It’s so easy for contemporary home cooks and chefs who consider themselves sophisticated in the kitchen to poo poo casseroles. Many of us grew up in the days of tuna embalmed in noodles and Campbell’s mushroom soup. Or macaroni and ground beef. Yeah, we’ve all been there.

But think of it this way: lasagna is essentially a casserole and we all love lasagna. It’s really a matter of what you do with the concept, which is basically a meal in a baking dish. For some, it’s a way to use up leftover ingredients. For others, it’s the quintessential dish you bring with love to friends or family who are too stressed (from grief, illness, new babies) to be able to make meals themselves. For personal chefs, it can be an easy way to prepare a comprehensive meal packed with nutrition in a single container that just needs reheating by clients.

I got to thinking about this recently when I saw a piece on casseroles in The Kitchn. They ran a list of casserole links and what was interesting was that recipes not only described how to prepare the dish but in advance of that, how to prep the ingredients for freezing and provide instructions to the recipient for  making it later.

One of those recipes struck a chord with me. It was baked chicken with rice. Once I sorted through the freezing instructions, which I didn’t need, I realized that this was a casserole I could fall in love with. After all, it takes two dishes I really enjoy–roasted or baked chicken and grains filled with vegetables and herbs and spices. All this does it put them together in an easy-to-make, one-dish meal.

Like all great casseroles, you can change this up, depending on the season or the ingredients you have or prefer. I happened to find elephant garlic scapes at a specialty market in San Diego. These are a rare find so I nabbed what I thought I could use (I usually make pesto with scapes) and decided to add some to my casserole, along with mushrooms, marinated artichoke hearts, and onion.

You could add sliced kalamata olives and capers for one specific flavor profile. Or you could go in a totally different direction with tomatillos, fresh poblano or Anaheim chiles. Or eggplant, zucchini, red bell peppers, pine nuts, and za’atar. Cooking for one? I do–and I easily cut this recipe in half for two meals. I just used a smaller baking dish.

So, use this as a foundation for building your own one-dish wonder for clients. I hope you’ll share with us what you came up with.

Chicken and Whole Grains Casserole
Serves 2 to 4

Ingredients
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
½ cup of your favorite vinaigrette
½ cup onion, diced
½ cup fresh shitake mushrooms, sliced
½ cup garlic cloves sliced (or, when in season, garlic scapes)
1 cup marinated artichoke heart quarters
2 cups brown rice
¼ cup wheat berries, wild rice, farro, or other grains
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 cups water, white wine, or chicken broth, depending on your preference

Directions
1. The day before you make the dish, combine the chicken thighs and vinaigrette in a freezer bag. Seal and massage the bag to coat the chicken. Refrigerate overnight.
2. Preheat the oven to 375˚F.
3. Grease a 9X13-inch baking dish with olive oil.
4. Combine the vegetables, grains, and herbs and spices in the baking dish. Stir in the liquids. Remove the chicken pieces from the bag and place them on top of the grains mixture.
5. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 1 hour. Uncover the dish and bake for up to another hour. You want the grains to have absorbed the liquid and the chicken to be cooked through with crispy skin.

Do you enjoy a casserole or make them for clients? What is your favorite?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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All too often on our private forums and our Facebook pages, we hear from chefs about sketchy and downright fraudulent communications they receive that seemingly inquire about personal chef services. In reality, these missives are almost always phishing scams.

Here’s a typical one that several chefs around the country received about five years ago:

Hello,
I’m in need of a professional chef to handle surprise birthday party i’m planning for my Husband upon our return from Quito, Ecuador. We’re here right now on vacation and my husband will be turning 45 on 28th of this month while our return is slated for 27th but we’re looking at planning the party between 28th Nov and 8th Dec. As you would see, there’s hardly any time for me to make all the plans myself so i want to hire a professional chef on standy for that day who would cater for at least 20 friends/family members for a sit down dinner party style. Kindly respond back to let me know how much you charge and if you’re able to accept payment in form of check so we can finalize plans long before our return.
Thanks.
(Tee Marcy)

As member April Lee of Tastefully Yours explained, these phishing scams have many things in common, “most noticeably is poor English, poor grammar or improper use of capital letters and punctuation (although I’ve noticed that the scam emails have gotten a little better about this over the years).”

She added that the context of scams also follow certain themes:

  • Vacationing in “fill-in-the-blank” area with family and needing meals for everyone for one to two weeks (or more)
  • Need to throw a surprise party/dinner with little advance notice, but inquirer is impossible to contact directly via telephone (because s/he is in the military and overseas, or s/he is deaf and doesn’t communicate by telephone) and they cannot give a physical address of the venue
  • Wanting to hire you for the event without even talking to you
  • Requesting a bizarre menu, ranging from 100 wrapped chicken salad sandwiches to everything that’s listed on a deli menu somewhere
  • Offering to send a driver to pick up the food and/or deliver a check. Many times they offer to send you a big check and will ask you to pay the driver when they get there.

Seasoned email recipients who have endured their fair share of banking requests from Nigerian princes will immediately see that these emails that are too good to be true are. But all too often personal chef newbies, eager for new gigs, are vulnerable to these scams. And, as Lee pointed out, they can stand to lose thousands of dollars to rip-off artists.

How do they do it? APPCA Executive Director Candy Wallace explained that once they lure you with the full service for an extended time, ask you to submit menu plans, and basically befriend you, they then go for the close.

“What they want is the chef’s banking information so they can clean out the chef’s account,” Candy said. And, she added, while that letter above is typical, they are growing more sophisticated.

“You could at one time spot these right off the bat because the scammers use of the English language was so bad, or their lack of knowledge of food was also a tip,” she said, “but they have done their homework and present a much more believable scenario.”

So, how do you protect yourself?

Christine Robinson, who with partner Dennis Nosko, owns A Fresh Endeavor Personal Chef Service, suggests several tactics: “Google the person contacting you; ask questions, pointed questions; use common sense; and, if you doubt what is sent, use the APPCA Forums, ask, run it past people you know.”

Candy has offered some tips of her own on our forums:

  • Watch out for “phishy” emails. The most common form of phishing is emails pretending to be from a legitimate retailer, bank, organization, or government agency. The sender asks to “confirm” your personal information for some made-up reason: your account is about to be closed, an order for something has been placed in your name, or your information has been lost because of a computer problem. Another tactic phishers use is to say they’re from the fraud departments of well-known companies and ask to verify your information because they suspect you may be a victim of identity theft! In one case, a phisher claimed to be from a state lottery commission and requested people’s banking information to deposit their “winnings” in their accounts.
  • Don’t click on links within emails that ask for your personal information. Fraudsters use these links to lure people to phony Web sites that looks just like the real sites of the company, organization, or agency they’re impersonating. If you follow the instructions and enter your personal information on the Web site, you’ll deliver it directly into the hands of identity thieves. To check whether the message is really from the company or agency, call it directly or go to its Web site (use a search engine to find it).
  • Beware of “pharming.” In this latest version of online ID theft, a virus or malicious program is secretly planted in your computer and hijacks your Web browser. When you type in the address of a legitimate Web site, you’re taken to a fake copy of the site without realizing it. Any personal information you provide at the phony site, such as your password or account number, can be stolen and fraudulently used.
  • Never enter your personal information in a pop-up screen. Sometimes a phisher will direct you to a real company’s, organization’s, or agency’s Web site, but then an unauthorized pop-up screen created by the scammer will appear, with blanks in which to provide your personal information. If you fill it in, your information will go to the phisher. Legitimate companies, agencies and organizations don’t ask for personal information via pop-up screens. Install pop-up blocking software to help prevent this type of phishing attack.
  • Protect your computer with spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a firewall, and keep them up to date. A spam filter can help reduce the number of phishing emails you get. Anti-virus software, which scans incoming messages for troublesome files, and anti-spyware software, which looks for programs that have been installed on your computer and track your online activities without your knowledge, can protect you against pharming and other techniques that phishers use. Firewalls prevent hackers and unauthorized communications from entering your computer – which is especially important if you have a broadband connection because your computer is open to the Internet whenever it’s turned on. Look for programs that offer automatic updates and take advantage of free patches that manufacturers offer to fix newly discovered problems. Go to www.onguardonline.gov and www.staysafeonline.org to learn more about how to keep your computer secure.Also check out Microsoft Phishing Info page: http://www.microsoft.com/secur…ishing-symptoms.aspx
  • Only open email attachments if you’re expecting them and know what they contain. Even if the messages look like they came from people you know, they could be from scammers and contain programs that will steal your personal information.

You can report internet scams to the FBI via their Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) and to Consumer Fraud Reporting:

FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center
Consumer Fraud Reporting

Oh, and are you tempted to reply with a scathing little letter of your own? Yeah, it’s almost irresistible to give them a taste of their own medicine and some of our chefs have responded with rather brilliant responses. But a word of warning. Often these scammers will send emails to test if the email address is live (not unlike those annoying telemarketing calls you also get). Don’t respond, just trash the email and move on in your life.

But not before checking in on our Forum. Yes, we have one specifically dealing with Internet frauds issues. If you’re an APPCA member, this is a benefit you should take advantage of.

Have you gotten fraudulent, phishing emails? How did you handle it?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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Ideas for what to publish in à la minute can come from the least obvious situations. Back in January on the morning of the big Women’s March I met a number of friends in San Diego’s Little Italy to head to the Civic Center where the march was gathering. When I reached the parking lot pastry chef Joanne Sherif, who owns Cardamom Cafe & Bakery, was handing out the most stunning madeleines. Coated in sugar and grapefruit zest, you could almost eat the fragrance before taking a bite. And the bite! Crunchy from the sugar coating but with a bright citrus flavor in the subtly sweet chewy cookie. At that moment that’s all I wanted and I told her I needed her to teach me how to make them.

She did. And she added a chocolate version to the mix.

Now publishing recipes is all well and good but what you really get here is the benefit of Joanne’s expertise–her tricks and tips. When it comes to madeleines, which she considers more of a cake than a cookie but with a thick, cookie-like dough, Joanne’s firmest piece of advice is to refrigerate this dough for at least two hours before baking (and you can even refrigerate it overnight).

She has two reasons for insisting on this. The first is that you want the flour fully hydrated. The second is you want it completely chilled when it gets into the oven. Like bread baking, the steam for the cold moisture when it hits the heat will give it “oven spring.” In other words, it will help it puff up.

Another suggestion Joanne has, and this is for the chocolate madeleines, is to use a top grade cocoa. Joanne discovered Guittard’s Cocoa Rouge, which she adores. I found it on Amazon’s and Sur La Table’s websites, along with Guittard’s own site.

Finally, again for the chocolate madeleines, add a bit of espresso powder. This brings out the flavor of the chocolate.

Now if you aren’t a grapefruit fan, no worries. You can use any kind of citrus. The day I was with Joanne, she had blood oranges and the reds and oranges in the zest were striking. And assuming you have leftover citrus sugar, don’t toss it! Instead, says Joanne, use it to sweeten iced team, rim a cocktail glass, or add to a homemade salad dressing.

Finally, before you place the dough in the madeleine forms, brush a little butter inside the forms to make sure the cookies won’t stick. And don’t fuss over smoothing the top of the dough. Use your fingers to press the dough into the molds but as they bake, the top will smooth itself.

Chocolate Madeleines
From Joanne Sherif of Cardamom Café & Bakery
Yield: 2 to 3 dozen depending on mold size

Ingredients
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons espresso powder
100 grams all-purpose flour
90 grams cocoa powder
pinch salt
185 grams plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled
¼ cup cocoa powder

Directions

  1. In a stand mixer, beat together eggs, sugar, vanilla, and espresso powder. Slowly add flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Mix and then slowly stream in 185 grams of melted butter. Mix until fully incorporated. Refrigerate dough at least two hours and up to overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Melt a tablespoon of butter and brush the inside of the madeleine molds. Place about a tablespoon of the dough in each mold.
  3. Bake for 14 to 16 minutes, rotating the pan halfway for an even bake. To make sure they’re done, lightly tap the top. When it springs back, they’re fully baked.
  4. Remove the madeleines from the oven and let cool.
  5. In a medium-size bowl several madeleines. Place cocoa powder in a sifter and sift cocoa over madeleines. Remove and repeat with the next set of madeleines until all are topped with cocoa powder. Serve or place in a plastic bag. They’ll stay fresh for about 4 days.

Citrus Madeleines
From Joanne Sherif of Cardamom Café & Bakery
Yield: 2 to 3 dozen depending on mold size

Ingredients
2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon fresh lemon zest
pinch salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 ¼ sticks plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 cups sugar
2 pieces of citrus, zested (lemon, lime, orange, or grapefruit all work)

Directions

  1. In a stand mixer, beat together eggs, sugar, vanilla, lemon zest, and salt. Slowly add flour and then butter. Mix until fully incorporated. Refrigerate dough at least two hours and up to overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Melt a tablespoon of butter and brush the inside of the madeleine molds. Place about a tablespoon of the dough in each mold.
  3. Bake for 14 to 16 minutes, rotating the pan halfway for an even bake. To make sure they’re done, lightly tap the top. When it springs back, they’re fully baked.
  4. Remove the madeleines from the oven and let cool.
  5. In a medium-size bowl, mix together the sugar and citrus zest. Place several madeleines in the bowl and gently toss them in the sugar and zest mixture. Remove and repeat with the next set of madeleines until all are coasted in the sugar and zest mixture. Serve or place in a plastic bag. They’ll stay fresh for about 4 days.

Do you make desserts for clients? If so, what are your favorites to prepare?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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Back when my Rhodesian Ridgeback Ketzel was a young dog there wasn’t much that she saw or sniffed that didn’t wind up in her mouth. On our way out of the dog park one late fall afternoon she suddenly started vomiting what looked like moth balls—something I have never had in my home. I rushed her to the emergency vet, described what I’d seen land on the ground, and wracked my brain trying to think of what she may have eaten. And then in my mind’s eye I saw it—my beautiful camellia bush that sits in a large pot in a corner on my patio. In November it was dripping with buds—white buds. Ketzel must have scarfed them down during the day before we went to the park. Sure enough, when we got home, I saw the bush had been stripped naked. Fortunately, research showed they weren’t toxic. But it was a pricey conclusion to a long afternoon.

Azaleas–a no no for pets. They’re now on the front porch where the dogs and cat can’t nibble on them.

Many of our members are pet owners and pet owners with gardens face a difficult balancing act. We want an outdoor space that reflects our aesthetic but we want it to be safe for our animals. Often we move in to a stunning mature landscape and bring in a dog or cat, only to discover that the colorful lilies or azaleas or foxgloves that make us smile when they’re blooming are also enticing to our pets—and horribly toxic, perhaps even deadly, when chewed on. Or the space is attacked by pests that we have to eradicate.

Most pet owners are aware of various lists of outdoor plants to avoid. “The ASPCA has a comprehensive list of toxic and non-toxic plants on its website, divided by dogs, cats, and horses,” noted David Ross, the senior manager of Walter Andersen Nursery’s Poway store in San Diego County. For dogs, this includes azaleas, bay laurels, clivia lily, and even geraniums, which can cause vomiting, anorexia, depression, and dermatitis.

But Anita Sly, a registered vet tech in San Diego, knows simply following a plant list is not a cut-and-dried solution. Over the years she’s found that many people don’t even understand the implications of toxicity. Sly pointed out that toxic may not always mean fatal, but it can lead to damage—including neurological damage or liver, heart, or kidney failure. And the source of toxicity can be confounding for a well-intentioned gardener.

“Some plants are entirely toxic but for others it may be the flower or the leaves,” she pointed out. “You also have to remember that some medications are derived from plants, like digitalis or poppies. You wouldn’t just eat medication but we make available in our garden the plants they come from. We also think in terms of a single plant type as being toxic, but not others in that species. So we wouldn’t have oleanders in our garden, but we don’t realize that thevetia peruviana and thevetia thevetioides are in that species and are also poisonous. And there are trees that can cause problems. Macadamia trees aren’t a problem themselves, but the nuts are toxic. So are the seeds that drop from sago palms.”

And, Ross pointed out, like people, any pet can have a bad reaction to a plant, even one that’s not on a toxic list.

“I had a client that had a lot of pencil cactus and the dog, chasing rabbits into the cactus, was having reactions in its eyes,” he recalled. “The client finally had to remove the cactus because they couldn’t stop the bunnies.”

Finally, there’s pest control. Sly said when it comes to insecticides you spray on plants you have to be very careful about reading labels. Pyrethrinis, she said is fine, but permethrins are toxic—more to cats than dogs. Her suggestion? Use diatomaceous earth or boric acid. If you’re dealing with rodents, don’t use loose pellets. They’re anticoagulents and your pet can bleed out if they ingest them.

So, what can you do? Paige Hailey of Urban Plantations, a San Diego landscaping company, suggests some preliminary steps. Spend time in your yard with your pet to see what they go for. What are their habits so you can make informed planting choices?

 

Also address your dog or cat’s specific issues, especially if they come to you as rescues. Trainer Alexandra Gant of Behave LLC in San Diego explained that when dogs are on their own on the streets, they learn to eat anything for survival and that starving can cause food anxiety that doesn’t automatically go away when they’re finally in a good home. So address the root of the problem. And for any dog, address issues like boredom, diet imbalance, and your own reactions.

“Owners, particularly with puppies, can turn plant eating or digging into a game by racing around and shouting at the dog,” she said. “Don’t reward bad behavior; instead be calm when you catch them, quietly take the plant away, and give them something in return, like a toy, that’s safe.”

These experts had additional tips:

  • Bring your mobile computer, i.e. cell phone, with you when shopping for plants and consult the ASPCA list to avoid bringing home anything dangerous. Consult the experts who work at nurseries. Review a proposed plant list with your landscaper and double check it against a toxic plant list.
  • If you want to keep pets away from a plant or tree that you just don’t want to take out, fence it or wall and groom the tree behind the fence. With palms that drop seeds, religiously rake them.
  • For dogs or cats who get into edibles like tomatoes or beans, build raised beds if you have the space. It creates an automatic barrier and also makes it easier to fence off the vegetables if necessary.
  • When fertilizing, keep your animals out of the yard for the rest of the afternoon to let the nutrients off gas and lose some of their deliciousness. Cultivate it well and cover with mulch to mask the smell.
  • If you have a dog who chews on dripline irrigation, enclose the area with chicken wire or deer fences.
  • Encourage cats to hang out in a separate space in the garden by planting catnip or cat grass as an attractant.
  • To keep snakes out of the yard, bury 1/2-inch mesh into the ground and a good foot and a half above the ground and secure it to the regular fence. Sly said you can also vaccinate dogs against rattlesnake venom, but it’s not a cure all.
  • Finally, if you have the space and have an incorrigible dog or you’re an incorrigible gardener, build a dog run that can be the dog’s safe space.

Do you have pets who spend time in the garden? What issues have you had to address?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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Did the title get your attention? When cookbook author Jill O’Connor told me that was one of the cakes she wanted to show me how to make, it sure got mine.

As a personal chef have a great job. But you’re not Jill. You see, She’s is a pastry chef who writes dessert cookbooks for a living. She’s written six–the latest, published in 2009, is Sticky, Chewy, Messy Gooey Treats for Kids. And this month, number seven debuts: Cake, I Love You: Decadent, Delectable, and Do-able Recipes. In between her books, Jill develops recipes and writes for a variety of publications, including The San Diego Union-Tribune’s food section.

Imagine a life of making sweet treats that bring joy to others. Oh, yeah, you do. And, that’s pretty much Jill’s world, too. And, knowing Jill as I do, it all comes from the heart.

Jill invited me to her house recently to make one of the cakes in the book. Imagine the wealth of choices I had–from her Coconut Fudge Snow-Ball to Blood Orange Ricotta Pound Cake–Jill offered me a few choices.

And, as I said above, this Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake with Melted Chocolate Bar Frosting was clearly the winning choice. Chocolate. Chocolate with Mayonnaise. And Chocolate Bar Frosting? Whew!

Sounds decadent and difficult, right? In fact, yes, it is decadent if you adore chocolate. But, says Jill, “This is what I would call an after-school cake.” Meaning it’s accessible to the home baker. And certainly to personal chefs who know their way around a kitchen.

Now Jill writes a great recipe. Everything is clear and straightforward. But it was wonderful to be with her in her kitchen in Coronado to pick up some of her cake making and layer cake frosting tips. Let’s face it. Baking a cake can be pretty easy if you follow the recipe. But the skill involved in making the layers even and then frosting it? That’s an art. And I wanted to learn that art from the master.

As Jill set up her Kitchen Aid stand mixer and began to mix the liquid cake ingredients she gave me her first tip: always add sugar slowly to eggs. Why? Doing this in reverse will burn the eggs. Who knew?

Now you may be wondering about the mayo and why it’s in the recipe. This is actually a pretty common ingredient going back to the 1930s and 40s when butter and eggs were being rationed because of World War II. It basically was an accessible and economical fat substitute for baking.

Another tip Jill employs is adding a bit of coffee to chocolate. You may already do this or have heard about this trick. No, you won’t get coffee flavor with such a small amount, but what it does is enhance the flavor of the chocolate.

Let’s talk cocoa for a moment. Be sure to read the label when you reach for a container. What you do not want is Dutch processed cocoa. Here’s why, according to Jill: Baking soda, which is in this recipe as a leavening agent, needs something acidic to make it work to activate its leavening power. If you add too much acid (such as what’s in Dutch processed cocoa) you’ll get a salty soapy taste. Instead, Jill uses Hersey’s Dark Special Process cocoa.

Once you have mixed the batter, if it seems too thick, Jill says you can thin it with boiling water–just a little at a time to come to the right consistency. You also want to eliminate any lumps, so whisk until they’re all gone.

Now, you could bake this as a sheet cake, but it makes for a gorgeous layer cake. So, you’ll want two round cake pans, sprayed with Pam or some other nonstick cooking spray. Then you’ll line the bottom with parchment paper. Split the batter evenly between the two pans and give them some sharp taps to eliminate any bubbles. If you’re really concerned about whether you’ve evenly divided the batter, go ahead and weigh each filled pan on a digital scale.

Okay, now it’s time to focus on the frosting. If you’re the type who plans ahead, Jill suggests making it the day before so it can sit and thicken naturally overnight.

Jill calls this a chocolate bar frosting, but she’s actually not using chocolate bars. “It’s chocolate bar like because I use milk chocolate chips,” she explains.

The frosting calls for powdered sugar. You can add more than what’s listed in the recipe if you want a firmer texture and sweeter flavor.

The recipe for the frosting is pretty straightforward. But what you really want to know is how to get it on the cake so that you have something irresistibly gorgeous and not like you’re five-years-old. This is how you do that.

First, place the cake on something higher than the counter, like a cake plate but it could also be a large upside down mixing bowl–and the cake itself should be on a cake board, which is stiff and lets you more easily maneuver it. You can find cake boards at Michael’s.

 

Now, using an offset spatula, you spread on a “crumb coat.” Basically, it’s a thin coat of frosting that covers the crumbs “like spackle,” Jill says.

Then it’s the moment of truth. You glide on that luxuriant second coat of frosting all over the cake.

Still listing a bit? Take a cue from Jill, who does experience this from time to time. “Toss on chocolate sprinkles,” she says. “It’s like a cake bra. It helps hold it in place and creates a visual camouflage.”

That’s just what she did with our cake. And it was the source of one last trick. To put the sprinkles on the cake, place them in a large bowl. Carefully hold the cake over the bowl by the cake board. Using your free hand, grab a handful of sprinkles and gently press into the side of the cake, letting the excess fall back into the bowl. Turn the cake little by little and repeat until you’ve covered the sides with the sprinkles.

That’s it! Oh, except for digging in. The cake itself is a marvel. It’s moist and slices beautifully. It has the most sumptuous chocolate flavor–not too sweet but definitely satisfying for the sweet tooth. Make it for your kids to enjoy after school or impress your clients at a dinner party.

Cake, I Love You will be published on May 23. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon.

Old Fashioned Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake with Melted Chocolate Bar Frosting
From Jill O’Connor and her book Cake, I Love You: Decadent, Delectable, and Do-able Recipes

I am always looking for an easy-to-bake cake that’s good enough to make an ordinary Wednesday feel special. This chocolate cake is luxuriously rich, yet with a surprisingly light texture. The batter is versatile and sturdy enough to be baked in a 9×13-inch pan for an everyday celebration, or into two 9-inch round cake pans if the occasion calls for a layer cake instead. Mayonnaise cakes were popularized in the late 1930’s by Hellman’s Mayonnaise as a more economical substitution for butter and eggs. Since mayonnaise is simply an emulsion of eggs and oil with a dash of vinegar, it works beautifully. This cake is tasty enough to eat plain, but I prefer to slather it with Melted Chocolate Bar Frosting; it takes 5 minutes to whip together from pantry staples and all you really need is a bowl, a wooden spoon, and a strong arm.

Yield: One 9- by-13-inch cake, or 9-inch round double-layer cake

Cake
2 cups all purpose flour
¾ cup natural cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 cup mayonnaise (do not use low-fat)
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder or coffee powder
1 1/3 cups boiling water

Melted Chocolate Bar Frosting:
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup milk chocolate chips
½ cup unsalted butter
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
Large pinch fine sea salt
2 to 3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Heat the oven to 350°F. Spray a metal 9- by-13 inch sheet pan (or two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray. (If using round cake pans, line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper.)

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar and eggs together at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Beat in the mayonnaise and the vanilla until smooth.

Lower the mixer speed to its lowest speed and beat in 1/2 the dry ingredients just until combined. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

In a small bowl, mix together the espresso powder with the boiling water. Add 1/2 of the espresso mixture to the batter and beat on low speed just until the batter is smooth, about 5 to 10 seconds. Add the remaining dry ingredients and beat just until combined. Beat in the remaining espresso and beat just until smooth. The batter will be somewhat thin.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan (s) and bake 22 to 25 minutes until a wooden skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely.

For the frosting: In a large, microwave-safe bowl, combine the semisweet and milk chocolate chips with the butter. Heat on high power for 1 minute. Stir together until the butter and chocolates are completely melted and smooth. If not completely melted after 1 minute, heat again in 15-second increments, stirring until smooth. Use a large balloon whisk or a wooden spoon and stir in the sour cream. Beat in add 2 cups [xx g] confectioners’ sugar, just until smooth and spreadable. If a thicker, sweeter frosting is desired, beat in an additional cup of sugar.

Spread the top of the cooled cake with the Melted Chocolate Bar Frosting. Cut into squares and serve. Cover pan tightly with plastic wrap or foil, and store at room temperature. The cake will stay fresh for about 2 days. (For layer cake: place one layer on a cake stand and frost the top with about 1 cup frosting. Top with second layer and spread the remaining frosting on the top and around the sides of the cake.)

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