taking time to celebrate

It’s crazy to think that I’m three-quarters of the way through my first rotation. It’s been an incredible experience thus far: constantly humbling, challenging, and inspiring. On a daily basis I’m reminded of the importance of taking time to celebrate and appreciate the health, friends, and family I am so lucky to have. Most recently, a very special celebration was in store. Sugar Cured’s own Kate had a birthday, and no amount of work or studying was about to stop us from marking the occasion in the way we know best—through good food.

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True to her generous spirit, Kate invited us to her home for dinner where she cooked a smorgasbord of incredible Middle Eastern dishes from the pages of Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. Although I’d usually fight the birthday girl on working in the kitchen on her big day, I knew that nothing would make Kate happier. But I at least compromised on two things: 1) getting to bring dessert and 2) doing the dishes.

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In my family, there’s only one cake that’s fit for a birthday celebration. My grandma has been making this chocolate bundt cake for decades, and I can’t remember a birthday at my house (or in college, when my amazing mom would ship it cross-country) that hasn’t included it. I’m not sure what the original title on my Grandma’s recipe card read, but through years of whipping out this decadent creation for all manner of “special” occasions, we’ve lovingly dubbed it “Special Chocolate Cake.” As fate would have it, it turns out that half a country away, Kate’s family has also been making this cake recipe for birthdays for many years, although they call it Tunnel of Fudge Cake. So when deciding what dessert to make for Kate’s big day, it really was a no-brainer.

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As special as this cake is, it’s really one of the easiest things to bake in the world. It involves doctoring up a cake mix (Duncan Hines Butter Recipe Fudge is our family’s go-to, and when I’ve tried other mixes, I’ve regretted it) with sour cream, pudding mix, extra eggs, and chocolate chips, and topping it with a rich ganache. An added flourish of sprinkles and a flaming crown of candles made this a fitting cake to toast to a sweet and wonderful  year ahead.

Happy Birthday Kate!

Special Chocolate Cake

1 box chocolate cake mix (Duncan Hines Butter Recipe Fudge highly recommended)

½ cup oil

½ cup water

4 eggs

1 box instant chocolate pudding mix

8 oz sour cream

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Coat bundt pan with cooking spray and dust with sugar (we use this in lieu of flour to make a nice crunchy crust).

Add all ingredients besides chocolate chips into a large mixing bowl. Use an electric hand or stand mixer to beat on medium speed for 1 minute to combine all ingredients. Scrape down bowl. Beat for another 4 minutes on medium-high speed (<– sounds like a lot, but it’s what makes it super moist and fluffy!). In the last minute of mixing, add in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 1 hour, until knife inserted in middle of cake comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack in pan for 30 minutes. Run a knife along the middle and outer edges and invert onto a wire rack to cool completely. Top with glaze.

Chocolate Ganache Glaze

½ cup semisweet chocolate chips

¼ cup half and half

1 tbsp butter

In a glass measuring cup or microwave-save bowl, microwave chocolate chips and half and half for 1 minute on low power. Stir until chips are fully melted (if necessary, microwave for another 30 seconds on low power). Add butter and mix completely. Pour glaze over cake, allowing it to fall gently over the sides. Decorate to your liking.

golden, again

The weekend wasn’t golden in the sense Joanna described in her last post but nabbing my first garden sun-gold-en tomatoes at the 61st street market on Saturday made the weekend almost as sweet. As far as I’m concerned, tomato season is the waiting room to heaven and I’ve been feeling a little deprived this year. The little tomato plant I was trying to raise on my front balcony fell victim to a bad case of third year neglect (my laundry basket and gmail inbox have met the same fate- it’s a rampant disease). Luckily Al the fruit man had a bounty of little yellow tomatoes at his stand this week. I ate half the basket on my walk home as my brunch but I managed to save half for a late-summer pasta invention I had been scheming all week.

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The other haul of the market day was a new-to-me kind of green called spigarello. My usual kale supplier was carrying this novel stuff which he described as a mild-flavored, leafy relative of broccoli. I’ve never met a brassica that I didn’t like and maybe it’s just that my palate is growing a little weary of kale and needing variety (though I doubt it), but one taste made me a spigarello believer. Here’s hoping that it makes another appearance at market next week.

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I find myself turning to roasting as a preferred technique more and more especially when it yields they kind of tastiness these peppers have going on. I used to always turn to jarred roasted peppers and still do when short on time but I’m amazed at how low-effort and high-yield it is to roast them fresh. Their silky softness perfectly compliments the crunch of the greens.

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As always, this recipe is ripe for modification. I have about 6 beloved late-summer, high-tomato-season pasta recipes and tried-and-true as they are, I never make them exactly the same twice in a row. I say use what’s fresh and available. Bon appetite!

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2/3 pound linguine

1 pint cherry, grape, or sungold tomatoes

2 red bell peppers

1 medium brunch of greens (spigarello, kale, chard, spinach, etc), ribs removed and roughly chopped

1/2 c goat cheese crumbles

3 large cloves garlic, minced or crushed

1 T olive oil

1/4 c dry white wine

Salt and pepper

First, roast the peppers. Heat the oven to 375, line a baking sheet with foil and wash the peppers. Roast for 45-60 minutes, turning occasionally. They’re done when completely soft and beginning to char in spots. Place in a clean paper bag and fold over the top- this will help sweat off the skin and make for easier peeling. When cool enough to handle, peel off the skins with you hands. It’s no time to be a perfectionist, just get most of the skin. Remove the ribs and seeds and slice into thin strips.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water until al dente. When you drain, reserve 1 c of the cooking water.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Cook the garlic until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for a few moments until they start to release their juices. Add the greens and cook just until they begin to wilt. Add the peppers and then the wine, letting it cook down slightly. Salt and pepper to taste and stir in about 1/2 the cheese so it will melt. When the pasta is done, toss it with the veggies in a skillet or a large bowel. Add some of the pasta water and continue to add until the pseudo-sauce formed by the cheese and wine are your preferred thickness. Top with remaining cheese and serve warm.