I should have been writing. Instead…Stovetop Chocolate Cake.

 

File_001Yes, stovetop. A challenge worth pursuing.

This recipe came from Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street website.

And I have to say, as with Cook’s Country/America’s Test Kitchen [C. Kimball’s most recent endeavor], the accompanying video segments were extremely helpful.

***

As the cake steams–yep, steams– toward completion, some questions and notions:

  • This will be my default ‘baking’ method during the heat of summer. 
  • A while back, I mentioned my tendency to do weird, lame stuff in the kitchen, such as mixing or chopping at the very edge of the counter. Wull-gee, what are the odds something’s going to end up on the floor? I do eventually learn from repeated bungling, however. So this time, the floor was spared the usual cascade of ingredients. Bravo.
  • Buuuut, did that keep me from having my laptop hanging precariously over counter’s edge as I began typing this post? Uhhh, no. Seems like once I hit my threshold of competency, all bets are off. Hide the knives, check the burners, and pray. [Doesn’t matter which god you choose, by the way. They all understand kitchen hazards. And at some point in the process, I become the poster child.]
  • I should have hired a first-grader to cut my circle of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan.
  • With this stovetop strategy, will we still be treated to the warm, enveloping aroma of a baked chocolate cake? Answer: No.
  • I’m not supposed to lift that lid till the prescribed 23 minutes has lapsed. I actually resisted. Decision: It needed an extra five to seven minutes. On the upside, unless the water has evaporated, the risk of burning the cake is minimal. In other words, steam bath: forgiving…oven heat: cruel and merciless.
  • When it comes to chocolate desserts, our mantra: Dark = better. Darker = more better.
  • Always remember: Eating cake by the hunk enhances flavor by 23%. [Margin of error: +/- 5%]
  • My wife rolls her eyes at my Philistine ways, bBut I say, ‘If I bake it, I break it.’ And it’s oh-so-good that way. Besides, she gets to even out the ragged edges.

Final verdict: This recipe is a keeper. The cake came out dark and dense and moist. What more could you want?

 

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The steaming takes place inside a Dutch oven–actually any pot with a tight-fitting lid and deep/wide enough to fit an eight or nine-inch cake pan. The coil of aluminum foil simply keeps the cake above the heated water.

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The chocolate shmeer on the plate is a sure sign of this cake’s moistness. [The added chocolate chunks don’t hurt either.]

Added notes: Apologies to Bitter Ben, whose blog I follow. Rather than bittersweet, I used semi-sweet chocolate chunks from Trader Joe’s.

And to faithful reader Virginia [Roses in the Rubble], try this recipe. It should be a fair payback for the recipes you’ve shared with me.

 

I should have been writing. Instead…biscuits.

 

 

biscuits reduced size

Yep, biscuits. So much more rewarding than wrangling over a first draft that points to the dwindling intellect of a ‘certain writer’.

They were the finale after the arugula pesto and the tofu spread.

Pretty sure I lost my two readers with those last two words, but stick with me here…

Solution to tofu that tastes [and behaves] like spackle: Heat the olive oil, bloom the spices in the oil, *then* add the tofu, the caramelized onions, the arugula, and whatever else won’t resist your purposeful grope into the fridge.

Essentially, you make a tofu scramble and pulverize it in the food processor. Now you actually have something with flavor that you can spread on bread, but without the sinfulness of cheese.

Back to the biscuits…today, I used the New York Times’ all-purpose biscuit recipe as my starting point. I had already sullied the food processor when I made the pesto, so I snagged a cube of butter from the freezer and grated it into the flour. [The photo below is telling me I should have also added parm to the mix.]

parmesan-cheese grater

 

So, no cheese this time, but afternoon coffee and biscuits ensued.

dog mug

Sitting in the backyard sun, feet up on another chair, two of my favorite foods, my truly favorite person, and the knowledge that the writing projects will still be there when I saunter back. Life’s good.

 

 

I should have been writing. Instead… [the sequel at 375 degrees].

The weather is cool enough to fire up the oven, so it’s time to roll out the crusts I made on Saturday.

My French teacher, Brother Reinkens, would prefer I call it a ‘galette’–do you get the feeling I’m haunted by my high school years?…time out…my facial tics are back…….okay, the medication’s kicking in…I call this, not so simply, “If Picasso made a rustic apple-dotted-with-raspberries pie.”

rustic apple pie

This is the smaller, experimental cinnamon-with-vanilla crust, so you’re looking at a pastry with six-inch sides. I turned over the larger crust to my wife, who opted for those plums from the neighbors. That hummer is still baking.

However, here is the real reason to make extra pie crust–in this case, sour cream pie crust.

pie crust strips

These food-like mutants of dubious origin will soon morph into strips of bubbling butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon.

Like this, for instance…

pie crust strips baked

Finally, lest** you think barbarism reigns supreme in the kitchen, my wife dials things back with symmetry, order, even beauty [though don’t think I’m not reveling in the plentiful ooze on the right edge].

plum galette

 

**My apologies for the snooty use of ‘lest’. Trying to make up for the ‘arson aftermath’ look of the pie crust strips, I’d say. [An aside: I really don’t get why Food Network hasn’t come calling for my descriptive flair. I think Ina Garten and her Hamptons crowd and I would hit it off quite well.]

Geez, the kitchen smells good. Time for an afternoon mug of Mayan Blend…

dog mug

 

I should have been writing. Instead…

First of all, I’m thankful my boss is so forgiving, so understanding, so

  • interested in cooking as I am.
  • accepting of the power of displacement activities. [i.e. baking, procrastination in the form of picking up apples from the backyard, watering the front yard heathers to stave off the 100 degree heat, baking some more, making poblano pesto, watching golf–a sure sign that I’ve completely succumbed to the lures of the passive life]
  • open to writing tasks being mere suggestions in one’s life, not mandates.

Of course, I am he. [Yes, that’s grammatically correct and it sounds so wrong, so snooty, so…sophomore year English class.]

Well, anyway…[picture Brother McCarthy hovering, arms crossed, berating me for not getting to the point within the first 20 words]

I’ve pounded out my first 1000 words already, but I’m in debt from the two previous days of productive weenieness.

I blame my neighbors.

You see, no matter how misguided and unjust the practice, my boss is also firmly on-board withfingerpoinitng

 

Those nice folks dropped off a bag of fresh-picked plums and my wife [and co-boss] mentioned the word ‘galette’ and since I took French during my first two years of high school, I really had no choice.

And because I am extremely intuitive when it comes to baking, I concluded that I needed a crust.

No big deal. I like to try different crusts, but I would say any crust should work for you.one-and-a-half of these little hummers are sitting in the fridge–

I now have one-and-a-half of these little hummers [aka crusts] sitting in the fridge–all those gluten strands relaxing, all those fat/flour/butter globules [hardly prime terminology for cookbook authors] hydrating.

The half of a crust resulted from me thinking, ‘Hey, I have a half cube of butter, plenty of flour, plenty of salt, plenty of sugar, full-fat yogurt, and an adventurous spirit!’. Okay-yes, my inner monologues aren’t quite that formal, but I threw those together in proper proportions, fed that adventurous spirit by tossing in cinnamon and some vanilla, and well…

Will let you know how this all shakes out.

I should have been writing. Instead…Fudgy Mocha Bars

There’s nothing I like better than seeing my wife drive off for a few errands–now, now, now, let me finish–so I can dive into a baking project.

The best part? When she returns, she is enveloped in the aroma of chocolate decadence at 350 degrees.

[Even better? When I have time to clean the kitchen before she gets back. Nailed it!]

The task at hand was Fudgy Mocha Bars from Dorie Greenspan’s Dorie’s Cookies.

fudgy mocha bar _2 with caption

I eased up a bit on the flour [adds to the candy bar effect] and pushed the cocoa [measuring? I don’t think soooo.].

The 30-minute cooling-off period [in other words, infinity] gave me some mulling time:

  1. Since when did manufacturers [aka the insidious “they”] start making chocolate chip packages ‘adult-safe’? Am I now so pathetic that I need to pack a trusty pair of scissors wherever I go? And am I now so lame that I’ll also need a scissors-holster? [“T, how many times have I told you?! No hobbling through the house with scissors!”]

  2. Since when did I drift into a parallel universe where I started dicing, spreading, and/or kneading along the edge of the counter? Have I suddenly forgotten gravity’s peculiar powers? I can see it coming– Roombas pre-programmed with: “Clean up at the east wing of the kitchen!”. 

Result on the Fudgy Mocha Bars: I broke off an ample hunk for breakfast. [Note: food tastes better in hunks. Well, except for soup…and salads…okay, you know what I mean.]



When I saw the photo of the Fudgy Mocha Bars, I wondered how different they would be from just plain brownies. And yet, there was a different, and welcome, consistency.

Speaking of brownies [and I can’t think of a reason not to speak of them], here is my favorite recipe: Best Cocoa Brownies from Alice Medrich’s Cookies and Brownies

Gotta tell you…these two ladies know their way around an oven.

I should be writing. Instead, I…

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…fell prey to a visit to Blueberry Meadows for our annual “‘pickin’ and grinnin’ and bakin’” venture. [Okay, that’s just lame, nor is it a term we’ve ever used, but, according to my wife, it’s safer for all concerned to just humor me and move on as if I’m normal.]

Subconsciously [or consciously–I really have no culinary moral compass], I must have felt I owed it to myself, since yesterday I didn’t give in to my customary saunter through the Farmer’s Market, where I snag a couple of potato flour donuts and a loaf of Altamura bread from Gathering Together Farms.

And if the nice, nice ladies from El Salvador have their griddle warmed up…

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you won’t see me turning down a trio of their specialty pupusas.

Not exactly the poster boy for culinary restraint, I admit. [But no worries, we have plans to widen the doorways throughout the house.]


 

So it was straight to the kitchen after the return home.

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[I’d like to claim the pretty, blueberry-infused muffins as mine–“Uh, dear, do you want some batter to go with those blueberries?”–, but those are the work of my wife.

For me, it was time to experiment, as I swirled lemon curd in my half of the batter and I ‘roasted’ some of the berries to bring out the sugar. I sauteéd another handful of berries in a butter/brown sugar/brandy sauce. [In hind-taste, I could have used a bit more brandy.]

Now, for those recipe-writers with the temerity to warn us off the muffins to allow for ‘cool-down’, well, piffle! I mean, why not just grab a fork and dig right into one straight from the pan?

Then again, if you’re one of the effete elite, well, yeah, I guess you probably should wait the whole half-hour so the muffins will come out intact.

Then-then again, with enough batter and a mini-pie plate, compromises can be reached

bluebarry mondo muffin

For the faint of heart, avert your eyes and cover your ears, everybody, I’m goin’ in!

[Don’t tell my wife. You wouldn’t want to disturb her reading anyway, right?]

 

Verdict? Plenty moist [the lemon curd helped], plenty of berry flavor, and just enough of the citrus overtone to encourage future experimentation.

I’d better stop eating these little hummers so I’ll be hungry for dinner.

I should be writing. Instead…

I’m cooking. Chile verde is on the menu. Didn’t have to be, but hey, we procrastinators have to/tend to follow the latest shiny object, which, in this case, was the stainless steel pot you see below.

A few realizations, however.

First-draft writing and cooking–

1. They often result in a mess, albeit unavoidable. [A minor victory: I left the dishes for later while I posted this.]

2. I often balk at taking that first taste. What if it’s hazmat material? And that look back at the first 500 words? I’d rather not see how awkward, nonsensical, and/or high-minded it is.

3. Giving the work time to develop–whether on the stovetop or in our mind–almost always improves the final product.

4. The experimentation doesn’t end once you turn on the heat. I’ll be dividing the sauce between a meat version and a vegetarian version. And my stories? New roadblocks and characters will inevitably show up.

chile verdeAnd in an ironic twist, by writing about another departure from my appointment at the keyboard, I’m actually following through on that same appointment. [Welcome to my world…]

Please refrain from comments reminding me about the dirty dishes. Let me bask for awhile. Thanks for reading.