Ambiguity. His clever, well-crafted emails arrive in her mailbox daily, sounding a bit flirty, yet remaining maddeningly ambiguous. Until she sees him again — wrapped in a young, blowsy blonde, replete with pert, up-turned nose and sparkly cell phone case.
Now she knows. Ambiguous no more.
Ambiguity. She’s discussing red velvet cake with a coworker. Or, more precisely, red velvet cake doughnuts. She’s never understood the passion for the insipid flavor of red velvet anything. “Close your eyes,” she says, “and what do you really taste? It’s not chocolate; the cocoa powder is too minimal. It’s perhaps uniquely tart – but is that necessarily a good thing? What flavor makes it so adored?” Her coworker thinks it contains raspberries – no, the luxurious red comes from food coloring these days or beets, non-Dutched cocoa in the past. Not a berry to be found.
‘But couldn’t you,” he asked, “remake it in your style? With chocolate and raspberries and cream cheese frosting?”
Yes, she could. It wouldn’t be red velvet cake anymore, but something different, richer, more flavorful, and utterly her.
Her Red Velvet – ambiguous no more.
Raspberry Red Velvet Cake
Whether this a truly a red velvet cake depends on what defines red velvet for you. This one contains rich, dark, moist chocolate cake with a hint of raspberry and lashings of cream cheese frosting and is anything but ambiguous with flavor.
- 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon instant coffee
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1.2 oz. package freeze-dried raspberries, crushed to a powder (I buy mine at Trader Joe’s)
- 2 cups cold water
- 2/3 cup canola oil
- 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 ½ teaspoons red food coloring
- 4 oz. package frozen raspberries
- ½ cup sugar
Cream Cheese Frosting
- 16 ounces cream cheese, chilled
- ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
- 4 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment, butter the parchment and dust with flour.
- Sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, coffee, and salt. Stir in the dried raspberries (reserving a bit for decoration, if desired).
- Combine together water, oil, vinegar, vanilla, and food coloring. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients (the mixture will be very wet).
- Working quickly, divide batter between pans and bake for 30 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, invert onto cooling racks and cool completely.
- Meanwhile, make raspberry jam. Combine the frozen raspberries and sugar in a deep-sided saucepan and bring to boil over a medium heat. When the sugar is melted, boil for another 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool and set.
- To make frosting: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla extract. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes until creamy.
- Sandwich cake with plenty of cream cheese frosting and raspberry jam. Cover top and sides with remaining frosting. Chill until ready to serve.
I have no issues leaving family behind for most holidays, traveling to far-flung destinations (Christmas in London anyone?), but there are two holidays that keep me home each year. The first is Halloween, which guarantees a few hundred local kids banging on my door, screaming “trick or treat” through the screen. It gives me instant flashbacks to my own unsupervised childhood wilding nights of All Hallows Eve a few decades ago.
The second is July 4th, a day and night punctuated with a cacophony of illegal fireworks that makes neighboring Disneyland’s nightly display both superfluous and ineffective. It’s a surround sound and visual extravaganza that reminds one of a middle-East war zone.
This 4th, I combined forces with my neighbors for a street party BBQ. For libations, Don and Carlos brought 4 flavors of homemade limoncello, Susie made white sangria and I brought out my go-to red version packed with oranges, lemons, apples and strawberries.
During the warmer months, this is my fruity and refreshing go-to alcoholic beverage to quench a thirsty crowd.
- 1 – 1 ½ oranges, cut into ¼ inch slices and then cut crosswise into chunks
- 1 lemon, cut into ¼ inch slices and then cut crosswise into chunks
- 1 apple, cut into chunks
- 1 cup sugar
- ¾ cup fresh orange juice
- ½ cup Triple Sec or Cointreau
- ¼ cup brandy
- 2 bottles red wine
- 1 ½ cups frozen strawberries
- 1-2 cups lemon-lime soda (7-up or Sprite)
- Combine orange, lemon, apple, sugar, orange juice, Triple Sec and Brandy in a large container. Stir for a few minutes until sugar is completely dissolved. Add red wine and refrigerate for at least six hours and up to 12.
- Add frozen strawberries (to act as ice cubes) and lemon-lime soda and serve over additional ice, if needed.
From L.A. to Costa Rica to Hawaii to Huntington Beach to Napa to San Francisco to The Bahamas. I’ve been missing my own bed – and my kitchen – these past two months. Now that I’m back, I’m content to sleep under a duvet I know, putter in my familiar kitchen and lazily read a book curled up on a fur-covered couch with the kitties. This is home.
These macaroons, baked this morning, are a relatively straightforward recipe for me – not my usual over-complication. They travel well and, with special recipients in mind, I thought they would survive the journey unscathed.
Chocolate-dipped Coconut Macaroons
Chewy coconut kisses dipped in dark chocolate.
- 1 ⅓ cups sweetened flaked coconut
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 2 Tablespoons almond flour, toasted**
- 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 2 large egg whites
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 2-3 oz. dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a medium bowl, combine coconut, sugar, toasted almond flour, all-purpose flour and salt. In a small bowl, lightly beat egg whites with vanilla and stir into coconut mixture until combined.
- Line a sheet pan with parchment or a silicon baking sheet. Measure rounded 1-Tablespoon mounds of coconut mixture onto sheet pan and bake about 20 minutes, or until macaroons are golden brown around the edges. Remove from oven and let cool on sheet pan slightly. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.
- Melt ¾ of the chocolate in a small bowl placed in the microwave in 30-second bursts, ideally heating the chocolate to 122⁰ F. Add the remaining ¼ chocolate and stir until slightly thickened, ideally cooling to 90⁰ F. (This process is called tempering and should ensure shiny chocolate that sets quickly). Dip the bottom of each macaroon in the chocolate, allowing excess to drip off. Flip upside down and let set until chocolate sets, about 15 minutes.
** The almond flour is optional. If you don’t have any on hand, omit and increase flour to 2 Tablespoons. I toast my almond flour to bring out the flavor by cooking it in a small pan over a medium-low heat until fragrant.
The first time I prepared a British summer pudding, the final result was…well, I guess it came out resembling exactly what it was – white sandwich bread, made florescent pink and soggy with fruit juice and mushy berries.
The result was underwhelming. It was just…um…bad.
The recipe went in the trash bin and I didn’t think upon summer pudding again. Thanks, but no thanks.
These last few weeks, I’ve been staring at a package of Italian savoiardi cookies left over from my limoncello tiramisu recipe. I’ve been trying to decide how to best use them (soak them in rum syrup and use them in place of Nilla wafers in banana pudding? Yes please!), when I remembered summer pudding. Savoiardi’s, or ladyfingers’, sole purpose, in my opinion, is to soak up liquid and, lord knows, they taste a hell of a lot better than crust-less Wonder bread. Perhaps this is what was needed to elevate the pud to something worthwhile. And with that idea, and eight cups of summer berries, Italian Summer Pudding was born.
Italian Summer Pudding
A refreshing use of Summer’s bounty of fresh berries.
- 8 cups mixed fresh berries (sliced strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries)
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- 2 T. orange liqueur (such as Triple Sec)
- 20-24 ladyfinger cookies (Savoiardi)
- Freshly whipped cream
- Cook berries, sugar and zest in large saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until berries release their juice and sugar has dissolved, about 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in orange liqueur. Drain fruit, reserving juice and fruit separately and cool slightly.
- While berries are cooling, line a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap. Briefly soak ladyfingers in berry juice and tightly line loaf pan with a single layer, trimming them to fit, if needed.
- Spread ½ of cooked berries on ladyfingers. Repeat with another layer of soaked ladyfingers, berries, and ladyfingers (when you’re done, you should have 3 layers of ladyfingers and 2 layers of berries). Drizzle a few spoonfuls of remaining juice over top layer to ensure everything is well soaked, cover with plastic wrap, and weigh with a plate or dish and heavy cans. Refrigerate at least 8 and up to 48 hours.
- Remove weights and plastic wrap. To unmold, invert onto serving platter. Lift off loaf pan and remove plastic wrap. Garnish with freshly whipped cream and serve.
I’ve long been enamored by the quaint Chinese legend called the “Red Thread of Fate.” According to the myth, the matchmaker god, Yuè Lǎo, ties an invisible red thread around the left little finger of couples who are destined for one another, regardless of time, place or circumstances. This magical string may stretch or tangle, but never, ever breaks.
I sometimes imagine my red thread tied to my own Fate, a lifetime away from me – a tangled web of knots dotting this thin cord between us, this frayed thread snagging on craggy rocks and endlessly entangled around gnarled tree trunks, as we go about our separate lives. My Fate, entwined into a snarled mess. Sometimes, this thread tugs away from me so fiercely, so determinedly, my pinky dislocates from the effort.
I find comfort, as always, in a poultice of butter, flour and sugar. This is my go-to cornbread recipe, adapted from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe and definitely on the sweeter side of the sweet vs. savory cornbread spectrum. If you like moist, sweet cornbread, this is the one – perfect paired with a bowl of smoky chili.
If you like moist, sweet cornbread muffins, these are the ones for you.
- ½ cup cornmeal
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- ⅔ cup sugar
- 1 Tablespoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ⅓ cup canola oil
- 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 ¼ cups whole milk
- Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center and add oil, butter, eggs and milk. Stir until just combined. Pour into mini-muffin tins and bake 12-15 minutes until just brown around the edges and a toothpick comes out clean. Gently remove muffins from tin. The recipe can also be made in a 8×8” square pan baked for 35 minutes.