Thursday, March 4, 2010

Carbtastic: Mac and Cheese & Coconut Cake

Before I launch into these comfort-food recipes, I'm going to share a brief West Coast travelogue. Yesterday afternoon I arrived in Los Angeles from St. Louis for six blissful days of vacation and then was whisked away to Dana Point with my guy Dave and his brother Jeff. We spent this afternoon with Dave's aunt, uncle and brother eating lunch at the very funky local eatery, Ramos House Cafe (I discovered what a Scotch egg was via their super renowned Bloody Marys), exploring San Juan Capistrano and its beautiful Mission and celebrating Dave's 34th birthday with sunshine and tranquilty by the Mission's Moorish style fountain (Happy Birthday, love!).

We ended tonight with a very lovely meal at Gemmell's French Restaurant. Dave's birthday cake was a lemon tart (delightfully crisp, clean with a decadent buttery crust and raspberry drizzle). And while I loved (absolutely loved!) the lemon tart, I think I'm a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to birthdays. Bring on the cake (and the Orange County weather)!

So, I'm happy to share an original cake recipe I created especially for Dave's dad Charles, who celebrated his 71st birthday last Saturday. I was pretty happy with the final result, though I still would like a more moist cake (the frosting, however, was pretty damn good as is). Meanwhile, the mac-and-cheese was inspired by my friend Shane who made the best baked mac-and-cheese I had ever eaten. This recipe was a jazzed up version of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.

So, savory before sweet...

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

After clicking on the link above for Bittman's recipe, also include cooked bacon or prosciutto in the mix prior to baking this cheesy goodness. I also used buffalo mozarella with cheddar (I've tried other, fancier cheeses, but the classic mozarella-cheddar mix rocks my palate and Dave's). I like gooey mac-and-cheese, so the mozarella gives this dish extra texture and creaminess.

Now, for one of my favorite original recipes. I'm so excited to make this Coconut Cake again--in fact, I hope to start taking some cake decorating classes this summer to help me jazz up my rustic frosting skills, though I do have a very handy bent frosting knife that my friend Patty gave me last year for helping her decorate her brother's wedding cake.

Coconut Cake
Recipe by Kella

Cake ingredients
10 Tbsps unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
1 Tbsp orange zest
1/4 Tsp almond extract
2 1/2 Tsps baking powder
1/4 Tsp salt
3/4 cup milk

Frosting ingredients
1 pound cream cheese
3/4 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
1 Tsp Mexican vanilla
1/2 Tsp pure almond extract
1 1/2 pounds powdered sugar
2 cups sweetened dried coconut

Cake step-by-step directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottom of two 8-inch layer cake pans. I used silicon pans and the result was great. No need for parchment paper when using silicone, though I still butter the pans.
2. Cream the butter until smooth and then add the sugar and then the eggs, one by one. Beat until light and fluffy, about 4-5 minutes.
3. Add vanilla and almond extracts and orange zests to the cake batter.
4. Sift together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder and salt. Add dry ingredients to the egg mixture by hand. Alternate wet with dry until the batter is smooth.
5. Place batter in the pans and bake for about 20-25 minutes (the cake will be done when a toothpick placed in the center of the cake comes out clean). Cool on racks for 5-10 minutes and then place cakes onto cooling racks. Cakes should be room temperature before frosting.

Frosting step-by-step directions
1. Blend cream cheese, butter and extracts into a blissful yellow mixture.
2. Add the powdered sugar gradually and mix until smooth. Add 1 cup coconut into the frosting mixture and then keep 1 cup to decorate the top of the cake.
3. Lick the beaters when finished blending.Yum!

Happy birthday, Charles and Dave! XOXO

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