Saturday, September 25, 2010

Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting


Apparently, the difference between a good cookie and an AMAZING cookie is cream cheese frosting.

Want to know something interesting, Internet? When I first started to suspect I had celiac disease, I was without health insurance, and thus without access to the expensive tests used to clinically diagnose the disease (blood tests, endoscopies, and genetic tests). So after talking it over with my doctor, we decided that the best thing for me to do would be to start a gluten free diet, and see what happened. So I did. And it was like a miracle. It was like all the health issues that had been plaguing me for years were magically lifted. My chronic GI problems were cured, my chronic pain and fatigue dissipated, My insomnia disappeared, my canker sores and tooth decay ceased, and of course, after a few months I got pregnant! After only a few weeks on the gluten free diet, I was supposed to do a gluten "challenge" and eat something with gluten to see if it had any effect on me. I ate a biscuit, and I almost immediately boated up, flushed, and felt the familiar GI pain, fatigue, and inflammation. It was the last gluten I ever ate. My doctor and I agreed that I most probably had celiac disease, and that I should stay on the diet until I once again had health insurance, and we could run all those expensive tests.

That day is today. A few weeks ago, I met with a gastroenterologist (say that 10 times fast), who also agreed that I most likely have celiac disease. However, because I have been on the gluten-free diet for so long (three years folks!) he warned me that it will most likely be very difficult to get a clinical diagnosis. By this time, my guts have probably healed, leaving little evidence of the disease behind. Two weeks ago, we did an endoscopy, and I learned that I do indeed have very healthy looking intestines. Yay? Am I happy that my guts are so good looking these days, or am I sad that getting a diagnosis is going to be so hard? Since my guts looked so good, I figured I would probably be getting some negative biopsy results back, and I wasn't sure where to go from there. Imagine my surprise when, by some strange twist of fate, my biopsies from that procedure were lost. The doctor was very embarrassed to inform me of the fact, said nothing like that had ever happened at that hospital before, and that he was very sorry, and would not charge my insurance for the procedure. Would I mind doing the procedure again?

Gobsmacked, I was talking to a friend of mine, a nurse, who said I was actually pretty lucky that the biopsies were lost: my insurance is less likely to approve any subsequent biopsies with a negative one on my record, making it that much harder to get a positive diagnosis. So, to increase my chances of getting a positive diagnosis this time around, I am doing what is called a "gluten challenge." Essentially, I am going to eat a TON of gluten for the next 30 days before my next biopsy. My hope is that it will cause enough damage to my upper GI tract to get a positive diagnosis. And if it doesn't? Well, at least I gave it my best shot. 30 days is really the minimum for a gluten-challenge, with some recommendations going from 3 months to 5 years! I am just not willing to go that long (it's HARD y'all), but 30 days I can do.

And honestly? I am having one hell of a last hurrah! First I had a crunch roll at my local sushi restaurant, liberally dunked in soy sauce. Then I had a chocolate doughnut. And then I ordered some Papa John's pizza. Since then I have been gobbling down every gluteny things i haven't been able to make for the last three years: cheese danishes! apple strudel! naan bread! Israeli couscous! Whole wheat sourdough sandwiches! Soba noodles! On doctor's orders, I have been STUFFING myself with gluten. I would love to say it feels good, or that everything tastes as good as I remembered or imagined, but honestly? It doesn't. None of this stuff is as good as I remembered (or maybe, as good as I had built it up to be in my rose colored memory). And NONE of it is worth the side effects: the bloating, the fatique, the GI pain, the inflammation, etc. etc. (ok, well, maybe the doughnuts) I am only on day 3, and I feel SO sick.

A unexpected and rather happy consequence of this challenge is that it has put to bed the nagging worry in the back if my mind that gluten-free food (especially baked goods) can never taste as good as gluteny food. I have always worried just a little bit that gluten-free cookies and cakes only taste good to me and my gluten-deprived tastebuds, and that other people are only being nice when they say my stuff tastes good. Since I can't compare, I can only take their word for it. I am happy to say, after eating quite a lot of longed-for and forbidden treats over the last few days, that gluten-free stuff can taste just as good, if not better than, gluten-based baked goods. If anything, wheat is actually quite bland tasting, and has much less flavor than gluten-free flours and flour mixes (which may be why some people recoil from gluten-free treats: it's not that it's bad, but it's different than what they have come to expect).

So when I say that this is an extraordinary cookie, I say that with no reservations or apologies. This in not just a good "gluten-free" cookie: It's a damn good cookie, gluten-free or not!


Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese
Adapted from Everyday Food, September 2010

You can totally swap in the gluten-free flours for all purpose wheat flour, as that is what is in the original recipe, so I am sure it works. I love using oat flour - it has a familiar taste that everyone recognizes, and in this recipe it works really well with the rolled oats and the vanilla bean speckles.

1/2 cup oat flour
1/2 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup Bob's Red Mill all purpose flour
2 tablespoons corn starch
pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1.5 cups rolled oats (not quick cooking)
1/2 cup golden raisons

8oz cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
6 tablespoons powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with oven racks in the upper and lower thirds. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, corn starch, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon.

2. In an electric mixer, beat butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until fluffy and pale, 5 minutes. Add in vanilla, molasses, and eggs, mixing until just combined. Slowly add flour mixture, and mix until just combined. With a rubber spatula, fold in oats and raisins.

3. Drop dough in 1 LARGE tablespoonfool mounds on two baking sheets. Bake until cookies are just set at the edges, and slightly soft in the middle, about 11 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Let cookies cool on sheets, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

4. In mixer bowl, beat cream cheese, vanilla bean paste, and powdered sugar until light. spread filling on flat side of cookie, then sandwich with second cookie. Repeat. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Baby James' Favorite Chocolate Pancakes (And Mine Too!)


Now that he is all grown up and one years old, Baby James has decided that he no longer needs to eat any kind of food other than white food: cheerios, turkey, string cheese, french fries, noodles, doughnuts, and of course, milk. That's it! Notice anything missing from that list? Anything like, I don't know, fruits or vegetables?

I'm not even going to go into all the things I've done to try and get James to try a bite of juicy peach or a nibble of mango. From the way that kid turns his head away and squinches his mouth and eyes shut, you'd think I was asking him to eat dirt! Which, by the way, he will eat. Yes, that's right: He will eat dirt, but he won't eat a bite of peach.


So I've had to resort to being tricky. There is one non-white edible substance James will deign to eat (other than dirt, which does not count), and that is chocolate. James LOVES chocolate. He's wild about it, and whenever he suspects we have some he will wave his fat little hand for it and cry like there is no tomorrow. So when I found this recipe, it seemed perfect: What better place to hide a few blueberries and some spinach than in a chocolate pancake?


I know what you are thinking: Blueberries and SPINACH in a pancake? Yuck! And that's exactly what I thought too. The first time I made this recipe, I was just hoping they were not too horrible to eat, mainly so I could get some fruits and vegetables into my child. I never expected them to be so absolutely delicious, and I certainly never expected to like them so much I wanted to eat them all myself! And the spinach? It's pureed so fine, you can't even taste that it's there. Really, I promise. What you can taste is how incredibly soft and moist these pancakes are. There's no need to slather them with gobs of butter and syrup, because these pancakes are tender and soft all by themselves. I like to roll them up with some fruit inside, but baby James likes them just the way they are.

This is just photographic proof that my child has at some point eaten something containing spinach and blueberries. Note the cheerios on the tray and the football hold he has on the bottle of milk.

Baby James' Favorite Chocolate Pancakes
adapted from The Sneaky Chef" by Missy Chase Lapine

I was so impressed with this recipe I went out and bought Lapine's book. These pancakes have all kinds of nutritious goodies in them: whole grains, milk, eggs, and antioxidant rich chocolate, spinach, and blueberries. A lot of times recipes call for applesauce to be swapped in for the fat or oil in a recipe, and the spinach/blueberry puree has the same effect: The fat or oil can be reduced because the spinach and blueberries puree bring so much moisture to the cakes. And it tastes maaaeervelous, of course.

Although if you slather these with nutella and powdered sugar, that might negate some of the health benefit, just a little bit. But today is my birthday, so I think I am allowed to have as much nutella on my pancakes as I like!

1 cup pancake mix (I am very pleased with Pamela's gluten free pancake and baking mix, but use whatever healthy mix you like best, gluten-free or not)
1 cup milk
(rice milk, soy milk, or almond all make good alternatives)
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 cup spinach, packed
1/4 cup blueberries
1 large or jumbo egg
1-2 tablespoons healthy fat, such as coconut oil (you can also use butter or vegetable oil, but these are not as good for you)

In the bowl of a food processor, combine 1/4 cup blueberries...

...and 1/4 cup spinach (packed).

Puree until very smooth. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup pancake mix...

...2 tablespoons cocoa powder...

...1 jumbo egg...

...1 cup milk...

...and the blueberry spinach puree.

Whisk batter until smooth.

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Using a 1/3 cup measuring cup, pour batter into heated pan.

Heat one one side until little bubbles begin for form on the surface of the pancake.

flip over. Cook on second side until pancake springs back lightly at the touch. Remove from heat. If desired, keep in a warmed over (200 degrees) until the rest of the pancakes are done cooking.


Top with berries, powdered sugar, nutella, nuts, whiipped cream, whatever. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Heirloom Tomatoes with Creamy Gorgonzola Dressing


Look! More tomatoes I did NOT grow in my garden! Yes, friends, I am still feeling cranky that I have 21 tomato plants taking up real estate in the backyard, and it's August and still not a single tomato harvested, forcing me to purchase tomatoes from the store. CURSES. Although today one tomato started to blush a little yellow. Could this be the beginning of the bushels or tomatoes I had hoped for?? My heart is going pitter pat even at the thought.

On the bright side of things, look what a fabulous tomato salad you can make, even if you have to buy your tomatoes from the grocery store! And OH MY GOD. I totally wasn't even intending to blog this, it being the first time I had made the dressing and I didn't even bother to take pictures as I made it, but honestly people, THIS SALAD BLEW MY MIND. The tomatoes and the dressing and the seasonings all blend together into a perfect harmony of contrasts and compliments and I just about passed out after the first bite I was so overwhelmed with the tangy creamy sweet sour goodness. This tomato salad was so good that it was equal to, if not better than, the salad that allegedly cured my infertility nearly two years ago this month.

Please, I beg you, even if you don't like tomatoes, please try this. It just might be the best salad in the whole wide world.


Heirloom Tomatoes with Creamy Gorgonzola Dressing
adapted from the recipe by Ina Garten

The best place to find heirloom tomatoes is probably your local farmer's market, but I bought these at Trader Joe's and I thought they were delicious. Whatever you do, just make sure that the tomatoes you choose are fully ripe when you eat them; if they are white or mealy in the center, they are not worth eating.

3 pounds heirloom tomatoes, mixed colors and sizes
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 pound Gorgonzola cheese, divided in half
1 cup good mayonnaise
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

slice and core tomatoes, cutting the large ones into thick slices, and halving cherry tomatoes. Arrange on platter, and sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper, and parsley.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine half the Gorgonzola, 1 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 cup cream, and 2 tablespoons vinegar, as well as 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Process until combined, but still chunky.

Drizzle the dressing over the tomatoes. Crumble the rest of the blue cheese, and serve at room temperature. Enjoy!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes


See these tomatoes? These are tomatoes I did NOT grow in my garden. Even though I have 21 tomato plants growing in my back yard, I haven't harvested a single tomato all summer. NOT ONE. This has officially been the coldest, grayest, most gloomy summer ever, and I have hardly a thing ripe in my garden, other than pickles, even though it's nearly mid-August.

If you happen to hail from somewhere other than the promise land, then you may not know that in Southern California, and particularly in the beach cities, we usually experience what we call "June Gloom" during the first few weeks of the summer. It's overcast and cool, and on particularly heavy days in can even sprinkle a little bit of rain. It usually clears up by July 4th and everyone spends the rest of the summer lying around scantily clad and eating gelato, riding beach cruisers, and getting enviably tan. This summer, we have all been bundling up in parkas and wondering if the sun will ever shine again.


So I didn't grow these tomatoes. The weather? She is not so cooperative this summer. I am only a tiny little bit cranky about this.

I don't know about you, but I have of sort of devotion to fire roasted diced tomatoes. I love them with the burning love of a thousand suns. Whenever a recipe calls for canned tomatoes, my heart leaps just a little bit because I am just so! in! Love! with that smokey, caramelized yumminess. Lately, though, we have been forgoing many recipes calling for canned anything, because a new study has shown that bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical in the plastics used to line the interior of food cans, leaches into food. BPA is an estrogen mimicker and an endocrine disruptor, and can be especially harmful for babies and young children. It is associated with cancers, early puberty, low sperm count, infertility, heart disease, obesity, and developmental problems such as ADD. It has been banned from baby and toddler bottles in 5 states, and legislation for a similar ban is working its way through California's political machine even as I type this. If you or your children consume canned and packed foods on a regular basis, you are likely exposing yourself and your children to BPA, and in amounts that are high enough to affect your family's health. Scary, right?


Canned food? We don't really eat it anymore. And yes, I could buy the fancy organic canned tomatoes in the enamel lined can from the health store, and I do buy then when I need some canned tomatoes in a pinch. But the health food store is on the other side of town, and making the extra trip can be a bit of a hassle, and OMG it almost gives me a heart attack to pay $5 for a can of tomatoes. Plus, how cool is it to make your own?? Super cool.

You could can these the traditional way (I give directions below), freeze them, or just make small batches, store them in the fridge, and eat them as a summer treat. They are fantabulous on top of salmon. Whatever you decide to do, there couldn't be a easier, cheaper, or healthier way to make your own fire roasted, diced tomatoes. BPA-free and all :)


Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes


lemon juice (optional)

Preheat grill or broiler. Halve tomatoes or slice into thick wedges. Scrape seeds out with a spoon or the tip of your finger (I forgot to do this for this batch, so there are lots of seeds in the photos).

Grill or broil tomatoes, until they are softened and slightly charred. Remove from heat, and let cool. Remove skins - they should just peel right off, easy.

Pack into sterilized canning jar, and add 1 TBS of lemon juice for every cup of tomatoes (this is to make sure the ph level of the jars is correct, given the offchance there are some botulism spores in your jars. If you are freezing your tomatoes or planning on consuming them right away, you can skip this step).

Add a little water so the jars are full up. Screw the lids on the jars, and process in a water bath (boil in a pot with water 1" over the tops of the jars) for 40 minutes. Remove jars from water, and let cool. If the jars have sealed properly, the jar lids will dimple down, and they can be stored in your pantry all winter long, up until next summer, when you get to make some more with next tomato crop. Enjoy!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Crisper than a Klausen's! Crisp Refreshing Homemade Fermented Kosher Dill "Half Sour" Pickles


Last summer I totally fell in love with the idea of making my own pickles. Full of optimism, I bought 5 pounds of the most gorgeous Persian cucumbers, and spent hours slicing cukes, simmering vinegar, perfecting seasonings, canning and processing. And oh my, those pickles were gorgeous: they looked like jewels in their shining glass jars. We waited in anticipation for the jars to cool, the pickles to pickle, the spices to infuse, and when we opened the first jar, pulled out the first emerald spears, we closed our eyes, took a bite and...


Absolute mush.


So soft and mushy that the pickles disintegrated in their pretty jars until they looked like jars of sad pea green soup. We threw them all away.

It was such a bitter and total epic FAIL, that I couldn't even blog about it. That's how disappointed I was (according to my husband, I do not deal well with disappointment or frustration. Go figure.) In typical fashion, I vowed that one day, I would indeed conquer the pickle, once and for all!


That day is today. It turns out I did a few things wrong last year. First, I used the wrong kind of cucumbers. Slicing cucumbers, the sort of cukes usually found in big chain grocery stores, tend to be soft and watery, perfect for salads and cucumber sandwiches, but far too soft for pickles. Those Persian cucumbers were so soft and bendy I was doomed from the start. What you want are pickling cucumbers, which are crisp enough to stay crunchy for the long haul. Second, the brine/hot pack waterbath process also had me doomed, because the heat that sterilizes the brine also cooks the cucumbers, making them that much softer.

The secret to getting really crisp, really deliciously cool pickles is to skip the "quick-pickle" method and do it the old fashioned way: fermentation. This is the way pickles have traditionally been made throughout history, and they are incredibly delicious. And not only do they taste better than their shelf-stable vinegared cousins, but they are better for you. Fermented pickles are "pickled" by friendly lactic acid bacteria. This fermentation renders foods easier to digest, introduces "good" probiotic bacteria into the gut (much like yogurt or kefir), and lastly, offers an alkaline balance to acidic foods, like meat. Also, they taste better. What's not to love?


"Half Sour" Kosher Dill Pickles
probably the hardest thing about this recipe is finding the right kind of cucumbers to pickle. This summer, I grew my own organic pickling cucumbers in my back yard, but you can also also find pickling cucumbers at farmer's markets and specialty stores. I think you can probably use Persian or kirby cucumbers in this recipe, but I can't guarantee how crisp the results will be.

It is VERY important that the brine is made exactly as the recipe indicates, with the exact same ratio of water to salt. Fermentation pickling works by allowing the lactic bacteria, naturally present on the surface of all vegetables, to flourish and ferment the cucumbers. The salt brine inhibits the growth of other bacteria, so it's important to be at the right strength. Too little salt, and bad bacteria may grow in your pickles. Too much salt, and the pickles are too salty to eat without soaking first.

This recipe is for "half sours," or pickles that are half-fermented and finished off with a splash of vinegar. They take about 2 days to ferment, give or take depending on the weather. You can flavor your pickles with whatever spices and herbs you like, through fresh dill and mustard seeds are traditional and a good place to start. Or you can get creative, adding minced fresh garlic, red pepper flakes, olives, red peppers, etc.

small firm cucumbers, such as pickling, kirby, or persian cucumbers
pure filtered water
kosher salt or sea salt (no iodine)
fresh dill
mustard seeds
optional: red pepper flakes, minced garlic, black pepper, etc.

1. Scrub cucumbers well, and cut of flower end, as it contains enzymes which can soften the cucumber. If desired, slice cucumbers into spears or slices. Rinse any herbs you will be using as well.

2. Pack cucumbers into a large food-grade crock or jar, leaving at least 1" of head space at the top. I have been making mine in large French style mason jars, but you can make them in almost anything. Pack cracks with sprigs of fresh dill and sprinkle with mustard seeds or other spices.

3. Make brine: mix together salt and water, with 1/4 cup salt to every 4 cups water. Mix together thoroughly, until brine is clear. Pour over packed cucumbers.

4. Cover pickles with a lid or cheesecloth, and let ferment. Depending on how warm or cool your home is, this process can take anywhere from 2 - 7 days. When small bubbles begin to form on the surface of the pickles and dill, you pickles are done. You can continue to let them ferment as long as you wish: they will not go bad, they will simply continue to intensify in acidic flavor. When your pickles are at the desired sourness, pour off the 1" of brine head space, and add a splash of vinegar. Store in the fridge, which will slow fermentation. Enjoy!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Gluten Free Chocolate Birthday Cake


Everybody, and I mean everybody deserves velvety rich, gooey chocolate cake on their birthday. Contrary to popular belief, the hardest part about the gluten-free diet isn't saying goodbye to croissants and soft pillowy French bread. I can live without croissants and good bread. No, what is really truly hard about the gluten free diet is the sense of being left out all the time. Breaking bread together (even the expression contains gluten!) is an important part being in communion with friends and family. When we want to celebrate something, be it as formal and fabulous as a wedding banquet or as humble as a coffee date, eating and drinking together is what we do. And when you can't eat gluten, sometimes you get left out. That's what is really hard about the gluten-free diet.


Which is fine. We get by and try to be graceful about it. But on your OWN birthday, not being able to join in on your own celebration, or eat a slice of your own birthday cake? Now that is just downright unbearable. Which is why the internet needs a really fantastic gluten-free cake recipe. Because there isn't one (I looked!) So here it is! Because on your birthday, you deserve a rich, wonderful cake. Like this one! And you deserve a cake that tastes good enough to serve your friends and family. Like this one. Because everyone should get to celebrate with you and be included on your special day, gluten-free or not.

I made about 5 cakes in the run up to James' birthday, because I wanted to find a gluten-free chocolate cake recipe that I could really love. This one was hands down the winner; it was one of those gluten-free things that people can't believe is gluten-free. Because hello, it tastes so good!


Gluten Free Chocolate Birthday Cake
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Chocolate Whiteout Cake recipe in Baking: From my home to yours (it's the one on the cover!)

This is an American style "butter" cake, which means it has a rich, dense crumb. It is very chocolaty, and totally delicious! Unlike a sponge cake or a chiffon cake, it doesn't get its volume from whipped eggs whites, so it's VERY important to follow these few tips:

- There are quite a LOT of gluten-free flours to choose from. This recipe calls for superfine sweet rice flour, and superfine white rice flour. I have found that these flours yield the best results for cake, and also have the most neutral, cake-friendly taste. If you want, you can swap out the white rice flour for quinoa flour or brown rice flour, but the sweet rice flour is essential, because it is so fine, and because it is so starchy and sticky - it will help the cake hold together and keep it from crumbling. Don't use an all purpose mix unless it is very fine, and definitely don't use any mix that contains baking powder, since this can mess up how the cake rises.

- Sift the flour into the measuring cup, and level off with the straight edge of a knife. This will make the flour fluffy and aerated, and will keep the cake from getting too heavy.

- Sometimes I think some directions (particularly ones about temperature) are silly, and I ignore them. Don't do this! If the butter is supposed to be room temperature, make sure it is at room temperature. If the recipe says to let cake cool completely, let it cool completely.

- This cake was fabulous paired with chocolate buttercream frosting, but I think it would also taste great with a cream cheese frosting, or with Dorie greenspan's Marshamallow frosting. But you can do whatever your heart desires!

1 cup SIFTED superfine sweet rice flour
1/2 cup SIFTED superfine white rice flour
1/2 cup SIFTED unsweetened cocoa powder (dutch processed)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon granulated salt
1/4 teaspoon xanthum gum

1 and 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter AT ROOM TEMPERATURE
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup superfine baking sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled (1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips), melted and cooled
3/4 cup buttermilk AT ROOM TEMPERATURE
3/4 cup boiling water
4 oz semisweet or milk chocolate, finely chopped, or 2/3 cup store bought chocolate chips

Getting Ready:
preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and center a rack. Butter two 8x6 inch round, and sprinkle with flour, Line the bottoms with parchment paper. Get out your butter, eggs, and buttermilk, and let them warm up to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

To Make the Cake:
Sift together the 1 cup sweet rice flour, 1/2 cup white rice flour, 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon granulated salt, and 1/4 teaspoon xanthum gum.

In a stand mixer, using a paddle attachment, beat 1 + 1/4 sticks butter with 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar and 1/2 cup superfine white baking sugar. Beat on medium speed 3-4 minutes, until soft and creamy, and pale in color.

Add in 3 large eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute between eggs. Beat in 1 teaspoon vanilla.

Reduce the mixer speed to low, and beat in 2 oz bittersweet melted chocolate. When it is fully incorporated, add the flour mixture, alternating the addition of the flour with 3/4 cup buttermilk. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, and only mix until the the ingredients disappear into the batter. At this point, the batter will be very thick, like frosting.

Still working at low speed, add in 3/4 cup boiling water. Scrape down the bowl, and mix in 4 oz chopped chocolate. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans, and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake for 25 - 30 minutes, rotating the pans at midpoint for even cooking. It's ok with the cakes crack a little bit during cooking. When fully baked, cakes will be springy to the touch, and a fork inserted into the center will come out clean.

Remove from the oven, and let cool 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edge to loosen cakes, unmold them, and peel off the parchment paper. Invert, and cool to room temperature right side up.

When cakes have cooled to room temperature, wrap in plastic wrap, and place in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or until cakes are firm. Slice each cake horizontally in half, frost, and fill. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Kefir Yogurt Smoothie with Blackberries, Blueberries, Raspberries, and Strawberries


If you want to do something good for your body, you should eat (or drink!) cultured and fermented foods. Without getting into the gory details TOO much, your entire gut, from one end to the other, is supposed to be lined with "good" bacteria and microbes. These friendly passengers help break down the food you eat so it can be digested by your body. The thing is, sometimes "bad" bacteria can set up camp in your gut, and it can make you sick. If you don't have enough good bacteria, sometimes protein isn't broken down sufficiently before it gets into your blood stream, and then your body mistakes it for an invader, which can cause food allergies. (think about it, all the major allergens are proteins: nuts, milk casein, eggs, gluten, shellfish, etc.) Sometimes those bad bacteria release toxins, which can cause migraines, body aches, inflammation, fibromyalgia, etc. (and of you are a subscriber to the GAPS theory, it also contributes to autism, ADD, depression, eczema, etc.)

So if you want to do something really good for your body, you should eat (or drink!) cultured and fermented foods. These food replenish your gut with friendly helper bacteria (you can, and should, also take probiotics, but I've heard that probiotics only get down so far in the gut, and you need fermented and cultured foods to get all the way down). Some of these foods include the familiar sauerkraut, kosher pickles, yogurt, and buttermilk, and some of the less familiar include kombucha tea, kimchi, and kefir. I think one of the easiest ways to do this is to eat organic whole milk yogurt with nuts and honey mixed in, but I've heard that kefir, a sort of yogurt drink, has a much higher culture count and is that much better for you.


The thing is, kefir all by itself is kind of, well, yucky. It's just SO sour. And as a beverage, it's SO thick. The first time I decided to buy a bottle, it sat in my fridge untouched until I threw it out.

Now that is really a shame, because, like most foods, kefir just needs to be prepared properly to be delicious. If you treat it like an ingredient instead of a convenience food, it makes a lot more sense. I wouldn't eat a raw steak, a plain stick of butter, or an uncooked potato, and now I know I also don't want to drink plain kefir. Eat it plain, not so good. Prepare it well, and it's absolutely delicious.


Kefir Smoothie with Blackberry, Blueberry, Raspberry, and Strawberry
Makes 1 smoothie, double, triple etc. for more servings

You can, of course, use plain organic yogurt instead of kefir, but it is going to be thicker, so you will need to add a little juice or milk to get it to a liquid consistency. I am using Trader Joe's frozen berry mixture, but you can use whatever forzen berry mixture you want to, or any other frozen fruit. I do recommend you either go with frozen fruit or freeze whatever seasonal fruit you want to use. It's just a little strange drinking a warm smoothie!

The berries can be a bit tart, so I recommend adding 1-2 tablespoons honey to even out the flavor. You can also use agave necter or whatever other type of sweetener you prefer.

1 cup plain kefir
1 cup frozen mixed berries
1-2 tablespoons honey

in a blender, combine 1 cup plain kefir...

... and 1 cup frozen mixed berries.

Top with 1 to 2 tablespoons honey (I just give it a big squeeze).

blend on high, 2 - 3 minutes, serve.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Deep Dark Decadent Chocolate Mousse


When I was a little girl, my mom would take my sister and I out to Sizzler every now and then to eat at the salad bar. We weren't exactly rolling in the money those days, so it was a special treat to go out to a restaurant with mom. And of course, we thought that Sizzler was SO fancy. They had cloth napkins, real plates, waitresses who brought you stuff if you asked for it, and at the end of the meal, chocolate mints on a little tray with the receipt. If there was one thing my sister and I knew, it was that Sizzler was a classy place.

And of course, we loved the salad bar. We always ate the same thing: canned peaches, cottage cheese, Parmesan cheese toast, and if we were especially good, chocolate mousse. Oh, we loved chocolate mousse. Other than the chocolate mints, it was the highlight of the meal, the thing we looked forward to from the moment we stepped in the door. Chocolate mousse was the ultimate ending to a fine dining experience, and my little sister and I looked on chocolate mousse as something so classy, so undeniably fancy, that only Sizzler could make it right.


So I am sure you can imagine how completely crushed we were, as adults, to learn that Sizzler no longer features chocolate mousse as part of their salad bar. Is devastation too strong a word? HARDLY.

Thankfully this story does have a happy ending, and I think we both know it's going to end with a recipe. Though I am sure I am remembering Sizzler's chocolate mousse through the rose-tinted glasses of childhood innocence, this recipe is pretty knock-down good (as good as the original I'll wager), and it's simple too. And of course, you should feel free to mix it up and put your own twist on the recipe: espresso powder, raspberries, mint extract, caramel ribbons - go wild! Or stick with the classic original. Either way, it's sure to be classy.


Deep Dark Decadent Chocolate Mousse
Adapted from Everyday Food
Serves 4 (or 2, of you are feeling extra decadent!)

It's important to use a high quality dark chocolate in this recipe. If you try to use milk chocolate it will "seize" up, turn hard, and be ruined. You also want a high quality chocolate since the flavor is really going to shine through. I used the 72% Swiss dark chocolate from Trader Joe's (I think!), but I am sure there are plenty of good options out there on the market.

3 oz bittersweet dark chocolate, 60% or higher, finely chopped
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3/4 cup heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
pinch of salt

1. Over LOW heat, whisk 4 large egg yolks, 1/4 cup sugar, anda pinch of salt until sugar is dissolved, and mixture is warm to the touch (2 to 3 minutes). Remove from heat, and whisk in 3 oz chopped bittersweet dark chocolate. Whisk until chocolate is completely melted, then mix in 2 tablespoons cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth.

2. In a stand mixer (or a medium bowl, if you are a sucker for punishment), whip 3/4 cup heavy cream cream until light and fluffy, and soft peaks form (don't over mix, or you will get butter!). With mixer on low, gently mix in 1/2 of the chocolate. Gently fold in remaining chocolate by hand with a rubber spatula. Divide among serving dishes and chill for at least 1 hour, and up to 2 days. Top with whatever pleases your fancy. Enjoy!