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That Chocolate Cake

September 27, 2012

The first time I made Andrew a birthday cake, I was up until 3 in the morning baking it. I was in college, too busy studying and interning to be fussing with a cake from scratch, but I was determined to bake him one and so I did. The next day, we celebrated his birthday and ate the cake, and I remember thinking to myself that the cake was so not worth it. It was not worth the stress it caused me or the hours of sleep it deprived me—it was not that good of a cake. I know it was the thought that counted, but for me, the cake was important too.

Every year since then, I’ve been looking for the cake. The one that trumps all other cakes and must be made every year following its discovery. So this year, I decided to make That Chocolate Cake. You’ve heard of it, right?


I’ve seen this cake all over the place; it’s that chocolate cake that everyone has been raving about (like here, here, and here). That chocolate cake from the Scharffen Berger cookbook, supposedly the only chocolate cake recipe you’ll ever need. And now it will be known as that chocolate cake I made for Andrew’s 28th birthday.

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Homemade Wheat Crackers

September 19, 2012

I took a quick trip to Chicago last weekend to reunite with some good girlfriends of mine. I spent a good 48 hours overindulging in gossip, food, and drink. So the last thing I wanted to do this week after I got back was to make or eat anything too unhealthy. Homemade wheat crackers were in order. They are made with wholesome ingredients like whole wheat, millet, flax seed, and olive oil, and taste better than any store bought crackers that I’ve ever had.


I realize that getting out your rolling pin and making crackers yourself isn’t always an option, but when you can, it is a really wonderful treat. The wheat crackers are nutty and crisp, with a flavor that reminds me of Wheat Thins, but really there’s no comparison. These are in a league of their own.

I have to thank one of my favorite cookbooks, Alana Chernila’s The Homemade Pantry, for the recipe. When I first flipped through the pages of Alana’s book, I felt a connection to her right away. She approaches food in such a real and honest way and has convinced me that I can be the type of person who makes things like butter, yogurt, and cheese in my own kitchen. While I’m not quite there yet, I would say that I’ve been heading in that direction for a while now—making everything I can from scratch and rarely buying packaged foods.

Alana’s book and recipes remind me that almost anything you buy at the grocery store can be made at home, often with less costly, better for you, and more delicious results. These crackers are definitely proof of that and I look forward to trying more recipes that can expand the list of foods that I make instead of buy.

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Vanilla Sugar

September 11, 2012

I can’t think of a simpler way to make plain old sugar feel like a total luxury. Vanilla beans have a way of elevating things and a simple vanilla bean placed in a jar of sugar does wonders. Not only does the sugar get infused with vanilla flavor, but also anything you make with it gets speckled with lovely, seemingly decadent vanilla bean seeds.


I’ve listed measurements in the recipe, but it’s really not something that requires precision. All you need to do is scrape a vanilla bean and place the seeds and the pod in a jar of sugar. And if you have any empty, already scraped vanilla bean pods leftover from a recipe (like this one), toss them in the jar too.


Once mixed, let the sugar sit in your pantry (mine is currently filled with a lot of squash). After a couple of weeks, the sugar will have taken on all that wonderful vanilla and will be ready to be sprinkled into coffee or baked into treats.
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Roasted Eggplant and Onion Dip

September 5, 2012

I’ve never met a fruit or vegetable that I didn’t like. Unfortunately, not everyone (and I mean everyone I live with) shares this sentiment. I’ve long accepted Andrew’s aversion to raw tomatoes, but when it came to eggplant, I was sure I could make him see the light.

Since eggplant season started in July, I’ve been cooking it a lot and to my disappointment, with little enthusiasm from Andrew. Even the eggplant gratin that I made the other week couldn’t convert him (I was sure it would). After having to consume a lot of eggplant dishes on my own these last couple of months, I resigned eggplant to the “don’t make for Andrew” list along with his stubborn raw tomatoes.

That’s when I decided to make this dip, which is made with roasted eggplant, sautéed onions and garlic, and a good amount of Greek yogurt. I had no intention of sharing it with anyone. It was just for me, eggplant-loving me.


Of course, when I put the dip on the table, Andrew had his hands in it before I had a chance to warn him about the eggplant. You can see where this is going…

Apparently, he doesn’t hate everything with eggplant in it after all. As delicious as this dip is, I almost wish it was more eggplant-y, but for someone like Andrew, it’s just perfect. I’m still keeping eggplant on the “don’t make for Andrew” list, but I’m happy to have found an exception to the rule that we can both enjoy.
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Simple Flatbread

August 30, 2012

The first time I used yeast, I accidently killed it. The cinnamon roll muffins that I was attempting to make turned out more like cinnamon roll hockey pucks. I called my little sister to complain and she told me that the water I dissolved the yeast in was probably too hot, thus killing the yeast. Ugh… darn that yeast!

That was back when yeast intimidated me. The very idea that you could “kill” it gave me anxiety. Luckily, I got over my fear of baking with it pretty quickly. All it took was one successful recipe and I was hooked. There’s something incredibly satisfying and almost magical about making your own bread. The way that yeast can transform simple ingredients like flour and water into something as wonderful as bread excites me every time.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve tried a lot of different bread recipes and one of the things I find myself making time and time again is pizza/flatbread dough. It’s easy if I need a little bread to go with dinner or it’s dinner itself covered with cheese and other toppings. After trying a lot of different recipes and a little experimentation, I eventually developed this recipe, which has been my go-to for a while now.


I decided to keep the version for this post simple with just a sprinkling of coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, which is what I do when I serve this bread alongside dinner. It goes well with just about anything and you’ll be amazed at how good this bread is for being so simple.

When I do add toppings (cheeses, sauces, meats, etc.), I work the dough a little more so that it doesn’t puff up as much as the bread shown here. It’s not an exact science, but it works just fine for me. I’m sure an actual bread maker would cringe at my lack of precision, but I’m okay with that.

For anyone that gives this recipe a try, I’ve made a few notes throughout the recipe so you know exactly what I do to make, bake, and store the dough. Also, get creative with it. You can top it with whatever you want. One of my favorite ways to use the dough is to smear it with homemade pesto and cover it with grated mozzarella before baking. Seriously delicious!
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Baking fussy cakes is not my thing. I probably bake a multi-layered cake one to two times a year (every year for Andrew’s birthday and perhaps another occasion). I am a big fan of single layer cakes, though. They are more relaxed, don’t require an occasion, and somehow always meet your expectations. For some reason big cakes always carry exceedingly high expectations. I have yet to make a layered cake that I am completely happy with, but single layer cakes never fail to impress me. Like the single layer chocolate cake that I made a while back, this buttermilk cake is delicious, easy, and totally no fuss.

I first got the idea to make a buttermilk cake after seeing a couple versions with strawberries back in May (here and here). I totally forgot about it until this week when I came across this recipe for buttermilk cake with blackberries in the August issue of Food & Wine. I absolutely love this recipe. The batter is light and sweet. The blackberries add beautiful color and flavor. And a sprinkling of sugar over the cake before baking creates a wonderful crisp and slightly sparkly top.


If you want to be fancy, a sprinkling of berries and a dollop of whipped cream make this cake extra pretty. It’s also just as good on its own. So far eating this cake cold for breakfast is my favorite way to eat it, but then again cake for breakfast always sounds good to me.
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I don’t really want Cooper to overshadow the zucchini bread in this post, but it is his first blog appearance, so I’ll let you be the judge. Before I start gushing about the joys of puppy parenting, let me tell you that this zucchini bread is really good. This version has a little whole wheat flour, sour cream, raw turbinado sugar, and a good dose of cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg. It’s the kind of treat that is perfect sliced and toasted with a cup of tea for breakfast or on its own as an afternoon snack.


In the middle of taking pictures for this post, I noticed Cooper’s little face staring at me from under the kitchen table, peaking over one of the benches (which we have in lieu of chairs). He usually hangs out in his crate when I’m working on a blog post, but I guess I didn’t latch the door all the way. And true to his attention-loving personality, he insisted on getting his picture taken. Riley, our older dog, will turn his head any time you point a camera at him, but not Cooper. He loves the spotlight.

Cooper is the crazy one in our little 2 human, 2 dog family and he is constantly getting into trouble. Leave a bathroom door open and you will find all the toilet paper unrolled and ripped to shreds in a pile on the floor. Buy an amazing antique cabinet, look away for 2 seconds, and there will be tiny puppy teeth marks somewhere on it.

He is technically still a puppy (not even 2 years old yet), so we’re waiting for the day when he calms down, but I’m secretly hoping that not all of his craziness goes away. His antics keep me on my toes and I love that about him.

Even though Riley is a little more camera shy than Cooper, he is usually sitting on my lap as I write these posts—a good little blogging assistant. I’m sure at some point he too will make an appearance, but for now you’ll just have to enjoy Cooper and this delicious zucchini bread.
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August 14, 2012

When I first moved to Houston last summer, all anyone talked about was the heat. The area was in a drought and it was the worst summer Houston had experienced in years (or so I’ve been told). This summer has been milder and more bearable, but very hot nonetheless. Besides summer dresses and air conditioning, nothing sounds better in the Texas heat than a cold beverage, and this watermelonade is my new favorite.

This simple combination of watermelon and lemon juices is bright, refreshing, and pink—what’s not to love? Some people drink watermelon juice on its own, but I find that it’s too sweet for me. I like throwing in a lemon or two, which adds acidity and tartness to balance things out. Think of it as lemonade that has been sweetened and diluted with fresh watermelon juice instead of sugar and water.


Also, you will notice in the recipe (and in this one) that I like to make juices in small batches. The fresher the juice is, the more vitamins and antioxidants it retains, so I try to make only as much juice as I plan to drink immediately. There’s a lot of great stuff in watermelons and lemons (beta-carotene, vitamin C, etc.), which makes this pretty pink drink good in more ways than one.
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When I found this recipe, I was intrigued, but didn’t have high expectations. The ingredient list is simple, but curious. Does the base layer, which is full of walnuts and dates, actually taste like a brownie? Will the raw oats in the peanut butter layer be edible? Can chocolate ganache be made with coconut oil? All these things popped into my head as I followed the recipe, which by the way requires no cooking whatsoever. All the ingredients go in raw and stay raw.

My doubts went away after I took my first bite. They are unbelievably good. There is chocolate and there is peanut butter (an always heavenly combination), but I believe it’s the hint of coconut oil in two of the layers that makes these Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie Bars extra special.


Despite being raw, I will warn you that these bars are incredibly rich. I cut my batch into 16 pieces and each piece is more than a generous portion. I also couldn’t help but think that if there were a time to put edible gold on something that this would be it. Unfortunately, edible gold is not something I keep on hand, so I settled for a dusting of cacao powder—although I can’t decide if they are prettier with or without it.
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Cherry Pie Filling

August 4, 2012

Cherries are one of my favorite summer fruits. They always seem like an indulgence, partly because cherry season is so short and partly because they are often on the pricier side. When I buy them at a premium, I buy a small batch and eat them fresh. When the price drops though, it’s a whole different story.


This week, cherries were so cheap at the grocery store, I felt like I couldn’t buy enough. After bringing them home and pitting a huge pile, I set aside some to snack on, some to freeze (so I have a stash when the season is over), and decided to make cherry pie filling with the rest.


The recipe I use comes from My Baking Addiction and it couldn’t be simpler. You throw a hefty amount of cherries into a pot, add a few more ingredients (like sugar and cornstarch), let it bubble away for a bit, and before you know it those beautiful red cherries have turned into a lovely, saucy pie filling.

While you can make a cherry pie with this cherry pie filling, I didn’t. I’ve been using it instead as a topping for other delicious things. Vanilla ice cream and cheesecake (like the one shown in my first picture) are my recommendations.
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