Archive for Food

…And There Was Cake

Last Thursday was my wife’s birthday.  Birthdays are perhaps her favorite celebration of the year, and it doesn’t even matter if it’s her’s or someone else’s.  Everything about it thrills her – taking the day off and going to a great lunch, wrapping up and giving gifts, reminiscing about the year gone by and thinking about the year to come.

But were you to ask her what really makes it a birthday, you would find that, since she was a little girl, it was never really a birthday without cake.  These days, it can be any sort of cake – cupcake, layer cake, TastyKake (yes, this counts – unlike some producers of prepackaged cake-ish confections, Tasty Baking Co. actually bakes their treats).  Crabcakes would even do in a pinch.

Go ahead and groan at that last one – I’ll wait.

We don’t usually have cakes for birthdays, though – it seems the more birthdays we each have, the less able we are to burn up such a fantastic number of calories without storing them for a rainy day.  Sad really.  Needless to say, we were pretty excited to have the real thing this year.

So, last Monday, I called to order a cake from our favorite bakery, in Glen Ellyn – a small, family operation that still does things the old-fashioned way – and it most definitely shows. I had a fairly extended discussion with them (much to the amusement of my co-workers, I might add) about what should be on the cake. Yellow cake, white buttercream.  Colors? Purple and something that complements it well.  “Happy Birthday, Ariadne” written on the cake.  And a Jeannie bottle.  “You know, from I Dream of Jeannie?” I said.  “Sure, the woman said, no problem.  Genie… bottle…” I waited while she wrote it down for the baker.

Yes, Ari adores I Dream of Jeannie, if you ever need a trivia tidbit about her for a party.  I don’t mean to wander off topic, but I wanted to head off  any comments to the tune of “what’s that yellow banana-shaped thing on the lower right?”  To clear up any confusion, it’s the cake decorator’s idea of Jeannie’s bottle.  I tried. I offered to email a picture, but they seemed confident they wouldn’t need one.  Oh, well.

In any event, here’s what it looked like shortly after its arrival at our house (the poor cake had no idea what was in store for it):

The Unsuspecting Cake

The cake was out of this world, by the way.  The most delicate, fluffiest yellow cake you could imagine, enrobed in the most incredibly smooth and light buttercream frosting.  We started with a fairly tried and true approach to serving and eating this most scrumptious confection. That is to say, we used a knife, to cut the cake in slices, which we then placed on plates before eating them.  Below, find documentary evidence that my better half played along in this cultural throwback to more civilized times.

Ari demonstrates a conventional cake portioning methodology

The following morning, I went to work.  I vaguely remember getting an instant message around 2 p.m. to the tune of “can’t…. stay….. away…. help… cake……….. danger….,” after which it sort of trailed off, in an eerie Twilight Zone sort of way. She was in trouble, I could tell.  But there was little, in anything, I could do.  Once cannot talk a devoted cake aficionado down off the ledge, when a perfectly helpless cake is left in his or her presence for a whole day.

One thing you need to know about this particular cake aficionado is that she has a fairly marked preference for cake over frosting. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I love sharing cake with her – I happen to like quite a lot of frosting, myself.

Upon my return home Friday evening, we sat down for some dinner.  For my part, honestly, this dinner ritual was really just a prelude to cake.  When the time for dessert came, she brought the box from the counter somewhat sheepishly, apologizing that she may have gotten a little carried away when left alone with it for so long.

After she opened the box, it was some time before I could stop laughing long enough to safely cut a nice even slice for myself.  The horror! The carnage!

Oh, the humanity...

I’m happy to report that despite the non-traditional appearance, my slice of cake was delicious nonetheless. I was even so fortunate to get a fair amount of extra frosting out of the deal!

Once In Your Life, Make Cinnamon Rolls from Scratch

It was a four-hour endeavor, but I tell you with every fiber of my being, it was totally worth it.

Seriously, folks.  If you’ve got a few hours to kill (or as in our case, a whole Sunday afternoon), make them.  I was skeptical at first: I like a Cinnabon as much as the next person, but I generally don’t consider them worth the caloric investment.  We read somewhere, though, that if you make cinnamon buns yourself just once, you’ll never go back.

So we got started mid-afternoon yesterday, cutting and boiling the potatoes (yes, you read right, potatoes), sifting flour, feeding the yeast. As we finally put them in the oven, we collapsed onto the couch, exhausted. Our knees ached.  The tower of dirty dishes loomed.

Four or five minutes later, from the depths of the couch:

Chef 1: “That was a hell of a lot of work.”
Chef 2: “No kidding – what on earth were we thinking?”

< a few seconds pass…>

Chef 1: “I think I smell them.”

< a few more seconds pass…>

Chef 2: “Oh. My. God.”

Within moments, the smell began to fill the house from top to bottom, sneaking under door frames and around corners, just like in the cartoons.  I was tempted to go out into the garage for a minute or two and re-enter the house, just to have it hit me full-force all over again.

But no time for such an indulgence – we still needed to make the glaze.

They came out of the oven perfectly golden brown, and unimaginably pillowy (owing to the potato starch).  Fortunately, the recipe insisted they needed to cool for 10 minutes before  they were to be glazed.  This gave me the opportunity to photograph them both before the glaze was applied:

Click image to see full-size...

and after:

Click image to see full size...

Recipe appears below, for the ambitious among you.

Go ahead and try them – you’ll be glad you did.

Yukon Gold Cinnamon Rolls

recipe courtesy of bon appetit
(March 2009 issue, as well as on their website)

Makes 12 Rolls

N.B. Many people have commented on bon appetit’s website that much more flour was required to make the dough come together than is indicated in the recipe.  This was our experience as well – almost twice as much!



  • 1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1  tablespoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 4 1/2 cups (or more) unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup warm water (105°F to 115°F)
  • 3 1/4-ounce envelopes active dry yeast (scant 2 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar


  • 1 1/3 cups (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
  • 9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, room temperature


  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons (or more) whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon coarse kosher salt



  • Combine potatoes, 2 cups water, and 1 tablespoon coarse salt in large saucepan. Boil until potatoes are very tender, 15 to 18 minutes. Mash potatoes with water in pan (do not drain water). Add butter and mash until butter is melted. Whisk in eggs, then 1 cup flour; mash until very smooth. Let potatoes stand until barely lukewarm, about 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, pour 1/2 cup warm water into large bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment; stir in yeast and sugar. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add potato mixture to yeast mixture; mix on low speed until well blended, 2 minutes. Mix in 3 cups flour, 1 cup at a time, beating well. Beat until sticky dough forms.
  • Spread 1/2 cup flour on work surface. Scrape dough out onto floured work surface. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic, adding more flour by tablespoonfuls if dough is very sticky, about 8 minutes.
  • Coat large bowl with butter. Transfer dough to bowl and turn to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then kitchen towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, make filling

  • Mix brown sugar, cinnamon, and flour in medium bowl. Using fork, mix in butter.
  • Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 425°F. Line large rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Turn dough out onto well-floured work surface. Roll out dough to 24×16-inch rectangle. Sprinkle filling evenly over dough. Starting at 1 long side, roll up dough jelly-roll style, enclosing filling. Using large knife dipped in flour, cut roll crosswise into 12 pieces. Transfer rolls to baking sheet, spacing rolls about 3/4 inch apart. Cover baking sheet loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise in warm draft-free area until almost doubled in volume, about 20 minutes (rolls will be very puffy).
  • Bake cinnamon rolls until golden, about 20 minutes. Cool rolls 10 minutes on baking sheet.

Meanwhile, make glaze

  • Whisk powdered sugar, melted butter, 2 tablespoons milk, vanilla, and coarse salt in small bowl. If glaze is too thick to spread, add more milk by 1/2 teaspoonfuls as needed. Spread glaze over warm rolls.

New Year’s Pie

We hadn’t had quite enough of “The Holidays” yesterday so we made another holiday dinner in honor of New Year’s Day (or perhaps in honor of some great recipes we found, but who’s keeping track?).  Pork chops with an pear shallot sauce, some roasted baby zucchini, a ruby-red grapefruit and avocado salad and (as usual, it was really all building up to dessert) this to-die-for pie.  It’s a pretty labor-intensive recipe, but (we think) worth it in the end.

Peanut Butter Banana Cream Pie

Peanut Butter Banana Cream Pie - Click the picture for the original on flickr

Peanut Butter Banana Cream Pie


vanilla wafer crust

  • 6 ounces vanilla wafer cookies
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

vanilla pudding filling

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 4 firm but ripe bananas, peeled, divided
  • 3 tablespoons orange juice, divided

peanut butter layer

  • 3 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup creamy peanut butter (do not use old-fashioned or freshly ground)
  • 2/3 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
  • Purchased peanut brittle, coarsely chopped (optional)


vanilla wafer crust

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine all ingredients in processor; blend until mixture resembles moist crumbs, about 1 minute. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish and press mixture onto bottom and up sides (not rim) of dish. Bake crust until golden brown, about 12 minutes. Remove from oven; press crust with back of spoon if puffed. Cool crust completely.

vanilla pudding filling

  • Whisk sugar, cornstarch, and salt in heavy medium saucepan until no lumps remain. Gradually whisk in cream, then milk. Add yolks and scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; whisk to blend. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until pudding thickens and boils, about 5 minutes. Add butter and stir until melted. Spread warm pudding in cooled crust. Chill until filling is cool, about 1 hour.
  • Thinly slice 3 bananas on diagonal. Combine banana slices and 2 tablespoons orange juice in medium bowl; toss to coat. Transfer banana slices to paper towels and pat dry. Arrange enough banana slices in single layer over vanilla custard filling to cover completely.

peanut butter layer

  • Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and powdered sugar in medium bowl until smooth. Beat in vanilla, then peanut butter. Beat cream in another medium bowl until firm peaks form. Fold large spoonful of whipped cream into peanut mixture to loosen, then fold in remaining cream in 2 additions. Spread peanut butter layer evenly over bananas. Chill at least 3 hours. DO AHEAD Can be made 8 hours ahead. Keep chilled.
  • Thinly slice remaining banana on diagonal. Toss with remaining 1 tablespoon orange juice, then pat dry with paper towels. Arrange banana slices around top edge of pie. Sprinkle peanut brittle over bananas, if desired, and serve.

* Recipe courtesy of Bon Appetit (September, 2009).

My Meal Had A Face

Can’t sleep – pretty sure the cup of decaf I got earlier at the diner across the street came from the wrong pot.  Perfect time to post to a neglected corner of the intertubes.

Dinner tonight at Yum Yum Too on 9th Avenue in NY.  Food was very good – Tom Kha soup was brothy and not too salty.  Entree was very good too, but more on that in a moment.  Coconut ice cream for dessert was surprisingly good, too.  “Surprisingly” because, to be honest, I don’t typically expect much from dessert at a Thai place.  “Good” because it was just good ice cream – flakes of coconut and all.

Citrus Snapper

Interestingly, Yum Yum Too is the leftmost of three restaurants which look oddly… related.  Yum Yum Too on 9th Avenue. Partly because the signs use the same typeface.  But mostly because the three restaurants are named (from North to South) Yum Yum Too, Yum Yum III, and Yum Yum Bangkok Thai Kitchen.  Odd that there are 3 of them on the same side of the street (I understand the place across the street is also part of the same family of restaurants).  Stranger that they’re named as they are.  Stranger yet that they’re out of order (why *is* III in the middle?).

For dinner, I ordered the Citrus Red Snapper, which really was very good.  The lime sauce was fresh and very bright; the breading on the fish not the least bit heavy or oily.  The salad stacked on top (daikon radish? something similar?) was very fresh and a good contrast of textures. The presentation, however, made the meal.  Dramatic indeed – it’s not often you have the opportunity to commune so directly with your meal as you eat it.