Monday, June 26, 2006

Chocolate Cake Update

OK, I've been lax in posting, and I know my one reader is dying for a new post... So I just have to comment quickly on a cake I made at the end of May. Betty Crocker Triple Chocolate Fudge, made with Guinness instead of water. I feel like a bum for using a packaged mix, but I ran out of time to go shopping, and the cake mix was calling to me from the cupboard. It was quite tasty, even though I didn't get to make the ganache I had planned.

Someone needs to start packaging a two-to-four serving-size cake mix. The standard size mix, which makes a 13x19 inch pan or two 9-inch rounds, is something like 16 servings of cake. At 250 calories a serving, that's a lot for two people to go through. And then there's the frosting. I'm not even going to talk about that.

Suffice to say that this cake sat, ensconced in a non-Tupperware-brand plastic food preservation container, for at least a week and a half. At least. And when I finally threw it out, this mutant cake was showing no signs of decay. None. Not a bit of mold, not an off-odor, nothing. It seemed perfectly edible. And yet I know that it contained eggs, albeit cooked eggs; and that those eggs had been sitting out at room temperature, blended into the cake batter, for the entire duration. Of course I would never eat an egg that had been sitting out for a week and a half. There isn't even a chance I would want to -- it would clearly be rotten and smelling of sulfur. But these eggs, though some sort of Betty Crocker alchemistry, seemed safe.

What on god's green earth did they add to that mix??

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Upside Down Apple Cinnamon Rolls

My mom's been on a diet for a while now. She's doing well on it -- cutting back on simple carbs, eating more whole grains and veggies... you know, that whole "healthy lifestyle" thing.

So, like any good daughter would, I decided to make make some nice, gooey cinnamon rolls for Mother's Day. I started out with good intentions; I was going to whip up some low fat, whole grain rolls sweetened with applesauce and whole fruit. A health-fooder's delight.

Then I remembered how much trial and error it takes to get those puppies to taste right. I decided I'd better stick with something a little more tried-and-true, at least until I have time to do a test batch. I still wanted to get that fresh fruit in there, though, so I decided to do an apple-cinnamon-filled roll with a carmelized apple topping.

I modified an apple strudel recipe for the filling, and switched up the directions for sticky buns to make the topping. The result is delicious without being too sweet. Of course, you could always use a more traditional sticky bun topping if you really need that extra hit of sugar in the mornings.

I combined two dough recipes to create the one below -- one was pretty low in fat, the other very high. I think I reached a pretty good compromise. If you want a richer dough, you could always throw in some more butter or an extra egg. Just add enough flour to compensate. You could also make this with a wider variety or larger quantity of whole grain flour. I used just a touch of spelt to add some nutiness and body to the rolls, and I think it was definitely preferable to straight white flour. You could use any grain, though; I just happened to have spelt lying around at the time.

Yes... spelt. I don't call myself a culinary deviant for nothing.


First, make a sponge so your yeast can grow strong and happy:

1 packet yeast
½ cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
½ cup flour

Let the sponge rise until you see the bubbles begin to sag. At that point, stir in a few tablespoons of flour to perk it up again. Repeat this process for two or three cycles. You could also leave the sponge out overnight to mature, if you were so inclined. It improves the texture and flavor of your rolls, but I didn’t leave myself enough time to do this.


¼ cup butter
¼ cup milk
2 eggs
1 tsp salt
¼ cup sugar
½ cup whole grain spelt flour
4-5 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

Heat butter and milk together until the butter melts. Pour the mixture into a large bowl, then beat in the eggs, sugar, and salt. Stir in the sponge and the spelt flour. Add white flour cup-by-cup until dough comes away cleanly from the sides of the bowl. As soon as you can handle the dough without it sticking to your hands, knead it briefly on a floured surface. The dough should be very soft and pliable.

Put the dough in an oiled bowl and roll it to coat it in oil. Let it rise about 45 minutes. While it is rising, prepare your filling and topping.


3 apples, very thinly sliced
3 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. cinnamon
4-10 cardamom pods, crushed
2 tsp lemon rind, grated
¼ cup brown sugar
1/2 cup raisins
¼- ½ cup rum

Soak raisins in rum in a small dish.
Sautee the apples in butter and brown sugar until the sugar has dissolved and the apples are soft. Stir in lemon rind, cinnamon and cardamom to taste. Add raisins and remaining rum. Cook until rum evaporates.

½ apple, thinly sliced
2-3 Tbs. Butter
½ cup brown sugar (approximately)
1 Tbs. Cinnamon


Preheat oven to 375 °

Using about 2 Tbs of butter (you could easily use more), liberally butter an 8x8 or 9x9 in. square pan, leaving blobs of butter over the bottom surface. Add enough brown sugar to coat the pan to ¼ in. deep. Lay sliced apples evenly over brown sugar. Sprinkle with the cinnamon, and add a bit more brown sugar over the top.

To make the rolls:

On either lightly floured wax paper, or a piece of sheet or t-shirt that has been saturated in flour, roll your dough out in a rectangle about ½ in. thick. Spread the cooked apple filling over the dough, covering as close to the edges as possible.
To roll the dough, pick up one of the long edges of the wax paper or fabric and lift it upwards. The dough should begin to curl down on itself and form -- you guessed it -- a roll. Roll the dough all the way up, like a jelly roll, and cut into 9 equal pieces.

Put the dough pieces into your prepared pan, cut side up. It’s fine if they squish against each other. Let rise an additional 45 minutes, or until doubled. If you want to cook them fresh in the morning, cover loosely and place in refrigerator overnight.


Bake for 30-40 minutes, until lightly browned. To serve, invert onto serving plate. The caramelized apples will make a sticky, gooey topping without the need for icing. Eat these rolls immediately. They are delicious and moist fresh out of the oven, but keep only about a day at most. My leftovers started drying out by evening.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Welcome... to the Meatrix

I was browsing through 101Cookbooks the other day, and ran across a visitor comment about

Upon seeing the word Meatrix, I immediately flashed back to my days as a vegan activist. When The Matrix hit video, I remember desperately trying to make an analogy between today's factory farms and the human farms in the Matrix. This adorable cartoon does it better than I ever could -- and they don't even ask you to give up meat! They just ask you to consider where your meat is coming from and who you choose to support with your dollar.

It really is something worth considering. God knows I buy my share of non-local produce and meats; but, when I sit down and think about it, I really should make more of an effort to join the "Eat Locally" movement.

Just the other day I stopped into a little Mexican market down the street from my apartment to pick up a lemon. "Yeah," you say, "big deal. It was probably closer than heading all the way to a big grocery store, right?"

Well, OK, it was closer. I didn't feel like dealing with parking. I was really doing it out of laziness. But this lemon -- this lemon I found was actually from someone's tree! I could tell -- it hadn't been treated, waxed, or made-up in any way. It was smallish, but perfectly thin-skinned and juicy. I paid a quarter for it, took it home and zested it. It was amazing.

And then I had to pause and consider that it seemed ODD to me that this lemon had simply grown on a tree in someone's yard. It never got dunked in a chemical bath. Never got waxed. The store owner didn't have to pay someone for it -- he probably picked it and brought it in. That's really how this whole food thing is supposed to work, isn't it? And yet to find something -- in a store, as opposed to a farmers' market -- that is being sold by the original grower is so unusual. It's sad, and yet so ingrained that I don't even think about it anymore...


Originally uploaded by Kristal Images.
I actually made this asparagus a few weeks ago, but had trouble getting the picture up. I think I sauteed it briefly and then splashed some water in the pan to finish steaming it. Sadly, by the time I was done documenting its creation, my tender, perfectly prepared breakfast was ice cold.

It was delicious anyway.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Goulash? Yes, please!

Roots and Grubs mentioned Gulyas Alla Triestina today. "It’s beef stew with pancetta, red wine, lots of onions, and smoked paprika," he says. Sounds delicious -- all my favorite staple ingredients in one dish! I went hunting for a recipe and found both the recipe and a new blog to latch onto.

My problem is that, although I want to try this immediately, it's getting warmer again. Contrary to popular belief, there are seasons in LA -- warm and warmer-- and the heat of an oven isn't exactly welcome on most summer evenings. I'll have to keep an eye on the weather for an appropriately cool night to try this.

In the meantime, I'll be working on Mother's Day breakfast. I think I'll be doing whole grain cinnamon rolls that I can bring over on Saturday night to rise and then pop in the oven on Sunday morning. They're a great standby, but with so many options for potential breakfast pastries, they seems too obvious. Any suggestions?

Friday, May 05, 2006

Corn Bread Pudding

I opened my fridge today, and found myself staring at half a pan full of 3-day old cornbread, which was starting to resemble a large, square hockey puck. I'd used half a bag of cornmeal to get to this point, so I wasn't about to throw it out. Remembering that bread pudding recipes usually call for "day old bread," I decided to try a new twist on an old favorite.

The cornbread I started with was from the "Southern style cornbread" recipe in the latest edition of Joy of Cooking. For those who are unfamiliar with the technicalities of cornbread (Technicalities? Cornbread? Yes, believe it or not...) Southern cornbread is made with stone ground corn meal, buttermilk, a dab of bacon grease and some salt. Oh, and baking powder for "leavening" -- as if there were any hope of making something this thick and heavy rise. No sugar, no white flour. It tasted EXACTLY like cornmeal (shocking, isn't it!) and was very dry. I attribute this to my brilliant decision to use powdered buttermilk and water instead of the real thing. I'll have to try again later with an actual dairy product.

So, my already-dry cornbread had grown increasingly so over the past few days, and the time finally came to send it on to greener pastures. I modified a recipe for bread pudding and one for "Indian pudding" and came up with the following. It is light and fluffy at the bottom, almost like a custard, with chunks of dense cornbread browned at the top. If you use more cornbread or cornmeal than called for in the recipe, you will end up with a heavier dessert.

Because I used stone ground cornmeal throughout, the cornbread bits are chewy and more "rustic" in texture, but if you used a finely-ground cornmeal you could achieve a more velvety effect. By the way, sorry for the rather blurry pic. I brought this into work and had to document it with a digital point and shoot that's approximately older than I am...

Update: Somehow, in the course of my numerous edits and struggle to get the photo up, I deleted the recipe. Naturally, I don't have it written down anywhere, so I'll have to wait until next time...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Welcome to my Adventure

I've been waxing creative in the kitchen again, and I want to try my hand at food photography, so I said to myself, "Hell, why not share your life on the internet?"

Outside of potential stalkers, and visions of obsessed fans screaming: "If I can't have you, no one can!" while beating me about the head with endive and cauliflower, I couldn't think of any reasons, so here I am.