September 6, 2013

Elegant and Easy 4 Layer Carrot Cake

It's back to school time and for me this time of the year has always been very nostalgic for me. Believe it when I say that I've been out of school for many moons now, but the return of the cooler Canadian air along with the warm September sun just makes me long for some of my favorite childhood comfort foods. Carrot cake is a pure comfort food, wouldn't you agree? So today I decided to try making this cake with a little bit of a twist. Instead of baking it in conventional cake pans I actually baked it in an 16 X 11 jelly roll pan, cut the cake into 4's and then stacked them to create an elegant look.

The ingredients are pretty basic but since the cake is in a wider longer pan, the baking time is drastically reduced. The authors of this recipe adds baking soda to the batter in order to raise the pH enough to soften the carrots during the short cooking time. And it did work, the carrots were cooked perfectly.


1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 2/3 cups shredded carrots

I used store bought cream cheese frosting, roughly 32 ounces, but of course you can always make your own.
2 cups chopped pecans

First set your oven's baking rack to the middle position, then preheat it to 350 F. Prepare your jelly roll pan by greasing it with cooking spray and then lay a a piece of parchment paper on top and grease the paper with the spray.

In large bowl whisk together the first seven dry ingredients. In another large bowl whisk together the brown sugar, vegetable oil, eggs and vanilla extract. Stir in the carrots and the dry ingredients. Then using a rubber spatula, fold the mixture until it is just combined. Pour the batter into your prepared pan making sure to spread the batter into the corners. Place in oven and bake for 16-18 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes on a baking rack. 

Next transfer the cake onto the rack with the parchment paper still under the cake and let cool completely, about 30 minutes. Once cake is cooled, slice the cake in half crosswise cutting through the parchment paper as well. Then slice each half lengthwise, again making sure you cut the parchment paper, to create 4 equal rectangle cakes. 

Using a cake board or large plate turn one of the cakes onto it, paper side up, and then carefully peel off the paper. Spread about 1/2 to 2/3 cup of frosting on to the first layer and then repeat for the other three layers. (If your cake has baked with an uneven thickness, adjust the orientation of the layers so they are stacked to produce a level cake.) Once your cake is assembled frost all 4 sides of the cake. Then gently press the chopped pecans into the 4 sides of the cake. 

Chill for about one hour before serving.


(This recipe was adapted from The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2013)

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September 3, 2013

Farmhouse Vegetable and Barley Soup (with homemade croutons)

Weeknights tend to get hectic this time of the year with all of the after school activities and such, so I am always on the hunt for no-fuss easy diner time ideas. This is hearty yet nutritious soup can be made ahead and be served up as great for a quick weeknight dinner. To give this soup's broth some depth of flavor, I tossed in whole Baby Bella mushrooms instead of the expensive dried Porcini mushrooms the recipe called for. I also omitted the turnips because I didn't have any on hand, and just used Yukon Gold potatoes.


8 oz. pkg of Baby Bella Mushrooms, rinsed thoroughly
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
8 sprigs of fresh Italian parsley, minced
2 bay leafs
2 T unsalted butter
3 large leeks, white and light green parts only, slice in half lengthwise and then sliced into 1/2 inch thick pieces and rinsed thoroughly 
2 carrots peeled and diced
2 celery stalks cut into 1/2 inch slices
23 cup dry white wine (sauvignon blanc)
2 T soy sauce
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/2 -3/4 cup pearl barley
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 Yukon Gold potatoes
1/4 of a cabbage, chopped
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 tsp lemon juice
salt and pepper

Heat the butter in a dutch oven or large pot and add the leeks, carrots, celery, wine and soy sauce. Let simmer stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the celery is soft. Roughly 10 minutes.

In the meantime, tie together the thyme and parsley with some kitchen twine. Once broth is evaporated, add the broth, barley, mushrooms, herb bundle, bay leaf and garlic, plus 2 cups of water to the pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer for about 25 minutes.

Add the potatoes and cabbage and return to a simmer for another 18-20 minutes.

Remove pot from heat and remove the herb bundle and bay leaf. You can also take out the mushrooms at this time and set them aside for another use. (I just ate them whole - they were so yummy after cooking in the broth.) Stir in the peas and lemon juice and season with salt and fresh cracked pepper if you have it.


To make the croutons...

Melt 2 T of unsalted butter in a small pan. Add some fresh thyme and parsley and stir for 20 seconds. Take 4 slices of hearty white bread and cut it into 1/2 inch pieces. Trim off the crust. Once butter is hot add the bread and season with salt and pepper. Cook the bread until it is a gold brown, 5-10 minutes. Remove the bread and let cool on paper towels.

Serve soup with the croutons and some more minced fresh parsley sprinkled on top.

(This recipe was adapted from The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2013)

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