Saturday, October 31, 2015

Roasted Redskin Potatoes

Whenever I get a side of roasted potatoes in a restaurant, they are so deliciously seasoned with crisped skin and soft insides. I usually end up liking the potatoes better than whatever meal I ordered! It seems an easy enough side to make - even the cafeteria at our work does a decent job :-P

I did some quick research on baking potatoes, and then adjusted the spice scheme and voilà! Homemade, droolworthy, restaurant-caliber (in my opinion) roasted redskin potatoes!


6-8 redskin potatoes
~2 TBSP canola oil (or olive oil)
~1 TBSP garlic powder
~1 TBSP parsley
~1 tsp paprika
salt and pepper to taste
grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Heat oven to 400F.

Wash the potatoes and chop them into roughly 1-inch cubes. Mix the oil and spices together in a bowl or bag, then toss the potatoes in the spice mixture until the pieces are evenly coated.


Spread evenly in a baking dish, in a single layer if possible. Bake 30-50 minutes (times vary depending on how many potatoes you have) until the skins are wrinkled and insides are browned, stirring once or twice to get a good crisp on all sides.


Serve up with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese and enjoy!


Note: You can also add Parmesan cheese to the potatoes for the last 10 or so minutes of bake time for some melted cheesy goodness.

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Crispy-skinned garlicky roasted potatoes - a restaurant worthy side for any meal!

Posted by The Cooks of Cake and Kindness on Saturday, October 31, 2015

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Chocolate Brownie Cake with Ganache Frosting

What treat would you make for a chocoholic? Chocolate brownies? Chocolate cake? How about both combined!? This dessert is rich and chocolatey like brownies, yet soft and light like a cake. I topped it with a dark chocolate ganache to give it an even higher degree of chocolatiness (pretty sure I’m making up a word here) to celebrate a chocolate-loving friend’s birthday.


Cake recipe adapted from: Williams-Sonoma
8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 oz. good-quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (70%+ cacao is best), chopped
For ganache:
½ cup heavy whipping cream
4 oz dark chocolate, chopped (or chocolate chips)
Preheat an oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch round cake pan with parchment paper.
Mix In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well blended. Add the flour slowly and continue to beat.
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, or in the microwave heating for 30-60 seconds at a time on 40% power, stirring each time until chocolate is melted. Add the melted chocolate to the batter and beat gently until just combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until for 20 to 25 minutes until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool down a little before taking it out of the pan and decorating with ganache.
To make the ganache, add the dark chocolate to whipping cream in a saucepan and heat over low heat (stirring occasionally) until the chocolate is melted. Take it off the heat and stir to combine the cream and chocolate well. Let it cool down and thicken a little before pouring it over the cake. Spread with a spatula to the edges of the cake (you may cover the sides too). Let the ganache cool down further and then pipe decorations like a simple border using a star-tip. Drizzle melted white chocolate to make a pretty presentation.
Cut slices and enjoy as is, or à la mode.

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Get your chocolate fix with this chocolate brownie cake!

Posted by The Cooks of Cake and Kindness on Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Rice Thepla (Flatbread) with Spinach

I’m not much of a rice eater, but I do cook it once in a while, especially when I have guests over for dinner. Not having much practice with cooking rice, I almost always overshoot the required quantity and end up with leftover rice. There are several things that cooked rice can be used in, such as spinach-brown rice gratin, and cheesy broccoli rice; and here’s another. This recipe converts the cooked rice into a bread! Thepla is a type of bread originating in India, in the western state of Gujarat. It is generally made with a mix of flours, often has some greens, and is seasoned with aromatic spices. The dough is rolled out and pan fried to form a thin, soft and crispy flatbread. Generally I use leftover rice and just enough flour to form the dough with the addition of leafy greens or any other vegetables that I might have in the refrigerator. Its a great way to use up cooked veggies too. Anything goes, as long as you can make a soft and firm dough out of it.


Ingredients (Makes 5 small theplas)
1 cup cooked rice
½-1 cup packed spinach leaves, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tsp grated ginger
⅛ tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp coriander powder
¼ tsp garam masala (optional)
Salt to taste
Red chili powder to taste (optional)
2 Tbsp chickpea flour (chickpea flour helps crispiness, but can substitute with wheat, oat or rice flour)
~2 Tbsp wheat/oat flour

Mix in all the ingredients except for the flours, and knead to form a soft dough using a food processor or by hand. Add the chickpea flour and just enough wheat/oat flour to make a soft dough. Check and adjust seasoning before making the theplas.

Divide the dough and make 5 dough balls. Roll out each one using flour for dusting. The dough can be delicate, so don’t roll it out too thin. Mine were 2-3 mm thick.

Heat a couple drops of oil in a pan over medium heat. Transfer one of the rolled theplas to the pan, cover and cook until lightly browned on the bottom. Add another couple drops of oil on top (optional), and flip the thepla. Cook uncovered until the other side is golden brown as well. Crispy brown spots, slightly puffed up in places but soft to touch is the sign for a perfect thepla!

Remove from heat and serve hot with your favorite condiments - ketchup, chutney, raita, or just plain yogurt.


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Something fun to make with leftover rice - Thepla! This version of the easy Indian bread is made with cooked rice and...

Posted by The Cooks of Cake and Kindness on Saturday, October 24, 2015

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Basic Basil Pesto

Pesto is one of those wonderfully versatile sauces that can add flavor to a variety of foods such as pasta, sandwiches, soups, pizza, etc. It’s super easy to make and is really nice to have on-hand for snacking or throwing together a last-minute meal. Plus, you can personalize everything about pesto from the taste to the texture, and use a multitude of variations such as adding spinach, broccoli or sun-dried tomatoes, or substituting different nuts - you really can’t go wrong!


Ingredients: (makes about 1 cup)
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
⅓ cup pine nuts
3 garlic cloves, minced
salt, pepper to taste
*Note: all ingredients may be adjusted to taste and texture preference

Put basil leaves, pine nuts, and garlic in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add the Parmesan cheese and pulse until the cheese is fully mixed in. You might have to occasionally scrape down the sides with a spatula. With the food processor running, slowly add the oil until the mixture is smooth and the desired consistency is achieved. If you add too much oil and the pesto is too runny, add a bit more cheese to thicken it up again. I added a bit more oil and processed a little longer to achieve a creamier consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


Serve as an appetizer with pita wedges, toasted bread or crackers, or toss with pasta for an easy, flavorful sauce.


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Basic basil pesto - a flavorful and versatile sauce!
Posted by The Cooks of Cake and Kindness on Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Homemade Paneer

Paneer is a type of farmer’s cheese commonly eaten in India. It is firm, doesn’t melt with heat but is soft to bite into and can easily be crumbled and eaten with rotis. It pairs perfectly with Indian spices and is rich in milk protein. Typically however, it is also high in fats. That’s why I like to make my own paneer at home using reduced fat milk. Not only can you control the fat content, you can also control how dense you want it to be. If you’d like a softer version, all you have to do is reduce the time for pressing and draining the liquid, thus leaving in some extra moisture. I generally let it get nice and firm and cut it into uniform cubes which can be easily incorporated in savory dishes like curries, or can be crumbled and used in sweet preparations like malai burfi. The fresh homemade paneer has a better texture than the store bought frozen paneer - it is not quite as dense and chewy. I generally make a big batch using a gallon of milk, use part of the paneer and then freeze the rest to use later.


1 gallon milk (I use 2% reduced fat milk)
~¼-½ cup lemon juice or white vinegar

Heat the milk on low-medium heat stirring occasionally until it comes to a slow rolling boil. Add the lemon juice or vinegar and stir gently until the milk curdles and starts separating. You should see translucent liquid with chunks of paneer floating in it. If it still looks milky (opaque), add some more lemon juice or vinegar. Once the solids have separated completely, take the pot off the heat. The longer you heat the separated curds, the chewier the cheese will be. So let it boil for about a minute once the milk has started curdling. Shorter time would make the cheese more like ricotta which you can’t cut into cubes, while boiling for too long could result in fairly rubbery texture.

Homemade paneer.jpg

Drain the curdled milk on a colander lined with a cheesecloth, or use a very fine mesh sieve without cheesecloth. I have a wonderful sieve that is very common in India - it has a stainless steel ring, and you can interchange the sieves which come in different mesh sizes.

Homemade paneer-001.jpg

I use the finest one for making paneer. Squeeze out as much liquid as you can. I generally place the sieve with the paneer on top of a pot, top the paneer with a plate (or another fine sieve) and put a lot of weight on it (It’s a great way to use those big cookbooks!) to help squeeze out more moisture.


After a few hours, you’ll have a nice firm block of paneer that you can slice as you wish and use in your favorite recipe. Store in an airtight container (I use Ziploc bags) in the refrigerator if using within a couple days.


If you make a big batch, you can freeze the leftover cubed paneer in airtight containers/bags and use it later. It’s a simple process and the result is soft and delicious, reduced fat paneer. Once you start making your own, you wouldn’t want to buy paneer anymore!


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Homemade low fat paneer - perfectly firm, yet tender!

Posted by The Cooks of Cake and Kindness on Thursday, October 15, 2015

Monday, October 12, 2015

Peanut Butter & Oat Balls

A couple years ago I found several recipes for no-bake “energy bites,” all including peanut butter and chocolate (two great flavors that are perfect together). I took what I liked from those recipes and experimented making my own, quickly settling on a simple set of ingredients (only 5!) for an easy-to-make, any-time treat. I like to consider these somewhat healthy since they pack a lot of protein and fiber, but they do have an added touch of chocolatey goodness. Also, they are gluten-free! But, they are quite easy to pop in your mouth, so you might find yourself over-indulging :)


Ingredients: (makes about 24 balls...estimate depends a great deal on your powers of restraint to keep from eating too many as you make them)
1.5 cup oats (I usually use 1 cup quick oats and ½ cup old-fashioned oats)
½ cup all natural creamy peanut butter
½ cup dark chocolate chips
⅓ cup honey or maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

Optional: replace ½ cup quick oats with ½ cup flaxseed


In a medium-sized bowl, mix all the ingredients together until a crumbly dough forms. Cover and let chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.


Roll into balls roughly 1 inch in diameter.


These can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week...if they last that long!


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Easy to make (and eat) peanut butter balls!

Posted by The Cooks of Cake and Kindness on Monday, October 12, 2015

Friday, October 9, 2015

Gluten Free Pumpkin & Oat Crepes

Crepes are one of my favorite foods - quick and easy to make, and super versatile. You can change up the filling and easily go from savory to sweet. Or you can change what goes in the batter altogether! This healthy crepe recipe uses pumpkin and oats instead of the typical ingredients like flour and eggs. It’s low carb, gluten free and extremely delicious!

Ingredients (Makes ~6-8 small crepes)
¼ cup pumpkin puree
¼ cup quick oats (old fashioned rolled oats would work too - will need some extra water)
½ Tbsp melted butter
¼-½ cup water or milk (I used water)
Salt, Black pepper, Garlic (powdered or minced) - to taste
Chopped parsley (optional)

Mix all ingredients except water. Add water a couple tablespoons at a time until the batter reaches typical crepe batter consistency - pourable, but not too watery.

Heat a pan over medium heat. Add a little oil/butter. Pour ~2-3 Tbsp of batter using a ladle and spread it evenly by tilting the pan. Cook uncovered for 3-4 minutes. Since there is no flour in the batter, this is a very delicate crepe. As it cooks, you’ll notice the liquid evaporating, leaving behind a beautiful lacy surface.


Carefully loosen the crepe from the sides using a thin spatula, flip it and cook for another minute. Serve hot!

Serving suggestions:
The crepes are nice and crispy when they’re hot, but they get softer as they cool down (remember, no flour!). When they were hot and crispy, I enjoyed just rolling them up and eating them as a snack.


To make a meal out of it, you can top it with your favorite crepe filling. I served it with an omelette and sauteed mushrooms and broccoli, drizzled with a tangy mustard and yogurt sauce.



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Crispy savory pumpkin crepes - low carb and gluten free!

Posted by The Cooks of Cake and Kindness on Friday, October 9, 2015

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

An Engineer's Guide to Baking Even Cake Layers (Celebrating 100 posts of Kindness!)

Happy 100th post to The Cooks of Cake and Kindness! Fellow readers, it has been a pleasure sharing our culinary experiences with you. Thank you for reading, supporting us here and on Facebook, and for trying out our recipes and giving us feedback. Here’s a delicious cake to celebrate this milestone!
Figure 1: Vanilla cake  with strawberries and beets; Cream cheese frosting dyed with beet juice;
Topped with sliced strawberries and chocolate lace
Given the title of the post and the “figure” notation, you might have noticed that this is not one of our typical recipe posts. Today we will share a technique instead of a recipe, along with the science behind it.  

The Problem

Figure 2: Chocolate cake with tall dome
Most cakes will rise into a dome shape as they bake, and it’s wonderful to see a beautiful dome when baking cupcakes. However when baking a sheet cake or any cake that needs frosting, it’s not the most ideal characteristic. Especially when making a layered cake, you’d want to have nice flat cake layers. Unless the cake comes out flat from the oven, you’ll have to trim the tops to get even layers. Even though it’s fun to munch on the top that is cut off, or turn it into these delicious cake truffles, it is a pain to cut evenly, and it also makes frosting a little bit challenging with all those loose crumbs. So how can you ensure nice level cakes straight from the oven?

The Science
To get to that answer, let’s first understand the physics behind that dome. You’ve mixed your baking powder and/or baking soda well with the flour and your batter is nice and even in the pan. We also expect the oven temperature to be fairly even in the horizontal plane (especially if the cake pan is centered horizontally). There’s one thing that is not being controlled though - the temperature of the pan surface.

As the pan heats up, it transmits that heat to the batter immediately adjacent to the surface. Hence the batter near the edges of is pan gets hotter than the center, until it all reaches equilibrium eventually. That leads to the batter at the edges to bake quickly and set faster while the batter in the center continues to bake at a slower rate, giving more time for the baking powder, soda, eggs etc. to do what they’re supposed to - help the cake rise and become nice and fluffy. While that happens, the edges that are already done baking keep getting harder and harder. Moist insides with crispy edges may be divine for cookies and brownies, but not so much for cakes.

Figure 3: The science behind uneven cakes

What we want is for that moist fluffy texture of the cake center to extend to the edges instead of having those hard edges and a dome in the middle. That means we have to figure out a way to dissipate the heat evenly, and not let the pan surface heat up quicker than the batter in the center.
The Solution
There’s actually a pretty simple remedy that results in flat, evenly baked cakes every single time. That means no more trimming hard edges or the dome!
All you need is some thick cotton fabric (that you don’t care too much about), and a couple safety pins. The idea is to attach wet strips of fabric to the outside edge of the baking pan so that the pan edges don’t heat up as quickly. There are some fancy ones that you can buy, but a homemade fix with the cotton fabric (maybe even old pillowcases) comes at hardly any cost. Simply fold the thick cotton fabric lengthwise until the height matches the height of the baking pan.
Wet these fabric strips and wring them out just enough so that they’re not dripping. Attach the wet strips to the outside of the pan. Use safety pins to attach the strips to each other such that they are snug enough to not fall off.
Figure 4: Baking pans with and without wet sleeve, ready to be transferred to the oven

Bake the cake with the strips on. You can take them off after 25-30 minutes if you want to - by that time they’ve done their job. We have baked leaving the strips on for the entire time, and also taking them out after a half hour. The difference is that the latter gives a nice golden brown crust (without it being hard), which is best for cakes that may not be frosted or only frosted on top.

It takes a couple extra minutes before you start baking to get these strips on, but saves a lot of trouble later, and you get cakes that are nice and soft not just in the middle, but all the way to the edges.


Figure 5: Cakes baked with and without wet sleeve.

Figure 5 shows photographs of mini cakes baked in 4” diameter pans, where the cake baked without the sleeve has a dome on top and the cake baked with the sleeve is flat on top. The dome phenomenon is much more prominent in larger baking pans (as seen in Figure 2), as the heat dissipation is more uneven. But, with this trick up your sleeve, now you can (more) easily construct creations like this! 

Figure 6: 100th blog post celebration cake

Happy baking!

~Gayatri & Karla

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An Engineer's Guide to Baking Even Cake Layers!If you've ever wondered how to bake nice and flat cake layers without a...
Posted by The Cooks of Cake and Kindness on Tuesday, October 6, 2015