Valentine's Day

Rack of Lamb with Mustard, Apricot and Rosemary

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We never eat out on Valentine’s Day. Restaurants are too crowded, the service is usually awful and the food not worth leaving the comforts of home.

Besides, there’s always the next day. My taste buds don’t know and don’t care if it’s February 14th or 15th. Valentine’s Day is an “extra” that, for us, doesn’t need the same kind of clock-like precision of Rosh Hashanah or Passover.

But I do always make a lovely dinner and serve on lovely plates with lovely utensils.

Ed would prefer Chinese food, but that’s too much of a fuss for the evening. So: rack of lamb. It’s easy. Simple. No fuss at all. An indulgence, but we deserve it, don’t we?

Roast Rack of Lamb with Mustard, Apricot and Rosemary

  •  1 whole rack of lamb

  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

  • 1 tablespoon apricot preserves

  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary (or use 1/2 teaspoon dried, crushed rosemary)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the meat in a roasting pan. Mix the mustard and preserves and spread on the top surface. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and rosemary. Roast for 20-35 minutes, depending on degree of doneness desired (a meat thermometer should register between 120-140 degrees). Let the meat rest a few minutes before carving.

 

Makes 2-3 servings

 

Corn Syrup Free Butter Crunch

I once wrote that if doomsday was coming and there might not be a tomorrow, I would want some butter crunch before it all ended so I could at least die happy.

That's still my choice. I don't think there's a better candy, that gives that same salty-sweet combo better than butter crunch.

I love my original recipe, but recently someone asked me if I had a recipe that didn't include corn syrup. 

I didn't at the time, but do now.

Here it is: crunchy, salty-sweet and tender chocolate on top.

Don't stint on the good stuff. This recipe is too good for cheap chocolate.

Valentine's Day, mishloach manot for Purim, doomsday, whatever. This is a good choice in (or for) any event.

 

Corn Syrup Free Butter Crunch

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped toasted almonds
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate, chopped

Lightly butter a small sheet cake pan (about 10”x7” or a portion of a larger pan). Place the butter, sugar and salt into a deep saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture starts to bubble. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is golden brown (about 7-8 minutes) (or until a candy thermometer reads 280 degrees). Quickly stir in the vanilla and nuts. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread it out evenly to make a layer about 1/8”-1/4” thick. Immediately sprinkle the chocolate on top. Let it melt briefly, then use a spatula or the back of a large spoon to spread the chocolate evenly over the candy. Keep spreading until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Sprinkle the nuts on top and press them in lightly. Let cool until the chocolate is firm and set, at least 3 hours. Break into pieces.

Makes about 1 pound, enough for one person, or two if you want to share

 

 

Happy Birthday, Valentine's Day and Chinese New year

Today is Ed's birthday and I was thinking about what to make for dinner. We used to go out to eat because there was a restaurant nearby that served chocolate cake with apricot filling, which he loved, but the restaurant closed. These days he doesn't eat cake, so there goes that.

No dessert, okay, that's his choice. But what about the main course? 

He'd appreciate stuffed cabbage. Or braised short ribs.

But mostly he likes Chinese food. Cantonese egg rolls or Sichuan Hot and Sour Soup. Mild or spicy.

Any kind of Chinese food.

I can't go wrong with Chinese food. Which he would also choose for Valentine's Day. Or to celebrate Chinese New Year (February 19th).

Here's one he loves: 

Beef with Orange

  • 1 large or 2 small navel oranges

  • 12 ounces beef steak

  • 1 large egg white

  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch

  • Sauce:

    • 1 tablespoon Mirin

    • 1 tablespoon water or beef stock

    • 1-1/2 teaspoons soy sauce

    • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar

    • 1 teaspoon sesame seed oil

    • 1 teaspoon sugar

    • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 2 thick scallions, chopped

  • 1 small serrano or jalapeno chili pepper, deseeded and chopped

  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger

  • 1 large clove garlic, chopped

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

 

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Peel the oranges, then cut the peel into bite size pieces and place the pieces on a baking sheet. Bake for about 25 minutes or until the pieces have dried. Remove from the oven and set aside. While the orange peel is baking, slice the meat and place the pieces in a bowl. Add the egg white and cornstarch and mix the ingredients thoroughly to be sure every slice is coated. Set aside.

Prepare the sauce by mixing the Mirin, water, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame seed oil, sugar and cornstarch in a bowl. Set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a stirfry pan or wok (or large saute pan) over medium-high heat. Add the meat and cook, stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes or until the meat is completely brown. Remove the meat to a dish and set aside. Add the remaining tablespoon vegetable oil to the pan. Add the scallions, chili pepper, ginger, garlic and orange peel and stirfry briefly. Return the meat to the pan and stirfry to distribute the ingredients evenly. Sprinkle the ingredients with sugar and stirfry briefly. Stir the sauce to be sure the cornstarch (which may have settled to the bottom) is completely incorporated. Pour the sauce over the ingredients and stirfry for about a minute until the meat is glazed. 

Makes 2 servings (or 4 with other dishes)

 

 

 

 

 

Chocolate Fudge Cake

Is it still cake if it’s dense, ultra-rich and more like fudge? That’s what I wondered about this recipe, a cake I made this past weekend for my husband Ed’s birthday. This cake is dark-chocolatey. The kind of dark-chocolatey that experts say is healthy to eat (can you imagine that?). I’ve baked it before and eaten it still warm, when it is lighter, more tender and more like cake. 
 And absolutely wonderful. 
 But because my kids and grandkids were coming for the birthday weekend, I made it in advance and kept it in the fridge and we ate it cold. It was thicker, felt richer on the tongue and with a more concentrated chocolate flavor, more like fudge. 
 And absolutely wonderful. 
 It’s a simple recipe, easy to make and just needs a little whipped cream to make it complete. Although probably vanilla ice cream would do just as well. 
 This made a festive birthday cake. But I can’t think of a better treat for Valentine’s Day. 
 Chocolate Fudge Cake 
 1 pound semisweet or bittersweet chocolate 
 10 tablespoons butter at room temperature 
 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour 
 1/4 teaspoon salt 
 4 large eggs, separated 
 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
 1 tablespoon sugar 
 whipped cream 
 Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Butter an 8-inch springform pan. Place a parchment or waxed paper circle on the bottom of the pan. Set aside. Melt the chocolate in the top part of a double boiler set over barely simmering water. Remove the top pan with the melted chocolate from the bottom pan. Add the butter, flour and salt and blend them in thoroughly. Add the egg yolks and vanilla extract and blend them in thoroughly. Beat the egg whites until they are foamy. Add the sugar and continue to beat until the egg whites are stiff, but the tips still lop over slightly. Add about 1/3 of the whites to the chocolate mixture and blend it in thoroughly. Add the remaining whipped whites and fold them in gently until the batter is a uniform color. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn off the oven. Leave the door open. Let the cake cool in the oven. Remove the sides of the springform pan. Serve with whipped cream. Best the first day, slightly warm, but wonderful, denser and more fudgy when cold and a day old. Makes 8-10 servings

Is it still cake if it’s dense, ultra-rich and more like fudge? That’s what I wondered about this recipe, a cake I made this past weekend for my husband Ed’s birthday. This cake is dark-chocolatey. The kind of dark-chocolatey that experts say is healthy to eat (can you imagine that?). I’ve baked it before and eaten it still warm, when it is lighter, more tender and more like cake.

And absolutely wonderful.

But because my kids and grandkids were coming for the birthday weekend, I made it in advance and kept it in the fridge and we ate it cold. It was thicker, felt richer on the tongue and with a more concentrated chocolate flavor, more like fudge.

And absolutely wonderful.

It’s a simple recipe, easy to make and just needs a little whipped cream to make it complete. Although probably vanilla ice cream would do just as well.

This made a festive birthday cake. But I can’t think of a better treat for Valentine’s Day.

Chocolate Fudge Cake

1 pound semisweet or bittersweet chocolate

10 tablespoons butter at room temperature

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 large eggs, separated

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 tablespoon sugar

whipped cream

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Butter an 8-inch springform pan. Place a parchment or waxed paper circle on the bottom of the pan. Set aside. Melt the chocolate in the top part of a double boiler set over barely simmering water. Remove the top pan with the melted chocolate from the bottom pan. Add the butter, flour and salt and blend them in thoroughly. Add the egg yolks and vanilla extract and blend them in thoroughly. Beat the egg whites until they are foamy. Add the sugar and continue to beat until the egg whites are stiff, but the tips still lop over slightly. Add about 1/3 of the whites to the chocolate mixture and blend it in thoroughly. Add the remaining whipped whites and fold them in gently until the batter is a uniform color. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn off the oven. Leave the door open. Let the cake cool in the oven. Remove the sides of the springform pan. Serve with whipped cream. Best the first day, slightly warm, but wonderful, denser and more fudgy when cold and a day old. Makes 8-10 servings

Dark Chocolate Brownies

Can you eat just one piece of chocolate? My brother Jeff can. He eats one piece every day. He says it satisfies his craving, that he doesn’t need more than his little daily nibble.  This is quite a statement coming from someone who can’t hold back at all when it comes to bread.   But I am sure Jeff will be thrilled to know about this  article , which speaks to the benefits of chocolate, specifically dark, bittersweet chocolate.   It sounds almost too good to be true. But, at least according to what I read here, there’s evidence that dark chocolate fights cancer, heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure. It has antioxidants and flavanoids that fight free radicals and may protect us from aging too quickly and from Alzheimer’s disease. And it also may help improve your vision.  Holy cow! Get me some of this stuff now!  My mother always said my brother Jeff was smart.  Of course the article does say not to overdo the chocolate thing. Be more like Jeff. Just a small portion each day.  So maybe just one piece of these brownies every day? (Freeze the leftovers)  Btw, these would be nice for Valentine’s Day. Or anytime, really.   Dark Chocolate Brownies   12 ounces bittersweet chocolate  8 ounces unsalted butter  3 large eggs  1/2 cup sugar  1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract  1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour  1 teaspoon baking powder  1/2 teaspoon salt  1/2 cup chopped nuts or semisweet chocolate chips, optional  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch square baking dish. Melt the chocolate and butter together in the top part of a double boiler set over barely simmering water. Stir, remove the top part of the pan from the heat and let cool. Beat the eggs and sugar together in a mixer at medium speed for 2-3 minutes or until the mixture is thick and pale. Add the chocolate mixture and vanilla extract and blend them in thoroughly. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt, add to the batter and blend thoroughly. Fold in the nuts or chocolate chips, if used. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 35 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs clinging. Let cool and cut.  Makes 16-20 pieces

Can you eat just one piece of chocolate? My brother Jeff can. He eats one piece every day. He says it satisfies his craving, that he doesn’t need more than his little daily nibble.

This is quite a statement coming from someone who can’t hold back at all when it comes to bread. 

But I am sure Jeff will be thrilled to know about this article, which speaks to the benefits of chocolate, specifically dark, bittersweet chocolate. 

It sounds almost too good to be true. But, at least according to what I read here, there’s evidence that dark chocolate fights cancer, heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure. It has antioxidants and flavanoids that fight free radicals and may protect us from aging too quickly and from Alzheimer’s disease. And it also may help improve your vision.

Holy cow! Get me some of this stuff now!

My mother always said my brother Jeff was smart.

Of course the article does say not to overdo the chocolate thing. Be more like Jeff. Just a small portion each day.

So maybe just one piece of these brownies every day? (Freeze the leftovers)

Btw, these would be nice for Valentine’s Day. Or anytime, really.

Dark Chocolate Brownies

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate

8 ounces unsalted butter

3 large eggs

1/2 cup sugar

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup chopped nuts or semisweet chocolate chips, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch square baking dish. Melt the chocolate and butter together in the top part of a double boiler set over barely simmering water. Stir, remove the top part of the pan from the heat and let cool. Beat the eggs and sugar together in a mixer at medium speed for 2-3 minutes or until the mixture is thick and pale. Add the chocolate mixture and vanilla extract and blend them in thoroughly. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt, add to the batter and blend thoroughly. Fold in the nuts or chocolate chips, if used. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 35 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs clinging. Let cool and cut.

Makes 16-20 pieces

Saint Cupcake Red Velvet Cake

If I could go anywhere today it would be to Saint Cupcake, which makes gorgeous looking cupcakes in all sorts of flavors that you just don’t see everywhere. Like the “Fat Elvis,” which is a banana-chocolate-chip poundcake bottom iced with salty-sweet peanut butter fudge and if that isn’t enough for you, they also garnish with a banana chip.

Or you can buy a Turtle cupcake with fudge and caramel and pecans on top of chocolate cake.

Of course there’s vanilla and chocolate and so on.

There’s stuff for vegans too: German chocolate cake, carrot cakes and others.

Unfortunately, the store is in Portland, Oregon, which is exactly 2992.51 miles from my house.

But I knew the owner, Jami Curl, would be the right person to contact when I needed a recipe for Red Velvet Cake, which she says is the bakery’s most popular cupcake for Valentine’s Day.

I “met” Jami on the internet, on Tumblr, and we became fast friends even though we are a continent apart and I am old enough to be her mother. Sometimes you just connect with people. You know you like them — to paraphrase a famous movie line, you know like you know a good melon. You like them based on what they say in their blogs. Besides baking all those delicious looking cupcakes, she seems like a down-to-earth person who enjoys her life and her work and reads a lot of interesting things that she posts about frequently.

Sure enough, she was generous enough to send me her recipe for Red Velvet Cake, which I am posting below.

If you’re lucky enough to live near Saint Cupcake, you can stop by to choose your favorite cupcake, icing and sprinkles (they ship stuff too).  The bakery is expanding soon, so you Oregonians will be able to buy fresh baked goodies other than cupcakes. Take a look at the website to see the cupcake offerings at the moment: saintcupcake.com

But if you’re stuck on the other side of the earth and want to make some yummy Red Velvet Cupcakes (or one cake) for Valentine’s Day or any other time, here’s Jami’s recipe. She frosts Red Velvet either with a classic 7-minute frosting or cream cheese frosting:

Saint Cupcake Red Velvet Cake

2-1/2 cups cake flour, sifted

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 Tablespoons cocoa powder (natural or Dutch process)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup buttermilk

2 tablespoons red food coloring

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1-1/2 cups granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 standard size muffin pans with baking cup liners

 In a bowl, whisk together the cake flour, salt, cocoa and baking powder. In a pitcher, combine the buttermilk, food coloring and vanilla. In a stand mixer set to medium speed, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until fully incorporated — scraping down the sides and bottom of bowl after each addition. Add the flour mixture in portions — alternating with the buttermilk mixture — until just blended and smooth. In a cup combine the vinegar and the baking soda — allow to fizz — then fold into the batter by hand. Divide the batter among the muffin cups and place in the oven immediately. Bake for 15 minutes then check the cupcakes for doneness with a toothpick. If you have a few crumbs clinging to the toothpick, the cupcakes are done. If the toothpick is coated with batter, then the cupcakes need a few more minutes. Take care not to overbake, they will dry out very quickly. Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then place them on  cooling rack to cool completely before icing.

Chocolate-Orange Fondue

Love and pairing off doesn’t just apply to humans. There are some really good food marriages too, culinary matches made in heaven.

Who hasn’t heard of peanut butter and jelly, spaghetti and tomato sauce, ham and eggs?

As with people, sometimes the pair works well even though one of the partners is more dominant. Think cinnamon and sugar, or hot chocolate, which wouldn’t taste good at all without the gentle grace of a little vanilla. Or a robust English Stilton, tempered by a sweet, more docile pear.

But sometimes it’s better if the partners are more or less equal as they are with sausage and peppers or tomatoes and basil.

Opposites attract, as they do sometimes with people: strawberries (plump and sweet) and rhubarb (skinny and sour) or hot apple pie with cold ice cream a la mode.

But sometimes couples are more compatible if they are more alike: fish and chips (both crunchy) or prune and apricot pie, (both bold and intense).

And of course, some couples endure because they are just plain good for each other and with each other: beans and rice, lentils and bulgur, peanut butter and whole wheat bread.

One of my favorite food pairings is chocolate and orange. This quick and easy fondue recipe is so quick and easy you can make it today even if you haven’t planned ahead for Valentine’s Day.

Chocolate-Orange Fondue

10 ounces orange flavored bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 cup whipping cream

2 tablespoons orange flavored brandy or liqueur

1/2 teaspoon orange extract

strawberries, pineapple chunks, banana pieces

doughnuts, cake, cookies, macaroons, etc.

Melt the chocolate and cream together in the top part of a double boiler set over barely simmering water. Stir until the mixture is smooth and uniform. Remove the top part of the pan from the heat. Stir in the brandy and extract. Spoon the mixture into a fireproof container set over a candle. (Or use a fondue pot). Use cut up fruit, doughnuts, cake etc. to dip into the chocolate. Makes 4-6 servings

Loft's Butter Crunch

Which was better, Loft’s Butter Crunch or Loft’s Parleys?  For you young ones, those are the two iconic candies once sold by Loft’s, a candy company that went out of business in 1990. I’ve been in mourning ever since.  Their Butter Crunch was always my favorite. My brother insisted that the better choice was the Parley, a giant milk chocolate cigar looking thing with soft nougaty stuff inside.  Parleys were okay but Loft’s Butter Crunch was incomparable. The toffee was thick and brittle. It snapped when you broke it. The chocolate layer wasn’t overly thick so it didn’t detract from the candy part. And the nuts on the outside were tiny and soft, a sensational contrast to the velvety-tender chocolate and the crunchy center.  As well balanced as a dinner straight out of the government’s food pyramid.  I have tried for years to find a Butter Crunch as good as Loft’s, to no avail. There are fancier ones, made with single-estate chocolate or 70% cocoa chocolate. Some really expensive stuff and others from mass producers. Nothing comes close. I will grant you that Loft’s probably didn’t use great chocolate. It wasn’t your most upscale store. It sold modestly priced candies.  It’s just that their Butter Crunch was the best I ever ate.  When I was pregnant with my older daughter I refrained from sweets, to keep my weight at a decent level. But right after she was born I polished off the 2 boxes of Loft’s Butter Crunch that someone brought to me as a gift.  I’ve been experimenting making my own version lately. I made the ones in the photo yesterday to bring as a dinner gift this evening. These are good, so I’m posting the recipe. If you make them with milk chocolate and in a smaller cake pan (8”x8”) they’ll taste like Loft’s. Otherwise use dark chocolate of your choosing and use the larger pan — most people like the crunch part thinner than I do.      Butter Crunch   1 cup butter  3/4 cup sugar  1/4 teaspoon salt  2 tablespoons light corn syrup  2 tablespoons water  9 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (1-1/2 cups chocolate chips)  3/4 cup chopped lightly toasted almonds  Lightly butter a 9”x13” sheet cake pan. Place the butter, sugar, salt, corn syrup and water into a deep saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture starts to bubble. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is golden brown (about 7-8 minutes) or until a candy thermometer reads 280 degrees. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread it out evenly. Immediately sprinkle the chocolate on top. Let it melt briefly, then use a spatula or the back of a large spoon to spread the chocolate evenly over the candy. Keep spreading until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Sprinkle the nuts on top and press them in lightly. Let cool until the chocolate is firm and set, about 2 hours. Break into pieces. Makes about 1-1/4 pounds

Which was better, Loft’s Butter Crunch or Loft’s Parleys?

For you young ones, those are the two iconic candies once sold by Loft’s, a candy company that went out of business in 1990. I’ve been in mourning ever since.

Their Butter Crunch was always my favorite. My brother insisted that the better choice was the Parley, a giant milk chocolate cigar looking thing with soft nougaty stuff inside.

Parleys were okay but Loft’s Butter Crunch was incomparable. The toffee was thick and brittle. It snapped when you broke it. The chocolate layer wasn’t overly thick so it didn’t detract from the candy part. And the nuts on the outside were tiny and soft, a sensational contrast to the velvety-tender chocolate and the crunchy center.

As well balanced as a dinner straight out of the government’s food pyramid.

I have tried for years to find a Butter Crunch as good as Loft’s, to no avail. There are fancier ones, made with single-estate chocolate or 70% cocoa chocolate. Some really expensive stuff and others from mass producers. Nothing comes close. I will grant you that Loft’s probably didn’t use great chocolate. It wasn’t your most upscale store. It sold modestly priced candies.

It’s just that their Butter Crunch was the best I ever ate.

When I was pregnant with my older daughter I refrained from sweets, to keep my weight at a decent level. But right after she was born I polished off the 2 boxes of Loft’s Butter Crunch that someone brought to me as a gift.

I’ve been experimenting making my own version lately. I made the ones in the photo yesterday to bring as a dinner gift this evening. These are good, so I’m posting the recipe. If you make them with milk chocolate and in a smaller cake pan (8”x8”) they’ll taste like Loft’s. Otherwise use dark chocolate of your choosing and use the larger pan — most people like the crunch part thinner than I do.

 

Butter Crunch

1 cup butter

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

2 tablespoons water

9 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (1-1/2 cups chocolate chips)

3/4 cup chopped lightly toasted almonds

Lightly butter a 9”x13” sheet cake pan. Place the butter, sugar, salt, corn syrup and water into a deep saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture starts to bubble. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is golden brown (about 7-8 minutes) or until a candy thermometer reads 280 degrees. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread it out evenly. Immediately sprinkle the chocolate on top. Let it melt briefly, then use a spatula or the back of a large spoon to spread the chocolate evenly over the candy. Keep spreading until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Sprinkle the nuts on top and press them in lightly. Let cool until the chocolate is firm and set, about 2 hours. Break into pieces. Makes about 1-1/4 pounds

One Bowl Chocolate Cake with Fudge Frosting

Today is National Chocolate Cake Day. And also a snow day for a lot of us (we got at least another 14-inch dump of snow over the night and into the morning). I have to say, I resent a nighttime snow fall because I like watching the flakes come down. It’s so soft and quiet and makes me feel cozy and safe inside. When I woke up this morning it was all over, but for the plowing.

But I digress. It is National Chocolate Cake Day. A good day all around to make a dark, luscious, tender cake to enjoy while also maybe taking a snow day. It’s a good dessert for Valentine’s Day too. Or anytime really.

Here’s a cake I’ve been making ever since I was 12 years old, when I baked this for my own Bat Mitzvah celebration. I’ve tried dozens of different chocolate cake recipes over the years and haven’t found one I like better. And it’s easy to make too.

So, until I find a better cake, here’s my recipe for:

One Bowl Chocolate Cake with Fudge Frosting

  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 2 9-inch cake pans. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt together into the bowl of an electric mixer (or large bowl for use with a hand mixer). Add the buttermilk and shortening and beat the ingredients at medium speed for about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Add the eggs and vanilla extract and beat the ingredients for another 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake layers cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto a cake rack to cool completely. Frost the layer and outside of the cake with the fudge frosting. Refrigerate leftovers.

Makes one 9-inch cake

Fudge Frosting

  • 12 ounces semisweet chocolate
  • 1 cup dairy sour cream
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt the chocolate in the top part of a double boiler set over barely simmering water. When the chocolate has melted, remove the top pan from the bottom part of the double boiler. Add the sour cream, salt and vanilla extract to the chocolate and beat the ingredients vigorously with a whisk to blend them completely into a smooth frosting. Let cool for a few minutes, until it has a spreading consistency. Use between layers and for outside of the cake.

Meatballs in Marinara Sauce

I usually hate when there’s a month (or more) long approach to a holiday. Like seeing Hallowe’en paraphernalia right after Labor Day.

But it’s been so cold and snowy where I live that the Valentine’s Day heart things and the boxes of chocolates and a host of articles I’ve been noticing for the past week actually cheer me, even though the holiday is nearly 3 weeks away. Valentine’s Day means February is half over and we’ll be almost through this winter.

But Valentine’s Day is also a little sad for me because it’s one of the days I miss my Dad the most. He always sent me Valentines. Sometimes it was one of those cartoon cards children buy in packs to give to their classmates. But I could always count on getting a card from him. I miss them. And him.

His cooking? Well, not so much. He made fabulous pancakes and waffles, hot chocolate and a few other things. But entrees were not his forte. Once, when my Mom was sick he attempted meatballs in tomato sauce. He took plain meat, shaped them into mountain peaks and spread tomato paste on top. Then he broiled them. Ohmyohmyohmy were they bad. I don’t remember too many meals from when I was a kid but that one is vivid.

So, in honor of my Dad, with visions of Valentine’s Day and springtime and warm weather ahead, I give you my recipe for Meatballs in Tomato sauce the way Dad never made them.

Meatballs in Marinara Sauce 

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 medium cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 28-ounce cans Italian style tomatoes, chopped, with liquid
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 pound ground turkey
  • 1/2 pound ground veal
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 frozen hamburger buns, grated

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over low-medium heat. Add the onion and cook stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes, or until softened. Add the garlic and cook briefly. Add the tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of the basil and salt and pepper to taste. Bring the ingredients to a simmer and cook the sauce for 30 minutes. While the sauce is cooking, place the turkey, veal and beef in a large bowl and mix gently to combine them. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons basil, the parsley, eggs and the grated buns. Mix ingredients and shape into 12 meatballs. Place the meatballs on a baking sheet and roast for about 15 minutes, turning them occasionally to brown on all sides. Place the meatballs into the cooked sauce. Cook for another 30 minutes.

Makes 4 servings