip cookies. they had mini chocolate chips in them! but i scooped too much batter for each and they turned out almost “regular” size. oh well. they were still eaten!

high holy days

In challenge on April 5, 2015 at 5:07 pm

i didn’t celebrate either easter or passover this weekend. as ms lnrb says, i spent my sunday morning at the church of the long run.

but that doesn’t mean i didn’t take the opportunity to make some seasonal treats!

everyone loves a hot cross bun, but instead of the traditional version, i made king arthur flour’s hot cross bun muffin. (it’s from the baker’s cookbook and i can’t seem to find the recipe online!)


they were a bit tough (did i over-mix? over-bake? is the recipe bad?) but the flavor was just right. and since they are a quick bread rather than a yeast bread, they take no time at all to throw together.

this time of year also wouldn’t be complete without a box of matzo. personally i like it schmeared with a thin layer of room-temperature butter and topped with either a little jam or a healthy pinch of salt.

but there is much more to do with matzo, like matzo ball soup. instead of using matzo meal, i just ground up three or four sheets in my food processor until it was quite fine, and proceeded with martha stewart’s recipe.


it was a huge hit, especially after said long run and his sunday morning soccer game.  official icf jewish food consultant ms ekw also highly recommended the recipe on the back of the manishevitz matzo ball box. (isn’t it funny how so many family recipes come from the back of a package? my family’s never-fail crowd-pleasing oatmeal cookies are from the inside lid of the large round quaker oats box.) whole foods, however, does not deign to carry this brand (or big boxes of quaker oats, for that matter).

and what else do you need for dessert after a hearty meal of matzo balls than matzo candy? (this is the equivalent of eating all the strawberries you possibly can while they’re in season locally…)


matzo candy involves enrobing matzo in a layer of caramel and then a layer of bittersweet chocolate. i also sprinkled the top with fancy large-grain salt.

the recipe i used is from the kitchn blog, but i changed it up a bit. cooking the caramel in the pot and then in the oven for an additional 15 minutes is way, way too long. i did about three minutes in the pot (using light brown sugar, not dark, which i would recommend or your final product will taste too burnt) and 8 mins or so in the oven.

i also would not recommend waiting 5 minutes for the chocolate to soften once you sprinkle it on the caramel. just chop it very finely and spread almost immediately. this technique works well and means you don’t have to temper your chocolate. i left it out for hours and then refrigerated overnight before breaking it into bits and munching away. what a combination!

hot-water crust pastry

In challenge on February 27, 2015 at 2:15 am

my favorite two hours of television this winter start at 8 pm on sunday nights. downton, of course, and preceding it, the great british bake off. british cooking shows are miles better than american ones. they are quite serious about their products, but don’t take themselves seriously at all. also, i learn a lot.

several weeks ago in the pie episode, they made hot-water crust pastry. as we’ve discussed here before, regular pie crust is quite finicky and delicate. but hot-water crust pastry, they informed me, is tough and resilient and hard to screw up. it’s also perfect for classic british meat pies like we saw all over london.

of course i had to try this right away.

helpfully, the bbc provides recipes from the show. i used chetna’s indian-inspired (and vegetarian!) version.

first you make the filling with potatoes and lentils and lots of spices


and then you make the crust. it really was easy – rub butter into flour and then add boiling water with salt and crisco melted into it.

it comes together as a dough that you roll out and use to line a spring-form pan (what americans most commonly think of as a cheesecake pan).


pack your filling in, add a top, brush with egg wash


and bake for an hour.

it will get golden brown and smell delicious!


once you un-tin it, you realize how impressive it looks.


just like harrods!! and very tasty, too.


i served it with a dollop cilantro-herb yogurt.

even the meat-eater liked it, but wondered if one could make a pie that was half-meat (on one side) and half veg (on the other)? my next challenge!



banh mi

In challenge on February 8, 2015 at 2:25 am

have you ever had banh mi? it’s a delicious viet sandwich characterized by a crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside french roll, a pile of picked daikon radish and carrot, jalapenos, cucumber, cilantro and a protein – either layers of meats or deliciously browned tofu. they fall in the category of dirt-cheap, mind-blowingly tasty asian street food. don’t pay more than three or four bucks for a banh mi. it ruins the experience.

(if you’re in the dc area, the best place to find a top-notch banh mi is eden center. if you’re in the boston area, i haven’t found a great one yet.)

for christmas, mamacooks gifted me with a banh mi cookbook, so last weekend i took on the challenge to make everything from scratch – the roll, the mayonnaise, the pickles, the roasted tofu. (ok, i didn’t actually make the tofu itself, but i seasoned and cooked it.)


the roll was obviously the biggest challenge, but thanks to intricately detailed instructions, i came out with a product unlike anything i’ve made at home before. it both looked and tasted store-bought and perfect. this was thanks to dough conditioners you add, including vital wheat gluten. more on this ingredient later, because i can’t wait to add it to all my breads.


if you’re not making the bread from scratch, banh mi are super easy to construct.

the pickles are very straightforward – cut carrots and daikon into match sticks and marinate in a 1:2 mixture of sugar and vinegar for a few hours or overnight.

match-stick your cucumber, too, and thinly slice the jalapeno. the cilantro can be in long pieces.

start with schmears of mayo on both sides, salt and pepper, and, if you want to get really fancy and authentic, a small drizzle of maggi seasoning sauce.


then your filling. we used roasted tofu, recipe from the cookbook.


then your veg



close the top and lose yourself in deliciousness.



french macaroons

In challenge on January 24, 2015 at 6:34 pm

one friday night when i was home alone, i decided to take on a challenge i’d had my sights set on for awhile – french macaroons. mamacooks sent me a lovely card with a recipe on the back and it’s been tempting me for weeks.


french macaroons are notoriously tricky. getting the right texture at the end and especially that little foot (the bubbles at the bottom) takes patience and exacting precision. (that’s also my excuse for only have pictures toward the end of the process)

in any case, you beat your egg whites and then carefully fold in almond flour and sugar. these were very pale pink, so there was a drop of food coloring (if you are a real baker, you use gel food coloring, but i used the regular egg-dying kind) and lemon zest, too.

then you pipe the batter into discs using a pastry bag. the recipe didn’t detail how this was to be done, so i started the wrong way – by making coils (on the left). no no. the batter isn’t liquidy enough to smooth out. so then i started holding the bag upright and piping in one place. the batter oozed out into a disc (on the right). much better.


some of the larger ones i made collapsed, and i think those were the coils, as well. no coils!


i had heard that you can use a damp finger to tap down the little point that results from piping for a super smooth top, but i also noticed that if your finger is too wet, it ruins the top of the finished product. see the ones that are broken? told you everything has to be just right for them to come out perfectly…


so then they sit and dry for over an hour before you bake them.

once they cool, fill with whatever sounds good – frosting, chocolate ganache, jam, lemon curd. i used the latter and raspberry jam, both of which i thought went well with lemon cookies.


so would i make them again? no doubt they were delicious and make quite a presentation, but they were a challenge and i think if you’re going to give them away or serve at a party, they really should be absolutely perfect, which i’d say is hard to achieve. if i did make them again, i think i’d make all minis. i’ve never seen mini macaroons before (other than the card) so that makes them unique and special, plus they seemed a little more forgiving in terms of not collapsing.



yummy joes

In challenge on January 22, 2014 at 3:19 am

…the opposite of sloppy, in that they are meatless!

i turned to bulgur as my meat substitute. you often see it used in chili instead of ground meat, so why not?


start by bringing three cups of water to a boil with a generous pinch of salt. add one cup dried bulgur. return to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, for 7 minutes.

if your water is boiling away too quickly, turn it down a little or add a splash more.


you want it soft, but not mushy. al dente. toothsome.

let it sit in the hot pan uncovered while you make the rest of the sauce. don’t worry if there’s a little extra water left in there, but if it looks like more than a couple tablespoons, drain it out.

next, cube one medium red bell pepper and one medium onion. i made them pretty small.


heat a heavy-bottomed (preferably non-reactive since we’re working with acidic tomatoes) pan over medium-high heat with a tablespoon of olive oil.

sautee onions until they start to get brown.


for the seasonings, you can use store-bought steak seasoning if you’d like, or mix up your own:


a half-teaspoon each of salt, garlic powder, black pepper and paprika, plus a quarter teaspoon nutmeg and red pepper flakes.

also, mix your other seasonings:

a tablespoon of brown sugar, a tablespoon of red wine vinegar, a tablespoon of worchestershire sauce, a teaspoon of mustard (any kind will do) and two tablespoons of tomato paste (use ketchup if you don’t have any).

when the onions are nice and brown but not too wilted, add the red peppers and your dry spices, stirring for just a second until they bloom.

then turn down the heat to medium and stir in 23 ounces of tomato sauce and your “wet” seasonings.


let your mixture come to a simmer and bubble along for 10-15 minutes (or more), stirring often. you want the sauce to cook down and thicken a little bit.

when it’s time to add the bulgur, i recommend scooping about half a cup of sauce out of the pan first. you can always add it back in later, depending on how juicy you like your joes… i ended up using all of mine.



serve piled on a bulkie roll with veggies on the side. a delicious, healthy, balanced meal.


yummy joes ingredient list

1 cup uncooked bulgur
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 red pepper flakes or to taste
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon worchestershire sauce
1 teaspoon of mustard
2 tablespoons tomato paste
rolls for serving

developed upon request of mrs. lnrb

flaming baba au rhum

In challenge on January 5, 2014 at 3:51 pm

well, this was only 75% successful…

when i saw this baba au rhum recipe in the new york times the day before new year’s, it struck as something i had to try immediately. a rum and chocolate cake? why yes, please! and what is a more appropriate night for a flaming cake than new year’s?? so festive!

let’s just say everything worked except the flaming.

the cake itself was delicious. it’s a not-to-sweet yeast cake (don’t be scared!), so it has that deliciously appealing bready, yeasty taste. but it also has a layer of bittersweet chocolate inside, adding a sweet surprise. and it’s made in a bundt pan, which for me conveys a sense of retro glam.


(the key to a successful bundt turnout is to grease the pan very, very, very well)


then you make an orange-ginger-spice simple syrup and rum mixture to drench it in.


setting the cake on a rack over a sheet pan means you can collect the syrup that runs off and repour it over the cake.

after soaking the cake in the sugar mixture, the recipe directs you to pour some rum into a sauce pan and ignite it on the stove. the recipe does not point out, for those who might not know, that this snazzy little technique is only doable on a gas stove…

that, however, was not my problem. it just wouldn’t ignite! so then we poured more rum over the cake and set a match to it directly – still no flambe.

finally after adding several more hearty pours of booze to the cake and numerous matches, we decided to forego the fire and settle for whipped cream.


it was so moist (obviously! think tres leches) and subtly sweet and boozy. really, a great holiday dessert that i will definitely make again.