Completely, delightfully, chocolate

Sunday, March 4, 2012

   In my opinion, chocolate desserts (and by chocolate desserts I mean a dish dedicated completely and lovingly to the flavor and texture of chocolate) can be the most difficult to create and execute well. A truly chocolate dessert typically has a limited number of ingredients and it is frustratingly easy to end up with a cloying, droopy or possibly dry and crumbly, end result.
   May I present the ultimate, the one and only solution to your chocolate craving: Vegan Chocolate Cake.

   It is the first vegan baked dessert I've ever made. Which is saying a lot. I bake a lot and I eat a lot of desserts. The whole vegan thing has always reminded me painfully of that period of time in our lives when my mother was convinced carob chips were the healthy solution (sorry, mom).

   This cake is simple, it has few ingredients, you don't need to break the bank buying chocolate freshly imported from Europe and the result is effortlessly, completely, densely yet lightly.... chocolate.

   Even though I bake a lot and taste many desserts, I often have a slice or a piece, perhaps a pinch, a taste from Steve's plate, and promptly forget about it. Not this cake. I've gone back. Many times. A sliver here, a taste there... it sings my name and demands attention. I even exercised today for this cake. Clearly, it's serious.

   Don't hesitate. Release yourself from the preconception that eggs and butter are necessary for a moist and delicious cake. Embrace this cake and it will embrace you back. Trust me. You need vegan chocolate cake in your life.

   Also, I added rum because I could and because, well, rum is delicious. Just say yes.

Vegan Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Joy the Baker

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder, plus additional for dusting the pan
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4  cup hot coffee
1/4 cup dark rum
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

   Place rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a 9-inch bundt pan with vegetable shortening or baking spray and dust with cocoa powder.  Set aside.
   In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  In a medium bowl, whisk together coffee, rum, oil, and vanilla.
   Add all the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined.  Stir in chocolate chips.
   Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  The batter will be relatively thick.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out with moist crumbs clinging to it.
   Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before inverting onto a cake platter to cool.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve warm.
   Cake will last, covered, at room temperature, for up to 3 days. 

A Simple Lunch

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

   I have a theory about the relativity of time. I think as we get older time goes by faster and faster because the days, weeks, months and years seem smaller and smaller compared to all the days, weeks, months and years we've been on this earth. When I was a child, for instance, a month was a virtual eternity. I distinctly remember entire nights before Christmas that seemed to have their very own spring, summer, fall and winter. Now, years later, a night seems so fleeting. A week is here and gone before I can catch my breath.

   All this to say, I've been quiet on this space for quite some time, but in my defense, it is a very small amount of time compared to how long I've been on this earth. No excuse, but still.

   So much has happened! Steve and I adopted this lovely little girl:

   Her name is Audrey and I love her so much that I don't care she's ripped holes in the bottoms of all my PJ pants as she follows me around the kitchen. Steve loves her so much he doesn't care that she's festooned his favorite pair of leisure shoes with millions of puppy teeth puncture wounds.

   Most exciting of all however is my food news! Steve and I are slowly but surely removing meat from our daily lives. Me! Daughter of a beef farmer, lover of all things meat pie and meat sauced, sidling away from meat. It has been several weeks since this change and I have to say, I feel great.

   This came about after a number of events. For one, we watched an eye opening documentary called Forks Over Knives (I highly recommend a viewing!), for another, our grocery bill is drastically smaller when we avoid the meat and dairy sections. Finally, as a lover of nutrition and food, the earth and preventative medicine, I simply cannot deny the harm our American style meat consumption causes.

   We do still eat meat occasionally (turkey was a must for Christmas dinner), and I don't consider myself a vegetarian or vegan. Steve calls it 'plant based eating' which I think is lovely and fitting. I'm proud to say that in the last several weeks we have eaten meat for only one to two meals per week.

   As a result, expect lots of delicious bean, grain and veggie recipes! I'm excited about this endeavor, I hope you are too, and I hope you squeeze in at least a couple days a week of meat free eating, if not for your heart, then just for fun.

   One of the biggest lessons I'm getting out of this mini revolution is how different my approach to creating a meal has to be. Traditionally, a meal is constructed around some center piece of fish or meat. With the fish and meat removed from the equation I find one can quickly spiral into aimlessness. I've decided to apply the same principle of planning a meat based meal to a plant based one- I simply decide what it is Steve and I are craving, figure out how to highlight that ingredient, and plan the rest of the food around that. What we crave can be anything- a bean, a grain, a noodle, a vegetable, or even spice- it really doesn't matter. So far this approach has worked famously.

   To kick things off, and in honor of the New Year, I would like to share with you a simple and very satisfying dish that I created around my craving for butternut squash. I added lightly caramelized onions for flavor, collard greens for color, and quinoa for protein. Presto! A complete dish. Plus, collards traditionally bring good health and luck when eaten on the New Year. Enjoy and happy New Year!

Butternut Squash Quinoa with Collards

1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 large well washed collard green leaves, cut into 1 inch ribbons
3 cups butternut squash, cut to large dice
3/4 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
Salt, to taste

   In a medium sized heavy bottomed sauce pan, heat the olive oil over medium low heat. Add the onion and sprinkle with salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent and starting to lightly brown. Add the collards, cover again and cook until wilted. If the onions and collards seems dry or stick to the bottom of the pan, add a small amount of water. Once the collards have wilted, add the butternut squash and more water if needed, plus another sprinkle of salt. Cover and cook over medium low heat for ten minutes.
   Add the quinoa and water, bring to a simmer, cover and cook until the quinoa has absorbed most of the water, 15 to 20 minutes. At this point, taste some quinoa and, if tender, remove the lid and cook off and remaining liquid until the desired texture is achieved. If still crunchy, keep cooking with cover on until it is tender. Season to taste with salt.
   Serves 2.