The house has been strangely silent since Sunday afternoon. There has been no kids’ television on, which means no canned laughter or lilting children’s songs adding to our home’s background noise. There has not been any whining or crying or yelling…and definitely no laughing or giggling. No doors slamming or feet stomping up the stairs or the musical electronic sounds of the iPad games that Oliver likes to play so much.
My mother has kept our children for the last three nights, providing us with very cheap childcare until I can be off work for the holidays. With school out for Christmas, we usually struggle a bit with where the kids should go during the day. This time — like many other times — Nana came to the rescue. And the kids were thrilled to go to Nana’s for a three night “sleepover” in the country. Sam and I have had a delightful break from parenting, but we miss the kids and all the chaos that they bring to our lives.
It’s just been too quiet with them gone.
Usually, I do my best writing at my home office desk, while managing to (mostly) tune out the cacophony of noises that arise from having a 5 year old, an 8 year old, two cats, and a husband in the house. I’ve struggled with writing for the last three nights, and I’m just realizing that perhaps it is because I’m missing that noise and those distractions that, ironically, manage to keep my brain focused.
That doesn’t make sense at all, does it?
I can’t explain the writing process that I use, but when the words come, they come, and when they don’t come, well…you end up with silence here on the blog for several days. And I end up with a building sense of frustration.
The kids come home Wednesday night, so life as we know it will be restored. I’ll be off work and home for a nice holiday break starting on Thursday. I’m gearing up for Christmas meal planning, wrapping the last of the presents, and baking up some holiday cookies for the first time this season.
I’m pretty sure this is cause for celebration – with cake!
If you, like me, are a fan of chocolate, you will want to bake this cake. The kids have already requested that I bake it again for Christmas, and Madeline has taken to calling it the “Brownie Cake” because of its brownie-like texture and density. I’ve caught my husband slicing off little bits when he thinks I’m not looking – and even when he knows I am. It’s very rich and heavy, and I recommend serving it with lightly-sweetened whipped cream (homemade, of course) or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Even better, warm a slice of cake up a little bit in the microwave and then plop a scoop of vanilla ice cream next to it. Go ahead and put a cherry on top while you’re at it. I didn’t, but hindsight is 20/20, as they say.
Chocolate Bundt Cake
Feel free to sprinkle confectioners sugar over the top of the cake when you're ready to serve it, or just serve it with a dollop of lightly-sweetened whipped cream.
Use a 10-inch bundt pan (3-quart) for this cake.
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process), plus extra for dusting pan
1-1/2 cups brewed coffee
1/2 cup Grand Marnier
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups granulated white sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup mini chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325 degrees and place oven rack in the middle position. Spray the bundt pan well with baking spray with flour, or butter the pan well and dust with cocoa powder (about 3 tablespoons), knocking out the excess.
Over medium heat, heat coffee, Grand Marnier, butter, and cocoa powder together in a 3-quart saucepan, whisking until the butter is melted. Remove from heat, add sugar, and stir well until dissolved, about 1 minute. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and cool for at least 5 minutes.
While the chocolate mixture cools, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In a second, smaller bowl, whisk together eggs and vanilla, then whisk into the cooled chocolate mixture until well incorporated. Add flour mixture and whisk until just combined. Batter will be thin and bubbly at this point. Fold in chocolate chips. Pour batter into bundt pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool cake completely in pan on a rack, approximately 2 hours, then loosen cake from pan using the tip of a sharp knife. Carefully invert pan over a cake plate and turn cake out onto plate.
Adapted from a recipe for Chocolate Whiskey Bundt Cake from Gourmet, September 2005.
Christmas dinners of my childhood were small, simple affairs. Most of my extended family live in Kentucky and Tennessee, so it was often just my younger brother and me and my parents at home for the holiday. Later, when my mother’s parents moved to Florida, they joined us for Christmas dinner. My grandparents always stayed late for competitive games of Rook around the round oak dining table, its smooth edges warped from too many years in the Florida humidity, and my grandfather with an eternal cup of black coffee beside his hand.
Somewhere through the years, we decided to forgo the roasted turkey or glazed ham, and instead we chose to celebrate that day with a pot roast, mashed potatoes, and gravy – three of my father’s specialties. He was a master at preparing flavorful, juicy roast beef in his ancient Presto pressure cooker. The hissing and spitting sounds made by that pressure cooker and the savory aromas of the beef filled the house on Christmas, teasing us with the promise of the delectable meal that awaited us.
I was never able to replicate my father’s pot roast until I got over my own fear of the pressure cooker. Though I never witnessed any explosions, the noises emitted from that cooker as the pressure increased inside were enough to put an everlasting fear and mistrust of that device into me.
Perhaps some part of me didn’t truly want to replicate the meal. Because my taste memory of that dish is permanently intermingled and entwined with memories of my father, I wanted him to be the only one to cook that pot roast for us. Always and forever.
Of course, another big part of me just wanted to eat that pot roast again and not have to wait for Dad or for Christmas.
So I did it. I made my own version, staying true to the general idea of my father’s pot roast, but infusing my own touches into the recipe. And I managed to avoid the scary, old fashioned stove-top pressure cooker, instead using the more modern electric version for my version of Dad’s pot roast. This one doesn’t make crazy noises that scare the children – or me – and I like the convenience of pressing buttons.
This is a great pot roast, perfectly juicy and tender. It’s not my father’s pot roast, but that’s okay. This one will do until he can make his again for us.
Yield: Serves 4 to 6.
Cook Time: 65 minutes
Pressure Cooker Roast Beef
This Cuisinart electric pressure cooker is the pressure cooker I use, and I highly recommend it. It's perfect for those of us who are scared of the stove-top ones that sound as if they're going to blow up.
For herb sachet:
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig rosemary
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
3 cloves garlic, crushed
4 to 5 pound chuck roast
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
1-1/2 cups beef broth
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Freshly ground black pepper
Prepare the herb sachet: In a square of cheesecloth, combine bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, peppercorns, and garlic. Bring the corners of the cheesecloth square together and tie with cooking twine. Set aside.
If using an electric pressure cooker: Season the roast with salt and pepper. Select Browning setting and add olive oil. When oil is hot, brown the roast on both sides, about 4-5 minutes per side, then remove roast to a plate. Choose the Sauté setting, then add onion, carrots, and celery. Cook until the vegetables are getting soft, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and wine, stirring until about half the liquid has evaporated. Add beef broth and Worcestershire sauce. Crush the herb sachet gently in your hands to release the aromas, then add it to the pot. Nestle the roast on top. Cover and lock lid in place. Select High Pressure and set timer for 99 minutes. When the audible beep sounds, allow the pressure to release naturally. When the float valve has dropped, remove lid carefully.
If using a stove-top pressure cooker: Season the roast with salt and pepper. Place cooker over medium-high heat and add olive oil. When oil is hot, brown the roast on both sides, about 4-5 minutes per side, then remove roast to a plate. Still on medium-high heat, add onion, carrots, and celery. Cook until the vegetables are getting soft, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and wine, stirring until about half the liquid has evaporated. Add beef broth and Worcestershire sauce. Crush the herb sachet gently in your hands to release the aromas, then add it to the pot. Nestle the roast on top. Cover and lock lid in place. Over high heat, bring to high pressure. Reduce heat just enough to maintain high pressure and cook for 55-60 minutes (err towards 60 minutes if your roast is closer to 5 pounds than 4). Turn off heat and allow the the pressure to release naturally. When the float valve has dropped, remove lid carefully.
Remove roast from the pressure cooker, slice against the grain - or pull apart with a fork - and serve.
There’s no recipe today, folks. As many of you know, I get my best cooking done on the weekends. Saturdays and Sundays are really the only time I have the leisure of spending the day in the kitchen, without the pressure of time constraints, and in the daylight. And, since we were out of town the past two weekends, my cooking and baking have fallen by the wayside.
My sweet husband has handled most of our weeknight cooking of late, but he’s had some help from this slow cooker, an updated version of the ancient one I used to use. I’ve cooked several things from this slow cooker cook book, and we’ve both been pleased with the results. I highly recommend the cassoulet recipe; we’ve made it a few times already.
Two weekends ago, we went to Las Vegas to celebrate the wedding vow renewal of two of our good friends [hi, Julia!]. I’ve had several requests for photos of the gold stilettos I bought, the ones I mentioned in this post. Here they are, in all their painful-toed glory:
I’m still not sure how I walked in them.
This past weekend, there was no cooking because we celebrated my daughter’s eighth birthday at Sea World and Disney World. My husband and I were forced to ride roller coasters that neither of us had any business being on. The trip was not perfect — there were at least a handful of tantrums, one lost stuffed dog, a painful splinter that caused tears upon extraction, late nights and too-early mornings — but snuggling in bed with both kids while watching The Polar Express on Saturday night made up for all the not-so-nice parts of the weekend.
If you’re still hunting gifts for those you love, be sure to check out my gift guide, parts one and two, for ideas. Also, if you have not done so already, please enter the giveaway for a beautiful Eat Boutique jams gift box. Entries are open until this Friday, and I plan to select the winner on Saturday morning.
And last, but definitely not least, I am guest posting over at unstitched today. Lillian is the author/editor/publisher of unstitched, and her blog is just gorgeous. She asked me to share a little bit about my kitchen style — at which I first burst out laughing (style? what style?), and then collected myself and said yes, graciously.
Style is Lillian’s thing. Practicality and comfort are mine. Regardless, check out my kitchen over at unstitched. You can be the judge.