The Ultimate Chocolate Cake @ 1000 Calories Per Slice

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The ultimate chocolate cake.

The ultimate chocolate cake.

Now, here’s the issue with any ‘ultimate’ chocolate cakes, as I see it. Sure, they have to be rich, as per the definition of the word chocolate. Yet they also have to be the sort of thing you can indulge in without too much backlash from your body.  This is why I bake without sugar, refined flour, or typical vegetable oils. But how can you do that without compromising taste — and, in fact, improving it at times? Well, xylitol is a great sugar substitute, and functions like a slow-burning, complex carb in your body (at least in terms of energy purposes), and white whole wheat flour (from King Arthur/Trader Joe’s) is usually indistinguishable from white. As for vegetable fats, rice bran oil is quite stable and difficult to oxidize — even if lightly refined — and pretty much has no taste. So, it’s a healthy alternative both to supermarket oils (which are quite refined) and things like coconut oil (healthy, but too strong a taste). This means that, in a chocolate cake, the worst that will happen to you is a caffeine buzz and a few shortened telomeres. As for all that saturated fat? Stop worrying. Cocoa butter, butter, and the like are life-affirming — to use a cult-like phrase — and anthropologically sound. You just need to make sure they’re well-sourced.

The recipe (adapted from here) calls for 3 sticks of butter. If you go with a single-layer cake (as per this recipe), you can get away with 2 sticks. And 2 sticks ARE probably better, since no one in my household could finish a full-fledged slice without the aforementioned backlash. That said, 3 sticks is canonical, and so, 3 sticks it is.

It also calls for cocoa powder. I guess there’s not THAT much difference from item to item, but Trader Joe’s cocoa powder seems richer and ‘meatier’ than most I’ve tried, besides being quite cheap. It also calls for 2 high-quality chocolate bars, and Trader Joe’s is good for this, too. Make sure it’s at least 70%, with a minimum of sugar. White baking chocolate can be anything, but, again, the less sweet the better. Your only sugar in this recipe will come from the chocolate bars. Choose them appropriately, and this will mean nothing.

Recipe: The Ultimate Chocolate Cake

  • 2 cups whole wheat white flour, preferably King Arthur/Trader Joe’s
  • 1 1/2 cups xylitol, powdered
  • 2 dark chocolate bars, crushed (7-8 oz total)
  • 4-6 oz white baking chocolate, crushed
  • 3/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 oz crushed pecans
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1-2 tsp espresso powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c. rice bran oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup half & half
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Recipe: Chocolate Frosting

  • 3 sticks of butter, left in dish overnight
  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 – 1 cup xylitol (taste and see)
  • 1/2 cup half & half
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp espresso powder
The ultimate chocolate cake, redux.

The ultimate chocolate

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Recipe: Beef & Mushroom Lasagna

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Beef & Mushroom lasagna. Photo credit Eun Lee.

Beef & Mushroom lasagna. Photo credit Eun Lee.

Although spaghetti — at least the way I make it — is my favorite Italian dish, I reserve lasagna for special occasions. This used to be because lasagna is (or was, rather) just so damn hard to make, with the boiling and separating of noodles on a limited stove-top, in a kitchen where the oven and sauce were going simultaneously, but these noodles changed all that. The “no boil” variety cuts out the hardest step of all, but lasagna is still a surprisingly expensive dish, given the ingredients. There’s the ricotta, as well 3 other kinds of cheeses, there’s the large amount of vegetable filling, there’s the search for good-quality meat, and unexpected things like nutmeg and lemon that might not always be on hand. On average, a large tray costs me roughly $35-$40, which, while still better than eating out, is still a splurge for me.

Anyway, the concept for lasagna is the same as for most of my pasta dishes. The emphasis is on 3 key ingredients: shiitake (thin variety, and fresh), basil, and tomatoes. After much trial and error, these are the 3 most complementary ingredients I’ve found, and although shiitake isn’t Italian, the ‘umami’ flavor of tomatoes certainly is, which shiitake merely amplifies, much more so than portabella or button mushrooms. More heads of garlic is better than less, black pepper is good, and bell peppers work quite well, staying firm, as they do, even with an hour in the oven. The real deviation is the cheese. Parmesan/romano is my usual staple, but for lasagna, I also bring in mozzarella and ricotta. The ricotta needs to be fluffed with lemon and lots of nutmeg, then set aside. This gives the pasta a taste that is almost sweet, at times, and unique among most pastas.

Recipe For Beef & Mushroom Lasagna:

  • 1 can of Trader Joe’s basil marinara
  • 2 boxes of DeLallo Whole Wheat Lasagna, no-boil
  • 1 lb of grass-fed ground beef
  • 1 lb of tomatoes, diced
  • 1 lb of mixed bell peppers, diced
  • 1 lb of ricotta
  • 1 lb of onion, diced
  • 3 heads of garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 lb of mixed cooking leaves (spinach, chard, baby kale, etc.)
  • 1/2 lb of fresh basil
  • 1/2 lb of shiitake mushrooms, fresh, diced
  • 1/2 lb of mozzarella
  • 4 oz of parmesan/romano
  • 1 lemon
  • 2-3 tbsp of rice bran oil
  • 2-3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
  • black pepper — more is good!
  • 2-3 tsp nutmeg
Lasagna, cut to glory. Photo credit Eun Lee.

Lasagna, cut to glory. Photo credit Eun Lee.

Instructions:

  1. 1. Empty Trader Joe’s pasta sauce into a 5 or 6 quart pot, on medium heat.
  2. Slowly add in 1/2 the diced vegetables, basil, and cooking greens, then cover.
  3. After the leaves have cooked down some, add in final vegetables, with the garlic last. Order doesn’t really matter.
  4. Add rice bran oil, parmesan/romano cheese, pepper, and ground beef. Stir until well-mixed.
  5. As the sauce continues to cook for 15-20 minutes, covered, make the ricotta
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Recipe: Korean Food — Shrimp, Vegetable, & Brown Rice Cake Stew

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Korean food

Korean food, up close.

One of the best things I like about Korean food is its clear demarcation: the ‘peasant food’ is simple, quick to make, and pretty good for you. The ‘palace food’ is opulent, oily, and — too often — best reserved for an immature palate. As many Koreans have moved over to more Western diets and richer fare, ideas about what makes food food are lost, not only in terms of cooking/ingredient lists, but the historical process of food, itself. This is too bad, since actually KNOWING a few things about why food is the way it is opens you to making wiser dietary choices in other contexts. In short, food has a function, an evolutionary role, and it is safe to say that those that violate some basic precepts have not survived to hand their ill experiences down.

Korean food

Korean food, at distance.

As far as Korean food goes, one thing that has always amazed me is — barring the white rice, and the insufficient protein for some Western bodies — Korean food almost seems engineered for health. Historically, food shortages are/were common worldwide, but in cultures that don’t have much of a tradition in fermentation, these shortages will hit harder. Thus, Korean food makes use of fermentation: pickled cabbage, pickled onions/scallion, pickled radishes, root vegetables, sea vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, soy, and whatever else, which not only extends shelf life, but more densely packs nutrients in a smaller amount of food. Food scraps are easily saved for this, and while they might not hold much value on their own, the fermentation process expands what can be assimilated by the body, as well as opening one up to a variety of healthy bacteria that has, over time, been lost due to sanitation and a fear of ALL bacteria, no matter its ecological role.

So, kimchi is a staple of my household, and if it’s not homemade (the best choice), it is store-bought (which is ok). Basics run cheap, so 2 lbs of picked vegetable matter with great ingredients runs you under $5, while making it yourself can be as little as $1-$2. So is wild shrimp, which is bought in bulk and frozen (since it’s rarely available), mixed cooking leaves, shiitake, carrots, and other items that often just need to be thrown together without much thought. Given the robust and complementary flavor of sesame oil, soy sauce, and Korean red pepper, pretty much any vegetable choice is fine, and the brown rice cake eliminates any need to cook or pre-cook rice, or do any sort of clean-up afterwards.

Korean food uses a huge diversity of vegetables, and, after some experimentation, I’ve settled on the choices, below. I’d recommend trying it out as is, first, before making any alterations. Don’t worry about the sodium content if you usually cook food, as opposed to eat pre-made meals. 8 tbsp of soy sauce split across 4 people comes out to less than half of the salt that you should be … Continue reading →

Recipe: Chopped Mai Fun

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Chopped mai fun.

Chopped mai fun: crispy, and unorthodox.

Although pasta is still tops, for me, I’m still a fan of Asian noodles, especially if I can get them in whole grain. A few years ago, I discovered Annie Chun’s brown rice mai fun, which looks, tastes, and feels exactly like the white variety, to the point that I doubted their actual nutritional content. Over time, however, I did notice the discrepancies, but only because I’d train myself to — as with different pasta varieties, and the like. Typically, mai fun is dominated by, well, mai fun, and is more or less a simple starch with vegetables as an accoutrement. I can’t really eat like this, but if you’ve got the right ingredients, you can ‘chop’ the mai fun and fry it to a good crisp on all sides, without worrying about degrading the oil, then add as many vegetables as you want. It’s not exactly mai fun, in the way it’s traditionally made, but has much more substance, with the crisp giving it a Western feel, to boot.

One thing to watch out for is wet ingredients, as they’ll prevent a good crisp from forming, or at least make you overcook things in your quest for such. Rinse all ingredients in a colander, shake off the excess water, and cover with a paper towel to soak up the rest a few hours before cooking.

Chopped Mai Fun  Recipe (Serves 2):

  • 1 package of brown rice mai fun
  • 2 fistfuls of fresh bean sprouts
  • 2 fistfuls of chopped cabbage
  • 1 large red carrot, chopped into 1/2 inch sticks
  • 2-3 oz frozen peas, rinsed, thawed, and completely drained
  • 8 oz shrimp, thawed in salt water, drained
  • 4 quality eggs
  • 3-4 tbsp of rice bran oil
  • 3-4 tbsp of soy sauce
  • a few shakes of cayenne or Korean red pepper

Instructions:

  1. Boil noodles for no more than 2 minutes, drain completely, and set aside.
  2. Add rice bran oil to a large wok or pan, and saute carrot for 5 minutes.
  3. Gradually add cabbage, peas, and bean sprouts, until cabbage is translucent.
  4. Break 4 eggs into pan, add 2 tbsp of soy sauce, and a few shakes of the pepper. Mix until egg is fully cooked.
  5. Add shrimp, mix well, and cover pan for 2 minutes.
  6. Throw in the mai fun, alongside another tbsp of oil, soy sauce, and more cayenne.
  7. Mix well, then turn the heat up to high. Listen for the ‘crisp’ and smoke from the bottom, 3-4 minutes.
  8. Mix again, chopping the shrimp into pieces with your spatula. This will chop the mai fun, as well.
  9. Let final mix crisp some more under high heat, until the mai fun is brown in many parts.
  10. Cool the thing a little, and you’re done.

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Recipe: Swordfish, Pasta, & Carrot Cake

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Swordfish pasta

Swordfish on whole wheat spaghetti, with a red sauce.

Carrot cake sounds moist.

Carrot cake sounds moist.

Last week, my wife and I had our grandparents over, and so I spent much of the day cooking. Recently, we went to one of those ‘junk-food’ Italian places, wherein the menu is primarily lasagna, fried/breaded cutlets, thick sauces, and lots of salt. Can’t say that it was bad — it was junk, after all — but I’ve slowly, mechanically, been improving my pasta dishes for a number of years, now, usually cooking them once a week or so, trying to polish them every time. It’s taken a lot of forms: pasta and broccoli in a red sauce (which was my mainstay for a while), experiments with pasta and potato (sucked!), the use and mis-use of various greens, tomato varieties, oils, and, of course, different pasta brands.

Since I strictly eat whole grains, it is hard to find a whole wheat pasta that is firm, dry, and not too overpowering. Supermarket brands are no good, so I’ve experimented both with cheap and artisan pastas. Bionaturae is good, but not worth the cost. Garofalo is hands down the best, and better than most white pastas, but too expensive for anything but special occasions. Yet the lowly Trader Joe’s brand pasta is just a little over $1, rivals Bionaturae in taste, and — if cooked right — indistinguishable from white.

For my grandmothers’ visit, it was best to keep things simple. They’re old, and have a bland palate, while I’ve settled, over time, on a recipe that calls for thin shiitake mushrooms (as opposed to the meaty ones in Chinatown and Flushing), a pound or two of tomatoes, a pound of turkey sausage, half a pound of mixed green leaves (chard, spinach, and kale), half a pound of fresh basil, a large onion, a few heads of garlic, two or three tri-color peppers, parmesan/romano, raw butter, olive oil, black pepper, pink Himalayan salt, and half a jar of Trader Joe’s basil marinara. The shiitake, in particular, imparts an MSG or ‘umami’ flavor to the dish that mixes nicely with the rest, but not for THIS little dinner party. So, I just dumped a jar of the basil marinara into a pan, added 20-30 chopped garlic cloves, some lemon, butter, cheese, basil, mixed leaves, and olive oil, mixed the result with the spaghetti, then apportioned the remaining sauce on 4 grilled swordfish steaks. Grandmas love mushrooms, so I grilled that on the side.  The recipe is as follows. Serves 4:

Pasta & Swordfish Recipe (Serves 4):

  • 1 box of Trader Joe’s whole wheat spaghetti
  • 1 jar of Trader Joe’s Tomato Basil Marinara
  • 1 bag of Trader Joe’s “Power Greens” (baby spinach, kale, and chard)
  • 4 swordfish fillets
  • 1 bunch of fresh basil, chopped
  • 3-4 heads of garlic (20-30 cloves), chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons of rice brain oil
  • 3-4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 oz of grated parm/romano
  • 3 lemons; 2 squeezed into sauce, 1 squeezed over fish
  • salt,
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