Carrot Cake to Mend a Broken Heart

Ever since Artichoke was a little boy, he was fascinated by cooking. Every Sunday after church, he would help his mother prepare dinner. Artichoke’s family wasn’t rich, but usually there would be a whole roasted chicken, homemade macaroni and cheese, fried plantains, rice and peas, creamy potato salad, and sliced tomatoes with lettuce tossed in oil, vinegar and a pinch of sugar. For special occasions, his mom would buy bundles of fat and crunchy carrots from the market. She would allow Artie to peel and grate them, and even let him crack the eggs. Then she would whip and blend, combining flour, eggs, sugar, and carrots to create the moistest carrot cake Artichoke had ever tasted. carrots wit h depth of field

His father wasn’t as supportive of Artie’s forays into the kitchen; in fact he was perturbed by “this dolly house behavior.” He would often call his son’s mother aside and plead with her to send the boy outside to “play football.” He often complained that Artichoke’s hands were too soft for a growing boy, at which point she would roll her eyes and tell him, “Go read your Bible, the boy is just fine.” Artichoke rarely thought about his dad, and why should he? His father was a cheat who abandoned his family for another woman. Growing up, Artie had few memories of him.

His mother didn’t bake much after father left.  He had seen her try, but her sorrow seeped into the batter and each slice tasted like bitter melancholy. His mother had once told him, “Never cry when baking; tears will make the cake sour.” She did a lot of crying in those days.

 

IMG_7202As he grew older, Artichoke continued to cook, and eventually met and fell in love with a professional cook, Shanice. Together they bought a house and dreamed of the future, maybe kids, marriage, maybe something more.

They were going through a rough spot in their relationship. Shanice was happy with things the way they were, but Artichoke was growing more depressed as winter progressed.  All of these thoughts swirled like a cosmic soup in Artie’s mind as he lay listening to Shanice snoring softly beside him.

He had been awake ever since the first rays of sunlight had crept past the shuttered curtains and into their bedroom. For a while he had watched as the light cast patterns on the wall, and he thought about his mom in Gainesville before his thoughts drifted back to the person sleeping beside him.

Somewhat irritated by her rhythmic snoring, Artichoke poked her in the side.

“Shani, tomorrow’s my birthday.”

“Huh,” she mumbles, still half asleep.

“I said, tomorrow’s my birthday.”

She yawns, turns to face him, and sighs; she pulls the blanket closer around them, and asks, “What are you talking about, Artie?” He moves closer and kisses her lips. Her eyes are still closed but she smiles, “How can I forget my baby’s special day?”

He pauses, afraid he might hurt her feelings. “It’s just that, just that, I barely see you anymore.” He snuggles closer to her, “Baby, wouldn’t it be nice if we could spend tomorrow together?” 

Shanice knew this was coming; this is why most cooks prefer to date other cooks or waiters. Being a professional cook is poor soil for developing any type of long-lasting relationship. It’s inevitable; at some point every cook has to face the dilemma of choosing. She’d promised this year to spend Thanksgiving with Artichoke and his mom, but Chef asked her to work that day.

Artichoke couldn’t understand: cooks don’t get holidays off.  A cook’s life revolves around the kitchen, that comes first and everything else… well, there’s not much else.IMG_5590

 

Now Christmas had come and gone and once again Artichoke had made the one-hour drive to Gainesville by himself. Shani had done something lame like try to kiss him on the cheek before he left, but he put a hand on her lips, turned away and walked out the door.

Shanice loved Artichoke as much as any woman could.  She felt the sadness in his heart, as deeply as that first night, the dinner cold on the table, his fathers’ chair empty, the sound of his mother weeping in her room.  Intuitively, she knew there was a way to heal the rift that was developing between them. She would bake for him, she would offer hope using Artichoke’s beloved carrot cake recipe. Shanice was excited and began to hum as she moved around the kitchen. There was a smile on her face as she peeled the carrots then grated them. She cracked the eggs then set them aside. Then she poured all her love into the batter, combining flour, eggs, sugar and carrots to create Artichoke’s birthday cake. 

Artichoke’s mom had once told her, “There’s magic in cooking; yes, it’s quite possible to taste love, if you truly put your heart into it.” There was love in this cake – enough to mend a broken heart – and Shanice knew within her own heart this was true. Tomorrow they would drive to Gainesville and surprise his mom for Artichoke’s birthday. She would mend what was broken and maybe together they could face the future again. In love.  Maybe kids, maybe marriage, maybe something more.IMG_7364

 

Carrot Cake to Mend a Broken Heart

 1 cup grated carrots

 1 whole apple grated

 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

 ½ cup granulated white sugar

 ½ cup brown sugar

 1 tsp. baking soda

 1 tsp. baking powder

 2 tsp. vanilla

 1 tsp. ground cinnamon

 1 tsp. salt

 2 eggs

 ½ cup vegetable oil

 Cream Cheese Frosting

 8 oz. cream cheese, softened

 ½ cup butter, softened

 2 cups confectioners’ sugar

 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325°F.  Prepare a 12” cake pan by spraying it evenly with non-stick baking spray. In a bowl mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.

In another bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and mix together. Add the grated carrots and grated apple.

Whisk in the milk. Whisk in the vegetable oil. Pour batter in prepared cake pan and bake for approx. 30 to 45 minutes. Test for doneness by inserting a skewer; it should be dry when taken out.  Cool then fill and frost with cream cheese frosting.

TO MAKE CREAM CHEESE FROSTING: With an electric mixer, mix the butter and cream cheese together on medium speed until very smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure even mixing. Slowly add the confectioner’s sugar until creamy and smooth. Add the vanilla extract and mix for another minute.IMG_7371

 

 

Go for the Coffee, Stay for the Tiramisu

Sometimes, it’s nice to find a place that lets you leave your world outside. I had such an experience in Midtown’s business district. Tucked away amid the steel and glass edifices, this unlikely place, a European coffeehouse, sits on the corner of Peachtree and 11th streets next to Loews Atlanta Hotel. Its entrance is marked by thick glass doors with ornately carved brass handles and elegant gold lettering.

intermezzo

When you step through the foyer and into Café Intermezzo, you are transported to an age when old world elegance, charm, etiquette and grace were as much a part of the dining experience as the food. It doesn’t matter if you came for a single cup of coffee, a small bite to eat, a bit of solitude, or a chance to catch up with a friend you haven’t seen in years. Café Intermezzo is an opportunity to experience the antithesis of fast food, to sit at a table and make the statement that you are here by choice. The gentle light from the chandeliers and pleasant smile from the hostess assures –there will be no rush.

I agreed to meet Valerie at Café Intermezzo at noon. She needed to interview me, and asked if I’d be available. The tables were small – there was barely enough room for Valerie’s notebook, our glasses of water, the beverage menu, and silverware. The beverage menu is quite extensive; it would have proved a daunting task to choose from its 50 pages if not for our helpful server Mirlene.

IMG_7172

She answered all our questions and allowed us to take our time in choosing: I decided on espresso with a shot of Bailey’s topped with whipped cream. Valerie opted for Godiva Roche, a delicious tea blend of rooibos, cacao bean, vanilla, hazelnut pieces, calendula and sunflower petals. Mirlene had confided that these were her favorites, and Valerie and I both agreed, they were delicious!

seafood dip

Café Intermezzo also offers a smorgasbord of savory menu choices featuring crepes, appetizers, soup, salads, breakfast, lunch, and dinner choices. Mirlene suggested Valerie try the duck crepe with goat cheese and fig jam; I chose the seafood dip with crab, shrimp and scallops smothered in cheese. I asked Mirlene to bring share plates so we could sample everything, and both dishes satisfied our expectations. The fig jam and goat cheese were a nice complement to the flavor of the duck, and my dip featured generous amounts of seafood. The roasted peppers in the cheese sauce gave the dip a pleasant heat.

dessert counter

I was really enjoying myself, so I decided to splurge on dessert. Café Intermezzo has a marvelous glass showcase filled with a wide range of cakes, pies and cheesecake. In fact, it’s the first thing your eyes are drawn to as you walk into the café. I like the visual appeal of a dessert showcase, but found the manner in which desserts are sold a bit quirky.

I wasn’t able to order dessert from a menu or through my server. I was informed by Mirlene that patrons must visit the showcase where the desserts (which have no signs on them) are explained by a “tour guide”. The significance of this was lost on me. I stood in front of this magnificent glass case and asked questions about the desserts that caught my eye. My “tour guide” responded with the name of that particular dessert, then stood there as I made up my mind. It would have been a better experience if my “guide” was able to offer information about the ingredients, or how that particular dessert was made, or maybe a brief history on the origin of a particular cake or ingredient. Yes, desserts have a history too – and oftentimes the story is just as sweet.

tiramisu-sepia

After I made my selection, I went back to my seat and my choice was brought to the table. Hopefully, Café Intermezzo will improve on the concept of a “dessert tour guide”. It’s the only thing that detracted from my overall experience.

I chose tiramisu and another cup of espresso to go with it. The tiramisu at Café Intermezzo is the best I’ve ever had. I was so surprised that I bought a second slice to take home. Tiramisu is my all-time favorite dessert. It’s also my litmus test for the quality of a restaurant’s dessert whenever I eat out. My experience of trying to find good tiramisu in Atlanta has been abysmal – oftentimes I’ll ask for a to-go container after the first bite. I’ve decided it’s better to carry the dessert home in its casket, rather than risk spoiling a good meal with a bad menu choice. I was happy that today there was no need for a “dessert walk of shame.”

I’ve never had the privilege of sitting in a tiny Parisian café nursing an espresso and soaking in the joie de vivre. But at  Café Intermezzo, I made the transatlantic voyage through a Midtown Atlanta portal.

 

A Matter of Taste

A co-worker grabs me firmly by the shoulder and propels me towards the stove, where several pots are bubbling like cherry red hot lava. He lifts a lid, and a cloud of steam covers my face with the aroma of chicken cacciatore. “Here, taste this,” he says, as he waits for me to put the tasting spoon to my lips.

“Did you add thyme?” I ask.

“Yes, thyme and basil; the recipe calls for a tablespoon of each,” he says.

“It’s still a little flat; add a pinch of salt, turn the flame down and let it cook for another five minutes.” Minutes later, I taste again, and the rich, tangy, slightly sweet taste of slow-cooked tomatoes gives the chicken cacciatore  its signature depth of flavor. The dish is alive, the stampede of flavor from the herbs, chicken thighs, mushrooms and wine are like a roller coaster for the palate.

Click Here For Chef Jomo’s Chicken Cacciatore

Learning to season with salt is a skill that separates the professional from a novice in the kitchen. A trained palate knows how to add just enough salt to make the food sparkle.There’s something wrong with food that has no salt – it’s bland, dull, as boring as a rock on the ground. Just as bad – maybe even worse – is food that tastes like the ocean on a plate.  From the dorm room student to the most serious gourmet, salt is found in every kitchen; yet most people have no idea how to season with, and taste for salt.

There is no doubt that salt has seasoned history. Today, table salt is so cheap, we take it for granted; but in ancient Greece, slaves were traded for salt. In fact, the phrase “not worth his salt,” was coined by ancient slave traders to describe troublesome captives. As early as the 6th century in sub-Saharan Africa, merchants  routinely traded salt ounce for ounce for gold. Roman legionnaires received a part of their pay in salt (that’s the origin of the word “salary”). The infamous salt tax in France was one of the sparks that set off the French Revolution in 1789.

At some point in our history, man discovered that covering food in salt prolonged the food’s shelf life. Salt was the conduit that spread the  Romans’ empire throughout much of Europe. Without salt, Christopher Columbus would have never made it to the New World.  Not only did salt flavor and preserve food, it also made a good  antiseptic; hence the term, “to rub salt in the wound.” Salt acts as a preservative by drawing moisture out of food and making it difficult for bacteria to grow. When used in a pickling solution or brine, salt produces an antimicrobial “bath” that changes the alkalinity of the immersed ingredients.

There are many different types of salt. Some have fancy names, such as fleur de sel, a very expensive unrefined sea salt from Normandy, France. Or Himalayan rock salt, which is bought in large chunks by restaurants and shaved tableside with a microplane. For now, we only need to concern ourselves with two types: plain iodized table salt and kosher salt.

Table salt is often preferred by home cooks and for use as a condiment. Kosher salt is the standard used by line cooks in the professional kitchen. Both of them serve the same purpose: they enhance the flavor of food, however kosher salt has no additives; it has larger flakes than table salt and coats food more evenly when sprinkled with your fingers. Table salt is often iodized. Its very small crystals are better suited for measuring with a spoon.

Learning to season with salt is like learning to ride a bicycle; you’ll get a lot of bumps and bruises, but once you learn, you’ll never forget. Here are a few tips to get you started in mastering the art of seasoning with salt.

If you can taste salt in your food, you have added too much. Salt is like a ballroom dancer that moves with understated elegance. It’s a flavor enhancer that heightens the taste of food, yet hides effortlessly in the background. Food that has been properly seasoned will be full of flavor – so good, you’ll want to lick the spoon and the plate.

Sea Salt

Always add salt to soup and sauces toward the end of cooking. The more your liquid reduces, the saltier it becomes. Remember: once you put salt in, you cannot take it out.

Don’t be afraid to taste your own food; no one said you would get it right the first time. If you’re not happy with your food, don’t serve it. If it can’t be fixed in the kitchen, no one can fix it on the dinner plate, either.

It’s better to lightly season small pieces of chicken, fish or pork on both sides before cooking to intensify the flavor of the meat. Some cooks like to season a second time once the food is out of the pan to give their recipes that extra kick.

According to Helen Rennie of beyondsalmon.com, larger meats such as a whole chicken or roast should be seasoned with about one teaspoon kosher salt to each pound.

I can guarantee that with time, your palate will develop as your cooking skill progresses. As you become more confident in your abilities, you’ll be able to taste your own food instead of asking someone to do it for you. Remember, the only thing that separates a kitchen novice from the professional is a matter of taste.

Jomos’ Chicken Cacciatore

Recommended Reading: A Matter Of Taste, how to use seasonings like a professional cook

Jomos’ Chicken Cacciatore

2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs

2 tsp. kosher salt

 1 tsp. black pepper

 1 tsp. garlic powder

 1 tsp. paprika

 1 cup all-purpose flour

 2 oz. vegetable oil (for frying)

 ½ small yellow onion, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 cups crimini or button mushrooms, sliced

½ red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch strips

½ yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch strips

3 tbsp. black olives, sliced

1 cup dry white wine

 14-oz. can San Marzano tomatoes, diced or crushed

¼ cup tomato ketchup (yes, plain tomato ketchup)

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 tbsp. fresh thyme

¼ tsp. red pepper flakes

Method

Season the chicken thighs with kosher salt, garlic powder, paprika and black pepper.  Dredge the chicken thighs in flour, coating them lightly and tapping off excess flour.

In a wide braising pan on medium, heat the vegetable oil. Add as many chicken thighs to the pan as will fit without touching. It’s OK to brown the thighs in batches.

Add the mushrooms, onions, peppers and olives to the fat remaining in the pan and cook, stirring 5 minutes. Pour the wine into the pan, deglaze and cook until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add the can of San Marzano tomatoes, ketchup, fresh thyme, red pepper flakes and dried oregano. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper; allow to simmer.

Add the chicken thighs into the sauce. Adjust the heat, cover the pan and allow to simmer. Check the level of the liquid as the chicken cooks. There should be enough liquid to barely cover the chicken. If necessary, add small amounts of water. Cook, stirring a few times, 20 minutes. Serve with pasta.

A Recipe for Jamaican Oxtail Stew

Recommended Reading: Oxtails On My Mind, one of Chef Jomo’s early culinary adventures

In the Caribbean, oxtail is quite expensive and usually reserved for Sunday dinner. It’s a tradition to attend church service in the morning and then spend the afternoon preparing Sunday dinner. In anticipation, it’s common practice to season the meat and soak the lima beans overnight. Most Caribbean kitchens have a pressure cooker, and it’s hard to find a housewife who isn’t adept in its use. The sound of a pressure cooker’s “chicka, chicka chicking” is a sure sign there’s a maestro in the kitchen: dinner will be well-orchestrated, fragrant and delicious. The good news is, oxtail can be just as delicious without a pressure cooker; this recipe will show you how. I recommend that you reserve this recipe for a lazy Sunday afternoon; it’s the perfect excuse to spend time in the kitchen.

Jomo’s Jamaican Oxtail Stew

1 tsp. canola oil

2 lb. oxtails cut into 2-inch pieces

2 tbsp. Jamaican fish & meat sauce or Worcestershire sauce

3 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. onion powder

1 tsp. canola oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

½ yellow onion, chopped

1 small carrot, chopped

1 tbsp. thyme leaves

6 whole allspice berries

1 tbsp. tomato paste

 3 cups water

 ¼ cup large lima beans (soaked overnight)

Method

Season oxtails with kosher salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and Jamaican fish & meat sauce.
Heat oil in an 8-qt. Dutch oven over medium heat.

Add seasoned oxtail to pot and cook each side until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add minced garlic, onions, carrot, thyme and allspice to oxtails, stir the vegetables around and then leave to cook for 5 minutes until soft.

Spread tomato paste on top of the oxtails, then turn them over and allow to cook for another 5 minutes. Take your time to sear the meat and cook the vegetables: this process takes about twenty minutes on medium heat.

Reduce heat to low; add the water and cover the Dutch oven with a tight lid. Look for a slow simmer; the oxtails should never be allowed to boil. After the first 1½ hours, remove the lid and skim as much of the fat from the top as possible, then add the lima beans.

Allow to simmer for another 90 minutes. When the oxtails are cooked, they should pull easily off the bone with a fork.IMG_7241