Friday, November 21, 2008

The fastest and easiest and moistest chocolate cake you will ever bake

Confessions of a girl who oft-denies her feminine side: I don't like cake. I'm not a cake person. I like the idea of the gratification that cake brings, but after a bite of chocolate, cheese, berries or whatever the heck is in those things, I feel like throwing up and go into anaphylactic shock (literally). I've made a couple of cakes on this blog, but mostly those were pretty healthy, involved minimal use of butter and were ready in 45 minutes flat.

I recently bought a Food & Wine cookbook from 1998 at Half-Price Books for $2. I don't do Gourmet or Bon Appetit subscriptions. I'm cheap like that. In the Food and Wine book was a recipe for a mix-in-the-pan chocolate cake. I was semi-thinking: How good can a chocolate cake that didn't involve a mixer be? Wouldn't that just taste like brownies (which I find marvelously gross)?

I decided to try it anyway because a) I didn't get cake for my birthday (I'm anti-cake like that) b) I have a potluck tomorrow for someone's birthday, the cake would be my contribution. And also, lately, I've been craving chocolate so much. I blame that both on Ina Garten and leftover Halloween-goodies, and oh, on the economy, on General Motors, on my thesis advisor, on Eric Cantor and change we may never believe in.

Have a go at this chocolate cake that is so easy, it's laughable. To make it more elegant, you can (and should) bake it in a round cake pan - the recipe will yield two round 8" cakes. Otherwise if you're like me, this recipe will yield a moist, soft and supremely chocolatey 8" square cake, dripping with chocolate glaze and sparkling with chopped walnuts.

Fast and Easy Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Food and Wine, 1998

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 lb unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten lightly
1/2 cup very hot water
1 cup low fat yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Line an 8-inch square cake pan with parchment paper.

In a bowl, mix the dry ingredients together. Whisk in the eggs, butter, hot water and vanilla. Then whisk in the yogurt. Mix together with a rubber spatula and pour in to the prepared pan until it is half filled. (Note: Do not overfill or you cake will resemble a chocolate volcano!) . Bake for 40 minutes at 350°F until a thin knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Remove from oven and cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Turn the cake out gently on a wire rack and cool completely. Top with chocolate glaze and chopped walnuts.

Chocolate frosting
4 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Melt the chocolate and butter in double boiler. Gently pour over the prepared cake, starting from the middle of the cake and letting the glaze drip over the sides. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Chana Dhal (Indian Lentils)

News alert: Dogs aren't really that cute. Especially if they're rascally dachshunds that have learned to jump up on your garbage bin and crawl across the counter to munch on half a pack of raw chorizo. They are NOT cute that way.

Indian food is one of the three staple cuisines I grew up with in Malaysia. Weekends were usually spend watching live football (to be incorrectly termed: Soccer) broadcasts at 3am whilst chomping on a traditional roadside Indian dish of dhal and 'roti'. That was of course, complemented by mugs and mugs of milky tea that were guaranteed to give you a tummy-ache hours later.

For some reason, the change of season has brought back rather strong urges for both football and dhal with 'roti'. I recently found out that the Seattle Sounders FC have signed on my once-upon-a-time favourite Arsenal player Freddie Ljungberg as the distinguished player for the club. So I figure I'll get an early headstart on the food part of the soccer night outs.

Dhal is usually made with ghee, a kind of shortening. I used vegetable buillion cubes and a small amount of vegetable oil instead to make this a healthy dish that you can serve with some store bought naan and a cup of milky chai. It works wonderful on a cold day, and lends a subtle spicyness to offset the chill factor.

Chana Dhal (Indian Lentils)
Serves 4

1 1/2 cups yellow split peas
3 cups water
2 big green chilis (Serrano or Hot Cherry works fine)
1 large tomato, cubed
1 medium onion
1 clove garlic
4 slices fresh ginger
2 tsp Garam Masala
2 tsp curry powder
2 tsp black mustard seed
1/2 cube vegetable buillion
Pinch of Red pepper flakes
Handful fresh parsley leaves
Salt to taste

Note: If your lentils are still tough, and you would like it to be softer - add in 1 heap teaspoon of baking powder. Likewise, you can use an immersion blender to pulse the lentils.

Soak the lentils in 4 cups of water for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

In a big pot, bring the lentils, water and a teaspoon of salt to a boil. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, uncover and stir in the Garam Masala and curry powder. Let the pot remain simmering, uncovered.

In a separate frying pan, heat two tablespoons of vegetable oil and fry the garlic, onions, ginger, tomatoes, chili and black mustard seeds until fragrant, about 7 minutes.

Stir in the fried tomato mixture, red pepper flakes and vegetable buillion cube into the lentils and let it simmer for another 5 minutes until the lentils are thick. Remove the sliced ginger. Season with salt to taste. Serve garnish with parsley leaves.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cranberry and Orange Scones

On most days when I go to the gym, I try to veer attention away from my strenuous plodding by either watching something depressing and funny (MSNBC!) or ridiculous and delicious (Food Network!). My secret is always to head to the gym at about 1.30pm to catch Giada, Barefoot Contessa, then Chris Matthews on Hardball. I like Giada because she is very well-endowed and has really pretty things - like plates. And she doesn't annoy me as much as say... Rachael Ray does. Ina Garten I watch mostly because she whacks a pack of a fat into EVERY single thing she cooks. I like that she doesn't care if she's chubby or that she has a chubby hubby. They're my favourite chubby couple. And Chris Matthews... oh, I watch him because he's mean, mean-spirited and funny.

Well, this morning, being a bank holiday and all, I decided to try out something I saw on 'Barefoot Contessa' a few weeks ago. It involves a shitload of butter and an insane amount of dairy (heavy cream! eggs!) and just seemed like the perfect breakfast to offset what Northwesterners complain most about (the rain) and to satisfy my lust for all things pretty.

I modified Ina Garten's recipe a little - first off by making 6 scones instead of a whopping 16 scones, using less butter, and discarding the frosting and egg wash. So instead of one scone that will set you back by 600+ calories, have fun with one scone that is roughly 220 calories. I know the prissy foodies will pooh-pooh at the idea of "counting calories" but I really want to be able to leave the gym the moment 30-Minute Meals comes on.

Cranberry and Orange Scones
Adapted from Ina Garten's 'Barefoot Contessa'
Makes 6 scones

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tbsp granulated white sugar
1/2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
3/4 stick (6 tbsp) cold unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup low fat milk (or soy milk)
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the flour, sugar, the baking powder, salt and orange zest. Add the cold butter and mix at the lowest speed until the butter is the size of peas. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the milk and cranberries until dough forms.

Dump the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead it into a ball. Flour your hands and a rolling pin and roll the dough 3/4-inch thick. You should see small bits of butter in the dough. Keep moving the dough on the floured board so it doesn't stick. Flour a 3-inch round plain or fluted cutter and cut circles of dough. Place the scones on a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Collect the scraps neatly, roll them out, and cut more circles.

Bake for 15 - 18 minutes until the scones are light brown. The scones will be firm to the touch.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Eggs, Spinach and Roasted Peppers

The election, school, the dog, dog training, rain, Farmer's Markets... those are the reasons I have been absent from the blogosphere for so long. My nights these days are mostly filled with having lots of quick-fixes like pasta, pasta, more pasta and (horrors!) Sushi-land. Yes, sushi on a conveyor belt for $1.50 a plate. In lieu of the crazy week(s) that was/were and also for my birthday, we went out for a wonderful, romantic (albeit expensive) dinner at a French, fine-dining establishment called Crush. And yes, it is one of those pretentious, one-word restaurants that are patrolled by gay waiters with frou-frou decor and "May I help you wipe down the lobster spill on your shirt?" attitude. I had a good time inspite of that, mostly because the food was good. We started off with the Hudson Valley Seared Foie Gras steak, then I had the Roasted Hawaiian Mero Sea Bass and finished off with the most delectable serving of Chocolate Mousse and Caramelized Bananas. I think the one reason that place was so expensive was because they used truffles in EVERY SINGLE THING. Hello, truffle laces, truffle oil, truffle shavings, truffle soaked meat...

I finally had time this morning to make us a decent sit-down breakfast, spurred on by my craving for Portobello Mushrooms. This is a take on a recipe in Bon Appetit that I've tried to recreate following my pretentious gourmet outing at Crush. And isn't Konosur the ideal name for a my very own pretentious one-word restaurant?

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Eggs, Spinach and Roasted Peppers
Serves 2

2 large portabello mushrooms
4 organic, free-range eggs
2 cups spinach
1/4 chopped Spanish onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 cup sliced roasted red pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

Heat the grill. Drizzle olive oil over both sides of the mushrooms, sprinkle the thyme over, season with salt and pepper and grill for 15 minutes until the mushrooms are soft, about 15 minutes, turning once.

In a skillet, heat 1 tsp olive oil and saute the onions and garlic for about 2 minutes, and add in the spinach. Toss until the spinach are wilted, about 5 minutes. Divide on to two plates.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs until fluffy and season with salt and pepper and half the parsley. Heat 2 tsp olive oil in a skillet (you can use the same one you did for your spinach), pour in the eggs and gently scramble the eggs over medium heat until the eggs are cooked. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese over.

On the bed of wilted spinach, arrange one mushroom cap on top with the smooth edge facing down. Spoon the eggs on top of the mushroom, top with roasted peppers and garnish with remaining parsley. Repeat for the other mushroom.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Pumpkin Spice Sugar Cookies

Hello! I hope your Halloween went well - I think Halloween is the one day in the year girls are allowed to dress up skankily and not be called out for me. Luckily for me too, since over the weekend, I dressed up in a failed attempt at being Sarah Palin with a sticker stuck on my chest that said "MAVERICK". I ended up looking like a school girl and a nerd (which I am).

Anyhoo. I think the disasterous, half-arsed attempt at Nailin' Paylin (heh heh heh) was offset by some really good pumpkin spice cookies which I spent so much time decorating that by the time I was done, it was too dark out to even take any good photos. I made cookies in the shape of pumpkins, ghosts, cats and bats. I think the ghosts turned out really cute and I used chocolate frosting to make the cats and bats black.

This recipe is a combination of basic sugar cookies (from Martha laced with brandy and pumpkin spice. You should save this for next Halloween, or use it with your Thanksgiving cookie cutters.

Pumpkin Spice Sugar Cookies
Makes about 15 cookies with a large cookie cutter or 20 with a small one

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons brandy
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon all spice
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Whisk together flour, salt, baking powder and spices in a medium bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar; add dry ingredients, and mix until incorporated. With mixer running, add egg, brandy (or milk), and vanilla; mix until incorporated.

Transfer dough to a work surface. Shape into 2 discs, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (I skipped this step and it turned out fine).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with nonstick baking mats or parchment paper; set aside.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes, and transfer to prepared baking sheets, leaving an inch in between. Leftover dough can be rolled and cut once more. Bake until lightly golden, about 10 minutes; do not allow to brown. Transfer to wire racks to cool.