Monday, May 17, 2010

3-Blend Citrus Poppy Seed Cake

"Cake from scratch."

That single line often makes me break out in hives. Seriously. The measuring, the testing, the uncanny ability for all of your hard work to go up in smoke! Hey...I'm a cheater. (No comments from the peanut gallery!) If I can use a cake mix, I will. I openly and freely admit it!

However, sometimes you have to take the when all there is for "Poppy Seed" mixes is muffin mix - and surely that would've sucked. Scratch was my only option. Sigh. Lucky for me, the recipe turned out to be pretty fool-proof. Without further adu...

(I apologize if you see the word "poopy" instead of "poppy." I've caught myself twice already.)

Cake (all ingredients should be room temp):
3 sticks of unsalted butter
3 3/4 cups of flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
4/3 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups sugar
7 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp grated lime, lemon and orange zest
1/3 cup poppy seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 2 or 3 8x2 inch round cake pans. Set aside. (2 pans will give you (4) 1/2 inch layers, 3 pans will give you (3) 1-inch layers.)

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter on medium-low speed until lightened, about 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually add sugar, and once again beat until lightened, about 3 to 4 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed to combine thoroughly. Drizzle in eggs, a little at a time, beating on medium-low speed after each addition until batter is smooth and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in vanilla.

7 eggs is a lotta eggs!

Reduce mixer speed to low and alternately add flour mixture and milk, a little at a time, beginning and ending with the flour mixture until well combined, scraping often. Beat in the zest of the lime, lemon and orange, as well as the poppy seeds.


Divide batter into prepared pans. Bake 30 minutes, then rotate pans for even browning, baking an additional 5 to 10 minutes more - or until a skewer comes out clean when poked into the center of the cake. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool for about 15 minutes, then carefully turn cakes out (top up) to completely cool.


The icing will need to chill at least 3 hours before spreading. Don't taste it though, or you might eat it all!

Icing (reminder - ingredients should be kept at room temp!):
12 oz. cream cheese
6 tbsp butter
3 cups confectioner's sugar

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the butter, scraping the sides often, until combined. Carefully add the confectioner's sugar on low-speed until the mix is completely combined. Beat frosting on medium-speed until smooth and fluffy, about 1 full minute, then transfer to an airtight container and chill until firm.

Assemble the cake...

Place a little of the icing on the serving platter to keep the cake from sliding around. Place one layer of cake on top, then spread 1/3 of the icing onto the cake and repeat until all you have left is one layer of cake.

When ready to serve, glaze!

Lemon Glaze (can be made 3 to 4 hours ahead):
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
3 to 4 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tsp poppy seeds

Place sugar in a bowl. Gradually add lemon juice, stirring with a fork to combine until smooth. The mixture should be slightly thick. Stir in poppy seeds. Glaze cake immediately by pouring mixture over the center of the top and allowing it to run down the sides.

Then, DIG IN!

The recipe is definitely not as complicated as it seems, and the finished product was excellent, much to the delight of my dinner guests (and co-workers who got the leftovers the next day). My only other alternate addition for next time...I might play a little with the moistness of the cake by brushing some Limoncello over the cut layers. It would also give the cake a little more robust lemon flavor, which I was missing. Wish I thought of it earlier.

Am I still afraid of "cake from scratch?" Hell yes! But this recipe did give me a little more confidence in that realm.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Seared Drunkin' Chicken

Even though I had only two guests over the other night for food and wine, I will herein call my little gathering a "dinner party." I'm really not sure what the socially accepted rules are to call such a gathering a "party," but I've decided that I make my own rules on this blog! So it shall be.

There were so many foodie ideas going on in my head that I wanted to try, now that I had a captive audience at my disposal. I threw some ideas out to one of guests and got very, very nervous when every reply was "Ew" and "I'm not a fan." I wanted something light (to save room for the copious amounts of wine and CAKE we would consume), but also something easily identifiable, since this would be the first time I would be cooking for these girls. Then it hit me...


Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tbsp butter, divided
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 large (or 2 small) shallots, sliced thin
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 cups of vermouth or dry white wine
2 cups of chicken stock
2 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tbsp apple cidar vinegar
1 lb of fresh baby spinach
2-3 tbsp fresh basil, ciffonade
Salt and pepper, to taste
Halved cherry tomatoes, if desired

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat 1 tbsp each of butter and oil in a large skillet. Season both sides of chicken breast with salt and pepper, and place top-side down in pan. Cook until chicken is nicely browned, flipping only once. (Chicken does not have to be cooked through.) Place chicken in a large glass baking dish.

Meanwhile, heat remaining butter and oil in a deep saucepan. Add sliced shallot and cook until shallot is translucent. Add vermouth, chicken stock, mustard and vinegar to shallots, stirring occassionally, and boil until mixture reduces to half. Once reduced, immediately pour over chicken in baking dish and bake in the oven for 25 minutes.

While chicken is baking, re-heat the large skillet. Add minced garlic and spinach, turning to wilt the spinach. (You may need to add a little more oil.) Season with salt and pepper.

To plate: Spoon out a portion of spinach in the bottom of a shallow bowl. Arrange cooked chicken on top of spinach. Place cherry tomatoes around the dish, if desired (I think the dish needed another color to make it pop!). Spoon broth on top of chicken and garnish with the chiffonade of fresh basil.

I served some Pinot Grigio to bring out the flavor of the vermouth in the broth.

The dish was lovely! Simple, pretty and full of flavor. The raw tomatoes softened up nicely when the hot broth was poured over the top. The perfect bite included a piece of chicken, some spinach and a tomato half!