Changes

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So, I have news.  I got a new job!  A BIG job.  One that is my dream come true (in all of my wildest dreams).  I said “hi, this is Meg Smith from [enter company name]…” on the phone the other day and nearly did a cartwheel on the spot.  It’s pretty amazing.  And surreal.

So I’m here to say the blog will be put on temporary hiatus.  Not forever, but for the foreseeable future.  Until I can get a better handle on my new life and schedule and find myself with enough time to bake and blog again.  It might be a few weeks or months, but I’ll be back.

Ironically enough, it’s my blog’s third birthday today.  To the day.  Fitting, I suppose.

I leave you with an updated Currently page, a promise to return, and two adorable gremlins to hold you over for the time being.  Little weasels.  They’re probably scheming who will do the poop smearing next.

Red Lentils with Fresh Herbs and Yogurt

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Good god lentils are delicious.  Quick, easy, and deeply satisfying, I’m not sure why I don’t make them more often.  Something tells me I’m going to be eating a LOT of lentils in the coming weeks.

In a sturdy soup pot, sauté 3/4 of an onion (diced) in a 1-2 tablespoons butter, salting to sweat.  When softened and translucent, add a generous pinch of paprika and cumin, stirring to combine.  Cook for 30-60 seconds longer, until fragrant.  Add 1 1/2 cups lentils (I used red, but any will do) and 3 cups water (or stock of your choice).  Stir to combine and cover with a lid.  Simmer, covered, over low heat for 20-25 minutes, until lentils are tender and water is absorbed.

Once cooked through, add the juice of 1 lemon and season to taste.  Scoop into bowls; garnish with a drizzle of good green olive oil, heaping spoonfuls of Greek yogurt, and fresh herbs (basil, mint, or cilantro are all bright and delicious complements).  Serve immediately.

Simple, hearty, and tasty as can be.  They’ll make you wonder why you aren’t eating more lentils too.

Chocolate Beet Cake with Beet Buttercream Icing

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It’s the weekend.  Fittingly, this is a weekend cake.  Not that it’s especially difficult.  But it is time consuming. There are many steps requiring many tools and many bowls and many stages of beating and baking and frosting and chilling and many, many dishes.  And if that weren’t bad enough, there are many calories.  Maaaaaany.  Do you know how many sticks of butter and cups of sugar you are about to consume?  MANY.

But it’s worth it.  Particularly if you have someone to impress: a birthday, a neighbor, a mother-in-law, a coworker.  It’s gorgeous.  It’s indulgent.  It’s the perfectly not-too-sweet yet incredibly moist chocolate cake paired with the way-sweet people-will-go-bonkers-for-this icing.  (Particularly if they’re fond of grocery store icing the likes of Publix or Giant.)(Looking at you, Ms. Freshy and Mr. Landlord.)  It’s definitely a weekend cake.  It requires an idle afternoon and a whole lot of caloric justification.

As for the beets?  You can’t taste them.  Promise.  The cake is a standard chocolate cake (fairly mellow, not terribly rich or dark) that is fabulously fluffy and moist.  The beets and buttermilk (or in my case, yogurt) are to thank for said moisture and lightness.  The icing is rich and buttery and sweet (and hot pink!).  An unsuspecting recipient would be none the wiser.  If only I hadn’t told the landlord there were beets — we’d be plum out of cake.

Chocolate Beet Cake with Buttercream Icing
Adapted from Joy the Baker

For the Beets:
2 medium beets, stems cut and peels intact
1 teaspoon vegetable oil

For the Cake:
6 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk (or 3/4 cup yogurt and 1/2 cup milk, as I did)

For the Frosting:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces (1 brick) cream cheese, softened
4 to 5 cups powdered sugar (1 box), sifted
2 tablespoons finely grated beets
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-2 teaspoons milk or cream
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
pinch of salt

To make the Beets:
Preheat oven to 375F degrees.

Thoroughly wash beets and trim stems.  Place on a large piece of foil and drizzle with a conservative splash of vegetable oil.  Seal foil pouch and place on baking sheet; roast until beets are tender, about 45-50 minutes.  (Alternatively, next time you find yourself making beets for dinner, plan ahead.  Roast extra beets and refrigerate or freeze until needed.  I did exactly this and saved myself a solid hour and an extra step of prep.)

Once cooked through, remove beets from oven and open foil to cool completely.  Once cooled, peel beets with a paring knife (or hands; although your palms will be stained hot pink, beet skins slide right off).  Using a box grater, grate the peeled beets on the finest grating plane.*  Measure 3/4 cup of grated beets for the cake and 2 tablespoons for the frosting.  Set aside.

(*Note: My beets were cut into 1/2-inch pieces, as they were left over from a previous dish.  Rather than try my temper and bloody my hands with ity bity pieces against a box grater, I popped those badboys into the food processor.  Voilá.  Done in a blink.)

To make the Cake:
Reduce the oven temperature to 350F degrees.  Use butter to grease two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans.  Trace a piece of parchment paper so it is the same size as the bottom of the cake pan.  Cut it out and place inside the cake pan.  Butter the parchment paper.  (As I said, lots of steps.  The double greasing of the pans and the parchment paper is well worth the insurance.  The cakes will slide right out.  Better still, save the edges of the parchment to wrap around the base of your finished cake to protect your cake stand from icing splatters.  Brilliant.)  Set pans aside while you prepare the cake.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars with an electric mixer.  Beat on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes.  Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go along.  Once eggs are incorporated, beat in beets and vanilla extract until thoroughly combined.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Add half of the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.  Beating on low speed, slowly add buttermilk.  Once incorporated, add the other half of the dry ingredients.  Beat on low speed until milk and dry ingredients are just incorporated.  Take care not to overmix; manually folding ingredients with a spatula works well too.  Batter will be thick and an ugly brownish-mauve color (don’t fret, it will bake into a standard chocolate brown).

Divide batter between the two prepared cake pans.  Bake for 23 to 25 minutes (for a 9-inch pan) or 30-32 minutes (for an 8-inch pan).  A tester inserted will come out clean.  Remove cakes from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes.  Invert cakes onto a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting and assembling the cake.

To make the Icing:
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese for 30 seconds, until pliable and smooth.  Add butter and beat for another 30 seconds, until well combined.  Scrape down bowl as necessary. Beat in beets.  Add the powdered sugar, vanilla extract, milk, lemon juice, and salt.  Beat on medium speed until smooth and silky.  Refrigerate icing for 30 minutes before frosting the cooled cakes.

To assemble, place one layer on a cake stand or cake plate.  Top with a generous amount of pink icing and spread evenly.  Place the other layer on top and frost.  Work icing onto the sides of the cake.  (There will be plenty of frosting and you’ll likely have quite a bit left over.)  Refrigerate for an hour before serving (it will make the cake easier to slice)(and oddly enough, this cake tastes great chilled).  Cake will last, well wrapped in the refrigerator, for up to 4 days.

Linguine with Chunky Tomato Cream Sauce

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This dish is a hybrid between my go-to tomato sauce base and vodka sauce.  Rustic bites of tomatoes and onions are blanketed in rich cream.  The fresh basil and vodka are omitted, leaving behind a simple, comforting dish that’s easy to pull together with staple pantry ingredients.  Shared with loved ones or enjoyed solo, it makes for a great weekday indulgence.

This is one of those recipes that doesn’t have an actual recipe.  It’s something I’ve made for years (with the exception of the cream, which is a slight variation) and tweak according to my provisions and tastes at the given moment.  The base ingredients are simple: tomatoes (both fresh and canned), onion (or shallots), salt, and cinnamon.  Garlic, basil, cream, crushed red pepper, eggplant, and so on can all be added if desired.

In a deep skillet or large wok over medium-low heat, sauté half an onion in 1-2 tablespoons light olive oil, salting to sweat.  Once softened and translucent (about 5 minutes), add 2 cloves garlic, diced.  Sauté for 1 minute until fragrant.  Add 1 large ripe tomato, diced.  Cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add 1 28-ounce can tomatoes, crushed or diced (whatever you’re feeling; I typically opt for diced), and a large pinch (approximately 1/2 teaspoon) of ground cinnamon.  (Cinnamon cuts the acidity of the tomatoes and takes every pasta sauce from good to bangin’.  Do this.)  Stir everything together and simmer over low heat for 10-15 minutes, allowing flavors to meld.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil and cook your favorite pasta (remembering to salt the water after it is boiling, not before).  My favorite pasta is shells or cappellini, but I opted for the landlord’s favorite in this instance: linguine.

Once pasta is cooked and drained, add it to your extra grande sauce pan.  Add a generous splash of cream (and by “splash” I mean 1/2+ cup — go for it), 1 tablespoon butter, and another pinch or two of sea salt.  Toss with tongs to combine and serve immediately.  Garnish with fresh basil and parmesan if desired, or enjoy simply.

Finger. Lickin’. Good.