Monday, February 27, 2012

Mexican Chocolate Vegan Cake




I have made this cake six times in the last six weeks. That is a lot of cake. Each time it has sat on my counter I have made calls to friends asking if I could bring them cake so I don't have to finish it all myself. I jokingly call it Breakfast Lunch and Dinner cake because it really is that good. I have made it for dinner parties 3 times, birthday cupcakes for a little friend, a birthday cake for a tahoe adventure two days ago and an almost birthday cake the first go round.

This recipe was sent to me by a friend. It seems to be a common vegan cake recipe, but I changed it a bit to deepen the flavors, and added a butter cream frosting recipe to compliment the spices. I have no attachments to making vegan food over non-vegan food. When it comes to baking, I just like what tastes best. I think cakes are a tough sell, and hard to get right. This has proved to be foolproof, and when I say it gets rave reviews, that is somewhat of an understatement. More times than not, everyone has eaten two pieces at once when they have eaten this cake. That is a testament to outstanding cake.

The recipe calls for one cup of oil. At first I used melted coconut oil. It worked well to make the cake, but the kids did not love coconut flavor, and complained about it. Then I switched over to walnut oil. I loved the neutral slightly nutty taste. Then I started fooling around with the chocolate. I ended up increasing the chocolate called for in the recipe. I have had too many chocolate cakes that fall short of robust chocolate flavor. The addition of chocolate to the recipe really made the cake shine! Along with increasing chocolate, I added cinnamon and then cayenne, and topped with a Grand Marnier butter cream (non-vegan!) frosting that absolutely catapulted this cake into it's own special universe.

Make sure you line your cake pans with parchment for this cake, and keep a very, very close eye on the baking time. Overcooking this cake even a small bit will adversely affect how spectacular it is. I stand by the oven the last ten minutes of cooking toothpick testing the cakes. The best part about this cake (in addition to how moist it is) is that I bet you have all the ingredients in your house right now to make it, and it takes less than 15 minutes to throw together. The Grand Marnier might be the only ingredient not readily available in your pantry. My good friend made this a few days back for her daughter's birthday and topped it with a bit of powdered sugar and they all loved it. So, there is lots of flexibility. I have two versions of this cake. The spicy and the non-spicy. The cinnamon adds the right amount of base flavor without it tasting of cinnamon. Just a boost of the natural chocolate flavors. The spicy version doubles the cinnamon with a burst of cayenne and may be for the adult dinner party. Either way the results are worth a bit of experimentation.

This is the cake I sent with my ex-husband a few weeks back. M has been with him this past week while school has been out on break. It has been the longest I have ever been away from her. The first week to myself in 7 years. I accomplished a lot, and was very thankful for the space and time to stretch, grow, explore and brainstorm. Among other business adventures I am planning on diving into, I am going to be starting my own CSK (community supported kitchen) share. A small group of locals will be able to subscribe to a weekly box of my special foods. I am planning to include things like bottles of my lacto-fermented soda, homemade mustard and teriyaki sauce and my polenta blood orange cake. Things that I wish I could find locally, but can't. It will be exciting to share this progression with you. This is a food model that I think will be taking shape in communities more and more. Last week I met with my friend, mentor and local business owner who owns a cooking school and certified kitchen in my town. In our conversation, she talked about a friend from Berkeley who was one of the partners who started Three Stone Hearth. It is a very successful model of subscription food. I am really looking forward to starting my own micro-version of Three Stone Hearth, inspired by my friend Wendy's similar vision. A really innovative way to support local farms, local businesses and come together in a communal way to share food. A food nirvana of sorts!


Mexican Chocolate Vegan Cake
makes two cake rounds 

3 cups All Purpose Flour
1 cup sugar
2 cups liquid (can be water, black tea, espresso, coffee)
2 tsp. baking soda
4 Tbls vinegar
1 tsp. salt
1 cup walnut oil (or any kind of oil you like)
1 cup coco powder
1 tsp cinnamon
*** Add 1 extra tsp. of cinnamon and 1 tsp of cayenne for spicy version***

In a bowl mix flour, sugar, cinnamon, cayenne (optional) salt, coco powder, baking soda with a fork or whisk. Add oil and liquid of your choice. Mix well. Lastly add the vinegar and mix well. Pour into parchment line cake pans that are greased. Bake at 375 degrees for 25-35 min. Test with toothpick. When toothpick comes out clean, cakes are done. Let cool in pans then frost. 

Grand Marnier Butter Cream Frosting
makes about 2 1/2 cups frosting

1 1/2 stick room temperature butter
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 good pinch salt (I always use celtic sea salt)
2 Tbls Grand Marnier

Monday, February 13, 2012

Panisse and Peace Offerings


I made Panisse a few nights back, and then walked three doors down to my girlfriend's house for her food opinion. Thumbs up she said. M was with her dad, so my foodie-in-training was unavailable to taste test. I find it simultaneously crazy and beautiful that a 7 year old is my go-to girl for tasting my food experiments.  When I recently made a vegan chocolate cake for a dinner party (with Grand Marnier butter cream frosting), M pronounced "Mom, this is the best cake I have ever had. Ever!" Honesty and critiques come in spades from the little people in the world. Often when she does not like what I have made, she says "Mom, that tastes like compost." So, as much as she says yum, there is a honest yuck lurking in the shadows. I like knowing the truth is afoot however, no sugar coating in sight. I will share the vegan chocolate cake recipe with you soon. There are so many sweet recipes out in the world right now for Valentines Day, I thought to share a savory one. I was inspired to make these after seeing them on the menu at Commonwealth in San Francisco. If there could be a restaurant that is the most like me, this is it. Sometimes criticized for leaning too heavily on molecular gastronomy, I think they are nailing it. They are my restaurant doppelganger.  Modern, efficient, young, local, simple. Commonwealth serves wines from the Natural Process Alliance. While eating during my visit there, I was intrigued watching servers serving wine out of Kleen Kanteens. Turns out NPA  has taken wine sustainability to a new level by a bottle exchange program, responsible farming and labor practices and chemical free wine. Getting back to the Panisse however, this is a northern Italian and south eastern French recipe made of chickpea flour that is fried or baked.  I am always interested in simple recipes that are way out of the norm, and this fits the bill. Easy, interesting and uncommon. I have Valentine's Day in mind for you, and thought this to be an easy surprise recipe for you if your making any special dinners this week. What I really like is the prepare ahead part. You can mix up the chickpea flour and keep in the fridge ready to go. I bought Bob's Red Mill Garbanzo Bean Flour at the co-op. I will also say that Panisse do not taste at all like hummus or falafel; also made with garbanzo bean flour or chickpeas. Panisse tasted almost like fried custard, or very tender steak fries. Crispy on the outside and tender and silky on the inside. I added saffron and spicy smoked paprika for character and was glad I did. Panisse is a special occasion recipe. Anything fried in oil is a special occasion dish in my kitchen! The first step is cooking the garbanzo bean flour and spices for about 5 minutes in a saucepan. I used an immersion blender (put it right into the saucepan while cooking) to smooth out the batter. It is very thick and lumpy on the stove and the immersion blender worked wonders. Then I poured the mixture into a square glass baking dish and chilled it. Before frying in olive oil, I cut into long pieces. I topped with Parmesan cheese which was great with the heat from spice and custard texture. These have to be served right away. The hotter, the better, just like french fries. I did not try baking them. If you do, let me know if they turn out.

In other news, I want to express how much I have appreciated how many of you have reached out to introduce yourselves.  Sharing with me your stories and reassurances about life's bigness. Sitting in a cafe as I write this, I am reflecting upon life being so much more than just writing a blog; it is sharing this with you and hearing your words of wisdom to me about vulnerability and love. Last year's Valentines Day was a dark, dark day. I was digging in the deep as Adele says. My suffering was so painful. Grasping, fighting against what was happening. Last night I was able to give my ex-husband a to-go package of chocolate cake for him and his girlfriend. A token of thanks, a peace offering. It was still sad though. I cooked for him for 10 years. The first dish I ever made for him was chicken soup with black rice at the little house in the middle of nowhere. My first visit to the little japanese house that would later become my home. Oh lordy my cooking has come a long way since then. But I do know that a year ago I was a different person. My pain has lessened, my heart has accepted, healed, but still occasionally sad. As we sat talking about M's new love of softball in my kitchen during dropoff, it was obvious neither of us were sure of how to be in a room together. Awkwardness was abound as we tried to come together for the sake of a magical seven year old. And I, ever the food optimist, gave my peace offering of vegan chocolate cake. Hoping the world to heal, us to heal, clunky as it is.  


Spicy Panisse
makes about 10 medium sized

1 cup garbanzo bean flour
2 cups water
pinch salt
1 heaping tsp. smoked paprika (I used spicy smoked paprika)
pinch saffron threads
1 Tbls. powdered Parmesean
1 cup olive oil

Bring 2 cups of water to a simmer. Add salt, spices and garbanzo bean flour. Stir constantly for about minute. Use an immersion blender until silky smooth. Simmer for about 4 more minutes constantly stirring. Pour into a square glass baking dish, cover and chill.

Cut chilled garbanzo bean flour into fat strips. Mine were a bit wider than an inch and about 3 inches long. In a well seasoned pan (I used my cast iron skillet) add olive oil and heat until spitting hot but not yet smoking. Add pieces of panisse and cook for about 2 minutes each side. You are looking for them to be crispy and brown on each side. Drain cooked strips on a paper towel. Serve immediately.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Edamame Hummus and Endings



Having coffee a few mornings back, sitting with close friends, we discussed how life continually presents opportunities even if disguised as disasters, and how this past year it has manifested for me by being brought to my knees so to speak quite a few times. We all have our own lives to do this, being touched by what we allow to transform us. Maybe it is being 40 now, but I feel like people's lives are moving faster and being shaken deeper. Life is holding us closer and the ride is getting wild. We can either turn away from it, or we can face it and love it. I decided to be on my knees, trusting the divine to show me as only the divine can. And letting go of everything I had built as my life, watching it dissolve, allowed me to come forward like I had not yet in my life. I  I have complete trust in this journey. And so, getting broken open becomes for so many of us, a shorter path to discovering that when we face the fear that life can bring, the truth shows itself vividly. It was never real, this fear, it was a belief I had made up about life, about myself, to survive. And so as I release these beliefs, the fear falls away and leaves room for more love, more authenticity, more trust that all of this is right. Before all of this, I hoped that life would not give me a bad deal. I spent a lot of time investing in hope. Hope of being lucky, hope of being picked by my husband, hope of not getting sick, hope of having a successful marriage. But, when you are rolling around in that bad deal, thinking hope never showed up the way you thought it would, or hope forgot you, with nothing but that pain day after day, there is motivation to see things differently to ease the suffering. I have been endlessly lucky in that my mentors and teachers lovingly speak this language; there are no mistakes. Ever. Life is the love. And whatever diagnosis, foreclosure, failed relationship, it is all the same; to get us into our loving. So I can trust fully and completely the right now for me is a treasure beyond treasures, it is the song the universe is singing to each of us, calling us to remember we are the pot of gold. You, me, us, it is already there. The blessings already are. The house is gone, the husband is gone, the status is gone, the old way is gone. A perfectly designed recipe. Like the recipe to end all recipes. The one that keeps on giving to all of us equally, we just have to choose it. Today my house is being auctioned. The bank refused the short sale offer. In the past this would be a failure, a disaster, a shortcoming of some sort. But I write this knowing that today is a day that holds wonder, love, forgiveness, holiness, and the perfect way for me. My perfect recipe.
I made edamame hummus frankly because I ran out of potato chips. Kettle brand, salt and vinegar. I keep them on hand these days. Do you ever let out that big deep sigh when you look in the bag and there are only about 2 whole ones left along with the crumbs and that just isn't enough? And you want to yell at someone? Since I was the last one to dig into the bag, I had to laugh. NO POTATO CHIPS ON THIS DAY?? This is the kind of day potato chips are made for!!! The type of day that requires comfort food. Quick releasing carbohydrates that only potatoes can provide of course. I ran out of chocolate yesterday, so options are slim. But, I bought frozen organic edamame the other day and knew this hummus would be nice with toasted sourdough. So, here you go. And the secret ingredient? Lemons. I actually feel weird by how often I use lemons in my recipes. If you get sick of the lemons I seem to endlessly add, drop me a line. I used meyer lemon but a regular juicy lemon will do. But, buy two just in case the first one is lacking enough juice. You want at least 1 tablespoon if not more. And if you happen to be eating potato chips this day, eat one for me.

Edamame Hummus

1 pkg. frozen, organic edamame cooked
2 Tbls. great quality organic olive oil
1 Tbls. toasted sesame seed oil
2 tsp. tamari or soy sauce or shoyu
zest of lemon
1 Tlbs lemon juice
2 Tbls of the leftover edamame cooking liquid

Cook Edamame in pot of boiling water with a pinch of salt added for 4 minutes. Drain and add to food processor with all the above ingredients. Blend, occasionally scraping down the sides until very smooth; about 5 minutes.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Chicken Soup For My Soul



February 3, 2012 The Age Of Aquarius comes to a close. Neptune moves into Pisces where it has not been since 1847. I have been reading about this, curious. So many of my close friends are undergoing deep, primordial-like transformations. Pushed into the deep waters of life. Deaths, re-arranging, letting go, break-ups, career bumps, health issues. Almost no one that I know seems to be untouched as of late.

This has been a tender, tender week for me. My house is either foreclosing or being bought in short sale very soon. Another letting go. The parcel we lived on was 51 acres with three meadows. A community treasure. We were entrusted to steward the land. It was not to be, however. Building the house was a labor of love. A creation that was fully our own, down to the last detail. We designed and built the whole house with blood, sweat and tears and then finally moved in. A welcomed event, since we had spent the previous 6 years living in an old japanese tea house up the hill that offered few creature comforts and no working toilet for much of the time! But, within months, the market crashed, my husband's small business started gasping for air and we faced the struggle of how we would afford the dream. We limped along until we split up, and then it was official that the house was going. We could not afford the mortgage if we were not married. Weeks after our split I called a real estate agent. I cried when she told me that realistically our house was worth about half of what we paid for it due to the state of the housing market, and there was no way out except letting it go. Word traveled like lightening in my neighborhood and what was news and gossip to neighbors was heartbreak to me. And although my ex-husband and I now are virtually strangers to one another, we share this heartbreak equally. A home that represented beauty, socializing, community, friends, neighbors, history, tradition is moving out of our hands now. I feel sad, so sad to say goodbye to that life that was so welcoming to me. A community that was so special and lovely that to say it was a home does not even do it justice. I knew almost all of my neighbors on a first name basis, and it was  special in that we were all living in off-grid houses, homesteaders of sorts, foraging a special kind of dream where only those who wanted to live so far off the beaten path do. A wild bunch of old timers, artists, poets, scientists, writers and musicians. A new generation has started moving more into the community now,  many of them close friends who are raising families in that wild rural landscape.  And while I am happier living in my little rental house in town, surrounded by close friends, love and support, this week I struggle to let go of that big dream we set into motion that touched so many people's lives, as well as our own.  The dream that taught me what community means. What kind neighbors mean. What people can do when they come together and take care of one another. And, how life leads us in the perfect direction even though tears and sadness may try to tell me otherwise.


Today I made soup. I needed the warmth. I am tired from so much crying. This recipe has been my chicken soup standard for a while now. It takes about 15 min to put it together and about a hour to cook. I put the chicken thighs in the broth whole and shred them after cooking the soup, but before serving. Unlike most chicken soups, this has shiitake mushrooms and lemon zest to make it stand out. The combo of those two ingredients makes this taste bright and smoky at the same time. You could add onions, leeks and/or garlic if you like.

Shitake Lemon Chicken Soup

2 cups chopped carrots
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped shiitakes (stems removed and discarded)
1 cup chopped parsely
1 pound boneless chicken thighs (around 4 thighs)
zest of 2 lemons (I use meyer lemons when in season)
7 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup olive oil

Sautee carrots, celery, shiitakes and parsley in olive oil. Add chicken thighs and stock and cook on medium heat for an hour or more.

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