16 March 2013

A Heartfelt Apology

To the Butts of our Dear Friends:

I hereby present an official apology to all of the Butts that have temporarily resided on our dining room chairs throughout the past decade.  The appallingly uncomfortable chairs were frugally purchased with our wedding money, and we if knew THEN how much sitting around our Butts and your Butts would be doing over the course of the next ten years, we would have chosen differently.  We were babies, young and inexperienced, and were not yet aware of the epic durations of time that Adult Butts spend sitting around at dining room tables.

Those chairs sucked.

Friends, I love your Butts, and I am deeply sorry. 

Not one word of complaint have we heard uttered from your mouths. Though one of you has fallen straight through the wicker, one of you suffered a complete frame collapse (you might have been pregnant at the time), and one of you has even peed on our chairs (you also maybe have been pregnant), none of you have ever mentioned that your Butt has been uncomfortable. Not even once did any of you casually suggest that we adjourn to the living room so that your Numb Butt could perhaps regain sensation. I thank you, Gracious Guests, for your tact.

You will be pleased to learn that in the space of a mere 24 hours, our three (barely) remaining chairs spontaneously disintegrated into minute, untraceable particles of dust.  That is not true. But they did become suddenly, completely un-sittable-upon by our Butts, and now they are gone.  While we waited for our new chairs to arrive, we sat on our children and we ate cake.  This delicious coconut cake. This magical, puffy cloud of coconut and sugar and butter.  I made one for you. 

Our new chairs have arrived. Also, I ate the cake that I made for you. But please come over. I will make another coconut cake. We will sit in our new chairs and eat it and our Butts will be happy together forever.

Magical Puffy (Yet Crunchy) Cloud Coconut Cake with a Smidge of Lemon
From America’s Test Kitchen (they just call it Coconut Cake)

I’ve been making this cake for almost 10 years. It’s true, just ask my Butt. 
If you like sweet, and you like coconut, it is perfect. The most recent time I made it, I tempered the sweetness with a thin layer of Meyer lemon marmalade in the very middle of the cake.  An unexpected taste – it was quite nice. I'll do it again. 

Toasting the coconut adds crunch and also keeps the cake from being too sweet.

1 large egg
5 large egg whites
3/4 cup cream of coconut
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract

2 1/4 cups cake flour (9 ounces)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces, softened but still cool

8 ounces sweetened coconut (about 8 ounces)

Buttercream Frosting:
4 large egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
1 pinch table salt
1 lb unsalted butter, each stick cut into 6 pieces, softened but still cool
1/4 cup cream of coconut
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup Meyer lemon marmalade (optional)

1. For the Cake: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans with shortening and dust with flour.

2. Beat egg whites and whole egg in large measuring cup with fork to combine. Add cream of coconut, water, vanilla, and coconut extract and beat with fork until thoroughly combined.

3. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Mix on lowest speed to combine, about 30 seconds. With mixer still running on lowest speed, add butter 1 piece at a time, then beat until mixture resembles coarse meal, with butter bits no larger than small peas, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes.

4. With mixer still running, add 1 cup liquid. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds. With mixer still running, add remaining 1 cup liquid in steady stream (this should take about 15 seconds). Stop mixer and scrape down bowl with rubber spatula, then beat at medium-high speed to combine, about 15 seconds. (Batter will be thick.).

5. Divide batter between cake pans and level with offset or rubber spatula. Bake until deep golden brown, cakes pull away from sides of pans, and toothpick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes (rotate cakes after about 20 minutes). Do not turn off oven.

6. Cool in pans on wire racks about 10 minutes, then loosen cakes from sides of pans with paring knife, invert cakes onto racks and then re-invert; cool to room temperature.

7. While cakes are cooling, spread shredded coconut on rimmed baking sheet; toast in oven until shreds are a mix of golden brown and white, about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times. Cool to room temperature.

8. For the Buttercream: Combine whites, sugar, and salt in bowl of standing mixer; set bowl over saucepan containing 1 1/2-inches of barely simmering water. Whisk constantly until mixture is opaque and warm to the touch and registers about 120 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 2 minutes.

9. Transfer bowl to mixer and beat whites on high speed with whisk attachment until barely warm (about 80 degrees) and whites are glossy and sticky, about 7 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-high and beat in butter 1 piece at a time. Beat in cream of coconut and coconut and vanilla extracts. Stop mixer and scrape bottom and sides of bowl. Continue to beat at medium-high speed until well-combined, about 1 minute.

Assembling the Cake:

1. With a long serrated knife, cut both cakes in half horizontally so that each cake forms two layers.

2. Put a dab of icing on a cardboard round cut just larger than the cake. Center one cake layer on the round.

3. Place a large blob of icing in the center of the layer and spread it to the edges with an icing spatula.

4. Hold the spatula at a 45-degree angle to the cake and drag it across the surface to level the icing. Repeat steps 3 and 4 with remaining cake layers. 
(Delicious but optional: After the second cake layer, and after a layer of frosting, spread a thin layer of marmalade.)

5. To ice the sides of the cake, scoop up a large dab of icing with the tip of the spatula and spread it on the sides with short side-to-side strokes.

6. Sprinkle the top of the cake with coconut. Then press the coconut into the sides, letting the excess fall back onto a baking sheet.

Only a little bit messy!

04 March 2013

Butternut Squash and Kale Strata with Multigrain Bread

“Hey Baby, you’re looking fine. 
Let’s make a casserole together.” 

Ok that’s obviously a joke, because squashes don’t have eyeballs. But you’ve got to give him some credit for the sweet pick-up line.

Admit it. If you were single, and a guy walked up to you at a bar and told you were hot and that he’d like to make a casserole with you, you might slap him in the face and tell him to stop being crude. And then you’d giggle with your friends all evening and make fun of Weird Casserole Guy sitting sadly on a stool reading on his phone about craft beers and the best kinds of flour to make pasta with.
But then on the way home, trudging (by yourself) through the snowy slush on a cold, winter night, you might think to yourself, gee, what if he wasn’t being gross? What if he really wanted to take me home and make a delicious casserole for me, just for me, and feed it to me all night long? 
THAT’S sexy. (And only a little bit weird.)
And then you might turn around and run back to the bar to find Sexy Casserole Guy, hoping with all of your heart that he has the ingredients in house to make you THIS exquisite butternut and kale strata.

I roasted some squash, wilted some kale, toasted some bread cubes, mixed everything together with a béchamel sauce, cracked some eggs into it, topped it with parmesan, and baked it. Easy (not really)! 

If ONLY it were easy. I'd make it every week if it was.  This meal dirtied about a hundred pots and pans (not really). Fortunately, the weather was horrendous (really), there was no where else I had to be for the eleven hours (not really) that it took me to put this together, and the results were well worth the labor. My family of four ate it happily (really) for two nights.
The moral of the story? Um, if a butternut squash with googly eyes hits on you, take him up on it. Because it might turn out well for you.  
Well, really, the moral of the story is, spend a few hours on this meal and you will not regret it. It really is special.

 Look at those colors! Orange! Green! Eggy color!

 (Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano is added during the last 10 minutes of baking.)

Butternut Squash and Kale Strata with Multigrain Bread
(Adaptions are in purple italics.)

2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
2 pounds butternut squash—peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 medium onions, thinly sliced, plus 1/2 small onion, finely chopped
3/4 pound kale, ribs discarded and leaves chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons finely chopped thyme
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream (I used half & half)
1/2 cup crème fraîche (I replaced this with 1/2 cup grated mozzarella)
1 teaspoon sugar
8 large eggs
One 3/4-pound multigrain baguette, cut into 1-inch pieces (Leave these out over night to make them stale; alternatively, toast them in the oven for a bit to dry them out. They’ll soak up more liquid this way.) 
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese 

Preheat the oven to 425° and butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the squash with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for about 25 minutes, tossing once, until the squash is just tender. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the sliced onions, season with salt and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 25 minutes. Scrape the onions into a bowl. 

In the same skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil until shimmering. Add the kale, garlic, crushed red pepper and 1 teaspoon of the thyme and season with salt. Cook over moderately high heat, tossing, until the kale is wilted and just tender, about 5 minutes. Scrape the kale into the bowl with the cooked onions. 

In a medium saucepan, melt the 2 1/2 tablespoons of butter. Add the chopped onion and the remaining 1 teaspoon of thyme and cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened, 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly, until a light golden paste forms, 3 minutes. Whisk in 1 cup of the milk and cook, whisking, until very thick and no floury taste remains, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream (or half & half), crème fraîche (or mozzarella), mozzarella, sugar, 2 teaspoons of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper and the remaining 1 1/2 cups of milk. Let the béchamel cool.

Beat the eggs into the cooled béchamel in the saucepan. Pour into a bowl, add the bread and the vegetables and mix well. Pour the strata mixture into the prepared baking dish and let stand for 30 minutes, pressing down the bread occasionally. (Ideally, weigh it down with bricks or cans so that the bread cubes can fully absorb the liquid. If you can press it overnight, while refrigerated, even better.)

Bake the strata for 55 minutes to 1 hour, until almost set. Increase the oven temperature to 475°. Sprinkle the Parmigiano on the strata and bake for about 10 minutes more, until the top is lightly browned. Let the strata stand for 15 minutes before serving.

Extreme close-up!