Saturday, June 23, 2012

Joy the Baker's Single Girl Melty Chocolate Cake

Oh, that Joy the Baker!  I was so pleased with my (admittedly food-poisoning-induced) ten-pound weight loss… And then Joy the Baker’s “single girl melty chocolate cake” came into my life, courtesy of the Joy the Baker Cookbook.  This bit’o’cake is petite and addictive and far too easy.  I’ve made two versions (for the sake of science, obviously) and both made me want to make out with the cake. 

Joy is wrong about one thing: this is a two-person cake.  Both nights I made this cake and ate it (for science) I was unable to finish it, although I tried my best.  It was silky and seductive, heavy with chocolate, simple, direct, something to think about hours after it was gone.  Dear god, this cake was the best affair I’ve never had – and it was just too much.  With a wee scoop of ice cream, this is a two (to four) person sweet treat.

Before I go any further, I must implore you:  buy this book:

It’s everything I hoped it could be – it’s well written, engaging, informative, and full of things I wanted to make.  It didn’t freak me out or make me feel inadequate; it is simply, beautifully, humorously inspiring.  It’s full of things I can handle, in ways I’ve never thought of – absolutely marvelous.  I was lucky enough to receive Joy the Baker’s cookbook as a KCRW angel member (another thing I implore you to go for, if you’re a KCRW listener) and I’m so thankful.  I never buy baking-skewed cookbooks because I’m easily frightened, so, thanks, KCRW! (Note: KCRW is my local public radio station – the programming is stellar and you can listen, and subscribe, online.)

Okay, the recipe.  You want this – you want to keep it in your virtual back pocket.  This is something you can make anywhere you have access to basic ingredients and have fifteen minutes of spare time.  You know how on Top Chef everyone is defeated by dessert?  It’s because they don’t have Joy the Baker as an ally – her cake will make you king the lab, Top Chef champion, and the best date ever.   It will make you look like a rockstar chocolate goddess.  After making it twice (for the sake of science) I had the recipe memorized.  It’s like having a superpower, or an edible Invisibility Snuggie.  It’s awesome.
Adapted from Joy the Baker’s Single Girl Melty Chocolate Cake, found in Joy the Baker Cookbook: 100 Simple and Comforting Recipes


1 tbsp butter
¼ c semi-sweet chocolate chips, or heaping ¼ c chunks
1 egg
4 tsp sugar
1 tsp flour
pinch salt

Variation options:
¼ tsp instant coffee (add to melting butter and chocolate) OR
1 tsp strong-brewed coffee* (add to melting butter and chocolate) OR
Pinch orange zest (add to melting butter and chocolate) OR
Pinch cinnamon (add to flour and salt)…..and on and on.


Preheat oven to 375F and butter ¾ c or 1 c ramekin.

Heat butter and chocolate in a double boiler**.  As this is melting, whisk egg and sugar vigorously in medium-sized bowl - I gave it a serious beating the second time and my tiny piece of heaven rose beautifully.  When chocolate and butter have melted and combined, add to egg/sugar mixture and whisk.  This will thicken.  Stir in flour and salt.  Pour into butter 3/4-cup ramekin and bake in preheated oven for 8-10 minutes, checking regularly after 8 minutes.

Let the cake rest for 2-3 minutes.  If you plan on turning it onto a small plate, run a knife around the edge.  Or, do as I have done and set the ramekin on a folded napkin on top of  a small plate (to keep it from sliding onto your legs and ruining your night).


* you’re adding liquid, so it will impact the texture and cooking time – I had trouble getting this version out of the ramekin cleanly, but the taste was so extraordinary that I’m happy to eat it directly out of the ramekin.
** or microwave, or glass bowl set above an inch of simmering water, which is what I did…

I used Scharffen Berger semi-sweet chunks; chocolate is the bulk of this dessert, so use the best you can.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Everything old is new again: Spicy Chorizo Tostadas


One of my favorite family dinners as a kid were something we always called chalupas, but I think they’d be more accurately called tostadas.  The were corn tortilla shells smeared with refried beans and spiced ground beef, cheese, pickled jalapenos, and sour cream (if I recall correctly).  I resurrected this family fave recently (so…zombie tostadas?) and plan to make this a regular casual dinner party meal.  Most everything can be prepped ahead, so you're free to sit and drink margaritas on the front porch with your guests.

I make no claim that these are in any way traditional Mexican fare, only that they are delicious.  We’ve updated the family recipe with Mexican chorizo, fresh jalapenos, and fresh cilantro and avocados, which are much easier to find and afford here in California than in Massachusetts in the 80’s.  We’ve also swapped Greek yogurt for the sour cream; nothing wrong with sour cream or crema, but we always keep Greek yogurt in the house, so it was a matter of convenience. 

When we were kids, a major characteristic of a successful family meal was sweat – specifically on our upper lips and brows.  We liked a spicy meal.  In the grand family tradition, we’ve upped the kick on this version: the chorizo is spicy, I used a local dairy’s spicy pepper jack cheese, chiles in the refried beans, topped them with some habanero salsa, and purely by chance we ended up with the three hottest jalapenos in the land.  These zombie tostadas were fantastic and the margaritas and beer kept us cool – or at least gently soused, so we didn’t care that we were on fire.

If I were at my best, there are a few things I might have made from scratch.  I would have liked to have tried out Elise Bauer’s refried beans , Michael Ruhlman’s Mexican chorizo recipe (seen here with an amazing egg recipe!) , and homemade salsa.  However, even if like me you’re temporarily impaired, and look a lot like Joan Cusack in Sixteen Candles, you can use some prepared ingredients with great results. 

Zombie Tostadas


18 tostada shells – these are round, flat and already crisp corn tortillas*
2-14oz cans refried beans with chiles (or an equal amount of homemade)
1 pound of Mexican chorizo, browned and well drained
8 oz. pepper jack or jack cheese, grated
1 bunch scallions or green onions, sliced
3 jalapenos, sliced
8 oz Greek yogurt, crema or sour cream
1 cup + salsa
2-3 avocados, sliced
1 cup+ cilantro leaves

Preheat oven to 350.

Sauté Chorizo, breaking up meat with a fork or my favorite, a potato masher.  When fully cooked and well browned, drain and set aside on a paper towel lined plate.  Meanwhile, heat refried beans in a small saucepan.

Lay out your tortilla shells on a lined cookie sheet.  I found that six per cookie sheet fit nicely.  Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of beans on each tortilla, spreading evenly and to the edges.  Sprinkle with one tablespoon of chorizo and about 2 tablespoons of cheese per tortilla.

Bake 10-12 minutes, until cheese is well melted and chorizo is quite hot to the touch.

We set up the remaining ingredients as self-serve in little bowls on the table, so everyone could dress their tostada to their own liking.

Serves 6-8, depending on side dishes


Expect to need to drain the chorizo at least once as you're browning it - it's some fatty stuff.

We can get tostada shells in the grocery store in California, but when we were kids my stepmom would have to buy soft corn tortillas and fry them, so that's an option if you can't find them near you.

We went minimalist, so we just served it with this jalapeno slaw (also: margaritas), conveniently finishing the huge head of red cabbage in the fridge from our pulled pork extravaganza.  However, sometime I’d love to do this Baked Buttered Corn or just corn grilled in their husks, maybe with some lime zest, chile powder and butter.

I ate some of the remaining tostada shells with a fresh batch of beans and some avocado and salsa nearly every day for lunch - the pictures above, with the exception of the chorizo, are from a lunch batch.  While it was lacking some of the fixings, the key points of what make this so tasty and delightful – crunchy AND creamy, hot AND cold, spicy AND refreshing – remained in the leftovers.  Take some license, add what you like and omit what you don’t, but try it – and let me know what you think!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Baking Bacon and Bacon, Egg and Tapenade Sandwiches

Life is pretty simple these days.  Post-op recovery has been slower than expected and I still can’t move my neck enough to cook, never mind drive, but as I have found myself stranded in my neighborhood, unable to do much more than meander around looking at things that are just at head height, I can’t imagine a better neighborhood to be mildly invalided in than this one.  My typical day includes a doctor-ordered stroll and then hours of icing.  A heavy day includes a shower and even more icing.  It could become mind-numbingly boring, but low expectations and a good audiobook make all the difference.

The gardens here are gorgeous and varied – succulents galore, fruit trees and grasses, palms and a hundred flowering things, jasmine, honeysuckle, roses, camellias, morning glories, bougainvillea. 

I head north past my neighbor’s lovely roses and take a left at bushes of heady-smelling, warm white jasmine and toward the canals.   

It would be easy enough to just zigzag through the canals, watching ducks and paddlers and eccentrics pushing dogs in strollers, but after a week of that I needed to branch out.  There are walk streets that lace through Venice, blocks and blocks of houses facing one another separated just by shady paths, streets and driveways hidden at the back.  It’s a peaceful and cool place full of brightly painted old craftsman cottages and striking modern, glass front homes.

Venice is decidedly quirky and firmly a community.  This is my favorite sighting from the weekend’s walks: a mini lending library, nailed to a front fence.

It’s amazing how hungry a mosey can make you.  My kitchen abilities are limited, but I have found a new favorite egg sandwich that makes a lovely brunch and, with some help from Felix at the weekend, I can put it together myself.  Hard boil some eggs and bake some bacon, which can be reheated quickly, and all of the makings are at the ready.

Baking bacon is easy-peasy and I love that it doesn’t just sit festering in its own fat.  Line a baking sheet with foil and prop an oven-safe cooling rack on it.  Spread out your bacon and bake at 375F.  The length of time required will depend on the starting temperature and thickness of your bacon.  Start your timer at 20 minutes and then check at 5-minute intervals until it’s almost perfect – it will cook just a touch more even after you take it out.  

I use the bacon all week – not just in sandwiches but minced in cannelloni filling or chopped in quiches or pastas.  We’ve been eating less meat, so this adds a hint of smoky meatiness to a recipe without overdoing it.

To assemble the sandwich, crumble just a tablespoon or so of soft goat cheese with the tines of a fork onto your bottom bun and top with a slice and a half of hot bacon.  Cover with wedges of egg and close with the top of your bun, smeared with black olive tapenade.  A bit of wild arugula, if you have it, is a fantastic addition.


Friday, June 1, 2012

Getting by with a little help from my friends: Pulled Pork Sandwiches and Jalapeno Slaw

As mentioned previously, I’m recovering from a spinal surgery that has rendered me useless in the kitchen.  For the first couple of weeks, due mostly to the coincidental food poisoning less than a week after surgery, I was firmly anti-food.  I know I’m starting to return to normal not just because I can move my head a bit side to side, but because I’m itching to cook or bake (or even steam, for crying out loud, so long as it’s me doing it).  I have had this link open for days, but I’m nowhere near ready to knead.  And this  one has been calling to me again – all cinnamon spice and sweet.  When I can lift a pot in and out of the oven, I’m all over that one.

The worst thing about this stage of the healing process is boredom – I’m just vigorous enough to want to be active and social but it’s better imagined than done.  I get sore and cranky and sometimes just cry unattractively for no reason.  That’s just not fair to one’s friends, and my friends deserve the best.  I've had persistent, dedicated visitors these last couple weeks, armed with homemade scones or dinner or movies and unafraid to put goo on my wound or brave the grocery store at dinner time. 

It was weather for eating out this past weekend, and I’d been in pajamas for two weeks and I was aching to flex my hostess muscles.  Felix humored me with strict guidelines: he was not going to spend his day cooking and his night cleaning it up.  Therefore, I could play hostess if I took help – from the store in the form of prepared foods and from my lovely friends.

Before dinner we snacked on Cypress Grove goat cheese, local Adam’s Ranch olive tapenade, and crackers that are likely not as good as homemade, but are damn tasty nonetheless and require no baking or dish washing.

For the main event I chose pulled pork sandwiches with slaw.  I used a good quality store-bought sauce but made a great dry rub for my pork butt (shoulder) and Felix did the literal heavy lifting – putting two four-pound roasts in the oven, well rubbed, for 7 hours.  I used this method and a combination of dry mustard, brown sugar, salt, pepper, hot chili powder and a chili powder blend (Penzey’s Chili 3000, which I didn’t love in chili and repurposed as a rub with great results).  Small brioche rolls were purchased and Felix made our absolute favorite slaw recipe, below.  It’s adapted from Smitten Kitchen and originally Bobby Flay’s.  It’s genius, particularly if you’re not a huge mayo fan and you like some kick.  In this case, slaw should be on the sandwich, of course, but it makes a great side dish for enchiladas or tacos or ribs or burgers on the grill.

Our friend Nicky brought a bean and avocado salad – citrusy and smoky and substantive – and our Rachel brought a bright, sharp wild arugula, tomato and avocado salad of which I had thirds (!) .  Finally, or should I say (Grand) Finale, Molly brought these cookies by Ronnie Fein.  Absolutely amazing team effort - I'm so grateful.

Jalapeno Slaw

1 cup green onions, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 jalapenos, stem removed and seeded
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon mayonnaise
1/2 cup pure olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

1 very small head or ½ large head purple cabbage, finely shredded
1/4 cup cilantro leaves

Combine first six ingredients in blender and puree until very smooth.  When ready to serve (and not before, unless you want a sodden, soggy, separated swirl of sad cabbage at your supper), combine shredded cabbage and dressing.  I like to put the cilantro leaves on the top of the serving bowl or platter, rather than mix them in.

Enjoy – this made for a wonderful, low stress meal among friends when I desperately needed it.  There’s nothing like breaking bread with friends to make you feel like part of the world again – particularly if that bread is full of pork.