Favorite Buttermilk Cake

This months Avid Bakers Challenge was Flo’s Buttermilk Cake.  This is the kind of recipe that Flo really excels at, a basic, fine textured cake that just screams for you to play around with it.  My initial thought was to make this cake with a rich buttercream and do some fancy decorating but upon reading through the recipe I saw that Flo baked the cake in a square pan and that to me just screamed coffee cake.  Anyone who has been reading my blog knows that I just love to have these grab and go snack cakes on hand for coffee or when friends drop by.  I decided to follow Flo’s lead and make the cake plain and then just add a simple glaze to it. 
I opted for a simple brown sugar glaze which is nothing more than brown sugar, butter, water and eggs which is boiled, cooled and then beaten until it is a pouring consistency.  I just poured it over the cake and let it ooze down over the sides and then just sprinkled it with some turbinado sugar for a nice crunch.  I was quite happy with the results and while it certainly doesn’t look like much, I can assure you that it is truly delicious.  As a matter of fact, the cake didn’t stick around very long and I was back in the kitchen making a second one.  For the second go around, I decided to once again go with the coffee cake aspect but this time I made a simple cinnamon struesel topping and I added a layer of that to the cake and then just dusted it with powdered sugar.  It was truly wonderful. (sorry no pictures of this one).  That just proved to me that this is one very versatile cake and one that should be in every bakers repertoire.  I am going to try it with one of the fancy buttercreams and dress it up with some nice piping work for my next dinner party.  Everyone has to try this one at least once and let your imagination run wild with it.

Gutsy Cooks Club: Tortilla Soup and Arroz con Pollo

It is funny that this weeks menu is Spanish in origin since we have been planning a trip to Spain in the fall and I have been trying to get motivated for the trip.  I have to admit I have a special fondness for soups.  I always seem to have at least one soup in the freezer or refrigerator for easy weeknight dinners or to take to work for lunch.  I love the idea of just tossing whatever is at hand into the pot and with a short bit of simmering you always emerge with something great to eat.  I always have chicken, beef and vegetable stock in the freezer for when the mood strikes I can make a simple or hearty soup for lunch or dinner and in hot weather, a nice chilled soup and a salad always seems to fill the bill.  I was intrigued and somewhat wary about this soup.  At first glance it seemed too simple to really be all that good and with such a few ingredients I wondered just how good it could really be.  I could tell once I started reducing the tomato/onion/garlic puree that it was going to at least be fragrant and tasty but was I in for a huge surprise when at the last few moments you toss in the cilantro and lime juice and what a transformation.  Instead of a heavy tomato based soup, it becomes light and very very complex.  What surprised me most was how no single ingredient took center stage, the all just seemed to play off  each other so that you couldn’t really tell what exactly it was you were tasting but that it was extremely good.  The final flourish of queso fresca was inspired and definitely added a nice finish without being heavy or gooey as you might expect.  And, most surprising to me was just how good a tortilla can be when you fry them up yourself.  I am not a big fan of tortilla chips as they always seem so heavy and greasy but these were light and crispy and just the perfect finish for this wonderful soup.  I will definitely be making this one again.

As for the chicken dish, I really don’t know anyone who doesn’t like chicken and rice.  There are certainly hundreds of flavor combinations that you can use to flavor this simple dish.  I am happy to say that this Spanish flavored one delivered on all counts without being heavy or overly spiced.  I opted for chicken breasts here instead of the chicken thighs the recipe calls for simply because we are not big fans of the dark meat.  I worried a bit that the chicken might get dry but figured that with gentle backing and the amount of liquid the dish contains that I should be alright.  You might think that the paprika and peppers and onions might make the dish a bit heavy but this was not the case, it was perfectly balanced with just the right amount of spice.  I of course doubled the garlic called for since I just can’t seem to get enough garlic but even this didn’t overpower the dish and merely flavored the rice perfectly to my taste.  The addition of the saffron is typically Spanish and I always have to watch when using saffron since too much and it can taste medicinal.  It was perfect for this dish.  In the end, the chicken breast were moist and flavorful and the rice was perfectly cooked and rich and savory with just enough moistness to resemble a risotto instead of overbaked rice pilaf.  Just enough spice without being heavy and perfect for a summer evening.  I loved every bite.