Funfetti Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Baking doesn’t have to be difficult. Many times it is. Many times I’ve stared thru the little glass door to the oven, nervously hoping I didn’t overfill the cake pan with batter. Inevitably when the batter pours over the edge of the pan I reconsider why I even attempted baking a cake in the first place (again).

But it doesn’t have to be difficult or nerve-wracking. After a few attempts and failures at making a layer cake I’ve managed to figure out some easy steps you can use also to bake your next cake.

Today I decided to give the all to popular ‘Funfetti’ cake a try. It’s all the rage on the foodie shows, and perhaps the funnest cake one can bake without too much hassle.

Here are a few easy steps to follow:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Buy 3 boxes of cake mix from the store. (You can make your own but remember – this is the easy recipe option!)

Follow the easy instructions on the cake mix box which usually is 1 cup water, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, cake batter and 3 eggs. If you have a stand mixer use that option, as it’s easier to mix together with a stand mixer rather than try to mix it together old school style by hand.

Once the batter is mixed thoroughly add up to 1/2 cup of sprinkles into the batter, allowing the mixer to get them well incorporated within the mix.

Take three 8″ cake pans and coat them liberally with either PAM cooking spray or Crisco.

Pour the batter into the cake pan being sure not to overfill the pan – a common mistake!

(Note: if you overfill the batter into the cake pan you will quickly have a mess in your oven and unfortunately might need to start over after cleaning up the mess)

Bake all (3) filled cake pans in the oven at 350 degrees for 18-23 minutes depending on your oven. (I check the center of the cake with a dry knife every 5 minutes or so after the first 10 minutes in the oven)

The next step is the frosting. Personally I am not a huge fan of over frosting. For this recipe I decided to make a Vanilla Buttercream Frosting – just enough to fill the layers of the cake.

In your clean mixer add 3 cups of confectioners sugar, 3 tbsp of Vanilla extract, 1/3 unsalted butter that is room temperature. Start the mixer allowing the ingredients to incorporate fully. Slowly add a tablespoon of whole milk as your mixture comes together until the texture is creamy and soft. (see photo below).  Put the frosting mix in the fridge while your cakes finish off in the oven.

Finally, remove your cakes allowing them to cool for at least 30 minutes before you remove them from their pans. I like to cut the the dome tops off the cakes so everything is nice and even. Take your frosting out of the fridge allowing it to return to room temp. It needs to be room temp to spread on the cake – if it’s too cold or stiff you will tear the cake very easily.

Liberally spread the buttercream frosting on the first layer, add the second layer, and if you choose to the top layer. For me, as mentioned earlier, I only like a little frosting so I decided to only incorporate frosting to layer the cakes but not to top the cake or for the sides. Plus I like the open top showing off the sprinkles!

And just like that – you have Funfetti cake. Enjoy!

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Pasta – The importance of tradition

This isn’t a post about how to make homemade pasta. It’s not a post about how much flour or water to add to make the perfect ball of dough. This post is about the importance of tradition when it comes to making things from scratch – in particular fresh pasta learned from those that have made it in their kitchens for decades before me or you ever came along.

So why is making pasta so important? Why not just buy dried pasta from the store? Why not just go out to eat? I think as a cook, at least a home cook, sometimes we ask ourselves “why do things the hard way?” When in reality the hard way is many times the correct way – especially when it comes to making and crafting a dish from scratch.

Bill Buford wrote so eloquently in his book HEAT about the art of making pasta. The art of learning how to make pasta from masters of the craft.  The art of basically fucking it up 1000 times before getting it right. Making food from scratch is indeed an art, probably more true with crafting pasta than any other food in my opinion.

With it carries responsibility. Tradition. The ownership of passing along the knowledge to those younger, those willing to listen and learn, those willing to fail time and time again in hopes one day they will get it just right. The cycle continues.

So I leave you today with not a recipe for perfectly made homemade pasta – mostly because I am still fucking it up myself. But instead a few images of the craft itself so beautifully displayed as pappardelle and garganelli.

Everything you see I owe to spaghetti – Sophia Loren

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Basted Sea Bass with Himalayan Pink Sea Salt

Spring is finally here and Summer seems just a few weeks away. With the warmer weather I always start to think about fresh fish and the adventures to be had at the local farmer’s market. Luckily I have access to a number of incredible farmer’s markets, authentic food stores and smaller grocery stores near me. I avoid shopping for ingredients at larger food chains at all costs if I can avoid it.

Last summer I was playing around with Sea Bass, in particular basting it with clarified butter to infuse the fish with a sweet and salty taste.

The result: Basted Sea Bass with Himalayan Pink Salt

Here’s what I did:

  1. Choose a fresh fish from your local farmer’s market or fish monger. It does not have to be Sea Bass. Go with a fish you like but choose a fish that will hold its integrity while cooking. Choosing a fish that becomes super flaky will be difficult with this recipe.
  2. Clarify half a stick of  unsalted butter in a small sauce pan.
  3. Cut your fish into chunks, large enough to hold their integrity.
  4. In your pan place the chunks of fish in the butter. Make sure the temperature is on low. High heat will ruin this dish quickly.
  5. Have patience. Slowly baste the fish with the butter until color begins to form on the top side. Flip and repeat.
  6. Plate atop a garnish of fresh spinach leaves or whatever you prefer.
  7. I made a homemade pesto sauce to accompany the dish but utilize any sauce that fits your flavor.
  8. After plating, sprinkle just a tiny bit of Himalayan Pink Sea Salt on top of the fish. Don’t use too much, just a touch to add a salty taste to accompany the sweetness of the butter taste.
  9. Enjoy.

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Lemon Lime Shell Pudding

If you’re looking to make a good impression on some dinner guests or simply test your culinary fortitude when it comes to presentation – this dessert might be for you!

A while back I started to play around in the kitchen with different presentations of desserts with the goal of making the aesthetics of the dish fun and new.  After many failed attempts with cakes, pies, cookies and an unfortunate incident with a creme brulee, I managed to come up with this little gem below.

This is a super easy (for the most part) way to impress your friends.

First: Make the lemon pudding. Here comes possibly your must crucial decision in this whole recipe – instant pudding or fresh made.

The answer to that of course is fresh made lemon pudding!  Here’s a quick recipe:

Food Network Lemon Pudding Recipe

After you’ve got the pudding made and it’s chilling in the fridge, start on your creme fraiche. I like this one:

Creme Fraiche Recipe

Next really comes the pain in the ass. When I first attempted to do this it did not turn out well. I wanted to present the lemon pudding in a hollowed out lime. Turns out hollowing out a lime is not the easiest of tasks. Word to the wise – be careful! I basically used a spoon to hollow out a lime, leaving a little bit of the pulp in the bottom.

Place a dollop of your Creme Fraiche on a 8″ circle plate, placing the hollowed out lime in the middle. Carefully spoon the fresh lemon pudding (which should be cold enough to hold its form) into the lime. Adorn with fresh raspberries and perhaps a sprinkle of crushed graham crackers.

And that’s it. A relatively easy and impressive take on lemon pudding.

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Lucky Peach – The End of a great culinary zine

A few months ago LUCKY PEACH announced on its Instagram account they were ending their beloved culinary magazine in print form. The result among the culinary believers has since been a tearful and frustrating farewell.

I discovered Lucky Peach a few years ago after picking up the issue on Chinatown. I consumed it as quickly as I do a bowl of steaming ramen. I quickly went online and purchased every back issue of LP that I could find, including the coveted Issue # 1 which I am not embarrassed to admit paying $125 for at the time.
(Current value steadily increasing since the news).

Since the news of LP’s magazine closure I have read a number of articles online all basically saying similar things. Culinary foodies outpouring their love in comments about the magazine while acclaimed chefs expressing their sadness for the end of what truly is the best culinary magazine available today. The EATER write up was especially good in my opinion and captured a lot of the sadness and gloominess we are all feeling currently.

EATER Article

For me the beautiful thing about LP was it proved if you are not heavily involved in cooking, the food world, or culinary news in general then you probably wouldn’t be someone to purchase the magazine. That solidified the magazines followers as the real deal and we knew that if you read LP then you most likely have a heartfelt love for food, cooking and all that accompanies it.

A casual culinary reader would typically not pay the $12+ an issue just to skim its pages for recipes.

As LP readers each new issue could not have come soon enough. Some of us (meaning me) would even have each issues release date on my calendar at which time I promptly went and bought my issue.  I never subscribed to the magazine as it was always more fun to go to the store and buy the issue.

Ugg … this sucks.

A week later after the announcement many of us mere mortals in the food world are left wondering what’s next? Where and how will we fill this now huge void in our collections of culinary literature? General consensus about the news is somber but hope remains that the creators of the magazine will  continue to make waves in the food world in other avenues. I sure hope so because the lasting effects of this magazine will soon not be forgotten among culinary circles and those of the like. The food scene had a magazine that ‘got it’ finally and wasn’t just about recipe after recipe but put thoughtful and interesting articles behind every new issue.

The release by LP had a witty write up on the end of the print form but indicated the online content will remain. For me I wanted more. I wanted to understand why the magazine was ending. Was it lack of membership or the cost of print media in general? Were the creators moving on to bigger and better things? Are they just going to focus on cook books now?

What?!

After reading the short release from LP I was a bit disappointed about the lack of information provided as to the reasoning behind the closure. Perhaps it is not for us readers and fans to know. And maybe perhaps more explanation will be given down the road from LP or its creators.

Anxious foodies await any updates I am sure.

The magazine in itself became a collectors piece with each new addition and one would suspect back issues now will increase in value as the news spreads. For a split second I thought about seeing what the entire collection would sell for but I wised up and realized I could not part with my issues no matter how bummed I was. Ultimately I would find myself buying them all back online for probably double what I paid for them.

As for me, sadly I always had a notion in my mind that this day might come. Print magazines at higher price points today just seem to have a limited shelf life unfortunately. I believe the magazine could charge double its cover price and still maintain its followers and sell issues. But alas the print gods had other ideas and for the time being we all await the next fresh new idea within the food world.

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Cook Book Review – {Kitchen Must Haves}

It seems each month my cook book collection gets a bit bigger and bigger. I find it difficult to visit the local book store (usually B&N) and not find myself walking out with at least 1 new book. I have a preference for certain style cook books, usually with exceptional photography (no surprise there). There are of course hundreds of new cook books that come out each year but I tend to spend my money on the artisanal style book, usually with heavy matte pages and chock full of really good staged food dishes, etc.

I added a few books to the collection throughout the year that I think are worthy of mentioning here.
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I hope some of these first hand reviews from an average joe like myself may provide some helpful insight for those looking to add to their kitchen collection.

{Flour + Water by Thomas McNaughton}
Quite simply put, I love this book! Earlier this year I took more of an interest in learning how to make hand made pasta as opposed to simply buying dry pasta from the supermarket. While I am still working at it, this book was a tremendous help and provided an easy to follow guideline on various types of pastas. The backstory is a good one and the book is full of little stories of travel and culinary adventures. Life’s lessons I suppose scattered about beautiful photos of various pasta shapes. I recommend this book if you have any interest in learning how to make pasta and enjoy good food photography! A+
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{Twenty Dinners by Ithai Schori & Chris Taylor}
This may be the best book I purchased this year. Keeping with my preference of ‘Artisanal’ style books, Twenty Dinners is packed with incredible food and lifestyle photography. The recipes are broken out per season so it provides ideas for any time of year. I’ve tried a few different recipes from Twenty Dinners so far and I plan to try many more come start of Spring. As a photographer, I highly appreciate the imagery in this book. The book is clearly made with great care and attention by the authors ideas of food and gatherings. In my opinion, this is a must have for your collection!
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{The Butcher’s Apprentice by Aliza Green}
I received this book as a gift from my father who was a butcher for 35 years. Today it seems like Butchers are increasingly more popular as people start to realize that buying meat from supermarkets isn’t the best choice. (Note: That’s my opinion. I’ll leave it to you to determine where you prefer to buy your meat). With that being said, if you have a local butcher shop you can buy choice cuts of meat from you’re probably better off spending a little more for quality grades. – Again, just my opinion. The Butcher’s Apprentice is an instructional book. Very insightful and full of easy to understand graphics and techniques. This book would be a great addition to your collection in the kitchen if you find yourself cutting your own meats or simply wanting to learn what cut of meat you’re eating. The book includes various recipes and is pretty much all easy to understand. For the low cost I would recommend adding this if your a meat eater.
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{Jamie Oliver’s Comfort Food -The Ultimate Weekend Cookbook}
Let me start off by saying I am a fan of Jamie Oliver. I enjoy his style of cooking and especially how he instructs how to cook various recipes – when on television. With that being said I have struggled with this book. The images and layout of the book is top notch. It’s no doubt a high quality large cook book. I would say this is not a beginners book however. The recipes are without question incredible, yet I found some ingredients difficult to find. I looked thru a couple other of Jamie Oliver’s cook books recently at the book store and the ones I looked at appeared to be in the same format, which was cool. I think this book would be great for the more knowledgable cook, someone with a little kitchen experience and access to some of the ingredients not easily found. A lot of the recipes to me seemed to be for some pretty heavy food, but I suppose that was the intent with ‘comfort food’. All things said I enjoy the book as a challenge and will continue to do so.
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{Van Leeuwen – Artisan Ice Cream}
This review will be short. I have yet to attempt to make ice cream. I snagged this book a few months back when the weather was warm and I was in the mood to give ice cream a try. Ironically enough I found myself in NYC shortly thereafter and stopped in their ice cream shop. I tried a scope of the salted caramel option and personally found it to be too salty. But I wouldn’t let that deter you, the book is chock full of tons of flavors and seemingly good direction on how to start making ice cream. The book is artisanal in style and has really good photographs as well. I hope to dig more into this as summer gets here.
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{Ivan Ramen – Love, Obsession and Recipes}
Buy this book. It’s that simple. If you, like me, are obsessed with Ramen and all its quirkiness and traditions – this is the book for you! The backstory of Ivan and how he went to Tokyo and inserted himself into an impossible culinary world only to come out wildly successful and now known world wide, is enough to make this book a great addition to any collection. I love Ramen. Tokyo is on the top of my travel list. This book is fun, insightful and sarcastically funny about how the ramen world works.
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{The Whole Beast – Nose to tail Eating by Fergus Henderson}
I recently posted about this book. Let me say this … If I could only keep a single book in my kitchen collection this would be the book to have. A coveted, easy to understand piece of literary gold on how to eat every little bit of the glorious pig. Any foodie is no foodie without this book, or without at least hearing about this book. Anthony Bourdain pens the introduction and even filmed a travel episode with Fergus Henderson a while back. This is a must have. Ask for this as gift immediately, or scour the internet to find yourself a copy immediately!
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{Lidia’s Mastering the art of Italian Cuisine – by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich}
I am critical of Italian cook books normally. I’ve been to Italy, eaten the cache e pepe, and grew up eating Italian food. I picked this book up recently and have no complaints. I am a fan of Lidia and watch her shows frequently. Her traditional approach of recipes along with getting family involved in the cooking process is a win win in my book. This is a good book to have, whether you’re a beginner or seasoned cook. The recipes are strait forward and easy to understand. I suspect if you wanted to cook anything Italian, you’d be in good shape with this book. I have many Italian cook books but this one is a good addition to your collection any day, it does not disappoint.
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{Twelve Recipes by Cal Peternell}
Admittedly I just purchased this book. However after a quick flip thru it I have no doubt this is a good book for anyone looking to learn some basic recipes in an easy format. I appreciate the imagery of the book and the layout is attractive and easy to grasp. Essentially this is another book about a successful chef and his recipes, which is always a good read in my opinion.
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{A Boat, A Whale & A Walrus by Renee Erickson}
My last review is not a review at all. I just bought this book and most likely will be the last cook book I purchase this year. I’ve been in search of an artisanal style book highlighting a chef form the northwest. This appears to be that book! I will get into this book shortly and provide a much better review afterwards. The photography really got me on this one also, great stuff!
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Cheers to adding to your cook book collection!

Cooking Adventures – {Rabbit wrapped in Fennel & Bacon, Merry Christmas}

I recently picked up “The Whole Beast ” by Fergus Henderson, the coveted and sought after book of nose to tail eating. I had been meaning to add this cook book to my ever-growing collection for some time, and even more anxious to show it to my father, a butcher for 35 years.

For me personally cooking has truly made me realize the importance of gratitude and learning. For most of us, we learn from family who learned from their family and so on. The traditions of recipes are different in each family but the fun of it all (for me) is learning how to cook the right way.

Let me expound on that notion “how to cook” …

If you have followed my ramblings so far, hopefully you would agree I know a little about cooking and can hold my own in the kitchen. With that being said, the notion of “learning to cook” is truly a life long process. That’s the beauty of it!  Imagine a hobby that you can literally do your entire lifetime!? It’s a good thing because I’m way too old and fat now to hop back on my skateboard!

For most of us who haven’t graduated CIA (Culinary Institute of America) and don’t cook for a living and only hope to aspire one day to rule their own kitchen with masterful technique and results (or simply just not embarrass themselves)  …. Realize it’s about one thing in the end – coming together around the table with family and friends. The meal cooked was made by a loved one, which trumps any 3 star Michelin dish out there.

…. Well maybe besides Jiro’s sushi in Tokyo or Noma in Denmark – eat at those places over your buddies homemade meat loaf if you can!

My point of these ramblings is to simply say enjoy the food you’re eating, no matter where the dish may come from. Behind it someone made it, and with any luck the recipe came from someone years before them. Feel lucky the recipe was passed down and made its way to your table.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and Happy New Year to all of you! Thanks for following!

-Ben

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday Cooking Series – {Frozen Cappuccino Pie, Salmon Sushi, Wild Boar Stew, Food Processor, New Cook Book }

Today was a busy day indeed! Managed to pick up Lidia Bastianich’s new cook book (which is great by the way!), tried the new local Sushi joint for lunch, slow stewed a special boar meat for a few hours, and finally this evening made Frozen Cappuccino Pie. Oh, and picked up a new food processor from Hamilton Beach.

Merry Christmas!

   
    
    
    
    

Saturday Cooking Series – {Homemade Pork Sausage, Max the Lab}

A quick post here. Hope everyone had a great thanksgiving! Been busy lately but managed to make homemade Pork sausage which turned out incredible! The KitchenAid Mixer has proven to be such a great addition the the kitchen! 

Oh, and my little buddy Max came home this last week from the breeder. He’s a pure bred Black Lab and the love of my life. More posts to come featuring Max for sure!

   
 

Dim Sum, Sushi, Breakfast Pizza & More

I admit it. I have been eating out quite a bit lately. From Ramen joints in center city (Philadelphia) to local sushi restaurants. I have also been cooking a lot, usually every Sunday for entire afternoons at a time. I am very close to getting my breakfast pizza just the way I envisioned it! (Maybe a little honey in the dough will do it, hmm?).

I have not posted any pics to the blog lately so here is a big upload of some food adventures over this past month.
Enjoy.
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Milkfish & Butterfish -{Seasoned & Grilled}

I’ve been meaning to snag a few quality pieces of fish from my local farmers market, specifically to grill them on my open pit. Tonight’s catch was definitely a success!

Milkfish seasoned simply with sea salt and pepper, lemon and limes along with parsley stuffed into the cavity. Then I added a few butterfish with simply salt and pepper to top off the fish dinner. #fish #milkfish #butterfish