Cocoa Carrot Cake from The Chef Next Door

Two months ago I reviewed  The Migraine Relief Plan by Stephanie Weaver and I loved the assignment of digging into a cookbook to really understand the author and explore more than one recipe at a time.

My friend, Tara of Tara’s Multicultural Table, does a lot of cookbook reviews in serious detail and so, I decided to give cookbook reviewing a trial session before jumping into it on an official scale.

I decided to take to my personal cookbook selection and review those I already own. To start off, I chose The Chef Next Door by Amanda Freitag.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.

You probably know Amanda from her roles on Food Network as a judge on Chopped and a contestant in Next Iron Chef America. She is a highly talented chef and a successful restaurateur.

She opens her book with a very heartfelt introduction admitting her insecurities when it comes to cooking at home. For her, the kitchen comfort zone is her busy restaurant kitchen with a loud atmosphere, staff, and countless kitchen tools at her fingertips.

To help the reader learn to feel more comfortable in their own home kitchen, she provides tips and skills that any cook can learn to call on. Spoiler alert – none of them cost a dime.

The book is broken into 9 chapters and even has a section with menu suggestions for special occasions. Each recipe includes a miniature story including tips before the ingredient list. To really help out the home cook, Amanda has included the steps for prepping each recipe before the official list of steps on how to complete the dish. There are also photographs to accompany each recipe.

Because it’s Easter week, I’m featuring her Cocoa Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing. The frosting is incredible – cream cheese icing is usually my go-to, but her version features far less sugar than my grandmother’s and I’m sorry, Busia, but I like this cheesier alternative better. As for the cake, it’s a rich, dark cake chocked full of carrots and walnuts.

Cocoa Carrot Cake | Sew You Think You Can Cook | http://sewyouthinkyoucancook.com

This recipe will make a 10″ round cake or a 9″ round cake and 10-12 cupcakes.

Cocoa Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

Ingredients for cake:

  • 2 C packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 C vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 3/4 C flour
  • 1/4 C cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 lb carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1/2 lb walnuts, chopped

Ingredients for icing:

  • 3 stick butter, at room temperature
  • 3 8 oz pkgs cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3 C powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cake pan with parchment paper and then grease with nonstick spray.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine brown sugar and oil until combined. Add the eggs two at a time, mixing well.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt. Slowly add it to the stand mixer, mixing until combined.
  4. Fold in the carrots and walnuts.
  5. Pour batter into prepare cake pan. Bake 45-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out cleanly. Allow cake to cool slightly before turning out of the pan onto your hand and flipping again onto a cake stand to cool completely.
  6. Make icing: In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese and butter with an electric hand mixer. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla extract, mix on low to start. Mix until smooth.
  7. Frost the cooled cake. Decorate with extra chopped walnuts, if desired.
  8. Keep in refrigerator at least an hour. Allow cake to come to room temperature before serving.

Cocoa Carrot Cake | Sew You Think You Can Cook

One of Amanda’s tips is to not be afraid to veer from the recipe. If you’re missing an ingredient, figure out something else that would work. All it takes is practice in the kitchen to become comfortable understanding the purpose of each ingredient in the recipe.

Following that advice, I made her Puerto Rican Pernil using a boneless pork shoulder and my slow cooker instead of the oven. I made Salmon with Peas, Pearl Onions, and Mint taking advantage of frozen pearl onions instead of peeling fresh ones myself. I also made Cornmeal-Crusted Chicken Thighs with Jamaican Spice, reducing the cayenne to appeal more to the little ones in my home.

The Chef Next Door cookbook review | Sew You Think You Can Cook

#ChoctoberFest: Cocoa Crusted Baby Back Ribs

#Choctoberfest

 I knew I wanted to do something savory to share during #ChoctoberFest. I thought about making a chili and could’ve sworn I had something saved on my Pinterest account. While searching I came up empty handed (looks like I’ll have to develop a new recipe this winter!). However, while I was searching I discovered baby back ribs with a cocoa spice rub. Conveniently, I had a rack of ribs in my freezer. Winner!

What wasn’t a winner – making these ribs in a small kitchen on a hundred degree day without air conditioning. I guess I should’ve looked at the forecast of the week before thawing my baby back ribs.

These ribs didn’t need a barbecue sauce, but I did have some extra rub which could maybe be used in a sauce. I’ll need to remake these ribs for my husband and might explore with developing a savory chocolate barbecue sauce. (Or, who knows, maybe someone will be doing the hard work for me during this two week event?)

Yes, I made these ribs while I was home “alone.” Alone being a term that doesn’t ever apply to me anymore. Or at least, not for quite some time. And while, sure, I’d love just a couple of hours alone, I wouldn’t trade my ability to stay home with my two young boys for anything!

The boys wouldn’t touch the ribs the day I made them. But, we ate off of the rack the entire week, using the meat in quesadillas, in sandwiches, and on nachos. I was a little skeptical on how the flavors of the cocoa would mesh with cheese, but it was delicious! And the kids had zero problems eating the ribs in a more comfortable medium.

The cocoa rub has an earthy, warm, comforting quality. Using unsweetened cocoa powder means you’re not getting a sweet flavor – the sugar in the rub is what creates a crust to the meat. With chili powder you get a hint of the flavors you’re accostomed to with barbecue, but the cocoa gives it that something unique yet familiar. I highly encourage you to branch out and give this rub a try.

Cocoa Crusted Baby Back Ribs

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 C brown sugar
  • 1/3 C unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp ground mustard
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 3 lb baby back ribs

Steps:

  1. Whisk together sugar, cocoa powder, and spices in a bowl. Generously rub the ribs all over with the cocoa spice rub. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Remove ribs from the fridge 2 hours before cooking.
  3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  4. Bake ribs in a casserole dish 40-50 minutes, until tender. Remove.
  5. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees F. Transfer ribs to a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake another 20 minutes, flipping halfway.

*This recipe is adapted from Saveur at http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Cocoa-Rubbed-Baby-Back-Ribs*

Cocoa Crusted Baby Back Ribs for #ChoctoberFest from Sew You Think You Can Cook

Don’t forget to enter our giveaway and be sure to check out the other bloggers who posted more chocolate recipes today:

Slow Cooker Hot Chocolate

Did you know that your slow cooker can be used for more than just pulled pork, Chinese take-out at home, and tailgating cheese dips? It can also be used to have warm and comforting beverages ready for you after an evening in the cold.

For Thanksgiving we went to Alabama to spend the holiday weekend with my in-laws. On Black Friday we had intended to go walking through a Christmas light display downtown. Because it was a chilly night my mother-in-law whipped up a batch of hot chocolate so we could warm up when we returned.

We never did go check out the lights, though. We got wrapped up in a very competitive game of Harry Potter Uno. (Side note: Can you believe this deck of cards is now over $60!?)

But we did still get to enjoy some home made hot chocolate!

Slow Cooker Hot Chocolate

Ingredients:

  • 1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 1/2 C heavy cream
  • 6 C milk
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 C cocoa powder
  • 2/3 C hot water

Steps:

  1. Place condensed milk, heavy cream, milk, sugar, vanilla, and salt in slow cooker.
  2. In a large mug or measuring glass, whisk together cocoa powder and hot water. Add to slow cooker.
  3. Cook on LOW 3 hours.

*This recipe is adapted from Melissa at http://www.number-2-pencil.com/2013/12/14/slow-cooker-hot-cocoa/*

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