Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ina's Sticky Toffee Date Cake and Simple Lives

I am trying to think of a way to start this post that doesn't include an excuse or an apology, because I really don't think either is necessary, but I do want to be clear that I'm not happy about being gone from here for so long.
Things have been insane, NUTS, but are getting so much better than the last time I wrote here. I am so thankful. Things haven't been all fantastic (water in the basement is the worst) but we're on a major uptrend without a doubt. Thank you for sticking around.
I haven't talked to you since Easter. Easter! It was Ellie's first real one. We're having a lot of those this year, second firsts.  She had so much fun opening her little basket at home first thing in the morning.  We filled her eggs with raisins, puffs, and dark chocolate chips, knowing she'd be getting plenty of real candy later on. I also made sure she got plenty of non-food stuff, like this book, which was a huge hit, a new toothbrush and some little toys.
She spent the afternoon hunting eggs and opening and closing (and opening and closing) them with her cousins in her special Easter dress.  She didn't eat too much candy, and the adults managed to polish off what was leftover within a few days. We have found candy to be like tv. I don't want to completely cut it out of her life, but I do keep it to a bare minimum and always feel reaffirmed when she does get her hands on them because of her behavior. She gets SO insistent about more more more of both of these things, but when they're out of sight for a while, she forgets about them. I want them both to continue to be special and rare.
I decided to cook something super sweet for Easter.  Since I had always wanted to make sticky toffee pudding, I decided to go for it. When I found Ina's recipe that is made with dates, I knew I'd found my match.
Do you eat dates? I don't think I did before I started working with people from the Middle East.  They are incredible. They are sweet but also full of fiber. I love using them in recipes (like the almond milk I recently shared) or eating straight out of hand, smeared with peanut butter. Check your local bulk store to try out a few different kinds. You can also find them at Middle Eastern grocery stores. They tend to be vacuum sealed and very inexpensive. This cake is made with dried medjool dates.
This recipe is easy but quite strange. Don't expect it to look like any cake you've ever made before. I made it in a cupcake pan instead of a 9 in. cake pan.
*Please note that this made a ton of individual cupcakes. I stopped at two dozen but it could have easily made another dozen, if not more. I'm sharing Ina's amounts with my photos so you can see what the cakes will look like.

Sticky Toffee Date Cake
from Ina Garten
for the cake:

3/4 lb. dates, pitted and chopped
1 3/4 c. water
1 tsp. baking soda
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature 
1/3 cup organic evaporated cane juice
2 eggs, at room temperature 
1 tsp. vanilla 
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour 
1 tsp. salt 
1.5 tbsp. baking powder

For the sauce: 
1.5 sticks butter 
1 c. light brown sugar
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla

Begin by chopping the dates and putting them into a pot with the water. It will start smelling good now.
Bring to a boil. Simmer one minute and remove from heat.
 Add the soda. Be careful as it will bubble up. 
Meanwhile, start the butter and sugar creaming in your mixer. I did this while the dates were coming to a boil.  Bonus points if you have a buddy.
Add the eggs, one by one, and then the vanilla. 
In a separate bowl, combine the flour and salt, and then add very slowly to the butter/sugar/egg mix.
Then pour in your hot date mixture. (Remove any buddies before pouring hot date syrup.)
It's going to look like this and you're going to think it's crazy, but it's not.
Add the baking powder. Again it'll bubble up, so be prepared. It'll start looking a little better now.
Pour into greased cupcake pans. Bake at 350 for 30ish minutes, using a toothpick to check doneness. It will come out clean when they're ready.
The sauce is a simple caramel sauce. Combine the sauce ingredients except vanilla in a pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for one minute. Pull it from the heat and add the vanilla. 

Once the cakes are finished, pull them from the oven and poke them all over with a toothpick or skewer. This gives the sauce somewhere to settle.  Pour the warm sauce over the warm cupcakes. Let them sit until they're at room temperature and serve upside down with fresh whipped cream on top.

DSC04201 DSC04204
So good.  Even better the next day.

Other good things:

Azure Standard. We've been buying from Azure monthly and are very happy with the products and pricing. Here's one order of frozen organic mixed vegetables and broccoli, frozen blueberries
organic avocados,onions, carrots, and nut thins. The boxes are delivered to a drop point each month. Azure has made a good dent in our food budget, so please check them out to see if there's a drop in your area. 
Ellie's work. It's getting more interesting and she's getting more confident. I'm focusing on reinforcing picking up an activity, doing it, and then putting it back. It's difficult but we're improving. In this exercise, she's putting animal beads on a stick, a precursor to threading. She wanted to do it in front of her mirror, which I thought was a great idea. I'm sorry it's so dirty, but it belongs to a toddler.
Super simple dinners. Eggs over quinoa and spinach, sprinkled with spicy salt.
I've been sewing again. I moved the machine up into the living room and sewing in front of the picture window in bright sun. This is my new favorite place.
Being outside. Bulbs in the ground. (Glads and cannas) Hands in the dirt.
This kid. And worms!! 
You guys, of course.
And Simple Lives! It's Thursday so please check to see all the great posts that are linked up, and the best of last week's contributions.
 Remember that we four host:

1. Garden Tip: Building Good Soil by 6512 and growing. "It's mid-April and I'm roaming my property like a fat land baron, bending down to sift the gold of our soil through my fingers, cackling at my riches. Actually, I'm really doing this. "
2. Tea Cup or Mug Pin Cushion Tutorial by Practical Stewardship. "Here is a super fast no-sew tutorial that you could put together in under five minutes. This would be great project even for a preschooler to make, since it would make a lovely gift with little effort." IMG_7774-1024x770
 3. What to do with Extra Eggs? by The Self Sufficient HomeAcre. "So now you have extra eggs on hand and maybe the fridge is filling up with egg cartons. What to do with all these little treasures?"

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