I find it ironic that I owned a successful dessert company in Boston for five years, because I loathe baking. I’m the kind of chef who does not like to measure or knead or roll out. I like a bit of managed chaos—throw in some seasoning, add a little more port than last time, omit the fava beans and try a little extra tomato puree. So I was thrilled to find a wonderful new “semi-cheat” for those of us who enjoy the taste of homey desserts but lack the knack for a flaky piecrust or brûlée without air bubbles.
King Arthur flour (www.kingarthurflour.com) to the rescue! I’m talking about the company’s all-natural quick scone mix; I just tried the blueberry sour cream flavor and loved it. This mix does require a little work, cutting in the butter and mixing a little milk. But you can make it easier with Nordic Ware’s scone pan (www.nordicware.com),
which is conveniently divided into eight wedges. Simply drop the scone batter in eight equal portions and press gently with your hands to form into the pan. A suggestion: Drop a few fresh blueberries onto each scone before baking for added flavor and appearance.
If you still refuse to turn on that oven, The Serving Spoon on Osprey Avenue is one of my favorites for fresh homemade muffins, and who would miss the sour cream coffee cake at The Broken Egg (www.thebrokenegg.com) on Siesta Key?
OLD-FASHIONED CHOCOLATE FUDGE CAKE
Last month my friend Kristine Nickel, who’s the food and wine editor for SARASOTA Magazine, wanted to make a chocolate buttermilk fudge cake for her husband Jack’s birthday. Jack had fond memories of a wonderful chocolate cake with hard fudge on the top. Kristine couldn’t find the right recipe to match Jack’s fudgy memory, but I remembered an oldie but goodie from my first restaurant, Main Street Café in Gloucester, Ma. Although it is a little difficult to create a hard fudge top in humid Southwest Florida, this cake is fudgy and delicious if you bake the cake the night before and frost in the morning. But do not refrigerate it—if you do, you’ll lose the hard texture of the fudge frosting. And most important: Have a scoop of vanilla Haagen Dazs ready to top at serving time.
Buttermilk Chocolate Fudge Cake with Fudge Icing
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups white sugar
2 large eggs
3 heaping tablespoons of Ghirardelli unsweetened cocoa powder
½ cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon Ghirardelli unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup whole milk
¼ cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 13- by-9-inch pan.
In a medium-sized bowl, combine the buttermilk and baking soda. Set aside in a warm place
In a large bowl, mix together 2 cups sugar, eggs, 3 heaping tablespoons cocoa powder, oil, and 2 teaspoons vanilla until blended. Stir in the boiling water, then gradually beat in the flour. Stir in buttermilk mixture.
Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Allow to cool.
In a saucepan combine 1 cup sugar, ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, milk, butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Bring to boil and cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Using an electric mixer, beat icing for about 4 minutes or until it thickens to a spreading consistency. Pour over cooled cake.
I stopped at Manhattan Bar and Grill (www.manhattanbarand grill.com) the other day for what else? A great burger. "Decadence without a bun" as I refer to it, two fresh hamburger patties, cooked perfectly medium rare atop sliced tomatoes, topped with bacon, blue cheese and Hollandaise sauce with a side of Caesar salad. Who needs the bun?
KILLER STEAK (FROM SAM’S!)
Believe it or not, last weekend I found some great-looking flank steak at Sam’s Club (www.samsclub.com). (I won’t reveal names, but I have also seen some top restaurant owners and chefs there with a full cart of racks of lamb, steaks and boneless pork chops from the meat department.)
We were having some friends and their children over for barbecued chicken (prepared in the same style as last week’s cooking tip for barbecued ribs) along with a shrimp and macaroni salad (an old favorite of mine that my Mom used to make—it wouldn’t be Labor Day without that and white pants), and I thought steak fajitas might make a nice addition.
Simply unroll the flank steak from the package and season with a combination of garlic salt, a little cayenne pepper, ½ teaspoon chili powder, fresh ground back pepper and a little onion powder. Make a marinade of 2 teaspoons liquid smoke, the juice of 2 limes and 2 lemons, ¼ cup orange juice, 2 cloves smashed garlic, ½ cup chopped cilantro, 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce and 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar. Place the seasoned flank steak in marinade and store in a Ziploc freezer bag in the refrigerator overnight. Trust me, whether you are grilling onions and peppers with flour tortillas or severing this steak with wasabi-smashed red potatoes, it’s a winner.
Always remember to slice flank or skirt steak against the grain to ensure tenderness.
WIN DINNER AT ZORIA’S WITH YOUR SUMMER DRINK RECIPE!
Last week we challenged you to enter this month’s cocktail recipe contest to win dinner at Zoria’s on Main Street. So far, we have had some refreshing challenges, with an inspired campari and grapefruit cocktail and a sour appletini. We’re eager to try those and all the contenders in the contest, so please stay tuned and keep those recipes coming.
My inspired cocktail last weekend to serve with our steak fajitas? A frozen mango margarita, and yes, there was a chocolate buttermilk fudge cake for dessert as well.