Sunday, April 17, 2011

When Life Gives You Self-Rising Flour...

Dear Mouse,

Ah, spring.

"When birds do sing Hey ding a ding ding/Sweet lovers love the spring" -As You Like It

"Why should a woman cook? So a man can say, 'My wife makes a wonderful cake' ... to some hooker?" - Joan Rivers

It's April. (Freezing, freezing April.) And that can only mean three things: Home, Spring and Birthday Cake! Specifically, your birthday cake! Yes, Home is where the Hart is... and, also, the bag of self-rising flour that I shipped home from Kentucky ... and also a tub of frozen, pink, leftover Magnolia-Cupcake-Recipe-Icing that I made months ago and totally forgot about! Score.

The Magnolia Cupcake recipe, in the form of a two-layer cake, has been my go-to Birthday confection since I first made it for you a few years back. The recipe is ALL about excess--two kinds of flour (self-rising and regular), four eggs in the cake, two boxes of confectioner's sugar. Each time, try as I might to use all the frosting, there is always a significant amount left over (and you know I like me some frosting).

The bag of flour is another story. I'd had it shipped it from Kentucky along with some other baking staples, partly because shipping was free, partly because I couldn't stand to waste it, and partly because I had formed a sort of perverse sentimental attachment to it. It had been, well, meant for someone else's birthday cake. And, well, the night before I was to make it, the idea of "baking" got replaced with "throwing a jealous tantrum in the parking lot" ... and it never happened. (In my defense, it was the Spring Equinox. Also, I was provoked. My point is, no cake. I did stop short of giving him the bag of flour with a candle stuck in it as I'm pretty sure that's a fire hazard oh god it's all so embarrassing let me redeem myself with a dessert recipe.)

Here's the cake I just made for your birthday celebration tonight! Isn't it PRETTY?

OK, 'attractive'? "Striking"? Whatever, it'll taste good.

It's kind of a 'Magnolia-Light" version (HA). Since I only had enough frosting for the top of the cake (rather than the usual all-over and between-layers), I improvised with a strawberries-and-whipped-cream filling. I think the restraint makes for a more Spring-y, hopeful, romantic dessert. I can't wait to try it.

Though now I think of it, this would be perfect for that "pie in the face" comedy sketch we've been working on...

Now, of course you might say it's a bit headstrong and impatient and dare I say perhaps irrational and impulsive to post a recipe before it's been tested, and to that I say,


Happy Birthday! Recipe Below.


The Boo.

The Boo's Magnolia-Style "Sweet Lovers Love the Spring" Birthday Cake

1 1/2 Cups Self-Rising Flour
1 1/4 C Regular Flour
2 sticks (1 C) butter
2 C sugar
1 C milk
1 tsp vanilla
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 350. Mix the flours in a small bowl, set aside. Cream butter, then gradually add sugar and beat until "fluffy". Add eggs one at a time, beating after each. Add the flours in THREE parts, alternating with milk and vanilla; mix each time just enough to blend; do not overbeat. Pour it in two round greased cake pans (I used Pam baking spray; yes I did). Bake 20-25 min until a knife comes out clean. COOL - for the love of Mike - COOL them COMPLETELY before attempting to frost.

While cakes bake, make icing...

FOR ICING (I've halved the full recipe here)
1 stick (1/2 C) butter, softened
3 or 4 C (i'm gonna say 1 box) confectioner's sugar
1/4 C milk
1 tsp vanilla

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add 2 C of the sugar and then the milk and vanilla.

beat until smooth and creamy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition (about 2 minutes), until the icing is thick enough to be of good spreading consistency. To your taste; you may or may not use all the sugar (though if you like magnolia cupcake icing, you will). If desired, add a few drops of food coloring and mix thoroughly. (Use and store the icing at room temperature because icing will set if chilled.) Icing can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days. (NOte from The Boo: It CAN be frozen and then brought back to room temp before spreading).

...and whipped cream filling:

strawberries, several
1 C heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
a bit (1/2 tbsp?) powdered sugar if you have it

Beat it til it's whipped cream. Slice a bunch of strawberries, thinly.

When cakes are cool, gently remove from pans. Set first layer on the cake platter. Spread whipped cream thickly across center. Arrange strawberries in single layer. Gently place second cake layer on top the strawberries. Go to town with icing, all over top of the cake and if you wish also around bottom layer (but leave center visible; the whipped cream and berries peeking out look pretty.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Nothing Better

Dear Boo,

Let's be honest. I like to toot my own horn for being an adventurous eater with a sophisticated palate and a few neat tricks in the kitchen. But when it comes down to it, is there really anything better than pasta with sauce and cheese? I'm gonna have to say no.

Unless, that is, it's pasta with sauce and cheese that's been baked to piping perfection, with spots of melted creamy mozzarella and bechamel swirled messily into the chunky rich tomato sauce, alternating with spots of crunchy, crispy, burnished crust of salty parmesan and bread crumbs, eaten at a table shared with good friends, alongside a delicious velvety glass of wine (or two), on a late Sunday afternoon right when those Sunday blues you've known since the age when life began to organize itself around Monday mornings and deadlines and homework, during a long, cold, gray month when apparently someone forgot to send a memo to the northeast letting us know it's actually SPRING and has been for quite some time.

Yup, nothing better.


The Mouse

Mario Batali's Ziti Al Telefono (or rigatoni, as is the case in the above photo)
Makes 4 Servings (Ha. I was afraid this wouldn't be enough to feed us all, but we ended up sending some home with our guests, and eating it for days after. Don't fret.)

1 pound ziti
2 cups
Basic Tomato Sauce (recipe below, or use your own)
2 cups Besciamella (recipe below)
1 pound fresh buffalo mozzarella, cut into 1/2 in cubes

1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 425. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot, and add 2 tablespoons salt. Cook the ziti for 2 minutes short of the package instructions; it should be too al dente to eat. Drain and rinse under cold water until cool. Drain a second time and place in a large bowl.
Add the tomato sauce, besciamella, mozzarella, and Parmigiano to the ziti and stir to mix well. Place the pasta into a casserole dish (or divide into 4 individual gratin dishes as Mario would have you do) and sprinkle with the bread crumbs (I sprinkled also with a bit of parmesan and drizzled some olive oil over the top.)
Bake for about 20 minutes, until bubbling and crusty on top.
Serve with Ina Garten's Roasted Broccoli if you know what's good for you.

Basic Tomato Sauce

Makes 4 cups

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 spanish onion, cut into 1/4 in dice

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

1/2 medium carrot, finely shredded

2 28-oz cans whole tomatoes


In a 3 qt saucepan heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juice, and bring to a boil, stirring. Lower the heat and simmer until thick, about 30 minutes. Season with salt.


Makes about 3.5 cups

5 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Cook, stirring, until light golden brown, 6 to 7 minutes. Meanwhile, in another medium saucepan, heat the milk to just under a boil. Add the milk to the butter mixture about 1 cup at a time, whisking constantly until very smooth, and bring to a boil, whisking. Cook, whisking, until thickened, about 10 minutes; remove from the heat. Season with the salt and nutmeg. Transfer to a bowl and let cool, then cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Good Bye, KY, Well It's Time To Go

Dear Mouse,


Is this ever going to get easier?

* There's a lot of pictures in this one. Kick back. Also, ponder the miracle of how I lost 6lbs while consuming everything you see here.*

the french fries at this tiny truck in Old Louisville, where there's barely enough room to order, will change your life.

Strawberry Rhubarb a la Mode at the Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen on Bardstown Road.
This guy got the chocolate cherry pie.

"You know..." said Dennis as we walked home from my reality-check final music gig in Louisville (ie; no money, no audience, no stage, and NOT part of, say, this groovy, well-publicized, beautifully run festival that has spoiled me here) "I am really depressed right now."

He didn't mean my gig (oh, I also had to follow a guy doing magic tricks). He meant the fact that Humana is drawing to a close. We're in the middle of the big final Industry Weekend, which is very exciting, and then we close tomorrow, which is kinda hard to believe. Only one more performance of this epic, beautiful, challenging play, and the end of a life-changing, messy, exhausting, highly rewarding, two months.
"Vintage Bourbon". That's the name. $75 a bottle. Tastes like butter on fire.

There is always, I suppose, going to be after-show crash, but this one I can already tell has the potential of being a larger black hole than most. Last night we were all out at a regular spot, the Old Seelbach Bar of the Hilton, to mark the first night of Industry Weekend 2. Amid the buzz and celebration, we settled into our first round, smiled at the wave of colleagues pouring in ... and then one of our number actually put his head down on the table and wailed,

"I dont wanna go back to New York!!!!!"

R to L, The Mother! and friend CM, at Lynne's Paradise Cafe, where you should go for brunch and parking lot shenanigans like this.

That is, if you can't get into TOAST on Market.

Yep. How did we get here? I never thought I'd say it, but I'm really gonna miss Kentucky for several reasons. One is, of course, this gig... but there are others. The QUIET. The SPACE - !! Even the most casual restaurant takes up, like, a whole building. You can stretch your arms out on the sidewalk and not hit anyone. The Victorian houses in Old Louisville.
The 'Pink Palace' is haunted.

Porches! Porch Swings! Magnolia trees! The private "Womens Gym" at the Y where I never have to wait for a treadmill. The $3.50 glass of Maker's Mark at Freddie's Bar around the corner. People who say hello in the elevator and chat with you at the grocery store. Servers in restaurants who cheerfully offer- offer!! - to split your party's check nine ways, every time! I've actually started saying "Yes, Mam" and "No Sir" while making eye contact. I've grown used to standing on my balcony every morning, coffee in hand, while listening to music and gazing out over the city to the Ohio River.

And of course the theatre. The enthusiasm and support and professionalism and multiple venues and dressing rooms and light plot and staff and fog machines and trap room I could go on but let's get to...

...the really important things about Louisville, such as:

I have now been to this delicious, Brooklyn-style teahouse restaurant three times in one week.
It is NOT to be missed. AND rumor has it it's actually coming to Brooklyn.

for bourbon bread pudding...

or "roadkill stew", featuring venison.
'corn pone' and incredible braised greens with bacon on the side.

and, of course, delicious, beautifully presented tea, which i normally dont give two s*ts about. Not pictured but also tried: the "smokey chai" served in a glass jar with a handle.

Behold: the Maple Frosted Bacon Donuts at Nord's Bakery. I walked FOUR miles round trip before an industry matinee to get these. Reserve the day before because they sell out by 7AM.
Next door at Sunergos' Coffeeshop, the cute hippie barista recommended the Costa Rican. I was in no way prepared for how FREAKING DELICIOUS this coffee was. Smooth, nutty, mellow, but, like, for real, and not like when people usually use these words to describe coffee and it just tastes like coffee. Amazing. Drink this coffee.

Hm. Am I forgetting anything?

Pulled Pork Tacos at Doc Crow's on Main, where you should go before or after a show at ATL. O'Shea's next door: also not too shabby. Great bar, good bison burger.

OK I think that's it for now. Was it all rosy? No. Do I have any cautionary notes? Yes. Don't get pizza in Kentucky, and under no circumstances should you ever, EVER drink this:
... which was presented to me as "whiskey", which it surely is not.

As I was starting this blog post at 2AM, Dennis sent me this email, which I think says it all (and which I think might also be haiku):

Write something in ur blog
About the kentucky fried sadness I feel

I hope I've done so. Goodbye, KY ... But first, one more party and one more show. Moon ON.


The Boo