Monday, December 28, 2015

Winter-Spiced Chocolate Cake

I am all about the savory. Savory pies and appetizers draw me in but once in a while - chocolate comes calling like the four calling birds and I call back, "Yes, I will bake it."  And so it happened with this fudgy chocolate cake spiced with winter. Winter is here - or the meteorologists say it's coming. (Yesterday's prediction was "1-18 inches" will hit the Twin Cities Monday through Tuesday. Dear Meteorologists: How vague can you get?")

I don't do "pretty" very well - but it did come out of the bundt pan very prettily. And since pretty is as pretty does - I don't fret that my frosting efforts don't look as professional as they are in my head. (Years ago when I tried to pipe snowflakes in a Martha Stewart fashion my then young daughter soothed me with, "That's okay, Mom. She's a professional." Le sigh.)

I was pleased with the sugared cranberries. You don't need small motor skills to get those right.

The recipe comes from and I really advise you visit the blog (scroll down for English) because she makes things very, very pretty. Louise provides a lot of the ingredients in grams - some of my amounts are near-approximations.

The cake has a nice dense, chocoholic-almost-not-quite-fudge crumb and the sour cream in the batter keeps it moist for days. It's very helpful to make things ahead of time where you are expecting 36 for a Midwestern Christmas Eve dinner and then turn around and provide an Italian Christmas Day dinner. So yes, make it ahead.

It is of course perfect for Christmas - my internet was out the week before Christmas (tricky when your recipes are online) but really - there's still New Years, Valentine's Day, family celebrations and even snowstorms where this would be welcome at the table.

And it's really easy - nothing to it (until you frost the cake and find your hands consist of ten thumbs). But remembering this cake - we are ending 2015 on a chocolate cloud.

8 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup cocoa
1-1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch of ground cloves
1 cup sour cream
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

8 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice mix

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 10-12 cup bundt pan.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Once melted, add the cocoa and spices and whisk until smooth. Add the water and remove from heat. Add the sugar, sour cream, vanilla and eggs to the cocoa mixture and whisk until smooth. Set aside.

In a large bowl whisk the flour, baking soda and salt. Add the cocoa batter to the flour mixture and whisk until well-blended. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes (until firm to touch and slightly puled away from the sides of the pan). Remove from oven, cool twenty minutes. Carefully loosen cake with a knife and invert onto a large plate (really, that was the scariest part of the process. I had a caramel-apple pie ready\y-in-waiting in case it all fell apart). Cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting: Combine ingredients with in a large bowl with electric mixer or if your arms need a workout - by hand. Spread frosting on cake and dust with cinnamon and/or confectioners sugar. Decorate with lingonberries or cranberries.

I had two days of laughter over the holidays and three generations. It's warming and fuzzy and sweet - and exhausting!

Pino and Pippin entertained my son's cat (Puck) and my sister's cat (Murray-the-cat) for two days.

He was a wee bit Christmassed-out!

Puck is going to be a visitor for awhile. Matthew will be in Germany and after figuring out how to safely get here there, it was decided that she will stay with us for awhile. Both my family and Paul's family have a history of family members taking in our furry loved-ones while we moved around. We will continue the tradition.

Puck is tiny, and affectionate and a little sassy. Just what our fur boys need to be kept in line.

Tonight all is quiet. And we wait. For the 1-18 inches of snow that was supposed to arrive three hours ago.

The fire's lit. There's leftover Chocolate Cake. 

Just as winter should be. I hope your December has been as cozy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Lidia's Chicken Breast with Oranges and Olives

'tis the season - where candles are lit to ward off darkness. Where sparkle is called for and the usually-muted Claudia looks for a bit of glitter. And for dinner - I want flavor - more than the riches of fats and sugar so prevalent in December - I want the bright tang of oranges coupled with some briny salt. So I brought Lidia Bastianich's chicken with oranges and olives to the table. And was promptly told I could make it again.

So should you. 

Ingredients - serves 6 (I halved it and it served two just fine)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1-1/2 pounds thinly sliced chicken cutlets
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Flour - for dredging
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large red onion, sliced
1 cup pitted Gaeta or Kalamata olives, whole or halved
Juice and zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup white wine
1 teaspoon fennel powder (I used fennel seeds)*
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh Italian parsley 

For fennel powder: put 1/2 cup of fennel seed in spice grinder and mill until you have powder. Makes 1/4 cup. Store at room temperature, sealed.

1. In a large skillet over medium high heat, heat olive oil. Season chicken with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and lightly dredge chicken in flour. Lightly brown the chicken in oil (until it has a blonde crust), about two minutes per side. Cook chicken in batches. Remove chicken to plate.

2. Add butter and onion to skillet and cook until onion is softened - 3-4 minutes. Add olives, orange juice, zest white wine and fennel. Add chicken back into skillet and simmer until chicken is cooked through and the sauce coats the chicken - about 4 minutes. Season with remaining salt, sprinkle with parsley (I used some fennel frond) and serve.

We had a trim-the-tree dinner. 

It will never be a designer tree. The ornaments come from our travels, our quirks - all the stages of our lives. Trimming the tree evokes all the threads of our Christmases -  Past, Present and Future.

This little beauty was from my parent's earliest Christmas together.

And this came from a neighbor when I was five years old. I am willing to bet some of you have him.

Paul (who prefers to direct the trimming of the tree) noted that the lower third of the tree was bare.
And it still is. Because ...