Tools and Gadgets

dark chocolate & oreo mini skull cakes

When I was a kid, Halloween was my absolute favorite holiday.

dark chocolate & oreo mini skull cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

I mean, I’ve always loved Thanksgiving too, for the food of course, but as a young kid Halloween was the freakin’ best. Turkey and pumpkin pie are great and all but costumes and candy, and running around at night like a little lunatic with fake vampire teeth? Grandma’s cornbread dressing couldn’t hold a candle…

I’ve had countless costumes over the years, but I’ll never forget an especially uncomfortable year dressed as Frankenstein with tons of sticky green makeup and itchy stick-on eyebrows and neck bolts. After that, the simpler and more elegant Dracula was definitely my go to.
Each year I’d get a new costume complete with fangs, cape, and gold medallion, and as a young gay boy I already had all the crisp white button downs and black dress pants that were required but not included with the costume.  (No jeans and T-shirt for this little sissy boy!)
I think it really was the dressed up, fancy man aspect of Dracula that appealed to me most year after year, and it wasn’t until I found my grandma’s old wig in her bathroom closet that the appeal started to wear off…

dark chocolate & oreo mini skull cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

These days I usually spend most of the month of October thinking up all sorts of witty, hysterical costumes that I could wear, but never do. The last time I dressed up was for work, about 4 years ago. I’d just started working at Whisk slinging fancy kitchen gear, and we all came up with this hilarious plan to come to work dressed as a Food Network star.
Group costumes are the best! What could go wrong?!?!

A few days later I show up to work in full Ina Garten regalia, and oops! Everyone either forgot or didn’t have time to get their costumes together.  One person, who usually works from home, loved the idea and actually did come in for an hour or two dressed as Alton Brown (essentially dressed as an older, nerdier version of himself) to take pictures, but everyone else either didn’t dress up or threw something else together at the last minute.
As I stood there working my full shift in an oversized navy blouse, huge clip on pearl earrings, lipstick, and an itchy bob wig; I vowed never again to be duped by allure of an amazing group costume idea.

I haven’t dressed up since.
Womp Womp.

dark chocolate & oreo mini skull cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

Even though I’m too old for trick-or-treating and haven’t put on a costume in years, I really do still have a special place in my heart for Halloween.

I like to imagine that some day in the future I’ll be the type of adult who’s famous among his circle of friends for hosting amazing costume parties that are talked about for years to come. Basically I dream of one day throwing Halloween parties just like the ones on Roseanne, complete with decorations so elaborate and costumes so perfectly spot-on that everyone I know will try, and fail, to one-up me year after year.
By the way, am I the only one who’s ever wondered how the lower middle class Connor family, who always seemed to have trouble paying their bills on time, came up with all the money for their costumes and decorations?
I guess it doesn’t matter, but, like, that stuff ain’t cheap!

dark chocolate & oreo mini skull cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

With all my dreams of Halloween entertaining one-upmanship, the minute I saw this adorable haunted skull cakelet pan, I knew that I HAD to have it.

You all know I love Nordic Ware. I’ve told you more than once twice three times (a lady), but after finally having a chance to use this pan you’ll have to excuse me as I wax poetic once again.

Nordic Ware has been making exceptional cookware and bakeware right here in the US for 70 years now, and even after all this time they’re still a family owned company. The bundt pan is by far their most famous and most popular product, but they also specialize in all sorts of elaborate and festively shaped baking pans. No one can compare to their quality and selection, and ALL of their pans are sturdy, heavy duty, ultra-non-stick, and unbelievably durable.
I should know! I put their pans through the ringer!

dark chocolate & oreo mini skull cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

There is so much detail in these little skulls that I was worried it wouldn’t read once the cakes were baked, or that I’d have problems getting the cakes out cleanly from all the intricate details face and teeth. At this point I should have known that I had no need to worry. These little cakes released like a dream and all that detail came across with amazing definition in the finished cakes.

There’s actually so much detail in these little cakes, that even though I tried decorating them in several ways, I found that my favorite cakes were the simplest, with just a double coat of thin sugary glaze. Of course you can decorate them however you choose, but I really think the simpler, the better. In fact, as much as I love the creepy look of the bright red chocolate candy eyes, I worry that even they take away from the scary perfection of the little cakes as they were straight out of the pan.

dark chocolate & oreo mini skull cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

The recipe below, simply adapted from my favorite chocolate bundt cake recipe, makes 12 mini skulls, or 2 pans worth. If you only have 1 pan, make sure you wash the pan really well between batches. I also recommend that you dry it well and throw it in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes before reapplying the butter and cocoa. Otherwise the pan will be warm from being washed and the butter will melt and make a mess when you try to dust it with cocoa.
If you don’t have this pan at all, you can get it here, or you can just make this recipe in one 10 cup bundt pan. It won’t be as scary to look at, but it’ll certainly taste just as chocolatey and delicious!

By the way, if you’ve never tried this trick before, using cocoa powder works just as well as flour to prevent the cakes from sticking to the pan, but helps the cakes look extra dark and chocolatey, rather than the dusty uneven look flour sometimes gives to the outside of chocolate cakes.

dark chocolate & oreo mini skull cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

The flavor of these little cakes is deep dark chocolate perfect with a super tender and moist crumb. Thanks to that simple powdered sugar glaze, these little cakes almost taste like a reeeeeally good moist chocolate doughnut.

The Oreos, complete with cream (don’t use boxed crumbs!), add a really nice touch, especially if you leave some in nice big chunks so they don’t melt and disappear into the batter. Essentially you just want to put them in a plastic bag and crush ’em up with your hands or whack at them with a rolling-pin until there are no whole cookies left, but you still have lots of bigger pieces.

Now tell me, what kid (or adult) could resist a super moist chocolate cake filled with oreo cookie crumbs? Especially one in the shape of a cute-yet-terrifying little skull???

dark chocolate & oreo mini skull cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

Dark Chocolate & Oreo Mini Skull Cakes

adapted from Joy the Baker

For the Cake:
1 1/4 cups strong hot coffee
3/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder (I used “Double Dutch Cocoa“) plus extra for pan
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 cup peanut oil or any neutral vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups (about 1 package) roughly crushed oreos (NOT oreo cookie crumbs, you want the cream too)

For the Glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For decorating (all optional):
Red M&Ms
Sanding or decorating sugar (black, red, or silver)
white mini nonpareils
More crushed Oreos

Place an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.
Brush a skull cakelet pan (* see note) with softened butter, and dust with cocoa powder, tapping out any excess.

Whisk coffee and cocoa together in a bowl together until free of lumps and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, mix together sugar, salt, baking soda, eggs and egg yolk on low for just one minute. Add the buttermilk, oil and vanilla extract and mix on low again for another minute.
Add the flour and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes more. Add the cocoa mixture and mix on medium speed for 3 minutes. Finally, stir in the roughly crushed Oreos just until evenly distributed throughout. The batter will seem quite loose and liquid, it’s supposed to, don’t worry.
Pour half of the batter into the prepared cake pan, filling each cavity about 3/4 of the way up. This recipe makes two pans worth of batter. If you have two pans, you can bake them both at once, or once the first batch is out of the pan you can wash, dry, and cool the pan in the fridge before reapplying butter and cocoa and baking the remaining batter.
Bake for 20-30, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean.

Let the cake cool for at least 15 minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack.

To make the glaze:
Whisk the powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla together in a medium bowl until smooth and free of lumps.

To glaze and decorate:
After some trial and error I found that the easiest way to glaze the cakelets was to pick up them up by the base and dip them into the glaze like a doughnut. Remove from the glaze, let drip dry, and turn over to dry on a cooling rack. I actually liked the look of the glaze best when the cakes were glazed twice. If you want to double glaze, wait for the first coat to dry five minutes or so before dipping again.
If you’d like to decorate with sanding sugar, crushed Oreos, or mini nonpareils, sprinkle them over the cakes before your final coat of glaze has dried. If desired, add red chocolate candies in the eye sockets.

*Note: If you don’t have a skull cakelet pan this recipe makes 1 (less spooky but equally delicious) bundt cake in a 10 cup bundt pan. A bundt will need to bake for about 55 to 65 minutes .

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homemade taco seasoning

Why hello there! Longy time no seeum!

homemade taco seasoning | Brooklyn Homemaker

It’s been a minute, I know. Sorry about that.

I went upstate for a little vacation with my sister and her kids, and as much as I wanted to, I didn’t have time to get a backup post together to share while I was away. We went to a Bluegrass festival in the Catskills for 5 glorious days, and while I missed you guys, I loved every second of it.

Amazing music and friendly strangers. Boiling hot days and freezing cold nights. Spending time with family. Getting drunk on whiskey and wine and dancing barefoot until the wee hours of the night. Going to sleep on a firmly inflated mattress and waking up on a rock. Drying blankets in the sun after accidentally leaving the tent windows open during a thunderstorm. Lifting my niece up over a sea of tents to see the rainbow after the storm. Doing my duty in a porta potty or at the grocery store bathroom…

Absolute heaven.

Grey Fox bluegrass festival Grey Fox bluegrass festival Grey Fox bluegrass festival

In keeping with my last post, I had ideas for a summery healthy dinner that I planned to share with you last week, but fate had other ideas. I scheduled an extra day off after the festival so I’d have time to nurse the world’s largest hangover. My plan was to make and photograph said recipe then. Two days into my trip however, things changed.

If you recall my “yardening” post from last spring, you may remember hearing about our “sickly plum tree” and seeing the trunk of said tree in the photo below.

tree trunk

Two days into my trip I received a text from Russell with this photo:

fallen tree

That’s taken from our bedroom window, and in the foreground you can see the deck we built last summer (with stairs to the right) to make getting out into the yard easier for us and the pups. The old “sickly plum tree” had just given up. Since we moved in I’ve been trying to figure out how to nurse the poor tree back to health, but the fact of the matter is that I had little to no idea what I was doing. I tried trimming off dead branches, but more kept dying, and every spring the leaves and fruit suffered from a white mildew that would cause all the fruit and about half of the leaves to fall off early in the summer.

Late last summer I noticed that the tree had A LOT of ants on it, and most of them would travel down to the base of the tree and disappear into the ground between the roots. Well, apparently the ants had decided to take advantage of the defenseless old tree and make a nice home in it’s trunk. When I finally got back home to take a look, the trunk of the tree was completely rotted out and had been turned into a dark and crumbly swiss cheese of insect tunnels. After fighting with all the strength it had left, the tree had finally just given up.

Seeing how bad the trunk was, I’m actually surprised it hadn’t fallen earlier.

Rather than making delicious food in the comfort of my home, on my day off I got to stand outside for several hours in 95 degree heat and cut the poor tree up into manageable chunks with the world’s dullest, rustiest handsaw. After waiting for almost a month for our landlord to fix our oven when it broke, we figured it wasn’t even worth asking for his help with the tree so I just did it myself. It was quite a workout though, so at least I can say it was all in the name of fitness.

Anyway, now the yard looks more like this.

fallen tree after

I’ve still got a lot of work to do to clear all the debris and get rid of the wood somehow (we can’t have fires back there, we tried once and had the fire department at our door within 20 minutes). Although I miss the tree, and it may take some getting used to, I actually really like how open the yard feels now. I feel like I might need to rethink my (meager) landscaping there, but the quality of light in our room feels so much nicer and brighter now, so that’s good.

SOOOooooo…

Without the time to photograph a full meal after the tree massacre, I thought I might share this taco seasoning I’ve been using lately instead. Russell and I tend to eat a lot of ground turkey or grilled chicken tacos, and now that we’re trying to eat better they’re a great meal we can make after work. There are a lot of small family owned tortilla factories in my neighborhood so we can get our corn tortillas super fresh. A few torillas filled with some well seasoned lean meat, sauteed onion, and black beans is the perfect quick and easy weeknight meal. Rather than cheese or sour cream, we like ours with a few creamy slices of ripe avocado.

homemade taco seasoning | Brooklyn Homemaker

I like to make my own seasoning because we make tacos so often. The store bought stuff is crazy salty and some of it has some really questionable ingredients that I’m not super comfortable eating on a regular basis.

This seasoning is not only fresher and much less salty, but you also know exactly what you’re putting into it and can customize it to your taste. I like my tacos nice and spicy, so in addition to the chile powder I like to add ground cayenne pepper too. Cinnamon adds a warmth without adding spicy heat, and smoked paprika adds a great warm smokiness. You may think cornstarch is an odd addition to a seasoning blend, but most taco seasoning does have thickening agents in it to help make a nice thick sauce. If you don’t like using cornstarch you could substitute arrowroot powder instead or leave it out altogether. It’s your party!

homemade taco seasoning | Brooklyn Homemaker

Homemade Taco Seasoning

  • Servings: makes about 6 ounces, enough for 4 to 6 pounds of meat
  • Print
adapted from Love & Olive Oil

6 tablespoons ground chile powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper, optional
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Combine all spices in a small bowl and whisk until evenly distributed. Can be stored in an airtight jar or container for future use. Recipe doubles (or triples, or more) very easily.

If using ground meat, brown the meat first then add seasoning along with a few tablespoons of water. You’ll want about 2 tablespoons of seasoning per pound of ground meat. Stir regularly until meat is fully cooked and sauce is thickened. I like to add a diced small onion while I brown the meat, and a drained can of black beans right at the end. Serve with a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

You can also use the seasoning as a rub for chicken breast. Sear the chicken breasts until fully cooked and slice thin before adding to tacos.

spicy peanut carrot and cabbage salad

I’m sure that I’ve said this before, but one of my favorite little kitchen gadgets is a simple julienne peeler.

carrot and cabbage salad with spicy peanut dressing | Brooklyn Homemaker

The one I have is a sturdy dishwasher-safe stainless model by Kuhn Rikon that I found at Whisk for about $20, but there are a lot of other options out there on the market. The basic idea is sort of similar to a regular vegetable peeler, but with teeth running along the blade so that in one motion you end up with perfectly julienned strips of whatever you’re using it on.

carrot and cabbage salad with spicy peanut dressing | Brooklyn Homemaker

I’ve also used vegetable spiralizers that produce similar results, and while spiral slicers offer more options and variation, my julienne peeler is sturdier, smaller, and cheaper than even the smallest handheld spiral slicer.

Although it has tons of uses, my favorite use for this nifty little guy is to peel strips of carrot for salads, slaws, asian dishes, and garnishes.

carrot and cabbage salad with spicy peanut dressing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Now that the weather is warming up I’ve been looking for light summery (I know we’re not quite there yet, but a man can dream) salads and cold dishes to eat on hot days. One of my favorite warm weather meals is a soba noodle salad with lots of veggies and a spicy peanut dressing.

carrot and cabbage salad with spicy peanut dressing | Brooklyn Homemaker

I was thinking about making that very dish, it’s one that I make a variation on at least once or twice every summer, but I thought it might be fun to try it without the noodles this time. Instead of the cold soba noodles I opted for long thin julienned strips of fresh carrot, and thinly shredded savoy cabbage.

carrot and cabbage salad with spicy peanut dressing | Brooklyn Homemaker

If you’re looking to add a little extra protein to this salad I think that laying some thinly sliced grilled chicken breast or lean steak over the top makes for a gorgeous presentation. To make things even simpler, you could just pull the meat off of a store bought rotisserie chicken and toss it all together with the other ingredients. My local grocery store recently started doing air-chilled organic chickens on their rotisserie too, which I think is a really nice option to have. Easy, delicious, and good quality!

If you wanted to keep the salad vegetarian, I think some roasted chickpeas would also be a really nice option!

carrot and cabbage salad with spicy peanut dressing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Added protein or not, this salad is pretty stellar.

The cabbage and carrot softens ever so slightly but still offers a pleasant crunch in every bite. The peanut dressing is thick and creamy and ever so slightly spicy and tangy from the vinegar and lime juice. The green onions and basil add even more green earthiness and flavor, and the toasted peanuts add great texture and flavor. It’s the perfect meal for the warm weather to come, and keeps well for a day in the refrigerator if you want to pack it for lunch. It would also be the perfect make-ahead meal for a picnic!
If you do decide to make it ahead, just be sure to wait to add the toasted peanuts until serving or they can absorb the oils in the dressing and lose their crunch.

carrot and cabbage salad with spicy peanut dressing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Carrot and Cabbage Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing

Dressing:
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter (reduced sugar or sugar free is best)
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon honey (optional)
2 teaspoons sriracha sauce
1 garlic clove, finely minced or crushed
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, finely grated
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus wedges of an additional lime for serving

Salad:
4 cups thinly shredded savoy cabbage, loosely packed (about half a head)
3 cups julienned or shredded carrots, loosely packed (about 4-6 large carrots)
1/2 cup scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, sliced or torn
1/4 cup unsalted peanuts, toasted or pre-roasted

Combine all dressing ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth and lump free. If using sweetened peanut butter, taste before adding the honey.

Combine the salad ingredients in a large bowl. If making ahead, reserve the peanuts and wait to add until just before serving. Pour the dressing over the top of the salad and toss like mad until well combined. It may seem like there isn’t enough dressing but the cabbage will begin to wilt once tossed and the dressing will stretch. Of course, if you like a heavily dressed salad you can increase the dressing recipe. Serve with lime wedges if desired

Salad will keep, refrigerated and well covered, for at least a day.

If desired, top with thinly sliced lean steak or chicken breast, or toss with pulled rotisserie chicken meat or roasted chickpeas.

Nordic Ware bundt pan giveaway!

UPDATE: CONTEST HAS ENDED! Winner will be contacted by email

Good news everyone!

Nordic Ware Jubilee bundt pan giveaway | Brooklyn Homemaker

The amazing folks at Nordic Ware have offered to giveaway one of their beautiful Jubilee bundt pans to a reader of Brooklyn Homemaker. Nordic Ware invented the bundt pan, and I use their heavy duty cast aluminum line of pans for all of my bundt baking adventures.

Nordic Ware Jubilee bundt pan giveaway | Brooklyn Homemaker

Nordic Ware has been around since 1947, and has been making all of their cookware right here in the US. If you want to know more about Nordic Ware and the birth story of the bundt pan, check out my the brief bundt history I posted back in July, along with my recipe for roasted cherry kugelhopf.

Nordic Ware Jubilee bundt pan giveaway | Brooklyn Homemaker

Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve been around the bundt baking block, and I have to say their pans are the absolute best! Their cast aluminum line is sturdy and heavy enough to bake really evenly, and I’ve never had any trouble with dry edges or over (or under) cooking in spots. Even though some of their bundt pans are very intricately designed, my cakes have always come out without a hitch, thanks to their excellent non-stick coating (along with a healthy coating of butter or cooking spray).

spiced harvest bundt cake with cream cheese glaze | Brooklyn Homemaker

The swirled diamond shape of the Jubilee bundt pan was inspired by the diamond jubilee, and the resulting pan has a gorgeous beauty that’s both modern and classic. Just to be sure that you fully comprehend the stunning good looks of this pan, I’m going to fill this post with my favorite photos of cakes I’ve baked in the Jubilee. The diamond shapes aren’t just there for looks either! They create little pockets in your cakes that collect soaks, glazes, and icings; resulting in cakes that are just as moist and delicious as they are beautiful!

honey glazed blackberry cornmeal bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

If you like big bundts and you cannot lie, please check out the contest rules below, and comment on this post for your chance to win your very own Jubilee bundt pan from Nordic Ware!

So exciting!!!

Nordic Ware Jubilee bundt pan giveaway | Brooklyn Homemaker

Contest rules:

Entries will be accepted until, and contest will end on, Tuesday January 20th, at 6PM EST.

To enter, please follow these links and “like” both Brooklyn Homemaker and Nordic Ware on facebook. Then come back and leave the comment “I like big bundts!” on this post, and tell me what type of bundt you’ll bake first if you win!

Only one comment per entrant, please.  Sorry, but immediate family is excluded. The winning pan can only be shipped within the contiguous United States, so entrants must live or have a mailing address within the lower 48. Winner will be chosen, using a random number generator, from the total number of comments when the contest comes to a close. Winner will be contacted via email for shipping information.