Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cookies And Cream Cake

Because we're friends, I want to tell you about how frustrating the weekend has been leading up to the making of this delicious cake, but I've learned that somethings are best left unsaid... or I suppose un-typed? Either way, I'm not going to bore you with the nitty-gritty details, because I like you, and I want you to keep coming back.
One thing though... remember that camping trip my boyfriend and I planned to take this weekend? Well this is what we woke up to Saturday morning:

Usually, we can see multiple islands from this window... So yeah, camping was a no-go. Wish us luck for next week!
Now to this cake. This Oh-My-Goodness-Secretly-Eat-Two-Slices Cake. Until now, I'd never posted about making an honest to goodness cake. Cupcakes, yes, but never a full cake. To be honest, I don't make cake very often. Even for birthdays I generally make cupcakes. They're just cuter and easier to transport. But even if you're like me and you don't make cakes often, you can still make this cake. Scratch that, SHOULD make this cake.

This cake is a vanilla marble cake (marbled, of course, with rich milk chocolate), with oreo butter cream icing. Yum. Moist, decadent, so delicious. Perfect for any birthday, or as an end to a very frustrating weekend. Seriously, I'm pretty sure that something magical happens when you mix butter and sugar. All your worries melt away in each fluffy, sweet bite.

For the cake:
-3 cups sifted All-Purpose flour
-1 tbsp baking powder
-3/4 tsp salt
-1 cup milk, room temp
-2 tsp vanilla
-1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
-2 cups granulated sugar
-4oz chocolate, melted and cooled

Preheat oven to 350*F. Butter and line 2- 8" pans with parchment paper, then butter the paper and dust with flour.

In a bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt. In a cup, mix the milk and vanilla.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until light and creamy. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the dry ingredients in 3 batches, alternating with the milk.

Mix about a cup and a half of the finished batter into the melted chocolate. Scoop the remaining batter into the prepared pans. Divide the chocolate batter evenly between the two pans and swirl with a knife. Go ahead and make pretty designs at this stage if you feel like it.
Bake in lower third of your oven for about 30-35 minutes, or until springy. Let cool in pans for 15 minutes, then invert onto a rack and let cool completely, or if you're in a hurry to eat your cake (like I was) pop them into the freezer while you make the icing and clean up the kitchen.

For the icing:
-2 cans Duncan Hines vanilla icing, or an equal amount of your own vanilla butter cream icing.
-About 18 oreos

Turn the oreos into fine crumbs with a food processor, and little by little combine the icing and the crumbs.

To assemble:
Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the rounded tops off the cake and make the cakes as even as possible. Slather the first layer, cut side up, with the icing. Top it with the next layer, cut side down, then slather that with the icing, making sure to fill in the gap between the two layers and using a butter knife, evening it all out. I used the back of a small spoon to create the spiral design on the top of the cake. Decorate with extra oreo bits and half an oreo.

Now go ahead and stuff your face, I won't judge you.

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Comment Questions:
1. How was your weekend?
2. I stress-bake. What do you do when you're stressed?

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Panama Eats: Fenicia

I had a lunch today that really opened my mind up to a whole new cuisine. Lebanese food. Some of you, I'm sure, already know how freaking good Lebanese food can be... and some of you are probably as ignorant as I was. Whenever I thought of Lebanese food, pictures of cold shwarmas with too much garlic sauce and tough, chewy mystery meat ran through my head. Wow, was I ever missing out. Canadian-ized Lebanese food is bad, not all Lebanese food. Eye opener.

Today, at lunchtime, my boyfriend and I, along with his mother, brother and brother's girlfriend, were on Via Espana and we happened by a restaurant called Fenicia. From the outside you couldn't tell much about it other than it sold Johnny Walker's and that it was open for lunch (many restaurants here don't open until 6 for dinner and don't serve lunch). It had interestingly shaped- vaguely middle-eastern windows, but I didn't think much of them as the architecture here in Panama is so varied.

And then we looked at the menu. When I first figured out it was a Lebanese restaurant, I was a little wary, but then I saw that they had some Italian-sounding food on their menu and I felt a little better.

I ordered off the "executive lunch menu" which is a special menu that runs from 12-3:30pm mon-fri and each meal includes a starter, an entree and ice cream for dessert. I chose a starter of Chicken soup (Sopa de Pollo), and an entre of Farfalle Bolognese. Here's what I got:

Yes, RED chicken soup. It's a tomato-based soup rather than broth based, though judging by the dots of oil at the top I'm willing to bet that there is some chicken stock in there. There were also bits of real carrots, noodles cooked to perfection, barley, big chunks of fresh chicken  and a hint of cinnamon. Cinnamon was the first thing I noticed; the scent filled my nostrils the second the soup hit the table. Such a surprising twist, and so good. It was a even a little spicy, but not overbearingly so... just enough to warm your throat on the way down, but not enough to burn. It was a strange sensation, and I really wish I knew how they did it.

Then the main course came, and I was every bit as delighted with it as I was with the starter. Bolognese, American style, is never served with short pasta, however in Italy Spaghetti Bolognese doesn't actually exist. Pasta al Ragu has the same sauce but is serve on short pasta, like this, and never spaghetti. In that way, this dish was actually more authentic than the bolognese I'd been eating in Italian restaurants in Canada. The sauce was amazing too. The perfect thickness, with the perfect ratio of meatiness to juiciness. Faintly sweet, and super flavourful. You could taste each element in the sauce; the broth, the meat, the tomatoes, the spices... so good. No salt or pepper required during this meal. 

We also ordered an appetizer for the table: 

Excuse the blurriness; as I'm sure many other food bloggers can attest to, sometimes it's a little awkward to be taking pictures of your food in public. People stare. Anyway, we ordered the Hummus con carne (hummus with meat/beef) which came along with a basket full of hot, fresh out of the oven naan-like bread. I'm not sure if it was naan bread or not, it was so different from the naan bread I'm used to seeing in grocery stores, but damn was it ever good. The hummus was good too, topped with bits of beef and sprinkles of paprika... it was a new experience and it was surprisingly amazing. 

My boyfriend and my boyfriend's brother's girlfriend each ordered a "personal" pizza to themselves... here's what my boyfriend got:

Look how huge it turned out to be! My boyfriend said if he had known it would be that big, he would have asked me to share it with him. On the pizza was fresh mozzarella cheese and chicken blanketing a thin layer of tomato-ey goodness. I took a bite, and my boyfriend agrees, it was much better than all of our other go-to pizza places in the city (and that's saying something). And finally dessert. A simple scoop of vanilla ice cream, smothered in chocolate syrup. So simple, so classic, so good. 

And if you didn't already notice, the restaurant tries to be really classy. My ice cream was served to me in a stemmed dessert glass; we had multiple forks to eat with; and look at that beautiful white table cloth! The restaurant had a laid-back-yet-high-quality feel to it... but you'll never believe the prices. My three courses all-together came up to $8.50 (it's part of the executive menu deal), and my boyfriend's pizza? $6.50. Crazy. Also, if you've ever wanted to try smoking a hookah, do it on a Thursday at Fenecia and it's half price. Fenicia is definitely a place to try if you're ever in the via Espana area, near the Sprago and McDonald's in Panama city, Panama. 

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Comment Questions:
1. What cuisine have you been surprised to like?
2. Tell me about your favourite "ethnic" restaurant (i.e. non-western)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sugar Cookies with Cinnamon

It was my friend's birthday party last night, and my favourite gift to give is always baked goods. Seeing as it's so hot here, I figured cookies would be my best bet so I asked Facebook what a good flavour would be. A lovely follower suggested simple sugar cookies, and I realized with some shock that I'd never posted a recipe for sugar cookies before! I wondered how that could even be possible since I've had an amazing stand-by recipe for years that I make, without fail, every Christmas. And while I couldn't find any pretty cookie tins to wrap these in, and therefore ended up getting my friend something else entirely, I figured I might as well still bake up a batch of these little pieces of heaven. I think any baked-good recipe that calls for a cup or more of butter can brighten just about anyone's day. These are a definite go-to recipe for gift giving!
Makes: About 3 dozen cookies
-2 3/4 cup AP flour
-1 tsp baking soda
-1/2 tsp baking powder
-1 cup butter, softened
-1 1/2 cups white sugar
-1 egg
-1 tsp vanilla
-1 tsp cinnamon
Preheat oven to 375*F. 
Stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder. Set aside. 
Cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in egg and vanilla. Gradually blend in dry ingredients. Roll rounded tablespoonfuls into balls and place on prepared baking sheet. Gently flatten and sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake 8-10 minutes or until golden on the bottom. Cool 2 minutes on cookie sheet, then cool completely on wire rack. 

Comment Question:
1. i'm thinking of investing in a Nikon Coolpix L120 - any thoughts on that camera or a similar one in about the same price range? (or less expensive, if possible)

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