Sunday, February 17, 2019

Blue Sky Walnut Macarons

Oh hey. I remember how to do these. 
I hadn't made macarons in a long time when I got the idea to whip these up. I had an afternoon and decided to see if I still remembered how. As it turns out, I do. I'm a huge fan of eating macarons, but not a huge fan of how annoyingly fussy they are to make. They're really a marker of a skilled pastry chef, to make a perfect macaron. It must be first shiny on top, have good "feet" (those little bubbly bits at the bottom) be not hollow on the inside, be crisp yet chewy when bitten into, and be evenly round. They're, in essence, a deflated meringue that's held together with sugar and ground nuts. The fat of the nuts gently break the inflated bubbles and yet somehow hold everything together in this 'cookie', and thicken it just so that it it bakes in one lump.

Since 1792 when some French nuns began selling them, these crunchewy delights have been a well-kept secret to we ignorant Americans. It seems as if they've just sprung up overnight! I don't see why they wouldn't - they're a mark of great skill, they're a vessel for plenty of fun fillings and flavors, and they are adorably aesthetically pleasing. Watching videos on youtube and instagram of chefs piping, baking, and filling macarons is just one of those things that helps me check out and forget the nonsense of my day. If you aren't watching ASMR baking videos, I think you're missing out on some serious self care.

The thing about macarons is that there are no 'quick' ways to do it and there's no real 'fool-proof' way to do it. They require skill, patience and practice, and no matter what they end up looking like you'll still have the cookies at the end. Please be kind with yourself and allow yourself a few failures here and there. Please understand as well that you are going to mess up your home kitchen like crazy with several bowls and lots of different dyes as well. It's okay, guys. Part of these are the mess! And hey, it's okay to make a mess when you're learning.

Traditionally, macarons are made with almonds. Almonds are great, classic, and hard nuts to crack (har har har) but still soft and fatty enough to make the right way of crunchewy cookie. I like walnuts for several reasons, those being which they are softer and easier to hand-grind and that because I was allergic to almonds for a fair portion of my young life I tend to have walnuts in my house instead, especially for when I feel like whipping up a nice muhamarra. In the case of walnuts, I also like how they have a nicer texture and that they're just a little bit luxuriously soft. They're quite fatty, though, so if you don't have an airtight jar to store them in, I suggest freezing them, lest they go rancid.

Walnut Macarons
They're not perfect, but they're mine!

  • 115 g walnuts, ground into flour using either a spice grinder, a food processor, or a mortar and pestle
  • 230 g powdered sugar, sifted
  • 72 g granulated sugar
  • 4 egg whites, room temperature
  • 1 fat pinch of kosher salt
  • Gel dye of desired color
Strawberry Ice Cream Filling
  • Your favorite vanilla buttercream
  • A good spoonful of strawberry jam
Start by prepping your baking trays. I like to use silpat mats. You can get them on amazon for pretty cheap, or you can find them at most specialty baking stores. You can also use parchment paper, but I like reuseable stuff, so that's what I use. This recipe makes two half-sheet pans worth of macaron halves so I prepare two silpat mats on two trays. Always give them a good wipe with a damp cloth or paper towel to make sure they're clean!

Sift together the walnuts, salt, and the powdered sugar to get rid of the bigger lumps. I like the mortar and pestle approach to breaking them down if you find a fair bit of them, and walnuts are soft enough to crush in your fingers so you shouldn't have too much of a problem. Make a well in the middle of the bowl and pop two of the egg whites in. Stir with a spatula, starting in the middle and adding a little in as you go, until you have a paste, that will be rather tight. It is also at this stage you may add some gel dye. I used a pretty cornflower blue gel dye that I found at the craft store. For this galaxy effect above, I used a chopstick and smeared some stripes of the dye all up the side of my piping bag, fitted with a round tip. A little goes a long way, so don't go crazy!

Combine the other two egg whites and the 72 g sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whip these together until tripled in volume and have stiff peaks, but aren't dry and lumpy. Take a spoonful of your meringue and stir in gently to your paste, just to loosen it. Take another large spoonful of the meringue and now fold it in, pressing and scraping gently, breaking as little of the bubbles as you can while still having it be a homogeneous mix. The remaining egg whites can now be scraped in and folded in, gently, until everything's just barely combined. You want the consistency of pahoehoe lava (which means the kind that's flowy and liquid) for this batter. 

Pop your mix into your piping bag and pipe in circles of equal sizes that are at least an inch apart. I usually count to three, out loud, while squeezing to ensure the sizes are equal. If they aren't,  you're going to have some funny-looking cookies to sandwich! This might take a minute and might take some practice, but don't worry if they're not perfect the first time. You're here to have fun and that's the joy of it. Finally - don't skip this - pick up the tray with both hands and lift it about three or four inches off the surface of the table and drop them once or twice. You can also slap them from the bottom, but you might not do this in a way that things hit evenly and will therefore screw the shape of your macaron up. This will also knock out any large air bubbles there might be lurking beneath the surface, waiting to destroy all that you have created. 

I did this on a day with about 60% humidity but it was also winter, and it took about 20 minutes for a skin to form. So.
You may now heat your oven to 300 degrees F, and while it's heating you should clean up the mess of your poor kitchen and your utensils that will have likely gone sticky with the sugary egg mixture. What you are now doing is waiting for the macarons to form a skin. This step is really fussy and very annoying for those of us - like yours truly - that are impatient and want our treats now. It is essential to do this step, however, because without this skin forming you might get a blowout in the tops and you might not get those pretty feet on the bottoms.

Sidebar: Please don't google pretty feet. Please google "macaron feet" instead. 

The skin forming takes anywhere from 15 to 40 minutes. This is highly dependent on the weather, the heat of your home, the humidity in the air, everything. I know it's rough but just wait until the macaron is ready. You'll know it's ready when the tops of the piped batter is dry to the touch. Bake all at once for 11 minutes and do not, for the life of you, open the oven during that time. A cold gust of air at precisely the wrong time will ruin everything and cause it all to collapse in the middle.

A few might have baked together in the oven. That's okay! You can still eat them.
If all was well, you should have perfect macarons! Now please don't try to move them until they're completely cooled. Use this time instead to make your favorite buttercream and stir in a generous spoonful of strawberry jam. I call this flavor "strawberry ice cream" but you can honestly use whichever flavoring or jam you like. I think I used about 3/4 c of buttercream to fill all of these, with some left over. Don't overfill. These must be consistently filled just like the macaron sandwich cookies must be consistently piped.

You can wrap and freeze these either in columns or in straight flat packs like this, so long as it's airtight.
The best part about macarons is that they freeze perfectly. Wrap them gently in stacked columns with lots of plastic wrap and store them in the freezer for up to 6 months. You can also ship them to friends with bubble wrap and some dry ice! The freezer is the pastry chef's best friend next to the oven, so don't be afraid to use it. But what would you want with a frozen macaron?

They only take a short time to thaw at room temperature, because of the high sugar content, so I wouldn't dare put it in the microwave to defrost. You could give them as a treat to guests or save them as a light dessert for after dinner, if you pull out as many as you want as you're eating your evening meal. You could also use them as a garnish for a cake or milkshake if you use a lot of whipped cream. You can even take the unfilled shells that have cracked or broken, freeze them until quite hard, and then break them up and mix them in with ice cream or a cake batter for an extra-special treat. The possibilities are limitless!

Thanks so much for reading. We're getting more into desserts for the next few weeks, since I've gotten several requests for a few sweet things from a few sweet things. If you want to request something special, please feel free to leave a comment below, message me on Facebook or Instagram! If nothing else, I'll try my best to respond. 

Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Saffron Drizzle Cake

Hand-embroidered tea-towel not included!
I've had a crazy week, and I do mean crazy. Honestly, and Instagram haven't been a priority for me at all. Thursday rolled around and I wasn't sure what I was going to post this week until I got a comment on my Instagram from a dear friend/follower, @VanessaBiglerArt, asking if the recipe for it was on the blog. I said "It can be!" and so it shall be.

I was still in the testing phases of this particular recipe when I got that comment, but I figured that it couldn't hurt to give to someone else with a hair of guidance. Besides, this is what writing a cookbook is all about, isn't it? Interacting with those that might one day read it gives me such a rush, and it helps me learn if I'm a good writer or not. I was so happy to text off the hand-written version of my recipe with a few simple instructions. We'll be getting to the recipe in a moment, but first, a little thing or two about saffron and why you should be cooking with it.

Saffron is, pound-for-pound, the most-expensive spice in the world, commonly known as "red gold." Saffron is so expensive, it's often sold by the gram, with the going rate of saffron by the gram retailing at $6.79 to $8.29. It's about 28 grams to an ounce, so by that math you're spending upwards of $190 per ounce. Why in the world is this?

Saffron Crocus
Learn more here!
Saffron is the little stamen that grows out of this crocus flower, which is a kind of bulb. It's a perennial, so a saffron crop will come back each year, but it's incredibly labor intensive to do. Each flower must be harvested by hand, and each stamen of each flower must be painstakingly harvested by hand and tweezers, and the longer the stem the better. It's obviously quite a long process. Harvesting your own saffron at home is a relaxing yet mindful morning for a dozen flowers or so, but doing it as work is going to not be so relaxing.

About 95% of the world's saffron comes from Iran, where it is grown and harvested. You'll notice saffron in a lot of Spanish cooking, of course, but that is the clear Moorish influence that's occurred over centuries of trade back in the day. You'll see a lot of Moorish/Muslim influence in their architecture as well as their eating if you ever go to Spain! So many things came from these cultures that we use today, and the benefits of these trades haven't gone unnoticed. 

Saffron is prized for the glorious reddish-gold color it gives rices, and the flavor is an almost indescribable gentle aromatic note that really perfumes a dish. Are there cheap saffrons you can buy? Absolutely! You can buy saffron with whole stigma and filament in them, but they're not going to yield the same color you would expect from the beautiful red threads. This is one of those things you shouldn't be stingy on and be sure to keep it in its original tin to preserve it as long as possible, if you buy it from the store. 

Saffron is one of those spices that holds great cultural significance in the world of culinary anthropology. It's quite obviously a symbol of wealth and opulence, and is an ingredient that absolutely demands respect. It's available year-round, but is it cheaper to grow and harvest yourself?You tell me! 

Saffron crocus is a wonderful bulb that is unique in the sense that it blooms in the fall, not the spring. I'm an avid fan of my beautiful spring tulips, but I always get a little sad when they die off. If you want bulbs blooming in the fall, I cannot recommend these more! These bulbs are quite hardy and can go as cold as -10 degrees F, but if you live in an area that dips below that, you should probably be kind and give them some straw or mulch to tuck them in to their beds to ensure they stay warm. The flowers themselves have an almost vanilla-like scent, in addition to their striking purple color. Nothing on your land or in your home should not serve you in some way, so I advise you to put this glorious flower to work for you.

Like most bulbs, they tend to love soil that's very well-drained and is high in organic matter.You should plant early in the spring, right at the start of Pisces, or just as soon as the soil is good and warm enough to work, and plant 6 inches below the surface. Each bulb will yield one flower, and each flower will yield three threads! It's highly recommended that you replant immediately once you dig up your bulbs to separate them, as they're touchy. Do this to yield a hardy crop, and you won't have your harvest affected next fall!

To harvest these threads, I recommend tweezers. Leave them to dry on a sheet pan lined with paper in a warm room until they crumble easily. Store them in an airtight jar, as you should with all spices once they're dried, and enjoy! I advise you to not consume any other part of the flower, as I hear it's poisonous. You can add a few threads to a steaming pot of rice to color it and add a very lovely flavor, to a soup to enrich it beautifully, or to this lovely pound cake. 

Full disclosure: I'm only calling it a pound cake in the sense that it acts like a pound cake when in reality it's a 'high ratio cake'. It's got a very fine crumb, is fatty and tender, and it is quite suitable for layer cakes should you choose to bake it in a round tin! Honestly, though, since you're using a simple-syrup drizzle, it's going to be a drizzle cake. The requirements for a drizzle cake must be that your cake is strong enough to take on that liquid, and that the drizzle penetrates all the way down, as far as it'll go, to make a moist finish. Yum!

Saffron Drizzle Cake
yields 1 loaf cake or 1 9" cake
  • 1.5 oz olive oil
  • 1.5 oz butter(I've used my vegan Earth Balance butter on this and it's just fine!)
  • 6 oz cane sugar + 1 oz aside
  • 4 oz warm water, at least 115 degrees F
  • 1 pinch of saffron (6 or 7 threads?)
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 9 oz AP flour
  • 1 oz cornstarch
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • A fat pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/2 c almond milk (you may use dairy milk or hemp milk if you like)
For the Saffron Syrup
  • 1 c water
  • 1 c cane sugar
  • 1 small pinch saffron, 3-4 threads
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F and prepare a loaf pan with pan spray and flour. This cake likes to climb, so please do allow it to do so! Prepare the Saffron syrup first. 

Bring your sugar and water to a boil, then turn off the heat. Immediately add in the saffron threads and cover your pot and leave it alone. This will be your simple syrup.  You're honestly only going to use a little bit of this to drizzle into your cake, but you'll definitely want the stuff left over! It's going to get a beautiful gold color and you'll definitely love it in your iced tea.

For the cake, take your saffron threads, that set-aside ounce of cane sugar, and a mortar and pestle. Grind the saffron into the sugar and then add it to the warm water. Let this sit for at least five minutes before you add this liquid to the milk of your choice, as well as the vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch, and baking powder. You can use cake flour for this, but I like having a little more control over the amounts of protein, and I also don't like cake flour taking up space in my already-crowded cabinet.

Using the whisk attachment of your standing mixer, whip the butter, oil, and 6 oz of sugar together. Start first on medium and then go to high until it's fully incorporated. Add in the whole egg, scrape, and then whip. You'll want it to be homogeneous and light-colored, not clumpy or separated at all. Scrape the bowl one more time and gather your remaining ingredients. 

Spoon the flour mixture in, about a third at a time, alternating with a glug or two of the liquid. You're going to want to do it in this order:
  1. Spoon in flour.
  2. Add liquid
  3. Mix for five or six turns.
  4. Spoon in flour.
  5. Add liquid.
  6. Mix for five or six turns.
  7. Spoon in the remaining flour.
  8. Mix by hand to incorporate.
  9. Add the last bit of liquid and scrape the bowl, especially getting the bottom.
  10. Mix for five or six turns.
This is the way I tend to mix cakes of this nature it and it seems to have served me the best over the years. Knock all the batter off the whisk attachment and use a spatula to scrape the bowl and give it one final stir, just to make sure there aren't any pockets of flour hanging out. If we're all good, scrape it into your loaf pan, give it a shimmy-shake to make sure it all of the batter is level, and pop it in the oven. Immediately lower your oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for about 40 minutes, or until it pulls gently away from the sides of the pan and springs back when touched gently. 

Evacuate from the oven and place on a folded-up tea towel. Now comes the fun! Take a skewer or a toothpick and poke mercilessly all over the surface of the cake, making sure to get all the way to the bottom-third of your cake. While it's still warm, take a spoon and drizzle in the saffron syrup, at least a shot's worth, which is a couple of ounces. You can use a silicon brush if you like, as well, but I think this is a little better to start off with and then finish with the brush. Let the cake cool for at least 15 minutes before turning out onto a rack and allowing to cool completely. 

See that crack in the middle? You want that! This dome is a sign you've done your loaf cake right!
You may dust with powdered sugar or give it a touch of royal icing. Or, of course, you can make a saffron glaze. How? Oh, it's easy:

Saffron Glaze
  • 3/4 c powdered sugar
  • 1 Tbsp saffron syrup
  • 2 tsp coconut oil, melted
Whisk all of this together until lovely and smooth, and drizzle over your cake, doughnuts, tray bakes, whatever you like! It's colored a gentle yellow and is highly addictive. You can even use it to spoon over your experimental coconut-sugar cookies. Do you, man!

For every insta-worthy picture I take, there are at least 300 hauntingly gross other photos on my phone, I assure you.
This cake is sweet without being too sweet, incredibly versatile, quick to do, and is incredibly accessible as a treat to give your not-so-adventurous friends. A loaf/pound/drizzle cake is something someone instantly recognizes, and when they taste it they'll all say: "Ooooh, what is in that cake?!" I especially love it because it keeps well, but you truthfully won't keep it around the kitchen for long. 

I hope you've enjoyed this recipe and have learned a few fun things about saffron. If you like this post, please feel free to comment on, share, and follow me on Facebook and Instagram for more. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Mayonnaise Chicken

Sometimes simple (and by that I mean 'easy') is best.
Okay, okay - hear me out. I know that mayonnaise chicken doesn't sound tasty at all. I'm really sorry, but I'm committed to honesty and transparency in my cooking. Please just hear me out before you break out the torches and pitchforks and open your mind to mayonnaise.

I know that Millenials have been charged with 'murdering mayonnaise' their fair share of times. I think we all know how I feel about that tired old 'millenials kill' tag, but in case we don't, I'll share: I think that if an industry is dying out because it no longer serves the population, then let it die. Rotary phones weren't 'killed' by cordless or smartphones. Lamp lighters went out of the job because of electricity. We're evolving as a society and that means we're going to live in one that's shaped by our likes and tastes.

If you don't want to read the article above, just know that mayonnaise is being 'killed' because Millenials and GenZ's tend to have more global tastes. Most of us prefer sriracha, kimchi, things like that to mayonnaise. The globalization of our palette is what's letting other things fall to the side, much like mayonnaise. Furthermore, mayonnaise isn't exactly the sexiest condiment, and it's frankly a hard sell based on visuals alone. That being said, a lot of chefs love mayonnaise, if nothing else but for it's versatility.

Do you need to make a large amount of a new kind of dipping sauce but don't want to buy a ton of ingredients and jack up your food cost? Spice up the mayo and call it an aioli. Need a secret to making a super-moist chocolate cake for an 8-top that'll be celebrating a birthday tonight, but you don't have a trained pastry chef and just have a sous chef with a spare hour? Mayonnaise. What's that? Someone wants a fancy grilled cheese? Believe it or not, mayonnaise.

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to make your own mayonnaise at home!
What does this mean for you, for cooking?

To put it simply, this is nothing but a gorgeous whipped amount of fat that you can use in cooking and baking. Spread it on your bread instead of butter to make the most-beautiful grilled cheese you've ever seen. Use a dollop of mayonnaise instead of eggs for your cakes, to make it even more tender, because of the vinegar and how the acid sort of cuts glutens to make it less stodgy. My favorite, though, is to marinate chicken in it and then roast it.

Mayonnaise is an incredibly diverse substance that's able to be used as an ingredient and as a condiment, and I'm frankly a fan of it. I like the tang, the creaminess, and I like that it's cooling so I can mix it with really spicy ingredients to get the flavor without too much heat. Unfortunately, it's not enough anymore to have just mayonnaise, unless it's on a roast beef sandwich...and even then, I'm probably going to mix it with horseradish because  - hey - horseradish is good for you.

Why should you keep mayonnaise in your fridge? Its versatility, of course! It's not just great for sandwiches, or for being a base for a sexier version of a potato salad or devilled eggs. If you entertain, you're going to want mayonnaise, if nothing else to just help bulk up certain things. If you're busy but want something show-stopping, use mayonnaise as an ingredient and be surprised at its possibilities. But what is mayonnaise?

In essence, it's a salad dressing, not unlike a vinaigrette. It is an emulsion of egg yolks, vinegar, a little salt, and quite a bit of oil. You can make your own mayonnaise, if you like, out of any oil you like. Olive oil, sunflower oil, even chili oil. (No seriously, I've tried it.) One egg yolk can take up to a cup of oil without breaking the emulsion, and you can take that to the bank. I highly recommend using a standing mixer or a blender, though, and I advise you to warm the bowl slightly before whipping. Either way, it's easy enough to put together yourself, but it's even easier to just buy a jar, use it up, and keep the jar later for other uses.

Let's be real, though - we Millenials like stuff that's fast, yet impressive. Here's a fast and impressive dish we can make after a long day at work.

Mayonnaise Chicken
yields enough for 2
  • 2 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbsp herbs de Provence (an herb blend of marjoram, savory, rosemary, thyme, and mint)
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp sumac powder
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • A few grinds of fresh pepper, ideally a peppercorn blend that has green peppercorns in it
  • Half a yellow onion, julienned
  • 2 stalks of celery, cut into long pieces to serve as a sort of rack for your chicken
  • 1 half chicken, usually found in most grocery stores. You can also use 4 breasts, or 4 thighs, two leg quarters, whatever is available to you
  • 2 cups frozen peas (do not get canned, so help me)
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the onion and celery in a little oil, salt and pepper, and arrange the celery sticks on the bottom of a casserole dish and top with the onions. This will be your sort of rack that will allow the fat to drip off your chicken while simultaneously steaming and cooking and adding flavor that you'll want later, I promise. Make a dressing of the spices, vinegar, and mayonnaise. Add your poultry cut of choice and toss about, ensuring that you especially get some of this dressing underneath the skin of the chicken. Arrange on your celery-onion raft and let stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes, or until the oven is totally hot.

I know it doesn't look great to start, but trust me - it'll transform itself beautifully.
Pop your casserole dish, uncovered, into the oven for 25 minutes and reduce the heat to 375 degrees F. When the timer tings, remove the casserole dish and place it on a wooden cutting board or just on your stove. Pour the frozen peas around the chicken, toss them in the lovely juices that have dropped and formed off your chicken with a spoon, and return to the oven. Bake for another 15 minutes. Serve immediately with couscous, pasta, or some other kind of starchy niceness that you like. I've been on a couscous kick lately, so I encourage you to try it as well. 

I'm sure you've noticed the gorgeous transformation that's taken place. The reason the chicken browns so nicely is because of the fat in the mayo, and it's become quite tender because of the acid. You've got a nicely cooked bird now, too, because hot air and flavorful steam was able to circulate all around, helping it to cook evenly. Salt, acid, fat, and heat, are the four elements of delicious food, as we all now know, thanks to the brilliant chef Samin Nosrat and her Netflix special of the same moniker.

I hope you've enjoyed this recipe! I'm writing a cookbook right now, and I hope you'll let me know if you can follow along easily with my recipes. Please keep touch with me on my instagram, comment below, and follow me on Twitter for requests for recipes! Thanks a million. 

Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Vegan Chocolate Cake

The middle tier of my wedding cake was THIS chocolate cake recipe, modified to have a lovely orange flavor as well!
Hello, hello! It's Sunday, the 27th of January, which means that it's National Chocolate Cake Day. January 27th is also International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Since I just learned that apparently one third of all Americans don't believe it actually happened, it feels irresponsible to not at least give it a mention. In honor of that, I'm showing you my favorite chocolate cake recipe that's vegan and pareve. What's that? Well...

When you keep kosher, you have to eat in a very certain way. I'm not talking about the actual act of eating, but how you consume and prepare food and how you feed your family. Some agree that kosher eating may have been a first sort of 'health code' for the early world. Pigs, for example, which are considered unclean used to be more likely to carry disease. One of the big things, of course, is to not share meat and milk at the same table. This means if you have a steak, which you can have, you can't have cream or milk or cheese or butter with it. If you have french toast for breakfast, you can't eat even turkey sausage with it or later. You can't have it with the same meal, but you can have it later in the day. Of course, there's a lot of debate on how long you must wait, but you get the idea.

Now! Pareve is the sort of neutral zone of food. These foods are neither meat nor dairy and can be consumed with either one. These include, eggs, grains, vegetables, etc., and part of that etc. can include - if you do it right - chocolate cake. It's very easy to make a cake without dairy. Dairy provides fat and some lactic acid - if you replace that in the right way you end up with a wonderful-tasting result. The fat makes cakes tender, and the acid cuts glutens to keep it from getting stodgy and gross. The mixing method is, of course, just as important as the recipe.

This recipe is my absolute favorite, and it's the chocolate cake that I made for my wedding (as you see above)! It's wonderfully versatile, so feel free to use it as you see fit and got nuts with it. Heck, ADD nuts to it! It's your cake, do you.

 You'll notice that this particular recipe is in cups, not grams. This is just because I've made this cake too many times by volume and haven't ever done it by weight, so I haven't really measured it out in the way that you'd likely need to do it. If it bugs you too much, comment below and I'll do my best to convert them to grams in a timely manner.

I've used this particular recipe, which I've modified from MAC (Man About Cake's recipe) to fit some things. I just love this one because it's excellent for decorating and absolutely the most-versatile cake recipe I've ever come across. I'll put in ** my favorite variations!

B's Favorite Chocolate Cake
yields 2 9" cakes, perfect for stacking, or one large sheet cake
  • 2 c cane sugar
  • 2.5 c AP flour
  • 3/4 c dark cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 c soy milk
  • 1/2 c strong coffee, left over from the pot that morning is fine(**if you're making a chocolate orange cake, you may substitute orange juice instead of coffee! If you're wanting something a little sexier and more decadent, substitute for a good red wine like a pinot noir or a cabernet sauvignon, but nothing too sweet like a shiraz. You can also substitute this liquid for a strong mint tea if you'd like to make a chocolate mint cake!)
  • 1/2 c tofu sour cream
  • 1 Tbsp white vinegar
  • 3/4 c canola oil
  • 2 tsp good vanilla
  • **You can add chopped dried cherries that have been reconstituted in wine for a chocolate cherry cake
  • **You can add orange zest if you're making a chocolate orange cake, in addition to the orange juice substitute
  • **You can add miniature chocolate chips, but please make sure to toss them lightly in flour in the beginning so they can be suspended throughout the cake instead of all sinking to the bottom
There are two ways you can prepare this, one is faster than the other, but it's all going to depend on what kind of equipment you have available to you. Either way,  you'll choose your pans, lightly grease them and then dust the inside with cocoa powder, especially on the corners, to make sure you get it all out nicely, but to also make sure that the cake can climb the sides with ease. Don't grease and then not flour this. Trust me. 

Oh, and preheat your oven to 375.

Method One:

Take your sugar, baking soda, flour, cocoa powder, and salt and process it in the bowl of a food processor. You're pulsing it together just to get it to be fine and fully incorporated. In a large pitcher, combine your soy milk, the liquid of your choice, sour cream, oil, the extract/flavoring of choice, vinegar, and whisk it together to create one homogenous mixture. 

Add about a third of the liquid mixture to your food processor, and pulse for 2 or 3 seconds each, five or six times. Add another third, and repeat. With the final third, make sure you scrape the inside and bottom of the bowl before you do anything else. Pulse a few times to get it integrated, but then mix for about 10 seconds. Your batter is now ready! It should be shiny and smooth and beautiful.

Method Two

Take all of your dry ingredients into a very large bowl and stir with a whisk. Mix all liquids together as per the previous method, except for the oil. Pour the oil in to the dry mix in a thin stream, tossing it around to make it sort of a crumbly texture. Add in the rest of the ingredients by the third, stirring in a well in the middle slowly, no more than five or six turns on each addition, and stirring until well combined. Try not to slosh everything, but be sure to scrape the bottom and sides. The batter might be a hair lumpy, but that's okay, so long as everything is generally homogeneous. You're looking for uniformity, but honestly don't worry too much about over-mixing as you've got some acid to play with, considering the vinegar and your liquid of choice - be it coffee, wine, or orange juice - all have acid in them. Acid cuts glutens, so you're definitely helping yourself out. 

Pour into your prepared pans of choice.  You can use either round cake tins or a sheet pan. Whichever you've chosen, be sure to pop your cakes in to the center rack and then turn the oven down to 350. You wanted it at 375 because you wanted the oven nice and hot before you started. You may have noticed that you're using baking soda, which reacts quickly. You'll want to really let these bubbles form as quick as you can, but not burn everything.

Check your cakes at 25 minutes. It should be fully set in the middle and have pulled gently away from the sides. If it's not quite there yet, cook in 5 minute increments. Obviously, the pan you've chosen will determine the amount of cooking time, so just stay nearby. 

Evacuate your cake and allow to cool completely before handling. This is a very moist cake with a nice crumb, and should be treated as such. My favorite part about this cake is that it freezes  beautifully. Believe it or not, the freezer is the pastry chef's best friend, next to the oven. 

Once you've decided on a design, you can really let your imagination run wild.

You can make a buttercream using butter flavoring and vegetable shortening, you can make a ganache using 2:1 ratio of coconut cream to good's really all up to you! Earth Balance makes my favorite substitutes for butter, and Daiya makes my favorite cream cheese substitute, so you can make a cream cheese frosting. You can also make a vegan mirror glaze recipe using agar agar instead of gelatin!

You can decorate with candied flowers and mint leaves. You can even do something as simple as layering your cake with jam between each layer and dusting it with cocoa powder. Do with this recipe what you will. And remember that the Holocaust happened. 

I hope you've enjoyed this recipe! I hope you get out there and share this with friends; it's unhealthy to eat alone. 

Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Chickpea Fritters

Fun fact: My husband built our dining room table! 
In my journey of cooking, I've found that going back to my roots has been one of the most rewarding explorations I could have gone on. I find that when you look back it can detract from the now, but looking into history one can really learn a lot about cooking, about life, and about how you came to be. The best part, for me, is feeling the souls of my ancestors with me as I learn more about the things they may have eaten and even the things they would try today.

I am descended from Russian/Lithuanian/Belarusian Jews and from the indigenous peoples of the Philippines.  The one thing they have in common is DEEP FRY EVERYTHING. I'm a big fan of deep-frying stuff, so it's no real surprise that Hanukkah is one of my favorite holidays. The winter months are both harsh and confusing here in Midwestern Kansas City so I'm not 100% ready to let go of my deep-frying I may as well deep fry something relatively healthy.

Enter the Chickpea.

Related image
Don't be fooled - she's versatile!
Chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, have a low glycemic index. They have a nice amount of fiber and are surprisingly nutrient-dense. They're ideal if you're trying to maintain a vegetarian diet or if you're just trying to shed a few pounds. There's even some evidence that they may help prevent certain chronic illnesses, such as heart disease. Honestly, I could go on and on about chickpeas. These are so filling and a much healthier alternative to potatoes, and I daresay they can be just as versatile.

Chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, are mostly found in India, Africa, and even South America. You can grind it into flour or cook it into hummus or falafel. You'll find these in South Asian cuisines and Middle Eastern cuisines.You'll also see these a lot if you decide to go vegetarian or vegan. There's even a Turkish drink called Boza, made of fermented bulgur, but often topped with cinnamon-tossed chickpeas. The point is that this annual plant is incredibly important to many cultures, and you shouldn't let it pass you by.

Chickpea Fritters
yields 12 fritters (if you don't eat the batter)

  • 2 cups dried chickpeas
  • 2 tsp baking soda, divided
  • 1/4 c finely minced onion
  • 1 egg
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
  • 1/4 c tahini
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried mint
  • 1 tsp sumac
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
I love to start with dried chickpeas and soak it overnight before I cook them. These take quite a bit of time, and really are a labor of love. I suggest you start these overnight, or at least the morning before you go to work. Cover them with more water than you think you need, trust me. Add your baking soda and let soak for 6-8 hours, but ideally overnight. Why baking soda? Well...

Baking soda has, by itself, a score of 9 on the pH scale, which makes it ever-so-slightly basic. It's not your friend Jessica that bakes the gluten-free cookie recipe she found from Pinterest and insists on you two going to get PSLs and has you take her photos for the 'gram... It's more like my level of basic, in which I really love fall but I refuse to watch "Love Actually" and won't be caught dead in UGs. The point is that it's just basic enough to get that hard chickpea broken down enough to give you the creamiest, dreamiest, most-custardy cooked bean you'll ever consume. 

Once you've gotten your chickpeas all soaked and you come home from work, drain your beans, rinse, and add to a heavy-bottomed pot with another teaspoon of baking soda, and cover entirely with water, having at least two inches of water over the surface. Bring it up to a boil, stir once or twice, and then reduce to a simmer. Cover your pot but leave the lid ajar and allow to cook for about an hour, or until the chickpeas are incredibly tender. Once it's all done, I like to toss in a little sesame oil, just to coat, and then season with salt. 

You can either cover them and pop them in the fridge for later use, orjust use them straight away...just be sure to drain them first, and taste them to make sure they're done! And have a handful for yourself, you've earned it. And,  yes, of course, you can use the canned kind if you want to. Just please drain well and rinse them off. 

"you tryna smash?" "don't make this weird"
In a large bowl, use a fork or potato masher to smash up all of your chickpeas to where it's a creamy mixture. It doesn't have to be smooth, but it can be if you like it. You can also use the paddle attachment of your standing mixer, or even a mortar and pestle and do it in batches! Either way, it's up to you. 

Add in all remaining ingredients and mix rather well. Taste for seasoning and correct as necessary. It shouldn't be overpowering, but you should know that your seasoning is apparent. Scoop them into mounds on a tray line with parchment or a silicon mat and then chill in the fridge. You may coat them with flour, if you like, at this point, but it's entirely up to you. I did not coat them with flour, even though - by definition - a fritter must be at least 35% breading. You can, of course, batter this if you like...but I do not like. I like them the way they are.

Keep in mind, you can make these smaller or larger!
Head up about an inch's worth of a nice neutral oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. You're looking for 350 degrees F. You can check this without a thermometer by taking a sprig of herb or a leaf of a scallion and gently dropping it in. You are looking for a sprig that sputters and dances around the pot, like a someone wearing a very poofy dress that's twirling around a ballroom. This is how I was taught by an old sushi chef to see if your oil was hot enough for tempura, back when I was a young apprentice. 

I like to do these two or three at a time, but you may do it one at a time if you're a little more comfortable with that. If you're nervous about the stuff sticking to the bottom of the pan, get out a bowl of flour and give each of the balls a tiny roll in and a good pat of flour before frying. I use a fork to allow each fritter to ease gently into the hot oil, and then use it to press it down to a flatter shape, much like you'd do with a latke. Cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes, in the boiling fat before flipping over to cook for another minute. You don't need to cook these much longer than that, but you do need to have a sheet pan lined with a rack on the inside of a warm oven to keep these hot while you fry by the batch. 
A 200 degree oven will keep these warm!
These fritters are fabulous snacks. You can serve them with sour cream. You can add finely chopped vegetables and more herbs to make a full meal. You can have them with a salad of herbs and garden greens. You can serve with a roasted chicken. The fritters can be served either hot or cold, but I think that room temperature is the best. You can use it as a party snack or serve with dinner. Use them to make a vegetarian sandwich with a fried egg and some tofu sausage and some cheeze. Heck, make them thin, spread them with goat cheese and figs and put them on your Seder table for your Tu B'Shevat celebration tomorrow! This is an excellent accompaniment to any dinner, especially a vegetarian one, as chickpeas are high in protein. 

Or, you know, be like me and serve it with a roasted chicken. Whatever you like!

I hope you've enjoyed this! Happy cooking and happy eating! 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Personal Apple Streusels

They're not technically pies, since they don't have a crust, but I won't tell if you won't. 
I'm a big fan of eating seasonally. Apple season starts in the fall, and extends into early winter. Apples don't do well when frozen on the tree, and most apple trees here in North America are prolific and will give more than enough to you should you have one of your own. Be warned, though, they are prolific to the point of problematic.

One of my husband's favorite arguments against me planting an apple tree in our garden is the childhood memory of the two apple trees he had from age 9 to 19 in a little house in Columbia. You need to have two apple trees if you have one at all, as they tend to cross pollinate with the wind. He, his brother, and sister all would be put to work during apple harvest season to peel and make apple butter, apple sauce, etc., by their mother. If they did not, the fruit would fall off, rot, and ferment. If the fruit would ferment, they would have stray animals in their yard that would essentially get krunk on these fermented fruits. Squirrels, he tells me, were the funniest, but they were never funny enough to justify the presence of the drunken hornets.

Years later, I asked him why they couldn't just pick all the apples at once and keep the ones you didn't want to process in the cellar, he said that it was too much trouble. When I asked what he meant, he told me that if apples touch each other or are stacked on top of one another, they'll go rotten. Upon further research, I find that this is true. Apples are not social fruits, so it's best to wrap them each individually in paper and store them in a cool and dry place. I read once that folks would store apples tightly in barrels and even sink them in lakes under the ice, only to retrieve them later. (I have no idea if this is true, some guy told me while I stopped for gas while driving through Ozark country. Nice guy.) There's a ton of folk knowledge for how to store apples for long periods of time, but most of us in the cities don't need to worry about that. That being said, if you buy in bulk, it's good to know that you're able to store fruit in your basement or garage, properly stored, for long periods of time.

I consider apples a winter fruit because they keep so well in the winter months. Most dried fruits are obviously considered a 'winter' fruit, but many of my 'seasonal cookbooks' use squash or apples in their baked goods because of factors like this. Squash, apples, carrots, and other root vegetables keep well in root cellars, so therefore they're ideal for the winter. I live in the Northern Hemisphere, which means that it's currently winter.

This is my 150 year old silver maple! This photo has not been edited at all. 

We got a big snow over the weekend of a 9"-12" accumulation, and we're expecting another big snow next week as well. When things snow, all I want to do is bake. I don't know if it's some kind of deep psychological reasoning that makes me associate snowfall with "MUST BAKE NOW"or if I just want my house to be warm from the oven, but when the snow falls, my oven goes on.

My husband loves apple pie, but since I didn't have enough apples for a whole pie, I did this version. I hope you like it!

Personal Apple Streusels 
yields two

  • Two apples of your favorite variety, the firmer the better. I had Sugar Bee apples, but you can check out info on varieties here
  • 3 Tbsp local honey
  • 2 tsp coconut sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon 
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 1/4 c oats
  • 1/4 c coconut sugar
  • 4 Tbsp (2 oz) lard or vegan butter (or dairy butter, whatever you like/have)
  • **chopped walnuts or dried fruit, as needed
Heat your oven to 350 degrees F. The flour, oats, sugar, and fat are your streusel elements. All you do is mix these items together with a spoon, pressing the fat into the dry ingredients until it's sort of crumbly. Keep this in the fridge while you work with your other stuff. 

Do you like my argyle socks? 
Slice off the top of your apple. Using a spoon or apple corer, dig out the insides and discard the tough core and seeds. Keep the rest of the insides and put it in a separate bowl along with the sugar, honey, spices, and salt. You can core out as much as you like, but I think that it's safest to leave at least 1/2" of apple in around the skin. The point is that you're tossing the insides of this apple in your sugar/filling mixture. If you like, you can add raisins, dried cranberries, or dried currants. You can also add any kind of chopped nut that you like to either the filling or the topping. My favorite nuts with apples is the noble black walnut. Either way, please taste as you go to make sure that this is the amount of sweetness that you want. If so, add more sugar! If you'd like it a little spicier, feel free to mix it up. When you're happy with the flavor profile you've created, fill your apples back up with the nice filling you've made and top it with your cold streusel topping. Please be generous! 

I had a little spillover, but that's fine. I snacked on it when it came out of the oven. 

Mine baked for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees, but you check yours at 30 to make sure that the apples are soft and the filling is bubbling. You always want to make sure that your apple pies (be they personal or a large one) are bubbling, as that's when you know the pectin will be activated and that the internal temperature is at least 212 degrees. 

Remove from the oven and drizzle with a little more honey. You can serve this with a sour cream sauce, some vanilla nice cream (vegan ice cream) or some whipped cream. I like to eat this warm, but there's no reason you can't make a lot of these ahead of time and serve them to a large party. They're quite impressive yet nonthreatening on a plate. Something like this would be perfect for a small dinner party, and the cleanup would be a snap. After all, the dessert is self-containing. 

Thanks so much for reading! If you try this, please comment below and tell me how my recipe went for you. This is an awesomely quick dessert that's so easy and delicious. It encompasses the flavors of apple pie without having to do a big amount of dough. Let me know what you think. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Vegan Macaroni and Cheese

In addition to pancakes, I'm addicted to two other things: steak, and macaroni and cheese. My @Instagram is full of all three of those things!

A post shared by Chef Kolika (@wannabgourmande) on

Sorry, vegans - I'm not ACTUALLY one of you, but I do have a severely lactose intolerant husband and I'm both east Asian and Jewish so I really shouldn't be eating much dairy anyhow. It's really easy to cut dairy out of your home cooking entirely, and because of my husband's dietary restrictions I don't even have any in the house. No milk, no cheese, no butter, no sour cream. Because of this, any vegetarian meal at home that we consume is automatically vegan.

Just so everyone is clear: Vegan = no animal products.

Many folks go on to make this synonymous with no animal suffering. I disagree with that, as the ideology - although I'm sure is well-intended - does have some issues. Honey, for example, is considered to be not vegan. Here's the thing, though - harvesting honey from bees doesn't harm them at all, and any beekeeper will tell you that. Furthermore, if you buy local honey it'll help you immensely with your seasonal allergies. Not to mention all the jobs you'll help create by buying honey from your local beekeepers, but more beekeepers often means more bees.


  • If you ever find a wild hive that's come on your property, call your local apiary instead of an exterminator. Eight out of ten, they'll come and harvest that hive for you, free of charge, and will not kill the bees! The other two times, they'll give you the resources and phone numbers you need to call to get those bees off your property without harming the bees.

 What is harmful is all of the agave we're consuming. Agave is a plant that grows in Mexico, and the amount that we're harvesting is harming bats, who depend on the nectar to survive. Bats consume a ridiculous amount of insects, including mosquitos which both carry disease and are a plague on this planet. Bats are good! Please, eat honey and skip the agave - save the bats.

As you can see, veganism is a dietary choice and not necessarily a moral compass. There are many reasons to go vegan! And here, we're going to have some vegan macaroni and cheese. It's 100% dairy-free for my lactose-intolerant people, and totally pareve for my observant Kosher Jewish followers. You know what that means? You can have this with meat!

Vegan Macaroni and Cheese
serves 8
  • 1 lb pasta, cooked in salted water for 6 minutes until a hair harder than al dente (you'll be cooking it in the oven again, so it's okay if it's under-cooked)
    • Furthermore, you don't have to only use macaroni. You can use shell pasta, strascinati, penne, fiori, you name it! I do recommend using something that's not totally long and thin, though, as you'll want something sturdy for the oven. 
  • 2 tbsp vegan butter substitute, such as Earth Balance (you can also use coconut oil)
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 3 cloves of garlic, smashed and minced
  • 1 can plain coconut cream (do not use the sweetened version, or this will taste like someone kicked you in the teeth and said "f*ck you")
  • 1/4 c tofu sour cream (Tofutti is the best)
  • 3/4 c vegan cream cheese (tofutti and daiya make my favorite kinds)
  • 2 c cheddar-style vegan cheese shreds (Follow Your Heart and Daiya make the best cheeses)
This is your base recipe for the sauce. You can add more "cheeses" if you like, or substitute the cheddar-style for mozzerella style or pepperjack style. The beautiful thing about macaroni and cheese is that it's so incredibly versatile and you can add almost anything you like to it. Here is a full list of my favorite things you can stir in to your mac when you're ready to bake:
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  • Roasted brussells sprouts
  • Caramelized onions or leeks
  • Peas, fresh or frozen
  • Roasted squash, such as acorn squash or any kind of pumpkin
  • Braised winter greens (kale, mustard greens, etc)
  • Shaved asparagus
  • Spinach, fresh or cooked
  • Fresh herbs 
    • Dill
    • Savory
    • Tarragon
    • Parsley
Have I stirred other things into mac and cheese? Things like chopped chicken, beef sausage, roasted beets or cauliflower, sun-dried tomatoes from my garden, chopped green beans and more? Absolutely! Those things up in that list, though, are my favorite things, and I encourage you to make this into a full meal by adding whatever you like. 

To make this simple dish, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a casserole dish, either one large one or two medium-sized ones. I love using this recipe because it can feed a large amount of people, but if it's just my husband and I then I will separate them into several dishes so we can cover, refrigerate, and bake off at a later date when I'm feeling a little lazy. 

Melt your butter in a thick-bottomed saucepot on a medium flame. Add in the garlic and cook for about a minute, until just barely soft and brown. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk it together until it's smooth. You'll want to lower your flame just barely until it's all sort of simmering, and cook this roux for at least five minutes. Open your can of coconut cream and add, bringing the flame up to medium-high. Bring this to a boil, whisking constantly, and then reduce to a simmer. Add in your cream cheese and stir until incorporated. Sprinkle in your cheddar-style shreds, whisking constantly, a little at a time so as not to allow clumps. You may also add your fresh herbs at this stage, but it's up to you. 

Drain your pasta and toss with a little oil, and return it to your cooking pot. Pour the hot cheese sauce over the pasta and stir to coat. It is now that you will add whichever mix-ins you like. The one in the first post at the top of the page has pumpkin, caramelized onions, and bok choi. Last month, I made one with peas and carrots. Just a few days ago, I made one with plenty of parsley and frazzled leeks. The point is: be creative!

I actually had some dairy-free cheese slices in the fridge so I thought it'd be fun to
add torn pieces of those throughout to get extra 'pockets' of cheesey goodness.

If you like a little extra crunch, you may crumble up some potato chips or crackers from your pantry and sprinkle on top, as well as some vegan parmesan shreds, extra cheese, panko bread crumbs...whatever you like! I don't always have panko bread crumbs in my pantry, but my husband is addicted to potato chips so I like to crush them up and put them on the top. 

You may bake the amount you need and put the rest of the dishes in the fridge to have at a later date. No matter what, you'll bake at 350 for 30 minutes from cold and only 20 minutes if you're baking this dish from hot. Serve hot, straight out of the casserole dish, and share this meal with a friend. While it is a wonderful thing to love one's own company, I am of the mind that it is unhealthy to eat alone. A good meal should be shared, so invite your neighbor over for food and get to know them. Or, you know, just post a picture of the mac and cheese on Facebook and see if any friends want to pop in. 

I hope you get out there and enjoy making mac and cheese. Happy cooking and happy eating!