Cake Balls

Cake balls

I hate wasting food of any sort, but to throw away perfectly good cake? I don’t think so.

After making the devil’s food cake with malt chocolate frosting, I was left with a baggie of cake scraps leftover from trimming the layers, not to mention about a cup of frosting. Inspired by the Pioneer Woman’s recent endeavors in making cake balls (definitely visit her blog for more creative ways to use the cake balls along with other great recipes), I decided to try it myself.

Cake and frosting Combined cake and frosting

Rolled cake balls

Coincidentally, my friend was due to give birth to her second child (a boy – welcome to the world Ethan!) last week so I decorated the cake balls and brought them to the hospital in honor of the occasion.

These cake balls were delicious and super cute to boot! The flavor possibilities are endless – you can use any combination of cake and frosting. Note that the “recipe” below is really more of a technique – just use your judgement for consistency and remember you can always make extra frosting (I’d estimate a 3 to 1 ratio cake to frosting).

Dark cocoa candy melts Melted chocolate

Blue candy melts Decorated cake balls

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Recipe: Devil’s Food Cake with Malt Chocolate Frosting

Devil's Food Cake with Malt Chocolate Frosting

Let’s be clear on this right off the bat: I’m a cook, not a baker. A regular chef, not a pastry chef. With that said, I have to brag a little about this cake I made last weekend to celebrate my dad’s birthday: Devil’s Food Cake with Malt Chocolate Frosting.

Trim the cake Coat cake with simple syrup

It’s certainly not the most beautiful cake in the world. I described it to my friend Cathy, who indeed is a brilliant pastry chef at a Chicago restaurant, as a tasty homemade cake that looked like it was trying to be professional but didn’t quite make it. My sister vehemently disagreed, saying: “it looks so professional, like I could’ve bought it at Jewel.”

And I rest my case.

Frost first layer of cake Add second layer

Ready for third layer Frost top and sides

Despite the haphazard decorating, this cake really was delicious. I don’t often make cakes – usually I stick with cupcakes or pies or things like that. But for some reason I was inspired to make a three-layer cake, and no, two layers would simply not suffice.

Use pastry comb to add texture/design

Back to the cake. It’s a chocolate devil’s food cake similar to the one I used for the homemade Hostess cupcakes. However, this recipe was adapted from The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion (only major change was using 1/2 cup strong coffee in place of 1/2 cup milk – you don’t taste the coffee, it is there to enhance the chocolate) and yields the perfect amount of batter for three eight-inch round cakes.

Fill pastry bag with frosting Pipe decorative design

The most exciting part of the cake was the frosting: a malt chocolate frosting adapted from Chocolate Cake: 150 Recipes from Simple to Sublime. I went with malt because it’s a flavor my dad loves – I don’t think he’s ever gone to a Cubs game without ordering a Frosty Malt cup. But it was also rich and chocolately, thus appealing to another family member who tried to talk me out of the malt.

Half the Devil's Food Cake with Malt Chocolate Frosting

I won’t go so far as to say this was a difficult project, just a bit time-consuming. But I made it easier by baking the cakes the night before and then decorating them in the morning. Allow the cakes to cool to room temperature, then wrap well in plastic and refrigerate. It also helps to pop them in the freezer for 15 to 30 minutes before using.

Stay tuned for the recipe on cake balls, a great way to use leftover trimmed cake and frosting!

Piece of Devil's Food Cake with Malt Chocolate Frosting

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Family Food Traditions: PB&J with Chicken Noodle Soup

My dad excited to eat his soup

My dad excited to eat his soup

As I mentioned in the post for cracked Yukon gold potatoes, my family officially celebrated my dad’s birthday a few days late. My mom and I made potatoes, chicken, fish, broccoli and a chocolate cake (I’ll post that recipe soon). A nice, traditional meal.

Well, I didn’t tell you what my dad ate for dinner on his actual birthday, also a traditional meal for him. He asked my mom to prepare his favorite: peanut butter and grape jelly sandwhich with Lipton chicken noodle soup and crackers. At least he’s finally transitioned from white Wonder Bread to whole grain!

Classic birthday dinner: peanut butter and jelly with chicken noodle soup
Classic birthday dinner: PB&J with chicken noodle soup

I didn’t realize how strange this meal request was until I told a few friends about it. Then, earlier that day I had lunch with my friend Sara and her three-year-old son, Ben, requested a PB&J. That confirmed it: my father’s favorite meal is the same as a child’s, but I find it endearing rather than strange. And it completely fits his Peter Pan personality.


Cracked Yukon Gold Potatoes

Cracked potatoes

My dad turned 55 last week, but as his birthday fell on a weeknight in the middle of tax season (yes, ALL my family members are accountants – I’m the rebel) we decided to celebrate tonight with a home-cooked dinner. It was a fabulous meal, exactly what my dad had envisioned, with just one exception: the potatoes.

Originally he’d requested mashed potatoes, but I suggested “smashed potatoes” instead for health reasons. He agreed, and I made what I considered to be smashed potatoes.

Cracking potatoes with mallet

Oops. Communication breakdown! My family was expecting some sort of boiled and coarsely mashed (hence the “smashed) version of mashed potatoes. Mine were different, and not just because they were completely void of cream or butter, two ingredients I deem essential to mashed potatoes, in addition to the potatoes and salt of course.

These potatoes were literally cracked with a meat mallet. Yes, you read that right. It’s a great way to get out daily frustrations, you just smash it a little with the flat side of the mallet until the potato begins to crack. Then move on to the next one until you’ve gone through the whole bag which is roughly enough to fit in a large pan.

Brasining/steaming potatoes

That’s the most smashing that goes into the dish. Once smashed, or cracked, the potatoes are seared in olive oil with whole garlic cloves, then braised in chicken broth and seasoned with rosemary, salt and pepper.

Super simple to make and absolutely delicious. Not to mention fun. The natural richness of the yukon golds becomes soft and buttery when steamed, and the skin gets a nice crispness from first being seared in the olive oil.

Cracked Yukon Gold Potatoes with Rosemary

Despite the initial surprise of not eating smashed potatoes for dinner, my family loved the newly termed “cracked” potatoes and enthusiastically gobbled them up.

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Recipe: Herby Pea Pasta

Herby Pea Pasta

Herby Pea Pasta

I love pasta. Absolutely, positively love it. It’s incredibly versatile with thousands of sauces, vegetables, proteins, spices and herbs available to combine with it, not to mention all the forms pasta comes in – fun shapes, flavors, even whole grain is becoming easy to find. But the thing I think I love most about pasta is how simple it is to put together a flavor-packed meal in less than 15 minutes.

Shrimp and shallots Add frozen peas

Take this dish, herby pea pasta. It came together in a snap. I minced a shallot, sweated it in a bit of olive oil, added semi-thawed shrimp, then a little white wine, frozen peas straight from the freezer, the cooked pasta, chopped fresh herbs, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Half the products were either shelf-stable or frozen, and the herbs (in this case chives, tarragon and basil), were leftovers.

A whole lot of fresh herbs

The whole dish was completed in the amount of time it took to boil water and cook the pasta. Because there wasn’t a lot of prep work, I was able to chop and cook the other ingredients while the pasta boiled.

Mix pasta with shrimp and peas Mix in herbs

Here’s the recipe for today’s dish, but note that you can use pretty much any type of herb you have available.

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