Sunday, November 18, 2012

Eyeball Cake

Every year about a week before the birthday of each of my kids I ask them a very important question: what kind of cake would you like this year? My youngest son turned 7 last week and when I posed this question I got an unexpected reply. “I want an eyeball.” When I tell you that his birthday is the day after Halloween, this seemingly strange request might make more sense.

So what’s a Mom to do? Well, make an eyeball of course! First I consulted with my own Mom, and we discussed the vehicle in which to bake the cake. She asked me how I was planning to do it and I said I’d use regular round cake pans and then sculpt the cake into a dome shape. She suggested trying to bake the cake in a stainless steel bowl, so on to the internet we went to do some research.

According to what we found, you could indeed bake things in a bowl. Several sites recommended using something called a flower nail to assist in evenly distributing the heat as the cake bakes. I went off to the local Bulk Barn to see if they had such a thing. I found one in the cake decorating area – it’s basically a flat metal disc, with a nail sticking out from one side. It is used to assist in the production of those rose-shaped flowers that you often see on wedding cakes (the kind my brother and I used to stare at in the front window of Woolco on Water Street in St. John’s). Bulk Barn only had a small one but I decided to give it a whirl anyway (it was only $2.99).

When I returned home later that day, my Mom had some bread baking in the oven – in a stainless steel bowl! She had decided to test it out. When the bread was ready, we turned it out of the bowl – first lesson learned – ensure you grease the bowl. The bread was stuck. With a little prodding it came out, but we noticed it didn’t sound hollow as it should when it is baked properly. So I threw it back in, with the oven turned off, for about 15 minutes. All was well. Note to self: bake cake for longer than recipe calls for, and use flower nail.

I made the kids’ favourite chocolate cake, from the new Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. Here we go:

Ingredients (cake):

3/4 cup butter, softened
3 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 tsps vanilla
1 1/2 cups milk

Method (cake):

Allow butter and eggs to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. I used to think this wasn't an important step, but it makes for a fluffier cake so I recommend it. Lightly grease the bottoms and sides of a stainless steel bowl. Mine was approximately 9 inches wide. Flour the pan once you have buttered it and stick the flower nail in the bowl (disc side down, nail side up, obviously). I greased the nail and disc as well.

In a medium bowl stir together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside. Of course the BHG recipe tells you to sift the ingredients. What can I say, I am a lazy baker and I never, ever, sift. Mostly because I hate cleaning the sifter afterwards.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter on medium to high speed for about 30 seconds. Gradually add the sugar and beat on medium speed for 3 - 4 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl, then continue beating for another 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in vanilla.

Alternately add flour mixture and milk, beating on low speed after each addition, until just combined. Beat on medium - high speed for about 30 seconds more after you've added all the stuff. I scraped the sides in between. Pour batter into the prepared stainless steel bowl. Make sure you've placed the flower nail into the bottom of the bowl first!

Bake at 350 degrees F for an hour, then test the cake. Mine was done at 70 minutes, but it was a bit dry so I suggest checking in two minute increments after one hour. You want it to be a little sticky on the toothpick, but not too much. 

While the cake is baking, make the icing(s).

Ingredients (icings):

8 ounces cream cheese (I use light cream cheese)
10 - 12 tbsp butter, softened
3 tsp vanilla
7 to 7 1/2 cups icing sugar
1/2 tsp salt
Method (icings):

Beat the cream cheese for about a minute on medium speed, then add the butter and vanilla. Once that is nice and creamy, start adding the sugar in 1/2 cup increments, mixing on low speed. Add the salt and mix on medium until your desired consistency is reached.

Reserve a small amount of icing (about 1/2 cup, maybe 3/4 cup) for the different colours required for the eyeball. Instructions follow later.

Your cake might be ready now. So head on over to the oven and check it out. If it's ready, take it out and place the bowl on a wire rack.

Once the cake has cooled for about 3 minutes in the bowl, you're going to want to turn it out onto a rack so it doesn't get soggy in the bowl. what you may have realized by this point is that the part of the cake that was the top in the oven (which will become the bottom on the rack) is round. And yes, you have to fix that before you turn it out onto the rack. 

Simply take a knife and slice off the top portion, dig out some of the cake and then replace the top. Or, just be really careful when you slice the top off so that you don't have to replace anything afterwards. I wasn't so careful and so had to patch it up before I did the flip-over.

Once you have made it flat, flip it onto a rack. Feel free to snack on the parts you cut off. It's tasty!

Then remove the flower nail, using a knife. Now, here's how to decorate this cake!

Place the cake on your platter and get ready to ice. Start by placing a small blob of icing underneath the cake to help prevent it from sliding all over the place - think of it as icing glue. I learned this trick from my old friend Brian Mendoza.

I asked the Birthday Boy to help me ice the cake. Make sure you save at least 1/2 - 3/4 cup of the icing to use for the pupil and the bloodshot lines later on.

Once the cake was iced, I decided to use the flower nail as a template for the pupil of the eyeball. So I cleaned it first, and then placed it at the very top of the cake, on the icing (to be removed later).

I needed another template for the iris, so I put my thinking cap on and came up with the idea of using a paper plate. I used a yogurt container to trace the space for the iris, then I cut it out of the plate.

I placed the template on the top of the cake and let Sam sprinkle the blue sugar on top.

Once the pupil was sprinkled on, we pressed the sugar into the icing with our fingertips to make sure we wouldn't lose too much of it when lifting off the template. The Sam lifted it off.

Success! Now let's do the pupil. Take some of the reserved icing and add some unsweetened cocoa powder to it. Mix well until smooth and blended. Put into a Ziploc bag (or piping bag) and push the icing all the way into one of the corners. Carefully cut the end off of the corner, you need to cut it about 1/2 inch wide for the pupil. In the photo below I haven't made the cut yet.

Carefully squeeze the bag of icing until it starts to come out of the hole that you snipped. Move the icing bag in a circular motion as you squeeze to make the icing pupil.


Next step - make the eye bloodshot.

Take the rest of the cream cheese icing that you reserved, and add some red food colouring to it. Mix it up and keep adding until you have the shade you like. 

Put this red icing into another Ziploc or piping bag and snip a very tiny bit off the tip - you need the hole to be very small to make thin lines. Now you can start making your eyeball bloodshot!

Sam loved this part. 

So below you will see the final, finished product, and as well to the left here you will see our inspiration for the whole cake - a wind-up hopping eyeball toy that Sam got in a loot bag last year.

I hope you have as much fun as we did making this cake!!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Roasted Cauliflower

Cauliflower is not everyone’s favourite. But in my opinion, it’s underrated. It doesn’t really have a lot of flavour on its own, which means that you can add flavour easily – we’ve all heard of mashed cauliflower substituting in for mashed potatoes, and how parents puree cauliflower and then hide it in macaroni and cheese without their kids even knowing. Consider it a blank canvas.

It’s not the healthiest vegetable, the vegetables that are healthier are generally brighter in colour (think leafy green, or broccoli), but it’s definitely not unhealthy. I did a quick search online to see what the nutritional content is. Here’s what I found:

½ cup (1”pieces), boiled and drained: calories 14, fat 0g, carbohydrates 3g, fibre 1 g, sugars 1g, protein 1g, vitamin C 46% of your daily allowance, calcium 1% of your daily allowance, and iron 1%. Cauliflower fills you up too so if you’re watching what you eat, fill up on this instead of bread.

I personally like roasting my cauliflower which gives it a nice, nutty flavour. There are many different spices and flavours you can add to it before you roast it – try sesame oil and chilli peppers for a spicy option, or cumin and turmeric for an earthy, Indian-influenced side dish. You can cut it into florets if you’d like individual bite-sized pieces, or mash it up and serve it like a hash. In all recipes you need oil or some kind to encourage the browning, but you don’t need a lot.

My friend Saro gave me his recipe, which I have modified slightly for this blog (I added the onions and garlic for an extra flavour boost). Here it is. I’d love to hear your suggestions for other versions of roasted cauliflower so I can expand my recipe book!


1 head cauliflower
Olive oil – about 3 – 5 tbsp
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese (freshly grated, to taste – I used about 1/3 cup)
Panko or other breadcrumbs (about 1/3 cup)

1 large sweet onion, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Grapeseed oil – about 2 tbsp


Cut the green leaves and stems off the bottom of the cauliflower. Do not cut into florets. 

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and place the entire head of cauliflower in the pot. Blanch (boil) for about 4 minutes, then flip the cauliflower over to blanch the other side (4 minutes). If your pot is larger than mine, you might not need to do the flip over. So just blanch for about 7 minutes. Remove from the pot and drain in a strainer. If you want to, you can save the water and use it for soup. Or you can toss it.

Place the entire head of cauliflower onto a baking sheet. Drizzle 3 – 5 tbsp olive oil over it, and grind some fresh salt and pepper on top. Place it in the oven at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes. Pull it out and flip it over. Bake for another 20 minutes.

While the cauliflower is roasting, slice your onions and crush your garlic. Heat the grapeseed oil in a sauté pan and put the onions in. Leave the heat on high for about 1 – 2 minutes or until the onions start to brown around the edges. Reduce the heat to low and let the onions cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for another 5 – 10 minutes until nicely caramelized. Set aside.


Now, remove the baking tray from the oven, mash the cauliflower using a potato masher.

Sprinkle with half the parmesan cheese. Then sprinkle the panko on top. Cover with the rest of the parmesan and some more freshly ground black pepper. Taste it – if it needs salt, add a tad.


Raise the oven rack to the second from the top level in your oven. Pop the cauliflower back in the oven, this time on broil (500 degrees).  Leave it in there for 10 minutes. Remove the baking tray and spoon onto plates.

Serve with the onions and garlic on top as a garnish. 
Adding toasted slivered almonds or pine nuts would also add some nice texture (and nutritional value!).

Then send me a note and tell me I just changed your life.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Really Good Cake (also known as Chocolate Chip Squares)

My kids and I are currently reading Harriet the Spy – it’s actually our second time reading it together. It’s my copy from when I was a child and it’s falling apart, but that makes us love it even more. In the book, Harriet gets to have cake and milk every day after school. The cake is served to her by the cook, who is not named in the book but is simply called “Cook” (at least it’s capitalized). I didn’t often come home to cake and milk, it was more like an apple or a banana. But there was definitely always something homemade for dessert after supper.

This is one of my favourite cakes from my childhood, and I think my brother would agree. It’s easy to make, and it’s fun for kids because there’s a neat thing to do at the beginning of the baking process. The recipe came from one of my Mom’s friends: Esther Feldman. I still have the piece of paper she wrote the recipe on – it’s probably 40 years old.

As you might have noticed, I sometimes fool around with recipes to try to make them healthier. The only thing I have been able to do with this cake is cut the sugar down. I tried to cut the fat (using applesauce, then trying Greek yogurt) and it just didn’t work – the cake didn’t rise enough and the bottom portion was way too dense. So trust me – just leave this one alone. It’s ok to sin every once in a while.

¾ cup butter (softened)
7 ½ tbsp brown sugar & 7 ½ tbsp white sugar (I just use 10 tbsp brown sugar – no white sugar at all)
1 tsp cold water
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 ½ cups plus 3 tbsp white flour
¾ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
Just over ½ cup cold water
½ cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a 9” x 9” square pan with cooking spray.


Cream together the butter and sugar (about 2 minutes on high speed). Add the tsp of cold water and the vanilla and beat for about 1 minute. Add the eggs and beat until creamy and light (about 2 minutes). Meanwhile, mix the dry ingredients together.

Add the dry ingredients with the mixer on low speed – stir until flour is just combined, then add the water. Beat for about 2 minutes until nice and light.


Pour into the prepared pan.

Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top. 

Put the cake into the oven for 2 minutes, and then remove it. Use a knife to swirl the chocolate chips into the cake (to give it a marbled effect). 


Put it back into the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Let it cool in the pan. Cut into squares, and enjoy! 

I think you’re going to love it. As you can see by the photo below, my family did.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Classic Vegetable Soup

I haven’t posted in a while. We’ve had a hard summer and the desire to post has just not been there. I am looking forward to forgetting all about this summer so it’s nice that Mother Nature is cooperating. The air is getting cooler. Our central air conditioning unit broke (again) last week and we haven’t felt the urgency to get it fixed. The past few mornings I have sent my kids to camp with hoodies on, and in the evening the breeze picks up and I enjoy the sight of the curtains billowing about the windowsills.

Logically, as it cools down outside, we feel the need to warm up inside. What better way to  accomplish that than with a piping hot delicious homemade soup?

Soup time is one of my favourite times of year, largely because The King of Soup starts to make some of his masterpieces again. The KoS is quite open to suggestions so I find myself browsing through cookbooks and websites, and proposing new options weekly. This process works well for me.

Even though I love when The KoS cooks, I also enjoy making soup myself. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it’s not technical, and you can generally combine many things that are already in your refrigerator and end up with something quite yummy.

This recipe came from my head, and was not prepared by The KoS. It’s a classic vegetable soup with some extra protein in the form of chick peas. And it was delicious.

2 large carrots, sliced
2 large stalks celery, sliced
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 can chick peas, drained and rinsed (14 oz can) (or you could use lentils)
1 large can diced tomatoes (or take fresh tomatoes and pulse them a few times in the food processor)
A couple of handfuls of green beans, cut into 1 inch sections
Any other vegetables you want to add! (try zucchini, sweet potato or squash, peppers...)
Herbs (a combination of fresh and dried works well – try dried oregano, fresh basil, fresh parsley, or whatever else you’d like)
Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable oil (2 tbsp should do the trick)
Vegetable stock cubes reconstituted with boiling water, or homemade stock

In a large stock pot, heat 1 tbsp of the oil. When hot, reduce the heat to medium-high and add the onions. Saute for about 5 minutes until translucent.

Add the rest of the oil and the celery and carrots and sauté for another 2 – 3 minutes. Add the garlic.

Add the chick peas and sauté for 1 minute. 

Then add the tomatoes and the dried herbs.

Finally add the beans and whichever other veggies you have decided to use. Add the stock (liquid should just cover veggies). You don’t want too much liquid because you won’t be letting this soup simmer too long or the vegetables will overcook.

If you have decided to use sweet potatoes, cube them and par-boil them first for about 10 minutes before adding them to the soup. If you have decided to try squash, add an extra layer of deliciousness by roasting the squash in the oven (in cubes) for 10 – 15 minutes prior to adding it to the soup. 

Add your fresh herbs and the salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with parmesan cheese, homemade bread, biscuits, or whatever else makes you feel happy and cosy inside. I made Challah and toasted it nicely. Yummy.