Oh, Dear… August 29, 2011
At my old job we discovered an amazing recipe called Chocolate Orbit Cake from The Essence of Chocolate. It was written by one of my favorites, David Lebovitz, so I knew it had to be good. I was left to test it out. Time after time. I kept screwing it up during the baking process. I either forgot the water bath, or the water got into the springform pan and drowned the cake, or I forgot to cover the pan with foil… gaaah. Finally though, I figured out how to get it to bake perfectly (which I’ll get to later). Freakin’ water baths, man…
This cake was the love of my life. It was easy to make (after the first few times), it was wonderfully chocolatey, melted in your mouth, and required nothing more than a dusting of powdered sugar and maybe some whipped cream. When a customer needed advice on which chocolate dessert to choose, there was but one direction to take.
Today, I bring you a new version of it: vegan, and depending on the chocolate used, lower in sugar. Yet still ridiculous. Trust me. I’m gonna call it “Freakout Cake” because that’s what one would do after trying it.
The original recipe calls for only four ingredients: chocolate, butter, eggs and sugar. At the cafe, I always added a few splashes of brandy, Cointreau, whiskey, or whatever booze we had on hand. It made life better. My version uses ripe bananas and arrowroot starch to replace the eggs. Why? The bananas are naturally starchy, yet moist and creamy; in this particular case, they mimic well the silky and fudgy texture that the eggs would give. Additionally, they blend well with the chocolate flavor. The arrowroot smoothly binds and thickens as the cake bakes, to ensure this baby remains intact when you slice it– slice it like butter…
Vegan Chocolate Freakout Cake
10 oz top-notch bittersweet chocolate, chopped or broken into small pieces (I used Lindt 90%, but I’m also crazy. You can try 85% or 70%. Unless you’re crazy too.)
7 oz (or 14 tbsp) vegan faux butter
3 very ripe medium bananas (or 2 large)
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp arrowroot starch
a splash of booze, if you’re so inclined (Kahlua, Amaretto, Irish cream, brandy, etc.)
1) Preheat oven to 350°F. If you’re fortunate enough to have a 9″ springform pan, line the bottom with parchment paper and coat with non-stick spray. If not, use a regular 9″ cake pan and line it with aluminum foil so that you can lift the cake out once it’s ready to serve (coat the foil with non-stick spray as well).
2) In a medium bowl, place the chocolate and butter. Set the bowl over a sauce pan of simmering water (don’t let water into the bowl!), and allow the chocolate and butter to melt. Stir occasionally until it is completely melted and combined. Set aside and cool for a few minutes (but don’t put it in the fridge!).
3) Puree the bananas in a food processor. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the sugar and arrowroot. Gradually add the sugar mixture to the bananas and puree (if you can slowly pour in the sugar while the processor runs, do that). If you’re using booze, add it in here as well.
4) With a rubber spatula, gradually stir the banana-sugar puree into the melted chocolate (it’s okay if the chocolate is still warm). As you stir it in, the mixture will thicken up, kinda like pudding. Dark, delicious pudding… Make sure the batter is well combined, and pour into the prepared pan. Save a little batter for yourself, you’ll be glad you did. Tightly cover the top of the pan with foil. That step is very important.
5) Here’s the tricky part with the water bath. If you’re using a regular pan (not springform), you can place it into a larger baking pan or dish and fill with water about a third or halfway up the 9″ pan. If you’re using a springform, it’s going to need to go in an extra round pan before going into the water bath so that water doesn’t seep into the springform. The waterbath helps the cake to come out nice and smooth. However. I did not even have a pan large enough for my 9″ to fit into, so I just put an extra pan of water on the bottom shelf of the oven, and still had good results. So there.
6) Bake for an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes. I pulled my cake out after an hour, but if you use a real waterbath, it may take a little longer. Regardless, you’ll know it’s done when the edges are set (maybe even a little puffed up), and the center still jiggles a bit when you shimmy the pan. Allow the cake to cool, and refrigerate it overnight (your patience will be rewarded). It will be solid enough to handle, but once you cut into it, you’ll see how smooth and melt-in-your-mouth crazy it is. Room temperature is best to serve this cake so that the chocolate softens a bit.
To serve, you can: dust with powdered sugar, sprinkle with chopped candied nuts, drizzle with fruit puree, top with whipped cream or ice cream (vegan or otherwise), or, if you don’t have time for such nonsense, go naked…
YOU’RE my new boyfriend.
Strike One August 25, 2011
It should come as no surprise that I’m not much into big chain restaurants. While they may create a particular atmosphere or provide reliable food and/or service, they often lack something in their character. Sometimes it’s the schtick that servers are forced to repeat table after table, or that each location, whether you’re in New York or Oklahoma, looks and feels exactly the same. And more often than not, the food doesn’t quite pop… because they all have to use the same company standard products and the same company standard recipes. I hate thinking about all the menu items that must come packaged when I eat at a chain, even at the “nicer” places. Like the roasted beet and goat cheese salad at one particular place (COUGHCOUGHgrandluxcafeCOUGHCOUGH)– if by “roasted” beets, they mean canned. Pfft. But I’d definitely rather have that than the sad excuse for food at places like… well… I don’t wanna be mean…
Another thing about chain restaurants– and this is strictly from my individual experience– why do they hide bits of meat in my food?? Macaroni Grill, I’m looking at you! I kinda like your bread and the tables with the crayons, but finding bits of chicken in my already sub-par pasta is NOT COOL, especially when I accidentally start to eat a piece. And the arrabbiatta sauce by the way, is supposed to be “angry” from the chili peppers, yet it makes me angry because I can’t taste them! Granted, I haven’t been there in a while. Maybe you’ve changed, but I’m still mad about the chicken. Bahama Breeze, I know when I sent the salad back you just picked the chicken out. At least at Panera they were nice enough to make it over! And Rotelli, when I ask you to leave out the bacon, I don’t want it replaced with chicken (why is it always chicken?)… but that was the noob server’s mistake.
Despite these little flops, I still go to some chains here and there. Not that they’re super-dee-duper amazing, but at least their food is real, and enjoyable. Like California Pizza Kitchen, which gets even more points for having plenty of vegetarian options. I went there with a friend this past Sunday, and we split a salad and pizza. We didn’t have to modify either dish because they were both automatically vegetarian. Oh, happy day. So I’m sitting there, enjoying the salad, thinking to myself “yumyumyum, iwishihadapetgoat, yumyumyum”, when all of a sudden, there’s an alien, yet familiar taste and texture on my tongue. It’s not supposed to be there. It’s salty; savory; kinda crunchy, kinda tender… it’s… BACON. Freakin’. BACON. Too late to retrieve the tiny bit of pig flesh, I had to take it down. I wasn’t really disgusted, just… shocked. Like a blast from the past. Memories of eating pancakes and bacon at Denny’s. One might ask, Are you sure it was bacon? Yes, 99.9%. I know it’s been eight or nine years since I’ve consumed any version of pig, but you don’t forget the taste of bacon, my friends. It was bacon.
So, California Pizza Kitchen… strike one. You’re lucky you have good food otherwise. And I know it was an accident, for I found no more pieces of bacon in the salad. And hey, at least it wasn’t boring old chicken again.
Stuffed August 22, 2011
You know when you’re in the kitchen eating raw mushrooms and looking for stuff to put on them?
Well, when I opened the pantry I saw pistachios leftover from wonderful chocolate covered pistachio balls. I took a few pistachios and combined them with a mushroom. Why haven’t I had this before??
Pistachio Stuffed Mushrooms, 2 Ways!
16 baby portobello mushrooms
balsamic vinegar (for brushing mushrooms)
1 cup pistachios
2 garlic cloves
olive oil (for sauteing)
3-4 oz goat cheese
2 large handfuls of fresh spinach leaves
a dash each of: thyme, marjoram, rosemary and anise seeds
1) Preheat the oven to 400°F. Wipe the mushrooms clean, remove the stems and set them aside. Lay the caps, dome side up, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. (If you have a wire rack to place on top of the sheet, that would be good, as liquid from the mushrooms is going to seep out.)
Brush the caps with balsamic vinegar and bake for about 10 minutes, or until their liquid has cooked out. Once they’re out of the oven, use a pair of tongs to set the caps aside, and drain the liquid from the pan. Keep the oven on.
2) While the mushroom caps cook, finely chop the pistachios in a food processor. Set them aside in a bowl.
3) Wipe out the food processor and put in the mushroom stems and garlic cloves. Finely chop those as well and divide into two portions.
4) Place the goat cheese in a small bowl. Using a fork, mix in the thyme, marjoram, rosemary and anise seed. If you’re not using ground anise seed, be sure to crumble the seeds between your fingers before adding. Add pepper if you like.
5) Pour a few teaspoons of olive oil in a pan and add one portion of the mushroom stems and garlic. Cook over medium heat until lightly browned and the liquid from the mushroom is cooked out. This should take just a few minutes. Add to the goat cheese and mix with a fork. Set aside.
6) Add a little more olive oil to the pan and the rest of the mushroom stems and garlic, as well as the spinach leaves. Cook over medium heat again, until most of the liquid from the spinach and mushrooms has evaporated. Lower the heat as you go so as not to burn them. Once done, put the spinach in a bowl.
7) Add half the chopped pistachios to the goat cheese, and half to the spinach. Mix each well.
8) Stuff half the mushroom caps with the goat cheese mix and half with the spinach mix. Place them back on the baking sheet and in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until heated thoroughly and the pistachio bits start to toast.
You can prepare and stuff the mushrooms ahead of time and simply heat before serving, so that’s nice, right? By the way, did you like how I gave one vegan version and one non-vegan? Yyyyeaaah. Both fillings are pretty addicting, and you’ll probably have leftovers, so you’re welcome. You can also try mixing them for super hardcore status.
POWER SNAAACKS, RAAAAHHH August 18, 2011
…TO CONQUER THE WORRRRLLLLLLD!!!!
Or at least for whatever endeavors you have going on… like an exercise routine, a physically demanding job, a mentally demanding job, climbing mountains, making cookies, getting through grad school, etc.
A certain Miss Amy has asked for suggestions as to what kinds of protein-rich snacks to eat, aside from her usual nuts or hummus. Gladly, I say, gladly.
First, let’s talk about protein needs, particularly in terms of the vegetarian diet (because that’s what I’m all aboot). Let me get this out of the way: non-vegetarians need to stop asking how we get protein. Well, I guess you don’t have to stop, I understand your curiosity. Rather, people need to stop assuming that protein deficiency is lurking around the corner behind a vegetarian diet. Protein nowadays, is actually a little overrated, which I would attribute to the hype of body-building and Atkins-like diets. There is a reason there are three macronutrients (aka building blocks of nutrition): protein, carbohydrates, and lipids. To function properly, our bodies need all three of these. How much exactly, I can’t say because a) I’m not a professional nutritionist, and b) I believe that we all have individual needs and we should experiment with our diets to find what feels best. Regardless, if you drastically cut out one of them, you’d likely feel less than stellar. And as far as protein goes, pretty much all whole foods– meaning unprocessed, unadulterated ingredients, be they animal or plant-based– have a certain amount of protein. Anyone who eats a good variety of food, especially of the more nutrient-dense ones, is most likely getting enough protein. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re an omnivore or raw vegan. So unless you are an athlete, a pregnant/nursing mother, or live with some kind of condition or situation that requires you to pay more attention to your diet, trying to count or increase your protein is not all that necessary.
I do know how it feels when you’re actually not getting enough protein, or some other macronutrient. You feel hazy, tired, grumpy…
Yeah, like that.
Like when I was working at a bakeshop from 6am til 3pm or later, practically non-stop. That was my choice, though. I said to boss-lady, Give me longer shifts so I can get more done. And I did. By the end of the day, my legs screamed. I got bruises on my thighs just from the stress of standing for so long. (HARDCORE!!) But anyway, despite my insanity, I had to learn how to help my brain and body cope with the workday. I had to find what foods would give me that second or third wind when I started to wilt. So, based on my experience and acquired knowledge, here are some suggestions for snacks that will make you awesome…
*Grains and legumes. I often say there is a reason that all around the world you can likely find some version of rice and beans. They have it all throughout South America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, etc. And not necessarily rice, but some kind of grain food. Even in Great Britain, a traditional snack or breakfast is beans on toast (an idea which they probably picked up from the middle eastern hummus and pita, just like the British steal everything… lolz). The combination of grains and legumes offers a “complete protein”. In other words, the two components on their own don’t have all the amino acids of say, a steak, but together, they fill in the missing pieces of the protein puzzle. Do we always need complete protein in the same meal? I don’t really know. I just read that our bodies store all the amino acids wherever we get them, and will combine them anyway. Nonetheless, the grain and legume combination quickly satisfies the demands of your brain and body, as well as your taste buds. So I would suggest the following:
-Cook up a few different types of grains for the week in your off time, like quinoa, barley, millet, brown rice, whatever you like. All it takes is water or broth and a little time. Store them in the fridge, along with a variety of beans, so you can quickly throw together whatever combination you’d like. Add some seasoning and/or condiments and go.
-Or for a hand-held version, make different types of hummus, and spread them on whole grain breads. I highly recommend sprouted breads, as they are more nutrient and protein dense, and easier to digest. Soft corn tortillas are also a good variation.
–Lentils, man. They’re often overlooked because they’re seen as dull, but if you cook and season them right, you’re in happy town. Super easy to cook, by the way, so add them to your grain and bean repertoire. And because they’re so nutrient-dense, they can be a real life-saver when you want to explode or implode. I suggest them with sunflower seeds or walnuts, and your favorite vinaigrette.
*Nuts! And seeds. Of course, eating them in trail mix may get old. But there are certainly different ways to enjoy them.
-Throw them in with your grains and/or beans.
-Mix with vegetables in a salad or slaw. If you need to save time, prepare it the night before.
-Add them to cooked vegetables, like sauteed spinach with chili pepper and cashews. Another item you can do ahead of time if you’re taking it to work or school, as long as you don’t mind eating it cold or at room temperature.
-And don’t forget nut butters. I know that besides peanut butter, they tend to be expensive. However, if you have a decent food processor, it’s actually stupid-easy to make your own. As long as you buy raw nuts and seeds in bulk, it’s way cheaper, because when you pay for nut butters, you’re also paying for the machine labor and packaging. I made my own almond butter, and YOU CAN TOO! And keep in the mind the possibilities. Besides making pb&j sandwiches, try out different fresh fruits and vegetables. If we can put peanut butter and raisins on celery, we can combine (pea)nut butter with other things. I may sound crazy but try this: peanut or almond butter mixed with chipotle hot sauce, sliced tomato sprinkled with a bit of salt, on toasted whole grain bread. Surriously.
-Keep in mind the healthiest nuts and seeds are: walnuts, almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and flaxseeds. The others are still good, but eat a higher ratio of these guys.
*Soy products. Now, there has been some controversy about soy in regards to GMOs, hormones, cancer, and some other crazy stuff. Which is why I don’t consume too much soy. There are healthier versions though. For one, avoid the faux meats because they tend to be too processed. Consider them veggie junk food. They won’t benefit you the way beans and rice will. Secondly, go for fermented soy products like tempeh and fermented tofu, as the fermentation enhances the nutrition of soy, and counteracts cancerous effects. You can make sandwiches, wraps, salads, stir-fries, or just eat them with some dipping sauce. Whatever floats your boat.
*Greek Freakin’ Yogurt. Not specifically Greek in origin, this type of yogurt is strained of excess whey, giving it a thicker consistency, richer flavor, and higher protein content. The result? AMAZING. Even if you’re picky about regular yogurt, try this stuff. It tastes better and will sustain you for a loooong time. For his lunch, my boyfriend will often eat a single-serving container of Greek yogurt with some fruit, and be set for the rest of his shift.
So there. Get creative, and if I find some particularly protein-ific recipes, I’ll post them. Also remember as I stated above, most foods have some protein. But what’s more important than watching your protein, fat, or carb intake is eating plenty of plant-based whole foods that are nutrient dense. Leafy greens, root vegetables, mushrooms, avocado, squash, berries, apples, citrus, bananas, etc. Along with grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, you’re good to go.
CONQUER ALL THE THINGS!!
Free Fancy Salt for Me! August 17, 2011
I think you all need a recipe. You’ll like this one.
See, I have a pile of clothing scraps that I need to get rid of. I’m not gonna donate scraps to Goodwill, but I sure as hell don’t want to just throw them in the garbage. Many bag or shirt or dress can be made with these scraps. So I went to the Yellow & Green Farmer’s Market. The last time I was there, a couple of the vendors were clothing designers who worked with recycled material. So I thought they could use my odds and ends. But the last time I had been to the market was also a while ago. I found that things had changed around the market– new vendors, new lunch stations, a mini bar… and of course, the designers I was looking for weren’t there. Aaaaw. Sad. Whatever. I wandered around anyway. Ate some samples. And I made friends with a Salt Dude! (That’s what he’s listed as on my phone.) Salt Dude sells salt. Nice salt. Really delicious salt. Like Toasted Onion, Chipotle, Thai Ginger, Merlot, Roasted Garlic… so much yum.
Salt Dude took a liking to me because I could identify the smell of Truffle Sea Salt. So I told him what I do, and now I’m developing recipes with his salts. And then I put them here. Of course, you can also read about them here. But if you want yerselves some great sea salt, you can check out Sierra’s Sea Salts (and taste them!) at the Yellow & Green Farmer’s Market, located in Hollywood, Flo’da, or you can shop online. They really are wonderful (I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think so), and the beauty with such potent and flavorful salts is that you don’t need much, so if you want to cook with reduced sodium, this is one way to do it.
Okay, so here’s the recipe:
Caramelized Onion Hummus with Alderwood Smoked Sea Salt
Ingredients for the caramelized onion:
1 large red sweet onion
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
2-3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
To caramelize the onion: Slice the onion very thinly; if you have a mandolin slicer, this would yield the best and quickest results, and hopefully the least pain and tears. Pour the olive oil in a saucepan. Add the sliced onion and toss to coat with the oil. Cover and bring to medium heat. Stir the onion occasionally as it wilts and deepens in color. Don’t worry about the browning on the bottom of the pan. As the onion cooks down, lower the heat so that it does not burn. The onion is done when it is reduced to less than a cup in volume and is mildly sweet and soft. Pour in the balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan and stir, mixing the browned bits with the rest of the onion. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Ingredients for the hummus:
The caramelized onion, cooled (about a scant cup, or to your taste)
1 15-oz can of butter beans (chickpeas, or any white bean are also fine)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp molasses
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp Sierra’s Alderwood Smoked Sea Salt
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp coriander
Fresh cracker pepper to taste
Blend all the ingredients in a food processor until thoroughly combined. Adjust seasonings to your taste.
I like this hummus because it’s a nice departure from the usual tangy and garlicky types (not that there’s anything wrong with that! I love traditional hummus!). It’s more mellow, and has a bit of sweet and smokey going on. Just for looks, I topped it with a drizzle of olive oil and extra smoked sea salt. I think it would also be great topped with creme fraiche if you wanna be fancy-pantsy about it. I mean, we’re already using fancy salt, right? Mmmm, fancy…
Le Birthday. Part II August 15, 2011
The day after my birthday was a 180 in terms of the nature of the celebration. There was no reggae band or karaoke crowds, no random choking, no baskets of wings and piles of nachos, nor pitchers of beer with bags of ice in them…
No sirree. In fact, there was wine. Two bottles. And olive oil, Italian bread, cheese… you get the idea. It’s always such a process for me to choose where to dine with my family for my birthday. First of all, I want to go someplace where the food is top notch (or at least almost there), and has vegetarian options. Second, I want to go somewhere with an atmosphere that is either interesting, festive, or just too-cool-for-school. Then I have to consider my parents and their particular limitations; my mom is very wary of heavily spiced foods (so Mexican and any kind of spicy Asian are usually out of the question), and my dad is watching his diet so the menu has to have some health-conscious options (you all know I love and prefer healthy food, but damnit, on my birthday, anything goes!). Noise level is an issue too because my dad is completely deaf in one ear, and partially in the other. Finally, I have to make sure it’s not going to rape my pop’s wallet.
With all those factors in mind, I have to bypass A LOT of the places in South Florida that I would really like to try. Sca-rumph.
So I whittled it down to Villagio, an Italian place that I was already familiar and felt comfortable with. This was the place from which I stole the idea for Mushroom Carpaccio; they top their thin-sliced mushrooms with onion, balsamic reduction and Asiago cheese. It’s delicious. And don’t be silly, mine is better.
Here are some pictures…
My brother Steven and his fiancee, Tina. I like her because she initiates the pouring of wine. I believe she had the seafood risotto. Word around the table is that it was good. Steven ate seafood soup because, as my best friend Rachel says, he’s on a liquid diet. He also doesn’t drink wine. Pfft.
I call this one Dodging a Bullet, which pretty much describes my dad’s life. Except that time in Vietnam when he actually stepped on the landmine and got blown into the air. And STILL has all his limbs intact… He ate salmon. My dad is obsessed with salmon. I don’t know why.
If I had a Siamese twin, it would be Rachel. But she wouldn’t be like a real Siamese twin because we met in 6th grade. She would be a sewn-on Siamese twin, and we’d probably make a lot of money at circus freak shows. I told her to order the Risotto Dolce Vita because it had goat cheese, and she did. I would’ve stolen some if it didn’t have shrimp.
Henry had ravioli with spinach and ricotta, doused in a pink cream sauce. I was kinda jealous. But I was too full from bread, wine, and mushrooms anyway. I (barely) ate the Risotto Primavera. It was… nice. Not great, and not even particularly good one way or another. I am 95% sure the vegetables in it were frozen. Not just because of the blandish taste, but because nobody dices carrots that small, and fresh mushrooms do not look that tiny and pale. (Take THAT, Villagio…) Henry loved it though, so I gave the leftovers to him. Suckerrrr.
I was surprised about one thing. The tiramisu was actually pretty good. I didn’t even order it. After observing three tables get the Happy Birthday treatment, I was determined to avoid being sung to, so I a) did not go to the bathroom, which is a HUGE feat for me, and b) did not order dessert. Henry wanted to try the tiramisu though. I’m a bitch about tiramisu because it never has enough booze in it, the way it’s supposed to. I assumed Villagio’s would be the same. There wasn’t enough booze for my eyes to roll back or anything, but enough for it to pass my test…
And no one sang Happy Birthday to me ^_^