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real life test kitchen: mandarin olive oil cake

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This winter I’ve been eating clementines like they are potato chips. I always have a bowl at my desk and even toss them in my bag when I’m on the go. This recipe for Mandarin Olive Oil Cake from Real Simple brings my new mini-orange obsession to a whole new delicious level. I’ve made it using clementines and I’ve made it using mandarins. Both are equally yummy. I also poke holes in the cake before I pour on the icing, which I make a little more runny than the magazine called for. That way the sweetness becomes almost like filling, and makes the cake super moist.
Here’s my take:

Mandarin (or Clementine!) Olive Oil Cake

What You Need:

1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for the pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled, plus more for the pan
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp plus a pinch fine salt
3/4 cup whole milk (I used 1% and it was fine)
2 tbls unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbl finely grated mandarin zest, plus 6 tbls mandarin juice (from about 6 mandarins*)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup confectioners’ sugar (RS called for one and half but I like mine thin)

How To Make:

1. Heat oven to 350° F. Brush an 8½-by-4½-inch loaf pan with oil and dust with flour, tapping out the excess.

2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and ½ teaspoon salt in a medium bowl; set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, milk, butter, vanilla, mandarin zest, and 4 tablespoons of the mandarin juice; set aside.

3. Beat the granulated sugar and eggs in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.

4. Reduce speed to low and add the flour mixture and the milk mixture alternately, beginning and ending with the flour mixture and mixing well between additions. (The batter will be thin.)

5. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan for 30 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

6. Combine the confectioners’ sugar, the remaining mandarin juice, and the remaining pinch of salt in a small bowl; whisk until smooth. (The glaze will be thick.) Poke holes in the cake with kebab skewer. Drizzle the icing over the cooled cake. Let set before serving.

a little hawaii in february: our hula-themed birthday party

hulagirl

Little darlings, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter — and our kid’s birthday landed smack in the dead middle of it. We’ve been trying to hang on to the aloha-vibe we picked up in Maui last November, but it ain’t easy when we’re iced-in. To help us all warm up a bit, we decided that this year (number 6!) Isadora would have a hula-themed birthday. I found a local hula teacher who specialized in lessons for children, and booked her as the main event. Around the house we mixed vintage Hawaiian decor with some tchotchke’s from new, inexpensive things from Oriental Trading Co. Below are photos of some highlights!

hulatopperA vintage tiki bowl mingles with some paper centerpieces from Oriental Trading Co.

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On the mantle, more vintage tikis doubling as vases, along with a straw skirt — meant for a table but it worked better here for us.

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Our safe for kiddies tropical punch included pineapple, orange, cranberry, and white grape juices with guava nectar and sparkling apple cider. Served with paper umbrellas, of course.

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A rainbow of fruit featuring a mini-marshmallow cloud in the middle. Guess which got eaten first?

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The piece de resistance: A hula girl cake! This one might need a separate post on its own, but lets say that we started with Wilton Doll Cake mold and a lot a of green food dye.

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The finished piece of beauty.

 

real life test kitchen: ina garten’s salted caramel brownies

This post was originally published in 2012 — but in honor of both Super Bowl Sunday and approaching Valentine’s Day, we thought we could use another dose of this yumminess.

I have a soft spot for things that are salty and sweet — especially things that are chocolately, salty and sweet (like my favorite Trader Joe’s candy). So when I spotted this recipe from Ina Garten in Food Network magazine, I couldn’t wait to give it a whirl. It’s from her new cookbook, Barefoot Contessa Foolproof Recipes, which could really be the title of all of her cookbooks. Her recipes never fail. This super rich, moist chocolate brownie would be outstanding on its own. It has a bit of instant coffee in it, which gives it a nice sophistication. Chocolate chips blended in the rich the batter give it a double wallop of goodness. Then, on the top of this magic, you drizzle caramel sauce finished off with a sprinkle of course, high quality sea salt. That touch propels these brownies into the stratosphere. The caramel and the salt are not every day pantry ingredients, but they are worth hunting down and using if you really want to make an impression. I promise you that everyone who you share these with (if you can force yourself to share them) will swoon. Use cautiously as they are hard to have in the house without devouring.

Here’s my take on Ina Garten’s Salted Caramel Brownie recipe. I highly recommend you buy her new book (I just did and will write about more of her dishes soon.).

What You Need:
2 sticks of unsalted butter
8 ounces plus 6 ounces Hershey’s semisweet chocolate chips (a little more than one bag)
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3 extra-large eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons instant coffee granules (I used decaf Nescafe)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 to 6 ounces good caramel sauce
2 to 3 teaspoons flaked sea salt

How to Make

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9 x 12 x 1 1/2-inch baking pan.
2. Melt the butter, 8 ounces of the chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate together in a medium bowl set over simmering water. Allow to cool for 15 minutes. In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee, vanilla, and sugar. Stir the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature (very important!).
3. While that mixture is cooling, sift sift together the half cup of flour, the baking powder and salt in a separate bowl, and then add to the cooled down chocolate mixture. 4. In a separate bowl, stir the remaining 6 ounces of chocolate chips and the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour. Add the flour-coated chips to the chocolate mixture. Spread evenly in the prepared pan.
5. Bake for 35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Don’t overbake!
6. As soon as the brownies are out of the oven, heat up the jar of caramel sauce (either in the microwave without the lid, or buy running really hot tap water over the whole thing). Make sure it is pourable. Use a spoon to drizzle the caramel evenly over the hot brownies.
7. Sprinkle with the sea salt. Cool completely and cut into 12 bars.

More Barefoot Contessa recipes we love:
Chinese Chicken Salad

Brunch Perfect Scones

Outrageously Good Brownies
Turkey Meatfloaf

toasting marshmellows sundance style? you need some rustic roasters

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This weekend, tens of thousands of people will be descending on the snowy little ski town of Park City Utah, to schmooze, deal, gawk and watch hours of movies in dark theaters at the Sundance Film Festival. I’ve been lucky enough to attend more than once, and whenever I come home I want to add a little mountain cabin style to home — perhaps a Navajo rug or maybe something sheepskin. This year I’m observing from afar, but I have my eye on these antler roasters from Rustic Roasters. Made by Steven Wymer out of either reclaimed branches or naturally shed antlers, they are selected, then lovingly shaped and stained, cured and crafted. Handles are colored and coated with non-synthetic finishes and the toasting rods are food-grade stainless steel. They’ll bring your s’mores to the next level — even if they’re being made on the back of your deck in a suburban firepit. $129 for a set of four. See more at rusticroasters.com.

is this STILL the best chocolate chip cookie recipe, ever?

chocolatechipbestever

When we first started this blog, back in 2007, this recipe caused a great deal of debate. We still make it all time, and realized it had been years since we shared with you. Here it is fresh for 2014, with a nice photo. The recipe came from Wendy Gaynor, who started the bakery Ruby & Violette years ago. The shop is now run by different, industrious women and the cookies they sell on West 50th Street are still beyond delicious. Below is Wendy’s original recipe. We suggest serving them warm with a tall glass of cold milk.


Wendy Gaynor’s ‘Perfect’ Chocolate Chunk Cookies

What You Need:
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 cups semisweet chunks (preferably imported).

How to Make
1. Place the butter in a large bowl and cream at high speed until fluffy. Add the sugars and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until completely mixed.
2. In a separate bowl, mix flour, salt and baking soda. Add to the butter mixture at low speed until just combined and add vanilla extract. Beat on medium speed, scraping bowl down, until blended. Do not overmix.
3. Add chocolate chunks and mix till thoroughly combined. Refrigerate batter until cold, preferably overnight.
4. Preheat a conventional oven to 350 degrees or a convection oven to 300 degrees, and line several baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop heaping spoonfuls of batter 2 inches apart on the lined baking sheets and bake, turning tray once, until golden brown around edges and soft (but not bubbly), about 9 minutes in a convection oven or 12 in a conventional one. Cool on a wire rack. Yield: 36 to 72 cookies, depending on size.

*This recipe appeared in The New York Times on October 27, 2002. Click here to read our original post with all the comments and tell us: Is this the best chocolate chip cookie recipe?