Sunday, November 27, 2011

Carrot Cake

I have a confession to make; I used to despise carrot cake. Truly, utterly, and deeply. My carrot cake eating experiences had always been characteristically stringy, with the carrot pieces still too chewy, and the cake was always really dry. The cream cheese icing was also never cream-cheese-y enough for my taste. But that was before I had one little slice of carrot cake that turned my whole world upside down. Well, not really, but it WAS pretty darn tootin' good. It was while I was working NBC's press tour. Lunch was provided for us and so I went down the lunch buffet with my plate, a little bit of cheese here, some deli meats there, and then I came to the dessert selection at the end. I don't know what made me pick the carrot cake when I've always hated carrot cake, maybe it was because I was delirious from standing for the past 5 hours running a microphone back and forth between various members of the press in a giant ballroom, but I took a piece and sat down and started eating. It was wonderful; moist, soft, rich, and with the best cream cheese frosting I have ever had, hands down. I told Jeremy about it and he confided that carrot cake was his favorite cake of all, which kind of weirded me out. Not chocolate? Not yellow cake? Red velvet? Carrot? Really? But, like any loving girlfriend, I knew that on his birthday I would make the cake he wanted. So last week I scoured cookbooks and the internet, looking for nuances in various carrot cakes recipes that I wanted to combine into one ultimate carrot cake. Crushed pineapple sounded interesting, and I liked the idea of coconut, but hate shredded coconut baked into things (once again, the weird stringy texture), so I used coconut milk to add the coconut flavor instead. It came out perfect, incredibly moist and soft and full of that cinnamon brown sugar-y carrot cake flavor. The best carrot cake I've ever had, and Jeremy, too.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Raspberry Balsamic and Pecan Encrusted Rack of Lamb

I come from a Greek background, so lamb is always a holiday staple at our family's dinner table. And because of this, I particularly love making lamb since it always reminds me of having meals at home with my family. It also helps that lamb tastes amazing pretty much anyway you season it. But there are some flavors that enhance the flavors of the meat more than others, and the Devo raspberry balsamic and freshly diced rosemary make quite the pairing with a rack of lamb. The raspberry balsamic has that traditional bitter tang, the one that comes with quality aged vinegar, but there's a sweet aftertaste that comes with the raspberries that I just absolutely love. This sweetness pairs perfectly with the rosemary, and the tanginess seeps into the lamb and makes it melt in your mouth. I also encrusted it with pecans because I love having a crunchy, nutty texture on the outside of racks of lamb. It just makes the meat feel that much more tender! The best part about this recipe, aside from how tasty it is, is how simple it is to make while looking pretty fancy. It's a good holiday main course for people who don't have a lot of time to prepare the food. The marinade can be prepared in the evening the day before, the lamb can soak in it overnight, and then it can be tossed into the oven for 40 minutes the next day.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Treacle Tart

I first heard of treacle tarts through the Harry Potter series. In the books they mentioned that treacle tarts were Harry's favorite dessert, which I found intriguing because I had never heard of them before. Years later, I was reading about English desserts and pastries and came across them again. This time I did a bit more research and found out that the key ingredient to treacle tarts is something called "golden syrup", which is also known as light treacle and tastes kind of like liquid toffee with a butterscotch kick. There is also black treacle, which is similar to golden syrup in taste but has a slightly bitter flavor. It is pretty difficult to find in the United States, but I remembered an English bakery/grocery store in Santa Monica called Tudor House that I used to go to freshman year of college for meat pies (their meat pies are REALLY good), and figured that if anyone had golden syrup, they probably would. Well, I made my way over to Santa Monica last weekend and low and behold, there was an adorable golden tin canister of Lyle's Golden Syrup sitting dusty on the shelf. I bought it, brought it home, and set upon making one of the tastiest desserts I've had in years. It has the texture of pecan pie filling without the pecans, and has a lovely, lemony, carmely toffee flavor with a hint of ginger. I used ground ginger in this recipe, but if you had crystallized ginger I bet that would be really tasty too. I know finding golden syrup can be a bit of a pain, but trust me, it is worth it! I plan on making this for my family at Christmas time, it's going to my new holiday staple. This recipe is for a 9 x 9 inch tart pan, if you want to make it in a pie pan I would multiply the filling and crust recipes by 1.5.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Baklava Apples

Saturday morning I went over to the Santa Monica farmer's market to pick up some produce. I wasn't planning on getting any apples, but there were apple samples everywhere so of course I tried them all and ended up getting some. They are called Odin apples, and they're small and golden-red in color. Like, actually metallic gold looking on one side when they are under indoor light. So incredibly beautiful, AND the flavor is very sweet while maintaining perfect crispness in texture. They are also fairly small, about 3 inches in diameter. I decided to use them for a baking project I'd been thinking about, by putting a spin on one of my favorite desserts, baklava, and using thinly slices apples instead of filo dough. The cinnamon and butter flavors went perfectly with the apples and when they're topped with the honey syrup it's pretty fantastic. I like my apples to still have a bit of firmness to them after they've been baked, and the Odin apple definitely retained that. If you are a fan of mushier baked apples, you might want to try a different variety than the one I used here. Gala perhaps? Also, I had to cut my apples by hand so I could only get them 1 cm thick, but if you have a mandolin slicing device I bet you could get them reallllly thin and have a lot of fun with the layering. Hope you enjoy it!