Thursday, May 27, 2010

Soul Chocolate

Oh sweet enlightenment! I have been awakened; I have tasted the source. I know now for sure that chocolate does indeed have a soul. At first, I denied all possibility. Even when I read the inscription on that recipe blog post, I was skeptical of how it could change my view of chocolate forever. All prior knowledge told me that a better chocolate could not be made so simply. All those modern but false idols: instant pudding, boxes of cake mix, break and bake cookies, etc retained barely a glimmer of the real heart of chocolate. It was heresy to say that the true chocolate dessert would not require milk, eggs, flour or butter. Until now. The hardest part now is trying to not make batches and batches of this enlightened dessert. Let the source of chocolate be revealed…

This chocolate dessert is nearly incomparable to anything other one you’ve tried, and the weirdest thing is that it’s vegan. Like I said, I was skeptical at the beginning. But I found the taste to be pure chocolate bliss. Its consistency is heavier than a mousse, but richer than even old-fashioned pudding. The texture has the clean, cold feeling of ice cream, but is too smooth a finish to be considered frozen. So what shall we call this indescribably delectable chocolate treat? Soul Chocolate.

The recipe was one I got from the Voracious Vegan cooking blog. I adapted it a bit for my kitchen [using sugar instead of agave nectar, although my roommate happens to live off the stuff]. The best part of this dessert is the richness, which makes it last longer than such a dessert usually would.

Soul Chocolate


1 14 oz. can coconut milk [full fat]

6 oz semi-sweet chocolate [I used the baker’s brand]

3 T white sugar

½ t vanilla extract

Pinch of cinnamon

Pinch of nutmeg


1. In saucepan, heat coconut milk over medium-low heat to a gentle simmer.

2. Meanwhile, chop up chocolate into small pieces with large knife.

3. Put chocolate, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg into food processor.

4. Pour hot coconut milk over the ingredients in the food processor. Process until thoroughly mixed.

5. Put in container, cups, glasses [however you want to present it] and chill for at least 5 hours.

6. Enjoy the essence of soul chocolate!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Go Big With the Garlic: Garlic Pasta with Spinach, Mushrooms and Peppers

Ever tried to eat a whole clove of garlic? Let’s just say you won’t be going after the opposite sex for a while…
The original recipe I looked at for tonight’s dinner called for nearly two heads of garlic. Two HEADS of garlic. Not two singular cloves of garlic, two entire heads of garlic cloves. I could already taste two weeks of stinky breath ahead.
Needless to say, I personalized the recipe and drastically cut down on the garlic, for two reasons: I was only cooking for two people and I have learned to respect the power of garlic. This time though, I boiled the garlic until it had become tender. By doing this, I took the edge off the taste and replaced the sharp bite with a smoother, sweeter flavor. Depending on the size of your dinner crowd, I could definitely see making an entire head of garlic; it seems not be as potent as previously feared. Add some vibrant red peppers, fresh green spinach and buttery mushrooms, toss with parmesan cheese and you’ve got yourself a meal. Even my omnivorous dad enjoyed it!
Garlic Pasta with Spinach, Mushrooms and Peppers
1 head of garlic
2 cups water
2 red bell peppers
1 bag [1 lb] fresh spinach
8 mushrooms
1 T olive oil or butter
Salt and Pepper
Parmesan Cheese
1. Peel and separate the cloves of garlic from the head. Boil garlic with water, covered, until very tender – about 30 min. [May have to add more water, check often]. Remove garlic cloves, RESERVE WATER. Put cloves in food processor [or use immersion blender] with less than a tsp of salt. Mix until forms a paste.
2. Broil bell peppers in oven at high heat until skin bubbles on all sides [about 10-15 min]. Take out of oven and let cool.
3. In skillet, heat oil/butter over medium heat. Cook mushrooms until tender, about 5 min. Remove.
4. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package instructions.
5. Rinse spinach. Place in skillet with reserved garlic water, cook until just wilted. Sprinkle salt, pepper and thyme to taste.
6. Peel skin off bell peppers and chop into bite-sized pieces.
7. Add the mushrooms, peppers and boiled garlic paste to the skillet. Mix with spinach until incorporated.
8. Place over bed of pasta, grate parmesan cheese on top!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Chewy Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies

Food and music have always been paramount to my life. As a young, bubbly 5-year-old, I found special meaning in the song that incorporated both: “Cookies” by Eric Clapton.

Oh, you haven’t heard of it? It goes:

If you wanna hang out you’ve got to take ‘em out; cookies.
If you wanna get down, down on the playground; cookies.
She don't lie, she don't lie, she don't lie; cookies.”


Alright, perhaps this was either my parental filter or my own naïve mind making a better lyrical alternative to the classic song, but either way the message still rings true: everyone loves cookies, no lie.

Whether it’s a sleepover, ‘hang out’, get-together, welcoming gift, or yummy snack, cookies are never unwelcome. The trouble is choice. How many times have you had an absolutely disgusting cookie? The problem is that there are just SO many delicious cookies out there. When it comes down to it, one cannot be led astray with the classic chocolate chip cookie. The gooey batter and rich chocolate chips are what have brought smiles to faces throughout the years. But, as always, you can make it better!

This time I wanted them soft batch without just under cooking them; chewier than the regular crisp cookies you get from “break and bake” packages. So I turned to Alton Brown’s recipe, adding a few alterations. It was a winner – definitely soft and chewy. I attribute that to the use of bread flour, which is higher in gluten. It is known as “hard flour” and is used to get the lofty, chewy, fluffiness of baked breads, and in this case, cookies. However, the real difference between all-purpose and bread flour is slight if you are cooking on a budget. Especially if you are just making cookies, you can and should go for the all-purpose flour because a bag o’ bread flour can set you back a few bucks.

But if you’ve got some around, it’s worth the experiment. The taste isn’t necessarily better or different per say, but the texture definitely is.

Chewy Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies [Original: Alton Brown]


2 sticks unsalted butter

2 ¼ c bread flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

¼ c white sugar

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 egg yolk

2 T milk

1 ½ tsp vanilla extract

1 bag of dark chocolate chips


1. Preheat oven to 375˚ F.

2. Sift all dry ingredients.

3. Mix dry ingredients with the butter [melted, in microwave or on stove], eggs, milk and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Add chocolate chips.

4. Chill the dough for about 15 min.

5. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or wax paper. Scoop cookies onto sheet, separate at least 1 inch apart.

6. Bake for about 10 min; rotate the baking sheet after about 5 min to get even browning.

7. Cool and store in airtight container.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies, depending on how much dough you end up eating along the way...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

You Aren’t Fully “Stock”ed Until You’ve Made This Vegetable Stock

So this is your first time making homemade vegetable stock. Basically, take your vegetable “garbage”, add spices and water, heat to boiling. Okay, not exactly. But you can put just about anything, perhaps even everything, in this broth; minus, of course, the kitchen sink [you will need that to fill your stock pot with water!]
The great thing about vegetable broth is it invites personal customization, creative liberties and imprecision. Those aging veggies in your fridge or pantry now have a rich, flavorful purpose.
Stock became an option after, as I had previously mentioned, the refrigerator decided to take a vacation in Antarctica. However, rather than send nice postcards it gave us a more personal gift: the same cold, snowcapped wasteland of Antarctica was now covering this week’s produce. We have, literally, “iceburg” lettuce, carrot-cicles, frozen fruits and other frosty foods. The only thing left to do was use them as stock.
My stock is two-fold process. It involves roasting the vegetables with the spices first, then boiling them in water. I can’t remember where I got the idea for that crazy, elongating process, but it makes a difference in the flavor. I recommend it.
The following recipe is what I did this time, but it’s all about what you like or have on hand. Feel free to try anything from carrots, celery, tomatoes, mushrooms, and broccoli to garlic, leeks, onions, spinach, or turnips, etc. etc. You will have to adjust and gauge the amount of water necessary, but I usually put in about a gallon. You don’t necessarily NEED a stock pot, but the bigger the pot the better – the more stock you can get out of it.
Vegetable Stock
1 lb celery
½ lb carrots
1 onion
1 tomato
6 mushrooms
5 cloves garlic
Handful of spinach
3-4 T olive oil
Sage, savory, rosemary, thyme, salt, peppercorns, basil, oregano, parsley, bay leaf
1 gallon water
1. Preheat oven to 425˚F.
2. Peel, cut, slice the vegetables.
3. Pour oil over the vegetables, and then add spices.
4. Roast in oven for about 20 min, turning halfway through.
5. In large pot or stock pot, add water and vegetables. Bring to a boil over high heat.
6. Boil for about 15 minutes, and then reduce to a simmer for about 1 hour, uncovered.
7. Take pot off heat, drain vegetables. Submerge pot in cold ice water. Allow to cool, but NOT OVERNIGHT [at max 3 hours].
8. Place in bags and freeze or refrigerate.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Extemporaneous Cooking: Kalamata Olive, Grape Tomato and Arugula Salad

In my high school years, I was on the Speech and Debate team. I won awards, went to state competitions, the whole nine yards; simply translated: I can be elegant and articulate on the fly. A skill that can be applied to a multitude of areas has now been applied to cooking.
A few weeks ago we had made a rich salad with a nice peppery bite to it. It had kalamata olives, grape tomatoes, arugula and dill in it, but we had made it up then and never wrote down a recipe. Obviously, it was delicious because I sat there on my Saturday wracking my brain to try and recreate this salad on paper. Then I remembered that the original cooking event was unplanned and unprepared, so might as well employ a little improv here.
The key is confidence. Confidence that your cooking have everyone salivating for the next bite, or the confidence to watch a mal-produced batch tossed this time around.
So I approached the great white countertop, and prepared what I had: olives, tomatoes, dill, arugula. Then I proceeded to ransack the cabinet and fridge for any salad seasoning ingredients. I approached the mixing bowl fully armed with olive oil, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, salt, and basil. What happened next was nothing short of crazy chemistry: no measurements, plenty of taste-testing. I give you the recipe with very general measurements. It is up to your taste buds to discern, to experiment, to create! Anyways, cooking can be fun when there is a sort of nervous excitement surrounding the outcome of the final product.
Kalamata Olive, Grape Tomato and Arugula Salad
½ lb kalamata olives, sliced
½ lb grape tomatoes, sliced
1/3 c olive oil
2 T lemon juice
½ t dill weed
Dash of basil, salt and cayenne pepper
1 pgk [1 lb?] fresh arugula or mixed greens – but really just enough for those eating
1. Slice olives and tomatoes.
2. Add in all ingredients, except arugula/salad greens.
3. Let stand in fridge until just ready to eat.
4. Toss with arugula.
5. Eat!
*Tip, if storing any leftovers: separate the greens from everything else; they will wilt and become soggy.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Plenty of Possibility: Pita Bread

Pita bread is heralded for its nutritional value, but is also often brushed aside due to its processed, flat appearance, often-dry-tasting-whole-wheat flavor, and “pita pocket” nonsense. While it’s still a “flatbread” by definition, pita can be fluffy and hearty on its own. Pita has become the victim of misuse when it serves as a mere edible plate for meals or snacks. This culinary crime masks its full potential. Store bought pitas are like withered raisins; I’m about to introduce you to the succulent, juicy grape. There is something inexplicably delectable about a freshly baked pita piping hot from the oven. WARNING: this pita might not make it to the hummus dip.
Definitely best eaten when hot, if you can’t recruit enough eaters the first go-round, these pitas can be quickly reheated in the microwave. For a snack, top with butter or hummus, or employ them as a base for miniature pizzas or veggie sandwiches. Pita has an untapped versatility just waiting to be explored. It’s a heavier pita recipe, but I think this offers a more substantial ingredient to work with. It also fits right along into my Mediterranean diet as well, which I have been dutifully trying to keep up. Overall, this pita bread has been thoroughly enjoyed.
It’s not a difficult bread to make, just carefully follow all the directions of this recipe I found in a forum and make sure to have warm water [but not hot] so as to not kill the yeast on contact. It’s totally doable in a college setting as well – no special machines required; just a nice hot oven and a non-drafty place. Other than that, enjoy being Greek for a night without having to rush a fraternity.
Whole Wheat Pita Bread
1 [1/4-oz] package active dry yeast [2 ½ t]
1 t honey
1 ¼ c warm water [105˚-115˚F]
2 c bread flour or high-gluten flour, plus some for kneading
1 c whole wheat flour
¼ c extra-virgin olive oil
1 t salt
Cornmeal for sprinkling on baking sheets
1. Stir together yeast, honey and ½ CUP warm water in large bowl, then let stand until foamy, about 5 MINUTES. [If it doesn’t foam, discard and restart]
2. While yeast stands, stir together flours in another bowl. Whisk ½ c flour mixture into yeast mixture until smooth, then cover with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk and bubbly – about 45 MINUTES
3. Stir in oil, salt, remaining ¾ c warm water and remaining 2 ½ c flour until dough forms.
4. Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic [not sticky, not dry] – 8 to 10 MINUTES.
5. Form dough ball and put in large, oiled bowl, turning to coat the dough with oil.
6. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise in warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk – 1 HOUR.
7. Punch down dough and separate into 8 pieces.
8. Form each piece into ball; flatten ball; roll out into 6 ½ - 7 inch round on floured surface with floured rolling pin.
9. Transfer round to 1 or 2 baking sheets lightly sprinkled with cornmeal. Make 7 more – 4 on each sheet.
10. Cover pitas with clean kitchen towels, let stand/rise at room temperature – 30 MINUTES.
11. Set oven rack in lower third of oven and remove other racks. Preheat oven to 500˚F.
12. Put in one sheet, 4 pitas, at a time. Bake until just puffed and pale golden – 2 MINUTES. Turn over with tongs and bake 1 MINUTE more. Repeat.
13. Cool pitas on cooling rack, wrap kitchen towel around them to keep warm.
Enjoy 8 nom-tastic pitas!