Saturday, November 12, 2011

spicy carrot cake and a trip to arizona

i was on a plane last week! it went over mountains, which always makes me nervous, because whenever planes crash it seems to be over mountains. or the ocean. i guess i should be grateful we weren't over an ocean as well. anyway, we didn't crash, so it's sort of moot.

i made it safely to phoenix, which, no offense, is not one of my favorite cities. luckily i wasn't going to phoenix, though - i was going to prescott to surprise my dad for his birthday. my brother and i took the shuttle up and surprised him but good. unfortunately, we didn't do the whole jumping-and-bouncing-and-yelling-SURPRISE kind of surprise, but it's probably just as well because he isn't as young as he used to be. he's still pretty young, though.

see? he hikes! old people don't hike. he probably could have stood a more shouty surprise than he got, actually. oh well, next time. watch out, dad!

it snowed lots when we were there, which was exciting for me, since it's only snowed twice in portland in the last two years. it was very pretty.

i also got to meet the dog that they'd adopted since i last visited. isn't he the cutest?! i almost smuggled him home in my bag, but i refrained. it took some major strength of character to refrain, though, as you can imagine. plus, he is pocket-sized, so he is eminently portable. they would probably have missed him, though. and i already have three dogs, so i shouldn't be greedy, i guess.

we ate lots of nice things when we were there. my mom had a bunch of green cherry tomatoes that she wasn't doing anything in particular with, so i sliced some up, dredged them in flour with salt and pepper, and fried them. delicious! i liked the thinner crunchy layer better than the thick breading i've had on some fried green tomatoes. i think they were a success.

on the morning of my dad's birthday, they went on their daily constitutional and i made some hash with roasted root vegetables and leftover roasted salmon. the vegetables were carrots, purple potatoes, turnips, and onion. there were some beets in the original roastings, so everything was a delightful medley of pinks and oranges and purples. fancy!

i just sautéed the diced vegetables in a little olive oil and let the edges get a bit crunchy. then i added some salt and pepper, a little sour cream, and the salmon, just to let it warm up a bit. we ate it with over easy eggs and some ridiculously good biscuits made with my mom's sourdough starter. i didn't even know you could use sourdough for biscuits, but damned if they weren't fantastic. in case you have your own starter, i used this recipe. i just patted the dough down rather than rolling it out, though.

i used some more of the green tomatoes (and some ripe ones) to make some little tomato and sharp cheddar free-form tarts/galettes for the party that happened that evening. i cut the tomatoes super-thin and salted them and let them drain for a bit on paper towels so they weren't too watery. then i put them on top of the grated cheddar on little rounds of tart dough.

they look cute in the picture, but i wasn't crazy about the dough recipe i used. it had sour cream in it and when i baked them there was a lot of deflation and grease that i was not anticipating. i let them rest on paper towels, though, and they were eaten up quickly, but i don't know. i would use a different crust next time. i think the idea's solid, though, so if you have some tomatoes you don't know what to do with, it may be worth some experimentation.

here is the point of birthdays and, incidentally, this post - CAKE. i asked my dad what kind of cake he wanted and he sort of hemmed and hawed for awhile. he is very easygoing and i'm pretty sure he would like basically any kind of cake. finally i narrowed it down to spice cake or carrot cake and decided to combine the two.

for the basic recipe, i turned to good old epicurious, which has tons of recipes from gourmet (rip) and bon appetit (not my favorite, but sometimes okay), among other publications. i used this carrot cake with marmalade as a base recipe, since my dad loves marmalade. i made a few significant changes, however.

for one thing, my parents don't have any pans with which to make a layer cake, so i had to use a 13" x 9" one instead. i also lowered the sugar a little and added many more spices than the recipe called for. the actual recipe uses 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, but i also added about 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, and a few grinds of black pepper. you can play around with the amounts - i think it could actually have stood up to even more in the way of spices. some fresh grated ginger would have been great as well. i also used pecans instead of walnuts and added more than were called for. they were in bigger chunks, too - i just crushed the pecan halves in my hands as i added them and used probably 1 1/3 cups or so in all.

because it was in the larger pan, it took longer to cook than the recipe states. i started checking it after 40 minutes, but it took a solid 50+ in all. you can tell it's done when you stick a knife or something in the center and it comes out clean. i think if you bake cakes with any degree of frequency you can kind of tell by feel and smell, too. if you press the middle down with your finger a bit and it bounces back rather than staying sunk in, it's done.

for the frosting, i used my go-to basic cream cheese frosting recipe/method - cream together 3 packages of softened cream cheese (a total of 24 ounces) and 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) of softened butter (i left the cream cheese and butter on the counter overnight to make sure it was soft enough). then add powdered sugar until it tastes sweet enough. i usually start with 3/4 of a cup or so, mix that in, then add 1/3 of a cup at a time, mixing in between until it's right. i like it to be on the not-as-sweet side, so i used probably a little over a cup in total. maybe 1 1/3. you also might want to add a little vanilla extract - 1 teaspoon or a little less.

once the cake is baked, let it cool in the pan on a rack. if you'd like, you could just frost it in the pan. that is the easiest method. you can also flip the cake out and frost it (fancier). i covered the whole cake with frosting, then put some in a plastic bag with a hole cut out of a corner and made a diamond pattern. then i filled alternating diamonds with finely chopped toasted pecans and marmalade. the marmalade is easiest to use if you heat it up first, so it's soft. then just dab it in the diamonds. pretty! i also put some chopped pecans along the edges for extra-fancy.

this would actually be a great addition to your thanksgiving table for those who eschew pie. i like some pies, myself, but if my choices were this or pumpkin, i would choose this every time. it has a lot of nice spicy fall flavors and colors and who doesn't like cream cheese icing? no one, that's who.

no trip to visit my folks would be complete without an obligatory dash down memory lane - it seems i used to be less particular about both sharing food with animals and my sartorial choices. although that shirt is sort of amazing, in a giant-lapeled, hideous color scheme sort of way...

(adapted from
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
~ 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil (you could probably swap out some of this with applesauce, if you want to be healthyface)
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar (i don't pack it - you can if you want)
1/2 cup orange marmalade (i used this one)
1/2 cup orange juice
3 cups lightly packed grated carrots (thanks for grating them, mom!)
1 1/3 cups crunched-up or chopped toasted pecans

3 8oz containers cream cheese, softened (i've never noticed a difference using that lower-fat neufchatel cheese, so i usually do that)
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, softened
1 - 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, to taste
1 teaspoon vanilla

preheat the oven to 350. butter and flour a 13" x 9" pan. sift the dry ingredients (1st 8) together (or just put them in a bowl and whisk to get them mixed). in a separate bowl. mix the eggs, oil, sugars, marmalade, and orange juice. add this to the dry ingredients and stir/mix just until combined. then add the carrot and toasted pecans and mix a tiny bit until things are somewhat evenly scattered throughout.

pour into the pan and bake for 45-50+ minutes, until a knife or toothpick comes out clean or you can just tell it's done with your 6th sense of cakes. let it cool on a rack. then mix together the frosting ingredients, frost that puppy and eat it up! (singing happy birthday optional)

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