Valentine’s Day Devil’s Food Chocolate Layer Cake

This post is in partnership with KitchenAid and Le Creuset. Both companies have agreed to partner with the blog as I document my baking adventures. This particular recipe was modified from the book Tartine by Elisabeth Prueitt. Instead of homemade caramel, I used store bought La Lechera, and there’s no shame in that. I learned how to bake bread with Tartine and own three Tartine books. This edition goes through different pastries and cakes and I would highly recommend it to bakers who prefer making sweet delicacies over hearty loaves of bread. 

I have been wanting to make this Devil’s Food Chocolate Layer Cake for a while. Something about the elegance and simplicity of this cake really drew my attention to it. It stands alone well with cake crumbs coating the exterior, or for icing lovers out there, perhaps a thicker layer of chocolate ganache would do. It is rich without being overly sweet, romantic without being exaggeratedly extravagant. The definition of delectable!

If you are looking for something to do this COVID Valentine’s Day, why not gather your loved ones and work together on baking this cake? If you’ve got little ones without the patience to sit through the steps of icing and layering a cake, the cake itself tastes like a good batch of brownies and this recipe makes two batches worth when using square 8″ x 8″ pans like these gorgeous ruby red Le Creuset pans. (Right now, if you spend $200, you will receive two free heart ramekins for the Valentine holiday.) You can skip the caramel and whip up the chocolate ganache in minutes, icing the top of your brownies with chocolate. One for you, one for the kids. It’s perfect.

The original recipe calls for homemade caramel but for the sake of time, I simply bought a can of La Lechera. The chocolate ganache was easy to make and I used Ghirardelli Bittersweet chocolate chips and heavy cream. Any bittersweet chocolate works in this recipe. Lastly, I had market flowers that were due to wilt, which I cut and placed into the cake. I like to cover the stems with parchment paper so as not to mar the cake.

This cake is super easy to make. With the help of a Kitchen Aid mixer, I was able to mix the cake within ten minutes. It cooks for forty five minutes, during which I was washing dishes and prepping the chocolate ganache. I would recommend waiting until the cake has cooled completely before assembling the layers. I let it cook in their pans for half an hour prior to removing the cake from their molds. Then I place it in the fridge to help firm up the cake prior to icing. Meanwhile, the cake tops are tossed into the oven to dry out. After I assemble the layers, I throw the cake in the freezer for thirty minutes prior to icing the exterior, just to make sure it is set and the layers don’t move around. The most fun part is getting the cake crumbs on the sides of the cake. I found that the original recommendation to tilt the cake isn’t the best, after all my work nearly sliding off the stand and into the sink. I prefer to take a spoon and chuck the crumbs on the sides of the cake, creating a beautiful mess, but nothing my Dyson can’t handle.

If you are looking to this cake as a romantic gesture, I would pair with a glass of red wine and some roses on the side. Candy heart messages optional. It’s going to be a winner, I promise. Other cake recipes this way.

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Ingredients

  • 1.25 cups All Purpose Flour
  • 0.5 cups Spelt flour
  • 4.5 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1.25 cups cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2.25 cups sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1.25 cups buttermilk
  • 20 oz Ghirardelli’s bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 can of La Lechera caramel (about 3/4 cup)

The Process

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Spray two 9″ cake pans with coconut oil spray or butter them and lightly flour so the cakes do not stick. An alternative is to line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper to make removing of the cake rounds easier.
  3. Sift flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder and salt in a bowl and set aside.
  4. Attach the paddle attachment to your Kitchen Aid stand mixer and beat the butter on medium-high speed until light and creamy.
  5. Add the sugar a little at a time, continuing to beat on the same speed until light in color and fluffy.
  6. Add eggs one at a time, waiting until full incorportaion before adding the next egg. Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl between each addition with a rubber spatula.
  7. With the Kitchen Aid mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in 3 equal batches, alternating with the buttermilk in two batches. In other words, add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then half of the buttermilk, followed by 1/3 of the flour mixture, the rest of the buttermilk, and finishing with the rest of the flour mixture.
  8. Stop mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with the rubber spatula, then mix again for another few seconds. This ensures full incorporation.
  9. Divide the cake batter evenly between the two pans and bake until the top springs back (about 45 minutes).
  10. Cool cakes completely in the pans on wire racks.
  11. When the cakes are cool, turn them out by inverting the pans. Turn cakes right side up on the wire pans with the mounds on top. Use a serrated knife to cut off the mounded tops (leaving behind two flat rounds) and stick the tops on a sheet tray back into the oven at 250 degrees F. Let them bake for about 45 minutes to an hour to dry them out. These will turn into your crumb coat.
  12. As for the two cake rounds, I stick them into the fridge sitting on wire racks for 10 minutes to completely cool.
  13. Meanwhile, I make the ganache by placing the chocolate chips in a heat proof bowl. I heat the heavy cream in a saucepan until it comes to just under a boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate into the bowl. Do not stir right away. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes until the chocolate is partially melted. Stir with a rubber spatula until smooth and shiny. Open the can of La Lechera, as we will assemble the cake layers next.
  14. Remove the cake from the fridge. Use the serrated knife to cut each round in half, resulting in four rounds. Place one round on a plate or cake stand. Spread 3 tablespoons of caramel over the cake, followed by a 1/4 inch thick layer of chocolate ganache. Place the second round on top of the chocolate. Repeat the process until you place the fourth round of cake on top.
  15. Place the newly assembled cake into the freezer for 15 minutes to set the icing. You can also refrigerate the cake until firm for 1-2 hours if you need more time. If you are letting the cake set in the fridge, I would cover the chocolate ganache with plastic wrap to prevent it from air exposure. Keep that out at room temperature.
  16. Meanwhile, the cake tops should be nice and toasty. Remove them from the oven and place in a food processor. Run the food processor until the cake tops are broken up into tiny crumb pieces. Strain the crumbs through a medium-mesh sieve. You don’t want a fine mesh, otherwise your crumbs won’t go through. Set aside the bowl of sifted crumbs for later.
  17. Remove the cake from the freezer (or fridge) and ice the outside with chocolate ganache using an off-set spatula. If decorating with came crumbs, you only need a thin layer. If you prefer to do just the icing, I would double the icing.
  18. After the cake is iced on the top and sides, sprinkle cake crumbs over the top of the cake. The original instruction says to tilt the cake left and right to let the crumbs fall over the edges but that didn’t work too well for me. I had to take a spoon and fling the crumbs at the sides of the cake instead. You can try either, just be careful not to tilt too much lest the cake starts to slip off the plate!
  19. I decorated the top of the cake with flowers from the Farmer’s Market, but this cake is seriously just as beautiful without any decorations at all. If you wish, you can place a dollop of left-over chocolate ganache in a glob at the center of the cake and stick two Sweetheart candy messages on there, calling it a day.

Note: This cake is best served at room temperature. Let it sit on the counter as you prep the rest of dinner. You can also serve this with berries and red wine. To store, keep covered and in a cool place for up to four days. Refrigeration will dry out the cake.

I hope you all have a lovely Valentine’s Day.

Italian Pasta Salad

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Over the summer, we spent a weekend in Colorado and met up with a dear friend (our accountant, actually, who of course I became dear friends with) and his wife who was also a dental school classmate of mine. It was the first time we saw friends since the stay-at-home mandate and it was our first sign of normalcy, an indication that things would eventually be okay.

They were hosting us in their lovely backyard and as I watched them wrangle their two kids, put one down for a nap, entertain a talkative other, turn on a grill, make burgers, grill hot dogs, and continue a constant flow of conversation, I thought to myself, “Man these people are super heroes!” Which, I suppose, all parents are.

But the thing that stood out to me the most was when we sat down for lunch, with the older one seated at the end in his floating high chair and the table set for five, my friend turns and pulls out this pre-made pasta salad and a bowl of already chopped fruit from the fridge to add to our awesome burger and hot dog feast. I remember thinking to myself, “Genius!”

I am all about pre-making meals when hosting gatherings but sometimes, in between wanting to impress guests and wanting to serve fresh food, I do forget that the simpler things are usually best. What amazed me most about our friends was that they weren’t running around trying to pick up toys from the floor. They weren’t trying to prevent their kids from running around in the yard. They weren’t concerned about the details of the table setting. They were concerned about whether we wanted another beer or how much ice cream serving is good enough. They focused on their guests alone and I think that when you have two kids and two dogs, you should get a medal for that type of stuff.

I’m sure this isn’t the exact same Italian pasta salad that she served, but that is another great thing about recipes such as these. You can make them on the fly with whatever ingredients you have in stock and they turn out just as great. This recipe is easily made in big batches and it actually tastes better after a day of being in the fridge, soaking up the dressing’s goodness. Plus it looks good in any container.

My parents recently hosted a BBQ themselves and I made a huge batch of this and saved half for us (which we ate with salmon a couple meals in a row) and brought half to the party. I can’t believe I wasn’t making this sooner. It was such a breeze.

Ingredients:

  • Rotini or Bow Tie Pasta (1 lb)
  • 1 Cucumber
  • 1 cup of small tomatoes
  • 1 cup of pitted olives
  • Other additions/veggies you want to add. Examples include bell peppers, roasted eggplant, roasted squash, pickled carrots, and more.
  • Italian Dressing, to taste
  • Feta cheese to crumble on top
  • Black pepper, to taste.

The Process:

I think the process is rather self-explanatory but here it is in a nutshell.

  1. Boil pasta according to the box instructions. Drain and shock in a bowl of cold water. If you skip shocking the pasta and toss the salad when it’s warm, the noodles will stick together and have a gummy consistency.
  2. Cut cucumber, tomatoes, and olives into similar sized pieces. You want this pasta salad to be easy to eat, which means you want everything to be about the same size.
  3. Mix pasta with fruit and veggies, toss with Italian Dressing, and top with Feta cheese and freshly crushed black pepper.

NOTE: You may notice that we have red onion in this pasta salad. Red onion has a pretty potent flavor and you don’t want to detract from the rest of the salad. If you do add red onion, you can soak it in the dressing prior to adding it in. I myself place cut red onions into a mason jar and soak for at least fifteen minutes so that the dressing pulls out some of the red onion’s harshness. It will also give the onion a sweeter, pickled taste. I toss both onion and dressing with the salad in step 3.

For those interested, the plates are side plates in Morel from East Fork Pottery and the coasters are Herringbone in Black from Fog Linen.

Soups for Slow Living

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

the colder months, I imagine that something happens to our energies. I can’t quite say whether they are lower in availability or simply hankering for a slower kind of work, but the things that our souls yearn for are markedly different from that in the summer. In the Fall and Winter, I like to slow things down. More than usual, anyway.

In an effort to budget my time in a way that allows me to do more meaningful work, I have recently been trying harder to practice Essentialism when it comes to household chores. And while I thoroughly enjoy cooking and baking (especially when new recipes are in tow), I also like to minimize the cooking and cleaning when the goal is to keep our bellies satiated rather than to experience a new culinary feat.

So with the Fall and Winter season upon us, I’d like to turn your attention to a solution that generations before us frequently exercised but our youth has forgotten about: Soup.

A simple word, and not by any means pretty. Soup is the savior from the holiday rush that befalls all. Soup is the reliable companion ready to comfort you after a long day’s work. Soup is the nutritious meal that you need without the high price. Soup is readily available with a few basic ingredients in the kitchen, stocked. Pun intended.

There are many ways that soup alleviates stress in our lives.

It accepts our rummaging through the kitchen cabinets to collect what we have at hand and eliminates the need to run to the market for that one rare ingredient crucial to its being. It’s forgiving in preparation, usually welcoming a haphazard throwing into the pot. It requires little time (on our end). We usually take a few minutes to prep and let the simmering do all the work. I am the first to say that we put our Crockpot to good use during these short days and long nights. Big batches of stuff, frozen for later and rationed throughout the week, sometimes as appetizer and sometimes the main course, makes soup a practical solution. Cleanup is facilitated by the need to only have one pot.

I don’t know what else to say.

With all the excesses of today, the youth views soup as an add-on. An appetizer and nothing more. An introduction to the meal. Another excess to add to the bill when we are too tired to cook from home.

But may I remind that soup can stand on its own. And it’ll cook on its own while you’re off at work. It’ll let you live your life, however slow or fast that may be, without so much as a fuss.

Soups, therefore, are essential weapons to carry around in the backs of our pockets … and at the forefront of our minds.

Without further ado, a soup recipe for you:

Ciabbotola

(adapted from Kinfolk Table)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 yellow onions, cut into 1/4-in pieces
  • 3 green bell peppers, cut into 1/4-in pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-in pieces
  • 2 pds zucchini, chopped into 1/4-in pieces
  • 1 eggplant, chopped into 1/4-in pieces
  • 4 large ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • Fresh basil, sliced
  • Parmesan cheese, finely grated

The Process:

  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat before adding the onions and green and red bell peppers. Cook until the onions have softened and are translucent, approximately 10 minutes.
  2. Add the zucchini, eggplant, tomato, and salt.
  3. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Let simmer for 30 minutes.
  4. Add the eggs and stir gently and constantly until cooked through, approximately six minutes.
  5. Sprinkle with basil and cheese.
  6. Serve with fresh sourdough (optional).

For those looking for soup of a different kind, here are a few favorites:

I’m sure many more soup recipes are to come. How about yours? Would you care to share your favorite soup recipes?

 

Hummingbird Birthday Cake

When it comes to birthday celebrations, I am a firm believer in home-made cake. Anyone can go to the store and pay for a cake, but it will likely be missing some of the magic. There may be some joy in the tippy-toeing over counters and selection of icing color, but there won’t be that love and care delicately (or not so delicately) folded into the flour, tucked underneath the frosting. I think the best presents come in the form of chocolate cookies made from scratch, so it just follows that the cake must also come from human hands, not a machine. All the better when it’s from someone dear.

Last week we threw a birthday party for my mother-in-law. We hosted a dinner with both our parents and the grandparents, gathering around a table of freshly baked brioche buns, home-made turkey patties, and fresh produce in that construct-your-own-hamburger kind of way. Obviously, I baked a cake for celebrations sake, one that I think is worth sharing. The recipe itself isn’t my doing. I must admit that I stole that from The Kinfolk Table, a book that we saw sitting on the shelves of an AirBNB in Melbourne and one that I am currently going through, trying one recipe a week. All have been wonderful additions to my stash of recipes, but none have been as fitting or fantastic as the Hummingbird Cake.

The Hummingbird Cake is the type that one reserves especially for birthdays. Don’t ask me about the name, because its source is left unknown. It has all the special-ness without, say, the fuss. It can be whipped up in a jiffy, and the steps can be broken up around the gift-wrapping and the house-decorating. The ingredients are easily accessible year-round, and the decorating is made easier by the handful of pecans scattered on top to cover the frosting technique. In other words, it’s newbie-baker approved.

I made a few alterations to the original recipe, but the basics still stand. I knew it was a doozy when my roommate ate half of the excess cake that I had sliced off in order to produce flat cake layers. She said it was the best thing she’s ever tasted, and diligently ate away at the left-over cake crumbs, sans icing. I knew it was a killer when our 82-year old grandma exclaimed, “I would literally DIE for this cake” after her first bite. Someone who just survived a recent-knee surgery shouldn’t be making jokes like that. The true test, however, was when our picky grandpa who does not even eat CHEESE or anything more adventurous than beef and potatoes finished his entire slice without a word. That alone says enough.

For me, I think it holds a hint of a memory that is buried in the recesses of my happy, unhealthy childhood. Mornings spent with my mama’s banana bread in hand, or cutting into a fresh pineapple cake. Also, there’s nothing as sentimental as the way my mother-in-law’s eyes lit up when she saw that I had baked her a birthday cake, and the way three colorful candles looked alit atop. The birthday song sung by everyone in the room in the dim kitchen lighting really set the tone for this cake and what was once reserved for someone else’s family’s traditional birthday cake now became one of our own.

May all your birthday cakes be baked by someone you love, for all the future birthdays to come.

Hummingbird Cake

Ingredients:

For the cake:

  • 28 g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 460 grams Bob’s Red Mill Pastry Flour
  • 350 grams bananas
  • 400 grams granulated sugar
  • 3 grams baking soda
  • 3 grams ground cinnamon
  • 6 grams salt
  • 3 large eggs, beaten and at room temperature
  • 360 milliliters vegetable oil
  • 227 grams crushed pineapple
  • 7.5 milliliters vanilla extract
  • 255 grams organic pecans, chopped

For the icing:

  • 227 grams cream cheese at room temperature (equivalent to one 8 oz packaged cream cheese)
  • 113.5 grams unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 454 grams confectioner’s sugar
  • 5 milliliters vanilla extract
  •  

The Process:

For the cake:

  1. I make this cake with two layers, and icing in the middle. I use two 9-inch round cake pans in order to achieve this, and spray the insides with coconut spray. Preheat ovens to 350 degrees F and place a rack in the center of the oven. It is here that you will bake off both pans.
  2. Finely chop the bananas. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Add the eggs and oil and stir just until you no longer see any specks of dry ingredients. Fold in the bananas. Stir in the pineapple, vanilla, and half of the pecans. Reserve the other half of the pecans for topping the cake.
  3. Divide the batter equally between both pans, ad set them on the middle rack. Bake, rotating halfway, for a total of 30 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center of the cakes come out clean. Transfer the cakes to racks and cool in the pans for ten minutes before inverting out. Inverting too soon can compromise the structure of the cake. After cooling, invert them directly onto a rack and cool for at least one hour.
  4. After the cake has cooled, trim off the excess on the tops of the cake, to get nice flat cake layers.

For the icing:

  1. While the cake cools, beat the cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Decrease the speed to low and add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla gradually. Beat until light and fluffy, about another three minutes.
  2. To assemble, start with a bottom cake layer. Spread the frosting on top of it and sprinkle with some pecans. Then stack the second cake layer on top. Ice the cake on the sides and the top with the rest of the cream cheese frosting using a spatula. Sprinkle the remaining pecans on top of the cake, to cover a newbie frosting job.
Can’t frost to save your life?
No problem! Its a home made cake. Proof is in the icing.

Repeat for special birthdays to come.

 


Rye Pecan Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

When it comes to cooking, I find joy in creating complexity out of the most simple and base ingredients. Take carrots, for example. A boring carrot stick is something you pass by on your weekly grocery run in the produce aisle. Orange, stiff, sometimes with carrot top still intact (in which case, a no-waste carrot top recipe, here). A long ways from extraordinary. But when I think of  a well-made carrot cake, my eyes can’t help but twinkle, my mouth salivates. The marriage between sweet, earthy, and spicy undertones signifies a TRUE carrot cake, not disguised by extreme amounts of sugar, as they usually are. The colors of the cake itself remind me of the beauty of fall – orange from the carrots, brown from cinnamon and brown sugar, purple and mossy green from the rye.

Too often, carrot cake is done a disservice. Fatty and sugary sweet isn’t the cake I dream of. If it comes out of the pan shiny, covered in grease and oil, then you know it’s not done right. The texture should be moist, but grainy too. It should be fluffy and crumbly. My favorite way to make it is to keep the carrot shreds long, so that they break up the cake and are featured in their own right, rather than disappear into the flour, overshadowed by bread. With this recipe modified from East of Kitchen, I was able to create such a cake for a Friendsgiving gathering, with plenty of left-overs to boot.

It’s time to do carrot cake justice.

DSC09242

For the cake:

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups pecans, roughly chopped
  • 5 cups carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
  • 4 cups Bob’s Red Mill Stone Ground Rye flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 4 tsp cinnamon
  • 8 large free-range eggs
  • 2.5 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups coconut oil
  • 3 tsp pure vanilla extract

The Process:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Grease two 9-in cake pans and line the bottom with a circle of baking paper and grease that, too.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the rye flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and set aside.
  4. In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat the eggs until frothy, about 3-4 minutes on medium speed. Add the sugar one tablespoon at a time and beat until the batter has thickened.
  5. With the mixer running on medium speed, add the coconut oil in a slow and steady stream.
  6. With the mixer set on low speed, add the flour mixture, and mix just until combined.
  7. Dump the grated carrots and the pecans in the batter and incorporate with the aid of a spatula.
  8. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 40-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
  9. Allow to cool on a wire rack completely before removing to a cooling rack. When it is completely cooled, cut lengthwise through the middle with the aid of a serrated knife.

DSC09248

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 16 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tsp lemon zest

The Process:

  1. In the bowl of your stand mixer beat the butter and cream cheese on low speed until everything is blended.
  2. Add the powdered sugar one tablespoon at a time, with mixer running on low, until everything is incorporated and smooth. Beat in the vanilla and zest.
  3. Refrigerate at least one hour prior.

DSC09238

To assemble the cake:

  1. Place the first cake layer on a serving plate.
  2. Wrap wax paper around the circumference of the cake to create a tall wall to support the building of the cake.
  3. Spoon 2 tsp of milk over the cake. This will keep the cake moist.
  4. Spread a layer of the frosting evenly on top, then place the second layer over.
  5. Spoon 2 tsp of milk, and them spread another layer of frosting.
  6. Repeat with the third and fourth layers. Spread frosting evenly on top. There should be more than a fourth of the frosting reserved for the top layer. Reserve a small amount of frosting for the sides of the cake.
  7. Place the cake into the freezer without removing the wax paper. Let sit in the freezer for 30 minutes to an hour.
  8. Remove the cake from the freezer and remove the wax paper. Ice the sides of the cake with a thin layer of frosting. Place in the fridge for at least one hour to allow the frosting to set.
  9. The cake should be ready to eat afterwards. If you wish, decorate with sprigs of rosemary stems.

DSC09280

 

Simple Almond Oatmeal

Monday night had us feeling tired after a long work day. Which meant we skipped the Monday night meal prep that usually ensues. We grabbed the left over fried rice from the fridge, and decided to worry about the next day’s lunches later. So when Tuesday rolled around and I was sitting at home, hungry, I was short on meal options for lunch, without the want for preparing. Feeling a bit sleepy, what with the fall weather beckoning both me and the cat back into the comfy bed, I was not about to whip out the cutting board and prepare all sorts of ingredients for a full blown meal.

Taking a cue from the cold and overcast late morning air, I instinctively thought to myself, “Oatmeal!” The easiest thing to prepare with ingredients already at hand in the pantry. Additionally, a poor man’s, woman’s meal, and quite in line with slow living. Here, I share with you the barest of oatmeal preparation guidelines. I wouldn’t call this a recipe per say, since every one already knows what making oatmeal entails. Consider it a reflection of what it took to make myself a meal this afternoon.

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup rolled oats (we buy ours from the bulk section)
  • 1/8 cup brown sugar
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • A handful of almonds (also from the bulk section)

There was no plastic involved in the production of this meal.

The Process

  1. Boil the water on the stove in a medium saucepan.
  2. Once boiling, add the oats. Cook, stirring occasionally, for a total of five minutes.
  3. Remove pan from the heat and add the brown sugar, cinnamon, and almonds. Stir well, to incorporate all the ingredients.
  4. Let sit for two minutes.
  5. Add milk or honey, as you see fit.

If you’re like my grandmother, pour milk into the bowl until the oatmeal resembles cereal … and then some. If you’re like me, eat it plain as can be, enjoying it wholly. It’s a meal that can never be eaten slowly, no matter how late I was running for school. Unlike french fries or chips, the best way to eat oatmeal is by small (tea)spoonfuls . Slowly sneak back underneath the sheets and sidle up next to the cat, staring out into the world outside as you lose yourself in thought; of younger years, of simpler days, of what’s ahead.

Vegetable Dumplings

The quest for hunger-satisfying meat alternatives progresses as we trudge on through this vegetarian challenge. It has been two and a half weeks, not without relapses. I admit to taking the path of least resistance when I was offered a slice of pepperoni pizza at work, and the chicken empanada did not help either. Although neither I nor my husband foresee a long lasting meatless dining adventure, we have decidedly enjoyed discovering new vegetarian recipes together over the course of the past few weeks.

One such scenario where I miserably failed at resisting temptation was when we went out to our favorite ramen place for lunch. The bowl comes with chashu, and though I gave almost half of it to Mike, I still happily digested the first half before deciding that it was enough. I was brainstorming of alternatives to chashu meat, without getting the vegetarian bowl, when I came across this idea: Chashu donations to lucky Mike, and I will simply order a side of vegetarian dumplings to eat with my ramen. Which then had me thinking about vegetarian dumplings, the makings of which could not wait until the next ramen date. So I embarked on a journey to make my own.

Aligned with my practice of avoiding plastic like the plague at the grocery store, I have given up frozen foods for over a year now, amongst other things. Which also means passing up on extremely convenient, pre-made dumpling wrappers that my mother used to get when I was a child. I had to make these dumplings from scratch. Considering my new baking habit, it wasn’t all that foreign to me to make dumplings using flour and water. Off course, one could go the convenient route, but with Mother Nature in mind, I decided to make this recipe in the kindest I knew how.

The Ingredients

DSC08319

Fresh Dumpling Wrappers

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • pinch of salt
  • ¾ cup boiling water
Dumpling Filling:
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 peeled and minced garlic clove
  • 3 cups shredded cabbage
  • 2 cups chopped mushrooms
  • 1½ cups chopped green onion
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • sesame oil for frying
  • salt and pepper to taste

The Process:

 

  1. While the water is boiling, mix the salt and flour in a bowl. Add the water, and using a stand mixer with a ceramic paddle attachment, mix the water into the flour. It will still be crumbly when you switch to the dough hook, and knead the dough for 7-8 minutes. After kneading the dough, cut the dough in half. Make each half into a round bagel shape but forming it into a ball and then using both thumbs to push a hole through the center. Allow the bagel rounds to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.
    DSC08330
  2. Meanwhile, cut up all the veggies. Once everything is chopped, heat vegetable oil in a wok. Add cabbage, ginger, and garlic. Stir fry over medium-low heat until cabbage has wilted. Add mushrooms, green onions and carrots, and continue to cook for 5 minutes more. Add soy sauce and a bit of sesame oil to your taste. I typically don’t even add salt and pepper, but you can.
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  3. At this time, the dough should be ready. Using a tortilla press, I shape the dough into small rounds. I then make the dough even thinner using a rolling pin, compressing the dough into a very thin, flat disk. Depending on the consistency of the dumplings that you prefer, you can go as thick or thin as you want. Typically, if I am going to fry the dumplings, I go for a thinner wrapper. If I am going to steam the dumplings, I like a thicker piece.
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  4. Place a scoop of the vegetable mixture in the center of the dough wrapper, and then fold the dough in half. Wet one edge with water, and then fold the other edge over and over again to create the dumpling design.
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  5. You can immediately cook them, but I prefer to lay them out on a tray and place them in the freezer. Once frozen, you can package them in a Tupperware and they can stay frozen for up to a few months.
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When we want to cook them, we just toss them on a hot frying pan, or steam them while the rice is cooking in the rice cooker. This time around, we decided to eat them with a bowl of hot ramen, summer nights notwithstanding.

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Vegetarian Coconut Curry

We’ve kind of took it upon ourselves to create a frugal challenge that requires us to become vegetarian for a week. The progress report: Grocery bills have been less than $40 for two, sufficiently providing three meals per day, seven days a week. Frugal challenges for the win! As if this wasn’t enough, the past few weeks, I’ve indulged myself in an even bigger challenge, one spurred by a visiting 24-year old cousin from Virginia. Her recent visit divulged the fact that she has been pescatarian for two years, in an effort to be non-contributory to the food industry’s ways. I did give up beef one year ago, along similar lines of reasoning, but could not fathom giving up anything more (this fear driven by a love of bacon). But her youth and drive to make a difference was very inspiring. I have a lot of friends who have gone pescatarian. Additionally, I know of two people who gave up meat at 8 years old. If I could be whole-heartedly against plastic, why can’t it be the same of food? I bade farewell to my far-off cousin with the promises of at least trying it. Off course, I decided to time my first week of trials with this month’s frugal challenge of vegetarian meals for one week.

The results are two-fold. Extreme sadness and ill-conceived hunger at all times. Giving up chocolate was easier than this. It’s not like I haven’t gone vegetarian for a week before. It’s just that I’ve never done it knowing there’s possibly of a week (or lifetime) or pescatarianism after. On the other side, experimental recipes galore unleashes an innate happiness that only creation can.

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Before we grocery shop, we always write a list. Firstly, because I am type-A. Secondly, because I despise wasting time in uncertainty. And lastly, to avoid getting any unnecessary items. Especially junk food and snacks! So when we were brainstorming for a week of vegetarian dishes, it was Mike who suggested trying an Indian dish. Some may call us crazy for trying a curry in mid-summer heat, but I wasn’t mad about the results. Plus, any excuse to eat rice is welcomed in my culture.

We’ve made curry before, but usually in the fall and winter, filled with squashes and, well, meat. We decided to try something a little different, with more summery ingredients. This recipe contains a good blend of spices, including bold Cayenne pepper. There’s a kick with every spoonful, balanced by Jasmine rice. It does already contain potatoes though, so if you are bothered at all by endless starches, maybe skip the rice. It tastes just as well as a soup! The carrots was Mike’s addition, and the spinach was mine. As with everything, personalize it however way you wish with your own selection of greens. Our recipe, below:

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Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup cooking oil
  • 3 heirloom tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon crushed cayenne pepper 
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 pound potatoes, peeled, and cubed
  • 1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut in 1 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1 bunch of fresh spinach, washed and chopped

The Process:

  1. In a medium pot over medium-high heat, combine the oil and tomatoes and simmer for four minutes. You don’t want to burn the tomatoes, but you do eventually want their juices to come out. The tomato paste will go a long way with this dish.
  2. Stir in the spices and cook for another 4 minutes.
  3. Add the water and potatoes and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for about 10 minutes. It may be that you’d need to add more water. Don’t let the dish dry out.
  4. Add in the green beans, cover and cook 5-8 minutes more, or until potatoes are tender.
  5. Stir in the coconut milk and increase heat to medium. Once the mixture comes to a boil, add the spinach and stir, allowing the spinach to wilt, about 15-30 seconds. I personally still like spinach looking vibrantly green. The color makes it taste better, or so I tell myself. Once the spinach is wilted, it is ready. Serve and enjoy!
  6. Optional: Globs of Jasmine Rice on the side, stray rice included.

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