Archive for the ‘food’ category

Chocolate Frosting (Finally!)

March 28, 2010

Chocolate Frosting

The deliciousness of good chocolate frosting cannot be overrated.

I have not been a frosting fan for most of my life.  From early childhood, I was schooled in the art of dieting.  I think this resulted from two grandfathers dying fairly young of heart attacks.  My mother took these deaths very much to her own heart, and, in addition to inflicting margarine on us (back when it was still considered a foodstuff), was extremely negative about certain types of high-fat….toppings.

Certain layers of certain foods were to be automatically peeled before consumption.  I’m not just talking bananas here.  The two that come to mind were chicken skin and cake frosting.

I was a dutiful kid; so whenever we went to some fast food restaurant that served fried chicken (we’d never have this at home), I would follow my mother in the undressing of whatever breast came our way, (we were not allowed drumsticks and this was pre-nuggets), covering the flattened foil wrapping with every single scrap of salty brown crackle.

Frosting was generally cut off with a knife.  (My mother, who was a purist in word more than deed, would run her finger along the back of such a knife, and then shudder.)

I got the message.  For years, when I made cupcakes for my own children, I just sprinkled a little powdered sugar on them.  If frosting was required for a school event –you know those old-time frosted school events which, apparently, are no longer allowed, much less mandated–I would actually slather canned frosting on the cupcakes.  (Yes, the stuff could also double as spackle, but, given my prejudices, it hardly seemed worse to me than the real thing.)

Then, my family discovered Magnolia Bakery.   It was a dusty, extremely quiet, little shop back then with dappled linoleum floors and counters, and old-fashioned curved metal mixers.  It was mainly notable to us because of (i) the old-fashioned cake plates, with the Hirshchorn-shaped cylindrical glass covers, (ii) the old-fashioned aspect of the cakes beneath those covers (which looked nothing like the Italian pastries typical of Greenwich Village);  and (iii) the fact that it was right next door to a shop that sold parrots.

And then came Sex in the City, which I have to confess I’ve never seen, but which certainly changed the sleepy atmosphere of the Magnolia Bakery.  There were now lines; on weekend nights, these strained around the block.  My children (now teenagers with a whole new appreciation of cupcakes) and I stood in those lines.  We even bought the cookbook (More From Magnolia Bakery, by Alyssa Torrey.)

Ms. Torrey’s frostings are really very very good; especially the boiled flour and milk one used on the red velvet cake.

I still find the buttercreams too sweet.  One of the difficulties of making a buttercream-style frosting is getting it thick enough to both swirl and sit there, i.e. not drip.  This requires a fair amount of a dry ingredient which is typically powdered sugar.  But powdered sugar is hardly a neutral ingredient; the more you put in, the more cloying the frosting risks becoming(although at a certain point, there does seem to be a place where your tongue just shuts down, refusing to taste the extra sweetness.)

Our trick, (well, the trick of my daughter, a truly great cook) is to substitute another dry ingredient for some of the powdered sugar.  A great one, of course, is unsweetened cocoa powder.  We use it to cut the sugar allotment of the typical buttercream recipe almost in half.   That, and a little extra vanilla to enhance the chocolate (countering all childhood beliefs in the intense opposition of vanilla and chocolate), makes for a fudgy, swirly, not too sweet, frosting, that can almost be eaten on its own.  (Even by someone very well trained in maniacal frosting guilt.   Think antioxidents.)

Here’s a quick recipe.

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

  • 4 cups (max) confectioners’ sugar

  • 2-4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder

  • 1/2 cup milk

  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract

Mix everything together, at your own speed (but with an electric mixer).

Makes enough for two-layer cake, or for the top of a single layer (with a bunch left over to apply at will.)

Food Rules – Not Quite Michael Pollan’s

October 11, 2009

I have long been a careful eater.  Some might call me picky.  This isn’t really fair, because my refusal to eat certain foods has never arisen from finicky taste buds, but from strong ideas about health, morality and the environment.    I won’t burden you with these here, partly because it would take too long, and partly because, unlike the classic picky eater, I try to stay fairly quiet about my no-no foods, and to graze among the acceptable possibilities.

This pickiness, combined with the wish not to be a pain (especially when a guest), has sometimes exposed me to hunger.  And ridicule.   For years, for example, I was the subject of jokes among office mates due to my bringing carrot sticks and plain yogurt to a Yankees’ baseball outing.  (I have recently learned that the new Yankees’ stadium actually serves hummous and carrot sticks as one of its standard offerings.  Which just goes to show that my eating habits were not ridiculous but simply ahead of the curve.)

Last week, The New York Times published twenty rules for healthy eating chosen by Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food.  These were rules that Pollan had gleaned from readers, promoting among other things, the eating of apples when hungry, and the un-multi-tasked meal.

I’m not sure I’m capable of eating the un-multi-tasked meal on a regular basis, though I do love apples.  Still, after reading these, I came up with ten eating rules of my own:

1.  Avoid foods that are fire engine red, flame orange, any kind of blue, or electric green, unless they are unadulterated products of the vegetable kingdom.  In other words, yes fruit, nix Loops.

2.  Learn to say no to anything deep fried.  (This is relatively easy for me since I was raised by a mother who made all around her peel the skin off fried chicken, even her own 88-year old mother who used to groan “but that’s the good part.”)   If you have to have something deep fried, get your dining partner to order it, then sneak the occasional bite off of his or her plate.

3.  Ditto with dessert.  Get your partner to order it, and then sneak spoonfuls.  If you have dessert at home, refuse it at the meal, and then have small careful wedges standing at a counter or in front of the open fridge.   (Such wedges, eaten at midnight and intended to “even out” the dessert’s edges, have the advantage of being absolutely calorie-free.)

4.  Don’t buy things you can’t resist.  You will not be able to resist them.

5.  Don’t buy baked goods that come in packages that are easily stacked.  Actually, it’s probably advisable to generally avoid stackable food, especially if raw.  I make an exception here for crates of clementines (even though they are probably horribly sprayed) and those plastic cartons of organic salad (which are environmentally awful, but awfully convenient.)  (I would avoid non-organic salad mixes if stackable.)    This rule does not apply to cooked or dried foods – i.e. cans of beans, cases of plain yogurt (yes, yogurt has been heated), and any kind of whole grain.

6.  As a cook and mother, you basically have two choices:  either give in to the urge to taste constantly while you are cooking, serving, and cleaning up, and don’t eat anything during the actual meal; or steel yourself to taste absolutely nothing (not even that bit that will go to waste otherwise), and sit down and eat from your plate with the rest of your family.

7.    Here’s a couple of travel rules, learned, thankfully, not from my own experience, but from watching a husband: when traveling,  pay attention to the cues of waiter or waitress:  i.e. (i) do not order the “meat sandwich” in India, if the waiter tells you at first that they are out of it, and (ii) do not order a dish, even a “regional specialty,” if the waitress, shaking her head, keeps trying to dissuade you.

8.  Learn to like vegetables in all forms and varieties.  (I make an exception here for okra.)

9.   There are two fairly unadulterated, high antioxidant, foods that are (either one or the other) generally available in almost any establishment:  (i) tea; (ii) red wine.  (White, if not red, though lower in reservatrol).   In situations where the food is either doubtful or deep-fried, stick to one of these.  Unless–

10.  Unless, you are really really starving, already jittery and/or tipsy, and not in hummous-filled Yankee Stadium.   In that case, go for the scrambled eggs.