Archive for July, 2011

Fire Engine Cake

Rice Kernel turns 3 today.  When I told him his birthday was coming up a few weeks ago, he had one request: a fire engine cake.  I thought I’d distract him from the idea.  So I decided to hire a fire engine to come, to teach Rice Kernel and his friends some safety tips, to allow the kids to roam around the truck, and take their turns with the hose.  Rice Kernel was excited but reminded me, “But I want a fire engine cake.”

FHE tried to dissaude me but, the way I saw it, if I could carve a rectangle, cover it in red frosting and draw a few white windows and a ladder, I’d be hailed a hero.  I ended up getting more carried away and, while riddled with imperfections, Rice Kernel was plenty happy with his Mom’s first attempt at cake decorating.

Happy 3rd Birthday my little boy.




Yellow Sheet Cake, from Ina Garten

18 tbsp (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups sugar
6 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
8 ounces (about 1 cup) sour cream, at room temperature (low fat is fine)
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 12 by 18 by 1 1/2-inch sheet pan.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. On medium speed, add the eggs, 2 at a time, then the sour cream, and vanilla, scraping down the bowl as needed. Mix well.
  3. Sift together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir just until smooth. Finish mixing by hand to be sure the batter is well mixed.
  4. Pour evenly into the pan, smooth the top with a spatula, and bake in the center of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan to room temperature.

To Assemble the Cake, from Dozen Flours

Use your choice of frosting to assemble the cake.  At this stage, you can freeze the cake until ready to apply fondant. 

Before applying the fondant, frost the cake with a thin layer of frosting.  This will help the fondant adhere to the cake and smooth out any uneven edges on your cake. 

Then, apply fondant and decorate!


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Our fridge and garden are overflowing with sweet potatoes and zucchini.  I’ve stir-fried, pan-fried fritters, and baked casseroles with the colorful duo.  The next recipe was undoubtedly something sweet and something baked. 

This recipe is fragrant, moist, full of texture, and slightly spicy from cinnamon.  Containing both zucchini and sweet potato, I’m eating it guilt-free as I’m counting each slice as two servings of daily vegetables.  Okay, maybe not.  But it is significantly lightened, as suggested by reviewers on Epicurious and food bloggers alike.  If I could make one suggestion, eat a slice or a muffin before it cools completely.  Maybe even dressed with something that melts or trickles.

Sweet Potato Zucchini Muffins, adapted from Epicurious, November 1992 (original here)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
3 eggs, preferably room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup grated zucchini (about 1 large), with some of the moisture squeezed out
1 1/2 cup grated peeled sweet potato (about 1 large)
1 generous tsp grated orange zest

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  
  2. In a smallish bowl, sift together the first 6 ingredients (through salt).  
  3. In a large bowl or the bowl of a mixer, combine the sugars and the oil.  Cream together on medium speed until fluffy.  With the mixer (or your arm) on low speed, add in the eggs one at a time, mixing to combine after each.  
  4. Add in the vanilla, vegetables, and zest and mix to combine.  Gradually add in the dry ingredients.  Mix until just barely combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice (over-mixing leads to a tough cake/muffin).  
  5. For a loaf, bake for 1 hour and 10 – 1 hour and 20 minutes.
  6. For muffins, fill prepared muffin cups 2/3 full with batter and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean.  Cool in tins 10 minutes, then remove and continue cooling on a rack.

    Just for fun.

Vegan Zucchini Sweet Potato Muffins with Vanilla Rum “Butter”Cream, from Peanut Butter and Julie

1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
3/4 cup golden raisins, roughly chopped
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar, packed
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 /2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
3/4 cup canola or safflower oil
Zest from one orange
1 tbsp rum or vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups shredded orange sweet potatoes
1 cup shredded raw zucchini
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

For the vanilla-rum “butter”cream

1 cup vegan stick butter (such as Earth Balance), softened
6 cups confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-2 tbsp rum (depending on desired taste)
1-2 tbsp coconut, almond, or soy milk

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.  Line two cupcake tins with liners or, alternatively, spray them with nonstick baking spray.
  2. In a small saucepan, combine the orange juice and the raisins.  Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium low heat, and then turn the heat off, allowing the raisins to soak up the orange juice.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg; whisk until well blended.
  4. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and add the safflower oil, orange zest, rum or vanilla, and the orange juice/raisins.  Stir the mixture until thoroughly combined (mixture will be thick.)  Add both the shredded sweet potatoes and the zucchini to the bowl, and stir until evenly incorporated into the batter.  Stir in the pecans.
  5. Divide the batter among the prepared cupcake tins, filling each cup about 3/4 full.  Bake the cupcakes until a toothpick inserted into the center emerges clean, 24-28 minutes for larger cupcakes and about 15 minutes for smaller cupcakes.  Allow the cupcakes to cool in the tins for a few minutes, and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
  6. Prepare the “butter”cream:  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the Earth Balance with the confectioner’s sugar on low speed until well combined.  Increase the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes more.  Beat in the salt and the rum.  Add enough of the coconut/soy/almond milk to reach your desired consistency, and beat at medium speed for 2-3 minutes more, until very light and fluffy.

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Dina.  One of my dearest, oldest friends.  (Not in age, just duration.)  I could wax poetic about her loyalty and sincerity and how our friendship has evolved and deepened since middle school, but I won’t because Dina’s probably reading and thinking, “Oh no! It’s about me!  Good thing no one I know reads this blog, too!”  Just kidding, D.

Dina’s been a vegetarian for the past several years.  I think it had something to do with a few weeks backpacking through Europe and a few too many pounds of sausage ending up in her belly.  I know, D, too much information.   Sorry.

Recently, Dina and her boyfriend came to dinner.  I struggled with what to cook, I’ll be honest.  We always have a side of vegetables, but they do not take center stage.  I settled on classic stuffed shells, with a few extra handfuls of leftover garden vegetables (swiss chard and shredded zucchini).  I think we did pretty well.  If not, the fresh cannolis and four slices of pie Dina brought over sure ended the meal on a good note.

Four Cheese Stuffed Shells

12-ounce box of jumbo shells
15 ounces (1 1/2 cups) ricotta cheese or part skim ricotta cheese
1 pound mozzarella diced
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 cup shredded Asiago
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
5 ounces chopped frozen spinach, thawed and drained or a mix of spinach and prepared, artichokes, chopped
3 cup tomato sauce of your choice
Optional: 1 pound cooked sausage, shredded roasted chicken, shrimp, crab, or other protein

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Salt water and add pasta.  Cook shells 12 to 15 minutes, they should be softened but still undercooked at the center. Drain pasta and cool.
  3. Combine ricotta, 1/2 of the diced mozzarella, a couple of handfuls of Parmigiano and 1/2 the Asiago.  Add parsley and spinach to the cheeses and stir to combine.
  4. Pour a little sauce into the bottom of a shallow medium sized casserole dish. 
  5. Fill shells with rounded spoonfuls of mixture and arrange them in casserole dish.  Top shells with remaining sauce and remaining mozzarella and Asiago cheeses. 
  6. Heat for 20-30 minutes, until bubbling. 

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Rice Kernel loves pasta.  Heck, we all love pasta.  Our easiest strategy to make pasta dishes healthier is to increase the ratio of vegetables to noodles.  This works particularly well with vegetables that are themselves in the shape of noodles.

Here zucchini are cut into long strips, tossed with sautéed garlic, red chile flakes, and basil, and bound with a simple sauce of reduced stock and scant Parmesan cheese (scant in our house, since FHE prefers a cheeseless stock-based sauce).  It is a simple, light summer pasta that is so satisfying.  My Dad even commented, “I didn’t realize how full of flavor zucchini are.”  He and Rice Kernel were so gaily fishing out the green “noodles” all that remained at the end of our meal was a pile of lonesome linguine.

Pasta with Julienned Zucchini, from Rice Kernel’s kitchen

3/4 pound regular or whole-wheat dried pasta, such as spaghetti or linguine
3/4 pound zucchini, cut into uniform long, thin julienne strips
1 onion or 2 shallots, sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 – 1/2 cup grated Parmesan (optional – I omit for FHE, since he’s happy with reduced stock, salt, and pepper)
3/4 – 1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
3 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, then cook the pasta until al dente.
  2. In the meantime, heat the olive oil in a small skillet over low heat until shimmering.  Add the onions/shallots and cook until translucent.  Add red pepper flakes and garlic and cook briefly until the garlic is fragrant and soft but not browned, 2-3 minutes.  Add zucchini and chicken stock.  Season with salt.  Simmer until the stock has reduced by about halfTurn off the heat.
  3. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water before draining the pasta, then return the noodles to the pot.  Add optional Parmesan and basil.  Toss well to combine, adding pasta water as needed to create a sauce.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Two and a half years ago, quite on a lark, my mother-in-law decided to open a gelato store.  Same MIL who delighted in lunch, shopping, and movie dates with me; same MIL who, as a registered dietician by training, eschewed carb-laden burritos and store-bought smoothies.  Seduced by the prospect of tapping into her culinary and artistic sensibilities, she threw herself into 7-day-a-week “project” creating homemade, artisan gelato flavors and specialty gelato cakes.

Last week she opened her second store.  This is one of her newest flavors, cocoa l’orange, recreated in breakfast form.

Pecan Chocolate Pancakes A L’Orange, from Rice Kernel’s kitchen


2 eggs
1 1/2 cup white whole wheat, whole wheat, or spelt flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp agave nectar or 3 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups buttermilk (I used low-fat)
3 tbsp oil or butter, melted and cooled
½ teaspoons vanilla extract
Zest of one orange (or  1/4 cup chopped candied orange)
1/2- 3/4 cup milk chocolate chips
1/3-1/2 cup chopped pecans or almonds
oil or cooking spray (for cooking)


  1. In a large bowl beat eggs.  Add buttermilk, oil/butter and vanilla and mix well.  Add flours, agave or sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix well until mostly smooth.  Fold in chocolate chips, nuts, and orange zest/candy.   Let batter set for a few minutes.  (If the batter seems to thick, add some orange juice from the zested orange to thin out.)
  2. Heat griddle or pan over medium heat.  Add a teaspoon of oil to the pan or spray with cooking spray.
  3. For smaller pancakes, pour 2 tbsp of batter onto the griddle.  For larger ones, pour about 1/4 – 1/3 of a cup.  Cook on the first side until bubbles that form start to pop.  Flip the pancake over with a spatula and cook until golden brown, about 1 minute longer.  Repeat until all the batter is gone.  Let cooked pancakes rest on a heat proof plate in a 200 degree F oven until ready to serve.

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Stonyfield Farm has graciously offered coupons for their Oikos Greek Yogurt.  As much as we enjoy eating yogurt from the container, I’m even more fond of using yogurt to replace fat in pancakes and baked goods.

If you would like to try their product for free, leave a comment sharing your favorite uses for yogurt or follow or “like” us on Facebook.  There are two single serve coupons.

Good luck!  Giveaway ends Sunday at 9 p.m. PST.  Winners will be notified via email.

[Giveaway is now closed.  Thanks for entering.]

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This recipe is part of an ongoing series, Rice Kernel’s Kitchen: Obsession with Buttermilk.  A component of my base recipes for tender, fairly guilt-free cakes, muffins, and pancakes, I have a buttermilk infatuation.  While buttermilk is often used for marinades in southern fried chicken, I was curious about a buttermilk-marinated roast chicken.  Enter Nigella’s ubiquitous recipe.

This is a simple preparation with simple ingredients.  Much of the work is done ahead-of-time, while the bird is marinating overnight.  While many reviewers of the recipe noted that the roast was utterly moist, they commented that it tasted underwhelming.  To compensate, I marinated the chicken for two days and sprinkled a generous amount of salt and freshly cracked pepper before roasting.  The result was moist and lovely, with a gorgeous golden finish.  The meat was savory and utterly succulent; the buttermilk was, in fact, hardly discernible, but the garlic, pepper, and rosemary flavors permeated the roast.  This was truly melt-in-your-mouth goodness; no sauce or accoutrements needed.

Nigella’s Buttermilk Roast Chicken, adapted from Nigella Lawson via the New York Times


1 4-pound chicken, preferably organic
2 cups buttermilk (low-fat is fine)
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
1 tbsp crushed black peppercorns
1 tbsp Kosher salt
2 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves, roughly chopped
1 tbsp honey or maple syrup
To stuff in cavity before roasting: 4-5 cloves garlic, smashed, 1-2 sprigs rosemary, 1/2 lemon


  1. Place chicken in a large freezer bag.  Add buttermilk, 1/4 cup oil, garlic, peppercorns, salt, rosemary and honey.  Seal bag securely and refrigerate overnight or up to two days.  (I marinated for 2 days.)
  2. Heat oven to 400 degrees F.  Remove chicken from marinade and place on a rack so excess can drip off. Line a roasting pan with foil and place chicken in pan.  Sprinkle with additional salt and freshly ground pepper.  Stuff chicken with additional garlic, rosemary, and lemon.  Drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons oil.  Roast for 45 minutes, then reduce heat to 325 degrees.  Continue roasting until well browned and until juices run clear when chicken is pierced where leg joins thigh,about another 20 minutes.
  3. Place chicken on a carving board and allow to rest for 10 minutes before cutting into serving pieces. Drizzle each serving with pan juices.

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