Saturday, February 17, 2018

Carrot Cake

Luckily, carrots are delicious, since, as I mentioned in the previous post, I have a lot of carrots. They’re delicious and really, really useful. Utilitarian, even. But for some unfathomable reason, I can’t remember that I’ve ever made a carrot cake. Not in this year of beautiful carrots nor any other day, month, or year. What the heck is wrong with me?

I’m happy to say that at least some problems are easy to fix. I did eventually make carrot cake. While I didn’t go for a fancy, double layer beauty, I happily stirred together a sheet cake, or perhaps I’d call it a snack cake, since it was in a 13 x 9-inch pan rather than a sheet pan. Armed with trusty resources, I wasn’t even worried that this wouldn’t be good, and I wasn’t disappointed. 

There were two recipes for frosted, single layer carrot cake printed side by side in Pillsbury: The Complete Book of Baking, one with a coconut frosting that I knew my husband wouldn’t eat, and one that was lightened up to such a level that it even called for a cholesterol-free product instead of whole eggs. I sort of combined the two, picking the lower oil level of the lighter cake as well as it’s cream cheese frosting (well, a similar frosting, anyway), and leaving in the eggs and the nuts from the other version.

This is a delicious carrot cake, perhaps more traditional than innovative. There is probably room for some variation, though, if you want to change things up. I love this the way it is, moist and durable, loaded with quite a few healthy things despite it’s unflinching dessert quality. Cake is a great place to put carrots, but I also like all of the other accompaniments in this recipe, the pineapple bits giving a burst of fruit to every bite, sweet raisins, and nuts.

Of course, the cream cheese frosting makes it all even better. I’d eat that stuff on a stick. 

Carrot Snack Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

For the cake:
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup canola oil (or other neutral tasting oil)
2 eggs
8 ounces crushed pineapple, undrained
2 cups shredded carrots
½ cup raisins
½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans

For the frosting:
3 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with cooking spray or grease it as you like. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Whisk together to combine well. Set aside.

3. In a medium-size bowl, combine the sugar, oil and egg. Wisk together until very smooth and fluffy. Stir in the pineapple and vanilla.

4. Pour the sugar mixture into the flour mixture and mix well. Stir in the carrots, raisins, and walnuts or pecans.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan. Bake at 350 F for 35-40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with just a few wet crumbs attached, no wet batter.

6. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack.

7. To make the frosting, combine the butter and cream cheese in a medium-size bowl. Beat together with an electric mixer until very smooth. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar and vanilla. Continue beating until very smooth. Spread over the cooled cake.

Makes about 16 servings.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Curry Carrot Soup

My winter CSA subscription has had my kitchen looking like Bugs Bunny’s Apocalypse bunker. There are so many carrots! But they’re absolutely fabulous carrots, wonderfully sweet, super fresh, consistently the best carrots I’ve ever had. It’s been a pleasure to collect them, really.

Back in January on a deep, dark, very cold evening, I invited friends for an informal gathering, complete with soup, biscuits, cookies (a version of these and some of these, unfrosted), and a viewing of a particularly stunning Rifftrax episode. I made gigantic batches of a basic vegetable soup and this delightfully orange, thick and creamy Curry Carrot Soup. To my very pleasant surprise, the Curry Carrot Soup was gigantic hit, and it disappeared rather quickly.

Since I followed my usual habit of just “throwing something together” without writing anything down, I had to try to piece together what I did later, and I think I came pretty close. I also put a few twists into the official recipe that were things I had meant to do, but couldn’t, like squeeze in some lime juice (I used a lemon originally, because it was all I had) and add more spice (I wasn’t sure what my guests would like.)

This soup is actually rather simple in construction, and really is mostly made of carrots. It is quite thick and very smooth and creamy if you blend it well, and you could adjust the consistency with more broth or water. It is vegetarian as it is, but you could use chicken broth instead of vegetable broth if you like. You could also increase the oil and omit the butter, and replace the cream with coconut milk or leave it out to make it vegan. I love the warm, earthy spice of lots of curry powder in this, but if you have a favorite homemade spice blend, so much the better. The seasonings and spice level can be adjusted to taste.

I had the absolute honor and pleasure of making several people happy with a big batch of this soup, and they will never know that this creation was inspired by a need to clean up a huge bunch of carrots. Oops, I guess the cat is out of the bag now. Or the carrots. The many, many carrots.

Curry Carrot Soup

Adjust the seasonings to your personal taste, or make this vegan by leaving out the cream and butter. You could replace the cream with coconut milk.

This recipe can be doubled. Just make sure you have a large enough pot to cook it in.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
2 teaspoons coarse salt
3 pounds carrots, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons curry powder
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 cups vegetable broth or water
Juice of 1 lime
½ cup heavy cream or half and half
Sour cream or plain yogurt for serving, optional

1. Combine the butter and olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Heat over medium heat until butter is melted.

2. Add the onion, celery, and salt and saute about 5 minutes, or until the onion is translucent, but not yet browning. Stir in the carrots, curry powder and crushed red pepper flakes. Cook and stir 8-10 minutes, or until the carrots are beginning to get softer around the edges.

3. Pour in the water or broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and cook at a low boil for 30-40 minutes, or until the carrots are very soft.

4. Remove from the heat and cool slightly. In batches, carefully transfer the mixture to a blender. Blend until very smooth. Return the pureed mixture to the pot on the stove.

5. Reheat the soup gently over low heat. Stir in the lime juice and heavy cream. Taste the soup for seasoning, especially for salt and curry, and adjust as desired. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt if desired.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Coming soon: Carrot Cake and Rye Soda Bread

Friday, February 9, 2018

A Bit of Chocolate for Valentine's Day

It’s quite curious how we’ve turned a martyr’s feast day into a much-anticipated date to have a romantic meal or to give a loved one something sweet. And there seems to be a popular consensus that chocolate is the most romantic sweet treat of all. Chocolate is even a common balm for the lonely soul, so if romance is not in order for St. Valentine’s Day, chocolate often still is.

I’m a little disappointed that there isn’t more chocolate in The Messy Apron Archives. (There are a lot of chocolate chips, but I’ve kept this list to desserts in the mostly chocolate range.) I think most of the major dessert groups are represented, though, from cookies and candies to cakes and pies.

Here are all the most decadent heavily-chocolated sweet treats from The Messy Apron Archives:

For cake, there’s Mulled Wine Chocolate Cake, which is tipsy-ed up a bit with red wine and spices, and Hazelnut Cake with Chocolate Glaze, which might break my rule of needing to be mostly chocolate to be included here, but the chocolate topping on this cake brings it to the right level.

Not much is cuter than cupcakes (except for your Sweet Baboo, of course), so here's Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting


And, for a flourless chocolate treat, there’s this Flourless Bittersweet Chocolate Torte.

Cookies and bars are a quicker to get on the table than some other desserts if you’re in a hurry. These Mint Chocolate Cookies can probably be adapted to have more chocolate or some other flavor you love instead of the mint if you like.
And Cocoa Chocolate Chip Brownies and Irish Cream Brownies need no extra cheerleading, I’m sure.

Speaking of Irish cream, this Chocolate Irish Cream Cheesecake is a winner, too. 

One might not be thinking of ice cream at this cold time of year, but when it’s Valentine’s Day and chocolate is involved, the cold doesn’t really seem to matter. Rich Chocolate Ice Cream is great on its own, garnishing a cake, or between your favorite cookies. Chocolate Mint Ice Cream with Andes Mints is delicious, too.


Or, again with the mint, Peppermint Brownie Pie.

If candies are your favorite, you can go homemade with Bittersweet Almond Amaretto Truffles.

For pure creamy comfort, you can’t beat Chocolate Pudding, especially if you’re eating the whole batch all by yourself.

And finally, this Chocolate Cookie Butter can be part of a Valentine’s breakfast, used to doctor up store-bought cookies, or, if Valentine’s day is not for you, you can curl up on the couch with a jar of it and a whole bag of pretzels. No one would dare to judge.

After all, we’re all human, and humans are the kind of creatures who grow an ancient execution into a romantic, or at least friendly, holiday to get us through the rest of winter.