Friday, November 27, 2009

Tuscan Turkey Cakes with Tomato-Basil Relish and Honey Mustard Aioli

While chicken is usually the star ingredient in this family favorite, our abundance of leftover roasted turkey makes this a perfect post-Thanksgiving meal. After our requisite turkey sandwiches and repeat Turkey-Day plates of meat, potatoes, gravy and fixings, these Tuscan Cakes offer a delicious alternative to the more traditional what-to-do-with-leftovers options.

Whether you choose turkey or chicken, this is a super easy meal to make, especially if you already have roasted turkey (or chicken) on hand. Then it's just a matter of prepping two simple toppings, dressing some greens, and browning up some cakes...which might take 30 minutes tops. While the cakes are delicious, the toppings are equally good. The relish has fresh plum tomatoes, balsamic vinaigrette, pesto, roasted peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, red onion...among other goodies. And the aioli is simply mayo and honey mustard. All together, it's truly tasty...a nice departure from what might be your norm for turkey leftovers!

Already done with your extra turkey? Save this recipe for the next holiday...roast some chicken...or buy one of those great roasted chickens at the market.

Tuscan Turkey (or Chicken) Cakes with Tomato-Basil Relish 
and Honey Mustard Aioli
serves 4
adapted from a 2001 National Chicken Cooking Contest recipe

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons honey mustard

1 cup plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/3 cup red onion, finely diced
3 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
2 tablespoons fresh basil, slivered
2 tablespoons balsamic and oil dressing
1 teaspoon prepared pesto

Tuscan Cakes:
3 cups cooked turkey (or chicken), shredded and chopped (shredding first, then chopping, gets the consistency perfect for forming cakes)
1 cup Italian-seasoned bread crumbs, divided
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup prepared pesto
2 tablespoons honey mustard
1/3 cup bottled roasted red peppers, diced
1/3 cup red onion, finely diced
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil (for browning cakes)

1 5-ounce package mixed baby salad greens
1/3 cup balsamic vinaigrette dressing (homemade or store-bought)

1. In a small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise and honey mustard. Set aside.

1. In a small bowl, mix together plum tomatoes, red onion, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, vinaigrette, and pesto. Set aside.

1. In a large bowl, mix together cooked turkey (or chicken), 1/2 cup bread crumbs, mayonnaise, egg, pesto, honey mustard, roasted peppers, and red onion.

2. Using an approximate 1/3-cup measurement, shape turkey (or chicken) into cakes (approximately 8 cakes), lightly coating each in remaining 1/2 cup bread crumbs. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add cakes and cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes on each side. 

3. Toss salad greens with dressing and divide among 4 plates. Top each plate with 1 or 2 cakes, top with aioli and relish. Serve and enjoy! 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


A frittata is an exceptionally versatile dish, equally suited for a holiday brunch or a light, quick and easy dinner. They are (in my opinion) much easier to prepare than an omelette, requiring less attention and less can feed six people with just one frittata. 

Whether for a group or for two, you can have a great frittata on the table within 30 minutes, start to finish. And, just about anything works as a fixing...turkey (!), sausage, bacon, onions, peppers, mushrooms, artichokes, potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, get the picture. You can just mix and match your favorite fixings to create whatever suits your palate. And, though this may not sound like an appealing quality, they are the perfect dish to prepare when you're cleaning out your fridge. I happened to have quite a bit of asparagus and asiago cheese in my fridge so I just added in some tomatoes and onions and...viola...frittata. far as I can tell (from an untrained position), there are several camps on just how you should approach the making of frittatas. (All, of course, assume you don't use one of those pricey frittata-making pans.) The traditional way to make a more rustic-looking frittata is to use a heat-resistant skillet (something that can go on the stove and in the plastic parts). It's at this point of agreement that the camps then divide.

There's one method that says stay on the stove for the whole show. Another that says stay on the stove until you get just a bit of the egg to hold, then pop it into a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven to finish it off (usually anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how large it is). Then, there's the camp that says stay on the stove until you have a nice golden bottom and the eggs are holding well...then stick it under the broiler to finish off the top to a golden brown (about three minutes or so). In this last camp, they say that if the eggs aren't completely set when you take your frittata out, then just let it rest on a cooling rack and the residual heat will gently cook them through.

Phew...that's a lot of camping. While I was in the second camp for many years, I do think it's nice to venture to other places from time to time. In real words: I liked the idea of a golden top. So I tried the third method...with a little twist. Because the eggs didn't appear to be completely set after the top was beautifully golden, I simply popped it out of the oven, switched the temp from broil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and stuck it back in for another minute or so. I like my frittatas warm out of the oven, so the cooling rack option wasn't going to work for me. 

According to Cook's Illustrated (my new little go-to read), this broiling method gives your frittata a great density. They're not too flat (stove-only method) or too spongy (long oven-stay method). They're just right...puffy, golden, and good.

Things to keep in mind...

You need at least six eggs to get a decent frittata going (for a small 10-inch skillet); a dozen for a larger 12-inch skillet.

You need to cook your fixings up first, browning them a bit to pull out their flavors and reduce their moisture level before adding in your eggs. And you want a nice ratio of fixings to eggs...or you won't get much puff.

Dropping your cheese in with your eggs not only gets it beautifully incorporated into your frittata, but it doesn't then mess with the achievement of a golden brown top.

You don't need to add any dairy to your eggs (though half and half was the recommended go-to if you want). Just give them a good go-over with a whisk to get a little air into them.

Then...just gather your favorite fixings.

Asparagus-Onion-Tomato-Asiago Frittata
serves 2 to 4

6 eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup fresh asparagus, cut into half-inch lengths on the diagonal
1/3 cup onion (or scallions), finely diced
1/3 cup fresh tomato, diced
1/3 cup asiago cheese, shredded
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1. Preheat broiler.

2. In a heat-resistant skillet, over medium heat, add olive oil and butter. Once butter is melted, add veggies (through onion) and cook until the onion appears soft, about 2 minutes. Add in tomatoes and cook another minute longer. Meanwhile, whisk eggs until you get just a bit of froth on them. Add cheese, salt, and pepper to eggs. Mix well and pour them over veggies in skillet.

3. Cook egg mixture on stovetop, pulling spatula through eggs (scraping bottom of pan) until large curds start to form. Tip pan slightly to allow eggs to run to sides, distribute evenly. Once eggs appear to be holding, let them cook for another 30 seconds or so (without disturbing them) until the bottom appears golden.

4. Pop skillet under broiler (4 to 5 inches from heat) for approximately 3 minutes, until it appears puffy and top is golden. Keep an eye on them while broiling in case they brown up quicker. Remove from oven. If eggs do not appear completely set, rest skillet on a cooling rack so that residual heat will gently cook eggs through. OR, switch oven from broil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and pop skillet back in for another minute or less.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Turkey Bacon and Asiago Cheese

Out to dinner a few weeks ago, our group's conversation touched on many topics over the course of almost three hours but got quite lively and animated when it finally zeroed in on Foods We Hate. Talk about reverting to childhood!

It seemed everyone at our table had at least one food item (some had several) that they had forever relegated to the I'll-never-eat-that-again file. The items were varied but largely from the veggie category. The reasons were also varied (and, of course, subjective) but the most common were: poor preparation, an offensive aroma and/or consistency, and the dreaded memory the food evoked. Mind you, all the dreaded memories seemed quite benign once they were related to the group: long car trips and winding roads (enough said) to unfavored aunts and, thus, unfavored opinions of whatever said aunts made (again...enough said).

My particular offering to the list was Brussel Sprouts. They were nixed from my diet some time in my early teens. Their offense: aroma/consistency and preparation. They were always boiled...and boiled too long...long enough to reduce them to little mushy cabbages. (Apparently overcooking brussel sprouts also releases an organic compound that increases its sulfurous odor.) forward to a few years ago at a little cafe in our town where I tried their much-touted, roasted brussel sprouts. They were crisp and flavorful...go figure. 

Given this little epiphany, my point that evening was that it's good to give some of these foods another go. A different cooking method or seasoning may be all it takes to remove it from your I'll-never-eat-that-again list.

Coming across this amazing stalk of sprouts while at the market on a completely different mission, I decided to roast up a batch of these little buds, following what I believe this little cafe does with them. It's so simple you can hardly call it a recipe. Yet they turn out so beautifully roasted and crisp on the outside, and tender on the inside. Some of the little leaves are so crisp they're more like delicate little good. The seasonings are simple yet enhance this veggie perfectly. While I had them at this cafe with bits of bacon tossed in, I used turkey bacon for this preparation. And I sprinkled shredded asiago cheese over them...but think parmesan (a bit saltier) might be what I try next time. They keep fairly well but they are best straight out of the oven when they are at their crispiest.

I think it works to get sprouts that are a bit on the smaller side so that they brown up more quickly, crisping nicely on the outside and cooking through on the inside. (Sometimes the larger ones will crisp up great on the outside but still require more time to cook through.) Just remove the sprouts from their stalk (a gentle nudge with your thumb should pop them right off), or buy them loose. Cut off any remaining stem nib and remove loose or damaged leaves. Place them on a baking sheet, drizzle them generously with olive oil, salt, and pepper...and toss them to coat. (Since some of the sprouts at the top of this stalk were quite a bit larger than those at the bottom, I just cut the larger ones in half to get the sizes more uniform.)

Place them in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for 25 to 35 minutes. Keep an eye on them toward the end to avoid overcooking, and give them a light shake or two while roasting to ensure that they brown more evenly.

While they roast, finely dice several slices of turkey bacon and transfer to a skillet over medium-high heat to brown up. Set aside.

When your sprouts come out of the oven looking beautifully roasted, toss in your bacon and then transfer the whole lot to a serving dish and sprinkle with cheese...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cranberry-Orange-Pecan Scones with Orange Glaze

With the dinner hour quickly approaching last night...and no plans in my head of what to have...I decided to make scones. Sounds reasonable, right? You see I made a batch a month ago when our youngest was home for her fall break and (truly) didn't like them much. This bothered me since the recipe I used was from one of my favorite (and trusted) cookbooks. Then I remembered that both our daughters had put these little cookbooks together for a Home Economics class they had in high school a few years back; books that included a few family favorites along with some new finds (to fill out the assignment no doubt)...and a recipe for scones.

So I took this recipe (which appears in both versions of their cookbooks by the way...uh hum) and doctored it up just a bit to pop the cranberry and orange flavors. And I really like how it turned out. The scones have just the right density (not gooey or too crumbly). They're sweet without being dessert-sweet. And...they're holiday-ish (that's a word, right?). They have a great cranberry flavor with a bright pop of orange (with zest in the batter and fresh juice in the glaze) and sweet pecans. It's all good...yummy good.

Oh...and they are on the smaller side (just slightly) so you don't feel terribly indulgent having a full scone or eating one along with some brunch. If you want them larger, just double the batter and cut it up differently...or if you don't need a dozen, just cut six or eight from one batch. I cut mine as long wedges after forming my dough into a round...

The batter will seem very crumbly and dry when you turn it out onto your lightly floured surface. You just need to it a bit and it will come together. Punch, pull, push...draw it together...and repeat until it listens! Then just form it into a round (or a square...whatever you decide) and cut your shapes (big wedges, little wedges, long as they are about the same size) and bake them up. Then...drizzle them with orange glaze...and enjoy! (Oh...and get some dinner together while they bake!)

Cranberry-Orange-Pecan Scones with Orange Glaze
makes one dozen

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar (plus 2 teaspoons for topping)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 to 2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest, divided
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup whipping cream 
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1 tablespoon milk (I used 2%)

Orange Glaze:
Powdered sugar (about 1/2 cup)
Freshly squeezed orange juice (from one large orange) 
note:you'll have more juice than you'll need to use

1. Preheat oven to 400 degree F.

2. Stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons orange zest (depending on your preference), baking soda, and salt. Using a pastry blender/cutter cut butter into dry mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center of the dry mixture, and set aside.

3. In a separate bowl, combine egg, cream, cranberries, and pecans, stirring just to mix a bit. Add egg mixture to dry ingredients. Stir until just combined and moistened.

4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Quickly knead until it comes together. It will appear very crumbly at first. Continue to knead until it begins to come together...holds its shape and appears smooth. Pat dough into a 7-inch round and cut into 12 wedges.

5. Place wedges approximately 1/2- to 1-inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Brush them with 1 tablespoon milk. Combine 2 teaspoons sugar with 1/4 teaspoon orange zest and sprinkle mixture over wedges.

6. Bake at 400 degrees F for approximately 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly golden.

7. Remove scones from baking sheet and cool them on a wire rack (placed over some foil to catch glaze dripping...see next step).

8. Once cooled, mix together powdered sugar and orange juice to make a glaze. Gradually add juice to sugar until you get the right should drizzle without being too runny or too thick. Position your scones in rows, fairly close together so that you don't lose too much glaze between them...and then just drizzle the glaze from one side to the other in long streams. It goes fairly quickly this way and you get nice long drizzle marks over each scone (with some running down beautifully over the sides).

Friday, November 13, 2009

Three-Cheese Vegetable Lasagna

I love pretty much anything with cheese in it but most traditional lasagnas are often just too much for me. Not because of the cheese, necessarily, but because of the heft. (Heft may not be a culinary term but it works here.) So many traditional lasagnas are so filling and noodle-laden that I often can't have more than just a few bites. I know many people love those mile-high, thick-curly-noodle, ricotta-oozing, meat-based lasagnas...I can't fault them...some are delicious...but this little number now has my vote when it comes to lasagna.

I came up with this recipe after trying a great veggie lasagna while vacationing last spring. It, too, had eggplant and zucchini in it. And...these great, thin, flat noodles...

The ones I located (they're right with all the other pastas...just never looked before) are "no-boil," which just makes this whole process that much easier. No need for boiling those masses of thick lasagna noodles, burning your fingers trying to keep them separated and in one piece. These "sheets" make nice thin layers of noodle, just enough pasta to stack beautifully and meld with all the other flavors without taking over the whole show.

And, surprisingly, this lasagna comes together very easy. It's basically just three simple steps to getting it ready to pop in the oven.

You start with your veggies. I chose fresh eggplant, fresh zucchini, and roasted red peppers (from a bottle this time, simply because I forgot to get fresh at the market...and they were great!). The point is...choose what you like. Mushrooms, artichoke, and/or shredded carrot would also be great additions. You slice up your veggies (fairly thin...maybe 1/4-inch thick), and at an angle (if necessary) to try to get as much surface area as you can out of the smaller ones (this way the zucchini and eggplant kind of approximate one another and roast up in about the same time). Get some cookie sheets out and lay down some foil on each (this makes clean-up a snap!). Then spread your veggies out, drizzle them generously with olive oil, salt, and pepper...

...then pop them in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for about 15 minutes. Keep an eye on them. You want them slightly roasted, not broiled or too brown. While they are doing their thing, you can prep your sauce. It's basically the same easy sauce I used for my turkey meatballs.

Once lightly roasted, take your veggies out of the oven and set them aside while you get your sauce simmering...just 15 minutes or so, until it thickens just a bit. I also put a kettle of water on to boil. While these noodles are no-boil, I DO like to lay them in a shallow plate with a little hot water to just reconstitute them a bit. They DO NOT get soft (I leave them in the water for just a minute or so). I just let them sit (3 to 4 at a time), waiting for their turn to get layered in. This way, they are just a little more pliable to snap and break to fit your pan without shattering into pieces. (Have tongs handy to move them about in the water so you don't get burned...I say this from experience.)

Once your sauce is ready, your veggies are out of the oven, and you've prepped your cheeses, get your little assembly line going...

I start by putting just a little sauce down into my baking dish (I think this just helps to keep the noodles from sticking). Then a layer of noodles, a layer of veggies, a full ladle or two of sauce, a layer of all three cheeses (lightly sprinkle mozzarella and parmesan...and just dot some of the mascarpone randomly throughout). Then...another complete layer. Then a final layer using just noodles, sauce and cheese (no veggies). Cover your dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Then uncover and bake another 15 to 20 minutes. This dish truly has all the great qualities of lasagna...ooey-gooey goodness without all the...well...heft.

Three-Cheese Vegetable Lasagna
serves 6

For easy tomato sauce (see note):
28-ounce can plum tomatoes
15 to 20 fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
salt and pepper, to taste
pat of unsalted butter (about 2 tablespoons), if desired

For rest of lasagna:
1 medium- to large-sized fresh eggplant, sliced into thin, 1/4-inch-thick rounds
3 medium-sized fresh zucchini, sliced on the diagonal into 1/4-inch disks
4 to 5 roasted red bell peppers (from a jar...or use fresh and roast them with your other veggies)
2 to 3 cups low-moisture mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
1 small container mascarpone cheese (about 1/3- to 1/2-cup)
no-boil lasagna noodles (approximately 4 to 5 noodles per layer...3 layers)

1. Cut and prep your veggies for roasting. Lay veggies on foil-lined baking sheets, drizzle generously with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place in 400 degree Fahrenheit oven to roast for approximately 15 minutes. Keep an eye on them to avoid over-roasting. Once done, remove from oven and set aside.

2. Prep sauce by pureeing canned tomatoes and fresh basil in a blender. Add olive oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add diced onion and garlic to skillet. Saute for about 2 to 3 minutes, just until onion is soft. Reduce heat (to avoid splatter) and add blended tomatoes, italian seasoning, basil, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking. Simmer sauce over low heat for about 15 minutes, just to thicken a bit and allow flavors to meld.

3. Add some hot water to a shallow glass dish and place a few noodles into water to reconstitute them just a bit. Prep cheeses and arrange ingredients on counter and/or cooking surface to allow for quick assembly. Put a ladle of sauce down into baking dish (to keep noodles from sticking). Arrange a single layer of noodles (no overlapping) on top of sauce, and continue layering veggies (single mixed layer without too much overlapping), sauce (about 2 ladles or so), and cheese (lightly sprinkle shredded cheeses and just dot mascarpone). Continue with another complete layer, beginning with noodles. For the final layer, arrange noodles followed by sauce and cheese (no veggies) to just cap your lasagna.

4. Cover lasagna with foil and bake in a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking (uncovered) for another 15 to 20 minutes, until just golden brown and bubbling.

Note: This easy sauce is like the one I used for the Turkey Meatballs a few weeks back. Since I was overly zealous in layering this particular lasagna, and used my portion up before my final layer, I whirred up another 14-ounce can of tomatoes with some pre-made pesto (to just give it some oomph since it wouldn't get any simmering time) and used a portion of this to finish up my lasagna. With those meatballs I mentioned, I made up another whole batch of sauce on Day Two since we'd pretty much polished off all the sauce on Day One. The point here: just improvise and it all works out.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chicken Chili with Pesto

This Chicken Chili with Pesto is yet another one of our favorite soups. I know...another favorite? (I did, however, give fair warning several weeks back of our little soup affinity. And yes...there are more.) This particular chili, however, came immediately to mind when we arrived home last Saturday afternoon to find this at our front door...

Now you might think that's just a bunch of flat-leaf parsley...and you'd be entirely correct. Yet, for me, finding this heap of parsley on my doorstep (with a main stalk that must have been at least an inch in diameter) is kind of like having a colorful bouquet of fragrant flowers arrive unexpectedly. I think that if you love to cook and appreciate food, it is very endearing to think that someone thought enough of you (and your interests) to take the time out of their busy schedule to share a little something from their own, personally tended garden. There was no note, just a bag with this beautiful parsley inside. The fact that this bright, late-season harvest appeared on our doorstep on one of the most dreary, rain-soaked days we've had this fall was also particularly uplifting.

I do have to mention that I don't have a vegetable garden of my own so these little unexpected gifts are especially appreciated. I realize how fortunate I am to have some very talented green-thumbed friends who are also incredibly generous.

Checking my email early Sunday morning, I did figure out the identity of my most recent little elf. Though the weather we had on Saturday was far from harvesting weather, she apparently had quite a little crop to bring in and thought of me...lucky me!

Well, that bounty of parsley was quickly whirred up into a pesto...

And then set aside to serve with this Chicken Chili -- which is dotted with chunks of chicken, carrots, celery, onions, and cannellini beans...all swimming happily in a wonderful, rich, and flavorful broth that's enhanced by cumin, chili, oregano, and, of course, zesty pesto. If you can imagine the flavors you get with just a little dollop of this green magic...herbs, parmesan, pine can almost taste the goodness of this chili. 

While I often tend to make a more traditional basil-based pesto, I switched it up this time (given my little parsley bonanza) and used about a 3:1 ratio of parsley to basil for this pesto and it turned out great. In fact I think that the parsley flavor is particularly suiting for this chili. While you can follow a recipe for pesto, I just kind of threw it all together and whirred it up in my food processor -- handfuls of parsley and basil, a few cloves of fresh garlic, a handful of toasted pine nuts, some parmesan cheese, and some salt and pepper. Give it a few pulses to break it down, then add a stream of good olive oil in until you get a nice pesto-like consistency. Give it a taste and adjust with additional herbs, cheese, salt...whatever...until it's to your liking. Place any leftover pesto in a container, drizzle a little olive oil over the top to kind of "seal" it, cover it and place it in your fridge. It will keep nicely for a few days. You can add it as a sandwich spread or mix it into some fresh pasta for dinner. But first...swirl a dollop into this chicken chili...and enjoy!

Chicken Chili with Pesto
adapted from a Cooking Light recipe
serves 4

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup onion, diced
1 1/2 pounds (3 large) skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 cups carrot, diced
1 cup celery, diced
1/4 cup (1 small can) diced green chiles (I use mild or medium Ortega-brand chiles)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (more or less, depending on saltiness of broth used)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 can (16 oz) cannellini beans (or other white beans), rinsed and drained
4 cups chicken broth 
pesto (homemade or store-bought)

1. Heat oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and chicken. Saute 5 minutes. Add carrot, bell pepper, and celery; saute another 4 to 5 minutes. Add chiles and next 6 ingredients (through broth). Bring to a boil.

2. Cover and reduce heat, simmer for 20 to 25 minutes. Stir in 3 to 4 tablespoons pesto OR plate individual servings and drop a dollop of pesto on top of each.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Chocolate Ganache Cake with Creme Anglaise

THIS is the chocolate dessert I was after a few weeks back when I tried the infamous "flourless chocolate cake"...which turned out to be such a complete and utter FLOP (literally!). Not to disparage flourless cakes, I've tried a couple and they were quite good, but THIS is what I was after. (I only wish my pics did it justice. I was too busy and took pics the next morning after I put plastic wrap over the already-cut cake and kind of dulled its shiny ganache.) 

So why is this THE cake I was after? Well, it has the deep chocolaty flavor I was seeking; a dense, moist structure that gives it a decadent, rich, kind of melt-in-your-mouth consistency (NOT melt on your uh-hum, the you-know-what-cake); and, it has just the right balance of sweetness topped off by a luscious, shiny chocolate ganache that you just pour over the whole thing once it's cooled. No spatulas or fancy icing techniques required. And yes, it does have some flour in it...but just a bit.

Oh...and if all that isn't enough, you plate each slice atop a delicious creme anglaise. (I'd love to just continue on here, sounding oh-so sophisticated with my creme anglaise but I'd feel terribly guilty not to fess up right now...this creamy goodness is nothing more than a pint of good vanilla ice cream that you pop into the fridge a few hours before you plan to serve your dessert to let it melt to a creamy consistency. Having made that confession I'm sure I'll be granted a great pass on something else. Karma, right?!!) In addition to being a rather tasty cake, it's also super easy to make. It all comes together in one bowl!

I made this cake for a dinner I hosted for a couple of girlfriends...figuring they could be my guinea pigs. What are friends for? (If I had another flop, there'd only be two's all in the numbers). Luckily, it turned out to be a winner. The recipe is adapted from a cake by Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa). I pulled it out of a House Beautiful magazine and tried to locate it online (had a few measurement questions) but couldn't find it. I kept to the recipe until it came to the vanilla addition. Instead of adding one tablespoon vanilla extract to the batter I only added one teaspoon, and then added one teaspoon Kahlua liqueur and one teaspoon instant espresso. You don't taste the alcohol or coffee, you just get a really rich chocolate flavor.

While we have a bit of a birthday tradition in our family when it comes to chocolate cakes, this is a great dessert that I'll definitely serve up on one of the other 361 days of the year. Yum!

Chocolate Ganache Cake with Creme Anglaise
adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten
serves 6 to 8

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 16-ounce can Hershey's chocolate syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Kahlua liqueur
1 teaspoon instant espresso granules
1 cup all-purpose flour

For Ganache:
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
8 ounces good semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon instant espresso granules ( too)

For Creme Anglaise:
1 pint good vanilla ice cream, popped into fridge to melt down

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan, then line the bottom with parchment paper.

2. Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Lower the speed and add eggs, one at a time, scraping bowl down after each egg. Mix in chocolate syrup, vanilla, Kahlua, and espresso. Add flour and mix until just combined. Don't overbeat or the cake will be tough.

3. Pour batter into your prepped pan and bake for 45-60 minutes (mine took 55 minutes)...until set in the middle. Don't overbake. Let cool completely in pan. (Note: popping the cake into the fridge after cooled is even better. It's easier to glaze a cold cake.)

4. For the ganache: heat heavy cream, chocolate chips, and instant espresso in the top of a double boiler over simmering water just until the chocolate melts and the ganache is smooth and warm, stirring occasionally.

5. Place the cooled cake upside down on a wire rack (remove the parchment paper) and pour the warm glaze evenly over the top, making sure to cover the entire cake and sides. (I used a rather large cooling rack and think a smaller one might be better. Also...put some parchment or wax paper underneath your rack to catch drips and make clean-up easier. (Using a smaller rack for your cake will make it a little easier to get under the rack to kind of scoop and scrap the drippings to mend the gaps in icing...if necessary.) You can also tilt the rack back and forth to get the ganache to move around and drip nicely over the edges. Transfer cake to a serving platter. Serve atop creme anglaise.

NOTE: Do not refrigerate cake after it is glazed. Just cover with plastic wrap (yes it dulls the shine) and leave out.