February: Devil’s Food Cake

The February recipe for my 2012 Cooking Challenge is Nigella Lawson’s Devil’s Food Cake. It’s a cake. It’s made of chocolate. It doesn’t take  that much convincing for me to make it.

I will admit, I was a little daunted, though. For some reason, to me, there’s a lot less room for error in baking a cake versus, say, baking cookies. I just think that a lot more could go wrong: the cake could be too dry, or undercooked (on the other hand I would still eat undercooked cookies), it could be uneven or wobbly.

The frosting for this recipe seemed to be particularly tricky. Commenters on Nigella’s site and on the FoodNetwork page seemed to have a little trouble with getting it to the right consistency.  Once everything was mixed though, I didn’t care if  it turned out too runny to use, there was no way in hell this wasn’t at least going to TASTE good:

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Made of bittersweet chocolate, a little sugar, water and butter, the frosting was dark, glossy and beautiful. It smelled so good that I decided that if turns out to be unusable as a frosting, I’ll find a way to eat it anyway. Maybe with ice cream or pancakes or my fingers.

I made the frosting first, as I wanted to give it time to thicken up. Nigella did it the other way around, cake first, but I figured that the frosting will take longer to thicken given our tropical weather.

The cake was a breeze to make, although frosting it was a little harder than expected. The icing, while thick enough, was still pretty… what’s the word… goopy. If I moved too much icing from the sides of the top of the cake, it would quickly trickle down to the sides, resulting in frosting puddles all around the cake plate. So it took me some time to get it looking not like a mess. And I think I did ok, no?

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Who cares what it looks like though, what really matters is what it tastes like, right? And at the risk of sounding like I’m tooting my own horn… it is delicious!

The cake itself was surprisingly light and soft but still moist. And I think the lightness of the cake really goes well with the frosting, since the frosting is not the sticky, thick kind. It’s smooth and silky (haha, I feel like I’m talking about hair in a shampoo commercial) and light. Which is not something I can say about the way it tastes. This frosting is quite possibly the most chocolate-y frosting I’ve ever encountered in a cake. It tastes as dark as it looks. Bitter, only a tiny bit sweet, rich and heady, this is not just a chocolate lover’s cake, it’s a dark chocolate lover’s cake.

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If dark chocolate is not your thing, though, then maybe you could switch from bittersweet to semisweet for the frosting, or use a combination of both. You could even use milk chocolate, although I think that would be too sweet already. I would suggest that you make the recipe in its original form first, though, before adjusting the chocolate to your taste. I daresay that you’d like it the way it is.

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January: Spanish Chicken with Chorizo & Potatoes

Saturday was a big cooking day for me. In between baking the brookies and the pancake cookies, I also made Nigella Lawson’s Spanish Chicken with Chorizo and Potatoes from her cookbook Kitchen.

The moment I saw the recipe name and the photo of the dish in the cookbook, I knew I wanted to make this. I love chicken (if you haven’t already noticed), I love Chorizo, and who doesn’t like potatoes? And making it seemed so easy. You basically just dump everything on sheet pans and bake them in the oven. I think there were only 3 steps in the cookbook: preheat the oven, put everything in the pan, put everything in the oven and baste once in a while (okay, four).

And with those four easy steps, you’ll have all this deliciousness:

Spanish Chicken & Chorizo

The chicken was juicy and tender, which was a bit of a surprise since it the only “liquid” added to it prior to cooking was a small amount of olive oil to coat. The chicken gave out A LOT of oil, though, but you can easily fix that by using less fatty chicken portions (like the breast) instead of thigh quarters. The Chorizo was a pleasant surprise, too, since I went out on a limb and used a local brand I’ve never tried before. It was spicy and garlicky and gave the drippings even more flavor.

I’d probably add some garlic to the recipe (Nigella’s recipe doesn’t have it), but other than that, this recipe is pretty perfect. And ridiculously easy, too.

Find the recipe here.

January: Chocolate Chip Cookies

I guess it makes sense that the recipe I try out to kick off my 2012 cooking challenge is a classic. I also wanted a recipe that would require me to use my brand spankin’ new KitchenAid mixer (more on that soon), as I was desperate to finally use it. And how could anyone go wrong with chocolate chip cookies, right?

The recipe is from Nigella Lawson’s Kitchen cookbook and is her tried & tested chocolate chip cookie recipe. The recipe was pretty straightforward enough and I followed it to the T, and ended up with these:

I didn’t know what I did wrong, because I used a one-fourth cup scoop to measure out the dough for the cookies as directed. Nigella used an even deeper, dome-shaped ice cream scooper and plopped the dough straight to the cookie sheet without flattening them before putting them in the oven, and her cookies turned out normal. Mine turned out thick and dense and were even mistaken for scones (haha!). The resulting cookies were therefore very cakey and dense. But they tasted good (and they filled up the house with an awesome, buttery, chocolatey smell while baking), they were just not the right texture and density.

So, alas, my first attempt at my cooking challenge was not a raging success. I had fun, though, since I got to use my mixer for the first time. I just know that for next time, I’ll have to flatten out the cookies before I put them in the oven. Or maybe I should try Phoebe Buffay’s grandmother’s chocolate chip cookie recipe.

PS: Does anyone have an idea on what I did wrong? I was having trouble keeping the temperature of my oven up to the required 325°F, could that be it? I am also still just getting a hang of my mixer’s speeds, could it be that I overworked the dough? Nigella’s recipe requires you to melt the butter before mixing with the sugars, which I’ve never seen in a chocolate chip cookie recipe before, could that have made the difference? I’ll appreciate any help, as I don’t want to end up with (albeit yummy) quasi-scones again. Thanks!

My 2012 Cooking Challenge

I received these two cookbooks by two of my favorite cooks (chefs? They’re not really chefs, right?And I mean that in a good way.) for Christmas:

Yes, that’s THE French Apple Tart she’s making in the photo

I love Nigella and Ina for their simple, gimmick free approach to cooking. It’s just them in their kitchens (my DREAM kitchen, in Ina’s case) cooking and talking to their audience. There are no gimmicks, no incessant and annoying chatter (I’m looking at you, Rachael Ray), just beautiful ingredients and straightforward, delicious food. And these two cookbooks, I think, really represent that.

So, inspired by these two women, their cookbooks and the recipes (and photos!) in them, and also, spurred on by my recent forays into cooking, I have come up with a challenge for myself. Also, I figured that I need to make use of the cookbooks I received by cooking as much from them as I can. So, in 2012, I will cook one new recipe from these cookbooks every month.

Before you laugh at my self-imposed challenge, please do keep in mind that while I do know how to cook, I rarely ever do it. Also, the type of cooking that Ina or Nigella do is very different from the cooking that I am used to. Plus, the first three months of the year are set to be the busiest of the year for work… so yes, this will be a challenge for me.

And, now, for some ground rules:

  • I have to cook one recipe from either Nigella Kitchen or Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics per month.
  • If I miss one month, I would have to make up for it the following month. However, additional dishes cooked in a month will not count towards succeeding months. So if I cook three dishes in January, I’m not off the hook from cooking one each in February and March.
  • Repeats won’t count.
  • Of course, I’ll have to blog about each month’s dish.

So wish me luck, guys! And please do the same for the people who’ll be eating my food, too.

Book photos via Amazon.com