There are hints of both the blessed and the accursed about some Sundays. The good parts, of course, are obvious. A day of worship for many. A day of rest. It is a day of sleeping in, and long breakfasts, and lolling and lounging and hot baths and long runs and maybe even a nap.
All good. All very good. But there is this whiff of despair in the air some Sundays, or maybe it’s just me, looking ahead and counting the dwindling hours of freedom and ease.
Instead of staying in the pleasant now of couch and cat and book I start doing mental arithmetic: this many hours until I need to get ready for work tomorrow, and then get to bed and then get up and go to work and oh, my week is going to be so busy, and I don’t want to go to work, not yet … and there I am, dreading Monday morning instead of living Sunday afternoon. I’m sure I smell a whiff of brimstone in the air, possibly hear the echo of devilish laughter.
But you know what helps drive back the darkness? A little time spent in the kitchen – not hurrying, just flowing with the chopping and stirring. And then a good meal, like this summer-y tart. Yes, the leftovers will be good for lunch on Monday afternoon, too. But don’t think about Monday while you are making it.
Asparagus and Caramelized Onion Tart
1 shortcrust tart shell
1 large onion
1 teaspoon olive oil
15 ounces whole milk ricotta
1/4 cup cream
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 tsp salt
several grinds of pepper
1-2 tablespons/small handful of fresh parsley, minced fine
15-20 stalks of asparagus, ends trimmed
drizzle of olive oil
1. You will need a tart shell that is approximately 10 inches wide for this recipe. Buy one, take one out of the freezer, or use your favorite shortcrust recipe to create one from scratch. Whichever way, you’ll need it rolled out and pressed into a pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Coarsely chop onion. In a sauté pan or wok over medium heat, stir onions in 1 teaspoon of olive oil, then cook very, very slowly until caramelized – at least half an hour, stirring occasionally. Add a splash of water every now and then if needed to keep onions from frying/burning/overbrowning. They are done when they are soft, golden brown, and smell sweet.
3. Meanwhile, prebake the tart shell for 10 minutes, then remove from oven.
4. Vigorously stir together ricotta, cream, egg, lemon zest, parsley, salt and pepper. Pour into tart shell. Top ricotta mixture with caramelized onions, distributed evenly. Arrange asparagus spears on top of onion layer. Drizzle very lightly with olive oil.
5. Place tart pan on a baking sheet and place in oven. Bake for 30 minutes, then check periodically and remove from oven when ricotta is set, asparagus looks cooked, and tart is generally golden brown on top.
Editor's note: In Praise of Leftovers posted the recipes for these cookies on Mother's Day. We thought the mother's wisdom and recipe were just too good to wait another year before we shared them with Stir It Up! readers. Besides, every day is a good day to thank Mom, and have a fresh cookie, hot out of the oven.
These really are worth reading about. Stay on the line.
As you must know by now, food is the way for me to talk about everything else. And since tomorrow is Mother's Day, I've got a few things on my mind.
As I've become a mother, I've found I have really mixed feelings about Mother's Day. I look forward to the cards my kids make me, and if I'm lucky Wyatt will write me a poem. I look forward to lounging around in the morning and sometimes reminiscing about having babies or what life was like before half of my budget went to Target.
There should be a Women's Day instead of Mother's Day. A day to honor whatever thoughtful choices we have made in our lives.
Deciding not to be a mother is full of integrity. And brave. Our culture puts so much emphasis – overtly and subtly – on motherhood as the fulfillment of womanhood. I have been blessed, over and over again, by women in my life who are not mothers. They have more energy for their work in the world. They seem less distracted, and they have a lot of love left for my children!
The maternal spirit comes in many forms. It's in godmothers and godfathers. It's in anyone who lovingly takes care of children for a living or as a favor. It shows whenever there's care for another person. It shows in our care for our pets, too. You don't have to actually be a mother to experience all that love going around.
My children don't owe me anything. I don't need to be thanked for bringing them into the world.
The biggest reward of motherhood is the relationships. And that can come in so many ways other than motherhood! No matter how it comes, it's still something we have to choose every day. I could co-habitate with my children, feed and clothe them, AND go to all their soccer games and still not really be in a relationship with them. You can be a loving aunt on the other side of the country and REALLY have a relationship if you're take the time for it. Surprise! Intention is the key. There are so many ways to have deep, intentional relationships with children or others in our lives, but it all requires work.
Happy Mother's Day to my mom. Thank you for all the beautiful picnics our family went on, and your love of surprises. Thank you for being there when my children were born and being a fantastic grandparent. Thank you for your great style, your appreciation of beauty, and bringing the party with you wherever you go. I love you.
Happy Mother's Day to these cookies. How's that for a transition? I really wouldn't mind being a direct descendent of these chewy, spicy, morsels. That wouldn't be a bad lineage. And, fittingly, these are my Mom's chocolate chip cookies with some variations.
Salted Chocolate Cookies with Ginger and Coconut
This dough needs to be refrigerated, so plan ahead a bit. No mixer needed here. As with most cookies, watch them very carefully in the oven and take them out before they look done.
2 cups old fashioned oats
1-3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg plus one egg yolk
1 cup (2 sticks) melted unsalted butter, cooled
1 cup unsweetened coconut chips (large flakes)
1/2 package (or more) dark chocolate chips
1/3 cup chopped candied ginger
Some flaked salt for tops
1. Combine oats, flour, salt, soda, and sugars in medium mixing bowl. Add egg, egg yolk, and cooled melted butter and stir until almost combined.
2. Add coconut, chocolate chips, and ginger, and stir until just mixed. Refrigerate dough for an hour.
3. Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
4. Form dough into balls (about 2 tablespoons per ball) and set onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Press a bit of flaked salt into the tops of each cookie.
5. Bake for 9-11 minutes, or until they're just baked. Remove from oven and cool.
Related post on In Praise of Leftovers: Apricot espresso chocolate chip cookies
Memorial Day is coming and marks the official start of summer party season. Millions of people will be firing up the grill for the long weekend and beyond, and here in the South, they’ll be making endless pitchers and jugs of ice cold sweet tea to keep things cool. So I decided to combine the two for the perfect summer meal.
I’ve always found that brining is a great tool when cooking pork on the grill. It keeps a meat that can quickly dry out juicy and tender. I have seen many recipes for brining various meats in tea, and they’ve made me curious. But I wanted to take that sweet tea flavor one step further, giving the pig the full Southern treatment. There’s a subtle flavor infused through the meat, but it is the sweet and tangy glaze that takes it up that extra notch.
So fire up the grill and brew up a pitcher and celebrate summer Southern style.
Grilled sweet tea glazed pork chops
For the chops:
4 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt
4 black tea bags
4 sprigs fresh mint
4 boneless center cut pork chops
1. Stir 2 cups of water, the sugar and salt together in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt.
2. Remove from the heat and add the tea bags and mint. Leave to cool, then remove the tea and mint and stir in the remaining 3 cups of water.
3. Place the pork chops in a flat container or a ziptop bag placed on plate. Pour the cooled brine over the chops and refrigerate for eight hours, but up to 12 is fine.
For the glaze:
1-1/2 cups water
3 garlic cloves
2 black tea bags
4 sprigs fresh mint
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1. Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan with a lid. Peel the garlic cloves and crush with the flat side of a knife. Remove the pan from the heat and add the tea bags, garlic cloves and mint. Cover the pan and leave to steep for 30 minutes.
2. Fish out the tea bags, garlic and mint, then add the brown sugar and vinegar and return to medium high heat. Cook the glaze, stirring frequently, until reduced by a little more than half and thick and syrupy, about 20 minutes. Keep the glaze warm over low heat.
3. Heat the grill to high heat, then place the pork chops on the grates. Cook for about five minutes on one side, then flip to the other side. Don’t flip the chops until they easily lift off the grates.
4. Lower the heat, over the grill and finish cooking the chops until cooked through, about 10 minutes, to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F. In the last few minutes of cooking, brush on a thick coat of glaze, then finish cooking. When the chops are done, brush with another coat of glaze, then remove to a platter. Tent with foil and let rest for 5 minutes.
Serve the chops immediately, with more glaze spooned over the top.
To cook in the oven, heat a grill pan or cast iron skillet to high and sear the chops on each side, brush with a little glaze, then transfer to a preheated 400 degrees F oven. Cook until 145 degrees F. internal temperature. Remove from the oven, and brush with a little more glaze. Tent with foil and let rest for 5 minutes.
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Here is the dilemma:
Our family goes through a lot of salsa, mostly because one of the sacred rites around here is Sunday night nachos. (You should try it. Ten minutes, everyone loves it, and it's sometimes in front of the TV – heaven.) I hate chopping and seeding mealy tomatoes. It's a lot of work for a disappointing result. There is some delicious fresh salsa out there, but the kind I really like is $6 for a small tub! Wyatt and Yancey would slurp that in 10 seconds. And canned salsa has never floated my condiment boat. Too sweet, flat, or weird.
Enter "Almost-fresh salsa," a recipe given to me by Emily who got it from her ex-boyfriend who got it from his mom. And you guessed it – it uses canned tomatoes. I cannot keep enough canned tomatoes in the house. I've heard the packaging makes them bad for you, but have plugged my ears on that public service announcement. You only live once, right? If I don't smoke or eat fast food, I can be crazy and use canned tomatoes.
This salsa meets my criteria of tasting good. Who cares if something is fresh but it tastes horrible! Or if it's "all natural" but you can only choke down a spoonful. About to step onto a soapbox here, but some of the recipes floating around on Pinterest or Foodgawker look absolutely awful. I'd rather have a banana for every meal than concoct some of the "good-for-you" things out there. (Speaking of bananas and Pinterest, this post is really funny.)
And if you have a salsa soapbox, you know I'd love to hear about it.
If you double or tripe this recipe (not a bad idea), don't double or triple the garlic. It will be inedible the next day. Maybe add just a tiny bit more. And you'll notice this doesn't have any lime. The acidity balance is perfect without it.
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained
1 seeded jalapeno (or to taste)
1 garlic clove
Big handful chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup finely sliced green onions
In the bowl of a food processor (or by hand), chop the garlic and jalapeno. Add the drained tomatoes and pulse a few times until salsa reaches desired consistency (slightly chunky, not a puree.) Remove tomato mixture from bowl and add cilantro, green onion, and salt to taste.
Related post on In Praise of Leftovers: Tomato Confit
So, you remember how I always say I only eat one taste test piece of whatever I make and give the rest away, even if it turned out and I like it? If something is really good, I might indulge in a second piece the next day but it would have to be pretty fantastic to warrant a second taste. So it might be something of an endorsement if I tell you I ate three pieces of this in the same afternoon. Yup, three.
The first piece practically made my eyes roll to the back of my head in gastronomic bliss. The second piece also went down easy. I probably had pushed it too far by the time I finished the third piece and a couple of hours later and I remembered why I usually eat only one (or two) pieces of something really good. But still, no regrets.
If you like bananas in any way, shape, or form, you must make these bars. I don't usually endorse something so wholeheartedly as I know we all have different tastes but seriously, try these! If you don't have overripe bananas on hand, go out right now and buy the most ripe bananas you can find then let them sit on your counter until they turn black. The wait might be tortuously long but let that be a lesson to you to have overripe bananas on hand for baking emergencies like this. Although now that I've used up all my overripe bananas, I have to start the cycle over because I am so making these again
If anything nonchocolate could be fudgy, that's how I would describe the texture of these bars. Don't overbake them or else they'll be more cakey than "fudgy" but don't underbake them too much either since bananas already add a lot of moisture to whatever they're baked in and you don't want it mushy or gooey but "fudgy." I baked mine to the point that the bottoms were still a bit dense but the top half was just perfect.
And once again, I have to say the frosting was perfect for these bars. Even if you don't like frosting, don't skip it! I ended up using only three cups of powdered sugar rather than four since I didn't want the frosting to be too sweet. When you make the frosting, be sure to whisk it well over the stove to emulsify the brown butter in with the rest of the ingredients.
When you spread it over the hot banana bread bars, the butter will tend to separate as the frosting sets. Just blot it carefully with a paper towel to absorb it. It'll look better once it cools not to have pools of separated butter on top. I didn't try these until they were completely cool. If I'd had a piece when they were warm, they might've been a bit gooey for me. But once at room temperature, they were perfect.
The frosting does set once the bars are cool. If you want to stack pieces on top of each other, separate the layers with wax paper or else the moist bottoms of the bars on top will stick to the frosting of the bars beneath them (I discovered that the hard way).
Banana bread bars
Adapted from Life's Simple Measures
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup butter, softened
1-3/4 cups (three or four) ripe bananas, mashed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional, I left them out)
Brown butter frosting
1/2 cup butter
3-4 cups powdered sugar (I only used 3 cups)
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons milk
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 9 by 13 inch pan with aluminum foil and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray. For the bars, in a large bowl, beat together sugar, sour cream, butter, and eggs until creamy. Blend in bananas and vanilla extract. Add flour, baking soda, salt, and blend for 1 minute. Stir in walnuts, if using.
2. Spread batter evenly into pan. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
3. Meanwhile, for the frosting, heat butter in a large saucepan over medium heat until boiling. Let the butter fat solids turn a delicate brown and remove from heat immediately.
4. Add powdered sugar, vanilla extract and milk. Whisk together until smooth (it should be thicker than a glaze but thinner than frosting). Using a spatula, spread the brown butter frosting over the warm bars (the frosting will be easier to spread while the bars are still warm). If the butter separates from the frosting, blot carefully with a paper towel. Cool completely before cutting.
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Kimchi is a living thing –beautiful, colorful, naturally fermented cabbage, rich with garlic, red pepper, fiber, and vitamins. When I opened the jar of kimchi to make this pancake, it began bubbling around the edges of the liquid in a very satisfying way.
We first thought of making this pancake a few weeks ago, when we were passing through Rochester, N.Y., and had dinner at Young’s Korean Restaurant. And if you ever happen to be in that part of the world, get your GPS to take you there (and you’ll need it).
Young’s is cozy and welcoming, but it is located kind of beyond a dreadful strip mall, in the confusing middle of an office park, in what looks like a warehouse on: Mushroom Boulevard. It is just wonderful. Everything we had that night was delicious, the banchan were crunchy and fresh and the humblest dish of all was this simple pancake. It was so unassuming, and yet so flavorful, that I just had to give it a try.
As with every traditional recipe, there are hundreds of variations on it around the Internet, but they all share one thing in common: speed and simplicity. This is a terrific weeknight dinner or weekend quick lunch. It is fast, simple, inexpensive, healthy and amazingly savory. It comes together in a few minutes and then cooks in under 15 minutes. If you have all the ingredients in the house, and these are pretty basic ingredients, you’ll be eating dinner in less than half an hour.
Traditionally, this pancake is made not with wheat flour but with dried mung beans, soaked and then puréed. When I started looking for recipes, though, I found that almost everyone, Korean or not, uses wheat flour, so I happily went with that.
Kimchi is now widely available in metropolitan areas around the United States. We got ours at the Korean market in our neighborhood, but even Whole Foods carries it in many stores (it will be in the refrigerator section). If possible, I recommend getting it at a Korean store, where it will be as fresh as possible. Because it’s a living thing, kimchi doesn’t have a durable shelf life. It won’t be hanging around like your jars of mustard do. A month in your fridge is too long. It should be fresh and consumed within a couple of weeks of purchase. (See Kitchen Notes for additional uses.) For this recipe, I bought the smallest jar, which was a quart. I could have bought a gallon jar, and if I had gone to H Mart, I could have had an even more dazzling selection of brands.
This recipe makes a 12-inch pancake that is suitable for a light dinner for two or as a snack or side for three or four. If you are a vegan, omit the egg and the chicken – just use a bit more water in the batter and all kimchi. You can also add anything else you might like – cooked sweet potato is awesome in here. Just try not to overdo it on the additions, so that it remains a pancake and not a clump of mysterious objects lightly cloaked with glue.
I used chives for this because the chives have come up in the yard and we were out of scallions. Scallions are far more authentic and are available year round. For the spicy dipping sauce, I was too lazy to chop garlic (and that is lazy), so I went with a traditional Chinese spicy dipping sauce instead.
Finally, this dish is pretty addictive. I made this on Saturday night and then again in a slightly different version on Sunday night. On Monday, at the office, I wondered what we were having for dinner. I thought, I hope it’s kimchi pancake.
Korean kimchi pancake with chicken
Serves 2 as a light meal, 4 as a side
For the pancake:
1-1/2 to 2 cups kimchi or 1 cup of kimchi and 1/2 cup chopped cooked chicken
1 egg, beaten
1 cup flour 1 cup water (maybe more)
3 tablespoons kimchi liquid
3 tablespoons chives cut into 2 inch pieces (or use green part of scallions)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons oil
For lazy Marion’s dipping sauce:
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 rice wine vinegar or white vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon hot oil (or 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes)
Make the pancake. Chop the kimchi and chicken into small pieces – this is so the ultimate result is a flat pancake and not a great miscellaneous jumble. Put the flour, beaten egg, water, and kimchi liquid into a mixing bowl and stir together. The batter should be runnier than American pancake batter – if it doesn’t seem runny enough, add even more water. Err a bit on the side of runniness rather than thickness. Once you have mixed the batter together, add in the chopped kimchi and chicken and stir everything together.
In a 12-inch nonstick pan, heat the oil over medium flame – let the pan warm up completely before you start cooking. Add the chives and sauté them for a minute. Then pour in everything else and spread it around evenly. Then leave it alone as it cooks for 4 or 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, make lazy Marion’s dipping sauce. Mix all the ingredients in a medium bowl and portion into individual small bowls for each person.
Once the pancake is nicely golden on the bottom (lift up the edge to check with your spatula), then flip the pancake and cook the other side. You can flip it using the plate trick (slide onto a plate, then hold the skillet upside down over the plate and flip it) or just flip the whole thing, exercising caution. Cook about 3 more minutes, then slide onto a serving plate or charger.
Traditionally, this pancake is sliced into long strips just before serving – we used a pizza wheel. It is great fresh from the stove. It is also great at room temperature, making it a good summertime dish, something you can cook in advance and then serve in the hot part of the day.
Commercial Korean pancake batter mixes are available in Korean markets, but we chose not to buy any. I would have bought one of the mixes if it had been based on mung beans, but all the mixes at our local market were wheat flour plus salt plus additives we didn’t want, such as sugar and preservatives. It doesn’t really save any time to use these mixes, but it does cost more.
Omitting the egg. Many versions of this recipe do not use egg at all – if you are cooking for vegans or the egg-averse, it is OK to leave it out entirely.
Other delicious add-ins. Cooked sweet potato; cooked, diced barbecue pork; well sautéed firm tofu cubes; other forms of kimchi, such as radish; diced shallot or onion; thin-sliced zucchini – for the last two, I would sauté them first until they are translucent. When you are adding in, just remember to keep the proportions of batter to additive sane.
What do you do with the rest of the kimchi? If you don’t make this recipe repeatedly until you’ve used it all, that is. After the kimchi has been in your fridge a week or two, marinate some sliced pork (or some firm tofu) in a little soy sauce for a few minutes, then sauté the kimchi, then mix them together. Simple, delicious. You can also use kimchi to top a pizza or in a grilled cheese sandwich.
Even lazier dipping sauce for the pancake? That would be soy sauce.
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The smell of bread baking in my apartment kitchen catapults me back in time into a smaller pair of shoes – those of an ungainly elementary school kid. When I would come home, my mom would often be in the kitchen. She worked from home as a freelance writer, and she made bread for us every week.
By the time I kicked off my shoes and slid onto the linoleum floor of our oven-warmed kitchen, all the petty cares of the school day (and subject-matter of the lessons) were forgotten. Some days, I'd grab an apron, wash my hands, and she'd let me knead the bread.
It was always the same recipe – one that has been in our family for generations, and is easily 100 years old.
When she was 12, my mom would make this same bread with her grandmother, "Nana Mac" – a Nova Scotia transplant who would clean her house while blasting bagpipe music from her turntable record player. I never knew her, but I imagine she said things like "ach" and "lassie" as a part of her everyday conversation. I also imagine she accessorized with a broom, and wore her hair in a bun, for some reason. Tartan features strongly in these false memories as well.
I've eaten this bread my whole life. So has my mom. Yeast, and oats, and molasses, and butter, and flour; apron strings, and linoleum, and dough – these are the smells and feelings that my family knows instinctively as comfort and safety. They fill my small apartment kitchen when I open the oven and remove the warm, brown, slightly uneven loaves. I cut off an end piece and butter it up. This place has started to feel like home.
Nova Scotia Brown Bread
You can find lots of variations of this recipe online, but this one is our family recipe. Enjoy!
1 package yeast (I use rapid rise) dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2 tablespoons shortening
1/2 cup molasses (Crosby’s from Canada is my favorite)
2 cups boiling water
1 teaspoon salt
Approx. 6 cups unbleached flour
1. Grease a large bowl.
2. Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes.
3. Put oats, shortening, molasses, and salt in a large bowl.
4. Pour boiling water over all, and stir to melt shortening.
5. Stir in 1 to 2 cups of flour. Add yeast mixture, and continuing adding flour to make a stiff dough.
6. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead. Shape dough into a ball and place it in the greased bowl.
7. Cover with a clean dishtowel and let rise in a draft-free place until double in size.
8. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead again. Cut dough in half, and shape each half into a loaf.
9. Place in greased loaf pans and let rise again, until dough crests the top of the pans.
10. Bake at 375 degrees F. for 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from pans, butter the tops of the loaves, and allow to cool on racks.
Eat it warm for best results.
I am not a vegan and the fact that these cupcakes are is purely coincidence. But it's definitely a happy coincidence for those of you who are vegans 'cause these suckers are good!
I was looking for an easy, moist, not too intensely chocolatey cupcake recipe to make for my son's fourth birthday last week. I read a lot of different recipes before I hit on this one from Simply Recipes. It sounded perfect – simple, moist, and not too rich for my little guy's young taste buds.
This recipe reminds me of the first cake I ever baked as a kid (of course it was chocolate). I must have been about 9 or 10 and I remember it because the cake recipe in my kids' cookbook called for vinegar which struck me as odd even then. But it totally works!
It's no accident that this type of recipe was in a kids baking cookbook – the recipe is so simple and easy that a child can make it. No eggs to crack and beat, no butter to soften or melt – all you need to do is measure and mix!
I think the coffee in the recipe is essential to the flavor so don't skip it although you can use decaf if you're worried about the caffeine (I really would not worry about it unless you know from past experience that you're extremely sensitive to caffeine in baked goods).
I've included links to some frosting recipes (including a vegan option) below but I have not tested any of these. I would include my own frosting recipe but I don't use an actual recipe – I usually just melt chocolate chips, butter, a little heavy cream, confectioner's sugar and vanilla extract in a double boiler and whisk until it's smooth, adding what always feels like a shocking amount of powdered sugar throughout the process.
One note on the yield, Elise's recipe says it makes 12 cupcakes but I've made it twice now (it's that good!) and I feel that 12 is a little optimistic unless you want pretty small cupcakes. Ten is probably more realistic if you're shooting for a normal-sized cupcake.
But I've nattered on quite long enough. Without further ado, I give you the world's simplest, moistest chocolate cupcake recipe. And vegan to boot!
Easy, moist (vegan) chocolate cupcakes
Via Simply Recipes
Makes 10 cupcakes (or 12 fairly small ones) - if you want to make a cake, double the recipe and cook in two 8-inch round cake pans for 35-40 minutes
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup organic cane sugar (I use vanilla sugar – it adds an extra yum factor)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup of medium strength brewed coffee
1 teaspoon white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 tablespoons (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) olive oil
Unbleached cupcake liners (I prefer to use unbleached paper liners as I suspect some of the bleach must get transferred to the wet batter as it heats up.)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners (you can also grease the tin instead but the liners are definitely easier and will prevent anything from sticking.)
2. Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl until there are no visible clumps. If you've got particularly clumpy cocoa or sugar, you can always sift the dry ingredients into the bowl, too.
3. In a small to medium-sized bowl, mix together the coffee (or water plus coffee granules), vinegar, vanilla extract, and olive oil.
4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir just to combine (mixture will be rather lumpy.)
5. Ladle the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about two-thirds of the way full. Put in the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
6. Remove from oven and cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove from the pan and let cool completely on a rack. Once cool, frost with the frosting of your choice and serve.
A few frosting options if you don't have one you like already (but please note that I haven't tried these recipes):
Buttercream frosting (though I have to warn you that I practically had a heart attack just looking at the ingredients — it calls for 4 sticks of butter and 2 pounds of sugar just to frost 24 cupcakes or one 9-inch cake)
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I’m craving a juicy beef burger! Correction. A juicy beef burger with fries. You gotta love those “comes out of nowhere food cravings.” I mean really, I never crave a burger. Never.
But you know how cravings go? They rarely go away unless you give in. At least a little.
I guess I could have gone with a veggie burger, but in my experience, there’s nothing “juicy” about a veggie patty. Sure they’re delicious but never juicy. Maybe moist at best. I could have driven into town. It’s a 2-1/2-hour round trip drive. And to be honest, I might have if the craving had been strong enough. The good news is I had a moment of sanity. I decided to stay put and deal with it in a more healthy way.
I decided to go with mushroom vegan sloppy Joes. Nowhere near a burger, I know, but I thought I’d give it a try. After all, there’s not ground meat of any kind anywhere near me, while I'm camped out in this fire tower cottage. I don’t know if you’ve tried this before but it was delicious. Like, really good.
So good in fact, I kind of surprised myself. Sure I thought a meatless sloppy Joes would be OK. I mean, after all, all the ingredients going in were good on their own. I wasn’t doubting that it would be tasty, but I wasn’t prepared for mouth watering, juicy goodness wrapped up in a bun!
I had this for three meals straight and was feeling a little disappointed when it was all gone. I would have made more if I had more mushrooms. Crisis has be averted. Burger craving satiated, at least for now. I know you were all worried about me, but we can all sleep well tonight. Phew.
This vegan/vegetarian sloppy Joes recipe is perfect if you’re a mushroom lover, but I think my hubby would even have enjoyed this, and he is not exactly a mushroom-loving freak like me. Even if you’re not a mushroom fanatic, I think you could probably do this same recipe with eggplant or shredded zucchini. If you don’t do grains of any kind, consider putting this mushroom heaven in lettuce wraps.
Mushroom sloppy Joes (vegan)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups sliced mushrooms
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon grainy mustard
1 tablespoon Soya Sauce
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 cup of water
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. In a large frying pan, sauté the onions, garlic and mushrooms together. Once the onions soften, add the remaining ingredients. Continue to cook until the mushrooms are tender, about 15 minutes. Add water as necessary if the mixture becomes dry. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
2. Add the mixture to your favorite bun and any topping you enjoy. I added avocado slices and spinach.
3. If you have leftovers, reheat in a pan, adding a few tablespoons of water. The mushrooms do absorb the liquid, so a little water will be required to keep these vegan sloppy Joes saucy!
Roasted potato and tomato salad with crispy capers and dill
For 2 as a main, or 4 as a side
This is a simple, yet complimentary flavor pairing that is sure to win you over. No heavy creamy dressing here, just good quality olive oil, lemon juice, smoked paprika and dill. I’ll have a hard time thinking of potato salad any other way from now on.
12 baby potatoes, halved
16 grape tomatoes, pricked with a fork
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons capers
1/4-1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika (Spanish or Hungarian are nice)
Salt and pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
Salt and pepper to taste
Lemon wedges to serve
Spinach (great if eating it as a main, but optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. In a large bowl, toss the potato halves, tomatoes and garlic with olive oil. Sprinkle with paprika and plenty of salt and pepper. Place the vegetables in a baking pan and roast for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, add the capers to the pan of potatoes and tomatoes. Continue to roast for 20-25 minutes, until potatoes have started to turn golden and the tomatoes have started to burst and the skin wrinkled.
2. To serve, toss the potatoes and tomatoes (be gentle not to damage the tomatoes) with the lemon juice, a heavy drizzle of olive oil, fresh herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Serve on a bed of spinach or as is. Serve with one or two lemon wedges.
Note: If you’re a big fan of dressing and are serving it with spinach, feel free to toss the spinach in a light lemon vinaigrette before serving.
Related post on Beyond the Peel: How To Make Tasty Vietnamese Fresh Rolls
“Bong – how much farther?” Our oldest son, Roswell, was asking our tuktuk driver how much longer we’d be bouncing along this potholed dirt road somewhere in Cambodia. In Khmer (pronounced “k’MAI,”), you address any male older than you as “bong”: it means “older brother.”
We were heading toward a pepper plantation that the driver had assured us he knew how to find. There were five of us jammed into the tuktuk – a four-passenger cart pulled by a motorcycle. (It’s like riding in an escaped carnival ride.) We’d left the riverside city of Kampot in southern Cambodia far behind; past the city center with its giant statue of a durian fruit, past endless low shops lining either side of the asphalt road, and onto a dirt track. We had been bouncing along like this for maybe 20 minutes.
“Ten minutes,” the driver said.
We passed small neat farms, with one-story houses up on stilts, Brahma cows strolling by or lying down, and strutting long-legged chickens. Emerald-green swaths of – something. Is that what rice looks like? Little children wearing shorts would wave vigorously as we chugged past and shout “Hello!” They seemed delighted to make a connection. Their lively greetings sounded like bird calls.
But now the landscape was getting scruffier, more hilly. There was more exposed red dirt, and no farms. Where was he taking us?
Ten minutes later we passed a sign for the Starling Farms pepper plantation, and soon bumped to a halt. We’d arrived, our driver indicated, and pointed down the slope. I saw rows of what looked like evenly spaced green towers. As we got closer, we saw that the towers were openwork brick columns, like chimneys, about 10 feet tall. They were wrapped in lush green vines – pepper plants, which in the wild wrap around the trunks of trees. We spotted the green berries, peppercorns, clumped in strings about three inches long. Most of the berries were small and green, but a few – no more than three per clump – were red.
The rows of towers stretched into the distance. We saw a few workers, wearing the typical Khmer head cloths, hoeing among the towers.
“Be careful of the ants,” our driver warned. Leaf-weaver ants can sting, but they also attack other insects. On this certified organic farm, we learned later, further insect control was achieved by soaking in water the leaves of a weed that grows naturally among the plants, and then spraying the concoction on the plants; it’s a natural insect repellent. Workers rub the leaves on their arms to keep biting insects away. All the fertilizer used is organic, too: cow dung, bat guano (from nearby caves), small fish, plant matter – and more of the insect-repelling weeds. The fertilizer is composted anaerobically in big underground pits, then spread on the plants.
We could go up to the gift shop, our driver said. And just as we approached a rather grand-looking two-story stone home, someone driving a big Land Rover pulled up – the owner, it turned out. The gift shop was the front room of his house, which overlooked the plantation in the valley below. It seemed a beautiful, tranquil spot.
“I originally bought the land as a getaway from Phnom Penh,” said owner Mark Hanna, a CPA originally from Derry, Ireland. He mostly lives and works in the city, a grueling four-hour drive. In fact, the roads were so bad that he’d considered buying a helicopter, he said, to get back and forth more easily. He’d also considered buying a brick factory – and now wished that he had. He’d needed a million bricks to make the pepper towers. And now, with building in nearby Vietnam booming, the cost of bricks had gone up 1,000 percent. His wife, Anna (“to be honest,” Mark said, “she does all the work”), who is Cambodian, plans to expand the plantation. But they’d be using cheaper, less durable wooden towers this time.
“See that white house over there?” Mark said, as we continued chatting. He was pointing far out to the right. “That was the Khmer Rouge headquarters for southeastern Cambodia.”
This used to be a dangerous place, indeed. Before the murderous reign of the Maoist Khmer Rouge, American B-52s had plastered the valley with bombs in an attempt to disrupt the Viet Cong’s supply routes in the late stages of the Vietnam War. The so-called Ho Chi Minh Trail had led right through this valley. It was a moonscape of craters when he got here some 13 years ago, he said, as we surveyed what was now an unbroken green expanse. He had chosen one of the craters to serve as the basement of a new outbuilding, in fact. But when the mechanical excavator hit something that went “Clunk!” all the workers had panicked and run, thinking it was an unexploded bomb. It was a bomb – but only a piece of one: the nosecone. He showed it to us; rusty, brown, and bent, but recognizable
We stood amid racks of various kinds of pepper for sale, in vacuum-sealed packets and souvenir wooden boxes and silk pouches. Pepper grinders, too. Four kinds of pepper are produced here, all from the same plant: The fresh green peppercorns, the unripe berries of the pepper plant, are good only for a few days after picking. They have a fresh, citrusy taste, not as strong as the dried black pepper. We’d tried some in the field. (Very good with seafood, we were told; especially the famous crabs caught in nearby Kep.) Riper green peppercorns are harvested from mature vines when the berries start to turn yellow. Dried in the sun on bamboo mats for a few days, they turn black, then are sterilized and packed. Dried correctly, they last many years. But once ground, they lose flavor rapidly – hence the importance of a pepper grinder. Black pepper is by far the most popular kind.
The red peppercorns on the mostly-green strings of berries (Mark called them “drupes”) are separated out by hand. Red pepper is rare, and not as well known. It has a sweeter, some say a fuller taste, and isn’t as hot as black pepper. (Shoppers beware: Some of the "red pepper" sold in supermarkets is actually a weird dried berry from Brazil.) Half the fully ripe pepper berries are sun-dried and become red pepper; half are soaked in water for a few days, which removes the reddish skin. What’s left are white peppercorns, which have a much different taste. Removing the skin removes some of the flavor components. White pepper is most often used when black or red pepper would spoil the visual effect, as in a white sauce.
Kampot is famous for its pepper, and it’s been grown here for at least 1,000 years. A Chinese traveler chronicled pepper cultivation here in 1200; the Chinese were the first to recognize the unique flavor of Cambodia's pepper, according to the Starling Farm’s website. Mark said the sought-after flavor was a product of the soil here, mostly.
His wife, Anna, cut up a mango for us while we decided what to buy. We were sort of in a hurry, now; it was a long ride back. We bought a few small bags of pepper as gifts, and a bag of mixed peppercorns for ourselves. I bought a big bag of what I thought at the time were black peppercorns – only to discover when I got back home – to my delight – that it was a big bag of dried red peppercorns.
A rare souvenir from a rare, enlightening, and bumpy trip.
Owen Thomas is the deputy editor for the weekly Monitor magazine.