No Muss No Fuss Chocolate Sheet Cake + 5 Spring Cake Links

“Hold your breath…good.”

“Breathe.”

“Doing ok Ann?”

Not really. Four MRIs in a year, same result, still no answers.

“I’m good.”

“Ok, almost done. You’re doing great.”

Ann forced her eyes closed.  Staring at the white ceiling just a foot from her nose was more than she could handle at 6am on a Tuesday morning.  Maybe it was the exhaustion from the 4:30am wake-up time or the restless sleep she just endured but Ann found herself wishing for her mother. Tess would provide comfort once she endured her own anxiety.  Medical issues were avoided by Tess. And Tess tended to assume the worst. “It’s probably cancer Ann.”  “Why bother with the testing?” “ You don’t want to know what they will come back with.”  “You’re a damn fool, Ann.”

Jesus Tess not now.

Now was not the time to think of her mother. As much as Ann loved Tess, she found her difficult when she was alive and even more so now that she was dead.  Three years had passed, and the grief eased but a day didn’t go by when Tess didn’t come to Ann either in a memory or a dream. At times it was a relief to see her or hear her or remember her.  Yet other times memories and dreams of Tess left Ann frustrated like a child seeking an answer to a question when the answer is not known.  Ann understood grief changed forms.  Now she understood.  Whether what she felt was love, resentment, hate, or annoyance towards her mother it was all just grief. Grief, it turned never really ended. It wasn’t something to get over or bypass.  Grief demanded attention like a needy lover.  It required the bereaved to hold on with ripped bloody hands hoping at some point the pain would ease.  And it did and then left what remains.

Ann pushed Tess out of her mind.  Tess would be back but for now, Ann would silence her. Ann felt her wedding rings vibrate as the machine churned out images of her insides.  She thought of the day that lay ahead- school drop-offs and pick-ups, sports, follow-up phone calls and looked forward to being busy.  Maybe if there was time, she would bake a chocolate cake.  She had been craving chocolate lately.

No Muss No Fuss Chocolate Cake

Recipe adapted from my grandmother’s chocolate cake recipe and Hershey’s

Serves 12-16

Ingredients for cake:

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 cups sugar

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon espresso powder- optional

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

2 eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup hot water

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350F.  Grease a 9x13x2 inch baking pan with baking spray.  Set aside.

Using a large bowl whisk together the dry ingredients until well combined. Add oil, buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla to the dry ingredients. Stir together until combined.  Add hot water and stir until completely blended.  Pour batter into the prepared pan.  Tap on the counter a couple of times to remove air bubbles.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes.  Cool completely in the pan on the wire rack before frosting.  Once cool, frost the cake and decorate with sprinkles if desired.  Leftover cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.  Enjoy!

Ingredients for vanilla buttercream frosting:

11 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon heavy cream

Directions:

Sift confectioner’s sugar into a large bowl or a large piece of parchment paper and set aside.  Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment beat butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Turn the mixer off and add the confectioner’s sugar.  Beat on a low speed then increase the speed slowly as sugar blends with the butter.   Once the sugar is incorporated add the vanilla, salt, and heavy cream.  Beat on medium-high speed for 5 minutes or until light and fluffy.  Frost the cake as desired.

5 Cake Links

A cake for rhubarb lovers.

Angel food cake with a twist.

Lemon lovers here is your cake.

An olive oil and ricotta cake that screams spring.

If you make only one cake this spring make this cake. It is delicious!

Baked Vodka Pasta +5 Cozy Pasta + Dessert Recipes To Get You Through The Rest of Winter

I had this recipe ready to go a couple of weeks ago but then COVID hit our house. We are all recovering now but we had a rough go of it. This baked vodka pasta is comfort in a bowl. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did…before we lost our sense of taste and smell. I’m looking forward to spring. More recipes and writing to come. Stay healthy and safe!

Baked Vodka Pasta

Recipe adapted from Alexandra Cooks

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 garlic cloves, minced

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

½ cup vodka

1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes

2 heaping tablespoons of tomato paste

Kosher salt, to taste

Fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

1lb penne pasta

Parmesan rind

1 cup parmesan

½ cup heavy cream

16 ounces of whole milk ricotta cheese

8 ounces fresh mozzarella

Fresh basil, optional but delicious

Directions:

Combine the butter, garlic and red pepper flakes in a large saucepan over medium-low heat.  Stir often until butter is melted and garlic is fragrant, about 5 minutes.  Next, add the vodka and bring to a simmer. Allow the vodka to reduce by one third so cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the tomato paste and mix well.  Next, add the crushed tomatoes, parmesan rind, and a large pinch of kosher salt and black pepper.  Simmer over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the penne and cook for 6 minutes (4 minutes under the al dente time).  Reserve 1 cup of the past liquid and set aside.  Drain the pasta and rinse with cold water.

Remove the parmesan rind from the sauce.  Add some reserved pasta liquid if the sauce seems too thick.  Place the pasta in a large bowl.  Add the sauce and parmesan.  Mix well. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 425F.  Using a medium bowl, mix together the ricotta and heavy cream.

Add half of the pasta to a 9×13 pan.  Spread ricotta mixture evenly over pasta and top with remaining pasta.  Tear the mozzarella into chunks and spread it evenly over the pasta.  Bake until the top of the cheese is golden brown, about 30 to 40 minutes.  Serve with fresh torn basil leaves and more parmesan if desired.  I highly recommend it! 

**Pasta dish can be made a few hours or up to a day ahead of time.  Cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until ready to bake. **

**Vodka can be replaced with an equal amount of water and a squeeze of lemon juice. **

Cozy Winter Dinner and Dessert Links

Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Tortellini + Chocolate Cake

Winter Squash Lasagna + White Chocolate and Lemon Curd Pavlova

Shrimp Scampi Pasta + Red Velvet Marble Cake

Baked Ziti with Roasted Vegetables + Stewed Cherry Eton Mess

Homemade Mac n’ Cheese + Banana Cream Pie