Monday, April 6, 2015

Chocolate Buckwheat Snacking Cake

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting outside in a t-shirt, cuffed jeans and bare feet. It’s reached about 70 degrees and daffodils and tulips are in full bloom. Life is on the upswing and I couldn’t be happier about it!

When the weather takes a turn like this, I find myself itching for more things to do. I begin to compile a list on my phone of projects to start working on: learn to make macramé plant holders and wall hangings, dust of the 35mm camera, run a half-marathon in 2 weeks, join a softball team, plant an herb garden, etc. My evenings and weekends become filled with excitement and activities and lots of time with friends and by the end of the days I am wonderfully exhausted with a feeling of living life to its fullest.

And with so much going on, it certainly calls for having a little bit of a pick-me-up in the afternoon. Maybe a cup of tea, maybe a little slice of a chocolate snacking cake. That sounds really nice, right? Who wouldn’t want a sliver or two of light and spongy soufflé-like almond buckwheat chocolate cake when the 4:00 hour of doldrums comes along?

Obviously this isn’t exactly my first go-around with this cake. It’s without a doubt one of my favorites, which makes it even more surprising that I’ve withheld it from you for so long. I love it because it doesn’t ask for much. I like to cut off a nice wedge and eat it alone, out of hand, but a little ice cream never hurt either. It can be started and out of the oven within an hour if you have to good time management going on and although it has a simple ingredient list, it’s still got a bit of a fancy flair too. It gets it’s lift from egg whites rather than gluten so it takes on a hybrid texture somewhere between soufflé and cake and the buckwheat flour combined with coconut oil and almonds makes it reminiscent of an Almond Joy.

It may be gluten free, but it takes no sacrifices for that. It is what it is and I really like it for that. I like the awkward little muffin-top edges it gets when it cools, after the center has fallen, the way it gets fudgier, and maybe even better, the next day, and the way it cuts easily with a butter knife so you can quickly sneak a piece when no one is looking. Sure it’s not exactly your quintessential “chocolate cake” but give it a try and you’ll see why this is the chocolate cake I come back to year after year.

Chocolate-Buckwheat Snacking Cake
Serves 8-12

6oz chopped semisweet chocolate
½ cup coconut oil
4 eggs, separated
½ cup unrefined granulated sugar
1/3 cup whole-milk yogurt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. salt
¾ cup almond meal
¼ cup buckwheat flour
toasted sliced almonds and cocoa powder for garnishing

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease an 8-inch cake pan with coconut oil and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.

Place the chocolate and coconut oil in a large heatproof bowl and set it over a pan of simmering water. Make sure the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl. Stir it periodically until it is melted. Once melted, set it aside for a few minutes to cool a bit.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, half of the sugar, the yogurt, vanilla, and salt. Once the chocolate had cooled some, slowly whisk that in as well. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the almond meal and the buckwheat flour.

Using a standing mixer, handheld mixer, or a good old-fashioned whisk, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Gradually add in the remainder of the sugar, while mixing, until it forms firm peaks. One-third at a time, fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture using a rubber spatula until just incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-28 minutes. The edges will look set and the center will still be a tiny bit wobbly. Let it cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack.  Once cool, top with a liberal dusting of cocoa powder and sprinkle with toasted sliced almonds.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Food Guide for a Quick Trip to Charleston, SC

This past weekend I took a whirlwind of a trip to Charleston, SC to celebrate my beautiful friend Kelly’s bachelorette party. I’ve been itching for the opportunity to check out this city after hearing about its up-and-coming food scene. It lived up to the hype too. In the 48 hours of time spent in the city, I had more giant flaky biscuits and jam than I’d like to admit, along with plenty of other southern favorites and a few unexpected gems along the way. But, in addition to meal after meal of fabulous eats and drinks, the pastel sunsets, palmettos, and quaint southern charm won me over. Charleston, it was a wild ride!

It’s a quirky spot. It's open for breakfast for unique breakfast sandwiches and then switches to a trendy bar in the afternoon complete with $3 cans of beer for happy hour and one of the best bowls of ramen I’ve ever had (It comes with crispy pork confit, a soft-boiled egg and housemade noodles but I highly recommend adding on the sesame greens). They also sell provisions and pastries in the front room.

If you know anything about the Jeni’s Ice Cream franchise you’ll know that they offer some crazy flavors along with the classics and to put it simply, it’s just really great ice cream. The 7 Layer Bar flavor was fab!

A great spot to grab some drinks and snacks with friends and definitely a place to order one (or more) of everything and have a tasting party. It’s got that speakeasy vibe and the drinks are seriously innovative. I went for a concoction called the “Banana Hammock” (Flor De Cana 7 Rum, Zaya 12 Rum, Banana, Pineapple, Vanilla Syrup, Lemon, Orgeat, Walnut Dram, Angostura Bitters) that had a distinct caramel nuttiness along with the sweet tropical flavors. Also definitely try out the grilled cheese that they somehow make it inside-out where the bread and meat are on the inside and it's concealed in a pouch of crispy, nearly-burnt cheese.

It’s called the best place for brunch in Charleston and I absolutely believe it. They have nailed the perfect southern breakfast, keeping things pretty classic in an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” sort of mentality. I ordered the shrimp and grits (it’s a splurge but it’s so worth it) but also heard lots of happy words from those who got the “Charleston Nasty Biscuit,” a biscuit stuffed with a fried chicken breast and smothered in sausage gravy.

Definitely add this on to your to-do list if you have a chance. It’s about a 30-minute drive outside of the city (stop to see the Angel Oak Tree along the way) but it's quite the experience having the opportunity to try both Charleston wines and spirits at the same location. They make their wine from several varieties of muscadine grapes which are native to the Lowcountry. The distillery lets you try 6 of the many varieties of spirits made by firefly with wild flavors like mint tea vodka, apple pie and caramel moonshine, many fruity flavors, and a 100 proof white lightning moonshine which was quite honestly the smoothest shot I have ever had. Let me just say that after a combination of the two, you’ll definitely need to hang around and check out the farm animals for a bit before taking the drive back.

An excellent spot for a fancy celebratory dinner. There are lots of tempting appetizers so my suggestion is to team up with someone in your party and pick several options to share rather than just sticking with a main course. The deviled eggs were light and tangy and topped with ham and roasted red peppers. We also got a skillet of the truffled Kennebec potato fries which we continued to eat long after we were full until they were completely finished. The fresh blueberry salad with granola, yogurt, and white balsamic was a refreshing in-between course before the spit-roasted chicken with Moroccan flavors and roasted carrots and sunchokes. The S’more Pie also makes for a show-stopping dessert.

And last but not least, Toast!
Again, a classic southern breakfast. There will be a bit of a wait but if you can hold out it’ll be worth your time. Biscuits again are a must along with the fried green tomatoes.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Lemon Pasta with Bacon and Peas (and welcoming spring)

Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere) arranging
a window, into which people look (while
people stare
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here) and

changing everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
(carefully to
and fro moving New and
Old things, while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there) and

without breaking anything.

-E.E. Cummings

In literature, in art, in life, Spring is the time of change and new starts. It is a time to shake off the troubles that Winter brought and to look at the world with fresh new eyes, ready for what will come next. Now, more than any Spring before this in my live, have I felt it representing rebirth as a stronger more confident person and with a greater understanding of what I want to come. In the recent dying days of this Winter, I have plummeted to the bottom but already, with warmer and longer days and the encouragement of those around, I can already feel myself stepping up from that. And, for me at least, the feeling of rejuvenation generally turns into time in the kitchen, and yesterday, this is what resulted from that.

This pea and bacon pasta is very appropriate for the seasonal transition. It still contains the richness that we desire in the colder months from the bacon and mascarpone, while inviting in lemony freshness and bright pops of fresh peas. It’s a quick, throw-together dish that doesn’t necessarily require specific measurements or a strict following of ingredients, but more so encourages intuition and going on what seems and feels right. And when it done this way, it’s a freeing feeling resulting in a pretty fantastic dish. It's letting go, trusting instinct and the things you’ve learned to guide you, and finding yourself with something wonderful. It’s a nice way to welcome the forthcoming Spring.

Lemon Pasta with Creamy Bacon and Pea Sauce
Serves 4-6
Adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Food Revolution

6 slices of bacon
1 lb of pappardelle pasta (I highly recommend the Lemon Pepper Pappardelle from Trader Joe’s)
olive oil
salt and pepper
2 cups frozen peas
3 Tbs. mascarpone cheese
1 lemon
6 oz parmesan

Start by finely slicing the bacon and grating the parmesan cheese and set aside. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions.

Meanwhile add a bit of oil to a large frying pan and place over medium heat. Once hot, add the bacon. Crack some fresh black pepper overtop and cook until crispy. Once the bacon is cooked, add in the frozen peas and give everything a stir. Cook for about a minute and then add in the mascarpone cheese. Stir to combine.

By this time the pasta should be about done. Reserve about a half-cup of the pasta water and then drain the pasta into a colander. Add the pasta to the frying pan with the bacon and peas and toss everything together. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon overtop and add in a bit of the pasta water if the sauce needs to be thinned out a bit. Throw in the grated parmesan and a bit of salt, if needed, and give everything a quick mix before serving.