Cake Boss

As many of you regular readers will attest, I like to think of myself as living a double life: genetic counselor by day, unpaid chef by night. This is no accident, folks. You see, my job is exactly what it sounds like – it’s my job; I work, I like to think I’m pretty good at what I do, but at the end of the day, I go home.

People who talk about their jobs all the time really annoy me, quite frankly. Fortunately, most of the people in my life, Hubs included, are on my side. Most of them.

But today, I’ll talk about work just a tad more, but only because for once there is a direct correlation between work and well, food. Appropriate here, yes?

You see, I have this boss. I like her – a lot. She’s a big-time breast oncologist who throws out the f-bomb more times in a day than I do in a week. There is something to be said for that, at least in my book. And all in all, having her as my boss makes coming to work, and leaving work at work, easy.

I should also add that, while I was baking my ass off (or back on, rather) in culinary school, she was kind enough to take many a leftover croissant or eclair off my hands. That said, I always knew she was a fan of baking. But unfortunately for her, her husband isn’t, and by choice (by choice, people!) he opts for a sugar-free diet. This posed a small issue when trying to find a sugar-free cake baker for his recent birthday, and I was almost, almost, suckered into making one, despite my inexperience with any sort of sugar-lacking baked good.

Instead, I was challenged to a battle – as if I ever enter food competitions that involve a little friendly voting. I think she thought I’d let her win, since you know, she does my evaluations and all. And I think I thought my baking confidence would carry over into Splendaland.

As it turns out, sugar-free baking isn’t all that hard, or all that different, but it does require a little bit of thought, and a little bit of trust in your ability – I thought a little bit, but once the baking was underway, my trust in myself dissipated with a quickness. And while I thought this was supposed to be a cake-only battle, boss lady brought a banana cream pie to the table, a pie that would have certainly gotten my vote, had I had one.

But fortunately for me, I wasn’t voting, because that one vote would have tipped the scale just enough for a tie. Once all the votes were cast, my dessert took the cake, so to speak, but only by a morsel. Boss lady may not have won this time, but I have a feeling there’s a rematch in the near future, and next time I bet she’ll even make her own pie crust ;).

Double Layer Carrot Cake (sugar-free)
Adapted from; serves as few or as many as you like

i’m certainly no sugar-free cook, but if you’re into this sorta thing, this is a great launchpad. this cake doesn’t taste sugar-free (unless, of course, a decadently sugar-laden carrot cake is alongside) and it’s dense, but still moist. Serve at room temperature or warmed.

printable version

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1 T baking soda
1 t salt
4 t ground cinnamon
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 c canola oil
2/3 c 2% milk
2 T pineapple juice
2 t vanilla extract
2 c SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated
3 c shredded carrots (about 6 small)
1 c raisins
1/2 c chopped pecans
2 T flaked coconut

2 (8 ounce) packages 1/3-less fat cream cheese, softened
½ c butter, softened
1 c SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated
2 t vanilla extract
1 T pineapple juice

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly coat 2 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray. Set aside.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl, stirring until blended. Set aside.

Combine eggs, canola oil, milk, pineapple juice, vanilla, and SPLENDA® Granulated Sweetener. Add to dry ingredients, stirring just until blended. Fold in carrots, raisins, pecans and coconut. Spoon mixture into prepared pan (the mixture will appear much drier than most cakes, and you may have to ‘smooth’ the batter to cover the bottom of the pan since it isn’t very runny).

Bake for 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, beat cream cheese and butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add SPLENDA®Granulated Sweetener, beating until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and pineapple juice, beating until blended.

If cake layers are rounded at the top, use a serrated knife to trim off some of the top. Frost the top of the bottom layer, then add the top layer and frost the remainder of the cake.

Don’t Mess with Texas

I’m probably gonna get a jaw drop or three when I type this, but I love conferences. I’m serious. The large meeting rooms with twenty powerpoint presentations per day, constant career talk and learning about genetics until you’re blue in the face – I can’t get enough of it.

Okay, I’m kidding. I don’t mind them, but not so much for the reasons above. I like the traveling, the visiting with friends, the time away from my desk and clinic, and sometimes (sometimes) coming home with a few good nuggets of knowledge. Of course, to take home those nuggets I have to sit in those large rooms and listen to those powerpoint presentations, and that’s where conferences get a little dicey.

But we’re not here to talk about genetics, or any other conference for that matter. We’re here to talk about Texas. Didn’t you know? Of course, I’m already getting started on the wrong foot, because I can’t quite talk about Texas. The state is huge. Huge. Humongous. Ginormous even. Plus, this was my first official visit there (since connecting flights don’t count here, or ever, really). When I say there, I mean to Dallas. Did I mention that one of my favorite things about conferences is the free travel? Ssssshhhhhh……

And while that travel is ‘free’, in paying for that travel, I agree to sit indoors and listen. Can you believe they made people do that at a similar conference in Hawaii last year? Hawaii, people!!! I refused to go because I knew I’d break the rules. In Dallas, I did follow them, but my friend Rachel and I got there a day early (a half day, really) to tour around, we ate plenty of good food at night, and at the very end of the day, I have to say we had a jolly good time.

For one, the weather couldn’t have been more splendid. I’ve contemplated doing like “the old folks” and migrating south for the winter (or the birds, come to think of it…). Not quite cold enough for a jacket at night, but warm enough for sandals during the day. There was a threat of rain the day of our arrival too, but most of these pictures are from that day – not a drop in sight.

The brick building above doubles as a museum and a visitor center – and unlike some visitor centers, this one was really useful. The lady knew her stuff. Well, with one exception. Rach asked about walking around at night, and she said she “does it all the time”. I beg to differ. Well, I bet she doesn’t walk from Deep Ellum to Downtown at night….. Nonetheless, it was probably worth missing the bus to miss the homeless guy’s banter to get a burger from Twisted Root (links below).

I don’t know what this building is – maybe a Dallas reader’ll chime in? It’s in the Arts District, and it seems to be made of pipes… but that’s about all I’ve got. Maybe my architect buddy Jennifer knows?! Jennifer?

Again, we didn’t have long to travel, but fortunately we were able to get around alright. We walked a lot, but when we weren’t walking we were finding our way around via public transit. Can I add here that I LOVE cities with decent public transit?! I don’t know if the “DART” is something you locals take often, but you should. It’s cheap, and easy. Did I  mention there’s a free trolley? Check it out – it’s so old-school. The guy takes off his ‘gears’ and switches to the back at the end of the route. The seats flip too. We know ’cause we rode it to the end and watched :).

I may not have had any brisket (yes, I know…. lame!!!), but we made sure to find a truck with horns on the front. You don’t go to Texas without finding horns on trucks. Geezzz….

Pioneer Park is a modern-day account of the original Shawnee Trail of the 1850’s. A couple dozen longhorns are being driven by cowboys on horseback amidst vibrant landscaping and waterfalls; this is supposedly one of the biggest outdoor public areas in the city and one of the larger bronze sculpture parks around. Rach knew about this place and I’m glad she did – it’s definitely worth walking through, and since it’s near the conference center, it’s probably a decent spot for a picnic lunch.

Aside from the sights, we certainly had our fair share of good food. If nothing else, I always do a little food research to find a couple of reputable restaurants to try out. For the ‘fancy’ meals, we went to Craft (my chef crush Colicchio wasn’t there….) and Stephan Pyles, and for the lo-key spots it was tapas and burgers. My favorite? Definitely Stephan Pyles – the short ribs were hands down the best short ribs I’ve ever had.

Dallas Food/Drink Links
Craft – Dallas
Stephan Pyles
The Idle Rich Pub
Si Tapas Restaurant & Bar
Twisted Root Burger Co.

I’ve had this particular short rib recipe lying around for a few weeks, and have been dying to share it. No, it doesn’t have a thing to do with Dallas, but since the short ribs were my numero uno meal of the week, I figure it’s at least somewhat appropriate. These are spiced with garam masala, braised in a root veggie-tomato-red wine sauce, and served alongside a side dish of carrots that were, you guessed it, braised as well, but in beer and carrot juice. Succulent, tender, and definitely perfect for October – the dish just happens to work well alongside some garlic naan. Just sayin’.

Do these short ribs, or the ones from Stephan Pyles make up for missing out on Texas brisket? Probably not, but even if it did I wouldn’t tell ya. Ya don’t mess with Texas, and you certainly don’t mess with the brisket. The short ribs will have to do for now, but somehow I think we’ll all manage, don’t you?

Braised Indian-Spiced Short Ribs & Carrots
Adapted from Michael Voltaggio via Food & Wine, April 2010; serves 4

time commitment: about 3 hours (~1 hour active time)

printable version

short ribs
3 1/2 T garam masala
2 tablespoons canola oil
4 boneless short ribs (10 to 12 ounces each), trimmed of fat
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 celery rib, chopped
3 small heirloom tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 heads of garlic, coarsely chopped
2 c dry red wine
1 quart chicken broth

8 medium carrots
1 c pilsner beer
1/2 c carrot juice
1 t sugar
1 T butter

short ribs
Preheat the oven to 325 F. In a small skillet, toast the garam masala over moderately high heat, shaking the pan constantly, until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the oil. Season the short ribs with salt and sear them over high heat until browned and crusty all over, about 15 minutes. Transfer the meat to a plate.

Add the onion, carrots and celery to the casserole and cook over moderate heat until lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Add the tomatoes, garlic and 3 tablespoons of the garam masala and cook until fragrant and the tomatoes are beginning to break down, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and boil until reduced by half, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the casserole, about 5 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Return the meat to the casserole and season with salt. Cover and braise in the oven for about 2 hours, until just tender but not falling apart.

Transfer the meat to a baking sheet. Strain the liquid into a saucepan. Skim off and discard the fat that rises to the surface. Boil over high heat until the sauce is reduced to 1 cup, about 15 minutes.

Preheat the broiler and position a rack 8 inches from the heat. Brush the meat with some of the sauce and broil for 3 minutes per side, until browned and sizzling. Sprinkle the meat lightly with garam masala, then slice it 1/2 inch thick. Transfer to plates and serve with the remaining sauce.

Peel the carrots so that the thick ends are roughly the same width as the thinner ends; cut each carrot in thirds crosswise. Put the carrots in a medium skillet with the carrot juice and beer and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over moderate heat until the liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add the sugar, cover and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer the carrots to a plate.

Whisk the butter into the sauce and simmer until thickened, 1 minute. Return the carrots to the skillet, season with salt and toss to coat. Transfer to plates and serve.

**carrots are NOT gluten-free, but are if you use a gf beer!

*Pictures at the top (L to R): Stephan Pyles (SP) – briased short ribs and frittered okra, Craft – risotto, chard, scallops and lamb saddle, Craft card, Twisted Root – chipotle, cheddar, guac burger, table @ Twisted Root, SP “Heaven & Hell” cake, SP “Coffee and Doughnuts”, SP ahi tuna ceviche, Craft beet salad