Thursday, May 24, 2012

Chocolate Everyday Cake

I've been enamored with the everyday cake or busy-day cake for quite some time now, coming into fruition when I recently stayed with my sister Julia and had the chance to bake quite a few of them. I love the idea of a simple cake, just something to go alongside your Tuesday night dinner. No big deal. Just whipped it up. You know.
an everyday cake for Greg's birthday
Sometimes an everyday cake becomes a birthday cake: Not an over-the-top layer cake (mine never turn out as grand as I hope they will, anyhow), but a tasty, let's-eat-the-last-bits-of-crumbs-standing-outside-the-neighborhood-bar-where-we-celebrated-cake. And pretty much any time, that's a great end to a birthday party.
my tiny urban kitchen~ a little space planning and anything is possible!
Now about this cake, Amy Pennington's Chocolate Buttermilk Cake, let me tell you, it is delicious. It has an earthy-nuttiness from the whole wheat flour, a slight tang from the cultured buttermilk and a humble crumb. It was perfect with a dusting of cocoa powder, only to be improved (I imagine, because I forgot to make some!) with a dollop of vanilla bean whipped cream or good quality not too sweet ice cream. Definitely no frosting necessary.

Now, I'm a firm believer in making a recipe work for you, with what you have, and this cake was no exception. I did not have buttermilk on hand. I did, however have coconut milk yogurt which failed to set up and that did the trick perfectly. Any cultured product with approximately the same thickness and fat content would work, so buttermilk, thin yogurt or alt milk yogurt, kefir, milk with lemon juice or vinegar, etc. And while we're on substitutions, the recipe called for a bit of cognac which I did not have, but I replaced it with dark rum (thought it would go nicely with the coconut milk yogurt) which I did have. In the end? I did not detect a difference at all and next time I won't even both and just double the vanilla. Oh yeah, and I also added a generous teaspoon of espresso powder. Brings out the chocolate flavor. I learned it from Ina. Trust us.

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake
minimally adapted from Amy Pennington, Urban Pantry 2010

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp. espresso powder
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk (or other cultured product)
1/2 tsp. cognac
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup butter, room temp.
1 cup sugar
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9" round cake pan. Combine (a whisk is great here) all dry ingredients and set aside. Combine buttermilk, cognac, and vanilla, set aside.

Cream butter and sugar using a mixer (KitchenAid or hand mixer) until light and fluffy- about 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down sides of bowl several times.

Add half of the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Add wet ingredients and mix until incorporated. Lastly add second half of the dry ingredients and mix until barely combined. Pour into cake pan and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

The book says to let the cake cool on a cake rack and serve with a dusting of cocoa powder. I tried to take it out of the pan before it cooled all the way- mistake! Luckily friends don't too much mind a few little chunks of cake missing, and you could barely tell when I flipped it the other way. Either way, enjoy this gem of an everyday cake!

I wish I could say that the missing chunk at the top was because of taking it out of the pan before it cooled. Not so.... 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

DIY Bleach Alternative

Every since I started canning in the summer of 2010, I've been on a mission to learn how to do as many things as I can myself in my kitchen and home. Here's the Evolution of my Home for you:

Canning --> Artisan Bread --> Pantry Revamp (all jars!) --> Natural Sourdough --> Yogurt/Buttermilk/Creme Fraiche/Butter --> Homemade Extracts --> Laundry Detergent --> All Purpose Cleaning Solutions --> Fermentation (Kombucha and Sauerkraut) --> Lotions, Lip Balms, Salves, and Creams --> Ricotta/Pot Cheese --> No 'Poo --> Sprouting --> Experimenting with Vegan/Vegetarian Cooking/Baking

my pantry, as it stands today

Future possible domestic projects include hard cheeses, chickens (If I get a backyard someday), pressure canning, experimenting with raw milk, figuring out non-dairy yogurt and water kefir (both were FAILS for me, sadly),  and who knows? The evolution that came after my first canning project (old school corn relish, thanks to my husband Dylan for giving me the idea that started it all!) has been exciting and surprisingly easy; each new skill uncovering other new skills, tempting me to 'give it a try'. And voila! Most of them were successes in one way or another, all opened my eyes to new ways of interacting with my home.

mung beans ready to sprout

So here's an easy place to start, a recipe for a bleach alternative. I found the base recipe here and reduced it to fit in my squirt bottle. It works well, though it doesn't have that satisfying "bleachy" smell that we're used to with all our chemical-laden products :). Once you get over that, it's nice knowing you are using a product to disinfect that won't hurt any small creatures you may have running around your house!

I wrote this before adding more lemon juice
DIY Bleach Alternative
I modified this from the original recipe, found at Crafty Little Gnome

1/4 c. hydrogen peroxide
3 T. lemon juice
3 c. water

Combine in a spray bottle and there you have it: natural bleach alternative!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Homemade Laundry Detergent

Thanks to Pinterest, it seems that everyone is making their own laundry detergent these days. And well they should! It's economical, easy, and makes me feel like a bad-ass domestic goddess when doing the thankless chore I loathe most: laundry. 

I first started making my own detergent just over a year ago, when I saw an article in lifehacker and then on Hipster Housewife detailing the process. It looked so easy and I had just begun to get inspired to switch out my cleaning products with homemade, natural solutions, inspired mainly by Bonzai Aphrodite and her household transformations.

I just ran out of detergent a few weeks ago (just! after almost a year and a quarter of my previous >$2 batch) so I thought I'd chronicle the process for the new blog. I followed Hipster Housewife's recipe to a T, only adding essential oil at the end (a generous dose of eucalyptus and lavender this time, last time was tea tree). Here's what it looks like:
cast of characters: washing soda, fels naptha soap, borax (not pictured: essential oils)

grate 1/3 of the fels naptha bar
melt your soap flakes with 6 cups hot water. when dissolved add 1/2 c. each borax and washing soda.

add mixture to 26 c. hot water in your 5 gallon bucket. add essential oils to smell (it will smell quite a bit more pungent  as you're mixing), stir.

Now you let this whole mix sit over night, covered and in the morning it will have gelled. Use your immersion blender or a whisk to incorporate all the elements and you are set! Lasts forever, doesn't leave a scent on your clothing and it's the first step towards a chemical-free home. Enjoy! 

Rhubarb Vanilla Bean Jam

So I thought I'd start out with a bang and do Rhubarb! But unfortunately... this recipe is just not working for me. It got me thinking, maybe I don't like rhubarb as much as I thought I did? Or maybe I got a bad batch. All I know is that I am not digging on this jam like I thought I would. Everything about it is great: texture (perfect! jammy! thick! no pectin!), coloring (light rosy pink with specks of bean!), prep (easy! quick cooking!), except the taste (earthy? saccharine? dare I say, soapy?) But, seriously, rhubarb is great... I think. Go try some and see for yourself.

This is a very easy recipe I spliced together from Marisa's Vanilla Rhubarb Jam and Amy Pennington's Rhubarb Jam from her splendid book, Urban Pantry. The gist is simple: macerate your fruit (veggie?) with sugar, lemon juice and water for a day (or 2 like I did... lazy me!) then add a bit more sugar if you like (I was concerned about the tartness/jelling ability of my rhubarb) and cook!

The cook time was quicker than I thought, not using any commercial pectin, but it set up beautifully. I think it would be even better cut in half with strawberries, which is what I'll do next time. I'm not giving up on you, Rhubarb! You will be mine. Oh yes, you will be mine.

Rhubarb Vanilla Bean Jam
adapted from Food in Jars Vanilla Rhubarb Jam and Amy Pennigton's Rhubarb Jam in  Urban Pantry
makes ~3 pints

~2 1/2 lbs. rhubarb, washed and roughly chopped
3 cups (600g) sugar
2-3 T. lemon juice
1 vanilla bean, split
2 cups water

Combine rhubarb with 2 1/2 cups (500g) sugar, lemon juice and water; let macerate overnight (up to 2 days). When you are ready to cook your jam, add the split vanilla bean and begin to cook your fruit down on medium high to high heat. Add the extra 1/2 cup (100g) sugar after you get a feel for the taste. Once the jam begins to cook down (after 15-20 minutes or so) remove the vanilla pod and add scraped seeds back to the jam pot.

Make sure to rinse your vanilla bean off and set it out to dry off a bit- add it to your jar of vanilla sugar or homemade vanilla extract. You do that, right? If not, you should! Both are fantastic ways to extend the life of your precious beans.

Continue cooking down your jam until it reaches a nice gelling point. I didn't even take the temp this time, it was quite obvious once the rhubarb had set.

Fill your jars (I don't always sterilize if I'm processing for 10 minutes or more) and water-bath process for 10 minutes.

Voila! Mediocre Rhubarb Vanilla Jam. Seriously, I'm not letting this jam win. I'm going to try again and next time, I promise, I will succeed! Let me know if you try it and how yours turns out.

** Update! I revived several jars of this so-so jam by cooking again with 1/2 flat of fresh and 1/2 bag of frozen strawberries, no need to add more sugar. I also gave it a quick whirl of the hand-blender. It turned out super delicious, so I think the key is less sugar than you think and quite possibly the addition of another fruit or at least a more pronounced spice like cinnamon or nutmeg. So many rhubarb recipes leave you thinking you need to douse them in sugar before it will be edible and I forgot my essential cooking mantra: Know what you like, Do what you like. Try it again and you'll be pleased. (By the way, I did not reprocess this time, just straight to the fridge where the jar has been dwindling down each day since!)

Saturday, May 5, 2012


Welcome to CanCan, my new place on the web to talk about all things domestic! I have no idea what this little blog will turn out to be for me, but I do know that I was tired of thinking, "I should start a blog so I can publish this" or "tell folks about that" or "share some other thing".

So I went ahead and did it, signed up, took the plunge, and though I fully expect my only readers to be my mother and sister (Hi! Thanks for reading this!!), I will do my best to keep them and any other stragglers or random onlookers interested, informed and inspired.

Thanks for popping by!