Archive for the 'Cooking' Category

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

Nov 01 2008 Published by under Cooking


Okay, I’ll admit it: this is pulled straight from an issue of Bon Appetit.

I’m only willing to deal with a certain amount of complexity in a recipe, and this one is right at the far edge of what I’m willing to do. The cake itself is easy, though I usually go with boxed cake.

I balked at the frosting. Which is not even difficult to make; it’s just that it involves a significant amount of effort just to make…frosting. Especially when I have a foolproof frosting recipe (dump a box of powdered sugar in a bowl and add hot water in spurts, stirring, until you get a spreadable frosting).

Anyway. I made it, and it does make a delicious cake, with a surprising mix of flavors. The caramel cream cheese frosting feels pleasantly complex on the tongue, and the cake feels smooth, dense, and very dessert-like.

It’s worth the effort, for me, though this will probably be relegated to the “once per year” category.

At least I conquered the frosting.

Prep time 1.5 hours, total time 2.5 hours, plus 2 hours to chill the frosting


The Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

1 15-ounce can pureed pumpkin

1 ½ cups sugar

1 ¼ cups vegetable oil

4 large eggs

2 teaspoons finely grated orange peel

Chocolate chips (optional garnish)

The Frosting

1 1-pound box powdered sugar

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon salt

1 8-ounce package cream cheese

¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter


Large bowl

Mixing/blender bowl

Small frying pan

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350° F, then prep two cake pans (I spray ’em with cooking spray, and cut out circles of parchment paper and lay them inside, and spritz them with cooking spray). Whisk all the dry ingredients except the sugar in a bowl. In the mixing/blender bowl, beat the pumpkin, sugar and oil until combined, then add the eggs 1 at a time. With the mixer at low speed, slowly add the flour mixture just to blend.

Divide the batter between the two pans, and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 33 minutes (note that one layer may bake faster than the other). Cool in pan for 10 minutes or so, then invert on a wire rack and completely cool. Wash both bowls.

To make the frosting, first put the cream cheese and butter out on the counter. Sprinkle ½ cup powdered sugar into the small pan. Cook over medium heat, without stirring, until the sugar melts, then stir occasionally until the sugar turns a beautiful, deep amber color (should only take a minute or two). Carefully stir in ½ cup cream, vanilla, and salt (watch for spattering). Stir until any caramel bits dissolve. Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon cream. Strain, if possible, then cool the caramel to room temperature.

(I didn’t really have anything with which to strain the caramel, so I didn’t. I’m a rebel. Had no problems.)

Sift remaining powdered sugar into the mixing bowl, then add the cream cheese and butter, and mix. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar, then the cooled caramel. Cover and chill in the fridge until firm enough to spread, about 2 hours.

Now, assemble the cake. Trim excess off the top of each layer, put the first layer down, and spread slightly less than half the frosting on it. Let the frosting ooze down the sides, then firm it up. Put the top half on, and spread the remaining frosting on it. Use a knife dipped in hot water to spread the frosting; much easier.

Optionally, sprinkle chocolate chips on top.

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There’s Nothing Like Apple Pie

Oct 25 2008 Published by under Cooking

I love seasonal food.

Of course, I’m blessed with a society that provides all sorts of food at any time of the year. If I want blueberries in February, I can get them.

But some food remains inextricably linked to certain seasons. Lemon ice cream just only tastes right in the summer. Beef pot pie requires snow on the ground (and, ideally, a crackling fire). Strawberry shortcake seems tied to spring, somehow.

And autumn is the best time for apple pie.


Now, whereas some dishes are open for experimentation, apple pie remains a specific, classic dessert. When a person bites into apple pie, their teeth and tongue come to the experience with certain very definite expectations: Tender, flaky, buttery crust. A lattice top. Flavorful, tart apples. A sweet, thick interior that holds together; no running all over the plate.

That’s what this recipe delivers. And—please don’t click away from this page when you read this—it even includes its own pie crust, made from scratch. I’m proud of this, because the crust takes about 5 minutes to prepare (plus rolling it out, but that only takes another 10).

In fact, despite the length of this recipe, it’s really dead simple: toss the crust ingredients together and massage until it forms a dough. Chill it, then roll it out. Chop up the apples, and toss the remaining ingredients together with the apples. Put them in the crust, make the lattice top (or not), and bake it. And you’ve got perfect apple pie.

Prep Time 30-45 minutes, total time 1 ½ to 2 hours, plus cooling and chilling time


For The Crust:

2.5 cups (350 grams) all-purpose flour

1.5 sticks (¾ cup) butter

¼ cup Crisco or other vegetable shortening

½ teaspoon salt

7 tablespoons water

For The Pie:

3 Granny Smith apples

3 McIntosh apples

4 teaspoons lemon juice

¾ cup sugar

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon allspice

1/8 teaspoon allspice


Large bowl

Pie tin

To make the crust, melt the butter in a microwave for 30 seconds on high. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, first with a spoon, then with your hands, massaging until it forms a consistent dough. Divide into two halves (ideally, make one half slightly larger than the other; the larger half will be the crust and the smaller the lattice top). Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, then roll out.

Preheat the oven to 500°.

Peel each apple thusly: cut it into quarters, then cut out the core using a V cut, then cut off the peel. Slice into roughly ¼” slices and put them all in a bowl.

To the apples, add the lemon juice and stir. Separately, stir together the sugar and spices, then add those to the apples and stir until all the sugar mixture clings to the apples.

Pour the apples into the crust. Cut the remaining crust into strips. To make the lattice, lay out one small piece on the far end, and another at a 90° angle to it on an adjacent side. Then lay a third, longer piece next to the first one, peeling back the second piece so the third piece can go under it. Lay the fourth piece parallel to the second piece, peeling back the first piece so the fourth piece can go under that one. Continue layout out lattice pieces, peeling back existing pieces to create the proper lattice effect.

Bake at 425° F until the crust is golden, about 25 minutes, then reduce heat to 375° F and bake until the juices bubble and the top is deep GBD (Golden Brown and Delicious), at least 25 minutes more. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. The pie will need several hours in the refrigerator before the filling sets firmly. Then get out the vanilla ice cream and prepare yourself for some classic apple pie.

(A tip for rolling out dough: Lay the dough between two sheets of wax paper, and roll it out. You won’t need to sprinkle flour everywhere, your rolling pin will stay clean, and once the dough is at the edge of the wax paper, it’s wide enough to fit in the pie tin.)

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Helen Eppley’s Pound Cake

Oct 14 2008 Published by under Cooking


This is the greatest pound cake in the world.

That may seem vain to you. However, I make this claim because I’ve been eating this pound cake for far longer than I’ve been making it.

This is the pound cake made by Helen Eppley, a dear woman that sat near me in church. Every week, she’d make a couple of pound cakes, and bring them to church and give them out. You never knew when you’d get one. But when you did, oh man, you knew what you’d be having for dessert.

Helen Eppley’s pound cake is rich, buttery, and dense, without being too heavy. It goes just to the edge of heavy, to use a very strange wording.

It tastes mostly of butter and vanilla, with just a hint of lemon.

It’s also fantastic when grilled and topped with vanilla ice cream.

And best of all, it’s incredibly easy to make, using the muffin method (mix butter and sugar together in a blender, add eggs and remaining wet ingredients, then add dry ingredients that have been sifted together).

Prep Time 15 minutes; total time 1 hour, 45 minutes


3 cups (630 grams) sugar

1 and ½ cups (3 sticks) butter

5 eggs

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon (255 grams) milk

1 tablespoon vanilla

2 tablespoons lemon extract

3 cups (435 grams) flour

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder


Mixing bowl (stand mixer or bowl with hand mixer)

Two loaf pans, or one large spring-form pan

Preheat the oven to 325° F.

Grease and flour the pans. In the large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix in milk, vanilla, and lemon extract.

Separately, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder, then add the mixture slowly to the batter, stirring as you go.

Bake for 1 hour at 325° F, and another ½ hour at 350° F.

(Mixing tip: I put the flour, salt, and baking powder in a hand sifter, then turn the mixer on low. I hold a flexible mat next to the mixer as a ramp, sift the flour mixture onto the mat, and let it slide into the mixer. The flour mixture is incorporated into the batter gradually, and I don’t need a separate sifting step.)

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Sweet Potato Apple Casserole

Sep 30 2008 Published by under Cooking

I love Halloween. A few weeks ago, as I cruised a nearby Ben Franklin for Halloween decorations, I stumbled upon an excellent little magazine of Halloween recipes, ideas, costume patterns, etc. Inside was a recipe for sweet potato apple casserole, and my goodness, every bite tastes like autumn.


3 pounds sweet potatoes

4 medium or 3 large tart apples, peeled

¼ cup lemon juice

½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts

½ cup (1 stick) butter, cubed

½ cup packed brown sugar

½ cup honey

2 tablespoons orange juice

½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoons ground ginger


11″x7″ baking dish

Large bowl

Small saucepan

Baking sheet

Preheat the oven to 400° F.

Scrub the sweet potatoes with a vegetable brush under cold water, then poke each potato in several places with a fork and place them on a baking sheet.


Bake at 400° for 35-45 minutes, or until almost tender (they should give just slightly when squeezed). Cool slightly, then peel and slice into 1/4-inch slices.

Cut the peeled apples into 1/4-inch slices and toss with lemon juice in the large bowl. In a greased 11″x7″ baking dish, arrange sweet potato and apple slices alternately. Sprinkle with nuts.


In the small saucepan, combine the remaining ingredients over medium heat (50%). Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and pour the mixture over the potatoes and apples.


Bake, uncovered, at 400° for 25 to 30 minutes, until tender.


Absolutely delicious.

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Independence Day Parfaits

Jul 06 2008 Published by under Cooking


  • 1 pound strawberries
  • 1 pound blueberries
  • 1 small carton heavy cream
  • 1 cup of vanilla yogurt


  • A standing mixer
  • 6 glass parfait glasses, if possible

Chill the bowl and blade of a standing mixer in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

Wash the fruit and slice the strawberries.

Remove the bowl and blade from the fridge and put them in the mixer. Pour in the heavy cream, and start mixing it. Add sugar to taste. Increase speed as high as you can with causing cream to splatter all over your kitchen. Watch the cream like a hawk, until it forms soft peaks, then stop the mixer.

Into each parfait glass, place a dollop of yogurt, then add a dollop of the sweetened cream, and stir gently. Add a handful of blueberries. Add just cream, then a handful of sliced strawberries. Top with cream, and one extra small strawberry slice. Serves 6.

Save the remaining cream jealously, and eat when nobody’s looking.

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Make your own root beer

May 25 2008 Published by under Cooking

You know how sodas contain quite a few chemicals and additives, right? Wish you could drink clean soda?

I’ve just uploaded a new video to my Cooking with CK website, explaining How to make root beer from scratch. The same directions should apply for any kind of flavor you want to add, from orange to ginger ale.

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Instructable Wine

May 16 2008 Published by under Cooking

Just finished a busy time in the kitchen. Made some icebox cookie dough (with lemon!), some udon noodles from a new recipe, and wine. Sort of ghetto wine, actually.

The recipes are from Instructables, a cool website with lots of offbeat how-tos, from How to Make an Easy Inverted Planter to Making realistic Steampunk Airship Goggles. I’ve spent a serious amount of time browsing it in the past couple of days.

The wine recipe is suspiciously simple. As I fiddled in the kitchen tonight, I refined it thusly:


  1. Thoroughly clean a wine bottle. I washed it out with soap, then filled it with piping hot water and let it stand for a few minutes, then wrapped the top with aluminum foil while continuing with preparations.
  2. Put a funnel on the bottle, and pour in 1 and 1/8 teaspoons yeast, and ½ a teaspoon of Early Grey tea (for tannins, ya know).
  3. Put the bottle and funnel on a scale, and pour 260 grams of grape juice (or 1 cup) into the bottle. Swirl gently but firmly to mix everything.
  4. Add 485 grams of water, or until it reaches the neck (not into the neck).
  5. Lid with a balloon, and put it in a dark, cool place for 3-7 days, until it stops bubbling.
  6. Take another (thoroughly cleaned) bottle and top it with a funnel, and lay a coffee filter onto the funnel. Pour the wine through the filter into the second bottle, and cork it. Enjoy at your leisure.

That’s it. I’m going to bed. My fingers feel like thick Viennese sausages, unable to type a single coherent sentence.

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13 May 08

May 13 2008 Published by under Cooking

Just finished watching several episodes of Alton Brown’s Feasting on Asphalt, where he and a small crew travel America, off the highways, eating only locally made food (that is, nothing corporately processed or prepared).

It’s amazing, watching someone passionately committed to a concept—real, carefully-prepared food—delivering on it. It’s quirky and risky; you never know how it’ll turn out. But the food is usually excellent.

Risks are worth it. It’s inspired me to think more about my risks.

I’m also re-evaluating my routines and plans and such. After a productive Monday, and feeling a little ill today, I’m looking at my work and asking myself:

  1. Is this really helping humanity?
  2. How do I feel about it?
  3. What can I reframe to be more powerful, effective, useful, etc.?

Questions worth asking, I think.

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Toffee Bars

Apr 24 2008 Published by under Cooking

A recipe for toffee bars:

Combine a pound of light brown sugar and a pound (four sticks) of butter until light and fluffy. Add two egg yolks and 1.5 teaspoons of vanilla; mix well. While it mixes, sprinkle in a pound of flour and half a teaspoon of salt. Spread this mixture in a well-greased 8.5″x11″ pan, and bake at 350 degrees for half an hour, until the bars are golden brown.

Meanwhile, chop up four ounces of walnuts or pecans, and get out a bag of milk chocolate chips. When the pan comes out of the oven, sprinkle most of the bag of chocolate chips onto the bars, wait a few minutes, and spread the melting chocolate evenly. Sprinkle with the chopped nuts. Cut into rectangles before it’s completely cooled.

Half a bag of chocolate chips creates a thin layer of chocolate; a full bag creates a very thick layer.

Try not to eat them all in one sitting.

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18 Nov 07

Nov 18 2007 Published by under Cooking

Homemade Crackers

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Combine two cups of flour with six tablespoons of butter, two tablespoons of honey, and five tablespoons of water in a large bowl. Mix until it forms a dry dough that neveretheless holds together (add water a tablespoon at a time if it’s too dry).

Divide dough in half and put one half between two pieces of wax paper. Roll until the dough reaches both edges of the paper. Use a fork to punch little holes in the dough, and sprinkle on salt. Cut into strips, then cut crosswise into diagonals (a pizza cutter works great). Repeat with other half.

Bake for at least 15 minutes, until the crackers just begin to brown around the edges.

I thought they weren’t worth the effort. Now that I’ve tasted these, I don’t want to ever eat store-bought crackers.

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