Monthly Archives: April 2008

Rosemary Cashews

I was doing my taxes tonight — one day before the deadline, which must be a record for me — which is apropos of nothing other than my mind was wandering away from my CPP contributions and more towards what else I could be doing if I wasn’t being forced to do paperwork … even if that paperwork would lead to an extra couple of hundred dollars in my bank account.

Last week I bought a package of rosemary and some bulk cashews thinking I might find some time to put together one of my favourite snack recipes. Somehow over the course of the past several days things got pretty busy, but I couldn’t keep putting it off for fear the lovely green needles of rosemary would blacken and wither in my crisper. So, as I signed off on my tax return, I decided it was time to whip up a little bonus.

The Ingredients

Rosemary Cashews have rapidly become my go-to hostess gift since I began making them a few years ago. They have been to book club and video nights, served as work snacks and traveled all the way to Malta as a small, homemade gift for friends hosting me there. (They were such a hit, we made a bastardized version for Canadian Thanksgiving, in which my friends invited 10 for turkey dinner by the pool.)

I love the play of salty and sweet and the hit of heat, combined with the herby woodiness of the rosemary. Plus they’re ridiculously easy to make.

With all due respect to Ina Garten — my cooking guru, the Barefoot Contessa — I generally not-quite-double the coating to ensure the cashews are thoroughly covered. (Hey, the nuts are just the carriers of the rosemary and sugar, in this girl’s eyes. And yes, this may make them a little bit more slippery, but isn’t that why cocktail napkins were invented?)

I also generally use salted butter because that’s what I have sitting around and can’t be bothered to invest in unsalted just for one or two recipes. As a result I cut back on the salt. Oh, and I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to heat, so I don’t add all the cayenne she calls for.

Rosemary Cashews

Here is the recipe is as it stands in her cookbook, Barefoot Contessa in Paris.

Rosemary Cashews

  • 1 pound roasted, unsalted cashews
  • 2 tbsp. minced fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp. light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the cashews out on a sheet pan. Toast in the oven until warm, about five minutes. (Full disclosure here: I cheat at this part and just use a dry frying pan on low heat to heat up the nuts.)

In a large bowl, combine the rosemary, cayenne, sugar, salt and butter. Thoroughly toss the warm cashews with the spiced butter and serve warm. (Though, let’s be honest here, they are just fine at room temperature too.)

Southern Comfort

Red Velvet Cake is a southern U.S. tradition that is so popular it can even be found in the cake mix aisle. I can’t date when my obsession with this cake began, though I think it first came to my attention while watching Steel Magnolias where the groom’s cake was shaped like an armadillo and it looked like it was bleeding when someone cut into it.

And I’m also not sure what the reason behind this obsession is. Must be something about the virginal white icing hiding the slutty red interior and all its metaphors.

Essentially, it’s a chocolate layer cake infused with red food colouring that turns the cake into a shade of crimson that plays against the white, cream cheese icing.

Red Velvet Cake

But I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I decided to take this on for a dinner party Sunday night.

1) It’s the first cake I’ve ever baked that did not involve me opening a box and praising Betty Crocker.

2) It involved at least 30 minutes worth of research on dutch processed cocoa vs. natural cocoa. (Nutshell: dutch processed is treated to neutralize its acidity, so has to be used in recipes that call for baking powder as it may not react with baking soda.)

3) It also involved a further 30 minutes of research to figure out whether the cocoa I bought for this (Fry’s) was or was not dutch processed, since it was not indicated anywhere on the can. For the record, it is.

On the upside, attempting this cake also gave me an excuse to buy some new toys for my kitchen: an offset spatula and two new cake pans.

I was initially hesitant to make this cake, having never baked one that didn’t come out of a box. This hesitation was amplified after I went out on a blind date with a man who considered himself quite a baker. While the meringues he brought to munch on over coffee were good, I thought it was a bit presumptuous when he tried to talk me out of my red velvet plan.

“You’ve never made a cake?”

And then: “You should make brownies. There’s a great recipe by Alton Brown, just cut back the sugar to half a cup.”

Brownies, he said, were good and easy and hard to screw up.

“You don’t want to make your friends your guinea pigs,” he added.

That was pretty much the end of the date. There won’t be a second one.

And, after that, I was much more determined to master the Red Velvet.

I won’t call it a resounding success — as kind as my friends are for saying it was delicious — but it was a worthy first effort. And, frankly, anything coated in that much cream cheese frosting can’t be all bad. I learned a few things, including the need to sift all the dry ingredients together or suffer the consequences. In this case, that meant cocoa swirls throughout the not-quite-flaming red layers; and that a crumb coat is definitely the way to go when dealing with such an intensely coloured batter.

The Ingredients


Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

  • 2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tbsp. liquid food colouring
  • 1 tsp. white distilled vinegar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9″ round cake pans and line the bottom with parchment paper

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder. (And ensure the cocoa is evenly distributed.)

Beat butter until soft, then add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well each time. Add vanilla.

In a measuring cup whisk the buttermilk and red food colouring. (I used food colour gels here, so added two tbsp. of water and mixed in the gel, adding more and more until the desired colour.)

Alternately add the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture to the butter and eggs, ending on the flour.

Mix in small cup the vinegar and baking soda. Watch it fizz, then add to the batter.

Pour the batter into the two pans and bake for 25 – 30 minutes. Let cool in wire rack in the pans for 10 minutes, then out of the pans until cool.

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 3 cups icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Beat butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add sugar and vanilla. (Prepare to be coated in icing sugar cloud.) Beat to combine.

Welcome…

Ah the inaugural post. In which I am supposed to tempt you to stick around, check back and become loyal readers. All I can really say is: I’m not a professional cook or pastry chef, but I’m pretty passionate about food; I not-so-secretly love to spend time in the kitchen (is it wrong that I consider this a favourite pastime?); and my cookbook cupboard is fairly exploding from all the books I have jammed in there. (One recent — and failed — New Year’s resolution was that I had to cook one recipe out of all my books before I was allowed to buy any new ones.)

This blog is going to be about trusted recipes and experiments. Favourite kitchen appliances or good meals had while on my travels may also make guest appearances.

Enjoy!