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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Cake #23: Coffee Spice Cake (Variation)

 In the book, this cake calls for shortening and a mix of spices including ginger, cinnamon, cloves & nutmeg. Sprinkled with sugar on top when done and cooled. But then there is a variation that involves a chocolate frosting topping, so yeah- I chose the variation instead!
The variation eliminates the ginger, and replaces the shortening with butter.
Like the last cake, I doubled the recipe, but the kitchen aid was actually able to hold it all this time (barely). Then I cooked both cakes in the SAME bundt pan, one at a time (one on Saturday and one on Sunday). This way they had about the right amount of batter (and didn't drip all over the oven) and they cooked more evenly. What a difference!
 The cake wasn't too hard to make. The coffee was the hardest part, and in hind sight, if I would have just left some coffee from the morning and let it cool, it would have been easy. But without coffee, I made a strong batch in the french press with very hot water, then put it outside in the cold to cool. Even though it was pretty cold out, After about a half hour, there was still steam coming off the coffee. So I poured it into a glass measuring cup and put it in the freezer. It still took FOREVER to cool enough to use! Actually, I don't know if it took forever because I cheated and took it out when it was cool enough that it didn't burn my finger when I touched it. Because I added an ice cube to it. Which probably made it weaker. Whatever. I was impatient.
 I found a jar of molasses that had a "best buy" date of May 2010 on it. That's pretty close to 7 years ago. My partner argued that it wasn't a "expiration date", it just won't be as good now as it was 7 years ago, when it was at its "best". Anyway, I couldn't get the damn thing open so I used the brand new jar of molasses I just bought.
 The recipe called for "ground cloves" which I couldn't find, but I did find a spice bag with some large looking cloves in it. So I stuck several of those in the coffee grinder and ground them up to make "ground cloves"! Brilliant! Until I smelled the coffee grinder. Whew! It took a lot of washing to get that smell out, and now our coffee grinder is cleaner than it has been since we bought it.

The 1st cake turned out fine, but the remaining batter was refrigerated overnight so it ended up taking maybe 20-30 minutes longer to bake.
This cake has a unique flavor and would be worth making again, but I think I would change the frosting. It was really messy. It was a combination of melted chocolate, sweetened condensed milk and a little coffee. If using this again, wait until it's cooled for a couple of hours before pouring on (it will be thicker), and even then don't make as much as the recipe calls for, it just runs off and pools up and makes a mess of the table after it runs off the edge of the plate/platter.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Cake #22: Paula Deen's Almond Sour Cream Pound Cake

I volunteered to bring a cake to the Parent-Teacher conferences as an excuse to make another cake out of All Cakes Considered. But why would I go to all the trouble to make a cake for the teachers when I can't even try it myself? (At the time I envisioned presenting a beautiful cake to deliver to the teachers' lounge)... so I made 2 cakes. Might as well just double the batch, to make it easier, right?
I now have a note on the top of the recipe page that says: DO NOT DOUBLE THIS RECIPE.

1st, the kitchen aid couldn't handle all the cake batter, so I had to take some out to finish mixing it. Not a big deal, except apparently kitchen aids don't mix quite as well on the bottom when they're filled to the brim. Who knew?!

2nd, I had a bundt pan and a tube pan and thought I'd just use both of those for the cakes. Turns out the bundt pan has a lot more space in it than the tube pan, so both pans ended up being waaaay too full.

3rd, I decided to save time & energy by baking both cakes at the same time! Never a good idea.

The cake says to turn on the oven and add a baking sheet w/ almonds on it to toast for 3 minutes, then toss and toast another 3 minutes (while it's preheating). I did this, and left the almonds in an extra 3 minutes, and they could've gone longer. If they're in there while the oven is preheating, maybe 10-12 minutes. If you put them in after it's already preheated, maybe more like 6-10 minutes.

So, what happened was, the cake is supposed to bake for 80 minutes. 40 minutes in, the smoke started pouring out of the oven. I peeked at it and discovered that both cakes had risen over the top of the pans and were now dripping off the edge. Luckily, it was an unseasonably warm day in February, so we were able to open all the doors and windows to air out the house.

 I threw some tin foil in the bottom of the oven to catch the rest. I moved the cakes so that they were both on the same rack, to try to get them to cook more evenly and also so that one would stop dripping into the other. I took the tube cake out after 80 minutes but the bundt pan cake took an extra 20 minutes.
(After removing the tin foil)

Despite being full of butter and poured into well-greased pans, they both fell apart when I took them out.

We tried carefully cutting the edges of the bundt cake so that it would come out cleaner. Didn't happen.


My husband liked the crispy edges the best, which probably developed from the smoky oven and/or overcooking. Both cakes did turn out and taste fine, but the presentation wasn't exactly award-winning, so I cut the teachers' cake up before taking it to the conferences. Clean-up duty was a bitch.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Avocado Mexican Bar and Grille

1857 Lower Muscatine Rd., Sycamore Mall Parking Lot, SE Iowa City

We tried out this new restaurant which is in the building Okoboji Grill used to be in. The 1st thing I noticed was that it's Mexican and using the "e" on the end of the word Grill, which doesn't seem like a very Mexican-y thing to do.

The atmosphere is basically the same as Okoboji Grill was, not a lot has changed inside. Except when we went to Okoboji Grill without a kid, we always got seated at the bar area, and when we went with a kid they always sat us away from the bar area, where we noticed other families with kids were seated. Avocado doesn't seem to segregate families vs. non families in this way.

It took us awhile to choose what to order. In my defense, it was my 1st time there and they give you a novel of a menu to peruse. Our server asked us several times if we were ready to order and we kept saying "nope". Then another server stopped by and recommend the fajitas and said "they the BOMB for real". 

I had a question about an item on the menu, which I asked our server. The question was about a word on the menu that the empanadas came with. The server basically said she didn't know what that was, and then guessed that it might be grilled veggies. That sounded good to me, so I ordered it. When the empanadas then came with just ground beef in them, I wondered if our server had previously worked at Best Buy. Because, you see, when you ask someone at Best Buy a question they don't know the answer to, they just make up an answer on the spot. And it's usually wrong. I'm saying this because it has happened to us on several occasions. If you walk into a Best Buy with more IT knowledge than the sales clerk, you can entertain yourself for hours.

Anyway, while I wasn't too pleased with our server, the empanadas were quite good. If anyone from Avocado reads this, though- I think they would be even better with grilled veggies. My husband got the enchiladas which were average, except for the one filled with liquid cheese. Real melted cheese would have been much better. And our elementary-aged son loved his kids' burrito, he loved the server, and he loved the bowl of ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate syrup he got as a bonus after his meal! He even took a photo of it before eating it.
He walked out of there declaring Avocado one of his 3 favorite restaurants (Fair Grounds and Jimmy Jack's being the other two).

The bill came to $27 with the tip, and the server brought a bonus ice cream for my husband and I for no charge. And with the free chips and salsa we had before the meal, we waddled out of there quite stuffed.

Next time (and my son INSISTS on there being a next time)- we'll get the "Guacamole at the table" where they bring a portable table and mortar-n-pestle real avocados into an amazing looking guacamole in front of you.

In conclusion, you get pretty darn full for a good price, it's very kid-friendly, and the servers might make stuff up but they're generally friendly. Also they have random things for sale by the door.

Cake #21: Devil's Food Cake with Quick Fudge Icing and Raspberry Jam

I skipped ahead in the book to make this cake, because it was January 8 which happens to be both my grandpa's birthday as well as Elvis' birthday. Any excuse to make a cake...

I chose this one because I had some leftover raspberry-rhubarb jam in the fridge that I wanted to use up and I thought this would be the perfect way to use it. Turns out I was wrong, but the taste was good!

The cake is a good one, and not too difficult to make. The odd thing about it is that it calls for a mixture of "strong coffee" with unsweetened cocoa. As usually happens on Sunday mornings, we drank all the coffee in the pot so I used instant Folgers coffee instead, which I think was fine. I mixed butter (the recipe calls for shortening and I always assume butter will work fine) with sugar (I used raw/unrefined because it didn't say not to). Then I added 1/2 of the "dry ingredients" mix of cake flour, baking soda, salt and baking powder, then all of the coffee/cocoa mixture and then the other 1/2 of the "dry ingredients" and let the kitchen aid work its magic for awhile. That's it! See, the cake is pretty easy.

The frosting, however....

I mixed semi sweet chocolate chips with a 1/2 can of evaporated milk and melted it in a make-shift double broiler. We usually use chopstick holders for this but since my mom visited I can't seem to find where the chopstick holders disappeared to. (She has a method of putting things she thinks we use and things she thinks we don't use much in very different places and we get to play a fun "Where's Waldo" type of game for several weeks after each visit.) So I used some small sauce plates which sort of worked. Anyway, the chocolate melted even though I didn't stand there stirring constantly as the book instructed me to. Then I added powdered sugar to the melted chocolate slowly and let the kitchen aid mix it for quite awhile.

Finally, the cakes were baked and cooled and the frosting was room temp, so I did the layer-method as suggested, putting a layer of frosting on the bottom cake, then spreading the jam on top, then the 2nd cake on that, then frosting, jam, and more frosting.

Turns out the jam acts as a sort of lube and the frosting was quite runny and so, the cakes slid all over the place. They looked like crap but they tasted good!

Next time, I would use a frosting that is less runny (more of the store-bought consistency), I would use a store-bought jam rather than a runny homemade kind, and my husband suggests never, ever, cutting a layered cake in half like it's a pizza. Now knowing it might slide all over the place, I'm more inclined to cut wedges out to keep the thing together.

Although, after eating this one, I'd say really you could skip the layering part all together since 1 piece of layered cake is really like eating 2 pieces of cake and when it's rich like this, you might be better off eating just one piece. The frosting is still way too runny though.