Monday, March 15, 2010

Orange Black Sesame "Vegan" Cake

Ok, so I really apologize on this one... I meant to get this posted 2 weeks ago when I originally made this tasty treat, but since I was making it for a friend who was graduating, I completely forgot to take pictures at home before brining it in to work. I planned to remake it, but then decided that tearing apart most of my kitchen because I was tired of the dark brown cabinets was a better idea. So, you'll have to unfortunately accept the lower quality pictures that I took with my phone as people were grabbing pieces of cake.

Now that that's done, lets get on with it shall we? Now, firstly, don't let the term "vegan" in the title throw you off. This cake is delicious. I originally found out about this method from the LA Times which did a post on "Crazy Cakes". According to the article (here), these are cakes that came about during WWII when eggs and butter became rationed and home cooks needed to improvise. Also, because they're made without eggs or butter they remain parve and thus be consumed after a meat meal in line with kosher dietary restrictions. So, because the cake is leavened using baking soda/powder and vinegar/lemon juice, it still rises to be nice and airy, although admittedly chewier than a traditional cake. Another reason for that chewiness is the use of part all purpose and part bread flour. The bread flour helps add protein to form gluten which better traps the carbon dioxide that makes the cake rise. Normally, this role is taken by the butter and eggs being creamed with the sugar, but we have neither of those here.

The other great secret about this cake is that it's ridiculously easy to prepare. It requires about 5 minutes of prep time total (maybe 10 if you want to really take your time with it). Everything gets mixed in the same dish you bake it in, so clean up is a breeze too. Overall, I can't find any fault with this cake, except that it's perhaps too convenient and thus may not help out you or your co-workers waistlines when you keep bringing one in.

Orange Black Sesame Crazy Cake
2 cups AP flour
1 cup bread flour
2 cup sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 cup black sesame seeds
zest of 1 orange
1.5 tbsp fresh orange juice
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 tsp sesame oil
1 cup hot water
  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Combine all dry ingredients including orange zest in a 9x9 in. glass baking dish. Sift together with a fork or whisk to distribute well. Form 3 depressions, one big and two small. Pour the vinegar into one small depression, the orange juice into the other, and the oils into the large depression.
  2. Stand back and admire the smiley face you undoubtedly just made.
  3. Pour the hot water over the entire pan. Mix with a silicone spatula until everything is smooth. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
  4. When a toothpick comes out clean, remove from the oven and cool for an hour. At this point you can either serve as is or spritz the top with some triple sec to add a little zing.


Just look at that crumb, pretty good lookin' huh.

Well, sorry the pictures aren't as high quality as I'd like. The orange color came out much more muted that reality. The cake, however, was and is as good as I promise. I'll try and remember to take proper pictures before sending my next concoction into work. As a future note, I recently got a new ice cream maker, one of the Cuisinart models that has the freezable bowl. So now I can make ice creams and other frozen treats without having to plan on getting a ton of crushed ice from my lab, so be on the lookout.

Cheers for now,
Mike :)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Carrot and Celeriac Soup

Ok, so this snow and ice and cold is getting a little old now. Good thing I made a ton of vegetable stock 3 weeks ago, because nothing warms the body like a hot and rich bowl of soup! But what kind of soup? Oh, the debate is endless. Campbell's would have you believe that condensed chicken noodle is the way to turn your snowman back into your kid. But canned, condensed soups generally have way too much sodium and taste like mush. No, what you want and need is something rich, slightly spicy, and preferably nutrient rich to keep you healthy during the bad weather. I think I've got just the soup to fit that bill...

I based this recipe off this one from the NYT Recipes for Health series. I liked this recipe because it uses rice instead of cream to thicken, thus sparing some calories. It also has room for additions/changes, which I gladly took advantage of. In my case I cut out some of the carrots and onion and replaced them with celeriac to give a slightly sharper, bitter flavor to contrast the sweetness of the carrot. I also added some cayenne pepper, garlic, and other herbs while cooking to bring out an assertive bite that you taste first, followed by the sweetness of the carrot. Overall, I'm pretty happy with my version, especially when pared with some nice crusty bread.

Carrot and Celeriac Soup
1 lb. carrots, sliced thin
1 large celeriac, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup arborio rice
2 qt vegetable stock
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/2-1 tsp cayenne pepper
5-7 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tsp fresh sage
  1. In a soup pot, heat the butter and oil until the butter just begins to brown. Add the onion and celeriac and cook for a few minutes until the celeriac is tender (about 5-10 minutes depending on how larger your chop was).
  2. Add the carrots, garlic, salt, thyme and sage and cook, covered, for 10 minutes till the carrots are mostly cooked, stirring every so often. Fish out the thyme sprigs and add the rice and stock. Bring the pot to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes covered.
  3. When the soup is done cooking, puree with a stick blender, in batches in a blender/food processor, or a food mill. The final product should be slightly thick and flow smoothly. Taste and add black pepper, cayenne, and more salt as you like. Serve with a sprinkling of thyme and some warm crusty bread.

Freshly made soup, ready for eating!

My camera doesn't do the color justice unfortunately.

Well, there you go, a simple, nutrient rich soup to warm your heart and soul this winter. I would suggest not following the above pictures and adding fresh sage as a garnish unless you chop the leaves much finer. Since this is thickened with rice, you can add a small dollop of crème fraiche or sour cream and not blow your diet if you want. You can also substitute other root vegetable such as parsnip for either the carrot or the celeriac.

Ok, so I dropped the ball in getting this out on time, I'll try to do better next time. Till then,

Mike :)

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Maple Walnut Chocolate Fudge

So, you know how when you're on a date that isn't going well there's a really long period of no one talking, and then the only thing you can think to comment on is the weather? Well, I'm going to comment on the weather, but hopefully you're still interested in me (or this blog really).

After a long period of having to do a ton of other things than cook/prepare blog worthy dishes, I now have at least a short respite to post some new items. But the weather, why am I bringing that up? Because it's winter, and that means two culinarily important things, fresh local fruits are pretty much nonexistent, and the air is cold and dry. What does latter part have to do with anything? Well, this post is about fudge, so the air is almost as important a factor as the ingredients. You see, fudge is mostly sugar, and sugar likes water. Fudge, however, does not like water. Traditionally, sugar based candies were made during the winter months when the air was devoid of pretty much all moisture (as I'm sure you skin can probably attest) to prevent the resulting product from getting soggy and grainy. That means that now is the perfect time to whip up some lollipops. However, I'm still a bit gun-shy after my last encounter with 305° liquid sugar, so I decided to stick to the cooler, safer "soft ball" stage, and that means fudge!

I based this recipe on Alton Brown's chocolate fudge recipe because I like it and generally have found his sugar cooking method the be the most fool proof. Alton's sugar method is fairly straight forward and I highly suggest it for any sugar cooking you do, be it for fudge, toffee, caramels, or lollipops. His technique features two main points, use a cast iron pot or griddle below your pot to evenly distribute the heat as well as keep the temperature well regulated, and right when the sugar hits a boil cover it with a lid for a short period to prevent crystallization along the sides of the pot. Use those two tips, and you'll rarely have problems working with your sugar.

Now, just a heads up, this recipe is big, I'm talking you could use this scale to set up a small fudge shop if you wanted. Fortunately, you can easily divide it in half to make it more manageable, both on your kitchen and your waistline. But I'm sure your coworkers wouldn't mind if you happened to bring in 3 lbs. of delicious fudge for them to enjoy...

Maple Walnut Chocolate Fudge:
5.5 cups sugar
8 oz. unsweetened chocolate
6 tbsp butter
1.5 cups 1/2 and 1/2
1 cup real maple syrup
2 cups walnuts
2 tsp vanilla
  1. Put your pot on a cast iron or similarly heavy metal pan or griddle to create a good heat sink/distributor. Take a 9"x15" glass baking dish and line with parchment (adhere parchment to sides by either buttering up or spraying with no-stick spray). Add the sugar, 1/2 & 1/2, maple syrup, and half of the butter into the pot and turn the heat to high. Stir till the sugar and everything else is completely dissolved.
  2. When the sugar begins to boil, drop the heat to medium, put on a lid, and let sit for ~3 minutes. After 3 minutes, remove the lid and attach your candy thermometer. Keep cooking, without stirring!, over medium high heat till the temperature reaches 240°F. At that point turn off the heat, add the remaining butter, and let sit undisturbed till the temperature comes down to around 150°F.
  3. While the mixture is cooling, toast the walnuts for ~10 minutes in a 350°F oven, tossing occasionally. Chop the nuts roughly. When the temperature of the mix is below 150, pour in the nuts and vanilla and stir vigorously with a strong (preferably wooden) spoon. When the fudge gets very difficult to manipulate, pour into the prepared pan and spread out with a silicone spatula.
  4. Allow to cool for a good 2 hours at room temperature before attempting to cut into 1" cubes. Store fudge in an air tight container or put in small bags to give away to coworkers.


That's only 1/4 of what this whole recipe makes!

So that's my maple walnut chocolate fudge recipe for you! As you can see, each piece has a nice distribution of nuts, and the maple syrup gives a subtle background flavor that complements the nuts and the chocolate. I'd recommend using grade B real maple syrup. It's more expensive than imitation, but the flavor is stronger and far superior. You should be able to find larger bottles for less than $20 at Whole Foods or similar markets, which is much better than the small, overpriced bottles you find in your local supermarket.

Well, that's all for now. I plan on being back with another recipe within the next week or so.

Mike :)