Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Yay, It's Wednesday Cake! Cake

I used a cookie cutter like a stencil to do the sprinkle flowers. And I used a horrible squeezy fondant frosting pen for the writing, although whipped cream cheese in a ziploc bag with the corner snipped off works well too. Also? Feel free to omit the word "cake" from your cake, if it doesn't especially warm your heart. Because you're made of stone.
Years ago, a FamilyFun reader shared an idea that I loved. I think we’d put out a call for—what? Ideas to make everyday life more fun, maybe? Or 50 great ways to keep weekdays from sucking? I can’t remember. But my favorite entry was this idea for a cake. And my very favorite thing about it was that when I wrote to ask for a photograph, it turned out that it was not a “Yay, It’s Wednesday!” cake, like I had imagined. It was a “Yay, It’s Wednesday Cake!” cake, which was, like, a thousand times even more charming and delightful. Others did not quite share my enthusiasm for the whole thing, and we did not end up running the idea. But it’s brilliant.

Because: Wednesday! I’m not going to stop you from making a mean or ironic “Yay, It’s Monday Cake!” cake. Or a redundantly ecstatic “Yay, it’s Friday Cake!” cake. But Wednesday really seems like a day that can stand to be both mildly celebrated and shored up. Thursday seems like another good candidate, although by Thursday I’m pretty much in full-on celebration mode, so I don’t so much need the cake. And Tuesday feels, well, a little soon. Wednesday, though. Just this afternoon, from upstairs, I heard Birdy walk in the door and cry, “Oh! Yay! It’s a Yay It’s Wednesday Cake cake!” And this was not a person who was overly happy leaving the house this morning. And by not “overly happy,” I mean, I checked my hair for flames after her fire-breathing departure for school. So.

And also? Should you crazily not want to celebrate any weekday in particular? This is just a great, easy cake. No butter to cream. Nothing fussy. Tasty and predictable and quick and small. Plus, not to boast, but the frosting is one of my best-ever recipes: creamy and chocolaty without that butteriness, which I don’t like in frosting, no offense buttercream lovers.

Plus, now it's almost *Thursday*!
Almost-Instant Vanilla Cake
If you double this recipe, bake it in a 9- by 13-inch pan, or two cake pans. Or make cupcakes. Just be sure to double the frosting too!

1 cup sugar
2 eggs
½ cup milk or buttermilk (buttermilk will make it more tender and tangy, but milk is fine)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ¼ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)

Heat the oven to 350 and grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or the equivalent. (I use an 11- by 7-inch rectangular dish.)

Beat the sugar and eggs with an electric mixer until they are nice and thick, about a minute. Add the liquid ingredients and beat for a couple of seconds, then add the dry ingredients (it would probably make sense to whisk these together first, but I seem not to) and mix just until combined.

Pour the batter in to the pan and bake until the top is golden, puffed, and firm (20-30 minutes). Let cool before frosting.

Whipped Chocolate Frosting
This is basically whipped ganache, but it’s good at any point in the making. You can skip the whipping and just pour the frosting on, if you prefer.  Trader Joe’s shelf-stable heavy cream is great for this, if that’s something you happen to keep around.

¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup heavy cream
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Put the chocolate chips and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer.
2. Put the cream in a small pot over medium-high heat and bring it just to a boil.
3. Carefully pour the cream over the chocolate, add the vanilla, and let it stand for 10 minutes without stirring.
4. Whisk until it’s smooth and shiny.
5. If it’s still warm, let the ganache cool to room temperature (5 to 10 minutes).
6. Beat it with an electric mixer, using the whisk attachment, on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 4 minutes. Use right away.

Makes 1 cup

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


Because that Valentine's Day post was giving me a wreath-on-the-door-in-March feeling. More soon. xo

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Last-Minute Valentines!

Weirdly addictive tortilla pizza valentine! I folded the tortilla in half and cut it with scissors, just like I was making a regular paper valentine and not one that I was just going to eat by myself before anybody woke up. You could add a note: "It's cheesy, but I love you." 
Oh my god! Did I leave you hanging? For Valentine's Day? I'm sorry! Hopefully you remembered that there were lots of ideas and links here. (That flip-you-off Valentine actually just made me laugh out loud. Because I crack myself up.) Plus, don't forget Birdy's preschool masterpieces.

But here are two (three if you count the pizza) last minute ideas that you could still do TODAY! Before your kids even wake up, assuming they're teenagers! First up: thumbody loves you! This is a very small piece of cardstock, like, 2 by 3 inches, I think. And an embellished thumbprint. Done.

I got these lovely chocolate bars and wrapped them up all fancy. I printed heart paper from this free download site, then made a simple paper, er, cummerbund. 

Boom. Done.

This is not especially quick or easy, so just bookmark it for next year. It's a red cotton shirt (thrifted, natch), washed and dried and fabric painted using a freezer-paper stencil (follow these directions). "heart" is 144 point helvetica bold, and I successfully printed it directly on the freezer paper, to eliminate the step of tracing it.

Okay. This was just something that happened accidentally: a heart sequin floating in my tea. But I thought it looked quite festive!
One last thing: if your partner has a good sense of humor, read this together. It's a little bitter, but it made us laugh and laugh.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Weirdly Addictive Tortilla Pizza

When I was eating only flax groats and soaked linen last month, I craved pizza. This is not especially unusual because I love pizza. I love it more than my kids do. Basically every dinnertime I consider ordering a pizza, but rarely do because I like to keep it as my ace in the hole, for the nights when it all goes to shit around here. Anyways, it wasn’t generalized hunger I was experiencing. It was hunger for pizza. And not just pizza toast either, although I would have settled.

This was around the same time that Ben and I checked out Kenji Lopez-Alt’s book, The Food Lab, which is the book version of his long-running recipe-science column on Serious Eats. The column is terrific, and I have found the recipes to be careful and reliable. They have a little of that Cooks’ Illustrated obsessive perfectionism about them, but they’re more “lard turns out to be the best frying medium” and less “first we fried it in honey and it was a disaster.” (Sorry for the Cooks’ Illustrated inside joke.) Anyhoo, we made Kenji’s mac and cheese from the book, which is fantastic, but it has a stick of butter and 1 ½ pounds of cheese in it, so it fucking better be fantastic is how I feel about a recipe like that. But this recipe below, adapted from the website, is everything I love in a recipe: utter genius simplicity that results in something a thousand times better than the sum of its parts. As a pizza experience, it is uncannily satisfying.

Kenji calls this “Extra-Crispy Bar-Style Tortilla Pizza,” leading me to believe that bar pizza is a phenomenon I have missed entirely, frequenting bars infrequently, as I do. But it’s just brilliant, for some reason, even though you’re going to see right away that what this is is just an open-face quesadilla. There’s something about the way the cheese crusts at the edges, though. Or the way the whole thing bubbles up. Or the way its is simultaneously crisp-bottomed and tender-topped. 

The four of us ate nine of them in two days, and even though I had to make them one at a time, it was still quick. Michael put ham and pineapple on his; Birdy used corn kernels and fresh garlic; I did a green-olive one and a spinach one and some different ones for Ben to ease his rapacious starvingness. 

They were all perfection.

Birdy's snow-day companion.
Weirdly Addictive Tortilla Pizza
Kenji does not recommend whole-wheat tortillas, but that’s what we have and like to use, and I can’t imagine it being better with white. But I do think you need a cast-iron skillet for this. Definitely please don’t use non-stick, because toxic broiling fumes! A note about the sauce: I use either tomatillo salsa or crushed tomatoes seasoned with a little olive oil, salt, and garlic powder, but you can use whatever pizza or pasta sauce you like best. Oh, also, Kenji adds in some parmesan, but I have not bothered with this yet. I’m sure it would be delicious, though.

Olive oil
1 whole-wheat tortilla
¼ - ½ cup sauce
½ - 1 cup shredded cheese: supermarket mozzarella (I like whole-milk, either Polly-O or Trader Joe's) Monterey Jack, or a blend
Toppings: any of the usual suspects, including the regular meats and veggies, plus corn kernels and spinach leaves

Adjust your oven rack 6 to 8 inches from the broiler and heat the broiler.

Bloop a tiny bit of oil into a cast-iron skillet (one big enough for your tortilla to fit in) and heat it over high heat until it shimmers. Turn the heat to low, wipe  out the extra oil with a paper towel, and put the tortilla in.

Spoon on some sauce and spread it all the way to the edges, then add cheese, also all the way to the edges, and toppings (some toppings, such as spinach leaves, should go under the cheese; others can go on top like the word “toppings” suggests). You really want some cheese to come into contact with the hot pan. For some reason, my children call this part of a quesadilla or grilled-cheese sandwich "cheese crusto." But the accent is inexplicably on the second syllable: crus-TOH.

Turn the stove off and put the pan under the broiler for 2 to 4 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and, if you like, browning. Use a spatula to peek underneath and get a feel for the situation of the tortilla. If it is floppy and not browned on the bottom, put it back over medium heat on the stovetop for a minute or two or three, until it is perfect. Slide onto a cutting board (you might want to use a spatula to first release the melted cheese at the edges), then cut and serve.