I just love it when the kids take over.  That’s what happened to me on Valentine’s Day.  My youngest took over the kitchen (yes baby, keep it up) and made us dinner which was a doctored pizza.  But more importantly, she called up a girlfriend and made Ina Garten’s Beatty’s Chocolate Cake.  So for all of you out there who worry about not being able to bake, listen to me.  A 12 year old baking novice was able to make this beauty without the help of Mom.  So go for it.  This is the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had and like all of Ina Garten’s recipes, this one is foolproof.  Just remember to first line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper, and then grease the pans including the paper.  Due to health reasons, I do not add the extra large egg yolk that is called for in the frosting – who needs salmonella?

And I truly apologize about picture.  By the time I had decided to fete the cake, my family ate 3/4’s of it.  To make the matter worse, after I took these pictures, I realized that they were awful and THE CAKE WAS ALL GONE!

Recipe courtesy of Ina Garten “Barefoot Contessa”

Ingredients

  • Butter, for greasing the pans
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans (King Arthur’s Flour)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cups good cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Directions

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 2 (8-inch) round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Place 1 layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting:

6 ounces good semisweet chocolate (recommended: Callebaut) – I use Ghiradelli

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract – I use the Vanilla Company

1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

1 tablespoon instant coffee powder

Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. Dissolve the coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don’t whip! Spread immediately on the cooled cake.

spaghetti-plate-croppedWhen my great Lord and Master of the house (ha) made condescending remarks about spaghetti and meat balls, did I wisely ignore him and recreate my mother’s masterpiece of Spaghetti a la Francaise or did I wimp out?  You guessed wisely, I never made a pot of that stuff for the first 22 years of our marriage.  After all the great Lord had been traumatized by eating spaghetti daily for a year while living off campus during his college years.

My mother’s spaghetti sauce was a work of art of wines, herbs and tomatoes.  It would sit for hours on top of the stove, simmering away while my mother would baby it by stirring, degreasing and tasting.  Finally it would make it way to our dinner table, a platter of the most heavenly smells.  The only issues I had with this concoction were the meatballs, which I avoided.

Now I’m not a huge ground beef fan, and meatballs was, in my mind, a close cousin to meatloaf, my arch-enemy. Nasty brown dry stuff, and it had legs.  It was in the stuffed  tomatoes, stuffed green peppers, stuffed zucchini; it was everywhere.  I’ll forgive mom for the stuffed veal; that was actually good but her meatballs needed help.  Everyone’s meatballs needed help.  When I’d order a plate of spaghetti and meatballs at the restaurants, I’d usually get this hideous meatball the size of my head on top of the plate of pasta.  Forget it, no more meatballs.

So twenty-two years later I was watching my Tivo’ed cooking shows and saw Ina Garten on the Barefoot Contessa, making meatballs.  To my surprise, they actually looked good; plum, dainty and juicy.  My memory of Mom’s sauce came back to tantalize me. The next day, with the recipe in hand, I went shopping for the ingredients.  Ground veal, ground pork, no way I have the time for that.  And the expense, just forget it.  Quickly I saw that the large breakfast sausage was on sale and so was ground turkey.  It will have to do for now.  Other parts of the recipe got streamlined and there was no way that I’d use a good bottle of wine on this recipe.   Also the recipe had to hold up in a salt-free version (my mother is on a restricted diet), so lots of herbs, not just parsley.  And the results, a family favorite, even from my Lord and Master.

INA GARTENS FABULOUS SPAGHETTI & MEATBALLS – Sorry, Ina for the bastardization.  This recipe takes an active hour to make and an additional ½ hour to simmer.

There are 2 tricks to this recipe.  One is to add ¾ cup of warm water to the meatballs.  This keeps them very moist.  The other is NOT TO SQUEEZE THE MEATBALLS, but gently roll them into shape.

Meatballs:

  • 1 pound of breakfast sausage, like Jimmy Dean
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 4 slices of bread, rough chop (I’ve even used bagels (2) and the recipe works)
  • ¼  cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
  • ¾ cup of warm water
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 teaspoons salt (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼  teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 extra-large egg, beaten
  • Olive oil or vegetable
  • Herbs from the garden – basil, thyme, oregano

Sauce

  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced  or pressed garlic
  • 1/2 cup of wine – I use good cheap wine – 2 Buck Chuck if you are lucky to have a Trader Joe’s near you.
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, plum tomatoes in puree, chopped or a good marina sauce.  If you have garden fresh tomatoes, that is even better, but they need their peels off (boil them for 1 minute and the skin comes off easily)
  • 1 – 3 tablespoon chopped herbs – parsley, basil, oregano, thyme
  • Several bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

meatball-platterDirections

In a food processor, place herbs, parsley and bread.  Pulse about 10 times until the ingredients are finely chopped.

Place the turkey and sausage, food processor ingredients, bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg, egg, and water in a bowl and combine, using your hands if you’re courageous. With your hands, lightly form the mixture into 2-inch meatballs. You will have 14 to 16 meatballs.

Pour oil into a large skillet covering well the bottom. Heat the oil, placing the meatballs in the oil and browning them well on all sides over medium heat, turning carefully with a spatula or a fork. This should take about 10 minutes per batch (I usually have 2 batches-it’s a big pan). Don’t crowd the meatballs so that they can cook easily. Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels.

saute-onions2In the same pan, add onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 1 more minute. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, herbs, bay leaves, salt, and pepper.

Return the meatballs to the sauce, cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. Serve on a bed of good spaghetti – I like Barilla or Trader Joe – and have some freshly grated parmesan cheese available.  Right now Reggiano is too pricy for our budget, but there are other similar hard cheeses available. Costco sells an excellent parmesan cheese that is half the cost of their Reggiano.  And don’t forget a lovely wine at the table (you can afford it, you saved bucks making this meal) and a fresh garden salad with a dressing from SaladSuccess.