Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Roadwalker Gumbo

Once upon a time, there was a Pulizer Prize-winning author, a woman who drank Jack Daniels, shot ducks and wore diamonds with equal nonchalance.  Her name is Shirley Ann Grau and she was my magical guide around New Orleans a few years back.

"I'm quite a dull, conventional person," she warned.  This was a lie.  

She picked me up in a long maroon car which in burnished memory was a Cadillac, treated me to a fancy lunch (I don't recall the food, I do recall the wine, the warm glow of chardonnay in the glass) and showed me the sights, including New Orleans' system of pumping stations and levees.  They lacked her glamour and talent to fascinate but, she said, "One of these guys breaks and it's all over." This, which she told me six months before Hurricane Katrina, turned out to be true.

Grau, now shy of 80, had lived by herself in the French Quarter in her 20s.  After her 1955 debut story collection, The Black Prince, the Klan burned a cross on her yard.  Or tried to. "They had forgotten to bring a shovel," and her hard-packed ground would not yield.  "They had to lay it down," she recalled.  "It was kind of silly."

In 1965, she won the Pulitzer for The Keepers of the House, a novel confronting race in a way genteel white women weren't supposed to do.  She'd stared down every hurricane of her life by staying put, a bottle of Jack Daniels and a shotgun by her side.  Until Katrina.

Shirley waited until mandatory evacuation, then loaded her dogs into the car and took off for Houston, where her daughter lives.  When we spoke shortly thereafter, she reported her house was ruined, the manuscript she'd been writing was lost.  On the upside, her dogs were fine, she had a new wardrobe since she'd fled like a refugee without so much as a change of clothing, the weather in Houston was lovely and she had plans to see Eugene Onegin.  

"It isn't my favorite opera, but what the heck, it's civilization."  She sounded close to her tough, resolute self but before we hung up, she confided she felt "like hell."

After that, she took off like the character Baby in her 1994 novel Roadwalkers.  She vanished, or seemed to.  I'm hoping she's back in New Orleans or has set down roots in Houston.  I'm hoping this gumbo can call her to the table from wherever she is.  
Gumbo is a dish rich in tradition and soul and everyone thinks they make the best.  Some add file' (sassafras powder) as a thickener, some add okra, many eschew both.  I don't see how you can make an okraless gumbo, since gumbo gets its name from the Bantu word nkombo, meaning okra.  With a bit of acid (lemon juice or vinegar), okra has no slime factor. It's rich in folate, fiber and vitamin A.  

I added a pound of collards because they're growing out of control in my garden.  You can add the same amount of duck, shrimp, andouiille or crawfish.  It's pretty nervy of this Miami girl to make gumbo for Shirley, but she'll appreciate the nerve, if not the gumbo. She'd no doubt add crab, duck or even squirrel she'd bagged herself, and if that's what you like, I'll show you how to do it.  Still,  I hope this vegan version sums up her spirit.  Serve over rice.  Keep the Tabasco handy.  Also the Jack Daniels. 

Roadwalker Gumbo

1/4 cup unbleached flour
1/4 cup canola oil
3 onions, chopped
3 ribs celery, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 carrots, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 pound okra
juice of 1 lemon
1 handful fresh parsley, chopped fine
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teasoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
6 cups vegetable stock
sea salt 
1 pound of collards, stems removed, sliced into thin ribbons or a pound duck meat (cooked) or seafood or sausage of your choosing

First step's making your roux -- this is key.  Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-high.  Stir in flour.  Keep stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes or so until the mixture turns the color of an old penny.  Do not saunter off. You risk roux burn.  When this happens, there's no way back but to start over.  You don't want this to happen to you.

From here on in, things ease up.  Add the onions, celery, garlic, carrots and green pepper to the roux, stirring well so the vegetables are coated.  Reduce heat to medium and allow vegetables to cook until softened, about 10 minutes.  If you're sausaging, add it now, and let it brown.

Meanwhile, rinse okra well and blot dry.  Slice into bite-sized bits and squeeze lemon juice over them.  Then add the okra to the soup pot.  Stir in well, then add vegetable stock, parsley and spices.  Bring to boil, then cover. Reduce heat to low and simmer for an hour and a half.

At this point, if you're me, you add chopped collards.  If you're Shirley or indeed most other people, this is the point where you add duck or seafood.  Cook another 10 minutes and you're good to go.

Monday, April 27, 2009


While the gumbo promised in my last post is simmering, here's some lagniappe, the Creole term for a little something extra, no charge. Walking past New Orleans' Jackson Square Friday morning, I saw this boy wearing a suit and Mardi Gras mask. Why? Who knows, but he was as utterly at ease in his outfit as I was in my t-shirt and jeans. This is why I love New Orleans. Whimsy is just part of the deal.

That sense of whimsy must have gotten hold of my husband, because he ordered bread pudding at lunch. Bread pudding is a New Orleans tradition he's never gone for. My husband has spurned bread pudding, rice pudding, tapioca pudding or any kind of pudding that is not chocolate. And yet he ordered the bread pudding with whiskey sauce at Bon Ton Cafe. It arrived, a dense, golden square in a puddle of sauce so boozy you could smell it from a table away. It made him happy. Since then, he's tried a lighter, fluffier French toast-esque bread pudding served at Creek 28 on Miami Beach. That made him happy, too. He now maintains he's never had anything against bread pudding, but I've seen him sneer at it enough times. That's why I've never bothered to make it for him. Until now.
Vegan though I am, I am a great believer in the benefit of puddings and custards. There's something nursery food about them, soft and sweet and primal. They evoke memories of childhood and for me, a bit beyond. I recall being in the infirmary with mono my freshman year of college (oh, don't ask). The clinic nurse kept bringing me bread pudding from the cafeteria. It was the only thing I could swallow.

Here is my own bread pudding recipe, which skews towards the light and fluffy. It will be a gorgeous puff when you take it out of the oven, then deflate a bit. It's received spousal approval on its own, but I've also included the whiskey sauce from Bon Ton Cafe to make the bon temps rouler. Enjoy. Now if you'll excuse me, I must get back to my gumbo.

French Toast Bread Pudding

1/2 cup raisins
1/3 cup bourbon
1 loaf brioche, challah, panetonne or other soft egg bread, crusts trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
1-1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup cream
3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Combine raisins and bourbon in a small bowl or jar and macerate for one hour or as long as overnight. Do not drain.

In a medium saucepan, pour in milk and cream and heat over medium-high heat until warm. Add sugar and whisk to dissolve. Remove pot from burner. Beat in eggs and cinnamon.

Butter a large baking dish. Place bread in dish, pour egg mixture over bread, add raisins and bourbon, mixing gently to coat.

Cover with baking lid or wrap tightly with foil and refrigerate for 4 hours or up to overnight.

Remove from fridge an hour before baking to allow pudding to come to room temperature. Then bake at 350, covered, for 1 hour. Then remove cover and return pudding to oven for 10 more minutes, so the top turns golden-brown and ever-so-slightly crusty. Remove from the oven and serve hot, warm or room temperature.

Serves 6 to 8.
Bon Ton Cafe Whiskey Sauce

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup confectioners sugar
4 tablespoons whiskey
1 egg

In the top of a double boiler over simmering water, stir together butter and confectioners sugar. Keep stirring until confectioners sugar has dissolved and the mixture becomes creamy. Do not let butter melt. Remove from heat. Whisk in the egg and continue beating to allow sauce to cool. Stir in whiskey. Spoon over pudding. Yee-hah.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Month Special: Stone Soup

Jesus, it is said, made wine from water and fashioned loaves and fishes from thin air. The rest of us must acquire foodstuff by more conventional means. But being Earth Month and all, I'm hoping miracles are on the menu.

I did not wake up on Earth Day feeling the presence of miracles, I woke up feeling jaded (a shade of green, appropriately enough). If everyone was as actively, consciously green as they say they are, we'd have our polar ice caps back. When Macy's wishes us a happy Earth Day, I'd like to believe their good intentions, but considering they recently sacked 7,000 employees, my guess is they're more concerned about saving themselves than saving the planet.

Making vegetable stock this afternoon, it dawned on me it's possible to save ourselves and the planet and money, all at the same time. This is multitasking at its best -- you get a head start on dinner, too. It's a bit like the folk tale in which a stranger comes to a village (one of your classic plotlines, by the way). There's been war, famine, poverty, in fact all the horsemen of the apocalypse have ridden through and it's made the townsfolk a little less than friendly. They suggest the man move along.

Right away, he says, but I'd like to stop for something to eat first.

Good luck, they say. You won't be finding any food here.

He smiles. No problem. Got everything I need with me. I'm in the mood for stone soup. He builds a small fire, fills a beat-up pot with water and drops in what he says in his magic soup stone.

Magic and soup are both appealing things to those suffering hardship, and within minutes, the whole ragtag village has assembled to watch. The man stirs the pot and smiles.

Love a good stone soup, he says. But you know what really makes makes stone soup special is a little bit of cabbage.

One of the villagers rescues a sorry-looking head of cabbage he was going to feed to his pigs and offers it to the stranger.

Great, the stranger says, adding the cabbage to the pot. You'll have some soup with me when it's ready, won't you?

The villager is thrilled, also hungry. He agrees.

So, says another villager. What else goes into stone soup?

Carrots are lovely, says the stranger. Perhaps an onion, a potato, and I always like to add some greens like the ones you've got growing wild around here.

Pretty soon, every person in the village has anted up a vegetable or two. Everything goes in the pot with the magic soup stone, and it all comes together to be a rich, life-sustaining soup that feeds them all. No one eats the stone, either, which would make for a very bad ending.

The moral is, we are capable of sustaining ourselves but only by working together. Which brings me back to making vegetable stock, Earth Month and being green.

Rather than tossing scraps and the odd bits of vegetables leftover from cooking, throw them all in a bag, like a gallon-sized resealable. Put scraps in bag, throw bag in freezer. Add scraps every time you chop fresh herbs, peel an onion, tear up greens for salad. Carrot, tomato and potato peels, green bean tops and tails, cabbage cores, woody broccoli stems, slightly past-its-prime produce, everything goes in the bag. When it's full and you've got a few minutes, it's stock-making time.

Dump veggie bits into a large soup pot. Add a quart of water -- a cup or two more if you've reached vegetable scrap motherlode. Put the lid on the pot, set the burner on high and let the water come to a boil. Turn off the heat, leave the pot in place for half an hour (or longer), you're done.

Meanwhile, the veggie bits and hot water coalesce, providing gorgeous vegetable broth (omnivores can do the same thing by adding leftover meat scraps and bones, but I don't need to know about it). Known as passive cooking, it may look like you're doing nothing, but you're making broth and saving energy, both yours and the electricity or gas necessary to heat the soup. Keeping on the lid means the heat doesn't escape and does the work for you.

Let the mixture cool, then strain broth. Vegetable stock can be frozen until you're ready, then use as the base for soups or stews or to add nutrients and flavor when cooking whole grains. Taste varies based on what goes into the broth. However, it's always better than the purchased stuff. There's no salt unless/until you add it. And you never have to lay out another penny for vegetable stock again. For extra points, compost cooked and cooled scraps, as long as there's no animal amongst them.

In a world of green hype, making vegetable stock is really, truly green, good for the planet, good for you and something from nothing. These days, that's miracle enough for me.

Next: gumbo yeah yeah yeahs.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Artichoke Heart of the Matter

Is this artichoke not a thing of beauty? It's from the estimable Catherine, one of my fellow volunteer instructors at Common Threads. She's working on perfecting her artichoke for an upcoming exam and was kitchen-testing a couple. She gave me one.

"I know you like vegetables," she said, shyly. I do. And I was quite undone that she remembered as much and thought of me.

Okay, it's an artichoke, not an annuity, but it touched me just the same. In these difficult days, the gift of a lovingly prepared artichoke can lift the heart (pardon the pun). Joy is not too much to ask of a vegetable. When food is prepared with care, "there's a communion that's very important -- it really is a sacrament," says John Ash, to whom I turn not just for kitchen technique but for culinary reverence.

Reverence is nothing I'm especially good at, but John ( is a wonderful teacher. After all, he was last year's Cooking Teacher of the Year, so named by the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Prior to that, cheffing at John Ash & Co. and the Vintner's Inn, he defined wine country cuisine.

John can teach you the perfect way to trim an artichoke, but to me, his real gift is in honoring food, not tarting it up to hell. So-called chef reality shows have their fans, but John says, "The chef's role is not to be the star. The chef's role is to be the stage manager. The stars are the wonderful ingredients we have available to us. Our job is to position them and get out of the way."
With a star like an artichoke, what more do you need? It's excellent for detox, high in fiber, vitamin C, folate, magnesium and potassium. It's low in calories -- about 60 for an artichoke as big as your head. It is a true flower, kin to the thistle and sunflower. An artichoke requires a bit of effort and commitment. It does not invite a casual snarfing. As you eat the goodness from each petal-like leaf, there is a peeling away, a deflowering, if you will. Buried beneath its forbidding choke lurks its delicious center, its heart. In that way, it is much like the rest of us. We hide what is tender and precious beneath a bristly exterior.

But not always. Though Catherine's artichoke looked like nature's perfect flower, she had, as I discovered, magically dechoked it. You could get straight to the heart of it. It provided joy, a bit of a life lesson and, with this roasted red pepper dip, a fantastic dinner.

Reverent Red Pepper Dip

3 roasted red peppers (the jarred kind are fine)
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
juice of 1 lemon
1 15-ounce can white beans, rinsed and drained to decrease the sodium
1 large handful of fresh basil leaves
sea salt to taste

Throw everything in the food processor or blender. Give it a whirl until smooth and creamy -- a minute tops. It's the perfect artichoke accessory. Also good with other vegetables and slathered on multigrain toast.

Makes 2 cups, serving 6.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Talking With Your Mouth Full

The Common Threads kids worked pasta dough by hand, raising clouds of flour.  They cranked the dough through the pasta maker, catching waves of fresh-cut fettucini emerging from the other end. They grated a blizzard of Parmesan as the sauce Bolognaise simmered. and would have kept going had they not worked a significant block of cheese down to a nub.  Italy Day at Common Threads and the kids were in the Zone.

While they'd enjoyed making Turkish and Thai food, tabbouleh and pad Thai were new to them. Italian food they knew, Italian food they loved.  Making noodles and meat sauce themselves doubled their delight.

But the pleasure in the making was nothing compared to the pleasure in eating.  Sauce streaked their faces, their mouths erupted with noodles, forks were forsaken in favor of fingers. Caught up in eating and talking at once, they gargled and gurgled and giggled. As the kids departed, dazed and grinning, the Common Threads coordinator muttered a note to herself -- "Table manners."

Well, yeah, in the words of Cole Porter, it ain't etiquette.  As one girl chattered on despite her mouth bulging with fettucini, I almost said something, but didn't want to be the etiquette police.  And I didn't want to break the spell, sloppy and unlovely as it might be.

Alex Kapranos, the pretty lead singer of Franz Ferdinand once told me, "The conversation you have over a meal far outshines something you'd have at a party or bar.  Some of our most romantic experiences, our most social experiences, happen over meals.  You have to talk to each other, you want to talk."

Personally, I have trouble talking and eating at the same time.  But watching the kids yesterday makes me think it's time to learn.  Marching about in the carapace of adulthood, I forget about the whole sensual delight of eating.  Yes, there's the spectacular taste of food -- a truffle omelet in Paris from my pre-vegan past stands out in muscular memory -- but there's the whole tactile full-body experience, as well.  

An apocryphal story I like has an Englishwoman in Bombay admonishing an Indian gentleman for eating with his fingers.  "We eat with silverware," she said, and you can imagine her superior tone, her pursed lips.  "Madame," he replied, "it would be like having sex through a sheet."

I'm not advocating a ban on table manners, for myself or anyone (Alex K, may I add, is a very tidy eater).  Social nicities can be learned.  Joy can't be.  Nor can it be faked.  These kids have plenty of deadly dinners with coworkers ahead of them, many dull family gatherings.  We all do. Neatness counts.  But sometimes, giving yourself over to the moment and the meal counts more.

Here's a marinara that's heavy on the veggies, light on the effort.  Chop your vegetables fine if you're of a refined nature.  Personally, I like a chunky sauce, one that's not afraid to tell you what it is.

Serve with your favorite pasta.  Eat with abandon.  Wipe your mouth.  Swallow before you speak.

Very Veggie Pasta Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped (I used a tabasco from my garden, but a jalapeno works fine)
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 zucchini or yellow squash, chopped
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1 rib celery, chopped
28 ounces diced tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine
2 bay leaves 
1 big bunch basil, chopped or torn
1 bunch Italian parsley, chopped or torn
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the chopped onion, red pepper, jalapeno, garlic, zucchini, mushrooms and celery.  Saute until vegtables are softened, about 12 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add diced tomatoes, red wine and bay leaves. Stir well and reduce heat to low.  Cover pot and let simmer for 30 minutes.  

Fish out the bay leaves, add chopped basil and parsley.  Stir well, salt and pepper to taste. Serve over pasta.

Serves 6 to 8.  Keeps for days in the fridge, freezes beautifully

Coming up next -- the (artichoke) heart of the matter.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Of Cabbages and Kings

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of Shoes -- and ships -- and sealing-wax --
Of Cabbages -- and kings --
And why the sea is boiling hot --
And whether pigs have wings."
Lewis Carroll -- "The Walrus and the Carpenter"

We may get to the winged pigs, but first, we'll talk about the economy, or as Bill Clinton said 1991, "the economy, stupid." Global financial turmoil has given rise to what has been termed consumer hyperopia -- an inability to live in the present for fear of what the future may bring. It means looking too far ahead, a Cassandra-esque catastrophizing.

In our country, folks are pulling in spending on luxury items, but upping the antidepressants and shrink visits.  In Japan, they're just cutting back. On everything. A recent New York Times story quoted a Mrs. Takigasaki, who, though not in dire financial straits, metes out her weekly yen like a  miser and frequently feeds her family cabbage.  'You can make almost anything with some cabbage, and perhaps a potato,'" says Mrs. Takigasaki, 49. 

Takigasaki-san is not far wrong.  But it's saddening to have cabbage associated with penury (yenury?) and want. It's vilified enough already, and it's such a clever crucifer, offering a lengthy shelf-life, incredible versatility and lavish nutrition.  A cup of cabbage has almost all your daily vitamin K and half your C, all for 33 calories. It's rich in antioxidants, fiber, folate and assorted B vitamins.  It's divine for detox and deserves better than to be dismissed as poverty grub. 

Mon petit chou -- my little cabbage -- is a French a term of endearment, presumably not because the French prefer their beloveds round and green, but because cabbage is darling.  And delicious.  I could easily eat it three times a week and never prepare it the same way twice. The French do a lovely chou farci (cabbage stuffed with sausage and rice or in one fancy veggie incarnation, truffled mashed potatoes).  It is stuffed in almost every other cuisine, from Eastern Europe to the Middle East. Edible, functional  and ornamental, cabbage is the perfect vessel.  

I, however, do not stuff -- be it vegetables, bras or ballot boxes.  I'll slow-roast cabbage with onions until they're sweet and carmelized and wonderfully messy.  I'll do braised cabbage with white beans, tomatoes and rosemary, it welcomes every Asian interpretation from Chinese with sesame oil, ginger, garlic and soy to Thai, with red curry paste, coconut milk and basil.  Every ethnicity loves its cabbage.  And yes, it is economical.  But hardly the food of last resort.

This is the cabbage creation I came up with last night.  When I don't know what I'm going to make for dinner, I begin with chopping vegetables.  Then I go where the spirit takes me.  It took me to the Caribbean, thanks to allspice, thyme and coconut milk.  Sacrificing my anthropomorphized cabbage to dinner was distressing (off with his head!) but delicious.  

Caribbean Cabbage and Coconut 

1 tablespoon canola or coconut oil
1 large onion, copped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 zucchini or yellow squash, chopped
1 small potato or sweet potato, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme
1 tablespoon allspice
1/2 cabbage, shredded (approximately 8 cups)
3/4 cup vegetable stock
3/4 cup light coconut milk
sea salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, heat oil over medium-high heat.  Add chopped onion, garlic, carrots, celery, jalapeno, red pepper, zucchini and potato (or sweet potato).  Saute until vegetables soften, about 10 minutes.  Add shredded cabbage and stir to coat.  When the cabbage starts to wilt, add thyme, allspice and vegetable stock.  

Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook for 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.  

Before serving, stir in the coconut milk and season to taste.  Serve with brown rice, quinoa, millet or roti.

Serves 4 to 6.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Guided by Voices

Joan of Arc heard voices instructing her to save France.  My voices say, Go the the shoe store. Bake a cake.  Less noble commands, perhaps, but easier to accomplish and less likely to result in getting burned at the stake.

I don't usually hear let alone obey disembodied voices, but when the call came on Saturday, I heeded and drove to my favorite discount shoe dive in a trance.  And lo, as though waiting for me were these shoes. Not practical, but surprisingly comfortable for the kinky things they are, and on sale, too. The moral here is sometimes it's good to follow your impulse.

My other impulse has been chocolate cake.  Not to eat, to make.  In my March 24 post about almond cookies and calla lillies, I talk about life force, chi.  Chi is what it's all about.  So I always wonder about those crazy rich chocolate desserts that go by names like Death by Chocolate, Chocolate Apocalypto and End of Days Chocolate Cake. Magnesium-rich and loaded with happy-making theobromine, chocolate is the stuff of life.  If you do it right.

I wanted to do it right.  This involved a few sleepless nights creating a cake that lets the gorgeous goodness of chocolate shine through without overloading on the fat and processed sugar.  Beta versions were too austere.  It is one thing to hear disembodied voices urging you to buy a pair of 6-inch gladiator stilettos.  It is another for your food to scream VIRTUE at you.  It takes the fun out of things.  One cake went from fluffy and fresh-baked to stale and rock-hard in a matter of hours.  Another containing grated zucchini came out with green flecks -- eye-catching but potentially scary to children and alarming to adults.

There was the vegan issue, too.  I'm vegan.  I make vegan scones now and again for a treat. They're a treat for me.  But if you're not vegan, they might not be for you.  They're whole grain, fruit-filled, healthful and satisfying, but there's no getting 'round it, most vegan products don't have the moistness or of those made with dairy.  Creaming butter and sugar actually leavens baked goods.  Air gets incorporated into the fat and sugar, creating tiny bubbles that make the finished product light, not leaden.

I tried following a few recipes from vegan cookbooks.  At best, they reminded me of chocolate cake.  You know how some ads have voiceovers that say, They'll never guess it's low-fat or made with tofu?  Oh, yes, we will.  And then there's the icing issue.  It is technically possible to make vegan chocolate icing from nut butter, tofu, brown rice syrup and cocoa.  But it lacks immediate pleasure and need to be rolled around on the tongue a bit before the flavor comes through. You're eating chocolate cake, not savoring Chateau d'Yquem.  The experience should evoke ecstacy, not involve effort.  

This version of the cake came together without the urgency of the shoe-buying episode. The voices said, c'mon into the kitchen, let's have fun. I did their bidding as they told me the ingredients one by one.  Starting with butter.   Butter?  But this has to be vegan, I explained.
Sometimes, my voices said, you have to compromise.  Lighten up.

We worked a compromise.  The beauty here is in the mix, the goodness of fat-free yogurt and whole grains and almonds and the wonderful wickedness of butter and sugar and chocolate and coffee. The cake is topped with pure chocolate (because what pairs better with chocolate than more chocolate?).  It is not vegan, but it is healthier than many a chocolate cake and it is luscious.

Joan of Arc is a saint, and good for her.  I'd never make it to beatification.  On the other hand, thanks to my voices, I've got a decent chocolate cake recipe and these hot new stilettos.  

Chocolate Life Cake

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 egg white
1/2 cup almond flour (or 1/2 cup raw almonds, ground fine)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa
3/4 cup plain fat-free yogurt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup coffee, cooled

For glaze: 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350.  Lightly oil a 9" springform pan.

In a large bowl, cream butter until pale and fluffy.  Add sugars, egg white and vanilla and cream well.  Add almond flour, whole wheat flour, unbleached flour, baking powder and cocoa, stirring until combined.

In a small bowl, stir baking soda into yogurt.  The chemical reaction will cause the mixture to fizz up a little.  This is fun.  Add yogurt and coffee to batter.

Pour into springform and bake for 45 minutes, or until cake is fragrant and top springs back when touched.

Remove from oven and pour chocolate chips over top.  Wait about 3 minutes for the chocolate chips to soften, then spread a layer over top of cake.  Chocolate will harden as it cools, forming a glaze.  

You, too, can be guided by voices.  Here's the band Guided by Voices with "Teenage FBI"--  I love this song more than chocolate.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Zucchini Song

Behold this 14-inch zucchini, a gift of nature in my community farm share box.  What to do with a sizable squash? Um, make zucchini bread?   

Zucchini Bread

1-1/2 cup unbleached flour
1-1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup sugar
1 14-inch zucchini or 2 zucchini of more modest size, grated (roughly 4 cups)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teasoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1-1/2 cup raisins
2 eggs
2 egg whites
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup molasses
3/4 cup canola oil

Preheat oven to 350.  Lightly grease 2 9X5 loaf pans (alternately, use a single 9X13 baking pan).

In a large bowl, sift together white and whole wheat flours, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon.  Stir in grated zucchini.

In a medium bowl, pour in oil, molasses, egg and vanilla.  Whisk briefly until emulsified.  Gradually pour into the flour and zucchini mixture.  Batter will be thick).  Stir in raisins and mix until batter is just combined.

Pour into baking pans and bake for 1 hour, or until tops are golden and breads are fragrant.  Wrapped in foil, they keep in the fridge for up to a week and freeze beautifully.  Nice to have when guests drop by, nice way to use up a giant zucchini.

For a naughtier way to zucchini, here's Tim Curry vintage 1981(!) singing "The Zucchini Song" --

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Scar Lover

We were in the weeds, a kitchen term meaning we'd fallen woefully behind.  All the Common Threads kids had. Their bus was leaving in 10 minutes, they hadn't finished making the spring roll filling and were closing in on panic.  It was then we sustained our first injury.  Rudy II in my group (there are two Rudys, Rudy I and Rudy II -- what are the odds?) had a grating incident. There was blood.

A bandaid on his finger and he was fine.  I mean, look at him.  Me?  I couldn't sleep that night, thinking we'd hurried the kids too much, I should have been watching Rudy II when I was helping Rudy I, we'd broken our no-injury pact, Rudy II would never come back and why should he, I was a rotten instructor and all good had gone from the world.  

There's a little neuroscience behind this.  Three a.m., when I tend to be awake and fretful, is when one of your really good neurotransmitters, the one that helps you cope -- serotonin? tryptophan? -- is down to the dregs.  If you can tough it out until daylight, your brain starts up production again and things tend to look a little better.

And so, come morning, they did.  The truth is, cuts and burns are badges of honor in the kitchen.  You know a real chef by his hands.  They don't feel human.  They're scarred over, petrified.  And injury can extend well beyond hands.  Gordon Ramsay has flambeed his testicles.  Semipros and home cooks get battle scars, too, though perhaps less spectacular ones.  I've got a burn on my left hand from a pan of sage-roasted squash with walnuts.  My wonderful friend Tony was so taken by Jamie Oliver's easy, chatty manner on the telly, he, too, began talking and chopping away and oops, had dinner preempted by a trip to the emergency room.  My Greek friend Dimitra shows off her injuries like they're jewelry. "This is from spanokopita," she says, pointing to a crescent-shaped burn on her wrist.  "Loukemades," she says, pointing to a constellation of tiny burns from spattered oil.  

Tony healed long ago, Dimitra, Rudy II and I are well on our way.  But there'll be more injuries as long as we want to cook, which I hope we always will.  We will not be defeated by dinner.  By our injuries so shall we be known, so shall we be forged. And our scars, as Harry Crews reminds us in his 1992 novel Scar Lover, make us beloved and beautiful.  

Just the same, keep a first aid kit handy and use a food processor rather than a box grater for the cabbage and carrots when you make:

 Thai Confetti with Basil and Mint

For the wok sauce:

4 tablespoons toasted sesame oil 
4 tablespoons light soy sauce
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice 
2 tablespoons chopped scallions
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh chili or 1 tablespoon Asian chili-garlic sauce

For the vegetable-tofu confetti:

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced thin
2 scallions, sliced thin
2 carrots, shredded
2 red peppers, julienned
1/2 cabbage, shredded (about 3 cups)
8 ounces firm tofu (1/2 package), drained well and diced
1/2 cup chopped or torn mint leaves, plus additional for garnish
1/2 cup chopped or torn basil leaves, plus additional for garnish
handful of chopped peanuts for garnish

Combine all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl.  Stir to dissolve sugar.  Set aside.

In a wok or large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat.  Add garlic, mushrooms, scallions, carrots, peppers and cabbage.  Stir well to coat.  Add sauce and tofu.  Reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring constantly, until vegetables are crisp-tender and sauce is absorbed, about 3 minutes.  Fold in chopped mint and basil.  

Serve topped with chopped peanuts and additional fresh herbs.

Serves 4.