Chocolate Lavender Cake for Couch Day 2015

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Dear Readers,
Everyone says having a baby changes everything. And I want to blame the baby (who is really a little boy now, and not really a baby, tears!!!) on the fact that Couch Day 2015 was very different this year. But, I can't. Viggo was READY for our traditional Couch Day -- drinking at noon, and sitting on someone's lap as we took a group photo on our front porch -- but, our so-called friends and Couch Day regulars moved on. Some actually moved, far away, and some decided to take trips during this sacred couch weekend. So, we did what people do best - adapt and make new memories. We had a mini BBQ with some baby friends, and baked a fancy chocolate cake. It was fun.

The husband wrote about his cake struggles (below) and Viggo decided he would do his very own Couch Day photo shoot. As you'll see, he was a natural.

By the way, I know the husband doesn't mention how the final product turned out, but, it was delicious. Maybe not the best cake in the world, but definitely the best cake he's ever made.


I have a love for cakes, but I also have a cake curse.  Never, ever, ever have I made a good cake.  This is not hyperbole.  With my younger brother’s assistance, I’ve made cakes that are dense, that fall in on themselves, or are dry as a desert (not dessert, sadly).  Most often, someone in my family will take a bite, and then express their condolences.  The worst critique, the one that goes down even more disappointingly than a slice of my own sad cake, is when someone, usually my mom, says “wouldn’t it be easier to just use a box mix?”  Ouch.  When something is difficult, and I’m not good at it, I’ve learned it’s easiest to give up.  And so I did. 

But then a few things happened after I forsook cake making.  One, the blog lady loves cake now that she’s a mom.   Second, Lincoln opened near our Altadena home.  They make beautiful cakes.  Tasty cakes.  Cakes for all seasons.   One day, me and the blog lady split a slice of of their multi-layered lavender cake that nearly made me weep.  This was then followed by one of our friends making an incredibly rich, flavorful lemon cake after cooking a whole pig in a caja china.  These instances inspired some part of me I thought I’d thrown away. I began to believe that maybe I could make a cake.  A cake that people would eat, and more importantly, enjoy.

I went back to lavender.  I wanted a lavender cake, with lots of dark chocolate.  And I wanted it to have this simple but elegant look to it (elegant for a guy who can’t really spread frosting on baked goods).  Thanks to the internet’s ability to ensure anything I dream up has been done before and oftentimes better, I found the recipe I wanted to use. 

There were a lot of stops and starts, logistical butter issues, and a delay of about 3.5 weeks to get this cake out.  But on the weekend of Couch Day, when all of our Couch Day friends had forsaken us by moving to new places, visiting Utah, or some such things, I decided to honor the couches and our dinner party guests with a cake.  
Viggo wants ALL the cake.
While we ate ribs, corn, slaw and cake, Viggo did his best to eat his baby friend. Here he is trying to pretend he's not going to eat her.
 Viggo takes on the Couch Day photo shoot, solo.
Dark Chocolate and Lavender Cake
via www.butterandbrioche.com

For the dark chocolate and lavender cake:
1 tbsp. culinary lavender
430 g / 15.2 oz. plain flour
90 g / 3.2 oz. dutch processed cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
510 g / 18 oz. caster sugar
115 g / 4.1 oz. salted butter, melted and cooled
3 medium eggs
115 ml / 4.1 fl. oz. milk
225 ml / 7.5 fl. oz. boiling water

For the chocolate frosting:
200 g / 7 oz. dark chocolate (70%)
280 g / 10 oz. salted butter, at room temperature
200 g / 7.1 oz. icing sugar
60 g / 2.2 oz. dutch processed cocoa powder
½ tsp. vanilla bean extract
4 tbsp. whipping cream

Making the chocolate and lavender layers:
1) Pre-heat the oven to 170 C / 350 F. Grease and line three 15 cm / 6-inch cake pans. Alternatively, prepare one and bake in three stages. We used two 9-inch pans.
2) In a food processor, blitz together the lavender and 3 tbsp. of the sugar to combine. Stir this mixture back in with the rest of the sugar and set aside.
3) Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and soda into a bowl. Add the sugar, melted butter, eggs and milk. Beat for a few minutes to just combine. Add in the boiling water and beat to form a thick and uniform batter.
4) Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool the cakes in their pans for 10 minutes, before inverting them onto a wire cooling rack. Once cool, level any domed tops.

Making the chocolate frosting:
1) Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Set it aside and let it cool to room temperature.
2) Beat the butter until light and creamy. Add the icing sugar and cocoa powder a little at a time until evenly blended. Mix in the melted chocolate and vanilla extract. Add the whipping cream gradually and beat for a few more minutes until the frosting is smooth, thick and shiny.

Assembling the cake:
Place the first leveled cake layer on a plate or stand. Evenly spread about 2 tbsp. of the frosting over its face. Repeat this process with the second layer. Place the third layer, on top, cut side down. Spread a thin layer of the frosting all over the cake to form a crumb coat. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes or until the frosting has firmed. You can leave the bowl of frosting out while the cake chills. Once chilled, spread a thick layer of the remaining frosting evenly around the cake. Decorate with pesticide free lavender flowers if desired.


Koncert for AmeriKarine: A Celebration of 19th Century American Music

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It is kind of strange to think that the very first Koncert took place three years ago! In some ways, it seems like it was 10 years ago. After that initial, and fine evening, I thought there would never be another Koncert again. But, I was proved wrong. Twice. And thankfully so.

The second Koncert, maybe because it took place while I was still constantly nursing a tiny three month-old, seemed like a blur. But this third, and final Koncert (that's the word on the street), was truly special. Not only because the husband brought everyone together for practices during a very busy summer, but also two of the performers were moving across the country, just days later, never to be seen again. (JK, they just moved to Boston, We're seeing them in November!)

A few highlights from this evening:

- The setting. Our friends moved into a great place in Eagle Rock. There's like 2,000 stairs to climb, but once you get up there, the beautiful outdoor patio(s) and great views made for a magical stage.

- Viggo! This kid was confused, attentive and a little scared (trombones are frightening). And it was a blast watching him react, listen and refuse to clap (something he had just learned a few days prior).

- Wine and friends. Friends and wine. It all made for a good time.

- The effort. I mean who else has friends who put on koncerts for them? Anyone? I'd like to meet you.
 The hostess and little guy.
 The captive audience.
 Viggo is enthralled. 
Oh, look. It's the Bostonians.


Road Trip to Boise

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Shortly after having a kid, we started scratching an itch. An itch to get out of LA. We've definitely thought about this for a while and even had a Portland 2020 Campaign, but then Portland got really pricey and life got busy.

Yet, post baby, we had time and desire to find some place better. Some place with more space, better schools, affordable housing, and less traffic. You know all the things that become important as you age and your tolerance for bullshit declines, drastically. 

So we joked about Idaho. Mostly because we knew nothing about Idaho. And then we did some research and went "hey, this sounds like it could work". And in July, we packed up the Subaru, and drove 18 hours to Boise. Straight. With our almost 10 month old. And we survived. Barely. And decided that on the way back, we would definitely stop for the night. 

We have friends in Boise. Who also recently had a baby. A cute little four-month-old chubster. Viggo tried to eat him the entire time we were there. We stayed the weekend in Boise, checking things out, seeing if we wanted to live there. Then we spent a night in a cabin in Hagerman, on a creek. It was lovely.

As for Boise? It was fine. But, not for us. The best way I could think of describing it is that it's too medium for me. Not enough of a small town, and definitely not a big city. So despite having a fun time, we crossed Boise off our list. Smell you later, Idaho! But not to worry, we have found an even better town, one we've been to already and LIKED. We will be making another exploratory trip this fall. But in the meantime, here are a few snapshots from our road trip. 
Baby meet-up.
The capital building is pretty fancy.
Best breakfast in town.
Our cabin in Hagerman, which was along the Billingsley Creek.
Oh look! It's the three of us in one photo.
Viggo lounging in his Vegas suite. 


Italian Sausage Testing

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Dear Readers,
It's been a busy summer, and there's been little blogging. BUT, there's been lots of other stuff. We scoped out Idaho (more on that soon), I've done some traveling for work, and little guy had his first round of swim lesson! And we've been doing plenty of cooking. It's the documenting part that's not happening (sigh).

In other news, the husband will be teaching a class this fall at the Monrovia Community Center (scroll scroll scroll to pg. 31), so he's been perfecting his sausage recipes. Check out his post along with cute pictures of Viggo.

Sausage planning session.

As of late, my sausage making has become an endeavor of refinement rather than been the herculean task it used to be.  Gone are the 12-hour days of manually grinding the meat (I do nostalgically miss you, Porkert) and then cleaning up for another hour or so.  I did cut my teeth with the manual grinder, gaining the fundamentals by taking so much time with each sausage.  But everything changed with the LEM Meat Grinder.  I’m usually not into, you know, “electricity” and stuff with my hobbies, but this ¾ horsepower grinder does it all, and fast.  And clean.  Technology has won me over. This time.

Now that I save literally hours when making sausage, I’ve been afforded the pleasure of honing in on my sausage recipes.  The research and development phase of my sausage making has begun.  With good technique and good meat, the difference in types of sausage is sometimes almost measureless.  For example, instead of once pinch of paprika, it might be two that gets you a sausage that is authentically Hungarian.  This is what I wanted to focus on. 
My Italian sausage has never been what I wanted it to be, which got me researching my sausage tomes, attempting to get the amounts of chili flakes, fennel, and garlic just right.  I purchased 10 pounds of pork shoulder and developed three different recipes that played ever so slightly with the theme of Italian sausage.  And sure enough, when me and the blog lady sat down to try these three samples, they were all the same and all very different.  A clear favorite emerged, though, that has become the basis of my further tinkerings.

The best part of all this sausage testing is that we have a supply on hand to make pasta whenever we need.  The first time, I decided that I would mix in some milk and breadcrumbs into the sausage to make meatballs for a pasta dish.  It worked brilliantly.  The next time, we used it in the Chef John one pan pasta.  Also, delicious.  As Oktoberfest approaches, my next challenge will be to make the best brat recipe.  All pork, perhaps?  A bit of beef added for that Wisconsin style? I’m not sure yet.  Although I’m certain those enjoying the brats will appreciate the study and effort I’ve brought to bear on making them.         
 The new and improved electric grinder (above). Test patties (below).
Using the sausage to make meatballs.
 Little fishy learning to swim at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center.


Chorizo Taco Salad Brunch

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My go-to brunch meal when I'm hosting is the taco salad. And I make a pretty delicious one, especially if there's homemade chorizo involved (shout out to the husband! He demanded it).

The thing about taco salads is they are super easy, really satisfying and versatile. You can do turkey, ground beef, short ribs, or even roasted vegetables. And then pick toppings that pair well with your meat. Cook and chop before your guests arrive and all you have to do before pouring yourself some (or lots) rosé is assemble the salads. The most time consuming part for me is pre-baking my tortilla shells in the oven. And it's only because I can only do 2-3 at a time.

This was my first chorizo salad, and it was a hit. I cooked up some zucchini from the garden,which I added to my black beans, along with a salsa verde. And for toppings we had shredded lettuce, cotilla cheese, homemade ancho chili salsa (another husband contribution he insisted I mention), avocados and mangos with cilantro and lime. Simple, fun to eat and great with rosé.
Viggo hammock. This guy loved all the attention from the pretty ladies.
We had lots of desserts courtesy of my guests. 
I even made the husband his own salad which he had to eat quickly before taking a really long nap with the little guy. But not before we got this group shot of the brunch crowd with babycakes. 

Chorizo Taco Salads
serves 6

As I mentioned, these salads are open to customization. But here's what I used for this particular brunch.

2 lbs of chorizo, cooked
1 large zucchini, sauted in olive oil with cumin and paprika
2 cans of black beans, warmed with salsa verde
shredded ice berg
cotija cheese
ancho chili salsa
mangos with cilantro and lime
tortilla shells, brushed with olive oil and baked at 400 degrees for 5-10 minutes


Cheers to Baby Food and Cocktails

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It didn't take me long to connect baby food making to cocktails. But, I am a little surprised there isn't already a recipe book out there for this stuff. 

If you've made fruit compotes or purées for your little one, you probably end up with some extra syrup in your pan after cooking down the fruit. And you might just throw that out before blending your fruit, so as not to make your purée too watery. Or you might drink it, like the husband likes to do and then complain how this kid gets all the good stuff, and what about him??? But, you can also add a splash of rum or tequila and some sparkling soda and you have yourself a tropical adult drink. This way, everyone wins! Settle down hubby, the baby IS sharing.

I've been making Viggo food at home. It's a lot easier than I thought it would be, and takes me a couple of hours each Sunday. There's two books I use as a guide, Bébé Gourmet, and Cooking for Baby. Most of the recipes are straight-forward and once you make a few things, you get the hang of it and can experiment. A typical fruit recipe goes like this: slice up your fruit (removing the skins if that's your thing); add a bit of water to the pan covering your fruit 1/3 of the way; cook on medium 5-7 minutes (depending on the fruit). Drain off some of that juice (for yourself!), and blend. 

Our little guy really likes mango and berries combo (which by the way makes for a great cocktail), so I do variations of this purée with cherries, blueberries and strawberries. He likes to eat his fruit mixed in with Greek yogurt, and makes the funniest faces doing so. Other fruit combinations that he seems to enjoy include, apples and cherries (not the greatest for a cocktail), pears with peaches and bananas every which way. 

In case you're wondering, the kid eats more than fruit. It's just green beans and sweet potatoes don't make you want to add rum and pineapple juice to them to enjoy on a hot day.  
Freezer friendly. I typically make a batch of food for the week and take it to his daycare.
This guy likes to sit in the kitchen, and boss us around, waving his drumstick and wooden spoon. Good thing he looks so cute doing it.
Playful monkey. He's so happy to share his fruit purees with us. And that's why we keep him around!
Pear and peach syrup, with pineapple juice, rum and sparkling water.


Swiss Chard Galette for Brunch and Weekend Walks

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One of our friend's has started a little cooking/eating group that meets for brunch every couple of months. It's been so much fun. Not only do we get to hang out with friends in the kitchen, but we end up tasting a lot of delicious dishes, while only cooking one! A real steal. I particularly enjoyed this last get-together because Viggo dozed for the first hour, and I got to flip tortillas. For like 15 minutes I was transported back in time -- baby-free and drinking Bloody Mary's with a spatula in hand, actually able to help someone in the kitchen. It didn't last long, but it sure was glorious. 

For most of these brunches, I've been taking the lazy way out, and using this baby thing as an excuse. The first time, I made a salad (with like 3 ingredients). The second time, I grilled eggplant for a super easy eggplant dip. But, for this potluck, I wanted to use the husband's Swiss Chard and do something a little more involved. So I recruited him to help, and together we put together this delicious galette. And it wasn't too hard. We made the dough the day before, and I also washed all the chard ahead of time. So on the day of, all I had to do is cook up the chard, roll out the dough and bake.
I like the cornmeal taste of the dough, even though it was still buttery and flaky.
Brunch plate. And brunch drinks!
Brunch aside, the rest of the weekend wasn't too bad either. We like to begin our weekends at home with delicious breakfasts. Sometimes the husband will run over to Lincoln Bakery for pastries, and then put together a fancy fruit plate (like Tulum!). And then we take it easy with work around the house, walks at Descanso or along the Arroyo. Last weekend we walked the Arroyo Seco trail near JPL.
Cool dude with his alien shades. Passerbyers were cracking up at this little face.
These giant monsters are located one street over from us, and we like to visit them on our walks around the neighborhood.
Yum, fake tomato! There's nothing this guy won't put into his mouth right now. 
Ear snuggles for this chub face. I just like to watch him sleep and laugh. Free entertainment.
What a face! Trying to eat out of his baby cage.

Swiss Chard Galette
via Food52
Makes 24 slices 

Cornmeal Galette Dough
2 1/2 cups (320 g) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (102 g) yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
6 tablespoons olive oil
4 to 8 tablespoons ice water 

1) In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt until blended. Add the chilled butter to the bowl and pulse until it is evenly distributed but still in large, visible pieces. Add the olive oil and pulse a few times. Add 4 tablespoons of the ice water and pulse until the dough begins to come together, adding water by the tablespoon as needed.) Dump dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap. Roughly shape the dough into a rectangle. Wrap the disk in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (Alternatively, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Cut in butter using the back of a fork or pastry cutter. Add olive oil and 4 tablespoons of the ice water and mix until dough just comes together, adding ice water as needed.)

Assembling the Galette
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large white onion (I used two leaks instead)
Salt to taste
2 cloves garlic
pinches crushed red pepper flakes
2 bunches Swiss chard, stems removed (about 500 grams, post-stemming)
1 Cornmeal Galette Dough
1 cup fresh ricotta
1 cup grated Gruyère or Comté
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon milk or cream 

1) Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan or soup pot over medium heat. Add the sliced onion and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Season with a pinch of salt. Add the garlic and pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds. Pile the chard on top, cover the pan if you are able, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until the leaves begin to wilt. Uncover the pan, use tongs to rearrange the leaves and continue cooking the chard until any liquid evaporates. Taste. This is your chance to season the chard, so add more salt if necessary. 
2) Adjust an oven rack to the center position and heat the oven to 375° F. Line a jelly roll pan with with kitchen parchment paper. 

3) Roll the dough on a floured surface into a large rectangle, about 15- x 21-inches or about an inch or two bigger in length and width than your sheet pan. Flip the dough every so often to ensure it’s not sticking. If it is, dust the surface with more flour. Loosely fold the dough in half and half again and transfer it to the prepared baking sheet. Unfold the dough and center it to your pan. 

4) Spread a thin layer of ricotta on the bottom of the dough, leaving a two-inch border all the way around. Spread the onion and chard mixture over top in a thin, even layer. Sprinkle the grated cheese over top. Fold the edges of the dough inward over the filling. Pinch together any tears in the dough. Mix together the egg yolk and milk and brush it over the exposed crust. 

5) Bake until the crust has browned and the cheese has melted, 35 to 45 minutes. Slide the galette off the parchment and onto a cooling rack or cutting board. Let cool for 10 minutes. Cut the galette into 24 pieces (or less of larger sizes!)