Archive for February, 2010

Reading and Chocolate Cake

February 17, 2010


One of the best things about vacation for me is getting to read.  In my old life – pre-kids – I read a lot.  Now I have a couple of hours of peace in almost every single one of my days when Graham is in afternoon preschool and Spencer is napping, or – three days a week – when both boys are napping.  It has been this way since I had children.  I am blessed enough to have kids that sleep at the same time and always have.  It is the only way I was able to work as a personal chef for three years and cook and bake all that I have.

Because that is what I am usually doing during those hours of quiet house.  Cooking.  Or baking.  And, for the past year and a half of having this blog, writing.  Or reading the many food blogs I subscribe to.  For five years, I could have been curled up on the couch a couple of hours a day, and reading the many many books I have on my “to read” list.  But I have been creating, tasting, making mistakes, and writing about it all.  Regrets?  No.  But I do miss reading.

When we go on vacation, I read.  Or I do as much as I can.  On the plane, in between stuffing my kids with all the snacks I don’t usually let them have, I read.  During those precious nap times, because I am not cooking or blogging, I read.  I stun myself by how quickly I can devour a book.  Especially if it is good.  Doubly especially if it is about food.  I always promise myself that I will read more when I get home.  And then I come back to the two or three month backlog of The New Yorker and dinners to cook, and dishes to do, and blog posts to write.

I got to read a couple of books on our trip to Sun Valley, one of which was David Lebovitz’s The Sweet Life in Paris.  In addition to writing several dessert cookbooks (including the be-all end-all of books about ice cream), he has written this memoir about living in Paris.  In it, he describes many of the joys and frustrations of the city we all dream about.  I lived in Paris for four months in 1990 as a college junior and, although so much is different now, I laughed out loud at many of the things he talks about.  So many memories came flooding back as I read those pages.  But for me, the real treasure of the book is the recommendations of where to find kitchen-related gear in Paris (for a certain, ahem, trip we have planned in June) and the recipes at the end of each chapter.

Finding a good simple cake recipe is like finding gold for me.  We entertain a lot in our house.  The word “entertain” is kind of fussy but it does describe what we do.  We do the big Saturday dinner parties with eight people and wine flowing, but we also just often have someone casually coming over for dinner.  We like to have people here and I like to feed them.  Sometimes it is planned and sometimes it is spontaneous.

Hell Photo 1

For all of those occasions, I like to have something homemade for dessert.  Yes, I could bake up a batch of cookies, but cookies can be fussy.  Individually shaping them and varying baking times make them my not-favorite-dessert-to-make.  Cake feels fancy but it doesn’t have to be difficult to make.  Actually, it can be so easy.  Mix together a batter, pour into a pan, and bake.  For me, the problem is when I go looking for a simple cake recipe, I get bogged down with tiered things with frosting and mousses and curds.  (I’ve talked about this recently before in this post.  Man, that cake was awesome.)  Sometimes I just want cake.


Well, my goodness – I have gone on and on, haven’t I?  Here it is.  This is cake.  Easy to make, not boring.  Stores well, feels fancy on a pretty plate next to some, say, malted milk ball ice cream.  Looks like plain old chocolate but take a bite and the lovely variety of spices hits you.  Randy says he doesn’t like chocolate (yeah, right) but he loves spice and he really liked this cake.  It is Lebovitz’s take on Pain d’Epices and he calls it Chocolate Spice Bread.  Apparently in Paris,  the non-chocolate version is sold by weight.  I don’t remember that from my time there, I think I was too busy tasting every single baguette in the city, but I find that idea charming.  Imagine walking into a bakery and ordering your sweets by the pound!

One Year Ago: Red Curry with Winter Vegetables and Cashews

Chocolate Spice Bread
The Sweet Life in Paris
Makes one 9-inch round cake

7 tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
7 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 ¼ cup flour
3 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. whole anise seeds
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 large egg yolks
¼ cup honey
2/3 cup sugar

1.  Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Butter a 9-inch round cake pan, line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper, and butter that as well.  Dust the insides with a bit of flour or cocoa powder, and tap out any excess.

2.  In double boiler or a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter together, stirring until smooth.  Let cool to room temperature.

3.  In another bowl, sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt.  Add the anise seeds.

4.  In the bowl of a standing mixer or with a handlheld mixer, whip the eggs, yolks, honey, and sugar until thick and mousselike, about 5 minutes on high speed.

5.  Fold half of the whipped eggs into the chocolate and butter.  Then fold in the remaining egg mixture.

6.  Add the dry ingredients one-third at a time, using a spoon to sprinkle them over the batter and folding until the dry ingredients are just combined.

7.  Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 30 t0 35 minutes, until the  cake feels barely set in the middle, but still moist.

8.  Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes.  Tap the cake out of the pan and cool completely on a rack  Wrap the cake in plastic and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours to let the flavors meld.

Storage: Well-wrapped, this cake will keep for about one week at room temperature, or one month in the freezer.

Honey Roasted Pear Salad

February 15, 2010


When I find myself in a bookstore – alone – I head straight for the cookbook section.  I pull down a few that pique my interest and get lost in the possibility of cooking wonderful things.  Sometimes, the book is so enticing that I have to buy it.  But because my collection is pretty large, a book has to be pretty special – and useful – for me to walk out of the store with it.

Several years ago, I was paging through a book and I found a recipe that sounded incredible.  Honey Roasted Pear Salad.  I loved everything about it and thought for a moment about buying the book.  I don’t for the life of me remember the title or the author but I do remember that there was a lot of meat in those pages and I realized that the salad was probably the only recipe I would use.  So what did I do?  I made a few quick notes on a piece of paper and left the book in the store.

Tell me I am not the only person who has done this.  I love books.  I love authors.  I love cookbooks.  I love cookbook authors.  I don’t want to take anything away from anyone.  I just couldn’t justify paying $35 for one recipe.

I do believe in karma and karma paid me back.  After making the recipe a few times (and loving it), I lost the slip of paper with my notes.  I went digging through my kitchen drawers yesterday trying to find it and it is gone.  So I re-created it.  I hadn’t made it in over a year (why, I don’t know) so what I came up with is really my own creation.  The one (ingenious) idea I kept is using the marinade for the pears as the dressing.

If you love pears in salad, I highly recommend you give this a try.  How often do we want to use pears and they are as hard as rocks?  In this version, because the pears are roasted, you will still get a delicious result with semi-ripe fruit.  This is a fairly sweet salad so you will want a nice salty cheese to balance it.  I used a Gorgonzola but Parmesan would be delicious here as well.   I cut the pears into 1 inch pieces but if you want a fancier presentation, you can just thinly slice them and roast them that way.

One Year Ago: Macaroni and Cheese with Tomatoes and Vegetarian Caesar Salad

Honey Roasted Pear Salad

Dana Treat Original
Serves 4

2 ripe (ideally) pears, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tbsp. walnut oil
1 tbsp. white wine
2 tbsp. sherry vinegar
1 tbsp. honey
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 cup walnuts, toasted and very coarsely chopped
3 oz. Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
½ cup dried cranberries
5 oz. salad greens

Preheat the oven to 425°F with the rack in the middle position.

In a large bowl, whisk together the walnut oil, white wine, sherry vinegar, and honey.  Sprinkle in a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper and whisk again.  Taste for balance of flavor.  Add the pears and toss well to coat.  Let them sit for a few minutes then, using a spoon, transfer the pears to a baking sheet.  You will want to leave most of the liquid in the bowl.

Bake the pears for 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and toss well.  Put the sheet back in the oven for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until the pears are lightly caramelized but not burned.  Remove and set aside.  Whisk the teaspoon of mustard into the pear marinade and again, taste for balance of flavor.  This will be your dressing.

Place the greens in a bowl and add the pears, walnuts, cranberries, and cheese.  Toss carefully with the dressing.

Holly B’s Pesto Parmesan Cornbread

February 10, 2010


So what do you serve with chili?  Kind of silly, right?  Kind of like asking, “What do you serve with peanut butter on bread?”  In case you are not catching my drift – cornbread is what you serve with chili.  Oh and beer.  Duh.

The question becomes, which cornbread?  I already have two favorites but I thought it was time to try a third recipe.  If you want very full-flavored cornbread with lots going on, I can whole-heartedly recommend Ina’s version.  It is the one to make for a crowd since you will end up with a ton of it.  But if your appetite is more on the delicate side, I wouldn’t use that recipe.  It’s a meal in and of itself.

I thought I would try Holly B’s recipe and jazz it up by doing the Pesto Parmesan option listed in the book.  The nice thing is that the pesto stays in a small area so I could taste the bread on its own as well to truly asses where it stands in my cornbread book.  The verdict?  Very delicate and cakey.  So much so that as Randy went to take a bite, it basically crumbled right into his chili, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  I liked baking it in a pie dish and that each wedge had a little dollop of pesto at its end.  I also liked the Parmesan sprinkled over top.  Maybe I’ll try that with my other favorite version which comes from The Joy of Cooking.  Recipe coming some time soon.


One Year Ago: Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

Holly’s Favorite Corn Bread
With Love & Butter
Makes 8 wedges

¾ cup stone ground cornmeal
1 cup flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tbsp. honey
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1 egg
½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted
8 tsp. pesto
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375°F with the rack in the middle of the oven.  Butter a 9- to 10-inch glass pie plate.

Place all the ingredients except the pesto and cheese in a medium bowl and mix, by machine or by hand, until just combined.  Scrape down the bowl once or twice.  Smooth the batter into the pie dish.  Evenly blob 8 teaspoons of pesto around the edge of the batter, so that each wedge of cornbread will show a bit of green at the base.  Scatter the whole dish with the Parmesan.  Bake 15 minutes, rotate the dish, and bake for 5 to 10 minutes more or until the top is light brown and a toothpick comes out easily.  Cut into 8 wedges and serve.

Apple Torte from a Great Book

February 9, 2010


When you are a cookbook addict and you have more than your fair share of vegetarian cookbooks, what do you do?  If you are me, you start buying baking books.

I don’t remember when I bought The Greyston Bakery Cookbook and I don’t remember why.  It is a fairly unassuming looking book.  It doesn’t feature any of the gravity defying desserts that seem so tempting from other gorgeous books I have been fooled into buying.  In a moment of unremembered inspiration, I brought home this sweet book and am I ever glad I did.

In spite of the draw toward architectural and difficult desserts, the truth is that I like my sweets on the simple side.  I like the challenge of making something involved but if I am going to sit down and eat a treat, simple is better for my taste buds.  I don’t mean simple as in plain; I mean simple as in unfussy.


If you are with me, this cookbook is a treasure.  So often when I start opening my baking books looking for that elusive just-simple-but-still-delicious cake (like this one), I start to lose interest as page after page of time consuming sweets go by.  Last night I had some friends coming over and, after our vacation, I was ready to bake.  But I definitely wanted simple.  I first picked up Tartine, the dessert book I chose for my Top 10 Desert Island cookbooks.  Nope, nope, and nope.  Then I remembered this book.  Yep, yep, and yep.  Grapefruit Yogurt Cake, Orange Poppy Seed Cake, Chocolate Obsession Cake.  All tempting, all relatively simple.

I decided on this Apple Torte.  I was a little nervous about it turning out.  I have made some of the bar recipes in the book and a fantastic cookie recipe but never any of the cakes.  It could have been a mess.  It was not a mess.  In fact, I think it was amazing.  The contrast in textures of the crunchy crust, the smooth cream cheese filling, and the soft but not mushy apples was amazing.  And taste.  The buttery richness of the crust, the fruity sweetness of the jam, the tang of cream cheese and the spiced and maple syruped apples was sublime.  This is coming from an avowed chocolate lover – it is a terrific dessert.  I’m officially changing that Top 10 list to include The Greyston Bakery Cookbook.


One Year Ago: Broccoli and Red Pepper Pie

Apple Torte
Adapted from The Greyston Bakery Cookbook
Makes one 9″ Cake, 10-12 servings

Although this recipe is found in the cake section of the book, it is really more like a tart.

For the Crust
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup flour
½ cup apricot jam

For the Filling
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
½ cup sugar
1 egg
¼ tsp. vanilla extract

For the Topping
3 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ tsp. ground cardamom
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ cup slivered almonds

Prepare the crust:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F.  Grease a 9″ round springform pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar and vanilla on medium speed.  Using a fork or your fingers, work in the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Press the mixture onto the bottom and 1″ up the sides of the prepared pan.  Pierce the bottom several times with the tines of a fork.  Chill at least 30 minutes.

Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes, or until the pastry is set and golden.  Cool on a wire rack.  When the pastry is cool, spread the apricot jam evenly over the bottom of the crust and set aside.

Prepare the filling:
Using an electric mixer set on medium speed, beat the cream cheese with the sugar until light.  Beat in the egg and vanilla.  Spread the filling over the prepared crust.

Prepare the topping:
In a large bowl, combine the apples with the sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon, and cardamom.  Arrange the apples in concentric circles over the filling.

Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350°F.  Remove the torte and sprinkle with the almonds.  Put the torte back in the oven and bake an additional 30 minutes, or until the apples are tender.  Cool on a wire rack at least 30 minutes.  Release and remove the pan sides.  Cool completely and then refrigerate until ready to serve.

(DN: I didn’t do this, but I would recommend brushing the apples with warmed apricot glaze.  It will make them shine.  Also, I had LOTS of leftovers which I refrigerated and they still look great, so I would imagine you can make this a day ahead.  Much more than that and the apples will start to look tired.)

Post-Superbowl Vegetarian Chili

February 8, 2010


Yes, I realize I am late with this post.  If I had been home last week (instead of hitting the slopes in Sun Valley), I would have made this on, say, Wednesday and posted about it in time for you to make it for the Superbowl.  But let me ask this – how did chili become the Superbowl dish par excellence?  And if the chili is really good, shouldn’t we eat it post-Superbowl and while it is still winter?

Here is the thing about vegetarian chili.  It’s just so obvious.  This is a food blog written by a vegetarian – of course there is a vegetarian chili recipe, right?  Well, I’ve been writing this blog for over a year and a half without ever talking about it.  I have nothing against vegetarian chili, actually I quite like it, but to me it’s like having all my recipes feature eggplant and mushrooms because they are “meaty”.  Chili, even if it does not contain meat, is “meaty” which is why some carnivores think we vegetarians eat nothing other than chili, eggplant, mushrooms, and salad.  And pasta.  Sheesh.

I have made my fair share of vegetarian chilis.  Some have been good and some have not.  I have followed recipes that instructed me to use many different kinds of beans and one that used just kidney beans (which made me realize that I don’t like kidney beans).  I’ve added bulghur, tempeh, and TVP and didn’t like any of those additions.  My go-to recipe became the one in The New Basics but over time I decided that the chili just ended up being too busy.  The list of ingredients is a bit long and, for me, the flavor gets muddied.


Last week, after a day on the slopes in the sunshine (sorry), my lunch of choice was a baked potato with vegetarian chili poured over the top of it.  Does that sound weird?  It’s not for two reasons.  One, if you have never had an Idaho potato in Idaho, it is worth the trip just to eat one.  They are huge and they are tasty and those Idahoans know how to bake them perfectly.  Two, I know people who eat chili over rice and given the choice between those two starches, I’m suggesting you pick a potato.

The chili in those beautiful mountain lodges was not half bad.  The faults were as follows:  too salty, too soupy, and not enough spice.  I knew that as soon as I got home I had to make a pot and make up the recipe myself.  I decided to keep what I liked about that Sun Valley chili (corn, chickpeas, very tomato-y broth) and improvise the rest.

I’m very happy with how my post-Superbowl but still winter chili came out.  Most chilis aren’t smoky enough for me, so I worked hard to get that flavor into mine.  We like spice in our house so my version was quite spicy, you can make yours more mild easily. Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce are found in the Mexican foods section of your grocery store.  They are an intoxicatingly smoky (and spicy) little pepper best used with caution of you are sensitive to heat.  For last night’s verison, I used two of them plus about a teaspoon of the sauce and next time I will only use one (which I have instructed you to do below).  Once you have opened the can, you can put the remaining peppers and sauce into an airtight container in the refrigerator where it will keep for a month or more.


One Year Ago: Mushroom Enchiladas

Spicy Smoky Chili
A Dana Treat Original
Serves 4-6

My rule of thumb for chili is that all the vegetables be no larger than the beans.  I don’t like big chunks in my chili.  I used crushed tomatoes here for that reason but feel free to use diced (or even whole) if you like chunks.  I like my chili served with a dollop of plain yogurt but feel free to add any and all topping that you like.

Olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp. chile powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. coriander
½ tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. dried oregano
½ cayenne pepper
1 tsp. salt
1 small red bell pepper, diced
1 28 oz. can crushed fire roasted tomatoes
1 chipotle pepper in adobo, minced, plus ½ tsp. sauce
1 cup water
1 15-oz. can black beans, drained
1 15-oz. can chickpeas, drained
1 4-oz. can diced green chiles, drained
½ cup frozen corn

Place a large pot over medium heat and then drizzle in enough olive oil to coat the bottom.  Add the onion and cook until softened, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for another 3 minutes.  Stir in all the spices and stir well to coat the vegetables with the spices.  Drop in the red pepper and cook for 3 minutes.  Pour in the canned tomatoes and water and bring to a boil.  Add the chipotle pepper and sauce and turn the heat down to a simmer.

Add all the beans, corn, and the green chiles and cook at a simmer, partially covered, until thickened and all the vegetables are cooked through – about 20 minutes.  Like most soups and stews, this can be made in advance and its flavors will deepen.  It will also become more spicy so, if you are making it in advance, you might want to add just a bit of heat while you are cooking it and add more when you re-heat if necessary.

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