The trials and tribulations of a scatter-brained kitchen junkie.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Week 3 (Cooking) - Chicken Tomatillo Soup

The cooking challenge for week 3 was soup. S(o)uper easy that is.

I love soup, but for years I was afraid of making it myself. My mom is a soup goddess and I am always assumed that my soups would just fail completely when compared to the deliciousness this deity creates.

I may have a cooking complex.  

In the last year or two I've started venturing outside of my no-soup zone and dipping my pinky toe into the icy cold waters of soup-dom. (Why is soup icy? I don't know, ssshhhh...) So far so good, and my slow cooker has been my best friend on these adventures. I love that I can toss stuff in, crank that baby down low, cover it up, skirt out the door, and come home to warm, tasty food. Plus these are some of the most balanced meals I can create in a pinch; protein, veggies, carbs...Soup has it all baby! Soup is, in every way, perfect. Especially for winter.

I have about 5 jillion recipes booked marked here and there, and probably at least a third (1.67 jillion that is) of the recipes are for soup. This week's recipe was an adaptation from one I found on  Better Homes & Gardens website that I just haven't had the gumption to make yet. Excuses no more, soup week is here.

Slow cooker recipes couldn't be simpler and I feel a bit silly detailing this, but detail I must.

Spicy Chicken Tomatillo Soup

  • 7 medium tomatillos, husks removed & rinsed

    I had no idea how sticky and weird these things felt. shudder
  • 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 32 oz low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 red onion chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 4 oz canned diced green chilis
  • 1 large fresh jalapeno, chopped - I leave the seeds, some people prefer to tone the spice down and remove them, your call.

  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • Juice from 1 lime

  • 2 heaping tsp chili powder - Again adjust to taste
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper

  1. Dice 3 of the tomatillos.
  2. Put the other 4 in a food processor and blender to create a smooth paste.

  3. Combine all of the ingredients in a 3 1/2 - 4 qt slow cooker.

  4. Cover.
  5. Set on low heat for 6-7 hours or on high for 3 1/2-4 hours.
  6. Remove the chicken from the broth.
  7. Allow to cool slightly.
  8. Shred it!

  9. Slide the chicken back into the stock.
  10. Mix to combine the chicken with the broth.
  11. Serve yourself a nice big bowl with some tortilla chips & salsa. Mmm.

Week 3 (Baking) - White Chocolate Cranberry Blondies

Week 3's baking theme was white chocolate. I knew right away I was going to do something with cranberries because I love the combination of these two. I've done white chocolate cranberry cookies in the past, so I was looking for something fresh and new when I stumbled across this recipe from Taste of Home; it sounded simply too scrumptious to pass up.

I've attempted blondies on only one other occasion and the results were less than stellar. However, unlike  my previous attempts, this was easy-peasey and I was more than pleas(ey)ed with the results. These bars are easy to keep out of sight, but it's a futile effort to put them out of your mind.

For the Base

  • 3/4 c butter, cubed & melted
  • 1 1/2 c packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 c flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Pinch ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 c dried cranberries
  • 6 oz white chocolate, coarsely chopped
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  2. Line a 9x13 (or what we call in my house a frog pan, long story...) with tin foil or parchment paper.

    I have this amazing springform 9x13 pan and I cannot tell you how happy it makes me. In addition to just being awesome, tt also makes lining the bottom of the pan a breeze. Just smooth the foil across the base, slide on the top, smooth any creases this creates, and lock in place. A-MA-ZING!

  3. Grease sides & lined bottom of pan with cooking spray.
    Set aside while combining ingredients.
  4. Combine the melted butter & brown sugar. Allow to cool to room temperature before moving on.

  5. Beat in the eggs & vanilla extract.
  6. Combine the "drys" (flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon) and slowly mix into butter batter. - Isn't that fun to say? - butter batter -

  7. Fold in the cranberries & white chocolate chunks. - I always prefer to do these things by hand -

  8. Press dough firmly and evenly into the prepared pan.

  9. Bake for 18-21 minutes - or so the original recipe says - Mine took about 25 minutes, but they were perfect golden brown and not even remotely overcooked.

  10. Allow to cool completely before frosting. You can whip up the frosting while the blondies finish cooling. 

For the Frosting

  • 8 oz neufchatel or cream cheese, softened
  • 1 c powdered sugar
  • 6 oz white chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 c dried cranberries, chopped

  1. Melt the white chocolate.


    I use the microwave on defrost setting in burst of 30 seconds, but go with whatever frosts your cupcake - Get it...instead of floats your boat, frosts your Seriously though, take note: frosts your cupcake, it's going to be a thing.

  2. Whip the neufchatel until fluffy.

  3. Mix in the powdered sugar and stir until fully blended.
  4. Add in 1/2 the melted chocolate, stir to combine.

    If using a springform, take the blondies out of the pan to frost, if not, you can frost/cut/etc in the pan. I personally hate doing that. Hence, springform.

  5. Frost the blondies.

  6. Sprinkle the chopped cranberries across the frosting. Press down gently with your hand to secure them in the frosting.
    *Note I said press, not flatten/push/hulk-smash... just gentle pressure please.

  7. Drizzle with the remaining white chocolate.

    Drizzling makes everything look fancy. Just look at it!

  8. Cut however you see fit.
    I got 24 servings out of mine, the original recipe claims 30. I call BS. ;)
  9. Serve & Enjoy.

Store these bad boys in the refrigerator when not in use. Don't worry about how long they keep, people will scarf these down long before you have to worry about that one. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Big Bang Bars

Big Bang Bars (noun) - Cookie bars which contain the ingredients from which all other cookies are derived.

I wish I could claim credit for the name of these delicious beasts, but in fact the name came from a fellow redditor (kanthropology) who came to the rescue when I was looking to replace the name Garbage cookies, with something a bit more appetizing. To reward her efforts I shipped her a batch of these yummy newly named treats. The name is perfect because it's nerdy - much like their maker - and because these delectable treats do provide a BIG BANG with each bite.

Not pictured: Coconut

When I was a kid my father cooked precisely 3 things: chili that was way too spicy for consumption by children, mac n' cheese, and these cookies. He always called them garbage cookies and made them from whatever garbage was sitting in the cabinets that looked appealing at the time. Each batch come out a little different because you never knew what he was going to throw in them. They also are always made in bar form because he was far too lazy to be bothered with drop cookies.

These have always been my favorite cookies because they have a little bit of everything, all mixed into one. I have taken my father's not so scientific approach to cookie making and refined the process down to a simple recipe that can be shared and re-created. Perhaps some of the magic is lost now that the recipe is committed in written form, but I like to think the memory lingers and perhaps gains momentum now that others can share in the joy.

I know that "everything" cookies aren't anything unique or original for most families, but I choose to believe there's something unique here. If for no other reason than the small memory of childhood that comes rushing back when the warm gooey joy hits my lips.

So readers I give to you: Garbage Cookies 2.0 → Big Bang Bites
  • 1 stick of butter, softened
  • 3/4 c brown sugar
  • 1/2 granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/4 c peanut butter
  • 1 cup coconut
  • 1 1/2 c flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup/6 oz/ 1/2 bag chocolate chips
  • 1 c raisins
  • 3 cups uncooked oatmeal

I make a note, for posterity's sake of mixing these cookies by hand. The only reason I do this is because we didn't own a mixer when I was a kid, so I feel like I'm cheating the memory by bustin' out the Kitchenaid.

The Steps
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  2. Line a 9x9 pan with aluminum foil (optional).
  3. Spray pan/aluminum foil with non-stick cooking spray.
  4. Combine the butter & sugars and mix until creamy.
  5. Add the egg and vanilla, mix until incorporated.

  6. Add in the peanut butter, stirring again until fully incorporated.
  7. Add in the coconut, stir, incorporate, etc.
  8. Add the baking soda & flour and mix well.
  9. Fold in the chocolate chips & raisins.

  10. Add the oatmeal slowly, mixing completely with each addition.
  11. Press the dough into the greased pan.

  12. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Bars should appear mostly cooked but slightly soft in the center.
    A tooth pick should come out clean, but doesn't always if you end up hitting a cash of chocolate chips. I always hit chocolate chips.
    The bars are slightly drier than normal cookies, but that's part of their charm in my opinion. You can always play with the recipe and find out what works best for your tastes. 
  13. Remove from oven, allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before cutting.

Optional Drizzle
  • 1 cup chocolate
  • 1/4 c shortening

  1. Melt the chocolate.
  2. Stir in shortening, mix until completely smooth.
  3. Drizzle over bars.

...and there you have it. I hope people try this recipe and enjoy these cookies as much as I do. I'd love to hear what other variations people add into their everything cookies.

Happy noming.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Strike A Pose - Model(ing) Chocolate

Short - and sweet - post about my recent decorating workshop adventure.

If the point hasn't been made abundantly clear yet, I have a love affair with all things cake.  I get my passion for the kitchen from my mother, and her mother before her, etc. My ever patient mom put up with many years of me doing unspeakably ugly things to cakes. Like dying them green - which turns pukey brown in the oven - or "baking" in the microwave. A few years ago my mom, my brother's girlfriend, my bestie, and I, took a cake decorating class together at Hobby Lobby which is what sparked my career as a part time cake decorating instructor. Being a bit of a Wilton Brands fangirl, I was more than pleased to discover a workshop starting in early 2012 for modeling chocolate. When it came time for holiday gift buying it was a no brainer to purchase a slot for my mom, and one for myself to keep her company. Couldn't have her getting lonely. ;)

The finished "cake."

Fast-forward to last weekend and we found ourselves heavily immersed in white chocolate "dough." The class was more than a little chaotic - as it turns out this was the first ever run through - so timing was off, the instructor was all over the place, and the chocolate was starting to dry out. No matter, it was a lot of fun and we learned some fun new techniques in the process. 

Sadly I forgot my camera at home so I wasn't able to take scene by scenes as we crafted the different blossoms, but luckily our display cakes made it home in one piece and we were able to snap some pictures then.

Oriental Lily.
In addition to learning the "recipe" for modeling chocolate, we also learned to make:
  • Loopy bows
  • Tie Bows
  • Cymbidiums
  • Phalaenopsis (Moth) Orchids
  • Oriental Lillies
  • Calla Lillies
  • American Roses
  • Leaves
  • Pressed Pearl Strands
American Rose
Some of the pieces were prettier than others, but that's par for the course when learning a new medium. I had a  particularly difficult time because I come from a background in gum paste, which appears to be a similar medium, but is quite different in practice. I kept thinning my petals too much, which resulted  in saggage. Sad droopy flowers needed to be remade once or twice. I am NOT a fun person to be around when I get frustrated with myself. Apologies were owed to my poor mother for my dark mood while making the stamen of the (stupid f***ing) moth orchid. In the end I sorted it out by agreeing that I was not going to reach perfection on it that day, and sticking that flower where I didn't have to look at it. You know, the way an rational adult would handle the situation.

Despite the misgivings we had from all the little snags, I am in love with modeling chocolate and can't wait for an excuse to work on a cake project with this fun new grown up Play D'oh.  I had a nice day, and (I hope) my mom did too.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Week 2 (Cooking) - Fried Rice, Sesame Chicken, & Coconut Ice Cream

We're now onto week two of the 52 weeks of cooking challenge and our theme, inspired by the Chinese New Year, is Chinese cuisine. Hey-ho something else I have no expertise in. I always thought I was a decently well rounded cook but the challenges are making me second guess myself. Hrmmm...

My apologies if my recipes (or dishes themselves for that matter) are less than authentic. I tried to do my research and stick with recipes that were Chinese in origin and not inadvertently veer off into another ethnicity which is apparently easier than I had realized. Anyone who is more knowledgeable on the subject can feel free to lecture me on my shortcomings.

My original idea was to keep it simple and go with chicken fried rice, but gradually over the course of a few days I realized that simple just wasn't me; I started searching for more recipe and realized I already had everything in the house to make sesame chicken. It was decided, a mini Chinese  feast was to be had. All though I'm sure this is somewhat Americanized Chinese I was still excited to take this on.

The menu consisted of two main dishes and a yummy dessert of questionable orient origins. Vegetable fried rice, sesame chicken, and coconut ice cream.

Sesame Chicken
The recipe I started from came from I have my suspicions that this recipe had a heavy American hand, but is sounded delicious and most importantly, doable. This recipe needed a fair bit of altering to reach a flavor level that was appealing though. The sauce was kind of bland in the beginning and needed more spices to bring in to life; I added extra red pepper flakes and ginger, and cloves of garlic to bring in some flavor.

At the suggestion of the creator of the recipe I went ahead and doubled the sauce needed because the original recipe apparently made just enough to toss the chicken in and I am a sauce girl. I love dipping things in sauce, doesn't matter what it is, if I can dip it, I do. It turns out the sauce level was pretty good for the chicken, but it was still nice to have a little extra to drizzle over my rice.
  • 2-3 tbsp. sesame oil 
  • Boneless skinless chicken tenders approx. 2 lbs. cut into 1 in pieces
  • 1 c honey
  • 1 c reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 2 c water
  • 4 tbsp corn starch
  • 4 tsp fresh grated ginger
  • 5 tsp red pepper flakes - they claim these are optional, not in my house
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  1. Combine the honey, soy sauce, and water. 
  2. Whisk in cornstarch until completely dispersed.
  3. Add ginger, red pepper flakes, and garlic.
  4. Stir to combine. 
  5. Set aside.
  1. Heat the oil in a wok over medium high heat.
  2. Stir fry the chicken.
  3. When chicken is no longer pink and starting to brown on the outside add in about half the sauce.
  4. Cook until sauce begins to thicken.
  5. In a separate pan add the remainder of the sauce over medium high heat as well and cook, stirring often until it begins to thicken as well.
  6. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  7. Serve portions with toasted sesame seeds sprinkled on top.
Save some for leftovers, trust me, on day two this went from yum delicious warm food to OMG give me a shovel to eat with.

**Note - do not pay extra for toasted sesame seeds (or coconut for that matter, but I'll get to that) just buy regular sesame seeds and toast them in the oven at about 200° for 5-10 minutes shaking every few minutes to assure even toasting. It's that simple.

 - - - - - - - - - - - 

Vegetable Fried Rice
The fried rice recipe I decided upon came from and was originally slated to be chicken fried rice. I removed the chicken since there would be a chicken main course. I also excluded the celery (because I hate celery) and the red bell pepper in exchange for a whole green pepper, it was cheaper this way. It turns out fried rice is stupidly easy and I've been afraid of attempting it all these years for nothing.
  • 1/2-1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tbsp hot chili oil - For the bold
  • 1 yellow onion diced
  • 2 tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 2 large carrots shredded - I shred them to mask the flavor, I also hate carrots. Man I look picky now!
  • 1 cup fresh pea pods
  • 1 large green pepper diced
  • 6 cups cooked and chilled white rice - I made rice with dinner the night before and just made sure to have plenty of extra for this
  • Additional 1/3 c reduced sodium soy sauce
  1. Heat oil in wok over medium high heat. 
  2. Add onion and saute until soft, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the 2 tbsp of soy sauce and carrots, pea pods, & green peppers. Stir from 5-6 minutes or until veggies loose a bit of their crispness but are still al dente.
  4. Add rice and the last 1/3 c soy sauce, stiring slowly and breaking up clumps.
  5. Heat until cooked through. 
  6. Serve hot.

If I could do it over...
The only thing I'd really change in this recipe is the portions; this batch was massive. By the time I finished cooking the veggies I was well aware of the fact that I had no room left in my wok for the rice. So I halved the veggies, and the rice and cooked one smaller batch with what I had. The rest of the rice and veggies are packaged away separately for round two later this week. After we finish eating the leftovers from round one.

Okay, I lied, I'd also change the recipe by adding more pea pods. I loooove pea pods. 

 - - - - - - - - - - - 

Coconut Ice Cream
Last but not least, coconut ice cream. This recipe came from an series about Chinese food, so I'm hoping it's actually a Chinese dish, but I apologize if it's not. Either way, coconut ice cream is where it's at.

One of the things that caught my eye with this recipe is that there is not dairy, rather coconut milk is used in place. Mmm double coconut goodness.

I had to mess about here and there with this recipe to account for the fact that out of the three groceries stores I frequent, one with an entire section dedicated to Asian delights, I could not find unsweetened coconut flakes anywhere. I'm sure if I had time or energy to check a few more stores I could have tracked them down, but that just wasn't in the cards for this week.

  • 4 cups unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1/2 sugar
  • 1/4 tsp coconut extract
  • 1 1/4 c sweetened coconut flakes
  • Toasted coconut to garnish (see note above about toasting your own)

With an ice cream maker
  1. Combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of your ice cream maker.
  2. Stir to combine.
  3. Refrigerate cylinder and mixture for about an hour, or twenty minutes in the freezer for the impatient. 
  4. Do what ever magic you need to do to set up and get your ice cream maker moving. 
  5. Let it do it's thang.
  6. Remove when done doing it's thang.
  7. Eat.

Without an ice cream maker (you poor soul)
  1. Combine the coconut milk & sugar, stir until the sugar dissolves.
  2. Add the coconut extract and coconut flakes and mix until combined.
  3. Place in freezer and stir occasionally (every thirty minutes or so) until hardened.
  4. Once desired consistency is reached, eat it.
It turns out I am glad I had the sweetened coconut flakes, this recipe was very...un-ice-creamy. I am going to admit a foul on my part here and say that I am pretty sure I took this recipe from the orient to a Chicagoian back alley bakery. I originally tried to cut the sugar from the original recipe down since I was using sweetened coconut, but that didn't suit my tastes. So I added the full amount of sugar. Then I doubled the sugar content. Then I left it there out of fear of diabetes, but it still could have been a bit sweeter for my overly processed, high fructose corn syrup adjusted taste buds.

What I got was a sweet creamy dessert resembling in texture something between soft serve and "normal" ice cream. It was very delicious and not very sweet. I quite enjoyed it and will be going back to it to finish the batch.

If I could do it over...
I really wish I would have shredded the the shredded coconut. The individual strands were very long and awkward in a dessert. They made the ice cream chewy and strange. I didn't really mind, but the BF said it was a problem for him. When I make it again I will probably run the shredded coconut through the food processor to break it down further. Oh, and I'll probably add some chocolate chips too.

 - - - - - - - - - - -

All of the dishes were delicious and the entrees were even better on days two (and three, and...) I will most definitely be making each of these recipes again.

Week 2 (Baking) - Miniature Cheesecake Bites

This week two challenge was for the baking leg of my 52 weeks of circuit. You may notice there was no week one post for the baking side of things; that is because my brownies from last week were a bust. They were dry, and un-chocolatey and just very bleh. I actually threw them away. I have never in my life thrown out a plat of brownies. It was a sad sad day in the cookie crumbles household. You can't win 'em all I suppose. Luckily week two was a much greater success and I can gleefully share this recipe with you.

Week two's theme was miniatures and I knew right away what I was going to be making. I've had this recipe kicking around for a bit, just looking for an excuse to purchase the ingredients and invest the time. The recipe came from Land O Lakes and I didn't feel the need to change it one bit, which is a bit of a shocker for me. This recipe sounded, and subsequently was, perfect just the way it is. I tip my hat to you Land O' Lakes. I can't even remember how I came across this recipe as Land O' Lakes isn't really a site I frequent for recipes though I may be whistling a new tune after these babies.

These little bites pack a lot of flavor, and make it very difficult to eat just one. Layered with an Oreo crust, caramel topped with toasted pecans, then cheesecake, all dipped in Ghirardelli coating and sprinkled with more crushed Oreos. Hedonism may be making a comeback.

This dessert was pretty simple all in all, but it also had some time consuming factors which slowed things down a good bit. The making of this dessert actually spanned across 3 days due to a full time job, trips to the gym, and an ever needy set of pets.

  • 1 1/4 c finely crushed Oreo cookie crumbs
  • 1/4 c butter, melted
  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. Line an 8in square baking pan with two layers of aluminum foil, one in each direction. (Left/right & up/down)
  3. Spray foil with non-stick cooking spray.
  4. Combine Oreo crumbs and melted butter.

  5. Press firmly onto the bottom of the 8in lined pan.
  6. Set aside.
  • 20 caramels unwrapped
  • 2 tbsp half & half (or whole milk if you don't have half & half handy)
  • 1/3 c toasted pecans
  • 8 oz package neufchatel or cream cheese, softened
  • 1/3 sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 c fat free sour cream
  1. Combine caramels & half & half in a microwave safe dish.

  2. Microwave on high for 1 minute.
  3. Stir.
  4. Continue microwaving at 30 second intervals, stirring after each session, until smooth.
  5. Pour over prepared crust.

  6. Sprinkle toasted pecans evenly over caramel mixture.

  7. Cover and set the crust & caramel mixture in the fridge while preparing the cream cheese mixture. I actually stopped at this point and let it sit overnight and came back to the baking the next evening. Obviously, if you're doing this in two sections, don't preheat your oven while preparing the crust. 
  8. Combine cream cheese & sugar in bowl. Gently mix until incorporated. If possible, just mix by hand. This allows you to avoid over-mixing which stops the cheesecake from growing too large while cooking and then deflating later.

  9. Add egg & vanilla, stir just until combined.
  10. Stir in sour cream.
  11. Pour over caramel mixture.
  12. Bake 35-40 minutes until set roughly 2 in from edge of pan.
  13. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. 
  14. Loosely cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Again I stopped at this point and came back another full day later to finish the steps. Did I mention this was a time consuming recipe?
  • 1 12 oz package semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 c shortening

  1. Take the cheesecake from the fridge.
  2. Lift out of the pan using the foil.
  3. Peel away all foil.
  4. Cut cheesecake into 36 pieces.
    Good luck eyeballing that, mine were a bit awkward. Still tasty though.

  5. Place a wire cooling grid over waxed paper.
  6. Combine the chocolate & shortening in a small pot over medium heat.
  7. Stir constantly until smooth.
  8. Dip treats in chocolate and place on cooling grid.
    Alternatively you can pour the chocolate over the treats on the cooling grid,
    but I prefer to dip for more consistent coverage.

  9. Allow to cool for a few seconds.
  10. Sprinkle with remaining crushed Oreo crumbs.

  11. Allow to set completely.
  12. Remove from cooling grid and place on platter. 
  13. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Checkmate - Orange Flavored Checkerboard Cake with Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

Last week marked a milestone for me, I am officially a quarter of a century. Now because many of the people I socialize with are a few (or many) years older than I am I often get guffaws for worry about age, but really this one kind of hurt. I felt old for the first time in my life.

I spent the weeks prior ramping up for reaching this peculiar peek. I started stock piling Depends and TiVoing Matlock reruns. I practiced my angry fist in the mirror for hours on end. And then I decided that what I really needed was a good old fashioned birthday party. With pretty dresses. And grown up treats. And cake. Oh, yeah, and uh, mustaches.

So I threw myself a fancy dress and mustache party that was a smash hit. It was exactly what I needed to breath life into these old bones ;)

The only real party shot I have, look at all the mustaches

Down to business, the cake. My favorite dessert combinations are by far chocolate and orange. Well, and coconut, but I didn't want to overwhelm the cake, or my guests. So chocolate and orange it is. I started with the cake recipe on the back of the Swan's Down cake flour box and tweaked it to my liking.

For the cake
  • 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature 
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 cups sifted cake flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 c heavy cream
  • 1/2 c orange juice - preferably not from concentrate and with pulp
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp orange extract
  • 2 tsp orange zest
  • 1/2 tsp lemon extract (It totally jazzes up the citrusy flavor)
For the Filling
Mmm candied orange peel

  • Mandarin Orange Marmalade with Candied Orange Peel 

For the Frosting (double batch)

  • 2 pkgs neufchatel softened
  • 1 c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 c unsalted butter softened 
  • 3 tsp vanilla
  • 12 c powdered sugar
  • 6 tbs milk

The Steps
Mixing up the cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°
  2. First cream the butter. 
  3. Add sugar and mix until light and fluffy. 
  4. Add eggs one at a time, incorporating each fully before adding the next.
  5. Combine the sifted flour, baking powder, & salt in a separate bowl. Use a big bowl and save an extra dish later on. 
  6. Combine orange juice, heavy cream, extracts, and zest in a separate bowl.
  7. Alternate mixing in dry and wet ingredients, mixing well after each addition.
  8. Stir until smooth.

Preparing the checkerboard batter
How to wow your friends and earn mad cake props.
    This stuff is the boss.

  1. Acquire this set, or some close equivolent. Kind of hard to checkerboard a cake with out it.
  2. Spray pans with non-stick cooking spray - I use Pam for baking and I have to say I'm in love. As someone who usually goes generic as much as possible, this is worth the extra money. Plus, it totally smells amazing!
  3. Spray divider (the circley bit that the above set shows)
    with cooking spray. MOAR Pam!
    Sniff that fake bakery smell and weep at it's vanilla goodness.
  4. Insert divider into the first pan with the edge bits facing up.
  5. Divide batter evenly into two separate bowls.
    Go ahead and use the bowl you mixed everything in and 
      The center ring complete, starting the middle ring. 
    the bowl you used for the flour.
    Less dishes = happy baker.
  6. Add food coloring to desired shade.
    I use gel colors to avoid adding extra liquids.
    They are my color-cooking BFFs.
  7. Now the fun begins. Starting with the center ring, and holding the dividing ring in place, spoon batter into the middle circle.
    Next using your other color spoon the mixture into middle ring.  This is where it starts to get tricky, I added batter at each of the four openings and smoothed it out using the back of a spoon. 
    Try your best to make the batter in all of the pans/rings roughly the same height. 
  8. Then spoon the first color of batter into the outer ring using the same steps as above.  
  9. Gently pull the divider straight up and out of the batter.
    Try to do this quickly and with as little movement as possible to preserve the circles.
  10. Wipe off excessive batter, but the ring doesn't need to be perfectly clean going into the next pan.
  11. Repeat this exact process for the second pan. 
  12. Completely wipe the batter off of the divider ring this time, reapplying non-stick cooking spray as needed.
  13. For the third pan use the same steps only switch 
    A completed pan
    the colors. Center & outer ring should be the color used for the middle ring in the other two pans.
  14. Discard any remaining batter. Seriously, don't try to spoon it in anywhere now that the divider is gone. It's not worth it man.
  15. Bake cakes for 25-35 minutes, checking regularly for doneness.
  16. Cakes are finished baking when a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
  17. Let the cakes cool.

Assembling the cake
I totally spaced when it came time to assembly and forgot to take picture, but you'll get the idea.
  1. Gently run a butter knife along the edges of each cake to loosen them from the pan.
  2. Flip pan over onto plate, or hand if lazy, and flip back face up onto platter or cake board. Your bottom layer should be one of the cakes that you have two of. 
  3. Trim any severe crowning from cake. 
  4. Spread a thin layer of marmalade over the first cake, trying to kick up as few crumbs as possible.
  5. Repeat flip & trim steps for the second cake and position on top of the bottom layer. This should be the cake you have only one of.
  6. Spread another layer of delicious orange love over the cake.
  7. Again flip & trim your third cake and position on top of the second. 
  8. Frost away. I prefer to frost in three steps: a crumb coat, a finishing coat, and decorations as desired.

Making the frosting
Original recipe came from BHG 
  1. Beat cream cheese, cocoa powder, butter, & vanilla on medium speed until smooth. 
  2. Gradually add four cups of powdered sugar, incorporating completely.
  3. Beat in the milk mixing until smooth.
  4. Gradually beat in additional sugar until desired consistency is reached.
I tossed together blue, purple, and pink sparkling sugar. Then I titled the cake on my positionable turntable and just sort of sprinkled/threw them along the outer edge trying to avoiding hitting the top.  I finished off the cake with some large tip rosettes.  Then I put a cadelabre on top.

That's right, my cake has a candelabra, I am that classy.
In my slightly inebriated celebratory state I forgot to take pictures of the cake while we were cutting and serving. I assure you they would have been awesome though; so, in their stead is a picture of the remaining cake from the morning after. Not quite as pretty, but at least the checkered awesomosity is visible. The important part is that it was delicious. And it was delicious.

Yay cake!