20th Century Cake

19 06 2009

From a box no less. What the heck is the world coming to?

Inspired by my pantry “shelf of shame” where items that should have been rotated out long ago reside, Jonathan Bloom’s Wasted Food blog, and Sharon Astyk’s Independence Days Challenge Item #4 (Reduce Waste) and #7 (Eat the Food), and Keith’s insistence that we could just drown it in ice cream and booze, I assembled this:

That, dear readers, is an authentic box of cake mix that has somehow resided in the nether reaches of my baking pantry since 1995! I do not know how it got there, who bought it, or why I’ve moved it, but there it is. Well, it was. It’s residency permit in my house has expired!

I’ve never made a box cake mix before. I’ve certainly baked plenty of cakes, but haven’t ever been compelled to buy a box of sugar, flour, powdered oil, leavener, salt and a plethora of chemicals to do so. Whoever first came up with the idea of boxing the cheapest ingredients of a cake, printing an incredibly convoluted rebus of a recipe and slapping on a professional food stylists’ image of cake on the front and charging whatever it costs for maybe 50 cents worth of stuff must be a rich man by now.

Hey, propylene glycol is in shampoo too!

The instructions alone are enough to scare anyone off baking. It’s not that it’s hard, it’s just hard to read and follow. Hard for me anyway. I think they’re intentionally written so that this simple task of mixing things together is made complex so as to infer that baking a real cake must be really difficult. The ingredients are a real turn off for me too. Of course, this thing is so old that it doesn’t have any of the ubiquitous corn syrup solids. Small win.

So after I checked the Duncan Hines website to make sure that I wouldn’t be poisoning myself due to the advanced age of the product, I checked inside for evidence of bugs or rodents. Even though the leavener might be aged over the years, nothing else had wanted to eat it either. Drat!

Forging ahead, I gathered up my mise. Cleverly, Croesus Duncan Hines, has the poor housewife furnish all the expensive bits such as 3 eggs. I didn’t have any vegetable oil except olive so I melted a mixture of butter, coconut oil and some Spectrum shortening. During my research, I’d read some recipes that had suggested a dollop of sour cream. Didn’t have any of that either, but yogurt could stand in. What else? Oh yes, water. These mixes are so handy, just add water … and eggs and oil and …

While I was meddling, I decided to add in strawberry jam hoping to cover up the chemical tinge. I read that one on the interwebs too. I also added in a shy teaspoon of baking soda and baking powder to ensure a rise. The batter was a bit lumpy, caking agents age as well, I suppose, but behaved. Since I didn’t have nor want frosting, I decided on the Bundt format.

Because of the extra moisture in the jam, it took longer than 32 – 37 minutes to bake. I think I hit the snooze button on the timer 4 or 5 times before my tester came out clean.

The verdict? A bit sweet since mixes make up in sugar what they lack in flavor and I added the jam. The crumb is a bit holey, but that was my fault for overbeating. I got a little overzealous since I hadn’t used my hand mixer in ages.

I think a little rum and ice cream should make it go down just fine. Maybe there’s even some vintage pudding mix around for a cheater’s trifle. 😉


Nettle Pasta

10 04 2009

Nettles are abundant as usual this year and I’m trying to find new ways to enjoy them besides the usual sautés. Last month a spinach lasagne meme hit the food blogs and some participants’ “mistakes” inspired me to make nettle pasta. The error in question was a misreading of the typical spinach pasta recipe which calls for steaming the fresh spinach. Those that missed that particular instruction had good results despite using raw spinach in their doughs. This was good news to me since I’m looking for new ways to use nettles without steaming them first.

Of course they’re still prickly so some special treatment is required. First I rinsed the nettles and dried them with a tea towel. Then I carefully placed them into my food processor using tongs. I splashed on about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, a half teaspoon of salt, and 4 eggs. (This would be a good time to add in other herbs and spices if desired. I was going for plain the first go round.) Process until creamy.

Raw nettles bristling in the food processor

Raw nettles bristling in the food processor

Next I added in the flour. I poured in about half a cup or so of semolina flour and the rest was bread flour. You could use whole wheat as well. Add enough flour and pulse until a soft dough forms. It was a couple of cups worth in the end.

Add flour(s) to make a soft dough

Add flour(s) to make a soft dough

Dump the dough out onto a floured surface and …

Green nettle dough

Green nettle dough

knead, adding flour if necessary, until you have a pliable dough. Rest for 5-10 minutes or more.

Form a ball and rest the dough

Form a ball and rest the dough

I rolled it out with my pasta maker, but then just made rough cut squares since that’s what was requested by my rolling assistant.

Nettle maltagliati

Nettle maltagliati

I cooked them for about 3 minutes or so and served them with a quick vegetarian cannellini sauce. The nettle pasta was wonderfully flavorful without any trace of the “earthiness” that nettles sometimes have. I was also happy to be able to cook them only once and avoid washing all the nutrients away in the steaming water.

Nettle pasta with beans

Nettle pasta with beans

I’ll do it again although I’ll make sure to have a bit of bacon or pancetta on hand for the sauce.

This post participated in the “Grow Your Own” Roundup #27 hosted by House of Annie

Nettle Season Begins

22 03 2009

I’ve posted about nettles before and have been excitedly anticipating their arrival. There’s been a lot of snow this winter and I’ve been looking forward to the first signs of spring. For me, that means going out to pick the first stinging nettles.

Yesterday I wandered out the trail that meanders in the general vicinity of our western property line and was able to pluck a small bag of spring shoots. I think this is the earliest that I’ve gone out, but I just couldn’t wait any longer. Normally that loop would net a grocery sack’s worth in mere minutes, but I was able to get enough for dinner at least.

I’m always looking for new ways to prepare them as well. Nettles work great as a stand in for chard, spinach and pretty much any other cooked leafy green. I do find the steaming, squeezing and chopping routine a mite tedious, however, so this time I tried something new.

Nettles sautéing with onions and spices

Nettles sautéing with onions and spices

After rinsing I carefully dumped the nettles onto my cutting board and, keeping my distance, sort of whacked at them with my knife. This resulted in a roughly chopped pile that I then dumped into a pan where I had onions and spices waiting. After a few stirs, the nettles had lost their ferocity and I had a pan of greens that weren’t also soggy. Yay!

I used one of the Spinach Dhal recipes from Complete Indian Cooking by Mridula Galjekar, Rafi Fernandez, Shehzad Husain and Manisha Kanani as a starting point and, with a few substitutions, ended up with a delicious vegetarian meal. I’ve listed original recipe ingredients in brackets and copied the instructions as written.

Nettle Dhal

1 cup split yellow mung beans [chana dhal or yellow split peas]

3/4 cup water

1 tbsp mustard oil [oil]

1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds [1/4 tsp black mustard seeds]

1/2 onion, thinly sliced [1 whole onion]

4 garlic cloves, crushed [2 cloves]

1″ piece fresh root ginger, grated

1 tsp chipotle in adobo [1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped]

1 small bag fresh nettles, roughly chopped [10 oz frozen spinach, thawed]

1 tsp ground cumin [1/4 tsp chilli powder]

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp garam masala [1/2 tsp]

1/2 tsp salt

1. Wash the chana dhal or split peas in several changes of cold water. Put into a bowl and cover with plenty of water. Leave to soak for 30 minutes.

2. Drain the pulses and put them in a large pan with the water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes until soft.

3. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large heavy pan and fry the mustard seeds for 2 minutes until they begin to splutter. Add the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli and fry for 5-6 minutes. Add the spinach and cook for 10 minutes or until the spinach is dry and the liquid has been absorbed. Stir in the remaining spices and salt and cook for 2-3 minutes.

4. Drain the split peas, add to the spinach and cook for about 5 minutes. Serve at once.

Nettle Dhal served with basmati rice, spicy papad and chilli pickle.

Nettle Dhal served with basmati rice, spicy papad and chilli pickle.