Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Commissary's Carrot Cake

From: The Commissary Cookbook

So, once upon a time in Philadelphia, there was a restaurant called The Commissary. Their carrot cake was famous. People still talk about it, even though the restaurant is long gone. If you search the interwebs for the best carrot cake recipe out there, you will probably find at least a few people talking about the Commissary carrot cake.

Two years ago a friend mentioned to me that he really likes carrot cake, and asked if I had carrot cake on my agenda any time soon. I didn't, but I remembered the request, and when that person's 40th birthday came around a few weeks ago I made this cake for him. It's not SO different from any other carrot cake recipe, but it is very tasty and delicious. The cake itself is very moist and flavorful, and the pecan filling and cream cheese frosting are the perfect complements. Of course, my supervisor Karen (who gives me all the best baking recipes) directed me to this recipe, and she makes it without the pecans and just uses more cream cheese frosting as the filling instead of the pecan cream, so you could do that too and Karen assures me it is still delicious without the nuts.

The only change I made was to slightly alter the cream cheese-butter ratio, based on the suggestions in the comments. (This recipe was published by the author of the Commissary cookbook, who was the owner of the restaurant, so this is the original recipe, not someone else's attempt to recreate it).

Do Ahead: This cake is most easily made if you start it at least a day ahead, since the filling, for one thing, is best left to chill overnight. In fact, the different components can all be made even several days in advance and stored separately until you are ready to assemble the cake.

Pecan Cream Filling

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
6 ounces (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups chopped pecans
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Carrot Cake

1 1/4 cups corn oil (I used canola)
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
4 cups grated carrots (about a 1-pound bag)
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup raisins

Cream Cheese Frosting

4 ounces soft unsalted butter
12 ounces soft cream cheese
1-pound box of powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


4 ounces shredded, sweetened coconut (1 1/2 cups)

1 Make the filling: In a heavy saucepan, blend well the sugar, flour, and salt. Gradually stir in the cream. Add the butter. Cook and stir the mixture over low heat until the butter has melted, then let simmer 20-30 minutes until golden brown in color, stirring occasionally. Cool to lukewarm. Stir in the nuts and vanilla. Let cool completely and then refrigerate, preferably overnight. If too thick to spread, bring to room temperature before using.

2 Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°. Have ready a greased and floured 10″ tube cake pan. In a large bowl, whisk together the corn oil and sugar. Sift together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Sift half the dry ingredients into the sugar-oil mixture and blend. Alternately sift in the rest of the dry ingredients while adding the eggs, one by one. Combine well. Add the carrots, raisins, and pecans. Pour into the prepared tube pan and bake for 70 minutes. Cool upright in the pan on a cooling rack. If you are not using the cake that day, it can be removed from the pan, wrapped well in plastic wrap and stored at room temper­ature.

3 Make the frosting: Cream the butter well. Add the cream cheese and beat until blended. Sift in the sugar and add the vanilla. If too soft to spread, chill a bit. Refrigerate if not using imme­diately, but bring to a spreadable temperature before using.

4 Assemble the cake. Preheat the oven to 300°. Spread the coconut on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes until it colors lightly. Toss the coconut occasionally while it is baking so that it browns evenly. Cool completely. Have the filling and frosting at a spreadable consistency. Loosen the cake in its pan and invert onto a serving plate. With a long serrated knife, carefully split the cake into 3 horizontal layers. Spread the filling between the layers. Spread the frosting over the top and sides. Pat the toasted coconut onto the sides of the cake. If desired, reserve 1/2 cup of the frosting and color half with green food coloring and half with orange. Then decorate the top of the cake with green and orange icing piped through a 1/16” wide, plain pastry tube to resemble little carrots. Serve the cake at room temperature.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

fresh corn & bean salad

I'm a sucker for anything called "the magic _______." From Everybody Likes Sandwiches, with fairly substantial modifications.

3 cobs of corn, uncooked, kernels sliced off with a sharp knife
1/2 red onion, diced
1 small green pepper, diced
1 large cucumber, seeded and diced
handful each of fresh cilantro and basil [she suggested parsley, thyme and basil]
1 can of black beans, drained & rinsed
1/4 c olive oil
juice of 2 juicy limes (should equal approx. 1/3 c)
2 heaping tsp gochu jang [her version had paprika, old bay and s&p]

Toss everything together except the olive oil, lime juice and gochu jang or other spicy/sweet sauce. In a small jar, combine those three ingredients, shake, pour over the salad. Continue to ignore your stove or any other heat source for the rest of the night.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Pasta with roasted tomato sauce

So, in the last three weeks, our CSA has netted us 6 pint containers of cherry/grape tomatoes. Plus the regular "slicing" tomatoes -- big heirloom ones. That's a lot of tomatoes.
What to do with all the little tomatoes? Some are for salads, of course.
Most, though, went into this last week. Oh, and one note. I don't often have 45 minutes before I even start preparing dinner -- the short people demand dinner that can be cooked quicker than that. So I roasted the tomatoes the night before, and stuck in the fridge so Ernie wouldn't have to rush around the kitchen on a Monday night.
I think you could probably leave out the olives complete, and double the capers, and it'd be just as good. Maybe I'll do that next time.

from Epicurious

2 1/2 pounds cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup olive oil
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper (omitted for little people)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano

1 pound farfalle (bow-tie) pasta
1/2 cup halved pitted Kalamata olives or other brine-cured black olives
1/4 cup drained capers
6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 1 1/4 cups)
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
print a shopping list for this recipe

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Combine tomatoes, oil, garlic, vinegar, and crushed red pepper (if using) in 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Roast until tomatoes are tender and juicy, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes. Stir in oregano.
Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain. Return to pot. Add tomato mixture, olives, and capers. Stir over medium heat until heated through, about 2 minutes. Add feta and stir until melted and creamy, about 2 minutes. Divide pasta among 6 plates; sprinkle with pine nuts and serve.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Tangy BBQ sauce

Adapted from the Neelys

I made a batch of this to use next weekend when I will be making pulled pork for 24 people at a family reunion. I wanted to make a double batch but didn't have enough ingredients on hand at home tonight. If I make another batch later in the week, I might try reducing the apple cider vinegar just a bit to see if I like it better that way. It's definitely good this way, but it is vinegar-y. I cut back on the sugar from the original recipe, as recommended in many of the comments, so that may have contributed to the strong vinegar tang, too. I may continue to play around with this recipe, but it's a good starting place. You could also throw this in the crockpot for a few hours instead of simmering on your stovetop.


2 cups ketchup
1 cup water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
5 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dehydrated onion
1/2 tablespoon ground mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
pinch of aleppo pepper
pinch of sweet paprika
pinch of smoked paprika


In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring frequently, for 1 hour 30 minutes.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

blueberry compote

What do you do when you pick 11 pounds of blueberries in half an hour? Cook something that will make them take up less space. I'm planning to eat this on yogurt for the rest of my life.

Adapted from a Seattle Times recipe, mostly to increase the quantity and try to make it reduce faster.

6 cups fresh blueberries

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Combine the ingredients in a large, heavy-bottomed pot and cook over medium heat until the blueberry skins have popped and the mixture is thickened, about 20 minutes. Let cool and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes two large jelly jars (about 3 cups?) of sauce.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

vote early & often

Shannon and I are mulling a change in FG's background, possibly to one of the templates shown here.

In the comments, vote for your two or three favorites. Viva democracy!