Baking with Auntie M

Hubs and I took a trip to see family in Minnesota and got to spend time at several state parks (we saw two bald eagles and a black bear!), but really the best part was getting to be with my awesome relatives.  I’m so happy to be related to them.  These people are smart, interesting, and funny.  They also still seem to like me in spite of the fact that I regress to the maturity of a two year old, complete with a crying tantrum, when they beat me at cards.  (To be fair, I had been losing at all the games we played ALL WEEKEND and there’s only so much of that a reasonable person can take.  Please see this study, which corroborates the idea that self-control is a resource that can be depleted by difficult tasks).

The last night we were there, my aunt baked an amazing red velvet cake that really changed my mind about cake mixes.  Before, I felt like there was going to be no way I ever baked a cake from scratch because it seemed really challenging and like they just don’t taste as good.  I realize now how wrong I was and how excited I am to try some cakes from Whisk Kid.  The recipe follows, and it’s best eaten with people you love:

Cream together (with an electric mixer of some type):
1/2 cup of vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 eggs

Make a “paste” and add it to your already creamed mixture:
2 T cocoa (unsweetened kind)
2 oz red food coloring
2 oz red water from rinsing out the food coloring bottle (You’re actually supposed to put a whole ‘nother 2 oz of food coloring in, but Auntie M can’t stomach the cost or double the Red Dye No. whatever.  It’s plenty red as you can see.  Also, watch out if you have a wooden countertop and spill any red on it because that is never coming out.)

Now mix that sucker and add:
1/2 t salt
1 t vanilla

Mix and then add alternately while mixing:
1 c buttermilk (split up a bit)
2 1/4 cups of flour (split up a bit)


Mix 1.5 t of soda with a tablespoon of vinegar (it should fizz in a fun way) and then fold gently into the batter.  Then bake it in two 8 or 9 inch roundy pans for 30 minutes at 350 F (or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean).

While it was baking we started the icing.  This part is kind of gross because first you make a paste like when you do papier-mâché and then you cook it to thicken it up.

5 T Flour
1 c Milk
Stir and pour through a sieve to get the lumps out.  Cook over medium high heat stirring constantly until it turns into a paste, then boil and stir about a minute.  Then remove from heat, put on the lid, and let it cool to room temperature.  While it was cooling, we ate dinner, but before that we got out 2 sticks of salted butter to soften at room temperature.

Later, cream together (until light and fluffy):
2 sticks (1 c) of softened butter
1 c granulated sugar
A splash of vanilla or almond or whatever flavoring suits you

Then add your cooled paste that you made earlier to your butter and sugar and beat it until it looks like icing.  Frost your yummo cake and don’t forget the SPRINKLES!

Cooking with Cheese

Last night I made Grandma’s version of mac and cheese, which is baked and is one of those wonderful recipes with only a few ingredients.  It can’t really get any better, especially when I, um, triple the amount of cheese the recipe calls for.  The very best part, though, is how much Tonks and Duncan love cheese.  Tonks knows very well that she’s not supposed to be in the kitchen, but this is what happens:

It's so close!

And when I remind her, “No dogs in the kitchen,” she goes just past the peninsula and waits with this goofy grin on her face:

I am ready for CHEESE!

And to be honest, I really can’t resist it when she looks so happy, so I ask her for a sit and a down and then give her some cheese.  The minute I do that, someone else, who likes to keep me company by sitting in a bar stool while I cook and tries to nonchalantly sneak onto the counter all the time, is all, “Look how cute I am.  And even though I am a cat, I also know how to sit on command.  See?”

They have me trained pretty well, I think.

Here’s the recipe:

Bring enough water for 16 oz pasta (we use organic rotini) to a boil and add the pasta.  Boil until it’s the tenderness you like, stirring enough that the pasta doesn’t stick together.  I like it slightly mushier than al dente.  While the water is boiling and pasta is cooking, preheat your oven to 325ºF and grate up your cheese.  I used 4 oz gruyère, 6-8 oz smoked cheddar, and 6-8 oz aged English cheddar, though I’ve successfully made this dish with sharp cheddar already grated from a bag.  Grated, these blocks of cheese made about 4-5 ish cups of cheese (as you can see in the photo above).  In this time, you should also cut up 4 tablespoons of butter (I use salted) into 1/2 inch square cubes.  When the pasta is done, drain it and spread about 1/3 of it in the bottom of a 13×9 oven safe dish.  Sprinkle 1/3 of your grated cheese evenly on top of the pasta.  Layer another 1/3 of your pasta and another 1/3 of your cheese and once more again until you’re out of pasta and you end with cheese.  (You should have three layers of pasta-cheese).  Add some salt and freshly ground pepper to the top of your layers.  I try not to add too much salt because Hubs and I have been ruining dishes lately because you can’t un-salt things.  Plus, cheese is pretty salty inherently.  Then pour 1/2-2/3 cups of milk over your casserole and dot your cut up butter evenly on top.  Bake for 25ish minutes or until the cheese is bubbly.