Roasted Tomato Soup and Ruth's Chocolate Cake

Food inspiration is important when you cook for your family most days of the week and I don't always find it. But today I got lucky and found ideas in literary places: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl, a writer who makes it look so easy (I highly recommend this book and Garlic and Sapphires about her time as the New York Times restaurant critic. She writes cleanly and is a great storyteller).

So here's what got me started - re-reading Sendak with my daughter I was struck, as I always am, by the warmth of the final page where Max returns to find dinner waiting for him (setting aside the question of whether this represents good parenting). It appears to be a bowl of soup and a piece of cake. Who wouldn't want to come home and find that waiting? Here's the page from Sendak:

And Reichl's memoir (pictured below among my cookbooks because it includes several great recipes). She writes about a chocolate cake she'd make in high school for all her friends. A cake that "boys especially liked." But don't get her wrong. She's a natural feminist who just happens to enjoy cooking, and I love her for it. 

Roasted Tomato Soup

Serves 4

15 plum tomatoes
2 white onions
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoon olive oil
Splash cream or half & half
4 cups chicken stock 

1. Preheat oven to 300º. Cut the tomatoes lengthwise, trim woody parts, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast for about 3 hours. 

2. Dice the onions and simmer with butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil for 30-45 minutes or until brown and caramelized. 

3. Puree in the blender with chicken stock and a splash of half & half (I did it in three batches to keep the blender from spraying my ceiling). Warm, comforting and so flavorful. 

After 3 hours at 300 degrees

Now Ruth's cake:

3/4 cup cocoa
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter - room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups cake flour 
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350º.

2. Put cocoa and sugar in a bowl. Heat milk (I used skim but anything heavier would no doubt result in an even tastier cake) until bubbles appear at edges. Pour into cocoa/sugar mixture and stir until combined. Set aside to cool.

3. Cream butter, brown sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Add eggs, one at time, and sour cream. Add cooled cocoa mixture. Sift dry ingredients into batter and mix gently. Batter should be light and fluffy.

4. Pour into buttered and floured round cake pans.  Bake 25-30 minutes until sides pull away from pan and center springs back when touched. Cool for a few minutes then turn out onto racks to cool.

Frost with Ruth's choice of seven minute icing ( or my choice, cream cheese frosting.

2 packages cream cheese, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
a few tablespoons milk or cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla or orange juice

Beat until fluffy. Makes enough for generous middle and top frosting.

Not too rich or sweet, so you can have a big slice!


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